How to Play Backhand Drive

How to Play a Backhand Drive – Beginner Skills Series

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The backhand drive forms one of the four basic shots of Table Tennis, along with the forehand drive, forehand push and backhand push. Master these four shots and you will graduate from a beginner to intermediate player.

The backhand strokes are often the most difficult to pick up for beginners as they are played on the non-dominant side and rely on effective positioning to play a good shot. However, it’s critical to be confident with the backhand drive or you’ll give your opponents a massive weakness that they can exploit.

To become a good Table Tennis player, your backhand drive needs to be consistent with a controlled direction. This page will give you all the advice you need to learn how to play a backhand drive. Let’s get some insight!

What is the Backhand Drive?

The backhand drive is a controlled attacking shot designed to push your opponent into a more defensive position. It can be played whenever a ball is received at a medium height with minimal amounts of spin.

A right-handed player would expect to play the backhand drive whenever a ball is available to be hit anywhere on the left-hand side of the table. However, the shot is played with the ball in front of you rather than letting it drift out wide to your non-dominant side.

Just like when learning the forehand drive, the backhand drive can’t be played if there is heavy backspin on the ball (a loop shot), it’s too short (a flick shot), or there is heavy topspin (a block or counter-topspin).

Backhand Drive Technique

The core backhand drive technique is quite simple and breaks down into four distinct phases.

Phase 1 – Ready Position

Your shots will always be better when you start in what’s called the “ready position”. This is the position you should always try and return to after playing your shot.

Crouched, with your feet and body facing the direction you are aiming to play the ball. This means you will be completely in line with the table if playing it down the short side, or slightly angled with your dominant side further back if playing across diagonally. Your feet should also be just wider than shoulder-width apart.
Close to the table. With your elbow forming a right angle and your forearm parallel to the ground, the end of your racket should be roughly level with the end of the table, the same as playing a forehand drive.

Phase 2 – Backswing

Once you have seen that your opponent has played a shot towards your backhand side, you will need to start your backswing whilst moving your feet into the right position.

Move so that the ball arrives in line with your belly button. If you miss the ball with a backhand drive, it should pass through and hit you in the middle of the body.
Move the bat back towards your stomach. Keep your elbow separated from your body and bring the racket back so it is positioned just to the non-dominant side of your belly button. The racket should always stay in front of your body.
Angle your racket down towards the ground. For new players, this can be counterintuitive. Rather than being perpendicular to the ground, or even facing towards the ceiling, the racket should be angled slightly down towards the ground. This helps the racket impart topspin onto the ball.
Rotate slightly at the waist. A slight rotation of hips towards your non-dominant side will help transfer weight backwards and allow you to generate more power when you strike the ball.

Phase 3 – Striking The Ball

Now you are prepared to play your shot and the ball is travelling towards your body. It’s time to play a forward motion that contacts the ball and hits it back towards your opponent’s side of the table.

Unwind your rotation from the hips. Whilst not as pronounced as with the forehand drive, it’s still important to reverse the rotation made during your backswing to generate power onto the ball.
Extend your elbow forwards and slightly upwards. Whilst maintaining the same racket angle, use the extension of the elbow to move the racket forward towards the ball. There may be some natural movement of the shoulder, however this should be kept to a minimum to maintain control of the shot.
Contact the ball at the top of the bounce. If you are positioned correctly, you’ll be able to contact the ball at the peak of its bounce just in front of your body. This gives you the best chance of playing a strong shot back to your opponent.

Phase 4 – Follow Through and Recover

The shot doesn’t finish when you make contact with the ball. It’s important to finish your movement and recover quickly to be ready for playing the next shot.

Continue extending at the elbow until the racket is pointing in the direction of your shot. It’s important not to stop your movement at the point of contact as this will impact the power you get on the ball. Instead, continue through the contact until your elbow is almost fully extended.
The bat should finish just outside of your body line. The shot started just to the non-dominant side of your belly button and should finish just outside of your body line to the dominant side. This ensures contact is made directly in front of the middle of your body.
Recover back to the ready position. As soon as your follow-through has finished, it’s important to recover back to the ready position so you are prepared to play your next shot in the rally. Since you have played a fast attacking shot, it is likely to return to you quickly.

Advanced Technique – Add Spin with the Wrist.

Once you have mastered the backhand drive, you can improve your shot by adding a slight movement of the wrist. This will allow you to add more power and spin to the ball, making it more difficult for your opponent to return.

  • Backswing – Angle your wrist slightly backwards during your backswing. This should pull the bat in closer towards your body.
  • Striking The Ball – When accelerating your forearm (by extending at the elbow), straighten your wrist at the same time. Don’t move your wrist past forming a straight line at the end of your forearm.

Most beginners struggle with this due to exaggerating the wrist movement. The actual movement is surprisingly small but have can have a big effect on the path / speed of the ball.

Useful Videos – Learning the Backhand Drive

I’ve reviewed a lot of the YouTube videos teaching the backhand drive to find the 3 videos that are best at explaining the shot for beginners. It’s worth watching these and then reading back through my descriptions above once you have a good visual idea about the shot.

Start with this video from Tom Lodziak. He does a fantastic job explaining the core elements of the backhand drive, displaying it with strong technique as well. He then gives some useful training drills you can try with your playing partner.

Next, I advise watching this old (but still highly relevant) video from an advanced coach – Jim Clegg. He talks very clearly about why this shot is important as a controlled and direct attacking shot. As a beginner, it’s crucial you focus on consistency and confidence instead of winning practise rallies.

Finally, here’s a video from Daniel Kim covering some of the most common mistakes that players make when attempting the backhand drive. He gives some really nice prompts to help you develop your stroke and identify any potential issues.

For many people, the discussion around elbow position will prompt some self-reflection. It’s important to think about as having a flared or raised elbow will cause you to play a much weaker shot with less consistency.

Top Tips and Prompts

Here are some things you might use to help get familiar with the feeling of playing a backhand drive.

  1. Point your nose – Whilst your feet and hips are pointing towards the intended direction of the ball, it’s also important that your upper body is facing the same way. Ensuring your nose is pointing towards your aimed direction is a good prompt to ensure your whole body is facing the right way.
  2. Throw the frisbee – I’ve spoken in length about extending at the elbow to describe your arm movement. This is very similar to a movement that most of us will be familiar with – throwing a frisbee. Especially for beginners, this similarity can help get the feel for what a backhand drive should look like.
  3. Hold a soccer ball – There should be enough distance between your elbow and your body that you could hold up a soccer ball in that gap. This makes sure you have enough freedom to play the full shot from backswing to follow-through.
  4. Let the ball come to you – A lot of beginners try to play the backhand drive too quickly, reaching forward to play the shot. The best players slow down, let the ball come to them and play their shot in a controlled manner.

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