Featured Image – Table Tennis England Coaching Manual (Not Affiliated)
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!
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.