How to Play Forehand Drive

How to Play a Forehand Drive – Beginner Skills Series

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

When coaching beginners, I always start with the forehand drive because it focuses on the player’s dominant side and forms the basis of many advanced attacking shots that people love to play. It’s also the stroke that begins to embed the concepts of spin and brushing the ball, which are gateways to more advanced shots.

To become a good Table Tennis player, your forehand drive will need to be one of your most consistent shots. This page will give you all the advice you need to learn how to play a forehand drive. Let’s get into it!

What is the Forehand Drive?

Played on your naturally dominant side, the forehand drive is an 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 forehand drive whenever a ball is available to be hit anywhere on the middle or right-hand side of the table.

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

Forehand Drive Technique

The core forehand 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 foot slightly backwards on your dominant side. If you’re right-handed, this means your right foot will be further away from the table than your left foot. 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.

Phase 2 – Backswing

Once you have seen that your opponent has played a shot that allows you to return with a forehand drive, you will need to start your backswing.

Rotate backwards from your hips. The forehand drive is primarily played with a rotation through the waist, rather than moving from the shoulders, elbows or legs. You should aim to rotate backwards around a 1/4 rotation.
Shift your weight to your back foot. As you rotate at the hips, you should naturally feel that most of your weight is shifted onto your back foot.
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.

Phase 3 – Striking The Ball

Now you are prepared to play your shot and the ball is travelling towards you, 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. This is the reverse of the rotation backwards in the backswing, where your hips rotate forwards to allow your bat to contact the ball.
Shift your weight forwards. This happens naturally as you rotate your hips, pushing your balance of weight forward to your front foot.
Arm moves forwards and upwards. Driven by the rotation of your hips, your arm should follow and bring the racket forward. You may want to make a gentle movement with your forearm towards the ball, which can help add some more power to your 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 rotating until the bat is in front of your body. 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 the racket is in line with your nose.
Index finger pointing at your opponent. A fantastic cue to see if your follow-through is ending at the right place, with the right bat angle. Your index finger on your racket hand should be pointing directly at your opponent (assuming you are playing with a shakehand grip).
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. Admiring your shot is a sure-fire way of missing the next one!

Useful Videos – Learning the Forehand Drive

There are a few Youtube videos that are fantastic at explaining how to play a forehand drive, particularly useful if you’re a visual learner.

Start with this video from Daniel Kim. He covers everything about the shot, including some useful starting exercises you can do to get the right feeling for the shot. It’s the best video I’ve seen explaining the forehand drive.

The next video to watch is from Tom Lodziak who’s fantastic at breaking down the different components of the shot and explaining things in a slightly different way.

Finally, I recommend the following video from Eddy Zeile. He gives a slightly more advanced overview of the forehand drive, although he gives some really useful hints and tips around how the shot should feel. In particular, he likens the movement pattern to that of a soldier’s salute. This is a nice prompt as it’s a movement most people are likely familiar with.

Personally, I would advise that the non-dominant foot should be slightly further back than Eddy demonstrates as this prepares you better for more advanced forehand techniques, whilst making it easier to feel the required weight transfer.

Top Tips and Prompts

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

  1. Hip to Lip – The bat should finish the downswing close to your hip, before accelerating with the rotation of your hips until it finishes up closer to your lips. This encourage the forward and upwards movement of the racket that helps get the required power and spin onto the ball.
  2. Don’t be a T-Rex – You know how T-Rex dinosaurs have short stubby arms close into their bodies? That would make them terrible at Table Tennis! You want some separation (a gap) between your elbow and your body or you’ll struggle to get much power on your shot.
  3. Straighten your wrist – The forehand drive does not require any wrist movement or rotation. If you struggle with this, tape a straight piece of wood to the side of your wrist to keep it in place. Moving your wrist too much results in a loss of control and can easily cause you to miss the table.
  4. Shorten your movements – A lot of beginners tend to over-exaggerate their movements and put too much power into their shots. The forehand drive is a controlled shot and utilises the pace/speed your opponent puts on the ball. Slow down and play the ball in a controlled manner.

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