Table Tennis Return Boards – The Ultimate Player Guide

Featured imageWally Rebounder Combo Bounder

Table Tennis training sessions are always the best part of my day. Playing Table Tennis is loads of fun and has plenty of advantages like making friends, improving your health, and many more!

Having said that, there are times I’d like to practice outside of regular training hours. I’ll sometimes be sitting at home, watching Table Tennis matches, thinking to myself “I wish I could play right now”. I’m sure you can relate!

Similar to a Table Tennis robot, Return Boards were created for this very purpose: practising Table Tennis rallies whenever you want, without the need for a partner. They have many distinct pros and cons you need to keep in mind, though. 

Should you get (or even make) your own Return Board? Let’s dive into everything you need to know!

What is a Return Board

A Return Board is a device composed of a stand and a wooden board with Table Tennis rubbers attached to it. The Wally Rebounder, one of the best-selling boards, looks like this:

Wally Rebounder Photo 2

To use a return board, you simply play shots like you normally would and the board behaves like a consistent hitting partner, reacting to the spin and speed you place on your shot.

This particular model has 10 sheets of rubber. The bigger your board is, the more shots you’ll be able to play since the board will return the ball depending on where the contact was.

A bigger Return Board will also help you practice your footwork because you can aim at different spots. Using a Return Board or a Table Tennis robot are the only 2 ways to practice rallying and footwork without a partner.

How to use a Return Board

To start using the Return Board, you must first set the board angle. If you’re just starting out, we suggest using a more open angle of around 80-90 degrees. If you’re more advanced and hit with more speed and spin, then close the angle to anywhere between 60-80 degrees. 

You may need to adjust the board a few times before it becomes comfortable to play consistent rallies.

Think of the Return Board as a partner blocking for you. If you hit slowly, your partner will have to open his racket angle so that the ball doesn’t drop into the net. If you hit harder, though, your partner will have to close his racket angle so that the ball doesn’t go long.

It’s a matter of trial and error until you get it right, really. 

When you’ve chosen the angle that works best for you, it’s time to play! You just have to hit the first ball with enough speed and spin to make it come back to you, then play the rally out normally.

Let’s watch an advanced player practicing with a Return Board:

This player is using his Return Board perfectly. He can hit harder, but he’s not hitting slowly at all. Instead, he’s prioritizing spin, consistency, and footwork, arguably the most important skills in a Table Tennis rally. 

While practicing at a moderate speed, he gives himself enough time to recover, making the point against himself almost 2 minutes long. This way, he was able to work his leg muscles, stamina, strokes, and coordination, all in just one rally. 

Training with a Return Board is also probably one of the most de-stressing Table Tennis related activities you can do. 

Hitting the ball consistently, hearing the rhythmic sound produced by the ball hitting the board, swinging your racket in the air. Just watching the video soothes my mind!

How to progress your skills effectively using a Return Board 

The main strength of Return Boards, as you can tell by the video, lies in repetition. They allow you to train for as long as you want, at no cost whatsoever.

The idea is to “mechanize” your strokes. If you don’t hit the ball at the right moment, with appropriate speed and spin, the rally will end. Return Boards force you to automatize your strokes, building technique into your muscle memory.

When practicing with a Return Board, you must pay close attention to the ball. Depending on how you hit it, the ball will come back slightly differently every time. 

It’s not that easy to automate your strokes under these circumstances, although it’s more similar to a match scenario than you get from a Table Tennis robot.

This is the challenge that arises from this type of practice – you have to build consistency hitting slightly random balls, and for that, you must concentrate over the whole rally. 

It’s easy to see why Return Boards are the choice of many players. They create a sense of responsibility to hit the ball correctly every time, and increase our control, feeling, consistency, and coordination dramatically

However, Return Boards aren’t perfect. Their main strength is a double-edged sword. By forcing you to hit the ball the same way every time, it makes the practice session very one-dimensional.

We recommend you use Return Boards as a complement for regular training. They shouldn’t be used to replace a training partner or your coach. 

It should be thought of as a powerful tool to polish certain aspects of your game, such as consistency, placement, feeling of the ball, stamina, concentration, muscle memory, and particular stroke improvement.

While its benefits shouldn’t be underestimated, the Return Board is only good for hitting against medium-high topspin balls.

Also, if you practice with a Return Board applying incorrect technique, you’ll just make matters worse by ingraining it into your muscle memory.

If you’re unsure about your technique, ask your coach, or film yourself and ask for feedback from more experienced players. You can even contact them through social media!

Who makes Return Boards?

The best 2 Return Boards you can currently buy are the TSP Returnboard Pro and the Wally Rebounder.

TSP Rebounder
TSP Returnboard Pro
Wally Rebounder Photo 1
Wally Rebounder

The two are similarly priced at around the $220 mark, though, in my opinion, the Wally Rebounder stands out as the better of the two.

The Wally Rebounder has 10 professional rubbers attached to a 33.5 x 14.75 inches (85 x 37.5 cm) European Baltic Birch board. 

This Return Board has two tripod stands holding it in place. These stands allow you to modify its height, and the Wally Rebounder also has a custom-made mounting system that allows for unlimited tilt adjustment. You can make adjustments as small as 1/16 inches (15 millimeters).

The TSP, in comparison, only has 6 rubbers, it’s a lot smaller at 19.7 x 15.3 inches (50 x 39 cm). It’s also adjustable in tilt like the Wally Rebounder, but you can’t modify its height.

You have to place it over the table, so you can’t hit deep shots, or else the ball will hit the board before it hits the playing surface. The ball will also come back faster to you since there’s not as much distance between the board and you.

Because of the size and quality differences, we recommend you buy the Wally Rebounder over the TSP Returnboard Pro. However, there’s a third option, which we haven’t mentioned yet.

If you have time on your hands, are willing to experiment, and want to save some money, you can make your own Return Board!

How to make your own Return Board

Making your own Return Board is a lot cheaper than buying one, and it’s not hard to do. The end product will end up looking like this (if you use 6 rubbers):

The materials you’ll need to make your own Return Board are:

1) Board

The most commonly used are MDF boards. Boards thicker than half an inch, but no thicker than an inch work best. This range of thicknesses keeps the board light, but with enough rigidity to return shots consistently. 

It’ll need to be as wide and tall as the rubbers you plan to use, plus a few millimeters. If you plan to use 6 rubbers, distributed in 2 rows of 3 rubbers each, then the board will need to be around 19.75 x 13.5 inches (50 x 34 cm), that is, roughly the same size as the TSP Returnboard Pro.

Just take the uncut size of the rubbers you’ll use and multiply that number accordingly.

2) Stand

As for the structure, we recommend using a monitor stand like this one, then fixing it on the table. This method works like a charm for boards up to 32 inches wide (you can use boards that have up to 8 rubbers). 

Most monitor stands support tilt adjustment, so you’ll be able to modify the board angle easily from the get-go! 

3) Rubbers

Lastly, for the rubber choice, we recommend getting slow rubbers. The rubbers you use shouldn’t be too fast as this will allow you to hit a bit harder.

If you use rubbers that are way too fast, you’ll have a smaller margin of error and you’ll have to tinker with the angle a whole lot more.

We recommend getting cheap Chinese rubbers since they’re slow, grippy enough to clear the net using your spin, and won’t break the bank! 

Rubbers from Yinhe, 729, or similar brands will do the trick. The Wally rebounder uses Yinhe 9000e rubbers, and they work great! Get 8 of them, attach them to the board with Table Tennis glue, and you’ll have a professional DIY Return Board.

The cost of making your own Return Board with 8 rubbers is around $80-100. But should you even get one, to begin with?

A recommendation on whether to use a Return Board

As we previously mentioned, Return Boards are great when trying to improve your consistency and coordination. They’re also, however, very limited in functionality.

If you’re in the market for equipment that allows you to practice alone, you should also take a look at a Table Tennis Robot. Here’s a quick comparison between Return Boards and Robots, to help you decide which one is best for you.

Return Board 

Benefits

  • Forces you to be rhythmic and consistent. If you aren’t, the rally ends.
  • Prioritizes slight adjustments, since the ball comes back differently every time, working on your concentration and coordination.
  • Greatly improves control and feeling on the ball.
  • Cheap to make, and not that expensive to buy a great quality board.
  • Practical to carry around and doesn’t need electricity.
  • It’s great to play with them as a warm-up before a session.

Drawbacks

  • Can make you compromise your technique to get the return how you want it (you have to be mindful of this possibility and adjust the board angle)
  • Very one-dimensional. You can’t add speed and spin or else the ball will fly off the end of the table. You are also quite limited in your capabilities to do different drills.
  • Quite unforgiving. If you miss the board or hit slightly too soft/hard, the point will end.
  • The board can’t vary its returns. It can’t send you different spins.

Robot 

Benefits

  • You can practice lots of different drills since the Robot can shoot backspin balls, topspin balls, and oscillate.
  • You can practice a wide variety of strokes. You can also apply as much speed and spin as you want. You don’t have to worry about the equipment returning the ball to you.
  • If you miss the table, the exercise goes on. 
  • Improves all areas of the game, except for serving.
  • Robots tend to be consistent with their placement, so you can make the most out of each ball. They’re great to polish your technique.

Drawbacks

  • Expensive to buy a good quality Robot and the accessories you’ll need to make it work correctly (net, 50+ balls)
  • It’s usually not that easy to carry Robots around, and they need to be plugged into a power source.
  • Robots can tend to jam up, and they might start malfunctioning or break over time.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Return Boards are great at doing what they’re supposed to, but not much more. 

If you know how to use them, you’ll practice your technique, footwork, coordination, and control. 

If you don’t, you might end up frustrated because you can’t maintain consistent rallies, or even worse, you could automatize incorrect techniques into your muscle memory, 

Return Boards are quite practical and don’t cost too much. But are they a better option than a good quality Robot? Probably not.

A Robot will work on your consistency, but you can do so many more things with it. If you want to get good workouts, practice drills when you’re alone, and improve in many different areas, I recommend getting a Robot. 

Robots are certainly better than Return Boards for beginners. This is because most beginners will struggle with keeping the rally alive when using the Return Board. They don’t have to worry about that with the Robot.

Using a Robot is also generally better for advanced players because it enables them to practice more facets of their game. 

With that being said, there are also many players across every level of play that prefer Return Boards, mainly because it’s more like having someone block for you (boards have a slight element of variety, based on how you hit it).

If you can, we recommend you try both and see which piece of equipment you like best!

After reading all this, would you get a Return Board? Let us know in the comments below!

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Tibhar Stratus Power Wood | Forehand: Rakza Z | Backhand: Rakza 7 Soft
Playstyle: Forehand Looper

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