How to Play Defensively in Table Tennis

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Ping pong table woman

If you’re committed to the game, you’ve purchased the best ping pong table, have all the right gear, including a pro-quality paddle, and your competition is still wiping the floor with you, then you need to learn how to play defensively in table tennis. With a poor defensive strategy, there’s no way you’re going to score. Here, I’ll discuss how to create a defensive strategy, defense versus offense, and how to grow as a player.

Playing Defense

With a defensive strategy, the defender will use a reactive approach and try to make the opponent’s offensive actions as risky or inefficient as possible. The defender will patiently use spin reversal or back spin, attacking as soon as they see an opening.

Some players will use defense as a strategic option because they believe playing defense gives them a competitive advantage. While they could play equally well using an offensive strategy, defense has proven to be more beneficial for players of all skill levels.

Players will also choose a defensive strategy because they want to slow down the pace of the game. If the pace of the game is too fast, they may become overwhelmed and unable to anticipate their opponent’s next move. Their reaction time will become slower, or they will require more time to think.

Getting Started with a Defensive Strategy

If you’re serious about crushing the competition and want to try your hand at using the best defensive strokes, first, do a little table tennis table maintenance and make sure that the surface of your table is clean, responsive, and level. Check the net, tighten it if necessary, and make sure the paddle you use isn’t too heavy or light and feels comfortable in your hand.

Now, you’re ready to practice.

Mastering the Defensive Strategy

If you want to create a defensive strategy, then incorporating defensive strokes is a must. Whether you’re trying to develop the skills necessary to create your own defensive posture or you want to improve your basic defense skills, learning the strokes can ensure your long-term success against any opponent.

Some players may argue that an offensive approach is more effective compared to a defensive stroke style, but true defensive style shows a mastery of strategy, technique, and patience. The right defensive strategy can help you anticipate the different types of attacks that are heading your way so you can quickly shut your opponent down.

Defensive Techniques

table tennis players

Even if you follow all the table tennis rules, follow the proper technique, and practice for several hours using an offensive attack strategy, without incorporating a few defensive strokes, you’ll find that many pros will shut you down quickly. Mastering defensive strokes can give you an edge in any match. But first, you want to master the defensive stance.

To begin, start with your feet set apart just slightly over the distance between your shoulders. This will give you a solid center of gravity. Your knees should be kept slightly bent, and you should make sure that there is enough space between you and the table. The paddle should be kept in a neutral position but should remain close to the body.

Using the proper defensive posture can help you anticipate your opponent’s next move, and it can also prepare you for when your opponent goes into attack mode. Using the following defensive strokes, you can easily shut your opponent down.

Serve and Smash

Mash is the first defensive stroke you should learn. Defensive players often utilize this stroke because it’s a great strategic and controlled serve that will allow them to anticipate the return of the third ball.

If the other player tries to take an aggressive heavy back shot, you can respond using a devastating smash. When you use this stroke, you’ll need to give yourself enough space to step back, rotating your body. The paddle should be brought up high, and down fast in order to smash the ball forcefully toward your opponent. Make sure that you watch your opponent closely, so that you will be able to anticipate exactly where the ball will hit on the opposite side of the table. This fast and heavy move will definitely shock your opponent.


Lobbying the ball back is a great way to slow down a return shot. To use this move, the paddle should be brought up from below the ball’s trajectory in a controlled but strong movement. Using an upward motion sends the ball high into the air, giving it just enough time to slow down which will make it difficult for your opponent to know how to accurately respond.


The backhand push is another important and effective stroke. Using this stroke, you’ll stand close to the table, holding your paddle up and have the blade pointed parallel with the ping pong table. As the ball approaches, use controlled, short strokes when you return it to your opponent’s side. If you’ve done this move correctly, the backhand push changes the velocity and height of the return ball, using enough force to throw off the opponent’s anticipated shot.


The drive allows players to improve their hitting accuracy on a return, using a shot from the baseline or sideline of the table. This will help a player avoid any aggressive smashes from the other player. For this move, you want to stay close to the table, keeping the paddle facing the table in a closed position. Timing will be very important here. You should time your return so that you impact the ball at the top of its balance. Next, allow the paddle to come back down, which will drag the motion of a return up in front.


The chop is the last defensive stoke that you want to add to your defensive arsenal. A good chop can be done with either your forehand or backhand. With this move, the body will rotate to the left or the body will rotate to the right. Whichever direction you choose, you’ll use your paddle to undercut the ball, going from the back to bottom. To complete this move, use the paddle to complete a gentle scoop motion at the point of impact. This helps to return the ball using a strong chop motion that will confuse your opponent.

Controlling a Match

Learning how to play defensively in ping pong is all about using defensive strokes and controlling your movements. You want your opponent to be confused, on edge, and unsure of what your next move will be. Every aspect of your movements, including your stance, should be calm and controlled. As the other player attempts to disarm you, you can surprise them at every turn with your controlled strikes. With these moves, you can easily and quickly take control of the pace of a match. I recommend practicing the strokes several times a week, in order to perfect the controlled movements. With consistent practice you’ll find that you can master these moves in no time. You’ll also quickly realize that a good defensive strategy can allow you to take on players with more experience and you can shut them down in seconds, especially if you’ve trained hard and you’re confident and calm when it’s game time.