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Wrist (and Risk) Management

Two minute table tennis tips

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Photograph of German table tennis player Timo Boll

Timo Boll - one of the best users of wrist in the modern game of table tennis

Photo By: Ireneusz Kanabrodzki, by courtesy of the ITTF.
The wrist is often claimed to be the most important part of a table tennis player's body. While I don't want to get into a debate about which body part is the most important, there is little doubt that a player will struggle to make it to the advanced ranks of the game without learning how best to incorporate the use of his wrist into his own particular table tennis style of play.

In this two minute tips article, I'm going to briefly touch on the basics of wrist management – I'll discuss some more advanced techniques of using the wrist in a follow up article.

Wrist Management - the Basics

While there are an infinite number of ways to move the wrist when playing a table tennis stroke, in effect they boil down to various combinations of three basic methods:
  1. Snapping the wrist in the direction of the racket face - adding speed to the ball.
  2. Snapping the wrist in the direction of the racket edge - adding spin to the ball.
  3. Using last moment changes in wrist angle to deceptively change the direction of the ball.
In this article, I'll discuss the first two methods – I'll talk about the third technique in my article on advanced wrist usage.

Method 1 - Snapping the Wrist in the Direction of the Racket Face

This type of motion is typically a backwards/forwards movement of the wrist and palm in a horizontal direction, although occasionally it may be slightly upward (such as when hitting against a heavy chop) or varying amounts of downward angle (such as when smashing a high lob).

This type of wrist movement adds more speed to the ball while not reducing the chance of making contact much, giving the opponent less time to react. On the down side, small mistakes in timing the wrist snap can result in the tip of the racket head leading or lagging behind the wrist at contact, causing a tendency to lose accuracy in ball placement in a left/right direction.

Method 2 - Snapping the Wrist in the Direction of the Racket Edge

This type of wrist snap involves moving the wrist and palm in line with the racket edge, which increases the amount of spin placed on the ball. Small mistakes in the wrist snap motion tend to cause the ball to be hit on the leading edge of the racket, or missed completely. On the other hand, there tends to be little effect on the left/right placement of the ball, provided good contact is made.

Combining the Basics

Players who want to improve the use of their wrist when playing table tennis are typically told to start with Method 2 above - snapping the wrist in the direction of the racket edge. I would think that this is because table tennis is a highly spin oriented game, and learning to increase the amount of spin put on the ball first is a fairly good idea. Also, when both Method 1 and 2 are combined, most players use a predominance of Method 2 type wrist snap, so it makes sense to learn this first, then add Method 1.

Once that technique is mastered, then the idea of snapping the wrist forwards and backwards can be added and blended with Method 2. In practice, most players will not use purely one or the other technique, but varying combinations of both, depending on their style of game and basic stroke technique.

Simple Troubleshooting

If you are having problems with incorporating the use of your wrist into your game successfully using these two methods, there are a few simple steps to take in order to fix things:
  1. Use one method only. This is probably the easiest way to get your consistency back if you are randomly spraying the ball all over the place, or missing it completely quite often. For most players, I'd recommend removing Method 1, and using Method 2 only for a while. Once you are again making good spinny contact, you can start to bring the backward/forward wrist snap back into your stroke.
  2. If that doesn't fix things, cut down the amount of wrist that you are using. Try using only a small wrist snap for a while, or even cut out the use of the wrist completely if you are desperate. Then slowly increase the amount of wrist you use, making sure your consistency remains high.

Conclusion

The use of your wrist when playing table tennis is a double edged sword – it's crucial for advanced level play, but when used incorrectly, it will make your game worse! Give yourself plenty of training time to get used to using your wrist, starting with snapping your wrist in line with your racket edge, then adding backward/forward wrist snap when you have mastered the first method. Then start using what you have learned in matches, remembering the basic troubleshooting steps if you have any problems with your consistency.

Once you have mastered the basics of using the first two methods of wrist management, you'll be ready to move on to some more advanced techniques – I'll discuss these methods in the follow up article Advanced Wrist Management.

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