June 3, 2024 - Down the Line Training

There are two reasons for practicing down-the-line shots. First, because in games you want to use the whole table so the opponent has to cover the whole table, and to do that you need to be able to play wide in both directions, crosscourt and down the line.

Second, to quote USTT Hall of Famer David Sakai, who I used to practice with regularly, “If you can attack down the line consistently, then crosscourt is easy.” And it’s true – crosscourt, the table is about 10 feet 3.5 inches, while down the line it’s only 9 feet, so you have a shorter target. If you can attack down the line, then that extra 15.5 inches crosscourt looks HUGE! So, one of the best drills is to simply attack down the line (forehand or backhand) while your partner blocks. (At the advanced level, players might even try counterlooping down the line.) Focus on consistency and placement. On the forehand, it means adjusting your foot positioning a bit (right foot more back for righties), turning the shoulders back, and taking the ball a little later (relative to the body) than usual so you can better line up the shot.

You can let the ball come out more so you can better line up the shot down the line with the forehand. But if you have time, you can also step in a bit while rotating your body to the right, allowing you to hit the ball just as quickly as usual, but with your body a bit closer to the table, allowing you to take the ball later, relative to the body. (Another option is hitting the ball inside-out, often with inside-out sidespin, but that’s perhaps for another tip.)

It might be helpful in a drill to put towels or another long object that blocks off the inner half of the court each player is hitting to and from. This forces both the attacker and blocker to keep the ball within perhaps 15 inches of the sideline (less for advanced players). Try to keep the ball more toward the sideline side of those 15 inches – if you miss, it’s better here to go too wide, not toward the middle of the table. This is how you learn to play the ball wide down the line.

One variation – put a target on the wide forehand side opposite the attacking player. After they’ve made five or more strong shots down the line, they have the option of “ending” the point with a crosscourt winner where they try to hit the target.