Is it easier to play defensive Table Tennis?

Or why should anyone want to play defensive?

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Suh Hyo-Won

Firstly — What does it mean to play defensive?

The defender has a reactive approach and tries to make the opponent’s offensive actions as inefficient or risky as possible. The table tennis defender patiently uses backspin and/or spin reversal, and attacks as soon as a good enough opportunity has been gained.

Why do people play defensive?


Some people play defensive as a strategic choice because they believe playing defensive means a competitive advantage for them. They could equally well play offensive but has chosen defensive as it has proven to be beneficial for them.

Slowing down

Some people play defensive table tennis mainly because they want or need to slow down the game. The gameplay goes too fast for them otherwise, or they can’t play in a relaxed mode. Either their reaction time has become longer, or they want more time to think.


Believe it or not, some people play the defensive style mainly because they think it is more fun to play defensive.

Is the defensive style of play more effective?

The defensive style of table tennis is not as popular as the offensive style. However, it is not proven to be inferior to, or less competitive than, the offensive style. In fact, some players among the best 50 in the world (6% of the male players and 16% of the female players; data of January 2017) play defensive table tennis, and this proves that there is nothing wrong with the defensive style as such — it is competitive. Perhaps the only thing to make the defensive style more popular would be to get a world champion that plays defensive.

Is playing defensive easier?

Playing defensive, or playing mainly with backspin instead of topspin, requires at least the same level of technical perfection as for the offensive player. Especially in sensing, and varying, the amount, and composition, of the spin.

Is there really an advantage to slow down the game?

As a defender, you can slow down the gameplay if you play some distance from the table and are returning backspin balls which are slower, and stops up after the bounce.

+ Pros — Advantages

Playing defensive to slow down the gameplay gives you more time to

  • think, and
  • reposition yourself, and
  • play more relaxed.

- Cons — Disadvantages

  • You’ll get strong shots or smashes against you, especially if you don’t succeed to get enough underspin with every backspin stroke.
  • Your opponent also gets a lot more time for placing their shot exactly where you don’t want it.

What about reaction time?

Reaction times might not be distinguishable within year groups but between year groups there is a significant difference. You’ll notice it before you become middle-aged. It is clearly observable in games at net balls changing direction or stop balls, but it is, of course, prevalent for all balls, reducing the overall performance.

Should you have more time to think?

This can be discussed. I have observed many people, both on video and at competitions lose their match because they are thinking too much during the rallies. Their brain has the time to repeatedly reboot and start processing how to return the ball, and this is disturbing their automatic response. They get micro-confused and can’t focus.

Do pips-out rubbers always mean defensive play?

Well, not necessarily, some people play a smash game with soft (OUT with short pimples), with great success.

Should kids play defensive?

If they’re

  • training very hard and often (so they can train both offensive and defensive)
  • very interested in spin and tactics
  • really interested to see if a defensive style would give them a competitive advantage
  • and they have the backup from their coach,

Conclusion about the defensive style of playing table tennis

  • The defensive style is competitive, but not as popular as the offensive style
  • It is not any easier to play the defensive style
  • For teens and young people it is a matter of taste and strategy
  • For older people, it might be a factor for competitive survival
  • Kids could try
  • In fact, everyone should try, just to understand how to identify weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and it will then benefit their offensive and all-around play

Written by

Writing as I learn. Learning as I write.

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