Last Updated on May 23, 2023
Looking for a fun, highly effective and affordable way to practice table tennis without a coach or a partner?
Are you interested in developing your topspin and drive strokes as quickly as possible?
A table tennis return board might just be the answer.
Return boards offer a very realistic feel, just like playing against the perfect blocking partner and they give direct and immediate feedback on the spin and power from your stroke.
There is no better way to quickly improve your forehand and backhand topspin and drive shots.
The Basics of a Table Tennis Return Board
A table tennis return board is simply a strong rigid board covered with table tennis rubber that can be set up on the table or behind the table to provide a back board to play against.
The angle of the board can be changed to allow for varying levels of topspin.
For boards mounted on stands, you can maneuver them close or far from the table and adjust the angle they face the table in addition to the tilt of the board.
The best thing? Return boards are a lot of fun and keep you engaged!
You can spend just a few minutes playing against them for a quick energy burst and mental break while getting better and better.
Or, you can spend an hour doing various drills involving footwork, forehand to backhand, looping, backhand flicks, service training and the list goes on.
Even when playing with friends you can compete on how long of a rally you can each do or how much of an angle you can tilt the board and still get a rally going.
Because they can be challenging they never get boring.
If you start doing long rallies you can just add more tilt to the board or position it further behind the table, it always keeps you on your toes.
Techniques/Tips to Improve
Return boards can be used for many types of drills, but they really shine for developing forehand and backhand drive and topspin shots including looping.
They are great for service training, foot work, pacing, and other skills. With some models of return board you can also work on chopping and backspin to topspin reversals.
While return boards shine for developing topspin and drive shots, arguably the most important power shots in the game, they are good for other training as well.
They are great for detecting the amount of spin on service shots.
When you practice a serve and it goes off the table it can sometimes be very difficult to judge how much spin you are actually putting on the ball.
With a return board positioned at the rear of the table as soon as the ball hits the board its spin will be reflected by the board and you can easily judge if it was a good serve.
For backspin and chopping practice a return board is good for short low power shots.
With a board up close to the net you can practice backspin for a bit and then flip the ball to topspin and go to a board that is behind the table.
This is a great way to practice spin reverse techniques and adds another dimension to return board practice.
You can also use them for footwork drills and forehand to backhand drills by hitting balls cross table. This is not only great for skill development, it can also give you a fantastic workout.
This video shows the basic forehand, backhand strokes at various intensities:
Correcting Common Problems
For intermediate and advanced players who have already developed a decent forehand and backhand stroke, a return board only has a brief learning curve.
An experienced player can be hitting 10-20 ball rallies in as little as 30 minutes assuming they don’t try to be too aggressive at first.
The challenge for experienced players is all about consistency, speed, power, spin, accuracy and pace.
A return board provides an infinite degree of difficulty by simply changing the tilt of the board and the distance of the board behind the table.
For players that are new to the game or haven’t developed good form, a return board can be quite challenging at first.
For those players it is a great tool to help develop a good stroke very quickly, but the player will need to spend some time watching videos on proper form and not start too aggressively with the board.
Patience is key, but if the player is dedicated they can be hitting multi ball rallies of 5-15 in a row within a day or two.
And this is really where a return board shines, it forces you to have good and consistent form if you want to get the ball to return to you in a way you can hit it again.
For new players, some of the first things to do are make sure your paddle has good rubber on it. If you cannot produce any spin, the return board will be very difficult.
Make sure the rubber has decent grip and isn’t too worn out. Also, the player should have several balls ready to go when starting out. Spend your time practicing your stroke instead of chasing balls around the table.
New players should set the tilt of the board very shallow at first (close to vertical). The ball will lob back from the board, but that is okay at first.
New players might also want to remove the net to make it a little easier at first and might even try starting from the side of the table, a little closer to the board.
Don’t hit the ball too hard and just focus on being consistent and using good form.
Here is a video showing some tricks to get started if you are a beginner:
Tools You Can Use
The return board is an excellent tool to help you improve certain table tennis skills.
That said, players will need to understand the basics of the forehand and backhand drive and topspin shots before a return board will be much help.
There are some fantastic videos out there on YouTube if you put in terms like “playing table tennis against a blocking player” or “table tennis topspin stroke”.
For example, this video from the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) is a great how-to for the forehand topspin stroke:
If you want a complete course on the fundamentals of table tennis including basic strokes and serving, this basics mastery course (12 part video series) from Table Tennis University is a great collection.
One of the best return boards on the market is the Wally Rebounder.
There is a single board version, double board version and a combination version that lets you put one board close to the net and one behind the table giving you a ton of skill development training options.
The Wally Rebounder is a versatile, well made, high quality, high performance and easy to set up table tennis return board.
Wally Rebounder has been around for several years and continues to update their product making it one of the best options available.
They use official ITTF table tennis rubbers on the board which provide a very realistic experience as if you are playing against the perfect blocking partner.
These high quality rubbers also mean you get incredible return speed without too much backspin which is another factor in creating a very realistic experience.
If the board doesn’t have high quality rubbers it will be disappointing. Also, the base board is also critical. It must be strong, stiff and dense.
The Wally Rebounder uses a high quality 12mm (1/2”) thick Baltic Birch base board with 7 laminate plys and is coated in a durable poly urethane finish.
On the single board model, two tripods provide solid support for the board which also enhances the quality of the return.
The tripods allow you to raise and lower that board and also let you place it at any distance from the table and any position.
Along with an infinite degree of tilt, you will never outgrow its capabilities. They are produced in 3 different color options – all back, all red, and mixed.
They also have the Combo Bounder which allows you to connect two boards side to side. Each board is independently adjustable in tilt and angle allowing a wide variety of drills.
Or, you can put one of the boards close to the net tilted backwards for backspin practice and the other board behind the table for topspin practice.
Going from one board to the other is quite challenging and a great way to practice your backspin to topspin reversal.
A couple of Table Tennis Clubs such as Alameda table tennis club, Dublin table tennis club who are using a return board as part of their normal training regimen.
Even when you have a coach and/or a partner, sometimes the return board is the best tool for the job!
Don’t Practice the WRONG Way
One of the great things about a good return board is that they are super easy to set up. Because of this, you can easily practice on one for just a few minutes every day.
With regular practice you will be amazed at how much you can improve using a return board. Plus it is great exercise, challenging and a ton of fun!
Seriously, the only way to get better is to do regular and targeted practice.
It’s not enough to just play, you should focus on the aspects of your stroke you want to improve every session. For example, maybe you want to focus on consistency.
You can try to best your previous number of hits before the ball went out of play. Or, you can focus on your backhand flick and only work on that shot during your practice time.
Body position is another very important aspect of good form and it rarely gets attention, if you concentrate on having your knees bent and angle to the table correct as well as the motion of your hips and knees as you make your shot you will surely get better.
You’ve heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”?
Well even better is “perfect practice makes perfect!” Always have a goal when you are practicing even if it’s just to blow off steam and lower stress. And always keep it fun!
A big mistake players make when using a table tennis return board is expecting it to be easy.
In fact, it is more difficult than playing against a partner because a partner can correct any mistakes you put on your shot.
For example, if you have some side spin on the shot but thought you were just hitting pure topspin, your partner can adjust and hit the ball back to you.
On a return board, the side spin will cause the ball to return on the other side of the table, or well off the table.
You might be quick enough to get to it, but getting it back in play is very difficult. Players also will tilt the board too aggressively when first starting, especially beginners.
The more tilt that is placed on the board, the more topspin and speed you will need to get the ball to come back over the net.
It’s better to have a slower return at first and then slowly increase the angle as your stroke gets better.
Many people first think of robots when they are looking for table tennis self-training options.
How do return boards differ from robots?
There are some things robots can do better than a return board such as delivering high levels of backspin, balls with varying spin and power, and rapid ball delivery to multiple places on the table.
This is primarily true with the higher end robots. The simple table top style robot is not very effective and is not really worth spending money on.
However, what you can never get with a robot is direct feedback on your shot.
Even the best players will learn something with a return board about their stroke since small variations in spin and power are reflected back immediately.
You can never really do this with a robot. Robots are also more difficult to set up usually and take up a large amount of space.
They can be very expensive for the good ones, often with costs 3 to 5 times higher than a good return board. And there will be a whole mess of balls laying around with a robot.
You can expect to need far fewer balls when practicing with a return board than with a robot.
That said, they can be very complementary and offer different ways to practice.
There are things you can do with each that are unique to each and are very important. In an ideal world you would have both in your training arsenal.
To sum it all up, return boards are a fun and effective way to develop your table tennis game without a coach or partner.
They are extremely effective in helping you develop and refine your topspin and drive strokes whether forehand or backhand.
They will not let you cheat and you immediately know when you are on the form.
They are also easy to set up and a lot of fun. If you are trying to decide between a return board and a robot, the return board is the better first choice and then a robot as a complementary item for later.
If you want to get better fast, a return board is a great option and highly recommended!
Wally Rebounder offers a 30 day return period for you to try the board out. 30 days is a good amount of time to learn how to use the board and see if your game improves.
If you don’t get the benefit you are looking for, they will gladly refund the cost of the board.
The team over at Wally Rebounder is great to deal with and will give you any tips you need if you are having problems.
So, if you are looking to improve your game and have a lot of fun while doing it, check them out. You will be glad you did!