A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

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Published:

05/16/2022 - 14:37

Author: Larry Hodges

There are so many snap decisions a player has to make while playing that it's mind-boggling that players often increase the mind-load by adding unnecessary decisions. In table tennis, there is never a decision on whether you have to move; you always move - or more specifically, you always assume you have to move. Maybe once in a hundred shots you might not have to actually move, in which case you prepare to move and simply don't. The huge bulk of the time you will move, even if it is one inch, if you want to play your best shots instead of awkwardly adjusting while reaching.

So, for now on, ban any thinking about whether you have to move. The only decision is in what direction and how far. As the opponent is hitting his shot, flex your knees slightly, perhaps even do a tiny bounce, and finish set to move in either direction as the opponent is hitting his shot. (Watch video of top players to see how they do this - don't watch the ball, focus on one player, and for this, just watch his feet.)

Remember, in table tennis, you aren't an oak tree; you are a squirrel scampering about the court!

Published:

05/09/2022 - 13:44

Author: Larry Hodges

Beginners play to the middle forehand and middle backhand. Intermediate players play to the corners. Advanced players play the wide corners and the middle. Which are you?

Assuming you want to be an advanced player, you will learn to attack the middle. The middle is not the middle of the table - it's the mid-point between the opponent's backhand and forehand, the transition point where he has to decide whether to play forehand or backhand, and then move to do one or the other. (You usually go there when attacking, but sometimes even a push to the middle is effective.) Covering the middle is generally the most awkward shot in table tennis, where you have to make a snap decision (forehand or backhand?), make an often awkward move to get into position, and then, after hitting the ball, try to get back into position before the opponent exploits the corner you moved away from.

But it's worse than that. If you play the corners, the opponent has only two options - move left or move right. Even in a fast rally, many opponents can cover those shots consistently. If you also play the middle, some think it means the opponent now has three things to cover. WRONG! They now have FOUR things to cover: the two corners, the forehand from the middle, and the backhand from the middle. It doubles the number of shots they have to prepare for. Worse, while going to the forehand or backhand is an easy decision if the ball is going to the forehand or backhand, covering the middle means that awkward split second while you decide what to do. So the opponent not only has twice as many things to cover, he has to make that split-second decision that he didn't need to make if you only play the corners.

So, do you want to make things easy for your opponent? Keep going for the wide corners, and you'll do well. You'll just never be as good as you could be.

Published:

05/09/2022 - 13:39

Author: Larry Hodges

When you decide to go for a shot, or play safe, it usually (not always) means you've thrown tactics and percentages to the wind. If you decide to go for a shot, or play safe, is it because it's the tactical and high-percentage thing to do? Or is it more an emotional thing?

With experience, players successfully play by "feel," where instincts built up over years of play tell them when to "go for" a shot and when to play "safe." But those instincts were built up based on tactical probabilities - over those years they instinctively learned when to do each to maximize their chances of winning. For example, they learn when to be aggressive when returning serve, when to play safe, and when and how to mix it up.

But many players simply make the decision to go for shots or play safe. This often happens when a player is nervous and so can't really think clearly. They may mindlessly go for shots or are afraid to play aggressively and so play safe, even if it's not the smart thing to do. Examine your own game and habits - do you do these things at the right times for the right reasons?

To go back to the title of this tip, you shouldn't think of yourself as "going for a shot" or "playing it safe." If you think you have to go for a shot, that implies it's a difficult shot, which is a quick way to get nervous under pressure and miss. If you think you have to play safe, that implies you aren't able to attack effectively, which is also a quick way to get nervous under pressure, especially if you have to attack on some shots. Instead, just think of it as always trying to do the right shot in any particular situation, and the pressure goes away even as the percentages move in your favor. If that means attacking ("going for shots") or pushing ("playing it safe") then so be it - because, in that situation, it was the right shot.

Published:

04/25/2022 - 04:11

Author: Larry Hodges

A common tactic for forehand loopers with good footwork is to serve short (often to the middle, to cut off the extreme angles), and when the receiver predictably pushes long to the backhand, the server simply steps around and forehand loops - either winning the point immediately or dominating the rally from the start. Often a player can even make a really good, deep, heavy, and low push to the wide backhand, and still the server dominates with his forehand. How can you stop this?

The problem, of course, was that while the push was "good," it was predictable and very loopable. Here are ways to improve and vary the receive and stop the attack. (Most of these are also effective in stopping a strong backhand loop.)

  • Make sure the long pushes really did go very wide to the backhand so opponent has to move more. Often a player thinks he's pushed wide, but the push is actually well inside the backhand corner. Push to the wide corner or even outside.
  • Push quicker off the bounce so as to rush the opponent.
  • Load up the backspin.
  • Long pushes should go as long as possible, to jam the opponent. Players sometimes think they've pushed deep, but their pushes actually land one or two feet from the end-line.
  • Aim to the backhand and at the last second quick push to the wide forehand to catch the server off guard.
  • Aim to the wide forehand and at the last second quick push to the wide backhand. This freezes the opponent as he thinks he has to cover the wide forehand, leaving his backhand open. A very simply way to disarm or at least hinder the server.
  • Learn to push the serve back short, so that (given the chance) it would bounce twice, and opponent can't loop it. This is more common at the more advanced levels, as it takes touch. But you can't develop that touch unless you develop it by practicing and using it. Once developed, it's a huge weapon, and still the most common receive against most short serves by most world-class players, along with backhand flips.
  • Learn to flip the serve, to the wide backhand, wide forehand, and middle (opponent's transition point). Against a server that wants to follow with a forehand, you would flip to the wide corners. This could be several bullet points but learn to flip both backhand and forehand. Note that many players find backhand flips easier - if so, then there's no reason why you can't step over and backhand flip short serves even to the forehand, as long as you step back quickly.
  • Finally, mix things up. Use all types of short and long pushes, and flips.
Published:

04/18/2022 - 15:21

Author: Larry Hodges

I remember something USATT Hall of Famer Ricky Seemiller once told me at one of my first training camps: "Amateurs practice to the middle forehand and middle backhand. Top players practice to the wide angles." What does that mean? Many players get in the habit of warming up and practicing their shots to exactly what Ricky said - the middle of their partner's forehand or backhand sides, rather than the corner. Watch them warm up forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, and you'll see their shots, on average, are 6-12 inches inside the corner.

What you practice in practice you will do in games.

Top players don't generally practice or play to this area - why would they make things easy for their opponents? Even when warming up with simple forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, their shots will average right over the corners, going wider than the corners about as often as inside the corners. Do the math - it means opponents have 1-2 feet more table to cover, but more like 2-3 feet since shots to the corners are usually crosscourt and angling away. That's a lot of table in a fast-paced game like ours.

I'll say it again: What you practice in practice you will do in games.

So, next time you warm up or practice, focus on keeping your shots to the forehand or backhand to the wide forehand and wide backhand. With a few exceptions, essentially every shot you ever do should go one of three spots - wide forehand, wide backhand, and the opponent's middle (the transition between forehand and backhand, usually around the playing elbow). Since those are the places you should be playing at, those are the places you should be going to when warming up or practicing.

I'll say it one more time: What you practice in practice you will do in games.