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

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Published:

11/29/2021 - 15:58

Author: Larry Hodges

Few things are more frustrating than losing a match because the other guy got a bunch of "lucky" nets and edges. And yes, each of those nets and edges were lucky - individually. But in the long run, certain styles or tactics lead to such "luck." So, how can you get lucky?

  • If you play aggressively, you'll get more edges because your shots will tend to go deep.
  • If you play aggressively to wide angles, you'll get more edges on the side.
  • If you play shots low to the net, you'll get more nets.

But there are tradeoffs for each of these. If you play deep, you're more likely to go off the end. If you play wide angles, you're more likely to go too wide and off the side. If you play shots low to the net, you're more likely to go into the net. It's all a tradeoff.

In generally, it's good to play aggressively deep and wide. Most players play too safe, and so limit the effectiveness of their shots. Instead, challenge yourself to play these shots more aggressively, as the top players do.

However, you might not want to play your rallying shots too low to the net. When serving or pushing, that's when you want your shots low to the net. But once in a topspin rally, you need more arc on your shots for consistency. Even aggressive loops cross the net with a decent net clearance.

So, you've got to ask yourself one question. Are you ready to get lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Published:

11/22/2021 - 23:04

Author: Larry Hodges

Do you have weaknesses in your game, ones that often cost you a match? Of course you do! Everyone does, since weaknesses are relative to your level, and so the weakest parts of your game are the weaknesses in your game. (If you improve a weakness to the point where it is no longer a weakness - and thereby improve - than some other part of your game becomes your weakness, relative to your new level.) So, how do you fix these weaknesses? There are three steps. 

  • First, you must identify the weaknesses in your game. You might already know what they are. I'll start - the biggest weaknesses in my game were a tendency to be too soft with my backhand in rallies, difficulty in covering my wide backhand, and I struggled with spinny loops to my backhand. (Hmmm, there's a pattern here.) So what about you? There's an easy way to figure out what the holes in your game are - ask your regular playing partners! Table tennis is a collaborative effort and playing partners should constantly be giving feedback to each other.
  • Second, you must fix the weaknesses. How do you do this? Coaching and practice. When I say "coaching," that doesn't always mean hiring a coach, though that's the first thought. You can also ask experienced players for help, or self-coach by watching how others do it. And then, you practice it until it is no longer a weakness in your game (or in some cases, not such a glaring weakness). To use my own example, once I realized I had difficulty in covering my wide backhand, I figured out why - it was because I did so many drills that went to my backhand corner that I'd literally trained my feet to stop once I reached that corner, and so struggled with anything that went wider. By the time I started addressing that problem, I was already more of a coach and was no longer training seriously, and so I never really fixed the problem. But the solution would have been to have practice partners go as wide as possible to my backhand in drills, forcing me out of the comfort zone I'd fallen into.
  • Third, you should learn how to hide the weaknesses in your game. This is a tricky option, since by hiding it, you might not develop it. And yet, no matter what your level is, and no matter how many times you fix a weakness until it is no longer a weakness, there will always be weaknesses in your game, relative to your level. At some point, if you are looking to win big matches, you have to tactically play to win now so as to win those big matches, which means covering up for whatever weaknesses you have at that time. Which means you need to get in the habit of covering for those weaknesses - which means you need to find a balance.

    ​​​​​​​That might mean playing a little different in many practice matches, where you try to fix the weaknesses, but in more serious matches (tournaments and leagues), and in some practice matches, you find ways to cover for those weaknesses. For example, because I always had trouble with spinny loops to my backhand, my solution was simple - I got into the habit of flipping or pushing short against nearly all short serves. That way I didn't have to push long and face a spinny opening loop, since loops against backspin (i.e. a long push) are spinnier than those against topspin. (When I did face spinny loops to my backhand, I'd often cover up the backhand weakness by trying to step around and smash or counterloop with my forehand every chance I could - both because my forehand was strong against spin loops, and to cover for the backhand weakness.) Of course, it might have been better for me to have just pushed long a lot, so I could practice against those spinny loops! It all comes down to finding a balance between doing what tactically works now (my not pushing long) versus longer-term strategic thinking (pushing long so I'd become more comfortable against spinny loops to my backhand). If I had strategically pushed long until I'd become comfortable against those spinny loops to my backhand, then there would have been some other weakness I'd have to cover up for - and, as noted above, eventually, if I wanted to win big matches, I had to accept that you sometimes have to simply cover up for your weaknesses or you'll forever be exposing your weaknesses . . . and losing.

 

Published:

11/15/2021 - 14:29

Author: Larry Hodges

If your opponent is quicker than you, than the last thing you want to do is let him rush you. If you put the ball short over the table, then your quick opponent will be able to hit very quickly at wide angles. So keep most shots deep against quick opponents to give yourself more time. (This is especially true against players who hit quick off the bounce with pips of any sort.)

At the same time, don't be so intimidated by quicker players that you play everything deep, thereby being predictable. Deep balls are usually easier to attack then short balls, and if your quick opponent is attacking them effectively, then perhaps start some rallies with a short ball (short serve or short push) to throw him off and bring them over the table - and then go deep.

Published:

11/08/2021 - 14:58

Author: Larry Hodges

"If it weren't for your serves, I'd have won." How many times have you heard or said or thought that? Receive is seemingly everyone's weakness. But it shouldn't. The primary reason why so many people have weak receives is because they don't systematically practice it.

If you want to develop your forehand, you practice it. The same is true of just about any other part of your game, from serving to footwork to all the strokes. You'd practice it over and over until it's improved - that's systematic practice. But do you do the same for receive? Or do you just rely on practicing it in game situations, and somehow think that's all that's needed to develop one of the most difficult parts of the game?

How do you systematically practice receive? By (drum roll please) systematically practicing it. This means finding a practice partner or coach who serves to you, over and over, so you can (systematically) work on your receive. Have trouble looping a certain type of deep serve? Have your partner serve this deep serve so you can practice against it. Have trouble with a type of receive against a short serve? Have your partner serve it to you so you can practice it. The goal is to make your receive so relentlessly reliable that it not only isn't a weakness, it becomes a strength.

It doesn't matter whether your receive is aggressive (where you try to take the initiative, usually with a loop or a flip), neutral (where you nullify the server's serve and turn things into a neutral rally, in a number of ways - a consistent loop, flip, or long or short push, with the short push the most common way at higher levels), or passive (usually long pushes), it should be so relentlessly reliable that the server never gets a "free" point via you missing or popping up a ball and giving him an easy put-away. Even your "aggressive" flips should be toned down for consistency, using quickness and placement instead of overly aggressive and less consistent flips.

Once you are consistent against any given serve, have your partner or coach serve everything at you, with the intent to force mistakes. When you have a relentlessly reliable receive against all these serves, you are ready to face them in competition - and you'll never have to say, "If it weren't for your serves, I'd have won.)

Published:

11/03/2021 - 14:37

Author: Larry Hodges

Exactly as the heading says - this is the time to try out new things, develop new techniques, and improve your game. If a player has trouble looping, for example, many will fall back on more successful shots in practice - and so continue to have trouble looping. Instead, use those very shots that need to be developed in practice matches so that they will eventually be developed enough to use in more important matches.

So, take a good look at where your game is, and where you want it to (realistically) be in the relatively near future. Then play that way in practice until you can do it well.

One thing that really helps when trying out new things is to find a weaker player to work on using new techniques in a game situation. For example, if you need work on looping against backspin, play games against someone, usually a weaker player, where you can serve backspin, he likely pushes it back, and you get to work on looping against backspin. If you play a strong player, he'll likely make stronger returns (flips, short pushes, or long pushes that you aren't quite ready for yet), and you won't get as much practice. (Plus, the games likely won't be competitive.) Or just play improvised games where the receiver always has to push back long, and then you both get to work on looping backspin!