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

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Published:

10/03/2022 - 16:24

Author: Larry Hodges

Many matches are decided in the rallies. The Larry Line (can I copyright that?) is that level of speed, quickness, and spin (done consistently) that overwhelms a given opponent so that they start to either fall apart or are forced to back up and play defensively. Everyone has such a line; if you can find your opponent's and are able to play just above that Line, the opponent will become erratic or be forced to play defensively. The key here is not over-playing by going so far above this Line that you lose consistency. If you play just below it, then the opponent will feel comfortable and won't make many mistakes. Play 1% above it and your opponent will start to miss or make weak returns that you can put away.

Here's the corollary - if, instead, your opponent is able to find your Larry Line and you are unable to play above his, then you have to develop alternate tactics. Sometimes you can win because the opponent overplays, going well above your Line, and so makes too many mistakes. (Or, if they are a weaker player, they simply lack consistency whether above or below your Line.) Otherwise, either you play more defensive (usually stepping back to give yourself more time to react), or dominate with serve and receive, with early attacks that end the point before getting into too many losing rallies. But then, once the match is over, go practice to raise your Larry Line - because, if you are like me, you draw the line at losing!

Published:

09/26/2022 - 15:48

Author: Larry Hodges

Often an opponent serves short backspin or no-spin serves to the middle or backhand, and all you can do is push it back. If so, you should develop your flip. But there's an alternative that's often overlooked - a simple quick, deep push to the wide backhand.

To do this, you take the serve right off the bounce, aiming it wide to the server's backhand. You can either hit it relatively fast to the wide corner, or (often better) hit it a bit softer (with a slightly downward stroke to keep the ball low), but outside the backhand corner – essentially, you chip it back. Give it a good backspin, though placement and consistency are more important. The result? First, it pretty much takes the server's forehand attack out of play. (If they do step around and forehand loop, next time try the same receive, aiming to the backhand again, but at the last second push it quick to the forehand.) Second, even if they have a strong backhand attack, they will be rushed, angled, and have to move sideways to make the shot. In most cases, since they are being rushed, jammed, and forced to move sideways, their attacks will be inconsistent or weak, along with putting them out of position - and so it's likely they'll just push it back. Congratulations, you've just disarmed their service game!

As a corollary, it's helpful to develop your backhand loop as this tactic will often lead to a serve and push to your backhand. A consistent, spinny backhand loop against backspin is a huge weapon as a "four-ball" attack - opponent serves, you chip it to their backhand, they push it back to your backhand, and you backhand loop.

Published:

09/19/2022 - 16:38

Author: Larry Hodges

We're going to have a little fun this week. There's more to table tennis than just going to the table and relentlessly trying to win. There's also the fun part! And next to lobbing, the funnest thing I do in table tennis is blowing the ball in the air. I know, because it's often what I'm asked to demonstrate more than anything else!!!

What am I talking about, blowing the ball? Here's video of the trick, from an interview I did in 2020 with Kevin Nguyen. (The link should take you to 38:45.) Notice that I'm not just blowing the ball up, but I'm blowing it sideways - and somehow, magically, it just floats in mid-air. Here's how you do it.

First, learn to do it straight up. To do this, face straight up. (In the video, I'm facing somewhat sideways, but you can't start that way.) Hold the ball a few inches from your mouth. Blow gently, and then release the ball. The key is to find the right distance and how hard you blow the ball, so that when you release the ball, it doesn't shoot up or down - it just stays where you let it go. If you don't get this right, and the ball goes up or down as you release it, you'll lose control. You'll notice from the video that I started blowing first, and when I released the ball, it barely moved.

Once you've mastered this, you can move to the next step - blowing the ball sideways. The key here is to blow the top of the ball. Most think you blow under the ball, but that won't work. If you watch the video closely, you'll see that when I release the ball, the top of the ball immediately begins to spin away from me, since I'm blowing the top of the ball. This spin causes the Magnus effect - the same thing that makes a topspin ball drop and a backspin ball float (or curve upward if there were no gravity). By spinning the top of the ball away from me, it creates a low pressure area on the top of the ball, and a high pressure area on the bottom of the ball. Result? The low pressure area pulls the ball up, while the high pressure area pushes it up. Result - the ball "magically" floats in mid-air!

So . . . get practicing! When you can do it, show it to me (and everyone else) at a tournament!

Published:

09/12/2022 - 04:26

Author: Larry Hodges

Consistency isn't just something you need to learn to do; it's an attitude. It's the idea that, no matter what happens, you can keep the ball in play longer than your opponent. If you convince yourself you can do that, then you no longer are hesitant about your shots, and so your consistency shoots up. Consistency is mostly in the mind. (Plus lots of practice.)

You have to practice to develop this consistency. For example, to be a consistent rallier, you need to do practice drills where your practice partner plays all over the table and you relentlessly rally, keeping the ball in play at a good rallying pace.

But too often players practice attack, attack, attack! It's a lot easier to go from consistent rallying shots to consistent attack then to go from wild, inconsistent attacks to consistent attacks. Develop that consistency, and focus on that at each level you reach. This doesn't mean just keeping the ball in play or becoming a blocker; it means that your attacks need to be consistent attacks, as does every aspect of your game.

Player after player, as they develop, learn the lesson of consistency. Take 10% off your attacks, focus on consistency (and placement), and your level will shoot up.

Published:

09/05/2022 - 14:05

Author: Larry Hodges

When you lose a match against someone around your playing level, you didn't lose because your opponent calculated a series of seven shots of varying types, speeds, spins, depths, and placements, all presumably worked out on a blackboard in advance with lots of X's and O's, like they do in football. Nope, table tennis isn't like that. The sheer number of possible tactics is incredible, but individually, each of these zillions of tactics are themselves rather simple.

So why did you lose in an otherwise competitive match? Perhaps because your opponent had 1-3 tactics (consciously or subconsciously) that were more successful against you than the 1-3 tactics you used (consciously or subconsciously) against him.

The first key is to develop a large arsenal of possible tactics - with variations that increase that number greatly - and have them ready when needed. The second key is learning to recognize when to use which tactics. This takes experience.

Guess what? The sooner you start thinking this way, the sooner you'll gain that experience and start recognizing which tactics to use in any given match. Experiment, and don't fret too much about finding "perfect" tactics - find 1-3 that work, and don't worry about the other zillion possibilities, many of which may also work. In general, think about what serves and receives set up your attack or favorite type of rallies, and what type of rallying tactics favor your game.

Here are some examples of "simple" tactics that were successful, all from the last tournament I coached at.

  • In one match, the key was to attack all three spots - wide forehand, wide backhand, middle (roughly playing elbow) - but look to end the point to the forehand when that side opened up, as it invariably did after a few shots.
  • In two doubles matches, the key was to loop all deep serves, but drop nearly all short serves short - no flipping except as an occasional variation. The opponents in both of these doubles matches were just waiting for the ball to come out to them, so we didn't give them that. By bringing in the opponents, they got in each other's way, so we also played wide angles, to exasperate this. Result?  Two big upsets. (Sometimes the tactic[s] that work in one match work in another!)
  • In another, the tactic was simple - follow the opponent's elbow around and keep attacking it. The opponent had long arms and was very strong from the corners. So we rarely put a ball there.
  • In another, the key was also simple - take shots as quick as possible and take everything to the wide backhand. This was especially important on the return of serve, where I had the player take the ball quick and essentially chip it to the wide backhand. This took out the opponent's very strong forehand while reducing him to playing his weak backhand.
  • In another, the opponent had a very strong backhand, and a willingness to cover much of the table with it. But the forehand was weak. So we went after the forehand relentlessly, never going to the backhand side unless the opponent moved over to play backhand from the forehand side - and then we'd quick-block to the open backhand side, and then go right back to going after the forehand. We also did lots of fast, deep serves to the forehand. A match that started out scary turned into an easy win.

So, next time you play, what are the 1-3 tactics you will use?