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



12/04/2023 - 14:38

Author: Larry Hodges

I've always thought this is one of the most underused techniques in table tennis. Most players simply do whatever it seems they are going to do. And opponents see what they are doing and have little trouble reacting to it. How boringly simple that is! Instead, why not fake one thing, then do something else? And watch your poor opponent's jaw (and game) drop?

How do you do this? Simply aim one way, and change directions at the last instant. With backhand pushes and blocks it's especially easy to aim crosscourt, and at the last second go down the line. But you can do it both ways. With the forehand, if you rotate your shoulders all the way back, it looks like you are going off to the right (for a righty), but at the last instant you can whip your shoulders around and go the other way. Or you can set up to go to the left, and at the last instant rotate the shoulders back and go to the right. You can do last-second changes of direction with loops, drives, blocks, and pushes. They are often especially effective when receiving. You can do the same thing with serves, where you aim the racket in one direction right up to contact, and at the last instant change directions.

There are other fake-outs. Some players fake out opponents by looking one way while hitting the other way. You can also fake a spinny serve or push with a big motion but just pat the ball with little or no spin. One of my favorites is to serve and then start to step around my backhand corner to play forehand. Opponents sees this and reflexively go to my wide forehand - except, just before they hit the ball (but after they can change directions), I change directions and move to the wide forehand, where I get an easy forehand attack, which is my strength.

If you always do what you seem to be doing, you might as well be signaling your opponent, practically pointing and yelling out, "Hey, I'm hitting the ball over there!" Now imagine the opponent's consternation when you seem to do this, but instead go the other way. Free points!!!


11/27/2023 - 06:12

Author: Larry Hodges

I once read an article that compared the tactical approach of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, two of the greatest tennis players of all time. Federer tended to adjust his game against different opponents, while Sampras tended to forced opponents to adjust to his. Both approaches work, in both tennis and table tennis, and you should learn both. (Note that I used the word "tended" for both as both players used both methods.) But how do you do this, and which should you emphasize?

Examples for forcing your game on an opponent:

  • Serve a short backspin or no-spin serve, which often forces a deep push return which you can loop.
  • Looking to loop any ball you can with tremendous topspin to force the opponent to block.
  • Playing quick, aggressive shots to wide angles and middle to force mistakes.
  • Serving topspin to get right into a fast topspin rally.
  • Serving backspin or pushing serves back to get into a pushing rally, if you are good at pushing and defense.

Examples of adjusting your game to an opponent:

  • Playing his weaker side.
  • Pushing heavy if he has trouble lifting heavy backspin.
  • Serving deep, spinny serves that the opponent is unable to return consistently or effectively.
  • Attacking the middle of a tall player who plays the corners well but has trouble covering the middle.
  • Attacking the wide angles of a short player who has trouble covering the corners.

So, what should you do? Ideally, do both. Force your game on them while adjusting your game to them as well. Serve that short no-spin ball that sets up your attack, then attack to their weaker side. If you are good at pushing heavy and defending against opening attacks, and the opponent has trouble with heavy backspin on one side, push quick and heavy to that side. And so on.

With experience, you learn how much to force your game on the other, and how and when to adjust to theirs. And the more you do this, the easier it becomes - and you'll be playing your strengths into their weaknesses. Guess who wins?


11/20/2023 - 15:16

Author: Larry Hodges

Most players who play the crosscourt corners do exactly that - they play the crosscourt corners. And that's where many or most of your attacks should go, as they give the most table when hitting crosscourt. However, when looping (where the topspin pulls the ball down so you need less table), against shorter balls (where you have more angle), or when attacking from a wide corner (also giving more angle), you should be doing more than just going to a wide corner - whenever possible, you should go outside the corner. This can add an extra foot for the opponent to cover - and allows you to run him ragged.

The key here is that you can't learn to do this unless you actually spend time (drum roll please) practicing it. That means challenging your instincts and going for wider and wider angles on your shots, pushing the limit, and often missing as you gradually gain an instinct for just how wide you can safely go. You also have to gain an instinct for how to follow it up against various opponents. Once you go to a wide angle, the seemingly logical thing to do is go the opposite way on the next shot, and that usually works. But many players expect that, and after going wide, immediately move to cover the other wide angle. And so it's often best to go wide to the same spot twice in a row. Experiment and you'll gain an instinct for this.

It's not just in rallies. If an opponent serves short, why not take it off the bounce and make a wide-angled return that goes outside the corner?

During my peak years, one of my primary weaknesses was anyone who could attack my wide backhand outside the corner. I was a wall up to the corner, from many years of training. But since I rarely drilled against balls outside the corner, I tended to lunge for them even though I had time to move into position. And like me, many players are so used to covering the area from corner to corner, so when you make them go outside that, they often fall apart. And that's what you want!


11/13/2023 - 13:06

Author: Larry Hodges

Professional coaches always seem to know what to say to a player between games or in a timeout. That's why they are professional coaches. A good coach has essentially seen it all and can see the patterns that lead to tactics that will work in that match. They also understand the psychology of table tennis and know how to best get their player into the right frame of mind.

But suppose you are coaching someone between games, and you aren't a professional coach or top player who has seen it all, and aren't all that sure what to say to the player between games and during timeouts? (A good example of this would be parents who are coaching their kids.) Here's what you do - and #4 and #5 is probably most important.

  1. Speak slowly and calmly, even if it means saying less. If you sound like a nervous wreck, think how that's going to affect your player.
  2. Keep it simple. What's the best serves to use? Best receives? Best rally shots and placements? No more than 2-3 things is best.
  3. Be specific. Don't tell them to focus on better receives; tell them what specific receives work better.
  4. Find ways to raise their confidence. If they look nervous, don't tell them to relax - that doesn't work. Tell them to imagine it's just another practice match at the club. Have them stare at something in the distance for ten seconds while clearing their mind. Tell them, "You can do this." Simple statements like that work. Ask them what their game plan is - a lot of nervousness comes from not being sure what they should do. Having a general game plan, and actually stating it, often fixes that. Just as importantly, thinking tactically keeps one from thinking about winning and losing. You can’t think about two things at once.
  5. If you aren't sure what to say, ask questions. Ask them what their go-to serve is - that's a good way to make it clear in their mind what serves they should use. (I am a professional coach, and I often ask this of my players, even if I know the answer. If he gives a different answer, then perhaps he has confidence in that serve - and then I suggest what I had in mind as another serve to use as well.) Ask how he thinks he should receive the opponent's most common serve. Ask where he thinks the opponent is weakest. Ironically, these questions get two birds with one stone - they not only get the player thinking tactically, but they also get their mind off winning and losing - see the end of #4 above.

And there's a great benefit to coaching someone even if you aren't a professional coach - it gets you thinking tactically while seeing real-world tactical issues, and makes you a better tactical player. Good luck!


11/05/2023 - 23:02

Author: Larry Hodges

So, you want to react to an opponent's shot like the pro's? That's simple - as long as you follow the three principles to fast reactions. They are:

  1. Ready position. If you have a good ready position to start from, it's much easier to react quickly. Many players have poor ready positions, and so aren't ready to move right away. You need to recover quickly from the previous shot (very important, often a problem!), stay balanced, weight on front inside part of your food, feet at least shoulder width apart (as far apart as you are comfortable - watch the pro's, but remember they do physical training that allows their very wide stances), with racket pointing right at the expected contact point of the opponent. Never wait to see if you have to move - expect to move.
  2. React, don’t guess. Many players feel panicky and so try to react too soon, and so their first move isn't the right move. Take your time and make sure your first move is the right move - don't try to guess. (There are a few exceptions to this, such as if the opponent is predictable or if he's about to put the ball away and you have to guess where it's going.) Always remember - You have more time than you think! It's surprising but true that consistent quickness comes from taking your time.
  3. Move to the ball. In a fast rally, many, probably most players react first by reaching for the ball. NO!!! Always react first by reflexively moving your feet. (There are times where you are caught out of position and are forced to reach - but only do this while also stepping.) The key thing is that reacting by moving your feet is a habit you can develop with practice. It needs to become your first instinct. One way of developing this habit is to focus on balance - if you keep stay balanced, you are forced to move rather than lunging at the ball.

And that's all there is to it. Did I mention you have to practice to develop these things?