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



10/04/2021 - 16:54

Author: Larry Hodges
  1. "Tactics isn’t about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work."
  2. "Strategic thinking is how you develop your game. Tactical thinking is how you use what you have to win."
  3. "Tactical thinking is a habit you develop."
  4. "If you couldn't write a book about your game, either you don't know your game, or you have no game."
  5. "When you reach a new level in table tennis, it might take time before you win at that level as your opponents are tactically and psychologically used to that level, and you are new to it."
  6. "Use in matches what you fear to use. Then you'll get better at it and won't fear to use it."
  7. "Develop good serves and try to follow them with an attack. You'll not only have better serves, but your footwork and attack will also improve. It's a triple-whammy."
  8. "When you win, learn why you won. When you lose, learn why you lost. Always learn."
  9. "When you need to fix a weakness or develop a strength, for a time, focus almost entirely on that."
  10. "If you aren't having fun on the inside, you are doing it wrong."

09/27/2021 - 16:12

Author: Larry Hodges

On the forehand side, when someone pushes long, it's almost always a good idea to loop. Because of this, many players are not comfortable forehand pushing except against a short ball. Against a deep ball, they almost always loop, and that's usually a good thing. The problem is when they play a chopper, where suddenly having a good forehand push against a deep ball becomes important.

When playing a chopper, one of the worst things you can do is attack over and over without letup. A chopper wins points on your mistakes, and so he wants you to play too aggressive, thereby making too many mistakes. Instead, it's almost always best to attack one ball, and if the chopper makes a good return against a strong loop - i.e. returns it so you can't put the ball away with relative ease - then you should usually push and start over. When they chop your loop back, you are usually getting much more spin than normal (especially if you loop to long pips), plus it's trickier to read accurately, plus the defender is already standing back there, in position for your attack. So instead of going for another risky attack, just push, bringing the chopper in, and then you can attack again. (This is especially true if they make a good chop return of your spinnier loops. If you loop with only a little topspin - i.e. roll the ball - then you generally get less backspin on the return, and so may be able to keep attacking until you see one to go after. It's a chopped return of your stronger, spinnier loops that you should more often push unless the ball is high.)

The problem is that, if you don't have a good forehand push, you'll make lots of mistakes. Matches are often won and lost on this simple shot, since so many attackers aren't comfortable forehand pushing against a deep backspin, and so lose far too many points that way. Or, since they aren't comfortable forehand pushing, they attack against balls where it would be higher percentage to push.

You could cover the whole table against a chopper with your backhand push, and many do - but that would mean you have to decide early on whether to forehand attack or backhand push, and so you might make the wrong call. It also means you would be telegraphing early on that you are going to push, and so the chopper can move in toward the table.

Instead, learn to forehand push against deep chops. That way, you can wait much longer before you decide whether to attack or push, thereby giving yourself more time to make the judgment, and not letting the chopper know early on which you will do. (In fact, it's often best to cover the entire table with your forehand loop and push against a chopper.) You might also find this valuable against other defensive players, such as a blocker who waits for you to attack - this allows you to push several balls before find the right one to attack. Or you can use it against an aggressive player who doesn't have a strong attack against push.

So even if you don't normally forehand push against deep balls, make sure to practice pushing with someone, including that not-as-often-used forehand push! The next time you play a chopper, you'll thank me for it.


09/20/2021 - 16:17

Author: Larry Hodges

A warm-up is different than practice. Practice is to improve, maintain, or fine-tune a technique. Few players improve unless they do lots of this. However, the focus of this tip is on warming up.

Warm-up is to groove your shots before playing matches. (You also warm up before a practice session, but that's more to loosen up before serious drilling.) How can you improve your warm-up?

Don't go to the table cold. Do some easy jogging and perhaps some shadow practice to warm up the muscles.

Especially for a tournament, try to arrange in advance to warm up with someone you are used to practicing with. The partner you choose should be a relatively steady player - you can't groove your shots against someone who hits each shot erratically. Your partner should also be reliable – it doesn't help if he doesn't show up or shows up late when all the tables are taken.

You should decide in advance what you need to warm up. Make sure to warm up every major aspect of your game! That means forehands and backhands, crosscourt and down-the-line, looping, blocking, footwork, and so on. Don't forget pushing! Many players will push erratically in a match because they didn't warm it up. Even serves should be warmed up, especially deep ones that can be tricky to pull off if not warmed up first. For most techniques, 2-3 minutes might be enough to warm it up, but take whatever time is needed.

A really good warmup, covering everything, takes at least 45 minutes or more, though you can probably get most of it done in 30 minutes. The less time you have, the more you'll have to cut corners. For club play, you might not be able to get all this in unless you come early. Many players simply warm up the basics for maybe 5-10 minutes, and then warm up the rest by playing matches. You can do that, but it might not optimize your play.

Finish the warmup by playing actual points. You might start off with common rally types. For example, you might have one person serve backspin, the receiver pushes long, the server loops, and play out the point. At the end, play regular points. Many players leave out this part - and the first time they play regular points is in a real match. Not the best way to prepare!

How do you know if you've had a good warmup? You'll feel ready to play. If you don't, then you didn't get a good warmup. And the nice thing is that, cumulatively, these warm-ups not only prepare you for a match, but they also help you improve as you groove your shots.


09/13/2021 - 16:25

Author: Larry Hodges

It's an advantage to have a top coach in your corner during a match. They can quickly pinpoint weaknesses of an opponent and come up with tactics that will maximize your chances of winning. They are also good at helping you get into the right mentality for a match.

Most players will never have a coach in their corner for most of their matches. But guess what? You don't need a coach in every match, not if you learn from the times that you do. It's still an advantage to have one, but the more you learn from a coach in the matches that he does coach, the better you become in matches where you don't have one.

Every coach is different, but in general, they stress some of the same things: what serves and receives to use, what shots to use (including shots to set up other shots), placement, and so on. But when you have a coach stressing these things in enough matches, it becomes second-nature for you to start looking for the same things.

If you have a coach in ten matches, and each time he's saying some variation of, "Attack the middle and wide forehand," "attack the middle and wide backhand," "attack the wide corners," "attack all three spots," then pretty soon it's ingrained on you to look for which of these placements to go for against various opponents, keeping in mind that each placement sets up other placements. (For example, attacking the middle often sets you up to attack the wide corner.)

Similarly, after ten matches with a coach, you'll start to get an idea for what types of serves and receives to use against different players, and it becomes ingrained to look for which ones to use, in particular what spins, placements, and depths. You'll also get an idea of what's the best mentality to have in a match.

And then, guess what? You'll play tournaments without a coach, and do really well. When that happens, some think, "See, I don't need a coach!" Others realize that the reason they did so well without a coach is because they learned from a coach in the matches where they were coached. And from then on, they'll continue to do well whether they have a coach or not - but it always helps to have a match coach, both for that particular match and as a continued "tune-up" to keep your tactical and mental skills at their maximum.

It's no different than any other type of table tennis training. It helps to have a coach work with you when you practice, but that doesn't mean you can't practice without a coach. Similarly, it helps to have a coach in a match, but that doesn't mean you can't play well without a coach. And once you've worked with a match coach enough, then if that coach has done a good job, you'll always have a coach in your future matches - yourself!


09/07/2021 - 15:38

Author: Larry Hodges

It's wise to approach a match with the idea of using your strengths, but don't forget to test your opponent as well. You don't want to lose a match because you didn't know about a glaring weakness in his game! This is why it's often good to scout out an opponent in advance, or ask other players about him, so you can go in knowing what his weaknesses might be. Ideally, this allows you to play your strengths against their weaknesses. But while it's difficult to win without using your main strengths, you can often win by matching your average shots against his weakness, or even your weakness against his even bigger weaknesses. (I remember once watching two players with big forehands go at it an entire match, backhand to backhand, with each player keeping the ball very wide to the others backhand so the opponent couldn't use his big forehand. So it became a battle of their weaknesses.) So test your opponents - serve long & short with different speeds and spins; test their forehand, backhand, and middle; attack at different speeds; try various types of pushes, and so on. Don't risk not knowing your opponent's weaknesses!