Tip of the Week

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

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

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(Want more tips? Here are 171 more, done for the USATT website from 1999-2003, by Larry Hodges as "Dr. Ping Pong." Want even more? Here's the complete USATT archive, with the 171 by Larry as well as ones by Carl Danner from 2003-2007.)




January 7, 2019 - Top Ten Things to Remember in Doubles

Monday, January 7, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Most players play doubles as if it were just a version of singles, but that's a mistake. Doubles is actually far more complicated since there are two players on each side, so there are four different playing styles interacting, plus all the movement as players alternate shots. But you don't need to spend years mastering all these complications to play good doubles. Here's a Top Ten list of things to remember in doubles.  

  1. Signal serves. Let your partner know what's coming! Sometimes the receiver signals the serves, since he's the one who has to follow them up. Typically, signal under the table by pointing a finger down for backspin, thumb up for topspin, sideways for sidespin, and make a fist for no-spin. It's normally assumed the serve will be short, but if you are serving long, point a finger at the opponents to signal it.
  2. Serve to set up your partner. Discuss with him what he's most comfortable with.
  3. Normally don't serve long. If you serve long, it's usually easier to attack. At the higher levels, very few serves are long. At the lower levels, it might be effective if the receiver can't loop it or otherwise attack it effectively.
  4. Normally don't serve too wide. This gives the receiver a wide angle into the forehand, which could give your partner a problem. This is a triple problem, as your partner will have to cover the wide angle, he'll be out of position for the next shot, plus you might be in his way.
  5. Serve low. It's amazing how many players think their serves are low until they have to serve to someone who knows where your serve is going, as in doubles, and is receiving with their best shot. In doubles, you really need to serve low!
  6. Receive to set up your partner. Talk to him so as to find out what he is most comfortable with. You should often receive to the left, so the server gets in his partner's way.
  7. Attack deep serves. For this reason, most players receive forehand. But if you have a strong backhand attack, then there's no reason you shouldn't receive with your backhand. Some players set up to receive forehand, so they can attack deep serves, but when they see the serve is going short, will reach in and receive backhand, either pushing or flipping.
  8. Don't move too much sideways. This is the natural reaction of most players to get out of the way of their partner, but it means they are out of position for the next shot. Instead, step backwards just enough to allow your partner move in front of you. As he hits his shot, you start to move into position, and right after he hits his shot, you move into the table and into position. Try to move into position to favor your strongest shot. For example, a righty with a strong forehand wants to stand a little to the left. One special case - if the opponents play the ball wide to the right, it means your partner has to move wide to the right. If you are a righty, this is the perfect opportunity to step back out of your partner's way, move to the left, and then step in, so that you are in perfect position for the next shot.
  9. Place your rally shots. Most often hit the ball back toward the player who hit at you, or to the side away from his partner, so he gets in his partner's way. But beware giving the opponent's an easy angle they can use against your partner.
  10. No squabbling!!! When there's a problem, discuss it as teammates, because you are a TEAM.





December 31, 2018 - The Next Point is the Biggest Point of Your Life

Monday, December 31, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

What's the most important point in table tennis? The next one. It's that simple. And yet players constantly fret over the previous point, the one that's over and never to be replayed. As far as you are concerned the next point is for the gold medal at the Olympics. If it's a practice match where you are working on something, you might ease up tactically so you can work on specific shots or tactics, but other than that, you should go all-out every point.

Jan-Ove Waldner, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, was once asked what his greatest strength was, and his answer was that it was his ability to always consider the next point the most important point of his life - and play it as such. If you make this a habit, two things happen. First, you always play your best. And second, you get so used to playing "the most important point of your life" that when you do play a big point, you are used to doing so. And guess what? You'll be so used to it you won't even be nervous!






December 10, 2018 - Punish Passivity

Monday, December 10, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

If you play an opponent who plays passively, he's basically daring you to take your best shot. Take the dare! But first - what is your best shot against this player, and how do you get it into play successfully? The problem passive players face is that a good tactical thinker knows what his best shot is against this player, how to get it into play (often with serve and receive), and where it should go. Players like this terrorize passive players. But many players simply haven't thought it through tactically, and so fall victim to these passive players, whose main strength is they let you beat yourself. So rather than beat yourself, think it through, decide what serves, receives, and shots will set up the shots that will beat this player, and beat him instead!

If he can still beat you, then he's just a stronger player. So . . . what should you do? Now it's time for some strategic thinking; figure out what serves, receives, and shots you need to improve so you will have the weapons to tactically beat this player. Then practice them and use them until you are good at them.






December 3, 2018 - Style Disadvantage or Tactical Problem?

Monday, December 3, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Many players do not know the difference between a style disadvantage and a tactical problem. My experience is that style disadvantages are relatively rare, as any sufficiently advanced player has developed enough shots to reach his level so that he can compete with almost any other style at his level. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rarer than most believe. And when there is a seeming style disadvantage, most often it's not really a "style" disadvantage so much as one player not being used to playing a specific style. That's a different thing.

But the reality is that style disadvantages are not that common. What is common, besides not getting to play a specific style often enough to get used to it, is the problem of getting into the habit of tactically playing certain styles the wrong way, without realizing it. Related to this is not developing the often simple techniques that beat a specific style.

For example, you may get blocked down over and by a good blocker, counter-hitter, or chopper because you can't get through their seemingly impenetrable defense - and never realize that it's because you are reflexively going to the corners instead of the playing elbow, where such defenses often fall apart. Or you might be unable to deal with a looper's serve and loop, and never realize you are feeding him by just pushing long over and over, often to the same spot. (Other options: pushing short; aiming for one corner and at the last second going the other way; flipping; and at minimum making your pushes relatively quick, fast, heavy, low, and deep.) Or you might struggle with an opponent's heavy push receive - and never realize it's because you are using the same backspin serves over and over, and not giving him low, no-spin serves, which they not only will tend to pop up, but will be unable to generate nearly as much backspin against them. (Learn to do "heavy no-spin," where you fake backspin but serve a low, short no-spin serve.)

There are many examples - but the first step to overcoming this problem is to realize it exists, and deal with the problem.






November 26, 2018 - Use Your Weaknesses or They Will Always Be Weaknesses

Monday, November 26, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose, for example, you have a strong forehand loop against backspin, but your backhand loop against backspin isn't so good. Then you probably use the forehand every chance you can, and avoid using the backhand loop. Result? You continue to have a strong forehand loop against backspin, but that backhand loop isn't going to improve by not using it.

One of the best wins of my life came when I was serving at 19-all in the third (back when games were to 21). I'd been serving and forehand looping the whole match, but the opponent had gotten used to it, and kept counterlooping winners off it. But recently I'd been working on my much weaker backhand loop a bit - and so, twice in a row, for the first time in the match, I serve and backhand looped instead. The opponent was so caught off guard he missed both outright and I won. If I hadn't been working on that weakness so that it became a useful weapon, I would likely have lost that match.

In practice matches, and even in more competitive matches (so you can learn to do it under pressure), you have to make yourself use the shots that are your weaknesses. If you don't, they will continue to be weaknesses. You might get away with the weakness against players your level, but wouldn't it be nice to challenge players a level higher? To do so, you have to develop your weaknesses, and perhaps even turn them into strengths. You might be surprised at how much an unused shot can improve if you decide to make it central to your game for a few weeks or months!