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.)




September 9, 2019 - Smashing Lobs

Sunday, September 8, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Smashing a lob is more difficult than it looks. There are several reasons for this. The height of a lob makes the ball bounce upwards, something you aren't used to hitting. If it bounces higher than your head, hitting it can be awkward. When it hits the table, it jumps quickly (usually with topspin and often sidespin), making it difficult to hit unless you wait on it. But if you wait on it, it will bounce away from the table, so that you may have to hit it from well off the table, a long way from your target. And if it has spin, it can force you into additional errors. So what should you do?

When you see a lob coming, the first thing to do is to read the spin. If it has topspin, it will jump at you from the table, so don't get too close. If it has sidespin, it will jump sideways, so move to that side. You should also read the depth, and back up some for a deep one.

You should hit a lob above eye level, either as it goes up or as it comes down. If you are tall, this gives you an advantage. You should practice smashing lobs as they drop until you are consistent. If a lob lands short, you should take it on the rise. This way, you can get such a good angle on the ball that it will be impossible for your opponent to cover both sides.

Many players make the mistake of going for an outright winner even off the best lobs. It is low percentage to try to smash a good lob for a winner against a good lobber. Instead, keep smashing hard, but place the ball, usually to the backhand where most players have difficulty counter-attacking. What you want to do is to force a weak lob, one that lands short, and perhaps with less spin, and put that one away. Often a smash to the middle will force a weak lob. But be careful, you don't want to let your opponent counter-hit, so usually avoid his forehand side, until you go for a winner.

There are several advanced techniques for smashing a lob. It is a good idea against all lobs (for righties) to raise the right shoulder. This gives you a better angle on the ball. A good way to do this is to start with your weight on your right foot, then, as you transfer your weight forward, lift your right leg off the ground, raising your right shoulder in the process. Make sure you put your weight into all smashes.

Another way of smashing a lob is to jump in the air, so as to contact the ball high in the air. Although this can make you look foolish if you make a mistake, and is considered a poor method by many - yet some do this pretty well. To do it, you back up from the table, take short running start, and jump in the air, sideways to the table, with your right leg leaving the ground first. As you smash the ball, you do a scissors kick – that is, your right leg goes backwards, your left leg goes forward. This helps you thrust into the shot. By jumping into the air, you get a better angle on the ball, and contact the ball closer to the table, but it may hurt your timing. At the very least, this is a spectacular way to smash in an exhibition!

Many advanced players like to smash lobs right off the bounce, sometimes even against deep balls. This takes great timing, but once perfected, your smash becomes almost unreturnable. But it's easy to miss-time the ball, so it's usually better to take off the bounce only against a short lob.

You should generally avoid drop shots off lobs unless you think it will be an outright winner. If your opponent gets to it, you've let him back into the point. Since it is hard to drop shot a deep lob effectively and a short ball is easy to put away, a drop shot is usually a low percentage shot. However, against a very good lobber who gets into a rhythm and gets ball after ball back, a drop shot is a good change of pace to bring him in, allowing you to attack the next ball when he's too close to the table.






September 2, 2019 - Relaxing the Arm

Monday, September 2, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

 

One of the most common problems coaches face when coaching beginning and intermediate players is getting them to relax their arm when stroking. This writer has not only faced this problem hundreds of times as a coach but has also faced it as a lifetime weakness in his own playing game.

If the muscles in the playing arm (or any other muscle) are tight, then they will not stroke properly. The tight muscles (both the ones you are using and the opposing muscles for the opposite movement) will fight you as you stroke, costing both power and control. Instead, try to keep your arm loose--like a rubber band.

Some players can relax their muscles at will. But many think their arm is relaxed, but it's not as relaxed as it should be. If your arm isn't relaxed, then you are at a disadvantage when you play. How can you cure this problem?

To get the arm warm and loose, take a long warm-up, or perhaps shadow-stroke. Then, as you set up to receive at the start of a point, relax both arms. Let them drop by your side loosely. Take a deep breath, and make sure your jaws and shoulders are relaxed. (If you are tense, these are the most likely spots to tighten up. If they tighten up, the rest of you probably will.) Then, as the point is about to start, bring your arms up as lightly as possible. You can do the same thing on your serve - relax your arms at your side, and then bring them up when you are ready to serve.

If you absolutely cannot relax the arm on your own, it's time to take drastic action. Tense the arm muscles tightly for about five seconds. Then relax. This should help relax the muscles.

A good test as to whether your arm is loose or tight is to imagine someone grabbing your arm as you stroke. They should have no problem in pulling your arm up or down. If you resist, then your arm muscles are too tight.






August 26, 2019 - Don't Get Mad; Get Determined

Sunday, August 25, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Some players get very upset with themselves when they lose a match that they think they could have won. Some don't show it or have a frozen smile, but are just as upset or disappointed on the inside, they are just trying to be a good sport about it - but they may be just as unhappy with the result as the one who shows emotions. There's nothing really wrong with such disappointment; true champions, and future champions, hate to lose.

But how many really do something about it? Instead of getting mad, get determined. Immediately after the match, sit down with a pad of paper or other recording device, and analyze why you lost. What techniques do you need to improve to win next time? Do this while it is fresh on your mind. If you are thinking, "I could have won except for . . ." that's great - that's the first step in analyzing it. Perhaps discuss the match with someone who watched it, or even the opponent.

But then do something about it. Isolate what you need to work on, and do drills that specifically address the problem. Then more game-like ones until whatever technique you had trouble with is no longer a problem.






August 19, 2019 - Strategic Tactics

Sunday, August 18, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Tactical thinking is what you do to win now; Strategic Thinking is what you do to develop your game in the long run. You need both; here are two articles on this:

But there is also what I call Strategic Tactics. What are they? Suppose, in the first point of a match, you push the opponent's serve back, he loops slow and super-spinny, and you block off. You could think, "That's spinny! I better avoid it." And so, tactically, you decide you have to attack his serve or push short over and over, even when you aren't comfortable doing so - which puts you in a weaker tactical situation, since you are afraid to push long, even when the situation calls for it. Instead, perhaps intentionally push long on the second point, so that you can adjust to his spinny loop. If you do this, then you can get used to his spinny loop - and then you can go back to avoiding it when you can (attacking serve or pushing it short), while still having the option of pushing long when you need to. (Here's How to Punish those Slow, Spinny Loops.)

There are many examples of this. If your opponent has a surface you aren't very good at, or a very flat backhand, or very heavy push, rather than avoid it, play into these shots at first so that you get comfortable against them, and then go back to more tactical play.






August 12, 2019 - Serving Short

Monday, August 12, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

One of the most fundamental rules of serving is that you have to be able to serve short. A deep serve may be effective against some players, and up to a certain level, it may always be, but if you cannot serve short, you will always be handicapped against most good players.

A short serve is a serve that, if allowed, would bounce twice on the far side of the table. Because of this, a short serve cannot be looped like a deep serve because the table is in the way. This forces the receiver to reach over the table to return the serve, which can be awkward, especially on the forehand side.

There are many types of short serves, with advantages and disadvantages to each. You can serve very short so that the ball bounces very close to the net. You can serve short so that its second bounce would be near the end-line, which is usually the best option. You can serve sidespin, spinning either right or left, combined with topspin or backspin, or else a pure topspin or backspin serve. You can fake spin but instead serve no-spin. You can serve to the wide angles, to the middle, or anywhere in between. There are endless varieties and you should be able to use most of them.

To serve short takes good touch. Get a bucket of balls and practice alone on a table. If you point the table into a corner, the balls will mostly stay in one spot, so you can practice without long breaks to collect the balls. Practice this until you can control the ball's spin, bounce, and placement.

Start off by serving backspin by brushing the BOTTOM of the ball with an open racket. Try to make the ball barely clear the net. It should bounce close to the net both on your side and your opponent's side. If you do it softly enough, it should bounce several times on the other side; it might even bounce backwards. Contact the ball just above the table level so that it will bounce lower. (Later you will want to be more aggressive with this serve, so that the second bounce is near the opponent's end-line.)

As you learn to control the short backspin serve, try putting sidespin on it by brushing the ball from side to side. Experiment until it feels right. Then practice it until you can do it consistently.

When you can do a short sidespin backspin serve, you're ready to try a short topspin serve. This time contact the ball with your racket going diagonally sideways and up. This action will make the ball pop up and go deep at first, but practice will give you control. Remember to keep the ball low to the net (on ALL serves). Experiment until feels right. Practice until you can put maximum spin on all types of serves and still keep them low and short. (Or fake spin but give no-spin - do this by contacting the ball near the handle, where the racket isn't moving much. You maximize spin by contacting near the tip.)

Generally, all short serves can be classified as either backspin, side-top, or no-spin. You can treat a sidespin-backspin serve as if it were a backspin since both can be pushed - you just have to aim a little to the side against the sidespin-backspin one. A pure sidespin can be treated as a topspin once you get used to it, so unless the serve has backspin, it can be considered a side-top or no-spin serve.

The advantage of the short backspin serve is that it is tricky to attack. The disadvantage is that it can be pushed back heavy or short and is easier to return safely. The advantage of a short side-top serve is that it can be awkward returning it, especially on the forehand, and many times is pushed off the end or popped up. The disadvantage is that it is easier to attack than a short backspin serve. But even if it is attacked, the return of a short side-top serve is easier to deal with because you know in advance the return will almost always be deep. A major advantage of a no-spin serve is that the opponent can't use your spin against you, so the receiver can't push or flip with as much spin. It's also tricky to drop short or keep low, compared to a backspin serve.

You will have to decide which types of spins work best for you. For example, if you like to loop pushes, serve mostly backspin. You will find that certain spins work best against certain players. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is often harder to return a sidespin serve spinning away from you rather than one spinning towards you. For example, a righty's backhand serve is usually more effective to another righty's forehand, and a forehand pendulum serve is often more effective to the backhand.

By serving wide to one side, you make your opponent reach over the table even more but you will also be providing him with the opportunity to hit an extreme angle against you. It is often best to serve to the middle and force the opponent to move both sideways and in, while also taking away the extreme angle. Again, this depends on the opponent as well as your own game.

A short serve can be effective even if done over and over as long as you vary the spin. However, a short serve is most effective when used in conjunction with deep serves, so the receiver has more things to worry about.

Finally, you should watch the good players whenever possible and copy their serves. Don't be afraid to ask questions – most players are glad to give you a lecture on their favorite serve. Best of all, work with a coach who can really help you with your serves.

Placement is extremely important. For example, very short serve can be awkward to receive for some, and draws him over the table, leaving him vulnerable to a deep return. But it can be returned at an extreme angle. See what gives your opponent the most trouble, both placement, depth, and spin.

Most importantly though, get out that bucket of balls and practice!