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Tip of the Week

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

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

Have a question about a Tip of the Week? Ask on the Forum!!!

(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.)

December 28, 2016 - Coaching and Playing Under the New ITTF Coaching Rule

Monday, January 16, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

As of Oct. 1, 2016, the ITTF changed the coaching rule. Before that time, coaching was allowed only between games and timeouts. Now the rule is, "Players may receive advice at any time except during rallies provided play is not thereby delayed."

What does this mean for players and coaches? In theory, it means coaches can tell players what to do every point, either by calling it out (perhaps in a language the opposing player or coaches does not know) or signaling. It means a player can look back before each serve and the coach can signal what serve to use. It means that when a coach sees the player is doing something tactically wrong, he can tell the player immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the game or calling a one-time timeout.

In practice, it's not that simple. In most cases, calling out advice is risky as the opponent (or coach or friend of the player nearby) may know the language. In many cases, the coach might only know one language, and is so handicapped. So this type of coaching will mostly take place when a ball happens to come by the barrier where the coach is, and the coach can then whisper something to the player. This can, of course, be abused – a player may take a sudden walk around the court, getting close enough to the coach to hear his whispered advice, and will likely get away with it. (But woe be the player who is too transparent, and, say, kicks to ball toward his coach so he can go pick it up!)

In reality, except for the serve, table tennis is a game of reacting to an opponent, and trying to over-coach often turns a player from reacting to the opponent to over-anticipating (and thereby not reacting properly to the opponent). So coaches and players should be very careful about coaching during a game on most areas.

However, the serve is different. I expect that more and more coaches and players will set up signals whereby the coach can signal in serves. Some coaches will want to do so every serve. I think that's a mistake, as it turns the player into essentially a mindless zombie. Instead, coaches will likely develop signals to emphasize what serves the player should favor. For example, if a player keeps serving deep, and the coach wants him to serve short, he doesn't need to signal every serve; he simply needs a signal that says "serve short more." Or one for "serve long more." Or "more backspin serves." And so on.

That doesn't mean the coach won't want to signal (or whisper) other advise, but only sparingly. If a player is, say, playing too much to the backhand, the coach doesn't need to signal each point for him to play more to the forehand or middle; he needs a general signal for this to remind the player.

The problem with a player receiving constant coaching during a game is that he will stop thinking for himself, and so always have to rely on the coach. You can't learn to think tactically unless you are thinking tactically, and so a player who relies too much on the coach will grow up to be weak tactically. On the other hand, a player who learns to think for himself, but gets periodic signals – "corrections" – from a coach, can learn to think for himself, especially as he learns to self-correct and learn why the coach wants him to make certain tactical changes.

One practical concern is which side of the table the player is on. If the player is on his side, the coach can often whisper advice to him. When he's on the far side, he can signal to him when (with the opposing player's back to him).

So what should a player with a match coach do? Before the match, work out signals with the coach. Keep them simple; if you spend your time trying to remember what each signal means, it means you won't be thinking about what you should be thinking about, i.e. tactical thinking. Perhaps a signal about short or long serves (including fast ones, such as down the line); type of serve (forehand pendulum, backhand serve, etc.); service spin (backspin, topspin, sidespin, no-spin); placement (forehand, backhand, middle); and for more (or less) aggressive. These are some of the common things that coaches might want to say to a player in a match. But overuse of even service signals will probably be counter-productive – instead, the player should be making these decisions, with the coach giving occasional input when he thinks a major change is needed. 

December 27, 2016 - Focus on How to Beat Someone, Not On Why You Can’t

Monday, January 9, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

How often have you played a match against someone who has something that scares you? Strong serves? Strong forehand or backhand? Quick blocks? Heavy push? And so on. Many players get pre-occupied worrying about how to deal with these shots rather than focusing on what they can do to win.

For example, if an opponent has a very strong backhand, don’t focus on or worry about their backhand; instead focus on what you want to do to bring your own strong shots out while avoiding theirs. Against a strong backhand player, you have many options. You can attack their forehand; go to the forehand to draw them out of position and then go back backhand, forcing awkward shots; go to the middle and wide backhand (as well as forehand) to force even more awkward shots; keep the ball deep so their backhands aren’t so strong; give them shots that their backhand isn’t so strong against (heavy topspin, heavy backspin, quick shots, etc.); throw them off with varied pace; or use serve and receive to dominate rallies so they don’t get to use their strong backhand (or whatever else their strength is). 

The same is true of any other strong shot, including serves. If they have a strong serve, focus on how to return it to take away their best follows. So stop worrying, do some analysis, perhaps experiment a bit, and focus on bringing out your strong shots while taking away the opponents!

December 26, 2016 - Last-Second Changes of Direction on Receive

Monday, January 2, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Players learn to react to an opponent’s motion as soon as they are committed. But some players commit early, other late. You can often see where an intermediate player is hitting his shot before he even starts his forward swing, while you normally can’t tell against an advanced player until after he’s started his forward swing.

Try adding last-second changes of direction to your game, especially when receiving. While it’s valuable at all times, it is when receiving that you’ll get the most bang for your buck by changing the direction at the last second. For example, if you are pushing aim to the backhand, and then, at the last second, as the server is reacting to it already, change and quick push to the forehand. Or do the reverse, aim to the forehand, and as he reacts to that, go quick to the backhand. You’ll be surprised at how often you can mess up the server in this way. At first he’ll likely get caught going the wrong way. Even when he adjusts, he’ll be rushed as he’ll have to wait longer to see where you are going. 

You can do the same against sidespin-topspin serves, aiming one way, then going the other. It’s one of the best ways to force an opponent to use his weaker side. Just aim to his strong side, then go to the weak side!

December 25, 2016 - Maximize Coverage For Your Stronger Side

Friday, December 30, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Whether you are stronger on the forehand or backhand, you should maximize coverage with your stronger side. Ideally, you’ll be equally strong on both sides, but that is rare. At the very least, most players are stronger on one side in some situations - for example, better on the backhand in fast rallies, better on the forehand when attacking against slower shots.

And yet many players do not maximize the coverage of their stronger side. Analyze your game, and decide which side is your stronger side in any given situation. For example, many top players receive short serves better with their backhand, usually with a banana flip. So when they see a short serve coming, they often step over and receive with their backhands, even from the forehand corner. Others may have very strong rallying backhands, and so might cover over half the table with their backhands. Or (more commonly at the higher levels) they might be stronger on the forehand, and so cover more of the table with that.

So start training to use your stronger side to cover more of the table in given situations - because using a stronger shot to cover more of the table makes you a stronger player! 

December 24, 2016 - Ask the Distributor!

Thursday, December 29, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

At clubs all across the nation and the world, the same routine goes on all the time - players are constantly asking and talking about equipment. Only ratings are more discussed. (Typical greeting at a club: “What’s your rating? What equipment do you use?”) And it’s true that you can learn a lot by asking others about equipment - and better still, trying out their equipment.

But think about it - a distributor might have dozens of sponges and dozens of rackets that might suit your game. The possible combinations can run into the thousands. While you may gain valuable information asking questions, remember that they mostly know what works for them, and no two players play alike. You need to find what works for you. You may find this by experimenting, but the probability that someone else at the club just happens to have the perfect racket and sponge combination for you isn’t likely.

But there’s an expert out there ready to help - and that’s the equipment expert at the distributor. All of the major ones have someone like this, who has literally tried out every combination of their equipment, and knows just about all there is to know about all of them. Their job is to find a perfect combination for you - because if they don’t, you’ll be going to a rival. Not only that, but each of these distributor “equipment junkies” lives and breathes table tennis equipment, and so it will be his lifelong dream to discuss your equipment needs and find you the perfect combination. He’ll know what questions to ask of your game with the goal of finding you just what you need.

So if you aren’t sure yet about what equipment to use, why not contact one of the major distributors and ASK? (You can also do this at most major tournaments.)