Tip of the Week

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

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December 14, 2020: Use It or Lose It!

Monday, December 14, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

When a player finds a part of his game is not working as well as he'd like (because he hasn't been practicing it, is getting older or slower, or because it simply wasn't a strong shot to start with), the tendency is to use that technique less and less. Result? The technique gets even weaker!

The classic case is an aging player who finds his footwork is not as fast as before, or his loop not as strong. He begins to play a more passive game, with less footwork and less looping, and thinks it will help his game. However, all this does is start a downward spiral. By moving and looping less, the player's footwork and loop get worse – and so the player uses them even less! And so the player's level spirals downward. (Side problem: the game becomes less physical, and so the player gets less of a physical workout, and so the game is less a health benefit.)

Instead, it might be better to continuing using these techniques, at least in many practice matches, so you don't lose them. Then, in more important matches (and sometimes in practice, to develop this "alternate" game), use them less as you focus more on winning.

The moral is: Use It or Lose It!






December 7, 2020 - Should You Stick With Your Best Shot If It Is Missing?

Monday, December 7, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

The situation: Your best shot is missing, and you are losing because of this. Should you keep using it, or abandon it? It takes years of tournament experience and hard thinking before a player can consistently make a sound judgment in a situation like this as to whether to change his strategy, or keep using the shot that is missing in order to get it going again. There are three possible reasons why you are missing your best shot: your opponent is doing something to throw you off, you are nervous or unfocused, or for some other reason you are simply off.

Many players, even at the advanced levels, do not recognize when an opponent is doing something that is throwing them off. Those that don't recognize these strategies often talk and think strategy quite a bit - but only from their point of view, forgetting to take the opponent's strategy into account. Ideally, you neutralize your opponent's strategy by dominating with your own - but to do so, you need to know what the opponent is doing, or is capable of doing. So the first thing to do is figure out whether you are missing because you are really off, or because your opponent is doing something to throw you off. If the latter, then you have to find a way to counter it.

Psychologically, you have to learn to be calm and focused during a match. That's mostly separate from the tactical side. If you do get nervous or lose focus, that's a good time to take a one-minute timeout, or at least take your time between points to get yourself together. Nervousness or lack of focus are the most common reason for a player's best shot to start missing. Never play a point until you are calm and focused.

Finally, there are those times when, for inexplicable reasons, you are simply "off," and your best shot keeps missing. Usually it's one of the two previous reasons given, though you might not realize it. But it also might be because you are out of practice, your muscles are tight, equipment problems, problems with the playing conditions, or who knows what else.

In all of these cases, this is where the judgment of years of play can pay off as you judge whether to keep using the shot in the hopes that it will come back, or switch to other shots and strategies.

A good general rule is that you have to get your best shot going in any competitive match or you'll probably lose. Most often you should go down with your best shot, since you are also likely to end up winning with it. But if you see a way to win without your erratic best shot - usually by taking away your opponent's best shot, so both of you are going with your "B" games - then you might want to take it.






November 30, 2020 - Letting an Opponent Control Play is Risky

Monday, November 30, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

The next time you are in a close match, and are worried about making mistakes, and so play super safe to avoid mistakes . . . consider this. Letting your opponent control play is the biggest risk you can take in table tennis. You no longer have control over your fate. All your practice and preparation is mostly gone as you sit back and hope your opponent will hand you the victory. What can be riskier than that?

This doesn't mean you go for big shots. It means, for example, pushing quick, very deep or short, and wide-angled rather than a safe push to the middle of the table. It means taking the ball a bit quicker, so your opponent doesn't have time to take control. It means going for aggressive angles and shots to the opponent's middle rather than just safe shots toward the corners. It means finding ways to return serves that take the initiative away from the server (either by taking the initiative or getting into a neutral rally), rather than just getting them back and letting the server take the initiative. It means taking the initiative at the start of a rally, whether by attacking or by doing shots that make your opponent uncomfortable, so that you control play. There are many other examples. Take control - it's less risky!






November 23, 2020 - The Forehand Down-the Line Block and Counterloop

Monday, November 23, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

When players loop to the forehand, almost invariably it is returned crosscourt, at least until you reach the higher levels. This can be effective, since it does give a wide angle to the forehand, and about 15.5 more inches going crosscourt then down the line. But it is so common that players are used to this – but they are often absolutely frozen by an unexpected down-the-line return, whether it's a block, or (at higher levels) a counter-loop.

Forehand blocking down the line is not a hard shot to do, it's just one that many players do not bother learning it, partly because they warm up crosscourt so much, and because, deep down, they are trying to play it safe, and go where there's more room and where they are most used to doing it. Instead, when forehand blocking, learn to drop your wrist back so you can angle your block down the line, using your opponent's speed and spin to rebound it back (as with all blocks). When counterlooping, take the ball a little later so you can line up down the line without tilting your wrist back, or intentionally tilt the wrist back and take it inside-out (with contact on the side of the ball nearer you), and learn to go down the line. In both cases, to learn it you have to practice it. Have someone loop down the line to your forehand so you can work on your blocking, or counterloop with someone down that line. And then, in games, watch the awkward returns (or non-returns) of your opponents!






November 16, 2020 - Use Both Sides of the Body When Forehand Looping

Monday, November 16, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Most players think of forehand looping as a shot done from their playing side. So a right-handed player might think of rotating his right side around as he loops his forehand. However, this will limit your power as well as throw off your balance. You should use your other side as well. This means that a right-handed player should not only rotate his right side forward and around, but he should "pull" with his left side as well, rotating it backward and around. (This is why weight training is important on both sides, not just the playing side.) If you watch the top players, you'll see that most of the stroke is in a circle. Here's a video of Ma Long forehand looping - note how he uses both sides of his body as he rotates in a circle, and his body doesn't move forward at all. This means he finishes where he starts, in a balanced position, and instantly ready for the next shot.