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.)

October 22, 2018 - Top Ten Ways to Be a Professional at All Levels

Monday, October 22, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

This tip won't help you win more matches. In fact, it might cost you a match where, by playing unsportsmanlike, you might have psyched an opponent out of a match. But if you do that, did you really win the match? Here are the Top Ten Ways to Be a Professional at All Levels.

  1. Dress neatly. 
  2. Show up on time.
  3. Let both sides warm up in the two-minute warm-up at the start. 
  4. Play fair. Duh. 
  5. Don't act like a baby. 
  6. Don't make excuses.
  7. Shake hands afterwards. 
  8. Do not scream at the top of your lungs every point. Use common sense. If you are one of a dozen or more players playing, then every time you scream you are disturbing all those other players. If, however, you are the only match being played, then you have more discretion - but within limits. 
  9. Keep gamesmanship to a minimum. Some gamesmanship is fine, such as playing a little faster when your opponent is falling apart, or slowing things down to throw a hot opponent off. But others are not, such as talking to the opponent to distract him, or stepping on the ball so as to force a break to get a new ball. 
  10. Keep arguing to a minimum. If you can't reach a quick agreement on something during a tournament, call an umpire. If it's practice, is it really worth arguing over?

October 15, 2018 - Style Experimentation

Monday, October 15, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Many players know their own game, but don't really know or understand other styles - leading to tactical problems. How can you work out what tactics to use if you don't understand the style you are playing? For example, a looper might feel like he can't get through a blocker's seemingly impenetrable wall - but only because he doesn't know the style. If he did, he might realize how weak a blocker often is in the middle (or sometimes a slightly to the forehand side of the middle), and so continue to pound the corners, where the blocker is often strongest. An attack to the middle not only gives the blocker trouble, it draws him out of position, which often opens up the corners.

Here are two ways to overcome this. One way, of course, would be to simply experiment and learn from the results. (Make sure to pay attention to these results and keep learn from them!) But another way is to actually experiment by playing other styles. If you are a looper, try playing some matches as a blocker, and vice versa. Try chopping, lobbing, one-winged or two-winged looping, hitting, and perhaps even other grips. You will learn a lot by playing these styles - and then apply what you learn tactically to your own game. You also may develop some new dimensions to your own game as you learn these other techniques!


October 8, 2018 - Counterlooping and the Forehand Block

Monday, October 8, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

At the higher levels, most players essentially counterloop any topspin ball on the forehand side. (Many also do it on the backhand side.) But that's almost inhuman. And yet, many players try to do that. Here's the problem with doing that. 

If you play close to the table and try to counterloop everything on the forehand side, you'll be vulnerable to any strong, deep loop, since you'll have little time to react. The smart players will also vary the placement, sometimes going wide, sometimes at the middle. And so you will likely make too many mistakes. 

If you take a step off the table so you can react and forehand counterloop, you'll be vulnerable to slow, spinny loops that drop in front of you. These balls are easy to counterloop away (or smash) if you are close to the table and don't hesitate, but if you are a step off the table looking to counterloop, they are very tricky to counterloop - most players go off the end over and over. 

So what do you do? Simple - find a distance where you can comfortably forehand counterloop against most topspins, including slow, spinny ones. But also develop your "reflex block," where you forehand block against very aggressive balls to your forehand. You can also block the first one and perhaps then take half a step back so you can counterloop the next one. Since you'll only be blocking against faster loops, practice against those, and unhesitatingly counterloop (or perhaps smash) anything slower. (All of this can also apply to the backhand side, though many find counterlooping on that side trickier since the body is in the way.)

On the other extreme, many players only block against incoming loops, on forehand and backhand. That's a weakness - learn to attack a weak loop, whether by counterlooping or smashing, or at least a very aggressive block.

October 1, 2018 - How to Punish those Slow, Spinny Loops

Monday, October 1, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

It's almost a cliché that players have more trouble with slow, spinny loops than faster ones, at least below the higher levels. There's a simple reason for this - slow, spinny loops are mostly against backspin, and come out with a higher spin-to-speed ratio than a loop against a block. But guess how we practice most of our blocking against loops? You guessed it - with someone looping against your block. And so you pretty much ingrain blocking in such a rally, but are completely unprepared in a match when your opponent loops against one of your pushes or backspin serves and the ball has that extra spin, and drops more quickly than you are used to. 

When he does this, your own backspin increases the amount of spin he can produce, resulting in a spinnier loop than you are likely used dealing with. The ball arcs more sharply, drops in front of you, and jumps out at you with a low, quick bounce. When you hit the ball, the ball also jumps more than normal. So every one of these differences is working against you. 

How should you deal with it? You have to adjust to the ball bouncing shorter than you are used to, and with more spin. To deal with the ball coming shorter, you have to do three things: stay closer to the table (or step in when you see the ball coming slower and dropping short), do not hesitate, and aim lower. The reality is these slow, spinny loops are easy to attack - if you do all three of these things. If you do, you shouldn't just block; you should block aggressively, smash, or counterloop. But most players simply aren't used to dealing with this shot, and so mess up at least one of them. (Most common problem - hesitation. It takes practice to unhesitatingly go after these slow, spinny shots.) 

How do you practice against them? You could just do so in games, like most players, or perhaps do a drill where your partner serves, you push, he loops, and you play out the point. But you can get far more and better systematic practice by doing a modified multiball drill. Get a coach or practice partner, and a bucket of balls, and do this drill. Your partner serves backspin, you push, partner loops slow and spinny, and you block or counter-attack. Do not continue the rally; as soon as your partner finishes his loop, he reaches for the next ball and does it again. This allows you lots and lots of practice against a slow, spinny loop in a short period of time. And your partner gets lots and lots of practice looping against backspin. Then you switch and you do the looping. So it's a win-win drill for both.

September 24, 2018 - Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

When a conventional player plays an unconventional style, they each face a different fundamental problem. The conventional player has to deal with the fact that the unconventional player is used to playing conventional players while he is likely not as used to playing this unconventional style. The unconventional player has to deal with the fact that he has, almost by definition, an inferior style, or it would be the conventional style. The conventional player has an edge IF he gets used to the unconventional player. The problem is he often goes into the match with a number of trained habits or reactions that will hurt his play. He may even know what some of these problems are, but they are so ingrained into his game from playing conventional players that the habits are hard to break in a sport where you are forced to react quickly and reflexively. Here is a list of the Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style. But remember - they are only guidelines, as unconventional styles vary. 

  1. Don't jam the table in rallies. He's more used to your game than you are used to his, so you need more time to react to his shots.
  2. Keep the ball deep. He's used to your game more than you are used to his. By going deep, you give yourself more time to react. 
  3. Serve long. If you like to serve short and attack, then you may find yourself in a trap as your opponent can hit quick, off-the-bounce returns and rush you with shots you may not be comfortable against. This is especially true against racket surfaces you are not as familiar with. 
  4. Find the weak spots. By definition, all unconventional styles have weaknesses or those styles would be conventional. Find the weaknesses and play into them. This is where it might be helpful to do some scouting or ask the advice of coaches or advanced players who are familiar with this player or style. 
  5. Experiment. Test them out early with whatever you have and see what works. 
  6. Spin or no-spin. Most unconventional styles have trouble either with heavy spin or no-spin. (The latter is especially true of pips-out, especially longer pips.) Test them out. 
  7. Do not go into game two without being completely comfortable against this style. You should fight like crazy to win game one, but don't worry about losing that game as long as you know exactly what to do in game two, and are now comfortable against this unconventional style. Ideally, you should do this earlier in the first game, but unconventional styles have a long history of winning game one and then losing three straight. 
  8. Do not rely on conventional tactics until you test them and verify they work. Before the match you should literally list all the things you do against conventional styles that likely will not work in this match. Often you will want to do the exact opposite of what you would do against conventional players. Remember that unconventional players have developed their style against conventional players, and so are often at their best against conventional tactics. 
  9. Be flexible in your tactics. If something doesn't work, try something else. If something works but stops working, put it aside and try something else, and perhaps come back to it. Often the unconventional player can adjust to any one tactic, but cannot do so against multiple options. So work out multiple options against whatever he does and make him uncomfortable. 
  10. Keep your cool. It's very easy to mentally fall apart early in a match against an unconventional player. Accept the fact that his unconventional play is often based on the idea of throwing weird stuff at you, with the idea of forcing you into mistakes. But in so doing, he's also playing a weaker style. So don't worry about making a few careless mistakes or even blowing a game. Once you figure the player out, you can come back from almost any score - as long as you keep your cool and focus.