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.)

February 13, 2017 - When Caught Off Guard, Roll or Chop, and Keep the Ball Deep

Monday, February 13, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

It's inevitable that you'll be faced with unexpected shots that catch you off guard. You might be caught out of position and have to stretch for a shot. Or get fooled by the opponent and so react incorrectly, and so have to adjust. Or simply react to a net ball. What should you do?

Beginners and most intermediate players simply get the ball back. But if you want to increase your chances of winning the point, do something with your return.

  1. Keep the ball deep so opponent can't cream the ball at wide angles. This is the most important.
  2. Put a little (or a lot) of topspin or backspin on the ball. Why make things easy for him?
  3. Place the ball to a corner to force the opponent to move. If the player has a big forehand but is a bit slow, perhaps go to the backhand. Or if the player likes to play forehands from the backhand, perhaps go to the forehand to catch him going the wrong way.
  4. Place the ball to the middle to cut off extreme angles.
  5. Aim one way, and change directions at the last second to catch opponent off guard. This is the most difficult to develop as a habit, but also the best way to turn the tables on the opponent and completely mess him up. 

December 31, 2016 - Top Ten Ways to Win and Lose a Match

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Come into the match physically and mentally prepared
  2. Have a solid game plan, or quickly develop one
  3. Dominate with serves
  4. Control play with receive
  5. Get your strengths into play
  6. Dominate with quickness or power
  7. Consistency
  8. Placement and depth
  9. Variation
  10. Mental grit

Top Ten Ways to Lose a Match

  1. See above. Add "Do not" or "Poor" at the start of each. 

December 30, 2016 - How to Play Practice Matches with a Weaker Player

Monday, January 30, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

When playing practice matches with much weaker players, here are two suggestions: 1) Simplify your serves so you get higher quality returns to practice against; and 2) Decide something specific you want to work on, such as forehand loop, and use your higher level technique to force rallies where you can work on those shots. For example, serve short backspin and attack any long return with your forehand. If you need blocking practice, push long to them, and block. And so on. 

At the same time, you should fight to win every one of these points, given the conditions above. You can practice mental focus and hustle against any level of player. You might also want to play some matches against weaker players where you ignore the above two suggestions, just to work on your "win every point" skills, including serves and using your best game, not just what you need to work on. (You might want to do this especially before a big tournament, to focus on your general match playing skills.) Some might argue you should play every match this way, even against much weaker players, but I think you lose an opportunity to practice certain things if you do that all the time.

December 29, 2016 - What Are Your Main Weapons?

Monday, January 23, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

What are the best weapons in your game, or in the game that you want to develop? Think this over, and perhaps write them down. Then consider this: How do you get these weapons into play? How do you follow-up these weapons to make sure you win the point?

If your best weapon is a put-way shot, then you need ways to set up this shot. If your best weapon is a rallying shot, then you need ways to force these types of rallies. If your best weapon is your serve, then you need ways to follow it up, or the serve is wasted. (If you rely on the opponent outright missing against your serve or popping it up over and over, then you are facing weaker players and need to aim for higher competition.)

Some players have one overpowering strength that they rely on, such as a big forehand loop. But a big forehand loop doesn't help a lot if you don't have serves, receives, and rallying shots to set it up, and the footwork to get into position for it. Some have multiple strengths, such as a serve and follow, making their game twice as deadly. Decide what yours are (or should be), and develop them into deadly weapons that you set up, use, and follow up on over and over.

Ideally, develop three types of overpowering strengths: serve and receive (which start every rally); rallying shots; and attacking/put-away shots. Then go out and terrorize opponents with your triple-threat weapons!

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.