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 2, 2017 - Top Ten Tactical Serving Mistakes

Monday, October 2, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Not enough variation.
  2. Serving to the backhand over and Over and OVER.
  3. Always serving from the same spot, usually from the backhand corner.
  4. Not serving with a purpose.
  5. Always serving with heavy spin, without using no-spin as a variation (where you fake heavy spin – “heavy no-spin”).
  6. Telegraphing your serves by how you set up or start your motion.
  7. Too often serving long to loopers or short to quick players.
  8. Not trying out all your main serves early on to find out what works.
  9. Saving your trickiest serves for when it’s close, instead of using them early so it doesn’t get close, and then using them again as needed.
  10. Not understanding the basic concept that you should essentially ALWAYS serve and attack UNLESS the receiver does something to stop you from doing so.  





September 25 - Assume You Have to Move

Monday, September 25, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Many players go through this series of events as the opponent is hitting the ball toward them:

  1. Opponent begins forward swing.
  2. I wait to see where the ball is going.
  3. Opponent hits ball.
  4. The ball is coming toward me.
  5. Do I have to move?
  6. Yes, I have to move!
  7. I prepare to move.
  8. I move.

More advanced players go through this series of events:

  1. I prepare to move.
  2. Opponent begins forward swing.
  3. From forward swing I see where the ball is going.
  4. I move.

Which do you think is more efficient? The two most important things from this are that you should get into the habit of trying to react to where the opponent is hitting the ball as he begins his forward swing, and that you should assume you have to move. 






September 18, 2017 - Always Think of a Loop as a Set-up Shot

Monday, September 18, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Many players, when they get a chance to loop hard, think of it as a put-away shot. And often it is. However, this can cause problems since sometimes they do come back, especially when you face stronger players. There’s a simple way of looking at it. If it doesn’t come back, you don’t have to worry about it, so assume it will come back, and prepare for that. So always think of a loop as a set-up shot for the next shot, which is where you might look to put the ball away – and that shot, while often a put-away, should also be thought of as a set-up shot. This doesn’t mean you don’t try to loop a weak ball with enough speed and placement (that’s key) to end the point, but after you loop it away, you should expect it to come back, and be ready to follow up.

Here’s a good exercise. When you play a practice match, when you see a ball you can loop away, take 10% off your speed, but focus 100% on placement – often to the middle (playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand), or a wide angle if it’s open, where you try to win the point or force a weak return because of the placement. The opponent will have to move out of position to return the shot, and if he does return it – assume he will! – then you end the point to the part of the table he either left open, or leaves open in attempting to cover the part he left open. Or just go at the middle again. 






September 11, 2017 - Make Adjusting a Habit by Playing Different Players

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Most players understand that you need to play many different styles to learn how to play against them. Otherwise, when you face them in a match, you will struggle with them. And so smart players make sure to play against a variety of styles, and learn how to play each of the main ones.

However, many players mistake playing different styles with playing different players. Let’s suppose you spend the large bulk of your playing time at your club playing against ten other players, most of them probably around your level. You might be playing against a decent range of playing styles, though probably not all. However, since you are playing mostly against the same players, week after week, month after month, even year after year, while you become very familiar and good against those players, there’s one huge thing you are not doing – and that’s making it a habit to adjust to different players.

It’s not enough to just play against different styles, though that’s a big part of it. If you play mostly the same players all the time, then aren’t regularly adjusting to new players. And so when you do have to adjust to a new player, it’s much more difficult to do then if you were playing different players regularly, in which you are constantly adjusting your game to players you rarely or never play, and so it becomes a habit.

There are really two types of adjusting. One is adjusting your strokes against different players. This is somewhat obvious. If you play in a tournament and your opponent uses long pips in a way you are not used to, or has a loop that’s different from the players you are used to playing against, or hits his shots flatter, or has a weird push, or has a different serve, or something else – everyone has something unique in their game – you have to adjust your strokes to these differences. If you are not used to playing different players regularly, you will likely struggle making the adjustment since adjusting your strokes to new players is not something you are used to doing. And so you struggle. Perhaps you eventually make the adjustment, but it’s also likely that you lose the match, and come off the table still uncomfortable with whatever it was the opponent did differently.

This type of adjustment isn’t subtle, and most players understand that they need to adjust their strokes against different opponents, even if they often go right back to playing the same group of players all the time. They at least understand the problem, and perhaps will make some attempt to fix it by looking to play different players. If they do this enough, they might develop the habit of adjusting their strokes to new opponents.

But as noted above, there is a second type of adjusting – tactical. This is more subtle. If you struggle to adjust your strokes to an opponent, it’s obvious. But if you aren’t used to adjusting your tactics to new opponents – which you develop by playing new opponents regularly – then you likely will not even realize it afterwards. You may have adjusted your strokes perfectly and felt comfortable out there, but still lost because, unknowingly, you aren’t used to adjusting your tactics to different opponents, and so play them as if they were one of the players you are used to playing.

I’m going to use my own game as an example here. During my prime years I had a very steady game – in fact, from my backhand corner to my wide forehand I had a brick wall defense that few could get through. Many opponents would have great rallies with me, but were unable to get through that steadiness. (I was primarily a forehand attacker, but once an opponent attacked I’d fall back on mostly blocking and countering.) What only a few smart opponents figured out was that while I was steady, I struggled with one type of attack – into my wide backhand, outside the corner. Those who played me regularly, and those that were used to adjusting to new opponents, figured out that when attacking against me, the goal was to get a ball that landed a little short, and then attack that ball just outside the corner on my backhand side. But since most tournament opponents did not play me regularly and were not good at adjusting tactically, most didn’t figure this out, and so when they got that slightly short ball, they’d continue to attack the corners and my middle (elbow), and I’d be a brick wall – but only because they failed to adjust by going after that huge hole off to the side of that brick wall.

While I’m on the topic of using my game as an example, I’m still amazed at how many opponents never figured out how strong I was forehand looping against forehand pendulum serves, while I struggled with the opposite type of sidespin (backhand, tomahawk, and reverse pendulum serves) – and so they’d continue to give me a steady diet of forehand pendulum serves to the point where I’d sometimes hold back just to encourage them to keep giving me those serves. (Thank you!) In both cases given here, my opponents usually were not in the habit of adjusting tactically to new players, and so they didn’t adjust tactically.

The root of the problem of not adjusting your strokes and tactics to new players is not regularly playing new players, which is where you develop the habit of making this adjustment. However, the latter – developing the habit of adjusting your tactics to new players – is a bit more subtle and insidious, as while the former pretty much you slaps you in the face if you don’t adjust, the latter does not.

The cure to all of this, of course, is to seek out new players, at your club, at different clubs, in leagues, and in tournaments. If this means playing against weaker players just so you can play someone different, then do so – everyone brings something different to the table that you can practice against. 






September 4, 2017 - Weapons to Allow Opponents to Beat Themselves

Wednesday, September 6, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Most players, especially in their developmental years, spend huge amounts of time developing direct weapons for winning – serves, footwork, and of course a big forehand or backhand. Or perhaps something more subtle, like a steady aggressive backhand, quick blocking, or steady looping that wears down an opponent. These are all direct weapons for beating an opponent.

But experienced players also develop weapons that allow an opponent to beat himself. For example, suppose your opponent likes to attack with his forehand from the backhand corner. You could attack yourself, thereby making his attack more difficult and the match might turn into a bashing contest. And most of the time a strong attack does win. However, you should also sometimes do something simple and yet high-percentage to win the point with less risk, especially when the opponent is serving. In the example here, perhaps just aim to his backhand side, and then at the last second – as the opponent begins to step around – change directions and do a simple push or block to the wide forehand.

There are many ways of allowing an opponent to beat himself. If he loops very fast all the time, he has little margin for error, so all you might have to do is vary the amount of spin on your push, and watch him miss as you go from light or no-spin to super-heavy backspin. Or change your contact point, sometimes taking the ball later, other times quicker, to throw off his timing. (A quick push can especially rush an opponent and create “unforced” errors.) If your opponent constantly counter-attacks, then simply vary your own shots dramatically so he can’t get his timing, and watch him beat himself as he misses against your barrage of varied pushes, blocks, and loops.  If he’s strong on both wings, rather than feed those powerful wings you might simple go to at least somewhat aggressively to his middle, and watch his shots struggle, plus put him out of position for the next shot. And, of course, if he’s over-aggressive on receive, give him a barrage of varied serves.

There are many ways of allowing an opponent to beat himself, but you can only learn them by trying different things out and seeing what works. It comes with experience, but only if you experiment.