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.)




August 28, 2017 - Covering the Wide Angles

Monday, August 28, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Most players have trouble when an opponent attacks at a wide angle, whether it’s to the forehand or backhand. Here are five principles to help you cover them.

  1. Position yourself from the previous shot. That means if you put the ball to, say, the opponent’s wide forehand, he has an angle into your forehand. So you have to position yourself toward that side so you can cover it.
  2. Step to the ball. Many players lean or reach, but this greatly limits your range as well as the ability to make a good shot.
  3. Move in to block. Many players move sideways to cover the wide angles, which allows the ball to move away from you. Instead, move sideways and in and cut the ball off before it can get away from the table.
  4. Angle back. If the opponent angles you, he gives you the same or greater counter-angle. If he moves to cover it too much, you can catch him off guard by going down the line.
  5. Position yourself again. After moving wide to cover an angled shot, you need to get back into position quickly or risk leaving the table open. If you counter-angled back, then you don’t have to move too much as you need to cover his potential angled return – essentially a counter-counter-angle. 





August 21, 2017 - Fourth-Ball Backhand Loop Attack

Monday, August 21, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

One of the most valuable times to have a good backhand loop is when receiving – but not necessarily for the receive itself. It can also be a good backhand drive against backspin, especially for some older players and those with non-inverted surfaces, but an ability to attack backspin with the backhand is key to the fourth-ball attack. There are two basic ways of setting this up when receiving against a backspin serve. (Fourth-ball attack means you attack the fourth ball – serve, receive, server’s first shot, receiver’s second shot, which is the fourth ball.)

The first is to aggressively push the serve back - right off the bounce, heavy, low, deep, and angled into the server’s backhand. This will often catch the server off guard, leading to a push return, usually crosscourt right back to your backhand. And you are just standing there, waiting for it, with your backhand loop at the ready! Of course, the server may still attack this push, but it’ll likely be a weak or erratic attack, so be ready for that as well. But against many players, you’ll get to fourth-ball backhand attack.

The second is to push the serve back short. Since the server is likely hanging back, looking to attack a deep return, a short push can catch him off guard. What’s his most likely response? He’ll likely push it back, and often deep. Again, he’ll likely push it to your backhand, and you’ll be waiting with your backhand loop at the ready!

No tactic is perfect. In the first case above, the serve may still make a strong, consistent loop against your push. In the second case, he might push your short push back short, or flip it. If so, you change your tactics. But against many or most players, one of these tactics will often set you up for that backhand attack. If it doesn’t, before changing tactics you need to make sure you are doing it correctly – pushing aggressively in the first case, and pushing short (and low!) in the second.

Plus, none of this works if you can’t attack the push to the backhand, so practice that until you can do it against any long push. Older players often prefer backhand drives, but against a push, it’s surprisingly easy to develop a decent backhand loop at any age, so give it a try. (To be clear, loops are heavy topspin; drives are light topspin.) Make sure to place the backhand attack – players go crosscourt way too often when it’s usually more effective to attack the opponent’s middle (elbow) or wide forehand. 






August 14, 2017 - Attacking the Middle with the Forehand and Backhand

Monday, August 14, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Many players are effective at attacking an opponent’s middle with their backhands. (The middle is roughly the opponent’s elbow, the mid-point between forehand and backhand, which is usually the most awkward shot to react to.) This is because as they are lining up the shot, the opponent is in clear view. However, on the forehand, you turn sideways, and so lose sight of the opponent.

Top coaches often say that you have to learn to attack the opponent’s elbow early on to make it instinctive. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to develop this as a successful habit. However, I believe this is true more of the forehand than the backhand, and many players do learn to attack the middle with the backhand. So what can one do to learn to do so with the forehand?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is to practice it. The problem is that most players either don’t think about it much when playing games and so don’t develop it, or if they do try it, it’s not often enough to develop it as a habit. And so in game situations, either they simply don’t do go for the middle, or when they do, they miss this moving target, and instead give the opponent an easy forehand or backhand. So to learn to attack the middle with your forehand, you need to do it not just in games, but in drills.

The first step is to simply learn to hit there. Most players drill to the forehand or backhand corners, and so instinctively go there in games. To make a habit of going to the middle, do drills where your opponent literally sets up to play his backhand (or forehand) from where his elbow would normally be. For a righty in a typical ready position, this would normally be just to the left of the middle line.  So do drills where you hit to that spot to make it a habit.

But the middle is a moving target – your opponent isn’t always in the same spot. His ready position should move relative to where you are hitting the ball from. So his middle is in a different location depending on whether you are hitting the ball from the wide backhand, wide forehand, or any area between. So you need to do free-play drills where you focus on going after the middle. For example, do serve and attack drills where you go after the middle relentlessly. If the opponent tries to cover for it, you simply move your target to where his new middle is. If he does to play one-winged, perhaps covering the entire middle area with his forehand or backhand, then you might go to the open corner just to keep things honest, forcing him to go back to a more normal ready position.

If you don’t already attack the opponent’s middle with your backhand, then start developing that habit – it’s relatively easy since you can see your target in front of you, and line up your racket, ball, and the opponent’s middle. But you really need to do this with the forehand as well, so develop that as well with some systematic practice - and turn your forehand into an even more formidable weapon!






August 7, 2017 - Feet Parallel to Table is Usually a Backhand Stance

Monday, August 7, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose you are a righty playing a righty, or a lefty playing a lefty. (That’s something like 85-90% of the time.) Suppose your opponent serves from his backhand corner, as the large majority of players do, and the rally starts out backhand to backhand in some fashion, as often is the case (since players don’t want to give the other guy an easy forehand, which is usually more powerful). What is a good ready stance here? Many think a neutral stance means standing with their feet parallel to the end-line. But if you do that, you are basically facing the opponent’s forehand side. An actual neutral stance would involve you facing the opponent, with your feet parallel to him – meaning your right foot would be slightly back.

This keeps coming up as I see beginning/intermediate students and other players who think they are in a neutral stance, and aren’t ready to forehand attack when they get the chance because of this stance. They are actually in a backhand stance, and so can only effectively attack with their backhand. Even against pushes toward their forehand side they end up pushing with their backhands.

So what would be a truly neutral stance? That would be with your feet roughly parallel to wherever your opponent’s expected contact point would be on his next shot. Make it a habit to face your opponent so that your feet naturally fall into this position. 






July 31, 2017 - Killer Practice Sessions

Monday, July 31, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

So you've decided you want to beat the neighborhood or club champ, and move up to the next level. Then you're going to have to practice. You know – go out to the table with another person who's also tired of losing, and do practice drills (not just games) to improve your game. There are a number of factors you should consider to maximize your time. First off, everybody should not be doing the same drills. What drills you should do depend on:

  • The playing level of you and your practice partner
  • The playing style & equipment of you and your practice partner
  • The frequency & duration of your practice sessions

The Playing Level of You and Your Practice Partner 
Obviously, if you're just starting out, you won't be working too much on your inside-out loop off the bounce. On the other hand, you won't see the world champion hitting forehand to forehand much except as part of a short warm-up. So choose drills that are appropriate to your level. Focus on consistency and proper form. Move your feet to every shot and return to ready position. Get the fundamentals down so you will be "good enough" to do advanced drills with shots you can actually do in a match consistently. Without the fundamentals, your game will always be fundamentally flawed, and it will be difficult to improve.

Playing Styles & Equipment of You and Your Practice Partner 
The playing style of you and your partner also affects what drills you will be doing. If your partner has long pips on his backhand, don't expect to practice rapid-fire backhand to backhand type drills. If one player is primarily a looper, the other a hitter, then each will be doing different style drills. So you have to make allowances for all of this. Take advantage of your partner's style to practice drills against that particular style. To become a well rounded player try to practice against a wide variety of styles, especially prior to tournaments.

The Frequency and Duration of Your Practice Sessions 
If you only practice occasionally, you should pick your drills with great care. There are two "theories" as to how to choose drills for an occasional practice session. You can either choose specific parts of your game that need work, and focus on that; or you can do a general session, working on your most common shots. Here's our recommendation: choose a couple of things that you really need work on; choose a couple of things that you do really well, and want to tune up; and work these items into a general practice session that covers as many of the techniques that you use in a match as possible.

Of course, if you practice regularly, you'll get the best of both worlds.

Choosing the Drills for Your Practice Session 
There are many possible models for a practice session. What we are going to do is design a general session that you can use as a model for yourself. Each part of the practice session developed below is divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced drills. The level designation does not refer strictly to your overall level of play, however. Take into account how well you do the technique being practiced. For example, a player with a good loop may do more advanced looping drills than a stronger player whose loop is not as good. Using the USATT's rating system, a very rough idea of these levels might be up to 1300 for beginner level, from 1300-1800 for intermediate, and 1800+ for advanced.

When you read the drills below, it is important to remember that the drills are not carved in stone. For example, if a drill calls for you to hit the ball to your partner's backhand, you can change the drill and hit to his forehand instead. This is simply how one session and set of drills could go. When we say to hit a particular shot with, say, a forehand, that means either a forehand drive or a forehand loop, depending on your playing style. (The drills assume both players are right-handed; left-handers should adjust accordingly.)

As you get better with some drills, you should make them more like a match. For example, when doing a side-to-side footwork drill, instead of starting off with a topspin serve and getting right into the drill, start off the drill with a backspin serve, have your partner push it back, and loop the first ball. Your partner would block it back, and you'd then continue the drill as a footwork drill. Or you might start a drill with a sidespin serve, with the receiver topspinning it back, and then go into the footwork drill. In most of the drills listed here, this type of drill is not listed or the listings would simply get too long and complicated. We leave it to you to incorporate this into some of the drills below – but only after you are consistent with the drill as it is.

A typical practice session might be broken down into the following eight parts. Missing any part is like missing a link in a chain, so incorporate all parts in your session in some way.

  1. Warm up/stroking drills
  2. Footwork drills
  3. Attack drills
  4. Break
  5. Serve & Receive drills
  6. Specialized drills
  7. Match play
  8. Solo practice

Warm Up/Stroking Drills:
This is where you warm up the muscles and tune up the basic shots. Beginners need to do more basic stroking drills, such as forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, to develop the strokes and the timing. As players get more advanced, more advanced techniques should be incorporated into the warm-up, such as looping or footwork practice (which overlaps the next part of the practice session).

Beginners

  • Forehand-to-forehand, crosscourt, or forehand to backhand, down the line, 7.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand, crosscourt, or forehand to backhand, down the line, 7.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand pushing, 5 minutes
  • Forehand-to-forehand pushing, 5 minutes

Optional drill:

  • See how many forehands and backhands you can hit in a row. Try for 100 or more.

Intermediate

  • Forehand-to-forehand, crosscourt, 2.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand, crosscourt, 2.5 minutes
  • Forehand-to-backhand, down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-forehand, down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Forehand loop against block, 5 minutes each

Optional drills:

  • Pushing all over table, all types of pushes
  • Backhand loop against block
  • Counterlooping

Advanced

  • Forehand-to-forehand crosscourt or forehand to backhand down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand, crosscourt or backhand-to-forehand, down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Forehand loop against block, partner moves you around, 5 minutes each
  • ptional drills:
  • Backhand loop against block
  • Counterlooping
  • Pushing all over table, all types of pushes

Footwork drills: 
Beginners

  • Alternate forehand and backhand shots. You hit all shots to one place on partner's side, either the forehand or backhand side. Partner alternates hitting to your forehand and backhand corners. 5 minutes each
  • Side-to-side forehand footwork, all forehands against partner's backhand block to your forehand and backhand courts, 5 minutes each
  • Optional drill:
  • Figure 8 footwork, you hit every shot crosscourt while your partner hits every shot down the line, 5 minutes each then change direction

Intermediate

  • Side-to-side footwork drill, 2/3 table covered, 7.5 minutes each
  • Partner randomly hits ball either to your forehand or backhand side; you stroke each ball back to the same spot. 5 minutes each

Optional drills:

  • See Falkenberg drill under "advanced."
  • Figure 8 FH footwork – server goes crosscourt, receiver goes down the line with both players only using forehands. 10 minutes total.

Advanced

  • Side-to-side footwork drill, fast, 2/3 to full table covered, 5 minutes each
  • 2-1 drill (also called Falkenberg drill): You hit all balls to your partner's backhand. He hits two to your backhand, one to your forehand, then repeats. You return first shot with your backhand, step around and hit next with your forehand, then return the next shot (to your wide forehand) with your forehand. 5 minutes each
  • Random footwork. Partner hits balls to all parts of the table randomly; you stroke each ball back to the same spot. 5 minutes each

Optional drill:

  • Serve backspin; partner pushes to your wide backhand; you step around and loop with your forehand to your partner's forehand; he quick-blocks crosscourt to your wide forehand; play out the point.

Attack drills: 
Beginning

  • Serve backspin; partner pushes ball back to specified part of table; you loop, and play out the point. 7.5 minutes each.

Optional drill:

  • Serve fast & deep to partner's wide backhand, follow up with aggressive forehand or backhand hit or smash

Intermediate

  • Serve short backspin; partner pushes ball back to specified part of table; you loop, and play out the point. 5 minutes each
  • Serve short backspin; partner pushes ball back randomly anywhere; you loop (forehand from forehand side, backhand from backhand side), and play out the point. 5 minutes each.

Optional drill:

  • Serve fast & deep anywhere on the table, follow up with a loop

Advanced

  • Serve short backspin; partner pushes ball back randomly anywhere; you loop (forehand from forehand side, forehand or backhand from backhand side), and play out the point. 7.5 minutes each.

Optional drills:

  • Server has option of an occasional sudden fast & deep serve to mix things up. Or receiver has option of attacking the serve occasionally. There are many ways of varying this drill.
  • Serve short sidespin to partner's forehand. Partner flips serve to wide angle. You loop or hit, and play out point.

Break (5 minutes?)

Serve & Receive drills: 

Beginning

  • Practice any serve, at least one minute for each serve. This way you not only get to practice and develop the serve, but your partner (and then yourself) gets to practice receiving it. 7.5 minutes each

Intermediate

  • Practice serve and attack. Server can use any serve, but must follow up aggressively. Receiver may attack any deep serves, but should emphasize control. Alternate drill: Server serves one type of serve over and over, receiver is given two options for receive. Server must prepare for both. 7.5 minutes each

Advanced

  • At this point, serve and receive drills get complicated. Advanced players should pick any serve & receive pattern, and practice it. For example, consider all the possible patterns starting with the server serving short backspin, topspin, no-spin, or sidespin. Receiver can push long or short or flip to either side or to the middle. In most drills, receiver should have two possible options, and server must prepare for both.

Specialized drills: 
At this point, drills becomes too personalized to really plan a session without knowing the players. However, here are some of the things you might want to practice, depending on the styles, levels, weaknesses and strengths of you and your partner. Choose two drills, and each player gets 7.5 minutes for each drill.

  • Backhand loop (this can also be done during warm-up).
  • Loop/chop drill. Drill is done either all crosscourt or all down the line. You loop; partner blocks; you chop; partner pushes; you loop, and drill repeats. This is especially good for developing the backhand loop versus backspin.
  • Hitting or smashing against block
  • Lobbing or chopping
  • Looping against a chopper
  • Counterlooping
  • Any of an infinite number of serve & receive drills.

Match play: 
Regardless of your level, you need match practice to try out what you do in practice. All the practice on a technique is pointless if you aren't able to do it in a game situation! So most practice sessions end with a practice match.

One way to make the practice match even better is to assign "styles" to the players. For example, one player may be designated the aggressor in one game, while the other plays a mostly steady blocking or counter-driving game (but attacking when the shot is there). Or one player may try pushing and blocking one game, while other player plays mostly looping.

If you and your partner are not really the same level, you might play games with the stronger player spotting points. Each game the spot changes by one, depending on who won the previous game. Playing deuce games can also be very helpful.

Solo Practice: 
There are three types of practice you can do by yourself, outside your regular practice session.

First, there is serve practice. Although there were a serve/receive drills in the session designed here, this isn't enough. You really need to find the time to practice your serves, perhaps twice a week for 15-20 minutes – more, if you really want to be good!

Second, if you really want to improve to a high level, you should do some physical training. Jumping rope, wind sprints, distance running, pushups, sit-ups and weight training are all excellent physical training for table tennis. You use nearly the entire body for table tennis, so you need to train nearly the entire body. Stretching is also valuable in that it prevents injuries, shortens recovery time between training sessions, and general flexibility helps you play better.

Lastly, learn something about mental training. Here are some great resources