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.)

June 10, 2019 - Should You Play Differently at Deuce?

Monday, June 10, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

The simple answer is Yes and No. Yes, as in there's no point any longer on holding back on anything tactically. If you have a tactic, serve, or other shot that the opponent has trouble with, which you've been using sparingly so he wouldn't get used to it, now's the time to use it. Some figure the opponent is expecting it, and so hold back on their best tactic - this rarely ends well, and usually leaves the opponent and viewers wondering, "Why didn't he do that thing that gave his opponent so much trouble?"

No, as in the score doesn't affect the tactics, except that you no longer are holding back. Some believe that at deuce, you should "play safe." That's only true if you are a nervous wreck and can't do your more aggressive shots - in which case you need a trip to a sports psychologist. Of course, if your opponent is a nervous wreck, that might change tactically what you want to do. It works both ways. Under pressure it's usually easier to make an opening shot, where you choose the shot you are doing, than it is to react to an opponent's shot, where there's more uncertainty. So if the high-percentage shot is to attack, then you should attack, even if you are nervous - and the more you do this, the better you become at doing it under pressure.

The simplest way of looking at all this is that the highest percentage tactic at any time is whatever the highest percentage tactic is, regardless of the score.

June 3, 2019 - What to Think About Between Points . . . and What NOT to Think About

Monday, June 3, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

This is a simple one. Between points, your only thoughts should be tactical. Don't think or worry about the score, about how important the match or the next point is, about nets and edges, or anything else except tactics. The very act of thinking about your next tactic should clear your mind of other thoughts, so it's a double-whammy. Keep the tactics simple, and once you decide on a tactic, clear your mind and let your training take over.

But tactics can have a broad definition and can overlap with sports psychology. If you are losing confidence, the tactical thing to do might be to tell yourself, "You can do it!" or the equivalent. If you are losing focus, the tactical thing to do might be to stare at something in the distance for a moment to clear your mind and regain focus. Everybody is different in this way. During my playing years I mostly attacked with my forehand, and so had to move a lot - so between points I was always telling myself, "Push yourself!", which was my way of saying "Move!" - which was my way maximizing my movement so I could, tactically, get my forehand into play.

May 27, 2019 - Why You Should Develop a Backhand Loop

Monday, May 27, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Many players never develop a backhand loop. Some rely on the forehand loop, and so mostly push on the backhand, with the idea of pushing back wide to the backhand to take away the opponent's forehand loop. Or the player may instead develop a backhand drive (i.e. more of a hit, less topspin) to attack backspin with their backhand.

But doing this puts you at a tactical disadvantage. A good backhand loop gives you the option of pushing or attacking. If you attack, a backhand loop gives more consistency than a hit (because of the extra topspin pulling it down), and the topspin itself makes it even more effective as the opponent struggles to react to it. If you can only attack effectively with the forehand, then tactically, an opponent can just push wide to your backhand, taking away your attack unless you have very fast footwork - and if you do step around and forehand loop it, he has you out of position if he blocks quickly to the forehand. A backhand loop is especially useful at the start of a rally when your opponent pushes to your wide backhand, such as when he either pushes your serve back or serve and pushes.

So develop a consistent backhand loop. Suddenly, you have the tactical advantage. It's not just that you can attack first, but you also get to choose where to attack. You could go crosscourt to the opponent's waiting backhand block, but even more effectively, take it deep to the middle (the midpoint between the opponent's forehand and backhand, around the elbow), or down the line to the forehand. (Same idea when playing against a lefty, or vice versa.) With a good backhand loop, you are in control; suddenly, the opponent is forced to either attack balls he isn't comfortable attacking, or giving you the attack, where you dictate where you attack, while all he can do is try to react. It also gives you a variation from your forehand loop - your opponent has to adjust to both loops, which come out differently.

So get a coach or top player to help you with the shot, watch videos top players, and do some multiball practice. A two-winged attack gives you twice the weapons in your tactical toolbox and turns you into a far more feared player.

May 20, 2019 - Recipe for Table Tennis Success

Monday, May 20, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Who knew that cooks could be so good at table tennis! With a little tongue in cheek, and yet the touch of truth, here are fifteen ingredients to table tennis success.

  1. Put in lots of practice thyme.
  2. Always turnip on time for practice.
  3. Lettuce be thankful for all the hard practice you've put in.
  4. Have peas of mind while you play.
  5. Be cool as a cucumber.
  6. Don't grape about problems.
  7. Squash any thoughts about losing or the score.
  8. Focus on the pear of serves coming up.
  9. Pepper your opponent with tricky serves.
  10. Banana flip those short balls.
  11. Use good tactics to put a steak in your opponent's heart.
  12. Focus on your own playing style, telling yourself, "I yam what I yam."
  13. The path to tea tea success is a rocky road, but you can persevere.
  14. Don't be a hot dog when you win or crabby when you lose.
  15. When your game goes to lemons, make lemonade.

May 13, 2019 - First Block and First Counterloop

Monday, May 13, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Do you often have trouble blocking or counterlooping against your opponent's opening loop against backspin? If you are like most players, of course you do - and there's a simple reason for it. Most players practice blocking and counterlooping in rallies where they start the rally by serving topspin. And so they are conditioned to block and counterloop against loops against topspin.  

But a loop against backspin has a different trajectory (starting closer to the table, so more arc) and more topspin (since it adds to the incoming backspin), and so you need to practice against that. In fact, if you mostly practice against loops in topspin-topspin rallies, you are conditioning yourself to react correctly in such rallies - but since that's likely how you'll react in a game when the opponent loops against backspin, you are also conditioning yourself to miss against that!

Get a partner and a bucket of balls. Server serves backspin, receiver pushes back long, server loops, receiver blocks or counterloops - but don't play out the point. As soon as the server loops, he should be reaching for the next ball. One player gets to practice his loop against backspin, over and over, while the other practices reacting to a loop against backspin, over and over. This is how you isolate individual shots and techniques to develop them. It's a version of multiball that far too few players use.

So, next time you have trouble dealing with an opponent's loop against backspin, are you going to do the above, or are you going to just practice against loops against topspin?