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.)




January 1, 2018 - Elbow Drill

Tuesday, January 2, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Playing the opponent’s middle – roughly where the playing elbow, the midpoint between forehand and backhand – is one of the more difficult tactics for players below the advanced level. It’s easier with the backhand, where the opponent’s right in front of you. But below the advanced level most players struggle with this. Instead, they tend to just play the corners. Here’s a simple drill where one player learns to attack the middle, and the other learns to defend against it.

The drill is simple: Player A just serves topspin to Player B’s backhand, and they rally. But B’s job is to move the ball around to all three spots – wide corners and middle – with an emphasis on attacking the middle. A’s job is to simply return every ball to B’s backhand. Once you are comfortable with this drill, do the forehand variation, where Player A serves to Player B’s forehand, and returns every ball there.

Player B should make minor adjustments when going after the middle. For example, some players cover the middle with their backhands, and so their true “middle” is a bit to the forehand side. And vice versa. Once B finds the opponent’s middle, he should put a big X on it and go after it every chance. 

When you do this drill, Player A will quickly see how difficult it is to respond effectively to a good shot at the middle. Player B will quickly see how much trouble Player A has with these shots. If they apply this to matches, both will improve. 






December 11, 2017 - Push-Button Matches - Playing the Scary All-Out Attacker

Monday, December 11, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Ever have one of those matches where you felt like the opponent completely dominated with their attack and controlled everything, and yet you won? I call those “push-button” matches. In matches like that, the opponent basically attacks everything, no matter what you do. If their shots keep hitting, they win. Since there’s nothing you can do to stop them from attacking or counter-attacking, your job is to tactically make sure their attacks are low percentage. How do you do that? Here are ten guidelines.

  1. Try not to change your own game too much. You need to focus on quality shots, and your best chance of doing that is if you play your normal game, even if the opponent is trying to attack everything.
  2. Attack first. The best way to stop an opponent from attacking effectively is to attack first. This doesn’t mean going for wild shots or forcing an attack on balls you can’t make a good shot on. But it does mean looking for every chance to attack first, especially on your serve, and forcing the opponent to go for a wild counter-arrack. If he’ll push your serve back, then serve backspin (mixed with no-spin serves) and attack.
  3. Keep the ball deep. Most often when a player is counter-attacking consistently it’s because the shot he’s counter-attacking against isn’t going deep. Loops and drives that go deep on the table are much harder to attack than ones that land shorter.
  4. Vary the spin. In fact, use every spin, from heavy backspin to no-spin to heavy topspin. This will throw off the attacking opponent’s timing.
  5. Push effectively. You don’t need to make great pushes, but your long pushes should go pretty long, normally to the wide corners, with last-second changes of direction, and be low, heavy (or varied), and somewhat quick. If you do all of these pretty well, your push is hard to attack strongly. If you do all of these well except one, that’s the part that gives the opponent an easy attack.
  6. Rush them with your first shot. If they are quicker than you, then don’t try to take them on in a quickness battle. But for the first shot of the rally, perhaps an aggressive block, you should often be able to get in a quick short, and if well-placed (to a wide corner or at the elbow), it’ll force a lot of mistakes from the opponent.
  7. Place your shots. If the opponent is mostly a forehand attacker, go to the wide corners. If he attacks equally well from both sides, go at his elbow.
  8. If there’s a certain winning shot the opponent keeps making, then force him to make different winning shots. Don’t let him beat you with his best shot – make him beat you with his second or third best shots.
  9. Throw in some varied deep serves. If the opponent is overly aggressive, he’ll likely make mistakes if you serve, for example, fast no-spin at the elbow or wide backhand; big breaking sidespin serves to the wide backhand; or sudden fast down-the-line serves to the forehand.
  10. Don’t panic if the opponent makes a few great shots. Players who go for great shots over and over will tend to make a few great shots. It’s all about percentages – so make sure the percentages favor you as much as possible. Playing all-out attackers is psychologically tough, but if you stay focused and play smart, you will often win matches where you felt the other guy dominated every rally. 





December 4, 2017 - How to Mess Up Your Opponent When Forced to Make a Weak Shot

Monday, December 4, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

No matter how much you train you will sometimes find yourself out of position and having to reach or lunge for a shot. It’s not something you want to do; it’s something you have to do in those hopefully not-too-often situations. Most players understand the importance of trying to keep the ball at least low in these situations. But there’s a lot more you can do to win the point.

Just getting the ball back weakly might work at the lowest levels, but it doesn’t work beyond that. Instead, you need to do something to make the shot tricky for the opponent so that he doesn’t have an easy winner. Here are five ways to make the opponent uncomfortable. Some players will automatically argue that they are just trying to keep the ball in play and can’t do any of these, but that’s because they haven’t tried and are still thinking like a beginner.

  1. Depth. By keeping the ball deep you keep the opponent farther away from his target (your side of the table) so that he’s more likely to miss, you give yourself more time to react to his shot, and you cut off the extreme angles the opponent can attack to. That’s a triple whammy.
  2. Angled placement. Even if you are reaching or lunging, you can aim your paddle to a wide corner, forcing your opponent to move and thereby increasing his chances of a mistake.
  3. Last-second change of direction. If you aim for one extreme angle, the opponent will likely move in that direction, and then, at the last second, you can go the other way, completely messing him up. Often this means aiming crosscourt, then going down the line.
  4. Spin. Even when lunging you can spin the ball. Putting a good topspin on the ball can be tricky for some, but even when reaching or lunging for the ball you can give the ball a good backspin. You can even put some sidespin on the ball. In some situations you can even let the ball drop below table level (where the opponent might not even see your contact) and sidespin the ball back, perhaps even faking the opposite sidespin after contact, which can catch the opponent off guard.
  5. Heavy no-spin. If you fake backspin but just meet the ball so it has little or no spin, you’ll be surprised how many players lift it right off the table. 





November 27, 2017 - The Non-Playing Arm

Tuesday, November 28, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Many players do not use their non-playing arm properly. Often the problem is that you can sort of get away with not using the non-playing arm in many drills – either static ones, where you aren’t moving (i.e. working on basics with beginners), and often in moving drills where you know where the ball is going and so don’t have to make sudden unexpected changes in direction. And so players will sometimes get lazy and let their non-playing arm just hang there like a dead snake. (I call it “dead snake syndrome.”)

Often the consequences of a limp non-playing arm aren’t apparent as they affect your ability to recover from a shot – meaning it doesn’t so much affect the shot you are doing as much as it does the next shot. And then, rather than blaming the slow recovery on the lack of balance and fixing the problem, they call out, “I’m too slow!”

There are really three things about the non-playing arm you should focus on.

  • Keep the arm and hand up in your ready position for balance, making it easier to make quick starts, using the arm as a counter-balance.
  • It should be used as a counter-balance to your playing arm while rallying. This is especially true when making big forehand shots, but also true on big backhand shots if you turn sideways. It’s also used as a counter-balance when reaching in for short balls to the forehand.
  • When making big forehand shots, where the body is rotating in roughly a circle, not only is your playing arm side moving forward, but the non-playing arm side should be moving backwards – so you should essentially be pulling back with that arm, adding to your power. 





November 20, 2017 - Three Simple Side-to-Side Drills

Monday, November 20, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Most table tennis movement is side-to-side, and so you need to practice this a lot. Here are three drills you should be doing - but only do the second when you are proficient with the first, and only do the third when you are proficient with the second. At all levels you should do all three, even the more basic first one - just do it faster and quicker. All three drills can be done either with a partner, where you return each shot to the same spot (partner's forehand or backhand - most often it's the backhand), or with a partner or coach feeding multiball. 

  • Drill One: Side to Side Forehand and Backhand. Your partner hits the ball side to side, alternating. Your focus is on consistency and strong shots. As you advance, take the ball quicker. 
  • Drill Two: Side to Side Random Forehand and Backhand, Two Spots. Your partner hits the ball randomly either to your forehand or backhand. Your focus is on reacting, not anticipating. Make sure your first move is the right move. Don't rush - you have more time then you think. 
  • Drill Three: Side to Side Random Whole Table. Your partner hits the ball randomly anywhere, focusing on going to the corners and middle (your playing elbow, roughly midway between forehand and backhand). Your focus is on reacting, not anticipating, while also covering shots to the middle. Make sure your first move is the right move. On shots to the middle favor your strongest shot, whether it's forehand or backhand, but make sure to move into position to do so.