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.)

March 12, 2018 - "Hot Anger" versus "Cold Anger"

Monday, March 12, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

It's best not to get angry when you play, period. And if you want to be a professional table tennis player, you better learn to control your emotions. (Even John McEnroe had his best tennis matches when he wasn't throwing fits.) However, if you do get angry sometimes in matches, then you should at least learn to channel your inner "rage."

Ever get really mad about something, to the point that you couldn't think straight? That is "Hot Anger." It's pointless and should always be avoided. And yet that's what often happens in competitive matches, where a player gets angry either at himself, his opponent, the playing conditions, the tournament director or referee, or anything else. The result is poor focus, poor execution, and poor play.

On the other hand, sometimes these anger issues can benefit you, if you know how to take advantage of them. If there's something that angers you, don't get "hot angry," get "cold angry." The difference is now you are thinking with ice-cold clarity with a single purpose in mind - overcome whatever it is you are angry at and beat your opponent. With "cold anger," you become single-mindedly focused and determined.

Some top athletes truly thrive on this, even going out of their way to find slights against them to give them incentive to push themselves to the limit - but they do so with "cold anger." If a team is predicted to do poorly by the experts, players can use this as incentive with "cold anger" - but if they truly get angry at this, with "hot anger," then they will likely self-implode - and that often happens. So next time you feel "hot anger" coming on, change it over to "cold anger" and use it to your advantage.

March 5, 2018 - What You Should Be Watching

Sunday, March 4, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Most of the time you should be watching the ball, but not always. If the ball is moving slowly, you should watch it all the way into your racket. If the ball is moving fast, you can't react at the last second, so there's no point in watching the ball right to contact. In both cases, as soon as watching the ball no longer is beneficial, you should be looking up to watch your opponent. You should generally be aware of the opponent and what he's doing and where with peripheral vision, but actually looking up to watch him is even better. That allows you to quickly prepare for whatever he's doing. You should pick up the ball again just before he hits it, and then watch the ball the rest of the way - until it's time to look up again to see your opponent.

February 26, 2018 - Sound and Feet

Monday, February 26, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

The Chinese know something about table tennis, and there's a stereotype about Chinese coaches that we can learn from. The stereotype is that in a group training session, they often walk around with their heads down as they do two things - listen to the sound of contact and watch your feet. 

They listen to the sound of contact because a good stroke and good timing result in a "good" contact sound. If the sound is wrong, then something else is wrong. By listening to the sound, they can identify there's a problem, and then look to see what the problem is. (So then they do have to look up. You don't want them to look up.)

They watch your feet because the feet are the base of everything else. There's a reason nearly all table tennis drills are footwork drills - many coaches will say all table tennis drills are footwork drills. Get the feet right, and the rest follows somewhat naturally. Get the feet wrong, and all is lost.

So get the sound and feet right, and you won't have to face the fury of all the problems they cause when done improperly. (I'd add one thing to this - if you get both the feet and grip right, often everything in between falls into place. Get either wrong, and everything gets twisted in between.)

February 19, 2018 - Forehands and Backhands: 1-2-3, not 1-2

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Most players practice their forehands and backhands with a 1-2 stroke: backswing, forward swing. But think about it - how often would you do this in a game? Answer - never! In a game, after finishing a stroke, you would return to a neutral position, preparing for the next shot, since you don't know if it'll be forehand or backhand, or even what type of stroke it will be. So why would one practice doing a backswing immediately after finishing the forward swing part of a stroke?

Instead, practice using a 1-2-3 stroke: backswing, forward swing, return to ready position. This is what you do in a game, and so this is what you should practice. There's also a little nuance here in that with the faulty 1-2 stroke, you backswing directly from a forward-swing position, when in reality the backswing should start from the neutral position - so practicing this wrong leads to bad technique and poor timing in games where you have to do it differently. 

February 12, 2018 - Focus on Performance and Fun to Maximize Your Chances of Winning

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Do you think you have a better chance of winning if you focus on winning, thereby putting pressure on yourself for results, or by focusing on playing well, which maximizes your chances of actually winning? The question answers itself.

You'll always play better and have a better end result if you focus on performance (i.e. playing well) rather than the end result. Performance in this case means all aspects of the game, including strokes, footwork, serve & receive, tactics, and the mental game.

So how do you maximize performance, thereby maximizing your results? By practicing your techniques until they are second-nature, even in a big pressure match, and then approaching those matches where you don't increase the pressure by pressuring yourself to have good results.

In other words, try to have fun when you play so there's less pressure, since it's that self-made pressure that causes one's game to fall apart. Practice your techniques, focus on performing well, have fun, and the results will eventually take care of themselves.

Having fun doesn't mean laughing out loud. Have fun on the inside from the satisfaction of working hard and doing what you have practiced. If you focus on winning, you'll just put pressure on yourself and get nervous. Focus on performance, and smile on the inside.