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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 15, 2016 - How to Deal with Nervousness and Play Your Best: Magic, Best Match, Tactics

Monday, August 15, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Recently a player asked me how to deal with nervousness in a match. I’ve written articles on the topic, and there are a number of techniques for dealing with this – as I pointed out to the players, different methods work for different players. The player asked me, “What do you do?” And so here are my methods for dealing with nervousness – and it has a 100% success rate. I may not play well in a match, but I haven’t had a problem with nervousness in many decades. Plus when I follow these three simple things, I almost always play my best. Here’s my personal three-part technique.

  1. I pretend my racket is a magic wand and I’m a magician. When I’m out there, I can do magic and make the ball do what I want it to do. I’ll think of myself as Jan-Ove Waldner, who’s often been called a magician at the table, and so have complete faith I can do the same, whether I’m serving, receiving, or rallying.
  2. I remember my best matches. Often I’ll think back to perhaps the best match I ever played, when I beat Rey Domingo (2500 player), where the ball seemed to move in slow motion and everything I did worked – looping, smashing, blocking, receive, etc. – and I won easily. There was magic in that match, so all I have to do is recapture that magic and remember what it felt like.
  3. I think about tactics. Your mind can’t think about two things at the same time, so if I’m focused on tactics, I can’t be nervous. Tactics is how you apply the magic from the two items above.

So, are you a magician? Have you had matches where you played great, the ball seemed to move in slow motion, and there was magic in the air? Are you focused on tactics when you play? This is what works for me. 

August 8, 2016 - Three Weapons: The Triple B's

Tuesday, August 9, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

You have three weapons in table tennis - your Body, your Brain, and your Bat. The last is the least important. You can go to any club and try out others rackets and find the right fit, and you're done in one night. (Sorry, Equipment Junkies.) But the others take years to develop. 

Your body is second most important. At the higher levels, this becomes increasingly important. You can't throw yourself into shot after shot like an Olympian without having at least some minimal physical fitness. And yet there are players who play at a very high level who would never be mistaken for Olympians. And how do they do this? They use their most important asset.

Your brain is your most important asset in table tennis. It controls everything you do, either consciously or subconsciously. Consciously it decides how often you practice, what you practice, and how hard you practice. It makes the strategic long-term decisions on how to develop your game, and the short-term tactical decisions that make the most of what you have. Subconsciously it controls (or should control) all your shots from the serve to the actual strokes and racket angles. (That's why you train, so you can do these things automatically, i.e. subconsciously.) Table tennis is rightfully called "chess at light speed." It is the brainiest of sports.

Are you making full use of your brain?

June 27, 2016 - Inside-Out Forehand Floppy Wrist Flip

Monday, June 27, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

When an opponent serves short to the forehand, many players reach in and return it with a nearly stiff wrist, and invariably go crosscourt with a forehand flip. Most players do this "Asian style," i.e. using the forearm to power the shot. This gives consistence and power, but less deception than the "European style" wrist flip. (The "Asian style" and "European style" monikers are from decades ago; these days many Europeans do it "Asian style" and vice versa, and many can do both ways.) To do this, approach the ball like any other flip. But at the last second, bring the wrist back, and brush the ball more on the inside (i.e. the back-left side of the ball, if you are right-handed). This puts the ball down the line, while your opponent has probably already moved to cover the opposite corner. The wrist must be very loose to do this shot. Advanced players can even sidespin the ball back with a right-to-left motion (for right-handers). Now, the next time you're at the club, you too can tell others that you now have the inside-out forehand floppy wrist flip. (Say that fast ten times. Another table tennis joy!)

June 20, 2016 - Always Have at Least Two Options

Monday, June 20, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Many players have multiple options for most situations, but only one for some. For example, against a deep, spinny serve to the backhand, many players will only backhand drive it crosscourt. Or against a backspin serve to the backhand will almost always push it crosscourt. (Crosscourtitis is a curse many players have – there is such a thing as down the line, and you should learn to use it.)

When you have only one option off something the opponent does, then the opponent no longer has to worry about anything but that one option. And since a player with only one option usually only has that one option because he's not particularly comfortable with the incoming shot, it usually means the one option he uses isn't very strong. But even if it is, it loses its effectiveness when the opponent knows it's coming.

Even if the opponent isn't a "thinking" opponent, i.e. one who figures out opponent's weaknesses (such as predictability), most players are instinctive, and subconsciously pick up on these things. They may not realize it at the time, but they often are reacting to this predictableness.

So examine your game, and find places where you generally do the same thing over and over. It's possible that this works against some players, or even most players your level – but it probably doesn't work against stronger players, and presumably they are the ones you are hoping to learn to beat. So make sure that in every situation, you have at least two options.

Here's an example. During my playing career I often liked to give big breaking sidespin serves deep to the backhand, so that the ball would break to my right, away from the righty's backhand. Most would reach for the ball and make moderately aggressive shots to my backhand – but I'd already be over there, just waiting for this shot with my forehand. The ones that gave me trouble would either take it down the line – often doing so a bit more quickly and catching me – or would simply mix in a chop now and then, which would completely throw me off, since I was generally a step back, waiting for that topspin return. 

June 13, 2016 - The Difference Between a Drop Shot and a Short Push

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Are these the same things? Almost. A drop shot typically is made as short as possible, and is usually used against a chopper caught off the table. The goal here is to keep the ball as short as possible so that the defender either can't get to it (an "ace"!), or is lunging to get it, and either can't make a good return or recover for the next shot. It should also be low, both so the defender can't run in and hit it in, and because a higher ball stays in the air longer and so gives the opponent more time to react to it. (You can also drop shot against an off-table lobber with a dead block or chop block, though that's more difficult to keep short.)

A short push against an attacker's serve is actually more effective if it isn't too short, but short enough so that it would bounce twice if given the chance. The problem here is that the attacker is usually at the table, and so dropping the ball very short won't catch him out of position unless he's very short or immobile. And if he's in position for the shot, the shorter ball is both easier to attack with a flip than the slightly longer one, and easier to drop short.

There are always exceptions. Against a very fast-footed defender that you can't really catch with a drop shot, you might not want to drop the ball too short as it just gives him easy balls to pick hit, especially with a running backhand smash. And against an attacker who likes to serve and step back a bit, looking for a long return, an extra-short drop shot might be effective. But as a general rule, use drop shots against choppers, and short pushes against attackers.