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.)




October 1, 2012 - Short Serves to the Forehand from Backhand Side

Monday, October 1, 2012
by: Larry Hodges

One of the most under-utilized serves is the short serve to the forehand from the backhand side. Most players serve from the backhand side since this puts them in position to follow their serve with a forehand if there's a weak return. However, far too often players do this serve over and over crosscourt to the opponent's backhand. This makes it easier for the receiver to get into a rhythm and make effective returns. Instead, try serving short to the forehand. There are numerous advantages to this serve and only a few disadvantages.

The most common serves from the backhand side that go short to the forehand are the forehand pendulum and reverse pendulum serves, the backhand serve, and the forehand tomahawk serve. Pendulum serves are forehand serves with the racket tip down. Normally the racket goes right to left for a righty (with contact on the left side of the ball), but for a reverse pendulum serve it goes left to right (contact on the right side of the ball), which is awkward for many players starting out. Forehand tomahawk serves are done with the racket tip up, with racket going from left to right (contact on the right side of the ball). Some players do reverse tomahawk serves, with the racket moving right to left (and contact on the left side of the ball), and hitting the ball with the backhand side of the racket. Backhand serves are usually done with the racket moving left to right (with contact on the right side of the ball). Backhand serves are easier to keep low and short, but often have less variety than pendulum serves, where it's easier to go either direction at contact and to do subtle changes to vary the spin. Tomahawk serves are relatively easy to keep short, but are more difficult to serve with heavy backspin, and so are often predictably sidespin and topspin variations.

Left-to-right sidespins (i.e. backhand serves, tomahawk serves, and reverse pendulum serves) are often more effective since the sidespin requires the receiver to aim down the line, which is awkward to do when receiving a short ball with the forehand. When a receiver reaches in with the forehand it's easier to aim crosscourt, which is the direction you want to aim to compensate for a forehand pendulum serve.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of serving short to the forehand. (We're assuming two righties for this, but most applies to lefties as well.)

Advantages

  1. It's a variation that throws the receiver off from the more common serves into the backhand.
  2. Most players find receiving short balls to the forehand somewhat awkward with their forehand. In fact, many will try to receive this with their backhand. If so, then angle it even more to the forehand side (if necessary, serve more from the middle of the table, or even from the forehand side), or throw in deep serves to the backhand to keep them in position.
  3. Many receivers cannot forehand receive down the line against a ball short to their forehand, and you get a predictable return to your forehand.
  4. It draws the receiver in over the table, giving the server the opportunity to jam him on the next shot, either to the wide angles or middle.
  5. Against a player with a strong forehand but weaker backhand, a short serve to the forehand draws him in over the table, leaving him vulnerable on the backhand on the next shot.
  6. It's a shorter distance to the opponent's side than going crosscourt, and so rushes the opponent.
  7. You are closer to the net when serving down the line, and so it's easier to serve low, since your target is closer.
  8. You can throw in short serves to the middle as a variation. If the receiver has been receiving short balls with his forehand, he may find this change awkward if he's already looking to receive with the forehand.

Disadvantages

  1. It gives the receiver an angle into the server's wide forehand. This can leave the server vulnerable into two ways, to a wide-angled return to the forehand, or if the server moves over to cover the wide forehand, he may leave himself open on the backhand. (But see #3 above.)
  2. It's tricky keeping this serve short since you have less table than if you go crosscourt, and if it goes long, it's often an easy ball for the receiver to forehand loop.
  3. Since you usually don't want to serve long to the receiver's forehand (an easy ball to loop for most players), serves to the forehand tend to be short, while you can get away with long serves to the backhand more often (since most players don't backhand loop as well). This cuts down on the variety of serves you can do to the forehand. 





September 24, 2012 - Care of Equipment

Monday, September 24, 2012
by: Larry Hodges

Care of Equipment

Here are some tips of proper care of your equipment. I'm amazed at how lazy players often are on these things!

  • Racket Covering: One of the simplest ways to keep your racket surface clean while playing is to lightly blow on it every few points and then wipe it off with a cloth. The blowing puts a very light moisture on the blade, which allows you to wipe off the surface so it's clean and dry. (Watch top players and you'll see many of them do this regularly.) When you are done playing, wipe it off with a damp towel, and after it dries (you can wipe it off lightly to hasten the process), cover it in a racket case or in plastic. This protects it from oxidizing with the air, and I can verify that sponges left out in the open deteriorate much faster than those covered. You might also cover the surface with plastic protective sheet, which will make it last even longer, especially if you only play occasionally. Occasionally use a rubber cleaner to wipe off grease. When the sponge begins to lose its bounciness, or an inverted sheet begins to lose its tackiness, or a pips-out surface has broken pips (or the surface of the pips are worn down), it's time to change. Keep the racket out of extreme heat and cold. If you are driving in the cold to play, keep the racket inside the car with you, not in the trunk where it's cold. (Otherwise the racket will be rather slow and dead until it warms up.)
  • Racket: Consider putting edge tape on the racket, if it's not already there. This is mostly cosmetic to protect it if you accidentally hit the table with your racket, as sometimes happens during play.
  • Shoes: Generally don't wear them except at the playing hall. They are not meant for walking, and don't give as much support as normal shoes. If you do wear them outside the playing hall, be careful not to get the soles dirty. If you do, wash them off. Otherwise, not only will you lose traction when you play, you'll track dirt into the player area. Don't. If you are playing on floors that aren't grippy, wash the soles of your shoes off to add traction. (Another good way to add traction is to step lightly on a wet towel every few points. You'll see top players do this all the time when they play on cement or wood floors; try it and you'll see.)
  • Shirt: Other than wearing something that's both comfortable and legal (see USATT rules 3.22 and 3.25, but primarily neat, not the same color as the ball, and without huge advertisements), what do I have to say here? If you have a nice table tennis shirt with a nice design on it, that design will slowly wear away with washing. To slow that down, turn the shirt inside-out when you wash it. That way the water in the washing cycle will hit against the inside of the shirt rather than directly on the design, which wears it away much faster. 


Comments so far:: 1



September 17, 2012 - Why Table Tennis Really Is Chess at Light Speed

Monday, September 17, 2012
by: Larry Hodges

We often say table tennis is chess at light speed. It has all the tactics of chess except you don't have time to think things over - there's no time clock, just a ball coming at you, often at dizzying speeds. But table tennis is more like chess in other ways as well.

Most chess openings involve pushing pawns as players maneuver to control the center of the board and attack with their stronger pieces. Most table tennis rallies start with pushing as players maneuver to control the table and attack with their stronger shots.

Chess players try to control the board early on with their bishops and knights, which set up their more powerful pieces, the rooks and queen. Table tennis players try to take control of the rally early on with their opening loops and drives, which set up their more powerful shots, their smashes and loop kills.

Chess players often lose when they bring out their queen too early, before their other pieces are in position to support it. Table tennis players often lose when they try to smash or loop kill too early in the rally, before they've set up the shot.

In chess, if you lose your queen without taking the opponent's queen, you almost always lose. In table tennis, if you can't get your best shot into play while your opponent can, you almost always lose.

In chess you can start off by pushing your pawn one or two squares. In table tennis you can start off by pushing short or long.

Chess players all have a weakness - their king, which they must guard at all times. Table tennis players all have weaknesses, and they must guard those weaknesses at all times.

When a chess player is losing he often tries for a stalemate in desperation. When a table tennis player is losing a point he often lobs in desperation.

In chess the pawns are the weakest piece, but used properly, they can win by supporting stronger pieces, by smothering an opponent, or by getting "queened." In table tennis the push is often the weakest shot, but you can win with it by using it to set up stronger shots, by smothering an opponent with well-placed pushes, or by turning it into a powerful weapon with quickness, placement, heavy backspin, or keeping it short.

When a chess player doesn't know how to react to an opponent's opening, he studies and learns the proper moves. When a table tennis player can't return an opponent's serve, he practices and learns the proper receives.

In chess, you have a lot of time to think and plan before each move. In table tennis you have a lot of time to think and plan before each match.

In speed chess, you have little time to think and plan before each move. In table tennis you have little time to think and plan before the next point.

In chess, you run into time trouble if you can't quickly and instinctively see the right move in most circumstances. In table tennis you run into trouble if you can't quickly and instinctively see the right shot in most circumstances.

So yes, table tennis is just chess at lightning speed. Which means, of course, that chess is simply table tennis at a glacial pace!



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September 10, 2012 - If You Can See It, You Can Loop It

Monday, September 10, 2012
by: Larry Hodges

This Tip is for those who wish to reach a high level of play, and who either play a looping style (like the large majority of top players) or are developing their style of play and aren't sure what direction to go. The modern game at the higher levels is an incredibly athletic, fast, and spinny sport. What were considered incredible shots in the past are now routine as the looping game has developed to the current level. Part of this comes from training, part of it comes with the realization that these shots are possible, and part of it comes from modern sponges, which are far superior for looping than the ones from the past. (If I had some of these modern inverted surfaces back in the 70s and 80s. . . oh boy!)

The down side is that we've lost much of the hitter versus looper battles of yesteryear. Hitters dominated the 1960s, 70s, and much of the 80s, but by the 1990s loopers dominated, and now there are essentially zero hitters at the highest levels. What this means is that if you want to reach the highest levels, or even to reach a relatively high level, you probably should be looping as well. This doesn't mean other styles can't compete below world-class level, just that they are at a disadvantage. So unless you have a very good reason not to, you should develop your game as a looper. (There are also some world-class choppers, but they are not so much choppers as chopper/loopers, who primarily chop on the backhand, usually with long pips, and chop, loop, and counterloop on the forehand.)

What exactly does this mean? At its most basic level, it means if the ball comes long and you can see it, you should train to loop it. Period. (My definition here of "seeing it" is any ball that's not coming at you so fast that you can't really do anything other than reflex block or back up well off the table so you have more time.)

This doesn't mean you can't smash balls that are high, though many top players loop those as well. What it means is you don't have time to make that split-second decision on whether to loop or do something else; that wastes time. Instead, assume you are going to loop it until proven otherwise, and react by immediately setting up to loop. If the ball comes at you so fast you simply can't react in time to loop, then by all means do a reflex block or counter, or back up and fish and lob. But in general, as the ball comes out to you, you should be reflexively setting up to loop.

There is one other complication - should you loop on both sides or just on the forehand? These days I'd say both sides. There are still many players who reach high levels looping their forehand but mostly hitting their backhands, but even that can be a disadvantage at the higher levels, where these backhand hitters are turned into blockers. And yet a good, hard backhand hit or strong blocking game combined with a good forehand loop can take you pretty far. But looping from both sides can take you even farther - just watch the very best players and see how nearly all of them loop nearly everything from both sides.

So to expand on what all this means at its most basic level, here is some advice I tell up-and-coming juniors from the intermediate level up - and remember my definition above of "seeing it.": On the forehand, if you can see it, loop it. If you can't see it, back off and loop it. On the backhand, if you can see it, loop it. If you can't see it, either block or back off and loop or fish. 






September 4, 2012 - Multiball Training

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
by: Larry Hodges

Multiball Training

Most rallies at the intermediate level start out with backspin, often with the server looking to serve and loop. If he doesn't loop, then the receiver looks for a chance to loop. Whoever can open with a strong loop against backspin has a huge advantage. But many players practice looping against the block over and over, or occasionally do serve and loop drills where they get only one loop in the rally. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to practice looping against backspin systematically, over and over? (Well, that's easy - play a chopper. But there aren't that many choppers around these days. So what can you do if you don't have a chopper handy?)

And wouldn't it be great if there were a way to push yourself with stroking and footwork drills at a pace faster then you or your practice partner can rally consistently? Or to simulate game situations that you need work on?

The answer is multiball training. In multiball training, a coach or practice partner stands to the side of the table with a box of balls (on the left side if he's a righty), and feeds the ball to you. He does this by tossing the ball back, usually (though not always) letting it bounce on the table, and then hitting it to you with his paddle. In this way he can feed different spins and speeds to all parts of the table, either in systematic patterns or randomly. Essentially all of the best players in the world regularly use multiball training; the top Chinese players use multiball for about one-third of their practice sessions. (To see examples of this, go to Youtube.com and search for "table tennis multiball training.")

By having your partner feed you backspin over and over, you can practice looping against backspin, and get far more practice shots per minute (up to one per second or so) than if you just do serve and loop practice. Or the feeder can vary it, giving you a backspin and then a topspin, as it would be in a real rally (if opponent blocked your first loop back), and do so in rapid succession. Or he can feed topspin side to side or in other patterns so you can practice stroking and footwork. Or he can feed the ball randomly to all parts of the table (or to designated segments), simulating a real game.

All multiball drills are either rote drills, where you know where the ball is going, or random drills, where you do not, or some combination of the two. An example of a combination would be one ball to the middle that you attack with your forehand, followed by a random ball to either corner that you attack with forehand or backhand.

To do multiball training, you'll need a box of balls. You can do it with a few dozen balls, but most coaches start with a gross (144) or so of training balls. (Training balls are cheaper than tournament balls, i.e. 3-stars, and you can buy them a gross at a time rather inexpensively.) If you and a practice partner are doing this, start off by actually practicing your multiball. (When I first began coaching many years ago one of the first things I did was go off to a table and practice multiball feeding for about an hour.)

While most multiball training is fed from the side of the table, there are variations where the feeder feeds from the far side of the table, either by the end-line or from farther back, to simulate shots from those positions. And while most coaches bounce the ball on the table before feeding it, some speed things up by hitting the balls right out of the air without bouncing them.

There are an infinite number of multiball drills you can do; use your imagination. You can either isolate a specific shot that needs work (such as forehand or backhand loop or smash against backspin), the types of footwork drills you use in a match (such as side to side), or other match simulations. For example, when I played tournaments I liked to dominate the table with my forehand, so players would often serve short backspin to my forehand, then quick-push to my backhand to take my forehand out of play and force me to play my weaker backhand. So I did multiball drills where the feeder gave me a short backspin ball to my forehand, then a deep backspin to my backhand. I'd push the short ball, then step around and loop the second with my forehand. (For most players, I'd recommend looping the second ball with your backhand, unless you have very fast feet, so develop your backhand attack.)

Here are a few drills you can try, including ones mentioned above (so you don't have to keep consulting the text). Use your imagination; many top players and coaches make up drills on the spot to address a particular issue.

  • Looping against backspin from both wings from all parts of the table, either to one spot or to multiple or random spots. Examples include backspin alternating to wide forehand and middle, and you loop both with forehand; or backspin alternating from wide forehand to wide backhand, and you alternate looping forehand and backhand.
  • Backspin/topspin combinations. For example, backspin to the middle, followed by topspin to the wide forehand; you loop both with your forehand. Or a longer pattern such as four feeds alternating between backhand and forehand, where perhaps the first is backspin, the next three are topspin, all in quick succession as in a match, and you have to attack all four shots.
  • 2-1 drill, also called the backhand-forehand-forehand or Falkenberg drill (for the Falkenberg club in Sweden, where it was popularized by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengtsson), where you play three shots: a backhand from the backhand side, a forehand from the backhand side, and then a forehand from the forehand side. This is a favorite among top players since you practice the three most common moves: covering the wide forehand, covering the wide backhand, step around forehand.
  • Random topspin, either to two spots, the wide forehand and wide backhand, or to all parts of the table. You can also combine random drills with rote drills, such as having a ball to the middle you attack with your forehand, followed by a random ball to either corner that you attack with forehand or backhand.
  • Short ball (often with backspin) followed by a deep ball. You push or flip the short ball, and loop the deep ball.