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 7, 2011 - Do You Hit to the Three Spots?

Monday, March 7, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

Table tennis is chess at lightning speed. Imagine that split second as you are about to hit the ball. Do you hit wherever, or do you pick the placement like choosing a move in chess? There are three main spots to choose from (plus a huge number of other variables, i.e. speed, spin, depth, which stroke to use, etc.). Pick the best move! When attacking, most opponents don't have all three spots well covered - wide forehand, wide backhand, middle (playing elbow). Most have the backhand covered, at least at the start of the rally, and maybe one of the other spots. Most players just go to the backhand, the place the opponent almost always has covered. Pick your spot, don't telegraph it, and perhaps fake one way and go another at the last second.

February 28, 2011 - A Forehand Stance While Blocking

Monday, February 28, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

Many players go into a backhand stance when blocking. This is fine for the backhand, but it weakens the forehand side. Even worse, it makes smashing or counterlooping on the forehand much more difficult. You may find that you can block backhands almost as easily with a slight forehand stance, which also puts you in a position to block, smash, or counterloop if the ball goes to the forehand. (Also, a forehand stance makes it easier to step around the backhand if you see a weak ball to crush with your forehand.) Try experimenting with this. Many a player has won a match by standing in a forehand stance and just blocking backhands until the ball goes to the forehand, and then Whammo!

February 21, 2011 - Wait a split second longer when looping a push, then change directions

Monday, February 21, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

Most blockers develop timing to react to your normal loop. At the instant they think you will contact the ball, they commit to blocking either forehand or backhand. So set up to loop crosscourt, and make no attempt to hide this. At the instant you normally would contact the ball, watch the opponent move to cover the apparent crosscourt loop. Wait a split second longer than normal, letting the ball travel perhaps an six inches to a foot, and then go down the line. (This is especially effective when looping from the wide forehand.)

You can do this the other way, faking down the line and then going crosscourt, but it's not usually as effective, for two reasons. First, since most players tend to loop crosscourt far more often than down the line, blockers tend to move to cover the crosscourt angle. Second, down the line is a shorter distance, and so the opponent has less time to recover for that shot.

February 14, 2011 - What To Do With Problem Serves

Monday, February 14, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

Everybody has at least one serve that always gives them trouble. It might be a certain sidespin, or a deep serve, a short serve, a no-spin serve, an angled serve, etc. (For example, you can almost divide players into two groups - those who have fits with forehand tomahawk serves to the forehand, and those that loop them with ease. Which are you?) The question is what to do against these problem serves?

First, focus on control. Place the ball, usually at a wide angle and deep. Often this alone will solve the problem. You don't need to dominate on an opponent's serve (though it helps); you need to break even, and dominate on your serve.

If you are still having trouble, analyze the problem. If you keep popping the ball up, or hitting it wide, adjust. If you keep making the same mistake, and don't adjust your return, you'll keep making the same mistake.

Against some serves, you might try a "scare tactic." If there's a single serve that really bothers you, attack it relatively hard one time. Loop it or flip it aggressively! Scare the server. Even if you miss it, most often he won't use it again, at least very often. If he does keep using it, then you'll just have to figure out how to return that serve because you're up against a smart opponent. (I know I have far more difficulty looping a deep serve that breaks away from me, like a deep backhand serve or tomahawk serve. I have little trouble looping ones that break into me, such as a regular forehand pendulum serve. Guess which one I tend to be more aggressive with the first time I see it? The last thing I want to do is be too soft against a serve that breaks away from me, which is practically telling the opponent to keep giving me that serve since I have trouble with it.)

Conversely, is there a serve that you are very good at receiving? One that you can really loop or flip aggressively, for example? Don't go overboard attacking this serve too much early in a game or you'll never see it again. Consider slowing down your attack of this serve, being consistent with good placement, and slowly building up a lead. Instead of one-shot winners, return the serve to take the initiative - play the percentages.

February 7, 2011 - Develop an Overpowering Strength

Monday, February 7, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

At the beginning/intermediate levels, most matches are won by whoever is more consistent. Great strengths haven't yet developed, and so while players do have strengths, the matches are mostly won by whoever makes the least mistakes.

As you advance, this changes. At the intermediate/advanced level, matches are mostly won by whoever gets his strength into play. The looper wins if he gets his loop into play. The hitter wins if he gets his hitting into play. Even the steady player - and steadiness can be a strength at all levels - wins if he's able to get into rallies where his steadiness prevails. And so on.

It's not enough to just develop an overpowering strength. You also have to have ways of getting it into play. It's not enough to have a good loop or a strong hitting game if your serves or return of serve allows your opponent to attack and turn you into a blocker. It's not enough to be steady if your serve or return of serve allow your opponent to play his strengths, thereby overpowering your steadiness.

So develop an overpowering strength (or strengths), and develop serve & receive techniques to get it into play. At its most basic level, table tennis is all about getting your strengths into play and stopping your opponent from using his.