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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.)

May 9, 2016 - Move In to Cut Off the Angles with Quick Blocks

Monday, May 9, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

A common problem when blocking (both forehand and backhand) is to cover the wide angles by stepping (or worse, reaching) sideways, and letting the ball come to you. While you do, of course, have to move sideways to cover these shots, a key part is moving in, and catching the ball off quick off the bounce. By moving both sideways and in, you can do the following:

  • Catch the ball before it has a chance to move even wider, which would force you to cover even more court;
  • Make a more aggressive block, which is easier to do when moving in than when moving sideways;
  • Stay in position since you don't have to move as much sideways, so you will be more ready for the next shot;
  • Rush the opponent by taking the ball quicker;
  • Angle the opponent right back. And since you have the potential for this wide angle, if your opponent over-reacts to cover it, you can go the other way, forcing your opponent to cover a lot of ground.

How do you do all this? By stepping in and sideways with the near foot. On blocks to your left (the backhand for a righty), step sideways and in with your left foot. On blocks to the right, step in and sideways with the right foot. In both cases recover quickly by stepping back.

So when your opponent is attacking at wide angles, learn to cut off those angles by stepping in, and turn a potential weakness into a strength as you turn the tables on the opponent with your own aggressive, quick-angled blocks. 

Comments so far:: 1

May 2, 2016 - React to Opponent's Swing

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

When a player hits the ball very hard at a top player, often the top player often effortlessly returns these shots as if he has reflexes far beyond those of normal people. This isn't really true. In fact, in non-table tennis things, where he hasn't trained for many years, he might have only average reflexes. And yet he seems to react instantly to these smashes and loop kills. How does he do this?

From years of training, a top player develops fast reactions to things they train for. You could argue they have faster reflexes in table tennis and be correct, but only for those things they have trained for.

But there's a second thing going on here. Most players barely react to an opponent's shot until the ball is coming toward them, or at most at the last second as the opponent hits the ball. But the reality is that the huge majority of the time you can judge where the ball is going and how fast almost the instant the opponent starts his forward swing. If you watch top players react to smashes and loop kills, watch how they begin to move into position as the opponent begins that forward swing – it's almost as if they know where the ball is going to be hit – because they do. (Not consciously, of course; it's all trained subconscious, i.e. muscle memory.)

How can you do this? It's all about observing the opponent, and learning to react to his movements. Just as you learn to subconsciously react to an opponent's spin based on his movements, you should learn to make the connection between an opponent's swing and the direction the ball will go, as well as its speed, spin, trajectory, etc., so that reacting to it becomes second-nature. You may have to observe this consciously at first, but soon it becomes a subconscious habit.

For example, you can read much about the direction an opponent is about go by watching his shoulders. So be aware of the opponent's shoulders, and you will develop the proper reactions to his shots, reacting faster and faster. It's not about having faster reflexes; it's about developing proper reactions that just make you appear to have fast reflexes. 

April 25, 2016 - Clean Your Racket

Monday, April 25, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

It's a simple concept – keep your inverted sponge rubber clean!!! It doesn't take much play for the surface to gather dust and lose some of its grippiness. It may not seem like much since it's a gradual process, but it really can make a difference – though often players don't notice it. (Related to this is that you should get new sponge periodically – the surface wears down and the sponge gradually loses its bounciness. Since I play 6-7 days/week, I change both sides every month; others who don't play as much may go six months or even a year, though the latter is a bit long if you want to have lively, spinny shots.) Here's my three-part recommendaton:

  1. Wash it off with water before every session. The simplest way is to wet a corner of a towel (and you do have a towel when you play to wipe away sweat and clean your racket, right?), and wipe it off with that. Then wipe the water away and dry the racket with a dry part of the towel.
  2. A few times each game simply breathe on the sponge's surface, and then wipe it on your pants or towel. This gets rid of gathering dust.
  3. At the start of serious competitions, and perhaps once a week otherwise, use rubber cleaner to really clean it off. 

April 18, 2016 - Shot Awareness in Practice

Monday, April 18, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

What you do in practice you will do in matches. Therefore, you should be aware of the placement of your shots in practice drills, both direction and depth. This gives you feedback on your accuracy so you can make adjustments. Without this feedback you can't really improve your ball control and improve your accuracy.

When you play a match, your attacks and blocks should normally go deep to the wide corners or the opponent's middle (roughly playing elbow). Long pushes should also go very deep, mostly to the corners. When I tell players to do this, they often say that they are just trying to get the ball on the table, and that they can't control it well enough to really aim for these spots. Exactly!!! But if you do this in practice, your shots will become more accurate, you will be able to go to these three spots, and it will become a habit. But only if you become aware of your shots in practice so that you can make constant adjustments as you strive for better accuracy. 

April 11, 2016 - How to Do Demonstrations

Monday, April 11, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose you have a large gathering and you are asked to do a demonstration/exhibition? Here are some pointers on how to do a great one.

  1. Bring needed equipment. Besides the obvious table and balls, you might want to have spare rackets for players from the audience, barriers, boxes of balls (to demonstrate multiball), ball pickup nets, and a scoreboard. You might also want to bring any props you might use - mini- or over-sized rackets, for example. Bring flyers about local table tennis, especially coaching programs if it's for kids.
  2. Introduce yourself and your partner. Then give a short talk about the sport. Keep it short - you don't want to bore them. I typically ask them (with a show of hands) how many have played table tennis before; have been to a table tennis club; own their own racket; knew that table tennis was an Olympic sport; and knew that the best players train 6-8 hours/day and make over a million dollars per year. By asking for a show of hands, you get audience participation, which you want. I often end some of the questions with showing of hands of those too embarrassed to raise their hand either time (and I often slyly raise my hand). If you aren't good at public speaking, practice!!! When I first became a coach and had to lecture to groups, I took a class on public speaking, and spent hours practicing by talking to my dog and the dryer. (It makes it more realistic if you have something alive or moving to practice to.)
  3. Make sure to talk about local table tennis opportunities! Here's a good time to give out flyers.
  4. Give a short demo - again, keep it short. Make sure to have a partner who can rally with you. Then demo the forehand, the backhand, looping, and lobbing, giving a short explanation for each. You can also do chopping if one of you can do that and the other can attack them consistently. You can also give a short demo on serves, showing how a backspin ball can come back into the net, for example. Let it be known that at the end you'll let them try to return the serves.
  5. Do an exhibition. It's not a real game; you want spectacular rallies. I like to start by telling the audience that a terrible thing has happened, that my partner - after years of getting coaching from me - has gotten a big head, and thinks he/she can beat me. Then we have a challenge match to 11 points. Neither of us use our spin serves, though I'll throw in a lot of spectacular high-toss serves and maybe a few fast ones, but nothing deceptive. Then rally! Lobbing is best, but don't overdo it or it gets a bit redundant - and perhaps save the best lobbing points for toward the end. (I often fall to the ground and lob while lying and sitting on the floor.) You can play the exhibition "straight," with just good shots, or do more humorous trick shots, as I often like to do, where I pull out the big racket, the mini-racket, a clipboard, do 50-foot serves, blow the ball back, and argue with the umpire.
  6. Finish with audience participation. I find the best way is to let the audience line up and try to return serves - two misses and they out (and they'll usually race to the end of the line to try again). Be flamboyant - serve with sidespin, put your racket on the table, and move to where the ball should go and catch it. Or serve backspin, and as you do so, tell them, "Don't go into the net!" I often ask if they want "Speed or Spin," and then give it to them. After you've done this a few rounds, that's the to explain how to return spins serves, and then take your time with each player, showing them where to aim - down and to the side against sidespin, and up against backspin.
  7. Give a final short statement, reminding them about local table tennis, and thank them for coming.