Tip of the Week

A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

Have a question about a Tip of the Week? Ask on the Forum!!!

(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.)

December 12, 2012 - Depth Control of Serves

Monday, December 12, 2011
by: Larry Hodges


One of the most under-practiced aspects of serving is depth control. Most intermediate and advanced players know that serving short stops an opponent from looping. As players advance, they begin to see the advantage of serving short with the second bounce as deep as possible. This makes it harder for the opponent to flip or drop short, to return at a wide angle, or rush the server.

As they advance, players also begin to see that a deep serve that goes very deep, so the first bounce is near the opponent's endline, is much more effective than a long serve that bounces more in the middle of the table. The deeper the bounce, the more you jam the receiver, force him off the table, cut off angles, and give yourself more time to react to his shot. (Deep serves can either be spin serves, fast serves, or a combination of both.)

You'd think that players would really focus on controlling the depth of their serves, making sure that the second bounce of a short serve and the first bounce of a long serve are both near the opponent's endline. And yet few players really take the time to really learn to do this.

Draw a line on the far side of the table about four inches from the end, a few inches more for beginners. (You can use chalk, or perhaps just put a string across the table.) Now get a bucket of balls, and practice your serves - but on every serve, make sure that either the first or second bounce lands in the last four inches of the table. (Make sure that you don't hold back on the spin on your spin serves or you defeat the whole purpose here. If you have trouble creating spin, focus on that before you worry too much about serving short with spin.) Don't consciously aim; learn the feel of the serves that go the proper depth, and visualize doing it each time just before you actually do the serve. Ingrain the feel, and you'll ingrain the serve. 

December 5, 2011 - Going to the Well Too Often

Monday, December 5, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

If you find a tactic that really gives your opponent trouble, do some serious thinking about how often to use it. You may have two options: 1) use the tactic to win one game; or 2) use the tactic to win the match. If you want to squeeze an entire match out of the winning tactic, then you don't want to overuse it and allow the opponent to get used to it.

For example, suppose you have a serve your opponent misses over and over. Unless the opponent is brain dead, if you overuse this serve, he'll get used to it. He'll also expect the serve at key moments - so you have to decide whether it will still be effective at that time. If he hasn't made many good returns of it in the past, then he'll probably have trouble with it under pressure as well, so most often use it at these key, pressure-packed points. When he does make a good return of this serve, hold back on it for a while, and then surprise him with it again. 

If you only have one serve that gives the opponent trouble, perhaps you can turn this into two by doing some variation of the serve? A different spin, speed, or depth, or even serving from a different part of the table might be enough variation to allow you to use it more often.

Suppose an opponent with a big loop keeps missing when you push heavy to his backhand. Do you really want to warm up his attack against this by giving it to him over and over? I've had many coaching experiences where a player went to the well too often, and tactically had nothing left in the last game. I once coached a match where the opponent had a huge backhand loop off a deep push to his backhand to follow up his short backspin serves. In the first game, the opponent missed over and over. Between games I suggested using the tactic at the start of game two, then holding back on it a bit, perhaps pushing more to the forehand, pushing short, or flipping. Instead, the player I was coaching pushed long to the backhand over and over, took an early lead - and then suddenly the opponent's big backhand loop started hitting. Afraid to push deep to the backhand, my player started pushing to the forehand, where the opponent was even stronger. Afraid this late in the match to start flipping or pushing short, my player fell apart, and the rest of the match was a rout.

It's important to come up with several winning tactics, and vary them. Experiment early in the match, and find what works. If you have one serve that works, find a variation of it so you have two. If you have two serves that give an opponent trouble, go back and forth between them somewhat randomly, mixing in other serves as well, perhaps looking for a third effective variation. If you build up a lead, perhaps temporarily retire one of these serves for later. But be careful - don't blow a lead by failing to use what was a winning tactic. It's all about judgment. 

November 28, 2011 - Message to Lower-Ranked Players from Higher-Ranked Players

Monday, November 28, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

If you want to score more points against us, focus on consistency, placement, and steady attacks instead of wild swings. Stop hitting everything crosscourt, go after my playing elbow more, and change directions at the last second so we don't know where you're hitting the ball five minutes before you hit it. And for god's sake, develop some good serves, both long and short ones. While you're at it, work on your receive - it takes practice, but if you focus on control, you'll get that control. If you do all this, and can put the ball away when you get an easy shot, you'll start beating us and we'll teach you the secret handshake. That is all. 

November 21, 2011 - Remember the Good Shots

Monday, November 21, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

When you make a series of shots and then miss one, remember the feel of the ones that hit, not the one that missed. It's the ones that hit that you want to ingrain. Think about the miss only if you do it over and over, and then only think analytically to figure out what the problem is, and as briefly as possible. Then forget about the misses and think about the feel of the good ones. 

November 14, 2011 - Forehands from the Backhand Corner

Monday, November 14, 2011
by: Larry Hodges

The primary danger of attacking with the forehand from the backhand corner (usually with a loop) is that you are leaving the forehand side open. Yet, you don't have to be a speed demon to cover that shot, though that helps. Balance and technique are more important. Here are keys to how to play the forehand from the backhand side without getting caught on the wide forehand. (Note - the advantage of the forehand from the backhand side is that it's usually easier to generate power with the forehand.)

  • Balance. Often a player is in such a rush to step around that they are off-balance when they finish the shot. Others simply follow through way off to the side. In both cases, by the time they have recovered their balance, it's too late. Imagine a pole through your head, and as much as possible rotate around that pole. This gives you great torque yet leaves balanced and in the same position as when you started the shot.
  • Depth. If your shot lands short, it's easy for the opponent to block aggressively to your forehand. If you keep your shots deep, you have a lot more time.
  • Placement. If you put the ball very wide to the opponent's backhand (for righties), they have no angle into your forehand. In general, go down the line only for winners, since you'll be wide open to an aggressive angled block to your forehand.
  • Speed. The harder you loop, the less time you have to recover. Often it's a good idea to loop slow and deep from the backhand side, since the slowness and depth of your own shot gives you time to recover. Alternatively, loop kill so the ball rarely comes back, so you don't have to worry about the wide forehand as much. It's those medium-speed loops that are regularly blocked to the wide forehand for winners.
  • Backhand loop. There's nothing like a backhand loop from the backhand side to keep you in position!