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 20, 2019 - Recipe for Table Tennis Success

Monday, May 20, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Who knew that cooks could be so good at table tennis! With a little tongue in cheek, and yet the touch of truth, here are fifteen ingredients to table tennis success.

  1. Put in lots of practice thyme.
  2. Always turnip on time for practice.
  3. Lettuce be thankful for all the hard practice you've put in.
  4. Have peas of mind while you play.
  5. Be cool as a cucumber.
  6. Don't grape about problems.
  7. Squash any thoughts about losing or the score.
  8. Focus on the pear of serves coming up.
  9. Pepper your opponent with tricky serves.
  10. Banana flip those short balls.
  11. Use good tactics to put a steak in your opponent's heart.
  12. Focus on your own playing style, telling yourself, "I yam what I yam."
  13. The path to tea tea success is a rocky road, but you can persevere.
  14. Don't be a hot dog when you win or crabby when you lose.
  15. When your game goes to lemons, make lemonade.

May 13, 2019 - First Block and First Counterloop

Monday, May 13, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Do you often have trouble blocking or counterlooping against your opponent's opening loop against backspin? If you are like most players, of course you do - and there's a simple reason for it. Most players practice blocking and counterlooping in rallies where they start the rally by serving topspin. And so they are conditioned to block and counterloop against loops against topspin.  

But a loop against backspin has a different trajectory (starting closer to the table, so more arc) and more topspin (since it adds to the incoming backspin), and so you need to practice against that. In fact, if you mostly practice against loops in topspin-topspin rallies, you are conditioning yourself to react correctly in such rallies - but since that's likely how you'll react in a game when the opponent loops against backspin, you are also conditioning yourself to miss against that!

Get a partner and a bucket of balls. Server serves backspin, receiver pushes back long, server loops, receiver blocks or counterloops - but don't play out the point. As soon as the server loops, he should be reaching for the next ball. One player gets to practice his loop against backspin, over and over, while the other practices reacting to a loop against backspin, over and over. This is how you isolate individual shots and techniques to develop them. It's a version of multiball that far too few players use.

So, next time you have trouble dealing with an opponent's loop against backspin, are you going to do the above, or are you going to just practice against loops against topspin?

May 6, 2019 - Playing Against Short Pips on the Forehand

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Now that Sweden's Mattias Falck made it to the final of Men's Singles at the Worlds using short pips on the forehand, there's going to be a sudden increase in players playing this way. I think that's a very good thing - I miss the days where there were far more contrasts in style, compared to the more modern game where most play almost the same, with more subtle differences. So how do you play a player with short pips on the forehand, inverted on the backhand? Here are some tips.

  1. Short, very low no-spin serves to the forehand. Pips-out players are notoriously good attacking short, spinny balls, but have trouble with no-spin that's very low. It also draws them over the table, leaving them jammed and out of position on the backhand.
  2. Long, low, heavy pushes, especially to the wide corners. A pips-out loop doesn't create as much spin as an inverted surface. Counter-attack against these weaker opening loops. If they smash your push, then work on your push.
  3. Deep backspin serves to the forehand. This is almost a forgotten tactic from the past, but just like a deep push to the corner, a pips-out player can't attack a low, deep backspin ball as well as an inverted player. Counter-attack their opening shot, often to the wide backhand, since they've been drawn out of position to the wide forehand. Or, if they rush back to cover the wide backhand, go right back to the wide forehand.
  4. Attack the middle. Pips-out players have to stay close to the table to be effective, so they are already rushed. They also have to stroke the ball more than an inverted player since short-pips isn't as lively as inverted. If you attack their middle (the mid-point between their forehand and backhand, usually the elbow), they are rushed even more and have little time to stroke the ball effectively.
  5. Aggressive loops deep to the forehand and middle. A pips-out forehand is great for smashing loops, but against an aggressive loop that goes deep, they have difficulty since they can't smash that consistently. Move the ball around from wide forehand to the middle so they have to move as well.
  6. In rallies, keep the ball deep. This both makes it harder for the pips-out player to smash, and gives you more time to react to their pips-out shots.  
  7. Before the match, practice against short pips.
  8. Play with short pips. One of the best ways to understand the weaknesses and strengths of a style is to try it out yourself.

April 29, 2019 - Rope-a-Dope Defense

Monday, April 29, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose you are playing a relentless counter-hitter, who plays every really bang-bang, and you are struggling to stay in these rallies. Point after point ends with either you missing or making a weak return the opponent smashes. How do you get out of this?

There are three main ways. First, attack first and try to end the point before you get into these bang-bang rallies. Second, force the opponent to open weakly by giving them low, heavy, deep pushes, or deep serves that they have trouble attacking, and counter-attacking off their openings, with placement key (to wide angles or to opponent's mid-point between forehand and backhand, usually the elbow).

But once you are in these rallies, what should you do? Rather than mindlessly rally and hope your opponent makes a mistake, focus on three things that will turn hopeless play into rope-a-dope defense:

  • Get every ball back. This may sound basic, but if you make that your focus, you might surprise yourself with how many shots you get back. After a shot or two into such rallies you might have to take a half step back to give yourself enough time to react to shots, but don't back up too much or you give the opponent wider angles and more time to attack your shots. Most likely cover most middle shots with your backhand. A key thing here is confidence - if you truly believe you can rally with the opponent, then you may surprise yourself at how well you do so. A lack of confidence leads to tentativeness, which leads to both weak shots and misses. With that confidence, you might even find yourself hitting in winners when you get the right shot!
  • Keep it deep. As long as your shots are deep, the opponent can't rush or angle you too much. It's those returns that go short that'll get you into trouble. If your shots are going short, hit your shots just a little more aggressively to get them deeper. Find the balance between consistency and aggressiveness, but keep the ball deep!
  • Move the ball around. Don't make things easy for the opponent. Ideally, keep every ball not just deep, but to wide angles, or when you see a chance, an aggressive counter-shot at the elbow, which not only gives the opponent trouble, but also pulls him out of position and opens up one of the corners. An aggressive counter-shot to the forehand often takes an opponent out of position as well, opening up either the wide backhand, or often the wide forehand again as players often over-recover after the first one to the forehand. Beware - if you hit a wide-angled shot, it gives the opponent the chance to angle back, and so you have to recover into a ready position to cover that angle!

April 22, 2019 - No More Excuses - Develop World-Class Serves with TNT

Monday, April 22, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Unlike most other advanced techniques, you don't have to be athletic or play at a high level to develop great serves. Anybody - yes, that means you - can develop great, even world-class serves. They just need a little TNT - Technique, Necessity, and Time.

You have to have proper serving Technique. This means working with a coach or top player. Unlike most other techniques, serving is subtle and is tricky to learn by just watching. Half the point of serving is making it look like one thing while doing another, so unless you are an expert, you might not realize what's really happening. Here's my article Ten Steps to a Great Serving Game.

You have to decide it's Necessary. Top players often develop top serves out of sheer necessity - if they don't, they won't become top players. So you have to ask yourself - how necessary is it for you to dominate against your peers by developing great serves? Better serves also means you play at a higher level, and so play higher-level competition, which pushes you to an even higher level.  They also lead to lots of balls to attack, which develops your attacking game, which improves your level even more. So . . . is developing great serves necessary? Remember - Anyone Can Be Very Good At Something - and (to reiterate the above), "If you develop one aspect of your game, other parts will follow. If you develop a very good serve, then you get lots of follow-up shots, and so you develop a very good attack."

You have to put in the Time. That means practice, practice, and more practice. But it has to be meaningful practice - if you just practice low-level serves, you'll end up with very polished low-level serves. Here's my article Practicing Serves the Productive Way.