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.)

February 20, 2017 - Hitting Accurate Shots

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Players are often amazed at how accurate a top player can place his shots. This is an important skill to develop since the large majority of the time there are only three places you want to place your shots - wide forehand, wide backhand, and the opponent's middle (midway between forehand and backhand - see Attacking the Middle, where this is explained). When your shot goes elsewhere (i.e. toward the middle of the forehand or backhand sides) you give your opponent a much easier shot, where he doesn't even have to move much. And yet most players let their shots drift out of these three spots, and lose many matches as a result. So how can you learn to hit these shots accurately?

Obviously you can go out to the table and just practice relentlessly, aiming for these three shots. But there's a shortcut that'll help before you do all this relentless practice. Go to the backhand side of your table, stick your racket out as if you were doing a backhand block, and aim it crosscourt, wide to the opponent's backhand (if you are both righties). Make sure your racket is aimed right at the wide corner, or even slightly outside the corner. Keep holding the racket out there until you have literally memorized the feel of holding the racket in this position, so that in a game situation, you'll go into this position and hit the shot right to that spot.

Now repeat, except now aim it down the line. Again, memorize the feel of holding the racket in that position. Then repeat one more time, this time aiming at where the opponent's middle would be. (Alas, you actually have to do this twice, for a righty and lefty opponent, since the righty's middle will be a bit to the right of the midline, the lefty to the left.)

Once you've memorized the feel of the racket aiming where you want it to go, imagine the ball going to your left, and step there with your left foot, and imagine keeping the racket angle so that it still aims where you want it to go. Now imagine a ball going to your right, and step there with your right foot, and again imagine keeping the racket angle so that it still aims where you want it to go. Moving is no excuse for losing ball control - the ball will still go wherever you aim your racket.

Now repeat all of the above with your forehand!

Here are some complications to be aware of.

  • When blocking, you can keep the racket aimed exactly where you want it to go the entire shot, so aiming should be easy. (Advanced players learn to change the direction of the racket at the last second to throw opponent's off, and you should as well, but in the end you are still aiming the ball where you want it to go, and if you memorize the feel of the racket aiming in each direction, you can do this very quickly.) With longer strokes, the racket may not aim where you want it to go during the backswing, but it should do so well before contact. Learn to time this so that the racket aims where you want the ball to go far enough before contact that you can get the feel of aiming the racket to the three spots. (Four if you count the middle twice, one for righties and one for lefties.)
  • A ball with sidespin will bounce at least slightly sideways off your racket, and a ball coming at you from an angle will also bounce off your racket slightly sideways. However, if you stroke the ball sharply enough, this sideways movement is minimized to the point where you barely have to adjust for it.
  • Unlike playing to the wide forehand and backhand, the opponent's middle is a moving target. His middle is based on where he is standing. As the opponent moves in a rally, his middle will move. Also, some players have both a neutral stance (so middle is about midway between forehand and backhand) and a forehand- or backhand-favoring stance (and so the middle moves more to "weaker" side). The more you play an opponent's middle the more it becomes natural to find this moving target.
  • You won't always be hitting from the same spot. If you hit a backhand from the wide backhand, and another from the middle, you have to adjust where you aim the racket so that it still goes to the three spots. This quickly become second nature.

Once you get into the habit of aiming the racket by learning the feel of it, you'll be able to accurately hit shots to the corners and middle at will, against any incoming shot, and from all parts of the table. This will put tremendous pressure on opponents since you won't be giving them many easy shots - and this relentless ball placement will pay off in many wins!

February 13, 2017 - When Caught Off Guard, Roll or Chop, and Keep the Ball Deep

Monday, February 13, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

It's inevitable that you'll be faced with unexpected shots that catch you off guard. You might be caught out of position and have to stretch for a shot. Or get fooled by the opponent and so react incorrectly, and so have to adjust. Or simply react to a net ball. What should you do?

Beginners and most intermediate players simply get the ball back. But if you want to increase your chances of winning the point, do something with your return.

  1. Keep the ball deep so opponent can't cream the ball at wide angles. This is the most important.
  2. Put a little (or a lot) of topspin or backspin on the ball. Why make things easy for him?
  3. Place the ball to a corner to force the opponent to move. If the player has a big forehand but is a bit slow, perhaps go to the backhand. Or if the player likes to play forehands from the backhand, perhaps go to the forehand to catch him going the wrong way.
  4. Place the ball to the middle to cut off extreme angles.
  5. Aim one way, and change directions at the last second to catch opponent off guard. This is the most difficult to develop as a habit, but also the best way to turn the tables on the opponent and completely mess him up. 

December 31, 2016 - Top Ten Ways to Win and Lose a Match

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Come into the match physically and mentally prepared
  2. Have a solid game plan, or quickly develop one
  3. Dominate with serves
  4. Control play with receive
  5. Get your strengths into play
  6. Dominate with quickness or power
  7. Consistency
  8. Placement and depth
  9. Variation
  10. Mental grit

Top Ten Ways to Lose a Match

  1. See above. Add "Do not" or "Poor" at the start of each. 

December 30, 2016 - How to Play Practice Matches with a Weaker Player

Monday, January 30, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

When playing practice matches with much weaker players, here are two suggestions: 1) Simplify your serves so you get higher quality returns to practice against; and 2) Decide something specific you want to work on, such as forehand loop, and use your higher level technique to force rallies where you can work on those shots. For example, serve short backspin and attack any long return with your forehand. If you need blocking practice, push long to them, and block. And so on. 

At the same time, you should fight to win every one of these points, given the conditions above. You can practice mental focus and hustle against any level of player. You might also want to play some matches against weaker players where you ignore the above two suggestions, just to work on your "win every point" skills, including serves and using your best game, not just what you need to work on. (You might want to do this especially before a big tournament, to focus on your general match playing skills.) Some might argue you should play every match this way, even against much weaker players, but I think you lose an opportunity to practice certain things if you do that all the time.

December 29, 2016 - What Are Your Main Weapons?

Monday, January 23, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

What are the best weapons in your game, or in the game that you want to develop? Think this over, and perhaps write them down. Then consider this: How do you get these weapons into play? How do you follow-up these weapons to make sure you win the point?

If your best weapon is a put-way shot, then you need ways to set up this shot. If your best weapon is a rallying shot, then you need ways to force these types of rallies. If your best weapon is your serve, then you need ways to follow it up, or the serve is wasted. (If you rely on the opponent outright missing against your serve or popping it up over and over, then you are facing weaker players and need to aim for higher competition.)

Some players have one overpowering strength that they rely on, such as a big forehand loop. But a big forehand loop doesn't help a lot if you don't have serves, receives, and rallying shots to set it up, and the footwork to get into position for it. Some have multiple strengths, such as a serve and follow, making their game twice as deadly. Decide what yours are (or should be), and develop them into deadly weapons that you set up, use, and follow up on over and over.

Ideally, develop three types of overpowering strengths: serve and receive (which start every rally); rallying shots; and attacking/put-away shots. Then go out and terrorize opponents with your triple-threat weapons!