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 25, 2016 - Maximize Coverage For Your Stronger Side

Friday, December 30, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Whether you are stronger on the forehand or backhand, you should maximize coverage with your stronger side. Ideally, you’ll be equally strong on both sides, but that is rare. At the very least, most players are stronger on one side in some situations - for example, better on the backhand in fast rallies, better on the forehand when attacking against slower shots.

And yet many players do not maximize the coverage of their stronger side. Analyze your game, and decide which side is your stronger side in any given situation. For example, many top players receive short serves better with their backhand, usually with a banana flip. So when they see a short serve coming, they often step over and receive with their backhands, even from the forehand corner. Others may have very strong rallying backhands, and so might cover over half the table with their backhands. Or (more commonly at the higher levels) they might be stronger on the forehand, and so cover more of the table with that.

So start training to use your stronger side to cover more of the table in given situations - because using a stronger shot to cover more of the table makes you a stronger player! 

December 24, 2016 - Ask the Distributor!

Thursday, December 29, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

At clubs all across the nation and the world, the same routine goes on all the time - players are constantly asking and talking about equipment. Only ratings are more discussed. (Typical greeting at a club: “What’s your rating? What equipment do you use?”) And it’s true that you can learn a lot by asking others about equipment - and better still, trying out their equipment.

But think about it - a distributor might have dozens of sponges and dozens of rackets that might suit your game. The possible combinations can run into the thousands. While you may gain valuable information asking questions, remember that they mostly know what works for them, and no two players play alike. You need to find what works for you. You may find this by experimenting, but the probability that someone else at the club just happens to have the perfect racket and sponge combination for you isn’t likely.

But there’s an expert out there ready to help - and that’s the equipment expert at the distributor. All of the major ones have someone like this, who has literally tried out every combination of their equipment, and knows just about all there is to know about all of them. Their job is to find a perfect combination for you - because if they don’t, you’ll be going to a rival. Not only that, but each of these distributor “equipment junkies” lives and breathes table tennis equipment, and so it will be his lifelong dream to discuss your equipment needs and find you the perfect combination. He’ll know what questions to ask of your game with the goal of finding you just what you need.

So if you aren’t sure yet about what equipment to use, why not contact one of the major distributors and ASK? (You can also do this at most major tournaments.) 

December 23, 2016 - Racket Rotation Serve

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Many players understand the importance of using a semi-circular rotation of the racket to create deceptively different spins. For example, with a forehand pendulum serve, the racket goes through a rotation that starts by going down, and then down and sideways, sideways, sideways up, and then up. Depending where the contact is made you get different spins - backspin, sidespin-backspin, sidespin, sidespin-topspin, and topspin.

But you can get even more subtle than this. With the above motion, the axis of rotation at the start of the serve is the elbow, with the axis changing to the wrist just before contact. This means you get spin from both elbow and the wrist.

Now imagine snapping the wrist so that the tip is going down, but pulling up slightly with the elbow so that the bottom of the racket (near the handle) is moving up, with the axis of rotation in the middle of the blade, i.e. the blade spins about its center. If contact is made near the tip, you get backspin. But if you contact it nearer the handle, you get sidespin or topspin! It won’t be as much spin as with the standard forehand pendulum serve, but the mount of spin isn’t nearly as important as fooling the opponent. In this example, the opponent will see the big downward swing of the racket tip, and will likely instinctively read the serve as backspin - and so you contact it near the bottom, with some combination of sidespin and topspin, and watch the opponent pop the ball up or put it off the end!

You can use this same principle with any semi-circular serving motion, though you should first master the standard version. Note that quickness of the motion is more important than the amount of spin - the goal is to trick them into thinking it’s backspin, so exaggerate that motion. And then let loose with this new variation, and watch the looks of disbelief by opponents who were absolutely certain the racket was moving down at contact!

November 28, 2016 - Follow the Elbow

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Many players are aware that one of the best places to attack is an opponent's middle, i.e. his playing elbow, roughly the mid-point between forehand and backhand. There are multiple reasons for this, as noted in the previous Tip of the Week, Attacking the Middle. Many make the mistake of looking for a chance to attack the middle instead of just attacking it, period. Why wait?

However, often a player is told to attack the opponent's middle to set up shots to the corners. This is a highly effective tactic, but unless you do it regularly, it's actually difficult to do correctly. The problem is that after attacking the middle, one of the corners usually opens up – but then you have to almost instantly judge which one that is. If you get it wrong, the opponent often gets an easy shot. Top players are so used to attacking the middle and then going to the corner that opens up that it's instinct – they find it so easily they don't even realize how difficult this is for others.

How do you judge which sides opens up? In covering the middle, the opponent has to move sideways to play a forehand or backhand from the middle. That leaves one side open. After the shot, they are usually either slow in returning into position, thereby leaving that side open, or almost as often move too quickly, often still moving as you hit your next shot, and so leave the other side open. You just have to see and react to which side is open.

But there's a simpler tactic which anyone can do which is just about as effective and is easier to do – and that's to simply keep going after the middle, i.e. "Follow the Elbow." This is an especially good tactic in fast exchanges, especially backhand ones. All you do is keep punching or looping the ball right at the opponent's elbow, no matter where they are. If they start edging over to cover it, you follow the target and keep going after it. The tactic isn't too effective against super-fast forehand players, but most players are two-winged in fast rallies. Even if they know you are going to go to their middle again, they can't really position themselves for it – all that does is move their elbow, and you simply go for it again.

Against such an onslaught to their elbow, many players will just wilt, unable to rally effectively. Have no mercy – keep going at their elbow until they either miss or give you an easy put-away – and then you can go anywhere. 

November 21, 2016 - Getting "In the Zone" by Adapting to Your Opponent

Monday, November 21, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Every have a match where you were "In the Zone," where the ball seemed to slow down, and you could almost do no wrong? This is relative, of course; an intermediate player "In the Zone" isn't going to compete with a professional, but he would dominate against his normal peers. Here's a good article on the topic: Being in the Zone – Sport’s Holy Grail.

There are many articles and books about getting into this "Zone," including ones listed in the Sports Psychology listing I have here. (Dora Kurimay, a table tennis champion, can help with this, and another good one for this specifically is Michael Lardon's "Finding Your Zone" – he's also a former table tennis star.)

However, there's a pre-requisite to getting into the zone that has nothing to do with sports psychology. You cannot be "In the Zone" if you are not comfortable with what your opponent is doing. If your opponent does something that you are having trouble with, then you either have to keep him from doing it, or adapt to it. Being "In the Zone" means reacting automatically to what your opponent does, and you can't do that if you are uncomfortable with what he does. 

Suppose your opponent has a weird inside-out forehand that looks like it's going one way, but goes the other. You can't really be in the zone against something like this if you are constantly going the wrong way. This means you have to adapt to what he's doing. Sometimes this means letting him do the shot simply so you can adjust to it. The more you see it, the more you adapt to it, and the more you can react to it. Once you are able to react to it properly, you are ready to be "In the Zone."

The worst thing you can do is to lose a match, and afterwards realize you never adapted to what the opponent was doing. This usually means you only faced it when you weren't ready for it, and so didn't adapt. Sometimes it's best to play right into it, so you know when it's coming, so you can make the adjustment.

Here's an example. Many years ago I had to play a 2200 long-pipped blocker, i.e. a "push-blocker," with no sponge under his long pips. Unfortunately, there was no one at my club who played like that or with that surface, and so it had been years since I'd played anything like it. Before the match I realized that if I didn't adapt to his no-sponge long pips, I could lose. But more importantly, I realize that the only way I could lose was if I didn't adapt to his long pips. Why? Because I knew that once I adapted to them, I would be "In the Zone," and he would have nothing to threaten me with. So instead of playing to win points, right from the start all I did was rally into his long pips. We had lots of long rallies, and we battled close, but I didn't worry about the score until near the end of the game. Around 8-all, I went after his forehand and middle, and won three straight. The second game was a repeat – again, lots of long rallies. Near the end of that game I figured it was time – and then I played to win the points. I was now completely comfortable against his pips, and I was now "In the Zone." I won easily the rest of the way.

There are many other examples. Does your opponent have a very strong backhand? Perhaps play into it intentionally a few points, challenging his strength as you adapt to it so that you'll be comfortable against it when you have to, and then go back to your game. Does he have a spinnier loop then you are used to? Play into it a few times so you can adapt to it, then go back to your game. Does he push heavier than you are used to? Serve backspin into it so you can attack a few so you can adapt. And so on. Sometimes you might challenge the strength and then go to the weakness. For example, after challenging the opponent's strong backhand so you can adapt to it, perhaps counter-attack to his weaker forehand side. You get the best of both worlds – you adapt to his strength, and you play into his weakness.

None of this means you should continue to let your opponent play his strengths – you should normally use tactics to avoid them. But if you are going to have to face them, then it's better to adapt to them than not to do so, and adapting to them allows you to enter "The Zone," and suddenly his strengths, when he gets to play them, won't be so scary.

So next time you have a match, quickly find out what your opponent does that gives you trouble, and do what it takes to adapt to it. Then play your best game, where you now can be "In the Zone" against whatever your opponent throws at you.