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 19, 2018 - Forehands and Backhands: 1-2-3, not 1-2

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Most players practice their forehands and backhands with a 1-2 stroke: backswing, forward swing. But think about it - how often would you do this in a game? Answer - never! In a game, after finishing a stroke, you would return to a neutral position, preparing for the next shot, since you don't know if it'll be forehand or backhand, or even what type of stroke it will be. So why would one practice doing a backswing immediately after finishing the forward swing part of a stroke?

Instead, practice using a 1-2-3 stroke: backswing, forward swing, return to ready position. This is what you do in a game, and so this is what you should practice. There's also a little nuance here in that with the faulty 1-2 stroke, you backswing directly from a forward-swing position, when in reality the backswing should start from the neutral position - so practicing this wrong leads to bad technique and poor timing in games where you have to do it differently. 

February 12, 2018 - Focus on Performance and Fun to Maximize Your Chances of Winning

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Do you think you have a better chance of winning if you focus on winning, thereby putting pressure on yourself for results, or by focusing on playing well, which maximizes your chances of actually winning? The question answers itself.

You'll always play better and have a better end result if you focus on performance (i.e. playing well) rather than the end result. Performance in this case means all aspects of the game, including strokes, footwork, serve & receive, tactics, and the mental game.

So how do you maximize performance, thereby maximizing your results? By practicing your techniques until they are second-nature, even in a big pressure match, and then approaching those matches where you don't increase the pressure by pressuring yourself to have good results.

In other words, try to have fun when you play so there's less pressure, since it's that self-made pressure that causes one's game to fall apart. Practice your techniques, focus on performing well, have fun, and the results will eventually take care of themselves.

Having fun doesn't mean laughing out loud. Have fun on the inside from the satisfaction of working hard and doing what you have practiced. If you focus on winning, you'll just put pressure on yourself and get nervous. Focus on performance, and smile on the inside.  

February 5, 2018 - Speed and Power are Easy with Good Technique, but Good Technique is Difficult

Monday, February 5, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

The above should be on a banner at every playing hall in the world. Players almost always try to drill at speeds or with power they can't control, thinking that by drilling that way, they'll learn to play at that pace. Superficially, it makes sense. But in reality, trying to play at a pace you can't control leads to sloppy, rushed technique, and poor balance, and so you are just reinforcing bad habits.

Instead, drill at a pace that you can control, both with consistency and where you can keep the ball roughly where you are aiming, while staying balanced throughout. Focus on developing good technique, which is the difficult part to master. By going at a slower pace, you can reinforce and perfect that good technique until you can practically do it in your sleep, which should be your focus. Because if you develop good technique, you will be able to play with speed and power - see the title of this article.

What you can and should do, when you are practicing at a pace you can control with at least decent technique and balance, is occasionally smash or rip a loop, just to test the shot. You'll find that with good technique, this is easy, as long as it isn't forced, i.e. you don't try to rush it when you are not ready for the shot. You can also work on playing at a faster pace in multiball or on a robot, where every ball comes out the same, and so you can increase your speed and power and still have control and consistency.

Where did I learn this lesson? It comes from many decades of coaching experience, but it originally came from a specific incident back in my first year of play. At some big tournament I saw U.S. Men #1 Danny Seemiller (soon to be 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) warming up by doing simple side-to-side forehand footwork at a nice, consistent pace with his practice partner and brother, Ricky Seemiller. I remember thinking to myself, "I can do that faster than he's doing it, and he's the best in the country?"

Then I practiced it with someone, and of course I did do it faster than Danny - except I would hit maybe three raggedly rushed shots and miss, my shots were spraying all over the table to my partner's chagrin, and we couldn't have a good rally. Then I slowed down to a pace about the same as Danny and Ricky were doing, and suddenly I was consistent - everything came together, and my shots were fluid and consistent. I was hitting like Danny Seemiller!

From there on I always did footwork and other drills only at a pace I could do consistently and comfortably, with good technique. This doesn't mean you don't push yourself, it means you push yourself at a pace you can do consistently. 

January 29, 2018 - Playing the Crafty Veteran

Monday, January 29, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose you have your opponent outgunned - you simply are the better player, shot for shot. And yet, somehow he's rated about the same as you. How is this possible and how do you beat him?

Most likely he's a lot more experienced than you are, and almost by definition, he knows exactly what he does to play at your level, even with a weaker game. But that takes experience. So how to you beat the Crafty Veteran? Here are five tips.

  1. Don't let the Crafty Veteran do what he wants to do. Figure out what it is as early as possible, then do whatever you can to make sure he can't do it. If he likes to give you loaded pushes, perhaps serve topspin. (Or learn to spin those heavy pushes consistently.) If he likes to give you slow, spinny forehand loops, put the ball to his wide backhand. (Or learn how to counter-attack them.) If he wants to block you out of position, stay in position. 
  2. Take your time and pick your shots. If you play too aggressively or try to force your shots, the Crafty Veteran will know when you are going to attack and will be able to choose what shots you get to attack. Instead, attack softer than usual until you have an easy put-away, and focusing on consistency and placement, since his goal is to make you inconsistent. 
  3. Be flexible with your tactics. If you start winning, the Crafty Veteran will likely change tactics, and you have to as well. 
  4. Stay focused. If you outplay the Crafty Veteran most of the time, but have one bad streak now and then, that's all he needs to win. If you win 60% of the points, but lose focus one time and lose three in a row, instead of leading 9-6, it's 9-all. 
  5. Dominate with your game. If you have the better game, and follow the tips above, then you should be able to tactically force your game on the Crafty Veteran. Ultimately, this is the most important part, but you have to do the items above in order to do this. If you truly have the better game, you have winning tactical options, so figure them out. 

Finally, if you do lose to a Crafty Veteran, don't get angry; get even. You may have the better game, and yet somehow he won. Give him credit for finding a way to win, but make sure you know how he won, and make sure it doesn't happen again. 

January 22, 2018 - Doubles Signals and Why You Should Use Them

Monday, January 22, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

When you serve in singles, you know what serve you are about to do, and so can be ready for the possible returns off that serve. Imagine playing where you had no idea what serve you did, and so couldn't prepare for the follow-up. Pretty awkward, right?

That's what happens when you don't signal your serve to your partner in doubles. He has no idea if you are serving short backspin - and so must be ready for a push or flip; topspin, and so should be ready for a drive; or deep, and so must be ready for a loop.

Sometimes the server's partner signals the serve. After all, he's the one who has to follow up, so many top doubles teams do that. Or if one of the players is more experienced than the other, then he might signal all the serves, whether he's serving or not.

Sometimes you don't have to signal the serve; you can just discuss it quietly with your partner. But that can lead to stalling, so you have to limit that. Which is why you should have signals.

Make sure to use serves that match your partner's game, not yours. If you aren't sure what types of serves he wants, ask him. The most common serving pattern in doubles is mixing in short backspin and no-spin serves (very low to the net), often toward the middle of the table to cut off the wide angle to the forehand. At lower levels, topspin serves and deep serves may work, but at higher levels they usually get attacked.

There are different signaling systems, but here's the simplest, which I've used for over forty years. You do the signals under the table, so your partner can see it, but not your opponents.

  • Backspin: point down with index finger.
  • Topspin: point up with thumb or index finger.
  • Sidespin: point sideways in the direction of the sidespin.
  • Combinations, such as sidespin-backspin: point in both directions.
  • No-spin: make a fist.
  • Long serves: It's assumed in doubles that you will serve short, so the opponent can't loop, but if you are serving deep, point at the opponents.

Some doubles teams even signal the direction of their receive (pointing under the table), so their partner can be ready. I don't normally do this as I often change the direction of my receive as I see the opponent's move, but I've had partners who do this, and it greatly helps me, especially since I'm always looking to attack with my forehand, and it makes it a lot easier to do so when you know where your partner's receive is going to be.