Tip of the Week

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

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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.)

July 31, 2017 - Killer Practice Sessions

Monday, July 31, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

So you've decided you want to beat the neighborhood or club champ, and move up to the next level. Then you're going to have to practice. You know – go out to the table with another person who's also tired of losing, and do practice drills (not just games) to improve your game. There are a number of factors you should consider to maximize your time. First off, everybody should not be doing the same drills. What drills you should do depend on:

  • The playing level of you and your practice partner
  • The playing style & equipment of you and your practice partner
  • The frequency & duration of your practice sessions

The Playing Level of You and Your Practice Partner 
Obviously, if you're just starting out, you won't be working too much on your inside-out loop off the bounce. On the other hand, you won't see the world champion hitting forehand to forehand much except as part of a short warm-up. So choose drills that are appropriate to your level. Focus on consistency and proper form. Move your feet to every shot and return to ready position. Get the fundamentals down so you will be "good enough" to do advanced drills with shots you can actually do in a match consistently. Without the fundamentals, your game will always be fundamentally flawed, and it will be difficult to improve.

Playing Styles & Equipment of You and Your Practice Partner 
The playing style of you and your partner also affects what drills you will be doing. If your partner has long pips on his backhand, don't expect to practice rapid-fire backhand to backhand type drills. If one player is primarily a looper, the other a hitter, then each will be doing different style drills. So you have to make allowances for all of this. Take advantage of your partner's style to practice drills against that particular style. To become a well rounded player try to practice against a wide variety of styles, especially prior to tournaments.

The Frequency and Duration of Your Practice Sessions 
If you only practice occasionally, you should pick your drills with great care. There are two "theories" as to how to choose drills for an occasional practice session. You can either choose specific parts of your game that need work, and focus on that; or you can do a general session, working on your most common shots. Here's our recommendation: choose a couple of things that you really need work on; choose a couple of things that you do really well, and want to tune up; and work these items into a general practice session that covers as many of the techniques that you use in a match as possible.

Of course, if you practice regularly, you'll get the best of both worlds.

Choosing the Drills for Your Practice Session 
There are many possible models for a practice session. What we are going to do is design a general session that you can use as a model for yourself. Each part of the practice session developed below is divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced drills. The level designation does not refer strictly to your overall level of play, however. Take into account how well you do the technique being practiced. For example, a player with a good loop may do more advanced looping drills than a stronger player whose loop is not as good. Using the USATT's rating system, a very rough idea of these levels might be up to 1300 for beginner level, from 1300-1800 for intermediate, and 1800+ for advanced.

When you read the drills below, it is important to remember that the drills are not carved in stone. For example, if a drill calls for you to hit the ball to your partner's backhand, you can change the drill and hit to his forehand instead. This is simply how one session and set of drills could go. When we say to hit a particular shot with, say, a forehand, that means either a forehand drive or a forehand loop, depending on your playing style. (The drills assume both players are right-handed; left-handers should adjust accordingly.)

As you get better with some drills, you should make them more like a match. For example, when doing a side-to-side footwork drill, instead of starting off with a topspin serve and getting right into the drill, start off the drill with a backspin serve, have your partner push it back, and loop the first ball. Your partner would block it back, and you'd then continue the drill as a footwork drill. Or you might start a drill with a sidespin serve, with the receiver topspinning it back, and then go into the footwork drill. In most of the drills listed here, this type of drill is not listed or the listings would simply get too long and complicated. We leave it to you to incorporate this into some of the drills below – but only after you are consistent with the drill as it is.

A typical practice session might be broken down into the following eight parts. Missing any part is like missing a link in a chain, so incorporate all parts in your session in some way.

  1. Warm up/stroking drills
  2. Footwork drills
  3. Attack drills
  4. Break
  5. Serve & Receive drills
  6. Specialized drills
  7. Match play
  8. Solo practice

Warm Up/Stroking Drills:
This is where you warm up the muscles and tune up the basic shots. Beginners need to do more basic stroking drills, such as forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, to develop the strokes and the timing. As players get more advanced, more advanced techniques should be incorporated into the warm-up, such as looping or footwork practice (which overlaps the next part of the practice session).


  • Forehand-to-forehand, crosscourt, or forehand to backhand, down the line, 7.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand, crosscourt, or forehand to backhand, down the line, 7.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand pushing, 5 minutes
  • Forehand-to-forehand pushing, 5 minutes

Optional drill:

  • See how many forehands and backhands you can hit in a row. Try for 100 or more.


  • Forehand-to-forehand, crosscourt, 2.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand, crosscourt, 2.5 minutes
  • Forehand-to-backhand, down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-forehand, down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Forehand loop against block, 5 minutes each

Optional drills:

  • Pushing all over table, all types of pushes
  • Backhand loop against block
  • Counterlooping


  • Forehand-to-forehand crosscourt or forehand to backhand down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Backhand-to-backhand, crosscourt or backhand-to-forehand, down the line, 2.5 minutes
  • Forehand loop against block, partner moves you around, 5 minutes each
  • ptional drills:
  • Backhand loop against block
  • Counterlooping
  • Pushing all over table, all types of pushes

Footwork drills: 

  • Alternate forehand and backhand shots. You hit all shots to one place on partner's side, either the forehand or backhand side. Partner alternates hitting to your forehand and backhand corners. 5 minutes each
  • Side-to-side forehand footwork, all forehands against partner's backhand block to your forehand and backhand courts, 5 minutes each
  • Optional drill:
  • Figure 8 footwork, you hit every shot crosscourt while your partner hits every shot down the line, 5 minutes each then change direction


  • Side-to-side footwork drill, 2/3 table covered, 7.5 minutes each
  • Partner randomly hits ball either to your forehand or backhand side; you stroke each ball back to the same spot. 5 minutes each

Optional drills:

  • See Falkenberg drill under "advanced."
  • Figure 8 FH footwork – server goes crosscourt, receiver goes down the line with both players only using forehands. 10 minutes total.


  • Side-to-side footwork drill, fast, 2/3 to full table covered, 5 minutes each
  • 2-1 drill (also called Falkenberg drill): You hit all balls to your partner's backhand. He hits two to your backhand, one to your forehand, then repeats. You return first shot with your backhand, step around and hit next with your forehand, then return the next shot (to your wide forehand) with your forehand. 5 minutes each
  • Random footwork. Partner hits balls to all parts of the table randomly; you stroke each ball back to the same spot. 5 minutes each

Optional drill:

  • Serve backspin; partner pushes to your wide backhand; you step around and loop with your forehand to your partner's forehand; he quick-blocks crosscourt to your wide forehand; play out the point.

Attack drills: 

  • Serve backspin; partner pushes ball back to specified part of table; you loop, and play out the point. 7.5 minutes each.

Optional drill:

  • Serve fast & deep to partner's wide backhand, follow up with aggressive forehand or backhand hit or smash


  • Serve short backspin; partner pushes ball back to specified part of table; you loop, and play out the point. 5 minutes each
  • Serve short backspin; partner pushes ball back randomly anywhere; you loop (forehand from forehand side, backhand from backhand side), and play out the point. 5 minutes each.

Optional drill:

  • Serve fast & deep anywhere on the table, follow up with a loop


  • Serve short backspin; partner pushes ball back randomly anywhere; you loop (forehand from forehand side, forehand or backhand from backhand side), and play out the point. 7.5 minutes each.

Optional drills:

  • Server has option of an occasional sudden fast & deep serve to mix things up. Or receiver has option of attacking the serve occasionally. There are many ways of varying this drill.
  • Serve short sidespin to partner's forehand. Partner flips serve to wide angle. You loop or hit, and play out point.

Break (5 minutes?)

Serve & Receive drills: 


  • Practice any serve, at least one minute for each serve. This way you not only get to practice and develop the serve, but your partner (and then yourself) gets to practice receiving it. 7.5 minutes each


  • Practice serve and attack. Server can use any serve, but must follow up aggressively. Receiver may attack any deep serves, but should emphasize control. Alternate drill: Server serves one type of serve over and over, receiver is given two options for receive. Server must prepare for both. 7.5 minutes each


  • At this point, serve and receive drills get complicated. Advanced players should pick any serve & receive pattern, and practice it. For example, consider all the possible patterns starting with the server serving short backspin, topspin, no-spin, or sidespin. Receiver can push long or short or flip to either side or to the middle. In most drills, receiver should have two possible options, and server must prepare for both.

Specialized drills: 
At this point, drills becomes too personalized to really plan a session without knowing the players. However, here are some of the things you might want to practice, depending on the styles, levels, weaknesses and strengths of you and your partner. Choose two drills, and each player gets 7.5 minutes for each drill.

  • Backhand loop (this can also be done during warm-up).
  • Loop/chop drill. Drill is done either all crosscourt or all down the line. You loop; partner blocks; you chop; partner pushes; you loop, and drill repeats. This is especially good for developing the backhand loop versus backspin.
  • Hitting or smashing against block
  • Lobbing or chopping
  • Looping against a chopper
  • Counterlooping
  • Any of an infinite number of serve & receive drills.

Match play: 
Regardless of your level, you need match practice to try out what you do in practice. All the practice on a technique is pointless if you aren't able to do it in a game situation! So most practice sessions end with a practice match.

One way to make the practice match even better is to assign "styles" to the players. For example, one player may be designated the aggressor in one game, while the other plays a mostly steady blocking or counter-driving game (but attacking when the shot is there). Or one player may try pushing and blocking one game, while other player plays mostly looping.

If you and your partner are not really the same level, you might play games with the stronger player spotting points. Each game the spot changes by one, depending on who won the previous game. Playing deuce games can also be very helpful.

Solo Practice: 
There are three types of practice you can do by yourself, outside your regular practice session.

First, there is serve practice. Although there were a serve/receive drills in the session designed here, this isn't enough. You really need to find the time to practice your serves, perhaps twice a week for 15-20 minutes – more, if you really want to be good!

Second, if you really want to improve to a high level, you should do some physical training. Jumping rope, wind sprints, distance running, pushups, sit-ups and weight training are all excellent physical training for table tennis. You use nearly the entire body for table tennis, so you need to train nearly the entire body. Stretching is also valuable in that it prevents injuries, shortens recovery time between training sessions, and general flexibility helps you play better.

Lastly, learn something about mental training. Here are some great resources

July 17, 2017 - Sports Psychology

Monday, July 17, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Sports psychology, along with return of serve, are the two things in table tennis that nearly everyone has trouble with and yet few do anything about. How often have you lamented that you don’t play as well in tournaments as you do in practice matches? Found yourself nervous and unable to play your best? Been on the verge of winning a match and then got nervous and blew it?

Stroking and footwork drills aren’t going to solve these problems. You need to address what’s really going on. In the Sports Psychology section of TableTennisCoaching.com there are numerous links that should help. They include links to lots of articles and to five books that I recommend. (All five books are relatively short, quick reads.)



July 10, 2017 - Learn Control First on Receive

Tuesday, July 11, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

In this age of the banana flip, where no serve is so low or spinny that it can't be attacked, players often neglect to learn the most important part about receive - ball control. This means the ability to read the serve and return it consistently anywhere on the table without trying to kill it.

Instead, many players blindly attack every serve, often erratically. This is generally the right thing to do against deep serves as long as the attacks are consistent and well-placed loops (or for some, drives), not just loop kills. But against short serves, where you can both rush, angle, and short-ball your opponent, many players jump right to the banana flip, attacking everything like the world-class players often do. (Though world-class players don't attack every short serve - they still push short and even long as a variation.) Attacking the serve may seem the "cool" thing to do, but doing it every time makes you predictable as well as erratic, since you do it even against serves that are difficult to attack, but easy to return effectively in other ways.

For example, if a server mixes his serves up very well, and occasionally throws a very heavy, very low short backspin serve, it can be difficult to flip since you have to adjust to so many different spins. Why not perhaps half the time or more just push it short, or perhaps an aggressive deep push? If you aren't comfortable doing that, that's the whole point - you haven't developed the ball control part of your game, which includes both pushing short and long, and controlling the next shot if the opponent attacks.

Against short serves, the most important thing to learn is ball control. Learn to flip, yes, but also learn to push short or long (against backspin or no-spin). If you flip every time, the opponent knows it's coming and can just wait for it. Why make it so easy and predictable for him? The primary goal of the receive isn't to win the point; it's to neutralize the serve. If you do that, and force neutral rallies that way and win half the points, then you should be able to win the match on your own serve. Especially if your opponent is erratically and predictably trying to flip all your short serves! 

June 26, 2017 - One Point at a Time

Monday, June 26, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Most players think in terms of the score of the current game, or the game score of the current match. This puts tremendous unneeded pressure on the player. Instead, learn to focus on one point at a time, no matter the score. Jan-Ove Waldner, often called the greatest player of all time, once said that it was his ability to ignore everything except the next point that allowed him to play so well under pressure. Tactically, there are times when you may think ahead, such as deciding what two serves used in succession might best mess up an opponent. But other than that, only play and think one point at a time. Once that point is done, continue the same way with the next point – and you may be surprised how much easier and more relaxing this is!

June 19, 2017 - Importance of Routine

Monday, June 19, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Watch almost any top player a number of times just before he serves and you’ll notice something interesting – they go through the same routine each time. It’s part of mental rehearsal, which is what primes the brain (read – subconscious) for what’s about to happen. It’s almost like the famous Pavlov dog experiments, where they’d ring a bell just before feeding the dogs, and eventually the dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell. If you have a set routine for something, it similarly primes you for what you are about to do.

Let’s look at the top two players in the world, Ma Long and Fan Zhendong, who recently played in the Men’s Final at the 2017 Worlds, with Ma Long winning, deuce in the seventh. We often watch truncated versions, where time between points is taken out, so never see what happens just before. Here’s the link to the start of the full match, 2:50 into the video.

Fan is serving at 0-0 in game one. What does he do here before this first serve, and repeatedly throughout the match when he serves? In rapid succession, he bounces the ball twice on the table, stops, bounces it two more times, stops, then bounces it two more times, and then he’s primed to play. I didn’t watch every point for this, only about ten, and he did this every time. (One time he bounced it three times, stopped as if realizing his error, and then did the six-bounce routine.)

Now watch when Ma Long serves. It’s a bit more subtle, but watch as he sets up to serve. He stretches out, holding the ball just over the middle line – and comes to a stop, holding the ball with his hand upside-down. You can see him focusing, and then he turns his hand over so the ball rests freely on the palm, and he’s primed to play.

In both cases, at some point they come to a stop, and while still, they are visualizing the serve they are about to do.

I have my own routine, which I’ve been doing before I serve for nearly 40 years. I give my right sleeve a tug with my left arm, then step to the table. As I step in, I drop my playing arm and pull it back and then forward, like a pendulum. I finish in my serving position, bounce the ball on the table one time, and I’m primed to play (and especially to serve!). I’ve found that in serve demonstrations, if I don’t go through this routine, I lose control of my serves.

On receive, players also have routines, but they are usually more subtle, involving swaying back and forth between the legs (watch Ma Long) as they get into their receive position, or just getting into their ready positions. This primes them physically, plus it clears their minds so they are ready to react to anything.

But routine isn’t important just before serving or receiving. It’s also good to have a pre-match routine. Some listen to music. Some meditate. Some shadow-practice. The purpose, once again, is to prime you for the match, which often means preparing the mind (often clearing it, and then thinking of a few tactical things), and the body physically.

So create your own routines – or steal one from someone! – and soon you will be primed for each match.