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



02/01/2021 - 04:31

Author: Larry Hodges

A tall player's forehand and backhand shots are farther apart than a short player's. So he is usually weaker in the middle area, where he has to decide whether to hit a forehand or backhand. So against a tall player, play aggressively toward his elbow, which is roughly the midpoint between his forehand and backhand. When he's off the table, usually aim slightly toward the backhand; when he's close to the table, usually aim slightly toward the forehand.

A short player's forehand and backhand shots are closer together, and so he may have less trouble in the middle. But he has more trouble covering the corners. So play aggressive shots to wide angles, as well as the middle. (Even against a shorter opponent, going to the middle not only causes problems for him, but forces him to go out of position, leaving at least one corner open.) Sometimes go side to side, other times to play two or more times in a row to one wide angle. Why? Your opponent has to move to cover a wide angle; after making the shot, he moves back to ready position – but if you rush him, you catch him while he's still moving back into position, in the wrong direction.


01/25/2021 - 16:01

Author: Larry Hodges

The opening lines to my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, is, "Tactics isn't about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work."

But how do you find these simple tactics that work? Simple - by watching the opponent before you play; asking others who have played or watched him play; and by experimenting during the match. Generally, you want to find perhaps two or three tactics that work very well, typically one on serving, one on receiving, and one in rallies. Maybe you can even handle four!

I'm going to use my own game as an example of how to go about finding a few simple tactics that work. (Keep in mind that I'm talking about my game back when I was in training!)

Any experienced player watching me play would note that receive was a strength, especially against short serves, where I can flip or push short well, along with occasional long pushes. But if you tried serving long too much to avoid my receive against short serves, I'd attack it pretty well. In fact, on paper, I was good against nearly all serves! However - and here's the BIG however - I was not against lots of variation. And so a good coach might tell his player, "Throw all your serves against him, even your weaker ones, keep varying them and he'll never get comfortable."

On my serve, the first thing anyone would notice is that I essentially follow every serve up with a forehand attack. So why make it easy for me? Make me move by receiving at wide angles. Since I'm trying to cover the whole table with my forehand on that first shot, I often jump the gun if I think I see where the receive is going - so if you aim one way but change directions at the last second, I often get caught. If you receive to my backhand, I get to step around and forehand attack, and I'm in position to follow with a second forehand. But if you receive to my wide forehand, I get one forehand and then you can come back to my backhand. Also, I'm a rhythm player - I'm better against a good predictable receive than a weaker but less predictable one. In other words, you may make a good flip or a good push and I may still attack it with my forehand, but if you vary the two, even with lower-level flips and pushes, I lose that rhythm. And so a good coach would tell his player, "Constantly vary your receive, make sure your long receives go to wide angles, often to the forehand, and try faking one way, and going the other."

In rallies, those watching would note that I'm stronger on the forehand side, but that my backhand is super consistent, and I have no trouble dealing with strong attacks on either side. If you try to overpower me backhand-to-backhand, I'm probably going to win unless you have a really nice backhand smash. However, I don't have much of a backhand attack, and don't backhand attack down the line very well. And so if you attack my wide backhand and middle, you'll get a lot of consistent but relatively soft returns that you can put away with your forehand, assuming your forehand is your better put-away shot. Or you can go to my forehand to draw me out of position (pick that shot carefully since I'm going to attack it!), then go back to my backhand and get an even weaker backhand return to attack. And so a good coach would tell his player, "Attack his middle and wide backhand, and look to end the point with your forehand. Look for chances to go to his wide forehand and then back to his backhand."

So here's what the coach might say to his player before he plays me, either before the match (if he knows my game) or between games:

"Throw all your serves against him, even your weaker ones, keep varying them and he'll never get comfortable. Constantly vary your receive, make sure your long receives go to wide angles, often to the forehand, and try faking one way, and going the other. In rallies, attack his middle and wide backhand, and look to end the point with your forehand. Look for chances to go to his wide forehand and then back to his backhand."

I timed it, and speaking slowly, that took me 25 seconds to say. And yet, many experienced coaches might say that's too much to remember, perhaps one thing too many and too complex. It all depends on the player. So here's a simpler, slightly shorter version that probably would work better, and took me 17 seconds to say:

"Throw every serve you have at him, and he'll never get comfortable. Throw every receive you have at him, but make sure to go to wide angles, often to the forehand, and maybe fake one way, go the other. In rallies, attack his middle and backhand, or go to his forehand and back to his backhand, and look for chances to end the point with your forehand."

But if you ever do play me, ask me how to play me and I'll fill your head with fifty different things to do, and you'll be so confused I'll eat you alive!


01/18/2021 - 15:37

Author: Larry Hodges

Returning serves is all about ball control. In a rally, the incoming shot is usually more predictable than a serve, which has a much wider range of variation – topspin, sidespin, backspin, at all speeds, amounts of spin, directions, and depths. To control your return of serve, shorten your stroke. This cuts down on power, but the shorter swing gives you more control. Unless the server messes up and pops the serve up or goes long in a way that you can easily loop, receive is all about control - placement, depth, height, spin, and variation. This doesn't mean you can't be aggressive and attack the serve, only that you should focus on consistent attacks (unless it's a weak serve). If you take away his serve advantage by getting into a neutral rally, you are on track to win.


01/11/2021 - 09:58

Author: Larry Hodges

With games to 11, few leads are really safe. It only takes a short series of careless shots, and what seemed like a big lead becomes a big loss. However, if you do have a big lead, and the match won't be over if you win that game, consider experimenting with different tactics that you might be able to use later on. (You should generally be testing out different tactics early in a match anyway, to find out what works, unless you are already familiar with the player.) Don't do anything that's low percentage - but perhaps try out a new serve or new serve & follow, or a different receive, and see what happens. Often, you'll find something that'll be useful later on. But caution - the first priority is to win the current game, so use some judgment here! If you do find a new tactic that works, you might consider holding back on it in the next game, and do whatever you did to get your big lead in the previous game. After facing your "new" tactic in the previous game (when you had the big lead), your opponent might not be ready for the tactics you had been using, and you now have an "ace in the hole."


01/04/2021 - 16:28

Author: Larry Hodges

Many players who want to improve make the mistake of trying to play mostly stronger players. The result is the opponent controls play, and all the player can do is react to the stronger player's shots, or go for wild shots. A player may develop some shots this way, but it'll be hard to develop new shots or to learn how to use them in a game situation.

If you are trying to improve you need to both try out new techniques that you are developing and to try out new tactics. If you do this against a stronger player, you probably won't do so well. He'll probably stop you from doing it, or doing it effectively, and so you won't be able to develop the new techniques and tactics. You won't have any way of knowing if they work, since the stronger player may win the point simply by being a stronger player against something you are just trying out and are not yet comfortable or expert at. Most likely, since these new things won't work against a stronger player, you'll stop using them and so not develop them.

Instead, try out new things against players who are weaker than you. Develop them against these players, in an environment where you can control play a little more (since you are the stronger player), and where you can see if the new things might work. Don't worry about winning or losing – this is practice – as you will undoubtedly lose sometimes when trying out something new, even against a weaker player. (Imagine how bad you'd lose in this case against a stronger player!) When your new techniques begin to work against a weaker player, then it's time to try them out against your peers and stronger players.

Example: suppose you want to develop your loop against backspin. The best way to do this is to serve backspin, and loop the pushed return. A stronger player may flip the serve, push short, quick push to a corner, or push extremely heavy – and you won't be able to develop the shot very well. A weaker player would be more likely to give you a ball that you can loop, which is what you need until the shot is more developed. You need to both develop the shot and your instincts on when to use it, how to follow it up, etc. When you can do it against a weaker player, then it's time to try it out against tougher competition.