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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.)

April 4, 2016 - Remember the Feel of the Good Shots

Monday, April 4, 2016
by: Larry Hodges


This one is short and sweet. From now on, whenever you hit a really good shot, REMEMBER the feel of that shot - the positioning, stroke, and contact. Then repeat. When you make a poor shot, put the feel of that one out of your mind like it never happened and remember the feel of the good ones. The only time to think about a poor shot is if you absolutely cannot figure out how to make it a good one, and so have to analyze it. That is all. 

March 28, 2016 - Stroke Technique vs. Consistency, Serve, and Receive

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Many players constantly obsess over their strokes, rightfully wanting to have "perfect technique." While that's admirable, it often keeps them from reaching their full potential. Why? Because the obsession with perfect technique often comes at the expense of developing consistency, serves, and receive. (Plus, what is "perfect technique"? Not all of the best players have the same technique.)

Especially for players who have played a long time, trying to change technique is difficult and time-consuming. Instead, assuming the players had pretty good technique, the time might instead be used for developing consistency with those techniques, developing great serves, and mastering receive. If players obsessed over these as much as having "perfect technique," many would reach higher levels.

This doesn't mean one shouldn't try to develop great technique - but it's all about the law of diminishing returns. Kids, and beginners without bad habits already ingrained, should focus on great technique. Others might settle for good (or perhaps very good) technique - and then, by using that technique for years, develop consistency without going for that elusive "perfect technique." Meanwhile, few players really develop their serves to a high level, and even fewer become good at receive, which is often called "everyone's weakness."

So if you have good technique, discuss with a coach the relative advantages of going for perfect technique in limited practice time, versus working toward consistency, serve, and receive. Because guess what? Most matches below the highest levels are won on those three.

March 21, 2016 - Visualize Your Serves and Make Them Do Tricks

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Before you serve you should always visualize what the ball is going to do. It amazes me how many players just serve without really doing this. Top players have practiced their serves so much that this is instinctive - they don't think about it, they just know exactly what the ball is going to do. Visualizing a serve means seeing in your head before you serve the contact, direction, speed, spin, height, depth, bounces, and curve of the ball.

One fun way of practicing this is to make your serves do tricks. For example, try serving backspin where you graze the ball so finely that all your energy goes into backspin - and so the serve bounces backward into the net. But it's not enough for the ball to come backwards - you should be able to visualize its actual path in advance. Try serving where you visualize how deep the ball will go and how many bounces before it comes backwards, and the direction it'll come back (since most backspin serves have some sidespin as well). This visualizing includes what the ball does on your side of the net - how fast the ball will travel, where the first bounce on your side will be, and how low to the net it'll be. (When first practicing heavy backspin serves or trying to make the ball bounce backwards, don't worry about serving too low. But as you master the serve, you want the ball to practically skim the net.)

Serving backspin so that the ball bounces back into the net isn't really a serve you need in a match. In fact, it's better to drive such a backspin serve out more so that the second bounce is near the end-line, making it difficult for the receiver to attack, push short, or rush you with a quick, deep push. But the key is being able to control the serve - and you can't control it unless you know what you want the ball to do. Try to visualize the entire path of the ball in advance, including both bounces on the far side, and the way the ball curves between bounces if there's sidespin.

Do the same with a regular sidespin serve, where you serve to one side of the table, but curve it back to the other side - but visualize the curving path of the ball in advance. Perhaps set up a target and try to curve the ball into the target.

Then do the same thing with your deep serves, perhaps putting up targets on the far end-line, and try to hit them - again, visualizing the entire path of the ball in advance, right up until it smacks the target. Then do the same with all your other serves, with or without targets.

At first, this visualizing will feel like a hassle that slows you down. But soon it'll become second nature, and you won't even think about it - but you'll have master control over your serves. 

March 14, 2016 - Outlining the Book on Your Game

Monday, March 14, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

In a Tip of the Week called The Book on Your Game, I wrote, "If you can't write a book on your game, either you don't know your game or you don't have a game." It's as simple as that.

You don't need to actually write that book, but you should outline it. This will force you think about the various aspects of your game - your strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between, as well as where you want to go with your game. It'll get you to actually thinking about the things you should be thinking about if you want to improve. So let's put together an outline of such an outline. Note that we're not interested in inventorying and analyzing every stroke; what's important are what techniques you actually use. Your assignment, should you choose to accept, is to complete this outline for your game.

  1. General
  • What is your style of play in one sentence? (It can be a long one.)
    • Example - the author's: All-out forehand attacker, both looping and smashing (but first loop sometimes too soft), with strong serve & attack, good receive, a steady but too passive backhand, and steady, all-around defense - blocking, fishing, lobbing, and sometimes even chopping.
  • Strengths
    • What's the strongest part of your game?
    • How do you get it into play?
    • How are you turning this strength into something can dominate even against stronger players?
  • Weaknesses
    • What's the weakest part of your game?
    • How do cover for it?
    • What are you doing to improve this weakness?

2. Strokes

  • Forehand attack
    • Against push
    • Against block
    • Against loop (counterloop or smash)
  • Forehand defense or counter-attack
  • Backhand attack
    • Against push
    • Against block
    • Against loop (counterloop or smash)
  • Backhand defense or counter-attack
  • Pushing
    • Long
    • Short

3. Footwork

  • Close to table
  • Off table
  • In and out during rally
  • Covering middle
  • Short to forehand and back
  • Recovery
  • General positioning
  • Ready position

4. Serve

  • Serves that set up your attack
  • Trick serves (important but not to be overused)
  • Variety of motions
  • Variety of spins
  • Fast, deep serves
  • Variety of depths and depth control
  • Low to net

5. Receive

  • Forehand against long serves
  • Backhand against long serves
  • Forehand against short serves
    • Short push
    • Long push
    • Flip
    • Variation
  • Backhand against short serves
    • Short push
    • Long push
    • Flip
    • Variation

6. Physical

  • General fitness
  • Foot speed
  • Strength
  • Endurance

7. Mental

  • Clear-minded and focused
    • At start of match
    • When behind
    • When ahead
    • At end of close games
  • Know how to recover from loss of focus
  • Know when to call time-outs to recover focus

8. Tactical

  • Understand what serves set up your game
  • Understand what receives set up your game
  • Understand what type of rallies you want to get into
  • Know how to get your strengths into play
  • Know how to cover for your weaknesses
  • Good at scouting opponents in advance
  • Good at analyzing opponents during a match
  • Consistently able to find two or three simple tactics that allow you to win
  • Understand what you need to develop in your game to increase your tactical arsenal

March 7, 2016 - Preparing for Major Events – a Checklist

Monday, March 7, 2016
by: Larry Hodges

Players often come unprepared at tournaments and leagues. Here's a quick checklist of things to prepare in advance of the event. (Some of this was covered in previous Tips, but this gives you an actual checklist, with a few new items.)

  • Lighting and Backgrounds. You are likely used to the lighting and backgrounds at your table tennis club, but when you go to a tournament or league at a different venue, you have to adjust to the new conditions. Show up early so you can warm up at the new venue to get used to the lighting and backgrounds – and note that "backgrounds" is pluralized as you should try to move around a bit and get used to different backgrounds. Often this means just switching sides on the table you are practicing on, since often one side looks onto the wall at the side of the gym, the other into the vast expanse of the gym – two very different backgrounds to adjust to.
  • Floors. If you play with good, grippy floors, then you'll likely have problems if you have to compete on slippery ones. Surprisingly, it works the other way too – if you are used to slipper floors in practice, playing on grippy ones might give you trouble as you are used to sliding your feet across the floor as you move. So come early to adjust to the floors. If you are used to grippy floors, then bring grippy shoes to help adjust to slippery ones.
  • Tables and Balls. Different types do play different, so do try to practice in advance on the tables and balls you will be using. You might want to order a few of each major type of ball so you'll always be prepared for this. If your club doesn't have the same type of table as the event you are going to, then come in early at the event to practice on theirs.
  • Towel. If it's summer and you are used to playing in air conditioning, and you get caught playing in a non-air conditioned venue, you will want a towel, to wipe away sweat both on you, your racket, and the ball.
  • Food and Drinks. Don't risk having to eat the local food and drinks unless you know in advance what will be there. You can usually assume there'll be plain water, but other than that you might want to either bring your own food and drinks, or investigate in advance what will be locally available.
  • Warm-up Partner. You should arrange someone in advance. Let's face it, some players are easy to warm up with, others are not. Tournaments and leagues are not the time to experiment with how you warm up; arrange this in advance with someone you are familiar and comfortable warming up with.
  • Serve and Receive. Why do so many players forget to practice their serves before a major event? They practice everything else, but forget this. You might also want to find a partner and practice receive.
  • Sports Psychology. If you come in nervous, you are handicapping yourself. So make sure to come in with a positive attitude, ready to confidently take on the world!