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 15, 2019 - The Lead Problem

Monday, April 15, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Have you ever played one of those matches where you played really well, went up 2-0 in games, and then stopped "playing to win" and instead "played to not lose," and so changed how you went up 2-0 in games to start with, and so lost the match? Or had a lead in the final game you needed to win, and also played to not lose, and so lost?

Most likely, after winning that first game, you continued playing the same way as you were not on the verge of winning, and deep down, you realized you had a long way to go. And so you continued to play well in the second game, not just playing-wise, but tactically doing what it took to win. But after going up 2-0 or taking a lead in the final game you needed, you realized, deep down, that you were on the verge of winning - and that's when players let up by playing to not lose, and so lose.

The key is to make it a habit to NEVER change your mentality after playing well and winning a game. Whatever worked in that game is what you want. So make a conscious effort to enter the next game with that same mentality - which often means blanking out your mind and just letting yourself go, where the only thoughts in your mind are those two or three tactical things are working, and what type of serve you should next use.

April 8, 2019 - Remember Your Best Match

Saturday, April 6, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

We all have good and bad matches - but this is NOT some random thing. Poor play usually comes from poor mental skills. But here's the amazing fact - EVERYBODY has great mental skills some of the time. The key is to make that most or all of the time. How do you do it?

Think about a match where you played your best ever. It doesn't matter if it was a tournament, league, or practice match, and it doesn't even matter if you won or lost. What matters is you played well. Your mind was probably clear, you played points almost mindlessly, and everything seemed so easy, as if the ball was moving in slow motion - right? The mentality you had in that match is probably the mentality you always want - so remember how you felt in that match, and just repeat it, every time you play. (For me, it's always been my win over 2500+ Rey Domingo in 1990, where the ball literally seemed to be moving in slow motion and I felt like I could do anything - and in that match, and a few others, I could.)

April 1, 2019 - Positioning After Serve

Monday, April 1, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

One of the interesting things is to watch a player's ready position after the serve. Most do not position themselves well. Most go to the same position no matter their serve.

Suppose you serve short to the middle of the table and then position yourself perfectly. If you have a strong forehand, for example, and want to follow as many serves with that shot as possible, you should (for a righty) stand as far to the left as you can while still being able to handle a shot to your forehand that's not super-aggressive. (If it's a super-aggressive return, then either your serve was poor or the receiver made a great and perhaps low-percentage return.)

Now suppose you serve short to the backhand. Most players position themselves the same way. But now the receiver has no angle into your forehand, and so you should stand more to your left.

Now suppose you serve short to the forehand. Now the receiver has an extreme angle into your forehand, and so you have to position yourself more to the right to cover it.

If you are more of a two-winged player, or even favor the backhand, then you should do a similar analysis in developing your positioning after each serve.

Now suppose you serve long. The same positioning logic applies here. However, now the opponent is likely to attack your serve. If you are expecting to block, then your positioning needs to be relatively close to the table. But if you are looking to counterloop, then perhaps you would want to position yourself half a step back, to give yourself time.

Think these things over, and then, guess what? Go practice them! Go practice your serves, and then, at the end, practice your serve and positioning. Imagine different opponents as you do different serves, and go into the appropriate position. If the opponent flips very aggressively, then you have to cover the corners more. If the opponent mostly pushes, then you have more time, and so don't have to cover those corners as much. And so on. Then try out this positioning in real games, and see how much it helps!

March 25, 2019 - Advanced Sponge but No-So-Fast Blades

Monday, March 25, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Most players at the beginning/intermediate level use blades that are too fast. This not only hurts their control, but it also develops bad habits where the player uses the speed of the racket to rebound the ball back instead of stroking it, leading to poor strokes that won't work very well at intermediate/advanced levels. It's also harder to create great spin with a faster blade, since the ball rebounds off so fast.

What I generally recommend, for beginners to intermediate levels (up to about 1800-2000 range), is to get at most a medium speed blade until you are somewhat advanced. You do want one that's flexible enough to allow easy looping, and that feels right in your hand. Try out different ones until you find just the right one.

However, along with the medium-speed blade, I recommend players go to advanced sponges relatively early. Why? First, it allows you to develop advanced shots, especially looping, much earlier and better in your development, which means you are way ahead of those who use less advanced sponges and so don't regularly do these advanced shots. Second, the ball comes off these surfaces differently, so it's best to get used to that as early in your development as possible. Players with advances sponges naturally loop (and counterloop) even in fast rallies, while those handicapped by a less-advanced sponge tend to block. You absolutely need to learn to block - extremely well if you want to be good! - but at the higher levels, looping is the most important shot - and, for most, the sooner you become a looper, the sooner you can become a top player.

March 18, 2019 - Challenge an Opponent's Strength

Monday, March 18, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Sometimes it's a good tactic to go after an opponent's strength. After all, his game is probably based on getting that shot into play, and so you are probably going to have to face it - so rather than have the opponent choose when he'll use it, why don't you pick the times he'll use it?

For example, suppose your opponent has a very nice forehand smash or loop. He's going to use the shot; there's no stopping that. You could play into his backhand, but then he could step around to use the forehand. So why not simply attack his forehand side yourself, and force him to use his strength off a difficult ball? And then, with him pushed over to his forehand side, you can block back to his backhand, where he has to play his weaker shot while out of position - a double whammy.

Or suppose your opponent is a very good blocker. You keep getting stuck in rallies where he's quick-blocking the ball around the table, rushing you and forcing you into mistakes. Since he's going to block anyway, why not throw a slow, deep, spinny loop at him? That's the most difficult ball for a blocker to quick-block - he has no speed to play off, it's deep so he can't really rush you, and the spin makes it tricky to block. And so rather than getting quick-blocked all over the table, you'll get a weaker block that you can really attack.

So if your opponent is going to use his strength, why not use it against him?