Tip of the Week

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


October 14, 2019 - React to Opponent's Forward Swing

Monday, October 14, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

When you watch a top player, they seem to have almost supernatural reflexes. The other guy will crush the ball, and whether he gets it back or not, he always seems to react instantly. How does he do this?

The secret is he's not reacting to the incoming ball; he's reacting to the opponent's forward swing. If you wait until the opponent hits the ball before you react, you will have human reflexes. If you instead constantly watch opponents and try to react to where they are going from their forward swing, you will develop supernatural reflexes - or seem to.

You don't have to do this with every shot, only when the opponent is attacking strongly, or when you are trying to cover most of the table with your stronger side (such as the forehand). In both of these cases it's important to react and move quickly, before the opponent actually hits the ball.

Some opponents do last-second changes of direction, so you have to learn at what point the opponent is committed to a shot and direction. Usually if an opponent tries to be deceptive about this he has to slow down his shots, so you don't have to react as quickly anyway, and so can wait longer. But at some point in every player's forward swing he has to commit to a direction, and so it is your job to figure out when that is, and learn to reflexively react to that.

October 7, 2019 - Top Ten Reasons You Might Not Be as Good at Table Tennis as You Could Be

Monday, October 7, 2019
by: Larry Hodges
  1. You have faced really good serves and yet have made no serious attempt to learn them yourself.
  2. You don't think you have enough talent, when long-term training almost always overcomes any such lack of talent.
  3. You've mistaken your bad playing habits for playing style.
  4. You've developed playing habits that allow you to win now against players around your level, but don't work well against stronger players, and you simply can't bring yourself to change the way you play and risk losing against your peers.
  5. You mostly play games instead of doing drills that focus on specific aspects of the game that you need to work on.
  6. You are too nervous in tournament or league matches because you've never studied Sports Psychology.
  7. You are strongly opinionated about how the game is played and so don't learn from coaches and top players.
  8. You have the physical fitness of a couch potato.
  9. You don't practice as much as you should - which not only would make you better, but would improve your physical fitness.
  10. You have nice strokes but don't really know how to use them. See Learning to Win, or perhaps a book on Tactics - like Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!

September 30, 2019 - Confidence, Then Consistency!

Monday, September 30, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Many players practice hard to develop consistency, and from this consistency they develop confidence. This is backwards! Be confident first, and then, with practice, consistency will come. Believe you can do it, and you will. (Or, for you realists, you will at least do as well as you physically can.)

What causes a person to miss "easy" shots? Usually it's because of a very small, almost insignificant loss of confidence, which leads you to slightly guide the shot, rather than just let your trained subconscious control the shot.

When you go for a shot, your brain sends nerve impulses (electric impulses) to the muscle cells, ordering them to contract in certain ways. The order, intensity, and duration of the impulses control the manner in which the muscle fibers contract. There is no way you can control this complicated set of directions consciously. Only by training can the brain's subconscious areas learn the exact set of nerve impulses to be sent in a given situation. Any conscious control throws the whole set of impulses into disarray, leading to mistakes.

Instead, remember making the shot in the past and what it felt like. At first, you should copy what a top player does. But once you've made the shot once, there is no reason why you shouldn't make it every time! YOU CAN! (And if you believe that, then you are well on your way toward improving the shot.) If you do miss one, don't worry about that miss - immediately think about a time when you made that shot, then perhaps shadow-practice it, and then, more than likely, you'll make it next time.

Confidence allows you to let go consciously and let your subconscious brain do what it's been taught (or is being taught) to do. Good players think between points, but never during a point. Just blank out your mind during a rally and watch what happens. Let your subconscious do the work while you get the credit!

So believe in your shots, even if there is no logical reason to. Have confidence in your shots. KNOW that your shot CANNOT MISS - and it probably won't.

September 23, 2019 - Proper Use of the Back Shoulder

Sunday, September 22, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

A common problem for players who smash a lot is to have trouble lifting the ball against heavy backspin when looping. A common problem for players who loop a lot is to follow their opening loop against backspin by loop-killing or smashing a blocked return off the end. The two problems are related, and have to do with the back shoulder – the right shoulder for a right-hander.

Players who smash a lot often do not drop their back shoulder when looping against backspin (or don't drop it enough). This costs them lifting power when looping, and leads to an erratic loop against heavy backspin. (Often they over-compensate, dropping their arm too much, and so loop too softly or off the end.) Players who loop a lot, after looping against backspin, will often automatically drop their back shoulder for the next shot as well. This causes them to lift slightly when loop-killing or smashing against a blocked return, and so the put-away goes off the end.  

So remember this rule: when looping against backspin, drop that shoulder; when loop-killing or smashing the blocked return, keep that shoulder up!

September 16, 2019 - Topspin Defense

Sunday, September 15, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Look through almost any table tennis instructional book or video, go to almost any table tennis camp, and you'll hardly ever see or learn anything about topspin defense. (Also known as "fishing.") It seems to fall through the cracks for most coaches - it's not quite lobbing, but it's not your basic forehand or backhand drive or loop either. As a result, it is often shunted aside and ignored. But watch any tape of the best players in the world and you'll see topspin defense over and over.

What exactly is topspin defense? It's a halfway shot, half lob, half loop or drive. It is done from off the table, against either a smash or a loop kill. The ball crosses the net perhaps one to three feet high, sometimes higher or lower. It should have at least some topspin, and sometimes sidespin as well. The ball should land deep on the table, and bounce outward due to the topspin. It should be done against an aggressive drive, loop, or smash.

Topspin defense is easier and more effective with inverted rubber, but it can be done with other surfaces as well, but with less spin.

Although lobbing is a type of topspin defense, topspin defense is generally more effective if the ball is kept lower. This way the opponent has less clearance for smashing, with the ball bouncing mostly outwards instead of up. How does one execute topspin defense?

Start off from as far from the table as necessary to react to the opponent's attack. As the ball approaches, start with racket just below the ball, and use a mostly forward, slightly upward stroke. Contact the ball on the back and just "fish" it back. If you have a good loop, just think of it as a soft loop. If you are a good counterdriver, think of it as a counterdrive with a little extra topspin. Try to keep the ball deep, relatively low, and with some topspin.

Depth is key. If your shot lands short on the table, the opponent will be able to cream the ball at wide angles, often right off the bounce. But if you keep the ball deep, it's low percentage for him to do that, and since you have more time to react against a weaker ball that's not wide angled, you can get a lot of balls back. Make sure to move the opponent around to increase the chances of a mistake - either missing or a weaker attack.

However, the goal of topspin defense isn't just to wait for the opponent to miss - it's also to find a ball that you can counter-attack, usually from your stronger side, which for most is the forehand. (The body is less in the way on that side, so it's easier to counter-attack.) It's sometimes good to fish into the wide forehand, so the opponent might attack into your forehand.

To fully appreciate topspin defense, you have to see it in action. Watch a video of some of the best players. The rallies are spectacular!