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

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Published:

07/04/2022 - 12:00

Author: Larry Hodges

There's a stereotype of Chinese table tennis coaches that they often do just two things during a practice session - watch the player's feet and listen to the contact. (I often do this as well.) The latter tells the coach if the player is making good contact. Top players contact the ball consistently the same way for each given shot, which leads to consistency. Developing players do not have this consistency, and so their contact varies - and their contacts sound different.

While a coach can hear this difference, as a player you should be able to feel it. When, for example, you loop a ball at a certain speed and spin, it should both feel and sound the same every time. The same is true for other shots, such as blocks. With experience, you should be able to recognize the feel of a good shot - and the feel of a mishit. Focus on the ones with the right feel and strive to replicate it every time.

We all have watched top players, but perhaps next time try listening?

Published:

06/27/2022 - 14:14

Author: Larry Hodges

If you don't know where you are going, it's tough to get there. This is true of any journey, whether it's Lewis and Clark exploring the American West or Ma Long on his way to becoming the best player in the world and possibly in history.

So, what is your playing style and level now, and what do you want them to be? That is your journey. It won't happen by itself any more than Lewis and Clark could start their journey without knowing where they were going. Sure, there is always a lucky one (Columbus looking for Asia and accidently finding America), but that's a risky way of doing it. Instead, imagine where you want to be with your game, both in terms of style and level. Perhaps watch other players at your club or world-class players on video to inspire you on how you want your game to develop. Be clear in your mind what techniques you need to develop to get there - and start practicing.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; a journey to a strong table tennis game begins with a single practice stroke.

Published:

06/20/2022 - 15:46

Author: Larry Hodges

In practice, it often seems easy. There's no pressure, no worries, just you hitting the ball over and over. It's easy to get into a consistent rhythm. Then you play in a tournament, and while you are perhaps a little nervous, you don't think it'll affect you too much. Maybe you'll hesitate 1%, but that means you're 99% as good as in practice, right? Wrong.

You probably have had the experience where something you do consistently in practice fell apart in a tournament. It's exasperating - you almost want to pull your opponent aside after the match and explain to him how much better you are then you were in that match. But what really happened?

Table tennis is a sport requiring hand-eye coordination. In practice, you develop your shots until you are almost a machine. But you probably don't realize just how complex each of the tasks you are doing really is. Imagine, for example, blocking against a loop. In a split second, you have to 1) read the direction of the incoming ball; 2) read the depth of the incoming ball; 3) read the spin of the incoming ball; 4) move into position; 5) get the correct racket angle; 6) hit the ball in the center of the racket; and 7) execute a proper stroke with 8) proper contact. Guess what? If you hesitate even 1%, all of this comes crashing down, and what seemed easy in practice becomes a nightmare in tournaments.

How do you overcome this? It really comes down to two things. First, stop worrying about winning or losing, and focus on performance. This takes the pressure off individual points, allowing you to play more freely, and thereby increase your chances of actually winning. Second, if there's a specific shot that you sometimes hesitate on, practice that shot extensively, both in practice drills and in matches against players where you often do that shot, so it becomes so second nature you don't hesitate. Third, play lots of tournaments or similar "big" matches so you get used to playing under those pressure conditions. Because guess what - 0% hesitation = 99% making the shot!

Published:

06/13/2022 - 05:27

Author: Larry Hodges

This is my favorite quote from Rafael Nadal, who (as of this writing) has won more Grand Slams in tennis than anyone in history. But I think you'll find that the other two players close to him on this - Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic - would say the same, as would most great players from any sport. In fact, I think you'd find that most top players, when they lose a close one - react mostly in surprise. They were so intent on their performance (i.e. doing the shots it takes to win) that they weren't thinking about the actual outcome. And so, when they do lose, their first reaction is surprise and shock, maybe even disbelief, since losing, something they were not thinking about, caught them off guard.

So, instead of focusing on winning or losing, focus on having a great performance. After a match, separate in your mind your performance and the result, always knowing that if you maximize your performance, you'll maximize your chances of winning.

If, for example, you play a great match but lose close to a stronger player, then sure, there's disappointment. But separate your disappointment at losing from what should be satisfaction at your performance. Analyze both why you lost and why you played so well, so you can change the first and repeat the latter!

Published:

06/06/2022 - 13:42

Author: Larry Hodges

Amazingly, many players don't really know how they win or lose most of their points. They have a general idea about it, but often the reality is a bit different than their gut feeling. And so, rather than focusing on how they win or lose most points, and how to maximize the winning ways and minimize the losing ones, they just wing it, and never reach their potential.

Rather than spend years in ignorance on something of such importance, why not watch a video of yourself in a few matches and actually count, on paper, how you won and lost the points? Then compile them and see what it says. The data doesn't lie!

Once you know how you win or lose most of your points, do two things. First, develop your techniques and tactics to maximize the ways you win points. If you have a strength that dominates, how can you find ways to get it into play? Second, now that you know how you lose most of your points, you can both practice the techniques needed so you don't lose points that way as often, as well as develop your techniques and tactics so you aren't forced to play the type of points where you lose most of your points.

So, what are your Strongest and Weakest links?