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

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Published:

01/24/2022 - 15:12

Author: Larry Hodges

You've just lost a point. Perhaps a big one. Does it matter? Of course it does! But does worrying or thinking about it help? Not at all, other than registering the tactics that worked or did not work as new data points. As far as you are concerned, the only thing in the world that now matters is the next point. That means thinking tactically and preparing yourself mentally for that next point. And then, as soon as that point is over, guess what? Repeat. The next point is the only thing in the world that matters. Prepare yourself tactically and mentally for it.

How best to do this? You can't think about two things at once, so if you think tactically between points, that's what you'll be thinking about. Don't overthink - just go over the most important things, such as what serve to use, and what receives, shots, placements, etc. to favor. Then, before the point is played, clear your mind and prepare for the next point. (Thinking tactically between points allows your subconscious to reflexively do those tactical things during points.)

Note that Jan-Ove Waldner, often considered the greatest player in history (well, before Ma Long) considered this his strongest attribute, the ability to completely focus on the next point, to the exclusion of anything else.

Published:

01/17/2022 - 14:31

Author: Larry Hodges

It's an advantage to have a good coach in your corner. They can talk to you between games and during breaks and help you win, both tactically and with sports psychology. They can even do so during the games, often calling out (or whispering) winning advice. But they are often both over- and under-valued. How is this?

A coach can only guide you in a match, he cannot do your shots for you. In the heat of a point, he cannot stop play and tell you what your next shot should be. These are things you have to do on your own. A coach can suggest tactics that put you on a winning arc - but you have to execute those tactics or they won't help. A coach can use sports psychology to put you in a winning frame of mind - but that won't help if you can't execute the shots at a high enough level to beat a given opponent. The large majority of tournament matches aren't particularly competitive - just look at the RR results in a typical event and count the percentage of upsets. But in those matches that are competitive, a coach can sometimes make a difference.

But there's a missing part to this equation that many miss - the most important part. A coach may help in a given match. But to a player with a learning attitude, a good match coach does much more - he teaches you what types of things you should be doing and thinking about in a match. It may take time to absorb it, but if you are willing to learn, the long-term impact of a good match coach can be far greater than anything he might do in a single match. (Unless, of course, that match is for a big championship!)

For example, the players I coach can probably recite many of the things I'm regularly telling them between games: Attack the middle. Use the whole table. Focus on service placement and depth. What type of serves and receives to focus on. What are your go-to serves. How aggressive to play. And so on. But after a time, I no longer need to emphasize these things - because it becomes second-nature to these players!

A player I regularly coach in tournaments had a great tournament recently where he had no coach. When I asked him about it, he told me the tactics he had used. And he had a revelation - those were precisely the tactics I'd been harping on when I'd coached him before! Now, when I coach him, we simply need to focus on identifying things we are already looking to identify. He's learned to think tactically - which means he's learned how to win.

Published:

01/10/2022 - 15:37

Author: Larry Hodges

How many times have you lost a match and complained about how "weird" your opponent played? It could be a different surface that you weren't used to; a strange serve you weren't familiar with; or a weird stroke that gave you fits. If it's a "weird" surface, then adjust to it and learn to play it - with different colors, you always know what side he's using, so there's no excuse to get fooled.

In each case, instead of complaining about what the opponent did, you should think about how and why he did those things, and why you weren't able to adjust. And then, give the opponent credit for finding a way to win.

The whole point of playing to win is to find ways to win within the rules. If an opponent has found a way to mess you up, then he's done exactly that. He's earned his win, and by not adjusting to whatever he did, you've earned the loss.

Think about it. If whatever the opponent is doing is rare, then it's likely an inherently weaker style, or others would be doing it. And so, if you were unable to find the inherent weaknesses in that style and win against it, then you have literally lost to a player who handicapped himself by playing an inherently weaker style!!! Take advantage of his weaker style. If you can't, then you need to look at your own game and figure out why, with such an advantage, you were unable to win. It might be a problem with your technique; with your tactics; or your mental attitude. (Saying you weren't used to it only works for one game; after that, if you haven't adjusted, then it's on you.)

So, let's take this pledge: "I will never again complain about an opponent's style." Wasn't that easy? From now on, instead of complaining about losing to a weird style, focus on how to beat that inherently weaker style.

Published:

01/03/2022 - 15:25

Author: Larry Hodges

These are not the same thing. Suppose it's deuce in the fifth, and you make two awkward, weak returns that hit the edge. You've won!!! You are so happy. But the shots you did were not good. You should be happy about the outcome, but unhappy with the process.

Now supposed at deuce in the fifth you pull off two very nice shots, but your opponent makes a pair of weak returns that hit the edge. You've lost!!! You are so sad. But the shots you did were good. You should be unhappy about the outcome, but happy with the process.

If you focus on the process - i.e. your actual shots - then you'll maximize your chances of getting a good outcome. So, learn to separate outcome and process. When you lose, it's fine to be unhappy with the outcome, but you'll learn more if you examine the process, see what you can learn from that, and focus on improving your process, i.e. your game. And that will lead to better and better outcomes.

Published:

12/27/2021 - 07:04

Author: Larry Hodges

Many players tend to strongly favor either offense or defense. Even at higher levels, many players are very comfortable attacking, but get uncomfortable and inconsistent when the opponent attacks first. At lower levels, it's often the reverse, where they are most comfortable pushing and blocking, and hoping the opponent misses.

One of the quickest ways to judge a player's potential is to see if they are equally comfortable attacking or defending. This doesn't mean they are equally good at both - especially at higher levels, most are better when attacking. But if a player is equally comfortable attacking or defending, and so proficient at both, he can go a long way.

So, develop a game where, while you might emphasize attacking (though some might emphasize defense), you can do either. It's not just your proficiency - it's also the attitude. If you are comfortable and confident when the opponent attacks first, then under pressure you are likely to handle his shots far better than if you are only comfortable attacking.

Learning to attack is straightforward - work with a coach and practice! Learning to defend is the same - have someone attack while you block (or whatever other defensive shots you choose) until you are so comfortable doing this that, when it's time to do it in a close match, it's second nature.