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

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Published:

09/13/2021 - 16:25

Author: Larry Hodges

It's an advantage to have a top coach in your corner during a match. They can quickly pinpoint weaknesses of an opponent and come up with tactics that will maximize your chances of winning. They are also good at helping you get into the right mentality for a match.

Most players will never have a coach in their corner for most of their matches. But guess what? You don't need a coach in every match, not if you learn from the times that you do. It's still an advantage to have one, but the more you learn from a coach in the matches that he does coach, the better you become in matches where you don't have one.

Every coach is different, but in general, they stress some of the same things: what serves and receives to use, what shots to use (including shots to set up other shots), placement, and so on. But when you have a coach stressing these things in enough matches, it becomes second-nature for you to start looking for the same things.

If you have a coach in ten matches, and each time he's saying some variation of, "Attack the middle and wide forehand," "attack the middle and wide backhand," "attack the wide corners," "attack all three spots," then pretty soon it's ingrained on you to look for which of these placements to go for against various opponents, keeping in mind that each placement sets up other placements. (For example, attacking the middle often sets you up to attack the wide corner.)

Similarly, after ten matches with a coach, you'll start to get an idea for what types of serves and receives to use against different players, and it becomes ingrained to look for which ones to use, in particular what spins, placements, and depths. You'll also get an idea of what's the best mentality to have in a match.

And then, guess what? You'll play tournaments without a coach, and do really well. When that happens, some think, "See, I don't need a coach!" Others realize that the reason they did so well without a coach is because they learned from a coach in the matches where they were coached. And from then on, they'll continue to do well whether they have a coach or not - but it always helps to have a match coach, both for that particular match and as a continued "tune-up" to keep your tactical and mental skills at their maximum.

It's no different than any other type of table tennis training. It helps to have a coach work with you when you practice, but that doesn't mean you can't practice without a coach. Similarly, it helps to have a coach in a match, but that doesn't mean you can't play well without a coach. And once you've worked with a match coach enough, then if that coach has done a good job, you'll always have a coach in your future matches - yourself!

Published:

09/07/2021 - 15:38

Author: Larry Hodges

It's wise to approach a match with the idea of using your strengths, but don't forget to test your opponent as well. You don't want to lose a match because you didn't know about a glaring weakness in his game! This is why it's often good to scout out an opponent in advance, or ask other players about him, so you can go in knowing what his weaknesses might be. Ideally, this allows you to play your strengths against their weaknesses. But while it's difficult to win without using your main strengths, you can often win by matching your average shots against his weakness, or even your weakness against his even bigger weaknesses. (I remember once watching two players with big forehands go at it an entire match, backhand to backhand, with each player keeping the ball very wide to the others backhand so the opponent couldn't use his big forehand. So it became a battle of their weaknesses.) So test your opponents - serve long & short with different speeds and spins; test their forehand, backhand, and middle; attack at different speeds; try various types of pushes, and so on. Don't risk not knowing your opponent's weaknesses!

Published:

08/30/2021 - 15:24

Author: Larry Hodges

No matter what your level is, at some point you've had to go up against some up-and-coming junior player. If he or she was your average up-and-coming junior, and you are an average adult, and the two of you were roughly equal in level, then the following was probably true:

  1. The junior was faster and quicker than you.
  2. You spent much of the match on the defensive, trying to withstand a barrage of fast attacks - many of them hitting, some of them missing.

So how can you increase your chances against such a player? You can't match him in quickness. But you can beat him with control and tactics. The key is to use your own strengths but vary your shots enough so the fast-attacking junior can't get into a rhythm. Play solid shots with few unforced errors, force the fast-attacking junior into erratic shots, and you'll take control, even if it seems the kid is taking most of the shots.

When Attacking: You don't need to be fast or quick to attack the first ball in a rally. So focus on making steady aggressive shots to start off each rally (such as looping), and force the fast-swinging junior to go for difficult counterattacks. The catch is you have to vary your attack. If you do the same type of attack over and over, the fast-swinging junior will find a rhythm, and his shots will become too strong and steady. You also don't want to turn it into a speed contest, if the junior is faster and quicker. Try attacking at different speeds, at different depths, with different amounts of topspin, and change directions constantly. Down-the-line shots are particularly effective against juniors who often drill too much crosscourt. Aggressive, angled shots give smaller juniors difficulty, as they don't have your reach.

When Not Attacking: Play ball control with lots of variation. Fast-attacking juniors have difficulty timing their attacks against varied shots, or against extreme spins. When you loop, focus on lots of topspin, deep on the table. When you push, push very heavy and deep. Both of these tactics will force lots of errors However, many players make the mistake of playing too passive, and giving the fast-attacking junior easy balls. Make sure you choose which balls he gets to attack, and which ones you get to attack. Lobbing is often a good tool against juniors, as is any type of defense, but only when forced to. Even if they can't hit as hard as you, do you really think you have a better chance to win if you let them smash at will? (A small minority of players can say yes to this.) But if you do play defense, the key is also to vary your shots to force mistakes. Juniors are very good against predictable shots and can sometimes get into what seems an unstoppable rhythm. But usually this is because of a lack of variation in the shots they are facing. Don't let this happen to you!

Psychology: This is often the most difficult aspect. Remember, the fast-swinging junior plays fast and aggressive for a reason - he's been trained to do this! If he's near your level, and is training regularly, he's a serious threat. Many players, while consciously knowing this, subconsciously play down to junior players with safe, passive play, and pay for it.

A final note to fast-attacking juniors: Keep attacking fast and aggressively, but play players who vary their shots as much as you can, and learn to adjust to them. Not only will you get better this way, but you might learn how to vary your own shots and add another dimension to your game.

Published:

08/23/2021 - 16:27

Author: Larry Hodges

When playing close to the table, you have very little time to make a transition from forehand to backhand shots, and vice versa. If you are playing a relatively quick backhand or in a fast rally, there's no need to go into a backhand stance for this shot. Therefore, learn to play this shot from a slight forehand stance, with the right leg (for right-handers) slightly back. That way you'll be able to make a quicker transition both to the backhand and to the forehand. (You should still rotate the body to the left, allowing you to still play a strong backhand.) It's only when you have more time to play a more powerful backhand (in a slower rally or from further off the table) that you might want to stand more neutral, or even (when you have time) in a backhand stance. Note that even in this slightly forehand stance, if you are facing crosscourt (i.e. crosscourt to the opponent's backhand, assuming both are righties), then you are essentially in a neutral stance anyway, with your body perpendicular to that crosscourt line.

Published:

08/16/2021 - 04:54

Author: Larry Hodges

There have been numerous discussions over the years over what is the most important part of table tennis. Many say the serve, or receive, or the forehand, or footwork, or consistency, or tactics, or mental strength, and so on. Of course, many of these discussions are like arguing which link in a chain is most important! Also, many of the aspects are related. For example, having a good forehand isn't so helpful if you don't have serves, receives, footwork, and tactics to get that forehand into play.  

Here are the seven links of table tennis that pretty much covers it all. Note that things like tactics, mental strength, footwork, etc., are all parts of these, but spread over multiple parts. One strength or weakness can lead to strengths or weaknesses in multiple links.

  1. Serve. Every point starts with it. Many call it the most important aspect, often the least practiced. It's primary purpose is to set up the best part of your game, usually some sort of attack.
  2. Receive. Perhaps the weakest part of most player's games. How often do you really practice it, other than in actual games? The receive can focus on consistency (so make few mistakes, but often give the server the initiative); neutrality (make a few more mistakes, but get into a neutral rally); or aggressive (make more mistakes, but take the initiative). You should be able to do all three of these.
  3. Pushing. How many rallies start, usually until someone finds a ball to effectively attack. They can be both long or short pushes.
  4. First attack. Both players should be looking for this, even defensive players if the opponent doesn't force the attack. The key is the first attack has to be both consistent and effective, and well-placed.
  5. Defense or Counter-Attack. How you handle the opponent's attack. Blocking is the most common method, but also soft counterlooping, fishing, lobbing, and chopping. Or you can deal with the opponent's attack by counter-attacking with aggressive blocks, counter-hits, or counterloops. Many up-and-coming players develop strong attacks but fall apart when the opponent attacks first. If you want to be good, you need to be comfortable whether you or your opponent attacks first.  
  6. Continued attack. How you continue your attack after the first one, often against an opponent's block. Consistency and placement are key until you get the right one to end the point.
  7. Putaways. Ending the point!!! Smashes and loop-kills.

So, how strong are you in each of these links? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link! (That's not technically true in table tennis, of course - a player may get away without a strong putaway, for example, if he has a strong continued attack. But if you are weak in any of the above, it weakens your game.)