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



04/22/2024 - 07:29

Author: Larry Hodges

(Excerpt from Table Tennis Doubles for Champions by Larry Hodges. April is Doubles Month!)

In both singles and doubles, I usually advise players to choose to receive first, if they win the choice at the start of the match. This is the time when a player is most likely to miss easy shots—he may not yet be fully warmed up or he may still have early-match jitters—and it’s better to blow a couple points receiving than on your serve, where you hope to win a majority of the points. It also means you’ll be serving at the end, such as at 9-all, when there’s lots of pressure!

In doubles, it’s even more important to receive first. This allows you to set the order of play for the match. (Remember that in doubles, whichever team serves first has to choose which player serves first, and then the receiving pair sets the order for that game by choosing the receiver, with the order changing each game and when a team reaches five in the fifth.) You want to set an order that favors your team. How do you do this?

Suppose you have an order that favors your team, while the other team is favored with the other order. If you start the match with the bad order, then you may lose the first and third games, win the second and fourth, and start out the fifth by falling behind—but halfway through the fifth game, you’ll switch sides and the order of play, and then you’ll be in the good order in the second half of the fifth game, when the match is on the line. And if the two orders even out in that fifth game and you reach deuce, you’ll have the good order at deuce, and probably win. So, surprisingly, it is often an advantage to start out a match with the “bad order.”

However, you don’t really change the order halfway through the fifth game; you do so when a team reaches five. What does this mean?

  • Short version: It means you play more points after switching sides and order of play when a team reaches five.
  • Long version: Suppose your team starts the fifth game with the bad order. Suppose your team is down 4-5 when you switch sides in the fifth, and then the order changes to the better order, and now you outscore the other team 5-4. It’s now 9-9, and you have the good order, both here and at deuce! Or suppose the order makes an even bigger difference, and you are down 3-5 at the switch, and then outscore them 5-3 with the good order. Then it’s only 8-all, and you have the good order the rest of the way! So I recommend starting with the weaker order in the first game so that you’ll have the strong order at the end of the fifth game.

It’s actually more complicated than this, since about half the time you will only play two points when you reach deuce, and so the whole order of play—four different servers (and corresponding receivers) in a given game—is reduced to only two, and so the order that favors you overall might not favor you for those particular two. Few if anyone actually works it out that far, but it’s something to consider in a big match.

The main reason to choose to serve first is if you or your partner needs to build up confidence, and so prefer to serve first. If you have a very nervous team (compared to your opponents), then you might consider this, though you might want to consult a sports psychologist later on.


04/15/2024 - 13:16

Author: Larry Hodges

(Excerpt from Table Tennis Doubles for Champions by Larry Hodges. April is Doubles Month!)

What are the best tactics for a lopsided team, where one player is much stronger than the other? (This often happens in rating or mixed doubles.) Many believe that a more balanced team has an advantage over a more lopsided team, but that’s usually only true if the balanced team is experienced at playing together. In general, I have found that a lopsided team that plays smart generally is favored against a more balanced team. This is because they can play tactics that allow the stronger player to dominate play. However, a more balanced team that is experienced together will tend to beat a more lopsided team that isn’t as experienced or doesn’t play smart. (Often a lopsided team has a weaker, inexperienced player who doesn’t play good tactics.)

In general, with a lopsided team, the stronger player must dominate or control play. His partner needs to do what’s necessary to allow him to do so. It usually means the weaker player plays consistently, keeping the ball in play, but not so passive as to let the other team attack too easily, putting the stronger player on the defensive. It doesn’t mean the weaker player just pushes. If he gets a ball he can put away, he should take it. If the opposing team can attack backspin well, it’s often important for the weaker player to open with a consistent loop just to stop the other team from doing so. But every doubles pair is different.

What is the difference between dominating play and controlling play? If a player attacks over and over successfully, he’s dominating play. If a player makes less aggressive shots but doesn’t give the opponents anything good to attack effectively, while often setting up his partner, he’s controlling play.

Six Things to Focus On

  1. Confidence. The weaker player may be a bit intimidated, since his partner is much stronger and probably more experienced, and he’s likely the weakest player at the table. If his team loses, it’s mostly because of his mistakes. However, this is the wrong way to look at it. Assuming this is a rated doubles event, then the only reason the strong player is eligible is because he’s paired with a weaker player. So the thinking should be, “Without me, you can’t even compete!” It’s extremely important that the weaker player not be intimidated or he’ll play poorly. His goal shouldn’t be to outplay his partner or even his opponents, who are stronger players; his goal should be to play his level or better, and to play smart
         If you are the stronger player, it’s important to put your partner at ease. If you are the tactical leader of the team, explain to him the simple tactics you want him to do, but don’t go overboard. An easy way to lose here would be to ask the weaker player to play outside his game. If he’s used to looping against backspin and doesn’t push well, let him loop, as long as he focuses on consistency. If he misses an easy shot, shrug it off, tell him not to worry about it, and focus on the next point.
  2. Serving. Your team should usually dominate when the weaker player is serving, but that takes preparation. If the weaker player’s serves are easily attacked, then he will put his stronger partner on the defensive right from the start of the point. This is a double-whammy—a lopsided team should be at their absolute best when the weaker player is serving, since this means the stronger player gets to make the first shot. If the weaker player’s serves allow the opponents to take the initiative, then it potentially puts his team at their weakest. In the large majority of cases, the single most important thing here for the weaker player is to be able to serve low and short, with either backspin or no-spin, and toward the middle of the table (so the opponent’s don’t have an extreme angle to the forehand). Ideally, he should practice in advance so he can serve short, low serves. If he does this, it stops the opposing team from making strong returns, and allows the stronger partner to dominate the point. This is often the single most important thing a weaker player can do in preparation for playing doubles with a stronger player.
         When the stronger player is serving, if he has good serves, he may want to simply serve for winners. This might mean serving deep, and challenging the opponents to read and attack his serve. But it depends on the opponents. At higher levels, serving long usually doesn’t work. (However, sometimes it does, and they may want to test this to see if they do.) One issue that often comes up is the stronger player uses a tricky serve that the opponent’s pop up, but the weaker player then misses the smash. Don’t let it worry you, and just encourage your partner to do his best, and (usually) encourage him to continue trying to put the ball away if he gets the shot. If he absolutely cannot make that put-away, he might have to push or you might have to switch to a different serve.
  3. Rallying. The weaker player should focus on keeping the ball in play with well-placed shots. Don’t take the stronger partner out of play by constantly going for (and often missing) risky shots. If you are an attacking player, perhaps tone your attack down some for consistency. If you loop, focus on consistent loops, not trying to rip the ball. In general, try to keep the ball deep so your partner has time to react to the opponent’s shots. In general, by keeping the ball in play without giving the opponent easy attacks or put-aways, you allow your stronger partner to dominate. And guess what? When he dominates, you get equal credit for giving him the opportunity to do so.
         The stronger player should normally look to dominate the rallies with strong attacks. It depends on his style of play, but in general, he shouldn’t hesitate to end the point or make such a strong shot that it gives your partner an easy ball to put away.
  4. The weaker player shouldn’t hesitate to end the point. This may seem contradictory to the idea of keeping the ball in play, but it is not. The stronger player will often force easy balls, and the weaker player shouldn’t hesitate to end the point when he gets one of these. The key is he should focus on keeping the ball in play until he sees an easy put-away—and then unhesitatingly put it away. Of course, if the weaker player absolutely cannot put the ball away, then he shouldn’t try to—but he should go practice that for next time.
  5. Both players need to get their strengths into play. Whatever your best shots are, if you don’t use them, your level goes down. Therefore, both players should work together to find chances to get their best shots into play. This often means a focus on serve and receive. The stronger player in particular should play so as to give his partner shots he is good at while avoiding ones he has trouble with. The weaker player should also focus on setting up the stronger player, in particular with serve, receives, and consistency. (If the weaker player keeps the ball in play, he gives the stronger player more chances to play his strengths.)
  6. Absolutely No Squabbling!!! Read that three times. Refer to it often. Play for fame, but never blame.

04/08/2024 - 14:22

Author: Larry Hodges

(Excerpt from Table Tennis Doubles for Champions by Larry Hodges. April is Doubles Month!)

  1. Signal serves. Let your partner know what’s coming! Sometimes the server’s partner signals the serves since he’s the one who has to follow them up. Typically, signal under the table by pointing a finger down for backspin, thumb up for topspin, sideways for sidespin, and make a fist for no-spin. It’s normally assumed the serve will be short, but if you are serving long, point a finger at the opponents to signal it. (This will be covered in more detail later.)
  2. Serve to set up your partner. Discuss with him what he’s most comfortable with.
  3. Normally, don’t serve long. If you serve long, it’s usually easier to attack. At the higher levels, very few serves are long. At the lower levels, it might be effective if the receiver can’t loop it or otherwise attack it effectively.
  4. Normally, don’t serve too wide. This gives the receiver a wide angle into the forehand, which could give your partner a problem. This is a triple problem, as your partner will have to cover the wide angle, he’ll be out of position for the next shot, plus you might be in his way.
  5. Serve low. It’s amazing how many players think their serves are low until they have to serve to someone who knows where your serve is going, as in doubles, and is receiving with their best shot. In doubles, you really need to serve low!
  6. Receive to set up your partner. Talk to him so as to find out what he is most comfortable with. You should often receive to the left, so the server gets in his partner’s way. But be careful—that’s a righty’s forehand.
  7. Attack deep serves. For this reason, many players receive forehand. But if you have a better backhand flip and loop, then you should mostly receive backhand. Some players set up to receive forehand so they can forehand loop deep serves, but when they see the serve is going short, will reach in and receive backhand, either pushing or flipping. (Historically, most players received with their forehand in doubles, but in the age of backhand banana flips, that is less true.)
  8. Don’t move too much sideways. This is the natural reaction of most players to get out of the way of their partner, but it puts them out of position for the next shot. Instead, step backwards just enough to allow your partner to move in front of you. Right after he hits his shot, you start to move into position. One special case—if the opponents play the ball wide to the right, it means your partner has to move wide to the right. If you are a righty, this is the perfect opportunity to step back out of your partner’s way, move to the left, and then step in, so that you are in perfect position for the next shot.
  9. Place your rally shots. Most often hit the ball back toward the player who hit at you, or to the side away from his partner, so he gets in his partner’s way. But beware of giving the opponents an easy angle they can use against your partner.
  10. No squabbling!!! When there’s a problem, discuss it as teammates, because you are a TEAM.

04/01/2024 - 16:10

Author: Larry Hodges

(Excerpt from Table Tennis Doubles for Champions by Larry Hodges. April is Doubles Month!)

Here are ten components, not necessarily in order of importance. On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you and your partner(s) come in on these ten?

  1. Willingness to play as a team. Some players are simply unwilling or unable to make any adjustments to their game to make their team stronger. Example: If you have a good loop but your partner has a great loop, and you are hitting to someone who mostly pushes, then why loop when you can push, knowing it’ll set up your partner’s even better loop?
  2. Experience in doubles. Well, this is obvious, isn’t it? Of course, reading this book can be a shortcut toward that experience—but nothing can replace playing doubles to gain experience. And make sure to see #8 below.
  3. Experience together. The more you play together, the better you and your partner get at playing together.
  4. Compatible styles. If you only play offense and can’t handle an opponent’s attack, and your partner is a defensive player who lets the opponents attack, then you may not have compatible playing styles. Of course, players can adjust their games to become more compatible. The defensive player could play more aggressively. Or you can practice what you are weak at, such as learning to handle the opponent’s attack—which would also help your singles game, of course.
  5. Compatible personalities. It’s hard to play well if you don’t get along. Sometimes it’s obvious, with the players constantly squabbling. Sometimes it’s less obvious, such as one player yelling at the other, while the other stays silent—but inside is burning up at the yelling, and so doesn’t play well.
  6. Communication skills. You are on a team. If you can’t communicate with your partner, you have a problem! This can be as simple as talking over what type of serves and receives are best, or more complicated, such as discussing footwork in different situations.
  7. Tactical flexibility. If a player is unable to adjust his game to the various needed tactics in doubles, then his team will be at a disadvantage. For example, a singles player with a good blocking or chopping game may get away with pushing the serve back long over and over, but may need to push short in doubles. If he can’t do this, then his team will be at a disadvantage in many matches. (Note that it’s a LOT easier returning the serve short in doubles, where you know where the serve is going, it’s usually short, and the serves are often simple backspin or no-spin, so even if you don’t do it in singles, it’s easy to learn for doubles. More on this in chapter on Receive.)
  8. Willingness to learn doubles skills. With experience, you’ll learn what you are weak at in doubles. Are you willing to learn these new skills, such as doubles serves (mostly short, from right-hand court), pushing short, doubles footwork, and so on?
  9. Patience with your partner. If you are the type who rolls his eyes when your partner makes a mistake, maybe, just maybe, doubles isn’t for you. Or maybe you can learn to understand that disappointment with your partner for their play is like your forehand being disappointed in your backhand? It doesn’t make sense!
  10. Self-confidence. Many players get nervous when playing doubles, since they are afraid of letting their partner down. Self-confidence is a must if you want to play your best in doubles. This doesn’t mean over-confidence, where you go for heroic shots you can’t do consistently. It means having confidence you can do the shots you normally use.

03/18/2024 - 13:40

Author: Larry Hodges

There are two main characteristics to consider in table tennis shoes. They are how well you can move in them, and how much support they give. (Durability is another issue, but I won’t go into that here.)

Table tennis shoes are designed to maximize mobility for table tennis movements – and that means mostly moving side to side. So, most table tennis shoes are made to essentially grip the floor, with relatively thin soles (especially toward the front), making it easy to move side to side. The treads are also designed for this, especially around the inside balls of the feet, where most of your weight should be in your ready stance and when moving.

The problem with thin soles is they give less support, which can lead to foot and knee problems. Younger players can generally get away with thinner soles, but as we get older, we need more support. You have to find a balance. If you play on cement regularly, then you need shoes with much more support than if you play on wood or a rubberized floor. The same is true if you play a tournament that’s on cement – you’ll want shoes with more support for that.

One option that I used during my playing years was to have two different types of shoes. For practice, I’d wear shoes with plenty of support. But at tournaments (and just before tournaments), I’d switch to ones with thinner soles and less support, as I felt I was slightly more mobile in those shoes.

One of the strangest things I often see is table tennis players wearing running shoes when they play, which are designed for running forward. They are literally designed for moving in ways you rarely do in table tennis, while hampering the very side-to-side movement you need. I wear running shoes as my normal shoes as they are great for walking and running, but I’d never consider wearing them in table tennis. Neither should you.

One last thing about shoes – consider the grippiness of the floors you are playing on. Newer shoes often grip the floor better, so if you are playing a tournament where the floors are slightly slippery, you might consider using new shoes. Or, as I did during my playing days, I used to use new shoes at tournament, then put them aside and go back to older ones in practice.

Ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you in terms of shoes – but you are not alone. With a few questions, all the major distributors can recommend which shoes are best for you. That’s their job, so ask them. Your job is to do your best at the table – and that means getting the best possible shoes for you. That, along with practice and good technique, will make you a shoe-in for medals!