Tip of the Week

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

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

Have a question about a Tip of the Week? Ask on the Forum!!!

(Want more tips? Here are 171 more, done for the USATT website from 1999-2003, by Larry Hodges as "Dr. Ping Pong." Want even more? Here's the complete USATT archive, with the 171 by Larry as well as ones by Carl Danner from 2003-2007.)




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!






September 9, 2019 - Smashing Lobs

Sunday, September 8, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Smashing a lob is more difficult than it looks. There are several reasons for this. The height of a lob makes the ball bounce upwards, something you aren't used to hitting. If it bounces higher than your head, hitting it can be awkward. When it hits the table, it jumps quickly (usually with topspin and often sidespin), making it difficult to hit unless you wait on it. But if you wait on it, it will bounce away from the table, so that you may have to hit it from well off the table, a long way from your target. And if it has spin, it can force you into additional errors. So what should you do?

When you see a lob coming, the first thing to do is to read the spin. If it has topspin, it will jump at you from the table, so don't get too close. If it has sidespin, it will jump sideways, so move to that side. You should also read the depth, and back up some for a deep one.

You should hit a lob above eye level, either as it goes up or as it comes down. If you are tall, this gives you an advantage. You should practice smashing lobs as they drop until you are consistent. If a lob lands short, you should take it on the rise. This way, you can get such a good angle on the ball that it will be impossible for your opponent to cover both sides.

Many players make the mistake of going for an outright winner even off the best lobs. It is low percentage to try to smash a good lob for a winner against a good lobber. Instead, keep smashing hard, but place the ball, usually to the backhand where most players have difficulty counter-attacking. What you want to do is to force a weak lob, one that lands short, and perhaps with less spin, and put that one away. Often a smash to the middle will force a weak lob. But be careful, you don't want to let your opponent counter-hit, so usually avoid his forehand side, until you go for a winner.

There are several advanced techniques for smashing a lob. It is a good idea against all lobs (for righties) to raise the right shoulder. This gives you a better angle on the ball. A good way to do this is to start with your weight on your right foot, then, as you transfer your weight forward, lift your right leg off the ground, raising your right shoulder in the process. Make sure you put your weight into all smashes.

Another way of smashing a lob is to jump in the air, so as to contact the ball high in the air. Although this can make you look foolish if you make a mistake, and is considered a poor method by many - yet some do this pretty well. To do it, you back up from the table, take short running start, and jump in the air, sideways to the table, with your right leg leaving the ground first. As you smash the ball, you do a scissors kick – that is, your right leg goes backwards, your left leg goes forward. This helps you thrust into the shot. By jumping into the air, you get a better angle on the ball, and contact the ball closer to the table, but it may hurt your timing. At the very least, this is a spectacular way to smash in an exhibition!

Many advanced players like to smash lobs right off the bounce, sometimes even against deep balls. This takes great timing, but once perfected, your smash becomes almost unreturnable. But it's easy to miss-time the ball, so it's usually better to take off the bounce only against a short lob.

You should generally avoid drop shots off lobs unless you think it will be an outright winner. If your opponent gets to it, you've let him back into the point. Since it is hard to drop shot a deep lob effectively and a short ball is easy to put away, a drop shot is usually a low percentage shot. However, against a very good lobber who gets into a rhythm and gets ball after ball back, a drop shot is a good change of pace to bring him in, allowing you to attack the next ball when he's too close to the table.