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



02/12/2023 - 12:19

Author: Larry Hodges

Developing good serves involves watching players with good serves, getting good coaching, and lots and lots of practice. But sometimes, after all that practice, it's hard to execute the serves in a game as you do in practice. There's a simple reason for that - pressure. There's no pressure when practicing serves, while in a real match there is. It's especially difficult to serve fast & deep under pressure (where players often either miss or slow them down for safety, thereby lowering their effectiveness), in controlling the depth (where that "perfect" half-long serve - where the second bounce would be right on the end-line, now goes long and gets looped), and serving very low to the net. How to overcome this?

Easy - put pressure on yourself! After you've practiced your serves to the point where they are near where you want them, imagine you are playing real games. Imagine an opponent. Really get into the mind-set, and soon you'll feel the same pressure. Then you can practice serving under that pressure. Make sure that, under this pressure, you can still control the speed and consistency of the deep serves, and the depth of the half-long serves (second bounce right about the end-line), and the height of all serves. Most players tend to serve a little longer under pressure, and so their short serves suddenly get looped.

You might also add to the practice by putting targets on the table, to work on your accuracy under pressure. Put a bottle on the corners and practice hitting them with your deep serves at "deuce," or even "down match point."

If you can't execute your best serves under the pressure of a match, then you haven't mastered those serves, no matter how well you do them in practice. So . . . master them!


02/06/2023 - 14:25

Author: Larry Hodges

You push the ball long, and the opponent does a slow but spinny loop. And you block it off, over and over, and can only stare at your racket in frustration. This is often the bane of every beginning and intermediate player. They know they have to aim lower, and yet, the next time they face another spinny loop, they still block off the end. Why? 

It's simple - a player does what he practices. And the huge majority of your blocking practice is likely against either players with less spinny loops, or who are looping against your block, and so have less spin than one against a backspin. And so your natural instinct is to block as if the ball has less topspin – and so you go off the end.

First, the basics. To block a spinny loop, you must close your racket more than you would against a less spinny loop. Your instincts may tell you to do one angle, but you likely have to close it even more, perhaps aiming for the net, perhaps even the bottom of the net. Give the ball at least a light punch - that way the spin won't take quite as much on your racket. Once you’ve made one good block off this spinny loop, remember the feel and the contact, and repeat. (It might also be helpful to watch top players block against spinny loop – the visual image of how effortlessly they do it will help.)

Now that you know the above, it's easy to block spinny loops, right? Wrong. You have to practice it. And that means finding someone with a spinny loop so you can practice against it. And the best way to practice against it is with an improvised multiball drill. Get a bucket of balls for your partner. He serves backspin; you push it back; he loops; you block. And that's it - you DON'T play out the point. As you are blocking, your partner should be reaching for the next ball. Result? He gets lots and lots of looping practice, and you get lots and lots of blocking practice, and specifically against spinny loops. As you get better, block more and more aggressive, and as you improve, perhaps practice counterlooping or smashing them.  

Once you've mastered this, the next time you face that spinny loop in a tournament, you can become the bane of your opponent!


01/30/2023 - 14:29

Author: Larry Hodges

You've spent a lot of time working on a shot, and it's now somewhat ingrained. Suppose, in a match, you make this shot several times . . . and then miss an easy one!!! The shot didn't feel right. A common response would be to try to adjust the shot so you make it the next time.


Why would you try to adjust a shot that you've already ingrained? Instead of starting with the missed shot and trying to adjust, remember the feel of the good ones, and simply repeat. The last thing you want to do is spend time thinking about the missed shot, which is a good way to ingrain that bad shot.

Next time you play, whenever you make a good shot, remember the feel, both the stroke and the contact. Do not ever forget that feel. Then, when you miss, just remember the feel of the shot, and it'll come back. You do have to adjust for the incoming ball (such as the spin), but the shot itself should be pretty much the same each time.

In that rare case where you absolutely cannot get it right, and the shot just feels wrong, then and only then would you have to analyze it and figure out what is wrong. Once you figure that out, it'll feel right again, and then you'll have the feel of the right shot again. Don't forget it!!!

Why fix a problem you've already fixed?


01/23/2023 - 15:12

Author: Larry Hodges

Table tennis is often advertised as a sport that all can play, where size makes no difference. However, it's not necessarily true. While you don't have to be tall to win (1971 World Champion Stellan Bengtsson at 5'5" and three-time World and 2-time Olympic Women's Singles Champion Deng Yaping was 4'11"), or short (four-time US Men's Champion Jim Butler, 6'5", or 1989 World Men's Doubles finalists Zoran Kalinić/Leszek Kucharski, 6'5" and 6'4" respectively), being big or small does make a difference tactically and in choosing a playing style. It's how you use what you have that counts. Current world #1 Fan Zhendong of China isn’t particularly tall at 5'8". Here are some relatively current players:

  • Tomislav Pucar (Croatia), 6'5½", current men’s world #45, and #30 in 2020.
  • Omar Assar (Egypt) 6'5¼" (196 cm), current men’s world #24, and #16 in 2018.
  • Koki Niwa (Japan), 5'4", who retired in Nov., 2022, was men’s #5 in world in 2017 and had 17 monthly rankings in the top ten.
  • Mima Ito (Japan), 5', current women’s world #6, and #2 in 2020.

Taller players generally have an advantage in power and reach. They have extra power primarily because a longer body (and especially playing arm) provide a naturally longer swing. They also create extra power by putting their weight into the shot. The extra reach allows them to more easily reach short balls and balls to the wide corners. However, the extra reach brings out a weakness: the center weakness. The farther apart the forehand and backhand strokes are (with the elbow roughly marking the midpoint), the larger the area that a player has to decide whether to use a forehand or a backhand, and the more the player has to move to cover for it.

The advantage of reach for a tall player can backfire. Shorter players have no choice but to move, and so are often forced to develop good footwork. Taller players aren't forced to move as often, and so they often do not develop good footwork. To compensate, taller players need to really focus on developing their footwork.

Shorter players have an advantage in foot quickness. The lower a player's mass, and the closer to the ground it is, the quicker the start. Taller players can compensate somewhat by bending their knees, using a wide stance, and crouching to lower their center of gravity. However, the larger muscles of a larger player do not fully compensate for their size, although training can. But a shorter player who trains equally will tend to be quicker.

The reason the larger muscles of a larger player don't quite compensate for their extra mass is that mass increases to the cube, while muscle strength goes up to the square. In other words, if you double in height without changing proportions, you become four times as strong, but your mass goes up eight times – so your relative strength is actually half what it was before. That's why insects and birds have such thin legs, while elephants and humans have relative tree-trunks for legs.

A shorter player also has an advantage in hand/arm quickness, both because the arm weighs less and because a shorter limb is easier to move quickly than a longer one, due to leverage.

Size is not the only factor in quickness. Constant practice of a specific motion increases quickness as the nervous system learns to react faster and faster. It's called neuromuscular adaptation and is why an advanced player reacts to a shot faster than a beginner. The type of muscle also makes a difference – "fast-twitch" muscles move quicker than "slow-twitch" muscles, which are primarily for stamina. Everybody is born with a certain percentage of each, but training can change the composition to an extent, as well as the efficiency of the muscles. Great sprinters have mostly fast-twitch muscles, while distance runners have more slow-twitch.

A shorter player also has a slight advantage in reflexes. Nerve impulses travel from the brain to the muscles at about 300 feet per second (205 mph), and so a shorter player reacts slightly faster. If the distance from the brain to the wrist on two players differs by one foot, the shorter player will be able to change his racket angle about 1/300 second faster than the taller player. A 70 mph smash travels about four inches in that time--and table tennis is a game of inches. But the taller player can simply back up maybe four inches or more, and use their longer reach to cover the slightly extra angles that allows the opponent, and use their extra power to make up for the slight loss of quickness.

An extremely tall player has a disadvantage in that the table is only 30 inches high. To compensate, a tall player must learn to stay very low, which can be hard on their legs. However, the tall player has an advantage in hitting lobs, which shorter players may have great difficulty with.

None of the above should be taken as gospel when choosing a playing style. There are very quick players who are tall, and powerful players who are short. (In fact, some short players use their natural quickness and lower center of gravity to throw their entire bodies into the shot even in fast rallies, and so develop great power.) But as a guideline, the above is a short summary to what tall and short players have to deal with and how to do so.


01/16/2023 - 14:36

Author: Larry Hodges

Many players confuse anticipation with reaction. Reaction is when you see what the opponent is going to do and then respond to it. (You can usually do so before he actually hits the ball, often early in their forward swing. Reaction is almost always more important than anticipation, but both have their place.) Anticipation is when you realize what your opponent is going to do before he gives a direct indication of what he’s going to do, and so can position yourself early for the shot. (A key thing is to know when he’s committed to a shot so you don’t move too soon and get burned if he changes direction.) How can you anticipate an opponent’s shot? Here are a few examples.

  • Patterns. Some players, in fast rallies or when pressed, hit almost everything crosscourt, so you can anticipate that. There are endless possible patterns as everyone’s different, so you should learn to pick up these patterns from different opponents. For example, when players go to my wide forehand, I like to set up like I’m going crosscourt, and at the last second go down the line. If I play it aggressively, most opponents can only react to my shot if they anticipate which direction I’m going—and smart ones learn to expect the down-the-line shot. (Very few do.)
  • Serve Returns. When receiving, many players are cautious, and so return most serves crosscourt. You can anticipate this. For example, if you serve deep to the backhand (especially with a sidespin serve that breaks away from them, such as a forehand pendulum serve), most players automatically return crosscourt. If your serve is good, then it’s tricky to attack it down the line, and so if your forehand is better than your backhand, you can edge over and look to attack with it from the backhand side. 
  • Your Positioning. If you go out of position, you can often anticipate your opponent will go to the “open” court. But since you know this early on, you can move before he actually hits there, and thereby get there in time. This especially happens when you attack with the forehand from the backhand corner, thereby leaving your wide forehand open. Smart players learn to return the ball to both angles, but many do not, and so you don’t have to wait to know where they are going—to the wide forehand.
  • Opponent’s Swing. You can often guess where an opponent is going from his backswing and the start of his forward swing. (This can also go down as reaction.) For example, if you go to an opponent’s wide forehand, and he takes a long backswing, he’s probably going down the line since he won’t have time to get outside the ball and take it crosscourt.
  • Against a Smash. Most players can’t react to a smash unless they can anticipate where it’s going. If so, then at the last second, as the opponent is starting his forward swing and is committed to a direction, you should anticipate the direction. With experience, you’ll learn the patterns for most opponents, and from that and from watching their swing well before contact, you’ll be able to begin anticipating their probable direction.