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



08/28/2023 - 16:53

Author: Larry Hodges

How many years have you played before noticing that “Table Tennis” is just an anagram of “Nine Battles”? And it's applicable to our sport. Here's my list of the nine biggest opponents you battle with in a match. Your assignment is to think about each and figure out how best to deal with them.  

  1. Preparation. This means getting a good warmup as well as going into the match with a relaxed frame of mind. Here's how to get A Good Warm-up.
  2. Equipment. Make sure you are using proper equipment for your level and style. (Here's Use Equipment that Matches the Way You Want to Play and Suggested Equipment for Beginning and Intermediate players.)
  3. Pressure. The more you play, the more you get used to it. But you will also greatly help yourself if you learn a bit about Sports Psychology.
  4. Tactics. You learn tactical thinking by a combination of thinking and experience. (Yeah, there's also Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!)
  5. Strategic. Play to win (tactical thinking) or for the future (strategic thinking)? But you need both. (And yes, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers also covers Strategic Thinking.)
  6. Serves. Do you have serves that dominate, either by forcing mistakes or returns you can attack effectively? There are endless articles on this, but perhaps Ten-Point Plan to Serving Success helps.
  7. Receives. Do you have receives that control the opponent, while making few mistakes and stopping him from making strong attacks? Here's Three Types of Receive Skills and Good Receive Is What Works.
  8. Opponent. He's a real person with strengths and weaknesses, who can change his own tactics to adjust to yours. Do your shots match up to his? (Perhaps with a little tactical thinking - see above - so you can match your best shots against his not-best shots?) You might want to learn to See Things from Opponent's Point of View.
  9. Yourself. This is the biggest battle of all, and often includes all of the above. The key thing is to believe in yourself. See 1% Hesitation = 100% Miss.

08/21/2023 - 15:18

Author: Larry Hodges

I once watched video of a top junior who'd just lost a close five-game match. He's normally an aggressive player, but has a good, stiff push that often catches opponents off guard. He's also comfortable blocking, so he can get away with letting the opponent attack first as long as he's not giving him an easy attack. But in this match, something went wrong.

Here's the part that stood out. When he pushed serves back long 2-3 times a game, the opponent wasn't really ready for it and he won about half those points. But toward the end of the match he began pushing more. In the fifth game, he pushed five serves back long and the opponent was ready - and won all five.

The lesson? A good, stiff push, even at high levels, is a highly effective weapon when the opponent isn't expecting it. Corollary - below the elite level, a good stiff push is almost always effective, as long as the pusher is comfortable if the opponent does a soft attack.

So, what is a good, stiff push, and when should you use it? Roughly speaking, there are six attributes of a good, stiff (i.e. long) push – and if you don’t practice them, you won’t be able to consistently execute them:

  • Quick off the bounce
  • Deep
  • Low
  • Heavy
  • Angled
  • Disguised placement

At higher levels, you want all six. At lower levels, you might get away with doing only some of these. Sometimes you can get away with just one, such as pushing really heavy or well angled. (Here's my Tip from 2011, Pushing: Five out of Six Doesn't Cut It.)

When should you give the opponent a stiff push? It depends on the opponent. If they have trouble with them and don't really seem to have any way of dealing with them effectively, you can win an entire match almost entirely on this one shot. Against others, you have to be more judicious in their use. If they know it's coming, they'll be set for it. Against some players, it's the best way to return the serve. But it's usually best to push long when the opponent doesn't know it's coming. That means being aware of what your opponent is doing. Is he jammed to the table, vulnerable to a long push? Is he crowding his backhand corner, looking to forehand loop from that corner? Have you given him any short balls, so that he has to stay close to the table, watching for them, thereby making him a bit slower in reacting to deep pushes? With experience, you begin to see these things automatically, and then you automatically will give your opponent a good, stiff push at just the right time.

So . . . is it time to get pushy?


08/14/2023 - 05:46

Author: Larry Hodges

Over the many decades I've watched and learned about this sport, there are certain trends I see that stick out. This is one of the simplest, often the difference between fast-improving players and those who just stare at their rackets in frustration after missing a shot and continue to do so the rest of their playing years.

When you miss a shot, instead of staring at your racket in disbelief, or whatever other bad habits you've picked up after missing, instead do a simple thing: shadow practice the shot as you should have done it. It's a simple way of re-enforcing to the subconscious what it should have done, rather than what it did do. There are a zillion things that can go wrong with a stroke, and if you do one of those things wrong and don't correct it, guess what? You'll do it again. And again. And again.

Suppose someone pushes heavy to you, and you mistakenly baby the ball, and so either go into the net, loft it off the end, or (probably worst of all) make a weak topspin return that any good opponent will smack into subspace. Or perhaps you stroke it properly but misread the spin and so go into the net or off the end. Immediately after the rally, shadow practice what you should have done. Then, the next time you face this same heavy push, guess what? You are far more likely to do it properly than if you had just stared at your racket. Sure, staring at your racket allows you to accurately describe your racket, but that's not very helpful to your table tennis future. Instead, fix the problem immediately.

And guess what? By doing so, you'll likely start doing it correctly, and it'll be the other guy staring at his racket wondering why he's not as good as you!


08/07/2023 - 16:12

Author: Larry Hodges

Watch a top player when he's about to receive, either live or, better still, on video so you can replay or even do slow motion. While players often have some differences in their stances and how they move, most have two things in common. First, they start out low. Second, as the serve is approaching, they stand up a bit straighter with a small bounce, which allows them a quick start when they come back down again. They actually do this small hop every shot as they go from ready stance, hop, and move to ball. Many players do this in rallies, but forget to always do it on receive. Others are not in good physical shape and so find this difficult to do in rallies - but while this may be somewhat true, there's nothing stopping them from doing this on receive, where they have more time to prepare. By doing this little hop, a player gets a much quicker start, whether to the left, right, or stepping in. Here's video of Fan Zhengdong vs. Timo Boll, or pick out your favorite players and search for them on Youtube, and focus on just their feet during receive. (I chose Fan vs. Boll both because it gave a good angle to see their feet, and it shows the current world #1 from China vs. the former world #1 from Germany.)


07/31/2023 - 04:53

Author: Larry Hodges

In table tennis and other sports, your subconscious is trained in a training environment, where there's no pressure and so players can relax and just drill their shots or play practice points. With no pressure, there's little hesitation or rushing of shots. If one of those happens, the player or coach makes sure to fix it, and without pressure, it's not hard to fix.

Then you get into a match where there is pressure. A confident player does the same under pressure as he does without. But even the least, tiny bit of hesitation can completely destroy your timing for an entire match. It usually starts with a hesitant shot that misses because you (rightfully!) didn't train to do hesitant shots and so have little control over them. Trying to compensate, you then rush a shot. Suddenly your subconscious doesn't know what to do - all that training is gone as it can't time hesitant or rushed shots.

Ironically, the player often thinks he just needs to practice the shot more until he can "do it in his sleep." While that's helpful, it doesn't really fix the problem here. The real problem is if you aren't confident, then neither is your subconscious, which is what times and executes your shots.

So the real problem here is confidence. When walking, you have complete confidence you will make that next step without tripping - but you don't actually think about it, you just keep walking flawlessly. Similarly, you need to have complete confidence in your shots without actually thinking about it. The key here is sports psychology. Here are a few links. Go to it - and don't hesitate!