Tip of the Week

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

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(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.)

November 19, 2018 - Forehand Stroke Efficiency

Monday, November 19, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Most top players extend their arm on forehands for extra power. And so should you. But have you noticed how top players can do these power shots over and over in quick succession, while weaker players struggle on the second one? A primary reason for this is the backswing.

Top players extend their arm just before they start the forward swing, with some keeping it mostly extended through the stroke, others using more arm snap so that the arm comes in. But there's no reason to extend the arm on the backswing, which just slows you down. But many non-top players do this, so that their arm is equally extended on the backswing and forward swing. This is a mistake. On the backswing, keep the elbow relatively in to increase the stroke's efficiency. It's only when you have nearly completed the backswing that the arm can extend. If you extend it too early, the stroke will be slow and cumbersome, and when you do two in a row, you'll be rushed and inconsistent. Here's a video of Ma Long looping - see how his arm is in during the backswing, then he extends it. 

November 12, 2018 - Subconscious Aiming and Stroking

Tuesday, November 13, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

The reason you practice your strokes is to make them second nature, so that you do the shots subconsciously and instinctively. When you try to take conscious control, the shot falls apart. Similarly, you don't aim a shot by aiming; you aim by visualizing what you want the ball to do, and letting your trained subconscious instinctively do the rest.

Here's a test I've done many times. I can put a water bottle on any part of the far side of the table, bounce a ball on my side, and smack the bottle probably 90% of the time. But I don't do any of it consciously, other than bouncing the ball. It's all subconscious and instinctive. All I have to do is decide I want to hit that bottle, and the subconscious does the rest. If I try to take conscious control of the stroke in any way when aiming for the bottle, my accuracy falls apart.

The same is true in a game situation, where you don't consciously aim or control any other part of the stroke; you just instinctively decide what shot to do and where you want the ball to go, and then instinctively do it. It's all subconscious; that's why you practice your strokes! (Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two. For example, you might, in the middle of a rally, see an opening where you want to hit the ball, but most likely your subconscious has already seen and reacted to that opening, and your conscious mind only notes it as you are about to do it.) The conscious part is between points when you decide what serves and basic tactics to use. And then - you guessed it! - the subconscious instinctively does the rest.

November 5, 2018 - Heavy and No-Spin Pushes

Monday, November 5, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

A good, quick, well-placed, heavy, low, deep push is valuable at all levels, even the world-class level. So develop all aspects of that shot, especially against backspin or no-spin serves. But there's another weapon that many forget, and that's the no-spin push. 

Against your heavier push, many opponents will simply drop their racket and spin more, and you'll face a non-stop series of aggressive loops. But one way to really break this up is to throw a "heavy" no-spin push at them. A heavy no-spin push is a push where you fake great backspin, but put little spin on the ball. (This is the same as a heavy no-spin serve, where you fake spin but little spin on the ball.) The opponent, who is so used to lifting against your heavy backspins, will likely drop his shoulder and lift, and the ball will sail off the end. Note that while a "no-spin" serve is exactly that, a "no-spin" push usually has a small amount of backspin, though not always. 

But the real weapon here is that it not only wins the point, but now the opponent will likely hesitate each time, not sure if the ball is heavy backspin or not. And so he'll not only make mistakes against the no-spin pushes, but against the heavier ones he had no trouble with earlier. 

How do you do a heavy no-spin push? Just do a conventional heavy push, except don't graze the ball much, and more importantly, snap the wrist after contact. For heavy backspin, of course, you snap the wrist into the ball to create all that backspin. Develop a heavy backspin push as a top priority, both because it alone is effective, and because a no-spin push isn't that effective if you don't also have a heavy one. 

October 29, 2018 - Don't Try So Hard When Ending the Point

Monday, October 29, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

When you put everything into a shot, you lose control and consistency. You often lose power as well as you can't really time all your muscles together at 100%, and instead end up with a spastic shot that's difficult to control. Watch the top players - when they end the point, they make it seem almost effortless as they get great power by putting their weight into the shot and smoothly timing all of their muscles together. Plus, that last bit of power isn't necessary.

So when you get a weak ball where you can end the point, don't go spastic. Instead, just smoothly accelerate into the shot, whether you are smashing or looping, putting your weight into the shot and focusing on good technique and placement. (Lack of power almost always means poor technique.) Unless the opponent is a great lobber, there's no way they can cover the entire table against a well-placed put-away, even with less than 100% power. That means experimenting with placement in matches to see what works - sometimes smashing or loop-killing at the wide corners and sometimes at their middle (around the playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand). Few players can cover a well-angled put-away to the wide corners, even at 10% reduced speed, and even fewer can cover this shot if it's right at their elbow. (Unless, of course, they play with the Seemiller or some similar grip, where the middle is easier to cover, but the corners more difficult.) By sacrificing perhaps 10% speed, you get a huge return on consistency, and the 10% you lose simply isn't necessary.

October 22, 2018 - Top Ten Ways to Be a Professional at All Levels

Monday, October 22, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

This tip won't help you win more matches. In fact, it might cost you a match where, by playing unsportsmanlike, you might have psyched an opponent out of a match. But if you do that, did you really win the match? Here are the Top Ten Ways to Be a Professional at All Levels.

  1. Dress neatly. 
  2. Show up on time.
  3. Let both sides warm up in the two-minute warm-up at the start. 
  4. Play fair. Duh. 
  5. Don't act like a baby. 
  6. Don't make excuses.
  7. Shake hands afterwards. 
  8. Do not scream at the top of your lungs every point. Use common sense. If you are one of a dozen or more players playing, then every time you scream you are disturbing all those other players. If, however, you are the only match being played, then you have more discretion - but within limits. 
  9. Keep gamesmanship to a minimum. Some gamesmanship is fine, such as playing a little faster when your opponent is falling apart, or slowing things down to throw a hot opponent off. But others are not, such as talking to the opponent to distract him, or stepping on the ball so as to force a break to get a new ball. 
  10. Keep arguing to a minimum. If you can't reach a quick agreement on something during a tournament, call an umpire. If it's practice, is it really worth arguing over?