Tip of the Week

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

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

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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.)

December 3, 2018 - Style Disadvantage or Tactical Problem?

Monday, December 3, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Many players do not know the difference between a style disadvantage and a tactical problem. My experience is that style disadvantages are relatively rare, as any sufficiently advanced player has developed enough shots to reach his level so that he can compete with almost any other style at his level. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rarer than most believe. And when there is a seeming style disadvantage, most often it's not really a "style" disadvantage so much as one player not being used to playing a specific style. That's a different thing.

But the reality is that style disadvantages are not that common. What is common, besides not getting to play a specific style often enough to get used to it, is the problem of getting into the habit of tactically playing certain styles the wrong way, without realizing it. Related to this is not developing the often simple techniques that beat a specific style.

For example, you may get blocked down over and by a good blocker, counter-hitter, or chopper because you can't get through their seemingly impenetrable defense - and never realize that it's because you are reflexively going to the corners instead of the playing elbow, where such defenses often fall apart. Or you might be unable to deal with a looper's serve and loop, and never realize you are feeding him by just pushing long over and over, often to the same spot. (Other options: pushing short; aiming for one corner and at the last second going the other way; flipping; and at minimum making your pushes relatively quick, fast, heavy, low, and deep.) Or you might struggle with an opponent's heavy push receive - and never realize it's because you are using the same backspin serves over and over, and not giving him low, no-spin serves, which they not only will tend to pop up, but will be unable to generate nearly as much backspin against them. (Learn to do "heavy no-spin," where you fake backspin but serve a low, short no-spin serve.)

There are many examples - but the first step to overcoming this problem is to realize it exists, and deal with the problem.

November 26, 2018 - Use Your Weaknesses or They Will Always Be Weaknesses

Monday, November 26, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose, for example, you have a strong forehand loop against backspin, but your backhand loop against backspin isn't so good. Then you probably use the forehand every chance you can, and avoid using the backhand loop. Result? You continue to have a strong forehand loop against backspin, but that backhand loop isn't going to improve by not using it.

One of the best wins of my life came when I was serving at 19-all in the third (back when games were to 21). I'd been serving and forehand looping the whole match, but the opponent had gotten used to it, and kept counterlooping winners off it. But recently I'd been working on my much weaker backhand loop a bit - and so, twice in a row, for the first time in the match, I serve and backhand looped instead. The opponent was so caught off guard he missed both outright and I won. If I hadn't been working on that weakness so that it became a useful weapon, I would likely have lost that match.

In practice matches, and even in more competitive matches (so you can learn to do it under pressure), you have to make yourself use the shots that are your weaknesses. If you don't, they will continue to be weaknesses. You might get away with the weakness against players your level, but wouldn't it be nice to challenge players a level higher? To do so, you have to develop your weaknesses, and perhaps even turn them into strengths. You might be surprised at how much an unused shot can improve if you decide to make it central to your game for a few weeks or months!

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.