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.)

April 29, 2019 - Rope-a-Dope Defense

Monday, April 29, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Suppose you are playing a relentless counter-hitter, who plays every really bang-bang, and you are struggling to stay in these rallies. Point after point ends with either you missing or making a weak return the opponent smashes. How do you get out of this?

There are three main ways. First, attack first and try to end the point before you get into these bang-bang rallies. Second, force the opponent to open weakly by giving them low, heavy, deep pushes, or deep serves that they have trouble attacking, and counter-attacking off their openings, with placement key (to wide angles or to opponent's mid-point between forehand and backhand, usually the elbow).

But once you are in these rallies, what should you do? Rather than mindlessly rally and hope your opponent makes a mistake, focus on three things that will turn hopeless play into rope-a-dope defense:

  • Get every ball back. This may sound basic, but if you make that your focus, you might surprise yourself with how many shots you get back. After a shot or two into such rallies you might have to take a half step back to give yourself enough time to react to shots, but don't back up too much or you give the opponent wider angles and more time to attack your shots. Most likely cover most middle shots with your backhand. A key thing here is confidence - if you truly believe you can rally with the opponent, then you may surprise yourself at how well you do so. A lack of confidence leads to tentativeness, which leads to both weak shots and misses. With that confidence, you might even find yourself hitting in winners when you get the right shot!
  • Keep it deep. As long as your shots are deep, the opponent can't rush or angle you too much. It's those returns that go short that'll get you into trouble. If your shots are going short, hit your shots just a little more aggressively to get them deeper. Find the balance between consistency and aggressiveness, but keep the ball deep!
  • Move the ball around. Don't make things easy for the opponent. Ideally, keep every ball not just deep, but to wide angles, or when you see a chance, an aggressive counter-shot at the elbow, which not only gives the opponent trouble, but also pulls him out of position and opens up one of the corners. An aggressive counter-shot to the forehand often takes an opponent out of position as well, opening up either the wide backhand, or often the wide forehand again as players often over-recover after the first one to the forehand. Beware - if you hit a wide-angled shot, it gives the opponent the chance to angle back, and so you have to recover into a ready position to cover that angle!

April 22, 2019 - No More Excuses - Develop World-Class Serves with TNT

Monday, April 22, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Unlike most other advanced techniques, you don't have to be athletic or play at a high level to develop great serves. Anybody - yes, that means you - can develop great, even world-class serves. They just need a little TNT - Technique, Necessity, and Time.

You have to have proper serving Technique. This means working with a coach or top player. Unlike most other techniques, serving is subtle and is tricky to learn by just watching. Half the point of serving is making it look like one thing while doing another, so unless you are an expert, you might not realize what's really happening. Here's my article Ten Steps to a Great Serving Game.

You have to decide it's Necessary. Top players often develop top serves out of sheer necessity - if they don't, they won't become top players. So you have to ask yourself - how necessary is it for you to dominate against your peers by developing great serves? Better serves also means you play at a higher level, and so play higher-level competition, which pushes you to an even higher level.  They also lead to lots of balls to attack, which develops your attacking game, which improves your level even more. So . . . is developing great serves necessary? Remember - Anyone Can Be Very Good At Something - and (to reiterate the above), "If you develop one aspect of your game, other parts will follow. If you develop a very good serve, then you get lots of follow-up shots, and so you develop a very good attack."

You have to put in the Time. That means practice, practice, and more practice. But it has to be meaningful practice - if you just practice low-level serves, you'll end up with very polished low-level serves. Here's my article Practicing Serves the Productive Way.

April 15, 2019 - The Lead Problem

Monday, April 15, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Have you ever played one of those matches where you played really well, went up 2-0 in games, and then stopped "playing to win" and instead "played to not lose," and so changed how you went up 2-0 in games to start with, and so lost the match? Or had a lead in the final game you needed to win, and also played to not lose, and so lost?

Most likely, after winning that first game, you continued playing the same way as you were not on the verge of winning, and deep down, you realized you had a long way to go. And so you continued to play well in the second game, not just playing-wise, but tactically doing what it took to win. But after going up 2-0 or taking a lead in the final game you needed, you realized, deep down, that you were on the verge of winning - and that's when players let up by playing to not lose, and so lose.

The key is to make it a habit to NEVER change your mentality after playing well and winning a game. Whatever worked in that game is what you want. So make a conscious effort to enter the next game with that same mentality - which often means blanking out your mind and just letting yourself go, where the only thoughts in your mind are those two or three tactical things are working, and what type of serve you should next use.

April 8, 2019 - Remember Your Best Match

Saturday, April 6, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

We all have good and bad matches - but this is NOT some random thing. Poor play usually comes from poor mental skills. But here's the amazing fact - EVERYBODY has great mental skills some of the time. The key is to make that most or all of the time. How do you do it?

Think about a match where you played your best ever. It doesn't matter if it was a tournament, league, or practice match, and it doesn't even matter if you won or lost. What matters is you played well. Your mind was probably clear, you played points almost mindlessly, and everything seemed so easy, as if the ball was moving in slow motion - right? The mentality you had in that match is probably the mentality you always want - so remember how you felt in that match, and just repeat it, every time you play. (For me, it's always been my win over 2500+ Rey Domingo in 1990, where the ball literally seemed to be moving in slow motion and I felt like I could do anything - and in that match, and a few others, I could.)

April 1, 2019 - Positioning After Serve

Monday, April 1, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

One of the interesting things is to watch a player's ready position after the serve. Most do not position themselves well. Most go to the same position no matter their serve.

Suppose you serve short to the middle of the table and then position yourself perfectly. If you have a strong forehand, for example, and want to follow as many serves with that shot as possible, you should (for a righty) stand as far to the left as you can while still being able to handle a shot to your forehand that's not super-aggressive. (If it's a super-aggressive return, then either your serve was poor or the receiver made a great and perhaps low-percentage return.)

Now suppose you serve short to the backhand. Most players position themselves the same way. But now the receiver has no angle into your forehand, and so you should stand more to your left.

Now suppose you serve short to the forehand. Now the receiver has an extreme angle into your forehand, and so you have to position yourself more to the right to cover it.

If you are more of a two-winged player, or even favor the backhand, then you should do a similar analysis in developing your positioning after each serve.

Now suppose you serve long. The same positioning logic applies here. However, now the opponent is likely to attack your serve. If you are expecting to block, then your positioning needs to be relatively close to the table. But if you are looking to counterloop, then perhaps you would want to position yourself half a step back, to give yourself time.

Think these things over, and then, guess what? Go practice them! Go practice your serves, and then, at the end, practice your serve and positioning. Imagine different opponents as you do different serves, and go into the appropriate position. If the opponent flips very aggressively, then you have to cover the corners more. If the opponent mostly pushes, then you have more time, and so don't have to cover those corners as much. And so on. Then try out this positioning in real games, and see how much it helps!