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.)

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?

October 15, 2018 - Style Experimentation

Monday, October 15, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Many players know their own game, but don't really know or understand other styles - leading to tactical problems. How can you work out what tactics to use if you don't understand the style you are playing? For example, a looper might feel like he can't get through a blocker's seemingly impenetrable wall - but only because he doesn't know the style. If he did, he might realize how weak a blocker often is in the middle (or sometimes a slightly to the forehand side of the middle), and so continue to pound the corners, where the blocker is often strongest. An attack to the middle not only gives the blocker trouble, it draws him out of position, which often opens up the corners.

Here are two ways to overcome this. One way, of course, would be to simply experiment and learn from the results. (Make sure to pay attention to these results and keep learn from them!) But another way is to actually experiment by playing other styles. If you are a looper, try playing some matches as a blocker, and vice versa. Try chopping, lobbing, one-winged or two-winged looping, hitting, and perhaps even other grips. You will learn a lot by playing these styles - and then apply what you learn tactically to your own game. You also may develop some new dimensions to your own game as you learn these other techniques!


October 8, 2018 - Counterlooping and the Forehand Block

Monday, October 8, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

At the higher levels, most players essentially counterloop any topspin ball on the forehand side. (Many also do it on the backhand side.) But that's almost inhuman. And yet, many players try to do that. Here's the problem with doing that. 

If you play close to the table and try to counterloop everything on the forehand side, you'll be vulnerable to any strong, deep loop, since you'll have little time to react. The smart players will also vary the placement, sometimes going wide, sometimes at the middle. And so you will likely make too many mistakes. 

If you take a step off the table so you can react and forehand counterloop, you'll be vulnerable to slow, spinny loops that drop in front of you. These balls are easy to counterloop away (or smash) if you are close to the table and don't hesitate, but if you are a step off the table looking to counterloop, they are very tricky to counterloop - most players go off the end over and over. 

So what do you do? Simple - find a distance where you can comfortably forehand counterloop against most topspins, including slow, spinny ones. But also develop your "reflex block," where you forehand block against very aggressive balls to your forehand. You can also block the first one and perhaps then take half a step back so you can counterloop the next one. Since you'll only be blocking against faster loops, practice against those, and unhesitatingly counterloop (or perhaps smash) anything slower. (All of this can also apply to the backhand side, though many find counterlooping on that side trickier since the body is in the way.)

On the other extreme, many players only block against incoming loops, on forehand and backhand. That's a weakness - learn to attack a weak loop, whether by counterlooping or smashing, or at least a very aggressive block.