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 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!






March 25, 2019 - Advanced Sponge but No-So-Fast Blades

Monday, March 25, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Most players at the beginning/intermediate level use blades that are too fast. This not only hurts their control, but it also develops bad habits where the player uses the speed of the racket to rebound the ball back instead of stroking it, leading to poor strokes that won't work very well at intermediate/advanced levels. It's also harder to create great spin with a faster blade, since the ball rebounds off so fast.

What I generally recommend, for beginners to intermediate levels (up to about 1800-2000 range), is to get at most a medium speed blade until you are somewhat advanced. You do want one that's flexible enough to allow easy looping, and that feels right in your hand. Try out different ones until you find just the right one.

However, along with the medium-speed blade, I recommend players go to advanced sponges relatively early. Why? First, it allows you to develop advanced shots, especially looping, much earlier and better in your development, which means you are way ahead of those who use less advanced sponges and so don't regularly do these advanced shots. Second, the ball comes off these surfaces differently, so it's best to get used to that as early in your development as possible. Players with advances sponges naturally loop (and counterloop) even in fast rallies, while those handicapped by a less-advanced sponge tend to block. You absolutely need to learn to block - extremely well if you want to be good! - but at the higher levels, looping is the most important shot - and, for most, the sooner you become a looper, the sooner you can become a top player.






March 18, 2019 - Challenge an Opponent's Strength

Monday, March 18, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Sometimes it's a good tactic to go after an opponent's strength. After all, his game is probably based on getting that shot into play, and so you are probably going to have to face it - so rather than have the opponent choose when he'll use it, why don't you pick the times he'll use it?

For example, suppose your opponent has a very nice forehand smash or loop. He's going to use the shot; there's no stopping that. You could play into his backhand, but then he could step around to use the forehand. So why not simply attack his forehand side yourself, and force him to use his strength off a difficult ball? And then, with him pushed over to his forehand side, you can block back to his backhand, where he has to play his weaker shot while out of position - a double whammy.

Or suppose your opponent is a very good blocker. You keep getting stuck in rallies where he's quick-blocking the ball around the table, rushing you and forcing you into mistakes. Since he's going to block anyway, why not throw a slow, deep, spinny loop at him? That's the most difficult ball for a blocker to quick-block - he has no speed to play off, it's deep so he can't really rush you, and the spin makes it tricky to block. And so rather than getting quick-blocked all over the table, you'll get a weaker block that you can really attack.

So if your opponent is going to use his strength, why not use it against him?






March 11, 2019 - How to Beat a MUCH Stronger Player

Monday, March 11, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Let's start with a reality check: A much stronger player (MSP) is going to beat you if he plays his level. That's why he's an MSP. But everybody has "off" days, and if you want to maximize your chances of knocking off a MSP (other than simply improving your own game, in which case the opponent no longer is an MSP), then there are three things to focus on:

  1. Beat him tactically.
  2. Maximizing the chances of the MSP having an "off" day.
  3. Maximizing your chances of beating the MSP if he has an "off" day.

How do you beat a MSP tactically? Simple - study his game so you know his strengths and weaknesses, relative to his level. Then develop tactics so that he has to beat you with his "B" game against your "A" game. Does he have a big forehand loop against backspin? Then perhaps serve short, heavy, low backspin to his forehand, and if he pushes it back, either attack or quick push to his backhand, making him attack with his "weaker" backhand. If he attacks the short serve, then you are making him beat you without his big forehand loop against backspin, his biggest strength. But don't forget to bring your own game into account - you want your "A" game against his "B" game.

How do you maximize the chance of the MSP having an "off" day? First, see the first item above - if you beat him tactically, then he's more likely to have an "off" day. It's hard to be at your best if your opponent won't let you use your best shots! But the other major way is to use lots of variation so the MSP never gets into a rhythm. Mix up your serves, your receives, your pushes, your blocks, your loops, and everything else.

How do you maximize your chance of beating an MSP if he has an "off" day? First, focus on the two items above - beating him tactically and varying your shots so the MSP never gets into a rhythm. But then you need to focus on one simple thing: You must play well yourself. That means staying relaxed and just letting yourself go, but without overplaying that just leads to mistakes. Don't think of the MSP as a "Much Stronger Player." He's just a big fish you've hooked, and so all you have to do is focus on reeling him in. I hesitate to say this, but the biggest cause of an MSP coming back and winning is when the MWP ("Much Weaker Player") realizes he's about to beat an MSP, and mentally falls apart. MSPs are generally very strong mentally - that's why they are MSPs - so you have to be just as strong mentally as they are.

Why did I hesitate on saying this? Because the very act of thinking about beating an MSP in a match is the biggest cause of choking it away, and my mentioning it may make you think about it as well. But you need to prepare yourself in advance of the match against the MSP so that when you are in that position to win, you are mentally ready to play it all the way to the end without thinking about actually winning or losing. So just think of him as that fish you are reeling in, and keep reeling!