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.)




March 23, 2020 - Ten Table Tennis Truisms: Larry's Laws

Monday, March 23, 2020
by: Larry Hodges
  1. If you can't do it in your sleep, you can't do it consistently in a match.
  2. Practice everything in your game, but focus on your strengths and weaknesses. Remove the weaknesses and turn the strengths into overpowering ones.
  3. At the higher levels, if you can see it, loop it; if you can't see it, either reflex block or back up so you have time to loop it.
  4. Most players block better on the backhand. So focus on attacking the forehand and middle.
  5. If you push quick, heavy, low, wide, and deep, and can hide or change directions at the last second, and you do all of these things pretty well, you have a great push. If you do most of these things great but aren't good at one or two of them, you have a weak push.
  6. There are only three things in table tennis: move to the ball, get the right racket angle, and stroke. Do these well and you're the best in the world.
  7. If you improve your game, and start challenging better players, for about six months you will lose most close games in big matches to them because the other guy has more experience at that level. Keep at it and you'll start winning those close games.
  8. If players spent as much time practicing serves as they did complaining about having trouble with the other guy's serve, then the other guy would be the one complaining about having trouble with your serve.
  9. After every match ask yourself what you did to win and lose points. Then practice to do more of one and less of the other.
  10. There is no such thing as a weird style, just weak styles that you aren't used to.





March 16, 2020 - Practice Attacking the Middle in Rote Drills

Monday, March 16, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

One of the toughest things to make a habit of in a match is attacking the middle. (That's the midpoint between backhand and forehand, roughly the playing elbow.) There are two primary reasons for this. First, it's a smaller and moving target than the corners, which are easier to attack.

But there's a bigger reason - players don't practice attacking the middle. How often have you practiced your forehand or backhand, going crosscourt or down the line? When you play a match, guess what? You will tend to do what you did in practice, and so you'll go crosscourt or down the line. If you want to learn to attack the middle in a match, then you have to practice it.

So instead of always doing corner-to-corner drills, have your partner block from where his middle would be, with either his forehand or his backhand. Develop the habit of going to that spot by practicing going to that spot.

You should also do other drills where you attack the middle, such as serve and loop to the middle. But it starts with repetitive drills where you make it a habit to attack the middle, so that when you play a match . . . it'll be a habit to attack the middle.






March 9, 2020 - Proper Forehand Technique - Circling and From Side

Monday, March 9, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Here's a video (3:56) of all-time great Ma Long looping forehand, including slow motion. (It starts with one backhand loop - which you should also study! - and then goes to forehands.)

Note in the video how he basically rotates his body around an imaginary vertical rod going through the top of his head, with his head only moving slightly forward, and how he contacts the ball almost directly to the side of his body? Many players violate one of these principles, either moving the body forward too much as they do the shot, or (even more common) contacting the ball too far in front.

There are times when you should move the body more forward on a shot, such as against an easy high ball or when you are rushed in stepping around the backhand corner, but normally you should go more in a circle. This both gives you great centripetal force as you rotate around, but also leaves you in position for the next shot, balanced and ready, which is how top players can play power shots over and over in quick succession.

But as noted above, the more common problem is that players tend to contact the ball too far in front. This either keeps them from rotating backwards fully (and so losing power), or forces them to reach for the ball (thereby dissipating power and putting you off balance).

Also note how the legs (and especially the knees) are used to rotate into the shot. The legs aren't just for standing; they are the primary start to every shot, and give you the pivot into your shots.

Here's a 13-second video of Japanese sensation Tomokazu Harimoto as a kid, knocking balls off a table. (He's now world #5, and the best in the world outside China, circa March 2020.) Note the same principle - he rotates in a circle and contacts the ball directly to the side of that imaginary rod going through his head. You can see the same principles in this 46-second video of 3-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin (2001, 2005, 2007), demonstrating "The shot that owned a decade."






March 2, 2020 - Drill the Fundamentals and the Specifics

Monday, March 2, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

It is important to drill the fundamentals into your game until you can do them in your sleep. But often players forget to practice specifically what they do in a match. For example, I know a player who likes to counterloop with his forehand. He spends a lot of time practicing counterlooping with counterlooping practice partners. But in matches he has trouble counterlooping against an opponent's first loop off underspin, which is usually done closer to the table than other loops, has a different arc, and usually more topspin.

A simple drill to practice against this would be to have a practice partner serve backspin, the player pushes it back, the partner loops, and the player counterloops. The partner doesn't play out the point; as soon as he finishes his loop, he reaches for a ball from a box. (It's an improvised version of multiball.) This matches what a player faces in a match, as opposed to just counterlooping, and it gives far more practice on this specific skill in a given time than just playing out points. Plus, your partner gets lots of practice looping against backspin!

So work on your fundamentals, but also look at what you actually do in a match - or need to do - and find drills that match that specifically, and perfect the skill.






February 24, 2020 - Fundamental versus Creative Tactics

Monday, February 24, 2020
by: Larry Hodges

Fundamental tactics are the standards used against specific playing styles. If you are playing a chopper, fundamental tactics include attacking the middle (roughly the elbow, the transition point between his forehand and backhand chops), moving him in and out, giving dead balls to a side with long pips, or mixing up your spins (especially to the inverted chopping side). If you are playing a looper, a fundamental tactic would be to serve short and return short serves back short, so he can't loop, or to go to his stronger looping side to bring him out of position so you can then go to his weaker side.

You can learn fundamental tactics talking to other players or coaches; watching others; experimenting; or even by reading about it.

While fundamental tactics are key, it's also helpful to learn to be creative. Everyone plays different, and everyone has different weaknesses. That means studying opponents and finding what specifically gives them trouble.

Perhaps your opponent has a less common grip - say, the Seemiller grip, where he uses one side for both forehand and backhand. If you attack the middle like you should against most shakehand players, you might not do so well, since the Seemiller grip is very strong against these middle shots. But it's usually not as good against shots to the wide corners, especially the wide forehand. They often have trouble with the wide backhand as well, but make up for this by standing well over to that side, turning that into a strength, but leaving the forehand a little more open. But most players just automatically play to their backhand. So watch how this player stands, and go after those corners - perhaps going to the wide forehand first, then back to the backhand, which is now open. (This grip also has trouble backhand looping, so you might take advantage of that as well.)

Or perhaps he puts his finger down the middle. Some players with this grip have trouble returning short balls to the forehand down the line - he'll likely be forced to go crosscourt, since it's often harder to bring the wrist back with this grip. So you test it - serve short to the forehand, and if it works, you can camp out on the forehand side for the return. (Some have no trouble going down the line, so test it out.)

Or suppose you're playing a chopper who returns your attack to his middle with ease. Then he's probably cheating over - meaning his middle is more toward his forehand side, and his wide backhand is open. So you punish him with those two spots, which are now far apart and hard to cover.

Or suppose he's a looper, and so you don't want to serve long to him, giving him the loop. But test him on this. If he's like me, then he might loop some serves really well, but struggle with others. (I always had trouble looping deep serves with backhand-serve type sidespin.)

The goal is to early in a match find out what fundamental and creative tactics work. If you combine these two, you'll become a master tactician!