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.)




September 24, 2018 - Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

When a conventional player plays an unconventional style, they each face a different fundamental problem. The conventional player has to deal with the fact that the unconventional player is used to playing conventional players while he is likely not as used to playing this unconventional style. The unconventional player has to deal with the fact that he has, almost by definition, an inferior style, or it would be the conventional style. The conventional player has an edge IF he gets used to the unconventional player. The problem is he often goes into the match with a number of trained habits or reactions that will hurt his play. He may even know what some of these problems are, but they are so ingrained into his game from playing conventional players that the habits are hard to break in a sport where you are forced to react quickly and reflexively. Here is a list of the Top Ten Guidelines for Playing the Unconventional Style. But remember - they are only guidelines, as unconventional styles vary. 

  1. Don't jam the table in rallies. He's more used to your game than you are used to his, so you need more time to react to his shots.
  2. Keep the ball deep. He's used to your game more than you are used to his. By going deep, you give yourself more time to react. 
  3. Serve long. If you like to serve short and attack, then you may find yourself in a trap as your opponent can hit quick, off-the-bounce returns and rush you with shots you may not be comfortable against. This is especially true against racket surfaces you are not as familiar with. 
  4. Find the weak spots. By definition, all unconventional styles have weaknesses or those styles would be conventional. Find the weaknesses and play into them. This is where it might be helpful to do some scouting or ask the advice of coaches or advanced players who are familiar with this player or style. 
  5. Experiment. Test them out early with whatever you have and see what works. 
  6. Spin or no-spin. Most unconventional styles have trouble either with heavy spin or no-spin. (The latter is especially true of pips-out, especially longer pips.) Test them out. 
  7. Do not go into game two without being completely comfortable against this style. You should fight like crazy to win game one, but don't worry about losing that game as long as you know exactly what to do in game two, and are now comfortable against this unconventional style. Ideally, you should do this earlier in the first game, but unconventional styles have a long history of winning game one and then losing three straight. 
  8. Do not rely on conventional tactics until you test them and verify they work. Before the match you should literally list all the things you do against conventional styles that likely will not work in this match. Often you will want to do the exact opposite of what you would do against conventional players. Remember that unconventional players have developed their style against conventional players, and so are often at their best against conventional tactics. 
  9. Be flexible in your tactics. If something doesn't work, try something else. If something works but stops working, put it aside and try something else, and perhaps come back to it. Often the unconventional player can adjust to any one tactic, but cannot do so against multiple options. So work out multiple options against whatever he does and make him uncomfortable. 
  10. Keep your cool. It's very easy to mentally fall apart early in a match against an unconventional player. Accept the fact that his unconventional play is often based on the idea of throwing weird stuff at you, with the idea of forcing you into mistakes. But in so doing, he's also playing a weaker style. So don't worry about making a few careless mistakes or even blowing a game. Once you figure the player out, you can come back from almost any score - as long as you keep your cool and focus. 





September 17, 2018 - Development of an Outrageously Great Spin Serve

Monday, September 17, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Here are six steps to doing so!

  1. Spin and catch. Practice tossing the ball up, spinning it with your paddle, and catching it. Do this over and over, in various ways with different spins, until you can put an outrageous amount of spin on the ball, with different types of spins.
  2. Spin the serve. Now do the same thing at the table, where you focus, again, on putting outrageous amounts of spin on the ball. Don't worry at first about serving legal or low, just get lots of spin on the ball. As you get better, make sure you are doing so legally (especially the six-inch toss) and low to the net.
  3. Spin with variations. Now that you can serve with outrageous spin, learn to do different variations. Try serving with backspin, side-backspin, sidespin, side-topspin, and topspin. And don't forget one of the great serves of table tennis - fake that outrageous spin, but contact the ball near the handle with a stiff wrist so there's no spin, and then exaggerate the wrist and arm motion after contact - i.e. "heavy no-spin."
  4. Spin with semi-circular deception. Now is where you add real deception. Use a semi-circular motion in your serve. For example, for a forehand pendulum serve (i.e. racket tip down), start with a downward motion, then go sideways, and then up, all in a smooth semi-circular motion. Depending on where you contact the ball in this semi-circle, you'll get different spins. If on the down, backspin. If on the sideways part, sidespin. If on the upward part, topspin. Plus the in between spins - if you contact on the ball as the racket moves down and sideways, you get sidespin-backspin. If you contact the ball on the sideways and up part, you get sidespin-topspin - which tends to be trickier to learn with this particular serve, but comes with practice.
  5. Spin with quick, deception motion. Now that you can serve all sorts of different outrageous spins with a semicircular motion, it's time to shorten and speed up the motion. By making it shorter and quicker, it's harder for the opponent to read what direction the racket was moving at contact. And then, just after contact, move the racket in a different direction, further throwing off the receiver.

Perfect these steps, and you too can have an outrageously great spin serve, with great spin and deception - and with practice, there's no reason why you can't do this as well as the pros.






September 10, 2018 - Develop Ball Control by Playing with Different Surfaces

Monday, September 10, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Today's tip will be controversial. Some might not agree the following, but I've found it to be consistently true, and it makes sense if you think about it.

Have you ever noticed how some players seem to have great ball control? They can seemingly adjust to any shot and make nice, smooth returns. How do they do this? They do it because they are in the habit of adjusting to incoming balls. Some do this somewhat naturally. Others are in more of a rut, with their subconscious stubbornly doing what it's used to doing, and so not adjusting to balls that are different. These players need a little extra, more extreme practice.

You can and should practice against shots that give you trouble with your regular racket. But using the same racket all the time minimizes the amount of adjustment you must make. If you really want to learn to adjust to anything, try something more drastic. Get a different racket - slower or faster blade or sponge, short pips, hardbat, sandpaper, even wood - and play with it for a while. As you adjust to this different playing equipment, you are literally training your subconscious to make adjusting a habit.

Then, when you go back to your normal racket, your subconscious will have this new adjusting habit. Instead of stubbornly doing what it is used to doing - and so not adjusting to incoming shots, leading to a lack of consistency and ball control - your subconscious now has the habit of adjusting, and so you'll suddenly have consistency and ball control. You don't need to do this very often; a few times is enough. Give it a try, and see if it works!






September 3, 2018 - The Flat Smash That Isn't

Tuesday, September 4, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Many players with good looping strokes, and others that don't, have trouble doing "flat" smashes because they don't understand what the shot is - or more exactly, what it isn't. The main thing to understand about a flat smash is that it is NOT flat. There is no such thing, in fact, as a good flat smash, except off a high ball that lands short enough so that you can hit straight on with consistency. 

The contact for a "flat" smash - which from here on I'll just call a smash - is a glancing upward blow that puts topspin on the ball. (This is against a ball that's not too high. If you are smashing a lob, then the stroke isn't really upward, but contact is still a glancing topspin stroke.) It's not as much topspin as a loop, but quite a bit more than it would seem from watching. The ball sinks into the sponge and into the wood, and then rebounds out with topspin. Without that topspin it would be difficult to control for three reasons. 

First, of course, the topspin is needed to pull the ball down. It is this topspin that gives a good hitter a powerful yet consistent smash. 

Second, hitting with an upward topspin stroke allows the player to make last-second adjustments. If you hit the ball flat, then the only way to adjust just before contact is by changing the racket angle, and it's almost impossible to control that at the last second - as a basic rule, never change your racket angle on a drive once you start your forward swing. But if you are swinging with an upward topspin stroke, you can easily increase or decrease the topspin part of the stroke as you adjust to the incoming ball. 

Third, if you do hit the ball flat, the ball will likely sail. If you hit it truly flat, it goes out like a knuckleball and shoots off somewhat randomly. If you are off by just a touch and put a tiny amount of backspin, that will make the sail out of proportion to the amount of spin on the ball, due to the ball's speed, and the ball will shoot off the end. 

If you want to see just how much a smash is an upward stroke, watch how the old hardbat players hit the ball, where their "flat" shots are actually very upward shots, essentially upward slaps of the ball. Similarly, a sponge smash (unless the ball is very high) has to be an upward glancing blow, though not as much as with a less bouncy surface. 

Here's a great way to develop your smash with proper contact. Stand at one side of the table with a box of balls, and one by one, toss them in the air and smash them, using this upward glancing blow. When you can control this shot with a satisfying "smack," you are ready to do it at the table. 






August 27, 2018 - Never Think About Winning or Losing While Playing - Excise the Thought and Play Well!

Monday, August 27, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

To some, this might be obvious. We've all had that experience where you wanted to win so badly that you get nervous, and your whole game fell apart. It might happen for a number of points, or might happen at that one incredibly important point that meant the difference between winning and losing.

The reality is that most who understand this aren't really applying their thinking on this effectively. It's not enough to know you shouldn't think about winning or losing while you play; you have to actually not think about winning or losing when you play.

How do you do this? For many, it means a big change in their thinking. Too often they play with the primary goal of winning, and if that's your primary goal, then rest assured that when it's close, and they are on the verge of winning or losing, they will be thinking about winning or losing.

Instead, make it your primary goal to play well. If you do this, then you will maximize your chances of winning, while if you make winning your primary goal, then you will essentially minimize your chances of doing so.

Making it your primary goal to play well doesn't mean you play dumb. Part of playing well is playing tactically smart. In fact, your sole thinking at the table should be tactical, though only between points. (During a point you have to let your subconscious take over - that's why you practice, to train it for exactly that, so let it do its job.)

How do you know when you've really maximized your playing by not thinking about winning or losing? When you do lose, if your goal was to play well, then there should be a moment of literal surprise when you realize, "Oh, I've lost." If you were thinking about winning or losing, this won't happen because you will have been completely aware of winning or losing - and that's exactly the type of thinking that often turns a probable win into a remorseful loss.