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.)

August 20, 2018 - How to Quadruple Your Chances of Winning Those Five-Game Matches

Monday, August 20, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

There are four main components that lead to winning close matches. Here they are!

  1. Have all of your shots going. In reality, you want to have them as ready as possible before the match starts, and by the end of game one you should be confident in all your shots. Some take longer to adjust to an opponent, but if you aren't comfortable or confident in your shots and it's already game five, you need to practice those shots and get them into play early in the match so next time they are ready when you need them.
  2. Get used to your opponent. You should be used to whatever your opponent does by the end of game one. If not, then perhaps early on in the match you need to focus on reacting to whatever it is he does that gives you trouble. If you have trouble with his slow, spinny loop, then perhaps push long and heavy on purpose one time, letting him slow loop so you can focus on reacting to it properly. If you have trouble in backhand exchanges, perhaps get into a few on purpose to focus on that. Of course, if you can tactically avoid a certain shot your opponent does, and are confident you can do that most of the time, then you can just do that - but you have to be used to and confident against whatever shots the opponent can get into play.
  3. Know what worked and what didn't. This is key - if you have a winning tactic but don't remember it, you'll probably blow the match. It's mind-boggling how often a player comes off the table thinking or saying, "Why didn't I do what worked before?" If you have a serve or shot that worked over and over, then use it. Many are afraid that the opponent is expecting it, but guess what? When you don't use that serve or shot that gave him fits, that loud sound you hear is your opponent sighing in relief.
  4. Mentally strong. If you are a nervous wreck, worried about winning or losing, you might as well concede the match. Focus on execution and playing well (including tactically well), and you'll maximize your chances of winning.

August 13, 2018 - Make Up-and-Coming Players Your Rivals - and Stay With Them!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Here's a little trick that will give you both incentive to improve, and lead to real improvement. Next time you are at your club, pinpoint someone who is perhaps a little weaker than you, or perhaps your level, but is practicing hard seems "talented," and is likely to improve beyond his currently level, and beyond yours. Often an up-and-coming junior would be your choice.

Then make it your goal to 1) play this player as often as possible, and 2) keep up with him. Turn it into a mini-rivalry. You'll be surprised at how this will narrow your thinking down to what's needed to stay with this player, and you'll find yourself developing your game as you try to keep up, week after week and month after month. By playing him regularly when you are still better you will likely get him to keep playing you, even when he's caught up or (NO!) passed you, meaning you get to continue playing him and battling to stay with him.

Much of improvement is mental, and if you truly turn this into sort of a rivalry (a friendly one, of course), you'll find yourself striving to play at levels you might not have considered before. Next thing you know you'll be practicing the shots you need to stay with him, thinking tactically, and you'll be dying to get to the club to continue this rivalry.

And guess what? All of this will develop your overall game, and so you won't just keep up with this player (at least as long as possible), your whole game will go up. This means you'll be playing against better and better competition, which will drive your level up even more. So find that up-and-coming player, make him your rival, and stay with him!!!

August 6, 2018 - Training the Subconscious

Monday, August 6, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Advanced players seem to always know exactly what shot to do and where to put it. It's one of the reasons why they are advanced. But there's no time during a point to really analyze the situation, so it's all done reflexively, i.e. the subconscious is calling the shots. How do you get your subconscious to do this? The answer is that your subconscious is always there, listening and watching, and if you let it know what you want it to do, it'll learn to do it.

For example, suppose you realize that an opponent is weak when you attack his middle (his playing elbow). Between points you can tell yourself to go after his middle every chance you can. You don't need to say, "Hey, subconscious, attack the middle!" If you keep telling yourself to do something, it'll get the message.

When it doesn't work - for example, an opponent attacks from the middle with his forehand - note when and why it doesn't work. Again, your subconscious will pick up on this, and if you decide you should attack the corners if your opponent is looking to play a forehand from the middle, the subconscious will get it - and it will start making reflexive decisions on whether to go after the middle or an open corner. The more you do it, the better you get at this and any other tactics you think about. The goal is to train your subconscious to reflexively play smart tactics in any given situation.

I've met literally hundreds of very smart people who were good tactical analysts away from the table, but tactical disasters at the table because they never went through that stage of thinking about tactics at the table so as to train the subconscious.

The converse to all this, of course - though it's not that obvious to many - is that if you keep telling yourself negative things between points, like "I can't make that shot!" or "I'm no good!" or "I'm choking!", the subconscious will pick up on that as well and reinforce and thereby magnify it,  which is why players who do negative self-talk have great difficulty improving, while those who are positive shoot up as fast as their subconscious can drive them.

July 16, 2018 - Follow Through Back Into Position After Forehand Looping

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Not all loops are the same, and not all follow-throughs are the same either.

Imagine making a powerful forehand from your backhand side. Often the momentum of your shot will pull you even farther off to the side, leaving you helpless if the opponent returns your shot to your wide forehand. Instead, you should learn to be in position so that, as much as possible, you would follow-through back toward the table, not away, thereby putting yourself back into position for the next shot. You would also push off your left foot (for a right-hander) to get back onto position quickly.

Now imagine making that same powerful forehand from the wide forehand side. (I'm about to use almost the exact same wording as the above, with a few strategic changes.) Often the momentum of your shot will pull you even farther off to the side, leaving you helpless if the opponent returns your shot to your wide backhand. Instead, you should learn to be in position so that, as much as possible, you would follow-through back toward the table, not away, thereby putting yourself back into position for the next shot. You would also push off your right foot (for a right-hander) to get back onto position quickly.

Notice how you want to change your follow-through, depending on the location of your own shot? Far too many players, after attacking from a wide corner, stay there too long, and so cannot recover, when they should in fact make the recovery part of the follow-through. Much of this is about balance; if you are balanced throughout your shot, as you should, then you will have a much faster recovery, and will be able to play multiple powerful shots in a row from any part of the table.

July 9, 2018 - Pinpoint Your Weakness and Then Pinpoint a Drill

Wednesday, July 11, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Far too often player do general drills, the type that are great for developing a foundation to their game, but not so great at fixing up specific problems in their own games. To use a completely nonsensical example, suppose you were horrible at spelling words that start with "Q." Would you practice for this by working on all of your spelling, or by practicing your spelling of "Q" words?

Here's a table tennis example. Suppose you have trouble with slow, spinny loops. Perhaps you consistently block them off the end, or too high, or counterloop or smash them erratically. Suppose these slow, spinny loops are mostly against backspin balls. Would you then go out and practice your blocking against someone who loops over and over while you block? No, you'd need to practice against slow, spinny loops against backspin. These are two very different types of blocks.

Instead, design a specific drill to turn the weakness into a strength. If you have trouble with slow, spinny loops, perhaps have your coach or practice partner serve backspin, you push, he loops slow and spinny, and you get to practice against the shot that specifically gives you trouble. Better still, get a box of balls, and have him serve and loop, but don't play out the point - you practice against his slow, spinny loop as he's reaching for the next ball to serve and loop with. You get almost rapid-fire practice against exactly what you need work against, slow, spinny loops, and your partner gets lots of practice slow looping against backspin.

You can apply this type of thing to any part of your game, where you aim to get lots and lots of practice against whatever it is that specifically gives you trouble. Go to it!