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.)

October 21, 2019 - How to Stop the Short Receive

Monday, October 21, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

One of the most effective ways to return a short serve is to push it back short and low, making it hard for the server to attack. This is very common at the higher levels, but even at lower levels there are players who do this. How can a server overcome this? Here are six ways.

  1. Serve long. This makes the serve easier to attack (mostly by looping), but not all players can attack deeps serves effectively, especially if the long serves are mixed in occasionally. Just the threat of a long serve keeps the receiver from stepping in too soon against short serves, which makes their short receive more erratic.
  2. Aggressive half-long serves. A half-long serve is a serve that, given the chance, the second bounce would bounce near the end of the table. This is the deepest serve you can do and still keep it short. This makes it very difficult for the receiver to loop, and as difficult as possible to push short. This is the most common serve at the higher levels. Ideally, serve it aggressively, so it comes at the receiver somewhat fast and low, yet still bounces twice.
  3. Backspin/No-Spin. A short, low backspin serve is difficult to attack but is the easiest serve to push short. But if you mix in no-spin serves, the receiver will often misread it and push the serve back high. The key to a no-spin serve is to serve just like a backspin, but instead of grazing the ball near the racket tip, contact it near the handle, where the racket is moving slowly. Even if you graze it there, it'll have little spin, but it'll look like regular backspin. This is often the most common serving tactic at the higher levels.
  4. Short Side-Top. With practice, you can learn to serve short sidespin/topspin serves that land short (usually half-long). But because it goes short, many receivers will read them as backspin and try to push them, and so they pop up. Even if they read the serve and chop down to keep it from popping up, the ball will usually come out deep.
  5. Make them Receive Forehand. Many players have far more touch with their backhand push than their forehand push. So try serving short to the forehand. If they reach over and push with their backhand, try serving from the middle or forehand side of the table, so you have an angle into their short forehand. If they still reach over and receive backhand, develop a deep serve to the backhand that you can do with the same motion, so the receiver has to watch for that, forcing them to receive forehand against short serves to the forehand.
  6. Develop a Really Good Flip. If the receiver is going to push your serves back short, then learn to reach in and attack it! Punish them if the short push goes the least bit high - and many do - and use quickness and placement when attacking the others.

October 14, 2019 - React to Opponent's Forward Swing

Monday, October 14, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

When you watch a top player, they seem to have almost supernatural reflexes. The other guy will crush the ball, and whether he gets it back or not, he always seems to react instantly. How does he do this?

The secret is he's not reacting to the incoming ball; he's reacting to the opponent's forward swing. If you wait until the opponent hits the ball before you react, you will have human reflexes. If you instead constantly watch opponents and try to react to where they are going from their forward swing, you will develop supernatural reflexes - or seem to.

You don't have to do this with every shot, only when the opponent is attacking strongly, or when you are trying to cover most of the table with your stronger side (such as the forehand). In both of these cases it's important to react and move quickly, before the opponent actually hits the ball.

Some opponents do last-second changes of direction, so you have to learn at what point the opponent is committed to a shot and direction. Usually if an opponent tries to be deceptive about this he has to slow down his shots, so you don't have to react as quickly anyway, and so can wait longer. But at some point in every player's forward swing he has to commit to a direction, and so it is your job to figure out when that is, and learn to reflexively react to that.

October 7, 2019 - Top Ten Reasons You Might Not Be as Good at Table Tennis as You Could Be

Monday, October 7, 2019
by: Larry Hodges
  1. You have faced really good serves and yet have made no serious attempt to learn them yourself.
  2. You don't think you have enough talent, when long-term training almost always overcomes any such lack of talent.
  3. You've mistaken your bad playing habits for playing style.
  4. You've developed playing habits that allow you to win now against players around your level, but don't work well against stronger players, and you simply can't bring yourself to change the way you play and risk losing against your peers.
  5. You mostly play games instead of doing drills that focus on specific aspects of the game that you need to work on.
  6. You are too nervous in tournament or league matches because you've never studied Sports Psychology.
  7. You are strongly opinionated about how the game is played and so don't learn from coaches and top players.
  8. You have the physical fitness of a couch potato.
  9. You don't practice as much as you should - which not only would make you better, but would improve your physical fitness.
  10. You have nice strokes but don't really know how to use them. See Learning to Win, or perhaps a book on Tactics - like Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!

September 30, 2019 - Confidence, Then Consistency!

Monday, September 30, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Many players practice hard to develop consistency, and from this consistency they develop confidence. This is backwards! Be confident first, and then, with practice, consistency will come. Believe you can do it, and you will. (Or, for you realists, you will at least do as well as you physically can.)

What causes a person to miss "easy" shots? Usually it's because of a very small, almost insignificant loss of confidence, which leads you to slightly guide the shot, rather than just let your trained subconscious control the shot.

When you go for a shot, your brain sends nerve impulses (electric impulses) to the muscle cells, ordering them to contract in certain ways. The order, intensity, and duration of the impulses control the manner in which the muscle fibers contract. There is no way you can control this complicated set of directions consciously. Only by training can the brain's subconscious areas learn the exact set of nerve impulses to be sent in a given situation. Any conscious control throws the whole set of impulses into disarray, leading to mistakes.

Instead, remember making the shot in the past and what it felt like. At first, you should copy what a top player does. But once you've made the shot once, there is no reason why you shouldn't make it every time! YOU CAN! (And if you believe that, then you are well on your way toward improving the shot.) If you do miss one, don't worry about that miss - immediately think about a time when you made that shot, then perhaps shadow-practice it, and then, more than likely, you'll make it next time.

Confidence allows you to let go consciously and let your subconscious brain do what it's been taught (or is being taught) to do. Good players think between points, but never during a point. Just blank out your mind during a rally and watch what happens. Let your subconscious do the work while you get the credit!

So believe in your shots, even if there is no logical reason to. Have confidence in your shots. KNOW that your shot CANNOT MISS - and it probably won't.

September 23, 2019 - Proper Use of the Back Shoulder

Sunday, September 22, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

A common problem for players who smash a lot is to have trouble lifting the ball against heavy backspin when looping. A common problem for players who loop a lot is to follow their opening loop against backspin by loop-killing or smashing a blocked return off the end. The two problems are related, and have to do with the back shoulder – the right shoulder for a right-hander.

Players who smash a lot often do not drop their back shoulder when looping against backspin (or don't drop it enough). This costs them lifting power when looping, and leads to an erratic loop against heavy backspin. (Often they over-compensate, dropping their arm too much, and so loop too softly or off the end.) Players who loop a lot, after looping against backspin, will often automatically drop their back shoulder for the next shot as well. This causes them to lift slightly when loop-killing or smashing against a blocked return, and so the put-away goes off the end.  

So remember this rule: when looping against backspin, drop that shoulder; when loop-killing or smashing the blocked return, keep that shoulder up!