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 6, 2017 - Footwork and Strokes: Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Yes, I'm talking to you, the aging table tennis player reading this article, or the younger but lazier one. You both have the ability to move when you play, but you don't do it enough. Sure, you gradually slow down as you age, and so many older players become more backhand-oriented rather than attacking with their forehand, which takes more footwork. Sure, younger players may find that if they use less footwork and simply stand at the table, they won't get caught out of position. Both of these are defensible positions. But guess what? The loss of footwork begins with a single non-use of your footwork. The more you don't use footwork, the faster you lose it, which gives you more reason not to use it, which accelerates the loss of footwork, which . . . you get the idea.

It's not just footwork. When I was younger, I liked to counterloop off the bounce, or back up way off the table to counterloop. (Strangely, I was better at the two extremes.) Now that I'm older (read: stiffer and slower), these shots are harder to pull off. So it'd be best to stop using them, right? Then they'd become even harder to do from lack of use, making it even more important that I stop using them, accelerating the loss of these shots, which . . . you get the idea.

Let me rephrase what I said above: The loss of any part of your game begins with a single non-use of it. Because you can't stop using it without a first non-use. So keep using it, even if it leads to a few short-term losses.

February 27, 2017 - Forehand Follow-Through Back into Position

Monday, February 27, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

A common mistake when playing a shot from a wide corner is to finish the stroke in a relatively stationary position at that wide corner. This is especially true of forehands from the wide forehand, where players often don't return to a neutral position quickly enough for the next shot, and often have to lunge for the next shot if it's to their wide backhand.

The problem is they are not following through back into position. When you move wide to your forehand, moving back into position for the next shot needs to be part of the follow-through - in fact, the very momentum from the shot should be used to do so. Most often when going to the wide forehand you step wide with the right leg (for a righty). After contact, you should be pushing yourself back into position with that right leg, as well as using the momentum from your swing to do so. This gets you back very quickly, and allows you to come to a stop, in position, so you are ready for the next shot. (If you do a crossover to move extra wide, you can still use the momentum of the swing to get you moving back into position.) 

February 20, 2017 - Hitting Accurate Shots

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Players are often amazed at how accurate a top player can place his shots. This is an important skill to develop since the large majority of the time there are only three places you want to place your shots - wide forehand, wide backhand, and the opponent's middle (midway between forehand and backhand - see Attacking the Middle, where this is explained). When your shot goes elsewhere (i.e. toward the middle of the forehand or backhand sides) you give your opponent a much easier shot, where he doesn't even have to move much. And yet most players let their shots drift out of these three spots, and lose many matches as a result. So how can you learn to hit these shots accurately?

Obviously you can go out to the table and just practice relentlessly, aiming for these three shots. But there's a shortcut that'll help before you do all this relentless practice. Go to the backhand side of your table, stick your racket out as if you were doing a backhand block, and aim it crosscourt, wide to the opponent's backhand (if you are both righties). Make sure your racket is aimed right at the wide corner, or even slightly outside the corner. Keep holding the racket out there until you have literally memorized the feel of holding the racket in this position, so that in a game situation, you'll go into this position and hit the shot right to that spot.

Now repeat, except now aim it down the line. Again, memorize the feel of holding the racket in that position. Then repeat one more time, this time aiming at where the opponent's middle would be. (Alas, you actually have to do this twice, for a righty and lefty opponent, since the righty's middle will be a bit to the right of the midline, the lefty to the left.)

Once you've memorized the feel of the racket aiming where you want it to go, imagine the ball going to your left, and step there with your left foot, and imagine keeping the racket angle so that it still aims where you want it to go. Now imagine a ball going to your right, and step there with your right foot, and again imagine keeping the racket angle so that it still aims where you want it to go. Moving is no excuse for losing ball control - the ball will still go wherever you aim your racket.

Now repeat all of the above with your forehand!

Here are some complications to be aware of.

  • When blocking, you can keep the racket aimed exactly where you want it to go the entire shot, so aiming should be easy. (Advanced players learn to change the direction of the racket at the last second to throw opponent's off, and you should as well, but in the end you are still aiming the ball where you want it to go, and if you memorize the feel of the racket aiming in each direction, you can do this very quickly.) With longer strokes, the racket may not aim where you want it to go during the backswing, but it should do so well before contact. Learn to time this so that the racket aims where you want the ball to go far enough before contact that you can get the feel of aiming the racket to the three spots. (Four if you count the middle twice, one for righties and one for lefties.)
  • A ball with sidespin will bounce at least slightly sideways off your racket, and a ball coming at you from an angle will also bounce off your racket slightly sideways. However, if you stroke the ball sharply enough, this sideways movement is minimized to the point where you barely have to adjust for it.
  • Unlike playing to the wide forehand and backhand, the opponent's middle is a moving target. His middle is based on where he is standing. As the opponent moves in a rally, his middle will move. Also, some players have both a neutral stance (so middle is about midway between forehand and backhand) and a forehand- or backhand-favoring stance (and so the middle moves more to "weaker" side). The more you play an opponent's middle the more it becomes natural to find this moving target.
  • You won't always be hitting from the same spot. If you hit a backhand from the wide backhand, and another from the middle, you have to adjust where you aim the racket so that it still goes to the three spots. This quickly become second nature.

Once you get into the habit of aiming the racket by learning the feel of it, you'll be able to accurately hit shots to the corners and middle at will, against any incoming shot, and from all parts of the table. This will put tremendous pressure on opponents since you won't be giving them many easy shots - and this relentless ball placement will pay off in many wins!

February 13, 2017 - When Caught Off Guard, Roll or Chop, and Keep the Ball Deep

Monday, February 13, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

It's inevitable that you'll be faced with unexpected shots that catch you off guard. You might be caught out of position and have to stretch for a shot. Or get fooled by the opponent and so react incorrectly, and so have to adjust. Or simply react to a net ball. What should you do?

Beginners and most intermediate players simply get the ball back. But if you want to increase your chances of winning the point, do something with your return.

  1. Keep the ball deep so opponent can't cream the ball at wide angles. This is the most important.
  2. Put a little (or a lot) of topspin or backspin on the ball. Why make things easy for him?
  3. Place the ball to a corner to force the opponent to move. If the player has a big forehand but is a bit slow, perhaps go to the backhand. Or if the player likes to play forehands from the backhand, perhaps go to the forehand to catch him going the wrong way.
  4. Place the ball to the middle to cut off extreme angles.
  5. Aim one way, and change directions at the last second to catch opponent off guard. This is the most difficult to develop as a habit, but also the best way to turn the tables on the opponent and completely mess him up. 

December 31, 2016 - Top Ten Ways to Win and Lose a Match

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Come into the match physically and mentally prepared
  2. Have a solid game plan, or quickly develop one
  3. Dominate with serves
  4. Control play with receive
  5. Get your strengths into play
  6. Dominate with quickness or power
  7. Consistency
  8. Placement and depth
  9. Variation
  10. Mental grit

Top Ten Ways to Lose a Match

  1. See above. Add "Do not" or "Poor" at the start of each.