Tip of the Week

A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

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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.)

October 30, 2017 - How to Play the Bomber: The Player Who Tries to Blast Every Shot

Monday, October 30, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

Have you ever had one of those matches where your opponent clobbered every ball past you, either looping or smashing? Where you spent more time chasing balls than actually hitting? Where you got a bad back just from bending over to pick them up? If you won the match, you probably didn't mind; there's nothing you can do about an opponent who clobbers (and misses) every shot.

Unfortunately, every now and then you meet a player who clobbers ball after ball, and they keep hitting the table! This type of player also goes by the name 'National Champion' or 'U.S. Team Member' or even 'World Champion'. There's not much you can do when you play them. But what if he rips nearly every ball, and when the game is over, he's just barely won by making 51% of his shots? Some players will say, "There's nothing I could do; he just got hot." This response is usually from a player who will lose to this same player over and over because "he just got hot."

Believe it or not, you can beat players like that, even if they get "hot." Here are four tactical ways of beating these players, who I will call from here on "The Bomber." (Note that the first two are generally the best ways.) You can:

I. Keep them from attacking
II. Make them miss their attacking shots
III. Return their shots
Match them, shot for shot

You will have to decide which methods will work best for you, based on what you do best. After all, if you are better at what you do than your opponent is at what he does (blasting the ball), then you should win.

I. Keep them from attacking
There are two ways to keep a player from attacking. The first is to keep the ball short and low. Serve short, push short, and most players won't know what to do. Loopers can't loop short balls, and if you keep the ball low, hitters can't smash. Usually they will push the ball back, go for a wild shot or use a weak attacking shot. Of course, if they do push the ball, you have the option of either attacking or pushing yourself. If you can push, you're right back where you started from. So, whenever you are given the chance, attack!

Which leads us to the second way to keep a player from attacking: attack first! You don't have to blast the ball – just a well-placed attack of any sort will make them do what they most want to avoid: defending. Loop or drive against deep pushes. Flip against short serves and pushes, and our Bomber opponent will get twisted up in knots. 'The "Bomber hates it when his opponent attacks.

Of course, if they are like most all-out attackers, they'll probably go for a wild and crazy shot when you attack. An easy point for you. (Usually!)

II. Make them miss their attacking shots
The second way to beat The Bomber is to make him miss his shots. One way to do this is to attack first, as mentioned above, and force him to go for a difficult shot.

Basically, to make a player miss a shot, you mix up the spins, speeds and placements. Keep the opponent off balance. If he hits in a winner on one shot, make the next shot different. Above all else, do not let The Bomber get into a rhythm! Throw everything at them: slow topspins mixed in with faster ones; angled off shots or hard drives to the middle; heavy backspin pushes with a no spin push suddenly thrown in; medium speed drives and then a faster, quicker one as a surprise; all are effective ways to force The Bomber into a mistake. Use your imagination in finding patterns that force The Bomber to short circuit.

III. Return their shots
The third way to beat The Bomber is to return his shots. Some may stare at these words in amazement: How can you return what you can't see?

The solution is preparation and anticipation. This doesn't mean guessing where the opponent is going to hit the ball and waiting there. Even a dumb Bomber will then hit to another spot. It means watching your opponent, trying to tell where he is going on the next shot, and then the instant he is committed to the shot, moving to it.

The key is moving neither too soon nor too late. Study players and learn when they are committed to a specific shot. That is when to move. Any earlier and the opponent will change directions. Any later and you won't have the maximum time to react to the shot.

You may also be able to tell where a player is going with his shot even before he is committed. If a player has hit his put-away shot cross-court the last seventy three times, guess where the seventy-fourth is going to go? Don't move too soon and alert him to your intentions; just be ready to pounce on the ball when it goes where you expect it to go. Don't anticipate in advance except against a put-away shot, where you couldn't possibly react to it otherwise, and even then, don't move until the last possible instant. (Of course, top players can often react even to "put-away" shots, and so should anticipate even less.)

If all else fails, and you still cannot react to the opponent's shot, try moving away from the table. It is best to stay near the table when possible but it is better to back up than give up the point. Lob, chop, make diving returns – whatever it takes to keep the ball in play. You'll be surprised how many easy shots The Bomber will miss. He's not used to having his shots returned, and one or two miraculous returns (but not so miraculous due to anticipation) will usually win the point.

IV. Match them, shot for shot – but Smarter
The final way to beat The Bomber is to match him shot for shot. This is not recommended for the fainthearted. This means that you yourself are a Bomber merely looking for a better way to bomb. Well, there is nothing wrong with being a Bomber. It's like being a football player. The stereotype is that of being a dumb jock, but this isn't true, at least in your case. (Or you wouldn't be able to read this!) And there are few things scarier than a Smart Bomber.

Basically, a Smart Bomber knows that the winner between two Bombers is the one who bombs the most and the best. So he will be looking for as many shots to put away as possible, while not giving any to his opponent. This gets us back to the part covered earlier on attacking first. It really all comes down to serve and receive.

The Smart Bomber serves mostly short and either pushes serves back short or places his flips and long push receives. The Dumb Bomber often does serve short but rarely returns serves short and so is constantly handicapped. The result is the Smart Bomber attacks first and, when the match is over, he is victorious. Of course, he still can't win, since all the spectators saw was a bunch of wild attackers, being Dumb Spectators. And so the Smart Bomber wins the tournament but contributes to the stereotypes of the Dumb Bomber. Oh well.

October 23, 2017 - Top Sixteen Reasons Players Don’t Improve

Monday, October 23, 2017
by: Larry Hodges

I really tried narrowing this down, but this could just as easily have been a Top 50 list. As with past lists, these are not necessarily in order of importance.

  1. Bad technique.
  2. Deep down they don’t believe they can play at a higher level and so continue to only play shots at their current level.
  3. They keep practicing the same things rather than work on what’s keeping them from improving.
  4. They don’t use Saturation Training to fix weaknesses.
  5. They don’t know The Book on Your Game.
  6. They don’t develop good third-ball attack serves to improve their attack.
  7. They don’t make it a habit to serve and attack.
  8. They don’t work with a coach and practice partner regularly.
  9. They focus on power instead of consistency and placement.
  10. They don’t develop their game tactically (what to do in a given match) and strategically (developing your game for the future).
  11. They don’t develop an overpowering strength that opponents will fear.
  12. They don’t make moving their feet a habit.
  13. They don’t analyze their wins and losses to see what works and what doesn’t.
  14. They don’t follow the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players.
  15. They aren’t perfectionists.
  16. They don’t know How to Move Up a Level

October 16, 2017 - Top Twelve Tactical Rallying Mistakes

Wednesday, October 18, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Playing too much into the backhand.
  2. Not attacking the middle (roughly the playing elbow, midway between forehand and backhand), and using this to set up a follow-up attack to the corners or middle again.
  3. Not attacking all three spots – wide corners and middle.
  4. Attacking to a corner when you have an angle to attack outside the corner.
  5. Looking for a chance to counter-attack to an opponent’s forehand rather than just making the first attack there.
  6. Not changing the pace.
  7. Not sometimes aiming one way, and at the last second going another.
  8. Not keeping the ball deep (unless going for a change-of-pace or drop shot).
  9. Trying to end the point too quickly.
  10. Not ending the point when the shot is there.
  11. Not finishing a shot by following through into position for the next shot.
  12. Attacking an opponent’s weak side first rather than first attacking their stronger side so that you can follow by attacking their weaker side while also having to move. 

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October 9, 2017 – Top Ten Tactical Receiving Mistakes

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Too predictable. Vary your receive! Most of the below are variations on this.
  2. Giving the server what he wants.
  3. Too aggressive. If you attack every serve it becomes predictable.
  4. Too passive. If you never attack the serve, then the server knows he can serve and attack every time. (If he’s smart, he’ll vary his attack.)
  5. Passive against deep serves. You can’t really rush or angle the server against a deep serve, so you need to be aggressive.
  6. No variation to pushes. Need to vary them to throw off the server.
  7. No short push variation. Opponent knows your return will go long and so can hang back.
  8. Long pushes aren’t quick, low, heavy, deep, and at wide angles.
  9. No last-second changes of direction. So server can see where you are returning the ball very early.
  10. Unable to backhand banana flip against short serves, the biggest development in technique in recent times – get with the program!!! (Here’s my Tip of the Week, Backhand Banana Flip, with link to a tutorial.)

October 2, 2017 - Top Ten Tactical Serving Mistakes

Monday, October 2, 2017
by: Larry Hodges
  1. Not enough variation.
  2. Serving to the backhand over and Over and OVER.
  3. Always serving from the same spot, usually from the backhand corner.
  4. Not serving with a purpose.
  5. Always serving with heavy spin, without using no-spin as a variation (where you fake heavy spin – “heavy no-spin”).
  6. Telegraphing your serves by how you set up or start your motion.
  7. Too often serving long to loopers or short to quick players.
  8. Not trying out all your main serves early on to find out what works.
  9. Saving your trickiest serves for when it’s close, instead of using them early so it doesn’t get close, and then using them again as needed.
  10. Not understanding the basic concept that you should essentially ALWAYS serve and attack UNLESS the receiver does something to stop you from doing so.