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.)

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!

June 11, 2018 - How to Make Your Strengths Stronger with Serve and Receive

Monday, June 11, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

Excluding serve and receive, what's the strongest part of your game, or the part that you want to make the strongest part of your game? There's an old adage, to state the obvious, that practice makes perfect. But doing something in practice is not the same as doing it in a match. That's why so often you probably can do certain shots over and over in practice, but in matches the shot is not always there.

For example, let's assume that the strongest part of your game is your forehand loop. (We could do a similar example for any shot, such as hitting, quick-blocking, aggressive backhands, and so on.) Let's do a thought experiment and imagine there are two clones of you. One of them, when serving, throws a lot of deep, tricky serves at his opponent, and looks for a relatively easy ball to loop or smash, and if he gets it, he attacks; otherwise, he does not. The other also throws out some tricky serves, but more often serves less tricky but varied short serves, which are more likely to set up a passive return he can loop - and he follows his serve up with a loop every time, unless the receiver does something to stop it. The first player, by using tricky deep serves more often (which force more outright mistakes but are easier to attack) and picking his shots better, may win more often - at first.

But now we extend this into the future. Suppose the first player serve and attacks half the time, while the other serve and loops 3/4 of the time. After a time, the second player has had dramatically more practice at serve and looping in a game situation, and no longer needs a relatively easy ball to loop to get his best shot into play. He also has developed the habit of dominating on his serve, even if the receiver made a decent return. He not only dominates with his short serves, but makes his occasional long, tricky serves more effective since the receiver isn't as used to them since he doesn't use them as often. The first player is tactically smart, but the second player is strategically smart.

You need both - tactical smarts to maximize your chances of winning a match, and strategic thinking for maximizing your improvement. You have to find a balance. But if you want to really develop your game, more often think strategically and use your serve and receive to develop your strengths so you can learn to dominate with them.

June 4, 2018 - Footwork at Different Physical Levels

Tuesday, June 5, 2018
by: Larry Hodges

You've all seen how fast the top players move, or can if you visit Youtube and do a search for "Table Tennis top players." And perhaps you are young enough or in such great shape that you too can learn to move like that. If so, work with a coach if possible, and someday maybe we'll be watching you on Youtube!

But for most players, that type of footwork isn't really possible, and in fact that style of footwork won't work. Watch the top players move, and you often can't even tell which foot moved first, their left or right - even in slow motion it's tricky to tell, since they often move both feet together. Their footwork relies on great athleticism.

If you can't move like that, but still want to develop decent footwork, even if you are way overweight or 80 years old, there are three keys.

  1. Always bounce slightly between shots. This will prepare your legs for moving on the next shot. There are many older and out-of-shape players who don't move fast, but they move well, meaning they move to every shot - and this is one of the keys that allows this. They are often called "light on their feet" - and this is why.
  2. Assume you will move. Don't wait to see if you have to move - expect to, and only wait to see what direction you will be moving. Make it a habit that if you have to move one inch, you step one inch. Then you'll habitually step to every ball.
  3. Start with a very short step with the near foot. If you have to move to the right, start with the right foot. If you have to move to your left, start with your left foot. This is how footwork was taught for years, and is probably still the proper way for most players.