One of the so-called axioms of table tennis is this: Against balls to your middle, if you are close to the table or rushed, favor your backhand; if you are not close to the table or have time, favor the forehand. It’s a useful guideline for most players. (Note – a ball to the middle is a ball hit at the transition point between your forehand and backhand, usually the playing elbow.) However, if you have a strong forehand, you might want to cover the middle with it, even when rushed or close to the table. How do you do this? You have two options.
Category: Larry Hodges
One of the axioms of coaching is that you can’t fix technique in the middle of a match. Whether coaching someone in a match, or trying to make adjustments yourself in a match, technique is something that needs to be honed in practice so it becomes automatic (i.e. subconscious) in an actual game. The reason for this is that the game is mostly played subconsciously. You don’t consciously do technique very well in a game situation, or even choose the proper racket angle – your subconscious does all this after you’ve honed it in practice. There are just too many things to remember to do for one to do so consciously; the minute you take conscious control all that training is out the window. To fix something in mid-match means to consciously take control, and that rarely goes well.
Everyone has a weakness in their game or a shot they’d like to perfect. How do players go about addressing these problems? Usually in haphazard fashion. They’ll either try to work on it in actual matches, or they’ll work on it some in practice, along with everything else. The result is usually a little improvement, which often convinces them they are on the right track. And so they progress very slowly. But it can be done much quicker with a little “saturation training.”
“Real Tactics” are the tactics that a player should use in a given match to maximize his chances of winning. “Parroting Tactics” are the tactics that many players use because it’s what everyone seems to be doing, and so they figure (consciously or subconsciously) it’s what they should be doing as well. When two players of equal ability play, and one uses “Real Tactics” and the other uses “Parroting Tactics,” guess who usually wins?
Many players understand the need to serve short (in addition to long serves), since short serves stop the opponent from looping. More advanced players learn the control to serve “half-long,” so the second bounce, given the chance, would be right about the end-line. However, many players who serve short do not think about the placement. There are five: short to the extreme forehand, middle forehand, middle, middle backhand, and extreme backhand. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each. (Some of these are written as if both players were righties. It would be a long article if I covered all possibilities.)
Want to learn a really spinny pendulum serve? Not just a get-the-ball-in-play one that anyone can return, but one with great spin? One with so much spin that the backspin serves will come back into the net and sidespin ones will break sideways as if yanked by a string? Here’s how. (The instructions assume you are right-handed; lefties adjust – sorry.)
How high should you toss the ball when you serve? At all levels there’s a huge range, from tosses that challenge the six-inch rule to ones that go up to the rafters. And yet most top players toss the ball up to perhaps head-high. What are the advantages of these different tosses, and how high should you toss?
Where should you contact the ball when serving? This is one of those subtle things that many players spend their entire playing lives or careers never realizing they are giving their opponents an advantage. Where you contact the ball makes a significant difference on how your serve goes out and how it is returns. Here are three things to consider when serving.
One of the biggest differences between players at any level and players a little below them are their blocking skills. When watching two attackers of about the same level play, often the quickest way to judge who is the stronger player is by whoever handles the other’s attack better, i.e. who blocks better. Or watch the best players in the world, especially the Chinese, and when they aren’t counterlooping, watch how proficient and consistent they are blocking. Spectators often see the flashy attack shots, but often the biggest difference between these top players and those a level weaker are their blocking games. Here are twelve tips on improving your blocking game. (These are primarily for inverted and short pips players.)
One of the biggest changes in our sport at the higher levels since I started playing in the late 1970s is the development of what I call the “topspinny backhand.” (I should trademark that term.) When I started, most players had relatively flat backhands, with only a little topspin. The idea was to hit or block aggressively. A few players backed up and backhand looped, but few players played close to the table and tried to topspin heavily with their backhands. Part of this was the equipment – modern sponges are much bouncier and better for this.
Far too often players make two mistakes when pushing. First, they push to the backhand over and Over and OVER. Second, early in their stroke they aim their racket where they are pushing, usually to the backhand, in an apparent attempt to make it absolutely clear that once again that is where they are pushing. This is a great collaboration with your opponent, but not a good way to win.
There are two ways to adjust to “weird” serves and shots. One is to practice against every single one of them, until you are comfortable against every single one of them. Since there are a huge number of ways to serve or hit a ball, and anything that’s not “orthodox” can be considered “weird,” this would mean basically turning your practice sessions into just practice against these weird shots, as opposed to developing a foundation to your game. This would be a mistake.
If you expect to win a match, you’ll do better than if you don’t expect to win. It’s as simple as that. You may go into the match knowing it’ll be the fight of your life, but if you expect to win it, you’ll have a much better chance of doing so. Even against a player who is so much stronger that you objectively have little chance, you’ll do better if you expect to win, and will have the proper mindset to figure out what you need to work on so you can do even better next time.
When I coach someone, the very first thing I look at are their grip and feet positioning. If either of these are done improperly, everything in between will likely be twisted like a rubber band into an awkward stroke that players and coaches will often try to fix by treating the symptoms rather than the root of the problem. Get them right, and everything in between tends to straighten out. New players should focus on this to develop their strokes properly; more experienced players should focus on this to correct fix improper strokes they may have developed.
A great way to improve the sharpness and steadiness of your shots is to shadow practice them. This means practicing your shots without the ball. One of the best things that ever happened to me when I was a beginner was when I was told to shadow practice my forehand and backhand drives and loops, and side-to-side footwork, one hundred times a day. This was a primary reason why I went from beginner at age 16 to 1900+ in about two years.
One of the biggest problems beginning/intermediate players have is standing up too straight. Watch the top players and you’ll see how they stay low – feet relatively wide and pointing slightly outward, weight toward the front inside balls of their feet, knees bent, and leaning slightly forward from the waist. This allows much stronger play than standing up straight – you’ll move quicker, have better balance, recovery more quickly after shots, and your shots will be more natural and more powerful. And you’ll even feel more like an athlete because you’ll be playing like one!
There are five steps, roughly in this order. Serving takes practice, often alone with a box of balls as you serve, over and over. Take your time; don’t rapid-fire serve. Visualize what you want to do with each serve as you practice, and then try to match what you visualize. You might want to get a coach to help at the start, or watch what top players do, and perhaps get their help. Learn to follow your serve with an attack – often it’s the threat of the follow-up shot that makes the serve effective as opponents try to be too perfect with their returns. (Have a question about spin? Here’s my article Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spin – But Were Afraid to Ask!)
You know the problem: you’re playing well, you’re battling with stronger players, and every game is close – but you can’t quite win. Far too often you lose those close ones and have nothing to show for your great play but another “what if…” – and hopefully, just maybe, a little more experience so you’ll do better next time. So how does one close out a match?
Table Tennis is an Olympic Sport, and at the highest levels, is played by some of the best athletes on the planet. Even at levels below world class it is dominated by great physical athletes who can race about the court ripping shot after shot. But we’re not all great physical athletes, and we’re not about to give up against an opponent just because he can race around the court ripping shot after shot, and we can’t, are we? So how can one compete with an opponent who is faster, stronger, and more athletic? Or against a kid who might not be bigger and stronger, but who can seemingly rally at ten times your pace?
How often have you played somebody with, for lack of a better word, weird shots? Perhaps they hit shots with a floppy wrist (so you could never tell where the shot was going), or with sidespin on shots that normally don’t have sidespin, or perhaps they just used a non-inverted surface that you weren’t used to seeing. There are infinite possibilities. The problem was that you found these “weird” shots difficult to play against with your more fundamental game. Why does one with sounder fundamentals have problems with weirder games, and how can you overcome that?