By Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer and Certified National Coach

Do you do the Six P’s? Proper Practice Progression Prevents Poor Play. (Or, as I sometimes put it, “…Pathetic Play.”) I’ve actually heard this as the Five P’s, but I’ve added “Progression.” Proper practice progression means starting with the basics and working your way up to more advanced technique for all aspects of your game. It also means practicing these shots in context, i.e. game situations. Think of it this way, using the forehand as an example.

  • Step One is develop the forehand, usually with help from a coach or by watching top players, and then by hitting forehand to forehand with someone, or doing multiball with a coach.
  • Step Two is learning to move and hit the forehand, so you do footwork drills, such as 1-1 footwork, where your partner puts the ball alternately to your wide forehand and the middle of the table, and you move side to side hitting all forehands. You can also do this alternating hitting forehands from the middle and backhand side of the table.
  • Step Three is learning to hit random forehands. Now your partner puts the ball randomly all over your forehand (or backhand) court, and you have to hit all forehands.
  • Step Four is learning to play forehands in a game situation. For example, you serve topspin to your partner’s forehand, he strokes it back to your forehand, and you smash or hit the forehand aggressively. Or serve into your partner’s backhand, and play your forehand down the line from your forehand side to his backhand. Or the same thing, but your forehand from your backhand side to your partner’s backhand side.
  • Step Five is learning to do the shot at a higher level. For example, you serve topspin to your partner’s backhand, he returns to your backhand, and you forehand smash. Or, if you can loop backspin, you can do a drill where you serve backspin, your partner pushes, you loop, your partner blocks, and you smash the forehand. (At the more advanced levels, you might loop both the backspin and the block.)

You can do similar practice to develop any stroke as well as footwork. (You should develop strokes and footwork together.) You can also use this principle for developing serves, starting with simple spins, then heavy spins, then heavy and varied spins, then heavy and varied spins with the same motion, then heavy and varied spins from the same motion to all parts of the table, both in direction and depth, and low to the net. When the serve is ready, you practice it with a partner, where you play out the point (or play games), and learn to connect your serve with follow-up attacks. Do enough of this type of practice, and you will Prevent Poor Play.