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Tip of the week: Weaknesses Can Be Strengths

Tip of the week: Weaknesses Can Be Strengths

(By Larry Hodges)
Tip of the week: Weaknesses Can Be Strengths

If you have a weakness, you try to avoid using it, correct? That’s the normal thinking. However, sometimes a “weakness” can be a strength, plus (perhaps more importantly), if you use a weakness over and over, it might become a strength, or at least stop being a weakness.

Here are two examples of a “weakness” being a strength. David Zhuang was six-times U.S. Men’s Singles Champion. He was a pips-out penholder with a blocking backhand and hitting forehand. What was his “weakness”? Surprisingly, it was his forehand. He had a 2800 blocking game, especially on the backhand, and this raised his level so high that his forehand actually became his weakness. And so, relative to his game – which was 2700+ for years, because of his 2800 blocking – his forehand was relatively “weak.” And yet few players came out on top by letting David hit forehands!

I’ll use myself as an example. For my level, my forehand loop was below average. Did that make it a weakness? No, because during my peak years I relied on serve, receive, and footwork to constantly get it into play at the start of rallies. It might not have been an overpowering loop like some players, who’d dominate every point if they got a chance to loop, but because I was better at getting it into play, it wore down opponents, not to mention taking their own loops out of play.

Some “weaknesses” aren’t really weaknesses, even if they could be improved. I use to coach Tong Tong Gong in tournaments, and he made the USA National Cadet Team twice with me coaching him in the Team Trials. The rap on him was always how weak and simple his serves were. And they were correct in that Tong Tong’s serves were too simple, and needed more variation. He mostly served short backspin and short no-spin, almost always to the middle, with an occasional sudden deep serve. But what many missed was that this “weakness” was also a strength – by keeping his serves simple, Tong Tong likely had more control over his serves than just about anybody, and so could keep his serves so low that they practically skimmed the net, and then bounced low on the table. He followed all the rules on serving low. Players struggled to do anything with them, since their extreme lowness made them hard to flip, and so most players just pushed – and so Tong Tong would get the first attack, often with his nice backhand loop.

But there’s another reason to get your weaknesses into play, whether they are a “strength” or not – the more you use them, the better they get. I started out with a rather poor forehand loop, but by constant use in game after game (especially at the start of rallies) it became better and better until it was no longer really a weakness. If you have a weak backhand, a weak forehand, a weak block, or weak anything, the best cure (along with drill practice) is to make it central to your game, and then you’ll use it over and over, it’ll get better and better, and soon it will become a strength.

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