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This is an evolving website and Table Tennis Community. Your suggestions are welcome.

Want a daily injection of Table Tennis? Come read the Larry Hodges Blog! (Entries go up by 1PM, Mon-Fri; see link on left.) Feel free to comment!

Want to talk Table Tennis? Come join us on the forum. While the focus here is on coaching, the forum is open to any table tennis talk.

Want to Learn? Read the Tip of the Week, study videos, read articles, or find just about any other table tennis coaching site from the menu links. If you know of one, please let us know so we can add it.

Want to Learn more directly? There are two options. See the Video Coaching link for info on having your game analyzed via video. See the Clinics link for info on arranging a clinic in your area, or finding ones that are already scheduled.

If you have any questions, feel free to email, post a note on the forum, or comment on my blog entries.

-Larry Hodges, Director, TableTennisCoaching.com

Member, USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame & USATT Certified National Coach
Professional Coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center

Recent TableTennisCoaching.com blog posts

Why Players Are Getting Better at Younger Ages

Yesterday I blogged about and linked to videos of 11-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto, the new Japanese sensation. And on February 13 I blogged about how much stronger the current USA cadets and juniors are than their predecessors. As noted there and in previous blogs, a primary reason for this (especially in the U.S.) is the rise of full-time training centers, where more and more kids are training full-time. This, of course, leads to more and better junior players (and ultimately better players).

But there's another reason why in recent years we're getting more and more prodigies, where kids compete on an almost even level with much bigger and older players. As I've blogged before, modern tensor-type sponges make looping much easier, practically shooting the ball out, where before players had to put far more energy into a shot to get the same result. So looping becomes both easier and more powerful than before - all the player has to do is supply good technique and timing, and the sponge does the rest, kicking the ball out with speed and spin that wouldn't be possible otherwise. In previous generations (in particularly in the '80s and '90s) this was mostly made up at the intermediate and higher levels by speed glues. But little kids rarely speed-glued back then - if they did, they'd have gotten strange looks. Instead, kids used slower rackets and sponges, and had to supply their own power. Guess what? A little kid can't supply the power needed to compete with bigger and older players, not unless he's using a tensor-type sponge or speed gluing.

Tip of the Week

Shadow Practice When You Miss.

Forehand Topspin Against Backspin, and Proper Forehand Technique

Here's the new video (3:36) from PingSkills. You should study it to learn to loop against backspin. However, it's also a chance for many of you to fix up your forehands in general by fixing your contact point. While this video features looping against backspin, many of the principles apply to all forehands.

Note in the video how he basically rotates his body around an imaginary vertical rod going through the top of his head, and how he contacts the ball almost directly to the side of this? Most players violate one of these principles, either moving the body forward too much as they do the shot, or (even more common) contacting the ball too far in front.

There are times when you should move the body forward on a shot, such as against an easy high ball or when you are rushed in stepping around the backhand corner, but normally you should go more in a circle. This both gives you great centripetal force as you rotate around, but also leaves you in position for the next shot, balanced and ready, which is how top players can play power shots over and over in quick succession.

But as noted above, the more common problem is that players tend to contact the ball too far in front. This either keeps them from rotating backwards fully (and so losing power), or forces them to reach for the ball (thereby dissipating power and putting you off balance).

Also note how the legs (and especially the knees) are used to rotate into the shot. The legs aren't just for standing; they are the primary start to every shot, and give you the pivot into your shots. (An expanded version of this will likely become a Tip of the Week.)

Ping Pong for Fighters

Ping Pong for Fighters by Tahl Leibovitz, a Paralympics gold medalist, is a relatively short read, which is both good and bad, i.e. reading it isn't a huge commitment, so don't expect War and Peace; it's a two-hour read, full of golden nuggets. It's available in paperback ($13.45, 152 pages) or Kindle ($9.95).

I've known Tahl since he was about 13 years old, when he was part of the New York Junior Team that competed with a Maryland Team in a ten-on-ten match. He was always a battler, but back then he didn't look special, other than a knack for pulling off spectacular shots. Well, he can still pull off spectacular shots, but as he relates in the book, he's learned patience and tactics, and knows how to use these shots - how to fight with what he's got. On the back cover I wrote, "Tahl Leibovitz has forever been overcoming the odds as he fought his way to the top, so it's only fitting that he wrote Ping Pong for Fighters - and if readers have even a fraction of his fight, they too can reach the top."

The book starts off with a foreword by Stellan Bengtsson and an introduction by Tahl. And then we get into the real text, divided into four parts: The Fight Against the Environment; the Fight Against the Opponent; the Fight Against the Ball; and the Fight Against Ourselves. Yes, this is truly a fighting book!

  • The Fight Against the Environment

Early on there's a quote from Samuel Jackson in the movie "The Negotiator": "You are not in control," where he explains the importance of knowing which factors are in our control and which are not, and that we should not worry about the ones we don't control.

Ping-Ping Diplomacy by Nicholas Griffin - Review

This book should be of great interest to table tennis buffs, history buffs, and Chinese buffs - lots of great stuff! It's subtitled "Ivor Montagu and the Astonishing Story Behind the Game That Changed the World." It's 275 pages, plus another 61 pages - so 336 total - of various end notes, acknowledgements, index, etc. It has 51 chapters, divided into four parts. There's also a very nice photo section in the middle.

Part 1 is titled "The West." Here we learn about Ivor Montagu, the founder of the ITTF, the person most responsible for table tennis becoming an international sport due to his tireless efforts - when he wasn't spying for the Soviets. Yep, our sport was pretty much founded by a communist spy! But we learn how he was instrumental in helping spread the sport to China as well as a little bit of Soviet history, where we even meet Trotsky.

Team League Sign-Up Time

Here's a call-out to players in the Capital Area, New York, and Los Angeles areas - time to join a team!!! Below are the team leagues in these regions. Deadlines are coming up fast, so enter now! (Deadline for the Capital Area Super League is this Friday.)

As I noted in my Feb. 2 blog, leagues such as these are the first step toward changing the culture of table tennis in the United States. As I wrote then: "…developing these team leagues won't be easy, and that's because of the culture of table tennis here, where few have ever played regularly on a table tennis team. They don't know what it's like to compete regularly on a team where your teammates and friends are cheering you on, even as you cheer them on - you know, like most of you were cheering on a football team at the Super Bowl last night! Except - you get to be Tom Brady or Russell Wilson."

It's going to be a long process, but eventually, if we can have the type of "team" culture they have overseas, we can have the same table tennis success as they do. Helping set up the Capital Area League and watching how it and others develop is a learning process as we learn how to create this type of team culture. Currently we have to almost connive players into entering, since it's something new and unfamiliar to them - unlike overseas, where this is the norm and why players come out to play. Gradually this will change.

Tip of the Week

Playing Off-Table Two-Winged Topspinners.

Snow!

We had about five inches last night, so schools are closed here in Montgomery Country, Maryland (and pretty much everywhere else in the region). No afterschool program or coaching today, so I'll either catch up on work, reading, or sleep. Lots of coaching articles and feature videos today!

Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class

On Sunday night my new Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class began. We have 16 signed up, though four had to miss the first session due to a combination of Presidents Day/Chinese New Year/Bad Weather. The class will meet at MDTTC for ten weeks, Sundays from 6:30-8:00 PM. (You can still sign up.) On the first day we covered the grip, ready stance ("Like covering someone in basketball, a soccer goalie, or a shortstop in baseball or softball"), forehand drive, and spin serves. (I brought out the soccer-colored balls for that.) Afterwards I let everyone stay for about half an hour, and hit with the players. Assisting in the camp are Raghu Nadmichettu and Josh Tran. This is about the 20th time I've taught this class.

What, did you think I was going to blog while everyone else is taking the day off? Heck no!!! It's President's Day, and I'm an amateur presidential historian. (During long car trips to tournaments I drive people crazy by reciting all the presidents in order, including their terms of office and other trivia. It's how I punish bad-behaving juniors.) So in honor of our presidents - especially the ones who play table tennis (Obama, Bush Jr., Clinton, Bush Sr., Reagan, Nixon), I'm off today. I'll have lots to write about tomorrow, and plenty of time to do it since I'll likely be snowed in here in Maryland (5-8 inches expected). 

Where Do Top Players Come From?

Nearly all top players start out as juniors training at training centers with top coaches. And so if we want more top players, what do we need? More training centers with top coaches. Sometimes I'm amazed at how many people don't see this as obvious.

Back in the pre-TCPUAOTC days (that's Training Centers Popping Up All Over The Country), i.e. before roughly 2007, there were only 8-10 such training centers in the country, and no more than a few dozen kids at most in the whole country doing serious training, while countries all over the world had many thousands. So we obviously needed more junior programs. That meant more training centers. Others argued that all we had to do was take some of the few current kids, and train them well, and they’d catch up to other kids who were years ahead of them – despite the fact that there were many thousands of these kids who were years ahead of them and getting training we could rarely match.

But now we are in the TCPUAOTC days (with nearly 80 full-time clubs), and guess what? More training centers => more junior training => the current explosion of talent. It used to be we’d have perhaps one or two good players in each age group, if we were lucky. Now we have players in the 11-14 age range that are downright scary, and great depth to back them up. We have kids who don't make the quarterfinals of their age group who would have dominated their age group eight years ago. Many of the top cadets of the past wouldn't make it past the early rounds in today's weighty draws.

Chinese Domination

There's no question the Chinese dominate table tennis. It isn't even close. At the World Championships they've won Men's Teams seven straight times and nine of the last ten. In fact, other than that blip when Sweden won it three straight times from 1989-1993, and the two times they missed due to the Cultural Revolution (1967 & 1969), they've won it 19 out of 22 times. On the women's side they are even more dominant, winning 18 of the last 20 times. They've also won Men's Singles four straight times and six of the last seven times, and Women's Singles ten straight times and 18 of the last 19.

In the World Rankings, China has the top four men and top three women in the world, and dominate below that level as well. Only a few countries have an outside chance of occasionally defeating the Chinese in team competition - probably only the German and Japanese men, and the Singapore and Japanese women.

I wrote an article about Chinese domination in Sports Illustrated in June, 1999, and since then the domination has only gotten greater. This leads to a lack of suspense in many major tournaments. As long-time Chinese star Ma Lin said in an article I linked to yesterday, "Before every World Cup (football), no one can confidently say which team will win the championship title because they are just popular. But that is not the case in table tennis because there is no suspense." He also wrote, "The decrease of the competency level of other countries in the world has resulted to the lack of eye-catching competitions and confrontation."​

Contenders for Greatest Of All Time (Men)

There have always been debates about who is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). Most end up with a ranking. But a ranking for GOAT is not the same thing as listing the actual contenders. There are players who are arguably among the best of all time, perhaps even top five, who don't really have a good argument for being the actual GOAT. And there are others who might have an argument for being the GOAT who might not make the top five or even top ten list for others.

Also note that "Greatest" is not the same as "Best." Every generation is usually better than the previous one (better techniques, training methods, and equipment), and any modern sponge champion would easily defeat the hardbat champions of the past, as well as the early sponge players. But "Greatest" is a relative term, and so we are looking at how they did relative to their peers. I do take into consideration how strong the competition was. For example, in the very early days of table tennis there simply were not many serious players, and so the level was not very high, and I don't see them as being as "Great" as a more modern player where there are many thousands of players training full-time all over the world. You have to find a balance here, though ultimately it's a judgment call.