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-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

Tip of the Week

Attacking the Middle.

Attack the Middle or Lose

Coincidental to this week's Tip of the Week, I watched two top players play this past weekend at the MDTTC Open. (See segment below.) I was coaching on a back table for much of the tournament, though I did get to coach a few matches of students of mine. One match in particular caught my eye, between what should have been two evenly matched top players whose names I won't mention.

One of the players is basically a blocker, though he can attack as well with a very orthodox game. The other was a vicious two-winged attacker who rarely backs off the table. (That describes a lot of top players.) What stuck out was how the two-winged attacker kept attacking at wide angles, and the blocker kept blocking back at wide angles. This put the attacker out of position while the blocker controlled the points. Result? The blocker won three straight.

There's a simple dynamic here that many don't understand. While loopers dominate against blockers at the higher levels, in a battle between a looper and blocker where the two go just corner to corner, the blocker is completely at home. He has little time to react to the looper's shots, but if the shots keep coming to just his forehand or backhand, he can react to those with quick blocks. But if the looper goes to the middle as well, that's too much, and the blocker just can't react. When he does, he has to move out of position or contort his body for the shot, and his blocks are weaker and the corners open up. Suddenly, instead of the blocker moving the looper around like a marionette, it's the other way around, except the blocker is more like a Raggedy Ann as he struggles to react to these loops to his middle and wide angles that jump like grasshoppers as they hit the table.

The Forehand and Saturation Training

On Wednesday I gave my weekly lesson to an up-and-coming nine-year-old, who (for the moment) is about 1400. He has incredible ball control for a kid his age - he has great lobbing, fishing, and chopping skills, better than most 2000 players. He also has a nice backhand attack, both looping and hitting. And he can keep the ball in play seemingly forever, even if the opponent keeps attacking. But his forehand can be awkward. So our recent training has been overwhelmingly on his forehand loop, where we spend about 35-40 minutes of each session on. (His level is only 1400 partly because of the forehand, where he likes to lob, and because he tends to play way too soft in general, letting opponents blast the ball at him, and at nine years old he's not always big enough to run them all down. I'm constantly working on teaching him to stay at the table, which isn't easy since he likes to play from the barriers.)

Table Tennis Niches and Groups

Have you noticed that there are a number of people in table tennis who have their own "niches"? I'm a prime example; while there are plenty of other table tennis coaches around, none write anywhere near as much as I do, so my table tennis niche is writing. (Six books and over 1300 published articles on table tennis, plus this blog.) Who are the others? (This doesn't imply that this is all they do in table tennis; it's what they do that stands out, that few others do.) Anyone and any niches that I missed?

Oldest and Youngest Players in USATT

Mel Ketchel, age 91, is a regular at MDTTC. He comes in almost daily to play with others and with the robot, and regularly plays in our leagues. He asked me a few days ago if he entered the U.S. Open or Nationals, would USATT add an Over 90 event. I'd like to see it

It got me thinking - who are the oldest players in USATT? Technically Mel doesn't qualify, as he last played a tournament in 2002 and his membership expired in 2003. So I went to the USATT Ratings Page, and did some checking, using the Customizable Members Lists tool. This is what I found, where I searched only for USATT members who played in a tournament since January of 2013.

It has Madhu Vinod Diwakar of North Carolina, rated 1949, as being 114 years old!!! Now that's pretty good for your average supercentenarian, and it's recent, since he played a tournament in January. I'm guessing that somehow USATT has his age wrong.  (Actually, he's rated 1950, but because of confusion by some people over whether a 1950 player is eligible for an Under 1950 event, USATT automatically takes off and stores for later one point for anyone with a rating ending in 00 or 50. Meaning that in USATT ratings, 1950 is less than 1950!)

How about youngest member? According to the listings, we have two players under age one (!): Mohammed Khan of Tennessee, rated 1745, and Marijan Tomas of Vermont, rated 1356. That's going to be one impressive Under One Final at the U.S. Open when these two babies play! Okay, USATT probably has their birthdays wrong.

Table Tennis April Fools' Jokes

Tongue Training
Anyone watching TT videos regularly can see that most top
players make use of their tongue. Most assume this is just a
reaction to stress, or a side effect of the effort going into the shot.
It's much more than that. In fact, proper use of the tongue is just
like using any other part of the body in a shot. I'd argue that 
for most, proper use of the tongue is central to the shot. Sure, it
only weighs two to two and a half ounces, but its usage must be
orchestrated properly or you will lose power and control. When
looping, improper use of the tongue can be disastrous.

Chinese theory on this is quite different from European. Most
European coaches believe the tongue should be held more or
less rigid inside the mouth, believing that this maximizes balance.
However, most Chinese coaches believe it should be used to
maximize power when looping. In some ways, it's like the wrist -
for years, many coaches thought the wrist should be held rigid
during power shots, but then some coaches decided it should be
used for extra power, and they were correct. Similarly, Chinese
coaches theorize that the tongue, when used in conjunction with
the rest of the body, can add power. To do so requires proper
timing and training of the tongue.

On forehand loops, the tongue must start in the right side of the
mouth. (This is for righties; lefties reverse.) As the player rotates
into the shot he uses his legs, hips, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist.
The tongue should coil backward and snap into the shot as the
shoulders rotate into the shot, adding extra power as the player
throws his arm into the shot.

Tip of the Week

Get the Right Feel.

Friday Camp

It was a busy weekend of coaching, though strangely not as busy as usual as I had Sunday morning off for a change, due to a pair of out-of-town students. However, that was offset by our one-day camp on Friday, where I coached from 10AM to 6PM. Schools were closed that day for "Professional Day."

We had another snowstorm on Sunday afternoon, with about 2-3 inches here in Germantown - enough is enough!!! It's been "Spring" for eleven days now. (Hmmm . . . "days now" is one space away from "day snow," which is what happened yesterday.) I'm personally contacting the beings responsible and putting a stop to this. There will be no more snow here in Maryland until December.  

Here's a funny incident that took place during the Friday camp. I called a bunch of the beginning kids together to teach them how to serve. My first question to the seven in the group (ages 6-9) was, "How many of you know how to serve?" Nearly all of them raised their hands. So I asked for volunteers to show how to serve. I wish I had a video of what followed as we got sort of a who's who for every stereotypical illegal basement serve possible!!! One kid did the typical basement serve where he bounced the ball on the table and then hit it directly over the net. One kid reached way over the table to get as close to the net as he could to serve. One simply tossed the ball up and hit it directly to the other side of the table. All but one of them grabbed the ball with their fingertips.

Longest Rally

On Monday I blogged about the new record for longest rally at 8 hrs 40 min 10 sec. Not so fast!!! Apparently Richard Bowling and Rich DeWitt rallied for 10 hrs 9 min back in 1983, and it was published as the record in the 1984 Guinness Book of World Records. Here's a video about it (3:13). I emailed Richard about it. Here is his response, which he gave me permission to post:

Yes we are in the 1984 edition of the GWR book. Unfortunately they don't do due diligence in cross referencing a previous record when someone 'breaks a new record'.

And funny about the new record, it's almost the same as the record we aimed to beat, which was 8hrs, 33 min. And yes ours was 10hrs, 9min.

Rich's father contacted GW a year or two ago. And they replied that we would need more 'proof' since standards at that time were lower, etc. A silly argument really. Their book should be proof enough.

Plus we submitted, in 1984, a notarized log book of dozen of witnesses. And always had people present in room at the YWCA, while the record was broken. Including the media occasionally. And were covered in a half dozen newspapers, plus television in CT.

Also, last July I created a youtube video as a 30yr tribute to our record. Youtube: "609 Minutes".  And take a look at the shorter version: 2:34 min.

I haven't decided if I want to launch a protest with GWR myself. At the moment busy selling Joola tables full-time, and part-time doing a life coaching business.

USATT CEO and Membership Director Leaving

Huge changes are afoot at USATT - here's the article. USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh resigned after seven years, taking a job with USA Handball. (Here's his goodbye letter.) And Membership Director Joyce Grooms is retiring on April 4 after a long tenure - I'm not sure how long, but I'm guessing it goes back to the 1990s or so. I've worked with both of them for many years and consider them good friends - and now we'll have some big shoes to fill. It's going to cause some serious continuity problems. 

Who should our next CEO be? With all due respect to Mike, I believe we need a real table tennis person who can develop the infrastructure of our sport. That was the point of my Ping-Pong Apartments essay in my March 21 blog - we have got to stop trying to sell a broken product and fix the broken product first. Then we can sell it.

I doubt if I'll apply for the CEO position, but several people have urged me to apply. I don't think the USATT Board would want someone who would push for such major changes - most boards, by their very nature, are highly resistant to change. But I was urged on Facebook last night to apply for the position. Here is my response:

You Are What You Train

Most players understand this, but don't really absorb how important this simple lesson is. Here are two examples.

On Monday I was teaching the backhand loop to a beginning/intermediate class. I don't have a particularly good backhand loop, so I had assistant coach John Hsu demonstrate it. It seemed a good time to also teach the blocking, so I went over that as well as I blocked John's loop. Then I pointed how at the higher levels many players topspin their blocks, essentially mini-loops, and explained how while I blocked the normal way (relatively flat), John almost always topspins his blocks.

To demo this, I looped forehands from my backhand corner to his backhand and he backhand topspin blocked away. The rally went on for a time, and then I ripped one down the line to his forehand. John reacted quickly and forehand blocked to my wide forehand. I raced over and looped down the line to his backhand. He blocked back wide to my backhand, but not too aggressively. Now I'd just been teaching the backhand loop, and you'd think that at 54 years old I'd play an easy backhand winner (as John and most "top" players would have), but no - I did what I'd trained myself to do way back in the late 1970s and 1980s, and ran all the way over from my wide forehand to my wide backhand and ripped a forehand winner down the line for a winner. Afterwards neither I nor John nor the players in the class could believe I'd gotten over there so fast - and I was sort of surprised as well. But it was a simple matter of balance on the previous shot so I could recover quickly, proper footwork technique that got me there quickly, and the automatic instincts that led me to attempt that shot. (I just wish I could still do shots like that regularly in matches - technique aside, my legs aren't as fast anymore, mostly due to knee problems.)

Smooth Acceleration + Grazing Contact = Great Spin

This came up last night in the Beginning/Intermediate Class I teach on Monday nights. The two most common mistakes players make in failing to create great spin are these two, which are the pillars of creating spin, especially when serving, pushing, and chopping. It's true for looping as well, but only for slow, spinny loops. When you loop faster, you sink the ball more into the sponge. (I'm mostly writing for players using inverted sponge, but the same principles apply to most pips-out surfaces as well, as long as they have some grippiness.) 

When serving and pushing, beginning and intermediate players often use a short stroke (to help with control) and sort of jab at the ball. They are thinking that the velocity they get with this jabbing will create great spin. Actually, it just leads to a loss of control as you can't control the racket this way. Plus, for physics reasons I won't get into (partially because I'm not a physicist), you get far more spin if you smoothly accelerate into the ball, and almost hold the ball on your racket as it carries it through the shot. This literally slings the ball out with tremendous spin.