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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

USA Table Tennis Magazine Going All Digital

Well, they've finally done it. USATT has cancelled the print version of its magazine and is going all online with a PDF version. (Correction: I'm told it's actually Flash.) Here's the new Winter 2014 issue (really the Jan/Feb issue), which will also be printed as the last print edition. And here's the home page for USATT Magazine. (Addendum - when you go to the new issue, just below it is a listing for "Related publications." USATT Magazine is the second one listed, sandwiched between two magazines with nude cover pictures. Great.) 

It's good that they now have an online version. But have they really thought through this decision to cancel the print version? It's impossible to tell, since no explanation is given on the USATT web page or the magazine page. If you go to page 8 of the new issue, there's a short explanation from the editor, but it doesn't really give any reasons, just basically tells us it's going all digital without explanation. This is one of the biggest decisions in USATT history, and it's been made without explanation, and without advance notice to the membership so they could give input on the matter. (We are a public organization.)

Presumably they are doing this to save money. They might. But I'm guessing that if they do, they'll save a lot less than they think. They'll save money on printing and postage. But they'll lose money on advertising and membership. (Isn't increasing membership a primary purpose of why USATT needs more revenue? It defeats the purpose when they increase revenue in ways that decrease membership.)

Tip of the Week

Never Give a Server What He's Looking For.

Developing Good Technique

Table tennis clubs are full of players with poor technique. And there's nothing wrong with this, if the player doesn't care, or at least doesn't put a high priority on it. There are also lots of good players with poor techniques, though few of them get beyond good and become very good. That's subjective, of course; I can name a number of players who have reached 2200 and 2300 levels despite poor technique. The key is they developed a game around that poor technique, and didn't get good because of the bad technique, but in spite of it.

Here's comes the part a lot don't realize, and it's a three-parter.

1) You will not reach your potential unless you develop good technique. This doesn't mean everyone plays with exactly the same technique. There are some techniques where there's clearly a "best" way, and there are others where there are multiple options. Often it depends on the rest of the player's game. Some players have developed such unorthodox games that what is proper technique for others might not be proper technique for them. But that's a rarity. Almost always, to reach your potential, you need to develop good technique.

2) Anyone can develop good technique. I don't care how poor your current technique is, you can fix it, and have good technique. This doesn't mean you'll have great technique - that's almost impossible once you've developed bad habits. But you don't need perfect technique in this sport (except in most cases at the highest levels), and good technique will take you pretty far.

How to Teach a Beginning/Intermediate Class

Starting on Feb. 17, I'm teaching a new Beginning/Intermediate Table Tennis Class at MDTTC. It's designed for adult players from beginners to roughly 1500 in USATT ratings. The class is every Monday for ten weeks, from 6:30-8:00PM. If you are in the Gaithersburg, Maryland area and would like to participate, contact me. We have an even ten already signed up, so I'm hoping for a good-sized group. (There's a whole chapter on teaching classes in my book Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook.)

The purpose of the class is to give players a complete introduction to the sport of table tennis. That means covering every major aspect, including grip and stance, the strokes, footwork, equipment, and tactics. But there's another reason for such a class. When new players come to a club, they often are a bit lost. They don't know the sport and they don't know other members of the club - they have no peers. By having a class, we get all of them together, and they not only learn about the sport, they develop their own peer group. I've taught a few dozen of these classes, dating back to when we started MDTTC in 1992. Some of the classes had over 20 players.

Backhand Games and Random Drills

It seems that recently half my students are challenging me in backhand-to-backhand games. These are games where we put boxes on each side of the table to block off the forehand side of the table, and play a strictly backhand-to-backhand game. If a shot doesn't go to the backhand, or if a player hits a forehand, he loses the point. You'd think I'd dominate this type of game since I can hit a million backhands in a row, but not really. The players quickly learn to match my consistency, while throwing speed, quickness, placement, and variation at me. I've struggled to win games (and sometimes lost) to 12-year-olds with ratings about 700 points lower than mine, as well as to adult players.

What does this mean? It means that, when isolated, they are developing very good backhands. They are learning to do all of the things mentioned above - consistency, speed, quickness, placement, and variation. (Yes, even with only half a table you can move the ball around.) There are times where I'm just pounding the ball with my backhand, and can't get through their steadiness. There are other times where I'm just keeping the ball going, and struggling to find ways to win a point since they aren't missing either, and they are pressing me with all of the attributes mentioned here. (As I regularly remind them, if they find they are pressing because I'm not missing, remember it works both ways - keep coming at me with the same consistency, and I'm the one who'll be pressing because they aren't missing.)

Today's Blog…

…will be shorter than usual. Because of our after-school program, and because I'm rather busy on weekends, I've worked every day this entire year (other than Jan. 1 and two days when I had the flu). Due to icy conditions, local schools are closed today, so no afterschool program. I normally have three hours of coaching on Wednesday nights, but two are off today, so only one hour today. (Plus a dental appointment at 11AM.) So I'm basically taking the day off, though I'll likely use it to catch up on things, such as working on my upcoming book Table Tennis Tips.

Poly Ball

Not Going Against or With the Spin

When counterlooping, you'll notice how top players tend to counterloop with lots of sidespin. They rarely counterloop with straight topspin. To do so would mean contacting the ball directly on top of the ball, and going directly against the incoming topspin. The ball would then jump off the paddle, and it would be tricky keeping it on the table. Instead, they mostly contact the ball on the far side, which avoids taking on the incoming topspin directly while putting a sidespin that curves to the left (for a righty). Some do the opposite, and contact the ball on the near side, and the ball curves to the right, again avoiding taking on the incoming topspin directly. (This is a bit more difficult.)

Of course once they are into a counterlooping duel, the incoming counterloop usually has sidespin, and if you counterloop it back with sidespin (assuming both are contacting the ball on the far side), you are taking on the incoming sidespin directly. But that's not much of a problem because by doing so it becomes trickier controlling the sideways movement of the ball, just as taking on the topspin directly makes controlling the up-down movement of the ball more difficult. But you have a much wider margin for error with sideways movement; few players miss because they go too wide, while many miss by going off the end.

Tip of the Week

Winning with Ball Control.

Topspinny Backhands: When to Learn?

Yesterday was a pivotal moment in one young player's table tennis career. One of the tougher decisions for some coaches is when to have their up-and-coming junior players begin to topspin more on the backhand in rallies. At the start, you teach basic backhand drives. But at the higher levels, most players these days topspin the ball, basically a backhand loop with a shorter swing, often right off the bounce. It's not easy to learn to do this in a rally, where it's tricky enough playing a regular backhand, but to topspin the ball off the bounce, practically a backhand loop, against an often fast incoming ball?

Some coaches advocate teaching this starting at around the 1800 level; others do so much earlier. But everyone's different. If a player seems to have a knack for it, and is training regularly, then perhaps he can start earlier. The problem is that in a fast rally, you have little time to topspin the ball, and players who try to do so before they're ready will make lots of mistakes.

I've got several students who are reaching the stage where they're ready to really topspin on the backhand in faster rallies. Yesterday's breakthrough was for Sameer, 12, rated 1378 after the Teams in November. He's developed a pretty nasty backhand drive, especially in drills, though he sometimes still has trouble getting the drilling backhand into games. Sameer already has a pretty decent backhand loop against backspin, but was he ready to do this over and over in rallies?

TT Arena

Here's a new page that's devoted to connecting coaches, players, and clubs. For example, here's a club in the U.S. looking for a coach. (The club appears to be in Coffeyville, Kansas, from the accompanying map.)

A number of years ago when I was a USATT webmaster, I tried something similar, creating a USATT page devoted to connecting coaches and clubs, with two main pages: Clubs Looking for Coaches, and Coaches Looking for Clubs. Alas, it didn't take off - there just weren't enough full-time clubs at the time, less than ten in the U.S., while there are now about 70 and more popping up seemingly every week. So now might be the perfect time, as more and more full-time clubs open up, each needing minimally 3-4 full-time professional coaches. Plus, the availability of coaches would encourage more entrepreneurs to open up such clubs.

Along with leagues, I've long held that setting up table tennis centers with junior programs is the key to developing table tennis in the U.S. and any country. I even wrote Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook for that reason. (Believe me, I didn't write it for the money! I'm practically selling it for cost.)

One of my long-term plans is to develop a program to solicit and train professional coaches. But that's on the backburner along with dozens of other major projects on my long-term todo list.

Yesterday's Coaching Events

Had a lot of interesting things happen yesterday - here's a rundown!

Angular Momentum Conservation and the Forehand

Ever notice how when a figure skater is spinning, if she brings her arms in she spins faster? Here's an explanation of that; it's the law of angular momentum conservation. Here's an article that explains this.

The laws of angular momentum apply to both figure skating and table tennis. What this means is that you can rotate faster with your arms in. On the forward swing you have to extend the arm some to get power, especially if you use a Chinese-style straight arm forehand loop. But there's no need to extend the arm during the backswing, and it just slows you down. So in theory, table tennis players should bring their arms in during the backswing in fast rallies so the backswings are quicker. What does the videotapes tell us?

Here's a video of Zhang Jike (1:55) and his forehand loop during fast multiball. Compare how far his racket is extended at contact to where it is during the backswing, and sure enough, he brings his arm in during the backswing. Here's a video of Ma Long (32 sec) showing his forehand in slow motion, which makes it even clearer. Again, compare the racket's position at contact with where it is during the backswing.

But now we look at a video of Timo Boll (2:12), and see a discrepancy - he holds the racket out about as much during the backswing as the contact point. But there's a reason for this - Boll uses a European-style loop, with his arm more bent, and so never extends his racket that far from his body. Compare to Zhang Jike and Ma Long and see the difference.