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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!

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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

Big Upcoming USA Tournaments

This is sort of the main "tournament season" for many players, with the Teams and Nationals both coming up, along with other big 4-star tournaments. If you are relatively new to big tournaments, perhaps the first thing to do is to read my USATT article (with the longest table tennis article name ever), "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Your First Table Tennis Tournament…But Didn’t Know Where To Ask!" (It includes sections on General Info, Ratings, Etiquette, and How to Play Your Best.)

If you play in any of these tournaments, you might want to enter some smaller events first to develop "tournament toughness," which will help you in the big ones. Here's my Tip of the Week on this, which begins, "Playing in tournaments is quite different from playing practice matches. Here are three reasons for this. First, the playing conditions are generally different than you are used to - different tables, balls, floors, backgrounds, and lighting. Second, you are usually playing different players, while in practice you often play the same players over and over. And third, there's far more pressure in a tournament match than in a practice match. (There are other, lesser reasons - traveling, time zone changes, eating different foods, etc.)"

Here's a rundown of some of the big ones coming along. (To find tournaments, see the USATT Tournament Schedule.) We'll start with three of the BIGGEST ones.

Lack of Creativity in Serving

I'm always amazed at how simple most players serve. Serving is the most creative part of the game (though receive is close), and yet most players seem to serve with little purpose or variation.

A major reason for this is because most players play the same players at their club over and over. There are all sorts of little nuances you can do with your serve that can give opponents trouble - last second changes of spin and direction (via last-second changes to the racket's motion), widely varying spins and placements, serving the extremes (deep breaking serves to backhand/short to forehand, or short heavy backspin/short side-topspin), or just different serving motions - but few use them. Many probably experiment, but since they play the same players over and over, opponents quickly get used to them, and the advantage of these little nuances mostly goes away.

Now even in practice there are ways to overcome this. If an opponent adjusts to your variations when serving from the backhand corner, for example, try it from the middle or forehand side - you'll be amazed at how much this changes things. Or just come up with variations. The more you have, the harder it is for an opponent to get used to them all. Or just hold back on certain serves for a while, and then, when you come back to them, they are effective again. Meanwhile, while you use those newly effective serves, hold back on some others for a while. (When I say hold back for a while, I mean both for a few games or for a few weeks of play - both ways work.)

All About Color

I'm regularly asked the difference between red and black rubbers, and which color should be used on the forehand and backhand. The short answer - it doesn't really matter. They supposedly play the same. So what you put on each side is just a personal preference. (I have heard that black DHS rubbers are better than the red, the only exception I've heard about.)

But it wasn't always that way - in the early days of the red and black rule the red side was a bit faster. The problem was in the black dye, which apparently slowed the rubber down. And so for the first few years most top players put the red side on the forehand. I was different - I had plenty of pop on my forehand, but needed more on the backhand, and so right from the start I had black on the forehand - and I still do. I always thought more players should do it this way for the same reason, but back in those days it was more acceptable for shakehands players to have softer backhands. (After using black on the forehand for 30 years, it would seem strange to me to put red there.)

Tip of the Week

Working With Your Subconscious.

The Last Two Weeks

I'm back!!! The past two weeks have been among the busiest I have ever had. As noted in my blog from a week ago (before I took a sort of forced sabbatical), USATT Historian Tim Boggan moved in with me on Tuesday, Sept. 30, so I could once again do the photo work and page layouts for Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis. Here's a rundown on that, on my coaching, on a science fiction convention, health - and on a theft at the supermarket!

Because Tim goes to bed every night around 7:30 PM and gets up by 3AM, I tried to sort of match his schedule. For eleven days I mostly got up around 5:30 AM (sometimes earlier!), and we'd go to work by 6:30AM. (Several times we started by 5:30 AM.) We'd work until about 2:30 PM, with a 30-minute lunch break. At 2:30PM I'd normally leave to coach, since that's when I have to leave to pick up kids for our afterschool program. On weekends I was even busier with coaching, and Tim and I had to work around that.  

We "sort of" finished everything on Friday night. I saw "sort of" because, even though Tim left on Saturday morning, I still had a bunch of work on it. It got worse when Tim emailed me on Sunday night with a long list of changes and corrections needed, which I did on Monday. I finally sent the finished version to the printer on Monday afternoon. It should be available in ten days or so.

Alas, the blog and Tip of the Week will have to wait until tomorrow. Over the weekend Tim and I "finalized" Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis, and he went home on Saturday. However, on Sunday he found a lot of corrections and changes needed. Between that, and catching up on other things (mostly table tennis issues) that I'd put off during his 11-day stay here (plus attending a SF convention this weekend), I'm rather inundated for one more day. I'll write about all this tomorrow. 

No Blog Until Monday Tuesday

Alas, something had to give. Since Tim Boggan moved in with me on Tuesday, Sept. 30, I've been working on the page layouts and photo work for his Volume 15 of History of U.S. Table Tennis every day from roughly 5AM to 2:30PM, then leaving to coach, returning roughly between 6 and 9PM. If I'm back "early," we usually do another hour or so of work, and then he goes to bed while I work on a dozen other things, including this blog. The problem is that means I'm up late, often until midnight, and I've been getting up around 4:30 AM.

It's too much. I'm known for being tireless, but I can barely keep my eyes open. Meanwhile we've fallen a bit behind. We want to finish by the weekend as I'll be away all day Saturday and coaching nearly all day on Sunday. At our current pace we aren't going to make it. (His past books are typically 500 pages with 900 photos that have to be cleaned up and placed on the pages one at a time, captions typed in, etc. This one will be a little shorter in page length, but with FAR more photos, which is the time-consuming part.) So I've made the command decision to take the rest of this week off from blogging so we can get the thing done. Meanwhile, here are two segments I'd already put together. See you next Monday!

Fan Zhendong

Here's a pretty good point (36 sec, including slow motion replay) by the Chinese phenom, now ranked #2 in the world.

Jumpy Player

I think he just won the point

Tip of the Week

Should You Play Tournaments When Working on Something New?

Coaching and a Ball Shortage - a Good Thing?

Yesterday was somewhat hectic for an unusual reason - a ball shortage. But perhaps that was a good thing?

I spent the morning working with Tim Boggan on Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis (1986-88). We started around 6AM and stopped at noon. (Over the weekend Tim and I watched the Marty Reisman documentary "Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping-Pong Hustler, which I'll blog about later this week, probably tomorrow - I took lots of notes. 84-year-old Tim found it depressing.) After lunch I went to MDTTC for three hours of private coaching and a 90 minute junior group session.

A Visit from St. Timothy

As readers here know, Tim Boggan moved in with me this past Monday so I could do the page layouts and photo work on his latest History of U.S. Table Tennis book - this is Volume 15! He's been writing and publishing these books for about 15 years, moving in with me about once a year for 10-14 days. We expect to finish the current one by the end of next week. (We've done the covers and have finished seven of the 25 chapters.) You can learn more about these books (and buy them!) at Tim Boggan Table Tennis, which I created and maintain for him.

Tim Boggan, 84, is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame - here's his Hall of Fame Profile, and here's the feature interview I did with him in 1996 (which includes lots of pictures, including ones of him growing up). His two sons, Eric and Scott Boggan, both were USA Men's Singles Champions and are members of the USATT Hall of Fame. (So am I!) Eric was top 20 in the world.

Different Short Serve & Follows

There are no rules, but here are a few guidelines that many players often don't realize or think about. You have to think about these things so you can make them a habit, and then you don't have to think about them as much, except tactically.

When serving short backspin, most opponents won't attack the serve until the higher levels, but they may be able to push low and heavy. So you might have to focus more on spin on your first loop. However, if you serve short and low no-spin while faking backspin (i.e. "heavy no-spin"), you'll get mostly pushed returns that tend to pop up more and with less spin. So when you serve these types of no-spin serves, be ready to end the point with loop kills and smashes. (Don't use 100% power - a well-placed shot at 80% is more consistent and a higher percentage shot.) I'm always surprised by how few players below the higher levels effectively use backspin and no-spin serves - most will serve straight backspin over and over and over, perhaps mixing in a few obvious deep topspin or sidespin serves.

While you're at it, besides serving short backspin and no-spin, why not short side-top? It's not that hard to learn. Learn to do it with essentially the same motion as your backspin and no-spin serves. Result? Opponents will tend to pop them up or go off the end. (But don't overuse them and let opponents get used to them.) Learn to serve with a semi-circular motion so you can serve different spins with the same motion. Here's how.

Forehand Accuracy

One of my favorite tricks for new players is demonstrating forehand accuracy. (You can also do this with the backhand.) It's a simple trick - I put a bottle on one side of the table (typically a 16oz Gatorade or water bottle), and standing at the other end, I drop a ball on the table and smash it against the bottle. I hit it easily over 80% of the time, and over 90% once I get warmed up. It looks impressive, even to advanced players. When they try it, they often miss. But there's a simple reason for that. They don't know how to aim.

Here's what you do. Assuming you are a righty, put the bottle on the far left side, perhaps a foot from the sideline. You stand on the same side (your wide backhand), so you are next to your left sideline. Practice dropping the ball a few times and note where your contact point would be. Now here's the secret: put your racket up against where contact would be made, and simply make sure it's aimed directly at the bottle at that point. You should be able to keep the racket aimed exactly at the bottle for at least a foot during your forward swing - about six inches before and after contact. Practice this a few times without the ball, making sure the racket is aimed directly at the bottle whenever the racket is near where the ball would be.

Then drop the ball and smack the bottle. You might mess up a few times at first, but with practice you'll be surprised at how consistent you can be with this. I'm guessing that the large majority of the readers of this blog will be able to hit the bottle at least half the time. If you can't, there's a simple answer - practice! You can also do this looping, though hitting is probably more accurate.