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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

Exhaustion, and Playing Those Wide Angles and Middle

I must be getting old. I'm not sure how this happened - I think someone at the club stuck something in my Gatorade one day, and presto! This past month I've coached nearly every single day. I finally got a day off this past Saturday due to a series of fortunate events, but Sunday I was on my feet coaching for over six hours. Yesterday I had 2.5 hours of coaching and could barely move as my muscles were absolutely, completely, totally, wholly, entirely, fully, and utterly dead. (Yeah, I used a Thesaurus.)

I was hitting with 10-year-old Daniel (1639), and I think he aced me with shots to the wide forehand or backhand about every ten seconds. The eye-opener was when I wanted to work on his blocking near the end of the session with him, and literally couldn't forehand loop to his block more than a few shots - normally I'm sort of a machine in a drill, not really powerful but can loop over and Over and OVER. I was even having blocking as my legs just wouldn't step to the ball - and Daniel was somewhat gleeful in looping wide-angled aces, as well as to my middle. (But I liked that he was going for such wide-angle loops - see last Monday's Tip of the Week, To Play the Middle and Wide Corners You Have to Practice to Them.) We ended up doing extra multiball. When we played games at the end, I compensated for my lack of mobility by pulling out my best serves and receives - sorry Daniel.

Tip of the Week

Macho or Tricky?

Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class

Yesterday, from 6:30-8:00PM, I taught Week Four of the ten-week class. There are 19 in the class, with Raghu Nadmichettu and Josh Tran normally assisting. (Yesterday John Hsu subbed for Josh, who was at Cary Cup.) Here's the group picture I linked to last week.

Yesterday we started right where we'd finished last week, with pushing, with the emphasis now on the forehand push. I explained that you have to learn to do regular forehand pushes, but as players advanced, they mostly only do forehand pushes against short balls, since it's better to loop any deep backspin ball to the forehand. (This is also somewhat true on the backhand side, but not quite as much since you are more likely to get jammed on the backhand side, and because you have an angle into a righty opponent's backhand with your backhand push.)

I harped on the idea that you have to step to the ball, both side to side and in and out, not just reach. I showed how beginners should learn to take the ball on the drop, letting the ball fall on their racket, but as they advanced, they should learn to take the ball quicker, right off the bounce. I went over the six main things you want to do with a push, and explained why it's better to be pretty good at all six than great at most but weak on one or two Here's my Tip of the Week, Pushing: Five out of Six Doesn't Cut It.

Historic First Match of the Capital Area Super League

It took place last night at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, between the MDTTC Smokeoutz (Khaleel Asgarali, Toby Kutler, Ryan Dabbs, Amy Lu, with Chen Bowen and Reza Ghiasi sitting out), and the MDTTC Lions (Stefano Ratti, Raghu Nadmichettu, Heather Wang, and Ernie Byles). Normally it's supposed to be three on three, but due to a misunderstanding and a last-minute negotiation, they played four on each side this one time. The Smokeoutz won 5-4, with a severely under-rated 11-year-old Ryan Dabbs (rated 2018, #5 in U.S. in Under 12 boys) pulling out a ninth match upset win over Ernie Byles.

Here's the write-up by Stefano Ratti, along with results and pictures. (Click on the pictures for larger version.) And yes, that's a lion smoking a cigar and dreaming about table tennis.

New Table Tennis Terms and Why This Blog is Short

Below are some new table tennis terms that we've invented at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Yes, we are constantly innovating!

Today's blog is a little short as I was up late working last night and so got started on this late, and I have to leave shortly for a rare morning coaching session. I'm sort of jumping back and forth between 1) preparing the French translation of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers for publication; 2) writing the fantasy table tennis novella "The Spirit of Pong"; 3) writing a feature but temporarily top-secret table tennis article; 4) responding to approximately 314,159 emails; and 5) various USATT activities, mostly regarding regional associations and leagues. And then I've got five hours of coaching plus driving around to pick up players in our afterschool program, so it's going to be a bit busy.

  • "Daniel" - a net or edge. (Note - Daniel is a 10-year-old student of mine who gets an unreal number of nets and edges. He uses inverted on both sides.)
  • "Double Daniel" - a net-edge.
  • "1% Daniel" - a ball that barely nicks the edge.
  • "You have no chance" - You can do this.
  • "Dang" - what an older player (or at least me) says when he misses a shot or can't get to a ball that he could get to when he was younger.
  • "Cup Killers" - anyone with a deadly accurate forehand, as it allows them to knock cups off a table in multiball.
  • "Worm juice" - any liquid in a bottle that the coach has to drink if they hit the bottle while he's feeding multiball.
  • "Nuclear bomb" - any ping-pong ball under a cup that players have to knock off the table to defuse.
  • "Larry" - the claim that the shot you just did was the greatest shot of all time, or the greatest shot of its type.

NCTTA Three-Player Rule and Petition

Can You Have Too Much Confidence?

Here's an interesting article by Ben Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis, though this article is from his non-table tennis blog. The article is about confidence and how it affects success, and features Kanye West as an example. Now I'm no music expert and am not an expert on West, but from what little I do know from various news articles, I have to agree with President Obama about him. However, he is right in some of the things he says about attaining success, as the article explains. The article finishes with the following four ways people think about success:

Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class

On Sunday from 6:30-8:30PM we had the third session of the class at MDTTC. The class technically ends at 8PM, but I've pretty much made it official policy to stay until 8:30PM, where we work on serve and serve return. There are 19 people in the class, ranging from near beginner up to about 1500. Strangely, there are no women - usually we have a few. One woman actually did sign up, but she was the only one to drop out before we started. Also, all 19 players are right-handed. There is one penholder, the rest are conventional shakehanders. One likes to chop occasionally.

Here's a group picture from Sunday, with one player missing. That's me on the far right in the black shirt. Kneeling in front on the right in the black hat is assistant coach Raghu Nadmichettu; in blue with his hand on his chin is assistant coach Josh Tran. I have to be very careful of everything I say in the class; that's USATT counsel Dennis Taylor in the back, slightly right of center in the red shirt. (He has a 1478 rating, and has been as high as 1619.)  

On Sunday we started with forehand and backhand practice. Then we went over hitting down the line, and practiced that. Then we did some more crosscourt hitting. Since many players are relatively new, I thought we needed a lot of forehand and backhand practice. Then we went over backhand pushing. I did the demo with Raghu, and used the soccer-colored balls so they could better see the backspin. There were a lot of questions, and so the lecture/demo went on longer than expected - but that's a good thing. Then we went to the tables and practiced.

Tip of the Week

To Play the Middle and Wide Corners You Have to Practice to Them.

The Spirit of Pong

For years I've lived in two worlds - the world of table tennis and the world of science fiction & fantasy writing. I've sold 72 short stories and a novel - but the money from the latter totals only about $20,000 in income since 2006, i.e. a little over $2000/year. Guess which pays the bills?

So I'm happy to say I've found the perfect combination of the two! I'm now working on a novella called "The Spirit of Pong." (A novella is basically a short novel, but considerably longer than a short story.) The story is about an American player, Andy "Shoes" Blue, who goes to China to learn the secrets of Chinese table tennis. I've been planning and researching it for a while. Parts of the story get pretty dark as he learns the Body of Pong, the Mind of Pong, and the Paddle of Pong. You'll meet the mysterious Coach Wang, who guides him through the process of learning about Chinese table tennis - but is he who he says he is?

It's a fantasy, and when Andy goes to China he meets and trains with the spirits of past champions, including Ichiro Ogimura, Rong Guotuan (first Chinese world champion in 1959 and coach of their first women's team world champion in 1965, committed suicide under torture during Cultural Revolution, which fits into the story), and Hiroji Satoh. He also meets and gets advice from the spirits of others, such as Zhuang Zedong and many others. He'll also meet the "Spirits of what made them Champions" for Jan-Ove Waldner and Deng Yaping - both will have a major impact in the climax.

Ratings and Leagues

One of the things I've learned my years of table tennis is that ratings are both good and bad. There are some advantages to using ratings. For example, they give players a reason to play in tournaments and leagues, with the goal of trying to achieve a higher rating. But just as often they keep players from playing in events so they can "protect" their rating.

For tournaments, ratings are not so good because they cause a lot of problems. Here's my article Juniors and Ratings, where I talk about how ratings can be a cancer on junior table tennis. But much of the article applies to all players. Players can get way to protective of their ratings, and often avoid tournaments just to protect their rating.

For leagues it's more mixed. For a singles league ratings actually work pretty well, since players are playing for themselves. Because they play on a regular basis, they get used to their ratings going up and down, and so don't worry about them too much and don't focus on protecting their rating by avoiding play. Singles leagues are the only example I see were ratings are actually a healthy and good thing for table tennis. They are used all over the country in the USATT Singles League, which in February processed 7193 matches in 43 different leagues, and has processed 510,330 league matches with 22,601 players in 426 leagues since it began in 2003.

Backhand Development - A Time for Everything, and Everything in its Time

I've been keeping a secret from one of my junior students. He has a strong forehand loop, and is pretty good at moving about to attack with it, but his backhand wasn't as good. When he does play backhand, he pretty much topspins everything, but it's not consistent enough, and so opponents get him on that side. Part of the reason for this is that he's always thinking forehand, and so isn't always ready for the backhand.

In our sessions, we used to do a lot of random drills. But I stopped doing them a couple months ago, and he hadn't really noticed. Why did we stop? Because I've been focusing on his backhand. I didn't want him to play backhands as a second-tier shot, done only when forced, and with an inconsistent stroke. I wanted it to be an equal, or at least near-equal shot with his forehand, though the latter would continue as his primary put-away shot. And so we've been really focusing on backhand training these past two months, though we did plenty of the usual forehand work as well - I doubt he could have survived a session if he couldn't rip a few forehands. But he's been very good about it as well, often asking to extend a backhand drill. He's one of those stubborn types (in a good way), who doesn't want to switch drills until he feels he's doing it perfectly.

Tactical Thinking - Adjusting to Different Opponents

Recently at the end of a coaching session I played a practice match with a student. He often served short to my forehand, either backspin or sidespin, and over and over I flipped it aggressively to all parts of the table and dominated the point. Halfway through one game I finally put the game on hold and challenged him to give me his best short serves to my forehand. Over and over he served low with heavy, yet varied spin - and over and over I flipped them aggressively with ease, to his growing consternation. ("Aggressively" doesn't mean flipping for winners, but fast enough that if placed well, the server is usually put on the defensive.) Finally I challenged him to figure out how to deal with this. At first he said he'd stopped serving short to my forehand - and I said that would be a bad mistake.

So I challenged him to think about why I was able to flip his serves over and over with ease. When he served backspin, I used his own spin against him to create topspin, which allowed me to flip aggressively. When he served sidespin, it was even easier, as that's easy to flip, like a mini-counterdrive or mini-counterloop. So I asked him how he could keep me from using his spin - and that's when he figured it out! He served short, low no-spin, and miracle of miracles - or actually rather predictably - I had to slow down my flip. (I could still place it, but it was no longer the dominant shot it had been earlier.)