Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio.
NOTE - Larry is on the USATT Board of Directors and chairs the USATT Coaching Committee, but the views he shares in his blog are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of USA Table Tennis.

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each!

Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational fiction, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

March 10, 2011

USATT Club, Coaching, Editorial Committees

I've been on the USATT Editorial Committee for the last couple years. Now I'm on the Coaching and Club Committees. What have I gotten myself into???

Actually, I chaired both these committees at various times in the 1990s. (Sometime I'll blog about the Club Catalyst & Creation Program - yes, CCCP - which led to an increase in clubs from 226 to 303 while membership went from roughly 5500 to 7500.) So I have plenty of ideas. The hard part is trying to get others to understand the difference between what I call "nice stuff" and "Big Stuff." Nice stuff is stuff that's helpful, but isn't going to make a major difference. And that's nice. But I'm more interested in doing some Big Stuff. Such as the systematic recruitment and training of professional coaches, the creation of a club-based nationwide league, or the regionalizing the sport so that each region can self-govern and grow, rather than wait for USATT (with a budget smaller than a 7-11) to do it for them.

The problem with doing Big Stuff is that if you suggest it, everyone will agree it's a great idea, so feel free to do it. That won't work. USATT can't do Big Stuff unless they get behind the Big Stuff as a priority, not in words, but in actions. I once tried to set up a USATT League, but USATT wouldn't get behind it, so I was stuck trying to work a full-time job as USATT Editor and Webmaster, coaching at MDTTC, and in my free time (right!) set up, promote, and run a nationwide league.

Your thoughts? Or are you ready to leave your entire table tennis future in my (okay, our) greedy little hands?

ChineseNational Table Tennis Training Center

Want to train in China? See below! (They emailed me the info.)

2011 Spring Table Tennis Training Camp in CNTTTC

Dear Sir or Madam:

Welcome to Chinese National Table Tennis Training Center (CNTTTC). It is a great place for all table tennis players, lovers, professional or recreational, for all who know that a great sport to stay healthy and happy. The mission of the Center is to provide a conducive environment that nurtures, coaches and develops aspiring table tennis players of all ages and all countries to achieve their goals by realizing their potential in the sport and promote Ping Pong to its fullest. All table tennis teams, clubs, individuals, groups from social to competitive level can participate at any time; there is a spring intensive training camp in the center which begins on March 1st, 2011 and ends on June 19th, 2011.During this period. A lot of table tennis players from many foreign countries will come here for intensive training. You are most welcome to the center for spring table tennis training camp. Don’t hesitate to participate in our training programs. Cherish this precious opportunity to take national level training in China’s BEST table tennis developing center. As for details, Please feel free to visit our official website: www.cntttc.org or contact me hebocst2@gmail.com

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March 9, 2011

Use the flippin' down-the-line flip!

I beat a top junior player twice in a row in practice. How? He served almost the same short backspin serve over and over, allowing me to drop them all short. Then he'd either push long (so I was attacking first on his serve), or occasionally flip - but all his flips were crosscourt, so I had no problem attacking them. Note to all readers: 1) Vary your serves; and 2) Use the flippin' down the line flip!!! (Except against me, of course.)

Generally, you should flip to the forehand only when can do so very aggressively, or when the opponent has a weak forehand. More often you should move in as if flipping to the forehand, then flip it quick and wide into the backhand. You can also flip into the middle (the opponent's elbow), but only if you are flipping aggressively - and if you are, you might want the extra table you have when flipping to a wide corner. After all, you won't have all the topspin of a loop to pull it down.

Complete Idiots Guide doesn't think Complete Idiots play table tennis

As I blogged previously, I had an agent shopping "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Table Tennis." Unfortunately, below is the response from the publisher, including her surprise at the large number of players who play table tennis in the U.S. (The agent is now shopping it to the Dummies people, but they already turned it down a couple of years ago.)

"I am surprised at some of the numbers below. I have to admit, it’s a bigger market than I would have guessed. And the author is ideal for such a project. However, I’m going to pass because I’m not convinced this a book that can work for us in today’s environment. There are too many more visually compelling ways to learn how to play table tennis than from reading a book. I don’t think we could sell enough copies for this to work financially for us. Sorry."

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March 8, 2011

The Forehand Loop: Chinese vs. European Theory

The forehand loop is often taught differently by Chinese and European coaches, though there is, of course, a lot of overlap. The general Chinese theory is that the loop is an extension of the drive, and so you focus first on the forehand drive. When that's very strong, then you extend the backswing and learn to graze the ball, and you have a loop. The general European theory is that they are two very distinct shots, and the loop is often taught very early.

Kids who focus on hitting early on (and generally develop strong blocking games as well) tend to get better early, while those who focus on looping early on seem to catch up when they are bigger and have enough power. If the hitter gets stuck mostly hitting and blocking, the loopers tend to pass them. If the hitter develops a big loop and learns to use it, well, that's almost the definition of a top Chinese player. Meanwhile, players who learn to loop early on but never really develop their table game (especially blocking) often get stuck at a level because of this hole in their game. 

Losing weight

Losing 17 pounds seems to have made me a better player. How 'bout that! People keep asking me how I lost 17 pounds in two months. Basically I did it by snacking constantly! Yes, from morning to night, whether I'm hungry or not, I keep snacking . . . on celery, carrots, cabbage, and tomatoes. When it was meal time, I wasn't that hungry. I also stopped drinking ice tea and went with plain water. I also tried to get exercise, mostly through table tennis and a few shadow practice sessions each week - I keep a weighted racket at my desk. (Good for practicing forehands and braining intruders.)

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March 7, 2011

Table Tennis Chats

Sometime after the Cary Cup Championships (March 18-20), I'm going to ask in my blog and on the forum who would attend. Assuming there is enough interest, we'll have a test chat, and then I'll start scheduling guests - coaches and top players.

Ping-Pong and third baseman J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles

Yep, he's a table tennis player! Here's an excerpt from an online interview:

Q: What are some things you like to do when you're not playing ball?
J.J. I've got a lot of little hobbies. Fishing – now that we're out here in Florida for Spring Training, I fish pretty much every single day when we're done here.  In the off-season I spend a lot of time playing Ping Pong, try to keep my game up there.  Not as much golf anymore, I used to golf quite a bit.  Kind of shot that down, now more Ping Pong and fishing.

Q: How did you get to become a Ping Pong player?
J.J. My dad was a professional tennis player, and he still teaches for a living, and we grew up around it and I have a brother who is about 17 months older than I am, we played Ping Pong growing up and it was a sport that we kind of clicked at, and having someone as good as I was at it, and me as good as he was, kind of kept us getting better. I take a lot of pride in my Ping Pong.

Things from 1981 I'd forgotten about

As I've reported, I'm spending a couple weeks with Tim Boggan doing the page layouts and photo work on his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 11 (!). We're covering 1981 right now, which is right when I shot up as a player, starting with winning the North Carolina Open, going undefeated and winning the North Carolina Teams, and then pulling of a series of upsets at the U.S. Open. Here are some excerpts from Table Tennis Topics, now USATT Magazine:

North Carolina Teams

"Larry, in his contest with Billy James, gave 'reckless abandon' a new meaning. He hustled about like maybe Nittaku was going to stop making balls."

"None were able to withstand Larry's relentless cannon-like loops."

U.S.Open

"Larry downed both Zvi Rathaus, who'd played for Israel in the '71 World's, and Canada's Alain Bourbonnais, who'd gotten to the semi's of the 2400's and would that fall make the Canadian National Team." (Note - I also upset Sean O'Neill, then rated 2303, the last time I'd ever beat him.)

Northern Virginia Top Twelve Invitational

"Would that or something so equally analyzable ('Keep the ball out of the middle third of the table') explain how Randy [Seemiller] beat Sean O'Neill yet lost to Larry Hodges? . . .  After his win over Randy he's gonna . . . offer his services as local, regional, national, or international coach—wherever he's wanted."

1981 USTTA Olympic Camp

"During free time crazy games were played—like the raw egg toss, or the watermelon seed-spitting contest. Special awards were given out—for example, for the tidiest room (won the first week by Larry Hodges who also shared the two weeks' Most Congenial award with Anh-Tai Nguyen)."

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March 4, 2011

Blog hits

You know what's irritating? Due to the way the blog is set up, it only registers a "hit" if a person goes to the blog and clicks on a specific blog on a specific date. The problem is that since the blog (as currently set up) shows the entire blog for every day since I started it on Feb. 18, so there's no need for a person to actually click on one of them. So it doesn't register as a "hit." I'm working with a programmer to fix this problem, but while the daily blog only lists at most dozens of hits, it's actually in the hundreds each day, with a cumulative total in the thousands. I'll have more specific numbers later.

When should you learn to backhand loop?

There was a time when this was considered "advanced," and players didn't bother with it until they were 2000 level. Now just about any club player can backhand loop. It's a complete paradigm shift. These days when I work with a new player, we get to backhand looping roughly as soon as they can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands - which is usually in the first five lessons. I focus on backhand looping against backspin, but if backhand looping seems natural to them, then I might have them backhand against the block relatively early. It's important players not get too far ahead of their level and spend most of their time working on advanced shots when they can't do the fundamentals - you gotta get the fundamentals down - but that's no reason a player can't start on these shots early on, as long as they develop them properly.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland

It's not too late to sign up! There are now eleven people on the list (4 definites, 7 probables). Since I plan to limit to 16, you better hurry up! Here's the USATT announcement, and the info flyer. Seminar is April 16-17 and 23-24 at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, with a Paralympic seminar on April 30.

Are You a Complete Idiot?

I just finalized working with an agent in preparing a proposal for "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Table Tennis." (It's a huge publisher, similar in scale to the Dummies series.) She'll be pitching it to the publisher sometime soon. Cross your fingers. I've already crossed mine. Also my toes, my arms and legs, and my eyes.

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March 3, 2011

The long wait is over . . . Tim arrived this morning

Yes, that's Tim Boggan, USATT Hall of Famer and author of History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. Yes, there are ten of them, and that only got us up to 1981! I've been doing the page layouts and photo work for these volumes - we do this once every year - with hall of fame photographer Mal Anderson helping scan the photos the last few issues.

And now Tim has gone and done the unthinkable . . . Volume 11 is ready! It covers 1981-1982. Yep, another 550 pages on just two years! Tim's rather comprehensive in his histories.

So he's moving in with me this morning for two weeks so we can put together the 550 or so pages. Basically, he'll be sitting next to me saying things like, "No, you fool, the Dan Seemiller looping photo goes there!" and stuff like that. Then, on March 17, we'll drive down to the 4-star Butterfly Cary Cup in Cary, NC, where I'm playing just the hardbat event on Friday (I won last year) and coaching, and Tim's doing the coverage.

Why do I have the feeling the next two weeks I'll be blogging about a lot of historical stuff? Maybe I'll post a daily photo or excerpt from that day's work. Maybe embarrassing photos of today's champions when they were kids? (Or I could blackmail them not to post them? Heh heh.)

Here's a short ITTF Video

It's one of those short inspirational videos (just over two minutes long), and a good way to wake you up in the morning, or get you ready to play at the club at night.

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March 2, 2011

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland

I'm running an ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland on weekends, April 16-17, 23-24, and (for Paralympics) April 30. USA Table Tennis has a news item on their home page on it. Here's the info flyer. And below is the news item. Hope you can join us!

There will be an ITTF Level 1 Coaching Seminar at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD, run by Larry Hodges. The seminar will be run on weekends: April 16-17, 23-24, and 30, with two sessions each day from 9-12, 1-4. There will be a minimum of 10 students, and a maximum of 16.

The ITTF Coaching Section is 24 hours (four sessions), and will be on the first two weekends. On April 30 there will be two Paralympics sessions. You may miss the Apr. 30 Paralympics sessions and still receive ITTF Level 1 certification but without IPTTC certification.

Those who attend can both improve their coaching skills and, upon completion of course requirements (which include 30 hours of coaching after the seminar), will be certified as an ITTF coach. Fee is $200 for the ITTF Coaching sessions, $60 for the optional Paralympics sessions. All students are required to purchase the ITTF-IPTTC Level 1 Coaching Manual, which you can buy at PaddlePalace.com, or order through Hodges by April 7. For more info on ITTF coaching, see the ITTF Coach Accreditation process.

Coaches needing housing should make their own arrangements at the Holiday Inn (one mile away), 301-948-8900.

Hodges, a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame, is a USATT National Coach and an ITTF certified coach. For more info, see the flyer, or contact Coach Larry Hodges.

Videos from the 2010 USA Nationals

Did you miss the 2010 USA Nationals? Now you can watch most of the big matches! The videos are online, courtesy of the US Olympic Committee.

Article on Ichiro Ogimura

Here's a great article in Ogimura, two-time World Men's Singles Champion and former President of the ITTF. Here's the start:

In the dark days after World War II, Japan desperately needed something positive to pull the nation out of the physical and emotional rubble that it found itself in.

One unlikely hero who came along in the 1950s was a skinny, determined schoolboy named Ichiro Ogimura, who would go on to claim a dozen table tennis world titles before becoming a coaching icon and the sport's top administrator.

But Ogimura was much more than a ping-pong prodigy. The man who started out as a self-absorbed, win-at-all-costs table-tennis tyrant later used his many accomplishments and connections to help unite nations and people.

Read more!

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March 1, 2011

Yes, they all play table tennis!

Yesterday I updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. (Special thanks to Steve Grant, world's greatest celebrity playing table tennis photo-finding sleuth!) It now has 1171 photos of 695 celebrities, all playing table tennis. Yesterday's updates were:

  • Singers: Justin Bieber, Lil Jon, Elton John
  • Actors: Kevin Spacey, Joe E. Brown, Michael Ansara
  • Actresses: Barbara Eden, Susan Sarandon (new picture), Ginger Rogers, Jessica Alba, Madeleine Sologne, Phyllis Brooks
  • Leaders: Walter Mondale, Benjamin Netanyahu (prime minister of Israel), Juan Carlos (future king of Spain)
  • Athletes: Rafael Nadal, tennis player (new photo), Nicolas Kiefer (tennis player), Trevor Berbick (boxer), Sam Bradford (football quarterback)
  • Writers: A.J. Jacobs, Howard Jacobson, Jerome Charyn, Steven Berkoff, Sloane Crosley, Davy Rothbart, Jonathan Safran Foer

Want to see a robot juggle ping-pong balls?

I do! Make sure to go to 1:05 when the second ball is added - it's pretty impressive. But then here's a humanoid robot--or more like a Terminator robot--that apparently can play table tennis! I wonder if there's video somewhere?

What U.S. table tennis celebrity is moving in with me for two weeks this Thursday?

See if you can guess!

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February 28, 2011

Congrats to the 2011 USA World and Pan Am Teams!

Here are results and other items on the Trials that were held this past weekend. I heard that on the first day, after Barney Reed upset top seed Fan Yiyong (-10,12,5,4,-10,7), Reed collapsed in his next match, against Mark Hazinski, and went to the hospital in an ambulance. According to the results, he completed the match against Hazinksi, but lost badly (7,2,5,5), finishing third in the group, and then defaulted the match for 5/6 against Michael Landers. I post more on this if I find out more.

World Team Men

Mark Hazinski, Yiyong Fan, Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh

World Team Women

Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu, Prachi Jha

Pan Am Team Men

Mark Hazinski, Yiyong Fan, Timothy Wang

Pan Am Team Women

Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu

Where should the first attack go?

Most players tend to attack first to the opponent's backhand, especially at the beginning and intermediate levels. At the higher levels, players often go after the forehand more, whether the opponent is stronger on the forehand or backhand. Most players block better on the backhand, so it makes sense to go to the forehand side first instead, where they are weaker. It also allows you to move the opponent to the forehand side and then come back to the backhand, and a moving backhand can be rather awkward.

Oriole Ping-Pong!

"The Orioles [Baltimore baseball team] put a ping pong table in the middle of the clubhouse, which proves that manager Buck Showalter isn't all business. He'll let the guys have a little fun, as long as it doesn't interfere with their work. J.J. Hardy is ridiculously good. So are Nick Markakis and Jake Arrieta, but Hardy looks like the undisputed champion. Nice reflexes."

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February 25, 2011

The U.S. National and Pan Am Team Trials

They start today, with the qualifier today, and the main trials on Sat & Sun. Here's the USATT coverage page, with draws, results, live streaming, media coverage links, etc. Here's a three-minute video about the Trials. Good luck to everyone, and may both players in every match win!

Playing the wide angles

Why don't players focus on this more? For the great majority of shots, everything should go to one of three spots: wide backhand, wide forehand, or at the opponent's middle, i.e. playing elbow. And yet most intermediate players tend to play most shots to the middle backhand or middle forehand.

Giving examples of specific matches where this made a difference makes it sound like unique examples, when in fact this is a regular tactic that will win for you. But I'll give two good examples. At the Junior Olympics a while back, I was coaching a player who had made the final of Under 14 by upset. In the final he faced the top seed, who he'd never beaten. The top seed had a very nice serve and forehand loop. So what was the strategy? I told the player I was coaching to early on return a few serves to the wide forehand. Then the rest of the match he took the serve (mostly backspin serves) right off the bounce and basically chip it back inside the server's wide backhand. He didn't do it aggressively at all, yet this simple placement strategy completely took away the server's third ball attack, and won him the National Championship. The following year he played the same player in the Under 16 final, and using the same strategy, upset him again.

Here's another example. I was playing an elderly pips-out penhold player with a very nice forehand smash. I realized that if I simply put the ball inside his backhand corner - with the threat of going to the wide forehand occasionally - he couldn't get around fast enough to use his forehand. So that simple strategy won the match.

Congressional Award

I'm an advisor with one of our cadet players who is working for the Congressional Award for Personal Fitness. Here's the website for the Congressional Award, and here's info on the Personal Fitness Award. Most U.S. cadet and junior players aren't in nearly as good shape as their overseas rivals; this is a great way to encourage and inspire them to get in the shape needed to compete at the highest levels. Or to just get in shape.

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