Larry Hodges' Blog and Tip of the Week will normally go up on Mondays by 1:00 PM USA Eastern time. 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 1900 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio. (Larry was awarded the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in July, 2018.)
NOTE - Larry is on 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 TipsMore Table Tennis Tips, and Still More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, 2014-2016, and 2017-2020, 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!

January 19, 2011

Closing Out a Match

I had an interesting discussion recently (via Facebook chat) with Gabriel Skolnick, a 2200 player from Pennsylvania who had been serving up 10-8 match point on Marcus Jackson (a 2450 player) this past weekend at the 11th Annual Holiday Classic Team Tournament in Pennsylvania. (We won't talk about the edges at the end, Marcus you lucky devil!) What type of serves should a player use to close out a close match?

Before we get to the serve itself, let's look at the mental aspect. A good serve probably won't help you if you are a nervous wreck. (Not unless you can get an outright miss or a ball so easy even a nervous wreck can't miss.) So first thing to do is learn to play relaxed at the end of a close match. That's sports psychology - you might want to check out the articles in the Sports Psychology section in the Articles page. (See the link to Dora Kurimay's website, which is devoted to sports psychology for table tennis players.)

As to the serves themselves, you have two basic choices. Should you go for a serve where you're pretty sure you'll get a ball you can attack, or get into the type of rally you want to get into? Or do you want to go for a "surprise" serve, and perhaps get an easy point? Let's look at surprise serves first.

The advantage of a surprise serve is it's basically a free point. It's supposed to force an outright miss or an easy pop-up. The down side is that surprise serves are generally all or nothing - either you get the easy point, or the opponent takes the initiative off it, usually attacking it. For example, a fast, deep serve can often force a miss, but it can also be looped. A short side-topspin serve can be popped up, but it can also be flipped aggressively.

There is a place for surprise serves, and you are handicapping yourself if you don't use them. But use them sparingly; overuse allows an opponent to get used to them. At the higher levels, surprise serves become less and less effective as stronger opponents are less often "surprised."

So what about your other serves? A major task for you during a match is to find out what serves you can use effectively against the opponent. If you like to loop pushes, and your opponent pushes your backspin serves long, then at the end, when it's close, guess what? Serve backspin and loop! If you like to serve and hit, perhaps serve topspin or sidespin. Others like to serve short, low no-spin serves, which are surprisingly difficult to flip or push effectively. Everyone's different; find out what serves work for you in general, and what serves work in the match you are playing. Develop confidence in following up these serves, and soon you'll not only be closing out those close matches, but you'll be winning easily where before you had close matches.

So closing out a match is a combination of sports psychology (playing relaxed and loose at the end) and knowing what tactics to use and having confidence in those tactics.

The Carrot & Celery Diet

On Dec. 26, 2010 - 24 days ago - I weighted 196 pounds. This morning I hit 186. My "secret"? I'm on the carrot and celery diet. I tend to snack a lot, often on foods that are high in calories. Now I'm snacking on carrots and celery. When I get sick of carrots, I eat celery; when I get sick of celery, I eat carrots. When I'm sick of both . . . I close my eyes and eat both. I'm also drinking water instead of Nestea. I'm going for 180 pounds. (I'm also exercising, though not as much as I should. I play table tennis 3-4 times a week, and shadow practice my shots about five minutes each day to get the blood going. I've also taken to doing 20 pushups each morning. I should do situps and other exercises as well, but I'm too lazy.

Coaching News

  • Are you on Facebook? Why not friend "ITTF Development"? Lots of interesting news there!

Send me your own coaching news!

January 18, 2011

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players

I've been thinking a lot recently about the seven habits of highly effective table tennis players. Why? Because I recently browsed a book I'd read long ago, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." The book lists these as the "7 Habits": 1) Be proactive; 2) Begin with the End in Mind; 3) Put First Things First; 4) Think Win/Win; 5) Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood; 6) Synergize; and 7) Sharpen the Saw. (Google the book if you want more info on any of these seven.)

There is a correlation between some of these and the habits of "highly effective table tennis players." For example, you don't get to be a top player without being proactive, i.e. striving to do what it takes to improve. However, I'm not going to try to create a one-to-one correlation between the seven habits listed and ones used by top table tennis players. Instead, I'm going to list my own list of seven habits of "highly effective table tennis players. Here's my list:

  1. Loves to practice.
  2. Proactive in finding ways to improve.
  3. A perfectionist in most or all aspects of the game.
  4. Is always thinking about their game, analytically and tactically.
  5. Never gives up, whether in tournaments or practice.
  6. Loves to compete and win.
  7. Is working toward specific goals, both short-, intermediate-, and long-term.

One item I tried to work in but couldn't find room: "Respects opponent's game even while looking to dominate them." So . . . what's your list?

The Backhand No-Spin Serve From the Forehand Court

Over the weekend I played one of our local 2250 cadet players. He's used to all my serves - mostly forehand pendulum high-toss serves, with lots of variations, and yet was so used to them that he handled them easily. Then I tried something desperate - a backhand no-spin serve from my forehand court! I'd tried no-spin serves already to no avail, but now that it was coming at him from a different angle, with a different motion, he completely fell apart against them. I came back and won that game and the next. He finally figured it out in the third game, and came back to win in five - but only after I missed a couple easy balls from up 9-8 in the fourth. (And let's face it, he's twice as fast as I am now, one month short of 51, with me still trying to play all-out forehand attack.) The simple serve worked, but I probably went to the well too many times, and at the end he was quick pushing it to the corners effectively.

Coaching News

  • Attila Malek (full-time coach in Sacramento, 1979 U.S. Men's Singles Champion) is now the USATT Club Representative Director as well as the Clubs Advisory Committee Chairman. See the USATT News item that lists the updated committee and board positions. (Malek replaced Linda Leaf on the board; that's the only board change.)
  • The USATT Coach of the Year nominations were announced a couple weeks ago. They are: Lily Yip (Coach of the Year), Sean O'Neill (Developmental Coach of the Year), and Daniel Rutenberg (Paralympic Coach of the Year). Congrats to these coaches!!!

Send me your own coaching news!

January 17, 2011

Let the ticker-tape parades begin - is here!

So here it is, What exactly is it? Someone wrote on the home page that it is "Your Worldwide Center for Table Tennis Coaching." Um, I wrote that, so I better explain. is both a table tennis coaching site and a developing table tennis community. It's a place where players and coaches get together. A place to find coaching articles, books, and videos. A place to find other coaching sites and training camps. A place to discuss all aspects of table tennis, both on the forum, and in comments to my blog and the Tip of the Week. Plus, starting soon, the weekly chats with "celebrity" coaches and players.

So here's my question to you: How can best help you? The comment section is below - comment away! My ears are already burning. (And because I notice that the "preview" portion of the blog ends here, let me point out that there's more - if it seems to end here, click on the "Read more" button!)

The blog will cover all aspects of table tennis, focusing mostly on the coaching side. I know I'm going to blog on the doings (and non-doings) of USA Table Tennis, and those could easily become heated discussions - but let's keep the temperature down and the reasonableness and courtesy up.

Coaching News

  • Congrats to Coach Lily Yip, who recently opened the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center, a 15,000-foot, 24-table full-time facility in Dunellen, New Jersey! Lily's a long-time full-time coach, and a former USA National and Olympic Team Member. They've already held their first camp there. I plan to visit at some point. At the Nationals, I discussed with Lily the idea of holding a USATT or ITTF camp there for top USA Cadets and Juniors. I'd like to bring a coalition of Maryland juniors there to train with their peers from around the country.
  • ICC Table Tennis recently hired Massimo Costantinias as their new head coach. Costantini was the former head coach for the Italian National Team and a member of the Italian National Team for an amazing 23 years. He joins Director/Coach Rajul Sheth, full-time coaches Opendro Singh, Kashyap Anal, Hailong Shen, Meng Tien, and Gidla Jitendra, and a number of part-time coaches. The full-time center, with about 18 tables, has become a force in USA Table Tennis the last few years, especially on the junior girls' side. It's getting scary out there!
  • Maryland Table Tennis Center recently brought in Zeng "Jeffrey" Xun as their newest coach, joining Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Larry Hodges (hey, that's me!), and Vahid Mosafari. Jeffrey's a former member of the Chinese Sichuan Province Team, and just spent a year coaching full-time in Vancouver, Canada. He played in the U.S. Open and the North American Teams, and despite no longer training as a player, achieved a rating of 2583. (Imagine when he was in practice!)
  • Coach Donn Olsen, who coached at Club JOOLA in Maryland the last few years, has accepted a full-time coaching position at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. (The site is in German, but you can read the Jan. 14, 2011 ITTF article about it in English. Werner Schlager of Austria, for you newbies, is the 2003 World Men's Singles Champion.) He's already over there, and wrote me the following tidbits (with my notes in brackets): "It's fun watching [former Chinese Team Member] Chen Weixing train and play matches against Werner. Werner left mid-week for a league match in France. [Romania's] Daniela Dodean was here late last week, chatting about her league match in Germany against [Hungary's] Georgina Pota. Peter-Paul Pradeeban [Canadian Team Member] was here for a day earlier in the week to do some training as he plays in the leagues here. Karl Jindrik, Werner's long-time doubles partner, now working for the ITTF, works out of the ITTF office here in the facility; dropped by yesterday also."

Send me your own coaching news!

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