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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 noon, 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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 11:51
May 8, 2012

Where do the best players come from?

There are many ways of answering this, but I saw Donn Olsen mention on a table tennis forum how Michael Jordan was described as a "gym rat," and realized that was the answer. Gym rats are people who live and breathe their sport, are the first to show up and the last to leave, and always want to stay longer. They are the ones who practice serves on break, who crave footwork drills, and always are playing at the end. We all know someone like this, and deep down, we all envy them.

Not everyone can be a gym rat. Maybe you can be a gym bird, someone who comes in when he can, then flies south to go back to work, school, or family, and so your table tennis forays are mostly flybys. So make the most of these flybys - practice and play hard! Maybe take a few lessons, practice your serves, and bring a racket to work so you can shadow practice on break. 

Orioles Ping-Pong

On the way back from coaching yesterday I was listening to the pre-show before an Orioles game, where they were interviewing Chris Davis. In the background I could hear them playing table tennis! As...




Monday, May 7, 2012 - 13:30
May 7, 2012

Tip of the Week

How to Play and Practice with Weaker Players.

Returning the tomahawk serve

This is the serve where you serve with the racket tip up, and contact the ball on the right side, so it curves to the left, and the spin makes the ball come to your right off the opponent's paddle. It's awkward for many to take a ball spinning away from them on the forehand side and aim to the right, especially if the ball is short - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side, and often they miss by going off the side to the left, or they allow the opponent to camp out on the forehand side. (This is for two righties; lefties make the usual adjustments. Sorry.)

Now think about this. Have you ever missed returning this serve by returning off the right side? Probably not. So just take it down the line, to the (righty's) backhand, knowing the sidespin will keep you from going off the side. Contact the back of the ball, perhaps slightly on the left side, so that...




Friday, May 4, 2012 - 13:45
May 4, 2012

Coaching level versus playing level

Does one need to be a top player to be a top coach? The question often comes up, and there's an easy answer. No.

However . . . and this is a big HOWEVER . . . it's very difficult to become a top coach without being a top player first. It's a matter of opportunity. If you are a member of the National Team, you train for many years with other top players and work with the best coaches in the country, and if you are paying attention, you gain the experience necessary to be a top coach.

It's possible to be a very good basics coach, one who can train new and intermediate players very well, without being as experienced working with top players. But the key problem to watch for here is that many coaches who teach basics teach them in a way that will later hurt the player. For example, some hold back on teaching the loop, especially the backhand loop, for so long that hitting becomes ingrained, while looping never becomes comfortable. Or they have the player use beginner's sponge so long that their development is held back because they develop a game around beginner's sponge...




Thursday, May 3, 2012 - 13:11
May 3, 2012

USATT Committee and Task Force Meetings and Minutes

As noted in my blog on April 27, one week ago I sent an email to the USATT board, staff, and committee chairs asking where I could find the minutes of USATT committee and task force meetings. The USATT bylaws require these be published within 30 days (Section 9.10). USATT has not been doing so over the last five years or so (since the new bylaws were created), and so either there have been zero meetings or they have not been following their bylaws. (And I happen to know they have had numerous committee and task force meetings.) This is not a case of them not realizing they were not following the bylaws as I have reminded them of this a number of times over the last three years, by email, at meetings, and in person.

One week later and the only response was a private email by one committee chair who said he kept minutes and sent them to USATT, but they were never published. (He attached a copy of the minutes.)

This is a clear case of USATT being wrong, they know...




Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 12:08
May 2, 2012

Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America by Steve Grant

During a break between coaching sessions I pulled out the book "Ping Pong Fever" (260 oversized pages, available at amazon.com, $15.95) and spent a fascinating afternoon learning about the 1902 American table tennis craze. (Here's the cover.) The basic story is this: table tennis swept America in 1902 as a huge fad, and then was nearly forgotten for over two decades. If you have any sort of historical bent, or simply want to read about table tennis and its beginnings, you'll want to read this book. You don't even have to read it, though that's highly recommended; just the pictures tell the story. And it's absolutely packed with vintage table tennis pictures, circa 110 years ago. (Now I know why Steve Grant is the #1 contributor of pictures for CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com.) A bunch...




Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 09:34
May 1, 2012

Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov

[Note - I did a very short review of this here in February, but I decided to do a more extensive one - after all, this is primarily a coaching blog, and this is a unique coaching book. Tomorrow I've got another book review, of Steve Grant's "Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America."]

I recently read the excellent book Breaking 2000, by Alex Polyakov (Breaking 2000, 140 pages, available in paperback and ebook). The book is a first-hand step-by-step look at the strategic development of a player from near beginner to an advanced level. I don't think I've seen it covered like this anywhere else. Instructional books generally do a good job in teaching how to do each technique; this book shows the actual events taking place as the techniques were learned, how they were learned, and most important, why. (And on a related note, Alex's coach, Gerald Reid, who is mentioned throughout the book, came to several of my training camps back in the 1990s!)

Improvement in table tennis is rarely a steady...




Monday, April 30, 2012 - 13:08
April 30, 2012

Tip of the Week

Chalk Up Wins with Chop Blocks.

Coaching breakthroughs

A number of my students had "minor" breakthroughs this weekend, especially some of the younger kids, and it all added up to a rather successful weekend of coaching. (Twelve hours total.) I titled this "coaching breakthroughs," but perhaps that should be "playing breakthroughs"? After all, it's the players who are having breakthroughs!

  • One six-year-old who literally couldn't put the ball on the table last week - he had this nasty habit of opening his paddle at the last second and smacking the ball up - mostly fixed that problem, and was able to hit about 20 in a row. In a game at the end of the session he knocked down nearly an entire pyramid of paper cups with one shot, something he hadn't come close to doing before.
  • Another solved her problem on the backhand and hit 65 in a row. She's the type that never seems to smile while playing - but she was all grins after that.
  • One kid learned...



Friday, April 27, 2012 - 12:44
April 27, 2012

U.S. Nationwide Club Team League

As I noted in my blog yesterday, you can still enter your club in the league and save $75 if you do so by Monday - so enter now! Here's the web page with full info. I attended an hour-long online video presentation of the league yesterday with live audio as Attila Malek explained the league and answered questions. I expect we'll have a bunch of teams from my club playing in this first ever nationwide league. If a success, this will be the first step toward changing table tennis in the U.S. from a secondhand sport into a powerhouse.

The league is set up regionally so that teams don't have to travel far for their matches. They have sponsors, and are giving out $100,000 in prize money in the five divisions. As of yesterday, they had 104 teams signed up, as I noted in my blog. I just checked, and they are now up to 127 teams.

It is through such leagues that memberships and revenue skyrocket. Germany has 700,000 league members...




Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 13:39
April 26, 2012

Staying low

A low stance lowers the center of gravity while bending the knees. Both of these allow for quicker movements as well as added power. This is important, especially at higher levels where quick footwork and power dominate. At the beginning stage it's not as comfortable, but once you get used to it it's hard to imagine playing without a low stance. So it's a good idea to get in the habit early in your playing career. (If someone plays most of their life but are not professionals, like 99.9999% of us, is it a "playing career"?)

Many players say they can read spin better when they stay low, especially when returning serves. Many players adopt an extra low stance for receiving serve, and then go to a less low stance the rest of the rally. I've always suspected that the low stance doesn't really help read the spin better so much as it allows them to react to the spin faster.

When players think about footwork, they mostly think about moving to the ball in a rally, where they move mostly side to side as they run down each shot. Footwork for returning serves is way underestimated, which is one reason...




Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 12:57
April 25, 2012

Set-up serves versus point-winning serves

I was teaching serves to a new student recently, and started to launch into my usual speech about the purpose of serves. Before I could finish, he interrupted and said, "I don't want to focus on serves that opponents miss. I want serves that set me up to do my best shots." He then explained how he wouldn't feel comfortable if he tried to win points on the serve outright, since if the serve did come back it likely wouldn't be setting up his strengths. Instead, he wanted serves that allowed him to use his relatively strong backhand. He also wanted to use serves to help set up his developing forehand and backhand, since the practice he'd get from using these serves and following up with a loop would make his attack stronger. 

I was stunned - this was exactly what I was about to explain, and this relative beginner already understood this. (Okay, he later admitted he'd read some articles of mine on the subject, such as this one, and in past blogs.) But that meant he'd done his research before signing up...