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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!

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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

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 14:18
February 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Opening Up the Forehand Zone.

Opening Up the Forehand Zone, Part II

The following happened on Saturday night - and I swear it happened after I wrote this week's Tip of the Week. (And now you know what I do on Saturday nights.)

I had a new student, around age 40, with some serious technique problems. His level was somewhere under 1000 in USATT ratings. He'd had a few lessons before at another club, but things hadn't gone well there. As soon as we started hitting forehand to forehand, you could see he had a serious problem with his grip, which seemed to lead to an awkward forehand. His finger pointed upward on the blade, his wrist fell backward, and he more or less punched at the ball in front of him instead of from the side. The obvious and easiest solution was to fix his grip, and then work on the stroke. And that's exactly what others had tried to get him to do. It hadn't worked.

At the USATT coaching seminar I taught last year I regularly harped on the idea of fixing the root cause of problems,...




Friday, February 24, 2012 - 14:54
February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden...




Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 12:34
February 23, 2012

Topspin on the backhand

One of the junior players I coach has been struggling to put topspin on his backhand. They all come out either totally flat (i.e. spinless) or even with slight backspin. This greatly hampers the pace at which he can rally consistently.

I'd tried for weeks to get him to put a little topspin on the shot, but nothing seemed to work. I had him exaggerate the rolling motion, almost like a mini-loop. I had him watch top players as they hit their backhands. I guided him through the stroke. But as soon as we went to rallying, he'd be back to his super-flat stroke.

Yesterday I tried something new and yet simple. I told him to just take the ball right off the bounce, with the racket at table level, and perpendicular to the table. At contact, I told him to lift the ball up over the net. It seemed so simple, and was nearly the same as the way I'd guided him through the stroke, and yet it worked - the rest of the session his backhand had that light topspin needed to control the ball. (Occasionally he'd fall into his old habits, but I'd remind him, and he'd go back to doing it properly.) He said it...




Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 13:23
February 22, 2012

Why good serves and steadiness go together

Many players believe that good serves and an attacking game go together. It makes sense - the good serves set up the attacking game. But I'd argue that good serves work even better if you have a control game. Why is this?

Suppose your good serves set you up to attack effectively against your peers two-thirds of the time. Then one-third of the time when you serve you are stuck not opening with a strong attack. On the other guy's serve you are also forced to start the rally playing more control as you look for a ball to attack. This means that you are starting out about one-third of the time using your strong attack, and stuck on the rest of the points. (Yes, you could attack the serve, but if the opponent is a peer, you shouldn't be able to attack his serve that strongly.)

Now let's suppose you have a control game. Even if you are a control player, those good serves are going to set you up for some easy putaways. Let's suppose you can do this one-third of the time when you serve. Plus you are able to play control on the other guy's serve 100% of the time. Result? You...




Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 15:14
February 21, 2012

On the Talent vs. Training Debate....

After 10,000 hours of systematic training with the world's best coaches, this lizard has learned how to nail its prey.

Now, before you jump to a conclusion on what I believe based on my lizard example, let me be clear: I consider innate talent to be at most just a small aspect of what it takes to be a great player. Early on, talent helps tremendously, but as you move up the spectrum, hard work, coaching, and a good training environment pay off far more. (Also, it doesn't help to talk to students about talent, since they have no control over it. Those who don't believe in talent probably have an advantage over others as they aren't held back by doubts about their own innate "talent.")

But to argue absolutely that we all start with the exact same brain hardware simply isn't true. The brain is a complex organ that's evolved many built-in areas of specialization - spatial skills, verbal areas, facial recognition areas, etc., and as noted above, a lizard's innate ability to...




Monday, February 20, 2012 - 13:45
February 20, 2012

Tip of the Week

Moving Players In and Out.

Topspin

I'm often amazed at how the world of table tennis is divided between two types: those who use the full power of topspin in their games, and those who don't. This doesn't mean looping every ball, but it does mean using topspin to control your offensive shots and often your defensive ones as well. Even when doing simple forehands or backhands a little topspin goes a long way. I know; I sometimes hit the ball too flat and pay the price.

It's actually very simple. Topspin pulls the ball down. This means balls that would go off the end instead curve down and hit the table. It's like having an additional couple of feet of table to aim for. The best way of demonstrating it is to drop a ball near the end line, and hit it as it reaches table level. Try smashing flat, and watch it go off. Then smash with a little topspin, and watch as it occasionally hits the far side, but only barely. Then loop kill it, and watch how it often hits the table with two feet to spare. (Of course, you have to be...




Friday, February 17, 2012 - 14:52
February 17, 2012

Developing a smash

At the highest levels, many top players don't even bother to smash - even if the ball is eye-level high, they loop. However, for most players, a smash is a must. Here are some keys to developing a good smash, forehand or backhand.

First, get some coaching or watch the top players. Here's a tutorial from PingSkills (3:58) on the forehand smash, and here's Tahl Leibovitz demonstrating the backhand smash (1:35). It's still best to work with a coach who can figure out and fix any flaws in your technique.

Second, practice. Here are two of the best smashing drills.

  • Hard-Soft Drill. This really should be called the Hard-Medium Drill. Your partner blocks while you alternate hitting a medium drive and then a smash. As long as you keep the ball to the same spot, your partner should be able to return many of your smashes, with practice. A variation is to hit two medium drives and then a smash. This allows you to focus more on technique with the two drives. You can do this forehand...



Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 11:42
February 16, 2012

Over- and Under-Playing

Both Over- and Under-playing are scourges of match play. I'm not sure which happens often. I'm guessing most would say they lose more often from under-playing down to a "weaker" opponent, but I’m not so sure. Players often lose by over-playing, but don't realize it.

Under-playing means you play down to the level of your "weaker" opponent. It usually means that you hold back on your stronger aggressive shots, playing a safer, passive game that allows the opponent to take control and often win. It's a quick way to blow a rating or ranking.

Over-playing means you try to play at a level that's not only beyond your normal capacity, but beyond what is needed to win. For example, I'll often play lower-rated players who feel that to beat me they have to blast winners on every shot. It makes winning rather easy. (On the other hand, it's a far scarier opponent who attacks consistently, forcing a stronger opponent to choose between risky counter-attacks or playing steady and giving the opponent more chances to find the right ball to blast for a winner.) However,...




Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 12:14
February 15, 2012

Banana Receives

Perhaps the biggest change at the higher levels in table tennis in recent years is the advent of the backhand "banana" receive. This is the nickname used for a backhand topspin flip of a serve, essentially a mini-loop, with the name referring to the curve the racket goes through with the stroke. It's done against any type of spin, but it's against short backspin that it is most effective. Some do it with straight topspin; most can add sidespin. It's much easier to do this type of shot on the backhand than the forehand, where the wrist is more locked, and so more and more players are covering more and more of the table with this backhand shot. At the U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials this past weekend (Feb. 9-12), it was the receive of choice of nearly every player.

Some players used it nearly every receive they could. Others mixed it up with short pushes. The ones who didn't use it much were thought of as "old school," while all the younger players used the banana flip over and over.

From a server's point of view, it complicates things. If you serve short to a corner, you give...




Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 14:43
February 14, 2012

Tip of the Week

Those Dizzying No-Spin Serves.

Happy Valentines Day!

Here's your Ping-Pong Champion Valentine!

Results for U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials

Here are the Final Twelve results for Men and Women. (The top ten men and women were seeded into the Final Twelve, with a Qualifier held for the final two spots in each. Here's the Men's Qualifier and the Women's Qualifier.) The top four made the U.S. National Team and advance to the...