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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

Thursday, March 24, 2011 - 13:29
March 24, 2011

Frictionless Long pips

As a coach, I've spent a lot of time over the years thinking about long pips, both how to play against and with them, and about whether they should be legal. My thinking on this has evolved over the years. I admit I'm somewhat skeptical of the pure long-pips blocking style, especially when a player basically covers the entire table by just reaching out and blocking everything back dead with long pips without sponge. In my opinion, it simply isn't very athletic, and table tennis is a sport. But it's legal, and as players and coaches, it's our job to figure out how to play against any legal surface. Besides, if you were to ban long pips, you'd essentially lose the chopping style, which is truly athletic and great for spectators. Plus not all long-pips blockers just stand there and block - some play an athletic forehand game, with the long pips often more a weakness than a strength.

Recently there's been a lot of debate about frictionless long pips. The ITTF made a regulation a while back that they are illegal. (Technically, no surface is frictionless, but they are defining frictionless to be...




Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 13:04
March 23, 2011

Fifth-Ball Attack

On the forum today, someone posted questions about the fifth-ball attack, and why players tend to miss the fifth ball when the third ball is against backspin. Specifically, he wrote, "I've noticed that the 5th ball is missed quite often when the 3rd ball attack is against under spin."

Some quick definitions:

  • Third-ball attack means the server serves, the opponent receives, and the server attacks.
  • Fifth-ball attack means the server serves, the opponent receives, the server attacks with the intent of setting up a ball to put away, the receiver returns the attack, usually with a block, and the server attacks again, often trying to end the point.

The most basic third-ball attack is when the server serves backspin (usually short, at least at the higher levels so opponent can't loop it), the opponent pushes it back long, and the server loops, often looking to end the point on that shot. The most basic fifth-ball attack is when the server serves backspin (again, mostly short),...




Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 12:03
March 22, 2011

Heavy Backspin Serves

When I give serve lectures at our clinics, I often demonstrate heavy backspin by serving with an extremely open racket - so open that it actually is aiming backwards, and you contact bottom front of the ball - and serve so the ball jumps back into the net. (It's more easily done with a high toss.) Here's a pair of great videos at TableTennisMaster that demo this - first Chinese star Ma Lin (shirtless) demonstrating the serve (1:18), and then a more detailed demo that shows how it is done (2:10). They call them "ghost serves." 

If you can serve heavy backspin serves and keep them very low and short (i.e. so they'd bounce twice if given the chance), they are almost unattackable. (A key word here is low.) Almost everyone pushes them back. At the higher levels, many players will drop them short. To combat this, and to get some easy balls, learn to both serve heavy backspin and "heavy no-spin," i.e. use the same motion as if serving heavy backspin but contact the ball toward the handle (where it's not...




Monday, March 21, 2011 - 13:47
March 21, 2011

2011 Butterfly Cary Cup

Part 1: Getting there - Thursday, March 17

Tim Boggan had been staying at my house for two weeks as I did the layouts and photo work on History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 11, so we went down together on Thursday, March 17. He was doing the coverage while I was playing only in the hardbat event, coaching the rest of the way. The drive down was uneventful other than the usual extravagantly expensive Tim kept treating me to (as he had for two weeks). I could eat for a week on what he paid for one of our meals. I spent Thursday night in Tim's hotel room.

Part 2: Hardbat - Friday, March 18

This was held on Friday, from 10AM to 4PM. I was the defending champion, so all the pressure was on me, right? Ah well, us champions have to get used to it. :) In my round robin, I had a tough match with Chris OBrian (no apostrophe in his name) and his big forehand smash, and he led much of each game, but I ran them both out near the end. (All hardbat matches were best of three to 21, using 38mm balls.) Jim McQueen was also a surprisingly tough match with his touch and backhand pick-hitting, but I...




Friday, March 18, 2011 - 11:43
March 18, 2011

Tournament Morning

This morning I'm playing in the Cary Cup. Though I'm "only" playing in hardbat (the rest of the way "just" coaching), I still have to prepare. What does that mean?

  1. Get up early. I don't want to feel rushed.
  2. Some easy jogging and stretching. I don't want to feel stiff.
  3. A good breakfast of waffles. Because I want waffles.
  4. Get to the playing site early. I don't want to feel rushed.
  5. Some more easy jogging and stretching. Yada yada yada on the stiffness thing.
  6. Check out draws. Duh.
  7. Find someone to warm up with. I usually arrange someone to meet with the day before, but didn't have anyone this time. Hopefully I'll find someone.
  8. For hardbat, I want to warm up the forehand, backhand, backhand chop, and serve. For sponge, the forehand, backhand, forehand loop, backhand loop against underspin, push, and serve. In both cases, play out points at the end.
  9. Stop warmup about ten minutes before match time so I can rest.
  10. ...



Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 11:13
March 17, 2011

Off to Cary, hardbat and coaching

Tim Boggan and I are leaving for Cary, NC for the Butterfly Cary Cup Table Tennis Championships this morning. It's about six hours away. He's doing the coverage for USA Table Tennis Magazine, and then continuing on to South Carolina, where he'll meet his wife for a vacation through March 28. I'm playing the hardbat event on Friday (roughly 10AM-3PM - I'm the defending champion), and then I'm coaching the rest of the way. I'll mostly be coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the USA National Cadet Team and MDTTC, though I may coach some other Marylanders when I'm free.

Though I'm normally a sponge player, I've been playing hardbat for many years. At the U.S. Open or Nationals, I've won Hardbat Singles twice, Hardbat Doubles ten times, and Over 40 Hardbat four times. (I'm the current champion from the Nationals in December in the last two.) I'm basically an all-out forehand hitter, with five types of forehands: smash, quick hit, counter-hit,...




Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 12:00
March 16, 2011

Butterfly Cary Cup

Tomorrow I leave for the Cary Cup Open in North Carolina. I'm only playing in the hardbat event (I'm the defending champion, though I'm normally a sponge player), which is on Friday morning and afternoon. The rest of the tournament I'm just coaching. (Wait a minute - what's this "only" thing? Next time I'm playing in a tournament I'll tell people I'm "only" playing, not coaching. Hmmm...)

So what does one do just before a tournament? Why, practice serves, of course. Sometime today I'll stop by the club and practice my hardbat serves - yes, hardbat - so they'll be ready.

History of U.S. Table Tennis: Vol. 11!

It's hard to believe, but after 13 consecutive days of non-stop work, Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 11 (!) is done. (516 pages, 805 photos.) Tim moved in with me on March 3, and has been sleeping on my sofa ever since. (Mal Anderson helped tremendously by supplying and scanning most of the photos.) I spent my days doing the page layouts...




Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 12:24
March 15, 2011

Doubles Training at Double Speed!

Here's Massimo Costantini (head coach at ICC and former long-time member of the Italian National Team) training Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang in doubles. It's a pretty impressive video, though only a minute and nine seconds long. If you want to see some really advanced doubles footwork training, take a look. Just watching it will tire you out.

I've coached doubles at tournaments many times, and I've given lectures on doubles tactics and footwork. However, I've never had the opportunity to train a really, Really, REALLY high-level doubles team like this, especially on a regular basis. Unless you train for it a lot, this type of footwork is more likely to lead to horrible collisions and agonizing losses than glorious wins. But if you really want to be really good at doubles at a really high level, this is what you really need to learn how to do. Really.

One interesting note - the first time through, I thought Massimo was feeding multiball. The second time through I realized he was...




Monday, March 14, 2011 - 12:21
March 14, 2011

Losing your edge

This weekend I played a match against a fairly strong player, about 1900. It was near the end of a training session, and I was feeling tired and stiff (okay, feeling old), so we played two out of three to eleven. In the first game, I didn't really do much, and he kept missing. Up 9-0, I played two points chopping and lobbing to give him a chance, but he botched two shots, and I won 11-0. In the second game, I told myself not to let up . . . and then proceeded to let up. Consciously, I wasn't letting up, but subconsciously something was missing. Now I fell behind 0-4. At 4-9, I switched to chopping, and made it to 9-10 before chopping a fast, dead serve into the net. In the third game, after losing the first point and realizing that I could actually lose this match, my subconscious woke up, and now I could do no wrong as I won 11-2.

So why was I unable to play my best for that one game? In some ways, this is the root of sports psychology, i.e. bringing out your best. I really wanted to continue to play well, and yet something was missing and I was unable to. Deep down, both I and my subconscious knew (or thought we...




Friday, March 11, 2011 - 12:25
March 11, 2011

Talent versus hard work

There's much debate these days about whether table tennis players need talent to reach the highest levels, or if hard work will overcome it. The debate is often dominated by those who believe something toward the extremes as dogma. To be the very best, most seem to believe one of the following:

1) You have to have talent, and if you have that, hard work will pay off; or

2) There's no such thing as talent; it's all about working hard, plus proper circumstances (starting early, good coaching and competition, etc.).

Some look at just the best players, see that they work hard, and conclude it's all about hard work. They are not looking at the people who work hard don't become the best. Others see that some are more talented than others - we've all seen this type of thing in grade school - and conclude it's all about talent, and that if you don't have it, you can't be great.

Here's my take (short version). There's no question that there is such a thing as talent. Some kids simply pick things up very fast, others struggle. We're not all born with...