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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 1PM, 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

Faking topspin and backspin serves

Anyone who has played me knows I like to serve forehand pendulum sidespin-topspin serves that look like backspin. However, I less frequently serve backspin serves that look like topspin. (Instead I tend to mess opponents up by mixing in backspin and no-spin serves.) This has probably been a mistake - I should have developed those serves just as much, and recently I've reincorporated those serves into my game, as recent opponents have lamented. But why was I hesitant before?

First, a short note on how to do these serves - and keep in mind you can't learn them just from reading about them, you need to see a coach or top player do them, and perhaps get some coaching. (Here's an article on using semi-circular motion to disguise your serve. And in the video section here there are a number of videos showing top players serving.)

To serve sidespin-topspin and make it look like backspin, most of the semi-circular motion must be down, but right at contact the left side of the racket (for righties) snaps around, contacting the ball in a sideways and upward direction. Immediately after contact the racket continues down, and if the opponent doesn't watch carefully, it'll look like backspin. They push, and the ball pops up. 

To serve sidespin-backspin, you essentially do the reverse. Right after the sidespin-backspin contact the racket rotates up, often with an exaggerated elbow motion. (Technically, an opponent could read these serves by assuming the spin is the reverse of the motion exaggerated, but you don't have time consciously read and react to a serve - it has to be reflex. Plus a good server keeps varying the motion, and the receiver can't pick up on the different motions quick enough.)

Ready position and basketball

So many players have poor ready positions. They stand up too straight, their feet are too close together, their weight isn't on the balls of their feet, and their non-playing arm hangs loosely at their side like a dead snake. But there's a simple cure I now use with many students. I go over to their side and say, "Let's play imaginary basketball. Cover me!" They immediately bend their knees to get down slightly, their feet go wider, their weight goes onto the balls of their feet, and their non-playing hand goes up. A perfect playing stance! So next time you play, why not get in the habit of starting each rally with a little imaginary basketball? (I wrote about this same topic yesterday, including the basketball angle, but I wanted to elaborate here.) 

Ten steps to a great service game

  1. Learn to serve with lots of spin by accelerating the racket through the ball and grazing it.
  2. Learn to serve various spins, including backspin, side-backspin, sidespin, side-topspin, and topspin, with the sidespins going both ways.
  3. Learn to serve low.
  4. Learn to control the depth and direction of the serve.
  5. Learn to serve with spin using a semi-circular motion so you can create different spins with the same motion by varying where in the motion you contact the ball.
  6. Learn to minimize and do quickly this semi-circular motion so receiver has trouble picking up contact.
  7. Learn to change the direction of your follow-through with your racket the split second after contact to mislead the receiver.
  8. Learn to fake spin and serve no-spin by contacting the ball near the handle.
  9. Learn to serve fast & deep as a variation to your spin serves.
  10. Learn to follow up your serve.

Evolution of Table Tennis

Standing up too straight

Many players stand up way too straight when they play. The result is they are unable to move as quickly as they could if they kept their legs father apart (which also adds stability and power) and bent their knees slightly. It also tends to mess up some strokes, especially on the backhand, where you lose leverage if you stand up straight.

Some players do this because they are getting old and have knee problems, or are overweight, but even then you can get in the habit of bending the knees slightly, as well as keeping the legs a little farther apart. And very young players (or short players) don't want to get down too low because they are already rather short and if they get down any lower they'll have problems on their backhand. 

There's a rather easy cure. Rather than think of getting down, imagine you are covering someone in basketball, or playing shortstop in baseball, or you're the goalie in soccer. As soon as I tell a player to imagine this, they immediately get lower. It's almost impossible not too - you can't do these things in basketball, baseball, or soccer without getting down, and so players instinctively get down. They don't have this same instinct in table tennis, so the habit needs to be learned.

U.S. Olympic Trials Dream

Tip of the Week

Forcing an Opponent Out of Position.

Changing tactics

I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?

I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those. 

However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.

Ma Lin Step Around and Loop

Here's a nice video (1:14) showing Ma Lin stepping around his backhand corner to forehand loop, using multiball. Video includes slow motion and from two angles. Best part to watch is the slow motion from 0:10 to 0:28. Key things to note:

  1. Note in the slow motion that the move to the left starts with a tiny step with the left foot, followed by the bigger step over with the right.
  2. He stays balanced throughout the shot. See how his weight stays between his legs, almost centered. To do this, he has to extend his left leg to the left to keep balanced. Note the wide stance for stability.
  3. He has a lot of ground to cover, and so has to hit on the move. Because of this, he is forced to follow through more to the side than he would if he had more time. This slows down his recovery, and yet because he pushes off his left leg immediately after the shot, and maintains balance, he is able to quickly recover for the next shot.
  4. He extends his arm for full power. There is little or no arm snap. Historically, most top players since the days of Cai Zhenhua in the early 1980s snapped their arm at the elbow just before contact, but most current top Chinese players mostly keep the arm extended throughout the stroke as they sweep their arm through the ball. The irony is this is almost reminiscent of the old Hungarian loops from the late 1970s. So the precursor for many of the top Chinese loops are from Hungary, while the precursor for most of the top European loopers is Cai Zhenhua of China.
  5. The shoulders rotate back to 90 degrees to the table, and than rotate forward a little more than 90 degrees.

A kid gets the sniffles, and I'm out $45

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide - Update

First, let me think the reviewers for their help editing/proofing/critiquing the first draft of the book, which should be available later this year. They are (alphabetically) Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton.

I'd told them I would be starting the (hopefully) finally rewrite from their comments starting this past Tuesday, two days ago. However, with fellow MDTTC coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun temporarily in China, my coaching hours have doubled. Add that I'm still tired from having a cold from Jan. 1-12, that I started weight training again this week (so I'm exhausted from that - see my blog entry from Monday on my back problems), that I'm continually hungry from dieting (after gaining four pounds over the holidays), and that 523 new things came up this week (most involving MDTTC), I'm sorry to say I haven't been able to get started on it yet. Tentatively, in my mind, I'm still going to start on Tuesday, but it'll be next Tuesday. (My weekends and Mondays are busy.)

Backswing on forehand

Down the line

Players do not practice down the line nearly enough. (Yes, I've blogged about this before, but it needs emphasis.) This means:

  1. They are inconsistent going that way since they aren't used to doing so;
  2. They are hesitant to go that way when it is the right tactical shot;
  3. Opponents only have to cover mostly crosscourt shots;
  4. Since they are drilling mostly crosscourt, so is their practice partner, and so they aren't used to down-the-line shots, and so are vulnerable to them in matches;
  5. They are losing the training benefits of hitting down the line.

What are the training benefits of hitting down the line (#5 above)? First, if you can control your shots down the line, then going crosscourt is easy. (It's 9 feet down the line, 10.3 feet crosscourt, which is 10 feet 3.5 inches, or about 15.5 inches more table, meaning nearly 8 more inches on the far side, your target.) Second, hitting down the line with the forehand from the forehand side forces you to turn your shoulders (if done properly), which is a good habit to develop.

At the cadet trials at the USA Nationals in December, a player I coached went up against a higher-ranked player. I'd watched the player on video in advance, and realized he was a vintage crosscourt player. The primary rallying strategy was to go down the line every chance. The opponent struggled with this, which help lead to an upset.

Lagging rackets

One-year Anniversary

Yes, it was on January 17, 2011 that I did my first blog entry here. That's was mostly an intro to the site, with a few coaching news items. The January 18, 2011 entry was where things began to take off! ("The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players," "The Backhand No-Spin Serve From the Forehand Court" (see the context), and a couple of other news items.) And then on January 19, 2011 we covered "Closing Out a Match" and "The Carrot and Celery Diet" - yes, that's when I started on my diet, going from 196 lbs to 174, which is my current weight.

And here we are, 248 blog postings later!

Drive-Smash Day

Yesterday was "Drive-Smash Day" during my coaching, with three sessions with three semi-beginning junior players. This is a drill where the player hits a regular drive, and then smashes, and then another drive, then a smash, and so on, alternating. The drive gets the rally back under control and helps the player work on his stroke, and then he gets to practice smashing. It also helps develop timing as they play at different speeds. It's done both forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, and either crosscourt or down the line. (One variation I just thought of I haven't done is they drive down the line, then smash crosscourt, or perhaps the reverse. Have to try that one.) 

A variation for more advanced players is to do this looping - something I plan to introduce to some students next week, both with regular drills and multiball. In this case the player does a regular loop, and then loops one very hard, and continues alternating.

Tip of the Week

Larry's Law.

Back problems

It's Baaaaaaaack!  Some of you may remember I spent much of last year suffering from serious back problems which were muscular related. I finally had to take a month off (getting locals to do my hitting for me when I coached), underwent major physical therapy with a physical therapist, and began a strict regimen of weight training and stretching. The back got better, and all was well. Then, after the Nationals in December, I figured my back problems were cured, and I stopped the weight training and relaxed the stretching routine to just basic stretches before and after playing. BIG MISTAKE. The back has been tightening up over the last couple weeks, and now I'm struggling with my play again. After an hour or so of coaching, the back is back to agony again. So starting today, I'm back on the weight training and stretching regimen. Alas.

Serves and Strategy and nothing else

Here's a lesson for all of us - how to win when you are not playing well, and how to win ever more when you are playing well.

Anticipating versus Reacting versus Responding

One of the things I've always taught is that, in most circumstances, you should react, not anticipate, in a rally. This is because way too often players do anticipate a certain return, and are caught off guard when they don't get that shot. For example, when they attack, many players anticipate a crosscourt return, and so are caught off guard if it is returned down the line. Or they serve short backspin and anticipate a long backspin return. There are times where you can anticipate, such as against a player who does return your attacks crosscourt over and over (as many do), or against an opponent who does push your short backspin serves back long over and over (as many do). In these cases, you can anticipate, but you still have to react if you don't get the ball you expect.

However, in the context I'm using, perhaps I should instead say a player should respond, not react. What's the difference? React may imply that you are simply doing something that you are forced to do, i.e. in reaction to what the opponent is doing. It almost implies that the opponent is in charge, forcing you to react to his actions. Respond implies that you are choosing your response, and that you are in control. It's still a reaction, but it's a more selective reaction.

For example, suppose an opponent attacks hard to your backhand. You could react and block it back crosscourt, the most natural and easy way to return it. Or you could respond by noting the opponent is waiting for that ball and is already edging over, and instead respond by blocking it down the line. Or suppose your opponent serves short backspin. You could react and simply push it back long, the most natural and easiest way to return it. Or you could respond by noting the opponent is waiting to loop that ball, and instead respond by pushing short or flipping.