Welcome to TableTennisCoaching.com, your Worldwide Center for Table Tennis Coaching!

 Photo by Donna Sakai

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!

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

November 3, 2011

How Leagues Spur Growth

I was asked this morning who could (or would?) play in a nationwide table tennis league. I'd already talked about Germany and its 11,000 clubs and 700,000 players, England's 500,000, France's 300,000, etc., and how other sports also do this, and how these huge numbers come almost exclusively from leagues. Here's an excerpt of my response, which explains a bit more precisely and concisely how this happens.

"Anyone can join the league as part of a team representing a club, with the membership rate to be determined. This is the stage where new clubs are often certified or created, as players list the place they practice as their club (solving the U.S. problem of hordes of non-sanctioned clubs full of non-USATT players), or find and create ones for the purposes of the league (leading to hordes of new clubs, which soon fill up with new players who join the league, snowballing membership). There are always details to be worked out, which is why you go to experienced league directors (in club to club leagues) in the U.S., overseas, and in other sports to see how they did it, and then design a U.S. model."

There was a lot more written in the discussion, but I can't print what others wrote, and much of what I wrote only makes sense in the context of what others had written. I may write more on this later. However, one thing I've concluded is that it is far more likely that an independent group creates such a league - some are already working on it - than USATT, since independent groups can make and implement decisions in ways USATT is simply unable to do.

Frustrating emails

I spent much of yesterday, and already a chunk of this morning, responding to highly frustrating emails. There's an email discussion going on among USATT board members and some committee members about coaching that I won't elaborate on. I'd love to quote the emails, but that would be inappropriate. It's more about the type of thinking behind the emails than the specifics of the current argument that I find so mind-numbing and representative of the same type of thinking that has stagnated table tennis in this country for so long. Let's just say that times like this I am deeply pessimistic about whether USATT can ever take the lead in developing table tennis in this country. Almost for sure it's going to have to come from outside individuals and clubs by setting up leagues and coaching programs independently from the national governing body for table tennis in the USA.

Strategic Versus Tactical Thinking

Here's an excerpt from the book I'm working on, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

"What's the difference between Strategic and Tactical thinking? Strategic thinking is how you develop your game. Tactical thinking is how you use what you have to win. For example, if you have a good loop, a strategic thinker would think about what types of serves will set up your loop, and develop those serves in practice sessions. A tactical thinker would think about what serves will set up your loop in a match against a given opponent. Strategic thinking takes place during the developmental stage of your game--which never ends as long as you are still practicing. Tactical thinking takes place while preparing for and playing a specific match.

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, with 11 new celebrities and 14 new pictures, bringing the totals up to 1285 pictures of 1285 celebrities. (Some pictures have multiple celebrities, so numbers below may appear not to add up.) New this month (and "new" means I already had pictures of that celebrity, but have put up new ones):

  • Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler's wife
  • Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback
  • Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos quarterback
  • Tiger Woods, golfer (new picture)
  • Payne Stewart, golfer
  • Sebastian Coe, English Olympic 1500 meter Olympic gold medalist
  • Andy Murray, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Boris Becker, tennis player
  • Bill Tilden, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Francis Hunter, tennis player (3 pictures)
  • Justin Gimelstob, tennis player
  • Wladimir Klitschko, Ukrainian heavyweight boxer (new picture)
  • Magnus Carlsen, chess player (2 pictures)
  • Boris Johnson, mayor of London (new picture)
  • Beatrice Lillie, actress
  • Junior Durkin, actor
  • Howard Jacobson, author (new picture)

Serve practice

Tip of the Week

When to React.

Serve Cycling

Many or most players use just a few simple serves, on the theory that if you have too many serve motions, you'll have trouble perfecting any of them, plus you'll have trouble learning and reacting to all the possible returns. (Surprisingly, two serves done with the same spin and placement but a different motion are often returned differently by opponents.) There's nothing wrong with doing it this way. I do urge players like this to have alternate "trick" serves to throw at their opponents as a variation, which both gives them "free" points as well as making their other serves more effective as the receiver has more serves to worry about.

However, there's another way to serve, which I call "cycling." What this means is that you constantly throw different serves at your opponent, essentially cycling through your entire repertoire, often almost in sequence. The goal is never to use the same serve twice in a row, and usually not even the same service motion twice in a row.  Challenge the opponent with every variation you have, with as many service motions, spins, speeds, depths, and placements as possible. Your goal is to make them miss or pop up your serve. Try to fry their brain. Keep track of which serves give the opponent the most trouble, and recycle those serves more often than others. Use the most effective serves not just at the end of a close game, but throughout a game to make sure it isn't a close game. (Or to make a game you would have lost into a close game.)

Werner Schlager on Talent

2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria recently made a surprise appearance on the about.com table tennis forum. While explaining how Germany's Timo Boll (European #1, world #2) did something so well, he wrote, "I can assure you, there is only one 'magic' behind it: a little talent and many of years of practice." When asked to elaborate on the subject of talent, this is what he wrote:

"Imagine you are born with a double resolution of your eyes retina. You can see with more detail than others. Any exercise regarding reading, searching, etc. is somehow easy for you. But: Probably you wouldn't even realize that you have that gift. Because for you it is NORMAL.

"And this is why i see my gift (far more unspectacular than double resolution retinas, lol) also as "not so special". Probably it is very special to others, but i couldn't even describe you my talent. Is it logical thinking? Is it body movement sensitivity? Is it vision? Is it creativity? Is it my low muscle tension? Hmmm- most likely a little bit of all the things i just mentioned...that is why i stated: 'a little bit of talent' ;)

"But i somehow still believe everybody can play as good as i do- or better. And every time somebody fails, i scratch my head and almost can't believe it.

"Because for me it is easy and normal."

Jun Mizutani's backspin serve

When to react

Have you ever studied your opponent to see exactly when in his strokes he commits to a specific placement? If not, you are handicapping yourself. Most players commit to a direction before they start their forward swing, and you should be moving to the ball as they start their forward swing. But most players don't react until the opponent has hit the ball, thereby wasting a lot of valuable time. More on this in this Monday's Tip of the Week.

Chinese footwork

These six short videos are perhaps the best videos I've ever seen on footwork, as well as a great example on proper stroking technique. Coach Wang Wen Jie of China explains Chinese footwork - which is pretty much the way all world-class players move, Chinese or otherwise. The various footwork techniques are shown both a regular speed and in slow motion, and explained by the coach.

Physical training for table tennis

More on Kjell Johansson

Here's the ITTF obit on Kjell Johansson. (I wrote about him in yesterday's blog.)

Table Tennis Tactics and Acronyms

I'm now hard at work on my new book, with the working title "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." (Alternate titles: "A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics" or "The Tao of Table Tennis Tactics." The advantage of the working title is that if the title starts out with "Table Tennis Tactics," it'll come up higher in online searches for table tennis and tactics.) I plan to have the first draft done by the Nationals in December. Here's a tidbit - recently I realized that all tactical thinking comes down to WEAR - Watch, Experiment, Analyze, and Remember. So WEAR your tactics with pride!

My other favorite table tennis acronym is on how to SPUR the growth of USA Table Tennis. Show the sport; get the masses to Play; get them to join USATT; and get them to Rejoin.

Tactics against a certain player

Here are examples of the tactics I use against a top player I play somewhat regularly. No, I won't give the name of the player, but it gives an example of the type of tactics you can use in a match. You'll note that most of the tactics are service tactics. That's the norm since those are what you have the most control over.

"The Hammer" dies at 65

Kjell Johnansson of Sweden, 1973 World Men's Singles Finalist (losing on two edge balls at 19-all in the fifth), who teamed with Stellan Bengtsson to battle with the Chinese for years (winning Men's Teams in 1973 and Men's Doubles three times, once with Bengtsson, twice with Hans Alser), and known for his "hammer" forehand, died yesterday at age 65. Here's an NBC Sports obit. He was a hero of mine long ago; I spent huge amounts of time copying his forehand. Along with Yugoslavia's Dragutin Surbek, he proved that you could be tall and still move extremely fast. Here are three clips of him playing in the final of Men's Singles at the 1973 Worlds.

Have a good forehand? Have a tomahawk serve?

If you have a good forehand, do you have a good forehand tomahawk serve that goes short to the opponent's forehand? (This is for two righties or two lefties.) 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 short ball on the forehand side and aim to the right - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side - you know, your strong side? If you don't overuse it, you'll get a lot of easy balls to attack. Just sayin'.

Why coach table tennis?

Looping versus Hitting

The advantage goes to looping, at least at the higher levels. But everyone's different, and below world-class levels there are many hitters who eat loopers for breakfast. 

The advantages of looping versus hitting

  1. The extreme topspin in a loop pulls the ball down, so you can keep the ball in play at high speeds and effectively attack even low balls.
  2. The topspin makes the ball bounce low and fast on the table, making it hard for the opponent to handle it.
  3. The topspin jumps up off the opponent's racket, making it tricky to keep on the table and low.
  4. Because you can loop the ball on the drop, you have more time to get into position for the shot, and so can loop over and over more easily than hitting over and over.
  5. A looper can often turn a hitter into a blocker.
  6. Because the ball jumps off the table and then sails downward, it's difficult to block or counter a loop effectively from off the table unless you are advanced enough to counterloop. To make an effective return, you generally have to stay at the table and block the ball off the bounce. Against a fast incoming ball, you have little time to react. Against a hitter, you can take a half step back to give yourself more time. Against a looper, that rarely works.

The advantages of hitting versus looping

  1. It's a quicker stroke.
  2. It's easier to learn.
  3. A hitter can often turn a looper into a lobber.
  4. You can generally create more speed since all of your power is going into speed.

The 2011 U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Inductees