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

Tip of the Week

Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves.

Mikael Andersson at Lily Yip TTC

Asif Hussain emailed me about a clinic held last week at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey. With Asif's and Lily's permission, here are excerpts from his email.

Mikael Andersson, ITTF Director of Education and Training along with former Chinese National Team member and coach Zhen Yu San came to Lily Yip's club for a one-hour free coaching class.  I of course got caught in traffic and missed the first half hour so I'm not sure what happened in the first half.  When I got there, Mikael was wearing street shoes, jeans, and jacket and walking around the court with a microphone.  Tina Lin (2200) and Michele (13-year-old around 2000) were doing drills with Mikael directing the drills and providing his observations.  The rest of the club members stood around the court and took in his information.

The girls were doing a countering drill involving both FH and BH, then played a single game to 11.  For the game, Mikael added a point to a player's score in case she made an exceptionally good play (even if the ball missed as he wanted to reward/reinforce the idea of the right shot selection or good/smart play.)  He also deducted a point from a player's score if they made a poor choice (e.g., pushing a ball back that was deep enough to be looped.)  Some of his points:

Practice game serve rule

Ever gone out and practiced your serves, but then, as soon as you go out to play a practice match, you find yourself holding back on the serves because you're afraid of missing them? And so after spending all that time practicing serving spinier, or lower, or faster, or some new tricky serve, as soon as the game starts you go back to your old serving patterns?

Try the "two-fault rule" in some of your practice matches. All this means is that you are allowed to miss two serves per game without losing a point. This allows you to really push the limit on your serves, and so you can incorporate what you practice into your practice games. After all, they are practice games, right?

Yesterday's coaching highlight

I was coaching a new kid (about eight) in I think his third lesson. He would hit about five in a row and then smack a wild one that would miss. I challenged him to hit fifty forehands in a row. He said no way. The more I encouraged him, the more he insisted it was impossible. Then I tried reverse psychology and told him there was no way he could get fifty. He agreed he couldn't. (Dang, that usually works up to age ten.) Finally, I pretty much got him, kicking and screaming, to try to get fifty. After getting about thirty on the first try (his eyes went wide), he got fifty on about the fifth try. Later he did fifty backhands in a row.

How I spent my Ping-Pongy Thursday
And note that I'm working hard on my table tennis game and fitness not for tournaments - though that might happen - but to be a better coach when I'm hitting one-on-one, and to make it easier to do so, since it's a physically demanding job. And lo and behold, after a few weeks of this, I'm playing perhaps the best I've played in a decade.

Random drills

Random drills are among the most under-utilized drills in table tennis. Rote drills (where you know where the ball is going to go) are great for developing strokes and footwork, but in game-type situations, you don't know where the ball is going. So you have to train for that, and that means random drills.

As you improve and master the fundamental strokes, you should add more and more random drills to your practice sessions, but only at a pace where you can do the drill with good fundamentals. (If you go too fast and your strokes start to fall apart, you are practicing bad technique and should slow down the drill.)

Here are two important keys to doing random drills properly. First, focus on reacting to the incoming ball; don't try to anticipate. You want your first move to be the correct one every single time. If you find yourself moving one way and having to correct yourself to go the other way, you are anticipating since you are moving before you know where the ball is going. If necessary, slow the drill down until you can do the right first move every time.

Second, move to the ball and stay balanced. Some players react by reaching for the ball and go off balance. Keep the weight centered and step toward the ball, don't reach. Here's an article related to this, Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. And if you are looking to put together a killer practice session, then, well, here's an article called Killer Practice Sessions.

Beating higher-rated players in practice and tournaments

Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill

Yesterday I watched Coach Cheng Yinghua do an interesting drill with John Hsu (2300 junior player). Cheng would serve from his backhand side a short backspin or no-spin to John's backhand. John would over-the-table backhand loop it (a very wristy shot) to Cheng's backhand. Cheng would already be standing there as part of the drill and would forehand counterloop off the bounce anywhere on the table. John had to counterloop, either forehand or backhand (over the table with his backhand). Cheng wouldn't play out the point; he'd already be grabbing the next ball to serve for the drill, which was surprisingly rapid-fire. It's a very physical and game-type drill, but only for the very fit. A version of this for those who wouldn't be able to counterloop all these shots would be to either block Cheng's counterloop, or to perhaps counterloop the forehand, block the backhand (which is what I probably would do). John, however, has a nice over-the-table backhand loop against short serves or loops, and it was scary watching him do these over and over.

The racket tip on the forehand

That repeating backswing

Everyone, grab a racket. Now do your normal forehand drive or smash backswing. Now freeze with the racket at the end of the backswing. Glance at it, so you'll see the general position. Then look at where the ball might be at this point in your swing. Now close your eyes. Think about the feel of this position. Memorize it. You want to be able to repeat this same backswing for every forehand drive or smash. It's called a repeating stroke - and if you can repeat the backswing the same way over and Over and OVER, you'll develop a highly consistent shot.

Next time you are practicing, do the same thing live. When you hit a good forehand, remember the feel of the backswing as well as the contact. Then repeat. Over and over and over and over and over and over and . . . you get the idea.

Now do all this for your backhand as well. You'll thank me for all this later!

Note - you can also do this for your loop, but the backswing on the loop varies, depending on the incoming ball, unlike a drive, where it's always the same. For example, against a high ball, you backswing the same, and then raise the racket. Against a backspin ball, you'll open your racket and stroke more up, but that's in the forward swing.

101 Coaching Tips

Here's an interesting list of 101 general coaching tips. Lots of good stuff here. One thing they left out that I swear by: "Think." (#84 is similar, but different.) Before and after every session with every student I spend at least a few minutes thinking, and committing to memory (or writing down, though these days it's such a habit I don't really need to) what weaknesses that player needs to work on, what strengths the player can work on to turn them into overpowering strengths, what drills they need to do, what I should say in the session (or next session), etc.

Tip of the Week

Returning Long Serves with the Backhand.

Chinese players in slow motion

Here's a video (3:30) that showcases top Chinese players in slow motion, which especially showcases their serves - though initially it mostly just shows their strokes. Serves are especially hard to learn by watching at normal speeds since the contact motion by a top server is so fast - it is designed not to be read very easily.

Charity Table Tennis

Practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade

Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em

Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.

Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.

Peter Li and Michael Landers in China

Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.

Weight Training Update

The Inner Games of Table Tennis

When a looper plays a blocker, there's an inner game being played between the two. The looper wants to be in a stable position where he can make strong, well-placed loops that force the blocker to lunge for the ball, back up, or just miss or return the ball weakly. The blocker wants to be in position so he can make quick, well-placed blocks that force the looper to lunge for the ball or just miss or return the ball weakly. In most rallies, one style takes control while the other struggles, although the advantage can change quickly and multiple times during a rally. When you are in such a match, are you playing blindly or are you focused on winning this inner game?

There are similar inner games in most matches. For example, between two players with strong backhands, both might battle for control of the backhand diagonal. A righty and a lefty might battle for chances to hit aggressive backhands to the opponent's wide forehand, thereby drawing the opponent out of position, or they might battle for forehand control into the opponent's backhand. Or there's the battle between the serve & attacker against the receiver who wants to force a neutral rally. There are countless such examples of these inner games. Have you learned to recognize the inner games that take place in your matches?

Glasses or no glasses?

I started wearing glasses in college because I had trouble reading what was on the blackboard. I also need them to watch a movie or TV, to read road signs when driving, or to see anything clearly in the distance. At some point around 25 or so years ago, I started wearing them when I play table tennis. The problem is that I take the glasses off to read - my eyes are fine for that. When I wear the glasses, I can't read anything close up. When I wear the glasses in table tennis, I can see my opponent's racket clearly, but up close, the ball is a blur.

Minimum-quality shots

Often players and coaches harp on creating quality shots, as they should. However, what about minimum-quality shots? These are shots where your opponent has made you uncomfortable - perhaps with his attack, his serve, or something else - and so all you are trying to do is get the ball back in a way that he won't cream it past you.

Minimum-quality shots can be tricky to pull off correctly. First, you have to judge whether it's time to go for one. Second, you have to judge just how weak you can make your shot - to maximize consistency - and still get away with it. And third, you have to be able to something with the ball to give the opponent some trouble, such as angling the shot, going to the opponent's weak side, keeping it deep, changing the direction at the last second, changing the spin, etc. This last part is almost an art form. Ultimately, you don't want to try to win with your minimum-quality shots, but they will often keep you in the point. And some decent players pretty much base their whole game on just getting the ball back like this, though not at really high levels.

Often players don't distinguish between incoming shots that they have read properly and are in position to attack, and ones where they are not, and so blindly attack both. While they sometimes pull off a nice shot this way, and it might actually be good practice to raise you level by attacking shots that you are not really comfortable attacking, it's not usually the percentage thing to do, tactically.

Steady or aggressive blocking?

There are generally two types of blockers, steady blockers ("walls") and aggressive blockers ("jab-blockers"). Which are you? You should do both, of course, but it's usually best to specialize in one or the other. For example, David Zhuang (six-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) is primarily a steady blocker. He can block forever, side to side, often changing the pace and even sidespin blocking. But when he sees the chance, he snaps out an often point-winning jab-block, which is made even more effective by the contrast with his usual steady but not-too-hard blocking.

A key to blocking is placement. Steady blockers mostly block side to side at wide angles, since a softer block to the middle can be hammered. Jab-blockers play the extreme corners and to the opponent's middle (playing elbow), rushing the opponent who has to decide between forehand and backhand, which often opens up a corner to jab-block a winner to. (This is because the opponent has to move to the middle of the table to hit a forehand or backhand, leaving one side open.) The nice thing about having a good block is you can get away with a lot of tactical things that others might not be comfortable doing, such as long serves or aggressive pushes. The opponent may have trouble with these, but if he does attack them, a blocker isn't worried since he's comfortable blocking.

Berkeley Open Results

Isn't it great how at the North American Table Tennis events, such as the Berkeley Open this past weekend (choose "Berkeley Open" from the dropdown menu), you can see not just the results (which most tournaments are slow to put up), but every single match played in each event?

The Amazing Michael Maze