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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!

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

Deceptive forehands

Want to have a deceptive forehand without resorting to one of those twisty, wristy things some players use with both effectiveness and inconsistency? Why not develop one that's both effective and consistent? They key is in the shoulders.

Some players will seem to aim their forehand to the left (for righties), but at the last second twist their playing arm and wrist backwards, hitting the ball inside-out, creating a truly deceptive shot that goes to the right. But while it can be effective, it's often an erratic shot. Instead, at the last second try turning the shoulders back. This means rotating your shoulders twice - first to set up to hit to the left (and tricking your opponent into thinking you are going that way), and then, just before contact, rotate the shoulders back further, putting you into perfect position to hit a strong and consistent shot to the right.

Similarly, you can rotate your shoulders way back, even stepping forward with your left leg, as if you were going to the right (and tricking your opponent into thinking you are going that way), and then, just before contact, vigorously rotate the shoulders forward and whip the ball off to the left.

Backspin breakthrough

Develop the non-hitting side

I remember when Coach (and five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) Dan Seemiller talked about this at training camps back in the late 1970s, and for some reason, it didn't make sense at the time. He kept saying how players over-developed their playing side, leaving the other side undeveloped, and as a result couldn't rotate properly and at full power on forehand shots, especially when looping. I didn't see how you needed the left side to rotate your body about. So I spent years developing my right side, to the point where I could do 40 one-arm pushups with my right arm, and couldn't even get off the floor with my left side. My loops never had pure, raw power, and it wasn't until I became a coach that I realized that part of the reason was I wasn't really pulling much with my left side.

As a coach, not only do I realize I don't, but I see most players don't do this very well either, with many players sort of rotating their playing side into the ball, but not pulling equally back with the non-playing side, which is half the equation when rotating - and if you don't pull with that left side, you lose power. Generating the torque needed for full power, in particular when looping, comes from both sides of the body. This doesn't mean you need to spend time at the gym weight training (though that helps!), but remember to use both sides when rotating on forehand shots - imagine a pole going through your head, and rotate around it, with the playing side pushing forward, the non-playing side pulling backward.

Back update

When to go for winners?

There are two times a player should go for the big winner, especially with a loop. The first is obviously off a weak ball that pops up, or often a lower ball that lands in the middle of the table (which is easy to loop kill). However, we all have seen top players rip winners off what seems to be effective low serves and pushes. Shouldn't we try to do that as well?

The key is whether you are both in position for the shot, and not only have read the ball's spin perfectly, but know you have read it perfectly. (Nobody really does anything "perfectly," but you get the idea.) Top players are almost always in position and almost always read the incoming ball, and so they can go for a big shot. (Plus, of course, they are top players, and so are skilled at making big shots.) If you have a good loop or smash, and are sure you have read the incoming ball very well, then you can go for the shot. This doesn't mean ripping it like the pros, but you can go for perhaps 80% power. That, and good placement, should generally be all that's needed to win the point. For most shots, if a little light bulb doesn't go off in your head that tells you that you have read the ball perfectly, then you probably should focus on aggressive, well-placed steadiness and save the winners for another shot.

Aggressive, well-placed steadiness

Think about it. Aggressive, well-placed steadiness, combined with opportunistic putaways, good serves, and good tactics - put these together, and you have quite a game. (I toyed with adding "controlled receive" here, but that really comes under the "aggressive, well-placed steadiness" banner. A well-controlled receive is actually aggressive as you aren't giving the opponent an easy shot to attack.)

Focus on basics

Tip of the Week:

The Myth of Thinking Too Much

MDTTC Open and Receive

I spent much of the weekend watching and coaching at the MDTTC Open. One thing became obvious, as if it weren't obvious already - the large majority of points were won or lost on serve & receive, steadiness versus missing easy shots, and awkward footwork. Probably 70% of coaching was about choosing the serves and figuring out how to return the opponent's problem serves. Remember, when receiving, emphasize placement and consistency!

Here are some articles I've written on returning serves:

Adjusting the receive ready position for specific opponents

Internet out

We've had almost non-stop rain the last four days here in Maryland, and yesterday had a thunderstorm that would have scared the Chinese National Team back to the alternate universe from whence they came. (You didn't think anyone from this universe could play that well did you?) At around 5PM both the Internet and cable TV went out, and a few minutes later the power went out for a short time. The cable TV came back on sometime early this morning, but still no Internet. Fortunately, I'd already put together notes for this morning's blog, including various online links. Unfortunately, I would have commented more on them after seeing them against this morning, but can't. After I finishing writing this up, I'm off to Starbucks to use their free wireless so I can put this online.  

Essentials for World Class Coaching

This is a must read for coaches and analytical-minded players. With the Internet out, I can't give the commentary I planned (and don't plan on staying at Panera's Bread long enough to do so), but I'm guessing you'll survive.

Blocking is under-rated

Student stops using head, instant success

For months a ten-year-old student of mine has struggled with a habit of moving his head forward when he hits forehands. This threw him off balance so that he lost control on the shot and couldn't recover quickly for the next shot. About two weeks ago he made a breakthrough and seemed to figure out how to hit without using his head that way. Yesterday it all came together, and he was hitting forehands better than ever before. (The head should rotate in a circle as you hit or loop forehands, as if there were a pole coming out of the top, but it should start and finish in about the same spot.) One irony is that he likes hitting so much, and hates looping, that we're thinking of going to short pips on the forehand. He's going to try that out next week.

Fifty full-time table tennis centers

With the addition of the Fremont Table Tennis Club in California run by Shashin Shodhan, we're up to an even 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.! And to think that just five years ago there were less than ten. They've been springing up independently as coaches, seeing the success of these centers, set up their own. In particular there's been an influx of Chinese coaches who open up these centers. Nearly all of them have regular junior programs, leagues, etc. This is the most promising thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in a long time.

Turkey, Table Tennis, and Tong Tong

They Called Me Mad

I recently read a really interesting book, "They Called Me Mad," which highlights about twenty famous scientists who in various ways were misunderstood or thought of as "mad scientists." On page 226 there's this quote from physicist Max Planck: "A new scientific truth does not as a rule prevail because its opponents declare themselves persuaded or convinced, but because the opponents gradually die out and the younger generation is made familiar with the truth from the start." (In Wikipedia there's a slightly different variation attributed to him: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.")

What does this have to do with table tennis? First, to be clear, I'm not advocating anyone in table tennis dying. However, this is exactly the problem USA Table Tennis faces. Generation after generation of often well-meaning USATT leaders come and go, but over and over they try variations of the same failed ideas--often relying on the advice of the same table tennis "experts" who advised previous generations of unsuccessful leaders--and USATT goes nowhere. (There are always some among the USATT leadership that see the light, but they are few, they are outnumbered, and they usually have given up being that pesty person that tries to convince the unconvinceable.) Trying to convince USATT to adopt the methods to develop the sport that have been used successfully in other countries and other sports--and that have been used successfully in some regions of the U.S.--doesn't work; see the Planck quote. I know, I've tried and Tried and TRIED. (So have others.)

Better shots = Win More?

Not always right away. Every year about this time lots of junior players have just finished a summer of training, either locally or often overseas, most often in China. (We had eight juniors from Maryland Table Tennis Center training in China this summer.) They all now have better shots, some devastatingly so. I watched a couple of them after they returned, and got this deep-down tingling of fear - I have to face that on the table soon!

And yet, when they go out to play, while they dominate the rallies, and do one "woh!" shot after another, their results often are no better than before, or even worse. The problem is that while they have better shots, they are not yet experienced in how to use those better shots. For example, if they now have a much more powerful forehand loop, they may use it more - and end up missing off serves that they would have returned more passively (and consistently) before. In rallies the may be able to pull off shots that they couldn't do before - but they are also missing shots that they may not have tried before. And then uncertainty sets in - they aren't sure when to use what shots, and so they spiral downward. (As an experienced player and coach, I know exactly how tactically to play into this uncertainty. Do you? Hint - lots of variation. Actually, that's pretty much the whole answer.)

It can be pretty disappointing for a player to do all that training, develop these better shots, and seem to have nothing to show for it!

But the good news is that this is temporary. They just need match experience, and soon they will become the terrors that their shots already are.

This applies not just to juniors but to all players who train and improve. It's like an archer who is handed a high-powered rifle for the first time. He has a much better weapon, but he probably needs to learn how to use the thing first. When he does, watch out!

Tip of the Week

Short serves to the middle

Keeping a notebook

Do you keep a table tennis notebook? I did for years, and I recommend you do as well. I used a steno notebook. From front to back, I would take notes on my own play - what I was working on, what drills I was doing, what worked and didn't work in matches, etc. On the other side - back to front - I kept tactical notes on opponents. When the side on me was filled up (it usually went first), I'd simply flip it over, and it would be a permanent record of my notes on opponents, and I'd get a new notebook and start fresh. At tournaments, I'd bring past notebooks (with the ever-growing notes on opponents), and would be ready against any opponent I'd ever played against.

Years later I started transcribing my tactical notes onto my computer, and then all my notes, including the ones on my game. And then, after doing this for perhaps a decade, I realized that I'd been doing it so long that all the notes were in my head, and that I no longer needed to write things down to remember them. So I retired my notebook. Even now, when I see an opponent from long ago, I usually can remember my tactical notes against him.

However, while I no longer have a notebook for my game, I still keep a notebook for players I coach. When I show up at, say, the USA National Cadet Trials, I have about a page of notes on each of the major contenders, which I regularly update.

Back update

Develop an Overpowering Strength and Ways to Use It

This article, now online at Butterflyonline.com, was originally a Tip of the Week from back in February, but I added some stuff from Coach Jack Huang (one of my co-coaches at MDTTC), and sent it in to Butterfly, who published it yesterday. (You even get to see a picture of me and my "devastating" forehand!) A related article is How to Move Up a Level, which explains the five things you need to do to improve a level, with #5 about finding that overpowering strength and ways to use it.

Back update - I'm back!

Yesterday I got the okay from my physical therapist to resume table tennis activities as long as I go easy on it. I can finally hit with my students! For the last couple weeks I've had others come in to do my hitting.

Originally I was going to take six weeks off, but the therapist thought three weeks would be enough, and now, after two weeks, after examining my back, said I'm ready. It's been a busy two weeks; I've been doing a ten-minute stretching and strengthening routine three times a day, and meeting with the therapist twice a week for a more rigorous routine.

For now, I'll just do easy stuff  - multiball, blocking and easy countering, and perhaps I'll do a few easy loops just to test it out. Surprisingly, the back rotation from my forehand pendulum serve (along with looping) put the most strain on my back; I'll test that out. Playing games also put a lot of strain as I wouldn't know where the next ball was going and often did last-second moves that strained the back - and this was even more true even when playing beginners, since they spray the ball randomly all over.

So you want to be a better table tennis coach?