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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

Ma Long's Backhand

Here's video (47 sec) of the regular backhand topspin drive of China's Ma Long, currently world #3 but #1 for much of 2010-2014. It's pretty basic; that's key in all shots, keeping it simple. What can we learn from him?

  1. He starts with a wide stance to give a stable base for this and other shots. (You can only see this at the start.)
  2. He watches ball intently nearly until contact, but not quite all the way. (See my Tip on this.)
  3. At the start of the stroke he lowers his racket and racket tip below the ball so he can create topspin.
  4. He lowers the racket by both bending at the waist and lowering his arm.
  5. Forward swing starts with waist, then shoulder (note how right shoulder moves forward, left shoulder moves back), then arm (rotating on elbow), then wrist.
  6. Contact is relatively quick off the bounce as the ball rises.
  7. He contacts the ball with an upward and forward motion, sinking the ball into the sponge at an angle and creating topspin.
  8. Follow through is short and in the direction the ball is going. It ends as soon as the racket tip is pointed in direction ball is going, and goes no further.
  9. Quick return to ready position.
  10. Throughout the stroke the non-playing arm is held up as a counterweight to his playing arm to maintain balance.
  11. When the ball is hit slightly to his left, he steps over slightly with his left leg. This happens 41 seconds in, but is obscured by someone walking in front of the camera, but from before and after you can see his left leg has moved over some.
  12. No wasted motion. This is key. 

179.6

Tip of the Week:

Should You Watch the Ball All the Way Into the Racket?

Cold

I've spent most of the last two days in bed with a cold, but I'm over it now. It's fortunate timing as my Mon-Tue schedule is light, while Wed-Sun I'm very busy. There are a lot of segments in this morning's blog as they have accumulated over the last five days. I have no more sicknesses scheduled for this year.

Why Players Plateau

Here's a great article on this topic. This happens to players all the time - they reach a comfort level, and then stick with what's comfortable and works at that level, and so aren't able to progress beyond that point. I'm always trying to convince players at all levels to avoid this type of roadblock to improvement.

Here are two segments from the article.

In the 1960s, psychologists identified three stages that we pass through in the acquisition of new skills. We start in the “cognitive phase,” during which we’re intellectualizing the task, discovering new strategies to perform better, and making lots of mistakes. We’re consciously focusing on what we’re doing. Then we enter the “associative stage,” when we’re making fewer errors, and gradually getting better. Finally, we arrive at the “autonomous stage,” when we turn on autopilot and move the skill to the back of our proverbial mental filing cabinet and stop paying it conscious attention.

I'm still stuck in bed with a cold, though I did struggle out yesterday to do an exhausting one-hour multiball session for some students. (I kept my distance! But I felt like I was going to collapse a few times.) One way or another I expect to be back in action tomorrow, blogging and coaching. The irony is that I'm in the final rewriting stage of my science fiction novel (which was critiqued at a writers workshop this summer), and I was tentatively planning to take two days off this week to work on it. (I worked on it some on Saturday, but nothing since then.) I might do that next week - we'll see. It's getting timely as USATT Historian Tim Boggan moves in with me on Monday, Sept. 29 so I can do the page layouts and photo work on his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 15. (Here's the home page for the series, which I maintain for him.) Back to bed - I'm working my way through The Dresden Files novels. (Sorry, no table tennis in them.) 

Alas, I've come down with a cold. I think I've had it for 2-3 days, but thought it was some sort of throat infection. But now I've got all the standard symptoms of a cold - feeling sick, sore throat, runny nose, aching teeth, and a slight fever. (Or could it be strep throat? Or the dreaded Ebola virus?) So back to bed - no blog today. I'm hoping NyQuil and DayQuil will handle it, with a lot of throat lozenges. I hope to start up again tomorrow, including the Tip of the Week. 

Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros! By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon

As readers of this blog know, I strongly encourage players to work on sports psychology. It's amazing how many matches are won or lost on this, and yet after losing a match because of nerves or some related issue, players go and practice the shots they missed when they were nervous rather than address the reason they missed the shots with a dose of sports psychology. Here's a number of resources on sports psychology, including this excellent one.

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros!, the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (available at amazon.com). It's 158 pages with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read, since most other books are more general, for all sports. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

I reviewed an earlier and shorter version of this book, "Get Your Game Face On." This version is greatly expanded, both the text and the title. If you are serious about your table tennis, I strongly encourage you to read this book, and try out the various methods explained for strengthening your mental game. It could pay off dramatically in your performance.

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my coaching yesterday. I left my house at 2:30 to pick up two players for our afterschool program (Willie and Jessie). From 3:30-4:00 PM I worked with Andrew, the nine-year-old I blogged about yesterday who was rapidly learning how to hit forehands. Today's goal was to hit 20 forehands in a row. Believe it or not, he got 19 in a row and then missed three times in a row! Obviously it was mental - and sure enough, as he approached 20 each time he fell back into his old habit of lunging at the ball, thereby swatting the ball off the end. I had him shadow stroke some more, and we tried again - and this time he not only got 20, he went right on up to 54. Not bad for this fourth 30-minute lesson. From 4-4:30 PM I fed multiball to him and Willie.

I was supposed to coach Daniel from 5-6 PM (nine-year-old, rated about 1600), but his dad called around 4:30 and said that his wrist was bothering him from some accident at school, and so needed to rest it. Between 4:30 and 5:00 I helped Willie and Andrew with their homework. Then I got in my car and drove to McDonalds where I had a chicken sandwich and read for nearly an hour.

From Pathetic to Perfect in Seconds!

I've been working recently with a new nine-year-old kid in our afterschool program. Right now we're only doing multiball. He has been struggling with the forehand. He starts off the stroke fine - I made sure of that, with his right foot slightly back (he's a righty), racket moves backward, and so on. But as soon as he starts his forward swing, he sort of lunges at the ball, driving his right shoulder forward, and then falls backward, with his left leg going back. Contact is basically a backspin slap. I've never seen such an awkward stroke! At first I thought he was too far from the ball, hence the lunging, with the falling back a compensation to keep his balance. We tried different distances from the table, but even if he jammed the table he'd lunge at the ball, as if he couldn't help himself. I also kept reminding him to imagine a vertical rod going through his head, and to rotate around it, but he couldn't as he was always lunging forward and then falling backward. (Falling backward after a forehand usually does mean the player was too far from the ball, with the left side falling back to compensate.)

Then I had a brainstorm. I told him to focus on dropping his racket on his backswing. This forced him to put more weight on his back foot. This led to a more natural weight shift from the back foot to his front foot, and a more natural rotation around the imagined rod in the brain. It also led to a topspin contact rather than the lunging backspin one from before. In the course of seconds, his forehand went from pathetic to perfect!!!

We worked on it for another fifteen minutes, and then I had him do more shadow practice. I'm working with him again today, and if all goes well, we might even try some live forehand-to-forehand - but only if I'm pretty sure he can maintain the newly "perfect" forehand.

Teaching a Beginning Kid to Block

Recently I've had a lot of fun teaching two kids, ages six and seven, how to block. For some reason they find great joy in this. I'm teaching them all aspects of the game, even looping, but they keep begging to block against my loop - and so that's how we end each session.

Few kids at that age have the reflexes or coordination to really block against a ball with varying spin that moves around the table. It's worse if you serve topspin and then start looping, as they have to adjust to two different shots. So what I do to start the rally is to toss the ball up and loop the very first shot at them, right out of the air. Then I keep looping softly, trying to keep it to one spot with the same depth, while they block. (I'm focusing on backhand blocks, but also having them do forehand blocks.) To them it's like a video game, trying to keep the ball on the table against my heavy topspin. They're getting pretty good at it, and I'm getting some exercise.

2014 USATT Election Notice and Process

Here's the notice. And once again I'm pretty disappointed.

On Nov. 25, 2013, I blogged about how unfair it was that the USATT Bylaws were changed so that candidates can no longer get on the ballot by petition. The only way to get on is to have the USATT-appointed Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC) put you on. If they chose not to, potential candidates have no recourse. It used to be you could get on by petition, but no more. I blogged about this more extensively on Jan. 24, 2014.

Tip of the Week

Easy Power.

The Ball at the USA Nationals

USATT has made the smart decision to use only one type of ball at the USA Nationals. Here is USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's blog entry on this. They will be using the Nittaku Premium 40+ ball, a non-celluloid one. This is a departure from their original plans, announced on Aug. 14, that they would be using two types of balls at the Nationals - celluloid for rating and senior events, non-celluloid for men's and women's singles & doubles, and in junior events. That would have meant players having to switch back and forth in the tournament, as well as serious problems at clubs as players have to decide which ball to use for practice and training.

This obviously doesn't solve all the problems. Many don't want to change to non-celluloid, but like it or not, the ITTF has pretty much mandated it. (Not by forcing it on everyone, but by mandating it in their tournaments, meaning others have to follow or their top players will have to switch back and forth.) I think they jumped the gun because the new non-celluloid balls still aren't really standardized - depending on which manufacturer makes them, they play differently, unlike celluloid where the balls are much more similar. Also, there are no training balls available, so training centers are stuck trying to decide what to do, since most training involves using large quantities of balls (especially for multiball).

ITTF Interview

I was interviewed by Sheri Cioroslan for the ITTF, and it was featured yesterday on the ITTF web page. (It's also up on the USATT web page.) The interview "closes out" the ITTF 100-day Countdown to the end of Adham Sharara's 15 years as president.

Aches and Exhaustion and Coaching

One of the toughest parts of coaching is you always have to be "on." As a regular player, if you aren't feeling well you just take the night off. (Unless, of course, you are in serious training to be an elite player, in which case you tough it out - like many of the players at my club, MDTTC. Of course, "normal" 9-5 jobbers have to do the same, correct?) On both Monday and Tuesday nights I was up very late, one time working on the ITTF interview, the other time on one of my SF stories (my sideline outside TT). Unfortunately, I had a Tuesday morning coaching session scheduled and a Wednesday morning dental appointment, so I had to get up early both mornings to get the blog done before leaving. (I normally don't schedule morning activities Mon-Fri, other than my blog and other writing.) So I got very little sleep those two nights. Tuesday wasn't so bad as I had only an hour of coaching after the morning session, but on Wednesday I was tired and headachy the entire day, but had three hours of coaching. I toughed it out, figuring I'd catch up on rest that night.