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-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

Maryland weather is at it again - another seven inches of snow here in Germantown. Schools and Federal Government are closed. I'm guessing we've set some records this winter for total snow accumulation and for most separate snowfalls of six inches or more. (Now I have to decide whether to cancel the Beginning/Intermediate class I teach on Mondays, 6:30-8:00 PM.)

Meanwhile, I've had a continuous headache since I returned from the Cary Cup Open this weekend - went to bed with one last night, and woke up with it this morning. So I'm going to do the unforgiveable and take the day off and go back to bed, and postpone the blog and Tip of the Week until tomorrow. I was going to blog about the Cary Cup, but I really didn't see much of it since I was busy coaching. The results are linked from the Cary Cup home page. More on it tomorrow. Below are links to the regular features on the tournament by Barbara Wei.

Cary Cup and No Blog on Thursday and Friday

I'm leaving for the Cary Cup very early Thursday morning, so no blog on Thursday and Friday. (See articles below on Cary Cup.)

As we've done the past four years in a row, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York this morning, arriving around 9:30AM. (He's already here.) He'll spend the day puttering about my house while I work on my new TT book and then go MDTTC for our afterschool program and a few hours of coaching (2:30-7:30PM, plus a 30-minute online writer's meeting I'm attending with my laptop at the club from 7:30-8:00PM). Tim wants to leave for Cary Cup around 4AM Thursday; he keeps strange hours, going to bed around 7PM and getting up at 3AM. We'll compromise and leave around 6 or 7 AM for the 4.5 hour ride. Then I run a beginner's clinic in Cary from 4-5 PM - last year we had about 30 players.

I'm only playing in the hardbat event, which is 10AM-3PM on Friday. I won it three years in a row, 2009-2011, finished third in 2012, and lost in the final in 2013. This year the draw is crazy strong, with Jim & Scott Butler (legends!), Xeng Pong (2364 pips-out penholder), 2293 A.J. Carney (experienced lefty hardbat player), and 2248 pips-out penholder Bin Hai Chu, who's won it the last two years (but I beat him in the 2011 final). But I'm a two-time National/U.S. Open Hardbat Champion (okay, it was over 20 years ago), 4-time U.S. Over 40 Hardbat Champion, and 13-times U.S. Hardbat Doubles Champion. (But I'm normally a sponge player.) I got about ten minutes practice with a hardbat on Sunday; that's the only hardbat play I've had since the U.S. Open last July. But it's like a bicycle - once you learn it, you never forget. Your feet just get slower and slower….

Constant Competition

Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.

While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.

Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given.  Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."

Tip of the Week

Reading Service Spin.

USA National Team Trials

Here's the home page, with results, video, and pictures. Congratulations to 2014 US National Team Members! They are, in order of finish:

Women: Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu

Men: Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, and Jim Butler

There will also be a fifth "coach's picks," which I'm guessing will be Angela Guan or Tina Lin on the women's side, and Kanak Jha on the men's side.(I'm assuming they will go for younger players.) 

Thanks to all the people who helped run the Trials - to mostly quote the Trials page, thank you Texas Wesleyan University, Jasna Rather for the great hospitality and facilities, and many thanks to the USATT Staff, Referees, Umpires, Commentators, Volunteers and David Del Vecchio for making the web stream possible.

I watched some of the live streaming. I mostly watched players from my club, in particular Crystal Wang, who made the team at the age of twelve, the youngest U.S. team member ever - see below. (She's from my club. While I've worked with her before and have coached her a number of times at tournaments, her primary coach is Jack Huang.) I also watched some of the others. As a coach, I'm constantly updating my technical analysis of each player, and I learned a few things about a few players that I added to my ever-growing notes.

Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - On Sale! - and Other Books

I've spent much of the last few weeks putting Table Tennis Tales & Techniques into a new format. You can now buy it print on demand at Amazon.com, with the price lowered from its previous $17.95 retail to only $11.61. There are some minor wording changes, and the format is slightly larger (9"x6" instead of the previous 8.5"x5.5"). While the book originally came out in 2009, the articles - both stories about table tennis, essays on technique, coaching tips, and a lot of table tennis humor - are timeless. Or so says me, the author! Of course, while there, don't forget to buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers or my other books on sale at Amazon. (Alas, due to the way the book was original set up, it would be incredibly time-consuming to put the Tales & Technique book in an ebook format, so that's not planned for now.)

Note that I expect to have an updated version of Table Tennis: Steps to Success - tentatively retitled as Table Tennis Fundamentals - by the end of this year. The key thing is finding time to get new photos for all the techniques in the book - there are a LOT. I've tentatively settled on who will demo most of the shots, and have a nice camera I can borrow. Then I go through it and update everything. There's a lot of updating to do.

Top Ten New Table Tennis Rules I'd Like to See

Some serious, some not so serious. You judge which.

Players from Training Centers vs. Regular Clubs - Style Differences

Ever notice that you can tell much of a player's background just by watching his style and strokes? The most obvious thing is whether the player came out of a training center (i.e. regular coaching and training, constantly surrounded by top players with good technique) versus those who come out of regular clubs (mostly learned on their own by watching local players, who didn't always have the best technique, and developed mostly by playing matches). These are not rules, just general things you mostly see that tell the player's background. It's mostly about where the player started - a self-taught player who then joins a training center will still have some semblance of those self-taught strokes and style even after years of training.  

Players from training centers generally have nice, smooth technique. Even when the technique isn't perfect it's usually close to where only a discerning coach can really tell the difference. They generally play close to the table from hours and hours of coaches stressing this. They almost always loop from both sides. Many almost never smash, instead looping winners even off balls that are eye level or higher. They often topspin their backhands, even in faster rallies, often without backing up much. They rarely push more than once in a row. They move smoothly and quickly, with great balance. Their serves are often seeming mirror images of top players serves - mostly forehand regular and reverse pendulum serves.

Tip of the Week

Changing Bad Technique.

Change of Direction Receive

At the MDTTC tournament this weekend player I was coaching was having trouble against a much higher-rated player who had nice last-second change of directions on his receives. Over and over he'd start to push the ball one way - usually to the backhand - and at the last second, would change and go the other way. (Here's a Tip on this, "Pushing Change of Direction.") Although my player kept the first game close when the other player kept going for (and missing) some difficult counterloops, this last-second change of directions completely stopped my player's serve and attack. He'd see where the ball was going and start to move to attack, and then, suddenly, the ball would be somewhere else, and he'd be lunging to make a return.

Between games I told him to focus on three things. First, go completely two-winged to follow up his serve - if the receive was to his backhand, backhand loop, while if the ball was to the forehand, forehand loop. Players who can't do this when necessary have a major weakness in their games.

Second, since he wasn't trying to follow with the forehand, I told him to take his time and just wait and see where the ball was going. He was so used to reacting quickly that his own instincts were going against him as he reacted too quickly. This showed that most players are too obvious in their returns, telegraphing their receive way too early. It also showed how effective it is when a player learns the seemingly basic idea of not telegraphing the receive, i.e. changing directions at the last second.

Snow, God, and Godzilla

With the snow piling up outside as God serves vengeance upon the Earth for our constant tinkering with table tennis rules, everyone else is getting the day off. I don't want to go against the tide of doomed humanity and so I too will take the day off. So no blog today, other than this. The Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow. (Actually, I've got a bunch of things to get done today, in particular the new MDTTC newsletter, finalizing a short story I'm working on, and a secret table tennis project I'm working on - shhh! More on that later on.) Alas, only those on Noah's giant snowmobile will survive the massive snows to repopulate the Earth, bringing back 38mm balls, 21-point games, celluloid balls, and (of course) the print version of USA Table Tennis Magazine. The rest of us will die horrible deaths, freezing and suffocating as we are buried in hundreds of feet of snow and (if God has a sense of humor) poly ping-pong balls that'll cascade out of the sky.

Meanwhile, here's a video of a new Snickers commercial (48 sec) that features Godzilla playing table tennis. Humanity's only hope is if Godzilla challenges God to ping-pong and defeats him, forcing him to stop the snow. (I'll coach Godzilla. I've studied videos of God, and his defense is weak - if you attack, he turns his cheek toward you and loses sight of the ball. Also, he has a weak smash as he claims to be against killing, except of course by flood or snow.) They can play in the Philippines, God versus Godzilla in the Thrilla in Manila.

Making a Living at Table Tennis

I started this article by writing, "Not a lot of people in the U.S. do it," but by the time I was through, I decided to change that to, "A surprising number of people in the U.S do." So who and how does one make a living at this Olympic sport?