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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

Deliberate Practice to deliberately become good or great

So you want to be good at table tennis? Then learn about Deliberate Practice. Not everyone can put in 10,000 hours and be great, but if you apply the other seven principles in whatever practice time you have (make time), you can really improve. And the hours do add up. Below are the eight main principles; the article elaborates on them. Why not print out the article's eight main points with short explanations (they'll fit on one page), and put it on your wall where you can see them regularly?

  1. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, requiring high levels of focus and concentration.
  2. It is designed specifically to improve performance—to strengthen it beyond its current levels.
  3. It must continue for long of periods of time.
  4. It must be repeated.
  5. It requires continuous feedback on results.
  6. Pre-performance preparation is essential.
  7. It involves self-observation and self-reflection.
  8. It involves careful reflection on performance after practice sessions are completed.

The back doctor

Varied serves

Have you been practicing your serves? (Yes, I like to ask this question on my blog every couple of weeks or so, which should indicate its importance.) At any time, can you (or your students) serve short or long, with sidespin going either way, with backspin or topspin, or with no-spin, to all parts of the table? Can you disguise these spins? Can you also serve fast and deep with varied spin (or no-spin) to the corners and middle? If the answer to any of this is no, get practicing!

Table tennis training tools

Yesterday I used two table tennis training tools in our MDTTC training camp. First, there was the ball spinning device for teaching a player to loop. (I think I wrote about this briefly in a previous blog.) It basically consists of a ball that spins freely on top of a short pole that attaches to the table with a suction cup. The player can then practice spinning the ball. If they mishit, the ball has a spring mechanism so it can bend forward instead of breaking the device. The kids had a great time with it, and learned to spin the ball. I bought the device at the U.S. Open from Newgy Table Tennis, who had gotten it from Masir Table Tennis in China, but I couldn't find it anywhere on either web site. (If you can read Chinese, take a look at the Masir site and see if you can find it so I can link to it in another blog - you'll get credit here for finding it!)

Relax that shoulder

One thing I've noticed in the two-week MDTTC camp we're running is that a lot of players hunch or tighten up their playing shoulder when hitting forehands. I'm almost ready to make a recording that says, "Drop your arm to your side. Relax the shoulder. Now bring up your arm to a forehand position, keeping the shoulder relaxed. Bend the elbow to bring the racket into position. Now hit your forehand!"

Another common shoulder problem is not rotating the shoulder on the forehand. If you have your back foot slightly back (no more than 45%, often much less), and rotate your shoulders so you are looking sideways, you suddenly have a huge forehand hitting zone. If you don't do this, then you are jammed in the front of the hitting zone with little room to backswing.

Seven new juniors

In our camp yesterday, we had seven new junior players (out of about 25 total), ranging in age from 5 to about 12. I took all seven in my group - we divide the players among the coaches - and spent the morning working on forehands and backhands. Went pretty well! They also had fun with the "knock cups off the table" game, and many cups were severely hurt. Kids are so cruel. (What did we do during break? Brain teasers, of course. Yes, at a table tennis camp. Really.)

Susan Sarandon and China

What's the connection?

Iran and U.S. Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Yes, it's happening!!!

I Love You points

Tip of the Week - The Mental State of a Looper Against a Push

When you are getting ready to loop a push, are you thinking forehand, backhand, or something in between? This Tip of the Week covers the four mental states you should be in.

Hitting at 100% versus 80-90%.

How hard should you hit the ball when attacking? Even when you have an easy winner, most coaches will tell you never to hit at 100%, that you lose too much control. I have a slightly different take on that. I agree that you should rarely use 100% effort with all the muscles that are used for smashing or loop-killing. It's essentially impossible to time all those muscles at 100% so they work together properly. The key is not so much not hitting at 100% as much as it is using all the muscles smoothly in a progression from down up - the legs, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist. If any of the muscles tries too much, it throws everything out of synch and you end up with just one spastic muscle trying (and usually failing) to provide all or most of the power. (There are rare freaks who can throw nearly everything into every shot and still do it smoothly and with control. They are called world-class players.)

Here's another way of looking at it, the way I like to teach it. No matter how hard you smash or loop, you should be able to do it and carry on a conversation at the same time without gasping or hesitating in any way. If you can't, then you are not smoothing using all the muscles properly. I always demonstrate this by explaining it while tossing a ball up and smashing or looping it at near full power.

Week two of MDTTC camp

Playing the Middle

Playing the middle may be the most under-utilized tactic in table tennis. The middle in table tennis is roughly the opponent's playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand, and the most awkward place to return a shot. It's usually much easier to move to the forehand or backhand corners than to cover the middle, which involves making a split-second decision no whether to play forehand or backhand, and then moving sideways to allow the shot. (Beginning and intermediate players especially have trouble getting out of the way to play forehand from the middle, and often instead do awkward backhands by leaning over instead of moving.)

Part of the difficulty in playing the middle is because it's a moving target. Here's a quick cure: shadow practice! Imagine an opponent as you do so, and imagine hitting shot after shot right at his elbow. If he begins to favor one side, the middle moves, and you aim for the new spot. Then go to the table and do middle drills where you play everything to your partner's middle, and he returns everything to a pre-arranged spot, either backhand or forehand. If you watch your partner/opponent, and play it right, you should be able to force awkward middle shots over and over by changing where you aim based on where the opponent stands. If he looks to play forehand, just aim more to the backhand, and vice versa if he looks to play backhand. (This might become a Tip of the Week sometime in the future.)

Week One of MDTTC Camp Ends

MDTTC CAMP HAPPENINGS

Why do beginners aim up?

Is there a logical reason why beginners not only open their rackets and hit off the end (with inverted sponge), but after seeing ball after ball go off the end, they continue to keep their rackets too open? I invariably have to point out they've hit 20 off the end, 0 in the net, so perhaps they should aim lower? Is there some primordial fear of closing one's racket or hitting into the net? I'm asking this after 35 years of watching beginners all do the same thing, over and over. C'mon, beginners of the world, all 6.7 billion of you, aim lower!!! (You can probably guess I'm in the middle of a training camp, Mon-Fri this week and next, with lots of beginners who . . . oh never mind.)

Playing pips-out sponge

(I posted a version of this on the forum yesterday.) The only way you'll learn to play against pips-out sponge is by playing against it. The ball from pips-out sponge is deader than you are used to, so you have to either open your racket slightly or lift slightly. (Many players overdo this, and hit many balls off the end.) The only way to learn to do this comfortably is to practice against it. At first, it might be difficult, but soon playing pips will be no big deal - you simply aren't used to them yet.  

Tip of the Week

Where to Put Your Putaways answers the age-old question of (drum roll please) where to put your putaways. It doesn't answer the even older question of whether putaways should be hyphenated. (This was ready to go up Monday morning, and then I forgot to put it up before leaving to coach. So it went up Monday night.)

Whitewashing your opponent

Suppose you and your opponent are roughly equal, so that either will tend to score about half the points. Then your chances of winning 11-0 are 1 in 2 raised to the 11th power, or 1 in 2048. (Call it 1 in 2000 for you math phobes.) That means there's about 1 in 1000 chance that any given game will end 11-0 (including times you lose 0-11), though in reality it's more likely since a player could get hot or cold.

What are the chances of a 3-0 whitewashing, i.e. 11-0, 11-0, 11-0? That would be 2 raised to the 33rd power, or about 1 in 8.6 billion. (1 in 8,589,934,592 to be exact.)

Now let's suppose you are better than your opponent, and win 60% of the points. (I won't bore you with the math, but it involves 0.6 or 0.4 raised to the 11th  or 33rd  power, then inverted.) Now your chances of winning 11-0 are about 1 in 276, and your chances of winning 11-0, 11-0, 11-0 are about 1 in 21 million. More scary is that roughly 1 in 24,000 chance of losing 0-11, and (shudder) 1 in 13.6 trillion of losing 0-11, 0-11, 0-11!

With Winning in Mind

MDTTC Training Camp

We have two back-to-back training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center starting today, Mon-Fri this week and next. So I'll be getting up early to write the blog, then off to coaching. Expect lots of interesting camp tidbits!

Equipment - yours and mine

I am not an EJ, i.e. equipment junkie. Here's my recommendation to new and intermediate players. Everyone needs to go through a stage where they essentially try everything out. This allows you to really learn and understand what's out there, and to find the best equipment for yourself. The cheapest way to do this is to ask to try out the rackets of players at your club. Eventually, you'll find the right combo, and then I recommend they stick with that, unless and until their game changes or there's a major equipment breakthrough. The latter happens about once a decade, though of course you'll read about "new breakthroughs" every year. 

Here's what surfaces I use. (I'll write about rackets some other time, but I'm currently using a JOOLA Fever blade ST.) 

Forehand: Butterfly Tenergy 05 FX 2.1 black. This is a soft looping sponge. It allows easy looping without a long, powerful swing. When you loop, the ball just jumps off this rubber with what some call a high throw angle. If you have a more vigorous stroke, you might want a harder sponge. I both loop and hit, but my hitting is more natural, so I go for a sponge that props up the loop since I can hit with anything. This sponge allows me to run down hard shots off the table and loop them back with good spin. The softness does mean less speed, but the consistency and spin offset that for me. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Energy X-tra.

USA Nationals entry form

The long national wait is over; the USA Nationals entry form is online! (Just kidding; the U.S. Open just finished a few days ago.) Here's the USA Nationals page. (Strangely, you have search around to find the dates, and even the location is in small print. Shouldn't that be in a large headline?) For once I get to drive to the tournament, about three hours away; there's going to be a massive Maryland caravan going there. See you in Virginia Beach, VA, Dec. 13-17!

Top Ten Reasons Why Coaches Fail

Here's an interesting Top Ten List of why coaches fail. I don't necessarily agree with all of them. For example, #1 says not to compromise. But sometimes you must listen to your athletes and learn, i.e. compromise. For example, I told a player recently to use his backhand serve short to the forehand, since I knew the opponent had trouble with that serve. The player looked unhappy so I asked why. He said he hadn't used his backhand serve in a while, and didn't have confidence in using it. So we compromised - I had the player use the backhand serve sparingly, so the opponent would have to think about it, which made the other serves more effective. (I also told the player to start using the backhand serve again so it'd be ready when needed.)