Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each! Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational ficiton, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

May 2, 2011

 

Any big news from overseas last night? Perhaps a major killing?

Yes - the USA Junior Girls Team won the gold medal at the French Junior & Cadet Open! A lot of killing went on. More specifically:

  • Gold medal:
    • Junior Girls' Team (Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Erica Wu)
  • Silver medals:
    • Junior Girls' Doubles (Ariel Hsing/Lily Zhang)
    • Cadet Girls' Singles (Lily Zhang)
  • Bronze medals:
    • Cadet Girls' Team (Prachi Jha with Michelle Liaw from Canada) 
    • Cadet Girls' Doubles (Lily Zhang with Charlotte Carey from Wales)
  • Quarterfinals:
    • Junior Girls' Singles - Ariel Hsing/Lily Zhang
    • Cadet Girls' Singles - Prachi Jha
    • Cadet Girls' Doubles - Prachi Jha/Erica Wu

Speaking of killing....

I've hurt my upper back, and won't be doing any hard forehand looping or hitting for a while. It's a muscle strain or tear; we'll see how long it takes to heal. Meanwhile, yesterday I fooled around playing with long pips on the backhand, no sponge, and covering nearly the whole table blocking with the long pips backhand. From my initial rallying with a 1900 player, I have a feeling I'll cause havoc among many players if I show up at a tournament this way, especially since I also have a pretty good forehand, and can flip quickly and use inverted on the backhand when I want. Hmmmm....

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I just updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. Updates include Jack Nicholson, Jennifer Connolly, Vince Vaughn, Howard Jacobson, Henry Kissinger, and Nicolas Sarkozy. And in case you missed last update, that included Justin Bieber, Kevin Spacey, Barbara Eden, Ginger Rogers, Susan Sarandon, Walter Mondale, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Rafael Nadal! The page now contains 1178 pictures of 699 celebrities, with sections on Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other. Send me your own!

Richard McAfee on Ping Pong Planet

Here are two videos of Richard McAfee on Ping Pong Planet, a weekly variety show in Thailand. The director and star is Don Mudtangam, who is the "Director of Coaches" for the Thailand TTA. Richard shows up at 4:17 into the first video (14:22 long), and begins speaking at 4:57. He's in from the start in the second video (13:43 long). The others are speaking Thai. In the videos, Richard uses a Newgy robot to demonstrate serve return drills.

Newgy Robo-Pong Seminar

Newgy's doing a free three-day Newgy Robo-Pong Training Seminar, for Newgy robot owners (2050, 2040, 1050, 1040 or 540). You can sign up for one, two, or all three days. They will be held:

  • Friday, May 20, 2011: 6-9 pm
  • Saturday, May 21, 2011: 9 am-5 pm
  • Sunday, May 22, 2011: 9 am-12 Noon

It will be held at the Newgy Table Tennis Center at 805 Teal Drive, Gallatin, Tennessee 37066 USA. Instructors will be USATT Certified Coaches Carl Hardin and Roger Dickson. First come, first serve basis; Men, women, all ages and all skill levels.

The seminar will cover:

  • Spin and shot selection, head angle adjustments
  • Oscillation, ball speed and ball frequency
  • Randomization controls
  • Pre-programmed drills
  • Programming your own customized drills
  • Plus, much more!

Also from their announcement, "See how the Robo-Pong can improve your table tennis skills while having fun and getting a workout all at the same time! This seminar will consist of both demonstrations and hands-on activity with the Robo-Pong and other attendees."

If interested, fill out form and email to Newgy Table Tennis. For more information, call 1-800-556-3949 or email.

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April 29, 2011

Table Tennis Troubleshooting by Brian Pace

I spent this morning watching the five-video series by Coach Brian Pace on "Table Tennis Troubleshooting" - and so should you. This goes over how players can identify and fix problems in their games. I'm amazed at how much time he's put into these, both on preparing and organizing what is said and shown in each video, and the nice graphics. Shots are shown both regular and in slow motion. Since Brian has very nice technique (and entertaining besides), every example is great to watch and copy. (Video 4 and 5 are actually listed as episodes 5 and 6; I think there's another one coming later.)

  • Video 1: Shot selection and short serves - great graphics and examples! This is really two distinct topics in one video. (10:01)
  • Video 2: "Technical Property Line" - nice graphical presentation of the various skills that make up your game. This one is harder to describe without watching the video. (3:45)
  • Video 3: When to start forehand looping - nice comparison of the loop and drive, and discussion of when it's time to learn to loop. (5:02)
  • Video 4: Sidespin serve return - demonstrates both the serve itself and how to return it. Nice graphics. (5:05)
  • Video 5: Building fitness - just what it says, with emphasis on cardio. (4:36)

Backspin and Sidespin Serve Exercises

When teaching backspin serves, I've always challenged students to serve so the ball comes back into the net. At first, I tell them to go ahead and serve high, since the goal is to create backspin. This makes it easier to make the ball come back into the net. Once they can do that, the next goal is to serve with just as much (or more) backspin and keep it low. If you barely graze the ball, and put little forward momentum, it'll come right back into the net no matter how low the serve. (In a real match situation, you probably want more forward momentum on the serve, so it might not go into the net; instead, the second bounce would be near the endline, and so it would go off the end after the second bounce, given the chance. This makes it harder to flip, to drop short, or to quick push with an angle.)

I'm now doing a similar exercise for sidespin serves. For the forehand pendulum serve, I have them serve from the forehand side of the table. I put a box of balls (we use Gatorade boxes at MDTTC) on the far side of the table on the right (opponent's backhand side if he's a righty). The goal is to serve the ball with sidespin so it hits on the left side of the opponent's table, then curves around and bounces into the box on the right. I start by demonstrating it. It's much easier than it looks - try it!

The Ping-Pong Song

This piano/ping-pong song is both compelling and relaxing to watch, but it'll play in your head all day! You've probably never seen table tennis played on a piano before, right? (3:40)

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April 28, 2011

Changing bad technique

How does one go about changing bad technique? Two recommendations.

First, exaggerate the proper technique. If you don't rotate your shoulders enough on a shot, practice over-rotating until it becomes comfortable to do it the proper way.

Second, drop out of tournaments and match play for a while and focus on fixing the technique. Perhaps hit with a coach a lot for an extended periods as you fix the technique. Playing matches will just reinforce the bad technique. If your goal is to really overcome poor technique and replace it with good technique, then you need to have an extended period where you focus on this. That means only playing with the coach, or doing drills where you can isolate the new technique so you can focus on doing it correctly.

You should be able to play without the coach as long as you keep your outside drills simple and focused in this way. You might also want to use videotape to verify you are doing it correctly when the coach is not around. Bad habits are not easy to change, but if you really want to change them, you need a very focused period of time to do so.

In general it's best to play lots of matches and get as much tournament competition as possible when trying to improve (along with lots of regular practice, i.e. drills), but when you are making major changes to your game, it's often best to take time off from competition. Perhaps make a goal to have your game ready for tournament competition for a specific tournament (or series of tournaments) six months or so away, and train specifically for that. I don't think you need to take six months off from playing practice matches, but perhaps two months off would greatly help you in making these technique changes.

Reflex Sports Videos

They have a sale on videos. You can get much of this on youtube, but the videos they put together are rather comprehensive, so if you can afford it, why not build up your own video library? (I once had an extensive VHS collection of Worlds, Olympics, and other major tournaments, but the entire collection was stolen in the late 1990s.)

Table tennis in "On the Fast Track"

Table tennis is featured in this morning's "On the Fast Track" cartoon.

Cartoon cats playing table tennis

Yes . . . cartoon cats playing table tennis. Because your day cannot begin until you've seen cartoon cats playing table tennis.

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April 27, 2011

Crystal Wang: 2031 at age 9!

Recently Lily Zhang became the youngest player to break 2500 at 14 years 9 months. Now I think another record has been broken. Crystal Wang (from Maryland Table Tennis Center), recently achieved a rating of 2031 at age 9 years 1 month. While a few players have broken 2000 at age 10, and possibly even age 9, I don't think any have done so this young.

She could have been rated even higher. In her last three tournaments, she's gone five games with players rated 2329 (up 2-1!), 2260 (up 2-1!), 2210, and 2176 (up 2-0!), and gotten games off players rated 2361, 2280, 2266, 2260, 2176, 2148, and a 2105 player twice. Her best win was a 2144 player in her last tournament. (Hopefully she won't get infatuated by ratings - but we can!)

She started in the summer of 2008. Her first rating was 602 in Sept. 2008. She didn't break 1000 until November 2009. Exactly one year ago, she was rated 1013, and that was her highest rating. Starting in May, 2010, she's been shooting up. At the Nationals in December, Crystal was 8 and rated "only" 1839.

Coached by Jack Huang, she plays a pretty orthodox shakehands inverted game, looping backspin from both wings, and then mostly hitting. She has surprising power - if you think you can beat her blocking or even lobbing, good luck! (I play her regularly at MDTTC.)

Seven minutes of the Best Points Ever?

Here's a compilation of some of the best points ever.

Touring San Francisco with ping-pong balls

Yes, you can tour a toothpick San Francisco with ping-pong balls! It's about four minutes long.

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April 26, 2011

National Larry's Not Doing Anything Day

After coaching nearly all day (and often night) for ten days in a row (Spring Break Camp, ITTF Seminar, private coaching), I'm declaring today "National Larry's Not Doing Anything Day." I'm spending the day in bed reading. It's a national holiday so schools will be closed, the government will shut down, no postal service, and fire and police departments are all closed - so don't let your house burn down or get robbed today. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Multiball Training

During the recent ITTF seminar I was thinking about the lack of multiball training in the U.S. In China, players often take turns feeding multiball to each other. In junior programs, the kids all learn to do this, and every Chinese player feeds multiball like a pro, as do most Europeans. In the ITTF seminar, where we had numerous top coaches, few were proficient at this. It doesn't take long to learn, and it's valuable practice. What's faster, learning to loop against backspin one loop per rally, or someone feeding backspin after backspin to varying parts of the table as you loop them all? Multiball allows you to practice just about any combination of shots rapid fire, so you get far more shot practice per minute than with straight drills. (You should do both, of course.) So why not get a box of balls, and next time you practice take turns with your partner feeding multiball? Maybe start the first session taking turns practicing.

Multiball allows you pinpoint specific problems and work on them with maximum repetition in a given time period. In China, multiball makes up about 1/3 of their training.

Basic multiball technique: Put the box of balls by the net, and pick each ball up and toss it backwards, let it bounce on the table, and stroke the ball at your partner just like any other ball. You'll find feeding basic topspin balls easy, while it takes a little more practice feeding backspin.

Here's a seven-video series by Coach Brian Pace that demonstrates and explains multiball training. Not only will you see excellent multiball training, but you'll see lots of high-level technique. Just watching Brian loop should improve your game 100 rating points!

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April 25, 2011

ITTF Seminar

Yesterday we finished the four-day ITTF Level 1 Coaching Seminar (April 16-17, 23-24). I want to thank the 14 coaches who participated: Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), John Hsu (MD), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD), David Varkey (PA), and Shaobo "Bob" Zhu (PA). All passed, and pending their completion of 30 hours of coaching (including 5 hours of "supervised" coaching with an ITTF certified or other high-level coach), will become ITTF certified coaches. As I told them, they will be ITTF coaches, and Cheng Yinghua, Stellan Bengtsson, and Dan Seemiller are not!!! :)

Article and photos should be out in a few days.

We covered a lot of material in the 24 hours of the course. I spent a lot of time mimicking bad technique as the coaches figured out what was wrong. Sometimes I felt like I was lecturing too much; other times the coaches joined in and we had great back-and-forth discussions of technique, tactics, and other table tennis topics. In addition, all 14 coaches gave a 5-10 minute coaching presentation on a randomly-assigned technique. Each presentation was followed by a discussion and analysis, both on the substance and the presentation itself. Here's a rough listing of items covered:

  • ITTF and USATT certification process
  • ITTF coaching program
  • Coaching responsibilities and ethics
  • Generic coaching principles
  • Coaching beginners
  • Coaching in schools
  • Skills circuits
  • Warmup
  • Multiball
  • Grip
  • Ready position
  • Stroking techniques (forehand and backhand drives, looping, blocking, pushing, flipping, lobbing & fishing, smashing lobs, and chopping)
  • Footwork
  • Beginning and advanced serves
  • Receive
  • Training programs
  • Physical training
  • Nutrition
  • Sports science
  • Sports psychology
  • Running junior programs
  • Equipment (especially different rubber surfaces)
  • Tactics against different surfaces, grips, and playing styles
  • Doubles tactics
  • Umpiring and rules
  • Running tournaments

There will likely be a ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar in the U.S. sometime next year. Now that something like half of the ITTF coaches in the U.S. will be from the Maryland region, we're going to lobby for it to be held here!

And congrats to Seminar Doubles Champions Jeff Smart & John Olsen and Runner-ups Bob Zhu & Juan Ly!

Freestyle table tennis

Here's a minute and a half of music and freestyle table tennis on tables, cars, and whatever else was handy for Adam Bobrow and friends.

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April 22, 2011

How to practice the loop against backspin

Unless you have a chopper or a coach feeding multiball handy, it's not easy getting practice looping against backspin. You could use a robot, but then you aren't reading the spin off a paddle. You could just do it in games or drills, but then you only get one loop, and then the rally is into topspin.

A good way to practice looping against backspin over and over is to do the loop-chop drill. It's simple: You serve backspin; your partner pushes it back; you loop (forehand or backhand); your partner blocks (not too hard); you chop it back; your partner pushes it back; and you loop, and the cycle repeats. It's best to do it all crosscourt or all down-the line. I demonstrated this drill this morning at our Spring Break Camp (using the backhand loop and backhand chop), and several were trying it out later.

USATT Coaching, Club, and Editorial Committees

It's official! I've been on the USATT Editorial Board for a while; now I'm back on the USATT Coaching and Club Committees. I actually chaired both back in the 1990s. Coaching Chair Richard McAfee and Club Chair Attila Malek recently asked me if I'd joined their committees, and it's been approved by the USATT Board. I'm now listed on these committees in the USATT Committee listing.

On the coaching committee, I'd like to see more recruiting and training of full-time coaches and coaches who want to set up and run junior programs. On the club committee, I'd like to see more coaches and leagues. This is a very short version of what I'd like to see. My focus will be on increasing USATT junior and adult membership through these programs. However, since I'm not chairing either committee, I'm going to first work with the actual chairs and see what direction they want the committees to move in.

Story on Howard Jacobson, author of The Mighty Walzer

The Washington Post ran an article yesterday on Howard Jacobson, the Man Booker Prize winner and table tennis player who wrote the 1999 semi-autobiographical coming-of-age table tennis novel "The Mighty Walzer."

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April 21, 2011

Why forehands are better than backhands

A nine-year-old student of mine named Sam said one of the funniest - and most profound? - things I've heard in a while. He's only had a few lessons, and is just starting to really hit forehands. But he has trouble with the backhand. After hitting forehands, I said let's do backhands, and he looked a bit glum. I asked why. He said, "Forehands are like an adventure. Backhands are like I'm at home watching TV."

Receive practice

I was watching one of our top cadet players practice with one of our top coaches. Near the end of the session the coach began giving his best serves, challenging the cadet to return them effectively, with the coach looking to follow up each serve with an attack. The coach mostly dominated for the simple fact that the cadet rarely got to face such serves and follow-ups. I went out on the court and suggested they do this from now on for at least half their sessions, and the coach agreed. This cadet is going to be very good! Serve & receive are the most under-practiced aspects of the game.

Robots catching and juggling ping-pong balls

As the headline said, here are robots catching and juggling ping-pong balls.

Tip of the Week problem

You may have noticed that there was no Tip of the Week on Monday, that the last two Tips of the Week (April 4 & 11) have disappeared, and that the March 28 Tip appears twice. Yes, I'm having a software problem. I have someone working on it.

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April 20, 2011

Counterlooping

This afternoon during our Spring Break Camp here at MDTTC, I spent some time counterlooping with Nathan Hsu, one of our top cadet players. (Age 14, rated 2239.) During the ITTF Coaching seminar I taught this past weekend I talked about counterlooping, and yesterday I wrote about how my counterlooping had improved as a result. But at age 51, I'm still much slower and stiffer than I used to be, and I was a bit reticent about wasting Nathan's time counterlooping, since it's a strength of his, and I wasn't sure if I could keep up. Lo and behold, I was able to stay with him - barely! But I also realized everything had to be just right for me to do so. As we started, I had to really focus on my hand and racket position, start my stroke earlier than I normally would, take a slightly longer swing than normal, and take the ball at just the right spot (just after top of bounce so the ball couldn't jump away from me). Once the counterloops starting hitting, I basically blanked my mind out and just let the shots happen. Mentally, I was just an observer. When I tried to intervene and get involved, I'd miss; when I sat back and mentally ate popcorn and just watched, I counterlooped better than I had in years. Afterwards, Nathan commented he'd never seen me counterloop with so much power. (Okay, Mr. Lupulesku, I'm ready for you now!)

Jungle Pong and Gnip-Gnop

Yesterday I wrote about some games we do in our training camps. During break, about 15 of the kids were playing "Jungle Pong." Basically the rules are you have to let the ball come off the table, and make your return after the ball has hit the floor. You can hit the ball to either side of the table - so the opponent has to be ready to change sides quickly. Since the ball has to bounce off the table and hit the floor, players have time to run it down. It's a rather strange game, but a lot of fun.

Another game they are playing is Gnip-Gnop, which I taught them a while back. The rules are simple: instead of hitting the ball directly over the net, you hit it onto your side of the table so that it then bounces over the net. I've been playing this game for 35 years. Perhaps it's time for a Gnip Gnop Training Camp?

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April 19, 2011

Knocking off cups and other table tennis games

We're about to start day two of our five-day Spring Break Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Guess what's one of the most popular games at our training camps? Knocking off cups. We do this with the younger kids near the end of a session. I put ten plastic cups on the table like bowling pins. I feed ten balls to each kid (multi-ball style), and see how many they can knock off. Then we get creative with the placement of the cups. An alternate version is the kids line up and each gets two shots and then rotate, and we see how long it takes for them, as a team, to knock off all the cups. We also do this with my bottled drink - whenever someone hits the bottle, I have to take a sip. (I do my best to convince them it's squeezed worm juice.)

We also play Brazilian Teams. We put them into teams of 3-5. One player from each team goes to the table and plays a point. The winner stays, while the loser goes to the end of the line for his team, and the next player goes to the table. The new player always serves. Games are usually to 41. If there are players who are much stronger than the others, we handicap them, usually by requiring them to end the point with one shot when serving (serve and end the point), and two shots when the other player is serving (receive and end the point). If a player is a complete beginner and can't really compete, we handicap it by letting them score if they can make two or three consecutive shots (so opponent has to end the ball quickly).

At the end of many sessions we play 11-point games, where the winner moves up a table, the loser moves down, with the goal to reach the first table. We do this with both singles and doubles.

Xu Xin's footwork

Now here's some fast footwork and looping! That's China's Xu Xin, world #6.

At the movies (non-table tennis)

I've seen most of the major movies recently. Last night, while in line to see the movie Hanna, the man and woman in front of me went to the single ticket woman and spent roughly forever asking her about every movie playing. This went on so long I was about to complain, and even the ticket woman glanced at me and shrugged her shoulders. Finally the two got their tickets and I got mine. Then I found myself behind them in line for refreshments - and they grilled the person there on just about every item sold! They finally bought drinks and popcorn. Then, after paying for it, they asked more questions about candy, and decided to buy some. After paying for that, the man decided he wanted another type as well, and so bought that. I missed half the previews because of these two.

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