Larry Hodges' Blog and Tip of the Week will normally go up on Mondays by 1:00 PM USA Eastern time. 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 1900 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio. (Larry was awarded the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in July, 2018.)
NOTE - Larry is on the USATT Coaching Committee, but the views he shares in his blog are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of USA Table Tennis.

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis TipsMore Table Tennis Tips, and Still More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, 2014-2016, and 2017-2020, 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 fiction, 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!

April 18, 2011

ITTF Coaching Seminar - Part 1

This weekend was the first half of the ITTF Coaching Seminar I'm running at Maryland Table Tennis Center, Sat & Sun from 9-4. (Part 2 is next weekend, same times.) It's been great fun so far - easier, in fact, than a regular table tennis camp where I would spend half my time feeding multiball. Here all I had to do was spend half the time talking, and the other half walking around and coaching the coaches in the current activity. When you've spent 35 years playing a sport, have coached it for 30 years, and have run 120+ five-day training camps and countless other group and private sessions, it's not hard to know what to say - the hard part is deciding what not to say.

I've learned a lot as well just from thinking about and preparing for the seminar. In practice matches tonight afterwards, I remembered my lecture on counterlooping with sidespin by hooking the ball rather than taking on the incoming topspin directly - and realized I'd been doing that too often. Bingo, my counterloop came alive when needed. Even my forehand flip has gotten better just from thinking about and demonstrating it. I've also learned some interesting stuff from comments from the coaches, a very insightful group.

The funnest part is imitating common mistakes and challenging the coaches to figure out the problem. Pretty much all of them can see the "obvious" problem, but usually that's a symptom of the problem, not the root cause. The challenge is to figure out what is actually causing the problem, which often is something seemingly unrelated, such as the foot positioning or grip. (These latter two are often the root cause of most technique problems.) Also key is not to just memorize how to fix every problem, but to get in the habit of analyzing a technique problem and figuring out what is going wrong.

So far the voice has fluctuated, but by virtue of continuously drinking water, it hasn't gone out. (I think there was a pool on what time I'd lose my voice.) Someone explained that I put a lot of strain on my throat because I don't use my diaphragm when I talk, or something like that. But as a coach, I have a loud projecting voice, and that's all a coach really needs, right?

There are 14 in the camp: 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). Besides the 24 hours in the seminar, all 14 will be doing presentations on various techniques to show their coaching skills. Assuming they pass, they will then be one step away from becoming certified as ITTF coaches. Each then has to do 30 hours of coaching, including five "supervised" hours with an ITTF or other high-level coach. Nine of them are getting the five hours at our Spring Break Camp, which is today through Friday.

We are lucky to have John Hsu (2109, but recently over 2200) and Vahid Mosafari (2280), both with very nice strokes. I've used them numerous times in demos. (And for penhold technique, there's Changping Duan, rated 2178.) There's a wide mix in the group, with several others also having very nice technique. Of course, as coaches, the most important thing is coaching ability - but one part of coaching is the ability to demonstrate proper technique. (You don't have to be able to do it in a match situation, of course.)

Some may recognize Jeff Smart as the USATT (actually USTTA back then) Coaching Chair from the 1970s - he may be 57, but he moves and strokes like a 20-year-old, and is still about 2000 level. Camy, who is certified as a coach in Romania, flew in from Las Vegas for the camp and so wins the "longest travel distance" award, though Juan Ly of Florida is close. Interesting tidbit I learned - Charlene Liu, the U.S. Over 50 Women's Champion, was also the first woman taught how to loop in China. Special thanks to Jef Savage, who will be writing an article on the seminar, and who lent us his projector, screen, and whiteboard for the seminar, and runs the projector as well. Thanks also to Bob Zhu, who is taking numerous pictures.

Spending 9-4 coaching two days in a row may seem like a lot, but the other three full-time coaches at MDTTC - Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xu - do this day after Day after DAY!!! They put in 50+ coaching hours week after week; I can only do about half that per week before I start to fall apart physically, not to mention the mental strain.

And now that the first half of the ITTF Seminar is done, we go directly to the Spring Break Camp all day for the next five days, where I will alternate between short lectures and lots and lots of multiball.

Multiball with two players

I thought this was a nice example of creative multiball with two players.


Send us your own coaching news!

April 15, 2011

Preparations for ITTF Coaching Seminar

I've been run ragged this past week preparing for the ITTF Coaching Seminar I'm running the next two weekends. I won't bore you with the details.

As I'm going over the various techniques we'll be going over its bringing back memories of all sorts of coaching examples I've experienced over the past 35 years. I was thinking of creating a list of them to use in the seminar, but decided it's not necessary; they will pop into my head as we get to each item. For example, I know that when we talk about a coach analyzing a player's needs or the forehand follow-through, I'll remember the 5'2" coach trying to get a 6'10" player to follow through with a "salute" stroke, with the racket going to the forehead. It was both hilarious and sad. (I later worked with the 6'10" player, where I "allowed" him to have a more normal follow through to his chest, and in about a year he went from 1300 to 1800.) I know that when we go over common problems for any technique, dozens of examples will pop jump into my memory banks. I probably ruined my own technique for the next ten years by "practicing" some of these bad habits so I can challenge the coaches to figure out what the problem is. (Hint - many will see and try to fix the symptoms of the problem rather than the root cause of the problem.)

Twas the Night Before the Table Tennis Coaching Seminar

'Twas the night before the seminar, and all through the center,
Not a coach was yet stirring, but soon they would enter,
The tables were lined up on the courts with great care,
In hopes that great coaching would soon take place there.

The coaches were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of forehands danced in their heads,
And my racket in its racket case, and I in my playing shoes,
Had just settled down for a pre-seminar snooze,

When out on the playing courts there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the sidelines to see what was the matter,
Away to court one I moved with great footwork,
And saw that something by the table did lurk,

The lights over the tables, all lined up in rows,
Shown over the creature, who stood in a pose,
And what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But the Table Tennis World Champion, holding a beer,

With a paddle in hand, so lively and quick,
I knew in an instant why his serves were so slick,
He was practicing forehands with technique so sweet,
And his footwork was fluid and amazingly fleet.

He cried, "Now Forehand! Now Backhand! Now Serve and Receive!
On, Looping! On Smashing! With good tactics, we'll achieve!
To the final we'll go, we'll loop every ball,
Now loop away! Loop away! Loop away all!"

He tossed off his beer, and served very short,
He watched the return and gave a great snort,
As he looped a clean winner with incredible might,
He cried, "Practice hard and always give a good fight!"

Then with the speed of a high-level pro,
He was out through the door, with me in the know,
That I'd witnessed such brilliance that few could approach,
And yet it was something we must all learn to coach.

Top Ten Ways to Be a Table Tennis Champion, or At Least Look Like One
(Because I promised last week to create a Top Ten List each Friday.)

  1. Play like a champion. But that can take 10,000 hours of practice, so this method is frowned upon by experts from the N Double-L CP (National Look Like a Champion People).
  2. Wear flashy brand name table tennis outfits, and never, Ever, EVER let anyone see you actually play. Just walk around a lot with a slight strut, with a brand name playing bag over your shoulder.
  3. Bear with me on the following - it'll make sense! Buy a mop made in China. Mop about an inch. Hop about manically. Stand on a chimpanzee. Stand on a potato chip. Listen to the chip moan. Greet someone and tell them there's no table tennis camp today. Put a cap on some guy. Chop the guy in half. Throw out any pictures you have of pork. Now why would you do all these things? Because the following are all anagrams of Champion: China Mop, Mop A Inch, Manic Hop, On A Chimp, Am On Chip, Chip Moan, Hi No Camp, Cap On Him, I Chop Man, and No Ham Pic.
  4. Hollywood makeup experts can make you look like Jan-Ove Waldner for only a few tens of thousands of dollars.
  5. Hollywood special effects people can make you look like a champion for only a few tens of millions of dollars.
  6. Invent a new type of table tennis, like, say, clipboard table tennis, and practice for years before introducing it to anyone else.
  7. Choose your parents wisely so that you inherit that highly-sought table tennis champion gene.
  8. There's something like 10,000 equipment surfaces, costing an average of $50 each. With 9,999 of them, you'll play like a chump. So try them all out until you find the one that magically transforms you into the champion that you know you are. 10,000 racket surfaces: $500,000. Championship table tennis player: priceless.
  9. Cheat.
  10. Hire an audience to cheer your every move. (Hey, this actually happened! A rich player once paid the way of about 30 members from his club to a 4-star tournament on the condition that they watch and cheer all his matches.)


Send us your own coaching news!

April 14, 2011

What are your goals?

Some people want to be champions, whether it be basement, school, club, state, country, or world champion. Others want to be the best they can be. Others have a specific level in mind, such as a certain rating. Others want to play the sport properly. Others just want to play for fun. How about you? It's hard to reach a goal without having a goal.

I've had numerous goals. Early on it was to reach a 1500 rating, later 1800, 2000, then 2100, then 2200, etc. I wanted to be the best at my club - took about three years to do that. I wanted to be the best in my state, and I eventually was state champion (at different times) in three states. I wanted to be national champion, and though I didn't do it in Men's Singles with sponge, I was National Collegiate Doubles and Team Champion, and U.S. National and U.S. Open Hardbat Champion! (Also 4-time Over 40 Hardbat and 10-time Hardbat Doubles Champion.)

As the years went by, just playing the sport properly became more of a goal. Early on my best shot was my forehand smash, but I wanted to be a looper with a big forehand loop, like most of the best players in the world, so I learned to be a looper. Even now I'm working on my backhand loop because of the increased importance of the backhand loop in the modern game. (Not to mention the difficulties in covering most of the table with the forehand at age 51.)

But at this point, as a player, guess what's most important? It's a tie between having fun, and just playing well. And there's a rather strong correlation between the two.

Sidney Harman - ping-pong whiz?

On CNN they announced the death of Sidney Harman, "an American businessman active in education, government, industry, and publishing" [from Wikipedia]. What caught my ears was when they finished a sentence by saying he was "a whiz at ping-pong." Anyone know anything about that? I Googled his name and ping-pong, but didn't find anything.

More on table tennis and the brain

Yes, us table tennis players must be pretty smart and coordinated, according to this article. Former football star Terry Bradshaw plays ping-pong to improve his hand/eye coordination, saying, "Well, fans, I’m going out and buying a ping pong table. The doctors say that will help improve my hand/eye coordination." Heck, we can even play ping-pong on a piano!

Humorous (and insulting?) Asian Table Tennis Tutorial

Part 1 (5:50)
Part 2


Send us your own coaching news!

April 13, 2011

Fast or Slow Blade?

Someone posted that his coach recommends the use of slower blades, that he says, "a fast blade is like a drug because you can hit great shots with it and when struck correctly they also feel wonderful but the speed of a fast blade hurts your all around game (you just don't notice it because you are high on the power shots it makes happen)."

I understand why your coach recommends slower blades, and partially agree with him. However, a slower blade makes a player stroke the ball more to get the same speed as a faster blade, and so you have to do more work in the same amount of time as a player with a faster blade. And so the player with the faster blade will generally be able to rally at a faster pace with more consistency. The advantage of a slower blade is that because it makes you stroke the ball more, beginning/intermediate players develop their strokes a bit more. But beyond that, you generally need a faster blade. HOWEVER - I agree with your coach that many or most players use too fast a blade. If the blade's too fast, you can't control it, and you have less spin. So you need a balance. My recommendation? Stay away from the really fast blades unless you are contending for the national team (i.e. 2500+ level); otherwise, whatever feels right is usually best.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's an interesting article entitled, "What China's Ping-Pong diplomacy taught us." If you want to read more about this, see Tim Boggan's book on "Ping-Pong Diplomacy, which is Volume 5 in his History of U.S. Table Tennis series. (Buy the book, but you can also read it online: Part 1 is the U.S. visit to China, and Part 2 is the Chinese visit to the U.S.)

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter Helps Launch Opening of Trolley Car Table Tennis Club

Here's the article, which includes pictures of Mayor Nutter with ping-pong paddle in hand.

In Non-Table Tennis News

My fantasy story "Workshop Gods" was just published and featured on the cover by Flagship Magazine. Here's the cover! This was my 48th short story sale, and the tenth science fiction or fantasy magazine that has featured my fiction on its cover. (Here's my Science Fiction & Fantasy page.) "Workshop Gods" is a satire on writing workshops, except it's a fidgety God in a world-building workshop. He hopes to join Supernatural Formation of Worlds Association (SFWA). (For you non-science fiction people, that's a takeoff on "Science Fiction Writers of America.")


Send us your own coaching news!

April 12, 2011

Chinese vs. European Forehand Loop

David Bernstein emailed me the following question: "In your TTC blog a little while back you mentioned in passing that a Chinese forehand loop is more like a modified drive or smash while a European (or anywhere else) loop is something very different. Could you possibly expound on that a little more in another blog entry?  I want to link to it from my blog (where I'm experimenting with a Chinese style forehand)."

In some ways this might be the biggest difference in Chinese versus European coaching, especially for coaches from the 1990s and before. It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but in general, here is how they teach it differently. (And I'm going to use the words "tend" and "in general" a lot here.)

Chinese coaches tend to spend a lot of time with beginning juniors stressing the forehand drive and smash. Many of their juniors start out as hitters because of this. However, when they are advanced enough, they teach the loop, with the idea that it is just an extension of the regular forehand. Against backspin, you just extend the arm down and drop the racket, and hit the ball with an upward grazing motion. (You don't really have to change the racket angle, which stays about perpendicular to the ground.) Against topspin, you just extend the arm more backward, with the racket tip more backward, close the racket more, and contact more on top of the ball. They sink the ball into the sponge, sort of midway between a spinny loop (where you graze the ball) and a regular drive (where the ball sinks more into the sponge, often to the wood), catapulting the ball out with speed and topspin. 

Europeans tend to teach it as a completely separate shot. While Chinese tend to teach the shot relatively close to the table, Europeans tend to teach it from farther back, focusing on spin. With kids, the argument is that looping is more natural since it allows them to let the ball drop down to their level. So European kids often learn the shot earlier, and back off the table to loop, while Chinese kids tend to stay closer. Europeans tend to graze the ball a bit more, but they too sink it into the sponge for more speed. 

In general, Chinese-coached players end up looping closer to the table with great power and consistent loop-kills, while European-trained ones have more topspin and more control, especially off the table.

Scheduling for the ITTF Seminar in Maryland

I spent much of the last week going over the ITTF Level 1 Coaching Manual and the schedule for the upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminar I'm running the next two weekends at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (Here's the flyer.) We have 13 signed up, but can take another 2-3. There are some topics where I have to do some real studying and preparation. Fortunately, for most of it I don't need to study; I just schedule the topic and go up and talk and demonstrate like I've been doing for three decades.


Send us your own coaching news!

April 11, 2011

Control the receive

I was watching some beginning/intermediate players in a tournament yesterday and noticed a huge number of points decided by the receive. Either the receiver was way too aggressive (and so made mistake after mistake) or was way too passive (and kept pushing topspin and sidespin serves off the end or side). While it's usually best to learn to play aggressive, receive is all about control, about consistently taking the initiative away from the server. If you can force a neutral rally on the opponent's serve and win half the points, you should win the match when you serve.

How do you control the serve? At the beginning/intermediate level you should focus on one thing only: is the serve backspin or not backspin? If the serve has backspin (including sidespin backspin), then you mostly push it back, though you can also loop it. If it's not backspin (i.e. sidespin or topspin serves), then you use your regular topspin shots, i.e. backhand and forehand drives (or perhaps loops, if you can do that). No-spin serves you can handle either way.

At higher levels you might want to do more with the receive, but ultimately it's all about control, whether you are quick-pushing to an angle, dropping it short, flipping, or looping.

Baltimore Orioles and Ping-Pong

The secret to the Orioles hot start this season? Obviously it's ping-pong!

"Mr. Control Freak Manager [Buck Showalter] allowed a ping-pong table to be placed near one end. The players engage in spirited competitions before games. The coaches dress in their own locker room. Jones says that Showalter rarely is seen."

How Reisman and Satoh Went Batty
[This is just something I wrote this weekend and thought it was, well, at least mildly funny. Satoh was the player who introduced sponge table tennis to the world (which led to inverted sponge) by winning the 1952 World Championships with it, while the charismatic Reisman, whom Satoh beat in the semifinals - he was the only one to even get a game off him - is notorious for pushing hardbat (and recently sandpaper) table tennis.]

As children, Marty Reisman and Hiroje Satoh went to the zoo together. They had a
ball together as they toured the lion compound, the elephant yard, the monkey
house, and saw many other animals. Then they came upon the bat house.

"I like that one!" Satoh said, pointing at a bat hanging upside-down from the

"I like that one!" Reisman said, pointing at a dead bat lying on the ground.

Satoh nudged the dead bat with his foot. "It's stiff."

"I don't care," Reisman said. "I want it."

So Reisman grabbed the hard bat and Satoh the inverted bat, and the table tennis
world was changed forever.


Send us your own coaching news!

April 8, 2011

Stroking Coaches

Imagine going to a nice steakhouse and ordering the finest steak. They bring it, and that's all there is - just the steak. No potato or other vegetable on the side. No salad. No bread. Not even a drink. A coach who only works on strokes is like a steakhouse that only serves steaks.

Now some players only want to work on strokes. They are fun to do and great exercise. And beginners should focus on them. But a coach who only works on strokes is like that rather limited steakhouse. Coaches also need to work on footwork, serve, receive, tactics, strategic development, the mental game, physical training, equipment choice, even nutrition.

On the other hand, did you ask for anything on the side at that steakhouse? Maybe it's available upon request. Similarly, if you have a coach who seems mostly focused on just strokes, try asking about other things. Maybe it's available upon request. Of course the coach should be offering these things on his own, just as the steakhouse should, but as players and diners you should do what it takes to bring out the best in your game and meal.

Ping-Pong Interior Decorating

For the table tennis diehards out there, why not decorate your house in ping-pong balls, like this?

Top Ten Ways to Increase Your Rating
(I'm going to make a Friday Top Ten List a regular thing.)

  1. Bribery and blackmail are tried and true winners here.  
  2. Coaching and practice. Sure, it sounds silly and old fashioned, but some people are into this type of thing.
  3. Memorize the USATT rating chart. Then for every match, calculate whether the odds favor you. For example, if your opponent is rated 113 to 137 points higher than you, you'll gain 25 points if you win, but lose 3 if you lose. Is he a 25-3 favorite or more? If so, run away!!!
  4. If memorizing the USATT rating chart and calculating odds is too hard for you, take the simple route. Default every match unless the opponent is rated at least 238 points higher.
  5. Cheat.
  6. The ratings in the USATT system slowly inflate. For example, when Eric Boggan won men's singles at the 1978 Nationals, he came out rated 2449 - and that made him the #2 player in the country, with only three players rated over 2400. Now there are about 80. So go to sleep in a time capsule and wake up in about 30 years, and watch your rating skyrocket.
  7. Hire a top player from China and have him legally change his name to yours.
  8. Hire a beginner and have him legally change his name to the name of your high-rated opponent.
  9. Switch to binary. You may be rated only 1000, but in binary that's 1111101000. Or, if you want it to look more legit, try base eight. Now that 1000 rating becomes 1750 - congrats! (Here's a base number converter for you.)
  10. Hack into the USATT computer. Sure, it's guarded by the best security that the CIA can provide - don't want Al-Qaeda breaking in and destroying this centerpiece of American supremacy - but any 12-year-old with a computer should be able to do it.


Send us your own coaching news!

April 7, 2011

Coaching and Hardbat and Sandpaper, Oh My!

For those who are distracted by various wars and government shutdowns, the U.S. Open entry form is out. It's in Milwaukee, June 30 - July 4. Here's info on it:

2011 US Open: | Entry forms: Online | Domestic | International

Now's the time to go over the schedule in painstaking detail, calculating which events to enter to maximize the sense of grandiose accomplishment after you devastate the field in your chosen events.

For me, it's a headache trying to work out conflicts. I'll be there primarily as a coach - the father of a cadet player I'm coaching is paying my way. But I also like to win National Titles. While I'm basically retired from tournaments as a sponge player (that's how I normally play and coach), I've won a lot of national hardbat titles at the U.S. Open and Nationals, including Hardbat Singles (twice), Hardbat Doubles (10 times), and Over 40 Hardbat (4 times). Now I have to figure out which of these events (plus two sandpaper events? Over 50 Hardbat?) I can enter without conflicting with my coaching schedule. I may have to go back to college and get a degree in rocket science because that's what it's going to take to work it out.

My long-time Hardbat Doubles partner Ty Hoff - we've won six times, including at the last Nationals - said we can go ahead and enter and, if there's a major conflict, such as matches during the Cadet Singles event, we can drop out. That'll be a hard decision, but that's the most important event for the cadet I'm primarily coaching.

Watch the serves and receives of these great matches!

Wanna build a Table Tennis Clock?

Then build a Table Tennis Clock. Here's how.

On a completely non-table tennis note

Nine years ago I replaced the ceiling incandescent light in my office with a light with two roughly four-foot long fluorescent tube light bulbs. Since that time I've kept it on nearly continuously, sort of as a night light. Even when I'm away I leave it on for my dog. And nine years later, the same two fluorescent light bulbs are still running! Don't they ever run out? Or is this some supernatural thing?


Send us your own coaching news!

April 6, 2011

Rotating around the pole for fast forehand recovery

Yesterday I was coaching someone who had a pretty good forehand, but was often awkward in making two strong ones in a row. The problem was he tended to move his whole body forward into the shot, with his weight slightly off-center, and so to recover had to move his whole body back. It's a double-whammy because before he can even begin to move back he had to get his weight centered again. This is a common problem.

If you watch top players who seem to have the ability to hit repeated forehands (loops or smashes) with incredible rapidity - like a machine gun - you'll see that they don't move that much forward on these shots, if at all. Instead, they rotate their bodies around, as if there were a pole coming out of their heads that they spun about. When they finished their shot, they were in the same position, with weight centered, just rotated around. And since they were so well balanced and in position, they were immediately ready for the next shot. The result is a barrage of forehands that can be done incredibly quickly. It's also more efficient and thereby easier to control since you aren't throwing your body weight around so much.

Imagine that pole sticking out of your head, and hit or loop your forehands while going around it. Watch how fast you recover and how much better balanced you are. The next time someone quick-blocks back your forehand attack, you'll be ready for a second shot, and a third, fourth, etc.

The Backhand Loop

When I started out, only a few players really had backhand loops, and they were mostly top players. Players under 2000 who could backhand loop were rare. Even world-class players mostly used it only against backspin. It was considered too "advanced" for most players. Now just about anyone who can hold a racket is taught to backhand loop almost from the start, and many intermediate players can backhand loop over and over in a rally. The paradigm changed - now it's considered a necessary part of many players' games. Have you developed a backhand loop? Go to it!


Send us your own coaching news!

April 5, 2011

Fan and Peter-Paul Serves at the North American Championships

I though the most interesting thing to watch at the North American Championships were the top players' serves, especially USA's Fan Yiyong and Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul.

Fan has an extremely heavy and low backspin serve, which are far spinier than it looks. However, he was having trouble controlling his forehand pendulum serve. The second bounce, given the chance, is supposed to be near the endline, making it hard to loop or drop short. It seemed to be going too long, allowing opponents to loop. In many of his matches he switched to a backhand serve, often short to the forehand, with either backspin or no-spin. The no-spin serve especially seemed to give opponents trouble as they kept putting it slightly up or long, and Fan would jump all over them.

In one match against Peter-Paul in the semifinals of Men's Singles, Fan led 2-1 in games and was up 10-5. Serving at 10-9, Fan called a timeout and spoke with USA coach Yang "Alex" Shigang. Then he served the simple backhand serve short to Peter-Paul's forehand, the return went up slightly, and Fan ripped the winner. Fan turned to Alex and gave him a thumbs up.

Peter-Paul struck back. Down 2-3 in games and down 8-10 double match point, he served fast and spinny down the line, and Fan missed the loop. Down 9-10, Peter-Paul served deep again, this time to the backhand. Fan missed a backhand loop. Up 11-10, Peter-Paul served long to the backhand again, and Fan missed again. Game to Peter-Paul, match is tied up 3-3, and Peter-Paul won the seventh to complete the comeback. (Fan had defeated him earlier in the Men's Team final, the only USA win in their 3-1 loss.) I sometimes think that international players like these two miss off deep serves more than many lower-rated players because they know that if they don't really attack the serve hard, the opponent is going to counterloop a winner. And so under pressure to loop the serve very hard, Fan missed.

Later I asked him about the serves, and mentioned that I was coaching a top cadet who didn't mix his serves up that much. Peter-Paul stressed that mixing the serves up is key - but that should be obvious, right? Not to a lot of players who don't always approach serving with the idea that it's a weapon that can score points directly, either from misses or easy pop-ups. You should develop serves that consistently allow you to attack, but also develop serves that can win points outright. Then mix them in, and watch the opponent flounder.

Another interesting serve many should watch was the forehand reverse pendulum serve of Ariel Hsing. It looks like a regular forehand serve until the last second, and then she snaps the racket the opposite way, and often drops the ball short to the forehand, breaking away from the receiver with tremendous sidespin. Players had fits with it, and over and over set her up for third-ball attacks, both forehand and backhand.

One serve-related item: against short backspin serves, it seems most of the top players are mixing up short receive and quick, angled pushes. Not as many were flipping off short backspin serves. When they did flip these serves, opponents seemed very good at looping them back, putting the flipper on the defensive. When players did flip, they either did so very aggressively to the forehand, or quick, deceptive ones to the backhand. So most flips were done not against short backspin serves, but against short receives against their own backspin serves. (Against sidespin serves, flipping was more the norm, since you generally don't want to push them.)

Choe! Vs. Caw!

At the North American Championships, in the cadet (under 15) events, most of the USA players yelled "Choe!" when they won points. The Canadian's mostly yelled "Caw!" I have no idea where either of these come from, though I vaguely recall it was the Koreans who first introduced "Choe!" When the Canadians scored, they sounded like crows. Why do they make these screams? It's psychological in that it keeps them pumped up, as well as perhaps wearing down an opponent mentally.

Tampa Bay players play table tennis

Here's a video of the Tampa Bay Rays playing table tennis, featuring Andy Sonnanstine, David Price, and B.J. Upton. Several Rays players said that the hand-eye coordination needed to play table tennis was a perfect way to sharpen the skilled needed for the big leagues. (The bad news for them: it didn't pay off as the Rays started getting swept 3-0 by the Orioles - my team!) Here's an article about the Rays playing table tennis at the St. Pete Beach Community Center (a chapter of the Sunrise Table Tennis Club), playing table tennis champions like Ty Hoff, shown in the video on the left near the end.


Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content