Expert Table Tennis Contest

April 16, 2013

Tomahawk Serve

Recently someone asked me about why fewer players use the forehand tomahawk serve than before. (If you aren't sure what a forehand tomahawk serve, see video below of Matsudaira.) It was a much more popular serve back in the 1960s and 1970s. These days, however, the forehand pendulum serve (with racket tip down) has taken over in both its forms - regular and reverse. With a regular pendulum serve, the racket moves from right to left (for a righty). A reverse pendulum serves goes the opposite way. Regular pendulum serves dominate table tennis below the world-class level. However, at the world-class level, regular and reverse pendulum serves are about equally common. The latter is harder to learn, but is often more effective since players aren't as used to them - and even more effective if you can do both.

So why is the pendulum serve so popular, as compared to the tomahawk serve? 1) It allows them to serve both types of sidespin with roughly the same motion; 2) it's easier to serve very heavy backspin; 3) and they are just copying other top players. However, pendulum serves are way overused. Anyone developing a good tomahawk or other serve will give players problems as they aren't as used to it. If you are able to get heavy underspin (along with sidespin, side-top, and no-spin), and it's not obvious, then that's key to making the tomahawk serve effective at all levels. The same is true of the reverse pendulum serve - most players can't do it with heavy underspin, and when they do, it's too obvious. If you don't use it already, you should experiment with reverse pendulum serves so you can serve sidespin both ways.

For many below the higher levels, the tomahawk serve is a classic "trick" serve, where players serve it deep to the opponent's forehand so it breaks away from them, forcing numerous mistakes, i.e. free points. Advanced players have no problem looping these serves, but intermediate players struggle as the ball bounces away from them. As they reach for the ball, they tend to lower their racket, and so they end up lifting too much, and so the ball goes off they end. They also have trouble reacting to the sidespin, which pulls the ball to their left (if both players are righties), and so they have to aim to the right. (I seem to be plugging my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book these days, but it does have an entire section on returning these types of serves, in the chapter on Receive Tactics.)

Tomahawk serves are still used; I use it as a variation. Here's a segment from my blog on March 5, 2013:

The Amazing Tomahawk Serve of Kenta Matsudaira
Here's the video (1:09). Note how he can break it both ways - and see the side-by-side slow motion of the two versions. The real question for all you serious table tennis players: Why haven't you developed equally good serves? It's just a matter of technique and practice! If you don't have the technique, see a coach or watch videos and learn. (You don't need to match Kenta's serves - there are many other good serving techniques.) If you don't practice . . . well, then you'll never have the serve of Kenta Matsudaira, and you'll never be as good as you could have been. (This type of serve has been around for a long time. Dean Doyle specialized in this serve when he made the U.S. Pan Am Team over 30 years ago.)

Contest at Expert Table Tennis

Last week they ran a contest for a free autographed copy of my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The winner would be whoever could best explain why they deserved a free copy. And the winner is . . . Tom Lodziak from England!!! (His autographed copy goes out tomorrow.) To read his winning answer, see Expert Table Tennis. (While there, you can browse all their excellent coaching articles.) Yep, this is plug #2 for my book.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

What, you haven't bought your copy yet??? Here's the page to order it! Time for some friendly persuasion - not from me, from others. Here are some quotes and all 14 reviews so far at Thirteen of the 14 reviews are 5-star; the other is 4-star. (Yep, this is plug #3 for my book! But there's a bunch of stuff after it, so feel free to browse past these quotes & comments. Or read them all.)

"Larry has done an excellent job in breaking down the skills needed by all players to improve in these areas. This book should be on every table tennis player’s mandatory reading list."
-Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach, ITTF Trainer, and USATT Coaching Chair, 2009-2013 

"Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a must read for any player serious about winning. This tactical Bible is right on the mark, and is exactly how I was taught to put together game-winning tactics and strategies."
-Sean O'Neill, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympian 

"Larry Hodges' book on table tennis tactics is the best I have ever seen on this subject. This is the first book that explains how to play against the many styles of the game."
-Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and long-time U.S. Men's Team Coach Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
Maybe the Best Table Tennis Book Ever Written, April 15, 2013
By Eric M Hine
I have read almost every table tennis book that is available in the English language. Many have great suggestions about stroke techniques. Some have good suggestions as to basic tactics and strategy. This book, however, answered all the questions I had wondered about for years regarding strategy and tactics. It's obvious that Larry Hodges knows and loves the sport of table tennis, but even more importantly to a reader it is clear that he wants to pass this knowledge and love for this sport onto others. It's a great book that I will recommend to anyone interested in the great sport of table tennis.

4.0 out of 5 stars 
A MUST for table tennis players who play club and tournaments. April 14, 2013
Very good reference book. A must for table tennis players who play at club or tournaments. Don't forget to get the update since that is a complete kindle version.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Great Book from a Great Guy, April 5, 2013
By Kimberley Huff
Helped from the first page to the last, Great job Larry another sterling piece of work, Looking forward to your next book

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Playing smart, April 4, 2013
By Paul Wiltse (St. Paul, MN USA)
Mr. Hodges shares a lifetime of professional table tennis knowledge with you from start to finish. This book is well worth reading if you are really serious about becoming a top player. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in this fascinating game.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
For all skill levels, March 30, 2013
By debbieb
I am a low rated player and read this book easily, as it is written very clearly and easy for anyone to understand. I have put some of the information into action already and it has helped. My husband is a much better player than me as well as a USATT & ITTF Coach and he also read this book. He has suggested his students read this book and even carry it with them to a tournament for a quick refresher before their matches. Much of the information is known by the better players already, but Larry puts it all together so it is easy to find and all in one book. It is really a super reference tool. Including a chapter on hard bat and "funny" rubber surfaces adds to the value as most current players really need to better understand the way these surfaces play. I suggest every table tennis player have this book in their library. Bravo Larry. Aloha!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Finally I can think! March 24, 2013
By Nicholas T Flor
I've been seeking this kind of insight for a long time. When it comes to analyzing my own match play, this is my handbook. I am very pleased with this book and am already changing the ways I approach playing the game.
Thanks Larry!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
mts288, March 22, 2013
By mts288
Best TT book I've ever read. It has all the stuff you don't get from your coach. If you have a problem with a certain style or equipment, Larry gives you the solution. A must read for any player at any level. Thanks Larry

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Very good book on under-covered subject. March 19, 2013
By Britt Salter
Larry covers a whole bunch of things that are barely - if at all - touched on. His writing is clear and concise. There is a good mix of humor, seriousness, technicality, and common sense.
One of the best TT books I've read!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Great for the developing (or established) player! March 19, 2013
By Scott
Larry does a great job putting his many years of experience as both a high-level coach and player into this insightful and clearly written book. I've made this required reading for players I coach. Even after the first reading, this should be great as a reference to brush up on tactics and keep yourself on the right path to intelligent play.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
A tremendous amount of info! March 18, 2013
By Cubinican
Best money u can spend on information like this! Very clear and easy to read! Now when you train, you will know exactly what to work on!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Highly recommended! March 15, 2013
By Feangfa Thaicharoen (Nonthaburi, Nonthaburi Thailand)
This book is the missing link between technical expertise and match outcome.

Usually, you perfect all the strokes without knowing why. This book puts those strokes into cohesive pattern. You will learn the distinction between strategic (for long-termed result) and tactical (for immediate result) thinking along the way.

After reading this book, you'll see tabletennis matches in different light. You'll appreciate the nuances of shot selection and the most important thing is you know "why" they use them.

A lot of examples in this book. Larry puts questions in between the narrative to make you "think".

Thanks, Larry, for writing this book. I'm an intermediate player without proper coach. Previously, I blindly practice strokes and drills without clear goal. In matches, I played blindly, instinctively. Most of the time, I didn't know why I won. And more importantly, I didn't know why I lost. So I had no way to improve my game. Your book gives meaning to my training. I'll train with strategic mind and compete with tactical thinking.

Finally, to answer your question, YES, Larry, you made me THINK. Thank you.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Hard to find sources on tactics other than Mr. Hodges, March 14, 2013
By Seth Redford
I've been playing seriously for about two years so I am still learning the many important aspects of competitive Table Tennis. While searching the internet and other places I found a lot of information on technique but not much on tactics. This book is a fantastic resource that covers a wide variety of topics. I feel like it focused my thinking onto a number of important aspects that apply to each of the different shots and situations that you can face against each opponent. My only small issue is I have been following Mr. Hodges' blog and I have read a number of his articles and tips of the day. Since much of the information in those online sources was also included in the book, I had seen a lot of it before. But having it all in one place was well worth the price of the book.

5.0 out of 5 stars 
Great Resource For Improving Your Table Tennis Results, March 8, 2013
This book may be the best table tennis book currently available for improving your table tennis results. Larry has packed it full information to get you thinking about what is going on in a game or match. Many players lose to players below their own level of play physically by being outplayed mentally. This collection of information is a great resource to short-cut the years of experience usually required to gain this level of strategy and tactics and be the player with the mental edge. Good Stuff!

5.0 out of 5 stars 
It Made Me Think! March 1, 2013
By Kyle Angeles
Very enjoyable read. The whole time I was reading this book, my mind would kind of drift off as I was picturing the aspects of my game in whatever part of the book I was reading.
The topics are laid out in a very logical order and explained in great detail.
The verbiage makes the book very conversational, so it doesn't drag on or feel like a sermon.
Many examples are used making it easy to visualize each subject.
Styles are broken down into various subsets - each containing their own goals and strategies
Excellent tactics are provided against a wide variety of styles - I highly recommend the section on non-inverted surfaces!
A little repetitive at times, but this kind of comes with the territory

World Cadet Challenge Selection Criteria

Here's the selection process for the 2013 Cadet Challenge, with dates and mandatory events.

Bacteria in Beer Pong

Here's a story about Clemson students finding lots of bacteria on ping-pong balls used in beer pong. You'll never play beer pong again.

Berlin Style Ping-Pong

Here's a video of Berlin Style Ping Pong (3:19), brought to you by Table Tennis Nation. (I often had some trouble understanding what the narrator was saying - it seemed a bit muffled.)

Table Tennis Glamour

Here are pictures of some glamorous table tennis outfits. (If Facebook won't let you see it, try this.)

USATT Minutes

(I usually end the blog with something short and fun, but this is rather long, and I'm afraid I'd lose people before they get to the short, fun stuff. So I'll end with this.)

The USATT motions from the March 25 teleconference are now online. (Plus you can browse past meetings and motions.) These were all committee appointments. Since there are so many names mentioned, I'm guessing most readers will know some of the people. Since so much work is done by committees, I'm putting in all the motions for readers to browse over

Approved at the March 25, 2013 telephonic meeting of the USATT Board of Directors

MOVED to continue Roman Tinyszin as Chair of the Officials and Rules Advisory Committee, waiving any implications of his two weeks committee service in 2007.

MOVED that the National Sanctioning Coordinator shall be appointed by the Board and shall not be subject to the term lengths and restrictions for standing committee members.

MOVED to approve Thomas Wintrich, Wendell Dillon, Lee Kondo, and Barney Reed (athlete) as members of the Tournaments Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Andrew Horn as the committee’s Liaison. (Larry Rose was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Ray Cavicchio, Elena Karshtedt, Lee Kondo, and Pam Fontaine (athlete) as members of the Officials and Rules Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Teodor Gheorghe as the committee’s Liaison. (Roman Tinyszin was approved as the Chair earlier in the March 25, 2013 meeting.)

MOVED to approve Rich Perez, Suzanne Butler, Gloria Brooks, and Khoa Nguyen (athlete) as members of the Seniors Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Gregg Robertshaw was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Lee Kondo, Amir Sadeghy, Larry Kesler, and Tahl Leibovitz (athlete) as members of the Ethics and Grievance Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Jim Coombe was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Peter Scudner, and Han Xiao (athlete) as members of the Compensation Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Mike Babuin was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Tom Poston, Ross Brown, Steve Hopkins, and Ty Hoff (athlete) as members of the Editorial Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Andrew Horn as the committee’s Liaison.6 6 Jim McQueen was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.

MOVED to approve Anne Cribbs, Mike Babuin, and Ed Levy (athlete) as members of the Audit Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Deborah Gray as the committee’s Liaison. (Peter Scudner was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Dean Johnson, Jay Tuberville, Jeffery D. Morrison, and Carlos Ko (athlete) as members of the Hardbat Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Teodor Gheorghe as the committee’s Liaison. (Alberto Prieto was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Peter Scudner, Anne Cribbs, Mike McAllister, and Tahl Leibovitz (athlete) as members of the Marketing and Fund Raising Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Michael Cavanaugh as the committee’s Liaison. (Jim Kahler was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED to approve Lisa Hagel, Ben Bednarz, Bruce Liu, and Barney Reed (athlete) as members of the Clubs Advisory Committee for the January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 term, and to designate Joyce Grooms as the committee’s Liaison. (Attila Malek was approved as the Chair on February 4, 2013.)

MOVED that the Chairs of the Junior Advisory Committee and League Advisory Committee will be decided via email prior to the Board’s April 20, 2013 meeting.

MOVED to appoint Mike Babuin (Chair), Peter Scudner, Dennis Taylor, and Han Xiao (athlete) as members of a Bylaw Review Task Force. Recommendations of the Task Force are due by July 31, 2013.

Respectfully submitted,
Dennis M. Taylor

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April 11, 2013

New Back Problem

I live life by several rules. And one of the main ones is never, Ever, EVER carry heavy objects with my playing arm. On Tuesday I broke that rule and paid for it. I went grocery shopping. Normally I'm careful not to carry anything heavy with my (right) playing arm. I own a townhouse and live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors. When I was about to carry the groceries out of my car and up the stairs to the third floor, I picked up all of the bags in my left arm. But I also had a case of Deer Park water. They normally come with 24 bottles, but this one was some sort of special, with 28, each of them 16.9 ounces. That's about 30 pounds. No problem, I picked them up with my right arm. It wasn't until I was nearly at the third floor that I began to feel the strain behind and to the left of my right shoulder. I made it to the top, no problem. None whatsoever.

Yesterday I only had two sessions. The first was with a beginning-intermediate player, age 11, rated about 800. He'd just played a tournament and had had trouble blocking. So near the end of the one-hour session I did a multiball drill where I stood near the end-line of my table with a box of balls, and tossed balls up one by one and looped them at him so he could practice blocking. At first I didn't notice the strain, but after a few minutes of this the pain in my back began again. I'd hurt it the day before, but now I'd aggravated it pretty badly.

My next session was 30 minutes with a 2200+ junior, where we were working strictly on return of serve. We warmed up for a few minutes (no problem), and then I began the drill. I tossed the ball up, preparing to do a reverse pendulum serve - and had to catch the ball. I couldn't do any body rotation into the serve without hurting the back. As I quickly discovered, I couldn't do forehand pendulum serves (regular or reverse) or backhand serves. I also couldn't forehand loop or smash. We ended up spending the session working on his backhand loop while I blocked.

I'm off today, and have already cancelled my two hours on Friday. I've got a busy weekend, but don't know yet what condition my shoulder/back will be in. I can do multiball, and regular forehand and backhand drives or blocks, but that's about it.

Maybe I'm getting too old for this! (At 53?) On the other hand, after the session, while lamenting about my newest injury, I had fun watching "tag-team math," as four of our junior girls (all 11-12 years old or so) worked on math problems for school together between practice sessions at the club. There was a lot of giggling, and yet they seemed to get the work done.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook

Are you interested in becoming a professional table tennis coach, but aren't sure if you can make a living at it? Do you feel you have most of the knowledge needed to coach, but aren't sure how to get started? Do you want to run a junior class or teach classes? Then this is the book for you, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. I wrote an earlier version of this a few years ago; this is an updated and professional published version.

I mentioned this before in my blog when it came out a few days ago, but I was sort of holding back because, due to some error, it was showing two different pages, one for the print version, and one for the eBook version. Now they are together.

It's a short read, only 44 pages, but the price matches that - only $7.99 for the print version, $5.99 for Kindle.

ITTF Features Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here's the article!

Want To Win a FREE Signed Copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers?

As noted in my blog yesterday, they are running a contest at Expert Table Tennis. All you have to do by this Sunday is answer the question: Why do you deserve to win a free copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers? I will personally sign and mail out a copy of the book to the winner. See link for details.

Forehand Flip

Here's a good tutorial (4:23) on the forehand flip (called a flick in Europe) from Table Tennis Master. What makes it good is that it shows the progression from the most basic flip (too high and soft) and works its way toward high-level flipping, with slow motion so you can see what's happening.

Rockford Media Try Table Tennis

Here's an article about a Celebrity Table Tennis Tournament held in Rockford, IL. It's part of the buildup toward the National College Championships there this weekend.

Golfer Webb Simpson in Table Tennis Commercial

Here's the video (32 sec). The table tennis is for two seconds, starting at second 15, showing them playing on an American flag table (!) out in the ocean (!).

Invading Alien Table Tennis Players!

Here's a new artwork from Mike Mezyan, with the caption, "To All Table Tennis Players....Be Ready...They Come To You With A Message..." The message is in ping-pongese (as you can tell by the use of ping-pong paddles for some of the letters). These aliens obviously have some good ideas, as you can see the light bulbs going off in their heads - except those are ping-pong paddles! All these years we thought a good idea was symbolized by a light bulb going off, but now we realize it was really an exploding racket.

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April 10, 2013

How Can You Practice By Yourself?

"Seeknshare" asked me this question on the forum, "How can one practice alone (all by himself). I do not have a partner...but would like to better my skills. I remember seeing Tom Hank's 'Forrest Gump' movie where he practices on his own..not sure if it was real or meant as parody. Any help/suggestions?"

There are a number of ways you can practice by yourself. Here are a few:

  1. Shadow practice. Top players do this regularly. It means practicing your strokes and footwork without the ball. Some do it at a table, but you don't need a table for this - just imagine one in front of you. At the more basic level, you shadow practice the basic strokes, perhaps 50 strokes at a time - forehand and backhand drives, loops, and any other shot you regularly use. Then practice the movements you use in a game - side to side where you alternate backhands and forehands, side to side where you use just your forehand, etc. You can do the 2-1 drill (Falkenberg drill) where you do a forehand from the forehand side, a backhand from the backhand side, and then a forehand from the backhand side, and then repeat. (That's the three most common moves in table tennis - cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, step around forehand.) You can also do more advanced versions, such as stepping in for a short ball to the forehand, then stepping back for a forehand or backhand loop. Or just play out imaginary rallies where you never miss! Here's an article I wrote, "Shadow Practice For Strokes and Footwork."
  2. Serve practice. Just get a box of balls and serve. Take your time on this - don't serve rapid-fire. As I've said many times, this (along with receive) is the most under-practiced aspect of the game. Here's an article I wrote, "Practicing Serves the Productive Way."
  3. Robot play. The more expensive modern ones have programmed drills that move you around, such as side-to-side footwork, and many others. Or get one of the less expensive ones and be creative. For example, instead of just hitting backhands or forehands, put the balls to your backhand and alternate backhands and forehands (and so work on your footwork). And just the net with a robot is valuable for practicing serves, so you don't have to pick them all up!
  4. You can practice some shots against a wall. This isn't very common anymore, but 10-time U.S. Champion Dick Miles says he spent a lot of time developing his chopping this way. He'd draw a line on the wall at net height, then practicing chopping against it, letting the ball bounce on the floor each time and then chopping it, trying to keep it low to the net line. You can do versions of this with topspin. I demonstrate this sometimes by putting a table a few feet from a wall, sideways to it, and stand to the side of the table and just rally against the wall, hitting each shot so it hits the wall, bounces on the table, and then I hit it again. Or, with some tables, you can just lift up one side and play off that, as Forrest Gump did.
  5. Ball bouncing. This is more for kids developing hand-eye coordination and racket control, but it's good practice for anyone to develop that. First just bounce up and down on the forehand side. Then on the backhand side. Then alternate. Then go to what I call the Graduate level, and alternate bouncing on the forehand side, and the edge of the racket (!). Then you can go to the Ph.D level, and bounce over and over on the edge of the racket. (My record is 17 in a row.) 

Want To Win a FREE Signed Copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers?

They are running a contest at Expert Table Tennis. All you have to do by this Sunday is answer the question: Why do you deserve to win a free copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers? I will personally sign and mail out a copy of the book to the winner. 

To elaborate, it says, "Feel free to tell me a story of your latest and greatest table tennis tactical nightmare, or describe your complete lack of ability to engage your brain at the table. You can be funny, you can be serious. It’s up to you. I’ll be choosing the person that I believe most deserves (desperately needs) their own copy of the book."

MDTTC April Open

Here's a write-up of the MDTTC Open held this past weekend. Congrats to Open Champion Chen Bo Wen, U2400 Champion Raghu Nadmichettu, U2250 Champion Roy Ke, U2050 Champion Josiah Chow, U1900 Champion Robert Gabay, U1650 Champion Deapesh Misra, U1400 Champion Tony Wang, U1150 Champion Darwin Ma, and Under 12 Champion Frank Xie! (And while we're covering MDTTC, here's the April Newsletter that went out a week ago.)

College Championships Coming to Rockford

Here's an article and video (3:16) on the National College Table Tennis Championships to be held in Rockford, Illinois, April 12-14. Also featured is a Celebrity Doubles Tournament to be held on Thursday, April 11.

Samson Dubina and Robopong

Here's a video (3:12) of a news feature on WKBW ("Exercise While Playing With Toys") where Samson demonstrates the Robopong.

Judah Friedlander Wins Celebrity Madness

Judah wins! He defeated former basketball star Christian Laettner in the final, based on online voting at Table Tennis Nation. Take a look at the draw and results of other celebrity match-ups, and see if you agree with the voting.

Includes a link to a hilarious new video (3:41) where comedian Judah "takes us on a grand tour of table tennis, with special guest Tahl Leibovitz."

Tiger Table Tennis

Here's a picture of a tiger playing table tennis, set against a green paddle in a green forest, by Mike Mezyan.

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