Larry Hodges: Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (ETT #20)

Larry Hodges: Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (ETT #20)

this is episode number 20 of the expert tables in this podcast with me Ben Larkin and my guest on today's show is Larry Hodges now Larry is probably most well known for his daily blog that he puts out Monday to Friday over at his website Ted with who's coaching calm that's a great place just to find all sorts of toastiness news and coaching articles and videos say I'm sure that if you're a follower of online table tennis you will have seen that he's also got loads of books he's a full time coach Larry pretty much does it all and I've wanted to have him on the show for ages I'm really glad that we've managed to find the time to get him on the show and to interview him and in today's show we'll be talking a lot more about the tactical side of the sport which is something that Larry knows a lot about he's particularly interested in the tactical and analytical side of the game and he's also written a book on the subject called table tennis tactics for thinkers which is you know his best-selling book out of the many that he's written it's quite long interview about 15 minutes in total normally I try and cut bits out but it was just too good to cut down so we've got 50 minutes with Larry Hodges let's get straight into it I'm sure you were gonna enjoy it joining me on the show today is Larry Hodges hi Larry hi Harry done yeah doing very well how are you uh pretty good yeah just got back from coaching and we're all set to go now I was trying to come up with a kind of snappy way to introduce you but you just do way too many things for me to come up with something can you um explain all of the different table tennis related things that you do because you seem to be kind of the busiest man in table tennis at the moment yeah this that could take a while I mean I wants it okay coach pretty much full time both private coaching in group sessions I'm a pretty much a full-time writer because I do my daily blog in nine books seven on table tennis and lots of short articles tips of the week I'm also on the board of directors for us a table tennis which takes up a lot of time and I've also recently been appointed I'm not sure of the u.s. ATP League Committee and I'm also the regional associations coordinator so I'm working on saying up regional associations and I'm working on setting up leagues especially team Lee although we're also going to be looking into singles leagues that might be rated that's something will be coming out later so I will offer that at the Maryland Table Tennis Center where I coach um I'm a sponsored coach from butterfly and I do a lot of publicity work for them and law miscellaneous things like we had we can we get a lot of press coverage and stuff like that so I'm involved in a lot of things like that I'm even involved in non table tasks I'm I'm tutoring some of our kids as well at the club it's table tasks because we're at the club and they're table test case so I tutor in English at tutor math also they're not not as much recently so I'm involved in quite a lot of things I've also of course got loud besides the writing table tennis I write science fiction fantasy and sometimes I mix them together because I have a fantasy table tennis not well I think we'll talk about that later yeah yeah I read that one that was actually really good say I mean how do you manage to fit this stuff in it seems like you there's pretty much nothing intae within it that you don't do it's not easy it's I don't actually wake up in the morning as jumping up and down ready to go takes me about while I get started but once I get started I can just keep trying to keep at it um one thing actually makes even more difficult we have an after-school program so every morning I get my blog done by about 10:00 a.m. and I have to leave around by 2:30 to pick up kids to take to our club and then I do table tasks and some tutoring and stuff and then private coaching group sessions so I actually try to get all my us ATT and other non coaching stuff writing everything between them between 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 plus occasionally I'll have lunch or something and then run off pick up the kids do the coaching do the group sessions and then that night I come back and then I spend a few minutes to being whether to jump back into it or watch TV or read yes you try and get work and bits and bobs done in the morning and then off the names are always pretty pretty full-on with every tennis today and then sometimes I hold up I'll get started on something that I'll work late at night and sometimes that makes it sometimes in my blog I put these notes about how blog will be up by noon what that usually means is I was up till 3:00 in the morning working on something or writing something alright yeah they just has to take a backseat sometimes yeah and the club that you're involved with is Maryland Toby's in his club can you tell us a little bit about that okay it's the Maryland table tessarin Gaithersburg Maryland we opened back in 1892 there were no full-time table tennis areas in the u.s. devoted to training there were a few that came and went that ring out leagues and stuff and there's been a few attempts but no one had ever done successfully that Chen Yong Hwa Jack Wong two members of the Chinese national team former members they were in Maryland and they're debating whether go back to China then we had some discussions we said let's let's try open up a full time table test Center and everyone told us that's crazy there aren't enough players the United States to support a full-time Table Tennis Center it just it just won't work and so we decided to do it anyway of course that was 92 we're still in operation and we're in our I think our 24th year and he actually has been profitable from the first year and we now if it's 10,000 square feet 1618 tables I believe it's six or seven full-time coaches to paying how you find that at about five part to M coaches no leagues are they CSL equipment they have a pro shop pretty much everything of lots and lots of group sessions and private coaching of course a big junior program that number of years we used to dominate the country we're still one of the strongest in the country so it's a been a pretty successful one and Chen Jack and all three of us have been there since the very beginning yeah that sounds pretty incredible and I mean now there seems to be photon clubs popping up all over the place yeah yes and videos people forget that when we do open in 92 we were the only one and we were the only one for the first ten years and then they got few more and then as of about seven us eight years ago I think as of early 2006 actually think that back to 2007 in December 2006 I gave a report to the board of directors at that time there were only eight or nine full-time training centers in the United States and I tried to get us a table test involved in the recruiting and training of people to set these things and I was kind of laughed at by a couple saying that once again there just aren't enough players and if there were it's only gonna happen a couple places in the country and that was just 2007 and here we are 2015 and now we're over 80 full-time centers so we went from at most around 10 to around 80 in the years and those people just didn't believe it could happen there are a lot of things like that where people say it can't happen and that's just the bra cracy you always face yeah and it seems like you're very much someone that if you've got a vision you just go for it and and see it through and find a way to make it happen yeah there there butch no one's like that even the tactics book some people didn't think there'd be a market for something so simple is that the reasoning was that no one else had done it therefore probably wouldn't be a market I thought that was an interesting one yeah I'd like to go all the way back and and talk about how you first got involved in table tennis then and and and yeah just why you fell in love with the sport because it's clear that you really really love table tennis say yeah how did that happen it was a very very weird thing I played some ping pong with neighborhood kids when I was a kid but I didn't actually start until I was 16 I was a very late starter and I got started in a very humorous weird fashion I was on my middle score high school track team and I was a miler I ran for 53 was my best smile anyway I went to the library to get a book on track and field I'm emphasizing the T in track and I just happened to look to my left and to the left of track and field is Table Tennis and there was the money player by our mighty reason so I checked it out on the spur of the moment with some other books on miling and stuff and went on a read about discovered us a table test and I haven't been playing a couple times with neighbors houses and so I got interested and discovered that there was a club a few miles away the New Carrollton Table Tennis Club so my parents took me there and before I went there I talked to him mrs. cromlech it was the president of the club and she warned me not to I hope so I thought she was probably right there probably be someone at that club who could beat me anyway so I went there with Wayne Tia Wayne you see if there be any competition and they have a ladder there so I got in there and I anyway I played all night long and there were 43 players on the ladder there was a nine year old girl who I was able to beat and there's a twelve year old boy who had just started I could beat I was forty first and took me months to break into the top 40 so I was pretty much at the very bottom I was at that time probably an 800 player or 700 player and I was playing with a ping-pong grip with my thumb down the middle in the same side on four four ends and back ends they cured me of a habit very quickly the fight thing is ten years later I met Marty Reisman by this time now I'm a top player the axe I've been training a million hours per day well continuously it seems like and I told him this story Marty reason for those Gnomeo he's the most flamboyant player in US history probably you know US Champion everything could Wawa titles except sponge he was a hard bat player and sponge ended his end it for him but anyway so I told him the story and his exact words were about how he had gotten me into table test were great another life I've ruined sounds a lot fun after I spent number of years training I actually was hired at the Olympic Training Center to be the first assistant manager for a table test they secretly also wanted me to reduce some rang they had me do a lot of writing because they needed some coaching materials and I've been playing for number of years and already writing articles and so I became assistant coach practice partner and then the manager and while I was there I actually started writing science fiction fantasy in my free times I also got in my hobbies there but I just started writing a lot table tasked articles from them later became the director and one of the coaches for the program so that's how I get started now I'm 55 years old gang older and slower and wish I could go back to I was 16 and say Larry develop your backhand the attack you're not always going to be able to run around and attack with your forehand I have a steady back end by mostly a foreign attacker at what point did you did you kind of peak as a player because I'm c16 is very late to stop um I probably the ratings have inflated so it's hard to judge that but I was probably I end up I was playing really well in the middle 80s and I had some arm problems and dropped back down um then in the late 80s I came I had more it was a practice burner then around 1990 I had a I came back and start playing really well so I had a couple years in the middle 80s and then the 1990 92 at some my best it was I reach 18th in the country um I was a National College doubles champion on that two-time national college team champion I made the quarters of singles where I got stuck with Quan nuyen who was the top seed who would win every year for a number of years and I know that at the time I lost him on the quarters the top um the players in the semis I played all three of them in within the last two months and beaten all three of them I got stuck with quad fortunately who was yeah he was on the national team Olympia and everything anyway future Olympian so singles I did that I did later on pick up hard bad and become a two-time national hardbat champion I think four-time doubles champion hard battered I'm more normally a sponge player you know loop and hit on the floor endlessly loop these days although I used by looping it and countering on the back end steady back in um I guess the I did want a bunch of a bunch of small regional tournaments but I could probably college doubles and teams is probably the best titles yeah and I mean getting into the top 20 in the US is is pretty impressive in itself isn't it yeah that was the highest one in numerical rating my highest rating for us players was 22 92 but the Rings have inflated since then I prize at the record for most ratings over twenty to fifty over a mini year period I once calculated I at least seventy different ratings over twenty to fifty without ever breaking 2300 I had one tournament three-day torment the teams were if I'd stopped after the first two days I'd have been possibly top ten in the country 2500 but I went oh and six on the last day and blew everything end up between twenty two seventy something because I was 350 pointers on the last day I was exhausted I was angry at some I was irritated my partners didn't showed the blade and was all done I couldn't play that day so after two days of destroying all these 2,400 players I lost to 320 100 players and 320 more players on the last day when six said what kind of age were you then that was I think that was in my late 20s forget the exact year okay cuz I'm I mean I get a bit obsessed with age and people starting late and things like that and because so many of my listeners started as older teenagers or adults and and generally it's kind of assumed that you need to start young to reach highest levels you have to um starting at 16 it's not like Liam Jones the Chinese team members but I trained really hard and I focused on learning properly that's a key thing I learned it properly but the same time I think one reason I think I was able to get good quickly because I reach a 2,000 level and about under two years and 20 103 or so about four years was that I didn't just listen to the coaches I analyzed everything they said and figured a lot of things out for myself but I have to spend a lot of time thinking about a lot of time training and you have to learn properly the time to learn you can experiment the specialist serves but learn it properly at the start don't do don't start out with weird shots and stuff if you have something that's weird that kind of works you can use as a pet shop and generally learn it properly get a good grip good strokes get a good coach watch the top players if you do that after a few years it will really really pay off tomorrow when I start I've got I've got guy guy named Julian Watchers he'll be glad he's on this thing he started playing seriously I believe in his 30s I forget the exact year if I'd known I'd bring him up I get it was as 30s and he joined one my classes as a beginner and he was like a thousand player and so 10 years later he's over 2000 he spent then 10 next 10 years that the 2011 are close to it he's now I think he's older than me he's late 50s and he's still about 1950 but he didn't start to lose I I think he was 35 when he started yeah so you can do it as a nod oh it's just obviously it's difficult to actually reach the highest level but there's nothing stopping you from reaching really strong though right the reasons you're Julian people like that who can start late and keep doing it is they learn it properly he has very nice technique and so he developed the game that you learn the game properly and because you learned it properly at the start yes down foundation now there's other ones you learn the something where there's another way some people learn weird styles and use the weirdness to make up for poor technique and sometimes you can get away with that but I don't recommend it it's just an easy way of doing it all long tips is another way of doing it sometimes you can learn it simplifies the game you know down to mostly keep you in play there's more to it than that but it's it slows the game down so when you play a faster player you can go with that but like Julien played inverted on both sides well I mean it sounds like you've always had the kind of mentality of a coach being quite analytical and really learning about the game not just doing what the coach tells you and then going home did you always feel like you were destined to become a coach or did you kind of stumble into that out of just chance I started playing when I was 16 and I started coaching when I was 16 oh really why does because the local club uh was only open three times a week Tuesdays Fridays Sundays I still remember the days and times um I need other things to play so I found a local community center and I started teaching some other players to play uh Mike Shapiro there's one kid named Brian Masters who was a top junior he started coming over well after I'd played a year so he started practicing with me but I started teaching some other people and there I found some others because I was going there that once I started getting decent others would join me there yeah Jerry golden and Timothy and others and uh so he start we had this group that went this local Recreation Center and we practiced there every day day after day after day and I'd always be the first their last leaf' and so we had a lot of fun there and we practiced there and then we'd all been go to the club and uh so we I was coaching some of these players right from the beginning and by the time I was 19 I was actually coaching somewhat I would say regularly but semi-regularly and I started I became a regular cook but when I was 21 and I've been coaching pretty much since I was 25 I've been under coaching I'm well I won't say full-time pretty regularly you spend a lot of time coaching table tennis yeah I started writing articles right from the beginning I think my first my first published article on table TAS was when I was 16 but that was a layer to the magazine about up sponsoring some players my first coaching erekle I believe was when I was 19 1979 I started some coaching articles yeah welcome there what was it about table tennis that you really loved so much that got you completely hooked on it I think it was the tactical analytical side right from the beginning I always liked the idea of fighting out these where are ways to win and you know you develop a foundation because we know it's like chess if you're playing chess and you have all the pieces you it's a very it's a very tactical game if you start without your queen or that rook you're a big disadvantage and that's the same as now having a foundation so you develop the foundation your tools and once you have those tools find you the best way to use them so I would write to the beginning I was constantly analyzing what you had to do to become a top player and and mostly paid off you know I got pretty good not obviously I can't beat the top US players might be a lot of people who beat the best US players and I did knock off a lot of top players members of the Canadian national team Israeli national team a bunch of other ones like that yeah I'd say I've had some good wins slots weigh waaahh 2450 25 of our players and US ATT ratings that's back to the mat weights to call top in the 10 to 20 range in the country these days the ratings grab a little bit but those are my best ones and in general but it comes down to analyzing these things and finding ways to win with the tools you've developed yeah gee I feel like that's always been a strength of your game is the tactical analytical side of it oh yeah yeah I fact my funnest part of running my tactics book was bringing up some of the more interesting ones that taken place in the past I had to restrain myself because I could written all book over just that aspect you did remember all the different things that you've done and different stories that's optical things there's some really interesting tactics for example I was coaching Nathan Shu in a match a few years ago and he was playing this top Canadian junior there into the fifth game and between games I've been telling Nathan is he had to attack this guy serve because the guy uh you know you had to be aggressive off this guy serve and after the fourth game I noticed something the other guy he served the ball and melee stepped off the table and Nathan flipped it and the guy looped it it's happened a couple times in a row so anyway then suddenly at I think it was three three or something like that in the fifth game we'd only watch yeah I think it was anyway the guy had served up two times and he's about to serve a second time I called time out who her who's ever heard of calling a timeout at three three or so in the fifth game and I called him over and said no matter what this guy does he's got a serve short again like he's been doing no matter what you do drop it short if it's a toss been served just chop block it but just drop it short and sure enough the guy serves it Nathan drops it short but pops it up and the guy is so far off the table he practically falls out of his shoes trying to step into the ball and he messes it up Nathan drops next one sugar happens again and from the rest of that game he keeps dropping it short and the guy finally starts to in close and then the Athan starts flipping and anyway was all done he scored ahi from I feel at the exact score when I called the timeout he wins the game 11:00 to 4:00 and after his done Nathan's mom came running over and say why'd you say why'd you tell him and so I explained what happened and yeah that was just an example they up top my head of watching what's going on it was just a little tactical thing so there's always a lot of fun stories like that where something like that and of course the name mer is I tell them to drop it short and the guy comes out there and serves fast service fast and deep that would be the scary part but hopefully Nathan's reactions will have taken care of that part so I guess that's the reason why you wrote the book is it the you know tactics can be the difference between winning and losing a game and yet at the same time they're often neglected or not given the importance compared to other aspects of the game you say is that kind of what you think definitely yeah I watch matches and sometimes I'm just I can't sometimes it's difficult to watch because I'll see someone who I want to win I can't say anything I was watching a player who I wanted to win at the team trials well this this year and I was I had to look finally look away I almost got on the phone because there was a player who's notoriously weak against a certain serve shot if you serve short to the foreign long to the back end and all they're doing is serving the middle in the back end and the player is also we can and they kept attacking the forum and is it was frustrating to watch and I've had a couple of ones like that have you just changed the tactics they went for sure all the way I just mentioned I coach that player against that player I made one each time and it just didn't some reason for God new tactics so they say you have to watch these things sometimes you would you say that tactics are more important at the really high level kind of an international player are they more important that they're at the beginner level where people have got big big weaknesses and holes in their game or do you think it's just applicable for all levels okay it applies to all levels at the beginning level you gotta get the fundamentals down at the same time if you don't develop the habit of tactical thinking uh it's just like table tennis if you have a bad habit it's hard to break it if you play table tennis for a couple of years develop good fundamentals physically but don't think tactically it's very hard to I'll suddenly get that into your game you need to be thinking about the game right from the beginning just to make a habit understanding what's going on if you do that right from the beginning it becomes second nature and you become a much better tactical player cuz tactics is a habit players I know a player once came to me I was coaching another player and he came over asked if I could coach him if I couldn't so I came over discovered he was down 2-0 to a much weaker player and so he called timeout he came over I'd actually got to watch part of the second game and he was all frustrated because every time he served short the guy was back struck backs when the guy dropped his shirt we served it long the guy Lupin he'd know what to do I said have you served shirt no spend in the middle and he sort of looked at me it's like they said oh my god he went back out there served short to the newsmen to the middle over and over and sure enough the it's harder to drop that ball short and the guy popped it up straw I couldn't do anything with it and might you know the guy came back in wins really easily and afterwards he came back and he was really embarrassed he said that it's like I can think away from the table but just isn't a habit at the table and that's the problem a lot of people analyze away from the table but they're not in the habit of doing at the table just kind of obvious if he's dropping your shirt spencer shirt then switched to a short new spoon which tends to pop up and then be mix it back and forth and he knew that if he actually thought about this on the sidelines it been easy for him but he wasn't in the habit of thinking about and so the obvious became something that he hadn't thought of so he he won the match on that and afterwards he was he wants me to coach other matches but ideas he got the ones like this are the easy ones you gotta learn to think like that but it becomes a habit if you do it regularly yeah I mean I read through your book when it was when it first came out a couple years ago now and that was something that really struck me was kind of I think I realized that I'd kind of been in this non thinkers category that you mentioned even though I'm you know I've write about tactics on the blog or I'm happy to be in the corner coaching someone else and thinking about tactics when I'm actually on the table playing the game I think a lot of the time I'm not actually thinking about tactics myself because it's just I think you're right when I was younger it wasn't really a habit that I got into and now I just kind of go out and play on autopilot and that was something that you know I don't play that much anymore but when I do I'm that's something I'm really trying to work on because that would have such a big effect on my actual performance against other players yeah well it's a lot of people understand that the tactics also make you a bear a bear player in the long run if you're playing smart tactics you develop it sets you up for shots against strong players if all you can do is serve long for example and the guy keeps looping it you're forced to block you learn to serve varied shorter serves you get the third ball attack over and over you develop your footwork and your foreign your attack and you become a better player while the reasons I became improved a lot at the start is I spent a lot of time emphasizing my serves when I first learned to play when I was 16 17 years old because my serves got good early on I started getting a lot of balls to attack and I find I discovered every match different serves work so I kept I constantly developed new serves or different ones to work what would work against different players and so I kept getting balls like attack so my footwork got better and my attack got better and because of that my game got better and because my game got better I got to play better players and you just keep snowball going upwards that way it's not just serve it's also received things like that if you learn to do these things you become a better player not just for that match but the long term it makes you a better player and you get to play better players and you that makes you better as well yeah just kind of like consignee feed la people understand that snowball fact which that that's a great idea for a tip of the week that might be my tip of the week on Monday the snowball effect on our for improvement I might do that cool I like that yeah other I'd love to just quickly whiz through four points from the book that I remember at the time I wrote down because I thought they were just really interesting and just just to hear kind of in 60 seconds just for you to give your your kind of brief explanation of what I mean by these points if that's okay I'm probably making what this area is already going longer than most of the other ones so that's fine is they seem to be getting longer and longer as I go through doing different episodes because I don't know there's a lot to say say but that's not a problem okay the first thing I wanted to to talk to you about is the kind of the difference between tactical and strategic development which was something that it was an idea that I'd kind of thought of before reading the book but I definitely hadn't been able to put into such concrete terms could you just explain what you mean by that okay tactical is what you do to win now strategic is how you develop your game in the long term some people will focus on one or the other when you need both you need to vote the tactical habits on the other hand if you're constantly playing people who have trouble with deep serves were the one serve and you keep using you won't develop the other ones um I know a player develop really good long serves and he got better and better but then when you played strong players he could no longer win because they all looked at and took him years to learn different search he was playing tactically but strategically he showed developed shirt serves as well as his long service and heard him in the long run because he not only developed one so you need to think both ways G fund that some players are just stuck in kind of a tactical mindset or which is thinking too short term and then you've got other players that are thinking long-term and never seemed to nice I still he get down too I see both I see people stubbornly insist on playing the way they want play 10 years from now or five years from now and they won't think tactically and the result is what they are stand is there one not developing their game the way it should because they're not be able to play at a higher level they would be able to play if they played smart tactics and two of them are developing the tactical habits top players think tactically automatically instinct becomes instinct and you don't develop that if you don't think about so a lot of people get stuck on one or the other yes you got to get both otherwise you're handicapping yourself you're playing with a hundred pound weight on your back sure yeah I think just tactics by the way they're stuck if you keep winning on you can't develop a third ball attack effectively if all you do is serve long enough able Gaia Luke for example so that strategically God devote that if you're a great blocker and a poor looper well develop you need to loop tactically you probably should block strategically you got develop your loop or your attack if you want to get better in the long run yeah it's just getting the punch yep okay second thing was and this was some in the though I thought was really brilliant was the idea of testing out your opponent in the first game of the match can you explain what you mean by that one of the worst things I see is when someone plays in fashions the first game comes off the table and still is not sure what things work and don't work against this opponent it's very important to get that out of the way quickly classic example is a player will sometimes have some tricky serves and he will hold back on them until the fifth game or something you should throw all your virtue serves at the guy in the first game find out which one's work in which ones don't some are serves that you'll be able use over and over others who only work a few times but find out which ones work and then if it's a trick serve that works in the first game it'll probably work once in the second once in the third and so on and again the fifth as opposed to one time in the fifth um if it doesn't work and then you play that on old you need to test out your opponent see if they have a good foreigner back-end some people just go straight back in the backend and never realize that the guy has a great back end I saw a match recently where this guy went out this guy back in the back end and he was on the verge of gain killed we didn't realize he was playing this guy who's infamous for having incredible back-end an incredibly bad for him and down to zero and seven three and the third his dad called a timeout and I came over and I was and I started talking to him his dad hadn't stirred yet so I didn't cheat and because he called him wild walking over I said play every ball to this guy porn every single ball to the foreign unless he plays a backhand from there then you can go back to his back end and then go back to the fore and then he came back and it was just amazing how this guy had such a phenomenal back end and no foreign at all rating wise he has a twenty three twenty four hundred back end and about eighteen nineteen hundred for him some people may know who I'm talking about ASIS guy from the Northeast and I've coached against them a number of times so that it's things like that you'd never know unless you play the guy I once played the guy who had such a guy like that's such a good background so I played the whole match sir fast you as foreign over and over some people are weak if you push heavy and you don't know it unless you push off a few times and see what he does so you gotta test the guy out early and find out what works and what doesn't and then learn from that yeah just don't assume anything just try as much as possible and he knows what you know what might come out of that yeah cool third thing was you know simple thing but something that a lot of people a lot of players don't do especially at the lower levels he's thinking about placement playing into the middle and the wide can you just explain why that's so important it's you can almost tell right away if a person is advanced you're not advanced players in a game automatically every balls wide corners are middle middle is where the playing elbow the crossover between four and and backhand top players know that and they do this over and over and over it's almost pointless to go to the middle of foreign or middle back end there's no reason ever to go there unless it's a miss it if you're either go to the white foreign or extreme white for em you go to the back can't explain wide back end or extreme wide back end or you go write the person's elbow there's a few rare occasions where you might do something different but they're rare and it's one of those concepts a lot of people understand every ball should be going at when you attack especially should be going to those spots your quick shots should be going there your aggressor shots to be going there there's a reason not to go there so that's just one of those basic concepts that people need to make a habit right from the beginning I learned that early on so I learned to go over a very wide to the corners and my I was go with my backhand going at the elbow by foreign I tend to go wide corners I like to aim one wide corner and then suddenly go the other way I recommend going at the elbow as your first attack that's the best place a lot of times sure now how can someone he realize is that they're not really doing this develop this habit because we spend a lot of time doing drills into a forehand or backhand block which is kinda right the exact place it don't want to be playing into most air media players when they're warming up and drilling the if you watch them you'll see they're often not going corner to corner you'll see the shots are going inside the for inquire inside the backhand corner what they should be is within a few inches of the corner or even wider um the middle should be the actual corner if you make that a habit like the top players do you know that you'll see they go corner to corner air media players go inside the corner inside the corner big arrows go middle the middle just Pat the ball back and forth but the idea is make it a habit of going to those two spots a lot of times as I get bear going to the corners isn't as big a problem for the advance the players as they approach of the advanced levels because the coaches will stress that but a lot of players they don't understand that rise the importance there's a big difference those six inches between the middle back end or middle four in and the wide back end in the white forum at six inches is huge even four inches the middle a lot of people have trouble playing there because they never drill there one of the things I always recommend is if is have your coach or practice partner set up at the elbow spot line up where it is and have them block to that spot where you attack it make a habit of going to that spot if you don't practice it you won't do it good stuff okay fourth one which is another one though that was really interesting to think about was the idea of doing your tactical thinking between the points and not trying to think during points what did you mean by that during a point you have to your mind needs to be clear you just simply have to your subconscious is done has been trained to do the shots if you try consciously do them or think about it will must have messed them up during a point you're just an observer watch the ball and let the things play out this comes back that tactical thinking if you think tactics regularly they become automatic maybe it becomes the subconscious thing your subconscious will do the tactics so between points is where you do the thinking as some people have trouble thinking tactically and then clearing their mind if they have trouble with that they should practice it you need to be able to think between points keep it simple we're not talking I'm Stinney in physics here you need to think about think between points what's working what's not working Sheriff shirt to the fore and long to the backend cheytac is over wherever if you're honest if you're serving then you should be thinking what serve you should use that's the one time where you can choose exactly so you should be thinking a lot about your serve the rest if you want to attack the guys middle if you fit if you make a habit of thinking tactically your subconscious gets the message and guess what when the time comes bang you'll immediately go at the guys elbow because it's your subconscious gets the message just like your subconscious learns how to loop because you practice it it gets it learns to attack the middle or other things if it sees the foreign side open it will go there as well when I first learned to play tennis I had an amazing discovery when I was at the baseline I am instinctively will attack the right spot every time I had great placement because of my table tasks baseline shots when I played the net there be an open court and I would even notice it because I'm a discovery that and this is this is something neurologists should study I made a discovery that my tactical reflexes don't turn on until I back salome I would literally be back swinging and my subconscious at that point is making the decision where they go white for and white back in her middle I thought the thing and well I'm at the net I don't backswing so I play tennis I discovered that I could never play smart I've just put the ball down the middle or whatever because the part of my subconscious that was trained in table tennis to place the ball never would turn on I'm a discovery the only way I could place the ball when I was at the net is I had to do what's called a swinging volley we're actually back swing and the min I back swing bang I put the black I had perfect placement but only if I'd backswing and that's it was a really strange learning experience that my subconscious tactical mind only turns on during a rally as I backswing and but it becomes a habit I don't think most people think about enough to really develop these habits but they do it it becomes a habit if you watch the top players they have perfect placement I was watching coach Jennie walk play some points of some people a couple days ago and it was just amazing watching every shot goes to the perfect spot he's not consciously thinking about his subconscious has done this for so many years it just like he instantly just reacts to the perfect spot and it's every ball catches you off-guard a lot of players just don't understand how you do that but that's where that's where the thinking about between points think between points and then clear mind out and play it out and then learn from that point and then continue yeah so there's there's just a big difference between when you're playing the point and when you're not playing the point instead of it all blurring into one big long game right sport well things I point out is that having your mind clear is more important than tactics I'd rather have a nice calm person playing stupid then a guy who's nervous can't clear as mine nothing like that who knows ways you know who knows what he's going to do but easy he's worried you know I should say yeah a smart player who's nervous is going to lose to his pure who was nice and calm and plays dumb so the first priority is to make sure your call when your mind is clear and then you can play all sorts of brilliant tactics but there is that sports psychology aspect and a lot of people play dumb because their mind is not clear when they're playing even between points they're frozen up they can't clear their mind and think gee this guy is serving sure my surf shirt backs but he drops it short if I go along he's looping it like wait a minute like if I'm very that short sir I'm throwing a simple no spin to the middle you can't do anything little things like that or understanding that the player has trouble short to the fore and maybe maybe I should serve there like it because it worked in the past they don't even think about they said their mind is not clear if their mind is clear they be thinking okay they're handling the on the back end they're handling the surf let's try short to the foreign and see what happens that's that the thing it's amazing but even top players sometimes their mind is not clear enough to think about these well thanks that's why you're a good coach sometimes last follow-up question on that then how can we get a clear mind look at that now opens up a big thing sports psychology I would Google that on my webpage table tennis coaching calm right that's why I do my weekly tips and stuff and daily blog I have a whole section there devoted to that but that would be another 110 our discussion the basic idea is you need to learn to love sports psychology tools which is a little different from tactics uh there's a lot there's a dorker may for example Dora Kurama calm she actually has a whole website devoted to table tasks sport psychology and she has a book out on as well so you might wanna look at Dora her may do RA K you are oh shoot Kurt Kok you are AMA why let me begin that wrong it's kicker MA sorry I think it I am may well III it's funny cuz I see message here today to try and get around the podcast there hopefully she'll be on in the next few weeks so we can we can ask her that exact question is it K you RI ma why I bet yeah I think that's right yeah okay if you look up table tennis sport psychology it probably comes up she's a top player a sport psychologist um but yeah you gotta have a clear mind you can't really play tactics they go together in that way yeah brilliant well I mean we're coming to the point of the the podcast we're always asked the guests you're kind of Scherer topped if I feel like we've done non-stop top tips but have you got any any other tips that you can share with people particularly things that might be tactical and that people can really just go out and apply to their game now and hopefully see direct results from if you've got anything to share with us I divide tactics from the three things service tactics receive tactics and rallying tactics that rallying tactics so much she can give one for each okay okay I could give a lot I'm gonna pull out one for each one okay serve tactics the biggest thing I see there is none of serve variation table they either give simple back Spencer's or they might give a back spin and no spoon or a back spinel sites but they don't throw the deep serves they don't throw a fast no spur at the elbow they don't move the ball around they don't have an officer of the thought the guy several times a game it gives them a few free points officers are often ones that work a couple of times won't work after that if you don't develop on the throwing away those two points so you need to develop more variation on your serfs it's if other guys we're trying your serve well every time that means your serve is not very good unless the guys much better than you if you're playing your peers you should be getting a lot of weak shot shots and misses off your serve okay it's not just variation in spin you're talking about variation speed and placement in also thinking people sometimes you hear people say oh I am varying my service I've done backspin serve topspin serve but they're doing them all short to the backhand right that does a thing yeah you gotta move the ball around um some people don't like serving short to the fore end because it gives them anger the opponent and angle into the white for it they're scared of it well the other guy is probably happy because a lot of people have to struggle on ball short to their friend and they can't go down the line which means you can camp out on your forehand side waiting for that ball and very least try the malamat and very that serve I want the most under you serves ish we serve from the middle of the table and go either short to the forum or along to the back end with the same motion it carries people shreds because they have to cover both extremes from the same thing and by serving from the middle you get angle into the foreign so they have to receive what they're for and a lot of people reach over and receive what their back end so really that's a very underused thing one other thing that's way under on the serves people serve too high learn to serve load to the net there the whole thing to that you know where you got contact the ball low if I got that it'd be awhile I'd be a whole new thing anyway receive a biggest thing there is placement people they just don't move they all understand the difference between receiving the ball six eight inches to the middle of backhand or going wide to the corner if you're going to receive to the back end go to the corner or just outside that corner keep it very very wide that means they'd hate the other guy can't play as for him and if he plays the back end he has to move for that remember he has to cover his white foreign as well if you go wide back end he's got a log ground to cover so go to the wide back end if you're gonna receive it especially if you're receiving passively don't push to the middle back end push to the corner or outside the corner in the last second if they're covering it suddenly change and go to the very very very wide forehand corner so place that ball to the core sometimes yet the elbow is effective too if there are two wing looper and they have to choose as long as it's your kind of quick but just place the ball wide corners then a nice solid push becomes very effective I always amazed at how many people receive the ball safely out the middle of the table or middle back in on middle 4m with a nice if you're gonna play safe at least place the ball on last ones rallying is I'm always seeing people again I cover us a little earlier they go to the corners or middle back end stuff but if they don't go to the middle and the ones who gooo go to the middle they go back in into the person's back and looking for a chance to go to the middle when you that's that's not the way to do it sometimes you do it that way but usually I mean the other guys attacking and you're then you're gonna make a weaker shot in the middle and they're Ray for instead your first attack should go to the middle or if you're doing a very aggressive block against someone who's centered your first aggressive block goes to the elbow if your first attack goes to the elbow one first the other guy is probably have great difficulty try and choose to be in the foreign and back end you're gonna get a weak return and it draws them out of position usually their guy have foreigner back end and then they're gonna leave one of those corners open they can't cover them on both covers unless they're very fast now they're very fast you're probably playing a faster pace anyway so you still get them but the idea is you get many more weak returns if your first attack is at the elbow and then you play out to the corners people get that backwards all the time sure and I guess the key thing for all of this is there is no good just going into a match and trying to do this it you've got to have developed it in the training hall first so that you do that naturally that you attack into the into the crossover with your first shot but your that you're comfortable going wide when you're receiving bulls because if you just try and do it in a match it's not gonna work is it are you gonna be overthinking at the starting at the advanced intermediate level advanced levels one of the best drills is you serve backspin they push it back and then your first attack you loop it your first a loop 3/4 of the time you attack their elbow about one-fourth of the time if you go off to corners but you should or 3/4 of the time in this drill you keep attacking the elbow result you get great practice attacking their elbow and following it up and they get great practice trying to cover that middle if people watch the top players I think they're a lot of times don't realize this how often top players first attack is to the elbow now the exceptions at the highest levels when you play someone who is a really strong foreign player great footwork then they will sometimes attack to the wide back end first it depends if it's a two wing player or one wing player but very rarely can the one wing player are consistently at the lower or immediate levels cover the middle and white foreign if you attack that spot but if they can't then you go to the back end but most players when you're attacking are gonna stay centered gain rear cover both corners and if you go out their elbow they're dead you're just trying to develop the skill of finding the O bone you know everyone's different I was actually for my level relatively strong in the middle that was because I tend to um favor my foreign and I have a quick back I'm not quick I was good carving though in the middle of my backhand but people who were smart quickly discovered that if you hit that ball to my wide wide backhand I was very weak and I was so grateful to the player at main players I've played over the years you never figure that out that was my wide back end was my weakness wide wide anyway if I went over there I usually start fishing I just wasn't very good covering the wide back and sometimes for somebody with my back end for some reason yeah well this has been incredible and I've wanted to have you on the show for months now so I'm so glad that we finally managed to make this happen and I know that people are gonna really enjoy this into this I think is it's potentially even worth listening to this once rewinding it listening to it again because I mean there's so much decent stuff in here that can just be applied to see a game straight away so thank you so much for coming on the show Larry sure yeah if you want to think in my blog is a table test coaching calm and Flammarion a blog that goes up Monday through Friday every morning Monday through Friday I have this extensive blog Mondays I have a tip of the week so every week and you can find information there about my seven books on table to us the one we're talking about was table tasks tactics for thinkers that's the bestseller the most fun one was the spirit of pawn which is my fantasy Table Tennis novel about us player who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis and trains with the spirits of top players that's that's a fun book the tactics book and the other ones are the ones will help you improve the most yeah I've done I've done reviewing the blog for both of those so I'll put all of that in the show notes and links to to Amazon stuff have you got any any other books coming out say you know no you see me bring one out roughly once a year I actually have several planned one is probably by the end of this year or than six months I will have a sequel to a spirit the spirit of pong called pong man which is another fantasy table TAS novel this one's about a guy who's a table tests superstar by day superhero by night it's in the same universe as the pre of the spirit and pong with the same character as but now it's from his point of view as he joins the US team with the hero of the previous one as they challenge the Chinese teams unfortunately the North Koreans the bad guys are going to be intervening and they have to go up against the pink and I'm planning to do a lot of work on that in November I've got every three years I do another book table task tips which compiles all my tips some time the next few years I plan on doing an update of table tennis steps to success it'll be retitled Table Tennis fundamentals and that one is why I really go back and do a very extensive work in all parts of table tasks but the fundamental level not the super advanced level okay but that sounds ideal for my kind of general audience of players so we all would definitely look out for that one and we'll be letting feel for know when that's coming up I might also do a thing called parent's guide to table tests I've been toying with that one will say oh that would be that would be a brilliant idea I think it's outlined right thank you thanks very much Larry it's been pretty integrity I better let you it's past midnight on your time yeah is yeah only there Julian waters I mentioned he's English he came the United States and is I'm not sure how old he was but he's British okay all right you have a good day yeah you too I'll see you later let me see if I can figure how to turn this off hey I say good night go and see it I would like to say a huge thank you to Larry for joining us on so I have a lot of fun talking to him and it was brilliant to hear all the different ways that we can use tactics and incorporate them into our game Larry was just bombarding us with tips and there were so much good stuff in that interview loads of things that I haven't thought about myself or have just forgotten that I'm going to be trying to apply to my game so I hope you enjoyed that I hope you got a lot out of it and I hope that you're able to start to apply some of those principles to your actual match play and see some results from them because that's the whole purpose of the podcast and that's exactly what Larry is was trying to do with it with his book is just to give you some ideas to get you thinking I really liked the whole idea of just developing the habit of tactical thinking viewing it as a habit that you need to train yourself to get into and as I said in the interview that was definitely something that I didn't do enough as a child I just went out there and played didn't really think tactically on my matches I was more just thinking about how I was playing how I was feeling which when it comes down to it in the long run isn't the way the best players are going to be playing that the best players are going to be thinking about their opponent how to beat their opponent how to make their opponent play badly what their opponent strengths and weaknesses are and I never really got into that habit and that's definitely held me back as I've then moved into the senior game and you see there's a lot more tactical play going on and it's not good enough just to get your head down and play your own game so that's definitely something that we should all be looking to do and it doesn't matter if if like me you didn't do it when you were a kid let's start now let's start developing the habit of tactical thinking in our matches that's what I've really taken from this interview and I'm starting to play a little bit more this season I'm doing kind of training once a week and and a few league matches and stuff so I'm going to be trying to put that tactical thinking habit into my game as much as possible as always I would like to say a huge thank you to all of you guys for listening to the show it's great to see that the number of downloads has been steadily increasing we were very close to getting 5,000 downloads in the month of September I'm hoping that we can smash through that in October the way that you can help me make that happen is just to subscribe the podcast on iTunes if that's what you use to listen to the show please use the Facebook and Twitter share buttons to share the show with your friends and if you can head over and leave us a review on iTunes I'd really appreciate that as well that just helps us to move up the rankings and and get noticed in in Apple and iTunes charts and all that kind of stuff that's going to help get the podcast in front of more potential listeners joining me on next week's episode is Mark Berman who is another table tennis coach based in the South East of England and Mark was actually my first ever table tennis coach so back when I was 9 or 10 years old and started playing table tennis at the local Leisure Centre mark Berman was my coach so it's going to be really interesting to talk to him we'll take a bit of a trip down memory lane and see what he can remember of what I was like as a 10 year old we can talk about the kind of things that we were doing at the club back then and then Mark's got loads of other ideas and thoughts that he'd like to share about coaching and development of players in general so I'm really looking forward to that I think that's going to be a little bit different but a lot of fun T to kind of think back to you exactly what kind of things I was doing when I was first starting out because I do feel like I had access to quite a few good coaches when I was first starting and that's really what helped me to improve quickly and really get stuck into the sport so I'm really looking forward to doing that interview I'll be speaking to mark in a few days time for that one I hope you have a really good week I'll see you next Friday you can head over to expert tennis comm to have a look at everything else that I'm getting up to with the table tennis videos blog posts it's all their experts a business comm C in a week's time

5 Replies to “Larry Hodges: Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (ETT #20)”

  1. I am conflicted by your coaching a player during a match that seems to be giving that player an unfair advantage. But I understand that I may be in the minority on this concept.

  2. good stuff, Larry has a wealth of knowledge and generous for sharing it. "get into the habit of thinking during the game instead of playing in auto pilot"

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