The best table tennis tip ever… An interview with Larry Hodges
The best table tennis tip ever… An interview with Larry Hodges
By Tom Lodziak
This week’s blog post is dedicated to the great Larry Hodges. If you don’t know who Larry Hodges is, where the heck have you been? This man is MR TABLE TENNIS.
In short, Larry is a table tennis coach from the USA. He coaches. He plays. He writes. He organises. He sits through lots of committee meetings with other table tennis aficionados. And then blogs about it. He is the world’s leading table tennis evangelist (I have just given him this title). You can read more about Larry on his website.
Why am I writing about Larry Hodges? Quite simply, I think he’s great! He’s an inspiration to me, both as a coach and a writer. In this blog post, I’m going to briefly explain my love of Larry, shamelessly plug his new book (and a previous book which is the best table tennis book I’ve ever read) and share a recent interview, where he reveals his most important table tennis tip he’s ever written.
Larry Hodges can write and write and write and then write some more. He is a writing machine. I’m genuinely amazed (and jealous) by how effortless he makes it look.
I aim to publish a blog post once a week. Most weeks it feels like a struggle. Some weeks it feels like a titanic battle between my brain, hands and keyboard to form even a few sentences.
By contrast, Larry blogs five times a week. Plus he shares links of the latest table tennis content on the web each day. Plus he publishes a tip of the week. His writing is easy to read, informative, often humorous and always conveys his passion for table tennis.
If you haven’t stumbled across his work yet, let me firmly point you in the right direction.
Here’s his blog, which he updates 5 days a week: www.tabletenniscoaching.com/blog
Here’s his tips of the week, which he updates once a week: www.tabletenniscoaching.com/TipOfTheWeek
If that wasn’t enough, Larry Hodges is the author of several table tennis books. In my opinion, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is the greatest table tennis book ever written. If you only ever buy one table tennis book, buy this one. Every player should read it. As the title suggests, the book is all about tactics. Every aspect of table tennis is covered in over 200 pages. Read it. Learn from it. You will become a better player. I have a signed copy which I have read start to finish twice and dipped in and out many other times. You can buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers on Amazon UK and Amazon USA.
Larry has just released his new book, More Table Tennis Tips. This book includes all 150 ‘tips of the week’ from his blog from 2014-2017, in one volume, in logical progression. There is so much good advice in this book, covering so many aspects of table tennis. It’s very easy to read. You can read start to finish or just dip in and out to the sections which are relevant to you. It’s like having your own personal coach in your pocket. You can buy More Table Tennis Tips on Amazon UK and Amazon USA.
Larry has published many other table tennis books. You can see the full list on his website.
Make America Great Again (the Hodges way, not the Trump way)
Larry Hodges is much more than a writer though. He is a professional coach and puts in long hours each week doing group coaching and 1-to-1 coaching with players of all standards. He has been at the forefront of developing table tennis in the USA over the past 25 years.
In particular, he has been a vocal champion of the full-time training centre. He set up the first full-time training centre in 1992 and now there are over 90. Junior USA players are now competing with the very best in tournaments around the world and it’s only a matter of time before this translates into success in the professional game.
In the UK, we have a severe lack of full-time training centres. This is something we should learn from and adopt from our friends in the USA.
Interview with Larry Hodges
So that’s enough of my love fest for one week. I hope you don’t feel too nauseous yet! Let’s hear from the great man himself. I caught up with Larry a couple of weeks ago and asked him a few questions. Here’s the interview, including Larry’s greatest ever table tennis tip…
Tom: What do you enjoy most about coaching?
Larry: I’m a problem-solver, and coaching is basically solving the problem of getting a player from Point A, where he is now, to Point B, where he wants to be. So coaching is no different than solving a crossword puzzle or brain teaser – and I love doing that! Plus, of course, there’s that great joy of developing a player until he’s about to beat you, and then you pull out that one serve you’ve been saving for years. More seriously, I get as much fun now coaching a player to a title as I ever did winning one myself.
Tom: What do you like the least about coaching?
Larry: It’s mentally and physically exhausting. Mentally, it’s sometimes tough getting started when I start coaching each day, though that part actually gets easier as you get into the session. Physically, it gets more difficult as the sessions go on, since I’m 57. One other thing I sometimes don’t like is that you’ll sometimes spend years with a student, and then one day he disappears, and you never see him again. (Yay for Facebook, where I can secretly spy on former students.)
Tom: What’s the best moment of your table tennis career so far (as player or coach)?
Larry: If you make me narrow it down to one, I’ll implode. I’m going to cheat and give a Top Ten list – not necessarily in order.
- My induction into the U.S. Table Tennis of Fame in 2003.
- Opening the Maryland Table Tennis Center in 1992.
- Coaching Team USA (unseeded) to the semifinals at the 1994 World Youth Cup Championships in front of 30,000 fans.
- Coaching at USA Nationals, U.S. Open, USA Team Trials, many others – so many of them, so many great performances and memories.
- 1980 North Carolina Open Champion – my first Open Singles title. I had my picture in the local paper the next day, and signed dozens of autographs.
- Coaching the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. I coached Brady Anderson and J.J. Hardy an hour each at MDTTC, and Darren O’Day about ten times, and spent four hours in their clubhouse taking challenges. Here’s my blog on it, and video (79 sec).
- The publication of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. I spent years thinking about writing this book, but just wasn’t sure if I was ready. It was a void that needed to be filled. It’s currently the top-selling book on table tennis at Amazon. (My previous best seller, Table Tennis: Steps to Success, sold over 30,000 copies and was translated into Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Hebrew, but it is now out of print. I’m planning a new version eventually.) I now have eight books on table tennis. The newest is More Table Tennis Tips.
- I’ve been on TV many times (including twice on ESPN), but the highlight has to be the CNN/Headline News feature on the Maryland Table Tennis Center back in the 1990s. It was about three minutes long, and was shown worldwide over and over for 24 hours, and seen by tens of millions of people. I was interviewed on it.
- Two Days of Terror. Around 1990 or 1991, for the first two days at the U.S. Open Team Championships I played like a maniac, beating hordes of top players without any bad losses. If I had stopped then I would have been rated over 2500 (strong enough to make U.S. National Team). On the third and final day, my teammates showed up late, and I ended up getting a last-minute five-minute warm-up with a really bad player who sprayed the ball all over the table with long pips. Between that, and my irritation at my teammates, I could barely play – and against two weaker teams and six lower-rated players, I went 0-6. I went into the tournament rated 2272, and despite that finish came out 2273.
- Meeting and hitting with numerous celebrities: Pretty much the entire 2013 Baltimore Orioles baseball team; actors and actresses Susan Sarandon, Julia Dreyfus, and Adoni Maropis; comedians Judah Friedlander and Frank Caliendo; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; basketball star David Robinson; basketball free throw star Ted St. Martin; football star Errict Rhett; billiards star Jeanette “Black Widow” Lee; Olympic Figure Skating Coach Audrey Weisiger; Delaware Governor Jack Markell; Oscar Goodman, former mayor of Las Vegas; Anthony Williams, former mayor of Washington DC; New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz; world poker champion Tom McEvoy; much of the U.S. Olympic Archery, Tae Kwon Do, and Judo teams (circa late 1980s); and of course many of the world’s best table tennis players – even got to eat dinner with the Swedish Team at the Worlds one year (Waldner, Persson, etc.).
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