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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and an author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!

July 24, 2014

Last Blog Until Monday, August 4

This will be my last blog until Monday, August 4. Most people take vacations at beaches, or camping, or Disneyworld, or Las Vegas, etc. Me? I go to an annual science fiction & fantasy writing workshop for nine days of continuous writing, critiquing, classes, etc. I leave early tomorrow morning for "The Never-Ending Odyssey" (TNEO) in Manchester, New Hampshire for nine days, returning late on Saturday, Aug. 2. This will be the fifth time I've attended this, which is for graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, a six-week workshop for writers of science fiction & fantasy, which I attended in 2006. At the workshop I'm having the first seven chapters of my SF novel critiqued.

Getting TT on TV
(This is from a response I gave to a question on the forum.)

One of the major reasons table tennis isn't on TV much in the U.S. is there's nobody actively pushing for this to happen, or trying to create an attractive package for the TV people. USATT is an amateur organization, and doesn't have anyone devoted to this. So it's unlikely table tennis will get much TV exposure in the U.S. until the same thing that happened in other TV sports happens to table tennis - the top players get together and form a professional organization. Their top priority would be to bring money to the sport via sponsors, and to do that they need to get on TV - and so getting on TV becomes their top priority. They'd hire an executive director who would work to get the sport on TV so that he can bring in sponsors. But until this happens, table tennis is unlikely to be on TV much in this country. 

Wednesday's Coaching

I did 4.5 hours of private coaching yesterday. Here's a rundown.

  • Sameer, 13, about 1600 player (two-hour session): We pretty much covered everything, as you can do in a two-hour session. The highlight of the session, however, was when I introduced him to the banana flip. It only took a few minutes before he was able to do this in drills, and then we practiced it for about ten minutes. Since he just came off playing three tournaments in a row - see my blog about his progress in my blog on Monday - we're focusing on fundamentals as we prepare him long-term for his next "big" tournament - the North American Teams in November. We did a lot of counterlooping. As a special bonus that he begged and pleaded for, I let him lob for five minutes.
  • Tiffany, 9, about 1750 (70-min session as part of the MDTTC camp): Tiffany is the top-rated under 10 girl in the U.S., and the stuff she did in the session shows why. During those 70 minutes she did 55 minutes of footwork drills. The only interruption to her footwork drills was ten minutes when I looped to her block, and five minutes where we pushed. The rest of the time it was non-stop footwork drills for her. When she seemed to slow down between rallies at one point, one of the Chinese coaches playfully called her "lazy," and she immediately picked up the pace again. Today she'll be right back at it, while I'm still sore from the ten minutes of looping. Tiffany's in an interesting point in her game as she's gradually making the transition to all-out looping.  
  • Matt, 13, about 1600 (one-hour session, plus 30 minutes of games): He has an excellent forehand and good footwork, but is in the process of transitioning to a more topspinny backhand. We spent most of the session doing backhand-oriented drills. These included side-to-side backhand footwork; alternate forehand-backhand footwork (forehand from forehand corner, backhand from backhand corner); and the 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand corner, forehand from backhand corner, and forehand from forehand corner). I was planning to work on his receive after all this, but Matt wasn't happy with his 2-1 drill play, and wanted to do more of that. How many players volunteer to do extra footwork? (Perhaps he was inspired when I told him how much footwork Tiffany had done.) So we did another ten minutes or so of the 2-1 drill, about twenty minutes total. Then we did a bunch of multiball, focusing on backhand loop. It won't be long before he hits 1800 level.

    At the end of the session with Matt we played games - I stayed an extra 30 minutes for this, so it was really a 90-minute session. (I often do this when I'm through coaching for the day.) An astonishing thing happened here. After I won the first game, he came back in the second game on fire, and went up - I kid you not - 10-2!!! So on to the third game, right? Wrong. On his serve I switched to chopping (mixing in heavy chop and no-spin), and on my serve I pulled out an old Seemiller windshield-wiper serve (racket going right to left), which he'd never seen before. He got tentative both against the chops and serve, and suddenly it was 10-all. We had a rally there, where I chopped four in a row, and then I threw a no-spin chop at him, and he looped it softly. I tried smashing, but missed, and he had another game point. But he missed the serve again, and I finally won 14-12. He was very disgusted with blowing the game, and was now playing tentative where he'd been on fire just a few minutes before, and the result was he fell apart the next two games, even though I went back to playing regular. I finally had him do a few forehand drills to get his game back, and he ended it with a relatively close game. I'm feeling kind of bad about this because I completely messed up his game when I switched to weird play, when my job as a coach is to help him play well. But he's going to have to face "weird" players in tournaments, so he might as well get used to playing them now.

    The thing Matt needs to take away from this is that if he can play so well that he's up 10-2 on the coach (and I still play pretty well!), then it won't be long before he can do that all the time. The thing I need to take away from this is I better start practicing or Matt, Tiffany, and Sameer are all going to start beating me. (Age, injuries, and lack of real practice have dropped my level down to about 2100 or so, but that should be enough to beat these three, right? Maybe not…)

Liu Shiwen: Hard Work Always Produces Good Results

Here's the article. Liu is the world #1 ranked woman.

Twelve Curious Facts about Table Tennis

Here's the article.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's the final blog on the U.S. Open by Dell & Connie Sweeris.

ITTF Coaching Course in Thailand

Here's the ITTF article on the latest overseas coaching course taught by USATT coach Richard McAfee.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-two down, 38 to go!

  • Day 39: Ian Marshall Feels Privileged to Do What He Loves

Lily Zhang at the ITTF YOG Camp

Here's the video (34 sec).

Another Great Trick Shot

Here's the video (36 sec) of Shi Wei.

Craigslist Ping Pong Table Negotiation

Here's the text of this rather crazy discussion. (Side note - I once met Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.com. At the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention I was in the Science Fiction Writers of American suite - I'm a member - and after grabbing some snacks at the buffet table I joined two others sitting around a table discussing the future of the Internet. One of them began asking lots of questions about my science fiction writing. At some point the discussion turned to how we used online tools, and I mentioned I was in the process of renting out the first two floors of my townhouse, and that I was advertising it on Craigslist.com. The third person said, "Larry, do you know who you are talking to?" I said no, and that's when he pointed out that the guy I'd been talking with for half an hour was THAT Craig. He was at the convention as a member of several panels that involved the Internet.)

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July 23, 2014

Doc Counsilman Science Coach of the Year and Ruminations on Coaching

Look what I got in the mail recently! Here's the plaque for my winning the USATT Doc Counsilman Science Coach of the Year. And here's the plaque/box from the U.S. Olympic Committee for being a finalist for the award - one of three out of all the Olympic sports. (Here's their news item.) The latter is actually a box - it opens up. I can store ping-pong balls inside! ("The Doc Counsilman Science Award recognizes a coach who utilizes scientific techniques and equipment as an integral part of his/her coaching methods or has created innovative ways to use sport science.")

This was my second USATT Coach of the Year award - I was Developmental Coach of the Year in 2002, and finished second in the voting for Coach of the Year three times. I've had a few other plaques from USATT - the 2007 President's Award and my 2003 Hall of Fame Induction Award, plus various certificates showing my coaching certification as a USATT National Coach, ITTF Level 1 Coach, and ITTF Level 2 Coach. (I'll put the latter two online some other time.)

This got me thinking about my strengths and weaknesses as a coach. I think I’m at my best at the following:

  • Tactics
  • Strategic development (i.e. developing a player's game)
  • Fixing bad habits
  • Teaching serve & receive
  • Teaching beginners, both kids and adults

My weaknesses? I’d like to say I have none, but alas, everyone does. I’m not enough of a slave-driver, not like some other coaches who can simultaneously work a player to death and stardom. I’m probably too lenient at fine-tuning advanced strokes - again, I can be too lenient once a player reaches a high level. I'm not as experienced as I'd like in teaching the intricacies of penhold play. And I’m not an equipment junkie. Another problem is sheer level of play - at 54, with numerous nagging injuries, I'm not as fast as I used to be, and so in private sessions can't push top players like I used to.

Of course that's one reason why we have practice partners at MDTTC. These practice partners are also coaches, but it is their playing level that distinguishes them, and allows them to push up-and-coming players to their limit.

Speaking of practice partners and coaches, there's a huge overlap between them. Not all "coaches" are good, while some "practice partners" are very insightful. The primary thing that distinguishes good coaches from bad ones, in my opinion, isn't just their experience and coaching skills - it's their learning skills. Even a relatively inexperienced coach can do a pretty good job if he knows he is inexperienced, and so studies top players and coaches to learn, and more importantly, when he’s not sure what to do with a student, he finds out, either by asking questions of experienced coaches and players, by watching video, or sometimes by just thinking extensively about the problem. The beginning of the end for a coach is when he starts just saying stuff that he thinks might be right, but isn’t sure (or worse, is confident of things that he really doesn't know about), rather than making sure he gets it right. It’s not hard to learn in this day and age – there are these wonderful things called “Google” and “Youtube." Use them!

Wang Hao Takes Pride From His Olympic Silver Medals

Here's the article. Wang won the silver medal at the last three Olympics (2004, 2008, 2012), and was also second in Men's Singles at the last two World Championships (2011, 2013), but did win gold in Men's Teams in 2008 and 2012, as well as World Men's Singles Champion in 2009. (Here's a listing of Olympic Table Tennis Medalists, and a listing of World Champion Table Tennis Medalists.)

Preview of the $36,000 Los Angeles Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei on the $36,000 LA Open to be held Aug. 16-17.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-one down, 39 to go!

  • Day 40: Motivated by Seeing Others Achieve, Leandro Olvech

Timo Boll's Serve in Slow Motion

Here's the video (4:01) of the German star, world #10, formerly #1.

Jean-Michel Saive's Lobbing Point Against Wang Liqin

Here's the video (49 sec, including slow-motion) of the great Belgium player (former world #1) lobbing at the 2003 World Championships.

Michael Maze - Off the Table

Here's the video (3:15) of the Denmark star, world #28, formerly #8.

Serving Trick Shot

Here's the video (42, including slow motion replay) of one of the best and most creative trick shots I've seen, by Josep Antón Velázquez. I think I could do the same pair of serves, but how many tries would it take?

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July 22, 2014

Two-Colored Balls

On July 17 I linked to an article on the Chinese trying out two-toned balls. I wrote, "This is a great idea - I've blogged in the past how silly it is that in such a spin-oriented sport, we have a ball where you can't see the spin, and suggested we use a soccer-colored one or something like that." 

I don't know why they are calling them two-toned balls when the more accurate term is two-colored balls. So I'm going to call them two-colored balls. Personally, I'd like to see them try out soccer-colored balls (like the ones in this picture), or have a contest for "best design," with the soccer-colored balls an inspiration for designers. 

However, there are pluses and minuses to using such a ball. Overall, I like the idea of both players and spectators better able to see spin in this spin-oriented Olympic sport. But there are downsides as well, the largest being how this would affect choppers. The only way to find out for sure how a two-color ball would affect the game is to try it out, as the Chinese are doing. I look forward to seeing the results. Here are what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of a two-color ball.

Advantages:

  1. Better appreciation of our sport by spectators. Few understand just how much spin is on the ball, and so have little appreciation for what's actually happening. 
  2. More interesting for spectators. Colorful balls are more interesting than bland one-color ones. Kids will especially like more colorful balls. 
  3. More rallies. Players will be more consistent in returning serves and getting into rallies.
  4. Better rallies. Players will make fewer errors in rallies from misreading spin. 

Disadvantages:

  1. May hurt choppers. This, to me, is the biggest possible problem, and why I'd like to see some testing first to see just how much it would affect them. High-level choppers do rely on mixing up the spin to force mistakes, and two-colored balls might make that more difficult. However, it's hard to say how much, both because by the time the attacker reads the spin (especially no-spins) it might be too late, and because the chopper will also be able to better read the attacker's spin. But overall it's likely to hurt choppers at least some. 
  2. Tradition. You shouldn't make changes in the sport unless there's a very good reason. 
  3. Developed skills no longer needed. Established players may find some of their hard-earned skills in reading spin no longer needed so much. 
  4. New skills needed. Players would have to develop the new skill of reading spin directly from watching the ball, something that can only be done to a small extent with the current one-color ball. I'm guessing this will have less effect than some may believe as by the time you read the spin directly off an incoming ball it's likely too late to adjust most strokes, except perhaps passive returns.

Comparison of Plastic ("Poly") and Celluloid Balls

Here's a report from the ITTF that compared plastic to celluloid balls. It's dated April 2013, based on testing from November, 2012. Keep in mind that the plastic balls since that time have improved, but this shows how much testing was done, and the info that ITTF had when it made the decision.

North American Cup on TV

One World Sports will broadcast the recent North American Championships next week. Here's the schedule, including the listing of providers.

July 2014 National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Newsletter

Here it is.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty down, 40 to go!

  • Day 41: Attention to Detail, Organisational Skills Produce First Class Result
  • Day 42: The Reliable Committee Man for Over Half a Century, Chérif Hajem

American Table Tennis Players of the Classic Age

Volume IV of this series is now out, by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan. This one features Bernie Bukiet, Bobby Gusikoff, Erwin Klein, and Leah & Tybie Thall. Here are reviews of Volumes I-III. They are all on sale at Amazon: Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, and Vol. IV.

Matt Winkler: Six-Time Arizona Champion

Here's the article.

International News

As usual, there are lots of great international articles at TableTennista and at the ITTF page. Tabletennista tends to cover the big names more, while ITTF has more regional news.

Unbelievable Point in Swedish League

Here's the video (32 sec). The attacker/chopper on the left is Fabian Åkerström. I believe the lobber/attacker on the right is Mattias Översjö.

Table Tennis: A Way of Life

Here's a nice table tennis highlights video (6:37), set to music. 

Table Tennis in Space

Here's a cartoon on table tennis apparently played in a spaceship in zero G. With no gravity, you need topspin to pull the ball down!!!

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July 21, 2014

Tip of the Week

Overplaying and Underplaying.

Sameer's Tournaments

On Saturday I coached one of my students at the Howard County Open. Sameer, who just turned 13 last week, has played about two years, but mostly just once a week the first year. He's had an interesting run recently, playing in tournaments for three straight weeks. This was after taking over seven months off from tournaments to work on his game as he transitioned to looping nearly everything from both wings.

Two weeks ago he played at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He went in rated 1378. In match after match he was nervous, and unable to play well. Occasionally he'd put it together. As I pointed out to him afterwards, there were two Sameers - the 1200 Sameer when he was nervous, and the 1600 one when he wasn't. (When he's nervous, he rushes, stands up straight - which makes all his shots awkward - and smacks balls all over the place.) He beat one player over 1600 and battled with some stronger players, but way too often was too nervous to play his best. He came out rated 1409.

I tell my students not to worry about ratings, but after all the work he'd put in, and all the improvement in practice, it was a major disappointment to play at barely a 1400 level. We both knew he was 200 points better than that. We'd worked on various sports psychology techniques since he'd had this problem before, but after months of league play at our club I'd hoped he was over it. So we went back to working on sports psychology. But overall, as I explained to Sameer and his mom, the solution was to play a bunch of tournaments until he got more used to them, and was able to play more relaxed.

The following weekend he played in the Lily Yip Open in New Jersey. I'd like to say he turned things around, but not really. He started out just as nervous, unable to perform properly, and lost his first two matches to players rated in the 1100s. This was a disaster - two 50-pointers to start things off. (Partly because of their wins over Sameer, the two players would be adjusted to about 1300 and 1400.) But then, with nothing to lose, he started to turn things around. He beat a 1450 player, then a 1500 player. Since they were using older ratings, he was eligible for Under 1400. He made it to the final where he had to play a "ringer" - the guy had already won Under 1600! But Sameer pulled out a close deuce in the fourth match to win Under 1400. It was a good finish, and yet once again there'd been two Sameers - one about 1200, the other about 1600.

This past Saturday he played in the Howard County Open. Playing three consecutive tournaments paid off - he went in determined to do better, and this time only the 1600 Sameer showed up. He had three 1550+ wins, beat several 1400 players, and his worst loss was to a 1660 player - and more importantly, he won Under 1600! The hard work was finally beginning to pay off. To the 1200 Sameer who stayed away this weekend - you're a loser and we don't like you, so get lost!!! (Here's a picture of Sameer with his U1600 $50 prize money, which I obviously want. Here's a picture of him with his U1400 Trophy at the Lily Yip tournament the week before.)

Even better than winning Under 1600 what that while he finally played in tournaments at the level he could play in practice, he showed potential to go beyond that level. When you have good technique, it's just a matter of executing the technique and you control the games and your fate - and soon you realize you can beat even the players you are currently losing to. Sameer may be 1600 now, but it won't be a big jump for him to jump up to 1700 level, then 1800 level, and so on. (Note that I'm referring to level, not rating. If you play 1800 level, and play it in tournaments, then you'll get that 1800 rating, but that's secondary.)

There were some tactical lessons from the tournament. Sameer often relies on mixing in short serves (that he follows with a forehand or backhand loop) and deep serves (that often win the point outright or set up winners). Doing a fast, deep serve under pressure is not easy. So I had him practice the fast serves quite a bit just before the tournament, and while warming up for it.

One of the most important things I kept reminding him before each match and between games was for him not to overplay. (See today's Tip of the Week.) Under pressure he'll often swat at shots rather than play the shots he can make, i.e. nice, strong loops, without trying to rip everything for a winner. Tactically, some of the keys for him was to vary and move his serves around; attack the opponent's forehand and middle; and just control the serves back to force rallies. Perhaps most important for him, he stayed down, breaking that nasty habit of standing up straight while playing that we've battled against for months.

Opportunity for Clubs to Host Camps for Veterans with Disabilities

Here's the info page. USATT has a grant to pay for these camps.

Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina

He's been writing up a storm recently on his Article Page. Here are his more recent coaching articles.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-eight down, 42 to go!

  • Day 43: Khalil Al-Mohannadi: “The language of sports is a universal human language and a message of love” 
  • Day 44: Shi Zhihao Is Committed to Making TT More Popular

Ma Long Chop Block

Here's the video (2:26) showing him using the shot in competitions. I have one student who screams bloody murder whenever I do this shot, says nobody else does it! It is a dying shot, but many top players still do this as a variation, as shown here by world Ma Long (currently world #2, formerly world #1 for 30 months, as recently as February this year).

Ball Control Practice with Bouncing and Balancing

Here's the video (1:28) showing various bouncing and balancing drills you can do with a paddle and ball.

Incredible Point at Match Point

Here's the video (1:28, including slow motion replay) as Germany's Timo Boll (world #10, formerly #1) battles to win that last point against Croatia's Andrej Gacina (world #30).

Houston Rockets GM Donated Thousands of Dollars so He Could Whoop Us in Ping-Pong

Here's the story.

Mini-Table Doubles

Here's the video (2:25) - pretty good doubles play!

Chinese National Team Trick Shots

Here's the video (1:07).

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July 18, 2014

Skills Versus Ratings

Yao Siu-Long emailed me an interesting question recently. He wrote:

As we discussed I am interested in kind of a chart that relates skills to ratings. For example, what does a 2300 player do that a 2200 player does not?  Of course there can be great variability within a category, especially at a lower level. I could imagine someone having an awesome forehand and progressing because of that while others at the same level might be more rounded. I would imagine that at higher levels, however, you would have to be a more rounded player.

I wrote back:

This is tricky to answer because it has to take into account the differences between players with good technique but without good control, and those without good technique but with good control. Everyone fits on this spectrum somewhere, with the top players having both technique and control, while beginners have neither. By the intermediate player you have players with good control but awkward technique, and others with the reverse.

After thinking it over, I realized there really are four types of players at any given level. Roughly speaking, they are:

  • Properly Trained Players (PTP). These are adults who have been trained with "proper" technique. (I'm assuming inverted both sides players with standard attacking games.)
  • Properly Trained Juniors (PTJ). They are somewhat different than PTPs in that they are generally faster and quicker, but have less consistency and ball control, except (relatively speaking) at the high speeds that they are used to playing.
  • Consistent Control Players (CCP). These are players who don't always have the best strokes, and often have major holes in their games, but they are extremely consistent and have great ball control.
  • Weird Players (WP). There's a wide variety of these types of players, from those with strange strokes that are hard to adjust to (lots of inside-out stuff, sidespin, weird lefty stuff, crazy serves, and for many, non-inverted surfaces). They too often have holes in their games, but make up for it by forcing mistakes from opponents by doing "weird" shots.

Trying to write a comprehensive listing of what players can do at each level without taking the four types of players into account would be difficult. Instead, I'm going to write what PTPs should be able to do at each level. For the others, they might not be able to do all these things, but they'll have something else to make up for it, either in faster play (PTJs), consistency/ball control (CCPs), or "weird" shots (WPs) that bring down the opponent's level.

So here is a rough listing of what a "Properly Trained Player" (PTP) should be able to do at each level. I may fine-tune this later - it took a long time to put together, and I'd be on this all day if I spent more time on it - and I have coaching activities to do. I did it for every 200 ratings points from 800-2800, plus an extra one at 2700. (This is a LONG posting, so just a reminder that there is a bunch of short segments afterwards!)

800: Many basement playing adults can play at this level because of ball control.

  • Rallies dominated by just trying to keep the ball in play.
  • The level is dominated by beginning PTJs (good techniques, but no ball control or consistency), CCPs (good consistency at the basement level of keeping the ball in play, but no technique yet), and WPs (weird shots, but no consistency or control).
  • There are no PTPs yet, as a properly trained adult will skip this stage.
  • 1000: At this level a PTP has the beginnings of good technique.
  • They are beginning to learn to put spin on serves, mostly backspin.
  • They have no consistency in returning any type of spinny serves, though they can push against backspin and counter-drive against an obvious topspin serve.
  • Most rallies are dominated by pushing, but the pushes aren't very consistent.
  • They can probably hit forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand with some consistency, perhaps hitting 100 in a row with a coach, but they have difficulty executing these techniques yet in a match.
  • They can smash, but have little consistency, especially if the ball has spin or is deep on the table.
  • Some can loop, but it's pretty rare and extremely erratic. Few can block a loop yet with any consistency.

1200: They now have more basics down.

  • They have some variation on serves, usually a backspin serve and perhaps a sidespin serve or a fast serve.
  • They can return basic spin serves, if the spin isn't disguised.
  • They can push relatively consistently. Rallies are still dominated by pushing, but there are more countering rallies now. The pushing is mostly just to keep the ball in play.
  • They now can rally some with basic forehand and backhand shots, though not too consistently.
  • Many points are now ended by smashing, though they still lack consistency if the ball has spin or is deep.
  • Many players are learning to forehand loop at this level, but they are not yet consistent. Some have started to backhand loop.
  • They are learning to block loops, though not very consistent yet.

1400: They now have mostly proper technique, though there's going to be a lot of fine-tuning, especially with advanced shots such as looping.

  • They now have at least one serve that's pretty good and gives opponent's trouble. It might be a spinny serve or it might be a fast serve. They win a lot of points by serving deep, since opponents at their level can't yet loop.
  • They can return spin serves with some control, if the serve isn't too well disguised, often returning the ball to the wide corners (usually backhand) to stop opponents from attacking.
  • There is still a lot of pushing, but now the pushes are a little more effective, not just for keeping the ball in play.
  • They can rally with forehands and backhands with some consistency. For the first time they can rally with strong players if the strong player just keeps the ball in play.
  • They are getting better and better at smashing, and now make most smashes, though they still have trouble with balls with spin and deep balls.
  • At this point they should be looping against backspin regularly, at least with the forehand, and probably the backhand. They can block loops in practice somewhat consistently, but are still erratic in game situations.

1600: They now can execute proper technique in game situations.

  • They now have multiple types of serves. Some can serve short, though most serves are long.
  • They can return even spinny serves, though not with great consistency or control yet.
  • They can push, but rarely push more than one ball in a row. They rarely push on the forehand except against a short ball.
  • They have relatively solid strokes in rallies, and can counter-drive pretty consistently if not pressed too hard.
  • They can smash and loop kill to end points.
  • Looping is now common. They should be looping forehands whenever possible, as well as backhands. At this point players are forehand looping in rallies, though few do this on the backhand.
  • They are becoming more tactically aware, especially on basic tactics on serve, receive, and placement.

1800: At this point they have pretty good technique, consistency, and ball control.

  • They now have at least the beginning of advanced serves, serving with varied spins. They can control the direction of the serve well, but not yet the depth. Most serves still go long, though most can serve short backspin if needed.
  • They are somewhat consistent in receives, even against pretty good serves, but most receives are somewhat passive and predictable to top players.
  • They look to loop any deep ball, so most pushing is done just to return serves or when they are caught off guard.
  • They have solid rallying strokes, and mostly loop on the forehand side. Many are now topspinning their backhands as well. Unless caught off guard, their loops are pretty consistent. Some players are starting to counterloop in games on the forehand side.
  • They are looking to end the point any chance they can, with both smashes and loop kills. At this level there are now more loop kills than smashes for the first.
  • While weaker players can think tactically, it's about this level that players can reflexively execute good tactics in game situations.

2000: They now have mostly mastered all basic techniques, and make few unforced errors.

  • Many have relatively advanced serves, able to serve varied serves. While most can serve short, most serves still go long as opponents still have trouble with long, spinny serves. But they can serve short when necessary.
  • They are consistent in receive except against very good serves, but don't yet do a lot with most receives other than get it back, unless they can loop it. They are getting better at looping deep serves on the forehand side, but backhand loops against deep serves are still erratic, and so there are a lot of deep serves to the backhand.
  • They are constantly aggressive, always looking to attack and to end the point. They loop most balls on the forehand, and are developing pretty good backhand loops, especially against pushes. In rallies some players are now topspinning on both sides, though most still tend to counter-hit the backhand.
  • Players now have consistent blocks, as most rallies now revolve around looping and returning loops. Many players are now counterlooping regularly.
  • This is where some players become good game tacticians, as they have the shots to execute the tactics and the experience to reflexively do so.

2200: They have strong technique, and make few unforced errors.

  • Serves are now getting advanced. Many have developed tricky spin serves, usually long. However, many are now using more basic short serves that set up their attacks, as long serves are getting attack more. There's sort of a branching at this level between these two types.
  • Long serves are often attack now, with good consistency except against tricky serves. Most can now return serves with consistency, with most short serves pushed long or flipped, especially with backhand banana flips. Many players are now getting more and more aggressive against short serves, especially with backhand flips. Players are beginning to push short.
  • Players are now fighting for the attack as whoever attacks first tends to win. Many rallies are turning into short counterlooping rallies, though there is still plenty of blocking.
  • Most players are topspinning their backhands, though some still hit flatter.
  • At this level opponents have to do something to score the point rather than wait for the opponent to miss.
  • There is now a lot of fishing and lobbing.  
  • Players are now very good at tactics, and have strong techniques to execute them.
  • The game is pretty physical at this level, though there are still a few players who are not real physical athletes at this level, relying on consistency and other aspects to make up for lack of athleticism. 

2400: At this level players are basically mini-world class players, as they do the same shots as world-class players, but at an obviously lower level.

  • Serves are similar to world-class serves, except they have less depth control, less spin, and less deception. Most serves are now short as opponents will loop deep serves, but long serves are still used quite a bit for surprise.
  • Nearly any long serve is now looped. Short serves are flipped much more often now, especially with the backhand banana flip. Short pushes are common, but some of them still go slightly long or slightly high by mistake. However, there's still plenty of long pushes, but few use this as their central receive technique.
  • Rallies are pretty much all looping now, both forehand and backhand. Lots of counterlooping. One big change is that weaker opening loops are now being punished with powerful counterloops.
  • Most points end with someone going for a winner. When mistakes are otherwise made it's usually when a player is trying too hard to return the ball so the opponent can't attack.
  • There's a lot of fishing, with players returning balls from off the table rather than staying at the table and blocking.
  • Tactics are usually advanced.
  • The game is very physical at this level - everyone's a physical athlete. 

2600: At this point players are approaching world-class.

  • Serves are very high level. There's pretty good depth control, with players serving so as to accurately place the second bounce on serves (if given the chance) right on the end-line, but under pressure they sometimes lose control.
  • Receives are almost indistinguishable from world-class. Flips are not yet as consistent or well-placed as world-class players. But many players are now attacking most short serves, especially with the backhand. When they don't attack the short serve, they often push them short with good control.
  • It's pretty much all-out looping now, with most rallies ending quickly. Some players are beginning to pin down opponents with backhand topspins, forcing backhand exchanges that take the opponent's forehand out of play. Very few unforced errors at this level, except when going for winners.
  • Players defend equally well with blocking and fishing, though they look to counter-attack whenever possible.
  • Players not only have strong tactics, but have strong knowledge of their opponents, both from experience and from scouting them. Players rarely go into a match without knowing what they need to do against the opponent.

2700: This is borderline world-class. It's often difficult to tell the difference between these players are world-class players.

  • Serve and receive are world-class, but with just a touch less consistency and control.
  • Rallies are all looping, with only occasional blocking. What often appears as blocks are really off-the-bounce counterloops.
  • Players are pretty much errorless machines at this level, never making unforced errors. When they make "mistakes," it's almost always because the opponent did something, often subtle.
  • Players can defend and counter-attack from all parts of the table. When they fish, they usually do so only as a way to keep the ball in play so they can counterloop the next ball.
  • Tactics is now world-class, and everyone knows everyone else and what they need to do.

2800+: This is true world-class play, roughly top 50 or so in the world. They are almost flawless athletic machines. 

  • Players have essentially perfect control of their serves, including the depth. There's often a steady deluge of serves where, given the chance, the second bounce would be right on the end-line.
  • Receive is so good that by the end of matches, receivers are winning more points than servers. Receivers can attack any serve almost at will, especially as they get used to opponent's serve. Short push is still common, but flipping is the norm, especially backhand banana flips, which are even done from the short forehand. Any long serve is looped hard.
  • It's pretty much all-out attack in rallies, where even the most powerful loops are looped right back. Anything less than powerful loops are looped back with great power. However, because they are so good at counterlooping even the best loops, many players can get away with some control shots when in trouble.
  • Defense, when done, is split between blocking and fishing, as well as lobbing. The consistency is extreme, as only a pure rip can win a point through defense at this level.
  • Tactics is a group effort, as coaches and players regularly study their opponents on video.

Yesterday's Blog on Serve and Attack Patterns

For much of yesterday there was a bad typo in my blog. In the main segment on Serve and Attack Patterns, in the part on serving "Short backspin or no-spin to backhand," I wrote, "After the serve I'd stand as far to my left as I could, ready to loop any push to my wide backhand with my backhand." That should have read "forehand"! Of course, I was blogging about my own serve and attack patterns (back in my "heyday"), and only players with good footwork will regularly follow attack such a push to the very wide backhand with their forehands. (These days in practice matches I still try to do this, but with far less success, both in getting in position for the shot, and in following it up, especially if they block the ball to my wide forehand, which used to be no more than five feet away, but has moved an further every year for the past couple of decades - and is now about ten feet away.)

What Helps Table Tennis Skills Off the Table?

Here's the new coaching article by Matt Hetherington

ITTF Coaching Course in Thailand

Here's the ITTF article on the class, which was run by USATT Coach Richard McAfee.

Table Tennis Popularity Bouncing Up

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury, which features the Pleasanton TTC.

UN, IOC, and ITTF Contribute to Opening of IOC Sport for Hope Centre in Haiti

Here's the article, which features a picture of United Nationals Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach playing table tennis.

Is Zhang Jike Ready for Expectations and Responsibilities?

Here's the article.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-six down, 44 to go!

  • Day 45: Steve Dainton Summarizes the ITTF’s Marketing Strategies

Dennis Schröder Plays Table Tennis

Here's the article and picture of the German basketball star who plays for the Atlanta Hawks.

Masterchef Battle Moves to the Ping Pong Table

Here's the story on these ponging chefs.

Table Tennis Clock

Here's the picture! As the clock ticks, the ball at the bottom goes back and forth, and the players move up and down, apparently "hitting" the ball back and forth. I have this same one, but mine broke.

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July 17, 2014

Serve and Attack Patterns

There are all sorts of ways to serve and attack. For the uninitiated, let me remind you what the purpose of the serve is - it is to set up your attack! You may have serves that are designed to win a point outright - "trick serves" - but there's no point in serving and hoping for a winner. You should always expect a return, and so from that point of view, the point is to follow your serve with an attack. The exception, of course, is when the opponent returns your serve in such a way as to stop your attack. But until he does that, you should be looking to serve and attack in some way.

This is true for defending players as well. Otherwise you lose your entire serve advantage. If you say you don't have a strong enough attack to serve and attack, then you've answered your own question - you need to develop that attack. Nobody reaches their potential on just attack or just defense - you need both. Defenders should look to follow their serves with attacks if the return is weak. If it is not weak, then they can stick to defense.

Below are some of my personal favorite serve and attack tactics. I'm writing these as if I were still at my peak, when I had good footwork and tried to follow most serves with a forehand loop or smash. Everyone's different, so pick out the ones that you like, and ignore others. I can follow my serves equally well with a forehand loop against backspin or topspin, or a forehand smash, but almost always with a forehand. Others may only loop or smash, or may have better backhand attacks.

  1. Short backspin or no-spin to middle. If I served backspin and they pushed it back, I tended to look to follow with a spinny forehand loop deep on the table, but if the push is weak I go for a winner. If I serve no-spin, I almost always looked to serve and rip, as no-spin serves tend to come back with less backspin and a little higher. By serving to the middle I cut off the extreme angles, and there's less ground to cover.
  2. Short backspin or no-spin to backhand. This is the same as serving to the middle (regarding backspin or no-spin), but now the opponent has an angle into my backhand, but can only go down the line to my forehand. After the serve I'd stand as far to my left as I could, ready to loop any push to my wide backhand with my forehand. Since most players guard the crosscourt angle more than down the line, I often looked to loop a winner down the line - but the danger here is that they have an open angle to my wide forehand, so if you go down the line, you either have to loop a winner, or loop it slow and spinny, so the slowness gives you time to get back into position.

    The second option is to loop to the middle - though for many this should be the first option. It's the hardest place for an opponent to defend, and since they have no extreme angles, you can often follow with another forehand.

    The third option is to loop to the wide backhand. This is usually an easier block for the opponent, but since they have no angle into the wide forehand, you can stand toward your backhand side and often follow with another forehand. You can rip a winner to the very wide backhand, if it's open, or just loop slow and spinny and deep on the table. Deep, spinny loops are often hard to block on the backhand.

  3. Short backspin or no-spin to forehand. This is the same as serving to the middle (regarding backspin or no-spin), but now the opponent has an angle into my forehand, but can only go down the line to my backhand. It's especially effective for me with a reverse pendulum or a tomahawk serve (or for others, a backhand serve). Many players are awkward against short serves to the forehand and give weak returns. It also brings them over the table, so they are awkward on the next shot. Most players return these crosscourt, so you can almost camp out there. However, better players learn to take these down the line. Since you have to guard that wide forehand angle, these serves are mostly effective only against those who are awkward against short serves to the forehand, or who predictably go crosscourt.

    However, an alternate version is to serve short to the middle forehand. This cuts off the extreme forehand angle, and makes the short awkward to flip for many players.

  4. Short side-top serves. Most players return these with soft drives or flips. Since there's no backspin on the ball, you can drive into the ball with a point-ending loop. It's just a matter of getting into position. Most players return these serves crosscourt, so be ready for that. Make sure to fake backspin on these serves by following through down after contact!
  5. Long serves to the backhand. Most of these serves are returned crosscourt, so you can hang out to your backhand side and follow with a forehand (or backhand if you are stronger with that side). The key is variation. Be able to serve big breaking serves that curve to the right (receiver's left); fast ones that catch them off guard; heavy topspin that gets popped up or goes off; and fast no-spin that they tend to put in the net or return weakly. If the opponent can consistently loop this serve (backhand or forehand), then you probably want to use other serves.
  6. Fast to the middle. This makes them choose between forehand and backhand, and often results in weak returns. It's especially effective with fast no-spin. If they can loop this serve consistently, then switch to other serves.
  7. Fast down the line. Many players leave this spot open, and are vulnerable to this. You can't always follow with a forehand, so be ready to attack or counter-attack from both wings.
  8. Serves from the forehand side. This gives a different angle, and often results in weak returns. I do this either with a tomahawk serve or with a regular pendulum serve. The serve usually comes back toward the forehand side, and so is easy to attack. But the key is giving the opponent a different "look" to adjust to, with the result you get many weak returns.

    One of my favorite tactics is to serve this down the line from the forehand side. The opponent is looking for a crosscourt serve, and is often caught off guard, and so makes a weak return. He almost always will return this crosscourt to the backhand. So if you have reasonable foot speed, you can move all the way over to your backhand and follow with a forehand! But this does leave your forehand side wide open, and usually only works once - then the opponent will take it down the line. So for most, it might be better to follow with a backhand attack.

Chinese Super League Introduces Two-Toned Ball

Here's the story. This is a great idea - I've blogged in the past how silly it is that in such a spin-oriented sport, we have a ball where you can't see the spin, and suggested we use a soccer-colored one or something like that.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-five down, 45 to go!

  • Day 46: Steve Dainton’s Journey to Becoming the ITTF’s Director of Marketing

Kreanga Backhand

Here's video (28 sec, including slow motion replay), of a great point, ending with an incredible Kreanga backhand Loop kill. Actually two of them, but opponent Liu Guoliang smashes the first! This is from the 2001 World Championships. Liu, the last of the great pips-out penholders, is now coach of the Chinese Men's Team.

Epic Point

Here's an epic point (28 sec, all rally!). That's Wang Liqin on the far side, Werner Schlager on the near side. From the comments I think it's from the 2003 World Cup, but I'm not sure.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's a 13-sec video of Nathan Hsu training in China, created by Coach Jeffrey Xen Xun.

Teqball Anyone?

Here's the video (2:15) of rules for the new version of table tennis/soccer that's taking the world  by storm.

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July 16, 2014

Celebrities I've Met

Because of table tennis I've met an inordinate number of celebrities. Here's a listing.

TABLE TENNIS PLAYERS. I've met most of the top players in the U.S. and the world since the 1980s, and many from before that. If I were to list all those players it'd be an endless list. It'd be easier to list the ones I haven't met. I've had lunch and dinner with the Swedish team when they were at their heyday (Waldner, Persson, Appelgren, Lindh, Carlsson, etc.); met the top Chinese at the Worlds, U.S. Opens, at MDTTC when they came in early to train, and during my twelve years as editor of USATT Magazine I interviewed nearly every top 20 player in the world. I've known essentially every top U.S. player for many years, either by actually meeting them, coaching them, or (more often) coaching against them when they play MDTTC players. I've met nearly every living USATT Hall of Famer, and every Men's and Women's Singles National Champion since the Nationals began in 1976. 

Men's Singles World Champions I've met: Wang Liqin, Werner Schlager, Liu Guoliang, Jan-Ove Waldner, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jorgen Persson, Seiji Ono, Stellan Bengtsson, Ichiro Ogimura.

Women's Singles World Champions I've met: Zhang Yining, Wang Nan, Deng Yaping, Qiao Hong, Tong Ling, Angelica Rozeanu.

But the list of celebrities I've met through table tennis gets more interesting when I look at the non-TT celebrities I've met. Here's a listing.

ATHLETES

  • David Robinson, basketball star - played poker with him at Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, circa 1988, when I was (at various times) the manager, assistant coach, and director of the Resident Table Tennis Program.
  • Errict Rhett, football star (running back for Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns) - met and hit with him at an outdoor table tennis exhibition at Baltimore's Inner Harbor in 1999.
  • Jeanette "Black Widow" Lee, world #1 women's billiards player in 1990s - met her at a table tennis exhibition at a sporting good show.
  • Ted St. Martin, world record holder for most consecutive free throws (5221) - met him at a table tennis exhibition at a sporting good show.
  • Audrey Weisiger, USA Olympic Figure Skating Coach - coached her summer of 2013.
  • JJ Hardy, Darren O'Day, Brady Anderson - coached these three Baltimore Orioles players at MDTTC in 2013.
  • Met most of the rest of the Baltimore Orioles at a demo in their clubhouse on Aug. 21, 2013, including: Manager Buck Showalter, Coach Terry Crowly, position players Chris Davis (talked to him for 20 minutes about athlete and skill development), Brian Roberts, JJ Hardy, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nate McLouth, Chris Wieters, Steve Pearce, and pitchers Chris Tillman, Darren O'Day, Jim Johnson, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, and Troy Patton.
  • Met numerous members of the USA Tae Kwon Do and Archery teams in the late 1980s at the Olympic Training Center during the four years I was resident there, including several national champions, but don't remember any of their names. I shared the dining hall with Olympic athletes from essentially every other sport, and probably met a few that I don't remember.

ACTORS

  • Susan Sarandon - met her at the North American Teams circa 2008 or so.
  • Julia Dreyfus, star of Seinfeld and VEEP. Met her at the VEEP filming on Oct. 9, 2013, as well as others on the set. (I was brought in as a table tennis advisor for a TT scene.) Other than saying "hi" as I walked by, didn't actually talk to her, but stood next to her numerous times while she talked to others - and made eye contact!!!
  • Adoni Maropis, actor (best known as villain Abu Fayed in "24") - met and played tournament matches with him three times. Have since practiced with and played him many times.
  • Judah Friedlander, actor and comedian, best known for his role in TV show "30 Rock" - coached him in the 1990s/early 2000s, and several times at MDTTC.  
  • Frank Caliendo, comedian/impersonator. Met him at 2009 USA Nationals, and played doubles with and against him in practice matches at MDTTC in 2014.

LEADERS/POLITICIANS

  • Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State - met him at 25th Anniversary Ping Pong Diplomacy Festivities in 1996.
  • Jack Markell, governor of Delaware (took office Jan. 2009) - coached him at five-day table tennis camp in 1990s before he was famous, and again at our Christmas camp in December 2009, along with his son. His son came to several more of our camps.  
  • Anthony Williams, mayor of Washington DC (1999-2007) - met him at a table tennis exhibition.
  • Oscar Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas (1999-2011) - met him at the USA Nationals in Las Vegas.
  • James McClure, senator from Illinois (1973-1991) - met him in the early 1980s while helping Chinese coach Liguo Ai get his visa.

OTHERS

  • Will Shortz, world-famous crossword puzzle editor for the New York Times - met him at several table tennis tournaments, including at the Westchester, NY club that he owns.
  • Tom McEvoy, 1983 world poker champion - met him at a table tennis tournament.
  • Julian Waters, world-famous calligrapher - coached and played matches with him for many years at MDTTC.

I've also met a lot of celebrities through my non-TT sideline - science fiction writing, mostly at SF conventions and writers workshops. Here's a short listing for that. When I say "met," at minimum it means I actually spoke with them and shook hands.

SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY CELEBRITIES

WRITERS: Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi, Orson Scott Card, Alan Dean Foster, Larry Niven, Piers Anthony, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Joe Haldeman, Connie Willis, Robert J. Sawyer, Frederick Pohl, Ray Silverberg, Walter Jon Williams, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, Harry Turtledove, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Allen Steele, Jack McDevitt, James Morrow, Gregory Benford, Robert Asprin, Jerry Pournelle, Michael Swanwick, Charles Stross, Carry Vaughn, Nancy Kress, David Louis Edelman, Cory Doctorow, Karl Schroeder.

EDITORS: Stanley Schmidt, Sheila Williams, George Scithers, Gardner Dozois, Gordon Van Gelder, Ellen Datlow, Shawna McCarthy, Eric Flint, Scott Andrews, Jeanne Cavelos.

ACTORS: Walter Koenig. (Also Leonard Nimoy - see below.)

OTHERS: Craig Newmark, founder and owner of Craigslist.com - met and talked to him for 30 min at the SFWA suite at the World Science Fiction Convention in 2006.

I've also met a few outside TT and SF:

  • Solomon Snyder, world-famous neurologist from Johns Hopkins - he's my uncle!
  • Jim Palmer, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for Baltimore Orioles - met him at Camera Day at a Baltimore Orioles game in 1972, when I was 12. He patted me on the back. I never washed that t-shirt again, and ended up hanging it on my wall.
  • Leonard Nimoy, actor best known as Mr. Spock from Star Trek. According to my mom, when I was three years old I ran between his legs at a bank while both were standing in line!

ICC Coaches/Players Resign

Here's the note received last night about the two ICC coaches/players. Zhou, rated 2718, has spent much of the last few years as the #1 rated player in the U.S., with Tian Meng ("Maggie"), rated 2527, near the top of the women's rankings. I'm told they are looking to start their own table tennis center. (Here's the press release on this.)

I regret to announce that Zhou Xin and Tian Meng have resigned from ICC to pursue other opportunities effective tomorrow July 15th. We really appreciate their service for the past three years. We wish them do well pursuing their dream. In the mean time we will continue with our current team Massimo Costantini, Liang Yong Hui, Dan Liu, Huang ZiHoang, Anal Kashyap, Indeebar Chaterjee and Opendro Singh to train ICC students. Furthermore, we are also actively seeking another high level player/coach to strengthen our team. You will hear from us on that soon. Bon Voyage, Zhou and Maggie. We'll miss you.

Here's the noted from the two coaches/players:

Appreciate the blessing from ICC. Also appreciate many people who have taken care of and guided us - too many to list. All good things must come to an end. The past few years is an important journal for both Maggie and myself. The next step will be a challenge. However, we are preparing for the challenge. Hope very soon we will be able to contribute to the sport of table tennis as ICC has been.
Zhou Xin and Maggie Tian

Forehand Flips

Here's video (72 sec) of some world-class flips off short balls, mostly forehands, with a few backhand flips as well.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov - Off the Table

Here's a video (3:27) that shows the off-the-table Ovtcharov. His English is excellent. He even mentions Lebron James (along with Novak Djokovic) as his favorite non-table tennis athletes that he looks up to.

Xavier Therien vs. China at the 2014 Canada Open

Here's the video (1:08) - lots of action!

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-four down, 46 to go!

  • Day 47: Melecio Eduardo Rivera Brings a Wealth of Experience to the ITTF’s EC

Table Tennis Exhibition Between Saive and Grubba

Here's the video (7:35).

Kiernan Shipka Plays Table Tennis

Here's the article and pictures of the 14-year-old actress playing table tennis in high heels. She's best known for her role as Sally Draper in "Mad Men."

Reacting to Pingpong Mishap at Blackfoot Pride Days

Here's the article from the Idaho State Journal. Here's a picture. "Ping-pong balls rained down on Interstate 15 north of Blackfoot last Saturday when an annual giveaway event for Blackfoot Pride Days went terribly wrong."

New Dance Move: The Ping Pong

Here's the article and video (24 sec)!

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July 15, 2014

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes to the USATT May 19, 2014 Teleconference, which just went up. Below are some items I found interesting, in order, on usage of USATT's logo by distributors of USATT approved equipment; on the digital magazine's ad revenue; and on usage of the poly ball or celluloid ball in future Nationals and Opens. There's also an interesting item in the minutes you might want to read about, "The Chinese Table Tennis Association wants to have a North American Friendship Tour." (I started to write about RailStation, which is talked about in the minutes, and in particular the line, "To ensure smooth transition, RailStation and NATT software will be run concurrently for a specified period of time." As I blogged previously, USATT jumped the gun on that, but has since remedied the problem for now by going back to the old software until the new software is ready.)

As usual, my main frustration with USATT is not what's in the minutes, but what's not in them. There's nothing in there about increasing the USATT membership base of 8-9,000 (basically a round-off error for most sports memberships, and for table tennis in most other countries), which is the source of most of our problems, i.e. lack of revenue. Besides the increase in revenue, large membership should be a goal itself, but few from USATT seem interested in this, for reasons I still don't understand.  Membership growth comes primarily from leagues, and from junior training programs and coaching development. I'm sure the other issues are important, but they are dwarfed by the need to focus on growth, but it's not even on USATT's radar, alas. Anyway, here are some items I found and my commentary.

"While USATT places equipment and product suppliers on USATT’s approved list, use of USATT’s logo on this equipment has not been approved. Suppliers should be contacted informing them that USATT approval is restricted to usage of their equipment and/or products in USATT events."

This seemed strange and unfair. Companies pay a lot of money to have their products USATT approved. Note that USATT doesn't even test them - ITTF does that at no cost to USATT. So these companies are paying money directly to USATT just to have them approve their equipment for USATT tournaments. And now they are going to be told that, even after getting USATT approval, they can't advertise these USATT-approved products with the USATT logo? I don't think that's fair. A USATT-approved product should be allowed to advertise this status with the USATT logo.

"The digital magazine generated $9000 in ad revenue for the Spring 2014 issue, constituting a $6,000 shortfall to budgeted revenue."

In my blog on February 11, 2014 on the cancellation of the print magazine and going digital, "But they'll lose money on advertising and membership." I also wrote, "I'm told they are budgeting advertising to stay the same, which of course won't happen." As verified here, they really did budget $15,000 in advertising for the issue (which is what was budgeted for print), expecting to get the same ad revenue with an online magazine as a print magazine. There was no chance of that happening, and yet they convinced themselves of this. And so they lost $6000 ad revenue in the issue, and presumably $36,000 over the course of a year. I'm guessing that some advertisers stuck with it for now, but will cancel or decrease their advertising later - we'll see. Eventually we'll reach a new rough status quo on advertising at a level considerably lower than before. As noted in my blog, they do save money now on printing and postage. The amount they save in that way would be roughly offset if they simply had kept the print magazine while also going digital, thereby increasing the value of their advertising, and thereby increasing it.

As I also wrote in that blog: "This reminds me of the group-think that took place a number of years ago when USATT increased the membership fee from $25 to $40 in one year. I was in the room as the 13 board members voted unanimously to do this, and unanimously budgeted membership to stay the same. That was crazy, and I told them so. Membership had just reached 9000, the most ever. I predicted they'd lose 2000 members; I was told by all 13 that I was wrong. One year later they were down to 7200 members. I was in the room one year later, alternating between anger and laughter, as the USATT board had to painstakingly cut about $60,000 from the budget."

Just for the record, they lost me as an advertiser as well. I was planning to advertise my in USATT Magazine my new book, Table Tennis Tips, as well as my other table tennis books, just as I had advertised in the magazine my previous book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. But I changed my mind on that when they cancelled the print version. (Note how I instead cleverly inserted ads for the books here?)

However, it was recommended that the celluloid ball continue to be used at the upcoming U.S. Open and Nationals.

This might be a good thing as I don't think many people have the new balls yet. It's even more problematic for the many full-time clubs and junior programs that use large quantities of training balls (for private and group coaching, and lots of multiball), since they are all currently celluloid. Do we have to toss them out and buy new poly training balls? Will they be available anytime soon at the same inexpensive price of training balls? I only know of 3-star balls so far. I hope we aren't ever going to be stuck with using 3-star poly balls in major tournaments but only celluloid training balls. You don't want to train with one if the other is what is used in tournaments - they play somewhat differently.

Please, USATT, do not make the change until poly balls are widely available and affordable both in 3-star and training-ball formats.  

Serving Deep

Here's the new coaching article from Brian Pace, with lots of pictures and links to videos.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Serve

Here's video (3:12) of the world #4 German star serves in slow motion.

Talent or Practice?

Here's an article in yesterday's New York Times on the topic. Here's the study in Psychological Science that much of the article is based on.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-three down, 47 to go!

  • Day 48: Polona Cehovin Susin’s Approach to the ITTF’s Education and Training
  • Day 49: Polona Cehovin Susin Combines Hard Work with Passion

This Was Tokyo

Here's a new highlights video (1:39) on the recent World Team Championships in Tokyo, set to music.

Chinese Article on Lily Zhang

Here's the article and video (2:28) for our Chinese readers. It's apparently about her hopes for a medal at the upcoming Youth Olympics.

Four-Handled Paddle

Here it is.

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July 14, 2014

Tip of the Week

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players. (Note - this is a complete rewrite of an article I did on this long ago.)

Learning from Reading

Here's an interesting thought: I used to believe the way to improve in sports was primarily by reading books! In fact, that's how I got started in table tennis - I was looking for a book in the Track and Field section of the library to help improve my mile running. (I was 16.) Sure, I knew you had to practice, but deep down I thought there were "secrets" that would be more important than actually, you know, going out and running. I had the same ideas when I was even younger (around 12) and tried to become a great baseball player by reading.

As one who has written eight books, including six on table tennis (plus 1500 published articles plus 3.5 years of blogging and weekly tips), I want you to believe this as well, so repeat after me: "The way to improve in table tennis is through reading." Say that five times. Now go buy my books.

The truth, of course, is that reading does help, but is only one aspect. There are some aspects of table tennis that are pretty much perfect for learning from books, when combined with practical experience - tactics, for example. But whether it's tactics or technique, you need to put in the hours of practice to put what you learn into practice. The primary virtue of reading is it points you in the right direction for what you need to learn, and you then learn it by practicing it, whether it's technique or applying tactics.

I try to pick and choose topics for this blog and the weekly tips that are best suited to writing. An example of a topic that's not easy to write about is serving technique. I've written extensively about the tactics of serving, and have written about the various serves themselves and how to do them, but overall it's the most difficult part to teach in writing. There are just so many subtle things about serving that you need to see it demonstrated live (usually in slow motion) or on video (also in slow motion) or you'll miss most of it. Most of it can be demonstrated with photo sequences, but even there it's tricky catching the subtle aspects of how the racket moves deceptively. (However, a photo sequence with good commentary could suffice, especially if the player also watches top players executing the serve.)

My original belief that there were "secrets" I could learn from reading was true, it just wasn't a complete answer. I was hoping for secrets that would show me how to do something that would immediately lead to massive improvement, when all that reading can do is point you in the direction of what you need to learn to do - and learning to do it takes a lot of practice, alas. Reading opens doors but you have to go through those doors, and that's the hard part.

Maryland Junior Rankings

The new ratings came out a few days ago from the U.S. Open. Our juniors did pretty well. As noted in my blog on Monday, Crystal Wang won Cadet Girls' Singles (15 & Under), and Derek Nie won 13 & Under Boys' Singles. In the newest rankings, Crystal (2384) continues as the U.S. #1 ranked player in Girls Under 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Derek "sort of" regains his spot as #1 under 14 at 2336. (The depth in that category is incredible, with at least six  players who in previous years might have completely dominated that category - Derek, Jack Wang, Gal & Sharon Alguetti, Victor Liu, Michael Tran, with others not far behind. And just one year ahead of them is Kanak Jha. Jack Wang is #1 in Under 14, but wasn't eligible at the U.S. Open for that because he turns 14 this year.) Tiffany Ke takes over the #1 spot for Under 10 Girls at 1767. Here is a listing of Maryland juniors in the Top Ten (including Virginia players who train at MDTTC).

  • Crystal Wang, #1 in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 Girls at 2384
  • Derek Nie, #2 in Under 14 Boys at 2336 (but in ITTF rules, where it's ages as of the following Jan. 1, he's #1)
  • Tiffany Ke, #1 in Under 10 Girls and #5 in Under 11 Girls at 1767
  • Jason Lu, #2 in Under 11 Boys and #7 in Under 12 Boys at 1958
  • Alex Ruichao Chen, #3 in Under 17 Boys and #4 in Under 17 Boys at 2602
  • Daniel Sofer, #4 in Under 10 Boys at 1406
  • Jiu Lu, #6 in Under 12 Girls, #8 in Under 13 Girls, #10 in Under 14 Girls at 1924
  • Chen Bowen, #7 in Under 17 Boys and #9 in Under 18 Boys at 2513
  • Lisa Lin, #8 in Under 11 Girls at 1509
  • Jessica Lin, #9 in Under 11 Girls at 1411
  • Ryan Dabbs, #9 in Under 11 Boys at 1885
  • Amy Lu, #9 in Under 14 Girls, #10 in Under 15 Girls at 1937
  • Alexander Yang, #10 in Under 10 Boys at 1074

Top Player Serves

Here are animated gifs of the serves of 19 top players. You should study these and learn a few.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-one down, 49 to go!

  • Day 50: “We are blessed to have such a talented, caring and unique table tennis family.”
  • Day 51: Petra Sorling Discusses Para TT, ITTF Finances, and the Future

Nittaku ITTF Pongcast - June 2014

Here's the video (12:57).

Trick Shot of the Day

Here's the video (40 sec) by Kento Nomura.

Jorgen Persson and Famed TV Chef Tareq Taylor

Here's the picture.

Ghost in Pajamas

Here's a new artwork from Mike Mezyan, but this time instead of a drawing, it's a paddle! He calls it "Ghost in Pajamas," but to me it'll always be "Devil in a Blue Dress."

The Man, the Mountain, the Shots

Here's video (2:54) of Larry Bavly's top 15 shots at the U.S. Open. The Viper(s) never had a chance. (Yeah, that's a "Game of Thrones" reference.)

Blue Paddle Beer

Here's the article and picture of New Belgium Blue Paddle Beer, which features a ping-pong paddle on its packaging.

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July 11, 2014

How to Maximize Use of Your Tables

A common problem at clubs is that there are too many players, not enough tables. It's a good problem to have, of course, but perhaps not to those waiting in line to play. How can club leaders handle this problem?

The simplest solution, of course, is either another club night or another club. That's how the sport grows, folks - not by trying to jam too many people into a small club, but by having more clubs, and when they fill up, they also split into more clubs, and so on. But for this to happen, someone has to take initiative to start one. Here's the online USATT Club Handbook.

Or you could have your club open up another day, assuming it's not already full-time. When I started up the University of Maryland club back in 1981 we started out twice a week, with eight tables in one room. Within a year we'd expanded to seven nights a week, with 16 tables in two adjacent rooms. For a couple of years before I graduated it was the busiest club in the country, with students coming in every night to play. (We had two nights a week designated for non-college members, and on those nights players from all over would come in.)

Or you could expand your club, as we did at the University of Maryland club, and as we did at MDTTC, which expanded from 5000 to 10,000 square feet a few years ago.

Another is to have a Doubles Night. That's four to a table (or perhaps six, with teams sitting out to rest), and lots of players like doubles. Perhaps designate one night a month as Doubles Night, or more often if your club is full-time.

But probably the best way is to start up a league. While players may not like waiting to play on limited tables, they may be more likely to do so if they are cheering for a team - and a league (especially a team league) allows you to put 4-6 players on a single table. Here's the USATT League page, which allows you to organize your league and use league ratings. This is really the best way to make use of your facilities, and I strongly recommend it. We have two league nights at MDTTC (plus an elite league on Sunday afternoons), and they are our busiest times - players know it'll be crowded, and yet that's when the most players come.

Here's an idea I came up with last week while at the U.S. Open. Ever notice how top players practice at tournaments when there aren't enough tables? They warm up by going four to a table, with two getting the forehand crosscourt diagonal, the other two the backhand diagonal. But they also want to play points and do full-table drills. So they take turns. Two play a rally, and while they are fetching the ball, the next two take the table. (Sometimes they do this six on a table.) So I had a thought - why not play two-for-one matches? You'd have two sets of players playing a match. Two of them would play a point. When the point is over, while one of them fetches the ball, the other two play out a point of their match. And they'd take turns, so the table is in almost continuous use. When two players finish a game, they switch sides, and continue just like any other match, except they'd alternate use of the table. Anyone want to try this?

July Open at the Lily Yip Center in New Jersey

This afternoon I'm driving up with two others to the Lily Yip Center in New Jersey, where I'll be coaching on Saturday at their July Open. Hope to see some of you there!

Summer USATT Magazine

Here's the new issue. I have two articles in it, Topspinny Backhands and Review of Ping Pong Summer movie.

Mal Anderson Named Official USATT Photo-Historian

Here's the article. Mal's in the USATT Hall of Fame, and has taken over 40,000 table tennis pictures.

USATT Para Training Camp

Here's the ITTF write-up of this event, which took place in Grand Rapids just before the U.S. Open. I wish they'd publicize these events a bit more - I actually flew to the U.S. Open a day early a few years ago when I heard they were holding a Paralympic camp, and acted as a volunteer practice partner for a day. I didn't know about this one, and I don't think there was a news item about it. But of course they primarily publicize things like this to the Paralympic players.

Serving From Middle of Table, Serving to Middle Forehand

Here's a video (1951) of the bronze medal match from the 2012 Olympics between Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) and Chuang Chih-Yuan (TPE). Note how in this (and in other videos of him), Dimitrij likes to serve backhand from the middle or even forehand side of the table, usually to the opponent's middle forehand. It's a very nice tactic that's way under-used. I still don't understand why more players don't do this type of serve - not necessarily a backhand serve, but a forehand reverse pendulum serve or forehand tomahawk serve, both of which have the same type of sidespin. Or just a regular forehand pendulum serve, where the focus is backspin or no-spin. (Backhand-type sidespin tends to be more difficult to receive forehand than backhand, which is why this type of sidespin is often done short to the forehand side.) Also note how Dimitrij receives so many serves to his short forehand with his backhand - one of the big changes in the game with the advent of the banana flip.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Forty-nine down, 51 to go!

  • Day 52: Miguel Delgado Discusses 20 Years of Progress for the ITTF and LATTU
  • Day 53: Koji Kimura Commends Adham Sharara for Rule Changes Made in Our Sport

Japanese Juniors Training in China

Here's a documentary (6:48) of a Japanese junior team training in China. It's all in Chinese or Japanese (not sure which - perhaps someone can tell me?), but it's interesting to watch the training. [EDIT - Bruce Liu informs me that it's in Japanese, with only a few words of Chinese.]

Heritage Oil Table Tennis

Here's video highlights (33 sec) from the Heritage Oil Open in England. Here's a short write-up.

Grammy Nominated Musician Steve Aoki Plays Table Tennis

Here's the article and video (16 sec).

Dawn of the Table of the Ape

In honor of the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which I saw last night), here's video (2:08) of a gorilla playing table tennis. (He shows up 49 sec in, but the link should take you directly there.) And he's a really good gorilla!!!

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