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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 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 author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

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

His new book, Table Tennis Tips, is also out - All 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, in one volume, in logical progression!!!

March 5, 2015

How I Hurt My Back and How Not to Do Multiball

I think I hurt my back shoveling snow on Sunday or Monday. Because of snow and icy roads, I didn't do any serious coaching from Sunday to Tuesday, other than a one-hour multiball session on Tuesday, where I probably aggravated it. On Wednesday, when woke up, my back was in agony. I did a one-hour multiball session, but had to cancel a one-hour private session. Today I had 3.5 hours of coaching scheduled, but due to the snow (5-8 inches expected, it's coming down pretty hard) they are all cancelled. If not for the snow I'd have had to cancel them anyway.

I think my new mattress is also a culprit - it's not firm enough. Rather than buy a new mattress (again), I just ordered an extra firm mattress topper. Hopefully it'll be firm enough.

I'm probably going to cancel all my coaching on Friday as well. I'm not yet sure about Saturday - I have two hours of private coaching and a two-hour multiball session scheduled. I'm almost for certain going to cancel the private coaching for that day. We'll see about Sunday. Most likely I'll cancel all private coaching that day (four hours), but teach the two 90-minutes classes I have scheduled.

When I feed regular multiball, it doesn't affect my back too much. The problem is feeding backspin. When I do this I tend to drop my right shoulder and rotate my back into it - ouch!!! Right now I can't feed backspin without aggravating the back. I had to stop feeding backspin in the session yesterday.

When I explained this to Coach Cheng yesterday, he smiled, and said it's because I use my upper body to feed multiball instead of my legs. Normally this wouldn't make a difference, but in my current condition, it does. He showed me how he does it, using just his legs. I tried copying it, but it didn't feel natural. Ironically, Sean O'Neill had commented about this many years ago as well.

Back in 1992, when we opened MDTTC, I was already experienced in feeding multiball, but after watching coaches Cheng and Jack feed multiball, I realized I needed to practice. So I spent about a week where I literally practiced feeding multiball, feeding the ball into a robot net. Now I may have to do that again, and relearn how I feed backspin. Cheng also showed me how he shovels snow using only his legs, and mocked others who complain about it, saying it's all in the technique!

For now, I'm going to spend the day resting as the snow outside comes down. I've found that sitting at my desk aggravates the back, which is a problem since I was hoping to get some writing done. And then, at 8PM (dang, right when Big Bang Theory comes on TV - see segment below!), we have a USATT teleconference where we'll be appointing committee chairs.

ITTF Legends Tour

Jean-Michel Saive defeated Jorgen Persson in the final yesterday. In the semifinals, Saive defeated Waldner while Persson defeated Gatien. In the two quarterfinals, Waldner defeated Jiang Jialiang (rematch from 1987 Worlds!) while Persson defeated Rosskopf. Here's the article from Tabletennista, including results and lots of video. Here are some photos of the event - click on them to see each one. The third one has Saive standing on the table! Here are more photos. Also, here's a nice trailer (78 sec) they put together for the event.

Ma Long #1 Again

In the new world rankings, he's back to #1 in men's rankings, with Xu Xin dropping to #2 after twelve months at #1 (plus four months back in 2013). Ma's been #1 in the world 29 different months - all twelve months in 2010, three months in 2011, five months in 2012, six months in 2013, and two months in 2014. Fan Zhendong is #3 for the fifth consecutive month - he's been top three for 13 consecutive months, including two months at #2 in 2014 (Sept and Oct). Zhang Jike, who has won men's singles at the last two Worlds, the last World Cup, and the last Olympics, continues at #4 for the seventh consecutive month; he hasn't been ranked #1 since 2012. (He only does well in the "big" tournaments!)

On the women's side, Ding Ning is #1 for the sixth consecutive month. Li Xiaoxia moves up to #2 after 19 consecutive months at #3. (She was #1 for eight months in 2011 and for one month back in 2008.) Liu Shiwen moves down to #3 after five consecutive months at #2. (She was #1 for thirteen consecutive months before that, as well as nine months in 2010.)

All the players listed above are from China, which continues to have the top four men and top three women.

Sports Illustrated

I'm told that the new March 9 issue of Sports Illustrated has a feature on page 60 on New York Times puzzle editor and table tennis player/owner Will Shortz - his game and his Westchester club. Go get your copy!

Ask the Coach

  • Episode #88 (19:00) - Table Tennis Terminology (and other segments)
  • Episode #89 (21:50) - Waldner Back in Action (and other segments)

Learn to Play the Backhand Counterdrive

Here's the coaching video (2:39) from Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis.

Marcos Freitas - The New European Hero

Here's the video (5:21) of the world #9 player, from Portugal.

Ding Ning - Off the Table

Here's the video (6:30).

Great Rally

Here's the video (27 sec) with both great and fluky shots.

Junior Diving Forehand Defense

Here's the video (19 sec, including slow motion replay).

Celebrity Table Tennis

Here are some celebrities playing table tennis pictures. (Click on the first - is that Jay Leno? - and you'll see more.) Of course, the mother lode of these pictures is the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, which I used to maintain but stopped a few years ago - just too busy.

Big Bang Theory Pong!

Here's video (15 sec) of the Big Bang Theory stars playing table tennis. That's Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting ("Penny") on the left smacking in forehands (she's pretty good!) against Kunal Nayyar ("Raj") on the right, with Mayim Bialik ("Amy") watching, and Simon Helberg ("Howard") walking by near the end.

Non-Table Tennis - Top Twelve Spring Training Problems for the 2015 Orioles

Here's the article, featured at Orioles Hangout!

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March 4, 2015

Eleven Questions with Larry Hodges

Here's the USATT interview with me yesterday. Not a policy interview, but hopefully some interesting stuff. I had a lot of fun with it, but hopefully some of it is informative as well.

Upcoming Events and Back Problems

Tomorrow we have another 3-5 inches of snow scheduled to come in - yeah, these days we schedule these things. (So it's likely school and all coaching will be cancelled tomorrow.) There's also a USATT teleconference at 8PM where we appoint committee chairs. I have to go over dozens of applications. Alas, not a single worthy bribe. And then on Saturday there's a Super League Organizing Committee Meeting at 7PM. ESPN and USA Today just did interviews with Crystal Wang at our club, so those are coming out soon, plus the Washington Post is doing a feature soon on Crystal and Derek Nie, so more on those when they come out.

Mixed in with these, of course, is the usual private and group coaching, and several writing projects. I've also got the MDTTC March Newsletter to finalize. I normally send it out at the start of each month, but we decided to wait until after the USA Team Trials this weekend so I can put info from there in it, and send it out probably next Monday. Plus I have a dentist appointment today at noon, and see my tax accountant next Tuesday. Yeah, things are busy here.

Worse, my back just started acting up again for the first time in months. I woke up this morning with it pleading with me to spend the day in bed, but I had to overrule that. Hopefully I'll get through the two hours of coaching I have scheduled today, and then I'll likely be off on Thursday (snow), and have only a one-hour multiball session on Friday. But I just put new sponge on my racket, and having extra bouncy new sponge always takes some of the strain away as the sponge practically does the playing for me as I stand around and make stroking motions. (I use a Timo Boll ALC, with black 2.1 Tenergy 05 on the forehand, red 2.1 Tenergy 25 on the backhand, all from my Butterfly sponsor.)

I was going to blog this morning about a coach's and parent's responsibility to their kids in regards to teaching them to win and teaching the ethics, but I'll save that for another day when I'm not having a heated spear jabbed into my back repeatedly.

Three Things Never to Tell an Eight-Year-Old Before a Training Session

  • Never try to explain the Borg from Star Trek with an 8-year-old just before a training session. There will be no real training session afterwards, just lots and lots of Borg-related questions.
  • Never tell the story of a junior who once jokingly aimed a realistic looking squirt gun at a ticket agent at an airport and said "I have a gun!" to an 8-year-old just before a practice session, or you'll end up with him saying "I have a gun!" the entire session, including a toy gun made from aluminum foil.
  • "I have a blade and I like to kill." That's what I told one of my students yesterday. That's all I heard from him the rest of the session. Then he told it to another. Soon it was the favorite quote of the 8-year-old crowd.

ITTF Legends Tour

It starts again today in Halmstad, Sweden. Here's the home page, the Facebook page, the draw, and here's an article on it from Tabletennista. Interesting note in the article - Waldner was originally seeded #1, and would have had a bye in each event, thereby playing one less match than others. He didn't think this was fair, and asked that the seeding be done randomly. The article includes a picture of him drawing his seeding number out of a hat.

Here's where you can watch it live, starting at noon Eastern Time. Playing in today's event is Waldner, Gatien, Rosskopf, Persson, Jialiang, and Saive. If you tune in at the start, you'll likely get to see the first two matches - Rosskopf vs. Persson, and then, in a rematch of the Men's Singles Final in 1987, Jan-Ove Waldner vs. Jiang Jialiang. For showmanship, I hope Jiang does his infamous "fist-pumping walk around the table" thing. Up 2-1 but down 16-20 in the fourth, Jiang scores four in a row. Here's the point at 19-20; watch what Jiang does after the point!

Former Table Tennis Champ Enjoys Career Rebirth

Here's the article from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "At 44, Jimmy Butler, whose career was left for dead because of a debilitating muscle condition, has not only returned to an elite standard of table tennis competition, but he enters this week’s Pan Am and National Team Trials at Texas Wesleyan as the reigning U.S. men’s singles national champion."

World Table Tennis Day

Here's the ITTF press release on this inaugural event on April 6.

2015 Hopes Camps in the U.S.

Here's the announcement - they are at the Alameda Club in California and Atlanta International Club.

Technical Training for Table Tennis

Here's the new coaching article from Expert Table Tennis. "I believe to become an expert table tennis player you must master the four aspects of the game (technical, tactical, physical and mental). An expert is proficient in all four areas and can be described as a ‘complete’ player. The first and most important aspect of the game to master is technique." (In this context, technical means technique.)

Backhand Serve Against a Lefty

Here's the video (2:05), demonstrated by Victor Tolkachev. A similar pattern is effective against a righty, except there you often vary between short to the forehand, long to the backhand (the reverse of what is shown here).

Ma Long's Serve

Here's the video (2:13), shown from different angles. The quality of the video isn't great, but you can see what he's doing, especially when it goes slow motion.

Table Tennis Serves in Slow Motion

Here's the video (7:24).

Ovcharov vs. Jung Youngsik

Here's video (50 sec, including slow motion replay) of a great point between these two. Ovcharov is #6 in the world, Jung #39 in.

Segun Toriola vs. Ning Gao

Here's video (66 sec, including replays from different angles and slow motion) of a great rally between these two.

Diving, Rolling Return

Here's the video (55 sec, including slow motion replay).

Evolution of Table Tennis

Here are the five volumes for the historically minded. Some great stuff here!

Chase Free Commercial with Table Tennis

Here's the ad (30 sec). About 12 seconds in you see someone receiving and playing with a rather interesting paddle with lights on it!

Chimpanzee Pong

Here's video (24 sec) from two years ago of a chimpanzee rallying backhand to backhand! (I have suspicions on whether this might be faked - look how mechanical looking the chimp's backhand is. But it's probably for real.) Here are two other videos from Japan where they try to teach a chimp (in overalls!) to play table tennis, here (2:15) and here (4:01) with more dubious results.

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March 3, 2015

The Sayings of Bruce Lee

I read over these quotes from Bruce Lee and was amazed at how many of them apply to table tennis. I picked out the 30 most pertinent to our sport, in no particular order. I guess you can say that Bruce Lee is ghost-writing my blog this morning. Which are your favorites?

  1. "The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus."
  2. "Be happy, but never satisfied."
  3. "Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own."
  4. "Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
  5. "If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." 
  6. "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times." 
  7. "Don't fear failure. — Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail." 
  8. "A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at." 
  9. "Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it." 
  10. "The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment." 
  11. "Be self-aware, rather than a repetitious robot" 
  12. "Time means a lot to me because you see I am also a learner and am often lost in the joy of forever developing." 
  13. "The spirit of the individual is determined by his dominating thought habits." 
  14. "Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later the man who wins, is the man who thinks he can." 
  15. "Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light." 
  16. "Everything you do, if not in a relaxed state will be done at a lesser level than you are proficient. Thus the tensed expert marksman will aim at a level less than his/her student." 
  17. "Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there." 
  18. "Obey the principles without being bound by them." 
  19. "The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be." 
  20. "Preparation for tomorrow is hard work today." 
  21. "If you think a thing is impossible, you'll only make it impossible." 
  22. "Remember no man is really defeated unless he is discouraged." 
  23. "Practice makes perfect. After a long time of practicing, our work will become natural, skillful, swift, and steady." 
  24. "Put 'going the extra mile' to work as part of one's daily habit." 
  25. "Emotion can be the enemy, if you give into your emotion, you lose yourself. You must be at one with your emotions, because the body always follows the mind." 
  26. "Don't fear failure...in great attempts it is glorious even to fail." 
  27. "Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them."
  28. "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer."
  29. "Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do."
  30. "The doubters said,
    'Man cannot fly,'
    The doers said,
    'Maybe, but we'll try,'
    And finally soared
    In the morning glow
    While non-believers
    Watched from below." 

Stepping Around Footwork

Here's the coaching article by Han Xiao, with a link to a short video everyone should watch.

Ask the Coach

Episode #87 (20:35) - Returning Serve with Your Own Heavy Spin (and other segments)

Jack Wang Credits Tournament Play and Innovative Training Techniques for Recent Success

Here's the story by Barbara Wei.

Richard McAfee Returns to India

Here's the ITTF story of his coaching course in India.

Texas Wesleyan Sweeps Texas Division

Here's the USATT article. Texas Wesleyan is going for its twelfth consecutive national title.

Knights Come Out on Top

Here's the USATT article on the University of Central Florida Table Tennis Team.

Sensational Rally Between Ovtcharov and Persson

Here's the video (1:18).

ITTF Legends Tour

The Legends Tour starts up again tomorrow, March 4, in Halmstad, Sweden. Meanwhile, here are short video highlights they've put together of some of the stars:

ITTF Video Channel

Here's the page - you could spend the rest of the day week month year your life watching these!

Panda Pong

Here's the picture, probably the only one ever that shows a Panda doing a proper forehand pendulum serve. Note how he's not trying to hide the serve, and even has pulled his non-playing paw out of the way? But the Panda kid hitting a backhand needs some work on his foot positioning.

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March 2, 2015

Tip of the Week

When Should You Go For a Winner?

Rest in Peace Leonard Nimoy

Famed actor Leonard Nimoy (best known as "Mr. Spock" from Star Trek) died on Friday, which happened to be my 55th birthday. He was 83. Mr. Spock, the logical Vulcan, was one of my heroes growing up, and that it happened on my birthday was especially memorable, in a bad way. I have several connections with Nimoy.

  • My mom told me that when I was about two years old (circa 1962), when Nimoy was already a well-known actor but before his role as Mr. Spock, we were at a bank in the Los Angeles area, and Nimoy was in line. She said I began running and crawling between people's legs, and that I crawled between Nimoy's legs.
  • I met Walter Koenig ("Chekov") at a science fiction convention.
  • I attended a writers' workshop with Ann Crispin, a famed Star Trek novelist.
  • This page has four pictures from Star Trek (you may have to page down a bit) where the characters are playing table tennis. (Alas, no pictures of Nimoy/Spock playing, as this is from Star Trek Voyager, not The Original Series.)
  • Here's the home page for the Vulcan Red Tooth Table Tennis Club. Alas, it's named after the God of Fire from Roman mythology, not Mr. Spock's race.
  • Finally, when I'm under pressure in a table tennis match, I sometimes ask myself, "What would Spock do?" It's a great way to get yourself to look at things analytically and without emotion.

Weekend Weather Worries

For the second Sunday in a row all my coaching was cancelled. Sunday is my busiest coaching day, where I normally coach nearly non-stop from 11AM to 8:15PM. (This includes two 90-minute classes - a junior class and an adult beginning/intermediate class - so that's a lot of makeups coming up.) This time the problem wasn't actually snow but icy rain, which apparently froze over during the night. Schools here in Montgomery Country, Maryland, are closed today, as they were for previous snowstorms on Feb. 16, 17, and 26. So no afterschool program today, and I just got an email cancelling my only private coaching scheduled today (a 90-minute session), so I probably won't leave my house today, just as I didn't yesterday. I have a rather long todo list, so maybe I'll get a lot done today.

Chinese Alumni Association of Greater Washington Tournament

On Saturday we had about 100 people at MDTTC for this. The club was jammed from early morning until around 5PM. This was for college alumni from various colleges - not sure which ones. It's a good thing it was on Saturday; if it had been Sunday, it likely would have been cancelled as we had snow and icy rain all day.

Net Extension Rule

In my blog on Thursday I wrote about various interesting rules, including the one about the net extending six inches to the side. I've been told numerous times over the years that this rule came about around the early 1970s because of Istvan Jonyer's ability to sidespin loop around the net, but it looks like that info was incorrect.

When a few people questioned this, I looked at old pictures from the 1940s to the 1960s, and they nearly all seem to show the net extending out six inches. (Google 1940s table tennis pictures, and plenty show up.) Then I went to my table tennis book collection and looked at the rules published in old ones, and found that until 1933, several of them specify the net as being 66" in width, which means it would extend 3" off each side. (Table is five feet side, or 60 inches.) Starting in 1933 most begin specifying six-foot nets (72"), with the net thereby extending six inches outwards. Somehow I doubt Jonyer (born in 1950, European Champion in 1971, World Men's Singles Champion in 1975) was sidespin looping in 1933. I've edited the original entry, and will bawl out a few people over this.

Backhand Counterhit

Here's the coaching video (4:53) from PingSkills.

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode #86 (14:25) - Can Timo Boll & Ma Long Win World Doubles (and other segments).

Don't Serve First!

Here's the coaching/mathematical article. I haven't studied the math, but I generally agree with the conclusion. Here's my Tip on this.

Coaching Beginning Kids

Here's a video (6:58) that shows a clinic with coaches teaching beginning kids.

Changes to the 2015 Selection Procedure for Cadet and Junior Teams

Here's the new info.

The Story of American Champion Jimmy Butler

Here's the USATT video (22:05).

Old School Pong from the New York Times

Here are 19 vintage table tennis pictures.

ITTF Annual General Meeting

Here are the meeting documents (162 pages), including agendas, reports, financial statements, propositions and resolutions, and technical leaflets.

Interview with Norio Takashima

Here's the interview at the OOAK Forum with the former Japanese defensive star.

Amazing Rally at the 2015 French National Championships

Here's the video (43 sec) of the rally between Antoine Hachard and Adrien Mattenet.

Kreanga Backhand Rips

Here are two (9 sec), including slow motion.

Soo Yeon Lee's "Don't Hold Back" Table Tennis Ad for Joe's Jeans

Here's the video (30 sec).

Funny Table Tennis Trick Shots

Here's the video (4:04). I've linked to most of these, but here they are all put together in one video.

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February 27, 2015

Beginning Junior Class

I teach two beginning junior classes, one on Thursday 6-7PM, and the other on Sundays 4:30-6:00 PM. And so should your club!!! Yesterday's session had 16 players ranging in age from 7 to 12. Assisting me were the Triple J's - Coaches Jeffrey, John, and Josh. Here's the info page.

We started with ball bouncing. This is especially important for beginning juniors as it helps them develop the hand-eye coordination needed, as well as helping them get used to the proper grip. First they bounced on the forehand side (calling out every tenth in a row they make), then on the backhand, and then alternating. For the very, very brave (but mostly older ones) I challenged them to alternate between forehand and off the edge of their racket! Many can do a couple of these. While they did this, I worked with two new players who were there for the first time, showing them the proper grip and stance.

Then we did some forehand and backhand shadow practicing as a group. By this time everyone was there, so I then did a roll call.

Then we went into four groups, one with each coach. It worked out nicely, with four players with each coach. I took the two new players and two others, and used the robot area. We started with one player with me, one on the robot, and two picking up balls. The second half I worked with two at a time (one at each corner), with one on the robot and one picking up balls.

Yesterday's focus was the backhand, so we spent much time on that. However, since we had two new players and the two others in my group had had only one session, we started with the forehand. After one circuit on that, then we went to the backhand.

One hour is probably too short, and the time went by way too fast. All four players in my group were able to hit forehands and backhands, though they needed regular re-enforcement and reminders. One liked to slap her wrist into every shot; another tended to stand square to the table and just block forehands; one kept hitting everything off to the right; and one tended to just stab at the ball with a lunging motion. I worked with each to fix these problems, and they seemed to pick it up pretty well.

For the last ten minutes we played games. We broke into two groups. Six of them played "Master of the Table," where one player is the "Master," and stays there until someone scores two points in a row, thereby becoming the new "Master." (New person always serves; if he loses, next person is up; if he scores, then the "Master" serves, and if the new person scores again, he's the new "Master.") Most of us actually call this King of the Table, including the girls, but I don't want to get in trouble with the girls' parents if I use that name!

The other half did the all-time favorite of the younger kids - creating intricate pyramids with paper cups, and then knocking them down. After they create what I like to call the "Pretty Good Pyramid of Egypt" or the "Pretty Good Wall of China," they line up, I feed multiball, and they knock it down. When we're down to one cup, I put a ball under it and claim it's a nuclear bomb that'll blow up the galaxy, and they have 60 seconds to knock it down, taking turns with two shots each. Yesterday the galaxy was saved by Giovanni Ratti, who smacked the cup over just 22 seconds in.

After picking up all the cups - there are a lot - along with the balls, the session is over, though I invariably go an extra 5-10 minutes as the knock over the cups. Then it's free play for those who can stay longer, usually for another 20 minutes or so.

Crystal Wang, ESPN, and USA Today

Crystal Wang will be featured in ESPN and USA Today this next week. ESPN is interviewing her today (and may come back on Monday or Tuesday), while USA Today is coming in on Tuesday. Special thanks to USATT Media Consultant Richard Finn for helping put these together. Crystal, who turned 13 just four days ago and is already rated 2469, is the youngest member of the USA National Team in history, as well as the youngest USA Under 22 Champion - in fact, she's the two youngest, winning it at age 11 and 12!

Free Hand Rule

Yesterday, in my blog about Most Interesting Rules, I wrote about how it was required to have a free hand, saying:

Because the rules define both a playing hand and a non-playing hand, it is illegal to play with a racket in both hands, since then you wouldn't have a non-playing hand. However, taking this to its logical conclusion, doesn't this mean that if you hit the ball with a two-handed grip you lose the point, since you wouldn't have a free hand? (I've seen tennis players play this way.)

This is one of those issues that has come up periodically over the years. I know it came up as an issue at a U.S. Open or Nationals, and I think there was mention of it in USA Table Tennis Magazine. In each of these cases, it was ruled that since the rules refer to the free hand, a player must have a free hand, and so it is not legal to play with two rackets. I'm told that others interpret this differently. (I emailed a few times about this with Kagin Lee.)

For example, would it be legal to hold the racket in the mouth, thereby having two free hands, when the rules refer to the free hand in the singular, and also refer to a playing hand which you no longer would have? I've done this in exhibitions, but here's a video of Ibrahim Hamato (2:43), an armless player who plays very well with the racket in his mouth. The rules allow a player to adjust the serve due to handicap, but not in a rally - and so some could argue that Hamato's play is illegal since he doesn't have a playing hand. In fact, the rules states that "A player strikes the ball if he or she touches it in play with his or her racket, held in hand, or with his or her racket hand below the wrist." So apparently racket in mouth is not legal.

So I'm beginning to think that there really is no specific rule that outlaws having two rackets, one in each hand. Are there any eagle-eyed rules buffs who can cite one, saving me the trouble of going through them again? The ITTF rules do refer to the racket in the singular multiple times, if that counts. Think of the possibilities - you don't even have to be ambidextrous. If you can have two rackets, you can also switch them back and forth!!! Perhaps have inverted on both sides on your "normal" racket, but sometimes switch hands and use the other, which might have long pips!

USATT Committee Chairs

USATT is now getting into the nitty-gritty of appointing USATT Committee Chairs, and soon after we'll be appointing committee members. Here's the USATT Announcement on this. While the deadline has already passed, anyone can still be considered. Since I'm on the board, I've gotten all the applications and will be going over them soon. Next week we have a teleconference to go over all this and make appointments.

Don't Skip the Warm Up (Unless You're Trying to Lose)

Here's the new coaching article from Expert Table Tennis.

Ask the Coach Show #85 - How to Run a Successful Club

Here's the video (29:11). While the title refers to one of their segments, they actually cover a number of topics in each video.

Chinese Team Finalized for World Championships

Here's the article, which lists the players, whose playing doubles together, and lots of video links.

Want to Buy or Sell Used Equipment?

Here's the new Used Table Tennis Equipment - Buy & Sell Facebook page.

Ping Pong Map App

Here's the Uberpong Map App. Want to find the closest place to play? Here's how to do it!

Kanak Jha Preparing for the Pan Am and US Team Trials

Here's the video (1:27). He'll have some tough competition.

2015 Kuwait Open Final: Xu Xin vs. Ma Long

Here's the highlights video (2:28).

GoPro in Action - Table Tennis Practice

Here's the video (1:14) showing what it's like if you practice with a video camera around your neck.

USA Today Features Behind-the-Back Countersmash

Here's the feature, where they consider whether he's a Jedi.

What Happens When Your YouTube Video Goes Viral?

Here's the article by the guy from the Expert in a Year Challenge, whose video Guy Plays Table Tennis Every Day for a Year (5 min) is now up to 1,294,191 hits. Table tennis videos don't often go viral, but we've suddenly had two of them, with the recent Greatest Table Tennis Shot video (54 sec, the one with the behind-the-back countersmash by Kit Jeerapaet, see USA Today segment above) now up to 1,812,186 hits.

Malta's Mario Genovese Sets Record with Most National Titles

Here's the article, where he's pictured with a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records. He's won Men's Singles 21 times and Men's Doubles 16 times, a total of 37 titles, topping the 36 won by England's Desmond Douglas, as well as the 32 by Jean-Michel Saive of Belgium.

Airball - Table Tennis Revolution?

Here's the video (22 sec) showing these new squeezable 3D ping-pong balls in action. Alas, when I went to the website listed I couldn't find them there. (I emailed asking about them.)

I Love My Robot

Here's the funny table tennis ad (1:19) for a Newgy Robo Pong.

Mostly Non-Table Tennis - FREE Copy of Sorcerers in Space!

My table tennis books sell pretty well, but my humorous fantasy novel, Sorcerers in Space . . . not so well. Very few people even know about the book. It hasn't even been reviewed on Amazon. (Contrast that with Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, with 35 reviews.) So let's change that.

I will send a FREE copy of the novel to the first five people who ask for it, who promise to write a review on Amazon. It only has to be a paragraph, though you can write longer. If interested, email me and I'll send you the book. If you want the print version (326 pages), I'll need your address. If you want the Kindle version, all I need is your email address, and I can have it sent to your Kindle. (I'll put a note up here as soon as I get five takers.) I'm not going to ask for positive reviews, but if you don't like humorous fantasy that satirizes the 1960s U.S.-Soviet space race with sorcerers instead of astronauts, then you probably don't want the novel!

Table tennis is not central to the story, but the main character is a 13-year-old sorcerer's apprentice who has to give up his ping-pong dreams to save the world. (And yes, in my alternate universe, Kennedy is still president in 1969 - he survived the 1963 assassination attempt and won an illegal third term in 1968. Lee Harvey Oswald is now his faithful servant, or so it seems.) Here's the book's description:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world." Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text. 

Since whoever gets to the Face first can lob down spells and have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil. 

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, the god Apollo, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets? And before Buzz kills Neil?

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February 26, 2015

Most Interesting Rules

Here are some of the more interesting rules in table tennis.

  • Table Dimensions. Contrary to popular belief, the table is not 9 feet by 5 feet. It is roughly 8.98950 feet by 5.0038 feet. To be specific, the ITTF rules state that the table is 2.74 meters by 1.525 meters. A 9x5 table would be about 0.132 inches too long, and 0.036 inches not wide enough. Nor is the net 6 inches tall - it is 15.25 centimeters tall, which is about 6.003937 inches tall, or about 1/254th of an inch over 6 inches. No wonder all your smashes nick the net.
  • Net Extension to the Side. The net extends 15.25 centimeters outside the table, about 6 inches. I'm told the reason was players like Istvan Jonyer (1975 World Men's Champion, already European Champion in 1971) became so good at nearly unreturnable around-the-net sidespin loops that they had to change the rules to require it to extend those six inches.
    EDIT - At least two people had told me this about the net, but it looks like this info is incorrect. I've gone over my table tennis book collection, and many of the old ones have rulebooks. Until 1933, several of them specify the net as being 66" in width, extending 3" off each side. Starting in 1933 they begin specifying six-foot nets (72"), with the net extending six inches outwards. If you look at old table tennis pictures, most also seem to show the net extending outwards about six inches.
  • Broken Ball Rule. If the ball breaks in the middle of a rally, it's a let - period. It doesn't matter whether the shot was an easy winner that the opponent couldn't return, it's a let. The actual wording of the rule is that the rally shall be a let "because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." So if a ball breaks in a rally and thereby affects the conditions of play, the point is a let. Over the years I've seen this interpreted differently - some umpires and referees have interpreted this to mean it's a let only if they believe the ball's breaking really would have affected the outcome of the point. So, for example, if a player has an easy kill and smacks the ball out of reach of the opponent, and the ball cracks as he hits the ball, they might not call it a let because, in their opinion, the breaking of the ball didn't actually affect the outcome of the point since the opponent wouldn't returned it anyway. But recently I've been told that this has been ruled on (I believe by ITTF officials), and it's always a let.
  • Double Hit Rule. It used to be that double hits were illegal. It was a regular source for argument - did the ball double bounce off the hand, or racket and hand? So they changed the rule a few years ago so that unintentional double hits are legal. This basically means there are now three times where proper protocol is to apologize to your opponent (often by just raising your hand) - when you score with a net ball, and edge, or a double hit. This came up recently at the North American Tour Final, where an opponent of Jim Butler got a double hit, but Jim, who'd been away from the sport for a few years and so didn't know about this rule change, thought it was his point.
  • Stationary Hand Rule. The rules state that the service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand. Guess what? There's no such thing as a truly stationary free hand. So every serve you have ever done in your life has been illegal, you cheater!!! (This was similar to the previous rules that stated the ball must be on the flat palm - but there's no such thing as a truly flat palm either.)
  • Free Hand Rule. Because the rules define both a playing hand and a non-playing hand, it is illegal to play with a racket in both hands, since then you wouldn't have a non-playing hand. However, taking this to its logical conclusion, doesn't this mean that if you hit the ball with a two-handed grip you lose the point, since you wouldn't have a free hand? (I've seen tennis players play this way.)
  • Racket Hand Rule. It is legal to hit the ball with your playing hand below the wrist. This means, for example, you can vary your serve by hitting it off the back of your hand, completely catching an opponent off guard. I've done this twice in tournaments, but both times my opponent caught the ball, thinking it was an illegal serve. I should have claimed the point, but both times I let them have the let. I'm too nice.
  • Games in a Match. We're used to playing best of five, and sometimes best of three or best of seven. But guess what? The rules state that "A match shall consist of the best of any odd number of games." So someone can run a tournament and specify that all matches shall be, say, best of 243 - so first to win 122 games wins!!! (We'll run the tournament with a Giant Round Robin Format, so everyone plays lots of these "matches.")
  • Touching Table and Net or Moving Table Rules. You lose the point if you touch the table with your free hand, touch the net in any way, or move the table. Technically, if you breathe, you move the table as your exhalation collides with the table, so you need to hold your breath from now on while playing, right? (Just kidding - or am I?)
  • Ball Above Playing Surface. The rules state that "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface." Little kids have difficulty with this since the table is often near shoulder level for them. They almost have to serve volleyball style.
  • Serving to a Wheelchair Player. There are specific rules when serving to a player in a wheelchair owing to a physical disability. (Note that this only applies to someone in a wheelchair because of a physical disability, but not to someone who simply chooses to play in a wheelchair.) Specifically, the serve is a let if the ball:
    • after touching the receiver's court returns in the direction of the net; 
    • comes to rest on the receiver's court; 
    • in singles leaves the receiver’s court after touching it by either of its sidelines. 
  • Hidden Serves. At the higher levels, this is the most ignored rule of all, leading to all sorts of problems. I've blogged about this numerous times. The problem is that most umpires only fault a hidden serve if they are sure it is hidden, but if they aren't sure if it is hidden, they don't call it, even though the rules specifically say that they should - and so many titles are decided by whether the umpire will enforce the rules, and if he won't, then the winner is often the one willing to cheat, at the expense of players who choose not to cheat. What does this mean? It means that if the umpire isn't satisfied that the serve was visible throughout the serve, or isn't sure about this in any way, the serve is illegal. Period. That's what the rules say.Here is the actual wording of the rules:
    • "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball … shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
    • "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."
    • "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

Zhang Jike's Serves

Here's the video (34 sec, including slow motion).

Wang Liqin Training

Here's the video (4:42). It's in Chinese, but you can learn from just watching.

Ask the Coach

Episode #84 (17:31) - Attending Your First Tournament

  • Brock's Update - 0:45: Did Brock beat the tall guy?
  • Yesterday's  #PQOTD  - 1:29: How long can Samsonov stay competitive with the best in the World?
  • #PQOTD  - 3:43: What was the most important thing you learned at your first tournament?
  • First Tournament - 4:08: Andre: I am going for the tournament and I need help with what equipment I need e.g (kind of) clothing, number of bats and so on. I would like to know everything so I don't embarrass myself in the tournament. Thanks in advance?
  • Thumb on Backhand - 7:07: Frendy: I want to ask about the thumb on backhand. Some people told me to put my thumb a little bit up on the rubber but some others told me to only put it on the paddle just like the usual grip.
  • Varying Speed of Topspin - 8:57: Ralph: When I want to vary between a fast loop and slow loop off heavy chop, could explain the two different techniques to achieve those shots.  How open should the blade be? How much should you let the ball drop? how much should the ball reach the wood?
  • Long Pimples with Sponge - 13:18: Nikola: Hello! I am interested in investing in a new sheet of long pimples. I am wondering what the difference between OX (no sponge) and 1-1.2mm sponge. How will it affect the playstile of the rubber and my arsenal of shots?
  • Hitting Your Finger - 15:37: Brock:  have a problem, When I am playing in the school I often hit my finger, very often. nearly all balls I get. the players who is worser than me wins. Do you have some tip to help me with that or there isn't a tip to help that?

Racket Recommendation for Tennis Player

Here's a video (1:50) where U.S. Men's Coach (Butterfly sponsored) explains his equipment recommendations for tennis players who take up table tennis.

USATT Insider

The new issue came out yesterday.

$12,000 Butterfly Arnold Challenge

The event will be held March 6-8 in Columbus, Ohio. Here's the home page for the event, the flyer, the promo video (1:40), and an article by Barbara Wei, "Top Collegiate Teams Compete at Butterfly Arnold Challenge." Entry deadline is Feb. 28 (this Saturday).

Richard Prause Impressed by 11-year-old Japanese Wonder-Kid

Here's the article from MH Table Tennis.

Top Ten Shots at the 2015 World Tour Super Series Qatar Open

Here's the video (5:08).

Timo Boll and Ma Long Playing Men's Doubles at Worlds

Here's what we'll get to see (29 sec). Here's the ITTF press release. There's even a poster about them: The Legendary Pair are Back!

Excited about Jiang Jialiang in Action Again?

Here's the video! He's again part of the upcoming ITTF Legends Tour, which starts up again on March 4.

Michael Maze in Multiball

Here's the video (9 sec) - care to join him? Ironically when I saw the video the first thing I was studying was the coaches multiball technique - which resembles mine! (Yes, every coach has their own multiball "style.")

Another Behind-the-Back Shot - Set to Music

Here's the video (22 sec). Seriously folks, this shot is suddenly all the craze, with anyone who can hold a paddle doing it. Videos like this are popping up everywhere. Soon the shot will join looping, banana flips, and reverse penhold backhand as basic shots that everyone does - and I'll be out of a job. Woe is me! I have a stiff arm and back, and cannot do this shot! I can't even demonstrate it properly. Soon the mobs of basement players will be flocking to my club, demanding to learn this shot, and I'll be left a phony, a supposed professional ping-pong coach who can't even demonstrate the most basic shot in the game.

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

Here's the picture!

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February 25, 2015

Willie and the Coat, and Other Competitions

Yesterday I lost a competition. Willie, an eight-year-old, has this habit of wearing his coat while he plays. We usually convince him to take it off. Yesterday, while coaching him and another in a one-hour multiball session from 4-5PM, I secretly (and jokingly) told others I had one goal this session: to get Willie to take the coat off by 4:30PM without my having to tell him to do so. And so I worked him to death with lots and lots of side-to-side footwork drills, with constant mentions of how tiring this must be, how sweaty it was, and how hot it was. But he never took the coat off. At 4:30, I gave up and told Willie what I'd been doing, which he thought was pretty funny. I'm guessing he's still wearing that coat. Did I mention he also tends to lose his shoes while playing?

I have other little "competitions" with students. With Daniel, a 1639 rated ten-year-old with a supernatural ability to get nets and edges, we often count how many we get. (He kills me, and believe me, he'll beat you at this. It's uncanny, and he does this with Tenergy on both sides - usually it's players with deader rubbers like long pips or hardbat that get all the nets.) When I coach on the back table, where there's a wall closer behind me than on the bigger courts in the front, when a student misses I often continue the rally by hitting the ball backwards so it goes off the wall and back onto the table, reminding students that "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Or I just return it from off the floor.)

With my beginning juniors, I often pull out my cell phone to play them, and they become determined to beat that. (I'm around 1200 with it. It's an old-style flip phone, with a smaller hitting surface than these new-fangled smart phones that are to cell phone table tennis play what Tenergy is to regular play.) With the more advanced ones, I pull out the clipboard, where I'm around 2100. These are actually good practice for the students as I mostly chop with the cell phone and clipboard, and so they get to practice their attacks.

There are also more instructional competitions, i.e. ones designed directly for improvement. For example, with Daniel, who tends to play too defensive, we often play games where he serves every time, but he has to serve and attack - but to encourage this, I spot points, he serves every point, and I return the serves mostly defensively. Other times, with other students, we play games where they serve backspin, I push back to their backhands, and they open with a backhand loop, and then we play out the point. Or we do the same thing, but they have to open with a forehand loop, where it's pre-arranged where I push the first ball. Or I push the serve back anywhere and they attack from either side.

In multiball, I often end a session with a competition. For example, I'll feed a backspin ball to the middle and then a topspin ball to the wide forehand, and the player has to forehand loop both. If they make both, they score; if they miss either, I score. Games are usually to 11. I also have an ongoing multiball competition with the younger beginners in group sessions - I end each multiball turn with a high pop-up, and we keep track of who makes the smash the most.

I'm probably the world's "least encouraging coach." Most coaches encourage their students, saying things like, "I know you can do this." I have more fun - and find I get better results - by doing the reverse. I'll ask a student if he can hit 100 forehands in a row, and if he says yes, I'll tell him he has no chance - prove me wrong! Invariably they eventually prove me wrong. (I wouldn't doubt them unless I know they can do it.) So I'm constantly losing these little challenges. I also start off many drills by saying things like, "You are about to face the world's best [backhand block/forehand block/forehand loop/etc.], so you won't be able to score any points, but do the best you can." You can imagine how determined they are to score points after that! (My ongoing and constantly evolving stories about how the Chinese coaches travel to American to study my forehand block are now legendary . . . at least I think so!)

U.S. Open Returns to Las Vegas, July 6-11

Here's the USATT article. All I know is what's in the article. More on the playing hall, hotel, and entry form will come out soon.

Three Super Leagues Serving Up Competition in 2015

Here's the USATT article on these three leagues in the LA, NY, and DC regions. Here's a separate article on the NY League. In the past USATT has rarely given serious support to such leagues, so I'm happy that it is now a priority with them!

Staying Balanced

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, with a link to a video of Oh Sang Eun.

The Forehand Counterdrive

Here's the new coaching video (2:30) by Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis.

Improve While Sleeping - Learn to Balance-Out Your Body

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Michael Lardon Interview with Michael Covel

Here's the article with a link to a 49-minute radio interview. Michael Lardon is a well-known sports psychologist and former U.S. table tennis star. I reviewed his book Finding Your Zone on Nov. 8, 2011.

Cardiopong Brain and Body Engagement

Here's the article on taking table tennis to the next level.

Killerspin Skill

Here are Killerspin's coaching videos.

Ask the Coach

Episode #83 (28:41) - Defenders and Penholders

  • Alois's Trick - 0:40: Rolling the Ball from Side to Side
  • Playing for Another Country - 2:28: We discuss the rules around playing for another country
  • Yesterday’s #PQOTD  - 6:53: When your opponent makes a service error, do you say "Thank you”?
  • #PQOTD  - 9:33: How long can Samsonov stay competitive with the best in the World?
  • Sidespin Backspin Loops - 10:15: Brock: Your tip for the loop with backspin and sidespin didn't work, do you have any other tip to block it? I'm frustrated :D !!!!
  • I'm Improving - 12:40: Lukas: Today at school I played against one of the best player in my club, and he won 15-13, none of us were trying our hardest, but I was still happy about the result. He's been playing a LOT longer than me, so I think that I've improved a lot in just 4 weeks!
  • Tomahawk serve - 13:24: Huzaifa: I have seen many people doing the tomhawk serve and they say that it is a very special serve i don’t seem to see anything special in it   WHY?
  • Tomahawk vs Pendulum - 15:57: Brock: Which serve do you prefer, the pendulum or the tomahawk serve?
  • Wrist Position for Shakehand Grip - 16:47: Nick: It was recently suggested to me by a much better player (I'm a beginner) that I should keep my wrist angled a little down. He says it will be important to move to the next level. I have been using a straight wrist shakehand grip. What are your thoughts?
  • Improving Consistency in Serving - 18:46: Koekjes95: Hi pingskillers, After 10 years of playing I have developed quite effective serves. But still, I keep missing too much serves in a match. Do you have any tips to improve my consistency in serving?
  • Returning Topspin Serves - 20:25: Lukas: And also, when I get a heavy topspin serve, I tend to go a little back and loop the ball back. Should I continue doing that, or should I try and get used to the tips in your video on heavy topsin?
  • Balance - 21:54: Brock: How can I improve my balance?
  • Defenders & Penholders disappearing - 23:05: Viet: Nowadays, I see defenders and penholders are getting fewer. Most of top players now play shakehand style and attack. For example, Joo Se Hyuk is the only defender that is well known. Also, Xu Xin and Wang Hao are the only penholders.
  • Starting Quickly - 26:17: Nick: I am finding it takes me a long time (a couple of hours) of playing to really be able to play at my peak. Any advice or warmups that might help?

Ask a Pro Anything: Seo Hyowon

Here's the interview (5:37) by Adam Bobrow of the world #10 and Korean #1.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

Greenville College Grows Table Tennis Team

Here's the USATT article.

Getting the Most Out of Volunteering

Here's the interview with Adam Bobrow.

Eleven Questions with Jim Starr

Here's the USATT article.

Sean Casey and John Smoltz Play Table Tennis

Here's the video (12 sec) of the two former baseball stars. Pitcher Smoltz was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; Casey is a three-time All-star first baseman.

Shot of the Day (Yesterday)

Yesterday I linked to the crazy behind-the-back shot that's gone viral. Here's the USATT's page on this, which not only includes the video (55 sec) but also an interview with Kit Jeerapaet, the player doing the shot, who is rated 2295 (and recently over 2300). The video's also made the Yahoo News Page, including a repeating version. It's also in the Mirror in England, where it's called "the undisputed greatest table tennis shot ever caught on camera." Kit's stunned opponent is Sutanit "Joe" Tangyingyong, a chopper rated 2263 but over 2300 until recently.

Multi-Mini-Table Angled Pong

Here's the video (38 sec)! Sort of reminds me of Airport Pong (2:47 - The two girls in this video are Lilly Lin and lefty Amy Lu, with Nathan Hsu and I the other players.)

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February 24, 2015

Why Players Are Getting Better at Younger Ages

Yesterday I blogged about and linked to videos of 11-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto, the new Japanese sensation. And on February 13 I blogged about how much stronger the current USA cadets and juniors are than their predecessors. As noted there and in previous blogs, a primary reason for this (especially in the U.S.) is the rise of full-time training centers, where more and more kids are training full-time. This, of course, leads to more and better junior players (and ultimately better players).

But there's another reason why in recent years we're getting more and more prodigies, where kids compete on an almost even level with much bigger and older players. As I've blogged before, modern tensor-type sponges make looping much easier, practically shooting the ball out, where before players had to put far more energy into a shot to get the same result. So looping becomes both easier and more powerful than before - all the player has to do is supply good technique and timing, and the sponge does the rest, kicking the ball out with speed and spin that wouldn't be possible otherwise. In previous generations (in particularly in the '80s and '90s) this was mostly made up at the intermediate and higher levels by speed glues. But little kids rarely speed-glued back then - if they did, they'd have gotten strange looks. Instead, kids used slower rackets and sponges, and had to supply their own power. Guess what? A little kid can't supply the power needed to compete with bigger and older players, not unless he's using a tensor-type sponge or speed gluing.

But this generation of kids has a new paradigm. Most modern coaches switch their students to modern sponges and rackets relatively early, allowing them to begin to play the way top players do, i.e. running around and looping everything. This gives them a tremendous head start on juniors in the past, who'd be using sponges that didn't kick the ball out the way tensor-type sponges do. And so past generations wouldn't be running around looping everything until they were much older.

This is also true about blocking. With slower sponges and blades, the ball simply doesn't shoot out as fast when blocking. But with modern tensor-type sponges, even a little kid can punch-block a ball at a world-class pace.

The result is two-fold. First, by the time modern kids are 11 or 12, the advanced ones have been looping for years, and so it is second-nature. Second, the tensor-type sponges allow them the needed power to compete with bigger and older players. Result? They can compete with the bigger and older players. If they'd stuck with slower sponges and rackets, they wouldn't have reached that level. (I'm focusing on the sponges here, but the same is true of rackets, with each generation of rackets better for looping than previous generations.) And so you get an 11-year-old like Harimoto and many others like him who are looping and blocking consistently at a pace that wouldn't be possible without such modern sponges and rackets - and more importantly, by using such equipment from a relatively early age.

The old paradigm was that kids should spend years with slower sponges (and rackets) before moving up to faster, spinnier ones. This worked when much of the game revolved around hitting and blocking, and when opponents were doing the same. But in this modern all-looping era, the ones who switch to tensor-type sponges earlier, after developing the fundamentals (that's key), have a head-start on others who put it off. This doesn't mean you start off a beginner with Tenergy or similar super-sponges; it means you switch them to such sponges much earlier than they would have in the past. When exactly should they make the switch? That's still a tough question. But I've found that by the time a kid has a decent loop in multiball, with good technique, he's ready to move on to tensor-type sponges, which allow them to move up to playing at levels they could never play at otherwise. More importantly, it allows them to start playing a modern all-looping game at a much earlier age, and thereby get a head start against those who don't.

I use a Butterfly Timo Boll blade with Tenergy 05 on the forehand, Tenergy 25 on the backhand, 2.1mm on both sides. Over and over when a kid I'm coaching has decent looping technique, I let them try it out - and they invariably fall in love with it. More importantly, they immediately play better with it, especially in practice. Sure, they may have trouble controlling the ball in games at first, but if they can drill at a higher level with such a blade and sponge, they will develop faster as players, and it soon converts into playing at a higher level in games. Many of the top juniors at my club have been using such equipment since they were perhaps eight years old, after training regularly for one to two years. (Younger players have less hand-eye coordination, and so those who start at, say, age six might need two years before going to modern equipment, while one who starts at age nine might switch after just a year of training. It depends on the player and their level of development.) 

A key thing is that this only works if they are training regularly. If they are just part-time players who mostly play games, then using something like Tenergy will only hurt their control. But if they are training regularly with high-level coaches who make sure they are developing proper technique, such sponges allow them to develop much more rapidly. And the result is kids who look like mini-versions of the best players in the world, and who are just scary good.

Capital Area Super League

Because there's going to be a league feature this Wednesday from USATT, the deadline for entering the Capital Area Super League (for players in the Washington DC region) has been extended to February 27, this Friday. Considering this is the first season, we've had a pretty good turnout so far, with 62 players on 12 teams, but the more the merrier! (You can have up to six players on a team.)

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

Tournament Tactics for the Serve Return

Here's the preview video (4:45) for the new coaching video from Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis. Though it's a preview, it covers quite a lot, along with lots of video of great receives.

Ask the Coach

Episode #82 (28:45) - Chinese born players representing other countries

  • Yesterday’s #PQOTD  - 0:54: Should the ITTF put in place stricter rules to stop ex Chinese players playing for different countries?
  • #PQOTD  - 5:43: When your opponent makes a service error, do you say "Thank you”?
  • Playing Against Sidespin - 6:15: Bhaswar: How do we play against a very heavy sidespin? The one that spins on the right? I generally use the forehand topspin stroke.
  • Why are the Chinese Better? - 8:15: Brock: How can a Chinese play better at table tennis than a Swedish player? Different tempo or what?
  • Tomokazu Harimoto - 10:06: Lukas: How old do you think Tomokazu Harimoto was when he started to play table tennis?
  • Waldner - 12:40: Brock: Does Waldner still live in China or does he live in Sweden now or does he still compete?
  • 52 week Training Plan - 13:13: Matthew: I’ve been training for a month and I’ve learnt the forehand and backhand counterhit, backhand and forehand push, and forehand topspin. I can do around 100 of these. I am thinking about becoming a Premium member and using the 52 week training plan.
  • Rolling the ball on bat - 16:00: Tom: How do you roll the ball from one side of the bat to the other. In your 'practicing alone' video at 02:05 you start rolling the ball from one side to the other. How do you do this?
  • Preserving a Lead - 17:46: J-B: Playing against an opponent of similar level. Leading with what statistically looks like a decisive margin, say like 8-5. You think that in this position, it would be a shame to not be able to close it.  You play like your grandmother and blow it.
  • Playing tournaments - 22:36
  • Andre: I have been playing table tennis for 4 years and I want to begin to play in tournaments. There's a tournament in 2 months and it's a regional qualifier.  Should I sign up for it or do I still need more time to practise?
  • Backhand Counterhit Follow Through - 25:08: Bhaswar: When practising the backhand counterhit I don't much follow through but the ball goes really nice? Is it really important now to follow through?
  • Your Idol - 26:31: Brock: Who was your grown-up idol in table tennis when you were kids?
  • Improving Quickly - 26:53: Lukas: It's very impressive, Tomokazu proved how good you can get in a couple of years. Do you think that if you practise hard enough, that you can reach that level in just a couple of years?

Want to Coach in England?

The University of Bath is looking for "…a qualified coach who is willing to come to the University of Bath, preferably on Thursday 5pm-7pm, or Saturday 3pm-5pm. We have 500 pounds budget [for the next seven weeks], and are looking to spend about 25 pounds an hour. [That's $38.58/hour.] We have 66 members but the attendance rate is at Max 20 people at any given session, however this may change if we have the coach, we have five tennis tables. We have some very good squad players and one of them is top 50 under 21 and one of them used to be in the provincial Team in China." If interested, contact Jun Wu.

2015 Selection Procedure Cadet and Junior Teams Changes

Here's the USATT article.

USATT Criteria and Procedures for Entering US Athletes in International Competitions

Here's the USATT article.

Sweden and United States Celebrate on Concluding Day

Yesterday I linked to the ITTF article on USA's performance at the Swedish Junior and Cadet Championships. Here are photos from USATT.

Arnold Table Tennis Challenge Provides Exciting Opportunity to be Part of the Arnold Sports Festival

Here's the USATT article by Barbara Wei.

If You Think Table Tennis is Not a Sport Then Watch This

Here's the new highlights video (9:12).

Best Inventions of 2008

#38: Ovtcharov's Serve! "German Olympian Dimitrij Ovtcharov's serve isn't about power. It's about weirdness. Crouching to table-level, he peers over his paddle and executes a hand dance before launching the ball at his opponent, who is probably too dumbfounded to respond. Which, of course, is the point." Here's a video of Ovtcharov's serves in slow motion; go to 1:24 to see the backhand serve the article pictures. (As you'll see in the video, he does many different serves, including conventional forehand pendulum serves and tomahawk serves.)

Patton, George C. Scott, and Table Tennis

The movie Patton won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1970, as well as Best Actor for George C. Scott as General Patton. (It's still my favorite war movie.) Here's an item from the Trivia section (see third item): "According to his co-star Karl Malden, George C. Scott caused a shooting delay by immersing himself in a ping-pong tournament against a world-champion table-tennis player. Scott (who was in full costume and makeup) kept losing to the champ; yet he was determined to win at least one set, even if they had to stand there playing the entire night."

Cardboard Table Tennis

Here it is - has the world gone mad? The next time you're stuck at an airport waiting for a delayed flight, instead of turning to your smartphone to pass the time, just make sure this cardboard version of table tennis is one of your carry-on items. In just seconds it can be unfolded and assembled into a working ping-pong table, complete with a cardboard net, cardboard, paddles, and a cardboard scoreboard.

"I'm Pinging in the Rain!"

Here's the picture!

Non-Table Tennis: Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Make It to the 2015 World Series

Here's the new Top Ten List I wrote that's featured at Orioles Hangout.

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February 23, 2015

Tip of the Week

Shadow Practice When You Miss.

Forehand Topspin Against Backspin, and Proper Forehand Technique

Here's the new video (3:36) from PingSkills. You should study it to learn to loop against backspin. However, it's also a chance for many of you to fix up your forehands in general by fixing your contact point. While this video features looping against backspin, many of the principles apply to all forehands.

Note in the video how he basically rotates his body around an imaginary vertical rod going through the top of his head, and how he contacts the ball almost directly to the side of this? Most players violate one of these principles, either moving the body forward too much as they do the shot, or (even more common) contacting the ball too far in front.

There are times when you should move the body forward on a shot, such as against an easy high ball or when you are rushed in stepping around the backhand corner, but normally you should go more in a circle. This both gives you great centripetal force as you rotate around, but also leaves you in position for the next shot, balanced and ready, which is how top players can play power shots over and over in quick succession.

But as noted above, the more common problem is that players tend to contact the ball too far in front. This either keeps them from rotating backwards fully (and so losing power), or forces them to reach for the ball (thereby dissipating power and putting you off balance).

Also note how the legs (and especially the knees) are used to rotate into the shot. The legs aren't just for standing; they are the primary start to every shot, and give you the pivot into your shots. (An expanded version of this will likely become a Tip of the Week.)

In the segment below on Japanese junior sensation Tomokazu Harimoto there's a 13-second video of him knocking balls off a table. Note the same principle - he rotates in a circle and contacts the ball directly to the side of that imaginary rod going through his head. You can see the same principles in this 46-second video of Wang Liqin demonstrating "The shot that owned a decade."

The Amazing Serve of Jun Mizutani

Here's the video (2:02). It's in Japanese, but you can learn just by watching, since much of it is shown in slow motion.

Ask the Coach (Werner Schlager Academy version)

Episode #6 - Practice Champions (German with English Subtitles). "Richard Prause talks about world champions in practice who cannot transfer their skills into the match. Listen to his advices and tips to become a match champion."

Ask The Coach (PingSkills version)

Episode #81 (21:33) - How Does Speed Affect Spin?

  • Previous #PQOTD  - 0:46: Who is hungriest for the World Championships 2015?
  • #PQOTD  - 1:59: Should the ITTF put in place stricter rules to stop ex Chinese players playing for different countries?
  • Discussion - 2:24: Safir Open and Qatar Open
  • Crying player - 9:43: Nigel: I was umpiring a junior match between a boy and a girl about 10-13 years old. The girl won the first game and the boy the second after that the girl came out crying, this seemed to put the lad off . How should you handle this sort of situation?
  • Counter long spin serve - 11:23: Ernest: Is a topspin stroke the most effective way to counter a long serve? Are there any strokes to return long serve? Maybe you can suggest to me another way to return long serve effectively.
  • Speed and Spin - 13:27: Kaustubh: How does speed affect spin and vice versa?
  • Blocking a Sidespin Loop - 16:07: Brock: How can I block a loop with backspin and sidespin on it? The tall guy started doing this last time. How can I block it? I can block normal loops.
  • Improving Balance - 18:42: Bhaswar: What are the exercises that we can do to improve our movement and balance while playing table tennis?
  • Counter Heavy Topspin - 19:30: Lukas: What's the best way to counter a really heavy topspin?
  • Best Ever - 20:47: Bhaswar: Who is the best table tennis player ever?

Swedish Junior and Cadet Championships

USA did pretty well there this past weekend. Here's the home page, and here's an article on USA results. Kanak Jha won Cadet Boys' Singles. Ishana Deb made the semifinals of Cadet Girls' Singles, including an upset over top seed Adriana Diaz of Puerto Rico in the round of 16. Nikhil Kumar made the final of Minicadet Boys' Singles.

Pan American Games Team Leader Position Opening

Here's how you can apply for the position.

Table Tennis Champ Revives Career After Battling Muscle Condition

Here's the article on 44-year-old U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler. (To see entire article you'll need to sign up as a digital subscriber to the Houston Chronicle.)

Texas Wesleyan Team Dominates

Here's the video (1:45, after an irritating 33 sec ad).

Cross Train Your Brain. Play PingPongforCHARITY.com

Here's the video (1:59).

11-Year-Old Japanese Sensation

There's a new wunderkind in town - Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan. He made it all the way to the final of the Safir Open, defeating world #43 Omar Assar (EGY) in the quarterfinals and world #71 Jens Lundqvist (SWE) in the semifinals before losing in the final to Xu Hui (CHN). Here's a video of his match with Lundqvist (5:07, with time between points removed). Here's a video of the final with Xu Hui (4:46). And here's a fun video (13 sec) of him smacking three balls off the table in multiball - no idea how many takes it took to get this! (Perhaps only one?) I read he's originally from China and immigrated to Japan. His original Chinese name was Zhang Zihe, but he took on a Japanese name. His parents are professional players from the Sichuan Province of China, with the mom, and possibly the dad, former members of the Chinese National Team.

Zhang Jike Forehand Training

Here's the video (77 sec).

Qatar Open Final - Samsonov vs. Ovtcharov

Here's the video (7:46, with time between points removed). Yep, Samsonov's still got it! (He'll be 39 on April 17.) Here's the home page for the event which finished yesterday. Here's a great point (50 sec, including slow motion replay) between Ovtcharov and Jung Youngsick in the quarterfinals.

How to Hit a Backhand

Here's video (47 sec, including replay) of Marcos Freitas of Portugal (world #10) at the Qatar Open showing us how to hit the backhand.

Jean-Philippe Gatien - He's Still Got It!

Here's 15 seconds of him doing multiball - 22 years after he won Men's Singles at the Worlds!

Behind-the-Back Shots of the Day

Here's the video (54 sec). Here's another one from a week ago (25 sec).

The Most Amazing Nets You Will Ever See

Here's the video (61 sec, including slow motion replay).

Roller Coaster Pong

Here's the picture!

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February 20, 2015

Ping Pong for Fighters

Ping Pong for Fighters by Tahl Leibovitz, a Paralympics gold medalist, is a relatively short read, which is both good and bad, i.e. reading it isn't a huge commitment, so don't expect War and Peace; it's a two-hour read, full of golden nuggets. It's available in paperback ($13.45, 152 pages) or Kindle ($9.95).

I've known Tahl since he was about 13 years old, when he was part of the New York Junior Team that competed with a Maryland Team in a ten-on-ten match. He was always a battler, but back then he didn't look special, other than a knack for pulling off spectacular shots. Well, he can still pull off spectacular shots, but as he relates in the book, he's learned patience and tactics, and knows how to use these shots - how to fight with what he's got. On the back cover I wrote, "Tahl Leibovitz has forever been overcoming the odds as he fought his way to the top, so it's only fitting that he wrote Ping Pong for Fighters - and if readers have even a fraction of his fight, they too can reach the top."

The book starts off with a foreword by Stellan Bengtsson and an introduction by Tahl. And then we get into the real text, divided into four parts: The Fight Against the Environment; the Fight Against the Opponent; the Fight Against the Ball; and the Fight Against Ourselves. Yes, this is truly a fighting book!

  • The Fight Against the Environment

Early on there's a quote from Samuel Jackson in the movie "The Negotiator": "You are not in control," where he explains the importance of knowing which factors are in our control and which are not, and that we should not worry about the ones we don't control.

Soon afterwards comes this nugget: "When most players talk about their successes, they equate their performance with amazing play. They talk about how incredible they played to win a match. This makes them feel good, thinking or knowing that they did something out of the ordinary to win the match. They believe they played better than usually expected. But this mentality ironically hinders our progress as players. We handicap ourselves by creating the false belief that we can only have great results when we are playing our very best table tennis. This is simply not true."

It goes on to cover other issues, such as the use of cue words, how to deal with extreme pressure, how to learn to play various equipment and styles by playing that way yourself (such as with long pips and chopping), and perhaps most important, "Never be afraid to fail." He also goes over his PEZ plan: Placement, Extend the Rally, and Zero Unforced Errors, with sections on each of these. 

  • The Fight Against the Opponent

Here he lists eight questions to ask yourself before a match. He then writes, "Many players want to focus on playing against people who are above their level, thinking that by beating those players, they will become much better themselves. It is important to play players above you and equal to you, but also those who are below you. Many players enter rating events above their level, hoping to be able to upset a higher rated player. They fail to realize that if they beat players at their level and below, they will improve much faster." He then expands on this.

He also writes about how to beat better players: "I began to understand that the way to beat better players was not to kill every single ball, but instead to control and redirect their power. Try to place the ball better and change the position, speed and spin of the ball constantly." He also wrote about imposing your will on their opponents. He finished the section by writing about scouting out opponents, and gave eight examples of tactical analysis.

  • The Fight Against the Ball

Here Tahl points out and discusses the three situations where we play the ball: when we don't impart speed on the ball, such as a chop or stop block; when most of the speed comes from the opponent, such as a counterloop off the bounce or a fast block; and when we attack and impart our own speed, such as looping against a regular block. Then he has a section on "Making the Ball Work for You," with sub-sections on Create the Proper Distance; Proper Ball Contact; Develop Good Ball Control; Reduce Mistakes; Change the Ball's Trajectory; Improve Shot Quality; and Location, Location, Location (where he emphasizes down the line and attacking the middle). Then there are sections on stroke mechanics, serving, receiving, and equipment.

  • The Fight Against Ourselves

Here he quotes Jan-Ove Waldner, who once said that the single most important factor to serving well in a tournament was confidence. Tahl adds that he was once told, "…there was never an athlete who won who did not believe they could win." There's a section on "Don't Build Yourselves Walls to Climb," and then he discusses various self-defeating behaviors and statements, such as:

  • "I have to play a specific way all the time."
  • "Results define who I am."
  • "I hate it when the games are close."
  • "I can compete, but not defeat…"
  • "I can't seem to close out the match."
  • "I have to play my 'A' game to win."

Then comes the section on Channeling the Right Mental State, where he talks about "Having an open mind"; "Paying attention to concentration levels"; "Anticipating your opponent"; and "Focusing on one task at a time."

Then come sections on "Know What You Do Well"; "The Fighter's Guide to Mental Resilience" (including an anecdote about his putting up daily affirmation index cards all over his house, with a listing of his seven main affirmations); a discussion of on setting goals and visualization (and the importance of metal imagery); "Five Deciding Factors" (for evaluating your performance - Physical Fitness, Tactical Fitness, Mental Fitness, Technical Fitness, and Execution); "Train Like You Play, Play Like You Train"; "Developing Your Own Training Plan"; and finally, "Advice from Champions" (with tips from Thomas Keinath, Atanda Musa, Mikael Appelgren, Werner Schlager, Sean O'Neill, and a final set of adages from Tahl.

The book is bookended by two powerful quotes. At the start is the Olympic Creed: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is no the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well." At the end is Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" quote.

Finally, here's what Tahl himself wrote of the book and its title:

"This book is called Ping Pong for Fighters, and it’s about fighting all the different elements that are attached to table tennis. The fight starts inward and eventually moves outward, from within ourselves, to the ball, to our opponents, to the environment and the external conditions. I think what’s interesting about this book is that the reader takes the journey with me. All that I learned in over 20 years of competing in table tennis, is in this book. The goal of this book is to try and get the reader to approach the game differently. The book is basically a philosophy for the thinking and feeling player. A philosophy that encourages one to stay in the present moment, have self confidence and compete to the best of their ability. This book is also very direct and very easy to understand. It is not an intellectual discourse of any kind. The book reads more like a conversation consisting of helpful direction through experience and a philosophy of table tennis that is concerned more with experiencing what it feels like to think and play table tennis like a top table tennis player."

I'd recommend this book for any serious table tennis player - but read it with a highlighter or colored pen so you can mark off the best nuggets!

Other Table Tennis Books

While we're on the topic of books, here are some others.

How the Game Has Changed/Not Changed

Just a few things to muse over. Any big ones I've missed since about 2000?

=>The Game Has Changed

  • Games to 11, no hidden serves, and a bigger, non-celluloid ball.
  • Almost no more pips-out penholders or even conventional penhold backhands (except aging players). Just about everyone is two-winged inverted and (at higher levels) topspinning everything. 
  • I'm coaching 7-year-olds who spin their backhands off the bounce with tensor-type sponges.
  • Full-time clubs popping up all over the country.
  • More and more kids getting better and better at younger and younger ages.
  • USATT Magazine replaced by USATT Insider.

=>The Game Hasn't Changed (in the U.S.)

  • USATT membership is still a "round-off error" of around 8000.
  • Most clubs are still "winner stay on."
  • No serious system of regional team leagues.
  • Top players unable to really make a living in the U.S. unless they also coach.
  • It's still a small white or orange ball that you hit back and forth on a green or blue 9'x5', 30" tall table with a six-inch net.

ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Here's a listing.

Excuse Monsters: Learn About Taking the Blame

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Basic Exercises in Table Tennis Training

Here's the video (40:45) from Tibhar.

Ask the Coach

Episode #80 - Choosing your serves

  • Yesterday’s #PQOTD  - 0:53: What are the critical factors for running a successful club?
  • #PQOTD  - 9:11: Who is hungriest for the World Championships 2015?
  • Brock vs Tall Guy - 9:32: Brock: I played with the tall guy earlier today and he won 2-0 in matches, match 1: 21- 15 and Match 2: 21-17 so I'm really close now and I think I might beat him next week :) just so you know ;)
  • Stopping the attack - 10:05: Daniel Lim: I recently played a player who had a very strong and accurate third ball attack and lost badly. Are there any general tips you could give to discourage or even prevent a third ball attack from an opponent?
  • Cutting rubber - 13:02: Daniel Coto: I am able to glue the rubber correctly to the blade, but I am having nightmares getting a clean cut. I've seen people cut the sponge with the first motion and then the sheet with the second pass. I don't know what knife I should use.
  • Serve choices - 15:33: Geoff: I have settled on the backhand serve for my "bread and butter" serve as it is successful. If my other serve is the tomahawk serve, the sidespin element on all my services would be in the same direction.  Do you feel like this a drawback?
  • Contact point on your bat - 18:03: Phil: For maximum topspin should you contact the ball with the top half or bottom half of the paddle?
  • Fake Rubbers - 19:30: Christopher: What is your experience with fake blades/rubbers?
  • Returning with Backhand - 20:24: Sasha: I have got a tournament on Sunday and I am concerned about an opponent's serve. He does a sidespin backspin serve to my forehand, I can't topspin. Should I play the backhand from the forehand corner.
  • Stronger Wrist - 22:24: Brock: If I would train my wrist and forearm in a gym, would I get more spin then?

Canadian and US Collegiate Teams Meet

Here's the USATT article.

USA Team Leader and Coaches Selection Procedures for Pan Am Games

Here's the info, and how you can be a part of it!

ITTF Legends Tour

Here's a new highlights video (44 sec).

Amazing Rally at 2014 Chile Open Final

Here's the video (44 sec).

Ma Lin, "The Dragon"

Here's a stylish picture of him - he turned 35 yesterday.

Beach Dreams

As we freeze inside (if you are in certain parts of the U.S.), this paddle has the right idea. This morning it's 4°F outside, and it dropped to -1°F last night, breaking the all-time record for lowest temperature on this date in Maryland, which had been 7°F in 1959. I hear Boston's had a few weather problems as well.

Pro Kills It at Table Tennis With a Samsung Phone for a Paddle

Here's the video (3:16) of Matt Hetherington taking on challenges!

Ping Pong Trick Shots 2

Here's the new video (5:56) from Dude Perfect, as well as Trick Shots 2 Bonus Video (1:47). In case you missed it, here's Trick Shots 1 (6:04), as well as Behind the Scenes Ping Pong Trick Shots (2:56).

World's Best Blocker

Here's the video (21 sec) where we meet Maggie in Balls of Fury.

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