Butterfly Online


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 seven books and over 1400 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

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

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

His newest book, The Spirit of Pong, is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis and ends up training with the spirits of past champions. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

November 25, 2015

Last Blog Until Tuesday, December 1
I'll be away Fri-Sun for the North American Teams Championships, and have something on Monday morning, so I'll be back next Tuesday. Happy Thanksgiving!

DC and Philly Teams
This weekend is the annual Battle of the Teams, with the JOOLA North American Teams in Washington DC and the Butterfly Teams in Philadelphia. USATT ran news articles on each – one on the JOOLA NA Teams and one on the Butterfly Teams.

Want to play your best at these or other tournaments? Here's my Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success. But for a tournament like the Teams, where you can play almost all day for three days, it's a combination of mental and physical. Make sure to eat well, sleep well, and above all, keep your mind clear. It's very easy to have an early loss that bothers you for three days, leading to disaster. You are going to have a bad loss; my suggestion is that if you do so early on, be happy you got it out of the way!

I'm stuck in a conflict with these two tournaments. The JOOLA Teams are in my backyard, in nearby Washington DC. I've played or coached at them (or their predecessors) every year since 1976 (I may have missed one year). Essentially all of the players I work with at MDTTC who are playing this weekend are in this one, and since I'm a coach, I go where my players are. So I'll be at the Teams in DC all three days – you'll see me possibly limping around as I sprained my ankle on Sunday. I was planning to drive the 140 miles to Philadelphia for one day, but I'm now in charge of one of our junior teams and need to be there all three days. The conflict is that I'm sponsored by Butterfly.

The North American Teams has a long history. They apparently started out as the "Inter-Cities" back in the 1960s. Sometime in the 1970s they became the U.S. Open Teams in Detroit. From 1976 to 1997 I played in them every year, at Cobo Hall, staying at the Pontchartrain Hotel across the street. It was an annual tradition. (One year we were snowed in on Sunday night and couldn't drive home, and so we didn't get back to Maryland until Wednesday afternoon!)

In 1998 the organizers announced that they had neglected to reserve the playing hall for the Thanksgiving Weekend, and so couldn't run it that year. And so I decided to run it myself. I called up convention centers all over the U.S. to get prices. I also called the Detroit Convention Center – Cobo Hall – to ask how much they cost, and found out that the organizers had fibbed – the hall was still open for Thanksgiving Weekend. (The organizers admitted they had decided to skip a year to try to get better prices the following year. A lot of us weren't happy with this lying.)

I considered running it in Cobo Hall, but it was looking to be a big job. So I contacted Richard Lee of North American Table Tennis, who I had co-run the Eastern Open that year, me as director, him as tournament president. (With 411 entries, it is still the largest 4-star tournament ever in the U.S., excluding the Teams itself, which generally gets around 800 players, but is still listed as a 4-star). And so we began to organize it. We found good prices at the Baltimore Convention Center, and so that's where we ran it.

There was a bunch of USATT politics involved as the people in Detroit weren't happy with us taking over the event. And so we renamed it North American Teams. Also, I got tired of the USATT politics about our taking over the tournament, and about this time began to realize that I liked coaching and writing about table tennis, but wasn't really thrilled about running big tournaments. So I asked Richard to take over, and while I helped, it was all his and North American Table Tennis from there on. The tournament moved to DC in 2013.  

The Butterfly Teams started out in Columbus, Ohio in 2012, competing with the North American Teams on Thanksgiving weekend. They received 206 entries, taking a number away from the NA Teams, which had their lowest number of players ever at 644. In 2013 and 2014 it was in Highland, Indiana, first on Labor Day Weekend, then moving to Thanksgiving weekend in 2014. They only had 60 players in 2014, to the 832 at the North American Teams.

This year the JOOLA North American Teams has 714 players in 182 teams, to the upstart Butterfly Teams 258 players on 69 teams. The NA Teams is still well ahead, but they lost nearly 100 players compared to last year. Having a similar tournament in nearby Philadelphia, between them and the huge number of players in the NY/NJ area, definitely hurt.

For the JOOLA NA Teams, here are the numbers in recent years – online listing only goes to 2009:

  • 2009: 947 players on 242 teams
  • 2010: 886 players on 212 teams
  • 2011: 801 players on 196 teams
  • 2012: 644 players on 158 teams
  • 2013: 858 players on 209 teams
  • 2014: 832 players on 209 teams
  • 2015: 714 players on 182 teams (current listing)

For the Butterfly Teams, here are the numbers (from the ratings database, so I don't have the number of teams):

  • 2012 (Columbus): 206 players
  • 2013 (Indiana): No data available – ratings listing comes up blank
  • 2014 (Indiana): 60 players
  • 2015 (Philadelphia): 258 players on 69 teams (current listing)

Here's the page where they are livestreaming the Butterfly Teams. I believe the JOOLA NA Teams will be livestreamed, but I don't see a link for it yet. But is this the JOOLA Teams Mascot? ("Life's a beach," even if it November. Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Shoes at Teams
This Fri-Sun many players will be playing at either the JOOLA Teams in DC or the Butterfly Teams in Philadelphia. Many of us are spoiled and play at clubs with nice rubberized floors that are made especially for table tennis. On these floors you can play with just about any type of shoe and you won't slide around, plus the cushioned flooring is easy on your feet and knees. If you are playing one of the Team tournaments, you'll likely be playing on often slippery cement, with no such cushioning. So make sure to have a relatively new pair of shoes so you won't slide around, and if you have any feet or knee problems, you might want shoes with a bit more support for those three days. Also, learn about using a wet towel to step on every few points – they will greatly help on slippery floors. If necessary, visit the equipment booths at the tournament, and get a good pair!

Table Tennis Multiball Techniques
Here's the video (32:34) that demos various types of multiball that coaches should learn. It's in German, but you can still learn by watching.

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #192 (31:39) - 2015 ITTF Star Awards (and other segments).

11 Questions with Erica Wu
Here's the USATT interview with the 2012 USA Table Tennis Olympian.

Passionately Pink Pong Set to Paint USATT Nationals Pink
Here's the USATT article.

IBM Research Team Programs Drone to Play Table Tennis
Here's the article and video (18 sec).

Playing Table Tennis Against a Robot Tutor
Here's the article and video (42 sec) from the BBC. "Sensors above the table monitor the ball 80 times a second, allowing it to predict where the bat needs to be and to show where its return shot will bounce."

DHS ITTF Top 10 Shots - 2015 Swedish Open
Here's the video (3:18).

Table Tennis Stamps
Here are four (click on pictures to see others).

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). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Turkey Pong

Send us your own coaching news!

November 24, 2015

Ma Long Serve - the Illegal Elephant in the Room
Yesterday I linked to this video (5:18), "Ma Long - King of Epic Shots," and asked, "Notice anything strange about the serve he does at the start? Watch the slow motion replay starting 12 seconds in. I'll blog about this tomorrow."

The strange thing is that the serve, the standard motion for most top players, is so illegal it's mind-boggling that the world #1 player can get away with serving like this over and over, very publicly where all can see, without it getting called. Most of his opponents do it just as much – it's the norm at the higher levels. It's like the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone pretends isn't there. As I've blogged before, cheating is rampant in our sport at the higher levels, even among cadets under age 15.

The problem, of course, is that the serve is hidden, something I've harped on many times here. Here is a five-picture sequence of the serve. In pictures one and two, using the pole that's just above his head, you can see how he's thrown the ball backwards while thrusting his head forward, and the two meet in picture three, where the ball completely disappears behind his head as he's about to contact the ball. In picture four you can just see the ball reappearing below his head by his throat. His contact is while the ball is behind his head, where the receiver cannot see. (Below I'll go over the serve and show five rules being broken, and then give my solution.)

Let me emphasize here that an umpire's job is not an easy one. Many people complain and boo when an umpire correctly faults a player for serving illegally. (It says something about sportsmanship that so many people are this way, not understanding that the standard response to a fault of "Let them play!" is the same as saying "Let the player cheat!") Having said that, we also have to remember that the primary purpose of the umpire is to make sure the players are playing by the rules, and if a player cheats, he should be penalized.

When a player cheats and is not penalized, then the umpire is not doing his job, the cheating is rewarded and thereby encouraged, and the player who plays fair is cheated. Most championship titles these days are won by players who cheat, with the non-cheaters usually losing out in the early rounds so by the time you get to the "big" matches, everyone is cheating. (It's sort of a level field at that point, but it means we are encouraging cheating from all players, even kids – and that's exactly what's happening.)

So how many rules are being broken here? Let's find out. (Bolds are mine.)

2.06.04: From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry. 

Broken rule #1: He's hiding the ball from the receiver. This is the key one.

2.06.06: 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. 

Broken rule #2: It's the player's responsibility to serve so the umpire can be satisfied that he's serving legally, and he obviously is not doing that, and the umpires are allowing this. 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. 

Broken rule #3: The umpires obviously cannot be sure that this serve is legal, and aren't calling it. This is a key thing that many forget – even if a serve is visible, but done in such a borderline way that the umpire can't tell, it's illegal. When an umpire says that he didn't call a serve because he wasn't sure if it was hidden, that's exactly the same as saying the serve was illegal. And of course if the serve was hidden, there's no way an umpire can then claim that he was "satisfied" that the serve was visible – at most he can say he can't tell, i.e. the serve is illegal.

2.06.02: The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck. 

Broken rule #4: The ball has been tossed sideways and backwards. That, along with thrusting the head forward, is how the ball ends up behind the head. Players do it this way to create the illusion that the ball might be visible since it's visible until just before contact.

2.06.05: As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net. The space between the ball and the net is defined by the ball, the net and its indefinite upward extension. 

Broken rule #5: Until almost the end Ma keeps his free arm in the area between the ball and the net. Ironically, he doesn't do this to hide his serve, but as a distraction to the umpire – while the umpire is watching to make sure the ball is not hidden by the free arm, he misses the head thrusting forward to hide the ball. It's a basic magician's trick that top players have adopted.

As I've also blogged about, this is now the normal serve even at the cadet boys' level (under 15) in the U.S. and worldwide, where nearly every title is now won by players who cheat with their serves. At the upcoming USA Nationals, as it was last year and at this year's U.S. Open and North American Team Championships, most of the major events, even boys' events, will likely be dominated by players who hide their serves but are not called on it. Nearly all of them will use the very technique shown here by Ma Long, world #1. (So far the top cadet girls don't seem to hide their serves, but it's only a matter of time.)

Pointing out a problem without offering a solution doesn't help, but as readers here know I've proposed a solution, the Net Visibility Rule. (This includes a gallery of illegal serves from the North American Championships and other tournaments.) USATT officials don't seem interested in it, but I've discussed it with certain ITTF officials who are. Whether they adopt this rule, some other rule, or simply get referees to make it a priority to make sure umpires apply the rules, it doesn't matter as long as the problem is fixed. I'm tired of trying to explain to parents and kids that to compete, they must cheat. (And those watching will note that few if any of the MDTTC juniors hide their serve – we're rather backward in this, i.e. our top juniors don't cheat, but it costs them in tournaments.)

There are other simpler proposals, such as requiring only backhand serves or versions that require that the body be facing the table throughout the serve. The problem with such extreme changes is that they have zero chance of getting passed. We need to find solutions that can pass, not pie-in-the-sky ones that won't.

One argument against most fixes is that it doesn't matter what the rules say, umpires won't call it. After all, the argument goes, they aren't enforcing the current service rule, so why would they enforce any new rules? While there is some merit to this argument – and is why any rule changes need to coincide with a new emphasis on not allowing cheating (I can't believe we have to even emphasize that), but there is a difference. How is it different?

The current problem is mostly with umpires who don't call a serve because they aren't sure if it is legal or not. While technically speaking that makes the serve illegal, most umpires don't want to call the serve unless they can see that it is illegal. By changing the rule to make it blatantly obvious that the serve is directly illegal, i.e. hidden from the net or net posts in my proposal, it becomes a lot easier for an umpire to call the serve. He may not call Ma Long's serve under the current rules because, from his angle, he's not sure if the ball is hidden or barely visible, but in order for Ma to serve so that it's hidden from the receiver, he has to serve so that it's obviously hidden from at least one of the net posts. And so the umpire has a much easier call to make – "Fault!"

Table Tennis Forehand Topspin Pivot Tutorial - Like a Boss!
Here's the new coaching video (4:31) by Brett Clarke.

How to Do a Backspin Serve
Here's a good tutorial on this, with pictures and video.

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #191 (24:20) - Choosing a Good Table (and other segments)

Matt Hetherington to the Worlds – He Needs Your Help!
Here's his funding page. Matt Hetherington, who runs MHTableTennis (whose articles I regularly link to here), is a New Zealand national table tennis player currently based at Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey, USA. He made the New Zealand Team to the Worlds, but it's mostly self-funded.

ITTF Announces Breakthrough Star & Star Coach Nominations for 2015 ITTF Star Awards
Here's the ITTF press release.

2016 National Team Trials Entries (so far)
Here's the listing. The 2016 Men and Women’s National team Trials will be held in Las Vegas, NV on December 20-21, 2015 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Entries must be received at the USATT office no later than the close of business, November 30th, 2015 – so you can still enter!

Join Us at the JOOLA North American Teams Championships 2015
Here's the USATT article. I'll be there, coaching one of the MDTTC junior teams.

Potomac Open
Here are results and video from the Potomac Open held this past weekend. (They are a local club to MDTTC, my club.) Videos are the Open Final (Bowen Chen vs. Jeffrey Zheng; Bowen comes back from down 1-3 to win); Semifinal (Bowen Chen vs. Wang Qing Liang); and Quarterfinal (Bowen Chen vs. Allen Lin).

"Be Bruce"
Here's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Sheep Pong
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Send us your own coaching news!

November 23, 2015

Tip of the Week
When Playing a Strange Player, Focus on Serve & Receive.

Crazy Month
It's been a crazy month, and it's only getting crazier. Over the past month or so I've launched the State Championships Initiative and the Regional Associations Initiative, and the Regional Team Leagues Initiative will be out probably in a couple of weeks. (I'll blog about these more later.) MDTTC was named an ITTF Hot Spot. We've spent lots of time preparing players for the upcoming Team Championships (whether in Washington DC or Philadelphia) and for the USA Nationals in Las Vegas in December. I put together the Hall of Fame program booklet and the ad for the Hall of Fame Inductions for the Nationals program. Plus all the usual coaching (private and group), as well as the regular tutoring I'm now doing at the club, mostly in English. (If I listed everything I've crossed off my todo list for this past month, I'd have to use up all existing pixels in the universe as this blog would go from here to the farthest known quasars…) Oh, and four Tips of the Week and these daily blogs!

In the world of science fiction writing (skip this paragraph if not interested), I sold a SF novel to World Weaver Press, "Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions" (and as the blog entry shows, it has lots of table tennis!), and short stories to Space and Time Magazine and to Galaxy's Edge two days ago – the latter one of the most prestigious SF magazines around and perhaps my best sale ever. And I've updated my science fiction page and started a weekly SF blog – see segment at end. Galaxy's Edge will be the 150th different publication I've been in – I've had 1617 published articles (five since the last time this page was updated), including 1443 on table tennis.  (These numbers do not include over 1000 blog postings.) I also wrote three new short stories and did the first 17,000 words of the sequel to the novel I sold above, "Campaign 2110: Scorpions in Space." (That's about 68 pages double-spaced Times-Roman. Finished novel will be around 100,000 words.)

Today's actually a slow day for me, just 90 minutes at the club, and then some weight training as I prepare for the Nationals. (I have normally have another 90-minute coaching session, but that player has a sore shoulder and so isn't coming in.) Tonight at 7PM there's a USATT Board Teleconference I'll be on, where we'll be discussing software, the Nationals, the World Junior Championships, the December Board meeting at the Nationals, USOC issues, and some Coaching issues.

Ask the Experts: Larry Hodges
Here's my coaching article for Butterfly, where I answer the following question: "When one should change his paddle/rubber (because he feels the paddle/rubber is not fit for him) or when he has to keep practicing to adapt with his paddle/rubber. What is the KEY FACTORS to decide it?"

Quick Backhand Topspins
Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao. I wish I'd read this 39 years ago when I was starting out! (Alas, I became a one-wing forehand attacker, and so never really developed my backhand attack. This became a double-whammy problem – as I got better, the rallies got faster and faster and so often there was no time to play forehand, and now, at 55, I'm not fast enough to cover the table with my forehand like I used to. One very important tactical point here is #6, hitting the shot to multiple spots on the table – many players do this shot to the backhand over and over, and so often get blocked or counter-hit down. It's when you move this shot around that it becomes a true terror to react to.

4 Lessons: Learn from Successes and Failures
Here's the new coaching article from Samson Dubina. And here's My Life, ten questions about Samson Dubina – how well do you really know him? (But I want to know more about that almost going to jail thing!!!)

Improvement is a Long Term Activity
Here's the new article from PingSkills.

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #190 (20:35) - When Does Learning Sink In? (And other segments).

Zhang Jike Forehand Training at Swedish Open
Here's the video (2:29).

ITTF Articles Feature USA Juniors

Which is the Table Tennis Star Point of 2015?
Here's where you can view them and then vote!

How About Fair Play in Table Tennis
Here's the new video (5:55).

Opposite Hand Rips

  • Here's video (9 sec) of an opposite hand off-the-bounce counterloop.
  • Here's the video (21 sec, including slow motion replay) of an opposite hand smash.

Ma Long - King of Epic Shots
Here's the video (5:18). Notice anything strange about the serve he does at the start? Watch the slow motion replay starting 12 seconds in. I'll blog about this tomorrow.

Dilbert Pong
Here's the cartoon from yesterday: "My life is like two piles of meat trying to play ping pong."

Ping-Pong Fails
Here's the video (70 sec)!

Alien vs. Predator!
Here's the repeating gif image.

Non-Table Tennis - My Weekly Science Fiction Blog
Besides this daily (Mon-Fri) table tennis blog, I now have a weekly science fiction blog, coming out every Monday morning. This week's blog is "3-D vs. 4-D Wars," i.e. wars between three-dimensional beings (us) and four-dimensional ones. The incentive – I just sold a story to Galaxy's Edge that featured this, and it's the third story I've sold that featured such battles. The blog is on my newly updated science fiction and fantasy page, with links for Bibliography, Upcoming Appearances, How to Write SF, Table Tennis, and About Larry Hodges. Yep, I'm basically doing two full-time careers, table tennis coaching & writing and SF writing, while still doing all my USATT and MDTTC volunteer work. Yes, I'm crazy, and yes, I'm very, very tired.

Send us your own coaching news!

November 20, 2015

The following is also a USATT news item that went up last night.

Regional Associations
It's a New Era - and We Need Volunteers!

By Larry Hodges
USATT Board Member, League Chair, and Regional Associations Coordinator

Let's be honest. It's silly to think that an organization with six full-time staff members (plus a few contractors and volunteers), with a budget the size of a 7-11, can organize and run table tennis all over the United States.

Instead, we need to have Regional and State Associations all over the country, with each one primarily in charge of the table tennis activity in their region or state. There are surprisingly few right now and that needs to change. This is how successful table tennis countries are organized, as well as successful sports in the U.S. And that's what we need to do as well.

And that's why we need you. We're looking for volunteers interested in taking charge of developing the sport in their region. These organizations could roughly parallel the regions used in the National College Table Tennis Association, or individual states could have their own regional association. USATT will supply a sample bylaws, but you'd be free to make changes, within reason.

To address these issues, the first step is to find out what regional and state associations are out there. There aren't that many. Below is our current listing - please email us if you have info on ones we don't know about or other info - and especially if you'd like to volunteer to help create one in your region. Some of them are for only a city, so it might be better to organize on a larger scale. For example, California has a Bay Area and Los Angeles Table Tennis Federations; we probably need Northern and Southern California Table Tennis Associations. (There used to be a Southern California TTA, but it doesn't seem to exist anymore.)

What would a Regional Association do? In general, they'd be in charge of table tennis in their region. More specifically, we'd like to see a three-pronged approach:

  1. State Championships in every state, with a goal of 50 state championships (plus DC) in 2016.
  2. Regional Team Leagues in each region. Here's a Team League prototype.
  3. Training Centers in every populated area.

=>State Championships would give each region an annual event to organize around. Currently only 13 states have State Championships that we know of, with another 15 having State Games - here's the current listing. Please email us if there are any we missed, and especially if you are interested in running one. (Since the notice went up in October, people in eight states have stepped forward to run ones in their sate. Soon we'll be contacting leaders in various states to get these set up.)

We'd help you out, supplying a prototype entry form which you can adjust for your needs, info on how to set up and run it, and a free emailing to current and past USATT members in your region. (USATT has huge numbers of players in its database.) An added benefit is that these tournaments can raise money for the association or club.

In most cases, these Championships are rather small affairs. We'd like to change that. We'd encourage each region to create a list of media links (Google is our friend here, as well as USATT Media Director Richard Finn), so that before and after each State Championship local media would get flooded with press releases, leading to lots of local media coverage.

=>Regional Team Leagues are how most successful table tennis countries get huge membership numbers (such as Germany's 600,000), as well as how most successful sports in the U.S., such as tennis (700,000 members) and bowling (over two million members).

To help you get started, here is a Team League prototype, which you may vary as necessary. It is based on various successful table tennis leagues in the U.S., as well as ones overseas and leagues in other sports in the U.S. Little is written in stone; use this as a starting point, and go from there.

Here's our current listing of team leagues - please email us if you have information on others.

=>Training Centers are the fastest growing part of table tennis in the U.S., with an increase from about 10 to 80 in the past eight years. (Here's a listing.) It used to be thought there weren't enough players to support such training centers, but experience has shown us that the first job of a Training Center is to create the demand with various programs. Here is the new USATT Club Development Handbook, which might help you in setting one up. Or contact me, since I co-founded and have helped run the MDTTC for 24 years. We need to recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run these training centers. (I plan to make this a focus next year.)

To recap, if you are interested in getting involved in any of the following...

  • Creating a Regional or State Association in your state or region
  • Running a State Championship
  • Setting up and running a Regional Team League
  • Setting up and running a Training Center

...please email us!

3 Tips to Improve your Table Tennis Serve
Here's the video (2:36) from Tahl Leibovitz. Tahl will be inducted into the USATT Hall of Fame next month.

How to Play Table Tennis - Blocking
Here's another new coaching video (3:30) from the ITTF. This one features Georginia Pota, world #30 (formerly #14) from Hungary. (Yesterday's blog linked to their new ones on Receive and Backhand Topspin.)

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #189 (19:25) – Backhands vs. Forehands (and other segments).

Expert Table Tennis Podcast with Brett Clarke: How to Serve Like a Boss!
Here's the podcast (53:17). "Brett Clarke is half of the coaching team at ttEDGE, a website created by three-time Olympian William Henzell to provide online coaching and instruction to table tennis players the world over. Brett was also part of the Australian National Team for over fifteen years and spent two years as National Team Coach in 2009 and 2010. During that time he received worldwide recognition for being a particularly talented server. He now enjoys coaching players of all abilities (both online and in person) and is passing on some of his service tricks to the rest of us through his “How to Serve – Like a Boss!” YouTube videos." In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Why Brett is currently living in the Philippines.
  • How he got involved with ttEDGE and what his plans are for it.
  • His story from hardbat player to the Australian men’s team.
  • What was the highlight of his playing career.
  • Why he had to start coaching at the age of 19, alongside his playing.
  • How Brett became such a fantastic server.
  • Tips to improve your reverse pendulum serve.
  • How to use deception in your serves.
  • Brett’s thought on Andy Couchman’s three year challenge.
  • The importance of learning how to “whip” your wrist and forearm (TOP TIP)
  • How to email Brett with any questions you might have.

TableTennisDaily Podcast with Patrick Franziska
Here's the podcast (42:13) – "Here is the second episode of the new TableTennisDaily podcast. In this episode we are joined by German National team player and world ranked 42 Patrick Franziska. Patrick is now playing for German Bundesliga side Borussia Düsseldorf the current German Champions. In this episode we cover everything from training methods to what Patrick likes to do in his spare time as well as what it is like playing alongside Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the German National Team."

Star Point of the Year?
Here's the video (28 sec) of this great rally between Liu Shiwen and Kasumi Ishikawa at the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Fan Zhendong: The Skills of the Champion
Here's the highlights video (4:31).

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). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Always Cook Racket Properly Before Eating It
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Crazy Lego Pong!
Here's the video (4:38) – what the heck is this?!!! But it's rather . . . mesmerizing . . . .

Send us your own coaching news!

November 19, 2015

Periodic Physical Checklist
Okay, here's mine! (Confession – I was up half the night on something, and woke up with a headache. This inspired me to write about health stuff. It's also why today's blog is a bit shorter than usual. Back to more serious table tennis tomorrow!) I have very tight muscles, and because of that I tend to get too many injuries, alas. Part of it is my insistence of playing a physical game rather than just be steady and block. If this is boring to you, skip to the other stuff below!

  • Weight. I started dieting early in October. In about six weeks I've gone from 196 to 181, mostly by practically living on a wide variety of soups and snacking on granny smith apples and carrots. The only problem is I've been stuck at 181 for a week – I'm not sure why as I haven't changed my diet. I plan to get to 175, or maybe 170. (I'm 5'10" for perspective.)
  • Back problems. I've had minor one recently. Some may remember that twice I've had to take weeks off because of these back problems. The solution turned out to be simple – the muscles on the right side of my upper back were so much stronger than the ones on the left side (due to table tennis) that they were pulling the spine out of alignment. Solution? A simple stretching exercise where I stretch those upper right back muscles.
  • Arm problems. I still wear an arm brace as I can still feel soreness in my arm. I'm mostly being protective as wearing it really protects the arm problem from getting worse, and it's rather important to me since I coach professionally. I blogged about the solution to this problem on May 21 (second item) – hard to believe that six months later I'm still wearing the brace, but it does the job. I'm debating whether to wear it at the Nationals, but I probably should or I'll likely re-injure it with all the hitting I'll be doing in the hardbat and sandpaper events. (That's what I do when I'm not coaching or attending meetings! But I normally play sponge.)
  • Shoulder problems. I've had periodic shoulder problems in three specific spots in my shoulder, and I can still feel soreness in the three spots. But I haven't had any shoulder problems in a while.
  • Weight training. I started doing this 2-3 times a week in early October. I took last week off at the writing workshop, but am back at it again. I've lightened the routine, focusing on leg, stomach, and lower back exercises, plus chest press.
  • Eyes. I had an eye checkup yesterday. It seems my right eye has gotten a bit worse for distances, but not enough yet to need new glasses. I only wear glasses for sports (including table tennis), movies, TV, and when driving. I can read pretty comfortably without glasses, but for extensive reading I use reading glasses, mostly for the right eye. If I hold a book about two feet away, I can see fine with either eye, but even there the right eye is slightly blurry. About a month ago I accidentally rolled over on my reading glasses, bending them badly, and the left lens fell out. But since my left eye is almost just right for reading, I don't need it, and so I now only have one lens in the glasses.
  • Teeth. I see a dentist every six months, and after a number of problems all through the 1990s, I've been fine since.

How to Play Table Tennis
Here are two new coaching videos from the ITTF. Both feature Michael Maze.

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #188 (24:50) - Koki Niwa's Service Return

USATT Insider
Here's the new one that came out yesterday.

Champions League 2015/2016 - Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs Jens Lundqvist
Here's the video (6:06, with time between points removed). German star Ovtcharov is world #4, the top non-Chinese player in the world (and one spot ahead of Zhang Jike). Swedish star Lundqvist is currently only #98, but at the Swedish Open this past weekend he upset Zhang Jike, and he was ranked as high as #19 in the world back in 2003.

Liu Shiwen, Queen of Amazing Rallies!
Here's the video (2:07).

Samsonov Playing with Sandpaper
Here's the video (1:45).

How You Transport a Ping-Pong Ball
Here's the picture – it takes hundreds of trips to bring in all the balls needed for a tournament! (I think Paul Bunyan is playing King Kong.)

Send us your own coaching news!

November 18, 2015

Mental Strength – with Jan-Ove Waldner's Tips for Peak Performance
Wow, what a great book! I just read Mental Strength (available from Amazon), by sports psychologist Gregor Schill, former Swedish star Malin Pettersson, and of course Jan-Ove Waldner, the legend and arguably the greatest player of all time. There are nine chapters:

  1. Mental Training – in Theory
  2. Attitude and Enjoyment
  3. Self-Confidence
  4. Stress Management
  5. Winner Instinct and Goals
  6. Preparations and Continuous Development
  7. Focus and Concentration
  8. Twelve Tips for Sports Parents
  9. Mental Training – in Practice

Most chapters starts with Waldner's comments, followed by Schill's (which usually build on what Waldner said), followed by Pettersson's, followed by exercises. I marked my copy up with notes; here are some highlights. (There is great stuff by all three, but I'll focus here on some of the best stuff from Waldner, with apologies to Schill and Pettersson. Otherwise this would be one very long review! Most of the text that's not attributed directly to Waldner or Petterson is by Schill.) There are lots of charts and color pictures.

Preface by Jan-Ove Waldner. "Since I have always been very conscious of how important the mental or psychological game is within table tennis, it went without saying that I would share my thoughts on the subject when Malin and Gregor asked. Because, in truth, the question is not whether you should train the mental aspects, but rather how you should train them." This basic concept, so obvious to champions, is lost on most players.

Chapter 1: Mental Training – in Theory. It starts by going over some of the mental challenges players face. I thought about some of the junior players at my club and every one of them have had difficulty with some of these. They also gave results of a survey done at the Olympic Games, with results that were somewhat obvious to some of us, but might be surprising to many. "Out of all the survey participants, 29% used some form of Mental Training. Of those who went on to reach the finals, the number was 58%; and of the medalists, as many as 67% regularly engaged in purposeful, goal-oriented Mental Training." And from this, there were two conclusions: "1. Mental Training works, and 2. Those who really want to be the best, leave nothing to chance."

There were a number of other important sections, such as a section on Think Confidently. "Think as if you knew for sure that you could do it." You should be surprised when you miss, since otherwise you aren't very confident, and if you aren't confident, you won't play well - yet most players don't understand this.  Under the "Don't Use Don't" section it explained how the subconscious mind – the part that controls your play – doesn't understand the words "don't" and "not," and so you shouldn't use them. (Tell yourself what you want to do, not what you don't want to do. When you tell yourself not to miss, all your subconscious hears is "miss.") There's also sections on "Thoughts and Images," on "You Always Have Access to 'Your Best You,'" and on "Feelings and States of Mind."

Chapter 2: Attitude and Enjoyment. Waldner: "Your attitude and how you behave is incredibly important, both to you, your opponent and to the team, if you're on one." "I often change my behavior based on who I am up against." (He then gives examples.) You also learn about "Realistic Optimism."

Chapter 3: Self-Confidence. Waldner: "This is my strong suit." "I always turn negative thoughts and situations to my own advantage. If I don't feel 100% satisfied, I take so-so things and elevate them so that they become fantastic things instead." The chapter goes on to explain the value of self-confidence, how to tell if you have it, and how to train for it. (One item I underlined was, "Link your development to process goals, not results.") It also goes over the value of affirmations, a habit I've noticed most top players use, and gave examples.

Chapter 4: Stress Management. Waldner: "I try to keep my thoughts focused on tactics, such as what kind of serve I want to use and how to follow up. I always focus on the next ball." This is one of seemingly basic things that so many don't understand. The mind can only think about one thing at a time, and if you think about tactics, you are not worrying about losing or getting distracted. The chapter went on to give examples of training stress management.  

Chapter 5: Winner Instinct and Goals. Waldner: "During practice I still keep score inside my head, even if we aren't playing a match. It's good to find little things that give you motivation." This is such a great tip I plan to bring this up with my students! (I've done this myself, long ago when I used to train, but it was so long ago that I'd forgotten about it.) The chapter goes on to give examples and training methods for this, including this (obvious?) nugget: "In order to win, you can't be afraid to lose." This is something stressed by nearly all champions – Michael Jordan, for example, always pointed this out. Many players are paralyzed by fear of losing. Hating to lose and being afraid to lose are not the same thing.

Chapter 6: Preparations and Continuous Development. Waldner: "I have always looked a great deal at other players to learn how they play and act in different situations . . . in other words, I make sure to use others in order to develop myself."

Malin had some nice tips here – here are a few excerpts:

  • "I was often told 'practice a bit more than everyone else and you will become a bit better than everyone else.' Sure, that is good advice, but to always train purposefully, and know what you want to improve is even more important. Just asking your coach what you need to improve simply isn't enough. It is just as important to be curious yourself, and think about what it is that you need to get better at."
  • "It is important that the coach starts by asking questions, to force the player to reflect over what he/she needs. Then the coach can input his/her opinion. But always start by making the athlete think about it first by using relevant questions, which in turn makes the athlete understand why you practice or train in a certain way."  
  • "If you know that you practice a certain serve because it can help you attack faster with your forehand and win points, which in turn leads to making it through a few more rounds in each competition, then you may be more careful about following through with your serve training without anyone having to tell you to do so."

Chapter 7: Focus and Concentration. Waldner:

  • "Of course I can lose my focus when the ball hits the edge of the table or if my opponent psychs me out; but if I am balanced and prepared for it, I can still keep my concentration."
  • "The point is to eliminate everything else around you, and try to focus on tactics. Sometimes I fix my gaze on someone in the crowd, but what I am actually thinking about might be which serve I should try next, for example, or how my opponent usually acts in this particular situation."
  • "That is why I have learned that thinking about the outcome is not something that benefits me. If you focus too much on the results, a tied score may be enough to increase your tension; and if you are afraid of losing ranking points, or not winning a certain prize, then it becomes much more difficult to go with the flow and enjoy the moment. For me, it's all about winning the next ball – that's it. I don't worry about the rest."

This was followed sections on Focus and Concentration in Theory; Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome; and Focus and Concentration in Practice. The latter goes over eight points:

  1. Optimal Tension Level
  2. Focused, Being in the Now
  3. Plans, Routines
  4. Optimal Physical Preparation
  5. Clear Goals and Feedback
  6. Belief in Yourself
  7. A Feeling of Satisfaction
  8. Balance Between Challenge and Ability

Malin has a lot to say on this, such as, "In order to really find the right focus before a match, it may help to take a few minutes by yourself and think about matches in which you played really well. Re-experiencing previous victories is one way to find that wonderful, self-confident felling you want to have when you go in to play a match." There's also a nice quote from track superstar Michael Johnson: "Physically relaxed + mentally excited = world record." The chapter finishes with a nice section on Creating Triggers – ways to get yourself into the same mode as when you are at your best.

Chapter 8: Twelve Tips for Sports Parents. This probably should be required reading for all parents of junior players. There's a list of 12 Tips here that I might blog about sometime later.

Chapter 9: Mental Training – in Practice. This was a short chapter that gave examples of practicing mental training at four times:

  • Well Ahead of Performing (basic training)
  • Shortly Before Performing
  • While Performing
  • After Performing

The book finishes with a 12-week blank diary, with sections you can fill in.

Now for the down side on this book: at $28 for book that's 95 pages (not including diary), it's expensive. (Also, it's only in print – no ebooks.) So if money is the issue, I suggest you and a few others from your club go in on it, and take turns. You'll be glad you did. When it's your turn, take notes, perhaps with a marker or colored pen (that's what I did), and make sure to jot down the important points. And if you find it something you'll want to refer to regularly, then get your own copy. (Added bonus – lots of great color pictures of Waldner!)

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #187 (5:01) – Strategy for Varying Serves (and other segments).

Ma Long Training Regime
Here's the article from Table Tennis UK. Includes link to video.

Zhang Jike – Is It Over For Him?
Here are articles with different viewpoints. I have to go with Matt on this one – Zhang Jike will likely be better than any of the non-Chinese for the next few years. But he might only be #4 in China among teammates Ma Long, Fan Zhedong, and Xu Xin. At the moment he's dropped to #5 in the world, behind #4 Dimitrij Ovtcharov, but that's what happens when you have a string of losses as Zhang has had. (How many of us would love to have such a "string of losses" and be "only" #5 in the world? That's no joke!) He'll likely be back to top four soon, though Dimitrij and perhaps a few others might have something to say about that!

The City of Brotherly Love Welcomes Third Butterfly Thanksgiving Teams Event
Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Interview with Victor Liu
Here's the USATT interview with the cadet star by Rahul Acharya. 

2016 USA Olympic Table Tennis Trials Set to be Held in Greensboro
Here's the article and video (2:01) from Time Warner Cable News.

Elizabeta Samara: Table Tennis Is Everything To Me
Here's the article from Butterfly on the world #19 (#16 last month) from Romania. 

Swedish Open 2015 - Best Rallies
Here's the video (3:22).

Quadruple Ghost Serve
Yesterday I linked to a video of a guy serving three balls with backspin at the same time so all three came back into the net. That's been topped – here's a video (21 sec) that came out yesterday of a guy doing it with four balls! (He also does some other backspin trick shots.)

Google a Turtle
Here's some of what you get if you google "Turtle Table Tennis Pictures." (A lot of other paddle and ball pictures came up, so I only included a few of them.)

Send us your own coaching news!

November 17, 2015

Yesterday and Today – SF & TT
Yesterday and today are rather weird days for me. I normally would pick up two kids for our afterschool program, and after the program I have a 90-minute coaching session. Normally this means leaving my house by 2:45PM, and finishing at 7PM. (I usually leave by 2:30 PM so as to be safely on time and so I can spend some relaxing time in my car reading or doing a crossword puzzle while I wait for the school bell to ring.) But by a weird coincidence, all the players I pick up or coach yesterday and today are injured or away – one has shoulder problems, one is at a chess tournament, and two others are doing an afterschool activity. And so I had no coaching yesterday or today. (I do have an eye appointment at 12:30 PM today.) So what did I do? I devoted yesterday to science fiction & fantasy, and today to table tennis.

Today I plan to "finalize" the plans for regional associations and regional team leagues. By "finalize" I mean have them ready to go public, though they will be an ongoing thing as they are perfected and updated. (I ran the plans by the USATT League Committee, which I chair, and a few others.) If all goes well, they'll go up as USATT news items in the next few weeks. I might do them together, or perhaps one week apart. (The first part, State Championships, went up in October.)

I blogged about Regional Team Leagues on Nov. 24, 2014, and about Regional Associations on Nov. 25, 2014.

A lot of this isn't just the materials that go online; those won't be super extensive. More of it is making sure I know where we are going, and how to help the various regions that join in. Just trying to decide what regions should make up regional associations was a major headache – do you go with individual states, or larger regions, or what? (My leaning is to let the locals decide.)

We have a long, long ways to go. But to paraphrase Churchill, "This isn't the beginning. But it is, perhaps, the beginning of the beginning."

Non-Table Tennis - As to yesterday, I finalized a new story (a wild west fantasy starring a centaur running for sheriff against an evil dwarf, with elf bandits, dryads, a friendly ogre, a not-so-friendly vampire, and a crazed unicorn, with a twist ending no one will see coming), and wrote a new humorous fantasy about two penguins and their eventful journey from Antarctica to Babylonia to get to the ark before the Great Flood. (It has dinosaurs!) I write both SF and fantasy (and my upcoming novel is pure SF), but yesterday was all fantasy writing. (For you neophytes, SF is what's possible, while fantasy has magic.)

I also recently did a major update to my SF page, in preparation for the launch in January of upcoming SF novel, "Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions." It was basically a long, HTML page before. Now it has menus and everything! The menus are Home, Bibliography, Upcoming Appearances, How To Write SF, Table Tennis, About Larry Hodges, and Contact Me. I'll likely add a tab for "Campaign 2100" once the cover comes out. In addition to my daily TT blog here I plan to start a weekly SF blog there, probably starting in January. I did my first blog entry there on Sunday. (I actually started the blog two years ago, when I did six entries, then took them down. They are back up again.)

Searching for the Right Position
Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao. Here's a key point I'm constantly emphasizing: "The first step to improving anticipation and being able to always find the right position is constantly moving between shots. Like many other sports where “moving without the ball” is a key part to effective play, in table tennis moving when you aren’t forced to gives you a much better chance to be in position to hit a quality shot when the ball finally arrives."

Ask the Coach
Episode #186 (23:25) - Experience v Talent.

In the Zone – Part 11 (Conclusion)
Here's the USATT sports psychology article. (Links to previous ten parts are on top right.)

The Great Anti Experiment
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Congratulations Maryland TTC and Triangle TTC –  ITTF Hot Spots!
Here's the  MDTTC article – yep, my club made it! - and the Triangle TTC article. 

Teensy Studios Releases Tiny Table Tennis for Apple Watch
Here's the article. Now we can encourage the kids to play video games during breaks! "Teensy Studios, a leading developer of wearable games, is proud to announce the release of their first Apple Watch game “Tiny Table Tennis” available worldwide on the Apple Store."

The Entertainer Par Excellence, Vincent Purkart Passes Away
Here's the ITTF obit on the former French superstar and exhibition partner with Jacques Secretin. (I wrote about Purkart yesterday, but only added the ITTF obit late in the day.)

Players Announced for the GAC Group 2015 World Tour Grand Finals
Here's the ITTF press release.

'Show Support, Not Sympathy' for Athletes with Disabilities: Para-paddler
Here's the new article with links to video from Channel News Asia.

Seahawks "Always Compete" Football Philosophy Carries Over Into Locker Room Ping-Pong Battles
Here's the new article from the Seattle Seahawks web page.

Triple Ghost Serve
Here's the video (6 sec) as Masa Coach serves three backspin balls simultaneously so that all three come back into the net. And here's some rapid fire ghost serve practice (18 sec). Pound that net!

Table Tennis - "Give it Your Best!"
Here's the highlights video (5:15).

Lindenwood Table Tennis Team Video
Here's the new video (3:49).

Fan Zhendong & Heming Hu Training at the Swedish Open
Here's the video (6:54).

Tribute to Marcos Freitas
Here's the new video (2:29) featuring the world #7 from Portugal.

Champions League 2015/2016 - Marcos Freitas vs Xu Gui
Here's the new video (6:16, with time between points removed).

Pray for Paris Paddle
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Magic and Yoga  Table Tennis
Here's the crazy new video (9:05) as yoga and table tennis are combined into . . . something!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 16, 2015

Tip of the Week
Loose Grip Leads to Better Shots.

Is There a Mathematical Advantage to Serving First?
I keep reading online postings about whether a player should serve first or not. Many of them insist you have a better mathematical chance of winning by serving first. That's simply not true. Here's a simple way of looking at it.

A game to 11 is really just a best of 20, where you just happen to stop once a player clinches it by scoring 11 points. If it goes to 10-all, you alternate serves so both players serve just as often, so there's no mathematical advantage to serving first or second there. So we'll assume that the game doesn't go deuce. Is there a mathematical advantage to serving first or second? Ignoring deuce games, no matter what the final score is, one player scored 11 points in this hypothetical best of 20, and so even if both players had an even number of serves (i.e. ten each), he'd win 11-9 or better.

Some would argue that if a player gets to serve first, he'd get to serve more often, which is technically correct in many cases. But it doesn't matter since even if they played it out so both players got to serve an equal number of times (i.e. ten times each), a player who scored 11 first while serving first is still going to win 11 points, even if he allows his opponent the same number of serves. By serving first, all you can do is make it closer if you lose, or more lopsided if you win.

Let's look at specific examples. Suppose for example that you served first and won 11-8, and served ten times while the other player only served nine. It makes no difference because even if you gave that player the extra serve and he scored, you'd still win 11-9. If you won 11-7 and served ten times to the opponent's eight, again the best your opponent could have done, given the extra two serves, is win both those points, but you'd still win 11-9.

Now let's suppose you gave away the serve. If you win even though you might serve up to two less times, you win. If you lose, that means your opponent got to 11 first, and even if he got to serve two more times than you did, you are in the same situation explained above: the best you can do is make it closer, but you'd still lose because the opponent will have scored at least 11 points, so again, even if you get the two missing serves, he'll still outscore you 11-9 or better.

There are some advantages to serving first or second. In a round robin match, if there's a tie between players, it first goes to matches, then games, and then points. If it goes to points, which rarely happens, then there is a tiny advantage in serving first as that means that you may have one or two extra serves more than the opponent in the entire match, and so might on average have a slightly better scoring percentage. However, this is unlikely that it is overpowered by other considerations.

There's a simple reason I recommend players give the serve away. It is at the start of a match that players are least warmed up or adjusted to the opponent. So you are more likely to make mistakes at the very start – and these are more costly on your own serve than on the opponent's, since the server is supposed to win the majority of the points. Plus if you serve second, then you will be serving at the end of the first, third, and fifth games, and it's under pressure like that when serving is most important. More players "choke" when receiving then serving as there's more uncertainty in returning a serve (especially near the end of a close game or match when there's both pressure and your opponent now knows what serves give you trouble) than serving, where you know exactly what your first "shot" will be – your serve. Players pop up or miss serves a lot more than servers pop up or miss their own serve, plus there's more confidence in dealing with an opponent's return of your serve than dealing with the uncertainty of his serve.

Some players do play better with a lead, and for them it might be better to serve first. For example, some players like to go for winners, and have more confidence in doing so when they have a lead. Others play better when their back is to the wall, i.e. playing from behind, and for them, it's best to serve second. Either way, this is psychological reasons to serve first or second, not mathematical ones.

You do have one other option at the start of the match – which side to start on. There is some advantages to using this. For example, I find I have trouble getting into a match if the background is poor, and in matches like that I take the side with the better background at the start. By the time I'm into the second game with the worse background I'm into the match and so it's not as important. (If you are in a large arena and on a side table where you are looking into the open expanse, it's harder to pick up the ball then if you are looking into a wall. Of course, if the wall is similar in color to the ball, that changes things.) I often try to choose which side I want to start on by simply going to that side in the warm-up, knowing that few opponents take advantage of choosing a side. And since most players like to serve first, I usually get the best of both worlds – I get to receive first and start on the side I want to start on!

There's another advantage to choosing a side. If the match is close, you might be playing more points on the side you don't start on. On average you'll play the same number of points on both sides in the first four (or six) games, but in the final game two things come into consideration. First, you change sides when a player reaches five. Let's suppose you change sides at 5-4. At ten-all, you would have played eleven of the twenty points on the "good" side – and then you'll play all of them on the good side in deuce. (If it's more lopsided at the start, then you'll potentially play even more points on the good side.) In the proverbial best of 20 explained above, in the final game you'll almost always get to play more points on the good side by starting on the bad side, both before and at deuce. So there's an advantage to choosing to start on the "bad" side!

In the end, who serves first or which side you start on are rather small variables in who wins the match – there's a lot of things that are more important. But why not take whatever advantage you can?

The Writing Retreat
This is a table tennis blog, so I won't spend too much time on this. As noted in my blog last Monday, I spent the week at a writing retreat at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD. My new SF novel, "Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions," comes out in late January, and so I started the sequel, "Campaign 2110: Scorpions in Space." Both novels feature table tennis as one of the four main characters is a championship table tennis player, and I keep working that into the plot.

The first one was 123,000 words, a little longer than I'd planned. I'll try to keep the sequel to 90,000-100,000 words. I did a little over 17,000 words during the five days, as well as plan out a lot of it. (I'd originally hoped to get more done, but it's a complicated work requiring a lot of planning and research.) I'll continue to plug away at it, and hopefully finish it next year. ("Finish" doesn't just mean finish writing the draft; all first drafts requiring a lot of rewriting.)

I'm having a lot of fun with one new alien character, Thirteen, a spaced-out, haughty, philosophical economist from Grodan (which orbits Tau Ceti) who develops her economic and political theories while humming and staring into the many mirrors in her home, while occasionally calling out nonsensical words of wisdom. She has 60,000 volunteers working in her basement.

Call for Coach of the Year Nominations
Here's the info article.

Help Wanted: Coach for Alameda Table Tennis Center
Here's the info.

The Serving Test
Here's the test of your short spin serves.

Ask the Coach Show

  • Episode #183 (24:23) – Getting a Grip (and other topics)
  • Episode #184 (15:10) - Friday Funnies or Black Friday? (and other topics)
  • Episode #185 (25:05) – Aggressive Mindset (and other topics)

Podcast with Daniel Reed
Here's the new podcast (52:53) from Expert Table Tennis with Reed, who is currently ranked #5 in England and #217 in the world. Here are a few of the questions Daniel answered during the interview:

  • How Danny first started table tennis at Ormesby TTC in Middlesbrough.
  • Why his coach Carole Moore was so influential in his rapid development.
  • How much training Danny was doing as an 11-12 year old.
  • All about his drive and determination to succeed even as a young boy.
  • Why he decided to study for a degree alongside his table tennis.
  • What he is currently working on (physically, technically, tactically and mentally).
  • How tough it is to make a living playing professional table tennis.
  • Danny’s plans for the next few years.
  • Why Danny believes players must put themselves under pressure in practice (Top Tip).
  • How to get in contact with Danny.

Swedish Open
The event was held Nov. 11-15 in Stockholm. Here's the ITTF page for the event where you can get results, articles, pictures, and video.

Early Success Brings Continued Growth for Americas First Full Time Training Center
Here's the article about my club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, by Barbara Wei. One small thing – technically the club at least broke even the first five years, excluding start-up costs, other than a serious financial situation it ran into I think in the second year, when a record snowfall basically closed us down for weeks. But the only reason the club did okay financially in its early years is that I didn't take a penny for all my work there – nothing, not for coaching, running tournaments, or running the place, as I did much of the first ten years.

Capital Area League
The Capital Area League had another meet on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 5-10PM, with all twelve teams (with 73 players on their rosters) playing at least two team matches. (There were a few additional make-up matches.) Here are the results. Here are detailed results for Division 1 and Division 2. (These and previous results are linked from the results page.) I'm the webmaster and a member of the organizing committee for the Capital Area League.

RIP Vincent Purkart
He was a great French player (two-time French National Men's Singles Champion and five-times runner-up, mostly to Secretin), but was best known as part of the greatest exhibition team ever, the Secretin-Purkart show. From my April 28, 2015 blog:

Here's the full video (93 min) of the greatest exhibition team of all time. Warning - once you start watching, it's addictive! But it's great stuff, with the great Jacques Secretin (17-time French National Men's Singles Champion, 1977 World Mixed Doubles Champion, and former world #4) against the clownish Vincent Purkart (two-time French National Men's Singles Champion and five-times runner-up, mostly to Secretin). They spent many years touring the world doing their famous comedy exhibition. Sean O'Neill messaged me that the umpire who they constantly fight with is Claude Bergeret, 1977 World Mixed Doubles Champion with Secretin. (I'd been told it was Purkart's wife, but that might have been incorrect.) Here's a recent picture of Secretin and Purkart - they're still at it!!!

Addendum: Here's the ITTF obit on Purkart, which I'll also link to tomorrow. 

USATT Rules Update
Here's the update.

Nominees for 2015 Male & Female Table Stars Announced
Here's the ITTF article.

11 Questions with Kevin Korb
Here's the USATT interview with the 19-year-old owner of The Topspin Club. (He was interviewed in a podcast in September at Expert Table Tennis.)

Two Generations Meet
Here's the picture of Japan's 12-year-old whiz kid Tomokazu Harimoto (already ranked #262 in the world, higher than the #1 U.S. man) and Swedish legend (generally considered the GOAT) Jan-Ove Waldner at the Swedish Open. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Pingpong Club Appeals to a Diverse Crowd
Here's the article from the New Orleans Advocate.

Andrey Borovik's Para Story
Here's the article.

How to Rip a Forehand
Here's video (34 sec, including slow motion replay) as Anton Kallberg (SWE) shows us the basic forehand put-away against Liam Pitchford (ENG).

Ask a Pro Anything: Kasumi Ishikawa
Here's the video (5:52) with Ishikawa and Adam Bobrow. And here's the hilarious movie trailer video (61 sec) of the two!

ITTF Pongcast – October
Here's the video (12:40).

Xavier University Confucius Institute Cup Finals Video
Here's the video (6:17) between Jimmy Butler and Peter Nguyen, along with another video showing one of the best and craziest points you'll ever see.

Soccer Star Dave Beckham Playing Soccer and Table Tennis with Kids in Nepal
Here's the video (48 sec) – wait'll you see the table they play on!

Ping Pong Player Eats His Paddle
Here's the article! Ironically, in the science fiction novel I'm currently writing one of the characters said to a candidate running for office, "If you win, I'll eat my ping-pong paddle." (Spoiler Alert: He will. But the election in question wasn't the main election in the novel, so it's not really a spoiler.)

Top 10 Annoying Situations Every Table Tennis Player Has Encountered!
Here's the article with lots of pictures and video.

The Most Painful Game This Decade
Here's the video (26 sec) of what is titled, "Officially the most painful game of table tennis that will take place this decade."

Send us your own coaching news!

November 9, 2015

Tip of the Week
Sidespin Serves that Break Away Tend to Be More Effective.

Writer's Retreat This Week and Table Tennis
No blog this week after today – I'll be back next Monday, Nov. 16. I'll be away all this week at a writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, which they call a Writing Staycation. It's a day thing, where I drive over early in the morning, and return that night. So little table tennis for me this week – I've got others subbing for me in most of my sessions until next Saturday.

As I blogged about on October 16, I recently sold a science fiction novel to a publisher, "Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions." (As noted in the blog, it has lots of table tennis.) So this week I'm starting the sequel, "Campaign 2110: Scorpions in Space." The first one was 123,000 words (that's 622 pages in double spaced Courier New). This one will likely be a touch shorter – I'm aiming for 100,000 words. I hope to get 30,000 done during the retreat. I promise to keep table tennis in the novel!

What's the difference between a writer's retreat and a writer's workshop? At a retreat, the focus is on writing new stuff. At a workshop the focus is on critiquing each other's work – in advance you read and analyze the submitted work of other participants, and at the workshop you give both a verbal and written critique to the writer. (And they do the same for you.) It's usually done in sort of a circle, where you go around the circle, with everyone giving their comments in turn, and everyone turning in the written version at the end. I've been to many of these, including an annual "The Never-Ending Odyssey" that I go to for nine days each summer in Manchester, NH.

I've been to two past writing retreats at the Writer's Center. At the first is where I started work on Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers; at the second I started Sorcerers in Space. The Writer's Center mentioned me in their November 4 blog!

I'm bringing my weighted paddle to shadow stroke during breaks. Yep!

On Saturday, after I finished coaching at 3:30 PM (and after finalizing that morning the USATT Hall of Fame Program for the Nationals Banquet, and a HoF ad for the Nationals Program booklet), I took my laptop and notes to the back room at MDTTC and worked continuously (with a few walk around breaks) until 10PM, while the Capital Area League was playing out from 5-10PM. I didn't do any writing – just researched and outlined. Sunday morning I spent finalizing my notes and printing them out. (Then I coached from 1:30-8:00PM, then rushed home to watch "The Walking Dead.") I'm ready to start writing this morning!

Strategic Risk Taking
Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao.

Here's a coaching site I hadn't seen before, run by Ben Larcombe, the same guy who runs Experttabletennis.com.

Ask the Coach Show
Episode #182 (25 min) – Serving Styles (and other segments)

How Do We Create a New Generation Waldner?
Here's the new article from Matt Hetherington.

SAEF Table Tennis Therapy Program for Alzheimer's
Here's the article and video. "SAEF Table Tennis Therapy Program is an innovative tool designed to benefit early stage Alzheimer's individuals through carefully supervised instructions in "table tennis therapy."

Table Tennis Illusions
Here's the new article from Coach Jon.

11 Questions with Dean Johnson
Here's the new USATT interview.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 16
Chapter 16 is now up! (This is from 1988.) "A New Era Begins for Table Tennis." "Will we see a dramatic upsurge in membership/players? Will the U.S. public overall now see table tennis as a sport and not as a game?" Here's where you can buy copies of the books by Tim Boggan for yourself.

This Ping Pong Trick Shot Compilation is Incredible
Here's the article from USA Today, which links to the trick shot video (2:21 – I linked to this last Wednesday) from Kevin Korb.

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). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Here's a Great Rally
Here's the video (52 sec, including replay), Simon Gauzy (FRA, near side) versus Panagiotis Gionis (GRE).

Here's a Tricky Serve!
Here's the video (16 sec) as Bernadette Szocs of Romania does an apparent regular backhand serve, but contacts the ball going the other way.

Jumping Backhand?
Here's the picture of Luisa Saeger of Germany.

The Leader of the Free World is Losing to Kim Jong-un!
Only you can help him.

Fitbit.com Sports Commercial
Here's the video (30 sec), with about two seconds of "Ping Fit" table tennis starting seven seconds in.

Fall Pong
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Thirty Excuses for Losing a Ping-Pong Match
Here's the listing, care of the Newport TTC!

Titan Open
Here's the out-of-this world picture as Schlager takes on Xu Xin! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Epic Ping Pong with Roger Federer
Here's the video (45 sec)! It's some sort of commercial where Federer is smashing ping-pong balls over and over, but is supposed to miss – but can't!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 6, 2015

Serve and Forehand Attack, and Serve and Two-Winged Attack
Ilia asked the following on the TableTennisCoaching forum:

In your amazing book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers" [Larry's note: I'm blushing – but I also added the link] I read that it is beneficial to be able to have different tactics for games, i.e. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. I can loop both with backhand and forehand, but my backhand open-up against backspin is weaker. So my Plan A is to use forehand loop whenever possible, and use backhand loop for receive and when caught off-guard. The Plan B is to play forehand from the forehand side, and backhand from the backhand side. I have two questions:

1) What is the best recovery position after the serve for Plan A and for Plan B? Should they be the same?
2) How to practice these two plans with the best efficiency? Should I spend, say, a few weeks strengthening the Plan A, and then a few weeks on Plan B? Or it is better to interleave the practice? I play 4-5 times per week for 2-2.5 hours for each session.

It was such a great question that I decided to use it in my blog this morning.

First, remember that favoring your forehand is probably the right thing for you to do tactically, based on what you wrote. Strategically, even if you always favor your forehand, you should make sure to strengthen that backhand! (Tactical thinking is what works now; Strategic thinking is thinking long term. You need both.) But now let's look at the two questions.

>1) What is the best recovery position after the serve for Plan A and for Plan B? Should they be the same?

For Plan A, where you are looking to play a forehand from the backhand corner if the ball goes there, you should be a bit to your left (assuming you're a righty), in a slight forehand stance. There's a simple way of judging how far over you can stand. Imagine your opponent returns your serve somewhat aggressively down the line to your forehand. Stand as far to your backhand side as you can where you can still get to that ball effectively. (If he's able to consistently attack your serve down the line very aggressively, then you both need adjust for that, as well as work on your serves.) 

For Plan B, where you are looking to play forehand or backhand, depending on where the return is, go to a neutral position and stance. Clear your mind and just use whichever side the ball goes to. One thing that many do effectively is to look to follow the serve with the backhand loop, and so stand in the middle of the table, looking for that shot - basically saying, "Go ahead, I'm planning to backhand loop, but if you go to my forehand, I'm ready and waiting." If they do go to your forehand, you don't have much table to cover, so you just rotate that way and loop the forehand. The only tricky part here is if they go after your middle, where you have to choose. 

>2) How to practice these two plans with the best efficiency? Should I spend, say, a few weeks strengthening the Plan A, and then a few weeks on Plan B? Or it is better to interleave the practice? I play 4-5 times per week for 2-2.5 hours for each session.

First, focus on developing your backhand so it is at least consistent. It doesn't need to be as powerful as the forehand, but it needs to be dependable. Once you have that, you can wear an opponent down with it. Putting that aside, practice serve and attack using both Plan A and Plan B. Many focus on practicing their Plan A, and wonder why their Plan B doesn't improve. There's usually more room for improvement there. So develop both roughly equally. If you are really having trouble with Plan B, focus on that for a while, then go back to 50-50. You want to both get rid of weaknesses and develop overwhelming strengths. 

Podcast with Dora Kurimay
Here's the new podcast (54:05) from Expert Table Tennis with the championship player, sports psychologist, and author. Here are a few of the questions Dora answered during the interview:

  1. How to deal with nerves and conquer fear.
  2. How to clear your mind in between points.
  3. How to focus and stay in the moment.
  4. How to play as well in matches as you do in practice.
  5. How to use “deep breathing” to improve your performance.

ITTF Spins and Skills
Here are new coaching videos from the ITTF. I ran this before, but I don't think all at once.

MDTTC November Newsletter
Here it is. (I'm the editor.)

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). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Marcos Freitas Looping and Moving
Here's the video (24 sec) of the world #7 from Portugal. (See hos "007" picture below!)

A Little Counterlooping?
Here's the video (1:43) as Samson Dubina and Liang Jishan have a counterlooping practice session. Notice the simplicity in their strokes?

Werner Schlager's Backhand Loop
Here's the video (42 sec, including replay) as Schlager unleashes a series of power backhand loops against chopper Joo Saehyuk.

Table Tennis Coffee Mug
Here's the picture – "I might look like I'm listening to you, but in my head I'm playing table tennis." (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Curving, Colorful Giant Pong
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Freitas. Marcos Freitas. 007
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Timo Boll and KUKA Have Fun with Fans in China
Here's the video (3:01).

Here's the video (3:39) of a version that I've never seen. Here are five other versions, including the classic original, and four takeoffs.

Send us your own coaching news!

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