Larry Hodges's blog

February 1, 2012

Style and personality

Many years ago, while driving to a tournament with Dave Sakai (a top U.S. player for many decades) and Ron Lilly (one of the best pips-out penholders at the time), Dave pointed out that most players tend to develop playing styles that are opposite of their personalities. Dave likes to gamble (and in fact now has houses in both Maryland and Las Vegas, where he likes to spend much of his time), and can be pretty aggressive in arguments. And yet he plays a very safe pushing and blocking game. Ron is a very nice, non-confrontational type, and yet he plays an almost reckless all-out hitting game. And me? Most would say I'm the intellectual type, and yet in my early years, rather than developing some complicated tactical game, I worked hard to develop a pure all-out physical forehand attacking game. (However, as the years went by, my game evolved into a highly tactical game, though I still like all-out forehand attacking.)

Do aggressive people tend to develop passive styles, and vice versa? Do thinkers tend to develop non-thinking games, and vice versa? I think these observations apply to many players. I've found that the smartest people - scientists, doctors, computer programmers - often like to play table tennis mindlessly. I've also found that some of the best table tennis thinkers go home and watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men" or "American Idol." It's almost as if thinker types like to rest their brains and play mindless table tennis, while others who don't spend a lot of time thinking on the job do their thinking in table tennis.

I once coached a scientist who was one of the tops in his field. The guy was brilliant, and away from the table understood the game very well. But at the table he was about the most mindless player I've ever coached. He rarely noticed what worked or didn't work, and was oblivious to what his opponent was doing. He had no ability to adjust his game in a match, or even to follow advice giving between games. A typical 10-year-old would notice obvious things that this player was unable to see.

There is also the opposite - smart people who think tactically so much as they develop their game that they never develop high-level shots, since those shots were low percentage while being developed, and so were never developed. These players are good tacticians, but poor at long-term strategic thinking.

There are also hybrids, smart people who develop very physical attacking games (as opposed to a "tactical" style, usually more defensive), and apply their tactical thinking to developing that style. Often they play somewhat mindlessly while developing their games, and only start to really play a thinking game when they become advanced. Or they apply their thinking only to developing the style, and don't worry about tactics too much until later on. (If they do think about tactics too much early on, it often limits them.)

Among juniors, there are many really nice juniors with non-aggressive personalities who become offensive terrors at the table. Often the ones with more aggressive personalities become pushers and blockers at the table. On the other hand, there are many non-aggressive women, especially in Asia, who become passive choppers. It might be a cultural thing.

One other niche is what I'll call the Chinese penhold mystique style. The penhold grip allows easier maneuvering and variation over the table with pushes and blocks, which leads to tactical play, and my club has a number of older Chinese penholders who are both very smart and play smart tactics. I think it sort of goes with the penhold grip, while shakehanders often tend more toward physical rallying.

Many don't fit into these categories, of course. Where do you fit in?

Mind over Matter?

Here's an interesting article and video from CNN where former English champion Matthew Syed explains why an individual's ability is secondary to the level of coaching they receive and the facilities to which they have access. One thing that jumped out at me was this statement about how a small group of players became the best players in England: "We happened to have the best coach who gave us access to the only 24-hour club." This is similar to what is happening in the U.S., where a few clubs are developing most of the top cadets and juniors in the U.S. - because they are the ones that have full-time clubs and top-level coaches. This is why the level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so much stronger than in the past. (I blogged about this on January 4, 2012.)

Chinese Women's Team

Here's an interesting article on the Chinese Team getting preparing for the World Team Championships.

Kim Gilbert coming back

Here's an article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Kim Gilbert's table tennis comeback. She'll be at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12.

Michael Maze versus Timo Boll

Here's a great point between the two

The scooping backspin bounceback return

I teach this to all my students (0:30).

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January 31, 2012

Different strokes for different folks

It's interesting to watch the natural tendencies of players come out in their play. Yesterday I coached three kids, all beginning-intermediate players.

The first one, age ten, literally takes every ball off the bounce. It is easier for an elephant to fit through the eye of a needle than to get him to hit the ball at the top of the bounce. In a previous era not dominated by looping he'd be a hitter/blocker. These days? I'm not so sure. Right now he hits everything off the bounce; later on, perhaps he'll loop everything off the bounce. He plays at home with a table that has about four feet going back, so that says something about how and why he's developing this way.

Another kid, also about ten, doesn't seem to get the concept of a flat hit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this topspin-dominated age. His version of a forehand-to-forehand warm-up is no different than when he loops, and he doesn't seem to realize this - he uses the same looping stroke for drives and loops, and seems to think he's doing something different, though I haven't found a difference yet. So we've abandoned any pretense of hitting and he just loops everything. Not bad considering he's played about two months.

A third kid, age seven, has the weird habit of hitting until the ball is high. Then he'll wait for it to drop, and loop it! He has loop written all over him, and will probably be looping everything soon. The interesting thing here is that at age seven, he already knows all the best players in the world, and likes to mimic them. Yesterday he was showing off his "Ma Lin backhands," mimicking both Ma's conventional and reverse penhold backhands, though he's a shakehander. He also tried to mimic Timo Boll's loop - needs work.

What are your natural tendencies, and how have you incorporated them into a winning table tennis style?

Busy day

Yesterday was one of the busiest days I've had in a while. I was on the go non-stop the entire time. A quick rundown, in rough order from my todo list - and don't even try to calculate how I fit all this into the roughly sixteen hours I was up.

  • Wrote the Tip of the Week, on "Quick and Variable Blocks," and put online at TableTennisCoaching.com and PaddlePalace.com.
  • Wrote my daily blog.
  • Put new sponge on my forehand.
  • Paid all my bills for the month of January and worked out my finances for the month, including my monthly coaching payment to MDTTC. (I pay them $10/hour for court time.)
  • Updated four web pages.
  • Worked out hotel arrangements for MDTTC camps and tournaments.
  • Watched and took notes for on three matches for upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials
  • Went to bank.
  • Took car to repair shop for various problems, costing about $400.
  • While waiting three hours for car repairs, went to Jerry's Pizza and read and did short critiques on 39 short stories (all under 750 words long, about 27,000 words or 140 pages total) as part of a SF contest. Consumed two small pepperoni pizzas.
  • Coached three hours.
  • Did 40 minute weight training and stretching routine.
  • Did an hour's work on the final rewrite of "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."
  • Made popcorn and watched The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Han Xiao hoping to grab a U.S. place at the ping-pong table

Here's an article in the Washington Times this morning on Han Xiao. I'm quoted in the story. The other player with the really good backhand? Fan Yiyong. I'll be coaching Han and John Hsu at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC.

United States National Table Tennis League

Here's an article on the new USNTTL! Attila Malek (full-time coach at Power Pong Table Tennis Club in Huntington Beach, CA, and 1979 U.S. Men's Singles Champion) is the prime mover of this league, though there's apparently a group putting it together and financing it.

Royal Navy Table Tennis Book

Here's the Royal Navy Table Tennis Book!

Tribute to Chinese Dominance

Here's a video that pays tribute to China and their dominance of table tennis (5:24).

Bruce Lee Table Tennis Commercial

You've probably seen this video before - but now it's part of a Japanese Nokia camera commercial. There's no hint that it's a commercial until the last ten seconds of this 73-second video. And for our naïve viewers - it's not real. They just took footage of Bruce Lee (or is that an actor portraying him?) and used real table tennis players and computer animation to make it look like he's playing with nunchucks. Or am I the naïve one?

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January 30, 2012

Tip of the Week

Quick and Variable Blocks.

Revamping the forehand

This weekend I was coaching an older player who had a nice backhand but awkward forehand. He stood mostly in a backhand stance, with a low grip (so that his shots were very wristy), and stroked his forehand with his elbow extended out, stroking mostly from the shoulder, with little shoulder rotation. He backswing varied from shot to shot. To fix these problems, we first adjusted the grip. He tried a conventional shakehand grip where his hand was closer to the blade, but it didn't feel right to him. Then we hit on the idea of simply using more pressure with his index finger to secure the blade more firmly on the forehand so that it wouldn't be wristy.

Then we worked on the stance, focusing on putting the right foot slightly back on the forehand. With some practice, this'll become a habit.

Finally we had to fix the elbow and shoulder problem, which really went together. To address this, I went back to a trick I'd seen coaches use long ago when the game was dominated by hitters. We put a rubber cleaning sponge under his arm, forcing him to keep the elbow in. This shortened his stroke, making it easier to rotate the shoulders and stroke more with the elbow. Then we worked on having the same backswing over and over. At this point the stroke really began to come together. Soon he was able to remove the sponge under his arm and he continued to hit with his elbow more in. (You don't want to stroke with the elbow so in that it'll hold a sponge there, but by exaggerating this, it made it easier to adjust to keeping the elbow more in.)

He has a lot of practice ahead of him to undo these bad habits, but he's on his way. The key thing in all this is that when hitting, precision comes mostly from good technique, not just timing. Good technique minimizes the things that can go wrong and make awkward hitting almost difficult.

"The service is the most important stroke in table tennis."

This is what 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager says in his book, "Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion," by Schlager and Bernd-Ulrich Grob. I concur. Why do so few understand this? (Technically, I'd say receive overall may be even more important, but receive is a series of different techniques, no one of which is as important as developing your serve.)

United States National Table Tennis League

I'll probably have more to write about this later, but take the time now to learn about this new upcoming $100,000 nationwide league, and get your club involved!

Playing Ping-Pong for a Passion

Here's an article about basketball's Peter Farnsworth, table tennis, and charity.

Marty Reisman and the Year of the Dragon Paddle

Yes, here's Marty celebrating the Chinese New Year ("Year of the Dragon") with the new Dragon paddle (0:56)!

Forehand loop in multiball

Here's a nice demonstration of the forehand loop (1:22). That's Coach Richard Bowling looping, and Coach Amy Feng (four-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, 1992-95) feeding multiball. Shown at regular speed, slow motion, and at Forrest Gump speed.
UPDATE - the video above, which was public, is now listed as private, and so we can't watch. Alas. 

Table Tennis and Tennis and Badminton, Oh My!

This is one of the strangest music videos I've ever seen (4:55), to the tune of "The Danger Zone." It features table tennis, tennis, and badminton. Table tennis comes and goes, with the best segment coming at 2:45.

Non-Table Tennis: My entry for "Worst Opening"

This was my entry for a "Worst Opening" contest, where you try to write the most absurd and overdone opening to a science fiction story.

I woke and saw the blue eyes gazing into mine. Lush, blue alien eyes, eyes that cried out "I'm blue!" over and over and over . . . and would not stop. I could only gape back as the reptilian eyes locked into mine, I could not look away, could not blink, could not die in those few seconds that lasted a lifetime of pain and ecstasy. If I'd known then what I would then have never known I would have torn my own eyes out and stuffed them into hers, knowing the holes in my face could never match the growing hole in my heart, nor could the blueness of my rapidly unoxygenating blood pouring down my face onto the floor be anything but a melting blueberry to those pounding blue eyes of tomorrow. That was how my day began.

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January 27, 2012

Weight training for table tennis

As noted in previous blogs, I started weight training (along with stretching) last fall because of back problems, and it not only fixed the back problems, but raised my level of play. At almost 52, the muscles simply do not move the body around fast enough, and they were breaking down trying to do so. As also noted, I stopped weight training after Christmas, and paid for it.

Now, after two weeks of weight training again, the back is fine again, and once again my level of play has escalated. Now I'm able to run around the court forehand looping better than I had in years. I've even increased the weight on most of the 16 exercises I've been doing.

There are others who also do this. Many are amazed at the exploits of George Braithwaite, a two-winged looper still about 2100 level at age 77. He regularly weight trains as well, and is in better shape than many in their 20s. Take away the weights, and watch how fast he'd fall to earth.

The simple reality is that to play a physical game, your muscles have to move your body around quickly and easily, with fast body rotations in both directions, and you have to practically throw yourself into many shots. If the muscles struggle to do this, then your shots lose power and consistency, or you simply can't do them at all in a fast rally. The measure for me is simple - if I can't react to a fast block to my forehand with a relaxed but strong forehand loop without backing up too much, then I'm too slow. And I can only do this these days if I train physically.

In the words of Mr. TT, "I pity the fool who doesn't weight train for table tennis."

Here are the 16 exercises I do, and the weights I'm currently doing. I do them Mon, Wed, and Fri, three sets of ten each. I increased the weights for several on Wednesday. (I could do more weight on some of the shoulder and leg exercises, but I'm being cautious - I've had shoulder and knee problems.) The whole routine takes about 35 minutes, and then I do about ten minutes of stretching.

  1. Arm Extension (40)
  2. Arm Curl (40)
  3. Chest Press (40)
  4. Pull Down (80)
  5. Row (90)
  6. Overhead Press (40)
  7. Leg Curl (60)
  8. Leg Extensions (60)
  9. Leg Press (140)
  10. Calf Extension (190)
  11. Fly Delts (60)
  12. Rear Delts (40)
  13. Back Extension (150)
  14. Abdominal Machine (90)
  15. Torso Rotation left (60)
  16. Torso Rotation right (60)

Shadow Practice

While we're on the subject of physical training, there's another exercise you can do away from the table that will greatly improve your play - shadow practicing. This means practicing your strokes and footwork without a ball. Here are two articles I wrote on this:

He Zhi Wen's serve

Here's a video from PingSkills that teaches the serve of He Zhi Wen (2:25).

Help Wanted: 2012 Olympic Games Team Leader for USA Table Tennis

Here's your chance to be a part of the Olympic Games!

Wall Street's Ping-Pong Wizards

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal on a ping-pong tournament for Wall Streeters!

100-year-old table tennis player

Here's an article from the ITTF on 100-year-old Alexander Kaptarenko.

Waldner and Persson warming up

With chop kills versus chop lobs (0:37). Yes, that's how Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson warm up, at least sometimes - they do things like this to loosen up before playing serious matches. I once saw them spend half an hour goofing off at the table with things like this at the World Championships a short time before they had to play matches. 

Just one happy family

Here's Tom Nguyen's companions. L-R: Grumpy, Doc, Bashful (hiding behind electrician's tape), Sneezy, Dopey (stuck in his kite string again), Happy, Sleepy, and of course Snow White. She's white, isn't she?

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January 26, 2012

Faking topspin and backspin serves

Anyone who has played me knows I like to serve forehand pendulum sidespin-topspin serves that look like backspin. However, I less frequently serve backspin serves that look like topspin. (Instead I tend to mess opponents up by mixing in backspin and no-spin serves.) This has probably been a mistake - I should have developed those serves just as much, and recently I've reincorporated those serves into my game, as recent opponents have lamented. But why was I hesitant before?

First, a short note on how to do these serves - and keep in mind you can't learn them just from reading about them, you need to see a coach or top player do them, and perhaps get some coaching. (Here's an article on using semi-circular motion to disguise your serve. And in the video section here there are a number of videos showing top players serving.)

To serve sidespin-topspin and make it look like backspin, most of the semi-circular motion must be down, but right at contact the left side of the racket (for righties) snaps around, contacting the ball in a sideways and upward direction. Immediately after contact the racket continues down, and if the opponent doesn't watch carefully, it'll look like backspin. They push, and the ball pops up. 

To serve sidespin-backspin, you essentially do the reverse. Right after the sidespin-backspin contact the racket rotates up, often with an exaggerated elbow motion. (Technically, an opponent could read these serves by assuming the spin is the reverse of the motion exaggerated, but you don't have time consciously read and react to a serve - it has to be reflex. Plus a good server keeps varying the motion, and the receiver can't pick up on the different motions quick enough.)

Why wasn't I using this latter variation as often? Because I found that strong opponents would read it as sidespin-topspin at first and start to attack it. At the last second, seeing the backspin, they'd lift up and topspin the ball back, often low and aggressively. So this serve, while a great variation, often backfired on me. However, I think part of that is that I didn't develop the serve enough to fool opponents enough, I wasn't serving it low enough, and the backspin wasn't always enough. So I'm reworking the serve with more backspin and lower to the net.

But I still like faking backspin and serving sidespin-topspin, since once an opponent begins to push, there's almost no way of reacting to the serve and attacking it. And since I know the return will come long (very hard to drop a topspin serve short), I can look to follow up with a loop even if the return is low.

Half step back against fishers

I regularly back up and play topspin defense (fishing and lobbing) when coaching. (Here's an article on how to play a fisher, which also explains what it is.) The single biggest reason students miss is they are jammed at the table. To quote from the article, "The arc of a ball from a fisher is longer, and the topspin makes the ball bounce out, so the top of the bounce is about a half step father off the table than you might expect. Unless you have great reflexes and timing and can take the ball off the bounce, you'll need to take a half step back to smash or loop at the top of the bounce. Otherwise you'll get jammed."

The life of a table tennis coach

Last night I had sessions scheduled 4:30-5:30, 6-7, and a pair of 30-minute ones from 7-8. The 4:30 person was a new one, and didn't show. The 6PM one cancelled at the last minute because he strained his thumb. So I was hanging around the club from 4:15 -7PM reading "Moonfall" by Jack McDevitt. (Great book.) The life of a ping-pong coach.

Photos from the 2011 World Championships

Here's a video montage of the 2011 World Championships (2:20) by ITTF photographer Remy Gros, set to music.

The forehand loop in slow motion

Here's a great video from Brian Pace (4:50) of Dynamic Table Tennis demonstrating his forehand loop in slow motion. Trust me, you don't want to face that loop at the table; I'd much rather face it on video.

Red Foo vs. Sky Blu

Here's a video of these two playing table tennis (2:34) from the electro pop duo LMFAO. Warning - Red Foo seems to be playing in sagging and skimpy underwear; watching it could give you nightmares.

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January 25, 2012

Ready position and basketball

So many players have poor ready positions. They stand up too straight, their feet are too close together, their weight isn't on the balls of their feet, and their non-playing arm hangs loosely at their side like a dead snake. But there's a simple cure I now use with many students. I go over to their side and say, "Let's play imaginary basketball. Cover me!" They immediately bend their knees to get down slightly, their feet go wider, their weight goes onto the balls of their feet, and their non-playing hand goes up. A perfect playing stance! So next time you play, why not get in the habit of starting each rally with a little imaginary basketball? (I wrote about this same topic yesterday, including the basketball angle, but I wanted to elaborate here.) 

Ten steps to a great service game

  1. Learn to serve with lots of spin by accelerating the racket through the ball and grazing it.
  2. Learn to serve various spins, including backspin, side-backspin, sidespin, side-topspin, and topspin, with the sidespins going both ways.
  3. Learn to serve low.
  4. Learn to control the depth and direction of the serve.
  5. Learn to serve with spin using a semi-circular motion so you can create different spins with the same motion by varying where in the motion you contact the ball.
  6. Learn to minimize and do quickly this semi-circular motion so receiver has trouble picking up contact.
  7. Learn to change the direction of your follow-through with your racket the split second after contact to mislead the receiver.
  8. Learn to fake spin and serve no-spin by contacting the ball near the handle.
  9. Learn to serve fast & deep as a variation to your spin serves.
  10. Learn to follow up your serve.

Evolution of Table Tennis

Here are five videos that showcase the evolution of table tennis, from the hardbat days to the present. It includes extensive segments on the major champions. For example, Vol. 2 features Bohumil Vana and Ferenc Sido, while Vol. 3 features (among others) Johnny Leach and Hiroje Satoh (the latter the first sponge player).

  1. Vol. 1 (9:50)
  2. Vol. 2 (9:58)
  3. Vol. 3 (8:26)
  4. Vol. 4 (9:37)
  5. Vol. 5 (13:33)

"Breaking 2000"

Here's a new ebook on table tennis, "Breaking 2000," by Alex Polyakov, about his journey to a 2000+ USATT rating. The cost is $2.99, or free if you are a member of the Kindle Prime program. While we're on the subject of table tennis books, here's my collection of 203 of 'em.

Non-table tennis: "Twisted Tales"

While you're downloading "Breaking 2000" (above), why not download "Twisted Tales" for 99 cents? It's a collection of 66 super-short horror stories, all of the 66 words long, including two of mine, "The Hand of God" and "A Brush with Dirty Yellow Teeth."

Non-table tennis: Credit Card Crime

Yesterday someone got my credit card number and tried to make a $1000+ purchase. The credit card company somehow recognized it as fraud, blocked the purchase, and contacted me. So the card was cancelled, and a new one is coming. Highly irritating.

Quadruple table tennis

This is one of the crazier looking table tennis sets I've seen, but for only $249.95, you can now have your own quad table tennis game!

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January 24, 2012

Standing up too straight

Many players stand up way too straight when they play. The result is they are unable to move as quickly as they could if they kept their legs father apart (which also adds stability and power) and bent their knees slightly. It also tends to mess up some strokes, especially on the backhand, where you lose leverage if you stand up straight.

Some players do this because they are getting old and have knee problems, or are overweight, but even then you can get in the habit of bending the knees slightly, as well as keeping the legs a little farther apart. And very young players (or short players) don't want to get down too low because they are already rather short and if they get down any lower they'll have problems on their backhand. 

There's a rather easy cure. Rather than think of getting down, imagine you are covering someone in basketball, or playing shortstop in baseball, or you're the goalie in soccer. As soon as I tell a player to imagine this, they immediately get lower. It's almost impossible not too - you can't do these things in basketball, baseball, or soccer without getting down, and so players instinctively get down. They don't have this same instinct in table tennis, so the habit needs to be learned.

U.S. Olympic Trials Dream

This is a weird one. Last night I dreamed I was at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are coming up in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12. (In real life, I will be there coaching.) Player after player asked if I would coach them, and I kept saying yes. Next thing I know I'm committed to coaching about a dozen players. The players began arguing over me, and then they got hostile toward me. Then I found myself at a match where five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller was playing current U.S. Men's Doubles Champion and Singles Finalist Han Xiao - and I was coaching both sides!

Between games they both came over for coaching. That's when I explained that according to Citizens United, I couldn't coordinate with them on tactics. (I'm an amateur presidential historian, and follow politics closely, alas.) They began arguing with me, and we finally agreed that I could talk to them as long as they didn't talk back, since if they did that would be "coordinating." (In the dream, this made sense.) Then I started telling them both how to play each other, and then the two of them got into an excited discussion about their strengths and weaknesses, and soon I was just listening as they got into a mutual admiration thing.

Then suddenly I found myself coaching USATT Hall-of Famer Diana Gee McDonnell (a U.S. National and Olympic team member circa late 80's and early '90s, who was a resident at the Olympic Training Center back then when I was at various times the manager/director/a coach) against Han! Then I was interrupted by several others who were demanding that I coach them, then Han got angry that I was coaching against him, and Dan's brother Randy Seemiller started yelling at me for not coaching Dan, and then I woke up at 6AM all sweaty and nervous about who I was supposed to coach.

If you want to read about two other weird dreams I've blogged about, see my entries from June 28, 2011 ("U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream") and Jan. 9, 2012 ("Dan Seemiller, ping-pong and waiter"). Will someone tell Mr. Seemiller to please stay out of my dreams!???

Use of the wrist

Here's an interesting discussion of use of the wrist in table tennis. In particular see the ninth posting, which links to videos of wrist usage by "some of our sport's biggest starts." My "short" take on wrist usage? I'll quote Dan Seemiller (geez, here he is again): "When the ball is coming at you slow, use more wrist. When the ball is coming at you fast, use less wrist." Additionally, beginning players shouldn't use much wrist except on the serve and pushing. Instead, just put the wrist back and let it go through the ball naturally. As you advance, you can start using more and more wrist, especially when looping against slower balls.

Anne Cribbs joins USATT Board

Anne Cribbs, an Olympic Gold medallist for swimming at the 1960 Olympics, was named to the USATT Board of Directors. (Strangely, the USATT article mentions she was an Olympic gold medallist but neglects to mention which sport.)

Backhand Sidespin of the Year

Don't practice this in your basement or you might break a side window.

Roller-Coaster Ping-Pong?

Here's the picture - I'd like to see video!

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January 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Forcing an Opponent Out of Position.

Changing tactics

I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?

I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those. 

However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.

And so I found myself down 2-3 in games. At this point I simply was too tired to continuously attack forehands when needed or to run around and loop her serves (I don't have a strong backhand loop, alas), and my 1% backhand miss rate was way too high against a backhand with a 0% miss rate. So I began to look for chances to chop to get out of these backhand rallies. I chopped her deep topspin serves back (so I didn't have to run around to forehand loop them, and because I get more spin when looping backspin), and if we got into a fast rally, after a few shots I'd find a ball to chop on the backhand. She'd push, and I'd get to loop, usually to her forehand or middle, about 2/3 of the time going for slow, spinny and deep loops, about 1/3 of the time going for rips, usually to the forehand side. 

And lo and behold, it through off her rhythm, and I started getting balls to smash or loop kill when she blocked my loops! I won game six. I started game seven with a barrage of attacks that put me in a 1-4 hole. So I went back to mixing in chopping and looping, and finally won, 11-8 in the seventh. If I'd stuck with my normal steady backhand countering game in rallies, and continued to attack the deep serve (as I'm always coaching players to do, since 90% of the time it's the right strategy), I'd have lost. 

This strategy was reminiscent of how Dan Seemiller won the men's singles at the USA Nationals one year over Eric Boggan.

Beginners learning forehand and backhand

Recently I've coached a lot of beginners, especially new kids. I've noticed an interesting dynamic. In nearly every case, by the end of the first session they had picked up either the forehand or backhand pretty well, but struggled on the other side. None had trouble on both; none were good on both. In each case, they so mastered the proper technique on one side that by the end of the session I was able to challenge them to see how many they could hit in a row - something I never do until I'm confident they'll do so with good technique. But on the other side we never got to that stage. In most cases they got it down in the second or third session, but even then it was obvious they were more comfortable on the other side. I wonder if this is something that'll be true the rest of their table tennis playing days?

Twelve Tips to Table Tennis Perfection

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina. They are all great items; I find #1 (goals) and #10 (visualizing) the two that players most overlook. Until you set specific goals (and then work out what you need to do to achieve those goals), it's hard to improve. It's like going on a journey without a destination. As to visualizing, it's the most underused way to improve.

Returning the forehand pendulum serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:53) that shows how to return a forehand pendulum serve into the backhand.

2012 Hungarian Men's Singles Final

This was a great match from this past weekend, where shakehand attacker Ma Long of China (#1 in the world) barely defeats South Korea's chopper/looper Joo Se Hyuk (2003 World Men's Singles Finalist), -7,4,-4,4,-7,7,8, in the final of the Hungarian Open. Time between points is taken out so you can see the entire match in about ten minutes. Joo upset current World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (also of China) in the quarterfinals by the unlikely scores of 5,7,7,4. (Here's that match on youtube, but it's shown continuously, so takes about 30 minutes.) Here are articles, pictures, and results.

Liu Guoliang teaching his one-year-old daughter table tennis!

Yes, former World and Olympic Champion and current Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang is already teaching the next generation the family business (1:09).

The bearded Liv Tyler paddle

Here's actress Liv Tyler with her bearded paddle! And the sixth picture down shows her playing with the paddle. She's promoting her upcoming movie "Robot and Frank," but is probably best known for her roles in Lord of the Rings (she's Arwen!), Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk.

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January 20, 2012

Ma Lin Step Around and Loop

Here's a nice video (1:14) showing Ma Lin stepping around his backhand corner to forehand loop, using multiball. Video includes slow motion and from two angles. Best part to watch is the slow motion from 0:10 to 0:28. Key things to note:

  1. Note in the slow motion that the move to the left starts with a tiny step with the left foot, followed by the bigger step over with the right.
  2. He stays balanced throughout the shot. See how his weight stays between his legs, almost centered. To do this, he has to extend his left leg to the left to keep balanced. Note the wide stance for stability.
  3. He has a lot of ground to cover, and so has to hit on the move. Because of this, he is forced to follow through more to the side than he would if he had more time. This slows down his recovery, and yet because he pushes off his left leg immediately after the shot, and maintains balance, he is able to quickly recover for the next shot.
  4. He extends his arm for full power. There is little or no arm snap. Historically, most top players since the days of Cai Zhenhua in the early 1980s snapped their arm at the elbow just before contact, but most current top Chinese players mostly keep the arm extended throughout the stroke as they sweep their arm through the ball. The irony is this is almost reminiscent of the old Hungarian loops from the late 1970s. So the precursor for many of the top Chinese loops are from Hungary, while the precursor for most of the top European loopers is Cai Zhenhua of China.
  5. The shoulders rotate back to 90 degrees to the table, and than rotate forward a little more than 90 degrees.

A kid gets the sniffles, and I'm out $45

Yes, this is what happened when a kid got sick and canceled a 30-minute lesson last night, my only schedule coaching yesterday. (I've got at least two hours every other day of the week.) I'm out $25 for the lesson, $10 for the movie I went to see instead ("The Descendents," very good), and $10 for a coke and popcorn.

Article on Volunteer Coach of the Year

Here's an article in the Denver Post on local Duane Gall winning the USATT National Volunteer Coach of the Year Award.

Kanak Jha Interview

USA Cadet Team Member and ITTF Hope Team Member Kanak Jha is interviewed at the 2011 ITTF Global Cadet Challenge and Global Junior Circuit Finals in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan. 14-22, 2012.

Ping-Pong crackers

Yes, you read the headline right - enjoy these ping-pong crackers. (And notice the table tennis emblem on the lower right.) As near as I can figure after some Internet searching, the two languages on the package are Thai and French, but I'm not sure. Can anyone verify?

Top movie monologues (including table tennis)

I would have had this blog up an hour ago but I got caught up watching "14 of the most impressive monologues in movie history." Personally, I can't believe they left out Patton's speech at the start of 1971's "Patton" (6:20). (Warning - lots of profanity.) Also missing is Syndrome's monologue from 2004's "The Incredibles" (2:13), including my favorite line, "You sly dog, you got me monologuing!" And while I'm not impressed with him personally, I would have included Mel Gibson's speech from 1995's "Braveheart" (2:33). And then there's "Ferris Bueller's Day off," which is mostly one long monologue. Here are the best lines (3:20), though these aren't really monologues.

But what about table tennis monologues? The first minute of this video from 2007's "Balls of Fury" is basically a sportcaster's monologue about the great golden boy table tennis prodigy Randy Daytona. The rest of the video (6:19) are hilarious scenes from the movie you have to watch.

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January 19, 2012

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide - Update

First, let me think the reviewers for their help editing/proofing/critiquing the first draft of the book, which should be available later this year. They are (alphabetically) Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton.

I'd told them I would be starting the (hopefully) finally rewrite from their comments starting this past Tuesday, two days ago. However, with fellow MDTTC coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun temporarily in China, my coaching hours have doubled. Add that I'm still tired from having a cold from Jan. 1-12, that I started weight training again this week (so I'm exhausted from that - see my blog entry from Monday on my back problems), that I'm continually hungry from dieting (after gaining four pounds over the holidays), and that 523 new things came up this week (most involving MDTTC), I'm sorry to say I haven't been able to get started on it yet. Tentatively, in my mind, I'm still going to start on Tuesday, but it'll be next Tuesday. (My weekends and Mondays are busy.)

Backswing on forehand

I was working with a kid yesterday who kept hitting forehands off the end. Like many beginning and even intermediate players, he tended to hit up too much on the ball, focusing on getting the ball over the net even though most misses are off the end. So I told him to shadow stroke his forehand, but freeze at the end of his backswing. Then I went to his side, and shadow stroked my forehand, and also froze at the end of my backswing. My racket was about four inches higher than his. (It doesn't make a difference how tall the player is, the racket should backswing to about the same spot, which for me is about elbow height, while for the kid, about shoulder height.) So he raised his racket to match mine, shadow stroked with the new backswing height (with me harping on remembering the feel of it), and then we went back to hitting. Magically, his forehand smash came alive! (There are differences in backswings based on how much topspin you put on the ball. A player with a very topspinny backhand will have a lower backswing than one who hits flatter. In the case above, both of us were hitting pretty much standard forehands, not too topspinny and not too flat.)

Chocolate quote

I've blogged about how I sometimes give out chocolates as a reward for kids who achieve a certain task, such as hitting a certain number of shots in a row or hitting a target I put on the table. Yesterday I was hitting with an 8-year-old girl who was having trouble getting the thirty forehands in a row she needed to win a chocolate. I jokingly warned her that if she didn't hit thirty, she'd get to watch me eat the chocolate. Her response? "I know you'll give me chocolate because you're a big softy!" (Soon afterward she got the thirty and got the chocolate. And three more before the session was over.)

Tong Tong Gong in Howard County Times

Here's another article about Tong Tong making the USA National Cadet Team. (And that's me in the background! I'm one of Tong Tong's coaches.) Strangely, the Howard Country Times seems to use the Baltimore Sun webspace for their online version. He was also in the Baltimore Sun on Sunday. Here's the print version, with a large picture of Tong Tong.)

Peter Li vs. Timothy Wang

In case you missed it, here's the epic men's singles semifinal match at the 2011 Nationals between 2010 champion Timothy Wang and 2011 champ-to-be Peter Li, where Peter comes back from down 0-3 and multiple match points in the seventh to win, -6,-6,-4,9,10,8,14. It's a long one, just over an hour. And here's the other semifinal, Han Xiao over Chance Friend (7,6,8,-10,8), and the final, Peter Li over Han Xiao (9,7,7,6).

Ping-pong table made of ice!

Yes, it's all part of the Hunter Ice Festival

Racket Repertoire

Here's a hilarious video (2:39) of Wade Sun using just about any available item for a racket. I do the same thing!

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