Larry Hodges's blog

November 30, 2011

Angelica Rozeanu

Angelica Rozeanu of Romania was World Women's Singles Champion six straight years, 1950-56 - and believe it or not, she was the last European to win that title! (The Worlds were held annually through 1957, every two years since then.) From 1957 to present, women from China won it 19 times, Japan seven times (all the titles from 1956-69 except the 1961 win by Giu Zhonghui of China), and three times by Korea (Pak Yung Sun of North Korea in 1975 and 1977, and Hyun Jung Hwa of South Korea in 1993). China has won six in a row, 12 of the last 13, and 14 of the last 16.

So how good was Rozeanu, a hardbat chopper, who also won Women's Doubles and Mixed Doubles at the Worlds three times each? Judge for yourself in this video (4:51) from the late 1950s when she was at her peak.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players

I wrote this a while back, but I was thinking about it recently during the Teams, since it seems to fit the profiles of so many top players. Does it fit you?

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

I'm 67,000 words into the first draft, with 18.5 of 20 chapters completed. (I've also done the Introduction, Glossary, and yep, even About the Author.)  I'm halfway through the chapter on Hardbat Tactics (yep, I'm doing that!) and haven't started Mental Tactics (tactics to get yourself into the right frame of mind to play your best). Soon I'll be going over all my past articles to see if there are more items I should add. Here are some excerpts:

Opening to chapter on Tactical Thinking:

"What are tactics? Tactical thinking is how you figure out the best way to use what you have to win. Pretty simple, right?

"The goal of tactics is to mess up your opponent. That's all there is to it.

"Tactical thinking is a habit. Many highly intelligent people are not good tactical players because they never developed the habit. And I've seen some not-too-bright people who were good tactical players because, yes, they spent a lot of time watching and observing, and learned what to do to maximize their games - and so became very good tactical players.

"Tactical thinking takes place in five settings: Between tournaments, after matches, before matches, between games, between points, and during practice. The one time you don'tthink is during points."

Opening to chapter on Strategic Thinking:

"Strategic thinking is how you develop the tools you will use tactically. If you don't have the proper tools, you can't get the job done. It's like having a nail and a screwdriver - wrong tools."

Here's the tentatively final table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One               Tactical Thinking
  • Chapter Two               Strategic Thinking
  • Chapter Three             All About Spin
  • Chapter Four               Your Tactical Game
  • Chapter Five                Beginning Tactics
  • Chapter Six                  Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics
  • Chapter Seven             Service Tactics
  • Chapter Eight               Receive Tactics
  • Chapter Nine                Rallying Tactics
  • Chapter Ten                 Different Grips
  • Chapter Eleven             Pushing
  • Chapter Twelve             Loopers
  • Chapter Thirteen           Blockers, Counter-Drivers, and Hitters
  • Chapter Fourteen         Choppers
  • Chapter Fifteen             Fishers and Lobbers
  • Chapter Sixteen            Non-Inverted Surfaces
  • Chapter Seventeen       Hardbat Tactics
  • Chapter Eighteen          Doubles Tactics
  • Chapter Nineteen          Mental Tactics
  • Chapter Twenty            Tournament Tactics
  • Glossary
  • About the Author
  • Index

The Ping-Pong Workout - on FOX News!

Yes, they did a special on table tennis and fitness (2:21, starts with a 30-sec commercial), and concluded that it was good for fitness. Almost makes me want to vote Republican. :)

Table tennis going to the dogs

This tailless dog just wants to join in, while this one actually does join in, though I think you lose the point if your non-playing paw touches the table.

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November 29, 2011

Tactics versus Strategy

I've blogged in the past about the difference between tactical and strategic thinking. Tactical thinking is what you do to win now; strategic thinking is what you do to prepare yourself to win later. I had an experience a while back where I was coaching a junior against another junior who was about the same level. The other junior was a better counterlooper, while the one I was coaching had a better block. It went into the fifth game. Between games I said, "Do you want to counterloop with this guy?" (I was thinking he should block more, since they were getting into a lot of counterlooping points.) The junior I was coaching said, "I can beat him counterlooping."

My first thought was that if you block, you'll win, but if you counterloop you'll lose. I opened my mouth, then closed it, and then realized this was one of those strategic moments. So we worked out a tactical plan whereby he'd not just counterloop, but he'd serve and receive to get into those rallies. Because he was looking to counterloop every chance, he was ready for the shot, and so was able to pull out the fifth game, counterlooping down an opponent who normally would have won most of those rallies. It was a huge confidence booster for him, and he improved dramatically as his game became more looping, less blocking. Tactically, blocking might have been the right thing to do, but strategically, he needed to be able to counterloop against this type of player if he wanted to reach the higher levels, and so counterlooping was the strategic choice.

How to be more aggressive with third-ball attack

Way too many players serve and push, thereby giving up their serve advantage against a passive receive. If you want to improve, you should learn to serve and loop against these passive long pushes. There are always exceptions, but the vast majority of top players - and most intermediate players as well - reach that level by almost always attacking when an opponent makes such a passive return. You should too. You have many options - forehand or backhand loop; loop hard, medium, or soft & spinny; and wide to the corners or at the opponent's elbow (middle).  Here's a video from Coach Tao Li from Table Tennis University (4:55) that helps teach how to do this.

Europe versus Chinese table tennis

Here's a recent article, Professionalism in Europe, that explains why Europe is lagging behind China in table tennis. Here's an article I wrote a while back (along with Cheng Yinghua) called The Secrets of Chinese Table Tennis and What the Rest of the World Needs to Do to Catch Up.

Teams writeup

Here's a short article on the JOOLA North America Teams in the Baltimore Sun.

Mike Cavanaugh interview

Here's an interview with USATT Executive Director Mike Cavanaugh in the Sports Business Daily.

Tryptophan!

You may remember I warned about eating turkey for lunch or dinner if you have to play afterwards, because the Tryptophan may make you sleepy? (I blogged about this on September 8, and reprinted it on November 24.) Well, Red and Rover did a cartoon on this!

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November 28, 2011

Tip of the Week:

Message to Lower Ranked Players from Higher Ranked Players. (Re: How to beat us.)

Results of the JOOLA North American Teams

They are on the NA Table Tennis home page. It was a great three days at this well-run tournament, though now my mind is sizzled to a crisp from three days of coaching.

Successful attitudes during a grueling tournament

The JOOLA North American Teams is the most grueling of tournaments. I've noticed there are two types who do well there. The most successful are those who think of themselves as warriors, ready to take on anything and everything, match after match, shaking off all past results as they prepare for combat. However, there's another attitude that seems to work at all levels except the elite level, and that is the "party" attitude. This is the player who plays for fun, and so is completely relaxed when he plays - and guess who wins when he plays an uptight, nervous opponent who so badly wants to win that he rarely does, and whose mind is completely stressed out after a few matches?

My best coaching advice of the tournament

A player I was coaching lost the first game to a weaker player, and said between games he was nervous. I told him to "Play like it's just another match at the club." It was simple, obvious advice, and it worked. He reminded himself of this the rest of the tournament. It was so successful I repeated the advice to others, and the relaxed wins became infectious.

How to not care when you do care

Someone asked me at the Teams, "How do you not care when you do care?" It was a shorthand way of asking how to relax and not worry about winning when you so badly want to win. My answer was that you should be so focused on what you are doing (what serves to use, how to receive, where to place the ball, etc.) and should have convinced yourself so thoroughly that you can do the shots that you need to do, that the idea of losing never enters your mind. You should expect to win, so there is no uncertainty. And if you do lose, when it happens there should be a moment of confusion since it was totally unexpected. Then you shake it off, figure out what you need to do next time, and convince yourself it will never happen again because you know you can execute the shots needed to win.

Quote of the tournament

During a match at the Teams this past weekend, a 10-year-old I was coaching led 10-2 match point in the fifth game against a much higher-rated player. He lost the next four points, and then called a timeout at 10-6. He walked over to me and said, "I'm so nervous I think I'm gonna die!" After we finished laughing, I told him to put all his nervousness into a ball, and give me the ball, and I'd keep it on the sideline for him until the match was over. He handed over the ball of nervousness, and won, 11-7. (Later we tossed the ball of nervousness in the trash.)

Best team names at the Teams

Here are my favorite team names from the Teams, in alphabetical order. (Here's the complete listing - set field to "2011 NA Teams.")

  • Arctic Frost Spin (Karl A. Augestad, Kyle Yan, Ralph L. Stadelman, Zackery Gholston)
  • Beta-lactamase Inhibitors (Amy Lu, Ben Wolski, Joseph Chow, Josiah Chow)
  • Binary Coded Decimal Team (Bernard Lemal, Chun Yi Wang, Duc Nguyen, Li, Gan, Tai T. Ly)
  • Bone Crushers (Donna Rogall, Orlando E. Russell, Paul Nichols, Ray Glass, Raymond F. Chen)
  • Boys Gone Wild (Michael Landers, Peter Li, Suchy, Mieczyslaw)
  • Never Give Ups (Claude Francois, Daniel Guttman, Kyle Moyant, Ping Tan Foster)
  • Nice Team (John Bauer, Philippe Dassonval, John Salas, Li Yu Xiang, Wei Wilson)
  • Occupy Baltimore (people's ping pong party) (Khaleel Asgarali, Raghu R. Nadmichettu, Rocky Wang, Scott Lurty)
  • Peching Order (Keith Pech, Pedro P. Perez, Seth Pech, Seyed Hesam Hamrahian)
  • Spin Fatality (Charles Oxrieder, Chris OBrian, Gregg Robertshaw, Samir Nasser,  Walter Wintermute)
  • SPiN Galactic (Franck Raharinosy, Emile Goldstein, Jonathan Bricklin, Teodor Alexandru Lipan)
  • Sultans of Celluloid (Kaelan Yao, Paul R. Nunez, Stephen D. Hunsberger, Vincent Petrone)
  • We're Actually Not That Good (Edward W Wang, Hyo Won Kim, Joshua Tran, Karl Montgomery)

Lumbering forehand

Here's Larry Bavly pulling off the shot of the day at the Teams, at 1:30 of this 2:28 video.

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November 25, 2011

JOOLA North American Teams

I'm at the Teams in Baltimore, so this will be a shorter entry. I'm only coaching, but it's going to be a busy tournament since I'm coaching multiple players. I'm just thankful I don't have to play on the cement floors, which leave my knees in the same state of your average turkey in Thanksgiving. Come to think of it, I'm going to be in a hall with over 800 people walking about with blades, all looking for chances to kill.

Catch-up time

With about 10% of the USATT membership at the North American Teams, here's the chance for the other 90% to gain on them! What part of your game needs work? What part of your game can you turn into an overpowering strength? Go practice these aspects. Above all, practice your serves - more than anything else, that's the aspect of your game you can control. You might never develop great footwork or strokes, but you can always develop great serves. Here's an article on "How to Move Up a Level" - this is your chance to really work on moving beyond your current peers. Develop that overpowering strength that will strike fear in the hearts of all who oppose you. Here's an article on developing an overpowering strength. And since we're on the subject of improving, here are 14 articles on how to improve (including the two just mentioned):

How to Improve

Artistic blades

For sale! Yes, you can buy a Starry Starry Paddle, a Sunset Paddle, or a Manga Mascot Paddle! Even Ping-Pong Diplomacy blades! Time to start your Christmas shopping.

Cross-eyed table tennis boy

Gotta watch the ball!

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November 24, 2011

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

JOOLA North American Teams

For those that missed it, yesterday I did a special on the Teams, with links to articles, tips on how to play well, and video. Don't be a turkey; read and watch all of it!

The Turkey Theory of Forehands and Backhands

Players who are turkeys develop very strong forehands and weak backhands, or vice versa. Sometimes their weaker side isn't really that weak, it's just not that strong. If you have a weaker side, why not make it a goal to turn your weak/average/somewhat strong side into an overpowering strength? You can do it; simply choose not to be a turkey.

Turkey, Table Tennis, and Tong Tong

(The following is a reprint from Sept. 8, 2011 - but it seems rather timely now, especially for those of you competing in the Teams, who might eat a turkey sandwich before a match.)
I've had several cases over the years of a student eating a turkey sandwich for lunch at a tournament, and getting sleepy afterwards. This is presumably because of the relatively high levels of L-Tryptophan in turkey. Now this is controversial - while there's no question L-Tryptophan can cause drowsiness, it supposedly only happens if given almost in pure form on an empty stomach. Regardless, I've had enough bad experiences with this that I warn all my students never to eat turkey during a tournament until they are done playing for the day. For example, I was coaching U.S. Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong at a tournament last year. He had a turkey sandwich for lunch. When he had to play soon afterwards, he complained of sleepiness, said he could barely keep his eyes open. I took him into the restroom to splash cold water on his face, and it helped somewhat. He struggled for a couple matches before he felt alert again.

Marathon Training, Ping-Pong, and Turkeys

This is probably the only article ever that combines these three topics. Plus a bonus picture of a bearded Forrest Gump running.

Turkish Table Tennis

They call it Turkish Table Tennis (1:03), but it looks to me like a game of Around the World with some dancing thrown in.

Canada vs. Turkey: A Ping-Pong Odyssey

Yes, the long-awaited clash between these two table tennis powers (2:52).

Thanksgiving at the Ping-Pong Place

For Thanksgiving dinner, there's nothing like grandma serving a roasted Robo-Pong with ping-pong ball stuffing.

Turkey Table Tennis

Really! Winner gets the turkeyball.

Turkey Table Tennis with a Real Turkey

Are you ready to cut up a turkey with a blade, and serve it? Well, this turkey also has a blade and he's also ready to serve. (It's just a larger version of the turkey at the top.)  Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 23, 2011

Special on the North American Teams

The JOOLA North American Teams is this weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center, Fri-Sun, Nov. 25-27. This is one of the "big three" tournaments in the U.S. (along with the U.S. Open in July and USA Nationals in December), with the largest participation of any USA tournament - about 800 players, 200 teams, 144 tables, 150,000 square feet, $20,000 in prize money. Here's a series of articles that you might want to browse, whether you are playing in the tournament or just want to know more. I've only missed one year since 1976, including 33 straight years from 1976-2008. I'll be there all three days coaching - come say hello! (The secret handshake is to point your finger at me and say, "Secret handshake.")

Pushing Epiphany

Yesterday I suddenly realized something I already knew, but now I realized that I knew it. And that is that your average club or tournament player (say, 1500-1800) pushes poorly not just because he doesn't know better, but because he isn't forced to push better by his peers. I can serve backspin to your average under 1900 player and the large majority of the time they will push it back so that it is easy to loop a winner - if you can loop at a 2000+ level. It's not any one thing - sometimes the pushes aren't deep or short, aren't low, aren't heavy, are predictable, or wander out from the corners. Any one of these things make the push easy to attack. If you do all of these things even pretty well, then they are difficult to attack well by just about anyone - which is what most 2000+ players do when they push. (Here's a Tip of the Week on pushing effectively.)

Maximizing Your Game Under Poor Circumstances

Here's an article by Samson Dubina on eight ways to improve when your training conditions are less than ideal. He asks the question, "One must play against better players in order to improve?" The answer is, of course, false. He explains, "It is possible to improve your table tennis game even if you don’t have ideal training partners, ideal coaching, and an ideal facility.  In this article, I’m going to suggest eight ways that you can maximize your game under poor training circumstances.

USA's Lily Zhang wins doubles at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup

And here's the article that proves it! Lily, world #154, teamed with Russia's Anne Tikhomirova, world #68. In the final, they defeated the unified Korean team of Kim Kyung Ah (South Korea, world #13, perhaps the best women chopper in the world) and Kim Hye Song (North Korea, World #120), -6,8,-3,3,8. In the semifinals they defeated Cao Zhen (China, unranked, but world #30 in Feb., 2011, world #11 in 2006) and Aia Mohamed (Qatar, no ranking), 11,-10,7,8. Here's a picture of Zhang and Tikhomirova with their trophies, and an action shot (with the caption saying, "Russia's Anna Tikhomirova hits a return during the women's doubles table tennis match at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup," but of course she's actually serving.)

Guinness World Record for most players in a rally

A total of 107 players took part in this rally (3:01). Perhaps the most boring table tennis video ever made, but are you in the Guinness Book of World Records?

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November 22, 2011

Teaching the forehand pendulum sidespin-topspin serve

Teaching the forehand pendulum serve is easy. Most relatively new players learn to do it with backspin and sidespin-backspin without too much trouble. But serving it with sidespin-topspin? This might be the single most difficult thing to teach. It's like teaching someone to whistle - at first they try and try, and nothing seems to work, and they get frustrated. And then, suddenly, it just happens, and then they get it, and from there on it's no problem. The same is true of this serve; players often struggle and struggle with it, which is frustrating to the player and the coach. And then, it just suddenly happens. I'm not sure why this particular skill is so much trickier to teach than other skills. You'd think that teaching a loop would be harder, but I've found that's much easier in practice.

The basic idea of the serve is that the racket goes through a pendulum motion. To get backspin or sidespin-backspin, you contact the ball on the downswing. To get pure sidespin, you contact the ball between the downswing and upswing. To get topspin or sidespin-topspin, you contact the ball on the upswing. To maximize spin, bring the wrist back and smoothly snap it into the serve, like a whip. It's helpful to imagine your arm (just above the wrist) hitting a pole just before contact, so that the wrist and racket whip about like the tip of a whip, or a tetherball spinning about a pole as it runs out of rope. 

The fastest moving part of the racket is the part farthest from the wrist, which for a shakehander is not the tip of the racket, but just below that (to the left for a right-hander). This is where you contact the ball for maximum spin. However, as the racket rotates around, the left side of the blade moves more naturally up, so it's easier to get sidespin-topspin by contacting the ball even more to the left. Demonstrating this is easy; teaching it is much harder. If anyone has suggestions on better ways to teach this, I'm all ears.

Parapan Am results

Here they are!

Improving Your Game Through Post Game Analysis

Here's an article by Samson Dubina on how to improve by analyzing your matches. He takes us through his analysis at four tournaments - the Rubber City Open in Akron, OH; the Hock Open in New Albany, IN; the Millcreek Open in Erie, PA; and the Macy Block Open in Columbus, OH.

Pongcast #4

Here's another Pongcast (27:35), once again covering the table tennis news of the week, in particular the recent Men's World Cup, and other items such as a segment on serves. They put a lot of time into putting these together!

How to Topspin Down the Line

Here's a video from PingSkills that teaches this (2:20).

Chinese Team Training

Here's a video (6:11) of the Chinese team training at the World Championships in May in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Free book on how to practice

Here's a free online book (PDF format), Practice to Learn; Play to Win.

Juggling ping-pong balls with mouth

Here's someone who "juggles" four ping-pong balls by rapidly catching them in his mouth and blowing them up. He does 23 in a row, a new record. If he swallows one, well, they are low calorie, right?

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November 21, 2011

Tip of the Week

Remember the Good Shots.

Rushing the quicker player

It's tough playing a quicker player who bangs every shot before while you're still following through on your previous shot. But a lot of players don't understand that on the first shot of the rally, especially on your serve, you can rush the quicker player. It just comes down to setting yourself up for a shot you can attack quickly, before the quick opponent can get into a quick rally. If you place your first quick attack well, the quicker player will have great difficulty and won't be able to rush you - and you'll get a second shot to attack.

For example, I like to serve fast no-spin at the receiver's elbow. This often forces a weaker topspin return - but more importantly, it draws the receiver out of position, especially if he returns it backhand. (For that reason, I tend to serve it slightly to the backhand side, though a forehand also draws the player out of position.) Once the player is drawn out of position, it's just a matter of you attacking that ball quickly to an open corner.

Another way is to serve short side-top to the forehand. Many players have trouble attacking this ball, and so you tend to get a softer return you can attack quickly - and while the opponent is drawn over the table reaching for that short ball to the forehand. Or serve a breaking sidespin serve deep to the backhand - many players will take this ball late and essentially roll it back, allowing you to go for the first quick, aggressive shot.

Of course, the best way to overcome a quicker player is to keep the ball deep, attack his elbow and wide corners, and focus on making consistent, strong shots. 

Trials and Tribulations

After a month of playing great (due to extra practice, weight training, and stretching), over the last week I've been feeling progressively stiffer, especially in the upper back. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens. Exercising and stretching only help it marginally. Unfortunately, this is causing havoc to my forehand attacking game in practice matches. After a month of feeling like I had the speed of a meteor, now I'm feeling a bit more like a meteorite. Dan Seemiller told me this used to happen to him as well as he got older, that there were times he just couldn't play, and who am I to disagree with him? Anyway, I'm not playing terrible, just not nearly as well as before. I can still pretty much go through "lower players," but I'm not challenging stronger, faster players (i.e. our top juniors) so much anymore. Hopefully it'll come back. I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams next weekend (Fri-Sun), and fortunately the players have to do the playing; I don't.

Video Coaching

I'm off this morning for another two-hour video coaching session. We're not only watching the player I'm coaching, but other possible opponents as well. Top players, if you feel a cold tingle going down your spine, we're watching you.

USA Interviews at the World Junior Championships

Modern Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Why a simple game holds the key to world peace. (From the English newspaper The Independent.)

How to Practice Without a Serious Practice Partner

Coach Tao of Table Tennis University explains how to practice while playing games (4:58).

Non-Table Tennis - "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination" anthology

I recently submitted three stories to "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination," a science fiction and fantasy anthology put out by the famous editor Warren Lapine. They are literally the highest paying SF/fantasy anthology, and received well over 1000 submissions. All three of my stories made the final 40! (They expect to pick only about 20.) Here's what Warren wrote about my stories: "Larry, your stories were passed up to me by three different first readers in one night. I think that's a record." One of the assistant editors wrote, "Larry, I spent the last section of this evening wishing I had been first reader on one of your stories! Even if you don't make it into Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, know that you impressed a multitude of readers, writers, and editors, with myriad tastes." Okay, I'm ready to write some more stories! (Meanwhile, they plan to announce the final selections by Wednesday.) (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job, I mean my mostly night job, which is table tennis.)

Behind-the-back winner

Here's Liam Pitchford (English #1 player in men's and juniors) hitting a behind-the-back winner at the World Junior Championships last week. Notice how nonchalant he is about it? This reminds me of the best shot I ever saw in table tennis, also from an English junior. In the late 1980s, an English junior star trained for a week or so with the top USA juniors at the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While playing a match with Chi-Ming Chui (Chi-Sun's older brother), he mis-hit a serve almost straight up. Chi-Ming pulverized the shot. The English junior, seeing he was about to be creamed with the ball, turned his back, and without looking, jumped into the air and made a backhand, over-the-head, no-look counter-smash as the ball was rising from the table! He was as surprised as anyone watching - he had no idea he'd actually make the shot.

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November 18, 2011

Short serves to the forehand

Why do so few intermediate players serve short to the forehand? Perhaps as beginners they couldn't keep it short, and didn't want to serve to the opponent's forehand. And so the habit of serving to the backhand stuck. But a short serve to the forehand, especially with sidespin-topspin, is about the easiest way to get a set-up against most intermediate players. Many or most players will return short serves to the forehand almost always toward the forehand side (for righties), since it's awkward going down the line for many. This makes serve and attack very easy. Why not develop this for your game?

If you have trouble serving short, focus on a low contact point, and just graze the ball toward the bottom. Make the first bounce somewhat near the net. Make sure it crosses the net low. If you serve it crosscourt from the forehand side (most often with a tomahawk serve, i.e. racket tip up, contact the ball with a left-to-right motion), you'll have more table to allow the ball to go short. With the tomahawk serve spin (or a backhand serve or reverse pendulum serve, which all have the same type of sidespin), it'll be even harder for the opponent to take the ball down the line, since the sidespin is pulling it toward your forehand (again, for righties).

Have you practiced your serves today? C'mon, get with it!!!

Video coaching session

This morning I'm off to visit a student for two hours to watch and analyze videos of his play in a recent tournament. We have three matches we plan to watch, more if time permits - one against a much stronger player, one against a peer, and one against a much weaker player that he struggled with. We're going to go over it almost point by point, taking notes, with lots of slow motion and replaying. Have you done this with your game? Why not? (You can do this on your own, or hire a coach to do it with you - yeah, I'm getting paid, it's my job. See the "Video Coaching" tab on the left!)

Tahl Leibovitz Wins Gold, Makes Paralympic Team

Here's an article on Tahl Leibovitz doing the above. He's also gone undefeated in the team competition at the Parapan Ams, and the USA Men's Team plays for the gold later today in Guadalajara (that's in Jalisco, Mexico, since you were wondering).

Kong Linghui getting married

Table tennis great Kong Linghui (now the coach of the Chinese Women's Team) is getting married next year to actress Ma Su - here's the story.

Video of the Day

Here's The Best Table Tennis (3:05).

How Marty Reisman Ruined My Life and Other Openings
(Let's hear it for crass commercialism! Buy my books!)

Here is the opening of my book, "Table Tennis Tales & Techniques." It tells how I got started in table tennis. How did you get started?

"Back in 1976 (age 16), I was on my high school track team as a miler. I went to the library to get a book on 'Track & Field.' I happened to look to my left ... and there was a book on table tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I had been playing 'basement' ping-pong at a neighbor's house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out. From it, I found out about USATT (then called USTTA). I contacted them, found a local club, and went there. I got killed, but I stuck with it, and a few years later became the best at the club. I later became a professional table tennis coach and writer, and from 1985 on, I've been full-time table tennis almost continuously in various capacities. In 1991, I was hired as editor of USATT's national magazine. About a year later, at a tournament in New York, I met Marty for the first time (although I had probably seen him before), and told him this story. His response? 'Great ... another life I've ruined.'"

Here's the opening to both Table Tennis: Steps to Success and Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis:

"It's the most popular racket sport in the world, and the second most popular participation sport.  A sport with over 20 million active participants in the U.S. alone and, as of 1988, an Olympic sport.  Ask most people to name this sport and they'd immediately name that other well known racket game.  But they'd be wrong."

For Table Tennis: Steps to Success, here's the preface:

"This book is written for both the beginning player and the advanced player, and all those in between.  It is written both for those who have that deep down desire to be a champion and for those who are in it mostly for the fun.  Above all, it is written with the intent that you, the reader, can make the most of his or her abilities whether as a champion or for recreational purposes, or anything in between.  In short, this book is for you."

Here's the opening to "Ping-Pong Ambition," the table tennis story from "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges," which is a collection of my 30 best published short stories - yes, that's what I do outside of table tennis! (Here's my science fiction and fantasy page. Soon I'll have sold enough stories for "More Pings and Pongs!")

"Toby, one half inch tall, screamed and banged his fists on the rounded white walls of his prison. From outside he could hear the fading hysterical laughter of the genie that had imprisoned him in the ping-pong ball. How could this have happened? All he wanted was to be the greatest ping-pong player ever. Instead, he was stuck in this ball, just himself and the thick, red book the genie had given him. He let loose another set of screams."

Here's an excerpt from another short story in "Pings and Pongs," "Defeating Death," which was published in Weird Tales - you can also read it online, but this is the only ping-pong mention:

"Zargo walked to the basement door. It had been boarded up ever since an incident involving a rather unfortunate former assistant and a rather unfortunate game of ping-pong that had gotten out of hand. ('Magic and ping-pong,' Zargo had solemnly said, 'don't mix.')"

And while we're at it, here's the opening to "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," the book I'm working on:

"The purpose of tactics is to mess up your opponent."

Playing alone - with a Returnboard!

Here's an interesting video (9:37) showing a player training by himself with a pair of "return boards." Looks pretty fun!

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November 17, 2011

Timing for beginners

I was hitting with a relatively new student yesterday, an eight-year-old girl, who was having trouble timing her shots. I did something I've done before - I may have blogged about this a while ago - and started to say, "Da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da" as we hit, timing each "da" with the ball hitting the table or the racket. This greatly helped her timing. When I stopped doing it, she protested, and made me do it for about ten minutes. Finally, I switched to saying other things, like "No more, no more, no more, no more," and "Don't miss, don't miss, don't miss, don't miss," which she thought was pretty funny - but it also worked.

Focus on strengths and weaknesses

I've written about this before, but thought this was a good time to remind readers of my views on practice. Practice everything your game needs, but focus on the your strengths and weaknesses. You want to turn the strengths (or potential strengths) into overpowering strengths that strike fear in the heart of your peers. You want to get rid of any weaknesses that might hold you back.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

The book is moving along slowly, now at 55,000 words. I'm probably going to spend the next few days reworking some sections. I keep running into terminology questions, such as the one I blogged about last week (does a half-long serve go slightly long, slightly short, or in between?), and yesterday's "big" question - what do you call the three types of penhold backhands? Two are "conventional penhold backhand" (or is it "conventional Chinese penhold backhand"?) and "reverse penhold backhand," but what of the third, where the penholder swings from the side and turns their backhand into almost a second forehand? I've always known it as a "Korean penhold backhand," and Cheng Yinghua agreed - but someone else thought it was a "Japanese penhold backhand." I went with Korean for now.

Wang Hao's serve and the ITTF Umpires Chair response

I blogged on Tuesday about Wang Hao's illegal serves in the Men's World Cup Final, with video and pictures to verify. To recap, here are the pertinent rules:

  • 2.6.4: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
  • 2.6.5: "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."
  • 2.6.6: "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."

As a blogger, I decided to go right to the source, and so I emailed the chair of the ITTF Umpires and Referees Committee, and pointed out that the pictures and video show that on essentially ever serve, Wang was not pulling his arm away "as soon as the ball has been projected," and in fact was leaving it there right up until contact. Here's the video, and below are pictures that clearly show him hiding contact with his arm. (Also note that in all these serves, Wang has tossed the ball roughly to the top of his head, above his eyes, so the contact points shown here are well after he has projected the ball.)

Here is the pertinent part of his response:

"I have watched the YouTube video with great interest, and it may surprise you that the services were not as bad as I expected. You are right that most umpires do nothing about this, but that is not because they don't want, it is because they don't see. If there would be a camera on the position of the umpire it would be clear that from that position the service looks perfectly legal."

I find this response almost chilling in its dismissal of what our own eyes tell us. There is no way any umpire, from any angle, cannot see that Wang leaves his arm out right up until contact, breaking rule 2.6.5. And there is no way an umpire, from any angle, can conclude that the serves are not hidden. They may not be sure, but that's the whole point - if they aren't sure, then the serve is illegal - see rule 2.6.6. As it is, you can see from the still pictures that the serves are clearly hidden by the arm.

This problem of umpires not enforcing the rules, and thereby rewarding cheaters and cheating their opponents, is a serious problem that players and coaches have to face. Umpires are supposed to enforce the rules. How can the chair of the Umpires and Referees Committee from the worldwide governing body defend such an obvious and repeated public failure to enforce the rules?

Interestingly, most players who hide their serves do not do so in such obvious fashion as Wang does here. More commonly they will leave the arm out as long as possible, and then pull it in before contact. The umpire sees this, and since the arm obviously is not hiding contact, concludes the serve isn't hidden, and so doesn't bother strictly enforcing the rule about removing the arm as soon as the ball has been projected upwards. But as the server pulls the arm out, he thrusts his shoulder out, and it is the shoulder that hides contact - but since the umpire is distracted because he is watching the arm being pulled out, he misses the shoulder hiding contact. It's almost like a magic trick, where at the key moment the magician distracts the viewer from seeing what he doesn't want him to see. (While I may have just explained how to hide your serve to players who are willing to cheat, it's more important that players and umpires know what to watch for.)

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis the Best (3:01).

Table Tennis in a Car

I've never seen a drive by drive until now. (1:39)

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