Larry Hodges's blog

July 28, 2011

Fixing the backhand

I had an interesting coaching experience yesterday with a new ten-year-old student. He'd picked up the forehand pretty well, but was struggling on the backhand. Over and over he'd stick his elbow way out to the side and drop the racket tip during the forward swing, contacting the ball with an awkward downward backspin swat, and follow through with his arm extended completely forward, as if he were lunging for something. Over and over I went through the stroke with him, but nothing worked. I told him to keep the racket tip up, keep the elbow in, hit the ball with a slight upward swing with topspin, and not to follow-through with his arm lunging forward. The problem was that all these were symptoms of the one actual problem. I suddenly realized he was contacting the ball too far out in front. When I told him to take the ball closer to his body, in one swoop all the problems disappeared - instant good technique as frustration on both sides of the net changed to sheer glee. Within minutes we were smacking backhands back and forth like pros.

A National Table Tennis League?

Countries like Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), and just about every other country in Europe gets its huge memberships through team leagues. The same is true of most major participation sports in the U.S. and throughout the world. I've tried for years to convince USATT to study how the European leagues were created and spread, including at the 2009 Strategic Meeting, but I don't seem to be very persuasive, even on the most obvious things. My basic recommendation is that they set up a fact-finding committee to meet with German, English, and other league officials at the World Championships, get the facts, and then get the major league directors in the U.S. together, and lock them in a room and tell them they can't come out until they create a model for a U.S. league. Once this is created, then whenever someone wants to create a regional league, they don't have to reinvent the wheel; we supply them with this model. That's how table tennis and most other sports did it in the U.S. and throughout the world, and that's how we should do it.

Alas, I've been unable to convince USATT of this idea - I couldn't even get them to meet with the people who set up these huge leagues to get the facts - and so while they spend a lot of time talking about doing such things, little actually gets done. Fortunately, some local groups have been taking action on their own, creating their own regional leagues that hopefully can spread, such as ones in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City. If the sport gets big in the U.S., it'll be through such independent efforts - though it sure would help if USATT would choose to be a catalyst for this type of thing instead of sitting on the sidelines hoping others will do so.

I once tried setting up a USATT League, with the idea of starting with a singles league to bring in players (easier to set up initially), and then move to teams, but USATT not only wouldn't support it (except as cheerleaders), they took the $15,000 brought in by the league (memberships and sponsors) and used it for other things. Without a penny of support, and with all income from the league taken out, I found myself trying to set up and run a nationwide league pretty much single-handed (with programming help from Robert Mayer) in my free time (I was also editor of USATT Magazine at the time, plus coaching at my club), and finally pretty much gave up on it.

And yet the USATT League is still running in many clubs, with nearly as many processed matches each month as USATT tournament matches. Since the league began in 2003, there have been 263,433 processed league matches by 13,381 players in 318 leagues. So far this year there have been 33,255 processed matches, an average of 5772 per month through June. For perspective, there were 6264 processed USATT tournament matches in June, and there have been many months where there were more league matches than USATT tournament matches. The league is pretty much self-run by the software.

The Yorkshire Table Tennis League

Here's actual footage of the Yorkshire Table Tennis League, where they play by their own rules - no net, no paddles, and an oversized ball! The 39-shot rally shown in this 31-second video shows that the sport is going to the dogs - but at least one of these players is using his head, or more specifically his nose. This is table tennis at its highest and purest, a model for table tennis everywhere.

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July 27, 2011

Your "Go To" serves?

What are your "go to" serves, the serves you use whenever possible both to build up a lead and to win key points? These could be set-up serves that set you up to attack or to get into your favorite type of rally, or they could be trick serves designed to win the point outright or set up an easy winner. I have zillions of serve variations, but here are some of my major "go to" serves. Most of my serves are forehand pendulum serves, but I use different motions to fool opponents.

Set-up Serves

  • Forehand pendulum short sidespin or side-top to the middle and backhand. While players often misread this serve as backspin and pop it up (easy winner!), it's designed to force a relatively soft but deep return that sets up an aggressive loop.
  • Forehand pendulum short, heavy backspin to the middle. This is usually pushed back long but heavy, setting up a very spinny forehand loop. I do it mostly to the middle so there are no extreme angles - I don't want to have to react to both heavy spin and angle. Key is to keep it very low so opponent won't attack it.
  • Forehand pendulum short no-spin. I do this to all parts of the table. It's usually pushed back with light backspin, often popped up slightly, and sets up an aggressive forehand loop. Key is to use a lot of motion so it looks like heavy backspin ("heavy no-spin"), and to keep it very low. (To serve "heavy no-spin," use a normal spin motion, but instead of contacting near the tip of the racket, contact near the handle.)
  • Forehand pendulum fast sidespin to the backhand. The key is to break it into the opponent's wide backhand, so they have to reach for it awkwardly. Since it's rarely returned down the line, I can step around and use my forehand from the backhand side.
  • Reverse forehand pendulum short sidespin to the forehand. Most players flip this to my wide forehand. Since I'm expecting it, it sets up an aggressive forehand loop or smash.

Trick Serves

  • Forehand pendulum fast down the line. This is against aggressive forehand loopers who are looking to step around, and is often an ace. Even if they don't step around, it still often catches them off-guard, forcing a miss. Plus I put sidespin on the serve, forcing more mistakes.
  • Forehand pendulum fast and dead to the middle. This goes into the net over and over. Aim right for the opponent's elbow. It's not too effective against a forehand looper, who just loops it.
  • Tomahawk serve to the forehand, short or long. Because it jumps away from the opponent, they often reach for it at the last second, and so miss, usually hitting it long.

Table tennis - Sport for the Unathletic?

They list ten: croquet, curling, bowling, chess, pool, golf, archery, shooting, table tennis, and dressage (a form of horseback riding). We're not only in the listing (at #9, though I don't think there's any order to it), but we're the cover sport as well! Anyone with any knowledge of these sports would know that top table tennis players are among the most physical athletes in the world. Should we storm CNBC with a barrage of ping-pong balls?

Coaches fundraising?

I keep getting these notes in the mail (yes, regular mail) from ESPN Magazine on Coaches Fundraising by having students sell ESPN Magazine. Here's info. Don't know if this is a worthy fundraising method (perhaps to fund a junior team to a major tournament) or just another commercial venture.

The Amazing Michael Maze

Here are highlight reels of him when he was younger (4:38).

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July 26, 2011

Table tennis equipment reviews

I have a new student who is interested in table tennis robots. While I'm familiar with them and have hit with most of the major brands, I'm no expert. I told the student I'd investigate them and see what the best values were - he was hoping for one under $1000, and I was hoping for one that could alternate hitting the ball in at least two places (i.e. one to forehand, one to backhand) so he could do a side-to-side footwork drill on it. And lo and behold, I was referred to Denis' Table Tennis World, which reviews just about all table tennis equipment, including robots. Very useful! If you are interested in equipment reviews, then stop by this site and browse away.

I've browsed the robot reviews, and later today plan to go over them more carefully so I can make a recommendation to the student. (They don't seem to have a review yet for the ipong, the newest but coolest looking low-end model.) No, I'm not going to make my recommendation public; I don't have enough first-hand knowledge of the robots to do that. All I can do is go by what others say.

Two Months Notice to USATT

In exactly two months, it'll be two years since USATT finished its "Strategic Meeting" at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs on Sept. 25-26, 2009. The focus of the meeting was how to increase membership. Everyone agreed our membership (in the 8-9000 range) was a "round-off error." Many slogans were created (*sigh*), and three strategic priorities: Juniors, Grow Membership Through Added Value, and Communications. (I consider the Communications priority pointless unless one of the first two gives USATT something to communicate about.) Three task forces were created for these three priorities.

This was the fourth such "Strategic Meeting" I've attended with USATT. All four times I've argued that to be successful, specific goals needed to be created, and specific plans to reach those goals. However, each time others disagreed, and so we were left with just generic priorities. I also argued that the Junior priority should be about recruiting and training coaches to create club-based junior programs, as has been done so successfully in table tennis and other sports worldwide, and that the "Grow Membership" priority should instead be Leagues, as that's how other countries have grown their membership in table tennis and other sports worldwide. However, I was unable to persuade the majority of this view. 

And so on Sept. 26 this year, two years after the meeting, I will ask USATT what they have accomplished since that time. Have we taken our game "to the next level"? I absolutely won't want to hear of things they plan to do; the time for that is well past. I'm going to ask them what they have done. I hope they have an answer. If they don't, perhaps it is time they revisit the way table tennis and other sports have successfully grown worldwide and try to emulate it, rather than constantly and poorly trying to reinvent the wheel?

Back problems and the Search for the Physical Therapists

As I blogged last week, I saw a orthopedist sports medicine doctor on Wednesday last week about upper back problems that are interfering with my table tennis playing and coaching. He referred me to the Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, which was conveniently located near me. (I even stopped by to see the place, and it's pretty nice.) So I called on Thursday morning to schedule my twice-weekly meetings. No answer, and no answering service; it just rang and rang. I called numerous times that day, no answer. I tried again all day on Friday, still no answer. I tried again Monday morning, still no answer. So that morning I called back the doctor's office and told them what was happening. They said they'd never had a problem calling them, and that they'd contact them and get them to call me. No one called back. Now it's Tuesday, five days since I first started calling the place. *Sigh*.

Politicians are playing ping-pong with our economy

So why not take a look at the Politicians and Leaders section of the "Celebrities Playing Table Tennis" page? Here's an alphabetical listing - see how many you recognize! (I've bolded some of the more interesting ones, with apologies to those unbolded.)

Prince Akihito, Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Yasser Arafat, Princess Beatrix, Enrico Berlinguer, Tony Blair, Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles Wayland Brooks, Gordon Brown, Andy Burnham, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Felipe Calderon, Dave Cameron, Juan Carlos, Fidel Castro, Prince Charles, Chiang Kai-shek, Chou En-lai, Jean Chrétien, Bill & Hillary Clinton, Norm Coleman, Irvin Cotler, Bao Dai, Jean-Louis Debre, Alexandra Dinges, Ian Duncan-Smith, Dr. Katharina Focke, Tipper Gore, Stephen Harper, Michael Howard, Mike Huckabee, Princess Irene, Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Boris Johnson, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Horst Koehler, Alexandre Kwasniewski, Richard Lagos, Martin Lee, Li Lanqing, Li Zhaoxin, Ma Ying-Jeou, Princess Marta Louise, Chairman Mao, Jack Markell, George McGovern, Mette-Marit, Walter Mondale, Fabio Mussi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Richard Nixon, Kwame Nkrumah, Michael Nutter, Barack Obama, Martin O'Malley, Geun-Hae Park, Pope John Paul II, Göran Persson, Vladimir Putin, Liu Qi, Ronald Reagan, Jacques Rogge, Lenore Romney, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Nicolas Sarkozy, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Eunice Shriver, Sargent Shriver, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, Queen Silvia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza, Silvan Shalom, Maria Shriver, Goh Chok Tong, Walter Veltroni, Princess Victoria, Prince of Wales, Lech Walesa, Wen Jiabao, Prince William, Anthony Williams, Yang Jiechi, Lee Kuan Yew.

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July 25, 2011

Tip of the Week

In this morning Tip of the Week, I write about the importance of serve variety.

Looping against the block

Almost nobody loops a block into the net; when they miss, it's almost always off the end. Part of this is because they are attacking the ball, and so driving it deep on the table, and simply drive it too deep on the table. Part of it is because they drop their back shoulder, lifting the ball as if it were a backspin. (I wrote a short article about the proper use of the back shoulder for smashing and looping.)

Since most players learn to loop first against backspin, when they start looping against a block (or an incoming topspin), they tend to drop that back shoulder too much. While dropping a little is okay if you are away from the table - key word is "little" - most do it way too much. Instead, you want to keep the back shoulder mostly up, and loop almost the top of the ball. It helps to hook the ball a little as well, dropping the tip down so it contacts the ball on the far side.

And yet players often have trouble doing this, especially right after looping a backspin. And since a disproportionate number of rallies start with a player looping against a backspin, invariably players find themselves looping a backspin and then a block consecutively.

The standard way to practice for this is with multiball. For example, the coach would feed a backspin ball to the middle backhand, and player forehand loops; then the coach feeds a topspin ball to the wide forehand, and again the player loops. And this is great if the player can afford a coach to do this endlessly until they have it down, and then still more to keep it tuned up.

Here's a way a player can practice this on their own. Suppose they already can loop against backspin pretty well but are having trouble following that by looping against the block. Have the player hold a ball in his non-playing hand. He then shadow-practices a loop against backspin from the middle backhand. He then steps to the wide forehand, tosses the ball backward (to simulate a block), and loops that ball, keep the shoulder mostly up and looping near the top of the ball. A player can practice this over and over on their own. (They might want to have a supply of balls on hand so they don't have to keep fetching the ball!)

When's your next tournament?

I always tell students they should plan well ahead, and practice for specific tournaments that they should be looking forward to. Ideally, look for one or two major tournaments that are held within a few weeks of each other and plan to go to both. Even better, have one or two smaller tournaments that come before the major one(s), which helps get you tournament tough. See the USATT Tournament Schedule. To find the big ones, click on "Major Tournaments." Then take your pick! The two biggest are the North American Teams (Baltimore, Nov. 25-27) and USA Nationals (Virginia Beach, Dec. 13-17). However, there are also large ones (4-star, sometimes 3-star) coming up in New York City; El Monte, CA ($45,000 LA Open); Waukesha, WI; Berkeley, CA; Highland, Indiana; and Milpitas, CA. Plan your season around these big ones, and find at least one or two smaller tournaments to lead up to the major ones.

Transcending Table Tennis

I think I posted a link a while back to Transcending Table Tennis, Part 1 (5:50). Here's Part 2 (4:37)! Both videos show great table tennis action in dynamic slow motion, where you can really see what's happening.

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July 22, 2011

Topspinny backhands (Topspinny ®2011 by Larry Hodges)

Yes, I'm trademarking the term "topspinny." Any time you say it, you have to pay me a quarter. (To the humor-challenged: I'm joking.) I like to use the term to describe players who use a lot of topspin on their backhands, as opposed to others who hit flatter, such as myself. Flat backhands used to be the norm, but these up-and-coming junior players are mostly taught topspinny backhands, sort of half drive, half loop, right off the bounce. I can demonstrate the shot easily, but I don't naturally use it in a match, not after 35 years of hitting "normal" backhands. The shot is highly effective; the ball just jumps at you like a normal backhand loop, with all the quickness of an off-the-bounce flat backhand.

Adjustable height device

On Wednesday, I blogged about new training tools, including a serving height device made by local player and coach John Olsen, with adjustable brackets that hold a pole over the net. We've used it as an exercise both for serving and stroking low to the net. Here are two pictures, set high and set low.

100 degrees

That's how hot it got yesterday here in Maryland, and it's supposed to get a touch hotter today. Aren't we glad table tennis is an indoor sport, and that the Maryland Table Tennis Center bought a new $8000 air conditioning system a month ago? For the last twenty years our air conditioning left something to be desired, but now it's nice and cool inside. Then you step outside and it's like walking into a furnace.

When humidity strikes

However, with lots of players training, it still gets a bit humid inside sometimes, and of course it often does so at tournaments. What does one do when their inverted sheet becomes slick with moisture? First, always have two towels - one for you, and one for the racket and ball only. (Hitchhiker's Guide had that half right.) You could just wipe the racket off every six points or so, and you'd get most of the moisture off. However, since the moisture doesn't form evenly over the surface, I've found that you can dry it off better by first blowing on the racket surface, giving the entire surface a light moisture. Then the towel slides evenly over the surface, drying it much more thoroughly. Yes, it sounds counter-productive to blow on the surface, adding moisture when the goal is to remove moisture, but I've found that it works. This is also good for general cleaning of your racket. 

Xu Xin multiball training

Here's a 39 second segment of Chinese Team Member Xu Xin doing multiball. He makes it look so easy; try this yourself.

First back, then neck

In my ongoing attempts to find a comfortable position to sleep at night with my back problems (I blogged about that yesterday), all I've managed to do is hurt my neck. (I think I slept on my stomach, with my head on its side on a pillow.) When I woke up on Wednesday, it was hurting, but it gradually went away. This morning I woke up in agony; I can't turn or tilt my neck in either direction. So today I answer the age-old question that's been pondered since the time of Aristotle and Confucius: Can one feed multiball in a table tennis training camp when he can't move his back or neck and is in constant agony? (Today's the last day of the two-week MDTTC training camp.)

Confluence (non-table tennis)

Tomorrow morning at around 5AM I'm hopping into my car (or rather gingerly lowering myself into the driver's seat after a bowl of Ibuprofen and milk for breakfast, due to back and neck problems) and driving to Pittsburgh (four hours away) for the Confluence Science Fiction Convention. They seem to have two websites, this and that. I'll return late that night. The guest of honor is Robert J. Sawyer, who was the writer in residence at the Odyssey Writer's Workshop I went to in 2006, and a best-selling SF writer. (Here's my SF writing page.)

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July 21, 2011

Deliberate Practice to deliberately become good or great

So you want to be good at table tennis? Then learn about Deliberate Practice. Not everyone can put in 10,000 hours and be great, but if you apply the other seven principles in whatever practice time you have (make time), you can really improve. And the hours do add up. Below are the eight main principles; the article elaborates on them. Why not print out the article's eight main points with short explanations (they'll fit on one page), and put it on your wall where you can see them regularly?

  1. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, requiring high levels of focus and concentration.
  2. It is designed specifically to improve performance—to strengthen it beyond its current levels.
  3. It must continue for long of periods of time.
  4. It must be repeated.
  5. It requires continuous feedback on results.
  6. Pre-performance preparation is essential.
  7. It involves self-observation and self-reflection.
  8. It involves careful reflection on performance after practice sessions are completed.

The back doctor

Yesterday I saw an orthopedist sports medicine doctor about my recurring upper back problems. They did x-rays and some other tests. It turns out it's probably not a disc problem; he thinks it's a muscle problem, where the muscle attaches to the backbone. I'm supposed to meet with a physical therapist twice a week, probably starting next week, plus a series of exercises on my own that they'll assign. They are also hoping I can take one month off from table tennis. So tentatively, after our last August training camp at MDTTC (which ends Aug. 19), I might hire locals to act as a hitting partner for when I'm coaching so I can rest the back for that month. Even feeding multiball is painful, especially when feeding backspin.

Different Types of Table Tennis

This is from the Fun and Games section. Bet you didn't know there were this many types of table tennis! (And yes, that's me playing clipboard table tennis at the end.)

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July 20, 2011

Varied serves

Have you been practicing your serves? (Yes, I like to ask this question on my blog every couple of weeks or so, which should indicate its importance.) At any time, can you (or your students) serve short or long, with sidespin going either way, with backspin or topspin, or with no-spin, to all parts of the table? Can you disguise these spins? Can you also serve fast and deep with varied spin (or no-spin) to the corners and middle? If the answer to any of this is no, get practicing!

Table tennis training tools

Yesterday I used two table tennis training tools in our MDTTC training camp. First, there was the ball spinning device for teaching a player to loop. (I think I wrote about this briefly in a previous blog.) It basically consists of a ball that spins freely on top of a short pole that attaches to the table with a suction cup. The player can then practice spinning the ball. If they mishit, the ball has a spring mechanism so it can bend forward instead of breaking the device. The kids had a great time with it, and learned to spin the ball. I bought the device at the U.S. Open from Newgy Table Tennis, who had gotten it from Masir Table Tennis in China, but I couldn't find it anywhere on either web site. (If you can read Chinese, take a look at the Masir site and see if you can find it so I can link to it in another blog - you'll get credit here for finding it!)

The second tool was a serving height device made by local player and coach John Olsen. It consisted of two adjustable height brackets, one on each side of the net (by the net brackets), and a pole that you balanced between them over the net. (Sorry, no picture - maybe later.) Since the brackets are adjustable, you can move the pole up or down. Then you challenge the players to serve so the ball goes between the net and the pole, i.e. they learn to serve low. I demonstrated the device on its lowest setting, where you had to serve with the ball within about half an inch or so of the net to get it through. I was going to raise it for the beginning/intermediate players, but they protested as a group - they all wanted to try the lowest setting. I said sure, be my guest, figuring none would be able to do it but that they needed to learn the hard way how hard it was to serve at that setting. Oh boy, was I wrong! While none could do it consistently, nearly all managed to do it several times. I plan to use the device again in the camp, at a higher setting, this time with the players hitting forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, and see if they can do that. No chance, right? We'll see.

A third "device" was a bunch of paper cups. I put ten on the table and the kids take turns getting ten shots at knocking them down. (I feed them the ten shots multiball style.) I've written about this before, but it's rapidly become the most popular game in our camps, even though the players spend much of the time waiting for their turn. Ideally, I should bring in more cups and teach the kids to feed the balls to each other so they can all do this.

Disney's Ariel

Here's U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing on a Disney TV commercial! (2:50) No, not this Ariel - this Ariel! Explained Rajul Sheth from ICC Table Tennis, "They've aired it since Sept 2010. It was done during 2010 ICC summer camps when Stellan was one of our visiting head coaches." (I was a visiting coach at ICC in 2009, so I missed being in the commercial, dang.)

Seeing doctor today

As I've noted a few times in my blog, I'm having major upper back problems. It is getting more and more painful to rotate for forehand shots, especially forehand loops and my forehand pendulum serve (which I use 90% of the time when I serve), as well as regular serves. It also hurts when feeding backspin in multiball, where I have to dig into the ball, though feeding topspin doesn't affect it much. (And I'm feeding multiball several hours a day right now in our training camp.) I saw a doctor a week ago and he thought I probably have two discs rubbing against each other, and referred me to an orthopedist, who I'm seeing this afternoon. Hopefully he'll figure out what exactly what the problem is and cure it by tonight, and all will be well.

Ironically, when I woke up this morning my neck was in pain, and as I type this, I can barely move my head. I think I slept on it wrong. I'm also having some knee problems. With this trio of inconveniences, this is going to be a fun day!!! (How does one get through such a day? I've resolved to have pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars tonight for dinner. Whenever my back/neck/knees remind me of what it's like to be dipped in a bed of lava, I'll just think about that pizza.)

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July 19, 2011

Relax that shoulder

One thing I've noticed in the two-week MDTTC camp we're running is that a lot of players hunch or tighten up their playing shoulder when hitting forehands. I'm almost ready to make a recording that says, "Drop your arm to your side. Relax the shoulder. Now bring up your arm to a forehand position, keeping the shoulder relaxed. Bend the elbow to bring the racket into position. Now hit your forehand!"

Another common shoulder problem is not rotating the shoulder on the forehand. If you have your back foot slightly back (no more than 45%, often much less), and rotate your shoulders so you are looking sideways, you suddenly have a huge forehand hitting zone. If you don't do this, then you are jammed in the front of the hitting zone with little room to backswing.

Seven new juniors

In our camp yesterday, we had seven new junior players (out of about 25 total), ranging in age from 5 to about 12. I took all seven in my group - we divide the players among the coaches - and spent the morning working on forehands and backhands. Went pretty well! They also had fun with the "knock cups off the table" game, and many cups were severely hurt. Kids are so cruel. (What did we do during break? Brain teasers, of course. Yes, at a table tennis camp. Really.)

Susan Sarandon and China

What's the connection?

Iran and U.S. Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Yes, it's happening!!!

I Love You points

Who would believe that ping-pong could end sibling rivalry? I'm trying to picture some of our junior players doing this; I can't picture it. (Short version: when down game point, you can offset some of the game points by telling your opponent, "I love you!")

Ping-Pong Talkin' Blues

A musical to start your ping-pong day (2:39). Then listen to Magic Ball, the theme music from the 1989 World Table Tennis Championships (3:10). These two, and a cup of coffee, and you're ready to go!

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July 18, 2011

Tip of the Week - The Mental State of a Looper Against a Push

When you are getting ready to loop a push, are you thinking forehand, backhand, or something in between? This Tip of the Week covers the four mental states you should be in.

Hitting at 100% versus 80-90%.

How hard should you hit the ball when attacking? Even when you have an easy winner, most coaches will tell you never to hit at 100%, that you lose too much control. I have a slightly different take on that. I agree that you should rarely use 100% effort with all the muscles that are used for smashing or loop-killing. It's essentially impossible to time all those muscles at 100% so they work together properly. The key is not so much not hitting at 100% as much as it is using all the muscles smoothly in a progression from down up - the legs, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist. If any of the muscles tries too much, it throws everything out of synch and you end up with just one spastic muscle trying (and usually failing) to provide all or most of the power. (There are rare freaks who can throw nearly everything into every shot and still do it smoothly and with control. They are called world-class players.)

Here's another way of looking at it, the way I like to teach it. No matter how hard you smash or loop, you should be able to do it and carry on a conversation at the same time without gasping or hesitating in any way. If you can't, then you are not smoothing using all the muscles properly. I always demonstrate this by explaining it while tossing a ball up and smashing or looping it at near full power.

Week two of MDTTC camp

This morning we start week two of the MDTTC July Camp. Let the madness begin! Main worry - my back is killing me, apparently two discs rubbing against each other, i.e. a degenerative disc. However, I won't know for sure until I see a specialist (orthopedist) this Wednesday afternoon.

Harry Potter Ping-Pong Week

The Truth about Harry Potter and Ping-Pong will shock the wizarding and muggle worlds, as told by He Who Shall Not Be Named, alias Dark Lord Marty Reisman and his elicit hardbat wand.

Ping-pong ball prank

That's a lot of balls in a car

Ping-pong ball car

That's a lot of balls on a car.

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July 15, 2011

Playing the Middle

Playing the middle may be the most under-utilized tactic in table tennis. The middle in table tennis is roughly the opponent's playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand, and the most awkward place to return a shot. It's usually much easier to move to the forehand or backhand corners than to cover the middle, which involves making a split-second decision no whether to play forehand or backhand, and then moving sideways to allow the shot. (Beginning and intermediate players especially have trouble getting out of the way to play forehand from the middle, and often instead do awkward backhands by leaning over instead of moving.)

Part of the difficulty in playing the middle is because it's a moving target. Here's a quick cure: shadow practice! Imagine an opponent as you do so, and imagine hitting shot after shot right at his elbow. If he begins to favor one side, the middle moves, and you aim for the new spot. Then go to the table and do middle drills where you play everything to your partner's middle, and he returns everything to a pre-arranged spot, either backhand or forehand. If you watch your partner/opponent, and play it right, you should be able to force awkward middle shots over and over by changing where you aim based on where the opponent stands. If he looks to play forehand, just aim more to the backhand, and vice versa if he looks to play backhand. (This might become a Tip of the Week sometime in the future.)

Week One of MDTTC Camp Ends

Week one of the July MDTTC camp ends today; week two starts Monday! (We're halfway through and I'm still alive. Surprisingly my voice isn't hoarse, as it often gets during these camps. On the other hand, it might just be that I'm deaf from all the screaming kids in the camp, and can't hear my own voice. And we have another two-week camp in August.) I'll celebrate/mourn the end of week one by seeing Harry Potter late this afternoon/tonight, if I can get a ticket.

Table Tennis on TV

The TV Show Victorious featured a table tennis segment. First there's a short Popsicle commercial featuring table tennis, then a funny 90-second clip of the tryouts for the school table tennis team!

Fan Yiyong and a first-time student

Here's an interesting account by a journalist of her going to Coach Fan Yiyong in Seattle for a lesson. How familiar is this scene to coaches everywhere?

Comedian Frank Caliendo and Table Tennis

A nice article about Caliendo and his table tennis. He says he lost 25 pounds from table tennis, not to mention getting a 1670 USATT rating.

Ping-Pong Playing Robot

Meet Topio 3.0 - or is it the Ping-Pong Terminator? You decide. I think we can all agree that he can beat you, though not necessarily at the table. Heck, he's strong enough he might beat you with the table. Sarah Connor, where are you?

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