Larry Hodges's blog

June 23, 2011

Those topspin drills

When practicing, most players start off most drills with a simple topspin serve so they can get into the drill, whether it's a looping drill, a footwork drill, or some combination or other drill. But in a match, how often does a rally start that way? Far more often rallies start with someone opening by attacking against a backspin, the most common type of serve. So if you are relatively consistent in these straight topspin drills, you should move to a more advanced version, and start the drill by serving backspin, your partner pushes it back, you attack (normally by looping the deep pushes, flipping the short ones), and then continue with the drill. If you want to get better, you need to both push yourself with more and more difficult drills, and do drills that match what you'll face in a match.

Marty Reisman plays lobby pong

Yes, the flamboyant two-time U.S. Men's Champion passes the time ponging in a hotel lobby (1:21). And here's a clip of him winning the 1949 English Open over five-time World Men's Singles Champion Viktor "Mr. Backhand" Barna (1:50).

Rafael Nadal and Kevin Spacey playing table tennis

I think I posted this once before, but this two-minute video deserves reposting. Spacey says to Nadal, "You should be nervous because I'm about to beat you in a game that demands the physical stamina of a boxer, the agility of a gymnast, the tactical acting of a chess player." Here's Nadal again, hitting forehands

Shakehanders versus Penholders? Oops!

Here's an article in the China Daily (in English) about a match-up of the best shakehand players in the world against the best penholders. But what's really interesting is that they got shakehand and penhold mixed up throughout the article! For example, in the caption at the start, it says, "Shakehand group members (from left) Wang Hao, Ryu Seung-min and Ma Lin, and penhold group members (from right) Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Timo Boll and China's men's head coach Liu Guoliang (center) pose before the match." But of course (as you can also see from the picture), Wang, Ryu, and Ma Lin are penholders, while Ma Long, Zhang, and Boll are shakehanders. I'm wondering if they are going to correct it or not; the story went up yesterday afternoon and they still haven't fixed it.

40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Thrice

As I noted in my blog last Friday (June 17), the 40th Anniversary of the iconic U.S. team's trip to China in 1971 is this year. I gave links to two festivities, but I've added a third, the Bay Area one. (There is also a U.S. delegation going to China for festivities there, but I don't have info on that.)

Also as noted last Friday, you can read more about Ping-Pong Diplomacy in Tim Boggan's two online books on the subject, "Ping-Pong Oddity" (covering the U.S. Team's trip to China in 1971) and "Grand Tour," covering the Chinese team's trip to the U.S. in 1972. Better still, buy the books, along with Tim's other table tennis history books, at TimBogganTableTennis.com! (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and fix up the photos for these books, and created and maintain his web page.)

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June 22, 2011

Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun practice session

Had a fascinating time watching these two train together yesterday as they prepare for the U.S. Open. Sun (rated 2730) is here for much of the summer, and is seeded fourth in Men's Singles at the Open (which starts in about a week), while Jeffrey (2612) is almost the same level - he's way out of practice, as he lamented during his first serious practice session in some time. (That's what happens to players who become coaches.) They spent most of the session taking turns feeding multiball to each other. How many of you do that, as opposed to just hitting?

Sun Ting ("Sun King"?) is a lefty with short pips on the backhand. He's basically a put-away machine on both sides. He's one of those players who absolutely rips his forehand. His backhand is like Shao Yu's, a top New York player also with a great pips-out backhand smash. Together, there's no safe place to put the ball. Add in great serves, and you see why the 2730 rating is probably way too low. The rating actually comes from playing in the North American Teams back in 1999 - when he was 15! He's now 27, and I'm told considerably better.

Jeffrey's loops aren't quite as punishing, but he's very steady, and has a nice backhand loop. He controls play with a great receive game. He won his last two tournaments, the Cary Cup and the Eastern Open, but since he's basically been coaching the last year or so without training, we haven't seen his best yet. During the training session, he was a bit disgusted with himself because he was winded several times. When he looked over at me one time after doing several minutes of an extremely fast footwork drill, I jokingly jogged in place and pointed at him, and he nodded. I think he's doing some serious physical training to get ready for the Open.

We're in the middle of a training camp here at MDTTC; during the camp, Sun took juniors John and Nathan Hsu (both about 2200 players) and put them through some serious drills. Watching this and watching Sun and Jeffrey train tired me out.

Are you missing an ingredient?

Here's something I wrote in a comment recently, and thought I'd repeat it here. It's amazing to me how many players never learn the joys of chopping. Personally, I find that if you don't use all of the major attacking shots (FH and BH looping and smashing) and all of the major defensive shots (chopping, blocking, lobbing, fishing), and a sampling of everything else, table tennis is like fine food that's missing an ingredient.

Feature on Ariel Hsing and Michael Landers

Yes, the documentary is coming! I'm proud to say that Michael came to four of our training camps in Maryland when he was about 12 or 13, and I had the opportunity to work with him with lots of multiball training. And I once proudly lost a "clipboard" challenge to Ariel, where I used a clipboard for a racket, and she showed me the advantage of sponge! (Prepare for some controversy - the documentary calls Ariel the youngest U.S. Women's Champion ever - she won in Dec. 2010 at age 15 - which many will contest since Patty Martinez was the U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion in 1965 at age 13, in the days before we had a USA Nationals, and the Open champion was considered the U.S. Champion. Ariel is, of course, the youngest to win Women's Singles at the USA Nationals since its debut in 1976.)

Will Shortz, Robert Roberts, and the Westchester Table Tennis Center

New York Times columnist and table tennis addict Will Shortz (and an 1800 player) and Caribbean champion and 2500+ player Robert Roberts have combined forces to open the full-time 13,000-foot Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York. Here's an 18-minute video that chronicles their odyssey from idea to fruition. Here's an article about it.

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June 21, 2011

Serious Goofing Off versus Non-serious Goofing Off

Some players simply do not understand the advantage of SGO (Serious Goofing Off) versus NGO (Non-serious Goofing Off, with apologies to numerous Vietnamese players). In SGO, you are simply goofing off, and besides insulting your opponent, you are not only not helping yourself, you are developing bad habits. However, SGO can actually be valuable. For example, I saw one of our junior players play a lobber by constantly faking a smash and then just patting the ball back. I pulled him aside and said, "If you are going to drop shot his lob, then try to drop it for a winner." In other words, instead of just patting it back, he should go for a side-spin chop block, and try to double-bounce it so the lobber couldn't even get to it, or had to lunge. Another example: If you are going to lob, try to win the lob point with heavy spin (both topspin and sidespin), basically a high loop. Another example: If you are going to just return the serve without attacking it, then, well, do something serious with it - fake one way and go the other, and try to win the point with a "weak" return. Aim to this backhand, and as he's stepping around, go to the forehand and try not to giggle as the server stumbles all over the place trying to get to it.

Who was the all-time greatest SGO champion? Jan-Ove Waldner. You don't develop his touch and control without some serious SGO.

Why can't you serve like this?

Well, why can't you? There really are two types of serves: those whose purpose is to set you up to attack ("third-ball serves"), and those whose purpose is to either win the point outright or set up an easy winner ("surprise serves"). You should develop both.

Highlights of day one of the MDTTC Camp

Weird stuff happened on the first day of the camp here in Maryland. I was feeding multiball to one kid who was looping, and the ball I fed him hit a ball rolling on his side of the table, and bounced up almost normal. Without hesitation, the kid looped it away. That alone was strange, but about two shots later one of his shots hit my paddle as I was feeding him another shot, and both balls shot toward him. He looped both balls (on the table) with one stroke. One came at me, and hit my paddle again, and again both balls shot at him. Again he hit both balls, and although one went off, this was when we both practically fell to the ground laughing. Later, when someone accidentally (I hope) hit a ball at me, I ducked. A girl asked why I ducked, and I said because I was afraid of the ball hitting me. She called me a "ducking chicken."

And we also taught some table tennis.

ITTF Coaches in the U.S.

There are now 29 ITTF certified coaches in the U.S., including myself. Eleven of them are from the ITTF Coaching seminar in Maryland I ran in April. (To qualify, coaches not only had to take the 24-hour course, but also complete 30 hours of coaching, including five "supervised" by an ITTF coach or other approved high-level coach.) The eleven are Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD). To see all 29 ITTF coaches from the U.S., see the ITTF coaches listing (set country to USA).

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June 20, 2011

Games against beginning/intermediate players

Because of a bad back, I've been playing an extraordinary number of "matches" against beginning and intermediate juniors in our junior session. I put "matches" in quotes because, well, they are beginning and intermediate players and aren't exactly going to challenge me at this stage in their development. Or are they? I started setting rules to equalize things. For example, I might have to push every serve to the player's forehand. Or even pop up every serve to the forehand. You get the idea. Suddenly a lot of close games! (Haven't lost any yet, but some good points.) One thing that came off well was when we played some straight backhand-to-backhand matches, where I'd spot five points. We'd put a box on the table to mark the middle, and any ball that hits the box or goes to the forehand side is a lost point. Then we go at it, backhand-to-backhand. Some really vicious points! So next time you're at your club and there's some "weaker" players, why not play them a serious match with improvised rules? It's great practice and makes every match competitive.

MDTTC Training Camp

The first of our five summer training camps starts today. All are Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. I'll be coaching along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. There are about 30 kids in the camp. Our general system: I run the morning sessions, including organizing and short lectures on each major topic. I divide the players into four groups, one per coach, and then we do multiball, with the players hitting among themselves when they are not doing multiball. There's a two-hour break from 1-3 for lunch - we order from a Chinese place in the morning at $5.25/meal, they deliver for lunch. Cheng and Jack run the afternoon session, which is nearly all table practice. We usually bring in two practice partners for the afternoon session, usually Raghu Nadmichettu (2429) and Vahid Mosafari (2273).

It's not all work - we end each session with games. Toward the end of the morning session I take the younger kids off to play various games where they try to hit a drink bottle (I tell them it's worm juice, and I have to take a sip whenever they hit it), or knock cups off the table. At the end of the morning session we play Brazilian Teams, where you have 3-5 on a team, and one player plays at a time, staying at the table until he/she loses a point, then the next player is up, with games usually to 41. We usually finish the afternoon session with 11-point games, where you move up or down the table depending on whether you win or lose. Sometimes we do this with doubles.

Sun Ting

Sun Ting of China (doesn't that sound like "Sun King"?), rated 2730 and seeded fourth at the upcoming U.S. Open, is here at MDTTC for much of the summer training with our players. He's a lefty with short pips on the backhand and the usual run-of-the-mill incredibly spectacular forehand loop. He also has great forehand pendulum serves that have flummoxed everyone so far - extremely quick contact that's almost impossible to pick up.

Final of the China Open

It's a great match to watch as Ma Lin (penholder) defeats Ma Long (shakehander), but both play great. See Ma Long's receive at 0:55 (which is then replayed in slow motion). Too often people watch the shotmaking of the top players, but you can actually gain more by watching how they serve and receive. (Not just the spectacular receives like this one, but the more common ones.)  

$45,000 LA Open

Yes, you read that right. Sept. 3-4, 2011 in Los Angeles.

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June 17, 2011

Use it or lose it

Yes, I'm talking to you, the aging table tennis player reading this article. Or the young but lazy one. You both have the ability to move when you play, but you don't do it enough. Sure, you gradually slow down as you age, and so many older players become more backhand-oriented rather than attacking with their forehand, which takes more footwork. Sure, younger players may find that if they use less footwork and simply stand at the table, they won't get caught out of position. Both of these are defensible positions. But guess what? The loss of footwork begins with a single non-use of your footwork. The more you don't use footwork, the faster you lose it, which gives you more reason not to use it, which accelerates the loss of footwork, which . . . you get the idea.

It's not just footwork. When I was younger, I liked to counterloop off the bounce, or back up way off the table to counterloop. (Strangely, I was better at the two extremes.) Now that I'm older (read: stiffer and slower), these shots are harder to pull off. So it'd be best to stop using them, right? Then they'd become even harder to do from lack of use, making it even more important that I stop using them, accelerating the loss of these shots, which . . . you get the idea.

Let me rephrase what I said above: The loss of any part of your game begins with a single non-use of it. Because you can't stop using it without a first non-use. So keep using it, even if it leads to a few short-term losses.

And if you do have any complaints about your footwork, let me tell you about the . . .

One-legged nine-year-old table tennis player

The title explains the article and short video. Now, you were complaining about your footwork woes? (Ironically, the kid has little problems with his footwork with the nice prosthesis.)

40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Twice

Yes, the 40th Anniversary of the iconic U.S. team's trip to China in 1971 is this year. (At the 25th Anniversary festivities, I met and shook hands with Henry Kissinger.) Here are two festivities that I know of.

Want to read more about Ping-Pong Diplomacy? Try Tim Boggan's two online books on the subject, "Ping-Pong Oddity" (covering the U.S. Team's trip to China in 1971) and "Grand Tour," covering the Chinese team's trip to the U.S. in 1972. Better still, buy the books, along with Tim's other table tennis history books, at TimBogganTableTennis.com! (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and fix up the photos for these books, and created and maintain his web page.)

China Open

The China Open is going on right now, and let's face it, we might as well call it the "80% of the World Open," since probably 80% of the best players in the world are from China. Here's coverage of it.

Cats and table tennis.

Why do they go together? (Answer they don't, but play along.) Here's 33 seconds of cats and table tennis. Want more? Then see the Humorous Table Tennis Videos section of the Fun and Games section here at TableTennisCoaching.com, and scroll down to "Ping-Pong Cats." Or, if you prefer, "Ping-Pong Dogs." Where else can you find 74 videos of cats and table tennis, and 17 of dogs? Answer: only here! (Send us your own videos!)

Busy on my end

With summer coming up, I'm hitting a really, Really, REALLY busy time. Private and group coaching . . . five different five-day camps (one starting Monday, two others each in July August) . . . U.S. Open in Milwaukee (June 30- July 4) . . . this Blog and other stuff here . . . regular table tennis articles for various outlets . . . a new table tennis book (outlined, first chapter done, but may go on hold for now) . . . my non-table tennis science fiction writing . . . plus a major SF writer (known to any SF fan, but who must remain nameless for now) asked me to proof his latest novel, which I'm working on.

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June 16, 2011

The unconventional path

If your goal is to challenge the best players in the world, then you want to play the best possible style. But for anything less, almost any style will do. One of the ironies of coaching is that if certain styles have a 1% advantage over another, then nearly 100% of students are taught those styles. After all, who wants to be the coach that teaches someone an "inferior" style? And so very few new players are taught to be choppers, long pips blockers, pips-out penholders, hardbatters, the Seemiller (or American) grip, and so on. These aren't considered the "best" styles, and so almost nobody teaches or learns them. Is there a place for these styles?

One of the kids I coach discovered chopping just yesterday. He has a decent forehand, but isn't that strong of an attacker yet. He has a good backhand push, and is now learning to push on the forehand. Obviously, it's very early in his game development. But once he learned what a chop was, he wanted to learn to do it. It was his first time, and his chops weren't very heavy and they popped up, but he had fun. Conventionally, you don't teach juniors to be choppers. And conventionally, even choppers are supposed to develop a good foundation of forehand and backhand attack before becoming choppers. So . . . should we go conventional, or go with chopping? I'm leaning toward the latter.

I've never understood why more players don't learn to chop. It's not that they'll win many points that way - most won't - but it's a lot of fun, and adds a new dimension to your game. Why not give it a try?

Saskatchewan wants YOU!

Well, if you're a really good coach and organizer they do. To be exact, those crazy Canadians want to hire two coaches. Here's the STTA Coaching Job Posting.. And here's the notice they put out:

"The Saskatchewan Table Tennis Provincial Technical Coaches are responsible for the overall planning, identification, training, and development of an elite Saskatchewan provincial table tennis team. The successful candidate will identify, train, and develop athletes for the National Championships and the Canada Winter Games. The Provincial Technical Coaches, as members of The High Performance Committee, will design and implement table tennis programs necessary for a highly competitive Saskatchewan team at major national/regional championships and the Canada Winter Games. The Saskatchewan Provincial Technical Coaches will also be responsible for the organization and development of Table Tennis as a recreational, competitive and school sport in Saskatchewan. The Technical coaches will also be responsible for the development of all levels of coaches in the province."

Engineers defeat Architects; Doctors defeat Lawyers

"The docs kicked butt, and the lawyers couldn't even object," said Doug Wade, tournament organizer and president of Corpus Christi Table Tennis Club. For more, you'll just have to read the article.

Cheaters Cruise?

A lot of people cheat, but do you know how to cheat well? Probably not. And in fact some believe cheating is bad, when of course cheater is just an anagram of teacher. And so to meet this growing demand I hereby announce the International Cheaters Cruise to Yemen (ICCY). Whether you are a proficient cheater, or just a wannabe, you can join us on this one-way cruise to the land of milk and bombs and honey. We will teach you to lie about the score with a straight face; to hide your serve with a cupped hand and a two-inch toss; to quietly (or loudly, if need be) call edges on your shots that go long and vice versa. We will teach you to blackmail officials, even supplying you with a starter kit of the known vices of all National umpires and referees. We will teach you to use speed-glued frictionless long pips and how to serve wet balls. Above all, we will teach you the guise of good sportsmanship because if you can fake sincerity when you cheat, you are well on your way toward being a Champion. To apply for this special cruise, send us a personal essay on why you believe you have what it takes to be a top-level cheater--lying is encouraged--along with a non-refundable check for $666 made out to ICCY. Results guaranteed; you can trust us. (And no, we are not making fun of the ICC Table Tennis Club, though of course we hope to cheat all their juniors out of their lunch money.)

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June 15, 2011

Supernova or brightly burning star for many years?

The next time you enviously watch some kid who's improving at about 300 rating points per year, here's something to think about. The younger you start, the better your ultimate potential because the brain simply learns better at younger ages. However - while those of you who started late may never reach the crowning glory of some kid who started at age 7 with a professional coach, you may have something as good or better: a longer, more enjoyable journey. And don't they say it's not the destination but the journey that counts? Sure, that kid might become a U.S. team member by age 20. But by age 25 he's already pretty much at his peak. Meanwhile, while you may never make the U.S. team, you can keep improving for many, many years. The physical demands of table tennis at the higher levels are just too high to really improve much past age 30 or so, but at the more mortal levels, experience and training can more than make up for the gradual physical decline. Plus, the demands of high-level table tennis are such that you really need to train hard to keep it up; at lower levels, you can practice at a more relaxed pace and not only hold your level, but improve.

Rick Carlisle, champion of something?

Head coach Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks, a team of tall people that recently was in all the headlines for winning something in some sport, had earlier visited (back in December) the Broward Table Tennis Club (and the heat in Miami) in Florida and Coach Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis. Here's the timeless video! (9:16)

Carlisle is pretty good, can hit forehand to forehand rather well, which they do at 1:30. However, he stands a bit too square to the table and doesn't rotate his shoulders much. He also tends to block at the ball rather than stroke it, partly because of the slight forehand grip and because his index finger is well up on the racket. (Advanced players sometimes grip the paddle this way, but only after perfecting the stroke with a more neutral grip. If you learn the strokes with a forehand or backhand grip, you'll often end up with poor strokes.) He also tends to stand too straight - when you're 6'5" (thanks Wikipedia), you need to try to get lower by bending the knees some (unless you have knee problems) and with legs farther apart. This allows more explosive power and quicker movement because it lowers the center of gravity.

His backhand technique is actually pretty good (they start this at 3:30), with a good topspin contact, though he has a bad tendency to open the racket as he's contacting it, which cost him some control He is still standing too straight, which on the backhand makes it difficult to hit with power. Here's an experiment: hold a paddle in front of you as if you are about to hit a backhand. Now lower it. Hold the paddle with your free hand and push out on it. Notice how little leverage you have? Now raise the racket so you are hitting almost in front of your chest or head (meaning that in a real game, you'd have to get lower to compensate), and again push out on it. See how much more leverage you have, and how much more forward-snap you can generate?

Carlisle demonstrated an ability to hold 15 balls in one hand at 4:40. Don't try this at home or at your club; Carlisle is a professional. Make sure to listen to the great interview that starts at 5:10.

More professional athlete table tennis wannabes

Here are tennis stars Andy Murray of England (left, world #4, three-time Grand Slam Finalist) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France (world #19, 2008 Australian Open Finalist) going at it in table tennis (1:14).

Around the net receive

Yesterday I showed some videos of players making around the net returns that unreturnably rolled on the table. But this tops them all - an around-the-net roll-on-the-table receive by Adrien Mattenet of France (31 seconds, including slow motion replay).

ITTF Coaching Seminar in the Philippines

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee recently ran an ITTF Coaching Seminar in, oh, just read the headline. Here are two articles on the ITTF webpage about it, on June 5 and June 12. As noted in yesterday's blog (look below this one), there are five upcoming ITTF seminars scheduled in the U.S., including two by McAfee.

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June 14, 2011

"Let go, Have fun"

One of the toughest things to do in table tennis (or any skill sport) is to do exactly what the heading says - "Let go, Have fun." In a split-second skill sport like table tennis, you can't consciously control each shot; it's all instinctive. Yet that's exactly what one does when they can't relax. And so all their instincts go out the window, and suddenly they can't make a shot. Afterwards, they wonder why.

USA Women's Champion Arial Hsing, just 15 years old, exemplifies the ability to "Let go, Have fun." It is that ability (along with huge amounts of training, great coaching, experience, etc. - details!) that make her a champion. And how did she learn to do this? During her up-and-coming years, guess what she always wrote on her arm before a tournament? Here she is, about four years ago, at age 11. Yes, that's "Let go, Have fun!" written on her arm. (I have a larger version on my computer so I can zoom in and verify the words, including the exclamation mark at the end.)

Players who learn to do this find themselves basically spectators when they play. They think tactically, but otherwise they just watch the ball and let their bodies play the game while they observe. They just have fun watching as they pull off shot after shot!

Why not say "Let go, have fun" to yourself before every match from now on? Imagine how much better everyone would play. Of course, now that the secret's out, your opponent's going to do the same thing, and soon we'll have matches where the two players just sit around and watch while their bodies go play.

I was now going to direct you to a site dedicated to sports psychology for table tennis, run by table tennis star and sports psychologist Dora Kurimay - but apparently that site has been hacked by a nutty "Isl4m For Ever" extremist group. (Anyone know anything about this?) Hopefully Dora will get control of the site back soon. (I just sent her a message, but I'm guessing she already knows.)
Breaking News - Dora has fixed the problem, so now you can see her sports psychology for table tennis site! 

Here are some nice video points

ITTF Coaching Seminars in the U.S.

There are now five ITTF Coaching Seminars coming up in the U.S. (I ran the first one by a USA coach in April in Maryland.) Here is the upcoming schedule - get out your five-sided coin and choose!

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June 13, 2011

Over 450 Reads

On Friday we set a new record for most reads - over 450. (We've been averaging over 200 for a while.) I hope people are enjoying the blog - it's the first thing I do each morning, Mon-Fri. I usually keep notes throughout the day on interesting topics, and when morning comes, it's not a matter of what to write about; it's a matter of choosing which of the many items to write about. This morning I have eleven different topics to choose from. Some I'll write about now; the rest I'll cut & paste to tomorrow's blog, and then, along with whatever topics come to mind today, I'll choose that day's topics.

Tip of the Week: Playing the Fisher

This week's Tip of the Week is on Playing the Fisher. Special thanks to Deriderj, who raised this question on the forum. Now you too can learn how to play the fisher, the player who backs up and softly and defensively topspins everything back a few feet over the net. His shots are not quite lobbing, not quite looping, and not quite counter-hitting.

Comparison of Chinese and European loops

I spent two hours Sunday morning watching videos of top Chinese and Europeans players looping. This was spurred by a long discussion at the MyTableTennis forum. You'll find numerous links there to the videos I watched. For example, here's a short video of China's Ma Long and Denmark's Michael Maze warming up on adjacent tables, including slow motion, where you can really see the contrast. Ma Long's loop is a bit more fluid and natural looking, with a straighter arm, and more forward and speed oriented. Maze is a bit more upward and spin-oriented, with more forearm and wrist snap.

One thing you'll notice in both techniques - see how still their heads are. They don't move forward or go off-balance when looping; they rotate in a circle around their head, as if there were a pole going through the top of their head that they rotate about. 

Near the end of the discussion, on page 11, you'll see my note on the topic, where I wrote, "It's ironic that, in some ways, Chinese-style looping has evolved from Hungarian players, while European-style looping has evolved from Cai Zhenhua of China." In general, the top Chinese players, like the former top Hungarians, loop with a mostly-straight arm, while the Europeans, like Cai Zhenhua and many Chinese in the past, loop with a bigger arm snap, ending the stroke with the arm well bent. (Many even start with a more bent arm.) Here's Cai Zhenhua against Jan-Ove Waldner at the 1983 Worlds (25:16). The three famous Hungarians in question were Istvan Jonyer (against Guo Yuehua in 1979), Tibor Klampar (against Li Zhenshi in 1979), and Gabor Gergeley (in blue, against John Hilton, undated).

While both Chinese and European looping styles work, it looks like many Europeans have adopted the Chinese style, such as Werner Schlager of Austria (2003 Men's World Champion) and Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece (former top ten in the World and 2011 European Top Twelve Champion). But then here's Timo Boll, the European #1 and World #2 from Germany (the lefty), looping brilliantly (with a bent elbow and lots of arm snap) against all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner - though Waldner wins this point. Here's 5:46 of Schlager vs. Boll. Here's the top two Chinese (8:55) - recently crowned Men's World Champion Zhang Zike (shakehander) versus world #1 Wang Hao (penholder).

Politicians playing pong

Here's a nice article about and video of Delaware Governor Jack Markell playing table tennis.  Before he was governor of Delaware he came to two of our training camps at Maryland Table Tennis Center, circa mid-1990s. Over the last two years, his son (now about 15) has come to four of our camps, and his daughter to one. Jack has come along for several of the camps his kids were in, though not as a player in the camps. One time Judah Friedlander (from TV show 30 Rock) was at our club and I gave him a one-hour lesson after one of the camp sessions. Jack Markell came in, I introduced them, and the two went and hit for an hour. (Here are some photos of Judah Friedlander from my Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page: photo1 photo2 photo3 (with Spider-man) photo4 (Anna Kournikova on right) photo5 (L-R: Table Tennis Superstar Mikael Appelgren, Friedlander, Actress Susan Sarandon, Table Tennis Superstar Jan-Ove Waldner)

Here's an article and video of former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman playing table tennis at Comet Ping-Pong (6:44).

And here are lots and lots of other pictures of politicians playing table tennis!

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June 10, 2011

What do you know, and when did you know it?

Sometimes, as an experienced table tennis player and coach, I watch newer, younger players as they move up the rankings, and think, "If only they knew what I know." So much of table tennis is "getting it," i.e. knowing how to win - and there are all sorts of ways to doing this. But they all come from learning the frame of mind that allows you to pick through the fog of war (I mean match play) and find a way to win, both in developing your game (strategic development) and tactically (tactical development). This is probably true of most experienced players, at least those who have also gotten through the "learn how to win" barrier.

How do you learn how to win? Some do it by consciously being aware of what wins and what doesn't, and working toward maximizing the type of play that wins, both in strategic development by practicing those techniques that win when developing their game, and tactical development as they learn to use these winning techniques. Others do this instinctively - especially the tactical part - never really "knowing" what they are doing, and yet seemingly able to feel their way through matches with smart tactics. However, I don't think you can really develop your game to its full potential by feel - you should spend time thinking and analyzing.

I've never bought into the "thinking too much" myth - you can never think too much, you can only think at the wrong times and about the wrong things, and of course you can think poorly - but you also have to learn to play by feel so you can take advantage of instincts developed from years of playing. Most go the other way and don't think enough - and not enough thinking makes you just another dumb player at the mercy of a thinking opponent, both strategically and tactically. And that's exactly where far too many players are at - they don't yet "get it" in terms of learning how to win.

Music and Table Tennis - and "Magic Ball"

Table tennis has inspired the music to the 2012 Olympics! However, I still prefer Magic Ball (3:09), the theme song of the 1989 World Championships. The video shows scenes from the 1989 Worlds, especially featuring the Swedes, who won Men's Teams over China. This has got to be the most inspirational table tennis music ever made. If you are a serious table tennis player, you really should listen to it.

Two other table tennis music videos that I think you'll like are the Ping-Pong Song (3:40) and the Stiga St. Louis Junior Table Tennis Team Dance (3:56, though it doesn't really start until 0.53 in), performed at the 2005 Chinese New Year Festival in St. Louis. (Here are more humorous table tennis videos.)

For Alzheimer's and dementia patients, ping-pong is a game - and therapy

An article in the LA Times on table tennis as a therapeutic sport. "Maybe he's using more of his brain when he plays ping-pong. Afterward, he has more energy, he talks more, he walks twice as fast - it's amazing to me."

2150 at age 9!

In April, I blogged about Crystal Wang (from Maryland Table Tennis Center, where I coach) achieving a rating of 2031 at age 9 years 1 months, the youngest ever to break 2000, boys or girls. Well, she's at it again! At the Eastern Open, at age 9 years 3 months, she broke 2100 and shot right up to an even 2150! (Remarkably, in April of 2010, just 14 months ago, she was still languishing with a 1013 rating.)

Interesting ratings note: Due to confusions about rating cutoffs in rating events, USATT always takes a point off of ratings that end in 00 or 50. (The point is added back on when the rating changes to one not ending in the offending digits.) Many people would wonder, for example, whether Crystal, with her 2150 rating, is eligible for Under 2150. (My thought on this is simple - 2150 is not under 2150, so she's obviously not eligible - but apparently many people don't think like that, which still confuses me.) If you look up Crystal's rating in the ratings database, it comes up 2149. But if you look at the actual rating results from the Easterns, she's listed as 2150, the "correct" rating. And so instead of being listed as 2150, Crystal is now listed as 2149 - which means she is eligible for Under 2150!

Following close behind Crystal is Amy Wang of New Jersey, 8, who is now rated 2020! (And so is now the youngest to 2000.) It looks like the East coast has an up-and-coming pair (the "Wonder Wangs"?) that may soon follow in the footsteps of California's bay area Dynamic Duo of Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

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