Larry Hodges's blog

September 29, 2011

The Inner Games of Table Tennis

When a looper plays a blocker, there's an inner game being played between the two. The looper wants to be in a stable position where he can make strong, well-placed loops that force the blocker to lunge for the ball, back up, or just miss or return the ball weakly. The blocker wants to be in position so he can make quick, well-placed blocks that force the looper to lunge for the ball or just miss or return the ball weakly. In most rallies, one style takes control while the other struggles, although the advantage can change quickly and multiple times during a rally. When you are in such a match, are you playing blindly or are you focused on winning this inner game?

There are similar inner games in most matches. For example, between two players with strong backhands, both might battle for control of the backhand diagonal. A righty and a lefty might battle for chances to hit aggressive backhands to the opponent's wide forehand, thereby drawing the opponent out of position, or they might battle for forehand control into the opponent's backhand. Or there's the battle between the serve & attacker against the receiver who wants to force a neutral rally. There are countless such examples of these inner games. Have you learned to recognize the inner games that take place in your matches?

Glasses or no glasses?

I started wearing glasses in college because I had trouble reading what was on the blackboard. I also need them to watch a movie or TV, to read road signs when driving, or to see anything clearly in the distance. At some point around 25 or so years ago, I started wearing them when I play table tennis. The problem is that I take the glasses off to read - my eyes are fine for that. When I wear the glasses, I can't read anything close up. When I wear the glasses in table tennis, I can see my opponent's racket clearly, but up close, the ball is a blur.

Yesterday I experimented playing without glasses. I can see the ball much more sharply when serving - my serves seemed better as a result - and I could almost see the ball right into my racket in rallies. My opponent's racket isn't as focused, but I think I can see the racket motion well enough to read spin. So I'm going to continue this experiment. I'll report back later.

Anyone else have experience in these matters?

Slippery Grip?

If you have problems gripping your racket when you get sweaty, you might consider wearing a wristband, and drying your hands with a towel regularly. When it's humid, you should bring two towels, one for the ball and racket, one for you (in particular your hands). Other options include getting a rubber grip or perhaps power grip. (I haven't tried power grip, but I've seen others use this or something similar. When the blog first went up this morning, I incorrectly called and linked it to court grip, which is for shoe traction - another topic to cover someday.)

It's Ping-Pong Diplomacy Night in Colorado!

Yes, you read that right. Read about it here. There will be a live re-enactment of 1971's Ping-Pong Diplomacy games. Actually, it's Ping-Pong Diplomacy Month in Colorado - there are a whole series of Ping-Pong Diplomacy events taking place, such as Ping-Pong in the Park in Denver.

 

Ping-Pong and Music and Parties, Oh My!

The London Ping-Pong Company is a company that creates ping-pong events with music in a party atmosphere. To use their own description, "Our unique ping-pong events are based on fun, teams-based ‘tournament-style’ parties involving fantastic venues, trained hosts & umpires, MCs, DJs, super coaches, & exhibition matches." Sounds like something someone in the U.S. could emulate - a niche just waiting to be grabbed.

Polar Bear versus a Penguin

In this episode (3:36, starts with a short ad), Bernard the Hairless Polar Bear plays ping-pong with a penguin. (As someone notes in the comments, the cheating bird illegally hides his serve at 2:22.)

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September 28, 2011

Minimum-quality shots

Often players and coaches harp on creating quality shots, as they should. However, what about minimum-quality shots? These are shots where your opponent has made you uncomfortable - perhaps with his attack, his serve, or something else - and so all you are trying to do is get the ball back in a way that he won't cream it past you.

Minimum-quality shots can be tricky to pull off correctly. First, you have to judge whether it's time to go for one. Second, you have to judge just how weak you can make your shot - to maximize consistency - and still get away with it. And third, you have to be able to something with the ball to give the opponent some trouble, such as angling the shot, going to the opponent's weak side, keeping it deep, changing the direction at the last second, changing the spin, etc. This last part is almost an art form. Ultimately, you don't want to try to win with your minimum-quality shots, but they will often keep you in the point. And some decent players pretty much base their whole game on just getting the ball back like this, though not at really high levels.

Often players don't distinguish between incoming shots that they have read properly and are in position to attack, and ones where they are not, and so blindly attack both. While they sometimes pull off a nice shot this way, and it might actually be good practice to raise you level by attacking shots that you are not really comfortable attacking, it's not usually the percentage thing to do, tactically.

One of my favorite strategies is to just keep taking the ball right off the bounce and returning it really, really wide to the opponent's backhand, but not too hard. You'd be surprised how much trouble they have doing anything with this shot. It's way too far over for most to use their forehand (and they are wide open on the forehand side if they do), they can't really hit this ball down the line very hard, and I give them no pace to work with, and so all I have to do is be a brick wall on my backhand side until they miss. This works especially well for me in returning serves, in backhand-backhand rallies, and for wide-angled pushes. The first two here are especially well underutilized by most players.

Getting back in shape for table tennis

I've decided to devote the next two months to getting in great table tennis shape. Besides the usual hitting with students and practice matches Fri-Sun (mostly with our local juniors as a practice partner), this means about three training sessions/week, plus lifting weights at a gym three times a week, plus daily stretching. (This is on top of going from 196 lbs in December to the current 173.) Here's my new weight training regime, which I started yesterday, with ten reps each, three times each, weight set so the last few reps are a slight struggle. I start and end each session with stretching. Right now my arms are very, very tired, but the rest of me seems okay.

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)

Table tennis videos

Can't get enough videos? There are lots of ones in the TableTennisCoaching video section. I've just added the ITTF video page. Or just type in your favorite player (and perhaps the words "table tennis") into youtube, and you can pretty much find anybody.

Table Tennis University

Table Tennis University opens for enrollment on Thursday, Sept. 29. It's an online table tennis school. I've linked to a number of their videos, but haven't otherwise been involved with them, but (from the videos and table tennis resume) they obviously are knowledgeable table tennis people. (I have my own video coaching at TableTennisCoaching.com.)

Penny-Pong

My favorite sport is now penny-pong. (Patience - it takes about a minute to get into it in this 4:42 video.) But why does this remind me of the rickety bridge scene from Balls of Fury? Except they have, apparently, learned backhand.

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September 27, 2011

Steady or aggressive blocking?

There are generally two types of blockers, steady blockers ("walls") and aggressive blockers ("jab-blockers"). Which are you? You should do both, of course, but it's usually best to specialize in one or the other. For example, David Zhuang (six-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) is primarily a steady blocker. He can block forever, side to side, often changing the pace and even sidespin blocking. But when he sees the chance, he snaps out an often point-winning jab-block, which is made even more effective by the contrast with his usual steady but not-too-hard blocking.

A key to blocking is placement. Steady blockers mostly block side to side at wide angles, since a softer block to the middle can be hammered. Jab-blockers play the extreme corners and to the opponent's middle (playing elbow), rushing the opponent who has to decide between forehand and backhand, which often opens up a corner to jab-block a winner to. (This is because the opponent has to move to the middle of the table to hit a forehand or backhand, leaving one side open.) The nice thing about having a good block is you can get away with a lot of tactical things that others might not be comfortable doing, such as long serves or aggressive pushes. The opponent may have trouble with these, but if he does attack them, a blocker isn't worried since he's comfortable blocking.

Berkeley Open Results

Isn't it great how at the North American Table Tennis events, such as the Berkeley Open this past weekend (choose "Berkeley Open" from the dropdown menu), you can see not just the results (which most tournaments are slow to put up), but every single match played in each event?

The Amazing Michael Maze

Here's a profile of Denmark's Michael Maze, with the understanding that after this, we'll have a moratorium on the clichéd nickname "Amazing." He's probably the best lobber in the world. He was the 2005 World Championships Men's Singles Semifinalist, 2009 European Men's Singles Champion, 2004 European Top 12 Champion, 2004 Olympic Men's Doubles Bronze Medalist, and is currently world #21, was World #8 one year ago. Here's a tribute video to Maze (6:37).

If you want to relive Maze's greatest victory ever and see some of the greatest lobbing ever, his comeback against China's Hao Shuai in the all-lefty quarterfinals of the 2005 World Championships (he was down 3-0, won 4-3, lobbing over and over), here's the full match (52:11).

Maze defeated China's Wang Hao the round before, 4-1, perhaps an even bigger win. I can't find the video in one segment, but here are the five games. That's Liu Guoliang coaching Wang.

Men's Singles Finals, 2011 World Championships

In case you want something more recent than Maze's Amazing (there's that cliché again...) matches in 2005, here's Zhang Jike versus Wang Hao in the 2011 Men's Singles Final, with the entire match in just 12:11 (by cutting out the time between points). Yes, you can relive the entire thing (and study their techniques) in just twelve minutes!

World Cup Participants

The participants list for the 2011 LIEBHERR Men's World Cup (Paris, Nov. 11-13) are announced. Wang Hao of China will be defending his title.

Sports Coaching Brain

Here's an interesting sports webpage, the Sports Coaching Brain, that (to use their "About" text) calls itself the "ultimate source of ideas, innovations and inspiration for all sports, coaching, sports science and performance issues." Someone who read my blog yesterday about USA Table Tennis gave me the link to this article, Coach-Driven, Athlete-Focused, Administratively-Supported? Isn't it time we did something different? It does seem to fit our sport's situation.

Obama playing table tennis

We already have lots of pictures of Barrack Obama playing table tennis. Now we have the other Obama, Michelle Obama playing table tennis! (And for those who missed it before, here is Barrack Obama playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 (Photos 2 and 3 are from a picture on the wall at the White House); Obama and David Cameron, Prime Minister of England: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4 photo5 photo6 photo7 photo8 photo9

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September 26, 2011

Tip of the Week

Develop Your Game Around Your Playing Style.

Two-Year Anniversary of September 26, 2009 - the USATT Strategic Meeting

What's so big about this date from exactly two years ago? It's when USATT completed its 2009 Strategic Meeting in Colorado Springs, Sept. 26, 2009. I was one of the 26 participants at the meeting. The biggest discussion point at the meeting was the consensus that USATT's 8000 members was basically a "round-off error." So what programs have since been implemented to increase membership and solve this problem?

We came up with three "priorities," with a task force for each - "Juniors," "Grow Membership Through Added Value," and "Communication." I strongly disagreed with much of this - I believed that we needed specific goals and timelines, with specific plans and timelines to meet those goals. The task forces would then work out the specifics, including recommended changes, and then the plans would be implemented. Others believed that the task forces would do all this, and so the only purpose of the 26 attendees (many of them flown in at USATT expense) was to come up with these vague priorities and slogans.

I believed that the Junior priority (way too vague) should be "Club-based Junior Programs," since that's how the most successful table tennis countries do it. You recruit and train coaches to be full-time coaches and to set up and run junior programs. Independently of USATT, a number of full-time training centers have been popping up around the country, leading to junior programs and an increase in the number of active junior players, and a noticeable increase in the number of "elite" juniors. It would have been helpful if USATT were involved in this by recruiting and training those who wish to create full-time centers and junior programs, but there seemed little interest in this at the Strategic Meeting and by the junior task force. 

I also very strongly believed that the so-called "Grow Membership Through Added Value" priority was also way too vague, and that it should have instead been "Nationwide Leagues," with the goal to set up a model that could be turned into a nationwide network of leagues, expanding on the success of current leagues in regions such as the bay area (San Francisco/San Jose), Los Angeles, and New York. Alas, I was voted down. As I've blogged about a number of times (see especially my Sept. 22, 2011 blog), this is how table tennis and other sports all over the world do this successfully. I am completely clueless as to why we ignore these successful models that show a well-trod path to success. (How's that for a slogan?)

I think Communications could be important, but I discount its value until we have something to communicate about. For example, the U.S. Tennis Association (700,000 members) regularly sends out email newsletters that focus on their leagues, grassroots junior programs, and the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. What does USATT have to communicate about? It is not particularly involved in leagues or grassroots junior development, and has made no serious effort to increase participation in the U.S. Open or USA Nationals. (Participation is actually down from past years.) The point of a newsletter is to promote the sport, but if you don't have any programs to promote the sport, there's nothing serious to communicate about. Player profiles and other news items make the newsletter interesting, but the central focus must be about central programs that are being promoted. USATT now does a monthly newsletter and even has a new alternate website, but few programs to promote.

There was also a lot of discussion about the USATT's webpage, with a consensus that it was dated and redesigned. We did a lot of brainstorming on what should be on the new webpage. About half the participants wanted to take it down immediately, with a new one designed and created within a week! (Not too likely.) The end result was that it would be redesigned as soon as possible. Two years later, there's been little change. There is the new alternate Team Table Tennis website, but that's not the USATT's primary site. (Do a Google search for "table tennis," and the first thing that comes up is the USATT website. The alternate one doesn't show up on the first page.)

I've been to four of these USATT "Strategic meetings," each of which followed the same script, leading to lots of slogans and vague priorities. The problem is that slogans and vague priorities don't bring in membership, develop junior programs, create elite athletes, etc. They simply make the participants feel good about themselves. At the time of the Strategic Meeting, I was ready to volunteer with USATT, but I've sort of lost interest until they show they are ready to take their game to the next level (see their "Brand Promise"). I was asked to be on the USATT Coaching and Club Committee earlier this year, and agreed, but I'm undecided whether there's any point in that - the USATT board and task forces simply have different ideas on how to accomplish things.

It would be interesting to ask the 26 participants to honestly access the success of programs implemented since the Strategic Meeting, and see whether there wpuld be an honest assessment, or the "circle the wagons" response we so often get. (The first one who talks about "what we will do," as we've done for 78 years, instead of "what we've done," gets jettisoned off the planet. Sure, we need to talk about "what we will do," but not until we've had an honest assessment of "What we've done," and figure out how we can do better.) The problem is that there really haven't been any programs implemented. They created a monthly newsletter (like nearly all other sports already were doing, except we don't really have anything to communicate about) and a new logo (which a board member told me symbolizes a "new USATT"), but that's about it. The coaching committee adopted the ITTF coaching program and that has led to a number of ITTF coaching seminars in the U.S. (I ran one), but that was planned by coaching chair Richard McAfee before the strategic meeting, and had little to do with the "priorities" developed. (I also think that program needs more emphasis on recruiting full-time coaches and on teaching how to set up and run club-based junior programs.)

As noted, at the Strategic Meeting we came up with lots of slogans. Since we spent nearly half the meeting on these, I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. Here are the things we came up with. Have we fulfilled any of this? Has any of this made us a better organization, gained us new members, or developed elite athletes? My comments are in brackets, but they are rather repetitive as I keep asking what programs have been implemented to accomplish the statement. If nothing is being done to fulfill the words, then they are empty words.

Brand Promise
USATT: Taking our Game to the Next Level 

[Has USATT taken its game to the next level? Has it implemented any programs to accomplish this?]

Brand Vision
We will introduce a new generation of youth to a new generation of Table Tennis.  We will ignite a grassroots movement that connects the fun of basement ping pong to the awesome intensity of Olympic competition.

[Has USATT implemented any programs that will introduce a new generation of youth to a new generation of Table Tennis? Has it implemented any programs that will ignite this grassroots movement?]

Club and league directors will see us as their trusted ally in engaging the masses and nurturing talent.

[Has USATT implemented any programs that will cause Club and League directors to see them as a trusted ally in engaging the masses and nurturing talent? Has it implemented any programs that even involve Club and League directors?]

Colleges will offer Table Tennis scholarships and attendance at intramural competitions will be standing room only.  Table Tennis will become a varsity high school sport.  Corporate sponsors we now seek will instead seek us out.

[Has USATT implemented any programs that will lead to colleges offering scholarships, with standing room attendance at intramural competitions? Have corporate sponsors begun to seek us out?]

We will be known as innovators and agents of change.  Ten years from now, other sports’ NGBs [National Governing Bodies] will meet and ask themselves, “How can we grow our sport like Table Tennis did?”

[Has USATT implemented any programs that merit it being known, or will lead toward it being known, as innovators or agents of change?]

Brand Values

  • We believe that working together, we can accomplish far more than working alone.
  • We welcome players from the basement to the Olympic arena.
  • Respect and integrity will not be sacrificed for results.  We call our own faults.
  • It is better to serve than to receive

[Has any of this led to anything?]

 

I'll end this diatribe with this.

How to set up a fourth-ball attack

Coach Li explains and demonstrates this in the latest video from Table Tennis University (4:18). This means how to return serves to set up an attack on the next shot.

Loss of power

This past weekend I realized I was losing power on my forehand loop from the backhand corner - a cornerstone of my game - for a reason that is probably common to others. As I've gotten older, my feet have slowed a bit, and I realized that I wasn't going around quite as far as before. And so I was looping while standing closer to the ball, and so wasn't really using any arm extension while looping. Once I realized this, I made a conscious effort to exaggerate the step around movement so I was almost reaching for the ball on those shots, forcing me to fuller arm extension - and the rest of the night I had the most potent forehand loop from the backhand corner I've had in perhaps years.

Going to the well too often on serves

Sometimes it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to win too much from a few tricky serves. The problem is that if you use the same tricky serves too often, opponents get used to them. To use an experience I just had as an example, I played one of our top juniors this past weekend. I had three specific serves that the junior had problems with (all from a forehand pendulum motion) - a breaking side-top serve deep to the backhand, a fast, dead serve to the elbow, and a short side-top serve to the forehand. Rather than vary these serves in along with other, simpler third-ball serves (i.e. short backspin and no-spin serves followed with loops), I tried to win the match on free points from these serves. It worked in game one (11-4), but the junior got used to the serves, and by game two was hammering them. I lost the next two games. Realizing that the time of trickery was over, and that I'd have to earn the win, I convinced myself I had the greatest serve & attack in the world (it's a nice sports psychology trick), and won the next two games almost exclusively by serving short and looping the next ball. Imagine how much easier things would have been if I'd done that from the start, while mixing in the trick serves to get 3-4 "free" points per game? (An extended version of this will probably become a Tip of the Week.)

Note to Kevin

Do your ellipticals! Yeah, Kevin's a student of mine getting in shape for the North American Teams, Nov. 25-27. You and others also training for that - as of today, you have exactly 60 days to prepare. Hup, hup, hup!

Truly spectacular table tennis - with a moral

This video (1:42) has a moral - no matter how badly things are going, you can battle and come back. But you have to take action to make it happen. Are you listening, USATT?

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September 23, 2011

Creating racket velocity on serves and strokes

Many players have great difficulty creating great spin with their loops and serves. They stroke through the ball with a constant not-too-high velocity, and the result is a not-too-great spin. There's little acceleration in their shots, and so there's little velocity.

There's a distinction between speed and acceleration. Velocity is the actual miles per hour; acceleration is how fast you are speeding up. To get a lot of velocity, you need a lot of acceleration. For maximum velocity, you need to accelerate right up until contact. How do you do this?

For looping, start with the lower body muscles, and work your way up. This means the legs, then waist, then shoulders, then arm, then wrist. Think of it as a whip, which also starts at the base (near the handle) and works its way down to the tip. This is especially true when looping and serving. Rotate your body around in a circle, creating great torque. You do so by using the muscles exactly as noted above, in that order - legs, waist, shoulders, arm, and then wrist.

On serve, you generally don't use your legs much, but for forehand serves you do rotate the body into the shot from the waist, shoulders, and arm. Then the wrist snaps into the shot like the tip of a whip, generating massive spin.

If you wave it, what moves faster, the tip of a whip or the tip of a stick? The tip of the whip. To maximize acceleration, you need to relax your muscles as if they were rubber. If they are tight, you'll have the velocity of the stick.

Ultimately, power comes from good technique (muscles used properly and in synch) and relaxed muscles.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook

Here is the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, a must read for all coaches in the U.S. (Or am I biased, since I wrote it?)  It is written as a professional guide for those who wish to coach table tennis professionally, with the U.S. market in particular, though most of it should be applicable anywhere. It incorporates most of what was originally in two previous manuals I'd written, "Junior Training Primer" and "Beginning Class Primer," as well as lots of other stuff. The focus is not on how to teach techniques, but on the "professional" side, i.e. how to get a facility, recruiting and keeping students, setting up and teaching classes and junior programs, etc. I originally wrote it a few years ago, with the last update on Jan. 1, 2010. The primer is based on years of experience coaching myself, along with co-coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang and others, and numerous discussions over the years with other coaches. Here is the Table of Contents:

  1. The Profession of Coaching
  2. How Much Income Can You Make As a Table Tennis Coach?
  3. What Credentials Do You Need to Be a Table Tennis Coach?
  4. Getting a Facility, Tables and Other Equipment
  5. Start With a Plan
  6. Recruiting Students
  7. Setting Up and Teaching a Class
  8. Setting Up and Running a Junior Training Program
  9. Private Coaching
  10. Keeping Players Interested
  11. Drills Library
  12. Sample Flyers
  13. Helpful Links & Resources

Pro Players Equipment Page

So you want to know what equipment most of the top hundred players (and many more) actually use? Here's the listing, for the Equipment Junkie in you.

Scientists play ping-pong with an electron

Really!!!!!

Hello . . . I'm Mister Ed

Can a horse play table tennis? Yes, and they did this in the TV show Mister Ed (1958-1966). Here's the picture that proves it! There's no digital manipulation; they apparently got the horse to hold the paddle and probably filmed a lot to get what they needed. I remember seeing the footage, but alas, I can't find it on youtube. And so I'll leave you with this:

A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and nobody plays pong with a horse, that is, of course, unless, of course, the horse is the famous Mr. Ed! (Sung to the tune of the Mister Ed opening theme, 0:42, with some minor horsing around with the lyrics.)

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September 22, 2011

USA Table Tennis Infrastructure

No sport can get big without infrastructure. In countries like Germany and England (700,000 and 500,000 members of their respective table tennis associations), the focus is on their leagues, with a secondary focus on junior development. The U.S. Tennis Association (700,000 members) also focuses on its leagues and junior development, as well as the U.S. Open. Little League Baseball, pretty much by definition, focuses on leagues and junior development, and has millions of players. The United States Bowling Congress, with over 2.5 million members, has over 70,000 leagues administered by 35,000 volunteers in 2900 local and state associations. I could go on and on and on, with country after country, sport after sport, but it's always the same message. What can USA Table Tennis (8000 members) learn from this?

A number of times in our past we've had huge media coverage, and a large influx of players. Each time it was temporary because, predictably, without the infrastructure to absorb the players - leagues for all levels, junior programs for kids - the players came, didn't find what they wanted, and they left. And so the media coverage from Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 and 1972, the Olympic debut in 1988, the Olympics in the U.S. in 1996, even Forest Gump in 1994, didn't help; we simply weren't ready. We've been on national TV numerous times, from the ESPN coverage circa 1980, Prime Network in the early 1990s, various times during the Olympics, and more recently Killerspin ESPN broadcasts. Again, it didn't help without the infrastructure. USATT is like a shoe store with bad shoes; until they fix the shoes, TV and other promotions aren't going to develop a membership base. If we were a shoe store, we'd be out of business. Since we're a non-profit, we stay open, a monument to how not to grow a sport.

USA Table Tennis, don't just say leagues and junior programs are priorities, and create task forces to look into these issues, and then do nothing, as we've done over and Over and OVER. If you can't make these your top priority (or make a strong argument for something else), and act like they ARE your top priority by actually making it your, *cough* *cough* TOP PRIORTY, by actually implementing something - then you are just caretakers for a sport waiting for true leadership.

I've blogged about this numerous times, so here it is in a nutshell. Create the prototypical USA League, make it available to potential league directors, recruit volunteers, and promote the heck out of it. Recruit and train coaches who wish to run junior programs. See sport grow. Grow sport grow.

This is not a sport where talking the talk will get anything done; we need to walk the walk. There is a well-trod path to success; to quote the great Yoda, "Do or do not." Which will it be?

Returning short serves to the forehand

Having trouble with those short serves to the forehand? Often find yourself barely getting them in time, since you also have to be ready to cover deep serves? Try practicing in and out movement. Go into your regular receive stance. Then step in, with the right foot well under the table (for righties), and shadow-practice flipping or pushing that serve. Do this a few dozen times, in and out, in and out, in and out. It can be tiring, but it'll pay off if you do this regularly, perhaps a few times a week.

How to Be a Champion

Required reading for all players and coaches. (I posted this once before, but I should post this a few times a year.) These are from the May/June 2005 USA Table Tennis Magazine "How to Be a Champion" issue.

Werner Schlager

Here's a profile of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager.

iPhone table tennis app

This seems to be table tennis, but since I use a phone designed to make, you know, phone calls, I'm not really sure.

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September 21, 2011

Receive

The last couple of blogs I've had a lot on serving. Now let's talk about receive. Below are links to ten articles I've written on receive. Receive is the hardest part of the game to learn, and the most under-practiced. When players drill, they work on their strokes, their footwork, and they even practice serves. But how often do they systematically practice receive? To do so, you need to find practice partners who is willing to let you practice against their serves, and many players are protective of this - they don't want to give potential rivals a chance to get used to their serves. Sometimes the best way to practice serves is to find a stronger player (one who doesn't consider you a potential threat) and ask to practice against their serves. Or hire them as a coach. As to the receiving itself, enjoy browsing or reading the below. Any questions? C'mon, I love questions!!!

Getting back to my old level

Now that my back problems are over, I'm toying with how serious I should take my own playing. If I want to get back to my old level, I'm going to have to:

  • Do lots of stretching or I will get injured. There's no "if" here.
  • Lift weights to regain full muscle strength.
  • Practice a lot.
  • Play lots of tournaments to become tournament tough again.
  • Give up most other activities. :)

*Sigh*. It seems like a lot of time and work. There's a reason most coaches stop competing. (And the huge majority of my match play these days is as a practice partner for local juniors.) Maybe I'll just continue to focus on coaching, and let others do the above. (Like I've been doing for years.) On the other hand, I can rely on 35 years of playing experience to win matches. There's some pride to winning a match when the opponent has you completely outgunned, and they come off the table wondering, "How the heck did I lose that?"

Counterlooping

Coach Tao Li teaches the forehand counterloop (8:35). If you like this, here are seven coaching videos by Coach Tao

Joo Se-Hyuk

Here's a profile of South Korea's Joo Se-Hyuk, the best chopper in the world (really a chopper/looper, since he's often all-out looping on the forehand), and a men's singles finalist at the 2003 Worlds.

National Physical Disabled Table Tennis Association

Straight from Nepal!

USATT logo

Do you prefer new, the old, or the older one? 

New USATT logo Old USATT logo Older USATT logo

Exciting but catty table tennis action

Can the catchy new USATT logo (see above) be the catalyst for catapulting our catatonically-growing sport to catching on with new categories of fans as we no longer cater to the catastrophically few who currently play our catlike sport? Or am I just being catty? See what these fans and players think.

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September 20, 2011

More on Serving

On Friday, I gave my periodic "Practice your serves!" reminder, a public service for the benefit of the vast throngs of table tennis players who forget to practice their serves unless I remind them. Over the weekend I put up two more articles on serving, both previously published in USA Table Tennis Magazine: Serving Short with Spin and Serving Short the Productive Way. Want more? Here are 19 articles I've written on serving. (The two new ones are at the end.)

The Shoulder Method of Hiding the Serve

I've blogged about hidden serves a number of times, but I want to point out the most popular method of hiding serves so you can watch for it. Think of it as a public address announcement for the benefit of umpires, who are in the unenviable position of having to call hidden serves, as well as for players and coaches who have to call the service rule on opponents who hide their serves.

It's not enough these day to just hide the serve these days; illegal servers now are able to hiding their hiding! (Hopefully you will read the following so as to watch for it, not to learn to do it - though of course some will do that, alas.) Most umpires watch the non-playing arm closely to make sure the serve isn't obviously hidden by that. The rule says that the non-playing arm must be "pulled out of the way as soon as the ball is projected upwards." However, most umpires aren't strict on this as long as the arm is pulled out before contact so as not to hide the ball. And this is where they are getting fooled.

Most players who hide their serves now do it with their shoulder. They leave their non-playing arm out as long as possible, and then pull it back just before contact. Since most umpires are watching the arm to make sure it is pulled out in time, they think the serve is legal. What they don't see is that by keeping the arm out, the server is able to keep his shoulder thrust out. While the arm is pulled out of the way before contact, the shoulder lags behind and doesn't quite come out of the way until just after contact, and that's what hides the contact. It's like a magic trick, where you distract the observer with one thing (the arm) so they don't see the more important thing (the shoulder). 

And just as a reminder, here are the pertinent parts of the service rule about hiding contact:

  • Rule 2.6.4: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server..."
  • Rule 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."
  • Rule 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."

Three more coaching articles by Samson Dubina
(Here are all his coaching articles.)

Deng Yaping

Here's a short profile of the great Deng Yaping, now 38 years old and with a Ph.D from Cambridge.

Dora Kurimay

Dora Kurimay, top table tennis player and sports psychologist, is interviewed at The Pongcast. Then check out her table tennis sports psychology page.

Table Tennis and More Commercial

Here's a commercial (1:29) for Table Tennis and More, a club in Phoenix, Arizona. Why doesn't your club have one?

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September 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. Time to put some balance into your game!

Tactics against hitting juniors

Because I'm out of practice after months of back problems, when I went back to playing local juniors, I had to go back to "basic principles" to compete. And while I wasn't really playing well, I kept winning, but almost exclusively on tactics. Here are the main tactics I used, and that you should try when playing super-fast hitting juniors, where you simply cannot play at their pace. (I can't.)

When serving, often serve slow, super-spinny serves, mostly long, with lots of spin variation, often so they break into the wide backhand. You want lots and lots of serve variation. With side-top serves, vary between extra topspin and extra sidespin. Vary the service motion, especially right after contact - mostly follow-through down for side-top serves, follow-through up for side-backspin serves. Throw in lots of fast, dead (almost backspin) serves to the middle (playing elbow). Be aggressive and decisive in following up the serve - it might be the only shot in the rally that you won't get a bang-bang counter-hitting return. If you have a good loop, serve short backspins to the middle or forehand (or long to the backhand, if they push it back), and follow with loops at wide angles--but try to hide the direction you are going, or even fake one way, go the other. (Juniors have smaller middles, but are weaker at covering the corners when you are attacking.)

When receiving, look for every chance to push or chop the serve back extremely heavy and low, at wide angles. (Receiving against fast-attacking juniors is one of the few times where you may break the cardinal rule of attacking the deep serve, since it's often better to push it back heavy.) Often aim to the backhand, then push to the wide forehand at the last second. When they move to the forehand to loop, quick block the next ball to the wide backhand before they are back in position, or to the wide forehand again if they move to cover the backhand too quickly. If the junior loops from both wings, a heavy push to the middle will often give them trouble. If you topspin the serve back, make sure to go very deep. If you loop the serve, deep, spinny loops are usually best; if they smash this with their forehand, then do it mostly to the backhand. Quicker loops to the forehand are effective - any loop to the forehand they can't smash is effective.

When rallying, use lots of variation. You may start the rally off close to the table - try to start the rally with an aggressive, well-placed shot (wide angles or middle) - then hit the next shot a step back, but don't back up too much until you are forced to. Use varying topspins and backspins, and move the ball around the table, keeping it deep. Throw in some dummy loops. If you are good at fishing and lobbing, that is effective as long as you don't overdo it - it's better to force the junior to make at least one risky shot that he might miss before you start lobbing, so don't give up the table too easily. Heavy backspin (pushing and chopping) can be extremely effective, so here's your chance to learn to win with backspin.

Here are two other articles that might be helpful: 

Back and Playing Update

This past weekend (Fri-Sun) I played more than I had in the previous two months. It was the first real test of my back since I'd had the back problems I've probably over-blogged about. Overall, things went really well. On Friday and Saturday I played practice matches with some of our top juniors (and some non-juniors), including several that were rated about the same as me or higher. I went in fully expecting (as did everyone else) that after several months of non-playing, I'd get killed. Instead, I went undefeated, a combined 9-0! Rating-wise, I defeated players rated 2300, 2200, 2150, two 2100's, 2000, 1800, 1700, and 1300. I'm not going to give out names, but suffice to say I had Cheng Yinghua staring at me with a silly grin and saying, "Larry, how are you playing so good?" He and Jack coached several of the juniors against me ("He's slow! Attack his forehand and middle! Most of his serves are topspin! Serve topspin so he can't push quick and heavy!), but to no avail.

Two things that really helped. First, the honest truth I wasn't playing that well, and feeling rather vulnerable, I really, Really, REALLY focused on tactics. And that worked rather well. Second, it had been months since they had seen my serves, and I decided to just serve for winners. And so I gave my opponents a steady diet of long, breaking serves with varied spin, often with a herky-jerky serving motion to throw them off, along with fast, dead serves to the middle, and occasionally short, spinny serves, especially to the forehand. They missed my serve over and over. Like magic, whenever I served and needed a point, a service winner would appear. As I got more comfortable, I did more serve & attack, especially with short no-spin serves to the middle or forehand, followed by a forehand loop.

On Sunday, I did 3.5 consecutive hours of coaching, the first time I'd done more than an hour of coaching in months. It went pretty well, but combined with all the playing on Friday and Saturday, by the end my back was done. I played one practice match with a 1700 junior (won the first, struggled to win the next three mostly with serves and by fishing and lobbing), then had to stop. The good news was this morning my back feels fine.

A USA National League System

Over the past few days there has been a lot of emails discussions on how to set up a national league system. I've argued for years that we should focus on learning how they do it so successfully in Europe, and from that create a USA model. I know NYTTL (the New York league, which has teams from all over the northeast) does that (Mauricio Vergara explained how they modeled it after the European leagues), and I think BATTF (Bay area) and LATTF (Los Angeles) are also similar to European leagues. The best news of the weekend was that Richard Lee (president of North American Table Tennis) is going to Europe on business, and volunteered to meet with officials there and ask about how they developed their leagues. (And the key is how they did so at the start, not just how they are being run today.) I was also asked the following:

>In your opinions how can we realistically implement the National Club
>League System? What would work best in the U.S.?

Here is my response:

"Here is the recommendation I made repeatedly at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and previous ones as and board meetings. Arrange to meet at the Worlds (or other major competition) with officials from Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), or other countries with successful leagues. The key is to learn from them how they created and developed their leagues, not how they are run now, though that is the ultimate goal. Discuss it with them, exchange ideas, and see what we can learn.

"Then we take this info to successful league directors in the U.S. (such as ones from BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL), and ask them to work out a U.S. model, based on what we learn from European leagues and their own experiences in the U.S. (Actually, we should send these league directors to the Worlds to meet with European league directors, so they can learn first hand. At our cost. It would be the single best investment in USATT history.) Then we make this model available to those interested, and promote it on a regional basis. I believe they are already working on this, but they are reinventing the wheel, when the wheel (how to set up successful leagues) has already be invented many times overseas. We just need to decide the specific design of our wheel.

"We have to stop thinking in terms of setting up a nationwide league for current clubs, and think about setting up a league that will create clubs, such as Germany did, whose Bundesliga led to their 11,000 clubs. How do they and others do this? Given the choice between learning this, and not learning this, we've consistently chosen ignorance, often hiding behind the oft-repeated "But things are different there!" without even bothering to learn the differences and similarities. Yes, there are differences, which is why we take the best of Europe to experienced U.S. league directors, and create a U.S. model. Believe it or not, the 700,000 players in the German league system are human beings just like us; they are not some alien species that genetically wants to play table tennis. Neither are the English, the Chinese, the Japanese, and other countries that do it right, and yet we consistently pretend we know everything when in reality USATT knows very little about developing table tennis in this country. That's why we have 8000 members."

A TV show that features Ping-Pong? (I mean table tennis!)

NBC is developing Pong, a single-camera comedy based on the 2010 book Everything You Know Is Pong by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz.

Brian Pace in Training

Brian write of this new video (37:21), "In Episode 9 of BP Reloaded I update you on my training in Romania, I go over my weight loss, I show you some of my daily meals, and I go through a training session with Lucian M."

Matrix Table Tennis

I know you have seen this (if not, where have you been???), but I watched it again this morning, and I think every table tennis player should watch the Matrix Table Tennis Video (1:44) at least once a month. And while you're at it, why not watch the parodies?

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September 16, 2011

Wang Liqin forehand loop

In regular and slow motion (0:46) The perfect loop? Note the smooth weight transfer and body rotation as he creates torque. He's a three time World Men's Singles Champion (2001, 2005, 2007), world #1 for 25 consecutive months (second most ever), and winner of 21 Pro Tour singles events, the most ever. And I once interviewed him (through a translator) and shook his hand. Yes, my playing hand touched his. Regrettably, I've washed it since.

Service practice reminder

The following is a public service address. Remember that serve that let you down at the last tournament? The one that was going slightly high, or slightly long, or that nobody seemed to have trouble with? Isn't it time you go out and fix that problem for next time? Get a bucket of balls and practice. Here's a ten-point plan to serving success. I've got a bunch of other articles on serving here

USA Table Tennis Leagues

Yesterday there was an email exchange among USATT and other officials regarding the USA League Finals at the USA Nationals. Should they be an open event, where anyone can show up representing a region, or should they only allow teams representing a region with an established regional league? I'm strongly for the latter. There are established leagues in some areas (such as BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL, representing the bay area (San Francisco region), Los Angeles, and New York (which includes teams from states as far away as Maryland). Here's my response.

"I really, Really, REALLY hope we can turn these leagues into a national thing. This is how many European countries developed huge memberships. I strongly recommend going with only allowing regions that have established leagues; otherwise, it's just another open event at the Nationals, and there's no incentive to grow. We need a nationwide network of leagues like these or we'll always struggle to gain membership. I also hope that those developing these leagues (BATTF, NYTTL, LATTF, others) have studied or will study how the European and Asian leagues started up and grew so that we can steal ideas from them in developing a USA model."

In another email, I wrote:

"I think there are some misconceptions about leagues. First, setting up leagues should not be a primary goal; they are the MEANS to a primary goal, which is to drastically increase membership, as has happened in other countries all over the world and in other sports. (They are an intermediate goal on the way toward this primary goal.) Our membership has been described as a round-off error, and that's not going to change until we do something to change it."

"Second, leagues are not set up for the benefit of the few existing clubs. They are set up to bring in new players which leads to new clubs set up primarily for league play. Germany, for example, didn't create its leagues for the benefit of its 11,000 clubs, which didn't exist at the time. It was the leagues that led to the 11,000 clubs. Before they created their leagues, they were in a similar situation as the U.S."

"Leagues and full-time training centers with full-time coaches and junior programs are beginning to take off around the U.S. . . . and that is the most promising thing I've ever seen in our sport."

I also wrote some strongly worded criticism of USATT's lack of effort in the league department, but I won't post that here at this time. Suffice to say they were severely reprimanded. Severely!!!

U.S. and NA Olympic Trials in Cary, NC

Here's your chance to buy tickets to see the U.S. Olympic Trials (Feb. 9-12, 2012) and North American Olympic Trials (April 20-22, 2012), both in Cary, NC.

Golf Pong

Yes, it's Golf Pong as former junior star Grant Li takes on golf pros Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, and Frederick Jacobson. Jacobson was a nationally ranked player in Sweden twenty years ago, who still plays in San Diego occasionally with Stellan Bengtsson in San Diego. (3:33, but doesn't get to the table tennis until 2:12.)

Machete Pong

Yes, it's Machete Pong as Comedian Jimmy Fallon takes on English adventurer, writer and television presenter Bear Grylls. (2:47, but starts with a 16-second commercial.)

Car Pong

Yes, it's Car Pong. Really. (0:14)

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