Larry Hodges's blog

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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June 9, 2011

Table tennis for concentration & benefit*

*Rhymes with fun & profit - get it?

I had an interesting session last night with a 9-year-old kid, who we'll call "Sammy." He was having trouble with both consistency and concentration. The two go together. Like most relatively new players, he had developed decent stroking technique, but had trouble repeating the stroke over and over - and as all coaches know, if you can't repeat it over and over in practice, it's going to fall apart in games. (See my comments at the end on how this relates to table tennis players in general.)

Like I tell many students, I told him you don't really have a forehand or backhand until you can hit 100. That seemed way too many for him, so he said how about going for 30? We compromised on 50, and I told him that if he got 50 forehands, I'd say he had a "halfway good forehand" - but he'd need 100 before I would say it was a "good forehand." I also told him that something like 3/4 of new players go right from 50 in a row to 100, since once you get the stroke down - and more importantly, the ability to concentrate - there's little difference between 50 or 100 in a row.

After several attempts in a row where he kept missing at around 30 or so, including a disheartening miss at 45, he wanted to quit. I convinced him to keep at it, that it would click.

It clicked. In what might have been our last attempt for that session - we did need to work on his backhand and other stuff - he hit 178 in a row. I wrote on the ball, signing my name:

178 FH
June 8, 2011
Larry Hodges

The ball is now on his trophy shelf. (I also challenged him to hit 50 backhands in a row; he got I think 82. He'd never come close to either of these numbers.)

What can you learn from this? The key to consistency is both good technique and good concentration. The latter is actually more important - you absolutely cannot be consistent without concentration. Learn to simply watch the ball, relax the muscles, and let the mind otherwise go blank; think of yourself as just an observer. Let your instincts and natural reactions take over - that's why you practice, so the shots become second nature. (You have to relax the muscles to allow this to happen.) If you have to think about the shots or try to consciously control them, you will never be consistent.

Slo-Mo Table Tennis

Tilden Table Tennis put together these two slo-mo videos of some of the best players in the world. As I've mentioned in the past, you can't always learn much by just watching the top players at normal speed - everything happens too fast. In slow motion, you can actually see it - and here you can also replay anything. I strongly urge you to watch tapes like these, and especially study how they serve and receive, which are often the most subtle parts of table tennis. Transcending Table Tennis 1 features (5:50) features Ma Lin, Wang Hao, Vladimir Samsonov, and Joo Se Hyuk. Transcending Table Tennis 2 (4:37) features the Chinese team (Wang Liqin, Ma Lin and Chen Qi) against the French team at I believe the 2010 Worlds.

Adam Bobrow's Asian Invasion

Stand-up comedian and table tennis player Adam Bobrow (rated 2086) put together this humorous video of his recent trip to Taiwan and Seoul (8:49), full of interesting commentary on the trip. It's not exactly a table tennis video, but table tennis does show up three times. You can see tables in the background for a few seconds at 1:32; there's about ten seconds of real table tennis action at 3:21; and about 30 seconds of table tennis at 7:26. (Adam appears to have joined in a junior group session, where he's either taught the kids how to have fun or totally disrupted the training program, I'm not sure which.) If you want to see more table tennis, then see Adam's "Freestyle table tennis" video (1:48), where he and others play table tennis on various makeshift tables they find - restaurant and cafeteria tables, cars, off walls, and outdoor picnic tables. Or see the infamous "Excessive Celebration" video (1:11), and make sure to watch this to the end! (Adam has something like 72 online videos.)

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June 8, 2011

Ready position

I've been thinking about ready positions recently. Conventionally, you aim your racket tip at the opponent, with the racket held midway between forehand and backhand. In theory, that's all you have to do. In reality, some players tend to hold their arm out to the side too much, and so are more ready for forehands than backhands. Try holding the racket more in front of you, even if it means bringing the playing elbow more out in front.

However, there's another problem. Conventionally, the backhand is hit quicker off the bounce than the forehand. This means you have less time to hit the backhand. In many cases, this doesn't matter since the stroke is shorter. However, for some--including me--I find the backhand rushed and awkward when starting from a neutral position, while the forehand, where you have plenty of time to get the paddle into position as you turn sideways, is much easier.

So years ago I adjusted my ready position so that the racket is in a slight backhand position, i.e. the backhand side of the blade partly faces the opponent. This gives me a head start on backhands, while I still have plenty of time to move the racket over for the forehand. I wonder if others have tried this out? I don't normally coach this, but I have advised some players who feel rushed on the backhand to experiment with this.

ITTF certified coaches from my seminar

In April, I ran an ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland, the first such seminar in the U.S. run by a U.S. coach. Fourteen coaches participated. After the seminar, to qualify for ITTF Coaching Certification, all coaches were required to do thirty hours of coaching (at least half group coaching), including five hours of "supervised" coaching with an ITTF coach or other approved coach. At this point, nine of them have now qualified: Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu, Changping Duan, Charlene Liu, Juan Ly, Dan Notestein, John Olsen, Jef Savage, Jeff Smart, and Vahid Mosaferi.

You can see the listing for ITTF coaches here. If you set country to USA, then you can see the 26 ITTF coaches from the U.S. Congrats to all of them! Here's the article on the seminar by Jef Savage, including a group picture with names.

Non-Table Tennis: Museums

I took most of yesterday off to visit museums and memorials in downtown Washington DC. (I live in Germantown, about 15 miles north.) I took the subway down, and during that 45 minutes or so was able to get a lot of proofing done of a new science fiction story I was writing that features President John Tyler, the tenth U.S. president. (I'm a full-time table tennis coach, but I write SF on the side.)

First stop, at 10 AM (opening time) was the National History Museum, which I'd last visited in the 1990s. I was there until noon, enough time to walk through most of it. I spent over half the time in the President's exhibit, since presidential history is another hobby of mine, hence the story featuring John Tyler. (Ask me at a tournament, and I'll recite all 44 presidents and their terms of office, along with trivia - careful what you ask for!)

After lunch (barbecued chicken sandwich and baked beans at the Stars and Stripes Café), I was off for the Holocaust Museum for the first time. The amount of security to get into the building was incredible, understandably far more than the other museums. When they saw I had a water bottle in my carry bag, they made me drink from it to make sure it was water. (I wonder if there are clear and edible liquid explosives?)

I'm not much of a sentimental writer, but let's just say the Holocaust Museum was a sobering experience. I was there for two and a half hours on the self-guided chronological tour that roughly takes you from 1933 to 1945. At the start, all visitors were given an "Identification Card," which was a short pamphlet about an actual Holocaust survivor or victim. Mine was of a kid named Shulim Saleschutz, born March 7, 1930 in Poland. It gives a picture of him and a short history of his life up to his getting sent to the Belzec camp in July of 1942. It ends with the words, "There, Shulim was gassed with his mother, brother and sister. He was 12 years old." Here's a scan I did of the pamphlet.

From roughly 3-4 PM I walked over to the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. (The latter is huge, far larger than it appears in pictures.) It was in the mid-90s and sunny, so I wore my white 2005 Shanghai World Table Tennis Championships cap. At the Lincoln Memorial, I sat on the floor against the wall for twenty minutes, looking up at Lincoln as crowds came and went. I couldn't help but think that he and I both faced similar problems - how best to serve, lots of killing, etc. Okay, his problems were a bit bigger. At the end, I thought about that John Tyler story I was writing, and suddenly the perfect way to open the story popped into my head. Thanks Abe! Here's a picture of Lincoln I took while sitting on the floor.

From 4 to closing time at 5:30 PM, I visited the National History Museum - or rather, revisited, since I practically grew up there. Both of my parents had offices there when I grew up, and I remember doing homework while sitting on the floor against the wall under the huge blue whale. (Alas, it's gone, replaced by I think a humpback whale - it just isn't the same.) I spent most of the time in the Ascent of Man exhibit, also walked through the dinosaur hall (of course!), mammals, and marine life. Then I stopped by the insect zoo - thirty years ago I was a volunteer for them. My dad's office used to be almost next door (he's an entomologist), but the entomology department had moved, and where my dad's desk used to be was now a ticket desk for the live Butterfly exhibit. Here's a picture.

Alas, it was time to go home. Did I mention that by this time my back was killing me? I'm probably going to regret all this walking about when I next coach (tonight), but I guess my problems are rather minor compared to Shulim's.

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June 7, 2011

Reader comments

We're getting about 200 readers per day on this blog, but strangely few comments. Feel free to comment! That's why I always have the "comments on" option turned on. Don't worry, if you say something I disagree with I won't bite your head off. I might hunt you down at tournaments and coach your opponents. :)

USATT CEO Report

In case you missed it, here's USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh's Report in the May/June USATT Magazine. He talks about Ping-Pong Diplomacy's 40th Anniversary, Milwaukee (site of the 2011 U.S. Open), new USATT co-webmaster and media specialist Sean O'Neill, and upcoming events.

Never miss an opportunity

At the club this weekend I watched a top cadet player play against a weaker player. As he admitted afterwards, he wasn't really into the match even though he won the match easily. (He's had an earlier loss that was bothering him.) The opponent was a lefty, and it so happens that the cadet's been having some trouble with lefties - and here he lost an opportunity to practice against one. Never miss an opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity. Just about any opponent has something you can get practice against. (If I did a second lecture here, it'd be about shaking off losses and playing your best in the next match. Okay, okay . . . </End lecture mode>.)

Doing the Journey

Here's a test of your ability to create and control sidespin on your serve. I call it "Doing the Journey." It's something I challenge many of my students to do. I'm going to describe this for a right-handed player with a forehand pendulum serve. Those with other types of serves and lefties should adjust.

Stand on your wide forehand side. Put a box or other container down the line from you, on the far right. Now serve so the first bounce is on your backhand side. The ball should cross the net, hit the far left side, then bounce sideways and end up in the box on the far right. See if you can do this consistently, then you can create and control sidespin. Congrats!

My next BIG project

Should I write a new book, "Table Tennis Tactics and Playing Styles," or set up the "Larry Hodges Coaching Academy" (or do I need a better, less personalized name?) to recruit and train professional coaches? I've outlined the book; the hard part was figuring out the best way to present it, other than a comprehensive "this style versus that style" listing. (I found a good way to present it, but will not divulge that. I also have a number of introductory essays planned on tactical thinking.) The Academy would focus 50% on the professional side of coaching, i.e. setting up the business, recruiting and retaining students, etc., and 50% on actual coaching techniques. I'm leaning toward writing the book first. Or maybe I should just go visit a museum.

Off to the Museums!

I have some editing/proofing work to do. So what better way to do that then spend the day at the Smithsonian Museums, with a two-hour lunch break to do the paperwork? Shortly after I post this, since I have no coaching scheduled for today or tonight, I plan on visiting the National Museum of Natural History (I practically grew up there - my parents both had offices there), the National Museum of American History (haven't seen the relatively new exhibit on the American Presidency, and I'm an amateur presidential historian), and the Holocaust Museum (never been there). I'll probably stop by the Lincoln Memorial as well. It's always good for inspiration.

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June 6, 2011

Tip of the Week - Practice Matches

This week's Tip of the Week is about what to do in practice matches. Remember, a practice match is just that - a practice match. The problem is that many only get the second part - "match" - and forget about that first part - "practice."

2011 Pan American Games Team Leader Position Opening

There's an opening - here's your chance to travel with the U.S. Team to the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico! See USATT news item.

Marty Reisman on Obama's Personality

Last week I mentioned in my blog how Marty analyzed President Obama's table tennis game. Now, based on that, he's also analyzed his personality! I assume everyone reading this knows about the charismatic and two-time U.S. Men's Champion Marty Reisman?

USATT Coaching Newsletter

For those who missed my past mention of it, here it is again!

Historical time spent helping historical writer

This morning USA Table Tennis Historian Tim Boggan called in a panic. For some reason, whenever he typed an apostrophe or quote mark on a Word document (Chapter 6 of Volume 12 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis, to be exact), Word was inputting two spaces. Now I knew what was causing this, and if this were a Word or computer blog, I'd go over what was happening.

The problem was explaining this 30-second fix over the phone to Tim, an admitted computer-phobe. Sure, he can type on a computer, and he can email, but anything beyond that is, well, witchcraft. (I did get his permission to blog on this!) Anyway, it took over an hour. Here's an example of what we went through. Because I wanted to check what version of Word he had, I wanted him to go to "Help" and release on "About Microsoft Word." Unfortunately, for reasons I don't quite understand, he was having trouble finding this.

Then he remembered that someone had told him to hit F1 and he'd get Word help. Impressed with his advanced technical knowledge, I told him to do so. He reported that nothing had happened. I tried it on my computer, no problem. It's a standard command. Determined to solve this problem, we went through numerous iterations of this. Finally, Tim asked, "Larry, should I be hitting "F" and "1" at the same time? He'd been typing the letter "f" and the number "1" all this time.

Rest assured, we fixed the problem. And although I punched holes in the walls of my house seven times, I'm told that the house's structural integrity is not challenged, and that it will survive many more holes from future computer dialogues with Tim. 

Okay, I'm overexposed.

Let's give a quick listing:

  • The first article of a three-part table tennis series on "Creating Spin" I co-wrote with Coach Jack Huang is up at Butterflyonline. Part 1, which went up Friday, is Creating Spin: The Serve. Part 2 (next Fri) is The Loop; Part 3 (following Fri) is Backspin.
  • I did a blog entry a few days ago in the USA Table Tennis USOC web page, on Develop the Basics: Strokes & Footwork. This is actually a reprint of an article I did a few years back as part of the USATT series "How to Be a Champion."
  • I just received the 2011 May/June USATT Magazine. Okay, I'm definitely overexposed here! Going page by page:
    • Page 26: There's a full-page article by Jef Savage on the ITTF Coaching Seminar I ran at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on April 16-17, 23-24. It's also online. The article includes a group picture, and a picture of me lecturing the class, trusty pointer in hand.
    • Page 31: Here's my article, "Changing Bad Technique." It includes two pictures of me, including one feeding multiball.
    • Page 38: Here I give the stats on the "Youngest To Reach 2500."
    • Page 43: Tim Boggan writes about a page on me winning Hardbat Singles at the Cary Cup Open. No wonder I spend so much time solving his computer problems. (I normally play sponge, but at major tournaments like Cary I often play hardbat and coach.)
    • Page 55: Full-page ad for MDTTC summer camps, which includes pictures and short bios of the coaches - me, Cheng Yinghua, and Jack Huang.
    • Page 69: In the full-page ad for Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. XI, I'm quoted saying, "How can any serious table tennis player not buy these books?" So, if you are a serious table tennis player, go to TimBogganTableTennis.com and buy the book! (If you are wondering how computer-phobe Tim keeps a web page, well, I created and maintain it for him.)
  • Unfortunately, it's not just table tennis. As I've mentioned here in the past, I write science fiction on the side. And just yesterday the Spring 2011 issue of Space and Time Magazine came out! My story, "The Awakening," is the cover story, with my name on the cover. I was also in Escape Pod last month for my story "Tom the Universe" - you can either read it or play it aloud. (Escape Pod is the largest audio science fiction market.) I've sold 48 short stories - including several that involve table tennis. (Perhaps I'll post my story "Ping-Pong Ambition" sometime.)

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June 3, 2011

How do you want to follow up your serve?

Have you thought about this recently? Really thought about it? What's your best shot - hopefully an aggressive shot - and how can you serve to set it up? Or do you mostly serve and push? Conventionally, you should serve & loop the return if at all possible; do you? At the higher levels, the most common strategy is to serve short (but usually not too short - second bounce near the endline), usually with backspin or no-spin (disguised so opponent can't always tell which), and follow with a loop. Or do you have an alternate plan? For example, if you have really tricky serves (relative to your level), you might serve over and over to win the point outright (or at least get an easy pop-up). If you have a nice backhand, you might serve topspin to get right into a backhand-to-backhand contest.

Team USA Table Tennis Page

The USATT's sister web page with the USOC is rapidly growing. (Sean O'Neill is in charge of it.) Make sure to check out the coaching page.  At some point I think they need to decide which is USATT's main web page, the USOC page or the regular USATT web page, which isn't updated nearly as frequently, but has the more obvious and more easily remembered web address (usatt.org vs. tabletennis.teamusa.org). The two have a lot of overlap. At some point, probably at the Open next month, I'm going to ask about what the future plans for the two sites are - it's not yet clear to me, and it does seem redundant to have both. But perhaps they already have plans for the future.  

2011 CCY Open Table Tennis Tournament

I'll be coaching tomorrow (Saturday) at the CCY Open Table Tennis Tournament in Alexandria, Virginia. (I'm coaching Tong Tong Gong in singles, and in U3400 Doubles with Allison Wu.) It's a Korean-run tournament; the web page is in Korean, but it's open to anyone. However, I have an English-version entry form. The strange thing about it is that the biggest event is not just the Open (1st $600, 2nd $300, 3rd $200, 4th $100), but Under 3400 Doubles (1st Air Ticket to Korea, 2nd $500, 3rd $200, 4th $100). They also offer (with good prize money, including for the semifinals in all except U1050) six other events: U2100, U1850, U1650, U1450, U1250, and U1050. One team in U3400 Doubles told me that if they reach the final, they plan on dumping so they can get the $500, since they don't want a ticket to Korea. Not sure if that prize is transferable or if they can get the cash equivalent instead.

Back and knee woes

It's tough being a table tennis coach when you have to do a roll call each day to see what's injured. My back has been killing me for over a month, and in the last few days my right knee has started complaining. For now, the left knee and right shoulder and arm are on good behavior, but that could change at any time. (Yes, I stretch before each playing session.) The summer "rush" is coming, and with school out, there'll be a lot more coaching hours, plus five 5-day training camps I help run at MDTTC. Cross your fingers for me.

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June 2, 2011

Table tennis robots

In the Beginning, God (I mean Sitco, I think they were first) created table tennis robots. They had many problems. They either hit to one spot on the table over and over, or they sprayed the ball about randomly, so you couldn't really do many table tennis drills with them. They were either set to heavy topspin or heavy backspin; there was no in between. And the ball was shot at you by spinning disks instead of coming off a paddle, like in a real game, so you didn't learn to read the ball off a racket. (There were other problems early on, such as catching the balls, recycling them, consistency, etc., but these problems were all worked out long ago.) Fixing these problems were, to me, the three holy grails of table tennis robots.

Many of the modern robots are now programmable so you can actually do real drills with them - in fact, just about any drill you can do with a partner, you can do with these robots. Plus you now have more control over the degree of spin. So they are starting to look like more than glorified toys with nets that could catch the ball for you when you practiced serves, which was my primary use for them for many years. (They were also good for group training with beginners, who were fascinated by them, and allowed you to put 1-3 players rotating on the robot while they worked on basic shots.)

So robots are now much, Much, MUCH better than before, and you can actually get a great workout with them. They are good training for players, especially the ones that have built-in and programmable drills you can choose from. I keep waiting for them to break out among the general public as fitness devices, since anyone can do footwork drills on them, moving side to side and getting in shape, even if you miss many of the shots at first.

But there is still one holy grail left. When will they come up with a commercially successful robot that does all of the above, and also hits the ball at you with an actually ping-pong paddle, so you can learn to react to a ball coming off a racket? This is far more important than in tennis, where ball machines also don't use a racket to hit the ball at you; in tennis, you have a lot more time to react to the ball, since it's hit at you from much farther away.

If interested in a table tennis robot, just go to any major table tennis dealer, and you'll see a selection.

USATT and USOC Blogs

Several top players, coaches, and officials are now blogging for USATT on their USOC site. I did one yesterday on "Develop the Basics: Strokes and Footwork." This was a reprint of one of the articles I did for the 11-article "How to Be a Champion" series for USATT. This morning my blog made the USOC front page! Have fun reading all these blogs; there's some interesting stuff there.

Table tennis camps

Ready to make a serious commitment to develop your game? Want to spend some time with others of like mind training together under a top coach? I've updated the Clinics section; now you can find training camps all over the U.S. (and two overseas), by location, coach, or date. I'm running five camps as well this summer (along with co-coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Zeng "Jeffrey" Xun) at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which are primarily for junior players but are open to all ages; see the listing if interested.

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June 1, 2011

Contact point on the block

At the Easterns, while blocking to warm up Tong Tong Gong's loop, something clicked. It's one of those things I've always known and coached, but it helps when it works in your own game. I'd been holding my racket too high on blocks (both forehand and backhand), and that's why it hadn't been particularly comfortable in recent times. By starting with the racket lower to the table, I can actually raise the racket slightly as the ball bounces on the table, allowing the center of the racket to "follow" the ball. This leads to a quicker block, better timing, contact in the center of the racket, a bit of topspin on the block, and overall, a more consistent block. If you hold the racket slightly higher, you have to wait for the ball to come up to it, and then try to catch it in the center, which is trickier.

Holding it higher does give a flatter block, which is effective against some, but the price is less control. But you can do this while holding the racket low by taking the ball right off the bounce and stroking straight forward. This is how many penholders block, and is why they so often give such flat blocks.

Celebrities playing table tennis

On Monday I updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, which now has 1192 pictures of exactly 700 celebrities playing table tennis. Also, the site now has its own domain - yes, CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com. Make sure to bookmark it! There are now so many famous celebrities pictured that any short listing would shortchange the site, and any more comprehensive listing would take up more space than there are ping-pong balls in the universe, give or take a few. It's divided into ten sections: Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other.

Here's a fun one that just went up, of actor Jack Oakie, circa 1933, playing table tennis in a suit of shining armor. He acted in lots of movies around that time, so I have no idea what movie this takes place in. Anyone know? Here's his acting record.

Rating stats galore!

You can now look up your rating stats, head-to-head record, and other stats at the Table Tennis Spin site!

Marty Reisman Analyzes President Obama's Table Tennis Play

Dang, he beat me to it! (I actually meant to post this last Friday, but had so much other stuff I left it off. Then it got left out on Monday somehow, and then my computer crashed yesterday and so it got left off again. But for those who missed it....) Here's Marty's analysis, which includes a link to the video. (I blogged about this on Thursday, May 26.)  Here's an opening quote from Marty: "Not being certain that either president Obama or I may be able to take the necessary time away from our other respective responsibilities for a lesson in the flesh, as an alternative, here is my Presidential Ping Pong 11 Point Internet Lesson that should ensure our national image will never be tarnished in the event our president should ever be challenged to play a competitive match against a leader of any nation having opposing political views."

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