Larry Hodges's blog

June 21, 2011

Serious Goofing Off versus Non-serious Goofing Off

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

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

Why can't you serve like this?

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

Highlights of day one of the MDTTC Camp

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

And we also taught some table tennis.

ITTF Coaches in the U.S.

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

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June 20, 2011

Games against beginning/intermediate players

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

MDTTC Training Camp

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

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

Sun Ting

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

Final of the China Open

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

$45,000 LA Open

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

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June 17, 2011

Use it or lose it

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

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

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

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

One-legged nine-year-old table tennis player

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

40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Twice

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

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

China Open

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

Cats and table tennis.

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

Busy on my end

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

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June 16, 2011

The unconventional path

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

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

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

Saskatchewan wants YOU!

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

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

Engineers defeat Architects; Doctors defeat Lawyers

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

Cheaters Cruise?

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

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June 15, 2011

Supernova or brightly burning star for many years?

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

Rick Carlisle, champion of something?

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

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

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

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

More professional athlete table tennis wannabes

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

Around the net receive

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

ITTF Coaching Seminar in the Philippines

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

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June 14, 2011

"Let go, Have fun"

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some nice video points

ITTF Coaching Seminars in the U.S.

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

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June 13, 2011

Over 450 Reads

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

Tip of the Week: Playing the Fisher

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

Comparison of Chinese and European loops

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

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

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

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

Politicians playing pong

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

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

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

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June 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

Music and Table Tennis - and "Magic Ball"

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

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

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

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

2150 at age 9!

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

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

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

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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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