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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of seven books and over 1400 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!

His book, Table Tennis Tips, is also out - All 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, in one volume, in logical progression!!!

His newest book, The Spirit of Pong, is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis and ends up training with the spirits of past champions.

March 18, 2015

Can You Have Too Much Confidence?

Here's an interesting article by Ben Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis, though this article is from his non-table tennis blog. The article is about confidence and how it affects success, and features Kanye West as an example. Now I'm no music expert and am not an expert on West, but from what little I do know from various news articles, I have to agree with President Obama about him. However, he is right in some of the things he says about attaining success, as the article explains. The article finishes with the following four ways people think about success:

  1. The unrealistic pessimist believes they will fail even if they put in the effort, planning, persistence and strategy required to succeed.
  2. The realistic pessimist believes they will fail because they won’t put in the effort, planning, persistence or strategy required to succeed.
  3. The unrealistic optimist believes they will succeed without having to put in the effort planning, persistence and strategy required to succeed.
  4. The realistic optimist believes they will succeed provided they put in the effort, planning, persistence and strategy required to succeed.

I would hope that everyone would attempt to be in #4; I know that I try to live by it. A key thing is to be realistic in what you strive for. For example, all the effort, planning, persistence, and strategy isn't going to make me an NBA basketball star. (I'm 5'10" and 55 years old, with a vertical jump that can only be detected by an electron microscope. As Clint says, A man's got to know his limitations.) It's also not going to make me U.S. Men's Singles Champion. But then we get into gray areas.

Could I be U.S. Over 50 or (in five years) Over 60 Champion? If I were to put in the effort, planning, persistence, and strategy, it's probably not going to help if a healthy Cheng Yinghua shows up (or a few others like David Zhuang who generally don't play in these senior events). But the one who tends to dominate these events is Dan Seemiller, who at 60 is five years older than me - and between us, we've won five U.S. Men's Singles Championships! (Hint - he's won five. We're not talking hardbat here.) If I were to go into serious training (i.e. put in the effort, planning, persistence, and strategy), and were able to avoid injury, I could perhaps get back to 2300 level or so. (Avoiding injury is key - if I train like I used to, then I'm going to get injured, period.)

Now Dan's current rating is 2464, and in recent years he mostly bounces around between 2450 and 2500.  (He's played nine tournaments in the past year, with his rating ranging from 2448 to 2509.) And guess what? That puts him in range of a 2300 player. (I'm talking levels, not ratings, with the rating just a shorthand for a player's playing level.) The USATT rating chart gives rough odds for upsets based on ratings, and according to that, the odds of a 2300 player beating a 2450 player are about 15-1. (And I've beaten over a dozen players rated over 2450 in tournaments.) And it also so happens that, style-wise, I'm very good against the Seemiller grip that Dan Seemiller pioneered, including wins over brothers Ricky (when past his prime) and Randy. So yeah, I could beat Dan Seemiller. (Somewhere out there, Dan is laughing at me while simultaneously admiring my "realistic" optimism.)

There's another factor as well. In striving to beat Dan Seemiller and others, even if I don't achieve that goal I'd likely maximize my playing level. So even if you "fail" at something like this, you succeed. If you train like crazy and greatly improve your playing level, and then lose a close Over 50 final to Dan Seemiller, you've both lost and won - you've won because you've reached a much higher level of play, and there's always next year, as well as other titles and tournaments. Failing to achieve a lofty goal does not mean you have failed. You've only lost one battle in what should be a long playing career, with a future that's suddenly a lot brighter than it was before because of your higher playing level. 

But there's another factor - picking your goals. Should I spend huge amounts of effort for the very small chance of my beating Dan Seemiller and others and becoming U.S. Over 50 or 60 Champion? Naaah, I've got better, more realistic goals that at this point. They include writing books and articles (both table tennis and science fiction & fantasy), coaching, and developing the sport in my various USATT and MDTTC roles. And yet, I sometimes consider adding some table tennis playing goals.

Until recently, I still had aspirations to win various national hardbat titles - I've won hardbat singles at the Nationals or Open twice, Over 40 four times, and hardbat doubles 13 times. I could still realistically win one of these titles again, but is it really worth training hard to get one more of these titles, when I could spend that same time on other goals? It's not easy getting in shape for these titles, and in recent times my playing level has taken a dive. (It's still tempting to play, since I tend to be a dominant hardbat doubles player, and it's always possible that I could catch fire again and win another over 40 title.)

Actually, when I consider training as a player again, I'm more often contemplating whether I could get back in shape enough to compete with the top juniors/youth at my club (MDTTC), the ones I used to beat up on when they were little kids - Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Roy Ke, Klaus Wood, Crystal Wang, etc. I'll always have a huge winning record against them from years of playing them while they were coming up, but it'd be nice to get a few more wins over them. (I've been warning Crystal Wang that I'm going to beat her one more time, and she just nods and smiles and sits on her 2507 rating.)

For now, however, I'll focus on my other activities. In writing, I've got more books on table tennis to come, including at some point a rewrite of my Table Tennis: Steps to Success book (probably retitled "Table Tennis Fundamentals"), plus the usual Tips of the Week (which every three years becomes a Table Tennis Tips book). I'm still writing science fiction & fantasy, and as noted on Monday, am currently working on a new fantasy novella that features table tennis. Plus, of course, as a member of the USATT Board (for about two months), the chair of the USATT League Committee (for about two weeks now), and as a promoter for MDTTC and the Capital Area Super League, I'll be pretty busy promoting the sport.

Now if I were a junior, or coaching a junior (which I do), then things are a bit different, as their playing ceiling is a bit less limited. They can, and should, aspire to beat the best players, and by doing so, they very well may do so - or, by striving for lofty goals, they will at least become as good as they could be. And older players can also have high goals. While it's not likely that someone starting at a late age is going to be U.S. men's or women's singles champion, there are cases where they reach very high levels.

So what are your realistic optimist goals? Do you have ones for table tennis or some other subject? Or are you one of those poor souls in categories 1-3?

Ask the Coach

  • Episode #96 (13:50) - Tactics When Losing the Short Game (and other segments)
  • Episode #97 (19:01) - Modified Serving Grip (and other segments)
  • Episode #98 (25:04) - Doubles Footwork (and other segments)

2015 Recipients of the Direct Athlete Support

Here's the USATT article. Those receiving financial support for their training are Lily Zhang, Kanak Jha, Crystal Wang, Jack Wang, Amy Wang, Timothy Wang, and Tahl Leibovitz.

2015 NCTTA Regional Championships

Here are articles on regional collegiate championships by Kagin Lee. (I linked to the last two last Wednesday.)

Asian Cup Women's Singles Final

Yesterday (where I linked to the Men's Final between Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong) I wrote that the final hadn't yet been posted, and as far as I can see after much searching, it still isn't online everywhere, though you can easily find the semifinals and many other matches on Youtube.com if you search for "2015 Asian Cup table tennis." Spoiler alert - in the final, Feng Tianwei of Singapore (world #5, ranked #2 for seven months back in 2010-2011) upset Liu Shiwen of China (world #3, world #1 for much of 2013-2014 and #2 for five months until just this month). Here's the Tabletennista article I linked to yesterday on it.

World's Best Arrive in Bremen for German Open

Here's the ITTF press release.

11 Questions with Roman Tinyszin

Here's the USATT interview with the USA International Referee and chair for the past six years of the USATT Rules and Officials Committee.  

Zhang Jike - The Path I Have Chosen

Here's the new video (6:43) on the Chinese superstar. "Get a rare insight into the mind of the World and Olympic Table Tennis Champion Zhang Jike!"

Waldner Highlights Video

Here's a new highlights video (4:01) on Waldner. It's from France, but the language doesn't matter here.

Rising Egyptian Star Omar Assar

Here's video (21 sec) of him topspinning off-the-bounce while doing footwork.

Portuguese Music Video

Here's the new video (2:23), "2ª Etapa da Liga Paulista de Tênis de Mesa - 2015," which Google Translate translates as "2nd Stage of the Paulista League Table Tennis - 2015.

Liverpool Football Club Show Some Serious Table Tennis Skills

Here's the article and video (2:05) which includes play-by-play coverage. (That's soccer for us Americans!)

Cane Pong?

Here's the video (16 sec) as David Wethrill demonstrates a proper cane forehand.

Chip 'n Dale Pong

Here's the picture, but that ball might be a bit lopsided!

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March 17, 2015

Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class

On Sunday from 6:30-8:30PM we had the third session of the class at MDTTC. The class technically ends at 8PM, but I've pretty much made it official policy to stay until 8:30PM, where we work on serve and serve return. There are 19 people in the class, ranging from near beginner up to about 1500. Strangely, there are no women - usually we have a few. One woman actually did sign up, but she was the only one to drop out before we started. Also, all 19 players are right-handed. There is one penholder, the rest are conventional shakehanders. One likes to chop occasionally.

Here's a group picture from Sunday, with one player missing. That's me on the far right in the black shirt. Kneeling in front on the right in the black hat is assistant coach Raghu Nadmichettu; in blue with his hand on his chin is assistant coach Josh Tran. I have to be very careful of everything I say in the class; that's USATT counsel Dennis Taylor in the back, slightly right of center in the red shirt. (He has a 1478 rating, and has been as high as 1619.)  

On Sunday we started with forehand and backhand practice. Then we went over hitting down the line, and practiced that. Then we did some more crosscourt hitting. Since many players are relatively new, I thought we needed a lot of forehand and backhand practice. Then we went over backhand pushing. I did the demo with Raghu, and used the soccer-colored balls so they could better see the backspin. There were a lot of questions, and so the lecture/demo went on longer than expected - but that's a good thing. Then we went to the tables and practiced.

After the session was officially over, I invited players to stay late and had a little fun, as they tried to return my serves. I'm pretty experienced at serving to beginning/intermediate players - it's a somewhat different skill than serving to advanced players - and so the players had quite a bit of difficulty returning the many variations I threw at them. It gives them a good idea of what's possible, and perhaps some of them will practice so they can develop similar serves.

The biggest differences between coaching adults and coaching kids are:

  1. Kids pick up proper technique very easily, but have little ball control. Adults have a bit more difficulty getting the technique right, but have good ball control. One result is you can have even beginning adults practice together and they'll have decent rallies and good practice, while if you have two beginning kids practice together, all you get are balls flying all over the place - they can't control the ball.
  2. Kids want to get to the table now. The fidgeting begins about 15 seconds into any lecture or demo. Anything over two minutes is sheer torture. They have few questions. Adults have more patience, so you can go over things in more detail, and they have lots of great questions.
  3. Kids have endless energy. Adults do not.

There's a lot to cover in these ten weeks. Below is the tentative schedule. I say tentative because I keep changing it, depending on how much was covered in the previous session. For example, I originally planned to cover the forehand push as well in week three, but ran out of time, and so moved it to week four.

  • Week 1: Intro; Grip; Stance; Forehand drive; Spin serves
  • Week 2: Forehand review; Backhand drive; Deception on serves
  • Week 3: Forehand and Backhand practice; Down-the-line; Backhand Push
  • Week 4: FH & BH practice; Forehand Push and Pushing practice; Footwork; Serving Fast
  • Week 5: FH & BH practice; Forehand Loop vs. Backspin, and Blocking; Smash
  • Week 6: Smash & Block drills; Backhand Loop vs. Backspin; Beginning Receive
  • Week 7: Loop and Smash combo; Loop against Block; Advanced Receive
  • Week 8: Blocking; Serve & Attack Drills; Random drills; Equipment
  • Week 9: Drills (countering, footwork, smash); Serve practice; Tactics Against Different Styles; Doubles
  • Week 10: Drills; USATT, MDTTC, tournaments, leagues, books; Smashing lobs; Player's choice

Update on My USATT Board Activities

There's a USATT board meeting coming up in Baltimore on Saturday, March 28. Board members and some staff and committee chairs will be coming in from all over the country for this. I'll give an update on things afterwards, including on my activities on the issues I raised in the election - I'll have a lot to report!

Spring Break Camp at MDTTC

From April 6-10 we'll be running our Spring Break Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here's the flyer and the info page. The camp coincides with spring break in local Montgomery County Schools, so the camp (like most of our camps) will be dominated by kids, though all ages (and levels) are welcome. We'll likely have most or all of our eight full-time coaches there, including me.

Zhang Yining Coaching at ICC Spring Break Camp

Two-time Olympic Gold Medalists (2004 and 2008) and World Women's Singles Champion (2005, 2009) Zhang Yining will be coaching at the ICC Spring Break Camp in Milpitas, CA, April 1-10. Here's the info page.

Playing Against Choppers

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, including a link to a video (16:54) of Ma Lin vs. chopper Joo Se Hyuk.

Masters of Defense

Here's the video (7:11) from two years ago that showcases the best defensive players.

What I Learned from Ten Weeks of Grip Experimentation

Here's the article from Ben Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis, which links to a video (10:53).

Zhang Jike Reverse Pendulum Serve in Slow Motion

Here's the video (21:03).

Ma Long Training with Liu Guoliang

Here's the recent video (67 sec) as Liu (Chinese Men's Coach) feeds multiball to Ma Long, who recently regained his #1 ranking in the world.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (29 sec) - I'm not sure who the players are, though the comments say the player on the near side is Dutch.

1978 Chinese Exhibition

Here's the video (2:55) of former Chinese superstars Liang Geliang and Guo Yuehua (the penholder and '81 and '83 world champion).

Asian Cup Men's Singles Final

Here's the video (8:15, with time between points taken out) between Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong. Here's an article on it from Tabletennista. (The Women's final video doesn't seem to be online yet, but I'll post it when it does, probably tomorrow. Spoiler Alert - Feng Tianwei upsets Liu Shiwen! Here's the article.)

Andrew Gaze Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (4:58) of former Australian basketball superstar Andrew Gaze getting a table tennis from Heming Hu.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Yep, I'm wearing my green MDTTC Butterfly shirt today. Meanwhile, if you put "Saint Patrick's Day table tennis pictures" into Google, this is what you get.

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March 16, 2015

Tip of the Week

To Play the Middle and Wide Corners You Have to Practice to Them.

The Spirit of Pong

For years I've lived in two worlds - the world of table tennis and the world of science fiction & fantasy writing. I've sold 72 short stories and a novel - but the money from the latter totals only about $20,000 in income since 2006, i.e. a little over $2000/year. Guess which pays the bills?

So I'm happy to say I've found the perfect combination of the two! I'm now working on a novella called "The Spirit of Pong." (A novella is basically a short novel, but considerably longer than a short story.) The story is about an American player, Andy "Shoes" Blue, who goes to China to learn the secrets of Chinese table tennis. I've been planning and researching it for a while. Parts of the story get pretty dark as he learns the Body of Pong, the Mind of Pong, and the Paddle of Pong. You'll meet the mysterious Coach Wang, who guides him through the process of learning about Chinese table tennis - but is he who he says he is?

It's a fantasy, and when Andy goes to China he meets and trains with the spirits of past champions, including Ichiro Ogimura, Rong Guotuan (first Chinese world champion in 1959 and coach of their first women's team world champion in 1965, committed suicide under torture during Cultural Revolution, which fits into the story), and Hiroji Satoh. He also meets and gets advice from the spirits of others, such as Zhuang Zedong and many others. He'll also meet the "Spirits of what made them Champions" for Jan-Ove Waldner and Deng Yaping - both will have a major impact in the climax.

It's currently about 15,000 words long, and I expect it to end up about 20,000 words. (That's about 80 pages in double-spaced 12-point Times-Roman.) I hope to finish the first draft this week. Then I'll do a lot of rewriting, and then I'll submit it for critique at "The Never-Ending Odyssey" writing workshop, which I go to every July as a vacation. (This year it is July 24 - Aug. 1. Most people go to beaches, amusement parks, camping, or perhaps fishing or sailing for vacation; I go to writing workshops.) After I do a rewrite after the workshop, I'll likely be asking others from the table tennis community to critique it before it is finalized. Eventually it'll get published on Amazon in both paperback and kindle formats. (I may try selling it to a magazine first.)

This isn't the first time I've put table tennis in my SF & fantasy writing, though I think this is the best combination. There's table tennis in my humorous fantasy novel, Sorcerers in Space (available in paperback or kindle!), where the main character, 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong] has to put aside his ping-pong dreams to save the world. (It's a satire on the 1960s space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts, and Neil is a sorcerer's apprentice.)

I have another novel making the rounds, "Campaign 2100," where there's lots of table tennis. I blogged about that on June 13, 2014, where I went over eight different table tennis scenes in the novel. It's a drama/satire that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the entire world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. (Yikes!) One of the four main characters is a professional table tennis player, and he teaches an alien ambassador to play - and the alien, whose ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air and so has incredible reflexes and hand-eye coordination, begins to beat him. (The two also do an exhibition for Chinese leaders - which leads to a disaster.) I have a publisher who liked the novel but asked for a rewrite on certain parts. I did the rewrite and sent it back to them a few months ago, so I'm now awaiting their final verdict. If they don't publish it, I'll likely self-publish it - I want it out during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, since it's a political novel.

I also have a story called "Ping-Pong Ambition," where an ambitious table tennis player is hitting on a table tennis robot and cracks a ball - and a genie comes out! When he asks to become a great table tennis player, the genie imprisons him inside a ping-pong ball for 10,000 years, where he practices table tennis and studies to be a genie himself - with a twist ending. Here's the review from The Fix: "Ping-Pong Ambition is a fun take on the genie-who-gives-three-wishes story. The tropes are familiar, but the light tone and twist ending make this an entertaining read." The story is among thirty of my best stories compiled in the anthology Pings and Pongs (also in paperback and kindle!). The anthology also includes my story "Defeating Death," which includes the following lines:

"Zargo walked to the basement door. It had been boarded up ever since an incident involving a rather unfortunate former assistant and a rather unfortunate game of ping-pong that had gotten out of hand. ("Magic and ping-pong," Zargo had solemnly said, "don't mix.")"

I'll keep you all informed on the status of "The Spirit of Pong" - I'm having a lot of fun writing it!

The Champ: Be Like Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina, where he gives five things to learn from the world #6 and #1 European.

What is the Best Serve in Table Tennis
Here's the article in Sporting News.

"My First Ever Table Tennis Tournament"

Here's Ben Larcombe (of Expert Table Tennis) giving an account of his first tournament ever, back when he was nine years old.

Table Tennis Physical Training

Here's the video (8:02) of the physical training for a group of junior table tennis players.

MDTTC Open

The MDTTC Butterfly March Open was this past weekend. Here are the results, care of Omnipong. Congrats to champions Ruichao Chen, Khaleel Asgarali, Eric Li, Kyrylo Tsygura, Siliang Huang, Derek Nie, and Nazruddin Asgarali!

USATT Interview with Matt Hetherington

Here's the interview.

ICC Table Tennis Center Moving

Here's the article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Wacky Training Regimen for GeekWire Bash

Here's the article and video (2:53). "We’re getting pretty darn excited over here at GeekWire for our big annual anniversary bash, complete with one of the most spectacular (and geeky) ping pong tournaments on planet Earth."

German Nationals Final Point

Here's the video (61 sec) of Timo Boll winning Men's Singles at the German Nationals. He's up 3-2 in games against Ruwen Filu - and leading 10-0 in the sixth (!) they play a lobbing exhibition point, where Timo "lets" Ruwen score a point.

Waldner's Ace

Here's the video (30 sec) of his great down-the-line ace against Samsonov in the final of the 1997 World Championships, won by Waldner, the only person ever to win without losing a single game.

Xu Xin vs. Jun Mizutani at 2015 Asian Cup

Here's the video (9:34, with time between points removed) of this great all-lefty match.

Sensational Shot by Par Gerell

Here's the video (24 sec) of the (Spoiler Alert!) inside-out fade-away sidespin backhand counterloop on the edge off a smash.

Crazy Japanese Table Tennis Stuff

Here's the video (9:46) from three years ago, where they do a bunch of crazy stuff. It's in Japanese, but you can still follow much of the action…I think.

Circular Three-Ball Triples Pong?

Here's the video (19 sec) - who's winning???

Crazy Celebration

Here's the video (10:15) of the Lagos Open. Go to the three-minute mark and watch the celebration after that point by Nigeria's Olufunke Oshonaike, who had been down 0-7 in that fifth game to Galila Nasser of Egypt. It's an epic celebration, but probably a bit over the top, don't you think? Oshonaike is a five-time Olympic team member.

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March 13, 2015

Ratings and Leagues

One of the things I've learned my years of table tennis is that ratings are both good and bad. There are some advantages to using ratings. For example, they give players a reason to play in tournaments and leagues, with the goal of trying to achieve a higher rating. But just as often they keep players from playing in events so they can "protect" their rating.

For tournaments, ratings are not so good because they cause a lot of problems. Here's my article Juniors and Ratings, where I talk about how ratings can be a cancer on junior table tennis. But much of the article applies to all players. Players can get way to protective of their ratings, and often avoid tournaments just to protect their rating.

For leagues it's more mixed. For a singles league ratings actually work pretty well, since players are playing for themselves. Because they play on a regular basis, they get used to their ratings going up and down, and so don't worry about them too much and don't focus on protecting their rating by avoiding play. Singles leagues are the only example I see were ratings are actually a healthy and good thing for table tennis. They are used all over the country in the USATT Singles League, which in February processed 7193 matches in 43 different leagues, and has processed 510,330 league matches with 22,601 players in 426 leagues since it began in 2003.

However, in a team league you are playing for a team, not for yourself. Therefore I don't think ratings should ever be used in a team league. We want players to play in the team league so they can be part of a team, where the players cheer for each other. This is the norm overseas, but often is lost in the typical U.S. club environment, were players play just for themselves. But even U.S. players, when introduced to team leagues, discover something far greater than just playing for themselves – playing for a team. And that is why team leagues lead to large memberships, whether it's in table tennis overseas (and someday in the U.S.) or other sports in the U.S. and all over the world. Even tennis and bowling, which are an individual sports like table tennis, gets their huge membership numbers from team leagues.

We originally were going to use ratings in the Capital Area Super League. However, after thinking it over, we realize that would be insane. The focus needs to be on the team, not the individual. The team leagues in Germany and other countries developed without numerical ratings because they understood that team leagues are all about the team. They may have adopted such ratings after achieving large membership, but that came after the fact - and may turn out to be a mistake.

As the new chair of the USATT league committee I will be putting together a packet for others to use to develop team leagues all over the United States. I will strongly encourage them to use ratings in singles leagues but never in a team league.

Improvement in Spite of Themselves

One of the tricks coaches learn is to teach younger players in spite of their resistance. For example, there's an eight-year-old I regularly coach who doesn't take the game seriously. Getting him to stop goofing off and focus on table tennis is like getting the sun to turn off. And yet, despite a two-second attention span, he is learning in spite of himself. Every now and then he's beginning to show flashes of real shot-making, and when he focuses (sometimes longer than two seconds), he can even hit with pretty good technique. He can even loop.

But you have to be careful what you say to an eight-year old. During a break, while I was sitting on the sofa, he suddenly popped a ball into his mouth. Yes, a ball from right off the floor! I explained to him how the ball was covered with germs, and putting the ball in his mouth was like putting my foot in his mouth. His response? When I wasn't looking, just to be funny, he grabbed my foot with his mouth!!! Yuck. The saliva stains on my table tennis shoes will probably never go away. 

Junior Class

We had 15 players in the beginning junior class I taught last night from 6-7PM, with the Triple-J coaches assisting - Jeffrey, John, and Josh. After a little ball bouncing, instead of going to our usual stroking practice (mostly multiball), I decided to change things up a bit, and we started with serve practice. I went over the rules, then explained the important of being able to serve a simple topspin serve to get a practice rally started (forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.), and then we got into spin. Few can serve spin at this point - they ranged in age from 7 to 11 - but they have to start somewhere. I brought out the colored soccer balls to demonstrate spin serves, and then had them do the usual exercise where they spin the ball with their paddle, catch the ball, and repeat. Then they went out on the tables to practice serves. The true beginners worked on just getting their serves on the table, which is not easy for a beginning seven-year-old. Others worked on serving low. And others worked on either serving with spin or on fast, deep serves.

After 15 minutes of serve practice we went to multiball training (mostly smashing). We finished the session with games, with five of them playing "King of the Table," and the rest taking turns trying to hit a Gatorade bottle on the table full of "worm juice," with me feeding multiball (two shots per player, taking turns), where if they hit it, I had to drink it. I drank much worm juice.

Old Dogs/New Tricks: Is this saying true?

Here's the new coaching article from Samson Dubina.

Ask the Coach

Episode #95 (17:05) - Dealing with Short Backspin (and other segments).

USA Coach Richard McAfee in India

Here's the ITTF article on the ITTF coaching course he ran in Madhya Pradesh, India, March 7-12. It's the second of five courses he's teaching there in a one-month period.

Kreanga vs. Salifou, Kreanga vs. Saive

Here's video (4:47, with time between points taken out) of a great match between Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece (formerly world #7, but now down to #86) vs. Abdel-Kader Salifou of France (world #102) in a recent French League match. Here's another great Kreanga match, against Jean-Michel Saive (7:13, time between points also removed).

Taiwanese Terrors

Here's video (41 seconds, including slow motion replay) of a nice point between Taiwanese players Chiang Hung-Chieh (the righty, world #66) vs. Chen Chien-An (the lefty, world #21).

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

Detroit Tigers Pong

Here's about 15 seconds of Tigers' players practicing for an apparent team table tennis tournament. Shown are Ian Kinsler (the one flipping his paddle but not actually playing) and others.

Junior Variety Pong?

Here's video (1:24) of kids playing every imaginable variant of table tennis - you just have to watch it.

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March 12, 2015

Backhand Development - A Time for Everything, and Everything in its Time

I've been keeping a secret from one of my junior students. He has a strong forehand loop, and is pretty good at moving about to attack with it, but his backhand wasn't as good. When he does play backhand, he pretty much topspins everything, but it's not consistent enough, and so opponents get him on that side. Part of the reason for this is that he's always thinking forehand, and so isn't always ready for the backhand.

In our sessions, we used to do a lot of random drills. But I stopped doing them a couple months ago, and he hadn't really noticed. Why did we stop? Because I've been focusing on his backhand. I didn't want him to play backhands as a second-tier shot, done only when forced, and with an inconsistent stroke. I wanted it to be an equal, or at least near-equal shot with his forehand, though the latter would continue as his primary put-away shot. And so we've been really focusing on backhand training these past two months, though we did plenty of the usual forehand work as well - I doubt he could have survived a session if he couldn't rip a few forehands. But he's been very good about it as well, often asking to extend a backhand drill. He's one of those stubborn types (in a good way), who doesn't want to switch drills until he feels he's doing it perfectly.

Yesterday I sort of shook things up by starting our session with backhand to backhand, rather than forehand to forehand as we usually do. We went on for a long time, perhaps the first 15 minutes, for a very simple reason - he was topspinning the heck out of the ball, and was pretty consistent. I didn't exactly tell him how well they were coming out, but I think he could figure that out, and I wanted to really ingrain it. (See "Learn to Backhand Topspin - Like a Boss!" segment below.) Then we went on to forehands (lots of looping and moving), the 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand side, forehand from backhand side, forehand from forehand side, repeat), and some multiball looping against backspin.

Then we did random multiball, the whole table, where he had to react to my topspin feed), and topspin everything back from both wings. I'd been holding back, but now I felt he was ready for this. And after two months of backhand work, the drill clicked - he was able to topspin everything back smoothly. I think I worked him to death on this drill. When we finally finished, I explained why we hadn't been doing the drill for a while, why we were doing it now (his backhand had improved), and why I hadn't told him in advance - I didn't want him to think about his backhand technique, which would have been the quickest way to mess it up. (It has to be subconscious.)

A secondary bonus of his improved backhand was that I decided he was ready to really focus on backhand banana flipping. So from here on he'll be learning to topspin any serve back, including short, low, heavy backspin. We spent some time on this, and in drills, he's already doing it pretty well.

It'll take time to incorporate this, and his newly improved backhand, into games, but now a corollary of Larry's Six-Month Law takes effect - if you improve a technique in practice, it'll take up to six months of training and practice matches to do it at that same level in a serious match. The clock is now ticking.

The Lefty-Righty Match-up

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao. Learn how to play lefties (if you're a righty) and vice versa!

Serve Long

Here's the new coaching article from PingSkills.

Learn to Backhand Topspin - Like a Boss!

Here's the new video (2:08) from Brett Clarke of TTEdge. "This table tennis backhand topspin lesson or tutorial will teach you the technique for how to use your wrist with the "Tick-Whip" method. The backhand topspin or loop is a tricky shot to master and it takes serious practice and training."

Ask the Coach

Episode #94 (24:24) - Good Days Will Come (and other segments).

USATT Insider

Here's the new issue, out yesterday morning.

World Table Tennis Day

Here's the new ITTF article on this new World Holiday, which is on Monday, April 6 - Easter Monday. It links to this video (1:28), which you should watch just for the underwater table tennis.

2015 Para Pan American Games Team Leader & Coaches Position Openings

Here's the USATT News Item.

USA Table Tennis Award to India Community Center (ICC)

Here's the picture. USATT CEO Gordon Kaye recently met with their club leaders, and gave them this award. He also met with representatives of other clubs in the area - here's a picture. (He's on the near left.)

U.S. Pan American and National Team Trials Video Teaser

Here's the video (52 seconds).

Highlights Video from Chicott Tenis de Mesa

Here's the new highlights video (14:04).

Butterfly Ad Featuring Kanak Jha

Here's the video (1:41). I usually stay away from equipment ads in this blog, but this one was so well done that I decided to include it - especially since I'm having at least one of my students study some of the techniques in the video, such as the banana flip 62 seconds in. (Disclosure - I'm sponsored by Butterfly.)

Rolling Stone vs. Vice Table-Tennis Challenge: We're Upping the Ante

Here's the article from Rolling Stone Magazine.

Marvin Leff Birthday and Florida Table Tennis Hall of Fame Cartoon

Here's the cartoon!

The Revenge: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Here's the video (2:50). "Last year, Timo Boll challenged the KUKA KR AGILUS in his area of expertise: table tennis. Now, it is up to Timo to prove his qualities in a completely different kind of duel." This one's a little strange as it's more of a musical challenge! (With a bit of glass destruction at the end.)

***
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March 11, 2015

Tactical Thinking - Adjusting to Different Opponents

Recently at the end of a coaching session I played a practice match with a student. He often served short to my forehand, either backspin or sidespin, and over and over I flipped it aggressively to all parts of the table and dominated the point. Halfway through one game I finally put the game on hold and challenged him to give me his best short serves to my forehand. Over and over he served low with heavy, yet varied spin - and over and over I flipped them aggressively with ease, to his growing consternation. ("Aggressively" doesn't mean flipping for winners, but fast enough that if placed well, the server is usually put on the defensive.) Finally I challenged him to figure out how to deal with this. At first he said he'd stopped serving short to my forehand - and I said that would be a bad mistake.

So I challenged him to think about why I was able to flip his serves over and over with ease. When he served backspin, I used his own spin against him to create topspin, which allowed me to flip aggressively. When he served sidespin, it was even easier, as that's easy to flip, like a mini-counterdrive or mini-counterloop. So I asked him how he could keep me from using his spin - and that's when he figured it out! He served short, low no-spin, and miracle of miracles - or actually rather predictably - I had to slow down my flip. (I could still place it, but it was no longer the dominant shot it had been earlier.) 

The lesson here is that everyone is different. I happen to have a very good forehand flip, but only against spin, since I know how to take advantage of different spins. This doesn't mean you don't want to serve short with spin to the forehand, just not a whole lot against me, since I happen to be good against it - and so it's a tactical thing. Others might have trouble against these same short spin serves, which is why it's important to either scout out an opponent in advance, or test him out early in the match to see what works. (Most players won't flip aggressively against a short backspin ball to the forehand - it just happens to be a strength of mine. Many players have trouble receiving short balls with the forehand in general, and are grateful when opponents don't take advantage of this.)

When the game resumed, the student began mixing in short no-spin serves to my forehand, and long serves to my backhand, one of the most standard serving patterns. Since I was forced to watch for the short serve to the forehand, I had to receive many of his long serves with my backhand - and I don't have a particularly good backhand loop, so those receives were relatively weak. If he'd given up on the short serve to the forehand, I wouldn't have had to watch for it, and so I'd have been able to loop all the long serves to my backhand with my forehand, and I'd have dominated the points. Also, before I had made up for the weaker backhand receives by punishing him with the forehand flips, but now most of my returns were relatively soft, and he often turned me into a pretzel as I tried (usually unsuccessfully) to forehand loop the deep serves to the backhand while still covering the short ones to the forehand. So I was soft against the short serves to the forehand, and against the deep ones to the backhand I was either soft with the backhand or erratic with the forehand. Tactically, he had figured me out, taking away my strenghts while playing into my weaknesses. I began to regret teaching him tactics!

Lots of Tournaments

If you are looking for a tournament, see the USATT Tournament Page. From there you can see a listing by date, or refine the search and search by state, region, date, and/or star level.

Constant competition is one of the keys to improving. Knowing how to prepare for a tournament is important or all that practice is wasted. Here are four articles on these and related topics.

We have two local tournaments coming up, and two semi-local large ones.

  • MDTTC Open: This Saturday, March 14, is the MDTTC March Open here in Gaithersburg, Maryland, run by Charlene Liu, with seven events: Open, U2300, U2000, U1700, U1300, Under 16, and Over 50. I'll be there, off in a corner doing private coaching from 12:30-4:00PM, and perhaps coaching students in matches during the tournament.
  • Smashtt RR: The new Smashtt club in Sterling, Virginia, is holding its first tournament on Sunday, March 22, a big round robin event, run by club owner, coach, and referee Michael Levene. Here's the entry form and info page. Michael wrote, "Accepting scanned entries with PayPal payment to michael@smashtt.com if people don’t want to go through regular US mail services."
  • Butterfly Cary Cup: That same weekend many local players will be traveling down to Cary, NC, for the $21,000 Butterfly Cary Cup, March 20-22. I may be going down to coach - not sure yet.
  • Westchester March Open: The following weekend, March 28-29, is the Westchester March Open at the Westchester Club in New York. They run monthly 4-star tournaments - you should give them a try! (You'll even get to meet owner Will Shortz - see "11 Questions" article below.)

Tactical Training for Table Tennis

Here's the new coaching article from Expert Table Tennis. (There's even a mention of my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!) He also has a free ebook, The Table Tennis Playbook.

Ask the Coach

  • Episode #92 (23:15) - How to Serve Short (and other segments)
  • Episode #93 (20:05) - Playing on Auto Pilot (and other segments)

USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the USATT article. For February they are Ishana Deb, who won the bronze medal in Under 15 at the Swedish Junior & Cadet Open, and Kanak Jha, who won the Cadet and Under 16 titles.

11 Questions with Will Shortz

Here's the USATT article that features the famed New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor and owner (and player) of the Westchester Table Tennis Center.

Samsonov on Ball Quality and ITTF Penalties

Here are two new articles on issues being addressed by ITTF Athlete's Commission Chair Vladimir Samsonov.

Zongqi Zhong takes Under 2500 Title; Tiffany Ke Surprise Under 2200 Semi-Finalist

Here's another article from Barbara Wei on the $12,000 Arnold Challenge tournament held this past weekend.

Public and Private Schools Come Together at NCTTA Northeast Regional Championships

Here's the USATT article.

West Region of NCTTA Converges for Regional Championships

Here's the USATT article.

Anything to Win the Point

Here's video (21 sec) of a crazy point where Oscar Perman of Sweden does pretty much everything to win a point, including changing hands, some crazy fishing, what appears to be a two-handed backhand, and a running backhand loop kill.

Amazing Table Tennis Features Marcos Freitas

Here's a new highlights video (2:22) that features the best rallies of world #9 Marcos Freitas of Portugal.

Table Tennis Joy

Here's a new highlights video (4:55).

Tom Hanks Plays Table Tennis in Music Video

Here's video (2:38) of a new Carly Rae Jepsen music video, "I Really Like You." At 58 seconds in, someone hands Hanks a ping-pong paddle, which he autographs, smacks a ball with it, and then poses for a selfie with them. Hanks, of course, also played a little pong in a little movie called Forrest Gump.

Blow Ball?

Here's video (3:04) of some German show where Belgium's table tennis great Jean-Michel Saive (on left) and someone else battle to see who can blow the ball past the other! The actual game begins about 65 seconds in. I've introduced this very game to the kids in my beginning class many years ago. Saive recently won the ITTF Legends Tour event in Halmstad, Sweden.

Calvin Shows You What to Do with those Broken Ping-Pong Balls

Some have noted that many of the new 40+ poly balls break more easily than celluloid balls, and that when they break, they often break cleanly into two sides. Well, Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes shows you what you can do with these halves!

***
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March 10, 2015

Recipe for a Regional Team League

Here's the Capital Area Super League recipe, which will continue to evolve.

  1. Find enthusiastic volunteers. (Such as Michael Levene and Stefano Ratti.) Allow them to simmer for a while as enthusiasm builds to a boil.
  2. Add a few other volunteers for spice. (Such as John Olsen and myself, the others on the league organizing committee.)
  3. Create League Rules and stir. (We borrowed heavily from Michael's and Stefano's experience in table tennis leagues in Europe, from the LA League, and from the U.S. Tennis Association. Plus we asked ourselves what we wanted, and what a new player might want.)
  4. Advertise like crazy so that interest begins to simmer, and so you get a bunch of teams and players. (This is only the first season; many locals aren't sure what it is, and are waiting to see. The goal is to keep building it up until we have huge numbers of players, including lots of new players, like they did overseas. This season has 68 players on 13 teams. Let's see how it grows.)
  5. Add a pinch of match cards, and continue to simmer.
  6. Ladle out the teams into divisions and create schedules for each, such as Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3.
  7. Serve fresh - i.e. play it out! (The first team match is on Thursday, March 19, at 7PM, when the MDTTC Lions (Raghu Nadmichettu, Stefano Ratti, Heather Wang, and Ernie Byles) take on the MDTTC Illuminati Potatoes (Chen Bo Wen, Reza Ghiasi, Khaleel Asgarali, Toby Kutler, Ryan Dabbs, and Amy Lu) at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in a Division 1 match-up. Seriously, that's the team names! I'll be there - I'm hoping I get to cut a ribbon or something. (Teams can have up to six players, but only three can play a given team match. Having extra players helps since not everyone can or wants to make every team match.)
  8. Regularly put up results and stats - they are the spice.
  9. Regularly send out press releases so the food (I mean table tennis) writers can write about it. Show the world that this is huge!!! (That's going to be my job.)
  10. At the end of the season give out nice prizes at a season-ending banquet - they are the dessert. And start planning out the next season!

As the newly-appointed chair of the USATT League Committee, I plan to watch and learn a lot this season. The plan is to create a successful regional team league, and then put together a league package that can be copied everywhere - and then promote the heck out of it. Like most recreational leagues, it's all volunteer run. U.S. Tennis does this and has 700,000 paid league players. Germany does this and has 600,000 paid league members. We're on our way. Later on we'll look into software for the league, with USATT perhaps buying or leasing it, and then leasing it out to the leagues for a fee, and then, like in Germany and much of Europe, the league players become USATT members. (We considered leasing the software used in England, but it's rather expensive, especially since we're only one league. For now, we'll run it ourselves.) Here's the recent USATT article on the Capital Area, NY, and LA Team Leagues. 

Only Partially Table Tennis: Back Update - and Holy Mattress Madness!!!

This is almost embarrassing, but now I know why I've been having so many back problems recently. As noted before, my new mattress was too soft. I'd been using an air mattress for many years, but it had developed a leak, and I was having to pump it up every few days. So a few weeks ago I got a firm mattress, and life was fine - temporarily. But gradually, the mattress seemed to soften, and soon I'd forgotten how firm it had been. It got so bad that I even bought a "firm mattress topper" to put on top - but that didn't work either, since the formerly-firm mattress under it was so soft. Every time I lay on it, it put a strain on my back.

Last night when I went to bed I almost gave up on it, and was about to sleep on the floor - when I suddenly realized the problem. When I'd gotten the new mattress, rather than get rid of the old air mattress, I'd simply put the new one on top. Duh!!! This might be the single the dumbest thing I'ver ever done. (In fairness to me, I literally had forgotten the air mattress was under there.) The air mattress had very gradually lost its air, and so the new mattress on top was sagging into it, while the sides of the new mattress were held up by the frame around the air mattress. So I took the air mattress off, and put the new mattress on the platform underneath - and problem solved!!! The mattress is once again nice and firm, and should support my back for many years, or at least until I overdo it and try to race around and loop like it was the 1980s again.

Learnin' Experience: Read About 4 Main Keys to Improvement

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Private Coaching - Serve & Attack

Here's a video (10:38) of a private coaching session by Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis.

Ask the Coach

Episode #91 (26:34) - Short Pimples (and other segments)

Kalinikos Kreanga Demo

Here's the video (9:11) - just watching Kreanga (formerly world #7) loop should improve you 200 rating points. You'll gain 100 just watching the other guy block (Greek team member Dimitrios Papadimitriou).

Best Backhands from the Bundesliga - Calderano vs. Boll

Here's the highlights video (3:55) - the best backhands of Hugo Calderano of Brazil (world #73, #56 three months ago) vs. Timo Boll (world #9 in February, former world #1).

Great Attack vs. Chop Point

Here's the video (42 sec) between Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taipei (world #8, former #3) vs. chopper/looper Joo Saehyuk of South Korea (world #16, former #5).

The Arnold Table Tennis Challenge Demonstration with the Terminator!

Here's the video (2:36) with Arnold Schwarzenegger! (This is different from the one I linked to yesterday.) And here's a pair of photos - Austin Preiss and Arnold now (age 20) and ten years ago!

Liverpool Football Table Tennis Championship

Here's the video (2:05) of the Liverpool football team (that's soccer for us Americans) having their own table tennis championships. Apparently Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo, and Jose Enrique went head-to-head for the prize. (Video shows Moreno vs. Manquillo.)

The Mystery of the Lost Racket

Here's the ebook for this 99-cent children's short ebook that came out in 2013.

Dynamic 3-D Cartoon Pong

Here's the picture!

"ping-pong" is so fun to say, isn't it? ping-pong. ping-pong. haha, ping-pong. Isn't this fun?!

Here's the button!

Grandma Pong

Here's the video (6 sec) - if you can't beat China, then break china!

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March 9, 2015

Tip of the Week

Playing in Poor Conditions.

USA Pan Am and National Team Trials

Here's the USATT Page with complete results and video. (Jiaqi Zheng and Yue "Jennifer" Wu were not eligible for the National Team, due to time requirements since representing another country, but as US citizens were eligible for the Pan Am Team.)

  • Congratulations to Pan Am Team members: Jiaqi Zheng, Lily Zhang, Yue "Jennifer" Wu, Kanak Jha, Jimmy Butler and Timothy Wang
  • Congratulations to US Team members: Lily Zhang, Judy Hugh, Prachi Jha and Amy Wang, Kanak Jha, Jimmy Butler, Timothy Wang and Yahao Zhang

Beginning/Intermediate Class and Junior Class

After missing two straight Sundays due to snow, we finally got back to these two classes. I taught both classes, with John Hsu assisting.

There are 14 kids in the 4:30-6:00PM beginning junior class, ranging in age from 6 to 11. Since we'd been away so long we focused on basics this session - lots of regular forehand and backhand play. We had one new player, so I spent some time getting him started. Then we did service practice, and then games. As usual, as soon as it was game time the cry went out for "Cup game!", and so out came the paper cups. It's the perfect game for the younger crowd, who love to build and destroy. So they built giant pyramids of cups, and then took turns smashing them to pieces as I fed multiball. We finished with the bottle game, where I put a bottle of "worm juice" on the table (a Gatorade bottle filled with either worm juice or Gatorade, depending on who you asked), and I had to drink it if they hit it. They did.

For the Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class from 6:30-8:00PM we had 15 players, with three others missing. Because a few had missed the first session three weeks ago I had invited them to come in early, so we actually started at 6:15, where I went over some of the things from the first class - grip, stance, and forehand. Because it had been three weeks since the previous class, where we'd focused on the forehand, I decided to spend 20 minutes on that at the start. Then we worked on the backhand. Next came serve deception, though I first did a recap of how to create spin, which I'd taught three weeks before. Then they were out at the tables practicing serves. We went late, with nearly everyone able to stay to work on serves until at least 8:15, some until 8:30PM. I promised the group that we'd start next week's session with more service practice. Then we'll move on to the focus for the session - footwork and pushing.

Snow and Back

As noted in my blog last week, I hurt my back shoveling snow over a week ago - not in the snowstorm this past Thursday, but the one the weekend before. I took much of last week off from private coaching (where I have to do real hitting, as opposed to mostly lectures, walk-around coaching, and multiball when I teach a class), and I think it's okay now. So today I return to private coaching. The temperature will likely hit 60 degrees today - but it'll take days for the huge piles of snow outside to completely melt away.

Capital Area Super League Meeting

The Organizing Committee for the Capital Area Super League (myself, Michael Levene, Stefano Ratti, John Olsen) met Saturday night at the Smash TT Center in Virginia. We've pretty much finalized things. The final tally is 68 players on 13 teams, which is okay for our first season - five in the first division, and four each in the second and third. We went over the budget, prizes, software, and various other issues. Play begins next week! (I often feel like the "black sheep" of this group, as the other three are doing a lot more to set this up, but I'll try to make up for it when I focus on publicity for the league, i.e. sending out press releases, etc.) 

My Todo List

Here's my  todo lists for today, which I'll periodically update as I go through it. 

  • Table Tennis:
  1. 1.Tip of the Week
  2. 2.Blog
  3. MDTTC Newsletter (This usually goes out at the start of each month but I held this up for the USA Team Trials)
  4. Junior Accounting - Thursday and Sunday Classes
  5. Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class Accounting
  6. USATT League Committee Appointments
  7. "Spirit of Pong" table tennis fantasy novella. (I'm going to a writing workshop this summer - see below - and plan to have this critiqued there before I do the final write-up before getting it published. To do so I'll need to have a draft ready by April 9.)
  8. Prepare for Regional Associations presentation at March 28 USATT board meeting (including plans for leagues, coaching programs, and state championships - a three-pronged approach)
  9. Work on plans for TableTennisBooks.com
  10. Afterschool Program (leave 2:30, finish 5:00 PM)
  11. Private coaching (5:00-6:30PM)
  12. Yell at players from club who didn't play smart tactics at USA Team Trials and Arnold Challenge. (Should I practice in front of a mirror first?) Okay, I'm sort of kidding, but I do have a few things to go over with them. Alas, I wasn't able to go to either tournament, mostly because I couldn't afford to miss teaching my Sunday classes for the third week in a row.
  • Non-Table Tennis:
  1. Taxes (I see my accountant tomorrow morning)
  2. Apply for The Never-Ending Odyssey Writing Workshop (July 24 - Aug. 1)
  3. Find a harder mattress (current one is too soft, and may be aggravating back problems) Note - I "fixed" the current mattress - see tomorrow's blog!
  4. Birthday thank-yous (I turned 55 on Feb. 27. Yikes, that's old.)
  5. House termite inspection
  6. Vehicle emissions inspection
  7. Clean desk (It's a mess right now. Isn't that the sign of a busy person?)

How a 13-Year-Old Girl Became a Smashing Success at Table Tennis

Here's the article from ESPN on Crystal Wang. Special thanks to USATT Media Consultant Richard Fin for helping set this up. Here's the start: "In many regards, Crystal Wang is a typical 13-year-old girl. She watches music videos and variety shows on YouTube and draws in her free time. "The Hunger Games" movies are among her favorites. She likes to read and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. When you look beyond the straight-A student's sweet, soft-spoken exterior, however, a fierce competitor emerges."

New Documentary Shows the Pain and Passion of the Pingpong Life

Here's the article from ESPN on the documentary "Topspin."

$12,000 Arnold Challenge

The tournament was held this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio - and yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger was there! Here's the tournament home page, here are results, and here's a 47-second video of Schwarzenegger rallying with Austin Preiss. Below are articles on the tournament by Barbara Wei.

Rising Early vs. Eight Hours Sleep

Here's the new article from Ben Larcombe. 

Ask the Coach (PingSkills version)

Episode #90 (24:15) - Best Penholder Ever (and other segments).

Ask the Coach (Werner Schlager Academy Version)

Here's the 31-sec video where head coach Richard Prause invites you to ask any question. (Yes, in English.)

Table Tennis Coordination, Agility, and Speed

Here's video (62 sec) of training for these.

Zhang Jike Donates Money for Sick Child

Here's the article from Tabletennista. 

Ma Long Moves Back to World Number One

Here's the ITTF press release. (I wrote about this and other world ranking news on Thursday - see third segment.)

German National Championships

Here's an article (and video) on Timo Boll winning his tenth German National Men's Singles Championship. Here's an article (and video) on Petrissa Solja winning the German National Women's Singles Championships. And here's a great rally (24 sec) that took place in the final between Petrissa and Winter Sabine. (The two would team up to win Women's Doubles.)

Bay Area a Hotbed for Table Tennis

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury News.

"The Dean of Table Tennis": Dean Johnson

Here's the article.

Thoughts on Seattle's Least Functional Ping-Pong Table

Here's the article on this poor, forlorn windy table.

Susan Sarandon and Jonathan Bricklin's Relationship "Continues to Evolve"

Here's the article in People Magazine about two primary owners of SPiN Table Tennis.

A Table Tennis - Golf Romance?

Here's the cartoon!

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March 6, 2015

Playing Fair and a Rules Proposal

I read the following recently on a table tennis forum:  "It's the coach's job to teach a player how to win.  It's the parent's job to teach ethics to their kids. If a player resorts to cheating to win, then the parents have failed."

I was tempted to jump in and respond - harshly - but thought better of it. This is probably a somewhat common attitude, though I don't think most agree with it. The simple reality is that much of what is considered "good sportsmanship" comes from the coach. I'm pretty sure I can convince most parents that their kid should always play fair, including serving legally. I'm also pretty sure I can convince most parents that their kid should learn to serve illegally, since so many of his opponents will be doing so, and so he needs to do so to compete. These are contradictory positions. While parents can put their foot down, they are rarely as experienced in these matters as a coach, and so they rely on the coach for guidance in such matters.

I could teach the up-and-coming juniors at my club how to illegally hide their serves, as some coaches do. More specifically, I'd teach them how to serve borderline, where most serves are visible, but it's so close that an umpire, sitting off to the side, can't quite tell. The umpire should, by the rules, rule these serves illegal since it's the player's responsibility to serve so the umpire is "satisfied" that the serves are legal, and they are supposed to call any serve that they aren't sure about, but most umpires do not enforce these rules, and so players get away with this. (I've posted the pertinent rules below.) And once a player establishes that he can get away with these "borderline" serves that should be faulted, it's easy for them to go over the line and actually hide contact at key points in a match, and win easy points. (If you hide the serve every time, there is so much complaining that the umpires are more likely to call it. So most players who are willing to cheat by hiding their serve do so only a few key times per game - which effectively raises their level about 100 rating points.)

But I won't do this. I'm not going to "teach a player to win" by cheating. Alas, not all coaches are this way. There are coaches who teach their players that cheating is okay if the umpire doesn't call it. And this attitude works because so many umpires and referees allow it. And so we regularly see the various styles of hidden serves - the last-second outward thrust of the shoulder (with the arm pulled back suddenly to draw the umpire's attention away from it); the ball thrown backward in a high-toss serve with the head thrust forward, thereby hiding contact with the head; or the more blatant hiding with the arm, which is supposed to be removed from the space between the ball and net as soon as the ball has been projected.

Even at my club I've seen top juniors practice hidden serves because they want to be ready to use them if their opponent does so, and the umpires doesn't call it. And I'm forced to agree that, in that circumstance, it's only fair that my players also hide their serve, since otherwise it's not a fair playing field. They also need practice partners - often other top junior players - who hide their serves so they can practice against them. But I hate this, and I hate the situation that allows and even forces this.

Probably the best of a bad situation is to allow, or even teach, these hidden serves, but make it clear they are NOT to be used except when the opponent is doing so, and the umpire doesn't call it. But it's sickening to me to know that some players will wait until a key moment in a match, and then they'll throw in a hidden serve, and my player will hit the ball way off the end or straight down into the net, and there's nothing we can do about it, because the umpire allowed the borderline serves that led up to this, and so can't tell the difference between those borderline serves (where the ball was barely visible but the umpire couldn't tell for sure) and the ones where the contact was hidden. Both are illegal, including the borderline one that was technically (but barely) visible. See 2.06.06 and 2.06.06.01 below.

I've posted this a number of times, but below is a quick review of the pertinent rules. (If there is no umpire, then the players act as umpires. Much of what I've written above refers to top juniors competing for national titles, where most of the matches are umpired, and many titles are decided by whether the umpire enforces the service rules.)

  • 2.06.04: From the start of service until it is struck, the ball … shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry. 
  • 2.06.06: 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, and either may decide that a service is incorrect. 
  • 2.06.06.01: If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect. 

As regular readers of this blog might know, I'd like to solve the problem by changing the rules so that the rule says something like this: "Throughout the serve, the ball must be visible to the opponent, and to both umpires, or where the umpires would sit." The wording might need some playing with. For example, perhaps it needs to be specified where the umpires would sit - perhaps ten feet to the side?

But with a rule like this, borderline serves - where the ball might barely be hidden from one of the umpires - are no longer a problem because if you try hiding the ball from the opponent, then it's blatantly obvious it's hidden from at least one of the umpires or where they would sit, unless the umpire has x-ray vision. A borderline serve where it's not clear that it's visible to both umpires or where they sit would obviously be visible to the opponent, which is the goal of the rule. (It's like the six-inch rule, where the goal wasn't to force everyone to toss the ball up six inches; the goal was to stop players from serving out of their hand. If someone only tosses the ball up five inches, he may or may not get called on it, but he's not serving out of his hand.)

I'm actually starting to think that a better rule might be as follows, with my addition in brackets:

2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball … shall not be hidden from the receiver [, or the net or the area above the net,] by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

This would also make it impossible to hide the serve from the opponent without it becoming blatantly obvious, and without referring to non-existent umpires in varied sitting positions. It's also not as extreme, since the sides of the net aren't as far off to the side as the umpires would be. I'll be discussing this with the USATT Rules committee at some point this year, and hoping we can convince the ITTF to adopt something like this. (It's already been tried without success, but many rule changes were turned down initially before passing.)

USATT Teleconference

The USATT Board of Directors (which includes me) had a teleconference last night. The focus was on appointing committee chairs for the next two years. We ended up re-appointing seven committee chairs, appointing five new ones, and tabling three appointments for now. My informal policy on this is that I'll wait for USATT to post the appointments that were voted on before I go public. This allows our CEO time to contact the new and re-appointed chairs to inform them of their status, plus I don't think it's fair that I use my status on the board to be the first to publish such info. I'm told that it'll most likely get posted in the USATT Minutes page on Monday, after which I'll blog more about this. One thing I can announce - I now chair the USATT League Committee. More on that later.

USA National and Pan Am Team Trials, and the Arnold Challenge

Here's the home page, which includes links to live streaming, which begins at 10AM Eastern Time today (Friday). I really wish I were there coaching as I have so often in the past. But we have so many 2600-level Chinese practice partner/coaches at our club that it's more economical to send them with our players as coaches/practice partners, since at 55 (as of last Friday) I can only do the coaching part at this level these days. But I'll be watching, and probably screaming at the screen, "Serve it there! No, wrong serve! Play the middle!", and so on.

I also considered going to the Arnold Table Tennis Challenge in Columbus, Ohio this weekend to coach several of the Maryland players there, but the problem is we wouldn't be back until late Sunday night, and I have two classes I teach Sunday nights which have been cancelled two weeks in a row due to snow. I can't cancel a third straight week. We have a contingent driving up there right now, which must be fun since we had about eight inches of snow yesterday. (Schools were closed both yesterday and today.)

USATT Insider

The new issue came out yesterday. It includes the "11 Questions with Larry Hodges" interview I linked to yesterday.

Drill Your Skills with China National Team - Part 10: Push and Attack

Here's the new coaching video (9:47). Here are links to Parts 1-9.

Ask the Coach

Episode #90 (24:15) - Best Penholder Ever (and other segments).

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - February 2015

Here's the video (12:03).

Diversity in Leading Players at the 2015 Butterfly Arnold Table Tennis Challenge

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Timo Boll Off World Ranking List

Here's the article. He's a "victim" of the four-month rule - if a player doesn't compete in an ITTF tournament for four consecutive months, he's dropped from the list. Timo says, "No problem. In the next month, when I compete at the 2015 German Open, I will be back in the top-10!"

World Table Tennis Day - April 6

Here's the poster.

Table Tennis South Australia

Here's the new issue - includes articles on Club Code of Conduct, Plastic Balls, and a Table Tennis Quiz.

Legends Tour 2015 Highlights: Saive vs. Persson (Final)

Here are highlights (3:44). I blogged about the event yesterday.

Top Ten Shots

Here's a new highlights video (7:26).

Highlights: 2015 Edition

Here's another highlights video (8:56).

Amazing Table Tennis Tricks

Here's the video (3:15) - some really great stuff here!

Stationary Bike Pong

Here's the video (46 sec) - double your exercise!

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March 5, 2015

How I Hurt My Back and How Not to Do Multiball

I think I hurt my back shoveling snow on Sunday or Monday. Because of snow and icy roads, I didn't do any serious coaching from Sunday to Tuesday, other than a one-hour multiball session on Tuesday, where I probably aggravated it. On Wednesday, when woke up, my back was in agony. I did a one-hour multiball session, but had to cancel a one-hour private session. Today I had 3.5 hours of coaching scheduled, but due to the snow (5-8 inches expected, it's coming down pretty hard) they are all cancelled. If not for the snow I'd have had to cancel them anyway.

I think my new mattress is also a culprit - it's not firm enough. Rather than buy a new mattress (again), I just ordered an extra firm mattress topper. Hopefully it'll be firm enough.

I'm probably going to cancel all my coaching on Friday as well. I'm not yet sure about Saturday - I have two hours of private coaching and a two-hour multiball session scheduled. I'm almost for certain going to cancel the private coaching for that day. We'll see about Sunday. Most likely I'll cancel all private coaching that day (four hours), but teach the two 90-minutes classes I have scheduled.

When I feed regular multiball, it doesn't affect my back too much. The problem is feeding backspin. When I do this I tend to drop my right shoulder and rotate my back into it - ouch!!! Right now I can't feed backspin without aggravating the back. I had to stop feeding backspin in the session yesterday.

When I explained this to Coach Cheng yesterday, he smiled, and said it's because I use my upper body to feed multiball instead of my legs. Normally this wouldn't make a difference, but in my current condition, it does. He showed me how he does it, using just his legs. I tried copying it, but it didn't feel natural. Ironically, Sean O'Neill had commented about this many years ago as well.

Back in 1992, when we opened MDTTC, I was already experienced in feeding multiball, but after watching coaches Cheng and Jack feed multiball, I realized I needed to practice. So I spent about a week where I literally practiced feeding multiball, feeding the ball into a robot net. Now I may have to do that again, and relearn how I feed backspin. Cheng also showed me how he shovels snow using only his legs, and mocked others who complain about it, saying it's all in the technique!

For now, I'm going to spend the day resting as the snow outside comes down. I've found that sitting at my desk aggravates the back, which is a problem since I was hoping to get some writing done. And then, at 8PM (dang, right when Big Bang Theory comes on TV - see segment below!), we have a USATT teleconference where we'll be appointing committee chairs.

ITTF Legends Tour

Jean-Michel Saive defeated Jorgen Persson in the final yesterday. In the semifinals, Saive defeated Waldner while Persson defeated Gatien. In the two quarterfinals, Waldner defeated Jiang Jialiang (rematch from 1987 Worlds!) while Persson defeated Rosskopf. Here's the article from Tabletennista, including results and lots of video. Here are some photos of the event - click on them to see each one. The third one has Saive standing on the table! Here are more photos. Also, here's a nice trailer (78 sec) they put together for the event.

Ma Long #1 Again

In the new world rankings, he's back to #1 in men's rankings, with Xu Xin dropping to #2 after twelve months at #1 (plus four months back in 2013). Ma's been #1 in the world 29 different months - all twelve months in 2010, three months in 2011, five months in 2012, six months in 2013, and two months in 2014. Fan Zhendong is #3 for the fifth consecutive month - he's been top three for 13 consecutive months, including two months at #2 in 2014 (Sept and Oct). Zhang Jike, who has won men's singles at the last two Worlds, the last World Cup, and the last Olympics, continues at #4 for the seventh consecutive month; he hasn't been ranked #1 since 2012. (He only does well in the "big" tournaments!)

On the women's side, Ding Ning is #1 for the sixth consecutive month. Li Xiaoxia moves up to #2 after 19 consecutive months at #3. (She was #1 for eight months in 2011 and for one month back in 2008.) Liu Shiwen moves down to #3 after five consecutive months at #2. (She was #1 for thirteen consecutive months before that, as well as nine months in 2010.)

All the players listed above are from China, which continues to have the top four men and top three women.

Sports Illustrated

I'm told that the new March 9 issue of Sports Illustrated has a feature on page 60 on New York Times puzzle editor and table tennis player/owner Will Shortz - his game and his Westchester club. Go get your copy!

Ask the Coach

  • Episode #88 (19:00) - Table Tennis Terminology (and other segments)
  • Episode #89 (21:50) - Waldner Back in Action (and other segments)

Learn to Play the Backhand Counterdrive

Here's the coaching video (2:39) from Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis.

Marcos Freitas - The New European Hero

Here's the video (5:21) of the world #9 player, from Portugal.

Ding Ning - Off the Table

Here's the video (6:30).

Great Rally

Here's the video (27 sec) with both great and fluky shots.

Junior Diving Forehand Defense

Here's the video (19 sec, including slow motion replay).

Celebrity Table Tennis

Here are some celebrities playing table tennis pictures. (Click on the first - is that Jay Leno? - and you'll see more.) Of course, the mother lode of these pictures is the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, which I used to maintain but stopped a few years ago - just too busy.

Big Bang Theory Pong!

Here's video (15 sec) of the Big Bang Theory stars playing table tennis. That's Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting ("Penny") on the left smacking in forehands (she's pretty good!) against Kunal Nayyar ("Raj") on the right, with Mayim Bialik ("Amy") watching, and Simon Helberg ("Howard") walking by near the end.

Non-Table Tennis - Top Twelve Spring Training Problems for the 2015 Orioles

Here's the article, featured at Orioles Hangout!

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