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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 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 an author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

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

April 15, 2014

Tip of the Week

Pushing Sidespin Serves Short.

Wedding TT Clinic

I returned around 1AM Monday morning from my four-day trip to the Santa Barbara area in California for my niece's wedding. (I say "area" because we had various wedding events all over the region.) Sarah Hodges is now married to Tyler Sherban, and I believe Sarah is now Sarah Sherban, so there is one less Hodges in the world - sort of. No, she'll always be a Hodges, and Tyler is now a Hodges as well. Sort of.

As noted in my blog last week, Sarah had asked if I'd run sort of a table tennis clinic at the wedding reception. It was a rather interesting scenario, as the reception and ping-pong table were both outdoors. The table was on a gravel road, not quite even, and it was somewhat windy. With loud music and dancing going on, it became more of an informal event, where I hit with and sometimes coached with whoever was interested. I spent more time hitting with the band members on their break than anyone else. I did get to demonstrate a few trick shots, such as come-back-into-the-net backspin serves, and 30-foot serves from the side. (I can serve it from farther out, but not in the wind.) The wedding photographer, who was Japanese, was rather interested and I filled him in on the world of table tennis. He might show up at some California club sometimes soon.

I'm still exhausted from the trip, the lack of sleep, the weight training (see below), and almost cancelled today's blog and Tip of the Week, but I decided that would lead to chaos, war, and worldwide economic ruin, and so forced myself to get up early for this.

Spring Break Camp

Our Spring Break Camp started yesterday, and continues through Friday. As noted above, I didn't get home until about 1AM Monday morning, and didn't get to bed until close to 2AM, and then I had to get up early for the camp. So the first day was sort of a whir as I dreamed of getting back to bed. But it went pretty well. Unlike our summer camps, where we have a number of out-of-town players, the Spring Break Camp is all locals, as it coincides with the local spring break from school. We had about 30 players. As I've done in recent years, I took charge of the beginners, seven of them. The focus for the day was the forehand, and then serving. We'll get to backhands today.

Had an incident during lunch break. I took a group to 7-11 as we often do. As we approached the store three of the kids suddenly took off, running across the street, even dodging an incoming car that braked to a stop. Let's just say that those three got a stern lecture from me and other coaches, and that won't happen again. We haven't decided whether to ban them from future 7-11 trips. We had another incident where three older kids, who were allowed to go to 7-11 on their own as long as they let us know, went there but neglected to tell us. Let's just say there was a few minutes where we couldn't find them. I ran around the club outside looking for them, and from the wall around our parking lot I saw them in the distance walking to 7-11. They too got a stern lecture, and this won't happen again.

This morning Channel 5 News is coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and MDTTC. More on that tomorrow.

Physical Training and What It Takes For Older Athletes to Hold Their Level

I've been slowly getting out of shape this past year, and my playing level has deteriorated. Now that I'm back from the four-day wedding festivities, I decided to take action. So last night, for the first time in over a year, I went to Planet Fitness and did my 35-minute weight lifting routine. I plan to do this three times a week for a few weeks, and then perhaps go to twice a week. Here's my blog from Jan. 27, 2012 where I wrote about my routine.

If I want to get back to anywhere near my previous level at age 54 I need to do at minimum the following: weight training; stretching; two serious practice sessions per week (though I might make due with one, since I get so much hitting as a coach); practice serves once a week for 10-15 minutes; and a series of serious matches at least once a week. Oh, and not get injured. That's key.

Canadian Junior Open

Here's the home page for the tournament (with results, articles, and photos), which was held this past weekend. I had to miss it, alas, but lots of U.S. players did great there. The two players from my club (MDTTC) who went did well: Crystal Wang was undefeated in the tournament, winning both Cadet Girl's Singles and Teams. Nathan Hsu made the quarterfinals of Under 18 Singles. But USA swept most of the events, with the brother/sister combo of Kanak and Prachi Jha sweeping many events.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC High Schools

Here's the article. I was out of town and almost missed this note. We'll see if it leads to anything. I believe table tennis was made a varsity sport a few times in the past in various regions, but it never led to anything. Hopefully it will this time, but only if someone focuses on making it happen.

How a Ping-Pong-Playing Robot is Revolutionizing Robotics

Here's the article, with a link to a 13-sec video.

U.S. Open Promo

Here's the video (2:12), created by Jim Butler.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast

Here's the ITTF March Pongcast (11:56), covering all the international news in March.

Chile Open Rally

Here's video of a great rally (1:21, including slow motion replays) from the Chile Open this past weekend, between Kohei Sambe and Rodrigo Gilabert. (That's the correct spelling - it's not Gilbert.)

Bubba Watson Plays TT with his Driver

Here's the article from this past weekend and repeating gif image (three shots) as Bubba rallies with his driver. Oh, and he also just won the Masters.

Puppy Pong

Here's the picture!

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April 9, 2014

No Blog Until Next Tuesday

I leave for my niece's wedding in Oakview, CA, at 7AM on Thursday morning from Dulles Airport. I won't get back until early Monday morning, and then I have to run over to MDTTC for our Spring Break Camp (Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM). So my next blog and Tip of the Week will be Tuesday, April 15.

My niece wanted to arrange a series of fun activities during the three days of wedding activities, and asked if I'd put on a table tennis clinic. So I'm bringing my table tennis stuff, including a half gross of balls in a box for multiball. I'm even bringing a few soccer-colored balls so they can see spin. No one else in my family (including the ones marrying into ours) plays seriously. There's also a wine tasting (I'm a non-drinker, alas), I think hiking, and who knows what else.

Breaking News - Voice of Table Tennis Contest! (Added on Friday morning)

USA's Barbara Wei, who practically grew up at my club, MDTTC, as a top junior (and as a member of the USA Cadet and then Junior Girl's Team) has made the Final Three in the ITTF's Voice of Table Tennis Contest. Here's your chance to vote for her! But so has USA's Adam Bobrow. The third contestent is David Wetherill, who I believe is from England. Voting ends on Monday, so vote now!

Shadow Practice and Weighted Rackets

One of my students (who asked to stay anonymous) thought I should ask readers the following question: What do players imagine shadow practicing when, say, at the office and need to work off some energy? I know for me it's forehands, both loops and smashes. I even keep a weighted racket by my desk, which I use both to work off energy and sometimes as a racket when I'm thinking about a technique while writing. One change: when I was younger I also shadow practiced moving side to side. These days it's more stationary forehands, alas.

However, I also think about backhands. Many years ago while sitting on the subway no doubt on the way to some table tennis event I was thinking about backhands. Suddenly and spontaneously I stroked a backhand, smacking an elderly women sitting next to me in the face. I was very apologetic and she took it pretty well, but I was pretty embarrassed.

I bought the weighted racket in Osaka, Japan at the 2001 World Championships; here's a picture. Butterfly used to sell this very model in the U.S. back in the 1970s. (They also had a thinner metal version.) I bought one around 1979, but someone stole it at some point, which is why I had to buy another in Japan. I don't think they sell them in the U.S., alas. (I just did a search and couldn't find any.) If they did, I'd recommend them to my students. I've seen some players make their own by gluing weights to a racket, or even gluing two rackets together. You can get quite a workout with them, and they build up arm strength while you work on your stroke. You don't want to use them in an actual rally, however, as that would mess up your timing.

Here's an article, Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork. Here's a shorter one, Shadow Practice Your Shots. Along with serve practice and mental training these are the three quickest ways to improve - call them "Get Good Guick" schemes. (To the spelling police: the triple G spelling was intentional.) It won't make you good by themselves, but they'll definitely expedite the process.

North American Tour Update

Here's the article.

Another Table Tennis Scammer

Many table tennis coaches probably received some version of the following email, which I received yesterday. It's a scam, where some very dishonest person is getting the emails from the USATT coaches listing. (I've blogged about this before.) Note how he's coming to a country that's 3000 miles wide and 1500 miles high - that's just the continental part - and is ready to hire you without even knowing where you are located? Anyway, as mentioned before, the scam works this way. After he hires you, he'll send you a check in advance. But then he'll email you saying his assistant/accountant/someone accidentally made the check out for way too much, and asks you to send a check to him with the difference. He even agrees for you to wait until you receive his check. But his check is a fake one. Here's the email I received:

Hello,
How are you doing today and I hope you're well? My name is Mr. Michel Piaf, my Wife and I are looking to hire a Table Tennis Instructor for our son who's coming over for holidays to get some rest and ready to learn Table Tennis, Since he's going to have nothing doing while he's there we decide to hire him a Table Tennis Teacher to take him through since Table Tennis is he's only sport he loves so very much and wants to get to learn and join school team. His name is Glen and he's is 14yrs old. If you are available and ready, kindly get back to us with your hour rates and hopefully an arrangement can be made. What city you located now?
Regards,
Mr. Michel Piaf

Playing Out of Position

Here's the article.

Two Surprisingly Easy Ways to Receive Difficult Serves

Here's the article.

Exhibition Points

Here's a video (7:59) that compiles many of the greatest and most hilarious exhibition points ever played.

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April 8, 2014

Great Spin on Serve

In my beginning/intermediate class last night the players were rather impressed by how much spin I could put on the ball when I serve with seemingly little effort. The spin comes from three things: smooth acceleration into the ball; wrist snap; and grazing with a grippy surface. Beginners lose spin because they tend to start with the racket right behind the ball rather than from the side. Intermediate players lose spin because they tend to think in terms of racket speed instead of acceleration.

I can't explain the physics, but it is acceleration that leads to great spin. It could involve the rubber surface grabbing the ball and, since it is accelerating at contact, it grabs the ball like a slingshot and practically spins it out of orbit. Or perhaps this acceleration leads to high velocity that you can control, but the smooth acceleration makes the racket appear to be moving slower than it actually is going. If you instead think in terms of velocity and try to snap the racket into the ball all-out rather than with this smooth acceleration might get more racket speed (not sure), but they can't control it and so lose the control needed for a fine grazing contact - and so lose spin.

But regardless of the reason, it is this smooth acceleration that leads to the great spin. However, there's a conflict here - for deception, you want sudden changes of racket direction. So top servers learn to smoothly accelerate into the ball with sudden changes of direction, essentially whipping the racket around the ball in very quick arcs.

Of course it's not all about spin. If you fake spin but serve no-spin, it's just as effective as a spin serve if the opponent thinks there is spin. So many serves do simple backspin-like serves, but sometimes it's backspin, other times they change the contact so there's no spin. (You do this by contacting the ball closer to the handle, and by changing contact from a grazing motion to sort of patting the ball while faking a grazing motion, often with an exaggerated follow through.)

So . . . have you practiced your serves this week?

Forehand Flip

Here's a tutorial video (5:10) on the forehand flip (usually called a flick in Europe) against short backspin by Coach Yang Guang, a former Chinese team member. He's explaining in Chinese, but several times the key points are subtitled in English. Plus you can learn just by watching. Note that when he does the demos, he's being fed slightly high balls, and so is flip killing. Against a lower ball you might want to slow it down and put a little topspin on the flip.

Why Don't Top Players Serve More Topspin?

Here's the video (2:17) from PingSkills. Ironically this very topic was covered in my beginning/intermediate class. I was teaching how to do fast serves, and explained why they are good as a variation, but how top players would attack them. They wanted a demo, so I had my assistant coach, the 2600 player Coach Jeffrey (Zeng Xun), demonstrate what he could do with my fast serves when he knew they were coming. It wasn't pretty! I have pretty good fast serves, but they have to be used sparingly against top players.

I once aced 1986 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Hank Teekaveerakit three times in a row with my fast down-the-line serve. He was a penholder who tried to loop everything with his forehand, and this happened the first three points of the match as he looked to loop my serves from the backhand corner. After the third ace, he broke up laughing, and said, "Larry, nobody serves fast down the line three times in a row!" He then began returning my serves to his backhand with his backhand, and caught up and won somewhat easily. Late in the match he went back to trying to loop all my serves with his forehand, and I obligingly played cat and mouse, serving fast and deep to all parts of the table, and abandoning my short serves, not for tactical reasons but just for the fun of challenging him to return all my fast ones with his forehand. Once he got used to my service motion, he was able to do so.

Crystal Wang in Sports Illustrated

She's featured in the Faces in the Crowd section. It came out in print last Wednesday. (While there, see the photo credits underneath and note the name of the Professional Photographer that took her picture.)

Deputy Referee Report, German Open

Here's the report from USA's Kagin Lee.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

Chapter one is up. This volume covers the years 1985-1985. Want to see more?

Great Rally at the College Nationals

Here's video (29 sec) of a great point between Ariel Hsing (near side) against Maria Castillo in the women's singles quarterfinals. Ariel went on to win the title.

Marcos Freitas

Here's a highlights video (3:29) featuring Marcos Freitas of Portugal doing numerous trick shots. He recently shot up to #12 in the world.

The Sayings of Coach Larry

A while back I jokingly posted a few of my favorite sayings when I coach. One of my students (who wishes to remain anonymous) quoted to me many more of my favorite statements, and I dutifully jotted them down. Here's the more comprehensive listing of my favorite quips.

  1. "Pick up the balls." (Spoken with the same tone as the infamous "Bring out your dead" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
  2. "You are going up against the most powerful forehand in the world." (Spoken with the same tone as the quote from Dirty Harry, "…the most powerful handgun in the world.")
  3. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed." (A paraphrasing of the quote from The Princess Bride. At the start of the scene, both swordfighters are fighting left-handed. Watch the video to see what happens.)
  4. "Time to get serious." (When I'm losing a game, usually against a student where I've spotted points.)
  5. "Time to take my watch off." (Meaning time to get serious.)
  6. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  7. "I never miss that shot."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "This serve cannot be returned."
  11. "No one can get through my block. No one!"
  12. "The most powerful forehand block in the world."
  13. "He cheats, he scores!" (When opponent wins a point on a net or edge.)
  14. "I cannot be scored upon." (Told to students repeatedly as a challenge.)
  15. "Don't think about it. Let the subconscious take over. It's better than you."
  16. "Even [insert name of top player within hearing distance] can make that shot!"
  17. "When I get angry…" (Followed by a short but detailed description of whatever I do the next point.)
  18. "This is for the world championship of the galactic universe."
  19. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  20. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  21. "I'm too good to miss that shot!" (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  22. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987!" (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  23. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  24. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  25. "No coaching in coaching camps!" (When someone coaches against me in a practice match during a camp.)
  26. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)

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April 7, 2014

Tip of the Week

Attacking the Middle.

Attack the Middle or Lose

Coincidental to this week's Tip of the Week, I watched two top players play this past weekend at the MDTTC Open. (See segment below.) I was coaching on a back table for much of the tournament, though I did get to coach a few matches of students of mine. One match in particular caught my eye, between what should have been two evenly matched top players whose names I won't mention.

One of the players is basically a blocker, though he can attack as well with a very orthodox game. The other was a vicious two-winged attacker who rarely backs off the table. (That describes a lot of top players.) What stuck out was how the two-winged attacker kept attacking at wide angles, and the blocker kept blocking back at wide angles. This put the attacker out of position while the blocker controlled the points. Result? The blocker won three straight.

There's a simple dynamic here that many don't understand. While loopers dominate against blockers at the higher levels, in a battle between a looper and blocker where the two go just corner to corner, the blocker is completely at home. He has little time to react to the looper's shots, but if the shots keep coming to just his forehand or backhand, he can react to those with quick blocks. But if the looper goes to the middle as well, that's too much, and the blocker just can't react. When he does, he has to move out of position or contort his body for the shot, and his blocks are weaker and the corners open up. Suddenly, instead of the blocker moving the looper around like a marionette, it's the other way around, except the blocker is more like a Raggedy Ann as he struggles to react to these loops to his middle and wide angles that jump like grasshoppers as they hit the table.

Since I've coached the looper before, I wanted to go out and tell him to attack the middle, but I was in my own coaching session, and could only watch some of the points as he played to the blocker's strength over and over. I'll be talking to him at some point about this.

Busy Pong Day

This morning I have the Tip of the Week and this blog to write. Then I try to finalize the new MDTTC April Newsletter. Then I leave to coach at the club for two hours, 12:30-2:30PM. Then I leave to pick up two kids from schools for our afterschool program. Then I do a session with one of them, plus help with homework. Then I teach my beginning/intermediate class from 6:30-8:00PM. Along the way I need to respond to a zillion emails. Meanwhile, I'm working with someone on a French translation of my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book, and working on setting up my new tabletennisbooks.com page, where I'll sell TT books and videos. Somewhere in there I'll breathe.

USA College Nationals

The College Nationals were this past weekend, Fri-Sun, in Monroeville, PA. Here's their home page, with results, video, and more. Congrats to the following champions:

Coed Team - Texas Wesleyan University
Women's Team - Princeton University
Men's Singles - Cheng Li, Mississippi College
Women's Singles - Ariel Hsing, Princeton University
Men's Doubles - Razvan Cretu & Zhedi Bai, Texas Wesleyan University
Women's Doubles - Vivien Zhou & Xixi Guo, University of Toronto

MDTTC Open

Here are complete results of the MDTTC Open held this past weekend at my club, care of Omnipong. New MDTTC coach/practice partner Chen Ruichao ("Alex") dominated the Open, defeating fellow MDTTC coach/practice partner Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") in the final, 8,12,-8,9,3, visiting New Jersey junior star Allen Wang in the semifinals, 6,8,6,5, and Maryland junior star Roy Ke in the quarterfinals after a first-game scare, -11,7,5,3. There are still raging debates on what Alex's actual level is since it seems to go and down, but it's somewhere in the 2600-2700 range, depending on how "on" his vicious third-ball attack is, which might be the best in the U.S. when it is on.

Who's Been #1 Since 2001?

Here's the listing of the eight men and six women who have held the #1 ranking since 2001. Wang Liqin runs away with it for the men with streaks of 24 months, 6 months, 21 months, and 1 month, for a total of 52 months, while Zhang Yining is even more dominant on the women' side with 70, with streaks of 3, 9, and 58.

Here are the overall totals for men:

  1. Wang Liqin: 52
  2. Ma Long: 30
  3. Wang Hao: 24
  4. Ma Lin: 17
  5. Timo Boll: 10
  6. Zhang Jike: 7
  7. Xu Xin: 6
  8. Werner Schlager: 1

Here's the overall totals for women:

  1. Zhang Yining: 70
  2. Wang Nan: 23
  3. Ding Ning: 22
  4. Liu Shiwen: 17
  5. Li Xiaoxia: 9
  6. Guo Yan: 6

Kai Zhang vs. Eugene Wang Point

The two played in the final of the Westchester Open in February. Here's the entire match (35:46). However, you might want to skip to 29:35, where they have the point of the tournament. (Eugene, who won the match at -11,1-,3,8, has been the #1 player in North American for the last few years, is on the far side. Kai is only fifteen.)

MBC Table Tennis

Here's a new video (1:51) of a junior program run in Pennsylvania by Rich Burnside, John Wetzler, and Pastor Eric.

Adoni Maropis vs. Timo Boll

Here's a video (7:45) of the two in a mini-paddle challenge match. (The paddles have pimples on one side, I think hardbat, and sponge on the other.) Timo is the former #1 player in the world; Maropis is the hardbat champion and actor who played Abu Fayed in "24" (and nuked Valencia, CA). They also almost had an arm wrestling contest. (Adoni offers his right arm, but Timo is a lefty and offers his left.)

Robot vs. Robot

We've had videos of players playing robots. Here's a new one of robot vs. robot (3:06). Expedite!!!

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April 4, 2014

The Forehand and Saturation Training

On Wednesday I gave my weekly lesson to an up-and-coming nine-year-old, who (for the moment) is about 1400. He has incredible ball control for a kid his age - he has great lobbing, fishing, and chopping skills, better than most 2000 players. He also has a nice backhand attack, both looping and hitting. And he can keep the ball in play seemingly forever, even if the opponent keeps attacking. But his forehand can be awkward. So our recent training has been overwhelmingly on his forehand loop, where we spend about 35-40 minutes of each session on. (His level is only 1400 partly because of the forehand, where he likes to lob, and because he tends to play way too soft in general, letting opponents blast the ball at him, and at nine years old he's not always big enough to run them all down. I'm constantly working on teaching him to stay at the table, which isn't easy since he likes to play from the barriers.)

This saturation training is starting to pay off in drills, where he sometimes looks really good, but other times he falls back in his old habits, where every other shot is different, and where he often falls back and fishes. He also has a tendency to take the ball at different times in rallies - he might loop one off the bounce, one at the top of the bounce, one on the drop, and then one off the floor, and he'll often use different stroking techniques for each. He also likes to sometimes loop straight topspin, other times with sidespin, and he likes to suddenly hook the ball really wide and watch in glee as I try to get to it. All this shows fine ball control, but since we're trying to systematically fix his forehand technique, it's not so good in this context, where I want him to systematically develop the shot until he can do it in this sleep. At the same time, I don't want him to lose interest by forcing him to become a robot; it's a constant balancing act. I'm guessing whoever was Waldner's coach had to go through something similar.

Until recently he often resisted spending so much time systematically working on his forehand, but recently he's matured, and is starting to see the importance. So it's great seeing him so determined to develop his forehand to match the rest of his game. He's also very much into developing tricky serves. Watch out for him in a year or so.

Table Tennis Niches

I my blog yesterday I listed various people and their table tennis niche. Here's a note I received from Steve Grant, who should have been listed either in the history or writing niches, along with Chuck Hoey (curator of the ITTF history museum) in the history niche. (I added the links below.)

Hi Larry,

As you know, Steve Grant's (my) niche is both writing and history, as is clear from the many articles written for Table Tennis Collector (publication of the ITTF Museum) and of course the book Ping Pong Fever---the Madness That Swept 1902 America, which showed for the first time who really invented the game of table tennis and how the game really got the name Ping Pong..

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation filmed me this week, playing outdoors in Tomkins Square Park with 1902 drumhead rackets and later batting the ball with Spiderman in Times Square, for an hour-long documentary that will essentially be a humorous telling of my book. I also had to continually bat a ball on my racket while hailing a cab, opening the door and then shouting, Take us to the ping pong party! The driver replied, Sure, that's easy to find!

Oh, in the history niche, I would add Chuck Hoey too.

Regards,

Steve

MDTTC Coaching Staff

The MDTTC coaching staff here in Gaithersburg, MD keeps getting bigger! Yesterday marked the return of Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey"), a 2600 player who coached at MDTTC for a couple of years before returning to China to work on his immigration status. He's back permanently, and so rejoins our staff, which now consists of me (USATT Hall of Famer!), Cheng Yinghua (USATT Hall of Famer and former Chinese team member and 2800 player), Jack Huang (former USA #1 and Chinese team member who should be in the USATT Hall of Fame), Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey," 2600 player), Wang Qing Liang ("Leon," 2600 chopper/looper), Chen Ruichao ("Alex," recently arrived lefty 2600-2650 player), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen," 2500 penholder), Chen Jie ("James," lefty 2300 player), Raghu Nadmichettu (2400 player), and John Hsu (2300 player). Of course ratings don't always indicate coaching level, but let's just say these player/coaches were carefully selected for both their playing skills (as practice partners) and coaching abilities.

National College Championships

As noted in yesterday's blog, the USA National Collegiate Championships start this morning, April 4-6, Fri-Sun, in Monroeville, PA. Here's their home page, and here's where they will have results. They also have live-streaming, starting 9:30AM this morning.

Farewell to Joyce Grooms

Today is Joyce's retirement day. Hopefully they are throwing a party at USATT Headquarters for our long-time membership director! I've worked with her a lot over the past decade, and have nothing but praise for her efficient professionalism. Enjoy your retirement - maybe even play a little pong now that you have time to see it from the playing side! (Her picture is on the USATT staff page.)  

New World Rankings

Here are the new ITTF world rankings. On the women's side the top ten remain unchanged from last month, with Austria's Sofia Polcanova jumping from #16 to #11, just behind Germany's Petrissa Solja as the top two Europeans. The top three men remain unchanged (China's Xu Xin, Ma Long, and Fan Zhendong), but Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov moved from #6 to #4. This knocked Zhang Jike down to #5, which is surprising for the guy who keeps winning the Worlds and Olympics, and is generally acknowledged to be the best in the world, at least in a big tournament. With the rise of Ovtcharov, the question for the upcoming World Teams is if he and Timo Boll (world #9, former #1) along with Patrick Baum (#21) and Bastian Steger (#27), can challenge the Chinese.

Chinese Team Members Play with Poly Balls

Here's an article in Chinese (with an English translation here) about Chinese team members playing with the new poly balls. The four players competing with it were Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Fan Zhendong.

Kim Taek Soo: No Regrets

Here's the article from Table Tennista.

World Championships Promo

Here's the video (1:03) from the ITTF for the upcoming Worlds in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

Table Tennis Joke Ties

Here they are (along with some tennis ones), the perfect gift!

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April 3, 2014

Table Tennis Niches and Groups

Have you noticed that there are a number of people in table tennis who have their own "niches"? I'm a prime example; while there are plenty of other table tennis coaches around, none write anywhere near as much as I do, so my table tennis niche is writing. (Six books and over 1300 published articles on table tennis, plus this blog.) Who are the others? (This doesn't imply that this is all they do in table tennis; it's what they do that stands out, that few others do.) Anyone and any niches that I missed?

  • Tim Boggan's table tennis niche is history. (He had others before, but this is what he mostly does now.) Mike Babuin and Scott Gordon are following in his footsteps. (Scott earlier found his niche as the main leader for many years in hardbat table tennis, so does he qualify for two niches?)
  • Mike Mezyan's table tennis niche is artwork.
  • Brian Pace's table tennis niche is videos. Jim Butler has recently been joining him in this niche. So has Gerry Chua and a number of others.
  • There are a number who have found their niche as table tennis photographers. They include Mal Anderson, Gerry Chua, Diego Schaaf, Bruce Liu, Tom Nguyen, and the others I accidentally left off who will be angrily emailing me shortly. Then there's Ayoade Ademakinwa, with tabletennisphotos.com.
  • Richard Lee's niche is running nationwide tournaments. Plenty of others run tournaments, but few others run big ones all over the country. Craig Krum also runs a lot of tournaments around the country with his Omnipong software.
  • Scott Preiss, Adam Bobrow and Judah Friedlander are the table tennis entertainers.

There are other niches as well, but most have larger numbers - I'd call them groups instead. To how many of the following 50 table tennis groups do you belong?

  1. Player
  2. Top Player
  3. Olympian
  4. Paralympic player
  5. Paralympian
  6. USATT Member
  7. USATT Officer, Committee Member, or Staff
  8. Coach
  9. Practice Partner
  10. Umpire
  11. Referee
  12. Club Owner
  13. Club President
  14. Club Officer
  15. Tournament Director
  16. 4- or 5-star Tournament Director
  17. League Director
  18. Promoter
  19. Volunteer
  20. Writer
  21. Historian
  22. Artist
  23. Videographer
  24. Photographer
  25. Entertainer (includes those doing exhibitions)
  26. Forum Member
  27. Forum Troll
  28. Mini-Cadet (Under 13)
  29. Cadet (under 15)
  30. Junior (under 18)
  31. Top Junior (any age group)
  32. Senior (over 40)
  33. Esquire (over 50)
  34. Senior Esquire (over 60)
  35. Veteran (over 70)
  36. Top Senior (any age group)
  37. Hardbat player
  38. Sandpaper player
  39. Long Pips player
  40. Antispin player
  41. Short pips player
  42. Inverted both sides player
  43. Lefty player
  44. Penhold player
  45. Seemiller grip player
  46. Player who trains regularly
  47. Player who takes coaching regularly
  48. Player who only plays matches
  49. Has played U.S. Open or Nationals
  50. Other

Larry Hodges Books

I finally put together a simple page where I can list and sell all of my books: larryhodgesbooks.com. It actually takes you to a page I created here at TableTennisCoaching.com. I'm not sure why I didn't do this long ago - I bought the larryhodgesbooks.com domain name a while back.

National College Championships

The USA National Collegiate Championships are this weekend, April 4-6, Fri-Sun, in Monroeville, PA. Here's their home page, and here's where they will have results. They will also have live-streaming, starting 9:30AM on Friday, which is why I'm letting you know now so you can schedule it for tomorrow! (I'll repost this note again tomorrow as a reminder.)

Werner Schlager Meets Wang Liqin in Shanghai

Here's the article. No, it's not a rematch of their famous quarterfinal match at the 2003 Worlds!

"…you make it that much easier for me to beat you."

Here's a nice table tennis meme. The title above is only the ending of the meme's statement.

ITTF Legends Tour Teaser

Here's the video (38 sec).

Ovtcharov vs. Mizutani

Here's video (1:07:29) of the final of the German Open this past weekend, won by Dimitrij Ovtcharov over Jun Mizutani, 11-9 in the fifth. Jump to 1:04:20 to see the start of the last point of the match - a great one! Or watch the entire thing.

Ten Cool and Unusual Ping Pong Table Designs From Around the World

Here's the page from Uberpong. I think I posted this once before, but I was browsing it yesterday and thought I'd put it up again. I don't think the first one was there before, the one with the brick wall and barbed wire! It'll take a lot of topspin to pull the ball down over that - or would you tactically play through the barbed wire? I don't think I covered this in my tactics book.

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April 2, 2014

Oldest and Youngest Players in USATT

Mel Ketchel, age 91, is a regular at MDTTC. He comes in almost daily to play with others and with the robot, and regularly plays in our leagues. He asked me a few days ago if he entered the U.S. Open or Nationals, would USATT add an Over 90 event. I'd like to see it

It got me thinking - who are the oldest players in USATT? Technically Mel doesn't qualify, as he last played a tournament in 2002 and his membership expired in 2003. So I went to the USATT Ratings Page, and did some checking, using the Customizable Members Lists tool. This is what I found, where I searched only for USATT members who played in a tournament since January of 2013.

It has Madhu Vinod Diwakar of North Carolina, rated 1949, as being 114 years old!!! Now that's pretty good for your average supercentenarian, and it's recent, since he played a tournament in January. I'm guessing that somehow USATT has his age wrong.  (Actually, he's rated 1950, but because of confusion by some people over whether a 1950 player is eligible for an Under 1950 event, USATT automatically takes off and stores for later one point for anyone with a rating ending in 00 or 50. Meaning that in USATT ratings, 1950 is less than 1950!)

How about youngest member? According to the listings, we have two players under age one (!): Mohammed Khan of Tennessee, rated 1745, and Marijan Tomas of Vermont, rated 1356. That's going to be one impressive Under One Final at the U.S. Open when these two babies play! Okay, USATT probably has their birthdays wrong.

Table Tennis April Fools' Jokes

As most readers (but not all!) figured out, my posting yesterday on Tongue Training was an April Fools' joke. (If the subject wasn't enough to convince you, then read the first letter of each line in the first paragraph!) The posting was picked up and linked to in a number of places.

Maybe there is something to it. While you don't need to train your tongue (!), it is important to keep the muscle relaxed, including facial ones. Some players make faces every time they hit a shot, and while they get away with it, it might be a symptom of stress. More relaxed players don't usually make such faces. If you are the type who grimaces every time you take a shot, then perhaps you need to relax a bit more when you play.

I do such April Fools' jokes in my blog every year. Here are past ones in my blog:

  • April 1, 2011 - 13-year-old makes Chinese National Team - attacking with long pips on both sides.
  • April 2, 2012 - Wang Liqin is Coming to Maryland. And he's also a science fiction writer! And his son's a star! (April 1 fell on a Sunday, so I did this on Monday)
  • April 1, 2013 - 12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup.

I did another April Fools' joke on one of our kids yesterday. We have an afterschool program at MDTTC, and every day, Mon-Fri, I leave my house at 2:30PM to pick up kids from local schools. We have it scheduled so I never have to pick up more than two at a time so I can get them to practice quickly. Yesterday one of the two came down sick so I only had to pick up one, a 10-year-old who's one of the best in the U.S. for his age, and one of the most dedicated. (He made me promise not to use his name.) When I picked him up he was expecting I'd pick up one other kid and then go to the club. Instead, I told him how lucky we were - two more kids were joining us, so we'd be picking three others, all from different schools. Normally we'd get to the club around 3:35PM or so, but I estimated we'd get there around 4:20PM. He went into a panic about how he was missing practice time, and was so frustrated he didn't notice that when I pulled out of his school, instead of turning right to pick up the next kid, I turned left and went directly to highway 270, which takes us to the club. It wasn't until we were on 270 for five minutes that he looked around, and suddenly said, "Where are we? This isn't the way to pick up the others!" Then he figured it out. The fact that it bothered him so much that he'd be late for practice says he's going to be a very good player someday.

There were other table tennis April Fools' Jokes yesterday. I linked to one yesterday from Table Tennis Nation, Table Tennis Named the Official Sport of the United States. Others I found during the day included JOOLA's Chop Blade, and Uberpong's Ping Pong Social Club Launch. (The latter is even talked about at BigCommerce.com.)

Sports Illustrated

The April 7 issue of Sports Illustrated comes out today. It should feature Crystal Wang in the "Faces in the Crowd" section. The online version will go up next Monday.

ITTF Voice of Table Tennis Contest

You can still enter. Deadline has been extended to April 8.

Fan Zhendong Is Now the Focus of the Main Players

Here's the article.

64-year-old Paralympian Overcomes Challenge After Challenge

Here's the article on Stuart Caplin, a member of the USA Paralympic Team, who has overcome polio and paralysis on the left side of his body.

Top Ten Shots from the ITTF World Tour German Open

Here's the video (5:10).

Lupi vs. Johnny

Here's a video (2:10) from 2004 showing Ilija Lupulesku vs. Johnny Huang. Lupulesku was top twenty in the world (and may have reached top ten - not sure), while Huang was top ten. Lupulesku plays a somewhat soft off-table topspin game, while Huang was the last of the great hitters - a shakehander with short pips on both sides.

The Outdoor Table Tennis Season Has Begun (in NYC)

Here's the video.

Cartoon Cats Playing Pong

Here's the gif image!

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April 1, 2014

Tongue Training
Anyone watching TT videos regularly can see that most top
players make use of their tongue. Most assume this is just a
reaction to stress, or a side effect of the effort going into the shot.
It's much more than that. In fact, proper use of the tongue is just
like using any other part of the body in a shot. I'd argue that 
for most, proper use of the tongue is central to the shot. Sure, it
only weighs two to two and a half ounces, but its usage must be
orchestrated properly or you will lose power and control. When
looping, improper use of the tongue can be disastrous.

Chinese theory on this is quite different from European. Most
European coaches believe the tongue should be held more or
less rigid inside the mouth, believing that this maximizes balance.
However, most Chinese coaches believe it should be used to
maximize power when looping. In some ways, it's like the wrist -
for years, many coaches thought the wrist should be held rigid
during power shots, but then some coaches decided it should be
used for extra power, and they were correct. Similarly, Chinese
coaches theorize that the tongue, when used in conjunction with
the rest of the body, can add power. To do so requires proper
timing and training of the tongue.

On forehand loops, the tongue must start in the right side of the
mouth. (This is for righties; lefties reverse.) As the player rotates
into the shot he uses his legs, hips, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist.
The tongue should coil backward and snap into the shot as the
shoulders rotate into the shot, adding extra power as the player
throws his arm into the shot.

On backhand loops, the tongue should start in the bottom of the
mouth. As the player powers into the shot with their lower body
the tongue should snap into the shot, adding extra power as the
player throws the upper body and arm into the shot.

Physical training is extremely important to high-level training, and
most top juniors now incorporate tongue training into this. For
power, they do isometric training, where they alternately press the
tongue into the top, bottom, and both sides of the mouth, three times
in each direction, holding it for ten seconds. For stretching, the tongue
is extended out as far as possible, then up, then down, then to each
side, again doing it three times each for ten seconds. This is similar to
how the Chinese train, although their full-time players do considerably
more physical training, including more tongue exercises.

So if you want to reach your potential in table tennis, train your tongue,
and watch the wins pile up! Here are pictures of Germany's
Thomas Schmidberger and Stefan Schmidt doing tongue stretches,
which they learned while training in China with teammates Timo Boll
and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's China's Wang Hao uncorking a backhand
loop, with his tongue coiled in the bottom of his mouth, about to snap
into the shot - note how the lower lip is pulled in over the tongue.
Here's Ui Young Park of South Korea snapping his tongue into his
forehand. And here's MDTTC junior star John Elson doing tongue
stretches on the MDTTC sofa.

Beginning/Intermediate Class
In my Beginning/Intermediate Class last night we focused on smashing
and on return of serve. These are two of my favorite topics as they are
strengths of mine. I got to demonstrate smash after smash with assistant
coach John Hsu, who returned them over and over, both blocking and
fishing. Later I gave a probably-too-long lecture on return of serve.
One of the things I stress in such classes is that even if they can't do the
things I'm teaching right now, or even in the near future, it's something
to strive for later on. After the class most of the students stayed on and
practiced for over an hour.

The lecture on receive was divided into three parts: How to return short
serves (pushes and flips); How to return deep serves (this one was very
short - you attack them, mostly by looping); and How to read spin.
(Here's my Tip of the Week: Reading Service Spin.)

Three Things Ma Long Can Learn from Fan Zhendong (and You Too!)
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Classes at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria
Here's info.

"All My Body Aches"
That's what Dimitrij Ovtcharov said after winning the German Open. Here's the article.

Tony Yeap Prepares for Nationals
Here's a video (3:14) showing Tony as he prepares for the College Nationals.

Table Tennis Named the Official Sport of the United States
Here's the article.
***
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March 31, 2014

Tip of the Week

Get the Right Feel.

Friday Camp

It was a busy weekend of coaching, though strangely not as busy as usual as I had Sunday morning off for a change, due to a pair of out-of-town students. However, that was offset by our one-day camp on Friday, where I coached from 10AM to 6PM. Schools were closed that day for "Professional Day."

We had another snowstorm on Sunday afternoon, with about 2-3 inches here in Germantown - enough is enough!!! It's been "Spring" for eleven days now. (Hmmm . . . "days now" is one space away from "day snow," which is what happened yesterday.) I'm personally contacting the beings responsible and putting a stop to this. There will be no more snow here in Maryland until December.  

Here's a funny incident that took place during the Friday camp. I called a bunch of the beginning kids together to teach them how to serve. My first question to the seven in the group (ages 6-9) was, "How many of you know how to serve?" Nearly all of them raised their hands. So I asked for volunteers to show how to serve. I wish I had a video of what followed as we got sort of a who's who for every stereotypical illegal basement serve possible!!! One kid did the typical basement serve where he bounced the ball on the table and then hit it directly over the net. One kid reached way over the table to get as close to the net as he could to serve. One simply tossed the ball up and hit it directly to the other side of the table. All but one of them grabbed the ball with their fingertips.

Only one of the kids knew how to actually serve somewhat legal - he'd come to a few of my group sessions - but even he didn't come to a complete stop, cupped his hand severely, and hit the ball in front of the end-line. I'm not picky about the serving rules with beginning kids, so the main focus after this was to get them to serve just roughly legal. I didn't enforce the ball in the palm of the hand, as younger kids have trouble with that, and if contact was sometimes made an inch over the table, so be it. They'll learn better as they play more. For now, I just wanted them to be able to get the ball in play, which is surprisingly difficult for younger kids when they first start out.

However, even if they were struggling just to get the serve in play, one of the things I always like to do is show beginners advanced serves, so they realize there's a lot more to learn than just getting the ball in play. I show them a few spin serves, and they are hooked - they want to learn to do that. So after they had practiced basic serves for a while I called them together and gave them a demo of spin serves - backspin serves that came back into the net (to a chorus of "Woh!"), sidespin serves that broke sharply, and topspin serves that jumped. Then I let them take turns trying to return the serves, giving them mostly spin serves, an occasional speed serve, and (when I was feeling diabolical) a high backspin serve that bounced directly back to my side of the table. (I then showed them how to hit this serve for a winner by standing to the side of the table.)

I brought out the colored soccer balls so they could see the spin I was putting on the balls, and had them try to spin the balls off their rackets for practice. At this point they all wanted to learn to put spin on their serves, and even the ones who had never served before were soon trying to serve with backspin - and all of them got at least a semblance of spin on their serves. A few also spent time trying to serve fast serves.

Table Tennis Tips

My new book, "Table Tennis Tips," will be out by the end of April. It's a compilation of all 150 Tips of the Week I wrote every Monday from January 2011 to December 2013, organized in logical progression. It's basically done, both the text and covers, but it's being proofed by a few people before I finalize it.

Tournament Table Tennis

Here's a new video (2:04) that previews Brian Pace's new upcoming video, Tournament Table Tennis. The preview, which has some nice comparisons to martial arts, starts off with a compilation of some scary forehand loops by Brian, and then highlights the techniques used with spoken quotes from Bruce Lee.

Highlights of the U.S. Team Qualifiers

Jim Butler, who has gone from table tennis star to muscle expert to video expert (and still a table tennis star - he made the U.S. team again!) put together highlight videos for all eight players who qualified for the USA Team at the USA Team Trials. They are all linked (along with lots of other videos) at the USA Table Tennis Video page. Included are videos featuring Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu, Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, and Jim Butler. There's also a 2014 US World's Men's Team Highlights video (14:25).

Amazing Point at Para South American Games

Here's the video (1:07) of this great point.

Spring Break Training

Here's video (1:41) of Sean O'Neill's daughter Kaitlyn in training, set to the Oscar-winning song "Let it Go." Most impressive thing to me as a coach: she keeps her free hand up, allowing balance, which leads to easier moving as well as shoulder turn on the forehand. This is one of those little things that younger kids have trouble doing unless you keep reminding them. Oh, and the thumbs up at the end of each segment was nice!

Youngest ITTF World Tour Winners

Here's the article on a pair of 13-year-olds from Japan that won Women's Doubles at the German Open (Mima Ito and Miu Hirano). The picture of their faces was taken when they were told they had won $5000.

New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff and Table Tennis

Here's an article in the Washington Post on Mankoff that features his love for table tennis. Here's the opening paragraph: "Bob Mankoff does more than like ping-pong. He is a man in efficient and focused motion as his paddle smacks each reply with the precision of a punch line. Bap. A forehand sharp as a verbal half-volley. Boop. A backhanded ball cut as thin as a slice-of-life joke. Bam. The clean put-away that requires an almost silly degree of exertion on what he says is a laughably small field of play. But then, this is what Mankoff has been doing most of his comedic career, too: Creating inventive angles and sly spins and rhythmic tricks with relentless attention to detail, as if necessity were the Jewish mother of invention."

Concrete Outdoor Ping Pong Tables Soon to Adorn NYC Parks

Here's the article.

Double-Bladed Paddle

Remember the double-bladed light saber used by Darth Maul in Star Wars 1? (Hey, forget about Jar Binks already!) Well, here's a double-bladed ping-pong paddle! I want one….

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March 28, 2014

Longest Rally

On Monday I blogged about the new record for longest rally at 8 hrs 40 min 10 sec. Not so fast!!! Apparently Richard Bowling and Rich DeWitt rallied for 10 hrs 9 min back in 1983, and it was published as the record in the 1984 Guinness Book of World Records. Here's a video about it (3:13). I emailed Richard about it. Here is his response, which he gave me permission to post:

Yes we are in the 1984 edition of the GWR book. Unfortunately they don't do due diligence in cross referencing a previous record when someone 'breaks a new record'.

And funny about the new record, it's almost the same as the record we aimed to beat, which was 8hrs, 33 min. And yes ours was 10hrs, 9min.

Rich's father contacted GW a year or two ago. And they replied that we would need more 'proof' since standards at that time were lower, etc. A silly argument really. Their book should be proof enough.

Plus we submitted, in 1984, a notarized log book of dozen of witnesses. And always had people present in room at the YWCA, while the record was broken. Including the media occasionally. And were covered in a half dozen newspapers, plus television in CT.

Also, last July I created a youtube video as a 30yr tribute to our record. Youtube: "609 Minutes".  And take a look at the shorter version: 2:34 min.

I haven't decided if I want to launch a protest with GWR myself. At the moment busy selling Joola tables full-time, and part-time doing a life coaching business.

What's your record for shots in a row? Why not set aside some time to see how many forehands and backhands you can hit? It helps a bit in ingraining a precise stroke, but even more it ingrains a strong mental game - if you can focus for extended drills, you can do so in a match; it's far more mental than physical. I occasionally have my students see how many they can hit in a row as a mental exercise.

I have a student, Sameer, who a year or so ago when he was 11 and a semi-beginner was struggling to hit 100 forehands in a row. Twice he reached 95+ and missed. Then he reached 100 - and we continued and he did 1000 in a row! (I did about 1500 in a row.) I caught the ball after 1000 and said that was enough, and he agreed, and now we're moving on to bigger things. But think about that - he struggled to reach 100, then the first time he did, he hit another 900 in a row. It was all mental.

I remember that Sean O'Neill, back when he was about nine, had to start many of his sessions with his coach by hitting 1000 forehands in a row.

I've done it a few times myself. Back in 1978 when I was 18 (and about 1800) while hitting with Ben Nisbet at a Seemiller camp in Pittsburgh, Coach Dan Seemiller had a contest to see who could hit the most forehands. Because Ben was left-handed, I played backhand to his forehand. We started shortly before noon, but at noon, as everyone stopped to go to lunch, I was still going. Most of the players left for lunch, but we kept going. When they returned afterwards, I was still going. I ended up hitting 2755 backhands in a row - easy to remember since it's exactly 2000 more than home runs hit by Hank Aaron! I'm guessing we hit for about an hour or so. Ben only missed three shots during that time, and had at least one streak of over 1000.

Back in 2000 at a Zoran Kosonovic camp I drilled with Scott Butler, who was then 12 years old and already rated 2183. I was 20 and rated only 2002, but was about to shoot up to 2150 or so. I did side-to-side forehand footwork for 15 minutes straight (yes, 15 minutes!), then Scott did it for 15 minutes - and I didn't miss a shot the entire 30 minutes. (Scott didn't miss many either.) I probably hit about 1500 shots in a row. Then, about a year ago, I had a one-hour lesson with a beginner, and went the entire hour without missing a shot. When he realized this toward the end he tried smacking a few shots past me, but I got them back!

So I've had a few long rallies, but nothing close to the eight or ten hours these other players have done. I might have to put that on my bucket list.

One-Day Training Camp

Schools are closed today - Professional Day - so we have a one-day camp at MDTTC, 10AM-6PM. So that's where I'll be spending my day! We do have a two-hour lunch break, so I might get some writing done. More likely I'll be recruited to take the kids to 7-11.

Want to Sell Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers?

If so, contact me for wholesale prices for various quantities. The book has gotten nice reviews on Amazon and sells pretty well. And if you haven't bought it yourself yet, what are you waiting for??? (Do you really want to face opponents in tournaments who have read the book, while you haven't, you poor devil?)

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Just a reminder that there are two upcoming ITTF coaching courses coming up this summer - don't forget to make plans!

Spider-Man's Andrew Garfield Plays Table Tennis

Here's the article and pictures.

Ping-Pong vs. Table Tennis

Here's the comparison.

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