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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!!!

May 19, 2014

Tip of the Week

Why to Systematically Practice Receive.

Return to Ready After Forehand Attack

During the Potomac Open this past weekend there was an interesting match that illustrated this. One was a lefty rated over 2400, the other about 2300. The lefty kept serving breaking serves to the righty's wide forehand. The righty would move to his wide forehand and loop these crosscourt to the lefty's backhand. Over and over the lefty would quick-block these to the righty's backhand, and the righty was caught out of position over and over. At first glance it would seem the righty just wasn't fast enough, that the lefty was just too quick. And so the lefty won the first two games.

But then a strange thing happened. I was commenting to some players sitting next to me how the righty was looping off his back foot when he looped these serves, and so finishing off balance. This kept him from getting a quick start to cover his backhand. But sometime in the third game, completely on his own, the player figured this out. The key was to get his right foot wider on the receive so he could push off it, and then he could use the momentum of his own forehand follow-through to help move himself back into position. Two things happened because of this. First, by getting his right foot farther out he was able to push into the shot harder, thereby getting more speed and spin on his loop, which gave the lefty problems. Second, and more importantly, he was now following through into position, and was set for those quick blocks to his wide backhand.

There's a video (which I just spent ten minutes unsuccessfully searching for) of Werner Schlager making this exact same adjustment to a player at the World Hopes Week in Austria a year or two ago. I remember it as several people commented that he was messing up the kid's technique. Actually, what Werner had done was show the kid, one of the top 12-year-olds in the world, how to follow-through back into position so he'd be ready for the next shot. It's one of those little things that many players don't understand, thinking only about the current shot, and not worrying about the next one. (EDIT - here's the 50-sec video I referred to above, care of Daniel Ring in the comments below. Notice how the kid forehand loops very well, but tends to stay in one position when he's moved wide? Werner shows him how to follow through back into position.) 

How often have you attacked with your forehand from the backhand side, only to get caught when your opponent quick-blocked to your wide forehand? (Or the reverse, attacked from the wide forehand, and got caught on the wide backhand, as discussed above?) Most often the problem isn't being too slow; it's finishing the forehand shot off balance, which dramatically slows down how fast you can recover back into position. The most common situation is a player steps around the backhand corner to use the forehand, but is rushed, and so ends up following through too much to his left (for a righty), leaving him wide open for the next shot. Instead, when attacking from a wide corner, whenever possible try to follow-through right back into position, and you'll be surprised at how much easier it is to recover for the next shot, even if it's quick-blocked to the far corner.  

World Veterans Championships

They were held May 14-17 in Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, video, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There were 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

Here are the results. Do a search for if you want to see how players from a specific country did (for example, "USA"). Charlene Xiaoying Liu, who is from my club, finished third in Over 60 women, losing deuce in the fifth to the eventual winner (who would win the final easily 3-0). Charlene was actually up 10-8 match point in the fifth, alas, but struggled her opponent's serve at the end.

Alameda Table Tennis Club Offering Elementary School Kids $20,000 in Ping Pong Scholarships

Here's the article - wow!

Lily Yip Selected as USA Youth Olympic Games Coach

Here's the article.

Kagin Lee's Blog

Tokyo Recap, Part One. (Kagin is a member of the board of directors for USATT and National College Table Tennis Association.)

Cary, NC to Open 25,000 Square Foot Table Tennis Facility

Here's the article (on their home page). Here are some pictures of the new Triangle Table Tennis Center.

ITTF Has as Many National Associations as Any Sport

Here's the article. They now have 220 members, which equals the International Volleyball Federation.

ICC Table Tennis Fund-Raiser

Here's the article.

How to Choose a Table Tennis Bat

Here's the new video from PingSkills (14:45).

Best of Ma Lin

Here's the Video (3:13).

Circular Table Tennis

Here's the picture! I think I once ran a similar picture, but this one really shows how the "sport" is played!

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May 16, 2014

What to Do at Age 18?

I've blogged in the past about how the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the cadet level (under 15) is the highest we've ever had, due to the rise of full-time training centers all over the country over the past eight years. It's gotten ridiculously good. It's a group that any country outside China could be proud of. And in three years this group of players will be competing as juniors (under 18), and the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the junior level will be the highest we've ever had. And a few years after that they'll hit their peak as players, and the level and depth of play in the U.S. will be the highest we've ever had, right? 

But there's one problem. What's going to happen when they all turn 18?

Case in point. Over the last few years we've watched Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang develop as probably the two best junior girls in our modern history. Ariel is currently #81 in the world and has been as high as #73. She was the youngest USA Nationals Women's Singles Champion when she won in 2010, and she repeated in 2011 and 2013. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #4 in the world in both Under 15 and Under 18 Girls. Lily recently shot up to #66 in the world. She won women's singles at the 2012 USA Nationals at age 16. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #2 in the world in Under 15 Girls and #5 in Under 18 Girls. 

But Ariel is now 18, and is attending Princeton. She didn't even try out for our last National Team because she was busy with school. Lily will be 18 next month, and is going to University of California at Berkeley. She didn't even attend our last USA Nationals because she was busy with school. They are still training, but let's face it; they are no longer training full-time as before. In contrast, all over Asia and Europe players like Ariel and Lily are training full-time. Part-time can't compete with full-time. 

The same has happened on the men's side. Michael Landers won men's singles at the 2009 USA Nationals at age 15, and improved dramatically in the three years after that. Peter Li won men's singles at the 2011 USA Nationals at age 17. Both of them hit age 18 and went to college, and their levels both dropped dramatically. The same is true of a long list of other elite juniors. I remember just a few years ago when three players from my club (MDTTC) were #1, #2, and #5 in the country in Under 18 Boys - Peter Li, Marcus Jackson, and Amaresh Sahu. All three went to college when they turned 18, and so none reached the level they might have reached if they'd continued a few more years.

Who knows how good these players might have been if they had continued training full-time into their 20s?

Unless something happens in the next few years, in about five years we will be looking back and asking ourselves, "What happened?" We had all these up-and-coming kids, and the future was bright. Instead, we'll have the strongest group of college table tennis players in our history. While that's a very good thing from one point of view (and it would be great if table tennis were to become a big college sport with scholarships in the best colleges all over the country, but that's a separate topic), it's not a good thing if we're trying to develop athletes who can compete at the highest levels. Excluding China, this generation really has the potential to someday compete with anyone. (Perhaps we'll be world college champions circa 2020?)

There is little money in our sport. So what's the long-term benefit for these kids to continue to train full-time? Sure, there's the usual incentives, such as being National Champion and making the U.S. Olympic Team, and . . . um . . . well, that's about it. (How much do these pay?) So yes, unless something changes, it'll be another "lost" generation. Sure, some will continue, and we'll almost for certain have stronger teams than we do now, but nothing like what it could be. Perhaps our men will improve from #53 in the world to top 20, but they could be top five or better. Perhaps our women will improve from #21 to top ten, but they could be top five or better. (With Ariel together with Lily and Prachi Jha, they already are close to top ten level - #16, according to the ITTF team rankings based on individual ranking.) And you know something? If you can reach top five, you can make the final of the World Championships. (We're not ready for China yet, but we'll worry about that when we actually have a top five team.) 

Ironically, in the past when we had fewer truly elite juniors, the ones that were elite were often more likely to focus on table tennis because, by U.S. standards, they were truly "elite." They would train full-time well into their twenties before moving on to college or other work. Now these same elite cadets and juniors are just another in a pack of them, and so they don't feel they are truly "elite," and so are less likely to continue training full-time. And so they go to college rather than train full-time for a few more years. (Just to be clear, I'd urge them all to go to college, but there's nothing wrong with putting it off a few years, even into their mid-20s for a truly elite player. Some might decide to stay with the sport and become professional coaches, which actually pays pretty well.) We have standouts like Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang and a few others, but will they continue when they hit college age? (The financial outlook for women players is even bleaker, since many tournaments have an open singles instead of men's and women's singles.)

What can we do? There has been regular discussions over the years on the idea of setting up professional leagues or circuits, and develop a core group of pro USA players who would travel about competing in these professional leagues or circuits. It's been a serious topic of discussion since I first got active in table tennis in 1976. And there have been attempts by a few to make something like this happen, from the American All-Star Circuit that we used to have in the U.S. to the current North American Tour. The latter has potential, but without major sponsors there isn't nearly enough money, and the money that is there mostly goes to players from China. There's nothing wrong with these Chinese players winning money, but it means there's little chance a U.S. player can make enough money to afford to play in such a circuit - especially since it's often part-time U.S. players pitted against full-time Chinese players.

Do the Chinese raise the level of play for USA players? Potentially yes. But if our top juniors quit and go to college right when they begin approaching the level needed to compete with these Chinese players, it's wasted. Equally important, when approaching college age, it's tough for a USA player to look at table tennis as a professional career when nearly all the money goes to foreign players living in the U.S., which doesn't leave much for prospective professional USA players. (Some argue that the USA players shouldn't avoid playing tournaments where they'd have to play these elite full-time foreign players, but that's easier to say when you aren't the one spending huge amounts of time and money on your training, and are looking at losing another $500 on a tournament just so you can lose to one of them. There needs to be a balance if we want to give USA players incentive.) 

Bottom line? "Serious talk" on this topic isn't really serious anymore until someone actually does something. Real action is needed. USATT wants to get sponsors but doesn't really have a serious product to sell. (They've tried for many years.) I've argued they should focus on developing our product with regional leagues (as is done all over Europe) and coaching programs, and sell that to sponsors, but that didn't interest them. Perhaps something a bit more elite-oriented would be more enticing, since USATT (with USOC encouragement and funding) is more focused on elite development than grassroots development. 

Why not have USATT partner with the North American Tour or some other group, and assign the incoming USATT CEO to focus on selling sponsorship for that Tour? Isn't the purpose of USATT to improve table tennis in the United States? USATT is the national governing body for the sport in this country, and so has a great platform to sell from, if they only had something lucrative to sell - and here's a natural product.

The goal would be to create a truly Professional Tour, where U.S. players could actually make a living, while bringing regular exposure to the sponsor. (Perhaps the circuit tournaments would have both an Open event and an All-Star American event for U.S. citizens. Or it could be citizens only.) The circuit is already there as a product, it just needs more money. Once we have such a professional circuit, there are other ways to bring in money - spectators, TV, and so on - and what sponsor wouldn't want to be the national sponsor for something like this if we show it has potential to truly take off?  We can do this, and have a good chance to dramatically improve table tennis in the United States. Or we can continue to talk and do the same old things we always do - nothing. 

U.S. Open Blog - Deadlines! Deadlines!

Here's the latest U.S. Open blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. Want to play in the U.S. Open? Deadline without penalty is this Sunday, May 18. After that there's a $75 penalty, with no entries accepted after Sunday, May 25.

"The Ping Pong Man"

Here's an article and video (3:09) on table tennis Globetrotter Scott Preiss, and his visit to Beaverton, Oregon.

International News

Lots of articles at Tabletennista (including one on Ma Long undefeated at the last two World Team Championships) and at the ITTF page.

2014 U.S. Para European Update

Here's the video report (2:02), from the bus, by Tahl Leibovitz, with Wayne Lo and others.

The Best Scoring System for Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:39) from PingSkills in PingPod 38.

Round Table with Spinning Net

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation

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May 15, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my day yesterday. After writing my blog in the morning, I spent some time inputting edits for my new Table Tennis Tips book. (They are from four people who proofed the book. More on them soon.) I've been working on this on and off for the last couple of weeks, and hope to finalize it by tomorrow - we'll see. Finalizing it has been a bigger job than I thought, and I've sometimes put it aside for a day or so to work on other stuff. (I'm also doing some science fiction work, but I won't get into that here.)

At 2:30PM, as I do Mon-Fri, I left to pick up kids for our afterschool program. My first pickup is at 3:05, and by leaving at 2:30 I get to his school around 2:50PM. Why do I go this early? Two reasons. 1) In case there's traffic, I don't want to be late; and 2) I've taken to doing the Washington Post crossword puzzle while parked at his school, waiting for him to come out. It's great fun, and I'm able to do the entire thing about half the time, though not always in the 15 minutes there. I may blog about table tennis and crossword puzzles later on - there are a number of connections.

After picking up the 3:05 player I picked up a second one at another school five minutes later, and then we were off to the club. It wasn't one of the more fun pickups as the two bickered back and forth the entire trip. Finally, after arriving at the club I was to hit with one of them (age 7) for 30 minutes, and then do 20-30 minutes of school work with him. Unfortunately, perhaps primed by the bickering in the car, he wasn't happy and let's just say it wasn't one of the better sessions, both the table tennis and the academics. And yet, he played surprisingly well. At one point he hit about 100 forehands in a row (his most ever), but he was oblivious to it as the entire time he was voicing his displeasure with all the work he was being forced to do (especially school), and how much he wanted to play video games instead!

I had two more one-hour sessions. The first was with a nine-year-old, about 1500 level. I've mentioned him before - he likes to lob, and does so at a surprisingly high level. But in recent weeks he's become more determined to develop his attack. His backhand right now is a little better than his forehand, but when he gets going, his forehand looping can be pretty strong. The problem is he tends to change strokes every few shots as he constantly experiments. That's good and bad, but at this state in his development, mostly bad. He likes to swing from the side to get lots of sidespin, but this leads to a rather long and cumbersome stroke without much power. He also likes to switch back and forth every few shots from looping close to the table, then off the table, then back to the table again. Great ball control, but he's not going to develop real precision on his shots this way.

We spent the first 45 minutes of the session on just forehand and backhand looping, including footwork. (He can spin his backhand both close to the table and from off the table.) Then we worked on his serves for five minutes. (He practices these at home, and always has new "show and tell" serves to show me. Currently he's working hard on his reverse pendulum serve.) We were going to play games at the end, but he wanted to counterloop, so we finished that way - though half the counterlooping rallies ended with him lobbing, which is what he really likes to do. He's gotten pretty good at sidespin lobbing from the side, where I hit the ball as wide to his forehand as I can.

The second session was with a 12-year-old who's about 1700 now. He's developing a very strong forehand loop, with fast footwork. His backhand is coming along, but isn't quite as dominating yet, partly because he's constantly looking to play forehand. I wanted to focus on his backhand this session, but his forehand was looking so strong at the start I decided to focus on that the first half of the session, to bring it to a new level. After a bunch of regular forehand and footwork drills against my block, and some multiball, I introduced him to a new drill, an improvised multiball drill I've blogged about before. I put a basket of balls near me. I serve backspin to his backhand, he pushes to my backhand, I forehand loop down the line to his forehand, and he counterloops a winner. As he's doing this, I reach for the next ball and repeat. It's a rapid-fire way to develop a winning counterloop against an opponent's opening shot. At the start I did medium-speed loops, which he was pretty good against. He kept asking me to loop harder, and so I increased the pace, and he did pretty well. It's important in this drill to go at a pace where the player is consistent so he can develop good habits that'll carry over into matches, when you don't know where the ball is going to go. Then I challenged him with very slow, spinny loops, dropping them short on the table. These are especially hard to counterloop, and he had trouble at first, but picked up on it soon.

Then we began work on this backhand. After some straight backhand-to-backhand rallies, I began moving him around, stressing the idea that if you cover only 1/3 of the table with your backhand, you should practice covering 1/2, which will make it easy to cover the 1/3. We did multiball so he could rapid-fire backhand loop against backspin. I also looped to his backhand so he could work on blocking. Then we did another multiball drill where I rapid-fire grabbed balls and looped them at him randomly over the whole table, and he had to aggressively block backhands or counterloop on the forehand. (Later I'll have him spin the backhands when he blocks as well.)

We finished with a series of games. I think he was a little disappointed that he wasn't able to play his forehand in game situations as well as in drills, but as I explained to him (and have blogged about), it takes perhaps six months to incorporate into games what you can do in practice. (I have two "six-month rules." The other one is that if you improve to a higher level in practice games, it'll take about six months before you can consistently do this in tournaments. I call this one Larry's Law.)

I was done coaching for the day, but stayed after for a while to watch one of our top juniors play, since I'll be coaching him at the U.S. Open. Then I went home and started work again on the Tips book - but that's when I discovered I was just too tired to do so, and put it off until today. Yep, it's on my todo list to work on that next (after doing a few other shorter items) until I leave for today's afterschool pickups and coaching.

Serves in Slow Motion

Here's a video (7:24, from 2010) showing top players serving in slow motion. This is the only way to really see the semi-circular motion and last-second changes of direction top players use when they serve.

World Veterans Championships

They are taking place right now, May 14-17, Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, live streaming, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There are 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

College Table Tennis Class

Here's an article about USATT Coaching Chair Fede Bassetti teaching a class at Northern Illinois University.

How Much Should Table Tennis Players Make?

Here's an interesting discussion of this.

Zhang Jike's Father Furiously Disappointed

Here's the article. "I was extremely anxious watching him play that day. Bad techniques, it doesn't matter. Losing the match, it doesn't matter. But looking at his performance that day, there was no fighting spirit. Others were cheering for him but he was simply in a daze. It really worried me to death." (Should parents voice criticism like this in public?)

Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's a musical tribute video (3:43) to Lily Zhang's performance at the recent World Championships, created by Jim Butler.

Trick Serves

Here's a video (1:18) where the guys from PingSkills demonstrate a bunch of hilarious trick serves - fifty-foot serves from the side and backspin bounce-back serves.

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May 14, 2014

Scouting Report on You and Me

It's important to know your game. I've often said that if you can't write a book on your game, either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. (Here's a short Tip on that.)

It's good to look at your game from the point of view of your opponent. What would you say to an opponent if you were coaching him to play you? Now you probably don't want to make this public, but you should be aware of what a good coach would say to an opponent playing you, and from that you'll know what you need to work on. Why not write it out, and see what it tells you?

I'm retired from tournament play (except for some hardbat events - I normally use sponge), so I have less to lose on this - but I do play a lot of practice matches with students and in match sessions, so we'll see how many are reading this! So here is what I would say if I were coaching an opponent against me - except this is too long; you should limit coaching advice to two or three things at most. So normally I'd pick the two or three most important items below if I were coaching against myself. But here's the whole coaching report if you have to play me. I encourage you to memorize it for when you play me, since trying to remember all this will paralyze you when you play, and that'll make it easier for me to win. (Actually, if you have an extensive scouting report on someone you really want to beat, you can absorb more than just two or three items as long as you take them two or three at a time.)

So, you want to beat me? Here's what you do. Keep in mind that I'm 54 and not as fast as I used to be. The book on my game back then would be similar, except I was extremely good at covering the wide forehand - players went there at their own peril. But these days this strength has become a weakness. I also used to attack a lot more with the forehand from the backhand side, looking for every chance to do so in rallies, but not so much anymore. I also used to block much better, but now have trouble covering attacks to the wide corners. (This is my second consecutive blog that's basically auto-biographical. Hmmm...)

How to Play Larry Hodges

He has trouble with long backhand sidespin-type serves. His forehand loop against them is awkward, and his backhand returns are steady but soft. Mix your serves up a lot or he'll get used to them, but keep coming back to these deep backhand sidespin-type serves. He forehand loops deep pendulum serves very well, so use them sparingly, and only when you can get him to receive them with his backhand. Don't make the mistake of serving short over and over as he's very good against short serves, with short and long pushes and flips, and lots of last-second changes of direction. Don't serve short to the forehand too often as he has a good forehand flip to all parts of the table.

When he serves, beware his short side-top serves, which look like backspin. He'll also serve a lot of fast no-spin serves at your middle, and deep breaking serves to the wide backhand - you have to steady attack these, ideally with good topspin. If he serves short to the forehand, which he'll do with both pendulum and reverse pendulum serves, take it down the line to his backhand - he's waiting for a crosscourt return. When he serves short to the middle or backhand, he's usually looking to forehand attack from the backhand side, so take it quick to his wide forehand where he's often wide open.  If he serves short no-spin, attack it to the corners or drop it short as he's looking to follow with a big forehand loop. If your receives are predictable, he'll be all over them.

His backhand is soft but steady. Don't try to outlast him there. Instead, expect steady returns to your wide backhand that can be attacked with the goal to set up a chance to end the point with your presumably more powerful forehand. Since he doesn't attack well with the backhand, you don't have to guard your wide forehand much, so you can look to use your forehand from your backhand side every chance. Make sure your attacks are very wide or to the middle - he doesn't cover those well, but if you go to his middle forehand or middle backhand he's a wall and can also counter-attack those very well. He's also vulnerable to deep, spinny loops to the backhand. If you can backhand loop close to the table, he hates that. If you attack his wide forehand and then his wide backhand, he'll often be forced off the table, fishing and lobbing. If he does, attack his middle or wide backhand until you see a short ball that can be creamed to either wide corner.

In rallies, he tends to be weak on the forehand side early in the match, but it gets stronger as the match continues and he adjusts to you. If you handle his serves well and attack his forehand, that's often enough to win the first game. If he starts playing his forehand well in rallies - looping or smashing, he does both - focus on moving the ball around, to the wide corners and middle. Sometimes he just rallies everything crosscourt with his backhand, using it to cover his middle as well, and waits for you to change directions with your backhand to his wide forehand, where he's waiting. Don't fall for that trap - instead, keep attacking his wide backhand and middle, and realize that his middle in these types of rallies is actually a bit over to his forehand side. Look for chances to end the point off his weaker backhand shots, especially with your forehand. When his rally shots go short, he expects attacks to his forehand and covers it well - but often leaves the backhand side open. Quick, aggressive backhand shots that go outside his backhand corner give him fits.

If he starts attacking with his forehand, go after his wide forehand, and he'll struggle to cover it, and will likely stop playing so aggressively. His loops aren't as spinny as they look. He has a lot of motion, but not as much snap on them as they seem, so don't be afraid to counter-attack when he loops. He's an instinctive forehand attacker, but not as fast as he used to be, so he's often caught out of position when he forehand attacks, and so will end up fishing and lobbing. When you do go to his wide forehand, he likes to set up like he's going crosscourt, then at the last second rotate his shoulders back to loop a winner down the line. If you anticipate this or see it coming and make a simple block to his backhand, he'll usually start fishing. 

If you take a lead late in a game, be ready if he starts chopping. If he does, go for consistent attacks to his middle.

Finally, be flexible in your tactics. Larry will start out most matches trying to win on serves and serve & attack, and on steady rallying on your serve, where he likes to force backhand-to-backhand rallies. If this doesn't work, he'll start testing you for weaknesses. When he does this, focus on steady and well-placed attacks, and realize you are already halfway to winning as you've taken away his "A" game. If you hear him mutter something like, "I used to be able to get to that ball," or "That shot used to be so easy," that's pretty much an invitation to keep challenging him on that shot!

Fan Zhendong: Youngest World Champion in History

Here's the article

North Korea's Behavior at the 1979 Ping Pong Championships Really Says It All

Here's the article. Apparently the entire Korean crowd walked out after the North Korean star lost the women's final, leaving a nearly vacant stadium for the men's final.

Prizes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials in Wales

Here's the picture. Look closely at the picture in the lower right - yep, the prizes were copies of my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques! (EDIT - I've since been told that actual picture where they are holding up my books was taken at the ICC club in California, where the books were given out as prizes.)

The Ultimate Table Tennis Footwork Guide

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

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May 13, 2014

How I Almost Didn't Go or Stay Full-time in Table Tennis

Sometimes when I look around the Maryland Table Tennis Center I marvel at the series of events that led to the place opening, and all the things that could have derailed it or me from full-time table tennis. There would be no MDTTC if Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I didn't get together back in 1992 to make it happen. All the players developed there wouldn't have happened. All the training centers that copied our system to open their own training centers might not have happened. How history in U.S. table tennis might have been different!

If Cheng had been chosen to be on the 1989 or 1991 Chinese National Team to the Worlds, as most expected he would, he might have stayed in China. If he had taken the offer to be the Chinese Men's Coach, he would have stayed in China. But after being burned by coaches who wanted stick with the historical Chinese close-to-table styles while using players like Cheng (as well as Huang Tong Sheng, i.e. Jack Huang) as European-style practice partners, he decided to come to the U.S., as did Coach Jack.

As to me, here is a brief listing of all the ways I might have been derailed from joining up with Cheng and Jack in 1992 and from becoming a full-time table tennis coach, writer, and promoter. It's largely biographical, so bear with me as I talk about some of my background.

I'll start at the beginning. Back in 1976 (age 16), I was on my high school track team as a miler. I went to the library to get a book on "Track & Field." I happened to look to my left . . . and there was a book on table tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I had been playing "basement" ping-pong at a neighbor's house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out. From it, I found out about USATT (then called USTTA). I contacted them, found a local club, and went there. I got killed, but I stuck with it, and a few years later became the best at the club. I later became a professional table tennis coach and writer, and from 1985 on, I've been full-time table tennis almost continuously in various capacities. If I hadn't happened to look to my left and saw that book, you would be staring at a blank screen right now. (Interesting note - years later I met Marty for the first time and told him this story. His response? "Great . . . another life I've ruined.") So ended my career as a normal person.

Now we move to North Carolina, 1979-81. I went there a year after I graduated high school for the sole purpose of training at table tennis. But I had to make a living, and so at age 19 I began working in restaurants at minimum wage. Meanwhile, I began making batches of my own secret recipe for chili for members of the table tennis club, and many raved about it. Here's a little-known secret - I came close to dropping table tennis at one point and opening up my own chili franchise! It would have started with one of those pushcarts you see at shopping malls. I got all the info needed, and even began experimenting with the chili recipe. But the table tennis bug was too much, and though I got prices on carts and on selling in malls, I finally gave up on my temporary lifelong dream of opening a chili chain. So ended my career as a chili chef.

Now we move to 1985. I've just completed my bachelors in math at University of Maryland, with minors in chemistry and computer science. A Dr. Harold Reiter has invited me to work on my Ph.D in math at the University of North Carolina. (He and I had co-written a paper published in a math journal.) I could have gone there, and eventually I'd have been Dr. Larry Hodges, math professor. But I decided to take time off for table tennis - and USATT hired me. So ended my math career.

Now we move to 1990. At this point I've spent four years working for USATT as (in order) assistant manager, manager, and then director/assistant coach for the resident table tennis program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. But politics intervened, and I was released. (Funny story - when the board decided not to renew my contract, they also went out of their way to "help" me by making arrangements for me to go to Anderson College where I could get a degree. Not one of them realized I already had a degree in math!) Anyway, I returned to Maryland and debated what to do next. At the Nationals that year I did something I'd done year after year in Las Vegas - won piles of money playing 7-card stud. There was no question - I could make a living at it. I debated it, and there were times where I was on the verge of packing up and moving to Vegas to play poker full-time. But while I could make good money at it, I kept asking myself a simple question: Is that what I wanted to do with my life? The answer was no. So ended my poker career.

Now we move to 1992. I'd started work on a master's in journalism, with concentrations in science writing and magazine production. I'm now planning on a journalism career, and plan to be a science writer. But two things intervened. First, I was hired by USATT as editor of USATT Magazine. Second, I met with Cheng and Jack, and we decided to open up MDTTC. So ended my science writing career.

Now we move to 1996. I'd just finished four years as editor of USATT Magazine (while coaching nearly full-time at MDTTC as well as well as coaching USA junior teams around the world), but politics once again intervened and my contract wasn't renewed. I began coaching even more hours at MDTTC. But I began to have injury problems, and I was so disgusted with USATT that I needed a break from table tennis. In 1997 one of my students hired me as a computer programmer. So I spent a year programming while playing and coaching table tennis part-time. I made good money, and for a time planned on becoming rich that way. But the company I worked for closed down. So ended my computer programming career.

Now we move to 1998. I could have gotten other jobs as a computer programmer, but I was more into writing. Plus I had just finished my master's in Journalism, which I'd been working on part-time for five years. So I applied for editorial positions. I was hired as editor of The Quality Observer. I spent nearly a year there. But the table tennis bug began to bite again, and I kept thinking about how I could make about twice as much per hour coaching as editing. Finally I resigned that position and went back to coaching. So ended my non-table tennis editorial career.

I was hired back as editor of USATT Magazine in 1999, and stayed on until 2007. (I continued to coach at MDTTC during this time.) At that point I was disappointed that USATT wouldn't focus on the things needed to be done to grow the sport (sound familiar?), and I was tired of all the politics. So I decided to take some time off and focus on something I'd been doing part-time for years - write science fiction & fantasy. So I resigned as USATT editor/webmaster, and spent the next couple years mostly just writing. My SF writing career has had lots of ups and downs. (Here's my SF writing page.) I've sold an even 70 short stories. Thirty of them were compiled in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges." I wrote two novels. The second one was published last November, the humorous fantasy "Sorcerers in Space." (You can also buy it at Amazon.) A publisher (Larger than the one that published "Sorcerers") is very interested in the first one, Campaign 2100, a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, but requested a rewrite on a number of sections, which I'm currently working on. But while I'm still doing this part-time, I returned to full-time table tennis in 2008, and have been at it ever since. (Both of my novels feature characters who play table tennis.) So ended my full-time science fiction writing career.

I'm a full-time table tennis coach/writer/promoter. But if I hadn't looked left, if I'd become a chili chef, a math professor, a poker player, a science writer, a programmer, a non-TT editor, or a full-time science fiction writer, I wouldn't be doing table tennis full-time. And there'd be no MDTTC if hadn't look left, or if I'd become a chili chef, math professor, or poker player.

Samsonov and Ma Long on the New Plastic Balls

Here's Samsonov ("I think the change will not be that big") and Ma Long (he endorses it). Readers, feel free to send me links on what other top players think about this, or post your own comments below.

The Different Chinese Eras

Here's an interesting posting (and some follow-up responses) about the three most recent eras of Chinese dominance - the Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang era, the Wang Liqin/Ma Lin era, and the current Zhang Jike/Ma Long era. Wang Hao should probably get more credit in there as he's been dominant throughout the last two of these eras, and I'd add Xu Xin to the current era. Before the Kong/Liu era was a period of 4-6 years where China didn't do so well, the Ma Wenge/Wang Tao era. Before that was the Jiang Jialiang/Chen Longcan/Teng Yi era. Before that was the Guo Yuehua/Cai Zhenhua era. Before that was the Zhuang Zedong/Li Furong era. (I've left out plenty of top players, such as Li Zhenshi, Liang Keliang, and many others, but can't fit everyone in every era! Plus we're only talking about the men, leaving out the women.)

ITTF Pongcast - April 2014

Here's the video (13:22).

NCTTA Best of the Best

Here's the listing of winners from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here's the article/posting.

Table Tennis Profile Picture

Here's one of the nicer ones I've seen! I should have that on my wall when I'm writing about table tennis . . . like right now. See the action coming out of my keyboard!

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May 12, 2014

Tip of the Week

Anyone Can Become Very Good at Something.

Youth Olympic Games Controversy

There's a controversy involving the training and coaching of the USA Youth Olympic Games athletes (Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari). Basically, USATT set up a training program for the two, then chose a coach. Since Massimo Costantini (from the ICC Table Tennis Center) is the coach for both players, it seemed logical to choose him, but since he wasn't available to go overseas for the entire training program planned (nearly two months), another coach was selected. Officials from ICC were not happy.

I too thought they should have hired the coach first, then have him develop the training program for the players, in particular since he was the coach of both players. From USATT's point of view, they were just incorporating the ITTF's YOG training program, which involves a lot of overseas training and in general is a good idea. It might have been better if they had not locked themselves into requiring the coach to be there the entire time, allowing some flexibility so someone else could substitute for the few weeks when the coach can't make it. Regardless, hopefully they will work something out where Massimo oversees most of their training while missing some of it because of his other commitments. There is lots of discussion of this at the USATT Facebook and ICC Facebook pages.

The coach who was hired (though the official announcement is not yet up) is the highly qualified Lily Yip. (I've known her for decades, and we even attended the same ITTF Level 2 Seminar, held at the Lily Yip TTC last year.) It's unfortunate there's any controversy on this as she's an excellent coach. The problem is that the two players in question just happened to both be students of Massimo, and this was known at the time Lily was hired. Massimo was USATT's first choice because of this, but because he couldn't commit to the entire overseas training program they went with Lily. If they hadn't apparently locked themselves into requiring the coach there the entire time, perhaps they could have hired Massimo, and hired Lily for the times when Massimo could not make it.

Ironically, I also considered applying for the YOG coach position, but since I haven't worked directly with these players (other than a week about four years ago when I practiced daily with Krish during a Stellan Bengtsson camp, plus coaching against him in tournaments a few times), and since I figured Massimo or someone else who worked more regularly with these players was applying, I decided not to. (Plus it's a big commitment for a full-time coach with lots of students.) Perhaps another time, when an MDTTC player is on the team in question. MDTTC's Crystal Wang is already on the USA Women's Team and Cadet Girls' team, and we have a number of other up-and-coming players. But what happens if I or some other coach also can't commit to the entire "required" time? The irony is that coaches who are in demand are usually the ones who will often have the most trouble taking time off - and they are often the ones we'd want to hire.

This isn't the first time ICC has felt burned by USATT. As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule? 

USATT Launches New Membership System - RailStation

Here's the announcement. Could be helpful. It definitely gets our membership system into the modern age! A key phrase from the announcement: "USATT members with a current email on file will be sent instructions on how to log in and activate their account.  If you have not provided an email address to USATT or need to update it, please contact Andy Horn at admin@usatt.org."

U.S. Open Entry Deadline Extended to May 18

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee was Saturday (two days ago), but they've extended it to May 18 (next Sunday). Here's a listing of players currently entered, and of entries by event. (There are 381 players listed as entered as I write this, but I'm sure there are still a lot of paper entries not uploaded yet, plus the extended deadline should bring in some more.) Here's more info:

MDTTC - the Laughingstock of Table Tennis

Yes, it's true. On Friday and Saturday, famous stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo spent several hours at MDTTC playing. (He was in town for some local shows.) He has a rating of 1658, but that was from three years ago - he appears about 1800 now. Between coaching sessions I even got to play doubles with him on my team. (Alas, I coach too much and play too little, and so my receive was way off, and we lost to Julian Waters and Steve Hochman. But then Julian and I took down Steve and Frank!) Then on Sunday another famous stand-up comedian came in to play for a few hours, Judah Friedlander, who is rated 1565 (and who've I've coached before), though as his home page says, he's the World Champion. (Judah grew up locally, and while he spends most of his time in New York City doing stand-up, he comes to Maryland often to visit his family.)

ITTF Athletes Commission

Vladimir Samsonov was re-elected as Chair. Others elected or appointed were Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), Zoran Primorac (CRO), Krisztina Toth (HUN), David Powell (AUS), Angela Mori (PER), Elsayed Lashin (EGY), Yu Kwok See April (HKG), Wang Liqin (CHN), and USA's own Ashu Jain.

ITTF Legends Tour

I wrote about the Legends Tour last Thursday. Here are more pictures.

International News

As usual, there are lots and lots of international news items up at Tabletennista.

Matthew Syed Launches New Table Tennis Academy in England

Here's the story. (Syed is a former English table tennis champion, one of the best defensive players in the world.)

Shot of the Day

Here's video (46 sec) of a very strange rally at the recent World Championships between China's Ding Ning and Japan's Yuka Ishigaki in the Women's Team Final.

Ibrahim Hamato - Nothing is Impossible

Here's more video (2:43) of the famous armless Egyptian player from the ITTF. Includes interviews (with English translation) and showing him hitting with the best players in the world. I've actually put a racket in my mouth like he does to rally in exhibitions, but not at this level!

Happy Mother's Day (one day late)

Here's the Table Tennis Mother's Day Graphic by Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - Bram Stoker Award

"After Death" just won Best Horror Anthology at the Bram Stoker Awards, which is sort of the Academy Awards for written horror. It includes a story of mine, "The Devil's Backbone." You can buy the anthology at Amazon. And here's a review of the book, which says, "… and “The Devil’s Backbone” by Larry Hodges, which I found to be well-conceived, well-executed, and well-written, my favorite in the anthology."

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May 9, 2014

Three Less Obvious Reasons China Dominates

The primary reasons for China's dominance are they train harder, have more players, and have more and better coaches. These are all true. However, the base of the dominance actually comes from three almost iconic changes in their training and playing styles.

First, the more obvious one, was the change from the close-to-the-table pips-out attacking styles that dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as (to a lesser degree) one-winged penhold loopers. By the late 1980s it was obvious that two-winged looping was going to dominate the game, and that the last few successful hitters were mostly hanging on because European loopers weren't used to playing that style. Countries like Sweden brought in pips-out hitting practice partners, got used to playing it, and in the early 1990s China went through a drought as European players dominated the game. Many of the Chinese coaches who had advocated sticking with their traditional pips-out games were replaced, and soon China began dominating with two-winged loopers who were even better than the Europeans. In fact, they revolutionized the game by developing loopers who could stay closer to the table than the traditional European looping style, and soon European loopers were struggling to keep up.

Second, during the 1990s another traditional Chinese style nearly died out - penholders. For a time they nearly disappeared from the world-class rankings. But then players from China developed the reverse penhold backhand, and learned to play their backhands almost the same as a shakehander. It started with Liu Guoliang, then Ma Lin, then Wang Hao (world #6, former #1) and Xu Xin (current #1 in the world). The big question for years was whether the future of penhold play was a combination of reverse penhold backhands for attacking with conventional backhands for blocking, or just reverse penhold backhands, even when blocking. The latter won out. While the pips-out penhold style pretty much died out, the one-winged penhold looping game transitioned into a two-winged penhold looping style that competes evenly with two-winged shakehand loopers.

Third is perhaps the less obvious one to many. China and most Asian countries have traditionally worshipped training, and would drill for hour after hour, day after day, often seven days a week. Because of this the Chinese always had the best players from a technical point of view. And yet, the European men would often battle with them with their obviously "weaker" games. The reason? The Europeans had one ace up their sleeve - they knew the value of constant competition, and they competed constantly in leagues and training matches, as well as drills that mimicked match play. And so their players, while not as technically proficient as the Chinese, knew how to win with what they had, while the Chinese often were more robotic, playing matches as if they were drills. But the Chinese figured this out, and by the turn of the century their coaches had their players playing more and more matches, both in practice and in leagues and tournaments. Events like the Chinese Super League allowed even more matches. They also incorporated more match-type drills into their training.

And so the match-savvy Europeans found themselves up against match-savvy Chinese, and with the Chinese technological superiority, the rest is history. Just browse this listing of World Champions (singles, doubles, teams) and you'll see. They've won Men's Teams seven times in a row and nine of the last ten. (Note that just before that Sweden won three times in a row.) They've won Women's Teams ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20 times.

"Dang"

I have a new official policy. Roughly every 30 seconds while coaching, when playing out points with students, I'll say something along the lines of "I would have gotten to that ball ten years ago," or "Shots like that used to be so easy." Well, this takes up a lot of time and gets repetitive. And so, starting this past week, my new policy is that whenever I can't run down or make a shot that I know, with 100% absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, that I would have made in the past when I was a world-class conditioned professional athlete (stop laughing now), I will just say, "Dang," and my student will know what it means.

Ma Long's Earned Everyone's Respect

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to his two matches in the Men's Final at the Worlds against Germany. Here are videos with the time removed between points: Ma Long vs. Timo Boll (4:07) and Ma Long vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (4:21).

Liu Guoliang Doesn't Blame Zhang Jike

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to the Zhang Jike-Dimitrij Ovtcharov video (31:10); here's a video of the match with time between points removed (5:01).

Table Tennis for the Cure

Here's the article. "A Sheffield man with a brain disorder is battling back to health after a coma – and puts his recovery down to table tennis."

USATT Awarded US Paralympic Grant from US Department of Veterans Affairs

Here's the article.

2014 US Para Team Profiles

Here's the video (11:12), narrated by Stellan and Angie Bengtsson

Selfies from the Worlds

Here's the music video (1:14) of players at the worlds doing selfies to music.

Human Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the picture - though I think he looks more like a big fat onion to me!

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May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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May 7, 2014

Classes and Clinics vs. Training

On Monday we had the last session of a ten-week beginning/intermediate class I taught. The twelve players in the class ranged from beginner to about 1500. During those ten weeks we covered pretty much every major aspect of table tennis - forehand and backhand drives, forehand and backhand loops, blocking, smashing, pushing, flipping, ready stance, footwork, grip, serve, receive, equipment, tactics and playing styles, and even chopping and lobbing. And yet many of the players weren't really ready for some of the more advanced things I taught. As I explained to them, there's a difference between a class or clinic, and training sessions or a training camp. 

For the class, I wanted everyone in the class to have a good idea of most of the techniques. They might not be able to do some of the advanced serves I demonstrated, but now that they know what's possible they can systematically practice until, someday, they might be able to do so. The same is true of other "advanced" techniques, such as looping. If I had not shown them these more advanced techniques, they wouldn't even know what's possible, and wouldn't have something to work toward. I even prepared them for various racket surfaces with talks on each of the major ones - short pips, hardbat, antispin, and long pips (with and without sponge).

There's a difference between a class and a clinic as well. A class is something that you do more than once, such as what we did - every Monday from 6:30-8:00 PM for ten weeks. A clinic is more of a one-time thing, where you cover whatever you can in one day, or perhaps a weekend, or even a week. 

So what's the difference between a clinic and a training camp? There's a lot of overlap, but basically, in a clinic, you teach new techniques. In a training camp, you emphasize the training itself, with lots and lots of training drills and few lectures. In clinics you give a number of lectures to the group; in training your coaching is mostly one-on-one as each player trains.

I discussed with the members of the class continuing as a training program on Mondays, but two things happened. First, several said they couldn't do it right now, but would be available in the fall. And second, probably more important, I realized that with our summer training camps coming up, I'm going to be incredibly busy this summer. The camps are 10AM-6PM each day, and are in addition to my regular private coaching and three junior training group sessions each week. So I postponed it until this fall. Then I'll try to get a group together for training each week, probably on Monday nights. If it's popular, we can go to twice a week.

We'll have training camps all summer for ten consecutive weeks, Mon-Fri each week, starting June 16. (Here's the info flyer. I'll be at eight of the camps, missing June 30-July 4 for the U.S. Open, and July 28-Aug. 1 for a writing workshop I'm attending in Manchester, NH.) While the emphasis is training, they are really both training camps for the more advanced players, and clinics for beginning/intermediate players. I give a few lectures/demos each day, and then we go into groups - usually three main groups, for beginning, intermediate, and advanced players. And they are then trained accordingly. 

Here's a good example of the difference between a clinic and a training camp. I went to a number of Seemiller clinics in the late 1970s. They were really both clinic and training camp, and I learned and improved a lot. Then in 1980, when I was 20 and only about 2000 level, I went to a two-week training camp held by Zoran Kosanovic. (Also at the camp were 12-year-olds Sean O'Neill and Scott Butler and 9-year-old Jim Butler.) I expected it'd be the same thing, with a mixture of lectures and practice, and perhaps a little physical training. Boy was I wrong!!! It was all training. We did at least an hour of physical training each day, plus two three-hour training sessions. It was exhausting, but it was exactly what I needed at that time, since I'd pretty much absorbed knowledge of the game until that point faster than I could learn the techniques. I improved dramatically during and after the camp. (For me, the focus was on forehand looping and on proper footwork when stepping around the backhand corner - I wasn't rotating around enough on my step-arounds.)

ITTF Legends Tour

It starts tonight in Belgium. Here's the home page for the event, and the Facebook page. Here's the ITTF article that came out this morning. Here's the draw for the six legends. Click on it to see a group picture, L-R: Jorgen Persson (1991 World Men's Singles Champion), Jean-Michel Saive (former World #1), Jiang Jialiang (1985 & 1987 World Men's Singles Champion), Jean-Philippe Gatien (1993 World Men's Singles Champion), Mikael Appelgren (former world #1), and Jan-Ove Waldner (1989 & 1997 World Men's Singles Champion). Here are more pictures as the Super Six prepare for the event by playing . . . golf. Breaking news - Waldner golfs left-handed!

USATT Teleconference on March 17

Here are the minutes.

Table Tennis is Serious Business at Texas Wesleyan College

Here's the article.

Chinese Training for the Worlds

Here's a video (4 min) set to music showing their training.

Interview with Kong Linghui

Here's the video (1:52) with the head coach of Team China and former superstar player.

Find a Coach (in the UK)

Here's a new site for finding a coach - but it's only for the United Kingdom right now. The creator told me he hopes to open it up to the rest of the world later on.

Choked by a Billionaire

For those who missed it from a group of photos I posted a few days ago showing Ariel Hsing playing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, here's one where sore loser Uncle Warren (current worth: $58 billion) chokes the life out of Ariel.

Non-Table Tennis - Sorcerers in Space

My novel "Sorcerers in Space" got a pretty good review at Abyss & Apex. (It's a humorous fantasy that covers the U.S.-Soviet space race in the '60s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. The protagonist, 13-year-old Neil, is forced to give up his dreams of table tennis stardom to save the world.) "Reading this book had me humming tunes from the 1960s, and smiling, for days. I don’t recommend reading Sorcerers in Space in bed next to your spouse. You’ll keep waking them up when you laugh." You can buy copies at Amazon or save a few dollars and buy it directly from Class Act Books.

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May 6, 2014

The 27 Types of Spin

How many basic types of spin are there when someone serves to you? The simple answer is that, in theory, there are 27. In practice, there are 25. (Before we go farther, here's my article "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spin But Were Afraid to Ask." If you are new to the idea of spin, or don't really know what corkscrewspin is - also known as deviation spin - you might want to read it.) In reality, of course, there are an infinite number of spins, but they can generally be categorized as these 27. In fact, you can narrow this down to three main types of spin - topspin/backspin, sidespin left or right, and corkscrewspin left or right. All spins just varying amounts of these three main types.

You don't really need to worry about identifying these 27 or 25 spins when receiving. When I list 27 different spins, these are only of theoretical and intellectual interest. When reading spin, you don't have to identify which combos of these spins it is. You simply have to read the direction the ball is spinning and how fast it is spinning, and then react to it. That's it.

How do you react to these spins? In simple terms, if it's spinning with any corkscrewspin, then if you see it coming you anticipate the sideways jump. (It'll also jump off your racket, but generally less than other spins.) If it's coming with any sidespin, you anticipate the sideways jump off your racket, knowing that a firm return will minimize the effect, and aim your racket to compensate. If it has any backspin, you know you have to lift some or push. If it has any topspin you know you have to drive through it or get on top of it to topspin it. You don't consciously do any of this; with practice, it becomes second nature as you react to the way the ball is spinning. A player doesn't have to know about corkscrewspin if he simply reacts to this type of spin by anticipating the sideways jump. 

Before we go further, here's a video (5:40) where someone explains corkscrew spin, though he's calling it deviation spin, as well as demonstrating other spins. And here's an article (part 1 and part 2) that graphically shows the difference between sidespin and corkscrew spin.

So what are these 27 spins? First a few notes. We're talking about spins when serving, though you can also produce these spins in a rally. Second, we're talking about the spin as it leaves the racket. As soon as it bounces on the table the spin begins to change. And third, note that for every axis of rotation, there are two spins, since the ball can spin in either direction.

The three main categories of spin can be thought of as three different axis of rotation, each perpendicular to each other. They are like the XYZ coordinates when mapping something in 3-D. (Here's a picture that shows this.) All spins can be represented by using varying amounts of each of these spins:

  • Topspin and backspin (which are just opposites of each other), where the axis of rotation (from the point of view of the server) is left to right.
  • Sidespin left and sidespin right, where the axis of rotation is top to bottom.
  • Corkscrewspin (also called Deviation Spin) left and right, where the axis of rotation is between the server and the receiver.

What this means is that every serve, in theory, can have some or none of each of these spins. In simple terms, it means every ball has each of the following:

  1. Topspin, backspin, or neither.
  2. Sidespin left, sidespin right, or neither.
  3. Corkscrewspin left, corkscrewspin right, or neither. 

For example, a topspin/sidespin left serve has topspin from the first category, sidespin left from the second, and neither from the third. A no-spin serve (yes, that's a spin!) has neither from all three categories. And you can combine all three, with, for example, a backspin/sidespin right/corkscrew left serve, taking the corresponding part from each category.

This means there are three to the third possibilities, or 27 total spins. (Remember, this includes no-spin.)

Are all of these actually possible to do? The rotation of a spin from the first two categories includes part of the ball spinning in the direction of the opponent, meaning you can serve this type of spin and make it move forward. However, if you serve a pure corkscrewspin serve, there's no way to make the ball move forward; all of your motion is sideways. So in practice, you have to combine it with one of the other spins. So two of the 27 theoretical spins isn't possible in practice - a pure corkscrewspin left or right. So only 25 are possible in practice. (What this also means is that of all the infinite variations of spin possible, there are only two rotations that are absolutely impossible, the two pure corkscrewspins.)

How can you imagine these 27 spins? Here's one way. Hold a ball up. Mark the top and bottom, i.e. the axis of rotation for a pure sidespin. Now mark off eight equidistant spots around the equator. Now look at the northern hemisphere. Draw a line from each of these eight spots on the equator to the north pole. Put a dot at the midpoint of each of these lines, so you have eight more dots. Now do the same for the southern hemisphere. You now have a total of 26 dots on the ball - the two poles, eight on the equator, eight in the northern hemisphere, and eight in the southern hemisphere. However, each axis of rotation has two dots - one on each side of the ball - so while there are 26 dots on the ball, each is directly opposite one on the other side. So there are now 13 axis of rotation. Since the ball can spin in either direction on each of these axis, that makes 26 spins. Add no-spin, and you have 27!

Wasn't that simple?

Without further ado, here are the 27 types of spin.

  1. No-Spin
  2. Topspin
  3. Backspin
  4. Sidespin left
  5. Sidespin right
  6. Corkscrewspin left
  7. Corkscrewspin right
  8. Topspin/Sidespin left
  9. Topspin/Sidespin right
  10. Topspin/Corkscrewspin left
  11. Topspin/Corkscrewspin right
  12. Backspin/Sidespin left
  13. Backspin/Sidespin right
  14. Backspin/Corkscrewspin left
  15. Backspin/Corkscrewspin right
  16. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  17. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  18. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  19. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  20. Backspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  21. Backspin /Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  22. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  23. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  24. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  25. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  26. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  27. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right

Final Standings from the Worlds

Here's the listing. For some reason there were reports that USA Men finished tied for 49th, but they actually were tied for 53rd, according to the listing. USA Women finished tied for 21st.

How does this compare with how USA Teams in the past have finished? Alas, not very good. (Though the women's team would likely have done a lot better if they'd had Ariel Hsing, who's off to college, alas.) Here's a chart showing the USA Teams ranking going back to 1935. The trend is rather obvious. Here are two things that jump out. First, going back to ancient history, USA began its long decline when the world went to sponge in the early 1950s. Before that, we were a world power. And second, notice how the men's team reached a modern peak in the early 1980s, with rankings in the 13-15 range? Other than the blip in 1991 when the men were #12, it's been a steady decline since then - and the decline coincides almost exactly with when USATT began getting Olympic windfall money. The women also began a major decline at that time, though they recovered in recent years (due to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang). Considering membership has also stayed about the same, how much has this money really helped us? They money should be helpful, but it's the way it's been used that has been wasted.

However, the trend will end in the next few years. As I've blogged before, we have the strongest group of cadets (under 15) in our history. We could be top ten in the world when they are all reaching 20 years old or so, in about 5-7 years or so. Unless, of course, they all go to college at 18. Yikes.

New World Rankings

Here they are, after the Worlds. That was fast! Lily Zhang jumped from her previous 109 to #66.

Last Newsletter from the Worlds

Here's the final Worlds Newsletter, which came out yesterday.

Videos of Men's and Women's Final

In yesterday's blog I didn't have the women's matches, and I didn't have the Xu Xin- Franziska men's match (though I put that up in the afternoon). Here are videos of both finals, with time between points removed.

Men's Final:

  1. Ma Long (CHN) d. Timo Boll (GER), 6,9,9 (4:07);
  2. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) d. Zhang Jike, 11,8,6 (5:01);
  3. Xu Xin (CHN) d. Patrick Franziska (GER), 5,2,8 (3:33);
  4. Ma Long (CHN) d. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), 10,5,2 (4:21).

Women's Final:

  1. Ding Ning (CHN) d. Yuka Ishigaki (JPN), 5,-8,2,5 (7:41);
  2. Li Xiaoxia (CHN) d. Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN), 8,7,7 (4:19);
  3. Liu Shiwen (CHN) d. Sayaka Hirano (JPN), 4,2,5 (4:47).

More Worlds Coverage

There are lots of articles on the Worlds at TableTennista.

China Highlight Video

Here's the video (2:08) showing the Chinese players after big wins at the Worlds.

Don't Lose Track of the Basics

Here's a new coaching article by Britt Salter from the Oklahoma Table Tennis Club's webpage.

News from New York

Here's the article, covering the recent Westchester Open.

Kim Jong Un Loves Playing Table Tennis?

Here's a video of Dennis Rodman talking about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At 1:23, he says the dictator "…loves playing table tennis…"

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