Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM).
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 five books and over 1200 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio.
Because of my arm problems (see below), I only gave one lesson yesterday, and it was an all-multiball session. The 12-year-old player (hi Sameer!) has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays. This leads to some awkward strokes. At first glance some would say he needs to loop more forward, or use less arm, or something similar, but that would be treating the symptoms. The problem was how straight he tends to stay, with his feet too close together. So much of the session was focused on not just staying down, but on keeping the feet wider. This gives extra stability and power. The results were good - his looping form was perhaps the best ever. It also helped when he took the ball a little later so he wouldn't be rushed. As he gets used to the wider stance he'll get quicker with it, along with the increase in stability and power. (Stability increases both the consistency as well as the recovery from the previous shot.)
This is true for most players. Watch videos of the top players and see how wide their stance is when they play. It does take some leg muscle, but not as much as you'd think; it's more a habit you have to develop. Once you get in the habit, I think it's actually less tiring as the extra stability means you aren't tiring yourself recovering from shots over and over.
Here's a video (5:37) of the Chinese team training earlier this year before the Worlds. Watch the very first drill sequence, and see how wide the players keep their feet - both the player moving and the one blocking. A few key things about a wider stance: feet should point slightly outward. Knees should be bent. Body should be bent slightly forward at the waist.
I spent some time this past weekend watching some of our top juniors train, especially Nathan Hsu and Derek Nie, whom I'll be coaching at the Nationals. Their stances were plenty wide, but the interesting thing they and our other top juniors all pretty much do is keep their feet mostly parallel to the end-line even on forehands, as they've been trained to do. In the past it was standard to have the right foot back some when playing forehands (for righties), and that's still how beginners are taught. But as players advance, more and more they keep the feet parallel, and rely on the wide stance (for stability and power) and flexible hips and waist to rotate around for most forehand shots. This has several advantages: it means they are equally ready to play forehand or backhand; it makes it easier to loop forehands close to the table; and it makes it easier to rotate the hips and body into the shot. They do bring the right foot back for some shots, but mostly when they have extra time. They also bring it back of course when stepping around the backhand corner, but not as much as players in the past.
As expected, I had to cancel my three hours of private coaching scheduled today (Wednesday). The arm is still very sore, though I hope it'll be okay by the weekend. Other than a one-hour class I teach on Thursday (where I'll only feed multiball) I've cancelled everything until Saturday. The good news is two of the kids I normally coach today have made arrangements to meet to practice and play matches.
60 Full-time Table Tennis Clubs in the U.S.
I just added the King Pong TTC from NYC to the list of full-time table tennis clubs in the U.S. Let me know if there are any I missed! How did I find out about them? From this article in the Tribeca Citizen, "Our Friendly Neighborhood Ping Pong Parlor."
The Most Common Mistakes Made by Beginners
Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.
ITTF on Waldner and Waldner Stamp
Here's the ITTF article on Waldner and the new Waldner Chinese stamp.
Synagogue Welcomes Government Workers to Ping-Pong
With the government closed, this Synagogue is attracting "government refuges" for ping-pong and West Wing reruns. Here's the article.
Adam Bobrow Takes on San Francisco Mayor
Here's a video (17 sec) of Adam Bobrow and a partner (jumpy guy in striped shirt) he apparently chose at random from the crowd taking on San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and 11-year-old William Bai (rated 1970) in a doubles match.
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USATT Taking Over U.S. Government
With the U.S. government shutting down, there's a huge power vacuum. So USATT is stepping in to save the day. Obamacare will now distribute health insurance and a wide variety of ping-pong products. Social Security now means that if you are 65 or older, you no longer have to pay membership at your ping-pong club. And the NSA will no longer spy on Americans; they are now secretly taping the Chinese National Team as they train.
Mike Babuin, chair of the USATT Board of Directors, has been sworn in as the new U.S. President. CEO Mike Cavanaugh has been sworn in as Vice President.
The rest of the USATT Board of Directors replaces congress as the Legislative Branch of the U.S. government. They are Anne Cribbs, Peter Scudner, Jim Kahler, Kagin Lee, Edward Levy, Attila Malek, and Han Xiao.
USATT pro bono lawyer Dennis Taylor has been sworn in as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The President's Cabinet has 15 departments - and by a strange coincidence, there are 15 USATT Committees. Effective immediately:
Oh, and since they have nothing else to do, the U.S. government is taking over USATT. I'll let readers decide who is now in charge of each USATT function. (It's times like this that I have to bite my tongue and not write my views on this whole government shutdown. This is a table tennis blog, not a political blog, and so I'll restrain myself.)
My arm is still bothering me. I have a 90-minute coaching session scheduled today which I was going to cancel. However, the student agreed to do 90 minutes of multiball and serve practice, so I'm going to go ahead and do the session. I'm 90% that I'm going to have to cancel my three hours of private coaching on Wednesday. I'm pretty sure the arm will be fine by the weekend.
2014 USA Junior & Cadet Team Trials
Here's info on the Trials, to be held at the USA Nationals in December.
Make Your Serves More Effective
Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.
The Amazing Block of Kenta Matsudaira
Here's the video (1:50). He's world #18. Note how his normal block has good topspin.
Krazy Table Tennis
Someone just sold a 1920s Krazy Table Tennis set! For just £49.99 (that's $81.15) they got net and brackets, 4 original branded balls, 6 different and really strange shaped wooden bats, and instructions.
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Tip of the Week
Old, tight muscles strike again. Alas.
On Friday night I was a practice partner in our Elite Training Session. I played a practice match with a 2000 chopper. Going into the match I felt a bit stiff, but what else is new? But I was even stiffer than usual. I lost the first game. Bearing down, I won the next three games pretty easily. Many of the points I'd serve no-spin or light-spin to his long pips, or roll his serves back soft to the pips, and in both cases I'd usually get no-spin or light backspin returns, and then I'd win the point with an explosive, off-the-bounce loop to the middle or extreme angles. The tactic worked, but it apparently took a toll on my arm, which afterwards felt extra tight. I played one more match, where I struggled a bit as the arm felt like it had a broken arm cast on it. Then I stopped for the night.
On Saturday I spent the morning wearing the arm down feeding multiball as I ran 2.5 hours of junior programs. That afternoon I had a two-hour private coaching session - and literally minutes into the session I was grabbing my arm. I had to stop playing 15 minutes into the session, and we switched to multiball. However, at this point the arm was so inflamed I had to stop feeding multiball after maybe 15 more minutes. We spent the next hour working on serves, and then I got Raghu Nadmichettu to do the last 30 minutes. I went home and iced it several times that night.
On Sunday I had four hours of private coaching scheduled, but I had to cancel them. I did a 90-minute junior session, feeding multiball, and it probably aggravated the arm a little bit. I did more icing.
Today (Monday) is my day off. I have two hours scheduled tomorrow, but I'm probably going to get Raghu or someone to substitute. I'm wondering if I'll be able to coach on Wednesday, when I have a full night of private coaching scheduled. Thursday I have another junior session (mostly multiball, which I should be able to handle by then), and fortunately my private session scheduled after that just got cancelled - the player can't make it. I'll probably opt out of the Friday elite session as well, and hopefully will be ready for the long hours of coaching I do on weekends.
I believe the injury is a strain to the Brachioradialis muscle. (Here's a diagram.) This is in the lower arm (between elbow and wrist), just below the elbow. If you touch your hand to your shoulder, it's the muscle in the lower arm that touches the bicep in the upper arm.
I had this same arm problem during much of the early 1980s, and on and off since then. It's mostly been okay in recent years, but I've had a few reoccurrences of it, including one just a few months ago. Fortunately I've learned to stop aggravating it when it begins to hurt, something I didn't do well in the 1980s, leading literally to years of lost play as I regularly rested the arm and then tried to come back too soon. However, it's not nearly as bad as it was in the 1980s, and I should be okay in a few days.
On Saturday night I was planning to borrow a video camera and create my entries to the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. I have several ideas, though I have to try them out first. However, I had to cancel those plans, and won't be able to do this until the arm gets better. Adam Hugh and the rest of the entries - you have a temporary reprieve!
Sometime this week I plan to start work on my next major writing project - but I haven't yet decided between doing Table Tennis Fundamentals (essentially a rewrite and update of my previous book Table Tennis: Steps to Success) or the sequel to my upcoming humorous fantasy novel "The Giant Face in the Sky" (coming Nov. 15). It's not easy having two writing careers while also trying to coach full time!
Double Bounce Serve
Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on why this is the "best" serve. (I'm not sure about #3.)
Learn and Improve - Table Tennis with Gary Fraiman
Three Reasons Ma Long is the Worlds Most Overrated Player
Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.
Waldner on China Stamp
Troy Polamalu Plays Pong
Here's a video (24 sec) showing footage of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Troy "Mane Man" Polamalu playing table tennis apparently for a commercial for Head and Shoulders. The first person who thinks the rallies are real, may your head explode and your ping-pong paddle break. (The rallies look like the ones from Forrest Gump!)
Quadruples Table Tennis
Here's a different version of table tennis, with up to four players and four "mini-tables," as shown by Table Tennis Nation a while back.
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Bring Balance to Your Force
I can never stress enough the importance of balance in table tennis. It's both for the shot you are currently doing and (perhaps even more important) for recovery for the next shot. Over and over players move to a ball and hit while slightly off-balance, and never realize it - but this subtle lack of balance leads to variations in their stroke and thereby a loss of control as well as power. Even more subtle is the loss of recovery for the next shot. Over and over players hit a shot and then are unable to react to the next shot if it goes to a wide angle. They blame themselves for being too slow when the real problem was they were off balance on the previous shot (or went off balance during the follow through), and that kept them from recovering for the next shot - not just a lack of foot speed. Even at the higher levels when a player is unable to get to a shot it is often because they went off-balance on the previous shot.
As I've gotten older I've become more and more aware of this. When I step around to play my forehand from the backhand corner (since my forehand attack is much stronger than my backhand attack), I often leave my wide forehand "open." I put that in quotes because if I finish my forehand attack balanced, I can recover quickly enough to cover that wide forehand shot. If I am late in stepping around, and so end up following through more to the side (as opposed to being there early enough to follow through more balanced with the same power), then I'm going to lose precious time recovering balance. And that's why I can't cover the wide forehand sometimes - not because my feet are too slow in covering the wide forehand, but because they are too slow in stepping around the backhand corner, leaving me off balanced and unable to recover for the next shot.
As I said yesterday to a student who was going off balance whenever he hit a powerful forehand, "Bring balance to your force."
Here are three articles I've written on balance.
Water vs. Gatorade
What do you drink when you play? For years I lived on Gatorade, usually the red ones. Then I switched to plain water. However, there are times when I feel I need the extra energy from the calories in Gatorade. So for the past year I've adopted a simple policy for when I'm coaching - I bring out two bottles, one of water, one of Gatorade. I've also made a MAJOR change in my life - I switched from the red Gatorade to "Gatorade Frost Glacier Cherry." So when thirsty, I sort of alternate between plain water and Gatorade (water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, natural flavor, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, glycerol ester of rosin). Mmmm, good!
Want to Run for the USATT Board of Directors?
There's a special election coming up for an At-Large Representative. Here's the info.
Reverse Pendulum Serves
Here's a posting (with discussion) at the MyTableTennis forum that links to videos of top players demonstrating this serve. The "Masters" shown are Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, and Michael Maze.
Milan Stencl Video Interview
Here's the video (8:46). "He is a coach with experience of leading national squads from Holland, Belgium, Italy, Croatia and France, His reputation for hard work, firm discipline and no-nonsense approach is world famous. He coached many elite players and is well-known for bringing up Belgium and JM Saive to world's elite. Hear what he has to say about his introduction to table tennis as a player and coach, table tennis in past and now, working with talented players, what is his advice to young coaches and cooperation with player's families."
Paddle with Hat and Sunglasses at the Beach
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Daniel the Lobber
One of my students, Daniel, age 8, has an amazing ability to soft loop, fish, and lob from off the table, with both topspin and amazing amounts of sidespin), as well as sudden counter-kills. His lobbing may be the best I've ever seen of a kid his age. I even suggested they put together a video for the ITTF Trick Shot Competition of him sidespin lobbing from way off to the side and then perhaps counter-killing - his age and size might give him an advantage. (On the forehand he lobs both ways - racket tip down, the conventional way, and racket tip up, the extreme sidespin way.)
The problem with Daniel is he absolutely hates to play at the table. Every rally he wants to back up and soft spin (topspin and sidespin, usually from nearly off the floor), fish, lob, and chop. (He's a pretty good chopper but doesn't want long pips since that'll take away from his lobbing.) He'd rather go to the dentist than stay at the table. When he loops it's always from way off the table. Some kids are successfully trained this way in Europe, where the idea is that it's easier for the kid to learn to loop if he lets the ball drop down to his level, plus you are learning a topspin contact from the very beginning. (I've coached a few players this way.) However, it's about as non-Chinese as you can get. Chinese coaches mostly have players stay at the table. First they learn to hit and counter-hit, bang-bang style. As they get better, the hitting is extended into looping, again without backing up too much. As they get older and they face more powerful opponents, they back up some to counterloop, but usually not as much as European-trained players. Against blocks they loop over and over within a step of the table. It's all about close-to-the-table power, and it's a highly-proven way to develop players.
I've decided to go ahead and train Daniel "European style," and forget hitting and counterhitting, which he hates doing (except when he counter-kills). He can block okay, but prefers to counterspin and fish from well off the table against loops, even on the backhand, sort of a mini-Lupulesku, if you've seen him play. I'm a bit leery as the five full-time Chinese coaches at our club might not agree with this, especially when he fishes and lobs. Even as I practiced with Daniel, his father noted how the kids practicing at other tables were mostly staying at the table, even when they looped. But getting Daniel to do that would be like taking cotton candy from a kid, and he has great fun with this off-table type of play. So we agreed to train him this way; maybe when he's older he'll start playing closer to the table, or perhaps not. I'll try to convince him to focus on mid-distance looping rather than lobbing everything, but he's pretty quick to throw one up - he lives to lob. (Paging James Therriault!)
This reminds me of a year at the Junior Olympics, at least 20 years ago, when there was a very weak field in under 10 boys. The winner was a kid who simply lobbed everyone's serves and returns of his serves (usually pushes) up in the air, often with funny sidespins, and the other kids didn't know what to do with it. So the lobbing kid won Under 10 Boys, but he wasn't really a good lobber - he could only lob back serves and pushes. I don't think we ever saw him again.
North American Tour Gains Momentum
Here's the article! Along with the rise of modern full-time training centers, this could be the best thing happening in our sport - we'll see. (There have been other attempts at setting up such tours, but it only takes one successful attempt to make it successful.)
Waldner Playing in Swedish League
Here's recent video (7:35) of Jan-Ove Waldner playing - he's still got it! What struck me about the video is how return of serve has changed since Waldner's time. Waldner steps around over and over to receive with his forehand, even against short balls. This is almost a lost art; these days players use their backhands over and over against short balls, with "banana flips" (i.e. over-the-table backhand loops with both topspin and sidespin). Also watch how over and over, both in receive and in rallies, he'll be aiming one way and the last second change directions. There's a reason many call him the greatest player of all time.
Ma Long's Instructional Video
Here's the video (55:29) - I don't think I've linked to this before. (Ma Long has been #1 in the world for the past three months, as he has for 25 months since 2010.) It gives a table of content at the start, so you can skip ahead to the parts that interest you. Here's the listing - see which parts interest you.
1:00 -- (1) Serving With The Shakehand Grip
1:03 -- »» Short Forehand Serve
4:56 -- »» Long Forehand Serve
7:57 -- »» Short Backhand Serve
11:08 -- (2) Shakehand Basics
11:11 -- »» Forehand Drive
11:23 -- »» The Forehand Grip
14:56 -- »» Backhand Drive
18:29 -- »» Transitioning Between Forehand & Backhand
23:40 -- (3) Variations in Service Receive
23:43 -- »» Service Receive, 'Push' & Attack
26:21 -- »» Backhand Flip
31:28 -- (4) Looping Close-to-table Returns
31:32 -- »» Looping Down-the-line from the Forehand Position
35:29 -- (5) Over-the-table Backhand Loop
Great Rally - Timo vs Who?
Here's video (60 sec) of an incredible rally between Timo Boll and someone I can't quite place though I'm sure it'll turn out to be someone I should know. (Anyone know? Neither player is identified in the video. I think the player's name is on his back but I can't make it out. I don't see it in the comments either.) The scoreboard on the far left shows the other player up 3-1 in games on Boll - not too many players can do that!
UPDATE - John Olsen informs me that the other player is Christian Suss. I've met him but didn't recognize him.
Lieutenant Uhura and the Kenya TTA
I've been watching the shopping mall tragedy unfold in Kenya. I can't help notice that the president of Kenya, who has made a number of speeches or announcements, is Uhuru Kenyatta. His first name is just one letter away from Uhura from Star Trek, while his last name is essentially Kenya TTA. This combines the best of my two worlds, science fiction and table tennis. (Kenyatta's father was the founder and first president of Kenya.)
Cat Playing Table Tennis
Here's a pair of repeating gif images of a cat playing table tennis.
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Examples of Saturation Coaching
My Tip of the Week on Monday was on Saturation Training, where a player focuses on developing one aspect of his game. I thought I'd give some examples of this.
Probably the most famous example was Istvan Jonyer. He made the Hungarian National Team in the early 1970s mostly by blocking. While on the team he developed his powerful forehand loop and became Hungarian National Champion. But he had a weak backhand, and couldn't really compete with the best players in the world. Then he spent six months up in a mountain training, where he did essentially nothing but backhand loop. When he finished, he had a great backhand loop - though other aspects of his game had deteriorated, and he had to practice them to get them back. About two years later he became the 1975 Men's World Champion, and was #1 in the world for two year and a dominant top ten (usually top five) player for over a decade.
Another example is Todd Sweeris, who just yesterday was selected as one of the two inductees this year into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame. (See my blog yesterday.) Todd made the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Teams - but through much of 1995 it didn't look like he had a chance. Only the top three U.S. players would make the team, and he couldn't even get games off the top three U.S. players: Jim Butler, David Zhuang, and Khoa Nguyen. He figured his best chance was against Khoa, and that the main thing he could really dominate in would be receive. (That was my suggestion!) So he spent nearly all of that year training overwhelmingly on receive, and with practice partners who copied Khoa. (Sorry Khoa!) He became one of the best serve returners in the country. The strategy worked as Todd beat Khoa 3-0 to make the team. (Fortunately Khoa would, after years of tribulations, make the Olympic team in 2004, and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.)
I've got three students right now where I'm using saturation training. Sameer, 12, has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays, and as a result uses too much arm when he forehand loops. So we're focusing on forehand loop in all our sessions, where he has to stay lower (for all shots), and use more lower body when he loops. Another is Matt, 12, who has a strong forehand but weaker backhand, and so we're focusing on backhand right now. Another is Jim, an older player with a strong backhand but awkward forehand, so we're focusing on that, often spending 30-40 minutes of our one-hour sessions on that.
I've used saturation training myself. I've never had a strong backhand attack, but I've always been steady. In the early 1980s, Dave Sakai (now a fellow Hall of Famer) was steady but didn't have a strong forehand attack. So we often drilled and Drilled and DRILLED with him forehand looping and hitting into my steady backhand, which made my backhand so steady that I could literally rally forever with it. That, combined with my strong forehand attack and serve & receive game, became central to my game. I've used saturation training with other aspects of my game as well. I even went through a one-year period (circa 1980) where I practiced my serves 30 minutes/day, seven days/week, and really developed them that way.
Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - Reviews
Here's a really nice review of the book that just came out by Ben Larcombe of Expert Table Tennis. It's probably the most extensive review yet. He lists the seven most important key points he got from the book - a pretty nice summation - and gives a detailed explanation for each of them. He brings up such good examples of these points that I strongly recommend you read this - it's like an addendum to my book.
There have been a number of other reviews. Here's one from Alex Polyakov (author of Breaking 2000 and The Next Step - see his webpage). There are 24 at amazon.com (twenty 5-star, four 4-star) and two more at Amazon UK (both 5-star). The reviews at amazon have headlines; here are the 23 headlines given, most recent first. (One person just put in his username, so I left that out.)
- Bible of Table Tennis
- My best table tennis purchase so far
- Excellent addition to table tennis library
- Definitely for thinkers
- A very good book covers a broad range of table tennis tactics
- Good book for someone transitioning from basement star to begin playing at higher levels
- Excellent Advice Lies Herein
- An outstanding book
- Very useful info
- Solid on many aspects of tactics and strategy
- Maybe the Best Table Tennis Book Ever Written
- A MUST for table tennis players who play club and tournaments
- Great Book from a Great Guy
- Playing smart
- For all skill levels
- Finally I can think!
- Very good book on under-covered subject
- Great for the developing (or established) player!
- A tremendous amount of info!
- Highly recommended!
- Hard to find sources on tactics other than Mr. Hodges
- Great Resource For Improving Your Table Tennis Results
- It Made Me Think!
Here are a few other quotes from notable table tennis coaches:
"Larry has done an excellent job in breaking down the skills needed by all players to improve in these areas. This book should be on every table tennis player’s mandatory reading list."
-Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach, ITTF Trainer, and USATT Coaching Chair, 2009-2013
"Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a must read for any player serious about winning. This tactical Bible is right on the mark, and is exactly how I was taught to put together game-winning tactics and strategies."
-Sean O'Neill, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympian
"Larry Hodges' book on table tennis tactics is the best I have ever seen on this subject. This is the first book that explains how to play against the many styles of the game."
-Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and long-time U.S. Men's Team Coach
Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee
Here's the Report (PDF), by Chairperson Carl Danner, covering June and July.
Ping Pong While Playing Drums?
Here's the story and video (3:02) from Table Tennis Nation! A guy sets the "world record" for most consecutive table tennis hits against a wall while playing the drums.
Curvy, Mirrowy Table
Here's the picture! I think that based on the way the table is curved, balls will tend to bounce inward, and so it'll be easy to keep the ball in play - I think. Unless, of course, you are admiring your funhouse mirror image on the table.
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Todd Sweeris, Terese Terranova in Hall of Fame, Yvonne Kronlage Gets Lifetime Achievement Award
Here's the article! I'm especially happy about Todd. He came to the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1986 as a 13-year-old, the youngest player there. I was the manager of the program at the time. So I got to work with him for a few years there. Then I returned to Maryland and opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center (along with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang), and Todd moved to Maryland to train there. On the back of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a picture of me coaching him at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1996. I've already gone through my files and pulled out lots of pictures of him for use at his induction at the USA Nationals in December.
I've also known Yvonne a long time - she was president of the New Carrollton TTC where I started play at age 16 in 1976. We've differed on a few things politically, but we've both been promoting TT for roughly forever - but she's been doing it for a longer forever than I have!
Terese I mostly know from coaching our players against her players at the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals for many years, especially in the 1990s when many of the finals were between Maryland and Florida players, and I'd be coaching the Marylanders (along with coaches Cheng and Jack), and she and Marty Prager would be coaching the Floridians.
Speaking of the USA Nationals, here's the home page on the USATT web page, which includes the entry form and hotel info. I'll be there, but just coaching and attending a few meetings, including the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. (I do the HoF program booklet.)
USATT Web Page
Speaking of the USATT web page, I'm featured there twice right now. I'm pictured, along with Ernesto Ebuen and Roger Yuen, for getting certified as an ITTF Level 2 coach. I'm also pictured (coaching Seyed Hamrahian and Derek Nie in doubles at the 2012 USA Nationals) for my latest Tip of the Day, "Don't Guide Your Loop." Ironically that was half of what I told a kid I coached at the Coconut Cup this past weekend - see my write-up yesterday.
2014 Junior and Cadet National Championships
Want to host them next year, either July 31-Aug. 2 or Aug. 7-9? Here's the Bid Sheet!
However, I'm a bit peeved by this. A lot of the top juniors in the U.S. train in China during the summer, often leaving right after the U.S. Open (usually the first week in July), and returning at the end of August. They are scheduling this right in the middle of that. So many of the best juniors in the country (including several from MDTTC) will likely be in China when this takes place, meaning that if they want to play in the National Junior Championships they'll have to fly halfway around the world. (That's roughly 13-15 hours.) It will cost a fortune - I just did a quick search and the cheapest flights from my area to China round trip are about $1400. Plus they'll show up off by 12 time zones, which affects juniors even more than adults. (A 2PM match is like 2AM for them, etc.) And after flying in for a few days of jet-lagged zombie-like play (which they will then be judged on for the next year), they'll hop back on a plane for the trip back, minus about a week of training (after taking recovery time, etc. into account). What this really means is some of our top juniors won't attend the National Junior and Cadet Championships, and so won't be on the National Junior or Cadet Team because they are too focused on becoming top players by training in China. Or, if they do attend, their poor parents will be out something close to $2000, on top of all the other training expenses.
I'm hoping someone from USATT can tell me if I'm missing something here.
Waldner's Best Drop Shots
Here's a highlights video (6:39) featuring the best drop shots by the great Jan-Ove Waldner. Tired of constant serve and rip and counterlooping rallies? This is completely different!
Four on One Table Tennis
Here's the picture - I have to try this! Maybe on break in our next camp.
Sleepy Table Tennis
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Tip of the Week
ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification
Yesterday I completed all requirements for ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification. I'd taken the six-day, 36-hour course at the Lily Yip TTC two weeks ago, but was also required to do 50 hours of coaching afterwards. I finished that yesterday. I sent the paperwork in last night, and shortly afterwards received notification that it had been approved. So I'm the 11th U.S. coach to achieve this, joining Roger Yuen (who took the Level 2 course with me) and Duane Gall, Mike Mui, Chong Ng, Juan Ly, Federico Bassetti, Iuliana Radu, Ray Pestridge, Jef Savage, Joel Mitchell, and Roger Dickson. Interestingly, I'm the first USATT certified National Coach (the highest U.S. level) to achieve this. There are no Level 3's in the U.S. yet; they haven't taught the course for it here yet, though I hear they are tentatively planning one next year.
We started a new season of our beginning junior class on Saturday morning (10:30AM-Noon) and Sunday afternoon (4:30-6:00PM). One new thing is that we now require all players to register in advance so we know (at least roughly) how many kids will show up, so we know how many coaches to have on hand. For the Sunday class, we only had six pre-registered, a disappointing number. So I arranged for one other coach (John Hsu) to assist. However, since people don't seem to listen (AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!), 16 showed up.
I quickly recruited Raghu Nadmichettu to help out. You need a higher coach to player ratio when working with beginners, especially beginning kids, since they don't yet have the racket skills to practice among themselves - and if they try to, they aren't going to have very good form so they'll be practicing bad habits. So I put them 16 in four groups, four each with me, John, and Raghu, and four on the robot, and did lots of multiball. I rotated the groups every 20 minutes or so. (Three of the four starting on the robot had had some coaching, but one was a complete beginner, so I spent some time jumping back and forth between my players and the robot table.) At the end of session I broke them up into three groups - those who wanted more practice with John (1 player), those who were more advanced and wanted to play "King of the Table" (6 players) and those who wanted to stack pyramids of paper cups and knock them down as I fed multiball (9 players).
On Saturday MDTTC had the Coconut Cup Under 1800 Tournament, which I believe they do twice a year. (Next Saturday is the Over 1800 Tournament.) It's a three-person team, non-USATT sanctioned event (no ratings), with all profits going for Chinese books for Chinese schools. I spent most of the day on a back table coaching. When I was done I watched some of the matches. The team that won included John Olsen, who's both a coach and a student of mine. (He's rated 1999, but the "Under 1800" is a team average, and John was the team's "ace.") If you are interested in playing the Over 1800 Coconut Cup next Saturday, email the organizer.
I was watching one of our junior players in the fifth and final match of a team match. He won the first two games, but then lost the next two. He completely fell apart emotionally, and could barely play. One of his teammates asked me to coach him. So I called a timeout in the fifth game when he was down 2-6. He was breathing rapidly and could barely think straight at this point. I told him to just clear his mind, and think of it as just another match at the club. Don't even try to play; just be a spectator and watch as your subconscious takes over. It couldn't have been easy for him as once a player gets emotional they often lose the deep-down desire to win, or at least the ability to do what's necessary to do so. But he managed to take some deep breaths and cleared his mind. I told him not to play a single point until his mind was clear, which he would do. I did give him two tactical items, very generic ones as the key was mental focus, not tactics - I told him to serve long backspin and loop (opponent was pushing them all back), and to just control the serve back, don't try to attack it since the opponent was steady but passive. As he went back to the table I told him to ball up any nervousness inside him and spit it out, and leave it on the sideline. Anyway, except for an edge ball, he won the next eight points in a row and won the game 11-8. Many people don't understand that coaching between games is at least 50% sports psychology.
The Next Step
Alex Polyakov, author of "Breaking 2000," has come out with another book on table tennis, "The Next Step." Right now there's only a Kindle version, but Alex told me there's a paperback version coming in a month or so. Here's the book's description: "This book provides detailed insights on four essential parts of the game - technique, strategy, tactics, and the mental game. The aim of this book is to create a different type of an artifact and go beyond common basics. This book's goal is to describe numerous principles of table tennis and to show how to apply vast amount of table tennis knowledge to construct player’s most effective game using the skills that the player has already mastered as well as to describe many other skills that the player may choose to develop to take the next step onto higher levels."
More Tips of the Day
Here's a link to the numerous Tips of the Day of mine that USATT is putting up daily. These were all written from 1999-2004 for USATT under the pseudonym "Dr. Ping Pong." I'm a bit leery of this since I haven't seen some of these tips in over a decade, but so far my decade-old self hasn't embarrassed me. The last three tips: "Reading Spin," "Use Ball Placement and Variation Against Short Serves," and "Attack Deep Serves." The picture of me they use for the Tips is me coaching Seyed Hesam Hamrahian (2126, has been over 2250) and Derek Nie (2297 despite his size and age!) in doubles at the 2012 USA Nationals. (I coach Derek regularly at tournaments, but Seyed is normally a student of Samson Dubina.)
Two Table Tennis Obsessives Go Back and Forth
Here's an article in the NY Times where crossword editor and table tennis aficionado Will Shortz interviews photographer and fellow TT aficionado and Alec Soth about his new book, "Ping Pong," which features table tennis photographs.
How Ping Pong Saved the World
Here's info on the film, including a trailer, 1:53. "How Ping-Pong Saved the World is a feature length documentary that recounts the events of April 1971 when a US Table Tennis team became the first Americans invited into communist China in more than two decades. For eight days 15 Ping-Pong diplomats captivated the world with their visit behind the Bamboo Curtain and in the process helped reshape world history. Ping-Pong Diplomacy soon became a metaphor for the on-going difficult relations between two ideological opposites on the brink of détente. Their unlikely invitation paved the way for President Richard Nixon's landmark visit to China just eight months later in February of 1972."
Late Note - here's the entire How Ping Pong Saved the World Documentary online (74 min). I actually linked to this last Tuesday but forgot about it.
Table Tennis - Simply the Best Sport
Here's a highlights and motivational table tennis video (7:53) that came out a year ago that I somehow never saw before. It features
Pittsburgh Steelers Decide Only Vets Can Play Ping Pong in Locker Room
Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation! This is one of the great injustices of the century . . . we shall march on Pittsburgh, and we shall overcome, because I dream of a time when ping-pong players will be judged by their ratings and not by their football seniority.
Jimmy Fallon on Playing Table Tennis with Prince
Here's a video (4:58) of Fallon telling a funny story on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno about playing table tennis with Prince. "It's like spinning, it's like flames are coming out!"
The Ping Pong King Kong
Here's a video (1:51) that shows some of the fastest and best table tennis I've ever seen! (And the facial expressions are great.) Watching this video will wake you up - it's fast and hilarious.
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Walter Wintermute Visit
Coach and player Walter Wintermute from North Carolina visited MDTTC last night. He'd emailed in advance, saying he would be in town for a business trip, and wanted to observe our coaching. So he watched while I ran a one-hour session with five beginning junior players. Then he watched some of our top juniors in training (Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, others), and played a practice match with another local top junior (Josh Tran). Then we talked table tennis coaching for half an hour. He's been coaching more and more and wanted to see how we did it. So I went over the various techniques used for coaching juniors, as well as how we ran the sessions, the games we played at the end, etc.
Walter and I go way back. In early 1977, when I was 17 and had been playing about a year, I was rated 1480; he was rated just a few points lower and was two years younger. We played in three finals in a tournament in Virginia - I believe it was Under 1500, Under 1600, and Under 1700. He won two of them, alas. Later that year we would both shoot up in ratings to 1900. Two years later, in 1979, I would move to North Carolina for two years, where I would play Walter regularly on weekends and at the monthly tournaments.
The last two years his son, David, 15, has been coming to our camps. He has an unearthly resemblance to his dad from 35 or so years ago, so it's sort of nostalgic when I work with him.
Sometimes a student surprises you. Yesterday I was coaching an older player, one of the few non-juniors I'm coaching . He had some major technique problems with his forehand, and we'd been working for a few weeks on fixing them. His backhand, however, was pretty good. His overall level was about 1200 or so. I decided it was time to start him on looping. I figured we'd start with the backhand loop against backspin and spend a few weeks on that before moving on to the forehand loop, where I figured we'd have some problems.
So I went over the backhand loop stroke with him, making sure he had the technique down before actually hitting anything. Then I began feeding him multiball to his backhand with backspin. And he picked it up immediately! I was pleasantly surprised, but not shocked as he did have a pretty good backhand. We worked on it for perhaps 8-10 minutes, and I told him he should make that a strength.
Then, with about 15 minutes left in the session, I asked if he wanted to focus on serves the rest of the way or start work on the forehand loop. He wanted to try looping. So, weeks ahead of schedule, I went over the forehand loop with him, again making sure he had the technique down before hitting anything. Then I began fed him multiball. The very first shot - wham, a perfect loop! Okay, not perfect; he tended to stroke from the shoulder, and hit inside-out. But it looked like one of Timo Boll's patented inside-out forehand loops! We worked on it for ten minutes, and he did the shot over and over, no problem. I was severely impressed. We're going to continue working on these shots so that he can serve and loop from both wings against any push return. And then - dare I say it? - looping out of the rally? Or even counterlooping???
Message from Saive
Here's a video interview (7:19) from Belgium superstar Jean-Michel Saive, former world #1. He talks about his beginning, coaches, the importance of talent, and family.
Ellen Degeneres Surprises Tour Group with Private Ping Pong Tour
Here's the story and video (4:59) from Table Tennis Nation.
Adam Hugh's Second Entry
Yesterday I linked to Adam Hugh's entry to the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. He has a second entry (1:17). He wrote of this one, "This is my 2nd submission. Actually it was the first one I recorded and was originally intended to be a test for the camera but I figured what the heck." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.
Adam Bobrow's 40-Shot Dialog Rally
Here's the video (60 sec) as he lobs away. (Spoilers ahead!) The smasher (Sherwin Afshar) yells something like "Foo-aw!" over and over, and Adam does it right back. Then the dialog begins: "Die!" "No." "Die!" "Not yet." "Die!" "Why?" It all ends with - you guessed it - an edge ball.
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Yesterday's Coaching Activities
I had three hours of private coaching, then a meeting with others to go over our new junior progress reports.
The first session was with an 8-year-old, about 1200 level, who's struggling to decide whether to be an attacker or defender. He may well be the best 8-year-old lobber I've ever seen; he can lob back my hardest smashes dozens of times in a row as long as I don't smother kill at wide angles. (There's something humorous about a little kid lobbing from way back at the barriers!) He also chops well. He's also got a nice loop from both wings, but has one serious problem on both: he's too impatient to do the same shot over and over, and so it's hard to get him to develop a repeating stroke. Unless I keep a firm hand on the drills, most rallies end up with him looping a couple balls, taking a step back after each, and then he's off lobbing and fishing, and looking for chances to suddenly counter-smash. He's recently faced the realization that if he's going to chop, he'll probably need long pips, which will take away his backhand lob - and he doesn't like that. So we're in a state of flux on whether to train him as an attacker or defender. Ultimately, I'm letting him make the final decision. I've advised him that, unless he very much wants to be a chopper/looper, he should focus on attacking, and he can always switch to more chopping later on. It's a big decision that'll affect the rest of his life!!!
The second session was with an 11-year-old, about 1200 level, who's about to finally start playing tournaments. He's playing in the MDTTC October Open and the North American Teams in November, and perhaps others. He's a big forehand attacker who likes to run around the table ripping forehand loops and smashes. Most interesting part of the session was when I urged him to really develop the backhand (while still focusing on the forehand) - and his reaction was he wanted to practice backhands for nearly half the session. We had some great rallies, and near the end it started to really click in. He wants to really focus on serves as well, and I promised we'd start off next session with that.
The third session was with a 12-year-old who was having only his second session since being away all summer. He's about 1000, but rusty. So we're focusing on fundamentals. He's doing really well in multiball drills, where we did a lot of looping against backspin (both wings) and combinations (loop a backspin, smash a topspin). In live drills he's still a bit too erratic, but it's getting better.
Then I met about what I've been calling the Junior Progressions. These are a series of criteria a beginning/intermediate player needs to fulfill to move from Level 1 to Level 5. At the lowest level, players need to bounce the ball on the racket a certain number of times, demonstrate proper grip and ready position, know the basic rules, hit a small number of strokes, etc. As they move up, it gets harder; at Level 5 they have to hit 100 forehands and backhands and demonstrate a few counterloops. We're still finalizing and testing them. We'll be using them for the first time later this fall. Once I'm more confident we have the right criteria, perhaps I'll publish them. (We'd been shown examples of how some other programs did this, such as AYTTO.
The Importance of Lobbing
Here's the latest USATT Tip of the Week, another of the ones I wrote.
ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in Austin
Here's the ITTF article on the coaching course Richard McAfee ran in Austin, TX last week.
Adam Hugh's Juggling No-Look Target Serve
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