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.
John and Kevin's Backhands, Forehands, and Receives
A couple of years ago John Olsen was a low-1800 player with a weak backhand but strong forehand. Kevin Walton was a 1750 player with a strong backhand but a weak forehand. Both had strong receives. I've been coaching and training them since then, usually a two-hour joint session every Saturday that focuses on multiball. John is in his mid-50s, Kevin his late 40s. Both are inverted shakehand players. (John can be "difficult" to coach as he has very good technique, and so not a whole lot to say to him, and mostly just needs practice and physical training.)
One of my coaching mantras is, "Practice everything, but focus on your strengths and weaknesses." In John's case, the focus has been on fixing his main weakness - the backhand - while making his strengths - forehand loop and receive - even stronger. Besides multiball, we'd play backhand-to-backhand games to force him to rally with his backhand, often putting boxes on the table to block off the non-backhand part of the table. We'd also play games where I served all the time so he'd make his receive even better. We worked on making his forehand even stronger mostly with multiball. The result? He often wins the backhand-to-backhand games that I once easily dominated, can mostly shut down my third-ball attacks off my serve, his forehand can be deadly efficient, and he is now rated 1999. In practice he plays even with the local 2100 players. (The initial backhand-to-backhand work had almost immediate effect, and brought him to a 1950 level about 1.5 years ago.)
In Kevin's case, the focus was on fixing his weak forehand, while making his backhand and receive even stronger. Since he's left-handed, we often played crosscourt games, my forehand to his backhand or vice versa. We'd also play regular games so he could work on receiving my serve. The result? He now dominates in those my-forehand-to-his-backhand games that I used to win all the time, and like John, he can mostly shut down my third-ball attacks off my serve. His forehand looping still doesn't have penetrating power, but he can now play strong, aggressive rallies with it. His rating hasn't caught up to him yet because he hasn't played many recent tournaments, but I expect he'll be into the 1900s when he does. (At the Teams in November, his last tournament, he played on a stronger team and so mostly played much stronger players, but did beat a 1903 player, and was up 2-0 on both a 2224 and a 2034 player before losing to both in five. And he's improved since then.)
It's almost eye-opening how much stronger their backhands have become. John's always had a pretty good backhand loop but couldn't exchange backhands very well; now he can go bang-bang backhand to backhand with just about anyone. Kevin's always had that strong backhand, but now can both hit and topspin it, which makes it very hard to play against, and is why he can dominate those crosscourt rallies to my (or others) forehands. As to receive, let's just say that if other players returned my serves as well as they do now, I'd be in serious trouble.
MDTTC Camp Day One - Again
Once again we're into another five-day camp, the second of ten consecutive ones this summer, all Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. Our routine is fairly set; on day one we focus on the forehand. I gave short lectures on grip, ready stance, and the forehand. In the afternoon session I worked with the beginners. Last week we had about 30 players during most sessions; this week we seem to have even more.
ITTF World Hopes Team Selected
Here's the article. USA's Crystal Wang was among the five girls selected.
ITTF World Tour
Here's the article from Inside the Games, "Top Table Tennis Players Gear Up for Return to Lucrative ITTF World Tour." They will give out $2.5 million in prize money this next year. Here's the ITTF Calendar for it - note the U.S. Open, July 3-6.
Shadow of the Pong
Ariel Hsing vs. Doo Hoi Kem
Here's the complete video (59:14) of their match in the Junior Girls' Final at the Egypt Junior & Cadet Open this past weekend. Spoiler Alert! Ariel is up 10-9 match point in the sixth and seventh games, and leads 6-0 in the seventh before losing 12-10 in the seventh.
Sidespin Serving Trick Shot
Here's a video of a serving trick shot (40 sec). I may add a version of it to my own bag of exhibition tricks.
Monster University Ping-Pong
Don't forget to see the movie Monster University - just for the table tennis scene! Here's a gif image of it. Here's more on it at Table Tennis Nation: "The website even mentions ping pong and school champ Zane 'Great Wall' Xiao who appears in the GIF above. PING PONG Multi-paddled behemoth Zane 'Great Wall' Xiao defends his singles title in his single year. Sports Monstrated called Xiao 'ruthless at the table, with his omnidirectional vision and octo-dextrous hand-eye coordination. He’s a force to be reckoned with.'"
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Tip of the Week
Exhaustion Times a Thousand and MDTTC Camps
That's how tired I seem to be most of the time, with the sudden increase in coaching hours due to the MDTTC camps. I normally coach or act as practice partner about 20 hours/week. Add six hours/day, Mon-Fri on top of that, and suddenly my legs feel like dried out sticks. Meanwhile, I've got a zillion things on the side I have to do - prepare for the U.S. Open next week, prepare for the ITTF coaching seminar I'm attending in August and the one I'm teaching in October, prepare for the writer's workshop I'm attending in late July, work on the planned rewrite of my Table Tennis Steps to Success book (tentatively retitled Table Tennis Fundamentals), promote the MDTTC junior program, set up the planned Maryland Junior League for the fall, plus the usual daily blog and Tips of the Week. Anyone got some sleep or extra hours each week for sale? (I think the Steps to Success rewrite will probably be the first casualty; I'll probably postpone that until the fall.)
I actually went to bed early last night with a headache, and woke up with a headache at 6:45AM. I went to my computer, and the first thing I wrote was, "I went to bed with a headache and woke up with a headache, so no blog today." Then I reconsidered, and did the blog after all. The headache's still there, but more of a background thing.
On Friday we finished the first week of our ten weeks of summer camps, each of them Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. I gave short lectures on pushing and doubles. We did our usual Friday's "player's choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on in multiball, with the coaches ready with a suggestion if the player wasn't sure. In the afternoon we ran a practice tournament.
Over the weekend I coached about ten hours, which was less than during the camps, but still exhausting. In the Saturday group session, 4:30-6:30, where we play practice matches (I'm a practice partner for it), I was exhausted. So I played a very conservative blocking game, with a bunch of tricky serve and one-shot finals added in, and somehow won all my matches easily (mostly against 1900-2100 players). In the end, consistency is king. (That's true at all levels - it's just at the highest levels it's consistency in loop-killing winners that's king.)
This morning we start a new camp. As usual, I mostly run the morning sessions, with Cheng and Jack running the afternoon sessions. In the afternoon, I'll be working with the beginners. This week will be even more exhausting than last week. The camp hours are 10AM-1PM, 3-6PM, so there's a two-hour break in the middle where we eat lunch, I take the kids on the daily trek to 7-11 (five minute walk), and then rest. But this week I have a one-hour private coaching scheduled every day from 2-3PM.
I'm looking forward to the U.S. Open next week, where I'll finally get to "rest." After all, I'm only coaching three players, attending meetings, and playing in five events! (Only hardbat/sandpaper events - I may have to drop some if they conflict with coaching. I'm normally a sponge player.)
Who'd have thunk it? A chopper, a Japanese player ranked 188 in the world, wins Men's Singles at the Japan Open this weekend in Yokohama. Here's the ITTF home page for it, with articles, pictures, and results. Here's a video of the final (5:13, with time between points taken out), where Masato Shiono defeats China's Xu Chenahao 4-0. Here's more on the final from Table Tennis Daily. Here's a video (5:03) of the Top Ten Shots at the Japan Open. Here's video (50 sec) of a great doubles rally.
Ariel Hsing at Awards Ceremony
Here's video of Ariel at the Awards Ceremony after reaching the final of Under 18 Girls at the Egypt Junior and Cadet Open this past weekend. She was all gracious and professional despite losing a close final - she was up 10-9 match point in both the sixth and seventh games, and was up 6-0 in the seventh before losing to Doo Hoi Kem of Japan, 12-10 in the seventh. Here's the ITTF page for it, with articles, pictures, and results.
Timo Boll Defeats Zhang Jike
Here's the article, pictures, and video (3:55) of his great win at Chinese Super League just yesterday.
Behind-the-Back Shot of the Day
Here's the video (19 sec). And then he just nonchalantly walks away! It's the other guy who reacts.
Hermione Plays Table Tennis
Okay, it's really Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the Harry Potter Series. Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation. Here's what she tweeted: "I just got rid of my sofa and replaced it with a ping pong table. I think this is the best decision I have made in months.#gameon!"
Lady Antebellum at the Country Music Festival
Here's the article, pictures, and video links. That's Homer and Adam Brown playing two of the band members, with Michael Wetzel umpiring.
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MDTTC Camps - Day Four Highlights
Yesterday's focus was on backhand looping and hitting. As usual, I did a short lecture and demo. I used Derek Nie as my demo partner, feeding him multiball as he looped against backspin. We also rallies where I served backspin, he pushed, I backhand hit or looped, he blocked, I chopped, and we started over.
One of the changes in my coaching over the years is in regard to when to teach the backhand loop against backspin. For many years, I would teach the backhand drive against backspin first, as did most other coaches, and later teach the backhand loop, which in some ways is just an extension of a topspinny backhand drive. But more and more I'm teaching the backhand loop against backspin very early on. Topspin on the backhand is more and more important these days, and so I tend to teach a more topspinny backhand from the beginning than before - and so it's easier for kids to learn to backhand loop as well, since after a few sessions they have already developed the habit of creating some topspin. Older beginners have more trouble with this, and sometimes I'll have them learn to drive against backspin, like in the old days, but only after testing them out and seeing if they were able and willing to learn to backhand loop.
If you ever come to my lectures, everyone there quickly pays attention for one reason and one reason only - at some point, often without warning, I'll say "What's the first thing you do?" The kids in the camp compete to see who can blurt out "Get in position!" first. It's also a good way of ingraining that idea in them. I'll sometimes say this right in mid-lecture.
Here's something that's come up a few times in the camp on the forehand loop. Often players take the ball too quick off the bounce. This causes multiple problems. First, since looping is a longer stroke, a player (at the beginning/intermediate levels) need more time for the stroke, and so are rushed if they try to take it too quickly, such as at the top of the bounce as they might with a regular drive. Second, if contact is too much in front, they'll end up with a flatter and erratic loop. Instead, they should start out by taking the ball a bit later until they can get good topspin and do it over and over. Once proficient at it they can take it quicker. Some coaches do teach the loop at the top of the bounce right from the start, but I find this leads to more problems if done too early. However, it might work for a very talented player with extremely good timing. It all depends on the player.
The afternoon session included a lot of stroking drills, some serve practice, way too many broken balls (did we set a record? Hopefully never again), and the usual games toward the end - King of the Hill, Brazilian Teams, and the ever-popular Cup Game, where the kids stack paper cups and then knock them down as I feed multiball.
One of the kids, 13-year-old Leon Bi, who is signed up for all ten weeks of our summer camps (as are a few others) is having problems with an ingrown toenail. Over lunch I took him to see a doctor. But irritatingly, they wouldn't see him unless one of his parents was present, even though they faxed over a signed document giving permission. So later that afternoon Coach Cheng took him to another doctor, with Leon's parents meeting him there. This time they treated it with various ointments and painkillers, and he seems fine now.
It was a pretty exhausting day. After coaching in the camp from 10AM-6PM (with a lunch break), I also had two private coaching sessions from 6-8PM.
USATT Search Box
You can now search the USATT home page for various items, including tournaments (listed by star level), coaching courses, Paralympic events and classifications, and USATT meetings, and you can do it by date ranges and by region/state/country. Here's the link, or click on the "See all events" link on the top right of the USATT home page. (Click on "coaching courses" and the seventh one down is the ITTF coaching course I'm teaching in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 2-6.)
Chairman's Blog - Regarding our Tournaments, Part 1
Here's a new blog entry (just went up this morning) of USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin on USATT tournaments, in particular about the upcoming U.S. Open.
Guo Yan Ends International Career
Serena Williams and Table Tennis
Yesterday I linked to a picture of Serena Williams playing table tennis at Heathrow Airport as she "prepares" for Wimbledon. Here's a page that links to a video of her playing (1:49) as well as more pictures.
Table Tennis Reality Show in China
Here's the link - "Who is the King?"
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MDTTC Camps - Day Three Highlights
Yesterday's focus was on forehand looping. I did a short lecture and demo, both against backspin and block.
There are four ways to demo a forehand loop against backspin. You could just serve backspin, your partner pushes it back, and you loop. But then they only get to see the shot one at a time. Another way is to feed multiball backspin to someone with good form so they can see it over and over. Another way, if you can chop, is to serve backspin, partner pushes, you loop, partner blocks, and you chop. Then your partner pushes, and you loop again. (If your partner is the one who can chop, then adjust for this.) If you or your partner can really chop (i.e. against loops, not just against blocks), then one loops, the other chops. A good player with a sheet of antispin, long pips, or hardbat can often chop loops back over and over even if they aren't normally a chopper. (If they use long pips, it may put some strain on the looper since he's getting all his topspin back as backspin!)
Two of the players in my group had never looped before. One picked it up pretty quickly, though he had one of those ragged strokes with lots of extra movements. We worked on simplifying it. One thing I often tell players is that much of coaching isn't telling players what to do; it's telling them what not to do. In this case, there was a lot of excess motion to get rid of - sort of a waving backswing, extra wristiness, and too-jumpy feet.
The other player had hitting thoroughly ingrained, and had difficulty switching to looping against backspin. He had trouble dropping the racket or bringing the tip down and back, dropping his shoulder, and getting down in general to lift the backspin. He also had trouble grazing the ball for topspin, but as I quickly suspected, this was more because of his not dropping his racket than an inability to "roll" the ball with topspin. Once I got him to drop his racket (which wasn't easy), he began getting pretty decent topspins. He'll need a lot of practice on this.
One of the "highlights" I have fun doing when teaching the loop to new players is their first regular forehand drive or smash after doing lots of looping against backspin, where they are lifting the ball instead of driving forward. I always tell them that I'm going to now give them a regular topspin ball (I'm feeding multiball), and that they shouldn't drop the shoulder, just drive forward. But invariably, even though I warn them and predict they'll go off the end, sure enough their first few shots go off. This happened with all five players in my morning group, even the ones who had had done some looping before. I ended the session by having them all alternate looping backspin and hitting topspin so they could work on switching back and forth.
Fortune Cookie Frivolities
Now we find out if any of the kids in the camp read my blog. (Some do, but not each morning.) We have Chinese food delivered to the club at lunch each day, with the players making their orders in the morning, which we call in. At lunch yesterday I pulled a trick on them that I'd pulled in the last camp as well. Using Photoshop, I created a fake fortune cookie fortune that read, "A meteor will kill you in five minutes." I opened my fortune cookie very publicly, made a surreptitious switch of the fortune with the fake one I'd hidden in my hand, and held it up and read it, and then showed it to them. The kids went crazy with disbelief. Five minutes later, when none were looking, I smacked a rock I'd snuck in against the ground and claimed it was a meteor that had just missed me. Today I've got another fake fortune ready, which read, "A ping-pong player will kill you this afternoon." I'll report tomorrow on the response.
This is the all-time favorite game of the kids in every camp during breaks. I think I've described it before, but it's so popular I'll go over it again. I'm not sure, but I think the kids in our camp from years ago might have invented and named the game - I don't remember ever seeing this until it suddenly began popping up in our camps.
The rules are simple. You can have as many players on one table as you want, numbered in the order they will hit the ball. You start the rally with a player serving just like table tennis. From there on, whether off the serve or in a rally, the next player must wait for the ball to go off the table and bounce on the floor, even if it means waiting for the ball to bounce several times or roll across the table, and even if it hits the net. The player must then return the ball so it hits either side of the table, and the rally continues until someone misses. Then that person is out. You continue until there is only one player. The only other rule is no looping; they are almost impossible to return. Soft topspins are allowed, but nothing aggressive. If one does loop, it's a takeover.
There are some interesting tactics, such as faking a hit to one side and going the other way, or using various spins to make the ball do funny bounces - backspin is especially popular in throwing off the next player. Players sometimes smack the ball into the net so that the next player will break the wrong way, and then have to recover when the ball rebounds off the net. Some of the kids focus on just getting every ball back; others are more creative with their shots. Since it takes time for the ball to bounce both on the table and the floor, players have time to run down most shots. I watched them play for a while - at one point there were two adjacent tables going with about eight on each - and I've decided my next book will be "Jungle Pong Tactics for Thinkers."
Table Tennista and ITTF
Serena Williams Table Tennis
Pong-Style Beach Surfing
Here's Kim Gilbert doing a little beach surfing, pong style.
Now That's a Lot of Ping-Pong Tables
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MDTTC Camps - Day Two Highlights and Improving Girl
Yesterday's focus was on the backhand. Most of the players in my group, unlike some of the bizarre forehands I saw yesterday, were a bit more orthodox, and all either had pretty good backhands or picked up on it pretty quickly. How boring! I had several of them work on backhand accuracy, hitting shots side to side. I also worked a bit more on forehands, since this seems to be this week's major prevailing weakness.
For the talent versus training debate, here's an interesting story which could seemingly argue both sides. On Monday I worked with an eight-year-old girl who literally struggled to even hit the ball in multiball, not to mention trying to get it on the table or hit it properly. At the same time I was working with a five-year-old boy, with one standing on the forehand side, the other on the backhand side, both hitting forehands. The five-year-old also struggled at first, but he was at least hitting the ball, and by the end of the session was hitting the ball on the table somewhat consistently, though he kept letting his wrist drop back. (I wrote about that yesterday. He also has a tendency to stand completely sideways to hit backhands, and I'm having a hard time convincing him otherwise.) But the girl, despite being older and much bigger, continued to struggle, and seemed to make little progress.
We finished training part of the morning session with serve practice, and again I worked with these two together, along with a few others. Again, the five-year-old picked up on it, and was serving on the table over and over. (That's actually somewhat rare - at that age most struggle to serve.) The eight-year-old absolutely could not serve. I worked with her for fifteen minutes, and she did not make a single serve. Her toss was spastic with no control, and then she'd lunge to hit the ball, and usually completely miss it. Sometimes she'd hit it, but it would go straight sideways or even backwards. I tried to stay positive, but it was pretty frustrating on both sides. I've never had someone struggle this much just to serve.
We finished the session with Brazilian Teams (2-5 players on a team, one player plays until he loses a point then next person on the team comes up). The girl still couldn't serve, and never made a return, and so didn't even come close to winning a point. (She began letting her opponent serve when she came up.) Because of her serving struggles, about ten minutes before the end of the session I pulled her aside to work on her serve. Again she struggled, though she finally made one mostly lucky serve. Since she seemed in a mood to learn, I finished the session feeding her a few balls multiball to see if she could at least get a few on the table. She got a few, but it was still a mostly random thing - she'd miss the entire ball half the time, and the rest she'd spray all over the court with a spastic stroke. Her dad came in at the end and watched, and while he didn't say anything, you could tell he was a bit disappointed in her inability to hit the ball on the table.
Now we continue her story on Tuesday. I worked with her again in multiball, and she finally started to get a few on the table. It wasn't a gradual process; something must have clicked, and suddenly she was able to get the ball on the table. We're not talking great shots here, or even a great stroke, but she was hitting the ball on the table, which was a great victory for her. Later we worked on serves, and she continued to struggle. She made two or three serves in about ten minutes of trying. She skipped the Brazilian Teams and instead practiced serves again, and this time (drum roll!) she began to make a few. She was finally getting the knack of tossing the ball and meeting it with her racket in front of her instead of randomly tossing the ball all over and lunging at it.
Tuesday afternoon I worked with her more on both stroking and serving, and she improved on both. Finally, halfway through the afternoon session, she began making half her serves. So I challenged her to a "match," with games to seven - she would serve, and if she made the serve, she scored; if she missed, I scored. Alas, I won the first game something like 7-2. Then something again clicked, and she won the second game by about the same score. I won game three in a nail-biting 7-5 when she missed her last three serves in a row. Then, miracle of miracles, she won game four 7-0! Then she lost it, and I won game five 7-1 when she only made one serve out of eight. I suggested we play best of seven, and we continued - and she won the last two games 7-3, 7-1. She was the champion!
Halfway through the afternoon session we played Brazilian Teams, and she won two points - both times when opponents (in the beginners group) failed to return her serve. (Alas, she has yet to make an actual return in a game, but hopefully that'll come.) Afterwards, when several others had to leave early, I worked with her one more time, one-on-one for fifteen minutes. I brought out the giant rubber frog I sometimes let the younger kids use for target practice, and fed her multiball. At first she missed over and over, but the balls were at least hitting the table. We kept track of her hits. And then she started hitting it! About that time, as if in a TV movie, her dad came in, and saw her hitting it - including three times in a row one time. She hit it 20 times before we stopped. Her dad was unbelievably happy. "I can't believe how much she's improved!" he exclaimed. The contrast from Monday, when she was lucky to even hit the ball, to Tuesday afternoon was rather extreme.
She still has a long way to go, but after seeing her on Monday I would never believe that on Tuesday she'd be hitting the frog about one-third of the time, or making her serve 75% of the time. She has yet to make a return in an actual rally, other than when fed multiball to one spot, so that's next on the agenda. (She has to miss today - Wednesday - but will be back Thu and Fri, and I think she said she's coming next week as well.)
USATT High Performance Committee Report
Here are the Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee (April-May, 2013)
Two Weird Things Science Says Make You Better At Table Tennis
Here's the article. Wearing Red and Training Under Bright Lights?
Penhold Beats Shakehands
Here's an article on the annual "Penhold Versus Shakehand" team match in China. This year Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Xu Xin defeated Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. There were some interesting rules for the competition. (And where was Ma Long???)
Interview with Ariel Hsing
Here's an interview (3 min) that just went online with Ariel Hsing as well as Coach Dennis Davis, from the 2012 USA Nationals in December.
Zhang Jike Point-Winning Foot Shot
Here's a video (40 sec) of an exhibition where World Champion Zhang Jike scores a point against Xu Xin with a drop shot with his foot!
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Starting yesterday we have ten consecutive weeks of camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, each Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM, with a 1-3PM lunch and rest break. Here's info on the camps.
I'll be coaching at most of them. I will miss at least two of them: July 1-5 for the U.S. Open, and July 22-26 for a science fiction writer's workshop I'm attending in Manchester, NH, July 19-27. (Call it my annual vacation.) I might also miss July 29 - Aug. 2 for the Junior Olympics - not sure yet. If there's a small turnout in some weeks, I may miss some of those sessions as well - I could use the rest break. The camps are dominated by junior players (mostly Chinese), but there are usually a few adults who take part. The camps are for all ages and levels.
This is our 22nd consecutive year of running camps at MDTTC, which started in 1992. Coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I have been there from the start. Also coaching (or acting as practice partners) at the camps are Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), Chen Jie ("James"), and Raghu Nadmichettu.
From the start we've had a basic system. I mostly run the morning sessions (10AM-1PM), where I give short lectures, and then we break into groups doing lots of multiball. Until two years ago the players were divided pretty much randomly in each group. Then Cheng and Jack asked if I could focus on the beginners in the camp, since they tended to slow things down in other groups - they need more individual attention - and I agreed. So now I generally get all the beginners in my group. We end the session with games, often 11-point games moving up and down tables, either singles or doubles.
Then lunch is served - Chinese food that each player orders for $6 in the morning. (Some go out for lunch or bring their own, but most order the Chinese food.) After lunch I generally take a group to our customary 7-11 trip.
Cheng and Jack run the afternoon session. This is mostly table practice, and then games at the end. We usually finish with Brazilian Teams, where you have teams of 3-6, with one player at a time from each team playing a point. If you win the point, you keep playing; if you lose the point, you go to the end of your team's line, and the next player is up. New player always serves. We generally handicap the top players against the weaker players, for example only giving them one shot to win the point.
Day One Camp Highlights
We focused on grip, stance, and the forehand on the first day. (Advanced players were grouped separately.) I had an interesting mix in my first group on Monday morning. Here's a listing of five of them:
In the afternoon session I worked with eight beginners, including Jumpy Two-Fingers, Wrist-Back Forehand, and Big Backswing Forehand. We did a lot of practice and a lot of games.
ITTF Coaching Seminars
Here's a listing of upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S., both Level 1 and Level 2. I'm teaching one in South Bend, IN on Oct. 2-6, 2013. I'm also attending the Level 2 course in New Jersey, Aug. 26-31.
Here's a video (2:37) with highlights from the ITTF Hopes Week in Austria (where many of the best 11- and 12-year-olds in the world trained and competed together for a week).
Homer and Adam Brown Earn Guitars
Here's the article on their getting guitars from the country music group Lady Antebellum.
New Nike Ping-Pong Commercials
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Tip of the Week
Starting today we have ten consecutive weeks of camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, each Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM, with a 1-3PM lunch and rest break. Here's info on the camps. I'll write more about them tomorrow.
Crystal Wang at Hopes Week
Here's the home page for Hopes Week in Austria, where the best 11- and 12-year-olds in the world (outside China) gathered after qualifying in national trials. In the tournament held at the end of the camp, 11-year-old Crystal Wang (with a now outdated 2292 rating) made the final of Girls' Singles, losing to a player from Hong Kong in the final. (For some reason, the results and articles have her listed as "Chrystal.") The USA boys' representative, Victor Liu, made the quarterfinals of Boys' Singles. The two teamed up to make the final of the Team event, where they lost to Hong Kong.
Crystal is from my club, the Maryland Table Tennis Center; I've watched her develop from a beginner. Jack Huang is her primary coach. I've coached her in a number of tournaments, including the Hopes Trials in the U.S., and I've had many practice sessions and hundreds of practice matches with her. Let's just say playing her is scary; no matter what you do she keeps coming at you with heavy topspin from both wings, often right off the bounce. I don't think I've ever seen anyone that young who was so good at going after the middle or moving the ball around. She may be the best 11-year-old girl in the world outside China, though Korea and Japan might have something to say about that. (Remember that Hong Kong is a territory of China, though it's actually a bit more complicated than that.)
Mikael Andersson, the ITTF Senior Consultant - Development/Education & Training, blogged about Hopes Week in his June 13 blog, including a picture of Crystal. Here's what he had to say about her:
Best of all the Hopes in the venue – in relation to relative skill – at least in training, is the (also) 11 year old Crystal WANG from the deep gold mines of the Maryland Table Tennis Center in the USA. With her – the sky is the limit. "I am training seven times a week said Crystal when I caught her in the hotel lobby early in the week. Three of the sessions are with private coaches/ sparring partners. One is left –handed, one is defensive player and one is a pen-holder. The remaining times I join some group sessions and practice / play with the other players in the center."
No wonder – the perfect technique – the touch and the calm composure that this young USA shooting star is showing us in training. I beg you Crystal; Spread your wings and fly as far as you can!
It finished yesterday. Here's the home page with results, articles, photos, etc.
Table Tennista - the Magazine
Here is Issue Three of their new magazine.
Top Spin: The Story of Ariel Hsing
Here's a video (11:46) that chronicles the rise of USA's Ariel Hsing. "With hard work and family sacrifice, a young table tennis champion works towards becoming one of the top players in the world -- Ariel Hsing exudes a quiet confidence and intensity that rivals any young professional athlete working hard to become a promising Olympic champion. However, Ariel's story goes beyond her personal dedication and also reveals the family sacrifices that foster her talent."
Quentin Robinot Bullet Shot at ITTF China Open
Here's the video (35 seconds) of this great counter-kill.
The Darkness of Pong
Here's another artistic table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.) Here's how Jim Short described it: "Wonderful artistic touches: notice how the light draws your eye from upper left to lower right, making the table the centerpiece of the work. And these elements combine to make the figure even more shadowy and mysterious, adding to the dark flair of the art."
Actress Ping Pong
Actress Chace Crawford teaches Anna Kendrick how to play, as brought to you by Table Tennis Nation.
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Fundamentals and a Strong Foundation
I had a 1200-rated 11-year-old student recently at a tournament who faced long pips for the first time, against a higher-rated player. The opponent was a long pips blocker, no sponge, and pretty much covered the entire table with the long pips on the backhand, i.e. a "pushblocker." My student went in having no idea what to do, other than my admonition to give lots of deep no-spin, play steady, and patiently wait for an easy ball to put away. However, it became obvious very quickly that even against a high ball, he wasn't going to be smashing the high balls with any consistency; the long pips returns were just too different for him.
So pretty much on his own he stopped smashing, and simply rolled ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after . . . (I think you get the idea). The rallies were extremely long, but his patience won out; he won, 11-9 in the fifth. (The opponent went on to have a great tournament - probably because my student warmed him up!)
Later, in a training session, I mentioned that in tournaments you are going to face all sorts of different and strange styles like this one, and there were just too many to prepare him for everything. I also told him that at some point, I'd bring out a sheet of long pips for him to practice against, but not now; it wasn't worth it, and would just take away from other training. I wanted to install strong fundamentals, not worry about learning to play all the different styles this early in his development. He'll learn that later.
I told him something that I thought should be highlighted for others developing their games:
"If I try to prepare you for everything, you'll be prepared for nothing. If I give you a solid foundation, you can adjust to anything."
The point was that if I tried to prepare him for [and here I started to write a LONG list of weird styles, but decided I'd leave it to your imagination instead - there's a lot], then he'd know what to do against all of them, but would have less of a foundation in his game since we'd have wasted so much time preparing for things he'll rarely face. And so even if he knew how to play these weird styles, he wouldn't have the foundation to execute what was needed to win, and so he wouldn't be prepared against anyone. Instead, I told him to develop the foundation of his game (i.e. the fundamentals) so that his foundation is stronger than his opponents, and learn to adjust to them. If he did, I assured him he'd go right through opponents that he would otherwise have struggled with.
Another way to think of it is this: if the opponent has a "weird" game, then he's not playing like most players. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a reason certain techniques are considered "good" and others "not so good." If you have "good" technique, and the other has "not so good" technique, then his only overall advantage over you is the very weirdness of his game. His weakness is that his technique is flawed, and if you have better technique, then you can adjust to his weirdness and win because of the sounder technique.
Rest assured there are many players with so-called "not so good" technique who are very good. They have honed these "not so good" techniques to the point where they are pretty good. But overwhelmingly they would be even better if they had spent the same amount of time and energy developing more proper technique. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, there's a reason why good technique is considered as such. (The biggest exception to this might be the very style mentioned above, "pushblockers," where players who are not as physically "athletic" as others can often reach a pretty high level by just blocking with long pips instead of conventional technique - but with long pips no sponge, that could be considered "proper technique." But that's a whole other essay for another time.)
I do believe that players should experiment and learn to do a few things different, especially on the serve, and perhaps on at least one receive or rally shot. Having something different can throw off an opponent. Just don't overdo it for the sake of doing it if your goal is to reach your maximum potential.
Yesterday was a pretty good day. Due to near-hurricane thunderstorms, three of my four students cancelled (normally not "good," but I needed the rest); I got a bunch of writing and reading done; the Orioles, in a four-team AL East Divisional race, beat the rival Red Sox while the other two in the race, the Yankees and Rays, both lost (and as noted in yesterday's blog, Orioles Hangout published my Top Ten List); and I got to see the midnight showing of "Man of Steel."
ITTF Coaching Seminars
Here's an ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 coaching seminar in Austin, Texas run by Richard McAfee, starting last Monday and ending today. I ran a similar one in Maryland in 2011, and am running another in South Bend, IN, Oct. 2-6. More info on that soon - probably Monday.
Chinese Versus European Loop
Here's an article that highlights the difference between the "Chinese" and "European" loops.
USATT Board Chair Blog
Here's a blog entry posted yesterday by the Chair of the USATT Board Mike Babuin. Here's the opening paragraph: "Recently I had the distinct pleasure to introduce table tennis into Valor Games. For those unfamiliar with Valor Games it is a competition designed and geared towards military personnel and veterans who are physically disabled and/or who have suffered from one of several conditions, traumas, or disorders as a result of their service to our country. While many people may be familiar with the Wounded Warrior Program, Valor Games is a similar yet distinct competition that is gaining in recognition and participation across the United States."
Here's the latest Pongcast (18:46). "This month the Pongcast reviews the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships and looks at what has been happening at the ITTF in May."
Lily and Ariel at China Open
Below is a summary of how the USA girls are doing in the China Open, as posted this morning by Bruce Liu. (Here's the ITTF China Open Page with results, pictures, and articles, and here are a few matches of Lily, Ariel, and Wu Yue on iTV. The China Open ends this Sunday.)
June 14 (China time) Summary:
- Lily upset the #16 seed BARTHEL Zhenqi (#66 in the world) in the round of 32. It was another wild 7-gamer (11-5, 12-10, 7-11, 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-1).Her round of 16 opponent will be World Champion/World Cup Champion/Olympic Gold Medalist, aka the Grand Slammer, GUO Yue from China. We will see how wild Lily can be. It will be tough for sure. But that why it is worth fighting for.
- Ariel fought hard as usual. She lost to GUO Yan (#5) in 5 (9-11, 5-11, 11-9, 5-11, 5-11). A great effort.
- Lily and Ariel are in the quarterfinals at the China Open! Not too shabby for two 17-year-old. Due to their busy schedule, they really did not have much time practice doubles. Imagine if they can practice more together... Their opponents in the quarterfinal will be GUO Yue(#16) / LIU Shiwen (#2) from China. I'm pretty sure other than Lily and Ariel, all other players still in the Women's Doubles are full-time professional players! In fact, most likely the majority of the players in the whole tournament are professional players.
U21 Girls' Singles:
- Lily played twice today in the event. In the round of 16, she duly stopped the dangerous HIRANO Miu 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 14-12, 18-16). Alas, lost to ZHOU Yihan (#102) from Singapore 4-1 in the quarterfinals. It is a great accomplish already, especially in China.
- Ariel lost 0-3 to the red hot So Eka is out but don't let the game counts fool you. It was a highly competitive match. You can see it yourselves from the score (13-15, 9-11, 8-11).
Musical Ping-Pong Table
Yes, an interactive musical ping-pong table, on display at Union Depot in St. Paul, MN!
Apparently this table plays music as the ball hits the surface.
Kim Kardashian Plays Ping-Pong With Her Family
Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. The apocalypse has occurred.
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Staying Low Revisited
The Tip of the Week this past Monday was Staying Low. It was inspired by a student of mine, Sameer, 11, who tends to stand up straight when he plays. I've been on him about this for some time, and usually he gets lower - but only in practice drills if I constantly remind him. Once he plays points, he stands up again. At the Eastern Open this past weekend he won Under 800 and made the final of U950, but there were times where he didn't look so good since he was standing up so straight. (In newer ratings from before the tournament, he's rated 1181.)
So I told him that for the next month, our sessions are going to be very "boring," that we're going to focus almost exclusively on staying low. It's not just getting low, it's how you do it. When he does get low, his tendency is to simply bend his knees while leaning backwards from the waist, instead of forward. Also, his feet tend to be too close together, his feet pointing too much forward. You can't fix any one of these; they all go together. He also tends to either let his free arm tightly at his side, either hanging down or jammed up to his chest. Keeping the free hand out for balance is closely related to the ready position as you need it to stay balanced when you move.
So yesterday we started off by spending about ten minutes just shadow practicing with the proper stance. Once he looked comfortable doing this, we hit forehand to forehand at a very slow pace - it almost drove him crazy since he likes to play fast (like most kids), and every now and then in exasperation he'd smack one in. But we did this for twenty minutes, just forehand to forehand, adding some side-to-side footwork near the end. Then we did the same thing, backhand to backhand.
Then we played some points. The key was that he wasn't to play table tennis; he was to play "low table tennis," where he had to play the points in his newer stance. I expected problems, and kept the rallies simple - but lo and behold, he'd developed the habit during those excruciatingly slow rallies! Normally when I spot him 6 points I win over and over. This time he did something unthinkable - he won four out of five! Now I probably did miss a few shots, and was keeping things simple, but it was by far the best he's ever played. As a side bonus, by staying low he was able to see and react to my serve better than before, and returned them better than ever, even the "trick" serves I threw at him near the end of most games.
Here are this week's headlines at Table Tennista:
Behind the Scenes at the 2013 China Open
Here's a 38-second video with a few action shots and short interviews with Chinese players at the China Open. Interesting to watch, even more interesting if you understand Chinese, which I do not. Feel free to translate anyone!
Three More Books Coming Out By Next Year
By the end of the year I'll have enough Tips of the Week to put them together in one volume, "Table Tennis Tips." (Highly original title - have a better suggestion?) It'll clearly be marked as a compilation of my previously published Tips of the Week. So far I've done 123 Tips of the Week here at TableTennisCoaching.com, one every Monday since Jan. 11, 2011. (Confession: a few didn't go up until Tuesday.) I anticipate doing 29 more this year, for a total of 152, plenty for a book. Sadly, I'm running out of topics, and so anticipate ending the Tips of the Week at the end of this year. (I also did 169 much shorter Tips of the Week, which were published near the back of Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - took up only 54 of the book's 272 pages. The Tips I do here are considerably longer, more like features than simple tips.)
Next year I'll also be publishing "More Pings and Pongs," the second anthology of my best published science fiction & fantasy stories. "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" came out in 2010 with my 30 best; I've now sold enough new stories for a new volume. The only problem is that typically when you sell a story, the buyer generally has sole rights to the story for six months, and so I anticipate I won't have rights to all the stories I'd like to use until April of 2014.
As a special, I've lowered the price for the Kindle version of Pings and Pongs to $2.99 - buy yours today!!! (I'd lower the price of the print version, but due to printing costs and other issues, the lowest I can sell it for is $8.35 - a bargain!!! It includes "Ping-Pong Ambition," a table tennis fantasy story.)
I have one other book also planned - "Table Tennis Fundamentals," the rewrite of "Table Tennis Steps to Success."
Here's my Amazon page that lists all my books, other than the USATT manual "Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis," which I plan to rewrite and have professionally published sometime in the future.
Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List
Orioles Hangout published another of my infamous Top Ten Lists. This one was "Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Get a TOR Starter." (For you non-baseball people, "TOR Starter" means "Top Of Rotation Starter," i.e. a pitching ace.) It's the eleventh article of mine they've published - nine "Top Ten" lists and two regular articles.
Non-Table Tennis - Sheeba
Yesterday I did 3.5 hours of coaching, and was pretty exhausted afterwards. I got home around 8:15PM, and let Sheeba, my dog, outside. She's 15 years old, which puts her in her eighties in human years. She's almost completely deaf, and half blind - almost completely blind without bright light - and has arthritic back legs so she hobbles around. When I went down around 8:30 PM the gate was open. One of the tenants downstairs had just left, and likely left it open, not realizing she was in the yard. Sheeba was nowhere to be seen.
I spent the next hour and 45 minutes circling the neighborhood and expanding outward, trying to find her. Calling for her was pointless since she's deaf, though I found it was a good way to indicate to people that I was searching for a lost dog. I kept asking around, and twice I found people who had seen her going by. Finally, at around 10:15 PM, I got a call from someone who had found her. I thanked her profusely, and walked the evil, naughty dog back home, where she demanded (and got) a bacon snack.
My legs are exhausted this morning, partly from 3.5 hours of coaching, but mostly from walking around for an hour and 45 minutes.
Table Table Tennis and Office Table Tennis
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Fingerprinting and Afterschool Programs
Yesterday I was fingerprinted. Oh no!!! As I blogged about yesterday, it was for an afterschool table tennis program we'll be running at MDTTC this fall. Also fingerprinted were coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu.
I went in expecting to have my fingertips inked. But that's a thing of the past. Instead, they had me put my fingertips on the surface of a scanner, one by one, with the fingerprint image appearing simultaneously on a large screen. It took about 90 seconds in all.
Afterschool programs are a great way to bring in new junior players, as well as a way to make use of a facility in the late afternoon, before the (hopefully) big player rush after 7PM or so. This would be especially important to full-time centers, but part-time clubs already have the tables (and storage area for them), and playing space, so perhaps they too can take advantage of this. (And we get paid! The kids pay a nominal fee for the program.)
How do you do it? Contact the local county school's recreation department. You'll need a coach or organizer. You can handle a lot of players with two coaches - one to coach a few at a time, one to watch over the rest as they play. Ideally, you'd have them doing drills for at least half the session, with the players rotated a few minutes at a time to work one-on one with one of the coaches, probably with multiball. Realistically, if you have a large number of kids and only two coaches, it'll be mostly free play except when they rotate in to work with the coach. The coach can actually work with two at a time, with one kid on the forehand side, the other on the backhand side, with the coach feeding side to side. Or he can work with even more, with the kids lining up and taking turns, perhaps four shots each, then back to the end of the line. (I prefer two at a time if there's a large turnout.)
I blogged a bit more about this on June 4, including the importance of starting with one session a week to concentrate the players in that session so as to get a good turnout. Once you have a good turnout, then you can expand to two days, and so on.
Crystal Wang Impressive at Hopes Week, Wins Tournament
USA's Crystal Wang is featured and pictured in the ITTF story about Hopes Week, where she won the afternoon tournament. Here's an excerpt:
The afternoon session featured the now traditional training tournament with the players starting from the score 8-8 and playing best of five games . . . among the girls Crystal Wang from Maryland in the United States proved most of the coaches who watched her play during the opening day right. Certainly she impressed Mikael Andersson.
"She not only won the training tournament, she basically cruised her way through the first real test in Schwechat," he said. "Great style, wonderful timing and technique was too much for the other young Hopes girls to handle this afternoon." Earlier this year, in April, Crystal Wang won the Hopes Girls’ Singles event at the ITTF-North America Cup in Westchester.
Video Interview with Zhang Jike and Timeouts
Yesterday I blogged about timeouts. As posted by Doug Harley in the comments section, here's a video interview (3:08) of Zhang Jike after winning his semifinal match in Men's Singles at the Worlds, 4-0 over Xu Xin. (He'd go on to win the final.) One minute in he's asked why he called a timeout leading 10-9 in the third. The translator spoke broken English, but corrected into somewhat proper English, he said, "This is a key set for me so if I can win 3-0 it'll be easier for me to play the next set, and secondly, I did not do well the last point when I was leading 10-8 so I called a timeout to reset myself."
How Useful is Shadow Play?
Here's a short article from Table Tennis Master: How Useful is Shadow Play?
The Speed of Table Tennis
Here's a video (3:04) featuring USA's Erica Wu that breaks down the speed of table tennis. (I think I remember seeing and posting perhaps an earlier version of this, but this one was only posted on Monday.)
Here's the home page for the China Open, June 12-16, 2013, in Changchun, China. USA players Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Wu Yue are all entered in it. Hsing and Zhang are in Women's Singles, Doubles (teamed together), and Under 21 Women. Wu Yue is in Women's Singles and Doubles (with Shao Jien from Portugal).
2013 USATT Para National Team Training Camp
Here's Richard Xue's photo album - the first ten albums are all from the camp, which is going on right now in San Diego.
Lady Antebellum Ping Pong & Songs Finale
Four Year Old on TT Robot
Here's a video (2:34) of four and a half year old Jordan Fowler (grandson of Brian) smacking balls on his KingPong Robot.
California Governor Jerry Brown Brings Ping Pong to State Government
Table Tennis Nation brings you the story, with lots of links on this and related items.
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