Butterfly Online


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

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

His book, Table Tennis Tips, is also out - All 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, in one volume, in logical progression!!! His newest book, The Spirit of Pong, is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

August 25, 2016

How Many Ping-Pong Balls Can Fit in a Table Tennis Club?
Today's topic is scary. We're talking something that will leave many readers shaking with fear, sweating like David Sakai, and plucking their eyeballs out as they scream, "No! For God's sake, Stop!" Yes, today we're going to use math. (You have my permission to skip the math part and just read the paragraphs that give conclusions.)

How many ping-pong balls can you fit in your table tennis club? It's a simple matter of working out volume with the sphere packing formula. As we all know (after reading the Wikipedia entry I just linked to), as volume goes up and the size of the balls (sphere) goes down, the packing efficiency approaches the following density, which I'll call the Packing constant (P). (Hopefully, in my formulas below, the subscripts and superscripts will come through properly on your browser.) 

P = π/[3x(2)^½] = ~0.74048

So how can we use this?

  • Let Nd = number of balls of width d that will fit in your club.
  • Let C = volume in cubic inches of your club.
  • Let B = volume of the balls in cubic inches.

Then the number of spheres (N) you can fit inside a given volume approaches the following:

Nd = (C/B)xP = maximum number of spheres you can fit inside your club.

To get C, you simply get the volume in cubic inches of your club. This is easy if it is roughly rectangular shaped. (We're using inches and feet here, since I live in archaic America, which hasn't adopted the metric system.) Multiply your club's dimensions in feet – length x width x height – and then multiply by 1728 (number of cubic inches in a cubic foot) to get cubic inches for your club.

B is the volume of the ball in cubic inches. Since volume of a sphere is 4/3 πr^3, we simply plug in the radius of a ping-pong ball, which is half the 40mm diameter or 20mm, or roughly 0.7874". Plugging this into the volume formula, we get B = ~2.045 cubic inches.

So to get the number of 40mm ping-pong balls that will fit in your club, here's the formula:

N40 = (C/2.045) x 0.74048 = C x 0.3621

So to get the number of ping-pong balls that will fit in your club, you get the volume in cubic feet, multiply by 1728 to convert to cubic inches, and multiply by 0.3621 – and presto, there's your answer!!!

For my club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, the dimensions are about 77' x 126', with 18' ceilings. So MDTTC's volume is 77 x 126 x 18 = 174,636 cubic feet. Multiplying by 1728 we get C = 301,771,008 cubic inches. So for MDTTC, we get:

N40 = C x 0.3621 = 301,771,008 x 0.3621 = 109,271,282

So we can fit a little over one hundred million ping-pong balls in MDTTC!!! Since you can buy training balls from Butterfly at about $80/gross, it would cost us about $60,706,267 to buy enough to fill the club. (Could we get a volume discount? Or get cheaper balls at Walmart?)

Suppose we instead used the old 38mm balls. Then the radius would be 0.7480. Plugging this into the volume formula, we get its volume at ~1.753 cubic inches. Then

N38 = (C/1.753) x 0.74048 = C x .4224

For MDTTC, that's 301,771,008 x .4224 = 127,468,073. Another 18 million balls!

By the way, on Jan. 30, 2014, after a rather weird discussion with a 7-year-old, we calculated we could fit 27 blue whales in MDTTC.

USATT Insider
Here's the new edition, which came out yesterday.

All-America Over-40 Table Tennis Tours 2016 & 2017
Here’s info.

Para Table Tennis Classifications- Explained
Here's the article from Pong Universe.

Nice Rally
Here's the video (36 sec, including slo-mo replay) – no idea who the players are. (EDIT: They are Jun Mizutani (world #5 from Japan) and Tiago Apolonia (world #17 from Portugal), according to Dan Seemiller, who just emailed me.) 

Rallying Robot
Here’s the video (76 sec) of the Omron Table Tennis Robot at Hannover Fair 2016.

Practicing the Around-the-Net Sidespin Looping Receive
Here's the video (21 sec)!

Mini-Trampoline Pong
Here’s the cartoon!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 24, 2016

Washington Post Reporter and Choppers
The reporter came in yesterday morning. It was a cause of great excitement for the kids. One of them tried to convince the reporter about how he'd floated across the Pacific in a raft with his parents as refugees from China, and that he'd learned to play table tennis with a makeshift table his parents made from a shark, with the net made from shark fins and the ball sculpted from a shark's tooth. (Full disclosure: I came up with the raft story and put the kid up to it. He drew the line at telling the reporter that he was the secret child of Trump and Clinton.) 

The reporter interviewed me for 40 minutes, with a tape recorder and taking notes as well. He followed that with similar interviews with coaches Cheng and Jack. He'll be coming back later in the week with a photographer and to interview our top juniors. Main topics we discussed were: 

  1. How MDTTC came about in 1992. 
  2. How other full-time clubs copied MDTTC, leading to full-time clubs all over the country. 
  3. Cheng and Jack, and their history as former members of the Chinese National Team and why they came to America. He was especially interested in how the Chinese coaches made Cheng into a practice partner because of his playing style, though he clearly was as good or better than some of the players who were played ahead of him. 
  4. The differing styles - especially loopers, hitters, and choppers. 
  5. Our top juniors and their performance at the recent Junior Olympics. 
  6. MDTTC Olympians and other current and former top players. 

This is our last week of camps, and we had a smaller turnout, perhaps 25-30 kids. Since I wasn't needed - we have eight full-time coaches - I was able to watch the session. One interesting thing I noted - we now have four junior choppers. I had thought we had two, but this summer two of our beginning kids have become choppers. One of the new ones is about 1200, the other (a girl) under 1000, but they are both about ten, so who knows how good they'll be someday. (Our #1 junior chopper is Eric Li, 14, rated 2027.) All of our coaches can teach chopping, but our primary chopping coach is chopper/power looper Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), who used to be over 2600 and made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the 2012 U.S. Open. 

Detraining: How Long Breaks Can Destroy Your Progress
Here's the new coaching article from Expert Table Tennis.

Targeting the Transition: Check out these new drills!
Here's the new coaching article from Samson Dubina, focusing on attacking the middle (playing elbow).

Footwork Exercise Tip to Improve the Forehand and Backhand Strokes
Here's the video (1:33) by Eli Baraty.

2020 Summer Olympics: Team USA Names to Know for the Tokyo Games
Here's the article from The Bleacher Report that features Kanak Jha.

New York City Table Tennis Academy Grand Opening
Here's the article on this new full-time club's opening on Sept. 2, 2016.

Liu Guoliang Leaving the Chinese Team?
Here's the ITTF article.

Ryu Seungmin Elected for the IOC Athletes Commission
Here's the article.

Invitation List Released for Liebherr 2016 Men's World Cup
Here's the ITTF press release.

11 Questions with Klaus Wood
Here's the video (3:52). Klaus, 14, is a member of the USA Cadet Boys' Team, and trains and plays at both MDTTC (my club) and the Baltimore TTC. 

Olympian Timothy Wang's Welcome Back in Houston
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook picture.)

How Timothy Wang Trains for Table Tennis
Here's the podcast (1:39) from a radio show. "J Mac checks in with Olympian Timothy Wang to find out how he trains for Table Tennis."

How to INTIMIDATE in Table Tennis
Here's the video (3:14) from KGW-TV in Portland.

Lava Table Tennis Room Smart Phone Commercial
Here's the video (30 sec) of this commercial for Lava Phones, a new type of smart phone made in India. It features table tennis.

Hot Rod Pong
Here's the picture of Kim Gilbert Ponging in her red hot rod! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Send us your own coaching news!

August 23, 2016

No Blog Today
I was busy on USATT work last night from 9PM to 2AM (including a long online discussion on national team issues), and so wasn’t able to do my blog in advance. This morning I’m meeting a Washington Post reporter at the club. So nothing today – but see you tomorrow. Meanwhile, here’s a humorous 3-minute video of Bob Costa defeating Kanak Jha on NBC. And here’s what I’ll call “Cow-Light Pong,” though I really have no idea what’s going on. 

August 22, 2016

Tip of the Week
Shorten Stroke When Receiving.

It’s been busy recently. There have been a LOT of questions (and complaints) about the new USATT team selection process for the junior, cadet, and mini-cadet teams, but fortunately that’s mostly going to get taken care of by our CEO, working with our High Performance Director. I’m not going to go into the specific issues here, but I will probably blog about it later on. I’m trying not to get sucked into this one – our CEO and HPD should handle this one.

As I said when I ran for the USATT board, there are two equally important issues that come to the board of directors – fairness issues (such as this one) and progressive issues (which involve developing the sport). Historically, many board members want to work on progressive issues, but get sucked into the fairness issues, and they ended up taking up all of their time. I’m trying not to fall into that trap. I will, of course, get involved in such issues if and when it reaches the board level, but I doubt if that will happen. As I said, both are important, but there are plenty of other board members who can focus on the “fairness” issues (with me involved when necessary), so I can focus on the progressive ones.

There are other “fairness” issues coming up, such as whether USATT will adopt the ITTF’s new coaching policy that I blogged about on Friday, where coaching is allowed through a match except during a point. I’m very much against this new rule, but if we don’t adopt it, our players and coaches won’t be prepared for matches when we do play under these rules, as we would at the U.S. Open in December, and internationally. (I think the North American Teams, being a continental event, would also fall under ITTF rules. Someone correct me if I’m wrong on that.) So would events like the North American Pan Am and Olympic Trials. At the moment I’m undecided whether we should adopt the rule, but I sure with ITTF hadn’t put us in this position. They did a similar thing with the plastic balls, adopting them before there were quality ones around and before they were standardized, causing havoc all over.

I want to focus on the progressive issues I promised to focus on. Right now I’m very busy on several non-USATT projects – this week’s focus is the page layouts of Dan Seemiller’s autobiography, “Revelations of a Table Tennis Champion.” (I’ll blog more about that as it nears completion.) However, starting in September, I need to get back to focusing on developing regional leagues and state championships. Two other issues I plan to start on sometime this fall are planning out some sort of professional league or tour for our top players (our CEO has ideas/plans on this), and developing some sort of USATT Coaching Academy, where the focus is on recruiting and developing coaches to be full-time coaches or to run junior programs. I also need to find time (and energy, alas) to get back to another project I keep putting off – writing the book, “Parents Guide to Table Tennis.”

Olympic Table Tennis Google Doodles
On Saturday Google had a table tennis themed “doodle” at the top of their page. For those not in the know, they have a new one I think every day. During the Olympics, they have one for every sport. Here are their table tennis doodles from the past four Olympics.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games Table Tennis Results & More
Here’s the complete compilation from Butterfly.

Capital Area Table Tennis League
If you live in the Capital area in the U.S. (Maryland, Northern Virginia, DC), it’s time to sign up for the upcoming season of the Capital Area Table Tennis League. Here’s the Fall Flyer. Final deadline to enter is Sept. 15, but you need time to find a team. (Contact the league committee if you are looking for a team.)

6 Tips on How to Become a Table Tennis Champion
Here’s the article from Pong Universe.

Evolution of the Table Tennis Coach
Here’s the article from Coach Jon.

Why Li Xiaoxia Retires...
Here’s the video interview (58 sec) with English subtitles.

China Unfazed by Retirement, Still Confident for 2020
Here’s the article.

Coaching Tip via Text: A New York Olympian Is Instructed to Have Fun
Here’s the article from the New York Times about actor/comedian Judah Friedlander’s text to USA Olympian Wu Yue. Judah also shares his experience in dealing with jittery nerves, a common problem for standup comedians and table tennis players alike. (You’ll likely get a note requiring 99 cents for four weeks, but if you hit “stop loading” immediately when the page appears, you can read the article. Or just pay the 99 cents.)

Watch this Down-the-Line Serve!
Here’s the video (4 sec) – you have to watch it closely to see that he’s actually tossing the ball directly backwards while faking an upward toss, thereby giving the illusion of the ball going up even as he’s serving it down the line with the back of his penhold racket. Alas, it’s an illegal serve, both because he’s not tossing it “near vertical” and because he’s hiding the ball from the receiver – though few umpires call the latter rule these days, alas.

Sidespin Serve Smacked by a Fast Serve
Here’s the video (12 sec).

Blondie: “Combine Table Tennis with Archery”
Here’s the Blondie comic strip from Saturday!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 19, 2016

New ITTF Coaching Rule – Coaching During a Game
The ITTF has passed a new rule, effective Oct. 1, which allows coaching at any time during a match, except during rallies. This is a huge change from the current rules, where coaches can only coach between games and during a timeout (one per match per player). Here is the actual wording of the rule, from the ITTF Handbook section on Advice: Players may receive advice at any time except during rallies and and between the end of practice and the start of a match; if any authorised person gives advice illegally the umpire shall hold up a yellow card to warn him or her that any further such offence will result in his or her dismissal from the playing area (in effect as of 1st October 2016). 

I’m not going to hold typos against them too much, but this is an international Olympic sport, making a major rule change, and they have that “and and” near the start in the official rules. Didn’t anyone proof the new rule before it went public many months ago? We won’t hold it against them that they use British spelling for “authorised.”) But let’s get to more important matters.

The reason for the rule, apparently, is because they felt coaches were abusing the non-coaching rule during matches. I’ve been a professional coach for several decades, and while this is sometimes true, it’s never been a major issue. Sure, there are always going to be unethical coaches who find ways to secretly coach players during a match, but it really isn’t that common, and it is obvious if the coach does it too much – and when that happens, we simply call the referee, and the problem is resolved. What’s avoidable is trying to remedy a minor problem by inflicting on us a major problem. (Note that tennis went the other direction – they don’t allow coaching during a match, and it works pretty well for them. We’re going the other way, toward non-stop coaching and chaos.)

Before I go further, I want to point out that I’m not the only one who is stunned at this new rule. There are long threads in online discussions groups where the gist of the discussions is disbelief and disgust at this new rule change. Even the USATT Umpires and Referees Committee has weighed in against it – here are the minutes from their July 7 meeting:

Motion 2: “MOVED that the URC make the recommendation to the USATT Rules Committee and USATT Board that ITTF's new rule permitting coaching at times other than between games not be applicable for United States tournaments that are neither ITTF sponsored nor sanctioned.”

Alas, I’m on the USATT Board of Directors, and I don’t recall this coming to the board’s attention – I only know about it because I happen to read their minutes on my own a couple of days ago. We have no USATT board meeting currently scheduled before Oct. 1, so it likely won’t be voted on before that time. We might do an email vote – but as I said, I just found out about this, and I doubt if anyone on the board knows about this recommendation. Our next board meeting is likely at the U.S. Open in December, though it’s possible we’ll have one before then, or a teleconference. But think about it – if we don’t follow this rule while other countries do, won’t that put our players at a disadvantage when they play overseas or in ITTF tournaments (including I believe the U.S. Open), and have to play under this rule, since they and their coaches won’t be used to it?

I know that the rule was apparently tried out in Germany, but I doubt if the initial findings there would be indicative of how it’ll play out as coaches and players learn more and more how to take advantage of the new rule. Also, there’s the argument that Germans are simply more civilized in these matters than some others might be – such as the tumult that’ll take place in junior tournaments, where parents are watching over the coach’s shoulder and looking for every advantage, leading to coaches using the rule to the limit, i.e. coaching every point, leading to the problems I’ll outline below. I discussed this rule with some of the other coaches at the recent USATT Supercamp, and they too all disagreed with the rule.

Here are some of the problems with the rule.

  1. It dramatically changes the sport from one where players learn to play tactically to players relying on coaches to tell them what to do every point.
  2. The focus of the match changes from the players, to the players and their coaches. It becomes less player vs. player and more coach vs. coach.
  3. It disrupts the continuity of the game as coaches yell out (or signal) coaching between each point, with the players stalling play each time to listen, including regular walks over to where the coach is sitting to better communicate. (Or perhaps just “accidentally” kicking the ball in that direction.) Do you really want to do this, or play an opponent who does?
  4. Serving will now start with the player looking over at the coach so the coach can signal which serve to use, while the receiver is looking over to his coach to get the signal on what types of receives he should focus on.
  5. Kids no longer learn to think for themselves, a serious long-term problem. The same is true of adults who rely on such match coaches.
  6. It encourages all sorts of mind games, such as the coach saying one thing but signaling another, or letting an opposing coach figure out the signal for a specific serve, and then changing it so the opposing coach gets it wrong, thereby messing up his player. The potential for such things is mindboggling. Any coach who doesn’t use such ploys is handicapping his player.
  7. Things could get downright ugly as coaches yell out things such as, “Play into his weak backhand” or “Serve long – he can’t loop.”
  8. Coaches and students who speak a foreign language that others don’t speak have a huge advantage. When did learning foreign languages become an important table tennis skill?
  9. Coaches and students who secretly understand the foreign language used by an opponent for coaching have a huge advantage. Again, when did learning foreign languages become an important table tennis skill?
  10. Coaches and players have to work out extensive signals. Players will love this. (Note the sarcasm here.) But unless they speak a unique foreign language that others won’t understand, it’s the only way the coach can coach throughout the match without the opponent knowing what’s going on. (Unless, of course, you simply have the player walk over to the coach every single point so the coach can whisper advice, thereby disrupting the time between each point.) Worse, you’ll have to have backup signals that you can change to in the middle of a match, or use complex signaling as they do in some team sports. (Does anyone out there think a good coach won’t pick up on the signals for basic serves, etc., if they aren’t well disguised or changed regularly? I would.) It completely changes the nature of the sport.
  11. Players will need to bring in coaches who understand the foreign language spoken by the opponents so they can let the player know what the opposing coach is saying – suddenly this becomes as important as the coach’s actual coaching skills. Having sharp hearing will become an important quality in a coach. (The very act of having a coach who understands the opponents’ language would force the opponents to use signals instead of just speaking the foreign language, thereby hampering their communication.)
  12. No coach wants to coach between every point in a match, and yet that’s what we’ll be expected to do, since otherwise our player is at a disadvantage if the other coach is doing so. This is not something any coach I know is looking forward to doing.
  13. Players without a match coach now are at a small disadvantage when they play. Under the new rule they will be at a huge disadvantage. Imagine playing some up-and-coming kid with a world-class coach in his corner telling each point what serves to use, where to play the ball, etc. Is that really fair?
  14. Our next generation of coaches will be non-tactical thinkers, since most of these coaches are former top players, and they no longer will have developed the skill of thinking for themselves.

So ask yourselves this: Is this really what we want for our sport? (Note - here's my August 26 blog where I write about whether USATT should adopt this rule.) 

How to Play a Chopper
Here’s the video (8:23) of Timo Boll (GER, world #13, former #1) playing Joo Se Hyuk (KOR, world #14, former #2) in the Olympic Teams bronze medal match. It’s a battle trying to score against a chopper as good as Joo, but Boll wins at 8,9,6 and shows how to wear them down – by constantly attacking the middle (playing elbow). Watch the video and see how over and over Boll goes to the middle, forcing Joo to move, often awkwardly, to cover for it.

Fast Down-the-Line Sidespin-Topspin Serve
Here’s the video (7:50) on how to do this serve. It’s in Chinese with English subtitles.

CoachTube, which doesn’t even have table tennis listed as one of their sports (not even under the “More Sports” tab on the top right), has put up their first table tennis coaching course, “International Table Tennis Skills,” taught by Samson Dubina for $29.99. It includes a two-minute preview video. Course is made up of ten segments, totaling about two hours 22 minutes.

New Post-Olympic World Rankings
Here they are.

Invitation to Umpire at the 2016 Women’s World Cup in Philadelphia
Here’s the ITTF article. Event is Oct. 7-9, 2016. Or you can spectate – here’s info on scheduling and ticket prices.

Zhang Jike Will Retire After Rio Olympics 2016
Here’s the report. It’s not official, but apparently Zhang announced it in a Chinese chat room.

Jun Mizutani vs Xu Xin in Olympic Team Final
Here’s the video (13:10, time between points removed). This was easily the most exciting match of the final as (SPOILER ALERT!) Jun wins the first two, then Xu wins the next two and leads 10-7 match and then . . . we’ll let you watch the tape. If you want to watch the entire China-Japan final, all four matches, here’s the video (2:02:51).

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - July 2016
Here’s the new video (7:59, just out yesterday).

Behind-the-Back Trampoline Countersmash
Here’s the video (19 sec, with slo-mo replay)!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 18, 2016

Olympic Coverage
Guess who swept the Olympics once again? But Japan did give the Chinese men a scare. Here’s what happened.

Match #1: Ma Long (CHN) d. Niwa Koki (JPN), 6,9,6. Okay, Niwa made game two interesting, but this match between the world #1 and #22 was never in doubt.

Match #2: Jun Mizutani (JPN) d. Xu Xin (CHN), 10,9,-3,-7,10. Holy moly! Jun went up 2-0. He’s world #6 to Xu’s #3, and Japan’s hopes really rest in him winning both singles matches and somehow scrounging up one other match. But Xu comes back, easily wins games three and four. What the scores don’t show here is that Xu was up 10-7 match point! It was all but over – and then Jun scored five in a row. Poor Xu is going to have lots of explainin’ to do the next time they choose their team. Hello Fan Zhendong (who’s already world #2 after Ma Long).

Match #3: Zhang Jike/Xu Xin (CHN) d. Yoshimura Maharu/Niwa Koki (JPN), -4,6,9,5. When Japan won the first 11-4, things looked REALLY interesting. Xu had just lost in singles, and now, despite being China’s lefty doubles specialist, he was losing in doubles as well, and badly. China won game #2, but game #3 could have gone either way. China pulls it out. If not, this would have forced a game five decider between Jun and Zhang Jike – and that would have been something to watch. But it was not to be because playing for China in the next match was the guy that makes Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt seem like just slightly good athletes…

Match #4: Ma Long (CHN) d. Maharu Yoshimura (JPN), 1,4,4. Do you think Phelps or Bolt can beat their competition that badly? Yoshimura, world #21, is a sacrificial lamb here. His primary purpose here was to try to win the doubles (and he gave it a good go, along with Koki), so that Japan can force that fifth match between Jun and Zhang Jike that we all would have liked to see.

At Least 44 Table Tennis Players in Rio Are Chinese-Born. Six Play for China.
Here’s the article from the New York Times. (It may require you to get a 99-cent subscription for four weeks – but if you hit the “stop loading” button right as it loads, it freezes on the screen without requiring the subscription. I tested this and it worked over and over, so I was able to read the article.)

This has been an ongoing debate for generations. The article includes a chart that shows how many Chinese-born table tennis players (44 of the 172 at the Olympics) play for which countries. Table tennis by far had the highest percentage of Olympians born in another country at 31%. Second was basketball, far behind at 15%. (Even an Asian dominated sport like Judo was at only 11%.) The problem is that many regional players in China can emigrate to another country, get citizenship, and then become a member of their National or Olympic team, thereby displacing a player born in that country who didn’t have the advantage of developing in a huge table tennis country like China. There’s a good argument for either side – these Chinese players do improve the level of play wherever they go and force competing players to raise their level, but it also discourages some from continuing to train since their spots are just taken up by Chinese immigrants. (For example, throughout much of the late 1990s/early 2000s, probably over half the U.S. men’s and women’s teams were foreign-born.)

Javier Soto's Olympic Sport Quest Leads Him to Valley Table Tennis Club
Here’s the article and video (4:20).

Cam Around Town: Table Tennis at Ohio State
Here’s the video (1:35).

Mike Mezyan Table Tennis Artworks: “Adoria”
Here’s the new table tennis artwork. (Here’s the non-Facebook version.)

Hospital Pong?
Here’s the video (41 sec) as a “doctor” takes on a comatose patient!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 17, 2016

The Ten “Etiquettes” for the High Level Athlete
These are from page 15 of the ITTF Advanced Coaching Manual, which make them at least semi-official. Like the “Ten Commandments” I blogged about yesterday, these have also always irritated me. Also, some of them just don’t make sense due to the poor translations. (As I wrote yesterday, the manual was originally in French and somewhat poorly translated into English.) Here they are, with my comments afterwards.

The Ten “Etiquettes” for the High Level Athlete
(From page 15 of the ITTF Advanced Coaching Manual.)
A self respecting sports teacher has the duty to transmit to the athlete that guiding principles without which the sport would not be what it is today are part of his teaching. The Champion is a sports phenomenon and must therefore set an example for ALL athletes!

  1. The first step towards success: good judgment.
  2. Any progress goes through trial and error.
  3. Losing and Winning belong to any training.
  4. Learning lessons from the past means imposing rules for yourself.
  5. These rules cannot be built without a philosophical global vision.
  6. Competitive sport means pushing your limits further and enjoying your conquest.
  7. Nothing is for free: fatigue and efforts are the price to pay to reach that point.
  8. Pleasure, self respect and personal satisfaction gained from this conquest are priceless.
  9. To reach that point, some traps need to be avoided: challenging profit, uncontrolled aggressiveness, provoked opposition.
  10. Sport is a real school of Life.

Let’s look at these one by one.

Intro paragraph: Can someone please edit this so it sounds like it was written by someone who actually speaks English?

Regarding the ten items below, I’m a bit confused as they seem more about how a player develops his game to the highest levels, not about etiquettes. (Definition of etiquettes: “The customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.”)

  1. The first step towards success: good judgment.
    Agreed, though it needs some elaboration. What’s needed is good judgment on how to develop one’s game to the highest level. Both here and with the following items there should be some elaboration over what it specifically means. For example, for this first one it should be pointed out that judgment is needed in choosing a playing style, equipment, a coach, how to train, what drills to do, what players to copy, how much and what types of physical training to do, what serves to develop, what types of receive, etc., etc. These are all things that players need good judgment on – and a systematic listing of these items might be helpful, in addition to the generic slogan.
  2. Any progress goes through trial and error.
    Agreed, no comments here. It should emphasize that players should try out new things, usually with the guidance of a coach.
  3. Losing and Winning belong to any training.
    Agreed, though it would be stronger if it finished with, “You learn from both.” Emphasis should be on the idea that players shouldn’t shy away from events that they might lose in (or worse, lose rating points in!) because it is exactly those situations where a player learns the weaknesses in his game that need to be worked on.
  4. Learning lessons from the past means imposing rules for yourself.
    As worded, this doesn’t really make sense. What I think they mean is simply, “Learn from the past.” The emphasis should be on learning something every time you play. I don’t know about “imposing rules for yourself.” I think they mean apply what you learn.
  5. These rules cannot be built without a philosophical global vision.
    What does this mean? I have no clue. What is a “philosophical global vision,” and how does that relate to a top player?
  6. Competitive sport means pushing your limits further and enjoying your conquest.
    Agreed, though they should cut the word “further,” which doesn’t add anything.
  7. Nothing is for free: fatigue and efforts are the price to pay to reach that point.
    Agreed. I’d change the ending to, “to reach the highest levels.” At the same time I’d like it to emphasize that you should enjoy the effort you put in, as you have a better chance of reaching the highest levels if you enjoy and cherish the journey as well.
  8. Pleasure, self respect and personal satisfaction gained from this conquest are priceless.
    Okay, I can agree with this one. Hopefully one doesn’t go overboard on the self respect thing – otherwise no one will have self respect except the champion! If you truly gave it 100% you should have just as much self respect as anyone else – as long as you truly gave it 100%, and are not kidding yourself about it.
  9. To reach that point, some traps need to be avoided: challenging profit, uncontrolled aggressiveness, provoked opposition.
    I have no clue what this means. I understand you can’t have uncontrolled aggressiveness, but what is “challenging profit” and “provoked opposition”??? If it’s in the Advanced Coaching Manual, it needs to make sense. There is no explanation, just these meaningless words.
  10. Sport is a real school of Life.
    This could use some elaboration. How is it a school for life? Basically because you learn that hard work pays off (with improvement; not everyone can be the #1 champion); you learn self-discipline; you learn to set goals (instead of just sailing through life without any goals or purpose); and you learn to face adversity.

Olympic Coverage

Serve Return: Five Helpful Tips
Here’s the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.

China Dominates Table Tennis Like No Country in Any Other Olympic Sport
Here’s the article. (I had a short article in Sports Illustrated in 1999 titled “The Chinese TT Dynasty,” where I also argued that no sport was dominated by one country as much as table tennis by the Chinese. And since then they have only increased their domination.)

Rookie Olympics: JR Cardenas Tries Table Tennis
Here’s the article and video (2:47). That’s Jay Turberville at the Phoenix club being interviewed during the segment. (Not Turberbille, as it says on the screen!)

University of Oregon Table Tennis Player Shows the Sport's Competitive Edge
Here’s the article and video (57 sec), featuring Aron Zhang.

China's National Team Showing Off
Here’s the video (75 sec).

LEAKED: Chinese Team Whatsapp Group React to Ma Long's Olympic Gold!
Here it is. (Okay, someone’s just having some fun.)

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August 16, 2016

The Ten Commandments of High Level Sport
I’ve always been slightly irritated at some of these “Commandments.” They are from page 14 of the ITTF Advanced Coaching Manual, which make them at least semi-official. The manual was originally in French and somewhat poorly translated into English, so there might be some problem there. But these are what we publish and teach, with little further explanation. Here they are, with my comments afterwards. (Tomorrow I plan to write about what’s on the next page of the Advanced Coaching Manual - The Ten “Etiquettes” for the High Level Athlete.)

The Ten Commandments of High Level Sport
(from ITTF Advanced Coaching Manual)
Silent laws and rules that everybody follows exist in every social situations High level sport is no exception; it is a special environment which has its own rules of the game. We either accept these rules or they do not accept us. These rules are not written down anywhere, but those who succeed have accepted them and work with them.

  1. Winning is not everything, it is the only thing!
  2. Sport is not war.
  3. If it is not expressly prohibited, it is allowed.
  4. The perfect match does not exist
  5. Making at least one error less than the opponent is enough.
  6. We don’t make the same mistake twice.
  7. You have to accept losing in advance: The Winner is he who knows what he would do if he lost, but doesn’t say it. The Loser is he who knows what he would do if he won and says it.
  8. Fight against a strategy, not against a person, and especially not against your imagination: imagination is stronger than will!
  9. In competition, approximately does not exist: those who succeed are the ones who do not leave anything up to chance.
  10. If you can dream it, you can do it!

Let’s look at these one by one.

  1. Winning is not everything, it is the only thing!
    Are you kidding me??? There goes sportsmanship, learning from sports, the journey, etc. So if winning is the only thing, then cheating that allows you to win is, by definition, okay. I could write an entire blog on this one, but suffice to say that this is nonsense.
  2. Sport is not war.
    Well, of course. I’m not sure why this is in here. Sport is also not a business negotiation, or a game of chance, or a color, but these aren’t mentioned. If they mean that since it is not war, that means there are limits to what you will do to win, then look back at the previous “Commandment.” If winning is the only thing, then sport is war, where winning is (almost) the only thing. (I say “almost” here because even in war there are international rules for conflict.)
  3. If it is not expressly prohibited, it is allowed.
    At first glance, this seems okay. But does this mean that since the rules do not say I cannot flash a light in my opponent’s eyes as he’s hitting the ball, it is allowed? If it’s a laser light I can probably do it without the umpire noticing, and then I quickly put it back in my pocket. Is this allowed? How about other poor sportsmanship behaviors to distract my opponent – all allowed if not expressly forbidden? Is secretly damaging my opponent’s racket okay since it’s not prohibited in the rules? (Maybe spread some grease on the surface to lower friction?) But the gist of this poorly worded statement is that you should take the rules to the limit.
  4. The perfect match does not exist.
    Agreed. But I would add that one might strive for the perfect match. On the other hand, striving for the “perfect” match might lead one to play all world-class shots when sometimes a lesser shot will do, depending on the situation and opponent. That’s in the realm of tactics – but if such a lesser shot is the better shot, then perhaps doing that shot is part of playing the “perfect” match.
  5. Making at least one error less than the opponent is enough.
    Again, the gist is correct. But this depends on the definition of “error.” When an attacker plays a steady player, the steady player will make few unforced errors, while the attacker will likely make many – and yet he might win. But since the attacker is hitting winners, does that mean the opponent is making an error each time? But I’ll go along with the gist of this one.
  6. We don’t make the same mistake twice.
    Agreed, that’s what one should strive for. Of course, it’s not an absolute rule or after missing a specific shot, one might not go for that shot again in fear of making the same mistake twice. But I agree with the gist of this.
  7. You have to accept losing in advance: The Winner is he who knows what he would do if he lost, but doesn’t say it. The Loser is he who knows what he would do if he won and says it.
    Sorry, but this makes absolutely no sense to me. Good coaches tell players not to think about winning or losing, but to focus on performance, i.e. playing well, which leads to winning. (And since the primary goal is to win, striving for it leads players to train hard for long periods of time.) Why would we want our players to think about what they’ll do if they lose? I’d rather they simply be surprised when that happens, since they weren’t expecting it. I also don’t get the part about “The Loser.” I think they are trying to say that losers talk about winning before they’ve won, but that’s irrelevant to me.
  8. Fight against a strategy, not against a person, and especially not against your imagination: imagination is stronger than will!
    I agree with this, though the part about not fighting against your imagination isn’t worded well. Players often imagine losing in advance and so are worried about this when they shouldn’t be thinking about that at all. (See #7 above.)
  9. In competition, approximately does not exist: those who succeed are the ones who do not leave anything up to chance.
    I agree with this. Players should not leave anything to chance. That means preparing physically, mentally, and equipment-wise for essentially all possibilities, just in case.
  10. If you can dream it, you can do it!
    I can quibble with this. I’m 56, and I still dream about being World Men’s Singles Champion, but can I do it? But it’s a good slogan for up-and-coming players.

Olympic Coverage

Here’s What Olympians Eat for Each Sport
Here’s the article, which includes a section on table tennis where Richard McAfee is quoted.

We Played Beer Pong with Table Tennis Olympian Timothy Wang
Here’s the video (5:08) from Daily Vice. Title is deceptive – they don’t get to beer pong until near the end; before that they talk about table tennis and interview Timothy.

Incoming UGA Freshman Represents Team USA in Table Tennis
Here’s the article featuring Yijun “Tom” Feng.

Butterfly San Francisco Open
Here’s the article and pictures of this four-star event.

Seven Seconds of Will Ferrell Playing Table Tennis
Here’s the video!

Mini-Table in Hand Pong
Here’s the repeating gif image! I have one of these – I keep it at the club for the kids to use.

Non-Table Tennis - Small Press Award for Short Fiction
Last week the Washington Science Fiction Association announced the finalists for the annual Small Press Award for Short Fiction. My story “Leashing the Muse” is one of the finalists. The award is for short stories (under 17,500 words) that were published in 2015 by a “small press,” which is defined as under 10,000 circulation. (There are perhaps 5-8 major magazines that are over 10,000, and about a hundred below that. I’ve had 13 short stories published in the major ones, 79 overall.) I wrote about this story at the end of my June 5, 2015 blog. I’ll be a guest and panelist at the annual Capclave Science Fiction Convention, Oct. 7-9, where they will announce the winner. (This coincides with the Women’s World Cup being held in Philadelphia, so I’ll have to miss that, alas.)

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August 15, 2016

Tip of the Week
How to Deal with Nervousness and Play Your Best: Magic, Best Match, Tactics.

Dan Seemiller vs. Larry Hodges
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m hard at work editing Dan Seemiller’s autobiography. It’s got some great stuff! It’ll be out by early September, and you have to buy this. You’ll get to live out the great moments in his career as he won five USA Men’s Singles titles, as well as Men’s Doubles 12 times, plus lots of international play at the Worlds and elsewhere. Plus lots on his playing rivalries with players like Eric Boggan, Sean O’Neill, and others!

But this is my blog, and guess what? As I read about Dan’s playing Career (capitalized) I can’t help but compare it to my own playing career (no caps).

Dan played in the Second Division at the Worlds in 1975, 1977, and 1981, going a combined 66-1, including 26-0 and 22-0 the last two years. I played with a weaker team at the U.S. Open Team Championships in Detroit in 1996 and 1997 (average rating in our division those two years was about 2000), and I went a combined 52-0. That’s always been one of my proudest achievements – Dan himself couldn’t have done better in that division!

Dan was down 16-19 in the fifth in the Men’s Singles Final at the 1982 USA Nationals with Eric Boggan serving, and won all five points on Eric’s serve to win the title. I was down 13-17 in the fifth in the final of the 1980 North Carolina Open to Fred King, and won all five points on his serve to lead 18-17, and went on to win 21-19 – my first major title. (Back in those days games were to 21 and you served five times each.) Dan came out of nowhere – unseeded – to finish first at the 1972 U.S. Team Trials; I came out of nowhere – also unseeded, with about an 1850 rating – to win that North Carolina Open (as well as my other three events – Open Doubles, Under 22, and Under 2000).

We both ate choppers for breakfast. He was beating choppers like Norio Takashima (world top ten) while I went 20 years without losing to a chopper under 2500, while beating seven over 2400. I’m guessing he’s gone well over 40 years without losing to a chopper under 2500.

Dan was a star second baseman and leadoff hitter back when he was in middle and high school – you’ll get to read about his baseball, football, and basketball exploits. I too played second base – but I did so because I couldn’t make the throw from third base, and so couldn’t play third like Brooks Robinson, my idol back then. I also argued all the time with the coach that I should be the leadoff hitter since I drew so many walks – but that was because I refused to swing the bat until I had two strikes, and even then would only swing if the ball was pretty much lobbed right down the middle. I had made a wooden baseball plate for my room, and put up strings over it from the walls and ceiling so I could see the actual stroke zone, and would spend hours standing there, memorizing it, determined not to swing at anything that wasn’t a strike. And so I drew a lot of walks, constantly struck out looking, had very few hits, but because 12-year-old pitchers don’t have much ball control, had a surprisingly good on-base percentage. But the coach was always yelling at me to “Swing the bat!”, and would either sit me on the bench or bat me ninth.

Dan and I attended a number of Dan Seemiller camps. Okay, he did so hundreds of times as head coach. I did so as a player twice in 1977 and 1978 (which greatly helped my development), and then became his assistant coach for his summer camps for two years in the early 1990s. Recently he was one of the head coaches for the USATT Supercamp in New Jersey, which I also attended as a coach, manager, and writer. You can learn a lot listening to a guy with his experience. As he once said, he should have a Ph.D in table tennis.

And now the killer – I once beat Dan Seemiller in a USATT sanctioned tournament! You heard that right; I beat him!!! Okay, it was in hardbat singles, which I probably practiced more than he did at. We’ve played twice and split. We won’t talk about our head-to-head record with sponge – Dan early on recognized that I couldn’t cover the whole table effectively in rallies, and while most players blindly put the ball where I could rally, Dan, like a machine, would put every ball to the one spot on the table I didn’t have covered. Dang him.

But now, watching him play at age 62, with his rating “down” to 2419 (but over 2500 just one year ago – have we ever had someone in his sixties rated over 2500?), I sometimes wonder if the Larry of 1990 could take the Dan of 2016 down. I keep thinking yes, but I’m sure Dan would just smile and say, “Sure, Larry, sure. How much you want to play for?” (That 2419 might be deceptive – he’s been mostly 2450-2500 the last few years, and one bad loss mostly brought him to 2419.) I might have to wait until he’s 70 or 80. 

Killing Your Game: Sit Less . . . Win More
Here’s the new coaching article from Samson Dubina.

USATT Announces Youth National Teams for 2016-2017
Here’s the article and team listing.

A Rio Table Tennis Lament: That’s the Way the Ball Crumples
Here’s the article from the New York Times on the poor quality of the ball being used at the Olympics.

Olympic Coverage

How Table Tennis Champs Are Produced in China
Here’s the video (46 sec). It’s in Chinese, but you don’t need to understand the words to see what’s happening.

Ping Pong for the Homeless
Here’s the article on the charity event hosted by KEYS for the Homeless, to be held Saturday, Aug. 27 in Washington D.C.

Results 24
Here’s a site dedicated to giving results from sports all over the world – including table tennis (see the “Other” tab).

Will Ferrell Taunts Clayton Kershaw at Celebrity Ping Pong Tournament
Here’s the article and video (4:40).

Table Tennis Player Uses Sport to Recover
Here’s the article and video (2:39) on table tennis player and physics professor Paul Selvin.

Kwame Alexander Dunks Over a Ping-Pong Game
Here’s the video (41 sec)!

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August 12, 2016

My Thoughts on the Men's Gold and Bronze Medal Matches
Last night Ma Long went from being the best in the world to being an all-time great. He now does just about everything a little better than Zhang Jike. Zhang might have a slight edge on the backhand, but it's close. Ma Long has more power and consistency, and is able to rip forehands at will. Every decade or two a player comes along that simply raises the bar higher than anyone before - such as Wang Liqin and Jan-Ove Waldner. Ma Long might be doing that now. He completely dominated the gold medal match.

On the other hand, Zhang Jike simply didn't look as good as he used to be. Are his days near the top of the Chinese team over? He even struggled with Samsonov in the semifinals. I think that Zhang Jike at his best would have played Ma Long somewhat closely, though I do think Ma Long has passed him by and would have been favored, even if Zhang were at his best. I'm betting Fan Zhendong might be slowly moving into the #2 spot on the Chinese team, with Zhang and Xu Xin battling for #3. (And, of course, Fan is already #2 in the world, Xu #3, and Zhang #4 - but much of the time Zhang was winning the biggest titles he wasn't ranked #1 in the world either; he wasn't as good outside the big ones.) 

Did anyone notice how much the players used short receive? Players have so overused backhand banana flipping that servers are just too used to it, and can hang back and attack it. The best players are very good now at mixing in flips and short receives, as well as occasional long pushes. Samsonov sometimes likes to push serves out to the forehand so he can block into the server's backhand. The receive in these matches was almost a throwback to times past when short pushing was king. 

Watch Samsonov closely when he plays. Nobody scores more points with subtle changes of pace and direction than he does. He also has the most consistently disarming receive. Much of this is a lost art because of the powerful two-winged attacks of modern players, and yet I can't help but imagine the destruction someone like Jan-Ove Waldner would cause the first time out against these players - even more subtle play than Samsonov, along with a much stronger overall game. Those who think he'd get killed are wrong, at least the first time out. However, I agree Ma Long would start to dominate once he got used to this type of game and trained for it. It's like the old pips-out players - long after it was obvious the European inverted players had an advantage over the pips-out Chinese they still struggled with them because they weren't used to playing that style very often, while the pips-out players played inverted players all the time. The first time out Waldner would turn some of the current top players into pretzels. So would pips-out players like Liu Guoliang and Jiang Jialiang. But again, let me emphasize that this would only last until these other players learned to play these styles, which wouldn't take long.  

All four semifinalists illegally hid their serve. Ma Long does it most obviously - his serve is so blatantly illegal a child would call it, unless he were raised in the cheating culture we've developed in our sport regarding illegally hidden serves. Here are highlights of the Men's Final – watch the very first serve and see how the ball goes behind Ma Long's head, illegally hiding contact from Bo? From an umpire's perspective, either it's obviously hidden, or the umpire can't tell if the serve is visible – in both cases that makes it illegal. It's just mind boggling to me how these blatantly illegal serves are not called every single time.

Zhang Jike's serve is more subtle, since he almost faces his opponent when serving, but the ball usually goes behind his thrust-out head as he's about to contact the ball. Samsonov used to have one of the most legal serves, but even he now hides it, and I don't blame him since umpires are allowing all his opponents to do so. (Remember, good hidden-servers don't always hide the ball every serve; often they want the opponent to look for contact and try to read it off that, so they are thrown off when they don't see contact. But some hide it nearly every time, such as Ma Long.) 

But the top players have learned to read the ball from the air and bounce, which is more difficult, but the irony of umpires allowing illegal serves is that the top players face them all the time and so learn to return them. One reason Samsonov does so well at age 40 is that he developed his game before hidden serves became illegal, and so developed this skill early on. Others had to develop it in recent years as more and more players discovered they could illegally hide their serves and it wouldn't be called - and then the rest were forced to do so to compete. 

Note – Olympic Team Competition begins today!

Olympic Coverage

The Youngest Member of Team USA Aims to Be the Future of Olympic Table Tennis
Here's the article on Kanak Jha from The Bleacher Report.

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue that came out Wednesday.

Kung Fu Ping Pong 2016 AACCT
Here's the new six-minute movie that's basically Rocky (a girl) in table tennis.

Jian Fang Lay vs. Son in the Knock Down Mascot Competition
Here's the video (1:26)!

Ping Pong Champ from Bloom County
Here's the new cartoon! So which U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team member most resembles "Yegor," the "juiced athlete from Rio"? Kanak Jha in 2020, after a few years of weight training?

Non-Table Tennis: Science Fiction Happenings
I've had a great month in my science fiction & fantasy world. Here's a summation:

  • My story "Leashing the Muse" (from Space and Time, May, 2015) was named a finalist for the 2016 Small Press Award by the Washington DC Science Fiction Association. (This is for the best story of 2015 that wasn't published in one of the three or four biggest markets.) Winner will be announced on Oct. 8 at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention, where I'll be attending as a guest and panelist. I was informed by email; the actual announcement on their site hasn't gone up yet.
  • My novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions is getting great reviews! The novel has lots of table tennis – here's my March 8 blog on that. And here are the reviews!
    • The SF Crow's Nest. "There are so many good things in this novel that I’m bursting to share them but that would spoil it for the first time reader." "Anyway, it’s a marvellous book. Easy reading, fast-paced, lots of surprise plot twists, likeable heroes, a loveable alien and a gripping climax that takes the election right to the wire. Highly recommended."
    • Abyss & Apex. "Larry Hodges is a master of irony and slips in enough humor that it’s a great ride."
    • Amazon (three 5-star reviews, one 4-star)
    • Goodreads (three 5-star reviews)
  • Sold two new stories this past month: "The Untold Christmas Carol" to Galaxy's Edge, and "A Snowball's Chance" to Space and Time Magazine. The first tells the story of what really happened during Scrooge's very long night – for it was Satan himself who was orchestrating events for his son, Tiny Tim, helped by his assistant, the spirit of Benedict Arnold – but nothing went right. The second is a fantasy battle between an evil elderly witch and a challenger – with a time-traveling twist!
  • My story "First Cat" came out in a new anthology, "Speculative Story Bites." (This is a resale; the story has now appeared in five anthologies, i.e. I've sold it five times. Interdimensional beings invade Earth through a portal that opens in the Oval Office, and it's up to the befuddled president's temporarily super-intelligent cat to save us! How does he become super-intelligent? You'll just have to read the story!)

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