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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

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

November 8, 2013

Playing at a Club with Great Conditions

One of the problems with playing at a very nice club with very nice conditions is you get used to it. So when you go to tournaments, where the conditions often aren't so nice, you have problems. For example, at my club we have this nice rubberized red flooring, which is great for moving on, as well as having enough give so that it doesn't hurt your legs from the constant movement. But many of us will be playing at the Teams in three weeks, where we'll spend three days playing on somewhat slippery and unforgiving concrete. How do we prepare?

Recently I've been doing "shoe checks." I've been checking the bottoms of everyone's playing shoes to make sure they are in good condition. On our red floors you can wear your shoes down and it doesn't affect the grip on the floor. But on concrete floors (and most wood floors) the floor is more slippery, and you need grippy shoes. So I've been urging those with worn-out shoes to get new ones. Otherwise they'll be sliding all over the place at the Teams.

There are other ways of adapting. You've probably seen players on slippery floors step on a damp cloth between points to increase traction. There are also non-stick sprays you can put on your shoes - in table tennis, I think only Butterfly sells these. (I just ordered a bottle to try out, though I'm not playing in the Teams, just coaching.)

Of course, if you are not from my club, I urge you to show up with nicely worn-out shoes. I mean, c'mon, don't you want shoes you are used to? You'll have three days to learn how to slide into position.

On a side note (and I think I once blogged about this but can't find it), it is a huge advantage to play at a club with nice conditions. The conditions are conducive to high-level play, leading to, yes, high-level play, which helps you improve faster. If your club has poor conditions (bad lighting, bad background, slippery floors, bad tables, etc.), it limits the level of play, and so you don't improve as fast. There is the benefit that if your club has poor conditions, you are ready for tournaments, but that benefit pales in comparison to the higher level of play you'll be able to reach in good conditions.

Non-Table Tennis: Novel and Philcon

If all goes well, I should have copies of my novel "Sorcerers in Space" sometime this morning. Then I drive up to Philcon, the annual Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention, to spend Friday afternoon and night attending panels and (hopefully) promoting the novel. I come back late Friday night as I'm coaching at the Potomac Open on Saturday all day. (On the other hand, I'm still feeling the effects of that slight cold I wrote about yesterday, so I'm considering spending the day in bed. I'll decide later.)

Addendum added 20 minutes after posting blog: I got a phone call, and discovered my voice is completely hoarse this morning. So I'm apparently sick again. No Philcon, but I'll get a lot of reading in bed today....

USA Cadets at the World Cadet Challenge

Here are results and pictures.

Interview with USA's Kanak Jha

Here's the ITTF's interview (1:45) with Kanak at the World Cadet Challenge.

Coaching Articles from Table Tennis Master

Crazy Point Between Wang Liqin and Oh Sang Eun

Here it is (38 sec).

USATT Tips of the Day

USATT has been putting up as "Tips of the Day" the 171 Tips of the Week I wrote for them a few years ago as "Dr. Ping-Pong." I was going to put up links each Friday to the previous week's Tips, but forgot last Friday. So below are the 16 Tips since the last time I linked to them all - enjoy!!! (Click on link for complete tip.) 

Nov 07, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Backhand Attack Placements
The strength of most backhand attacks is that they usually involve a quicker, shorter stroke, and so are harder for opponent’s to react to.

Nov 06, 2013 - Tip of the Day - How to Vary Your Receive Against Short Backspin Serves
Most players return short backhand serves with a simple push, without much thought to it.

Nov 05, 2013 - Tip of the Day - How to Win
You can't win unless you can find tactical match-ups where you are better than your opponent.

Nov 04, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Placement of Aggressive Shots
When attacking, you should generally put all your shots to one of three places: wide forehand, wide backhand, or middle (opponent’s playing elbow).

Nov 03, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Inside-out Backhands
Want to really tie your opponent in knots not to mention win a lot of points? Aim your backhand crosscourt with a normal backhand stroke.

Nov 02, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Place Your Quick Backhand Attacks
When attacking a ball right off the bounce with their backhands, most players automatically go crosscourt to the opponent’s backhand. That’s not usually the most effective place to go.

Nov 01, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Blocking Tips
One of the most common reason players have trouble blocking against heavy topspin is because they hold the racket too high.

Oct 31, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Anticipate an Opponent’s Direction
Get in the habit of watching how an opponent hits the ball. Does he change direction at the last instant ever?

Oct 30, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Use Practice Matches to Practice
Exactly as the heading says this is the time to try out new things, develop new techniques, and generally improve your game.

Oct 29, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Play the Middle Against a Two-Winged Hitter
Some opponents hit well from both sides, seemingly taking a big swing and smacking in everything, both forehand and backhand.

Oct 28, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Don’t Give a Quick Player a Short Ball
If your opponent is quicker than you, than the last thing you want to do is let him rush you.

Oct 27, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Playing the "Unique" Style
You’ve probably all had the experience of playing someone who plays "different."

Oct 26, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Watch Top Players to Raise Your Own Level of Play
One of the best ways to improve your shots is get a good visual image of what your shots should look like just before playing.

Oct 25, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Footwork Against Off-Table Player
A player with good footwork doesn’t wait to see where the ball is going before he prepares to move.

Oct 24, 2013 - Tip of the Day - On Short Serves to the Forehand, Challenge the Forehand, Go Down the Line
Assuming two right-handers play, a common rally starts with a short serve to the forehand. Many receivers don’t understand the strategies in receiving this shot.

Oct 23, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Fool Your Opponents - Forehand Position for Backhands?
When playing close to the table, you have very little time to make a transition from forehand to backhand shots, and vice versa.

Octopus Table Tennis

Yes, that's an octopus playing table tennis, and yes, you can put it on your shirt.

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November 7, 2013

Health Checklist, Sheeba and Me

Today I can say we're both a mess. Here's our checklist.

ME: I just came down with a cold (again!!!), though it's a minor one. (I'm living on Nyquil.) Both of my knees are bothering me, so I'm wearing knee braces when I play. And remember how I hurt my arm a month ago and had to take a week off? Yesterday it was hurting again whenever I played backhands with students. I iced it last night, and today I'm going to have to go easy on it. My weight, which regularly fluctuates between 180 and 190, is at the high end right now, so I'm going to have to diet. However, to any students reading this: I'm ready to take you on!!!

SHEEBA (my dog, who's 3/4 corgi, 1/4 some sort of hound): She'll be 16 in February, which is about 76 in human years. I've had her since she was four, when I got her at the local dog shelter. She has arthritis in her back legs, and so has great difficulty walking up and especially down stairs, and no longer can go for walks. She's completely deaf - I can clap my hands together right behind her head as loudly as I can and she won't even react. She's also nearly blind, and regularly walks into doors and walls. She normally weighs around 23 pounds, but she's been losing weight rapidly this year, and is down to about 17 - she just won't eat much anymore. Here she is a few years ago.

I'm not the only one with health problems. As noted in a blog last week, my 5PM Wednesday student (Daniel) hurt his arm, and is out for month. My 6PM Wednesday student (Matt) had an apparent concussion (hit by a door in school!) and was out for a week, but came back last night. Since my 7PM Wednesday student (TJ) was away and my 8PM student (Doug) only comes in twice a month and was off last night, that meant that last night I only had one student - so I gave him an extra 15 minutes, and then spent some time watching the players I'll be coaching at the upcoming USA Nationals as they trained (Nathan Hsu and Derek Nie).

"About Time" Table Tennis

Yesterday I saw the movie "About Time." While technically a time-traveling SF movie, it wasn't really a SF movie, and more of a relationship movie as a man learns to accept the world as it is rather than constantly trying to change it for the better. Along the way were several table tennis scenes. Early on they show him talking with his dad as they play table tennis. Later the dad, played by Bill Nighy, gives a humorous speech while he plays about the greatness of his and his son's play, as if they were in some championship match. (I hope to see this on youtube someday.) They mention table tennis several other times, including the dad at his son's wedding giving a speech where he jokingly says how bad his son is at ping-pong. (Spoiler Alert!) After the dad has terminal cancer, the son appears to often travel back to the times they played ping-pong to visit with his dad when he was healthy - including one last time when, because of the rules for time travel in the movie, he can't do it again.

U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Program Booklet

Yesterday I started work on this year's U.S. Hall of Fame Banquet Booklet. (What, you thought those things made themselves?) This will be the fifth consecutive year I've done this for them. This year's inductees (as noted previously in my blog) are Todd Sweeris (who I've known and sometimes coached since he was 13) and Terese Terranova, with Yvonne Kronlage getting the Lifetime Achievement Award.

ITTF Monthly Podcast

Here's this month's edition (12:03), covering ITTF events in the month of October.

Waldner-Grubba Point

Here's video (54 sec) of a great point from twenty years ago at the 1993 European Top 12, between greats Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden and Andrzej Grubba of Poland.

Celebrity Table Tennis

  • Gael Monfils: Here's video (1:31) of tennis star Gael Monfils playing table tennis. He's currently #31 in the world, formerly world #7. He seems to play a driving forehand and a chopping backhand. They are using what appear to be sandpaper or cheap plastic blades.
  • Jamie Foxx: Here's video (1:23) of actor Jamie Foxx playing table tennis with table tennis star and model Soo Yeon Lee.
  • Deron Williams: Here's a picture of NBA star Deron Williams getting coached by 2009 U.S. National Men's Singles Champion Michael Landers.

Table Tennis Stats as Animated Gifs

Here they are!

Lots of Bouncing Ping-Pong Balls

Not sure what's going on here, but that's a bunch of balls bouncing around in what appears to be a bathroom with two woman who are oddly dressed for ping-pong.

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November 6, 2013

Do Something Different

These days it seems like everyone's trying to be like everyone else. That's a pretty successful way of getting good, if you copy the top players. But many are missing the benefits of doing something different. Give your opponent a different look, at least on some shots, and guess what? He might begin to struggle. This doesn't mean changing your whole game to some unorthodox mess; it means developing certain "pet shots" that are different than the norm. They give you more variation on certain shots than if you only have "orthodox" shots. Some, of course, naturally do something different, by having a non-inverted surface, a different grip (Seemiller grip, or even penhold grip for some), an unorthodox stroke (not usually good unless it's just as a variation), or even something as simple as being left-handed. But for most players, you'll want to do something "different" while sticking to your normal righty shakehands inverted on both sides game. And there are lots of ways. Below are ten examples - and I do all of these on occasion, though less now than when I was an active tournament player and honed these variations by actually using them regularly. Pick out one or two, and give them a try! (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

  1. Serve from forehand side. Nearly everyone serves from the backhand corner these days, with a few tomahawk serves from the forehand. Throw in a few forehand pendulum or backhand serves from the forehand side. The surprise factor will often make up for your starting a bit out of position. (I do this all the time.)
  2. Serve short sidespin to the forehand. So many players serve over and Over and OVER to the middle and backhand it's almost silly, and when they do serve short to the forehand, it's a simple backspin ball. Instead, learn to do this with sidespin that pulls the ball toward your forehand, making it awkward for the opponent to return the ball down the line. You can do this with a backhand serve, a reverse pendulum serve, or a forehand tomahawk serve.
  3. Slow, spinny loop. Most people these days loop either hard or harder. Try letting the ball drop a bit more, and go for a slow, super-spinny one. If it goes deep, it'll drive blockers crazy. If it lands short, it'll drive counter-loopers crazy.
  4. Dead loop. Fake spin, and instead give a dead loop. You sell this by using an exaggerated follow-through right after contact, making it seem spinny.
  5. Dead push. Push without spin, but with an exaggerated follow through to fake spin.
  6. Sidespin push. Come across the ball as you push. This is especially easy on the backhand, with a right-to-left motion (for righties), with the ball breaking to the right. It's especially effective wide to the right, breaking into a righty's opponent's backhand.
  7. Ginzo push. Most players push to keep the ball in play. Thrown in a few super-ginzo (i.e. extremely heavy) pushes, and watch opponents struggle. It's easier if you take the ball a little later for this.  
  8. Dead block. Block it dead, chop block, sidespin block - these will frustrate many opponents and set you up for a conventional attack. They are especially effective and easy on the backhand side.
  9. Countering change-of-pace. Rather than bang every ball in a fast counter-hitting rally, sometimes hit one soft. Either keep it low and short to the net, or deep on the table.
  10. Flatter flip. Most players flip short balls with topspin. (It's called a flick in Europe.) Try a flatter one. Hit it a bit softer since you don't have topspin to pull it down, but not too soft. (Recently I've seen a number of top players at my club experimenting with this variation, with help from our coaches.)

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

Here's the ITTF press release on the competition, won by Josep Antón Velázquez. It's a somewhat controversial choice. The winner was to be decided by four criteria: Youtube views, Youtube likes, Facebook votes, and Expert Opinion. USA's Adam Hugh led in the first three criteria, but the "Expert Opinion" chose Velázquez. Here's Adam's announcement of the result on Facebook and ensuing discussion.

India's Level 2 Coaching Course

Here's an article from the ITTF on the first ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in India, run by USA's Richard McAfee.

Darren O'Day at MDTTC

Here's the picture of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day at MDTTC recently - it's now USATT's Image of the Day. Note the video below it showing O'Day's unique submarine pitching style. Photo by Chris Zhang.

Samson Dubina's Website

Here it is - it has several coaching articles.

Backhand Footwork

Here's a good example of a backhand footwork drill (15 sec), demonstrated with multiball by Daniel Sabatino, current #15 in Italy, former #7.

Table Tennis - the Hardest Sport

Here's a new highlights video (8:36) that features both matches and training.

Great Point with Boll on Floor

Here's video (32 sec) of a great doubles point that includes Timo Boll falling to the floor, then getting up in time to continue the point. He's playing doubles with China's Ma Lin.

Fantasy Table Tennis Receipt with Harry Potter, Gandalf, Captain Kirk, and Oompa Loompa!

Here's Michael Mezyan's recent shopping receipt. It's legit, right? You decide. But I sure hope that Captain Kirk glue is legal! 

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November 5, 2013

Junior Hamburger Incentives

A few days ago I promised Crystal Wang and Nathan Hsu that I'd eat a cheeseburger if she won Women's Singles at the Nationals or if he made the Junior Boys' Team. (EDIT: I've since promised the same to Derek Nie if he wins Mini-Cadet Singles or makes the Cadet Team.) Doesn't seem like much of an incentive, does it? Here's the story of my 33-year hamburger estrangement.

In 1980, when I was 20, I was living in Wilson, North Carolina, training every day at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center. My highest rating achieved at the time was 1954, but I'd been stuck at around 1850 for the past two years. I entered four events in the North Carolina Open - Open Singles, Open Doubles (with Tom Poston), Under 2100, and Under 22. I wasn't seeded in Open Singles or Under 2100, and I was one of the lower seeds in Open Doubles and Under 22.

After pulling off an early-round upset I ate a quarter pounder with cheese from the McDonalds down the street. When I pulled off another upset, I had another. Every time I pulled off an upset I ate one. We'll now jump all the way to the final of Open Singles. At this point, here is the situation:

  • I've won Open Doubles
  • I've won Under 2100
  • I've won Under 22
  • I've eaten nine quarter pounders with cheese in the course of about five hours
  • I'm bent over in agony with a stomachache and am nauseous
  • I'm in the final of Open Singles against Fred King, a 2100 player (that's 2200+ in modern ratings)
  • Fred is serving up 17-13 in the fifth (games were to 21 in those days and you served five times in a row)

Despite constantly clutching my stomach in agony between points, and attacking nearly every ball with my forehand (both looping and smashing), I win all five points on Fred's serve to lead 18-17, and finally eke out the win, 21-9 in the fifth. I swept all four events I entered, and it was a major event in my playing career as I jumped from 1850 level to around 2100. But I came out in such agony I almost went to the hospital. At that point the very sight of a hamburger made me nauseous.

Over the next twenty years I didn't eat a single hamburger or cheeseburger. I'd eat meatballs in spaghetti and sloppy joes, but somehow a straight hamburger or cheeseburger brought back memories of that intense stomachache and nauseousness. Then, at the 2000 Junior Olympics, I told the story to our group of 30 Maryland juniors at dinner the night before the competition. They asked me what they had to do to get me to eat one. I said if they won over half the gold medals, I'd do so. Guess what? They did. (Actually, they did this nearly every year in the 1990s through the early 2000s.) So at dinner afterwards, while everyone watched, I ate a cheeseburger. I put lots and lots of lettuce, tomato, and onions on it to drown out the hamburger, and managed to survive.

I haven't eaten another one since.

So here we are, 33 years after that epic comeback against Fred, and I've got two juniors gunning to make me eat another. I'll probably give the same incentive to a few of our other juniors if they reach major goals at the Nationals. And then I'll force myself to eat another cheeseburger. Ugh!

Pretty good junior incentive program!

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

The winner of the ITTF Trick Shot Competition is supposed to be officially announced tomorrow, but I just got an email from USA's Adam Hugh that, even though he led on nearly every objective criteria, the winner is Josep Anton Velazquez of Spain, with this entry, over this one from Adam. We should have more on this tomorrow.

USA's Kunal Chodri and Kanak Jha Win Bronze

They made the semifinals of Cadet Doubles at the ITTF World Cadet Challenge (which ended Sunday in Otocec, Slovenia), defeating Horacio Cifuentes and Gustavo Yokota of Argentina and Brazil in the quarterfinals, 11-8 in the fifth. In the semifinals they led 2-0 against Hwang Minha and Man Kwan of Korea and Hong Kong before losing in five, -12,-9,7,6,4.

Table Tennis Facts

Here are eight of them - but are they all really facts? The fifth items says players smash the ball over 100 mph, but there's been no test that I know of that shows this, while most show that few smashes go over 70mph. (Of course, this might have a lot to do with the testing procedure and definition of the speed. The ball may leave the racket at a high speed and rapidly slow down due to air resistance.) The last item says China, Sweden, and South Korea are the "current world powers," but it's been a while since Sweden was a world power.

Why Serve Variation is Vital

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

The Honeymooners Table Tennis

Here's a video (26 minutes, but you only need to watch the first 3-4 minutes) of a table tennis scene in the classic TV show "The Honeymooners." The episode, "Something Fishy," played on Dec. 17, 1955, and opens 32 seconds in with a roughly three-minute table tennis scene between the characters Ralph Kramden (actor Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (actor Art Carney), mostly involving Ed leading Ralph 19-2, with Ralph then pretending to lose the ball so as not to lose a ten-cent bet over the game. About a minute after the table tennis scene sewer worker Ed also quips about playing table tennis in the sewers. Special thanks to Steve Thoren for alerting me to this classic scene.

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November 4, 2013

Tip of the Week

Tournament Toughness. (Also covered is the question that's been raised a lot over the years: Should a player play a rating event if he's eligible but who has improved beyond the rating event cutoff?

Coaching Darren O'Day

On Friday last week I had a 90-minute coaching session with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. He's a 6'4" submarining reliever who had a 2.18 ERA in 68 games last year (the best record of any Oriole pitcher), a 2.28 ERA the year before in 69 games, and a lifetime record of 20-9 with a 2.62 ERA. These are great stats! (That is why he makes $3.2 million/year.)

Readers of this blog know that on May 13 I coached Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder and current Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson, and that on August 21 I took four of our players to the Orioles clubhouse (they have a table) where we did a demo and played them for three hours. Here's a video (1:19) made of the visit at Orioles.com, and here's another video (5:28) played on Orioles Extra TV. Here's a group picture.

While at their clubhouse, several players asked for my business card for future lessons. (Even Chris Davis asked for one.) And so, out of the blue, I got an email from Darren last week asking for lessons. The session was from 1:00-2:30 PM on Friday. Local schools were closed that day for some teacher meeting, and so we were running a mini-camp - and so a number of our junior players were around to watch.

Darren, JJ, Brady, and over half the Orioles have been playing table tennis in their clubhouse almost non-stop the last few years, and it shows. As I blogged before, over half of them play at the 1200 level or better, led by JJ (pushing 1900 level) and Brady (pushing 1800 level). Steve Pearce is probably the next best (1500?), with Darren probably next at around 1400, just ahead of a number of others. JJ and Brady have pretty good technique, with one major exception - JJ tends to hit his shots with the racket tip pointed up a bit, which is good for blocking - and JJ blocks aggressively at a pretty high level. But it's not so good for hitting and looping.

Darren had copied this tip-up technique from JJ, so the first thing we worked on was keeping the racket tip down a bit. He also had a tendency to roll his racket over at contact (i.e. close it), by raising his elbow. So we also worked on that. On the backhand he tended to reach for the ball rather than move - in contrast to his forehand, where he was more mobile. So we did some side-to-side backhand drills where he had to step with his left to move left, step with the right to move right. We also worked on a slightly wider stance so he'd be lower to the table, with more stability when moving and stroking.

He had learned to put some spin on his forehand serve, probably by watching JJ, who has pretty good serves. But he was using the same grip to serve as he played, and so wasn't getting much wrist into the serve. So I showed him how to change the grip to maximize the spin on his forehand pendulum serve.

So the focus of the first session was forehands (including a lot of smashing drills), backhands, footwork, and serves. Like most professional athletes, he was great at focusing on one topic to perfect it, and picked things up quickly. He, JJ, and Brady all that the same "Get it right!" attitude, and were willing to do any technique over and over until it was perfect. He was surprised at how physical table tennis was.

He's signed up for regular lessons now, once a week. (I can't disclose the times publicly, but I might do so for some locals who want autographs or photos.) He also said that Tommy Hunter is interested in lessons, so we might work him into my schedule next. (When he paid for the lesson, he even left a nice tip!) 

After the session he hit for about half an hour with Crystal Wang (11, the top girl of her age in the country), and Raghu Nadmichettu (one of our other coaches and a former USA Men's Singles Quarterfinalist at the Nationals) - they went easy on him. He posed for pictures at the end. Here's a picture, L-R: Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Darren O'Day, Crystal Wang, and me (Larry Hodges). Photo by Chris Zhang.

I have a new nickname. I'm "The Oriole Ping-Pong Whisperer."

ITTF Trick Shot Competition - Who/Hugh Should Win?

They are down to five finalists. USA's Adam Hugh's in the lead, but he's in a close two-way race. (Ironically he's actually in third place as well with his second video, but all that counts is first, so he'd rather you focus on that one - the one where he's bouncing the ball on the end of his racket and then making a long-distance serve into a bowl - this one.

It's been a while since USA has won a "world title," so let's bring this one home! Voting ends at 6:59PM USA eastern time (EST), which is 11:59 GMT. Here is a message from Adam on what you need to do:

Hi everyone, 

Thanks to all of your support, I have made it into the final round of the ITTF trick shot contest! This stage is a Facebook vote and takes only a few seconds to do. If you enjoyed my videos and want to help me win,  please vote before the poll closes on Monday. All you have to do is:

1) Click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=721598834536789
2) Click "like" for the photo

And that's it :) If you want to help more, you can always "share" it too so your FB friends can help but that's completely up to you. Anyway, I truly do appreciate everybody's support through this entire process and, regardless of the outcome, I just want to say thank you. I wouldn't have even made it this far. 

Best,
Adam

In fairness to the others, here's the home page for the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. Late last night the ITTF put out on their Facebook page the following note:

Due to a really close view count between 5th & 6th position, we have shortlisted 6 instead of 5! They are: Adam Hugh 1 (377k), Josep Anton: (330k), Adam Hugh 2 (322k), Matt Hetherington (275k), Bruchle (256k), Daniel Ives (254k). Have you voted for them in the Poll yet? Stay tuned, we will be announcing the winner tomorrow, 5th Nov!

Ping-Pong Fitness

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

You Call It Ping Pong We Call It Table Tennis!

Here's a new highlights video (9:22) set to music with lots of slow-motion play.

Mary Had a Little Lamb - Ping-Pong Style

Here's the video (15 sec) - by Rich Heo, and I'm jealous because I used to do this, but never got it on video!!!

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November 1, 2013

Another Oriole Takes Lessons

Okay, cat's out of the bag (or Oriole is out of the nest?), since most of the local table tennis juniors now know. The Baltimore Oriole baseball player I blogged about yesterday that I'm coaching is Darren O'Day, the 6'4" submarining $3.2 million/year relief pitcher with a lifetime 20-9 record and 2.62 ERA. Last year in 68 games he had a 2.18 ERA, the best of the O's relief pitchers. I hit with him some in August. I'm coaching him later today; afterwards he's hitting with our local kids, who are out of school today (some teachers meeting) and so doing a one-day training session (10AM-6PM).

I did find it interesting how fast these Oriole players pick up the sport. As noted yesterday, of the 25 Orioles, about half are at least 1200, the result of non-stop competitive play in their clubhouse. Surprisingly, most have decent technique - they copied much of it from JJ Hardy and Brady Anderson, who play 1800+ level. The lefty Brady actually has the best technique, running around attacking with his forehand, and not a bad backhand either. JJ has a nice counter-hitting game, but tends to point his racket up when he strokes - but it gives him an excellent blocking game, and he can smash as well, along with a surprisingly spinny forehand pendulum serve, made even more effective because he does it from his forehand side, which almost nobody does in "real" table tennis - except me, who does it in close matches as a variation. (Why don't you?)

Scream Halloween

In a class I taught yesterday just before the kids left to go trick-or-treating I did a nasty trick. I hid my Scream mask in the restroom before the class began. About ten minutes before class ended I asked my assistant coach, John Hsu, to talk to the kids about how to create spin on serves, and arranged that he'd be facing the restrooms as he did so, so the kids would have their backs that way. Then I went to the restroom, put on the mask, and quietly sneaked up on them. Then, staying silent, I leaped in front of them. There was quite a bit of screaming! Then I went after Coach John, "choking him to death" right in front of the kids. (John knew - it was pre-arranged.) Then I chased several of the kids around the table, still silent. Finally I put a Gatorade bottle on the table and motioned for them to go to the far side. We spent the last five minutes with me feeding multiball in the mask while they tried to hit the bottle of "worm juice." When they did, I had to jam the bottle up under the mask to drink it, always looking back and forth sharply between the bottle and the kid who hit it. Then I'd go right up to the kid and stare at him from one inch away. At the end, I went back to the restroom, removed the mask, and returned and said, "Did I miss anything?"

Table Tennis the Brain Sport

Here's an essay by Daniel G. Amen, MD, on the greatness of table tennis as a brain sport.

Four-Table Tennis

Cape Fear Table Tennis Club in Fayetteville, NC, is running the first four-table tennis tournament in the U.S. What's "four table"? It's table tennis played with four tables! Here's video (7:06). And here's their home page with info on the tournament.

Around the Net Shot

Here's video (38 sec) of Puerto Rican cadet star Adriana Diaz doing an around-the-net roll-on-the-table shot at the 2013 World Cadet Challenge.

16 Table Tennis World Records

Here they are!

Table Tennis Animation Project

Here is Sneak Peak of a Demo/Test raw footage (1:44) of a table tennis animation work in progress by Mike Mezyan. Can't wait to see the final version!

Queen Latifah vs. Granny Franny

Here's the story and video (51 sec).

Superhero Bee Pong

Look! Up at the Table! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No - it's . . . a large bumblebee playing table tennis? I think that's what it is, not sure. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Non-Table Tennis - "The Best Things About Halloween"

Last year I had a story, "The Haunts of Albert Einstein," published in the anthology Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales. ("Poor Albert Einstein is destined to haunt his old offices in Princeton for eternity, surrounded by the ghosts of bickering physicists who simply will not shut up, and the relentless paparazzi. What can he do to save himself from this fate?") The editors asked the authors to recount their favorite memories of past Halloweens. They just put up three of them, including mine - here they are! Mine's about getting caught up in a Halloween prank, and hiding late at night behind a bush in a Tyrannosaurus Rex costume as a drunk, angry man stood on the other side trying to find me.

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October 31, 2013

Learning to Return Fast Deep Serves

Many players have trouble with them. How do you learn to return them? By practicing against them! I have a student, Doug, who was having trouble with them, especially when served to a certain spot I won't name since he may have to play some of my readers. So yesterday we played games where I started each rally off with a straight fast, deep topspin serve, and where I had only one shot to win the point. At the start he was horrible, missing the serve over and over. But guess what? Practice does make perfect (or at least better), and he improved and eventually won. (It's not easy trying to win on one shot when the opponent is looping your deep serve over and over!)

Now I wasn't using my best fast-breaking sidespin serves or the sometimes almost unreturnable dead ones, but few players have those serves except at the higher levels. But I'm going to press Doug on this, and soon he'll be facing these nightmares - and if history repeats, he'll get used to them.

I do a similar thing with other students. Sameer had trouble with a player's deep sidespin serve to his backhand in a tournament, so we played games where all I did was serve that serve. When he got used to it, I started throwing two variations at him and later more. Now he's comfortable with the serve when he sees it coming, and reacts to it pretty well even when I vary the serve.

One of our top juniors had fits with certain short serves to his forehand. So we played matches where I gave him that serve over and Over and OVER. Soon he was flipping it all over the table and I had to practically retire that serve against him in matches. Yes, my goal is to teach all my students to return all my serves so that soon they'll all be beating me.

It always amazes me that players win or lose more on serve and receive than anything else, and yet few actually practice these things systematically.

Ping-Pong Halloween

What are my Halloween plans? I teach a beginning table tennis class for kids on Thursdays from 6-7. I was thinking they'd want tonight off, but I was surprised last Thursday when all but one said they'd be here. (Three said they hated Halloween! Wow!!! Didn't like costumes and all that sugar.) I also have a private lesson from 7-8PM. So I'll be coaching from 6-8PM, and not getting home until close to 8:30PM, when most of the trick-or-treating will be over. Fortunately, the people downstairs will be around to give out the Snickers and Milky Ways I always give out. (I own a three-floor townhouse, and live on the third floor while renting out the first two.)

I won't miss Halloween completely. Besides bringing some of the candy to give out to the class (for those who like sugar!), I've got a Scream mask that I might put on during the class near the end. Or maybe I'll feed multiball in it. I've always had this dream of showing up at a club anonymously in some sort of costume (such as a gorilla suit, though a scream mask will do), and silently play matches all night and beat everyone.

Here's some table tennis Halloween stuff:

Orioles Player Taking Lessons

Another multi-millionaire Baltimore Oriole baseball player has arranged table tennis lessons with me. Ho hum. I've already given lessons to JJ Hardy and Brady Anderson, and hit with a bunch of their players at their clubhouse. For now, the new one wants to stay anonymous. However, after taking a few lessons, he plans to play in our leagues during the off season.

Polyethylene Balls

Yesterday I posted a link to USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's blog with his thoughts on the new polyethylene balls, which are supposed to replace the current celluloid ones in ITTF events on July 1, 2014. (USATT would presumably match them, as they usually do on rule changes.) Here's USATT Board Member Kagin Lee's blog about this last week. However, if you want to test these balls for yourself, JimT posted in the comments in my blog yesterday that you can order them from eacheng.net, which I just did. Cost for three balls was $7.99 plus $5 shipping, so $12.99 total. (Choose "BY AIR-small packet" for the $5 shipping, unless you are in a rush.) Once I have them I'll try them out, and let others from my club as well, and report back here.

Knee Update

Just a quick update - the knee seems fine now, though I'm still leery of making sudden moves, especially to my wide forehand. I'm wearing an Ace knee brace, and will probably keep using it for a while.

2013 Men's World Cup Best

Here's a video (4:25) of the best of the recent World Men's Cup. And here's the ITTF's Top Ten Shots (5:16) from the tournament. (It's really top ten rallies, shown from different angles and replayed slow motion.)

Roger Federer Wants to Play Lebron James in TT

Here's the story from Table Tennis World!

Funny Serves

So which of these three serves is the funniest?

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October 30, 2013

Table Tennis is a Dangerous Sport

How many other sports features killing and smashing and chopping? But that's not what I'm writing about. I'm writing about arm and knee problems, illnesses, and concussions.

Recently my students and I have been coming down sick or injured. I've blogged about my recent arm and knee problems (now all better, for now). I normally have four hours of coaching on Wednesday nights. But two students will miss tonight. Daniel, age 8, hurt his arm a week ago (did he catch it from me?), and seems to have aggravated it. He saw a doctor, and his arm is now in a sling - no table tennis for at least two weeks. Matt, 12, accidentally got hit in the head by a door (!), and has concussion symptoms. He said he won't know for sure if he has a concussion until next week (he's seeing a specialist), but can't do any sports activities for a week. I've had a couple other students miss sessions over the last few weeks because of illness.

On a more serious note, knee problems in table tennis often come from playing on cement floors. MDTTC had cement floors its first 12-15 years or so, and toward the end I was having severe knee problems and had to wear a knee brace. After going to the red cushioned flooring, I had zero problems until eleven days ago, when I simply pushed off the foot wrong while stepping around to forehand loop, but that's mostly better now. Knee braces are excellent in preventing further injury. They not only keep the knee warm, but keep the injured part pressed together, so it doesn't injure further if you don't overdo it.

Arm problems usually come from technique problems, though not always. I had serious shoulder problems before I ever played table tennis, from throwing baseballs "like a girl" (i.e. not turning my shoulders - here's a graphic that shows this, see bottom image). I later developed arm problems in my forearm, which I think came about from having a somewhat short and jerky forehand loop stroke. Ironically, once injured from looping, it is actually the backhand that hurts and aggravates it. (Looping stretches the forearm muscle in question; backhands contract it and is what makes it worse.) When I do have arm problems, I tend to over-protect it, which leads to re-injuring the shoulder.

Illnesses in table tennis often come after tournaments, where you spend lots of time with strangers, often shaking hands, as well as time in airports and buses, where your hands are constantly in contact with surfaces grabbed by others. If your goal is to gather a large collection of germs on your hands, go to lots of tournaments. Solution: make sure to wash your hands (with soap) regularly at tournaments and when traveling or you'll likely catch something, and pay for it a few days after the tournament. (I always harp on this with our juniors at tournaments. If you pick up something while traveling to the five-day U.S. Open or Nationals you'll come down sick halfway through.) 

Concussions come from getting slammed in the head by doors and getting hit by extremely heavy ping-pong balls. Since table tennis doesn't have extremely heavy ping-pong balls, avoid getting hit in the head by doors and you should be fine.

New Wheelchair/Standing Rules

Here's a relatively new rule about playing doubles when one of the players is in a wheelchair.

2.08.03 In doubles, when at least one player of a pair is in a wheelchair due to a physical disability, the server shall first make a service, the receiver shall then make a return but thereafter either player of the disabled pair may make returns. However, no part of a player's wheelchair nor a foot of a standing player of this pair shall protrude beyond the imaginary extension of the centre line of the table. If it does, the umpire shall award the point to the opposing pair.

At the South Shore Open this past weekend referee Kagin Lee pointed this out to me and asked what I thought of it. We went out on the table to test it, and guess what? I can stand on the left side of the table and still reach short or long balls to the wide forehand. (I'm right-handed.) What does this mean? It means that according to the rules, I can play doubles with a wheelchair player and play the rallies essentially alone, with the wheelchair player off to the side, perhaps ready to occasionally cover any shots that get well angled to my forehand that I can't reach. When it's my turn to receive, I can receive while standing on the left side, thereby allowing me to play from that side the rest of the rally. Since I'm limited by not being able to put my foot to the right of the center line, I'm somewhat limited, but it sort of defeats the purpose of doubles. I'm not sure how they can fix this rule, but it's definitely problematic. Fortunately, this won't come up very often. To date, in all the doubles matches I've played, I've faced exactly zero doubles teams made up of a standing and a wheelchair player. I've seen it only a couple of times.

Mike Babuin's Thoughts on the New Polyethylene Ball

Here's his blog. He's the chair of the USATT Board of Directors.

Matt Hetherington Page

Here's the web page and blog of the New Zealand player, with lots of interesting stuff from a top player's perspective. Yesterday he blogged about Vladimir Samsonov defeating Timo Boll at the Men's World Cup, "Samsonov Ends Boll's 5-Year Run." Includes a link to a video of the match (39:15).

No Table? No Problem!: 3 Solutions When All Training Tables Are Taken

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on training with three or more players on a table.

A Game Nobody Knows (Ping Pong Song)

Here's a video (3:48) that's shows Wally Green in action as he raps (or Hip Hops?) to music.

Colorful Table

Now that's colorful!

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October 29, 2013

Tip of the Week

Start Drills with a Serve.

Butterfly South Shore Open

It was an exhausting weekend, but so is every tournament I coach at. There's no question - coaching is far more tiring then playing. Seriously!!!

Here are results and pictures. I didn't get to see much of the tournament since I was busy coaching.

I traveled to and from the tournament with Nathan Hsu (17) and his mom, Wen; Crystal Wang (11) and her dad, Quandou; and Derek Nie (12) and his mom, Jenny. (Derek and his mom traveled separately going out, but were on our flight coming back. Roy Ke, 14, another top junior from my club (MDTTC) also went but traveled separately.) We flew to Chicago, and then rented a car to drive to South Shore, about 45 minutes away. We arrived at the playing hall (Lincoln Center Fieldhouse in Highland, IN) around 8PM on Friday night, just after they'd closed the gym. We found an open door and were able to look over the place and survey the draws before they shooed us out.

Crystal, rated 2267, was top seed in all three junior events she was in - 13 & Under, 15 & Under, and 18 & Under - and she swept all three events without losing a game to anyone, capturing $1700 in prize money, care of the Nate Wasserman Junior Championships. She played Anushka Oak (13, rated 2091) in all three finals.

I was mostly coaching Nathan this tournament. (I'll be coaching him and Derek at the Nationals.) He mostly played well this tournament, but didn't have the results to show it. He went in rated only 2303, well below his norm - he was 2397 just a short time ago. In the Open, he upset Patricio Perevra of Lindenwood University in Missouri, the 7th seed, to reach the quarterfinals. There he faced the unrated Wang Zhao, a former member of the Chinese National Team and only 28 years old. He'd easily dismantled a 2300 player 4-0 in the previous round, and his level was estimated at 2650. The story I was told was that injury problems had ended his career in China, but while no longer Chinese-team level, he was very good, with an unreal forehand, and everything else almost as good.

But so was Nathan!!!

Nathan used his backhand loop to dominate, often with off-the-bounce counter-loops, and a nice inside-out forehand flip to take out Wang's forehand and set up Nathan's own attacks in this best of seven. He also counterlooped surprisingly well. They battled right to the seventh game. Finally, Nathan found himself up 10-9 match point with the serve! So what happened? Nathan served short, and Wang returned it with a net-dribbler. Jeeez!!! But Nathan's not through. Wang had one or two match points, but Nathan deuced it, and had another match point with the serve. He served long to the backhand, and Wang, caught off guard, made a soft topspin return to Nathan's wide backhand - which Nathan had anticipated. He was already there, and ripped a forehand down the line that would have been a match-winning shot - but it just missed. Then Wang won the next two points, and it was over. (In the semifinals, his racket - the same one he'd used against Nathan - was ruled too thick, and so he had to use an unfamiliar racket, and lost.) 

Nathan had another nice match in the semifinals of Under 18 in a best of five, against top-seeded Jonathan Ou, rated 2472. (Nathan was seeded fourth.) I can't go over the tactics here - they will likely play many times in the future and Jonathan might be reading this (Hi John!), but once again it was a battle. Jonathan won, 11-8 in the fifth. (Jonathan would win the final 3-0.) And so, despite playing two great matches, Nathan had nothing to show for it, other than the knowledge that he can compete with these players.

During the tournament we lived on McDonalds for lunch (chicken sandwiches for me) and Cracker Barrel for two dinners (though Crystal and I had to miss one when she had some late-night matches). There was a breakfast buffet at the hotel, and I had freshly-made waffles and scrambled eggs for breakfast both mornings.

On the way back we had to wait at the airport in Chicago for over an hour. So the kids and I grabbed our paddles, and walked about until we found some tables. Then it was time for Airport Pong!!! I didn't actually play any this time (knee problems), so I was just the ball boy as Nathan, Derek, and Crystal took turns. I don't have video, but here's Airport Pong video (1:43) from after the 2012 Junior Olympics/Southern Open at Houston Airport, with Nathan, Amy Lu (the lefty), and Lily Lin.

It was a fun tournament, and we had a great time. The lighting was great, with wooden floors and lots of room. Great thanks goes to Director Dan Seemiller; to the tournament committee (Brad Balmer, Steve Betts, Jason Denham, and Pam Hazinski); to referee Kagin Lee; and to the local South Bend Table Tennis Club.

Why Today's Blog Was Late

Why, you ask? Well . . . this'll sound crazy, but blame the TV show "The Walking Dead." I missed this past Sunday's episode (coaching at the South Shore Open in Indiana). I was up late last night working on other things, and went to bed around 1AM. Just before I went to bed I had checked on when I could see replays (Fri 11PM and Sun 8PM). Well, I had perhaps the most vivid and definitely the most physical nightmare of my life, and probably the longest as well.

I dreamed I was fighting the walking dead - and it went on and On and ON!!! I was on a balcony overlooking a large gymnasium (now that I think about it, I think it was the South Shore Open gymnasium!) filled with the walking dead, and they were streaming up a stairway to get at me! My only weapon was a sharpened pencil, and it kept breaking - but then I'd find another one. (Strangely I was killing them by stabbing them in the belly, when in reality - well, Walking Dead reality - you have to stab them in the brain.) And then (of course) I had a ping-pong paddle and began swatting them away. At some point the paddle went back to a pencil, and then back again - it kept changing in my hand, and at the time, this seemed perfectly normal. Anyway, the whole time I was fighting them I kept thinking about how painful it would be if they got at me (yes, they eat you alive), and so it was an all-night adrenalin-packed episode. When I woke up in a sweat, I was exhausted and had a massive headache. It's very tough to write with a massive headache, alas.

Men's World Cup

Xu Xin of China defeats Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus in final.  Here's the ITTF Men's World Cup Page, with results, articles, and photos.

Quality over Quantity - Training Smart

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on choosing your drills when you practice.

Ultimate Hook Loop

Here's the video (10 sec) of a super-sidespin loop. My only critique is that it would be even better if it went wider. If you are a looper and don't have a hooking loop to the forehand, you need to develop one.

Mikael Andersson, Messages from Paris 2013

Here's a video interview (13:11) with Mikael Andersson, an ITTF Senior Consultant - Development, Education & Training, and one of the main designers of the ITTF Global Junior Program.

Epic Ping Pong Fail - Spinning Face Smack

Here's the video (33 sec) - and watch where the ball actually hits!

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October 28, 2013

No Blog or Tip Today

I returned from the South Shore Open in Indiana at 1:30 AM this morning, and because I had to take care of some things I didn't get to bed until after 4AM. So no blog today, and the Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow. But for diehards who need something, here's video (1:05) of the rally of the tournament at the Men's World Cup, with Vladimir Samsonov lobbing down Xu Xin.

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