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.
USATT National Team System
Here's the new document with the USATT Statement of Core Beliefs, Team Selection Procedures, and National Team Funding Methodology. The document is 10 pages long. Pages 2-9 are about the selection procedures for the USA National Junior, Cadet, and Mini Cadet Teams, and page 10 is about funding for team members. The first page is perhaps of most interest to readers. Below is the text from page 1, starting with the Henry Ford quote.
Perhaps the most important of these is #3, about creating a "team first" culture. At various times in the past, countries such as Hungary, Sweden, Korean, and Japan challenged and beat the Chinese – and they did so by working as a team. It's somewhat eyebrow-raising, for example, that I can give a lecture on how to play most of the top USA junior players that juniors from my club often face, but have no real idea about the top juniors from China, Japan, Germany, etc. Why? Because the focus right now is on beating other USA players. That's not going to completely go away, but once we have a core group of up-and-coming players who really can challenge their rivals from around the world, it's key that our top coaches know these rivals so they can train our players to beat them, both strategically (long-term development) and tactically (tactics at the table).
An example of strategic development comes from watching our top juniors compete against their rivals. There's been much discussion of this among coaches (usually informally), and there's a general consensus that while our players can match up in a number of ways, they are behind in physical training and receive. So guess what we need to focus on? But it's not enough to focus on fixing weaknesses; we also have to focus on developing overpowering strengths – and sometimes the best way of doing that is to work so hard at a weakness that it becomes an overpowering strength. Like physical fitness and receive!
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."
The National Team System will focus on a “52-week approach,” with an emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, coordination, and commitment. By better leveraging our collective system-wide resources, we will provide our athletes, coaches and key stakeholders with the necessary tools to develop and sustain competitive excellence. Simply put, our staff, coaches, clubs, players and families must work as one with a collective goal of systematic international competitive excellence.
How We Will Achieve This
- Professionalize the National Team System;
- Clearly articulate the goals, procedures, priorities and expectations;
- Create a “team first” culture among athletes, coaches, clubs, and parents;
- Develop a system-wide approach to elite player and coaching development with a strong emphasis on coordination, integration and interaction;
- Utilize technology to enable collaboration among key stakeholders;
- Reduce the importance of team trials events in selecting national teams, particularly among younger players with a stronger emphasis on development;
- Provide continuity and expand participation by increasing team sizes and qualification opportunities;
- Hire high quality national coaches to work in a system to work regularly with team members, parents, local/regional coaches, and clubs;
- Produce programs and camps designed to build team spirit, monitor physical fitness, playing techniques, and mental strength;
- Provide training tools and programs to supplement local training programs; and
- Be more efficient and effective with funding by placing a greater emphasis on ability, potential, and commitment to excellence.
USA Nationals Entry Form
Here it is! The tournament will be held July 4-9 in Las Vegas. This year there are exactly 100 events - I think that's a record. And for those not keeping track, yes, they flipped the Nationals and Open, with the Open now in December. There were several reasons for this, but the biggest was the problem kids had in attending the Nationals in December due to its proximity to final exams. Hope to see you all there!
California State Championships
They are this weekend, at the ICC in Milpitas. Finally, our biggest state has a State Championship! (With the New York State Championships the following weekend! As well as the Alabama State Championships!)
How to Play Table Tennis
Here's the ITTF series of eight videos, averaging about three minutes each. They include Service Basics; Reverse Pendulum Backspin Serve; Forehand Topspin; Backhand Drive; Backhand Topspin; Forehand Drive; Service Receive; and Block.
Important Positioning Tips
Here's the coaching article from former USA National Team Member Judy Hugh.
Ma Long Multiball
Here's video (30 min) of Ma Long doing multiball a year ago. Lots to study here!
JOOLA and HW Global Encourage Young Players
Here's the article that features one of the junior programs at MDTTC, for the most talented and hardest working players from ages 7-10.
Gordon Kaye Interview at ICC Table Tennis Center
Here's the interview (2 min) with the USATT CEO.
Table Tennis Coaching's Dynamic Duo: Interview with Jeff and Alois from PingSkills
Here's the interview (with links to numerous videos) from MH Table Tennis.
Getting To Know Michael Landers
Here's the video (6 min).
Is the Tech Bubble Popping? Ping Pong Offers an Answer
Here's the article from the Wall Street Journal.
Dubina Table Tennis Academy Grows Table Tennis in Northeast Ohio
Here's the USATT article.
11 Questions with Patrick Hrdlicka
Here's the USATT interview.
Interview with Gavin Evans: Bulletproof Table Tennis
Here's the podcast (53:18) from Expert Table Tennis. In this episode you’ll learn:
- Gavin’s first memories of table tennis as a five-year-old [1:00]
- How Gavin improved so quickly and overtook his brothers [4:00]
- Gavin’s experience of playing in China [12.00]
- What it was like being part of the England team as a cadet [15:00]
- What to do when you’re not playing your best table tennis [24:00]
- All about Gavin’s injury problems as a junior [30:00]
- Gavin’s advice for dealing with adversity in table tennis and life [34:00]
- What life is like for Gavin now [40:00]
- Gavin’s Top Tip – Build a bulletproof body [44:00]
- How to contact/follow Gavin [50:00]
The Perfect Match: Timo Boll and KUKA
Here's the video (80 sec).
Susan Sarandon and James Corden Battle Kids in Ping Pong
Here's the video (90 sec) from the Late Show! Susan and James talk trash with the kids.
Send us your own coaching news!
Tip of the Week
React to Opponent's Swing.
Serve, Loop, and Follow Drill
Here's a basic drill I'm having a number of students do. It's a basic serve & attack drill, with minor restrictions. Starting at the intermediate level, the most common rally is where the server serves backspin, the receiver pushes, and the server loops. Let's take that one shot further.
The basic drill is similar. Server serves short backspin. Receiver pushes long to the side the server needs practice on (forehand or backhand). Server then loops, usually to a pre-arranged spot. Receiver's first block is also (not always) pre-arranged, often to the wide forehand. Then you POP – play out point. (POP is the shorthand I've used for decades.)
For example, server may serve backspin short to backhand; receiver pushes to middle; server loops forehand to receiver's backhand; receiver blocks to wide forehand; server moves wide and loops or smashes, and then POP.
There are endless variations. One important one is where receiver randomly pushes to either side, so server can practice looping from both wings (or all forehand if he's very, very fast), and learn to react to different placements. Receiver can also push quick to the middle, so server has to make a quick decision between forehand or backhand attack.
Other variations include the server's first loop going down the line, or looping anywhere. Sometimes receiver might throw in a short push so server has to react to that as well. There are endless variations. But before choosing which variation to do, ask yourself what exactly in your game needs work, and work that into the drill.
My Trip Back from Ravencon in Williamsburg
"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…" Yes, my trip back from Ravencon was like Gilligan's Island – a three-hour tour that took 6.5 hours. (I wrote about Ravencon on Thursday – see "Now the science fiction stuff…".)
Apparently there was a 16-car pile-up on I-95, and traffic at one point was frozen for nearly 200 miles. I was parked in one spot almost continuously for over three hours. After being parked for a while I turned on the radio as the Baltimore Orioles were about to start a game – and my car didn't move until the ninth inning! I left Williamsburg at 11AM, expecting to be back by 2PM, and ready to teach my 4PM junior class. Instead, I had to call ahead and get others to sub for me. I arrived home around 5:30PM.
One ramification – as I've blogged in the past, one thing I'm proud of is that in the 24 years since MDTTC opened in 1992, in something like 20,000+ sessions, I've been late exactly twice – once because I had my schedule mixed up, and once because a traffic accident blocked traffic (like this time). Well, this makes three times, i.e. once every eight years. (Another side problem – I strained my right knee slightly while carrying a box of my books up some stairs.) I did sell a bunch of my novel ("Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions"), and had a great time on panels.
Capital Area League
We had our second meet of the season this past Saturday at Smash TT in Virginia. Here are the results and standings! There are 24 teams and 127 players this season in this rapidly growing league. Next meetup is May 14 at MDTTC.
Ryu Seung Min on Forehand Footwork
Here's the article (with links to video) from MH Table Tennis.
Don't Copy Him!
Here's the new coaching article from Samson Dubina.
The Best Table Tennis Training Camps
Here's the new article from Expert Table Tennis. MDTTC (my club) is one of the camps listed.
10 Things I’ve Learned About Running a Table Tennis Coaching Business
Here's the new article from Coach Jon.
Li Jia Wei's Serves
Here's a video (2:29) where she demonstrates her serve. The first 20 sec they seem to be putting on makeup and talking in Chinese, then they get to her serves. Li was a former Singapore star who reached #3 in the world in 2005.
2016 Asian Cup: Liu Shiwen Regains Title
Here's the article.
USA Masters Games
Here's info on the table tennis events, July 28-31 in Greensboro, NC.
Table Tennis Trainer 3000
Here's the article and video (2:16) from Thomas Mayer. "The basic idea of my bachelor thesis was to track the ping pong ball in realtime to create data visualisations for trainers and players. After a few weeks of working I started developing a projected mapped interface for the ping pong table to show the collected data. By projecting game obstacles on the surface I figured out that I can change the game play totally."
This Isn't Your Usual Game of Ping-Pong
Here's the article from the Fay Observer that features the Cape Fear TTC in North Carolina.
2016 Asian Cup Army Competition
Here's a nice match (3:08) between Feng Tianwei (world #7 from Singapore) and Tie Yana (world #20 from Hong Kong).
Chinese Players Attacked by Ping-Pong Balls
Here's the video (12 sec)!
Popeye and Bluto Play Ping-Pong
Here's the hilarious new cartoon (4:46)!
Send us your own coaching news!
No blog today - while out of town this weekend (since Friday morning), I broke an old tooth filling, and so am off to see the dentist this morning. Plus I have a todo list longer than the Great Wall of China (which I visited in less busy times), and it didn't help that my three-hour car drive back from Williamsburg took 6.5 hours (due to 16-car pileup on I-95), and I had to then rush over to the club to coach, and so didn't get home until late last night...I'll be back to blogging tomorrow!
No Blog on Friday
I'll be out of town at Ravencon - see segment below under "Now the science fiction stuff…"
First the serious stuff…
Now the funny stuff…
Now the movie stuff…
Now the science fiction stuff…
Upcoming State Championships
This weekend is the Arizona State Championships!
Ask the Coach Show
Episode #259 (19:55) - Keeping It Low (and other segments).
Strengthening Wrists: Tips and Exercises [for Table Tennis]
Here's the article (with links to video).
Hand (Body) – Eye Coordination (for Table Tennis)
Here's the article. "Eyes on the ball, a racket in hand, table tennis naturally promotes the coordination of the eye and body and ultimately the hand, with which the player strikes, strokes, spins, smashes, brushes, blocks, chop, chip, and return the ball to the opponent's side of the table."
Super Smart Ping Pong Table Teaches You How to Play Like a Pro
Here's the article and video (2:16) on this new "smart" table.
Jimmy Fallon Pays Tribute to Prince
Here's the article and video (9:15). "Jimmy celebrates the life and music of Prince by sharing a memorable story of when the Purple One randomly challenged him to a game of ping-pong."
Asia's Top Players Getting Ready for the Nakheel 2016 ITTF-Asian Cup
Here's the video (15:42). How many do you recognize?
Xi En Chamber Demonstrates "Shaking Ball"
Here's the video (2:03) – it's in Chinese, but interesting to watch the trick shot he demos, and other footage.
2016 All America Over 40 Tour Vegas Valley Over 40 Table Tennis Open
Here's the USATT article.
International Table Tennis
Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage). Butterfly also has a great news page.
Ping-Pong Time-Stopping Exhibition
Here's the video (1:38) – watch what happens about 15 sec in! (I might have linked to this before, long ago.)
Send us your own coaching news!
No Safe Lead
Here are some comebacks I've seen or heard about, including some recent ones. The key to a great comeback? Mental strength; good serve and receive choices; and general tactical play. You're near the end of a long match, so at that point if you don't know what serves, receives, and other tactics to use, you haven't been paying attention.
The Professional Forehand
Here's the new video (2:06) from Samson Dubina. The focus is on why the stroke is usually slightly circular.
Ask the Coach Show
Table Tennis Camp for Veterans with Disabilities and Members of the Armed Forces with Disabilities at the Maryland TTC
Here's the USATT info page on this camp I'll be running at MDTTC, June 6-8, 2016. We just organized it over the weekend.
Playing Style of Khaleel Asgarali
Here's the article from Table Tennis Spot. I got to watch Khaleel develop during his junior years in Maryland.
Interview with Kanak Jha
Here's the USATT interview by Rahul Acharay.
Navin Kumar: Defying the Odds
Here's the new article. I'm mentioned!
Tom Hanks Had Some CGI Help for His Forrest Gump Ping-Pong Scenes
Here's the article and video (2:56). Anyone know who the Chinese player is, "Valentine"?
UVA 20 Years and Still Going Strong
Here's the USATT article on the University of Virginia TTC.
Ping Pong Tournament in Military Park Brings Out Hundreds for Day of Fun and Games
Here's the article from Brick City Live.
Top Ten Shots of 2016
Here's the new video (4:33, set to music) from Charles Yang.
Whiff-Whaff Table Tennis Cartoon
Here it is!
Send us your own coaching news!
No blog today - as is my norm, when schools are out, I'm out! And today's election day here in Maryland. Let's all go out and vote for Donald Trump for the entertainment value, and so that in a few years, amidst the crumbling remnants of civilization, we can all smugly say to his supporters, "I told you so!" It's tempting, but I'm a moderate Democrat, so naah.
Tip of the Week
Clean Your Racket.
Saturday Coaching at Cassels Giant Round Robin
I spent Saturday at SmashTT in Virginia at the Cassels Giant RR, coaching one of my students, 14-year-old Sameer Shaikh. Here's the tournament write-up and results, care of Director Michael Levene, who also runs and coaches at SmashTT. Sameer is featured in the writeup. The tournament ran well, and we had a great time!
Sameer went in rated 1528, and looking for the breakthrough that he's been on the verge of for many months. The first step was getting into a good division. The format started with groups of four, with the top two going to Division A (two groups of ten players), and the next two to Division B. Sameer was seeded third, and so seeded for Division B. He faced a 1613-rated player to get into Division A. Complication #1 was that the player had short pips on the backhand, something Sameer wasn't used to playing. (How the sport has changed…) But with a few adjustments for these quick, dead shots, and a focus on keeping the ball deep (that's key when playing non-inverted surfaces), he won the match 3-1, and so advanced into Division A – where he'd be the lowest rated player. In fact, other than a 1650 player (122 points higher), the next lowest was 1813. So began his nine matches in Division A.
Things did not start well – in fact, after four matches, I was rather worried he was in for a disastrous day with his 0-4 start. Two of them were somewhat meaningless, against the top two seeds (both over 2200). Then he lost to an 1813 player who he had recently beaten at the MDTTC league. It was a match he thought he could win, so it was hard to get over it.
And then he played an 1856 player, with a Seemiller grip and long pips (though he rarely used them), and a surprisingly good forehand loop for a player in his 60s. Down 2-7 in the fifth, Sameer scored eight in a row! Redemption! His best win ever! Except . . . up 10-7 match point, and again up 11-10 (on a net dribbler), he couldn't convert any of the four match points, and lost the match. And so from the heights of near-glory with what would have been his best tournament win ever (by far), he was now at the lowest low, 0-4, and things were not looking good.
Long story short: He followed that by beating players rated 1814, 1846, and 1868! All three of them were five-gamers against three very different styles. (One a standard two-winged looper; one a penhold forehand looper and lobber; one a pure blocker and flat hitter. He had many great points, attacking from both wings. Often he'd mix in deep serves that opponents would struggle to return without giving Sameer a winner from either wing, or with short serves that he'd follow with loops, also from both wings. One of Sameer's strengths is he attacks and rallies well from both sides. (And did I mention his deep serves can be deadly?)
His last match was against the next lowest rated player in the group, rated 1650, but with rather flat shots that gave Sameer trouble. Next thing you know Sameer is down 2-7 in the fifth – and just as he had done earlier against the 1856 player, he scored eight in a row! Up match point 10-7 he misses an easy shot, and as he said later, memory of that previous match entered his mind. But he pulled off the next point to win.
Now it would have been easy focus on the match that got away, when he'd blown the four match points from up 10-7. But Sameer and I agreed that since he went 4-1 in five-gamers, he could accept blowing that one in return for pulling out the others. And so he had his breakthrough tournament. It'll likely be processed in the next day or so – USATT is getting fast on this – and he'll likely be rated about 1800, making him one of the top 14 and under players in Maryland. (UPDATE - he came out 1826.)
Now ratings are not particularly important, but they are useful in some ways, as long as you focus on the positive aspects. I always tell players that when your rating goes down, they are meaningless (the focus there should be on why you are not playing as well, not the number), but when they go up, they are fun. And they are also great motivators. I'd told Sameer back in his 1528 days (circa Friday) that the goal this year was to get over 1800. Well, it didn't take him long to get those 272 points! (Well, it'll be close – he'll be adjusted upwards, but not sure of the final numbers, since other players he played might be adjusted as well. Assuming no adjustments among opponents, he had wins over against players rated 1868, 1846, 1814, 1650, 1613, and 785, with losses to 2245, 2216, 2005, 1968, 1856, and 1813 (and so finished at 6-6, with five of the wins "upsets"). Not bad for a "1500" player!
Now the aftermath – from the tournament, there are several things Sameer needs to work on. Some I can mention, such as practice against flat shots, since they gave him trouble this tournament. Others I can't mention as opponents might be reading this! Plus there's a new service variation that we're adding to his repertoire, with the hope to spring it on the world in a few months.
Back Problems Again…
Yesterday I played for 90 minutes in a training session, where I hit with several players, including a chopper for 20 minutes. About half an hour afterwards my back said, "Psst, Larry! I'm on strike!" And that's when I felt a knife jammed into my back and jiggled about. (Apparently when my back goes on strike it lets knives come in . . . or something like that.) I could barely sleep last night because of it, and I almost skipped my blog this morning as it's painful just sitting and typing. (Actually, just existing is painful at the moment.) I'm going through Ibuprofen rather quickly, but that doesn't appear to help much. Anyway, I've got two hours of coaching scheduled today. One is just a multiball session, which I think I can do. The other is a private session that I'll have to cancel. (I'll message the student after I put up this blog – he might read it here first.)
New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina
How Can You Beat a Player One-Level Higher Than You?
Here's the new coaching article from the Green Paddle Academy.
Why Ping-Pong is Good for Your Brain
Here's the new article from the Mother Nature Network. There's been a lot of articles and videos on this lately! I might need to put together a list of links – I'd just do a search for "brain" on this blog, and that should find them all. Unless someone else wants to do it!
AAC Nomination Election for USATT Athletes’ Advisory Council
Here's info from USATT. "Candidates must have represented the United States in the Olympics, Paralympics, Pan American Games, Para Pan American Games, World Championships, or Para World Championships, as recognized by the ITTF, in the ten (10) years preceding January 1, 2017."
TableTennisDaily Podcast #9 - Jorgen Persson
Here's the video (50:06).
ITTF Pongcast - March 2016
Here's the video (14:09).
Kansas City Club Can't Handle Me
Here's the new table tennis music video (3:52). From a coach's point of view, this was great! The video focuses on two little kids going to and competing in a tournament, set to music.
Zak Abel - Everybody Needs Love
Here's the table tennis music video (3:16) from the British musician. The table tennis starts about 12 seconds in and continues throughout. (That's two great table tennis musicals in one day!) (Addendum: Mike Levene emailed me that Zak Abel was formerly Zak Zilesnick, a former member of the British junior or cadet national team. "Talent beyond belief but decided to go into Music industry! Probably 2400-2500.")
Prince and Table Tennis
The late musician was known for his obsession with table tennis. I've blogged about this four times:
If it wasn’t odd enough that Prince chose Lianne La Havas’ living room in Leyton to host a press conference, Prince’s passion for ping-pong revealed during his recent UK residency (and New Girl cameo) has also been an unlikely turn out.
Prince isn’t the only musician who loves a game of whiff whaff - Damon Albarn is also an avid table-based sportsman. “Everywhere I go I have to have a table tennis table. I love it; it’s a brilliant way to relax when you’re working,” he explained to the Radio Times in 2008. The Blur frontman enjoys the sport so much he even played against the Olympic British youth team.
Trudell and Kobe and Pau Ping-pong
Here's the video (19 sec). "Lakers Reporter Mike Trudell plays ping-pong with Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol shows off his ping-pong skills."
National East Meets West Day
It's today, and here's the cartoon by Steve Worthington to commemorate it.
The Lion Ping King?
Here's the picture!
Send us your own coaching news!
USATT National Coaching Program Update
Here's the USATT news item on these big changes to our national team coaching system. If you are interested in applying as a coach for one of the National Teams – I believe these would include Men, Women, Junior Boys, Junior Girls, Cadet Boys, Cadet Girls, Paralympic - you need to apply by this Monday. I'll blog about this probably next week. (I'm putting this first because of that deadline. I may move this down later on.)
USATT Board of Directors Minutes and Illegal Hidden Serves
Our long national nightmare is over . . . the minutes to the USATT Board Meeting at the USA Nationals in December is finally up – four months later! So are the minutes to USATT Board Teleconferences in January and April. They are all linked from the USATT Minutes page.
Readers of this blog and anyone who's been paying attention to the sport knows about the problem we're having with illegal hidden serves. Our sport has developed a culture of cheating, where umpires allow players to illegally hide their serves, making receive very difficult, and giving the cheating player a big advantage. (Yes, hiding your serve to gain unfair advantage is cheating, and if you don't see that, you are in denial.) Nearly every major title at the USA Nationals, U.S. Open, and major events around the world are decided by illegally hidden serves. Because players cannot fairly compete when the umpire allows an opponent to hide their serves, nearly every top player, and now nearly every top cadet (under age 15) has been forced to learn to
cheat hide their serve.
I've blogged about this many times. Here's my Dec. 28, 2015 blog where I both argued the case and gave examples, such as how 13-year-old Crystal Wang was cheated out of her quarterfinal match in Women's Singles at the Nationals because umpires allowed her opponent to blatantly hide her serve, even very publicly leaving her non-playing arm out to hide the serve – while Crystal serve very legally throughout. How can anyone watch this and not be sickened I'll never understand. But these are not isolated matches; it's happened in nearly every top-level match. This won't change until the leaders in our sport show leadership and fix the problem.
When a player learns to read the serve by watching contact, and then an opponent illegally hides contact and the umpire allows it, guess what? The player will struggle to read the serve, and will often look like an amateur. Or worse, they simply make very defensive returns, giving the illegal server an easy attack or put-away, and spectators get the false impression that the server isn't getting much of an advantage since the player is at least getting them back.
As I've argued many times, if an opponent cheats on his serve and the umpire allows it, then it's not cheating if you then do the same. Your opponent is serving illegally to gain an advantage, which is the definition of cheating; you are serving illegally only to nullify that advantage, plus the match in question is no longer being played under the laws of table tennis anyway. Some may nitpick this, but the gist is that we need to solve this problem so neither player is cheating.
Not every serve is hidden – most players learn that if you do that, then the opponent gets used to it. So they often go back and forth, hiding the serve perhaps a few times early to make sure the umpire will allow it and to build up an early lead, and then holding back until key points. Others do it nearly every point. Spectators often think the serve is visible because contact appears visible, when in fact the server often hides contact with his head, and then fakes contact underneath the head. The ball must be visible to the receiver throughout the serve. (Others just leave their non-playing arm out there and hide it with that, not even attempting to hide the cheating and practically challenging the umpires to call the blatantly illegal serve – and they rarely do. See Crystal match above, and many other matches at the last Nationals and the recent North American Olympic Trials.)
I've presented the board and officials numerous pictures and links to videos showing them the obvious, but our leaders have not shown the leadership to solve this problem. We could change the rules, as I've proposed with the Net Visibility Rule (which has an entire gallery of illegally hidden serves, and was presented to the USATT Board, Officials Committee, and Rules Committee to show examples of all the cheating going on), but even more important is the will to actually do the right thing, and enforce the rules. Until we do that, we'll reward the cheaters and cheat the non-cheaters.
What does all this have to do with the USATT minutes? If you go to the December minutes, and page down to page 8, you'll see where I made a motion:
Motion 6: It has come to the attention of the USATT Board of Directors that illegal hidden serves are being allowed, and that when umpires are not sure about the legality of a serve they often do not call them. This is unfair to their opponents. The Board would like to see the rules enforced as they are written.
Please read the minutes about the motion, and note that it lost by a vote of 1-6-1. Yes, I was the only one to vote for it. The plan was that with this motion (assuming it passed, which I thought was a no-brainer – silly me), was that we could then ask the referee of the upcoming Nationals to fulfill the Board's will, and let umpires and players know in advance that the rules would be enforced as they are written. Instead, we will have another Nationals where the rules will not be enforced, and cheating will continue to dominate our sport.
The night before the meeting I ran this by several board members, and they all seemed to agree with it. But then came the meeting. After I made the motion, a number amazing things occurred that are not in the minutes. Several USATT people argued that there is no evidence that players were hiding their serves or that umpires were not enforcing the rules. That's just astoundingly silly. I'd presented the board with lots of photographic evidence, but even that should not be needed – this has been an ongoing problem for several years, and for table tennis people to deny the very existence of the problem was bizarre. I once again presented to the board numerous pictures of prominent players hiding their serves at major tournaments – not cherry-picked serves, but in almost all cases their very first serve of the match – and these objections slowly went away.
Another argued that it didn't matter if the serves were illegal, all that mattered was what the serves looked like from the umpires' point of view, and that I hadn't presented those pictures. I pointed out that I had presented four pictures of hidden serves from the umpires' point of view. I then pointed out that if a player is cheating and the umpire doesn't see it, it's still cheating – it simply means he hasn't been caught. More importantly, the problem isn't that the umpires don't see it, it's that they aren't enforcing it. When a player hides his serve, umpires often point out that they can't really see if the serve is hidden or not, and so don't call it. That's the problem – the rules are very clear that if the umpire can't tell if the serve is legal, than the serve is illegal! (See rules below.)
Others argued that hiding one's serve isn't really cheating, that if the umpire isn't calling it, it isn't cheating. Please! (Do I need to dignify this with a serious answer? Among other things, see the Olympic oath from my Dec. 28, 2015 blog.)
I could write a book on the arguments against some of the points raised against the motion. For example, the argument that "this motion is unnecessary because umpires are already directed to fault all illegal serves as part of their job" is simply wrong. To start with, we know they are not calling the serves, so we know we need to act on this. Giving it lip service and then looking the other way doesn't help hard-working and conscientious umpires who face the fact that if they are the only ones enforcing the rules correctly, they will be singled out and ostracized. What's needed is for those in charge to make it 100% clear that umpires not enforcing the rules will not be acceptable, and let both umpires and players know in advance of the tournament that this will not be tolerated. I've proposed this to the Officials committee last year, suggesting that they notify umpires and players in advance of the Nationals (via email and info flyers in player packets) that the rules will be enforced, but no action was taken. With the board vote here, no action will be taken for the upcoming Nationals as well, alas.
I mean, seriously – if the role of the umpire is to enforce the rules, is it too much to ask that they enforce the rules???
But it's almost unfair to ask an umpire to enforce the rules until they all do it, as a group. And that won't happen until they are directed, as a group, to do so – and then enforce it by calling out those who do not enforce the rules. This means action needs to come from the top – but that's not happening.
I could go on and on, but it's just too frustrating, seeing such blatant wrongs and knowing that the leaders of our sport will do nothing to resolve the issue. And so coaches, parents, and up-and-coming kids will continue to face the problem of whether to learn to cheat to compete. After the December board meeting I pretty much dropped all USATT activities for a month in disgust.
Often players who complain about illegal hidden serves are called hypocrites because they have been forced to do the same to compete. Sorry, I don't consider that hypocrisy, since they are trying to solve the problem while trying to compete in the culture of cheating they are forced to survive in. But the accusations are often enough to shut them up, and then those who don't want to deal with the problem have fewer people complaining.
What are the rules that are being broken? Pretty much all of the following:
2.06.04: From the start of service until it is struck, the ball . . . shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.
2.06.05: As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net.
2.06.06: It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.
2.06.06.01: If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.
One other clarification. Some officials have argued there is too much gray area in the rules to enforce. That's nonsense. They seem to believe that if they aren't sure if the serve is legal, then there's gray area, and they can't call it. WRONG!!! There is no gray area there, none whatsoever. The rules say if the umpire isn't sure about the serve, then the serve is illegal. Gray area occurs when the umpire is almost certain that the serve is legal (in this case visible), but not absolutely 100% sure. When players are hiding the ball behind their head or illegally leaving their arm out to hide the ball, there's no way an umpire can be "sure" these serves are legal. At most they can say they aren't sure, followed by a call of "Fault!" (Or a warning the first time.)
You can see other arguments made in the minutes, but only the bare gist of what took place as we argued for something like an hour over this - pretty much me against everyone else in the room (plus a few who simply didn't get involved). And so not one other board member would vote that we should follow our rules. It's pretty much the same as the steroids era in baseball, where everyone knew what was going on, but many still denied it or swept the problem under the rug, hoping it would go away on its own. Now we despise those who allowed it. How is that different than this? (The health issues of steroids is one difference, but not relevant. People don't despise Barry Bonds and other steroids cheaters because they risked their health; they despise them because they cheated for advantage, and they despise those who allowed it.)
I've been emailing with ITTF officials, and they are slowly working toward resolving the problem. Meanwhile, how many more kids and other players will train full-time, only to have their dreams – national titles, national teams, Olympic team – taken away because we allow their opponents to openly cheat? How many kids will be taught to cheat? Some argue that USATT should just stay out of it, that it's an ITTF problem. Sure, that's one way to deal with a problem, but ignoring it and hoping someone else deals with it. That's not how I operate. USATT should be a leader, not one that looks the other way and hopes others will fix our problems.
Oh, and just to be clear, just because I and many others believe we should not allow cheating doesn't mean we aren't trying to train players to deal with the problem, such as learning to return the illegally hidden serves they will inevitably face, due to umpires allowing it. Trying to end the cheating and teaching players how to deal with it are not mutually exclusive. (But it's not easy learning to return hidden serves unless you are in a club where the coaches openly teach such serves to their players, and so there are many players to practice against them.)
Now for the most sickening part. When USATT people were arguing that there is no evidence that players were hiding their serves or umpires not calling it, it was blatantly obvious to most in the room that this simply wasn't true – any serious table tennis person who has been paying attention knows this is a problem, with the only serious question as to how or whether to deal with it. So faced with these obviously false statements, how many others at the meeting other than myself spoke up against these false statements?
Zero. And I welcome any of them to comment below. And I'll finish with these words, often paraphrased in different ways and attributed to Edmund Burke, Plato, and others:
"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
The Ultimate Guide to Beating Your Workmates at Ping Pong
Here's the new coaching article from MH Table Tennis. Includes links to numerous videos.
Coaching and Tips from MyTableTennis.net
Here's their coaching section – a huge collection.
Ask the Coach Show
Episode #256 (18:35) - Training v competition (and other segments).
A Puzzlemaster's Pastime – Your Brain on Ping Pong
Here's the video (59 sec) featuring Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Editor and Westchester TTC owner. "I'm fanatical about table tennis."
Playing Table Tennis with Special Items
Here's the video (2:35). (Yesterday I linked to a shortened version of this with just the shovel.)
Real Beer Pong?
Here's the picture!
Send us your own coaching news!
Rather Rare Shots
Yesterday in a coaching session with 14-year-old Matt, while practicing forehand counterlooping, I sidespin looped one extra wide to his forehand, drawing him out wide as it broke to the left (his right). He counterlooped, I counterlooped back to his middle forehand, and he was out of position - so he improvised and ripped (!) an inside-out backhand counterloop from the forehand side! The ball shot out to my wide forehand, curving away from me for an ace. I've seen the shot before, but only rarely - but very rarely, if ever, this fast, and with so much breaking sidespin. I dropped my racket in shock and told Matt that he had reached the pinnacle of his life, that for the rest of his life nothing he ever did would ever be at such a high level so that his life was now ruined, with nothing left to look forward to. (At the end of the session he insisted on trying the shot again, so we did a drill where he "practiced" the shot, and he pulled off two more, though not as good as the first one.)
I've played 40 years, and I've done almost the same shot - but not with speed, just a spinny but soft inside-out backhand counterloop. Now I have something to look forward to trying to do!
It got me thinking about other rarely used shots. Here are a few.
- Inside-out backhand sidespin from wide forehand. See above!
- Switch hands shot. If you are drawn to your wide forehand and they then go to your wide backhand, every now and then a player will switch hands, either for the extra reach, or because it's sometimes easier to smash that way. Andrzej Grubba was the master of this, which was unfortunate as he may have had the best backhand in the world during his career (1980s and 1990s).
- Seemiller backhand smash against lob. If you are caught playing backhand against a lob to the backhand, smack it in Seemiller style (i.e. rotate the racket so you use the forehand side on the backhand side). I've done this many times.
- Fingertip reach grip shot. When you are caught off guard, holding the racket with your fingertips on the end of the handle gives you those extra few inches. I remember once playing David Zhuang, who caught me off guard with some super-short drop shots to my forehand off my serve - and not expecting that, I had to lunge in and extend the racket like this, and barely got the ball back. This happened several times! Yes, his drop shots were that tricky - he came in so fast they looked like he was pushing long or attacking.
- Forehand pendulum serve shot from middle. When caught by a shot to the middle, I've seen players do this, and I've done it a few times. I remember the 6'4" Charles Butler used to do this sometimes, circa late 1970s.
- "The Snake," as demonstrated in this video (65 sec) by Adam Bobrow - where you sort of throw the ball up, but move racket rapidly side to side so opponent isn't sure which direction contact was made. (Sometimes you can do the contact so far below table level that the opponent doesn't even see contact.)
- Backhand sidespin chop, especially against a serve. I've seen Gal Alguetti throw this at people and they miss it over and over.
A 21st Thing to Harp On
Yesterday I blogged about 20 things I constantly harp on with students. Dan Seemiller emailed me, and said the thing that he says about five times each night to his students is "more spin – quality spin." That's a good one, as far too many players don't understand the importance of creating great spin when serving, pushing, and looping.
Do you think Chinese athletes would still dominate table tennis if only Hard Bats were used?
Here's the poll at Pong Universe, and where you can comment.
Learn Table Tennis Backspin Serve - Part 3 - Like a Boss
Here's the new video (3:16) from Brett Clarke. (I wasn't able to find links to parts 1 and 2.)
ITTF Level 2 Course in India
Here's the video (12:51) created by one of the coaches in the ITTF coaching course ran by USA's Richard McAfee.
Ma Long - Visions of Destiny
Here's the new video (3:48) featuring the world champion and world #1.
Flash to the Past – Tibor Klampar and Gabor Gergely
Here's the video (2:55) showing these two Hungarian greats from the 1970s and 80s, and their playing techniques. I think it's in Hungarian, but it's interesting to watch, especially the slow motion parts. These two, along with Istvan Jonyer, were "The Three Musketeers" who battled with the Chinese for a decade, including beating them in the Men's Team Final at the Worlds in 1979.
The Most Vicious Never-Ending Rally Ever
Here's the gif image!
A Little Around the Tables, Anyone?
Here's the video (35 sec).
Here's the video (29 sec) – what, you've never wanted to play with a shovel before?
Send us your own coaching news!
20 Things to Harp On
Here are some things I constantly harp on with students.
Ask the Coach Show
Episode #255 (25:34) - Olympic qualification hots up (and other segments). (For some reason the picture doesn't show up for the first 25 seconds, but you get sound.)
Upcoming State Championships
This weekend is the Indiana State Championships! Here's the entry form.
How Ping-Pong Diplomacy Thawed the Cold War
Here's the recent article from history.com.
11 Questions with Pete May
Here's the USATT interview.
Top Players Find Their Ping-Pong Niche
Here's the article from the Santa Monica College Corsair.
Honolulu’s Michelle Wie hosts 3rd annual “Wie Love Ping Pong” event to benefit HSJGA
Here's the article.
Off The Table - Zhang Jike
Here's the ITTF interview (4:25).
Table Tennis Olympian's Career Began in Stanford University Laundromat
Here's the video (2:31) on Lily Zhang from NBC Bay Area. "My dad was a professor there. So every time we went to do laundry, and there was a table there, I played my parents for fun."
Making Your Mark: Ping pong bringing students together
Here's the video (2:58) from ABC 13 News.
Interview with Bohan Zhang, 2016 Butterfly Cary Cup Champion
Here's the interview (3:01) by Barbara Wei.
Interesting Point – Lobbing and Sidespin Chopping!
Here's the video (52 sec).
Kids Bouncing Balls Off Side of Table
Here's the video (46 sec) – this is harder than it looks, especially for kids!
Crazy Ping Pong in Bedroom With iPong Ball Machine
Here's the video (66 sec)!
Send us your own coaching news!