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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 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 an author of six books and over 1300 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!!!

May 22, 2014

Playing Modes

You can divide players into two types. There are those who are ready for anything, and can do any appropriate shot in their repertoire at any time. This pretty much describes all world-class players, but also many who are nowhere near that level. They are often just considered athletic or coordinated, since they can do just about anything anytime. And there are those who switch from one "mode" to another. I'm one of the latter. What does this mean?

When I play, I'm often in one of the following modes: forehand looping mode, forehand hitting mode, two-winged hitting mode, steady backhand/looping forehand mode, steady blocking mode, or defensive off-table defensive mode (fishing, lobbing, chopping). What this means is that I'm much better at any of these if I focus on that shot, but weaker at other shots. The problem is if I don't go into one of these modes, I'm often weaker at everything, and have no strengths to challenge my opponent.

This doesn't mean a "mode" player can't switch modes in a rally. I can - but it's not so easy, and often the switch is from an offensive mode to off-table defense. But once in a mode in a rally, it's often hard to switch. For example, once they start blocking in a rally many players have difficulty doing anything but block the rest of the rally.

Ideally, you don't want to be a "mode" player. It's much better to be able to effortlessly switch from one shot to another, doing the appropriate shot rather than the one you are looking for (i.e. in the "mode" for).

I've often wondered why I have to resort to these various modes to play my best, knowing it's also a big handicap. I think it was because in my early years I did lots and lots of rote drills, where I'd do some footwork drill where I'd move from A to B to A to B to A to B to A, and so on. If I could go back, I'd tell myself to do more random drills as well, where you don't know where the ball is going each time, and have to just react to the incoming ball with the appropriate shot. This develops the reactions to any shot so you don't have to sort of anticipate what you'll do by going into a "mode." (Random drills will likely be the topic of the next Tip of the Week on Monday.)

A simple version of a random drill is your partner backhand blocks or counters the ball to your backhand or forehand, but randomly, and you keep driving the ball back to his backhand. (You can also do this to his forehand, of course.) When you become comfortable with this, then have him go to all parts of the table, including your middle. There are many variations.

Teaching the Banana Flip

I had an interesting session Wednesday with a student who was learning how to backhand banana flip against a short serve. There's nothing greater in coaching than seeing that look of shock and awe when they realize how easy it is to banana flip even a very low, heavy, short backspin serve! In practice, he picked it up pretty quickly, but he'll need to do it regularly in matches for a while before it becomes consistent - and then he'll be a terror against short serves.

Junior Class at MDTTC

Here's a short video (14 sec) taken at the start of last Sunday's junior class by my assistant coach for the class, Jeffrey Zeng Xun. (Jeffrey added the music.) I especially like the shot of the little kid on the left shadow practicing his forehand near the end! I think I can name all the players, but it's never easy as there are so many of them, and there are more kids off to the left you can't see. According to Google Translate, the caption in Chinese says, "Each week the most troublesome Training has begun. Filling it! Jeffrey! Too cute little mixed race." I think something got lost in the translation. Can anyone give a better translation?

Table Tennis Tips

My newest book is officially published. However, just to be safe, I ordered a copy to check out. (It's print on demand, so I can still make corrections.) According to the post office tracking system, it'll be delivered today. Assuming all is well, I'll "officially" announce it tomorrow, and you can all buy a copy!

ITTF's Developmental Program

Here's an article on the ITTF's Developmental Program.

Ping Pong Summer

The movie was officially released on January 18, but there's been no wide release. But there's a showing in my area on Thursday, June 5, at 7:30 PM, at the Carroll County Arts Council in Mount Airy, Maryland. Any locals want to join me? (I teach a junior class on Thursday nights from 6-7PM, but by great luck the current ten-week session ends the week before, and there's no session scheduled on this date. So I'm off that night after a coaching session that ends at 5PM.) Here's a picture of the theater where it'll be play - it's already advertised in big letters! The movie stars Susan Sarandon, Judah Friedlander, and others. Here's the Ping Pong Summer Facebook page. The IMDB page. The Rotten Tomatoes page. (It's at 83% fresh!) And here's the trailer (2:10).

Yasiel Puig Plays Table Tennis

Here's an article and video (1:42, plus some short gif videos) of LA Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig playing table tennis.

Mattress Table Tennis Commercial

What's the connection between table tennis and selling mattresses? Here's the 30-sec commercial! "Honey, I quit my job to become a professional ping-pong player."

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May 21, 2014

USATT Board Minutes and the CEO Search

Here are the minutes to the USATT Teleconference on April 21, 2014. Probably the most interesting thing is they are hiring an executive search firm for $10,000 to find our next CEO. While this is the way to go if you want a conventional CEO, on April 18 I blogged about why, at this point, we should hire someone internally (i.e. a table tennis expert) to fix up our sports infrastructure so we have a better product both for players and for sponsors (via leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, etc.), and then go the conventional route with a CEO who can bring in sponsor money. (I blogged about an alternate idea for our new CEO on May 16, near the end of the "What to do at age 18?" essay, where I suggested the new CEO partner with outside table tennis groups to raise money for them to develop the sport.)

We used (and paid for) executive search firms several times in the 1990s, and each time the goal was to hire a CEO who could raise lots of money, but none of them were able to do so. We've gone through about ten CEOs in our history (all in the last 30 years or so - we didn't have one throughout most of our history), and none have been able to raise any serious money. Keep in mind that it's not just raising money - they have to raise money well in excess of how much they cost. I'd guess we'll have to pay at least $30,000 more per year for a conventional CEO than if we hire from inside our sport, in addition to the $10,000 search fee. (I'm probably being generous here - if we hire a truly good CEO, he'll probably cost us a lot more than this. If we hire a cheaper one, we get what we pay for.) But it's more than that - we're also giving up the service we'd get from someone who could fix our sport's infrastructure by starting the process of setting up regional leagues (both recreational and professional), junior programs, coaching programs, etc., which would make our sport so much more saleable, as well as bring in money from increased membership fees as membership shoots up, as it did when table tennis associations all over Europe focused on leagues, leading to memberships measured in the hundreds of thousands (to our 8000) in countries with populations a fraction of ours.

So the new CEO will cost us the search fee, the extra salary, and the loss of the badly needed development of our sport. From the current USATT's point of view, they believe they need to raise money to do all the things I suggest. Both of us believe the other has it backwards. I believe a shoe salesman should fix the shoes before trying to sell them; they believe they need to sell broken shoes to raise the money needed to fix the shoes. But it doesn't take that much money to start the process of developing the infrastructure of our sport, and that would only take a few years. It's when we are actually developing these programs that sponsors will more likely want to get in the ground floor. It's much easier selling a sport that has growing leagues and coaching programs to entice sponsors than one that does not.

Also, just to end the rumor mills, no, I am not applying for the USATT CEO position, not that the board would have ever considered a mere table tennis coach/writer/organizer/ promoter like myself. I have no interest in working with USATT to develop the sport without near 100% support from the board (otherwise you spend most of your energy battling with the board), and the board is once again going the "conventional" route, while believing, based on several discussions, that they are doing something new in hiring a CEO whose primary purpose is to raise money. Déjà vu.

Lastly, I do not plan on harping about this over and over and beating USATT over the head with this. They've made their decision, so now we have to accept it and hope that this time we'll get a CEO who can actually sell our sport as it is. Hopefully they will be right this time, soon we'll be squabbling over how to spend the hordes of money the new CEO brings in.

Expert Table Tennis Tips

Here are 18 short tips from top coaches (all pictured) from all over the world - including one from me!

Terminology: Loop vs. Topspin

Here's a new video from PingSkills (1:02) that talks about the terminologies used - loop, loop drive, and topspin. I've seen some really vicious arguments about this!

Charlene Liu Wins Bronze

On Monday I blogged about the World Veterans Games, and mentioned that Charlene Xiaoying Liu (from my club, MDTTC) got the bronze for Women's Singles 60-64. I sent out a press release to local media. Butterfly published the press release.

"The Rumors are True. I Never Miss"

This is one of those silly little mantras I often tell students during drills where I'm blocking for them, after I've gone for a while without missing. Yesterday, in a session with Sameer (12-year-old student) I had a new version. We were doing the 2-1 drill, where he does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. (He's doing this all looping, even spinning the backhands off the bounce.) In multiball he's pretty consistent with this, but when we go live, where I'm blocking, his consistency goes down. This is what I told him after I'd gone a while without missing a block. "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it."

Potomac Open

It was held in Potomac, MD, this past weekend. Here are the main results. The final was between a pair of 2600 players, with Chen Ruichao ("Alex") defeating Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") 4-0 in the final. Here is video of the matches - Alex is the lefty, Leon the chopper/looper.

Game 1; Game 2; Game 3; Game 4.

Blocking Against a Spinny Loop

There's an interesting discussion going on at the mytabletennis.com forum about blocking against spinny loops. Here's the link to the start of the discussion. (EDIT: I just posted links in the discussion to videos of top players blocking, in post #45. You might want to watch them.) I posted several times in the thread where I point out the importance of blocking firmly, i.e. aggressively, since the spin takes on your racket less this way as well as giving you a more effective block. (You'll note that there are differing opinions on this. Some believe you should just hold the racket out absolutely still, but I disagree, as noted in the postings.) In one posting I wrote the following in the hopes of winning the Nobel Prize for Sports Psychology:

This is huge, stepping to the ball when blocking. When players reach for the ball instead of stepping, they often open their racket as they do so. I think it's because they are no longer doing a shot they have practiced regularly, and so their subconscious no longer knows what racket angle to reflexively use, and so falls back on beginner habits.

Below is a long posting I did on the topic.

What they are demonstrating in this video [referred to by another poster], and what the opening posting asks, are different things. The opening poster isn't a beginner - he even asked if he should try counterlooping against slow, spinny loops. If all he wants to do is pop the ball back weakly, where he's not worried about popping the ball up, then all he has to do is stick his racket out and block back softly, and he'll develop a consistent but weak blocking game. The spin would take on his racket more, so he'd have less control, but if he just pops the ball back weakly then the very slowness of his return would keep it on the table. If he wants to make an effective block that hits consistently, then he needs to block more firmly (i.e. more aggressively). 

If he puts a little pace on the ball but not too aggressively in a misguided attempt to be consistent, that's when it'll probably go off the end over and over. That's why beginners and intermediate players have so much trouble with slow, spinny loops. Instead, they need to block more firmly, more aggressively, so the blocks are both consistent and effective. 

You can go for a soft and low block by just sticking the racket out with a more closed angle, but this is harder to control than if you block more firmly, and will tend to pop balls up. Since the spin takes on the racket more, you have to get the racket angle almost perfectly right, while you have more leeway if you block firmly and somewhat aggressively. (On the other hand, a slower, dead block that stays low is rather easy with most non-inverted surfaces, or with less lively or less grippy inverted surfaces.) 

The video is showing something different, i.e. teaching beginners how to adjust their racket angle against heavy topspin. However, where he says the racket does not move forward, I disagree. I saw this video a few years ago when I first started my blog, and chose not to link to it for that reason. While you can block that way, it's teaching a rather poor habit, and makes things more difficult for beginning and beginning/intermediate players. A more firm block, with the racket moving forward, is easier and more consistent in making decent blocks (not pop-ups), since spin takes on it less. Players with very good slow, spinny loops usually struggle with players who block aggressively as that mostly counteracts their topspin. 

At my club, we have eight full-time coaches, seven of them from China, two former Chinese national team members, the rest former province team members. (I'm the lone non-Chinese full-time coach.) All teach blocking against spinny loops with a firm, aggressive stroke. When I slow loop in practice matches with the kids, they are taught to block aggressively (or counterloop), and they have been pretty successful in this. When they block off, over and over the Chinese coaches tell them to block more aggressively. It is against faster loops that you can mostly just stick your racket out and play off the opponent's own pace. 

When I face an inverted player who just sticks his racket out to block my loop, I'm not going to feed into this by trying to loop hard with my opening loop; I'm going to throw my slowest, spinniest loop deep on the table, and watch them block off or pop it up. I can also mess up these type of blockers by varying my spin (even dead loops) as they have to get their racket angle almost perfect to make an effective block, and that's not easy against heavy or varying spin. 

I think the opening poster was asking how he could block these spinny loops back consistently so he could win the point, not so he could just pop the ball back and hope for the best. Otherwise I'd tell him to just block as weakly as possible so the ball pops back on the table, slow but high. Instead, he should block more firmly, which will lead to consistent and effective blocks. 

Coaching Scams

On Feb. 14 and Feb 27 I wrote about these coaching scams that many coaches are receiving via email. I received another one yesterday. Hint - when you receive a vague request for coaching from some overseas person, and it's addressed to "Undisclosed Recipients," you should be very suspicious. Read my previous blogs for how this works. Here's the one I just received:

To Undisclosed Recipients:
Hello,
I want to make an inquiry for table tennis intensive training for 10 youngsters .
DUE DATE: 14th July until 2nd of August 2014; 6 days per week Mondays through Saturdays total of 18 days.
Kindly check the rates and availability for the period requested.
Best regards.
George Wong

Playing Table Tennis with a Light Bulb Commercial

Here's video (40 sec) of a commercial for Cree LED light bulbs, where the actor shows that some bulbs are good for playing table tennis while others (theirs) are only good at being light bulbs.

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May 20, 2014

Fast and Deep Serves

I've been teaching this a lot recently. These are rarely front-line serves as even intermediate players have little trouble attacking them if you use them too often. However, they are a great variation to spin serves, and if used a few times each game will often catch the opponent off guard. I probably use them more than most both because I'm confident I can pick just the right time (you get a sense for that with experience), and because I spent so much time practicing this in my early years that I have very good fast and deep serves.

Before we go on, isn't fast and deep serves rather redundant? If the serve is fast, it's obviously deep, right? And yet it's part of our lexicon that we call these serve fast and deep serves rather than just fast serves.

Here's a tutorial (2:51) from PingSkills on fast and deep serves (okay, they actually call them "fast and long serves," those Aussies), which covers the topic pretty well. Note the emphasis on having the first bounce hit as close to your end-line as possible, to maximize the time the ball has to drop over the table - this is extremely important. Putting a target on your own side of the table to see if you are hitting the ball near your end-line is a great way of teaching this; I also use that method. Equally important is having a low contact point. (Most players contact the ball too high on all serves. It's a common problem even at higher levels, and many don't even realize this, and so their serves aren't as low as they could be, making things easier for the receiver, whether they attack or control the serve back.)

A key to a fast serve is practicing them to the point where you can do in matches what you can do in practice, especially at a key point. There's no point in having a great fast serve in practice if you can't pull it off under pressure. So practice it until it's second-nature, and make sure to warm up the serve before tournaments so it's ready.

Most players learn to serve fast by gradually building up the speed of the serve as they learn to control it. That's fine, but I found it more valuable to do the opposite - serve very fast, even if it goes off the end, and gradually slow it down until you could keep it on the table. Then work on controlling at that pace, while gradually increasing the pace even more.

Here are three related articles I've written - but it just struck me that I've never done a Tip of the Week on how to do fast and deep serves. I'll probably do one sometime soon, an expanded version of the above.

Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros

Here's the new ebook on sports psychology for table tennis by sports psychologist and top player Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I haven't read it yet, but it's an expanded version of their previous version, "Get Your Game Face On," which I reviewed here. I'm busy on other things right now, but after I read it I'll do a review. Sport psychology is one of the most under-utilized aspects of the game, so I strongly urge you to get ahead of me and read it before I do!

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here are three postings by Bruce Liu on the subject of money in table tennis.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

And here's a listing of the prize money in ITTF World Tour Events, and the calendar with 23 Tour events listed.

40mm vs. 38mm Ball

Here's PingPod #39 (2:14), where PingSkills looks back at switch from 38 to 40mm, as a preview to the upcoming switch to polyballs.

Before and After Pictures of the Stars

Here they are!

The Fellowship of the Ping

Okay, this is kind of silly, but here it is! (It's Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Mizutani Jun, and Zhang Jike in Lord of the Rings . . . sort of.

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May 19, 2014

Tip of the Week

Why to Systematically Practice Receive.

Return to Ready After Forehand Attack

During the Potomac Open this past weekend there was an interesting match that illustrated this. One was a lefty rated over 2400, the other about 2300. The lefty kept serving breaking serves to the righty's wide forehand. The righty would move to his wide forehand and loop these crosscourt to the lefty's backhand. Over and over the lefty would quick-block these to the righty's backhand, and the righty was caught out of position over and over. At first glance it would seem the righty just wasn't fast enough, that the lefty was just too quick. And so the lefty won the first two games.

But then a strange thing happened. I was commenting to some players sitting next to me how the righty was looping off his back foot when he looped these serves, and so finishing off balance. This kept him from getting a quick start to cover his backhand. But sometime in the third game, completely on his own, the player figured this out. The key was to get his right foot wider on the receive so he could push off it, and then he could use the momentum of his own forehand follow-through to help move himself back into position. Two things happened because of this. First, by getting his right foot farther out he was able to push into the shot harder, thereby getting more speed and spin on his loop, which gave the lefty problems. Second, and more importantly, he was now following through into position, and was set for those quick blocks to his wide backhand.

There's a video (which I just spent ten minutes unsuccessfully searching for) of Werner Schlager making this exact same adjustment to a player at the World Hopes Week in Austria a year or two ago. I remember it as several people commented that he was messing up the kid's technique. Actually, what Werner had done was show the kid, one of the top 12-year-olds in the world, how to follow-through back into position so he'd be ready for the next shot. It's one of those little things that many players don't understand, thinking only about the current shot, and not worrying about the next one. (EDIT - here's the 50-sec video I referred to above, care of Daniel Ring in the comments below. Notice how the kid forehand loops very well, but tends to stay in one position when he's moved wide? Werner shows him how to follow through back into position.) 

How often have you attacked with your forehand from the backhand side, only to get caught when your opponent quick-blocked to your wide forehand? (Or the reverse, attacked from the wide forehand, and got caught on the wide backhand, as discussed above?) Most often the problem isn't being too slow; it's finishing the forehand shot off balance, which dramatically slows down how fast you can recover back into position. The most common situation is a player steps around the backhand corner to use the forehand, but is rushed, and so ends up following through too much to his left (for a righty), leaving him wide open for the next shot. Instead, when attacking from a wide corner, whenever possible try to follow-through right back into position, and you'll be surprised at how much easier it is to recover for the next shot, even if it's quick-blocked to the far corner.  

World Veterans Championships

They were held May 14-17 in Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, video, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There were 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

Here are the results. Do a search for if you want to see how players from a specific country did (for example, "USA"). Charlene Xiaoying Liu, who is from my club, finished third in Over 60 women, losing deuce in the fifth to the eventual winner (who would win the final easily 3-0). Charlene was actually up 10-8 match point in the fifth, alas, but struggled her opponent's serve at the end.

Alameda Table Tennis Club Offering Elementary School Kids $20,000 in Ping Pong Scholarships

Here's the article - wow!

Lily Yip Selected as USA Youth Olympic Games Coach

Here's the article.

Kagin Lee's Blog

Tokyo Recap, Part One. (Kagin is a member of the board of directors for USATT and National College Table Tennis Association.)

Cary, NC to Open 25,000 Square Foot Table Tennis Facility

Here's the article (on their home page). Here are some pictures of the new Triangle Table Tennis Center.

ITTF Has as Many National Associations as Any Sport

Here's the article. They now have 220 members, which equals the International Volleyball Federation.

ICC Table Tennis Fund-Raiser

Here's the article.

How to Choose a Table Tennis Bat

Here's the new video from PingSkills (14:45).

Best of Ma Lin

Here's the Video (3:13).

Circular Table Tennis

Here's the picture! I think I once ran a similar picture, but this one really shows how the "sport" is played!

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May 16, 2014

What to Do at Age 18?

I've blogged in the past about how the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the cadet level (under 15) is the highest we've ever had, due to the rise of full-time training centers all over the country over the past eight years. It's gotten ridiculously good. It's a group that any country outside China could be proud of. And in three years this group of players will be competing as juniors (under 18), and the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the junior level will be the highest we've ever had. And a few years after that they'll hit their peak as players, and the level and depth of play in the U.S. will be the highest we've ever had, right? 

But there's one problem. What's going to happen when they all turn 18?

Case in point. Over the last few years we've watched Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang develop as probably the two best junior girls in our modern history. Ariel is currently #81 in the world and has been as high as #73. She was the youngest USA Nationals Women's Singles Champion when she won in 2010, and she repeated in 2011 and 2013. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #4 in the world in both Under 15 and Under 18 Girls. Lily recently shot up to #66 in the world. She won women's singles at the 2012 USA Nationals at age 16. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #2 in the world in Under 15 Girls and #5 in Under 18 Girls. 

But Ariel is now 18, and is attending Princeton. She didn't even try out for our last National Team because she was busy with school. Lily will be 18 next month, and is going to University of California at Berkeley. She didn't even attend our last USA Nationals because she was busy with school. They are still training, but let's face it; they are no longer training full-time as before. In contrast, all over Asia and Europe players like Ariel and Lily are training full-time. Part-time can't compete with full-time. 

The same has happened on the men's side. Michael Landers won men's singles at the 2009 USA Nationals at age 15, and improved dramatically in the three years after that. Peter Li won men's singles at the 2011 USA Nationals at age 17. Both of them hit age 18 and went to college, and their levels both dropped dramatically. The same is true of a long list of other elite juniors. I remember just a few years ago when three players from my club (MDTTC) were #1, #2, and #5 in the country in Under 18 Boys - Peter Li, Marcus Jackson, and Amaresh Sahu. All three went to college when they turned 18, and so none reached the level they might have reached if they'd continued a few more years.

Who knows how good these players might have been if they had continued training full-time into their 20s?

Unless something happens in the next few years, in about five years we will be looking back and asking ourselves, "What happened?" We had all these up-and-coming kids, and the future was bright. Instead, we'll have the strongest group of college table tennis players in our history. While that's a very good thing from one point of view (and it would be great if table tennis were to become a big college sport with scholarships in the best colleges all over the country, but that's a separate topic), it's not a good thing if we're trying to develop athletes who can compete at the highest levels. Excluding China, this generation really has the potential to someday compete with anyone. (Perhaps we'll be world college champions circa 2020?)

There is little money in our sport. So what's the long-term benefit for these kids to continue to train full-time? Sure, there's the usual incentives, such as being National Champion and making the U.S. Olympic Team, and . . . um . . . well, that's about it. (How much do these pay?) So yes, unless something changes, it'll be another "lost" generation. Sure, some will continue, and we'll almost for certain have stronger teams than we do now, but nothing like what it could be. Perhaps our men will improve from #53 in the world to top 20, but they could be top five or better. Perhaps our women will improve from #21 to top ten, but they could be top five or better. (With Ariel together with Lily and Prachi Jha, they already are close to top ten level - #16, according to the ITTF team rankings based on individual ranking.) And you know something? If you can reach top five, you can make the final of the World Championships. (We're not ready for China yet, but we'll worry about that when we actually have a top five team.) 

Ironically, in the past when we had fewer truly elite juniors, the ones that were elite were often more likely to focus on table tennis because, by U.S. standards, they were truly "elite." They would train full-time well into their twenties before moving on to college or other work. Now these same elite cadets and juniors are just another in a pack of them, and so they don't feel they are truly "elite," and so are less likely to continue training full-time. And so they go to college rather than train full-time for a few more years. (Just to be clear, I'd urge them all to go to college, but there's nothing wrong with putting it off a few years, even into their mid-20s for a truly elite player. Some might decide to stay with the sport and become professional coaches, which actually pays pretty well.) We have standouts like Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang and a few others, but will they continue when they hit college age? (The financial outlook for women players is even bleaker, since many tournaments have an open singles instead of men's and women's singles.)

What can we do? There has been regular discussions over the years on the idea of setting up professional leagues or circuits, and develop a core group of pro USA players who would travel about competing in these professional leagues or circuits. It's been a serious topic of discussion since I first got active in table tennis in 1976. And there have been attempts by a few to make something like this happen, from the American All-Star Circuit that we used to have in the U.S. to the current North American Tour. The latter has potential, but without major sponsors there isn't nearly enough money, and the money that is there mostly goes to players from China. There's nothing wrong with these Chinese players winning money, but it means there's little chance a U.S. player can make enough money to afford to play in such a circuit - especially since it's often part-time U.S. players pitted against full-time Chinese players.

Do the Chinese raise the level of play for USA players? Potentially yes. But if our top juniors quit and go to college right when they begin approaching the level needed to compete with these Chinese players, it's wasted. Equally important, when approaching college age, it's tough for a USA player to look at table tennis as a professional career when nearly all the money goes to foreign players living in the U.S., which doesn't leave much for prospective professional USA players. (Some argue that the USA players shouldn't avoid playing tournaments where they'd have to play these elite full-time foreign players, but that's easier to say when you aren't the one spending huge amounts of time and money on your training, and are looking at losing another $500 on a tournament just so you can lose to one of them. There needs to be a balance if we want to give USA players incentive.) 

Bottom line? "Serious talk" on this topic isn't really serious anymore until someone actually does something. Real action is needed. USATT wants to get sponsors but doesn't really have a serious product to sell. (They've tried for many years.) I've argued they should focus on developing our product with regional leagues (as is done all over Europe) and coaching programs, and sell that to sponsors, but that didn't interest them. Perhaps something a bit more elite-oriented would be more enticing, since USATT (with USOC encouragement and funding) is more focused on elite development than grassroots development. 

Why not have USATT partner with the North American Tour or some other group, and assign the incoming USATT CEO to focus on selling sponsorship for that Tour? Isn't the purpose of USATT to improve table tennis in the United States? USATT is the national governing body for the sport in this country, and so has a great platform to sell from, if they only had something lucrative to sell - and here's a natural product.

The goal would be to create a truly Professional Tour, where U.S. players could actually make a living, while bringing regular exposure to the sponsor. (Perhaps the circuit tournaments would have both an Open event and an All-Star American event for U.S. citizens. Or it could be citizens only.) The circuit is already there as a product, it just needs more money. Once we have such a professional circuit, there are other ways to bring in money - spectators, TV, and so on - and what sponsor wouldn't want to be the national sponsor for something like this if we show it has potential to truly take off?  We can do this, and have a good chance to dramatically improve table tennis in the United States. Or we can continue to talk and do the same old things we always do - nothing. 

U.S. Open Blog - Deadlines! Deadlines!

Here's the latest U.S. Open blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. Want to play in the U.S. Open? Deadline without penalty is this Sunday, May 18. After that there's a $75 penalty, with no entries accepted after Sunday, May 25.

"The Ping Pong Man"

Here's an article and video (3:09) on table tennis Globetrotter Scott Preiss, and his visit to Beaverton, Oregon.

International News

Lots of articles at Tabletennista (including one on Ma Long undefeated at the last two World Team Championships) and at the ITTF page.

2014 U.S. Para European Update

Here's the video report (2:02), from the bus, by Tahl Leibovitz, with Wayne Lo and others.

The Best Scoring System for Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:39) from PingSkills in PingPod 38.

Round Table with Spinning Net

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation

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May 15, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my day yesterday. After writing my blog in the morning, I spent some time inputting edits for my new Table Tennis Tips book. (They are from four people who proofed the book. More on them soon.) I've been working on this on and off for the last couple of weeks, and hope to finalize it by tomorrow - we'll see. Finalizing it has been a bigger job than I thought, and I've sometimes put it aside for a day or so to work on other stuff. (I'm also doing some science fiction work, but I won't get into that here.)

At 2:30PM, as I do Mon-Fri, I left to pick up kids for our afterschool program. My first pickup is at 3:05, and by leaving at 2:30 I get to his school around 2:50PM. Why do I go this early? Two reasons. 1) In case there's traffic, I don't want to be late; and 2) I've taken to doing the Washington Post crossword puzzle while parked at his school, waiting for him to come out. It's great fun, and I'm able to do the entire thing about half the time, though not always in the 15 minutes there. I may blog about table tennis and crossword puzzles later on - there are a number of connections.

After picking up the 3:05 player I picked up a second one at another school five minutes later, and then we were off to the club. It wasn't one of the more fun pickups as the two bickered back and forth the entire trip. Finally, after arriving at the club I was to hit with one of them (age 7) for 30 minutes, and then do 20-30 minutes of school work with him. Unfortunately, perhaps primed by the bickering in the car, he wasn't happy and let's just say it wasn't one of the better sessions, both the table tennis and the academics. And yet, he played surprisingly well. At one point he hit about 100 forehands in a row (his most ever), but he was oblivious to it as the entire time he was voicing his displeasure with all the work he was being forced to do (especially school), and how much he wanted to play video games instead!

I had two more one-hour sessions. The first was with a nine-year-old, about 1500 level. I've mentioned him before - he likes to lob, and does so at a surprisingly high level. But in recent weeks he's become more determined to develop his attack. His backhand right now is a little better than his forehand, but when he gets going, his forehand looping can be pretty strong. The problem is he tends to change strokes every few shots as he constantly experiments. That's good and bad, but at this state in his development, mostly bad. He likes to swing from the side to get lots of sidespin, but this leads to a rather long and cumbersome stroke without much power. He also likes to switch back and forth every few shots from looping close to the table, then off the table, then back to the table again. Great ball control, but he's not going to develop real precision on his shots this way.

We spent the first 45 minutes of the session on just forehand and backhand looping, including footwork. (He can spin his backhand both close to the table and from off the table.) Then we worked on his serves for five minutes. (He practices these at home, and always has new "show and tell" serves to show me. Currently he's working hard on his reverse pendulum serve.) We were going to play games at the end, but he wanted to counterloop, so we finished that way - though half the counterlooping rallies ended with him lobbing, which is what he really likes to do. He's gotten pretty good at sidespin lobbing from the side, where I hit the ball as wide to his forehand as I can.

The second session was with a 12-year-old who's about 1700 now. He's developing a very strong forehand loop, with fast footwork. His backhand is coming along, but isn't quite as dominating yet, partly because he's constantly looking to play forehand. I wanted to focus on his backhand this session, but his forehand was looking so strong at the start I decided to focus on that the first half of the session, to bring it to a new level. After a bunch of regular forehand and footwork drills against my block, and some multiball, I introduced him to a new drill, an improvised multiball drill I've blogged about before. I put a basket of balls near me. I serve backspin to his backhand, he pushes to my backhand, I forehand loop down the line to his forehand, and he counterloops a winner. As he's doing this, I reach for the next ball and repeat. It's a rapid-fire way to develop a winning counterloop against an opponent's opening shot. At the start I did medium-speed loops, which he was pretty good against. He kept asking me to loop harder, and so I increased the pace, and he did pretty well. It's important in this drill to go at a pace where the player is consistent so he can develop good habits that'll carry over into matches, when you don't know where the ball is going to go. Then I challenged him with very slow, spinny loops, dropping them short on the table. These are especially hard to counterloop, and he had trouble at first, but picked up on it soon.

Then we began work on this backhand. After some straight backhand-to-backhand rallies, I began moving him around, stressing the idea that if you cover only 1/3 of the table with your backhand, you should practice covering 1/2, which will make it easy to cover the 1/3. We did multiball so he could rapid-fire backhand loop against backspin. I also looped to his backhand so he could work on blocking. Then we did another multiball drill where I rapid-fire grabbed balls and looped them at him randomly over the whole table, and he had to aggressively block backhands or counterloop on the forehand. (Later I'll have him spin the backhands when he blocks as well.)

We finished with a series of games. I think he was a little disappointed that he wasn't able to play his forehand in game situations as well as in drills, but as I explained to him (and have blogged about), it takes perhaps six months to incorporate into games what you can do in practice. (I have two "six-month rules." The other one is that if you improve to a higher level in practice games, it'll take about six months before you can consistently do this in tournaments. I call this one Larry's Law.)

I was done coaching for the day, but stayed after for a while to watch one of our top juniors play, since I'll be coaching him at the U.S. Open. Then I went home and started work again on the Tips book - but that's when I discovered I was just too tired to do so, and put it off until today. Yep, it's on my todo list to work on that next (after doing a few other shorter items) until I leave for today's afterschool pickups and coaching.

Serves in Slow Motion

Here's a video (7:24, from 2010) showing top players serving in slow motion. This is the only way to really see the semi-circular motion and last-second changes of direction top players use when they serve.

World Veterans Championships

They are taking place right now, May 14-17, Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, live streaming, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There are 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

College Table Tennis Class

Here's an article about USATT Coaching Chair Fede Bassetti teaching a class at Northern Illinois University.

How Much Should Table Tennis Players Make?

Here's an interesting discussion of this.

Zhang Jike's Father Furiously Disappointed

Here's the article. "I was extremely anxious watching him play that day. Bad techniques, it doesn't matter. Losing the match, it doesn't matter. But looking at his performance that day, there was no fighting spirit. Others were cheering for him but he was simply in a daze. It really worried me to death." (Should parents voice criticism like this in public?)

Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's a musical tribute video (3:43) to Lily Zhang's performance at the recent World Championships, created by Jim Butler.

Trick Serves

Here's a video (1:18) where the guys from PingSkills demonstrate a bunch of hilarious trick serves - fifty-foot serves from the side and backspin bounce-back serves.

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May 14, 2014

Scouting Report on You and Me

It's important to know your game. I've often said that if you can't write a book on your game, either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. (Here's a short Tip on that.)

It's good to look at your game from the point of view of your opponent. What would you say to an opponent if you were coaching him to play you? Now you probably don't want to make this public, but you should be aware of what a good coach would say to an opponent playing you, and from that you'll know what you need to work on. Why not write it out, and see what it tells you?

I'm retired from tournament play (except for some hardbat events - I normally use sponge), so I have less to lose on this - but I do play a lot of practice matches with students and in match sessions, so we'll see how many are reading this! So here is what I would say if I were coaching an opponent against me - except this is too long; you should limit coaching advice to two or three things at most. So normally I'd pick the two or three most important items below if I were coaching against myself. But here's the whole coaching report if you have to play me. I encourage you to memorize it for when you play me, since trying to remember all this will paralyze you when you play, and that'll make it easier for me to win. (Actually, if you have an extensive scouting report on someone you really want to beat, you can absorb more than just two or three items as long as you take them two or three at a time.)

So, you want to beat me? Here's what you do. Keep in mind that I'm 54 and not as fast as I used to be. The book on my game back then would be similar, except I was extremely good at covering the wide forehand - players went there at their own peril. But these days this strength has become a weakness. I also used to attack a lot more with the forehand from the backhand side, looking for every chance to do so in rallies, but not so much anymore. I also used to block much better, but now have trouble covering attacks to the wide corners. (This is my second consecutive blog that's basically auto-biographical. Hmmm...)

How to Play Larry Hodges

He has trouble with long backhand sidespin-type serves. His forehand loop against them is awkward, and his backhand returns are steady but soft. Mix your serves up a lot or he'll get used to them, but keep coming back to these deep backhand sidespin-type serves. He forehand loops deep pendulum serves very well, so use them sparingly, and only when you can get him to receive them with his backhand. Don't make the mistake of serving short over and over as he's very good against short serves, with short and long pushes and flips, and lots of last-second changes of direction. Don't serve short to the forehand too often as he has a good forehand flip to all parts of the table.

When he serves, beware his short side-top serves, which look like backspin. He'll also serve a lot of fast no-spin serves at your middle, and deep breaking serves to the wide backhand - you have to steady attack these, ideally with good topspin. If he serves short to the forehand, which he'll do with both pendulum and reverse pendulum serves, take it down the line to his backhand - he's waiting for a crosscourt return. When he serves short to the middle or backhand, he's usually looking to forehand attack from the backhand side, so take it quick to his wide forehand where he's often wide open.  If he serves short no-spin, attack it to the corners or drop it short as he's looking to follow with a big forehand loop. If your receives are predictable, he'll be all over them.

His backhand is soft but steady. Don't try to outlast him there. Instead, expect steady returns to your wide backhand that can be attacked with the goal to set up a chance to end the point with your presumably more powerful forehand. Since he doesn't attack well with the backhand, you don't have to guard your wide forehand much, so you can look to use your forehand from your backhand side every chance. Make sure your attacks are very wide or to the middle - he doesn't cover those well, but if you go to his middle forehand or middle backhand he's a wall and can also counter-attack those very well. He's also vulnerable to deep, spinny loops to the backhand. If you can backhand loop close to the table, he hates that. If you attack his wide forehand and then his wide backhand, he'll often be forced off the table, fishing and lobbing. If he does, attack his middle or wide backhand until you see a short ball that can be creamed to either wide corner.

In rallies, he tends to be weak on the forehand side early in the match, but it gets stronger as the match continues and he adjusts to you. If you handle his serves well and attack his forehand, that's often enough to win the first game. If he starts playing his forehand well in rallies - looping or smashing, he does both - focus on moving the ball around, to the wide corners and middle. Sometimes he just rallies everything crosscourt with his backhand, using it to cover his middle as well, and waits for you to change directions with your backhand to his wide forehand, where he's waiting. Don't fall for that trap - instead, keep attacking his wide backhand and middle, and realize that his middle in these types of rallies is actually a bit over to his forehand side. Look for chances to end the point off his weaker backhand shots, especially with your forehand. When his rally shots go short, he expects attacks to his forehand and covers it well - but often leaves the backhand side open. Quick, aggressive backhand shots that go outside his backhand corner give him fits.

If he starts attacking with his forehand, go after his wide forehand, and he'll struggle to cover it, and will likely stop playing so aggressively. His loops aren't as spinny as they look. He has a lot of motion, but not as much snap on them as they seem, so don't be afraid to counter-attack when he loops. He's an instinctive forehand attacker, but not as fast as he used to be, so he's often caught out of position when he forehand attacks, and so will end up fishing and lobbing. When you do go to his wide forehand, he likes to set up like he's going crosscourt, then at the last second rotate his shoulders back to loop a winner down the line. If you anticipate this or see it coming and make a simple block to his backhand, he'll usually start fishing. 

If you take a lead late in a game, be ready if he starts chopping. If he does, go for consistent attacks to his middle.

Finally, be flexible in your tactics. Larry will start out most matches trying to win on serves and serve & attack, and on steady rallying on your serve, where he likes to force backhand-to-backhand rallies. If this doesn't work, he'll start testing you for weaknesses. When he does this, focus on steady and well-placed attacks, and realize you are already halfway to winning as you've taken away his "A" game. If you hear him mutter something like, "I used to be able to get to that ball," or "That shot used to be so easy," that's pretty much an invitation to keep challenging him on that shot!

Fan Zhendong: Youngest World Champion in History

Here's the article

North Korea's Behavior at the 1979 Ping Pong Championships Really Says It All

Here's the article. Apparently the entire Korean crowd walked out after the North Korean star lost the women's final, leaving a nearly vacant stadium for the men's final.

Prizes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials in Wales

Here's the picture. Look closely at the picture in the lower right - yep, the prizes were copies of my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques! (EDIT - I've since been told that actual picture where they are holding up my books was taken at the ICC club in California, where the books were given out as prizes.)

The Ultimate Table Tennis Footwork Guide

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

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May 13, 2014

How I Almost Didn't Go or Stay Full-time in Table Tennis

Sometimes when I look around the Maryland Table Tennis Center I marvel at the series of events that led to the place opening, and all the things that could have derailed it or me from full-time table tennis. There would be no MDTTC if Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I didn't get together back in 1992 to make it happen. All the players developed there wouldn't have happened. All the training centers that copied our system to open their own training centers might not have happened. How history in U.S. table tennis might have been different!

If Cheng had been chosen to be on the 1989 or 1991 Chinese National Team to the Worlds, as most expected he would, he might have stayed in China. If he had taken the offer to be the Chinese Men's Coach, he would have stayed in China. But after being burned by coaches who wanted stick with the historical Chinese close-to-table styles while using players like Cheng (as well as Huang Tong Sheng, i.e. Jack Huang) as European-style practice partners, he decided to come to the U.S., as did Coach Jack.

As to me, here is a brief listing of all the ways I might have been derailed from joining up with Cheng and Jack in 1992 and from becoming a full-time table tennis coach, writer, and promoter. It's largely biographical, so bear with me as I talk about some of my background.

I'll start at the beginning. Back in 1976 (age 16), I was on my high school track team as a miler. I went to the library to get a book on "Track & Field." I happened to look to my left . . . and there was a book on table tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I had been playing "basement" ping-pong at a neighbor's house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out. From it, I found out about USATT (then called USTTA). I contacted them, found a local club, and went there. I got killed, but I stuck with it, and a few years later became the best at the club. I later became a professional table tennis coach and writer, and from 1985 on, I've been full-time table tennis almost continuously in various capacities. If I hadn't happened to look to my left and saw that book, you would be staring at a blank screen right now. (Interesting note - years later I met Marty for the first time and told him this story. His response? "Great . . . another life I've ruined.") So ended my career as a normal person.

Now we move to North Carolina, 1979-81. I went there a year after I graduated high school for the sole purpose of training at table tennis. But I had to make a living, and so at age 19 I began working in restaurants at minimum wage. Meanwhile, I began making batches of my own secret recipe for chili for members of the table tennis club, and many raved about it. Here's a little-known secret - I came close to dropping table tennis at one point and opening up my own chili franchise! It would have started with one of those pushcarts you see at shopping malls. I got all the info needed, and even began experimenting with the chili recipe. But the table tennis bug was too much, and though I got prices on carts and on selling in malls, I finally gave up on my temporary lifelong dream of opening a chili chain. So ended my career as a chili chef.

Now we move to 1985. I've just completed my bachelors in math at University of Maryland, with minors in chemistry and computer science. A Dr. Harold Reiter has invited me to work on my Ph.D in math at the University of North Carolina. (He and I had co-written a paper published in a math journal.) I could have gone there, and eventually I'd have been Dr. Larry Hodges, math professor. But I decided to take time off for table tennis - and USATT hired me. So ended my math career.

Now we move to 1990. At this point I've spent four years working for USATT as (in order) assistant manager, manager, and then director/assistant coach for the resident table tennis program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. But politics intervened, and I was released. (Funny story - when the board decided not to renew my contract, they also went out of their way to "help" me by making arrangements for me to go to Anderson College where I could get a degree. Not one of them realized I already had a degree in math!) Anyway, I returned to Maryland and debated what to do next. At the Nationals that year I did something I'd done year after year in Las Vegas - won piles of money playing 7-card stud. There was no question - I could make a living at it. I debated it, and there were times where I was on the verge of packing up and moving to Vegas to play poker full-time. But while I could make good money at it, I kept asking myself a simple question: Is that what I wanted to do with my life? The answer was no. So ended my poker career.

Now we move to 1992. I'd started work on a master's in journalism, with concentrations in science writing and magazine production. I'm now planning on a journalism career, and plan to be a science writer. But two things intervened. First, I was hired by USATT as editor of USATT Magazine. Second, I met with Cheng and Jack, and we decided to open up MDTTC. So ended my science writing career.

Now we move to 1996. I'd just finished four years as editor of USATT Magazine (while coaching nearly full-time at MDTTC as well as well as coaching USA junior teams around the world), but politics once again intervened and my contract wasn't renewed. I began coaching even more hours at MDTTC. But I began to have injury problems, and I was so disgusted with USATT that I needed a break from table tennis. In 1997 one of my students hired me as a computer programmer. So I spent a year programming while playing and coaching table tennis part-time. I made good money, and for a time planned on becoming rich that way. But the company I worked for closed down. So ended my computer programming career.

Now we move to 1998. I could have gotten other jobs as a computer programmer, but I was more into writing. Plus I had just finished my master's in Journalism, which I'd been working on part-time for five years. So I applied for editorial positions. I was hired as editor of The Quality Observer. I spent nearly a year there. But the table tennis bug began to bite again, and I kept thinking about how I could make about twice as much per hour coaching as editing. Finally I resigned that position and went back to coaching. So ended my non-table tennis editorial career.

I was hired back as editor of USATT Magazine in 1999, and stayed on until 2007. (I continued to coach at MDTTC during this time.) At that point I was disappointed that USATT wouldn't focus on the things needed to be done to grow the sport (sound familiar?), and I was tired of all the politics. So I decided to take some time off and focus on something I'd been doing part-time for years - write science fiction & fantasy. So I resigned as USATT editor/webmaster, and spent the next couple years mostly just writing. My SF writing career has had lots of ups and downs. (Here's my SF writing page.) I've sold an even 70 short stories. Thirty of them were compiled in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges." I wrote two novels. The second one was published last November, the humorous fantasy "Sorcerers in Space." (You can also buy it at Amazon.) A publisher (Larger than the one that published "Sorcerers") is very interested in the first one, Campaign 2100, a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, but requested a rewrite on a number of sections, which I'm currently working on. But while I'm still doing this part-time, I returned to full-time table tennis in 2008, and have been at it ever since. (Both of my novels feature characters who play table tennis.) So ended my full-time science fiction writing career.

I'm a full-time table tennis coach/writer/promoter. But if I hadn't looked left, if I'd become a chili chef, a math professor, a poker player, a science writer, a programmer, a non-TT editor, or a full-time science fiction writer, I wouldn't be doing table tennis full-time. And there'd be no MDTTC if hadn't look left, or if I'd become a chili chef, math professor, or poker player.

Samsonov and Ma Long on the New Plastic Balls

Here's Samsonov ("I think the change will not be that big") and Ma Long (he endorses it). Readers, feel free to send me links on what other top players think about this, or post your own comments below.

The Different Chinese Eras

Here's an interesting posting (and some follow-up responses) about the three most recent eras of Chinese dominance - the Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang era, the Wang Liqin/Ma Lin era, and the current Zhang Jike/Ma Long era. Wang Hao should probably get more credit in there as he's been dominant throughout the last two of these eras, and I'd add Xu Xin to the current era. Before the Kong/Liu era was a period of 4-6 years where China didn't do so well, the Ma Wenge/Wang Tao era. Before that was the Jiang Jialiang/Chen Longcan/Teng Yi era. Before that was the Guo Yuehua/Cai Zhenhua era. Before that was the Zhuang Zedong/Li Furong era. (I've left out plenty of top players, such as Li Zhenshi, Liang Keliang, and many others, but can't fit everyone in every era! Plus we're only talking about the men, leaving out the women.)

ITTF Pongcast - April 2014

Here's the video (13:22).

NCTTA Best of the Best

Here's the listing of winners from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here's the article/posting.

Table Tennis Profile Picture

Here's one of the nicer ones I've seen! I should have that on my wall when I'm writing about table tennis . . . like right now. See the action coming out of my keyboard!

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May 12, 2014

Tip of the Week

Anyone Can Become Very Good at Something.

Youth Olympic Games Controversy

There's a controversy involving the training and coaching of the USA Youth Olympic Games athletes (Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari). Basically, USATT set up a training program for the two, then chose a coach. Since Massimo Costantini (from the ICC Table Tennis Center) is the coach for both players, it seemed logical to choose him, but since he wasn't available to go overseas for the entire training program planned (nearly two months), another coach was selected. Officials from ICC were not happy.

I too thought they should have hired the coach first, then have him develop the training program for the players, in particular since he was the coach of both players. From USATT's point of view, they were just incorporating the ITTF's YOG training program, which involves a lot of overseas training and in general is a good idea. It might have been better if they had not locked themselves into requiring the coach to be there the entire time, allowing some flexibility so someone else could substitute for the few weeks when the coach can't make it. Regardless, hopefully they will work something out where Massimo oversees most of their training while missing some of it because of his other commitments. There is lots of discussion of this at the USATT Facebook and ICC Facebook pages.

The coach who was hired (though the official announcement is not yet up) is the highly qualified Lily Yip. (I've known her for decades, and we even attended the same ITTF Level 2 Seminar, held at the Lily Yip TTC last year.) It's unfortunate there's any controversy on this as she's an excellent coach. The problem is that the two players in question just happened to both be students of Massimo, and this was known at the time Lily was hired. Massimo was USATT's first choice because of this, but because he couldn't commit to the entire overseas training program they went with Lily. If they hadn't apparently locked themselves into requiring the coach there the entire time, perhaps they could have hired Massimo, and hired Lily for the times when Massimo could not make it.

Ironically, I also considered applying for the YOG coach position, but since I haven't worked directly with these players (other than a week about four years ago when I practiced daily with Krish during a Stellan Bengtsson camp, plus coaching against him in tournaments a few times), and since I figured Massimo or someone else who worked more regularly with these players was applying, I decided not to. (Plus it's a big commitment for a full-time coach with lots of students.) Perhaps another time, when an MDTTC player is on the team in question. MDTTC's Crystal Wang is already on the USA Women's Team and Cadet Girls' team, and we have a number of other up-and-coming players. But what happens if I or some other coach also can't commit to the entire "required" time? The irony is that coaches who are in demand are usually the ones who will often have the most trouble taking time off - and they are often the ones we'd want to hire.

This isn't the first time ICC has felt burned by USATT. As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule? 

USATT Launches New Membership System - RailStation

Here's the announcement. Could be helpful. It definitely gets our membership system into the modern age! A key phrase from the announcement: "USATT members with a current email on file will be sent instructions on how to log in and activate their account.  If you have not provided an email address to USATT or need to update it, please contact Andy Horn at admin@usatt.org."

U.S. Open Entry Deadline Extended to May 18

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee was Saturday (two days ago), but they've extended it to May 18 (next Sunday). Here's a listing of players currently entered, and of entries by event. (There are 381 players listed as entered as I write this, but I'm sure there are still a lot of paper entries not uploaded yet, plus the extended deadline should bring in some more.) Here's more info:

MDTTC - the Laughingstock of Table Tennis

Yes, it's true. On Friday and Saturday, famous stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo spent several hours at MDTTC playing. (He was in town for some local shows.) He has a rating of 1658, but that was from three years ago - he appears about 1800 now. Between coaching sessions I even got to play doubles with him on my team. (Alas, I coach too much and play too little, and so my receive was way off, and we lost to Julian Waters and Steve Hochman. But then Julian and I took down Steve and Frank!) Then on Sunday another famous stand-up comedian came in to play for a few hours, Judah Friedlander, who is rated 1565 (and who've I've coached before), though as his home page says, he's the World Champion. (Judah grew up locally, and while he spends most of his time in New York City doing stand-up, he comes to Maryland often to visit his family.)

ITTF Athletes Commission

Vladimir Samsonov was re-elected as Chair. Others elected or appointed were Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), Zoran Primorac (CRO), Krisztina Toth (HUN), David Powell (AUS), Angela Mori (PER), Elsayed Lashin (EGY), Yu Kwok See April (HKG), Wang Liqin (CHN), and USA's own Ashu Jain.

ITTF Legends Tour

I wrote about the Legends Tour last Thursday. Here are more pictures.

International News

As usual, there are lots and lots of international news items up at Tabletennista.

Matthew Syed Launches New Table Tennis Academy in England

Here's the story. (Syed is a former English table tennis champion, one of the best defensive players in the world.)

Shot of the Day

Here's video (46 sec) of a very strange rally at the recent World Championships between China's Ding Ning and Japan's Yuka Ishigaki in the Women's Team Final.

Ibrahim Hamato - Nothing is Impossible

Here's more video (2:43) of the famous armless Egyptian player from the ITTF. Includes interviews (with English translation) and showing him hitting with the best players in the world. I've actually put a racket in my mouth like he does to rally in exhibitions, but not at this level!

Happy Mother's Day (one day late)

Here's the Table Tennis Mother's Day Graphic by Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - Bram Stoker Award

"After Death" just won Best Horror Anthology at the Bram Stoker Awards, which is sort of the Academy Awards for written horror. It includes a story of mine, "The Devil's Backbone." You can buy the anthology at Amazon. And here's a review of the book, which says, "… and “The Devil’s Backbone” by Larry Hodges, which I found to be well-conceived, well-executed, and well-written, my favorite in the anthology."

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May 9, 2014

Three Less Obvious Reasons China Dominates

The primary reasons for China's dominance are they train harder, have more players, and have more and better coaches. These are all true. However, the base of the dominance actually comes from three almost iconic changes in their training and playing styles.

First, the more obvious one, was the change from the close-to-the-table pips-out attacking styles that dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as (to a lesser degree) one-winged penhold loopers. By the late 1980s it was obvious that two-winged looping was going to dominate the game, and that the last few successful hitters were mostly hanging on because European loopers weren't used to playing that style. Countries like Sweden brought in pips-out hitting practice partners, got used to playing it, and in the early 1990s China went through a drought as European players dominated the game. Many of the Chinese coaches who had advocated sticking with their traditional pips-out games were replaced, and soon China began dominating with two-winged loopers who were even better than the Europeans. In fact, they revolutionized the game by developing loopers who could stay closer to the table than the traditional European looping style, and soon European loopers were struggling to keep up.

Second, during the 1990s another traditional Chinese style nearly died out - penholders. For a time they nearly disappeared from the world-class rankings. But then players from China developed the reverse penhold backhand, and learned to play their backhands almost the same as a shakehander. It started with Liu Guoliang, then Ma Lin, then Wang Hao (world #6, former #1) and Xu Xin (current #1 in the world). The big question for years was whether the future of penhold play was a combination of reverse penhold backhands for attacking with conventional backhands for blocking, or just reverse penhold backhands, even when blocking. The latter won out. While the pips-out penhold style pretty much died out, the one-winged penhold looping game transitioned into a two-winged penhold looping style that competes evenly with two-winged shakehand loopers.

Third is perhaps the less obvious one to many. China and most Asian countries have traditionally worshipped training, and would drill for hour after hour, day after day, often seven days a week. Because of this the Chinese always had the best players from a technical point of view. And yet, the European men would often battle with them with their obviously "weaker" games. The reason? The Europeans had one ace up their sleeve - they knew the value of constant competition, and they competed constantly in leagues and training matches, as well as drills that mimicked match play. And so their players, while not as technically proficient as the Chinese, knew how to win with what they had, while the Chinese often were more robotic, playing matches as if they were drills. But the Chinese figured this out, and by the turn of the century their coaches had their players playing more and more matches, both in practice and in leagues and tournaments. Events like the Chinese Super League allowed even more matches. They also incorporated more match-type drills into their training.

And so the match-savvy Europeans found themselves up against match-savvy Chinese, and with the Chinese technological superiority, the rest is history. Just browse this listing of World Champions (singles, doubles, teams) and you'll see. They've won Men's Teams seven times in a row and nine of the last ten. (Note that just before that Sweden won three times in a row.) They've won Women's Teams ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20 times.

"Dang"

I have a new official policy. Roughly every 30 seconds while coaching, when playing out points with students, I'll say something along the lines of "I would have gotten to that ball ten years ago," or "Shots like that used to be so easy." Well, this takes up a lot of time and gets repetitive. And so, starting this past week, my new policy is that whenever I can't run down or make a shot that I know, with 100% absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, that I would have made in the past when I was a world-class conditioned professional athlete (stop laughing now), I will just say, "Dang," and my student will know what it means.

Ma Long's Earned Everyone's Respect

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to his two matches in the Men's Final at the Worlds against Germany. Here are videos with the time removed between points: Ma Long vs. Timo Boll (4:07) and Ma Long vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (4:21).

Liu Guoliang Doesn't Blame Zhang Jike

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to the Zhang Jike-Dimitrij Ovtcharov video (31:10); here's a video of the match with time between points removed (5:01).

Table Tennis for the Cure

Here's the article. "A Sheffield man with a brain disorder is battling back to health after a coma – and puts his recovery down to table tennis."

USATT Awarded US Paralympic Grant from US Department of Veterans Affairs

Here's the article.

2014 US Para Team Profiles

Here's the video (11:12), narrated by Stellan and Angie Bengtsson

Selfies from the Worlds

Here's the music video (1:14) of players at the worlds doing selfies to music.

Human Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the picture - though I think he looks more like a big fat onion to me!

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