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Blogs

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!!!

March 27, 2014

USATT CEO and Membership Director Leaving

Huge changes are afoot at USATT - here's the article. USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh resigned after seven years, taking a job with USA Handball. (Here's his goodbye letter.) And Membership Director Joyce Grooms is retiring on April 4 after a long tenure - I'm not sure how long, but I'm guessing it goes back to the 1990s or so. I've worked with both of them for many years and consider them good friends - and now we'll have some big shoes to fill. It's going to cause some serious continuity problems. 

Who should our next CEO be? With all due respect to Mike, I believe we need a real table tennis person who can develop the infrastructure of our sport. That was the point of my Ping-Pong Apartments essay in my March 21 blog - we have got to stop trying to sell a broken product and fix the broken product first. Then we can sell it.

I doubt if I'll apply for the CEO position, but several people have urged me to apply. I don't think the USATT Board would want someone who would push for such major changes - most boards, by their very nature, are highly resistant to change. But I was urged on Facebook last night to apply for the position. Here is my response:

I'd want to completely change the focus of the organization, and I don't think the USATT board of directors is ready for that. Focus should be (not in order of priority) 1) setting up a network of regional leagues throughout the U.S., with the goal of hundreds of thousands of members, as is done in Europe and Asia; 2) recruiting and training professional coaches to set up and run full-time training centers and junior programs; and 3) striving for a professional league or tournament circuit for the top players. (There is a current one, which needs to continue to grow and gain sponsors. But membership growth is the best way to increase revenue for this and other programs.)

Also need to focus on college scholarship programs as incentive for junior players and their parents, and on turning the Nationals and/or U.S. Open into a serious event that brings in real sponsorships, and on fund-raising. I'd also want to bring back the print magazine (and the advertising they are about to lose), and instead simply add the online magazine as a way to increase advertising. 

We also need to regionalize the sport, breaking the country into a number of self-governing regions, and develop the sport region by region, as it is done overseas. Once the sport is moving in the right direction, then we can sell it to the masses and to sponsors.  

I'd be very hands-on with the first three items listed, on magazine issues, and on regionalization. I'd be focusing on membership growth, which has never been a serious USATT priority. But USATT probably isn't ready for such change, and isn't likely to hire someone who can barely tie a tie.

Another important issue: We need more working committees made up of volunteers. I'm a member of SFWA, and they have all sorts of things going on, all volunteer run. They run conventions with 6000 people with no paid workers - that's nearly ten times the size of our Nationals and Open. Even their extensive web page is all volunteer run. The key is to find qualified volunteers, put them in charge of something, and let them loose. And then others can focus on developing the sport instead of trying to do every little thing. (Key word: "working" committees. USATT has lots of non-working committees.)

Another big issue: USATT (staff, board, and CEO) spends huge amounts of time and energy on what I call "fairness" issues, which keeps them from progressive issues, i.e. the issues that develop our sport. Fairness issues are important, but should go to committees, and unless the committee's conclusion is nonsense, USATT should normally adopt the committee's recommendation. This allows the CEO and others to focus on developing the sport. 

Having said all this, here's the problem I would face as CEO - I've been urging USATT to do these things for many years, not just here on my blog but in person at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings. I've done a number of reports to the board on how to increase membership, develop juniors, grow leagues in this country, etc. Much of this stuff is obvious to anyone involved in our sport - and if I can't convince the USATT Board to do the obvious stuff, how can I get them to do the less obvious stuff? So I wouldn't even consider such a CEO position unless I had almost complete buy-in from the board on these changes that are necessary if we want our sport to grow. The USATT Board sets policy, and the CEO enacts policy - so to do the policies I'd want, I'd need the Board to go along with them. I have zero interest otherwise.

Two other weaknesses I would face as a CEO: I don't look good in suits, and I have little patience with incompetent people in high places. (And I've made enemies in our sport because of this.) I can overcome this last one and smile and show patience with incompetent people when necessary, but I'll never look comfortable in any type of a suit other than a warm-up suit. Another weakness is I'm not particularly comfortable with strangers - I'm much more comfortable working with people I know or who are already within USATT. I'm not one to "work the room" or to wine and dine people - I'm not a "schmoozer." I don't think much of this is necessary while we are developing the sport in this country.

There's also the small problem that despite all my experience in table tennis, I've never actually been a CEO. But we'll have an office manager, so the CEO's primary job right now (in my opinion) would be to develop the sport in this country, which takes more table tennis experience and know-how than CEO experience. As I wrote above, once the sport is moving in the right direction, then we can sell it to the masses and to sponsors. That's when I'd have to get out of the way and let someone else do that job.

Bottom line - if we want to continue as a status-quo organization like we've done for so long, then USATT should once again hire someone who looks like a CEO rather than someone who will develop the sport.

Reality check: Me, as USATT CEO? Not likely. I'll hold onto my day job. (Actually, it's a day and night job as table tennis coach, organizer, promoter, and writer.)

Crystal Wang and Sports Illustrated

Just got the word that Crystal Wang should be featured in next week's Sports Illustrated in their "Faces in the Crowd" section. (This is for her recently becoming the youngest U.S. Team member ever at age 12 years 14 days, along with youngest ever Under 22 Women's Singles Champion.) I'd been sending out regular press releases, and finally got a big bite! (Though she'd also been featured recently in the Baltimore Sun.) I took the picture they will be using at the club last night. The issue should come out next Wednesday, with the online version coming out the Monday afterwards.

Chinese Team Special Training

Here's an article on how the Chinese Team had a special training session where they played matches where players were prohibited from using certain receives, forcing them to develop other receive techniques. Zhang Jike and Xu Xin were banned from using the banana stroke or the chiquita [backhand banana flips] while Ma Long was prohibited from using a drop-shot reception in their respective matches. I often have players do similar training, where a match is played where a player has to do certain things, such as every point starting with a serve and loop, or where a player has to attack every serve.

Table Tennis Great Deng Yaping Encourages More China Players to Represent Other Countries

Here's the article. And here's info on the all-time great Deng Yaping, often called the greatest woman player of all time. (3-time World Women's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Women's Singles, and #1 in the world for eight straight years.)

Interview with Mike Mezyan - Parts 1 & 2

Here's an interview with Table Tennis Artist Mike Mezyan - Part 1 and Part 2. Here's his home page, which shows much of his artwork.

What Will Happen to Anyone Hired as USATT CEO

Here's the picture!

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March 26, 2014

You Are What You Train

Most players understand this, but don't really absorb how important this simple lesson is. Here are two examples.

On Monday I was teaching the backhand loop to a beginning/intermediate class. I don't have a particularly good backhand loop, so I had assistant coach John Hsu demonstrate it. It seemed a good time to also teach the blocking, so I went over that as well as I blocked John's loop. Then I pointed how at the higher levels many players topspin their blocks, essentially mini-loops, and explained how while I blocked the normal way (relatively flat), John almost always topspins his blocks.

To demo this, I looped forehands from my backhand corner to his backhand and he backhand topspin blocked away. The rally went on for a time, and then I ripped one down the line to his forehand. John reacted quickly and forehand blocked to my wide forehand. I raced over and looped down the line to his backhand. He blocked back wide to my backhand, but not too aggressively. Now I'd just been teaching the backhand loop, and you'd think that at 54 years old I'd play an easy backhand winner (as John and most "top" players would have), but no - I did what I'd trained myself to do way back in the late 1970s and 1980s, and ran all the way over from my wide forehand to my wide backhand and ripped a forehand winner down the line for a winner. Afterwards neither I nor John nor the players in the class could believe I'd gotten over there so fast - and I was sort of surprised as well. But it was a simple matter of balance on the previous shot so I could recover quickly, proper footwork technique that got me there quickly, and the automatic instincts that led me to attempt that shot. (I just wish I could still do shots like that regularly in matches - technique aside, my legs aren't as fast anymore, mostly due to knee problems.)

Another example was two kids I watched play yesterday, both ten years old. One was the #1 10-year-old from Japan, about 2000 level, visiting for a week along with his older brother (about 12 and 2250 level). He was playing a 10-year-old from my club who was about 1900. The Japanese kid had been taught to attack relentlessly, and that's exactly what he did, attacking not only off his serve, but attacking nearly every serve as well, often with over-the-table backhand banana flips. For much of the match the kid from our club was constantly on the defensive as he could only push the Japanese kid's serve back, and his own serves were often slightly high and were getting pulverized. He tried attacking the serve, but unlike the Japanese kid, he hadn't really trained that shot, and so was pretty erratic, and went back to pushing. Then he simplified his own serve to a simple backspin serve so that he could serve lower, and the Japanese kid started missing - and it became apparent that if he couldn't attack the serve as he'd been trained to do, his game went down quite a bit as he didn't push or block well. And so what started out as a rout got close. The Japanese kid won, but it was a battle. And now our kid is going to learn to serve lower with his normal serves, and to backhand banana flip.

So we have me, forcing the forehand because it was what I trained to do, and two kids both doing what they were trained to do and being comfortable otherwise. If I could go back 38 years and talk to myself as I developed, the main thing I'd say was "Develop a backhand loop!" But because I trained as a one-winged attacker, and didn't train the backhand loop, I became what I trained - a one-winged looper with a relatively weak backhand loop that I developed only in later years. (Back in those days the theory was often "One gun is as good as two.") I've got forehand attacking so ingrained in me that I can't imagine ever being a two-winged looper - and ongoing arm and shoulder problems preclude me from even attempting any intense training at this point to develop a stronger and more instinctive backhand loop. (But that doesn't mean you can't - see Backhand Loop tutorial below!)

A few key lessons from all this - train to develop a complete game. Develop both forehand and backhand. Develop effective serves that are low to the net. Develop receives that handle all situations. And develop the ability to both attack and to handle the opponent's attack.

Backhand Loop Against Backspin Tutorial

Here's the video (5:28). Coach Yang Guang (former Chinese Team Member) demonstrates and explains, breaking down the shot to its most basic points, and with slow motion at the end. This is one of the best demos and explanations of the shot I've ever seen - I spent some time copying his form. The common mistakes he points out are the very same ones I commonly see. (Ironically, I just taught the backhand loop to my beginning/intermediate class on Monday. I will point out this video to them next time.)

The Impact of College Table Tennis

Here's an essay by Kagin Lee, USATT Board Member and National College TTA Vice President-External Affairs. He has some good stuff (from a college-oriented table tennis background), but the most important to me is item #3, which is where any discussion of developing the sport in this country should begin. (The only other way to really develop the sport is via club-based junior programs, which happens successfully all over the world in conjunction with leagues.)

Six Seconds of Physical Training

Here's the video. I've done this drill numerous times in training camps. Those "ladders" are great for physical training.

Two-Year-Old Player

Wanna play?

Water Pong

Here's the picture. Hey, let's go play table tennis out in the bay!

Cat That Wants to Play

Here's the video (1:37) - and don't get me started on analyzing the players' technique….

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March 25, 2014

Smooth Acceleration + Grazing Contact = Great Spin

This came up last night in the Beginning/Intermediate Class I teach on Monday nights. The two most common mistakes players make in failing to create great spin are these two, which are the pillars of creating spin, especially when serving, pushing, and chopping. It's true for looping as well, but only for slow, spinny loops. When you loop faster, you sink the ball more into the sponge. (I'm mostly writing for players using inverted sponge, but the same principles apply to most pips-out surfaces as well, as long as they have some grippiness.) 

When serving and pushing, beginning and intermediate players often use a short stroke (to help with control) and sort of jab at the ball. They are thinking that the velocity they get with this jabbing will create great spin. Actually, it just leads to a loss of control as you can't control the racket this way. Plus, for physics reasons I won't get into (partially because I'm not a physicist), you get far more spin if you smoothly accelerate into the ball, and almost hold the ball on your racket as it carries it through the shot. This literally slings the ball out with tremendous spin.

But you only get this tremendous spin if you graze the ball - the second problem many players have. Too often players sink the ball into the sponge at an angle, which isn't the same as grazing the ball. To learn to graze the ball, just toss one up and graze it with your racket, making it spin. Generally do this with a pendulum serve motion, but contact the ball on the left side of the ball (for a righty), with the racket going mostly up and slightly left, so that the ball goes straight up. Catch it and repeat. It's important to spin the ball so it goes straight up, both so you can catch it and repeat, and so you can develop ball control. (If you can't control the direction the ball goes when you graze it with this exercise, how can you do it when actually serving?)

As always, I recommend beginning players get a colored ball (or put markings on a ball) so they can see the spin they are creating. This gives feedback on whether you are really spinning the ball or not.

For more advanced players, I recommend they also do the ball spinning drill I wrote about above. It's a great way to really develop those grazing skills so you can both spin the heck out of the ball and control it. Advanced players should also experiment with smooth acceleration and grazing on their spin shots, and see how much they can make the ball spin.

When you can put great spin on the ball with your serve, apply the same principles to pushing and slow looping. Don't be afraid to throw in some slow, spinny loops, even if you normally loop pretty hard. Slow, spinny loops are extremely effective at the beginning/intermediate level, but many forget or never realize how effective they are at the advanced level if not overused. They not only are effective on their own as the opponent struggles to adjust to the slower speed and higher spin, but the contrast makes your other loops more effective.

Snow

Yep, it's snowing again here in Maryland. We're supposed to get 2-3 inches, though it shouldn't stick on the roads and sidewalks, which are too warm. For once, schools and government offices are open - usually a single snowflake closes everything down. This has been one crazy winter, with one snowfall after another.

Reverse Pendulum Serve of Achanta Sharath Kamal

Here's the video (36 sec), which shows it first in slow motion, then in super-slow motion. This serve, combined with a regular pendulum serve (so you can spin the ball both ways) is an incredible one-two punch.

2014 Youth Olympic Games: Coach/Leader Selection

Here's the info. The 2014 Youth Olympic Games will be held Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.

USATT Forum

With the demise of the about.com forum, USATT has set up their own forum.

No Hands Table Tennis?

Here's the video (6:47) of this unbelievable armless Egyptian star who plays with the racket in his mouth! Wow. Just wow. (Near the end he's even fishing and lobbing.) Interesting thought - how good would this player be against regular players, and how good would he be against a good player who went out of his way to go after the weaknesses of the "mouth" grip, such as serving super short, or with wide-angled breaking sidespin serves?

Waldner on David Hasselhoff Show

Here are two pictures of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner on the David Hasselhoff Show, in a posting by Waldner himself. Alas, the video is not yet available. (I searched on Youtube.)  

Shot of the Day

Here's the video - see the shot nine seconds in, and the opponent's response!

Top Ten Shots

Here's a Top Ten Shots video (6:19) from Mrtheportal Tabletennisvideo. Includes a "bonus" eleventh (the first one shown) of a nice rally ending with a crazy side-post ricochet shot and a pair of smiling girls, one of them a little bit exasperated.

Bobby Flay's Ping-Pong Throwdown

Here's the video (3:07). "Chef Bobby Flay has been challenged to a throwdown, but this time it’s not in a kitchen! He's used to taking challenges there on his new Food Network show, *Beat Bobby Flay*, but now he’s up against 12-year-old ping pong prodigy Estee Ackerman in a battle with rackets and a ball. Will Estee take it easy on Bobby?"

Extreme Ping Pong

Here's the video (3:11) - you really have to see the acrobatics they show in the "making of" this video! And here's the actual final video (3:52)!

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March 24, 2014

Tip of the Week

Isolating Techniques and Combinations.

Table Tennis Forums

As noted in my blog on Thursday, the long-time popular table tennis forum at about.com has closed. So what are your options for online table tennis discussions?

I used to be a regular on about.com and sometimes at other forums, but in recent years have cut down quite a bit. But if you're a diehard TT person who wants to discuss it online, what are your options? I'm not an expert on this, but here are a few. Feel free to comment on other ones. (I'm only referring to ones in English here. Feel free to comment about others.) I did some googling of table tennis forums, and found a number that no longer seem to be active or that never had many postings, and so I'm not listing them.

My guess, based on no scientific evidence other than a quick browsing and past experience there and on other forums, is that MyTableTennis.com forum is the most popular one. It's probably where I'll post occasionally when I feel the urge. Like all forums, there are some raging arguments going on there at all times.

Other large ones include the Table Tennis Daily forum, which is centered in the United Kingdom, the PingSkills forum (which focuses on coaching and technique, and the TableTennisDB (which focuses on equipment) forums. Another is the OOAK Forum, which is mostly a sanctuary for players with combination rackets and off-surfaces. (They actually set up an "About.com TT Refugees Section," but based on the comments there from regulars, most don't like the idea of a "divided forum" and prefer the "refugees" integrate into the regular forum.) And, of course, there is the forum here, TableTennisCoaching.com/forum, though that aspect of this site never took off.

What are the other popular online table tennis forums, in English or other languages? Please comment and let us know.

Best Point of the 2014 Asian Cup

Here's the video (29 sec) of the point at 6-6 in the seventh between Ma Long (near side) and Fan Zhendong. Ma went on to win the championships this past weekend. Here's an article about it from Table Tennista. And here's the entire match (10:51, with time between points removed).

International Coaching Enrichment Certification Program

Here info on this new program for coaches offered by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The Ability That Creates Disability

Here's an article by ICC coach Massimo Costantini about the technical differences between Chinese and European table tennis.

Michelle Obama Plays Ping-Pong in China - Ping- Pong Diplomacy 2?

Here's the article, pictures, and video. Page down to see three pictures of her playing table tennis, and then the video (1:54, with table tennis starting 74 sec in for about 15 sec).

World's Longest Rally Record Set

Here's the last 46 seconds of the 8 hours 40 minute and 10 second rally by peter and Dan Ives (father and son) staged yesterday as a charity to raise money for a Prostate Cancer UK Charity. The previous record was held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours 30 minutes and 6 seconds, so they only broke it by less than ten minutes.

Ping Pong Summer

Here's more news on the upcoming feature movie starring Susan Sarandon, Judah Friedlander and others. It premiered recently at the Sundance Film Festival. "This coming of age drama features two main characters who are vacationing and looking for ways to avoid boredom. Ping pong at a local venue called Fun Hub is the pursuit that saves them and soon brings them into contact with girls and the local bullies." As near as I can tell, it doesn't have a wide-screen release date yet.

Can Ping-Pong Help You Hire Better Employees?

Here's the article and video (48 sec). "Does the way a person approaches ping-pong correlate to the way they approach challenges in the workplace, and can the game be used as a predictive model?"

Pong Universe

Here's a table tennis page I just found that features lots of table tennis articles.

David vs. Goliath?

Here's the cartoon; I think Goliath's a penholder, but with hands that size I guess he doesn't have much choice.

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March 21, 2014

The Ping-Pong Apartments

Below is an essay I wrote that was published in USA Table Tennis Magazine in 1991. (Back then the USATT board of directors was called the Executive Committee, hence the "Mr. Ec.") Has our situation changed in the 23 years since? Before we get to the essay, let's look at the current situation.

The rise of full-time training centers all over the U.S. is a dramatic improvement, and growing leagues in NYC and the SF and LA areas in California are promising. But we still have a long way to go. We're not going to really fix our sport until the leaders of our sport actually focus on fixing our sport, i.e. developing the infrastructure as it is done overseas, and in other sports in the U.S. There's no systematic development of these full-time centers or professional coaches, i.e. recruitment and training on how to set up a full-time center or be a professional coach; entrepreneurs have to come forward on their own each time and either learn from others or make it up as they go along. There's no model of a regional league to streamline the process needed to set up a nationwide network of such leagues, as is done all over the world but not here.

When a new player walks into most clubs, he's usually thrown to the wolves, i.e. told to call winners against an established player who will kill him, and we rarely see that player again. What's needed are professional coaches we can send these new players to (adults and juniors) for instruction, and leagues for all levels so the new players can find other players their own level. This is how it's done overseas, and how it's done in successful sports all over the U.S., whether it's tennis, bowling, soccer, basketball, baseball/softball, and so on.

These problems can be fixed by calling on the membership for qualified volunteers to develop these aspects. Get our top league directors in a room and tell them they can't come out until they develop a prototype of a regional league that can grow throughout the country. Ask the coaching committee to focus on the recruitment and development of professional coaches. I already wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook; as I've told them already, I'll donate them at cost (about $2/each) if they'll actually use them in a serious way.

No, I'm not volunteering at this time to do these things for USATT anymore because I've been through this before, and it won't work without their strong support, which won't happen if they aren't equally motivated to do these things - but they have other priorities, and so the issues I bring up are barely afterthoughts. All you have to do is read the USATT minutes (see segment below) to see if developing the infrastructure is a serious priority. Over the years I've given a number of presentations to the USATT board on plans to develop our sport, to deaf ears. Maybe I just don't look good in a suit.

Beware of those who promise to focus on clubs, schools, leagues, coaching, etc., but don't have any specific plans to do so, or have anyone to actually implement any plans. Generic promises aren't promises at all. Beware of those who come up with small things instead of the big things needed. Small things are nice, but we've had over 80 years of small things in our sport, and it's why we're small.

Until we fix these problems, we'll continue to have around 8000 members while overseas countries measure their paid memberships in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. There's a well-traveled road to success if we'd only follow it.

The Ping Pong Apartments

Mr. Ec bought the Ping Pong apartments in 1933.

The first thing he did was to take a tour of the facilities. He found the rooms were unheated, the plumbing broken, and there was no air conditioning. The building was drab and unkept, and rats and cockroaches infested the building. Paint was chipping.

Mr. Ec did not have the money for renovations, and so he couldn't fix up the building. He spent 52 years lamenting what he would do if he only had more money.

In 1985, Mr. Ec. received a grant from the Olympic Committee to fix up the Ping Pong Apartments. Suddenly he had the money so desperately needed.

It was a great time for ping pong. According to a Gallup Poll, over 21 million Americans had expressed an interest in the Ping Pong Apartments. Ping Pong was now an Olympic Sport. Yet, for some reason, few wanted to stay at the Ping Pong Apartments, once they saw the condition of the building.

For some reason, the other Apartments always did better. The Football Apartments, the Basketball Apartments, the Baseball Apartments, the Tennis Apartments, even the Bowling Apartments - all of these buildings were full of happy tenants. And the Ping Pong Apartments in Asia and Europe were full. Mr. Ec was determined to do something about this.

He bought ads in newspapers and TV, advertising the Ping Pong Apartments. He sent agents to the other Apartments to do exhibitions, trying to get them to come to the Ping Pong Apartments. He went to the schools, urging kids to come to the Ping Pong Apartments. He sent literature out to everyone, telling them all the advantages of the Ping Pong Apartments. And all of these ideas were good.

But nobody would come to the Ping Pong Apartments.

The rooms are still unheated. The plumbing is still broken. There is no air conditioning. The building is drab and unkept, and cockroaches and rats still infest the building. The paint is still chipping.

Why won't people come to the Ping Pong Apartments?

Back to Coaching - Serve Practice!

Have you practiced your serves lately? Why not? There's nothing harder to coach against than a player with good serves, so please, Please, PLEASE, if you are going to play against anyone I coach, don't practice your serves. Here's a Tip from a few weeks ago: Practicing Serves the Productive Way.

Game Strategies

Here's an interesting article on tactics by Samson Dubina.

Four New Full-Time Table Tennis Clubs

I've added the follow four new ones to the growing list I maintain of full-time table tennis clubs, bringing the number to 71. Three of them are in California, making 23 for that state. This includes twelve in the San Francisco Bay area - here's a map of clubs in the San Francisco Bay area, including twelve full-time ones, courtesy of Bruce Liu. There are also twelve full-time ones in the New York City region. Maryland has four, plus a fifth just over the border in Virginia.

Seemiller Camp in Newport News, Virginia

Dan Seemiller Sr. and Jr. surprised us at MDTTC yesterday afternoon when they showed up unexpectedly. Turns out the two were driving in from Indiana (ten-hour drive) to join Rick Seemiller (Dan Sr.'s brother) to run a three-day camp in Newport News, VA, March 21-23, Fri-Sun. (Here's info on the clinic.) The two hit for a time as they waited for rush hour to end. 

New York Table Tennis League

The deadline to join the NYTTL is March 31, so sign your team up now! From their invitational email: "Some people said it was not possible have a club league. And we did it. Some people said nobody will play without awards. And we played for many years only for trophies. Other people said it was not possible to have a national final. Well, you know."

USATT Teleconference Minutes

Here are the minutes for the USATT Feb. 17 teleconference. Here are minutes of all USATT board meetings.

ITTF Legends Tour to Debut in May

Want to see Waldner, Persson, Appelgren, Gatien, Saive, and Jiang Jialiang compete again? Here's the ITTF Legends Tour page!

Table Tennis on 60 Minutes

A feature on Westchester TTC member Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, will be aired on Sunday, March 23, 2014. Morley Safer and a film crew from "60 Minutes" were at the club on February 19 to film Bob Mankoff and Will Shortz playing table tennis. Check your local listing for details.

Table Tennis on Rachel Ray Show

"Killerspin Kid," Estee Ackerman, the 2013 US Nationals Under 1800 Champion, will be on the Rachel Ray Show this Monday, March 24. The program airs on the ABC network.

Suge Knight Plays Ping Pong

Here's the story and video (12 min) from Table Tennis Nation of the "infamous" hip hop executive playing.

Attempt on World's Longest Rally

Here's the article. On March 23 (this Sunday), Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK Charity. The event will be live streamed if you want to watch two players pat the ball and forth for ten hours.

2014 PaddleYou Celebrity Ping Pong Madness

Who is the best celebrity table tennis player? The brackets are all set up; let the voting begin!

Chewbacca Plays, Yoda Umpires

Here's the picture - better let the Wookiee win! (Who is that supposed to be on the right?)

Great Ping Pong Balls of Fire

Watch Ethan Chua's fiery serve (26 sec)!

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March 20, 2014

Tricky Serves

Here's an interesting dynamic I've noticed over the years. Players who play the same players over and over at clubs, and only occasionally play at tournaments or at other clubs, rarely develop tricky serves that they can use when they do play in tournaments or against different players. Players who play lots of different players and compete in tournaments tend to develop tricky serves. Why is this?

It's all about feedback. If a player starts to develop tricky serves, his opponents will at first have trouble with them. But if he plays the same players all the time and rarely plays new ones, then the players he plays quickly get used to the tricky serves, and they stop being that effective. And so the feedback the player gets is that the serves aren't that effective, and he stops developing those serves and tries other ones. A player who regularly plays tournaments or other players gets more realistic feedback on the quality of those serves as his opponents aren't seeing them as regularly.

The same is true of other aspects of the game. For example, a player develops a nice backhand loop, his regular opponents might get used to it, and he'll stop using it as often - never realizing how much havoc the shot might create against players not used to it.

So if you want to really develop your game, seek out new players, either at your club, other clubs, or in tournaments, and see how they respond to your serves and other techniques. If your ultimate goal is to play well in tournaments (even if you only play in them occasionally), then you need this feedback to develop your game.

By the way, this strongly applies to me. When I used to play tournaments, most of my opponents had difficulty with my serves, especially some of my side-top serves that look like backspin. But in practice, most of the people I play are used to those serves, and I tend to serve more backspin and no-spin, which may set up my attack but rarely give me "free" points. If I went by what happened in practice, I'd be giving away a lot of free points in tournaments by not using those tricky side-top serves.

About.com Table Tennis Forum (RIP)

After something like fifteen years of operation, the about.com table tennis forum is closed. When you go there you get "Forum Closed" and "We are sorry, this forum is no longer in operation" notes. Nobody seems to know why, but presumably it was because there hasn't been a moderator for some time, and the powers that be (i.e. about.com) decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not a big forum poster (though I used to be), but I like to browse them and sometimes post things. I'll probably frequent the mytabletennis.com forum more often.

Learn to Play in the "Zone"

Here's the article by Samson Dubina. This is an important lesson I endlessly try to instill in students - let the subconscious take over when you play.

Expert in a Year

Here's the home page for Ben Larcombe's "Expert in a Year" challenge. He's trying to turn a beginning player into an expert in one year. Can he do it? They are eleven weeks in, with a weekly diary and lots of video.

Zhang Jike's Shoulder Injury

Here's the article. He had to withdraw from the Asia Cup. Fortunately, the injury is to his left shoulder (he's a righty), but this shows how important it is to use both sides of the body when playing - the left side pulls around just as much as the right side.

Table Tennis is Life

Here's the video (4:46).

Testing Timo Boll's Eyesight

Here's the article with a link to the video (8:02).

Planning Underway for Even Greater 2015 Cary Cup

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Cary Cup Final

Here's the video (39:03) of the final between Eugene Wang and Li Kewei this past weekend, with Li the chopper/looper defeating the top seeded Wang (who's won the last two Cary Cups and U.S. Opens) at 8,9,-7,12.

The Brain of a Table Tennis Player

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's video (59 sec) of an incredible exhibition point between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

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March 19, 2014

Successful Clubs Build Each Other Up

I've often blogged about the best thing happening in U.S. table tennis right now - the rise of the full-time training center. There were about ten in 2006; now there are 67 in my listing, with another one about to join the list once I get their website. (Email me if you know of any that I'm missing.) One of the huge results is the number and depth of our elite juniors, which are better than anything we've had in the past - and it's not even close.

However, one of the consistent criticisms of these training centers is that they hurt other clubs. After all, a part-time club can't compete with a full-time club, right? And a full-time club will be hurt if another club opens up nearby, right?

Actually, the answer to both of these questions is a resounding NO. Successful clubs build each other up. In fact, the best thing that can happen to a part-time club is if a full-time center opens nearby, and the best thing that can happen to a full-time club is if another full-time club opens up - perhaps not next door, but in the region.

Why is this? People worry too much about the competition for current players. This is similar to the arguments made so often in the past that there aren't enough players (read: current players) to sustain more than a few full-time clubs. What they didn't understand is that a successful club develops its own players. It only helps to have another club developing these players, i.e. increasing the market for your club.

Similarly, when a successful new club opens, it develops its own players. Sure, it might take a few current players away from the current club. But this is offset by the new ones it creates, some of whom will end up playing at the other club. Table tennis is not a zero-sum game, though many have a hard time getting out of that thinking.

What happens when more clubs open is they develop a table tennis community, with many players playing at multiple clubs. When a "rival" club opens, some of the players they develop will end up playing in your club, as well as in your leagues, tournaments, and coaching sessions. There's a synergy when multiple clubs all develop players and the table tennis community grows bigger and Bigger and BIGGER!!! All the clubs grow and prosper, except perhaps for really badly-run ones that make no effort to improve.

More clubs also forces clubs to improve to better compete to develop, keep, and attract players, leading to better clubs. This is better for everyone. 

Is this all theoretical claptrap? No, it's from actual experience. For example, the part-time Potomac TTC has been around since the 1980s. It was successful before the Maryland Table Tennis Center opened in 1992, about 20 minutes away. It's now even more successful as result of the many players developed by MDTTC that now play regularly at both clubs. (Many train at MDTTC and play matches at both clubs.) There are also full-time clubs opening up all over the San Francisco Bay Area (12 of them now) - but I don't know of any part-time ones closing down because of this, though a few have instead gone full-time. (I'm sure there are exceptions, but they are exceptions, not the rule.) And the result of all the new training centers in the Bay area is they now have a successful table tennis league, with players from both the full-time and part-time table tennis clubs competing. The same thing is happening in the LA, NY, NJ, and MD regions, and probably others.

How about full-time clubs opening up near each other? For many years MDTTC had the luxury of being the only full-time club in the region, and one of the few in the country. In recent years four others have popped up within a 30-minute drive: Washington TTC in Gaithersburg (about five minutes away), Club JOOLA in Rockville (20 minutes away), Howard County TTC in Ellicott City, and the Northern Virginia TTC in Chantilly. Have we lost any players to them? Not really. But we've gained from players from those centers who often come to our club to train and to compete in our leagues and tournaments. We've prospered from their players coming to our club, and they have prospered partly because of the table tennis community MDTTC built up over the years, and which they are now enlarging.

Don't believe it? MDTTC was a 5000-square foot facility during most of its history. It doubled in size to 10,000 square feet two years ago. It was done partly to keep the club competitive both among local clubs and with other large clubs in the rest of the country, but the larger local TT community helped make it possible. 

Sure, there's competition for the top players between clubs, but that's more for prestige than anything else. (And the more successful ones mostly develop these players on their own rather than rely on the current ones.) The clubs with the better coaches and facilities might get more of the elite players and juniors, but that's not the primary source of revenue for a club, which comes from the average player - and those numbers only go up when more clubs open up.

I'll finish with a famous quote: "A rising tide lifts all boats."

The Two Shoe Salesmen

Here's a great instructional story that was pointed out to me by Bruce Liu. There's no table tennis in it; it's about two shoe salesmen and their differing reactions to a country where nobody wears shoes.

How does this relate to USA table tennis? Relative to the rest of the world, few players play seriously here with our 8000 members, compared to the hundreds of thousands in European countries and millions in some Asian countries. One type of person says, "Nobody here plays table tennis," and thinks that means it's a bad market for table tennis. The other type of persons says, "Nobody here plays table tennis!" and realizes it's an untapped market and a "glorious opportunity."

Unfortunately, too many in our sport think like the first person, including many of the leaders. Many of them simply do not have experience in how table tennis can grow, and so (consciously or subconsciously) continue to support the status quo. You can tell which ones they are - they are the ones who do the little things for the sport, and proclaim it from the highest hills, while avoiding the big things - like growing the sport in this untapped market. They just don't see the glorious opportunity.

Want To Be the Voice of Table Tennis?

Here's the link to the new ITTF contest. "Do you love Table Tennis? Do you fancy yourself as a commentator? Would you like to travel to the biggest events on the planet? If the answers are YES, you might be the new Voice of Table Tennis that we are looking for! 1 lucky and talented winner will join us in Tokyo as a commentator for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships, happening 28 April to 5 May 2014! The winner will also join the ITTF Team as a commentator on the World Tour." Deadline to enter is April 1. (This is NOT an April Fool's Joke!)

Jack Wang Impressive at Cary Cup

Here's the article on the 13-year-old from New Jersey.

International Articles

Here's my periodic note about all the great daily international articles at Table Tennista and at the ITTF News page.

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are the pictures!

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March 18, 2014

Tip of the Week

Three Types of Receive Skills.

Cary Cup

It was a pretty grueling weekend, with lots of driving and coaching. Here's a short synopsis of the Cary Cup, from the perspective of someone who was too busy coaching to see any of the big matches. (I was there primarily to coach Derek Nie.) Here are the results. And here is the final write-up (which features Kewei Li and his upset of Eugene Wang in the final), which didn't come out in time for yesterday's blog (though I just added it).

WEDNESDAY: USATT Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York, arriving that morning. We had a nice pizza lunch. Then he spent the day reading and puttering about my townhouse as I coached at MDTTC much of the afternoon and night.

THURSDAY: We left very early that morning for the five-hour drive to Cary, NC. Other than a wrong turn that somehow had us going north on I-95 for ten minutes, all went well. Anyone who accuses Tim of intentionally driving with me in the front passenger seat hanging out over in the next lane, well, it's a figment of your imagination. I hope. But he likes to drive and I don't, so I let him do the driving while I navigated, even if my life did flash before my eyes a few times.

From 4-5PM I ran a Beginner's Clinic at the playing site with about 20 players. Mike Babuin, the tournament director and chair of the USATT Board of Directors, assisted. We covered the basics - grip and stance, forehand, backhand, and serve. The players ranged from about 6 to 60. Then Tim and I went to an Italian restaurant where I had a giant salad and he had some sort of fish.

FRIDAY: I was entered in the Hardbat Open, which started at 10AM. (It was the only event I entered, though I normally use sponge.) We used the old 38mm balls, with matches two out of three to 21, with two groups of eight, top two advancing. I play an all-out forehand attack with hardbat (with some backhand chopping), but at 54 and with various knee, back, and arm problems, I don't move as fast or play as well as I used to. In my group of eight players I went 5-2. Against Xin Peng, a former top Chinese player (2600+ at his peak, and seeded second here), a pips-out penholder, I won the first 23-21, and led the second 7-2. Then it was 10-all, and then 15-all, my serve. I lost four straight points and yelled out, "What just happened?" I ended up losing the last six points in a row, and fell way behind early in the third.

Against A.J. Carney, who has a 2372 hardbat rating and was seeded third, I also battled, but lost the first 21-17. I led much of the second, but he caught up, and led 19-20 match point. We had a nice point where I smashed three balls in a row as he countered from off the table. Then he chopped one, a bit high, the type of ball I'd smashed a million times before and almost never missed. Yep, I missed it, smashed it right into the net. I'd been rushing A.J. by hitting many balls on the rise, and I think I may have hit the ball before it even reached net height, alas. So I didn't advance to the Final Four. Jim Butler won easily, with Xin Peng second, Bin Hai Chui third, and A.J. fourth (after losing a close 21-18 in the third match to Chui).

I'd seen the draw for Saturday and saw who Derek Nie would be playing. So I surreptitiously strolled over and watched one of them, rated 2126, as he played a couple of matches. He had a somewhat unique serve, a good backhand block, and a pretty good forehand.

I coached Joshua Tran in several of his matches that afternoon. (He's another MDTTC junior, rated about 2100.) At 6:30 PM Derek arrived. He's 13 and rated 2301, so I can barely keep up with him at the table these days. We practiced for fifteen minutes, and then Jim Butler came by looking for someone to hit with, so I turned him over to Derek, and the two practice for half an hour. It was quite a contrast, as Derek is about 4'8", while Jim's 6'4". After Jim left I hit with Derek for another half hour, mostly having him serve and attack against push, and then serving to him and catching the returns so he could work on receive.

SATURDAY: Derek had eleven matches. First he had to play a round robin of four players to make it to the "A" Division. Two of the players were about 1550 and 1750, and he had no problem there. The other player was 2126. While Derek was almost 200 points higher, it was a rather important match since if he lost, he'd be in a division of players rated a lot lower, and Derek needed the experience of playing with players his level and higher. As noted above, I'd scouted out the 2126 player, and Derek easily won 3-0, playing very smart so the opponent couldn't get his game going. Derek did have a problem with the serve a few times early on, but quickly adjusted.

Things didn't go as well after that. I'm not going to go over it match by match, but suffice to say Derek lost a few close ones. (Why am I not writing more? That's between  Derek and I, and I don't want him to worry about my blogging about his matches.) He did have one nice win over a player who'll be adjusted to 2300+. From the tournament I jotted down three things Derek needs to really work on. We then left for the five-hour drive home, where we spent much of the time on brain teasers I read to him. He's gotten pretty good at them. 

SUNDAY: I arrived home about midnight, so technically it was about Sunday. I unpacked, checked email, and basically puttered about half the night, unable to sleep. I went to bed with a headache, and woke up with one, as noted in my short blog yesterday.

Famous Table Tennis Writer

Yesterday I challenged readers on who was this famous writer, six letters, with the "O" and "G" filled in:

_O_G_ _

Only one person correctly guessed the answer - Abolaji Ogunshola - and he emailed it to me. I'm a little surprised that even though we had several hundred readers, no one ventured to comment the answer. Some of you must have noticed that my name, "HODGES," fits in there - but I also wrote, "It's not who you think - I think!" It was while driving down to the Cary Cup with USATT Hall of Famer Tim Boggan that I realized that both our names fit the above - and so the answer is BOGGAN! He is the only person who edited USATT Magazine longer than me, 19 years to my 12, and the only one with more than my 1300+ published articles on table tennis - but then he's had more time at age 83! (But if you want to put my name in there, that's okay too.)

2014 North American Tour

Here's the current North American Tour listing, with 21 tournaments now a part of it.

USA World Team

Here's the final roster and pictures. The top four men and women made the team at the recent USA Trials. The "coaches picks" were Kanak Jha and Angela Guan. The World Championships are in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

  • Men: Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, Jim Butler, Kanak Jha. Coach: Stefan Feth
  • Women: Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu, Angela Guan. Coach: Doru Gheorghe

Stellan Bengtsson Documentary

Here's the video (5:14). He's both the 1971 World Men's Singles Champion and one of the most respected coaches in the world - and he lives in San Diego.

Can Ma Long Claim a Grand Slam?

Here's the article.

Tannehill Exhibition

Here's an article about USATT Hall of Famer John Tannehill doing an exhibition in Syracuse, Ohio, with his son Soren.

The Kuka Robot vs. Timo Boll

Here's an article on it, Two Terrible Messages The KUKA vs Timo Boll Video Sends To The World About Table Tennis. (I blogged about this on March 11.)

Double Turtle-Neck Table Tennis Doubles and Jimmy Fallon

Here's the video (2:40) of Jimmy Fallon and others playing this new sport, where two players share a single over-sized sweater and try to play table tennis.

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March 17, 2014

Maryland weather is at it again - another seven inches of snow here in Germantown. Schools and Federal Government are closed. I'm guessing we've set some records this winter for total snow accumulation and for most separate snowfalls of six inches or more. (Now I have to decide whether to cancel the Beginning/Intermediate class I teach on Mondays, 6:30-8:00 PM.)

Meanwhile, I've had a continuous headache since I returned from the Cary Cup Open this weekend - went to bed with one last night, and woke up with it this morning. So I'm going to do the unforgiveable and take the day off and go back to bed, and postpone the blog and Tip of the Week until tomorrow. I was going to blog about the Cary Cup, but I really didn't see much of it since I was busy coaching. The results are linked from the Cary Cup home page. More on it tomorrow. Below are links to the regular features on the tournament by Barbara Wei.

And now I'll leave you with a tantalizing quiz question: Who is this famous table tennis writer? Six letters, with the "O" and "G" filled in. (It's not who you think - I think! First one who comments with "correct" answer wins.)
 _O_G_ _

March 12, 2014

Cary Cup and No Blog on Thursday and Friday

I'm leaving for the Cary Cup very early Thursday morning, so no blog on Thursday and Friday. (See articles below on Cary Cup.)

As we've done the past four years in a row, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York this morning, arriving around 9:30AM. (He's already here.) He'll spend the day puttering about my house while I work on my new TT book and then go MDTTC for our afterschool program and a few hours of coaching (2:30-7:30PM, plus a 30-minute online writer's meeting I'm attending with my laptop at the club from 7:30-8:00PM). Tim wants to leave for Cary Cup around 4AM Thursday; he keeps strange hours, going to bed around 7PM and getting up at 3AM. We'll compromise and leave around 6 or 7 AM for the 4.5 hour ride. Then I run a beginner's clinic in Cary from 4-5 PM - last year we had about 30 players.

I'm only playing in the hardbat event, which is 10AM-3PM on Friday. I won it three years in a row, 2009-2011, finished third in 2012, and lost in the final in 2013. This year the draw is crazy strong, with Jim & Scott Butler (legends!), Xeng Pong (2364 pips-out penholder), 2293 A.J. Carney (experienced lefty hardbat player), and 2248 pips-out penholder Bin Hai Chu, who's won it the last two years (but I beat him in the 2011 final). But I'm a two-time National/U.S. Open Hardbat Champion (okay, it was over 20 years ago), 4-time U.S. Over 40 Hardbat Champion, and 13-times U.S. Hardbat Doubles Champion. (But I'm normally a sponge player.) I got about ten minutes practice with a hardbat on Sunday; that's the only hardbat play I've had since the U.S. Open last July. But it's like a bicycle - once you learn it, you never forget. Your feet just get slower and slower….

Once I'm done with hardbat I'll be coaching 13-year-old 2301-rated Derek Nie the rest of the way. There's going to be a lot of matches, so I'm stocked up on Trail Mix to energize my coaching.

Saturation and Exaggeration Training

Recently some players have been using my Saturation Training Tip of the Week from last September. I also have one on Changing Bad Technique, which is closely related. And I gave examples of saturation training in this blog entry. One of the examples there was how I developed my steady backhand with some saturation training with Dave Sakai, who was doing the same with his forehand attack.

There's actually a better example of my own saturation training back when I was 20 years old. I was a late starter at age 16, and was only rated 2002 when I went to the Zoran Kosanovic two-week camp up in Canada in the summer of 2000. Now Zoran was a somewhat controversial coach as he tended to push one way for everybody, and stressed physical training at levels never dreamed of in the U.S.  (We started each day with a one-hour run, and when he decided we hadn't pushed ourselves hard enough on the first day, we did a second one-hour run.) What follows is an example of both saturation training, and exaggeration training, where you take something that you don't do properly, and exaggerate it in the other extreme, and end up doing it somewhere in the middle, which is what you want.

On the first day he noticed that when I stepped around my backhand corner to do a forehand, I didn't really rotate clockwise much, and so was still pretty much facing my opponent. This meant that I could only attack effectively down the line. I'd been struggling with this for quite some time; when I tried to go crosscourt (to a righty's backhand), it would be soft and erratic as I wasn't positioned for the shot. So the very first morning, while I was hitting with 12-year-old future U.S. team member Scott Butler, he had me do a drill where I hit forehands from my backhand side to Scott's backhand. But with a twist - he made me exaggerate the foot position. I'd been stepping around so my left foot was way off to the left. Now he made me play with my body rotated clockwise in an exaggerated fashion so my left foot was to the right of my right foot, with my back almost to Scott. He put a cinder block next to my left foot to keep it from moving to the left. I had to peek over my left shoulder to see the incoming ball as I hit each shot. We did this twice a day for 15 minutes for fourteen straight days. By the end of that time I had broken my bad habit and now played forehands from my backhand side in the proper position, as I do to this day.

Let me stress one more thing about saturation training. If you are trying to fix poor technique that has been ingrained into you, your subconscious will fight you at first. So start with lots of shadow practice and simple drills where you can ingrain the proper habits. When drilling, you might exaggerate the proper technique, as in the example above. It'll take time, but if you do this long enough, whether it's every day for fourteen straight days or twice a week for three months (with lots of shadow practice on other day!), it'll pay off.

Cary Cup

Here are two more articles by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Cary Cup this weekend in Cary, NC. (The second article mentions Chen Ruichao, the new lefty practice partner/coach at MDTTC, who is seeded at 2600. We don't know for sure yet, but we have suspicions that might be a bit low for him, but we'll see this weekend.) I'm also including the first article from yesterday.

Crystal Wang

Here's the press release I sent out on Crystal Wang making the USA Women's Team at age twelve last weekend. It went out Monday morning.

China Eyes on the Japanese Team in the World Championships

Here's the article.

The Ping Pong Soundtrack

Here's the article, with links to the chosen soundtracks. (I'm not a music expert, so I'll let others judge this.)

Ping Pong Comic Strip

Here's a comic strip take-off on King Kong from 1953, except here the giant gorilla is called Ping Pong! Sorry, no actual table tennis.

What's the Difference Between Ping Pong and Table Tennis?

Here are 27 responses!

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