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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

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

His new book, Table Tennis Tips, is also out - All 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, in one volume, in logical progression!!!

February 11, 2015

Contenders for Greatest Of All Time (Men)

There have always been debates about who is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). Most end up with a ranking. But a ranking for GOAT is not the same thing as listing the actual contenders. There are players who are arguably among the best of all time, perhaps even top five, who don't really have a good argument for being the actual GOAT. And there are others who might have an argument for being the GOAT who might not make the top five or even top ten list for others.

Also note that "Greatest" is not the same as "Best." Every generation is usually better than the previous one (better techniques, training methods, and equipment), and any modern sponge champion would easily defeat the hardbat champions of the past, as well as the early sponge players. But "Greatest" is a relative term, and so we are looking at how they did relative to their peers. I do take into consideration how strong the competition was. For example, in the very early days of table tennis there simply were not many serious players, and so the level was not very high, and I don't see them as being as "Great" as a more modern player where there are many thousands of players training full-time all over the world. You have to find a balance here, though ultimately it's a judgment call.

So here is my listing for those who at least have a solid argument as being the GOAT. I'm not going to rank them; my goal is to list all those who are the real contenders, and let others then choose among them and perhaps rank them. For today I'm going to only cover the men; I'll likely do women later. For reference, here are listings for World Champions (singles and doubles), World Champions (teams), Olympic Champions, and World Cup Champions. Note that table tennis didn't get into the Olympics until 1988, and the first World Cup was in 1980, so players before those years didn't have those opportunities. On the other hand, the World Championships were held annually until 1957, but has been bi-annual since, so modern players have only half as many opportunities to win the Worlds.

HARDBAT ERA

From this period there are two possible contenders. Viktor Barna (Hungarian and then emigrated to England) won Men's Singles at the Worlds five times, including four in a row (1932-35, as well as 1930). He also was 8-time World Men's Doubles Champion (with three different partners), 2-time World Mixed Doubles Champion, and 7-time World Men's Team Champion. That's 22 titles at the Worlds, the most ever. He is an obvious choice.

Richard Bergmann of Austria (and later England) is the other possible contender from the hardbat era. At first glance, his credentials don't match up against Barna's. He won Men's Singles at the Worlds "only" four times (1937, 1939, 1948, 1950), and only three other titles - Men's Doubles only once (with Barna) and Men's Teams twice. However, his career was disrupted twice, first by World War II (no World Championships between 1939 and 1947, what were probably his peak years), and then in 1952 with the coming up sponge. He also is regarded as the best defensive player from the hardbat era. However, to be the GOAT you have to have the credentials, and while he might have been "cheated" out of some, he ended up with only seven titles at the Worlds to Barna's 22, and one less World Men's Singles Title.

Bohumil Vana of Czechoslovakia won Men's Singles twice, in 1938 and 1947, with World War II sandwiched in between. He won Men's Doubles and Mixed Doubles three times each, and Men's Teams five times, a total of 13 titles. Like Bergmann, his best years were lost to World War II. But also like Bergmann, his credentials just don't match up to Barna's. Another possible contender is Johnny Leach of England, who won Men's Singles twice (1949 and 1951), Men's Teams once (1953), and no doubles titles. Good, but not comparable to Barna.  

So with great misgiving I remove Bergmann, Vana, and Leach from the list of possible contenders of GOAT, leaving Barna as clearly the GOATFTHBE - Greatest Of All Time From The Hard Bat Era.

EARLY SPONGE ERA

This would be from 1952 (when Hiroji Satoh of Japan introduces sponge) to the coming of the looping era, which roughly started with Hasegawa in 1967. Some would argue Satoh's impact on the game with his sponge racket makes him a contender, but he only won one title at the Worlds, Men's Singles in 1952. So he's not a GOAT contender. But there are three possible contenders.

Ichiro Ogimura of Japan won Men's Singles twice (1954 and 1956), and also won Men's and Mixed Doubles twice each, and Men's Teams six times. However, his biggest impact on the game was his development of stroking techniques and advanced training. He was the primary reason for Japan's rise to power in the 1950s, and indirectly to China's, whose coaches and players studied films of him, including instructional ones he created. He spent much of his later life teaching and popularizing the game, and is arguably the most influential player ever.

Ogimura's Teammate, Toshiaki Tanaka, also won the Worlds Twice (1955 and 1957), Men's Teams five times, but no doubles titles. He's an all-time great, but doesn't match up with Ogimura.

Zhuang Zedong of China was the dominant player in the early 1960s, winning Men's Singles three straight times (1961, 1963, 1965), Men's Teams four times, but only one doubles title, Men's Doubles in 1965. For many years he was considered by many the GOAT. However, many Chinese players from that era have since said that his opponent in all three Men's Singles Finals, Li Furong, was ordered to dump each time. This wasn't Zhuang's fault, but does somewhat tarnish these titles. Zhuang might have won more titles but the Chinese Cultural Revolution interrupted, and China did not take part in the 1967 and 1969 World Championships, and in the 1971 Worlds Zhuang defaulted rather than play against a Cambodian player in the early rounds who Zhuang said (likely under pressure from the Chinese government), that he refused to play against "…players who represent governments [that are] enemies of the Cambodian and the Vietnamese people," and then explaining that the squads representing those countries were "puppets of US imperialism." (From "Ping-Pong Diplomacy," by Nicholas Griffin, page 187).

So I'll put down Ogimura and Zhuang as the two contenders for the GOAT from the Early Sponge Era.

MIDDLE SPONGE ERA

I'll put this down as from 1967 to 1987, roughly the start of the looping era and ending when the European two-winged looping style (later adopted by China) would begin to completely dominate the game, as well as the sport's debut at the Olympics. Ironically, though looping was introduced here, many of the titles during this time were won by pips-out penholders - but their games were developed around defeating the looping game. From 1967 to 1979 there were seven Worlds, and seven different players won Men's Singles, and none would win a second.

Guo Yuehua of China won Men's Singles two times in a row (1981 and 1983), as well as making the finals the two previous Worlds, so he was in the final four times in a row (1977-1983). He also won Men's Doubles in 1983, and Men's Teams three times. He won the World Cup in 1980 and 1982. For many years when players argued who was the GOAT, he and Zhuang were the two modern (at the time) contenders. Like Zhuang, this is partly tarnished by the rumors of dumping. Ironically, many believe that Guo was ordered to dump to the Japanese in the Finals in 1977 and 1979 (since the Chinese in those days were focused on winning the Teams), while his opponent and teammate in the 1981 and 1983 finals (Cai Zhenhua) was ordered to dump to him. But there's no question Guo is a contender for GOAT.

Another possible is Jiang Jialiang of China, who won Men's Singles twice (1985 and 1987), and Men's Teams three times. He also won the World Cup in 1984. He's an all-time great, but doesn't quite match up to Guo.

So from the Middle Sponge Era there is one contender: Guo Yuehua.

MODERN SPONGE ERA

This is from 1988 to the present (2015). Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden is the first obvious choice. He won Men's Singles twice (1989 and 1997, winning the latter without losing a game, the only person in history to do that), as well as making the Final two other times (1987 and 1991), and the semifinals two other times. He never won a doubles title at the Worlds, but he led Sweden to victory in Men's Teams four times, showing that the Europeans could compete with the Chinese, and forcing the Chinese mostly disregard their traditional close-to-table pips-out playing styles and conventional penhold game and copy the European two-winged inverted looping game. Waldner also won the World Cup in 1990. He won Men's Singles Gold at the Olympics in 1992 and the Silver in 2000. In most online discussions (in English), he is considered by most the GOAT, though that might be somewhat unfair as the discussions are dominated by non-Chinese, and the Chinese contenders often split their vote. Also, players from the past (such as Barna) are often forgotten in these discussions.

Two other players in the modern era won Men's Singles at the Worlds at least twice. Wang Liqin of China won three times (2001, 2005, 2007), won Men's Doubles and Mixed Doubles twice each, and won Men's Teams four times (according to Wikipedia, though I believe he has been part of the team that has won it seven straight times since 2001). He didn't win singles at the Olympics, getting the Bronze in 2004 and 2008, though he won gold medals for Men's Doubles in 2000 and Men's Teams in 2008. He never won the World Cup, though he was in the final once and won the bronze four times. His performance at the Worlds makes him a contender for the GOAT, but his performance at the Olympics and World Cup weakens his record. His forehand loop was often called the shot that dominated a decade, and is considered by many the greatest forehand of all time. He dominated the world rankings for most of 2001-2007 with a #1 ranking 52 different months, the most since 2001 - and he was #1 at the start of 2001, so likely had more months as #1.

The other possible modern contender is Zhang Jike of China, who has won Men's Singles twice (2011 and 2013). He also won Men's Teams three times, but no doubles titles (though he was in the Mixed Doubles final once, and Men's Doubles semifinals twice). He won the Gold Medal for Men's Singles and Teams at the 2012 Olympics. He won the World Cup in 2011 and 2014, as well as making the final in 2010. However, while he's won a lot of titles in the few years he's competed, it's still too early for him to judge. Despite all these titles, he's only been ranked #1 in the world for seven months of his career, all back in 2012, because he doesn't do very well in events such as the ITTF World Tour. If he were to retire right now, he'd be an all-time great, but he doesn't quite match up with Waldner and Wang Liqin. But he's really, really close - one more big title and he's in. 

There are other players from the Modern Era who would ranked very high in all-time listings, in particular Jorgen Persson of Sweden (1991 Men's Singles Champion, 1989 Finalist, 4-time World Team Champion, 1991 World Cup Champion); Kong Linghui of China (1995 Men's Singles Champion, 3-time Men's Doubles Champion, 4-time Team Champion, 2000 Olympic Men's Singles Gold Medalist and Men's Doubles Silver Medalist, 1996 Olympic Men's Doubles Gold Medalist, 1995 World Cup Champion and 1997 and 2002 Finalist); and Liu Guoliang of China (1999 World Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Men's Doubles Champion, one-time Mixed Doubles Champion, 3-time World Team Champion, 1996 Olympic Men's Singles and Doubles Gold Medalist, 2000 Olympic Men's Singles Bronze Medalist and Men's Doubles Silver Medalist, and 1996 World Cup Champion). It's difficult to put them aside, but they are marginally behind Waldner and Wang Liqin. Leaving out Kong and Liu as contenders for GOAT were two of the toughest decisions here - but while both are arguably near the very top, I don't think either is arguably the GOAT.

So from the Modern Sponge Era there are two contenders: Jan-Ove Waldner and Wang Liqin. 

And so we are left with six contenders for the Greatest of All Time - not necessarily the six greatest of all time, but the six that, in my opinion, have an argument for being the Greatest Of All Time. Take your pick. 

  • Viktor Barna
  • Ichiro Ogimura
  • Zhuang Zedong
  • Guo Yuehua
  • Jan-Ove Waldner
  • Wang Liqin

North American Grand Final - Final

Here's the video (19:58, with time between points removed except when there's commentating, and some slow motion replay) between Eugene Wang and Bob Chen, with Jim Butler commentating. There's a lot to learn by watching this - study how Eugene controls the points, and the great attacking strokes of Bob Chen.

Ask the Coach

Episode #74 (22:35) - Importance of Backhands

  • Yesterday's #PQOTD  - 1:28: Has the backhand become more important over the last 10 years?
  • Question 1 - 3:38: How does Ma Long get so much power from his backhand? Abdul
  • Question 2 - 4:44: How do you do the fastest legal serve? Abdul
  • #PQOTD  - 6:28: Where will Portugal be ranked at the end of 2015? 1 CHINA 2 GERMANY 3 JAPAN 4 KOREA REPUBLIC 5 PORTUGAL 6 CHINESE TAIPEI 7 HONG KONG 8 AUSTRIA 9 FRANCE 10 SWEDEN
  • Question 3 - 7:20: What's up PingSkills! My strokes improves very much every time I practise now :) i played with the tall guy yesterday and he won, he beat me easily. But I did win 5 points against him, he won 21- 5. I'm Proud :)))))) Just so you know ;)
  • Question 4 - 8:03: Recently I watched a live match. Do professional players really play better when they are cheered for? I doubt it... Several times it looked to me like Timo was standing at the table waiting for the spectators to calm down before he made his serve. Thomas
  • Question 5 - 12:43: If I practise a topspin everyone says that I should make the stroke relaxed. But when I relax and make the loop freely, it ends in the net or I miss the ball. Do you have any idea where is the mistake? DK
  • Question 6 - 15:45: I find that when I try to smash high returns from my opponent I frequently badly hit those with heavy backspin.  I'm ready for hitting a winner, and instead it dives into the net.  I feel suckered. What should I do if I see that type of shot? Richard
  • Question 7 - 18:18: Who is the better one out of Alois and Jeff? Abdul
  • Question 8 - 18:35: Do you think Jan Ove Waldner would play one more match before he retires? Brock
  • Question 9 - 19:08: I felt that my backhand push became spinnier and more consistent after I employed my backhand serve more and more in my game. Is it just my feeling or is it true that player can improve his/her backhand push through practicing backhand serve? Erriza
  • Question 10 - 21:35: How old were you guys when you first compete in a tournament? Brock

Waldner - Persson Point

Here's video (22 sec) of a rally ending with a trademark Persson backhand smash.

USA Table Tennis and PepPod to Partner to Power Pong in the U.S.

Here's the USATT article.

Theory into Practice: Coaches Supervise Ecuador Para Training Camp

Here's the ITTF article. Here's a related ITTF article, Idyllic Horizon but Dawn Breaks with New Hopes for Bermuda.

"Table Tennis Has No Suspense"

Here's the article from TableTennista where Ma Lin says this about Chinese domination.

Killerspin Paradise

Here's the article about a luxury table tennis resort on the Italian island Sardinia.

The Perfect Match: Kit and Marisol - a Ping Pong Couple

Here's the article.

Forrest Gump #16 in Movie Characters with Olympic Potential

Here's the list! But some of these don't make sense. How can Forrest be behind Lincoln Hawk (#13, played by Sylvester Stallone), an arm wrestler, which isn't even an Olympic sport? Or Lamar Latrell's illegal javelin (#12)? And don't get me started on #8, Thornton Melon's diving. I'll accept Legolas and his archery, though that should be #1.

Ping Pong Ball Extinguisher Trick Shot

Here's the video (48 sec, including slow motion replay and different angles) of a player putting out a candle.

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February 10, 2015

Tip of the Week

Pulling Off Big Upsets.

North American Grand Tour Final

I spent the weekend watching and coaching at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in New York, where 16 players from around North American gathered to battle for $10,150. (1st $3500; 2nd $1750; 3-4: $850; 5-8: $400; 9-16: $200.) Here's the USATT article by Bill McGimpsey and Ben Nisbet, featuring Eugene Wang (rated 2799), who (as most predicted) won the final in a 4-3 battle over Bob Chen (2730). Here's the USATT page for this five-star event, with results and video. Here are photos from Warren Rosenberg Photography and from JOOLA. Here's the event program booklet.

The North American Tour was started in 2013 by Bruce Liu, and has grown to 25 tournaments from coast to coast. Players earn points based on their results, and the top 16 were invited to the final. Two players couldn't attend, and so two promising players were invited in their place (Nathan Hsu and Crystal Wang). The stated goal of the Tour is to "raise the level of table tennis in the United States by encouraging the best American players to compete in tournaments more often and by attracting top foreign players to the U.S. for Americans to compete against."

I thought the tournament was well run, with great playing conditions. The only down side was the lack of spectators, with about 140 for the Final (I did a very quick, rough count), which included the players and officials. Great thanks goes out to the ones who put this together: Organizers Bruce Liu and Will Shortz; Referee Roman Tinyszin and umpires Igor Knelev, Leon Libin, and Asif ud-Doula; Directors Robert Roberts and Rawle Alleyne; Operations Director Neville Roberts; Communications Director Gail Kendall; Publicity Directors Irene Silbert and Richard Finn; Program Book by Bharati Bhalla; Banners and T-Shirts by Wayne Wolf of Blue Cup Design; Photographer Warren Rosenberg; Live Streaming Video by David Del Vecchio; Commentators Bill McGimpsey, Steve Burka, Ben Nisbet, Wally Green, and Jim Butler; and the many from the Westchester Club and others who helped out, and with apologies to any missed. (I'll add them as I get them.) 

Things started off on Friday night with a party at the playing hall. After dinner was served (your choice of deli sandwiches, baked chicken, or chili), a "handicap" tournament was held, where spectators were paired against Tour players, with the latter handicapped in various ways - balancing a racket on their head, using a pan as a racket, using a mini-racket, having to keep one hand on the table, or wearing a mask that covered one eye. The audience would then vote on how many points one would have to spot the other. The last match was me versus the randomly selected Crystal Wang, which was somewhat ironic since I'd be coaching her in the tournament. I proposed that rather than her being handicapped, I'd use a clipboard as a racket, but the audience would decide how many points she'd spot me. Alas, they decided to make things hard for me, and had us play even. I'm pretty good with a clipboard, but Crystal's rated about 2450, and she eked out an 11-8 win.

I spent much of my time watching the three players from my club, MDTTC - Ruichao "Alex" Chen, Nathan Hsu, and Crystal Wang. Alex coached Nathan's matches; Nathan's mom (Wen Hsu) coached Alex's matches; and I coached Crystal. Alex made the quarterfinals before going down to Eugene Wang. Nathan and Crystal didn't make the Final Eight, but each pulled off a great win in the four-person round robins. Nathan upset Rui Wang (2637), at -7,9,9,5, and gave Jishan Liang a very tough 10,9,9, match. Crystal upset Zhao Zi Rui (2661), at -5,9,-4,12,6. In game four she was down 5-9, and then had to fight off I think four match points before winning. By rating these were the only two upsets (by rating) in the 31 matches in the tournament (24 preliminary matches and seven matches in the main draw). See article on Crystal below.

There were some interesting contrasts in styles of play. Xiang Jing Zhang appeared to have some of the trickiest serves, where it was often difficult to pick up his contact as his racket changed directions very quickly as it approached the ball, with various serving motions. Yet it was Eugene Wang who seemed best able to control points with his serves, though much of that might be from his overall great ball control. He and Jim Butler were the two best "control" players, able to get almost everything back and unafraid to rally, while each had a big putaway shot they'd use whenever possible - Eugene's forehand loop kill and Jim's backhand smash. Both used their serve and receive to effectively control play. Others were simply relentless with their two-winged attacks, such as Bob Chen and Xiang Jing Zhang. The latter often looked like a tennis player as he raced about attacking from both wins. Alex had the most relentless all-out third-ball attack off his serves, but when he couldn't win there often ran into trouble. Yonghui Liang, a 2691-rated lefty and looking about 5'4", also had a relentless attack, but also showed many great lobbing points. Kai Zhang probably hit more backhand loop kills than anyone.

I believe players lose more points against Eugene from pressing too much than they do from his actually putting the ball away. Relative to his level and to many of the other players there, his backhand isn't a penetrating shot, and he doesn't force the forehand from the backhand side as often as others. And yet many players seemed to play over-aggressive, allowing Eugene to maneuver them around and force mistakes, rather than play more steady by pinning him down on the backhand and pick their shots. Of course, it's easier to say this than to execute it!

Some interesting notes:

  • One of the top seeds drank Cokes between games. Another was seen smoking outside. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!
  • Before his quarterfinal match with Eugene Wang, Ruichao tore the sponge on his racket. For that match he had to borrow one from Jishan Liang, who uses a different racket and sponge. However, Eugene was just too good, and it probably didn't make a difference in the result, though the scores might have been closer.
  • Of the 16 players, five were USA citizens, who got great training and experience playing against the foreign stars, all of whom now live and compete in North America. (They were Jim Butler, Jack Wang, Gal Alguetti, Nathan Hsu, and Crystal Wang.)
  • While watching matches simultaneously live and on the video screens used by the commentators, I verified something many have said many times. The play on the screen looked significantly slower than the live play, even though they were showing the same thing. It's likely due to the size of the screens, but it really stands out when you can see both at the same time, side by side.
  • I was asked to commentate, but was too busy watching matches, and if I commentated, I'd have to focus on just one table - which would often mean not watching the players from my club. Or perhaps I just chickened out.
  • During the final between Eugene Wang and Bob Chen, whoever started on the near side of the table (closest to front door and control desk) won the first six games, with Eugene winning the last game where they changed sides halfway through.
  • Several times the new JOOLA 40+ plastic balls broke while in play. The rule on this is that play may be interrupted (i.e. a let), "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." Referee Roman said that this meant that anytime the ball broke while in play the rally is a let. I've actually seen this interpreted differently, where referees and umpires have said that if the ball breaks, say, while a player is making an unreturnable smash, it's not a let because the ball's breaking didn't affect the outcome of the rally. However, that's a tough judgment call, as an opponent could claim he'd make an acrobatic return of some sort. So I'll accept Roman's interpretation, which I believe is the standard one.
  • Another issue that almost came up is when Nathan returned a ball around the net so that the ball basically rolled on the other side, and the opponent scooped it off the table and almost returned it. The ruling, according to Roman, is that even if the ball appears to be rolling on the table, it's actually bouncing with at least microscopic bounces, and so the point is over if it appears to be rolling on the table. In theory, if a ball truly rolls on the table, then it doesn't bounce, and so theoretically the player could wait until it rolls off the table and then return it - or as Nathan pointed out, it might even roll into the net and stop, and the rally would "continue" forever. But alas, that's not the ruling.

Once again I verified the fact that watching and coaching are far more tiring than playing. At least, that's how it appears to this very tired spectating coach!

Learning Good Mechanics: Modern Topspin Strokes

Here's the new coaching article from Han Xiao. It includes links to videos of Jun Mizutani, Timo Boll, Adrien Mattenet, and Marcos Freitas, as well as an historical one of Istvan Jonyer and Gabor Gergeley showing strokes in the past.

mini-steps for HUGE IMPROVEMENT

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina (with a link to a short video on footwork).

Training Secrets Revealed

Here's a Listing of Drills from PingSkills.

Nutrition for Table Tennis

Here's the article by Dr. Chandra Madhosingh

Ping Pong for Fighters Review

Here's the article, which is actually a transcribed discussion between former USA Men's Singles Champion Michael Landers and the author, Tahl Leibovitz.

Ask the Coach

Episode #73 (18:26) - How Do You Learn?

  • Previous #PQOTD  - 1:00: How do you learn best? 1. Watching, 2. Hearing about it, 3. Doing and feeling or by 4. Getting lots of facts and figures.
  • #PQOTD  - 4:02: Has Backhand become more important over the last 10 years?
  • Question 1 - 4:38: Can you give me tips how to join England team? Abdul
  • Question 2 - 7:23: Hey PingSkills! I had a competition for 1 hour ago but I couldn't compete because I have bad knees. A doctor has also looked at my knees. But how can I strengthen my knee as it hurts? Can I stretch it out or what else can I do? Please help me :) Brock
  • Question 3 - 9:00: While my FH topspins, BH and footwork improved quite a bit I still struggle with consistent, powerful counter hitting after moving from BH to FH side. My coach insists on this stroke as a follow up after a pivot FH topspin or BH topspin. Matthias
  • Question 4 - 10:56: I was wondering if it's a good method to use 2 bats, 1 for training (slower bat) and the other (faster bat) for spare time? Because I'm a very offensive player. Benjamin
  • Question 5 - 12:31: Do you think that it is good to have a motivation in order to win? Everyone is continuously telling me that I have to be motivated and believe in myself on order to be good. But they also constantly condemning my defensive style. DK
  • Question 6 - 14:31: When someone sidespins the ball, I must move my bat to the side but I do that but it just goes over the table, what am i doing wrong? Brock
  • Question 7 - 15:31: I have a problem with returning no spin serves with my long pips backhand. I can do anything I want but the ball is always high and the opponent just smashes it. I am also trying to twiddle, but the result is always the same. Do you have any advice? DK

Rising Table Tennis Star Crystal Wang Earns Spotlight at Grand Final

Here's the USATT article. (I'm quoted several times.)

2015 World Cadet Program Qualification Process (Hopes Program)

Here's info.

What Are the Benefits of Playing Table Tennis to Lose Weight?

Here's the article.

LAUSD and Pongstarz Hit Dodger Stadium

Here's the USATT article.

11 Questions with USATT Member Mike Sturtevant

Here's the USATT interview.

2014 USA Nationals Highlights Video - Part 1

Here's the video (11:30) by Jimmy Butler.

Rules of Table Tennis - Match Set Styles

Here's the video (2:35) where Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis goes over the basic rules.

New Sandpaper Rankings

Here they are! USA Men's Singles Champion (sponge) Jim Butler has taken over the #1 spot here as well. The website has lots of other sandpaper info.

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - January 2015

Here's the video (12:14).

Dan Seemiller's Still Got It!

Here's video (6 sec) of him looping forehands as his son (Dan Jr.) feeds multiball.

How a Child Reflects on a Parent

Here's a good take on this.

Making USATT Decisions

Often USATT people are forced to choose the best option from multiple non-perfect choices. It's often a can't-win situation, as demonstrated by this (non-TT) cartoon!

Tricks on Sticky Sponge

Here's the video (11 sec) as Poom Yanapong demonstrates.

Kiddie Fight

Here's the video (10 sec) - warning, bad language, high-pitched screams, and threat of extreme violence.

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February 9, 2015

Exhausting Weekend

Ever have one of those weekends where you leave early Friday morning for the five-hour drive to the Grand Tour Final in New York, spend that night and the weekend watching spectacular table tennis matches, get back home very late Sunday night, and then stay up until 4AM working on something? Yeah, it was one of those weekends. Plus I've got a zillion emails and a todo list from here to eternity. Let me take today off, and tomorrow I'll blog about the North American Grand Tour Final as well as the Tip of the Week. Meanwhile, here's are a few coaching and news items. (And here are some photos from the Grand Tour Finals - yes, that's me playing with a clipboard on Friday night against Crystal Wang; she won 11-8.)

Forehand Smash

Here's the new coaching video (4:54) from PingSkills.

Ask the Coach - Werner Schlager Academy Version

Here's the video (2:22, in German with English subtitles): What is a good exercise?

Perfecting Tournament Tactical Performance

Here's the new video (8:36) from Coach Brian Pace from Dynamic Table Tennis, which highlights his new Tournament Tactics video.

North Korean Ping-Pong Diplomacy with U.S. Table Tennis Star

Here's the article from TMZ, where Adam Bobrow does a Glenn Cowan with the North Koreans.

Chinese Table Tennis Pro Aims for Olympics

Here's the article from USA Today on Kai Zhang. (I had dinner with Kai and his father on Saturday night at the Grand Tour Final in Westchester!)

Wang Chen Table Tennis on TV

Here's the video (46 sec) of a news segment on the Wang Chen Table Tennis Club in NYC, as part of their "Fit Kids" feature.

Table Tennis: "Just Do It!"

Here's a new highlights video (5:26).

Long-Handled Paddle

For reaching those wide corners!

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February 5, 2015

No Blog Friday and North American Grand Tour Final

I'm off early on Friday morning for the North American Grand Tour Final this weekend at the Westchester TTC in Pleasantville, NY. Here is a link to the program, with the schedule, rules, fun facts about table tennis, and information/photos on all 16 players (average rating over 2600, led by Eugene Wang at 2799). Here is the tournament flyer, which includes spectator info. Here's the USATT News Item.

All-out Forehand Attack - Surprise vs. Predicted

There's a huge difference between surprising your opponent with sudden forehand attacks, and predictably attacking all-out with the forehand. Last night was a good example. I played one of my students some practice games after our session - he's probably playing 1700 level, but knows my game and my serves very well. Without telling him, I decided to play all forehand. And so I won the first game 11-2 without playing a single backhand - I returned every single serve with the forehand (about half of them against short serves), and no matter what he did, I ran around and played forehand, even forcing counterloops every time he attacked. We played a second game, and I took another big lead, and he was getting frustrated. Then I told him what I was doing - he hadn't noticed, other than noting that I was playing very aggressive. We started a new game, and this time he began to play smart, attacking the wide corners over and over, challenging me with fast, angled serves and short ones to the forehand. Result? This time he won 11-7. He went home happy. (Now, if this were the 1980s, things would have been different - but I'll be 55 in three weeks, and so I'm not quite so fast anymore.)

Beginning/Intermediate Class

Here's info on the Beginning/Intermediate Class I'll be teaching at MDTTC for ten weeks, Sundays from 6:30-8:00 PM, starting Feb. 15, for players from beginner to about 1500. This is an adult class, though we'll let players as young as thirteen participate. There are 14 signed up so, ranging from around 20 to players in their 60s. I'll likely have two assistant coaches. I've taught this class about 20 times before. You can sign up via email and pay when you arrive!

USATT January Teleconference

I had my first USATT meeting as a new USATT Board Member on Wednesday night, January 21. The three motions from the meeting went up yesterday in the USATT Minutes Page. (The actual minutes, which give more info on the motions, discussions, and reports, will go up later after they are approved by the USATT Board.)

At the start of the meeting there were only six of nine board members present, as Club Rep Director Ed Hogshead was teaching a table tennis class, Athlete Director Ed Levy was in England (where it was 1AM), and Athlete Director Han Xiao was stuck in a business meeting. At-Large Director Mike Babuin was up for re-election for another two-year term as Chair of the Board. (I'm now the other At-Large Director.) There was no official advance notice of who might be running against him, so the first thing we did was have a call for anyone running against him - and Peter Scudner said he was. (I think I scared a few people for a few seconds into thinking I was running when I spoke up here, but it was only to remind people to identify themselves when they spoke as I was having trouble recognizing everyone by their voices.)

Mike and Peter each gave a short speech on why they were running, and then we voted. I voted for Mike since he has been arguing for many of the same things I've argued for to develop the sport. However, he was voted down 4-2, with Mike and I voting for Mike, while the three Independent Directors (Peter and the other two non-table tennis members, Jim Kahler and Anne Cribbs) voted for Peter, along with National Organization Director Kagin Lee. (Han Xiao joined us soon afterward, missing the vote, though of course his vote alone wouldn't have made a difference.) Peter then took over as Chair of the Board and the teleconference. (He previously chaired the board for four years, 2009-2012.)

If you are having trouble figuring out what all these board titles mean, welcome to the crowd; they are all from our bylaws. Sometime I'll blog about them. Here's the Board listing.

During the meeting there were three motions, several reports, and an executive session (board members only) where we discussed some disciplinary issues. (Besides the board members, others on the teleconference were Counsel Dennis Taylor; High Performance Committee Chair Carl Danner; and Assistant Secretary Lee Kondo.) The reports were on RailStation (who now does our membership and ratings software), a sponsorship update, and on the U.S. Open and Nationals. (Much of this will be covered when the official minutes go online.) There were three votes.

The first vote was simply to approve the minutes of the previous meeting at the USA Nationals in December. There had been some email discussion and corrections to this. When Kagin Lee moved to approve them, and nobody immediately seconded it, I did the second, and they were approved unanimously. (I did attend most of that meeting, but not as a board member, so afterwards I wondered if it was appropriate that I seconded the motion. But not important as it passed unanimously, I think 5-0 as Han wasn't yet available.)

The second vote was some redefining of what a "Supporting member" was, and it also passed unanimously. Again I did the second.

The third motion passed 4-1, with me the lone dissenter. So why did I vote against this? The vote was about newly reworded USATT Committee Procedures and Responsibilities, which is included in the online document (pages 3-6). When the vote came up during the teleconference, I said that we're just putting a bandage on the problem rather than fix the problem, and that I wasn't going to approve any more of these minor bureaucratic changes to the committees until we focused on the 800-pound gorilla, which is implementation. Currently our bylaws specify that these committees are "Advisory." Committees that advise when we don't have anyone to implement are mostly useless. We need to stop the seemingly endless restructuring and wording changes, and focus on actively developing our sport. (This might change soon, as I may be volunteering for a position where I will focus on implementation. More when and if this comes up. There also might be an upcoming motion from me or someone else taking the "Advisory" word out of the bylaws for many of these committees, and adding implementation to their general responsibilities. That's the one I'd vote for.)

We received the motion in advance via email. Here is my email to the Board the day before the teleconference, explaining why I opposed the motion.

Jan. 20, 2015:

Many of the committee responsibilities are advisory, but who will do the implementation? For example, the League Committee is tasked to “Develop plans to promote the growth of affiliated leagues.” If they are not also tasked to implement these plans, who will? Otherwise we’ll just keep creating unimplemented plans, like we always do.

The Club Committee is tasked to “Survey clubs regarding their needs and expectations for USATT support,” “Survey clubs regarding their existing structure and membership,” and “Review how clubs fit and maintain a role in the USATT Strategic Plan.” How does any of this help if they aren’t also tasked to actually implement anything after getting this info? Only in a very bad bureaucracy is the goal to find the problems while not looking to fix them. The items above give us information that could lead to plans to address the problems found, i.e. they are a means to an end – fixing the problems and thereby develop and grow the sport. But who will implement these plans if not the committee?

The Coaching committee is tasked to “Appoint, certify, train and monitor coaches.” What about recruit, probably the most important aspect if we want to grow? And who will create and implement plans to recruit coaches if not the Coaching Committee?

I could go through many of the committees in this way. We need to stop focusing on restructuring and similar issues, and focus on things that specifically increase membership, improve our elite players, or similar things that lead to such development. (That includes increasing revenue, which is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.) Historically we’ve been the model for a Dilbert cartoon, with the lack of implementation our greatest sin. It’s time to break that mold and focus on doing things that develop the sport.

I’m in the middle of a “writing sabbatical” this week to work on a new table tennis book (“Parents’ Guide to Table Tennis”), but I’d be willing to work on the wording next week if requested, but only if there seems to be a consensus that it is needed, i.e. that the committees should be tasked (roughly speaking) with creating and implementing plans to develop the sport in their area.

-Larry Hodges (just back from a three-hour meeting of the Capital Area Super League organizing committee – where it’s all about implementation)

Alas, as noted in my blog on January 26, I didn't get much work done on the "Parent's Guide," but I got a lot of other stuff done, much of it USATT stuff.

Ask the Coach

Three more episodes - they've been busy!

The Serve of Kenta Matsudaira

Here's a video (60 sec) showing the progression of the serve of Kenta (world #23, formerly #15) from a child to now. Here's a translation of the caption: Translation of caption: "Kenta Matsudaira is not only known for its great game but also with a unique service, which he learned from an early age. See this interesting movie." It's an interesting serve that more should copy - or better still, develop their own interesting serve variations.

Hank Zipzer: My Secret Life as a Ping-Pong Wizard

This is a kid's book, roughly for grades 3-7 (ages 8-12), 158 pages but with rather large print so it only took about 90 minutes to read. Here's the version I read. Here's a newer version. It's one of 17 books in the Hank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler (yes, of Happy Days fame) and Lin Oliver. The books are all subtitled "Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever." Hank, like Henry Winkler, is dyslexic, as well as having very poor hand-eye coordination.

In this book, Hank, who is just starting fifth grade, goes from troublemaker and soccer failure to gaining confidence and fun as a ping-pong player, where he learns to concentrate under the patience tutelage of Coach Winston. There's sort of an ongoing joke where seemingly everyone Hank knows thinks ping-pong is a backyard game for old people, and compare it to shuffleboard - and so Hank is at first afraid to admit he plays. He even creates a rather elaborate listing, "Ten Reasons I Am Going to Hate Playing Ping-Pong." But he goes from hiding his ping-pong to finally playing it in the "Parade of Athletes" at school. His father, who wants him to play soccer and chides him constantly for quitting, goes from saying "Ping-Pong is not a sport. It's a hobby," and "While Ping-Pong is a nice backyard pastime, I certainly don't consider it a sport. It doesn't command the respect of the athletic community," to saying, "You played very well, son. Ping-Pong is quite a sport."

We also meet some interesting (fictional) players at the Ping-Pong Emporium that Hank joins, including: Hank's grandfather, Papa Pete, who topspins everything; Wei Chang, a member of the 1996 Chinese Olympic Women's Team; Coach Winston Chin, an extremely patient and understanding coach who gives him a racket and free lessons; his five-year-old grandson, Sammy, who is a kindergartner from Hank's school and plays standing on a box; Maurice, the Jamaican national champion (who sounds to Hank like Count Dracula), who takes Hank under his wing and practices with him regularly; Niko, the a wheelie-popping wheelchair player in a baseball cap with wicked spins who teaches Hank how to anticipate returns; Dr. Crumbworthy, Hank's ping-pong-playing dentist; and Principle Love, who proudly explains that he "earned a merit badge in table tennis from Boy Scout Camp in Minnesota."

Another Scary Kid

Here's the video (2:37) of Arthur Dubois, who looks about five, and whose shoulders are barely over the table.

2015 Chinese Team Trials

Here's video (32:02) of Ma Long vs. Fan Zhendong. (Commentary is in Chinese.)

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

Sri-Lankan Baby Pong?

Here's the picture.

Under-the-Leg Smash

Here's the video (3 sec) of Kim Gilbert!

Crazy Table Tennis Tricks with Dominoes

Here's the video (2:19)!

***
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February 4, 2015

Fixing the Forehand Loop - Slowly and Meticulously

Yesterday was one of the best days I've ever had as a coach. It all happened in a coaching session with ten-year-old Daniel Sofer, #10 in the U.S. in Under 11 Boys with a rating of 1639, and recently #4 in Under 10 until he made the silly decision to turn ten. (I have permission from Daniel and his dad to use his name.)

Daniel has a nice backhand (both hitting and looping - he can do some nice backhand loops from off the table), and extremely good ball control for his age. (He's almost for certain the best lobber his age in the country - he can lob my best smashes back over and over unless I smother-kill them out of the court.) In fact, he does a lot of things pretty well. But for many months we've been trying to fix up his forehand looping. He has about five different strokes, and regularly switches back and forth. He also likes to back up and try to awkwardly spin the ball off the floor, or alternately switch in mid-rally to flat hitting. The result is he isn't really comfortable forehand looping, and in games it shows, as he mostly pushes and blocks, along with some lobbing. In rallies, he mostly hits or pushes with the forehand, despite the fact that in practice all he does is loop.

The primary problem with his forehand loop is that rather than rotate his body fully into the shot (using the legs and hips in particular), he tends to pull upward with the right side of his upper body (he's a righty), ending up with his racket high over his head, which dissipates most of his power and turns his stroke into the opposite of the easy power I've written about. Instead of sort of rocking into the ball with his whole body, all he gets is upper body. Or, when he tries to fix it and use his whole body, he goes the other extreme, and throws his whole body forward, ending up several feet forward, thereby losing balance and control.

For months I've worked with him on fixing the technique, often spending 45 minutes of our one-hour sessions on it. Often he does pretty well after ten minutes, but then he falls back into old habits - and the next session it starts again as he struggled to get the stroke consistently right. It was frustrating for both of us, especially since it meant we weren't working on other things. He's not particularly patient, so it's not easy for us to focus on this one thing session so much.

So yesterday I tried something different. I've done this with older players, but younger players don't often have the patience for what we did - but Daniel seemed in a receptive mood.

First, he was able to watch one of our top players, Alex Ruichou Chen, rated 2674, looping over and over, giving him a visual image. He'd done this before, and it sometimes worked for a short time, but never permanently.

Then I had him put his racket down and simply watch me demonstrate the shot in slow motion, stopping at contact. I wanted him to have a real visual image of how the power is generated up to that point, from the legs and hip rotation. I also showed him how hard I could shove him with this stroke - yes, I shoved him across the court!

Next I had him get his racket and also go through the stroke in slow motion, stopping at contact to emphasize how much power is generated with the legs and hip rotation. I let him shove me around so he could see how much "easy power" is generated this way. (He's not the violent type and didn't like doing this.) He's always understood this, but the key was to create muscle memory of this. We did this for something like 15 minutes, where I gradually let him continue the stroke past contact, focusing on rotating the body about, pulling with the left side, with the head moving forward only a little bit.

Next we grabbed a bucket of balls and tossed balls up to ourselves and looped them out of the air. No rallies, just repetitively looping one tossed ball after another. We did this for about 10 minutes. At this point he's really getting the stroke down - the muscle memory is taking hold.

Finally, 30 minutes into the session, we went to very simple multiball, where I fed light topspin balls very slowly, and he looped them away with ease, always focusing on keeping it simple as we developed the muscle memory. We did this for perhaps about 10 minutes.

Roughly 45 minutes into the session we rallied for the first time, where I blocked and he forehand looped, going easy, where I had him wait on the ball so he could do a non-rushed, easy stroke. And guess what? The muscle memory held!!! We did this for ten minutes, and at this point I'm so excited I can barely play. He wasn't so much excited as relieved as he seemed to finally have the shot down. (He is not the patient type, so it showed how much he wanted this that he had gone through this long, tedious process.)

I'm looking forward to our next session, where we'll continue with this, and start doing it against backspin as well. I'm thinking we start with ten minutes of easy forehands - shadow practice, looping off tossed ball, and then very easy multiball - and if all goes well, then we can go to rallies.

Table Tennis Insider

The first issue ever came out this morning, February 4, 2015. (If you are a USATT member and they have your email on file, you should have received an email last night from USATT CEO Gordon Kaye explaining this.) Insider will come out every week on Wednesdays. It's the end and the start of a new era - the end of the "magazine" era and the start of the "Insider" era. Here's a historical listing of all USATT editors since 1970. Samuel Gest is the editor of Insider, so presumably I should add him to the list? (Note that I have an article in this issue, at the bottom, the "The Culture of Table Tennis in the U.S." blog I did on Monday.)

2015 ITTF/USATT Hopes Program

Here's the article by Ben Nisbet. This is for the best USA players born between Jan. 1, 2003 and Dec. 31, 2004.

Training in China

Here's the English flyer and the Chinese flyer for this May 22 - June 26 trip to the Nanshan Table Tennis School in Shenzhen, China, organized by Atlanta coaches Wang Hui and Yang Shigang (USA Junior Team Coach).

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

Table Tennis Basics - Like a Boss!

Here's the new video (2:02) from the always interesting Brett Clarke - the Golden Point Method!

Great Point!

Here's the video (38 sec) as the player on the far side does everything possible to win the point, including changing hands and diving.

Our Little Table Tennis Champ

Here's video (63 sec) of table tennis champion wannabe three-year-old Shia. (Could use shorter tables!)

2014 ITTF Legends Tour Documentary

Here's the video (25:50), which features Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jean-Michel Saive, and Jiang Jialiang.

Utah Biz Games

Here's the hilarious video (63 sec)!

Table Tennis Balls + Black Sharpie Pens

This is what you get from Mike Mezyan! Mike also found this metal ping-pong sculpture and Lego ping-pong set.

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February 3, 2015

To Players in the Capital Area (Maryland, Northern Virginia, Washington DC):
*****Join Us in the Capital Area Super League!*****

The deadline has been extended to February 20, so you can still enter. We have enough teams already for the league, especially for Division One (though we could use one more), but would especially like to get more teams for Divisions Two and Three.

This is a team league for all levels - yes, that means you! In Europe, some countries have memberships in the hundreds of thousands, all because of such team leagues. (Germany has over 600,000.) Players from Europe talk about how much we're missing without such leagues, where players get to play on a TEAM, surrounded by friends cheering you on. So we hope you'll sign up and share their experience. (Some of this was in yesterday's blog, but I want to emphasize it.)

The league was initiated by Michael Levene and Stefano Ratti, who played in the English and Italian leagues and missed the camaraderie of such team leagues. (John Olsen and I are also members of the organizing committee.) This is your chance to join with us. All money going to the league stays in the league - it is run completely by unpaid volunteers. No payments are due until March 15.

If you want to play but don't have a team - or have a team that needs more players - there's a "Looking for a Team" section on the web site, or you can contact the organizers, who may be aware of other players in a similar situation. If you are concerned about having a home venue, or are concerned about the type of commitment, again contact us at Michael@smashtt.com or rattigno@yahoo.com.

So get your friends and practice partners together, and come join us!

North American Grand Tour Final

It's this weekend at the Westchester TTC in Pleasantville, NY, and I'll be there. Here is a link to the program, with the schedule, rules, fun facts about table tennis, and information/photos on all 16 players (average rating over 2600, led by Eugene Wang at 2799). Here is the tournament flyer, which includes spectator info. Here's the USATT News Item.

The Westchester TTC will host a welcome party on Friday night, Feb. 6 (6-10 pm), for the public to meet the players, participate in a handicap event with cash prizes, and enjoy food/drink. The Grand Finals' preliminary matches will take place on Saturday, Feb. 7 (10 am - 6 pm), with four round robin groups of four players. Two players from each group will advance to single elimination playoffs on Sunday (11 am - 4 pm). 

Here are the 16 players, seeded by Tour Points:

  1. Kai Zhang, Pleasantville, NY
  2. Jishan Liang, Flushing, NY 
  3. Xiang Jing Zhang, El Monte, CA
  4. Bob Chen, Milpitas, CA
  5. Yonghui Liang, Milpitas, CA
  6. Ruichao Chen, German Town, MD
  7. Eugene Wang, Victoria, BC, Canada
  8. Jimmy Butler, Houston, TX
  9. Zi Rui Zhao, Livingston, NJ
  10. Rui Wang, Milpitas, CA
  11. Jack Wang, Livingston, NJ
  12. Gal Alguetti, Tenafly, NJ
  13. Tinglei Wu, Flushing, New York
  14. Dan Liu, Milpitas, CA
  15. Nathan Hsu, Rockville, MD
  16. Crystal Wang, Boyds, MD

The Bionic Man

Here's the new video (9:22) of Navin Kumar (by Peter Scudner). Navin's been in the news a lot recently. He has Parkinson's and a mostly mechanical heart. The video was taped at MDTTC. I helped out as hitting partner, coach, and was interviewed.

Weird but Legal Shots and Tactics

Here are a few weird but legal things you can do!

  • Back of hand serve. The racket say that "A player strikes the ball if he or she touches it in play with his or her racket, held in the hand, or with his or her racket hand below the wrist." So you can hit the ball off the back of your hand! While this is difficult in a rally (though I've done it - it can be painful!), it's easy to serve that way. You just fake a backhand serve and hit off the back of the hand. It's a no-spin serve, but if you keep it low, just the shock factor will cause weak returns. However, I've done this twice in tournaments and both times the opponent caught the ball, thinking it was an illegal serve. I didn't have the heart to press the matter, but I should have claimed the point.
  • Jumping up and waving arms after popping the ball up. I did this once in a match against an elderly Hall of Fame player, and the opponent missed the shot - and began screaming at me! If you do this but don't make a sound, I think it's okay.
  • Waving left arm while serving or receiving. It's distracting to the opponent - and that's the point. Mikael Appelgren (former world #1) was infamous for this, often waving his non-playing arm up as he received, which distracted the server. However, I'm not so sure about the sportsmanship of this one, if overdone. 
  • Super high-toss serves. Against a good attacker, a weak high-toss serve is cannon fodder. But at the lower levels, or against a weak attacker, just the act of tossing the ball up high can throw an opponent off, even if the serve itself isn't so good. I recommend developing the serve itself (after you can do it effectively with a short toss), but even if you can't do it very well, it's a good change-up against some players.
  • Serve lefty. (Or righty if you are a lefty.) It really throws opponents off! Well, sometimes.

Jimmy Butler Interview

Here's the interview. Oh, and who says Jim's a backhand player? See this photo! (Make sure to click on it to see the next two pictures of yours truly.)

2014 Breakout Star Crystal Wang has High Hopes for 2015

Here's the article by Barbara Wei. (Here are lots of other articles from Butterfly.)

Challenge to Non Full-time Players

Here's the article by USATT Hall of Famer Dell Sweeris.

Ozark Table Tennis Club

Here's the USATT news item on this long-time Missouri club.

Forrest Gump - Best Fictional Athlete Ever

Here's the article with pictures and video. "We’re talking about unquestionably the best football player and table tennis champion in history - with clear talents in sprinting, MMA, swimming, hurdles, and ultramarathon endurance. Forrest Gump is Bo Jackson crossed with Usain Bolt crossed with AMERICA."

Some Pictures Making the Rounds

Chimpanzee Pong

Here's the video (4 min). Toward the end he really does play! The chimp acts no differently than a typical five-year-old, both with the way he "strokes" the ball (often oblivious to where the ball goes), and the various antics (such as using the balls as "eyes").

***

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February 2, 2015

Tip of the Week

Develop the Five Types of Rallying Shots.

The Culture of Table Tennis in the U.S.

As I help set up the Capital Area Super League (with Mike Levene and Stefano Ratti the primary movers and creators, using their experience from playing in leagues in England and Italy), one thing that keeps jumping out is the culture of table tennis in America. It's quite different from the table tennis culture in more successful countries. For one thing, we have a rating-obsessed culture in USATT, where often little else matters other than the almighty rating. What's the goal of most tournament players in the U.S., win an event or gain rating points? Since most players focus on playing in higher events in the hopes of pulling off an upset, while avoiding the lower ones (i.e. the ones they might win) in order to avoid getting upset, I think we have our answer.

But it's not just ratings. In Europe, where memberships dwarf USATT's, it's a team culture. Few players play regularly in tournaments; it's all about playing on a team in a league. There are team leagues everywhere, leading to huge memberships, which lead to the growth of clubs, which is why there are 600,000 (paid) league members in Germany and 11,000 clubs. Players from Europe talk about how much we're missing without such leagues, where players get to play on a TEAM, surrounded by friends cheering you on.

I'm always amazed that some believe that the leagues in Germany and other countries started because of the large memberships, when in fact the leagues were the cause. And yet this faulty reasoning is used to argue that we're not ready for team leagues in the U.S. because (drum roll please) we don't have enough players!

But there is some truth that developing these team leagues won't be easy, and that's because of the culture of table tennis here, where few have ever played regularly on a table tennis team. They don't know what it's like to compete regularly on a team where your teammates and friends are cheering you on, even as you cheer them on - you know, like most of you were cheering on a football team at the Super Bowl last night! Except - you get to be Tom Brady or Russell Wilson.

As we promote the Capital Area Super League here in the Maryland/Virginia/Washington DC area, the hardest part is explaining what a team league is. Many only have a vague idea of what it's about. The info is all on the web page, but that's like telling a math student all the info is in a math textbook. Having the info available doesn't mean they understand it, even though in this case it's really simple. But we're working on it, and the good news is playing on a team league is a lot simpler than math! (You only occasionally have to count past 11.)

It's not just the players. Local and National leaders are also often stuck in the past, going with "what works," i.e. the same "winner stay on" club mentality that handicaps an often status quo USATT and keeps its membership under 10,000, i.e. a round-off error compared to more successful table tennis countries. These are often the very ones who a few years ago didn't believe there were enough interested players in this country to support more than a few full-time training centers - and then we went from less than ten to about 80, with more popping up regularly. (I expect they'll continue to do this until there are many hundreds of them or more.) Now they don't believe we have enough interested players to run successful team leagues. It's the same old "Which came first, chicken or egg?" question we've always faced, except when asked "What comes first, leagues & coaching programs, or large numbers of players?", the answer is categorically leagues and coaching programs, since they are what lead to the large number of players. It's all about cause and effect. Waiting for the large number of players to miraculously appear so you can run these programs is sort of like sitting around waiting to become a top player rather than practicing to become one.

It's going to be a long, difficult process dragging USA Table Tennis into the modern table tennis culture that's so successful overseas. Those looking for immediate results should look elsewhere; it's going to take years. But just as a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, developing table tennis in this country also starts with a few simple steps - and that's why we need to focus on taking those steps to continue to develop training centers, and to begin the process of spreading team leagues around the country.

As a member of the USATT Board of Directors, this will be my focus over the next four years and perhaps beyond. Right now I'm watching and studying the process as we create the Capital Area Super League (much of it based on the LA League and overseas leagues) so we can develop a prototype that can spread to other regions. It'll be a long process, but it has to start sometime. Soon I'll be writing about more specific plans, which involve creating state & regional associations and/or working with current ones, with the primary purpose to spread team leagues and coaching programs, as well as state championships. While I'm not yet ready to go nationwide, the process has to begin at some point, even if it's still in the exploratory learning stage. And so I declare that the process begins . . . Now.

Learning Good Mechanics: Following Through

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, which includes links to videos of Yan An, Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, Ma Long, and Joo Sae-Hyuk. (This is follow-up to his article I linked to last week on Weight Transfer and Using Your Legs.)

Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

  • Test Time: How much do you REALLY know about your FOOTWORK?
  • The #1 Question: Learn about the 17 needed adjustments!!!!

Ask the Coach - Werner Schlager Academy Version

They are now doing a continuing series with head coach Richard Prause. They are in German, but with English subtitles. Here are the first three. (I linked to the first two previously, but #1 didn't have subtitles at that time, and #3 is new.)

Ask the Coach- PingSkills Version

Episode #68 (16:56) - Banana Flip

  • Discussion - 1:26: How can I download PingSkills videos on to my iPhone?
  • Previous #PQOTD  - 3:26: How many training sessions did you do last week?
  • #PQOTD  - 4:52
  • How high on the World Rankings do you think Quadri Aruna can reach?
  • Question 1 - 5:35: So usually I use a low tomahawk serve, and it works quite well. The only problem is I don't get much sidespin on the ball. Sometimes I get a lot and sometimes I get almost no spin at all. Any tips on how I can produce more spin on the ball? Lukas
  • Question 2 - 8:39: If you would answer my question I would be very grateful.  In which point at your bat must the ball be hit for the Banana Flick? Thanks Nick
  • Question 3 - 10:29: My hitting partner and I were discussing that we think we blink when our opponent hits a hard smash or drive.  So we lose track of the ball at a critical time.  What is your experience with this?  Do most players do this?  Is there a way to stop this? Phil
  • Question 4 - 13:13: I and my partner often practice topspin but after hitting the first topspin i am not able to return the second one. How can I hit the second topspin and return to my position quickly. Charankamal

Which is the Best Poly Ball?

Here's the video (2:33) from Expert Table Tennis.

Most Expensive Table Tennis Bat

Here's the article from Expert Table Tennis, which also covers the most expensive rubbers. Regarding rackets, I use the Butterfly Timo Boll ALC (flared), which is mentioned in the article. It may be the most popular high-end racket right now. I'm pretty sure I'll be using this one forever. It's now used by well over half my students and a good percentage of the players at my club. (I use Tenergy 05 2.1 black on the forehand, and Tenergy 25 2.1 red on the backhand.)

Great Point - Wang Liqin vs. Werner Schlager

Here's the video (27 sec) of one of the best points I've ever seen played. (I may have linked to this before, but watch it again!)

Creative Senior Table Tennis?

Here's the video (38 sec) showing multiple versions of table tennis by these experience warriors.

Novak Djokovic and Stefan Feth

Djokovic just won his fifth Australian Open (some of you may have missed that while watching that Pretty-Good Bowl game). Here he is with USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth at the 2012 Olympics.

Inflategate - the Truth

I can't keep hiding the truth. These new plastic balls simply don't bounce enough. So a couple weeks ago during a trip up to New England I stole some air from a bunch of footballs to inflate the plastic balls a little more, and it did the trick. Yeah, and I also told the Seattle coach to throw the ball at the one-yard line.

iPhone Pong

Here's the video (22 sec), from the iPhone's perspective!

Minion Pong

Here's the continuing gif image that all table tennis webmasters should make permanent features of their web pages. Here's my technical analysis.

  • Player on left: An excellent example of proper weight transfer. Note how he puts his full weight into each shot, and yet maintains his balance for the next shot? An excellent example for you and your students. Note the excellent use of the free arm as a counterbalance to his playing arm. The shots are especially impressive given the lack of depth perception since he only has one eye - but note how hard he concentrates, and how he keeps his eye on the ball. As a coach, the main thing that needs work is the foot positioning for the forehand - you'll note that he strokes it with the left foot in front (he's a lefty). Instead, he needs to move that ball back for better weight transfer. Also, I'd recommend a better playing outfit as the heavy playing clothes he wears likely slows him down. He probably needs to replace the mittens with gloves so that he can extend his finger onto the blade for a better shakehands grip. Finally, based on his strokes, I believe he's using a hardbat. I'd recommend he get inverted and work on his looping, such as another energetic student of mine who successfully made the transfer to inverted. (He also needs to get a legal black surface for his forehand.)
  • Player on right: This is an excellent example of winning with sheer brick-wall blocking - I'm fairly certain he read my Tip of the Week on this. I watched the video for over eight hours last night, and he did not miss a single block. As a coach, I'd recommend that he try watching the ball, as well as use the racket he has in his hand, though of course I always recommend to my students that they learn to use their head. (He's using a green racket, so he needs to switch to a legal black and red one.) You'll note how he is watching at a particular spot in the snow, which undoubtedly is done as an aide to concentration and to withstand the pressures of match play.

***

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January 30, 2015

Serving Combos

I was playing a match with one of my students recently and decided to test him on a bunch of serving combos. He knows my serves very well, so individually he has no problems with them. But when I throw certain combos at him, he (and most others) struggle with the second one. Below are ten of my favorite combos. All can be done as listed or by reversing the order. Some are mostly variations of others, so there's some overlap. I'm assuming both players are righties for this, but lefties can use similar variations.

Keep in mind that the more you do these serves, the better you get at them, at figuring out what combos work best against different players, and at following them up. For example, after a short serve to the forehand, I might serve long to the backhand (usually a serve that breaks to the right), anticipating a crosscourt return to my backhand. Since I've been doing this for decades, I've learned to read my opponent very quickly and see early on if I'm going to get the expected soft return to my backhand, and so I'll quickly move over and rip a forehand. But I'll also see quickly if he's going down the line to my forehand or if he's going to do an aggressive backhand attack (or forehand step around), and adjust accordingly. Similarly, if I serve short to the forehand (often after a long serve to the backhand), I can pick up early if he's going to return the expected crosscourt return to my forehand (and edge over to attack it), or if he's going to go down the line (and so I get ready to either attack with my backhand or step over to use the forehand). The more you do these combos, the better and quicker you'll get at them. (And remember, all of these combos can be done in reverse.)

  1. Short to the forehand, then long to the backhand.
  2. Deep sidespin to backhand (so it breaks right), then reverse pendulum short to forehand (so it breaks left). This is a more specific variation of the one above.
  3. Heavy backspin, then "heavy" no-spin (i.e. big backspin motion).
  4. Short sidespin-backspin, then short super-heavy backspin.
  5. Short backspin, then short side-top with big down motion.
  6. Deep, breaking spinny serve (not too fast), then fast serve.
  7. Deep to middle or backhand, then fast down the line to forehand.
  8. Deep pure sidespin to backhand, then deep corkscrew to backhand (so it breaks like crazy to the right).
  9. Deep topspin anywhere, then fast no-spin to middle.
  10. Serve from wide forehand diagonally to the short forehand, then fake the same serve but go deep down the line to the backhand.

USATT Stuff

When I ran for the USATT Board, I said there were five major items I'd focus on, plus twelve others. (See listing here.) Below is an update. The nice thing is that when I ran, I was assuming the same old USATT where nobody really did much. Our new CEO (Gordon Kaye) is taking charge of some of these issues, making things a lot easier for me and better for all of us.

THE BIG FIVE:

  1. Create a Nationwide System of Regional Team League (I blogged about this on Monday, Nov. 24)
    =>The Goal: Dramatically increase USATT membership.
    This is part of the Regional Association Proposal I'm putting together to present to the board at the teleconference tentatively scheduled for Feb. 25. I'll be working closely with the USATT CEO on this.
  2. Create State and Regional Associations (I blogged about this on Tuesday, Nov. 25)
    =>The Goal: Dramatically increase membership by organizing on the local level.
    Also part of the Regional Association Proposal. I expect to have a prototype regional league that we can promote and develop in other regions by the end of the year.
  3. Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches (I blogged about this on Wednesday, Nov. 26)
    =>The Goal: Large numbers of coaches, training centers, and junior & adult programs.
    Yep, also part of the Regional Association Proposal. USATT committees are about to be updated, so I'm waiting for approval of the new USATT Coaching Committee so I can go to work with them on this. I expect to implement this part of the proposal by the end of the year.
    More Training Centers => More Junior Programs => More Players and Higher Level of Play
  4. Turn U.S. Open and Nationals into Premier Events (I blogged about this on Monday, Dec. 1)
    =>The Goal: Attract players, spectators, TV, and sponsors to our sport.
    The USATT CEO is working on this. I've discussed it with him quite a bit, and am pretty confident that he's taking care of this. Let's see where we are a year from now.
  5. Create a Professional Players Association and Professionalize the Sport (I blogged about this on Tuesday, Dec. 2)
    =>The Goal: For top USA players to make a living playing professionally.
    The USATT CEO has plans on this, which he'll blog about later. With so much going on, we'll start on this next year.  

Other USATT Issues 
(I blogged about these on Wednesday, Dec. 3.)​

  1. Mailings to past members. (I blogged about this on Feb. 19.)
    This is something I'll look to do after we've had a year or so to develop programs around the country (leagues, coaching programs, etc.) so we have something new to offer past members.
  2. Hidden serve rule. (I blogged about this on Nov. 11 and numerous other times.)
    I'm waiting for the new USATT Rules Committee to be approved and then I'll approach them about this.
  3. Rules changes and the plastic ball.
    For better or worse, plastic balls are here to stay. But I'm not interested in any more rules and equipment changes, other than fixing the hidden serve rule
  4. USATT Advisory Committees.|
    This has already been a subject of discussion on the board. I believe some of the committees are having the "Advisory" dropped. I'll have more on this later.  
  5. Committee Chairs and Members.
    I'm going to make sure we take our time and research members before approving. Too often committees are chaired by the first person who volunteers. We need to do searches and recruit the right candidate for each. I've seen times where a committee chair was decided like Jeopardy - whoever hit the buzzer first (i.e. raised their hand) got the position.
  6. NCAA recognition. Here's some info on this. I blogged about this on November 18.
    Nothing new on this, but at some point I'll look into it. 
  7. Fix rating system.
    Too much to go into here. To start with we need a USATT Ratings Committee. We don't have one. I'll propose one sometime this year.
  8. Publish USA citizens ranking lists.
    This was actually required by a past USATT board vote that's long since been forgotten. Too often U.S. players are buried in the rankings behind foreign players. We need both an open listing and a citizens listing. USATT is now keeping track of citizen info, and should have such a list ready as an option later on in the new ratings platform.
  9. U.S. Open and U.S. Nationals info.
    The dates and location of these events should be available at least one year in advance, so we can promote them at the previous year's event. The USATT CEO is working on this.
  10. Bring back print magazine if financially feasible. (I blogged about this on February 11, where I predicted in advance the large advertising decrease.)
    I only recently got the magazine financial info, and will be studying it soon. Suffice to say we lost a lot the last few years - but a lot of this was because of falling advertising. It dropped by about half this year when it went online, and was still falling when they pulled the plug.
  11. Let members get on the USATT ballot by petition.
    I've written the proposal, which will go to the Board as part of their packet for the February teleconference. It's a bylaw change, so they need 30 days' notice, which means they'll vote on it in the March teleconference (tentatively scheduled for March 25). It'll need a 2/3 majority to pass. As the date approaches, I'll post the proposal and blog about it.
  12. Change USATT's Mission Statement.
    Here is our current bureaucratic shopping list mission statement, followed by the mission statement of the U.S. Tennis Association (with the word "Table" added). I like theirs, and would like to quote the table tennis version of it regularly at USATT board meetings. It needs to be the driving force behind everything we do. I'll make the proposal later this year. (It's a bylaw change, so will need 30-days' notice and a 2/3 majority to change.)
  • "The Mission of the USATT shall be to enable United States athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence in Olympic/Paralympic, Pan American or Para Pan American Games, and other international competitions, and to promote and grow the sport of Table Tennis in the United States, while creating a lasting value for our members."
  • "To Promote and Develop the Growth of Table Tennis."

Small Kid on a Big Table - on a Platform

Here's the video (4:14) of a kid from Palestine who probably couldn't play effectively on a regular table - except they've put him on a platform! He looks pretty good, far better than if the table were shoulder height to him. I'm a little worried about the safety side as kids that age tend to be oblivious to things, and he might forget he's on a platform and get hurt when he steps off. But it's still a great idea - I think! Ideally, of course, we'd just get a shorter table, as I blogged about on Tuesday.

On a non-table tennis note, here's something that kind of threw me. There are 22 comments under the video as I write this, and all of them are invoking God, mostly praising him or asking him to protect the kid, when in fact the video is about a little kid who plays very good table tennis while standing on a platform. (There's a "See Translation" link next to each, at least on my Google Chrome browser.) 

How to Smash a High Backspin Ball

Here's the video (2:13) from Expert Table Tennis.

Ask the Coach

Episode #67 (20:40) - Ovtcharov's Serve

  • Yesterdays #PQOTD  - 2:30: Who is the most inspirational player you have seen?
  • #PQOTD - 3:37: How many training sessions did you do last week?
  • Question 1 - 4:02: Hey Pingskills, Your tips for the tall players didn't work on this guy, He's unbeatable :( He just blocks, I smash, loop, chop but it doesn't work. Please have you another tips? Brock
  • Question 2 - 6:17: Sir, my defense is dominant in bh. So, when the attacker attacks, I automatically switch to backhand. i'm weaker in fh. Any tips please? Earl
  • Question 3 - 8:22: I am having trouble chopping the ball (forehand) in a match, where it goes too far or too high or I just miss the ball. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can fix this? Thanks! Nikolas
  • Question 4 - 12:02: My son is just 10 and quite interested in learning TT and his dream is of becoming a world champ. He is prepared to do anything to be a master and hold the trophy. My full support is with him. Should I buy a table for him or 10 years is too young? Young
  • Question 5 - 15:15: Please explain how Ovtcharov does his serve and why. Dii
  • Question 6 - 18:15: How can I improve my forehand topspin? When I do it, it always hit the net. Am I missing something?

Ma Long Practicing His Serve

Here's the video (5:45) from a couple years ago. See if you can pick up his contact.

Chinese World Team Trials

Here's info on them. They'll be held Feb. 2-6 in Zhenjiang.

Ping Pong: "The Ultimate Social Networking Tool"

Here's the article from Pong Universe.

Soccer Skills in Table Tennis

Here's the video (25 sec) as two players show they can handle the ball with their racket and their feet.

University Ping Pong Project Transforms Public Spaces

Here's the article where they try to spread ping pong and color in London.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

Waldner vs. Fetzner

Here's video (46 sec) of some humorous play between Jan-Ove Waldner and Steffen Fetzner from 2012.

Jumping Net Pong

Here's the cartoon.

***

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January 29, 2015

Short Blog Today

I woke up this morning with a sore throat and a headache - a double whammy. My voice is hoarse and I think someone punched me all over my body while I was sleeping. I think I have a slight cold (yeah, lots of Kleenex), while the headache might be from late-night work and lack of sleep. I was going to write about yesterday's adventure (2.5 hours of coaching, meeting with USATT player rep Han Xiao on my Regional Associations proposal, snowball fights, and the power of chocolate brownies as incentive for juniors to work hard), but I think I'm going back to bed. But remain assured that even sleeping, I never stop thinking about USATT issues and ways to turn our sport into the greatest thing since sporks. (Someday perhaps I'll write about my ongoing contention with my students that the spork is humanity's greatest invention, better than their smart phones and even better than Tenergy, but not now.)

Peter Scudner New USATT Board Chair

USATT members should have received a press release from USATT this morning announcing Peter as the new chair. Here's the USATT press release

Entry List for 2015 Pan Am and National Team Trials

Here's the USATT News Item, which lists who has currently entered, and will be regularly updated until the deadline on Feb. 15. It also gives info on how to enter.

Serve Return Training

Here's the video (1:28) where Samson Dubina has a robot "serving" slightly long balls randomly about the table, and he topspins them all.

Ask the Coach

Episode 66 (16:16) - Waldner's Trademark Serve

  • Yesterdays  #PQOTD  - 2:01: How old were you when you started Table Tennis?
  • #PQOTD  - 3:43: Who is the most inspirational player you have seen?
  • Question 1 - 4:12: My problem is my backhand and power hits. The power hits are not going right. When I make a smaller version of it then it goes really well, but when I add more power I lose control or balance and the ball goes over the table. Aleksander
  • Question 2 - 5:39: Hi I am having an issue with my backhand these days. When i try to make a backhand topspin smash, it tends to go under the net most of the times. at the moment, I use side topspin to sort of lift the ball at the same time but it feels unstable. Denny
  • Question 3 - 9:31: Hey PingSkills! I have a trouble with tall players, the guy is like 6'5 tall and around 200 pounds of muscles and he's a very good table tennis player and he block all my best shots. Please have you some tips? Brock.
  • Question 4 - 11:23: I watched some amazing footage of Waldners career and how he developed his trademark serve along the line below his arm. It is impossible to anticipate and even less see what he is doing but isn´t there a rule you are not allowed to hide the ball? Marcus
  • Question 5 - 13:34: I am wondering what benefits I can gain from seeing a coach in person, versus doing drills I have learned with someone at or above my skill level. Would it beneficial to have a coach critique my form and help and analyze my in game strategy? Dakota

Reminder - USATT Committees

This is just a reminder that USATT committee applications are due on Monday. Here's the USATT Board Seeks Nominations for Committee Appointments news item from Jan. 15. If you have interest and expertise in any of the following, I hope you'll apply - we need people like you! (Here's my Jan. 16 blog where I give my take on each of the committees.)

Advisory Committees

  • Umpire and Referee Committee
  • Rules Committee
  • Seniors Committee
  • Tournament Committee
  • Editorial Committee
  • Clubs Committee
  • Hardbat Committee
  • Leagues Committee
  • Juniors Committee
  • Coaching Committee
  • Marketing and Fundraising Committee 

Standing Committees

  • High Performance Committee
  • Nominating and Governance Committee
  • Compensation Committee
  • Audit Committee
  • Athlete Advisory Council
  • Ethics & Grievance Committee 

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - December 2014

Here's the video (9:56). I thought I had put this up previously, but I searched and couldn't find it.

Table Tennis England Requiring Plastic 40+ Balls

Here's the article.

Virtual Table Tennis Drops the Ball on Gross Motor Skills

Here's the article from Medical Xpress. "Children playing table tennis on a game console move their arms faster and further than those playing in real life but miss out on the development of key gross motor skills, according to a WA study."

25 Olympians Staring Longingly at Ping Pong Balls

Here's the article and pictures.

Bear Pong

Here's the cartoon.

***

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January 28, 2015

Busy Day

I'm leaving to coach at 1PM, finishing at 7:15PM. It's going to be a long coaching day! (It's not all coaching; I have to pick up four kids from school for our afterschool program, and I have a meeting from 5-6PM.) Then, when I get home, I get to go to work on USATT and MDTTC stuff. Besides finalizing a Regional Association proposal for USATT (which includes state & regional associations, state championships, team leagues, and training centers & coaching programs), I have to put together the monthly MDTTC Newsletter.

Blogging Policy on USATT Issues

I'm putting together a "Blogging on USATT Issues" policy that I can use as a guideline for what and when I can blog about USATT issues, since I'm on the USATT board. (This is primarily a coaching blog, but I do of course blog about other issues, including USATT.) I'll share this with the USATT CEO for his input. (I also have to check the USATT bylaws for anything on this, as well as the Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest forms I signed to run for the board.) It's not just for me - others from USATT sometimes blog (here's the USATT blogging page) and I think there should be some policy on this, with specific guidelines. I get the final say on my own policy (as long as I'm not abusing my USATT position), though of course if there's a more general one for USATT people then USATT would have to approve that. Hopefully the two will be identical and so we can have just one set of gudelines.

For example, we had a USATT teleconference last Wednesday night. There was at least one major thing that happened (some might say more than one), but I haven't blogged about it as I'm waiting for USATT to put out a press release first. (There were some other interesting things, but for now I'm waiting for the official minutes to come out before blogging about them.) But it's not always that simple. Meetings in person are mostly open, and so anything that goes on there can be blogged about except for what happens in closed "executive" sessions, mostly on confidential, personnel, disciplinary issues. But a teleconference is only for board members and invited guests, and so might be considered "closed." So I'm more hesitant to write about what happens there. Can I blog about general things that are on the agenda? There are many questions like this that I'll discuss with the CEO before finalizing my policy.

I also don't want board members to think I'm using this blog as a weapon against them, or that they have to watch everything they say around me. At the same time if I agree or disagree with something that happens (such as official USATT business, as opposed to just discussions), I'm likely going to blog about it. They can also blog about it if they choose, and in fact I'll allow them to do a guest blog here. A key thing is that even if I disagree with something, I'll try to blog about it in a respectful manner.

I've got at least two major proposals going before the board soon, for the teleconferences in February and March. Do I blog about them in advance? Since they are coming from me, I can. More on these when they are coming up. When others have proposals, what and when can I blog about them? That's the tougher question.

Winning 161-2

[Bonus if you catch a curious thing I'm doing in this paragraph!]

A coach is facing a backlash and a ban for running up points in winning 161-2 in what was obviously a mismatch. Was it right to do this? I thought a lot about this all morning - is such a display okay? I don't want to win 11-0 and so I usually allow scoring by popping a ball up at 10-0. But should you do this? You almost always will win if up 10-0 or 10-1, so why not allow a point at 10-0? Many will say this is wrong, and say go for 11-0 - and that's okay; if you want to, go for it! I just don't want to do it on my own. Many say that losing 11-0 builds "grit." What do you think?

[Count the e's - yep, I'm having a little fun here. And see this.]

All right, enough e-foolery. In general, I actually would say play every point at your very best unless it's an obviously complete mismatch. If I'm playing a 7-year-old kid who I can beat 11-0 every game, I may still win 11-0 - but I'll put some balls up so he can take shots, and I won't use serves he can't return. But I might give him a spinny serve, the same one over and over, until he figures out how to return it - that's a challenge for him.

In a more serious match that's also a mismatch, I'll mostly try every point (though I'll likely have a few "fun" lobbing points), but I may practice certain shots, such as forcing my third-ball attack or certain types of receive, rather than play tactically. I might also hold back on my trickier serves, unless I feel like the opponent needs practice against them - it depends on their level. Letting an opponent face tricky serves is good practice for them, but if their level is too low and I throw all sorts of tricky serves at them (as opposed to perhaps one or two, so they have a serious chance of figuring them out), that won't help except as an occasional reminder of what's possible so they'll also try to develop such serves. Against some weaker players I'll just keep the ball in play and let them practice their attack while I focus on consistency - but I'm fighting hard to be as consistent as possible.

Since I've got a very strong third-ball attack, one thing I often do with students is play games where I force the third-ball attack, sometimes even playing with the rule that I have to end the point on the first shot after my serve. This forces them to really focus on good receives. Since I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be, they have a fighting chance once they realize I can't cover both corners with my forehand like I used to, and so if they can play both wide corners without telegraphing it, I'm in trouble!

In practice against an obviously much weaker player, if I'm up 10-0, I almost always put a ball up slightly to give them a decent chance of winning that point. In a tournament I might consider doing this if it's really a mismatch, especially if it's match point. But I won't give the point away for free - they have to make the shot, and get through my defense as well. Some of course disagree with this philosophy, and say go for blood every time.

Bottom line - it's a judgment call, not a one-size-fits-all thing.

Capital Area Super League

Here's the home page for this new team league in the Washington DC area. Please sign your team up early, so the organizers can have a sense of how many teams are going to be part of the league. There is no downside for signing up – rosters can be adjusted and fees are not due until March 1. The deadline will be extended until Feb 15, but, please sign up early. If you don’t have a home venue, contact the organizers. They can help you with that.

Samson Dubina Articles

The Secret to Long Pips

Here's the coaching article from Pong Universe.

Ask the Coach

Episode #65 (15:51) - Contact Points

  • Previous #PQOTD  - 3:07: How many different types of rubber have you tried?
  • #PQOTD  - 4:14: How old were you when you started Table Tennis?
  • Question 1 - 4:45: How can i play a offensive stroke on a short side spin serve? Pratap
  • Question 2 - 6:04: What is an ideal contact point for BH and FH? Because BH the bat is close to the stomach. FH the bat travels from far from the back. Ashok
  • Question 3 - 8:23: I’ve read the chinese put the forefinger not along the bat but near the middle ? I have tested and I find the control is better and the feeling is also better when the ball arrives on the bat. What do you think? Martin and
  • Question 4 - 11:16: Is there a way to make the ball spin backwards and while spinning backwards have the ball curve sideways when serving? Tyson
  • Question 5 - 13:17: In your previous video, you said not to use the backhand smash that frequently but since I'm a left handed player, I receive most of the shots on my backhand so should I use the backhand smash more often or do you have another strategy? Aiyan

Master of Table Tennis

Here's the new highlights video (7:19), featuring Wang Liqin, Ma Lin, and Ryu Seung Min.

Triangle Teams

This past weekend MDTTC players Ruichao "Alex" Chen and Nathan Hsu won the 4-star Triangle Team tournament in Cary, NC. No online results yet, but here's a picture. (Click on it to see other team pictures.)

4 Healthy Habits to Play Table Tennis Forever

Here's the article from Pong Universe.

Brother & Sister Duo Prachi and Kanak Jha Focused on Pan Am and National Team Trials

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Indian Hand Helps US Progress in Table Tennis

Here's the article in the Times of India that features ICC Coach Rajul Sheth.

7th Annual Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC Tournament of Champions Pong

Here's the video (60 sec). "A recap video of the JOOLA sponsored Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC 7th Annual Tournament of Champions Pong. This year's tournament helped to raise over $95,000 dollars."

Three Media Internships Available at the Qoros 2015 World Table Tennis Championships

Here's the info page.

Adham Sharara: Zhang Jike Should Be Disqualified

Here's the article. Note the dissenting comment at the end by Barry Meisel.

A "Muscular" Adam Bobrow Directs Airline Traffic with Paddles

Here's the picture! (Here's the result.)

No School Because of Snow

Here's the video (20 sec) of MDTTC junior star Klaus Wood's "reaction" to learning there was no school yesterday due to the two-inch blizzard.

Snow Pong

Here's the picture.

A "Hot" Serve

Here's the fiery video (5 sec)!

***

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