Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). 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 eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each! Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational fiction, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

June 29, 2011

Thoughts on the U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open in Milwaukee in just a few hours. Here are a few last-minute thoughts.

  • Will the umpires at the U.S. Open enforce the service rules, in particular the one that states, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." I am so tired of opponents hiding their serves against players I'm coaching, with the umpire saying they weren't sure if the serve was visible to the receiver and so didn't call it. If you aren't sure if the serve is visible to the receiver, then the server has failed "to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." Umpires, please reread that ten times, and consider: if a server is serving so that it's so close to whether the receiver can see contact that you aren't sure, that means the server is trying to hide the serve. Are you going to let him cheat? (And to be fair, umpires are among the hardest workers at a tournament doing one of the most thankless jobs, so let me thank you in advance - but only if you call those faults!!!)
  • I keep getting accused of coaching during matches at major tournaments, something I've never done. If I clap, they think it's a signal. If I fidget, grin, frown, or so much as breathe, I'm told I'm coaching. The players I coach think it's hilarious when I get warned, but it's rather irritating. It happened twice at the North American Championships and twice at the Nationals.
  • Just how good are Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun? Jeffrey, 23, started coaching at my club (MDTTC) in December, and won the Cary Cup and Easterns, despite being out of practice. He's rated "only" 2612. He's been practicing for the Open, often with Sun Ting, so we may finally see how good he is. As to Sun Ting, 27, he's rated 2730 from the 1999 Teams when he was just 15. Has he improved? (I've nicknamed him "The Sun King.")
  • Should I spend Wednesday at the hotel hot tub, lounging around the hotel room reading and watching movies, lounging around the playing site, helping with the Paralympic training camp, touring Milwaukee, surfing the web, practicing, walking about looking important, or writing? (I arrive around 8AM.)
  • Should I have gotten a haircut before the Open?

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I just updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. There are now 1204 pictures of 707 celebrities. In the last month I've added pictures of Barack Obama, David Cameron (prime minister of England), Wen Jiabao (premier of China), Nicolas Sarkozy (president of France), basketball player Yao Ming, tennis players Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, alpine skiers Lindsey & Thomas Vonn, Vince Coleman (former senator of Minnesota), Milwaukee Brewers baseball players Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, and John Axford, and new pictures of tennis player Bobby Riggs, boxer Rocky Marciano, and financier Warren Buffett. This is just a small taste of what's there, which includes sections on Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other. Two celebrity players at this year's U.S. Open are pictured - acter Adoni Maropis and calligrapher Julian Waters. Now go explore the 707 different celebrities caught in the act of playing table tennis! (Top table tennis players do not count as celebrities here.)

Full-time training centers and junior programs

Twenty years ago there were no full-time training centers in the U.S. devoted to full-time training. So we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center.

Four and a half years ago I made a proposal to USATT urging them to make it a goal to have 100 successful junior programs in the U.S. in five years. The plan involved recruiting and training coaches to become full-time coaches and run junior programs. At the time there were at most ten junior programs in the country that I'd call successful. USATT had no interest. This was a major reason why I resigned all my positions with USATT - editor, webmaster, and programs director.

Now we have a number of full-time training centers and junior programs around the U.S. The result is that the competition in junior and cadet events is much stronger than before. Imagine if USATT had taken the initiative by recruiting and training coaches, instead of sitting around and watching while every now and then someone would take the initiative and create such a program, usually having to reinvent the wheel from scratch. (Actually, they learned from each other; I've spent a huge number of hours talking and emailing with coaches and promoters interested in opening such centers and running junior programs, as have others.) If USATT had made this a priority, there would be far more successful junior programs and the competition could have been even tougher - and since I'm coaching there, I'm thankful at least for that.

Penguin playing ping-pong

Yep, here's a 40-second video of a penguin playing table tennis. Enjoy.

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June 28, 2011

U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open tomorrow morning. Since my flight out of BWI is at 7AM I'll be leaving around 4:30 AM - it's an hour away. (Guess I have to get up really early tomorrow to do my blog.) I'll try to blog about tournament while I'm there, though between coaching and playing in hardbat events, I'm not sure how many of the "big" matches I'll get to see. I'm also going to attend some USATT meetings.

If you are at the Open, come by and say hello. And before you go there, make sure to get lots of sleep, eat well, and PRACTICE YOUR SERVES! Service practice and match play are the two most important table tennis things you can do just before a tournament. On the other hand, I may have to play or coach against you, so stay up late, eat potato chips, and watch plenty of TV.

U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream

About an hour ago I woke from the strangest table tennis dream possible. I grabbed a notebook and wrote it down.

I was at the U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships, which starts in two days in Milwaukee. I was coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the U.S. cadet team who I'll be coaching there. His opponent complained about his racket, pointing out that Tong Tong was using a book as a racket. The referee, an extremely old man with a white beard that dragged on the floor, examined the book, and declared it illegal, saying the racket needed to be made of wood. He handed it back to Tong Tong, who started to cry. (Sorry Tong Tong, I'm just reporting the facts!) I argued that paper comes from wood, but the referee just smiled and then dissolved into nothing. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger, wearing a black raincoat and dark sunglasses, walked over, followed by eight others. The eight also wore black raincoats and carried black umbrellas, though it wasn't raining. Right about now I realized that we were outdoors, with hundreds of table tennis tables set up on railroad tracks. Arnold snatched the book out of Tong Tong's hand, and then leaped into the air and flew away like superman. The other eight black raincoat-clad umbrella-waving men flew after him. I leaped into the air and flew after them, holding a ping-pong paddle. I landed next to a railroad car, and looked inside, and found Arnold and the eight there. They came out and attacked me with their umbrellas on the railroad tracks. I knocked each one out with my paddle with a forehand or backhand stroke. Each time I knocked one out I said, "Happy birthday." I knocked out Arnold with a backhand and grabbed the book from his hands. Then I saw Tong Tong lighting fire to an old jeep that was apparently Arnold's. We pushed it down a road that paralleled the railroad tracks, and it slammed into a cliff and exploded. Then I woke up.

The Grip

Here's a nice article on the shakehands grip by German National Coach Richard Prause.

Ping-pong without a partner or a ball.

The Japanese have developed a table-tennis game that you play by ear. Make sure to play the two-minute video demo. And to think it all started with a simple video game called "Pong"!

Milwaukee Brewers versus the Chinese National Women's Table Tennis Team

Guess who won? (Former Chinese team member and all-time great Zhang Yining also "competed.")

Allstar Challenge

Here are the results, pictures, and other info on the International Table Tennis All-Star Challenge held this past weekend in Markham, Ontario, Canada. The winner was a blast from the past - Zoran Primorac, who defeated Wang Xi in the final. Here are the (somewhat convoluted?) results.

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June 27, 2011

Gmail problem

This weekend I was hit with a virtual avalanche of spammers on both the Forum and Blog comments. They all came with varied (and apparently random) gmail addresses. I ended up spending many hours personally deleting several hundred postings and blocking (one by one) over one hundred gmail addresses. Finally, rather than put into place more stringent requirements for registration - something I may have to do later on - I simply blocked all gmail accounts.

If you have a gmail account, you probably can't post or comment right now, and probably can't register. If you have an alternate email, please use that. If you only have gmail, please email me and let me know; it would be helpful to know if many real people are affected by this. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Since I'm leaving for the U.S. Open on Wednesday, I'm probably going to have to leave gmail blocked until I return. Then I'll decide if I have to use more stringent registration procedures. (Which I haven't really researched yet.) The last thing I want to do is spend the U.S. Open deleting spam and blocking individual posters all day long.

Speaking of the U.S. Open...

I leave in (checks watch) exactly 46 hours and six minutes. It's in Milwaukee; here's the info page. I'm there primarily to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Open Hardbat (I'm two-time champion), Open Hardbat Doubles (I'm ten-time and defending champion from the Nationals), and Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion from the Nationals). (Note that when I list how many times I've won I'm including both the Open and Nationals.) If there's a conflict between playing hardbat and coaching an important match, I'll have to default and coach - that's my primary purpose there. (I'll mostly be coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the USA Cadet team from my club.) I'm normally a sponge player, but I've been playing hardbat on the side for a few decades. I also expect to attend a few USATT meetings.

Complex Versus Simple Tactics

This week's Tip of the Week is on [read headline, duh!].

The Dominating and Limiting Factors in Your Game?

What are the dominating and limiting factors in your game? Too often players only look at what they do well, and forget the latter, the things they don't do well, i.e. the things opponents go after. I remember watching a player with great footwork and a great loop lose a match because he couldn't effectively return the opponent's simply short backspin serve. Over the next week, the player practiced every day, focusing almost exclusively on his strengths, footwork and looping. He never addressed the problem of his weak return of a short backspin serve. 

A player's level is really based on three things. There are the things he does well (i.e. the things you dominate with); the things he doesn't do well (i.e. the limiting factors that hold you back), and everything else (things you don't dominate with but don't hold you back). I generally advise players to practice everything you do in a game, but focus on making the strengths overpowering while removing any weaknesses. At any given level you need to have at least one thing that scares the opponent while not having any glaring weaknesses the opponent can easily play into.

Great exhibition points

Here's a montage of great exhibition points (4:31), to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama." You can always turn off the sound.

Forehand Pendulum Serve

Here's an interesting two-minute video that shows ten different forehand pendulum serves, both in real time and in slow motion.

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June 24, 2011

Pushing those non-push receives

A lot of beginning/intermediate players tend to push back any serve that comes at them slow. This is fine at the beginning level where backspin serves come at them slow, while topspin serves come at them faster. At the higher levels, this is not true; intermediate players can serve with sidespin and topspin that goes out slowly, since they've learned to graze the ball, and so most of their energy goes into spin. And so if you push these serves, the ball flies off the end or to the side.

The problem is that beginners get it ingrained that they can push a slow serve, when they should be reacting to the spin, not the speed of the ball, and pushing only against backspin or no-spin balls. How do you teach them to break this habit?

I find it useful to have them put their racket down and simply watch (from a ready position) as I serve short sidespin and topspin serves, and to call the spin each time. (I simplify it to having them call out either backspin or side-top.)  They can't always pick it up from just contact, but between contact, and the way the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, they can begin to read the spin. I stress that they should be looking to attack any serve that's mostly sidespin or topspin, and to look for those serves, rather than look to push. Then, if the serve obviously has backspin, they can choose to push.

Once they can call out the type of spin correctly, I then have them practice attacking the side-top serves. When they can do that, then I vary the serve, and they have to attack those serves, push the backspin serves. This seems a good way to break the "push anything slow" type of receive problem.

MDTTC camp happenings

Today's the last day of the MDTTC June Camp. (We have five this summer, all five days long - see schedule.) The camps are primarily for junior players - we have about 30 in the camp, average age is about 11, ranging from 7 to 18 - but all ages and levels are welcome. I mostly run the morning sessions (short lectures, multiball, games) with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang helping out; they run the afternoon sessions. We also have Jeffrey Zeng Xun (2612) and Sun Ting (2730) coaching, and in the afternoon sessions Raghu Nadmichettu (2390) and Vahid Mosafari (2284) as practice partners.

I'm always amazed at how so many new kids pick things up so quickly. Over and over I'll start one on something new, perhaps something basic like the forehand or something more advanced liked looping, and after a few minutes I'm starting to think, "He'll never get this." And then something clicks, and he gets it. One kid absolutely could not get looping for three days, and then, suddenly, yesterday morning something went "CLICK!," and he was looping over and over during multiball.

Balls are everywhere during the sessions. We have nets that are dragged across the floor to pick them up. While picking up balls yesterday, I told one kid who had a net full of balls that we'd picked up enough. He looked at me, sort of shrugged, and turned the net upside down, emptying the balls onto the floor. I exclaimed, "What did you do that for?" He looked at me defensively and cried out, "You said we had enough!"

Probably the funnest part of the sessions is when I take a number of the new players and we have target practice. They rotate, each hitting two forehands (one from backhand side, one from forehand side), aiming for a bottle I put on the table. I tell them it's full of worm juice (!), and whenever they hit it, I have to take a drink. They take great delight in making me drink the worm juice; I take great delight in trying to convince them that they aren't good enough to hit that tiny target, which turns out to be excellent reverse psychology. I get bloated from drinking too much . . . worm juice. I also bring out the cups - I put them on the table either in a bowling pin pattern or lined up on the endline, and they see how many shots it takes to knock them all down, or how many they can knock down with ten shots.

Ping Pong Power Puma Girl

She shows her magic powers over masses of ping-pong balls in this 48-second video. Do not try this at home; she's a professional. (See lots of other humorous videos in the TableTennisCoaching.com Fun and Games section.)

Why Sponge is Valuable

There are still a lot of players who use plain pimpled rubber (no sponge, i.e. hardbat) rather than jumping on the bandwagon and using sponge like just about all the top players. It’s time we settle this once and for all! So here are 12 advantages of sponge. (This is an updated reprint of something I wrote long ago.) 

  1. You can’t clean a table with pimpled rubber.
  2. You can’t pimpled rubber off a friend.
  3. Pimpled rubber baths hurt and leave abrasions on the skin.
  4. You can’t cleanse the oceans with pimpled rubbers.
  5. You can’t dress up Tim Allen as Santa Clause with pimpled rubber padding.
  6. PimpledRubberBob SquarePants just doesn’t have the same ring.
  7. Pole vaulting onto pimpled rubber hurts like heck.
  8. Pimpled rubber cake tastes like rubber.
  9. A child with a mind like a pimpled rubber will probably be in trouble.
  10. You can’t develop a complex brain from a pimpledrubberioblast
  11. Sponge flies can’t survive off of pimpled rubber, since they live off of fresh-water sponges.
  12. You can’t do public experiments in perception, phenomenology and desire at http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/pimpledrubber.org – you need http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/sponge.org. (You can look it up!)

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June 23, 2011

Those topspin drills

When practicing, most players start off most drills with a simple topspin serve so they can get into the drill, whether it's a looping drill, a footwork drill, or some combination or other drill. But in a match, how often does a rally start that way? Far more often rallies start with someone opening by attacking against a backspin, the most common type of serve. So if you are relatively consistent in these straight topspin drills, you should move to a more advanced version, and start the drill by serving backspin, your partner pushes it back, you attack (normally by looping the deep pushes, flipping the short ones), and then continue with the drill. If you want to get better, you need to both push yourself with more and more difficult drills, and do drills that match what you'll face in a match.

Marty Reisman plays lobby pong

Yes, the flamboyant two-time U.S. Men's Champion passes the time ponging in a hotel lobby (1:21). And here's a clip of him winning the 1949 English Open over five-time World Men's Singles Champion Viktor "Mr. Backhand" Barna (1:50).

Rafael Nadal and Kevin Spacey playing table tennis

I think I posted this once before, but this two-minute video deserves reposting. Spacey says to Nadal, "You should be nervous because I'm about to beat you in a game that demands the physical stamina of a boxer, the agility of a gymnast, the tactical acting of a chess player." Here's Nadal again, hitting forehands

Shakehanders versus Penholders? Oops!

Here's an article in the China Daily (in English) about a match-up of the best shakehand players in the world against the best penholders. But what's really interesting is that they got shakehand and penhold mixed up throughout the article! For example, in the caption at the start, it says, "Shakehand group members (from left) Wang Hao, Ryu Seung-min and Ma Lin, and penhold group members (from right) Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Timo Boll and China's men's head coach Liu Guoliang (center) pose before the match." But of course (as you can also see from the picture), Wang, Ryu, and Ma Lin are penholders, while Ma Long, Zhang, and Boll are shakehanders. I'm wondering if they are going to correct it or not; the story went up yesterday afternoon and they still haven't fixed it.

40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Thrice

As I noted in my blog last Friday (June 17), the 40th Anniversary of the iconic U.S. team's trip to China in 1971 is this year. I gave links to two festivities, but I've added a third, the Bay Area one. (There is also a U.S. delegation going to China for festivities there, but I don't have info on that.)

Also as noted last Friday, you can read more about Ping-Pong Diplomacy in Tim Boggan's two online books on the subject, "Ping-Pong Oddity" (covering the U.S. Team's trip to China in 1971) and "Grand Tour," covering the Chinese team's trip to the U.S. in 1972. Better still, buy the books, along with Tim's other table tennis history books, at TimBogganTableTennis.com! (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and fix up the photos for these books, and created and maintain his web page.)

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June 22, 2011

Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun practice session

Had a fascinating time watching these two train together yesterday as they prepare for the U.S. Open. Sun (rated 2730) is here for much of the summer, and is seeded fourth in Men's Singles at the Open (which starts in about a week), while Jeffrey (2612) is almost the same level - he's way out of practice, as he lamented during his first serious practice session in some time. (That's what happens to players who become coaches.) They spent most of the session taking turns feeding multiball to each other. How many of you do that, as opposed to just hitting?

Sun Ting ("Sun King"?) is a lefty with short pips on the backhand. He's basically a put-away machine on both sides. He's one of those players who absolutely rips his forehand. His backhand is like Shao Yu's, a top New York player also with a great pips-out backhand smash. Together, there's no safe place to put the ball. Add in great serves, and you see why the 2730 rating is probably way too low. The rating actually comes from playing in the North American Teams back in 1999 - when he was 15! He's now 27, and I'm told considerably better.

Jeffrey's loops aren't quite as punishing, but he's very steady, and has a nice backhand loop. He controls play with a great receive game. He won his last two tournaments, the Cary Cup and the Eastern Open, but since he's basically been coaching the last year or so without training, we haven't seen his best yet. During the training session, he was a bit disgusted with himself because he was winded several times. When he looked over at me one time after doing several minutes of an extremely fast footwork drill, I jokingly jogged in place and pointed at him, and he nodded. I think he's doing some serious physical training to get ready for the Open.

We're in the middle of a training camp here at MDTTC; during the camp, Sun took juniors John and Nathan Hsu (both about 2200 players) and put them through some serious drills. Watching this and watching Sun and Jeffrey train tired me out.

Are you missing an ingredient?

Here's something I wrote in a comment recently, and thought I'd repeat it here. It's amazing to me how many players never learn the joys of chopping. Personally, I find that if you don't use all of the major attacking shots (FH and BH looping and smashing) and all of the major defensive shots (chopping, blocking, lobbing, fishing), and a sampling of everything else, table tennis is like fine food that's missing an ingredient.

Feature on Ariel Hsing and Michael Landers

Yes, the documentary is coming! I'm proud to say that Michael came to four of our training camps in Maryland when he was about 12 or 13, and I had the opportunity to work with him with lots of multiball training. And I once proudly lost a "clipboard" challenge to Ariel, where I used a clipboard for a racket, and she showed me the advantage of sponge! (Prepare for some controversy - the documentary calls Ariel the youngest U.S. Women's Champion ever - she won in Dec. 2010 at age 15 - which many will contest since Patty Martinez was the U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion in 1965 at age 13, in the days before we had a USA Nationals, and the Open champion was considered the U.S. Champion. Ariel is, of course, the youngest to win Women's Singles at the USA Nationals since its debut in 1976.)

Will Shortz, Robert Roberts, and the Westchester Table Tennis Center

New York Times columnist and table tennis addict Will Shortz (and an 1800 player) and Caribbean champion and 2500+ player Robert Roberts have combined forces to open the full-time 13,000-foot Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York. Here's an 18-minute video that chronicles their odyssey from idea to fruition. Here's an article about it.

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June 21, 2011

Serious Goofing Off versus Non-serious Goofing Off

Some players simply do not understand the advantage of SGO (Serious Goofing Off) versus NGO (Non-serious Goofing Off, with apologies to numerous Vietnamese players). In SGO, you are simply goofing off, and besides insulting your opponent, you are not only not helping yourself, you are developing bad habits. However, SGO can actually be valuable. For example, I saw one of our junior players play a lobber by constantly faking a smash and then just patting the ball back. I pulled him aside and said, "If you are going to drop shot his lob, then try to drop it for a winner." In other words, instead of just patting it back, he should go for a side-spin chop block, and try to double-bounce it so the lobber couldn't even get to it, or had to lunge. Another example: If you are going to lob, try to win the lob point with heavy spin (both topspin and sidespin), basically a high loop. Another example: If you are going to just return the serve without attacking it, then, well, do something serious with it - fake one way and go the other, and try to win the point with a "weak" return. Aim to this backhand, and as he's stepping around, go to the forehand and try not to giggle as the server stumbles all over the place trying to get to it.

Who was the all-time greatest SGO champion? Jan-Ove Waldner. You don't develop his touch and control without some serious SGO.

Why can't you serve like this?

Well, why can't you? There really are two types of serves: those whose purpose is to set you up to attack ("third-ball serves"), and those whose purpose is to either win the point outright or set up an easy winner ("surprise serves"). You should develop both.

Highlights of day one of the MDTTC Camp

Weird stuff happened on the first day of the camp here in Maryland. I was feeding multiball to one kid who was looping, and the ball I fed him hit a ball rolling on his side of the table, and bounced up almost normal. Without hesitation, the kid looped it away. That alone was strange, but about two shots later one of his shots hit my paddle as I was feeding him another shot, and both balls shot toward him. He looped both balls (on the table) with one stroke. One came at me, and hit my paddle again, and again both balls shot at him. Again he hit both balls, and although one went off, this was when we both practically fell to the ground laughing. Later, when someone accidentally (I hope) hit a ball at me, I ducked. A girl asked why I ducked, and I said because I was afraid of the ball hitting me. She called me a "ducking chicken."

And we also taught some table tennis.

ITTF Coaches in the U.S.

There are now 29 ITTF certified coaches in the U.S., including myself. Eleven of them are from the ITTF Coaching seminar in Maryland I ran in April. (To qualify, coaches not only had to take the 24-hour course, but also complete 30 hours of coaching, including five "supervised" by an ITTF coach or other approved high-level coach.) The eleven are Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD). To see all 29 ITTF coaches from the U.S., see the ITTF coaches listing (set country to USA).

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June 20, 2011

Games against beginning/intermediate players

Because of a bad back, I've been playing an extraordinary number of "matches" against beginning and intermediate juniors in our junior session. I put "matches" in quotes because, well, they are beginning and intermediate players and aren't exactly going to challenge me at this stage in their development. Or are they? I started setting rules to equalize things. For example, I might have to push every serve to the player's forehand. Or even pop up every serve to the forehand. You get the idea. Suddenly a lot of close games! (Haven't lost any yet, but some good points.) One thing that came off well was when we played some straight backhand-to-backhand matches, where I'd spot five points. We'd put a box on the table to mark the middle, and any ball that hits the box or goes to the forehand side is a lost point. Then we go at it, backhand-to-backhand. Some really vicious points! So next time you're at your club and there's some "weaker" players, why not play them a serious match with improvised rules? It's great practice and makes every match competitive.

MDTTC Training Camp

The first of our five summer training camps starts today. All are Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. I'll be coaching along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. There are about 30 kids in the camp. Our general system: I run the morning sessions, including organizing and short lectures on each major topic. I divide the players into four groups, one per coach, and then we do multiball, with the players hitting among themselves when they are not doing multiball. There's a two-hour break from 1-3 for lunch - we order from a Chinese place in the morning at $5.25/meal, they deliver for lunch. Cheng and Jack run the afternoon session, which is nearly all table practice. We usually bring in two practice partners for the afternoon session, usually Raghu Nadmichettu (2429) and Vahid Mosafari (2273).

It's not all work - we end each session with games. Toward the end of the morning session I take the younger kids off to play various games where they try to hit a drink bottle (I tell them it's worm juice, and I have to take a sip whenever they hit it), or knock cups off the table. At the end of the morning session we play Brazilian Teams, where you have 3-5 on a team, and one player plays at a time, staying at the table until he/she loses a point, then the next player is up, with games usually to 41. We usually finish the afternoon session with 11-point games, where you move up or down the table depending on whether you win or lose. Sometimes we do this with doubles.

Sun Ting

Sun Ting of China (doesn't that sound like "Sun King"?), rated 2730 and seeded fourth at the upcoming U.S. Open, is here at MDTTC for much of the summer training with our players. He's a lefty with short pips on the backhand and the usual run-of-the-mill incredibly spectacular forehand loop. He also has great forehand pendulum serves that have flummoxed everyone so far - extremely quick contact that's almost impossible to pick up.

Final of the China Open

It's a great match to watch as Ma Lin (penholder) defeats Ma Long (shakehander), but both play great. See Ma Long's receive at 0:55 (which is then replayed in slow motion). Too often people watch the shotmaking of the top players, but you can actually gain more by watching how they serve and receive. (Not just the spectacular receives like this one, but the more common ones.)  

$45,000 LA Open

Yes, you read that right. Sept. 3-4, 2011 in Los Angeles.

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June 17, 2011

Use it or lose it

Yes, I'm talking to you, the aging table tennis player reading this article. Or the young but lazy one. You both have the ability to move when you play, but you don't do it enough. Sure, you gradually slow down as you age, and so many older players become more backhand-oriented rather than attacking with their forehand, which takes more footwork. Sure, younger players may find that if they use less footwork and simply stand at the table, they won't get caught out of position. Both of these are defensible positions. But guess what? The loss of footwork begins with a single non-use of your footwork. The more you don't use footwork, the faster you lose it, which gives you more reason not to use it, which accelerates the loss of footwork, which . . . you get the idea.

It's not just footwork. When I was younger, I liked to counterloop off the bounce, or back up way off the table to counterloop. (Strangely, I was better at the two extremes.) Now that I'm older (read: stiffer and slower), these shots are harder to pull off. So it'd be best to stop using them, right? Then they'd become even harder to do from lack of use, making it even more important that I stop using them, accelerating the loss of these shots, which . . . you get the idea.

Let me rephrase what I said above: The loss of any part of your game begins with a single non-use of it. Because you can't stop using it without a first non-use. So keep using it, even if it leads to a few short-term losses.

And if you do have any complaints about your footwork, let me tell you about the . . .

One-legged nine-year-old table tennis player

The title explains the article and short video. Now, you were complaining about your footwork woes? (Ironically, the kid has little problems with his footwork with the nice prosthesis.)

40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Twice

Yes, the 40th Anniversary of the iconic U.S. team's trip to China in 1971 is this year. (At the 25th Anniversary festivities, I met and shook hands with Henry Kissinger.) Here are two festivities that I know of.

Want to read more about Ping-Pong Diplomacy? Try Tim Boggan's two online books on the subject, "Ping-Pong Oddity" (covering the U.S. Team's trip to China in 1971) and "Grand Tour," covering the Chinese team's trip to the U.S. in 1972. Better still, buy the books, along with Tim's other table tennis history books, at TimBogganTableTennis.com! (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and fix up the photos for these books, and created and maintain his web page.)

China Open

The China Open is going on right now, and let's face it, we might as well call it the "80% of the World Open," since probably 80% of the best players in the world are from China. Here's coverage of it.

Cats and table tennis.

Why do they go together? (Answer they don't, but play along.) Here's 33 seconds of cats and table tennis. Want more? Then see the Humorous Table Tennis Videos section of the Fun and Games section here at TableTennisCoaching.com, and scroll down to "Ping-Pong Cats." Or, if you prefer, "Ping-Pong Dogs." Where else can you find 74 videos of cats and table tennis, and 17 of dogs? Answer: only here! (Send us your own videos!)

Busy on my end

With summer coming up, I'm hitting a really, Really, REALLY busy time. Private and group coaching . . . five different five-day camps (one starting Monday, two others each in July August) . . . U.S. Open in Milwaukee (June 30- July 4) . . . this Blog and other stuff here . . . regular table tennis articles for various outlets . . . a new table tennis book (outlined, first chapter done, but may go on hold for now) . . . my non-table tennis science fiction writing . . . plus a major SF writer (known to any SF fan, but who must remain nameless for now) asked me to proof his latest novel, which I'm working on.

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June 16, 2011

The unconventional path

If your goal is to challenge the best players in the world, then you want to play the best possible style. But for anything less, almost any style will do. One of the ironies of coaching is that if certain styles have a 1% advantage over another, then nearly 100% of students are taught those styles. After all, who wants to be the coach that teaches someone an "inferior" style? And so very few new players are taught to be choppers, long pips blockers, pips-out penholders, hardbatters, the Seemiller (or American) grip, and so on. These aren't considered the "best" styles, and so almost nobody teaches or learns them. Is there a place for these styles?

One of the kids I coach discovered chopping just yesterday. He has a decent forehand, but isn't that strong of an attacker yet. He has a good backhand push, and is now learning to push on the forehand. Obviously, it's very early in his game development. But once he learned what a chop was, he wanted to learn to do it. It was his first time, and his chops weren't very heavy and they popped up, but he had fun. Conventionally, you don't teach juniors to be choppers. And conventionally, even choppers are supposed to develop a good foundation of forehand and backhand attack before becoming choppers. So . . . should we go conventional, or go with chopping? I'm leaning toward the latter.

I've never understood why more players don't learn to chop. It's not that they'll win many points that way - most won't - but it's a lot of fun, and adds a new dimension to your game. Why not give it a try?

Saskatchewan wants YOU!

Well, if you're a really good coach and organizer they do. To be exact, those crazy Canadians want to hire two coaches. Here's the STTA Coaching Job Posting.. And here's the notice they put out:

"The Saskatchewan Table Tennis Provincial Technical Coaches are responsible for the overall planning, identification, training, and development of an elite Saskatchewan provincial table tennis team. The successful candidate will identify, train, and develop athletes for the National Championships and the Canada Winter Games. The Provincial Technical Coaches, as members of The High Performance Committee, will design and implement table tennis programs necessary for a highly competitive Saskatchewan team at major national/regional championships and the Canada Winter Games. The Saskatchewan Provincial Technical Coaches will also be responsible for the organization and development of Table Tennis as a recreational, competitive and school sport in Saskatchewan. The Technical coaches will also be responsible for the development of all levels of coaches in the province."

Engineers defeat Architects; Doctors defeat Lawyers

"The docs kicked butt, and the lawyers couldn't even object," said Doug Wade, tournament organizer and president of Corpus Christi Table Tennis Club. For more, you'll just have to read the article.

Cheaters Cruise?

A lot of people cheat, but do you know how to cheat well? Probably not. And in fact some believe cheating is bad, when of course cheater is just an anagram of teacher. And so to meet this growing demand I hereby announce the International Cheaters Cruise to Yemen (ICCY). Whether you are a proficient cheater, or just a wannabe, you can join us on this one-way cruise to the land of milk and bombs and honey. We will teach you to lie about the score with a straight face; to hide your serve with a cupped hand and a two-inch toss; to quietly (or loudly, if need be) call edges on your shots that go long and vice versa. We will teach you to blackmail officials, even supplying you with a starter kit of the known vices of all National umpires and referees. We will teach you to use speed-glued frictionless long pips and how to serve wet balls. Above all, we will teach you the guise of good sportsmanship because if you can fake sincerity when you cheat, you are well on your way toward being a Champion. To apply for this special cruise, send us a personal essay on why you believe you have what it takes to be a top-level cheater--lying is encouraged--along with a non-refundable check for $666 made out to ICCY. Results guaranteed; you can trust us. (And no, we are not making fun of the ICC Table Tennis Club, though of course we hope to cheat all their juniors out of their lunch money.)

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