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.
NOTE - Larry is on the USATT Board of Directors and chairs the USATT Coaching Committee, but the views he shares in his blog are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of USA Table Tennis.

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
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!

November 1, 2011

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, with 11 new celebrities and 14 new pictures, bringing the totals up to 1285 pictures of 1285 celebrities. (Some pictures have multiple celebrities, so numbers below may appear not to add up.) New this month (and "new" means I already had pictures of that celebrity, but have put up new ones):

  • Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler's wife
  • Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback
  • Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos quarterback
  • Tiger Woods, golfer (new picture)
  • Payne Stewart, golfer
  • Sebastian Coe, English Olympic 1500 meter Olympic gold medalist
  • Andy Murray, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Boris Becker, tennis player
  • Bill Tilden, tennis player (2 new pictures)
  • Francis Hunter, tennis player (3 pictures)
  • Justin Gimelstob, tennis player
  • Wladimir Klitschko, Ukrainian heavyweight boxer (new picture)
  • Magnus Carlsen, chess player (2 pictures)
  • Boris Johnson, mayor of London (new picture)
  • Beatrice Lillie, actress
  • Junior Durkin, actor
  • Howard Jacobson, author (new picture)

Serve practice

I think the best way to do it, and way I do it (including a lot recently) is to practice one serve motion and one spin, depth, and placement variation at a time. After you've done a bunch of that one, do another variation with that motion. When you've practiced all the spin, depth, and placement variations for that motion, then practice doing them randomly. If you have trouble controlling one of them, go back and practice it until you have control of it, then go back to serving them randomly. When all this is done, move to the next service motion, and repeat. At the very end, randomly practice all the variations with all the motions.

A few important points. First, don't get in the habit of rapid-fire serving. Visualize each serve in your head before you do it, and make sure your execution matches what you visualize, including where it bounces on your side of the table, how it breaks, etc. Second, you should also practice subtle differences in the serves. For example, vary your follow-through on each serve to throw opponents off. On a forehand pendulum serve, sometimes follow through down, sometimes sideways, sometimes up. If you don't practice it, you won't be able to do it effectively in a match. Third, don't forget fast & deep serves. They take a disproportionate amount of time to develop the timing, and so put in extra practice with them.

Crazy inside-out sidespin by Wang Liqin

It's only nine seconds long, but if you want to learn how to loop inside-out with crazy inside-out sidespin, this is the video to watch. Shown at full speed and in slow motion, from two angles.

Pongcast Videos

  • 2011 European Championships (26:53), with play-by-play commentary, and time between points removed.
  • 2011 Swedish Open (30:30), starts off with "Classic Moments in Table Tennis History," then goes to the Swedish Open, with play-by-play commentary, and time between points removed.

Iran pulls out of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy"

North and South Korea, and India and Pakistan are all competing in Monaco in this modern version of Ping-Pong Diplomacy run by the Monaco-based Peace and Sport, but Iran has pulled out, with no reason given. Other teams competing are USA, China, Japan, Russia, France, and Qatar. Here's the ESPN article.

Big Ping-Pong

When I say Big Ping-Pong, I mean BIG PING-PONG. Watch this video (0:43), and see if you agree.

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October 31, 2011

Tip of the Week

When to React.

Serve Cycling

Many or most players use just a few simple serves, on the theory that if you have too many serve motions, you'll have trouble perfecting any of them, plus you'll have trouble learning and reacting to all the possible returns. (Surprisingly, two serves done with the same spin and placement but a different motion are often returned differently by opponents.) There's nothing wrong with doing it this way. I do urge players like this to have alternate "trick" serves to throw at their opponents as a variation, which both gives them "free" points as well as making their other serves more effective as the receiver has more serves to worry about.

However, there's another way to serve, which I call "cycling." What this means is that you constantly throw different serves at your opponent, essentially cycling through your entire repertoire, often almost in sequence. The goal is never to use the same serve twice in a row, and usually not even the same service motion twice in a row.  Challenge the opponent with every variation you have, with as many service motions, spins, speeds, depths, and placements as possible. Your goal is to make them miss or pop up your serve. Try to fry their brain. Keep track of which serves give the opponent the most trouble, and recycle those serves more often than others. Use the most effective serves not just at the end of a close game, but throughout a game to make sure it isn't a close game. (Or to make a game you would have lost into a close game.)

I've always used this type of serving against some opponents, and recently I've taken to doing it more and more, with surprising effectiveness. Often I play entire games without using the same serve twice. While it's more effective at lower levels, it's surprisingly effective against many advanced players as well, as long as you don't overdo the long serves. One key - you will have to practice your serves a lot to effective cycle your serves in this way. In particular, you need to serve low, and for short serves and serves where the second bounce should be near the end-line, the depth.

The Magic of Table Tennis

Here's a great video of table tennis clips, set to music (7:39). One of the best I've seen.

Fierce ping-pong competition erupts outside Red Wings locker room

Sometimes, in the middle of a fight, a hockey game breaks out. In this case, in the middle of a hockey game (or at least after practice) a bunch of ping-pong games broke out. Here's a video (1:05) and article about the Detroit Red Wings playing table tennis. Players included Ty Conklin, Danny Cleary, Jiri Hudler, Brad Stuart, Patrick Eaves, and Nicklas Lidstrom. 

Happy Halloween!

In honor of Halloween, here are three table tennis Halloween videos!

The Official Table Tennis Nation Halloween Costume Guide 2011

Who do you want to be for Halloween? Marty Reisman? Forrest Gump? Christopher Walken? Susan Sarandon? These are all great possibilities, and the site gives step-by-step instructions for each of these costumes.

Susan Sarandon Trick Shot Video

Since some of you might be dressing up as Susan Sarandon for Halloween (see segment above), this is the perfect time to bring you the Susan Sarandon Trick Shot Video (1:08). Yes, it features Susan Sarandon and her ping-pong bag of tricks.

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October 28, 2011

Werner Schlager on Talent

2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria recently made a surprise appearance on the about.com table tennis forum. While explaining how Germany's Timo Boll (European #1, world #2) did something so well, he wrote, "I can assure you, there is only one 'magic' behind it: a little talent and many of years of practice." When asked to elaborate on the subject of talent, this is what he wrote:

"Imagine you are born with a double resolution of your eyes retina. You can see with more detail than others. Any exercise regarding reading, searching, etc. is somehow easy for you. But: Probably you wouldn't even realize that you have that gift. Because for you it is NORMAL.

"And this is why i see my gift (far more unspectacular than double resolution retinas, lol) also as "not so special". Probably it is very special to others, but i couldn't even describe you my talent. Is it logical thinking? Is it body movement sensitivity? Is it vision? Is it creativity? Is it my low muscle tension? Hmmm- most likely a little bit of all the things i just mentioned...that is why i stated: 'a little bit of talent' ;)

"But i somehow still believe everybody can play as good as i do- or better. And every time somebody fails, i scratch my head and almost can't believe it.

"Because for me it is easy and normal."

Jun Mizutani's backspin serve

They call it his "ghost serve," but it's just heavy backspin. The video shows how he does it in just 55 seconds. (One thing you can't see very well in the video is that he contacts the ball near the tip, where the racket is moving fastest, thereby creating the most spin.) Here are two tips.

First, while it's good practice to create a backspin serve that's so spinny and short that it bounces back into the net, you generally have to serve slightly high to do so, as Mizutani does here. It's more effective to serve it lower, and so that the second bounce (given the chance) is near the end-line, with more forward motion so that it doesn't bounce backward despite the extreme backspin. The serve Mizutani is doing is more for show, and is easier to return than one that goes deeper, faster, and lower.

Second, learn to do this serve where you also contact the ball near the handle, but with the same vigorous motion you use to produce heavy backspin by contacting the ball toward the tip. Then you'll be able to create heavy backspin and "heavy no-spin" with the same motion, which will confuse your opponent and lead to many missed or popped-up returns. ("Heavy no-spin," where you use a big serving motion but serve with no spin, is my favorite table tennis term.)

Zhang Jike loop

Here's world champion Zhang Jike's loop against a chopper (2:20).

High rating ambitions

Every year at about this time I'm always struck by the number of players using the "Team Finder" page for the North American Teams Championships to try to get on a much higher-rated team than their own rating. Personally, I'd feel rather awkward about trying to team up with players rated much higher. I'm sure every one of these players would argue that they are under-rated. (If they were over-rated, would they be looking for lower-rated teammates?) I've cut & pasted some of the ratings and messages there.

  • 500: I'm looking for a team rated in the 500-1300 range.
  • 1287: I am underrated and play as if I'm rated 2100.
  • 1635: We are looking for three players 1700 to 1850. Call me or email.
  • 1650: looking to join a team around 1700-1850 rating
  • 1700: Looking for a team with players ranging from 1750-1900.
  • 1884: Im looking for a syrong team who hace a rating between 1900- 2100
  • 1948: I'm looking to join a team with 2 players over 2000.
  • 2145: LOOKING FOR A TEAM 2300 LEVEL
  • 2236: Want a team with ratings above 2400 as that was my rating before.

Jackie Chan table tennis commercial

Here's a 30-second 2007 Visa commercial starring Jackie Chan as he tries to get it to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 by making the Olympic Team. He ends up using his Visa card instead.

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October 27, 2011

When to react

Have you ever studied your opponent to see exactly when in his strokes he commits to a specific placement? If not, you are handicapping yourself. Most players commit to a direction before they start their forward swing, and you should be moving to the ball as they start their forward swing. But most players don't react until the opponent has hit the ball, thereby wasting a lot of valuable time. More on this in this Monday's Tip of the Week.

Chinese footwork

These six short videos are perhaps the best videos I've ever seen on footwork, as well as a great example on proper stroking technique. Coach Wang Wen Jie of China explains Chinese footwork - which is pretty much the way all world-class players move, Chinese or otherwise. The various footwork techniques are shown both a regular speed and in slow motion, and explained by the coach.

Physical training for table tennis

A blog reader (who wished to stay anonymous) sent me these videos of physical training for table tennis. I think the titles are in French. There's a bunch of them - enjoy!

Table tennis at its "worst"

I'm not sure why they call it this, but this is a great highlights reel (4:16). It starts off with Samsonov and some magical graphics, then goes on to highlight Samsonov and most of the Chinese and European top players. 

Final of 1973 Worlds

Here's the final eight points (2:59) of the Men's Singles Final at the 1973 World, Kjell Johannson versus Xi Enting. Enting leads 17-14 at the start, then at 19-18, wins on two edge balls in a row!

 

Your next opponent

If you can handle this guy, then you are ready for anyone. Sure, he's bigger than you, has big teeth and bad breath, and will probably eat you if you win, but you're playing for pride. He's a defensive player - he likes to chop things - so be patient and play his middle.

Attendance figures, U.S. Open and USA Nationals

Recently I posted the attendance figures for the USA Nationals, 1994 to present. I've done the same for the U.S. Open. Below are the raw stats (which now includes location) and two graphs. Figures do not include players who played only in doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper. (Hardbat was added in 1997, sandpaper in 2010.)

U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships

USA Table Tennis Nationals

Year

Participants

Location

Year

Participants

Location

2011

548

Milwaukee, WI

2011

?

Virginia Beach

2010

645

Grand Rapids, MI

2010

686

Las Vegas

2009

610

Las Vegas, NV

2009

597

Las Vegas

2008

663

Las Vegas, NV

2008

604

Las Vegas

2007

769

Las Vegas, NV

2007

730

Las Vegas

2006

455

Charlotte, NC

2006

837

Las Vegas

2005

694

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

2005

829

Las Vegas

2004

664

Chicago, IL

2004

755

Las Vegas

2003

624

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

2003

707

Las Vegas

2002

626

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

2002

678

Las Vegas

2001

664

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

2001

672

Las Vegas

2000

691

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

2000

686

Las Vegas

1999

613

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

1999

658

Las Vegas

1998

524

Houston, TX

1998

592

Las Vegas

1997

785

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

1997

650

Las Vegas

1996

670

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

1996

613

Las Vegas

1995

580

Anaheim, CA

1995

660

Las Vegas

1994

667

Anaheim, CA

1994

598

Las Vegas

 

 

 

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October 26, 2011

More on Kjell Johansson

Here's the ITTF obit on Kjell Johansson. (I wrote about him in yesterday's blog.)

Table Tennis Tactics and Acronyms

I'm now hard at work on my new book, with the working title "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." (Alternate titles: "A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics" or "The Tao of Table Tennis Tactics." The advantage of the working title is that if the title starts out with "Table Tennis Tactics," it'll come up higher in online searches for table tennis and tactics.) I plan to have the first draft done by the Nationals in December. Here's a tidbit - recently I realized that all tactical thinking comes down to WEAR - Watch, Experiment, Analyze, and Remember. So WEAR your tactics with pride!

My other favorite table tennis acronym is on how to SPUR the growth of USA Table Tennis. Show the sport; get the masses to Play; get them to join USATT; and get them to Rejoin.

Tactics against a certain player

Here are examples of the tactics I use against a top player I play somewhat regularly. No, I won't give the name of the player, but it gives an example of the type of tactics you can use in a match. You'll note that most of the tactics are service tactics. That's the norm since those are what you have the most control over.

  1. Short pendulum serve to forehand and sometimes middle with changing spins forces mistakes and weak returns if not overused. Start out by using deceptive spin. Later go to more spin, which is less deceptive, but the increase in spin (especially side-top) catches the player off guard.
  2. Tomahawk serve (side-top or side-backspin) short or half-long to FH. Return is almost always toward my forehand, setting up my loop. Hold back on this serve so opponent doesn't get used to it. It's the go-to serve at the end of a close game.
  3. Fast no-spin to elbow. This draws the player toward the middle with a backhand receive, and sets me up to hit an aggressive backhand to the now open wide backhand.
  4. Short no-spin serves to middle cuts off the angles and keeps the player from pushing too heavy, and so sets me up for a loop, often off the bounce since I don't have to worry about the angles. Sometimes vary this with a short heavy chop serve, which will usually be pushed back heavy, which I loop slow and spinny deep to the wide corners.
  5. After any serve and loop that goes deep on the table, be ready to smash or loop kill the next ball. Don't hesitate.
  6. Sudden but occasional deep chop serve to the backhand often catches the player off guard and is pushed back, even though the player has a nice backhand loop. Watch closely how the player is receiving so I see quickly if I'm going to get a push or loop return.
  7. First loop should be varied to the wide corners and middle. If I make it look like I'm going to the forehand, the player often reacts too soon, leaving backhand side open.
  8. When receiving, look to aim to the backhand with a push return, then at the last second change directions and push either wide to the forehand (to draw the player out of position) or to the middle (to make the player choose forehand or backhand and draw out of position).
  9. In backhand exchanges, look for chances to play aggressively to the wide backhand and at the elbow. Stay out of the middle backhand area and never go to the forehand unless I have an extreme angle or the player is out of position.
  10. If the player hits a ball short in a rally, take it aggressively mostly to the wide forehand, since the player tends to leave that slightly open.
  11. In fast exchanges, look for chances to suddenly chop. This throws the player off and gets me out of fast exchanges that the player is good at.
  12. Lob and fish side to side with varying spin and height to force errors, and look for chances to lob to wide forehand to get a smash to my forehand to counter-attack or lob or fish with lots of spin.

Volunteers needed for 2012 Olympic Trials

The 2012 USA Olympic Trials (Feb. 9-12) and North American Olympic Trials (Apr. 20-22)will be held in Cary, NC. If you'd like to volunteer, play, or just spectate, visit their home page. Here's the text from the invitation latter I received.

"As you have hopefully heard, the US and North American Olympic Trials in Table Tennis are coming to Cary, North Carolina in February and April of 2012. This is an exciting event that will feature the best table tennis players in North America as they qualify to compete at the Olympic Games in London. We are now beginning to accept applications from local citizens who want to volunteer at the Olympic Trials. The volunteer application is now available on our website at www.cary2012.com. Available volunteer opportunities include venue operations, hospitality, and transportation. Volunteers will receive a commemorative tee shirt for their participation. 

"Additionally, we still have a special opportunity to be among the first to purchase the limited availability Friends of Table Tennis package. For $75, you receive all-event admission to both the U.S. and North America Trials, as well as admission to a special VIP reception featuring the country's top players. Seating is limited, so purchase your Friends of Table Tennis package today! Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.cary2012.com or the Cary Arts Center Box Office."

Denver Bronco Table Tennis Player

Quarterback Tim Tebow plays table tennis - see pictures and video!

Funny and spectacular table tennis

Here's both a funny and spectacular table tennis video (4:28). I love the part where the players are rolling in the tables. And don't miss the behind the back blocks at 1:29, 1:36, and 2:17, or the  penguin at the end!

Table Tennis Nation to Settle Occupy Wall Street

Yes, with Marty Reisman involved, all problems will be resolved. Here's the story. "Not since Lorne Michaels offered The Beatles $3000 to appear on Saturday Night Live has such a compelling offer been made to solve an ongoing national and international crisis."

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October 25, 2011

"The Hammer" dies at 65

Kjell Johnansson of Sweden, 1973 World Men's Singles Finalist (losing on two edge balls at 19-all in the fifth), who teamed with Stellan Bengtsson to battle with the Chinese for years (winning Men's Teams in 1973 and Men's Doubles three times, once with Bengtsson, twice with Hans Alser), and known for his "hammer" forehand, died yesterday at age 65. Here's an NBC Sports obit. He was a hero of mine long ago; I spent huge amounts of time copying his forehand. Along with Yugoslavia's Dragutin Surbek, he proved that you could be tall and still move extremely fast. Here are three clips of him playing in the final of Men's Singles at the 1973 Worlds.

Have a good forehand? Have a tomahawk serve?

If you have a good forehand, do you have a good forehand tomahawk serve that goes short to the opponent's forehand? (This is for two righties or two lefties.) This is the serve where you serve with the racket tip up, and contact the ball on the right side, so it curves to the left, and the spin makes the ball come to your right off the opponent's paddle. It's awkward for many to take a short ball on the forehand side and aim to the right - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side - you know, your strong side? If you don't overuse it, you'll get a lot of easy balls to attack. Just sayin'.

Why coach table tennis?

Here's an English Table Tennis Association coaching recruitment video. Successful table tennis countries understand the importance of such recruitment. (3:31)

Regional table tennis differences?

I'm always hearing about how this region or that is stronger than other regions, that players from one region beat players from another region with the same rating. However, when I look at the facts, almost always it comes down to local players beating players who had to travel to the tournament. (Another example is when an unorthodox player travels and then beats lots of "stronger" players who are not used to his weird style, but that works only for certain specific players, not for a group of players from one region.)

Below is a posting I did on about.com on the subject, which I thought I'd repost here. Someone had posted at about how players from the east had done poorly playing in the Los Angeles Open, and how this shows that table tennis is stronger on the west coast. Here's my response:

It's not exactly a neutral test when one group has to 1) travel 3000 miles (jet lag) 2) to an unfamiliar area and 3) play almost exclusively unfamiliar players. (Those from the region where the tournament is held have played each other more often, and you get more into a rhythm in tournaments when you play players you are familiar with, which then puts you in a better position to win against unfamiliar players.)

To have a fair comparison, you'd have to see how west coasters do after flying to eastern tournaments, or how they all do in a more neutral area. Also, using anecdotal evidence rarely shows anything. I could just as easily point out that Tong Tong Gong (from Maryland, I coached him) was seeded 9th at the Cadet Trials last year, but made the team (top four) by upsetting three consecutive west coast players. But that's anecdotal. You have to look at a relatively large sampling or you get lots of volatility.

For example, a cursory look at Mark Croitoroo's (2334) results at the LA Open show he lost 20 rating points. A closer look shows that he lost it because he lost 25 points in a deuce in the fifth loss to a 2206 west coaster, while gaining 10 by beating a 2364 west coaster at 10,6,7. An even closer look (at the entry form) shows that he lost to the 2206 in the U2500 even, which started at 1PM on Sat, while defeating the 2364 easily in the Open, which started five hours later, giving him more time to adjust. (His only other match where he lost rating points was a 5-point loss to a 2404 player from Texas.)

When I coach players each year after traveling a distance to the Nationals and Open and other tournaments, one thing that stands out year after year is that they start out relatively poorly but play better and better as the tournament goes on. Sometimes we travel early to make up for this, as in the case of Tong Tong last year, who was there and practicing three days before the Cadet Trials, and who likely would have had very different results otherwise.

Looping long pushes to the backhand

Here's a video from Coach Tao Li from Table Tennis University that shows how to step around and forehand loop those long pushes to your backhand (3:01).

Physical training with Christophe Legout

I think this is physical training for table tennis (2:57) by former French champion Christophe Legout, but I'm not sure - it's all in French. (And no, there is no "r" at the end of Christophe.)

A Waldner point

Here's Jan-Ove Waldner playing the type of incredible point that only he could do.

Table Tennista

Table Tennista is a good place for international table tennis coverage. It's even divided by sections; here's the Americas section.

Future table tennis movies

Here are 40 table tennis movies I'd like to see, in no particular order. Yes, I was bored. Feel free to comment with your own titles. (Here's the IMDB Top 250, if that helps.)

  1. Indiana Jones and the Power of Ping-Pong
  2. Harry Potter and the Ping-Pong Ball
  3. The Pongfather (Parts I, II, III)
  4. Pong Story (Parts 1-3)
  5. Twelve Angry Ping-Pong Players
  6. Pong Fiction
  7. One Flew Over the Ping-Pong Table
  8. Lord of the Table
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ball
  10. Pong Wars
  11. Pong Club
  12. Pong Hard
  13. Pongman
  14. The Ping-Pong Redemption
  15. Seven Pongurai
  16. Goodpongers
  17. Casaponga
  18. The Silence of the Sponge
  19. Dr. Ping-Pong or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sponge
  20. Ping-Pong Now
  21. Ponginator
  22. Saving Private Pong
  23. PONG-E
  24. Lawrence of Ping-Pong
  25. To Kill a Looper
  26. Pong is Beautiful
  27. Back to the Table
  28. Raging Pong
  29. The Net on the Ping-Pong Table
  30. Pongheart
  31. The Wizard of Pong
  32. The Sixth Ball Attack
  33. The Ponger King
  34. Pongface
  35. Jan-Ove Waldner and the Chinese Kid
  36. Gone with the Ball
  37. Ping-Pong Day
  38. The Man who Looped the Ping-Pong Ball
  39. Once Upon a Time on the Table
  40. Mr. Pong Goes to USATT

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October 24, 2011

Tip of the Week

Feet at more than shoulder width.

The Technique of Zhang Jike

There was a nice posting recently at mytabletennis.com by "blahness" that linked to numerous videos of World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike of China, highlighting his many techniques. Here are those links - to see blahness's own excellent commentary, see the link above.

Good coaches and bad coaches

When I browse the online table tennis forums, sometimes I don't look at the name of the writer at first. Recently I noticed something. I kept reading things that I disagreed with - and over and over I'd look up at the name, and it would be the same people.  No, they were not "name" coaches, and no, they hadn't developed any top players, but they had a lot of armchair theories that aren't particularly effective in real table tennis, techniques that had been tried and, usually for very specific reasons, didn't work, and that, to be blunt, were just plain wrong. Yes, there are always a few examples of a "failed" technique that later on became successful, such as reverse penhold backhands or receiving short balls to the forehand with the backhand (mostly against backhand serve type sidespin), but they are very few; for every example of this, there are countless examples of techniques that some online "coach" argues for that you should avoid. For it to work, the technique has to be used successfully, and until that happens, use caution in developing your game based on unorthodox techniques that some online "coach" preaches.  

Most of the "name" coaches do know their stuff (sorry, anti-elitists!), but more interesting than that are the small group of lower-level (or just unknown) players who really do know what they are talking about. (The key is knowing what you don't know, and sticking with what you do know.) Moral - be careful what you read out there. Some of the more prolific writers giving table tennis tips know as much about table tennis coaching as I do about how an automobile engine works. (There's a gerbil on a spinning wheel, right?)

Interview with Timo Boll

Table Tennis Talk interviews Timo Boll after he wins the recent European Championships.

New Olympic rule hurts China, helps everyone else

New rule - countries will only be allowed two players at the Olympics, meaning China can only win two medals, which leaves one for the rest of the world. Link also includes a video of England's Paul Drinkhall on mind games (2:20).

Friday exhibition and coaching

On Friday about 20 kids (ages 5-10) from a local school came to the Maryland Table Tennis Center for two hours. I did a humorous exhibition with Raghu Nadmichettu. Then, after a short demonstration and talk on the grip and basic strokes, we put them in two groups, half with me, half with Raghu, for multiball, with us feeding two of them at a time, and the rest picking up balls. Then we played a game of around the world, the kids going around three tables between shots, three misses and they're out. Then it was free play for about an hour. I spent much of it on one table challenging the kids to return my "fastball," which is what I call my fast topspin serve. They were very determined, and every now and then one would do so, and I would give them "The Glare." (I let them know where the ball was going or they would have had zero chance.) Hopefully some of them will be back.

Micronesia and McAfee

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee just ran a training camp in Micronesia - that's somewhere between the Philippines and Indonesia, but you knew that, right? Here's the ITTF story. As I pointed out to Richard, there's something really right about outdoor table tennis on grass.

Ping-Pong for Poverty

Here's a video (1:47) on the Ping-Pong for Poverty in Virginia Beach, which starts with a rather spectacular emptying of a few zillion ping-pong balls out of a car. They raised $100,000 over three years, including $60,000 this year. That's Scott and Austin Preiss doing the exhibition.

A crow trying to eat a ping-pong ball

Because how else would you spend the next sixteen seconds of your life?

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October 21, 2011

Looping versus Hitting

The advantage goes to looping, at least at the higher levels. But everyone's different, and below world-class levels there are many hitters who eat loopers for breakfast. 

The advantages of looping versus hitting

  1. The extreme topspin in a loop pulls the ball down, so you can keep the ball in play at high speeds and effectively attack even low balls.
  2. The topspin makes the ball bounce low and fast on the table, making it hard for the opponent to handle it.
  3. The topspin jumps up off the opponent's racket, making it tricky to keep on the table and low.
  4. Because you can loop the ball on the drop, you have more time to get into position for the shot, and so can loop over and over more easily than hitting over and over.
  5. A looper can often turn a hitter into a blocker.
  6. Because the ball jumps off the table and then sails downward, it's difficult to block or counter a loop effectively from off the table unless you are advanced enough to counterloop. To make an effective return, you generally have to stay at the table and block the ball off the bounce. Against a fast incoming ball, you have little time to react. Against a hitter, you can take a half step back to give yourself more time. Against a looper, that rarely works.

The advantages of hitting versus looping

  1. It's a quicker stroke.
  2. It's easier to learn.
  3. A hitter can often turn a looper into a lobber.
  4. You can generally create more speed since all of your power is going into speed.

The 2011 U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Inductees

They are (and this link includes bios) . . . drum roll please . . . Quang Bui, Jim Butler, Jasna Rather (players); Jim McQueen (contributor); and Mal Anderson is the Mark Mathews Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. Here's a listing of the current U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Table Tennis at the Pan Am Games

Here are the table tennis results from the just completed Pan Am Games. Here are some articles. USA finished with three bronzes, in Women's Team (Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu), with Ariel and Lily each getting bronze medals in Women's Singles. Mo Zhang of Canada won the gold medal for Women's Singles. Here are more detailed USA results.

Table Tennis News Video

Pongcast brings you the table tennis news, putting together this video (26:53) on the latest table tennis news. After a rather long one-minute intro, they talk about the sport, starting with a video of Susan Sarandon playing at the Spin Club in New York City, then go on to table tennis robots, the new "hyperbolic" serve, news from Europe, and other news.

ITTF Coaches in the USA

All fourteen of the coaches from the ITTF seminar I ran in April are now certified. They are (in alphabetic order): Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), John Hsu (MD), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD), David Varkey (PA), and Shaobo "Bob" Zhu (PA). Overall, there are now 44 USA coaches who are ITTF certified. Here is the ITTF coaches database; put in "USA" and you'll see the complete list for USA.

Group Coaching for Kids

This morning I'm off to coach a new group of about 20 new kids coming to the Maryland Table Tennis Center. They are from a local Optimal Learning Center. I'm going to start off with an exhibition, then go over a few basics, then introduce them to ball bouncing on the racket and various table tennis relay races. Then it'll on to the tables.

Entries at the USA Nationals

Currently there are 374 entries listed in the online listing. (You can search by name or event.) However, there are undoubtedly numerous entries not yet entered into the database or entering late, so I expect a bunch more, though it'll probably be a low turnout since, let's face it, Virginia Beach is not a "vacationland" like Las Vegas.

Here's a graph of the number of entries we've received at the Nationals each year going back to 1994, when the info first went online. (These numbers are from the USATT ratings database and only include players who played in rated events; they do not include players who only played doubles or hardbat.)  It was held in Las Vegas in each of these years. As you can see, we've regressed badly since 2006, though we had an uptick last year. It'd be nice if we could get back to where we were five years ago. Below are the actual numbers, though I think the graph shows it better.

  • 2011: ?
  • 2010: 686
  • 2009: 597
  • 2008: 604
  • 2007: 730
  • 2006: 837 record high
  • 2005: 829
  • 2004: 755
  • 2003: 707
  • 2002: 678
  • 2001: 672
  • 2000: 686
  • 1999: 658
  • 1998: 592
  • 1997: 650
  • 1996: 613
  • 1995: 660
  • 1994: 598

Photos of the Day in the Wall Street Journal

See photo #2!

This is not where the ball is supposed to go

Here are seven seconds of someone spitting a ball at a wall and catching it in his mouth.

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October 20, 2011

Playing Style and Identity

Yesterday, "R8ng_stinks" posted on the subject of a player's "identity":

"I've been curious about this subject for quite awhile.  When I started playing a few years ago I simply tried to keep the ball on the table.  The best solution, I found, was to glue the ball to the table.  Okay...that really didn't allow play to flow very well.  I played aggressively, had very little control, then moved to a somewhat defensive style.  While trying that, I became aggressively defensive, which, depending on the situation, was not all bad.  But then passive mistakes started killing me.  I switched to an offensive style with slower inverted rubber, but still had control issues and then wanted to "baby" the ball in certain situations.  Control: ZERO.  Passive mistakes seemed burned into my long and short-term memory.  So I dumped the inverted and moved to short pips forehand and backhand.  I have plenty of speed and enough spin, and I can get defensive when necessary.  I'm still a below-average player, but my lack of skill is mostly due to my current inability to maintain focus and mental control."

Then he asked:

"To make a L   O   N   G story short, does a player really need to have an "identity", offensive or defensive?  How about "can't decide," or "I have no idea"?  Does the style define the player, or does the player define the style?  Does it matter at all, as long as the play is effective?"

When he writes of a player's "identity," I think that roughly means his playing style. I think the key question is the last line: "Does it matter at all, as long as the play is effective?" If the play is effective, then that play, whatever it is, is the playing style. The player must be doing something to win the points, whether it is looping, hitting, blocking, all-around consistent play, serve & attack, etc. Whatever ingredients being used to make this play effective, taken together is the playing style, i.e. the player's identity.

There are no two identical styles, though they can be similar and to some, seemingly identical. The pieces come together in different ways. For example, if you watch Cheng Yinghua, who was the U.S. #1 player for ten years and a former member of the Chinese National Team, you'll see three distinct styles meshed together - two-winged looping, all-out forehand looping, and a blocking game - as well as many aspects of former greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Tibor Klampar, since early on Cheng copied their games as a practice partner for the Chinese National Team. And so all these parts of Cheng's game came together into a distinct playing style, his playing identity.

How do you develop your own playing style or identity? It's a combination of three things - things that work for you, things that you or your coach believe will work for you if you develop them, and things you want to be part of your game. Put these things together, practice them, get lots of match experience, and gradually you will develop a playing style.

And what is this playing style? It's whatever you do that makes your play effective.

The other question was, "Does the style define the player, or does the player define the style?" I think he is asking whether a player's style develops on its own and defines the player, or whether the player decide on his style and define himself. (If this isn't the question, it's still a great question to answer!) It works both ways. For example, early on I developed a nice forehand tomahawk serve. Because players kept popping it up, I developed good footwork and a nice forehand smash. And so my playing style developed on its own, based on certain strengths (the serve) and the corresponding strengths that developed because of this (footwork and a forehand smash). But I decided I needed a strong forehand loop, and so spent a huge amount of time developing that, as well as a forehand pendulum serve that would set up my loop. And so a big part of my game became serve & loop - and so I defined my own style by developing this.

Interview with Barney J. Reed

Here's an interesting interview with Barney J. Reed on the mytabletennis.net forum. And for those not in the know, Barney J. Reed is the one who was on the U.S. National Team for a number of years (is now coaching), while Barney D. Reed is the father and table tennis coach. How can you keep track? "J" for Junior and "D" for Dad.

Did you practice your serves this week?

Just askin'.

Who are the original pictures of?

Here's the poster for the satirical movie based on my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques, with Brad Pitt and Michael Cera photoshopped onto two table tennis players. Anyone recognize the pictures and know who the players were before their heads were replaced by Pitt's and Cera's? (If you want more info on this poster, see my blog this week on Monday and Tuesday, and the original article.)

USA Nationals

Today is the deadline for entering the USA Nationals without a late fee (Virginia Beach, Dec. 13-17). After today, and through Nov. 1, you can still enter, but with a $75 late fee. So enter now! I'll be there, coaching and playing in three hardbat events. (I normally use sponge, but don't like to play sponge events in tournaments where I'm primarily coaching. I'm the defending and four-time champion in Over 40 Hardbat and defending and ten-time champion in Hardbat Doubles with Ty Hoff, my partner last year and in six of the ten doubles titles).

Tomorrow I'm writing about the rise and fall in the number of entries at the USA Nationals (though there was a small uptick last year), including a graph, with the big question: What will the final numbers be for this year's Nationals? Stay tuned!

Rafael Nadal

Here's 15 seconds of tennis star Rafael Nadal playing table tennis. Someone get him a shirt.

Yoda's Ping-Pong School

To a young Luke Skywalker, table tennis Yoda teaches (1:13). Or something like that.

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October 19, 2011

Secrets of the Quick Push and Punch Block

The quick push is where you push rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. A punch block is where you block rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. See the similarities? But it goes beyond that. In both cases, you use a short stroke; angle the ball or go at the opponent's elbow; make last-minute changes of direction to throw off an opponent; go deep on the table; keep the ball low; and focus on quickness and consistency. The shots are meant to force a weak return or miss. Many players are so focused on attacking that they never learn these more subtle but valuable shots. Placement is especially key - so many pushes and blocks go to the middle forehand or backhand that it's a crime. Or the shots are so passive that they put no pressure on the opponent, when of course every shot in table tennis should put pressure on your opponent in some way. Placement, depth, height, quickness, speed - these are all elements that make the shots effective. (The key differences are that when pushing, you also have backspin as a weapon, and can both load up the spin or vary it, and that when punch blocking, you can also use speed as a weapon.)

Match Analysis

Here's a video from the last World Championships between William Henzell of Australia (world #152) and Adrien Mattenet of France (world #31), with Henzell giving tactical commentary (10:25). Here's your chance to see how world-class players think tactically. Do you agree with his analysis? (Note - after posting this, I discovered that this was the same one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7. Oops. But enjoy it again!)

William's Journey to the Olympics

Since I belatedly discovered that the video above was the same one as one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7, I'm adding this new segment - William Henzell's Journey to the Olympics! Here's Part 1 (4:08),  Part 2 (6:26), and Part 3 (6:38). 

Attack letter

This is kind of funny, but mostly sad. Someone sent out a letter early this morning to a group of people in response to the satirical article a few days ago about Brad Pitt playing me in a movie based on the adaptation of my book, Table Tennis Tales and Techniques. (Here's the article, or see my blog the last two days.) The letter writer still believes it is real, even though I explained in my blog yesterday that it was a satire. He says he also sent the letter to the "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques" website, but I think he means the fake, satirical one at The Daily Quarterly that he still believes is real, not the real one, since I maintain that since it is my book. (And here it is!) As to The Daily Quarterly, I'm sure they took one look at the raving in the letter and put it aside. Or maybe they'll publish it for laughs.

The person, who for many years has been saying I shouldn't be in charge of anything (and far, far worse - he gets pretty nasty), and in fact got kicked out of a USATT Coaching Seminar I ran for USATT for yelling such things and refusing to stop (the USATT coaching chair kicked him out, not I), now attributes those words to the great Sol Schiff. He also writes, "Mr. Marty Reisman, late 60s, beat him in the US Open Hardbat Finals around 1998 and Coach Larry didn't have the backbone or the sense to put Mr. Reisman's photo on the cover of our magazine." To be accurate, it was actually in the final at the 1997 Nationals. Now, letter writer, you've been attacking me on this for years. So, one more time: I was USATT editor from 1991-1995, and from 1999-2007. I wasn't editor at the time of the match in 1997. I wasn't the one who chose the cover. I had nothing to do with it. But, of course, we've been through this many times, and facts don't seem to matter, do they?

Of course, this same letter writer once photoshopped me in a Nazi uniform with a Hitler mustache and sent that out to a large group of people, including the USATT board of directors and staff, claiming it was a school project.

But I did enjoy these parts of this morning's email: "If the movie was about the real Coach Larry, the man behind the curtain, the dirty, two-faced lying flat-sponge manufactures' operative posing as a journalist and couch and 'Hardbatter'--it would be a blockbuster, bigger than _ERAN BROKOVITCH...I've got the shrill characters." (I have no idea what that last part means. The ellipsis was the letter writer's, not mine.) And this: "There is no doubt that The Game is broken, thanks to the Coach Larrys."

Eating a ping-pong ball

Here are 31 seconds of someone actually eating a ping-pong ball. Bon appetite.

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