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!

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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October 18, 2011

The Brad Pitt Story - the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Yesterday I blogged about the upcoming move, Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques." It was all fake - but I didn't do it! I just played along.

Late on Sunday night I received an email from Richard McAfee, who had been table tennis surfing the net and found the story in The Daily Quarterly. I had no advance knowledge of this, and didn't know about it until I received Richard's email. Now readers, brace yourselves - The Daily Quarterly is a satirical website, like The Onion. Click on the "About" section at the top, and it says, "And for the few of you who found your way onto this site by chance, or couldn’t already tell, be advised: This is ALL SATIRE. Honest. If you have no sense of humor, you are wasting your time here." And just below that, it says, "Did we mention this is a SATIRICAL SITE?"

So no Brad Pitt movie. No great exposure for table tennis. No $3.5 million for me. Sigh. But I still love the poster

If you are angry at Brad Pitt for this, here's a video entitled "Brad Pitt Ping Pong" which shows Pitt getting hit by cars for three minutes and seventeen seconds. If you are angry at me for this, then buy a copy of the book that started it all, "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques," and use the wisdom of the book to learn to beat me in table tennis. All I have to do is sell about 700,000 copies and I'll get that $3.5 million.

The Fastest Serve in the World

A few days ago videos began to surface of a Japanese kid named Asuka Sakai demonstrating what appeared to be the fastest serve in the world. I was at first skeptical because I literally couldn't see the ball bouncing on his side of the table in the video. But here's a slow-motion version (1:04), which clearly shows that the serve hits both sides, and how he does it. The secret, of course, is lots of topspin to pull the ball down, with the difficulty being in creating the power needed for all that topspin and still having enough left over for speed.

I spent a few minutes experimenting with the serve this weekend, and could mimic it at maybe 2/3 the speed. (I may work on it some more later.) Note that while he seems to set up for a forehand serve, he actually hits it with his backhand side, which allows him to stroke the ball vigorously (that's an understatement), creating great speed and topspin. I can also do this serve with a regular forehand motion or a backhand motion, with lots of topspin, but I'm beginning to think the kid had it right - for this serve, you might need to use his backhand-from-the-forehand-side motion to get that much speed and spin.

Could this be a paradigm switch in the way players serve? Who knows. At the higher levels, top players will have little trouble reacting to the serve and at least blocking or stroking it back. But it might be too fast to loop back, and at the higher levels, a deep serve that isn't looped back gets looped. On the other hand, the serve is so fast that perhaps the server will have trouble doing the serve and then reacting in time to loop the next ball.

Neck Problems

After forehand looping for thirty minutes straight on Friday so a student could practice blocking, my back tightened up. Then, after a few more hours of coaching, my neck tightened up, and I could barely do forehand shots. It was like whiplash. I managed to survive my coaching sessions, and the neck is getting better, but I'm taking it easy today. I cancelled a two-hour practice session I had scheduled (not a coaching session, an actual practice session, since I'm getting back in shape), and have no other coaching today. Hopefully it'll be better tomorrow when I have more coaching scheduled.

USA Table Tennis Coach of the Year

Coaches, it's time to nominate the USATT Coaches of the Year. There are five categories: National, Developmental, Paralympic, Volunteer, and Doc Councilman. I was the 2002 USATT Coach of the Year, and I was a finalist three times for National Coach of the Year. (I wonder if this blog and TableTennisCoaching.com qualifies me for the "Doc Councilman" award? Hmmm....)

Table Tennis Drills in China

Here's U.S. Junior Champion, U.S. Team Member, and U.S. National Men's Singles Finalist Peter Li describing his training drills in China.

Ping-Pong and Pop Culture

Here's a short article on the headline above. (That's the problem with descriptive headlines - they give away the text. For now on maybe I'll just headline each item as "Something About Table Tennis.")

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October 17, 2011

Tip of the Week

You must attack those steady deep backspin serve returns.

Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques"

Now it can be told!!! Here's the opening line of the article: "In a casting coup, Paramount confirmed that Brad Pitt, star of 'Thelma and Louise' and 'True Romance,' will star in next year’s film adaptation of 'Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.'" Here's the promotional poster they already created. (I had nothing to do with creating this.)

I've been dying to post about this for weeks, ever since negotiations began for the rights to my book, and yes, Brad Pitt will star in this adaptation as, ahem, me. (And as the article mentions, I made quite a bit of money from this deal.) This breaking news should be all over the Internet within a day or so. 

This will probably give U.S. table tennis the largest exposure in its history. Oh, and tonight I'm having dinner with Brad Pitt!!! (I think he wants to study how I talk and my mannerisms.) One other bit of hopefully soon-to-be-breaking news - Ron Howard has unofficially agreed to direct. (And here's where you go if you'd like to buy a copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.)

Visual tools are the best tools

Often the best way to coach a player is to show, don't tell. A new student of mine (an eight-year-old girl) was struggling to hit a proper forehand this weekend, and kept doing all sorts of extra motions that messed up her stroke. The wrist would lag back, she'd lift the racket tip up, she'd forget to backswing or turn her shoulders, she'd change her grip, she'd put her back foot in front, and so on - practically a "who's who" of classic forehand problems all rolled into one. These didn't seem to be any one overlying problem that led to all of these other problems; she just didn't seem to have control of how she swing the paddle, or any idea of what to do.

Then I noticed one of our top junior girls, a few years older than the one I was coaching, training with another coach. So I had my student watch the top junior, and mimic her shot. Now I'd already demonstrated a proper forehand over and Over and OVER for my student, even calling over another player so we could demonstrate it properly, but to no avail. But seeing another girl a few years older doing it seemed to click with her, and soon she was mimicking the shot almost perfectly. Bingo!!!

Physical Training for the Table Tennis Player

Here's a nice recent article by Stellan Bengtsson on, well, see title above.

Backhand Tomahawk Serve

Here's a nice example of the backhand tomahawk serve (0.38), as done by Kenta Matsudaira of Japan, world #39 (and formerly #29), the 2006 world junior boys' champion, who is known as having among the best serves in the world.

European Champion Timo Boll

Timo Boll of Germany just won the European Men's Singles Championships over teammate George Baum in an all-lefty final. Here's the video (11:40), with all the time between points edited out. Here's an article on the event, which Boll won at 7,-6,3,7,8.

Thirty minutes of non-stop looping

There should be a rule that 51-year-old coaches should never have to forehand loop continuously for thirty minutes straight during a lesson so a student can practice blocking. I did, and I paid for it with my back, neck, and shoulder. I'm almost recovered now. (Note to John, Kevin, and Deapesh: this was probably why my neck stiffened up during our sessions on Sunday. The actual looping marathon was during a Friday lesson.) 

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October 14, 2011

The Falkenberg, 2-1, and Backhand-Forehand-Forehand drills

Okay, these are all names for the same drill. It was made popular at the Falkenberg club in Sweden by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's almost for certain the most popular footwork drill in the world among top players because it covers the three most common footwork moves in table tennis - cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, and step around forehand from the backhand corner. How do you do the drill?

Your partner hits two balls to your backhand, then one to your forehand. You take the first with your backhand. You step around and take the second with your forehand. Then you move to the wide forehand and take that with your forehand. Then repeat.

There are many variations. You can start the drill off backspin with a loop, then continue. You can either hit or loop the forehands or backhands. You can do the drill to your partner's backhand or forehand. You can have free play after a certain number of repetitions, such as after three (nine shots). Or use your own imagination and make something up. Or just use the basic standby, as described above, as most do.

Here are four new articles/videos from PingSkills

Table tennis tips

Here's a listing of 60 table tennis tips  ("Lenisms" from Len Winkler) that will propel you to international stardom, or at least to beating that hated rival of yours at the club.

Jorgen Persson vs. Werner Schlager

Great footage from the ongoing European Championships in Gdansk-Sopot, Poland, with the breaks between points taken out so it's non-stop action (3:28). There is lots of coverage at the ITTF European Championships page.

Zhang Xielin, "The Magic Chopper"

Here's vintage footage of the famed Chinese penhold chopper from the 1960s (3:18). He was infamous for beating the Europeans (often with weird sidespin chops) while losing to his teammates.

Robots playing table tennis

In my blog on Tuesday I linked to articles and pictures of robots that actually play table tennis, invented by a Japanese company. Here's the video (1:40)!  Its footwork and shoulder rotation on the forehand need a lot of work - and that is not a legal serve.

What the heck is this?

I don't know what this is, but it seems to be something to do with table tennis, and it's on sale at Ebay. All real table tennis players should own one of these whatever they ares.

Non-Table Tennis - Capclave SF Convention

This weekend I'll be at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention in Gaithersburg, Maryland - which this year is held about 1.5 miles from my club, the Maryland Table Tennis Center! Because I'm coaching much of Friday and Sunday, I can't attend much those days, but I'll be there all day on Saturday.

I'm moderating a literary panel Saturday at 1PM on "When Characters Threaten to Take Over," which is about what writers should do when writing and a character "refuses" to do what you want it to do and seems to take on a life of its own. (It's happened to me many times.) I'm also doing a 30-minute reading at 3PM - I'll be doing my annual "Larry Hodges Over-the-Top Humorous Flash Story Reading," where I'll be reading three of my published flash stories. (Flash stories are under 1000 words long, about four pages double spaced.)

Here's a link to my Capclave bio and schedule. I'm also bringing John Hsu, a local 17-year-old table tennis player (2255 rating) who I've been working with on creative writing - we're working on a zombie story together. He's attending the 10AM writer's workshop with Allen Wold. This will be his first SF convention - heaven help him. If we can find a ping-pong table at the hotel, we'll be hustling people for spare change.

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October 13, 2011

My books

It has come to my attention that some of you have not yet bought copies of my books. Buy a copy of my book today or I will choke this coach to death.

The hard-soft drill

One of the best drills for developing a forehand or backhand smash is the hard-soft drill. (It really should be called the hard-medium drill, but that doesn't have quite the same ring.) On the backhand side, you just go backhand to backhand, with one player playing steady, and the other alternating between an aggressive ("medium") drive and a smash or near-smash ("hard"). You do the same on the forehand side. This leads to much longer and more consistent rallies than if one player just smashes every ball, plus the attacking player learns to hit at different paces. It's also a great control drill for the steady player, who learns to react to the different paces rather than just stick his racket out and blocking the same ball over and over. Note that you can also do this drill for looping.

The backhand loop in front of the body

Why is the backhand loop taken mostly in front of the body instead of to the side? I theory, you might be able to get more power if you turn sideways and took the ball off to the side and rotated into the ball, like on the forehand side, as players do in tennis. There are players who seemed to experiment with this technique, such as the Mazunov brothers from Russia and Grubba of Poland, but while they sometimes took it from the side, their primary backhand loops were also mostly in front of the body.

There are four reasons for this.  First, unlike tennis, you often have only a split second to react to the incoming ball. If you try to take the ball from the side on both the forehand and backhand, you simply won't have time for both. Since the forehand is naturally from the side, that leaves the backhand to be taken in front.

Second, if you took both the forehand and backhand from the side, that gaping hole in the middle would be the size of Texas. Opponents would attack the middle and you'd have great difficulty covering it.

Third, by taking the ball in the middle, it allows you to use the power from the waist and upper body as you uncoil up during the stroke. I don't know if this allows you as much more power than the torque from rotating the body, but it does give great power.

And fourth, because everyone else does it this way, and so new players copy them or are taught to do it that way. Who knows, perhaps someday someone will change table tennis by learning to backhand loop with great power from the side, overcoming the problems listed above, and revolutionize table tennis. Or perhaps not.

Receiving long serves with backhand

Here's an 18 second video that shows how to return a long serve with the backhand.

Victor Barna 1933

Here's vintage 1933 footage and narration of Victor Barna, five-time men's singles world champion, including a discussion and explanation of his technique.

Amy Lee plays table tennis

Here's an article that talks about the table tennis of Amy Lee, lead vocalist for the rock band Evanescence.

Steve Colbert on Beer Pong

Yes, here's Colbert on beer pong (4:19), including lines like, "Beer pong gives you herpes. Hell, ping pong gives you crabs." I have no idea what that last part means. The beer pong bit starts about 30 seconds in.

Non-Table Tennis

My fantasy story "Mirror My Love" is the feature flash story for this week at Quantum Muse. (Here is my science fiction & fantasy page.)

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October 12, 2011

The most under-used serves

Do you see a pattern?

  • The most under-used short serve: no-spin to the middle. This cuts off the wide angles, is difficult to push heavy or push short, and if served low (very important), is tricky to flip aggressively. The opponent has to make a split-second decision on whether to return it forehand or backhand, which is sometimes awkward even against a slow, short serve. It is especially effective if mixed in with backspin serves. Ideally serve so the second bounce, if given the chance, would bounce just short of the end-line.
  • The most under-used deep serve: fast no-spin to the middle (opponent's elbow). This is the receiver's transition point, and if you serve fast there, he has little time to react. By serving a dead ball - actually a light backspin so it's dead when it reaches the receiver after two bounces - the opponent has to generate his own power while rushing. Result? Mistakes galore. If used two or three times a game, this is a free point about half the time against players rated under 2000, and it can be pretty effective against stronger players as well. It's best used against someone who receives both forehand or backhand. Don't use it too often against a forehand player who is looking to loop the serve - against this player serve fast to the corners.

Doing the journey and heavy backspin

Once again while coaching yesterday "doing the journey" was one of the most interesting things for new players learning to serve with sidespin. What is "doing the journey"? For a righty, you place a box or other target on the far right corner of the table. (Where a righty opponent's backhand would be.) You have your player stand by his forehand court on the right. Then he serves a forehand pendulum serve so it bounces on his backhand court (on the left), goes over the net and bounces on the far left court, then curves to the right and hits or goes into the box. After his lesson was done, one kid spent roughly forever practicing this. (He made several, had lots of close calls.)

Another good exercise is to practice serving backspin so the ball comes back into the net. When first learning to do this, it helps to serve high. As you get better and better you can serve it lower and lower. One key thing to remember is that this is practice in learning to put backspin on the ball. In a real game, the "ideal" backspin serve would drive out a bit more, so that (if given the chance) the second bounce would be near the end-line, and that it would then bounce off. But it's great fun to serve slow, heavy backspin, and watch the ball practically slam backwards into the net!

European Championships

The European Championships (Oct. 8-16) are taking place, and you can watch it live! (Well, you can watch it live while play is actually going on.)

Lots of videos

Here's a whole bunch of videos I saw posted somewhere a while back. Take a look - lots of good stuff!

"Green" ping-pong

The new Spin Galactic paddles - translucent green! (And you thought this was going to be something about Kermit the frog, who, in case you didn't know, has eyes made from ping-pong ball halves - see second sentence.)

Marty Reisman Music Video

Yes, a Marty Reisman Music Video! Okay, it's actually the music video for “Superpowers” by Anthony Cruz featuring Julian Diaz. Marty shows up at 2:44 in this 4:45 video, and stays around for 36 seconds. (What, you don't know who Marty Reisman is? Shame on you! He's the one in the white hat.)

The first sponge - Hiroji Satoh in 1952

And while we're on the subject of Marty Reisman, here's vintage footage and narration by Marty and others on the first sponge player - Hiroji Satoh at the 1952 Worlds (4:01).

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