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!

September 15, 2011

Deceptive forehands

Want to have a deceptive forehand without resorting to one of those twisty, wristy things some players use with both effectiveness and inconsistency? Why not develop one that's both effective and consistent? They key is in the shoulders.

Some players will seem to aim their forehand to the left (for righties), but at the last second twist their playing arm and wrist backwards, hitting the ball inside-out, creating a truly deceptive shot that goes to the right. But while it can be effective, it's often an erratic shot. Instead, at the last second try turning the shoulders back. This means rotating your shoulders twice - first to set up to hit to the left (and tricking your opponent into thinking you are going that way), and then, just before contact, rotate the shoulders back further, putting you into perfect position to hit a strong and consistent shot to the right.

Similarly, you can rotate your shoulders way back, even stepping forward with your left leg, as if you were going to the right (and tricking your opponent into thinking you are going that way), and then, just before contact, vigorously rotate the shoulders forward and whip the ball off to the left.

Backspin breakthrough

Yesterday I taught one of my students (a 10-year-old) the "scoop" method of serving backspin, where you actually contact the front of the ball by tilting your racket so far back it points backwards, and contact the ball with an upward motion. (I wrote about this in my blog on Sept. 6 - see segment "USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee teaches heavy backspin," along with video.) It was a great success. He'd been having trouble getting much backspin on his serves. So I told him to scoop the front of the ball, and not to worry about how high the serve went. After a few minutes, he was finally able to fulfill a goal I'd set out for him - serve backspin so the ball bounced back into the net! He even managed to do one that bounced back over the net after about three bounces on the far side. I assigned him the goal of serving five in a row that bounce back into the net, plus he has to make at least once serve that bounces back over the net after one bounce on the far side - like this! (He has a table at home to practice on.)

Competing Internationally

USA National Team Member, Junior Boys' Champion and National Men's Singles Finalist (how's that for a list of current titles?) Peter Li talks about the differences in competing internationally, in particular serve and receive. I played Peter semi-regularly since he was a little kid at my club, and am proud to say that he will never, Ever, EVER catch up to me - my record against him lifetime is probably 300-20. We won't talk about the last twenty.

ITTF World Hopes Team 2011

Here's the ITTF World Hopes Team 2011, which includes (and interviews) two USA Cadets: Kanak Jha and Chodri Kunal. Congrats to both! (I'm not sure why Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang aren't included.)

Proper forepaw technique

At first, he's just a spectator. But 18 seconds into this 23-second video, this player smacks in a perfect forehand. Notice the perfect shoulder rotation and smooth follow through. You can learn from this.

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September 14, 2011

Develop the non-hitting side

I remember when Coach (and five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) Dan Seemiller talked about this at training camps back in the late 1970s, and for some reason, it didn't make sense at the time. He kept saying how players over-developed their playing side, leaving the other side undeveloped, and as a result couldn't rotate properly and at full power on forehand shots, especially when looping. I didn't see how you needed the left side to rotate your body about. So I spent years developing my right side, to the point where I could do 40 one-arm pushups with my right arm, and couldn't even get off the floor with my left side. My loops never had pure, raw power, and it wasn't until I became a coach that I realized that part of the reason was I wasn't really pulling much with my left side.

As a coach, not only do I realize I don't, but I see most players don't do this very well either, with many players sort of rotating their playing side into the ball, but not pulling equally back with the non-playing side, which is half the equation when rotating - and if you don't pull with that left side, you lose power. Generating the torque needed for full power, in particular when looping, comes from both sides of the body. This doesn't mean you need to spend time at the gym weight training (though that helps!), but remember to use both sides when rotating on forehand shots - imagine a pole going through your head, and rotate around it, with the playing side pushing forward, the non-playing side pulling backward.

Back update

After months of back problems, I'm finally able to play again. I've been seeing a physical therapist twice a week for about six weeks, and doing a ten-minute stretching/strengthening routine three times a day. During much of this time I had locals do my hitting for me while I coached. I got the go ahead from the doctor to start hitting again last week, and so far, while the back still gets sore, and I'm pretty slow (that happens when you take time off!), I'm able to practice with students normally again. As a coach, I'm no longer handicapped; as a player, I'm in mortal fear of our super-fast juniors because right now, my back (and the rest of me) just doesn't want to move very fast. Hopefully that'll come back soon.

Math and English and Creative Writing, Oh My!

I'm working on this morning's blog quickly because I'm off shortly to do my newest sideline, four hours/week tutoring math, English, and creative writing with a local junior table tennis star. Today's math focus is Cramer's Rule, Gauss-Jordan Elimination, Descartes' Rules of Signs, the Rational Roots Test, and other goodies - though we've already started calculus, he's preparing for a pre-calculus test. And we're also working on a fantasy zombie story!

Free Table Tennis e-Book

You can download a free (yes, FREE!) copy of "Boys look at the Stars - Ping-Pong." It's 216 pages, and looks rather interesting as it covers the history of the sport and its stars, with drawings of many of the table tennis greats of the past and present. I downloaded it but haven't read it, just browsed it, so if anyone wants to do a review, I'll post it here. (It comes in either ePub or PDF format.)

Here's what the author (Enzo Pettinelli) wroteabout the book: "Hi all, I'm an Italian table tennis player and I would like present you this free e-book about table tennis history. The e-book "Boys Look at the Stars - Ping-Pong" talks about the history of table tennis in the world. But it is not only ping-pong or table-tennis. It is an adventure lived by children, through their way of being. Love, cruelty, the story of the great table tennis champions from all the world, stimulates their creativity. Dreams, reality, goals morality, the search of oneself, are the ingredients." There's also a video about the book (2:52), though it mostly shows drawings of the stars, leaving the impression that it's a picture book, while the book actually has plenty of text.

Table tennis promo video

Here's a nice table tennis promo video (3:15).

Here's an article on Jan-Ove Waldner...

...because you can never have enough of Jan-Ove Waldner. And here's a video tribute to Waldner (4:36).

Here's an article on Vladimir Samsonov...

...because you can never have enough of Vladimir Samsonov. And here's a video tribute to Samsonov (4:18).

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September 13, 2011

When to go for winners?

There are two times a player should go for the big winner, especially with a loop. The first is obviously off a weak ball that pops up, or often a lower ball that lands in the middle of the table (which is easy to loop kill). However, we all have seen top players rip winners off what seems to be effective low serves and pushes. Shouldn't we try to do that as well?

The key is whether you are both in position for the shot, and not only have read the ball's spin perfectly, but know you have read it perfectly. (Nobody really does anything "perfectly," but you get the idea.) Top players are almost always in position and almost always read the incoming ball, and so they can go for a big shot. (Plus, of course, they are top players, and so are skilled at making big shots.) If you have a good loop or smash, and are sure you have read the incoming ball very well, then you can go for the shot. This doesn't mean ripping it like the pros, but you can go for perhaps 80% power. That, and good placement, should generally be all that's needed to win the point. For most shots, if a little light bulb doesn't go off in your head that tells you that you have read the ball perfectly, then you probably should focus on aggressive, well-placed steadiness and save the winners for another shot.

Aggressive, well-placed steadiness

Think about it. Aggressive, well-placed steadiness, combined with opportunistic putaways, good serves, and good tactics - put these together, and you have quite a game. (I toyed with adding "controlled receive" here, but that really comes under the "aggressive, well-placed steadiness" banner. A well-controlled receive is actually aggressive as you aren't giving the opponent an easy shot to attack.)

Focus on basics

Yesterday I did a 90-minute lesson with a 1300 player who was about 60 years old. I normally spend perhaps 10 minutes on each shot when working with someone, to give them variety. This time we spent the first 45 minutes just hitting his forehand to my backhand (he's a lefty), with me sometimes playing forehands from my backhand. (He did the last five minutes of it doing side to side footwork.) His forehand really, Really, REALLY improved! We then spent the next 30 minutes with me just hitting my forehand into his backhand - and his backhand hitting really, Really, REALLY improved! Then I looped for ten minutes to his backhand, and after all those backhands, his backhand block became a wall, and (yeah, one more time) really, Really, REALLY improved! So sometimes it's good to really focus on one thing for a long time. (We finished with five minutes practicing serves, for those doing the arithmetic.)

The Table Tennis Museum

Why not take an online tour of the ITTF Table Tennis Museum? Lots and lots of great stuff there. Here's a short video tour of various rackets on display (2:09).

Lobbing point

58 shots!

Timo Boll from age 4 on

This video has been posted before, but in case you haven't seen it, here is Germany's Timo Boll (former world #1, current #3, European #1) playing at ages 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. (5:48)

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September 12, 2011

Tip of the Week:

The Myth of Thinking Too Much

MDTTC Open and Receive

I spent much of the weekend watching and coaching at the MDTTC Open. One thing became obvious, as if it weren't obvious already - the large majority of points were won or lost on serve & receive, steadiness versus missing easy shots, and awkward footwork. Probably 70% of coaching was about choosing the serves and figuring out how to return the opponent's problem serves. Remember, when receiving, emphasize placement and consistency!

Here are some articles I've written on returning serves:

Adjusting the receive ready position for specific opponents

One thing that came up a couple times during the tournament was ready position when receiving. While all players should have a standard ready position when receiving, sometimes you might want to adjust this against certain opponents. One player I coached had a very forehand-oriented receive position, which helped him to use his forehand to loop long serves and flip short serves. One opponent had a tricky serve that always looked like it was going to the backhand - but at the last second the opponent would often drop a short, spinny serve very short to the forehand, catching opponent after opponent off guard. The first time out against this player, the forehand-oriented player lost almost primarily because of this serve, which caught him over and over. They played again, and this time he won by (I'm told, I didn't see the match) standing more in a backhand stance, ready to cover that short serve.

I probably vary my receive positions more than most. I have my extreme forehand position, where I stand well to the left, somewhat jammed to the table so I can easily flip or drop short balls with my forehand, or forehand loop deep serves quick off the bounce. I have my neutral stance, where I favor receiving most serves with my backhand, often flipping or rolling them deep to the opponent's backhand to get into a neutral exchange. And I have numerous variations in between. Sometimes I change my ready position as my opponent is serving. Against some players (especially juniors) I even have my chopping stance (centered, a step off table, right foot slightly in front), where I chop the serve back and then (usually) go back to a more neutral ready position. (Sometimes I just stay back and chop.)

And then the roof caved in....

I had a Newgy robot throughout the 1990s, but sometime in the early 2000's or so it disappeared. I'd thought it had been stolen. However, a week ago I noticed what looked like the top of a robot sticking up on the roof of the large closet area by the office. Almost for sure it was my long-lost robot.

On Saturday morning I came in early to warm up John Olsen for the MDTTC Open. We decided this would be a good time to get the robot down. So we brought over the MDTTC ladder (for changing lights), and I went up. There were dozens of boxes up there, as well as the robot. Since the roof was supporting all those boxes, it looked sturdy enough to support my weight. (You now know where this is going.) I did test it, and it seemed to hold my weight - at first. And then it didn't. I fell through the roof. Fortunately, I was able to grab hold of the metal girders so I didn't completely fall through. I was able to still reach the robot, balanced precariously on the caved-in roof, and handed it down to John before coming down myself. So my robot and I were reunited.

On Sunday night John came in with some tools and, along with help from Kevin Walton, we fixed the roof. The boxes that had been sitting up there for years were full of junk and were thrown out.

Viktor Barna would be 100

Here's an article from the ITTF on possibly our greatest champion, five-time men's singles world champion Viktor Barna, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 24.

Ninja Nunchuck Ping-Pong

You've probably seen the (yes it's fake) video of Bruce Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks (2:38). Well, here's an even funnier video of ninja twins playing with nunchucks, karate kicks, and multiple balls (2:11).

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September 9, 2011

Internet out

We've had almost non-stop rain the last four days here in Maryland, and yesterday had a thunderstorm that would have scared the Chinese National Team back to the alternate universe from whence they came. (You didn't think anyone from this universe could play that well did you?) At around 5PM both the Internet and cable TV went out, and a few minutes later the power went out for a short time. The cable TV came back on sometime early this morning, but still no Internet. Fortunately, I'd already put together notes for this morning's blog, including various online links. Unfortunately, I would have commented more on them after seeing them against this morning, but can't. After I finishing writing this up, I'm off to Starbucks to use their free wireless so I can put this online.  

Essentials for World Class Coaching

This is a must read for coaches and analytical-minded players. With the Internet out, I can't give the commentary I planned (and don't plan on staying at Panera's Bread long enough to do so), but I'm guessing you'll survive.

Blocking is under-rated

So says junior star Vikash Sahu, and I'm inclined to agree. Back in the early-to-mid 1980s, in between bouts of ongoing arm problems, I was an all-out attacker with a pretty good block. In 1985 I was hired by USATT to go to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to work with our resident training program as (at various times) manager, assistant coach, and director. During the next four and a half years I was a practice partner for our top junior players, and spent the bulk of my time blocking while they drilled. When I returned to Maryland in 1990, my blocking was a zillion times better, but I'd lost my attack. However, after a time my attack came back, and now I had that great block to back it up - and so I probably played the best of my life over the next few years. It also greatly helps me now, since blocking is pretty important for a coach!

Werner Schlager and Kalinikos Kreanga

Here's a video of these two training together recently. (Schlager on far side.) They seem a bit sloppy at first, but it gets better. (5:09)

Video Interviews

The Pongcast does interviews with top players and coaches, including their latest with five-time U.S. Champion and Olympian Sean O'Neill.

Timo Boll's doping worries

Yes, he's worried about testing positive- and blames it on that delicious Chinese food. Now I'm worried about my getting tested....

Grading USATT

Recently I've written a bunch about my frustration with USATT's lack of progress in developing our sport. Someone asked me how I would grade USATT on this. It wouldn't be fair to single out what they do worst while ignoring the rest - it's not all bad. So here are my grades for USATT. (I'm a USATT member - a Life member - so I have a right to grade them!)

  • Maintenance of the sport - working with current membership, running Open and Nationals, magazine, web page, etc.: B. While there's always room for improvement, overall they do fine here, given the limited staff. There are a few things I'd like to see to bump this up to an A, but I won't go into that here.
  • Helping elite athletes: C. Much of the problem here is because of a lack of funding - but why aren't they fund-raising? And it's a lot more cost effective to set up larger and longer training camps in the U.S., using the top players who are already here as practice partners, than to send them overseas. Clubs like ICC have volunteered to do so for free. I too would volunteer to come to such a camp to help out, probably feeding multiball full-time.
  • Development of the sport - increasing USATT membership, setting up leagues and junior programs, etc.: F. I've written plenty on this already. As some would say, "Enough already!" However, I've heard that in a few weeks (Sept. 17-18, if I recall correctly), USATT is holding another "Strategic Meeting" like the one they did in September of 2009. Unless they have learned the lessons on why the 2009 meeting didn't work, and why previous ones didn't work - I've been to at least four of these so far numbingly useless "Strategic Meetings" - this one won't work either. Until they set specific goals (with specific dates), create specific plans to meet those goals, put specific people in charge of implementing those plans, and then implement those plans, they'll continue to just maintain the sport (see above) without actually developing it.

    If I hear one more person from USATT talk about the things they are going to do, instead of actually doing these things, I think I will personally feed rapid-fire multiball at smashing speeds at the mouth those words come out of. (Of course, a major part of the problem is choosing things to do that can actually be implemented and will actually work in meeting whatever goals they are designed to reach.)

    One key thing for USATT to consider when looking to develop the sport: if they set a goal, say, of creating 100 successful junior programs in five years (my recommendation to them), and after five years have created "only" 70, they have not failed. They have created 70 successful junior programs that weren't there before, and that's a huge success. (And we only have maybe 20 in the whole country right now.) The alternative is to not even try, and that is a failure. And that is why they received an F.

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September 8, 2011

Student stops using head, instant success

For months a ten-year-old student of mine has struggled with a habit of moving his head forward when he hits forehands. This threw him off balance so that he lost control on the shot and couldn't recover quickly for the next shot. About two weeks ago he made a breakthrough and seemed to figure out how to hit without using his head that way. Yesterday it all came together, and he was hitting forehands better than ever before. (The head should rotate in a circle as you hit or loop forehands, as if there were a pole coming out of the top, but it should start and finish in about the same spot.) One irony is that he likes hitting so much, and hates looping, that we're thinking of going to short pips on the forehand. He's going to try that out next week.

Fifty full-time table tennis centers

With the addition of the Fremont Table Tennis Club in California run by Shashin Shodhan, we're up to an even 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.! And to think that just five years ago there were less than ten. They've been springing up independently as coaches, seeing the success of these centers, set up their own. In particular there's been an influx of Chinese coaches who open up these centers. Nearly all of them have regular junior programs, leagues, etc. This is the most promising thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in a long time.

Turkey, Table Tennis, and Tong Tong

I've had several cases over the years of a student eating a turkey sandwich for lunch at a tournament, and getting sleepy afterwards. This is presumably because of the relatively high levels of L-Tryptophan in turkey. Now this is controversial - while there's no question L-Tryptophan can cause drowsiness, it supposedly only happens if given almost in pure form on an empty stomach. Regardless, I've had enough bad experiences with this that I warn all my students never to eat turkey during a tournament until they are done playing for the day. For example, I was coaching U.S. Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong at a tournament last year. He had a turkey sandwich for lunch. When he had to play soon afterwards, he complained of sleepiness, said he could barely keep his eyes open. I took him into the restroom to splash cold water on his face, and it helped somewhat. He struggled for a couple matches before he felt alert again.

How U.S. Tennis does it differently (better)

I've been a member of USTA for many years, and have had many discussion with tennis coaches and officials on how they developed their sport to their current 700,000 members. I brought much of this up for discussion at the USATT Strategic Meeting in September, 2009, but there didn't seem much interest in learning from other sports. In a nutshell, what does USTA (tennis) do well in the U.S.? They seem to focus on three core issues: leagues, junior & college programs, and the U.S. Open. The first two are where they get their membership; the Open is where they get TV coverage and sponsorship. (Over 90% of their membership comes from leagues.) These are the issues they harp on over and Over and OVER in their regular e-newsletters, brochures in the mail, and web page.

Before someone says "But that's tennis!" as if that sport naturally has more members, note that just about every country in Europe has equally large tennis memberships (as a percentage of population), and yet their table tennis associations invariably have even more members. For example, Germany and England have about 700,000 and 500,000 members in their table tennis associations, considerably less in their tennis associations - I forget the actual numbers, which I researched long ago, and wasn't able to find online just now. (Anyone have them?) Nearly all their table tennis memberships comes from leagues and junior programs. (Leagues bring in the bulk, but many of them started out in junior programs and then became long-term members.) I did some more browsing, and found that France has over 200,000 members in their table tennis association.)

What are table tennis's core issues? Other successful table tennis countries have found this to be leagues and junior programs. USATT (8000 members) focuses on tournaments, which simply doesn't bring in large memberships. It doesn't even attempt to bring in members through setting up leagues and junior programs, which is central to nearly every successful table tennis country in the world, not to mention nearly every successful sport. It doesn't focus on growing the Open or Nationals, which actually get less players now than in the past. (We've had over 1000 at the Open twice, and used to get 800+ at both. Now we can't even get 700.)

Multiball demo

Here's a nice multiball demo video (1:09) from the English Table Tennis Association.

The next ban?

Table tennis has already banned glue, frictionless pips, and 38mm balls. What's next? I noticed recently that ping-pong tables and rackets are made mostly of wood, which is ORGANIC. Who knows what leftover bio-materials permeate these bastions for disease? And wood is mostly made of cellulose, the primary ingredient in celluloid, and we know how dangerous that is. Plus we're killing off the rain forests. Wood must be banned before it completely destabilizes and destroys our sport. Cement tables and plastic paddles are the only way to go. I will alert ITTF.

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September 7, 2011

They Called Me Mad

I recently read a really interesting book, "They Called Me Mad," which highlights about twenty famous scientists who in various ways were misunderstood or thought of as "mad scientists." On page 226 there's this quote from physicist Max Planck: "A new scientific truth does not as a rule prevail because its opponents declare themselves persuaded or convinced, but because the opponents gradually die out and the younger generation is made familiar with the truth from the start." (In Wikipedia there's a slightly different variation attributed to him: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.")

What does this have to do with table tennis? First, to be clear, I'm not advocating anyone in table tennis dying. However, this is exactly the problem USA Table Tennis faces. Generation after generation of often well-meaning USATT leaders come and go, but over and over they try variations of the same failed ideas--often relying on the advice of the same table tennis "experts" who advised previous generations of unsuccessful leaders--and USATT goes nowhere. (There are always some among the USATT leadership that see the light, but they are few, they are outnumbered, and they usually have given up being that pesty person that tries to convince the unconvinceable.) Trying to convince USATT to adopt the methods to develop the sport that have been used successfully in other countries and other sports--and that have been used successfully in some regions of the U.S.--doesn't work; see the Planck quote. I know, I've tried and Tried and TRIED. (So have others.)

In recent years, however, independent of USATT, we suddenly have full-time training centers popping up all over the place (from 5-10 just five years ago to about 50 now), and regional leagues around major cities (NYC, SF, LA) that could grow and become national. (The ITTF coaching seminars created by the USATT coaching committee are promising, though I'd like to see more emphasis on recruiting and training of those who would like to be professional coaches and run junior programs--with an equal emphasis on the professional side (recruiting students, setting up clubs and programs, etc)--and on club-based junior programs.) This is exactly how other countries and other sports developed, and this is the "younger generation" developing our sport. If these same people someday ran USATT, imagine how fast our sport would progress. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Many players develop forehand pendulum serves, the most common serve in competitive table tennis. But not so many develop reverse pendulum serves. Why not? It gives you a huge variation to your serves. Not having one is a huge handicap. Not only does the variation make your other serves more effective, but many players--probably most--have great difficulty with this serve, partly because they rarely see it. (It's especially effective short to the forehand, along with sudden long ones to the backhand.) So here's a video (1:48) that shows the serve from multiple angles and in slow motion. Now go practice.

Samsonov and the ITTF Players' Commission

Here's a short article on Samsonov on the ITTF Players' Commission.

Top players analyze their own games

Here's a video (10:25) of Australian star William Henzell analyzing his match against French star Adrien Mattenet. See if you agree with his analysis. Do you do this type of analysis with your own matches? Why not?

Tutoring

In addition to coaching and writing, I've added a new sideline. I've been hired as a private tutor for four hours a week (two hours twice a week) at my regular coaching rate. I'm tutoring calculus, English, and creative writing. It actually means a bit more than four hours a week since I have to review and plan everything in advance. I'm also relearning calculus since my bachelor's in math was from 1985, though I've done some tutoring on and off since then. I'm especially looking forward to teaching creative writing since, outside table tennis, I'm a science fiction & fantasy writer.

Funny table tennis rackets

Here are some funny table tennis rackets. And here's a holy one.

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September 6, 2011

Better shots = Win More?

Not always right away. Every year about this time lots of junior players have just finished a summer of training, either locally or often overseas, most often in China. (We had eight juniors from Maryland Table Tennis Center training in China this summer.) They all now have better shots, some devastatingly so. I watched a couple of them after they returned, and got this deep-down tingling of fear - I have to face that on the table soon!

And yet, when they go out to play, while they dominate the rallies, and do one "woh!" shot after another, their results often are no better than before, or even worse. The problem is that while they have better shots, they are not yet experienced in how to use those better shots. For example, if they now have a much more powerful forehand loop, they may use it more - and end up missing off serves that they would have returned more passively (and consistently) before. In rallies the may be able to pull off shots that they couldn't do before - but they are also missing shots that they may not have tried before. And then uncertainty sets in - they aren't sure when to use what shots, and so they spiral downward. (As an experienced player and coach, I know exactly how tactically to play into this uncertainty. Do you? Hint - lots of variation. Actually, that's pretty much the whole answer.)

It can be pretty disappointing for a player to do all that training, develop these better shots, and seem to have nothing to show for it!

But the good news is that this is temporary. They just need match experience, and soon they will become the terrors that their shots already are.

This applies not just to juniors but to all players who train and improve. It's like an archer who is handed a high-powered rifle for the first time. He has a much better weapon, but he probably needs to learn how to use the thing first. When he does, watch out!

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee teaches heavy backspin

Here's a video (9:44) of Richard McAfee teaching what I call the scooping method of serving heavy backspin. Most players try to serve backspin by stroking down, when they should be stroking up. Don't believe it? See the video. And note that the contact point is toward the front of the ball as the racket goes under the ball. Here's a general rule: beginning players mostly contact the ball above the ball's equator. Intermediate players mostly contact the ball around the ball's equator. Advanced players mostly contact the ball well below the ball's equator, near the south pole. Are you a south pole server?

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee teaches an ITTF Coaching Seminar

Yes, here's Richard again, teaching an ITTF Coaching Seminar at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey (31:14).

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee in another headline

Because I like to do things in threes. Because I like to do things in threes. Because I like to do things in threes.

USA Nationals and North American Teams

Yep, it's time to start thinking about attending the USA Nationals, Dec. 13-17 in Virginia Beach, VA. Will you be there? The other huge upcoming USA tournament is the North American Teams, Nov. 25-27 in Baltimore, MD. Both of these tournaments will have in the range of 700-800 players. It so happens that for the first time probably ever, both tournaments are on the east coast, and in fact just a three-hour drive apart. So this is a rare "two-for" opportunity for many on the east coast - we can all become road warriors and drive to these tournaments, along with the many others held on the east coast. Of course, there are plenty of tournaments in other regions as well, including some big ones.

My tentative fall tournament schedule

I expect to be at the following tournaments. I'll only be coaching at them, except for the Millcreek Open and the USA Nationals, where I'll also probably play in the hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.)

  • Sept. 10-11, MDTTC Open, MD
  • Sept. 24-25, Lily Yip Open, NJ
  • Oct. 8-9, Westchester Open, NY
  • Oct. 15-16, MDTTC Open, MD
  • Oct. 22, Millcreek Open, PA
  • Nov. 5, Two-Tier Giant RR in Lancaster, PA
  • Nov. 25-27, North American Teams, MD
  • Dec. 3-4, Potomac Open, MD
  • Dec. 13-17, USA Nationals, VA

New table tennis tables

I have no idea how to play on these tables. After 35 years of playing and over 30 years of coaching, I'm stumped.

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September 5, 2011

Tip of the Week

Short serves to the middle

Keeping a notebook

Do you keep a table tennis notebook? I did for years, and I recommend you do as well. I used a steno notebook. From front to back, I would take notes on my own play - what I was working on, what drills I was doing, what worked and didn't work in matches, etc. On the other side - back to front - I kept tactical notes on opponents. When the side on me was filled up (it usually went first), I'd simply flip it over, and it would be a permanent record of my notes on opponents, and I'd get a new notebook and start fresh. At tournaments, I'd bring past notebooks (with the ever-growing notes on opponents), and would be ready against any opponent I'd ever played against.

Years later I started transcribing my tactical notes onto my computer, and then all my notes, including the ones on my game. And then, after doing this for perhaps a decade, I realized that I'd been doing it so long that all the notes were in my head, and that I no longer needed to write things down to remember them. So I retired my notebook. Even now, when I see an opponent from long ago, I usually can remember my tactical notes against him.

However, while I no longer have a notebook for my game, I still keep a notebook for players I coach. When I show up at, say, the USA National Cadet Trials, I have about a page of notes on each of the major contenders, which I regularly update.

Back update

Yesterday was the first time I played in three or four weeks. During that time I've had others do my hitting when I coached. But after getting the okay from the sports therapist last week, I did 2.5 hours on Sunday. It was mostly multiball, but that had hurt my back before. Now the back seems almost back to normal - there were no problems during the 2.5 hours. I'm going to continue with light play for perhaps another week or so, and gradually work myself back to regular play. The two things that most hurt the back - forehand looping and forehand pendulum serves - didn't seem to bother it yesterday, but I only did a few to test it out. The real test is if I can do these things repetitively.

In layman's terms, here's roughly what had been the problem with my back. The muscles on the right had grown so tight over they years they had shortened dramatically. As near as I can understand it, they attach to the backbone underneath, and so had pulled the base of the spine out of alignment, so the spine was now pointed off to my left. When the doctor and therapist first saw it, they both wondered how I could even stand up with my spine twisted like that! After a month of doing a ten-minute stretching routine three times a day, and meeting twice a week with the therapist (where she put it through far more), the spine has straightened out. Soon my loops will once again terrorize opponents who don't instead sneer at it and counterloop.

New USATT Hall of Famers

USATT Historian Tim Boggan has done writeups on the latest five members of the USATT Hall of Fame: Amy FengAzmy IbrahimBrian MastersMitch SeidenfeldBill Walk. Congrats to all!

ITTF Interview with Adham Sharara

Here's another interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara where he once again talks about increasing the ball size and increasing the height of the net. Two excerpts:

  • "We already have 42 millimetre balls in a test series and are waiting for the results."
  • "And of course, the increase of the net up to one centimetre is always a topic."

Los Angeles Open

They just ran the $45,000 (!!!) Los Angeles Open this past weekend, and here's the web page, but I can't find any results there. Am I missing something? The web page is packed with great info, but is missing the most important info of all after the tournament - the results! I could piece together most of the results from postings on various table tennis forums (Wang Zeng defeated Zhou Xin in the final, 4-1, etc.), but it sure would be helpful to have the results posted publicly on their web page. Could you imagine, say, a similar tennis tournament where the results were not posted?

New York City Open

Here are the results of the New York City Open held this past weekend. (Make sure to set it to New York City Open in the field at the top, and note that you can then look at all results of any event by selecting that events in the second field.) As you may know, it was schedule for the previous weekend, but it got Irened. So they rescheduled for one week later, and still got 167 entries, down about a hundred. They didn't run the Open - many of the top players were now at the LA Open, and of course when you lose 100 players because of a hurricane, you probably can't afford to run the Open.

Exhibition point

Here's a nice exhibition point by China's Wang Liqin and Ma Lin (1:06) - enjoy!

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September 2, 2011

Develop an Overpowering Strength and Ways to Use It

This article, now online at Butterflyonline.com, was originally a Tip of the Week from back in February, but I added some stuff from Coach Jack Huang (one of my co-coaches at MDTTC), and sent it in to Butterfly, who published it yesterday. (You even get to see a picture of me and my "devastating" forehand!) A related article is How to Move Up a Level, which explains the five things you need to do to improve a level, with #5 about finding that overpowering strength and ways to use it.

Back update - I'm back!

Yesterday I got the okay from my physical therapist to resume table tennis activities as long as I go easy on it. I can finally hit with my students! For the last couple weeks I've had others come in to do my hitting.

Originally I was going to take six weeks off, but the therapist thought three weeks would be enough, and now, after two weeks, after examining my back, said I'm ready. It's been a busy two weeks; I've been doing a ten-minute stretching and strengthening routine three times a day, and meeting with the therapist twice a week for a more rigorous routine.

For now, I'll just do easy stuff  - multiball, blocking and easy countering, and perhaps I'll do a few easy loops just to test it out. Surprisingly, the back rotation from my forehand pendulum serve (along with looping) put the most strain on my back; I'll test that out. Playing games also put a lot of strain as I wouldn't know where the next ball was going and often did last-second moves that strained the back - and this was even more true even when playing beginners, since they spray the ball randomly all over.

So you want to be a better table tennis coach?

PATT (that's Principles Approach to Table Tennis) tells you how with their article, How To Become a Better Table Tennis Coach. They also sell two books on table tennis, "PATT - A Principles Approach to Table Tennis" and "PATT Notes - Volume I," both written by USATT National Coach Donn Olsen. These are rather theoretical books that try to develop the basic principles of table tennis and apply them as "a foundation for exceptional play" (the subtitle of the first book).

Interview with German National Coach Richard Prause

From Matt Hetherington's blog.

Virginia Beach Tournament for the Homeless

The Annual PingPongforPOVERTY.com Charity Tournament will be held Sept. 30 - Oct. 1 in Virginia Beach. Here's an article about it. "The event is open to all age groups and skill levels from beginner to expert. It's a great time to get a new pingpong table too, as all the tables are either auctioned off or sold and proceeds go directly to PIN." (People in Need Homeless Ministry of Virginia Beach.)

Illegal hidden serves

Here's video, pictures, and discussion of World Men's Doubles Champion Xu Xin illegal hidden serve, which, like other world-class players with such serves, is rarely if ever called. The fact that he's a lefty only makes it easier to hide the serve. I'm linking to this one because this is the one someone chose to use as an example; they could just as easily have used most other world-class players, since most at least sometimes hide their serves.

Counterlooping extraordinaire

Here's an incredible counterlooping point between Wang Hao and Ma Long (1:05).

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