Blogs

Larry Hodges' Blog and Tip of the Week will go up on Mondays by noon USA Eastern time. 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. (Larry was awarded the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in July, 2018.)
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 21, 2011

Receive

The last couple of blogs I've had a lot on serving. Now let's talk about receive. Below are links to ten articles I've written on receive. Receive is the hardest part of the game to learn, and the most under-practiced. When players drill, they work on their strokes, their footwork, and they even practice serves. But how often do they systematically practice receive? To do so, you need to find practice partners who is willing to let you practice against their serves, and many players are protective of this - they don't want to give potential rivals a chance to get used to their serves. Sometimes the best way to practice serves is to find a stronger player (one who doesn't consider you a potential threat) and ask to practice against their serves. Or hire them as a coach. As to the receiving itself, enjoy browsing or reading the below. Any questions? C'mon, I love questions!!!

Getting back to my old level

Now that my back problems are over, I'm toying with how serious I should take my own playing. If I want to get back to my old level, I'm going to have to:

  • Do lots of stretching or I will get injured. There's no "if" here.
  • Lift weights to regain full muscle strength.
  • Practice a lot.
  • Play lots of tournaments to become tournament tough again.
  • Give up most other activities. :)

*Sigh*. It seems like a lot of time and work. There's a reason most coaches stop competing. (And the huge majority of my match play these days is as a practice partner for local juniors.) Maybe I'll just continue to focus on coaching, and let others do the above. (Like I've been doing for years.) On the other hand, I can rely on 35 years of playing experience to win matches. There's some pride to winning a match when the opponent has you completely outgunned, and they come off the table wondering, "How the heck did I lose that?"

Counterlooping

Coach Tao Li teaches the forehand counterloop (8:35). If you like this, here are seven coaching videos by Coach Tao

Joo Se-Hyuk

Here's a profile of South Korea's Joo Se-Hyuk, the best chopper in the world (really a chopper/looper, since he's often all-out looping on the forehand), and a men's singles finalist at the 2003 Worlds.

National Physical Disabled Table Tennis Association

Straight from Nepal!

USATT logo

Do you prefer new, the old, or the older one? 

New USATT logo Old USATT logo Older USATT logo

Exciting but catty table tennis action

Can the catchy new USATT logo (see above) be the catalyst for catapulting our catatonically-growing sport to catching on with new categories of fans as we no longer cater to the catastrophically few who currently play our catlike sport? Or am I just being catty? See what these fans and players think.

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September 20, 2011

More on Serving

On Friday, I gave my periodic "Practice your serves!" reminder, a public service for the benefit of the vast throngs of table tennis players who forget to practice their serves unless I remind them. Over the weekend I put up two more articles on serving, both previously published in USA Table Tennis Magazine: Serving Short with Spin and Serving Short the Productive Way. Want more? Here are 19 articles I've written on serving. (The two new ones are at the end.)

The Shoulder Method of Hiding the Serve

I've blogged about hidden serves a number of times, but I want to point out the most popular method of hiding serves so you can watch for it. Think of it as a public address announcement for the benefit of umpires, who are in the unenviable position of having to call hidden serves, as well as for players and coaches who have to call the service rule on opponents who hide their serves.

It's not enough these day to just hide the serve these days; illegal servers now are able to hiding their hiding! (Hopefully you will read the following so as to watch for it, not to learn to do it - though of course some will do that, alas.) Most umpires watch the non-playing arm closely to make sure the serve isn't obviously hidden by that. The rule says that the non-playing arm must be "pulled out of the way as soon as the ball is projected upwards." However, most umpires aren't strict on this as long as the arm is pulled out before contact so as not to hide the ball. And this is where they are getting fooled.

Most players who hide their serves now do it with their shoulder. They leave their non-playing arm out as long as possible, and then pull it back just before contact. Since most umpires are watching the arm to make sure it is pulled out in time, they think the serve is legal. What they don't see is that by keeping the arm out, the server is able to keep his shoulder thrust out. While the arm is pulled out of the way before contact, the shoulder lags behind and doesn't quite come out of the way until just after contact, and that's what hides the contact. It's like a magic trick, where you distract the observer with one thing (the arm) so they don't see the more important thing (the shoulder). 

And just as a reminder, here are the pertinent parts of the service rule about hiding contact:

  • Rule 2.6.4: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server..."
  • Rule 2.6.5: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server's free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."
  • Rule 2.6.6: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws."

Three more coaching articles by Samson Dubina
(Here are all his coaching articles.)

Deng Yaping

Here's a short profile of the great Deng Yaping, now 38 years old and with a Ph.D from Cambridge.

Dora Kurimay

Dora Kurimay, top table tennis player and sports psychologist, is interviewed at The Pongcast. Then check out her table tennis sports psychology page.

Table Tennis and More Commercial

Here's a commercial (1:29) for Table Tennis and More, a club in Phoenix, Arizona. Why doesn't your club have one?

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September 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. Time to put some balance into your game!

Tactics against hitting juniors

Because I'm out of practice after months of back problems, when I went back to playing local juniors, I had to go back to "basic principles" to compete. And while I wasn't really playing well, I kept winning, but almost exclusively on tactics. Here are the main tactics I used, and that you should try when playing super-fast hitting juniors, where you simply cannot play at their pace. (I can't.)

When serving, often serve slow, super-spinny serves, mostly long, with lots of spin variation, often so they break into the wide backhand. You want lots and lots of serve variation. With side-top serves, vary between extra topspin and extra sidespin. Vary the service motion, especially right after contact - mostly follow-through down for side-top serves, follow-through up for side-backspin serves. Throw in lots of fast, dead (almost backspin) serves to the middle (playing elbow). Be aggressive and decisive in following up the serve - it might be the only shot in the rally that you won't get a bang-bang counter-hitting return. If you have a good loop, serve short backspins to the middle or forehand (or long to the backhand, if they push it back), and follow with loops at wide angles--but try to hide the direction you are going, or even fake one way, go the other. (Juniors have smaller middles, but are weaker at covering the corners when you are attacking.)

When receiving, look for every chance to push or chop the serve back extremely heavy and low, at wide angles. (Receiving against fast-attacking juniors is one of the few times where you may break the cardinal rule of attacking the deep serve, since it's often better to push it back heavy.) Often aim to the backhand, then push to the wide forehand at the last second. When they move to the forehand to loop, quick block the next ball to the wide backhand before they are back in position, or to the wide forehand again if they move to cover the backhand too quickly. If the junior loops from both wings, a heavy push to the middle will often give them trouble. If you topspin the serve back, make sure to go very deep. If you loop the serve, deep, spinny loops are usually best; if they smash this with their forehand, then do it mostly to the backhand. Quicker loops to the forehand are effective - any loop to the forehand they can't smash is effective.

When rallying, use lots of variation. You may start the rally off close to the table - try to start the rally with an aggressive, well-placed shot (wide angles or middle) - then hit the next shot a step back, but don't back up too much until you are forced to. Use varying topspins and backspins, and move the ball around the table, keeping it deep. Throw in some dummy loops. If you are good at fishing and lobbing, that is effective as long as you don't overdo it - it's better to force the junior to make at least one risky shot that he might miss before you start lobbing, so don't give up the table too easily. Heavy backspin (pushing and chopping) can be extremely effective, so here's your chance to learn to win with backspin.

Here are two other articles that might be helpful: 

Back and Playing Update

This past weekend (Fri-Sun) I played more than I had in the previous two months. It was the first real test of my back since I'd had the back problems I've probably over-blogged about. Overall, things went really well. On Friday and Saturday I played practice matches with some of our top juniors (and some non-juniors), including several that were rated about the same as me or higher. I went in fully expecting (as did everyone else) that after several months of non-playing, I'd get killed. Instead, I went undefeated, a combined 9-0! Rating-wise, I defeated players rated 2300, 2200, 2150, two 2100's, 2000, 1800, 1700, and 1300. I'm not going to give out names, but suffice to say I had Cheng Yinghua staring at me with a silly grin and saying, "Larry, how are you playing so good?" He and Jack coached several of the juniors against me ("He's slow! Attack his forehand and middle! Most of his serves are topspin! Serve topspin so he can't push quick and heavy!), but to no avail.

Two things that really helped. First, the honest truth I wasn't playing that well, and feeling rather vulnerable, I really, Really, REALLY focused on tactics. And that worked rather well. Second, it had been months since they had seen my serves, and I decided to just serve for winners. And so I gave my opponents a steady diet of long, breaking serves with varied spin, often with a herky-jerky serving motion to throw them off, along with fast, dead serves to the middle, and occasionally short, spinny serves, especially to the forehand. They missed my serve over and over. Like magic, whenever I served and needed a point, a service winner would appear. As I got more comfortable, I did more serve & attack, especially with short no-spin serves to the middle or forehand, followed by a forehand loop.

On Sunday, I did 3.5 consecutive hours of coaching, the first time I'd done more than an hour of coaching in months. It went pretty well, but combined with all the playing on Friday and Saturday, by the end my back was done. I played one practice match with a 1700 junior (won the first, struggled to win the next three mostly with serves and by fishing and lobbing), then had to stop. The good news was this morning my back feels fine.

A USA National League System

Over the past few days there has been a lot of emails discussions on how to set up a national league system. I've argued for years that we should focus on learning how they do it so successfully in Europe, and from that create a USA model. I know NYTTL (the New York league, which has teams from all over the northeast) does that (Mauricio Vergara explained how they modeled it after the European leagues), and I think BATTF (Bay area) and LATTF (Los Angeles) are also similar to European leagues. The best news of the weekend was that Richard Lee (president of North American Table Tennis) is going to Europe on business, and volunteered to meet with officials there and ask about how they developed their leagues. (And the key is how they did so at the start, not just how they are being run today.) I was also asked the following:

>In your opinions how can we realistically implement the National Club
>League System? What would work best in the U.S.?

Here is my response:

"Here is the recommendation I made repeatedly at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and previous ones as and board meetings. Arrange to meet at the Worlds (or other major competition) with officials from Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), or other countries with successful leagues. The key is to learn from them how they created and developed their leagues, not how they are run now, though that is the ultimate goal. Discuss it with them, exchange ideas, and see what we can learn.

"Then we take this info to successful league directors in the U.S. (such as ones from BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL), and ask them to work out a U.S. model, based on what we learn from European leagues and their own experiences in the U.S. (Actually, we should send these league directors to the Worlds to meet with European league directors, so they can learn first hand. At our cost. It would be the single best investment in USATT history.) Then we make this model available to those interested, and promote it on a regional basis. I believe they are already working on this, but they are reinventing the wheel, when the wheel (how to set up successful leagues) has already be invented many times overseas. We just need to decide the specific design of our wheel.

"We have to stop thinking in terms of setting up a nationwide league for current clubs, and think about setting up a league that will create clubs, such as Germany did, whose Bundesliga led to their 11,000 clubs. How do they and others do this? Given the choice between learning this, and not learning this, we've consistently chosen ignorance, often hiding behind the oft-repeated "But things are different there!" without even bothering to learn the differences and similarities. Yes, there are differences, which is why we take the best of Europe to experienced U.S. league directors, and create a U.S. model. Believe it or not, the 700,000 players in the German league system are human beings just like us; they are not some alien species that genetically wants to play table tennis. Neither are the English, the Chinese, the Japanese, and other countries that do it right, and yet we consistently pretend we know everything when in reality USATT knows very little about developing table tennis in this country. That's why we have 8000 members."

A TV show that features Ping-Pong? (I mean table tennis!)

NBC is developing Pong, a single-camera comedy based on the 2010 book Everything You Know Is Pong by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz.

Brian Pace in Training

Brian write of this new video (37:21), "In Episode 9 of BP Reloaded I update you on my training in Romania, I go over my weight loss, I show you some of my daily meals, and I go through a training session with Lucian M."

Matrix Table Tennis

I know you have seen this (if not, where have you been???), but I watched it again this morning, and I think every table tennis player should watch the Matrix Table Tennis Video (1:44) at least once a month. And while you're at it, why not watch the parodies?

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September 16, 2011

Wang Liqin forehand loop

In regular and slow motion (0:46) The perfect loop? Note the smooth weight transfer and body rotation as he creates torque. He's a three time World Men's Singles Champion (2001, 2005, 2007), world #1 for 25 consecutive months (second most ever), and winner of 21 Pro Tour singles events, the most ever. And I once interviewed him (through a translator) and shook his hand. Yes, my playing hand touched his. Regrettably, I've washed it since.

Service practice reminder

The following is a public service address. Remember that serve that let you down at the last tournament? The one that was going slightly high, or slightly long, or that nobody seemed to have trouble with? Isn't it time you go out and fix that problem for next time? Get a bucket of balls and practice. Here's a ten-point plan to serving success. I've got a bunch of other articles on serving here

USA Table Tennis Leagues

Yesterday there was an email exchange among USATT and other officials regarding the USA League Finals at the USA Nationals. Should they be an open event, where anyone can show up representing a region, or should they only allow teams representing a region with an established regional league? I'm strongly for the latter. There are established leagues in some areas (such as BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL, representing the bay area (San Francisco region), Los Angeles, and New York (which includes teams from states as far away as Maryland). Here's my response.

"I really, Really, REALLY hope we can turn these leagues into a national thing. This is how many European countries developed huge memberships. I strongly recommend going with only allowing regions that have established leagues; otherwise, it's just another open event at the Nationals, and there's no incentive to grow. We need a nationwide network of leagues like these or we'll always struggle to gain membership. I also hope that those developing these leagues (BATTF, NYTTL, LATTF, others) have studied or will study how the European and Asian leagues started up and grew so that we can steal ideas from them in developing a USA model."

In another email, I wrote:

"I think there are some misconceptions about leagues. First, setting up leagues should not be a primary goal; they are the MEANS to a primary goal, which is to drastically increase membership, as has happened in other countries all over the world and in other sports. (They are an intermediate goal on the way toward this primary goal.) Our membership has been described as a round-off error, and that's not going to change until we do something to change it."

"Second, leagues are not set up for the benefit of the few existing clubs. They are set up to bring in new players which leads to new clubs set up primarily for league play. Germany, for example, didn't create its leagues for the benefit of its 11,000 clubs, which didn't exist at the time. It was the leagues that led to the 11,000 clubs. Before they created their leagues, they were in a similar situation as the U.S."

"Leagues and full-time training centers with full-time coaches and junior programs are beginning to take off around the U.S. . . . and that is the most promising thing I've ever seen in our sport."

I also wrote some strongly worded criticism of USATT's lack of effort in the league department, but I won't post that here at this time. Suffice to say they were severely reprimanded. Severely!!!

U.S. and NA Olympic Trials in Cary, NC

Here's your chance to buy tickets to see the U.S. Olympic Trials (Feb. 9-12, 2012) and North American Olympic Trials (April 20-22, 2012), both in Cary, NC.

Golf Pong

Yes, it's Golf Pong as former junior star Grant Li takes on golf pros Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, and Frederick Jacobson. Jacobson was a nationally ranked player in Sweden twenty years ago, who still plays in San Diego occasionally with Stellan Bengtsson in San Diego. (3:33, but doesn't get to the table tennis until 2:12.)

Machete Pong

Yes, it's Machete Pong as Comedian Jimmy Fallon takes on English adventurer, writer and television presenter Bear Grylls. (2:47, but starts with a 16-second commercial.)

Car Pong

Yes, it's Car Pong. Really. (0:14)

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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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