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!

July 22, 2011

Topspinny backhands (Topspinny ®2011 by Larry Hodges)

Yes, I'm trademarking the term "topspinny." Any time you say it, you have to pay me a quarter. (To the humor-challenged: I'm joking.) I like to use the term to describe players who use a lot of topspin on their backhands, as opposed to others who hit flatter, such as myself. Flat backhands used to be the norm, but these up-and-coming junior players are mostly taught topspinny backhands, sort of half drive, half loop, right off the bounce. I can demonstrate the shot easily, but I don't naturally use it in a match, not after 35 years of hitting "normal" backhands. The shot is highly effective; the ball just jumps at you like a normal backhand loop, with all the quickness of an off-the-bounce flat backhand.

Adjustable height device

On Wednesday, I blogged about new training tools, including a serving height device made by local player and coach John Olsen, with adjustable brackets that hold a pole over the net. We've used it as an exercise both for serving and stroking low to the net. Here are two pictures, set high and set low.

100 degrees

That's how hot it got yesterday here in Maryland, and it's supposed to get a touch hotter today. Aren't we glad table tennis is an indoor sport, and that the Maryland Table Tennis Center bought a new $8000 air conditioning system a month ago? For the last twenty years our air conditioning left something to be desired, but now it's nice and cool inside. Then you step outside and it's like walking into a furnace.

When humidity strikes

However, with lots of players training, it still gets a bit humid inside sometimes, and of course it often does so at tournaments. What does one do when their inverted sheet becomes slick with moisture? First, always have two towels - one for you, and one for the racket and ball only. (Hitchhiker's Guide had that half right.) You could just wipe the racket off every six points or so, and you'd get most of the moisture off. However, since the moisture doesn't form evenly over the surface, I've found that you can dry it off better by first blowing on the racket surface, giving the entire surface a light moisture. Then the towel slides evenly over the surface, drying it much more thoroughly. Yes, it sounds counter-productive to blow on the surface, adding moisture when the goal is to remove moisture, but I've found that it works. This is also good for general cleaning of your racket. 

Xu Xin multiball training

Here's a 39 second segment of Chinese Team Member Xu Xin doing multiball. He makes it look so easy; try this yourself.

First back, then neck

In my ongoing attempts to find a comfortable position to sleep at night with my back problems (I blogged about that yesterday), all I've managed to do is hurt my neck. (I think I slept on my stomach, with my head on its side on a pillow.) When I woke up on Wednesday, it was hurting, but it gradually went away. This morning I woke up in agony; I can't turn or tilt my neck in either direction. So today I answer the age-old question that's been pondered since the time of Aristotle and Confucius: Can one feed multiball in a table tennis training camp when he can't move his back or neck and is in constant agony? (Today's the last day of the two-week MDTTC training camp.)

Confluence (non-table tennis)

Tomorrow morning at around 5AM I'm hopping into my car (or rather gingerly lowering myself into the driver's seat after a bowl of Ibuprofen and milk for breakfast, due to back and neck problems) and driving to Pittsburgh (four hours away) for the Confluence Science Fiction Convention. They seem to have two websites, this and that. I'll return late that night. The guest of honor is Robert J. Sawyer, who was the writer in residence at the Odyssey Writer's Workshop I went to in 2006, and a best-selling SF writer. (Here's my SF writing page.)

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July 21, 2011

Deliberate Practice to deliberately become good or great

So you want to be good at table tennis? Then learn about Deliberate Practice. Not everyone can put in 10,000 hours and be great, but if you apply the other seven principles in whatever practice time you have (make time), you can really improve. And the hours do add up. Below are the eight main principles; the article elaborates on them. Why not print out the article's eight main points with short explanations (they'll fit on one page), and put it on your wall where you can see them regularly?

  1. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, requiring high levels of focus and concentration.
  2. It is designed specifically to improve performance—to strengthen it beyond its current levels.
  3. It must continue for long of periods of time.
  4. It must be repeated.
  5. It requires continuous feedback on results.
  6. Pre-performance preparation is essential.
  7. It involves self-observation and self-reflection.
  8. It involves careful reflection on performance after practice sessions are completed.

The back doctor

Yesterday I saw an orthopedist sports medicine doctor about my recurring upper back problems. They did x-rays and some other tests. It turns out it's probably not a disc problem; he thinks it's a muscle problem, where the muscle attaches to the backbone. I'm supposed to meet with a physical therapist twice a week, probably starting next week, plus a series of exercises on my own that they'll assign. They are also hoping I can take one month off from table tennis. So tentatively, after our last August training camp at MDTTC (which ends Aug. 19), I might hire locals to act as a hitting partner for when I'm coaching so I can rest the back for that month. Even feeding multiball is painful, especially when feeding backspin.

Different Types of Table Tennis

This is from the Fun and Games section. Bet you didn't know there were this many types of table tennis! (And yes, that's me playing clipboard table tennis at the end.)

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July 20, 2011

Varied serves

Have you been practicing your serves? (Yes, I like to ask this question on my blog every couple of weeks or so, which should indicate its importance.) At any time, can you (or your students) serve short or long, with sidespin going either way, with backspin or topspin, or with no-spin, to all parts of the table? Can you disguise these spins? Can you also serve fast and deep with varied spin (or no-spin) to the corners and middle? If the answer to any of this is no, get practicing!

Table tennis training tools

Yesterday I used two table tennis training tools in our MDTTC training camp. First, there was the ball spinning device for teaching a player to loop. (I think I wrote about this briefly in a previous blog.) It basically consists of a ball that spins freely on top of a short pole that attaches to the table with a suction cup. The player can then practice spinning the ball. If they mishit, the ball has a spring mechanism so it can bend forward instead of breaking the device. The kids had a great time with it, and learned to spin the ball. I bought the device at the U.S. Open from Newgy Table Tennis, who had gotten it from Masir Table Tennis in China, but I couldn't find it anywhere on either web site. (If you can read Chinese, take a look at the Masir site and see if you can find it so I can link to it in another blog - you'll get credit here for finding it!)

The second tool was a serving height device made by local player and coach John Olsen. It consisted of two adjustable height brackets, one on each side of the net (by the net brackets), and a pole that you balanced between them over the net. (Sorry, no picture - maybe later.) Since the brackets are adjustable, you can move the pole up or down. Then you challenge the players to serve so the ball goes between the net and the pole, i.e. they learn to serve low. I demonstrated the device on its lowest setting, where you had to serve with the ball within about half an inch or so of the net to get it through. I was going to raise it for the beginning/intermediate players, but they protested as a group - they all wanted to try the lowest setting. I said sure, be my guest, figuring none would be able to do it but that they needed to learn the hard way how hard it was to serve at that setting. Oh boy, was I wrong! While none could do it consistently, nearly all managed to do it several times. I plan to use the device again in the camp, at a higher setting, this time with the players hitting forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, and see if they can do that. No chance, right? We'll see.

A third "device" was a bunch of paper cups. I put ten on the table and the kids take turns getting ten shots at knocking them down. (I feed them the ten shots multiball style.) I've written about this before, but it's rapidly become the most popular game in our camps, even though the players spend much of the time waiting for their turn. Ideally, I should bring in more cups and teach the kids to feed the balls to each other so they can all do this.

Disney's Ariel

Here's U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing on a Disney TV commercial! (2:50) No, not this Ariel - this Ariel! Explained Rajul Sheth from ICC Table Tennis, "They've aired it since Sept 2010. It was done during 2010 ICC summer camps when Stellan was one of our visiting head coaches." (I was a visiting coach at ICC in 2009, so I missed being in the commercial, dang.)

Seeing doctor today

As I've noted a few times in my blog, I'm having major upper back problems. It is getting more and more painful to rotate for forehand shots, especially forehand loops and my forehand pendulum serve (which I use 90% of the time when I serve), as well as regular serves. It also hurts when feeding backspin in multiball, where I have to dig into the ball, though feeding topspin doesn't affect it much. (And I'm feeding multiball several hours a day right now in our training camp.) I saw a doctor a week ago and he thought I probably have two discs rubbing against each other, and referred me to an orthopedist, who I'm seeing this afternoon. Hopefully he'll figure out what exactly what the problem is and cure it by tonight, and all will be well.

Ironically, when I woke up this morning my neck was in pain, and as I type this, I can barely move my head. I think I slept on it wrong. I'm also having some knee problems. With this trio of inconveniences, this is going to be a fun day!!! (How does one get through such a day? I've resolved to have pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars tonight for dinner. Whenever my back/neck/knees remind me of what it's like to be dipped in a bed of lava, I'll just think about that pizza.)

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July 19, 2011

Relax that shoulder

One thing I've noticed in the two-week MDTTC camp we're running is that a lot of players hunch or tighten up their playing shoulder when hitting forehands. I'm almost ready to make a recording that says, "Drop your arm to your side. Relax the shoulder. Now bring up your arm to a forehand position, keeping the shoulder relaxed. Bend the elbow to bring the racket into position. Now hit your forehand!"

Another common shoulder problem is not rotating the shoulder on the forehand. If you have your back foot slightly back (no more than 45%, often much less), and rotate your shoulders so you are looking sideways, you suddenly have a huge forehand hitting zone. If you don't do this, then you are jammed in the front of the hitting zone with little room to backswing.

Seven new juniors

In our camp yesterday, we had seven new junior players (out of about 25 total), ranging in age from 5 to about 12. I took all seven in my group - we divide the players among the coaches - and spent the morning working on forehands and backhands. Went pretty well! They also had fun with the "knock cups off the table" game, and many cups were severely hurt. Kids are so cruel. (What did we do during break? Brain teasers, of course. Yes, at a table tennis camp. Really.)

Susan Sarandon and China

What's the connection?

Iran and U.S. Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Yes, it's happening!!!

I Love You points

Who would believe that ping-pong could end sibling rivalry? I'm trying to picture some of our junior players doing this; I can't picture it. (Short version: when down game point, you can offset some of the game points by telling your opponent, "I love you!")

Ping-Pong Talkin' Blues

A musical to start your ping-pong day (2:39). Then listen to Magic Ball, the theme music from the 1989 World Table Tennis Championships (3:10). These two, and a cup of coffee, and you're ready to go!

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July 18, 2011

Tip of the Week - The Mental State of a Looper Against a Push

When you are getting ready to loop a push, are you thinking forehand, backhand, or something in between? This Tip of the Week covers the four mental states you should be in.

Hitting at 100% versus 80-90%.

How hard should you hit the ball when attacking? Even when you have an easy winner, most coaches will tell you never to hit at 100%, that you lose too much control. I have a slightly different take on that. I agree that you should rarely use 100% effort with all the muscles that are used for smashing or loop-killing. It's essentially impossible to time all those muscles at 100% so they work together properly. The key is not so much not hitting at 100% as much as it is using all the muscles smoothly in a progression from down up - the legs, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist. If any of the muscles tries too much, it throws everything out of synch and you end up with just one spastic muscle trying (and usually failing) to provide all or most of the power. (There are rare freaks who can throw nearly everything into every shot and still do it smoothly and with control. They are called world-class players.)

Here's another way of looking at it, the way I like to teach it. No matter how hard you smash or loop, you should be able to do it and carry on a conversation at the same time without gasping or hesitating in any way. If you can't, then you are not smoothing using all the muscles properly. I always demonstrate this by explaining it while tossing a ball up and smashing or looping it at near full power.

Week two of MDTTC camp

This morning we start week two of the MDTTC July Camp. Let the madness begin! Main worry - my back is killing me, apparently two discs rubbing against each other, i.e. a degenerative disc. However, I won't know for sure until I see a specialist (orthopedist) this Wednesday afternoon.

Harry Potter Ping-Pong Week

The Truth about Harry Potter and Ping-Pong will shock the wizarding and muggle worlds, as told by He Who Shall Not Be Named, alias Dark Lord Marty Reisman and his elicit hardbat wand.

Ping-pong ball prank

That's a lot of balls in a car

Ping-pong ball car

That's a lot of balls on a car.

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July 15, 2011

Playing the Middle

Playing the middle may be the most under-utilized tactic in table tennis. The middle in table tennis is roughly the opponent's playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand, and the most awkward place to return a shot. It's usually much easier to move to the forehand or backhand corners than to cover the middle, which involves making a split-second decision no whether to play forehand or backhand, and then moving sideways to allow the shot. (Beginning and intermediate players especially have trouble getting out of the way to play forehand from the middle, and often instead do awkward backhands by leaning over instead of moving.)

Part of the difficulty in playing the middle is because it's a moving target. Here's a quick cure: shadow practice! Imagine an opponent as you do so, and imagine hitting shot after shot right at his elbow. If he begins to favor one side, the middle moves, and you aim for the new spot. Then go to the table and do middle drills where you play everything to your partner's middle, and he returns everything to a pre-arranged spot, either backhand or forehand. If you watch your partner/opponent, and play it right, you should be able to force awkward middle shots over and over by changing where you aim based on where the opponent stands. If he looks to play forehand, just aim more to the backhand, and vice versa if he looks to play backhand. (This might become a Tip of the Week sometime in the future.)

Week One of MDTTC Camp Ends

Week one of the July MDTTC camp ends today; week two starts Monday! (We're halfway through and I'm still alive. Surprisingly my voice isn't hoarse, as it often gets during these camps. On the other hand, it might just be that I'm deaf from all the screaming kids in the camp, and can't hear my own voice. And we have another two-week camp in August.) I'll celebrate/mourn the end of week one by seeing Harry Potter late this afternoon/tonight, if I can get a ticket.

Table Tennis on TV

The TV Show Victorious featured a table tennis segment. First there's a short Popsicle commercial featuring table tennis, then a funny 90-second clip of the tryouts for the school table tennis team!

Fan Yiyong and a first-time student

Here's an interesting account by a journalist of her going to Coach Fan Yiyong in Seattle for a lesson. How familiar is this scene to coaches everywhere?

Comedian Frank Caliendo and Table Tennis

A nice article about Caliendo and his table tennis. He says he lost 25 pounds from table tennis, not to mention getting a 1670 USATT rating.

Ping-Pong Playing Robot

Meet Topio 3.0 - or is it the Ping-Pong Terminator? You decide. I think we can all agree that he can beat you, though not necessarily at the table. Heck, he's strong enough he might beat you with the table. Sarah Connor, where are you?

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July 14, 2011

MDTTC CAMP HAPPENINGS

  • Day Four
    We're in the middle (well, 30% in) of a two-week training camp at Maryland Table Tennis Center, Mon-Fri this week and next week. Coaches at the camp are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and Sun Ting.
  • Knocking off cups
    We had a competition yesterday where I set up ten paper cups on the table, bowling pin fashion, and players were given ten shots to knock off as many as they could, with me feeding the balls mult-ball fashion. Whoever knocked off the most would win a free drink. Two players knocked off nine, and so they had a playoff. One kid again knocked off nine in the playoff. The second kid, Chetan Nama, had knocked off eight, and had one shot left. Then, with everyone screaming, with his last shot nailed the last two cups to knock off all ten and win a free Gatorade!
  • I'm a bad influence
    What else can I be when the kids at camp spent much of break time today playing with clipboards and my oversized racket. I take on challenges with these "rackets" during break, and now it's spreading like a disease.
  • Seriously Black Sirius Black
    I wore all black yesterday. I was quickly nicknamed Seriously Black Sirius Black. If you're an old fuddy-duddy (or more specifically, a muggle), and have no idea who that is, Google it.
  • Harry Potter
    Several of the kids are planning seeing the midnight showing of Harry Potter tonight, and still make camp tomorrow morning. That means they'll get to bed around 3AM. I look forward to working the sleepy little wizards wands, I mean rackets, off.
  • Actual table tennis stuff
    The focus yesterday was on backhand attack - backhand smash, backhand drive against backspin, and backhand loop. (How do you teach someone to attack a backspin? Tell them to arc the ball with topspin way off the end.) Today's focus is footwork - though as I'll explain, all table tennis is footwork.

Thoughts on grip

In general, I strongly recommend new shakehand players use a neutral grip, i.e. the thinnest part of the wrist should line up with the racket. This allows a natural stroke - the racket and the arm face the same way. If you start with a forehand grip (top of the racket tilts to the left for righties) or backhand grip (top of the racket tilts to the right for righties), it will probably mess up your stroke development. However, once your game is developed - say, 1800 level, where you can execute proper shots in a game consistently - some players switch to a forehand or backhand grip to enhance their game. There's nothing wrong with this. Timo Boll, #2 in the world and the best European player, uses a forehand grip, for example, and many top players use backhand grips to enhance their backhands, such as Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece, a former top ten player. 

Many kids have trouble gripping the racket "properly," putting their index finger almost down the middle, sort of like 1967 Men's World Champion Nobuhiku Hasegawa. While that worked for him, that type of grip tends to leave the racket less stable, plus the finger is in the way on the backhand. So I don't normally recommend this. However, many kids with smaller hands have trouble holding the racket with the index finger along the bottom of the blade. So I often compromise with them, with the finger someone up, but not straight up. For one thing, with a shorter index finger, it doesn't really interfere with the backhand. As they get older and bigger, the index finger naturally migrates down into a more stable position.

Another problem is many kids (and adults) hold the racket too tightly. The racket shouldn't be so loose that it moves around on its own, but it should be loose enough so that if someone were to grab the racket out of their hand, it would come right out. Any tighter and it means the muscles are too contracted to move naturally.

Funny ping-pong pictures

Yes, funny ping-pong pictures.

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July 13, 2011

Why do beginners aim up?

Is there a logical reason why beginners not only open their rackets and hit off the end (with inverted sponge), but after seeing ball after ball go off the end, they continue to keep their rackets too open? I invariably have to point out they've hit 20 off the end, 0 in the net, so perhaps they should aim lower? Is there some primordial fear of closing one's racket or hitting into the net? I'm asking this after 35 years of watching beginners all do the same thing, over and over. C'mon, beginners of the world, all 6.7 billion of you, aim lower!!! (You can probably guess I'm in the middle of a training camp, Mon-Fri this week and next, with lots of beginners who . . . oh never mind.)

Playing pips-out sponge

(I posted a version of this on the forum yesterday.) The only way you'll learn to play against pips-out sponge is by playing against it. The ball from pips-out sponge is deader than you are used to, so you have to either open your racket slightly or lift slightly. (Many players overdo this, and hit many balls off the end.) The only way to learn to do this comfortably is to practice against it. At first, it might be difficult, but soon playing pips will be no big deal - you simply aren't used to them yet.  

In general, don't try to be quicker than the pips-out player (except perhaps on the first shot) as that is their strength. Instead, focus on making stronger and more consistent shots. Keep the ball deep as they will jump on a short ball, rushing you when you need more time to react to a ball you are not used to. Balls that go deep - especially loops - give pips-out players trouble as they don't put as much topspin on the ball to make the ball drop, and so they have to hit a smaller target from farther away. A shakehander with pips on the backhand often is weak in the middle because he needs to stroke the ball more than an inverted player, who often can cover his middle by simply sticking the racket there and letting the inverted rebound it back. Also, it's a good idea to actually play into the pips early in the match to get used to them.

Serve practice

Did you practice your serves yesterday? Are you going to practice them today? (Coaches, ask your students these questions.) If the answer to these questions is no, then have you ever wondered why your serves aren't better? Get yourself a box of balls and find a place to do ten minutes a day, 4-5 times a week, and watch your level improve. Better serves not only make you better, but they improve your attack (since you are following up the serves), and both of these raise your level so you play better players - which also make you better. It's a snowball effect. So start snowballing.

Back problems

I finally saw a doctor yesterday afternoon about back problems I've had for about two months. It's mostly in the middle/upper back area, and comes from forehand looping and hitting, and also from too many forehand pendulum serves. It sometimes makes playing excruciating, even when coaching. The doctor thinks two of the disks are grinding together, or something like that, and referred me to an orthopedist who I'll see next Wednesday (July 20). Until then, I'll just live on Advil.

USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh's blog

The Blog in Chief? He discussed the Ping-Pong Diplomacy's 40th Anniversary festivities around the country, and the recent U.S. Open in Milwaukee.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's one of the more interesting articles on Ping-Pong Diplomacy and its 40th Anniversary. The entire previous sentence is linked to the story, so you know it must be good.

Iguanapong?

Yes, an iguana can play table tennis.

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July 12, 2011

Tip of the Week

Where to Put Your Putaways answers the age-old question of (drum roll please) where to put your putaways. It doesn't answer the even older question of whether putaways should be hyphenated. (This was ready to go up Monday morning, and then I forgot to put it up before leaving to coach. So it went up Monday night.)

Whitewashing your opponent

Suppose you and your opponent are roughly equal, so that either will tend to score about half the points. Then your chances of winning 11-0 are 1 in 2 raised to the 11th power, or 1 in 2048. (Call it 1 in 2000 for you math phobes.) That means there's about 1 in 1000 chance that any given game will end 11-0 (including times you lose 0-11), though in reality it's more likely since a player could get hot or cold.

What are the chances of a 3-0 whitewashing, i.e. 11-0, 11-0, 11-0? That would be 2 raised to the 33rd power, or about 1 in 8.6 billion. (1 in 8,589,934,592 to be exact.)

Now let's suppose you are better than your opponent, and win 60% of the points. (I won't bore you with the math, but it involves 0.6 or 0.4 raised to the 11th  or 33rd  power, then inverted.) Now your chances of winning 11-0 are about 1 in 276, and your chances of winning 11-0, 11-0, 11-0 are about 1 in 21 million. More scary is that roughly 1 in 24,000 chance of losing 0-11, and (shudder) 1 in 13.6 trillion of losing 0-11, 0-11, 0-11!

With Winning in Mind

I just reread "With Winning in Mind" by Lanny Bassham, the classic on sports psychology. I read it - or at least parts of it - back in the 1980s, but had forgotten about it until local player/coach John Olsen mentioned it to me this past weekend and lent me the book. Now I remember that it was the basis for much of the sports psychology for table tennis ideas I've taught over the years. It was also mentioned by sports psychologists at the Olympic Training Center. The book covers in highly readable fashion the interrelationship between the conscious, the subconscious, and the self-image, with systematic ways to develop each through mental management. Bassham, an Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion in shooting, pretty much shows the way champions thinks, using shooting (and sometimes other sports) as examples. I highly recommend this for any ambitious athlete or coach in any sport. I ordered several copies to give out to some of the top cadets/juniors at our club.

To summarize: if you are a serious table tennis player, read this book.

Two dogs join in the table tennis action.

Because a day without a dog or cat table tennis video (1:09) is like a day without ice cream.

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July 11, 2011

MDTTC Training Camp

We have two back-to-back training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center starting today, Mon-Fri this week and next. So I'll be getting up early to write the blog, then off to coaching. Expect lots of interesting camp tidbits!

Equipment - yours and mine

I am not an EJ, i.e. equipment junkie. Here's my recommendation to new and intermediate players. Everyone needs to go through a stage where they essentially try everything out. This allows you to really learn and understand what's out there, and to find the best equipment for yourself. The cheapest way to do this is to ask to try out the rackets of players at your club. Eventually, you'll find the right combo, and then I recommend they stick with that, unless and until their game changes or there's a major equipment breakthrough. The latter happens about once a decade, though of course you'll read about "new breakthroughs" every year. 

Here's what surfaces I use. (I'll write about rackets some other time, but I'm currently using a JOOLA Fever blade ST.) 

Forehand: Butterfly Tenergy 05 FX 2.1 black. This is a soft looping sponge. It allows easy looping without a long, powerful swing. When you loop, the ball just jumps off this rubber with what some call a high throw angle. If you have a more vigorous stroke, you might want a harder sponge. I both loop and hit, but my hitting is more natural, so I go for a sponge that props up the loop since I can hit with anything. This sponge allows me to run down hard shots off the table and loop them back with good spin. The softness does mean less speed, but the consistency and spin offset that for me. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Energy X-tra.

Backhand: Roundell 2.1 red on the backhand. This is perfect for my basic hitting and countering backhand, and you can also loop with it pretty well. (I generally only loop against backspin on the backhand.)  It plays like glued-up Sriver, which is what I used on my backhand for many years. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Express One.

Hardbat: I use an old TSP blade that I bought at a tournament back in 1990. It's a one-play pure wood, and I don't think it's made anywhere, so there's no point in trying to match it. I use Butterfly Orthodox on both sides.

Backhand leverage test

Shakehand players, hold your racket in front of your stomach as if you were about to hit a backhand. Put your free hand against it in front. Now push out. Now raise the racket (or squat down), so the racket is somewhere between your chest and chin. Again put your free hand against it in front and push out. Which way gives you more leverage? If you noticed how much more leverage you had the second time, you'll realize why it's important to stay low when hitting backhands. (Remember, we're talking backhand drives, not loops, where you do start lower.)

Will Shortz and table tennis

Here's a nice article on Will Shortz (NY Times puzzlist), Robert Roberts, and their new full-time table tennis center. 

ITTF photo caption challenge

Here's a rather interesting table tennis photo. Why not come up with your own caption for it?

Thoughts on the Budget and Debt Ceiling Crisis (non-table tennis)

To the talk show hosts on both extremes who have split our country, and the idiots who listen to them and vote, and all those who forget that the Founding Fathers compromised . . . great job. The Apocalypse won't be biblical, but economic.

(I could write much more on this, but I don't want to turn this into a political blog, so I'll leave my own partisan thoughts out of this. Sufficient to say that I'm a moderate Democrat, with the emphasis on moderate.)

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