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 8, 2011

USA Nationals entry form

The long national wait is over; the USA Nationals entry form is online! (Just kidding; the U.S. Open just finished a few days ago.) Here's the USA Nationals page. (Strangely, you have search around to find the dates, and even the location is in small print. Shouldn't that be in a large headline?) For once I get to drive to the tournament, about three hours away; there's going to be a massive Maryland caravan going there. See you in Virginia Beach, VA, Dec. 13-17!

Top Ten Reasons Why Coaches Fail

Here's an interesting Top Ten List of why coaches fail. I don't necessarily agree with all of them. For example, #1 says not to compromise. But sometimes you must listen to your athletes and learn, i.e. compromise. For example, I told a player recently to use his backhand serve short to the forehand, since I knew the opponent had trouble with that serve. The player looked unhappy so I asked why. He said he hadn't used his backhand serve in a while, and didn't have confidence in using it. So we compromised - I had the player use the backhand serve sparingly, so the opponent would have to think about it, which made the other serves more effective. (I also told the player to start using the backhand serve again so it'd be ready when needed.)

I also disagree with #3, about not copying other coaches. I'd say you should copy what works, and expand on it to make it even more successful. To use a classic example, when the Europeans began dominating the Chinese in table tennis in the early 1990s, the Chinese copied their two-winged looping game, expanded on it, and have pretty much dominated the game since. If they hadn't done so, where would they be now? Still playing with pips-out?

I'm also slightly skeptical of #6, which says not to use the same programs over and over and over. It's partially right, but what works before often will work again, in the same situation, as long as you understand why the program worked before, and make any needed adjustments. For example, many pro athletes have very specific habits that prepare them to play their best. There's no reason to not use the same program over and over and over - if it works. At the same time, as the situation changes you might have to make adjustments; for example, older athletes might need more stretching to avoid injury as their muscles tend to be tighter.

The Absolute Last Adoni Maropis Segment (until later)

Adoni still didn't like the pictures I put up of him two days ago, and when an actor from "24," Hidalgo," "Troy," and "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" talks, we sometimes vaguely listen when not hitting ping-pong balls. Yesterday he emailed me, writing "I thought I would include a pic where I didn't look pregnant and/or feminine in any way." He sent me this one and that one. Now we get the real Fayed Abu sinister look!

We also discussed the idea of a "Celebrity Team" at the North American Teams in November, perhaps made up of Adoni (2110 in hardbat ratings, with an 1881 USATT rating from a while back), Frank Caliendo (comedian, about 1900 level now), Will Shortz (puzzlist, about 1800), Julian Waters (about 1900-1950, famed calligrapher), and Judah Friedlander (comedian/actor, and the runt of the lot at about 1500 level, though he still wears those "World Champion" shirts). Maybe they'll even consider Delaware Governor Jack Markell, currently rated 1223 - or is that too low? And there's also Susan Sarandon, co-owner of the Spin NY team - but she's about 800. Will they put together a Fab Five (or Four) team? If they do, remember you heard about it here first! (They are all pictured, along with 700+ other celebrities, at the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page.)

Jan-Ove Waldner - coordinated?

Here's all-time great Waldner showing his ball-bouncing abilities! (0:32) His opponent is Jorgen Persson (1991 Men's Singles World Champion); the second announcer speaking is five-times U.S. Champion Dan Seemiller.

171

Yes, that's what I weighed this morning. On Dec. 26, 2010, I weighed 196. Despite all my fame and fortune, my goal of becoming a nobody is rapidly becoming a reality. This should strike fear in all my opponents who used to move me around, especially all the kids at the club (many of whom I coach) who used to think it was funny to move me side to side. Try it now! On to 165.

Nibble on my Novel (non-table tennis)

YesterdayI got a major "nibble" on my YA humorous fantasy novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky." The agent - from one of the large NY agencies - wrote: "Well, this is a weird one, but the mere prospect of a buddy comedy where one of the buddies is a meteor is cracking me up, and you’ve got great comic timing, to boot…would you send me the full manuscript when you get the chance? Much obliged!"

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July 7, 2011

Adoni Responds

In my July 5 blog entry, I linked to several pictures of actor and table tennis player Adoni Maropis. In one, he was wearing rather prominent kneepads, so I jokingly wrote, "Yes, he has knee problems." Adoni responded via email, saying that he wears kneepads to dive for balls - and as someone who has battled with him on the table a number of times, I can verify that he is constantly diving for balls. He's sort of like the mountain goat of table tennis. (Oh boy, am I going to hear from him now!) He also wrote how he hates the photo I linked to about him "terrorizing the hardbat community," saying "I hate that pic...it looks like I have bad everything and either a huge beer gut or pregnant... or a woman... and oh so old." I'd comment on this, but when dealing with a guy who's blown up half the west coast and (when he's not diving on elephant-sized kneepads) kills every chance he can (at the table), I'll shut my mouth.

40th Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy Celebration - SF Edition

Here's an article on the San Francisco ceremony, with lots of pictures. Pictured are former Chinese stars Cai Zhenhua and Liang Geliang, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, former Secretary of State George Schultz, and former USA star Judy Hoarfrost.

Tutoring and Table Tennis

I've been discussing with club members the idea of starting a tutoring service at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. We have so many kids coming in for lessons each day, so why not turn MDTTC into an all-service table tennis and tutoring center? They could bring their homework, and we'd find someone at the club who could be available for tutoring. Oh, that latter would be me!!! (I'm qualified to tutor math, English, and a few other subjects.) While I've tutored before, I've never done it in a formal setting, so I'm not sure of the best setup. Do I do it one-on-one on a case-by-case basis? In a group setting at scheduled times, such as Mon-Thu 4-6PM? How much to charge? If anyone has experience in these matters, let me know, either by commenting below or emailing me. Thanks!

Calories burned in table tennis

You thought you were just having fun, and it turns out you've been out for a walk!

Celebrities with USATT Ratings

Did I miss anyone? I'm sure there's someone obvious I left out. (See the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page for pictures of over 700 celebrities playing table tennis, including the below.)

The Celebrity Rankings!

Ranking

Celebrity

Occupation

Current Rating

Highest Rating

Last Played

1

Julian Waters

 

Calligrapher

1898

2067

June, 2011

(Played in U.S. Open in July)

2

Adoni Maropis

 

Actor

1881

(Has a 2110 hardbat rating)

1881

March, 2011

(played in U.S. Open in July)

3

Will Shortz

 

Puzzlist

1799

1845

Feb, 2011

4

Tom McEvoy

1983 World Series of Poker Champion

1711

?

Pre-1994

5

Frank Caliendo

 

Comedian

1670

1670

March, 2011

(Played in U.S. Open in July)

6 Judah Friedlander Actor, Comedian 1509 1510 Oct., 2010

7

Jack Markell

Governor of Delaware

1223

1223

Apr, 2010

8?

Susan Sarandon

Actress

Why isn't she rated? She plays at and co-owns the Spin Club in NY!

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July 6, 2011

U.S. Open results and defaults

For those who missed it, you can see all of the U.S. Open results, either in summary form or all of the results of a specific event, from preliminary round robins to the single elimination stage.

As many have noticed, there seemed a lot of defaults at this year's Open, and nobody really knows why. Was it because of the new schedule, with the Open ending on Monday, July 4? Regardless of the reason, I think Larry Bavly explained many of the defaults when he wrote the following:

I think there are some players who default due to an injury, but the injury is brought about psychosomatically through the traumatic discovery of a low rated opponent in their draw. Therapy session for these players:
"My shoulder hurts, I can't play." 
"What's your opponent's rating?" 
"1400." 
"Do you realize he will be adjusted to 1900?"
"Hey, my shoulder feels a lot better now."

My best coaching lines at the U.S. Open

Here are some of my more interesting spontaneous coaching lines at the U.S. Open last week.

  • "Make no attempt to stay near the table."
    (Against a kid who played quick but without power.)
  • "She's dropping your short serves short, and looping your long serves. So serve in between."
    (So serve half-long, i.e. with second bounce near endline.)
  • "You have nothing to lose, so just serve and loop everything."
    (So play aggressive and if you play well, you'll do well.)
  • "He's twice your size and looks like a football player, but you're the better athlete."
    (Opponent was slow.)
  • "Lob higher."
    (Against a kid who had trouble with high-bouncing balls.)
  • "Stop ripping winners and spin the ball."
    (Because the rips were missing and so were winners for the opponent.)
  • "Turn off your brain and just attack."
    (If you consciously try to think about your shots, they'll fall apart.)
  • "I'm not throwing in the towel."
    (After making a player who forgot his towel come all the way to the barriers so I could hand it to him.)
  • "Are you sure you want to counterloop that?"
    (Against an opponent who was ripping forehand after forehand.)
  • "He has a great forehand counterloop, but only fishes on this backhand. I'd go to his backhand."
    (The opponent kept backing off the table.)

Upcoming tournaments to aim for

If you're a tournament player, when's your next major tournament? It always helps to have a specific tournament to train and prepare for. Some major upcoming ones:

Yes, cats can play table tennis

Here's proof.

50th Sale (Non-table tennis)

Outside table tennis I write science fiction & fantasy. I just sold my 50th short story, "Running with the Dead" to the Through the Eyes of the Dead II anthology. The story: Ben just wants to try out for the high school track team as a miler. The problem is he's dead, and the captain of the track team, the leader of the Mile Mafia, is the one who murdered him. (I write about 50-50 between science fiction and fantasy.) Here's my complete listing of published articles - 1274 in 120 different publications, including 1173 on table tennis.

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July 5, 2011

U.S. Open Ratings Champions - No Fear!

When I looked over the rating champions at the U.S. Open, what jumped out to me was that, for once, most of the champions were actually players that were seeded very high in the event. Often players like that avoid playing in such events in order to protect their ratings (sigh...), leaving the event to lower-rated "ringers." Not so much this time! Here's a rundown of these champions - congrats to all these fearless champions! (Note that in three cases, a player is actually rated over the cutoff, but that's because the ratings used for eligibility purposes is well in advance of the U.S. Open; otherwise, players wouldn't know until the last minute what events they were eligible for.)

  • Under 2600: Gao YanJun (2607) over Adam Hugh (2570). Over by 7 and under by 30 points.
  • Under 2400: Raghu Nadmichettu (2390) over Mark Croitoroo (2319). Under by 10 and 81 points.
  • Under 2250: Klement Yeung (2239) over James Therriault (2206). Under by 11 and 44 points.
  • Under 1950: Cameron Siou (1930) over Jeremy Hazin (1631). Under by 20 and (gulp) 319 points.
  • Under 1800: Marina Leitman (1811) over Edmundo J. Lozada Salazar (1759). Over by 11 and 41 points.
  • Under 1650: Natasha Carr-Harris (1535) over Alex Bu (1530). Under by 115 and 120 points.
  • Under 1500: Edward Guo (1328) over Rohan Mannem (1283). Under by 172 and 217 points. Mannem didn't win here, so he got his revenge in...
  • Under 1350: Rohan Mannem (1283) over Paul Scobey (1267). Under by 67 and 83 points.
  • Under 1200: David Stone (1167) over Wilson Chen (1209). Under by 33 and over by 9 points.
  • Under 1000: Anton Berman (641) over Michael Gustafson (798). Under by 359 and 202 points. Someone's a bit under-rated? And just for the record, the fearless Gustafson, with the 798 rating, also played Under 800 but didn't reach the final - but he did get revenge on the girl who took him out of Under 800, beating her in Under 1200.
  • Under 800: Anton Berman (641) over Wang Yee (756). Under by 159 and 44 points.

The Evil Fayed: Nuking U.S. Cities and Terrorizing Hardbat

Here's Abu Fayed discussing the destruction of America on "24." Here's Adoni Maropis (at the U.S. Open) terrorizing the hardbat community, where he's achieved a 2110 hardbat rating. He reached the semifinals of Over 40 Hardbat at the U.S. Open. (He made the final at the Nationals in December.) Yes, he has knee problems, and is a little soft on the backhand, but he has that look that says I will tear out your liver and feed it to your children. So try to catch him in a good mood. (Table tennis pictures are by Steve Hopkins.)

Hidden Serves - not always noticed

I wrote yesterday about some of the problems with hidden serves. One irony I didn't mention is that often a player doesn't even notice when an opponent hides his serve. Like all other shots in table tennis (at least for a well-trained player), you don't consciously react to shots. Your subconscious reflexively reacts to the various incoming spins. So when returning a serve, it's the subconscious that's actually reacting. When the serve is hidden, the subconscious doesn't see contact, and so often misreads the spin - but the conscious mind doesn't always notice since you don't normally consciously react to the contact. A well-trained player learns to blank out his conscious mind while playing, and so doesn't consciously see contact unless he makes an effort to look for it. Of course this doesn't change the fact that at the higher levels, many players hide their serve and most umpires don't call it, so for now, players will just have to learn to read hidden serves by watching the ball, as players used to do before hidden serves became illegal.

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July 4, 2011

HAPPY 4TH!

2011 U.S.Open

I flew back to Maryland last night from the U.S. Open in Milwaukee - didn't have any coaching duties today. At the airport in Milwaukee there was a Killerspin table set up with sponge paddles and barriers! I watched for a while as parents played with kids, often "coaching" them in ways that made me squirm a bit. I debated whether to help out, but decided they were having fun, so who was I to tell them what to do?

Because I had a bunch of stuff to take back to Maryland, I had two bags to check in at Airtran, which would cost $45. The attendant told me that since first-class passengers get two free bags, I could upgrade to first class for $49, and get the two bags free. So for $4 I traveled first class. The only other time I did that was nearly 20 years ago when I traveled with Andre Scott - we had regular tickets, but when they saw he was in a wheelchair, they put him in first class (for free), and since they had an open seat next to him, they gave that to me.

Funniest part of the U.S. Open for me was watching opponents struggle with Sun Ting's ("The Sun King") serve. Whenever he serves, it's showtime as opponents miss shots all over the place. The problem isn't so much that they misread the type of spin as they misread the amount of spin. How he puts so much spin on the ball without seemingly doing so is a mystery that only Albert Einstein might have solved. Alas, Sun Ting lost 11-9 in the seventh (from up 3-1), 4,-2,-4,-11,9,8,9, in the quarters to Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul. Sun Ting has been at my club, MDTTC, for the past month, and will be here for another month. He defeated Ma Lin in a tournament a few years ago, and had a 2730 rating from the 1999 North American Teams, when he was 15.

The players I coached had up and down records; unfortunately, we were 0-5 in five-game matches this time around. Have to work on that. Because I was mostly coaching or playing hardbat, I didn't see many big matches, and so can't report on them.

My Hardbat Results at the Open - skip if not interested!

While I was there primarily to coach, I did enter three hardbat events. (I normally play with sponge.) I had to default out of Open Hardbat because it conflicted with the junior team competition. I've won that event twice at the Open and Nationals, and while I probably wouldn't have won it, I had a good chance to do pretty well, maybe make the semifinals, and after that, who knows?

I made the final of Over 40 Hardbat. (I've won this four times at the Open or Nationals, including the last Nationals.) In the preliminaries, I had to play Peter Cua, one of the top Philippine hardbat players. He had me 16-11 in the third (two out of three to 21 in hardbat), but I went on a hitting binge and won ten in a row. (I told myself to just take the shots and let the shots happen, and they happened.) I had another huge battle with Jeff Johnson in the semifinals, who as usual ran me all around the court in a battle of his steadiness versus my forehand hitting/backhand chopping, and despite a near comeback by him late in the second game I won two straight, 15 & 16. In the final I played Richard Gonzalez, but his forehand hitting and heavy & varied backhand chopping was just too much, and he won easily, 13 & 11. I think I may be able to take on his chopping in a rematch, since I'm good against that, but it had been a while since I'd played a hardbat chopper of that level - but if I had, he'd have just attacked more, and his attack was way too strong. The guy was a member of the Philippine National Team and I believe is their hardbat and sandpaper champion.

I also played hardbat doubles with Ty Hoff. I've won that event ten times, six times with Ty (including at the last Nationals), and we did pull off a nice win over Dan Seemiller Sr. and Jr. - I had to smash Dan Sr's loop from down 19-20 match point in the second to deuce it! - but we lost in the semifinals to Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon. They in turn lost to the Philippines, Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz. Those two pretty much dominated all hardbat play.

Tip of the Week

This week's Tip is about Coaching Against Yourself. It's short and to the point. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a great example of the reverse pendulum serve, by 2010 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion Sharath Kamal of India. It's shown in both real and slow motion. (37 seconds long.)

Hidden Serves

Unfortunately, Sharath Kamal, like many others, doesn't always serve legally. Here's a video of him on Youtube from the 2010 Egypt Open - it's not easy finding videos that give the right angle so you can see if the serve is hidden. See his serve 29 seconds in. Here is a four-sequence screen shot of the serve, showing how it disappears behind his body. At the 2010 U.S. Open, he and many of his opponents served illegally, hiding the ball (and especially contact) as they served, but umpires rarely call this.

Notice how with the arm stuck out, it's easy to thrust out the shoulder and hide contact. If the player pulls the arm back, as the rules require, then the shoulder isn't naturally thrust out, and if the player does thrust the shoulder out while pulling the arm back, it becomes rather obvious. This is what happened at the U.S. Open a few days ago when, at the request of the players I was coaching, I twice had to call an umpire against the same opponent because he sometimes stuck his arm and shoulder out, thereby hiding the serve. (This led to a very unhappy parent; hopefully he and I can put aside our disagreement on this so as not to be a distraction to the kids. After all, if the serves are legal, then there shouldn't be any objection to having an umpire.) The opponent may not even have been aware he was doing it, but the umpire warned him immediately to pull his arm in - on the second serve after the umpire came to the table - and the rest of the way the serves were pretty much all visible.

It's important players know the service rules, so there are the pertinent ones regarding hidden serves. (Bolds are mine.)

Rule 2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry." (Here are the service rules.)

Rule 2.06.05: "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 2.06.06: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

Rule 2.06.06.01: "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

Many players push the service rule to the limit - which in itself is okay in most cases - but they serve with the ball so close to the body, with the arm or shoulder thrust out, that it's difficult to tell if the ball was actually hidden or not. Many forget that a "tie" goes to the receiver, i.e. if the serve is not clearly legal, then it's supposed to be a warning or a fault, even though many umpires don't call this.(See 2.06.06 and 2.06.06.01 above.) So when a player serves with the ball so close to the body, or with the arm or shoulder stuck out, and the umpire can't tell if the serve was visible or not, then he's supposed to give a warning and then a fault. But many umpires do not. Some umpires enforce the rule about the arm being pulled out of the way, but then ignore it when the player continues to hide the ball with the shoulder, even when it's seemingly obvious.

On the other hand, illegally hiding the serve is so prevalent at the higher levels, since umpires usually don't call it, that many coaches believe you should just accept it, and learn to return such serves, while (at least publicly) saying you shouldn't do them yourself. The problem is that it doesn't take that long to learn (or teach) illegal hidden serves, but it's extremely difficult these days for a junior to learn to return hidden serves effectively because they are against the rules, and so if the junior trains in a junior program, he won't see hidden serves unless the other juniors are being trained to serve illegally. So he only sees them infrequently at tournaments. As he reaches higher levels, he sees them more and more, but by then he's already been trained to read the spin of legal serves, and now has to almost start over, when of course to really be able to return these serves at a high level he'd have to start training against them at an early age.

Of course a coach could spend his coaching time serving illegally to the student so he can learn to return hidden serves. But since most students only have limited hours of private coaching per week, you can't spend much of that time on that, and it takes a tremendous amount of time to learn to read and return such serves effectively.

So what's a coach to do? Call for an umpire every time an opponent serves illegally, thereby causing hassles while often just getting an umpire who will not call hidden serves, and so essentially giving their stamp of approval to the illegal serves? Teach illegal serves to all or most of their juniors so they can both practice against them and use them in tournaments as so many others do, and ignore the fact that it is illegal, and to be blunt, cheating? Or just serve legally, and accept the fact that they will always be at a large disadvantage when opponents do not? I've talked it over with some of our cadets and juniors, and most don't want the hassle, and lean toward just accepting that some opponents are going to serve illegally, and they'll just have to try to learn to return them, and accept that because they serve legally they are at a severe disadvantage. Is this fair?

There is currently a new service rule proposal being worked out that may solve the hidden serve problem. I'll post about that later, since I'm not sure if they want to go public yet.

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July 1, 2011

It's pretty hectic here at the U.S. Open in Milwaukee and I have to leave shortly to play & coach, so I won't have time to write too much. I'll write more next week after I return home. Here are a few tidbits:

  • Richard McAfee ran a nice 30-minute clinic for new players. Just before that they ran a tournament for new players, with about 50 entries.
  • Comedian Frank Caliando did a comedic exhibition with five-time U.S. Men's Champion Sean O'Neill.
  • Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki at Subway is GREAT.
  • Had to call an umpire in a team match I was coaching because an opponent was hiding some of his serves. It's very frustrating to have to do this. (The umpire gave him a warning on the second serve he did after she went out, for holding his arm out, which is how he was hiding serves - with the arm and thrust-out shoulder. I think he did this under pressure, and probably didn't even realize it. I don't think he did this at the Nationals, the last time I saw him play.) The father of the one who was hiding his serve . . . let's just say he didn't take it very well. 'Nuff said.
  • Because I was busy coaching I had to default out of Hardbat Singles. I'm still hoping to play Over 40 Hardbat and Hardbat Doubles, but we'll see. (Ty Hoff, my partner in doubles, knows that if there's a major conflict we'd have to default, but decided to go for it - we've won it together a number of times.)
  • Did I mention how good Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki is?
  • I introduced USA Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong to movie & TV star Adonis Maropis. I'm not sure who was more in awe of the other.
  • Greg Mascialino pulled off not one, but two around the net loops that basically slid on the table - in the same point! The opponent somehow got the first back.
  • Tomorrow I'm coaching Tong Tong Gong against a top player with the Seemiller grip. FINALLY I get to make use of all my knowledge of tactics against this grip!
  • Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki at Subway is very good. Thought you should know.

I know you want more, so…

here's three minutes 45 seconds of spectacular beer pong shots.

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June 30, 2011

USATT Paralympic Camp

I landed in Milwaukee for the U.S. Open around 8AM on Wednesday, and was at the Hyatt Hotel at 8:40AM. At 8:45 I was told that the room wouldn't be available until sometime between noon and 3PM. So I hopped in a taxi and went to the USATT Paralympic training camp, which was being held in a local high school. Dan Rutenberg was the head coach, assisted by Keith Evans. I had coached one of the players, Timmy La, for much of the last year. So for two hours (9:30-11:30 AM) I helped out as a practice partner, coach, and ball-picker-upper. I believe there were 16 players, a mix of wheelchair and standing disabled. Newgy was also there for a robot demonstration, and for an hour the players took turns going through a series of robot drills on four robots.

Visit to Spin Milwaukee

The playing hall wasn't open Wednesday for practice, so I visited Spin Milwaukeewith Tong Tong Gong, the cadet player I'm coaching at the Open. For $16 we rented a table for an hour of practice. I played great at the start, but toward the end - especially when we started playing points - he came alive and things became far more difficult from my end. Since I'm a coach, that's a good thing, right? Then we went out for mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Hyatt Hotel and Roosevelt (non-table tennis related)

There's a plaque at one of the hotel entrances that declares it to be the site of the Oct. 14, 1912 assassination attempt on Theodore Roosevelt by saloonkeeper John Schrank, who'd been plotting the attempt for three weeks. As an amateur presidential historian, I spent some time reading over the old newspaper clippings on the wall. The hotel was then called the Hotel Gilpatrick. Roosevelt was saved by his thick coat, eyeglass holder, and the 50-page manuscript of his speech - folded over once, so really 100 pages - which slowed the bullet down before it entered his body. Before going to the hospital, Roosevelt read the entire speech, taking 90 minutes. The bullet was lodged in the muscles of his chest, and doctors concluded it would be more dangerous to remove it than to leave it in, so it remained there until Roosevelt died in 1919.

Woman in bed playing table tennis

Here's a continuous video of a woman playing table tennis in bed by herself, holding one racket in her hand, the other with a her feet. Enjoy!

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June 29, 2011

Thoughts on the U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open in Milwaukee in just a few hours. Here are a few last-minute thoughts.

  • Will the umpires at the U.S. Open enforce the service rules, in particular the one that states, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." I am so tired of opponents hiding their serves against players I'm coaching, with the umpire saying they weren't sure if the serve was visible to the receiver and so didn't call it. If you aren't sure if the serve is visible to the receiver, then the server has failed "to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." Umpires, please reread that ten times, and consider: if a server is serving so that it's so close to whether the receiver can see contact that you aren't sure, that means the server is trying to hide the serve. Are you going to let him cheat? (And to be fair, umpires are among the hardest workers at a tournament doing one of the most thankless jobs, so let me thank you in advance - but only if you call those faults!!!)
  • I keep getting accused of coaching during matches at major tournaments, something I've never done. If I clap, they think it's a signal. If I fidget, grin, frown, or so much as breathe, I'm told I'm coaching. The players I coach think it's hilarious when I get warned, but it's rather irritating. It happened twice at the North American Championships and twice at the Nationals.
  • Just how good are Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun? Jeffrey, 23, started coaching at my club (MDTTC) in December, and won the Cary Cup and Easterns, despite being out of practice. He's rated "only" 2612. He's been practicing for the Open, often with Sun Ting, so we may finally see how good he is. As to Sun Ting, 27, he's rated 2730 from the 1999 Teams when he was just 15. Has he improved? (I've nicknamed him "The Sun King.")
  • Should I spend Wednesday at the hotel hot tub, lounging around the hotel room reading and watching movies, lounging around the playing site, helping with the Paralympic training camp, touring Milwaukee, surfing the web, practicing, walking about looking important, or writing? (I arrive around 8AM.)
  • Should I have gotten a haircut before the Open?

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I just updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. There are now 1204 pictures of 707 celebrities. In the last month I've added pictures of Barack Obama, David Cameron (prime minister of England), Wen Jiabao (premier of China), Nicolas Sarkozy (president of France), basketball player Yao Ming, tennis players Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, alpine skiers Lindsey & Thomas Vonn, Vince Coleman (former senator of Minnesota), Milwaukee Brewers baseball players Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, and John Axford, and new pictures of tennis player Bobby Riggs, boxer Rocky Marciano, and financier Warren Buffett. This is just a small taste of what's there, which includes sections on Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other. Two celebrity players at this year's U.S. Open are pictured - acter Adoni Maropis and calligrapher Julian Waters. Now go explore the 707 different celebrities caught in the act of playing table tennis! (Top table tennis players do not count as celebrities here.)

Full-time training centers and junior programs

Twenty years ago there were no full-time training centers in the U.S. devoted to full-time training. So we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center.

Four and a half years ago I made a proposal to USATT urging them to make it a goal to have 100 successful junior programs in the U.S. in five years. The plan involved recruiting and training coaches to become full-time coaches and run junior programs. At the time there were at most ten junior programs in the country that I'd call successful. USATT had no interest. This was a major reason why I resigned all my positions with USATT - editor, webmaster, and programs director.

Now we have a number of full-time training centers and junior programs around the U.S. The result is that the competition in junior and cadet events is much stronger than before. Imagine if USATT had taken the initiative by recruiting and training coaches, instead of sitting around and watching while every now and then someone would take the initiative and create such a program, usually having to reinvent the wheel from scratch. (Actually, they learned from each other; I've spent a huge number of hours talking and emailing with coaches and promoters interested in opening such centers and running junior programs, as have others.) If USATT had made this a priority, there would be far more successful junior programs and the competition could have been even tougher - and since I'm coaching there, I'm thankful at least for that.

Penguin playing ping-pong

Yep, here's a 40-second video of a penguin playing table tennis. Enjoy.

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June 28, 2011

U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open tomorrow morning. Since my flight out of BWI is at 7AM I'll be leaving around 4:30 AM - it's an hour away. (Guess I have to get up really early tomorrow to do my blog.) I'll try to blog about tournament while I'm there, though between coaching and playing in hardbat events, I'm not sure how many of the "big" matches I'll get to see. I'm also going to attend some USATT meetings.

If you are at the Open, come by and say hello. And before you go there, make sure to get lots of sleep, eat well, and PRACTICE YOUR SERVES! Service practice and match play are the two most important table tennis things you can do just before a tournament. On the other hand, I may have to play or coach against you, so stay up late, eat potato chips, and watch plenty of TV.

U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream

About an hour ago I woke from the strangest table tennis dream possible. I grabbed a notebook and wrote it down.

I was at the U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships, which starts in two days in Milwaukee. I was coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the U.S. cadet team who I'll be coaching there. His opponent complained about his racket, pointing out that Tong Tong was using a book as a racket. The referee, an extremely old man with a white beard that dragged on the floor, examined the book, and declared it illegal, saying the racket needed to be made of wood. He handed it back to Tong Tong, who started to cry. (Sorry Tong Tong, I'm just reporting the facts!) I argued that paper comes from wood, but the referee just smiled and then dissolved into nothing. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger, wearing a black raincoat and dark sunglasses, walked over, followed by eight others. The eight also wore black raincoats and carried black umbrellas, though it wasn't raining. Right about now I realized that we were outdoors, with hundreds of table tennis tables set up on railroad tracks. Arnold snatched the book out of Tong Tong's hand, and then leaped into the air and flew away like superman. The other eight black raincoat-clad umbrella-waving men flew after him. I leaped into the air and flew after them, holding a ping-pong paddle. I landed next to a railroad car, and looked inside, and found Arnold and the eight there. They came out and attacked me with their umbrellas on the railroad tracks. I knocked each one out with my paddle with a forehand or backhand stroke. Each time I knocked one out I said, "Happy birthday." I knocked out Arnold with a backhand and grabbed the book from his hands. Then I saw Tong Tong lighting fire to an old jeep that was apparently Arnold's. We pushed it down a road that paralleled the railroad tracks, and it slammed into a cliff and exploded. Then I woke up.

The Grip

Here's a nice article on the shakehands grip by German National Coach Richard Prause.

Ping-pong without a partner or a ball.

The Japanese have developed a table-tennis game that you play by ear. Make sure to play the two-minute video demo. And to think it all started with a simple video game called "Pong"!

Milwaukee Brewers versus the Chinese National Women's Table Tennis Team

Guess who won? (Former Chinese team member and all-time great Zhang Yining also "competed.")

Allstar Challenge

Here are the results, pictures, and other info on the International Table Tennis All-Star Challenge held this past weekend in Markham, Ontario, Canada. The winner was a blast from the past - Zoran Primorac, who defeated Wang Xi in the final. Here are the (somewhat convoluted?) results.

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June 27, 2011

Gmail problem

This weekend I was hit with a virtual avalanche of spammers on both the Forum and Blog comments. They all came with varied (and apparently random) gmail addresses. I ended up spending many hours personally deleting several hundred postings and blocking (one by one) over one hundred gmail addresses. Finally, rather than put into place more stringent requirements for registration - something I may have to do later on - I simply blocked all gmail accounts.

If you have a gmail account, you probably can't post or comment right now, and probably can't register. If you have an alternate email, please use that. If you only have gmail, please email me and let me know; it would be helpful to know if many real people are affected by this. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Since I'm leaving for the U.S. Open on Wednesday, I'm probably going to have to leave gmail blocked until I return. Then I'll decide if I have to use more stringent registration procedures. (Which I haven't really researched yet.) The last thing I want to do is spend the U.S. Open deleting spam and blocking individual posters all day long.

Speaking of the U.S. Open...

I leave in (checks watch) exactly 46 hours and six minutes. It's in Milwaukee; here's the info page. I'm there primarily to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Open Hardbat (I'm two-time champion), Open Hardbat Doubles (I'm ten-time and defending champion from the Nationals), and Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion from the Nationals). (Note that when I list how many times I've won I'm including both the Open and Nationals.) If there's a conflict between playing hardbat and coaching an important match, I'll have to default and coach - that's my primary purpose there. (I'll mostly be coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the USA Cadet team from my club.) I'm normally a sponge player, but I've been playing hardbat on the side for a few decades. I also expect to attend a few USATT meetings.

Complex Versus Simple Tactics

This week's Tip of the Week is on [read headline, duh!].

The Dominating and Limiting Factors in Your Game?

What are the dominating and limiting factors in your game? Too often players only look at what they do well, and forget the latter, the things they don't do well, i.e. the things opponents go after. I remember watching a player with great footwork and a great loop lose a match because he couldn't effectively return the opponent's simply short backspin serve. Over the next week, the player practiced every day, focusing almost exclusively on his strengths, footwork and looping. He never addressed the problem of his weak return of a short backspin serve. 

A player's level is really based on three things. There are the things he does well (i.e. the things you dominate with); the things he doesn't do well (i.e. the limiting factors that hold you back), and everything else (things you don't dominate with but don't hold you back). I generally advise players to practice everything you do in a game, but focus on making the strengths overpowering while removing any weaknesses. At any given level you need to have at least one thing that scares the opponent while not having any glaring weaknesses the opponent can easily play into.

Great exhibition points

Here's a montage of great exhibition points (4:31), to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama." You can always turn off the sound.

Forehand Pendulum Serve

Here's an interesting two-minute video that shows ten different forehand pendulum serves, both in real time and in slow motion.

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