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Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. 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 ficiton, 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!

November 21, 2016

Tip of the Week
Getting "In the Zone" by Adapting to Your Opponent.

Car Pong!
Yesterday, while driving home from coaching at the club, I suddenly heard a rattling. It seemed to be coming from below, as if something were lose under the car. (And yes, this is all table tennis related – you'll see!) I finally pulled over and looked, but couldn't find anything. So I got back in, and there was more rattling. Something was wrong with my car!!! I debated whether to take it to a gas station, but it was around 8:30PM and I doubted there'd be anyone there to help. So I decided I'd have to take it somewhere in the morning. It meant skipping this morning's blog, since those who come in later in the morning have to wait for them to finish on the ones that came in earlier, and I'd need the car later this afternoon when I go to coach.

After I got home, I checked under the car one more time, but couldn't find the problem. Sighing, I went to the trunk to get my playing bag and a big metal cartoon of food I'd gotten from the club. The MDTTC's Talent Group – the best players mostly under age 10 – had just had a party, and had given me this big metal carton on Chicken Lo Mein. And that's when I found the culprit. I keep a Butterfly Ball Amigo (a ball net for picking up balls) in the trunk of my car, which I bring into the club as my personal ball net. The head had gotten stuck under my playing bag, with the handle on top of the metal food carton. The sound I'd heard was the handle banging up and down on the carton!!!

I've had other table tennis adventures in cars. One year we had four in a car driving back from the U.S. Open Team Championships in Detroit to Maryland. I was in the back seat reading. We drove into Pennsylvania, but I stopped paying attention. Then I looked up, and noticed a sign saying, "Lake Erie." Huh? That was in the opposite direction. It turned out the driver had mistakenly gone north on some highway, and had driven several hours in the wrong direction.

Another time I had a ride with someone to a club in Virginia on the Beltway around Washington DC, I-495. It should have been a quick 15 minutes on the Beltway, but about half an hour into it I looked out and realized he'd gone the wrong way on the Beltway. We ended up driving completely around in the wrong direction, which took (with traffic) about an hour and a half.

Another year, coming back from the U.S. Teams in Detroit, we got snowed in. We ended up staying two days in a hotel in the suburbs before we were able to drive home.

Here are Car Pong pictures and videos – enjoy! (There are zillions of paddles and balls with car pictures – most are automatically generated for orders from novelty companies – so I not including them.)

Decals

Pictures

Video

Table Tennis Backspin Serve Like a Boss!
Here's the coaching video (5:15) by Brett Clarke (from 2014). 

Three Articles/Questionnaires from Competitive Edge
These were distributed to members of the USA Youth Teams by Sean O'Neill.

Para Legacy Dinner/Banquet
Here's info from USATT. The banquet will take place at 8:30 PM on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas.

Spurs’ Pau Gasol Relished Luke Walton as Teammate, Ping Pong Opponent
Here's the article from the Los Angeles Daily News.

Support Smoke-free LA with ... Ping-Pong?
Here's the article.

Insane Behind-the-Back Shot
Here's the video (32 sec).

Some Leisurely Senior Chaired Pong
Here's the picture – click on picture to see other interesting TT pictures. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Citizen Dog Pong
Here's the cartoon from Nov. 12, 2016, as pointed out by Marv Anderson – now you know what to do during a power outage!

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November 18, 2016

Pro TT Leagues
One thing I've been harping on for a number of years is how we keep losing our top juniors right as they are on the verge of being world-class players – they go to college. The horror!!! But from a table tennis point of view, it'd be nice if we had a professional league of some sort in the U.S. so these players could postpone college a few years and develop their game to the fullest. It'll be on the agenda at the USATT Board meeting at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas.

As I've blogged about before, never in our history have we had such a strong group of cadets and juniors – and it's not even close. Our best ones can now compete with the best in the world, something that was almost unheard of in the past, plus there's the depth is far beyond anything we've had in the past. (How is this happening? The growth of full-time training centers.)

So how do we set up such a pro league in time for this generation of up-and-coming superstars? I see three options:

  1. USATT develops such a pro league. It would most likely be a team league, where clubs buy franchises, and compete regionally. There'd be a limit of probably one non-citizen per team. The key here is money, which USATT doesn't really have, so it would have to work with sponsors or major table tennis companies.
  2. USATT sends our top juniors and players to overseas leagues. There are very strong leagues all over Europe and in China. Many of our past top players played and developed their games in the German leagues, such as Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan.
  3. USATT or someone else organizes a Players Association. They would have incentive to set up such a league. They'd probably have to pool resources in some way to hire an Executive Director, or find one who works right from the start on commissions. If we don't do #1 or #2 above, I might have to push for this one.

And Now It Begins…
…my almost non-stop travel period, for both table tennis and science fiction, for six weeks. (It actually gets busier in December.) I'll be at Philcon this weekend, the annual Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention, where I'm doing another book signing and I'm a panelist. I return late Saturday night so I can do my Sunday coaching. (There's also a USATT Teleconference on Monday night, but that doesn't involve travel for once.) Here's my upcoming schedule.

  • Nov. 18-19: Philcon Science Fiction Convention  in Philadelphia
  • Nov. 25-27: Coaching at the North American Teams in DC
  • Dec. 4-9: Science Fiction Writer's Workshop Cruise in Bahamas
  • Dec. 10-18: U.S. Open and USATT Board Meetings in Las Vegas
  • Dec. 20-25: Christmas in Eugene, Oregon
  • Dec. 26-31: MDTTC Christmas Camp

Christmas Shopping for TT Books
It's that time of year again – where table tennis players go to sleep with visions of ping-pong books dancing in their heads. So why not buy a TT book for your favorite table tennis player, even if that person is yourself? Oh, and I just happen to have written a few! Here's where my books are listed. Best seller is Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, with Table Tennis Tips not far behind, both in print or kindle. The much shorter Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook is also a good seller, and the kindle version is currently selling for just 99 cents. There's also Table Tennis Tales & Techniques.

Or perhaps you are more in the mood for a good fantasy novel? The Spirit of Pong is about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis – it's Rocky or the Karate Kid in table tennis! The kindle version is currently on a 99 cent sale. Also on a 99 cent sale on the kindle is my humorous fantasy novel Sorcerers in Space, and both anthologies of my best short stories, Pings and Pongs and More Pings and Pongs. (They are all in both print and kindle formats.) Or you can buy my new novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, which has a number of table tennis scenes and has gotten great reviews. (It currently has nine Amazon reviews – I'd love it if I could get one more good one so it'd be at ten!)

U.S. Open
The Final deadline to enter the U.S. Open is Nov. 20, this Sunday. I like to watch the entry listing (by name, rating, state, or club) as it grows each day – they are now up to 707 players. You can also see the event listing, and see who is entered in each event.

Three Videos on the Backhand Loop
Here are three free ones from Table Tennis University.

How to Approach (and Win) Matches Against Weaker Opponents
Here's the new coaching article from Tom Lodziak.

The Real Challenge of Pingpong
Here's the new article by Massimo Costantini.

Methodical Approach to Learning of Technical Skills for Young Players
Here's the video (1:24:57). "Listen to coach Feng Zhe about the methodical approach to learning of technical skills for young players." (He speaks through a translator.) Here's the Feng Zhe TTC, where he has articles on teaching table tennis to children.  

Sarasota Table Tennis Club Prides Itself on Diversity and Competition
Here's the article.

Louis Levene Multiball October 2016
Here's the video (61 sec). Louis, who has played only two years and is already pushing 2000, was just named to the USA Team to the Maccabiah Games. Feeding the multiball is Coach and Dad Mike Levene, at the full-time Smash TTC in Virginia

Jan-Ove Waldner in China
Here's the video (4:33) from 2014. It's all in Swedish and Chinese, but it's still a fun watch, especially halfway through when Waldner hits with the Chinese spectators who are practically mobbing him, and arranges an Around the Table game. (And no, the guy walking with him at the start is not Jorgen Persson, though he does have a strong resemblance.)  

Mini-Table Training
Here's the video (48 sec) of Dan Seemiller Jr. and Mark Flores at the El Paso TTC!

The Look of Love Between Table Tennis Players and Ping Pong Balls
Here's the music video (50 sec)!

Breaking News: Larry Hodges Turns Down Nomination as Secretary of Defense, Trump Impeached
Said the notorious table tennis coach to President-Elect Trump, "I chop pretty well, but there are better defensive players out there. But I'd love to be Secretary of Loop." Later Hodges was arrested by the Secret Service for attempting to kill during a match with Trump. Congress then impeached Trump as the president-elect kept hiding his serve (and tax returns), and therefore was unable to serve legally, and therefore would be unable to serve legally as president.

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November 17, 2016

Ten Things That Require Zero Talent
On Monday I linked to the list Ten Things That Require Zero Talent. The point is that even if you have little talent – whatever talent is – you can still make the most of what you have, and these ten things will, in the long run, almost always overcome talent. (Unless, of course, the "talented" one also does these ten things to a very high degree.) Here's the actual list:

  1. Being on time
  2. Work ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Body language
  5. Energy
  6. Attitude
  7. Passion
  8. Being coachable
  9. Doing extra
  10. Being prepared

I can't help but think the list is somewhat redundant. You really should do all ten, but in reality, #7 (Passion) leads to #6 (Attitude), which leads to the other eight. Now it's possible to have a good Attitude without the Passion, but that does make it more difficult. (A person working a menial job may not have passion for the job, but can still have a good attitude about it.) But a good Attitude is a must, and automatically leads to the rest.

Some might try to nitpick, for example claiming energy comes from fitness – but it's still mostly attitude, unless you are out running a marathon. Even if you are doing footwork drills, you can have energy until you run out of it, and then you rest and it comes back. But even more directly, if you don't have energy, then you should do the fitness training to get it back – which comes from passion and/or attitude.

I always look at #1 as an indirect way of testing students. Those with great attitudes, who go on to become the best at what they do, are invariably on time – because they are just dying to get there to start training, or whatever else it is they do. (Or, if they are doing something that helps others, they are there on time because they feel the obligation to do so – part of attitude.) Being on time is not something you should do most of the time; it's an attitude in itself, the idea that you should simply be on time, always – and if you aren't there early enough to make sure you can be there on time, you are not on time. (For the record, I've coached about 20,000 hours at MDTTC since we opened in 1992. I've been late for a session exactly twice. Once because of a traffic jam, and once because I got my times mixed up. And those two instances still make me grit my teeth.)

Work ethic, effort, body language, energy, being coachable, doing extra, and being prepared – they all come from attitude, which is the core cause for nearly all success. The best players have all of this. They are the ones who do it all, and then some (i.e. "Doing extra").

So how do you do on this list, in table tennis and in your other endeavors?

9 Serving Tips
Here's the new coaching video (13:53) from Samson Dubina.

Under Pressure: Stress Management for the Athlete
Here's the article.

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue which came out yesterday.

Xu Xin vs Fan ShengFeng China Super League 2016
Here's the new video (18:47) – penholder vs. penholder. (See links to other matches on right.)

Lily Yip TTC on ICEPN TV
Here's the video (27:21).

Strange Rackets

Hilarious Table Tennis Shots
Here's the new video (1:56)!

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November 16, 2016

Miscellaneous Stuff
I think I've been fighting a minor cold the last few days. This morning I woke up with my head feeling like it was full of cotton, a minor background headache that won't go away, sniffles, and a general feeling of "I should be in bed." Today's a slow day for me - I only have one hour of coaching today - so I should be able to do that. I'm also going to try to get some writing done.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post came in yesterday for the follow-up to their previous visit. This time they had both a writer and a photographer, who took pictures for three hours. So far they have interviewed me, Cheng Yinghua (the focus of the story, along with MDTTC), Jack Huang, Ryan Dabbs, Tiffany Ke, and Lisa Lin. They took many pictures yesterday of these players and coaches, plus lots of shots of 8-year-old Stanley Hsu (about 1350) smacking balls against Cheng. The article will most likely come out next week.

I had a great 90-minute session with Daniel Sofer, recently turned 12, and told him afterwards that if he trained like that all the time, he'd soon be battling with the best players his age in the country. "Soon," of course, is a relative term. He's about 1700 right now, with a great feel for the ball, but still lacks confidence in his attack.  

My upcoming schedule is going to be massively travelish. (Yeah, I made up that word.) I'll blog about this later, but the short version (not in chronological order) is that over the next six weeks I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams; attending USATT board meetings and the U.S. Open in Las Vegas for eight days (plus a USATT teleconference next Monday); helping run our Christmas Camp for six days; attending the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention for two days (that's this Friday and Saturday); attending a science fiction writing workshop in a cruise in the Bahamas for five days (!); and spending Christmas in Eugene, Oregon for five days. In between I'll be doing the usual coaching, USATT/MDTTC stuff, and blogging and other writing. And fighting this stupid cold….

2017-18 Youth National Team Trials Procedures Draft for Public Comment
Here's the document from the USATT High Performance Committee. I think it's great that they are putting it up for public comment in this way before finalizing it, though of course it means they'll also have to deal with lots of commentary. I haven't had a chance to go over this yet, but will soon, and will likely blog about it. But I really don't know what's in it. Ooh, the anticipation!!!

World Championships of Ping Pong Official Entry Form
Here's the info page for this sandpaper event to be held on Saturday morning, Dec. 17, at the U.S. Open. (One small mistake that they will likely fix – it has the entry fee as $20, but it's only $10 for those entered in the U.S. Open, which would probably be true for nearly all the entries.) This is the Qualifier for the USA sandpaper team that will go to the $100,000 World Ping-Pong Championships, which will be held Jan. 28-29, 2017 in London. I plan to take part in the USA Trials, and will destroy all those who oppose me unless of course they happen to win.

Can China's Table Tennis Team Be Beaten?
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Training Video: Samson Dubina and Jiwei Xia
Here's the video (3:12).

Interview with a Guy Who Once Played Ping Pong with Prince
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Looking to Bounce Back
Here's the article on Alabama (and Louisiana) Table Tennis, and Hurricane Katrina.

Family Fun: Table tennis is Fun and Easy to Learn
Here's the article.

Penn Ping Pong is Undefeated Against Local Universities
Here's the article.

Ma Long, King of Epic Shots
Here's the new video (5:19).

FIT Open, November 12-13, 2016
Here's the USATT article by Matt Hetherington. Here's the video (14:08) – Final between champion Kai Zhang and runner-up Kaden Xu, by Jules Apatini.

Top 10 Best Behind-the-Back Shots of All Time
Here's the video (2:45) from Table Tennis Daily.

Lots of Little Big-Eyed Red Creatures on the Ping-Pong Table
Here's the picture!

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November 15, 2016

Playing Lefty – and Reading vs. Reacting
Yesterday, at the end of a 90-minute session, my 12-year-old 1700 opponent challenged me to a game where he lobbed, while I played lefty. He was overconfident, and he was serving down 6-8. (I had perfected sort of a lefty "jab-smash.") But then he "cheated," and started throwing spinny sidespin serves at me – and I was suddenly helpless, unable to read spins that I normally would read with ease. It went to deuce, but my inability to return his sidespin serves led to his fist-pumping victory. (He even did the "infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table" of Jiang that I'd described to him earlier – see below.)

But it got me thinking – why was I unable to read the spin on serves that I could easily read when playing right-handed? And the answer was obvious. You don't read spin. You react to it – subconsciously.

Think about it. When an opponent puts spin on the ball, do you consciously think to yourself, "The ball's spinning at 2133 RPM, so I need to put my racket angle at 62.5 degrees"? Of course not. From lots and lots of playing time, your subconscious automatically reacts to it. It may not always get it right, but it's usually in the ball park. But what's actually happening? Your subconscious reads the spin and tells your muscles how to react, i.e. racket angle and so on. Consciously, there's no reading of spin (except as an afterthought) – you just react at a subconscious level. But the subconscious has been trained to tell your playing arm what to do, not your non-playing arm, where everything is essentially reversed. It doesn't know what to do. And so, instead of reacting instinctively to the spin, as I'm used to when I play righty, I just stood there, waiting for my subconscious to tell me what to do, and it just sat there, unable to do so. Dang you, subconscious, where were you when I needed you???

I've always thought it's a good exercise for coaches to sometimes play lefty – not just rally, but actual games – so they can see what it's like to play as a beginner. It's rather instructive.

1987 WTTC Men Final Jiang Jialiang vs Jan-Ove Waldner
Here's the video (37:05), where (Spoiler Alert!) pips-out penholder Jiang defends his title from 1985 – just barely. In the best of five to 21, he's up 2-1 but down 16-20 in the fourth. At 31:40 he serves at 19-20, wins a nice point to deuce it, and then does the infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table, walking right in front of Waldner! The latter later admitted it unnerved him, and Jiang won the next two points easily to win the title again. This match sort of marked the end of the age of world-class pips-out play (with the notable exception of Liu Guoliang, who would come along a few years later), and the rise of two-winged looping, which now completely dominates.

Washington Post
They are coming to MDTTC today from 4-8PM to do a story, with a writer and photographer. Come on in if you want a chance to be in the background of a picture, or possibly even interviewed!

Devastate the Defensive Chopper
Here's the new article from Samson Dubina.

How to Recover Table Tennis Form and Confidence in Training
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis for Beginners
Here's the online class with Tom Lodziak from Table Tennis University.

5 Surprising Ways the Right Music Makes You Better at Table Tennis
Here's the article from Table Tennis Spot.

2016 Male & Female Para Table Tennis Star Nominees Announced
Here's the ITTF press release.

Why This Start-up Has Job Candidates Play Ping Pong During the Interview
Here's the article from CNBC.

A Young Ping Pong Expert
Here's the video (1:51) that features Jason Piech.

The Force is Strong If You Play Ping Pong!
Here's the picture from Mike Mezyan! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

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November 14, 2016

Tip of the Week
How to Develop a Quicker Forehand.

Youngest Table Tennis Players
Here's a picture of Shia Williams, age 5, playing his first tournament. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) He's playing in the Robopong October 2016 Broward TTC Open. Here's the video (2 min)!

He achieved a rating of 994 – not bad! Anyway, this raises the question of who was the youngest player ever to play a USATT tournament. I'm sure if I had access to the entire database and the proper data tools, I could figure this out. But I already know the answer – sort of.

The youngest to enter a USATT tournament and get a rating was three-year-old Don Iguana back in the 1990s. He entered Under 12 singles, and got a rating of 25, losing every game 21-0 except for one historic time when it was 21-1. (Games were to 21 back then.) But note I said he entered and got a rating, but didn't say he actually played? Don Iguana was my three-year-old pet iguana. I bought him a USATT junior membership and entered him in three tournaments I ran. The kids went along with it, and would take the clipboard for about five minutes, then return it with scores filled out - Don always lost. Poor kid. (No, Don never actually went to the table to play.) Look him up – USATT # 65421! However, our online database only goes back to 1994, and he played his tournaments I think in 1992, so his actual results back then are lost to the mists of history. (They brought in everyone's current rating when they went online in 1994.)

I'm told Don had a unique strategy when he played. He'd stand there, staring at his opponent, refusing to even attempt make a return, but just waiting, waiting, waiting until his opponent missed a serve. And his strategy and persistency paid off, as he finally scored his first point, against an 11-year-old Michael Squires, who according to the scoreboard defeated the lizard, 21-0, 21-1, apparently missing a serve in game two in this historic match.

When the USATT Ratings Director found out about Don, he was furious, saying it make a mockery of the ratings, and was very unhappy that a player had gained a rating point in a match that didn't take place. He took Don out of the ratings. A few years later his successor, who didn't have a reptilian bias, put him back in. (For several years, Alan and Dave Williams used to write great online tales of Don's feats as he traveled the globe, often as a pirate. Alas, I think those postings were also lost to the mists history.)

Here's the stunner. According to the USATT listing, Don is listed as playing a tournament at the Triangle TTC in North Carolina . . . in 2014!!! He "lost" all four of his matches, but scored a lot of points, and even won his first game! Yes, he lost at 8,-9,8,10 to Jerred Miklowcic, the first time in history that a lizard won a game from a human. Apparently Don, now about 27 years old (and 25 in 2014) has been practice and getting better. (Someone in NC had a sense of humor – I suspect Mike Babuin.)

This might be a shot of Don in action. But the lizard has gone on to bigger and better things. He's apparently the mayor of something, an actor (here's video), and seems to be active on Facebook.

(Going back to Shia at the beginning, there's something wrong with the ratings algorithm here. He played players rated 1323, 1159, and 1005, and lost all three 3-0 without scoring more than 3 points in a game. How does an unrated player lose to a 1005 player at 2,3,1, and come out rated 994? I've already emailed the question to the powers that be. Something seems out of whack with the algorithm for initial ratings. The system apparently no longer takes scores into consideration, but losing 0-3 to the 1005 should make you come out lower than 994, which is only 11 points lower. But you know something? 994 or not, Shia looked pretty good in the video!)

Expectation: A Danger for Athletes in Table Tennis
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Ten Things That Require Zero Talent
Here's the list

Review of Table Tennis University
Here's the article by Tom Lodziak.

East Coast National Youth Reflect on Outstanding Results Overseas
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

10 Christmas Gift Ideas for a Table Tennis Player
Here's the article from Expert Table Tennis. Or you can buy them one of these!!!

Coffee Cup: "Table Tennis Coach: To Save Time, Just Assume I'm Always Right"
I want one! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) And if you're a coach, so should you. (And I don't even drink coffee.) Here's where you can buy one, and about twenty other table tennis mugs – though you have to order from England. (ADDENDUM: While they can ship to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous other places, they don't appear to be able to ship to the U.S. - it doesn't appear on their dropdown menu when filling out address. I tried ordering one but wasn't able to.) 

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 8! Or order your own print copies at TimBogganTableTennis.com.

Table Tennis "Mannequin" Challenge
Here's the video (21 sec). But here's an even better one (2:13), from four years ago by Richard Heo, before the "Mannequin" challenge had come out. And that's me at 1:28 making an appearance as a fist-pumping, screaming coach at the barriers!

Table Tennis, the Beautiful Game - Part 2
Here's the video (4:27). (Here's Part 1, from March, 2013.)

Music to Jam With When Playing?
Here's the video (23 sec) of animated table tennis set to music.

Fairy Child Pong?
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Paddle Boulevard?
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Note that the "balls" are the normal lamps.

Swing Softly But Carry a Big Stick
Here's the video (42 sec) of Samson Dubina warming up with super-big paddle.

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November 11, 2016

It's Veteran's Day, so I'm off today. (In reality, I've got a rather long todo list to take care of, but at least I can start fresh and early.) Here's some Championship Table Tennis (cartoon) to tide you over. 

November 10, 2016

How Fast Can You Smash?
We often talk about how a ping-pong ball often travels at speeds up to 100 mph (about 161 kph). That simply isn't true, at least at this time.

Here's the video How Fast Does a Table Tennis Ball Travel? (1:26). Until recently, the "official" record was I believe 69.9 mph (112.5 kph), as noted in Table Tennis Ball Speed page from 2003-2004, which analyzes the data at the time. But Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) "smashed" that record with a 75.8 mph (122 kph) smash. To get that speed, he did an all-out wristy forehand smash.

But this raises the question – just how fast can one smash a ball? While world-class players like Ovtcharov are undoubtedly among the hardest hitters, that doesn't mean he's the hardest hitter. Few have been tested. World-class players are actually trained mostly to loop, so when trying to hit the ball at the maximum speed they are actually doing something they are not trained to do.

Let's suppose there were big-money competitions for hardest-hit smash. We won't worry about the details about how to judge this – we'll assume the radar gun used in the video above is sufficient, and go with its results. How fast could players smash?

First, the equipment would make a big difference. Most modern high-level rackets are designed for looping, not pure speed smashing. Back in the days when pips-out hitters dominated, most companies had at least one super-fast carbon blade, which was probably too fast for any human to use, but was used by many players because they liked the idea of using such a macho blade. They were like rockets when smashing, but weren't so good for looping unless you were one-shot loop-killing everything. I don't know if any company still makes such a blade, using space-age materials to give added speed – I'm guessing yes. (Feel free to comment below.)

The sponge covering makes a difference as well. Current sponges are also mostly designed for looping. However, I think they are pretty good for pure speed as well. You'd probably want the thickest, hardest sponge you can get.

The stroke would be as flat as possible, with no energy going into spin. The player would put his entire body into the shot, as Ovtcharov does in the video above – legs, hips, waist, shoulders, arm, and with a big wrist snap at the end. Timing this properly is huge, going from the big, lower-body muscles to the smaller, upper-body ones, and takes lots of training to get right. Snapping the wrist into the ball like this isn't something that players are generally taught – usually the wrist is used for adding spin, not speed, though of course a player like Ovtcharov can adjust and use it for pure speed.

Now imagine a competitive hard-hitting competition, and someone who's a professional at this "sport." He'd have a super-fast racket made of whatever legal space-age material they can use to add pure speed, with thick, super-hard sponge. They'd be able to put their entire body into the shot, with that big wrist snap. If Ovtcharov, an "amateur" at this new sport, can approach 76 mph, how fast could our "professional" do it?

There's a comparable sport to consider – baseball. There the players are throwing the ball instead of hitting it, with the fastest pitch ever at 105 mph. If you used a similar technique, why can't a player hit the ball at a similar speed? Or does a ping-pong ball inherently slow down as it comes off the racket, so that not all of the energy transfers to a thrown baseball also transfers to a ping-pong ball hit with a ping-pong paddle? (I'm talking the ball coming off the racket's surface, not air resistance, which also slows it down dramatically.) This is the part that we just don't know.

On the one hand, if Ovtcharov can do only 76 mph, then perhaps the limit of human performance is reached in the 80-85 mph range. But if we were developing players purely for the purpose of hitting a ball as fast as possible, as is somewhat done in baseball, with techniques and equipment designed specifically for this, perhaps the speeds would go up dramatically, into the 90-100 mph range or more.

But we're not thinking outside the box. Legally there's no limit to how long a ping-pong paddle's handle can be. If we really want to smash a ball at super-high speeds, we should use a paddle that's essentially a tennis racket, with a similar long handle. Then imagine the speeds we could do! In the 1980s or so, a former top player named Carl Kronlage used to play in tournaments with just such a racket, with something like a 15-inch handle. Why not use a tennis-type racket, which are up to 27-29 inches long? Or even longer? Think of all the power you could generate with such a racket!!! (I googled for pictures of such rackets, but couldn't find any.)

And we're still not thinking completely outside the box. Why are we using regular forehand smashing techniques? In tennis, the hardest-hit balls are done with serves and overheads, a completely different hitting technique. If we want to maximize speed in table tennis, we would likely want to do the same. So now we're using a long-handled, space-age materials racket, covered with thick, hard sponge, and smashing with an overhead motion. How fast can we now go? I think we'd break the 100 mph barrier. (Of course what we'd want to hit with such a smash trumps doing so in some smashing contest.)

Interview with Paralympian Csonka on Mental Preparation (by Dora Kurimay)
Here's the article.

Olympic Coach Magazine
Here's the Fall issue.

USATT Invites Members to Annual General Assembly
Here's the USATT info page on the Assembly, which will take place Wednesday night at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas. The focus will be on USATT’s National Team programs – in particular, the selection process. I'll be there; will you?

USATT Nominating and Governance Committee Announces At Large Board Seat Election
Here's the USATT info page. Want to run for the USATT Board? Here's your chance! (It's too late for me, I'm already on the Board – save yourself! Run away!!!)

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue, which came out on Wednesday.

USATT and Super Micro Team Up To Support Youth Table Tennis
Here's the USATT article.

Nominees for ITTF Breakthrough Star & Star Coach are Released
Here's the ITTF press release.

Rio Reflections with Table Tennis Athlete Jennifer Wu
Here's the article.

Secret to Living Long Healthy Life for 109yo Woman
Here's the article – but (spoiler alert!) secret is sweet tooth and table tennis.

2016 Butterfly LA Open: Interview with Vladamir Samsonov
Here's the video interview (2:04) by Barbara Wei.

2016 World Cadet Challenge Highlights: Cho Daesong/Wang Amy vs Uda Yukiya/Elena Z. (Final)
Here's the video (2:06) which features USA's Amy Wang!

Sculpture of No-Armed Paralympic Star Ibrahim Hamato
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Here's video (2:43) of him playing with paddle in mouth.

Best Swap Hand Shot in the History of Table Tennis!
Here's the video (27 sec).

Dining Room Pong
Here's the video (14 sec)!

Ellen DeGeneres Table Tennis Mannequin Challenge
Here's the video (40 sec)!

Funny Guy Table Tennis
Here's the video (3:37)!

Hilarious Table Tennis Exhibition
Here's the video (7:35) of the finish of a match long ago between Jean-Michel Saive and Andrzej Grubba.

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November 9, 2016

Life in Idiocracy; No Blog Today
I'm stunned at the historically stupid thing America did last night, and I will hold accountable those responsible. Most have no clue what they have done, and how they have made the race for the gutter the norm in American politics – and that's the least of our problems. (We are now living the movie Idiocracy. Even Biff from Back to the Future was modeled on Trump.) However, since this isn't a political blog, I'll refrain from saying more. But I'm not really into blogging about ping-pong when our country now faces far more serious problems than how to hit a forehand, so no blog today. Good luck America – you are going to need it. (Feel free to comment, but since this is a table tennis blog, absolutely no political debates here. If you want to defend Trump, do so elsewhere. I will delete any such postings.) 

November 8, 2016

Election Day
Today we decide between Trump and Clinton. But schools are closed and it's practically a national holiday, so I'm taking the day off as well. Meanwhile, here are two cartoons I did on the election that I previously posted. Now, go out and vote practice your serves!

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