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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 7, 2016

Tip of the Week
Three Ways to Play the Forehand.

Reasons for More Trials Instead of Selections
As I blogged on Friday, I believe we need to go back to more Trials for our youth teams, and less selections, as we used to do it. I didn't like the idea from the start, but was willing to give it a try – but now I'm convinced it was a mistake.

The main argument for primarily choosing our youth teams rather than doing so by Trials is they feel that Trials only puts players against other USA players, and isn't a valid measure of their level against international players. I disagree, as a player who is better domestically will tend to do just as well internationally – when he has the international experience, which is the whole point of sending them overseas to tournaments like the World Junior Championships. Often the argument is made for a player with a world ranking to be chosen over a seemingly stronger player without a world ranking because that player's parents couldn't afford to send their player overseas to achieve an international ranking – and this comes down to essentially saying, "We're not sending you out for international experience because of your lack of international experience." Or we argue for a junior with a current world ranking that's much lower than another junior who no longer has a current world ranking simply because he wasn't able to go overseas.

They also feel that by choosing, they can pick the players they believe are hardest working or have most potential. There is an argument for this – they want to choose the player who is single-minded about table tennis over the one who they feel will favor academics – but it's also a subjective argument. Worse, this can lead to favoritism, where they may convince themselves that the player they want to pick is the best pick. It's not always intentional, but it happens. Many coaches, including myself, have disagreed with some of the selections. There have also been many historic examples of top players who were called "uncoachable" by their national coaches, or sent home for lack of potential – such as Jan-Ove Waldner ("uncoachable") and Deng Yaping ("too small"), often considered the greatest man and woman ever to play.

If at any time USATT puts up a note about why they favor Selections over Trials, or choose to do a guest blog here, I'll link to it or post it. 

I don't want to get into this game of publicly putting down specific juniors by arguing another player should have been selected over them. But that's the situation we're often put in when we see these selections and disagree. I simply am not going to play that game – the kids involved did nothing wrong, and arguing publicly why one is more qualified than another highly qualified one who was selected instead just embarrasses the junior who was chosen. Instead, I'm going to simply make the arguments over why we the teams should be chosen more by Trials, and less by Selections, which make us look like the teams are being chosen in the proverbial smoke-filled room. Here are my reasons.  

  1. Many other coaches, myself included, disagree over the Selections. What does this mean? It means that the teams are being decided not by the players, but by who is chosen to do the selecting. Case in point: USATT just selected the players going to the World Junior Championship. (It hasn't been officially announced by USATT, but the entries are listed at the World Junior Championships page – here's the list of entries.) The controversial decision was not to include Krish Avvari, who finished first at the Junior Team Trials in July, is the current National Junior Singles and Team Champion, is rated #2 among USA juniors available to go to the Worlds, and in the USATT's own complicated point system, is #3 ranked among USA junior available to go to the Worlds. USA chose four players, and left him off the list. (Sharon Alguetti wasn't available to go.) The reason given was that Krish had only played five tournament this past year – though all five were 4- and 5-star tournaments. Should he be on the team? By Trials, he's #1, and by nearly every other factor he should be. But the selected selectors said no, and so he's not going. Many others, including myself, disagreed with the decision. And so the selection was made not by the players, but by who was chosen to do the selecting.
  2. The Selectors are often being put in the position of choosing between players from their own state or club over others, or to make such decisions about students of their colleagues. Even if they are objective in their decisions, or try to be, the appearance is often very bad. (This has happened multiple times already.) And so when players are chosen who have any connection to the Selectors, it is now under suspicion. The contrary is also true – if players connected to the Selectors are overlooked, they may feel they were overlooked because of the appearance of conflict.
  3. If Selections are preferable to Trials, why do we have Olympic Trials? Shouldn't we just choose our Olympic Team? Some would say this is different, that at the youth level we are looking for potential, while at the Olympic level we're looking for our best players – i.e., in both cases, we're looking for our best chance of winning, whether long-term with youth players, or now with Olympic players. But these are actually the same case. If the goal in the Olympic was to win, then we shouldn't have Trials – we should have coaches choose the players so they can also send weaker players with unorthodox styles that international players may have trouble with. So if you favor Selecting our youth teams rather than Trials, then by the same logic you should favor Selecting our Olympic Teams rather than having a Trials. I don't think many would agree with this.
  4. We're going to have non-stop controversies (and threats of lawsuits) over this as long as we select the players rather than going primarily by Trials. It's already happened this year in both sets of selections. With Trials, as long as you word the rules properly, there is little controversy, and the players consider it fair because the decision was made at the table, not in a back room. (I do believe we should select up to 25% of the players, as I explained in my Friday blog, but we've almost always done something like that and it rarely led to any controversy.)

This doesn't mean I'm against any selections - as I explained on Friday, perhaps up to 25% should be selected, as a "safety net" for our very best juniors who are sick, injured, or just have a bad day at the Trials. 

USATT does have a complication in that the Nationals moved to July. It used to be they could just have a Trials in December for the following year. But now the Trials at the Nationals in July means we're split, since half the team becomes ineligible on Dec. 31, six months before the next Nationals. The problem with having Trials in December at the Open is the same reason they flipped the Open and Nationals – it's right during finals week for kids, and many have great difficulty making it.

I'm one of the ones who initially didn't think we should have a Trials in December for this reason – I know at least half of the top youth players at my club can't make it, and the same situation is true nationwide. However, I'm rethinking this. So what do we do on Dec. 31, when half the players on our youth teams become ineligible? Here are some options.

  1. Fill out the team in order of finishers from July who are still eligible. Objective, but it means the results are affected by players who are no longer eligible. It also means you are using a Trials from six months before, but since we normally were having annual Trials for a 12-month period, that specifically isn't a big problem.
  2. Have a new Trials in December. Many will have difficulty making it. The Trials could be for the entire team, or only for those spots that open up when players age out on Dec. 31. If the latter, the number of spots that open up will vary from year to year. However, it's too late to do it this year. Also, while at the Nationals you can combine the Junior Team Trials with the National Junior Singles Championship, you can't really do that at the Open, since it's open to all players, not just USA players. It would mean adding six new Trials events.
  3. Have the HPC or HPD choose the remaining team. That's the current plan, and may be inevitable for this year.
  4. Have smaller teams. But this just penalizes players who might otherwise have made the team, whether by Selection or Trials.

ITTF Cadet Camp at MDTTC 2016
Here's the new video (1:52), from Matt Hetherington. It shows highlights, set to music, of the ITTF Cadet Camp we held at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in September – here's my write-up, which now has a link to the video. 

Tactique Stratégie Tennis de Table
Here's the video (4:53) of the new French video ad for the French version of my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. You can buy it in English or French versions, print or kindle versions. I'm pictured in the background giving a service clinic at MDTTC. The part where I stand on one leg and hold my arms in the air is where I'm about to demonstrate my "Karate Kid" serve and telling a joke about that movie.

Devastate the Offensive Chopper
Here's the coaching article from Samson Dubina.

Forehand Mechanics
Here's the coaching article from Carl Hardin.

The Table Tennis Training Partner: An Endangered Species
Here's the new article from Coach Jon.

Basic Rules of Table Tennis and Common Myths
Here's the new article from Matt Hetherington.

Tom's Table Tennis Newsletter
Here's the link. It includes both new coaching articles and links to others, most of which I've also linked to recently.

  • Why you should “attack the middle”
  • My biggest table tennis failures (so far)
  • Tactics for beating a one-wing attacker
  • A simple way to improve your practice sessions
  • Online table tennis lessons

Best from the Web:

  • How to Win Crucial Points in Table Tennis Matches
  • The Ultimate Guide to Table Tennis Psychology
  • Play Both Weaker and Stronger Players
  • Waldner Table Tennis Tips
  • How to improve your anticipation
  • 5 Tips To Improve Your Long Push
  • Vote for the best table tennis point of 2016

"I have unfinished business in India" - Massimo Costantini
Here's the ITTF article from one of our former National coaches.

Training with Jakub Dyjas
Here's the video (11:42) of the world #36 from Poland as he trains.

The Tomahawk Ghost Serve by Dimitrij Ovtcharov!
Here's the repeating video (5 sec).

Double Table Training with Gary Fraiman and Sherlyn Barvie
Here's the video (18 sec).

Chinese-born Spanish Player Juanito He Zhiwen Retires at Age 52
Here's the article. The pips-out penholder still ranked 78 in the world after three decades of competing. His peak was #24 in 2007.

Recent Photo of the Hungarian Trio
Here's the photo of Gabor Gergely, Istvan Jonyer, and Tibor Klampar, 1979 World Team Champions over China. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Here they are on the winner's podium in 1979 (Gergely, Klampar, and Jonyer on far left). Here's a listing of all Men's World Team Champions, and Women's World Team Champions.

Kids Going Crazy over Balancing Ball Relay
Here's the video (60 sec).

Timo Boll and a Lot of Balls
Here's the picture. Should we call him Timo Ball?

Iron Pong
Here's the video (59 sec) of someone playing with an iron, including some tricky shots – and his clothes are wrinkle free!

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November 4, 2016

A Hodgepodge of Topics

  • Team Selections vs. Trials. Probably only a few people are aware of the latest controversy regarding the U.S. Junior Team, specifically about who goes to the World Junior Championships. USATT has not yet officially announced the eight players (four boys and four girls) they will select, so I won't comment on it. However, I'm tired of the constant controversies regarding these youth team selections. The key word here is Selections. We used to have Team Trials to decide the teams. Now only four of the ten members of each team make it by Trials, and for each major international tournament, rather than go by the order of finish at the Trials, the players are selected. This means, for example, you can finish #1 in the U.S. Junior Team Trials, be National Junior Champion, be #2 rated among juniors available to go, and be #2 among juniors available to go in USATT's own complicated point system – and still not get selected as one of the four players to go.
         I believe we need to go back to the Team Trials system, where perhaps 8 of the 10 players are selected by Trials, with the last two on each ten-person team selected by the High Performance Committee. For international tournaments, they should go in order of finish at the Trials (unless a player does something to disqualify himself), with perhaps only the final spot on each team selected. (The reason for allowing a small number of selections is in case a truly standout player is sick, injured, or just has a bad day at the Trials. It happens, but selections shouldn't be the primary way of making a youth team.)
         I'm going to get a lot of flak from USATT people who strongly disagree with me here. I welcome them to write a guest column here arguing for Selections over Trials. The basic argument is that they are competing against other USA players, not international players, and it's a one-shot event - but a Trials, IMHO, is still a better and fairer indicator of who should be on the team then selecting them. There's a reason we have Olympic Trials, not Olympic Selections. And I do argue for leaving open a few spots to be selected. I will likely write a more at-length blog on this later on.
         I'm pretty sure that if I made a motion at a USATT Board meeting to change to Trials over Selections – I'm a Board member - it would lose badly. (The USATT High Performance Committee, High Performance Director, and other USATT people support Selections, and the Board would support them.) If we had a vote among the membership, players, coaches, or parents, it would pass overwhelmingly. Very different perspectives.
  • USATT League. I'm aware of the software problems, and USATT has people working on this. Alas, there's nothing I can do on this. I actually chair the USATT League Committee, but that's primarily in charge of team leagues – the singles league stuff is handled by USATT headquarters. One other reason I'm frustrated by these software problems is that I co-founded the USATT Singles League system many years ago with Robert Mayer, and it worked smoothly for all those years. Now there are all sorts of database problems that need to be fixed, not all of which are USATT's fault. (It's complicated.) I do not plan to continue as League chair when my term ends on Dec. 31 – I'm more into the coaching side of things – so if you are interested in this, let me know.
  • U.S. Open. It's fun watching the entries come in – here's where they are listed. As of this writing, there are exactly 300 entries. We'll probably end up with 700 or so. I'm leaning against playing this year, will just coach, attend meetings, sign copies of my table tennis books, and walk around looking important. Here's the U.S. Open home page.
  • Talent. There are two types of people who argue against the value of talent in sports. There are those who simply deny it exists, and there are those who realize it exists, but consider it less important in the long run. I lean toward the latter, but there definitely is such a thing as talent. There's a huge example I'm dealing with right now in my beginning table tennis classes. Exhibit A: a 9-year-old boy who literally cannot learn the proper strokes. I've tried and tried, and so has he, but he simply isn't able to even mimic a good stroke. Despite many hours of coaching, he still slashes at the ball, and rarely gets it on the table. Exhibit B: a 7-year-old girl who started well after the previous example, but after two sessions already has textbook strokes, and in multiball can keep the ball going really well. She picks things up like a sponge.
  • 2017 MDTTC Tournaments. We're going to two-day tournaments in 2017, and I'm now working with Wen Hsu to redo the entry form and scheduling for next year. When that's done, we also have to finalize the entry form for the 2017 Maryland State Closed.

Call for Nominations - Annual USATT Coaches of the Year!
Here's info from USATT. There are five categories:

  • Volunteer
  • Developmental
  • National
  • Paralympic
  • Doc Counsilman (Technology) Award

Zhang Jike and Li Xiaoxia Talk About Future
Here's the article.

AITTA Had Another Celebration Party
Here's the article.

Ma Long vs Fan Zhendong China Trials for WTTC
Here's the video (10:45).

1961 Beijing and 1963 Prague World Table Tennis Championships featuring Zhuang Ze Dong
Here's the video (7:48). Back in those days color was not allowed.

Paddle on My Mind
Here's the new table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Some Hearty Table Tennis
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Chilling Dog Pong?
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Non-Table Tennis: First Cat
My story "First Cat" just went up at World Weaver Press! It's a humorous SF story about the president's temporarily super-intelligent cat saving the world from inter-dimensional invaders in the Oval Office. (It's actually a reprint - the story appeared a few years ago in another anthology.) How did the cat become so smart? Read the story - but it involves his sticking his head through a portal into a four-dimensional universe. 

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November 3, 2016

High-Toss Backspin Serves Lead to Misreads
Yesterday during practice games with a student at the end of a session I pulled something on him that I used to do in tournaments – I pulled out the super-charged high-toss forehand pendulum backspin serve. By throwing the ball up higher, I'm able to get more backspin on the ball, and so opponents tend to put the ball in the net. It does take practice to graze the ball since it is moving faster at contact – you almost have to scoop it with a very open racket – but it really can make a difference by increasing the spin. However, if that's all one does, it's doesn't put much pressure on the opponent – they can adjust.

Instead, to raise the level of trickery up a notch, I also raise my elbow for the serve, even hunching my right shoulder up slightly. This gave the serve even more of a pendulum look, with the racket seemingly going more sideways, and so it looks like there's more sidespin. But the reality is that if you contact the ball on the downswing, and then vigorously go across after contact, it looks very sidespinny. The combination of this, and the extra backspin from the high toss, leads to a steady barrage of returns in the net. The actual serve, the way I do it, is probably 1/8 sidespin, 7/8 backspin. But receivers see it as the reverse, as a light backspin with lots of sidespin. (When I go for a pure backspin, I get more backspin, but it's too obvious to the opponent, and so less effective.)

This is especially effective against players who try to flip serve after serve, often with backhand flips. They simply aren't expecting that much backspin, and the sideways motion of the serve tricks them further.

However, to raise the level of trickery up still another notch, any time the receiver seems to figure the serve out, that's when you throw the no-spin version at them by contacting the ball near the handle. Watch them pop it up! And now that they are a bit uncertain about the spin, you go back to backspin, and watch it plop down into the net.

And you can raise the level of trickery up still another notch by moving the serve around, to both the forehand and backhand. You can also vary the depth. Your goal isn't just to win the point – it's to get that look of puzzled consternation on your opponent's face  as he struggles to figure things out, allowing you to dominate on your serve. (This should probably be a Tip of the Week – perhaps later.)

Here's my article The Decline of the High-Toss Serve and Why You Should Learn It.

Excuse Monsters: Learn about taking the blame
Here's the article from Samson Dubina.

The Most Successful Olympic Athlete of All Time
Here's the article, where the writer has Paralympics and Olympics confused! The article says, "Natalia also won Gold at the Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London – making this her fourth consecutive gold medal in 4 Olympic games. No table tennis player ever has achieved her success." Natalia Partyka has won four straight gold medals at the Paralympics, not the Olympics. She did represent Poland at the Olympics, the first Paralympian to do so (she is missing her right hand and forearm), but of course the Chinese win all the gold medals there. Here's the Wikipedia entry on Natalia, including her medal record. (I've emailed about this, and perhaps the article will be corrected by the time you see this.)
ADDENDUM: I was asked to correct the article, so an updated version should be up soon. 

Shadow Practice Training Music Video in China
Here's the video (15:15). I may have linked to a version of this once before, but this version just went up.

Bench-Jumping Pong
Here's the video (34 sec) of a rather unique type of table tennis training.

New Belgium Blue Paddle Beer – Real Beer Pong?
Here's the picture – with a worn-out blue hardbat paddle! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Chicago Cubs Ping-Pong Paddles and Grown-Up Cubs
Here's the picture – I hear they did something last night? This is what happens when one of those Cubs grows up and takes up table tennis.

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November 2, 2016

The Backhand Game Leads to Immediate Improvement
While coaching Daniel yesterday (he recently turned 12, is about 1700) I pointed out that when we go backhand-to-backhand, he keeps backing up, backhand looping over and over, but too soft to be really effective. He can also play it closer to the table, but is losing the knack as he simply likes backing up. How to get across to him how this was less effective? The Backhand Game!

For this I normally put a box on each side of the table, cutting off all but the backhand part of the table, so that each player covers about 40% of the table, backhand only. (The box is angled so the left side parallels the incoming ball.) We only had one box handy, and so rather than run up front to get a second one, I used my towel on my side – works just as well as a box. And then we went at it.

The rules are simple – I always serve, a straight topspin serve diagonally to his backhand. Then we go at it, backhand to backhand. No backspin or lobbing allowed. While the immediate goal is to win, the real goal is to have vicious rallies, where we bang it out ten to twenty or more times per rally. I've done this with many students, and it really leads to that.

But Daniel has been getting soft on the backhand, and when he does attack with it, he's gotten a bit erratic and jerky. Result? I won game #1, 11-1. Game #2 was the same, 11-2. All I'm doing is blocking, sometimes counter-hitting harder, but he can't maintain a rally. Game #3 is 11-0. I'm on him to be more consistently aggressive – stop playing soft or going for all-out winners, that there's a middle ground, that the rallies need to be bang-bang, where we press each other without actually trying wild shots. I can see he's trying, and in game #4 there's some improvement – I win 11-5.

But now he's getting it, that he has to fight to win long rallies, and be willing to go at it as long as necessary. Helped by a couple nets and edges, he pulls out to a lead in game #5. I fight back, and we're finally starting to go at it. It's 8-all, I go up 9-8, and then, somehow, someway, he's up 9-10 game point. I deuce it – and he goes up 10-11. I deuce it one more time, 11-all . . . and then, me, being the Grinch, I pulled it out, 13-11. But he's finally figuring it out. We're going to do this a lot more in future sessions. One other aftermath – we followed this with an improvised game where he serves backspin to my backhand, I push to his backhand, and he loops, usually backhand, sometimes forehand, and then POP (play out point). I always win this game – until now, where he wins the first time out, often following his loops with hammering backhands (care of The Backhand Game), except now he can put them anywhere on the table.

Why Blocking is a Vital Table Tennis Skill
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

How to Do Backhand Drive
Here's the new video (3:32). No coaching, just one player hitting backhands the entire time, but with good technique.

2016 World Cadet Challenge Photos & Results
Here are USA photos and results.

Amy Wang Captures North Americas First Gold Ever at World Cadet Challenge
Here's the article on Amy Wang teaming with Cho Daeseong of South Korea to win gold in Mixed Doubles at the World Cadet Challenge.

Athletes of the Month – October
Here's the article and pictures of Amy Wang, Sharon Alguetti, and Victor Liu.

2016 US Open Doubles Finder
Here's where you can find a doubles partner. Here's the U.S. Open home page.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 6! Or order your own print copies at TimBogganTableTennis.com.

USA Table Tennis Offers Official Apology to Elaine Walquist
Here is the letter, plus pictures and video.

22nd Butterfly Cape Fear Tournament
Here's the USATT article.

Table Tennis Star Points
Here are three new videos from the ITTF.

Aerial Pong?
Here's the new table tennis art from Mike Mezyan. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Table Tennis Ninja
Here's the video (9 sec)!

Netless Around-the-Table Pot Pong
Here's the video (16 sec)!

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November 1, 2016

Tip of the Week
How Do You Win and Lose Points?

World Fantasy Convention
This does have a table tennis connection – USATT had two representatives at the World Fantasy Convention, which was held this past weekend, Oct. 27-30, Thur-Sun, in Columbus, OH. Attending as unofficial USATT reps were myself and Charles Richard "Chip" Patton. He's rated 1821, from Alabama, and like myself, we are both into science fiction and fantasy – especially reading and writing it. Chip also has published stories, and at the WFC signed at least one anthology with a story of his in it. As we walked the halls, I wonder how many others realized they were in the midst of two people who could destroy them in table tennis? If they'd known of our smashing and killing capabilities, would they have trembled in trepidation?

Here's a picture Chip took of me at the signing table. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) I signed over 40 copies of my featured novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, which has a number of table tennis scenes in it – here's my blog on that. I was also a panelist, and did a 25-minute reading. I also entertained guests at panels and in the hallways with my blowing ping-pong ball trick, where I balance the ball in the air by blowing on it, and do so sideways by spinning the ball with my breath. (What, you don't carry a ping-pong ball around with you when you go to science fiction and fantasy conventions???)

During the convention I also received some great news that I'd kept mostly secret until now. I've been co-writing a science fiction novel with the great Mike Resnick (a record five-time Hugo winner, 37-time nominee) and novelist Lezli Robyn, and sent in my part two days before the WFC. On Saturday night I received an email from Mike approving my part, without any major rewriting required. So our novel, with the working title "Golden Dream" (which will likely change – one possibility is "The Alien Inquisitor") will come out in spring, 2017. Sorry, no table tennis there.

And now I'm back, with a table tennis todo list that has been growing exponentially since I left on Friday morning, and now threatens to exceed the maximum capacity allowed in this universe for an itemized list, and so if I don't get to work pruning it down, the universe may very well pop out of existence like a soap bubble, and it'll be all my fault – though of course that would be one way of avoiding a Trump presidency. (Add smiley here.) Top priorities for now are mostly local stuff – arranging a Washington Post visit (they emailed me yesterday), the MDTTC November newsletter, doing the scheduling for our 2017 MDTTC tournaments (we're going to two days, plus doing rescheduling for the 2017 MD Closed), some organizational stuff for the two junior classes I teach. But there are also a number of USATT items I also have to take care of, and some private coaching tonight. I also need to make my US Open arrangements, an decide if I'm going to just coach, or actually play some events. 

Obama with Olympians and Paralympians
Here's the Facebook page where you can browse over all seven pictures (click on each to go to the next) of Obama shaking hands with Olympians Kanak Jha, Lily Zhang, Yijun "Tom" Feng, Timothy Wang, Yue "Jennifer" Wu, and Paralympians Tahl Leibovitz and Pam Fontaine. (Missing for some reason is Olympian Jiaqi Zheng.) If you can't get Facebook (as some always tell me), here are links to the Non-Facebook versions.

Coaching from Samson Dubina
Here are two new items.

5 Tips to Improve Your Long Push
Here's the coaching article from Table Tennis University.

One Myth About Attacking Backspin That You Probably Believe
Here's the coaching article from Table Tennis Spot.

My Biggest Table Tennis Failures (so far)
Here's the article by Tom Lodziak.

Win a Free Membership to Table Tennis University
Here's the info page. They are giving away five.

USATT News Items
They have a plethora of news items since I blogged last week. Why not browse them over?

News Items from Butterfly
Here are four new ones.

Ask a Pro Anything - Petrissa Solja
Here's the video (5:25) from Adam Bobrow and the ITTF. Solja of Germany is #16 in the world (#13 earlier this year).

Oh Sang Eun - The Power of Block (Control and Placement)
Here's the video (5:55).

One of the Best Table Tennis Rallies You Will See
Here's the video (70 sec) of this point between Feng Tianwei and Seo Hyowon from 2014.

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

Oshonaike Reclaims African Title 24 Years After her First
Here's the ITTF press release.

Do You Recognize These Celebrities Playing Table Tennis?
Here's the video (2:50). A lot of the pictures likely came from my own Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page (which, alas, I no longer update).

Nandan Naresh and Ilija Lupulesku at the Jackson Chance Ping Pong Ball
Here's the video (53 sec). Nandan's the kid (and I like the mask he puts); Lupulesku (the lefty) is four-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion.

Tightrope Pong
Here's the video (29 sec) – or is it Slackrope Pong?

Ping-Pong Costumes
When you Google "Ping-Pong Costumes," this is what you get!

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October 27, 2016

No Blog on Friday and Monday
I leave early Friday morning for the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH, where I'm a panelist, will do a reading, and will join other authors for a three-hour book signing on Friday night. See, I have a life outside table tennis! I return late on Sunday night. Here are two recent pictures of me at book signings, at the Lunacon SF Convention in NY and at the Capclave SF Convention in MD. (I'm toying with showing up at the full-time Columbus TTC on Saturday night, but am not sure yet if I'll be free.) Monday is Halloween, where kids everywhere dress up as little ping-pong players and go door to door singing, "Pong or Heat!", and if you don't play them a quick ping-pong match, they burn your house down. 

U.S. Open in Las Vegas
Here's the home page for the tournament, held Dec. 12-17. You can enter online or print out a paper entry form. Here's where you can see the growing list of entries, with the deadline Nov. 20. Want to know who's registered from your club or state? Click on the appropriate heading. You can list the players by name, by rating, or by event. So . . . why should you go to the U.S. Open? Here are 100 reasons.

  • #1-94: 94 Events to Play. Yes, you read that right, there are 94. They range from the Championship events (Men's and Women's Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles, plus a new "U.S. Citizens Open Singles") to Senior events (from Over 30 to Over 80, men and women, singles and doubles), to Junior events (from Under 10 to Under 21, boys and girls) to Rating Singles events (from Under 800 to Under 2700, some of them for adults or juniors only) to Rating Doubles events (from Under 2700 to Under 4200) to Hardbat events (ten of them) to Sandpaper events (four of them).
  • #95: Vendors. Lots of vendors selling equipment. If you are an EJ (Equipment Junkie), it's heaven. If you are a table tennis player, it's heaven. If you are looking for a pleasant way to spend a few hours, just choose one of the booths, browse over their rubbers and rackets, and call out the name of each one – that should take an afternoon.
  • #96: Spectating. When the level of play is so strong you have to have an Under 2700 rating event, you know there's going to be some really good rallies. And if you are tired of counterlooping, check out the hardbat and sandpaper rallies.
  • #97: Las Vegas. There are silly Internet rumors that there are exciting things to do in Las Vegas. Me, I'm a skeptic, and in over 50 U.S. Nationals and Opens I've attended in Las Vegas, I've only seen the hotel and playing site. But I'll keep an open mind, and of course you should investigate this wild rumor on your own.
  • #98: 1000 Table Tennis People. Come say "hi!" to us!
  • #99: Host Hotels - The Linq and Flamingo. Stay there and get 1) one free event; 2) free monorail pass; 3) $25 food credit; 4) one free shirt customization (i.e. have your name put on the back of your shirt); 5) 50% the cost of the Players' Lounge; and 6) A free USATT Ratings Pin! (But I'm going there for the hot tub.)
  • #100: My Table Tennis Books will be on sale, and I'll be there to autograph them! (Plus other table tennis books by Dan Seemiller, Richard McAfee, Tahl Leibovitz, Samson Dubina, and others.) Yeah, I had to put this in here – I'm a bookhead.

Have You Practiced Your Serves This Week?
Just asking. Here's my article Practicing Serves the Productive Way.

How to Win Crucial Points in Table Tennis Matches
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

The Science Behind How We Learn New Skills
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Exercises
Here's the video (3:20), care of the Sri Lanka TTA.

USATT Insider
Here's the most recent issue, which came out yesterday (Wednesday).

Vladimir Samsonov: The Evergreen Tree
Here's the highlights video (4:57).

Michael Maze vs Jon Persson (Champions League 2016/2017)
Here's the video (4:27). It turns out Maze only retired from international play, not from the Champions League. (Maze is the lefty.)

Ping Pong FM Turns Table Tennis Into a Jam Session
Here's the video (1:19) of this new game!

Pong Trick or Treat
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Rallying with Five Balls!
Here's the video (20 sec). And you struggle to keep a single ball in play???

***
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October 26, 2016

Larry's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Yesterday was a uniquely bad day. How bad was it? Let me count the ways.

  1. TableTennisCoaching.com went down. It was a server problem involving unneeded data being collected from the site that led to three gigabytes of data slewing up the system in some technical way. I spent all day just trying to get in touch with my server, Godaddy. Each time I'd call I'd be on hold for a time, then I'd get a message they were busy and if I'd leave a message with my phone number, they'd get back to me. This started around 8AM, and after three calls where I'd wait on hold and finally end up leaving a message, plus two emergency emails, they got back to me around 4PM, and the problem is fixed, at least for now.
  2. USATT League went down. I woke up also to emails that the league software wasn't working, and as the chair of the USATT League Committee I of course got much of the blame, despite not actually having anything to do with this aspect. I sent off emails to the software people to fix the problem(s). (More on the League Committee soon – my two-year term as chair ends on Dec. 31, and it's time for someone else to chair the committee.)
  3. The Washington Post stood us up. They came in to do interviews at MDTTC recently, and yesterday was to be their follow-up, where they'd do more interviews, take pictures, and create a video. It was all supposed to start at 5:30PM. I arranged for most of our top players and juniors to be there in their best table tennis outfits, had our top coaches working with them, and prepped some of the nervous kids on what to do. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. At 6PM I called, texted, and emailed to check on them. At 6:40PM I gave up on them and left. I felt and probably looked a bit silly arranging all of this and nobody showing up. At 7:17PM I received an apologetic text message from the Post reporter that they'd been called away at the last minute to cover some championships basketball game, and he'd forgotten to tell us. (He said they'd reschedule with us. Great . . . get to arrange all that all over again.)
  4. Exhaustion and Injury. On Saturday I spent 14 hours setting up, running, and doing the paperwork for the MDTTC October Open, roughly 8AM to 10PM. On Sunday I coached seven straight hours. On Monday I coached "only" 2.5 hours, but by the end I was so exhausted I could barely stand – and I began compensating in my strokes, leading to a sore shoulder. I finally had to cancel my one session scheduled on Tuesday. Am I getting older or something?
  5. Frankenstein Movie. Disgusted with the Washington Post non-appearance, I went off to see a movie. The local theater was doing a special showing of an apparent 2011 Frankenstein remake starring Benedict Cumberbatch at 7PM, so I decided to watch it. All I can say is, "What the heck was that?" It turns out the "movie" was actually a video of a live performance at the Royal National Theatre in London. It started with the Frankenstein monster staggering about the stage for ten minutes, and it continued like that – it was more a ballet than a movie, and sorry, I'm not into ballet. I'm a movie buff who sees way too many movies, but yesterday I did something I had never done before – I walked out of a movie. I just couldn't take any more of it, and left after 30 minutes. The "movie" actually has high ratings, but I think that's more a matter that it's really liked by those who see it, and those who see (other than me) it really like it. (Try parsing that circular reasoning.)

On the other hand, in my non-table tennis world, yesterday I finished my work on the science fiction novel I'm co-writing with two others!

MDTTC October Open Ratings
Timeliness!

  • On Saturday I ran the MDTTC Open. (Here are results.)
  • On Saturday night I sent in the results.
  • On Monday morning the rating results were processed! Congrats to Jon Taylor at USATT headquarters. 

Win a Free Book and DVD – Just Describe the Tactics
Here's the Facebook page for this contest. Wrote Samson Dubina of the video of his match with Yong Ren in the final of the Millcreek Open. Said Samson, "I will send a FREE book and FREE dvd to the person who can best describe for me what effective tactics that I used against this inverted penhold blocker."

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Serve Short
Here's the coaching article from Table Tennis University.

How to Improve Your Reaction Speed in Table Tennis
Here's the coaching article from Matt Hetherington. (Includes 32-sec video of Fan Zhendong training.)

Table Tennis Excuses, Rationalizations, & Explanations
Here's the article by Jon Gustavson.

Reverse Pendulum Serves
Here's the video (25 sec) as Matt Hetherington practices these serves.

Asia Beats Host Chinese Team for Gold at ITTF World Cadet Challenge
Here's the ITTF press release. Here's the ITTF home page for the event.

Despite Strong Efforts 4th Place for North America at World Cadets
Here's the article.

"I'd Work on Player's Potential Rather Than Weaknesses"
Here's the article from India featuring former USATT National Coach Massimo Costantini, who said, "India should become the epicentre of training for its players, who go abroad randomly. The game shouldn’t be seen merely as hand skills but as a very athletic sport that requires high fitness levels."

Xu Xin vs Chuang Chih-Yuan (China Super League 2016)
Here's the new video (6:23).

Historic 2016 ITTF World Cups
Here's the ITTF press release.

Focus on Youth, Singapore Not to Renew Contract of Feng Tianwei
Here's the ITTF press release.

The 13th South Shore Sports/Butterfly Open
Here are the main results of this 4-star tournament. Here are complete results from Omnipong.

2016 Alabama Middle/High School Table Tennis Club Team Championships
Here are results and pictures. Nine high schools and five middle schools took part.

Table Tennis Squash (1959)
Here's the video (1:59) as top players of the time – including two-time world men's singles champion Johnny Leach – rally on this "new" version of table tennis!

Scrabble Pong?
Here's the picture from Jon Gustavson. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

***
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October 25, 2016

UPDATE - the problem, for now, is fixed, and I should have a regular blog again on Wednesday morning.

I'm aware of the problems on this site - it keeps going haywire - which is a server problem involving an accumulation of useless but problem-making data. TableTennisCoaching.com will likely come and go temporarily as my server works to fix the problem. I'm typing this in a short interval while it's up.
-Larry Hodges

October 24, 2016

Tip of the Week
Winning Cheap Points.

Tournament and Coaching
On Saturday I ran the 2-star Butterfly MDTTC October Open. We had 68 players. Here are the results, care of Omnipong. Congrats to Champions Chen Bo Wen, Klaus Wood, Tiffany Ke, Sam Berry, Ryan Dabbs, Hanfei Hu, and Yunhua Gong! And to Finalists Yan Zhang, Tiffany Ke (yep, two finals), Jessica Lin, Ara Sahakian, Jackson Beaver, Jackson Beaver (yep, two finals), and Thomas Sampson!

We're running into problems with the scheduling as the number of players entering Under 15 and Under 1350 have dramatically increased, mostly due to recent huge increase in kids in the 7-11 age group. The U1350 coincides with the Open, so we ran into trouble finding tables for everyone. I finally had to seed the top three players in U1350 out of the preliminaries to save us one table, which also meant that all the groups were of four players, but two of those players weren't happy with that, wanting to play more. But the event still ran long, and then we had both Under 15 and Over 50 starting, with a lot of overlap with U1350. Anyway, we're going to rework the schedule for next year to fix this, and most likely go back to running two-day events – easier scheduling and more events.

On Sunday I coached almost non-stop from 1-8PM. With Sameer, the focus is on more forehand consistency in rallies and in ending points – he's missing too many – so we did a number of drills for that. Once interesting one is where I'd serve side-topspin serves to his backhand, he'd backhand flip to my backhand, and I'd do an aggressive backhand down the line to his forehand, and then we'd continue the rally.

With Todd, we spent a lot of time working on his backhand backswing, where he tends to flip his wrist back way too much, aiming his racket down and sideways, and making timing difficult. So to adjust for this, we spent ten minutes where he went the other extreme – we played backhand-to-backhand where he had to keep his racket aimed at me throughout the stroke. The result was a much better stroke, plus he hit 100 in a row for the first time. (Here are articles on Changing Bad Technique, where the key is exaggerating the proper technique, and on Saturation Training.)

I taught the beginning junior class from 4-5:30PM. We focused on three things: fast, deep serves; forehand smashing; and then playing up-down tables, 11-point games. Some of the younger kids had never actually played a game before, so this was their introduction. Two of them hated losing, but kept losing because they kept missing their serve, which led to a lot of tears. But now they realize the importance of serving.

We now have 18 kids in the MDTTC "Talent Program," which is invitation only. The program meets on Sundays from 5:30-7:00PM, but because of my own schedule, I'm only there from 5:40-6:20PM, where I mostly feed multiball. It's great to work with them as they are our most dedicated kids.

In the adult training class (6:30-8:00PM), we did the usual drills – two footwork drills, serve & attack, etc. But one unique drill I pulled out was having them each take a box of balls to their side of the table, and tossing each ball in the air so it was a little above table level, smashing or looping killing it. It's a great way to practice the technique and precision of the shot. Most had trouble at first, but they quickly adjusted.

And then, after doing table tennis almost non-stop for two days, I straggled home in time to watch The Walking Dead!

Tactics for Beating a One-Wing Attacker
Here's the article by Tom Lodziak.

Automatism and Servomechanisms: The Science of Training in Sports
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

What Makes a Top Table Tennis Player
Here's the article from Pong Universe.

Ryu Seung Min - The Best Footwork of All Time (Traditional Penhold King)
Here's the new video (6:32).

Jean-Michel Saive's Platform
Here's his platform, or at least an outline of it. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) He's running for ITTF President. "I want to make it clear that I am not running AGAINST anyone, I am running FOR table tennis and FOR the ITTF."

Lebesson Becomes First French European Champion Since 1976
Here's the ITTF press release. Here's the ITTF European Championships home page.

Samsonov Bows Out in 7 Set Stunner at Euro Champs 2016
Here's the video (10:18) as he loses to Robert Gardos.

Dyjas Thwarts Ovtcharovs Title Defense at Euro Champs 2016
Here's the video (7:47)

2016 World Cadet Challenge Commences Action in Shanghai
Here's the ITTF press release. Representing Team USA are Sharon Alguetti, Victor Liu, Crystal Wang, and Amy Wang.

Beetle Baily Makes Excuses
Here's the cartoon sent to me by Marv Anderson. It's dated 3-25, but I can't read the year. Here's my Sept. 28, 2016 blog where I link to all the Beetle Bailey table tennis cartoons I've found – 18 of them, including this one.

***
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October 21, 2016

Notes from Thailand by Richard McAfee
[Richard is a USATT National Coach and Hall of Famer, and an ITTF Coaching Course Conductor. Think of this as a "guest column." I was going to blog about "Some Funny Coaching Incidents," but decided to move that to the end of the blog and feature this instead.]

While recently in Thailand, I had the opportunity to run a training camp for the Thai National Junior/Cadet Teams and to also watch 3 days of the Asian Junior and Cadet Championships. As I knew many players and coaches, I was able to spend a lot of time in the training area. This was very interesting as this tournament highlights the best prospects from Asia and is also a look at how each country is preparing the next generation of players. I got the chance to talk to many of the coaches about how they are preparing their next generation of players and there are some definite trends

  • Emphasis is going to be on staying close to the table but with more power rather than time pressure (more balls played at the top of the bounce).
  • More physical training is being added during the year as a result of the demands of the new ball.
  • Against the opponent's first opening topspin, more blocking and less counter-topspin, the blocks tend to be either power blocks or off-speed. Counter-topspins are then played against the opponent's weaker second topspin. Not using counter-topspin as often against the first attack is a result of the unpredictability of the bounce of the new plastic balls. It is easier to block them.
  • The backhand banana flips are being played even more often and with even more speed.
  • Lots of strawberry backhand flips being played in the girl’s game but not in the boys.
  • The next generation of Japanese boys will have more power and stay closer to the table than the current national team.
  • The best Junior Male I saw was a left-handed Korean boy who had "Waldner" hands with Korean power. Korea defeated China in the Boys Team Final.

In comparing the skill set of the top Asian Players with what I saw at our July Super-Camp, the standout difference was in the serve and receive game. The top Asian Teams were much more advanced in both the quality of the serve and also the tactical use of their serves.

I thought that I would pass the above observations on to our group. I would also suggest that the main theme for the next Super-Camp be, "Serve and Serve Return."

One final observation regarding the Chinese Junior and Cadet Teams. It seems that while China sends a good competitive team to these events, they normally don't send their top athletes. Which leads to the question, "why do they attend"? While they hold-back their best players, they do send their top developmental and planning coaches who can be seen studying the top players from other countries. China is very interested in knowing what is coming up in the pipe-line for the other countries but doesn't want to let out to much information regarding their next generation.

The Importance of Match Practice in Table Tennis
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis University
You can still enroll for free!

USATT Tournament Website and Insider Feature
Here's the USATT news item, and a way to promote your tournaments. Speaking of which…

Butterfly MDTTC October Open
The MDTTC October Open is tomorrow (Saturday) at MDTTC in Gaithersburg, Maryland – don't miss it! I'm running it. Deadline to enter is 5PM today, though I'll likely take them until 7:30PM, when the MDTTC Friday night league starts. Events include Open, U2350, U2000, U1700, U1350, Over 50, and Under 15, with over $1300 in prize money.

2016 U.S. Open
Don't forget to enter!

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers – Still Selling Big!
Here's a screen image I took a couple days ago, where the paperback and kindle versions hold the #1 and #2 top-selling table tennis spots at Amazon, with Table Tennis Tips at #8. (I'm not sure why they separate the print and kindle versions, since either one is a sale of the same book.)

These rankings are volatile and often change quite a bit each day. For example, this morning Revelations of a Table Tennis Champion (by Dan Seemiller) sold two copies of the kindle version, and that was enough to temporarily move it into the #1 position – despite being out of the top ten as of yesterday! (How do I know it sold two copies this morning? I created the book for Dan at createspace.com, and it allows me to track sales for both print and kindle. It's possible there were other sales not yet reported.) So thanks a lot, Dan, for knocking my Tactics book down to #2 – but I'll be watching sales closely today! (Readers, just buy both, okay?)

Table Tennis Equipment for Sale . . . 1940s
Here's the price list from Table Tennis Inc. (Lou Pagliaro) – as noted by Barry Meisel Table Tennis, "bats complete with rubber from 90 cents, real celluloid balls 144 from $6.50 and tables from $33." (Here's the non-Facebook version.) I remember when I started out in 1976 we could still buy the best table tennis sponge – Sriver and Mark V – for $5. Now a sheet of the best sponge is about $75. And I still look at modern table tennis balls with amazement – how can they cost $3 each? That's more than the average tennis ball!

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

Creating Spooky Halloween Ghost Lights from Ping-Pong Balls
Here's the video (43 sec).

Table Table Tennis?
Here's the video (42 sec) of a child playing table tennis while kneeling on the table – and he's pretty good!

Some Funny Coaching Incidents

  • I was recently coaching on the table adjacent to our table tennis robot. An elderly player was using the robot. It ran out of balls, so he began picking up balls using one of our Butterfly Ball Amigo Nets. However, he forgot to turn off the robot feed. As I watched, he put a netful of balls into the robot's ball catching net, then went to pick up more – but he didn't notice it shooting them out. So by the time he returned with more balls, all the balls he'd put in were gone, but again he didn't notice as he poured more balls into the net, and went back to picking them up as balls continued to shoot out. I finally walked over and pointed out the problem.
  • I wonder if I'm the only coach to get into a spirited debate (mostly while picking up balls) with a student who insisted peanut butter was the worst thing ever invented? The kid hated peanut butter, and almost went poetic as he listed the evils of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, both of which I absolutely love.
  • This is a little further back, but I don't think I've ever blogged about this one. Way back in the early 1980s I was the University of Maryland Intramural Singles and Doubles Champion for four years in a row. After winning the doubles three years in a row, I tried something interesting – I paired up with the worst player in my dormitory, a player who could barely keep the ball on the table. (For perspective, he's the guy I once beat with an ice cube as a racket, and also with my driver's license.) I forget his name, but he had an incredible resemblance to William Shatner (i.e. Captain Kirk). We managed to eke out the title, beating a pair of 1500 players in the final. Afterwards, he wore his Intramural medal and t-shirt everywhere – and constantly told people he'd won it for wrestling! We had some heated discussions about this.

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Capclave Book Signing Picture
Here's a picture of me getting set for book signing at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention on Saturday, Oct. 7. See the nice banner on the right about my novel Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions! Also included on the table are my other four science fiction/fantasy books: Pings and Pongs (short story collection), More Pings and Pongs (another short story collection), The Spirit of Pong (fantasy table tennis novel!), Sorcerers in Space (humorous fantasy novel), and of course Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, the main one I'm promoting. As noted in previous blogs, Campaign 2100 has a number of table tennis scenes as one of the main characters is a professional table tennis player who ends up running a worldwide campaign for president.

***
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