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!

January 27, 2017

Schools are closed today (Professional Day), and as usual, when the schools are off, so am I! We're having a one-day camp at MDTTC. We have so many full-time coaches that I'm not really needed, but I might go over anyway. Or I'll work on some USATT or writing projects. Meanwhile, this might be a good time for you to rewatch the old Matrix Ping-Pong video - probably the most hilarious table tennis video ever made! And then you can watch some of the amateur parodies, of which I've included four.

January 26, 2017

USATT Teleconference
The USATT Board had a teleconference last night. It was schedule for 7:00-8:20PM, but I think went on until after 9:45PM. There were three main items on the agenda, which I list as separate items, designated with a "=>". There was also a fourth, sort of, "New Business."

=>SafeSport Policy
Here's the USATT page on this which actually went up a few years ago. (Click on the three "Attachments" at the bottom for more info.) Basically, it means that a huge number of people are going to have to get background checks, and do so every two years. These include (and I'm copying this from the USATT page):

  • USATT Certified Coaches
  • USATT Board Members
  • USATT Staff
  • USATT Committee Chairs and Committee members
  • Affiliated Club Owners and Operators
  • Referees and Umpires
  • Tournament Directors and Organizers
  • Anyone else who has access to minors within USATT sanctioned competition or club activity.

SafeSport is supposed to safeguard us from the following, which I'm copying directly from the "USA Table Tennis SafeSport Policies and Procedures" document that's linked from the above.

  • Bullying
  • Harassment
  • Hazing
  • Emotional Misconduct
  • Physical Misconduct
  • Sexual Misconduct, including Child Sexual Abuse

I am not happy about all this bureaucracy. Every one of these background checks (which you have to do yourself, online) is a hassle and costs $16.75. (At the moment, you pay for this, and when I went through it - yes, I passed! - I paid the $16.75. I'm told that USATT is going to change this policy for USATT members who are required to have these background checks, and take the $16.75 out of their membership fee - but for now, the online listing says you pay.) I did a quick count and was amazed at the surprisingly large number of people just from my own club that would need these background checks, with just over half of them not normally having direct access to players - but I'm not going to single my club out and list them. Let's just say that some clubs will have over 20 people in the above categories - and that's not including the final item in the listing above, "Anyone else who has access to minors…" - more on that below.

I'm quite aware of the legal reasons for doing this, and we really have no choice - it's a USOC mandate. However, I refused to vote for it at this time until the USOC explains to us why they require people who normally do not interact with players (and in particular minors) to get background checks. The example I used was simple: Why are they requiring members of, for example, the USATT Audit Committee to have background checks? Are we afraid the number 7 will sue us? (Please click on the link or ten minutes of my life will have been wasted!)

I strongly believe only those who normally have direct access to players (in particular, coaches) should have to undergo these background checks - the rest is pointless bureaucracy gone amok. The USOC took the easy way out here, with blanket requirements for just about everyone.

I don't see the reason why, for example, every umpire who shows up at tournaments and publicly umpires matches needed background checks. If we're worried we might have a crazed umpire who would attack someone at a tournament (perhaps in the restroom?), what about the far larger number of players and spectators? Don't they need to be background checked as well? (No, I'm not for that, I'm just making a point.) Sure we could get sued if an umpire attacks someone at a tournament, but the same thing would happen if a player or spectator did so. The same argument goes for many club officers. Does the club treasurer really need to be background checked? (See cartoon linked above!)

Do we really need to do background checks on the owners, presidents, operators, etc., of every USATT affiliated club? That's what the new rules say. My guess is we'll just lose a lot of affiliated clubs. Unless they need insurance through USATT - some do, I don't think most need it - this, and the $75 annual affiliation fee is enough to lose us a bunch of them. (It's already cost us a bunch - since raising the affiliation fee from $15 to $75 in a few years, we've gone from about 350 to 200 affiliated clubs. This is a separate issue I'll raise later.)

Note the wording of the final item of those who need to be background checked: "Anyone else who has access to minors within USATT sanctioned competition or club activity." Well, that means anyone at the tournament or club, doesn't it? Can't anyone at a tournament or club walk up to a junior player and say "Hi!" (or worse)? That means they have access to these minors. Oh no! So does everyone at a tournament or club need to get background checked? (Presumably before they can even enter the playing site or club, if there are kids present?) This is getting silly. I'm sure I'll be told that's not what it means, but words are scary things - they have meanings, and anyone who doesn't think this can be interpreted as everyone in the club or tournament needs to have a background check is kidding themselves. Will USATT actually enforce this part, or will they change the wording? (I'm guessing the latter. Hopefully. When they do, I'll blog about it.)  

Others did not agree with my objections to this new rule, or my request that, before we vote, we ask the USOC why they require background checks for those without direct access to players. Most believed we simply had to comply with the USOC, and to do so immediately. And so it passed 6-0-1, with me the abstention.

=>NewCo Licensing
This is the new deal we have where "Table Tennis USA" takes over commercial rights for the U.S. Open, Nationals, and possibly other tournaments. There's be more on this later on, but it seems a good deal for us. They will be taking all the risk, while paying us for the rights. We'll still be running the events, presumably through North American Table Tennis. More on this later - USATT will likely have a news item when all is finalized.

We went over the 2017 budget in detail, with USATT CEO Gordon Kaye going over it almost line by line. There were major cuts in some areas I wasn't happy about, but unfortunately there was a budget crunch, with cuts in a number of revenue areas (such as an expected $75,000 decline in the USOC Digital Media Agreement, after a big jump last year, partly because it was an Olympic year) and unexpected expenses (such as $14,000 in legal fees on one disciplinary case, and I think a similar amount in another, though I don't have specifics on the latter). I think the budget goes public later on, so I'll hold back on more comments until then. When we got to the part in the budget with cuts to athlete spending, I was hoping to discuss this with the High Performance Committee Chair, Carl Danner, who had been on the call, but he had to leave, and so we didn't get his input on this. We then voted to approve the budget, which passed, 7-0. I grudgingly voted for it, despite my misgivings about certain cuts.

=>New Business
I was waiting for this so I could raise a new issue. In 2015 (and in a number of past years, though not all), the rule had been that the U.S. Men's and Women's Singles Champions automatically made the USA National Team to the Worlds. For some reason, they changed this for 2016 - but few knew about this until the 2017 National Team Trials Information came out on Tuesday. And so Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang, the two winners, are now both required to try out for the team - and we're in danger of not having our National Champion on the team.

This was especially a hardship for 16-year-old Kanak, who is training and playing in leagues full-time in Sweden, and will have to miss certain league commitments to fly back to the U.S. for this. Kanak's father sent an email to me and others just before the teleconference.

However, when I brought up the issue at the end as "New Business" (which was on the agenda), I was told that I was "out of order," that since the teleconference was a "Special Meeting" called to discuss three issues, no other issues could be raised, and that the "New Business" item on the agenda was a mistake. And so no discussion of this took place, and the meeting ended. I did get some info on this in a phone call afterwards, but can't discuss that here. Perhaps this will be discussed at a later time.

Team and Singles Leagues and the USATT League Committee
Here's the USATT News Item I wrote - the title is mostly self-explanatory. If not for the Teleconference info above, I'd be blogging about this. I'll probably do so next week. 

New Podcasts from Expert Table Tennis by Matthew Pearson

Rules Updates and Guidance
Here's the USATT news item on this, with links to three items.

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

Ex-Terp Han Xiao to Chair USOC Athletes' Advisory Council
Here's the article in the Baltimore Sun. Here's the USOC article I linked to yesterday.

Butterfly North American Tour
Here it is - are you ready to join the Tour! Ten tournaments!

Ma Long Multiball Training
Here's the video (64 sec) as he does a 2-shot multiball drill: A random backspin, then a random topspin.

NYCTTA Table Tennis Exhibition Friendly Match
Here's the video (10:34).

Fun Fitness
Here's the video (2:04) of Samson Dubina and three players doing ladder physical training.

Weird Table Tennis
Here's the video (30 sec) of the weirdest table tennis you'll ever see!!!

Send us your own coaching news!

January 25, 2017

Alex's Blocking
Between coaching sessions at the club I was watching Alex Ruichao Chen, one of our top player/coaches (rated 2713) working with one of our top junior players. Alex is a lefty, and was blocking backhands while the player forehand looped crosscourt. The part that was interesting was not his blocking, but what he did between the blocks. Most players in a drill, and especially coaches who do this hour after hour just keep their racket out there in backhand or forehand block position. (I plead guilty.) But not Alex! Between each block he'd not only return to a ready position, but he almost went into a forehand ready position. (He's a very forehand-oriented player, with perhaps the strongest pure third-ball attack in the country - serve and forehand rip - though he's worked hard the past year or so on his backhand.)

I looked around and watched the other coaches, and verified that they also mostly kept their rackets in blocking position when blocking for students. Alex himself would sometimes do this, so perhaps he is in the transition from hard-working player to one of us lazy coaches?

This is key for all players. When you drill, why would you keep your racket out there for the next shot? You'd be practicing something you never do in a match. Instead, go to ready position after each shot. Not only will you develop good habits, but you'll be ready for mishits, as well as become better at the transition from ready position to the shot you are practicing. When you are ready to become a coach . . . then you can get lazy.

Han Xiao Elected Chair of U.S. Olympic Committee Athletes Advisory Council
Here's the USOC article. He's come a long way from that 7-year-old who showed up at MDTTC circa 1994! Let's see, he won every age group (often two or three at a time) on his way up, was on the National Team many years (representing USA in four Worlds), won three Men's Doubles titles, made the finals of Men's Singles, made the 2007 Pan Am Team (bronze in Men's Teams), and spent many years as Athlete Rep on the USATT Board of Directors and co-chair of the USATT Athlete's Advisory Committee.

From Flat Hit to Topspin
Here's the new coaching video (2:22) from PingSkills. I also started out as a hitter my first few years (reached 1900 level) and had to transition to looping.

Ma Long Training Backhand to Backhand Technique Slow Motion 2017
Here's the video (4:21).

2017 USA National Team Trials Information
Here's the USATT info page.

Japan Announces World Championships Line-up
Here's the ITTF article. The big surprise - 13-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto, already World Junior Champion (that's for under 18) and world #64 - I'm certain the youngest ever to reach that ranking - is on the five-player squad, though he's only #9 among Japanese players in the world rankings.

Zhang Jike Set to Return, Bound for Doha
Here's the ITTF article.

Prep Table Tennis Popularity on the Rise in Metro Area
Here's the article on Minnesota TT.

"I was amazed," Remembering a Maine Table Tennis Champion
Here's the USATT article and video (2:43) on the tragic loss of Fouad Abdullah.

Another Beetle Bailey TT Cartoon
Here it is, found by Marv Anderson. It's dated 6-16, but I don't know the year. I've added it to the listing I put up in my Sept. 28, 2016 blog.

Send us your own coaching news!

January 24, 2017

How I Beat Boris Becker, by Andre Agassi
Here's the video (2:40). His secret? He could tell where Boris was serving by how his tongue stuck out of his mouth!

I had a similar coaching experience for many years. A member of the U.S. National Team for many years telegraphed when he was serving long by sticking his tongue out as he was serving! I coached against him many times, and my players did very well against him because of this. The player liked to serve long, and never figured out why some opponents always seemed ready for it.

In table tennis there are similar things you can pick up on, often subtle, if you watch for them. I would estimate that over half of players (including top players) telegraph their long serves by changing their backswing. That's a no-no - you need to use the same backswing for short or long serves. Even if opponents don't consciously pick up on it, they often do so subconsciously, and can tell when you are serving long without being sure how they know. This happens to me all the time - I can tell if someone's serving long but have to think about it to figure out what specifically gives it away.

As a test of how players react to a player's swing before contact, I once experimented on using a reverse pendulum serve motion until after I started the forward swing on the serve, and then switching to my favored pendulum serve motion. The result was astounding - people misread it over and over, and it became one of my serving mainstays.

Podcasts from Expert Table Tennis
Here are two new podcasts by Matthew Pearson

USATT is Seeking Qualified Candidates for an Independent Director Position
Here's the USATT article. Do you have the right stuff?

Mizutani Wins His Ninth All Japan Championship Title
Here's the article.

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, a Special Memory
Here's the ITTF article featuring umpire Mike Meier.

29 Seconds of Multiball to Wake You Up
Here's the video.

Xu Xin When He Was 16 Years Old
Here's the video (17:50) - he's playing 3-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin!

Table Tennis Superstar Michael Maze & Wally Green 2017
Here's the video (6:59) - when it first comes on, the play seems to be off to the right, but if you put the curser on the video itself, you can drag the image about a full 360 degrees about! When I first saw it, I thought the camera person had simply put the camera off to the side accidentally, and I didn't realize you could actually move the video about with the curser. You can also use the W, A, S, and D keys on the keyboard to rotate these videos.

Andrew Rushton 2017 Ping Pong
Here's the video (70 sec) as he trains for the World Ping-Pong Championships - yes, that's with sandpaper.

Falcons' Ping Pong Battles Are More Important Than You May Think
Here's the article.

Ping-Pong Ball Juggling Robot
Here's the article with links to video and lots of pictures. Here's a less technical article on it, with a link to another video (5:09).

Chinese Man Finishes Voyage in Paper Boat Using His Ping-Pong Paddles
Here's the article and picture from 2008.

Ping-Pong Masters: Now I've Seen Everything!
Here's the video (78 sec). It starts with shovel pong, and goes on from there!

Send us your own coaching news!

January 23, 2017

Tip of the Week
What Are Your Main Weapons? (As explained in my Dec. 28 blog in the Tip of the Week, I'm putting up extra Tips of the Week and post-dating them for earlier in December so I'll end up with 150 Tips for the period 2014-2016. So today's Tip of the Week is dated Dec. 29. There are two more to go, and then we can finally celebrate the New Year!)

Non-Technique Problems with Juniors and Adults
Yesterday I coached in three different 90-minute group sessions - one for beginning juniors, one for advanced juniors (mostly ages 8-10), and one for adults. In the latter two I noticed some interesting parallels. Usually junior and adult players have different problems. Most well-trained juniors have pretty good technique, but don't have the hand-eye coordination or control yet to be consistent. Most adults, unless they started as well-trained juniors, have technical issues, but better hand-eye coordination and control. But sometimes the problems are the same. Here are two examples, both involving forehand looping.

In the advanced junior session, there was a player who had good forehand loop. However, while sometimes he'd let it go and it would be pretty nice, often you could see him holding back, trying to just guide the ball onto the table, with his racket slowing down at contact instead of accelerating. At the adult session that night, there was a player who had the exact same problem. In both cases, the problem is more mental than technical. You have to just let the shot go and accelerate into the shot. It doesn't mean you rip the ball, but if you try to guide the shot, you lose speed and spin, and end up with a weak shot.

In the advanced junior session, there was another player who also had a good forehand loop. The problem was that the player was way ahead of the ball, and so at the point where contact should be made, the ball was still out in front, over the table. So the player often hit the ball toward the end of the swing, as the racket decelerated out in front, in an off-balance, awkward shot. In the adult session, there was a player with the exact same problem. In both cases, the technique was good, but the timing was off.

In all four cases above, the players had good technique, and often had very nice loops - but often their technique was hindered by these other issues. All four are now (hopefully!) working on these problems, which, with some serious practice, should be relatively easy fixes.

Five Consecutive Lob Edges!
It really happened - not by me, but against me by 15-year-old Matt Stepanov during a coaching session I had with him last week. He wanted to lob some, and he won five straight points lobbing on the edge!!! We were laughing hysterically after the first three, so you can imagine our reactions when he got the fourth and fifth!

ITTF Presidential Election
It's a three-way battle between incumbent Thomas Weikert of Germany, ITTF Deputy President Khalil Al-Mohannadi of Qatar, and superstar player Jean-Michel Saive (former #1 in the world and Men's Singles Finalist in 1993). "The elections will be held on Wednesday 31st May at the Annual General Meeting in Düsseldorf, Germany, to be held on the occasion of the Liebherr 2017 World Championships."

Since I blogged last week USATT has put up over 20 news items. Some are duplicates of ones I've had, others are new, but rather than my linking to them one by one, why not browse over them?

Waldner Receives Award for Lifetime Achievement
Here's the ITTF article.

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

Podcasts from Expert Table Tennis
Here are three new podcasts by Matthew Pearson

Lessons on Deliberate Practice from Jerry Rice
Here's the article - this applies to all sports.

Three-Point Multiball Training
Here's the video (33 sec).

Table Tennis Tutorial: Most Important Tips (part 3)
Here's the video (14:49). This is all about the grip. Links to parts 1 and 2 are below it.

Zhang Jike Working with Three Coaches?
Here's the video (11:39). They are speaking in Chinese, so I'm not sure what's going on, but it's interesting to watch a Zhang Jike training session.

Table Tennis on Fire
Here's the picture of Kim Gilbert! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) It's got fireballs, explosions, lightning, and a Kim in a hot rod!

Snowman Pong?
Here's the video (9 sec)!

Hale and Pace Table Tennis
Here's the video (73 sec) - it's from 2012, but I'd never seen it, and it's hilarious! I wonder if the famous Shaun the Sheep Table Tennis video (68 sec) was inspired by this.

Send us your own coaching news!

January 19, 2017

Tim's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 19
It's finally happened - after working nine straight 18-hour days, we're almost done - but to get the thing finished today (Thursday), I was up past 1:30AM, and was up again at 6AM working on the pages. If all goes well, we'll finish today, and then Tim can go home early Friday morning. (We do about 12 hours per day on the book - just reading that makes me tired. The rest is my own coaching and other work.) I plan to sleep 12 hours straight when this thing is done.

But the bad news - no blog today or tomorrow. (Tomorrow's a "holiday," and I'll be recovering from all this.) So see you on Monday! Meanwhile, here's a repeating image of a cat bouncing a ball up and down on a paddle. Let me know on Monday how many times he bounces it. 

January 18, 2017

USA Citizens Rankings
They went up recently in the USATT ratings database. Go to the pre-set lists on the left, and click "US Citizens Only" at the top. And Behold! This is one of the things I promised to get done when I ran for the USATT Board. While I didn't do anything directly on this, I've been sending out periodic emails on this, asking them to get this done . . . and finally, it's done! (If you have any questions on this, or see any problems, contact the USATT Ratings Coordinator.)

For several years circa late 1980s/early 1990s I was in charge of creating and maintaining the citizenship list for USATT. We had no such list at the start, so I was asked to create one. So I sent out a mass postal mailing to the top 100 men and women in the country (this was before email was widespread), and had them contact me if they were USA citizens, including one-time proof (birth or naturalization certificate). For many of the "obvious" ones, I pro-actively contacted them, hounding them until I got the needed info. Once on the list, you stayed there forever. We regularly published the list of top men and women citizens in the print magazine.

Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions – “What Have We Done?” Inauguration Day Sale
My SF novel is on sale! (With a number of table tennis scenes - more on this below.) But only for a few days. From my publisher (World Weaver Press), "From January 17 to January 24, 2017, we're running a Kindle Countdown deal for the ebook version of CAMPAIGN 2100: GAME OF SCORPIONS: get it for 99¢ until January 20th, or $2.99 until January 24th." You can buy it directly from the publisher or from Amazon (same price).

They're calling it the "What Have We Done?" Inauguration Day Sale. What's the connection? The opening line to the novel is, "What have I done?", the thoughts of regretful campaign director Toby as the guy he put into office is sworn into office as president of Earth (in the year 2100). Five years later he'll be running for president against the guy he put in office, with an "impossible" third-party moderate challenge! (Did I mention that the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system? And that his daughter is running the president's re-election campaign? That there's an alien ambassador, an assassin, war, pirates, and a mysterious teenage girl from Antarctica?)

But more importantly, what's the connection between this novel and table tennis, since this is a ping-pong blog? As noted in the past (and especially in my March 8, 2016 blog, where I wrote about table tennis in the novel), one of the four main characters in the novel is Bruce Sims, a professional table tennis player who quits the pro circuit to run Toby's campaign. There are several table tennis scenes, including Bruce playing in the national college championships while having a war of words with his opponent, the umpire, the crowd, while trying to follow the breaking news of first contact; his teaching an alien ambassador to play table tennis; a search for a ping-pong paddle at the Great Mall of China; and an exhibition between him and the alien in front of the Chinese leadership that ends in disaster. One ironic item from the novel - when I needed to come up with a sponsor for Bruce, I decided it would be - and I kid you not! - Trump Sports! This was at least two years before Trump decided to run for president, which happened after the novel was already accepted for publication.

Not sure yet? Read over the 11 Amazon customer reviews! Or just buy a copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - here are the 57 Amazon customer reviews!

Crystal Wang and Jason Zhang Take Butterfly Canada Cup #1
Here's the article and results. "In the Women’s Singles Crystal Wang (USA) cruised through the Canada Cup draw dropping only two games." Crystal developed at my club (MDTTC), and I've practiced with her many hundreds of hours. Alas, their family moved to Seattle for non-table tennis reasons.

How to Stay Low During Rallies
Here's the article, which is linked to a podcast (3:43), from Expert Table Tennis.

Adam Bobrow in Taiwan
Here's his Facebook account of finding four clubs in walking distance, and visiting one.

Ma Long When He Was 14 Years Old
Here's the video (4:08) of the current World Champion and #1 ranked player.

The $1Million Table Tennis Player
Here's the video (49 sec) on Club Wuhan in China paying that transfer fee for the services of Liu Shiwen, world #2 woman (but #1 much of 2014-2016, and runner-up in Women's Singles at the last two Worlds).

Can Ping Pong Make You Smarter, Happier and Relieve Your Stress?
Here's the video (8:01).

All Japan Championships Underway
Here's the article, with a link to live streaming.

Every Table is a Ping-Pong Table!
Here is the Facebook gallery - click on them to see all six.

Bird Playing Tetherball Pong
Here's the repeating gif image!

Send us your own coaching news!

January 17, 2017

Tip of the Week
Coaching and Playing Under the New ITTF Coaching Rule. (As explained in my Dec. 28 blog in the Tip of the Week, I'm putting up extra Tips of the Week and post-dating them for earlier in December so I'll end up with 150 Tips for the period 2014-2016. So today's Tip of the Week is dated Dec. 28.)

Cleaning the Newgy Robot
Last night I spent nearly two hours testing and cleaning our two Newgy robots. We usually have one, and one as a backup. The one we were using had recently started to jam regularly. It was reaching the point where it would do so every minute or so, and then we'd have to turn the robot off, and push the balls up through the feeder tube to unjam the balls. But that wasn't even the worst of the problems - the oscillator broke a couple months ago, so you could only aim it in one direction. Still worse, the shooting head had become loose, and so no matter where you aimed it, within seconds it would drift toward the wide forehand side. (To fix this, I began taping it in different positions with duct tape. Yes, you can fix anything with duct tape.)

As if that weren't enough, someone this past week managed to break the clamp that holds the controller to the side of the table. I'd improvised, balancing it against the net so it was workable.

Of course, we had that backup robot - except it had gone into storage because it was jamming every shot, and so was unusable. So . . . what to do?

I opened up both robots, as I'd done before, and tried cleaning the insides. But when I put them back together again, they still jammed. I also tried cleaning the area inside the hole the balls shoot out of (the head), but there are a bunch of parts in there, and even with a toothbrush I couldn't get at much of it.

Then I had a brainstorm. I got a paper clip from the office, and with that, was able to reach in and pull out clumps of dust, dirt, and grime. From years of use it was compacted under a part at the bottom of the head. Compacted, it didn't take up much room, but once pulled out it was like a huge handful of gunk! (Yes, you can fix anything with a paper clip.)

Then I put the robots back together, and both worked perfectly! Well, except for the one with the broken oscillator and clamp. I packaged that one up and will be sending it to Newgy for repairs tomorrow. So ended a day that involved about ten hours with Tim on his History of U.S. Table Tennis volume, 2.5 hours of coaching, and 1.75 hours of robot repair. And then I came home and wrote this blog late at night.

However, our many robot users (both individually and in our group sessions) will be very happy to find that the oscillator is working again, the robot isn't jamming, and the controller is once again clamped to the side of the table as it should be!

Tomahawk Serve!
Recently it seems everyone I coach wants to develop their tomahawk serve. (Here's a short video from Samson Dubina on this. Samson's in my blog a lot - see more below!) In my adult training class, one student said several players used it against him effectively in a tournament, so he wanted to learn it - and a week later said it was already working. Two others are focusing on the serve right now, to go along with their forehand pendulum serves. Last night I coached a 12-year-old (about 1700), and we were working his forehand reverse pendulum serve when he asked if he could instead develop a tomahawk serve - and so that's what he did. (He's learning a different variation, where you set up as if you are doing a regular pendulum serve, then squat down a little bit as the ball is coming down, raise the racket tip, and do the tomahawk serve.)

The tomahawk serve used to be my #2 serve as well. Here's my March 3, 2016 blog on "Winning with the Tomahawk Serve," where I go over my adventures with the serve (including how it allowed me to pulled off the second 2000+ tournament win of my career, way back in 1979, from down 15-20 match point!), and the advantages and disadvantages of the serve. (The blog also links to the Samson video above.)

Daily Update: Volume 19 of History of U.S. Table Tennis
Book is projected to be 25 chapters, 500 pages, 1700 graphics. Current status, through Monday night, Jan. 16:

  • 347 pages (front and back covers, 4 front pages, 18 chapters)
  • 1359 graphics

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 17! Or order your own print copies at

Revelations of a Ping-Pong Champion
Five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller recently renamed his autobiography, "Revelations of a Ping-Pong Champion," so that it says "Ping-Pong instead of "Table Tennis," thinking it might connect better with the masses. If you haven't bought your copy yet, what are you waiting for?

Free Open House in Akron, OH
If you are in driving distance of Akron, why not join them in their Open House Thursday night, 6-8:30PM? "We are doing our best to grow table tennis here in Ohio, now we need your help to continue the momentum.  Please invite your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to our FREE OPEN HOUSE event at the Shaw JCC on Thursday, January 19th from 6pm-8:30pm.  From 6-7:30pm there will be open club play.  At 7:30pm there will be optional competitions including a $100 smashing competition, serving competition, and 1-point tournament.  With free food, free shirts (limited sizes), and free prizes throughout the evening, there will be $1000 in free giveaways.  Come join the action and grow the sport!"

The Mental Timeout
Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Podcasts from Expert Table Tennis
Here are two new ones.

Vladimir Samsonov, World Class, the Facts Speak for Themselves
Here's the ITTF article.

China Prepares; a Challenge Awaits for Ma Long and Zhang Jike
Here's the ITTF article.

Clear Message: Prove Yourself
Here's the ITTF article. "Prove yourself; is that not the message being given to the players representing China at the forthcoming Seamaster 2017 ITTF World Hungarian Open?"

Happy New Year--Sign Up for NCTTA!
Here's the USATT article on the National Collegiate TTA.

Brown University Sweeps Lower New England Division
Here's the article.

Ping Pong Club Rounds Out Leasing at Philadelphia Center
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Wars: How William and Alex Nylander Helped Push Each Other Up the Hockey Ladder
Here's the article.

The Calling
Here's the video (4:24), a preview of the 2017 Worlds.

Jan-Ove Waldner Best Points of His Career of Table Tennis
Here's the recent video (16:09).

Lobbing Comeback Serves
Here's the video (32 sec) - how many can you do?

Ten-Cup Bowling Pong
Here's the video (45 sec)!

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January 16, 2017

It's MLK Day, so I'm off! (Well, sort of . . . I'll be at my desk working with Tim Boggan for a gazillion hours today, then coaching tonight.) And here's the Tip of the Week (which I'll also link to tomorrow): Coaching and Playing Under the New ITTF Coaching Rule. See you tomorrow. (As explained in my Dec. 28 blog in the Tip of the Week, I'm putting up extra Tips of the Week and post-dating them for earlier in December so I'll end up with 150 Tips for the period 2014-2016. So today's Tip of the Week is dated Dec. 28.)

January 13, 2017

The 800-Pound Gorilla in the Ping-Pong Hall: Muscle Memory
Think about it: everything you do when you play table tennis beyond the beginning level involves muscle memory. Muscle memory controls your strokes and serves, your reactions to the opponents' shot, even most of your tactics.

I'm sure there are many advanced studies on this, but what's important here is the practical aspect. And for that, I would say there are two types of muscle memory in table tennis: what I will call "rote muscle memory" and "reactive muscle memory." (I'm sure there are actual technical terms for this, but I'm not going for the technical side here.)

Rote muscle memory is what you use when you tie your shoelaces, play a song you know well on an instrument, do table tennis serves, or hit forehand to forehand with someone who keeps the ball in the same place. It's the first thing beginners learn as they develop into intermediate players. Without this, you simply wouldn't be able to make high-level shots with any consistency. An example of this is a demo I regularly give in my classes, where I put a water bottle on the far side of the table, and then rapid-fire smack it over and over with my forehand, all the while carrying on a conversation with the players. The shot is so ingrained into my rote muscle memory that I can hit it ten times in a row pretty regularly from about eight feet away. (I have a box of balls on my side so I can rapid-fire grab them to hit.)

Reactive muscle memory is what you use when you field a baseball, play "Simon Says," or rally in table tennis. It's the next step beyond rote muscle memory in that you not only have to have the muscle memory for a specific set of movements, but have to adapt them almost instantly to the situation. When an opponent puts heavy spin on the ball or hits it very hard away from you, you use reactive muscle memory to adapt to the shot with the correct muscle memory. This takes longer to learn than simple rote muscle memory. The primary difference between a top player and a non-top player is how advanced their reactive muscle memory is. It involves reacting properly to shots, i.e. reacting quickly, moving to the ball, choosing the right shot and placement, using proper technique, the right contact, racket angle, etc.

You use this type of muscle memory more than you'd think - even for tactics. As I wrote about in my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, most tactics are subconscious. You don't stop in the middle of a rally and say to yourself, "Hey, my opponent is a little out of position, and so if I go quick to his forehand I will score the point." Instead, your subconscious, through years of reactive muscle memory training (i.e. playing table tennis games and certain types of drills), reflexively sees the opening and you go there (and doubtless take credit for it), just as you'd reflexively close your racket against an incoming heavy topspin or reflexively loop a deep ball while not doing so against a short ball. In fact, the only tactics that aren't primarily subconscious (i.e. reactive muscle memory) are serving tactics, where you get to consciously choose your serve - though you'd be surprised at how much your subconscious is involved in that selection as well. Tactics in a rally have to be reactive, so while you may consciously tell yourself to push aggressively against a short backspin serve, you still have to react to it subconsciously when it happens - yes, reactive rote memory. (But telling yourself to do something in a given situation is how you communicate with your subconscious so that it learns what to do.)

How did this topic come up? Last night I was coaching a 7-year-old, and she popped the ball up. I smashed it, and she said she was afraid I'd hit her. So I put out the water bottle and demoed that the ball will go where I want it to go, that I wasn't going to hit her unless I wanted to hit her, and that the more she practiced, the better she would be at it as well. Next thing you know, I was in a philosophical discussion with a 7-year-old on the various types of muscle memory! She was proud of how fast she could tie her shoelaces, and so I used that as an example of rote muscle memory. She was pretty good at spinning the ball in the "spin and catch" exercise I use to teach beginners to spin the ball (see #6 in this blog), which is the "rote" part, but had trouble catching the ball since she couldn't always control where it went, i.e. the "reactive" part.

Friday the 13th
Yes, it's the day all Friggatriskaidekaphobias fear most. Here's Jason Vorhees wishing you a Very Happy Friday the 13th. ("I Jason. I no Loop. I smash. I Kill.") While we're at it, here's an extremely acrobatic black cat at the net (2:01). It's hilarious, and set to music. And here are two ghosts playing table tennis. And heck, here's a picture of Tim "Hulk" Boggan! (Hulk scary!)

Daily Update: Volume 19 of History of U.S. Table Tennis
Tim Boggan and I started work at 3PM on Tuesday, Jan. 10. I'm doing the page layouts and photo work. Most of the layouts were actually done in advance by Tim, who literally cut & pasted them from old magazines! He then sent them to Mal Anderson, who scanned all the pages. (Something like half the photos used are Mal Anderson photos. I've typed "Photo by Mal Anderson" more times than I've breathed in my life.) Tim used to type of the text, but this saves time - which is why the volumes are coming out every six months now instead of annually.

You'd think this would make my job easier - but it doesn't. I'm spending hours on page after page, fixing them up from paper cuts and other stuff that shows up in the scans, plus cleaning up each photo, and adding captions to each (which weren't in the scans).

Just for the record, all three of us (Tim, Mal, and I) are USATT Hall of Famers!

Book is projected to be 25 chapters, 500 pages, 1700 graphics. Current status, through Thursday night, Jan. 12:

  • 134 pages (front and back covers, 4 front pages, 7 chapters)
  • 524 graphics

Brief Analysis of the Application of Sun Tzu’s Art of War on Table Tennis
Here's the article.

Ask a Table Tennis Coach
There are two more segments at Expert Table Tennis.

  • #8: How to Add Wrist to Your Forehand Loop
  • #9: Ask a Table Tennis Coach - 009: How to Become a Professional Table Tennis Player

Ding Ning Tomahawk Serve Technique Slowmotion 2017
Here's the video (4:14).

Table Tennis Training with Jan-Ove Waldner?
Here's info - apparently it's Fridays 6-10PM in Ottawa, Canada - and it started in November and continues until June 2, 2017. I'm confused - is Waldner (of Sweden) in Canada on Friday nights? If this is verified, I might find an excuse to go up there one Friday.

5 Physical Activities to Try as You Get Older
Here's the article from NetDoctor - see #2. Here's USATT's link to the article - see the picture above, of me? Is that a hint?!!! (I'm "only" 56! But 57 in February.)

Destinations of the World Tour
Here's the ITTF article.

Turning Tables
Here's the article where Irish Paralympian Eimear Breathnach tells how love of sport helped her cope with horrific accident that left her wheelchair bound.

Newlywed Table Tennis Icon Fukuhara Putting Family First
Here's the article from the Japan Times (in English).

The Table Tennis Jackass
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Tress Way and Nick Sundberg Compete at Table Tennis Club
Here's the article about the two Washington Redskins players competing at the Smash TTC in Virginia!

The Mercy Rule
Here's the video (42 sec) from PingSkills.

Younger Generation Challenge Fan Zhendong
Here's the video (17 sec).

Paddle Palace Trick Shot #1
Here's the video (8 sec) of Tom Roeser

Google's Circle Shaped Ping Pong Table
Here's the article and picture. It's from the Google Asian office! I really want to see a video of them playing on this.

24 Most Funny Table Tennis Pictures
Here's the page!

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