June 12, 2023

Tip of the Week
Accelerate Through the Ball for Power.

Comeback “Ghost” Serves and a Serving Rule Proposal
Comeback or ghost serves are serves that have so much backspin that, given the chance, they bounce backwards toward the net. I demonstrate this type of serve all the time – it’s just a matter of hitting the ball with high racket acceleration while grazing the ball finely with backspin. Normally, the main feature of such a serve is the heavy backspin, which opponents often put in the net.

At their most extreme, they land short and bounce directly back into or over the net, so shorter players (and often taller ones) cannot reach them – which I always consider extremely unfair. I do this serve all the time in practice, for fun – I used to practice it as an exhibition trick and once did 14 serves in a row that bounced directly back over the net. Younger kids love trying to return them for fun – they have to run to the side of the table to do so. In tournaments, I’ve done it three times, but only in lopsided matches for fun.

I once coached Derek Nie, the US Under 10 Boys’ Singles Champion, against an opponent who did this every serve. I think Derek at the time was ten years old and rated about 2100. His opponent was only 1800, and under normal circumstances would have little chance against Derek. But by serving short so the ball bounced back into or even over the net, Derek was unable to reach the serve. He tried running to the side of the table to do so, but even then couldn’t reach most of them, and it left him out of the point on the next shot. Even though Derek completely dominated on his serve and in any real rallies, he lost, deuce in the fifth. It was a sham of a match.

We actually have a game we play at my club sometimes, the “Backspin Serve Game.” Typically, each player serves five times, with the following scoring system. If you can make it so your serve bounces directly back over the net and onto your side, and does so on one bounce without touching the net in either direction, you get three points. If you get it to do so but it takes more than once bounce or touches the net in either direction, two points. If you make the ball come back so it touches the net, you get one point.

Here's my rules proposal:

“Any serve that doesn’t bounce away from the net after the first bounce on the receiver’s side of the table shall be a let.”

Here are some videos of these serves.

Weekend Coaching
I coached in six group junior sessions over the weekend, ten hours in all, plus a one-hour private session and a 20-minute video session. However, it’s the last “official” session before the summer, other than the novice group meeting next Sunday. (We have the MDTTC Open next weekend, but will run the novice class on the back tables Sunday late afternoon.)

One big task was writing up player evaluations. We have four groups; I was assigned to write them up for the Intermediate group. So I wrote up 14 evaluations that covered mostly technique and attitude. (I have evaluations for many of the other players in my head, which I sometimes go over with the player.)  

One interesting note – there’s one kid who always complains he’s too tired and doesn’t always seem to try. There’s no way he knew we were about to do evaluations – and yet, this weekend he tried hard the whole session, and really showed what he could do when he was focused. And then I discovered why. It turned out he normally had basketball practice just before the table tennis session, which was why he was always tired – but for the first time, he hadn’t had basketball that morning, and so was “fresh.” And so the mystery was solved! I put a note about this in the evaluation – hopefully we can find a way to give more rest between the two.

Some topics that came up during this weekend’s sessions:

  • Stay closer to the table! At least two kids tend to wander back, making things easy for their opponents. Playing off the table when the opponent attacks is a valuable tool for an attacker, but only when the opponent forces you off. Some players just like backing up because it’s fun – and while that’s true, it’s also a quick way to develop a weaker game.
  • When moving to the ball, stepping, not leaning, should be the proper reflex.
  • I explained the purpose of physical training to a group of kids. Some hadn’t really made the connection between some of the side-to-side physical training drills we do and what they do in table tennis in a real game. I also explained how, at the higher levels, it takes great physical training to physically do what the top athletes make look so easy.
  • I had a video session with one of our top juniors, where we watched videos of two of his matches and focused on his receive. (Tip – if it’s on YouTube, you can use the left and right arrows to move five seconds forward or back so you don’t waste time waiting for the next rally. You can also use the period to move one frame forward at a time, and the comma to move one frame backward.)

US Table Tennis Hall of Fame Induction Dinner
Here’s the info page and here’s the Class of 2023. The dinner and induction banquet will take place during the US Nationals at the Fort Worth Convention Center on Wednesday, July 5, starting at 6PM. I’ll be there and hope to see you too! (I just finished the program booklet for the event.) This year’s inductees – Kenneth Brooks (athlete), Ashu Jain (athlete/contributor), Dennis Davis (contributor), and Willy Leparulo (contributor).

Robots M-ONE is the World's First Humanoid Table Tennis Robot
Here’s the video (3:33) from the Performance Biomechanics Academy. This is intriguing! I’ve always said the biggest weakness of training with a robot is you aren’t reacting to a ball coming off an actual table tennis racket as you would in a game. This means when you practice with a normal robot, you learn to react to the ball only after it is coming toward you, and to a spin that you didn’t actually see being made. In real table tennis, you should be reacting to the ball as the opponent is contacting the ball or just before, since you can see what he’s doing before the ball is actually coming at you. This doesn’t mean practicing with a regular robot doesn’t help, only that over-relying on it can hurt your game.

Garry Shandling’s “The Natural”
Here’s the video (24:22) of the 1988 episode that features table tennis! It’s a takeoff from the 1984 movie “The Natural” starring Robert Redford, where Redford is an almost supernaturally gifted baseball player – except in Garry Shandling’s episode, Garry is an almost supernaturally gifted table tennis player! You don’t want to miss this. (And you should see the original “The Natural” as well – one of the greatest sports movies ever, though many coaches don’t like it since it implies that great athletes are born with their natural talent, which is at most only partially true.)

New from USATT

New from Samson Dubina

  • Pushing the Limits (6:04)
  • Nervous vs Energized! (7:09)
  • Mental Strength (1:56)
  • Table Tennis News – it’s about tabletenniscoaching.com! “Over the last few years, one of the top supporters of our content is Larry Hodges and his website www.tabletenniscoaching.com. I would encourage all of you to check out Larry's weekly updates on his website.  Not only does he have amazing coaching articles but he also links to so much online content with news, coaching videos, coaching articles, and funny things that happen in the table tennis world!”

New from PongSpace
Here are two videos from French star Damien Provost.

The Match I Broke USATT 2500
Here’s the video (10:40) with lots of commentary from Seth Pech on his match with Senura Silva (2600) in the semifinals of the Motor City Open.

The Curse of the Strong Server
Here’s the article by Tom Lodziak.

Cognitive Neuroscience in Table Tennis
Here’s the article from PingSunday/EmRatThich.

New from Pingispågarna

New from Ti Long

Online Coaching by The TT Service Guy
Here’s the page for Craig Bryant’s online coaching, which seems to feature “Helping players develop Killer Serves.” I did segment on coaches who do online coaching on Aug. 3, 2020, so you can add this to that list. Some of those links are outdated, however.

I Played Vs World Champion Werner Schlager
Here’s the video (12:57) from Table Tennis Daily.

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of videos here.

New from Steve Hopkins/Butterfly

Oscar’s Dream
Here’s the article by Oscar A. Birriel.

Jessie Xu Finishes 2nd in 2023 Pan Am Selections Canada
Here’s the article by Stephanie Sun

Manufacturing Process of Butterfly Rubbers
Here’s the video (2:58).

Gionis Panagiotis vs Kaii Yoshida | FINAL | Polish Super League 2023
Here’s the video (20:14) – chopper vs. attacker – and see the big celebration at the end.

New from Table Tennis Media

King of Ping Pong Shirts
Here’s what you get at Amazon when you search for King of Ping Pong Shirts. C’mon, you’re not a real table tennis player if you don’t have at least one of these! You can also search for Queen of Ping Pong shirts but the results aren’t quite as good, though there are a few.

No Horseplay
Here’s the cartoon!

Brain Pong
Here’s the cartoon!

These Ping Pong Challenges are HARD
Here’s the video (8:01) from Pongfinity!

Non-Table Tennis – Superhero Satire Sale
Just this morning I sold a fantasy superhero satire story, “Drip,” to Ahoy Comics for $200. (The story is only 1200 words.) What happens when the world is so full of non-stop action, with the main hero fighting off villains and saving the world almost non-stop, that everyone’s idea of a break is to watch a movie about a drop of paint slowly dribbling down a wall? (Here’s my SF and fantasy sales bibliography.)

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