Forehand Flip

April 8, 2014

Great Spin on Serve

In my beginning/intermediate class last night the players were rather impressed by how much spin I could put on the ball when I serve with seemingly little effort. The spin comes from three things: smooth acceleration into the ball; wrist snap; and grazing with a grippy surface. Beginners lose spin because they tend to start with the racket right behind the ball rather than from the side. Intermediate players lose spin because they tend to think in terms of racket speed instead of acceleration.

I can't explain the physics, but it is acceleration that leads to great spin. It could involve the rubber surface grabbing the ball and, since it is accelerating at contact, it grabs the ball like a slingshot and practically spins it out of orbit. Or perhaps this acceleration leads to high velocity that you can control, but the smooth acceleration makes the racket appear to be moving slower than it actually is going. If you instead think in terms of velocity and try to snap the racket into the ball all-out rather than with this smooth acceleration might get more racket speed (not sure), but they can't control it and so lose the control needed for a fine grazing contact - and so lose spin.

But regardless of the reason, it is this smooth acceleration that leads to the great spin. However, there's a conflict here - for deception, you want sudden changes of racket direction. So top servers learn to smoothly accelerate into the ball with sudden changes of direction, essentially whipping the racket around the ball in very quick arcs.

Of course it's not all about spin. If you fake spin but serve no-spin, it's just as effective as a spin serve if the opponent thinks there is spin. So many serves do simple backspin-like serves, but sometimes it's backspin, other times they change the contact so there's no spin. (You do this by contacting the ball closer to the handle, and by changing contact from a grazing motion to sort of patting the ball while faking a grazing motion, often with an exaggerated follow through.)

So . . . have you practiced your serves this week?

Forehand Flip

Here's a tutorial video (5:10) on the forehand flip (usually called a flick in Europe) against short backspin by Coach Yang Guang, a former Chinese team member. He's explaining in Chinese, but several times the key points are subtitled in English. Plus you can learn just by watching. Note that when he does the demos, he's being fed slightly high balls, and so is flip killing. Against a lower ball you might want to slow it down and put a little topspin on the flip.

Why Don't Top Players Serve More Topspin?

Here's the video (2:17) from PingSkills. Ironically this very topic was covered in my beginning/intermediate class. I was teaching how to do fast serves, and explained why they are good as a variation, but how top players would attack them. They wanted a demo, so I had my assistant coach, the 2600 player Coach Jeffrey (Zeng Xun), demonstrate what he could do with my fast serves when he knew they were coming. It wasn't pretty! I have pretty good fast serves, but they have to be used sparingly against top players.

I once aced 1986 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Hank Teekaveerakit three times in a row with my fast down-the-line serve. He was a penholder who tried to loop everything with his forehand, and this happened the first three points of the match as he looked to loop my serves from the backhand corner. After the third ace, he broke up laughing, and said, "Larry, nobody serves fast down the line three times in a row!" He then began returning my serves to his backhand with his backhand, and caught up and won somewhat easily. Late in the match he went back to trying to loop all my serves with his forehand, and I obligingly played cat and mouse, serving fast and deep to all parts of the table, and abandoning my short serves, not for tactical reasons but just for the fun of challenging him to return all my fast ones with his forehand. Once he got used to my service motion, he was able to do so.

Crystal Wang in Sports Illustrated

She's featured in the Faces in the Crowd section. It came out in print last Wednesday. (While there, see the photo credits underneath and note the name of the Professional Photographer that took her picture.)

Deputy Referee Report, German Open

Here's the report from USA's Kagin Lee.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

Chapter one is up. This volume covers the years 1985-1985. Want to see more?

Great Rally at the College Nationals

Here's video (29 sec) of a great point between Ariel Hsing (near side) against Maria Castillo in the women's singles quarterfinals. Ariel went on to win the title.

Marcos Freitas

Here's a highlights video (3:29) featuring Marcos Freitas of Portugal doing numerous trick shots. He recently shot up to #12 in the world.

The Sayings of Coach Larry

A while back I jokingly posted a few of my favorite sayings when I coach. One of my students (who wishes to remain anonymous) quoted to me many more of my favorite statements, and I dutifully jotted them down. Here's the more comprehensive listing of my favorite quips.

  1. "Pick up the balls." (Spoken with the same tone as the infamous "Bring out your dead" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
  2. "You are going up against the most powerful forehand in the world." (Spoken with the same tone as the quote from Dirty Harry, "…the most powerful handgun in the world.")
  3. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed." (A paraphrasing of the quote from The Princess Bride. At the start of the scene, both swordfighters are fighting left-handed. Watch the video to see what happens.)
  4. "Time to get serious." (When I'm losing a game, usually against a student where I've spotted points.)
  5. "Time to take my watch off." (Meaning time to get serious.)
  6. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  7. "I never miss that shot."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "This serve cannot be returned."
  11. "No one can get through my block. No one!"
  12. "The most powerful forehand block in the world."
  13. "He cheats, he scores!" (When opponent wins a point on a net or edge.)
  14. "I cannot be scored upon." (Told to students repeatedly as a challenge.)
  15. "Don't think about it. Let the subconscious take over. It's better than you."
  16. "Even [insert name of top player within hearing distance] can make that shot!"
  17. "When I get angry…" (Followed by a short but detailed description of whatever I do the next point.)
  18. "This is for the world championship of the galactic universe."
  19. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  20. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  21. "I'm too good to miss that shot!" (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  22. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987!" (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  23. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  24. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  25. "No coaching in coaching camps!" (When someone coaches against me in a practice match during a camp.)
  26. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)

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April 11, 2013

New Back Problem

I live life by several rules. And one of the main ones is never, Ever, EVER carry heavy objects with my playing arm. On Tuesday I broke that rule and paid for it. I went grocery shopping. Normally I'm careful not to carry anything heavy with my (right) playing arm. I own a townhouse and live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors. When I was about to carry the groceries out of my car and up the stairs to the third floor, I picked up all of the bags in my left arm. But I also had a case of Deer Park water. They normally come with 24 bottles, but this one was some sort of special, with 28, each of them 16.9 ounces. That's about 30 pounds. No problem, I picked them up with my right arm. It wasn't until I was nearly at the third floor that I began to feel the strain behind and to the left of my right shoulder. I made it to the top, no problem. None whatsoever.

Yesterday I only had two sessions. The first was with a beginning-intermediate player, age 11, rated about 800. He'd just played a tournament and had had trouble blocking. So near the end of the one-hour session I did a multiball drill where I stood near the end-line of my table with a box of balls, and tossed balls up one by one and looped them at him so he could practice blocking. At first I didn't notice the strain, but after a few minutes of this the pain in my back began again. I'd hurt it the day before, but now I'd aggravated it pretty badly.

My next session was 30 minutes with a 2200+ junior, where we were working strictly on return of serve. We warmed up for a few minutes (no problem), and then I began the drill. I tossed the ball up, preparing to do a reverse pendulum serve - and had to catch the ball. I couldn't do any body rotation into the serve without hurting the back. As I quickly discovered, I couldn't do forehand pendulum serves (regular or reverse) or backhand serves. I also couldn't forehand loop or smash. We ended up spending the session working on his backhand loop while I blocked.

I'm off today, and have already cancelled my two hours on Friday. I've got a busy weekend, but don't know yet what condition my shoulder/back will be in. I can do multiball, and regular forehand and backhand drives or blocks, but that's about it.

Maybe I'm getting too old for this! (At 53?) On the other hand, after the session, while lamenting about my newest injury, I had fun watching "tag-team math," as four of our junior girls (all 11-12 years old or so) worked on math problems for school together between practice sessions at the club. There was a lot of giggling, and yet they seemed to get the work done.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook

Are you interested in becoming a professional table tennis coach, but aren't sure if you can make a living at it? Do you feel you have most of the knowledge needed to coach, but aren't sure how to get started? Do you want to run a junior class or teach classes? Then this is the book for you, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. I wrote an earlier version of this a few years ago; this is an updated and professional published version.

I mentioned this before in my blog when it came out a few days ago, but I was sort of holding back because, due to some error, it was showing two different pages, one for the print version, and one for the eBook version. Now they are together.

It's a short read, only 44 pages, but the price matches that - only $7.99 for the print version, $5.99 for Kindle.

ITTF Features Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here's the article!

Want To Win a FREE Signed Copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers?

As noted in my blog yesterday, they are running a contest at Expert Table Tennis. All you have to do by this Sunday is answer the question: Why do you deserve to win a free copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers? I will personally sign and mail out a copy of the book to the winner. See link for details.

Forehand Flip

Here's a good tutorial (4:23) on the forehand flip (called a flick in Europe) from Table Tennis Master. What makes it good is that it shows the progression from the most basic flip (too high and soft) and works its way toward high-level flipping, with slow motion so you can see what's happening.

Rockford Media Try Table Tennis

Here's an article about a Celebrity Table Tennis Tournament held in Rockford, IL. It's part of the buildup toward the National College Championships there this weekend.

Golfer Webb Simpson in Table Tennis Commercial

Here's the video (32 sec). The table tennis is for two seconds, starting at second 15, showing them playing on an American flag table (!) out in the ocean (!).

Invading Alien Table Tennis Players!

Here's a new artwork from Mike Mezyan, with the caption, "To All Table Tennis Players....Be Ready...They Come To You With A Message..." The message is in ping-pongese (as you can tell by the use of ping-pong paddles for some of the letters). These aliens obviously have some good ideas, as you can see the light bulbs going off in their heads - except those are ping-pong paddles! All these years we thought a good idea was symbolized by a light bulb going off, but now we realize it was really an exploding racket.

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April 11, 2012

Modern sponges make looping easy

Some of the paradigms about teaching the loop are crashing down, with the advent of the modern "super looping sponge." There are modern sponges that make looping so easy that little kids can now topspin the ball in ways that little kids (and most adults) of yesteryear could only dream. Speed glues (now illegal) made looping both easier and more powerful (both speed and spin), but these modern sponges are a level better. (I shutter to think what would happen if you speed glued one of these super sponges - I think the universe would spin out of orbit as it zipped past some cosmic player.)

I asked Coach Cheng Yinghua what would have happened if he had these sponges back in his peak playing days (on Chinese National Team, 1977-1987), and he had a gleam in his eye as he said he'd have beaten everyone.

Yesterday I was coaching a man in his mid-60s, rated about 1500. A decade ago I wouldn't have dreamed of him seriously counterlooping. Instead, the guy came at me like a 2200 player might have in the past, effortlessly counterlooping most of my best loops back. (This was not a former top player - he was at his peak now after several years of practice.) Sure, it was just a drill, and I doubt if he could do this consistently in a match, but if I'd given him a typical sponge from ten years ago, you could glue it all you want and he wouldn't have been able to do this. And it's like this at all ages and levels. Kids aged 10-12 are looping at levels that would be unheard of before.

With these sponges all you have to do is sort of wave at the ball and it goes back with back-breaking topspin that twist Newton and Einstein physics into a quivering mass of torqued rotation. The game has changed. 

Even the basic forehand and backhand have become mini-loops for many. When you warm up with someone forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, you expect basic drives with light topspin, but now many players don't even have that shot - their basic drives have become topspinny. Even fishing and lobbing are easier and more effective as the sponges just shoot the ball back with topspin.

Of course the downside is that opponents can also loop more easily, and many of your loops will be looped right back, as will even your strongest blocks. There are now counterlooping rallies at the 1800 level that were pretty rare in the past. Even during the gluing age few intermediate players bothered to go through the hassle of gluing. Now it's built into the sponge, making looping that much easier for the masses. 

For me, while I don't cover as much ground as I used to or react to fast incoming balls as quickly, I find that nearly anything I can react to and touch with my forehand I can loop back.

What does this mean for coaches and players?

  • You teach the loop much sooner to beginning kids, and counterlooping not long after.
  • You teach the loop against a block even to older players, who in the past might have just looped against backspin and hit against blocks or topspin. Now they can loop over and over with far less effort than was needed in the past.
  • Aging loopers can continue to loop effectively well into their golden years.
  • More players can develop games where they simply loop everything that comes long to their forehand.
  • Looping off the bounce is easier, especially on the backhand, and many players now essentially loop nearly everything off the bounce, even on the backhand.
  • Fast blocks and even smashes are easier to loop back.
  • Forehand blocking becomes almost obsolete for many athletic players from the intermediate level on. If you can see it, you can loop it. (Forehand blocking is still important, but more as a reflex return against powerful shots when you don't have time to swing.)

Forehand Flip

Here's a video from Table Tennis University on the forehand flip (4:23).

Plastic balls
The ITTF had planned to switch from celluloid to plastic balls after the 2012 Olympics. According to this notice, "For production reasons, the plastic ball will be introduced not before July 2014."

Highlights from the 2012 World Team Championships Highlights

Here's a highlights video from the 2012 World Team Championships, set to music (9:49).

"I Love Table Tennis"

Here's a video promoting college table tennis (1:05) that features players saying, "I love table tennis." (One of the players saying this is Mark Hazinski.) The ones I like are the guy saying, "I love table tennis and math" (my bachelor's is in math), the little girl saying, "I sort of like it," and Adam Bobrow interjecting, "He loves table tennis." And if you go to the NCTTA home page you'll see that the College Nationals are this weekend, April 13-15, in Plano, TX. (A bunch of players from my club, MDTTC, are going, representing University of Maryland.)

Rally for Kids with Cancer

There will be a SMASH Celebrity Ping-Pong Tournament for Kids with Cancer Foundation on June 23, 2012 in LA. Includes a 30-second video from actor Terrence Howard.

Keith Pech on TV

Here's a video of Keith in a TV feature (1:50) yesterday from Channel 19 Action News on his going to the College Nationals.

Table tennis hoax

Here's a story about a hoax pulled off about a University of Akron Table Tennis Team in 1974. The team had a great winning record and received lots of press coverage - but there was no team! It was all made up.

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