Paddle Palace

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

January 27, 2014

Tip of the Week

Practicing Serves the Productive Way. (This is an article I did for USATT Magazine a few years ago. I'd like to get a few of these old ones up as Tips.)

Coaching Happenings

It's been an eventful weekend of coaching, as always. Here are highlights.

  • An 11-year-old Islamic girl came to my junior table tennis class for the first time on Saturday morning. She was dressed in full Islamic garb, with nothing showing except her face and hands. I've coached Islamic kids before, including girls, so it was no big deal - I thought. Since she was new, I worked with her right at the start, and guided her through a correct forehand. Then her father came over, and politely asked if he could talk to me. We went to the sidelines, and he explained, "We are Muslim. No touching." I apologized, and from there on I only coached her by demonstrating and explaining.
  • I watched one of our junior players play matches in the Friday night league, and saw some problems to work on. One is that he doesn't cover the wide backhand well in rallies, and when he does move that way, he often rotates his body to the left (and so faces left) rather than stepping there. (He's right-handed.) I've been doing multiball random drills with him where he does cover this, but realized we hadn't been doing many live random drills. So from now on (starting with a session on Sunday) we're going to be doing a lot of that. He also has a tendency to drop his non-playing arm during rallies, which costs him balance and stability, as well as making it easier to spin the body to the left to cover his backhand rather than step there as he should. (It's like an ice skater spinning - when the skater pulls her arms in, she rotates faster; puts the arms out, she rotates slower.) He also tends to stand too much to his right in rallies, leaving the backhand open. It's generally better to crowd the backhand corner, where you generally take the ball quicker and in front of the body and so are more rushed. You have a bigger forehand hitting zone, and can generally take it later and still be effective, so you can leave the forehand side more open and still have to move to cover it.
  • In the Sunday afternoon junior session I had five girls in my group. All started in the last two months. Amazingly, all have pretty nice and consistent forehand and backhand strokes now. (Well, one has some problems with the backhand, but we're working on that.) I introduced them all to the 2-1 drill, which is a three-shot sequence: a backhand from the backhand side; a forehand from the backhand side; a forehand from the forehand side; then repeat. It's one of the best drills, as you do the three most common moves in table tennis: cover the wide backhand, step around forehand from backhand side, and cover the wide forehand. They all found this drill to be rather exciting. (Who knew?)
  • I watched one of our top juniors in a big league match, and gave him some analysis afterwards. He's playing really well, but his placement isn't so good, going to the wide corners way too often. At nearly all levels the default place to attack is the middle, which is almost always the hardest place to defend. (The middle is the roughly the playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand. For backhand oriented players, it's a bit more toward the forehand side, and vice versa.) By going to the middle, you get free points, weak returns, and/or draw the opponent out of position, thereby opening up those corners.
  • Two 12-year-old students of mine made the switch to Tenergy 05 FX on the forehand this weekend, which is what I use. Both are reaching the state where they can essentially loop everything on the forehand. Both tried out regular Tenergy 05 as well as Tenergy 64, but preferred the 05 FX. (They're both pushing 1500 level.)
  • Recently I've run a number of table tennis birthday parties at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, including two this weekend, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. Each was from 2-4 PM, with 14-21 kids in the 6-10 age group. The format I've adopted is pretty simple. The first half hour they are on their own as the kids hit around. Then I call them together and do a demo, usually with a top player or junior I recruit. Then the kids line up, and I have them shadow-stroke forehands. Then I take them two at a time and teach the forehand, spending about one minute with each pair. (Nothing extensive here.) Then we do the same with the backhand. Then we do it one more time with serves. Then we go to games, usually starting with the cup game, where the kids build pyramids of paper cups on one side of the table, and then take turns trying to knock them down as I feed multiball (3 shots per turn). After that we play the bottle game, where I convince them that the bottle of Gatorade on the table is full of squeezed worm juice, and the bottle of water on the table is dog saliva. I put the next to each other, and they again line up, 3 shots per turn, and try to hit it - and if they do, I have to drink it. I mock them as they hit each shot, so when one of them does hit one of the bottles they erupt in cheers, and I do mock protests before I finally drink it.
  • We've had freezing cold weather here in Maryland for the last two weeks. On Thursday the heating at MDTTC went down, and for three days we played with temperatures in the high fifties. You got used to it once you started playing, but I there were times where I complained I was in the final stages of hypothermia.

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

We should finish it today. I'm crossing my fingers. We've actually finished all the pages but one, but that page has complications. The main job today is inputting corrections, and Tim has a lot, ranging from fixing or changing captions to fixing up photos to anything else he finds. The book is 465 pages with 962 photos, a new record for him. Here's info on all of these books, which will soon be updated when Volume 14 becomes available in a couple weeks. It's been an exhausting two weeks - we started on Monday, Jan. 13, and have been putting in looooong hours. This past weekend I kept driving back and forth between home and the club as I alternated coaching and working with Tim.

USA's Ariel Hsing Featured at ITTF Page

Here's the article.

Review of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World" by Nicholas Griffin

Here's the review in the Washington Post on Sunday. Here's a video (51:40) of the author talking about the book.

Guo Yue Dismissed from Chinese National Team

Here's the article. Guo, 25, was the 2007 World Women's Singles Champion and was ranked #1 in the world in 2008. She's also two-time World Mixed Doubles Champion with Wang Liqin. Her current ranking is #11 in the world.

Will Shortz on Table Tennis and How the US Can Become a Power

Here's the video (2:04) from Business Insider.

Coach Willy - an ITTF Documentary

Here's the video (3:42).

Cape Fear Open XI Highlights

Here's the video (7:33).

Angle Table Tennis

Here's the video (7:42) - this is what happens when you slant one side of the table sideways! A little over two minutes in they angle the other side as well for some really crazy ping-pong.

Panda Pong

Here's a picture of little Asian kids dressed as pandas playing table tennis with a picture of a penholder panda bear. I don't know what's going on, and perhaps it's best we just don't. (While we're on the subject of pandas, here's a panda ping-pong shirt!)

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February 14, 2013

Most Memorable Practice Sessions

I've had some memorable ones. Here are a few.

At the 1981 U.S. Open in Princeton, NJ,  I was practicing with others from my club (13-year-old Sean O'Neill, Dave Sakai, and Ron Lilly) when the Chinese team came in. (I'm pretty sure this was the first time they had ever attended a U.S. Open.) They practiced for an hour or so on nearby tables. Then they came over and offered to pair up with U.S. players, as part of their "Friendship First" policy. I was paired up with one of their women, but I had no idea who she was at the time. We hit forehands and backhands, and I didn't realize at first that she had long pips on the backhand, and that she'd flipped her racket to put the inverted side there to hit backhands with me. Then she began chopping. I sort of smiled, as I'm better against choppers than any other style, and so I gave her (hopefully!) a pretty good practice session (about an hour), where I both looped and smashed pretty consistently against her chops. Afterwards I found out who she was. TONG LING!!! The reigning World Women's Singles Champion and #1 woman in the world! A few days later she'd win the U.S. Open Women's Singles.

At some large tournament in the late 1980s, out of the blue Zoran Kosanovic asked if I'd warm him up. He knew me from a camp he'd run in Canada in 1980 that I'd attended. However, he was the #1 player in North America, rated about 2750 (to my roughly 2250 at the time), and had recently been ranked in the top 20 in the world. I expected he'd want to do some standard drills, but that's now what he wanted to do - he wanted to do "free play," where whoever got the ball just served topspin and we just rallied anywhere on the court. This might have worked for him, but he spent the entire session - about an hour - dominating the rallies, using me as target practice as he'd fake one way and go the other, with a non-stop barrage of inside-out and hooking loops that I could only flail at. Afterwards I could barely play, and I had one of my worst tournaments ever. He also had a so-so tournament, losing to Eric Boggan, and getting in trouble with the umpire and referee after losing one point when he picked up his side of the table and slammed it down in anger.

Many years ago, when I was around 1900, I was a good hitter, and was developing my loop, but for some reason my blocking against spinny loops wasn't that consistent. At the Eastern Open a top player was preparing for a match, and couldn't find anyone to hit with. So he asked me, figuring that at 1900 I could at least block. Then he walked out to the first table for our warm-up, in front of hundreds of people. Well, I could barely keep the ball on the table, both because my blocking was still poor, and because I was nervous about all these people seeing me miss block after block against this player. The top player should have just thanked me, and looked for someone else. Instead, he finally walked over, and in a very loud and exasperated voice said, "You can't keep the ball on the table. I need to find someone better." Then he walked off. I was pretty embarrassed, but also pretty angry. I was somewhat happy when he was upset in his next match. I get some of the credit for that, right?

I was coaching at a training session in the summer of 1987 at the Butterfly Center in Wilson, NC, when I was 27. Several junior players were complaining about having to do too much footwork in the 90 degree heat. I said I could do side to side footwork for fifteen minutes, so why couldn't they do it for half that? When one said there was no way I could do it for fifteen minutes in the heat, I upped the ante and said I could do it for 30 minutes continuously if someone fed me multiball (so there'd be no breaks even if someone missed) - but if I did, everyone had to 1) promise never to complain about training again that week, and 2) go outside and run a mile. They agreed. I not only did the 30 minutes, with two of the juniors taking turns feeding the balls, but I went the entire 30 minutes without missing a shot! (What they didn't know was that I'd spent two years in North Carolina, 1979-81, in that very gym, practicing every day even in 100 degree heat. Heat never bothered me until I was much older. Also I was a miler in high school, and had once run a marathon. Plus, I did so many side-to-side footwork drills when I was developing that I could do them endlessly without missing.)

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - ON SALE!!!

Current cost is only $11.45!!! (Instead of the regular retail of $17.95.)

I was a bit confused about this. The book is supposed to retail for $17.95, and that was the price I set when I began selling it on Amazon.com, and that's what it was selling for. Yesterday I discovered it was selling on Amazon for $11.45! I was about to send them an irritated email trying to figure out why that was happening, but decided to check the online royalty statement first. Despite the lower price, I'm getting paid the exact same royalties for the books as when it was going for $17.95. So Amazon is apparently making up the difference.

I sent an email to CreateSpace (the subsidiary of Amazon that actually prints the book) about this last night, and here is their response this morning:

Amazon.com, as well as other retailers, sets the selling price of items on its website. In some cases, the selling price will be above the list price; in other cases, the selling price will be discounted to a price below the list price. Keep in mind that you set and control the list price of your work, while the selling price and any discounts are set at the discretion of the retailer and are subject to change.

Only you can alter the list price you set in your CreateSpace account. The royalties you earn from Amazon.com retail sales, as well as sales by other retailers, will be based on the list price, not the selling price. Neither you nor CreateSpace has the ability to change the selling price of your work on Amazon.com.

So for now, you can buy it for $11.45. Buy now or you may regret it later!!!

Make Your Serves More Effective

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on making your serves more effective.

Update - History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

We did three more chapters today, bringing totals to 23 chapters and 365 pages. I've now cleaned up, placed, and captioned 724 graphics. The book is now projected to be 29 chapters and 460 pages, with 906 graphics. Chapter 23 ended with the Nissen Open, where Danny Seemiller won Men's Singles over Chartchai "Hank" Teekaveerakit, and Connie Sweeris won Women's Singles over Takako Trenholme.

A Truth About Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Tim Boggan continues to be a might irritated that, in accounts of Zhuang Zedong's death, it's said that Glenn Cowen accidentally boarded the private Chinese bus where Zhuang would give him a gift. Tim said, "I was a confidante of Glenn's on this Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip and he told me, in the absence of any available transportation from his practice hall, he was invited onto the Chinese bus by someone other than Zhuang. This authoritative gesture was of enormous seminal importance for China-U.S. relationships. For when that bus came to rest and Glenn emerged to reporters, China-U.S. relationships would never be the same. I suspect there's a political reason to continue this myth of an accidental boarding."

U.S. National Team

I heard yesterday that Peter Li turned down the non-funded fourth spot on the USA National Team. Only the first three spots are funded. (Presumably he turned it down because of the cost, not because it interferes with college since if he couldn't go because of college, why would he be trying out?) This means that Jim Butler, who finished fifth, was next - and he accepted the spot, and will pay his way. (Actually, he hopes his sponsors will help him out.) One ramification of this - while we now have an all-junior Women's Team, our Men's team now has Jim (42) and Khoa Nguyen (46). The aging vets are taking over!

Jun Mizutani Returns to World Tour

Here's the story. He'd been boycotting it in protest of illegal boosters.

Zhang Jike in Training

Here are three pictures of Zhang Jike doing physical training.

Water Ping-Pong

"Not a bad way to waste away the day..."

Table Tennis Valentines

There's lots more stuff like this, and some rather interesting pictures, if you put "table tennis valentine pictures" into a Google search. This is what you get!

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June 1, 2012

Easterns

I'm off for the Eastern Open this afternoon, where I'll primarily be coaching Derek Nie, one of the top 11 and under players in the U.S. with a rating of 2136. If you are there, stop by and say hello! 

Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats by Fred Danner

Review by Larry Hodges

If you're a history buff, and enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes happenings in Ping-Pong Diplomacy; war (Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War); China, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.; table tennis in the U.S., and even the aerospace industry during the Apollo era, then you'll find this book fascinating. The book is really four short books in one.

Chapters 1-3 (pages 1-86) covers the history that led up to, and the actual events of, the 1971 Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip to China. The three chapters are titled "Setting the Stage for Ping-Pong Diplomacy," "The 1971 World Team's China Trip," and "Who Won the Nobel Peace Prize for Ping-Pong Diplomacy?" These chapters include fascinating background on the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and all the political infighting taking place in these countries, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.  The three wars were related in numerous ways, and all led to the eventual Ping-Pong Diplomacy of 1971-72. We also learn how it could have happened in 1961, but the U.S. blew it. The answer to the question posed in the last chapter is nobody won the Novel Peace Prize for any of this, but it goes over the possible recipients and explains why nobody ever did win for it. And here's a hilarious quote from Chairman Mao: "Regard a ping-pong ball as the head of your capitalist enemy. Hit it with your socialist bat, and you have won the point for the fatherland."

Chapters 4 and 6 (pages 89-125 and 162-170, "The Growth of Long Island Table Tennis" and "Table Tennis Becomes a Family Affair") cover the growth of Long Island Table Tennis, as well as how it became a family affair for the Danners. Slowly but inexorably Fred found himself running more and bigger events in Long Island (clubs, leagues, and tournaments) and for USTTA (now USATT), until it led to the U.S. Open (he was Operations Director) and the Long Island stop for Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1972. He also begins to travel to tournaments with his son Carl, now a prominent player and coach in the bay area in California. Did you know that the 1972 U.S. Open in Long Island, forty years ago, had 725 entries? (A few years later these numbers would break a thousand in Houston and Oklahoma City.) For perspective, last year's U.S. Open in Milwaukee had 607. Fred also shows how the world has changed since those days, explaining how USTTA kept records in those non-computer days: "Each membership application required writing or typing the player's name and address nine times."

Chapter 5 (pages 126-161, "Life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry") is about life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry in the '60s, where Fred worked during the many years he was also working with Long Island Table Tennis. In some ways this seemed a bit off-topic, but it was related in various ways to Fred's continuing table tennis endeavors, in particular since all the corporate infighting both interfered with and somewhat mirrored what was going on in the world of table tennis, both in Long Island and the political intrigues in the background of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in the various wars and countries involved. Much of the chapter was about infighting and politics at Grumman Aviation, including their fights with GE and other companies as they bid for various aspects of the Apollo 11 trip to the moon. We also learn about the theft of atom bomb designs by the Soviets, how we could have avoided the Korean War, and how we outwitted the Soviets by helping to bring table tennis and China into the Olympics.

Chapter 7 (pages 171-204, "LITTA's Big Year: The U.S.-China Matches") is about the Chinese National Team's U.S. trip, covering primarily their stop in Long Island, and how that came to be, rather than it being in the New York City's Madison Square Garden, as New York City Mayor John Lindsey wanted. (He doesn't come off very well in the book.)

Now who is Fred Danner? He's not only one of the 134 members of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame (inducted as a contributor in 1993), but he's also one of the 14 recipients of the Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). Fred has a long career promoting table tennis both in Long Island and with USATT. He was instrumental in getting table tennis in the Olympics. He was president of the Long Island Table Tennis Association, founded the National Junior Table Tennis Foundation, wrote the National School Table Tennis Guide, and was at various times USTTA's Junior Development Chair, Membership Chair, Treasurer, Corresponding Secretary, and Vice President. He also got USTTA its tax exempt status.

You'll note this is Volume 1. Volume 2 will cover what Fred calls "$7,000,000 worth of favorable publicity" as a result of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the various contrasting ideas on how USTTA should proceed, and the resulting successes and failures. (A third volume is also planned.)

The book has a catchy cover, with USA's D-J Lee (6-time U.S. Men's Champion) serving to a Chinese opponent against a background made up of the U.S. and Chinese flags and the earth as seen from space. It is available at amazon.com for $29.59 (hardcover), $13.22 (soft cover), and $3.99 (ebook). 

This is the third book I know of in English that covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy, at least from the table tennis angle. The other two are "History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 5," by Tim Boggan, $40, which covers the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Years, 1971-72, available at timboggantabletennis.com (along with his other eleven books on U.S. Table Tennis History); and "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement" by Shigeo Itoh (1969 World Men's Champion from Japan), available at amazon.com for $90 or $65 used.

Backhand Loop

Here's a new video from Coach Brian Pace from Dynamic Table Tennis on Setting up the Backhand Loop in Competition (8:38).

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Returning a Drop Shot (1:41)

Celebrating 40 Years of U.S.-China Exchanges

Here's a video that highlights 40 years of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" (2:36).

Erica Wu in LA Times

Here's an article in yesterday's LA Times on U.S. Table Tennis Olympian Erica Wu.

Spelling Bee Ping-Pong Champion

Table Tennis Nation explains why Nicholas Rushlow, ping-pong player, will win the National Spelling Bee. (He didn't.)

Non-Table Tennis - How to Kill a Dragon

My fantasy story "In the Belly of the Beast" (6600 words) went up on Electric Spec yesterday. A sorcerer with a unique method for slaying dragons is swallowed by his dragon prey. While in the dragon's stomach, he uses a force field to protect himself, his daughter, and others, all of whom have also been swallowed. He abandoned his daughter when she was a child to go to sorcery school, and she doesn't recognize him. To her, there is the inept sorcerer in the dragon's stomach; the father who abandoned her; and the famous dragonslayer on the way to rescue them. She doesn't know that all three are the same. Most of the story takes place in the stomach of the dragon, which features the only battle between a wizard and a warrior in the belly of a dragon in history.

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March 15, 2012

No Blog on Friday - Cary Cup

No blog tomorrow (Friday) - I leave for the Cary Cup Championships this morning, right after I post this. I'll be defending my hardbat titles from the last two years, but it's a very tough draw this year. The rest of the tournament I'll be coaching junior stars George and Derek Nie. I'm going down and rooming with Tim Boggan. I've been having arm problems, but they seem to be over. I was toying with playing primarily as a chopper, but if the arm is okay I'll probably play my usual all-out forehand attack game combined with some backhand chopping. I'll write about the tournament in my blog next week.

A few notes on serve & forehand looping

When I'm at my best, I'm an all-out forehand attacker on my serve. (This is for both my normal sponge game as well as my hardbat game.) The key to this is good serves and good footwork. Regarding footwork, while fast feet are extremely helpful, good footwork technique is just as important for the first shot of a rally. I'm 52 and don't train anymore, and am by no means that fast, but I can attack nearly any deep ball at the start of a rally (deep serves or serve returns) because of good footwork technique and by quickly reading the opponent's shot. (It's the second or third shot that often takes footwork speed, alas.)

If you want to serve and follow with your forehand, here are your main serving possibilities. (They are mostly written as if both players are righties, but the same ideas apply to lefties with minor adjustments.)

  1. If they can't loop a deep serve to the backhand, then serve deep to the backhand and get ready to dominate with your forehand. Since they are returning the ball from farther back, you have more time to get into forehand position, and they can't get good angles as they could off a shorter ball. If you can serve so the ball breaks into their backhand side, away from their body, then they'll have even more difficulty making a good return, and they'll have even more trouble trying to take it down the line, so most of their returns will predictably be to your backhand. Step around and wait for it. (Don't move too early, of course, or they might just take it down the line.)
  2. If they can't forehand flip effectively down the line (to your backhand), then serve short to the forehand and prepare to attack the crosscourt return to your forehand.
  3. If they can't backhand flip effectively down the line (to your forehand), then serve short to the backhand and prepare to step around to attack with your forehand the crosscourt return to your backhand. They have no angle into your forehand, and so you should be able to react to weak returns there even if you are way around your backhand corner. The main danger here (besides a surprise down-the-line attack to your forehand) is a wide-angled return to your backhand. If that happens, then you either have to step even farther around your backhand (way out of position, very risky) or play backhand.
  4. If they can't push short or flip short backspin, serve short backspin to all parts of the table and prepare for the long push.
  5. If all else fails, serve short to the middle. That way they have no extreme angle, and can't go for a wide crosscourt corner (where they have more table to aim for). They also have to decide between forehand and backhand, and that slight hesitation is often all it takes to get a weak return. If you serve short backspin to the middle, you'll usually get a deep push that's not too angled.
  6. Serve short, very low no-spin. It is surprisingly difficult to push heavy, push short, or to flip. (The key is to keep it low.)  It is especially effective if you mix in spinny serves, and learn to fake spin but serve no-spin. (A spinny-looking serve that is no-spin is called "heavy no-spin." Really!) Here's an article I wrote on the no-spin serve.

Susan Sarandon and ping-pong on TV

Susan Sarandon stopped by the TV show GMA to discuss her new movie and ping-pong, and to challenge hosts Josh and Sam to a game (6:09). The table tennis discussion begins at 4:25.

Why a Ponger Left Goldman-Sachs

It's all over the news - Greg Smith isn't just leaving Goldman-Sachs, he wrote a feature article in the New York Times on the toxic and destructive atmosphere there.

But of course the real story is that Smith was also a very good table tennis player. As he wrote in the article, he won "a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics." But there's more! It looks like he has played USATT tournaments, three of them in 1997-98. Here are his rating results, with his final rating at 1983. (He even defeated Tim Boggan at the 1998 Nationals!)

Our friends at Table Tennis Nation have researched the story even more, and here's what they have to say.

Nixon, Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the University of Oregon

Here's an article on an event at the University of Oregon that celebrates Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

Microwaving ping-pong balls

Yesterday we lit them on fire. Today we're microwaving ping-pong balls! Video is 5:09 long, but the fireworks beginning at 2:13.

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December 29, 2011

Falling backwards when forehand looping against backspin

This is a common problem with a rather easy fix. Many players go off balance and fall backwards when looping against backspin with their forehand. Why? It's almost always because they are standing too far from the table. And so they have to reach forward to contact the ball. This throws their weight slightly forward; to compensate, you have to lean backwards. You lose control, power, and are off-balance for the next shot.

How do you fix this? Stand closer to the table, and rotate more sideways when you loop. The contact point should be the same as before, but relative to your body, it's farther back in your hitting zone, often in front of the back leg. This allows you to rotate in a circle as you loop, creating torque and maintaining your balance even during your most powerful loops.

Yesterday, during the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, I found at least five players who were doing this. (I also had another chocolate candy "giveaway" - hit the bottle on the table, and get a delicious truffle! I gave out about 50 of them. I think we're the most popular table tennis camp in American right now.)

Table Tennis Training Stage IV: Putting It All Together

Here is Stage 4 of Samson Dubina's articles on training for the Olympic Trials. And in case you missed them, here is Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's a short video from CCTV of the recent U.S.-China 40th Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy festivities in China, featuring Jimmy Carter, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, and numerous U.S. and Chinese players (2:05).

Crazy Like Table Tennis

Here's your daily table tennis fix - just over four minutes of great points, with an acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley - Crazy in the background.

Classic Table Tennis

Here's your Classic Table Tennis fix - table tennis from the 1947 World Table Tennis Championships, with hardbat.

Table tennis scandal in Singapore!

Yes, and we all love a scandal!

Michael Maze kicks table 95 times

Someone took a video of Denmark star Michael Maze (former European Top Twelve Champion, World Men's Singles Semifinalist) kicking the table, looped it over and over, and put it to music ("Red Red Wine"). Here's the video - interesting for five seconds, skip the last 1:22.

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December 12, 2011

Tip of the Week

Depth control of serves.

The USA Nationals, Christmas Vacation, and a Sabbatical

After today, I'm taking a short sabbatical from blogging. My next blog will be next Monday, Dec. 19 (right after I return from the USA Nationals), and my next one after that will be when I resume blogging regularly (Mon-Fri) on Dec. 27. 

I'm leaving for the USA Nationals this morning, returning next Saturday. Then on Monday I leave for Santa Barbara, CA, for Christmas with family, returning on a red-eye flight on Christmas night that lands back in Maryland about 8AM on Dec. 26, in time for the MDTTC Christmas camp I coach at that starts that afternoon.

Yes, I know, the Nationals is exactly the time I should have lots to blog about, but I'm going to be extremely busy there, coaching, playing, and attending meetings, and expect to be leaving for the playing site early each morning and returning late.

I'm primarily going to the Nationals to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Hardbat Singles (which I've won twice at the Open or Nationals), Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion) and Hardbat Doubles (I'm 11-time and current champion, and playing with Ty Hoff - we've won it seven times).

I've spent way too much time in recent weeks working on my new table tennis book, watching videos of players that students of mine might be playing, and other sedentary projects at my computer, and now my back has stiffened up again, alas. Hopefully it'll loosen up when I play. However, as is the norm for me (since stiff muscles and coaching regularly don't mix well), I'm continually in a state of various injuries. Currently there's something in the back of my left knee that's hobbling me; my left Achilles tendon feels strained; and there's a strain in my right side. And why is my left big toe hurting? (I think I stepped on something sharp.) Par for me.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

I finished editing it this weekend. The "final" version is 81,066 words, with 21 chapters. In Courier New, double spaced, it prints out at 352 pages. I have a few people who are reading/critiquing it, and I'll probably do one more proofing. I have a publisher interested, though I'm toying with self-publishing. I'll look into the options in January.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminars in the USA

Thirtieth Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy in China

There's a U.S. contingent touring China - and here are links to a number of articles on it. And here's another that features Dell & Connie Sweeris.

Ma Long

Here's an article on the personal side of China's world #1.

Ma Lin's unbelievable (but illegal) serve

Here's a 19-second video of an unbelievable serve by China's Ma Lin. The ball curves so much not because of sidespin, but because of corkscrewspin, with the axis of rotation aimed away from Ma toward the server. (With sidespin, the axis would be up and down.) You can only get this much corkscrewspin with a high-toss serve, such as this one - see how high he tosses the ball. Some other world-class players probably have similar serves, you just don't see several bounces like this because the receiver normally hits the ball after the first bounce - and in this case, Ma has completely fooled the receiver, world champion Zhang Jike, who didn't see the sudden break coming, and thought the serve would go long.

Fantastic serve, but how many people noticed that he illegally hid contact with his arm? Freeze the video at contact and you'll see - you may have to make several attempts to get it. Or just see the image I took from the video. The arrows show the ball and his hand and arm. The rules say:

"From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall ... not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

"As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."

"It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws." 

It's possible that the receiver, Zhang, can barely see contact, but it's close - Ma's arm is rapidly moving out of the way, and the split second before this picture, the arm was completely in the way. It's the server's responsibility to serve so the umpire is satisfied that he is serving legally, and no umpire could possibly say that he is satisfied that this serve was not hidden. But we don't even have to go that far - the serve is blatantly illegal since he has left his free arm and hand between the ball and the net.

Table tennis going to the dogs

Let's watch 52 seconds of a Pekingese playing floor table tennis.

***

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November 21, 2011

Tip of the Week

Remember the Good Shots.

Rushing the quicker player

It's tough playing a quicker player who bangs every shot before while you're still following through on your previous shot. But a lot of players don't understand that on the first shot of the rally, especially on your serve, you can rush the quicker player. It just comes down to setting yourself up for a shot you can attack quickly, before the quick opponent can get into a quick rally. If you place your first quick attack well, the quicker player will have great difficulty and won't be able to rush you - and you'll get a second shot to attack.

For example, I like to serve fast no-spin at the receiver's elbow. This often forces a weaker topspin return - but more importantly, it draws the receiver out of position, especially if he returns it backhand. (For that reason, I tend to serve it slightly to the backhand side, though a forehand also draws the player out of position.) Once the player is drawn out of position, it's just a matter of you attacking that ball quickly to an open corner.

Another way is to serve short side-top to the forehand. Many players have trouble attacking this ball, and so you tend to get a softer return you can attack quickly - and while the opponent is drawn over the table reaching for that short ball to the forehand. Or serve a breaking sidespin serve deep to the backhand - many players will take this ball late and essentially roll it back, allowing you to go for the first quick, aggressive shot.

Of course, the best way to overcome a quicker player is to keep the ball deep, attack his elbow and wide corners, and focus on making consistent, strong shots. 

Trials and Tribulations

After a month of playing great (due to extra practice, weight training, and stretching), over the last week I've been feeling progressively stiffer, especially in the upper back. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens. Exercising and stretching only help it marginally. Unfortunately, this is causing havoc to my forehand attacking game in practice matches. After a month of feeling like I had the speed of a meteor, now I'm feeling a bit more like a meteorite. Dan Seemiller told me this used to happen to him as well as he got older, that there were times he just couldn't play, and who am I to disagree with him? Anyway, I'm not playing terrible, just not nearly as well as before. I can still pretty much go through "lower players," but I'm not challenging stronger, faster players (i.e. our top juniors) so much anymore. Hopefully it'll come back. I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams next weekend (Fri-Sun), and fortunately the players have to do the playing; I don't.

Video Coaching

I'm off this morning for another two-hour video coaching session. We're not only watching the player I'm coaching, but other possible opponents as well. Top players, if you feel a cold tingle going down your spine, we're watching you.

USA Interviews at the World Junior Championships

Modern Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Why a simple game holds the key to world peace. (From the English newspaper The Independent.)

How to Practice Without a Serious Practice Partner

Coach Tao of Table Tennis University explains how to practice while playing games (4:58).

Non-Table Tennis - "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination" anthology

I recently submitted three stories to "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination," a science fiction and fantasy anthology put out by the famous editor Warren Lapine. They are literally the highest paying SF/fantasy anthology, and received well over 1000 submissions. All three of my stories made the final 40! (They expect to pick only about 20.) Here's what Warren wrote about my stories: "Larry, your stories were passed up to me by three different first readers in one night. I think that's a record." One of the assistant editors wrote, "Larry, I spent the last section of this evening wishing I had been first reader on one of your stories! Even if you don't make it into Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, know that you impressed a multitude of readers, writers, and editors, with myriad tastes." Okay, I'm ready to write some more stories! (Meanwhile, they plan to announce the final selections by Wednesday.) (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job, I mean my mostly night job, which is table tennis.)

Behind-the-back winner

Here's Liam Pitchford (English #1 player in men's and juniors) hitting a behind-the-back winner at the World Junior Championships last week. Notice how nonchalant he is about it? This reminds me of the best shot I ever saw in table tennis, also from an English junior. In the late 1980s, an English junior star trained for a week or so with the top USA juniors at the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While playing a match with Chi-Ming Chui (Chi-Sun's older brother), he mis-hit a serve almost straight up. Chi-Ming pulverized the shot. The English junior, seeing he was about to be creamed with the ball, turned his back, and without looking, jumped into the air and made a backhand, over-the-head, no-look counter-smash as the ball was rising from the table! He was as surprised as anyone watching - he had no idea he'd actually make the shot.

***

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September 30, 2011

Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em

Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.

Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.

Peter Li and Michael Landers in China

Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.

Weight Training Update

During my second session of my new weight training regimen I added four new exercises to the list: fly & rear delts, calf extension, and back extension. The calf extension was especially obvious - guess which muscle is used when short-stepping around the table? And the fly delts seem to build up muscles used when forehand looping. I'm basically an amateur when it comes to weight training, and yet I'm gradually beginning to remember that I was somewhat knowledgeable about table tennis weight training routines back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've forgotten a lot, but it's starting to come back. Here is my updated regimen, three times a week, doing three sets of ten for each, usually after a table tennis session:

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)
  11. Fly Delts
  12. Rear Delts
  13. Calf Extension
  14. Back Extension

Also, I made the interesting discussion that one of the people I rent the downstairs of my townhouse to works at Fitness First. (I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors to a father and 23-year-old son; the latter is the one who works at Fitness First.) We discussed my routine, and he thought (as did a commenter here) that I should eventually go to free weights, so as to build up the stabilizing muscles. But he thought my plan of using the machines until I'm a bit stronger and more experienced seemed reasonable. I did discover they have free weights at the back of the Planet Fitness I'm working out at.

Werner Schlager exhibition shots

Here's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria playing an exhibition point (0:51) against Oh Sang Eun of Korea.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book

Yes, "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement," by Mayumi Itoh, 266 pages, is out! But $72???

Another option for those interested is to read Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 5, which covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy. (Presumably the Itoh book covers things a big differently; Tim covers it in a very personal way, since he was on the trip to China, and part of the U.S. tour.) You can buy the eleven volumes in this series (individually or all of them) at TimBogganTableTennis.com, or you can read it online:

Inspirational Music for Table Tennis

I may have posted this once before, but the subject of inspirational music for table tennis came up recently, so here's a good listing. I don't actually train with music, but many do, and many find listening to such music before playing revs them up. (These are mostly from movies.) What are yours?

A Cat and Beverly Hills Cop

And since we're on the subject of table tennis music, here's a cat, table tennis, and the theme music to Beverly Hills Cop (starring Eddie Murphy at his peak). (3:42)

***

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August 23, 2011

Hidden Serves

At the higher levels (i.e. 2600 and up), most players hide their serve because most umpires simply are not enforcing the rules. The main rule in question is, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws."  Many players have learned to just barely hide contact from their opponent, but they do it so quickly and subtly that umpires, sitting off to the side, aren't sure if they have hidden the serve - and instead of warning and then faulting the player for not fulfilling the rule quoted here, they let it go. And so those who cheat are rewarded.

There are always exceptions, such as world #6 Vladimir Samsonov, who never hides his serve. How good would he be if he did so? But he plays against hidden serves regularly, and developed his game before hidden serves were illegal, and so can return them effectively.

Before, illegal hidden serves was mostly a problem at the highest levels. Now it's spreading to the cadet levels. It's survival of the fittest, and the "fittest" are those who win, and more and more these are the ones who hide their serves.

The problem is you cannot learn to return hidden serves unless you practice against them on a regular basis for a long time. (It's not easy learning to read spin from the way the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, and to do so quickly enough to react properly.) And you can't do this unless your practice partners use them. So the only real way to teach players to return hidden serves is to teach them to all to hide their serves. Plus, even if you learn to return hidden serves, you have to use them yourself if you want to compete evenly.

The problem is that this is cheating. But unless they illegally hide their serves, players cannot compete with their peers who hide their serves. I've watched far too many matches where two players seemed evenly matched, but one player gets clobbered because his serve returns go all over the place - in the net, off the side, straight up or off the end - because they simply can't return hidden serves since they haven't practiced regularly against these illegal serves.

It's frustrating to coaches who train up-and-coming juniors. What do we tell them? To cheat? Or to accept that all their training is wasted as far as competing with their peers who are willing to use these illegal serves?

The ITTF is aware of the problem, and is looking into solutions. I wish they'd hurry. (One proposal talked about is to require the serve to be visible to both umpires, or to where the umpire would sit if there was an umpire. This would make it almost impossible to hide the serve from the opponent.)

Suggested rubber and blade combinations for beginning and intermediate players

At the request from the forum, this morning I wrote an extensive article on this for my blog. Then I realized it really should be a Tip of the Week. So look to see it next Monday morning. Instead, I wrote above about hidden serves. (I had Tips written for the next two weeks, but I'll bump each a week. So you can also look forward to "Five Steps to a Great Spin Serve," and "The Myth of Thinking Too Much.")

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 11

You can now begin reading Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 11, which covers 1981-82. Chapter One went up yesterday; a new chapter will go up each week for the next 35 weeks - yes, there's 35 chapters. Better still, visit TimBogganTableTennis.com and buy a volume or eleven! Here's the dedication page and acknowledgement page, where Tim thanks those who helped out. (I'm in both, in particular the dedication page, for doing the page layouts and photo work.)

George Hendry, RIP, one more time

Here's Tim Boggan's obit of Hendry. (Tim quoted a stanza of my Ode to Hendry from 1992, which I reprinted on Friday.)

U.S. Teams Dominate in Canadian Junior and Cadet Open

Here's the story.

U.S. Paralympic Team Shines in Rio

Here's the story.

Ping Pong Albums

Here's a 1997 album called Momus Ping Pong, which features a table tennis oriented cover, including a large gorilla with a ping-pong paddle. Here's a video of the album (4:33). Here's a 1979 Pablo Cruise album called Part of the Game, with turtles playing ping-pong on the front cover. Here's a larger picture of the cover. Here's a video of the album (3:47). Anybody want to review these "table tennis" albums?

In China, no more Ping-Pong Diplomacy

At least that was the headline of a story in Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section!

***

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August 19, 2011

MDTTC Coaching Camp - Day Nine

  • Today's focus was on footwork. When I announced that, the groans could be heard in China, where the sonic vibrations caused massive nationwide lets. Of course, all table tennis drills are footwork drills - we just don't spend much time reminding players.
  • One player said he wanted to know how he could "move up a level." Talk about coincidence - one of my favorite articles I've written is "How to Move Up a Level"! I pointed out the article in his copy of Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. I also introduced him to With Winning in Mind: The Mental Management System, by Lanny Bassham, one of the best sports psychology books around.
  • During break, the kids played "napkin poker." If the coaches won't let you play for real money, why not?
  • Camp ends tomorrow - final report will be on Monday. 

Serving and Gripping and Wrist, Oh My!

Do you change your grip when you serve? You should for nearly all serves. Most spin comes from the wrist. Few service motions get maximum wrist action with a normal shakehands grip, which is designed more for stable strokes than wristy spin serves. If you aren't sure how to change your trip to maximize the wrist action and spin, ask a top player or coach to show you. Or just experiment, rotating the racket in your hand and adjusting the finger positioning until you find ways to maximize your wrist snap. (This came up several times in the camp.)

Table Tennis Primer

Here's The Daily Lesson/Ping-Pong (1:46), a nice table tennis primer by table tennis coach and sports psychologist Dora Kurimay. Here's the text under the video: "Chances are, you either grew up with a ping-pong table in your basement or played a few less-than-friendly games somewhere else. In addition, it's likely you've never had a lesson from a pro (and sorry, watching "Balls of Fury" doesn't count). That is, until now, courtesy of former Hungarian champ Dora Kurimay. Tap on the video above to learn proper footwork as well as the perfect grip. That should be more than enough to lift your game out of the cellar."

What do Barack Obama, Susan Sarandon, Lil Jon and Lindsey Vonn have in common?

Yes, table tennis - here's the article!

1971 Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's a new first-hand account.

George Hendry, RIP

USATT Hall of Famer George Hendry, one of the last of the great hardbat players, died Wednesday, Aug. 17, a few days short of age 91. Here's his Hall of Fame bio, and a picture (he's on far side). I've known him for 30+ years, so it was a shock to hear the news. After he won Over 60 and Over 70 at the USA Nationals one year, and George Brathwaite had won Over 40 and over 50, I staged a picture of the two of them jumping into the air and giving each other high-fives. After he'd won the 1990 World Over 70 Singles Championships, I wrote the following Ode to him.

You Are Old, Father Hendry
Ode to 1990 World Over 70 Champion George Hendry
From March/April 1992 Table Tennis Topics
By Larry Hodges
(With apologies to You Are Old, Father William by Lewis Carroll from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

"You are old, George Hendry," the young man spoke,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly hit a hard stroke,
Do you think at your age that is right?"

"In my youth," George Hendry replied as he rocked,
I feared hitting myself in the head;
My follow-throughs got my skull dented and pocked;
A few more dents shouldn't hurt it, I've said."

"You are old," said the youth in another resort,
"And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you smash winners from all parts of the court –
Pray, what is the reason for that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he combed his long pips,
"I kept all my limbs very loose;
'Course, it's this fast sponge that lets me go for those rips,
While the other side's good for a ruse."

"You are old," said the youth, "and your legs are too weak
To get to the shots that you hit;
Yet I can see that your movements are still very sleek,
Pray, how do you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said George Hendry, "I was a retriever,
And had to run down many balls;
Chase after each shot, that was my endeavor,
Which often meant running through walls!"

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced a ping pong ball on the end of your nose –
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said George Hendry, "no more am I able;
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or get kicked through the table!"

***

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