April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

I had a question on the six-inch toss rule, so I decided to submit it to USATT's Stump the Ump, where umpire questions are answered by Paul Kovac, an international umpire and certified referee. (He's also a regular at my club, MDTTC, and referees the MDTTC tournaments.) The question was seemingly simple, but as you'll see, may not be as obvious as you'd think. Here's my question:  

Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.

Here is the answer Paul gave, which is now published at Stump the Ump.

This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:

2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

The important part is:

"...so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."

The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.

Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.


However, I don't think the answer is that clear, as shown by the 3-3 split by umpires/referees when I asked the question at the Nationals. Here's my response to Paul's answer:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. However, I don't think the ruling on this is that clear, based on the actual wording of the rules.

The rules say the ball must rise at least 6". Suppose a player serves so that the ball leaves his hand exactly 40 inches above the ground. If the ball then goes up six inches, it has risen six inches, from 40 inches to 46 inches, and it would seem to have fulfilled requirements of the rule, regardless of what the serving hand does. Nowhere does the rule state that there must be six inches clearance between the hand and the ball - that's a common sense interpretation, but I don't see how one can get that from the wording of the rules.

As noted, many umpires and players read the rule as it is written (and interpret it differently than what you wrote), i.e. the ball must rise six inches, and since it isn't indicated otherwise, they measure it from the point where it leaves the hand. Based on that, a player's serving hand could rise and stay with the ball, and still fulfill the requirements of the rules as they are worded as long as he doesn't use it to hide the ball, and as long as he quickly removes the serving arm and hand from the space between the ball and the net. If there is an interpretation that the ball must rise six inches relative to the hand - which would be difficult to justify, based on the wording of the rule - then that needs to be published somewhere so as to remove the confusion.

I'm CCing Roman and Wendell again as I'd like to see if they concur with your ruling, and why. This came up twice at the Nationals (I didn't make an issue of it), and as noted below, six umpires/referees I asked about it split down the middle on the ruling - so it's obviously not clear to everyone, even officials, and I guarantee most players aren't sure about this. Once the wording of a ruling on this is agreed on, I think this should be published in the Stump the Ump column, or somewhere, so it can be referred to. (Ideally, they'd change the wording of the serving rule to make this clear, but that probably won't happen.)

-Larry Hodges

So what do you think? Is there anything in the actual rules that state that there must be six inches of separation between the hand and the ball when serving? I don't see it. All I see is that the ball must rise six inches, and I don't see how that is affected by the location of the serving hand. I'll go by this interpretation even though I don't really agree with it. I haven't received a response yet from Roman Tinyszin (chair of the USATT Officials and Rules Advisory Committee) or Wendell Dillon (former chair).

Have a rules question? Feel free to ask me. If I can't answer it (impossible!!!), then we can submit it to Stump the Ump.


As I blogged about on Friday, the episode of Veep that would "feature" table tennis was on Sunday night. Alas, while there was some recreational table tennis, all the scenes with the three top players I'd brought in were cut. However, in most of the scenes taking place at the fake Clovis corporation - about half the episode - I'm often standing just behind the camera or off to the side, out of view, watching it as it is filmed. 

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

Here's the article, where he explains why he wants to deal with the "China" crisis, and will remain involved in the newly created position of ITTF Chairman.

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship.

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

Here's the video (52 sec, including slow motion replay). Maze is on far side (lefty). This'll wake you up before you move on!


Here's the home page for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, April 28 - May 5, in Tokyo, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. It starts today. Since Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us, all of the first day action should be complete already. (So 9AM east coast time is 10PM Tokyo time.) Here are more articles involving the Worlds.

USA at the Worlds

  • Men's Video Update #1 (1:37) by Jim Butler (before play began).
  • Women's Video Update #1 (43 sec) by Lily Zhang (before play began).
  • Day One Results (do search for "USA"): USA Men went 2-0, defeating Luxembourg 3-1, and Kazakhstan 3-2. USA Women were apparently in the middle of their first tie, and were listed as 1-1 with Hungary, so by the time you read this that'll probably be done.

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

Here are the photos - click on the photos to see more.  

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

Here's the new article by Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star.

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

Here's a video (10:11) where they demonstrate and explain (in Chinese) their serves. Even if you can't understand the Chinese you can watch the serves themselves. About halfway through they start showing other players doing other shots.

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:27), where he talks about his table tennis and shows him playing.

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

Now that's a unique paddle! I want one. Especially the swimming pool part. Artwork by Milan Mirkovic. 

Beetle Bailey on Friday

Here's the cartoon! So Beetle has learned to serve with heavy backspin?

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's the cartoon! Now I'll never look at our own junior program the same way.

Table Tennis Epic

Here's a hilarious video (1:12), showing Michael Maze and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in an "epic" match . . . sort of.

Send us your own coaching news!

February 10, 2014

Tip of the Week

Never Give a Server What He's Looking For.

Developing Good Technique

Table tennis clubs are full of players with poor technique. And there's nothing wrong with this, if the player doesn't care, or at least doesn't put a high priority on it. There are also lots of good players with poor techniques, though few of them get beyond good and become very good. That's subjective, of course; I can name a number of players who have reached 2200 and 2300 levels despite poor technique. The key is they developed a game around that poor technique, and didn't get good because of the bad technique, but in spite of it.

Here's comes the part a lot don't realize, and it's a three-parter.

1) You will not reach your potential unless you develop good technique. This doesn't mean everyone plays with exactly the same technique. There are some techniques where there's clearly a "best" way, and there are others where there are multiple options. Often it depends on the rest of the player's game. Some players have developed such unorthodox games that what is proper technique for others might not be proper technique for them. But that's a rarity. Almost always, to reach your potential, you need to develop good technique.

2) Anyone can develop good technique. I don't care how poor your current technique is, you can fix it, and have good technique. This doesn't mean you'll have great technique - that's almost impossible once you've developed bad habits. But you don't need perfect technique in this sport (except in most cases at the highest levels), and good technique will take you pretty far.

3) It will take lots of time and effort to develop good technique if you currently have bad technique. You'll also lose to a lot of players if you continue to compete while changing your technique. (I usually advise against that.) It takes a lot of saturation training to fix bad technique, and you'll probably need a coach - which usually costs money. But it's a one-time fix, because once it's fixed, it's fixed for a lifetime, as long as you continue to play regularly.

So, do you have bad technique? It's your choice whether to keep it that way, or make it a goal to fix that technique once and for all.

Chinese Team Squad Trials Ranking and Videos

Here's a short article with the final ranking of the Chinese Team Squad (men and women), with links to numerous videos of them in action. 

Zhang Jike on the New Plastic Balls

Here's the article, where he says the speed dropped some. Unfortunately, the article doesn't say which of the new balls they were using. There are at least three ITTF approved plastic balls. Leaving that out sort of makes the article somewhat less useful, and I hesitated in including it here.

USATT Criteria and Procedures for Entering US Athletes in International Competitions

Here's the article from USATT.

NCTTA Newsletter

Here's the Feb. 2014 National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter.

Ping Pong Summer

Here's video (2:45) of a preview of the coming-of-age comedy coming this summer, starring Susan Sarandon and a break dancing, rapping and ping-pong playing 13-year-old.

European Cup Highlights

Here's video (6:52, with time between points removed) of Denmark's Michael Maze's (world #28, but formerly #8) win over Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) in the semifinals of the European Cup this past weekend. (Ovtcharov defeated teammate Timo Boll, world #8, in the semifinals - they were the top two seeds, so presumably one of them was upset in preliminaries?) Here's video of the other semifinals (5:09) where Portugal's Marcos Freitas (world #15) defeats France's Adrien Mattenet (world #52). And here's video of the final (4:54) where Freitas defeats Maze.

Unreal Counterlooping Rally - Ovtcharov vs. Boll

Here's video of the rally (48 sec, includes replays), which took place at the 2014 Europe Cup this past weekend.

Wheelchair Player Cindy Ranii

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury News, "She may be in a wheelchair, but Cindy Ranii is a ping-pong powerhouse."

Shopping Mall Exhibition

Here's video (40 sec) of an exhibition in a shopping mall, with lots of lobbing and changing of sides during rallies.

Holy TT Racket

Here's the racket I lend out to my opponents. 

Send us your own coaching news!

September 16, 2013

Tip of the Week

Real Tactics versus Parroting Tactics.

Tournament Tactics

I coached at a tournament this weekend, which inspired this week's Tip of the Week. Some strange things took place at this USATT-sanctioned tournament. The first match my student played was against a player using sandpaper (!), which isn't allowed in USATT tournaments, but they allowed it. We decided not to protest, and simply played (and won) the match. There was also a group of four that started at 1PM. One player didn't show, and so the other three finished at 2PM, and were returning the clipboard to the desk when the fourth showed, a kid about 13, over an hour late. Rather than default him, the players were told to return to the table and play it out. Again, we didn't protest - I mean, it was just a kid - so we just played it out. (My player barely pulled it out in five games.)

I was coaching a 12-year-old named Sameer, who was rated 1131 but was somehow still eligible for Under 1100 since they were using older ratings. He won the event. The strange thing about his matches (other than playing against sandpaper) was that over and over his opponents had strong backhands but weak forehands. Sameer tends to serve into the backhand, and so struggled in the first game in match after match. Over and over between games I'd tell him to serve to the forehand, and over and over it worked.

Tournaments are great for bringing out strengths and weaknesses. My eyes were opened to just how effective Sameer's backhand loop is getting - and I was wondering if it would be read for the Teams in November! But his forehand loop, while generally strong, has a hitch in it sometimes that we need to work on. When he's not confident, he tends to stand up straight, almost falling back as he lifts the ball.

No-Luck Matches

John Olsen told me an interesting idea this weekend. Players often complain about nets and edges, and let's face it, certain styles get more of them than others. So John had recently played some matches where the rule was if the ball hit the net or edge, the point is a let. He found there was little difference in the results. However, as noted, there are certain styles that will get more of these than others, such as anyone with a dead surface (such as long pips or antispin), which tends to get more net balls than others. A rule like this might make a bigger difference for them. Style also affects the value of these shots. For example, a chopper probably gets more nets than most players, but since their balls are coming in slow (so opponents can react), and since the chopper is often off the table (and o unable to take advantage of weak returns of these nets), a chopper's net balls aren't as effective as some other styles.

Two More Full-Time Table Tennis Centers

I've added two more clubs to the list I maintain of full-time table tennis centers in the United States, bringing the number to 58. (In December of 2007 there were only about ten of them, and that's when I made a proposal to the USATT that they get involved in recruiting and training of coaches to create full-time centers - and was told that there wasn't a demand for such centers.) The two new ones:

USA Men's Champion Timothy Wang Versus Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar

Timothy took on the two PGA golfers. Here's the video (Wang vs. Kuchar, 1:40), and here's a photo gallery.  

Great Block by Dimitrij

Here's a video (12:36, time between points removed) of the recent LA Open Singles Final between Champion Dimitrij "Dima" Ovtcharov and Runner-up lefty Li Tianyu. See the great block by Dima in the point starting at 8:46! in the point starting at 8:46! (See the slow motion replay afterwards.) 

Spooky Pongers

Here's a spooky group of ping-pong players. Maybe this should have gone up on Friday the 13th, but better late than never. Kind of look like Star Wars Jawas, don't they?

Send us your own coaching news!

April 26, 2013

Audrey and Long Pips

A while back I blogged about how I was now coaching Audrey Weisiger, the former U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Coach. I gave her another lesson on Wednesday. She's getting steadier in rallies, can push, and can now create spin with her serves. At the start she was an all-backhand player, where she sort of slashed at the ball. Hitting forehands for her was like me trying to ice skate - i.e., not natural, and pretty much against the natural order of things. However, she now has a pretty good stroke, and has hit 50 or more in a row live.

But on the backhand she still tends to stroke down on the ball, often putting backspin on the ball with her downward-stroking backhand drive (more like a push). She also has trouble returning spin serves (as do all beginners), which is problematic as her primary goal at the moment is to beat a fellow figure skating coach who beats her over and over with his backhand sidespin serve.

So on Wednesday I tried an experiment. I pulled out one of my demo long pips rackets that I keep for students to practice against, the one without sponge on a Dr. Neubauer blade (designed for long pips blocking). She tried it out, and it was like me getting off a hated and not-designed-for-human-usage ice rink! She loved it, and was able to keep the ball in play much better and more effectively. Even better, she was able to return nearly all my spin serves with the long pips.

She'll keep the inverted on the forehand, and focus on steady drives and, when the ball's up, smashing. It also gives her an inverted side to serve with. I showed her how to use the inverted to serve backhand and then flip the inverted back to the forehand. I'm letting her borrow my long-pips racket for now, but soon she'll get one for herself.

Someday perhaps I'll blog about my bad experiences with ice skating.

Serving With Spin

I used to have a bunch of striped balls that I had beginning players use when they were learning to serve with spin. They gave much better feedback than a normal ball, where beginners can't really see how much spin they are getting. At some point I lost those balls. Well, I just ordered four six-packs of "sports" ping-pong balls ($3/pack), where they are colored to look like soccer balls, basketballs, and baseballs. This'll make it a lot easier to see what type of spin they are creating. They are also good for learning to read spin, especially off a serve. They are only one-star balls, but they are 40mm. I'll blog about this after they arrive and I start using them again.

Sharara Fights Back

On Wednesday I linked to the article at Table Tennista about the allegations of corruption against ITTF President Adham Sharara by European Union President Stefano Bosi, "Adham Sharara Accused Of Long-Term Corruption In The ITTF." Here is Sharara's response, "Sharara Fights Back Against Bosi's Allegations." Sharara says, "All the allegations concerning me modifying accounts or hiding the true income are all false," and "Anyone within the ITTF has the right to run for presidency. In addition, anyone also has the right to complain or clarify any issues. Unfortunately, some one is attacking me and at the same time campaigning."

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Vs Robert Gardos

Here's a great video (7:07) that just came out of these two playing in the Champions League in Europe, with the time between points taken out. Ovtcharov of Germany is world #7, Gardos of Austria is world #32. Watch some of the backhand serves of Ovtcharov. (But guess who wins this time?)

Stiga Videos

Stiga Table Tennis has a lot of videos on their webpage - the "Stiga Movie Channel." They are divided into:

A Touch of Magic

Here's a table tennis highlights music video (5:13) that came out last month.

The Misdirected Surprise Serve

Here it is (20 sec)! I've done this in exhibitions. ("Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No . . . it's my serve." And then you quick serve.)

Send us your own coaching news!

February 13, 2013

Tactical Matches

Over the past year I've sort of been the nemesis of one of our top juniors. Since I also sometimes coach this player, I know his game well. Until recently I had a simple way to take his game apart - relentlessly going short to his forehand. I'd serve short to the forehand with varied spins. If he served short, I dropped the ball short to the forehand (usually faking to the backhand first). The only way to stop my going short there was to serve long, and then I'd loop. Plus, because I knew the player so well, I was able to read his serves and tell early in his motion if he was serving long.

Alas, it is no more. Or should that Thank God it is no more? He's finally figured things out. When I serve short to the forehand, he's finally developed a competent flip. He can also drop it short. Or he reaches over and flips with his backhand, often using a banana flip. The more I go wide to his short forehand to get away from his backhand, the wider the angle he gets to my wide forehand. When he flips there, I have to go so wide that I'm open on the backhand on the next shot.

When he serves, he's giving more variations, so it's not as easy to drop the ball short. And just as with my short serves, he's gotten better when I do drop it short, flipping both forehand and backhand. He's also disguising his long serves better so I can't see them coming so easily.

So after at one point beating him 14 times in a row, I am sad - I mean glad! - to say he's won our last two. In fact, I've had to completely revamp my tactics against him, since the relentlessly-go-after-the-short-forehand tactics doesn't work so well anymore. However, this has led to some good news - for me. It's forced me to get more aggressive against his serves, bringing out my own inner backhand banana flip. So I'm now mixing in short receives and flips, and my flips are getting better and better. Unlike many of our past matches, which (because of my tactics) were often sloppy-seeming ones with few good rallies, now we're having really good rallies, and I'm battling with him, shot for shot. He may have won, but he may have awoken a sleeping giant. Or so I hope!

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

***Get your copy of Table Tennis for Thinkers Now! ***

The price right now is $17.95, but it likely will go up to $19.95 sometime soon, when dealers start to distribute it. Dealers would prefer the higher price, and they probably know the business better than I do. Most likely I'll also raise the Kindle price (currently at $9.99 for the text-only version) to about $11.95 when I have time to create and upload the version with pictures (hopefully within a few weeks). As noted previously, if I make "substantial changes" to the original version (and going from text only to adding 90 photos certainly qualifies), then they'll give a free download of the new version to those who downloaded the earlier version.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

So far we've done 20 chapters, 319 pages, 662 graphics. Projections: 29 chapters, 461 pages, 947 graphics. We expect to finish first draft Friday, and finish making corrections on Monday. Then it goes to the printer, and I sleep for a week. Or at least for an hour. (Note - besides the regular chapters, there are seven pages of covers, inside covers, acknowledgements, etc., which also include graphics, which is why the projections don't match up exactly to the ratio of the current 20 chapters to the planned 29.)

Ding Ning - Slow Motion Studies

Here's a video (1:57) that shows world #1 woman Ding Ning's technique in slow motion.

Samsonov over Ovtcharov in Swiss Open

Here's the article.

Ping Pong and Songs

It's for charity! "Lady Antebellum's charity initiative LadyAID™ Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee was created to bring awareness to and generate support for children in need locally, nationally, and globally through partners Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanerbilt, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Children's Miracle Network, myLIFEspeaks, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)."

Adam Bobrow's Valentine's Birthday Party

It's this Friday in LA. It's 3000 miles from me, so I better start driving!!! Here's what he wrote about it: "I haven't thrown a birthday party in AGES! I figure it will be a great way to get to see lots of my friends... old and new and bring some great people together for a fun night. There will be a DJ, a menu will delicious food and drinks and of course... many ping pong tables and awesome people to hit on. 8>) Come hang out, say hi, have a conversation with me, my friends or introduce me to your friends or just hang come play. It's FREE and it will be a blast! Parking is up to you... and dress however you want! (21 and over... dress that way)"

Table Tennis Street Art

An outdoor Christmas decoration?

Awesome Table Tennis Tricks

Here's a video (2:29) showing lots of incredible (though staged) table tennis shots, including replays in slow motion. Some great stuff!

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