March 25, 2014

Smooth Acceleration + Grazing Contact = Great Spin

This came up last night in the Beginning/Intermediate Class I teach on Monday nights. The two most common mistakes players make in failing to create great spin are these two, which are the pillars of creating spin, especially when serving, pushing, and chopping. It's true for looping as well, but only for slow, spinny loops. When you loop faster, you sink the ball more into the sponge. (I'm mostly writing for players using inverted sponge, but the same principles apply to most pips-out surfaces as well, as long as they have some grippiness.) 

When serving and pushing, beginning and intermediate players often use a short stroke (to help with control) and sort of jab at the ball. They are thinking that the velocity they get with this jabbing will create great spin. Actually, it just leads to a loss of control as you can't control the racket this way. Plus, for physics reasons I won't get into (partially because I'm not a physicist), you get far more spin if you smoothly accelerate into the ball, and almost hold the ball on your racket as it carries it through the shot. This literally slings the ball out with tremendous spin.

But you only get this tremendous spin if you graze the ball - the second problem many players have. Too often players sink the ball into the sponge at an angle, which isn't the same as grazing the ball. To learn to graze the ball, just toss one up and graze it with your racket, making it spin. Generally do this with a pendulum serve motion, but contact the ball on the left side of the ball (for a righty), with the racket going mostly up and slightly left, so that the ball goes straight up. Catch it and repeat. It's important to spin the ball so it goes straight up, both so you can catch it and repeat, and so you can develop ball control. (If you can't control the direction the ball goes when you graze it with this exercise, how can you do it when actually serving?)

As always, I recommend beginning players get a colored ball (or put markings on a ball) so they can see the spin they are creating. This gives feedback on whether you are really spinning the ball or not.

For more advanced players, I recommend they also do the ball spinning drill I wrote about above. It's a great way to really develop those grazing skills so you can both spin the heck out of the ball and control it. Advanced players should also experiment with smooth acceleration and grazing on their spin shots, and see how much they can make the ball spin.

When you can put great spin on the ball with your serve, apply the same principles to pushing and slow looping. Don't be afraid to throw in some slow, spinny loops, even if you normally loop pretty hard. Slow, spinny loops are extremely effective at the beginning/intermediate level, but many forget or never realize how effective they are at the advanced level if not overused. They not only are effective on their own as the opponent struggles to adjust to the slower speed and higher spin, but the contrast makes your other loops more effective.


Yep, it's snowing again here in Maryland. We're supposed to get 2-3 inches, though it shouldn't stick on the roads and sidewalks, which are too warm. For once, schools and government offices are open - usually a single snowflake closes everything down. This has been one crazy winter, with one snowfall after another.

Reverse Pendulum Serve of Achanta Sharath Kamal

Here's the video (36 sec), which shows it first in slow motion, then in super-slow motion. This serve, combined with a regular pendulum serve (so you can spin the ball both ways) is an incredible one-two punch.

2014 Youth Olympic Games: Coach/Leader Selection

Here's the info. The 2014 Youth Olympic Games will be held Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.


With the demise of the forum, USATT has set up their own forum.

No Hands Table Tennis?

Here's the video (6:47) of this unbelievable armless Egyptian star who plays with the racket in his mouth! Wow. Just wow. (Near the end he's even fishing and lobbing.) Interesting thought - how good would this player be against regular players, and how good would he be against a good player who went out of his way to go after the weaknesses of the "mouth" grip, such as serving super short, or with wide-angled breaking sidespin serves?

Waldner on David Hasselhoff Show

Here are two pictures of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner on the David Hasselhoff Show, in a posting by Waldner himself. Alas, the video is not yet available. (I searched on Youtube.)  

Shot of the Day

Here's the video - see the shot nine seconds in, and the opponent's response!

Top Ten Shots

Here's a Top Ten Shots video (6:19) from Mrtheportal Tabletennisvideo. Includes a "bonus" eleventh (the first one shown) of a nice rally ending with a crazy side-post ricochet shot and a pair of smiling girls, one of them a little bit exasperated.

Bobby Flay's Ping-Pong Throwdown

Here's the video (3:07). "Chef Bobby Flay has been challenged to a throwdown, but this time it’s not in a kitchen! He's used to taking challenges there on his new Food Network show, *Beat Bobby Flay*, but now he’s up against 12-year-old ping pong prodigy Estee Ackerman in a battle with rackets and a ball. Will Estee take it easy on Bobby?"

Extreme Ping Pong

Here's the video (3:11) - you really have to see the acrobatics they show in the "making of" this video! And here's the actual final video (3:52)!

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March 17, 2014

Maryland weather is at it again - another seven inches of snow here in Germantown. Schools and Federal Government are closed. I'm guessing we've set some records this winter for total snow accumulation and for most separate snowfalls of six inches or more. (Now I have to decide whether to cancel the Beginning/Intermediate class I teach on Mondays, 6:30-8:00 PM.)

Meanwhile, I've had a continuous headache since I returned from the Cary Cup Open this weekend - went to bed with one last night, and woke up with it this morning. So I'm going to do the unforgiveable and take the day off and go back to bed, and postpone the blog and Tip of the Week until tomorrow. I was going to blog about the Cary Cup, but I really didn't see much of it since I was busy coaching. The results are linked from the Cary Cup home page. More on it tomorrow. Below are links to the regular features on the tournament by Barbara Wei.

And now I'll leave you with a tantalizing quiz question: Who is this famous table tennis writer? Six letters, with the "O" and "G" filled in. (It's not who you think - I think! First one who comments with "correct" answer wins.)
 _O_G_ _

March 3, 2014

Snow, God, and Godzilla

With the snow piling up outside as God serves vengeance upon the Earth for our constant tinkering with table tennis rules, everyone else is getting the day off. I don't want to go against the tide of doomed humanity and so I too will take the day off. So no blog today, other than this. The Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow. (Actually, I've got a bunch of things to get done today, in particular the new MDTTC newsletter, finalizing a short story I'm working on, and a secret table tennis project I'm working on - shhh! More on that later on.) Alas, only those on Noah's giant snowmobile will survive the massive snows to repopulate the Earth, bringing back 38mm balls, 21-point games, celluloid balls, and (of course) the print version of USA Table Tennis Magazine. The rest of us will die horrible deaths, freezing and suffocating as we are buried in hundreds of feet of snow and (if God has a sense of humor) poly ping-pong balls that'll cascade out of the sky.

Meanwhile, here's a video of a new Snickers commercial (48 sec) that features Godzilla playing table tennis. Humanity's only hope is if Godzilla challenges God to ping-pong and defeats him, forcing him to stop the snow. (I'll coach Godzilla. I've studied videos of God, and his defense is weak - if you attack, he turns his cheek toward you and loses sight of the ball. Also, he has a weak smash as he claims to be against killing, except of course by flood or snow.) They can play in the Philippines, God versus Godzilla in the Thrilla in Manila.

February 17, 2014

Tip of the Week

Five-Ball Attack.

Most Difficult Questions for Coaches and Players

For me, here are the seven most difficult judgment calls for each student. I could write entire blogs and Tips on each. Whether you're a coach or a player, you too should be thinking about these things. (Readers, let me know if there are any below you'd like me to elaborate on.) 

  • When to stop serious tinkering with the forehand and backhand loops.
  • How much to topspin the backhand.
  • When to go to advanced tensor sponges.
  • Whether they should play tournaments when working on something new.
  • Balance of rote drills, random drills, and game-type play.
  • How much to focus on counterlooping on forehand, as opposed to blocking.
  • How to motivate them.

One-Day Camp

Today we have a one-day camp at MDTTC. Schools are closed because of President's Day. Come join us, 10AM-6PM! (There's a two-hour lunch break, with Chinese food delivered to the club.) It'll be mostly kids, but adults are welcome as well. No lectures today; just training.

Beginning/Intermediate Class

I have a new 10-week beginning/intermediate class starting tonight, 6:30-8:00 PM. The class is for beginners up to roughly 1500. I've been playing around with the schedule a bit, and made some changes from past sessions. For session one, we're going to focus on the grip, stance, and forehand, but I'm also going to introduce them to spin serves, starting with some exercises where they learn to create spin, and working our way to Seriously Spinny Serves. (Do you have SSS?) It's going to be a long day, with the one-day camp (see above) and then the class.

Table Tennis Tips Status

My newest book is now at the proofing stage. Sometime this week I plan on taking all 208 pages (single spaced, with 86,000 words) to Ledos and spend a day proofing and eating pizza. Except for the cover, this one is all text. It's a compilation of all 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, but now in one volume and in an orderly fashion, organized by topic instead of by the date it happened to go up. I'm also going to write an intro to some of the Tips. The cover is done; I'll post it sometime soon.


We ended up with 19 inches of snow at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. We closed for one day, while local schools closed for two. I didn't want to shovel snow since it'd inevitably lead to back problems. Here's the way I see it. The powerful forces of nature dropped snow on us, and the powerful forces of nature will eventually melt it away. Who is mankind to defy nature with their puny snow shovels? (However, the people I rent to downstairs shoveled the front area, solving the problem. But I did eventually shovel out my car so I could get to club to coach, and yes, I did feel twinges in my back, my knees, and my foot. But hopefully nothing serious.) 

U.S. Open Entry Form

Here it is! And here's the U.S. Open page.

Stellan Documentary

Here's a documentary (5:12) on Sweden's 1971 World Men's Singles Champion and San Diego coach Stellan Bengtsson.

Robot Table Tennis

Last Tuesday I blogged about the upcoming "challenge" between Timo Boll and the table tennis robot Kuka. Who'll win? Duh!!! Timo will easily win. There's no way the robot will be able to react to his spins (looping, pushing, serving, etc.), and I doubt it it'll react to the speed of his shots either. Maybe someday in the future. While Kuka may be the best table tennis playing robot right now, I don't think he's going to be able to go from basic beginner to advanced in two years. Here's where robotic table tennis (3:06) was about two years ago.

Wang Hao's Son

Here he is - meet Wang Ruiting!

Michael Ealy vs. Soo Yeon Lee

Here's the video (3:43). The two squared off on the Arsenio Show. Guess who won between actor Ealy (the self-proclaimed master of table tennis) and pro player Lee?

Table Tennis Ballboy Tutorial

Here's the hilarious video (3:32). I especially like the training sequences starting at 2:07.

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February 12, 2014

Here Comes the Snow (again)

We've had several snowstorms already this year here in Maryland and much of the east coast. Tonight and tomorrow we're supposed to get another 5-12 inches. Plus it's 18 degrees out, and was 12 when I got up this morning. I stocked up with supplies at the supermarket last night, and have several great books ready, as well as work to do on my upcoming book, "Table Tennis Tips." Bring it on!!!

Quips and Quotes

My favorite quips while playing:

  1. "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.)
  2. "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.)
  3. "I'm too good to miss that shot." (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  4. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987." (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  5. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  6. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  7. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "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.)
  11. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  12. "The most powerful loop in the world." (With a Dirty Harry accent).

Inspiring table tennis quotes from:

Things I constantly say or harp on with my students:

  • Fix your grip. Balance. Wider stance. Relax the shoulders. Free hand. Rotate the shoulders. Topspin (or backspin) the ball. Remember the feel of the good shots, forget the bad ones. Place your shots. Don't think, just do. Step, don't lean. First move has to be the right move. More spin! Vary your serves. 

Three more quotes on playing. (I should have kept a running log of such quotes over the years, in which case I'd have dozens of these.)

  • "If you focus on playing well, you probably will; if you focus on winning, you probably won't."
  • "If you can't write a book about your own game, then you either don't have a game, or don't know your game."
  • "Let go, have fun." (Stolen from Ariel Hsing, who used to write this on her arm before playing.)

Here's a page where I keep my favorite non-TT quotes (including three by me).

Here's an article I sold to Science Fiction Writers of America for their web page, "Fifty Writing Quotes." I came up with all fifty of these in one long feverish night.

Shirley Temple RIP

Shirley Temple Black died Monday. Here are five pictures of the famous child actress playing table tennis.

International Table Tennis

Here's where you can get a daily fix of international table tennis.

22 Great Table Tennis GIFs

Here they are! (A few of the links don't seem to be valid, but most are there.) 

Non-Table Tennis: Redcoats

Yesterday I sold my 70th short story (all science fiction or fantasy), with the sale of "Redcoats" to Abyss & Apex. (The story parodies Christmas in the 1790s, with alien conquerors in red coats coming down the chimney every Christmas to get tribute left out for them, and how a boy defeats the aliens.) It's also my 1498th published or sold article or story - I'll hit 1500 shortly. (Here's a listing of my complete published works.)

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March 6, 2013

How Many Serves Are There?

There are a lot of possible serves in table tennis. How many? Let's look at the ways to classify serves.

  1. Spin. There are 27 types of spin. These include topspin and backspin (they are opposites of each other), sidespin in both directions, corkscrewspin in both directions, and combinations of these. (Yes, you can serve three of these at once, such as a topspin-sidespin-corkscrewspin serve.) There is also no-spin, which counts as one of the 27. There are also all the variable amounts of spin, but we won't get into that here. (For more info on spin, including the 27 types of spin, see my article Everything You Wanted to Know About Spin - But Were Afraid to Ask.)
  2. Placement. You can serve wide to the forehand, wide to the backhand, to the middle, and everywhere else. However, we'll call it three locations, even though there are many more in reality.
  3. Depth. Most serves should go either very long (first bounce near the endline), half-long (so second bounce would be near the endline), short (so the second bounce would be over the table) or very short (so it would bounce more than three times on the table). We'll call it four depths.
  4. Serving Position. Most players serve from the backhand corner. However, there are also advantages to serving from the middle backhand (so to have a better angle short to the forehand), from the middle, and from the forehand side. We'll call it four places to serve from, although there are in reality an infinite number of places to serve from.  
  5. Serving Motion. There are many. Here are the main ones - and this doesn't take into account the huge number of deceptive motions that can be made before or after contact. But most serves come under one of these four categories, with which you can create any of the 27 spins:
  • Forehand Pendulum (including Reverse Pendulum)
  • Tomahawk (including Reverse Tomahawk)
  • Backhand (including Reverse Backhand)
  • Windshield Wiper (left or right)

So we have 27 types of spin, 3 placements, 4 depths, 4 serving positions, and 4 serving motions. This gives us 27 x 3 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 5184 types of serves. But we haven't even talked about speed (it complicates things, since you mostly vary the speed on long serves), not to mention the amount of spin, varying placements and serving positions, as well as all the deceptive service motions, as well as other serving motions not listed here. So there are in reality far more than 5184 types of serves - infinitely more. But if you serve an average of 20 times per match, this should last you about 2592 matches before you have to start recycling your serves. If you play ten matches per week, this'll last you 21.6 months. If you run out of serves, come see me on Christmas in 2014.

Snow and Local Schools

A big snowstorm hit us early this morning, closing all local schools and completely befuddling my dog, who still can't understand why the outside world sometimes chooses to be cold white stuff. It's supposed to snow most of the day, with up to 10 inches, though it looks like it'll be considerably less - we'll see. With schools closed, some of our local juniors may head off to the club later today. Perhaps I'll join them.

Table Tennis for Thinkers Ad

Here's the one-page color ad that will appear in the upcoming USA Table Tennis Magazine. Next step - finding someone to do a book review.

Book Signing

This Friday at 7PM I will be doing a book signing at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, in Germantown, MD, USA. I will be selling and signing four of my books - hope to see you there! All books will cost $15, with a Special - buy the Tactics book, get a copy of the Tales & Techniques book for only $5! Here's the info flyer. Below are the books - later I hope to go back to selling Steps to Success and Tales & Techniques online.

Table Tennista

Here are recent new articles there, some with video.

Joao Monteiro

Here's a video (1:40) showing Joao Monteiro of Brazil (world #62) in slow motion.

Racket Sports Juggler

Here's a video (2:06) of a juggler who specializes in racket sports juggling. He juggles balls and rackets from table tennis, tennis, badminton, and squash. Watch for his ping-pong paddle juggling, and his juggling with a ping-pong paddle vertically balanced on his head.

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