Michael McFarland

June 17, 2014

Arm Wrestling and Table Tennis

During a break today during our MDTTC camp yesterday, several of the kids began arm wrestling. Alarms began blaring in my head.

Long ago I was a competitive arm wrestler. How competitive? Here's a picture in the newspaper of me winning the 1983 University of Maryland arm wrestling championships. (Little known fact: arm wrestling is more technique than strength, though of course at the higher levels you absolutely need both. In a few minutes I can teach an average person how to beat a much stronger person.) What's not mentioned in the picture caption was that during this match I hurt my arm so badly that I was out of table tennis for six months. And it was far worse than that - I've had ongoing arm problems ever since.

After I'd mostly recovered from this injury, someone heard about my arm wrestling background in the late 1980s, and challenged me to a match. I smiled, and pretty much slammed his arm down so fast it was over in one second. Result? I was out another five months or so as it healed again. (I actually played some during this time, but only blocking or chopping.) 

It not only knocked me out of table tennis for months at a time, it ruined my game on and off for years. When I hurt the arm I was a 2200 player. Here's chapter 11 of volume 14 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, which just went online. In it you'll find me losing in the final of Under 2000 to Stephen Yeh at the 1985 U.S. Open. Under 2000??? Me??? But that's what happens when your arm is constantly hurting, and you can barely loop or hit backhands. I probably took off 1-2 months to rest it at least 7-8 times, and it rarely helped. (I finally mostly got over it with a combination of ultrasound treatments, strength exercises involving stretching a thick rubber band in various ways, and lots of irritating rest.

I'm not the only one this has happened to. I'm hitting a blank, but I remember others who have injured their arm from arm wrestling and had to take time off from table tennis. It's just so easy to spend a few seconds with an impromptu and informal arm wrestling match, without realizing the possible consequences. Here's a page showing common injuries from arm wrestling. The list is rather long. 

So when I saw the kids arm wrestling, after a moment of reminiscing and reliving painful memories, I warned them against it. I also pulled aside some of our top juniors and sort of gave them the riot act - basically, do not risk all your years of training for this. No arm wrestling!

I wonder what other activities up-and-coming table tennis players should avoid. Skiing? (Several of our kids ski regularly, and as far as I know there's been no broken legs or other injuries.) Sky diving? Bungee jumping? Bear wrestling? Some coaches advise against tennis since it can mess with your table tennis strokes, and that's probably true for developing players, but I don't think it seriously affects a table tennis player whose strokes are ingrained.

If you want to see hyper-muscled arm wrestlers showing off their strength and then playing table tennis, here's the page.


Yesterday was the first day of our MDTTC summer camps. They are Mon-Fri every week for ten straight weeks. They are for all ages and levels, but are dominated by our junior players. (This week's camp has only one player over age 18, and he's 22 or so.) Turnout was a little smaller than usual, with fewer out of towners than usual. Coach Cheng Yinghua said he thinks this is because there are so many other training centers now running camps. We used to get contingents from New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and other states, but they all have their own training camps. 

One side result is that since it was mostly locals, we decided to skip my normal lectures and get the players out to the tables as quickly as possible. So there will be fewer of my brilliant, world-renowned lectures (that's how I remember them) but more sweating time at the table. (Though we do have air conditioning!) 

Today's most difficult task in my group? Convincing the younger kids when we do multiball that it doesn't matter who goes first, you are all going to get the same number of turns!!! One kid had a meltdown over this, all because he lost a rock-paper-scissors thing with another kid over who got to go first. (Okay, they were about seven years old, the youngest in the camp.) Meanwhile, as we usually do, on day one we focused on the forehand.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Here's a listing:

Nittaku Poly Ball

I blogged about this extensively yesterday. Here's a long discussion about it at the Mytabletennis.com forum. (The discussion began before I blogged about it.) 

ITTF Reforms Dangerous Says Liu Guoliang

Here's the article

Susan Sarandon, Ping Pong, and Testicular Cancer

Here's the article on her ping-pong related charity work.

Frank Caliendo and the Baltimore Orioles

Here's an article about Frank's visit to the Orioles clubhouse on Saturday, where he played table tennis with the players. (I blogged about this yesterday.)

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-five down, 75 to go!

  • Day 76: The Wonderful World of Disney's
  • Day 77: Paying Tribute to Our “Founder-President” Patriarch: Hon. Ivor Montagu

Table Tennis in a Mall in Orlando

Here's an article in the Orlando Sentinel about an exhibition at a mall. Taking part were Michael McFarland, Gary Fraiman, Mark Hazell, and Timothy & Aydin Lee. 

Incredible Point at World Hopes Challenge

Here's the video (40 sec) where USA's Michael Tran (far side) goes up against Mexico's Dario Arce in the quarterfinals in Austria. Besides the incredible blocking, see Dario's spin move near the end! Dario had beaten Michael in the team competition, and went up 2-0 in games here, but Michael came back to win in five.

Marco Freita and Soccer

Here's the video (~15 sec) of the Portugal #1 (and world #13) showing off his soccer skills.

Adam Bobrow Playing Outdoors in China

Here's video (1:57) of Adam playing outdoor table tennis in a park in China.

"Think Different" Apple Ad

Here it is - with table tennis!

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March 8, 2013

Junior Incentives and Team Leagues

One of the things junior table tennis in the U.S. tends to lack - including at my club - are junior incentives for each level. The kids come out and train and train, but for what? To win a rating event at a tournament? To win an age event at a tournament? (Not enough of them.) To win practice matches? To do well in a singles league? Rating points? These are all nice things, but they aren't quite enough. One way to address this is a junior team league. Another is to give training incentives, especially at the lower levels. At all levels there needs to be a balance between improvement (with specific goals) and fun. I'm now looking into both, with plans to set up various incentives and goals at the beginning level, and a junior team league starting this fall.

How would the junior team league be set up? Kids like doubles, so I want to include that. So most likely it'll be some version of two-person teams. However, rather than have just two or three players on a team (where the third can only play doubles), I'm leaning more toward six-person teams, where the top two play a best of five against the other team's top two (i.e. four singles and a doubles); the third and fourth players do the same against the opposing team's third and fourth; and the same for the fifth and sixth. This means each team will be made up of a balance of advanced, intermediate, and beginning players, but players would mostly compete against players in their own range.

Here are some thoughts on what are needed at the various levels. Please comment or email me if you have any suggestions.

  • Beginners - Goals and Milestones. At this stage, it's all about improvement and fun. And so the focus should be on training players for specific goals, such as a certain number of forehands in a row, or a number of side-to-side forehands and backhands made in a row, or pushing a certain number in a row, or serving a certain number of times under a bar over the net (so the serve must be low enough not to hit the bar). These give the players specific goals to aim for, and keeps their interest up. At the same time, it needs to be fun - and so as soon as players are good enough to rally, I want to get them into the junior team league. In fact, one of the built-in incentives is they have to pass certain of these goals before they can play in the junior team league.
  • Intermediate - Competition with their Peers. They've got the basics down, and from here on improvement isn't as fast as before. A junior team league is a great way to give them something to train for.
  • Advanced - State and National Titles. At this point they've played for years, and have reached a very high level. They may be training for National titles, or at least State titles. At the same time, a junior team league gives them something to train and look forward to on a more immediate level, as well as a way where they can connect with their friends, who might not be at quite the same level.

Book Signing Tonight

Reminder! Today at 7PM I will be doing a book signing at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I will also be selling and signing four of my other books. 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.

  • Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers
  • Table Tennis: Steps to Success
  • Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
  • Pings and Pongs

Table Tennis on TV in Tampa

Here's a video (4:32) where Coach Michael McFarland and college player Matt Delgado demonstrate table tennis on the Tampa local TV show Daytime TV.

How to Play Ping-Pong with Soo Yeon Lee

Here's the video (3:57)!

Table Tennis Music Video

Here's a music video (3:59) in Croatian, by Nevan Dužević. The description, translated into English via online translator, says, "Marigold is Zagreb Dužević songwriter fan of ping pong plays multiple instruments and especially likes to compose on keyboards." I'm not sure what the "Marigold" refers to.

Table Tennista

There are a bunch of new articles and videos at Table Tennista, including:

Table Tennis Master

There are a bunch of new articles at Table Tennis Master, including:




Table Tennis on the Moon

Here's the secret picture of what the astronauts really did during the moon landings.

Link to my blog where I wrote about table tennis on other planets? (And here's my blog from Oct. 24, 2012, where I wrote about table tennis on the moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and outer space.)

Collective Table Tennis - Quintuples!

Here's a video (4:30) of five on five table tennis on an "adjusted" table!

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