Table Tennis Master

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:

" 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!

March 7, 2014

Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - On Sale! - and Other Books

I've spent much of the last few weeks putting Table Tennis Tales & Techniques into a new format. You can now buy it print on demand at, with the price lowered from its previous $17.95 retail to only $11.61. There are some minor wording changes, and the format is slightly larger (9"x6" instead of the previous 8.5"x5.5"). While the book originally came out in 2009, the articles - both stories about table tennis, essays on technique, coaching tips, and a lot of table tennis humor - are timeless. Or so says me, the author! Of course, while there, don't forget to buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers or my other books on sale at Amazon. (Alas, due to the way the book was original set up, it would be incredibly time-consuming to put the Tales & Technique book in an ebook format, so that's not planned for now.)

Note that I expect to have an updated version of Table Tennis: Steps to Success - tentatively retitled as Table Tennis Fundamentals - by the end of this year. The key thing is finding time to get new photos for all the techniques in the book - there are a LOT. I've tentatively settled on who will demo most of the shots, and have a nice camera I can borrow. Then I go through it and update everything. There's a lot of updating to do.

I'm also planning to use those photos for an update to Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, a manual I wrote for USATT many years ago that covers how to coach. This is different from the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers the professional side to coaching - how to recruit and keep students, set up coaching programs, maximize, income, and other issues needed to make a living as a professional coach. (But of great value even for part-time coaches or promoters who wish to set up junior development programs or other types of classes or coaching programs.) I've learned a lot in the years since I originally wrote this, so there'll be a lot of updating.

I'm currently working on two books. Soon I'll finalize Table Tennis Tips, which is a compilation of all my Tips of the Week into one book, with the Tips organized in logical fashion, with a few notes added. All of these books will eventually go on sale at Amazon in print on demand and probably ebook format.

I'm also working on a rewrite of Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates, a science fiction novel I wrote a few years ago. (Yep, that's what I do in my free time!) I have a publisher interested, but they requested a rather extensive rewrite of certain aspects of the book. The book features table tennis a number of times - one of the main protagonists is a professional table tennis player who defaults out of a major tournament to run the third-party campaign for president of earth in the year 2100. The publisher said the best scene in the book was the scene where the player mentioned above does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership in an attempt to get their political support, with an alien ambassador he's been coaching as his playing partner. What happens during this exhibition I can't say without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say things don't go well for either of our table tennis players when the world government intervenes.   

I have another novel already out, Sorcerers in Space, which you can buy at Amazon or a few dollars cheaper in various formats straight from the publisher, Class Act Books. That main protagonist there is also a table tennis player - a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong, though last name is never actually given], a sorcerer's apprentice, who has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world in the U.S.-Soviet space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts. I also have a collection of my best published short stories, Pings & Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges.

USA Team Trials

They start this morning. You can follow all the action here. I couldn't go, but last night after seeing the draws I emailed some tactical tips to some of the MDTTC players.

Crystal Watch

What do I tell kids about ratings? They aren't important, but they are fun when they go up. They are also used in rankings, and while winning events is more important, achieving a high ranking is a goal to achieve. And Crystal Wang keeps getting these high rankings!

After her latest tournament, where she won Under 2400 and made the semifinals of Open Singles at the MDTTC Open (beating players rated 2370, 2370, 2344, 2323, 2304, and 2257, while losing to players rated 2344 and 2565), she's up to 2395, good for #1 in U.S. girls in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. (She turned 12 one week ago.) She'd also be #1 boys under 13 and second in boys under 14 (after California's phenom Kanak Jha, who won't be 14 until June 19).  Surprisingly, the 2395 isn't Crystal's highest rating - she was 2402 after the North American Teams in November, as an 11-year-old.

What's the highest rating ever for a 12-year-old? That would be 2468, by Kanak a year ago, with Crystal's 2395 (or 2402?) easily the second highest. These two have been breaking every rating record for kids since they were nine years old. Kanak set the record for the highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old in U.S. history, with Crystal breaking those records for 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds. Crystal's top goals this year are winning major events and making U.S. teams, but it will be fun to watch her "pursuit" of that 2468 over the next year. I happen to know that Crystal doesn't care one twit about ratings, and is pretty much oblivious to them. She has higher goals, which is why she trains about a zillion hours a day, a zillion days a week.

She's at the U.S. Team Trials right now, probably the youngest trying out. She made the quarterfinals of Women's Singles at the Nationals and won Under 22 Women over Ariel Hsing, who would go on to win her third Women's Singles title. But apparently due to school conflicts, Ariel isn't trying out for the U.S. team this year. The top seed is Lily Zhang at 2522. Number two is Judy Hugh at 2397. If they use the ratings that came out last night for seeding then Crystal would be seeded #3, two points behind Judy.

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.

Coaching a Beginning Kid

Want to see how it's done? Here's a video (3:05) of a coach, who seems to know what he's doing, working with a new kid, about 9-10 years old. There's a wide variety of skill when players first start out. Some pick it up quickly, seem to have a feel for the ball and for hitting it properly. Others have almost no control over the ball or their own bodies. The latter are tricky to work with because they are unable to really do what you want them to do. But with patience, they pick it up. The kid in the video is doing pretty well if it's his first session. He probably needs to put his right foot slightly back (which some kids are resistant to do, while others way overdo it), turn his shoulders more (which becomes more natural with the right foot slightly back), and raise his left arm for balance. (The coach comes over at one point to stress the shoulder turn, and the kid does better after that.)

More Against Poly Balls

Here's an article by Australian player Greg Letts where he discusses and comes out against the upcoming change to poly plastic balls.

Coach Wanted in Northern California (USA)

Here's the help wanted note they put up:

Established Club in Northern California is accepting applications for a full time coach / sparring partner. Compensation is 24-36K depending on level and experience. Your title will be developmental coach and you will report to the head coach who will oversee the curriculum and assign your duties. You must be a team player who can work together with the other coaching staff and be passionate about developing young players. You should play at a high enough level to stretch our current juniors who are 2400 +. 

The ideal candidate plays at a level of 2500 or higher, has coaching experience, and speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

You must be able to document your playing and coaching history. Match video is helpful.

For more information send your resume to

2-2 Footwork Drill

Here's a video (1:44) of an advanced player doing the 2-2 drill - two forehands from the forehand side, two forehands from the backhand side. I haven't really done this drill much with my students - I may add it to my repertoire.

The Coaching Scam Continues

On Feb. 27 I wrote about a coaching scam that's taking advantage of U.S. coaches. The idiot doing this is back, once again sending a mass email to U.S. table tennis coaches. I received mine yesterday at 6:53PM. Soon after other coaches also reported getting it. The emails have several variations - strangely, he doesn't send out the exact email to everyone. Here's the one I got, typos and all:

Hi there,
How are you doing today? My wife and I are looking to hire a qualified Coach that can train our Son and his name is David and he is 14yrs old,What we want for him is a just a general brush-up with his trainaing and in any areas he might have difficulties with.If you are available and qualified,kindly get back to me with your rates and location hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Mr. Derick Bentley

Here's another one sent to another coach:

Hi there,
I send you Compliments and greetings? Hope you having a great week?
Anyway I and my wife are looking to hire a  qualified coach for our child who is 14yrs old. What we wanted for our child is a just a general brush-up with training and in any areas our child might be have difficulties with. If you are available and qualified, kindly get back to me with your rates and your location and hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Have a nice day.
Mr. Derick Bentley

I got tired of the idiot and responded with this:

How long are you going to do this scam? Every email you send to U.S. coaches is being turned over to the FBI. We know the scam - you insist on paying in advance, you overpay, and then you ask for a refund. The coach sends you the difference, then your fake check bounces. Oh, and then you go to jail.

Only Sort-of-Table-Tennis-Related Tongue-Twister

Yesterday at the club I heard one of the kids mention something about his backpack. It got me thinking - what if you say it backwards, packback? Better still say it both ways: "Backpack Packback"? Then I realized how hard it is to say that, and I realized I'd invented the most difficult tongue-twister ever developed. (That's my position and I'm sticking with it.) So I challenged the kids to say it five times fast, and pretty soon the room was full with the attempts. I don't think anyone was successful unless they slowed down dramatically. Try it - just say "Backpack Packback" five times fast, and do so without reading it off the page (which seems to make it easier). If you can do that, you have outdone the MDTTC juniors. (Disclaimer - our top four juniors weren't there, with three of them off to the U.S. Team Trials. So you are only up against the MDTTC Junior "B" Team!)

Sic 'em!

Here's a picture of someone holding back the table tennis dog that we're going to sic on that table tennis scammer above. 

Send us your own coaching news!

November 8, 2013

Playing at a Club with Great Conditions

One of the problems with playing at a very nice club with very nice conditions is you get used to it. So when you go to tournaments, where the conditions often aren't so nice, you have problems. For example, at my club we have this nice rubberized red flooring, which is great for moving on, as well as having enough give so that it doesn't hurt your legs from the constant movement. But many of us will be playing at the Teams in three weeks, where we'll spend three days playing on somewhat slippery and unforgiving concrete. How do we prepare?

Recently I've been doing "shoe checks." I've been checking the bottoms of everyone's playing shoes to make sure they are in good condition. On our red floors you can wear your shoes down and it doesn't affect the grip on the floor. But on concrete floors (and most wood floors) the floor is more slippery, and you need grippy shoes. So I've been urging those with worn-out shoes to get new ones. Otherwise they'll be sliding all over the place at the Teams.

There are other ways of adapting. You've probably seen players on slippery floors step on a damp cloth between points to increase traction. There are also non-stick sprays you can put on your shoes - in table tennis, I think only Butterfly sells these. (I just ordered a bottle to try out, though I'm not playing in the Teams, just coaching.)

Of course, if you are not from my club, I urge you to show up with nicely worn-out shoes. I mean, c'mon, don't you want shoes you are used to? You'll have three days to learn how to slide into position.

On a side note (and I think I once blogged about this but can't find it), it is a huge advantage to play at a club with nice conditions. The conditions are conducive to high-level play, leading to, yes, high-level play, which helps you improve faster. If your club has poor conditions (bad lighting, bad background, slippery floors, bad tables, etc.), it limits the level of play, and so you don't improve as fast. There is the benefit that if your club has poor conditions, you are ready for tournaments, but that benefit pales in comparison to the higher level of play you'll be able to reach in good conditions.

Non-Table Tennis: Novel and Philcon

If all goes well, I should have copies of my novel "Sorcerers in Space" sometime this morning. Then I drive up to Philcon, the annual Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention, to spend Friday afternoon and night attending panels and (hopefully) promoting the novel. I come back late Friday night as I'm coaching at the Potomac Open on Saturday all day. (On the other hand, I'm still feeling the effects of that slight cold I wrote about yesterday, so I'm considering spending the day in bed. I'll decide later.)

Addendum added 20 minutes after posting blog: I got a phone call, and discovered my voice is completely hoarse this morning. So I'm apparently sick again. No Philcon, but I'll get a lot of reading in bed today....

USA Cadets at the World Cadet Challenge

Here are results and pictures.

Interview with USA's Kanak Jha

Here's the ITTF's interview (1:45) with Kanak at the World Cadet Challenge.

Coaching Articles from Table Tennis Master

Crazy Point Between Wang Liqin and Oh Sang Eun

Here it is (38 sec).

USATT Tips of the Day

USATT has been putting up as "Tips of the Day" the 171 Tips of the Week I wrote for them a few years ago as "Dr. Ping-Pong." I was going to put up links each Friday to the previous week's Tips, but forgot last Friday. So below are the 16 Tips since the last time I linked to them all - enjoy!!! (Click on link for complete tip.) 

Nov 07, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Backhand Attack Placements
The strength of most backhand attacks is that they usually involve a quicker, shorter stroke, and so are harder for opponent’s to react to.

Nov 06, 2013 - Tip of the Day - How to Vary Your Receive Against Short Backspin Serves
Most players return short backhand serves with a simple push, without much thought to it.

Nov 05, 2013 - Tip of the Day - How to Win
You can't win unless you can find tactical match-ups where you are better than your opponent.

Nov 04, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Placement of Aggressive Shots
When attacking, you should generally put all your shots to one of three places: wide forehand, wide backhand, or middle (opponent’s playing elbow).

Nov 03, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Inside-out Backhands
Want to really tie your opponent in knots not to mention win a lot of points? Aim your backhand crosscourt with a normal backhand stroke.

Nov 02, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Place Your Quick Backhand Attacks
When attacking a ball right off the bounce with their backhands, most players automatically go crosscourt to the opponent’s backhand. That’s not usually the most effective place to go.

Nov 01, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Blocking Tips
One of the most common reason players have trouble blocking against heavy topspin is because they hold the racket too high.

Oct 31, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Anticipate an Opponent’s Direction
Get in the habit of watching how an opponent hits the ball. Does he change direction at the last instant ever?

Oct 30, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Use Practice Matches to Practice
Exactly as the heading says this is the time to try out new things, develop new techniques, and generally improve your game.

Oct 29, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Play the Middle Against a Two-Winged Hitter
Some opponents hit well from both sides, seemingly taking a big swing and smacking in everything, both forehand and backhand.

Oct 28, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Don’t Give a Quick Player a Short Ball
If your opponent is quicker than you, than the last thing you want to do is let him rush you.

Oct 27, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Playing the "Unique" Style
You’ve probably all had the experience of playing someone who plays "different."

Oct 26, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Watch Top Players to Raise Your Own Level of Play
One of the best ways to improve your shots is get a good visual image of what your shots should look like just before playing.

Oct 25, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Footwork Against Off-Table Player
A player with good footwork doesn’t wait to see where the ball is going before he prepares to move.

Oct 24, 2013 - Tip of the Day - On Short Serves to the Forehand, Challenge the Forehand, Go Down the Line
Assuming two right-handers play, a common rally starts with a short serve to the forehand. Many receivers don’t understand the strategies in receiving this shot.

Oct 23, 2013 - Tip of the Day - Fool Your Opponents - Forehand Position for Backhands?
When playing close to the table, you have very little time to make a transition from forehand to backhand shots, and vice versa.

Octopus Table Tennis

Yes, that's an octopus playing table tennis, and yes, you can put it on your shirt.

Send us your own coaching news!

April 29, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Decline of the High-Toss Serve and Why You Should Learn It.

Pong Power Pins Proposal

Martial arts have colored belts. For many years people have proposed that table tennis adopt something similar, but designed for table tennis. But nobody could ever decide just what it should be. Here is my proposal.  

  1. USATT should have specially made Pong Power Pins, numbered every 100 points from 1000 to 2800, which would be sold at slightly above cost to players as they reach these 100-point milestones.
  2. To qualify at each level, a player would need to both reach that rating level in tournament play, and beat at least three players at that rating or higher in tournament play. This latter is to make sure the player didn't just have a fluky tournament that gave them an inaccurate rating, as often happens; three wins at a level is a minimum goal for one who wishes to attain that level.
  3. Once a player qualifies for a pin, he would send in the needed fee ($5-$7?), and USATT would send that person a pin.
  4. The system would be administered by a newly-created USATT Ratings Committee, which would presumably also advise on other ratings matters. However, the actual sending out of the Pong Power Pins would be done by USATT Headquarters.   
  5. The design of the Pong Power Pins would be done by a contest, with the creator of the winning design getting a free five-year USATT membership. The winning design should prominently display the actual rating achieved (such as 1800), and also obviously be table tennis related. For example, the rating achieved might be inside a stylishly designed ping-pong paddle.
  6. A color scheme would be used for the pins, perhaps the following: 1000-1400 (red); 1500-1900 (green); 2000-2400 (blue); 2500 and up (gold).
  7. Since ratings are online from 1994 to the present, players who qualified during that period could apply at any time for a pin. Players who may have qualified from before 1994 must present evidence that they qualified, normally with copies of rating lists from pre-1994 magazines. Players from before 1994 would only need to show they achieved the required rating, and would not be required to have three wins at the required level.
  8. Players would be encouraged to wear their Pong Power Pins at tournaments and at other table tennis activities.

Weekend Warrior

I should write a book on how to beat players without really doing anything. I'm feeling so old and stiff these days that it seems as if I'm barely doing anything when I play. And yet this past weekend, in practice matches with many of our top players, I went undefeated, winning nearly every match 3-0, with none going five. (My final record for the weekend was 13-0, losing a grand total of two games.) Either I'm playing really good without really playing really good, or no one can take my tottering about the court seriously. Anyway, for the weekend I won matches against players rated roughly (I'm rounding these off a bit) 2250, 2230, 2180, 2100, and a mess of players from 1800-2100. At one point I told someone I've never been so tired in my life - and then I went out and beat the 2230 three straight, with two of the games at 3 and 4.

Okay, how am I winning without seemingly doing anything? Mostly off serve, receive, sudden forehand attacks (both looping and smashing), and a steady backhand. I'm throwing every serve I have at players (which doesn't take much physical effort) and taking their game away with effective receives (again, minimal physical effort since I'm mostly controlling the serves with short and long pushes and controlled flips rather than trying to loop all the deep ones like I used to). When I attack, it's usually one-shot affairs, where if they make a strong return my attack ends - but usually, if the first attack is well-placed, it either doesn't come back or it's a weak return. And when all else fails, I just go backhand to backhand. I don't have an aggressive backhand, and I can't stay at the table, but I can keep it on the table, deep and wide to the backhand.

After beating the 2230 player I gave him a pep talk on how he can't let players like me completely dominate with serve and receive. He was relying far too much on pure physical skills, but rarely got a chance to use them.

There was one moment of hilarity when I was playing one of our juniors, and I serve and smashed twice in a row. The kid, who is far more used to players looping than smashing, pointed at me and said, "He's using his hardbat skills!" (I normally use sponge, and loop about as much as I smash, but I'm also a hardbat player on the side where I'm an all-out hitter on the forehand while mostly chopping on the backhand.)

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.

Ma Long Training and Donn Olsen

Here's a video (7:25) with selections of world #1 Ma Long of China in training as he prepares for the upcoming World Championships. The video is at the Event Arena in the same building as the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. At 5:20, you'll see Coach Donn Olsen of the U.S. walk into the video. He's been to the Schlager Academy a number of times. Donn's doing coverage of the Chinese training, and along with Kyongsook Kim (another U.S. coach) is presenting a paper at the 13th ITTF Sport Science Congress, which meets every two years at the Worlds.

Hou Yingchai vs. Daniel Gorak

Here's a video (4:34) from the ETTU Cup Final, between attacker Gorak and chopper/looper Hou, with time between points removed.

Missouri University and Alan Chu

Here's an article and video (3:08) from Vox Magazine that interviews Alan Chu, a sports psychology graduate student at Missouri University and a member of their table tennis team.

Susan Sarandon and Jimmy Fallon

The two talk ping-pong and Justin Bieber in this article and video (3:58) from Table Tennis Nation. (First you get to meet Susan's cure little white dog.)

The Dark Side of the Paddle

Here's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan, a rather dark one as a tornado-style paddle from the seeming dark side comes down to do battle at the table in a seeming cornfield (from The Natural?). (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

Cub Scouts Build Super-Sonic Ping-Pong Ball Gun

Here's the video (2:05) as they blow up watermelons and coke cans! The balls shot out at speeds up to 883 MPH.

Send us your own coaching news!

April 25, 2013

Defaults and Rating

There's been an email exchange among some USATT officials, of which I was CCed, on the subject of players defaulting tournament matches to protect their rating, It was instigated by a gentleman who was the victim of this - a player didn't want to play him, perhaps because he had long pips, and so defaulted, apparently to protect his rating. The question raised is why don't players who default matches lose rating points? It's a good question - and below is my response.

I'll jump in and give the reasons for why they do not give away rating points for a default, and then (at the end), I'll offer a possible solution.

It would be somewhat unfair to take away rating points for certain defaults. So the only way I see for a rules change that would allow a rating loss for defaults is if the referee were given the responsibility of determining if the default was "legitimate" or not. That would not be easy to determine, as someone who wanted to avoid playing a match for rating purposes could easily fake one of the below reasons. Here are some legitimate reasons why players default that have nothing to do with avoiding rating point losses - and over the course of 37 years of play, I've defaulted matches at least once for each of these reasons (except for #3 and #8), as have many others. (I'm sure there are other reasons I haven't thought of.)

  1. Tournament runs late, and player has to leave.
  2. Player is injured or sick.
  3. Player is too tired. This happens all the time - sometimes someone older or out of shape advances in multiple events, and simply can't play all of the matches, and has to default some. This especially happens to elderly players.
  4. Player is unhappy with the playing conditions and decides to drop out. If a tournament has poor lighting, a background where you have trouble seeing the ball, slippery floors, or some other such problem, a player might decide to default rather than play in such poor conditions.
  5. Player's equipment is broken, defective, or stolen.
  6. Player is unable to attend a tournament he entered, or is called away from the tournament unexpectedly. Some people are on call, such as doctors. Players have defaulted out of less important matches at big tournaments to do table tennis TV interviews, or to do commentating, or some other function. Or a player may be called away due to a family or work emergency.
  7. Player is also a tournament official or volunteer, and he is unexpectedly needed, and so he drops out (i.e. defaults) to help run the tournament.
  8. Player unexpectedly advances in a major event, and so defaults a less important event. This happens at the U.S. Open and Nationals quite a bit. When I have a top junior who is pulling off upsets and has a chance to win a major age event, I'm almost always going to advise him to drop any rating events so he can focus on the age event and a national title. The problem is the player might not know in advance he'd do so well in the age event, and so enters the rating events as well. This also happens in Men's and Women's Singles, where a player might find himself advancing deep into the draw, and so not want to tire himself out in another event, such as a rating event, some age events, hardbat, sandpaper, etc. When Dan Seemiller, in his late 50s, pulled off some upsets and advanced deep into the Men's Singles event at the 2011 USA Nationals, he defaulted his senior events to save energy for that event.

Some would argue that if a player chooses to default, he should always lose the rating points. But besides being unfair in some cases (such as reason #1 above), that would just make the rating system less accurate. We have enough trouble with under-rated players showing up and sweeping the rating events and messing up the seedings; do we really want to take away 50 points in a default from a player - and possibly multiple times if the player defaults several matches - knowing what this will mean when he shows up at his next tournament? Suppose a player is rated 1830, but defaults out of two round robin events for one of the reasons above. That could be six matches, and perhaps 200-250 rating points. His next tournament he shows up way under-rated and playing in events he should not be eligible for.

What I would suggest as a solution is to have a player who defaults lose rating points unless the referee approves the default, i.e. the defaulting player must give the referee a reason for the default, and the referee must accept it, based on guidelines from the bullet points above. I'd also limit it to a maximum of 50 points lost in one tournament from defaults. I don't think players should gain rating points from a default. There's no perfect solution, and a liar would still get away with defaulting matches to protect his rating, but it would happen less often as many players might have some difficulty flat-out lying to the referee, and sometimes the player's actions would convince the referee he is lying. Also, if a player defaults regularly, then the referee could turn him down.

I'd rather not get into a long discussion of this - I have a busy day coaching and writing tomorrow. But hopefully the above will offer some grounds for thought, discussion, and possible action by those in a position to make changes.

The Plastic Poly Ball

Here's the ITTF's report on the ball. It's 32 pages and seems pretty comprehensive with lots of scientific-looking studies - but no, I haven't read it yet. I'm hoping some of our readers will read it and report your thoughts on it. This could be a scary situation, as one thing that comes out is that the new poly ball plays differently than the current one. Do we really want that? Does the report give a strong reason for doing so?

Stance for Returning Serve

Here's the video from PingSkills (1:16), plus an article on the topic of proper stance and how far to stand from the table when receiving serve.

Table Tennis Master

Here are four new articles from Table Tennis Master.

Crystal Wang on TV

Here's the video (4:34) of Crystal and her dad getting interviewed on NBC 4 yesterday. Crystal (just turned 11 and rated 2292) just won the Hopes Trials at the North American Cup.

Texas Wesleyan University Team on TV

Here's the video (5:03) of the team after winning their tenth straight national collegiate championship, on CBS Local.

Central Florida Table Tennis Club

It's not full-time, but it's 27,000 square feet!!! Here's their web page. They have 18 tables, but with rather large courts.

Great Chopping Point

Here's a great attack versus defense point from the 2012 China Open, featuring world #1 Ding Ning versus world #11 Wu Yang, perhaps the best chopper in the women's game. When it all ends, guess how Wu wins the point?

Roman Table Tennis

I think that's Julius Caesar playing TT!

Send us your own coaching news!

April 11, 2013

New Back Problem

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

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

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

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

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

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook

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

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

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

ITTF Features Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here's the article!

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

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

Forehand Flip

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

Rockford Media Try Table Tennis

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

Golfer Webb Simpson in Table Tennis Commercial

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

Invading Alien Table Tennis Players!

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

Send us your own coaching news!


April 5, 2013

Equipment Reviews

Long ago I decided not to do equipment reviews here at, because 1) it involves too many conflicts of interest, since I'm a sponsored coach; and 2) I'm more interested in technique and tactics than equipment. But I'm aware that I'm somewhat in the minority on this, as most table tennis players are divided into two camps: those obsessed with equipment, and those REALLY obsessed with equipment. For those EJ's ("Equipment Junkies"), visit Table Tennis DB, which specializes in equipment reviews - about 8000 of them!

When I meet a player who's obsessed with equipment and rated under 2000, I have a simple cure. I play them with a clipboard. I rarely lose. Technique and tactics beat equipment every time. (I've been playing with a clipboard during breaks in our junior sessions and camps for over 20 years, and am about 2100 now, mostly chopping and pick-hitting.)

It is important to get good sponge, especially for loopers. As I've blogged before, some of the modern looping sponges practically loop by themselves, and are well worth whatever you pay to get them, at least for serious players of the looping species. I often wish I could take a stack of these sponges and bring them back to the 1980s and early 1990s for myself.

And it is important for players to experiment with equipment to know what's out there. If you go to a club, there's a whole club full of players with rackets and sponge you can ask to try out. Once you find something that works for you, stick with it unless and until they come out with something truly better for you.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook

I just finished updating and formatting this for Amazon. A proof copy is in the mail. If all goes well, it'll be on sale in a week, and I'll announce it here. The manual, which I wrote several years ago, is 44 pages long, and will sell for $10. (I'll probably do a Kindle version later.) It is intended for top players and coaches, and is about the professional side of coaching. Here's the Amazon description: "Long-time professional table tennis coach and USA Table Tennis Hall of Famer Larry Hodges shows how you can become a professional table tennis coach. This is not a manual on how to coach; it's a manual on how to make a living as a coach - how to maximize income, getting a facility and equipment, recruiting and retaining students, teaching classes, how to set up and run a junior program, private coaching, a drills library, sample flyers to promote your coaching, and more."

New World Rankings

Here are the new April rankings. There are few major changes at the top. On the Men's side, the top nine rankings were unchanged, with Ma Long at #1 for the second month in a row. On the women's side there were no changes in the top ten, and Ding Ning remains #1 for the 18th month in a row, since November 2011.

Crystal Wang

When the Cary Cup Championships was processed last week, there were a few mistakes, which primarily affected Crystal Wang, who is from my club. (I coach her in some of her tournament matches, including the key match at Cary Cup where she upset the top seed in her group to move into the "A" Division.) In the corrected ratings, Crystal, who just turned 11, is rated 2292. This makes her #1 in Under 12 (boys and girls), #1 in Under 14 Girls, #2 in Under 16 girls (6 points behind Tina Lin), #7 in Under 18 Girls, and #12 in Under 22 Girls. She's not quite back to the 2355 she achieved at age 10 (before that "blip" at the Nationals - she wasn't there mentally), but she's close. She's been causing havoc among 2300 players in our Elite League on Sundays for quite some time. 

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles at Table Tennis Master.

Using Your Legs When Playing Forehand

Here's a video (2:14) from PingSkills on this. The key point - balance.

Chinese Table Tennis Team - Military Training

Here's a video from Dec., 2011, showing the Chinese National Team undergoing military training. It's in Chinese, but the video is rather interesting. Most of the "soldiers" shown training are Chinese team members, including the ones interviewed. How many can you recognize?

Artistic Picture of Ding Ning

Here's an artistic picture of World #1 woman Ding Ning, with an urban skyline background. I think that's New York City, but can anyone verify? Or perhaps it's Beijing or Shanghai? (EDIT - the artist, Mike Mezyan, has informed me it's the Chicago skyline! Shows how well I recognize our major cities.) 

Prince William and Kate Play Table Tennis

Here's a video (3:29) of Prince William and Kate of England playing table tennis. Someone needs to explain to Kate that high heels and table tennis don't mix well.

Improvised Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:30) with one of the more improvised nets I've seen - two boys grabbing hands across a table for the net.

Pigeons Playing Ping-Pong

You have to see this video (39 sec) - yes, actual pigeons playing "ping-pong," taught by behavior psychologist BF Skinner. As the narration explains, the pigeons were taught that they could eat whenever they won a point!

Send us your own coaching news!

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!

Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content