May 30, 2013

Top Ten Table Tennis Things That Were At One Time Unthinkable

Some things to ponder! These are not in any particular order.

  1. Games to 11. It's hard to believe, but over a decade later I'm still uncomfortable with it. I much prefer games to 21 with five consecutive serves. With games to 21, a player could spend the first game getting used to the opponent, trying out different tactics, and even if he lost, the opponent still had only two chances to win a second game to 21 - and if he could win a game to 21, he's just better on that day. Now if you spend the same time adjusting to an opponent, you are down 0-2 in games, and the opponent has three chances to beat you in a short game to 11. Just about anyone decent has a chance in a game to 11. As to serving, with five consecutive serves you could really use them to set up an opponent. It's not quite the same thing when you only serve twice in a row.
  2. Ball is 40mm. It did slow the game down a bit, and cut down on spin. It didn't really make a big difference to me, though it does make counterlooping and fishing easier. So perhaps a good thing. It hurt the pure chopping style, but may have actually helped chopper/loopers (because of the better counterlooping, and because the bigger ball gives them more time to get in position to counter-attack). It also helped kill off the hitting style at the higher levels.
  3. Gluing is illegal. Modern sponges make this relatively unimportant. Players today often forget or never knew what it was like to constantly have to time your reglues at tournaments to maximize the effect, not to mention gluing every session before playing. Did we really do that???
  4. Hidden serves are illegal. But many world-class players openly break the rule. This bothers the heck out of me. We face this in U.S. tournaments all the time, where some tournaments (including junior events) are won by whichever player would hide his serves illegally and get away with it. It was worse a few years ago, so I'm happy with that.
  5. There are no pips-out penholders among the best players in the world. If you had predicted that in the 1980s you'd have been laughed at, though the signs that the style was in trouble were coming out by that decade. (Who is the best current pips-out penholder among men and women? Anyone know? I'm hitting a blank. I'm guessing there are still some relatively top women who play that way, but my brain isn't cooperating this morning - I was up until 3AM on a writing project.)
  6. Penholders use the reverse side of their paddles for backhands. Aw, c'mon, that's just wrong. Except . . . pretty much all the top penholders do this, and it basically single-handedly saved the penhold style. (World #1 Xu Xin and #4 Wang Hao both play this way.) Ryu Seung Min, the 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and current world #21, is I think the last of the great penholders with a "conventional" backhand, and he does it in spite of his weak backhand, with great footwork and a great forehand. Anyone know who's the best after him? (A few "old-timers," such as Ma Lin, still block with conventional penhold backhands.) Of course, there will come a time when the reverse penhold backhand will finally be "conventional," and we'll have to find a new name for the "conventional" backhand. Old-style?
  7. The best players in the world often receive short balls to the forehand with their backhands. No way! This is wrong! Bad technique! Use the stupid forehand flip! Except . . . the best players in the world are now doing this. This is right! Good technique! (Welcome to the age of the Backhand Banana Flip, where you can flip any short serve aggressively with topspin and sidespin.)
  8. Table tennis is an Olympic Sport. Whoa!!! It happened in 1988.
  9. Some of the biggest money events in table tennis are sandpaper table tennis. I believe there have been two $100,000 sandpaper tournaments. Mention this to Stellan Bengtsson and see if he turns red with anger or if he falls to the floor laughing.
  10. A full-time table tennis center centered on coaching could survive in the United States. It'll never happen. There simply aren't enough players in the U.S. to sustain a pipe dream like this. I wish I'd tape recorded all the prominent people in table tennis who told me this at various times before we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center in 1992 (then called the National Table Tennis Center), and in the years since when many believed our situation was "unique." Now, of course, there are about 60 of them, the great majority of them popping up in the last seven years. This is the best thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in modern history.

My Upcoming Plans

Here's my upcoming schedule and plans.

  • Coaching 20 hours/week. (Less during summer camps.)
  • Blogging and Tips of the Week.
  • Coaching at Eastern Open, June 8-9.
  • Ten consecutive five-day camps at MDTTC, 10AM - 6PM each day, June 17 - Aug. 23. (I'll miss two weeks for the U.S. Open and the TNEO writers workshop, and possibly another for the Junior Olympics.)
  • Coaching and playing at U.S. Open, July 2-6.
  • Attend TNEO, "The Never-Ending Odyssey" Writers Workshop in Manchester, NH, July 19-27.
  • Coaching at Junior Olympics, July 29-31 (tentative).
  • Attend ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar at Lily Yip TTC, Aug. 26-31. (Just made that decision last night.)
  • Run ITTF Level 1 Coaching Seminar in South Bend, IN, Oct. 2-6. (I may also run one in Maryland, as I did in 2011.)
  • Do rewrite of my book Table Tennis: Steps to Success, tentatively retitled Table Tennis Fundamentals, with all new pictures.
  • Do rewrite and expansion of my book Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, with all new pictures.
  • Organize new Junior Team League for the Maryland region, starting this fall.
  • Continue to write science fiction and fantasy as a fun money-making hobby, see lots of movies, and read lots of books.


Here's Mike Cavanaugh's blog on Tuesday, where he focuses on Memorial Day, Paralympics, and miscellaneous other items.

ITTF's "Ping Pong Paix" Wins the 2013 Sport Accord Spirit of Sport Award

Here's the article and video (1:19). The award was given out last night in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Why Timo Boll Doesn't Play Doubles

Here's the article - but the short answer is "To save energy." As Timo points out, the top Chinese do the same. (I'd wondered about this in my blog during the Worlds.)

Guide Dog Table Tennis

Who says you need to see to play table tennis?

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May 21, 2013

Muscle Fatigue and Backspin

Recently my muscles have been feeling bone-tired, especially the legs. I feel like I've run a marathon before I even start. (I know; I ran one when I was 17, and went to my table tennis club that night just to prove I could do it - and could barely play at all.) The muscles are both tired and stiff. I'm hoping this is just a stage. I eat healthy and get plenty of sleep. (On the other hand, my dog, Sheeba, 15 years old, no longer can last the night without going out, and she gets me up around 4AM every single morning to go out. Maybe there's a connection. Or maybe I'm just an "old" 53.)

One result, of course, is I haven't been playing well. In fact, right now I'm probably playing the worse I've played since the 1970s. I'm a practice partner for our top juniors, but let's just say the last two weeks have been great confidence boosters for some of them. I've been going back and forth between trying to force the muscles to operate properly ("Move or else, you stupid legs!") or falling back on tactics. ("Age and treachery defeats youth and skill every time." Or so the saying goes.) There's a reason why this week's Tip of the Week was "Tools and Tactics for the Physically Challenged."

One solution I used over the weekend was lots of heavy backspin play. I'd recently lost to one of our up-and-coming juniors for the first time, primarily because she kept going after my forehand, and my legs preferred to lounge around my backhand side despite my threats, and so I kept waving as balls went by. (Or maybe we're just great coaches and this hard-working junior was getting better?) Anyway, when I played her this weekend I was again struggling in the first game, and finally decided enough was enough. Instead of looping her mostly long serves, I began to chop them back heavy. I already do that sometimes on the backhand, but she was giving me these lefty serves that break into my forehand, and I began chopping them back with my forehand. I also backed up and often chopped her first loop back. Net result - I won 3-0, though two of the games were close.

You don't need to be a chopper to win with backspin. Here's my article Winning with Backspin for the Non-Chopper.

Non-Table Tennis - Dental Dinero

Yesterday I saw a dentist and had the shock of my life. I brush and floss regularly, and have had only occasional problems. I did have one cavity in 2012, and one back in 2009. I'd been seeing the same dentist every six months for over ten years. However, she recently sold her practice, and a new one took her place. After the usual examination and x-rays, the new one said I had ELEVEN (11!) cavities!!! This makes no sense. I'm not feeling any pain or discomfort, I hadn't changed my brushing or eating habits or anything, and yet now, apparently, I have seven that need immediate attention, and four others that are growing and also need care. Total bill for all of them would be about $2300. Anyway, I'm still stunned by this. I'm going to see another dentist for a second opinion. Anyone have this type of experience? Anyone got $2300 they want to donate to a poor ping-pong coach? (Yes, I have health insurance, but no, it doesn't cover dental.)

World Championships

Below are videos of the singles finals at the Worlds, with time between points removed. There are also a number of follow-up articles on the Worlds, which ended yesterday, at both the ITTF Worlds Page and Table Tennista.


Here's USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh's blog about the Worlds, which went up yesterday. It covers the ITTF meetings, elections, and appointments, including a number of U.S. appointees.

Ping-Pong and Human Rights in Syria

Did you know they were using ping-pong balls in the civil war in Syria? Here's the article - see paragraph four. (Note - in the original version of this morning's blog I included a letter from a human rights group that was soliciting people to send ping-pong balls to Syrian groups, with an address given. They just informed me they don't want to go public on this yet, so I've taken down the letter.) 

Table Tennis Genius Touch

Here's a highlights video (2:40) from a year ago that I've never posted, set to the piano music of Yann Tiersen - La Valse d'Amélie. It features both great touch shots and great shots in general.

Spinning Liquid Nitrogen Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the article and video (40 sec). I think I posted a similar video once, but this one's pretty spectacular.

Just for Men Commercial and Oversized Paddles

Here's a video (31 sec) of a Just for Men commercial that features table tennis played with oversized paddles. The table tennis takes place in the first two seconds and against 20 seconds in. I have my own oversized ping-pong paddle which I use for exhibitions. I'm using it on the cover of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. None of these are as big as the one swung by Warren Buffett.

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May 13, 2013

Tip of the Week

Beat Weaker Players with Fundamentals.

Coaching Opponent to Victory

I had an interesting practice match with one of our top juniors this past weekend. Going into the match he appeared irritated and tense. Against someone like that all you have to do is vary your shots like crazy - placement, depth, spins, etc. - and watch him fall apart. He was too irritated to even think, and served short to my backhand over and over, which isn't smart - I'm very good there, where I can push short or long, and flip either regular or banana flip (with extra topspin or sidespin). I often messed him up by faking a long push to the backhand and at the last second dropping it short to his forehand. When he guarded against the short ball to the forehand I'd flip to his backhand, taking his service game away. I won the first game 11-3. (I'd also beaten him I think 3-0 the last three times we'd played.)

Between games I went over and asked him what was wrong. He said he'd just lost to someone else and was playing poorly. I told him the obvious - that he had to forget previous matches and focus on his current match. However, more important, I gave him practical ways to do this. I told him to take a walk around the court and not stop walking until his head was clear. Then I told him that once his head was clear, he needed something else to think about so he wouldn't be thinking about his previous match - and of course in table tennis the best thing is to think about tactics. So I told him focus on what serves he was using against me, since the way he'd been serving obviously wasn't working. (Note that you should think about tactics between points, but once the point starts, you have to stop thinking and let the subconscious take over, including tactical play. Serving is the one time where you can easily make a conscious tactical decision, i.e. what serve to use.)

Three things happened. First, the rest of the match he played the best I'd seen him play in months. Second, he began to use smarter serves, mixing in short serves to my forehand and long ones to my backhand, and once I was focused on those two (not easy), he mixed in short ones to the middle, often no-spin. He also pulled two new serves on me he'd been working on, a reverse backhand serve and a reverse forehand pendulum serve. And third, he won three straight games. (And I was playing pretty well!)

JJ Hardy

Today I'm giving a private lesson to the Baltimore Orioles star shortstop, JJ Hardy. When and where I won't disclose until afterwards so the place won't be swarmed by paparazzi, not to mention table tennis/baseball fans. (Only exception - junior players who contact me can come watch and get autographs.) I'll give a full report tomorrow.

Spam Count

As noted in my blog last Tuesday, I was getting hit with so much spam that I had to finally institute a registration system where I had to approve all accounts before they went active. For perspective, since I started this one week ago, I've had 377 account requests, of which about ten were legitimate. Without the approval system, all the rest of those would have registered and started posting automatic spam all over the place, in the comment section of the blog and in the forum.

Three Reasons Not to Serve Short

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

World Championships

They start today, in Paris, May 13-20. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, articles, pictures, etc.

Chinese Training Before the World Table Tennis Championships

Here's great video (1:56) of the Chinese team training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria as they prepare for the Worlds. (From 1:27 to 1:32 you can see Donn Olsen, a USA coach, taking notes in a corner.) Here's another page at Table Tennis Daily with a number of videos of the Chinese team training.

U.S. Open Deadline Extended

The deadline is now May 21, with a late deadline of May 24 (the latter requiring a $75 late fee). Here's the U.S. Open page. You can also see the list of currently entered players, either by event or alphabetically.

Bill Gates to Help Promote Table Tennis in U.S.

Here's the article in the China Daily's USA version (in English) - but why is it in a Chinese paper?

Lindenwood Head Coach Wanted

Want to be a College Table Tennis Coach? Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, is looking for one. Info is here. Strangely it doesn't give salary offered or any contact info, but I found that separately - if interested, you contact Mike Elam, Director of Student Life Sports.


Here's the blog of USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh for the week May 6-10. I think this is new - I don't see previous entries. (He has been doing a bi-monthly CEO Report, which was published in USATT Magazine.)

ITTF President Sharara to do United Nationals Presentation

Adham Sharara, ITTF President, has been invited to attend the Third International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development to be held at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th June 2013. He will make a presentation during Session IV which is dedicated to the theme Sport and Social Development Legacies; the scheduled time for the address is from 10.00am on Thursday 6th June. Here's the article.

Lefty Ma Long

Here's a video (56 sec) of China's Ma Long (a righty) smashing left-handed against teammate Wang Liqin's lobs (he's playing his normal right-handed), where they change sides twice, during practice sessions as they prepare for the Worlds. Yes, Chinese team members like to goof off during practice breaks.

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