Saturation Training

April 4, 2014

The Forehand and Saturation Training

On Wednesday I gave my weekly lesson to an up-and-coming nine-year-old, who (for the moment) is about 1400. He has incredible ball control for a kid his age - he has great lobbing, fishing, and chopping skills, better than most 2000 players. He also has a nice backhand attack, both looping and hitting. And he can keep the ball in play seemingly forever, even if the opponent keeps attacking. But his forehand can be awkward. So our recent training has been overwhelmingly on his forehand loop, where we spend about 35-40 minutes of each session on. (His level is only 1400 partly because of the forehand, where he likes to lob, and because he tends to play way too soft in general, letting opponents blast the ball at him, and at nine years old he's not always big enough to run them all down. I'm constantly working on teaching him to stay at the table, which isn't easy since he likes to play from the barriers.)

This saturation training is starting to pay off in drills, where he sometimes looks really good, but other times he falls back in his old habits, where every other shot is different, and where he often falls back and fishes. He also has a tendency to take the ball at different times in rallies - he might loop one off the bounce, one at the top of the bounce, one on the drop, and then one off the floor, and he'll often use different stroking techniques for each. He also likes to sometimes loop straight topspin, other times with sidespin, and he likes to suddenly hook the ball really wide and watch in glee as I try to get to it. All this shows fine ball control, but since we're trying to systematically fix his forehand technique, it's not so good in this context, where I want him to systematically develop the shot until he can do it in this sleep. At the same time, I don't want him to lose interest by forcing him to become a robot; it's a constant balancing act. I'm guessing whoever was Waldner's coach had to go through something similar.

Until recently he often resisted spending so much time systematically working on his forehand, but recently he's matured, and is starting to see the importance. So it's great seeing him so determined to develop his forehand to match the rest of his game. He's also very much into developing tricky serves. Watch out for him in a year or so.

Table Tennis Niches

I my blog yesterday I listed various people and their table tennis niche. Here's a note I received from Steve Grant, who should have been listed either in the history or writing niches, along with Chuck Hoey (curator of the ITTF history museum) in the history niche. (I added the links below.)

Hi Larry,

As you know, Steve Grant's (my) niche is both writing and history, as is clear from the many articles written for Table Tennis Collector (publication of the ITTF Museum) and of course the book Ping Pong Fever---the Madness That Swept 1902 America, which showed for the first time who really invented the game of table tennis and how the game really got the name Ping Pong..

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation filmed me this week, playing outdoors in Tomkins Square Park with 1902 drumhead rackets and later batting the ball with Spiderman in Times Square, for an hour-long documentary that will essentially be a humorous telling of my book. I also had to continually bat a ball on my racket while hailing a cab, opening the door and then shouting, Take us to the ping pong party! The driver replied, Sure, that's easy to find!

Oh, in the history niche, I would add Chuck Hoey too.



MDTTC Coaching Staff

The MDTTC coaching staff here in Gaithersburg, MD keeps getting bigger! Yesterday marked the return of Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey"), a 2600 player who coached at MDTTC for a couple of years before returning to China to work on his immigration status. He's back permanently, and so rejoins our staff, which now consists of me (USATT Hall of Famer!), Cheng Yinghua (USATT Hall of Famer and former Chinese team member and 2800 player), Jack Huang (former USA #1 and Chinese team member who should be in the USATT Hall of Fame), Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey," 2600 player), Wang Qing Liang ("Leon," 2600 chopper/looper), Chen Ruichao ("Alex," recently arrived lefty 2600-2650 player), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen," 2500 penholder), Chen Jie ("James," lefty 2300 player), Raghu Nadmichettu (2400 player), and John Hsu (2300 player). Of course ratings don't always indicate coaching level, but let's just say these player/coaches were carefully selected for both their playing skills (as practice partners) and coaching abilities.

National College Championships

As noted in yesterday's blog, the USA National Collegiate Championships start this morning, April 4-6, Fri-Sun, in Monroeville, PA. Here's their home page, and here's where they will have results. They also have live-streaming, starting 9:30AM this morning.

Farewell to Joyce Grooms

Today is Joyce's retirement day. Hopefully they are throwing a party at USATT Headquarters for our long-time membership director! I've worked with her a lot over the past decade, and have nothing but praise for her efficient professionalism. Enjoy your retirement - maybe even play a little pong now that you have time to see it from the playing side! (Her picture is on the USATT staff page.)  

New World Rankings

Here are the new ITTF world rankings. On the women's side the top ten remain unchanged from last month, with Austria's Sofia Polcanova jumping from #16 to #11, just behind Germany's Petrissa Solja as the top two Europeans. The top three men remain unchanged (China's Xu Xin, Ma Long, and Fan Zhendong), but Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov moved from #6 to #4. This knocked Zhang Jike down to #5, which is surprising for the guy who keeps winning the Worlds and Olympics, and is generally acknowledged to be the best in the world, at least in a big tournament. With the rise of Ovtcharov, the question for the upcoming World Teams is if he and Timo Boll (world #9, former #1) along with Patrick Baum (#21) and Bastian Steger (#27), can challenge the Chinese.

Chinese Team Members Play with Poly Balls

Here's an article in Chinese (with an English translation here) about Chinese team members playing with the new poly balls. The four players competing with it were Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Fan Zhendong.

Kim Taek Soo: No Regrets

Here's the article from Table Tennista.

World Championships Promo

Here's the video (1:03) from the ITTF for the upcoming Worlds in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

Table Tennis Joke Ties

Here they are (along with some tennis ones), the perfect gift!

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March 12, 2014

Cary Cup and No Blog on Thursday and Friday

I'm leaving for the Cary Cup very early Thursday morning, so no blog on Thursday and Friday. (See articles below on Cary Cup.)

As we've done the past four years in a row, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York this morning, arriving around 9:30AM. (He's already here.) He'll spend the day puttering about my house while I work on my new TT book and then go MDTTC for our afterschool program and a few hours of coaching (2:30-7:30PM, plus a 30-minute online writer's meeting I'm attending with my laptop at the club from 7:30-8:00PM). Tim wants to leave for Cary Cup around 4AM Thursday; he keeps strange hours, going to bed around 7PM and getting up at 3AM. We'll compromise and leave around 6 or 7 AM for the 4.5 hour ride. Then I run a beginner's clinic in Cary from 4-5 PM - last year we had about 30 players.

I'm only playing in the hardbat event, which is 10AM-3PM on Friday. I won it three years in a row, 2009-2011, finished third in 2012, and lost in the final in 2013. This year the draw is crazy strong, with Jim & Scott Butler (legends!), Xeng Pong (2364 pips-out penholder), 2293 A.J. Carney (experienced lefty hardbat player), and 2248 pips-out penholder Bin Hai Chu, who's won it the last two years (but I beat him in the 2011 final). But I'm a two-time National/U.S. Open Hardbat Champion (okay, it was over 20 years ago), 4-time U.S. Over 40 Hardbat Champion, and 13-times U.S. Hardbat Doubles Champion. (But I'm normally a sponge player.) I got about ten minutes practice with a hardbat on Sunday; that's the only hardbat play I've had since the U.S. Open last July. But it's like a bicycle - once you learn it, you never forget. Your feet just get slower and slower….

Once I'm done with hardbat I'll be coaching 13-year-old 2301-rated Derek Nie the rest of the way. There's going to be a lot of matches, so I'm stocked up on Trail Mix to energize my coaching.

Saturation and Exaggeration Training

Recently some players have been using my Saturation Training Tip of the Week from last September. I also have one on Changing Bad Technique, which is closely related. And I gave examples of saturation training in this blog entry. One of the examples there was how I developed my steady backhand with some saturation training with Dave Sakai, who was doing the same with his forehand attack.

There's actually a better example of my own saturation training back when I was 20 years old. I was a late starter at age 16, and was only rated 2002 when I went to the Zoran Kosanovic two-week camp up in Canada in the summer of 2000. Now Zoran was a somewhat controversial coach as he tended to push one way for everybody, and stressed physical training at levels never dreamed of in the U.S.  (We started each day with a one-hour run, and when he decided we hadn't pushed ourselves hard enough on the first day, we did a second one-hour run.) What follows is an example of both saturation training, and exaggeration training, where you take something that you don't do properly, and exaggerate it in the other extreme, and end up doing it somewhere in the middle, which is what you want.

On the first day he noticed that when I stepped around my backhand corner to do a forehand, I didn't really rotate clockwise much, and so was still pretty much facing my opponent. This meant that I could only attack effectively down the line. I'd been struggling with this for quite some time; when I tried to go crosscourt (to a righty's backhand), it would be soft and erratic as I wasn't positioned for the shot. So the very first morning, while I was hitting with 12-year-old future U.S. team member Scott Butler, he had me do a drill where I hit forehands from my backhand side to Scott's backhand. But with a twist - he made me exaggerate the foot position. I'd been stepping around so my left foot was way off to the left. Now he made me play with my body rotated clockwise in an exaggerated fashion so my left foot was to the right of my right foot, with my back almost to Scott. He put a cinder block next to my left foot to keep it from moving to the left. I had to peek over my left shoulder to see the incoming ball as I hit each shot. We did this twice a day for 15 minutes for fourteen straight days. By the end of that time I had broken my bad habit and now played forehands from my backhand side in the proper position, as I do to this day.

Let me stress one more thing about saturation training. If you are trying to fix poor technique that has been ingrained into you, your subconscious will fight you at first. So start with lots of shadow practice and simple drills where you can ingrain the proper habits. When drilling, you might exaggerate the proper technique, as in the example above. It'll take time, but if you do this long enough, whether it's every day for fourteen straight days or twice a week for three months (with lots of shadow practice on other day!), it'll pay off.

Cary Cup

Here are two more articles by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Cary Cup this weekend in Cary, NC. (The second article mentions Chen Ruichao, the new lefty practice partner/coach at MDTTC, who is seeded at 2600. We don't know for sure yet, but we have suspicions that might be a bit low for him, but we'll see this weekend.) I'm also including the first article from yesterday.

Crystal Wang

Here's the press release I sent out on Crystal Wang making the USA Women's Team at age twelve last weekend. It went out Monday morning.

China Eyes on the Japanese Team in the World Championships

Here's the article.

The Ping Pong Soundtrack

Here's the article, with links to the chosen soundtracks. (I'm not a music expert, so I'll let others judge this.)

Ping Pong Comic Strip

Here's a comic strip take-off on King Kong from 1953, except here the giant gorilla is called Ping Pong! Sorry, no actual table tennis.

What's the Difference Between Ping Pong and Table Tennis?

Here are 27 responses!

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November 14, 2013

Darren O'Day and Other Coaching

Yesterday I had my second coaching session (90 min) with Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day. He's really picking things up fast! As noted in my Nov. 4 blog on coaching him, he tends to hold his racket tip up on strokes, which he copied from Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy, the best Orioles player. However, in today's session, we really straightened that out, and he had great fun as we went forehand to forehand pretty fast. (The two keys there were dropping the racket tip, and thinking of yourself as just a spectator so the subconscious can take control on the strokes.) We also worked on his backhand, pushing, serves, and footwork. But I also introduced him to looping against backspin via multiball. He had sort of a soft roll he used against backspin. It wasn't bad as he was at least spinning the ball, but there was little power - it was just a roll. We worked on this for a while, but he tended to stay too close to the ball (and a few other problems), and so swung mostly with his arm. I finally began feeding the ball farther away, forcing him to stretch out more - and lo and behold, suddenly he was looping with great power, both spin and speed! We did this for a while, and he can't wait to start using this in games - though I warned him it'll take some practice to incorporate into match situations consistently. He's taking another session this Friday afternoon, and then we'll settle into weekly sessions on Wednesday afternoons.

In another session that night I did some saturation training with Doug. He's had some trouble with players serving to his forehand, so I spent about 15 minutes serving to his forehand. At first I went easy, even letting him know the spin that was coming, but as we went along I stopped telling him and I started going to my best serves. Each step of the way he improved until he was looping all the deep ones somewhat consistently, even when I varied from disguised heavy backspin to side-topspins. When I went for the heavy side-topspin serves he tended to lift off the end. I pointed out that he was using the same racket angle he would against a topspin in a rally, but that in a rally he'd probably take the ball 1-3 feet further back - meaning he'd have 1-3 feet more table to aim for. Since you usually loop a serve closer to the table, and so are 1-3 feet closer to the far side of the table, you have to bring the ball down sooner, and so you have to close your racket more. (This might become a Tip of the Week.)

Another player I coached was Matt, a 12-year-old who's gearing up to play in the North American Teams in two weeks. With a tournament approaching it's time to focus on game play, so we did a lot of game-simulation drills. A lot of them involved him serving backspin, me pushing it back, and him looping. At the start I'd push to the same spot over and over, but later on I'd push them to varied spots. I also served a bunch of balls to him so he could work on receive as well as handling my first loop.

2014 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials

Here's a news item from USA Table Tennis on the 2014 Team Trials.

Jackson Chance Foundation Exhibition

Here's a news video (2:05) from Fox News in Chicago promoting a table tennis exhibition by Killerspin they will be doing tonight for the Jackson Chance Foundation. At the start you can hear the sound of ping-pong in the background, and after a bit the camera then pans over to see the players. "The Jackson Chance Foundation is an Illinois non-for-profit, tax exempt 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to providing resources to families with babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU)."

Chopper vs. Attacker at Westchester Open

Here's video (10:43) of game five in the semifinals of the Westchester October Open between Jishan Liang (2661) and chopper/looper Kewei Li (2686). Another nice example of attack vs. defense, though of course Li also attacks.

Multiball Around-the-Net Rolling Receives

Here's a video (43 sec) of 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist in Doubles Seiko Iseki (then known as Wei Qingguang, the lefty, with Chen Longcan his doubles partner) feeding angled serves to (if I read the comments correctly) Wei Gucci, who returns them around the net so they roll on the table. We have to try this new drill at my club!

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October 18, 2013

Jim's Forehand

About two months ago I started coaching Jim. He's a lefty in his early 60s, perhaps 1000-1200 level, and very tall. He had a pretty good backhand but very awkward forehand. When he'd hit forehands he'd lean over and down, tilting his head sideways, and sort of lunge at the ball. During his forward swing his head would move about three feet sideways as his whole body went off to the side, throwing him off balance and killing his timing. I wasn't sure whether we should fix the stroke, rush it to the nearest hospital, or just bury it in the local cemetery.

We decided to fix the stroke. And lo and behold, it worked! We made this the focus of over half of our sessions, using Saturation Training. Now he stays balanced throughout the stroke, and his head stays straight and only moves perhaps six inches sideways. He now has precision, and we now have vicious rallies, his forehand to my backhand. He has a very nice smash now, in practice.

However, he's not out of the woods yet. For example, when he smashes to my backhand and I block it back, he still has trouble with the second shot, and usually hits it soft. He doesn't yet have the deep-down confidence to just let the shot go over and over. It also means it's not quite ready for matches yet.

I explained to him Larry's Six-Month Law and its corollary, Larry's Six-Month Law for Strokes. The latter means that when you develop a shot until it's proficient in practice, it'll take about six months of practice before you can use it consistently and effectively in matches. He's now on that path.

One thing that really helps when coaching basics is being surrounded by top players. Whenever I needed to give Jim a visual image of a good forehand, we'd just look around and there'd be about ten players over 2200 hitting on the other tables. It gives me and other coaches at our club an unfair advantage over others when we coach. (I can demo my forehand, of course, but it's better seeing two top players doing it back and forth. It's also inspirational for a student: "If all those players can do it, then gosh darn it, so can I!")

RGIII Response Video

The RGIII Response Video made the Washington Post! It was already in the Dallas Morning News, Table Tennis Nation, the USATT web page, and the USOC web page. Let me know if you see it anywhere else. Keep reposting - let's make this go viral!!!

Jim's Table Tennis Page

Here's an interesting page that's basically a primer on table tennis, including lots of coaching tips. (No relation to the "Jim" mentioned above!)

Chuang Chih-Yuan Training Center Sponsorship

Here's the article (in Chinese) on this training center in Taiwan's new sponsorship. (Chuang Chih-Yuan is a long-time Taiwan star, currently ranked #7 in the world, previously ranked as high as #3 in 2003.) Here's the short version, care of Bruce Liu/ICC: "Chuang Chih-Yuan's training center in southern Taiwan got a major boost from the wealthiest person in Taiwan. Terry Guo is a Taiwanese tycoon and the founder and chairman of Foxconn, a company that manufactures electronics on contract for other companies - such as Apple Inc. According to the report, it will be a 10-year sponsorship worth about US $2 million in total. Mr. Guo also donated US $5 billion to the Medical Center of the Taiwan National University for cancer research in 2007."

Kenta Matsudaira Documentary

Here's the video (44:05). The Japanese star is ranked #18 in the world. Together with Koki Niwa and Jun Mizutani (# 12 and #14), they make up a suddenly powerful team that could challenge the Chinese men. (Japan also has players ranked #33, 43, 47, 52, 54, 75, 79, and 100.)

The Practice of Practicing

Here's an article on this that features piano - but we could probably get a few insights from this.

Cartoon Cats

Here they are, a whole bunch of them playing or watching table tennis!

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September 25, 2013

Examples of Saturation Coaching

My Tip of the Week on Monday was on Saturation Training, where a player focuses on developing one aspect of his game. I thought I'd give some examples of this.

Probably the most famous example was Istvan Jonyer. He made the Hungarian National Team in the early 1970s mostly by blocking. While on the team he developed his powerful forehand loop and became Hungarian National Champion. But he had a weak backhand, and couldn't really compete with the best players in the world. Then he spent six months up in a mountain training, where he did essentially nothing but backhand loop. When he finished, he had a great backhand loop - though other aspects of his game had deteriorated, and he had to practice them to get them back. About two years later he became the 1975 Men's World Champion, and was #1 in the world for two year and a dominant top ten (usually top five) player for over a decade.

Another example is Todd Sweeris, who just yesterday was selected as one of the two inductees this year into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame. (See my blog yesterday.) Todd made the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Teams - but through much of 1995 it didn't look like he had a chance. Only the top three U.S. players would make the team, and he couldn't even get games off the top three U.S. players: Jim Butler, David Zhuang, and Khoa Nguyen. He figured his best chance was against Khoa, and that the main thing he could really dominate in would be receive. (That was my suggestion!) So he spent nearly all of that year training overwhelmingly on receive, and with practice partners who copied Khoa. (Sorry Khoa!) He became one of the best serve returners in the country. The strategy worked as Todd beat Khoa 3-0 to make the team. (Fortunately Khoa would, after years of tribulations, make the Olympic team in 2004, and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.)

I've got three students right now where I'm using saturation training. Sameer, 12, has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays, and as a result uses too much arm when he forehand loops. So we're focusing on forehand loop in all our sessions, where he has to stay lower (for all shots), and use more lower body when he loops. Another is Matt, 12, who has a strong forehand but weaker backhand, and so we're focusing on backhand right now. Another is Jim, an older player with a strong backhand but awkward forehand, so we're focusing on that, often spending 30-40 minutes of our one-hour sessions on that.

I've used saturation training myself. I've never had a strong backhand attack, but I've always been steady. In the early 1980s, Dave Sakai (now a fellow Hall of Famer) was steady but didn't have a strong forehand attack. So we often drilled and Drilled and DRILLED with him forehand looping and hitting into my steady backhand, which made my backhand so steady that I could literally rally forever with it. That, combined with my strong forehand attack and serve & receive game, became central to my game. I've used saturation training with other aspects of my game as well. I even went through a one-year period (circa 1980) where I practiced my serves 30 minutes/day, seven days/week, and really developed them that way.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - Reviews

Haven't bought a copy yet? WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!!! Here's where you can buy a copy at Amazon. (You can also buy it from Paddle Palace.) Oh, you need some convincing?

Here's a really nice review of the book that just came out by Ben Larcombe of Expert Table Tennis. It's probably the most extensive review yet. He lists the seven most important key points he got from the book - a pretty nice summation - and gives a detailed explanation for each of them. He brings up such good examples of these points that I strongly recommend you read this - it's like an addendum to my book. 

There have been a number of other reviews. Here's one from Alex Polyakov (author of Breaking 2000 and The Next Step - see his webpage). There are 24 at (twenty 5-star, four 4-star) and two more at Amazon UK (both 5-star). The reviews at amazon have headlines; here are the 23 headlines given, most recent first. (One person just put in his username, so I left that out.)

  1. Bible of Table Tennis
  2. My best table tennis purchase so far
  3. Excellent addition to table tennis library
  4. Definitely for thinkers
  5. A very good book covers a broad range of table tennis tactics
  6. Good book for someone transitioning from basement star to begin playing at higher levels
  7. Excellent Advice Lies Herein
  8. An outstanding book
  9. Very useful info
  10. Solid on many aspects of tactics and strategy
  11. Maybe the Best Table Tennis Book Ever Written
  12. A MUST for table tennis players who play club and tournaments
  13. Great Book from a Great Guy
  14. Playing smart
  15. For all skill levels
  16. Finally I can think!
  17. Very good book on under-covered subject
  18. Great for the developing (or established) player!
  19. A tremendous amount of info!
  20. Highly recommended!
  21. Hard to find sources on tactics other than Mr. Hodges
  22. Great Resource For Improving Your Table Tennis Results
  23. It Made Me Think!

Here are a few other quotes from notable table tennis coaches:

"Larry has done an excellent job in breaking down the skills needed by all players to improve in these areas. This book should be on every table tennis player’s mandatory reading list."
-Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach, ITTF Trainer, and USATT Coaching Chair, 2009-2013 

"Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a must read for any player serious about winning. This tactical Bible is right on the mark, and is exactly how I was taught to put together game-winning tactics and strategies."
-Sean O'Neill, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympian 

"Larry Hodges' book on table tennis tactics is the best I have ever seen on this subject. This is the first book that explains how to play against the many styles of the game."
-Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and long-time U.S. Men's Team Coach 

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here's the Report (PDF), by Chairperson Carl Danner, covering June and July.

Ping Pong While Playing Drums?

Here's the story and video (3:02) from Table Tennis Nation! A guy sets the "world record" for most consecutive table tennis hits against a wall while playing the drums.

Curvy, Mirrowy Table

Here's the picture! I think that based on the way the table is curved, balls will tend to bounce inward, and so it'll be easy to keep the ball in play - I think. Unless, of course, you are admiring your funhouse mirror image on the table.

Send us your own coaching news!

September 23, 2013

Tip of the Week

Saturation Training.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification

Yesterday I completed all requirements for ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification. I'd taken the six-day, 36-hour course at the Lily Yip TTC two weeks ago, but was also required to do 50 hours of coaching afterwards. I finished that yesterday. I sent the paperwork in last night, and shortly afterwards received notification that it had been approved. So I'm the 11th U.S. coach to achieve this, joining Roger Yuen (who took the Level 2 course with me) and Duane Gall, Mike Mui, Chong Ng, Juan Ly, Federico Bassetti, Iuliana Radu, Ray Pestridge, Jef Savage, Joel Mitchell, and Roger Dickson. Interestingly, I'm the first USATT certified National Coach (the highest U.S. level) to achieve this. There are no Level 3's in the U.S. yet; they haven't taught the course for it here yet, though I hear they are tentatively planning one next year.

Junior Class

We started a new season of our beginning junior class on Saturday morning (10:30AM-Noon) and Sunday afternoon (4:30-6:00PM). One new thing is that we now require all players to register in advance so we know (at least roughly) how many kids will show up, so we know how many coaches to have on hand. For the Sunday class, we only had six pre-registered, a disappointing number. So I arranged for one other coach (John Hsu) to assist. However, since people don't seem to listen (AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!), 16 showed up.

I quickly recruited Raghu Nadmichettu to help out. You need a higher coach to player ratio when working with beginners, especially beginning kids, since they don't yet have the racket skills to practice among themselves - and if they try to, they aren't going to have very good form so they'll be practicing bad habits. So I put them 16 in four groups, four each with me, John, and Raghu, and four on the robot, and did lots of multiball. I rotated the groups every 20 minutes or so. (Three of the four starting on the robot had had some coaching, but one was a complete beginner, so I spent some time jumping back and forth between my players and the robot table.) At the end of session I broke them up into three groups - those who wanted more practice with John (1 player), those who were more advanced and wanted to play "King of the Table" (6 players) and those who wanted to stack pyramids of paper cups and knock them down as I fed multiball (9 players).

Coconut Cup

On Saturday MDTTC had the Coconut Cup Under 1800 Tournament, which I believe they do twice a year. (Next Saturday is the Over 1800 Tournament.) It's a three-person team, non-USATT sanctioned event (no ratings), with all profits going for Chinese books for Chinese schools. I spent most of the day on a back table coaching. When I was done I watched some of the matches. The team that won included John Olsen, who's both a coach and a student of mine. (He's rated 1999, but the "Under 1800" is a team average, and John was the team's "ace.") If you are interested in playing the Over 1800 Coconut Cup next Saturday, email the organizer.  

I was watching one of our junior players in the fifth and final match of a team match. He won the first two games, but then lost the next two. He completely fell apart emotionally, and could barely play. One of his teammates asked me to coach him. So I called a timeout in the fifth game when he was down 2-6. He was breathing rapidly and could barely think straight at this point. I told him to just clear his mind, and think of it as just another match at the club. Don't even try to play; just be a spectator and watch as your subconscious takes over. It couldn't have been easy for him as once a player gets emotional they often lose the deep-down desire to win, or at least the ability to do what's necessary to do so. But he managed to take some deep breaths and cleared his mind. I told him not to play a single point until his mind was clear, which he would do. I did give him two tactical items, very generic ones as the key was mental focus, not tactics - I told him to serve long backspin and loop (opponent was pushing them all back), and to just control the serve back, don't try to attack it since the opponent was steady but passive. As he went back to the table I told him to ball up any nervousness inside him and spit it out, and leave it on the sideline. Anyway, except for an edge ball, he won the next eight points in a row and won the game 11-8. Many people don't understand that coaching between games is at least 50% sports psychology.

The Next Step

Alex Polyakov, author of "Breaking 2000," has come out with another book on table tennis, "The Next Step." Right now there's only a Kindle version, but Alex told me there's a paperback version coming in a month or so. Here's the book's description: "This book provides detailed insights on four essential parts of the game - technique, strategy, tactics, and the mental game. The aim of this book is to create a different type of an artifact and go beyond common basics. This book's goal is to describe numerous principles of table tennis and to show how to apply vast amount of table tennis knowledge to construct player’s most effective game using the skills that the player has already mastered as well as to describe many other skills that the player may choose to develop to take the next step onto higher levels."

More Tips of the Day

Here's a link to the numerous Tips of the Day of mine that USATT is putting up daily. These were all written from 1999-2004 for USATT under the pseudonym "Dr. Ping Pong." I'm a bit leery of this since I haven't seen some of these tips in over a decade, but so far my decade-old self hasn't embarrassed me. The last three tips: "Reading Spin," "Use Ball Placement and Variation Against Short Serves," and "Attack Deep Serves." The picture of me they use for the Tips is me coaching Seyed Hesam Hamrahian (2126, has been over 2250) and Derek Nie (2297 despite his size and age!) in doubles at the 2012 USA Nationals. (I coach Derek regularly at tournaments, but Seyed is normally a student of Samson Dubina.)

Two Table Tennis Obsessives Go Back and Forth

Here's an article in the NY Times where crossword editor and table tennis aficionado Will Shortz interviews photographer and fellow TT aficionado and Alec Soth about his new book, "Ping Pong," which features table tennis photographs.

How Ping Pong Saved the World

Here's info on the film, including a trailer, 1:53. "How Ping-Pong Saved the World is a feature length documentary that recounts the events of April 1971 when a US Table Tennis team became the first Americans invited into communist China in more than two decades. For eight days 15 Ping-Pong diplomats captivated the world with their visit behind the Bamboo Curtain and in the process helped reshape world history. Ping-Pong Diplomacy soon became a metaphor for the on-going difficult relations between two ideological opposites on the brink of détente. Their unlikely invitation paved the way for President Richard Nixon's landmark visit to China just eight months later in February of 1972."

Late Note - here's the entire How Ping Pong Saved the World Documentary online (74 min). I actually linked to this last Tuesday but forgot about it.

Table Tennis - Simply the Best Sport

Here's a highlights and motivational table tennis video (7:53) that came out a year ago that I somehow never saw before. It features

Pittsburgh Steelers Decide Only Vets Can Play Ping Pong in Locker Room

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation! This is one of the great injustices of the century . . . we shall march on Pittsburgh, and we shall overcome, because I dream of a time when ping-pong players will be judged by their ratings and not by their football seniority.

Jimmy Fallon on Playing Table Tennis with Prince

Here's a video (4:58) of Fallon telling a funny story on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno about playing table tennis with Prince. "It's like spinning, it's like flames are coming out!"

The Ping Pong King Kong

Here's a video (1:51) that shows some of the fastest and best table tennis I've ever seen! (And the facial expressions are great.) Watching this video will wake you up - it's fast and hilarious.

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