ITTF Pongcast

June 10, 2014


There's nothing better for a coach than a player who's so self-motivated that the coach's main job is to just keep up with him. You don't need to push a player like that; they are already pushing themselves. But this is rare, and even the most motivated players sometimes need some incentive. Of course success in tournaments and leagues is a primary incentive, but that's long-term. Often players need a more immediate incentive. Here are some I use when I coach.

A primary motivator for all ages is to see how many they can do in a row. At the beginning stages this means things like how many forehands or backhands they can hit in a row, or pushes, or loops against backspin in multiball. Keep it simple, and let them challenge themselves to more and more in a row until it's ingrained.

As they advance, move on to more advanced drills. For example, I've always been a firm believer that one of the key stages to rallying success in matches is to be able to do the following two drills so well you can essentially do them forever. One is the 2-1 drill, where the player does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. This covers three of the most common moves in table tennis: covering the wide forehand, covering the wide backhand, and the step-around forehand. The other drill is a simple random drill, done either live or with multiball, where the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and the player has to return each shot consistently, using forehands or backhands. The first is a mobility drill, the second a reaction drill. If you can do both consistently at a good pace, you are ready to rally in matches. The more advanced you are, the faster you do the drills. You can do them live or with multiball.

I often challenge students to see how many of these they can do in a row. In my May 21 blog I quoted myself saying to a student, "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it." I'd told the student, 12-year-old Sameer, that when he could do 100 shots in a row in the 2-1 drill (looping both forehands and backhands), he could say this to me. So he made it a goal – and a few days ago, it happened. After many tries, he suddenly did 100 – and continued, all the way to 217 in a row!!! Technically, if he'd waited until after he'd missed, he couldn't really say he never missed, could he? Fortunately, I missed one somewhere around 150 or so (his shot went wider than usual!), and that's when he said, "The rumors are true. I never miss." Next on his list: 100 random shots in a row, also all looping.

I remember many years ago when I was learning to do fast, deep serves that I'd put a racket on both far corners of the table, and do my fast forehand pendulum serve from the backhand side and try to hit them. For months I would end each serving session by serving and hitting the targets ten times in a row, first ten crosscourt, then ten down the line, and the serving session wouldn't stop until I could do this. When this became too easy, I alternating serving fast and deep to the corners (crosscourt and then down the line), and I had to keep doing this until I hit the paddles ten times in a row. It wasn't enough to just practice the fast serve; it had to be so proficient that I could hit the target nearly every time, and aiming at targets and sticking with it until I got the ten in a row (even when alternating crosscourt and down the line) gave me incentive to do this. Later I would do the same thing with my spin serves, where I'd draw a chalk line a few inches from the far side of the table, and I'd have to do ten serves in a row where the second bounce would be between the line and the end-line.

Another incentive is to tell the student that when they achieve a certain goal, they should celebrate by getting themselves a gift, such as a nice table tennis shirt. Or it can be non-table tennis. I often award myself for reaching a goal or getting something done by seeing a movie. (I see a lot of movies, so I must be reaching a lot of goals and getting a lot done!)

For younger kids, I have other incentives. To work on their accuracy, I'll put a Gatorade bottle on the table and challenge them to hit it – except the bottle supposedly contains worm juice or some other disgusting liquid, which I have to drink if they hit it. I also give out "million dollar bills" to kids who reach certain goals. (I bought them from some novelty place.) For others I keep charts showing their progress, such as how many forehands they did in a row, and regularly update it. One kid had 14 categories we kept track of for nearly a year!

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Nineteen down, 81 to go!

  • Day 82: Growing Pains in the ITTF
  • Day 83: 59 Editions of the World Table Tennis Championships

ITTF Pongcast

Here's the video (11:02) for the month of May.

Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better

Here's video (35 sec) of a great rally between Xu Xin and Gao Ning in the quarterfinals of Men's Singles at the China Open. Xu went on to win, 11-6 in the seventh. Here's video (54 sec) of another great rally at the China Open, in the final between Ma Long and Xu Xin.

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari

Here are videos of then training in China.

Porpoise Pong

Here's a dolphin playing table tennis. See, it's not so hard to play without arms!

Send us your own coaching news!

May 13, 2014

How I Almost Didn't Go or Stay Full-time in Table Tennis

Sometimes when I look around the Maryland Table Tennis Center I marvel at the series of events that led to the place opening, and all the things that could have derailed it or me from full-time table tennis. There would be no MDTTC if Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I didn't get together back in 1992 to make it happen. All the players developed there wouldn't have happened. All the training centers that copied our system to open their own training centers might not have happened. How history in U.S. table tennis might have been different!

If Cheng had been chosen to be on the 1989 or 1991 Chinese National Team to the Worlds, as most expected he would, he might have stayed in China. If he had taken the offer to be the Chinese Men's Coach, he would have stayed in China. But after being burned by coaches who wanted stick with the historical Chinese close-to-table styles while using players like Cheng (as well as Huang Tong Sheng, i.e. Jack Huang) as European-style practice partners, he decided to come to the U.S., as did Coach Jack.

As to me, here is a brief listing of all the ways I might have been derailed from joining up with Cheng and Jack in 1992 and from becoming a full-time table tennis coach, writer, and promoter. It's largely biographical, so bear with me as I talk about some of my background.

I'll start at the beginning. Back in 1976 (age 16), I was on my high school track team as a miler. I went to the library to get a book on "Track & Field." I happened to look to my left . . . and there was a book on table tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I had been playing "basement" ping-pong at a neighbor's house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out. From it, I found out about USATT (then called USTTA). I contacted them, found a local club, and went there. I got killed, but I stuck with it, and a few years later became the best at the club. I later became a professional table tennis coach and writer, and from 1985 on, I've been full-time table tennis almost continuously in various capacities. If I hadn't happened to look to my left and saw that book, you would be staring at a blank screen right now. (Interesting note - years later I met Marty for the first time and told him this story. His response? "Great . . . another life I've ruined.") So ended my career as a normal person.

Now we move to North Carolina, 1979-81. I went there a year after I graduated high school for the sole purpose of training at table tennis. But I had to make a living, and so at age 19 I began working in restaurants at minimum wage. Meanwhile, I began making batches of my own secret recipe for chili for members of the table tennis club, and many raved about it. Here's a little-known secret - I came close to dropping table tennis at one point and opening up my own chili franchise! It would have started with one of those pushcarts you see at shopping malls. I got all the info needed, and even began experimenting with the chili recipe. But the table tennis bug was too much, and though I got prices on carts and on selling in malls, I finally gave up on my temporary lifelong dream of opening a chili chain. So ended my career as a chili chef.

Now we move to 1985. I've just completed my bachelors in math at University of Maryland, with minors in chemistry and computer science. A Dr. Harold Reiter has invited me to work on my Ph.D in math at the University of North Carolina. (He and I had co-written a paper published in a math journal.) I could have gone there, and eventually I'd have been Dr. Larry Hodges, math professor. But I decided to take time off for table tennis - and USATT hired me. So ended my math career.

Now we move to 1990. At this point I've spent four years working for USATT as (in order) assistant manager, manager, and then director/assistant coach for the resident table tennis program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. But politics intervened, and I was released. (Funny story - when the board decided not to renew my contract, they also went out of their way to "help" me by making arrangements for me to go to Anderson College where I could get a degree. Not one of them realized I already had a degree in math!) Anyway, I returned to Maryland and debated what to do next. At the Nationals that year I did something I'd done year after year in Las Vegas - won piles of money playing 7-card stud. There was no question - I could make a living at it. I debated it, and there were times where I was on the verge of packing up and moving to Vegas to play poker full-time. But while I could make good money at it, I kept asking myself a simple question: Is that what I wanted to do with my life? The answer was no. So ended my poker career.

Now we move to 1992. I'd started work on a master's in journalism, with concentrations in science writing and magazine production. I'm now planning on a journalism career, and plan to be a science writer. But two things intervened. First, I was hired by USATT as editor of USATT Magazine. Second, I met with Cheng and Jack, and we decided to open up MDTTC. So ended my science writing career.

Now we move to 1996. I'd just finished four years as editor of USATT Magazine (while coaching nearly full-time at MDTTC as well as well as coaching USA junior teams around the world), but politics once again intervened and my contract wasn't renewed. I began coaching even more hours at MDTTC. But I began to have injury problems, and I was so disgusted with USATT that I needed a break from table tennis. In 1997 one of my students hired me as a computer programmer. So I spent a year programming while playing and coaching table tennis part-time. I made good money, and for a time planned on becoming rich that way. But the company I worked for closed down. So ended my computer programming career.

Now we move to 1998. I could have gotten other jobs as a computer programmer, but I was more into writing. Plus I had just finished my master's in Journalism, which I'd been working on part-time for five years. So I applied for editorial positions. I was hired as editor of The Quality Observer. I spent nearly a year there. But the table tennis bug began to bite again, and I kept thinking about how I could make about twice as much per hour coaching as editing. Finally I resigned that position and went back to coaching. So ended my non-table tennis editorial career.

I was hired back as editor of USATT Magazine in 1999, and stayed on until 2007. (I continued to coach at MDTTC during this time.) At that point I was disappointed that USATT wouldn't focus on the things needed to be done to grow the sport (sound familiar?), and I was tired of all the politics. So I decided to take some time off and focus on something I'd been doing part-time for years - write science fiction & fantasy. So I resigned as USATT editor/webmaster, and spent the next couple years mostly just writing. My SF writing career has had lots of ups and downs. (Here's my SF writing page.) I've sold an even 70 short stories. Thirty of them were compiled in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges." I wrote two novels. The second one was published last November, the humorous fantasy "Sorcerers in Space." (You can also buy it at Amazon.) A publisher (Larger than the one that published "Sorcerers") is very interested in the first one, Campaign 2100, a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, but requested a rewrite on a number of sections, which I'm currently working on. But while I'm still doing this part-time, I returned to full-time table tennis in 2008, and have been at it ever since. (Both of my novels feature characters who play table tennis.) So ended my full-time science fiction writing career.

I'm a full-time table tennis coach/writer/promoter. But if I hadn't looked left, if I'd become a chili chef, a math professor, a poker player, a science writer, a programmer, a non-TT editor, or a full-time science fiction writer, I wouldn't be doing table tennis full-time. And there'd be no MDTTC if hadn't look left, or if I'd become a chili chef, math professor, or poker player.

Samsonov and Ma Long on the New Plastic Balls

Here's Samsonov ("I think the change will not be that big") and Ma Long (he endorses it). Readers, feel free to send me links on what other top players think about this, or post your own comments below.

The Different Chinese Eras

Here's an interesting posting (and some follow-up responses) about the three most recent eras of Chinese dominance - the Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang era, the Wang Liqin/Ma Lin era, and the current Zhang Jike/Ma Long era. Wang Hao should probably get more credit in there as he's been dominant throughout the last two of these eras, and I'd add Xu Xin to the current era. Before the Kong/Liu era was a period of 4-6 years where China didn't do so well, the Ma Wenge/Wang Tao era. Before that was the Jiang Jialiang/Chen Longcan/Teng Yi era. Before that was the Guo Yuehua/Cai Zhenhua era. Before that was the Zhuang Zedong/Li Furong era. (I've left out plenty of top players, such as Li Zhenshi, Liang Keliang, and many others, but can't fit everyone in every era! Plus we're only talking about the men, leaving out the women.)

ITTF Pongcast - April 2014

Here's the video (13:22).

NCTTA Best of the Best

Here's the listing of winners from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here's the article/posting.

Table Tennis Profile Picture

Here's one of the nicer ones I've seen! I should have that on my wall when I'm writing about table tennis . . . like right now. See the action coming out of my keyboard!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 19, 2013

Weekend Coaching

I had a long weekend of coaching. Here's a rundown.

FRIDAY: I had "only" three students that day. First up was Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day. I've blogged about coaching him; normally he comes in on Wednesday afternoons, but he asked for an extra session and came in on Friday afternoon as well. One irritating thing: In the 21 years since we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center I'd only been late for a session twice. Yes, you read that right; I always come in early to make sure I'm not late. Well, on Friday I had my times with Darren mixed up and so ended up coming in 15 minutes late, making it the third time I've been late in those 21 years, or once every seven years. (I'm sort of like a cicada.) The other two I was late for were both in the last three years - I wasn't late for a single session the first 18 years! (The other two - once with a joint session with John Olsen & Kevin Walton when I also had my times mixed up, and once with Sameer when there was an accident that kept me in traffic for an hour for the ten-minute drive to the club. Coincidentally I coached all three of the people or pairs that I had been late for this weekend.)

After Darren came Tim (30 min, a new student) and Sameer (90 min). With Tim we're working hard on the foundation of his game, especially on the forehand side. With Sameer we're mostly getting him ready for the North American Teams in ten days. (Key factor - he's still adjusting to a lower, wider stance, and often forgets that and stands up too straight.)

Then I spent some time watching Nathan Hsu and Derek Nie practice and play points as prep to coaching them at the Nationals. (I'm also coaching Derek at the Teams.)

SATURDAY: I taught classes from 9:30-10:30AM, and from 10:30AM-Noon, both for groups of kids. The 9:30 session was the last of the season; that group starts up again in January. Highlight of the sessions: the kids love to set the robot at full speed and frequency, but usually just end up having the balls shoot off the end. As a special treat I set the robot up at full speed and frequency at the end of both sessions, and let them try to keep the ball in play. I showed them how to just hold the racket out and block the balls back, and even though they were relative beginners in the 7-11 age range, they picked up on it. I also demoed smashing those balls with my forehand, which stretched my own game to its limit - those balls are coming fast and quick!

From 1:30-3:30 I coached and fed multiball for John & Kevin. They too are getting ready for the Teams, so we've upped the amount of random drills.  Afterwards I normally am a practice partner for a 4:30-6:30 session, but because of my recent knee problems I skipped that session; I'll be back next Saturday.

SUNDAY: This is the one day per week I coach outside MDTTC, driving to the homes of two students (Anton and Sameer) for private sessions. (Yes, they pay extra.) Then from 2-4PM we had a table tennis birthday party for a local player (with 17 kids roughly age 10), where I ran the table tennis portion from 2-3PM, with 30 minutes of instruction, 30 minutes of organized games (hitting targets on table as I fed multiball, such as stacked paper cups and a large rubber frog), and 30 minutes of free play.

Then I taught another class, from 4:30-6:00PM, with 12 kids. Once again we ended the session by setting the robot at full speed and frequency.

Monday: This is my "rest" day, but in reality it's my catch-up-with-everything day, as well as doing the Tip of the Week before I do the blog. So it's probably the busiest day of the week even though I don't do any coaching normally. I spent the entire day going through my todo list (mostly table tennis items), and got to most of them. (There were some serious time-consuming problems involving my recent novel, Sorcerers in Space. I had proofed the interiors, but they hadn't sent me the back cover to proof. I'd assumed they would just cut & paste the text I'd written for the back cover, but it turned out the designer had retyped the last paragraph - and inserted four typos!!! So we have to do a new version of that. This was only one of about a dozen problems involving the novel that I've been dealing with.)

I also managed to do laundry, get a haircut, change the oil and windshield wipers on my car, proof a letter of invitation to top Chinese players for a top-secret table tennis event coming up next year (more on that when it's time to go public!), and updated the junior table tennis program accounting. And while taking a break, I put together this "Top Twelve Ways the Orioles Can Improve" list which is now featured at Orioles Hangout!

TODAY I'm coaching Darren O'Day again, since he can't come in for his usual Wednesday time. He's my only coaching today - Wed through Sun are my busy days. I'm also working on the USATT Hall of Fame program booklet, and a bunch of other minor things on my todo list. One important item on today's list if I get to it - readers have found a few typos in my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book, so I hope to find time to make those corrections and upload a new version, both print and Kindle versions. I also have a new computer which I plan to put up soon - I got it in trade with John Olsen, and while not brand new, it's eons younger than the relatively ancient one (in computer years) I'm working on right now. I've already backed up everything on my current one.

Contact the Ball Sooner When Looping Backspin

Here's the article: One Myth About Attacking Backspin That You Probably Believe

ITTF Monthly Pongcast

Here's the video (12:03) which covers ITTF events and news for the month of October.

NBA Stars VS NFL Stars in Ping Pong

Here's the video (1:31) as part of the TopSpin Charity. And here's a synopsis of the event:

"The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) was proud to help support the efforts of TopSpin Charity's recent event in New York City. This year's event featured celebrity, corporate and individual table tennis tournaments. Numerous NBA players were in attendance including New York Knick Kenyon Martin and Brooklyn Nets Deron Williams. New York Giants Jason Pierre Paul and Shaun Rogers also made an appearance. TopSpin, a national philanthropic group dedicated to empowering America's youth through education, is donating all proceeds to nonprofit organizations as part of their efforts to better the educational opportunities for underserved youth."

Ping-Pong Paddle Reading in Bed

Here it is!

Send us your own coaching news!

October 8, 2013

Nostalgia - The Top Players of Today and Yesterday

Mondays is usually my day off. However, since I'm going to be away at the Veep taping on Wed and Thur (see yesterday's blog), I asked my five students on those days if we could reschedule, and all five obliged. So yesterday I did two hours coaching, the first time I've done so on a Monday in a long time. I've also got two extra hours today, so I'll be coaching almost non-stop from 2:45-8PM. (Fortunately I'm over my arm problems.)

I was coaching on one of the front six tables. (We have 16 tables, sometimes 18 for training camps, but the front six are extra-large.) During the first hour I looked around at the other five tables, and couldn't help but reminisce. I remember back when I was starting out at the old New Carrollton Table Tennis Club (in Maryland) in the late 1970s. Between matches I'd watch as the club's star players played on the tables on the far right - we had something like 9-10 "great" players, all in the 1800-2000 range! Wow! This was back when I was about 1100, and to me they were the greats of table tennis - Herb Horton, Bob Kaminsky, Jim Verta, Carl Kronlage, Jim Mossberg, Ron Snyder, Gary Akinsette, Tim Ang, Barbara Kaminsky, Donna Sakai, Yvonne Kronlage - wow, were they good! Not to mention up-and-coming juniors Brian Masters, Mike Shapiro, Curt Kronlage, and Phil Shaw. Oh, and me, though I didn't start until I was 16.

But the world has changed, and I'm now a coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I still have that same sense of "Wow!" when I look about. And now back to the present, and those five other tables.

On tables 1-5 was Nathan Hsu and Chen Jie ("James"); Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") and Derek Nie; Raghu Nadmichettu and Harold Baring; Dong Yiming ("Steve") and Roy Ke; and Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") and Crystal Wang. I'm not going to give all their ratings, but they range from 2250 to 2600, and six of the eight are under age 18, including such phenoms as Crystal (11, 2267, formerly 2355) and Derek (12, 2297). And hovering over tables one and two was Coach and former Chinese team member Cheng Yinghua, former 2850 player, not playing this time, just coaching. (Coach Jack Huang, former 2800 player and Chinese team member, would normally be there but was in China on a three-week vacation.) 

There are other clubs in the U.S. with such high levels of play; I'm just lucky to be in one of them.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast - September 2013

Here's the video (11:34).

Five Peculiarities to Become a Great TT Player

Here's the video (5:11). This is not technical advice, but a list of five attributes most of the top players have. The short list? Shakehands, lefty, attack, Butterfly, Asian.

Table Tennis Score Keeper
Here's a new scorekeeper app. "Table Tennis Score Keeper app is a simple application which helps players, their parents or friends in scoring matches. It can be used in local tournaments, leagues, college, or practice games. Scorekeeper app can score Best of 7, 5, 3 or 1 games. It records which player will serve next. You can add the player names and also extend by adding club or country name. Once a game in a match is completed it can be added and the next game can be scored. The app works on Portrait mode and also is tested on landscape for Nexus 7 and Nexus 4. It is best suited for parents, coaches or friends who are scoring for their player during a match."

Internet Calls Bluff on Incredible Ping-Pong Video

Yesterday I posted a link to the video "Amazing Ping-Pong Tricks with a Knife." I also asked if you thought it was real. (In the comments below Doug explained why he was sure it was not.) Well, the Internet has called its bluff and says it is not real - here's the article. So who are these people? They are the Tumba Ping Pong Show, and they need a segment of their own....

Tumba Ping-Pong Show

Here's their home page. I've linked to some of their staged videos before. They have lots and lots of these spectacularly staged table tennis videos - take a look!

This Is How You Hang Out with Friends

The title of this video is longer than the video (5 sec) but it's pretty funny. Someone called it shaolin ping-pong.

Are We Twins?

Here's a hilarious video (2:23) starring Samson Dubina and Xavier Therien. I know them both so well (mostly from coaching against them) that it never occurred to me that they were twins - until now!

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