Backhand Loop

November 5, 2014

Ready Stance

What is a proper ready stance? Any decent coach could go over this in great detail. I've written about it before, such as in Grip and Stance and Use a Wider Stance. But there's a simpler way. (This might be expanded later into a Tip of the Week.)

Next time you are trying to show someone the proper ready stance in table tennis (or trying to work out your own), imagine playing basketball. Pretend to dribble a ball, and tell the person to cover you. Invariably he'll go into a perfect crouch that allows him to move quickly side to side - he'll widen his stance, with his feet aimed slightly outward, knees slightly bent, and bend slightly forward at the waist. (You can also tell someone to imagine being a shortstop in baseball or a goalie in soccer - same thing.) Other than not holding the arms up (as one does when covering in basketball), the player is now in a proper table tennis stance, and you didn't have to go into all the specifics.

Have the player do some side-to-side movements, and he'll quickly realize the benefits of playing in such a stance.

Table Tennis Authors Unite!

I've self-published my last few table tennis books on, a subsidiary of Along the way I've become something of an expert on it. I've been advising a few other writers on it, and at the upcoming USA Nationals I'm doing an informal demo for three prospective table tennis authors who are writing table tennis books. If you also are interested in this (i.e. are writing a book on table tennis - or perhaps some other topic - that you'd like to self-publish), email me and I'll see if we can find a time at the Nationals where we can all get together.

Mostly Non-TT - World Fantasy Convention and Stupefying Stories

I'll be spending much of the next four days jumping back and forth between table tennis and the World Fantasy Convention, which is happening nearby in Arlington, Virginia, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Thur-Sun. I have a reading scheduled Saturday at 1:30 PM. I have a lot of coaching on Thursday and Friday nights, and Sunday all day, but I'll likely spend my free time over there, plus I've got Saturday completely off. If anyone wants to join me, email me.

On a related note, at 5PM today (Eastern time) my dark fantasy story "The Roads to Hell" will go live at Stupefying Stories. It's a political story about what happens to political ideologues after they die.

The Powerful Backhand Loop of Werner Schlager

Here's video (42 sec, including slow motion replay) of Schlager ripping five backhand loops in a row against chopper Joo Se Hyuk. Many top players use backhand loops as variations against choppers, but five in a row, like this? Wow! (Ironically some of our top up-and-coming stars at MDTTC are also experimenting with backhand loops when playing local chopping star and coach Wang Qing Liang.)

Cast Your Vote for USOC Athlete of the Month - Kanak Jha!

Here's where you can vote.

Plastic Ball Testing

The Preston Table Tennis Association has put together a pair of videos that test the new plastic balls. Here they are:

Zhang Jike's Prize Money Goes to a Fund for Annual Fair Play Award

Here's the ITTF press release.

Table Tennis Rock & Roll

Here's the inspirational music video from the ITTF (1:32). However, there's a problem with this. Go to 1:09, and you'll see they are using highlights of the infamous Zhang Jike scene where he's destroying the barriers after his World Cup win. How can they fine him his entire $45,000 prize money for this, and then use it for promotional purposes? I'm guessing this is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.

Table Tennis Daily & Editingsports Trick Shots

Here's the video (1:28) that shows some great trick shots. One of my great sorrows of life is that my shoulder is too stiff to do any of the behind-the-back shots they show here!

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October 21, 2014

Coaching Happenings

I hope you enjoyed the PBS video I showed yesterday that featured Crystal Wang and Derek Nie. (I said it was a WETA video, but it was actually produced by PBS.) I showed it at MDTTC on my laptop yesterday to a number of players. The video is currently featured on the USATT home page.

Lots of coaching happenings yesterday. The biggest news was Sameer's breakthrough on the backhand loop. Sameer (13, about 1600) has been topspinning his backhand pretty well this past year. But yesterday something clicked, and suddenly he was just ripping backhand loops off the bounce with ease - at least in practice. He was doing it both in rallies against my backhand block, in side-to-side footwork drills (including the 2-1 drill), and in multiball against backspin.

Technique-wise, he's now hitting pretty much the same as Ma Long in this video (1:55, far side). Note the nice, relaxed power with this stroke, with the small body rocking motion that creates power. (Here's a Tip on "Easy Power," demonstrated in the video by Ma Long, which Sameer is now learning.) Sameer still goes through stages where they all hit and then they all miss (often when he tries to muscle the ball), and it'll take time to incorporate this into a match, but now he's on a really scary path (for opponents). Since I wanted him to really ingrain this, we spent about 45 minutes of our two-hour session on this, and we'll continue to focus on this for a time - yes, a little Saturation Training.

Near the end I played Sameer a few games where I chopped, using my regular inverted rubber (Tenergy both sides). He's much better against me when I play regular, and since I'm almost as good chopping as attacking, let's just say things didn't work as well here as it did for his backhand loop. He did throw a lot of backhand loops at me, but he kept putting the balls into my forehand or backhand corners - easy returns for a 2100 chopper. I finally hinted that he needed to go after my middle. He served and looped there several times, and I missed four chops. He said, "Are you messing up on purpose?" He was wondering if I was missing to show him the importance of playing the middle, as opposed to my missing because he was going to my middle. It was the latter!

I've been playing for 38 years, and coaching for 34. And yet, yesterday was the first time I ever had to tell a student (age 7) to stop chewing on his shirt during points.

Plastic Ball Problems

We're facing serious problems at the club because of the changeover to plastic balls. The ITTF really jumped the gun on this - they should have waited until the new plastic balls ("40+") were standardized and there were training balls available. Right now we have different players training with different balls, and players have to check on what the other players are using before they can play or practice. Since Butterfly doesn't have plastic training balls yet, we're still mostly using regular Butterfly celluloid balls for most coaching. Players used to have to contend with going from Butterfly balls to the slightly harder Nittaku balls, but the difference there is only a fraction of the difference between the various plastic balls.

All of the plastic balls are white, as are most of our training balls, which seems to be the preference of most players. At the moment, though, I wish all our training balls were orange so we could tell them quickly from the white plastic ones. A training center is not like a typical club, where players use just one ball on each table. Players train at our club with buckets of balls, and so balls are scattered everywhere. (For an example of this, see the Multiball Footwork segment below.)

Yesterday, at the same time, we had players training with Butterfly celluloid (used in last weekend's 4-star North Carolina Open and MDTTC Open, in next weekend's 4-star South Shore Open and Wasserman Junior Championships, and along with other celluloid balls, still used in most USATT tournaments), JOOLA plastic (for the upcoming North American Teams), Nittaku Premium plastic (for the Nationals) and Nittaku SHA plastic (for the Nationals for players who didn't have the Premium yet). Meanwhile, Crystal Wang is training with various plastic balls to prepare for the World Cadet Challenge which starts next weekend, which will be using Butterfly plastic balls, but we don't have any since they aren't available in the U.S. yet. Players were running about trying to keep the same balls in each court and sifting through balls in boxes and on the floor to find the ones they were training with. And yesterday someone was practicing with DHS plastic balls for some other tournament. This is crazy!!!

One that'll help a little - USATT is requiring all tournament entry forms must list the ball material used in the tournament. Here's the news item.

Is Search Engine Showing Up?

I need help on something. Tell me if you see the search engine on the top left - it should read "Search this site:" with a field underneath it. It shows up for me on both my desktop and laptop computers on all the major search engines, but it's not showing up on someone else's laptop computer for some reason. (Right now it should only show up if you are logged in. I've asked my web page expert to fix that so that the search engine shows up no matter what.)

Multiball Footwork

Here's 34 seconds of some serious multiball footwork. Can you do this? (Note the wide stance - without it, you can't.)

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team

Here's a video library that's a MUST for all players. It has 14 videos of the Chinese National Team or coaches demonstrating and explaining techniques. (This includes seven videos in the "Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team" series. There's a Part 8 that just came out but isn't yet listed, "Forehand Serves and First Attack by Yan An" (7:43).

Contact Point for Maximum Backspin

Here's the new video from PingSkills (3:13).

Ask the Coach

Episode #12 (9:55):

  • Question 1: I play inverted and will play against a hardbat penhold player. He has no problem hitting through chops, and various spins. What I find most difficult is returning his general shots. I hit many balls into the net. Any suggestions? Bob Van Deusen
  • Question 2: There is an attacking shot in badminton called dropshot from the rear court. I haven’t seen it in table tennis where one player is away from the table, slows down shortly before contact so the ball drops short. Is it possible in table tennis? Peter Habich
  • Question 3: Being not a terribly strong guy, I've always preferred blades on the lighter side. Recently I switched to one which weighs only 5 grams less, and the difference is remarkable. I can't be sure yet which to prefer, so what's your view on this? Andrej K
  • Question 4: My issue is that I'm practicing drills mostly at the club with ITTF standard sized tables and the one at my office is one that lays on top of a billiards table, which is about 9cm higher. How I can adjust my strokes so that I can perform better? Gregory S

Photos from the First ITTF Level 3 Course in the U.S.

Here's the photo album from Shashin Shodhan. Photo #17 shows that they stayed in the same dormitory (Building 87) that I stayed in from 1986-1990 during my years as manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center. Others that lived there included Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, Eric Owens, Todd Sweeris, Dhiren Narotam, Diana & Lisa Gee, and many more.

Butterfly Teams

Here's an article by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Butterfly Teams in Hobart, Indiana, to be held on Thanksgiving weekend. (Not to be confused with the 4-star South Shore Open to be held this weekend in Highland, Indiana - I'll be there coaching - or with the North American Teams, also to be held on Thanksgiving weekend in Washington D.C.)

World Women's Cup

Here are two more videos on the Women's World Cup held this past weekend in Austria.

Who Will Win the Men's World Cup Contest

Here's the blog entry on this from Matt Hetherington. The Men's World Cup is this upcoming weekend in Dusseldorf, Germany, Oct. 24-26. The basic challenge is to guess the two finalists and the total number of points the losing player will score in the final. Winning prize is two sheets of Butterfly Tenergy.

ITTF Timo Boll Puzzle Contest

Put poor Timo Boll back together again, and win a signed blade from him.

Top Five Reasons Why Ping Pong Rocks by Susan Sarandon

Here's the video (1:04). #1: "I like ping-pong because Richard Nixon had to leave the country for at least two weeks during Ping-Pong Diplomacy."

Olympic Power Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon!

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July 10, 2014

Watching Matches

I've always wanted to put a camera on spectators that shows exactly what they see as they watch a table tennis match. But I'm afraid that most of what we'd see is their eyes focused on the ball as it goes back and forth, with the players themselves slightly blurry images on the side. That's because that's exactly what most spectators are watching when they watch a match. It's almost like self-hypnosis as their eyes go back and forth, Back and Forth, BACK AND FORTH, over and over and over. You might as well just stare at a stationary ball.

Instead, try focusing on one of the players, and see what he does. That's how you can learn what the players are really doing, and learn their techniques, something you can't do by staring at the ball as it goes back and forth. Some of the things you'll learn might surprise you. For example, to the ball-watchers, some players are fast, some are slow. But when you watch the "slow" players, often it turns out they seem slow simply because they got to the ball before the ball got there, and are seemingly just there without really moving. The "fast" players are often the ones who got slower starts, and are just getting to the ball as it arrives, and so you see them move, and so they seem fast. (A famous example of this was Jan-Ove Waldner, who always seemed to be where the ball was, and never seemed to move much - but that's because most of his movement was while spectators' eyes were on the ball that hadn't yet reached his side.) 

Another aspect that ball-watching spectators miss is the initial movements on receive. They see the receive, but they don't see the step-ins for short balls, or when the player started to move to receive, and so on. Often receivers start to do one thing, then change as the serve approaches - but you don't see this unless you are focused on the receiver from the start of the point.

So if you really want to learn, don't watch the ball. Pick a player and watch him exclusively for a game or so. Then watch the other. You'll learn a lot more this way than by watching the little ball. Let the players do that.

Improving the Backhand Loop by Brian Pace

Here's the blog entry, with both text and video on the backhand loop.

How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players by Matt Hetherington

Here's the article.

Three New Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina

Kasumi Ishikawa Voted Japan's Most Pleasant Athlete

Here's the story.

One Energy Commercial - Behind the Scenes

On Monday I linked to the One Energy Commercial (30 sec) that featured Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen playing in neon outfits. Here's the behind the scenes video (2:19) that shows it being put together.

Jordi Alba Plays "Soccer" Table Tennis

Here's the video (36 sec) of the Spanish soccer star and others. (That's football for non-Americans.)

Judah Friedlander Plays Table Tennis in "Teacher's Lounge"

Here's the video (3:09) where Judah - a real-life 1600 player - prepares for the student/faculty ping pong championship. It's in episode 3 of this TV show. Judah and the table tennis starts 1:25 into the video. (Warning - foul language!)

Chimp Pong

Here's a new picture of a chimpanzee playing table tennis. I don't know if it's real or not. Here's another one.

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March 26, 2014

You Are What You Train

Most players understand this, but don't really absorb how important this simple lesson is. Here are two examples.

On Monday I was teaching the backhand loop to a beginning/intermediate class. I don't have a particularly good backhand loop, so I had assistant coach John Hsu demonstrate it. It seemed a good time to also teach the blocking, so I went over that as well as I blocked John's loop. Then I pointed how at the higher levels many players topspin their blocks, essentially mini-loops, and explained how while I blocked the normal way (relatively flat), John almost always topspins his blocks.

To demo this, I looped forehands from my backhand corner to his backhand and he backhand topspin blocked away. The rally went on for a time, and then I ripped one down the line to his forehand. John reacted quickly and forehand blocked to my wide forehand. I raced over and looped down the line to his backhand. He blocked back wide to my backhand, but not too aggressively. Now I'd just been teaching the backhand loop, and you'd think that at 54 years old I'd play an easy backhand winner (as John and most "top" players would have), but no - I did what I'd trained myself to do way back in the late 1970s and 1980s, and ran all the way over from my wide forehand to my wide backhand and ripped a forehand winner down the line for a winner. Afterwards neither I nor John nor the players in the class could believe I'd gotten over there so fast - and I was sort of surprised as well. But it was a simple matter of balance on the previous shot so I could recover quickly, proper footwork technique that got me there quickly, and the automatic instincts that led me to attempt that shot. (I just wish I could still do shots like that regularly in matches - technique aside, my legs aren't as fast anymore, mostly due to knee problems.)

Another example was two kids I watched play yesterday, both ten years old. One was the #1 10-year-old from Japan, about 2000 level, visiting for a week along with his older brother (about 12 and 2250 level). He was playing a 10-year-old from my club who was about 1900. The Japanese kid had been taught to attack relentlessly, and that's exactly what he did, attacking not only off his serve, but attacking nearly every serve as well, often with over-the-table backhand banana flips. For much of the match the kid from our club was constantly on the defensive as he could only push the Japanese kid's serve back, and his own serves were often slightly high and were getting pulverized. He tried attacking the serve, but unlike the Japanese kid, he hadn't really trained that shot, and so was pretty erratic, and went back to pushing. Then he simplified his own serve to a simple backspin serve so that he could serve lower, and the Japanese kid started missing - and it became apparent that if he couldn't attack the serve as he'd been trained to do, his game went down quite a bit as he didn't push or block well. And so what started out as a rout got close. The Japanese kid won, but it was a battle. And now our kid is going to learn to serve lower with his normal serves, and to backhand banana flip.

So we have me, forcing the forehand because it was what I trained to do, and two kids both doing what they were trained to do and being comfortable otherwise. If I could go back 38 years and talk to myself as I developed, the main thing I'd say was "Develop a backhand loop!" But because I trained as a one-winged attacker, and didn't train the backhand loop, I became what I trained - a one-winged looper with a relatively weak backhand loop that I developed only in later years. (Back in those days the theory was often "One gun is as good as two.") I've got forehand attacking so ingrained in me that I can't imagine ever being a two-winged looper - and ongoing arm and shoulder problems preclude me from even attempting any intense training at this point to develop a stronger and more instinctive backhand loop. (But that doesn't mean you can't - see Backhand Loop tutorial below!)

A few key lessons from all this - train to develop a complete game. Develop both forehand and backhand. Develop effective serves that are low to the net. Develop receives that handle all situations. And develop the ability to both attack and to handle the opponent's attack.

Backhand Loop Against Backspin Tutorial

Here's the video (5:28). Coach Yang Guang (former Chinese Team Member) demonstrates and explains, breaking down the shot to its most basic points, and with slow motion at the end. This is one of the best demos and explanations of the shot I've ever seen - I spent some time copying his form. The common mistakes he points out are the very same ones I commonly see. (Ironically, I just taught the backhand loop to my beginning/intermediate class on Monday. I will point out this video to them next time.)

The Impact of College Table Tennis

Here's an essay by Kagin Lee, USATT Board Member and National College TTA Vice President-External Affairs. He has some good stuff (from a college-oriented table tennis background), but the most important to me is item #3, which is where any discussion of developing the sport in this country should begin. (The only other way to really develop the sport is via club-based junior programs, which happens successfully all over the world in conjunction with leagues.)

Six Seconds of Physical Training

Here's the video. I've done this drill numerous times in training camps. Those "ladders" are great for physical training.

Two-Year-Old Player

Wanna play?

Water Pong

Here's the picture. Hey, let's go play table tennis out in the bay!

Cat That Wants to Play

Here's the video (1:37) - and don't get me started on analyzing the players' technique….

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January 29, 2014

Angular Momentum Conservation and the Forehand

Ever notice how when a figure skater is spinning, if she brings her arms in she spins faster? Here's an explanation of that; it's the law of angular momentum conservation. Here's an article that explains this.

The laws of angular momentum apply to both figure skating and table tennis. What this means is that you can rotate faster with your arms in. On the forward swing you have to extend the arm some to get power, especially if you use a Chinese-style straight arm forehand loop. But there's no need to extend the arm during the backswing, and it just slows you down. So in theory, table tennis players should bring their arms in during the backswing in fast rallies so the backswings are quicker. What does the videotapes tell us?

Here's a video of Zhang Jike (1:55) and his forehand loop during fast multiball. Compare how far his racket is extended at contact to where it is during the backswing, and sure enough, he brings his arm in during the backswing. Here's a video of Ma Long (32 sec) showing his forehand in slow motion, which makes it even clearer. Again, compare the racket's position at contact with where it is during the backswing.

But now we look at a video of Timo Boll (2:12), and see a discrepancy - he holds the racket out about as much during the backswing as the contact point. But there's a reason for this - Boll uses a European-style loop, with his arm more bent, and so never extends his racket that far from his body. Compare to Zhang Jike and Ma Long and see the difference.

How about hitters? Here's a video (51:06, but you only need to watch the first 7 sec) that shows two-time world champion pips-out penholder Jiang Jialiang hitting forehands. Note how he drops the racket tip down for the backswing, then extends it sideways during the forward swing? This quickens the backswing.

An extended version of this might become a Tip of the Week.

The Growing Significance of the Backhand Loop

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master. Somehow I missed this article when it came out a year ago.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's another blog entry from Dell & Connie Sweeris, co-chairs for the 2014 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids: "My Favorite U.S. Open Experiences"

Zhang Jike Wins Chinese Team Trials

Here's the article and video (36.43) of the final against Ma Long. He started with a loss to Liang Jingkun, then followed that with ten consecutive wins, including wins over his main rivals on the team, Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Fan Zhendong.

Westchester Joins North American Tour

The Westchester Table Tennis Club, which runs monthly 4-star tournaments - something no club has ever done - has joined the North American Tour. There'll be a press release at some point on this and other aspects of the Tour, but for now here is the current list of tournaments in the Tour (which includes links for other info on the Tour). Others will be listed as the paperwork is complete. Special thanks to Bruce Liu, who organizes the Tour.

Ping-Pong Ball Boys?

Here's the cartoon!

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August 16, 2013

MDTTC Camp and a Day of Rest

After coaching 6-8 hours/day for 14 straight days, I'm finally off today. I was exhausted a week ago; there are no adverbs or adjectives in the English language that adequately describe my current state of exhaustion, so let's just say I'm tired. I went to bed last night at 11PM and slept to 9AM. That's unprecedented for me; I normally sleep about six hours/night.

However, I've got a "busy restful" day ahead. Nothing physical, but a few errands, and lots of paperwork stuff - editing, rewriting, organizing. Mostly stuff I've put off the last two weeks due to the busy workload. We have one more week of our ten weeks of camp this summer, and then I can go back to writing during the day, and coaching nights and weekends.

Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. I had 4'7" 12-year-old Derek Nie demonstrate; as I think I mentioned in a previous blog, if he can backhand loop at a 2291 level (that's his rating!), then anyone can, right? However, the beginners aren't ready for backhand looping, and we focused on the basics.

The natives were restless yesterday - Thursdays is always the most "dragging" day, as it's four days into camp, but not the last day yet. I let the beginning kids go to games earlier than usual in both the morning and afternoon sessions. The more advanced ones are a bit more focused, and if anything, trained longer than usual before playing games.

The 5-8-year-old beginners aren't really ready for real games the first few days, but I decided they were ready yesterday. So I had twelve of them play up-down-tables for the first time - games to 11 (11-10 wins), winner moves up, loser moves down. Some picked it up right away; some had great difficulty getting the rules or the score right. Two found playing games so distressful they quit and wouldn't play, so I had those two just rally for fun while the others played. One enthusiastic 7-year-old dramatically improved this week, and won every game he played; this kid is going to be good.

During break I pulled out my Franklin Table Tennis To Go Net Set, which allows me to set up a table tennis net on any table. It weighs about 12 oz., can stretch up to 75 inches across any table, and has adjustable clamps on the side that will grab about any table. (I'm starting to take it on trips wherever I go!) We set it up on the lounge tables (about six feet long), and the kids went at it. Nathan Hsu (about 2400) had some fun taking on challenges where he put the net near the far end so he only had about one foot of table space to aim at. Near the end coaches Wang Qing Liang and John Hsu joined in, and they put on a chopping versus loop exhibition.

An interesting thing happened during a private coaching session after the camp yesterday. I'm 53 and getting stiffer every year. After a day of camp, my muscles are like neutronium. I can still execute the shots at a pretty high level, but it's not easy, and looping/counterlooping isn't as easy as before. The 13-year-old I was coaching is learning to counterloop, and has picked it up really well - he's about 1600-1700, and a very good rallier. So we went at it, counterlooping for perhaps 15 minutes. Afterwards I was about as loose as I've been in since around the time of Aristotle. Then we played a few practice games, and wow! I felt it was the 1980's again. I was all over the table looping forehands, and when he'd quick-block, I was jumping on those balls. Have to remember this next time I warm up for a match!!! (I've had similar experiences before, and already knew counterlooping loosens me up, but usually not this much.)

Discounted JOOLA Teams Entry for Sale

A local paid for an entry last year for the North American JOOLA Teams when the price was greatly discounted but can't use it now. He's willing to sell it for $600. (Current price is $799.) If interested, email me and I'll put you in contact with him. (The Teams, previously in Baltimore, will be held in Washington DC this year, Nov. 29 - Dec. 1.)

Training Tips from Waldner and Persson

Here's a video (40:03) with training tips from superstars Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

International Training Camp in China

China will host an international training camp in September. Here's the article. China's Men's Coach Liu Guoliang said, "We will be organising an international training camp this September. We are inviting overseas players to participate and help them improve their overall level. It will better promote the development of table tennis. What is important is that more people will get involved into the sport and the masses will appreciate the charm of table tennis."

Play Table Tennis with a New York Mayoral Candidate

Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation. "If you've never tried to play ping pong with your favorite mayoral candidate before, now's your chance! By Donating money to Bill de Blasio for his campaign you will get the chance to face him in a ping pong game at SPiN New York this Sunday. Hitting some balls while sipping on cocktails and listening to good music seems to be the perfect way to have Bill Blasio loosen up and genuinely elaborate on his plans for the city as a Mayor. This genius plan comes from the award winning actress, ping pong ambassador and Spin co-owner Susan Sarandon who endorses Blasio."

Two-Year-Olds Playing Table Tennis?

Here's the video (19 sec) - on the table with a little multiball help.

Balls in the Face

Here's the video (17 sec) of the new Tumba Ping Pong Show! And here's another video (10 sec) from them, featuring a ping-pong ball and a cucumber in the mouth!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 2, 2013


Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. Most of the players in the camp were ready for this, including two of the five beginners I was mostly working with. The harder part for most was doing a backhand loop against backspin and then and a backhand drive against topspin consecutively, fed multiball style. Inevitably, when they first try this, they'd either shorten the backswing on the backhand loop (and go into net), or swing up on the drive (and go off the end). Some of the more advanced players backhand looped against both backspin and topspin, but being more advanced, they had little trouble making the adjustment.

I gave a private lesson to a player roughly in his late 40s (not sure), where I introduced him to forehand looping. This was where the power of the subconscious became a problem. He quickly developed a pretty good forehand loop technique, except his racket was always too closed. And so when I fed him backspin with multiball, over and over he went into the net. Even when I told him to spin the ball way, way off the end, his subconscious took over as soon as he began his stroke, and the balls kept going into the net. This happens all the time when the loop is first introduced to older players. The key is you have to really, Really, REALLY convince yourself to aim to loop way off the end, so that your subconscious gets the message, and so it aims there - with the result that the ball probably hits the table. After doing that a few times, the subconscious has the feedback to aim better, and then it can loop off the end. Then you tell it to aim for the table, and kazzam, you can aim for the table and the ball hits the table.  

It was a long day at the club. Due to the camp, private coaching, meetings, and other TT issues, I was at the club continuously (except for a lunchtime walk over to 7-11 with a bunch of the kids) from 8:30 AM to 9PM.

Here's an interesting note I'll put out for you psychology majors. When the younger kids line up for various target practice games (where I'm feeding multiball), the boys all want to go first, and so I often have them do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first. But the two girls in my group yesterday kept telling the other she could go first, and I finally had them do rock-paper-scissors just to see who could let the other one go first!

Junior Olympic Results

Here they are! They were held in Detroit this past Mon-Wed.

Zhang Jike vs Xu Xin

Here's the video that just went up (3:32, with time between points removed) of their recent match in the Chinese Super League. Zhang is the righty and the reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion. Xu is world #2. (Ironically, despite his recently repeating as world champion, Zhang lost in other tournaments and dropped to #4 in the world in new rankings, with Ma Long #1, Wang Hao #3. Here are the world rankings.)

Desmond Douglas, age 58

He can still play - here's a video (1:12). I remember watching him in the semifinals of the 1976 U.S. Open in Philadelphia, where he lost deuce in the fifth to eventual winner Dragutin Surbek, in my first major tournament and third overall. "See the video below for a 130+ rally between Desmond Douglas, Former World Number 7, and Tim Yarnall former England number 4. Both show that they do not want to miss a shot with balance, technique and placement on every ball. Can you say the same about your game or players? How important is the mentality to not miss a ball in table tennis?"

Amazing Ping-Pong Ball in Cup Tricks

Here's the video (2:41). "Identical twin brothers Austin and Luke Morrel are two regular high schoolers who directed and filmed this extreme ping pong trick video." Note that this is actually their third such video - you can see others by them and other trick shot videos in the video listings to the right.

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July 12, 2013


Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. This has evolved over the years; it used to be backhand attack against backspin, where I'd teach both the backhand drive and loop against backspin. But these days fewer and fewer players use backhand drives against backspin, and when teaching the backhand attack against backspin, most coaches now go straight to backhand looping, or at least a steady topspin roll (sort of a beginning loop). The backhand drive against backspin is just like a regular drive, except you stroke more up, with a bit more topspin. I did demonstrate this to the players, but explained that these days it's mostly used against short balls, with the loop the better shot against deep balls. (Of course, with the advent of the "banana flip," where you essentially backhand loop a short ball, that's changing as well.) Anyway, even beginners got a chance to loop or roll their backhands against backspin, and most were able to do so.

The funny part was where I ended each backhand loop against backspin session by having them hit regular backhands against regular topspin. (I'm feeding multiball.) Invariably the first few would go off the end as they lifted the ball off, since that's what they had been doing against backspin. It takes a bit of practice for newer players to learn to drive mostly forward against topspin, and more upward against backspin with a more topspinny contact. I did the same thing the day before when teaching the forehand loop against backspin, and also invariably the first few against topspin would go off the end. One of the ways to test if a player has mastered a shot is if they can do it in combination with other shots. Often I do a multiball game to 11 points where I feed a backspin ball and then a topspin ball. The player has to loop the first, and either smash or loop the second. If he makes both shots, he scores; if he misses either, I score. (If he misses the first, the second is a practice shot.)

After the mid-morning break, my group played a lot of "King of the Table." One player is the king. The rest line up on the other side and challenge, one by one. If the challenger loses the first point, he goes to the end of the line, and the next person comes up. (New person always serves.) If the challenger wins the point, then the king serves. If the challenger wins the second point, he becomes the king. (Or the queen. I told the kids to choose their own titles. One became the Shah of the Shambling Chokers of Chattanooga. We came up with creative titles.) Of great interest to me were that a number of players, when it wasn't their turn, were practicing their serves on the side table. Wanting to be king (or Shah?) brought out their best.

On break, we had a few impromptu "basketball" contests, where we'd stand about 15 feet from the basket we use to hold balls for multiball, and try to put the ball in the basket by hitting it with the paddle. From 15 feet, The scoring system is three points if it stays in the basket, two points if it goes in but bounces out, and one point if you hit the basket on the outside. I did eight in a row, with all eight staying in the basket. (My technique: a backhand chop, done high so it drops down into the basket, with the backspin keeping it from bouncing out.) The game sort of devolved when many of the kids put their paddles down and began shooting basketball style.

As noted yesterday, it was Free Slurpee Day at 7-11, and 18 of us walked over for them.

Dealing with a Short Return

Here's the video from PingSkills (2:51).

How to Overcome Lack of Response Time

Here's the video from PingSkills (3:48).

Ping-Pong, Sort Of

Want to go to Sushibar Ping Cocktails, or their neighbor Asian Pong Buffet? Or why not both for a little "Ping Pong"? Here's the picture.

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June 21, 2013

MDTTC Camps - Day Four Highlights

Yesterday's focus was on backhand looping and hitting. As usual, I did a short lecture and demo. I used Derek Nie as my demo partner, feeding him multiball as he looped against backspin. We also rallies where I served backspin, he pushed, I backhand hit or looped, he blocked, I chopped, and we started over.

One of the changes in my coaching over the years is in regard to when to teach the backhand loop against backspin. For many years, I would teach the backhand drive against backspin first, as did most other coaches, and later teach the backhand loop, which in some ways is just an extension of a topspinny backhand drive. But more and more I'm teaching the backhand loop against backspin very early on. Topspin on the backhand is more and more important these days, and so I tend to teach a more topspinny backhand from the beginning than before - and so it's easier for kids to learn to backhand loop as well, since after a few sessions they have already developed the habit of creating some topspin. Older beginners have more trouble with this, and sometimes I'll have them learn to drive against backspin, like in the old days, but only after testing them out and seeing if they were able and willing to learn to backhand loop.

If you ever come to my lectures, everyone there quickly pays attention for one reason and one reason only - at some point, often without warning, I'll say "What's the first thing you do?" The kids in the camp compete to see who can blurt out "Get in position!" first. It's also a good way of ingraining that idea in them. I'll sometimes say this right in mid-lecture.

Here's something that's come up a few times in the camp on the forehand loop. Often players take the ball too quick off the bounce. This causes multiple problems. First, since looping is a longer stroke, a player (at the beginning/intermediate levels) need more time for the stroke, and so are rushed if they try to take it too quickly, such as at the top of the bounce as they might with a regular drive. Second, if contact is too much in front, they'll end up with a flatter and erratic loop. Instead, they should start out by taking the ball a bit later until they can get good topspin and do it over and over. Once proficient at it they can take it quicker. Some coaches do teach the loop at the top of the bounce right from the start, but I find this leads to more problems if done too early. However, it might work for a very talented player with extremely good timing. It all depends on the player.

The afternoon session included a lot of stroking drills, some serve practice, way too many broken balls (did we set a record? Hopefully never again), and the usual games toward the end - King of the Hill, Brazilian Teams, and the ever-popular Cup Game, where the kids stack paper cups and then knock them down as I feed multiball.

One of the kids, 13-year-old Leon Bi, who is signed up for all ten weeks of our summer camps (as are a few others) is having problems with an ingrown toenail. Over lunch I took him to see a doctor. But irritatingly, they wouldn't see him unless one of his parents was present, even though they faxed over a signed document giving permission. So later that afternoon Coach Cheng took him to another doctor, with Leon's parents meeting him there. This time they treated it with various ointments and painkillers, and he seems fine now.

It was a pretty exhausting day. After coaching in the camp from 10AM-6PM (with a lunch break), I also had two private coaching sessions from 6-8PM. 

USATT Search Box

You can now search the USATT home page for various items, including tournaments (listed by star level), coaching courses, Paralympic events and classifications, and USATT meetings, and you can do it by date ranges and by region/state/country. Here's the link, or click on the "See all events" link on the top right of the USATT home page. (Click on "coaching courses" and the seventh one down is the ITTF coaching course I'm teaching in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 2-6.)

Chairman's Blog - Regarding our Tournaments, Part 1

Here's a new blog entry (just went up this morning) of USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin on USATT tournaments, in particular about the upcoming U.S. Open.

Guo Yan Ends International Career

Here's the story.

Serena Williams and Table Tennis

Yesterday I linked to a picture of Serena Williams playing table tennis at Heathrow Airport as she "prepares" for Wimbledon. Here's a page that links to a video of her playing (1:49) as well as more pictures.

Table Tennis Reality Show in China

Here's the link - "Who is the King?"

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February 26, 2013

Tip of the Week

Should You Hit or Loop the Backhand?

Two Weeks in a Desk

I'm still fighting off the cold I've had the last two days. However, I was already out of shape before I caught it.

The two weeks working on Tim's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. XIII, left me way, way out of shape. Sitting at a desk 12-16 hours/day for two weeks can do that to you. On Saturday, after coaching all day (arriving at the club at 10AM), I was a practice partner for a 4:30-6:30 match session. By this point I was exhausted as well as out of shape and stiff as neutronium. I was also probably tired from the early stages of the cold I would not realize I had until the next day.

Yet, by playing sound tactics, I was able to beat a 2300 player, and mow down a whole bunch of 1800-2000 players all 3-0. Here's a summary of tactics I used to make up for slow feet, an erratic forehand, and general exhaustion.

  • On my serve, ended points quickly by forcing winners off my serve, either with the serve directly or an easy put-away afterwards. I threw everything at them - I call it "cycling my serves": short to the forehand (backspin, side-back, sidespin both ways, no-spin), long to the backhand (mostly breaking away, usually with a reverse forehand pendulum fake motion), fast no-spin at the elbow, and others short to the backhand or middle, or long to the forehand (either very long or barely long). Often I'd do my infamous "twitch" serve, which looks like backspin but a very small upward twitch right at contact puts light topspin on the ball.
  • Mixed up the receives to mess them up quickly in the rally, with a mixture of short pushes, quick long pushes, and banana backhand flips, all done with last-second changes of direction.
  • On their serve, forced backhand-to-backhand rallies where I just stood there hitting backhands until and unless they went to my forehand, in which case I'd loop or hit. By keeping the ball wide to their backhands, they had no angle into my forehand so I didn't have to move much to cover those balls.
  • Slow, spinny opening loops, followed either by easy put-aways or more backhand to backhand rallies.
  • When they attacked my forehand I'd go wide to their forehand, and then come back to their backhand, and then we'd be right back to backhand-to-backhand exchanges, except they'd start the rally out of position.
  • Occasional quick and heavy pushes to the wide corner. If done infrequently, they lead to miss after miss.

USA Team to the Worlds

Here's USATT's official announcement of the USA Team to the World Championships coming up in Paris, May 13-20. (Peter Li qualified for the fourth unfunded spot on the Men's Team, but turned it down. The fifth spots were coach's picks - Chodri and Lin.)

  • Men's Team - Timothy Wang, Yahao Zhang, Khoa Nguyen, Jim Butler, Kunal Chodri; Coach Stefan Feth
  • Women's Team – Lily Zhang, Erica Wu, Ariel Hsing, Prachi Jha, Tina Lin; Coach Doru Gheorghe

ITTF Education Platform

Here's the page - "the new learning platform for the International Table Tennis Federation."

Ping-Pong: Head Game

Here's an article in the New York Times on table tennis this past weekend. The author writes, "This is not the kids’ game I grew up playing in my dorm at school."

Qatar Open

Here's the home page for the Qatar Open that was played this weekend, with results, articles, and pictures. Here's a video (8:24, with time between points removed) of the all-Chinese Men's Final between Ma Long and An Yan. Here's a video (6:23, also with time between points removed) of the all-Chinese Women's Final between Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen.

Zhang Jike: Fully Recovered?

Here's an article on Zhang Jike's recovery from a series of poor performances.

Interview with Joo Saehyuk

Here's an interview with the South Korean defensive star.  

New York City Table Tennis Academy

Here's a video (4:26) featuring the NYCTTA and Coach Ernesto Ebuen.

Wang Liqin Tricks

Here's an article on Wang Liqin, which includes a 21-second video of him doing table tennis tricks, including showing how tacky his rubber is. (It holds the ball upside-down.)

World's Perfect Vacation?

Here's beach table tennis.

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