Shonie Aki

April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

I had a question on the six-inch toss rule, so I decided to submit it to USATT's Stump the Ump, where umpire questions are answered by Paul Kovac, an international umpire and certified referee. (He's also a regular at my club, MDTTC, and referees the MDTTC tournaments.) The question was seemingly simple, but as you'll see, may not be as obvious as you'd think. Here's my question:  

Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.

Here is the answer Paul gave, which is now published at Stump the Ump.

This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:

2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

The important part is:

" that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."

The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.

Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.


However, I don't think the answer is that clear, as shown by the 3-3 split by umpires/referees when I asked the question at the Nationals. Here's my response to Paul's answer:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. However, I don't think the ruling on this is that clear, based on the actual wording of the rules.

The rules say the ball must rise at least 6". Suppose a player serves so that the ball leaves his hand exactly 40 inches above the ground. If the ball then goes up six inches, it has risen six inches, from 40 inches to 46 inches, and it would seem to have fulfilled requirements of the rule, regardless of what the serving hand does. Nowhere does the rule state that there must be six inches clearance between the hand and the ball - that's a common sense interpretation, but I don't see how one can get that from the wording of the rules.

As noted, many umpires and players read the rule as it is written (and interpret it differently than what you wrote), i.e. the ball must rise six inches, and since it isn't indicated otherwise, they measure it from the point where it leaves the hand. Based on that, a player's serving hand could rise and stay with the ball, and still fulfill the requirements of the rules as they are worded as long as he doesn't use it to hide the ball, and as long as he quickly removes the serving arm and hand from the space between the ball and the net. If there is an interpretation that the ball must rise six inches relative to the hand - which would be difficult to justify, based on the wording of the rule - then that needs to be published somewhere so as to remove the confusion.

I'm CCing Roman and Wendell again as I'd like to see if they concur with your ruling, and why. This came up twice at the Nationals (I didn't make an issue of it), and as noted below, six umpires/referees I asked about it split down the middle on the ruling - so it's obviously not clear to everyone, even officials, and I guarantee most players aren't sure about this. Once the wording of a ruling on this is agreed on, I think this should be published in the Stump the Ump column, or somewhere, so it can be referred to. (Ideally, they'd change the wording of the serving rule to make this clear, but that probably won't happen.)

-Larry Hodges

So what do you think? Is there anything in the actual rules that state that there must be six inches of separation between the hand and the ball when serving? I don't see it. All I see is that the ball must rise six inches, and I don't see how that is affected by the location of the serving hand. I'll go by this interpretation even though I don't really agree with it. I haven't received a response yet from Roman Tinyszin (chair of the USATT Officials and Rules Advisory Committee) or Wendell Dillon (former chair).

Have a rules question? Feel free to ask me. If I can't answer it (impossible!!!), then we can submit it to Stump the Ump.


As I blogged about on Friday, the episode of Veep that would "feature" table tennis was on Sunday night. Alas, while there was some recreational table tennis, all the scenes with the three top players I'd brought in were cut. However, in most of the scenes taking place at the fake Clovis corporation - about half the episode - I'm often standing just behind the camera or off to the side, out of view, watching it as it is filmed. 

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

Here's the article, where he explains why he wants to deal with the "China" crisis, and will remain involved in the newly created position of ITTF Chairman.

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship.

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

Here's the video (52 sec, including slow motion replay). Maze is on far side (lefty). This'll wake you up before you move on!


Here's the home page for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, April 28 - May 5, in Tokyo, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. It starts today. Since Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us, all of the first day action should be complete already. (So 9AM east coast time is 10PM Tokyo time.) Here are more articles involving the Worlds.

USA at the Worlds

  • Men's Video Update #1 (1:37) by Jim Butler (before play began).
  • Women's Video Update #1 (43 sec) by Lily Zhang (before play began).
  • Day One Results (do search for "USA"): USA Men went 2-0, defeating Luxembourg 3-1, and Kazakhstan 3-2. USA Women were apparently in the middle of their first tie, and were listed as 1-1 with Hungary, so by the time you read this that'll probably be done.

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

Here are the photos - click on the photos to see more.  

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

Here's the new article by Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star.

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

Here's a video (10:11) where they demonstrate and explain (in Chinese) their serves. Even if you can't understand the Chinese you can watch the serves themselves. About halfway through they start showing other players doing other shots.

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:27), where he talks about his table tennis and shows him playing.

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

Now that's a unique paddle! I want one. Especially the swimming pool part. Artwork by Milan Mirkovic. 

Beetle Bailey on Friday

Here's the cartoon! So Beetle has learned to serve with heavy backspin?

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's the cartoon! Now I'll never look at our own junior program the same way.

Table Tennis Epic

Here's a hilarious video (1:12), showing Michael Maze and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in an "epic" match . . . sort of.

Send us your own coaching news!

December 9, 2013

Tip of the Week

Learn Tactics by Coaching Others.

Recap of Past Week

It's been a wild week. Let's recap the last five days:

  • Wednesday: I reinjured my arm (or at least aggravated previous injury) and had to cancel four hours of coaching that night and the following night.
  • Thursday: $458 in car repairs. (Car was vibrating and needed new tires.)
  • Friday: Saw doctor, got a cortisone shot, no more playing for rest of month (i.e. no private coaching). Also spent an hour going over videos of Zhang Jike, Ma Long, and Ma Lin and their footwork, and one of our top juniors, and then sent him a selection to view and compare. Later we discussed it, going over what he needs to do to improve.
  • Saturday: Ran a group junior session for 90 minutes, but then sent out emails to cancel the rest of my private coaching for the weekend and the rest of the month.
  • Sunday: All my group sessions today (3.5 hours) were cancelled due to snow and sleet. So I sat in a lounge chair all day and night reading and watching TV. It was great!!!

Mentality in a Match and in Practice - Revisited

Someone doubted part of my Tip of the Week for Nov. 25 at the forum, writing that he thought that "…the zone was still something people enter on occasion and that Larry was wrong when he said one could practice entering it." I think this is a common way of thinking for those who don't have the experience that top players and coaches have in sports psychology. Here is my response:

Why do you think you can't practice entering it? Of course you can; you use the same mental techniques in practice that allow you to get into the zone as you would in a tournament. The more you practice doing it, the easier it is to do so in tournaments. Or do you think it's a completely random thing that just sort of happens? That may be true of those who don't understand sports psychology, but the whole point of sports psychology is to allow one to get into the zone on a consistent basis. And you learn to do this with practice; there's no other way. That's why top players meet with sports psychologists so they can learn these mental techniques, and then they practice these techniques in practice sessions (including practice matches) - and then they can do it in serious competition. The idea that it just sort of happens is not how top players do it, which is why the top players can get into the zone and play their best nearly every major tournament. It comes from practice. I know I can get into the zone pretty much at will within a game of any match because I've practiced it for many years and know what mental rituals to go through to attain it. Read "The Inner Game of Tennis," or "Get Your Game Face On!" or "Finding Your Zone."

Here was the response to that: "Usually, it's easier to enter the zone when you aren't being frustrated by your opponent - the level of challenge usually matches the focus you bring.  Most players get frustrated in TT when they are missing the ball.  The question is whether you can be in the zone and not playing that well." Here's my response:

Half the point of sports psychology is so that things in a match do not frustrate you. If the opponent is frustrating you, then you need to apply the sports psychology techniques used by top players to overcome this. Once in the zone, you will play well, relative to how you would play if not in it. If the opponent does something that really messes you up, it'll mess you up less if you are in the zone.

I'm often in demand as a coach in tournaments. Those who believe coaching at tournaments is all about tactics are only doing half their job. At least half of it is psychological as you use various techniques to get your player into the zone. You can't always do this - a frustrated kid can be hard to get into the zone - but I've been doing this for many years, along with the tactical aspect. The two go together - once someone is thinking about the tactical aspects (which means 2-3 tactics out of zillions of possibilities), then they aren't thinking about losing or other distracting thoughts, and is a quick way to get into the zone.

World Junior Championships

They were held in Rabat, Morocco, Dec. 1-8, finishing yesterday. The big upset was a South Korean won Under 18 Boys over the Chinese juggernaut. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, which includes results, write-ups, pictures, and videos. You can also check how the U.S. team did. (There should be a write-up of that soon by someone else; I'll link to it when it's up.)

Shonie Aki, RIP

Hall of Famer Shonie Aki died last Monday. Here's his Hall of Fame profile. Strangely, while I've sort of known him for many years (mostly through USATT matters), he was always so quiet that I never really knew him except through his Hall of Fame profile.

Ma Long's Instructional

Here's a video (55:30) where world #1 Ma Long of China teaches table tennis, covering nearly all the major aspects. This is a "must watch" for coaches and players.

Chinese Footwork

Here are two videos of Coach Matt Hetherington feeding multiball to Yang Song Wei.

Table Tennis Player Oldest Olympic Torchbearer

Here's the article. "A 101-year-old table tennis player became the oldest torchbearer in Olympic history Saturday, carrying the flame for the Sochi 2014 Games through the Siberian city of Novosibirsk."

Great Rally at World Junior Championships

Here's video (1:02, parts in slow motion) of a rally between Morizono Masataka (Japan, near side) and Zhou Kai (China) at 2013 ITTF World Junior Table Tennis Championships. See how fast Zhou moves to cover his wide forehand!

Ma Long - Zhang Jike Show

Here's a video (6:06) of the two doing a hilarious exhibition!

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