Forehand Loop

May 14, 2012

Tip of the Week

Returning the Tomahawk Serve. (This is an expanded version of my blog about this on May 10.)

Different Generations

At the club last night one of our up-and-coming kids, about ten years old, came up to me and said, "Larry, can I borrow your cell phone? I want to check my rating." For about five seconds I was stumped, wondering who he was going to call to get his rating before I realized that to this generation, "cell phone" is just shorthand for "small hand-held computer connected to the Internet." When I explained my cell phone only made phone calls (and, it is rumored, takes pictures), he was flabbergasted, and left shaking his head, probably muttering about old fuddy-duddies.

This got me to thinking about how the world has changed, in particularly the world of table tennis. Here's a brief rundown of changes since I started in 1976.

1976: Sriver or Mark V?
2012: About ten thousand choices of sponge

1976: Top-of-the-line sponge: $7
2012: Top-of-the-line sponge: $80

1976: Sponge that trampolines the ball out.
2012: Sponge that grabs the ball and explodes it out like a slingshot on steroids.

1976: Sponge came in red, black, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple,...
2012: Red or black

1976: Japan, Hungary, and Sweden battle with the Chinese
2012: Nobody battles with the Chinese (except perhaps the Singapore women)

1976: Teach the forehand loop to kids after they are around 1500, and the backhand loop when they are around 1800, if ever.
2012: Teach the forehand and backhand loop to kids after they've played about a month.

1976: Loop sets up smash
2012: Loop sets up loop

1976: Why would you need to learn a backhand loop?
2012: Why aren't you working on your backhand loop?

1976: Back off the table and loop
2012: Stay at the table and loop

1976: Reverse penhold backhand? Don't be ridiculous.
2012: Conventional penhold backhand? Don't be ridiculous.

1976: Use the backhand to receive serves short to the forehand? Don't be ridiculous.
2012: Banana backhand flips from the forehand side.

1976: Shakehand, Penhold, or Seemiller grip?
2012: What's a Seemiller grip?

1976: Inverted on one side, long pips or anti on the other, and they are the same color, so you have no idea what side was used. Players learned to stomp their foot at contact to cover up the different sound.
2012: Two-color rule since 1983.

1976: Olympic wannabe
2012: Olympic sport

1976: USATT membership: 5000 out of 218 million people in the U.S. (1 out of 43,600)
2012: USATT membership: 8000 out of 312 million people in the U.S. (1 out of 39,000)

1976: Full-time table tennis centers: 1 or 2
2012: Full-time table tennis centers: 50+

Forehand Loop Foot Position

Here's a video from Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis on the foot positioning for forehand looping (9:43). And here's a triplicate picture of Brian working on his next instructional DVD!

Golfer Brian Harmon's Ping-Pong Problem

PGA Rookie Brian Harmon almost lost his chance to play because of ping-pong - and here's the story from Table Tennis Nation.

Japanese Junior Phenom Told to Eat His Vegetables

Japan's Koki Niwa may have upset world #1 Ma Long of China at the Asian Olympic Qualifier last month, but it wasn't because of his diet. "Looking after my diet is not something I'm all that interested in," said the 17-year-old Koki Niwa, who particularly dislikes tomatoes and carrots. His coaches are on him to eat better to prepare for the Olympics. Here's the rest of the story.

Non-Table Tennis: my new SF story

My latest science fiction story just went online at Quantum Muse, "The Sanctimonious Time Traveler Trap." It's a very short humorous story about two not-so-nice guys who go about capturing a very nice time traveler - and the entire story takes place as the three are falling from the sky.

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April 10, 2012

Too far from the table on your forehand loop?

A lot of players lose power when forehand looping against backspin because they are too far from the table, taking the ball too much in front of them instead of rotating their body and taking it from the side. This forces them to reach forward for the ball, and to compensate and keep their balance, their left side (for righties) falls back as they hit the shot. It also means they cannot get much body rotation into the shot. They may get decent spin with this shot, but little forward speed. Instead, stand closer to the table, and rotate the body back sideways, and then rotate the entire body into the shot. The contact point is actually in the same spot relative to the table, but now you are in a position to really put power on the ball. Watch the top players and see how close they stand to the table when looping against backspin.

Here's a video (1:42) by USA Men's Coach and former German star Stefan Feth showing and explaining the forehand loop against backspin. Note how he stays relatively close to the table as he rotates into each shot with great power.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Tuesday Night League

Starts tonight! So be there. (Alas, I'll be coaching from 5-9, and the league starts at 7:30. But I'll be watching some between coaching points!)

Four recent table tennis books

I may write more about these books later. So far I've only browsed them, except for "Breaking 2000." (Here's a complete listing of the 206 books I have on table tennis.)

Werner Schlager Academy photos

Here are 14 pictures recently taken by Coach Donn Olsen at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. Can you identify the players?

Table Tennis the Serious Sport

Here's an article in the Anniston Star featuring table tennis player, promoter, and umpire/referee Mike Wetzel and his "love affair with table tennis."

Bubba Watson and Ping-Pong

It turns out Masters Champion Bubba Watson also plays table tennis, as shown by Table Tennis Nation.

The House of Rackets

Here's a 36-second preview of a new TV show, "The House of Rackets," which features tennis, badminton, squash, and yes, table tennis. "SMASH is Asia's first ever all-inclusive racquet sports magazine show featuring the best weekly coverage from the worlds of badminton, table tennis, squash and tennis. SMASH will air every Wednesday at 10:30 pm on STAR Sports."

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March 6, 2012

Muscling the ball when forehand looping

Several players I coach use too much arm when they loop. Looping is a full-body shot, where you use your legs, waist, shoulders, arm, forearm, and wrist for power. However, the sequence is important - always from bottom to top, large muscles to small muscles. Players who use too much arm and forearm try to muscle the ball with those muscles instead of using the legs, waist, and shoulder rotation to power the ball with their body weight and large muscles.

One cure is to essentially make your playing arm and upper body rigid early in the stroke, forcing you to use your lower-body muscles. Those larger muscles will throw your upper body and arm into the shot like a whip, and then you can relax the upper body and let it go naturally.

Another way to fix this problem is to focus on taking the ball in the back of the forehand hitting zone, in front of your back leg. This forces you to keep the arm back rather than use it early in the stroke. If you stroke with the arm muscles too early, you'll contact the ball more in front of you.

Probably the best cure for this, and most other stroke problems, is to 1) watch videos of top players doing it so you can get a visual image of proper technique; 2) work with a coach; and 3) practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

Jim Butler vs. Ariel Hsing

Yes, THAT Jim Butler, the three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and Hall of Famer, who stopped playing tournaments in 2003, but is playing again at age 41. And THAT Ariel Hsing, the 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion. The two played in the quarterfinals of the Northridge Open in a classic match-up. Jim still has great serves and a great backhand, while Ariel is unbelievably quick. Winning 13-11 in the seventh was . . . Ariel. Here's the video (20:20).

Get Your Game Face On

Here's Dora Kurimay talking about her new eBook on sports psychology for table tennis, "Get Your Game Face On." I plan to read this pretty soon - I've already downloaded it ($4.99).

Sol Schiff Retrospective

Here's a two-part retrospective on Schiff by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan.

Most Congenial!

Here's a quote from Timmy's North American Table Tennis Magazine, Nov/Dec, 1983, and reprinted in Tim Boggan's upcoming History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12. It's about a two-week training camp held in Baltimore. Here's the last paragraph, with the most important parts in bold!

At the end of each week a tournament was held and Awards given. First Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Larry Hodges. 2. Kit Jeerapaet. “B” Group: 1. Dennis Hwang. 2. Steve Kong. Doubles: Manfred Wilke/Kong. Best Footwork: Hwang. Sportsman Award: Ben Ebert. Most Improved: Wilke. Most Congenial: (tie) Steven Olsen, Becky Martin, and Ebert. Second Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Hodges. 2. Dave Babcock. “B” Group: 1. Ebert. 2. Hwang. Best Footwork: Stephanie Fox. Sportsman Award: Robert Natale. Most Improved: Martin. Most Congenial: Hodges.

The Yankee versus the Comedian

Here's a hilarious video challenge match (4:43) between New York Yankees baseball player Nick Swisher (a penholder!) and comedian KevJumba.

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January 30, 2012

Tip of the Week

Quick and Variable Blocks.

Revamping the forehand

This weekend I was coaching an older player who had a nice backhand but awkward forehand. He stood mostly in a backhand stance, with a low grip (so that his shots were very wristy), and stroked his forehand with his elbow extended out, stroking mostly from the shoulder, with little shoulder rotation. He backswing varied from shot to shot. To fix these problems, we first adjusted the grip. He tried a conventional shakehand grip where his hand was closer to the blade, but it didn't feel right to him. Then we hit on the idea of simply using more pressure with his index finger to secure the blade more firmly on the forehand so that it wouldn't be wristy.

Then we worked on the stance, focusing on putting the right foot slightly back on the forehand. With some practice, this'll become a habit.

Finally we had to fix the elbow and shoulder problem, which really went together. To address this, I went back to a trick I'd seen coaches use long ago when the game was dominated by hitters. We put a rubber cleaning sponge under his arm, forcing him to keep the elbow in. This shortened his stroke, making it easier to rotate the shoulders and stroke more with the elbow. Then we worked on having the same backswing over and over. At this point the stroke really began to come together. Soon he was able to remove the sponge under his arm and he continued to hit with his elbow more in. (You don't want to stroke with the elbow so in that it'll hold a sponge there, but by exaggerating this, it made it easier to adjust to keeping the elbow more in.)

He has a lot of practice ahead of him to undo these bad habits, but he's on his way. The key thing in all this is that when hitting, precision comes mostly from good technique, not just timing. Good technique minimizes the things that can go wrong and make awkward hitting almost difficult.

"The service is the most important stroke in table tennis."

This is what 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager says in his book, "Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion," by Schlager and Bernd-Ulrich Grob. I concur. Why do so few understand this? (Technically, I'd say receive overall may be even more important, but receive is a series of different techniques, no one of which is as important as developing your serve.)

United States National Table Tennis League

I'll probably have more to write about this later, but take the time now to learn about this new upcoming $100,000 nationwide league, and get your club involved!

Playing Ping-Pong for a Passion

Here's an article about basketball's Peter Farnsworth, table tennis, and charity.

Marty Reisman and the Year of the Dragon Paddle

Yes, here's Marty celebrating the Chinese New Year ("Year of the Dragon") with the new Dragon paddle (0:56)!

Forehand loop in multiball

Here's a nice demonstration of the forehand loop (1:22). That's Coach Richard Bowling looping, and Coach Amy Feng (four-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, 1992-95) feeding multiball. Shown at regular speed, slow motion, and at Forrest Gump speed.
UPDATE - the video above, which was public, is now listed as private, and so we can't watch. Alas. 

Table Tennis and Tennis and Badminton, Oh My!

This is one of the strangest music videos I've ever seen (4:55), to the tune of "The Danger Zone." It features table tennis, tennis, and badminton. Table tennis comes and goes, with the best segment coming at 2:45.

Non-Table Tennis: My entry for "Worst Opening"

This was my entry for a "Worst Opening" contest, where you try to write the most absurd and overdone opening to a science fiction story.

I woke and saw the blue eyes gazing into mine. Lush, blue alien eyes, eyes that cried out "I'm blue!" over and over and over . . . and would not stop. I could only gape back as the reptilian eyes locked into mine, I could not look away, could not blink, could not die in those few seconds that lasted a lifetime of pain and ecstasy. If I'd known then what I would then have never known I would have torn my own eyes out and stuffed them into hers, knowing the holes in my face could never match the growing hole in my heart, nor could the blueness of my rapidly unoxygenating blood pouring down my face onto the floor be anything but a melting blueberry to those pounding blue eyes of tomorrow. That was how my day began.

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January 26, 2012

Faking topspin and backspin serves

Anyone who has played me knows I like to serve forehand pendulum sidespin-topspin serves that look like backspin. However, I less frequently serve backspin serves that look like topspin. (Instead I tend to mess opponents up by mixing in backspin and no-spin serves.) This has probably been a mistake - I should have developed those serves just as much, and recently I've reincorporated those serves into my game, as recent opponents have lamented. But why was I hesitant before?

First, a short note on how to do these serves - and keep in mind you can't learn them just from reading about them, you need to see a coach or top player do them, and perhaps get some coaching. (Here's an article on using semi-circular motion to disguise your serve. And in the video section here there are a number of videos showing top players serving.)

To serve sidespin-topspin and make it look like backspin, most of the semi-circular motion must be down, but right at contact the left side of the racket (for righties) snaps around, contacting the ball in a sideways and upward direction. Immediately after contact the racket continues down, and if the opponent doesn't watch carefully, it'll look like backspin. They push, and the ball pops up. 

To serve sidespin-backspin, you essentially do the reverse. Right after the sidespin-backspin contact the racket rotates up, often with an exaggerated elbow motion. (Technically, an opponent could read these serves by assuming the spin is the reverse of the motion exaggerated, but you don't have time consciously read and react to a serve - it has to be reflex. Plus a good server keeps varying the motion, and the receiver can't pick up on the different motions quick enough.)

Why wasn't I using this latter variation as often? Because I found that strong opponents would read it as sidespin-topspin at first and start to attack it. At the last second, seeing the backspin, they'd lift up and topspin the ball back, often low and aggressively. So this serve, while a great variation, often backfired on me. However, I think part of that is that I didn't develop the serve enough to fool opponents enough, I wasn't serving it low enough, and the backspin wasn't always enough. So I'm reworking the serve with more backspin and lower to the net.

But I still like faking backspin and serving sidespin-topspin, since once an opponent begins to push, there's almost no way of reacting to the serve and attacking it. And since I know the return will come long (very hard to drop a topspin serve short), I can look to follow up with a loop even if the return is low.

Half step back against fishers

I regularly back up and play topspin defense (fishing and lobbing) when coaching. (Here's an article on how to play a fisher, which also explains what it is.) The single biggest reason students miss is they are jammed at the table. To quote from the article, "The arc of a ball from a fisher is longer, and the topspin makes the ball bounce out, so the top of the bounce is about a half step father off the table than you might expect. Unless you have great reflexes and timing and can take the ball off the bounce, you'll need to take a half step back to smash or loop at the top of the bounce. Otherwise you'll get jammed."

The life of a table tennis coach

Last night I had sessions scheduled 4:30-5:30, 6-7, and a pair of 30-minute ones from 7-8. The 4:30 person was a new one, and didn't show. The 6PM one cancelled at the last minute because he strained his thumb. So I was hanging around the club from 4:15 -7PM reading "Moonfall" by Jack McDevitt. (Great book.) The life of a ping-pong coach.

Photos from the 2011 World Championships

Here's a video montage of the 2011 World Championships (2:20) by ITTF photographer Remy Gros, set to music.

The forehand loop in slow motion

Here's a great video from Brian Pace (4:50) of Dynamic Table Tennis demonstrating his forehand loop in slow motion. Trust me, you don't want to face that loop at the table; I'd much rather face it on video.

Red Foo vs. Sky Blu

Here's a video of these two playing table tennis (2:34) from the electro pop duo LMFAO. Warning - Red Foo seems to be playing in sagging and skimpy underwear; watching it could give you nightmares.

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January 20, 2012

Ma Lin Step Around and Loop

Here's a nice video (1:14) showing Ma Lin stepping around his backhand corner to forehand loop, using multiball. Video includes slow motion and from two angles. Best part to watch is the slow motion from 0:10 to 0:28. Key things to note:

  1. Note in the slow motion that the move to the left starts with a tiny step with the left foot, followed by the bigger step over with the right.
  2. He stays balanced throughout the shot. See how his weight stays between his legs, almost centered. To do this, he has to extend his left leg to the left to keep balanced. Note the wide stance for stability.
  3. He has a lot of ground to cover, and so has to hit on the move. Because of this, he is forced to follow through more to the side than he would if he had more time. This slows down his recovery, and yet because he pushes off his left leg immediately after the shot, and maintains balance, he is able to quickly recover for the next shot.
  4. He extends his arm for full power. There is little or no arm snap. Historically, most top players since the days of Cai Zhenhua in the early 1980s snapped their arm at the elbow just before contact, but most current top Chinese players mostly keep the arm extended throughout the stroke as they sweep their arm through the ball. The irony is this is almost reminiscent of the old Hungarian loops from the late 1970s. So the precursor for many of the top Chinese loops are from Hungary, while the precursor for most of the top European loopers is Cai Zhenhua of China.
  5. The shoulders rotate back to 90 degrees to the table, and than rotate forward a little more than 90 degrees.

A kid gets the sniffles, and I'm out $45

Yes, this is what happened when a kid got sick and canceled a 30-minute lesson last night, my only schedule coaching yesterday. (I've got at least two hours every other day of the week.) I'm out $25 for the lesson, $10 for the movie I went to see instead ("The Descendents," very good), and $10 for a coke and popcorn.

Article on Volunteer Coach of the Year

Here's an article in the Denver Post on local Duane Gall winning the USATT National Volunteer Coach of the Year Award.

Kanak Jha Interview

USA Cadet Team Member and ITTF Hope Team Member Kanak Jha is interviewed at the 2011 ITTF Global Cadet Challenge and Global Junior Circuit Finals in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan. 14-22, 2012.

Ping-Pong crackers

Yes, you read the headline right - enjoy these ping-pong crackers. (And notice the table tennis emblem on the lower right.) As near as I can figure after some Internet searching, the two languages on the package are Thai and French, but I'm not sure. Can anyone verify?

Top movie monologues (including table tennis)

I would have had this blog up an hour ago but I got caught up watching "14 of the most impressive monologues in movie history." Personally, I can't believe they left out Patton's speech at the start of 1971's "Patton" (6:20). (Warning - lots of profanity.) Also missing is Syndrome's monologue from 2004's "The Incredibles" (2:13), including my favorite line, "You sly dog, you got me monologuing!" And while I'm not impressed with him personally, I would have included Mel Gibson's speech from 1995's "Braveheart" (2:33). And then there's "Ferris Bueller's Day off," which is mostly one long monologue. Here are the best lines (3:20), though these aren't really monologues.

But what about table tennis monologues? The first minute of this video from 2007's "Balls of Fury" is basically a sportcaster's monologue about the great golden boy table tennis prodigy Randy Daytona. The rest of the video (6:19) are hilarious scenes from the movie you have to watch.

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September 16, 2011

Wang Liqin forehand loop

In regular and slow motion (0:46) The perfect loop? Note the smooth weight transfer and body rotation as he creates torque. He's a three time World Men's Singles Champion (2001, 2005, 2007), world #1 for 25 consecutive months (second most ever), and winner of 21 Pro Tour singles events, the most ever. And I once interviewed him (through a translator) and shook his hand. Yes, my playing hand touched his. Regrettably, I've washed it since.

Service practice reminder

The following is a public service address. Remember that serve that let you down at the last tournament? The one that was going slightly high, or slightly long, or that nobody seemed to have trouble with? Isn't it time you go out and fix that problem for next time? Get a bucket of balls and practice. Here's a ten-point plan to serving success. I've got a bunch of other articles on serving here

USA Table Tennis Leagues

Yesterday there was an email exchange among USATT and other officials regarding the USA League Finals at the USA Nationals. Should they be an open event, where anyone can show up representing a region, or should they only allow teams representing a region with an established regional league? I'm strongly for the latter. There are established leagues in some areas (such as BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL, representing the bay area (San Francisco region), Los Angeles, and New York (which includes teams from states as far away as Maryland). Here's my response.

"I really, Really, REALLY hope we can turn these leagues into a national thing. This is how many European countries developed huge memberships. I strongly recommend going with only allowing regions that have established leagues; otherwise, it's just another open event at the Nationals, and there's no incentive to grow. We need a nationwide network of leagues like these or we'll always struggle to gain membership. I also hope that those developing these leagues (BATTF, NYTTL, LATTF, others) have studied or will study how the European and Asian leagues started up and grew so that we can steal ideas from them in developing a USA model."

In another email, I wrote:

"I think there are some misconceptions about leagues. First, setting up leagues should not be a primary goal; they are the MEANS to a primary goal, which is to drastically increase membership, as has happened in other countries all over the world and in other sports. (They are an intermediate goal on the way toward this primary goal.) Our membership has been described as a round-off error, and that's not going to change until we do something to change it."

"Second, leagues are not set up for the benefit of the few existing clubs. They are set up to bring in new players which leads to new clubs set up primarily for league play. Germany, for example, didn't create its leagues for the benefit of its 11,000 clubs, which didn't exist at the time. It was the leagues that led to the 11,000 clubs. Before they created their leagues, they were in a similar situation as the U.S."

"Leagues and full-time training centers with full-time coaches and junior programs are beginning to take off around the U.S. . . . and that is the most promising thing I've ever seen in our sport."

I also wrote some strongly worded criticism of USATT's lack of effort in the league department, but I won't post that here at this time. Suffice to say they were severely reprimanded. Severely!!!

U.S. and NA Olympic Trials in Cary, NC

Here's your chance to buy tickets to see the U.S. Olympic Trials (Feb. 9-12, 2012) and North American Olympic Trials (April 20-22, 2012), both in Cary, NC.

Golf Pong

Yes, it's Golf Pong as former junior star Grant Li takes on golf pros Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, and Frederick Jacobson. Jacobson was a nationally ranked player in Sweden twenty years ago, who still plays in San Diego occasionally with Stellan Bengtsson in San Diego. (3:33, but doesn't get to the table tennis until 2:12.)

Machete Pong

Yes, it's Machete Pong as Comedian Jimmy Fallon takes on English adventurer, writer and television presenter Bear Grylls. (2:47, but starts with a 16-second commercial.)

Car Pong

Yes, it's Car Pong. Really. (0:14)

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