Susan Sarandon

November 9, 2012

Random Drills

Recently I've been introducing a lot of our new juniors to random drills. Until you have the fundamentals down, it's important to focus on rote drills, where you do the same thing over and Over and OVER again until you can do them in your sleep - forehands, backhands, loops, blocks, pushes, etc. But once you have the stroke down pretty well, you have to be able to do them in match situations, where your opponent doesn't put the ball to the same place over and over - instead, you have to react to the shot. That's where random drills come in.

There are two basic types of random drills. The more basic one is where you have a choice between two spots. For example, the coach or practice partner (often using multiball) puts the ball either to the forehand or backhand, and you have to react to the shot with either your forehand or backhand. The key is that you don't anticipate; just react until this becomes second nature. Your first move should be the right move; you don't want to start to your forehand side and then have to recover to hit a backhand, or vice versa. Make sure to move to each ball (don't reach), and focus on balance - no leaning.

The other way is where the ball goes more randomly anywhere on the table or within a restricted area. For example, the coach or practice partner might put the ball randomly to the forehand side, and you have to move about driving these balls back with your forehand, moving to each one. Or, or in the ultimate random drill, the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and you drive the ball back.

If you just do rote drills where you know where the ball is going, you are not matching what you will face in a game. So put some randomness into your drills, along with rote drills to hone your strokes. What you develop with random drills is called neuromuscular adaptation, where your brain learns to react properly and quickly to any shot. Not only is this the key to high-level play, but it's fun to say! (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

MDTTC Junior Team, Ratings, and Rankings

I thought I'd give a shout-out today to the juniors at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (Some also play at other local clubs.) They're a great bunch of kids whose sole goal is to beat me, um, I mean to win Olympic Gold Medals. Here's a listing of those over 1600 with some of their ranking/best title(s).




Best Ranking or Titles


Wang Qing Liang


#1 Under 18 in the U.S., U.S. Open Men's Singles Semifinalist


Chen Bo Wen


#1 Under 15 in the U.S., #3 Under 18


Tong Tong Gong


Member of USA National Cadet Team (#3 on team)


Nathan Hsu


2011 Junior Olympic Under 16 Boys' Singles Gold Medalist, 2012 Southern Open Doubles Champion


Anthony Qu


#5 Under 13 Boys in the U.S.


Roy Ke


#12 Under 14 Boys in the U.S.


Derek Nie


U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Singles Champion


Crystal Wang


#1 Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13 Girls in the U.S. (was 2166 before inadvertently playing two tournaments with a fractured wrist!!!), member of USA Cadet Girls' Team


George Nie


2012 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys Doubles Silver Medalist


Michael Ding




Karl Montgomery




Lily Lin


#20 Under 16 Girls in the U.S.


Jackson Liang


2012 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys Doubles Silver Medalist


Amy Lu


#3 Under 12 Girls in the U.S., 2012 Junior Olympics Under 12 Girls' Singles Gold Medalist


Lisa Cui


#14 Under 14 Girls in the U.S.

1769 Michael Li 11 #21 Under 12 Boys in the U.S.


Princess Ke


#8 Under 13 Girls in the U.S. (was 1877 a few months ago, #3 in Under 12 Girls)


Jason Wei




Adam Yao


#10 Under 11 Boys in the U.S.


Wesley Duan


2012 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Team Bronze Medalist


Kaylee Zou




Tony Li



SPiN for the Cause Charity

Here's the Facebook page for "Susan Sarandon presents: SPiN FOR THE CAUSE - Hurricane Sandy Relief Fundraiser," which is being held tonight at Spin NY.

TopSpin Charity

Here's an article in the Huffington Post that features TopSpin, the table tennis charity that has raised $750,000 for educational non-profits.

2013 USA Team Trials Bids

Want to run the 2013 USA Team Trials, Feb. 7-10, 2013? The deadline to bid is Nov. 15. Here's bidding info.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar

Here are two articles on the ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar held in Colorado Springs, Oct. 30 - Nov. 6. Here's the USATT article by Richard McAfee, and the ITTF article by Ian Marshall. Alas, I wasn't able to make the seminar - too busy coaching and writing in Maryland.

People's Ping Pong Party

Here's the Facebook page of this exhibition of table tennis and art (or something like that), starting Nov. 10 (tomorrow). One of the two running this is Rocky Wang, alias "LiL Big Wong," a 2300 (formerly 2400) player originally from Maryland (a junior star from the 1980s) but now living in New York. I'm having a hard time describing this, so I'll just cut & paste their first two paragraphs.

Present Company is delighted to announce the inauguration of the People’s Ping Pong Party (PPPP) and introduce their two leaders Madame WuWeiWoo and LiL Big Wong. WuWeiWoo, an unbeknownst time traveller, was born in Cuba from a union between a Buffalo Soldier and a young Martial Artist during the Spanish American War. LiL Big Wong’s lineage comes from an ex-Black Panther mother and a Chinese Ping Pong champion, but given his strict Chinese upbringing, he has no clue that he’s actually Black.

A collaboration between artists iona rozeal brown (WuWeiWoo) and Rocky Wang (LiL Big Wong), PPPP serves as an artistic and proto-political paradigm based on the Venn intersections of the radical politics of the Black Panther Party, Ping Pong Diplomacy of the 1970’s, the ethnic stereotypes of not only Chinese and African Americans, but a host of other offbeat characters and the B-movie antics of Kung Fu Saturday Matinee.

Wide-eyed with Happiness or Disbelief

This is what most people looked like after the presidential election. The only difference was whether the mouth was concave up or down.


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November 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

Developing Your Forehand Smash. (Note - this is a greatly expanded version from a blog entry from Oct. 19, 2012.)

USATT's Newsletter Blog and a Possible New USATT Partnership with Clubs

My blog on Friday about the USATT's Newsletter and ways USATT could promote themselves and non-USATT table tennis programs around the country, was by far my most read blog ever, with 1690 reads (so far), versus 605 for the day before. It also led to some helpful email exchanges among USATT officials and myself, leading to a possible new emphasis on promoting leagues and junior programs around the U.S. with the newsletter and web page. The last paragraph of the blog was the key part, so I'll reprint it here:

Why not use the USATT eNewsletter (and webpage) to systematically promote the leagues and junior programs from around the country, even if they are not USATT programs? This brings players into the sport, and these players usually become USATT members. Specifically, they could have a central online listing of these leagues and junior programs, and use the eNewsletter to refer readers to them. (They already have this for tournaments, so they just need to refer to them in the eNewsletter. But there's far greater membership potential in leagues and junior programs, as demonstrated in Europe.) If a kid or parent gets the USATT eNewsletter (or goes to the USATT web page, for that matter), they don't learn about the great junior programs at clubs around the country. They don't learn about the great leagues in SF, LA, NY, and other regions, or in individual clubs. They don't even know these things exist. And so we lose them. Tennis and European table tennis actively refers people to these programs as their central focus. Why not use these non-USATT programs to promote table tennis, referring to them constantly in the eNewsletter and webpage, leading to a more prosperous USATT?

I think the key is that new players who come to the USATT home page or receive the newsletter have no idea there are leagues and junior programs out there, often right in their backyards. USATT doesn't have the resources to set up and run these programs, but others are already doing them - so a natural partnership is practically slapping us in the face, where USATT promotes these programs on their highly-trafficked web page, and these programs bring in USATT members. (In my emails, I explicitly pointed out I have a conflict of interest in this, since I run junior programs at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which also has leagues.)

Developing Your Deep Serves

Here's an article "Your Deep Serves Should be a Weapon" by Olympian and three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Jim Butler. This is a must read for anyone who wants to turn their serves - long or short - into a weapon. Jim not only talks about how to make the long serve effective, but how it makes your short serves effective. (I find it almost astonishing how his thinking on this topic parallels my own - and he has the "moral" authority of someone who's beaten many of the top players in the world - including Waldner - with these serving tactics.) Here's my own article on the topic, "Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves," the Tip of the Week on Oct. 22, 2012.

World Cadet Challenge

The World Cadet Challenge in Guam ended yesterday. Here's the ITTF page where you can get full results, articles, and pictures, and see how the players from your country did. (Here's another page that has lots of pictures from the event.) And here's a highlights video (2:52) that features USA Cadets Jonathan Ou and Allen Wang.


Here's a video feature (1:35) of USA's table tennis star and model Biba. When you only need one name to be known, you're good!!!

That is Table Tennis

Here's a new table tennis highlights video (14:54) from ttGermany. The second point shown (between Kalinikos Kreanga and Tokic Bojan) might be the best counterlooping point of the year.

"Ping Pong Summer"

The filming in Ocean City for the upcoming movie "Ping Pong Summer" (starring Spin NY owner Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson, John Hannah, Robert Longstreet, Amy Sedaris, and of course the great Judah Friedlander - who I've coached several times!) just finished. Here's an article on it, and here's the IMDB page. "The story is a coming-of-age tale involving one boy's love of hip-hop and ping pong during a summer in Ocean City in the 1980's."

I'm Running for President of the United States

Yes, I, Larry Hodges, am throwing my paddle into the ring. Here is my platform where I answer the hard questions facing our illustrious nation. I'm ready to debate Obama and Romney anytime (today) and anywhere (within driving distance of my house in Maryland) - or we could just settle it, mano-a-mano, on the table.

  1. Foreign Affairs. We're too soft on the Chinese. Next time I see Zhang Jike I will punch him in the nose. This will show the world we're serious about these foreign affairs thingies and gain us respect so other countries will cower in fear and do our bidding.
  2. Immigration. If your name is Wang, come on in. (Penhold or shakehand?) If your name is Rodriquez, sorry.
  3. Economy. I will require all Americans to play table tennis for one hour every day. With 300 million people regularly buying exorbitantly priced table tennis sponge, rackets, shoes, and other table tennis necessities, it will spur the economy.
  4. Health Care. Who needs it when everyone's getting in such great shape from an hour of ping-pong every day?
  5. Energy Independence. I've tried oil, coal, even radium, and all it did was get my paddle all gooey, dusty, and gave me cancer. We'll just have to rely on Japan for our tenergy needs.
  6. Taxes. I will neither raise nor lower taxes. I believe taxes should stay right where they are, at street level, ready to transport Americans from airports and hotels to tournament playing halls every weekend. You should tip your hats to these hard-working Americans, and tip them well.
  7. Bi-partisanship. I am willing to work across the aisle with anyone, except those stupid pen holders who can't shake hands without jabbing you with their pen. Pen holders should be banned; we have things called word processors.
  8. Vice President. I want a vice president who is level-headed, thoughtful, and without ego. Marty Reisman is my choice. (We'll ignore for now that his name is an anagram for "Misery Mantra," "Remain Smarty," "Martyr is Mean," and "My Rat Seminar.")
  9. Service. I have nothing but praise for the service, whether it be pendulum, tomahawk, or backhand. The service is our front-line defense, and I have nothing but contempt for those who receive the service aggressively rather than give it the respect it deserves.
  10. Hard bat. I am very much in favor of the hard bat movement. In fact, I keep a toy plastic bat on my desk. Go ahead and wrap your knuckle against it, it's hard as rock.
  11. Core Values. Unlike some candidates, I do not flip based on the situation just to score political points. I pledge to you that I will only push against short balls. Let my opponents be the flippers we all despise.
  12. National Debt. We've been building up a national debt for many years, while China, Japan, Sweden, Hungary, and other countries have had an imbalance with us. I figure we should sweep the next ten World Championships, and we'll call it even.
  13. Self-sufficiency. There's an old saying, "Give someone a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime." It's true - some of the best fishers play in the European leagues, and with their topspin defense, make hordes of money. They'll never go hungry.
  14. Capitalism or Socialism? Yes.
  15. Table Tennis or Ping-Pong? Yes.
  16. Size of Government. I want government to keep their dirty hands off our social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and off our streets and out of our schools and libraries. Why can't they just build ping-pong centers and leave us alone?


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October 24, 2012

Planetary Table Tennis Tour

Today's blog is going to be a little out of this world - and I mean that literally. We're going to explore the solar system through table tennis. What would it be like playing table tennis on the moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, or in outer space? We'll assume that you (and the ball, racket, and table) are impregnable to extreme heat, cold, pressure, vacuum, gravity, the lack of breathable air, and any other local problems. How will the various local conditions affect table tennis? I'm not going to spend a lot of time with a calculator; I think I can make some decent judgments based on general conditions. Feel free to give your own input.


Gravity is about 1/6 Earth's, and there's no air. With low gravity, and with topspin unable to curve the ball down without air, there's little to pull the ball down on the other side. So players wouldn't be able to hit and counter-hit very fast. Most rallies might become endless battles of attrition as players pat the ball back at lower speeds than are the norm for a good player on Earth. Or would it? I think that what would happen is that players would take advantage of the difficulty in keeping the ball on the table by putting extreme topspins on the ball. The topspin would jump off the opponent's racket, making it tricky to keep the ball from going long.

One way to respond to this would be to use a hardbat, antispin, or long pips (surfaces where the topspin won't jump off much), and return the player's spin with backspin, knowing that the backspin won't make the ball float (no air), so you have a larger than normal margin for error. The backspin would make it difficult for the opponent to aim up or down accurately, since there's little margin for error in this low gravity world. Ultimately, since speed is difficult to control, spin would be how one would mess up an opponent, since a player has less margin for error than on Earth. Perhaps we'd end up with battles between such spinners and those who simply keep the ball in play. Ultimately I think the rules would be changed to lower the net, which could lead to more of a hitting game.

One problem with playing on the Moon is that with less gravity, it's harder to get a quick start, since you have less gravity pulling you down for traction. So lots of side-to-side play would be effective as opponents struggle to move.


Compared to Earth, we have less gravity and a very thin atmosphere - sort of like the Moon, so play would probably develop similarly. Again, we'd probably want a lower net.


Now we've got gravity almost the same Earth's, but an extremely dense atmosphere. Spin will affect the ball far more than on Earth. However, the thick atmosphere would also slow the ball down rapidly, making speed less effective. I think the game would favor big, powerful loopers. Because topspin would pull the ball down so rapidly, the only limit to how fast you can loop is how much power you have, and so the best players would look like body builders as they loop kill each ball as hard as they can.

Choppers would also prosper on Venus. With the atmosphere slowing the ball down so rapidly, they could run down almost anything. The downside is if they put too much backspin on the ball, the ball would literally float upward and away from the table. So they'd need to chop as slowly as possible, giving gravity time to pull the ball down.

One problem with heavy spins, both topspin and backspin, is that the thick atmosphere would slow the spin down quickly. This would lead to more weight training as the need for pure power becomes more important.

Hitters wouldn't do so well. With the ball slowing down so rapidly after each hit, loopers would have no trouble looping these balls back at them. Similarly, choppers would be able to run them down as well.


Here we have extremely high gravity (2.5 times ours) and air density, much greater in both cases than even on Venus. Now it would be a struggle just to get the ball to reach the net. The main difference is that where on Venus you used topspin to pull the ball down in the thick atmosphere, now you have gravity alone doing this. And so, like on Venus, it would favor big, powerful players - except here they would be smashing the ball back and forth as hard as they could rather than looping. Choppers would also do well, as they could run down anything with the thick atmosphere slowing the ball down.


Now we have zero gravity and zero atmosphere. It would be similar to the Moon, with two major differences. First, since you are just floating in space, moving is impossible. So this would favor players with very long arms who can reach all parts of the table by just reaching out. Second, to anchor one in position, players would learn to hold onto a table leg or the table end with their free hand, making sure not to touch the actual table surface since that is illegal. So this would favor players with very strong non-playing arms, though of course all serious players in outer space would quickly develop these powerful arm muscles. Since players are anchored to the table by holding on with their free hands, movement is difficult, and so ball placement becomes a priority. A ball hit deep and right at a player's free hand (where he's grasping the table) would be effective. Also highly effective would be high-bouncing lobs, since if you don't get them off the bounce, a player would have to launch himself away from the table where he would perhaps make the shot before drifting off into cold, airless space and oblivion.

BBC Planet Ping Pong

Here's a one-hour 2006 BBC documentary on the history of table tennis. "The story of table tennis and how it became the most popular sport in Asia. The programme revisits the glory days of the 30s and 40s, when thousands would cram into Wembley to watch top players do battle. Contributors include Britain's only world champion Johnny Leach, China's former World and Olympic women's champion Deng Yaping, and writers Howard Jacobson and Matthew Syed." Also narrating parts of it are Marty Reisman and Tim Boggan.

The Ping-Pong Chapter of Former Goldman Sachs Employee Greg Smith's Book

Here's the report from Table Tennis Nation.

Lady Gaga

Yes, it's Lady Gaga playing ping-pong.

Susan Sarandon's Pre-Game Routine for Ping-Pong

Here it is. It has a lot to do with Tequila, but also covers stretching, high heels, rallying, analyzing opponents, and music, all in one minute.

Biggest Table Tennis Table Ever

Here's a video (10:01) of play on the "largest ping-pong table ever." Yes, it's six times the size of a normal table, practically a tennis court. (The description says nine tables, but it's actually six.)


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September 13, 2012

Forehand Foibles:
Wrist Flopping, "Smashing Like a Girl," and Returning to Ready Position

In my blog yesterday, I wrote about an article in the Washington Post entitled "You Throw Like a Girl," and wrote about how this applies to table tennis. Last night was a perfect case.

I was coaching an 11-year-old girl who had taken ten classes in my beginning junior class, and was now taking her second private lesson. She already has a pretty steady forehand and backhand, and can hit 50-100 in a row. However, she had two problems on the forehand. The first was a tendency to flop her wrist back as she stroked the ball, leading to a lack of control, with the ball often spraying out to the right. We spent some time on that, and she's mostly fixed up that problem. (I had her keep the wrist back and firm, and focus on driving the racket tip through the ball instead of letting it hang back.) I assigned her to shadow-stroke the shot correctly 50 times each day. That problem is, or will be, fixed.

The second problem was right out of the Post article. When we went to smashing, she couldn't hit the ball hard because, to quote the article, "Her shoulders and hips rotate at the same time." This meant she didn't have much acceleration in her forward swing, which should get the arm moving, and so wasn't able to snap her forearm into the ball much either. Unlike the wrist flopping back problem, which we fixed immediately (and practice will make it a habit), this will take some time as she gradually learns to rotate properly into the shot for power. I have no doubt she'll develop enough power to put the ball through most players, but it'll be interesting to watch as it develops.

Another player I coached last night had a different forehand problem - he had great difficulty recovering from a smash so he could hit the next one if the ball came back. This was because he followed through off-balance, with his head and whole body moving too much forward. We spent some time focusing on rotating more in circle, as if there were a rod through the head and you rotate around it. By doing this, you finish the stroke more balanced, and can return to ready position almost instantly, even after a powerful smash. I demonstrated how to hit at full power and be back at the ready position before the ball even hits the far side of the table.

Extras for Ping Pong Summer

Here's an article about all the extras that came out for parts in the upcoming Susan Sarandon movie Ping Pong Summer, coming out next summer. According to the article, "The film is set in Ocean City in summer 1985, and revolves around a boy on vacation with his family. Ping-pong and hip-hop music are said to figure prominently in the script." Here's the entry, which describes the movie as "A family vacation during the summer of 1985 changes everything for a teenage boy obsessed with ping pong."

Americans Are Better Than Europeans at Table Tennis

At least that's what English golf star Lee Westwood (world #4, and #1 for much of 2010 and 2011) said in this article about the players getting together after the Ryder Cup. ''Unfortunately, the Americans are slightly better than us at table tennis. I think the Europeans have the edge on the drinking.''

Great Points from the Worlds

Here are the best points from the 2012 World Championships (10:57). I don't think I posted this one before.

Ping-Pong Action Figures!

Here they are! Yes, you can order yours online. You can also order them at here at, which says there are only 9 left. (Make that 8 - I just ordered a set!)


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May 15, 2012

$100,000 U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League

Yesterday I was in on a phone conference with the organizers, advisers, and sponsors of the upcoming USNTTL. (I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say who was on the call. Attila Malek, 1979 U.S. Men's Champion and long-time coach, is the driving force behind it.) I'm now on their advisory committee.

I had some suggestions for promoting the league, which I've used regularly in the past -,, mailings to clubs (including a request that clubs call a meeting to discuss the league with members), and an online printable roster sheet that league directors can use to sign up players. Mailings to coaches was also discussed, as coaches are often the ones running local leagues. I also suggested they contact some "big names" to help them promote the league. (For example, see the segment below on Susan Sarandon. A few words from her to the proper news medium would be hugely helpful.)

I only agreed to be on their advisory committee because they really seem to be dead serious about setting up this nationwide league, which has been paramount importance to developing table tennis in this country for so many years - and the fact that it's never been done is a primary (if not the primary) reason the sport has so long stagnated in this country. Successful countries used leagues to bring in large memberships and revenue, and (if you are more interested in elite table tennis) used that money to develop their national teams. It's win-win. I've constantly been dumbfounded at the refusal to undertake any serious league development by USATT, but now we have someone actually taking action. I hope you will support this league. I hope USATT will support it.

Note that a nationwide league doesn't mean you have to travel all over the U.S. to participate. A nationwide league in a country this size is set up regionally, so all your competitions would be within driving distance.

And you did read the headline correctly - the league has $100,000 in prize money. They have sponsors!

DEADLINE: The entry deadline for the league is June 30. See the USNTTL web page for info, and especially the Regulations page, which gives all the rules, etc.

Some of you may remember that I once tried to create a national league, the USATT League, which is still in operation. I was never able to get USATT to take it seriously, and even when it brought in money ($15,000), the money was used for other things rather than going back into developing the league. My plan was to start with a Singles League to bring in players, and then expand to Team Leagues, which are the key - players like playing on teams, and it's why countries like Germany (700,000), England (500,000), and others have such large memberships. Since I could never get USATT support, I was pretty much operating alone (except for software development from the ever-helpful Robert Mayer), and eventually gave up the idea of moving on to the team aspect. Though it mostly operates under the radar, there are currently 272 active leagues in the USATT League, with an average of 6000 processed (i.e. rated) matches per month. (Not sure how active the 272 leagues are - I think it means leagues that have played matches in the past year.) A total of 14,193 players have played in processed league matches since its creation in 2003.

Eastern Open

The deadline to enter the Eastern Open is this Friday. I'll be there coaching. Will you? Stop by and say hello!

New coaching videos from PingSkills

Susan Sarandon talks table tennis on Anderson Cooper

Actress Susan Sarandon told Anderson Cooper on his show about her passion for ping pong and said she enjoys playing it because "it cuts across age, body type, gender… little girls can beat their fathers, they can beat their big brothers." Here's the video (1:15).

Non-Table Tennis - Nebula News!

This weekend is the annual Nebula Awards Weekend, where the science fiction and fantasy writers from around the U.S. gather for workshops, panels, and the awards banquet where the best writers are honored with Nebula's (their equivalent of the Oscars). This year it is being held locally in Arlington, VA. I just found out that a story of mine is included in the Award Weekend's Collector's Anthology! I'll be at the Science Fiction Writers of America table Friday night with other writers included signing copies of the book for buyers. Unfortunately I'll have to miss all or most of the rest of the weekend because of coaching commitments. (On a side note, this morning I sold my 60th short story to an anthology - but the editor asked that I not yet announce the sale until they have made all their selections. Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.) 


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March 29, 2012

Pushing the limits

Last night I was coaching an 8-year-old girl. We've been working on her strokes for months, and while she could occasionally get 50 or so in a row at a slow pace, it was sort of a "just keep the ball in play" type rally, at a slow pace, with her mostly standing stationary as she patted the ball back. She was looking pretty bored as I encouraged her to get 50 in a row. So I tried something different - I decided it was time to teach her to forehand loop. Normally I'd want her to have a bit more ball control and athleticism in her game before I'd start this. So I got a bucket of balls and fed her backspin with multiball. At first she struggled, but after a few minutes she made a rather nice loop, and then another, and after a while she was able to hit about every other one on the table with a good stroke and decent topspin. She ran off to tell her mom (who was hitting on another table). Then she ran back and did some more.

Here's the real surprise. We ended the session hitting forehands - and after all the struggles, suddenly she came alive, her feet moving, and for the first time ever we were steadily smacking the ball back and forth, at a faster and more consistent rate than ever. I decided to test her backhand as well, and the same thing. So it was a triple whammy.

Maybe next week I'll teach her counterlooping.

MDTTC Spring Break Camp and other activities

It's not too late to register for our Spring Break Camp next week, Mon-Fri, 10AM - 6PM (with a two-hour lunch break in the middle). It's also not too late to join our beginning junior class starting this Saturday, 10:30AM-Noon. I'll be teaching the class, with Jeffrey Zeng Xun assisting. (We postponed the first session from today to Saturday as we still have people working all day on the club's new expansion, which should be complete by tomorrow.) We also have a new Tuesday Night League starting April 10, along with our usual one on Friday nights.

Once the expansion is complete I plan on starting a beginning adult class and a weekly service practice session. The latter will start off with a service seminar where I teach the basics of advanced serves, and then we meet 30 minutes each week to practice.

Jorgen Persson vs. Ma Lin

Here's a great match from the Worlds between two great veterans (6:03). Of course Persson (who'll turn 46 on April 22) was 1991 World Men's Singles Champion when Ma Lin (32) was 11.

Susan Sarandon

Here's an old article from Sept. 2010 in NY Magazine on Sarandon and table tennis, with a picture of her playing table tennis. And here's a more recent picture of her also playing table tennis, this time on the cover of what I think is Home Magazine.

"Interestingly no one has ever been killed playing ping-pong."

This video (1:47) starts out innocently enough, and for the first 18 seconds seems to be a video about guns deaths. Then it takes a deadly turn into table tennis! Lots of photoshopping, with scenes and actors from numerous major movies, all strangely playing ping-pong.


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March 21, 2012

Jim Butler call

Yesterday I got a call from Jim Butler. He's been reading my blog and liked what I'd written about him in my blog yesterday. It turns out he's been training extremely hard for three months, almost every day, though often with much weaker players. I told him that when I first heard he'd beaten both Peter Li and Han Xiao at the Cary Cup my mouth had dropped to the floor, but after that, nothing he did would surprise me. (Of course, part of the jaw-dropping part was I didn't realize just how much training he'd been doing.)

Jim and I go way back. I wasn't ever his coach (though I've coached against him, practiced with him, beat him in tournaments when he was a little kid, as well as written about him extensively), but I was the manager (later director/assistant coach) of the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center from 1985-1989, and Jim was there for a year (Fall 1988-Spring 1989, turning 18 during his stay). I still remember grounding him for breaking curfew. Sure, all he did was stick his arm (and then his finger) out the door after curfew, but he did it over and over, and, well, you know.... (Hey, how many national champions have you grounded?)

The current status of U.S. players is somewhat unique. Historically we've usually had 1-3 players who dominated, with a bunch of others chasing them, usually unsuccessfully. At one time Jim Butler was one of those players, battling for dominance with Sean O'Neill and later David Zhuang. At the moment we've got a lot of up-and-coming teenaged players; players in their twenties who are at or near their prime; and older players who are still competitive - but no one is dominating. There are about 8-10 players who could win the Nationals right now without my jaw dropping. Jim just joined the mix - and if he gets back to his past 2700 level, watch out!

More bad news for those 8-10 - Jim says he's working on his backhand loop to go with his backhand smash. Just before he stopped playing competitively in the early 2000's he actually developed a pretty good backhand loop against backspin. I'm not sure it's a good idea for him to backhand loop in topspin rallies as well, since it takes away one of the two scariest parts of his game - his backhand smash. (The other scary part is his serves.) However, Jim knows his game better than anyone else, so we'll see how this develops.

There's a good chance we'll be running a "Super Camp" at MDTTC sometime in the future, for the best players and junior players in the country. Maybe I'll be giving Jim a call.

Spring Break Camp at MDTTC

Yes, it's Spring Break here in Montgomery Country, Maryland, April 2-6, and you know what that means - Spring Break Camp! It's primarily for local juniors, since they are out of school, but it's open to anyone from anywhere, and to all ages. (Non-juniors must be prepared to train with lots of juniors who seem to move at light speed.) I'll be coaching at the camp along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun.

USATT Hopes Program

For top USA juniors born in 2000 or 2001. "The USATT Hopes Program vision is to also identify young players that have developed solid mental, technical and physical skills and provide educational and training opportunities to them.  In addition, the vision also includes important educational opportunities for their coaches and parents."

Liu Nai-Hui joined NJTTC as a coach

2011 U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion Liu Nai-Hui has joined the New Jersey Table Tennis Club as a coach.

Susan Sarandon to bring table tennis to the screen

Actress Susan Sarandon talks about her upcoming movie, "Ping-Pong Summer" (0:33). This is NOT a joke! (Video starts with a commercial that's longer than the Sarandon video, but it's worth it.)

Susan Sarandon explains why ping-pong rocks

Actress Susan Sarandon gives five reasons why Ping-Pong Rocks (1:05)!

Susan Sarandon playing table tennis

(These are from the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, which I maintain.)

photo1 photo2 photo3 (with talk show host Jimmy Fallon) photo4 (actress Olivia Munn on right)photo5 (L-R: talk show host Jimmy Fallon, actor Artie Lange, Sarandon, actress Olivia Munn) photo6 (L-R: Table Tennis Superstar Mikael Appelgren, Actor/Comedian Judah Friedlander, Sarandon, Table Tennis Superstar Jan-Ove Waldner) photo7 (singer Lil Jon on right) photo8 photo9 (Maria Menounos on right) photo10 (with tennis players Mike & Bob Bryan)

Cary Cup and ICC State Open Photos

Real People

Every week another chapter of Tim Boggan's latest History of U.S. Table Tennis goes online at the USATT home page. This week chapter 30 of Volume 11 went up. And lo and behold, here's an excerpt! (This was also printed in my book, Table Tennis: Tales & Techniques.)

Think this is a strange story? Here's Larry Hodges' "Real People" (TTT, Dec., 1982, 12):

 In an International sport such as Table Tennis, you meet a wide variety of characters—some good, some bad; some who never stop smiling, some who have hot tempers. Occasionally, if you're exceptionally lucky, you come up against a real whacko or two….

I'm walking along the University of Maryland Campus when I see this Chinese fellow carrying a table tennis racket. After asking him the obvious questions, I find he's the National Champion of Taiwan! Just last year, in fact. We stop off at the Campus snack bar for pizza and start talking. It seems the National Taiwanese Team is touring the U.S.—the rest of the Team is back at the hotel. We talk table tennis for a bit, then I invite him to play me over at the table in my dorm. 'Sure,' he says, 'but I'll beat you pretty bad. Nobody in the U.S. is any good.' So I get set to play one of the top players in the world.

I beat him 21-2.

I'm in a sports store, looking at the table tennis rackets, when an older fellow comes up, wants to be helpful. 'Here,' he says, 'let me show you how.' He teaches me the forehand stroke and (15 minutes later) is well into the backhand when I start wondering, 'Who is this guy?' On asking, I find I am speaking to the current U.S. Senior Champion, a former U.S. Men's Champion. 'Beat the World Champion once," he says to me. Well, there's a display table set up, so we start to hit some.

He can't score a point.

I meet a guy from the University of Maryland who says he's a tournament player—over 1700—and claims to have beaten me in a tournament. 'Don't you remember?' he asks. 'No,' I say. Well, he starts playing me for money—literally forces $20 on me. I get his name and later find his rating in Topics.


Then there's a certain guy in a certain large city I met who says he's the best player in the world. Says he's beaten the Seemillers, the Boggans, the Chinese—everybody in fact. 'Gee,' I say, what's your rating?'

 '100,000,' he says.

Wacko, huh? But lest you think I made up these stories, let me assure you, they're all true—factually true.


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March 15, 2012

No Blog on Friday - Cary Cup

No blog tomorrow (Friday) - I leave for the Cary Cup Championships this morning, right after I post this. I'll be defending my hardbat titles from the last two years, but it's a very tough draw this year. The rest of the tournament I'll be coaching junior stars George and Derek Nie. I'm going down and rooming with Tim Boggan. I've been having arm problems, but they seem to be over. I was toying with playing primarily as a chopper, but if the arm is okay I'll probably play my usual all-out forehand attack game combined with some backhand chopping. I'll write about the tournament in my blog next week.

A few notes on serve & forehand looping

When I'm at my best, I'm an all-out forehand attacker on my serve. (This is for both my normal sponge game as well as my hardbat game.) The key to this is good serves and good footwork. Regarding footwork, while fast feet are extremely helpful, good footwork technique is just as important for the first shot of a rally. I'm 52 and don't train anymore, and am by no means that fast, but I can attack nearly any deep ball at the start of a rally (deep serves or serve returns) because of good footwork technique and by quickly reading the opponent's shot. (It's the second or third shot that often takes footwork speed, alas.)

If you want to serve and follow with your forehand, here are your main serving possibilities. (They are mostly written as if both players are righties, but the same ideas apply to lefties with minor adjustments.)

  1. If they can't loop a deep serve to the backhand, then serve deep to the backhand and get ready to dominate with your forehand. Since they are returning the ball from farther back, you have more time to get into forehand position, and they can't get good angles as they could off a shorter ball. If you can serve so the ball breaks into their backhand side, away from their body, then they'll have even more difficulty making a good return, and they'll have even more trouble trying to take it down the line, so most of their returns will predictably be to your backhand. Step around and wait for it. (Don't move too early, of course, or they might just take it down the line.)
  2. If they can't forehand flip effectively down the line (to your backhand), then serve short to the forehand and prepare to attack the crosscourt return to your forehand.
  3. If they can't backhand flip effectively down the line (to your forehand), then serve short to the backhand and prepare to step around to attack with your forehand the crosscourt return to your backhand. They have no angle into your forehand, and so you should be able to react to weak returns there even if you are way around your backhand corner. The main danger here (besides a surprise down-the-line attack to your forehand) is a wide-angled return to your backhand. If that happens, then you either have to step even farther around your backhand (way out of position, very risky) or play backhand.
  4. If they can't push short or flip short backspin, serve short backspin to all parts of the table and prepare for the long push.
  5. If all else fails, serve short to the middle. That way they have no extreme angle, and can't go for a wide crosscourt corner (where they have more table to aim for). They also have to decide between forehand and backhand, and that slight hesitation is often all it takes to get a weak return. If you serve short backspin to the middle, you'll usually get a deep push that's not too angled.
  6. Serve short, very low no-spin. It is surprisingly difficult to push heavy, push short, or to flip. (The key is to keep it low.)  It is especially effective if you mix in spinny serves, and learn to fake spin but serve no-spin. (A spinny-looking serve that is no-spin is called "heavy no-spin." Really!) Here's an article I wrote on the no-spin serve.

Susan Sarandon and ping-pong on TV

Susan Sarandon stopped by the TV show GMA to discuss her new movie and ping-pong, and to challenge hosts Josh and Sam to a game (6:09). The table tennis discussion begins at 4:25.

Why a Ponger Left Goldman-Sachs

It's all over the news - Greg Smith isn't just leaving Goldman-Sachs, he wrote a feature article in the New York Times on the toxic and destructive atmosphere there.

But of course the real story is that Smith was also a very good table tennis player. As he wrote in the article, he won "a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics." But there's more! It looks like he has played USATT tournaments, three of them in 1997-98. Here are his rating results, with his final rating at 1983. (He even defeated Tim Boggan at the 1998 Nationals!)

Our friends at Table Tennis Nation have researched the story even more, and here's what they have to say.

Nixon, Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the University of Oregon

Here's an article on an event at the University of Oregon that celebrates Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

Microwaving ping-pong balls

Yesterday we lit them on fire. Today we're microwaving ping-pong balls! Video is 5:09 long, but the fireworks beginning at 2:13.


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February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)

This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.

I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)

I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:

  • "No one's called me on it before." (I know of at least one player who has used this excuse probably a dozen times. Thank about that! But even if it were true, then that doesn't change the fact that the serve is illegal; it simply means there has been lax umpiring.)
  • "That's the way everyone's serving." (Not true, but a lot do get away with it.)
  • "Why would you call me on serves?" (Because you are hiding your serve.)
  • "I'll call my opponent for serving illegally in practice, but no way should you call him on it in a tournament." (This is one of the stranger ones.)
  • "He's from your own player's club!" (So why is he hiding his serve against someone from his club who is not hiding his serve?)

It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.

Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.

By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.

Service seminars

I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!

2012 U.S. Open

Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!

Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book

Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player

While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:

  • "Never show what you want, if one thousand words will do.  All explanations should be as wordy as possible to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the game."
  • "Make sure to always tell the player what he or she did wrong."
  • "Teach volleyball [table tennis] the way it is supposed to be taught, on the chalkboard."
  • "Make sure to bawl players out about their mistakes, win or lose.  It is better to do this in front of a whole gym full of spectators, rather than in the locker room, or worse, one on one in private."

Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's

Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.

Kuwait Open Highlights Tape

Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.

Lady Antebellum Table Tennis

After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).


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January 6, 2012

Reverse psychology

I think I'm the top reverse psychologist in the world of table tennis. When I'm working with a new kid who's trying to hit twenty forehands for the first time, do I what most coaches do and say, "You can do it!"? No. I have more success saying, "Twenty in a row? You can't do twenty, that's way too many. No chance!" And of course the kid is then determined to prove me wrong, even though they know I'm joking. I've been using the trick for so many years that I've got dozens of variations.

It's also a great way to get in shape - all I have to do is say, "I'll bet you twenty pushups you can't do twenty in a row," and I'll be doing twenty before the session is done, often after the next rally. Getting to make a coach drop and do twenty has a way of focusing one's mind. (Confession: I used to bet twenty pushups, but that was getting to be too much, so now I only bet ten.)

Increasing coaching hours

I'm increasing my coaching hours starting this month. So if you are anywhere near the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD, and are looking to become the greatest player in the history of the world, or at least to work on that bad habit of yours that keeps you from beating the Chinese, contact me. (If interested in group sessions, contact me so I can put you on the info lit. I plan to start up some new programs around March, when the club doubles in size and we have lots of free tables.)

Developing your game

And while we're on the subject of your becoming the greatest player in the history of the world and beating the Chinese, what have you been working on right now? If you aren't working on something in your game, then how can something in your game get better? Either find a weakness you want to improve, or a strength (or potential strength) that you want to turn into an overpowering strength, and focus on it for a while.

Preparation for the US Olympic Trials: The Final Week - Stage 5

Here is Stage 5 - the Final Week - of Samson Dubina's articles on training for the Olympic Trials. And in case you missed them, here is Stage 1Stage 2, Stage 3, and Stage 4.

Interview with Susan Sarandon

Table tennis sports psychologist and professional player & coach (TTSPPPC?) Dora Kurimay interviews actress Susan Sarandon, co-owner of Spin Table Tennis in New York City. You can also follow Dora's blog, which focuses on sports psychology and table tennis.

Beer Pong

They just held the World Series of Beer Pong, Jan. 1-5 in Las Vegas. $65,000 in prize money. Here's the promo video of these elite athletes in action (1:11) - but don't worry, no underage ping-pong balls were inebriated in the making of this video.

I'm gonna to be sick. (Actually, I am sick with a cold, but $65,000 beer pong just made this non-drinker sicker.)

Moonpig in action!

Who says you can't play the net in table tennis? Here's 41 seconds of feline fury.


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