Ma Long

October 2, 2014

Different Short Serve & Follows

There are no rules, but here are a few guidelines that many players often don't realize or think about. You have to think about these things so you can make them a habit, and then you don't have to think about them as much, except tactically.

When serving short backspin, most opponents won't attack the serve until the higher levels, but they may be able to push low and heavy. So you might have to focus more on spin on your first loop. However, if you serve short and low no-spin while faking backspin (i.e. "heavy no-spin"), you'll get mostly pushed returns that tend to pop up more and with less spin. So when you serve these types of no-spin serves, be ready to end the point with loop kills and smashes. (Don't use 100% power - a well-placed shot at 80% is more consistent and a higher percentage shot.) I'm always surprised by how few players below the higher levels effectively use backspin and no-spin serves - most will serve straight backspin over and over and over, perhaps mixing in a few obvious deep topspin or sidespin serves.

While you're at it, besides serving short backspin and no-spin, why not short side-top? It's not that hard to learn. Learn to do it with essentially the same motion as your backspin and no-spin serves. Result? Opponents will tend to pop them up or go off the end. (But don't overuse them and let opponents get used to them.) Learn to serve with a semi-circular motion so you can serve different spins with the same motion. Here's how.

When you can serve short backspin, sidespin/topspin, and no-spin, and do so with a similar motion, and to all parts of the table, you have a nice arsenal - try them all out and see which ones are effective against various opponents. If you keep throwing these different serves at an opponent, they'll have great difficulty. And when they are having great difficulty, that's when you throw a deep serve at them as still another surprise, and watch them completely fall apart.

Okay, it's not that easy, but done properly, over the course of a match, these serve variations will wear down an opponent and often win the match for you.

I keep talking about short serves (i.e. serves that, given the chance, would bounce twice). Actually, below the 2000 level, tricky long serves are often more effective than short serves. Below the 2000 levels even most backspin serves tend to go long, but they are still most often pushed back. (Here's what you should do against short backspin serves.) But it's those short serves that'll allow you to serve and attack over and over, which is why at higher levels most serves are short, with long serves a variation.

You do understand the purpose of the serve, right?

French Translation of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

My book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is being translated into French. The translation is now about halfway finished, and should be done in the next 1-2 months. Hopefully it'll be on sale in the French version of Amazon by the end of the year. (Here are all my books; buy some!!!)

USA Nationals

Don't forget to enter! They are Dec. 16-20 in Las Vegas.

2014 Asian Games

They are taking place in Incheon, KOR, Sept. 27 - Oct. 10, and have already finished the Teams (China swept). They are now into singles and doubles. Here's the ITTF Asian Games page, with articles and a link to results on the right. There's also coverage at Tabletennista.

2014 Asian Games Team Final, Ma Long vs Joo Sae Hyuk

Here's the video (9:50, with time between points removed) between attacker Ma Long of China and chopper/looper Joo Sae Hyuk of South Korea.

Physical Training for Kids in Thailand

Here's the video (1:06), with some of these drills taught in the ITTF Coaching Courses.

World Anti-Doping

Here are news items/press releases from the ITTF on the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Pong Glasses

This announcer found it hard to see the action without his glasses. Right?

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September 26, 2014

The Ping Pong Diet, Table Tennis, and Academics

Dr. Chris Ko just came out with a new book, The Ping Pong Diet: The Twenty-One Point Plan. A few of you may remember Chris as a top MDTTC junior from the early 1990s, usually known back then as Christopher Ko. Here's his home page/blog, where he focuses on diet and nutrition. (The diet part might be of interest to me, though I think I've figured that part out, going from 196 this past summer to 178 this morning.) I just ordered the book, and will likely write about it after I read it. I'm not sure yet how much it applies to table tennis. Here's the book description:

"The Ping Pong Diet teaches you how to use the power of plants and protein to control your hunger and manage your weight. No counting. No calculations. Just eating, and a lot of it! But unlike other diet books, this book teaches you how to both lose the weight and keep it off. These strategies make up the twenty-one point plan for weight management that teaches you to eat well, be well, and finally feel well again. Engaging and inspirational, the Ping Pong Diet combines practical nutritional insight with motivational psychology to give you a new appreciation for food and for yourself. So pick up the Ping Pong Diet and get in the game!"

Here's a list of Chris's titles, where at the Junior Olympic, Junior Nationals, and U.S. Open he won three silvers and seven bronze in various junior events. (I only have a listing from 1992 on, when MDTTC opened, so don't have some of his earlier titles. I believe he also won Under 10 Boys at the Junior Olympics before 1992.) 

  • 1992 Junior Nationals Under 14 Boys' Singles Bronze Medalist
  • 1992 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Singles Bronze Medalist
  • 1992 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Doubles Bronze Medalist
  • 1992 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Team Silver Medalist
  • 1992 U.S. Open Under 14 Boys' Doubles Finalist (Silver)
  • 1993 Junior Nationals Under 16 Boys' Doubles Bronze Medalist
  • 1993 Junior Nationals Under 18 Boys' Team Bronze Medalist
  • 1993 Junior Olympics Boys' Singles Bronze Medalist
  • 1993 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys' Teams Silver Medalist
  • 1995 Junior Nationals Under 18 Boys' Teams Bronze Medalist

Chris isn't the only former top Maryland junior with a medical degree, i.e. an MD MD. Vivian Lee, Jessica Shen, and Michael Terao all have MDs, and I'm sure there are many others I don't know of or have forgotten about. But it's not just Maryland juniors who are academically oriented - the same is true of kids from training centers all over the U.S. - and I hesitate to list any because I'll leave out some obvious ones. (Readers, please list in the comments former top juniors who now have MDs or equivalent high-level degrees.) Eric Owens, the 2001 USA Men's Singles Champion, either has his MD now or is on the verge. Dennis Hwang, a member of the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs in the late 1980s, trained three hours a day, graduated as the valedictorian, and is now an MD. There are many more. Even Crystal Wang, the 12-year-old 2400 phenom from my club, who recently became the youngest player ever to make the USA Women's Team and win Under 22 Women's Singles, goes to a magnet school because of her advanced academics. But she's just one of the many juniors at my club (and other clubs) who have the discipline to excel at both table tennis and academics.

So why are top junior players in table tennis so successful in academics? There are two primary reasons. Let's face it, one of the reasons is because of the Asian community, which places so much emphasis on academics (bravo!), and since they also dominate the table tennis world, we get a lot of academically-minded table tennis stars. The other reason is that training at anything teaches self-discipline, which applies to other activities as well - so if someone has or develops the self-discipline to train hard and become a top table tennis player, he usually has the same self-discipline to become good at whatever he tries.

European Team Championships

It's going on right now in Lisbon, Portugal, and finishes this Sunday. There's lots of coverage at the ITTF page and Tabletennista.

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

They are down to the Final Five - chose your favorite!

Olympic Coach Magazine

Here's the new issue.

Epic Point Between Ma Lin and Jorgen Persson

Here's the video (53 sec, including slow motion replay).

Amazing Come-Back Scoop Return

Here's the video (29 sec - watch the replay from the side)

The Six-Bounce Ping-Pong Plate Trick

Here's the repeating gif image. It's hypnotizing as it repeats over and over - careful or you'll be watching it all day.

Ping-Pong Balls Gone Wrong

Here's the video (90 sec) of this video prank.

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September 24, 2014

USATT Coaching Academy

As noted in my blog yesterday, I'm thinking about running for the USATT Board of Directors in the upcoming USATT election. I gave five things I'd focus on, including the following coaching item:

Recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run full-time centers and junior programs.
The goal is to have a huge number of such training centers with junior programs, leading to both large numbers of junior players and the development of elite juniors, which leads to elite players. When I made a presentation on this to the USATT Board in December, 2006, two board members openly scoffed at the idea, arguing that there wasn't enough interest in the U.S. to support full-time training centers. The rest sat about silently, waiting for the next item on the agenda. In response I resigned my position as USATT Editor and Programs Director. At the time there were about eight full-time centers in the U.S.; now there are about 75. Once a successful model was created, others copied it. USATT could greatly accelerate this process by recruiting and training coaches and directors as other successful sports do. Since USATT already runs clinics for coaches, and since the coaches would be paying for it (as they do in other sports), the system pays for itself.

For several years I've toyed with setting up a Hodges Academy, where I'd recruit and train coaches to become full-time professional coaches, to run junior training programs, and to set up full-time training centers. We already have a proven model for such full-time centers that works - that's why there are 75 such centers in the country, and that's without any serious involvement by USATT or anyone else really helping out. My club, MDTTC, basically pioneered the model 22 years ago, and we have seven full-time coaches. By word of mouth others have adopted similar methods, and so these centers keep popping up all over the country. We have 75 now; why not 500 in ten years? (Seven years ago, how many people dreamed we'd have as many as 75 now? Well . . . I did! Others just laughed.)

The problem is that while I'd get a number of prospective coaches if I opened such a Hodges Academy - and make a bunch of money - I wouldn't get nearly as many as USATT could get, as the official governing body for table tennis in this country. So I think establishing a USATT Coaching Academy would be the very first thing I'd work on if I did get on the USATT Board. (In which case I wouldn't make a bunch of money, since it's a volunteer position. And the other four items on my priorities list would have to wait until my second day in office.) How would I go about this?

First, we'd need to create the curriculum. USATT already teaches ITTF Coaching Courses, but the problem with that is that it teaches how to coach, but not how to be a professional coach. We need a curriculum that also teaches how to find a place to coach, solicit and keep students, set up and run junior training programs, set up and teach classes, how to maximize income, and all the other issues faced by professional coaches. Most of this is already covered in the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I wrote and would make available at cost. One aspect that's not covered that much in the handbook is setting up full-time centers. A manual for that is a must, and would be part of the curriculum. 

Second, we'd need to bring in someone to teach the course. Ideally we'd bring in someone who is already teaching ITTF coaching courses in this country, who can simply add the additional curriculum. (Richard McAfee, are you listening?) This person would also likely be in charge of creating the curriculum for item #1, with my assistance if needed. 

Third, we'd need to find a site or sites to teach the course. They should take place at full-time clubs with successful junior programs and top coaches so the prospective coaches can learn how a successful program works. Ideally we'd use various clubs around the country. We have a number of such clubs now!

Fourth, we'd need to solicit people who wish to become full-time professional coaches, as well as ones who wish to run junior programs. It's not enough to simply put out a notice and hope some people show up. We need to sell the program, very publicly showing and advertising how coaches can make very good money - typically $40 to $50/hour, and more for group sessions, plus various commissions. We need to create a corps of professional coaches, who not only know how to coach, but are actively coaching and running junior programs, with the emphasis on those who wish to do so full-time. The students would pay a fee, just as they do for the ITTF courses, and this would pay for the person running course and other expenses. 

Fifth, we run the program, and the USATT Coaching Academy is born!!! I'll likely be there assisting at the first one - as an unpaid volunteer if I'm on the USATT Board. 

Full-time Table Tennis Centers - Cart Before Horse?

In the forum here I was told I "...continue to put the cart before the horse." Read the posting and my response (which I've updated a few times) and judge for yourself. I really don't get this. To me, this is sort of like having 75 people learn how to loop, while three people who do not receive coaching are unable to do so. Does that mean we can't learn to loop? Oh, and I've coined a new slogan: "If you build it and promote it, they will come."

Tournament Coaching

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina, Ohio #1 and former USA Men's Singles Finalist.

Reading Serves and Medium Long Returns

Here's the coaching video (3:13) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Resting Injuries

I've always gone by the general rule that if there's a sharp pain, stop. If it's a steady pain, go easy. However, this is just a generality. Here are some articles on the subject. (Readers, comment below if you have input on this issue, or if you have links to other such articles that you think might be helpful.) 

Portugal Looking to Upset Germany at the TMS 2014 European Team Championships

Here's the ITTF Press Release. The European Team Championships start today in Lisbon, Portugal. Here's the ITTF home page for the event.

Back of Hand Serve

Here's a posting in the Mytabletennis.net forum on serving a ball off the back of the hand. It's perfectly legal. Here's my response. "I have that serve, and have used it twice in tournaments, both times against weaker players. Both times my opponent caught the ball and tried to claim the point. Both times I rolled my eyes and agreed to a let. Both times I should have won the point. (There was no umpire.) I also tried it in practice matches against Crystal Wang and Derek Nie (2350 12- and 13-year-olds), and both unhesitatingly backhand banana flipped winners, then looked at me like I was crazy."

Tribute to Ma Long

Here's the new video (6:31) that features the long-time Chinese superstar.

Rolling-on-Table Shot

Here's video (45 sec, including slow motion replay) of a great "get" by Pierre-Luc Hinse against Xavier Therien back in 2011. 

Adam Bobrow Around-the-Net Backhand Smacks Ball

Here's the video (5 sec).

Here's the Pep Talk of All Pep Talks

Here's the video (2:28) from a high school football player.

Stupid Game Spotlight: Pig Pong

Here's an article about the deadly sport of table tennis, pigs, and the connection. "Today I would like to talk to you about two things. Two things that should have never been brought together, but for some ungodly reason... they were. These two things are Ping-Pong (the game) and Pigs (the farm animal, not cops). Combining a sport (well Ping-Pong is kind of a sport isn't it?) with an animal that is the very personification of "sloth" just doesn't make sense to me."

The New iPhone 6, Wally Green, and Ping Pong!

Here's the video (38 sec).

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September 22, 2014

Tip of the Week

Power in Table Tennis.

USATT Hires New CEO

Here's the USATT announcement. Gordon Kaye is a USATT member rated 1469, who's played in 32 processed USATT tournaments since 2009, plus the Badger Open in Wisconsin this past weekend. (Highest rating: 1510.) Our paths even crossed once - he and I were both at the 2010 Eastern Open in New Jersey, him as a player, me as a coach. Here's his tournament record. He's a standard inverted shakehands player, who likes to attack but doesn't always have confidence in his loop, and so often blocks and counter-attacks. Here's an interview with him at the Badger Open by Barbara Wei, which includes an action picture. Here's another picture of him posing with Barbara.

I'm told he successfully transformed two failing organizations before coming to USATT. One was a minor league hockey team. Here are some online articles I found on him:

What does he need to do to be successful as USATT CEO? I'll write at length about this later. But the most important things are the following:

  1. Recognize the doers and the "empty suits" in our sport. I don't really like the phrase "empty suit," but it gets the idea across. Some "empty suits" are successful in some non-table tennis activities, but it doesn't always cross over. Doers are those who do table tennis things and get results, who understand how to develop the sport. Empty suits are far better at selling themselves than doers, who are better at selling the sport than themselves. Historically, guess which type has had the most influence in USATT policy?
  2. Understand how table tennis grew overseas, and how other sports grew in the U.S., and then come up with a model that'll work for USATT.
  3. Set specific goals to develop the sport, and create and implement plans to reach them.
  4. Think long-term.
  5. Break out of USATT sponsorship logjam. There are two main ways for USATT to find sponsors:
  • Find a rich table tennis person who will give us money. We've been trying that for 81 years. How has that worked?
  • Find a business person who believes he can make money by sponsoring USATT. To do this we need to convince him that USATT is growing, and that he should get in on the ground floor. If we were focusing on developing the sport (developing regional leagues, recruiting and training coaches, etc. - all the stuff I've been arguing for the last two decades or more) this would be a lot easier. In the late 1980s Bob Tretheway raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for USATT (more when adjusted for inflation) - with the selling point that table tennis had just become an Olympic sport in 1988, and so was about to take off in the U.S. (it didn't). How do we sell it now? I believe that the best way to convince a business person that USATT is growing is by USATT actually growing. Getting the process started doesn't take much funding. (I've blogged about this many times, and will elaborate on this tomorrow.)

One obvious problem is that Gordon will face what all USATT CEOs face - conflicting direction from the USATT Board of Directors. Some are forward thinkers; some are not. Should his primary focus be raising money? Developing the sport? I know that at least one board members believes the primary focus of the CEO should be as office manager!!!

Anyone who reads my blog knows I believe the focus for now should be to develop the sport. Rather than trying to sell faulty shoes, fix the shoes first, then sell them. USATT has even had Strategic Meetings about growing the sport (i.e. fixing the shoes), and I've attended several. Somehow the main focus of these meetings has been vague generalities with no follow-up, slogans, and lots of self-congratulatory back-slapping for such a productive meeting.

So how did Gordon do at the Badger Open? Here are the complete tournament results. He had a pretty good tournament, with wins against players rated 1741 (congrats!), 1490, 1221, 1138, and 962, and losses to players rated 2073, 2056, 1879, 1705 (went five!), 1689, 1652, 1603, and 1562. Since he went in rated 1469, my ratings calculations say he'll pick up 49 points, and so come out at 1518 - a new high for him. (See, we know what's important.)

Now that we've read about him, know his rating and playing style, and know how he did at the Badger Open, we have to judge him. And I prefer to judge a person by anagrams. (After all, "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God.") So what do we get from Gordon Kaye?

  • Okay Go Nerd
  • Gone Ya Dork
  • Rake Yon God

So he's either a nerdy dork or a God. Only time will tell. Let's support him, and maybe, just maybe, he'll be the one to break the long-time USATT lethargy.

Celluloid vs. Non-Celluloid - Who's Using What?

While for the time being most tournaments in the U.S. are still using celluloid, the two upcoming big ones are both using non-celluloid. The North American Teams just announced they will use the non-celluloid balls, presumably the JOOLA Super-P 40+ balls they were selling at the U.S. Open. And as noted in previous blogs, the USA Nationals will use Nittaku Premium 40+ balls. (They aren't on sale yet, but should be available in mid-October. Don't mistake this for the Nittaku Sha 40+ ball, which is on sale now but plays differently.) My guess is that most tournaments will switch to non-celluloid sometime in 2015.

$10,000 Butterfly Badger Open

Here are the results of the tournament, which was held this past weekend in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with 204 players. (Included among the players was Gordon Kaye, the newly hired USATT CEO.) Butterflyonline has video and a photo gallery. Here are three articles on the tournament by Barbara Wei. (She tells me she has three more coming.)

The Forgotten Skill - Blocking

Here's the coaching article by Samson Dubina.

How to Receive Serves from Opposite Handed Players

Here's the coaching video (2:32) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Ma Long Serving Technique Slow Motion

Here's the video (3:03).

Sandpaper Qualifiers for $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong

Here's the news release.

Nothing is Impossible Video Reaches Two million Views

Here's the ITTF press release on the video (2:44) of armless Egyptian player Ibrahim Hamato.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here are two more videos from Nathan in China. (All eight are linked from the initial video, China Day 4.)

Zhou Xin Table Tennis Academy Physical Training

Here's the video (64 sec) by Bruce Liu.

George Brathwaite

The USATT Hall of Famer called me a few days ago to discuss USATT issues. He might be getting active in USATT again. Here's his web page.

Ping-Pong 4 Purpose

Here's another article on the charity event that was held Sept. 4 at Dodger Stadium, by Kim Gilbert.

Adam Bobrow Exhibition at Bloomingdales

Great Point

Here's the video (61 sec) - the point lasts about 40 seconds!

Katy Perry - This Is How We Do

Here's the music video (3:29), which includes three table tennis segments - seconds 19-24, second 33, and seconds 1:21-1:23. In the first segment she sings, "Playing ping-pong all night long."

Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Ryder Cup, and Ping-Pong

Here's the CNN article. The eighth and final picture shows Tiger playing table tennis penhold style, with the caption, "But with Mickelson's erstwhile ping pong partner Tiger Woods missing the Ryder Cup with injury, could self-confessed table tennis fan Fowler partner up with "Lefty" in Scotland?"

Teasing a Dog, Ping-Pong Style

Here's the cartoon.

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September 9, 2014

Teaching a Beginning Kid to Block

Recently I've had a lot of fun teaching two kids, ages six and seven, how to block. For some reason they find great joy in this. I'm teaching them all aspects of the game, even looping, but they keep begging to block against my loop - and so that's how we end each session.

Few kids at that age have the reflexes or coordination to really block against a ball with varying spin that moves around the table. It's worse if you serve topspin and then start looping, as they have to adjust to two different shots. So what I do to start the rally is to toss the ball up and loop the very first shot at them, right out of the air. Then I keep looping softly, trying to keep it to one spot with the same depth, while they block. (I'm focusing on backhand blocks, but also having them do forehand blocks.) To them it's like a video game, trying to keep the ball on the table against my heavy topspin. They're getting pretty good at it, and I'm getting some exercise.

2014 USATT Election Notice and Process

Here's the notice. And once again I'm pretty disappointed.

On Nov. 25, 2013, I blogged about how unfair it was that the USATT Bylaws were changed so that candidates can no longer get on the ballot by petition. The only way to get on is to have the USATT-appointed Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC) put you on. If they chose not to, potential candidates have no recourse. It used to be you could get on by petition, but no more. I blogged about this more extensively on Jan. 24, 2014.

On May 12, 2014, I wrote, "As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule?"

This time I got a response that very day, as a USATT Board member (who shall remain nameless for now) emailed me that I was "mistaken," that the problem is being addressed, that there was a task force revising the election rules, and that they would be changed before the next election cycle. Well, the next election cycle is upon us, and there have been no changes, based on the election notice. As I pointed out in an ongoing email discussion I'm having this morning, "Only a bylaw change can change the election rules, and that has to come from the USATT Board. If the USATT Board has not approved a bylaw change, then the election rules haven’t changed. So unless there was a bylaw change at a board meeting whose minutes are not yet up, AND the NGB in defiance or ignorance of this put up this notice without USATT Board approval, nothing has changed."

In one of my emails this morning it took me about 60 seconds to write the following motion that any USATT board member could make, and would lead to changing the bylaws:

"I move that starting with the election cycle starting in Fall, 2014, that the Nominating and Governance Committee create wording for the USATT bylaws that allow potential candidates for USATT office to get on the ballot by petition with the signatures of 150 USATT members, and that they be allowed to get these signatures at the North American Teams and/or USA Nationals."

Sixty seconds. That's all it took. (Okay, I type fast, and I did make a minor wording change afterwards.) If no one on the USATT board can do something this simple, how can they do anything that's more difficult - you know, like develop the sport? (ADDENDUM: There was a motion by the board at the 2014 U.S. Open meeting - Motion 1 - to "recommend" that the NGC change the rules, but since it only recommended rather than directed, didn't specify that it was needed for the election cycle, didn't ask to allow candidates to be included by petition, and because the motion wasn't made until June - seven months after the issue was raised in November - it likely won't happen this election cycle.) 

Regarding the election, once again I'm toying with running. But I'd probably be a hypocrite if I did so. Why? Because I simply don't have time any more to do the things I've argued the Board needs to do. (See one such listing in my Nov. 25, 2013 blog, which I already cited above.) Anyone who's been around USATT for a while knows I've been a very active USATT volunteer (and sometimes staff person) for many years. But I have consistently failed to convince others there of the need to change our ways if we want to really develop the sport in this country. Every time we have one of these discussions at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings, there are convincing people who "look good in a suit" who argue the opposite, and nothing changes.

But if I did run, what would happen? Since other Board members aren't taking initiative to do what's necessary - if they did, they'd be getting done - I'd have to do so myself. But one of the prime requisites for running for the Board (IMHO) is to have the time to do the job. There was a time I could have done so, but these days I'm inundated, trying to do group and private coaching, promote my club, writing about table tennis, and my outside science fiction writing career. I have no interest in running for the Board and becoming another "judge" who sits back and simply judges things brought before them, as opposed to what's really needed - active legislative types who work to grow the sport. As I wrote in my Jan. 24, 2014 blog, "I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen."

And this whole election fiasco is a classic example of board members not making things happen. And it's so simple - all someone has to do is make the motion to allow candidates to get on the board by petition, perhaps using the past 150 signatures from USATT members as a requirement, and allowing them to get the signatures at the Teams in November or the Nationals in December. (They can even consult with the NGC first.) But it won't happen unless someone on the board stops being a passive judge and takes legislative action.

New World Rankings

In the September world rankings, on the men's side, China's 17-year-old phenom Fan Zhendong has moved up to #2 in the world, after Xu Xin. China now has the #1-4 and #6 players, with Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov breaking up the monopoly at #5 (down one spot from #4 last time as Zhang Jike passed him again). Timo Boll, the #2 German, remains at #9, while their #3, Patrick Baum, moved up from #17 to #14. Germany also has Bastian Steger at #18. China also has players at #10, 13, and 25. On the women's side, the top twelve remained unchanged except for a flip of the #6 and #7 positions. China still has #1-3 and #5-7, with Singapore's Feng Tianwei breaking up the monopoly at #4. One big jump - Romania's Elizabeta Samara jumped from #22 to #13, and is the top-ranked non-Asian woman.

Para World Championships

They are taking place right now in Beijing, China, Sept. 6-15. Here's the USATT page and the ITTF page for the event. Representing USA are Tahl Leibovitz and Sherri Umscheid, with Angie Bengtsson the USA Coach.

Jim Butler Wins 2014 Southern Open

Here's the article, results, and picture.

Xu Xin and Ma Long Training

Here's a video (7:25) from a year ago showing Chinese stars Xu Xin (#1 in the world, lefty penholder) and Ma Long (currently #3, former #1, righty shakehander) training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. You can learn a lot by watching both their form and the drills they do.

Table Tennis Unbelievable

Here's a highlights video (9:39) with some of the greatest shots and rallies of the past four years.

Clayton Kershaw and the LA Dodgers

Kershaw, the LA Dodgers pitching star, ran a table tennis charity event last Thursday. Here are pictures. The charity is Ping Pong 4 Purpose.

Two-Year-Old on Mini-Table

Here's the picture.

Elephant vs. Penguin

Here's the picture! Some nice artwork. (A search shows that I actually linked to this two years ago, but thought I'd show it again.)

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June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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June 10, 2014

Incentives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITTF Pongcast

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

Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better

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

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari

Here are videos of then training in China.

Porpoise Pong

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

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June 6, 2014

Short Serves and Half-Long Serves

Most players serve long, over and over. A short serve is one where, if given the chance, the second bounce would be on the table, while with a long serve it goes off. So long serves are easier to attack by looping, while short serves, if kept low, are harder to attack, and are usually pushed back. (Unless it's a short sidespin or topspin serve, without backspin, in which case it's usually flipped – but most players can't serve short this way except at higher levels. Here's a related article, Serving Short with Spin. Here's another, Serving Low. Here's one on long serves, Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.)

It's important to be able to serve both long and short. If you only serve long, stronger players will start attacking your serves. If you only serve short, it becomes predictable and you'll win fewer points outright on the serve. (The serves that win outright the most tend to be long, breaking serves. But if overdone, and at higher levels, they get attacked. Short serves don't win as many points outright, but they set up a third-ball attack more often.) 

Many players go the other extreme, serving too short. I was watching one of our top juniors play a match recently and noticed that his opponent was taking the serve right off the bounce, and either returning it at wide angles or dropping it short. The junior couldn't get any good attacks off his serve. I watched closely, and realized that his serves were too short. The second bounce, given the chance, would have been well over the table. Because they were so short, the opponent was able to both rush him and angle him with quick pushes and flips, as well as drop the ball short with ease. By serving a little bit longer, the opponent would have to contact the ball later, and would be less effective at rushing and angling the server, or at dropping it short. 

So work on your short serves so that the second bounce is as close to the end-line as possible. There are exceptions - sometimes you want an extra short serve to make the opponent lean over the table, especially short to the forehand. And you also might want to serve sometimes where the second bounce would go slightly off the end, forcing the receiver to make a split-second judgment on whether he can attack it, while forcing him to contact the ball even later. If he does try to loop it, it's often a very soft loop that you can counter-attack. (If they loop it hard, then the serve probably went too long or too high.)

USATT's New Rating Platform and the USATT League

Last night I wrote a rather long segment about the USATT's new rating platform, pointing out more problems with it and again urging USATT to go back to the old platform until the new one is functional. It was not going to be a complimentary blog. I was also involved in a number of late night emailing/messaging sessions about this – a lot of people were urging the same. Result? This morning the old ratings platform is back. So I'll put my previous words in another file and hopefully forget about them. (Fortunately I also wrote out the blog item above on Short Serves and Half-Long Serves, and planned to run that first anyway. Normally I do all the blogging in the morning.) Thank you USATT for fixing the problem. 

So now we can relax and give RailStation and USATT time to perfect their new platform, and if their smart, turn it into something that'll be an actual improvement.

One small mistake - the first line of the explanation says, "This site is being replaced by the one at http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Ratings." But this links right back to the ratings page it's on rather than the new ratings platform from RailStation. I've emailed the USATT Webmaster about this and it'll likely be fixed.

One thing I am worried about. RailStation is supposed to also take over the USATT League and its rating system. This is one of those relatively successful programs that flies under the radar until something goes wrong. Currently every month about 45 leagues play about 6000 rated USATT league matches, which is about the same number as USATT tournament matches. (Last month 44 leagues played 5818 league matches; some months have as many as 57 active leagues.) If something goes wrong with this, there are going to be a lot of unhappy league directors and players. (The USATT League was created in 2003 and was originally intended to become a team league as well, but USATT had no interest at the time and so it's become a singles league only.)

Long Pimples for Beginners

Here's an interesting article that explains and graphically shows (with animation) how Long Pips work.

Training Graph

Here's a training graph that applies both to table tennis and all other sports. Follow it closely.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fourteen down, 86 to go!

  • Day 87: Striving to Be Ranked in the Top 5 in All We Do

Great Point

Here's video (44 sec) of a great point between Ma Long and Timo Boll. Timo's on the near side defending most of the point before the tables get turned.

RIP Johnny Leach

The 1949 and 1951 World Men's Singles Champion and one of the greatest choppers in history has died at age 91. Here's the article.

Zhang Jike Won't Allow His Future Children to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Table Tennis Dance Moves

Here's the pictures and other ones from the China Open.

Baby Pong

Here's the picture. As you can see he's returning a short ball to his forehand. To do so he's loosened his grip and tilted the racket backwards with the obvious intent of flipping down the line to the opposing baby's backhand. He's also stepped in over the table with his right leg to get maximum reach toward the ball. Both eyes are focused intently on the ball, something we should all emulate. His left ear is thrust out and extended, allowing him to pick up on the sounds of the ball, which give him clues as to the ball's spin and speed, and, along with his right ear (not visible), allows him to triangulate the position of the ball acoustically. Since he's a relative beginner, he has extremely thin sponge on his racket, allowing maximum control. He has a wide stance allowing quick side-to-side scooting. His left arm rests comfortably on his leg, keeping it rested so it'll be ready for a rapid and powerful rotation as he pulls with his left side on follow-up forehand loops. He's using a legal ITTF certified mouth gear, allowing proper protection of teeth when he clenches his teeth in tense moments of a rally and when he's teething. The long-sleeved shirt keep his playing arm warm during long training sessions in cold weather. All in all, I'd say very nice form and kudos to his coach.

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May 28, 2014

Power Outage and Flooding

There was excitement at MDTTC yesterday, but not for the normal reasons. I was in the middle of a coaching session around 6PM when the thunderstorms hit. We had the doors open to let in air, and so the flashes of lightning lit up the whole club while the thunder practically knocked us down before we got the doors closed. Water pelted the roof like a whale-sized snare drum on steroids in a rock concert. The kids got excited. And then the power went out. The emergency lights went on, but the club was only dimly lit. The power came back on after a minute, then went out again, then came back on. And then, at 6:13PM, it went out and didn't come back on. The kids had a great time playing table tennis in the dark. (I couldn't join in because trying to see in the dim light hurt my eyes.) This was the first time power had gone out for more than a few seconds in the 22 years we've been open.

Meanwhile, we faced another problem. The rain outside was so great it caused some sort of flash flood in our parking lot. The water kept slamming into the walls. There's a storm drain that runs across the parking lot a few feet outside the club, but it wasn't ready for this, and the flooding shot right over it. Most of the wall in front is actually a garage-type door that opens and closes. While it was closed during the storm, apparently there's a small gap underneath, and water began pouring in. This had never happened before, probably due to the storm drain. So water began cascading into the club. The coaches all grabbed various mops and brooms and began to fight it, trying to push the water back out, with some success. (There weren't enough mops and brooms, so I spent some time soaking up water from the floor in a towel and wringing it out over a mop bucket.) It was difficult as we were doing this in the dark. Anyway, we battled the elements for about half an hour. At the end, we'd gotten most of the water out, but the power was still off.

This was a problem as Tuesdays and Fridays are league nights at the club, and we were expecting large numbers of players. We had to cancel everything - somehow they got the word out.

During the height of the storm, with the power out, I decided it would be a good idea to run out to my car and get a flashlight and umbrella. I opened the door, took one look, and decided to go back to soaking up water with a towel. I've seen many a storm, but nothing like this watery violence.

I left the club around 7:30PM. Traffic was a mess. Most of the traffic lights were out. When I got home I was happy to find my power had not gone out, though my front yard was a mess.

Here are some thoughts that come to mind.

  1. Throughout the entire situation, one elderly Chinese player who had been in the middle of a lesson simply took a box of balls and practiced serves the whole time. How he didn't this I don't know, he must have had good eyes as I tried it and could barely see the ball, much less do a serious spin serve.
  2. The kids had a great time playing in the dark. If the power goes out at the U.S. Open, we'll have the most prepared bunch of kids in table tennis. No other club trains its junior players to play in the dark. We welcome players to the dark side.
  3. The only thing scarier than a big, strong player with a powerful forehand loop is a big, strong player with a powerful mop or broom fighting off the elements.
  4. The situation reminded me of the 1993 Junior Nationals, which I ran at the Potomac Community Center in Potomac, Maryland. The tournament ran on Friday night (doubles events), and all day Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon there was a thunderstorm, and sometime that afternoon all the power went out. It didn't come back on that day, so we had to reschedule everything for Sunday. We still managed to finish around dinner time on Sunday. The only other time I remember this happening was at a 4-star tournament in Augusta, run by Pete May, when the power went out. I believe it came back on after a time, so all was well. I think the power once went out for minute or so once at a U.S. Open or Nationals due to a storm.  

Sheeba: Feb. 1998 - May 27, 2014

I had to put my dog Sheeba to sleep yesterday. (She's a corgi mix.) She was 16 years 3 months old, which (based on her size and breed) put her in her early 90s in human years. I got her at a shelter when she was three, so we were together for 13 years. The first twelve years she loved to jump on things, chew, get scratched on the head, and eat bacon snacks. That's the Sheeba I'll try to remember. Over the last year she changed dramatically. She'd barely eat, going from her normal 25 pounds down to 14.9 at the end. She could no longer walk up or down stairs, so I had to carry her outside several times a day. She went completely deaf - if you clapped your hands behind her head there'd be no reaction, not even a flinching of the ears. She went almost blind, and began to regularly walk into walls. The last month or two she was no longer really house trained, so I was cleaning up lots of messes. Her eyes developed some sort of problem that led to their jumping back and forth continuously. A constant river of gooky stuff began coming out of her eyes that would run down her muzzle, which I had to clean off several times a day. The last week she mostly lost her ability to walk due to arthritis and hip problems, falling to the ground every two or three steps. She completely stopped eating her last three days, refusing even her bacon snacks. She was in pain, so the veterinarian and I agreed it was time.

Last Second Flip

Here's a nice video (18 sec, including slow-mo replay) of China's Ma Long looking like he's going to backhand push, then changing to a flip at the last second. While this might be difficult for most players, there are easier variations, such as last-second changes of direction when pushing long or short. In fact, here's a secret for playing against many players, especially junior players. Juniors are almost programmed to react almost instantly to whatever you do. They also tend to serve a lot of short serves to the middle and backhand. If you receive these as if you are going to push to their backhand, they'll begin to react - so if you change directions and push to the forehand instead (either short or quick and deep), they'll get caught over and over. 

The Mental Game: The Pink Elephant on the Court

Here's a sports psychology article directed at junior tennis players, but it applies to table tennis just as well. When the author wrote, "I've heard it all," I was nodding my head.  

97-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency: A Special Invitation to Tour Butterfly

Here's the article, Day 97 in Sheri Pittman Cioroslan's 100-day Countdown. I linked to the first three articles in yesterday's blog.

History of Table Tennis and an Analysis of Spin

Here's a video (10:56) from three years ago that I don't think I've ever linked to, covering the history of table tennis, including a segment on spin.

Neymar Plays Table Tennis

Here's a short article and video (16 sec) on Brazilian soccer star (that's football for you non-Americans) Neymar playing table tennis. (Neymar goes by the one name.)

Table Tennis with Books

I like books. I like table tennis. This is how the game should be played, as demoed by these kids.

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May 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samsonov and Ma Long on the New Plastic Balls

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

The Different Chinese Eras

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

ITTF Pongcast - April 2014

Here's the video (13:22).

NCTTA Best of the Best

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

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here's the article/posting.

Table Tennis Profile Picture

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

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