Ma Long

May 9, 2014

Three Less Obvious Reasons China Dominates

The primary reasons for China's dominance are they train harder, have more players, and have more and better coaches. These are all true. However, the base of the dominance actually comes from three almost iconic changes in their training and playing styles.

First, the more obvious one, was the change from the close-to-the-table pips-out attacking styles that dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as (to a lesser degree) one-winged penhold loopers. By the late 1980s it was obvious that two-winged looping was going to dominate the game, and that the last few successful hitters were mostly hanging on because European loopers weren't used to playing that style. Countries like Sweden brought in pips-out hitting practice partners, got used to playing it, and in the early 1990s China went through a drought as European players dominated the game. Many of the Chinese coaches who had advocated sticking with their traditional pips-out games were replaced, and soon China began dominating with two-winged loopers who were even better than the Europeans. In fact, they revolutionized the game by developing loopers who could stay closer to the table than the traditional European looping style, and soon European loopers were struggling to keep up.

Second, during the 1990s another traditional Chinese style nearly died out - penholders. For a time they nearly disappeared from the world-class rankings. But then players from China developed the reverse penhold backhand, and learned to play their backhands almost the same as a shakehander. It started with Liu Guoliang, then Ma Lin, then Wang Hao (world #6, former #1) and Xu Xin (current #1 in the world). The big question for years was whether the future of penhold play was a combination of reverse penhold backhands for attacking with conventional backhands for blocking, or just reverse penhold backhands, even when blocking. The latter won out. While the pips-out penhold style pretty much died out, the one-winged penhold looping game transitioned into a two-winged penhold looping style that competes evenly with two-winged shakehand loopers.

Third is perhaps the less obvious one to many. China and most Asian countries have traditionally worshipped training, and would drill for hour after hour, day after day, often seven days a week. Because of this the Chinese always had the best players from a technical point of view. And yet, the European men would often battle with them with their obviously "weaker" games. The reason? The Europeans had one ace up their sleeve - they knew the value of constant competition, and they competed constantly in leagues and training matches, as well as drills that mimicked match play. And so their players, while not as technically proficient as the Chinese, knew how to win with what they had, while the Chinese often were more robotic, playing matches as if they were drills. But the Chinese figured this out, and by the turn of the century their coaches had their players playing more and more matches, both in practice and in leagues and tournaments. Events like the Chinese Super League allowed even more matches. They also incorporated more match-type drills into their training.

And so the match-savvy Europeans found themselves up against match-savvy Chinese, and with the Chinese technological superiority, the rest is history. Just browse this listing of World Champions (singles, doubles, teams) and you'll see. They've won Men's Teams seven times in a row and nine of the last ten. (Note that just before that Sweden won three times in a row.) They've won Women's Teams ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20 times.

"Dang"

I have a new official policy. Roughly every 30 seconds while coaching, when playing out points with students, I'll say something along the lines of "I would have gotten to that ball ten years ago," or "Shots like that used to be so easy." Well, this takes up a lot of time and gets repetitive. And so, starting this past week, my new policy is that whenever I can't run down or make a shot that I know, with 100% absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, that I would have made in the past when I was a world-class conditioned professional athlete (stop laughing now), I will just say, "Dang," and my student will know what it means.

Ma Long's Earned Everyone's Respect

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to his two matches in the Men's Final at the Worlds against Germany. Here are videos with the time removed between points: Ma Long vs. Timo Boll (4:07) and Ma Long vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (4:21).

Liu Guoliang Doesn't Blame Zhang Jike

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to the Zhang Jike-Dimitrij Ovtcharov video (31:10); here's a video of the match with time between points removed (5:01).

Table Tennis for the Cure

Here's the article. "A Sheffield man with a brain disorder is battling back to health after a coma – and puts his recovery down to table tennis."

USATT Awarded US Paralympic Grant from US Department of Veterans Affairs

Here's the article.

2014 US Para Team Profiles

Here's the video (11:12), narrated by Stellan and Angie Bengtsson

Selfies from the Worlds

Here's the music video (1:14) of players at the worlds doing selfies to music.

Human Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the picture - though I think he looks more like a big fat onion to me!

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May 2, 2014

Coaches, Heal Thyself! - and Covering the Wide Forehand

I made an interesting discovery while coaching on Wednesday. Over the last few years I've been having more and more problems covering my wide forehand. In drills or free play, when players go to my wide forehand I simply can't get to them very well. Even when blocking forehands if the ball goes a bit outside the corner - an easy block for me in the past - these days I often don't get to it. At age 54 and with on-and-off again knee problems, this is to be expected. Or is it?

Okay, I'll never move as well as I did in the '80s and '90s, but have I really gotten this slow? Apparently not, as I'll explain. During my peak years one of my big strengths was covering my wide forehand, whether blocking, hitting, or looping. My forehand block has always been better than my backhand block, which is somewhat rare - but I've spent so much time blocking with it with practice partners looping forehands that it became a wall, both in drills and games. But now it's like a big hole over there.

I was doing a drill where my student (about a 1600 player) would serve and loop anywhere. I was getting irritated at myself that he kept getting me with loops to my wide forehand. So I asked him to serve and loop a few to my wide forehand so I could practice my forehand block. The first two times he did this I just waved at the ball as it went by - and that's when I realized I was leaning toward the ball instead of stepping. So I forced myself to step to the next one, and lo and behold, suddenly I was able to cover the shot much more easily. I shadow practiced this basic move a few times, then we went back to the serve and loop anywhere drill. And now I was able to (mostly) cover the wide forehand!

What had happened? It seems that as my feet have slowed down in recent years I've felt rushed covering the forehand, and so had started leaning when rushed, which is a bad habit. To cover the wide forehand (whether blocking or any other shot) you have to step to the ball, which is what I teach, what I've done for most of my 38 years of playing, and what I normally do when I have time. But when rushed is exactly when you most need to focus on stepping to the ball, and that's where I'd fallen into a bad habit without really noticing it. If I were still playing tournaments, where I used to regularly analyze my game, I probably would have caught this a lot sooner, or more likely stopped it from ever happening. So if you see me doing quick steps to my right at the club, or in my office, or at the grocery store, you know what I'm practicing.

How about you, dear reader? Have you fallen into any bad habits without noticing it? It's important to regularly analyze your game. One of the ironies of the sport is that many players are constantly learning new things, but unknowingly are almost as rapidly unlearning other things, which is why some players have difficulty improving.

Extremely Busy - TT and SF

I'm in an extremely busy time right now. In the world of table tennis, I'm about to start the final editing phase of my new book, Table Tennis Tips (with special thanks to proofers Kyle Angeles, Scott Gordon, Stephanie, Hughes, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton). I've got my daily blog and weekly tip. I've got about 25 hours total of private and group coaching. I pick up kids after school five days a week to take to our afterschool program. I've got the new MDTTC Newsletter to finalize. Plus a zillion minor things on my todo list, from U.S. Open arrangements to organizing our new Monday night training sessions to doing the accounting for the junior classes I teach. Meanwhile, I'm gearing up for ten consecutive weeks of Mon-Fri training camps this summer, where I do all the talking and much of the organizing. (I do get two of those weeks off - July 1-5 for the U.S. Open, and July 22-26 for the writing workshop I mention below, so I'll only be doing eight of them.)

But it's the world of science fiction & fantasy that's taking up much of my time at the moment. I've got three big projects I'm working on right now. As some of you know, I'm also a novelist. My first novel, Sorcerers in Space came out in November. (It's cheaper if you buy directly from the publisher, Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy retelling of the 1960s U.S.-Soviet space race, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts and cosmonauts.) This is in addition to the anthology of my 30 best published short stories, Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges. ("More Pings and Pongs" will be coming out early next year.)

A publisher is interested in another novel I wrote, "Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates," a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100 (where the whole world has adopted the American two-party electoral system - heaven forbid!). But they want rewrites on several parts. So I just began work on that yesterday - some of you may have seen me yesterday disappearing for several hours in the back room at MDTTC to work on it between coaching sessions. I'm also going to a nine-day writer's workshop this summer, which involves reading and critiquing roughly 300 pages of material. (That's my version of an annual vacation.) Finally, I'm in the middle of a new short story. So I'm currently bouncing back and forth between the worlds of TT and SF like a ping-pong ball. (Or like the souls of famous American generals Washington, Grant, Lee, Pershing, Eisenhower, which I pictured bouncing about on a battlefield - like ping-pong balls - in my fantasy horror story War of the Night.)

But rest assured, it's table tennis that mostly pays the bills, and so table tennis gets top priority.

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Interview at the Worlds with Stefan Feth and Kanak Jha

Here's the interview (3:47) with the USA Men's Coach Stefan and 13-year-old USA Team Member Kanak.

Adam Bobrow and Ma Long Messing Around

Here's the video (1:39) where Adam tries to sidespin chop-lob down the Chinese superstar. Wait'll you see at the end who the cameraman is! (Hint - youngest member of Chinese men's team.) Adam won the ITTF "Voice of Table Tennis" contest and is at the Worlds as their primary broadcaster.

St. Louis Open

Here are the daily press releases by Barbara Wei about the upcoming $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open this weekend. (I linked to the previous ones already.)

Ma Long Playing with No-Arms Player

(I ran this yesterday, but had a bad link, so I'm running it again.) Here's the article and video (65 sec) of Ma Long rallying with Ibrahim Elhoseny, who holds the racket in his mouth.

Ten Table Tennis Champs Staring at Ping Pong Balls

Here's the article and pictures.

Butterfly Ad

Here's a video (45 sec) of a rather interesting Butterfly ad. (Disclaimer: I'm sponsored by Butterfly.) It's mostly animated, with an appearance at the end by Timo Boll.

Jimmy Fallon and Diane Keaton Play Beer Pong

Here's the video (3:23). I don't usually post too much about beer pong, but this one was pretty funny as they competed, and then it devolved into a ball fight, and then they just upended the whole baskets of balls on each other. Here's an article about it, with pictures.

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May 1, 2014

Pips-Out and Other Styles

John Olsen emailed me to point out that two members of the French women's team are shakehanders with short pips on the forehand - Laura Gasnier (age 21, world #144) and Audrey Zarif (age 16, world #148). Here's video of Gasnier - she's the one in the pink shirt. Here's video of Zarif, also wearing pink. I guess pips goes with pink. Is this a sign of this style emerging, perhaps in response to the upcoming plastic balls, which apparently don't spin as well?

Okay, probably not; these players were undoubtedly developing their games long before the announcement that the world was going to non-celluloid balls. And there have always been a sprinkling of shakehanders with short pips on the forehand. In the 1980s and into the 90s Teng Yi was a mainstay on the Chinese National Team (with inverted on the backhand), and Johnny Huang was in the top ten in the world around the late 1990s, with short pips on both sides. Li Jiawei of Singapore was #3 in the world in 2005. And there are a number of others. (Readers, feel free to comment on others below.) So what has happened to this style?

Like most non-looping styles, short pips on the forehand has faced the onslaught of looping reality. The two-winged looping style, and to a lesser degree the one-winged looping style (including chopper/loopers) has pretty much dominated the game for the last decade or more. The reality is this: Why would a coach teach a new player an "inferior" style? And by "inferior," I'm mean a style that might be, say, 1% worse.

Suppose 100 kids were trained at table tennis. Let's suppose 50 were trained as conventional two-winged loopers, and the other 50 at some other style - say, short pips on the forehand or pips-out penholder, or as blockers, or even Seemiller style. Years later, if you examine the results, the two-winged loopers would undoubtedly dominate the ranking list. But guess what? There would be at least a sprinkling of these other styles who would at least battle with the two-winged loopers. But what coach wants to explain years later to his student why he trained him at an "inferior" style? And so essentially everyone is trained as a two-winged looper, with the occasional one-winger, including chopper/loopers. (A number of girls are still trained as hitters, but even that is changing.)

One mystery is why they still train chopper/loopers, but not other "inferior" styles. But there does seem to be some tradition here, and perhaps some players simply like, or are more talented, at a defensive style. But what about, say, pips-out penholders, another traditional style? Very few coaches start out anyone with that style, and so the style is nearly dying out. And so more and more we are getting uniformity in styles. I liked it better when there was more diversity. Most current players under age 30 probably don't even realize how different it was before.

At my club it's the same. Most of the kids we train are shakehanders, with a few penholders, but essentially all are being developed as two-winged loopers, with the penholders all playing reverse penhold backhands. We do have one kid who is developing as a chopper/looper (long pips on backhand), about 1800 at age 12 or so and coming up fast. (Actually, he hits more than he loops, but he'll gradually loop more.) The younger boys and girls tend to hit more, especially on the backhand, but as they develop they'll loop more and more. I had one player who started out about 1.5 years ago at age 11 and did much of his practice time in a basement table with about four feet going back (I went there once or twice a week to coach him there), and so I started to develop him as a hitter - but as soon as he began to understand that most others were loopers, he too wanted to play as a looper, and so now he's a two-winged looper, who even spins his backhand.

Some hypothesize that with the new plastic balls there will be more hitters. My guess is that this won't happen. Like the change to the bigger ball, it just means more emphasis on power, creating even more spin and speed. At the world-class level we're moving down a one-way street, and at the end of the road is a "Loopers Only" sign, with an occasional minority style invited in for diversion.

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll probably run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Adham Sharara Elected to New Position of ITTF Chairman

Here's the article. He's previously announced his upcoming resignation as president. 

Shot of the Day from the Worlds

Here's video (1:09) of a great rally between Feng Tianwei (world #7 from Singapore) and Seo Hyowon (world #8 from South Korea), the latter a chopper. This is one long rally, and we're not talking pushing!

Ma Long Playing with No-Arms Player

Here's the article and video (65 sec) of Ma Long rallying at the Worlds with Ibrahim Elhoseny, who holds the racket in his mouth.

St. Louis Open

Here are three daily press releases by Barbara Wei about the upcoming $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open this weekend. (I linked to the first one previously.)

Slow Motion Table Tennis

Here's the video (5:20). It's not only the best way to study strokes, but it's really the only way to effectively study serves and footwork, which happen too fast in real time to really analyze.

More Giganta Pong

Here's more video (16 sec) of play on a gigantic table made up of four tables and a barrier. They call it 4er table tennis, but I like giganta pong. And here's another version - Angled Pong?

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April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

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

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

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

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

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

The important part is:

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

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

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

Thanks, 
Paul

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

Hi Paul,

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

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

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

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

-Larry Hodges

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

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

Veep

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

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

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

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

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

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

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

WORLD TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

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

USA at the Worlds

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

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

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

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

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

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

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

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

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

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

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

Beetle Bailey on Friday

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

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

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

Table Tennis Epic

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

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February 28, 2014

Making a Living at Table Tennis

I started this article by writing, "Not a lot of people in the U.S. do it," but by the time I was through, I decided to change that to, "A surprising number of people in the U.S do." So who and how does one make a living at this Olympic sport?

  • Professional Players. Right now there's really only one USA player who is basically a full-time professional player, Timothy Wang. Historically we've rarely had more than one or two at a time, though a few times we've had several making a living at it in the German and other European leagues, especially back in the 1980s. (Edit - I'm told that USA's Chance Friend is also a full-time professional player, playing in the German Leagues.) 
  • Coaches. There are a LOT of professional coaches out there. The numbers dwarf where we were just seven years ago, before full-time training centers began popping up all over the U.S.  My club, MDTTC, has seven full-time professional coaches, including me. (The other "full-timers" at my club work longer hours than I do, but I do many of the group sessions.) Four other local clubs have roughly another ten. That makes at least 17 full-time professional coaches within a 45 minute drive of me. There are equal or larger number of coaches in a number of other regions in the U.S., such as the bay area and LA in California, the NY/NJ region, and others. I would guess there are hundreds of full-time professional table tennis coaches in the U.S. right now, all busy plugging away day after day. The irony is that they mostly coach at about 50 clubs, so the other 350 or so USATT clubs never see them, and so most USATT members and leaders are oblivious to what's going on out there. (Want to make a living at table tennis? Then get a copy of the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook!)
  • Staffing at Professional Clubs. Many of these clubs have professional staffing that run the clubs. MDTTC used to have hired staff at the desk, though now the coaches and owners do this. I'm guessing there are several dozen people making a living primarily running professional clubs. Many of them may have other duties - some also coach part-time, as well as run other activities, such as tournaments.
  • Running Tournaments. A number of people run regular tournaments, but how many make a living at it? Primarily North American Table Tennis. They are closely affiliated with JOOLA USA, with some of their staff working for both. Overall, several people are primarily NATT staffers making a living running their North American Tour and the North American Teams. A number of others make a supplementary income from tournaments, but I don't know of others in the U.S. where it is their primary income. 
  • Leagues. Unlike Europe and Asia, there are few large-scale leagues in the U.S., mostly just small clubs ones. I believe Mitch Seidenfeld makes much of his living running leagues in Minnesota, along with other activities. There are large leagues in the New York, SF Bay area, and LA regions, but I believe they are all volunteer run.
  • Dealers. This includes both those who own such businesses, and their staff. The bigger ones are JOOLA, Paddle Palace, Butterfly, and Newgy. (I was shocked recently at how many people now work for JOOLA USA - not all are listed in their staff listing - but I'm not sure they want the exact numbers public.) There are also a lot of smaller dealers. I'd say well over a hundred people make a living in the U.S. this way.
  • Entertainers. The main ones I know of are Scott Preiss, Adam Bobrow, and Soo Yeon Lee. Scott's made a living for several decades as a table tennis entertainer. He's hired by corporations to put on shows, often at equipment expos and conventions. Adam's a stand-up comedian and actor (including lots of voice acting) who more and more is moving into table tennis entertainment. Soo is an actress, model, and does table tennis shows - sometimes playing in high heels! You don't have to be a superstar to do what they do - at their peaks, Scott and Adam were pushing 2200 level, which is good but not great - while Soo, former South Korean junior champion, is about 2450. All three have mastered the art of flamboyant table tennis play, and all have repertoires of trick shots as well as the usual toolbox of spectacular table tennis play, such as lobbing, long-distance serving, smashing, etc.
  • USA Table Tennis. USATT currently has nine people in their staff listing, each making a living at table tennis. I used to work for USATT, as magazine editor for twelve years (also as webmaster and programs director), and as manager/director/coach for four years for the resident training program they once had at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
  • Authors. Every year a number of new table tennis books come out, but they are primarily just added income for the writer. Only one person in the U.S. that I know of is really making substantial money right now as a table tennis writer - ME!!! Last year I actually made more money as a writer than as a coach, though that was primarily because of the surprisingly sales from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. (I've lazily cut down on my coaching hours as a result.) While continued sales of that and my other books will help, I expect my coaching will make more money this year. I also make some money for articles I write, and a small amount from this web page via advertisers.
  • Anything I missed?

USA's Kunal Chodri Picture Featured by ITTF

Here's the article!

Ma Long and Fan Zhendong

Here are two articles featuring these two. Sixteen-year-old phenom Fan recently beat Ma for the first time

Girls in Training

Here's a great music video (3:21) showing top junior girls training in Europe.

Jo Drinkhall Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:24), featuring the British #1 woman.

Florida Colleges

Here's the article, Great Showing from Florida Colleges at Local Tournament.

LA Dodgers Play Table Tennis

Here's the article and a video (7 sec, looping over and over) of pitchers Brian Wilson and Chris Withrow playing. The article claims the Dodgers are better than the Orioles in table tennis, but sorry, it's not even close. I've watched half the Orioles play, and coached three of them, and I've watched this video, and it's like comparing U.S. table tennis to China. The Orioles have 5-6 players who would destroy either of these Dodgers players. JJ Hardy would beat them so bad they'd be sent back to the minors to work on their ping-pong.

Ping Pong Anime Series

It's coming this Spring - here's the article! This reminds me of the old anime cartoon series Ping-Pong Club from the mid-1990s.

Hovering Table

Here it is!

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February 6, 2014

Backhand Games and Random Drills

It seems that recently half my students are challenging me in backhand-to-backhand games. These are games where we put boxes on each side of the table to block off the forehand side of the table, and play a strictly backhand-to-backhand game. If a shot doesn't go to the backhand, or if a player hits a forehand, he loses the point. You'd think I'd dominate this type of game since I can hit a million backhands in a row, but not really. The players quickly learn to match my consistency, while throwing speed, quickness, placement, and variation at me. I've struggled to win games (and sometimes lost) to 12-year-olds with ratings about 700 points lower than mine, as well as to adult players.

What does this mean? It means that, when isolated, they are developing very good backhands. They are learning to do all of the things mentioned above - consistency, speed, quickness, placement, and variation. (Yes, even with only half a table you can move the ball around.) There are times where I'm just pounding the ball with my backhand, and can't get through their steadiness. There are other times where I'm just keeping the ball going, and struggling to find ways to win a point since they aren't missing either, and they are pressing me with all of the attributes mentioned here. (As I regularly remind them, if they find they are pressing because I'm not missing, remember it works both ways - keep coming at me with the same consistency, and I'm the one who'll be pressing because they aren't missing.)

As good as this is, it also exposes one of the "secrets" of table tennis: In a real game, you don't know where the ball is going. In a real game, we wouldn't be going backhand-to-backhand. If we're smart players, we'd both be looking for chance to move the ball around, attacking the middle and wide corners. Without the certainty that the ball's coming back to our backhand side the backhand isn't nearly as strong. It's the ability to react to these random balls all over the table that make up much of the difference in rallying skills between 1500 and 2200.

But the foundation is there. Now I'm doing lots of random drills with them (as they know!), and that will soon pay off just as all the stroking work is now paying off. The most basic one is they keep the ball to my backhand while I put the ball randomly to their forehand and backhand. When they are comfortable against that, I up the stakes and put the ball randomly anywhere on the table, including their middle and wide angles. We also do a lot of random multiball drills. (Did I mention that they are also developing terrorizing forehands?)

New Plastic Balls Approved by the ITTF

Here's the ITTF article.

USATT Reports

Here's a listing of USATT Committee reports, with links to each. I just browsed through most of them. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

Piing of Power - Michael Maze

Here's the video (1:35) that features the lefty Danish star. (I'm not sure why there are two i's.) While currently ranked #28 in the world after injuries to his knees in 2010 (losing nearly a year) and then undergoing hip surgery in December 2012, he was as high as #8 in 2010, and made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the World Championships in 2005, and the quarterfinals in 2009. He was the 2009 European Men's Singles Champion, and the 2004 European Top-12 Champion. He has strong serves and a strong forehand, but is mostly known as probably the best lobber in the world. Maze recently had an "amazing" training session with USA's top cadet and junior, Kanak Jha - here's the short article from USATT, and here's the feature article on Maze, his comeback, and his session with Kanak.

Xu Xin Received Advice from Wang Liqin

Here's the article, with links to several videos. Said Wang, "In the Chinese Team, your brilliant moments are not usually in the good times but in the most difficult times. As long as you can rebound from those difficult moments, then is already indicates that your potential is very big."

Ma Long vs. Yan An

Here's a nice match (3:03, with time between points taken out) between these two Chinese stars at the recent Chinese Trials. (Ma Long in the red shirt.) You can learn a lot by watching how they attack from both wings, but even more by watching their receive. Here's where you can find similar videos of many (or all?) of the matches at the Chinese Trials.

Cerebral Palsy Can't Smash Table Tennis Talent

Here's the feature article on Paralympic star Mike Brown.

Congress is Playing Professional Tournament-Level Ping-Pong With This Nation's Future

Here's the article - and if it's from The Onion, you know it's true!

Ping-Pong Masters

Here's a hilarious video (2:26) that features two (or more?) players in an intense table tennis battle! Lots of special effects, including player cloning.

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January 29, 2014

Angular Momentum Conservation and the Forehand

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Growing Significance of the Backhand Loop

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

U.S. Open Blog

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

Zhang Jike Wins Chinese Team Trials

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

Westchester Joins North American Tour

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

Ping-Pong Ball Boys?

Here's the cartoon!

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December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

No blog tomorrow, see you on Thursday, Jan. 2.

MDTTC Christmas Camp

The highlight of the camp yesterday was, without a doubt, the candy game, which we did the last half hour of the camp, 5:30-6:00 PM. It's an annual tradition in our Christmas Camp - and sometimes other camps, though I can't afford to buy candy for all 12 of our summer camps. (Yes, I'm paying for the candy out of my pocket, not the club.) Here's how the candy game works. I bought several bags of Hershey's chocolate kisses and of Jolly Ranchers (a hard candy the kids like). I pour them all onto the table, and jam them all against the end of the table so they'll fall off easily. Then I feed multiball as the kids take turns trying to knock the candy off, three shots per turn. Anything they knock off they get to keep. (I allow switches, so if they knock off one type of candy, they can trade it for another on the table.) It's great fun, and since the kids know at least two days in advance that we're going to do it, the younger ones especially have incentive to practice their forehands. Essentially all the kids in the camp join in, but I strongly encourage the older, more advanced ones to share with the younger beginners if they win too many, and they go along with that. At the end, there was (as usual) a lot of candy still on the table, and so I let the kids split that up, keeping a handful of Hershey Kisses for myself.

As to actual table tennis, I gave lectures on pushing and an impromptu one for some of the better kids on serving. But for most of the day the focus was on footwork. I introduced the 2-1 drill to most of the younger kids, where they play three shots over and over: a backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, and then a forehand from the forehand corner. (This is the "perfect" drill, as you do three of the four most common moves in table tennis: cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, and step around forehand. What's the fourth common move? Walk to the barriers to pick up the ball.)

The group of 6- to 8-year olds keeps growing, with ten in the camp yesterday, too many for me alone. So Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") assisted me much of the day, with each of us taking five and switching back and forth. There are about 30 in all in the camp.

Regarding the pushing lecture, where I used Crystal Wang as my hitting partner, I went over the basics first. Beginners should start out by letting the ball fall on their racket. As they advance, they learn to take it quicker off the bounce. The pushes should generally be quick off the bounce, with pretty good pace, have good backspin, be low to the net, go deep on the table, go wide to the corners, and players should be able to change directions at the last second. I also cited the importance of doing something with each push, such as rushing the opponent with an extra-quick push, or loading up the backspin against a player who has trouble with that. We also covered and demoed short pushes. I finished by showing them how to sidespin push, especially deep sidespin pushes that break into the opponent's backhand.

Now the bad news. First, the days of standing on my feet feeding multiball have begun to wear down my legs, especially since I had to take much of December off with arm problems, and so wasn't in as good physical shape as usual. Result?

First, I have a blister on my right foot, something I hadn't had in decades.

Second, at around 1AM Sunday morning I woke up in the middle of the night with an excruciating leg cramp in my right hamstring. It was pretty painful, and it's still very sore.

Third, and perhaps worse of all, came at the end of yesterday's morning session. I ended the session as I often do, gathering the younger kids and having them spread out on one side of the tables while I'm on the other. Then I side step side to side very quickly, with the kids trying to stay with me. It's great footwork practice and the kids love it. I only do this for about 30 seconds, and then let the kids take turns leading - all of them want a turn. Unfortunately, during the 30 seconds I led I managed to both wrench my right knee and strain something in the right calf. I was limping the rest of the day.

So my right leg currently has the following, from the bottom up:

  1. Blister in foot
  2. Strained calf
  3. Wrenched knee
  4. Strained hamstring

I don't think any of these things are going to be long-lasting, and since I've got the next few days off, hopefully all will be well by the time I get back to coaching on Fri or Sat.

The good news is the arm problems I battled all December seem to be over (key word: seem), though I won't know for sure until I start private coaching again.

2013 North American Tour Grand Final

It will take place Jan. 11-12, at the ICC club in Milpitas, California. Here is the current lineup of players, and here is the tentative schedule.

ITTF Star Awards

Here's where you can vote for the ITTF Star Awards, in the following categories: Male Star, Female Star, Para Male Star, Para Female Star, Fan's Male Star, Fan's Female Star, and Star Rally. There's also a 62 sec video. You can also reserve your seat for the awards dinner.

Top Spin Documentary

Here's a trailer (4:34) for the upcoming documentary, a "2014 feature-length documentary about American teenagers coming of age in the world of competitive ping pong." Players featured include Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Michael Landers.

Best Ping-Pong Commercials of the Year

Here's a compilation by Table Tennis Nation.

Ma Long & Zhang Jike Table Tennis Football

Here's 24 seconds of the two of them playing table tennis football. Sort of.

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December 4, 2013

Sports Psychology and Sport Psychology Books

After watching and coaching at the Teams, I'm upping the sports psychology training. In fact, I just got out to review my copies of "Get Your Game Face On" by Dora Kurimay, "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey, and "Finding Your Zone" by Michael Lardon. I also discovered that my copy of "Winning Ugly" by Brad Gilbert is missing, and realized I lent it to someone a long time ago and never got it back - so I just ordered a new copy. (A new version came out in May this year anyway.) I also discovered a new book, "Coaches Guide to Sport Psychology" by Rainer Martens which I just ordered. (Dora Kurimay and Michael Lardon are both sports psychologists and top table tennis players. Dora ran a sports psychology session at MDTTC I think in early 2012. "The Inner Game of Tennis" and "Winning Ugly" both use tennis as examples, but the principles apply to all sports, and they are both considered classics that are read by top athletes from every sport.)

I've undergone a lot of sports psychology training, and long ago incorporated much of it into both my game and my coaching. During the four years I was (at different times) manager, director, and/or assistant coach at the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (1985-89), the players often had weekly group sessions with the sports psychologists there, which I normally attended. Many had private sessions as well. But I think it'd be valuable for me to go back and review all the stuff I learned so long ago.

At the Teams it was interesting watching the different responses to tournament pressure by different players. Here are four of them, all ages 12 or 13. All four of them read my blog (at least sometimes), as do some of their parents, so I'm guessing they'll recognize themselves!

Player A was a vintage case of nervousness under pressure. He had difficulty throughout matches overcoming this, and especially when it got close. I'm going to be working with him on this as it really hampers his play as he tends to stand up straight, freeze up, and miss shots over and over that he makes pretty consistently in practice games at the club.

Player B seemed on edge much of the time, but was able to play well in spite of this - but it affected his tactics as he often was afraid to attack. Especially against weaker players he'd just push, chop, fish, and lob, even if he was losing. When he'd fall behind, he'd finally work up the nerve to attack, and then he'd start winning again - and then he'd stop attacking again. He needs to gain confidence in his game, which includes attacking.

Player C seemed to guide his shots early in games rather than just let them go, especially with his forehand loop, his best shot. But in contrast to most players, as it got close, he seemed to get looser, and his shots more fluid. He needs to work on relaxing early on, perhaps by pretending it's already deuce.

Player D wasn't really nervous, but he kept having slow starts as if he couldn't quite get up for the match. Then he'd turn it on and play really well for several games. But late in matches, especially in fifth games, he seemed to lose focus and get careless with his shots. He also is too easily distracted by outside things, which affects his play and leads to some matches where he's mentally not there. I have a few focus drills I want to try on him - one of which is where he practices serves while I try to distract him with "trash talk," and he has to just tune me out. (This is based on the famous Tiger Woods drill where he'd practice at the driving range while his dad would try to distract him.)

I'm working out plans for these players so they can overcome these problems, and ideally turn them into strengths. There's a reason why so many top players say the game is mostly mental. I'll likely be assigning some reading to these players.

While pulling out my sports psychology books, I also pulled out my copy of "Successful Coaching" by Rainer Martens, the best-selling coaching book in America. It also covers sports psychology. The five sections are:

  1. Developing a Coaching philosophy
  2. Sport Psychology
  3. Sport Pedagogy
  4. Sport Physiology
  5. Sport Management

So I'll be reviewing this book as well. (And I still have to read "The Next Step," so I've got some busy reading coming up.)

Difficulty Level of Table Tennis Techniques

Here’s an article that judges the relative difficulty level of various table tennis techniques, and puts them in five categories, from easiest (the counter-hit) to most difficult (topspin against topspin, i.e. counterlooping, and chopping against topspin).

Random Thoughts of a Table Tennis Nut from a Basketball-Crazy Nation

Here’s the essay from fellow TT nut Lorenzo Antonio Angel.

Ma Long for Super League’s Most Valuable Player

Here’s the article.

Ma Long and Yan An Backhand Topspin Training

Here’s the video (1:56).

Snoopy

Here’s a new picture of Snoopy playing table tennis. Here’s another one where he looks like Mr. Cool.

Never Underestimate Your Opponents

Here’s a hilarious new video (2:14) of two guys who underestimate the level of play of the two girls who ask to play. The two women are Austrian stars Amelie and Petrissa Solja.

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November 27, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Teams

This will be my last blog until Monday. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, so I’m taking the day off, and Fri-Sun I’ll be coaching at the North American Teams in Washington DC. I’ll have lots to write about when I return! Here’s a picture of the facility as they are about to set up the tables.

Preparing for the Teams

This week I’m preparing players for the Teams. Compared to normal, that means fewer rote drills, and more random drills. I do a lot of multiball training, but the focus now is on random shots and simulating match play.  We’re also doing a lot of game-type drills, such as where the student serves backspin, I push back anywhere, he loops, and we play out the point. I’m also making sure they are ready to do the “little” things, such as pushing, blocking, and serving. And we play more games at the end of each session. There’s also the psychological aspect. I keep reminding the players that they need to go into the tournament with their minds clear and ready to play. I also want to keep the sessions fun – I don’t want the players too stressed out over getting ready for three days of almost non-stop competition. I want to see determination, but not grim determination.

USATT Magazine and Membership Rates

I blogged yesterday about the problem with USATT likely moving USATT Magazine in-house. A separate question that comes up periodically is whether it should continue as a print magazine or just go online. There’s an easy solution: go online, with a print option. The editor simply does the magazine as if it’s going to print, which means a PDF version. Then he puts the PDF version online, perhaps with a password required so only members can access it. Those who want a print version, such as myself, would pay extra – and with “print on demand” publishing, it’s easy to send the PDF to the printer and print out only as many copies as needed. This is an obvious solution I’ve pointed out over the years.

The real question is whether current members who are already paying $49/year (too much) should pay still more for the print version, or whether those choosing not to receive the print version should get a discount. I’m for the latter. We keep raising our membership rates and keep wondering why membership stays stagnant; gee, I wonder why? I remember a while back when USATT raised the annual rate in one year from $25 to $40 – and they budgeted as if membership would stay constant! At the time membership had reached 8800. I got into a heated debate with the entire room – all 13 board members – both on the silliness of constantly raising the rates while simultaneously trying to find ways to increase membership, and on the even further silliness of expecting membership to stay constant. All 13 believed raising the rate would have little effect on membership numbers, with one of them explaining to me, “If they’re willing to pay $25, they’re willing to pay $40.” I pointed out that based on that logic, every item in a store that costs $25 should cost $40 (and the logic really applies to all items), but I was told I was wrong. I’m just a coach and a writer, so what do I know about business?

One year later membership had dropped to 7000, and the USATT board spent a marathon session cutting everything since they had budgeted for 8800 members. I was in the room snickering as they did this. And you wonder why I can never convince USATT to do the obvious stuff, not to mention the more difficult things? Maybe if I’d worn a tie at that meeting instead of a warm-up suit I could have been more convincing. (I’m told that, after a decade of slowly recovering, membership is again now close to 9000 or so, though I haven’t seen any membership reports anywhere. I’m guessing at any time the rates will go up again, and we’ll see another big drop. Alas.)

USATT Tips of the Day

Below are the USATT Tips of the Day since last Friday. These are from the 171 Tips of the Week I did for them from 1999-2003 as “Dr. Ping-Pong.” (Click on link for complete tip.)

Nov 26, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Floppy Wrist Flip
When an opponent serves short to the forehand, many players reach in and return it with a nearly stiff wrist, and invariably go crosscourt with a forehand flip.

Nov 25, 2013 Tip of the Day - Back Up Slightly When Opponent Backs Up
Suppose you’ve hit a quick, hard shot, and your opponent has moved five feet back to return the ball with a counterdrive or soft topspin. 

Nov 24, 2013 Tip of the Day - Aim One Way, Go the Other
Many players develop strong rally shots. However, they are often very, very predictable. An opponent can anticipate where each ball is going early in your stroke, and so always has lots of time to get to the ball.

Nov 23, 2013 Tip of the Day - Go Down the Line From Wide Forehand
When an opponent goes to your wide forehand, they give you an extreme angle into their wide forehand.

ITTF Coaching Course in Singapore

Here’s the ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 Course that was just taught in Singapore by USA’s Richard McAfee. (I linked to the photos yesterday.)

Best of the Chinese Super League

Here's the video (7:31).

Xu Xin on the Mini-Table (and an Interview)

Here’s the video (4:18) of world #1 Xu Xin of China versus TableTennisDaily’s Dan, on a mini-table with over-sized rackets! (And yes, Xu the penholder is playing shakehands here.) And for the more serious-minded, here’s Dan’s interview with Xu.

Little Girl Phenom

Here’s video (21 sec) of a girl, maybe five years old, drilling at a rather high level – watch out China! I believe she’s from the Mideast; can anyone translate what the comments say?

Ma Long’s Amazing Shots

Here’s the video (42 sec), with four Chinese players all counterlooping crosscourt, including Ma Long (near right) with Wang Liqin. Watch what happens right after 30 sec. First, Ma Long does a rather interesting forehand sidespin chop-block. Then he switches hands and counterloops the other two player’s ball.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here’s the video (1:57) of someone with a series of great trick shots! I especially like the very last one, where he’s rallying with a girl with two balls, but catching each of her returns and quickly feeding it to continue. I may try that out in my coaching sessions today.

Happy First Birthday to Uberpong

Here’s their birthday cake!

How to Make a Ping-Pong Ball Turkey

Here’s the article!

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