June 5, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

I had a number of coaching sessions yesterday. (This was after running around picking some of them up at two schools for our afterschool program.) The last two were rather interesting in that I introduced them to playing against long pips. I keep a huge racket case with five different rackets inside. (I've had this racket case since 1988 – Cheng Yinghua gave it to me the year he came to the U.S. as a practice partner/coach for our resident training program in Colorado Springs, where I was at various times manager/director/assistant coach.)

The rackets are: A long pips with 1mm sponge chopping racket; a long pips no-sponge pushblocking racket; a racket with antispin and inverted; one with short pips and inverted; a pips-out penholder racket; and a defensive hardbat. (I also have an offensive hardbat that I myself use in hardbat competitions, which I keep in a separate racket case in my playing bag.) I pull these rackets out as necessary for students to practice against or with.

I pulled the rackets out at the end of the first player's session, and invited the other player who was about to begin to join in. Then I went over the rackets, explaining each one. (The players were Daniel, age nine, about 1450, and Matt, about to turn 13, about 1650.) Neither had ever seen antispin before. They had played against long pips a few times, but didn't really know how to play it. They had seen hardbat and short pips, but hadn't played against them much, if at all. (I found it amazing they hadn't played against short pips, which used to be so common, but that surface has nearly died out. Just about everyone at my club uses inverted. I know of only one player at the club using short pips, the 2200+ pips-out penholder Heather Wang, who practices and plays against our top juniors regularly, so they are ready if they ever play pips-out players.)

I pulled out the long pips racket with no sponge, and let them play against it. They quickly figured out that when they looped, my blocks came back very heavy and often short. They also discovered that if they gave me backspin, my pushes had topspin. After I suggested trying no-spin, Daniel quickly became proficient at giving me a deep dead ball to the deep, wide backhand, and then stepping around and loop killing my dead return.

Since Matt was my last session and I could go late, I let them hit together for a while. They took turns with the rackets, with Daniel especially trying out all the rackets. He likes playing defense, and ended up using the chopping blade with long pips for about ten minutes against Matt's looping. When learning to play these surfaces, it's important not only to practice against them, but also to try using them so you can see first-hand what the strengths and weaknesses are.

One results of all this - Daniel's dad bought him a copy of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. Soon they will know all the intracacies of playing long pips and all other tactics as well!

On Monday in the segment about the WETA filming I blogged about how I'd hurt my right knee and shoulder. I was toying with getting someone to do my hitting in my private sessions yesterday, but decided the injuries weren't too bad. I managed to get through the sessions without aggravating them. The knee and shoulder are still bothering me, but I think if I'm careful I'll manage to get by. Just don't let any of my students know or they'll start lobbing (exit shoulder) or going to my wide forehand (exit knee). Shhh!

Tactics for Playing Backhand Dominant Players

Here's the article.

2014 Stiga Trick Shot Showdown

It's back! Here's the info page, and here's info video (1:16). The Grand prize is $4000, a trip to the World Tour Grand Final, and a one-year Stiga sponsorship. Second is $2000, third is $500 in Stiga gear. Deadline is Sept. 5. But let's be clear – the rest of you are all playing for second because nobody, Nobody, NOBODY is going to beat the incredible trick shot I will do this year . . .once I come up with one.

Liu Guoliang Criticizes Reform on World Championships.

Here's the article. I've always had mixed feelings on Chinese domination of our sport. It's true that it takes much of the interest away. However, China has done about all it can to help the rest of the world. It's opened up and allowed its top players to go to other countries as coaches – pretty much anyone who makes a Regional team in China (and they have over 30, with most of them stronger than the USA National Team) can become a lifelong professional coach in some other country. A major reason for the increase in level and depth in U.S. junior play in recent years is the influx of Chinese coaches, who have been opening up full-time training centers all over the country. It sort of reminds me of martial arts back in the 1960s and '70s, when Korean and Chinese coaches opened up studios all over the U.S.

ITTF China World Tour Interview with Ariel Hsing

Here's the video (1:04).

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. Thirteen down, 87 to go!

  • Day 88: Interview with Vladimir Samsonov, Chair of the Athletes Commission

Zhang Jike Multiball

Here's the video (1:55) of him training just before the 2013 Worlds. I don't think I've posted this, but if I have, it's worth watching again.

Table Tennis Physical Training

Here's the video (21 sec). Why aren't you doing this?

News from New York

Here's the article.

Incredible Rally

Here's video (27 sec) of one of the more incredible rallies you'll ever see. It doesn't say who the players are, though the player on the near side might be Samsonov – I can't tell, though it looks like his strokes. (You see his face right at the end of the video, and I'm not sure but I don't think that's him.) (EDIT: several people have verified that the player on the near side is Samsonov, and the one on the far side is Kreanga. [Alberto Prieto was the first to do so.] Kreanga's a bit blurry in the video, but I should have recognized his strokes!)

Ping Pong Summer in Maryland

Tomorrow I'm seeing the 7:30 PM showing of Ping Pong Summer at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. Anyone want to join me? (Email me or comment below.)

Ping Pong Summer Challenge

Here's video (2:58) where members of the cast of the movie are challenged to drink a soda while bouncing a ping pong ball on a paddle. Those challenged were actors Marcello Conte, Myles Massey, Emmi, Shockley, and writer/director Michael Tully.

Octopus Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (34 sec) – and this might be the funniest table tennis video I've ever seen! It's an extremely well animated giant octopus playing table tennis simultaneously on four tables. You have to see this.

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January 24, 2013

Table Tennis and Weather

We had nearly two inches of snow last night here in Germantown, Maryland, and it's 16 degrees outside. This is is the first snow we've had this winter, and it's by far the coldest. This got me thinking about table tennis and weather - and here's a short list of how weather has affected table tennis!

SNOW - The North American Teams Championships in Baltimore used to be the U.S. Open Team Championships in Detroit. (It moved to Baltimore and was renamed in 1998.) I began playing table tennis in 1976, and started going to the Teams for the first time that November. For the next three years (1976-78) I got a ride up with Jim Mossberg, a ten-hour drive. One of those years we were hit with a snowstorm in Detroit. We planned to drive back starting Sunday night. However, the snowstorm forced us to check into a hotel. The snow kept coming down, and we weren't able to return home until Wednesday. (I did some checking, and there were heavy snows in Detroit in November of 1977 and 1978, so it was one of those years - I think 1977.)

COLD - Players sometimes make the mistake of leaving their racket in the trunk of their car when driving long distances to tournaments. This leaves the sponge cold and dead. At one tournament a player had this problem, but he had a simple solution - he got out a hair dryer and warmed his racket up! (If a cold racket plays dead, wouldn't a very warm on play faster and bouncier? Perhaps players should heat up their rackets before big matches with a hair dryer? I may have just revolutionized the game. Or perhaps umpires and referees will soon be forced to take the temperature of both players' rackets before a match. I've opened a can of worms here.)

HOT - I moved to North Carolina in 1979 for two years to train at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center in Wilson. They had no air conditioning. This was in the South. When I trained there the summers of 1979-1981, the temperature was regularly over 100 degrees and humid. You get used to it.

RAIN - I did an outdoor exhibition once with Scott Preiss in Colorado Springs. It began to rain, along with gusts of wind. Ever tried doing an outdoor exhibition in the rain and wind?

WIND - I did another outdoor exhibition in Baltimore in the late 1990s. It got windy, and so I developed a new shot: the power lob into the wind! If you do it just right, the wind blows the ball back onto the table. If the wind is coming from the side, you hit sideways and let the wind curve it back. If you are hitting into the wind, you hit off the end and let it blow it back. If you are hitting with the wind, just hit straight up (or even backwards), and let the wind carry it over.

THUNDERSTORMS - I ran the 1993 Junior Nationals in Potomac, Maryland. A storm raged outside, and suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, the power went out. It didn't come back on that day, so play stopped. After lots of rescheduling, we managed to run the rest of the tournament on Sunday. Power has actually gone out in a few other tournaments I've been to, but it always came back on relatively quickly.

FOG - Just last month, as a group of us were at BWI airport to fly to the Nationals in Las Vegas, they started to cancel all the flights out due to heavy fog. Ours was one of the last to be cancelled. As a result, we weren't able to fly in the day before. Most of us flew in on Wednesday, arriving after the morning events (with several of our players not arriving in time for Under 21).

SLEET - We have a relatively steep hill outside the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Every now and then we have sleet that makes it so slippery that some cars can't climb it. The good news - there's a parking lot at the top of the hill, so anyone can park there.

HUMIDITY - Ever try looping against a fast incoming ball, or blocking a loop, when it's humid? It's like playing hardbat. The best solution - have two towels, one for you, and one for just your racket and the ball, and keep drying the ball and racket.

EARTHQUAKE - This isn't exactly weather, but close enough. On August 11, 2011, we had the infamous east coast earthquake. At the time I was meeting with a physical therapist, who was working on my back problems. When the ground began shaking, we all ran outside. Later I stopped by the Maryland Table Tennis Center - they had already cleaned things up, but lots of things had been knocked off shelves. The players at the club when the quake hit had stopped play and also run outside. I'm guessing California is used to this sort of thing, but seriously, how often have you had to call a let because of earthquake?

AIR QUALITY - Here are two quick stories. First, way back in 1983, players at the old Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club began to feel woozy, including me. I was one of the first to go outside for air. I woke up in a hospital. Turned out that a neighboring business had left some machinery on, which was spewing out carbon monoxide into the club. Over 20 of us were hospitalized. There were many lawsuits. I received $600 in mine.

And now we jump to the present, where France has invaded England with "Le Pong," as "Households in Kent awoke to the stench of rotten eggs, cabbage and garlic wafting across the channel yesterday after the accidental release of a cloud of mercaptan gas from a factory in Rouen." Here's the article (care of Carl Danner)!

Word Clouds

I made a word cloud of the entire text of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, all 99,534 words. It was created at, which does a count of the most popular words and creates a cloud of words based on them, with the most popular words the largest, relative to their popularity. (They don't use all words or "the" would dominate.)

Develop Speed and Power with Plyometric Training

Want to add speed and power to your game? Here's an article on plyometric training for table tennis coach Ben Larcombe. (It's actually part of Table Tennis Master competition for best table tennis articles, with the deadline for voting today. If you like this or any of the other articles, all you have to do to vote is to "like" it.)

Meiklejohn North American Senior Championships

The entry form is online. If you are over age 40 this is your tournament. Besides rating events (where everyone's 40 or over, so no vastly under-rated wildly-attacking juniors), doubles events, and hardbat, there are age events from Over 40 all the way up to Over 90!

Mizutani Boosting Boycott

Here's an article about Jun Mizutani of Japan (world #10, #5 last summer) boycotting international competitions in response to illegal boosting. This is one of those under-the-radar things, where more and more world-class players (nearly all, some say) use these boosters to add to the speed and spin of their racket, just as speed glues used to do before they became illegal.

China to Give Up an Olympic Medal?

At the recent Olympic and Paralympic Commission Meeting, China proposed adding Mixed Doubles to the Olympics. However, since this would add extra time to the schedule, they proposed that countries could only enter 4 out of the 5 Olympic events, meaning that there would be at least one event that China could not compete in. Here's a link to the meeting minutes (PDF format) - see the fifth bullet point in item #5, "Olympic Games 2012."

Put Your Face on a Racket!

Or any other picture. You can do it at Uberpong. (If you create a really interesting one, send me the image and I'll publish it here.)

Ping-Pong Ball Swimming Pool

Table Tennis Nation brings us a ping-pong ball swimming pool, with pictures and video.

Ping-Pong Drinking Games

I'm a non-drinker, simple as that. So I'll never be playing conventional beer pong. However, just reading over these 45 drinking games makes me want to rethink this!!! I want to play Civil War Pong! Battleship! Gretzky Style! Murder Ball! Mr. Teague! Pitcherball! And Spiderweb!

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August 16, 2012

Training Centers and Their Impact

Yesterday, in the Washington Post article on MDTTC (see yesterday's blog), it said, "Hodges campaigned for the U.S. Table Tennis Association to copy his blueprint, which he believed was the way to expand the sport." I'm going to expand on that.

In December, 2006, I spent a huge amount of time putting together a proposal to USATT to start recruiting and training coaches to set up junior programs and training centers. At the Board meeting at the Nationals I made the proposal. The response? Two board members ridiculed the idea of "full-time training centers," saying there weren't enough players to support such a thing, and so it wouldn't really affect the development of players in this country. The others in the room were mostly quiet.

The mind-boggling ignorance of such statements from people with no experience in such full-time training centers was, well, mind-boggling. The whole point of the proposal was that you'd recruit the players (especially juniors in junior programs), and simply do what MDTTC and several other training centers had already done successfully.

After I was done with my proposal, there was polite applause from the Board, it was checked off the agenda, and they moved on to the next item. I went through a very similar experience at the 2009 Strategic Meeting. The leaders of our sport, both then and now, just don't get this aspect of our sport (or about developing leagues, anther topic I've blogged about in the past), and so the development of our sport is really left up to those of us with the entrepreneurial spirit to do it on our own. This usually means having to reinvent the wheel over and over since there is no organization to oversee the recruitment and training of such coaches and promoters.

At the time of my presentation there were about ten training centers in the country, as I noted in the proposal. Now there are over fifty. I'm looking over the listing of top junior players for the various age groups from the Nov/Dec 2006 USATT Magazine, and comparing it to the most recent ones, July/August 2012. Each listing shows the top 15. (There are some foreign players listed in both listings, but they do not greatly affect the overall picture. I did a similar comparison in my blog about a year ago, but the comparisons are so stunning they deserve repetition.) Especially look at the added depth by comparing the #15 then and now! Nearly all of the addition players in the rankings come from full-time training centers, where large groups of junior players train together with full-time professional coaches. And the result? (And note that the finalists in Men's and Women's Singles at the last Nationals - Peter Li and Han Xiao, and Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang - all came from full-time training centers.)

Under 18 Boys: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2418, which would have been #13 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2625. The #15 player in 2006 was 2159; the #15 now is 2387.

Under 16 Boys: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2418, which would have been #6 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2522. The #15 player in 2006 was 2087; the #15 now is 2310.

Under 14 Boys: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2323, which would have been #6 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2420. The #15 player in 2006 was 1870; the #15 now is 2153.

Under 12 Boys: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2044, which would have been #10 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2235. The #15 player in 2006 was 1440; the #15 now is 1916.

Under 10 Boys: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2044, which would have been #1 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2008. The #15 player in 2006 was 620; the #15 now is 1170. (Addendum: the #2 player in 2006 was only 1495, while the current #2 is 1920.)

Under 18 Girls: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2330, which would have been #4 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2548. The #15 player in 2006 was 1811; the #15 now is 2112.

Under 16 Girls: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2113, which would have been #7 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2329. The #15 player in 2006 was 1620; the #15 now is 2002.

Under 14 Girls: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2029, which would have been #7 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2261. The #15 player in 2006 was 1432; the #15 now is 1786.

Under 12 Girls: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 2029, which would have been #3 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2105. The #15 player in 2006 was 553; the #15 now is 1213.

Under 10 Girls: In 2006, the #1 player was rated 894, which would have been #12 in the current listing. The current #1 is 2105. The #15 player in 2006 was 80; the #15 now is 372.

The Difference Between Ignorance and a Moron

See this article in Time. "The table tennis players don’t have to run, jump, or be particularly strong. They don’t have to move around all that much. They just don’t pass the Olympics smell test." A person who doesn't know about something is ignorant, and there's nothing wrong with that; everyone is ignorant of most things. A person who is ignorant of something but believes he knows all about it is a moron. You, Sean Gregory, are a moron. 

Futuristic Table Tennis

Yesterday I linked to the video showing players playing on a table that seemed shark infested. The sharks were actually projections from a projector. Here's another video showing this (2:09). About 48 seconds in they change to projecting the path of the ball onto the table. Somehow they have equipment that detects the path of the ball and projects it onto the table a split second after the ball has traveled that path.

China Brings Its Past to Ping-Pong’s Birthplace

Here's an article in the New York Times about Table Tennis, China, England, Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and some history.

Iran Trailblazer

Here's an article about Neda Shahsavari, the first Iranian woman to compete in the Olympics.

Highlights from the Worlds

Here's a highlights video (10:57) of the best points from the 2012 World Championships.

Three Limericks

There once was a player whose smash,
Was so good that he always talked trash,
"I'm the greatest!" he cried,
And his sponsors replied,
By sending him boatloads of cash.

There once was a player who cheated,
And worse still the guy was conceited,
His bearing was regal,
But his serves were illegal,
And so he was never defeated.

There once was a player whose serve,
Had so much sidespin it would curve,
To the left and the right,
And then out of sight,
Leaving us with no balls in reserve.


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August 09, 2012

Car Accident

It happened yesterday morning at 9:35 AM, while I was driving to the club to coach in our training camp. I was just driving along, minding my own business, and about to go through an intersection (Middlebrook Rd. and Century Blvd.) when a Metro Access mini-bus suddenly pulled right in front of me from the left. I swerved to the left, trying to go behind it, and would have made it except the driver, compounding her error in pulling into my lane, panicked and rather then rushing to get out of my way, put on the breaks, stopping right in the middle of the road and blocking two lanes. I had nowhere to go and so plowed right into it, near the back on the side.

I had the right of way, with a green light. The bus driver had been coming from the other direction and was making a u-turn. There was some construction going on in the road on her side, and she claimed a worker had waved her through.

No one was hurt (the bus had I believe three passengers), but the front of my car was smashed in. The bus had little damage, comparatively, other than a surprisingly small dent. (The advantage of having a higher mass.) Though it looked like something from The Living Dead, my car seemed to drive okay, and I was able to pull into an Exxon station next to us, where we exchanged contact and insurance info. Then I drove to a local auto body place. From there I spent about an hour on the phone with my insurance company (Geico), which will deal with getting the Metro insurance company to pay for the damages to my car.

Someone from the auto body place gave me a ride to the club, and I showed up at 11:20AM. (Camp started at 10AM. I'd called right after the crash to let the other coaches know I'd be late.) The rest of the camp went pretty much normal, other than Channel 9 News filming us (see below), and the camp ended at 1PM. I stayed late to do one private coaching session, and then went home to deal with the paperwork involving the car crash. Around 4PM I got a rental car (insurance will pay), and at 6PM I was back at the club coaching.

MDTTC Training Camp Week Nine Day Three

Yesterday's highlight was Channel 9 News/WUSA coming in to do a feature story on Timmy La, a local who is training for the 2016 Paralympics in Standing Disabled. They took lots of pictures, and Timmy and I were interviewed. Afterwards, the reporter got a kick out of watching (and videoing) one of the games at the end, where I put a giant rubber frog on a table, divided the beginners into two teams, and they took turns trying to hit it, with the first to hit it 20 times winning.

One of the kids I was working with made a big breakthrough on the forehand loop. After struggling with technique for quite some time - always rushing, off balance, flat contact, etc. - things suddenly came together. The key seemed to be a focus on "rocking" into the shot, which took out some of the more spastic elements of his stroke which led to the problems. We did a bunch of extra multiball on this to make sure it was ingrained. We'll work on it more tomorrow.

Olympic Coverage

As noted in previous blogs, you can get full Olympic Table Tennis coverage at the ITTF page.

China Falling Out of Love for Table Tennis?

Here's an article in The Atlantic on whether China is losing interest in their "National Sport."

Table Tennis in the Times

While it has a few inaccuracies (Ariel Tsing?) and hints that table tennis isn't much of a physical sport, here's an otherwise interesting article on table tennis from the Washington Times, "A sport for nerds maybe, but Ping-Pong makes Olympians of us all."

Journalists Take Up Olympic Sports

NBC15 assigned 15 of its reporters to take up an Olympic sport and do coverage of it. (Guess that's why they are NBC 15.) See the link to the table tennis video. 

Grubba-Saive Exhibition

Here's a hilarious and spectacular exhibition (7:36) by Andrzej Grubba and Jean-Michel Saive. You know it's going to be good when 18 seconds in Saive's sitting in a chair and lobbing.


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July 10, 2012

Staying Low

This past weekend I watched a 10-year-old I coach in matches at the club. I was grimacing as I watched him stand up nearly straight while receiving and in rallies, leading to awkward shots, especially on the backhand drive and forehand loop. So guess what the focus was in his lesson yesterday? Yes, staying low. For much of the hour I harped on staying down, with knees slightly bent, legs a bit wider. The result? His backhand drive and forehand loop shot up, and he moved much better. Near the end, we played points, and he was able to serve and loop better than he'd ever done before. In rallies, he could cover his backhand and hit real backhands, which had been a serious weakness.

Staying low helps you in multiple ways. First, by bending your knees, it gives you a quicker start. If the knees are straight, then before you can move you have to bend them, which wastes time. Second, it lowers your center of gravity, giving you more leverage in moving quickly. Third, with the legs wider, it allows you to stay balanced even on the move, since it's easier to keep the center of gravity between the legs. Fourth, with the knees bent, it makes it easier to step to the ball rather than lean. And fifth, it gets the coach out of your hair.

Can China Sweep the Olympics (Again)?

Here's an article in the China Daily on their chances, as well as going over their players and the opposition. From a mathematical point of view, if the Chinese have a 84% chance of winning in each of the four events, then their chances of sweeping are (.84)^4=.498, or only about 50%. Even a 90% chance in each event gives them about a 66% of sweeping.

Ariel Hsing versus Uncles Bill and Warren

Here's a video (1:57) by the Wall Street Journal that revisits U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her battles at shareholder meetings with Uncle Bill Gates and Uncle Warren Buffett, as well as against Wall Street Journal Reporter Jared Diamond.

Ping-Pong, Senior Style

Here's a video about a documentary on octogenarian table tennis. It has some nice sequences and interviews. The actual documentary, "Ping Pong: Never Too Old For Gold," is now out in limited release. 

Paralympic Backhand

So you think you have backhand problems?

The Ping Festival in England

The Ping Festival (2:56) features street table tennis, costumes, ducks playing table tennis, big paddles, long-handled paddles, mayors, and things I can't even describe.

Roger Federer vs. Ma Lin

On Sunday, Federer won Wimbledon. Now he's trying to beat the Chinese.


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January 17, 2012

One-year Anniversary

Yes, it was on January 17, 2011 that I did my first blog entry here. That's was mostly an intro to the site, with a few coaching news items. The January 18, 2011 entry was where things began to take off! ("The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players," "The Backhand No-Spin Serve From the Forehand Court" (see the context), and a couple of other news items.) And then on January 19, 2011 we covered "Closing Out a Match" and "The Carrot and Celery Diet" - yes, that's when I started on my diet, going from 196 lbs to 174, which is my current weight.

And here we are, 248 blog postings later!

Drive-Smash Day

Yesterday was "Drive-Smash Day" during my coaching, with three sessions with three semi-beginning junior players. This is a drill where the player hits a regular drive, and then smashes, and then another drive, then a smash, and so on, alternating. The drive gets the rally back under control and helps the player work on his stroke, and then he gets to practice smashing. It also helps develop timing as they play at different speeds. It's done both forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, and either crosscourt or down the line. (One variation I just thought of I haven't done is they drive down the line, then smash crosscourt, or perhaps the reverse. Have to try that one.) 

A variation for more advanced players is to do this looping - something I plan to introduce to some students next week, both with regular drills and multiball. In this case the player does a regular loop, and then loops one very hard, and continues alternating.

A key for this drill is not to press too hard on the forehand smash or hard loop - let the naturally body rotation provide the power. Many players try to muscle the ball, and end up with a sort of jerky or spastic shot as they try to power the ball mostly with the arm. One thing I like to demonstrate is that you should be able to smash or loop at near full power while carrying on a conversation. (I say "near" full power because you shouldn't think of using "full" power as that leads to trying to muscle the ball. You actually get full power by letting the body swing naturally into the ball on the forehand, but it may seem like less than full power.)

Another article on Vitali Klitschko

Yesterday we linked to an article on world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and his table tennis. Here's another one, this time with a picture!

World-class table tennis in slo-mo

Here's a video of world-class play in slow motion (1:49).

Austin Preiss training in China

Here's a video of Austin Preiss training in China (2:34) at age 7 in 2002, ten years ago. He was only rated about 1100 at the time. He'd spent much of the next decade touring with his father, Scott, who does exhibition shows full-time for a living (see

Judah Friedlander

Here are five things you didn't know about him - see #3! I've coached him on and off over the years when he's been in Maryland, usually on holidays - he's actually from Maryland, though he lives in NYC where he stars in the TV comedy 30 Rock and does standup comedy. He has a USATT rating of 1515. Part of his standup routine is that he's the "World Champion" at everything, including table tennis. Here are some pictures of him playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 (with Spider-man) photo4 (Anna Kournikova on right) photo5 (L-R: Table Tennis Superstar Mikael Appelgren, Friedlander, Actress Susan Sarandon, Table Tennis Superstar Jan-Ove Waldner).


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December 9, 2011

Hidden Service Rules

From the just-received Nov/Dec 2011 issue of USATT Magazine, page 62, from the An Official's View article by International Umpire Joseph C. H. Lee:

[He quotes a service rule.] "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

[He quotes another service rule.] "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

"From the umpire’s angle, sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not the serve is hidden from the receiver. It is the server’s responsibility, however, to demonstrate to the umpire or the assistant umpire that the serve conforms to all aspects of the service rules."

He concludes with this:

"...the server must make sure the umpire can observe the entire motion of the serve, including the moment when the racket strikes the ball. If the umpire is unable to observe the serve, he/she will give a warning and the server had better comply in subsequent serves."

Bingo. Why is it so many umpires refuse to enforce the hidden serve rule? As International Umpire Joseph Lee writes above, if the umpire can't see that the serve is visible, then he gives a warning, and if it happens again, it's a fault. It's not complicated.

I've blogged about this a number of times. Will it be enforced at the Nationals next week? I sure hope so. If not, then umpires are allowing players to win by cheating, and penalizing the ones who do not cheat. If not enforced, it likely will be the difference between a player winning a championship or making a USA Team or going home frustrated because he was cheated out of these things.

Unfortunately, we ran into this at last years USA Cadet Team Trials, and again at the U.S. Open, when umpires often wouldn't call hidden serves. (And to be fair, it's often not called internationally either.) This year I've brought printouts from videos of many of the players in question, showing blatantly illegal hidden serves that umpires wouldn't call, even after protests by opponents or their coaches. Because some of the players involved are minors, I'm not going to make these public, but I will show them to umpires & referees, and anyone who privately (and cordially) asks to see them.

If umpires do not enforce the hidden serve rules at the Nationals, then I'm declaring these rules null and void (and the umpires incompetent), and our top players (including cadets and juniors) will have no choice but to learn these illegal serves to compete. A rule that is openly not enforced soon ceases to be a rule.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion

At the club last night I told a player about the upcoming expansion. (MDTTC doubles in size in January, taking over the space next door, with the wall between coming down, giving us about 11,000 square feet and 20 or so tables.) His immediate response? "There aren't enough players to support it!"

It's exactly what people said when we first opened 20 years ago, and there truly weren't nearly enough local players at that time to support a full-time table tennis center. Where will we get the players? The same way we did then, the same way any successful club does - you make the club as good as it can be, and promote the heck out of it. You build your membership, you don't wait for players to magically appear before creating the club.

I faced the same thing with USATT a few years ago when I pushed for nationwide leagues and junior training programs, with the goal of increasing the number of players and juniors. The response by many? "But there aren't enough players and juniors to create leagues and junior programs!" Alas.

Prize money increased for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids

And here's the article!

The Chinese Advantage

Here's an article by Coach Massimo Constantini on why the Chinese are so good. It mostly involves European laziness and problematic backhand techniques that led to problems on the forehand as well.

Pongcast Episode 5 - ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals

Here's the video (26:54) - enjoy!

Blake Griffin versus Soo Yeon Lee

Here a hilarious commercial for Red Bull (2:53), which features Griffin taking up professional table tennis and taking on Lee. Blake Griffin is a basketball player with the LA Clippers, for those of you who didn't know - like me until a few seconds ago. Soo Yeon Lee is a professional table tennis player and model - she was on the cover of the July/August USA Table Tennis Magazine.


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August 17, 2011

MDTTC Coaching Camp - Day Seven

  • Yesterday's session went really well, one of the smoothest. The focus was on forehand looping, though the new players worked on basic forehands and backhands.
  • There were a lot of breakthroughs as new players figured out forehand and backhand drives, more advanced new players figured out looping and spin serves, and advanced players learned world-class shots. Light bulbs enlightened were going off over players' heads like fireflies.
  • Especially rewarding were two players who spent much of their break practicing serves, and three others who asked if they could do extra multiball after the session ended. I put in extra time to work with these five juniors. They were the more "serious" players, and out of that group will come the breakout stars.
  • Quote of the day: "I played really well because of the coffee." -David Bachman, age 13, after drinking coffee from Dunkin' Donuts that morning. 


I noticed that a number of players in the camp smash (poorly) with a sudden jerky motion. This comes from trying to contract every muscle at the same time at the last second, creating a spastic shot. Instead, try a more relaxed, smooth motion and longer backswing. You still want a rather sharp motion, but not a herky-jerky one. Key to smashing is always using the same backswing, bringing the racket back to the same exact spot, over and over. If the ball is high, you then raise the racket after backswinging as part of a smooth, continuous motion. (If you raise the racket during your backswing, when you come to a stop you'll be slightly off-balanced, plus you'll have a different backswing for every shot of a different height.) Then just stroke through the ball, shifting the weight through the ball, first from the legs, then waste, then shoulders, and then a vigorous snap from the arm rotating on the elbow. Contact should be relatively flat, but with a slight upward motion, relative to the direction you are hitting the ball, especially if smashing backspin.

When to change your inverted rubber

This varies from player to player, based on playing style, level, and financial situation. Loopers need a grippy surface, and so often change more often then other styles. Higher-level players also change more often as they want the sponge to be both grippy and bouncy. Rich players tend to change more often because they have more money.

So how can you tell if your rubber needs changing? Wash off the surface with a table tennis cleaner or something similar. (Some use a watered-down soap mixture.) Then examine the surface - is it fading? Rub a ball on it - is it as grippy in the middle as along the side? If there's a noticeable difference, then you might want to change. The surface is usually the first part to go, so this is the primary test. However, some of the more recent "breakthrough" sponges that mimic glued sponge seem to lose their bounciness faster than other types, and so you might want to change those when the bounciness starts to drop. That's a more subjective judgment; you should be able to tell if it's starting to die.

When I was playing competitively, I generally changed my forehand sponge every month, my backhand sponge every two months. (I'd often time this so I'd have new sponge for tournaments, especially on the forehand.) The reason is that I looped a lot on the forehand, and so needed a grippy surface. On the backhand, I mostly hit and blocked, and so didn't need to change it as often. Others might not need to change as often as I was playing six days a week. If you play only twice a week, then to match me, you'd only need to change every three to six months. 

More Training in China

California Cadet Star Ethan Chua gives a short report on his training in China.

Holy Moly Rally!

Perhaps the greatest table tennis rally eversmiley


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August 1, 2011

Tip of the Week: Jerky Strokes and Jerkyitis

Yes, you can cure that terrible disease that plagues table tennis - Jerkyitis. Here's how.

Comments on this Blog

While there are a lot of readers on this blog - we're averaging well over 300 per day - there are few comments. Feel free to express yourself! It doesn't have to be Q&A, where readers grill me over what I wrote. Feel free to comment with your own experiences, suggestions, dumb puns or jokes, etc.

Funny table tennis terms

Table tennis has some funny terms. Here are three examples:

  • Heavy no-spin - a serve where you use an exaggerated motion to make it look like there's spin but instead serve no-spin.
  • Fishing - if you don't know what this is, it's explained here.
  • Inside-out off-the-bounce sidespin forehand counterloop - say that fast five times.

What are your own favorite table tennis terms, either real or made up?

Americans in China

A lot of USA juniors are training in China this summer, and it's getting lonely at the club without the pitter-patter of their feet as they race around ripping winners past me. Six top juniors from the Maryland Table Tennis Center (my club) are in China training this summer - Tong Gong, Linan Liu, Pamela Song, George & Derek Nie, and Crystal Wang. Others, like John & Nathan Hsu, stayed home, and are training daily with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Sun Ting, and others.

Table tennis movie

The movie "Korea" is coming out next year. It is based on the true story of the South Korean and North Korean women’s table tennis teams combining forces at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan, where they upset the dominating Chinese team. (At the time, China had won women's teams at every worlds since 1973, when South Korea had won. China would go back to winning afterwards, winning every time until the Singapore team upset them in 2010, with a team made of mostly former Chinese players.)

Problems with the "Winner Stay On" club format

Scott Gordon explains why this isn't such a good format; I concur. Scott also gives his own club's solution to the problem.

Zhang Yining plays the Milwaukee Brewers

Find out how Corey Hart, John Axford and Zack Greinke fare against one of the greatest women players of all time (2:28). (Here's info on Zhang Yining.)

2011 US Open Sandpaper Finals  

In case you missed it - and let's face it, these rallies are great! Alas, there are few such rallies in sponge table tennis.


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July 19, 2011

Relax that shoulder

One thing I've noticed in the two-week MDTTC camp we're running is that a lot of players hunch or tighten up their playing shoulder when hitting forehands. I'm almost ready to make a recording that says, "Drop your arm to your side. Relax the shoulder. Now bring up your arm to a forehand position, keeping the shoulder relaxed. Bend the elbow to bring the racket into position. Now hit your forehand!"

Another common shoulder problem is not rotating the shoulder on the forehand. If you have your back foot slightly back (no more than 45%, often much less), and rotate your shoulders so you are looking sideways, you suddenly have a huge forehand hitting zone. If you don't do this, then you are jammed in the front of the hitting zone with little room to backswing.

Seven new juniors

In our camp yesterday, we had seven new junior players (out of about 25 total), ranging in age from 5 to about 12. I took all seven in my group - we divide the players among the coaches - and spent the morning working on forehands and backhands. Went pretty well! They also had fun with the "knock cups off the table" game, and many cups were severely hurt. Kids are so cruel. (What did we do during break? Brain teasers, of course. Yes, at a table tennis camp. Really.)

Susan Sarandon and China

What's the connection?

Iran and U.S. Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Yes, it's happening!!!

I Love You points

Who would believe that ping-pong could end sibling rivalry? I'm trying to picture some of our junior players doing this; I can't picture it. (Short version: when down game point, you can offset some of the game points by telling your opponent, "I love you!")

Ping-Pong Talkin' Blues

A musical to start your ping-pong day (2:39). Then listen to Magic Ball, the theme music from the 1989 World Table Tennis Championships (3:10). These two, and a cup of coffee, and you're ready to go!


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