Butterfly Online


Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's  book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!

His new book, Table Tennis Tips, is also out - All 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, in one volume, in logical progression!!!

March 26, 2015

No Blog on Friday


  1. Schools are closed for a "Teacher Professional Day," and if they get the day off, so do I.
  2. I can use another day off to rest. I took a day off on Tuesday, and it really paid off during yesterday's coaching, where I felt energized for the first time in a while.
  3. To give me time to prepare for the USATT Board Meeting on Saturday, where I have two presentations.
  4. So I can spend the day finalizing the first draft of "The Spirit of Pong," which I blogged about March 16. (I finished the first draft yesterday, but have two pages of notes of things to add or change.)
  5. So I can take my car to the shop for a check-up and minor repairs.
  6. We have a one-day training camp at MDTTC, but I might not be needed since we have eight full-time coaches - but I might be called in.

USATT Board Meeting

This Saturday there's a USATT Board meeting in Baltimore from 9AM to 4PM. Board members and some staff and/or committee chairs will be coming in for the meeting. As a board member since January, this'll be my first in-person meeting, though I've been on two teleconferences. (Over the years I've attended about 60 board meetings, including the last one in December at the Nationals.) Below is the agenda. I've got two presentations, both scheduled for 30 minutes.

The first (at 11:30 AM) is my Regional Associations Proposal, which plans to set up regional and state associations, with a three-pronged goal: setting regional team leagues; coaching programs; and state championships. A huge portion of my time over the next few years is going to be devoted to this. I'll blog a lot more about this later.

The second (at 1:30PM) is my proposal to allow USATT members to get on the USATT election ballot by petition of 150 members. Below the agenda is the wording of the proposal. I blogged about this issue on January 24, 2014. (I have several other bylaw proposals I plan to bring up later, but wanted to start with this one. I'll likely do the others in one batch.)

Two other issues I'll likely be very involved in are "Committee Assignments" at 9:25AM, and "Strategic Visioning" at 2:30PM. Oh, and "Breakfast" at 8:15. I have a lot planned there. (I'm guessing that changing USATT is a lot like making sausage - you might like the end result, but you might not want to watch it being made.) I'm also looking forward to the US Open Update at noon - like many of you, I'm impatient for this to be finalized.

Next week I'll blog about the meeting as well as an update on my own activities, in particular the various things I raised during the election. I'll have a lot to report!

The meeting is open to the public, other than the 15-minute executive session at 3:15PM. Come see the sheer excitement watching people around a table arguing over bylaw wording! See us stab each other in the eye with glares of steel! Watch us wield "Robert's Rules of Order" as a weapon of mass destruction, sweeping away all opposition that knows not its clauses and sub-paragraphs! (I'm just joking, of course - hopefully we'll get some important stuff done!)

USA Table Tennis Board Meeting Agenda

Saturday, March 28, 2015
Hilton – BWI (Baltimore, MD)

  • 8:15am Breakfast
  • 9:00am Call to Order/Introductory Remarks (Peter Scudner)
  • 9:05am Roll Call/Conflict of Interest (Dennis Taylor)
  • 9:10am Approval of the January 21, 2015 and March 5, 2015 Minutes (Peter Scudner)
  • 9:15am Legal Update (Dennis Taylor)
  • 9:25am Committee Assignments (Peter Scudner)
  • 10:45am Break
  • 11:00am Financial Report/Review of Preliminary March 31, 2015 Financials (Gordon Kaye)
  • 11:30am Regional Association Task Force Update (Larry Hodges)
  • 12:00pm US Open Update (Gordon Kaye)
  • 12:15pm Lunch
  • 12:45pm CEO’s Report (Gordon Kaye)
  • 1:30pm Proposed By-Law Amendment (Larry Hodges)
  • 2:00pm High Performance/USOC Update (Carl Danner)
  • 2:15pm Discussion Regarding Plastic Balls (Ed Hogshead)
  • 2:30pm Strategic Visioning (Peter Scudner)
  • 3:15pm Executive Session
  • 3:30pm Old Business
  • 3:45pm New Business
  • 4:00pm Adjourn

Bylaw Proposal (see 1:30 PM above)

MOVED to append a new, Paragraph 3 to Bylaw 7.6(b)(3):

The following will need a 2/3 majority to pass.

"Any adult General Member in good standing at least 60 days before the record date, who obtains and submits to the Nominating and Governance Committee at least 150 signatures of support from current adult USATT General Members in good standing, shall be placed on the election ballot for At Large Director. Petition forms will be kept online at the USATT website and made available year round for prospective candidates. Signatures may be collected at any time up to one year before voting for the election begins. If the signatures are submitted in advance of the finalization of the ballot, the Nominating and Governance Committee may, but is not required to, include that candidate as one of the minimum of two (2) candidates for the ballot."

NOTE: The primary reason for making the petitions available year round and allowing signatures up to a year in advance is to allow candidates to get these signatures at the U.S. Open, which is currently held in the summer. The Open, the Nationals, and the North American Teams are currently the only tournaments where there are enough USATT members that prospective candidates can get these signatures, and the Nationals is often too late, and not everyone can make it to the Teams (which is also rather late in the election cycle).

French Translation of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

The proofs are now in the mail. Once they are approved, the book will be on sale in the French Amazon, probably in a week or two. The translation was done by David Salomez.

Throwback Thursday at USATT

Here's a picture they put up this morning of the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, from I believe Spring, 1988. At the time I was manager, which included being a practice partner and tutor. (I would later become director and assistant coach.)

Front, L-R: Lisa Gee, Larry Hodges, Dhiren Narotam, Rocky Wang, Karl Schultz, John Elwood, Diana Gee.
Middle, L-R: Gene Lonnon, Sean O'Neill, Coach Henan Li Ai, Todd Sweeris, Chi-Sun Chui, Ardith Lonnon, Insook Bhushan, Li Ai.
Back, L-R: Anthony Cooper, Chi Ngo, Coach Liquo Ai.

USATT Insider

Here's the new issue that came out Wedneday morning. It includes my article, "The Odyssey of Ruichao Alex Chen." 

Backhand Topspin Against Block

Here's the video (1:37) from PingSkills.

Ask the Coach

Episode #104 (29:24) - Throwback Thursday (and other segments)

Serve Practice

Have you practiced your serves this week? No??? Okay . . . let me know when you are serious about your game again, and we'll talk! To the rest of you, good job. (This is a reprint from a previous blog that I'll likely run periodically.)

World Police and Fire Games

The venue for the 2015 World Police and Fire Games has been moved to the Smash Table Tennis Center in Sterling, Virginia, about an hour from me. Here's the announcement. Deadline to enter is April 24. Here's info on table tennis in the Games, which will be held June 27-29. I don't know who is coming, but some of the prominent names that might be there include firefighter Scott Boggan (who I believe has won it a few times), and policemen David Fernandez and David Chun. "Every 2 years 12,000 athletes from 70+ countries compete in 60+ events at the world Police and Fire games."

Sinovision TV

Sinovision, a Chinese TV station based in New York City, sent a crew down to the Maryland Table Tennis Center Wednesday afternoon and night to do a feature on Crystal Wang. They interviewed and videotaped her and a number of others. I'll post a link to the video when it goes up.

Table Tennis Daily Launches Equipment Review Centre

Here's the article from Matt Hetherington. And here's the actual review site.

ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course in Dharwad, India

Here are pictures of the coaching course Richard McAfee is running, March 23-27. And here are two pictures where they held a ceremony to honor his work. I've played and coached 38 years - how come no one's ever given me a scarf??? (And what's in the gift-wrapped cylinder? ADDENDUM: Richard says it was a carved wooden candle holder.)

The Girls of Argentina

Here's the video (3:30) by Jimmy Butler on the Argentinian team that qualified for the Pan Ams.

German Open, Zhang vs. Samsonov and Yan An

Here are the highlights (3:15) of this epic comeback, where Zhang Jike comes back from down 0-3 in the quarterfinals against Vladimir Samsonov to win in seven: -8,-9,-9,3,8,11,5. Another great match is the semifinals, Zhang vs. Yan An - here are the highlights (2:51). (Here's the home page for the German Open, held this past weekend.)

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Timo Boll is On the Ball

Or rather, the balls, eight of them, are on him. Here's the picture.

"We Don't Tolerate That Kind of Horseplay"

Here's the cartoon

Send us your own coaching news!

March 25, 2015

Shakehands Grip Variations and Changes

Recently I've had a lot of questions about whether it's okay to use variations of the shakehands grip, or to change grips during a rally. (Of course a large part of this is I'm teaching a new ten-week Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class.) The answer is . . . it depends.

Before I go further, here are three articles I've written on the subject:

But since these articles are all from 2012 and 2013, they've been forgotten - so now's a good time to blog about it! At least it'll get you thinking about it. Plus I'll add a few new things.

First, a quick definition. A neutral grip is where the thinnest part of the wrist should line up with the paddle. If, while in a backhand position, you rotate the top of the racket away from you, then you have a backhand grip. If you rotate the top of the racket toward you, it's a forehand grip. Here's an article with pictures showing extreme forehand and backhand grips - you can also have a forehand or backhand grip that isn't as extreme as in these pictures.

For beginners, I strongly urge you to use a neutral grip until your strokes are well developed. Those who start out with backhand or forehand grips usually ended up with stroke problems. The problem with a non-neutral grip is you are forced to make adjustments for the fact that your arm is aiming one way, your racket another. This will mess your stroke development up.

For intermediate players, once your strokes are mostly ingrained and (hopefully) sound, you can experiment with minor variations and grip changes. Small changes can often greatly enhance certain strokes while hurting others. Experiment and see what works for you and your style.

For advanced players, you have already gone through all this. However, you can still experiment sometimes, and perhaps you might find a variation that'll help. Subtle changes often make a big difference in some shot.

Most of the above is about grip variations. What about grip changes? Some players do change their grip between forehand and backhand; Jan-Ove Waldner did. He put pressure on the racket with his thumb, which forced his racket into a slight backhand position. This is a common variation. Minor changes like this are okay, as long as you can smoothly make them as you go from forehand to backhand and vice versa. But be forewarned - in fast rallies, these changes have to be almost instant and reflexive.

Timo Boll is another who uses grip changes, in particular when doing inside-out forehand sidespin loops, where he uses a slight forehand grip, making it easier to spin the inner side of the ball.

Ultimately, if you aren't sure, discuss your grip possibilities with a coach, experiment, and try to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the variations. For example, a backhand grip isn't best for all backhand shots; it's good for backhand looping and blocking, but many (including me) find it easier to backhand kill with a slight forehand grip.

Personally, I've gone back and forth over the years. I used a neutral grip probably my first five years, but since then I've changed from slight forehand to slight backhand every now and then. Sometimes I change based on who I'm playing. If I'm going to do a lot of forehand looping, I might go with a slight forehand grip, while if I'm going to block a lot I might go with a slight backhand grip. When I play a chopper I go to a very forehand grip. Sometimes if I decide I'm not consistent enough I'll switch to a more backhand grip so I can keep the ball in play more; but if I start playing too passive, I'll go more forehand, which improves my forehand loop and backhand smash, but lowers my consistency, blocking, and makes it harder to cover the middle (for me).

But I don't encourage others to change grips in the way that I do, nor do I discourage you from it, as long as you make sure you understand what you are doing.

Besides Waldner and Boll, there are other classic examples of top players with non-normal shakehands grips.

  • Nobuhiko Hasegawa, 1967 World Men's Singles Champion - he had his index finger almost down the middle of the paddle. Here's a picture - how he avoided hitting his finger is one of the great unsolved mysteries. I don't recommend this - you tend to lose stability with the racket without the index finger to guide and secure it, plus it can tighten your forearm muscles.
  • Stellan Bengtsson, 1971 World Men's Singles Champion, and Jorgen Persson, 1991 World Men's Singles Champion - both of these players had their index finger curled slightly around the side of the racket rather than on it. Here's a picture of Bengtsson's grip, and here's Persson's grip.
  • Perry Schwartzberg, 1976 U.S. National Junior Champion - late in his career, he switched to a "hammer" grip, with all four fingers wrapped around the handle, as well as going to hard rubber on his backhand, with inverted on forehand. Without the index finger on the racket, you again can lose stability, and forehands can be awkward, but it's a good grip for hitting backhands.
  • I've been trying to remember her name, but a member of the English Women's Team in I believe the 1970s played with a shakehands grip with two fingers on the rubber, the index finger and middle finger, like this. This feels pretty awkward!
  • Tim Boggan, former top ten in U.S. (circa 1960s?) - for forehands, used an extreme forehand grip, plus put his finger down middle of the blade, with the base of the handle cupped in his palm. For backhands, he switched to an extreme backhand grip and lowered the racket in his hand. This is the most extreme grip changes I've ever seen - I don't even know where to begin in explaining why you don't want to do this…

But notice how these players are mostly from decades ago, while nearly all the top modern shakehanders use nearly identical shakehands grips? Do they do so because it's the best way and those with weaker grips fall back, or is nearly everyone taught the exact same grip from the beginning? Cause and effect! (But I'd stick with the proper shakehands grip if at all possible - it's proven and effective, and allows just about every important shot at a high level.)

Missing Out? Learn why you CAN'T reap the benefits of good practice

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Ask the Coach

Episode #103 (19:50) - Is Ma Lin's Serve Legal? (and other segments)

Platform Toddler Pong

Here's video (78 sec) of what looks like a three- or four-year-old with near perfect forehand form. Note how he rotates around the "pole through the head" I sometimes write about? (Here's my Tip of the Week, "Balance Throughout the Stroke.") This gives natural power and keeps the player balanced and in position for the next shot. Note also that he's standing on a platform. While I worry about the safety - it probably should only be done under adult supervision - this allows kids to start much earlier, and get a huge head start on the future competition.

USA Men Qualify for Pan Ams

I linked to various pages on this yesterday. Here's the USATT page, with results, pictures, and video.

2015 Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the final article on the tournament by Barbara Wei. (I linked to her previous five Cary Cup articles on Monday.)

College Table Tennis

Here are three new USATT articles on college table tennis.

11 Questions with Larry Rose

Here's the USATT interview.

US Table Tennis Foundation Approves Grant to USA Table Tennis

Here's the press release from USATT.

Never Give Up!

Here's the new highlights video (7:26).

Best Behind-the-Back Shots

So which of these is the best Behind-the-Back Shot of All Time?

Concrete Table Tennis Ad

Here's the video (2:08).

Most Consecutive Table Tennis Ball Bounces on a Paddle while Balancing Baseball Bat on Two Fingers in Other Hand

Here's the video (1:41)1

Saive-Saive Exhibition

Here's the video (3:26). "The table tennis show from the Saive brothers. They won twice the world most spectacular pairs contest. They also made hundreds of exhibition around the world." Most of us know about the exploits of Jean-Michel Saive, former world #1, Men's Singles Finalist at the 1993 World Championships, and 1994 European Men's Singles Champion. But how many of you know that his younger brother, Philippe Saive, was also on the Belgium team that made the Men's Team Final at the 2001 World Championships in Japan? (I was there, watching in the stands and doing media coverage for USATT. Philippe now runs Philippe Saive Management, which runs the ITTF Legends Tour - and Jean-Michel won their most recent event!

More Table Tennis from The Onion

Yesterday I linked to three table tennis articles from The Onion. Here are three other mentions of table tennis from articles that didn't feature table tennis:

And for those who missed it from yesterday:

Send us your own coaching news!

March 24, 2015

Exhaustion, and Playing Those Wide Angles and Middle

I must be getting old. I'm not sure how this happened - I think someone at the club stuck something in my Gatorade one day, and presto! This past month I've coached nearly every single day. I finally got a day off this past Saturday due to a series of fortunate events, but Sunday I was on my feet coaching for over six hours. Yesterday I had 2.5 hours of coaching and could barely move as my muscles were absolutely, completely, totally, wholly, entirely, fully, and utterly dead. (Yeah, I used a Thesaurus.)

I was hitting with 10-year-old Daniel (1639), and I think he aced me with shots to the wide forehand or backhand about every ten seconds. The eye-opener was when I wanted to work on his blocking near the end of the session with him, and literally couldn't forehand loop to his block more than a few shots - normally I'm sort of a machine in a drill, not really powerful but can loop over and Over and OVER. I was even having blocking as my legs just wouldn't step to the ball - and Daniel was somewhat gleeful in looping wide-angled aces, as well as to my middle. (But I liked that he was going for such wide-angle loops - see last Monday's Tip of the Week, To Play the Middle and Wide Corners You Have to Practice to Them.) We ended up doing extra multiball. When we played games at the end, I compensated for my lack of mobility by pulling out my best serves and receives - sorry Daniel.

Today I also have 2.5 hours scheduled, but I've got others substituting so I can stay off my feet - no coaching today. I still have to run out and pick up some kids for our afterschool program, but I'm just dropping them off and then returning home. I'll be back on Wednesday and Thursday, but I'm probably going to take Friday and Saturday off as well. Friday is a Professional Day, and local schools are closed, so no afterschool program, and I think my one student that night is away. Saturday there's a USATT Board meeting in Baltimore (see below), so no coaching that day. (I'm trying to figure out if sitting in a meeting all day is restful or exhausting?) I'll blog about the meeting on Thursday, and again afterwards on Monday.

The Spirit of Pong

I blogged about this fantasy table tennis novella last Wednesday. It's now 21,290 words, about 85 pages in double-spaced 12-point Times Roman. I was about 15 minutes from basically finishing the first draft on Sunday when I had to go coach. I say "basically" because I have three pages of notes of things to go add or fix; once I'm done with that, I'll consider it a first draft. I expect it'll end up around 25,000 words, about 100 pages. I hope to work on it more today and tomorrow, and perhaps finish the first draft. (Alas, I have other projects that keep interfering, such as getting the new French translation of my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers ready for the French Amazon, and preparing for the USATT Board meeting this Saturday, where I have two presentations.)

I'm dying to tell you about my favorite scene, a life and death match with "The Dragon," an impeccably polite and unassuming Hiroji Satoh, who once again has a new revolutionary racket, plus a few other unexpected quirks. There are also appearances by the "Spirit of What Made Them Champions" of great players at key times, and extended training sequences with the spirits of Ichiro Ogimura and 1959 World Men's Champion Rong Guotuan - and the story gets rather dark in the latter saga.

The Odyssey of Ruchao Alex Chen: A Chinese Star from Sweden in America

Here's the story I wrote for USATT about this great player from the Maryland Table Tennis Center.  

Latin American Championships and Pan Am Qualification

Here's the ITTF page. Team USA (Jim Butler, Kanak Jha, Timothy Wang, and coach Stefan Feth - here's a team selfie!) defeated Peru to qualify for the Pan Ams. Here's an ITTF article featuring undefeated Kanak Jha. And here's the entire video of Team USA's win over Peru (2:28:37).

USATT Hall of Fame Museum at Triangle Table Tennis

Here's the ribbon-cutting picture. "Donna Sakai, President of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, cutting the ribbon to mark the opening of the USTTA Hall of Fame museum at Triangle Table Tennis in Morrisville, North Carolina. (l-r) Tim Boggan, member of the museum committee, Ann Campbell, President Triangle Table Tennis, Steve Rao, Morrisville Councilman, Mike Babuin, member of the museum committee, Dean Johnson, Chairman of the museum committee." Here's a Panoramic View of the museum.

Open Ended Drills

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao.

Plan A vs Plan B: Learn about making necessary adjustments

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Don't Plan Rest Days Into Your Training Programme

Here's the new article by Ben Lacombe.

Ask the Coach

Episode #101 (16:50) - Pendulum Serve Grip (and other segments)

Episode #102 (23:15) - Is the rest of the world catching up to China? (and other segments)

Next Stop for Richard McAfee, Dharwad District in State of Karnataka

Here's the ITTF story about USA's globetrotting coach's coach.

XIOM Smash TT Round Robin and Newgy Ohio Open

While everyone was paying attention to the Butterfly Cary Cup in NC and the German Open (both covered in yesterday's blog), there was also the Newgy Ohio Open (here are results, photos, and video), and the XIOM Round Robin in nearby Virginia (here's the write-up & results, and photos). 

Great Point at German Open

Here's the video (8 sec) of this very fast point in the final between Zhang Jike and Ma Long.

Mima Ito of Japan Becomes Youngest Ever ITTF Pro Tour Champion

Here's the video (1:32) as she defeats Petrissa Solja of German in the final on Sunday.

Table Tennis in The Onion

As pointed out by Iskandar Taib in the OOAK Forum, table tennis has been in The Onion at least three times, including just last month:

Send us your own coaching news!

March 23, 2015

Tip of the Week

Macho or Tricky?

Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class

Yesterday, from 6:30-8:00PM, I taught Week Four of the ten-week class. There are 19 in the class, with Raghu Nadmichettu and Josh Tran normally assisting. (Yesterday John Hsu subbed for Josh, who was at Cary Cup.) Here's the group picture I linked to last week.

Yesterday we started right where we'd finished last week, with pushing, with the emphasis now on the forehand push. I explained that you have to learn to do regular forehand pushes, but as players advanced, they mostly only do forehand pushes against short balls, since it's better to loop any deep backspin ball to the forehand. (This is also somewhat true on the backhand side, but not quite as much since you are more likely to get jammed on the backhand side, and because you have an angle into a righty opponent's backhand with your backhand push.)

I harped on the idea that you have to step to the ball, both side to side and in and out, not just reach. I showed how beginners should learn to take the ball on the drop, letting the ball fall on their racket, but as they advanced, they should learn to take the ball quicker, right off the bounce. I went over the six main things you want to do with a push, and explained why it's better to be pretty good at all six than great at most but weak on one or two Here's my Tip of the Week, Pushing: Five out of Six Doesn't Cut It.

Then we did some regular forehand and backhand practice, 7.5 minutes each. And then it was on to footwork, everyone's favorite most hated part. After the demo, everyone did forehand 1-1 footwork, where one player alternated forehands from the wide forehand and the middle, hitting each ball to his partner's forehand, and the partner tried to alternate hitting the balls to those two spots. Two very important points on this were 1) both players were doing the drill - one practicing footwork, the other practicing consistency and control; and 2) all drills are footwork drills, since you assume you have to move, and so flex the knees in preparation.

We finished with a demo and lecture on fast serves. I explained the importance of these as variations to other serves, and showed how some fast serves are easy to return, while others are not. When I served my bullet topspin serve to the backhand, few had great trouble with it. But when I gave it a sidespin so it broke away from them, everyone had fits. Similarly, fast topspin to the middle wasn't too effective, but when I switched to a very flat, dead ball, they put it in the net over and over. Down the line was effective with topspin because the topspin allowed you to serve with maximum speed (since the topspin pulled the ball down), so the focus on those serves was to keep your racket aimed crosscourt until the last second, and then smack it down the line with maximum speed. Everyone then practiced their serves, with the option of serving fast or serving with spin.

USA Today - American Crystal Wang Turning Heads in Table Tennis at age 13

Here's the article from USA Today! It links to a 31-sec video. (And Crystal only turned 13 less than a month ago.) Special thanks to USATT Media Consultant Richard Finn for helping put these together.

Cary Cup

Butterfly Online has some basic results, pictures, and articles from the 4-star Butterfly Cary Cup held this past weekend. Here are articles by Barbara Wei. MDTTC, my club, did pretty well, as you can see from one of the articles! It's a five-hour drive, but a contingent of 21 went down. Here's the MDTTC picture, with four players missing.

  • March 22: Jishan Liang Takes Championship Title in Impressive Style at 2015 Butterfly Cary Cup
  • March 21: Maryland Table Tennis Center Dominant at 2015 Butterfly Cary Cup
  • March 21: Top 16 Decided for 2015 Butterfly Cary Cup
  • March 21: Outstanding Elite Competition in Top Division at 2015 Butterfly Cary Cup
  • March 19: New Venue, Diverse Players, Same Excitement for 2015 Butterfly Cary Cup

German Open

It was held over the weekend. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with complete results, articles, and video. Here's the ITTF video page, where you can see interviews and lots of matches and highlights, with the time between points often removed. Check out the Quotes section under Media, with quotes each of the five days. Here's the ITTF press release, Mima Ito Becomes Youngest Ever World Tour Champion. Here's video of a great point (52 sec) as Zhang Jike wins game four, 16-14, and then leaps the barriers as he goes go up 3-1 in the final against Ma Long. But (Spoiler Alert!) Ma Long would come back to win in seven, 9,-7,-8,-14,6,12,8.

Junior Class Picture

Here's a group picture of the Thursday Night Beginning Junior Class I teach, taken last Thursday. I'm on the far right. Assisting are John Hsu and Raghu Nadmichettu (on far left) and Jeffrey Xeng Zun (next to me).

Tomahawk Serve

Here's the coaching video (5:12) by William Henzell.

Physical Training for Table Tennis

Here's the new coaching article from Expert Table Tennis.

Could Red Help You Win?

Here's the article by Ben Larcombe. I'm seeing red - so many blue shirts in my closet!

Early Specialization

Here's the article by Ben Larcombe of Expert Table Tennis. "While there is no doubt that early specialisation increases the likelihood of a child experiencing burnout, chronic stress and a decrease in motivation and enjoyment, that still doesn’t change the fact that it is becoming much tougher to succeed without it. In the majority of fields it’s the ‘early specialisers’ that are reaching the top."

44-Year-Old Table Tennis Champ Jimmy Butler Eyes Rio Return After Unbelievable Rebirth

Here's the article.

Pongstarz CEO Kim Gilbert and Kipp Smackdown for Bay Area Schools

Here's the USATT article, with links to a pair of videos.

Bay Area a Hotbed for Table Tennis

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury News.

Paul David Interview

Here's the USATT interview.

SPiN Opening in Chicago at Marina City

Here's the article.

Can a European Become World Champion in 2015?

Here's the video (30 sec) from the ITTF. "Take a look back at Werner Schlager becoming the World Champion in 2003, the last European to do so."

The Best Return of Serve in History?

Here's the video (16 sec, with slow motion replay) of Ma Long's around-the-net looping receive of Dimitrij Ovtcharov's serve.

How to return a net ball with forehand from backhand side at one inch from the floor

Here's the video (21 sec) as Xavier Therien demonstrates against Antoine Bernadet.

A Great Rally and a Face

Here's the video (31 sec) of a great rally, but you almost don't notice it because of the guy's face!

Poor Baby Technique

This picture is an outrage. As is obvious to any coach, the baby is using a hammer grip rather than a proper shakehands grip with index finger on the paddle. He's not keeping his eye on the ball. He's clearly in an extreme backhand stance - what if the ball goes to the forehand side? And if the ball is white, his clothing is clearly illegal. However, at least his non-playing hand is up for balance.

Dodgers Ping Pong Finals

Here's an article about the Dodgers ping pong tournament, with a link to the video (2:52) where Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager square off against Justin Turner and Daniel Coulombe in the Dodgers Ping Pong Finals.

CZ Ping Pong Stars

Here's the new humorous music video (6:24) as two players prepare for the big showdown and then have it out, all to the music of "Ping Pong."

Woodpecker Pong

Here's the picture!

Send us your own coaching news!

March 20, 2015

Historic First Match of the Capital Area Super League

It took place last night at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, between the MDTTC Smokeoutz (Khaleel Asgarali, Toby Kutler, Ryan Dabbs, Amy Lu, with Chen Bowen and Reza Ghiasi sitting out), and the MDTTC Lions (Stefano Ratti, Raghu Nadmichettu, Heather Wang, and Ernie Byles). Normally it's supposed to be three on three, but due to a misunderstanding and a last-minute negotiation, they played four on each side this one time. The Smokeoutz won 5-4, with a severely under-rated 11-year-old Ryan Dabbs (rated 2018, #5 in U.S. in Under 12 boys) pulling out a ninth match upset win over Ernie Byles.

Here's the write-up by Stefano Ratti, along with results and pictures. (Click on the pictures for larger version.) And yes, that's a lion smoking a cigar and dreaming about table tennis.

While both of these teams are MDTTC teams playing at MDTTC, the league itself has 71 players on 13 teams from six clubs. This is only the first season. The goal is to 1) grow each season by expanding into the recreational player base, and 2) create a proto-type regional league that can spread to anywhere in the country. Great thanks goes to Michael Levene and Stefano Ratti for taking much of the initiative in developing this league, with John Olsen and I the other members of the organizational committee. Much of it is based on Michael's experiences in the English leagues and Stefano's in the Italian leagues; how tennis, bowling, and other sports developed and run their leagues; and successful U.S. leagues, in particular the LA League, from whose web page we shamelessly stole anything useful.

Update on My Books

This seems a good time to remind people that if you haven't bought copies of my books, the Easter pumpkin will run you down on Santa's sleigh and smack you with a menorah. Also, I'll starve, or at least spend more hours slaving away coaching to make up the difference. Here's my Table Tennis Books page, and here's my Amazon Books page. (While we're on the topic of writing, I have a few articles published as well.) Here are my books:

  • Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The book not only covers tactics, but strategic development, i.e. how to develop your game. (Look over the 35 reviews, and ask yourself why you haven't got a copy yet.) It's in both print and kindle formats. There's even a French translation coming out later this month.
  • Table Tennis Tips. This came out in May last year in both print and kindle formats. It's a compilation of all 150 of my Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, but in a logical progression, all in one volume. It includes chapters on Serve, Receive, Strokes, Grip and Stance, Footwork, Tactics, Improving, Sports Psychology, Equipment, and Tournaments. (More Table Tennis Tips should come out early in 2017, covering all my weekly tips from 2014-2016.)
  • Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. This is a compilation of both interesting stories about table tennis (lots of fun stuff), and essays on techniques. It also features a series of pictures of 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager in the top right corner of every page, so if you fan the pages you get a movie of him playing!
  • Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. This covers the professional side of coaching - getting students, keeping them, running classes and junior programs, and other aspects of coaching, with an emphasis on professional coaching and junior training. It's in both print and kindle formats.
  • Table Tennis: Steps to Success. This covers the fundamentals of table tennis, but is currently out of print. I'm planning a new version out sometime in the next few years, tentatively retitled "Table Tennis Fundamentals." (First I have to get new pictures for every technique taught in the book, a big job.) However you can still buy used copies. (There is another version of this out by Richard McAfee, but it's not related to this one - it's from the same publisher, and they chose to use the same title.) The book sold 28,000 copies and was translated into seven languages. It probably sold a zillion copies if you include bootleg copies in China.
  • Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis. This online manual was published a while back by USATT. It's a guide for how to coach for beginning coaches. I tentatively plan to do a new version at some point, using the pictures. 
  • Sorcerers in Space. This is my humorous fantasy novel that came out in 2013. It comes in both print and kindle versions. It's about the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon in the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts, and the whole things takes place over one week. (Sorcerers work fast.) It stars a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong] and fictionalized versions of many of the major political names from the 1960s - President Kennedy and his brothers, Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bob McNamara, and Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as dragons and other creatures that keep trying to kill poor Neil - including an attack meteor named Buzz. Oh, and Neil is a wannabe table tennis champion who has to drop his dreams of ping-pong stardom to save the world. (I'll send you a FREE copy if you'll do a short review at Amazon.) 
  • Pings and Pongs: the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of Larry Hodges. This anthology includes the 30 best short stories I'd sold through 2009, including "Ping-Pong Ambition." It comes in both print and kindle versions. (More Pings and Pongs should come out sometime later this year - another 30 of my best sales since the previous anthology.)

If You Had Told Me 20 Years Ago That…

  • …hitting and pips-out players (especially pips-out penhold) would die out at the higher levels while choppers would thrive outside the top five…
  • …nearly all top penholders would hit backhands with the opposite side of their racket…
  • …players would be backhand looping practically everything right off the bounce…
  • …we'd be playing with a bigger, non-celluloid ball with games to 11…
  • …full-time training centers with full-time coaches would open up all over the country…
  • …USA cadets and juniors would compete successfully at the world-class level…
  • …Jim Butler (U.S. Men's Singles Champion in 1990, 1992, 1993) would retire for nine years, and then come back and win Men's Singles again at the 2014 Nationals at age 43…

…I'd have said that you were crazy.

Who Are These Players?

Here's a table tennis picture I created in 2000 that satirizes the USA Election that year between Bush and Gore. Note the discussion below it - can you identify the original players in the picture? (Here's the version with my signature - alas, when I first created it, I didn't sign it, and so there are unsigned copies all over the Internet.)

Ask the Coach

Here's the historic Episode #100 (28:35) - Competition Winner Announced (and other segments). If I hear "Good morning everybody!" from Alois one more time my head will explode - from being stuffed with table tennis knowledge!

New Venue, Diverse Players, Same Excitement for 2015 Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Final of 2015 Asian Cup: Feng Tianwei vs. Liu Shiwen

Here's the video (11:19, with time between points removed) of this match from last weekend. Feng Tianwei of Singapore (world #5, ranked #2 for seven months back in 2010-2011) upset Liu Shiwen of China (world #3, world #1 for much of 2013-2014 and #2 for five months until just this month). Here's the Tabletennista article I linked to previously on it.

Zhang Jike Practicing at German Open this Week

Here's the video (34 sec).

Highlights Preview Video for German Open

Here's a preview video (3 min.) for the German Open. The commentary is in German, but the action is in table tennis.

You Think Table Tennis is Not a Sport, Then Watch This

Here's the video (9:12). (I can't tell if this is a new video, or a reposting of an older one, but it seems to be a new version of a similarly-named video.)

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage). Butterfly also has a great news page.

Ma Long and Timo Boll Playing Mini-Pong and Doubles

Here's the video (30 sec).

Waldner and Persson - Paddle Tricks!

Here's the video (50 sec) of the two doing various ball-bouncing tricks. Can you do these?

Vegetarian Pong?

Let's seen, green handle/stem, red top . . . we'll call this rotated square strawberry pong. And check out the rackets pictured below in the comments.

Moon Pong

Here's the picture - taken from somewhere near Saturn.

Matt Lauer Pranks Ellen DeGeneres with 20,000 Ping-Pong Balls

Here's the article and multiple videos and pictures! "Pingpong, the prank is done! Matt Lauer gets sweet, sweet revenge on Ellen DeGeneres." Here are repeating gif image of Ellen swimming in ping-pong ballscursing Matt Lauer, and opening door as balls splash out

Send us your own coaching news!

March 19, 2015

New Table Tennis Terms and Why This Blog is Short

Below are some new table tennis terms that we've invented at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Yes, we are constantly innovating!

Today's blog is a little short as I was up late working last night and so got started on this late, and I have to leave shortly for a rare morning coaching session. I'm sort of jumping back and forth between 1) preparing the French translation of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers for publication; 2) writing the fantasy table tennis novella "The Spirit of Pong"; 3) writing a feature but temporarily top-secret table tennis article; 4) responding to approximately 314,159 emails; and 5) various USATT activities, mostly regarding regional associations and leagues. And then I've got five hours of coaching plus driving around to pick up players in our afterschool program, so it's going to be a bit busy.

  • "Daniel" - a net or edge. (Note - Daniel is a 10-year-old student of mine who gets an unreal number of nets and edges. He uses inverted on both sides.)
  • "Double Daniel" - a net-edge.
  • "1% Daniel" - a ball that barely nicks the edge.
  • "You have no chance" - You can do this.
  • "Dang" - what an older player (or at least me) says when he misses a shot or can't get to a ball that he could get to when he was younger.
  • "Cup Killers" - anyone with a deadly accurate forehand, as it allows them to knock cups off a table in multiball.
  • "Worm juice" - any liquid in a bottle that the coach has to drink if they hit the bottle while he's feeding multiball.
  • "Nuclear bomb" - any ping-pong ball under a cup that players have to knock off the table to defuse.
  • "Larry" - the claim that the shot you just did was the greatest shot of all time, or the greatest shot of its type.

NCTTA Three-Player Rule and Petition

I was emailed the link to this petition, and the following info: "The NCTTA has a rule that a team of 3 players must automatically forfeit all of their team's potential doubles matches. (The format for each tie is four singles, followed by a doubles tiebreaker if the singles contests is tied at 2-2.)" Some are trying to change this, on the grounds that "…it's contrary to the mission of actually making the sport accessible and unfair to smaller schools." The argument for the rule is to encourage teams to bring four people, in the interest growing the sport. (But this could lead to bringing "dummy" players, whose only purpose is to give a team a fourth "player" so they don't default the doubles.) I'm not involved closely enough to have a strong opinion on this, though my first thought is just let the teams play, and if they are short a player, default the match that player would play.

Smash TT Round Robin

The new Smashtt club in Sterling, Virginia, is holding its first tournament this Sunday, March 22, a big round robin event, run by club owner, coach, and referee Michael Levene. Here's the entry form and info page. Michael wrote, "Accepting scanned entries with PayPal payment to michael@smashtt.com."

Ask the Coach

Episode #99 (22:35) - Forehand Finish Position (and other segments)

USATT Insider

Here's the new issue that came out yesterday.

Incredible Rally in Under 13 in Australia

Here's video (33 sec) of this wild and crazy rally - and note that it happened, like so many great points, at deuce. (Score is 10-10, with player on left up 2-1 in games.)

Run Forrest Run!

Here's the picture taken at a Forrest Gump themed restaurant.

Holy Polygon Pong?

Here's the picture of this new version of table tennis that's sweeping the world of geometry.

Send us your own coaching news!

March 18, 2015

Can You Have Too Much Confidence?

Here's an interesting article by Ben Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis, though this article is from his non-table tennis blog. The article is about confidence and how it affects success, and features Kanye West as an example. Now I'm no music expert and am not an expert on West, but from what little I do know from various news articles, I have to agree with President Obama about him. However, he is right in some of the things he says about attaining success, as the article explains. The article finishes with the following four ways people think about success:

  1. The unrealistic pessimist believes they will fail even if they put in the effort, planning, persistence and strategy required to succeed.
  2. The realistic pessimist believes they will fail because they won’t put in the effort, planning, persistence or strategy required to succeed.
  3. The unrealistic optimist believes they will succeed without having to put in the effort planning, persistence and strategy required to succeed.
  4. The realistic optimist believes they will succeed provided they put in the effort, planning, persistence and strategy required to succeed.

I would hope that everyone would attempt to be in #4; I know that I try to live by it. A key thing is to be realistic in what you strive for. For example, all the effort, planning, persistence, and strategy isn't going to make me an NBA basketball star. (I'm 5'10" and 55 years old, with a vertical jump that can only be detected by an electron microscope. As Clint says, A man's got to know his limitations.) It's also not going to make me U.S. Men's Singles Champion. But then we get into gray areas.

Could I be U.S. Over 50 or (in five years) Over 60 Champion? If I were to put in the effort, planning, persistence, and strategy, it's probably not going to help if a healthy Cheng Yinghua shows up (or a few others like David Zhuang who generally don't play in these senior events). But the one who tends to dominate these events is Dan Seemiller, who at 60 is five years older than me - and between us, we've won five U.S. Men's Singles Championships! (Hint - he's won five. We're not talking hardbat here.) If I were to go into serious training (i.e. put in the effort, planning, persistence, and strategy), and were able to avoid injury, I could perhaps get back to 2300 level or so. (Avoiding injury is key - if I train like I used to, then I'm going to get injured, period.)

Now Dan's current rating is 2464, and in recent years he mostly bounces around between 2450 and 2500.  (He's played nine tournaments in the past year, with his rating ranging from 2448 to 2509.) And guess what? That puts him in range of a 2300 player. (I'm talking levels, not ratings, with the rating just a shorthand for a player's playing level.) The USATT rating chart gives rough odds for upsets based on ratings, and according to that, the odds of a 2300 player beating a 2450 player are about 15-1. (And I've beaten over a dozen players rated over 2450 in tournaments.) And it also so happens that, style-wise, I'm very good against the Seemiller grip that Dan Seemiller pioneered, including wins over brothers Ricky (when past his prime) and Randy. So yeah, I could beat Dan Seemiller. (Somewhere out there, Dan is laughing at me while simultaneously admiring my "realistic" optimism.)

There's another factor as well. In striving to beat Dan Seemiller and others, even if I don't achieve that goal I'd likely maximize my playing level. So even if you "fail" at something like this, you succeed. If you train like crazy and greatly improve your playing level, and then lose a close Over 50 final to Dan Seemiller, you've both lost and won - you've won because you've reached a much higher level of play, and there's always next year, as well as other titles and tournaments. Failing to achieve a lofty goal does not mean you have failed. You've only lost one battle in what should be a long playing career, with a future that's suddenly a lot brighter than it was before because of your higher playing level. 

But there's another factor - picking your goals. Should I spend huge amounts of effort for the very small chance of my beating Dan Seemiller and others and becoming U.S. Over 50 or 60 Champion? Naaah, I've got better, more realistic goals that at this point. They include writing books and articles (both table tennis and science fiction & fantasy), coaching, and developing the sport in my various USATT and MDTTC roles. And yet, I sometimes consider adding some table tennis playing goals.

Until recently, I still had aspirations to win various national hardbat titles - I've won hardbat singles at the Nationals or Open twice, Over 40 four times, and hardbat doubles 13 times. I could still realistically win one of these titles again, but is it really worth training hard to get one more of these titles, when I could spend that same time on other goals? It's not easy getting in shape for these titles, and in recent times my playing level has taken a dive. (It's still tempting to play, since I tend to be a dominant hardbat doubles player, and it's always possible that I could catch fire again and win another over 40 title.)

Actually, when I consider training as a player again, I'm more often contemplating whether I could get back in shape enough to compete with the top juniors/youth at my club (MDTTC), the ones I used to beat up on when they were little kids - Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Roy Ke, Klaus Wood, Crystal Wang, etc. I'll always have a huge winning record against them from years of playing them while they were coming up, but it'd be nice to get a few more wins over them. (I've been warning Crystal Wang that I'm going to beat her one more time, and she just nods and smiles and sits on her 2507 rating.)

For now, however, I'll focus on my other activities. In writing, I've got more books on table tennis to come, including at some point a rewrite of my Table Tennis: Steps to Success book (probably retitled "Table Tennis Fundamentals"), plus the usual Tips of the Week (which every three years becomes a Table Tennis Tips book). I'm still writing science fiction & fantasy, and as noted on Monday, am currently working on a new fantasy novella that features table tennis. Plus, of course, as a member of the USATT Board (for about two months), the chair of the USATT League Committee (for about two weeks now), and as a promoter for MDTTC and the Capital Area Super League, I'll be pretty busy promoting the sport.

Now if I were a junior, or coaching a junior (which I do), then things are a bit different, as their playing ceiling is a bit less limited. They can, and should, aspire to beat the best players, and by doing so, they very well may do so - or, by striving for lofty goals, they will at least become as good as they could be. And older players can also have high goals. While it's not likely that someone starting at a late age is going to be U.S. men's or women's singles champion, there are cases where they reach very high levels.

So what are your realistic optimist goals? Do you have ones for table tennis or some other subject? Or are you one of those poor souls in categories 1-3?

Ask the Coach

  • Episode #96 (13:50) - Tactics When Losing the Short Game (and other segments)
  • Episode #97 (19:01) - Modified Serving Grip (and other segments)
  • Episode #98 (25:04) - Doubles Footwork (and other segments)

2015 Recipients of the Direct Athlete Support

Here's the USATT article. Those receiving financial support for their training are Lily Zhang, Kanak Jha, Crystal Wang, Jack Wang, Amy Wang, Timothy Wang, and Tahl Leibovitz.

2015 NCTTA Regional Championships

Here are articles on regional collegiate championships by Kagin Lee. (I linked to the last two last Wednesday.)

Asian Cup Women's Singles Final

Yesterday (where I linked to the Men's Final between Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong) I wrote that the final hadn't yet been posted, and as far as I can see after much searching, it still isn't online everywhere, though you can easily find the semifinals and many other matches on Youtube.com if you search for "2015 Asian Cup table tennis." Spoiler alert - in the final, Feng Tianwei of Singapore (world #5, ranked #2 for seven months back in 2010-2011) upset Liu Shiwen of China (world #3, world #1 for much of 2013-2014 and #2 for five months until just this month). Here's the Tabletennista article I linked to yesterday on it.

World's Best Arrive in Bremen for German Open

Here's the ITTF press release.

11 Questions with Roman Tinyszin

Here's the USATT interview with the USA International Referee and chair for the past six years of the USATT Rules and Officials Committee.  

Zhang Jike - The Path I Have Chosen

Here's the new video (6:43) on the Chinese superstar. "Get a rare insight into the mind of the World and Olympic Table Tennis Champion Zhang Jike!"

Waldner Highlights Video

Here's a new highlights video (4:01) on Waldner. It's from France, but the language doesn't matter here.

Rising Egyptian Star Omar Assar

Here's video (21 sec) of him topspinning off-the-bounce while doing footwork.

Portuguese Music Video

Here's the new video (2:23), "2ª Etapa da Liga Paulista de Tênis de Mesa - 2015," which Google Translate translates as "2nd Stage of the Paulista League Table Tennis - 2015.

Liverpool Football Club Show Some Serious Table Tennis Skills

Here's the article and video (2:05) which includes play-by-play coverage. (That's soccer for us Americans!)

Cane Pong?

Here's the video (16 sec) as David Wethrill demonstrates a proper cane forehand.

Chip 'n Dale Pong

Here's the picture, but that ball might be a bit lopsided!

Send us your own coaching news!

March 17, 2015

Adult Beginning/Intermediate Class

On Sunday from 6:30-8:30PM we had the third session of the class at MDTTC. The class technically ends at 8PM, but I've pretty much made it official policy to stay until 8:30PM, where we work on serve and serve return. There are 19 people in the class, ranging from near beginner up to about 1500. Strangely, there are no women - usually we have a few. One woman actually did sign up, but she was the only one to drop out before we started. Also, all 19 players are right-handed. There is one penholder, the rest are conventional shakehanders. One likes to chop occasionally.

Here's a group picture from Sunday, with one player missing. That's me on the far right in the black shirt. Kneeling in front on the right in the black hat is assistant coach Raghu Nadmichettu; in blue with his hand on his chin is assistant coach Josh Tran. I have to be very careful of everything I say in the class; that's USATT counsel Dennis Taylor in the back, slightly right of center in the red shirt. (He has a 1478 rating, and has been as high as 1619.)  

On Sunday we started with forehand and backhand practice. Then we went over hitting down the line, and practiced that. Then we did some more crosscourt hitting. Since many players are relatively new, I thought we needed a lot of forehand and backhand practice. Then we went over backhand pushing. I did the demo with Raghu, and used the soccer-colored balls so they could better see the backspin. There were a lot of questions, and so the lecture/demo went on longer than expected - but that's a good thing. Then we went to the tables and practiced.

After the session was officially over, I invited players to stay late and had a little fun, as they tried to return my serves. I'm pretty experienced at serving to beginning/intermediate players - it's a somewhat different skill than serving to advanced players - and so the players had quite a bit of difficulty returning the many variations I threw at them. It gives them a good idea of what's possible, and perhaps some of them will practice so they can develop similar serves.

The biggest differences between coaching adults and coaching kids are:

  1. Kids pick up proper technique very easily, but have little ball control. Adults have a bit more difficulty getting the technique right, but have good ball control. One result is you can have even beginning adults practice together and they'll have decent rallies and good practice, while if you have two beginning kids practice together, all you get are balls flying all over the place - they can't control the ball.
  2. Kids want to get to the table now. The fidgeting begins about 15 seconds into any lecture or demo. Anything over two minutes is sheer torture. They have few questions. Adults have more patience, so you can go over things in more detail, and they have lots of great questions.
  3. Kids have endless energy. Adults do not.

There's a lot to cover in these ten weeks. Below is the tentative schedule. I say tentative because I keep changing it, depending on how much was covered in the previous session. For example, I originally planned to cover the forehand push as well in week three, but ran out of time, and so moved it to week four.

  • Week 1: Intro; Grip; Stance; Forehand drive; Spin serves
  • Week 2: Forehand review; Backhand drive; Deception on serves
  • Week 3: Forehand and Backhand practice; Down-the-line; Backhand Push
  • Week 4: FH & BH practice; Forehand Push and Pushing practice; Footwork; Serving Fast
  • Week 5: FH & BH practice; Forehand Loop vs. Backspin, and Blocking; Smash
  • Week 6: Smash & Block drills; Backhand Loop vs. Backspin; Beginning Receive
  • Week 7: Loop and Smash combo; Loop against Block; Advanced Receive
  • Week 8: Blocking; Serve & Attack Drills; Random drills; Equipment
  • Week 9: Drills (countering, footwork, smash); Serve practice; Tactics Against Different Styles; Doubles
  • Week 10: Drills; USATT, MDTTC, tournaments, leagues, books; Smashing lobs; Player's choice

Update on My USATT Board Activities

There's a USATT board meeting coming up in Baltimore on Saturday, March 28. Board members and some staff and committee chairs will be coming in from all over the country for this. I'll give an update on things afterwards, including on my activities on the issues I raised in the election - I'll have a lot to report!

Spring Break Camp at MDTTC

From April 6-10 we'll be running our Spring Break Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here's the flyer and the info page. The camp coincides with spring break in local Montgomery County Schools, so the camp (like most of our camps) will be dominated by kids, though all ages (and levels) are welcome. We'll likely have most or all of our eight full-time coaches there, including me.

Zhang Yining Coaching at ICC Spring Break Camp

Two-time Olympic Gold Medalists (2004 and 2008) and World Women's Singles Champion (2005, 2009) Zhang Yining will be coaching at the ICC Spring Break Camp in Milpitas, CA, April 1-10. Here's the info page.

Playing Against Choppers

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, including a link to a video (16:54) of Ma Lin vs. chopper Joo Se Hyuk.

Masters of Defense

Here's the video (7:11) from two years ago that showcases the best defensive players.

What I Learned from Ten Weeks of Grip Experimentation

Here's the article from Ben Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis, which links to a video (10:53).

Zhang Jike Reverse Pendulum Serve in Slow Motion

Here's the video (21:03).

Ma Long Training with Liu Guoliang

Here's the recent video (67 sec) as Liu (Chinese Men's Coach) feeds multiball to Ma Long, who recently regained his #1 ranking in the world.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (29 sec) - I'm not sure who the players are, though the comments say the player on the near side is Dutch.

1978 Chinese Exhibition

Here's the video (2:55) of former Chinese superstars Liang Geliang and Guo Yuehua (the penholder and '81 and '83 world champion).

Asian Cup Men's Singles Final

Here's the video (8:15, with time between points taken out) between Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong. Here's an article on it from Tabletennista. (The Women's final video doesn't seem to be online yet, but I'll post it when it does, probably tomorrow. Spoiler Alert - Feng Tianwei upsets Liu Shiwen! Here's the article.)

Andrew Gaze Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (4:58) of former Australian basketball superstar Andrew Gaze getting a table tennis from Heming Hu.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Yep, I'm wearing my green MDTTC Butterfly shirt today. Meanwhile, if you put "Saint Patrick's Day table tennis pictures" into Google, this is what you get.

Send us your own coaching news!

March 16, 2015

Tip of the Week

To Play the Middle and Wide Corners You Have to Practice to Them.

The Spirit of Pong

For years I've lived in two worlds - the world of table tennis and the world of science fiction & fantasy writing. I've sold 72 short stories and a novel - but the money from the latter totals only about $20,000 in income since 2006, i.e. a little over $2000/year. Guess which pays the bills?

So I'm happy to say I've found the perfect combination of the two! I'm now working on a novella called "The Spirit of Pong." (A novella is basically a short novel, but considerably longer than a short story.) The story is about an American player, Andy "Shoes" Blue, who goes to China to learn the secrets of Chinese table tennis. I've been planning and researching it for a while. Parts of the story get pretty dark as he learns the Body of Pong, the Mind of Pong, and the Paddle of Pong. You'll meet the mysterious Coach Wang, who guides him through the process of learning about Chinese table tennis - but is he who he says he is?

It's a fantasy, and when Andy goes to China he meets and trains with the spirits of past champions, including Ichiro Ogimura, Rong Guotuan (first Chinese world champion in 1959 and coach of their first women's team world champion in 1965, committed suicide under torture during Cultural Revolution, which fits into the story), and Hiroji Satoh. He also meets and gets advice from the spirits of others, such as Zhuang Zedong and many others. He'll also meet the "Spirits of what made them Champions" for Jan-Ove Waldner and Deng Yaping - both will have a major impact in the climax.

It's currently about 15,000 words long, and I expect it to end up about 20,000 words. (That's about 80 pages in double-spaced 12-point Times-Roman.) I hope to finish the first draft this week. Then I'll do a lot of rewriting, and then I'll submit it for critique at "The Never-Ending Odyssey" writing workshop, which I go to every July as a vacation. (This year it is July 24 - Aug. 1. Most people go to beaches, amusement parks, camping, or perhaps fishing or sailing for vacation; I go to writing workshops.) After I do a rewrite after the workshop, I'll likely be asking others from the table tennis community to critique it before it is finalized. Eventually it'll get published on Amazon in both paperback and kindle formats. (I may try selling it to a magazine first.)

This isn't the first time I've put table tennis in my SF & fantasy writing, though I think this is the best combination. There's table tennis in my humorous fantasy novel, Sorcerers in Space (available in paperback or kindle!), where the main character, 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong] has to put aside his ping-pong dreams to save the world. (It's a satire on the 1960s space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts, and Neil is a sorcerer's apprentice.)

I have another novel making the rounds, "Campaign 2100," where there's lots of table tennis. I blogged about that on June 13, 2014, where I went over eight different table tennis scenes in the novel. It's a drama/satire that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the entire world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. (Yikes!) One of the four main characters is a professional table tennis player, and he teaches an alien ambassador to play - and the alien, whose ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air and so has incredible reflexes and hand-eye coordination, begins to beat him. (The two also do an exhibition for Chinese leaders - which leads to a disaster.) I have a publisher who liked the novel but asked for a rewrite on certain parts. I did the rewrite and sent it back to them a few months ago, so I'm now awaiting their final verdict. If they don't publish it, I'll likely self-publish it - I want it out during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, since it's a political novel.

I also have a story called "Ping-Pong Ambition," where an ambitious table tennis player is hitting on a table tennis robot and cracks a ball - and a genie comes out! When he asks to become a great table tennis player, the genie imprisons him inside a ping-pong ball for 10,000 years, where he practices table tennis and studies to be a genie himself - with a twist ending. Here's the review from The Fix: "Ping-Pong Ambition is a fun take on the genie-who-gives-three-wishes story. The tropes are familiar, but the light tone and twist ending make this an entertaining read." The story is among thirty of my best stories compiled in the anthology Pings and Pongs (also in paperback and kindle!). The anthology also includes my story "Defeating Death," which includes the following lines:

"Zargo walked to the basement door. It had been boarded up ever since an incident involving a rather unfortunate former assistant and a rather unfortunate game of ping-pong that had gotten out of hand. ("Magic and ping-pong," Zargo had solemnly said, "don't mix.")"

I'll keep you all informed on the status of "The Spirit of Pong" - I'm having a lot of fun writing it!

The Champ: Be Like Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina, where he gives five things to learn from the world #6 and #1 European.

What is the Best Serve in Table Tennis
Here's the article in Sporting News.

"My First Ever Table Tennis Tournament"

Here's Ben Larcombe (of Expert Table Tennis) giving an account of his first tournament ever, back when he was nine years old.

Table Tennis Physical Training

Here's the video (8:02) of the physical training for a group of junior table tennis players.


The MDTTC Butterfly March Open was this past weekend. Here are the results, care of Omnipong. Congrats to champions Ruichao Chen, Khaleel Asgarali, Eric Li, Kyrylo Tsygura, Siliang Huang, Derek Nie, and Nazruddin Asgarali!

USATT Interview with Matt Hetherington

Here's the interview.

ICC Table Tennis Center Moving

Here's the article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Wacky Training Regimen for GeekWire Bash

Here's the article and video (2:53). "We’re getting pretty darn excited over here at GeekWire for our big annual anniversary bash, complete with one of the most spectacular (and geeky) ping pong tournaments on planet Earth."

German Nationals Final Point

Here's the video (61 sec) of Timo Boll winning Men's Singles at the German Nationals. He's up 3-2 in games against Ruwen Filu - and leading 10-0 in the sixth (!) they play a lobbing exhibition point, where Timo "lets" Ruwen score a point.

Waldner's Ace

Here's the video (30 sec) of his great down-the-line ace against Samsonov in the final of the 1997 World Championships, won by Waldner, the only person ever to win without losing a single game.

Xu Xin vs. Jun Mizutani at 2015 Asian Cup

Here's the video (9:34, with time between points removed) of this great all-lefty match.

Sensational Shot by Par Gerell

Here's the video (24 sec) of the (Spoiler Alert!) inside-out fade-away sidespin backhand counterloop on the edge off a smash.

Crazy Japanese Table Tennis Stuff

Here's the video (9:46) from three years ago, where they do a bunch of crazy stuff. It's in Japanese, but you can still follow much of the action…I think.

Circular Three-Ball Triples Pong?

Here's the video (19 sec) - who's winning???

Crazy Celebration

Here's the video (10:15) of the Lagos Open. Go to the three-minute mark and watch the celebration after that point by Nigeria's Olufunke Oshonaike, who had been down 0-7 in that fifth game to Galila Nasser of Egypt. It's an epic celebration, but probably a bit over the top, don't you think? Oshonaike is a five-time Olympic team member.

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March 13, 2015

Ratings and Leagues

One of the things I've learned my years of table tennis is that ratings are both good and bad. There are some advantages to using ratings. For example, they give players a reason to play in tournaments and leagues, with the goal of trying to achieve a higher rating. But just as often they keep players from playing in events so they can "protect" their rating.

For tournaments, ratings are not so good because they cause a lot of problems. Here's my article Juniors and Ratings, where I talk about how ratings can be a cancer on junior table tennis. But much of the article applies to all players. Players can get way to protective of their ratings, and often avoid tournaments just to protect their rating.

For leagues it's more mixed. For a singles league ratings actually work pretty well, since players are playing for themselves. Because they play on a regular basis, they get used to their ratings going up and down, and so don't worry about them too much and don't focus on protecting their rating by avoiding play. Singles leagues are the only example I see were ratings are actually a healthy and good thing for table tennis. They are used all over the country in the USATT Singles League, which in February processed 7193 matches in 43 different leagues, and has processed 510,330 league matches with 22,601 players in 426 leagues since it began in 2003.

However, in a team league you are playing for a team, not for yourself. Therefore I don't think ratings should ever be used in a team league. We want players to play in the team league so they can be part of a team, where the players cheer for each other. This is the norm overseas, but often is lost in the typical U.S. club environment, were players play just for themselves. But even U.S. players, when introduced to team leagues, discover something far greater than just playing for themselves – playing for a team. And that is why team leagues lead to large memberships, whether it's in table tennis overseas (and someday in the U.S.) or other sports in the U.S. and all over the world. Even tennis and bowling, which are an individual sports like table tennis, gets their huge membership numbers from team leagues.

We originally were going to use ratings in the Capital Area Super League. However, after thinking it over, we realize that would be insane. The focus needs to be on the team, not the individual. The team leagues in Germany and other countries developed without numerical ratings because they understood that team leagues are all about the team. They may have adopted such ratings after achieving large membership, but that came after the fact - and may turn out to be a mistake.

As the new chair of the USATT league committee I will be putting together a packet for others to use to develop team leagues all over the United States. I will strongly encourage them to use ratings in singles leagues but never in a team league.

Improvement in Spite of Themselves

One of the tricks coaches learn is to teach younger players in spite of their resistance. For example, there's an eight-year-old I regularly coach who doesn't take the game seriously. Getting him to stop goofing off and focus on table tennis is like getting the sun to turn off. And yet, despite a two-second attention span, he is learning in spite of himself. Every now and then he's beginning to show flashes of real shot-making, and when he focuses (sometimes longer than two seconds), he can even hit with pretty good technique. He can even loop.

But you have to be careful what you say to an eight-year old. During a break, while I was sitting on the sofa, he suddenly popped a ball into his mouth. Yes, a ball from right off the floor! I explained to him how the ball was covered with germs, and putting the ball in his mouth was like putting my foot in his mouth. His response? When I wasn't looking, just to be funny, he grabbed my foot with his mouth!!! Yuck. The saliva stains on my table tennis shoes will probably never go away. 

Junior Class

We had 15 players in the beginning junior class I taught last night from 6-7PM, with the Triple-J coaches assisting - Jeffrey, John, and Josh. After a little ball bouncing, instead of going to our usual stroking practice (mostly multiball), I decided to change things up a bit, and we started with serve practice. I went over the rules, then explained the important of being able to serve a simple topspin serve to get a practice rally started (forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.), and then we got into spin. Few can serve spin at this point - they ranged in age from 7 to 11 - but they have to start somewhere. I brought out the colored soccer balls to demonstrate spin serves, and then had them do the usual exercise where they spin the ball with their paddle, catch the ball, and repeat. Then they went out on the tables to practice serves. The true beginners worked on just getting their serves on the table, which is not easy for a beginning seven-year-old. Others worked on serving low. And others worked on either serving with spin or on fast, deep serves.

After 15 minutes of serve practice we went to multiball training (mostly smashing). We finished the session with games, with five of them playing "King of the Table," and the rest taking turns trying to hit a Gatorade bottle on the table full of "worm juice," with me feeding multiball (two shots per player, taking turns), where if they hit it, I had to drink it. I drank much worm juice.

Old Dogs/New Tricks: Is this saying true?

Here's the new coaching article from Samson Dubina.

Ask the Coach

Episode #95 (17:05) - Dealing with Short Backspin (and other segments).

USA Coach Richard McAfee in India

Here's the ITTF article on the ITTF coaching course he ran in Madhya Pradesh, India, March 7-12. It's the second of five courses he's teaching there in a one-month period.

Kreanga vs. Salifou, Kreanga vs. Saive

Here's video (4:47, with time between points taken out) of a great match between Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece (formerly world #7, but now down to #86) vs. Abdel-Kader Salifou of France (world #102) in a recent French League match. Here's another great Kreanga match, against Jean-Michel Saive (7:13, time between points also removed).

Taiwanese Terrors

Here's video (41 seconds, including slow motion replay) of a nice point between Taiwanese players Chiang Hung-Chieh (the righty, world #66) vs. Chen Chien-An (the lefty, world #21).

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

Detroit Tigers Pong

Here's about 15 seconds of Tigers' players practicing for an apparent team table tennis tournament. Shown are Ian Kinsler (the one flipping his paddle but not actually playing) and others.

Junior Variety Pong?

Here's video (1:24) of kids playing every imaginable variant of table tennis - you just have to watch it.

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