Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM).
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 an author of five books and over 1200 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio.
Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.
While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.
Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given. Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."
I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.
Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day. I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper. That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.
Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.
Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.
But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built. Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years. The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."
(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.)
Interview with Jim Butler
While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)
The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot
Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.
Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup
Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)
Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball
Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.
The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork
Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.
Wang Liqin Doing Multiball
Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.
Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)
Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal.
Attempt on World's Longest Rally
Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.
China Primary School Ping Pong Army
Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.
Crossword Puzzle Pong
Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)
Table Tennis Memes
Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!
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Tip of the Week
USA National Team Trials
Here's the home page, with results, video, and pictures. Congratulations to 2014 US National Team Members! They are, in order of finish:
Women: Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu
Men: Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, and Jim Butler
There will also be a fifth "coach's picks," which I'm guessing will be Angela Guan or Tina Lin on the women's side, and Kanak Jha on the men's side.(I'm assuming they will go for younger players.)
Thanks to all the people who helped run the Trials - to mostly quote the Trials page, thank you Texas Wesleyan University, Jasna Rather for the great hospitality and facilities, and many thanks to the USATT Staff, Referees, Umpires, Commentators, Volunteers and David Del Vecchio for making the web stream possible.
I watched some of the live streaming. I mostly watched players from my club, in particular Crystal Wang, who made the team at the age of twelve, the youngest U.S. team member ever - see below. (She's from my club. While I've worked with her before and have coached her a number of times at tournaments, her primary coach is Jack Huang.) I also watched some of the others. As a coach, I'm constantly updating my technical analysis of each player, and I learned a few things about a few players that I added to my ever-growing notes.
The Trials ended with one of the best matches, a great battle between Yahao Zhang and Jim Butler for the third spot on the team. While there's not that big a difference between finishing third or fourth, the two really went at it, with Yahao finally winning 11-9 in the seventh. I've noticed sort of a cycle for Jim. When he first came out of retirement in his early forties a year or so ago, few knew how to play his somewhat unique style, which was based on serves, a big backhand smash, and ball control. And so many players struggled with him. Then they began to figure him out, either by playing him or seeing him play, and had less trouble. But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard.
The Trials format was as follows. On Day One, they played single elimination, with the winner clinching the #1 spot on the team. Seeding on Day Two was based on results from Day One, and once again they played single elimination, with the winner clinching the #2 spot on the team. On Day Three, with seeding again based on the previous day, they played one more single elimination, with the winner clinching the #3 spot, and the runner-up the #4 spot.
I think the story going into the Trials were the two junior phenoms, Kanak Jha (13) and Crystal Wang (12). Kanak, after his Nationals performance, was seeded #1 at 2614 to #2 Timothy Wang's 2601. Alas, it wasn't to be for Kanak this time as he ran into Timothy in the final on Friday, losing 4-1. But that made him the player to beat the rest of the way. However, he ran into Shao Yu both days, in the first round on Saturday (round of sixteen), and in the quarterfinals on Sunday, and lost 4-2 and 4-1. Shao Yu's pips-out backhand controlled the match as Shao snapped in shots all over the table. So Kanak was out - but as mentioned above, will likely be the coach's pick for the fifth spot.
Crystal had turned twelve less than two weeks before the Trials began. She came in with a rating of 2395, but since that came from a tournament she'd played in that only got processed on the Thursday night before the tournament, she was seeded seventh at 2304. (At 2395, she would have been seeded #3, two rating points below Judy Hugh.) And so she faced #1 seed Lily Zhang in the quarterfinals on Friday, losing 4-1. Lily went on to clinch the #1 spot, with a 4-3 battle over Tina Lin in the semifinals, and 4-1 in the final over Erica Wu.
On Saturday, Crystal and Prachi Jha had a titanic struggle in the quarterfinals. Crystal won the first two easily; Prachi won the next two easily, and pulled out the fifth 11-9. Up 3-2 and leading 7-1 in the sixth, it looked like Prachi was going to win, but Crystal came back to win in deuce. In the seventh, with Crystal up 8-5, it looked like she was going to win, but Prachi won the last six points to win the game and advance. She would go on to clinch the #2 spot, winning 4-0 against Judy Hugh in the semifinals and 4-1 over Angela Guan in the final.
On Sunday, Crystal went on a rampage. She won 4-0 in the first round over Tia Hsieh, 4-1 over Tina Lin (and her ferocious backhand smash) in the quarterfinals, 4-0 over in the semifinals over chopper Angela Guan, and 4-2 in the final over Erica Wu, thereby clinching the #3 spot on the team, with Erica getting the #4 spot.
At the time Crystal clinched her spot, she was exactly twelve years and fourteen days old. Is she the youngest player ever to make the U.S. team? Or the Women's Team? I put in a call to USATT Historian Tim Boggan yesterday afternoon, and literally minutes ago as I write this he emailed back verifying that she was the youngest. Offhand he had told me he knew of only two possible players who might have made the team at ages near that - Patty Martinez in the 1960s, and someone from the early 1950s.
ITTF Monthly Pongcast
Here's the video (12:08), covering ITTF events in February.
Table Tennis in Slow Motion
Here's the video (5:19) showing numerous world-class player. You can learn a lot by watching in slow motion, where you see things you miss at full speed.
Here's the video (2:24).
More Robot Table Tennis
Dell Sweeris vs. Judah Friedlander
Here's an article with picture on these two titans playing (with a link to a 90-sec video). One's a USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame player; the other is the "World Champion." (They are promoting the upcoming U.S. Open in Grand Rapids.)
Testing the Xu Shaofa Seamless Poly Ball
Here's the video (7:13) as the ball is tested by "The Junkyard" (that's Rich Burnside, near side) and Sutanit Tangyingyong, chopper/looper. It looks and sounds like a regular ball.
Switch Hands, Around-the-Net Countersmash, Win on Net Dribble Point
Here's the video (1:08, but mostly from replaying point on slow-motion).
Soccer Star in Trouble for Playing Table Tennis While Injured
Here's the story, about AC Milan star Mario Balotelli.
Table Tennis Checkers Optical Illusion
Here are two repeating GIF images from this futuristic space cartoon. Here's Fry vs. Bender (the robot) playing table tennis. And here's Fry and Amy, combined into one person, playing by themselves. There's a third ping-pong scene on the show in the "The Beast with a Billion Backs" four-episode shows, where Bender pulls a diorama from his chest showing him playing table tennis with Calculon. (It's misspelled in the article as "Calaculon.") I saw it, and it's mentioned in this episode description.
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Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - On Sale! - and Other Books
I've spent much of the last few weeks putting Table Tennis Tales & Techniques into a new format. You can now buy it print on demand at Amazon.com, with the price lowered from its previous $17.95 retail to only $11.61. There are some minor wording changes, and the format is slightly larger (9"x6" instead of the previous 8.5"x5.5"). While the book originally came out in 2009, the articles - both stories about table tennis, essays on technique, coaching tips, and a lot of table tennis humor - are timeless. Or so says me, the author! Of course, while there, don't forget to buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers or my other books on sale at Amazon. (Alas, due to the way the book was original set up, it would be incredibly time-consuming to put the Tales & Technique book in an ebook format, so that's not planned for now.)
Note that I expect to have an updated version of Table Tennis: Steps to Success - tentatively retitled as Table Tennis Fundamentals - by the end of this year. The key thing is finding time to get new photos for all the techniques in the book - there are a LOT. I've tentatively settled on who will demo most of the shots, and have a nice camera I can borrow. Then I go through it and update everything. There's a lot of updating to do.
I'm also planning to use those photos for an update to Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, a manual I wrote for USATT many years ago that covers how to coach. This is different from the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers the professional side to coaching - how to recruit and keep students, set up coaching programs, maximize, income, and other issues needed to make a living as a professional coach. (But of great value even for part-time coaches or promoters who wish to set up junior development programs or other types of classes or coaching programs.) I've learned a lot in the years since I originally wrote this, so there'll be a lot of updating.
I'm currently working on two books. Soon I'll finalize Table Tennis Tips, which is a compilation of all my Tips of the Week into one book, with the Tips organized in logical fashion, with a few notes added. All of these books will eventually go on sale at Amazon in print on demand and probably ebook format.
I'm also working on a rewrite of Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates, a science fiction novel I wrote a few years ago. (Yep, that's what I do in my free time!) I have a publisher interested, but they requested a rather extensive rewrite of certain aspects of the book. The book features table tennis a number of times - one of the main protagonists is a professional table tennis player who defaults out of a major tournament to run the third-party campaign for president of earth in the year 2100. The publisher said the best scene in the book was the scene where the player mentioned above does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership in an attempt to get their political support, with an alien ambassador he's been coaching as his playing partner. What happens during this exhibition I can't say without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say things don't go well for either of our table tennis players when the world government intervenes.
I have another novel already out, Sorcerers in Space, which you can buy at Amazon or a few dollars cheaper in various formats straight from the publisher, Class Act Books. That main protagonist there is also a table tennis player - a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong, though last name is never actually given], a sorcerer's apprentice, who has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world in the U.S.-Soviet space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts. I also have a collection of my best published short stories, Pings & Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges.
USA Team Trials
They start this morning. You can follow all the action here. I couldn't go, but last night after seeing the draws I emailed some tactical tips to some of the MDTTC players.
What do I tell kids about ratings? They aren't important, but they are fun when they go up. They are also used in rankings, and while winning events is more important, achieving a high ranking is a goal to achieve. And Crystal Wang keeps getting these high rankings!
After her latest tournament, where she won Under 2400 and made the semifinals of Open Singles at the MDTTC Open (beating players rated 2370, 2370, 2344, 2323, 2304, and 2257, while losing to players rated 2344 and 2565), she's up to 2395, good for #1 in U.S. girls in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. (She turned 12 one week ago.) She'd also be #1 boys under 13 and second in boys under 14 (after California's phenom Kanak Jha, who won't be 14 until June 19). Surprisingly, the 2395 isn't Crystal's highest rating - she was 2402 after the North American Teams in November, as an 11-year-old.
What's the highest rating ever for a 12-year-old? That would be 2468, by Kanak a year ago, with Crystal's 2395 (or 2402?) easily the second highest. These two have been breaking every rating record for kids since they were nine years old. Kanak set the record for the highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old in U.S. history, with Crystal breaking those records for 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds. Crystal's top goals this year are winning major events and making U.S. teams, but it will be fun to watch her "pursuit" of that 2468 over the next year. I happen to know that Crystal doesn't care one twit about ratings, and is pretty much oblivious to them. She has higher goals, which is why she trains about a zillion hours a day, a zillion days a week.
She's at the U.S. Team Trials right now, probably the youngest trying out. She made the quarterfinals of Women's Singles at the Nationals and won Under 22 Women over Ariel Hsing, who would go on to win her third Women's Singles title. But apparently due to school conflicts, Ariel isn't trying out for the U.S. team this year. The top seed is Lily Zhang at 2522. Number two is Judy Hugh at 2397. If they use the ratings that came out last night for seeding then Crystal would be seeded #3, two points behind Judy.
Table Tennis Master
Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.
Coaching a Beginning Kid
Want to see how it's done? Here's a video (3:05) of a coach, who seems to know what he's doing, working with a new kid, about 9-10 years old. There's a wide variety of skill when players first start out. Some pick it up quickly, seem to have a feel for the ball and for hitting it properly. Others have almost no control over the ball or their own bodies. The latter are tricky to work with because they are unable to really do what you want them to do. But with patience, they pick it up. The kid in the video is doing pretty well if it's his first session. He probably needs to put his right foot slightly back (which some kids are resistant to do, while others way overdo it), turn his shoulders more (which becomes more natural with the right foot slightly back), and raise his left arm for balance. (The coach comes over at one point to stress the shoulder turn, and the kid does better after that.)
More Against Poly Balls
Here's an article by Australian player Greg Letts where he discusses and comes out against the upcoming change to poly plastic balls.
Coach Wanted in Northern California (USA)
Here's the help wanted note they put up:
Established Club in Northern California is accepting applications for a full time coach / sparring partner. Compensation is 24-36K depending on level and experience. Your title will be developmental coach and you will report to the head coach who will oversee the curriculum and assign your duties. You must be a team player who can work together with the other coaching staff and be passionate about developing young players. You should play at a high enough level to stretch our current juniors who are 2400 +.
The ideal candidate plays at a level of 2500 or higher, has coaching experience, and speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
You must be able to document your playing and coaching history. Match video is helpful.
For more information send your resume to email@example.com.
2-2 Footwork Drill
Here's a video (1:44) of an advanced player doing the 2-2 drill - two forehands from the forehand side, two forehands from the backhand side. I haven't really done this drill much with my students - I may add it to my repertoire.
The Coaching Scam Continues
On Feb. 27 I wrote about a coaching scam that's taking advantage of U.S. coaches. The idiot doing this is back, once again sending a mass email to U.S. table tennis coaches. I received mine yesterday at 6:53PM. Soon after other coaches also reported getting it. The emails have several variations - strangely, he doesn't send out the exact email to everyone. Here's the one I got, typos and all:
How are you doing today? My wife and I are looking to hire a qualified Coach that can train our Son and his name is David and he is 14yrs old,What we want for him is a just a general brush-up with his trainaing and in any areas he might have difficulties with.If you are available and qualified,kindly get back to me with your rates and location hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Mr. Derick Bentley
Here's another one sent to another coach:
I send you Compliments and greetings? Hope you having a great week?
Anyway I and my wife are looking to hire a qualified coach for our child who is 14yrs old. What we wanted for our child is a just a general brush-up with training and in any areas our child might be have difficulties with. If you are available and qualified, kindly get back to me with your rates and your location and hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Have a nice day.
Mr. Derick Bentley
I got tired of the idiot and responded with this:
How long are you going to do this scam? Every email you send to U.S. coaches is being turned over to the FBI. We know the scam - you insist on paying in advance, you overpay, and then you ask for a refund. The coach sends you the difference, then your fake check bounces. Oh, and then you go to jail.
Only Sort-of-Table-Tennis-Related Tongue-Twister
Yesterday at the club I heard one of the kids mention something about his backpack. It got me thinking - what if you say it backwards, packback? Better still say it both ways: "Backpack Packback"? Then I realized how hard it is to say that, and I realized I'd invented the most difficult tongue-twister ever developed. (That's my position and I'm sticking with it.) So I challenged the kids to say it five times fast, and pretty soon the room was full with the attempts. I don't think anyone was successful unless they slowed down dramatically. Try it - just say "Backpack Packback" five times fast, and do so without reading it off the page (which seems to make it easier). If you can do that, you have outdone the MDTTC juniors. (Disclaimer - our top four juniors weren't there, with three of them off to the U.S. Team Trials. So you are only up against the MDTTC Junior "B" Team!)
Here's a picture of someone holding back the table tennis dog that we're going to sic on that table tennis scammer above.
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Top Ten New Table Tennis Rules I'd Like to See
Some serious, some not so serious. You judge which.
Wang Liqin: Ma Lin was a Headache
Here's the article - and no, he's not insulting him, he's talking about what it was like playing him.
Why B2B Marketers Need a Ping-Pong Plan
Here's the article, which includes a nice cats-playing-TT picture.
Drilling with a Robot
Here's a video (29 sec) showing one of the zillions of possible drills with a robot. Most of the major table tennis dealers now sell these advanced robots, but they are more expensive than the less expensive ones, which primarily hit either to one spot or randomly all over the table.
Bay Areas Trying Out for USA National Team
Here's a video (75 sec) that features the players from the SF bay area that are trying out for team at the Trials at Texas Wesleyan University, Fri-Sun, March 7-9.
A Little School Table Tennis
Here's a video (54 sec) of Adam Bobrow hitting with kids at a school. At 34 sec in he can't resist throwing in a high, sidespinning-backspinning lob.
Playing Table Tennis on Drugs!
Here's a hilarious new video (102 sec) where Australians take on Americans in "the most epic table tennis duel in history!!" (It gets really good about 17 seconds in.)
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Players from Training Centers vs. Regular Clubs - Style Differences
Ever notice that you can tell much of a player's background just by watching his style and strokes? The most obvious thing is whether the player came out of a training center (i.e. regular coaching and training, constantly surrounded by top players with good technique) versus those who come out of regular clubs (mostly learned on their own by watching local players, who didn't always have the best technique, and developed mostly by playing matches). These are not rules, just general things you mostly see that tell the player's background. It's mostly about where the player started - a self-taught player who then joins a training center will still have some semblance of those self-taught strokes and style even after years of training.
Players from training centers generally have nice, smooth technique. Even when the technique isn't perfect it's usually close to where only a discerning coach can really tell the difference. They generally play close to the table from hours and hours of coaches stressing this. They almost always loop from both sides. Many almost never smash, instead looping winners even off balls that are eye level or higher. They often topspin their backhands, even in faster rallies, often without backing up much. They rarely push more than once in a row. They move smoothly and quickly, with great balance. Their serves are often seeming mirror images of top players serves - mostly forehand regular and reverse pendulum serves.
Players from regular clubs often have more ragged strokes, though they get the job done for their level. The technique is often jury-rigged and awkward, which leads to inconsistency but - as a partial equalizer - means their shots come out erratically, which causes problems for opponents. They may stay at the table, or they may back off, if they have fast feet (which is not the same thing as good footwork, but it's a major component). In a rally they either hit the forehand or back off to loop, while mostly hitting flat backhands. They often have nice smashes. Against weaker players, they dominate with opening loops and follow-up smashes; against stronger players they are turned into blockers. They'll often push several balls in a row. They are often off balance and don't realize it. They often have a large variety of spinny serves, but individually the serves are not that deceptive, relying on different motions rather than deceptive motions for their effectiveness.
Remember, these are just generalities. There are players who have trained half their lives at training centers and still look like amateurs, while some from regular clubs pick up on high-level technique and look like they've trained with coaches since they were kids - but they are the exceptions. Some of the most interesting matches are clashes between these two types of players. The player from the training center struggles to adjust to the erratic and "weird" shots of the regular club player, who in turn struggles to adjust to the superior technique of the training center player. Which are you?
2014 USA National Team Trials Extended Preview
Here's the video (5:24)! The Trials are this Fri-Sun at Texas Wesleyan University. This is a great compilation of USA players winning big matches, often the championship point at past USA Nationals. I was there for most of them!
Samson Dubina Coaching Tips
He's been putting up short tips almost daily in the news section of his webpage. (Expect a few bible verses as well…)
Interview with Adham Sharara, ITTF President
Here it is, published yesterday by ITTF.
Interview with Vladimir Samsonov, Chair of the ITTF Athletes Commission
Here it is, published yesterday by ITTF.
Ma Lin Hopes to Produce an Olympic and World Champion
Here's the article. Ma is now the director of the Guangzhou Table Tennis Management Centre.
Jean-Michel Saive Wins 25th Belgium Men's Singles Title
Here's the article. (He's 44.)
Here's their web page. They are a charity event for 826DC, which had its kickoff yesterday and continues through March 30. "826DC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write."
Amayzlin - Music Trailer
Here's the table tennis music video (4:05), created and starring Alex Mayzlin - actor, singer, musician, songwriter . . . and 2100 table tennis player. "This is my life. This is what I do. I wouldn't have it any other way."
The Ping Pong Ambassador
Non-Table Tennis - Phone Scam
On Feb. 27, I wrote about coaching scams. Well, I almost got scammed in a non-table tennis way, though I caught it just in time. I don't make or receive a lot of phone calls - I'm more of an emailer - so when my phone stopped working on Saturday I didn't notice at first. I made a call to MDTTC that morning, and got a message saying the phone was disabled or no longer working (something like that), and assumed there was something wrong with their phone. I didn't make or receive any calls on Monday. On Tuesday I called a bank to make sure they were open (lots of snow outside), and got a similar answer. So I tested it and discovered I got the error message no matter who I called. I also realized I hadn't received or made a call since Friday. Then I remembered a "junk" email I'd received from Verizon Wireless (my cell phone carrier) that thanked me for upgrading my service. I'd deleted it, thinking it was some sort of spam, but now I pulled it out of the trash and printed it out.
I drove to Verizon Wireless (roads were fine - only local schools were closed) and they took about an hour trying to figure out the problem. They had to call their own technical support. They discovered that my "upgrade" had added five new phone numbers to my account, and that this upgrade had caused my phone to stop working since it hadn't been approved for my cell phone (something like that). After some investigation, they told me that someone had gone into an Apple store on Saturday (they think one in New York), and had done the upgrade, somehow using my password, and getting five new cheap cell phones. It was a scam - the person had then sold the five cell phones to people overseas at highly inflated prices. For the scam to work, he had to have a valid account (mine, don't know how he got my password, I've since changed it), so he could get the five new numbers and cell phones. I was told that if I hadn't acted right away by going to Verizon, within days I would have gotten a phone bill for approximately $4000!
So if you've called me in the last few days and couldn't get through, now you know why.
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Tip of the Week
Change of Direction Receive
At the MDTTC tournament this weekend player I was coaching was having trouble against a much higher-rated player who had nice last-second change of directions on his receives. Over and over he'd start to push the ball one way - usually to the backhand - and at the last second, would change and go the other way. (Here's a Tip on this, "Pushing Change of Direction.") Although my player kept the first game close when the other player kept going for (and missing) some difficult counterloops, this last-second change of directions completely stopped my player's serve and attack. He'd see where the ball was going and start to move to attack, and then, suddenly, the ball would be somewhere else, and he'd be lunging to make a return.
Between games I told him to focus on three things. First, go completely two-winged to follow up his serve - if the receive was to his backhand, backhand loop, while if the ball was to the forehand, forehand loop. Players who can't do this when necessary have a major weakness in their games.
Second, since he wasn't trying to follow with the forehand, I told him to take his time and just wait and see where the ball was going. He was so used to reacting quickly that his own instincts were going against him as he reacted too quickly. This showed that most players are too obvious in their returns, telegraphing their receive way too early. It also showed how effective it is when a player learns the seemingly basic idea of not telegraphing the receive, i.e. changing directions at the last second.
Third, I told him to focus on varied backspin and no-spin serves short to the middle. (This, combined with sudden deep serves to his wide backhand, proved effective.) This helps in two ways. By going to the middle it cuts off the extreme angles. If my player served short to the forehand or backhand, the opponent could aim one way, and at the last second instead go for the extreme angle, which would be tricky to cover. And by varying the serve, the server loses some control of those last-second changes of direction. (Varying the serve, of course, is something you should do against everyone, but regular reminders help. But here the focus was on variation mostly between two simple serves, along with the occasional long one.)
The tactics worked as my player won game two. Alas, remember those difficult counterloops the opponent missed in the first game? He stopped missing them, and managed to barely pull out two close games to win the match and avoid a major upset.
MDTTC Open Results and Raghu's Shot
We had a tournament this past weekend at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. You can see the complete results - including every preliminary match - at Omnipong!
One thing you can't see is the shot of the year, by Raghu Nadmichettu, who's about 2400. He was playing against Nam Nguyen in the Open, a 2100+ player. (Both are righties.) Nam ripped a ball to Raghu's wide backhand, which Raghu fished back. Then Nam ripped another to Raghu's extreme wide forehand. Raghu raced over and made a lunging return from his wide, wide forehand, which left him stumbling into the adjacent court. Nam creamed the ball with a powerful sidespin kill-loop that broke wide into Raghu's forehand again. From the adjacent court, Raghu counter-ripped a backhand sidespin counter-kill-loop from his wide forehand (!). The ball came from outside the table, curving to the right as it went toward the table, and hitting right on Nam's backhand corner for a clean winner. Okay, maybe you had to be there, but page down below to the segment on Timo Boll's backhand passing shots and watch those examples. Now imagine them right-handed, at twice the speed, and done with a backhand from the wide forehand side from the adjacent court, with the ball smacking into the far right-corner.
1500 Published Articles
The new Winter 2014 USATT Magazine includes my article "Blocking Tips." It's a milestone - my 1500th published article. Here's a complete listing. This includes 1334 articles on table tennis. I've been in 145 different publications. (I don't include blog entries in this count, though I do include Tips of the Week.)
Chance Friend is a Pro Player
In my blog on Feb. 28, I wrote, "Right now there's really only one USA player who is basically a full-time professional player, Timothy Wang. I've been told that Chance Friend of Texas also makes a living as a full-time professional player, playing in the German Leagues. (I've amended the blog.) So perhaps it can be said that Timothy Wang is the only professional player in the U.S., since Chance is making a living at it overseas.
Kagin Lee's Blog
Here's his blog from last week where he talks about different types of ping-pong balls (celluloid vs. the new plastic ones, different sizes, and seamed vs. non-seamed). He covers the topics well, including how the various spinning balls move through the air and jump off the paddle.
One picky little thing not covered - how the ball would bounce off the table differently. One of the key hidden reasons looping is so effective is how it jumps when it hits the table, unlike a regular drive which goes at a more constant speed, making it easier to time against. It's also why off-the-bounce looping is so deadly, because you are already rushed to react to the shot and then it suddenly jumps even more quickly.
Mike Babuin's Blog
Timo Boll's Backhand Passing Shot
Here's video (64 sec) of the German star snapping off backhand counterloop winners.
Great Drop Shots
Here's a video (35 sec) that features three great drop shots against topspin in one rally. Why don't players do this more often?
Here's video (2:44) of a 193-shot rally (mostly pushing) between two top choppers. One of them finally and bravely finally ends the point! You don't see too many points like this anymore.
Boca Raton Table Tennis
Here's an article featuring table tennis in general and in Boca Raton, Florida.
Tampa Bay Rays
Now another team is playing table tennis! Includes a picture of Wil Myers playing David DeJesus.
Goran Dragic Playing Table Tennis
Here are photos of the Phoenix Suns basketball star hitting with Coach Matt Winkler.
Mythbusters and the Supersonic Canon
On the March 1 episode of Mythbusters asked themselves if supersonic ping pong can go lethally wrong. And so they created a supersonic ping-pong ball canon. I've linked to other such ping-pong ball canons, but Mythbusters took it to another level, with the ball reaching speeds in excess of 1100 mph! The ball went cleanly through a ping-pong paddle, leaving a ball-sized hold. However, after testing it against a giant pork shoulder, they concluded it did not do lethal damage.
Judah Friedlander Interview
Here it is, where he discusses ping-pong. "The thing with ping pong is, it’s a sport pretty much everyone has played. And everyone thinks they’re great at it. And I just like to show people the truth."
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Snow, God, and Godzilla
With the snow piling up outside as God serves vengeance upon the Earth for our constant tinkering with table tennis rules, everyone else is getting the day off. I don't want to go against the tide of doomed humanity and so I too will take the day off. So no blog today, other than this. The Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow. (Actually, I've got a bunch of things to get done today, in particular the new MDTTC newsletter, finalizing a short story I'm working on, and a secret table tennis project I'm working on - shhh! More on that later on.) Alas, only those on Noah's giant snowmobile will survive the massive snows to repopulate the Earth, bringing back 38mm balls, 21-point games, celluloid balls, and (of course) the print version of USA Table Tennis Magazine. The rest of us will die horrible deaths, freezing and suffocating as we are buried in hundreds of feet of snow and (if God has a sense of humor) poly ping-pong balls that'll cascade out of the sky.
Meanwhile, here's a video of a new Snickers commercial (46 sec) that features Godzilla playing table tennis. Humanity's only hope is if Godzilla challenges God to ping-pong and defeats him, forcing him to stop the snow. (I'll coach Godzilla. I've studied videos of God, and his defense is weak - if you attack, he turns his cheek toward you and loses sight of the ball. Also, he has a weak smash as he claims to be against killing, except of course by flood or snow.) They can play in the Philippines, God versus Godzilla in the Thrilla in Manila.
Making a Living at Table Tennis
I started this article by writing, "Not a lot of people in the U.S. do it," but by the time I was through, I decided to change that to, "A surprising number of people in the U.S do." So who and how does one make a living at this Olympic sport?
USA's Kunal Chodri Picture Featured by ITTF
Ma Long and Fan Zhendong
Here are two articles featuring these two. Sixteen-year-old phenom Fan recently beat Ma for the first time
Girls in Training
Here's a great music video (3:21) showing top junior girls training in Europe.
Jo Drinkhall Aerobic Table Tennis
Here's the video (3:24), featuring the British #1 woman.
Here's the article, Great Showing from Florida Colleges at Local Tournament.
LA Dodgers Play Table Tennis
Here's the article and a video (7 sec, looping over and over) of pitchers Brian Wilson and Chris Withrow playing. The article claims the Dodgers are better than the Orioles in table tennis, but sorry, it's not even close. I've watched half the Orioles play, and coached three of them, and I've watched this video, and it's like comparing U.S. table tennis to China. The Orioles have 5-6 players who would destroy either of these Dodgers players. JJ Hardy would beat them so bad they'd be sent back to the minors to work on their ping-pong.
Ping Pong Anime Series
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In my April 14 blog, I wrote about a coaching scam from England. (See fifth item.) The scam has apparently expanded, and now sometimes comes from England, other times from Nigeria. The scam works as follows: you get an email that someone wants to send his son/daughter to the U.S. for coaching. They make the arrangements, and want to pay in advance. They send the check, which is for way too much - apparently an extra zero is added at the end. Then you get an email saying they made a mistake, and asking for you to send back the difference. Many people think that they can do this, since they've already received the check, but the check will bounce, and you'll be out the difference. I've been getting varieties of this scam for years. At least ten coaches have told me they received it, and I expect many more have. I think they are simply taking emails from the USATT certified coaching list. At least one coach I know of almost fell for it - he had already made out the refund check, and would have sent it except heavy snow stopped him, and then someone told him to go to the bank first to make sure the incoming check cleared. They were advised it was a bad check, and they have turned the info over to the FBI.
USATT was the beneficiary of a major scam for years back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. (One of those years I was in charge of inputting all the entries in the computer, and remember entering all those one-event Nigerians.) For several years in a row USATT received sometimes close to a hundred entries from Nigeria for the U.S. Open. Each "player" would enter exactly one event, Men's or Women's Singles. In return, USATT would send out an invitation letter. The invitation letter was apparently all the Nigerians needed to get into the U.S., and so both sides "won" - the Nigerians got into the U.S., and USATT got their entry fees. At least one year we even had arrival and hotel info for the Nigerians, who apparently arrived and then all disappeared. Not once did any show for the tournament, and so for those years Men's and Women's singles was full of Nigerian no-show defaults. Then USATT was advised by the FBI on what was going on, and told to stop accepting these entries or we'd be in violation of immigration laws. After that I believe we required entry of all or most foreign players through their national associations.
Blade vs. Racket
In my Monday blog, I wrote about the interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara, and about the apparent upcoming bounce test. In the article I inadvertently interchanged racket and blade, when the two are different. (Racket includes the covering; the blade does not.) So the article might have been confusing. I've fixed it. The bounce test would presumably be on the racket, i.e. a measurement of how high the ball bounces off a racket and covering.
Tournament Event Selection (Why you shouldn’t avoid YOUR events)
Here's a new coaching article from the OKCTT Blog (that's Oklahoma City Table Tennis). But if you page down, there are a number of other coaching articles. Here's a listing - take your pick!
USATT Help Wanted
Here's the position announcement for a USATT Administrative Assistant. Presumably this is to take the place of Joyce Grooms, who is retiring soon after many years with USATT. Apply by March 5.
Add ITTF Videos to Your Website
Here's a widget that'll allow you to put these table tennis videos on your websites.
Volunteers Needed at Cary Cup
Want to volunteer at the Cary Cup Open in Cary, NC, March 15-16? Here's info! (I'll be there, playing the hardbat event on Friday, then coaching the rest of the way.)
Mental Fitness for Long-Term Athlete Development
Here's a brochure on the subject - with a table tennis picture featured at the start.
22 Jump Street to Feature Table Tennis
Here's the article. The movie 22 Jump Street comes out June 13, and is the sequel to 21 Jump Street, the hit comedy from 2012. Both star Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube. (Okay, it'll be beer pong, but close enough.)
The Dalai Lama on Ping Pong
Here's a video (1:30, starts with 30 sec ad). He mentions playing with China's Prime Minister Zhou En-lai in the 1950s. They also discuss golf and the movie Caddyshack.
Ping & Pong: Toy Robot Players
Here's the picture - they are from the Kid Robot Dunny 2012 Series.
Pong to the People!
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I've previously blogged about some of the below, but I'm going to rehash some of it here so as to get to the point about vision.
Way back in December, 2006, I made a proposal to the USATT board for them to get involved in developing training centers and junior programs. The plan basically involved them recruiting and training coaches to set up these centers and programs. They'd use their web page and regular mailings to get prospective coaches into coaching seminars that USATT was already running. The seminars would cover not only how to coach, but the professional side as well - how to get students, set up and run programs, etc., with a major emphasis on developing full-time coaches who would set up full-time training centers and junior programs. I even wrote the manual for the program, which I've since had published, "Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook."
I ended the proposal by asking the USATT board what their vision was for table tennis in America, and gave them mine:
"Hundreds of professional clubs with coaches, junior training programs, classes, and leagues; thousands of recreational clubs with leagues or training programs; and hundreds of thousands playing in leagues or training programs."
At the time there were only about ten full-time centers in the U.S., and about that many serious junior programs. When I finished my proposal, thirteen board members looked back at me with seemingly little interest. Two of them spoke up, saying there weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers except in a few unique areas. I stared back in absolute disbelief. I was so disgusted that I told several people that very night I was resigning my position as editor of USATT Magazine, co-webmaster, and program director, which I officially did one month later.
That was just over seven years ago. Without USATT's involvement, there are now nearly 70 full-time training centers in the U.S., and nearly every one of them has a serious junior program. It happened because many others saw what I saw - there would be a demand for such centers, and where there's a demand, entrepreneurs step in. In this case, lots of table tennis coaches and top players filled the demand. The two board members were correct that there "weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers." What they and others without vision did not see is that you create this demand. With USATT's support, who knows how many more we would have.
Some would say we're better off without USATT getting involved, but as one who's out in the trenches, who's actually set up full-time centers and helps others doing so, I guarantee the lack of any national leadership is perhaps the biggest handicap here. Everyone who opens such a center has to practically re-invent the wheel. Other sports recruit and train coaches and promoters to do these things; we rely on them figuring it out on their own. There should be a partnership between USATT and those trying to set up such centers and junior programs, since both should have the same goals.
The result of all these new junior programs has been staggering. The level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so far ahead of where it was just seven years ago it's not even comparable. Two years ago I blogged about this, and gave a comparison of the top juniors in 2011 to those in 2006, and it wasn't even close. In the last two years, the level has dramatically gone up again. Kids who are now battling to compete with the best of their age would often be the dominating #1 player just seven years ago. The top ten players in every age group are now doing things that at most one player their age might have been doing seven years ago. We have multiple 12-year-olds who could have been the U.S. Under 18 Champion in many past years.
Since USATT still has no interest in helping out in the recruiting and training of the coaches and promoters to set up training centers and junior programs, and also have shown no interest in setting up any sort of nationwide network of regional leagues, they either have some other vision, or no vision. Which is it?
While the staff does the day-to-day running of the sport, the board, with help from committees, sets policy. You can't set effective policy until you know where you are trying to go. Those who don't understand this do not have the vision needed to lead our sport to prosperity.
So here's my question to all USATT board members, as well as committee chairs and members, staff, and anyone else involved in the development of table tennis in the U.S. Think this over, take your time, and give a serious answer.
What is your vision for table tennis in the U.S.?
In yesterday's blog I linked to the new minutes of two USATT board meetings and reports. I'll blog about them sometime soon. However, here's one really good thing that jumped out at me from the December meeting - the part about raising $5 million in four years in the amended motion #2. The good thing isn't about the proposed raising of $5 million. Here's the motion:
"MOVED to direct the CEO to develop a major fundraising plan that would raise $5,000,000 per quad, in addition to our current operations. The major concepts of the plan are to be presented to the Board at the Spring 2014 Board meeting."
It's good that they are trying to raise money, but there's nothing new about it. What jumps out is that they did one small, seemingly insignificant thing that USATT almost always forgets to do in the past - they put someone in charge of actually doing it - the USATT CEO. Voting to do something may make it look like something is being accomplished and may make the voters feel good about themselves, but it doesn't accomplish anything unless you put someone specifically in charge of actually getting it done. It's a lesson USATT should have learned long ago, but over and over has failed to do, and so rarely gets much done. (Anyone remember the People's Front of Judea in the movie "Life of Brian"? They kept voting to do hugely important things, then would adjourn without actually doing anything.) Perhaps this time it'll be different - I'm actually hopeful here, since I know raising funding is a top priority of board chair Mike Babuin, and now we have our CEO directly in charge of doing so. In the words of a famous captain, "Make it so!"
Late last night before going to bed I decided to do the crossword puzzle from that morning's Washington Post. Here was 62 across, eleven letters: "Olympic sport with the smallest ball." Let's see, what could that be? Spitballer? Peashooting? ProMarbling?
Here's an article on the new poly balls, which are supposed to replace celluloid balls starting in July. The newer versions have apparently passed all eleven required laboratory tests. Will they pass the players' test? USATT has announced they will still use celluloid balls at the U.S. Open in July (they had already ordered the balls), but after that we'll see. I believe tournament directors will be able to choose which to use, but I'm not sure.
Richard McAfee's New Knee
Here's a picture of former USATT Coaching Chair and current ITTF roving coach Richard McAfee after having knee replacement surgery. He looks so comfortable, lying back and reading with all those tubes sticking out of him.
Westchester Open Singles Final
Here's the video (35:47), with Eugene Wang of Canada (U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion and North American #1 ranked player) defeating 16-year-old Kai Zhang, -11,10,3,8.
Here's an incredible rally (47 sec) posted this morning from the Swedish League.
Pong to the People
He's Having a Ball Playing Table Tennis
Headis - Soccer-style Table Tennis
Here's video (43 sec) of the fastest growing sport in America. While we're on the subject of soccer, here's video (5:11) of three members of the U.S. Soccer team playing table tennis (Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Heath Pearce).
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