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Blogs

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 seven books and over 1400 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

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

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

His newest book, The Spirit of Pong, is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis and ends up training with the spirits of past champions. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

May 26, 2016

MDTTC Open House, Balticon, and a Four-Day Weekend!
I'll be mostly away the next four days, mostly at the Balticon Science Fiction Convention, which is Friday through Monday (Memorial Day). However, I'll be back at MDTTC on Sunday (12-3PM) for our Open House, where I'll be doing a demonstration and exhibition; running a Parade of Champions (single elimination, one game to 3 points – you heard that right! – with everyone welcome to participate); doing a trick shot demo (where I teach the 50-foot serve, blowing the ball in the air and over net, backspin serves that bounce back over the net, speed bouncing, playing alone with two paddles, etc.), and a service seminar. I'll be doing some private coaching afterwards.

At Balticon I'm a panelist, and will be doing a reading Saturday night at 8PM (either from my new novel, or one of my short stories). I'll also get to hobnob with fellow SF and fantasy writers, including Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin – who I've met before! Yes, I Know Him!!! (Okay, maybe he'd vaguely recognize me from conventions as that stalker fellow writer he once met.) For you ignorant people scratching your heads and wondering what Martin's rating is and what sponge he uses on his forehand, he's the author of Game of Thrones, now the hit HBO series. He does more kills in a typical chapter than most of you do in your table tennis careers. (I've read all five of the Game of Thrones novels – but they average over 1000 pages, so it's like reading 15 books.) Hopefully they'll sell a bunch of my novel in the dealer's room. 

Of course, the big question in everyone's mind is whether there's a Game of Thrones – Table Tennis connection. And yes there is – here are two! First, there's this "Table Tennis is Coming" meme that someone (not me) created. But far more interesting is this Sesame Street video (5:47) that satires Game of Thrones – except they have three thrones, a wiffleball chair, a golf chair – and a ping-pong chair that's made up of dozens of copper-colored paddles and balls! Here's a picture of the three chairs, which show up at 1:13.  I want the ping-pong chair! (Here's a picture of King Joffrey – RIP – on the actual Iron Throne they are mocking.)

I'm pretty much limping into the weekend – it's been a very physical week, with my students conspiring to move me around the court like sadists. I'm limping from a slightly pulled leg muscle; my arm is sore; and I pulled something in my neck yesterday. Just another Thursday in Larryland. (I've only got two hours of coaching today, plus a one-hour class, so we'll see where things stand tonight.)

But I'll get to mostly rest (other than Sunday…), so hopefully when I start coaching again next Tuesday I'll be fine. But no blog Fri-Mon; see you on Tuesday!

2016 World Veterans Championships
Here's the home page. They are going on right now in Alicante/Elche, Spain, May 23-29. Here's where you can find results. And here's a panoramic video (18 sec) of the playing site – this you want to see! Tables as far as the eye can see - 150 tables, 4600 players. Now I rather wish I were there . . . but it'll be here in Las Vegas, USA, in 2018. 

Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

Training Video
Here's the new coaching video (32:24) – alas, I think it's in German.

USATT Insider
Here's the issue that came out yesterday.

Allen Wang Awesome Backhand Receive
Here's the video (9 sec). Kanak Jha didn't know what hit him!

Computerized Table for Table Tennis Training
Here are two videos (2:16 and 60 sec).  

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.

7 Ways to Use HP Touchpads After They Stop Working
Here's #2!

Fiery Pong!
Here's the picture.

The Greatest Rally of All Time
Here's the hilarious video (60 sec)!

Non-Table Tennis (mostly) - Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions Review
My recent science fiction novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, just got its first review in a major site - and it's a great one! Here's the review from the SF Crow's Nest. Some quotes: “There are so many good things in this novel that I’m bursting to share them but that would spoil it for the first time reader.” "Anyway, it’s a marvellous book. Easy reading, fast-paced, lots of surprise plot twists, likeable heroes, a loveable alien and a gripping climax that takes the election right to the wire. Highly recommended.” Side note - the ebook version of the novel is on sale for $1.99 - but the sale ends tomorrow (Friday, May 27). Here's my March 8, 2016 blog about the table tennis in the novel, and here's the link to the book preview video (80 sec). 
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May 25, 2016

Rarely Used Hand Signals for Illegal Hidden Serves
Here's the video (5:38), which came out in February. But there's something surreal to me about having signals for hiding the ball (with the arm, the shoulder, and the head), when these are almost never called, no matter how blatantly the player hides the serve.

As I've blogged many times, we have a culture of cheating in our sport, where essentially every major title is won with illegal hidden serves that are done right out in the open, where everyone can see it, and the umpires will not call it. Yes, it's tough to see if a serve is hidden, but that's clearly covered in the serving rules – 2.6.6.1: "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

And in case that's not enough, there's also 2.6.6: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

There is a zero percent chance that an umpire can be "sure" about the legality of a serve where the player blatantly hides contact with his arm, shoulder, or head (as is done over and over), and of course it's the responsibility of the player to make sure the umpire is sure of this. And yet they almost never call it – meaning we have to teach our players (including up-and-coming kids) that they must cheat if they want to compete. It's sickening, and yet there seems no way to get the people in charge to act on this. I know; I've tried and tried. Most are still in denial, just as those in charge were in denial during the steroids era.

Interview with USATT CEO Gordon Kaye
They seem to have done this in several parts. I linked to question #1 on April 28. They have since published question #2 and #4, but strangely I can find no question #3. Here are the three available; #4 is perhaps the most important and most interesting. (The interviews were taken at the ICC TTC.)

  • Question 1 (1:59): How did you get started with Table Tennis?
  • Question 2 (1:34: How did you become passionate about table tennis?
  • Question 4 (1:44): Why do you believe table tennis is growing as a serious sport in the U.S.?

2016 World Veterans Championships
Here's the home page. They are going on right now in Alicante/Elche, Spain, May 23-29. Here's where you can find results

Zhang Jike to Defend Olympic Games Men's Singles Title
Here's the ITTF article.

Anne Cribbs Honored by Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame
Here's the USATT article. Anne is on the USATT Board of Directors.

DHS ITTF Top 10 Shots - 2016 ITTF Polish Open
Here's the video (5:06).

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - April 2016
Here's the video (13:12).

Jan-Ove Waldner Gets Mobbed in China
Here's the video (70 sec).

Adam Bobrow: Visiting the Youth in Penang TT Club
Here's the video (3:36).

Taiwan Shiuder Elementary School Team Recruit Promo
Here's the video (2:17).

Giant Ping-Pong Paddles

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May 24, 2016

Backspin Mania Continues!
Yesterday was quite a site – ten minutes before the scheduled 4-5PM session with two kids there were FIVE of them all on a single table, all practicing and competing to see who could do the most backspin serves that came back into or over the net. This past week it's been a battle to get some of them to do regular practice – they are absolutely backspin crazy. That's all we did from 4-4:30.

When we went to regular practice, guess what they insisted on working on? More backspin. So we did a lot of pushing. (Maybe we're developing a bunch of choppers? Should I explain long pips to them?) I stopped trying to explain that keeping the ball LOW is important – they were more interested in pushing so the ball bounced backwards. Since they ranged from beginner to advanced beginner, and were 7-8 years old, I allowed it – they got great practice learning to graze the ball. (Have trouble creating great spin on your serves? Then learn from the kids, and try to make the ball bounce back into the net! Here's my article Visualize Your Serves and Make Them Do Tricks.)

The youngest, age seven, goes absolutely bonkers whenever he makes a serve where the ball bounces back over the net onto his side – and he can do it about 10% of the time now, which I wouldn't have  believed possible a week ago. At that time, he'd not only never done it, he didn't know what a backspin serve was – and now, one week after learning how to do one, nearly all his serves bounce back into the net! He's rather single-minded about this, as you can guess.

One problem – they have discovered that my racket, with Tenergy on both sides, creates more backspin, and so they constantly want to borrow it, as well as my backup. I've tried to explain that they don't want a racket that fast, and that their parents won't buy them a Timo Boll ALC ($150) with Tenergy on both sides ($75/sheet), but they are only interested in backspin, Backspin, and more BACKSPIN!!!

And speaking of Tenergy…

Tenergy Family – Zhang Jike
Here's the new highlights video (2:08) from Butterfly. (Disclosure: I'm sponsored by Butterfly; my dad's an entomologist who specialized in moths and butterflies; when I was a kid, I had an extensive butterfly collection; and even now, before a big match, I get butterflies in my stomach – but only before, not during!)

China Table Tennis Techniques, Lesson 6
Here's the video (1:23:29). Alas, it's in Chinese, but good stuff to watch.

2016 World Veterans Championships
Here's the home page. They are going on right now in Alicante/Elche, Spain, May 23-29. Here's where you can find results

Pete May to Represent the US in the World Veteran Table Tennis Championships in Spain
Here's the article from the Augusta Chronicle.

Kong Linghui Explains Ding Ning in the Olympic Singles 
Here's the article, with links to video.

Grand Finals Winners, Chuang Chih-Yuan and Jun Mizutani Head Zagreb Seeding
Here's the article on the upcoming Croatian Open.

11 Questions with Bernardo Iturriaga
Here's the USATT Interview.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 17 (1989-1990)
Here's chapter 10! Or order your own print copies at TimBogganTableTennis.com.

Two Months, Seven Courses, the Journey Ends on High Note in Ajmer
Here's the ITTF article on Christian Lillieroos teaching ITTF coaching courses in India.

Jan-Ove Waldner Documentary
Here's the new video (58:57). Alas, it's in Swedish, but lots of video footage.

Liam Pitchford Ripping Backhands in Multiball Session
Here's the video (36 sec) – see how easy it is?

Great Points!

Olympic Coach Magazine
Here's the new issue.

Titanic Table Tennis
Here's the video (1:28) – huge table, check; huge net, check; and I think that's a 44mm ball, check. Is this the future of table tennis?

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May 23, 2016

Tip of the Week
Contact Point on the Forehand. (I actually did an entire Tip for this morning, only to discover I'd already done How to Serve to the Backhand Attacking Receiver. After over 270 Tips of the Week, that's the first time I've ever done that.)

Why My Forehand Push Is Much Better Down the Line
Here's something I hadn't really noticed before - my forehand push down the line is pretty good, but crosscourt not so good. Unless I'm chopping, I only forehand push against short balls, mostly when someone serves short to my forehand or drops my serve short there, and I decide not to flip. Off this ball I have a big angle into a righty's forehand - but the very threat of this means opponents automatically cover it. And so what do I almost always do? Fake it crosscourt, and then, at the last second, taking it right off the bounce, I push it down the line into their backhand. And that's what I became used to doing, and so have great control over it. But when I do go crosscourt, as I often do in drills with students, I don't have nearly the same control because I so rarely did it that direction. 

You'd think I would have developed the crosscourt forehand push for playing lefties - but there's a different reason why I didn't. Against lefties who serve short to my forehand I almost always fake a down-the-line flip, and then, at the last second, flip it crosscourt into their backhand - which almost always sets up my forehand against their backhand return. (I was a strong forehand player.) For variation, I drop it short to the lefty's forehand. And so again, I rarely pushed crosscourt. 

This doesn't mean I never forehand pushed crosscourt, or that I can't do it. But it shows that one becomes good at what you do, and because I almost always pushed one way, I became proficient in that direction, not so good the other way. 

I have another shot where I'm only comfortable going to certain places. In my beginning years, when I stepped around to forehand loop from the backhand side, I'd always go either very wide crosscourt or down the line. Result? Even when I know I should attack the opponent's elbow, I'm erratic when I do so, since I didn't do that shot my first few years. And so I almost always go at wide angles. (I get away with it because I disguise my direction very well, but it's a weakness that I don't attack an opponent's middle with my forehand from the backhand side.) On the other hand, in rallies, I've always attacked opponent's elbow with my backhand, and so I'm quite comfortable doing that.

Now examine your game. Do you have similar shots where you are only good doing it to one part of the table, not another, simply because that's the way you usually do it?

2016 World Veterans Championships
Here's the home page. They started this morning in Alicante/Elche, Spain, May 23-29.

Table Tennis Receiver's Edge Series Part 1
Here's the new coaching video (5:21) from Brett Clarke at Table Tennis Edge.

How to Do the Jab Serve
Here's the video (1:55) with the serve demonstrated by Eli Baraty.

Integral Training for High Performance Athletes
Here's the article by Francisco Mendez.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov 3 Point Forehand Topspin Training 2016
Here's the video (2:44).

Chinese Stars in Training
Here are some new videos.

Rio Set to Stage a True Clash of Titans: Ma Long vs. Zhang Jike
Here's the article from Matt Hetherington.

No Singles in Rio for World #1 Liu Shiwen
Here's the article.

First Ever Syrian Qualifies for Olympics Table Tennis Event
Here's the ITTF press release.

Our World: A Winning Team
Here's the article from the Naple News (Florida) featuring Marvin and Caron Leff.

Amazing Armless Table-Tennis Player
Here's another video (38 sec) of the amazing Ibrahim Hamato.

SPiN SF Opening Party - Match Point!
Here's the video (58 sec) of the point between Lily Zhang and Jiaqi Zheng.

One of the Craziest Points You'll Ever See
Here's the video (15 sec).

Eight Players, Four Balls, One Table
Here's the video (51 sec).

Epic Shot by 12 Year Old
Here's the video (12 sec) – that's so unfair!

Baby Pong
Here's the video (42 sec) – I counted 34 forehands in a row by this two-year-old on the table!

Real-Life Forrest Gump
Here's the video (9 sec) – three balls on the playback table! Here's the real Forrest Gump playing (1:31). And here's the Making of Forrest Gump Ping Pong (2:55).

RIP Alan Young
He died on Thursday. He was the actor who played opposite a talking horse in the TV show Mister Ed (1958-1966). What does this have to do with table tennis? In one episode, they had Mr. Ed briefly play table tennis – here's the picture. There's no digital manipulation; they apparently got the horse to hold the paddle and probably filmed a lot to get what they needed. I remember seeing the footage, but alas, I can't find it on youtube. And I'll leave you with this:

A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and nobody plays pong with a horse, that is, of course, unless, of course, the horse is the famous Mr. Ed! (Sung to the tune of the Mister Ed opening theme, 0:42, with some minor horsing around with the lyrics.)

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May 20, 2016

Serving Mania
Serving Mania has struck MDTTC! At least with my students. I blogged about this on Wednesday, about two kids who spent an entire one-hour session doing almost nothing but backspin serves (trying to make the ball come back into the net or bounce back over the net). It happened again on Thursday, where two kids (including the 7-year-old I blogged about on Wednesday) spent 40 minutes doing it again. There's getting better and better at it, and get pretty excited when they make the ball jump backwards and over the net.

We have a scoring system: one point if you get the ball to bounce back and hit the net; three points if it bounces back over the net cleanly after one bounce; two points if it bounces back over the net, but nicks the net in either direction, or takes more than once bounce on the far side to come back over the net. Here's a video (78 sec) of Ma Lin demonstrating the "ghost serve, where the backspin pulls the ball back into the net. But the ultimate backspin trick is making it bounce back over the net!

When I do the Trick Shots demo at the MDTTC Open House on May 29 I'm going to demo and teach these "Come Back" serves. It's a fun trick shot, though more advanced players see it coming and either reach forward or go to the side of the table, and smack it in. (I'll also demo and teach the 50-foot serve; blowing the ball so it balances in the air – sideways!; rallying by blowing the ball over the net; speed bouncing on the table; and playing alone with two paddles.

It's not all backspin – I also have them do sidespin serves where they curve the ball around objects to hit targets, or serve deep and hit other targets. We also regularly bring out the adjustable serving bar, so they can practice serving low to the net, under the bar. 

Because I want our kids to try advanced serves, when we play Brazilian Teams (2-5 players on a team, one player plays until he loses a point then next person on the team comes up), I have a two-miss policy – the first two times you miss your own serve, it's a takeover. So the kids are trying out these backspin and other serves in games now.

One thing I do when I teach serve is stress that it's okay to "cheat" while learning a new serve – i.e., they don't have to hold the ball in the flat palm or toss the ball up six inches. I allow them to hold it in their fingertips, even practicing the grazing motion while holding it, before serving it. But once they can do this, they have to learn to do so legally.

I've also been teaching several players to serve fast and deep serves. (Why are they called "fast and deep," when all fast serves are deep? I don't know, but that's the convention.) When learning to do a truly fast (and deep!) serve, it's best to hold the ball in your finger tips about a foot behind the end-line, low to the table and by a corner, and just smack it (with topspin) so that it hits near the end-line on your side, and goes crosscourt, crossing the net very low, and hitting deep on other side. Many are amazed at just how fast you can serve the ball when you do this properly. (However, a purely fast serve isn't that effective – too easy for the opponent to just counter or block it back, using your own speed against you. You need variations, with the three most effective ones being a fast, breaking sidespin serve into the wide backhand that breaks wide; a fast, flat one to the elbow; or a quick, down-the-line one to catch someone on the wide forehand - or crosscourt against a lefty, or a lefty vs. a righty - where you aim one way and change directions at the last second.) Here's how to do a fast, deep serve, and here are 15 fast and deep serves.)

It's not all serves. In the Thursday junior class last night we focused on forehand smashing. After a demo, Coach John Hsu and I fed multiball as the kids smashed. Then we demoed and taught how to smash lobs, and then John and I had fun as we lobbed to them for fifteen minutes, with each player staying up until they'd missed five shots. (With more advanced kids, it would be three misses.)

So . . . have you practiced your serves this week???

Upcoming Schedule
Okay, it's official. My upcoming schedule is absolutely insane. Here are upcoming activities – in addition to the usual private and group coaching, afterschool program, blogging, other writing, and numerous USATT and MDTTC duties. I'll be out of town continuously from July 3 - Aug. 3. 

Maryland State Championships
It's official! I'll be running the $5000 Maryland State Championships at MDTTC on June 25-26, sponsored by HW Global Foundation. I'll set it up on Omnipong later so you can enter online. The tournament is for Maryland residents only.

Working with Navin Kumar
Here's a short article and video (2:07) Navin put up this morning. Navin's the "Bionic Man," with an artificial heart and Parkinson's.

USATT Tournaments This Weekend
This weekend there are nine USATT sanctioned tournaments. I'll be coaching at the Potomac Open. Here's a listing:

USA Nationals Entries
Want to watch the entries for the USA Nationals as they trickle in? Here's where! As of this morning they have 87; eventually they'll likely have around 700-800. (The last Nationals had 771.) Don't forget to enter!)

Nationals Free Entry Contests
Want free entry to the USA Nationals? Here are three ways!

  • Butterfly – Subscribe to In The Loop by May 27th and become Eligible to Win Free Entry into the US Nationals!
  • JOOLA – Pong So Hard Contest
  • Paddle Palace – LIKE Us, Then JOIN THE FACEBOOK EVENT for your Chance to Win!

Improve Your Table Tennis Skills Through Training Videos
Here's the TT video page from Pro Shop World. Videos include: Forehand Drive, Backhand Drive, Forehand Topspin, Backhand Topspin, Block, Service Basics, Reverse Pendulum Backspin Serve, and Service Receive.

Xu Xin & Liu Guoliang Training Olympic Games Rio 2016
Here's the video (6:34). Here's some discussion of it at the mytabletennis.net forum.

Chinese Olympic Team
Here's the final team, men's and women's singles and doubles, plus discussion.

Table Tennis Duo Making Waves
Here's the article in the Vicksburg Post (Mississippi) featuring Bill Seabergh and Charlie Lutz.

DTTA’s 4th MENSUAL Tourney
Here's the article, results, and pictures from this Denver tournament.

The Ultimate Backhand Banana Flip
Here's the video (15 sec including slo-mo replay).

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.

Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions
As many of you know, I also write science fiction. There's a special sale on my recent novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions (which has lots of table tennis) starting today through May 27. You can buy it as an ebook from Amazon for only $1.99, and 25% off as a paperback from the publisher, World Weaver Press. (Normally $14.95, now only $11.25.) The novel covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system, with an alien ambassador observing. (This afternoon from 12-2PM I'm on an online science fiction chat with World Weaver Press, my publisher, where I promote the novel.)

The Forehand and Backhand of Severus Snape
Here's the repeating gif image as the wizard from Harry Potter uses Ron Weasely's head for a ping-pong ball.

High-Heeled Ping-Pong Shoes
Here the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

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May 19, 2016

Chop Blocks
I have a student who cries "Foul!" whenever I do a chop-block. He insists no one else does them, and often will catch the ball when I do them. Before we go further, what is a chop block? Here's my article, Chalk Up Wins with Chop Blocks, and here's the video, Ma Long Chop Block (5:17).

Yesterday, in a session with Matt, I threw a chop block at him, and he wanted to try it. Now I wouldn't normally devote half a session to chop-blocks, but on the other hand I'm an adherent to Saturation Training, which means if you are going to make a change in your game or add something new, you really focus on it for a time until you get it right, rather than just work at it now and then. So we did just that – spent half the session on it. For most of this I stood a few feet back and fed him loops, multiball style, as he chop-blocked and sidespin-chop blocked.

This is a shot that most people have trouble with at first, and then it comes together suddenly, once you get that "smothering" feel of contact. And once you do, it creates havoc for opponents. I think it's even more effective these days for a simple reason – it's one of those shots that has died out in popularity (except for long pips blockers, who do it naturally), and so few players are used to it. There's a reason why world #1 Ma Long likes to use it.

The modern-day argument against the chop block is that it's more effective to backhand counter-loop off the bounce. Readers, let's see a show of hands of those of you who are comfortable backhand counterlooping off the bounce in the middle of an intense match. Yes, it's not an easy shot to pull off. But the key thing is this – backhand counterlooping off the bounce and backhand chop-blocking are not mutually exclusive, as shown by Ma Long (who usually does the counterlooping version). Chop-blocking is simply a nice variation to throw off opponents.

I find it easier to sidespin-chop block, probably 60% backspin, 40% sidespin. But the key is the light touch and placement.

Drills: Learn about Multi-Tasking and Unit-Tasking
Here's the new coaching article from Samson Dubina.

HEH (Hand-Eye-Hear) Coordination Activity
Here's the article by Massimo Costantini.

Aerobic Table Tennis in the Great White North
Here's the article.

USATT Insider
Here's the new edition, which came out yesterday.

ITTF 2016 PAN AM Junior Championships
Here's the article about the tournament to be held June 25-30 in Burnaby, British Columbia in Canada.

Shia's First Table Tennis Lesson
Here's the video (2:53) as the five-year-old gets his first lesson at the Broward County TTC, with Coach Terese Terranova.

Table Tennis Jigsaw Puzzles
Here's what you get if you search for Table Tennis Jigsaw Puzzles at Amazon. As a lover of jigsaw puzzles, I'm tempted to buy one and bring it to the upcoming Nationals – then all 800 of us can put it together! I generally like 500-piece dragon puzzles; I have over 30 of them, which we put together as a tradition at annual family gatherings at Christmas.
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May 18, 2016

Backspin Serves for Kids, and Making the Ball Return Into or Over the Net
Had an interesting session yesterday with two kids, ages 7 and 9. You'd think kids that age are balls of energy, wanting to smack the ball over and over. But when they get interested in something, that becomes their whole focus – and that's what happened yesterday.

I'd been teaching them backspin serves recently. It was new to the 7-year-old, while the 9-year-old was a bit more advanced. It started with the 7-year-old rushing out to the table five minutes early, and with a bucket of balls, trying to serve backspin so the ball would bounce backward. I'd demonstrated this to him a few days before, and he badly wanted to do it. He was able to serve so the ball would sometimes come to a stop, or even sometimes bounce backwards, though usually with the ball never reaching the net. He wanted to serve so it would go to the other side and bounce back into the net, as I'd shown him. And so began our hour-long Odyssey. (Here's the serve in question, though they aren't doing it with a high toss.) 

Seeing the other trying to do it, the 9-year-old joined in as both tried to make the ball bounce back into the net. I showed them how to do it, guiding them through the motion. And lo and behold, suddenly the 7-year-old did it! Excited, he continued to do it. Then the 9-year-old did it. I'd thought this would be a good thing to practice at the start of the session, and we'd go to regular practice afterwards. But they didn't want to stop! And so they continued – only now they had an even bigger goal – make the ball bounce back over the net, to their side, as I'd also demonstrated. Now that's a trick serve not normally done in tournaments – advanced players see it coming and smack it, and most players can reach them anyway. (Though not kids.) And so the Odyssey continued as they tried to both make the ball bounce backward and bounce back over the net. (I couldn't find a video of this, but the idea is you serve a bit high so the ball hits just short of the net, goes over the net, and then bounces backwards over the net again, returning to your side.) 

They didn't want to stop, and so we ended up doing almost the entire hour on this. In the end, both were able to make it bounce backwards most of the time, and each managed to make it bounce back to their side five times each. (A tie!) It was great practice – they now have very good racket acceleration and grazing contact on their serves, and they can control it – you can't do these serves if you can't control where the bounces are.

The last five or so minutes we did an alternate variation where I put a cup on the table on the far side, along the right sideline, halfway between the net and the end-line, and demonstrated "Making the Tour." I served forehand pendulum sidespin from my forehand side (on right) so the ball bounced first on the backhand side on my side of the table, then on the far left side on the other side, and then spun back to the right side, curving until it hit and knocked the cup off the table. They were determined to do this – and after a few minutes, both managed to knock it off.

And so ended a great session – without one rallying shot. Except the session didn't end there – the 7-year-old didn't want to stop, and continued practicing his backspin serve for another 30 minutes, until I had to kick him off the table since I could start a coaching session! (Then he borrowed my smart phone and spent the next hour calling up pictures of his other huge interest –jets and planes.)

Hitting Cups with Serves
Here's the video (14 sec). And here's a challenge: you should be able to hit each cup let's say 2/3 of the time. Then you should be able to hit all three consecutively (2/3)^3=~30%. If you really want to be a champion, then you should hit each cup 9/10 of the time, or all three 73% of the time. Go to it!  

How to Learn From a Defender
Here's the new coaching article from Carl Danner.

Advice About Trying Table Tennis Rubber with Pips
Here's the article.

Backhand Banana Flip
Here's a nice video (1:49) where it's demonstrated for both shakehand and reverse penhold. It's by an Asian coach, probably Chinese and speaking Chinese, but you can learn from the video itself. (Can someone identify the language? Update - Doug Harley tells me it's regular Mandarin Chinese.)

Ma Long Forehand Loop
Here's the video (48 sec). I might have linked to this once before, but it's a good one to study – especially the slow motion part.

Supermicro Named Title Sponsor of 2016 USATT National Championships
Here's the USATT news item.

2016 USA Table Tennis National Championship “Shout Out”!
Here's the new USATT feature – have a special message printed in the USA Nationals Program Book!

China's Squad for Rio Olympics 2016 Announced
Here's the listing and discussion.

Sport for All with Equal Dignity
Here's the article by Massimo Costantini.

Alabama Closed
Here's the article, results, and pictures.

Zi Rui Zhao Wins the Newgy Ohio Open
Here's the article and picture.

Pittsburgh Steel City Open
Here's the article and pictures.

Pongstarz and Cornilleau Partner with the Lausd Move It Challenge at Dodger Stadium
Here's the article.

Swedish Table Tennis Association Celebrates 90 Years
Here's the article.

Trainerbot Will Push Your Ping-Pong Skills to the Limit
Here's the article. Of course, much of this follows for any good table tennis robot.

Liu Shiwen, Queen of Amazing rallies!
Here's the video (2:08) – first rally shown is incredible.

Romain Lorentz Big Defense
Here's the video (39 sec) of some great lobbing and fishing!

Andrew Luck Wants to Buy Robot to Play Ping Pong With
Here's the article. "The Indianapolis Colts quarterback was asked during an appearance on 'The Ringer NFL Show' with Kevin Clark what the nerdiest thing he would buy with the money from his next contract. 'That's a good question,' Luck said. 'Maybe, like, a robot ping-pong thing that can hit balls back at you. My buddy has one and he swears by it.'"

Full-Speed Animated Three-Headed Robotic Pong
Here's the repeating gif image! You don't need coffee in the morning after seeing this.

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May 17, 2016

Adjusting to Different Balls in the Yucky Insane Plastic Era (YIPE!)
One of the realities of the YIPE era (yes, that's what I'm calling it!), where we use plastic balls instead of celluloid (which is actually a type of plastic, but we won't get into that), is that the balls vary widely, far more than before. It used to be that everyone knew that Butterfly balls were slightly softer and lighter than Nittakus, and you'd warm up with the appropriate tournament ball and you'd be ready. But now they vary dramatically. Playing with the various 40+ Nittaku, DHS, Butterfly, JOOLA, and the seamless Xu Shao Fa is like trying to play basketball where one moment you're dribbling a basketball, then suddenly (in no particular order) it's a bowling ball, then a baseball, then a golf ball, etc.

One of my students, Daniel (who I've blogged about before) played in the Capital Area League this past Saturday. He tends to play too passive, and so we've spent a lot of time working on using his serve to set up his attack. Alas, we weren't using a Nittaku Premium 40+, and so when he used that in the league, he said it felt really heavy, and he had no confidence in his attack. Result? He went back to pushing.

The moral here, and for others, is that you need to work out in advance what events you'll be playing in, find out what balls they will be using, get a supply of each type, and make sure to practice with that ball before each event.

They really, Really, REALLY need to standardize ping-pong balls. We are in an insane era of table tennis, where tournaments are like a box of chocolates – you never know what type of ball you're going to use next - unless you check in advance. Add the insanity of umpires not enforcing the hidden serve rule and making undetectable boosting illegal - so that only those willing to cheat get the advantage of these, and so completely dominate higher-level table tennis - and we really do live in an insane table tennis era. Maybe we should call it the Insane Plastic Cheating Era. But I like YIPE. 

Online Entries for the USA Nationals
Here's the page where you can enter online. As of this morning, they have 23 entries. I expect they'll finish with 700 or more.

New York State Championships
Here are results and pictures. The event was held this past weekend at the Westchester TTC. Men's and Women's Champions are Kai Zhang and Yuko Tsuji. Over 40 and Over 60 Champions were Philippe Dassonval and Robert Spitzer. Under 18, 14, and 10 Champions were Kai Zhang, Rohan Acharya, and Matthew Ioffe. Congrats to all, and thanks to the Westchester tournament staff!

A Positive Spin on the USATT League Program
Here's the article from Coach Jon. (Robert Mayer and I created this a number of years ago; he now maintains it.)

Do Lefties Have an Advantage in Table Tennis?
Here's the poll and discussion.

Multiball Training
Here's the video (2:35) of a high-level junior doing a series of multiball drills. The first one is a good four-ball drill – forehand from forehand side, backhand from backhand side, then two forehands, one from middle, one from backhand.

11 Questions with Ari Arratia
Here's the USATT Interview with the U.S. Paralympic star.

Interview with Rawle Alleyne
Here's the USATT interview by Rahul Acharya

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 17 (1989-1990)
Here's chapter 9! Or order your own print copies at TimBogganTableTennis.com.

RIO 2016
Here's an article on the upcoming Olympics and table tennis, from a Canadian perspective.

Five-Ball Pong
Here's the video (15 sec)!

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May 16, 2016

Tip of the Week
Depth Control on Serves with CBS.

Bottle Drill and Quotes
Here is a useful drills I used this weekend. Sameer (14, 1826) has reached the point where he's pretty consistent with his first and second loops (both forehand and backhand), but needs more focus on placement. He told me that in his league matches, he's making nearly 100% of his backhand loops off push, but they keep coming back – but that was because he's opening primarily to the middle backhand, where the opponent is ready and waiting. (And most players block better on the backhand.) Since your first attack should most often be to the opponent's middle (something top players routinely do, but beginners and intermediates often don't quite get – here's my Tip on Attacking the Middle), with follow-up attacks at the corners (since the attack to the middle draws them out of position), we did the following multiball drill.

I put a bottle just a bit to the left of the middle line on my side of the table, about a foot in, where the middle (playing elbow) of a typical right-hander would be. (This does vary based on the player, situation, and handedness.) I put another bottle on the right side of my side (my wide forehand), about 18 inches outside the corner, a couple inches from the sideline. First I fed just backspin to his backhand so he could practice hitting the bottle with his backhand loop. Then I fed just topspin to his wide forehand so he could practice hitting the bottle with a hooking forehand loop (so the ball curved to his left, my wide forehand). He reached the point where he was able to hit the bottles about 1/3 of the time.

Then I alternated feeding backspin to his backhand and a quick topspin to his wide forehand. His goal was to hit both bottles with consecutive shots. This mimicked a game situation where he attacks the middle, forcing the opponent to move to cover the middle with forehand or backhand, opening up the wide forehand. If he covers it with the forehand, the wide forehand opens; if he covers it with his backhand, he has to quickly move back into position, again often leaving the wide forehand open. The reality is that when covering the middle, at least one or both wide corners opens up.

A huge key to this type of accuracy is not consciously aiming, i.e. trying to consciously guide the ball. Just know where you want to the ball to go (i.e. hit the bottle), and let your subconscious (i.e. muscle memory) take over.

Here are some things I said during sessions this weekend – I wrote them down as they happened.

  • "People who say Brian plays only at one speed are wrong. He doesn't smash everything – sometimes he hits harder."
  • "Jim, now that you've demonstrated how not to forehand loop, can you show us the proper way?"
  • "If you keep missing, wait until you get one good one. Then remember that feel, and repeat. If you can't get one good one, then really loudly yell, 'Help, Coach!'"
  • "You're not good enough to hit that bottle." (8-year-old Kid hits bottle.) "Anyone can get lucky and hit it once, but it takes skill to do it twice." (Kid hits bottle again.) "Anyone can get lucky and…" (Kid interrupts.) "Coach Larry, if you say anyone can get lucky and hit it twice but it takes skill to hit it three times, I'm going to hit you."

Great Coaching, Part 1: Interview with Jasna Rather
Here's the article by Anthony Plog.

Here's 49 seconds of Forehand Multiball with Truls Möregårdh
Here's the video

2016 US National Championships Host Hotel Info
Here's the USATT news item. (The link for online entries should be up soon – it was supposed to go up Friday, but they ran into a technical glitch. When it's ready, it'll show up on the 2016 USA Nationals home page.

Capital Area League
The Capital Area League (Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC) had another meet on Saturday, with all 24 teams competing with over 100 players. (There are 127 players in the league.) Here's the home page, and here is the Results page, with detailed results for all league matches. As usual, a big thanks to Commissioner Stefano Ratti and the rest of the staff (Richard Heo, Larry Hodges, Wen Hsu, Mossa Barandao. Darwin Ma, John Olsen). Special thanks goes to Mossa, who did much of the running of the league this time, and put up all the results.

2016 California State Championships Videos
Here they are! (Here are results, which I linked to previously. The tournament was held May 6-8 at the ICC Club in Milpitas, CA.)

Zi Rui Zhao Wins the $3000 Newgy Ohio Open
Here's the article by Blake Cottrell.

Crumbly Concrete Table
Here's the picture of two kids and their table – and you complained about the condition of your table??? (Picture the arguments – "That was an edge!" "No, that was the side!" "No, that was the top of the table!") Here's the non-Facebook version.

2016 Ma Long Balls Trick!
Here's the video (36 sec) – what he does is hard to believe! To commenters below it think it's a fake – what do you think?

Zak Abel: From Table Tennis Star to Music Sensation
Here's the article and link to video (3:17). (I linked to the video previously.)

Training a One-Year-Old
Here's the video (48 sec) – and I present to you the 2035 World Women's Singles Champion!

Soo Yeon Lee and Entourage TV Show
Here's the video (60 sec).

Top 5 - Table Tennis Funny Reactions
Here's the video (1:28).

Beetle Bailey Table Tennis Cartoon
Here's the cartoon from this past Sunday, where we learn the real name of our sport – "Run For Your Life!" This makes sixteen that featured table tennis – I compiled them all (and just updated) in my May 11, 2015 blog. Mort Bailey really likes table tennis! (Or perhaps it's Sarge and Beetle. We should get them honorary USATT memberships.)

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May 13, 2016

Footwork Drills by Stefan Feth, and Attacking the Middle
Here's the new video (1:23) from Butterfly. Note how, for this drill, Stefan stresses that the he's putting the ball to his partner's middle. Far too often players just drill to the corners, and then wonder why they have trouble attacking an opponent's elbow, usually the weakest point – if you don't practice it, you won't do it very well. I've often faced this as a coach – I'll tell a player to attack the opponent's middle, and he'll get this pained look as he knows he's not comfortable doing so since he's so used to attacking the corners. And then he'll go out there and continue to go to the corners, since that's what his muscle memory wants to do.

Think about it. Any coach or top player will tell you that your attacks should go to three spots – wide forehand, wide backhand, and the opponent's middle (roughly his playing elbow). Most will agree that attacking the middle is usually the best spot for the first attack – here's my article, Attacking the Middle. Here's an excerpt:

Why is the middle so weak when attacked? There are five (yes, five!) primary reasons.

  1. The player has to make a decision on whether to play forehand or backhand, and often hesitates. When the ball goes to the forehand or backhand there is no such decision to make. 
  2. The player has to move in an uncomfortable direction. Most players find moving wide to cover the forehand or backhand an easier move since you are moving into the shot. Covering the middle means essentially getting out of the way of the ball, which is usually a more difficult move. 
  3. When you attack the middle, it forces your opponent to move out of position to cover it. This opens up the corners. One of the best one-two combos is an attack to the middle followed by an angled attack. Or you can go to the middle a second or third time as your opponent struggles to cover it. 
  4. Attacking the middle takes away the extreme angles for your opponent. If you attack a wide corner, your opponent can return at an equally wide angle.
  5. Players don't get much practice covering the middle, both because opponents don't give them this shot much until the higher levels, and because most don't practice against it. (Here are three Tips on covering the middle: Covering the MiddleCovering and Recovering From the Middle; and Covering the Middle with the Forehand.)

And yet, what percentage of our practice do we practice attacking the corners, vs. to the middle? I've been pointing this out to coaches for years, usually to no avail.

Note that when you attack the middle, the ball should be arriving at the opponent's elbow area as the ball approaches where he'd contact it. So, for example, if attacking from the backhand side, the ball would actually hit the opponent's forehand side first as it bounces toward the elbow area. In a drill, your partner would cover this area by blocking either forehand or backhand. (In the video shown, she's blocking with the forehand, but if the balls were coming slightly more to her left, she might block with her backhand.) 

A variation of this is to start the drill with a serve and attack (usually server serves backspin and receiver pushes it back long), with the server then attacking to the middle, and playing out the point. The receiver has to decide whether to return the shot to the middle with his forehand or backhand – but shouldn't over-anticipate it, since in a game he wouldn't know it's going there. If he does start to over-anticipate, server should attack one to the corners to keep the receiver "honest"!

Friday the Thirteenth
Here's my annual link to a table tennis-playing Jason Voorhees from the real Friday the Thirteenth!

USA Nationals Online Entries
I'm told the link to entering online will go up later today soon at the USA Nationals home page.

Table Tennis Could Face An Increased Net Height!
Here's the article from Matt Hetherington. In other news, in order to make the game more exciting for spectators, ITTF also plans to change the scoring system to one-point games; outlaw spitting on the ball before serving (but of course not enforce it); and go back to celluloid balls, with the new 60mm balls lit at the start of each point for more fiery exchanges.

The Best Table Tennis Robots
Here's the article from Expert Table Tennis.

State Championships
This weekend is the New York State Championships and the Alabama State Championships!

Kanak Jha in the New York Times
Here's the video (20:35) of the junior star, the first USA Olympian born in the 2000's. The video takes place in Sweden. That's former Swedish star Ulf "Tickan" Carlsson he's hitting with, the 1985 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Mikael Appelgren).  

Behind-the-Back Shots!
Here are two new ones.

  • Mohammed Al-Saad vs. Li Ping (26 sec, including slo-mo replay). Note how Li doesn't even react to the shot by Qatar's Al-Saad – his muscle memory isn't programmed to respond to such a shot! (Li is the 2009 World Mixed Doubles Champion, who later immigrated to Qatar.)
  • Tao Wenzhang vs. Jinxin Wang in the Men's Singles Final at the 2016 California State Table Tennis Championships. (Video is 38:04, but link should take you straight to the 3-1 point in game two.)​

Become Eligible to Win Free Entry into the US Nationals
Here's info from Butterfly – "Subscribe to In The Loop by May 27th and become Eligible to Win Free Entry into the US Nationals!"

Pope Francis Receives Table Tennis Equipment
Here's the article and picture. Here are three additional pictures from ITTF. (That's Killerspin's Robert Blackwell talking to the Pope.) Here are two other pictures of the Pope receiving table tennis gifts, from Polish players: photo1 and photo2

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.

Crazy Ping-Pong Stuff
Here's the video (3:40) – not sure what's going on, but lots of crazy ping-pong stuff going on. Is that a waffle or a sandwich he's using as a racket? I'm not sure what language they are talking.

Crazy Cats Love to Play Ping Pong
Here's the video (2:20)!

A "Little" Ping-Pong
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

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