Butterfly Online


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

August 28, 2015

MDTTC Camps – Eleven Weeks Comes to an End Today

Today our eleven weeks of camps come to an end. We're finishing with a good-sized group, with about 40 players in all. Here's a camp photo from the Wednesday morning session, which is missing a few players who join us in the afternoon.

40+ Butterflies and JOOLAs and Nittakus and Double Fish and Xu Shaofao, Oh My!!!

We're still in the ongoing "Silly Season" (going on 1.5 years now), where training centers and clubs have deal with players training with multiple of the new plastic 40+ balls, which all play differently, and keep them all separate. Last night at MDTTC was illustrative. 

We're sponsored by Butterfly, and we're supposed to get plastic training balls in a month or so. Until then, we're still stuck using celluloid balls for much of our training. But as tournaments come up, things get complicated. We use Butterfly 40+ balls for our local tournaments, and since we had a tournament last weekend, guess what participants were training with the week before? But when the Teams in DC come up in November players will have to adjust to the JOOLA 40+ ball, and they play differently. And when the Open and Nationals come up, players will train with Nittaku Premium 40+ balls, which also play differently. 

But it gets worse. This Sunday there's a tournament as SmashTT in Virginia, where they'll be using Xu Shaofao seamless 40+ balls. Since my student Sameer is playing there, we had to buy 24 to use to train just for that tournament. But while we were using those last night, and others were using celluloid, Derek, who's playing in the North American Championships in a week, is training with the single Double Fish 40+ ball he has. So we're spending much of our time trying to keep the various balls separate, despite playing on adjacent tables (barriered off, but balls regularly go over the barriers). 

Training with one ball may seem "normal" for many, but not at a training center. Using one ball may be old school, but it means you spend most of your time chasing after and picking up the ball; you get probably three times as much practice time per session when you have a box of balls. 

The Hidden Serve Solution for Table Tennis

Here's the article by Coach Jon. He makes his own proposal, but also refers to my proposal, where you cannot hide the ball from the opponent or any part of the net assembly and its upward extension (not just the net posts, as he wrote). I of course agree with him about my proposal, that "it would be a great change and would be much easier to enforce" (compared to the current rule). 

However, I disagree on the point about whether it could be enforced without an umpire. It's no different than the six-inch toss rule, which parallels my proposal very closely, and is generally enforced without an umpire. Many forget that the reason for the six-inch toss rule was because players were serving out of their hands – it was becoming a big problem. (Back then the rule was the ball must be contacted on the drop, but it was hard to tell if that happened when players used a 0.0000001" toss.) Originally it was going to be a 3" inch toss, but the problem there was that players might then get away with a lower toss, making it hard for the receiver to pick up. So they went with six inches.

Result? Few players these days serve out of their hand. Some might get away with 5" tosses, and if opponents put up with it, some might still be serving out of their hands in practice matches or even tournaments. (If it happens in a tournament, you call for an umpire.) But the widespread serving out of the hand ended. That's similar to the purpose of my proposal – not to make it illegal to hide the ball from the net, but to stop the widespread hiding of serves. If a player gets away with tossing the ball 5" or hiding it from one net post, he may or may not be called, but the rules will have worked – he won't be serving out of his hand or hiding contact from the receiver.

His proposal was that players would basically need to face the table in a backhand stance: "An enforceable rule could be that players must have their bodies facing the table at any angle that does not involve either leg crossing in front of the other." (There have been periodic proposals in the past to require backhand serves only, but none had any chance of ever passing.) I see three problems:

  1. It needs to be worded more specifically. When a player illegally hides his serve with a forehand serve, his legs normally are not crossing in front of each other. I'm not sure I'm understanding what he's requiring here.
  2. I can face the table in a backhand stance, with legs parallel to the table (and so not crossing, as he requires), and still rotate sideways from the waist enough to easily hide the serve with my head or shoulder.  
  3. It'll mean taking away essentially every forehand serve, by far the most popular serves, unless players simply rotate sideways from the waist, as described in #2 above – which would defeat the purpose of the proposal. Putting that aside and assuming it did make forehand serves illegal, it would be a very drastic change, probably more drastic than any rule change we've ever had. From a simple reality standpoint, no rule change will pass the ITTF without the approval of the players, and it'll never pass. I believe my proposal has a far better chance of passing as it doesn't take away forehand serves, only the illegal ones – and the players I've spoken to are fine with that, as long as opponents also can't hide their serves.

"Sick" Yesterday?

When I got up yesterday morning I planned on doing a blog. But I also woke up with a stomachache. At first I thought it was nothing, but I was so tired and had so much work to do I decided I'd have to skip the blog. As the morning went on it got worse, and started getting chills. (I think that means I had at least a slight fever.) I have no idea what it was – some sort of minor food poisoning? - but I ended up spending much of the day in bed. And here I was planning on getting a lot done. Hopefully today will be better. 

Brain Games: How Ping Pong Can Make You Smarter

Here's the video (2:08) on Neuroplasticity.

USATT Insider

Here's the new issue, which came out Wednesday morning.

Interview with Samson Dubina

Here's the podcast (42:57) from Expert Table Tennis, where he discusses a horde of stuff – see bulleted list.

Table Tennis – Our Story

Here's the new motivational video (5:12).

Pink Pong for Cancer

Here's the new video (4:15).

Timo Boll vs. Fan Zhendong in the Chinese Super League

Here's the highlights video (5:55).

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.

Roller Skate Pong

Here's the video (1:43) of Jim Butler and others playing on roller skates – it's hilarious as starting about 10 seconds in Jim lobs, does footwork drills, and spins and strokes! (Correction: As Doug Harley emailed, those are hovertrax they are using, not roller skates.) 

Send us your own coaching news!

August 27, 2015

Day Off to Work

Alas, I need a day off to catch up on the 314,159 things on my todo list – I'll have pi all over my face if I don't get them done soon. So no blog today – I'll be back tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are a few items! 

2015 USATT Hall of Fame Inductees and Lifetime Achievement Award

Here they are – and they include Coach Jack Huang from my club! (I may write more about this later. It's a big group this year – usually only 2-3 are inducted.)

Insane Rally

Here's the video (29 sec).

I Have No Idea What This Is

But here's the table tennis cartoon! Any suggestions for a caption?

Send us your own coaching news!

August 26, 2015

Samson Dubina on Boosting in Table Tennis

Here's the podcast (6 min), from Ben Larcombe at Expert Table Tennis. Here's my blog on boosting and my blog on hidden serves (one of many). Both contain my recommended solutions.

Here's a good analogy about what's happening in our sport. Suppose you trained for many years for the Olympic 100 meter dash. Then, in the final, as you took the starting blocks for the big race, the race official walks over and says, "Anyone who wants a two-meter head start, feel free to take it – it's against the rules, but we'll allow it." Now imagine nearly all the others moved two meters ahead, and you knew you had little chance of winning unless you joined them. But if you didn't, all those years of training and all your dreams are dashed because an official is allowing others to cheat. Guess what? That's exactly what's happening in our sport, both because of boosting and because of hidden serves.

I am so tired of watching this happen to players in our sport, especially up-and-coming juniors who play fair and are cheated out of titles by cheaters and those who allow the cheating.

We're honoring the cheaters and cheating the honorable.

I will be sending the proposals from my blogs on both of these to the USATT Rules Committee. I'll let you know what happens. Meanwhile, the following video also goes over all the cheating that's taking place at higher levels, but in a more humorous fashion.

Cheating in Table Tennis

Here's the hilarious video (6:05). Near the end there's a quote from Heywood Broun that all those players out there who hide their serves against opponents who do not should consider:

"Sports do not build character. They reveal it."

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis

USATT has been putting the chapters of these now 16 volumes, one by one, but just the text. Now they are putting up PDFs of the actual pages, so you can see the actual layouts, photos and all! They just started this with Volume 16, which covers 1988-89. Here's the first five chapters. Later on we might do the same for the first 15 volumes.

But you know something? There's nothing like having an actual book in your hands. So if you want actual copies (or feel guilty about reading it for free, after all that hard work by Tim and others), here's Tim Boggan's page, where can order any of the 16 volumes. (Disclaimer: I did the page layouts and photo work for volumes 2-16, and created and maintain his web site. Every time someone views his web page an angel child gets his wings paddle.)

Coaching Update

Tuesday was another busy day, even though I only coached the morning session of our camp. I ran errands and then did paperwork all afternoon, then returned for 1.5 hours of private coaching. Most weeks we have several beginners in the camp, but this time only one. She's working hard on catching up, and after one day can hit basic forehands and backhands.

But the most memorable moment was when I was coaching a kid who kept reaching for balls instead of stepping toward them. I began feeding the ball wider and wider to force him to move rather than be "reachy." Well, the word has taken off, so without further ado, I am hereby copyrighting the term "reachy," which describes any player who tends to reach for the ball rather than move. Anytime you use the term you owe me a dollar.

How I lost 35 Pounds from Playing Ping-Pong

Here's the article from Matt Hetherington.

USATT Committees

They were recently updated to reflect numerous changes. Here they are! (One small change will be coming up – as noted in yesterday's blog, the Hardbat Committee is now the Classic Table Tennis Committee, covering both hardbat and sandpaper.)

Men's World Cup Invited Players

Here's the listing. As noted in yesterday's blog, there's a glaring absence – no Timo Boll. But there is USA's Jimmy Butler - qualified by winning North American Cup Men's Singles Championships – which once again gives me an excuse to link to this photo of the "elderly" Butler winning the title! Sorry Jimmy. Can't resist! And we'll follow that with this…

Jimmy Butler's Funny Face Reaction

Here's the video (51 sec) as he reacts to a point he's watching.

August National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter

Here it is.

Why Ping-Pong Tables Are a Must for Start-Ups

Here's the article from Business Insider. 

Top 10 – Best of 2015 ITTF World Tour Super Series

Here's the video (8:03).

Epic Ping Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (3:10).

Amazing Table Tennis

Here's the video (8:38), which starts with an incredible exhibition rally.

Waldner-Style Blocks by Lee Sang Su

Here's the video (28 sec) – and he does two that are worthy of the Master!

Smack in Mouth

Here's the cartoon! Any suggestions for a caption?

MDTTC August Open

It was held this past Saturday, Aug. 22, at MDTTC (my club). Here are complete results, care of Omnipong. Here are the main results:

MDTTC Open, Aug. 22, 2015
Open Singles – Final
: Ruichao Chen d. Jianho Sun, 5,5,6,-1,3; SF: Chen d. Chen Bo Wen, 9,5,8,3; Sun d Wang Qingliang, 5,-6,-7,6,-8,3,6; QF: Chen d. Jeff Hsin, 6,4,10; Chen d. Sun Xizi, 9,10,9; Wang d. Allen Lin, 9,10,10; Sun d. Derek Nie, 6,8,6.
Under 2300 – Final: Ryan Dabbs d. Spencer Ip, 7,-9,8,-10,4; SF: Dabbs d. Allen Lin, 6,8,6; Ip d. Sun Xizi, 8,9,-1,-6,6.
Under 2000 – Final: Spencer Ip d. Eric Li, 5,6,6; SF: Ip d. Leonid Koralov, 8,9,3; Li d. Mohamed Kamara, 13,7,3.
Under 1700 – Final: Sam Berry d. Leonid Koralov, 9,8,5; SF: Berry d. Louis Levene, 7,-12,10,5; Koralov d. Hal Barnes, -10,8,13,5.
Under 1300 – Final: Hassam Alkadi d. Walid Alkadi, -5,7,-4,7,0; SF: H.Alkadi Liu Kallista, 5,11,3; W. Alkadi d. Jeff Howes, 7,-7,13,3.
Over 50 – Final: Nazruddin Asgarali d. Jeff Pepper, 7,1,6; SF: Asgarali d. Chris Buckley, 4,9,5; Pepper d. James Wilson, 3,11,1.  
Under 16 – Final: Derek Nie d. Ryan Dabbs, 4,6,5; SF: Nie d. Bowen Zhang, 4,6,5; Dabbs d. Eric Li, 7,9,9.

Send us your own coaching news!

August 25, 2015

Tip of the Week

Vary Your Receive - Exhibit A: Receiving a Short Backspin Serve to the Forehand.

USATT Board Meeting in Chicago

On Friday morning I flew to Chicago for the USATT Board meeting, which took place Friday night and all day Saturday at the O'Hare Airport Hilton. I literally flew to the airport, walked across the street to the hotel, and the following day, immediately after the meeting ended, ran (because I was late for my flight, which I barely made) back across the street and flew home. Most of what I saw of Chicago was from the hotel window. 

Six of the nine USATT board members were present, including Carolyne Savini at her first meeting (replacing Jim Kahler), as well as myself, Peter Scudner, Mike Babuin, Kagin Lee, and Anne Cribbs. Also in attendance were CEO Gordon Kaye, High Performance Committee Chair Carl Danner, and USATT Legal Counsel Dennis Taylor. Two other board members (Ed Hogshead and Han Xiao) joined in by speakerphone at key times to take part in discussions and vote. (Missing was Ed Levy, who was in England.) This was important since there were a number of bylaw votes, which required 2/3 of the entire board - so six votes were needed, regardless of how many people were present. If five were present (a quorum, which allows a vote), and a bylaw "passes" 5-0, it doesn't pass - it misses by a vote. 

Last Thursday I blogged about the six motions I'd be making. The first one, changing the Hardbat Committee to the Classic Table Tennis Committee (covering both hardbat and sandpaper) passed unanimously (either 6-0 or 8-0 – forget if the two on speakerphone were present at that time). 

Later we got the five bylaw proposals that I blogged about on Thursday. Here's the rundown - refer to the Thursday blog for details and the rationale for each. I prefaced my presentation by making it clear that I'll likely never make another bylaw proposal. (Alas, I'll be making one more - see #4 below.) 

  1. MOVE to append Bylaws 9.1, 9.3, and 9.16 by deleting the one instance of the word "advisory" in each. 
    This passed unanimously, I believe 8-0. 
  2. MOVE to append Bylaw 9.1, with a one-sentence addition to the end of paragraph 1 in brackets, plus two minor grammar edits.
    There was much discussion of this, with different interpretations of what the bylaw said, and several others thought it unnecessary. Since it wouldn't pass and was probably the least important one to me, I withdrew it. I don't plan to revisit it. 
  3. MOVE to append Bylaw 9.3 by the following, with the two additions in brackets:
    Board Chair Peter Scudner thought adding the word "normally" (as in my motion) was sufficient, and that the second half of it wasn't needed. I decided to go with that, and so we added only the one word. I believe it passed 8-0. This means that while USATT committees normally would have five members, they can have more (or less), at the discretion of the committee chair and the board. (Before they could not exceed five.) 
  4. MOVE to append Bylaw 9.5 Term Limits by the following. Change from:
    Current wording: "No committee member shall serve for more than three (3) consecutive terms."
    Proposed wording, with the changes in bold: "No committee chair shall serve as chair for more than four (4) consecutive terms."
    Several others on the board wanted to keep term limits to force us to bring in new people, even at the cost of losing good ones (my argument - see rationale on Thursday). The vote was 4-4, and so it failed. I've already put in a new bylaw proposal for the October teleconference to increase term limits from three to four terms, which seemed to be a compromise, and it will likely pass unanimously. (Note - none of this will affect me, as I only plan one or at most two terms as chair of the League Committee. You can quote me on this!) 
  5. MOVE to change USATT's Mission Statement.
    As I explained in my rationale, I never liked the USATT's "shopping list" mission statement. Others disagreed. There was discussion of changing it to something else, and perhaps someone will, but when it became obvious it wouldn't pass, I withdrew it, and I don't plan to revisit it.

Aside from above, what happened? Here's a rundown. In a few days the listing of votes will be posted, and later on the more detailed minutes. 

Friday night: dinner at 7PM, then roll call, conflict of interest statements (none had any), introduction of new board member Carolyne Savini, approval of minutes from July teleconference, and a long discussion of the 2018 World Veterans Championships to be held in Las Vegas. This ended with me making a motion to authorize CEO Gordon Kaye to negotiate with the primary backers and organizers for the event. It passed unanimously. We finished around 9:30PM. 

Saturday was much busier as we met from 8:30AM to about 4:30PM. The first item was my motion on the Hardbat Committee (see above and Thursday's blog). Then came a roughly one-hour financial report - all is well (I think).

Next came Kagin Lee's Rules Committee report, which I presume he'll report on later, and I'll link to it. There was a lot of discussion of how best to present the USATT rules, as they are mostly the same as ITTF rules, but there are differences. USATT will be making some rules proposals to ITTF. The most interesting was this one: A player shall score a point ... "If an opponent deliberately disturbs the conditions of play in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." Currently, if a player were to pop the ball up, he could scream at his opponent or perhaps "accidentally" throw his racket toward him, in an attempt to get him to miss. There's no rule against this, and so an umpire can at most call a let for the disturbance, and perhaps yellow-card the player (i.e. a warning). And so the player getting the popup would only get a let instead of winning the point. There were two other proposals on timeouts, and one that required ITTF approved rubber on even a non-hitting side, so the opponent and/or doesn't have to keep track of whether the player has hit the ball with the illegal side. 

Kagin then gave the annual National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Report. Then came my five bylaw proposals (see above). 

Next was a lot of discussion of ways to enhance the US Open and Nationals. Then came Carl Danner's High Performance Committee report - lots of discussion there, especially about the potential strength of the 2016 women's team, leading to requests to the USOC for more funding. I believe he'll post something about this later. I requested that the team coaches give reports on the relative strengths of U.S. players, which would be emailed to USATT coaches. For example, many elite USA juniors seem to be weaker on receive on average than their overseas counterparts - and if so, the team coaches could request our coaches to focus more on this. 

We had lunch (catered sandwiches), and went back to work. CEO Gordon had a number of presentations, on membership, on sponsorship and fundraising, and one other issue that required a closed session. These took up much of the afternoon. There was a lot of discussion on membership fees for players who only compete in leagues, something we hope to greatly increase. 

Next came presentations from Kagin on the USATT Approved Equipment Program, and on the Ratings Task Force. The latter, like all past attempts to improve the rating system, is running into the usual conflict between wanting a system that encourages participation (and so you can accumulate points) and accuracy (where there's more accuracy but less incentive). We're still looking for a good compromise. 

Then came a closed session covering some legal business, and we were done! (But not before I quipped about my blog on Top Ten Things if Donald Trump were Running USATT.) As noted above, I then had to run to the airport, go through a LONG security line, and arrived at my gate at 5:28PM - with the doors closing at 5:30PM. I got back late on Saturday night, and managed to put in a full day's coaching on Sunday. (I love flying - it's an excuse to sit back and read a novel!)

The Spin-NoSpin Serve

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao.

The Common theme: Learn to Maximize Your Tournament Performance

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Ma Long Technique

Sam Preistley: Expert in a Year Book

Here's the podcast (30 min) from Expert Table Tennis.

Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here's a demographic article on the topic.

Timo Boll Not Qualified to the 2015 World Cup

Here's the article from Tabletennista. Wow - just wow. There are so few Europeans that actually can compete with the top Asian players, and now there's one less, and perhaps the most interesting one. He's #7 in the world (formerly #1), and #2 in the world outside China (4 players ahead of him) and Japan (1). I suggest they take a good hard look at the qualifying rules. With all due respect to the Swedish Junior Champion, he's only #105 in the world, and he's going in place of Timo? (Here are the world rankings.) 

USATT Perks Program

Here's the USATT article

2016 USA Men's and Women's National Team Selection Procedure

Here's the USATT info page

11 Questions with Matthew Winkler

Here's the USATT interview

Interview with Sanil Shetty

Here's the USATT Interview

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the info page

"Top Spin" Review: A King Kong of Ping-Pong Movies

Here's the review from the Wall Street Journal. (The WSJ covers ping-pong movies? Does that mean our sport has made, or that they have lowered their standards?)

Ticks Across the Board for Carmencita Alexandrescu

Here's the interview from MH Table Tennis.

Jan-Ove Waldner Challenges Li Xiaoxia

Here's the article.

Kasumi Ishikawa – Off the Table

Here's the ITTF video interview with the world #5 woman (4:20, in Japanese with English subtitles).

Timo Boll – Off the Table

Here's the ITTF video interview with the world #7 man (5:33, in English).

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Yuya Oshima in Champions League

Here's the video (4:37).

Timo Boll vs. Oh Sang Eun in Champions League

Here's the highlights video (2:57).

Fan Zhendong vs. Timo Boll in China Super League

Here's the highlights video (10:05).

Best Points of 2015 (Part 1)

Here's the video (8:02).

Top Ten Timo Boll Backhands

Here's the new video (4:04).

Shadow Practice Dances from China

The E.L.I.T.E Table Tennis Club just came out with Episode #4. Here are all four of them, plus a link to their video page with numerous other videos.


Here's the picture of this three-way table. 

Happiness is….

Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Skeleton Pong

Here's the picture! Any suggestions for a caption?

Send us your own coaching news!

August 20, 2015

No Blog on Friday or Monday

I'm off on Friday morning to the USATT board meeting in Chicago. (See segment below.) I'll likely blog about it next week. I've also got a busy Sunday and have to coach Monday morning, so no blog Monday morning. See you on Tuesday!

Wednesday Coaching

Yesterday we did a lot of footwork drills, put-away drills, and serve practice. The new players are advancing rapidly, the intermediate players are becoming advanced, and the advanced players are trying to scare the Chinese out of their ping-pong socks.

Highlight of the day was easily the start of what was supposed to be lunch break at 1PM. But a strange thing happened - as I was picking up the last few balls and greatly looking forward to my Chicken Lo Mein, one of the kids asked if I would help him with his reverse pendulum serve. We worked on it for a few minutes, and then another joined us, and then another, and by 1:10 I was working with six kids on their serves during their break. (Average age was about nine.) We practiced serves as a group for until 1:45PM, and then we all finally went to lunch. (As well as a 7-11 run.) 

At the end of the afternoon session a bunch of the kids played the "Cup Game," where they built pyramids or forts out of paper cups, and then knocked them down as I fed multiball. The latest twist - they now have someone on permanent build mode, so while the kids take turns knocking it down, one of them furiously rebuilds the pyramids - to great hilarity when they knock it down and his hard work goes to naught. Here's a picture; moments later it was total destruction with dead and dying cups scattered everywhere.

One scary moment - an eight-year-old picked up my phone while I was coaching, and began taking pictures. Then he thought it'd be funny to text the pictures to made-up phone numbers. Then he thought it'd be hilarious to text a photo of me to 9-1-1!!! Fortunately, we received an automated text response that 9-1-1 doesn't receive text messages and to please call. But we spent about an hour nervously looking at the door, half expecting the police to come charging in, guns raised.  

After the camp ended at 6PM I did a one-hour private coaching session. I then stayed late to watch the 13-year-old student (about 1700 level, pushing 1800) play a practice match with a 1900 player. The 1900 player dominated with his serve and with his backhand receive. Learning to return those serves will take practice, but he might have handled the backhand receives better. I spoke to him after the match, and pointed out the three main ways to deal with a player like that, who seems able to attack every short serve with his backhand. First, you challenge him with extremely low and heavy backspin serves, with a few no-spin serves thrown in to mess him up. Second, you challenge him with all sorts of spin and depth variation. And third, you can serve from the middle or forehand side of the table so you have an angle into the short forehand, and then vary between serving short to the forehand and long to the backhand, using the same motion. (It's most effective if you can serve short to the forehand with a backhand sidespin type serve.) This will likely be expanded into an upcoming Tip of the Week. 

USATT Board Meeting

I'll be flying out to Chicago on Friday for a USATT Board meeting. All or most of the nine board members (including me), as well as the CEO, and various staff or volunteers, will meet on Friday night and all day Saturday.

At some point we have to consider saving money by using Skype. (We already have monthly teleconferences.) I'm going to try to figure out this weekend if meeting in person twice a year is worth the money. At first glance, it seems a waste of money, but if the meetings are more productive this way, I'd rather spend the money. I've been to over 50 USATT board meetings over the years, and many were highly unproductive, but these days USATT is a lot more progressive in developing the sport and so we're far more likely to have a highly productive meeting. 

There are an even thirty items on the agenda, some of them short items or part of larger issues, so I'm not going to go over all of them. Of particular interest to me, besides the six items I'll be proposing (see below) are the two items on the Rules Committee report (I'm not yet sure what they are about); four items about improving our major tournaments (Open, Nationals, and others); High Performance Report; and a long segment about various membership proposals. I'll likely blog about these and other issues next week.

Regarding the High Performance Report, I'd like to see something like an annual report to all USATT certified coaches where the U.S. National Team Coaches, who coach our teams overseas as well as regularly see our top players and juniors, report back on what types of things USA players generally need work on. For example, when I used to coach the USA junior team overseas I found that overseas players generally had better receive and physical fitness. (My general impression of our current top juniors is we have mostly caught up on physical training, but still tend to be weaker on receive.) Such a report would raise awareness of these weaknesses so top coaches all over the country could focus on them.

I have one motion and five bylaw proposals at this meeting. For a motion to pass, there needs to be a quorum present, i.e. a majority of the board, and then it passes with a simple majority. That means at least five present, in which case it could pass 3-2. Most likely eight of the nine board members will be present (at least one won't make the meeting), so it'll need a 5-3 majority. For a bylaw to pass, it needs two-thirds of the entire board, meaning six votes. With one board member missing the meeting, there will likely be only eight voters; if so the bylaw proposals would need to pass 6-2. If the vote is 5-3 in favor, they do not pass.

The motion will be as follows:

"Move to rename the Hardbat Advisory Committee the Classic Table Tennis Advisory Committee, which would oversee both hardbat and sandpaper table tennis in the U.S."

This is needed as there are more and more sandpaper events, and there's a huge overlap between the sandpaper and hardbat players - so it makes sense to put them together in one committee, chaired by hardbat and sandpaper promoting maestro Scott Gordon. (He was recently re-appointed to the position he previously held for years.) It puts the administration of these events in the hands of knowledgeable people and likely frees up staff time. 

Below are the five bylaw proposals, including the rationale for each. After getting these five out of the way, I likely will never make another bylaw proposal. But I believe these five are important in varying ways. Meanwhile, once we finish our camp schedule here at MDTTC at the end of August I can focus on the more progressive issues I've promised to work on regarding setting up regional associations, coaching programs and full-time training centers, regional team leagues, and state championships in every state. If reading over tedious bylaw proposals makes your eyes glaze over, skip over it to the next segment! (Or just read the motion and the rationale, and ignore the text in between.)

MOVE to append Bylaws 9.1, 9.3, and 9.16 by deleting the one instance of the word "advisory" in each, as follows. These are the only times in the Bylaws where the word "advisory" appears except when referring to the USATT Athlete Advisory Council.
Section 9.1. Designation. "The Board shall appoint such advisory task forces or committees as the Board believes appropriate, and shall define narrowly the mission and deliverables of such task forces or committees."
Section 9.3. Number. "All committees and advisory task forces shall have at least twenty (20) percent Elite athlete representation defined consistently with the USOC’s requirements and Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act."
Section 9.16.d.4 High Performance Committee: "Consult with the Coaching and Juniors Advisory Committee on shared issues;"
Rationale: By including the word "advisory" we emphasize that these task forces and committees are only there to advise, and not to implement. We can define each task force's and committee's purpose separately, and include the word "advisory" where appropriate, but by including it in the bylaws we are unable to do so.

MOVE to append Bylaw 9.1, with a one-sentence addition to the end of paragraph 1 in brackets, plus two minor grammar edits:
Section 9.1. Designation. There shall be no Executive Committee or other committee(s), entity[ies,] or individuals who have overlapping or superior authority to the Board, such as a “super-board” (commonly called a governing council or general assembly).  [However, the Board may designate committees to perform executive administrative functions.]
Rationale: This is likely the most abused bylaw we have. The Rules and Officials Committee (now the Officials Committee) and the Coaching Committee are just two committees that have long had administrative functions, such as naming officials and coaches for major events. The Board should be able to vote to designate some such administrative functions to committees, on a case by case basis. (The two minor edits are for consistency, giving all three items plurals - committee(s) to committees, entity to entities, while individuals remains unchanged.)

MOVE to append Bylaw 9.3 by the following, with the two additions in brackets:
Section 9.3. Number. "Membership on all committees and task forces, other than for the High Performance Committee, shall not [normally] exceed five (5) individuals[, and will do so only if the committee or task force chair requests more and gives specific reason(s) why extra members would be beneficial.]
Rationale: While keeping committees and task forces small makes them less cumbersome in doing their work and is recommended in most cases, a larger group may be advantageous in brainstorming ideas, and in some cases that is beneficial. Also, some committees and task forces may wish to represent more regions of the country. It is understood that regardless of the number on the committee or task force, at least 20% must be player representatives.

MOVE to append Bylaw 9.5 Term Limits by the following.
Current wording: "No committee member shall serve for more than three (3) consecutive terms."
Proposed wording, with the changes in bold: "No committee chair shall serve as chair for more than four (4) consecutive terms."
Rationale: We are losing many of our most valuable and experienced committee members at an alarming rate. For this reason I believe we need to remove term limits for committee members. The same argument can be made for removing term limits on committee chairs as well, but it might be best to keep some limit so committees don't stagnate under the same leadership. Extending a chair's term limit one more term is a good compromise here.

MOVE to change USATT's Mission Statement.
Current Wording
: "The Mission of the USATT shall be to enable United States athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence in Olympic/Paralympic, Pan American or Para Pan American Games, and other international competitions, and to promote and grow the sport of Table Tennis in the United States, while creating a lasting value for our members."
Proposed Wording: "To Promote and Develop the Growth of Table Tennis in the U.S. at all levels."
Rationale: This roughly matches the Mission Statement of the highly successful U.S. Tennis Association, and gives us a simple statement that we can refer to when considering new issues and programs, rather than a grocery list of separate items, all of which fall under the proposed Mission Statement. (Here is USTA's Mission Statement, which is even shorter: "To Promote and Develop the Growth of Tennis.") Whether we are looking for large memberships or medals at the Olympics, they both are examples of the Promotion and Growth of Table Tennis in the U.S. at all levels.

Two Minute Warm-Up: Learn the 6 vital keys that you must do during warm-up

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina. 

Ask the Coach Show

Episode #169 (31 min) – Making Kids Cry (and other segments).

New Book - Expert in a Year: The Ultimate Table Tennis Challenge

Here's the new book (in print and kindle), which covers an attempt by a player, working with a coach, to go from essentially beginner to advanced player in a year. Here's the book description:

Sam Priestley was never Mr Sporty. After failed attempts at rowing and running he had all but given up on the possibility of becoming a sportsman. That was until childhood friend, and table tennis coach, Ben Larcombe convinced him to act as the guinea pig in an experiment he had concocted - The Expert in a Year Challenge. 

Starting 1st January 2014 novice Sam was immersed in the world of competitive table tennis. He began training every day and over the course of the year notched up hundreds of hours of practice in an attempt to reach a seemingly impossible goal. There was blood, sweat, tears, injuries, frustrations and moments of elation as the pair travelled up and down the UK, and beyond, in their quest for training, mentors and competition. Sam found potential he never thought he had, got better at table tennis than most people thought possible, and discovered what it feels like when 1.5 million people watch you fail. Here is their story, including all the ridiculous training methods and unreachable goals, and the surprising lessons they learnt from playing table tennis every day for a year.

Don't Forget My Books!!!

While we're on the subject of books, don't forget to buy mine!  

Help Khaleel Asgarali Compete and Train in Germany

Here's the funding page. He's a top player and coach here in Maryland.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Ying Hang in Chinese Super League

Here's the highlights video (4:01).

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.

More Mike Mezyan Pictures

NOTE - If you are unable to see these pictures, all you have to do is join the Table Tennis Group - it's easy! Here are all the past, present, and (soon) future pictures he's collected. (I pick out his best ones for here - he has more.)

The Evolution of Man

Here's the cartoon! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

"This Board Meeting Will Come to Order!"

Here's a picture of an actual USATT board meeting in action. That's me standing up.

Send us your own coaching news!

August 19, 2015

Boosting, Part 2

Yesterday I posted about the problems with boosting. Here's a simple solution to the problem for USATT. (I've also added this as an addendum in yesterday's blog.) All we have to do is change the USATT Tournament Guide. Under Referee Responsibilities, it says:

5.h. Determines the legality of clothing and equipment. The USATT Dress Code and the red/black racket rule must be consistently enforced at all tournaments

If this were changed to the following, I think it would solve the problem. I’ve only added the last sentence, which I've bolded.

5.h. Determines the legality of clothing and equipment. The USATT Dress Code and the red/black racket rule must be consistently enforced at all tournaments. Any racket that passes the racket testing procedure would be considered legal for that tournament.

Tuesday's Coaching

We spent a lot of time on the backhand yesterday in the camp at MDTTC. The new players really picked it up quickly. The toughest case was the kid who played tennis, and kept turning sideways to hit backhands, tennis style. 

Perhaps my best coaching was with a kid who had an extreme backhand grip, with the soft part of the thumb on the rubber, leading to all sorts of problems. The grip was almost the same as the grip I started with 39 years ago, before Bob Kaminsky and Jim Mossberg convinced me to use a more normal grip. (And note that there's another kid I'm working with in the camp who has jerky strokes like me, as I wrote about yesterday, so that are two players who bring back memories of me long ago.) He was willing to make the change, and so we spent much of the day working that. In drills he quickly picked it up, but it'll take longer to do it in games. 

Our kids in the 7-9 age range are extremely strong - perhaps more depth than we've ever had at MDTTC. We're starting up a new weekly program just for them. It's amazing watching how fast they are improving. When I look at them I can't help but judge and sometimes rank them by 1) current level; 2) technique; 3) physical skills; 4) mental skills; and 5) drive. It's great to see how many of them rank high in all five. But the truth is there are full-time centers all over the country these days, with lots of junior programs and great coaches, and so what seems so good might just be the norm for a top-flight training center - and there are a number of such centers. (We're one of them!!!)

Xu Xin Receive Training

Here's the video (58 sec, including slow motion replay) – note how they don't play out the rally, and so he focuses on receive, getting a lot more receive practice per time than if you play out the points? I once watched at a U.S. Open as Eugene Wang (#1 player in North America) practice his receive for over 30 minutes, with his coach/practice partner just serving and grabbing another ball from a box to serve. This has been one of my pet peeves for many years, that so many coaches, even high-level ones, don't do this basic systematic receive training, and so their students are weaker on receive than those who do. (Side note – notice how Xu is sidespin receiving? Why don't more players use such basic variations?)

Ask the Coach

Episode #168 (30:45) - Benefits of Random Drills (and other segments).

The Best Training is Participating in Matches

Here's the article by USA junior star Victor Liu. 

Para Pan Am Games Final Results

Here's the USATT listing. Congrats to USA medalists:

  • Gold Medalists Ben Hadden and Tahl Leibovitz
  • Silver Medalists Ari Arratia, Lim Ming Chui, and Tahl Leibovitz/Lim Ming Chui
  • Bronze Medalists Pam Fontaine, Sherri Umscheid, and Jennifer Johnson/Cynthia Ranii. 

Turnkey Sports' Carolyne Savini Appointed to USATT Board

Here's the USATT press release

Karlsson Holds Hope for Another Swedish Number 1

Here's the interview with Peter Karlsson by Matt Hetherington. (Karlsson is a former world doubles champion, 4-time team champion, and European Men's Singles Champion.) 

DHS LED Table - the Next Revolution in Table Tennis?

Here's the video (55 sec). Personally, I'd find this highly distracting, both as a player and as a spectator. But maybe I'm living in the past?

11 Questions with Michael Levene

Here's the USATT interview

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 16

The first four chapters are now online, care of Tim and USATT. Or you can go to TimBogganTableTennis.com and buy the volume yourself, or any of the other volumes! 

More Mike Mezyan Pictures

NOTE - If you are unable to see these pictures, all you have to do is join the Table Tennis Group - it's easy! Here are all the past, present, and (soon) future pictures he's collected. (I pick out his best ones for here - he has more.)

Xu Xin Wine

Here's a picture of the bottle of wine with his face on it that he received for his birthday from CCTV. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)


Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Santa vs. Reindeer

Here's the picture! Any suggestions for a caption?

Send us your own coaching news!

August 18, 2015

Table Tennis Boosting and Why Cheating is Rampant in Our Sport

Here's an article by Coach Jon Gustavason about the problems with boosting (and perhaps speed gluing) in table tennis. He wrote, "It also appeared that at least some of the players were using boosters or speed glue on their rackets. There is absolutely no way of knowing how much was taking place, since there was no attempt to test rackets and — even if there had been — current testing methods can’t detect every possible way that table tennis rubbers can be altered."

Next to the problems with hidden serves, this is the most abused rule in table tennis at the higher levels. The rules state, "The racket covering shall be used without any physical, chemical or other treatment." This makes both speed glue and boosting illegal. 

Boosting is the problem, not speed gluing. Boosting on a tensor sponge gives nearly the same effect but is essentially undetectable, and unlike speed glue, has little health risks. I'd be surprised if any but a tiny minority still speed glue. First, if they did, you can hear the unique sound it makes, and we'd know. Second, it's the top players who are most likely to look for such enhancements, and they know that their racket likely would be tested at the biggest tournaments, and so they wouldn't be able to speed glue at the tournaments that are likely most important for them. Third, and probably most important, I'm told that speed glue doesn't really work well with modern tensor sponges, which just about every top player uses. So what's the point? A tensored sponge that's boosted gives the effect of speed glue without being detectable. (Also, where would they get the speed glue? It's no longer being produced by manufacturers. They'd have to go back to the old bicycle glues used in the 1970s, which aren't as effective as the ones produced later for table tennis.)

Others have protested about the boosting problem. Here's an article from Tabletennista, "Jun Mizutani Boycotts ITTF For His Battle Against Illegal Boosters." (Mizutani is world #6.) It's a worldwide problem.

So it is boosting that is the problem. (Most estimates are that it increases spin and speed about 10%.) I'm not going to name names, but it's pretty much common knowledge that nearly every top player boosts. Not all - there are a few who simply won't do it because it's illegal. For example, Samson Dubina has gotten involved in this issue as he's a top U.S. player who is regularly handicapped because he won't "cheat," and so he doesn't boost, while most of his opponents likely do. When he complained to an official while I listened, the official simply encouraged him to boost himself, since others were doing so. Yes, as Samson can verify, the referee/umpire told him to cheat. The official also argued that few others are complaining – but that's because nearly all of the players are boosting, so of course they aren't complaining! (There's also a top player at my club who faces this same dilemma, as he refuses to boost since it's cheating – but he's getting tempted. "Come to the dark side, we have cookies and booster!")

It's somewhat similar to the problem with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in sports. They weren't legal, but large number of players used them for decades despite the fact that they were both risking their health and their reputations by cheating. With boosting, there is little danger of either, and so it's pretty much commonplace. I've watched players routinely boost for years; many probably don't even know it's illegal. (Unlike speed glue, which is done just before playing, boosting is done well before you play, and lasts much longer.) 

I'm sure some are wondering just what boosting is. Sorry, I'm not going to tell you. I'm sure with a little research you can find it on your own. When/if it becomes legal (or essentially legal, as explained in #3 below), I'll post about it. 

So how can we solve this problem? I've already tried to solve it, but met up with bureaucratic roadblocks. Just like steroids before, many of the current generation of officials simply don't take the problem seriously - it's out of sight, out of mind thinking, plus they don't want the hassle of dealing with a mostly invisible problem - even though they are really hurting players who won't "cheat."

Let's look at this logically. I see three possibilities. 

  1. Ignore the problem, allow rampant cheating, and handicap those who won't cheat. Sorry, this isn't acceptable to me. 
  2. Spend extremely large sums of money on extremely sensitive equipment that'll detect boosting. (It would probably have to be developed for this express purpose.) Unfortunately, this just isn't affordable and so isn't feasible.
  3. Change the rules (or to resolve the problem in the U.S., just the USATT Tournament Guide) to specify that any racket that passes the racket testing procedure shall be deemed legal for that tournament. Then boosting becomes normal, and the only change is that the few top players who currently don't boost because it is illegal will no longer be handicapped since their boosted rackets would be declared legal.

Number three seems the only possible solution. Some would argue that they would still be cheating, since they have used a "treatment" on their racket – but any treatment is a matter of degree. Cleaning your rubber with water or racket cleaner is a treatment, but doesn't rise to the level that's considered a treatment. All this does is set the limit for what is considered to have been a treatment.

The rules also state that the serve begins with a "stationary" free hand, which is physically impossible without cooling the hand to absolute zero (about -460F or -270C), and so all serves are illegal – but common sense is applied instead, and the free hand is considered "stationary" if the hand roughly comes to a stop. So if one argues that a boosted racket that passes the racket inspection procedure is still illegal would also have to argue that all serves are illegal. They'd also have to argue that that it's better to close their eyes to the matter and allow rampant cheating (#1) than deal with the problem (#3).

One could respond by saying, "Prove all these players are boosting." Well, that's the problem, isn't it, when we set up an unenforceable rule, where players willing to break the rule get a huge advantage? That's how baseball avoided the steroids issue for years, by not enforcing the anti-steroid rules or testing for it, and then demanding proof that players were abusing the rule by using steroids. The difference is that they were able to put into place steroid testing procedures; we can't realistically put into place boosting testing procedures.

So I proposed #3 to a USATT official – the same one mentioned above, a major one in USATT - who I thought would back it, but he instead argued that it would mean making cheating legal, and offered no other option other than to continue to close our eyes to the actual cheating and unfairness that is going on. (I really, really hope he'll reconsider.) And so we're back at square one. At some point I plan to propose #3 to the entire USATT Rules Committee. Or perhaps they'll take independent action on their own or after reading this. (As a member of the USATT board, I could simply make a motion, but it would immediately be referred to the USATT Rules Committee, so I might as well start there. If that doesn't work, then I'd have to go to the ITTF Rules Committee. There must be someone out there who wants to solve problems!)

The amazing thing is there are many players out there who illegally hide their serves and illegally boost, and are proud of winning when they beat a player who doesn't do either.

I don't really object to a player doing these things if the opponent is doing them – and since nearly every opponent is boosting, I don't really object to players boosting. I object to those in charge of the rules not addressing the problem. Let's resolve this issue, okay?

ADDENDUM (added next day)

Here's a simple solution to the problem for USATT. All we have to do is change the USATT Tournament Guide. Under Referee Responsibilities, it says:

5.h. Determines the legality of clothing and equipment. The USATT Dress Code and the red/black racket rule must be consistently enforced at all tournaments

If this were changed to the following, I think it would solve the problem. I’ve only added the last sentence, which I've bolded. 

5.h. Determines the legality of clothing and equipment. The USATT Dress Code and the red/black racket rule must be consistently enforced at all tournaments. Any racket that passes the racket testing procedure would be considered legal for that tournament. 

Coaching on Monday

Meanwhile, on Monday we had Day One of Week Ten of our Eleven Weeks of Camps at MDTTC. We have a number of players who have come to all or nearly all of our camps, as well as the usual new ones. It's been a long summer, and we have another nine days of camp (four this week, five next week), and it's going to be a shock when it's all over and they go back to school, and I go back to normal coaching hours. (As well as going back to work on the various USATT initiatives I've started since I was elected to the USATT Board earlier this year.) 

Yesterday's highlights:

  • When I started playing in 1976 I had problems with jerky strokes. I worked with a kid who probably hit just like me back then. We spent much of the day smoothing out his forehand. 
  • One kid really likes serving fast serves. He had two sessions where he just served fast, aiming at my Gatorade bottle as a target. I may show him video of the world's fastest serve.
  • For the second time I felt a strain in my arm while demonstrating a smash for a student. I'm still wearing the arm brace to help protect the arm, but I do need to remember to warm up before demoing a smash.
  • During breaks I often watch forlornly as six or more kids play games on my computer. I never get to use it anymore!!! As I've explained to the other coaches, if I take it back to check email or write, I make six people unhappy to make one (me) happy. If I let them use it, six people are happy and only one is unhappy. Dang it, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
  • We had the usual trip to 7-11 during the two-hour lunch break. The store manager gave us two free Slurpees. I took them back to the club with a huge number of straws. If you've never seen five kids with five straws all slurping from a single Slurpee, you haven't seen anything.

Ask the Coach Show

Episode #167 (22:34) - Antispin (and other segments).

Butterfly Easy Ball Review

Here's the video (3:35) from Table Tennis Daily. I'm relieved at the positive review as my club and I are both sponsored by Butterfly, and we've been anxiously awaiting the coming of the new plastic training balls.

ITTF Stars Award

Here's the ITTF press release. It will be held on Dec. 9 in Lisbon, Portugal.

European Stars Sweep at 2015 Hyson Chicago Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Sweden's Rocky Balboa

Here's the interview with Swedish rising junior star Hampus Soderlund, by Matt Hetherington.

Ten Reasons to Play Table Tennis

Part 1 and Part 2 (from Pong Universe).

Fang Bo vs. Timo Boll

Here's the video (4:11) with highlights of their match in the Chinese Super League. Fang puts on a show!!!

The Autobiography of a Ping Pong Ball: My Life with ADHD

Here's a new book on "table tennis" – except it's not about table tennis, it's about someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (I've coached a number of players with ADHD – let's just say you have to be patient.)

Snoopy Wants to Play Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon! And here are two pictures of him playing: photo1 (with Woodstock) and photo2.

Green Ping-Pong Creature

Here it is - whatever it is! Any suggestions for a caption?

Send us your own coaching news!

August 17, 2015

Tip of the Week

Controlling a Match.

Weekend Coaching

Friday was the final day of last week's camp. We did a lot of basics work as well as introducing some new ones. I introduced forehand and backhand looping to two seven-year-olds. An eight-year-old had a major breakthrough. He can both loop and hit, but usually after looping a backspin he'd swat the next ball off the end. We've been playing a game where I feed multiball, alternating backspin and topspin to his forehand, and he has to loop the first, smash the second. If he makes both, he scores; if he misses either, I score. I'm guessing I was 30-0 against in this came, but on Friday he finally pulled it out, "beating" me 11-7. 

We finished the camp with the "candy game." I put stacks of candy on the table near the end-line, and fed multiball. The kids lined up, and anything they hit off the table, they got to keep. (For the younger beginners, if they hit the candy but didn't knock it off the table, they still got a piece. More advanced players who won five or more pieces were strongly encouraged to share with the youngest kids.) 

With three students away or unable to come in, I was off on Saturday!!! I'd like to say I studiously solved all of USATT's problems, wrote a new table tennis book, and put table tennis in the public spotlight with an 11-0 trumping of Donald Trump, but no – I spent the day reading, doing crosswords, and saw "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."

Actually, I did do one serous table tennis thing on Saturday – I created a Classic Table Tennis flyer that introduces players to the hardbat and sandpaper games, for distribution at major tournaments. (I'm normally a sponge player and sponge coach, but as many know I'm a hardbat player on the side.) I've sent it to the Hardbat Chair for review.

On Sunday I worked with a student who was having trouble covering his wide backhand after moving to his wide forehand. So we did the following. First, we focused on being light on the feet, as discussed in last week's Tip of the Week, "You Can Be Light on Your Feet." Then we did a lot of backhand to backhand practice where he focused on keeping the ball wide to my backhand, which takes away the angle into his forehand, and so makes it easier to cover the corners. And then we did a lot of multiball where I randomly fed to the corners, forcing him to move side to side and cover those wide angles, including the wide backhand.

We also worked on his forehand smash. I pointed out that his smashes all sounded different, because he didn't have a consistent contact, and so his shots scattered all over the place. We worked on replicating the "perfect" smash, with the feel and sound of the contact the same every time. 

In the junior class, for some unexplained reason, the kids were talking about spin serves when we started, and wanted to work on them. So instead of doing serving practice at the end as we usually did we started with it. We ended up practicing spin serves for twenty minutes. One was particularly interested in backhand serves, and had seen Dimitrij Ovtcharov's backhand serve. So we worked on that. 

In the adult training session we did a lot of practice on serve and attack. The server would serve backspin, the receiver pushed back long, and the server looped, forehand or backhand. We did a number of variations, starting with simple ones where the receiver would push to a pre-arranged spot and then on to random pushing to either side. In the last drill I had the receiver focus on "messing up" the server by aiming one way and then quick-pushing the other way. This gave the servers problems at first, but most gradually realized what I kept emphasizing, which was they had plenty of time to wait to see where the ball was going, and then simply move to the ball, backswinging as they moved, and loop it. 

After the class a number of the players stayed late and tried out each other's rackets. There might be some racket purchases coming up!


Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, with a link to video (2000 Olympic Men's Final between Waldner and Kong Linghui). 

Reading Spin of Your Opponent's Serves

Here's the coaching video (9:21). (This is from January, but I don't think I ever linked to this.) 

Homer Brown in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd

Here's a picture of the page. He's just played in his 47th consecutive US Open. Richard McAfee, David Sakai, and Dell Sweeris are also mentioned.

Why We Need Real Fan Superstars

Here's the article from Matt Hetherington. "Is part of the reason the sport is dying that we have no one to cheer for?"

Pong Adventure

Here's a new blog entry from globe-trotting ponger Matt Hetherington, "Don't Enjoy the View Through an Office Window." Below that is his previous one, "Why I Gave Up 9 to 5 Working Hours!" (That's two MHTableTennis segments here in a row!)

Short Interview with Waldner

Here's the video (22 sec) as he talks of him growing up since age two with ping-pong balls. (There's actually a longer interview, but you have to pay for that.)

Double-Multiball Training of a Chopper

Here's the video (31 sec) as two coaches feed multiball to this chopper.

Winner Off an Edge Ball

Here's video (35 sec) as Dimitrij Ovtcharov lobs on the edge, and Patrick Baum, light on his feet, still manages to rip a winner.

Great Points Between Timo Boll and Defensive Star Koji Matsushita

Here's the video (2:13).

More Mike Mezyan Pictures

NOTE - If you are unable to see these pictures, all you have to do is join the Table Tennis Group - it's easy! Here are all the past, present, and (soon) future pictures he's collected. (I pick out his best ones for here - he has more.)

Jean-Michel Saive – Benjamin Rogiers Exhibition

Here's the new video (33:11). Saive's a great showman – this generation's Jacque Secretin?

Waldner and Persson on a Mini-Table

Here's the video (5:21).

High-Table Pong?

Here's the picture!

Ai Fukuhara in a Game Show?

Here's the video (9:46) as she and others do various trick shots. It's all in (I think) Japanese, but it's funny to watch, with an over-excited narrator.

Classroom Chalk-Smacking Pong

Here's the video (7 sec)!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 14, 2015

Thursday Camp

Yesterday was Day Four of Week Nine of MDTTC's Eleven Weeks of Summer Camps. I've now coached over 200 of these five-day camps, or over 1000 days - nearly three years. That's 6000 hours of camp. (Here's a group picture from yesterday morning. It's missing some of our locals who sometimes come in just for the afternoon session.)

For once I didn't have any additional private coaching or classes, so it was "only" six hours of coaching. At this point the beginning players I'm working with have at least decent strokes and timing, and so can hit backhands and forehands, and can serve. I only wish we had videos of their play on Monday to compare with now!

On Monday, the youngest player in the camp had about a dozen turns at multiball, about 4-5 minutes each time, all forehand work - and throughout it all, she only hit two balls on the table. On Thursday, she hit five in a row. The crowning achievement? She smacked the Gatorade bottle with "worm juice," and so I had to drink it, to her great glee.

We had a new six-year-old in the camp. Let's just say this player had better concentration than just about anyone in the camp – at age six – and with extremely good hand-eye coordination and racket control for that age. That's a triple whammy – if this player takes private lessons, as the father is looking into, this could be interesting. (This player also made me drink lots of worm juice. But the player had an almost icy determination to hit the bottle to make me drink it, while others that age were more likely giggling between shots.) 

A big breakthrough for one player - for the first time he succeeded in serving backspin so it came back into the net. This isn't a serve you normally use in a match - you usually want to drive the ball out a bit more - but it's a great exercise to create a heavy backspin serve. If you're a serious player, you should learn to do this – it'll force you to contact the ball more finely, and lead to spinnier serves.

I spent a lot of time working with one player who, strangely, had an excellent forehand but basically just stuck his racket out with hunched shoulders to hit backhands - it was pretty bad. But he understood this, and soon he was hitting backhands much better, at least in multiball and drills. Hopefully this'll translate into matches soon. 

During break a 2050 player in the camp challenged my clipboard. I was a bit hesitant as I hadn't used it in a while and wasn't sure I could still move around. I fell behind 4-8 in the first game, then led 10-9. I fought off four game points before winning that game, and ended up winning four straight games before break ended. I'll likely be challenged tomorrow - and now the player knows what he's getting into! (I'm normally about 2100 with a clipboard, a little weaker against pips-out players, but it does take me at least a game sometimes to get into it.)

Lily Zhang's Six Tips for Improving Your Game

Here's the article  in ESPN Magazine by the USA Olympian and Women's Singles Champion.

What I Learned From Playing in China

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Short Receive and Follow-up Multiball Drill

Here's the video (60 sec) where the coach feeds one ball and plays one random shot afterwards, and then grabs the next ball. An excellent drill.

Ask the Coach Show

No new episodes today, but here's their archive, with all 166 episodes. At 20 minutes per video, you can zip through all of those in just 55 hours!

Capital Area Team League

Don't forget to enter by Sept. 7 if you live in the Maryland/Virginia/DC region! (I'm now the webmaster for the league, though my webmastering skills are a bit dated.) There's a new "Players Looking for Teams" page, so you can put your name there if you want to play but don't have a team. (It's empty right now since it just went up.)

USATT Insider

Here's the new issue, which came out Wednesday morning. 

Got a Trick – Did a Top Shot?

Here's where you can enter the Butterfly "TTS Award – Tricks & Top Shots" contest for Aug-Sept 2015. "We and the world are looking forward to your video with a surprising trick shot, an awesome top shot or “just” an exciting rally."

ITTF Has Big Plans for Table Tennis

Here's the article from Tabletennista.

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.

China Open Videos

Here are links to 17 of them, including most of the big ones.

Amazing Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights music video (8:38).

Both Lefty and Righty on a Robot

Here's the video (3:56). 

Table Tennis Trick Gif

Here's the repeating Gif image of a player tricking his opponent – why not put this on your table tennis page? (I linked to a video of this before, but not the repeating Gif image.)

More Mike Mezyan Pictures

NOTE - If you are unable to see these pictures, all you have to do is join the Table Tennis Group - it's easy! Here are all the past, present, and (soon) future pictures he's collected. (I pick out his best ones for here - he has more.)

"Here's an Empty Table"

Here's the cartoon!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 13, 2015

Getting a Grip: The Backhand is Back!!!

Yesterday in our ongoing summer camps I taught (blah blah blah), and then we worked on (blah blah blah), and the players were really excited when we did (blah blah blah). And after six hours of camp, I did another two hours of private coaching, where we (blah blah blah). Yeah, let's get through all the boring stuff, and get to the interesting part!

My game has slowly deteriorated over the last few years. Much of this is simply age – I'm 55 (yikes!). Both the muscles and knees won't let me move like I used to. But other parts of my game have also gone done, including my backhand. It used to be a wall when it came to blocking and counter-hitting, which made me a pretty good practice partner. But I've spent much of the last year or two often staring at my racket, wondering where the old magic was.

And then, yesterday, while hitting with a player in a private session, the backhand magic was back!!! Or more specifically, my old grip was back. Somehow, over the last few years, I'd changed my grip. I've always gripped it with my middle finger slightly off the handle, with the racket resting on the first knuckle. Somewhere along the way I'd lowered the middle finger down with the other two fingers. I'd sort of noticed this in the past, but didn't think it made much difference. Boy, was that wrong!!!

Yesterday I raised it back to where I'd done it before, as I'd done other times, and it didn't help. Then, fiddling with my grip, it fell into place, with the key (for me) being the racket rested on that middle finger knuckle when I hit backhands. Bingo – and suddenly the old backhand was back. I think my eyes went a bit wide when the old backhand returned after perhaps a two-year leave of absence. Suddenly I could do little wrong as I was counter-hitting and blocking with near 100% efficiency. It improved my forehand blocking as well, and probably much of the rest of my game.

I think I'd changed the grip inadvertently because I do so much multiball training when I coach. For that, it's a bit easier to have all three fingers gripped around the handle. And so, without realizing it, I'd gradually adopted that grip for my regular play. If I were still playing competitively – I'm retired from tournaments, though who knows! – I'd have probably figured this out long ago, but as a coach I'm more focused on who I'm playing than on my own game. Also, as I've blogged in the past, most technique problems come in twos – if one part of a stroke is wrong, it affects at least one other part, and to fix it, you have to fix both. In this case, I had to both change the middle finger position and then rest the racket on the knuckle.

I had a similar problem with my hardbat game a number of years ago. I normally play sponge, but at major tournaments where I'm mostly coaching I often enter the hardbat events. At the Open or Nationals I've won Hardbat Singles twice, Over 40 Hardbat four times, and Hardbat Doubles – my specialty! – 13 times. But there was a period of about two years where I was struggling, losing to everyone. Then I discovered I'd been using my sponge grip when playing hardbat, when I'd always used an extreme forehand grip for hardbat. I switched, and started winning again.

Note to self (and readers): Check your grip!!!

Para Pan Am Games

They are in Toronto, Aug. 7-15, with table tennis from Aug. 8-13. (I expect there'll be a feature article at the end on all the USA winners.) Here are the results so far:

Ask the Coach Show

Episode #166 (18:40) – Serving Strategy (and other segments).

Coach Sets the Bar

Here's the USATT article featuring Coach Yang Yu from the Austin TTC.

USATT Online Store

For those of you who missed it before, USATT now has an online store. Why not do some shopping?

Training Like a Pro

Here's 24 seconds of Samson Dubina doing forehand-backhand training.

Fan Zhendong Technique in Slow Motion

Here's the video (77 sec).

Big Backhand Punch by Panagiotis Gionis

Here's the video (13 sec) as he catches Saive off guard.

Great Chopper Turns Attacker Point

Here's the video (23 sec) of chopper/looper Joo Saehyuk (KOR, world #13) vs. Marcos Freitas (POR, world #10).

Fake Smash and Drop Shot

Here's the video (8 sec) of Adam Bobrow pulling a fast one.  

"Do Yourself a Favor and Take Up Ping-Pong"

Here's the cartoon!

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Table Tennis

Here's the hilarious video (5:39)!

Send us your own coaching news!

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