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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and an author of five books and over 1200 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

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

April 24, 2014

Wednesday Coaching

I had four sessions yesterday (and sort of a fifth), plus I picked up two kids from school to take to our afterschool TT program.

Session #1: This was with a 7-year-old, where we continued to work on the basics. He gets impatient pretty quickly and asks how much time is left about every sixty seconds. (And so my standard answer is, "One minute after the last time you asked.) He's more into videogames than table tennis, alas. However, he is improving. Yesterday he hit 30 backhands in a row, and I told him his backhand was better than Han Xiao's. (Former U.S. Team Member and four-time Men's Doubles Champion and Singles Finalist Han was practicing on the next table.)

Session #2: This was with a 12-year-old. Last week's session didn't go so well - he wasn't playing well and wasn't happy about it - but this time it was a great session as he played about the best he's ever played. He's about 1600 but could be 1800 this year. His forehand keeps getting better, and this time his backhand was pretty good as well. He's in that in between stage where he's both hitting and looping backhands. We played two games at the end, and he shocked me by taking a 6-2 lead the first one. This sort of woke me up, and I came back to win both games. The first step to beating a stronger player is to force them to play their best. The second step is consistently battle with them. The third step is to beat them. He's passed step one.

Session #3: This was with a 9-year old, the one I've blogged about before who likes to lob. He's listed as 1300, but that won't last. He has too much ball control and too strong a backhand. We've been working hard on his forehand, which can be erratic as he likes to loop or hit it about six different ways. One problem is that he's had some shoulder problems, and so there are times where we have to go easy on his forehand drills. Sometimes it's difficult to get him to focus on attacking as he likes lobbing and chopping so much, but yesterday he was more into attacking, and we had a great session. (I believe I've blogged about why we're not turning him into a chopper. He was interested until he discovered he'd probably have to go to long pips, and he wants to stick with inverted so he can lob. I toyed with turning him into an inverted chopper, but we discussed it and he decided against it.)

Session #4: This was with an 11-year-old who's a relative beginner who's attended some of my junior classes. This was his second private session. He's just started looping, and not only does it pretty well in multiball, but did it surprisingly well in drills where he serves backspin, I push, and he loops. It was the follow-up shot against my block - smashing - where he had problems. Soon he'll start looping the second ball as well. We also worked hard on serving, where he'd been unable to get spin, but we had a breakthrough (using the soccer-colored balls so he can see the spin better) and he began producing decent sidespin and backspin. Next step is to learn to serve them lower while increasing the spin even more. He has a table at home and is going to practice this on his own.

Sort-of-Session #5: This was basically a long discussion on what was needed for one of our up-and-coming juniors to become a top player over the next couple of years. New focus (for this player - everyone is different) will be on physical training, serve, receive, and becoming a student of the game. (Much of being a student of the game means studying and learning from videos of yourself, of top players, and of potential rivals.)

USATT Chairman's Blog: CEO Update

Here's the blog entry, and see my comment below (and follow up comments). As you can see, I'm not happy with my posting about this being so trivialized.

Ariel Hsing Will Play the 2014 Super League in China

Here's the article in Chinese (including a picture of her posing with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), and here's another one, also in Chinese. Here's a summary in English of both by Bruce Liu, which I'm pasting below:

  • Ariel is referred as Jeremy Lin in Table Tennis in one the article titles.
  • Ariel will join the Jinhua Bank Team, the only women's team in the Super League in Zhejiang Province.
  • There is a possibility to have one of the home court contests in the US someday, according to the club owner.
  • Playing to gain experience, not for money.
  • Got admissions from both Yale and Princeton. She chose Princeton because there is no table tennis team in Yale.
  • Her match vs Li XiaoXia in 2012 London Olympics.
  • Friendships with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
  • Won't play in the season opening in May 18 due to school but will probably join the team at the end of May.
  • Her playing position will be determined later. She may play singles or doubles.

Jun Mizutani Admits Better Mental Strength

Here's the article.

Wang Hao Doesn't Want His Son to Be in Table Tennis

Here's the article. One interesting thing - it says Nan Li (daughter of Li Zhenshi and Zhang Li) "serves as a secretary of the US Table Tennis Association," which I don't believe is true. She and her parents are professional coaches at the World Champions Club in San Jose, CA.

Poly Ball Test Results

Here's a list of test results on the diameter and weight of the new Doublefish poly ball, put together by Larry Thoman, General Manager for Newgy Table Tennis and former long-time chair of the USATT Tournament Committee.

Charlie Disney Led as Landlord and Table-Tennis Champ

Here's the obit. As noted in my blog on April 17 (with words from Disney's long-time business partner Don Larson), the long-time table tennis organizer and entrepreneur passed away last week.  

World Team Championships

Here's the promo video (1:03) for the upcoming Worlds in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

The Incredible History of Olympic Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:35). I don't think I've ever posted this.

Table Tennis Spin Wheel

Here's the video (4:01) of this training tool for players learning to loop. I had a smaller, cheaper version of this, but it broke. I was tempted to buy one and did some searching, and found you can buy one from Tees Sports - but cost is £67.99, or about $114, a bit much.

Trailer for Ping Pong Summer

Here it is (2:10), just came out! Looks like a great movie. (I put this in yesterday's blog late, so I'm putting it up again for those who missed it.)

Happy Birthday Hannah!

Here's another TT birthday cake, this time for Hannah Ricci Tayad - and yes, I now officially put in pictures of all birthday cakes when birthdays come up! (Sorry, only current ones, not past ones.)

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April 23, 2014

Beginning/Intermediate Class, Racket Surfaces, and Herb Horton

In the class on Monday night I introduced the class to non-inverted surfaces by bringing out the huge racket case where I keep six rackets: hardbat; short pips/inverted; pips-out penhold; anti/inverted; long pips no sponge/inverted (for blocking); and long pips thin sponge/inverted (for chopping). My plan was to talk about the characteristics of each for perhaps 15 minutes, and then introduce them to doubles. However, there was so much interest that, after a brief discussion and unanimous vote, we instead adjourned to the tables so they could all experiment playing with and against the various surfaces. (This is an adult class, with most of them ranging from about 25 to 60, plus one 13-year-old. Playing level ranges from about 800 to 1500.) 

The long pips without sponge was the biggest hit as the players lined up to play me as I stood at the table and just blocked everything back, covering the whole table with my backhand, "chicken wing" style. At the start they all had difficulty with my "heavy" backspin serves with the long pips, which they all popped up since there was actually no spin. Similarly, when they served backspin and I pushed it back vigorously, they all went off the end, thinking there was backspin when it was light topspin. They found this amazing, but all of them eventually learned to react properly. However, once we got into a rally and they gave me a topspin, and I blocked it back, over and over they went into the net. They just couldn't react to the backspin, which they didn't see coming since they had never seen a block with heavy backspin. 

Another player spent much of the time using the pips-out shakehands blade. These days it's practically a no-no for a coach to teach a kid to use short pips. After all, how many short pips players are there at the world-class level? (Off hand, I can't think of a single man in the top 100 with short pips - readers, let me know if I'm correct. I think there are a few women.) However, for recreational play short pips is still a good choice. Remember, USA's David Zhuang held on to his 2700 level well into his 40s, and most players aren't looking anywhere near that high. I do miss the variety of the past, where we'd see more short pips as well as antispin. 

If you have trouble playing against any of these surfaces, one of the best ways to learn to play them is to experiment using them yourself. That way you learn first-hand what it's like using them, and what works and doesn't work against them.

Personally, I think the most fun table tennis in the world is to put antispin on both sides of your racket, and just chop everything back. The anti with its slick surface makes it easy to return just about anything, but it also is easy for the opponent to keep attacking, since the anti doesn't really return much of the spin, unlike long pips. (There are some new antispins that are nearly spinless that play like long pips, but I'm talking about "normal" antispin.) I used to have an all-antispin racket, but at some point it disappeared - I think another anti fan "borrowed" it. 

I also find it great fun playing against an anti chopper. I started playing in 1976, and the first 2000+ player I ever played was Herb Horton, who chopped with anti on both sides. I'd just started playing (I was 16), and thought I was pretty good. He was very nice to play me, but also "respected" me by playing his best as he won 21-1, 21-0, 21-2! He continued to play me regularly as I improved, and he's a primary reason I developed a strong forehand. So kudos to him for helping out this beginner! It was a little over a year later, as I approached the 1700 level, that he became the first 2000+ player I ever beat in a tournament - and it only happened because he'd played me so much I was used to his anti chopping. I'm sure he wasn't happy about losing that match, but we had so many great matches that hopefully he enjoyed those more than the cost of his willing to play me so much. Another result of all those matches with Herb was that I became better against choppers than any other style, and I went about 20 years without losing to a chopper under 2500 while beating five over 2400. Herb continued to play, and was a regular at the Maryland Table Tennis Center which I opened (along with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang) in 1992. Around the mid-1990s, I think in his mid-70s, he died of a heart attack while playing at the club. 

2014 U.S. Open Blog - It's a Roller Coaster Ride

Here's a new blog entry on the U.S. Open by co-chairs Dell & Connie Sweeris.

USATT Staff Changes

It's been nearly a month since the news item that CEO Mike Cavanaugh and Membership Director Joyce Grooms would be leaving USATT. Three changes to their staff directory went up yesterday. First, Doru Gheorghe, who was listed before as (I think) Technical Director and USA Women's Coach, is now listed as Interim CEO & Chief Operating Officer. Second, Andy Horn, who I think was listed as Ratings Director (and something else?) is now listed with Joyce's old title, Membership Director. And third, there's a new person, Tiffany Oldland, listed as Administrative Assistant/Ratings. Welcome to USATT, Tiffany!

Trailer for Ping Pong Summer

Here it is (2:10), just came out! Looks like a great movie. 

Golf Pros Take on Pong Pros in China

Here's the article, pictures, and video (1:54) from pga.com. Reigning PGA Champion Jason Dufner and former world #5 Ian Poulter take on table tennis legends Jan-Ove Waldner (1989 & 1997 World Men's Singles Champion from Sweden), Jorgen Persson (1991 World Men's Singles Champion from Sweden), and Jiang Jialiang (1985 & 1987 World Men's Singles Champion from China). Note that the table tennis players use golf clubs as rackets!

School Hit by Ferry Disaster Wins National Table Tennis Title

Here's the article from the Wall Street Journal. Weird coincidence.

College Ping Pong Lures Chinese Students

Here's the article from China Daily.

Coach Calls for Table Tennis League in India

Here's the article from the Times of India.

Table Tennis Federation of India Hires North Korean Coaches to Train Youngsters

Here's the article from NDTV Sports.

Highlights of Steffen Mengel's Upset over Wang Hao

Here's the video (7:20) as Mengel (then world #102, now #49) defeats Wang (then world #5, now #6, former #1) in the quarterfinals.

Aussie Paralympian Makes Able-Bodied Team

Here's the article and video (1:32) about Melissa Tapper. 

Happy Birthday Steven!

Here's a Mario Brother ping pong cake.

Animals Playing Pong

Here's the picture - there's a swordfish, dolphin, alligator (or is that a crocodile?), killer whale, shark, turtle, and octopus. I think I once posted a different picture of these same seven ping-pong playing animals, but it's been a while.

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April 22, 2014

Genetics and Table Tennis

The question sometimes comes up whether some people have a genetic advantage in table tennis. A troll raised this question in the mytabletennis.com forum, and while he was likely just trolling (you should see his postings in other threads!), it is an interesting question. (The thread has since been closed.) 

The troll argued that the Chinese have a genetic advantage that gives them faster reflexes, and that's why the Chinese dominate. It's nonsense. One could just as easily claim the Swedes have a genetic advantage since their country of nine million people dominated or played even with the Chinese (over one billion people) for many years. But anyone with a knowledge of the game understands the reality.

The Chinese are the best in the world right now because they have more players, more top coaches, and train harder than any other country in the world. It is a national sport there, and taken more seriously there than anywhere else in the world. Most European players train six days a week, with much of summer off. The Chinese often train seven days a week, and train all summer.

And yet even the mighty Chinese can fall behind smaller upstarts such as Sweden, and before them, Hungary. Why? For technical reasons. The Swedes and the rest of Europe began to dominate against the Chinese in the late 1980s/early 1990s because they were playing a modern two-winged looping game, while the Chinese were still trying to win with pips-out hitters. It wasn't until China fell behind much of Europe in the early 1990s (finishing seventh at the 1991 Worlds) that they completely changed course and not only developed modern two-winged loopers, but developed them at a higher level than the Europeans. And now they dominate with numbers, technique, and training. Before the Swedes it was the Hungarians, who beat or played even with the Chinese for roughly a decade (mid-1970s to mid-1980s) with Jonyer, Klampar, and Gergeley, with their two-winged looping (a precursor to the modern game) and (surprisingly) their forehand flips, which put the Chinese on the defensive even when they served.

And yet Germany is hot on their heels with Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #4) and Timo Boll (#9, but formerly #1). They also have Patrick Baum (#21), Bastian Steger (#27), Patrick Franziska (#37), Steffen Mengel (#49), Ruwen Filus (#62), and Christian Suss (#65). However, while their top two can match up almost even with the best Chinese, their #2 lags far behind China, who has world #1, 2, 3, 5, 6,and 7. Is it because of genetics? As a percentage of their population, Germany (population 82 million) is probably stronger than China - but no, I don't think Germany has a genetic advantage!!!

Actually, comparing whatever current country is challenging China isn't a fair comparison. It's one thing to choose a country at random and compare it to China. But when you pick the best out of all the European countries and compare to China, that's cherry-picking. I don't think Hungary, Sweden, or Germany have a genetic advantage in challenging the Chinese.

And yet genetics does help. Fast-twitch muscle is an advantage in table tennis, where speed is so important. At first glance, you'd think that the best sprinters and jumpers in the world would be great table tennis players, and China isn't very good in these events. The top eight fastest sprinters in history (100 meters) include five Jamaicans and three USA, with the next two spots Canadian - and yet Jamaica, USA, and Canada don't exactly dominate in table tennis. (Here's the top ten.) So perhaps the Chinese are overcoming a genetic disadvantage?

Liu Shiwen Injured

Here's the article. Will she be ready for the Worlds? Liu is ranked #1 in the world, has won three World Cups, and made the finals of the last Worlds, and the semifinals of the two before that.

Michelle Wie Hosts Charity Ping-Pong Event

Here's the article. She is currently ranked #10 in the world - for golf that is!

Ping Pong for Charity Tournament

Here's the home page (they raise money for brain fitness and mental health), and here's a Facebook posting where Dr. Scott Sautter says: "Current neuroscience says the best activity for the brain is probably aerobic exercise, and the easiest aerobic exercise is brisk walking a few times a week. However, I then say ping pong is far more fun, socially interactive and great for the mind, body and spirit! It's been said that ping pong is like aerobic chess requiring strategy, eye hand coordination, balance, stamina and a cool demeanor so that you remain calm even if you lost a point." 

Persson vs. Gatien

Here's a recent match (10:53, much of it exhibition) between 1991 and 1993 World Men's Singles Champions Jorgen Persson and Jean-Philippe Gatien (the lefty). Gatien looks older, but is actually only 45 (46 on Oct. 16), while Persson turned 48 today. Happy Birthday Jorgen!

Ariel Hsing for Class of 2017 Social Chair

Here's the video (2:01)! After the dancing start, Ariel talks starting about 52 seconds in.

Extreme Double-High Table Tennis

Here's the video (1:06), with the table top about eye level!

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April 21, 2014

Tip of the Week

Every Battle Is Won Before the Battle Begins.

Note from 1979 - Starving in NC

I was going through my files last week, and found this note from May 26, 1979. It brought back some serious memories. I was 19 and had just moved to North Carolina a few months before to train for table tennis at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center in Wilson. I had thought I had a job at McDonalds, but that fell through. And so I found myself jobless and running out of money. On this date I sat down and listed all my assets and deficits. It wasn't pretty. I would use up most of the food listed in the next few days. I would use the last $5.03 I had to buy cheap loaves of bread (which I'd eat with just jelly) and corn flakes (which I'd eat straight, since I quickly ran out of milk). During this time I pretty much ran out of real food, and went from being skinny to probably skeletal. I'm guessing I lost 20 pounds. (I was too stubborn to call my parents.) 

Finally, a few weeks after I wrote the note (and unable to pay rent, but not yet kicked out of the room I was renting), I was given a job at a Hardees by a local table tennis player, Dick Barnes. I became the biscuit maker there! For about a year I would work there from 5:30AM-11AM, then I'd walk over to the Butterfly club to practice serves during my lunch break (eating lunch as I walked over), and then return to work the lunch shift, I think 12-2PM. Then I'd be back to the club to practice all afternoon (originally with Bowie Martin Jr., and then daily for about a year with Bowie Martin Sr., the founder of the company), and play matches at night. During my two years in Wilson, 1979-81, my level went from about 1900 to 2150 or so. (I took two years off after high school for table tennis, even though I was "only" 1900 at the time.) Here's a listing of what's in the note:

Assets
$5.03 in cash
$3 owed by Greg Cox
1/4 pounds sloppy joes
1.5 loaves bread
9 cans misc. vegetables
2 boxes cereal
4 servings oatmeal
1/2 gallon milk
10 eggs
1 head of lettuce
4 waffles
4 fish fillet [this was before I stopped eating fish, though I'd stopped eating shellfish for many years]
1 lb strawberries
6 apples
1 lb carrots
Misc.: syrup, sugar, choc. Mix, jelly, margarine, tartar sauce, one-a-day vitamins
Water

Deficits
$23.00 owed to Tom Poston
$31.46 owed to Bowie Martin [I think Sr.]
$80.00 rent on June 1

USATT Magazine

Here's the new USA Table Tennis Magazine. I have two article in this one, one on Crystal Wang ("Youngest US Team Member in History") and on Shadow Practice.

Article in Wall Street Journal

Here's the article from the Friday issue, titled, "Don't Call It Ping Pong: College Sports Rivalry Expands to Table Tennis."

Michael Maze

Here's an article on him, "If you have some goals you want to reach, fight for them."

1979 Hungarian World Champion Team

Here's a current picture of Hungary's "Three Musketeers" from 1979 with Jorgen Persson, L-R: Istvan Jonyer, Tibor Klampar, Persson, and Gabor Gergeley. The three defeated China in team final at the 1979 Worlds. Here's a picture of them after winning the title 35 years ago (from left, Gergeley, Klampar, and Jonyer. The other three are Tibor Kreisz and Janos Takacs - not sure which is which - and coach Zoltan Berczik). Jonyer's gained a little weight, and Gergeley's a little gray!

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Physical Training

Here's seven seconds of the world #4 (and #1 outside China) doing physical training.

Great Rally

Here's the video (50 sec). But why didn't the Japanese player (near side) loop down the line to the Hong Kong player's almost open backhand? He had several chances.

Why doesn't the player on the near side loop one to the backhand?

Table Tennis Touch Game

Here's the trailer (1:33) for Table Tennis Touch, a new table tennis video game.

Table Tennis Tutorial, Beginning to Advanced

(This was in my Friday blog, but I forgot to put in the link until that night. So here it is again.) Here's the video (58:58). Alas, it's in Chinese, no English sub-titles.

Happy Easter Table Tennis!

Gangnam Style Table Tennis

Here's the video (52 sec). It starts slow, then from 20 seconds on it gets a faster and then crazier.

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April 18, 2014

The Next USATT CEO

I'm somewhat surprised that there still isn't any "help wanted" note from USA Table Tennis for the next CEO. Previous CEO Mike Cavanaugh announced his resignation on March 26. Presumably someone is working on this.  

I just hope the USATT Board doesn't fall into the same ongoing trap we've been ensnared in since our beginning in 1933, and try to sell a "broken" product. I put "broken" in quotes because there's really nothing wrong with the sport (which is why it is so successful overseas in Europe and Asia), but with the way it is developed and promoted in the USA. And I should put "developed" in quotes as well since there's no serious effort to develop the sport from USATT.

There's this belief that the solution to our problems is to raise money. That's like saying the solution to being rich is to be rich, which sounds great except it doesn't explain how to get rich. Raising large sums of money for USATT is an extremely difficult job at the moment (and in our past) because we are a status quo organization. Sponsors want to get in on the ground floor of a growing sport, not the attic of a small one that's satisfied with the status quo. (And when I say satisfied, I'm referring to actions, not words.)

I've blogged about this before, and I'll undoubtedly blog about it again, but what's needed is a CEO who is a table tennis person, whose primary focus is to develop the sport. That means developing a growing network of regional leagues; the recruitment and training of professional coaches and those who wish to run junior programs; a professional league or circuit; setting up regional associations that focus on developing their own regions; developing the U.S. Open and/or Nationals into truly premier events; and similar projects. (Some of these are being developed independently, and USATT could help tremendously by making them top priority items.) We don't need these programs to be highly successful to attract sponsors; we need them to show promise, and that's when sponsors will jump in to be on the ground floor of our growing sport.

USATT needs to hire a CEO from inside the sport committed to developing the sport from within so as to better sell it outside. It's a lot better to fix the product and then sell it then to try and sell a faulty product. That's the point of my Ping-Pong Apartments essay.

We need a five-year plan. There are two types of five-year plans: those that are made for political purposes (for show), and those made to actually accomplish something. The latter is what is needed. And then we raise money and take the sport to the next level. But alas, we'll likely try to skip the development step, just as we have done in the past. It doesn't take great money to get started on this process, but it is the process to develop the sport that will attract the sponsors and money needed to take it to that next level.

We have the opportunity to start fresh. We rarely have this opportunity - the last time was at the 2009 Strategic Meeting, where we had a brand new group of board members. But a few people at the meeting were able to convince them to stick to the same old stuff while convincing them it was new, and the opportunity was lost. Alas, it's not hard for a few people to do this. All they have to do is look convincing and argue for the same great-sounding non-specific general stuff that never works. Specific programs are needed to develop the sport, not just general proclamations to develop something or other.

Who will be the next CEO? It probably won't be me. To be blunt, I don't look good in a suit. (For the too-literal minded, that's a metaphor, meaning I don't look like a "conventional" CEO.) So who will it be? I don't know, though I keep hearing rumors. Whoever it is won't be successful unless he has great table tennis experience, vision, energy, and gets complete buy-in and support from the USATT board.

Training Camp in China

Want to train in China for three weeks this summer? Here's info! There are camps all over the U.S. and the world this summer, including my club, MDTTC.

Table Tennis Tutorial, Beginning to Advanced

Here's the video (58:58). Alas, it's in Chinese, no English sub-titles.

2014 Highlights "Special Moments and Great Plays"

Here's another great video (9:00) from Jim Butler for USATT, showcasing many of the most memorable rallies and moments over the past year.

Elderly and Disabled Encouraged to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Ariel Hsing is Running for Class of 2017 Social Chair

Here's her campaign page! Amazingly, her "About Me" page doesn't mention table tennis - you have to go to her "Events" page to find that. (Though there are a few small photos at the bottom of the home page.) But we do find out she's allergic to bananas!

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April 17, 2014

Spring Break Camp

Yesterday was an incredibly busy day (and night). I'm trying to remember how I was able to do my daily blog during our camps the past three summers - there are just so many hours in a day, and just so much energy in the human body. I'm at my limit. But the camp ends Friday. I'll survive.

The camp was 10AM-6PM, with a two-hour lunch break from 1-3PM. However, we had a group of 16 kids who came in for a ping-pong party during our lunch break, and I gave a one-hour clinic for them. We started with some ball-bouncing - first on the forehand side, then the backhand, then alternating. It's always interesting to watch as some pick up on this very quickly, while others struggle. It's also an age thing as 6-year-olds simply can't do it, while 8-year-olds usually can. Then I taught them the forehand (taking them two at a time for very quick lessons). I covered the backhand and the serve very briefly, and then we went to games. First came the bottle game, where they had to hit a bottle to make me drink the "worm juice" inside. (Since they were beginners, I brought out froggy and balanced a bottle on him, and to make me drink it all they had to do was hit froggy or the bottle.) Then I brought out the paper cups and they built huge pyramids with them, which they then knocked down as I fed multiball and they smacked forehands.

The beginning group that I was working with did a lot of service practice yesterday. Two of the younger kids are still having difficulty with this, but they'll pick it up. Others are moving on to putting spin on the ball. (I used the soccer-colored balls so they could see their spin.) Today I will introduce them to serving bar, where they have to serve under the bar. (Here are pictures in the high and low settings.)

Several of our top juniors are working hard to improve their backhand banana flips. In match play, they tend to either spin them too softly, with the ball dropping short (giving advanced players an easy attack, usually a put-away), or chicken out altogether and mostly push. The problem is that many are still trying to lift short, heavy backspin serves head-on. One of huge advantages of the banana flip is that you don't have to lift the heavy backspin; you instead sidespin the ball, perhaps half sidespin and half topspin. This makes it much easier to lift over the net. In practice the top juniors are getting better at it, but need to develop that confidence that they can do this against any short serve.

After the camp was done I did a one-hour private lesson. Then I went to Best Buy to have them look at my laptop computer. For some reason the modem had been failing on and off all day, and the kids weren't happy. (I let them use it for games during breaks. Sometimes they let me use it to check email.) Alas, when I got to Best Buy, the modem worked perfectly, so there was nothing to fix. We'll see how it goes today. Then I was off to Planet Fitness to continue my secret physical training that'll allow me to soon challenge our best juniors again. (Shhh!) I go there Mon, Wed, and Fri, and have been doing this regularly ever since this past Monday.

I didn't get home until 9:30 PM. After going through email and browsing forums it was pretty late, so I once again put off the 246 things on my todo list, including 42 that have earth-shattering consequences if I don't get them done immediately.

MDTTC Coaching Staff

Here's a group picture of the entire MDTTC coaching staff, all ten of us, taken by Wen Hsu yesterday during our Spring Break Camp. L-R: Chen Jie ("James"); Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey"); John Hsu; Larry Hodges; Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"); Chen Ruichao ("Alex"); Cheng Yinghua; Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"); Jack Huang; and Raghu Nadmichettu.

Charlie Disney, RIP

Here's an email I just received. Charlie was one of the huge names in table tennis when I was coming up in the late 1970s. He will be missed.

Dear table tennis friends,

I am deeply saddened to report that Charlie Disney passed away at his home in Rio Verde , AZ yesterday.  I was called this evening by a friend in Rio Verde.   I have never met that acquaintance.

Charlie was one of my dearest friends in my life.  We knew each other for 52 years. We were tirelessly business partners in the Magoo’s (later Disney’s) Table Tennis Centers for 21 of the 26 years I was involved and we were real estate partners for 6 years with several properties.  Charlie and I remained the closest of friends for five-plus decades without a gap.  We discussed endlessly and regularly about how to get table tennis recognized as a major sport, and never gave up on that issue.  I am in deep sorrow.

More information will follow but I have no other as of now.  I had just talked with Charlie on Monday and purchased a plane ticket for him to return for the summer to his home in Roseville, on May 6.  Charlie had returned recently from a trip to FL to visit the entire Soderberg family.   I will never see him again.  He grew up in Edina, MN but he has no family alive except one distant sister, so I have no information as of yet regarding funerals or memorials.

I thought you all should know.

Regards,
Don Larson

ITTF Level 3 Course in Colorado Springs, USA

Here's the info page. I'm hoping to go to this, but am not sure I can afford it. It would mean missing two consecutive weekends of coaching plus the five days in between - that's a lot of hours missed.

World Championships Daily Newsletter

Here's the info page. Sign up now to have these daily updates sent directly to you.

Adam Bobrow the Voice of Table Tennis

As I blogged about yesterday, Adam won the ITTF Voice of Table Tennis Contest. Here's the ITTF article.

China Prepares for the Japanese Team

Here's the article. Here's the main excerpt: "Germany, with Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov, is considered a big threat for the Chinese Team. According to Liu Guoliang, Germany, Japan and South Korea are their main opponents. However, he has placed emphasis on Japan who will be the hosting team in the 2014 World Championships. In order to cope with the challenges from the Japanese Team, China has prepared several players who can imitate the Japanese players and had them fight against their delegates in the Closed Training. This is to help their players adapt to the hosts."

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (33 sec, including slow-motion replay). If you are distracted by the player on the left making that body-spinning forehand rip at the end you may miss that the player on the right made the counter-smash.

Drinkhalls on TV

Here's video (6:53) of the English power table tennis couple of Joanna and Paul Drinkhall on BT Sport. 

Sold his PlayStation for Table Tennis

Here's the Facebook posting and picture of this 13-year-old Namibian player.

Ping-Pong Pepsi Max Challenge Video

Here's a hilarious video (3:52) by Parkour that I can't begin to describe. It's part of the Pepsi Max Challenges.

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April 16, 2014

Spring Break Camp - TV, Backhands, and Shoot the Moon

Yesterday was day two of our Spring Break Camp. The highlight was Channel 5 News coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and the MDTTC. They filmed lots of Crystal and other players, and did interviews with Crystal, Coach Jack Huang, and me. I think the feature of my interview was when he asked about Crystal's goals for making the Olympics. I explained how making the 2016 Olympic Team was first priority, but that she'd be only 18 for the 2020 Olympics - and that was where the goal would be to medal, perhaps gold medal. Then I pointed out that we'll know she's made it when the Chinese coaches start studying her on video, and develop a practice partner who mimics her game so they can practice against her! Yes, that's what the Chinese do, and you haven't really made it in table tennis until you have a Chinese doppelganger who studies you on video and copies for other players to train against.

After some time reviewing the forehand, spent a lot of time yesterday on the backhand. The beginning players mostly seemed to pick this up quicker than the forehand - perhaps they're getting used to learning new TT stuff. However, several are having trouble with their serves. That's going to be a focus today. I'm also going to introduce pushing.

Our Monopoly set was discovered during our two-hour lunch break, and that'll be in continuous use the rest of the camp. However, the real obsession this camp is the Shoot the Moon game I brought in. It's in continuous use during breaks, with the kids taking turns, usually getting three turns each before the next one gets it. One kid, about ten, has been at it continuously since he got here, including non-stop practice while many of us went to 7-11, and has become the champion, several times getting "Pluto" ten times in a row. (You can't see it from the picture, but Pluto is the highest score possible. The goal is to pull the two rods apart so the heavy metal ball rolls toward the player, who drops it in one of the holes, the higher the better.)

However, none can challenge the true champion - me! When I was also about ten I had this game, and I also became obsessed with it. I practiced it day after day, and kept careful track of my results. This went on for weeks. I finally stopped when it became just too easy - I had several stretches where I'd get Pluto hundreds of times in a row. I finally put it aside and didn't play for about 44 years - then I picked up a set a few weeks ago, and discovered I could still do it. I mostly let the kids use it non-stop, but now and then I stop by and get Pluto a bunch of times in a row, which only makes them more determined.

Adam Bobrow - the Voice of Table Tennis!

The ITTF has made the final decision - and USA's Adam Bobrow is the Next Voice of Table Tennis! Here's their Facebook announcement. Here's video of Adam's contest entry (9:40), where he does commentary on a match at the Qatar Open between China's Xu Xin (then world #4, but now #1) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (then ranked #44, but now #20). I blogged about the ITTF contest last Wednesday. (There's no article on this yet on the ITTF News page, though I expect one later today.) Here's the ITTF's original announcement of the contest, the announcement of the Finalists, and USATT's reposting of that with pictures of Barbara and Adam. (They are both from the U.S., with David Wetherill of Great Britain the third finalist.)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here is the High Performance Report for March, 2014, by Chair Carl Danner. You can read previous ones and reports from other USATT Committees at the USATT Reports page.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC Schools

Here's the article! (I blogged about this briefly yesterday, but now we get the details.)

Expert in a Year

Coach Ben Larcombe from England has been on a one-year project to see if he can turn a beginning adult player (Sam Priestley, age 24) into an "expert" in one year. He even has a web page where he explains and chronicles the adventure, and where you can sign up for regular updates. Here's an article on the project.

Krish Avvari Gets Last Youth Olympics Spot

Here's the story, and here's the ITTF video interview with him (1:40).

Interview with Lily Yip

Here's the ITTF video interview (3:40) with USA coach Lily Yip during the recent Canadian Junior Open.

Amazing Around-the-Net Backhand in the Russian League

Here's the video (46 sec, including slow-motion replay).

Tina Lin - Age Nine

Here's the video (3:43) of junior star Tina Lin, which introduces her at age nine and other ages.

Lily Zhang and her Prom Date

Here's the picture. "Not everyone can say they've gone to the prom with an Olympian! Thanks for a great night!" Lily was on the 2012 Olympic Team and was the 2012 USA Women's Singles Champion.

Ping Pong Animation Episode One

Here's the video (23 min). I haven't had a chance to watch it yet - too busy with spring break camp and other coaching - but if someone wants to do a short review, please comment below. I did browse through it and there's lots of table tennis action, all animated, apparently in a training environment.

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April 15, 2014

Tip of the Week

Pushing Sidespin Serves Short.

Wedding TT Clinic

I returned around 1AM Monday morning from my four-day trip to the Santa Barbara area in California for my niece's wedding. (I say "area" because we had various wedding events all over the region.) Sarah Hodges is now married to Tyler Sherban, and I believe Sarah is now Sarah Sherban, so there is one less Hodges in the world - sort of. No, she'll always be a Hodges, and Tyler is now a Hodges as well. Sort of.

As noted in my blog last week, Sarah had asked if I'd run sort of a table tennis clinic at the wedding reception. It was a rather interesting scenario, as the reception and ping-pong table were both outdoors. The table was on a gravel road, not quite even, and it was somewhat windy. With loud music and dancing going on, it became more of an informal event, where I hit with and sometimes coached with whoever was interested. I spent more time hitting with the band members on their break than anyone else. I did get to demonstrate a few trick shots, such as come-back-into-the-net backspin serves, and 30-foot serves from the side. (I can serve it from farther out, but not in the wind.) The wedding photographer, who was Japanese, was rather interested and I filled him in on the world of table tennis. He might show up at some California club sometimes soon.

I'm still exhausted from the trip, the lack of sleep, the weight training (see below), and almost cancelled today's blog and Tip of the Week, but I decided that would lead to chaos, war, and worldwide economic ruin, and so forced myself to get up early for this.

Spring Break Camp

Our Spring Break Camp started yesterday, and continues through Friday. As noted above, I didn't get home until about 1AM Monday morning, and didn't get to bed until close to 2AM, and then I had to get up early for the camp. So the first day was sort of a whir as I dreamed of getting back to bed. But it went pretty well. Unlike our summer camps, where we have a number of out-of-town players, the Spring Break Camp is all locals, as it coincides with the local spring break from school. We had about 30 players. As I've done in recent years, I took charge of the beginners, seven of them. The focus for the day was the forehand, and then serving. We'll get to backhands today.

Had an incident during lunch break. I took a group to 7-11 as we often do. As we approached the store three of the kids suddenly took off, running across the street, even dodging an incoming car that braked to a stop. Let's just say that those three got a stern lecture from me and other coaches, and that won't happen again. We haven't decided whether to ban them from future 7-11 trips. We had another incident where three older kids, who were allowed to go to 7-11 on their own as long as they let us know, went there but neglected to tell us. Let's just say there was a few minutes where we couldn't find them. I ran around the club outside looking for them, and from the wall around our parking lot I saw them in the distance walking to 7-11. They too got a stern lecture, and this won't happen again.

This morning Channel 5 News is coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and MDTTC. More on that tomorrow.

Physical Training and What It Takes For Older Athletes to Hold Their Level

I've been slowly getting out of shape this past year, and my playing level has deteriorated. Now that I'm back from the four-day wedding festivities, I decided to take action. So last night, for the first time in over a year, I went to Planet Fitness and did my 35-minute weight lifting routine. I plan to do this three times a week for a few weeks, and then perhaps go to twice a week. Here's my blog from Jan. 27, 2012 where I wrote about my routine.

If I want to get back to anywhere near my previous level at age 54 I need to do at minimum the following: weight training; stretching; two serious practice sessions per week (though I might make due with one, since I get so much hitting as a coach); practice serves once a week for 10-15 minutes; and a series of serious matches at least once a week. Oh, and not get injured. That's key.

Canadian Junior Open

Here's the home page for the tournament (with results, articles, and photos), which was held this past weekend. I had to miss it, alas, but lots of U.S. players did great there. The two players from my club (MDTTC) who went did well: Crystal Wang was undefeated in the tournament, winning both Cadet Girl's Singles and Teams. Nathan Hsu made the quarterfinals of Under 18 Singles. But USA swept most of the events, with the brother/sister combo of Kanak and Prachi Jha sweeping many events.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC High Schools

Here's the article. I was out of town and almost missed this note. We'll see if it leads to anything. I believe table tennis was made a varsity sport a few times in the past in various regions, but it never led to anything. Hopefully it will this time, but only if someone focuses on making it happen.

How a Ping-Pong-Playing Robot is Revolutionizing Robotics

Here's the article, with a link to a 13-sec video.

U.S. Open Promo

Here's the video (2:12), created by Jim Butler.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast

Here's the ITTF March Pongcast (11:56), covering all the international news in March.

Chile Open Rally

Here's video of a great rally (1:21, including slow motion replays) from the Chile Open this past weekend, between Kohei Sambe and Rodrigo Gilabert. (That's the correct spelling - it's not Gilbert.)

Bubba Watson Plays TT with his Driver

Here's the article from this past weekend and repeating gif image (three shots) as Bubba rallies with his driver. Oh, and he also just won the Masters.

Puppy Pong

Here's the picture!

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April 9, 2014

No Blog Until Next Tuesday

I leave for my niece's wedding in Oakview, CA, at 7AM on Thursday morning from Dulles Airport. I won't get back until early Monday morning, and then I have to run over to MDTTC for our Spring Break Camp (Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM). So my next blog and Tip of the Week will be Tuesday, April 15.

My niece wanted to arrange a series of fun activities during the three days of wedding activities, and asked if I'd put on a table tennis clinic. So I'm bringing my table tennis stuff, including a half gross of balls in a box for multiball. I'm even bringing a few soccer-colored balls so they can see spin. No one else in my family (including the ones marrying into ours) plays seriously. There's also a wine tasting (I'm a non-drinker, alas), I think hiking, and who knows what else.

Breaking News - Voice of Table Tennis Contest! (Added on Friday morning)

USA's Barbara Wei, who practically grew up at my club, MDTTC, as a top junior (and as a member of the USA Cadet and then Junior Girl's Team) has made the Final Three in the ITTF's Voice of Table Tennis Contest. Here's your chance to vote for her! But so has USA's Adam Bobrow. The third contestent is David Wetherill, who I believe is from England. Voting ends on Monday, so vote now!

Shadow Practice and Weighted Rackets

One of my students (who asked to stay anonymous) thought I should ask readers the following question: What do players imagine shadow practicing when, say, at the office and need to work off some energy? I know for me it's forehands, both loops and smashes. I even keep a weighted racket by my desk, which I use both to work off energy and sometimes as a racket when I'm thinking about a technique while writing. One change: when I was younger I also shadow practiced moving side to side. These days it's more stationary forehands, alas.

However, I also think about backhands. Many years ago while sitting on the subway no doubt on the way to some table tennis event I was thinking about backhands. Suddenly and spontaneously I stroked a backhand, smacking an elderly women sitting next to me in the face. I was very apologetic and she took it pretty well, but I was pretty embarrassed.

I bought the weighted racket in Osaka, Japan at the 2001 World Championships; here's a picture. Butterfly used to sell this very model in the U.S. back in the 1970s. (They also had a thinner metal version.) I bought one around 1979, but someone stole it at some point, which is why I had to buy another in Japan. I don't think they sell them in the U.S., alas. (I just did a search and couldn't find any.) If they did, I'd recommend them to my students. I've seen some players make their own by gluing weights to a racket, or even gluing two rackets together. You can get quite a workout with them, and they build up arm strength while you work on your stroke. You don't want to use them in an actual rally, however, as that would mess up your timing.

Here's an article, Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork. Here's a shorter one, Shadow Practice Your Shots. Along with serve practice and mental training these are the three quickest ways to improve - call them "Get Good Guick" schemes. (To the spelling police: the triple G spelling was intentional.) It won't make you good by themselves, but they'll definitely expedite the process.

North American Tour Update

Here's the article.

Another Table Tennis Scammer

Many table tennis coaches probably received some version of the following email, which I received yesterday. It's a scam, where some very dishonest person is getting the emails from the USATT coaches listing. (I've blogged about this before.) Note how he's coming to a country that's 3000 miles wide and 1500 miles high - that's just the continental part - and is ready to hire you without even knowing where you are located? Anyway, as mentioned before, the scam works this way. After he hires you, he'll send you a check in advance. But then he'll email you saying his assistant/accountant/someone accidentally made the check out for way too much, and asks you to send a check to him with the difference. He even agrees for you to wait until you receive his check. But his check is a fake one. Here's the email I received:

Hello,
How are you doing today and I hope you're well? My name is Mr. Michel Piaf, my Wife and I are looking to hire a Table Tennis Instructor for our son who's coming over for holidays to get some rest and ready to learn Table Tennis, Since he's going to have nothing doing while he's there we decide to hire him a Table Tennis Teacher to take him through since Table Tennis is he's only sport he loves so very much and wants to get to learn and join school team. His name is Glen and he's is 14yrs old. If you are available and ready, kindly get back to us with your hour rates and hopefully an arrangement can be made. What city you located now?
Regards,
Mr. Michel Piaf

Playing Out of Position

Here's the article.

Two Surprisingly Easy Ways to Receive Difficult Serves

Here's the article.

Exhibition Points

Here's a video (7:59) that compiles many of the greatest and most hilarious exhibition points ever played.

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April 8, 2014

Great Spin on Serve

In my beginning/intermediate class last night the players were rather impressed by how much spin I could put on the ball when I serve with seemingly little effort. The spin comes from three things: smooth acceleration into the ball; wrist snap; and grazing with a grippy surface. Beginners lose spin because they tend to start with the racket right behind the ball rather than from the side. Intermediate players lose spin because they tend to think in terms of racket speed instead of acceleration.

I can't explain the physics, but it is acceleration that leads to great spin. It could involve the rubber surface grabbing the ball and, since it is accelerating at contact, it grabs the ball like a slingshot and practically spins it out of orbit. Or perhaps this acceleration leads to high velocity that you can control, but the smooth acceleration makes the racket appear to be moving slower than it actually is going. If you instead think in terms of velocity and try to snap the racket into the ball all-out rather than with this smooth acceleration might get more racket speed (not sure), but they can't control it and so lose the control needed for a fine grazing contact - and so lose spin.

But regardless of the reason, it is this smooth acceleration that leads to the great spin. However, there's a conflict here - for deception, you want sudden changes of racket direction. So top servers learn to smoothly accelerate into the ball with sudden changes of direction, essentially whipping the racket around the ball in very quick arcs.

Of course it's not all about spin. If you fake spin but serve no-spin, it's just as effective as a spin serve if the opponent thinks there is spin. So many serves do simple backspin-like serves, but sometimes it's backspin, other times they change the contact so there's no spin. (You do this by contacting the ball closer to the handle, and by changing contact from a grazing motion to sort of patting the ball while faking a grazing motion, often with an exaggerated follow through.)

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

Forehand Flip

Here's a tutorial video (5:10) on the forehand flip (usually called a flick in Europe) against short backspin by Coach Yang Guang, a former Chinese team member. He's explaining in Chinese, but several times the key points are subtitled in English. Plus you can learn just by watching. Note that when he does the demos, he's being fed slightly high balls, and so is flip killing. Against a lower ball you might want to slow it down and put a little topspin on the flip.

Why Don't Top Players Serve More Topspin?

Here's the video (2:17) from PingSkills. Ironically this very topic was covered in my beginning/intermediate class. I was teaching how to do fast serves, and explained why they are good as a variation, but how top players would attack them. They wanted a demo, so I had my assistant coach, the 2600 player Coach Jeffrey (Zeng Xun), demonstrate what he could do with my fast serves when he knew they were coming. It wasn't pretty! I have pretty good fast serves, but they have to be used sparingly against top players.

I once aced 1986 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Hank Teekaveerakit three times in a row with my fast down-the-line serve. He was a penholder who tried to loop everything with his forehand, and this happened the first three points of the match as he looked to loop my serves from the backhand corner. After the third ace, he broke up laughing, and said, "Larry, nobody serves fast down the line three times in a row!" He then began returning my serves to his backhand with his backhand, and caught up and won somewhat easily. Late in the match he went back to trying to loop all my serves with his forehand, and I obligingly played cat and mouse, serving fast and deep to all parts of the table, and abandoning my short serves, not for tactical reasons but just for the fun of challenging him to return all my fast ones with his forehand. Once he got used to my service motion, he was able to do so.

Crystal Wang in Sports Illustrated

She's featured in the Faces in the Crowd section. It came out in print last Wednesday. (While there, see the photo credits underneath and note the name of the Professional Photographer that took her picture.)

Deputy Referee Report, German Open

Here's the report from USA's Kagin Lee.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

Chapter one is up. This volume covers the years 1985-1985. Want to see more?

Great Rally at the College Nationals

Here's video (29 sec) of a great point between Ariel Hsing (near side) against Maria Castillo in the women's singles quarterfinals. Ariel went on to win the title.

Marcos Freitas

Here's a highlights video (3:29) featuring Marcos Freitas of Portugal doing numerous trick shots. He recently shot up to #12 in the world.

The Sayings of Coach Larry

A while back I jokingly posted a few of my favorite sayings when I coach. One of my students (who wishes to remain anonymous) quoted to me many more of my favorite statements, and I dutifully jotted them down. Here's the more comprehensive listing of my favorite quips.

  1. "Pick up the balls." (Spoken with the same tone as the infamous "Bring out your dead" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
  2. "You are going up against the most powerful forehand in the world." (Spoken with the same tone as the quote from Dirty Harry, "…the most powerful handgun in the world.")
  3. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed." (A paraphrasing of the quote from The Princess Bride. At the start of the scene, both swordfighters are fighting left-handed. Watch the video to see what happens.)
  4. "Time to get serious." (When I'm losing a game, usually against a student where I've spotted points.)
  5. "Time to take my watch off." (Meaning time to get serious.)
  6. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  7. "I never miss that shot."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "This serve cannot be returned."
  11. "No one can get through my block. No one!"
  12. "The most powerful forehand block in the world."
  13. "He cheats, he scores!" (When opponent wins a point on a net or edge.)
  14. "I cannot be scored upon." (Told to students repeatedly as a challenge.)
  15. "Don't think about it. Let the subconscious take over. It's better than you."
  16. "Even [insert name of top player within hearing distance] can make that shot!"
  17. "When I get angry…" (Followed by a short but detailed description of whatever I do the next point.)
  18. "This is for the world championship of the galactic universe."
  19. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  20. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  21. "I'm too good to miss that shot!" (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  22. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987!" (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  23. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  24. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  25. "No coaching in coaching camps!" (When someone coaches against me in a practice match during a camp.)
  26. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)

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