Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). 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 eight books and over 1500 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!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each! Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational ficiton, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

August 4, 2017

ITTF Hall of Fame
One of my pet peeves is how international organizations can sometimes be so . . . short-sighted. Here is a classic example. How do you get into the ITTF Hall of Fame? Well, for players, the eligibility rules are very simple: “Eligibility for the highest honor in international Table Tennis requires that the player must have won 5 Gold Medals in World Championships or the Olympic Games.”

This is downright silly. Winning a gold medal in Singles, where you were the best player, is worth more than winning it in Doubles (Men’s, Women’s, or Mixed) or Teams, where your finish is largely determined by other players. The result is a travesty of justice. The rules dramatically favor players who happen to have strong teammates.

Let’s take Stellan Bengtsson as an example. He won Men’s Singles at the 1971 Worlds, and won Men’s Doubles and Men’s Teams in 1973. He had five other silver and bronze medals at the Worlds, but in the end, he “only” got three golds. He was ranked #1 in the world for most of three years, and won 67 international titles. Because China had far more depth in their players, the odds were stacked against Bengtsson, especially in Mixed Doubles and Men’s Teams – though he battled with them over and over. (He did have Kjell Johansson and Hans Alser as teammates, and Stellan and Johansson won Men’s Doubles and Teams in 1973. Johansson also won four golds at the Worlds, three in Men’s Doubles and one in Men’s Teams, and made the final of Men’s Singles in 1973, but also isn’t eligible for the ITTF Hall of Fame, based on their rules.) Table tennis wasn’t in the Olympics yet, so Stellan (and others before 1988) didn’t have that opportunity.

Result? Stellan Bengtsson is not in the ITTF Hall of Fame. That’s a joke. (Neither is Istvan Jonyer and a host of other Men’s World Champions – see listing below.)

Meanwhile, a player on the Chinese team who never really challenged to be the best in the world, as Stellan was, can get gold simply by being on their team, even if he doesn’t play the big matches.

Let’s compare Stellan’s record with, say, Chen Qi of China. He was a great player, and is deservedly in the Hall of Fame. At the Worlds, he won Men’s Doubles twice and Men’s Teams twice. He won Men’s Doubles at the Olympics. That’s five golds, the minimum.

But he was playing doubles with Ma Lin and Wang Hao, two of the best players in the world. In the Teams, he had Wang Liqin, Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Ma Long playing ahead of him – and in both years he won Men’s Teams, he didn’t even play in the final. In Singles, his highest world ranking was #5, and he spent most of his career in the #6-8 range. Stellan was ranked higher than #5 for much of a decade, much of it as #1.

But with the ITTF rules, Chen Qi is in, while Stellan Bengtsson is out. Really???

Peter Karlsson is another deserving Hall of Famer, and was inducted in 2003. He also won five golds, all at the Worlds – one for Men’s Doubles, and four in Men’s Teams, where he played with Waldner, Persson, Appelgren, and Lindh. His highest world ranking was #4. Is he really more deserving than all those who have been left out?

Let’s suppose USA’s Men’s National Champion Kanak Jha (age 16) becomes the best player in the world, and completely dominates for four years. He wins gold in Men’s Singles at the Olympics, and Men’s Singles at three consecutive Worlds. He’s among the greatest players in history, right? But Kanak (currently at world #212) is the only USA player in the top 400. So it’s unlikely he’s going to win anything in Doubles or Teams. So he only gets four gold medals. So no Hall of Fame for you, Kanak – sorry, you simply weren’t good enough!

Just think about this for a moment - you could win Men's or Women's Singles at the Worlds four times, something only done on the men's side by Viktor Barna [5 times] and Richard Bergmann (4 times), and on the women's side by Mária Mednyánszky (5 times) and Angelica Rozeanu (6 times), and you couldn't get into the ITTF Hall of Fame!!! (No one has won four or more since 1955.) 

There’s also something wrong with them inducting players during their playing career, instead of afterwards, as is done by every major sport that I know of. Ma Long was inducted into the ITTF Hall of Fame in 2013 at age 24 before he won his three biggest titles – gold in Men’s Singles at the 2016 Olympics (three years later!) and gold in Men’s Singles at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds. When he got in, he got in for winning Men’s Teams five times (once at Olympics, four at Worlds) and Men’s Doubles once. (He’s now won 12 golds at the Olympics and Worlds, and is still going strong at world #1.)

It’s also silly that they don’t take into account the World Cup, Pro Tour wins, or world ranking. Because of this, and the problems outlined above, other obvious choices also aren’t in. Below is a listing of modern Men’s World and Olympic Singles Champions (sponge era) who are not eligible for the ITTF Hall of Fame – and note that from 1969 to 1979 there were six consecutive World Men’s Singles Champions who are not eligible! Even Istvan Jonyer apparently isn’t good enough for the ITTF Hall of Fame – besides winning Men’s Singles at the Worlds, he also won Men’s Doubles twice, Men’s Teams once (not easy with China usually winning), and was ranked #1 in the world for about three years, and near the top of the rankings for about 15. By my count, there are 66 players in the ITTF Hall of Fame, but none of these players qualify - click on "show" on their linked Wiki page for their medal record:

When have a system that gives bad results, you change the system. There’s a reason why nearly every major sport votes on their Hall of Fame members, whether it’s baseball, basketball, football, soccer, boxing, tennis, and even USA Table Tennis.

[Note – I did find one interesting discrepancy. Li Furong is in the ITTF Hall of Fame, but he “only” won four golds, all in Teams. He lost in the Men’s Singles Final three straight times to Zhuang Zedong, 1961-1965, though it’s been said that he was ordered to dump all three times. I’m curious how he got it.]

Here’s an interesting photo of Kjell Johansson (leaping) and Stellan Bengtsson! (Here’s the non-Facebook version.)

ITTF Education
Here is the ITTF Education Knowledge Base and ITTF Education Videos. They seem to do a good job here!

How to Do a Backhand Banana Flip
Here’s the video (39 sec) from Eli Baraty.

The Muscular System
Here’s the ITTF article.

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open
Here’s the home page for the event, Aug. 2-6. USA’s Nikhill Kumar, Michael Tran, and Alan Chen won the Cadet Boys’ Team title. Here are two articles on it:

Pyongyang Open
Here’s the home page for the event, in North Korea, Aug. 2-6, with articles, pictures, video, draws, and results.

T2APAC League
Here’s the home page for this professional league. Many of the best players in the world are competing in this India-based league. If you click on “Matches,” you can see video of these matches. (But that's one awkward name for a league!)

USATT Insider
Here’s the new issue that came out Wednesday.

USOC Coaching Newsletter
Here’s the August issue.

ITTF World Rankings
Here’s the ITTF article, Top spot yet again, milestone for Ma Long. “A milestone for Ma Long, listed in top spot on the Men’s World Rankings issued on Wednesday 2nd August, it is the 30th consecutive month that he has held the exalted position, the 60th occasion of his career.”

Dirk Wagner Profile of a Table Tennis Coach – Part 1
Here’s the article and video (17:09).

Ask A Pro Anything - Tomokazu Harimoto
Here’s the video (5:51) with Adam Bobrow and the 14-year-old whiz kid from Japan!

Michael Maze - Master Of Lob And Sidespin
Here’s the video (7:35).

Ma Long at Age 14
Here’s the video (4:02).

Around the World at Smash TT
Here’s the video (2:40) from a junior session – don’t get dizzy!

Types of Table Tennis Players
Here’s the humorous video (4:59).

Yeah Ping-Pong: Five Illegal Serves
Here’s the humorous video (3:30).

Is it Ping-Pong or Table Tennis?
Here’s the cartoon!

Send us your own coaching news!

August 3, 2017

Moving to the Wide Forehand, He Zhiwen, and Update on History of USATT, Vol. 20
Most of my students have figured out that while I can still move quickly to my left (i.e. to step around my backhand to attack with my forehand), I don’t move very well to my right anymore. And so they take great glee in finding chances to go that way. I actually encourage it – I want them to develop good tactical habits, and so the last thing I want them to do is develop a habit of holding back when they see the right tactical move. If I leave my forehand side open during a rally, they should jump on it, making it a habit that will carry over in real matches.

This problem with moving to my right has been true for a number of years, but for the last month or so I’ve been having problems with my right knee, which made it far worse. At the USA Nationals, where I was mostly coaching and attending meetings, I did manage in my free time to win Over 40 Hardbat Singles, but most players didn’t realize just how much trouble I was having moving that way – and I used a variety of tactics to cover for it. A knee brace really helped.

I aggravated the knee again during my recent writing workshop vacation – while carrying my bags upstairs to my room! And so I spent much of the nine days there hobbling about with the knee brace, which I always wear now when I coach.

What’s scary is that I had problems last year with my left knee. What happens when both go down?

I blogged about He Zhiwen on Tuesday. Yesterday I got to spend the night coaching on adjacent tables with him. I secretly spied on him during a session with one of our top juniors. Though he normally uses pips-out, he was coaching with inverted (since that’s what most players use). He spent a lot of the session on serve and receive. I think he spent 15 minutes just serving to the kid, without playing out the point. He doesn’t speak English, but does know Spanish – he’s played there and represented them for a few decades – and so I spoke with him briefly with my very limited Spanish. (“Dos anos Espanol en mi escuela. No muy bien – un poco.”)

Meanwhile, Tim Boggan and I started on his next volume a few minutes after 10AM, and managed to do the front and back covers, the intro pages, and the first four (of 28) chapters – 57 pages total plus the covers. However, these chapters were shorter than usual, so I expect we won’t get this much done most days. I haven’t counted the graphics, but probably about four per page, so probably over 200. It was a long day – we finished around 5PM, and then I went off to coach. (Note that most of the pages were scanned as a page, where Tim had cut and pasted them into one-page sheets – old style! – and then Mal Anderson scanned them, and I fixed up the photos and fitted them to the page.)

Five Years since Grand Slam, Fans Call for Zhang Jike Day
Here’s the ITTF article.

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

2017 Edgeball Chicago International Table Tennis Tournament - August 12-13
Here’s the info page.

The Strange Case of Table Tennis at SCAD
Here’s the article by Coach Jon.

Some Sort of Vietnamese TT Exhibition?
Here’s the video (2:42).

Table Tennis Physical Training
Here’s the video (3 min) from last year’s USATT’s Supercamp, with many of the top juniors in the U.S. in attendance. If you watch closely you’ll see me in several shots.

Think Table Tennis is Not a Real Sport?
Here’s the video (2:35) – some great shots and sequences!!!

Ma Long vs Ding Ning Funny Show
I may have previously linked to the first one.

Send us your own coaching news!

August 2, 2017

Timmy Boggan’s Coming to Town! [Sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”]
He’ll be here at 10AM, and when he says 10AM, he means exactly 10AM. Knowing Tim, at 10:01AM we’ll be working on Volume 20 (!) of his History of U.S. Table Tennis. As noted in previous blogs, I do the page layouts and photo work. Mal Anderson has already scanned the photos and sent them to me. We’ll be working from 7AM to 5PM for the next 10-12 days (working around my coaching schedule on weekends), with Tim looking over my shoulder and periodically saying things like, “That goes there, you fool!”

Tim keeps strange hours, going to bed every night around 7PM and getting up around 3AM. So he’ll be puttering around my house each morning, impatiently waiting for me so we can get started at 7AM. But he’s a USATT Hall of Famer and the USATT Historian, so who are we to judge?

This is a tricky time for me—or should I say exhausting? After I finish my work with Tim, I’ll be leaving nearly every day to the club for a few hours of coaching. And then, after getting home perhaps at 8 or 9PM, because I won’t have much time in the morning (those 7AM starting times), I’ll be up late getting the blog done mostly in advance, as well as other USATT and MDTTC stuff that can’t be put off. Basically, for the next 10-12 days I’ll be living off Mountain Dew.

In honor of Tim, let’s all sing together - and if you video yourself singing this and put it online, and either put it in the comments below or email the link to me, you'll be in my blog tomorrow!

You better play smart,
Don’t put the ball high,
Better have heart,
I'm telling you why,
Timmy Boggan’s coming to town!

He's making a list,
Of playing advice,
Gonna find out who's games aren’t nice,
Timmy Boggan’s coming to town!

He sees you when you're playing,
He knows all your mistakes,
He knows if you've played bad or good,
So play good for goodness sakes!

O! You better play smart,
Don’t put the ball high,
Better have heart,
I'm telling you why,
Timmy Boggan’s coming to town!

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

Jake Duffy’s Seamaster ITTF Training Camp Experience
Here’s the article.

Will Shortz: A Profile of a Lifelong Puzzle Master
Here’s the article from the New York Times. He owns the full-time Westchester club in New York, one of the premier clubs in the country.

Pyongyang Open
Here’s the home page for the event, starting today in North Korea, Aug. 2-6, with articles, pictures, video, draws, and results.

Women Beating Men in Open Table Tennis Tournament
Here’s the article – about a London tournament in 1901!

Guinness World Record Recognizes Table Tennis Playing Robot
Here’s the article.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 19 (1991-1992)
Here's chapter nineteen! Or order your own print copies at, as well as Volume 19!

Falcons TTC Outclass Shazé Challengers to Clinch the Inaugural CEAT UTT Title
Here’s the article from Ultimate Table Tennis in India.

2017 World Championships: Meet Your Idol
Here’s the ITTF video (2:09). “Two lucky fans met up with their idol Zhang Jike at the Liebherr 2017 World Table Tennis Championships to interact with the Chinese superstar!”

Table Tennis Jigsaw Puzzles
Here’s where you can get them! (Make sure to click the “More Results” link.) But this Dinosaur Playing Table Tennis might be the best one – I have this one. I bring it to the club during some of our camps and the kids put it together during breaks. (It’s only 70 pieces – more for the younger ones.)

Send us your own coaching news!

August 1, 2017

He Zhiwen
One of the strange things about being at a club where we have ten full-time coaches, where I’m the only one who’s not Chinese, is often I don’t know what’s going on. Others assume I do since they are all talking about it – but in Chinese!!! So I didn’t know that He Zhiwen was even at our club until he’d been there about a week. I had just finished a long coaching session, and as I was walking to the front of the club I saw this elderly lefty pips-out penholder practicing with one of our top juniors. I stopped to watch because there was something about this player, whose strokes looked like machine guns as he almost mechanically smacked in ball after ball, both blocking and hitting, obviously a great player. So I asked Coach Jack, and he was surprised, thought I knew.

He was the famous Spanish player He Zhiwen, 55 years old, formerly a Chinese National Team member. He has now been at my club (MDTTC) for about three weeks, and I believe will be there another week or so. Last year at the World Veterans Games he won the 50-54 Men's Singles without dropping a single game. He was top ten in the world in the 1980s. In 2012, at the age of 50, he was ranked as high as #59. When he left the ranking list in 2016 at age 54 he was #82. He’s a lefty pips-out penholder. Here’s discussion of him at the forum, with several videos posted of him competing at the Westchester Open this past weekend, where he made the semifinals of Open Singles. Here’s a Best of He Zhiwen video (4:57). Here are more videos of him. (He seems to have two spellings for his name, the other one being He Zhi Wen.)

He is probably the best player his age in the world. At the time he was top 60 in the world at age 50 I believe he was by far the oldest in the top 100, as well as (I think) the only pips-out penholder. He was a bronze medalist in Men’s Doubles at the 1985 Worlds, and 28 years later, a bronze medalist in Men’s Doubles at the 2013 European Championships.

New Videos from EmRatThich

Coaching Kids
Here’s the new video from Samson Dubina (2:22). “When coaching 5-6 year old kids, about 50% of your time should be on fun drills and 50% of your time should be on structured training.” Here’s another video (55 sec) on coaching Intermediate juniors. “For intermediate juniors, you should be doing about 10% fun and 90% serious training. Fun exercises really do enhance dexterity and concentration as well!”

Why Achanta Sharath Kamal Wanted to Quit Table Tennis?
Here’s the article from SportsFlu.

The Epic Table Tennis Journey: Tactical Table Tennis
Here’s the article from Epic Table Tennis. “The story of a 25 year old who foolishly decided to try to get to the Olympics at a sport he had never played before.....”

Dean Johnson Autobiography: How The Years Passed By
Here’s the book review of Hall of Famer Dean Johnson, by Tim Boggan.

Aspire to Thrive – Cross-country Mini Table Tennis Grudge Match
Here’s the video (5:14). “Mixed doubles partners, Amy Karpinski & Tony Murnahan, challenge each other in a cross-country, mini table tennis, grudge match as they make their way from Morrisville, NC to Las Vegas, NV via highway 40 for the 2017 SuperMicro National Table Tennis Championships. Watch as they play on different terrain and battle the outdoors and different forces of nature.”

Ping Pong Coconut Biscuit
Here they are! Unfortunately, they are sold from Malaysia, so they might be expensive to order for most of us.

Bruce Lee Pong
Here’s the picture! (Here's the "infamous" video of Bruce Lee playing table tennis (2:37) with nunchucks - but it's actually an actor pretending to be Lee in a Nokia watch commercia. It's infamous because so many people believe it's real.) 

Send us your own coaching news!

July 31, 2017

Tip of the Week
Killer Practice Sessions. I actually wrote this article back in 2010, before I started this blog, and never linked to it or used it as a Tip before.

I’m Back
What, you didn’t notice I was away? Here’s my write-up of my nine days at The Never-Ending Odyssey (TNEO) Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing Workshop. (Make sure to click through the 12 “Vacation” pictures! Sorry, no table tennis there. Also, if you know anything about GPS, see the next-to-last paragraph – it’s a mystery how my phone was reprogrammed to try to bring me to some local address when I was trying to drive home.)

There were two table tennis related items from the workshop. First, I brought my weighted ping-pong paddle and shadow practiced nearly every day. (I don’t think you can get this in the U.S. – I bought it in Taiwan when I coached the U.S. Junior Team there at the World Youth Cup in 1994.) Second, and more importantly, I hurt my right knee on the first day and was hobbling about the whole time. I’d hurt it initially at the recent Nationals, but was mostly over that until I tried carrying heavy boxes up some stairs. Fortunately, I had my car with me (eight hour drive up, ten hours back due to incidents – see write-up), and so was able to drive from the dorms to our classes each morning, rather than walk the half mile, back and forth twice each day.

But now it’s back to the normal table tennis routine. I’ve got two hours of coaching tonight (it was three, but one had to cancel), so hopefully my knee, with brace, will be able to handle it. Today I also have to put together the MDTTC Newsletter. There’s also a bunch of USATT Coaching Committee stuff to get done, MDTTC tournaments for 2018 to sanction, and a host of other things on my todo list, but these might have to wait for a bit for Timmy is coming to town.

Yes, USATT Historian Tim Boggan moves in with me (again) this Wednesday for another 10-12 day stay as we work on History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume (drum roll please) 20! As usual I do the page layouts and photo work. Mal Anderson scans most of the photos in advance and sends them to me on a CD, which I’ve already received. I have to do a lot of work on the photos, cleaning them up, adding acknowledgements, etc., and doing all sorts of “fixes” at Tim’s direction – I never should have let him know what can be done in Photoshop! (“Take him out!” Tim will say of someone in the background that he thinks takes attention away from the photo. “Clean her shirt!” if a shirt doesn’t look right. “Fix the background!” if there’s anything Tim thinks needs fixing. He’s very picky about backgrounds!) It’s going to be a busy time – we work from 7AM to 5PM on weekdays, and on weekends around my coaching schedule.

Why Some Students Fail and Other Students Succeed
Here’s the article. Angela Lee Duckworth, a teacher turned psychologist, has an answer to that question. A MUST read for coaches and players. 

New York ITTF Level 2 Course Offered from August 17-22, 2017
Here’s the USATT article. “Calling all ITTF Level 1 Coaches!  Now is the time to upgrade your skills and both ITTF and USATT Coaches Certification Level.” Here are four upcoming ITTF coaching courses in the U.S.:

Articles by Samson Dubina
While I was away, Samson’s been writing away. (Yes, away rhymes with away.) Here are his articles.

Table Tennis Tidbits #4 by Robert Ho
His latest is up – see below, including his previous ones.

USATT News and Pan Am Cup
Here’s the USATT News Page – lots of articles while I was away! Included are articles on Lily Zhang winning the just-completed Pan-Am Cup.

Sports Flu Table Tennis
They are doing lots of table tennis articles. They have some good ones, and some silly ones (“What Your Zodiac Sign Tell About Your Table Tennis Game?”).

About That High Toss Serve
Here’s the new article from Coach Jon.

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

What Can Table Tennis Players Learn from Roger Federer?
Here’s the article from Tom Lodziak.

Tom Lodziak Newsletter
Here’s the latest issue, with a number of coaching links.

Melton Table Tennis
Here’s the latest newsletter from this Australian club.

Ping Pong Fury
Here’s an article on the Chinese defaults at the China Open from Chublic Opinion.

#1 Basketballer vs. #1 Ping-Ponger
Here’s the video (1:36) of Stephan Curry vs. Women World Champion and #1 ranked Ding Ning.

Mini Table Chop vs Loop
Here’s the video (27 sec). That’s Dan Seemiller Jr. chopping on the left, Abdullah Almkeemy on the right.

The Washington Redskins Ping-Pong Table
Here’s the picture from their locker room  - but look at that cheap net!

Beetle Bailey Table Tennis
Here’s a new cartoon just found by Marv Anderson. It’s dates Dec. 16, but like a number of others, I don’t have the year. Here’s the updated blog where I link to all 22 Beetle Bailey table tennis cartoons. Mort Walker must love table tennis!

Send us your own coaching news!

July 20, 2017

Gone Until Monday, July 31
I’m on vacation and out of town starting this afternoon until Sunday, July 30. Normal people vacation at places like Disneyworld, beaches, or some other vacationy place. Me? Every year about this time I go to a science fiction writing workshop in Manchester, NH, for nine days of intense writing, critiquing, and classes. Fun!!! See you in eleven days.

How You Can Improve at Table Tennis
This morning I was going to write about the segment title – “How You Can Improve at Table Tennis.” But that literally would take a book. I considered shorter ways of doing it, but those would just touch the surface. Then I realized that probably my best and favorite Tip of the Week, “How to Move Up a Level,” pretty much covered it – and yet, these Tips, once published, tend to be lost and forgotten. So below I am reprinting this Tip of the Week from August 4, 2014. (My books Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips both have chapters titled “Improving,” with 54 different Tips out of 300 total in the two books.)

How to Move Up a Level
What does it mean to move up a level in table tennis? I'd define two players to be on different levels if it would be a major upset if one defeated the other. Another way of looking at it would be to say that if the stronger player plays his normal level, he would win pretty much every time. Based on this, I'd say a level in table tennis ranges from about 300 points at the lower levels (under 1000 or so), to about 100 points at the higher levels (over 2500 or so). For most USATT members, a level would be about 200 rating points or so.

How can you move up a level in table tennis? It means improving all parts of your game, as one weak link in your game is like a weak link in a chain.

You could work hard, dramatically improve one aspect of your game, and hope to move up a level. But it's not that simple. Suppose you develop a really nice forehand loop. With this weapon, you would think that your level would go up dramatically. And sure enough, you will do better against players around your own level. But when you play players a level higher, their level is far enough ahead of yours that they'll simply do something to disarm your new weapon. They may serve short, push short, push very heavy, throw spinny or fast serves at you, use ball placement, block well, force backhand exchanges, play quick shots so you don't have time to loop, or simply attack first. In each case, they'll take your weapon away from you, and you still won't move up that coveted level. Often, a stronger player will seem to win on one of his strengths, when in fact he is winning by exploiting a weakness of yours that allows him to use his strength.

The lesson is that to move up a level, you need to improve your overall game, not just one aspect. A player who is a level stronger than you rarely defeats you on one aspect of his game (although many erroneously believe this to be true); he does so by improving the overall level of his game. (There are, of course, players who have improved all but one aspect of their game, and by improving that one final aspect, suddenly go up the coveted level!) A strength in your game can compensate for a weakness, but only to a certain extent.

So how do you go about improving the overall level of your game? To move up a level in table tennis, you have be able to match the players a level higher than you on five key things:

  1. You have to return your opponents' serves as well as they return your serves.
  2. You have to either rally as fast as your opponents can rally, or force your opponents to rally at your pace (by slowing the pace down with pushes, slow loops, controlled drives, etc.). Rallying at their pace means either hitting at their pace, or simply reacting to their pace (i.e. blocking or chopping). "Pace" means both speed and quickness.
  3. You have to be able to react to your opponents' rallying spins (loops, pushes, chops, lobs, spins returned by long pips, etc.) as well as they react to yours.
  4. You have to be able to end the point (i.e. smashing, loop kills) as well as your opponents do. This means either being able to end the point as well as your opponents, or being able to stop them from ending the point better than you can by not giving them shots where they can end the point. Ending the point does not always mean ending it with one shot - it can also mean a series of strong shots that win the point.
  5. And finally, you have to have at least one strength that threatens your opponents as much as their strengths threaten you, and a way of getting your strength(s) into play.

You may have noted that tactics is not one of the five "keys." This is because tactics is part of all five keys. Stronger/weaker tactics simply make you stronger/weaker in each key.

Do some (but not all) of the above five keys, and your performance in a tournament will go up some, perhaps half a level, but not a full level. Developing a single "overpowering" strength won't raise your level as much as you'd think, as opponents a level higher will beat you on the less developed parts of your game. Even players at your "previous" level will still often beat you by exploiting these weaknesses. But ... if you improve all five things, even just a little bit, you'll go up dramatically.

What's stronger, a chain with four powerful links and one weak one, or a chain with five pretty strong ones?

Wanna Buy a Table Tennis Book?
Here’s my Amazon listing! (I just spent $1900 in car repairs and $700 for a new laptop – please buy a book or ten!)

USA Nationals Ratings
They are processed.

Design a Ball Competition
Here’s info on this competition from Aerobic Table Tennis, and here’s the prize listing.

Benefits of Having a Table Tennis Coach
Here’s the article by Brian Pace.

Robert Ho's Table Tennis Tidbits #2
Here’s the article, “Offense and Defense: The Influence of Rubber on Tactics.” (Tidbits #1, “Looping,” was in my Tuesday blog.)

Butterfly Presents: Footwork Drills by Stefan Feth, Drill No. 4
Here’s the new video (74 sec).

Ask the Coach
Questions Answered at PingSkills.

Style or Substance
Here’s the new article by Coach Jon. “Seeing Life Through the Lens of Table Tennis.”

Table Tennis Articles from ThoughtCo
Here they are!

USATT Insider
Here’s the new issue that came out yesterday.

USATT Hall of Fame Banquet Program
It’s online. I’ve been doing these for USATT since 2009.

Adam is the Voice of Table Tennis
Here’s the article in the Deccan Chronicle, one of the biggest newspapers in Chennai.

Ever Wondered Why Table Tennis is Called Ping-Pong?
Here’s the article from Sports Flu.

Liebherr 2017 World Championships, Social and Viewership Records Broken
Here’s the ITTF article.

Fidget Spinner vs. Table Tennis
Here’s the video (11:43) from EmRatThich. I’ve never heard of a fidget spinner, but I’m guessing they are popular in China.

Evolution of Table Tennis 3
Here’s the video (8:25) with some fascinating video of the sport from the hardbat era and early sponge days, including Johnny Leach, Hiroji Satoh, and Ichira Ogimura. Here’s the History of Table Tennis videos home page.

Point from 1978 European Championships
Here’s the video (65 sec) of England’s Desmond Douglas (attacking) vs. France’s Jacque Secretin.

Water Pong
Here’s the video (35 sec) – every club should have one of these. And a pond.

“Elvis Table” at Pong Planet Designed by Gary Alcares
Here’s the article and pictures.

Pong Fire
Here’s the picture – can you take the heat?

Shark Pong
So . . . are you a ping-pong shark?

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July 19, 2017

Why do you play table tennis? Everyone has a reason, and whether you’ve thought it through or not, it always comes down to goals. Is your goal to have fun? Fitness? To quench your competitive spirit? Improvement? To reach a specific level or win a specific title? To make money?

  • Fun. This should be at least part of everyone’s reason. If it isn’t fun, why not find another sport or activity that is fun for you? The fun could be either from the play itself or from being around your table tennis friends.
  • Fitness. It’s a great way to get in shape, especially if you are training (i.e. doing drills, including lots of footwork drills).
  • Competitive Spirit. This is not to be confused with “fun.” Some people are just very competitive, and need to compete. Playing table tennis for them is like drinking coffee for someone else. They may take coaching to become better, or just to develop a specific technique that they want to use to compete, such as a serve or a loop. They may be driven to beat a specific player or players, with these goals changing as they improve or the players they play changes.
  • General Improvement. Some just like to get better at something, usually with the idea of reaching their potential. If so, then the proper combination of coaching, practice, and match play will lead to this. (Many leave out sports psychology training, systematic receive training, or some other important part, and so never reach their potential.)
  • Specific Level or Title. This could be anything from achieving a 2000 rating to winning the club/county/state/national/world title, perhaps in men’s, women’s, or an age group. Or it could be just becoming the neighborhood champ – though goals often go up after achieving lowly ones like this.
  • To Make Money. Okay, that’s just for us professional coaches and players!

So which of these are important to you? In theory, you could put a percentage on each so it adds up to 100%, but that doesn’t really work. A player may be putting 100% effort into improvement, but still enjoy the sport and also play for fitness and other reasons. Instead, perhaps put a percentage on each for how much each one is important to you. I know that at various times in my 41 years in the sport I’d have put 100% (or close to it) for each of these, though rarely at the same time.

USATT Minutes and Actions
Here’s the USATT Minutes and Actions page, where you can find all the doings of the USATT Board of Directors. The minutes of a number of past meetings were recently posted. (I’m one of the nine on the board.)

Ask the Coach
Questions Answered at PingSkills.

Legends of the Liebherr 2017 World Championships
Here’s the ITTF article and video (90 sec).

WTTC 2017: World Table Tennis Championships
Here’s the new highlights video (3:46), set to music, by EmRatThich.

Ping Pong, Elderly Delighted after Winning
Here’s the article from Sports Flu.

JOOLA Prop Challenge - Table Tennis Tricks Compilation
Here’s the article and video (2:33).

Around the Net Loop
Here’s a repeating gif (5 sec) as India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta takes it around the net.

Chicken Man Playing with a Pot
Here’s the picture!

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July 18, 2017

A Typical Private Coaching Session
What happens in a typical private coaching session? It depends on the coach and the player. Some coaches are more practice partners, others do more coaching. (This also depends on the player - those with good technique need less coaching, more training.) Some coaches do only “live” hitting, while others mix in multiball training. Some coaches do the same drills with everyone, others vary the drills and personalize them for each player.

The player’s level, playing style, and goals greatly affect a session. Beginners work mostly on basics, while high-level players are mostly honing skills they already do at a high level. Players with different playing styles do different drills, obviously. But the player’s goals also make a huge difference. When working with a kid, the sky’s the limit, and coaches often train them as if they someday might be fighting to be world champion. Others might not have the coordination necessary, and so coaches focus on developing basic skills – except, if the player has a lot of drive, he might progress into high-level training. Others are only there to get in shape, have fun, or to work on a specific skill.

Here’s a typical private coaching session with me.

  1. Start. Regardless of the level, we start with a good warm-up. If the player has already warmed up with someone else, then this is rather short. For beginners, there’s a huge overlap between “warm-up” and “practice” since in both cases they are working on basics. So beginners spend a lot more time on this, doing basic forehands and backhands. We also do down-the-line practice.
  2. Attack. For most players we then progress into looping against block. For hitters and many advanced beginners, it might be smashing against my block or fishing. After the student has done this, often I’ll take a turn looping so they can work on their block.
  3. Footwork. Every drill involves footwork, but some more than others. Most often I have start off with forehand-forehand footwork, one ball to the forehand corner, one to the middle, and they do all forehands, either drives or loops. Later we will do other footwork drills – backhand-backhand footwork (ball to wide backhand, ball to toward middle); 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand corner, forehand from backhand corner, forehand from forehand corner, repeat); forehand-backhand footwork; and about a dozen other regular ones to choose from, including (for more advanced players) various random drills. These drills are often highly personalized. For example, most older players don’t do the 2-1 drill, while younger players are often worked at a faster pace.
  4. Multiball. I do at least a box of multiball in every session, usually two. This is by far the most systematic way to practice attacking backspin, as well as rapid-fire developing many other techniques. I normally start with backspin, usually fed side to side, with the player looping. We do both forehand and backhand, including side-to-side, where they alternate forehand and backhand looping. There’s also random backspin, where they have to loop forehand or backhand depending on the incoming ball. Then we get to combinations. For example, I might feed backspin to the middle, they forehand loop, and I give a quick topspin to the wide forehand, and they loop again, then repeat. Or the reverse, with the backspin to the wide forehand, topspin to the middle. Similar drills can be done to the backhand, or backhand-forehand combinations. I usually finish with random topspin to two spots – forehand or backhand – followed by full random, where I feed anywhere, including middle. Another semi-multiball drill is I serve, they push, I loop (and reach for the next ball), they counterloop (or block), and repeat. I’ll also do multiball serving so they get to work on receive – I just serve and grab the next ball, no playing out the point here.
  5. Points. Now we practice much of what we’ve done with multiball. Often this means they serve backspin, I push to either a pre-arranged spot or area (or anywhere), they loop, and play out point. (Sometimes we’ll pre-arrange where my first block goes.) But they might also use other serves in other drills, such as short serves where I flip and they attack, or they serve long, I loop steady, and they counter-attack. There are countless variations. I usually take a turn where I serve to them so they can work on the receive.
  6. Games. I often end sessions with games, either regular ones or improvised ones. An example of improvised would be the student serves backspin, I push to a specific spot or randomly (depending on their level), they loop, and we play out the point. Sometimes we play games where I mimic a style, or chop, or play as a pusher-blocker. Other times I play my regular game.
  7. Review. I generally do a short review of the session at the end, and give recommendations for what they should be working on before our next session.

Robert Ho's Table Tennis Tidbits #1
Here’s the article, which focuses on looping, with links to three videos.

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

Improve Your Serve to Improve Your Game
Here’s the podcast (29:37) from PingSkills.

The Evolution of the Table Tennis Ball and How Plastic Balls Will Change the Scene
Here’s the article by Radivoj Hudetz.

Table Tennis Players Height: Short or Tall, Does it Matter?
Here’s the article from Sports Flu.

USA Para Table Tennis Young Talent - Ian Seidenfeld
Here’s the USATT article by Tina Huynh.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 19 (1991-1992)
Here's chapter seventeen! Or order your own print copies at, as well as Volume 19!

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - June 2017
Here’s the video (14:50).

Timo Boll Training Serve & Forehand & Backhand
Here’s the video (15:08).

Ryu Seung Min Training Forehand & Backhand & Serve
Here’s the video (26:46).

Amazing 10-year-old Kid in China
Here’s the video (7:43).

Swimming Pool Shadow Practice
Here’s the video (58 sec) – so why aren’t you doing this?

Here’s the cartoon!

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July 17, 2017

Tip of the Week
Sports Psychology.

Post Nationals Saturation Training
Now that the Nationals is over, it’s time to address various technical issues with some students. You don’t want to mess around with their technique too much just before a major tournament, so there have been some cases where I averted my eyes to certain things, waiting until after the Nationals.

Now it’s time for a few of them to do a bit of Saturation Training. I’ve kept notes on players I’ve been coaching, and now we’re addressing these problems. I’ve noticed a similar bad habit among three of them, who seem to have adopted backhand ready stances as their neutral stance in matches, even though they don’t seem to do so when drilling. One player has been struggling with his forehand in fast rallies – he seems to go into a backhand stance sometimes, and tries to play forehands from that position. Many top players do this, but it takes a LOT of physical and table training to get right, and we’re probably going to make some adjustments.

Two others players have similar problems – they seem to start many rallies standing in a backhand stance, and aren’t ready to attack with their forehand when they get the chance, often backhand pushing even against balls toward their forehand side. That has to stop!!! Anyway, I worked with one of them yesterday, and he’s now focused on keeping his right foot at least slightly back in his ready stance. (He’s a righty.) Note that if you stand toward your backhand side and have your feet parallel to the end-line, then you are facing the opponent’s forehand side. That’s fine if he’s about to hit a shot from there, but if he’s serving or hitting from the backhand side, then you should be roughly facing him, meaning your feet should be parallel to him, not the table.  

Other problems we’re working on with various students include the need for more spin on their backspin serves; more serve variety; ready to loop deep serves; and trying to stay at the table rather than back up the first time the opponent hits the ball harder than a push. Plus, the inspiration for this week’s Tip of the Week was the number of times at the Nationals I saw players blow 2-0 game leads. (This didn’t happen to any of the matches I was coaching, so maybe there is something to this sports psychology thing!)

Table Tennis Update: China National Team Boycott and Giveaway
Here’s the video (8:30) from EmRatThich.

How to Read Service Spin
Here’s the article and video (7:43) from Tom Lodziak

Service Tactics
Here’s the video (2:49) from PingSkills.

How to Counterloop——Yangyang's table tennis lessons
Here’s the video (8:22).

Ask the Coach
Questions answered at PingSkills.

USATT Announces Youth National Teams for 2017-2018
Here’s the article and listing.

Table Tennis Joins LA Mayors Inauguration Celebrations
Here’s the USATT article.

Chop Blocks by Koki Niwa
Here’s the video (57 sec). The Japanese star is #9 in the world.

Tomokazu Harimoto vs. Joo Se Hyuk
Here’s the video (8:24, time removed between points). The 14-year-old phenom from Japan, who recently turned 14, is now ranked #18 in the world! But now he’s up against the experienced chopper/looper from Korea, the men’s singles finalist from 2003.

2017 US Nationals Slo-Mo Analysis
Here’s the video (45 sec) by Cory Johnson. “Modern Defense: Rushing the Table Mistakes. Here are two examples of half-executed technique for when the modern defender should "rush the table" –– especially if one (like myself) is far too comfortable away from the table. Although I do make the "correct" decision & stroke when rushing, I nonetheless fail to finish out the point.”

Ball Bouncing while on a Vibrating Exercise Machine
Here’s the video (37 sec).

Wimblepong: Ping Pong on the Streets
Here’s the hilarious video (4:25)! “We took our Pongo Portable Ping Pong Set out on the streets and challenged random people to a game of WimblePong which is Ping Pong Wimbledon Style.”

Send us your own coaching news!

July 14, 2017

Serving Seminar at 2017 USA Nationals
At the USA Nationals I gave a one-hour serving seminar on Tuesday night. Here are the notes I used, with some explanations and links added in brackets.

  1. Can Ma Long move his racket substantially faster than you when he serves? Probably not.
    1. They smoothly accelerate into the ball, and graze with a deceptive motion.
    2. Serving is the one part of table tennis where we all start out even.
  2. How to Create Spin [Here’s a Tip on this.]
    1. Demo backspin serve back into net, curving sidespin serves.
    2. Grippy rubber and rubber cleaner
    3. Smooth acceleration with body, forearm, and wrist.
    4. Grazing
    5. High-toss [Here’s a Tip on this.]
  3. Exercises to Increase Your Spin [Here’s a Tip of this, specifically on creating heavy backspin, with info on the “Scoop” method below.]
    1. Spin and catch
    2. Scoop method
    3. Backspin & sidespin games
  4. How to Create Deception
    1. Great spin
    2. Spin/no-spin [Here’s a Tip on this. Here’s another.]
    3. Semi-circular motion [Here’s a Tip on this.]
    4. Changing axis of racket rotation [Here’s a Tip on this. Here’s another.]
    5. Illegal hidden serves [We had a short discussion of the problem.]
  5. How to Serve Low (to net and low bounce on other side) [Here’s a Tip on this.]
    1. Low contact point
    2. Graze the ball
    3. First bounce on your side near your end-line so that it approaches the net at a low angle. [This is one of the least understood parts of serving. But it becomes more obvious when demoed when players observe the lowness of the bounce here, as opposed to when the first bounce is closer to the net. It’s discussed in the Tip linked above.]
    4. Highest point as it crosses the net
    5. Practice with serving bars [Here’s a picture. John Olsen made these for MDTTC.]
  6. Depth [Here’s a Tip on controlling service depth. Here’s another.]
    1. Long, half-long, sometimes very short (mostly to forehand)
    2. World-class – about 80% short. Varies by level.
    3. Most serves – first or second bounce on far side right about the end-line.
  7. Specific Serves
    1. Forehand Pendulum, Reverse Pendulum, Scoop, Tomahawk, Reverse Tomahawk;
      Backhand Serve; Reverse Backhand; Inside-Out Backhand, Windshield
  8. How to Practice Serves [Here’s a Tip on this.]
    1. Box of balls
    2. Serving routine [Everyone should have a set routine they go through before every serve. It puts you in the proper frame of mind. Here’s a Tip on this.]
    3. Visualize each serve – always. Imagine contact and entire path and bounces of ball
  9. Placement
    1. Forehand, backhand, middle
    2. Sidespin breaking away and breaking in [Here’s a Tip on this.]
  10. Fast, Deep Serves [Here’s a Tip on this. Here’s another. And here’s one more.]
    1. First and last bounce
    2. Topspin, Sidespin, Flat
    3. Short to forehand/Long to backhand combo

I’ve Joined the Aruba TTA Board of Directors!
Well, sort of - here’s the listing!!! For reasons unknown – perhaps to add an imagined bit of credibility? – the Aruba TTA has hilariously and ridiculously put up the USATT Board of Directors listing from last year as their Board of Directors, with their president (Oscar Helmeyer) replacing then-board chair Peter Scudner at the top. (There’s a chance that at some point this weekend the page will go down or get changed – if so, I might take this segment down.) USATT has already contacted them and asked them to take this down, but the only result so far seems to be the addition of the “Sample Data” note at the top left. (I don’t think that was there before, but I’m not 100% sure.) Anyway, as a proud member of the Aruba TTA Board of Directors since (I have no idea since when, presumably after a hard-fought election?), I’m proposing we built a wall around our country and making USA pay for it, and then, inside those enclosed walls we’ll build a ping-pong paradise, where the games are to 21, we use 38mm balls, and the hidden service rule is enforced. (Here’s the current USATT Board of Directors.)

ITTF Development Magazine Available Online
Here’s the ITTF article. Here’s the direct link to download it. It’s 64 pages, including a “Spotlight on North American” on pages 52-53. “Published every four years in accordance with the Olympic cycle, released at the recent Liebherr 2017 World Championships in Düsseldorf at the end of May, the latest ITTF Development magazine is now available online.”

Names of Recently Qualified ITTF Blue Badge Umpires Announced
Here’s the ITTF article, and the ITTF listing. With Linda Leaf added on June 1, USA now has ten: Esther Aliotta, Ray Cavicchio, Valeriy Elnatanov, Irina Hellwig, Yelena Karshted, Linda Leaf, Kagin Lee, Michael Meier, Saul Weinstein, and Joseph Yick.

Who is the Expert?
Here’s the new article by Samson Dubina.

Ask the Coach
Questions Answered at PingSkills.

"Boomerang" Flick
Here’s the video (6:22) from EmRatThich – this is the “Strawberry Flip” that USA Men’s Coach Stefan Feth often teaches!

5 Ways You Can Improve Your Table Tennis Skills Faster
Here’s the article from Sports Flu, by Aditya Kumar Awasthi. The five are: Focus on FEELING, Hit by the ‘Legs,’ Fix the hitting position, Relax, Explode and Relax, and Tactics in Table Tennis. Here are more table tennis articles from Sports Flu. Alas, they aren’t dated so I don’t know which are new.

Best African Ever, Quadri Aruna Votes for Atanda Musa
Here’s the ITTF article.

2017 World Championships: Time of the Legends!
Here’s the new ITTF music video (90 sec).

10 Unexpectedly Great Benefits of Playing Table Tennis
Here’s the article by Miranda Larbi for

ITTF’s Heads-Up Challenge
Here’s the video (2:08). Lots of USA in this. (I think I posted a different version of this previously.)

Table Tennis or Quidditch?
I finally found the shirt for both my table tennis and science fiction/fantasy interests – here it is!

Puppy Pong
Here’s the video (19 sec) – Call the SPCA! They pelted the dog abused dog twice!!! (We’re going to do this at our club – a brother/sister combo often brings their dog during training.)

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