Blogs

Larry Hodges' Blog and Tip of the Week will go up on Mondays by noon USA Eastern time. 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. (Larry was awarded the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in July, 2018.)
NOTE - Larry is on the USATT Board of Directors and chairs the USATT Coaching Committee, but the views he shares in his blog are his own, and do not necessarily represent the views of USA Table Tennis.

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
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 fiction, 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!

September 4, 2018

Tip of the Week
The Flat Smash That Isn't.

USATT League Ratings as Initial USATT Ratings
Below is a proposal I made a few days ago to the USATT Tournament Committee about using USATT League ratings as initial ratings for tournament. I think it's self-explanatory. Note that both regular USATT ratings (i.e. tournament ratings) and league ratings are in the USATT database, and both are in each player's profile when you look up their rating in the USATT ratings page. In the August Open I ran recently we had three "unrated" players who had league ratings that could have been used - but instead, we had to treat them as unrated players, so they could only play in the preliminaries of rating events.

Dear USATT Tournament Committee,

The USATT League is rather widespread, with (I'm told) more rated matches every month than tournament matches. Many clubs, including mine (MDTTC) have many players with extensive and accurate league ratings but no tournament rating yet. (We have USATT Leagues three times/week.) When they want to play their first tournament, they are stuck as unrated players even if they have an accurate league rating. The two systems are essentially the same. When I co-founded the system many years ago one of the goals, once it was widespread enough, was for it to be used as an initial rating in USATT tournaments, so players could play (and advance) in the appropriate rating events. I believe we reached that stage several years ago.

What I'd like to propose is that tournament directors be allowed, at their discretion, to use USATT league ratings as initial ratings for rating events in tournaments, so that these players may advance as rated players. The pertinent rules or guidelines from the USATT Tournament Guide are below:

5. Unrated Players. Round robin play is designed to allow players to play several matches with the best player winning or advancing.

5.a. If you are running rating events and have unrated players win those events, it may be disturbing to the rated players.

5.b. It is recommended to allow unrated players to compete in rating events but not advance if they win their group. Such limitation must be announced in the entry blank, e.g. "Unrated players may enter round robin rating events but will not be permitted to advance from the group. The rated player with the highest finish will advance."

PROPOSED ADDITION:
5.e. Tournament directors, at their discretion, may assign unrated players their USATT League rating as an initial tournament rating, and treat those players as rated players who can both compete and advance in appropriate rating events.

In a subsequent email I was asked the following, with my answer afterwards.

Should it be discretionary or mandatory that a tournament director use league ratings when a player has a league rating?  If we use this system, why should it not be mandatory to use such a league rating if a player has one?

Later on I (or the Tournament Committee) would likely make the proposal that league ratings be used as initial ratings in all cases. However, we first should test it out. There are several potential problems.

First, we don't know how well established or accurate they are everywhere. At MDTTC, we have so many league nights that the system is well established. For all we know, there's some isolated club in Alaska where the average league rating is 500 points off.

Second, players tend to take tournament ratings more seriously. There are far fewer tournaments than league nights in most clubs that have USATT leagues, and you have to pay a bit of money to play in a tournament. So it's very rare for a player to enter a tournament for the first time with the express purpose of dumping matches so as to establish a low rating so as to clean up at the next tournament, whenever that might be. But for a league, if you are a club member, in most clubs (including mine) you just show up and it's free. So it could be easy for an unrated player to show up one time just before a tournament and establish an abnormally low initial rating on purpose, so he could clean up on the tournament held right afterwards. (A player could theoretically enter the MDTTC Friday night league for the first time, dump some matches to get an abnormally low initial rating, and since league ratings are processed instantly after input, play the next day in our tournament on Saturday, since we allow late entries with a late fee.) A player can do this with tournament ratings as well, but there we know it's not too common for the reasons given above. We don't know that yet for league ratings.

Third, tournament software is not yet set up to automatically use league ratings, if available, for those without tournament ratings. In Omnipong, which I use, the director has the discretion to manually assign a rating, and would simply check the unrated players one by one to see if they have league ratings. I don't know how other tournament software works and whether they have this discretion. If we make it mandatory, then the tournament software should have this programmed into it.

Fourth, for unforeseen problems that we haven't thought of yet. That's why it's always good to test something before going nationally in a mandatory fashion.

Having given these reasons not to make it mandatory at the start, if the Tournament Committee finds that these objections are not a problem – for all I know you have more info than I do – then I wouldn't object to making it mandatory right from the start. That was the initial plan when the league system was developed. It is how I would treat them locally, i.e. I would always use league ratings as initial ratings unless I had strong reason to believe the player had dumped to establish an artificially low one. The only question is if we are ready to go mandatory yet.

Table Tennis Coaching Account Applications
If you have newly tried to register, there might be a delay. For nearly eight years I've managed spam by requiring all those who register to mention "table tennis" in their registration. I'd get about ten a day and quickly go through them. However, in the last few days I've received over 600 spam emails. There are likely a few legitimate ones mixed in, but it's too many for me to go through one by one. For technical reasons I haven't been able to set up a proper spam filter here yet with Drupal. (All these applications do is allow you to comment on the blog. You don't need to do so to just read it.)

Capital Area Table Tennis League
The Capital Area Team League is for players in the Maryland, Virginia, and DC area. Tomorrow (Wed., Sept. 5) is the deadline for the "Earlybird" special, after which the cost per team goes from $225 to $275. Final deadline is Sept. 15. If you don't have a team, the league committee can help you find one. First league matches are on Sept. 29. There's over $2000 in prize money and prizes. Last season we had 17 teams and 84 players. Come join us! Here are the basic rules:

  • Teams have a roster of at least 3 players.
  • Team contests will have 6 individual matches and one doubles.
  • Each team will be placed in a division according to their ratings, with similarly-rated teams - priority consideration will be given to teams who have participated in the last season
  • No USATT membership required to play.
  • Detail league rules here.

USATT News
Here's their news page - they've had 16 new items since my last blog, so why not browse them? There's some duplication, but I'm mostly linking below to items not already in the USATT news page. 

China Completes Clean Sweep of Table Tennis Titles at 2018 Asian Games
Here's the ITTF article.

African Table Tennis Championships
Here's the home page for the event, Sept. 3-9, in Port Louis, Mauritius.

Super Backspin Short Pushes
Here's the video (45 sec) of Can Akkuzu (world #81 from France), who had a recent win over China's Fang Bo (world #4 last year). I'm always amazed that many players believe that when you push short, you just pat the ball back without spin. If you do that, it's very hard to control - the ball tends to pop up. By skimming the ball, the energy goes into backspin, and so the ball tends to stay both low and short, plus the opponent has to deal with the backspin. You don't need to push short with quite this much backspin, but with a good amount. Here's another video (17 sec) that I linked to before, of Jin Ueda (world #47, but #9 last year, from Japan) also pushing short with heavy backspin.

Ma Long's Technique
Here's the article with links to video from EmRatThich. This is a MUST watch and read.

10 Ways to Improve Faster at Table Tennis
Here's the article by Ben Larcombe.

Should I Change My Grip? Learn from Ma Long's Serve
Here's the video (6:12) from EmRatThich.

Yu Di Tip of the Week: The Pivot
Here's the article, with links to video.

How to Shift Weight Effectively with Richard Prause
Here's the article and video (54 sec).

Details of Flipping Serves
Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Play Ping Pong Table Like a Pro?
Here's the article. "Whether you are up for a tournament or a friendly match, the rules remain pretty much the same! But knowing certain key tips and tricks will surely increase your chance of winning."

Ping Pong Techniques Help You Learn
Here's the video (2:53) - "focused" and "diffused" thinking.

Tomahawk Serves, Regular and Reverse
Here's the video (68 sec).

Timo Boll Training Slow Motion High Quality Table Tennis Technique Analysis
Here's the video (10:37) from Arnaud Scheen.

Greatest Table Tennis Players in the World
Here's the article from EmRatThich.

Monsters of Multiball
Here's the video (12:32). 

Cosmic Table Tennis
Here's the article from Coach Jon. "If a table tennis ball was traveling directly towards the middle of the opponent's side, at the speed of light, weighed 2.7 grams, was 40 mm in diameter, but the table was on the moon, would the ball still hit the edge?"

WAB Featured Club: Silicon Valley Table Tennis Club
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

First Filipino Table Tennis Olympian Ian "Yanyan" Lariba Dies at 23
Here's the obit from ESPN.

Off The Table - Fan Zhendong
Here's the ITTF video (6:31).

Tomokazu Harimoto Highlights Reel
Here's the video (16:24) of the 15-year-old whiz kid from Japan, world #8 (#6 last month).

Long Island Teen Table Tennis Star Aims for Tokyo Olympics
Here's the video (1:56) featuring Estee Ackerman.

Meet the Lad Who Plays Table Tennis with His Mouth
Here's the article and video (38 sec). "Ladies and gentlemen, meet Ibrahim Hamato, the inspirational table tennis player who hasn't let the fact he has no arms stop him from playing the sport he loves."

Believe That
Here's the video (29:19). "The film follows the journey of Team Santos, three players from Brighton Table Tennis Club, as they prepare to represent their country at the European Down's Syndrome Championships."

Unbelievable Retrieves!
Here's the video (42 sec) of Freitas (world #15 from Portugal, in green) and Fegerl (world #51 from Austria).

Best of Ryu Seung Min
Here's the video (6:33). Ryu Seung Min was the 2004 Olympics Men's Singles Gold Medalist, and is considered by many to have had the fastest footwork in table tennis history.

The Ma Long and Zhang Jike Show
Here's the video (27 sec) as they show off their exhibition skills!

Laszlo Bellak and Viktor Barna Exhibition Play
Here's the video (40 sec) of the two Hungarian stars, circa 1940s? Barna was five-time World Men's Singles Champion.

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 15
Here's chapter 15 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. This chapter covers "1995 World Championships - Part 1." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Backboard Pong with Power!
Here's the video (11 sec).

Trickshot Video
Here's the video (1:51) from Harish Tiwari.

You Can Tell They're Table Tennis Shoes
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) When I used to train on cement, all my shoes ended up like that.

When Ping Pong Meets Boxing
Here's the video (31 sec)!

Shaun the Sheep vs. Bitzer the Sheepdog
Here's the new video (56 sec). This is the second "Shaun the Sheep" table tennis video - here's the original one (78 sec), with "around-the-world lobbing"! (I've linked to this one before.)

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Send us your own coaching news!

September 3, 2018

Today's Labor Day, so I'm off today - I plan to spend the day reading in bed! Blog and Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow by noon or else I don't get to be part of NAFTA, Google gets to continue their biased coverage of me, and I won't get invited to any weddings or funerals. 

On a side note, if you have newly tried to register, there might be a delay. For nearly eight years I've managed spam by requiring all those who register to mention "table tennis" in their registration. I'd get about ten a day and quickly go through them. However, in the last few days I've received over 600 spam emails. There are likely a few legitimate ones mixed in, but it's too many for me to go through one by one. For technical reasons I haven't been able to set up a proper spam filter here yet with Drupal. 

August 27, 2018

Tip of the Week
Never Think About Winning or Losing While Playing - Excise the Thought and Play Well!

How's Your Backhand Attack?
I've never had a strong backhand attack, relying instead on consistency and a strong forehand. It worked when I was younger and fast enough to cover much of the table with my forehand - though I'd have been better if I'd a better backhand attack - but now that I'm an eensy, wheensy, tiny bit older (um, 58), that doesn't work anymore. I can and do a backhand loop, but during my playing career it was more of a variation I'd throw at players. I actually developed my backhand loop more as a coach so I could demonstrate it. In practice, I actually have a pretty good backhand loop against backspin now.

Back in the days when I was developing a common slogan was, "One gun is as good as two." This meant that if you developed your forehand and footwork, having a strong backhand attack wasn't necessary. In fact, during those years there were a lot of style confrontations as one-winged attackers played two-winged attackers. The one-winged attacker often won, but these days the game has gotten faster and faster (even at the intermediate level, due to faster, bouncier sponges), and you really need to be able to attack from both wings, especially if you are an up-and-coming player. Some established players, especially in the senior ranks, don't really attack against backspin much on the backhand, and mostly block or "punch" their backhands in rallies; Dave Sakai and Charlene Liu have been piling up senior titles for years with just push and block backhands.

There are basically two types of backhand attacks: hitting and looping. When I was coming up, on the backhand side in rallies you either faced hitters who didn't back up, or loopers who did back up. Very few players back in those days backhand looped from close to the table, except of as an opening shot against a push or serve. With modern techniques and sponges, it's now common for players to backhand loop over and over without backing up - it's almost unfair!

Here's video (3:25) of Tomokazu Harimoto doing close-to-table loops. (Some would just call them "topspins" - same thing.) The video only shows about 13 seconds of it, then goes on to other drills. This is from a year ago when he was "only" 14; now he's 15 and #6 in the world. His backhand terrorizes everyone. Here's a video (5:09) that shows how he does his backhand. Here's video (7:11) of him (black shirt) beating world #1 Fan Zhendong (red shirt) at the 2018 Asian Cup - watch how he dominates with his backhand.

You can backhand loop from right up at the table (as Harimoto mostly does); you can do them from half a step back (as most do), or from farther back as the ball drops (as players used to do, and some still do, though rarely at the highest levels). Most top players can do all of these, looping right off the bounce as Harimoto does, but backing up some as the rallies get faster. Harimoto's strength is he is able to stay closer to the table in faster rallies than most players. Watch his matches and you'll see how, in backhand-to-backhand exchanges, the opponent is almost always half a step further back than Harimoto, including the big Chinese stars like Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Zhang Jike, and Xu Xin. All of these Chinese players like to backhand loop close to the table, but all back up some as the rally gets faster, more so than Harimoto. (Xu especially backs up more, while the others stay as close as they can.) Harimoto can play his backhand from a step back, as he does here (the start of the first video linked to above), but to get him to do this in a game usually means drawing him out of position first by going to his wide forehand.  

One interesting thing you'll notice is there is often a difference between Chinese and European backhand loops. (This is not a firm rule, but I'll call them Chinese and European methods.) In general, when backhand looping, the Chinese keep a near constant racket angle during the swing. In contrast, many Europeans tilt their racket back during the backswing, essentially closing it and then opening it as the racket approaches the ball. The Chinese method is simpler, quicker, and more consistent, with fewer things that can go wrong, while the European method has more pure power but is less consistent, and is generally done from further back. (Some top players tilt the racket on the backswing only when going for extra power, or when ripping against backspin.) Here are some examples in addition to Harimoto above (who uses the Chinese method):

  • Hugo Calderano, world #9 from Brazil, European method
  • Timo Boll, world #3 from Germany, European method
  • Ma Long, world #6 from China (but should be #1), Chinese method
  • Zhang Jike, former world #1 from China, Chinese method
  • To see more, put in the name of your favorite player, followed by "backhand loop," and see what comes up.

Now that we've spent all this time on backhand loops, does this mean you need one? Against backspin, it's a big weapon, and yet, you can still do a simple backhand drive against backspin by simply doing a regular backhand but stroking up more and with a little more topspin than a normal drive, but not like a backhand loop. This is especially easier for older players. Once in a rally, you can focus on regular backhands or you can learn to topspin more, especially if you are younger or athletic.

Czech Open
Here's the home page for the event that finished this past weekend, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Asian Games - Table Tennis
Here's the home page for the event that started yesterday in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 26 - Sept. 1.

2018 US Open Table Tennis Championships Headed to the Sunshine State
Here's the USATT article. The U.S. Open will be in Orlando, FL, Dec. 16-22. I'll be there, and then I'm going to Disneyworld!

New National Team Groups Announced Under 2018 Selection Criteria
Here's the USATT listing.

New from EmRatThich

New from Samson Dubina

Three Steps to Hitting a Forehand
Here's the video (60 sec) from Keenan Southall. "How to hit a forehand in 3 easy steps! These are 3 very basic steps you need to do in order to have a good forehand in table tennis. The forehand starts from the ground up! Set your feet first, put the power of your hips into the ball, and let your shoulders and arms hit the ball for you."

Tactics in Table Tennis, Part 2
Here's the article and video (20:41) by Joze Urh, with links to Part 1 (which I previously linked to).

Amicus Training Tips Series: How to Banana Flick with Richard Prause
Here's the video (55 sec).

Can You Do the Service Challenge?
Here's the video (60 sec).

Local Table Tennis Legend Teaches Players the Game - Dan Seemiller
Here's the article and video (3:02) from WNDU. "Dan Seemiller is a living table tennis legend. He’s won five U.S. men’s singles titles, 12 doubles titles and was even the head coach of the United States Olympic teams in 2000 and 2004."

Tao Continues to Push to New Heights
Here's the USATT article by Matt Hetherington. "Tao Wenzhang set the bar in 2014 when he won the US Open Table Tennis Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that event he showed the scope of his abilities as he overcame strong international opponents like Thomas Keinath and Jin Ueda. Fast forward four years and Tao has settled in the USA, continuing to contribute back to the game as a coach and training partner, but not losing sight of his goals as a player."

Clean Sweep Averted, Jayden Zhou Flies the Stars and Stripes
Here's the ITTF article on the El Salvador Junior & Cadet Open. "Success for Jayden Zhou of the United States, hard fought success; on the concluding day of action, Sunday 19th August, the 13 year old born in January 2005, prevented a clean sweep of titles by Chinese Taipei at the 2018 El Salvador Junior and Cadet Open. He won the Mini-Cadet Boys’ Singles event."

WAB Club Feature: Seattle Pacific Table Tennis Club
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

Fan Zhendong Assumes Role of Responsibility
Here's the ITTF article. "Listed in top spot on the current Men’s World Rankings, Fan Zhendong is afforded the mantle of responsibility; he leads the Chinese quest for honours at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, the table tennis events commence on Sunday 26th August."

Feeding the Table Tennis Monster
Here's the article by Coach Jon. "What if everything you believed about table tennis wasn’t true?"

Olympic Games Format in Jakarta
Here's the ITTF article.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - 2018 Australian Open
Here's the video (5:30).

Tennis Players Playing Table Tennis
Here's the video (21:33) - this is great!!! Federer, Williams, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Kyrgios, Thiem, Wawrinka, Sock, Tiafoe, Monfils, Querrey, the Bryan brothers, and many more.

NYCTTA Professional Table Tennis Action!
Here's the video (13:20) of exhibition play by Dora Kurimay (of www.dorakurimay.com) and Coach Kevin Wang.

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 14
Here’s chapter 14 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. This chapter covers "April 1995 Tournaments." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Custom Redskins Table and Why You’ll See More Table Tennis Tables in Locker Rooms
Here's the article!

Guinness Book of Records - Most Hits in 60 seconds in Around the World
Here's the video (65 sec)!

Big Paddle, Big Trouble?
Here's the picture of Scott Preiss, the PingPongMan, going through security with security checking out his oversized paddle. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) 

Championship Ping-Ping at the Highest Level
Here's the video (72 sec). 

Musical Pong
Here's the video (24 sec)!

Tight-Rope Pong
Here's the video (40 sec)!

Zhang Jike Ball Bath
Here's the video (10 sec)!

Ping-Pong Tricks from the Ping-Pong Kid
Here's the video (41 sec).

The Funny Faces of Tomokazu Harimoto
Here's the video (10 sec) - he may be #6 in the world, but he's still a 15-year-old kid! (And who among us doesn't sometimes make funny faces like these when no one's around?)

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Send us your own coaching news!

August 20, 2018

Tip of the Week
How to Quadruple Your Chances of Winning Those Five-Game Matches.

Hidden Serves - the Ma Long Serve
I've recently gotten into some discussions about Ma Long's serve. He's the reigning World and Olympic Champion, and while his world ranking has dropped to #7 due to lack of competition (plus his recent loss at the Bulgarian Open to Liam Pitchford), he's still generally considered the best player in the world.

But the simple reality is that he, like many other world-class players, rarely serves legally. Most of his serves are forehand serves where he throws the ball high and towards him, and as it comes down, he thrusts his head forward and down. The ball illegally goes behind his head, and he contacts it behind his chin, so the opponent can't see contact. Then his racket follows the ball, making it appear that he contacts the ball below the head. That's one of the main advantages of this technique. 

But ask yourself this - why would he and so many other top players spend so much time developing such an obviously illegal serve, where they have to bend their body into a pretzel, throw the ball behind their head, and do that vigorous head thrust just before contact, and then let the receiver see contact?

Here's the key rule on hidden serves - I've bolded the key parts.

2.6.4 From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry.

Here is the video (13:43, with time between points removed) of the Ma Long - Liam Pitchford match. Both players are hiding their serves. (Most top players do, not just Ma Long.) Watch Ma Long's first two serves near the start, and you can see his head thrusts out and down as the ball goes behind it, with contact behind his chin. Immediately after contact the racket continues down, making it seem as if contact might have been below the head. (You can use the space bar to start and stop the video, and use the period and comma keys to move forward or back one frame at a time.)

Here's the still image just before contact. Note how the ball is next to his ear, with his racket directly behind it. Here's the very next frame, where he's contacting the ball. Juggle between the two, and note how his head has dropped down in the second frame to keep contact behind his chin.  Note that in the first frame, the ball has just gotten behind Ma's head. With the ball moving toward Ma, and his head thrusting it out, it continues to even more behind his head. 

I've played and coached against players with Ma Long type serves and know contact wasn't visible - that's the whole point of this behind-the-head serve motion, that it hides the ball until just after the split second of contact, while making it difficult for umpires to know for sure, especially with the racket following the ball downward and forward. I've watched players practice these serves and coaches teaching it to them. Just last year I played a kid who was about 12 but had already perfected the Ma Long serve. I never saw contact. I complained, to no avail. And so I had to return the serves defensively or be erratic, and lost to a much weaker player. The idea that our sport has reached the point where our coaches are teaching such openly illegal serves to 12-year-olds sickens me - and yet it makes perfect sense as we allow this type of cheating in our sport. 

Too many of us are in denial - first saying the serve can't be illegal, then saying, well, maybe it's illegal, but contact is visible, while ignoring both the video evidence and the logic of why players develop such intricate serves designed to hide contact and then supposedly choose to allow the opponent to see contact. We are living in bizarro land. 

There is a legitimate debate over whether an individual umpire should call these serves. They are illegal, but the problem is whether you want one umpire calling them, while the rest are not. This leads to inconsistent umpiring. What should happen is all of these serves are called, and then the players would stop using them. But alas, we are in a situation where few umpires call them, and so players use them, either to gain an advantage or to nullify the opponent's advantage since so many opponents are hiding their serves.

But there is no legitimate debate over whether illegal serving is widespread. We can see it with our eyes. Just watch the video, and those of other elite players. I'm wondering if we are the only Olympic sport that allows such open cheating? And before you object, of course it's cheating, by definition - to "act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage." There is an argument that if both players are doing it, then it is not cheating since neither is doing it to gain an advantage - they are doing it so their opponent doesn't get an advantage. But not all players hide their serves, and so when they do so against an opponent who doesn't, they are cheating. Whoever does it first in a match is also cheating. There's a simple way of looking at this - if both players played by rules unless the other play didn't, then both would play by the rules. Wouldn't that be great?

It's sort of like a 100-meter race at the Olympics where one player steps forward two meters, the race officials allow it, so another follows, and pretty soon nearly all of them have stepped forward those two meters, while arguing that it's not cheating since the others are doing it. But what about the ones who don't, who stay back? And do we really want to turn the 100-meter race into a 98-meter race? But the race officials don't want to be the bad guys who call out the players for breaking the rules, and so they allow the players that two-meter head start, if they choose, and pretend all is fine.

One argument I've often heard is that umpires shouldn't call a hidden serve because it affects the course of the match, especially when it's close. But why should this affect anything? Umpires should call the serve as the rules specify, regardless of how it affects things or the score. (I'm putting aside the "consistency" argument here, for now.) I know this is not always easy, but that's part of the job of being an umpire. I greatly appreciate baseball umpires who take so much flack while trying to do their best, and I similarly respect table tennis umpires who do the same. But again, there is that problem of whether to be the only one calling these illegal serves.

Some argue that if we were "strict" about enforcing the service rule, then we'd be faulting just about every serve. I strongly disagree - just for example, my serves are all legal, and so are many others. (I've never been faulted for serving illegally in my entire career, in hundreds and hundreds of tournaments.) But there's also a distinct difference between the effectiveness of different illegal serves. Comparing the problem of someone doing a five-inch toss instead of six, to a hidden serve is apples and oranges. There's a MUCH bigger advantage to hiding contact than from having a slightly short toss. We need to focus on the illegal serves that have a big impact. That doesn't mean players shouldn't be faulted for more minor serve problems such as a five-inch toss, but that's simply not a big issue, at least at the higher levels. Hidden serves is the elephant in the room.

But why don't more top players complain? Three main reasons. First, many have, but they have long learned that complaining about it is pointless, and so they are forced to simply learn to return these illegal serves, reading the spin from how the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, which is much more difficult than reading it from contact, and leads to more mistakes or less effective returns. Second, most top players have long ago realized they too have to hide their serves if they don't want to give their opponent an advantage, so most of them hide their own serves, either regularly or semi-regularly, and so it would be hypocritical to complain at this point about the opponent. And third, hidden serves are one of the big dividing lines between top players and almost-top players. The established players are used to hidden serves, the up-and-coming ones less so, and so by allowing hidden serves, top players more easily beat these up-and-comers.

I've also heard some say that if the umpire doesn't call the serve, then the serve is legal. That's nonsense - it's just rationalizing the fact that they got away with breaking the rules, and the serve is still illegal. It's like saying a burglar isn't committing a crime unless he gets caught. However, there is a legitimate argument that it's okay to serve illegally if the umpire doesn't call it (at least at the higher levels), since doing so is widespread among top players and so up-and-coming players have to learn to do this to compete. Many would disagree with this argument. I'm not happy with this situation, but it's an inconvenient truth.

One misconception about all this is that the umpire can't tell if a borderline serve is hidden from where he sits on the side. But the call shouldn't be whether the serve is hidden or not - the call would be from the following rules:

2.6.6 It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect.

2.6.6.1 If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he or she may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his or her doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect.

So, by definition, if the umpire can't tell that the serve is legal (i.e. not hidden), then the serve is illegal. And yes, it's easy to do a forehand serve where the umpire can see this - it's how I serve, as well as Samsonov and others. But few umpires apply this rule, and instead go by the dictum that if they aren't sure the serve is hidden, then they don't call it. And so players have learned to serve so contact is hidden, but not so blatantly that the umpire will call it. The part that's harder to figure out is why they don't call a serve that goes behind the head, which is so blatantly illegal - the ball must be visible to the receiver from the time it leaves the serving hand. But that's usually rationalized with the idea that even though the ball is (illegally) hidden, contact is all that counts, which of course isn't what the rules say. And once given that, players can then get away with hiding serve after serve.

Ironically many players who hide their serve don't do it nearly every time, like Ma Long does. Some pick and choose when to do so, usually doing it at key times. The reason is that if you hide it all the time, then opponents get used to it, and so focus on reading the ball as it travels through the air and bounces on the table. But if you let them see contact much of the time, then when you suddenly hide one, they miss it badly. Also, even players like Ma Long will use serves where contact is visible, such as his occasional backhand serve, because while these serves aren't as effective if used regularly, if used sparingly the variation is effective since it takes time to adjust to any good serve.

Note that a good hidden serve isn't one where all one does is hide contact. The top players who hide their serve not only hide contact, but they try to fake a different spin. For example, they may serve sidespin or no-spin, with contact hidden, then follow through vigorously down to fake backspin. A good hidden serve looks like one type of spin from what the racket is doing before and after contact, but does something different at contact.

How did we get to this situation where top players regularly hide the serve and get away with it? The "short" answer is this.

When the hidden serve ban first came about in 2002, it was mostly enforced and most players stopped hiding their serves. Then, a few top players discovered that if they did borderline serves in a way that the umpire wasn't sure whether it was hidden or not, most umpires wouldn't call it, though a few did. I believe Wang Hao was one of the first big stars to hide his serve consistently and get away with it. Umpires didn't want to be the "bad guy" and call such serves when they weren't sure if they were actually hidden, even though the rules say they should - it's human nature to want to be sure before calling such serves. It started with a just a few players. But when umpires didn't call them for it, others started to do it. Since other umpires weren't calling them, and with the argument of being consistent with other umpires, they didn't call them either, and pretty soon it became commonplace.

So players found ways to hid contact where the umpire wasn't sure. Some would get called for hiding it with their body, shoulder, or arm, but then the Chinese discovered that throwing it behind their head was more subtle and less likely to be called. I believe it was in the early 2010's that this type of serve started to came out. It was in 2012 (the Olympic year) that I first noted the emergence of this style of serve. Several U.S. players who trained in China before 2012 copied the serve and told me that an entire generation of players were now using it there. In contrast, some note how USA's Wang Chen has been faulted a number of times for her hidden serves, but that's because she more openly hides it with her arm rather than develop these more subtle methods. Some still hide the ball with the arm, shoulder, or body, but more and more the behind-the-head method is dominating. 

Note that another reason umpires are hesitant to call such serves is because, as shown in this very discussion here, many spectators are fooled by the server into thinking the serve is not hidden, or at least contact is not hidden, and so object to them being faulted. Umpires, being human, realize this and so are less likely to call such seemingly borderline serves. 

The saddest part of all this is that coaches at some point have to give up-and-coming kids (and often their parents), "the talk," where they explain that many of their kid's opponents are going to hide their serve, and so if he wants to compete on an even level, he has to as well. Or he can train and train and lose to weaker players who do. Yes, an inconvenient truth until ITTF or someone solves the problem.

A few years ago I made a proposal on this, the Net Visibility Rule. I sent it to the ITTF Athletes Commission (then chaired by Samsonov), but alas, nothing has come of it. (They are looking into it, but Samsonov said they are facing bureacracy - and he's no longer chair. Saive is the new chair, but I haven't contacted him.)  I've also tried to get the USATT board of directors to take action, first by asking our umpires and referees to enforce the rule, and then by sending a letter to the ITTF asking them to prioritize this issue. The first attempt lost 1-6-1 (I was the only one in favor) as they didn't want to penalize our players. The second was also rejected as they thought my proposed letter would insult umpires by insinuating they weren't enforcing the rules, and so set up a three-person commission to rewrite it. That was on June 20, exactly two months ago, and we haven't heard back from the yet.  

MDTTC August Open
Here's the write-up, photos, and video from the tournament I ran this past weekend! It had a powerful draw, with seven players over 2550, eight over 2500. The Open final was Sharon Alguetti over brother Gal Alquetti. 

Bulgarian Open
Here's the home page for the Bulgarian Open, which finished yesterday, with complete results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's an interview  (2:05) with Liam Pitchford, who upset Ma Long at the tournament. Here's video of the match (13:43), with time between points taken out. Here's the ITTF article.

Liam Pitchford Beats Ma Long
Here's the article by Eli Baraty, where he analyzes the match.

Bty Training Tips: Jinxin Wang – Backhand Loop in Tournament Play
Here's the article and video (2:27).

New from Samson Dubina

New from EmRatThich

Our Biggest Mistake: Talent Selection Instead of Talent Identification
Here's the article from Changing the Game Project.

Can Engineers Play Table Tennis?
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Tomokazu Harimoto Talks about Tenergy
I usually avoid equipment articles here, as I have a conflict in interest - I'm sponsored by Butterfly - but these seemed interesting about the equipment of the 15-year-old Japanese whiz kid, #6 in the world. (I use Tenergy 05 on forehand, Tenergy 25 on backhand.) Here are the four articles.

USATT Insider
Here's the issue from last week.

National Collegiate College Newsletter
Here's the August issue.

ITTF Executive Committee Concludes Mid-Year Meeting in Prague
Here's the ITTF article.

ITTF Announces Record Number of Challenge Series Events for 2019
Here's the ITTF article.

WAB Club Feature: PowerStroke Table Tennis Club
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins on this club in Saint Augustine, Florida.

Colorado Springs' Olympic City Title Could Be Threatened
Here's the article by Han Xiao, former long-time U.S. Men's Team member, 4-time U.S. Men's Doubles Champion, and one-time U.S. Men's Singles Finalist.

Ma Long Training with Chinese Team Member Lin Gaoyuan
Here's the video (7:07), from Arnaud Scheen.

Tomokazu Harimoto - Service Training at the Korea Open
Here's the video (3:23) of the 15-year-old whiz kid from Japan, now #6 in the world.

Why Anyone Can Take Up Table Tennis
Here's the video (2:16) from the BBC.

Table Tennis Prodigy Estee Ackerman
Here's the video (1:36) from Fox 5 News. "Don't let her smile fool you. Estee Ackerman is a self-proclaimed pingpong prodigy. She has been playing for more than half her life." Esteen and I are both normally sponge players, but we won Hardbat Mixed Doubles at the Nationals last year!

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - July 2018
Here's the video (14:53).

Great Point Between Vladimir Samsonov and Quentin Robinot
Here's the video (34 sec). Former world #1 Samsonov of Belarus is down to #54 in the world, but was #8 last year. Robinot of France is world #96, was #65 last year.

Two Little Kids, Great Point
Here's the video (13 sec).

Playing Ping-Pong Across the Border
Here's the article from the Korea Herald, which features Hyun Jung-hwa. "Decades later, South Koreans still remember shedding silent tears as they watched a South Korean table tennis player stroke her North Korean teammate’s face before pulling her into a gentle hug -- right before the disbandment of the first inter-Korean sports team in history."

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 13
Here’s chapter 13 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. This chapter covers "Tournaments Abroad." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Water Pong
Here's the video (28 sec)!

Raining Ping-Pong Balls
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

New Minions Playing Table Tennis Video
Minions playing table tennis with lots of volleying (15 sec)! I've posted links to past videos and pictures. Below is my current lost, including this one.

Non-Table Tennis - New Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories Published
I have three new stories out!  My story "The Plaything on the Tesseract Wall" is in the new issue of Analog Science Fiction. My story "Satan's Soul" is out in Galaxy's Edge. And my story "An American Christian at the Pearly Gates" is out in Alternative Theologies: Parables for a Modern World, a new anthology that satirizes bad religion. Meanwhile, I've started a new science fiction novel, but am still mostly in the research and planning stage. Here's my science fiction & fantasy page, which includes my blog and bibliography. I plan to put up a new blog entry there today or tomorrow.

***
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August 14, 2018

Tip of the Week
Make Up-and-Coming Players Your Rivals - and Stay With Them!

USATT Board Teleconference
The teleconference started at 7PM and went until about 8:20 or so. (I'm on the USATT board of directors.) Ignoring formalities, there were three main segments.

1) USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio gave a High Performance Update, which mostly covered recent USATT training camps and ranking tournaments. As I've noted before, the level and depth of play among our up-and-coming juniors is easily the best in modern history, i.e. since the hardbat era. (My club is helping - we had three of the four semifinalists in Under 10 Boys at the recent USA Nationals, and two of them - including the winner - is off today for two weeks training and competing in France, which finishes with the European Mini-Championships, Aug. 24-26. Here's the info page, but alas, it's in French.)

2) A long discussion of our upcoming in-person meeting in Colorado Springs, Sept. 21-23, where went over logistics and the agenda. Major topics that will be included:

  • Strategic Planning process. We will be having a Strategic Planning Meeting in November where we will be developing the USATT Strategic Plan, with assistance from USOC. Some of the issues discussed included USOC Presentation; Identifying Potential Panning Group Members; Plan to Survey Membership; and Potential Dates.
  • Needed bylaws to cover NGB compliance with USOC/SafeSport/USADA requirements
  • Staffing and Organizational Structure
  • USATT Event Discussion
  • ITTF North America
  • Strategic Direction of USATT
  • 2018-2019 USATT Elections
  • 2019 Committees
  • Financial Update
  • Fundraising
  • Insurance Coverage Review
  • Code of Conduct for USATT Membership

3) A roughly 30-minute closed session, where we discussed various personnel and disciplinary issues that I can't go into. But I can't believe what that duck did!!!

MDTTC August Open
This weekend I'll be running the 3-star $2700 Butterfly MDTTC August Open in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Here's the info page, where you can enter and pay online. (Entering online is really easy with Omnipong!) Events include Open, U2400, U2200, U2000, U1900, U1600, U1300, U1000, Over 50, Under 15, and Under 12. Deadline to enter is 7PM this Friday. We usually get around 90 players. The draw is looking pretty strong - with three days to go we have six players in the Open over 2550! (We'd have even more 2500+ players but several locals are out of town.) The top six seeds currently are:

  1. 2673 Alguetti, Sharon
  2. 2650 Liang, Jishan
  3. 2593 Chen, Bo Wen
  4. 2564 Ventura Dos Anj, Bruno
  5. 2562 Alguetti, Gal
  6. 2555 Alguetti, Adar

Shoulder Problems and Writing
It's official - for the foreseeable future, I'm retired from private coaching, though I'll continue with group sessions. I tried out my shoulder a few days ago, and while the muscles are looser, the main underlying problem - the frayed rotator cuff - hasn't gotten better. The doctor had said that it would take anywhere from six months to two years to heal. We elected not to go with surgery and let it heal naturally, but it hasn't worked out yet. Here are some of the problems I face. I can't reach in for any short balls, forehand or backhand. I can't extend my arm to reach for shots to my wide forehand. I can't follow through on backhand loops, even in demos, except very slowly, in slow motion, where I use my non-playing arm to guide the arm through the motion. I can't smash except at about 50% power. Surprisingly, I can forehand loop almost okay.

However, I can still feed multiball and of course do regular "walk around" coaching. I can also do basic demos. I'm actually supposed to do an exhibition in two weeks and I think I can do that, as long as I'm careful.

This does mean I'll be able to focus more on writing. While I do both table tennis and science fiction/fantasy writing, my writing focus right now is on the SF/fantasy side. In fact, I have a new short story that just came out today in Alternate Theologies, which is an anthology of stories that satirize bad religion. My story is "An American Christian at the Pearly Gates," which hypothesizes what happens when a hypocritical American Christian meets Saint Peter. I also have a story coming out next week in Analog Magazine! (They are the biggest science fiction magazine in the world, at least in English.)

I'm currently deep into research and some writing of a new science fiction novel, which hypothesizes that the minds of the first ten U.S. Presidents - Washington to John Tyler - have been living in an alien computer in virtual reality that appears to them to be Mount Vernon - but after a lawsuit, the aliens are forced to recreate their bodies and return them back to modern-day Earth. The U.S. is falling apart due to political battles, and the current vice president wonders, "Who can save us?" And then, up the steps of the U.S. Capitol walk the first ten U.S. presidents! They are soon involved in U.S. politics, leading to primaries and a general election that will involve (most likely) three of them - Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson - facing off against each other and other modern politicians as they run for president, each backed by some of the other past presidents. (Don't worry, I've resolved the problem with the Second Amendment, since all three of them already had two terms.) But much of the story is told from the point of view of Tyler, and the novel, while covering these past presidents clashing in modern politics, is really about the redemption of Tyler, regarded as a poor president. I will do my best to get some table tennis into the story!

Spin to Win - Short film about the Maryland Table Tennis Center
Here's the video (2:36) that features my club.

The Tables
Here's the video (15:03) of this award-winning table tennis video. Wally Green is one of the featured players. "A look at the powerful connection between a pair of outdoor ping pong tables in the heart of New York City and the unlikely group of people they’ve brought together, from homeless people to investment bankers to gangbangers."

Nigeria Open
Quadri Aruna and Guo Yan win! Here's the info page (with results) and news page.

US Table Tennis Hall of Famer Valleri Bellini Passes
Here's the USATT obit.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Bitzigeio Takes Long Range View of Current USA Success
Here's the article by Richard Finn on USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio. 

AMICUS Training Tips Series
Here are two articles and videos by German coach Richard Prause.

New from EmRatThich

Embracing Routine Shots
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Table Tennis When You're Aged 17-21 Years
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Ping Pong Problems: 7 Common Table Tennis Mistakes
Here's the article from Go Sports Reviews.

Wenting Zha - Wide Angle Serve
Here's the article and video (2:12) from Brian Pace and Butterfly.

Multiball Footwork Drills
Here's the article and video (2:23) from Brian Pace and Butterfly, featuring Coach Li of NYITTC.

Reaching USATT Rating 2000 in Under 2 Years
Here's the video (7:41) showing the steady improvement as Tony Ma made the rather rapid journey to 2000. Here's discussion of the video at mytabletennis.com.

Harimoto Discussion
Here's the video (8:46) from Samson Dubina.

Koki Niwa - Service Technique
Here's the video (57 sec).

Spin Serve Fun and Games
Here's the video (6 sec) - This is the type of serving practice that leads to great spin and control of your serves, while keeping it fun. 

Training With Marcos Freitas and Chuang Chih-Yuan
Here's the video (10:03) from Arnaud Scheen.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - 2018 Korea Open
Here's the video (5:44).

Ask a Pro Anything
Here are two new ones from the ITTF and Adam Bobrow.

Emily Tan Makes World Hopes Team for Cadet Challenge
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

WAB Club Feature: PongPlanet
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins on this club in San Carlos, CA.

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 12
Here’s chapter 12 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Chapter 12 covers " January-March 1995 Tournaments." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Rolling Pong
Here's the video (12 sec) as Adam Bobrow shows that table tennis really isn't that different from bowling with this around-and-under-the-net rolling ball.

Desk Pong
Here's the video (16 sec) - This is how you develop your game in the classroom!

Best of Pongfinity
Here's the video (2:45)!

Cartoon Table Tennis
Here's the page, which includes a number that I've linked to before, and some I've never seen before.

***
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August 13, 2018

I'm postponing the blog one day so I can include coverage of the USATT Teleconference scheduled for Monday night at 7PM. See you tomorrow!

August 6, 2018

Tip of the Week
Training the Subconscious.

Top Ten Surprising Thing About Top Table Tennis Players
Top table tennis players can often seem a different species than the rest of us. After all, they have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Here are ten things about top players that might surprise you.

  1. Away from the table they aren't that much different from other people. Really! It's only when they are training, and how intense they often are during training, that sets them apart. Bother them while they are training and you might get a slightly irritated "What do you want?" look. So wait until they are off the table and you'll find them 100% normal. Or at least close!
  2. They get their touch on short balls not by just hitting the ball lightly, but by grazing the ball. The grazing motion not only puts backspin on the ball, but makes the ball bounce off the racket more slowly, making it easy to drop the ball short.
  3. Their favorite serve is often no-spin! More specifically, half-long no-spin (so second bounce, given the chance, would be near the end-line), very low to the net, where they fake putting spin on the ball, usually backspin. This serve, when used in contrast to spin serves, is highly effective as it doesn't give the receiver any spin to use against you. They are harder to drop short and low or push heavy against than backspin serves, and harder to flip than sidespin or topspin serves. (But a big key here is keeping it low.) The first time someone told me that the no-spin serve was a favorite of many top players I thought he was crazy. But it's true.
  4. Often the biggest challenge a top player has is finding someone near their level to train with. Yep, getting good has its challenges.
  5. Most of them started when they were very young. It's very difficult to become a top player otherwise.
  6. When no one's around you'll often find them practicing their serves. Why? Because they have a drive to be great, and that includes "boring" serve practice.
  7. At tournaments they usually arrange in advance who they will practice with and at what times, who their coach will be, what they will eat, and so on.
  8. Top players are often besieged by much weaker players who want to play them. Don't be one of those besiegers. But when you do play a top player in practice, if you are willing to let them spot you points, it'll be more of a challenge and therefore more interesting to them.
  9. Not all top players are top coaches, but they all are good at teaching something. Pick their brains every chance you can!
  10. If you are looking for a good coach, ask a top player. They generally know who the really good coaches are.

Table Tennis News
Here are some you should be browsing daily.

Lifetime Achievement Award
On Thursday, July 5, at the USATT Hall of Fame Banquet during the U.S. Nationals, I was honored to be awarded this year's USATT Lifetime Achievement Award. (Five others were inducted into the Hall that night - I was inducted in 2003.) Here's the video (21:29). It starts with a pre-taped video from 2-time Olympian Todd Sweeris. At 4:24, 5-time U.S. Men's Champion Dan Seemiller gives his introduction to me. At 7:00 I give my acceptance speech. Here are some photos that they played on the viewing screen.

Capital Area Table Tennis League
You can now sign up for the fall season! This is for players in the Washington DC area - DC, Maryland, Virginia, and surrounding states. Here's the great promotional video (82 sec) put together by Pongmobile. Last season we had 17 teams and 84 players. Come join us!

ITTF Strategic Plan, 2018-2024
Here it is!

2018 Asia-Europe All Star Challenge
Here's the home page with news stories. Asia won 7-3.

Tom's Table Tennis Tips
Here's the latest newsletter from Tom Lodziak, with links to lots of tips.

Tom Lodziak's Blog
Here are his two latest entries.

Inside-Out Backhand Flick (Strawberry)
Here's the article from Eli Baraty.

Weekly Blog from Coach Jon
Here's his blog page, with entries every Thursday.

Radical Service Rule Suggestion
Here's the podcast (38:47) from Pingskills. Segments include:

  • Joke of the Week - What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?
  • On This Week - Maharu Yoshimura is having a birthday.
  • Winner of the Harimoto Competition
  • Tournament Wrap
  • Tip and Drill of the Week
  • Big Serve Rule Change
  • What is a Set?
  • Golden Point
  • Loose Grip

Legends Tour Videos

Han Xiao Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee
Here's the video (2:13:30). "Officials with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Gymnastics (USAG) and Michigan State University (MSU) testified before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on changes the institutions have made to protect amateur athletes from abuse." Han, a long-time U.S. National Team Member and four-time U.S. Men's Doubles Champion, is the USOC Athletes' Advisory Council Chair. He gives testimony from 42:33 to 48:33, and shorter segments at 1:36:50 and 2:09:21.

Melton Table Tennis Newsletter
Here's the latest newsletter from this Australian TTC, with lots of interesting articles. One thing - in the article on page 6 about table tennis on the moon (!), it says gravity there is 1/70th what we have on earth, but that's not right - it's about 1/6. (Here are their archives for previous newsletters.) Regarding table tennis on the moon, here's my October 24, 2012 blog on playing table tennis on the moon and other planets.

Most Round the Table Players Ever!
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Note that each table has a group of players, circling the table as they keep the ball in play - 1252 players in all!

Ping-Pong Battle in the London Underground
Here's the video (62 sec). "These guys play an epic tongue ping-pong battle in the London underground."

I'm Pinging in the Rain!
Here's the video (11 sec)! Make sure to have "I'm Singing in the Rain" in your head as you view it.

***
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August 1, 2018

Blog is Now a Weekly
I have sad news. After 7.5 years of almost daily blogging (1800+ blogs), and much contemplation, I've decided to switch to once a week (probably Mondays), effective immediately. The reason is simple - while I'm still very active in table tennis, I'm also getting more and more involved with my science fiction writing. After doing the blog each morning, it's very hard to continue right into my SF writing - there's only so much mental energy in a day, especially when I often have to go straight from that to coaching at night. So I'll be focusing my writing on science fiction, both short stories and novels. (I just started a new novel.)

Another reason is harder to explain to non-fiction writers, but I'll try. When I write science fiction, especially novels that take many months to complete, I have to get completely immersed in it. Even little distractions take my mind off it, and then I'm done for the day as far as SF writing. So I'm trying to remove as many such distractions as possible. If I don't do this, I won't write SF nearly as much or as well, and someday I'll look back and regret it. 

So I'll be blogging now every MONDAY morning, along with a Tip of the Week. I'm not 100% set on Mondays; I'm toying with doing it on Fridays instead. If anyone has any suggestions on the best day for this, comment below.

My private coaching is currently on hold due to my ongoing shoulder problems, and I don't know if I'll start that up again. I will continue with group sessions. As readers know, I've had shoulder problems all year, and after lots and lots of physical therapy, mostly to loosen the muscles around the actual injury, I now have looser (though still tight) muscles, but the shoulder still isn't healed - many movements are still painful. Doctors say this type of injury can take anywhere from six months to two years to completely heal. Their main focus has been on loosening the muscles that were pulling on it, though it's still not 100% certain what the specific problem is, though it's likely the slightly shredded rotator cuff, along with tendinitis and bursitis.

As to my science fiction writing, in September I have a short story coming out in Analog, the largest circulation science fiction magazine in the English language (I think there's one in Chinese that's larger), and a number of others. Mike Resnick, the editor of Galaxy's Edge Magazine (one of the big "pro" magazines that's bought 14 of my short stories) and who as a writer holds the record of 37 Hugo and Nebula award nominations (the annual SF awards), wrote to me recently saying, "Don't let this go to your head...but you're too good -not- to make a living as a [SF] writer." When I told him I was now working on a new SF novel, he wrote, "OK, you get to live."

My SF writing career has been taking off - I now have four novels and 92 short stories sold. Here's my bibliography.

Where should you go for your regular table tennis news, including coaching? Here is a selection of pages that have regular news items that often focus on coaching.

And here's the Ping-Pong Kid (3:03) - Nick Rudd - doing ping-pong tricks!

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July 17, 2018

Table Tennis Coaching Back Up Again - Sort Of
As you probably noticed, the site has been down since Friday morning, July 13. It literally went down minutes before I posted my Friday blog, which I wasn't able to post. My technical person wasn't able to resolve the issue until last night. What had happened was the "Access Log" went over 1 GB, causing an "overload of MySQL resources."

Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen side problem, the site almost immediately went down again. Hopefully it'll be up soon. Below is the Monday blog, where I took the Friday blog and added lots of new stuff. I was planning on blogs on Fri, Mon, Tue, and Wed (mostly covering the Nationals), but couldn't do them since the site was down. 

Last Blog Until August 1
Now the really bad news. I was out of town recently for 3.5 weeks (World Veterans and Nationals), and Thursday I'm going out of town again! I'll be away July 19-29, and so won't be blogging during that time. (I'm off to my annual science fiction writing workshop vacation in Manchester, NH.) After this I hopefully won't be missing any more days for a while.

Tip of the Week
Follow Through Back Into Position After Forehand Looping.

$10,000 Jim Butler - A.J. Carney Hardbat Challenge
Here's the video (91 min) of this challenge match that took place at the U.S. Nationals, on Saturday, July 7 at 1:30PM, with Adam Bobrow commentating. I'm sitting next to him, and occasionally comment to him. Initially the match was to be on one of the feature stadium tables, but with the tournament almost over tables were being taken down and moved into trucks, and the opening for the trucks meant that one side was looking into a glare. So they moved to another table. At 10:40 you can see the $10,000 cash. The match itself starts about 11 minutes in.

The challenge was initiated by A.J., and agreed to by Jim. The deal - best of seven to 21 - yes, you read that right! - with each putting up $5000 in cash. A.J. has dominated the U.S. hardbat world the last few years, while Jim dominated it for a number of years before that.

SPOILER ALERT! - Jim wins the match, 4-2: 15,-16,7,11,-15,19. There were two key turning points.

  • Jim goes up 3-1 in games, winning the last two games at 7 and 11, and is up 15-9 in the fifth, seemingly coasting toward an easy 4-1 win. They are having great points, with A.J. both counter-hitting and chopping, but with Jim winning most of the long points. But incredibly, A.J. scores 12 in a row (!) to win 21-15! Jim quite visibly was tired during this run - if A.J. can turn it into a physical fitness contest, he can win.
  • Jim is up 13-9 in the sixth, then he's down 14-15 - again, looking physical tired - and then is up 20-16 match point - yeah, lots of back and forth runs of points this match. A.J. scores three in a row before losing the final game, 21-19.

Here's my assessment of the two players. (Disclosure - A.J. and I are defending Hardbat Doubles Champions from the U.S. Open in December.)

JIM BUTLER

  • Overall: He has very good serves that allow him to take control of the point, with the ball tossed behind his head like many world-class players, but hidden serves are rarely called these days. (To see this, watch the serve when Jim's on the far side of the table. Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, and others do the same thing.) He comes at you from both wings with relentless drives, rarely missing, with an occasional backhand smash. He almost never backs up or chops. Except when he tires, it's simply hard to find a way to score against his relentless consistency.
  • Strengths: Great serves, rarely misses except when tired, keeps coming at you from both wings with strong drives, the threat of the big backhand, experienced and cool under pressure.
  • Weaknesses: Lack of forehand finishing shot, not as dominant on backhand as expected, and at key times toward the end had stamina problems.

A.J. CARNEY

  • Overall: Equally comfortable countering or attacking, or chopping.
  • Strengths: All-around play, very physical, great footwork, and sometimes able to run off strings of points in a row.
  • Weaknesses: No real weaknesses, though like Jim often focuses on consistency and so doesn't end the point as well as he could with smashes - I thought he should have smashed more on the forehand side. Doesn't have a specific overwhelming strength (except perhaps his fast footwork), other than ability to do EVERYTHING well.

Thursday's Links
Last Thursday (July 12) was my first blog after being out of town for 3.5 weeks, and it was loaded with links to blogs and articles by some of our regular table tennis writers and videographers, including Samson Dubina, Tom Lodziak, Eli Baraty, Jon Gustavson, Shashin Shodhan, Emratthich, and PingSkills. Why not browse over some of the ones you didn't get to yet?

Maryland Table Tennis Center Featured!
Here are three new articles or videos that feature my club, MDTTC, or its players!

  • Spin to Win about MDTTC
    Here's the new video (2:56) featuring MDTTC! (One small mistake - 15 sec in it has me as "Coach and Owner." I sold my share many years ago, and have asked them to change this to "Coach and Co-Founder.")
  • Melton Table Tennis Newsletter Features MDTTC
    Here's the new July issue from this Australia club. They visited MDTTC recently and have a feature article on it on page 6, "Table Tennis American Style"! "Arriving at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on a Saturday night we met with Larry Hodges and watched some of the juniorsquad training, and I have to admit, I was very surprised by the depth of talent on display." (Here are their past issues.)
  • Don't Tell That to Mel
    Here's the article by Bill Draper that features 96-year-old Mel Ketchel - a regular player at MDTTC, World War 2 veteran, and with a PhD in Physiology, was a professor at Tufts.

Banana Flip
Here's the video (5:12) from PingSkills.

3 Tips to Improve Your Table Tennis Serve
Here's the video (4:15) from Eli Baraty.

Tuning Footwork from Backhand to Forehand
Here's the video (3:26). I think they mean "Turning."

Korea Open
Here's the ITTF home page for the event, July 19-22 in Daejeon, South Korea.

Pan Am Juniors and USATT News
The USA Junior Team won six of the seven gold medals! Here's the USATT news page, with lots of articles on this and other topics. Here's the ITTF Pan Am Juniors page, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Titles Defended, USA Triumph at Pan Am Junior Champs
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington on Team USA sweeping Girls' and Boys' Teams at the Pan Am Junior Championships. Here's the video (6:40) of them taking the podium. Here's the ITTF article, United States asserts authority, status justified. Singles and Doubles start next.

The Man Behind MH Table Tennis
Here's the video (9:39) featuring Matt Hetherington, who is also USATT's Media & Communications Director, and one of the hardest-working people in table tennis!

RIP: Dragutin Surbek
Here's the ITTF article, and another from the Croatia News. Reading this was sort of a "wow!" moment for me as Surbek was the first top international player I ever met - sort of. At the 1976 U.S. Open in Philadelphia, my first big tournament, I went out to lunch and sat at the counter at some diner. In walks the Yugoslavian stars, world #3 Surbek and Milivoj Karakasevic (father of future star Aleksandar). There were only two open seats - one on either side of me. So Surbek sits to my left, Milivoj to my right, and they spent the whole meal leaning back and talking to each other in one of the languages of Yugoslavia, while I sat frozen in awe. Surbek went on to win the tournament.

U.S. Nationals Ratings
They're up!

Comfortable with the Uncomfortable - Secret Table Tennis
Here's the article from Eli Baraty.

Jin Ueda's Backspin Touch is NEXT LEVEL!
Here's the video (17 sec). (Jin is world #26 from Japan.) Many players think that short pushes have little backspin, but world-class players put surprisingly amounts of backspin on the ball when they push short. It's that very grazing motion that creates the backspin that also gives them touch, since grazing the ball puts little forward motion on the ball, and that, along with the backspin, keep the ball short. 

Technique Tutorial - Backhand Topspin
Here's the video (6:02), in Chinese but the demos are good. 

Zhang Jike Forehand Topspin Loop
Here's the video (5:06).

Barrier-Blinding Footwork?
Here's the video (14 sec)! I presume the drill forces the player to react quickly to the incoming ball.

How Table Tennis Balls Are Made
Here's the video (8:25) showing how plastic balls are made.

Dhiren Narotam Profile
Here it is! Five new members of the USATT Hall of Fame were inducted at the Hall of Fame banquet during the U.S. Nationals. Each of them will eventually have their own Hall of Fame profile. Dhiren's was written by Paul Lewis, and is the first of the profiles not written by Tim Boggan.

Doru Gheorghe, Contribution Acknowledged, Inducted into United States Table Tennis Hall of Fame
Here's the ITTF article. Others inducted were Aili Elliott (Li Ai), Henan Li Ai, Dhiren Narotam, and Norman Bass Jr., plus the Lifetime Achievement Award to yours truly.

Minimising the Risk, Croatian Star to Focus Efforts on Recovery
Here's the ITTF article on the world #39, Andrej Gacina.

Mattias Karlsson | Ask a Pro Anything
Here's the video (6:21) by Adam Bobrow on the world #18 from Sweden.

Former Rock Publicist Took Up Table Tennis at 69, Now She's a Rising Star
Here's the article featuring Carol Klenfner.

Ian's 2020 Paralympic Journey
Here's the GoFundMe page for Ian Seidenfeld, who is trying to raise money to go to the 2020 Paralympics. Here's the start of his intro:

"Dear Friends and Family, I am honored to be a member of the U.S. Para Table Tennis Team with hopes of representing Team USA in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. Many of you have supported my table tennis endeavors over the past several years and I hope you will continue your support throughout the remainder of the Paralympic Quadrennium. 

"My Paralympic journey started well before I began playing table tennis. l was born with pseudo-achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism characterized by shortness of limbs and orthopedic issues related to bone and joint development. As a result, I encounter severe pain in my knees and hips. But at the same time, it is my physical disability that allows me to pursue my ultimate goal of going to the Paralympics."

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 8
Here’s chapter 8 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1993-1994. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Chapter 8 covers "1994 International Play." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Jason and Alex Piech at the Nationals
Here's the video (1:56)!

Water Pong
Here's the video (34 sec)!

Classroom Desk Pong
Here's the video (16 sec).

Hitler Reacts to ITTF's Game-Changing Announcement
Here's the video (4 min)!

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July 12, 2018

NOTE - Due to technical problems, the site went down Friday morning and didn't come back up until Monday night. (The problem was the "Access Log," which went over 1 GB, causing an "overload of MySQL resources.") Now that it's back I'll be blogging again on Tuesday morning.

Tip of the Week
Pinpoint Your Weakness and Then Pinpoint a Drill. (I linked to this yesterday in my short blog, but thought I'd link again for those who missed it.)

Three Weeks in Las Vegas
I could write a book about all that happened these past three weeks in Las Vegas - or does what happen in Vegas stay in Vegas? In my last blog before leaving, June 13, I wrote about my schedule, and it pretty much went as listed. I spent the first week writing 23 articles on the World Veterans - see segment and links below. Then I had a four-day reading/writing vacation. Then we had a three-day camp for MDTTC juniors where they did two sessions/day, about 2.5 hours each. And then a week of coaching at the U.S. Nationals. (See segment below with results.) I'll likely do several blogs on the various happenings, such as the Hall of Fame Banquet, the norovirus stomach virus outbreak (I spent the day before the Nationals sick in bed, along with many others) the USATT board meeting, discussions on national team selection process and hidden serve enforcement, the mini-table tournament, and the $10,000 Jim Butler-A.J. Carney hardbat challenge match.

Since this is primarily a coaching blog, I'll start with coaching highlights. We had 16 junior players from MDTTC at the Nationals, with seven coaches. Each night Wen Hsu from the HW Global Foundation (which runs the Talent Development Program at MDTTC - I'm one of their coaches - and raised the money to fund our coaches to the Nationals) posted our coaching schedule for the next day. I was primarily responsible for three players.

The key to great coaching at a tournament is players who are prepared!!! Coaching a match can seem like pushing buttons, but if you push the button for a short serve and get a long serve instead, you aren't going to be successful in your "coaching." Fortunately, the players were well prepared, both before arriving in Las Vegas and during the three-day camp. It's the player's responsibility to be prepared, and the coach's responsibility to make sure they are prepared and to know what the player can do - and if they work together, you get pretty good results. Coaches often get credit for tactical advice, but the players have to have developed the tools needed, and be able to execute them under great pressure. That ain't easy!

MDTTC has a history of starting out poorly at the Nationals and Open in Las Vegas, for a very simple reason - the kids would often fly 3000 miles the day before, and so were disoriented by the change in time zone (three hours earlier), thinner air (1000 feet elevation, which affects the ball in subtle ways), and different playing conditions (tables, balls, and background). The three-day camp solved this problem, and our players played really well right from the start. I coached over 40 matches during the tournament over five days. (None of our players played on the last day, Saturday.)

I had two coaching highlights on the first day. A kid I was coaching was down 0-2 in games and 8-10 match point to a player rated over 200 points higher. I called a timeout and said, "Serve fast no-spin to his middle. If it works, do it again." I knew the player could do this serve - he'd been practicing it. Sure enough, the opponent missed it - both times! The player did it again at 11-10 to win the game and went on to win the match. Perfect execution.

Later that same day I had another kid down 0-2 in games and at 9-all in the third, also against a player about 200 points higher. (I mistakenly told some he was also down 8-10 match point, but had the score mixed up.) Again I called a timeout, and again said the exact same words: "Serve fast no-spin to his middle. If it works, do it again." Once again it worked, the player deuced it, and went on to win in five! Perfect execution.

Later in the tournament I coached a pair of kids in one of the rating doubles events. They were up against a pair of elderly penhold hitters. They were down 1-2 in games and 4-9 in the third, but I didn't call a timeout yet. They scored three in a row to make it 7-9. Then, controversially, I called a timeout. Normally you don't call a timeout when your team has just won three in a row, but I had my reasons. They were about to serve, and I wanted to go over the serve with them. The kid serving had a tendency to serve deep, which he sometimes got away with here since the receiver couldn't loop. But the previous time he'd served the opponent had hit those serves. I told him to focus on doing a slow, spinny sidespin tomahawk serve, and with his back to the opponents, even had him shadow-practice it. Then he went out and did the serve. Perfect execution! Sure enough, the receiver pushed it about five feet to the side - twice in a row! They went on to win the match.

Several of the kids discovered the value of a simple short no-spin serve to the middle, while faking backspin. They do this in practice, but against players who they play regularly and so are used to it. Against new players, the balls were often popped up, pushed back weakly, or flipped erratically, and without any extreme angled returns (as is easier to do against serves to the forehand or backhand). They were able to serve and attack over and over off this serve, especially by mixing the no-spins up with backspin and sidespin serves, and sudden deep serves, and by varying the placement.

We had some great results at the tournament. Our best result was in Under 10 Boys, where Stanley Hsu came in first, with Mu Du and Andy Wu both making the semifinals - we had three of the four semifinalists. They had come in seeded #1, #3, and #4. All three had great tournaments, both results- and rating-wise, and if others don't also go up, will likely come out as #1-3 in the country. (However, the #2 seed will likely go up as well.)

I also ran the USATT Coaching University Serve & Receive Tactics Seminar on Tuesday night. The lecture & demos went 90 minutes, then I stayed another 30 minutes working individually with players who stayed late to practice. I went pretty much by the topics listed on the flyer. One change - the flyer has "Long Serves" and "Short Serve," which I changed to "Long, Short, and Half-Long Serves."  

During my three-week trip I read nine books (often in the hot tub at night and in bed afterwards), wrote three new short science fiction stories (during the four-day reading/writing vacation), and saw two movies ("The Incredibles 2" and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom").

USA Nationals
Here are the results! (Set dropdown menu at top to "2018 US Nationals.") The event was held in Las Vegas, July 2-7. Here are two feature news articles by Matt Hetherington.

World Veterans Championships
They were held in Las Vegas, June 18-24. I was there doing daily online news coverage and ended up writing 23 stories. Here are some links.

Pan Am Junior Championships
Here's their home page, with results, etc. The USA Boys' Team is in the final against Argentina, the USA Girls' Team in the final against Canada.

USATT News
Here's their news page - lots of stuff was posted during my 3.5 week hiatus. Most recent news items are on the Pan Am Junior Championships.

Focusing Forward, Top Coaches Meet with High Performance in Mind
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. Alas, I had to miss this meeting as it was inadvertently scheduled at the same time as my Serve and Receive Tactics Seminar (which had 33 players).

New from Samson Dubina

New from Tom Lodziak

New from Eli Baraty

New from Coach Jon

New from Fremont Table Tennis (Shashin Shodhan)

New from EmRatThich

New from PingSkills

Tom's Table Tennis Tips
Here's the most recent newsletter from Tom Lodziak.

What Should You Eat To Improve Performance In Table Tennis?
Here's the article from Ping That Pong.

Butterfly Amicus Prime Table Tennis Robot
Here's the article by Larry Thoman. (Disclosure: I'm sponsored by Butterfly.)

How Table Tennis Rubber is Made
Here's the video (3:34).

Maria Sharapova Tries Her Hand at Table Tennis After Wimbledon Exit
Here's the article from India Today.

Juggling Pong
Here's the video (2:24)!

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