Blogs

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.
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!

October 13, 2011

My books

It has come to my attention that some of you have not yet bought copies of my books. Buy a copy of my book today or I will choke this coach to death.

The hard-soft drill

One of the best drills for developing a forehand or backhand smash is the hard-soft drill. (It really should be called the hard-medium drill, but that doesn't have quite the same ring.) On the backhand side, you just go backhand to backhand, with one player playing steady, and the other alternating between an aggressive ("medium") drive and a smash or near-smash ("hard"). You do the same on the forehand side. This leads to much longer and more consistent rallies than if one player just smashes every ball, plus the attacking player learns to hit at different paces. It's also a great control drill for the steady player, who learns to react to the different paces rather than just stick his racket out and blocking the same ball over and over. Note that you can also do this drill for looping.

The backhand loop in front of the body

Why is the backhand loop taken mostly in front of the body instead of to the side? I theory, you might be able to get more power if you turn sideways and took the ball off to the side and rotated into the ball, like on the forehand side, as players do in tennis. There are players who seemed to experiment with this technique, such as the Mazunov brothers from Russia and Grubba of Poland, but while they sometimes took it from the side, their primary backhand loops were also mostly in front of the body.

There are four reasons for this.  First, unlike tennis, you often have only a split second to react to the incoming ball. If you try to take the ball from the side on both the forehand and backhand, you simply won't have time for both. Since the forehand is naturally from the side, that leaves the backhand to be taken in front.

Second, if you took both the forehand and backhand from the side, that gaping hole in the middle would be the size of Texas. Opponents would attack the middle and you'd have great difficulty covering it.

Third, by taking the ball in the middle, it allows you to use the power from the waist and upper body as you uncoil up during the stroke. I don't know if this allows you as much more power than the torque from rotating the body, but it does give great power.

And fourth, because everyone else does it this way, and so new players copy them or are taught to do it that way. Who knows, perhaps someday someone will change table tennis by learning to backhand loop with great power from the side, overcoming the problems listed above, and revolutionize table tennis. Or perhaps not.

Receiving long serves with backhand

Here's an 18 second video that shows how to return a long serve with the backhand.

Victor Barna 1933

Here's vintage 1933 footage and narration of Victor Barna, five-time men's singles world champion, including a discussion and explanation of his technique.

Amy Lee plays table tennis

Here's an article that talks about the table tennis of Amy Lee, lead vocalist for the rock band Evanescence.

Steve Colbert on Beer Pong

Yes, here's Colbert on beer pong (4:19), including lines like, "Beer pong gives you herpes. Hell, ping pong gives you crabs." I have no idea what that last part means. The beer pong bit starts about 30 seconds in.

Non-Table Tennis

My fantasy story "Mirror My Love" is the feature flash story for this week at Quantum Muse. (Here is my science fiction & fantasy page.)

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October 12, 2011

The most under-used serves

Do you see a pattern?

  • The most under-used short serve: no-spin to the middle. This cuts off the wide angles, is difficult to push heavy or push short, and if served low (very important), is tricky to flip aggressively. The opponent has to make a split-second decision on whether to return it forehand or backhand, which is sometimes awkward even against a slow, short serve. It is especially effective if mixed in with backspin serves. Ideally serve so the second bounce, if given the chance, would bounce just short of the end-line.
  • The most under-used deep serve: fast no-spin to the middle (opponent's elbow). This is the receiver's transition point, and if you serve fast there, he has little time to react. By serving a dead ball - actually a light backspin so it's dead when it reaches the receiver after two bounces - the opponent has to generate his own power while rushing. Result? Mistakes galore. If used two or three times a game, this is a free point about half the time against players rated under 2000, and it can be pretty effective against stronger players as well. It's best used against someone who receives both forehand or backhand. Don't use it too often against a forehand player who is looking to loop the serve - against this player serve fast to the corners.

Doing the journey and heavy backspin

Once again while coaching yesterday "doing the journey" was one of the most interesting things for new players learning to serve with sidespin. What is "doing the journey"? For a righty, you place a box or other target on the far right corner of the table. (Where a righty opponent's backhand would be.) You have your player stand by his forehand court on the right. Then he serves a forehand pendulum serve so it bounces on his backhand court (on the left), goes over the net and bounces on the far left court, then curves to the right and hits or goes into the box. After his lesson was done, one kid spent roughly forever practicing this. (He made several, had lots of close calls.)

Another good exercise is to practice serving backspin so the ball comes back into the net. When first learning to do this, it helps to serve high. As you get better and better you can serve it lower and lower. One key thing to remember is that this is practice in learning to put backspin on the ball. In a real game, the "ideal" backspin serve would drive out a bit more, so that (if given the chance) the second bounce would be near the end-line, and that it would then bounce off. But it's great fun to serve slow, heavy backspin, and watch the ball practically slam backwards into the net!

European Championships

The European Championships (Oct. 8-16) are taking place, and you can watch it live! (Well, you can watch it live while play is actually going on.)

Lots of videos

Here's a whole bunch of videos I saw posted somewhere a while back. Take a look - lots of good stuff!

"Green" ping-pong

The new Spin Galactic paddles - translucent green! (And you thought this was going to be something about Kermit the frog, who, in case you didn't know, has eyes made from ping-pong ball halves - see second sentence.)

Marty Reisman Music Video

Yes, a Marty Reisman Music Video! Okay, it's actually the music video for “Superpowers” by Anthony Cruz featuring Julian Diaz. Marty shows up at 2:44 in this 4:45 video, and stays around for 36 seconds. (What, you don't know who Marty Reisman is? Shame on you! He's the one in the white hat.)

The first sponge - Hiroji Satoh in 1952

And while we're on the subject of Marty Reisman, here's vintage footage and narration by Marty and others on the first sponge player - Hiroji Satoh at the 1952 Worlds (4:01).

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October 11, 2011

How's your backhand?

You need to dominate with your backhand as well as your forehand, and you can't do that unless you have a (drum roll please) dominating backhand. There are basically five ways you can do this. Which are you? Or which are you striving for? You can - and should - be able to threaten your opponent with more than one of these.

  • Backhand block, where you take every ball quick off the bounce and hit at wide angles and to the opponent's middle, rushing him into mistakes. You can do this either as a "wall" who tries to never miss, or as a more aggress "jab-blocker." This requires fast reflexes. 
  • Backhand counter-hitting, where you get into fast counter-hitting rallies and keep hitting hard and consistently until the opponent misses. This requires fast reflexes and timing.
  • Backhand hit and smash, where you mostly take the ball at the top of the bounce and hit most shots very hard, often threatening to kill every shot. This requires great timing.
  • Backhand loop from off the table, where you control play with heavy topspin from a few feet off the table. Some do this very aggressively, others with a slower, spinnier loop. This requires very good positional footwork, both side to side and in and out.
  • Backhand loop over the table, where you take the ball right off the bounce, over the table, with quick backhand loops that the opponent struggles to react to. This requires great timing.

Wang Liqin's forehand and recovery

You can watch this 9-second video of China's Wang Liqin - arguably the greatest player in history (see his Wikipedia entry) - either for the fun of it or to study his forehand technique. He's hitting it inside-out, so the ball has some sidespin breaking to the right. To me the most impressive part is his recovery - see how fast he's ready for the next shot if the ball comes back. This is where most player wannabes fail as they make a great shot, but are not ready for a follow-up. At the higher levels, you have to be able to do multiple power shots.

Throw angle

Throw angle is one of those lesser understood terms in table tennis, but is basically how high an angle the ball comes off the racket. Here's a good explanation.

Greatest backhand loop in history?

Jan-Ove Waldner says it's Jorg Roskopf's, and here's why. Includes a 7:44 video.

Real table tennis robots

A lab in Zhejiang University in China has designed robots that can rally in ping-pong, tracking the ball and stroking it back and forth. Here's a more extended article about it that doesn't have pictures.

Marty Reisman monologue

Here's Marty talking to the crowd before his Hardbat Doubles Open semifinal match at the 2004 USA Nationals (1:07). Hilarious.

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October 10, 2011

Tip of the Week

Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves.

Mikael Andersson at Lily Yip TTC

Asif Hussain emailed me about a clinic held last week at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey. With Asif's and Lily's permission, here are excerpts from his email.

Mikael Andersson, ITTF Director of Education and Training along with former Chinese National Team member and coach Zhen Yu San came to Lily Yip's club for a one-hour free coaching class.  I of course got caught in traffic and missed the first half hour so I'm not sure what happened in the first half.  When I got there, Mikael was wearing street shoes, jeans, and jacket and walking around the court with a microphone.  Tina Lin (2200) and Michele (13-year-old around 2000) were doing drills with Mikael directing the drills and providing his observations.  The rest of the club members stood around the court and took in his information.

The girls were doing a countering drill involving both FH and BH, then played a single game to 11.  For the game, Mikael added a point to a player's score in case she made an exceptionally good play (even if the ball missed as he wanted to reward/reinforce the idea of the right shot selection or good/smart play.)  He also deducted a point from a player's score if they made a poor choice (e.g., pushing a ball back that was deep enough to be looped.)  Some of his points:

  1. Coaches should encourage randomness in drills
  2. Far too many players, even at very high levels only attack cross court.  Need to attack to wide FH, wide BH, and most importantly into the body (elbow or pocket.)  If your previous attack was to wide FH, next attack should be to elbow or wide BH.  Don't attack to same location more than once.  Wide means that the ball should cross the opponent's sideline.
  3. Your attacks should land deep on the table or close to the sidelines (in case of wide attack.)  Loops that land short can be crushed or angle blocked easily.
  4. You need very active feet, always move to the ball even if its a very small step.
  5. Always think to attack a serve.  Attack any long serve, even if it is half long.
  6. Push short (backspin) balls right off the bounce.  Push either short so it can't be attacked or push fast and deep.  Any other type of push gets killed.
  7. Move in with your body/leg to push (don't stretch out your arm as you lose control over the ball), then immediately move back out.
  8. Vary your serves in terms of spin and placement.  Need loose wrist and racket speed.  Know what type of return is likely based on your serve and be ready for your 3rd ball accordingly.
  9. On returning serve, you should stand far enough back that when you stretch your arm, the tip of your racket should touch the edge of the table.  This allows you to handle deep serves and allows you to move in to handle short and half long serves (easier to move in to return serve vs. moving back.)
  10. When in ready position to return serve, racket should be pointed straight ahead (not towards your BH or FH) so that you can more quickly move it for either FH or BH return.

On serves to the short FH, he kept talking about technique to come in and push short using the FH.  I asked him about using a banana BH loop (flick) to return.  His response surprised me saying that he is not a fan of the BH banana loop.  After the coaching session I asked him privately about his response and my surprise as the Chinese (e.g., Zhang Jike, Ma Long, et. al.) are all using this technique very effectively. It turns out he had somewhat misunderstood my question.  A BH banana loop to him is when you loop with sidespin with an exaggerated banana shape/motion, which he said some European players use. The Chinese implementation of this technique requires a very strong core/upper body, forearm and wrist.  They tuck in their belly to create space, racket goes back towards this space with the elbow out/away from the body and the wrist is cocked back as much as possible such that top of racket is pointing towards their belly button.  They then uncoil over the ball, imparting mostly topspin and some sidespin.  You need to read location of the serve and very quickly move to the correct position to attempt this return.

Westchester Open in NY

I may write more about the tournament later. We left late on Sunday afternoon, while the tournament (and the Open) were still in full swing, so I don't have the main results. Here are some notes on things that came up while coaching.

  • When you have a lead, slow down, take your time, and protect that lead. Better still, expand on the lead. It's so easy to let up, and a 1% let up often leads to 100% loss. There are always going to be fluky points, so no matter how big the lead, a bunch of them can be lost to nets, edges, finger balls (kept happening this tournament!), etc. No lead is safe until you have made it safe by winning.
  • Especially at big tournaments, the background is very different on each side of the table, often with one side looking into a wall while the other is looking into the distance. So when you warm up, halfway through switch sides so you get used to both sides.
  • Want to start out playing well in your first match? Come early and warm up early and long, preferably with someone you are used to hitting with. I know this might sound hard to believe, but warming up actually gets you warmed up. And it worked for us - we were the first on the tables Sunday morning. Of course, this is no guarantee for success - nervousness or a hot opponent can overcome the best preparations. But you need to focus on the things you can control.

New "multiball" drills

I wrote in my October 5 blog about Cheng Yinghua's "Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill." I've now incorporated this type of drill into my coaching, with my own variations. For example, I may have the student/practice partner push the serve back, I loop, and they counterloop or block as I reach for the next ball. There are countless variations you can do rapid-fire, and they are very match-like. A side benefit is that they are great practice for the coach a well, who gets to start each drill off with a loop or some other shot.

Chinese domination of table tennis - good or bad?

Here's an article on whether Chinese domination of table tennis is good or bad for the sport, by Australian player, coach, and about.com table tennis guide Greg Letts.

Worn-out muscles on Friday

After coaching for 16 straight days, doing weight training three times a week, plus a number of training sessions on my own, my muscles finally hit the wall on Friday night. After losing two straight five-gamers to 2250 juniors who ran me all over the court, complete exhaustion set in. No, I didn't lose any more matches, but my next two matches, against lower-rated players, were sheer torture as the table corners seemed miles away, and the opponents took great glee in putting every ball to these distant corners. I finally got to "rest" this weekend while coaching at the Westchester Open, and hopefully the muscles will be ready for serious coaching later today, and that those table corners will have been moved back to five feet apart.

Do you know why table tennis is often called ping pong?

Here's a hilarious video that purportedly explains, well, see the title above (4:34).

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October 7, 2011

Practice game serve rule

Ever gone out and practiced your serves, but then, as soon as you go out to play a practice match, you find yourself holding back on the serves because you're afraid of missing them? And so after spending all that time practicing serving spinier, or lower, or faster, or some new tricky serve, as soon as the game starts you go back to your old serving patterns?

Try the "two-fault rule" in some of your practice matches. All this means is that you are allowed to miss two serves per game without losing a point. This allows you to really push the limit on your serves, and so you can incorporate what you practice into your practice games. After all, they are practice games, right?

Yesterday's coaching highlight

I was coaching a new kid (about eight) in I think his third lesson. He would hit about five in a row and then smack a wild one that would miss. I challenged him to hit fifty forehands in a row. He said no way. The more I encouraged him, the more he insisted it was impossible. Then I tried reverse psychology and told him there was no way he could get fifty. He agreed he couldn't. (Dang, that usually works up to age ten.) Finally, I pretty much got him, kicking and screaming, to try to get fifty. After getting about thirty on the first try (his eyes went wide), he got fifty on about the fifth try. Later he did fifty backhands in a row.

How I spent my Ping-Pongy Thursday
And note that I'm working hard on my table tennis game and fitness not for tournaments - though that might happen - but to be a better coach when I'm hitting one-on-one, and to make it easier to do so, since it's a physically demanding job. And lo and behold, after a few weeks of this, I'm playing perhaps the best I've played in a decade.

  • Half an hour writing my table tennis blog.
  • One hour watching videos of a player I'm coaching at the Westchester Open this weekend.
  • Two hours of actual table tennis practice - I'm getting back in shape!
  • Four hours of table tennis coaching.
  • Forty-five minutes of weight training.
  • Ten-minute run around the neighborhood.
  • Five minutes shadow stroking.
  • Half an hour of stretching in three ten-minute segments spread throughout the day.

Westchester Open

I'm off to coach at the Westchester Open this weekend in Westchester, NY. If you're there, stop by and say hello. Better still, prove you are reading my blog by using the secret code - if you see me, say, "Pong long and prosper." Try not to feel too silly.

A Diplomats Ball with a lot of little balls

The Institute of International Education's Rocky Mountain Center marked the 40th anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy by making table tennis the focus of its 10th Diplomats Ball. Guests were told to wear formal attire with tennis shoes. Table tennis stars Marilyn Feinstein and Emad Hussain gave a demo, and the guest ponged it up for the evening.

Spectacular rallies

Here's 5:35 of spectacular rallies from ttCountenance. They have many more table tennis videos on their site - I just added them to the video links here.

JOOLA and The Brady Bunch

JOOLA now has a dedicated USA video channel on YouTube. And yes, JOOLA is all CAPs, since it's a German acronym - here's the story of how the department store Joossand in the city of Landau starting making ping-pong tables in 1952 and soon became JOOLA.

And now for a seemingly unrelated bit of trivia. In the animated sequel to TV show The Brady Bunch, called The Brady Kids, two of the characters were a pair of panda cubs named Ping and Pong! And now, just thinking about JOOLA's history and The Brady Bunch, the theme song to The Brady Bunch is running through my head:

"Here's the story ... of a store named Joossand ... which was making ping-pong tables long ago. All of them were great for ping-pong ... used by champions ... and by boys and girls.

"Here's a story ... of a city named Landau ... which had no ping-pong tables, none at all ... they were a city ... no ping-pong tables ... yet they were ping-pong prone.

"Till the one day when this company met this city ... and they knew that it was much more than a hunch ... that these two would somehow form a company ... that's the way we all became the JOOLA Bunch. The JOOLA Bunch ... the JOOLA Bunch ... that's the way we became the JOOLA Bunch!"

Virtual table tennis against invisible opponent

Who needs the hassle of ping-pong tables, fancy sponges, balls, table tennis clubs, or an actual opponent? Happinet brings you this new type of virtual table tennis at the Tokyo Toy Show 2011 (2:02, starts with a short commercial). It's Japantastic!!!

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October 6, 2011

Random drills

Random drills are among the most under-utilized drills in table tennis. Rote drills (where you know where the ball is going to go) are great for developing strokes and footwork, but in game-type situations, you don't know where the ball is going. So you have to train for that, and that means random drills.

As you improve and master the fundamental strokes, you should add more and more random drills to your practice sessions, but only at a pace where you can do the drill with good fundamentals. (If you go too fast and your strokes start to fall apart, you are practicing bad technique and should slow down the drill.)

Here are two important keys to doing random drills properly. First, focus on reacting to the incoming ball; don't try to anticipate. You want your first move to be the correct one every single time. If you find yourself moving one way and having to correct yourself to go the other way, you are anticipating since you are moving before you know where the ball is going. If necessary, slow the drill down until you can do the right first move every time.

Second, move to the ball and stay balanced. Some players react by reaching for the ball and go off balance. Keep the weight centered and step toward the ball, don't reach. Here's an article related to this, Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. And if you are looking to put together a killer practice session, then, well, here's an article called Killer Practice Sessions.

Beating higher-rated players in practice and tournaments

Tournaments and practice are different. Often a player challenges higher-rated players in practice, but can't beat them in tournaments very often. This is often a tactical thing, because the higher-rated player is literally more experienced at playing at that higher level, and so knows what to do in a close match. (It's also psychological because the lower-rated player is often more nervous for the simple fact that he isn't as sure of what to do as the other, more-experienced-at-that-level player.) What I've noticed is that you generally have to be able to challenge the higher-rated player in practice matches for about six months before you can challenge them the same way in a tournament. Many players lament about how they battle with specific players in practice but lose all the close games in tournaments. This is common, but all you have to do is stick with it, learn from the losses (and wins), and in about six months (sooner if you are a quick learner, longer if not), you'll start beating them.

Best thing I did to make coaching easy

Get in shape. There were times I dreaded coaching because it was so physically hard. Then I lost weight (196 to 173), started lifting weights three times a week, and began a serious stretching routine. Now coaching is much easier; physically I can play for hours now without major muscles strains or exhaustion. (On a completely unrelated note that I just want to put in there, I just noticed that the three students I'm coaching today are Justin, Jerry, and Jess. And I also have a pair of John's I'm working with. Lots of J's, and I won't even mention I'm a fan of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. Maybe noticing these silly coincidences makes coaching more interesting and therefore easier.)

The Coca-Cola Move to the Beat 2012 Olympic Campaign

Coca-Cola and DJ Mark Ronson unveil the Move to the Beat campaign (3:01) in support of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which features table tennis player Darius Knight (member of English national team), archers, and track and field athletes.

2009 USATT Strategic Meeting (and Task Force Minutes)

Several people have asked me why I seem so angry over the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting. After all, the meeting was two years ago!!! The answer is two-fold. First, while the meeting was two years ago, the things they claimed they would do - in vague terms that they claimed were all that was needed - predictably didn't happen, and so two more years have gone by without implementing anything. (And yes, I still have vivid memories of being surrounded by table tennis leaders congratulating themselves for such a great meeting and telling me how wrong I was to think we actually needed real goals and implementable plans to meet those goals.) Many slogans were created, vague priorities were set, and task forces were set up to achieve these vague priorities. Of course nothing has come of this.

HOWEVER - and this is the key thing, the most important thing - the 2009 Strategic Meeting was a tipping point for USATT. We had a relatively new group of USATT leaders, and the future of USA Table Tennis was in the balance. Would it break from the past and begin to do the things necessary to grow our sport? Unfortunately, a few people almost single-handedly tipped USATT right back into its old habits of half-measures and clutching at failed methods while ignoring what actually works. We had a great opportunity to change the momentum of the organization, but now that it has once again set its direction, it's very hard to change that. It won't happen unless and until USATT leaders are willing to put aside everything that happened at that meeting and start fresh. Until then, USATT will continue its meandering stroll through the garden of mediocrity.  

Go to the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting summary, and decide for yourself if it was worth bringing in 30 table tennis leaders and organizers from all over the country for two days to come up with all these slogans and vague priorities. Do you think the time would have been better spent creating goals and programs to reach those goals? (Note - the summary incorrectly names Ashu Jain as the chair of the junior task force, but he actually turned it down, and David Del Vecchio was the chair. The junior task force has since been dissolved - see July 01, 2011 USATT board meeting. Here is the current list of USATT Committees and Task Forces.)

Did any of these task forces accomplish anything? Nothing was implemented over the past two years from the Junior Task Force or the "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task force. If they ever met and created any plans, they didn't follow USATT bylaws (bolded "task force" is mine):

"Section 9.10. Minutes of Meetings. Each committee and task force shall take minutes of its meetings.  The approved minutes must be published within thirty (30) days of completion of the meeting."

No minutes of any meetings were ever published. I pointed this out to various USATT officials a number of times over the past year, and USATT actually sent a note to committees and task forces asking them to post these minutes.  Here are the USATT minutes. See if you can find the minutes of any USATT committee or task force meetings at all, other than one for the Hall of Fame Committee meeting listed on "December 20, 2011" (they mean 2010) - and they are not actually a USATT committee. 

The Cat without a Bat in a Tub with a Ball

Yes, here's 46 seconds of a cat playing with a ping-pong ball in a tub.

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October 5, 2011

Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill

Yesterday I watched Coach Cheng Yinghua do an interesting drill with John Hsu (2300 junior player). Cheng would serve from his backhand side a short backspin or no-spin to John's backhand. John would over-the-table backhand loop it (a very wristy shot) to Cheng's backhand. Cheng would already be standing there as part of the drill and would forehand counterloop off the bounce anywhere on the table. John had to counterloop, either forehand or backhand (over the table with his backhand). Cheng wouldn't play out the point; he'd already be grabbing the next ball to serve for the drill, which was surprisingly rapid-fire. It's a very physical and game-type drill, but only for the very fit. A version of this for those who wouldn't be able to counterloop all these shots would be to either block Cheng's counterloop, or to perhaps counterloop the forehand, block the backhand (which is what I probably would do). John, however, has a nice over-the-table backhand loop against short serves or loops, and it was scary watching him do these over and over.

The racket tip on the forehand

I was coaching a relatively new player yesterday. He had a very consistent backhand and an equally inconsistent forehand. It was obvious very quickly the reason why - on the backhand, he drove the racket through the ball, with the racket tip driving forward. On the forehand, he kept raising the racket tip as the racket approached the ball, with the tip probably at 80 degrees at contact (90 degrees would be straight up), a common mistake that seems to increase control at slow speeds, but makes precision impossible at higher speeds. (The habit often comes about from contacting the ball too close to the body, which makes it natural to bring the racket in closer, raising the racket tip in the process.) Against a backspin ball (especially with a pips-out or similar low-friction surface) you might drop the racket tip to drive upward against the backspin, but not with inverted against topspin, and in this case, the player was starting with the tip already partly up, and then going nearly vertical.

I had him imagine a rod coming out of the top of his arm and over his racket on the forehand, and to keep the arm down and the racket tip below the rod. I also had him focus on staying a little further from the ball on forehands to make him extend his arm more. Within minutes his forehand was nearly as consistent as his backhand, and at higher speeds. Soon he was driving the ball almost like a pro.

Twelve Drills

Here is 2009 USA Men's Singles Finalist Samson Dubina's latest article, on his twelve favorite drills.

Chinese sports training

I'm somewhat familiar with the Chinese training methods, and how they test and recruit kids at around age five for special sports schools. It has led to a lot of success in sports like table tennis, badminton, and gymnastics, and is a primary reason the Chinese beat the U.S. 51-36 in the gold medal count at the 2008 Olympics. (The U.S. won 110 medals in all to China's 100.)

The Chinese method didn't work initially in sports like basketball and soccer for a simple reason - they used Chinese coaches in sports where there were few Chinese coaches with the background and knowledge to develop world-class players in those sports. There was a major policy change a few years ago, and China began recruiting top international coaches from all over the world for their sports schools in sports like basketball and soccer. The reports I've heard is that they are getting pretty scary at the younger age groups, but it'll be a few more years before we see this at the international level.

In China, there are about 10,000 sports schools, where the kids may have only one hour of schooling and seven hours of sports training a day from age 5-12, and then are full-time athletes. When they grow up, they either become top athletes (a small percentage), coaches, or the government gives them an often menial job, or they go into the increasingly free market, if they find an opportunity, but this last is difficult since they are generally uneducated.

I expect that by the 2016 Olympics, China will dominate in most Olympic sports (they already are nearly doing this), and the U.S. and other countries (and in particular families of young athletes) will have to take a hard, serious look at whether it is worth taking kids mostly out of school at young ages to train full-time (i.e. more home schooling, where we are still at a disadvantage since U.S. law requires far more home schooling then can be done in one hour/day), since otherwise it might be very difficult to compete. Even in sports like basketball and soccer, where China does not yet appear highly competitive, we may be ambushed in a few years (if not in 2016, then in 2020) by Chinese kids who have trained essentially full-time (often together as a team) since age five.

Here's an article I co-wrote with Cheng Yinghua a few years ago, "The Secrets of Chinese Table Tennis, and What the Rest of the World Needs to Do to Catch Up." And see the video below of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng on the Ellen DeGeneres show!

Ellen DeGeneres and the glass ping-pong table

No mansion is complete without it! Here's an enlarged close-up of the table.

While we're at it, here are four pictures of DeGeneres playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4

And here's a video of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng and USA Team Member Barney J. Reed on the show(9:31).

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October 4, 2011

That repeating backswing

Everyone, grab a racket. Now do your normal forehand drive or smash backswing. Now freeze with the racket at the end of the backswing. Glance at it, so you'll see the general position. Then look at where the ball might be at this point in your swing. Now close your eyes. Think about the feel of this position. Memorize it. You want to be able to repeat this same backswing for every forehand drive or smash. It's called a repeating stroke - and if you can repeat the backswing the same way over and Over and OVER, you'll develop a highly consistent shot.

Next time you are practicing, do the same thing live. When you hit a good forehand, remember the feel of the backswing as well as the contact. Then repeat. Over and over and over and over and over and over and . . . you get the idea.

Now do all this for your backhand as well. You'll thank me for all this later!

Note - you can also do this for your loop, but the backswing on the loop varies, depending on the incoming ball, unlike a drive, where it's always the same. For example, against a high ball, you backswing the same, and then raise the racket. Against a backspin ball, you'll open your racket and stroke more up, but that's in the forward swing.

101 Coaching Tips

Here's an interesting list of 101 general coaching tips. Lots of good stuff here. One thing they left out that I swear by: "Think." (#84 is similar, but different.) Before and after every session with every student I spend at least a few minutes thinking, and committing to memory (or writing down, though these days it's such a habit I don't really need to) what weaknesses that player needs to work on, what strengths the player can work on to turn them into overpowering strengths, what drills they need to do, what I should say in the session (or next session), etc.

However, it's not just coaches that should do it. Any serious player should also take a few minutes before and after every session and think about these things. What weaknesses do you need to work on? What strengths can you make stronger? What specific drills will allow you to improve these things? You can also do this before a practice match, which you can use for exactly that - practice. For example, you might decide to focus on looping during a match to improve your loop. Or if you have trouble blocking, spend a match trying to mostly block down your opponent.

How to develop an aggressive backhand

Here's the latest video from Coach Tao at Table Tennis University (4:35).

Ma Long's serve

Here's China's Ma Long (world #2, #1 throughout 2010) demonstrating his serve in slow motion (2:31).

Ping-Pong tournament raises $4000

Yes, another charity event! There seem to be ping-pong charity events springing up all over. See the three I listed inyesterday's blog.

Table tennis for social disorders

Here's the opening paragraph: "For most, table tennis is a recreational sport or hobby. For educational therapist Robert Bernstein, it is used as a therapeutic vehicle for children with Asperger's and other social disabilities."

The Art of Cho!

Yes, here's a video that puts together short snippets of table tennis players celebrating winning, with a collection of cho's and other cries of victory (1:58).

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October 3, 2011

Tip of the Week

Returning Long Serves with the Backhand.

Chinese players in slow motion

Here's a video (3:30) that showcases top Chinese players in slow motion, which especially showcases their serves - though initially it mostly just shows their strokes. Serves are especially hard to learn by watching at normal speeds since the contact motion by a top server is so fast - it is designed not to be read very easily.

Charity Table Tennis

Practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade

Between actually practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade, I'm suddenly playing the best I've played in years. (My equipment: Timo Boll ALC flared, with Tenergy 05 FX black 2.1 on forehand, Roundell red 2.1 on the backhand.) Suddenly I'm eyeing the tournament schedule, thinking maybe, maybe.... (Conflict: I coach at most local or major tournaments. Need a tournament that's not local or major, but within driving distance.) Regarding the blade, I discovered it the way most players should find out about different blades - I tried out someone else's racket, in this case Tong Tong Gong (a member of the USA National Cadet Team that I coach at tournaments), and really liked it. As I told him, he can have the blade back when he pries it from my cold, dead fingers. (I'm using one of his backups.)

Update on glasses

Last week I blogged about how I was experimenting by playing without glasses. I read without glasses, but have to put them on to see distance. When I played without them for the first time in decades, I found that I could see the ball better on slow shots - my own serve and when attacking pushes. However, opponents serves and loops became blurs, and I couldn't read the spin. I was fine for the two hours I coached without glasses and a two-hour practice session, but when I played matches, things didn't go so well. So I'm back to the glasses. Anyone else have experiences like this, where they have to trade off on distance versus near vision?

Boys Look at the Stars

Just a reminder that you can download this free table tennis book.

Another USATT Rant

I don't plan to keep harping on the problems with USATT, though I'm obviously peeved about things not going on. It wouldn't be much of a blog if I avoided such issues. Whenever I do write about USATT, I tend to get so aggravated that, well, it's simply not worth writing about too often. (And there are people there who are trying, though they often don't speak up or aren't sure what to do.) But here goes! Here's a posting (with a number of changes and additions) that I did at about.com a few days ago.

There have been many times in USA history where Ping-Pong Diplomacy, the Olympics, TT on TV, features in Boy's Life and other major magazines, etc., brought out droves of players. If it were tennis or most other successful sports, they'd put the kids in a junior training program and later leagues. If it were adults who wanted to learn, they'd put them in a class or group training. If they wanted to compete, they'd put them in a league with players their level.

In table tennis, the large majority of USA clubs will tell them, "Call winner on a table." The new person gets killed, he sees little potential to improve or have fun, he leaves, and we never see him again. The next day, another player goes through the same experience and leaves. There is no infrastructure to get these new players together for coaching or leagues for beginners. (Getting new players into a club isn't that hard; it's keeping them that's the trick.)

There are also limited numbers of clubs in the U.S., so few potential players are near a club, not to mention one that's conducive to new players. While Germany has 11,000 clubs in an area half the size of Texas and 1/4 our population, we have about 300 or so. Their 700,000 members are almost all league members - and nearly all the clubs came about BECAUSE OF THE LEAGUE. Reread that last part a few times. Some of the leaders in our sport think those clubs just came about by themselves, and so they decided, "Hey, let's start up a league!" It was the other way around. And while there are always differences between countries, there is no magical gene that makes Germans play table tennis, or the British (500,000 players, nearly all league players, in an area the size of New York with one-sixth our population), or the rest of Europe, or of course the zillions all over Asia.

We should be able to do what countries like Germany, England and others do in several densely populated regions of the country, such as the northeast, the great lakes area, Florida, Texas, and the entire west coast. It's not that we're too spread out; we are like a bunch of Germany's knitted together.

The U.S. has only 8000 members because we completely, positively, and absolutely refuse to learn the lessons that table tennis and other sports in the U.S. and around the world have learned. From the perspective of developing our sport, we're complete idiots, unable to learn even the most basic lessons from those who have.

This is obvious stuff to those who work at our sport, especially those, like myself, who make a full-time living coaching and organizing. It's been explained to USATT leaders numerous times for decades, but there is little interest from that direction in organizing any type of nationwide league, or in recruiting and training coaches to set up and run junior and other coaching programs at a club as professional coaches, as tennis and other sports do. And so while the problem is obvious, and the solution is obvious, nothing gets done. It's not that USATT doesn't do anything, it's that they focus on things that sound nice but don't develop the sport. Since they have no goals in terms of increasing membership, more junior members, more clubs, etc., they can't be held accountable, and aren't.

USATT runs periodic "Strategic Meetings" to solve problems - I've been to four - where they spend the time coming up with slogans and vague priorities, while refusing to make any specific goals or programs to reach the never-created goals. When nothing is accomplished and membership stays at 8000, with about 1200 junior members (the vast majority non-serious, without coaches or regular training), we get a new logo and crow about how "this symbolizes the new USATT." (This latter is an exact quote from a board member.)

If we can't do the obvious stuff, how can we do the hard stuff? Is it any wonder that we can't get the sport going in this country? Is there anyone here who can talk sense to the people who run our sport? I've tried over and over and failed miserably. It's someone else's turn.

I've written about some of this in my blog, and this last week I emailed the board and others from the 2009 Strategic Meeting to ask what programs had been implemented from that meeting two years ago, but of course the answer is pretty much nothing, as was predictable (and predicted) at the time. About the only thing they could come up with as a result of bringing in 30 people from around the country for a weekend of meetings (at USATT expense) was that they now do a monthly e-newsletter (about one page), which really had nothing to do with the Strategic Meeting. (They were planning the e-newsletter before the meeting - we were one of the last Olympic sports to do this.) The newsletter is "nice," but since we have no serious programs to promote, it doesn't accomplish much of anything.

But we have a new logo!!!

I wrote about the 2009 Strategic Meeting and the lack of follow-up in my daily blog on Sept. 26, the two-year anniversary of the meeting. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter if USATT leaders talk big about the things they are going to do if they act small, which keeps the sport small. Big thinking isn't that big a deal, it's just a matter of understanding what's been successful in making the sports big in table tennis and other sports all over the world, adapting it to our situation, and then making it top priority to do the things necessary so our sport can become big in this country. While making the sport will not be an easy task, the things need to be done to do so is rather obvious.

Suppose there are 50 countries that have small table tennis associations. One of them sets up a league, and gets a large membership as a result. So a second country sets up a league, and it too gets a large membership. Then others follow, and soon there are a number of countries with large memberships from these leagues. (This roughly what has actually happened.) And then USA look at this and wonders, "Gee, how can we get a large membership?" And the really startling thing is they really do not know.

I was asked earlier this year to be on the USATT Coaching and Club Committees, and because the chairs of the committee are well-meaning and serious (Richard McAfee and Attila Malek), I agreed. However, I'm contemplating resigning both since it is a waste of time, since USATT simply is not ready to commit to the obvious steps needed to develop our sport. To USATT's credit, despite my obvious displeasure in some of my blogs and online postings, they haven't asked for my resignation.

Tennis growth

Mitch Seidenfeld, a professional table tennis coach and league director from Minneapolis, posted the following recently. "The Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) was founded in 1934 to promote the development of tennis through tournaments and junior tennis programs in the Atlanta, GA area. ALTA started league play in 1971 with less than 1,000 players. It grew to almost 10,000 players by 1975, 35,000 by 1982, over 51,000 in 1988 and 71,000 in 1992. Today ALTA has approximately 80,000 league members. It has evolved from a small group of volunteers to a large non-profit corporation."

Now how does this apply to table tennis? Keep in mind that the U.S. Tennis Association has 700,000 members, and they didn't get these members and then start a league; they started a league, like the one in Atlanta, and that led to the 700,000 members, nearly all of them league players. Just as sports all over the world have done, including table tennis.

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September 30, 2011

Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em

Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.

Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.

Peter Li and Michael Landers in China

Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.

Weight Training Update

During my second session of my new weight training regimen I added four new exercises to the list: fly & rear delts, calf extension, and back extension. The calf extension was especially obvious - guess which muscle is used when short-stepping around the table? And the fly delts seem to build up muscles used when forehand looping. I'm basically an amateur when it comes to weight training, and yet I'm gradually beginning to remember that I was somewhat knowledgeable about table tennis weight training routines back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've forgotten a lot, but it's starting to come back. Here is my updated regimen, three times a week, doing three sets of ten for each, usually after a table tennis session:

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)
  11. Fly Delts
  12. Rear Delts
  13. Calf Extension
  14. Back Extension

Also, I made the interesting discussion that one of the people I rent the downstairs of my townhouse to works at Fitness First. (I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors to a father and 23-year-old son; the latter is the one who works at Fitness First.) We discussed my routine, and he thought (as did a commenter here) that I should eventually go to free weights, so as to build up the stabilizing muscles. But he thought my plan of using the machines until I'm a bit stronger and more experienced seemed reasonable. I did discover they have free weights at the back of the Planet Fitness I'm working out at.

Werner Schlager exhibition shots

Here's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria playing an exhibition point (0:51) against Oh Sang Eun of Korea.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book

Yes, "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement," by Mayumi Itoh, 266 pages, is out! But $72???

Another option for those interested is to read Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 5, which covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy. (Presumably the Itoh book covers things a big differently; Tim covers it in a very personal way, since he was on the trip to China, and part of the U.S. tour.) You can buy the eleven volumes in this series (individually or all of them) at TimBogganTableTennis.com, or you can read it online:

Inspirational Music for Table Tennis

I may have posted this once before, but the subject of inspirational music for table tennis came up recently, so here's a good listing. I don't actually train with music, but many do, and many find listening to such music before playing revs them up. (These are mostly from movies.) What are yours?

A Cat and Beverly Hills Cop

And since we're on the subject of table tennis music, here's a cat, table tennis, and the theme music to Beverly Hills Cop (starring Eddie Murphy at his peak). (3:42)

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