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!

March 9, 2012

Shouldn't there be an age limit for backhand looping?

Yesterday I coached one of our 7-year-olds for an hour. That in itself is rare - most at that age do only 30 minutes at a time. But this one was a bit ahead of the curve for the average kid in that age bracket. He loops just about everything on both sides. He regularly backhand loops 5-6 in a row against a block. And he can fish and lob with heavy topspin, often forcing me to miss smashes not because I couldn't handle the spin, but because I was having difficulty believing he was putting that much spin on the ball.

This is how the game is changing. There was a time when few kids would learn to loop before they were 9 or 10, and that would only be against backspin. Looping against topspin wouldn't start until even later. Now, with sponges that practically loop the ball for you, and with more and more full-time training centers with full-time coaches popping up around the country, the level of play is going up dramatically, and players fall behind if they wait until they are 9 or 10 to learn to do what others are doing earlier.

Many of the top sub-10-year-olds still mostly hit in matches, but the better ones are looping more and more in practice, and it's just a matter of time before they incorporate this into matches. It's scary watching a 10-year-old flawlessly backhand looping off the bounce over and over in drills, and knowing you will have to face that in matches.

Hitting the backhand is almost passé at the higher levels. At the world-class level, a hitter very quickly is turned into a blocker by a looping opponent; even smashes are often looped back. Even to me, playing at only a 2200 level, it's not hard to play a hitter - you just take a half step back to give yourself time to react, and then just rally them down, using their own pace against them as you move them around or pin them on their weaker side (usually the backhand), and look for balls to loop back. Against someone who loops everything you can't effectively back up to give yourself time to react (unless you can counterloop), and so you are stuck at the table blocking - and then the pace becomes overwhelming since you have no time to react that close to the table. Add that these kids are now looping right off the bounce on the backhand, and with more and more power on the forehand, and it's a nightmare out there.

Unless, of course, you are the one doing the looping. When I play these up-and-coming kids, the key is to use serve and receive so I'm the one initiating the attack, forcing them to react. It allows you to at least get in a few good shots before facing the inevitable blitzkrieg.

Injury checklist

  • Forearm: I injured that on Sunday, Feb. 26. Since that time I've rested it by not looping or hitting any forehands very hard, and avoiding repetitive forehand shots. (This is not easy since I'm coaching several hours each day, but I've had most students drill into my backhand.) It's coming along fine, and I expect to be back to normal in another week or so. Hopefully. This weekend I'm going to play matches chopping with a hardbat, as I will be doing at the Cary Cup next weekend.
  • Hip: On Tuesday, a few hours after I finished coaching, I began feeling an almost burning pain in my left hip. Since that time I've been hobbling about. I'm hoping this will heal on its own, but we'll see. It doesn't affect my coaching much except I can't move to my wide forehand very well.
  • Back: After spending many months last year partly debilitated by back problems, it's pretty much okay after doing lots of stretching and weight training. However, due to hip injury, I stopped weight training a few days ago, and already there are hints of returning back problems.
  • Knees: I've had knee problems periodically over the years, though never really bad. When I do, I wear knee braces, which really help. After some problems last fall, the knees have been fine for a while. Yippee!
  • Brain: After way too many hours these past ten days working all day with Tim Boggan on the layouts and photos of History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, and coaching at night, the brain is toast.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

This is from Chapter 27 - with USA Team Member Mike Bush writing about fellow teammate Eric Boggan's match with future U.S. Hall of Fame Player (and now fellow coach at MDTTC) Cheng Yinghua  at the 1983 Hungarian Open, when Eric was ranked in the top 20 in the world. Here's the photo of Cheng (by Mal Anderson) that accompanies the article, also from the 1983 Hungarian Open.

Eric played Cheng Yinghua in the last-16 round. Cheng, a righty shakehand topspinner, beat Sweden’s Waldner in five games in the round of 64 [some early match-up that was!]. I remembered Cheng’s versatile game from the German Open three years ago where he’d been spinning every ball against Dvoracek in the final of the Team event. Late in the second game, however, Cheng had gotten severe hamstring cramps and in the third had stayed up to the table and blocked Dvoracek down, sometimes blocking literally more than 40 topspins to win the point.

Eric went into the match with the same strategy that he’d beaten Gergely with. It was amazing what took place. Cheng had no problems moving in or out (or laterally for that matter). He could spin powerfully and with control from both sides, defend, block and counter. Eric blocked and dropped, blocked and dropped, looped and killed. The points were very long but Cheng kept winning them. He just kept putting in one more shot or making one more return than Eric. Match to Cheng, 10, 9, 13.

"A Throwback Player, With a Wardrobe to Match"

That's the subheading of this article yesterday in the New York Times on Marty Reisman.

"Rising from the Slumber, the Sleeping Giant Awakes"

That's the title of this article from the ITTF on Kanak & Prachi Jha, and the rise of American Table Tennis.

Clipboard Table Tennis

This is the Official Clipboard Promotional Video (1:52), featuring Tahl Leibovitz and Al Papp (the lefty) at the start, with Berndt Mann officiating, Wendell Dillon the referee who (humorously) objects to the illegal (i.e. non-Legal sized) clipboards, and then Marty Reisman (in the hat) and Berndt Mann play.

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March 8, 2012

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 12

As mentioned in this blog, USA Table Tennis Historian Tim Boggan moved in with me for two weeks starting on Tuesday, Feb. 28, so that I could do the page layouts and photo work on his next volume of History of U.S. Table Tennis. Yep, it's volume 12! I've done the layouts for all except the first one. I get to read a lot of it as we work, with him sitting next to me and pointing at the screen saying, "That photo goes there. No, I said there, you fool!"

We've now finished the covers, Acknowledgements, Introduction, and 25 chapters (370 pages) of the 31-chapter book. We should finish it all on Friday. He'll spend Saturday proofing the pages, and on Sunday and Monday we'll be making the corrections. Then I'll do all the pre-press work, and send the 500-page PDF file to the printer. Since we're not leaving for the Cary Cup until Thursday morning, we should finish two days early. What'll we do on Tues & Wed? I don't know. Movies, sight-seeing, maybe even some ping-pong.

Here's an excerpt, from page 332 on the Rochester Michigan Open between Danny and Ricky Seemiller (as written by Cody Jones), when matches were still best of three to 21:

Ricky won a seesaw first game from brother Danny, 28-26, and seemed to be in the driver’s—or looper’s—seat. Ricky was aggressive, took chances, while Danny played more of a control game. The second game Danny won at 14. In the third, at 22-21 his favor, Ricky missed a set-up kill—which, since Danny went on to win this game, might well have cost him the match.

Said Danny, "At ad down I had to lunge to my left to return the ball, and when I saw it float back high, I knew Ricky was going to put it away and that I had no chance to get back into position and return it. So it flashed into my mind that my only chance was to keep on going to my left and hope wildly that Ricky would be so surprised by my movement that he’d be watching me instead of the ball. And, unbelievably, that’s just what happened."

50 forehands, 50 backhands

I have a new informal "policy" for beginning/intermediate juniors I coach. They have to hit 50 forehands and 50 backhands in a row before we do anything else. This forces them both to groove their shots while improving their focus. (I also tell them that they don't really have a forehand or backhand until they can hit 100 in  a row, a goal I want them all to strive for.)

Another injury

As if having an injured arm weren't enough, on Tuesday night I strained my hip. I'm walking with a limp, and will have to somehow find a way to coach. It's not too bad, but these (mostly minor) injuries are a real problem. It's not easy coaching one-on-one when you're 52 and have very stiff muscles. The good news is the arm is healing nicely. I'm going to play as a chopper in some matches this weekend, and hope to start playing regular (i.e. lots of forehand hitting and looping) in perhaps two weeks.

Mark your Calendars for Saturday, April 7

That's the Grand Opening for the expanded and renovated Maryland Table Tennis Center. Lots of activities that day, starting around 11AM - demonstrations, exhibitions, coaching seminar, junior program, raffles, refreshments, parade of champions tournament, with lots of top coaches and players. Details coming soon! (If you would like to be on the MDTTC mailing list, send me an email.)

Spring Break Camp at MDTTC

We're having our first camp at the newly expanded and renovated Maryland Table Tennis Center, April 2-6, with coaches Larry Hodges (that's me), Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Xun Zeng. It's mostly for junior players (locals are off school that week for spring break), but all ages are welcome. Here's more info. Come join us!

Who was having a ball yesterday?

Yesterday I asked if anyone knew who this player was, with all the balls in the air. Aaron Avery emailed that it was Polish paralympic player Natalia Partyka, and sure enough her web page includes that photo. Thanks Avery!

Tampa Bay baseball and hockey stars playing table tennis

Here's baseball star Evan Longoria and hockey star Martin St. Louis playing table tennis (1:45). They play for the Tampa Bay Rays and Lightning, respectively.

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March 7, 2012

Returning Serve

It's everyone's biggest weakness, or so it seems. But it shouldn't be that way. Let's review:

  1. If the ball is deep, return it aggressively, ideally with a loop.
  2. If the ball is short without backspin (i.e. sidespin, side-top, topspin, or no-spin), mostly return it aggressively with a flip.
  3. If the ball is short with backspin, either push it long (deep, low, good backspin, quick off the bounce, angled, and hide the direction until the last second), push it short (so that it is low and that, given the chance, would bounce twice on the opponent's side of the table), or flip it.
  4. Above all else, returning serve is about BALL CONTROL. If you have trouble controlling the ball, or reading the spin, play against players with good serves until you can read the spin and control the ball. If you don't have anyone like that you can practice against, then you better find someone because you aren't going to learn to do something unless you practice it.
  5. That is all.

How arm problems are improving my game

More specifically, it is helping my backhand tremendously. Ever since I hurt my arm ten days ago I've avoided hitting or looping forehands with any power. It's really helped the healing process while allowing me to continue coaching every day. However, it's meant a huge amount of backhand play since I'm having everyone play most there in drills. And since I'm not looping forehands, guess what? When we play points, I'm opening with my backhand loop. The result is my backhand blocking, hitting, and looping have both improved tremendously. My normally steady backhand is still steady but at a faster pace, while I'm backhand looping in pushes and serves to all parts of the table, something I don't usually do as I'm more the all-out forehand looper type. Also, after nine days of non-stop backhand play, my backhand muscles are now tireless - I can hit backhands forever without my arm getting tired.

Take me out to the Ball Game--that'd be Ping-Pong
You all know the lyrics to the baseball version, which can be found here (with the second stanza the commonly sung one). Here's my version!

Take me out for some ping-pong,
Take me out for some fun.
Buy me a racket and ping-pong balls,
I don't care if I don't score at all!
Let me hit, hit, hit with my forehand,
If they don't land it's a shame,
For it's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven points and you're out,
In the new pong game.

Talking to the Curator of the World's Greatest Collection of Photos of Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

Oh, that would be me! Yes, I was interviewed about my "Celebrities Playing Table Tennis" site. The interview went up yesterday - here it is!

Dan Seemiller article

Here's an article on Dan Seemiller in yesterday's South Bend Tribune.

Zhang Jike

Here's a tribute video (9:21) to World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike, strangely titled, "World Champion or Small Boy?"

Lots of Ping-Pong Balls

Yes, that's a lot of ping-pong balls in the air. I keep thinking I recognize the player, but I'm not sure. Anyone know? [NOTE: Aaron Avery emailed that it was Polish paralympic player Natalia Partyka, and sure enough her web page includes that photo. Thanks Avery!]

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March 6, 2012

Muscling the ball when forehand looping

Several players I coach use too much arm when they loop. Looping is a full-body shot, where you use your legs, waist, shoulders, arm, forearm, and wrist for power. However, the sequence is important - always from bottom to top, large muscles to small muscles. Players who use too much arm and forearm try to muscle the ball with those muscles instead of using the legs, waist, and shoulder rotation to power the ball with their body weight and large muscles.

One cure is to essentially make your playing arm and upper body rigid early in the stroke, forcing you to use your lower-body muscles. Those larger muscles will throw your upper body and arm into the shot like a whip, and then you can relax the upper body and let it go naturally.

Another way to fix this problem is to focus on taking the ball in the back of the forehand hitting zone, in front of your back leg. This forces you to keep the arm back rather than use it early in the stroke. If you stroke with the arm muscles too early, you'll contact the ball more in front of you.

Probably the best cure for this, and most other stroke problems, is to 1) watch videos of top players doing it so you can get a visual image of proper technique; 2) work with a coach; and 3) practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

Jim Butler vs. Ariel Hsing

Yes, THAT Jim Butler, the three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and Hall of Famer, who stopped playing tournaments in 2003, but is playing again at age 41. And THAT Ariel Hsing, the 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion. The two played in the quarterfinals of the Northridge Open in a classic match-up. Jim still has great serves and a great backhand, while Ariel is unbelievably quick. Winning 13-11 in the seventh was . . . Ariel. Here's the video (20:20).

Get Your Game Face On

Here's Dora Kurimay talking about her new eBook on sports psychology for table tennis, "Get Your Game Face On." I plan to read this pretty soon - I've already downloaded it ($4.99).

Sol Schiff Retrospective

Here's a two-part retrospective on Schiff by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan.

Most Congenial!

Here's a quote from Timmy's North American Table Tennis Magazine, Nov/Dec, 1983, and reprinted in Tim Boggan's upcoming History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12. It's about a two-week training camp held in Baltimore. Here's the last paragraph, with the most important parts in bold!

At the end of each week a tournament was held and Awards given. First Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Larry Hodges. 2. Kit Jeerapaet. “B” Group: 1. Dennis Hwang. 2. Steve Kong. Doubles: Manfred Wilke/Kong. Best Footwork: Hwang. Sportsman Award: Ben Ebert. Most Improved: Wilke. Most Congenial: (tie) Steven Olsen, Becky Martin, and Ebert. Second Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Hodges. 2. Dave Babcock. “B” Group: 1. Ebert. 2. Hwang. Best Footwork: Stephanie Fox. Sportsman Award: Robert Natale. Most Improved: Martin. Most Congenial: Hodges.

The Yankee versus the Comedian

Here's a hilarious video challenge match (4:43) between New York Yankees baseball player Nick Swisher (a penholder!) and comedian KevJumba.

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March 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

For a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, as well as my usual coaching and other duties, I'm going to take today and next Monday to put these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Proper Use of the Free Arm.

Shadow practice

Do you only practice at your local club, or do you practice whenever the urge hits you? You can practice anywhere by shadow practicing. It's also a great way to exercise and to wake yourself up from long hours sitting at a desk. (It's also a nice to practice proper use of your free arm - see Tip above.)  Here's an article I wrote a while back on shadow-practicing. So get up from your computer and start stroking!

Arm Update

The arm is getting better, but still needs more time to heal. (I injured my forearm about a week ago.) I still can't forehand hit or loop aggressively. Yesterday I coached much of the day, but did almost exclusively backhands and multiball. One student, Kevin Walton, lent me an arm brace which seemed to help, but when using the muscles for certain shots it was like having someone grabbing my arm in mid-stroke. It's great to protect the arm when hitting (tentative) forehands, but when hitting backhands or feeding backspin in multiball, I had to take it off.

I'm supposed to be defending my hardbat titles from 2010 and 2011 at the Cary Cup in eleven days. However, my arm is not going to be ready for my all-out forehand hitting style. So yesterday I borrowed a defensive hardbat from John Olsen (an oversized Hock), and we practiced for a time. I'll almost for certain be chopping at Cary, and hopefully pick-hitting forehands, but not too much.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion Update

The wall is down! The long-awaited expansion of the Maryland Table Tennis Center is happening. They are still working on the new area we're taking over next door, and to protect our side from the dust of the wall going down and other work there's a ceiling-to-floor plastic tarp still dividing the place, but that's temporary. Soon we'll be up to 11,000 square feet, about 18 tables, all-new red flooring, showers, weight room, etc. All should be ready within two weeks.

Here's a picture of the place right now by Barbara Wei. The plastic tarp on the left actually cuts off about 10-15 feet of the current club, so for the next week or so we're actually smaller than normal.

Overheard at the Maryland Table Tennis Center yesterday: "Nobody plays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center anymore. It's too crowded." (Admission: I said it. With proper regards to Yogi Berra.)

Lily Zhang Interview

Here's an interview with Lily Zhang, U.S. Women's Singles Finalist, Women's Team Member, and #1 Cadet Girl.

Sol Schiff in New York Times

Here's Schiff's obit in the NY Times. Most of the story is based on phone interviews by the author with Tim Boggan, who was at my house during the interviews.

The World Economic Forum, Mick Jagger, and Ping-Pong

Here's an excerpt from an article this morning in The New Yorker:

Jagger was there. He had on a pink button-down, black jeans, and snazzy Nike running shoes. There was a Ping-Pong table folded up against the wall; apparently Jagger had been playing when the first guests arrived. Now he was dancing, with one woman, then another, to classic reggae playing at mid-volume.

Tips from Marty Reisman

Here's a two-minute video from Men's Journal and Marty Reisman: "The Hustler's Guide to Ping-Pong: Learn how to impress friends and fleece strangers with these tips from Marty Reisman, the world’s best table-tennis player."

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 13 table tennis cartoons by Cartoon Jazz that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

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March 2, 2012

A way to handle fast opponents

This won't work for everyone, but it works for me. Suppose you are playing someone who plays very fast at the table, such as one of those super-quick bang-bang playing junior players. Suppose he pins you down with fast, quick shots to your backhand and middle, and wins points either on your backhand mistakes and pop-ups, or with sudden shots to the forehand. You struggle to keep up the pace, but it's too fast, and the table is too wide. Let's supposed you have a somewhat steady backhand and a good forehand when you are in position and not too rushed. (If not, work on that.)

What I often do is stand toward the backhand side but in a slight forehand stance, with my right foot slightly back (I'm right-handed). Then I just stick my racket up and rebound back anything hit to my backhand or middle with my backhand, using my opponent's own speed to so that I barely have to stroke the ball. (It's almost like playing a video game.) Try to keep the ball deep, and pin your opponent on his own backhand by going wide there. The strategy is to either outlast the opponent, or when he finally goes to my forehand, to tee off on that shot since I'm standing in a forehand stance.

I've been coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center for over two decades, and most of my practice matches during that time have been as a practice partner against our up-and-coming juniors. The strategy outlined above has been honed for twenty years.

Arm problems update

As noted in my blog this week, I hurt my arm on Sunday. I've coached at least two hours every day this week, but so far haven't aggravated it. The key? I haven't looped or smashed a ball. While coaching I'm mostly blocking. There have been a few times where I started to reflexively loop or smash, but each time something in my arm sent a red alert signal and I stopped. Perhaps the arm can heal without taking time off. I am doing lots of stretching and massage before and after playing.

USATT Job Openings

Pongcast TV Episode 10 - 2012 Kuwait Open

Here it is (20:23)!

1946 English Open

Here's a video of the 1946 English Open Table Tennis Championships (8:40), and here are links to lots of other vintage table tennis footage.

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 30 table tennis cartoons by Marek Zochowski that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

Non-Table Tennis: SF story in Story Quest

My science fiction story Rationalized was just published in the online magazine Story Quest Magazine. The story won the Story Quest Short Story Contest in November. (See second column at top.) It's about a future dystopian society where everyone has an operation on their brain at age 13 to remove all emotions, and the underground society that secretly avoids this operation, but must pretend to always be unemotional - and the lengths they must go to hide their secret when a terrible accident occurs. (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.) 

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March 1, 2012

Peter Li

Imagine a country that has an 18-year-old National Men's Singles Champion. Suppose that country decides to fund four players to the World Championships. You'd think that winning that Men's Singles title would automatically qualify you for the team. Right? Wrong.

That's the story of Peter Li, who won Men's Singles at the USA Nationals a little over two months ago in December when he was 18. However, at the USA Team Trials (just after turning 19), he finished in a four-way tie for second place with a record of 8-3. But after the tie-breaker (going to matches and games among those tied), he finished in fifth place, just missing the top four. He was then offered the fifth spot as an unfunded position, meaning he would have to pay his own way to the worlds. His family is already spending over $10,000/year on his training, and simply couldn't afford to pay more. And so he will not be going to the Worlds, and will not gain the experience he would get there.

Can anyone imagine this happening in any serious table tennis country? I don't think there are very many countries that fund teams to the Worlds that would not fund a teenaged National Men's or Women's Singles Champion.  

There's little chance USATT will change their procedures for this Worlds. The question is if they will look at the result of their procedure, and ask themselves if that procedure is really getting them the best result. Perhaps anyone winning or making the final of Men's and Women's Singles at the Nationals should automatically qualify. (Conflict of interest note - Peter developed at MDTTC, my club, and still trains and coaches part-time there on weekends.) 

Hit the ball harder!

I'm coaching an eight-year-old girl whose forehand is coming along pretty well, except for one problem: she absolutely will not hit the ball hard. Every shot is the same soft keep-it-in-play stroke that wouldn't break wet tissue paper. I've tried to get her to gradually hit the ball harder, to no avail. She just doesn't want to. So what did I do?

I did the obvious thing. I tricked her.

Near the end of our session yesterday, while feeding multiball, I put a half-filled water bottle on the table. I told her if she could knock it over, she could have a chocolate. (I conveniently had a stash handy.) It took her a few shots to hit the bottle, and she discovered she'd have to hit it harder to knock it over. That's when she started hitting harder, and with good form. She won two chocolates. Afterwards I told her mom about what I'd done, and she promised not to tell her daughter. (Shhhhhhh everyone! Hopefully she's not reading this blog.)

Sol Schiff

Here's the obit on Sol Schiff by his longtime friend Dean Johnson.

The Ma Long serve

He's #1 in the world, and here's his serve (2:31). Here's another video of it (0:55), showing it in action. Both videos show it in regular time and slow motion.

Table Tennis in Bed

Yes, you too can play table tennis in bed, using your hands and feet to rally back and forth!

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February 29, 2012

Sol Schiff RIP

Sad news. "Mr. Table Tennis," Hall of Famer Sol Schiff, died yesterday at age 94. He was the 1934 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion, the 1938 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Jimmy McClure), and a member of the 1937 World Men's Team Champion (the only time the U.S. ever won the title). He also served as USTTA (now USATT) president for many years. Here's his USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame profile. (It's only "Part 1" - hopefully Tim Boggan will write Part 2 at some point.) Note - A number of reports incorrectly have him as being 95, but he was born on June 28, 1917, passed away on February 26, 2012, and so wouldn't have turned 95 until June 28. 

Leap Day

In honor of Leap Day, go practice your footwork. Or at least read about footwork - here are five articles I've written on footwork that you may browse while lounging in a chair sipping diet coke.

The one time I was faulted

As promised last week, here is the story of the only time my serve was ever faulted in a tournament.

I've been playing tournaments since I started playing 36 years ago in 1976. I've probably played in about 600 tournaments. How many times have I been faulted? Exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. Here's how it happened.

In the early 1980s I was about to play another player about my level, around 2200 or so at the time. This was just before the color rule was passed, and so many players used different racket surfaces with the same color. Often they would flip the racket and serve with either side, and about the only way to tell which side the server used was by sound. And so many players with combination rackets began stamping their foot as they served to hide the different sound. It became a serious problem with all the loud distracting foot stomps, and so foot stomping during the serve became illegal. The wording of the rule roughly said that if the umpire believed you stomped your foot to hide the sound of contact, the serve would be a fault.

Before the match my opponent reminded the umpire of this rule, and incorrectly said that if I lifted my foot during my serve, it was a foot stomp and I should be faulted. I was using inverted on both sides, and did not stomp my foot during my serve - but I did left my left foot slightly off the ground when doing my forehand pendulum high-toss serve, my primary serve.

On the very first point of the match the umpire faulted me for foot stomping. I pointed out the actual wording of the rule, and the umpire looked confused. So I called for the referee. The referee explained the rule to the umpire, and the umpire then changed his ruling, saying that in he had gotten the rule wrong, and that I hadn't tried to foot stomp to hide the sound of contact. So it's a let, right?

Wrong. The opponent then argued that foot stomping is a judgment call, and that an umpire cannot change a judgment call. After thinking it over, the referee agreed, and so the fault stood.

I won the match.

Side note - I just read the above to Tim Boggan. (See my blog yesterday about his staying at my house for two weeks.) He said that if he'd been there, said I'd been ROBBED and that he'd still be arguing to this day about it.

Table Tennis in New York Post

Here's a feature on Michael Landers in yesterday's New York Post. Here's an excerpt:

"Some people joke around saying that [table tennis] is a combination of running, boxing and playing chess at the same time, but in reality it really is," Landers said. "There’s so much thinking involved, so much strategy and you have to have the agility of a boxer and the speed of a runner."

Commercials with Table Tennis

Here's a lipstick commercial (0:30) that features table tennis.  Here's a Metro PCS commercial (0:31) that has one second of table tennis. (Watch quickly 16 seconds in or you'll miss it!)

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February 28, 2012

Tim Arrives

Yes, that's Tim Boggan, USATT Historian and past president, and, well, just about everything else. (Here's his short bio, his USATT Hall of Fame bio, and here's my long 1996 interview with him, with pictures.) As some of you may know, he's been writing a comprehensive History of U.S. Table Tennis, with eleven volumes published, and number twelve just written. Every year about this time he makes the drive from New York to Maryland and moves in with me for two weeks, sleeping on my sofa, and spending the day looking over my shoulder as I lay out the pages and do photo work for the next volume, with each book about 500 pages. ("No, it goes there, you fool!" he'll say as he smacks me with a hardbat.) Here's the page I maintain for him on his books. It's going to be a busy two weeks as we work from roughly 7AM (he's a morning person) until 5PM or so (he lets me have a lunch break), and then I run off to the club to coach.

Arm update

As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I hurt my arm over the weekend. It was still bothering me yesterday, but mostly when I played fast. I was hitting mostly with beginning-intermediate players, and mostly just blocked, so it wasn't too bad. I'm a little worried about what'll happen when I hit with stronger players, as I will in my sessions tonight. We'll see.

Topspin on the Backhand

Just as on February 23, I had a student yesterday who had difficulty hitting his backhand with any topspin. This time the primary problem was that he was constantly reaching for the ball. Against his better instincts (he's 10), I got him to sloooooow down, and move to each ball so he could hit from a better position. Suddenly his backhand picked up. After struggling to get even ten in a row, he suddenly got into a rhythm and hit 145 straight. More importantly, he was hitting them properly.

Chinese National Team

Here's an inspirational video of the Chinese National Team (2:39), with background narration by "The Hip Hop Preacher" that starts out, ""Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute or an hour or a day or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever."

The Falkenberg Drill

Here's a video (3:10) that demonstrates what many consider the best table tennis drill - you learn to cover the wide forehand, the wide backhand, and the step around forehand. It's called the Falkenberg Drill because it was popularized there by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's also called the 2-1 drill or the backhand-forehand-forehand drill.

Jan-Ove Waldner breaking his racket

Here's a video of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner accidentally breaking his racket (0:47).

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February 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Opening Up the Forehand Zone.

Opening Up the Forehand Zone, Part II

The following happened on Saturday night - and I swear it happened after I wrote this week's Tip of the Week. (And now you know what I do on Saturday nights.)

I had a new student, around age 40, with some serious technique problems. His level was somewhere under 1000 in USATT ratings. He'd had a few lessons before at another club, but things hadn't gone well there. As soon as we started hitting forehand to forehand, you could see he had a serious problem with his grip, which seemed to lead to an awkward forehand. His finger pointed upward on the blade, his wrist fell backward, and he more or less punched at the ball in front of him instead of from the side. The obvious and easiest solution was to fix his grip, and then work on the stroke. And that's exactly what others had tried to get him to do. It hadn't worked.

At the USATT coaching seminar I taught last year I regularly harped on the idea of fixing the root cause of problems, not the symptoms. And that's what others had tried to do - the grip wasn't the cause of his problems, it was a symptom of the root cause, which was that he was playing his forehand with a backhand stance, feet parallel to the table, with little waist or shoulder rotation. He was only using about the front one-fourth of his forehand hitting zone, while facing forward. This forced him to adjust his grip to compensate. It took only a few minutes to fix the problem in practice: move the right (back) foot back some, rotate the waist and shoulders, and contact the ball toward the middle of the hitting zone. The key was to start out by hitting forehand to forehand very slowly, focusing on proper technique and timing, until the stroke became ingrained enough to speed up some.

The player still has a lot of practice to do in order to ingrain this new and better forehand technique. If he puts in the time, his stroke will be fine.

Happy Birthday to Sheeba and Me

Today's my 52nd birthday, so people can no longer say I'm not playing with a full deck. (It's also Chelsea Clinton's 32nd birthday. We always go out together and celebrate with root beers.) It's also Sheeba's 78th birthday. Okay, Sheeba is my dog, about 3/4 corgi, 1/4 some sort of hound, and she's actually only 14, though we only know that she was born in February of 1998 (that's from the form about her when I adopted her from a shelter in 2002 when she was four) , but we celebrate it on my birthday. According to the Dog Age Calculator, as a 30 pound dog, she's 78. Here's her picture (from a few years ago, but she looks almost the same), and here she is straining to eat bacon snacks.

Arm problems

With age comes physical problems. Or perhaps they aren't related. My arm has been bothering me for several days, and sometime during yesterday's mornings three hours of coaching it got much worse. That afternoon I was playing matches in a group session (where I'm a practice partner), and had to stop. The injury appears to be a muscle strain, on the forearm, just below the inner elbow, on the right. Here's a picture, with a black dot marking the injury. Any doctors, trainers, or others with suggestions on rehabbing it, other than rest and icing it?

USATT Paralympic Program Manager

USATT has hired Jasna Reed as the Para Program Manager for 2012, a new USATT position. Jasna, two-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, Olympic Bronze Medalist in Women's Doubles, and head table tennis coach at Texas Wesleyan University, has extensive experience in Paralympic table tennis. Here's an interview I did with Jasna back in 2001, with picture.

2012 USA Table Tennis Budget

Here it is: Income Statement Summary | Income Statement Detail | Programmatic Summary

Table Tennis in New York Times

Here's an article in the New York Times on Saturday on Ariel Hsing's Olympic dreams.

Interview with Jorg Rosskopf

German great Jorg Rosskopf was interviewed just yesterday as he prepares for the 2012 Worlds.

2012 Kuwait Open Final

Jun Mizutani (JPN) defeats Ryu Seung Min (KOR) in the Kuwait Open Final on Feb. 18, 2012. Time between points is taken out, so it's non-stop action with the whole match shown in 6:37. Here are results and articles on the tournament.

Hilarious exhibition

Here's an exhibition between Jean-Michel Saive (on left at start) and Andrzej Grubba at the 1996 Gilbert Cup in Beverly Hills (7:36).

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