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!

January 12, 2012

Do you like this blog?

Then spread the word! I'm getting about 300+ readers per day. That means there are over seven billion people who are not reading it. Oh, the inhumanity!

Proper use of free arm

A lot of problems arise when players don't use their free arm properly. I've been emphasizing this with students a lot recently - some are getting lazy with this. Here are two common problems.

First, many players let their free arm just sort of hang down instead of holding it up as a counterbalance to the playing arm. Every time they stroke the ball there is no counterbalancing arm to act as a counterweight, and so they are thrown slightly off balance with each shot. Worse, they become so used to this they don't even realize it is happening. The cure - hold the free arm up for balance at all time, and let it naturally counterbalance your playing arm. Note that this is true on backhands as well as forehands. On the forehand, the counterbalancing is more obvious. On the backhand, as you extend your playing arm out, the free hand needs to counterbalance this by naturally pulling back.

Second, when hitting forehands, players don't use their non-playing side. Instead, pull with the non-playing arm as you rotate around on the forehand. The non-playing side (the left side for righties) is just as important as the playing side when you hit a forehand. Your body can't rotate unless both sides rotate.

Here's a video of probably the two best players in the world right now, Ma Long and Zhang Jike of China (15:29), playing the final of the Austrian Open in September. Watch the way they use their free arm on each shot. (Of course, you can learn a lot from this video besides just the use of the free arm!)

An expanded version of this may end up being a Tip of the Week.

USATT Coach of the Year Awards

And the winners are. . . .

How to do the Ma Lin serve

And you can learn it in just 2:14! (I may have posted this link once before, but it's worth watching twice.)

McDonald's table tennis commercial

How to lose your McNuggets to a "little old lady" in 32 seconds. This isn't the only time McDonald's has used table tennis - here's a video (1:40) where they had customers play video ping-pong on a huge screen in Stockholm.


Send us your own coaching news!

January 11, 2012

Reverse penhold backhand

I'm coaching two penholders who have reverse penhold backhands - one an elderly player who normally uses a conventional penhold backhand but is learning the new version, the other a 12-year-old learning this way from the start. For penholders, this is the biggest revolution in penhold play since, well, the invention of penhold play. For shakehanders, it is the shot that stopped shakehanders from dominating at the world-class level. For a while, it looked like the penhold grip would vanish from the world's elite, but this stroke brought it back to par with shakehands. It is also a shot that shakehanders must learn to play against.

What is a reverse penhold backhand? It is a backhand by a penhold player where he hits with the opposite side of the racket rather than using the same side for forehand and backhand (i.e. a conventional penhold backhand). Just as with shakehands, you can block, hit, or loop with it. More and more top penholders play their backhands this way as it gives a stronger backhand attack, though it leaves the player weaker in the middle and often isn't as good for blocking. Historically coaches would say this is simply wrong, and would guide penholders into hitting conventional penhold backhands. Then along came Liu Guoliang in the 1990s, who hit his backhand both ways while winning men's singles at the World and Olympics. Then came Wang Hao, who became the best in the world and the 2009 Men's Singles World Champion playing almost exclusively reverse penhold backhands. Other top Chinese penholders who used the shot include Ma Lin and Xu Xin. Now it is considered the "norm," while conventional penhold backhands are somewhat passé.

Here is a slow motion video (2:17) showing Wang Hao's reverse penhold backhand.

The first time I played someone with a reverse penhold backhand in a serious match was about ten years ago, which was also in my first tournament after the change to 11-point games in 2001. I was probably rated about 2250 at the time, while my opponent was only about 1800; I should have been able to beat him about 11-4 every game. However, all my instincts were wrong because of this "weird" backhand, and I found myself fishing and lobbing point after point - and the player hit very hard and rarely missed. Feeling like a complete beginner, I lost the first two games. I finally went to playing every ball to his forehand - his strength - and eked out a five-game win. It could very easily have been my worst loss in something like twenty years.

It just goes to show that you have to practice against different techniques if you want to play well against them. In this case, an opponent hit his backhand in a way I'd never seen, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to react properly to it. Your subconscious is what controls shots, and when it sees something it's never seen before, it sometimes goes, "What the heck?" Mine was simply lost. I've since learned to play against the grip by simply playing against players who use it, though I'm still not completely comfortable against it - too many years of playing against "normal" backhands, both shakehands and regular penhold. Tactically, you play the grip like a shakehander, attacking the middle (the playing elbow) every chance.

The first time I actually saw anyone do this stroke was back in the 1980s, when future four-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler (a shakehander) did it while fooling around in penhold matches. We all laughed at him, even though he had a better penhold backhand this way than any of his rival shakehanders trying to play conventional penhold style. He got the last laugh.

Day Eleven

For those keeping track, today is Day Eleven of the Great Cold of 2012. It simply will not go away.

2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

I'll be coaching at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12. Come join us!

Ten serves

Here's a video (1:58) that shows ten different serves, both in regular and slow motion. I think I may have posted this (or a version of it) once before, but I think it's an excellent video to watch if you are developing any of these serves.

Racket testing procedures

Here's a tutorial video (11:58) that covers racket testing procedures, as set up by ITTF. My players have been through this numerous times, though it's usually much quicker than this, as they aren't explaining everything.

Playing alone

Who needs a playing partner when you have the Wally Rebounder???


Send us your own coaching news!

January 10, 2012

My todo list and coaching schedule

After careful calculations, I have concluded that my todo list, single spaced in 12-point Time Roman, would circle the earth three times. And I'm subbing for Coach Jeffrey (in China for almost two months), so my coaching schedule has doubled. And I've got a cold. So if you are one of those people waiting for something from me, it's coming, but it might take longer than usual.

It's also come to my attention that due to my subbing for Jeffrey, for the next two months I'll be coaching SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. My back: R.I.P.  

Lagging rackets

Two players I coached yesterday had a similar problem. (One was a relative beginner, the other relatively advanced, both right-handed.) And they had the same problem on both the forehand and backhand. They let the racket tip lag behind in their strokes, and so their crosscourt forehands and backhands tended to go to the middle. It's important to have the tip lead the stroke as you drive the paddle crisply through the ball. The racket should aim toward where you are aiming well before contact. If the tip lags behind, you lose control as well as power.

Backhand-backhand games

Here's a good practice game I used several times yesterday. Put a box or towel on your side of the table so that the left edge is on the table's middle line, so your forehand side is blocked off. Do the same on the other side. (This is for two righties; lefties should adjust accordingly.) Then play a backhand-to-backhand game where whoever has the ball serves straight topspin, and the rally is all backhand-to-backhand crosscourt. By doing this you'll learn to play strong but steady backhands, to move the ball around on the backhand court, and to play aggressive backhands when you see the chance. Players of different levels can play this game by spotting points - I was giving my students yesterday anywhere from 6-8 points per game, and we had some epic battles.

Forehand step around footwork

Here's a slow motion video (4:56) that demonstrates and explains forehand step around footwork (i.e. forehands from backhand corner).

"Making it Easy"

Here's a two-minute highlight video that shows the rackets used by the best Chinese players in the world, and set to music.

Table tennis goes to the dogs

Two corgis play "doubles" (1:09).


Send us your own coaching news!

January 9, 2012

Tip of the Week

Proper Care of Your Racket.

Serve practice

A few days ago a practiced my serves for 15 minutes, something I hadn't done in a few months. (Remember, I'm 99% coach, 1% player these days.) Last night at the club everyone had absolute fits with them. One player even asked me when I'd developed the new serves - and all I was doing was using my normal serves, but with a bit more spin, lower to the net, and with a quicker, and so more deceptive motion. This has actually happened many times in the past. Serves are one of the most under-practiced techniques in table tennis. I've never understood why more players don't understand this - but it might be because you have to develop your serves to a certain level before the huge advantage from service practice starts to really pay off. Suffice to say that players who usually challenge me struggled to get five points against me last night.

Baltimore Sun and other press coverage

How do you get press coverage for table tennis? By sending out press releases. I've sent out three since the U.S. Nationals in late December. Yesterday the Baltimore Sun sent a reporter out to do a feature story on Tong Tong Gong, who made the U.S. National Cadet Team for the second straight year. He interviewed most of "Team Tong Tong" - me (tactical coach), Cheng Yinghua (who along with Jack Huang and Jeffrey Zeng Xu, are his main drilling coaches), his dad (manager), and we also talked about Tong Tong's physical trainer (he meets with him once week, does other physical training on his own as assigned). The only downside - the players I was coaching during this time (hi John, Kevin) had their sessions interrupted several times as I spoke with the reporter. (I now owe them big time, or as I told them, time and a half.)

Later this week a reporter from the Howard Country Time is also sending a reporter out to do a story on Tong Tong. As I told the Sun reporter, I will not rest until I see a major newspaper headline that says, "The Tong Tong Gong of Ping-Pong." (The Sun already did a short article on the results from the Nationals, featuring Maryland players, including the all-Maryland men's final between Peter Li and Han Xiao.)

Dan Seemiller Ping-Pong Waiter Dream

I had the weirdest dream last night. I was at a restaurant with some of our top junior players. They were asking about how much money they could make at table tennis, and in the dream I was trying to convince them of all the wonderful riches they'd make if they became champions. Then five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller came over as our waiter! Now dreams can be weird, and I spent the rest of the meal trying to convince the kids of how much money Dan made as a waiter because of his table tennis skills. (Sorry, Dan! Just for the record, Dan's a professional coach in South Bend, Indiana, and other than his wife and kids, I don't think he waits on anyone.)

Pongcast TV Episode 07 - 2011 Year in Review Part 2

Here is part 2 (23:18), which reviews the world of table tennis for the second half of 2011. "A certain Chinese player goes on a stunning winning streak, just before the end of the year a certain European player makes a comeback, and my pick for the best finals of the year!" Part 1 (22:47) went up last Thursday, covering the first half of 2011.

Justin Bieber to Unveil New Ping-Pong Playing Robot at CES

I've blogged about Topio, the ping-pong playing robot that looks like the Terminator. Now Justin Bieber will introduce us to his new brother, Tosy! (And here are Justin Bieber's ping-pong playing credentials.)


Send us your own coaching news!

January 6, 2012

Reverse psychology

I think I'm the top reverse psychologist in the world of table tennis. When I'm working with a new kid who's trying to hit twenty forehands for the first time, do I what most coaches do and say, "You can do it!"? No. I have more success saying, "Twenty in a row? You can't do twenty, that's way too many. No chance!" And of course the kid is then determined to prove me wrong, even though they know I'm joking. I've been using the trick for so many years that I've got dozens of variations.

It's also a great way to get in shape - all I have to do is say, "I'll bet you twenty pushups you can't do twenty in a row," and I'll be doing twenty before the session is done, often after the next rally. Getting to make a coach drop and do twenty has a way of focusing one's mind. (Confession: I used to bet twenty pushups, but that was getting to be too much, so now I only bet ten.)

Increasing coaching hours

I'm increasing my coaching hours starting this month. So if you are anywhere near the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD, and are looking to become the greatest player in the history of the world, or at least to work on that bad habit of yours that keeps you from beating the Chinese, contact me. (If interested in group sessions, contact me so I can put you on the info lit. I plan to start up some new programs around March, when the club doubles in size and we have lots of free tables.)

Developing your game

And while we're on the subject of your becoming the greatest player in the history of the world and beating the Chinese, what have you been working on right now? If you aren't working on something in your game, then how can something in your game get better? Either find a weakness you want to improve, or a strength (or potential strength) that you want to turn into an overpowering strength, and focus on it for a while.

Preparation for the US Olympic Trials: The Final Week - Stage 5

Here is Stage 5 - the Final Week - of Samson Dubina's articles on training for the Olympic Trials. And in case you missed them, here is Stage 1Stage 2, Stage 3, and Stage 4.

Interview with Susan Sarandon

Table tennis sports psychologist and professional player & coach (TTSPPPC?) Dora Kurimay interviews actress Susan Sarandon, co-owner of Spin Table Tennis in New York City. You can also follow Dora's blog, which focuses on sports psychology and table tennis.

Beer Pong

They just held the World Series of Beer Pong, Jan. 1-5 in Las Vegas. $65,000 in prize money. Here's the promo video of these elite athletes in action (1:11) - but don't worry, no underage ping-pong balls were inebriated in the making of this video.

I'm gonna to be sick. (Actually, I am sick with a cold, but $65,000 beer pong just made this non-drinker sicker.)

Moonpig in action!

Who says you can't play the net in table tennis? Here's 41 seconds of feline fury.


Send us your own coaching news!

January 5, 2012

Busy month ahead

One of our full-time coaches at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, is leaving Monday for a month in China. Sun Ting, who recently joined our staff, is also in China, also returning in about a month. I'm subbing for some of their students while they are away so it's going to be a busy month. (Pray for my back!) We'll be back at full strength around the start of February.

Around that time is when the wall to our club goes down and we take over the space next door to us, doubling the club's size. It'll probably be another month of renovations before everything's ready, and then we'll have 11,000 square feet, around 18-20 tables all on red rubber flooring, the bathroom that's currently in the middle of the club obstructing everything will finally be off to the side, and we'll have our new weight room. We'll also have a new modernized web page, and our new facebook page will be ready for action. Our coaching staff will then include me, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Sun Ting, Raghu Nadmichettu, and Donn Olsen.

Equipment Junkies: The Next Generation

Yesterday I was coaching a 10-year-old semi-beginner. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten his racket, which was a standard relatively slow beginner's blade with about 1.7mm Sriver on both sides. So he tried out mine - a fast carbon blade with space-aged sponge with built-in glue effect on both sides.

His first ten shots went way, Way, WAY off the end, with his eyes going wide like a pancake after the first one. But then he adjusted. It was like going from a sailboat to a nuclear-powered hydroplane. He loved the way the racket practically trampolined the ball back. He was literally clutching it to his chest, saying "I'm keeping this!"

I explained how he wouldn't be able to control it in a game situation, where he wouldn't get the predictable shots as he got in drills, and how shots he could control with his old racket would often miss with this warp 8 racket, but it was too late. Thus an equipment junkie was born. At the end of the session I had to essentially pry the blade from his cold, EJ fingers.

After the lesson, he called his dad over and I gave both of them my standard lecture on equipment - the advantages/disadvantages of faster blades, different types and thicknesses of sponge, bounciness and throw angles, etc. But there's no turning back. Next week I'm going to put some advanced sponge on his slower blade, giving him a sort of nuclear-powered sailboat. Hopefully that'll work for him. Otherwise he'll be on his way to the dark side like my previous students Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine.

Ma Long's windmill defense

Watch as China's Ma Long, world #1, improvises and does a windmill-style (or as we call in the U.S., Seemiller-style) backhand chop return of this loop in this slow-motion 60-second video. When you are through oohing and aahing about that shot, watch it again from the perspective of the opponent. When I first saw the video, I thought it was Werner Schlager, but a close look tells me (I think) that it's Tomislav Kolarek of Croatia (Can anyone verify?), world #190, who played Ma Long in the early rounds at the 2011 World Championships in the Netherlands - Ma wins at 2,5,6,5. Even more interesting to me than Ma's improvised defense is the way Kolarek tricked him into thinking he was looping to the forehand by lining up his shoulders as if he were going that way, but instead going down the line. (Also of interest - watch the serve. It's completely hidden from the opponent and illegal. It disappears behind Kolarek's head, and doesn't reappear until after contact when it reappears at his side.)

Pongcast TV Episode 06 - 2011 Year in Review Part 1

This is part 1 (22:47), which covers the first six months of 2011. I'm not sure when Part 2 comes out.

Racket sports bloopers

Here's a blooper video (1:24) mostly for racket sports, including several from table tennis, as well as tennis, racquetball, badminton, tetherball, and volleyball.


Send us your own coaching news!

January 4, 2012

USA Cadet Depth

The depth of play at the cadet level (which roughly means under age 15) has dramatically increased over the lasts five years in the USA. How did this happen and how much stronger is it? First I'm going to digress to five years ago.

In December, 2006, at the USA Table Tennis Board meeting at the USA Nationals, I gave a Junior Training presentation. USATT had struggled for years to find ways to increase the number and level of our juniors, and at the same time was focused on developing elite players. I argued that the solution to both these problems was for USATT to recruit and train coaches to set up full-time training centers and junior programs. USATT was already running coaching clinics; why not just change the emphasis?

The response was, at best, weird. Most of the board loved the idea, crossed it off the agenda, and went on to the next item. It was as if they had no way of actually implementing things they wanted to do. Two board members did speak up strongly against the idea, arguing that we had no idea if there was a demand for such training centers, and if we got coaches to set them up, what if nobody came?

I'm not making this up. (To those of you who aren't sure why this is so silly, it's because the most basic part of setting up a full-time training center or junior program is that you learn how to recruit new players. You don't wait until a hundred players magically appear, waiting in a parking lot for you to open a training center; you open the training center and recruit new players.) In September, 2009, I made the same argument at the USATT Strategic Meeting, but again to no avail.

The reaction to my proposal in 2006 was a primary reason why I resigned one month later as USATT editor and club programs director. But the funny thing is I'm no longer so sure USATT should get involved in these matters, since it's not a high-priority issue for them. I may open my own table tennis coaches academy to recruit and train coaches. 

As I noted in my 2006 presentation, there were only about ten serious junior programs and about the same number of full-time training centers in the country. The Maryland Table Tennis Center (my home club, which I co-founded in 1991) had been dominating junior table tennis in the country for 15 years. There wasn't a whole lot of competition during those years as there were so few places in the U.S. actually devoted to training juniors. Boy has that changed!

There are now about fifty full-time training centers, and nearly that many serious junior programs. (Not all full-time training centers have serious junior programs, though most do, and there are some serious junior programs that do not have a full-time training center.) These training centers have been popping up all over the U.S. in the last five years, especially in the Bay area and other regions in California, and in various places in the northeast. (There are now five full-time table tennis centers within 45 minutes of me here in Maryland.) Imagine if USATT had helped out in recruiting and training these coaches - they wouldn't have had to keep reinventing the wheel. We'd probably have over a hundred by now. (And what was the goal of my presentation? "One hundred serious junior training programs in five years.") Even now, if someone wants to open a full-time training center, there is no manual, no guidance; one either has to re-invent the wheel or go to one of the current ones and ask them how they did it. (I did write on my own the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers  how to set up and run a junior program, but not how to set up and run a full-time training center.)

What is the result of all these new training centers over the past five years? The results are overwhelming. Here's a rundown of the past five years:

  • Number of juniors who are USATT members increased from 1010 to 1344;
  • Number of juniors over 1500 went from 183 to 379;
  • Number of juniors over 1000 went from 424 to 640.

But it's the depth at the higher levels that really stands out. I have copies of the Nov/Dec 2006 and Nov/Dec 2011 USATT Magazines in front of me, both opened to the age rankings which list the top 15 for each category. I also used the "Customizable Member Lists" in our online ratings to check rankings. Here's a comparison.

Under 18 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2159.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2593 to 2337.
  • The 2159 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #54.

Under 16 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2087.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2540 to 2281.
  • The 2087 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #49.

Under 14 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2323 to 1870.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2417 to 2173.
  • The 1870 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #55.

Under 12 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 1440.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2417 to 1889.
  • The 1440 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #48.

Under 10 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 620.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 1900 to 1133.
  • The 620 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #33.
    (Note - while the #1 under 10 in 2006 was Feng Yijun at 2044, the #2 was only 1495, which would have been #6 in 2011.)

Under 18 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2330 to 1811.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2544 to 2090.
  • The 1811 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #47.

Under 16 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2113 to 1620.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2544 to 1973.
  • The 1620 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #48.

Under 14 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 1432.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2218 to 1717.
  • The 1432 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #31.

Under 12 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 553.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2150 to 1007.
  • The 553 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #38.

Under 10 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 894 to 80.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2150 to 332.
  • The 80 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #23.

*  *  *  *  *

Finals of Men's Singles at the 2011 World Championships

For those of you who missed it, here's Zhang Jike and Wang Hao playing the final of Men's Singles at the 2011 World Championships, with the whole thing in just 12:11 (the time between points has been removed).

Three interesting articles from ITTF

Matt Lauer's Epic Match

Here's the article's title: "Matt Lauer Has Epic Ping Pong Match With The Elderly Couple Who Couldn’t Figure Out A Webcam."

"Loopers" - the movie

You know when they make a movie about loopers - with Bruce Willis! - that the sport is taking off. I think. The irony is the movie is really about killing, and looping pretty much ended the hitting style at the higher levels.

28,818 ping-pong balls in a Toyota Prius

That's Scott & Austin Preiss in the deluge.


Send us your own coaching news!


January 3, 2012

Tip of the Week

Table Tennis Tip: Pushing and Looping Deep Backspin.

Still sick

This is Day Three of the Great Cold of 2012. I'm not sure whether to blame Obama, the Iowa caucuses, or global warming, but if my cold doesn't get better soon I'm going to blame somebody. It looks like another day in bed reading. (Actually, maybe having a cold isn't so bad.)

Celebrities Update

Over the weekend I updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 18 new pictures of 9 new celebrities. There are now 1317 pictures of 760 celebrities playing table tennis. The new celebrities are:

  • Tom Cruise, actor
  • Rob Lowe, actor
  • Ralph Macchio, actor
  • Jack Benny, actor and comedian
  • Mary Livingstone, actress and comedian
  • Alice Cooper, rock star (new picture)
  • Michael Buble, singer (5 pictures)
  • Joe Reeder, former U.S. Undersecretary of the Army and Chairman of the Panama Canal Commission (and a student of mine!)
  • Baron Davis, basketball player
  • Blake Griffin, basketball player (5 pictures)

Christmas Camp

On Saturday we finished our 21st annual Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. There were over 30 players, almost all juniors, ranging from beginners to several over 2300. I blogged about much of this last week. Here are two interesting notes from the last day.

  • I overheard a group of kids, ages 10 or 11, discussing the intricacies of Tenergy 05, 25, and 64, with the FX option. I'm not sure why, but I found this incredibly funny. (By the way, I'm an advocate of kids who train regularly and get good coaching to use advanced sponges like this after they've reached about 1500 or so in level - it really helps in their progress, especially with looping. It's the racket that should not be too fast until they are relatively advanced.)
  • I told a kid I was feeding multiball to that he should try to remember the feel of the good forehand loops. He said, "That's easy. The ones that strain my back are the good ones." Uh oh.

Article on World Champion Zhang Jike

He describes the year as "powerful."

Marty Reisman video feature

Here's a video profile of Marty Reisman (6:36) as part of the "City Series" featuring New York City.

1998 Eastern Open

In my blog on Friday, in pointing out my credentials for promoting major tournaments (in regard to the low turnout at the 2011 USA Nationals), I wrote of the 1998 Easterns I directed, "I promoted the heck out of that tournament." Someone complained that I seemed to be taking all the credit for the record entries at that tournament, when I was just pointing my particular background in this. So to be clear, Richard Lee and others all promoted the heck out of that tournament, leading to the huge entry turnout.

Breaking News - I'm running for U.S. President

I'm running for president of the United States as a member of the Ping-Pong Party. My minions are already moving out through Iowa and New Hampshire, getting the signatures needed to get me on the ballot for their caucuses (in Iowa today, so we're in a bit of a rush) and primaries. I will also be on the Republican ballot, as the conservative alternative to Romney and the moderate alternative to all the rest. I am also running as the Libertarian alternative to Ron Paul by claiming to be a libertarian to libertarian audiences.

I will gladly meet any of my rivals anytime and anywhere in Iowa in a game of ping-pong where I will destroy them, as I will destroy all our nation's foes, except perhaps the Chinese, who are actually very good at ping-pong. Under my leadership, USA will dominate the 21st century as the second best ping-pong power. Altogether now, "We're number two! We're number two! We're number two!"


  • I promise to do whatever you want me to do if it will get me your vote. This is a core value with me, and I always stick to my core values.
  • Hardbatters: I will outlaw sponge.
  • Inverted sponge players: I will outlaw hardbat and anything that's not inverted.
  • I will create a Blue Ribbon Commission to come up with a new service rule that can actually be enforced, and then shoot all umpires that do not do so.
  • I will occupy a tea party and serve tea to the occupiers. I will give them cream and sugar in their tea until they give in to my demands. If they do not, I will stuff ping-pong balls down their throat.
  • I will revamp our national educational system, replacing outdated schools with modern table tennis training facilities.
  • I will change the national mascot from a bald eagle to a large ping-pong ball, and solve our economic problems at the same time by bidding out rights to what brand becomes the National Ball. Will it be Nittaku? JOOLA? Stiga? Butterfly? Halex? Double Happiness? Bids are open now, starting at $1 Trillion.
  • I will nuke our country's economic rivals. Why? Because I like saying "nuke."

The Simpsons and Ping-Pong

  • Here are two pictures of Bart and Lisa Simpson playing ping-pong: Picture 1 and Picture 2
  • Here's a drawing of Bart with a ping-pong paddle.
  • Here's a recording of Patrick Stewart saying "Now let's all get drunk and play ping-pong."
  • Here's the online wiki for Madam Wu, a minor character on The Simpsons, where it says that "Her father was a professional ping pong player who died when he got a ping pong ball lodged in his throat." According to The Simpsons 2012 Daily Desk Calendar (which I just got for Christmas), in the Oct. 10, 2012 entry, it says, "Her father choked to death on a Ping-Pong ball the day before the Heimlich Maneuver was invented."


Send us your own coaching news!


January 2, 2012

We're going to try an experiment today. I went to bed last night with a nasty cold, and got up this morning with a nastier one. And according to the federal government, today is the new year holiday, and if I don't take the day off, the terrorists win. So I'm going to go back to bed without a blog entry today (except for this), and postpone the Tip of the Week until tomorrow. If the universe explodes, it's my fault. Sorry. (Happy New Year!)

December 30, 2011

MDTTC Christmas Camp

Yesterday at the MDTTC Christmas Camp the focus was on backhand attack. That meant lots of backhand smashes, backhand drives and flips against backspin, and backhand loops. I was amazed at how fast some of the "beginner" kids picked up the backhand loop. The old paradigm that you have to be relatively advanced before you can backhand loop has been wrong for many years, and yet it still plagues many junior players whose old-fashioned coaches hold back on teaching this shot, thereby handicapping their games. My general rule of thumb is as soon as the kid can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands with a good stroke he's ready to learn to loop.

This reminds me of a Junior Olympics many years ago where a full-time professional coach from another region was admiring the level of play of the Maryland juniors. She was amazed at how well some of our kids in the 10-year-old range could loop, and commented, "None of my students that age are good enough to learn to loop yet." As she explained, she thought it was assumed a kid needed to be at least 1500 before he should be taught to loop. Yikes!!!

Once again I gave out lots and lots of chocolates in a game where the players had to hit a bottle to win one. My chocolate supply is making me very popular.

Entries at USA Nationals

We now have the entry totals for the USA Nationals - and it ain't particularly pretty. (The ratings for both the North American Teams and the USA Nationals were processed last night.)

Using the USATT ratings database, there were 502 players at the 2011 USA Nationals in Virginia Beach who played in rated events. (Players who only entered doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper are not included in these totals.) This is by far the lowest total in the ratings histories, which start in 1994, with the next lowest the 592 in 1998, and 27% down from last year's 686, and way down from the 829 and 837 in 2005-2006. Other than the 1986 Nationals in Pittsburgh (where I believe there were less than 400 entries), I believe this is the lowest turnout ever for a USA Nationals since the first one in 1976. (I'm not including U.S. Opens, which were sometimes referred to as the USA Nationals before the first "official" one in 1976.) It also pales by comparison to the totals for the North American Teams, which had 767 players. Of course, the reality is that neither of these are large totals. There were two U.S. Opens in the mid-1970s that had over 1000 entries, in Houston and Oklahoma City.

I've put together a graph showing the annual totals for the USA Nationals starting in 1994. (Other than 1986 in Pittsburgh and one year in Anaheim in the last 1980s, I believe it's been held in Las Vegas every year.) I also put together one for the U.S. Open.

Some will immediately conclude that the problem was the location - Virginia Beach. This is basically correct. Putting the Nationals at a "vacation" area like Las Vegas automatically attracts players. But as proven by the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids in 2010 (645 entries, versus 610 the year before in Las Vegas), you can attract players to non-vacation lands. I had an email exchange with the Grand Rapids organizers about a year before the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids where I gave numerous recommendations on how to get entries, and they did use many of those methods, whether on their own or because of my email. (Maybe sometime later I'll publish the entire list.)

I have some experience in this, which is why I was contacted by the Grand Rapids people. While I've run about 150 tournaments, I've run only one 4-star tournament, the 1998 Eastern Open in Baltimore. It received 411 entries - 359 in rated events, the rest in doubles events or paid no-shows - which I believe is still the record for most entries in a 4-star event (other than the North American Teams, which for some silly reason, is still listed as a 4-star). I promoted the heck out of that tournament, as did Richard Lee and others who put it together. 

How did we get so many entries at the 1998 Easterns? By promoting the tournament to potential players. I'm sure the tournament committee for the 2011 Nationals also worked like crazy to get entries, but they didn't seem to have any experience in doing this, and didn't seem to consult with those who did. For example, there are a huge number of players in neighboring Maryland, including the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my home club, with a 200+ membership. I don't recall a single mailing or any other serious contact made with MDTTC to attract players. There also was no personal invitation to enter the tournament by "names," as Grand Rapids did with Dell and Connie Sweeris. Get a Sweeris, Seemiller, or similar "name," send out a personal invitation to enter the tournament from them (focusing on regions within driving distance, and flooding the local regional clubs with flyers), and use other successful methods  to promote the tournament (I won't elaborate here, maybe later), and you'll be surprised at how many entries you can get.

I really believe they can get 700+ entries in Virginia Beach if they promote the heck out of the tournament using the successful methods others have used. On the other hand, if they did the same in Las Vegas, they might get 1000. Heck, if Houston and Oklahoma City can get over 1000, why can't Virginia Beach or just about any other location that promotes the tournament properly?

Here are the entry totals for the Nationals, 1994-2011.

USA Nationals

  • 2011: 502        Virginia Beach
  • 2010: 686        Las Vegas
  • 2009: 597        Las Vegas
  • 2008: 604        Las Vegas
  • 2007: 730        Las Vegas
  • 2006: 837        Las Vegas
  • 2005: 829        Las Vegas
  • 2004: 755        Las Vegas
  • 2003: 707        Las Vegas
  • 2002: 678        Las Vegas
  • 2001: 672        Las Vegas
  • 2000: 686        Las Vegas
  • 1999: 658        Las Vegas
  • 1998: 592        Las Vegas
  • 1997: 650        Las Vegas
  • 1996: 613        Las Vegas
  • 1995: 660        Las Vegas
  • 1994: 598        Las Vegas

USA Nationals Videos

You can now watch just about every major match from the 2011 USA Nationals!

Mission Impossible: Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang

Here's a photo montage to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:46), set to the theme music of Mission Impossible, who just played each other in the Women's Singles Final at the USA Nationals for the second year in a row, and now have their eyes set on the 2012 Olympics.

One-Year-Olds Forehand

Here's actual footage (1:21) of the 2028 U.S. Women's Singles Champion, currently one year old. (I believe its Samson Dubina's daughter - that's him "coaching" her.)

Topspin Charity Ping-Pong and Baron Davis

Here's a humorous video (3:14) of Baron Davis of the Cleveland Cavaliers promoting the Topspin Ping-Pong Charity Tournament. Here's more info on the event.


Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content