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 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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February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)

This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.

I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)

I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:

  • "No one's called me on it before." (I know of at least one player who has used this excuse probably a dozen times. Thank about that! But even if it were true, then that doesn't change the fact that the serve is illegal; it simply means there has been lax umpiring.)
  • "That's the way everyone's serving." (Not true, but a lot do get away with it.)
  • "Why would you call me on serves?" (Because you are hiding your serve.)
  • "I'll call my opponent for serving illegally in practice, but no way should you call him on it in a tournament." (This is one of the stranger ones.)
  • "He's from your own player's club!" (So why is he hiding his serve against someone from his club who is not hiding his serve?)

It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.

Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.

By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.

Service seminars

I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!

2012 U.S. Open

Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!

Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book

Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player

While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:

  • "Never show what you want, if one thousand words will do.  All explanations should be as wordy as possible to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the game."
  • "Make sure to always tell the player what he or she did wrong."
  • "Teach volleyball [table tennis] the way it is supposed to be taught, on the chalkboard."
  • "Make sure to bawl players out about their mistakes, win or lose.  It is better to do this in front of a whole gym full of spectators, rather than in the locker room, or worse, one on one in private."

Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's

Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.

Kuwait Open Highlights Tape

Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.

Lady Antebellum Table Tennis

After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).

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February 23, 2012

Topspin on the backhand

One of the junior players I coach has been struggling to put topspin on his backhand. They all come out either totally flat (i.e. spinless) or even with slight backspin. This greatly hampers the pace at which he can rally consistently.

I'd tried for weeks to get him to put a little topspin on the shot, but nothing seemed to work. I had him exaggerate the rolling motion, almost like a mini-loop. I had him watch top players as they hit their backhands. I guided him through the stroke. But as soon as we went to rallying, he'd be back to his super-flat stroke.

Yesterday I tried something new and yet simple. I told him to just take the ball right off the bounce, with the racket at table level, and perpendicular to the table. At contact, I told him to lift the ball up over the net. It seemed so simple, and was nearly the same as the way I'd guided him through the stroke, and yet it worked - the rest of the session his backhand had that light topspin needed to control the ball. (Occasionally he'd fall into his old habits, but I'd remind him, and he'd go back to doing it properly.) He said it was the different sound of the contact that he was trying to match each time. Hopefully he'll still have this better backhand when he comes in to play this weekend, and at our next private session next week.

Determination

Recently I've been way too busy on way too many projects. Simultaneously, there's been some really irritating people doing irritating things, making it hard to focus on the way too many projects when other activities beckoned, such as watching TV or reading a good novel. So I printed out a big sign saying "Determination" and put it on my bulletin board just over my computer, where I can't help but see it constantly. It seems to help. (I keep hearing in my head the song "Tradition" from the movie Fiddler on the Roof, except I hear "Determination" instead of "Tradition." I'm not religious, but it's still a great movie.)

Ping-Pong Hero

Here's a news broadcast about Daryl Sterling, Jr., U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis star (5:36). I've actually coached against Daryl in several tournament matches - never successfully, alas. He lost a leg at age five in a car accident, and plays while leaning on a crutch.

Top Ten Rallies

Here's a Top Ten Rallies video (3:30). I don't think I've posted this one before.

Anagrams of U.S. Team Members

As promised yesterday where I did anagrams of the U.S. Men's Team, here are anagrams of the U.S. Women's Team - but as you'll see, they weren't nearly as many good ones, other than the ones for Ariel. Don't criticize or I will run you down and smite you, for not only is "Hodges" just an anagram for "He's God," but "Larry Hodges" is just an anagram for "Dasher Glory."

Gao Jun

  • On A Jug

Ariel Hsing

  • Irish Angel
  • Shinier Gal
  • A Shine Girl
  • Her Ailings
  • Sir Healing
  • English Air
  • I Signal Her
  • Rein His Gal
  • Nag I Relish
  • Has Lie Grin

Lily Zhang

  • Hall Zingy

Erica Wu

  • I Cue War

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February 22, 2012

Why good serves and steadiness go together

Many players believe that good serves and an attacking game go together. It makes sense - the good serves set up the attacking game. But I'd argue that good serves work even better if you have a control game. Why is this?

Suppose your good serves set you up to attack effectively against your peers two-thirds of the time. Then one-third of the time when you serve you are stuck not opening with a strong attack. On the other guy's serve you are also forced to start the rally playing more control as you look for a ball to attack. This means that you are starting out about one-third of the time using your strong attack, and stuck on the rest of the points. (Yes, you could attack the serve, but if the opponent is a peer, you shouldn't be able to attack his serve that strongly.)

Now let's suppose you have a control game. Even if you are a control player, those good serves are going to set you up for some easy putaways. Let's suppose you can do this one-third of the time when you serve. Plus you are able to play control on the other guy's serve 100% of the time. Result? You get to serve and attack easy balls one-sixth of the time, and play your control game the rest of the way. With the free spot from the good serves that set you up for some easy points, you should be able to win with control the rest of the way, if that's your game. (Plus the good serves will set the control player up to attack more and more, and so he'll develop his attack.) 

This doesn't mean everyone should become a control player. It means everyone should develop both control and attack. When people watch top players, they see the obvious attacking ability, but not as many notice how much ball control they have.

MDTTC webpage

See the MDTTC new and updated web page! We are doubling in size over the next month, plus starting up a series of new programs.

Timo Boll vs. Jorgen Persson

Here's a 70-shot rally between these two, with Persson back lobbing.

Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's a video on "Aerobic Table Tennis Beginners Session" (6:18), and here's the Aerobic Table Tennis home page, with lots of links. It's mostly for women, and is based in England, but there's no reason why others can't join in. (And I just had an article similar to this on "Cardiopong" published in USA Table Tennis Magazine!)

Anagrams of U.S. Team Members

Before we start, let me point out that "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God." Be nice to me or I might smite you. Tomorrow - the women! (Gao Jun, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu)

Michael Landers

  • Me Learn As Child
  • Handles Miracle
  • He Lands Miracle
  • Lame Child Nears
  • Mean Laser Child
  • Sane Child Realm
  • Me Child Arsenal
  • Nice Llama Herds
  • All Merchandise
  • Malice Handlers
  • His Elm Calendar
  • Calms Headliner

Barney Reed

  • Been Dreary
  • Ye Bear Nerd
  • Be Nerdy Era
  • A Nerdy Beer
  • Ye Darn Beer
  • Any Red Beer
  • Year Bender

Adam Hugh

  • Hug Ham Ad
  • Had Gum - Ha!
  • Had Ma Hug

Timothy Wang

  • I Own That Gym
  • I Won That Gym
  • Not With A Gym
  • Into What Gym?
  • Who Gym Titan
  • Hit A Gym Town
  • A Mighty Town
  • A Towing Myth
  • Hang Mitt - Yow!
  • Giant Ow Myth
  • Among Thy Wit
  • Goat Win Myth
  • Might Not Way
  • My Own Hit Tag
  • Hit My Tag Now
  • Go Thy Man Wit
  • Why Man Got It

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February 21, 2012

On the Talent vs. Training Debate....

After 10,000 hours of systematic training with the world's best coaches, this lizard has learned how to nail its prey.

Now, before you jump to a conclusion on what I believe based on my lizard example, let me be clear: I consider innate talent to be at most just a small aspect of what it takes to be a great player. Early on, talent helps tremendously, but as you move up the spectrum, hard work, coaching, and a good training environment pay off far more. (Also, it doesn't help to talk to students about talent, since they have no control over it. Those who don't believe in talent probably have an advantage over others as they aren't held back by doubts about their own innate "talent.")

But to argue absolutely that we all start with the exact same brain hardware simply isn't true. The brain is a complex organ that's evolved many built-in areas of specialization - spatial skills, verbal areas, facial recognition areas, etc., and as noted above, a lizard's innate ability to nail its prey with its tongue from a distance. Some aspects of these skills are likely helpful in table tennis. Just as there are variations in the rest of the body, there are variations in these areas of the brain because of the variations in the DNA. Why would people be born with so many variations in their bodies, but identical brains? They are both created from varying DNA, and so have varied development of the specialized parts of the brain. (Even Matthew Syed in his book "Bounce" didn't conclude there was no such thing as talent - he simply minimized its importance.) 

There are numerous studies of identical twins raised apart and how often they ended up with similar skills despite very different upbringings - they'd both be good at math or English or some other subject, and weak at similar areas, and have similar IQ scores. (While IQ isn't the same as intelligence, it does measure certain intellectual abilities.)  If we all start out with identical skills, then identical twins raised apart would vary in skills the same as randomly chosen people, but they do not because they started with roughly the same hardware from the same DNA.

But this is just the brain at the start. The brain is a learning organ, able to rewire much of itself, which is why hard work normally overcomes most or all of these starting variations. Talent normally only gives a temporary head start, although this is often enough to encourage the "talented" to continue, thereby fulfilling the potential shown by this "talent." Pretty much everyone has the potential to at least reach a very high level. Does it overcome it enough so that one without "talent" can become the best in the world? I don't know.

After 10,000 hours or so of training (what some say is what it takes to really master something), does this starting talent make a difference? Again, I don't know. Technically speaking, all things being equal, it will make at least a small difference, but that difference might be so small as to be insignificant. Or perhaps the "less talented" can never completely catch up, all other factors being equal, and they will always be relegated to something less than being the best in the world, and will merely be great athletes, but not quite the best - and, of course, as "great athletes," many will proclaim them "talented."

As to what "talent" for table tennis is, at least at the start, it would be any combination of some or all of the following - all of which can be enhanced with proper training.

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Ability to control body
  • Ability to make smooth and controlled movements
  • Ability to track the ball with the eyes
  • Ability to mimic
  • Ability to repeat a motion
  • Reflexes
  • Other mental skills (many)
  • Speed (fast twitch muscles)

Tim Tebow playing table tennis!

He's playing mostly against Trevor Runyan, the several-times U.S. Hardbat Champion (5:22).

Anime Table Tennis

Here are three great anime table tennis videos:

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February 20, 2012

Tip of the Week

Moving Players In and Out.

Topspin

I'm often amazed at how the world of table tennis is divided between two types: those who use the full power of topspin in their games, and those who don't. This doesn't mean looping every ball, but it does mean using topspin to control your offensive shots and often your defensive ones as well. Even when doing simple forehands or backhands a little topspin goes a long way. I know; I sometimes hit the ball too flat and pay the price.

It's actually very simple. Topspin pulls the ball down. This means balls that would go off the end instead curve down and hit the table. It's like having an additional couple of feet of table to aim for. The best way of demonstrating it is to drop a ball near the end line, and hit it as it reaches table level. Try smashing flat, and watch it go off. Then smash with a little topspin, and watch as it occasionally hits the far side, but only barely. Then loop kill it, and watch how it often hits the table with two feet to spare. (Of course, you have to be able to do these shots at a relatively high level to do the above - but if you can't, then get some top player to demonstrate, or just trust me.)

When attacking, you don't have the entire 4.5 feet of the far side of the table to aim for. On many shots, if you don't use topspin, you might only have the last few inches to aim for. With topspin, the size of your target goes up tremendously.

And we haven't even gotten into how topspin makes it easier to return hard-hit balls (again, larger target), or how the topspin jumps both on the table and off the opponent's racket, making it harder for them to make good returns. There's a place for all types of spin in table tennis, but from the intermediate to the advanced levels, topspin is king.

The problem, of course, is that it takes a lot of practice to learn to create this topspin, right? Actually, not really. It does take a lot of practice to use a lot of topspin, but even a little topspin on your drives goes a surprisingly long way, and that's not too hard to develop. How do you do this? Get a coach to work with you, and then practice.

To paraphrase a famous horror movie quote, next time you're playing grab the ball and tell it, "The power of topspin controls you!"

Western Open - note the quarterfinalists

Here are the results of the Western Open this past weekend. Congrats to all the winners! But as someone pointed out to me, there's something troubling here. Go to the Open results and look at the quarterfinalists. What do they have in common? All eight were born and trained in China. Not one American-trained player made the quarters. I have two things to say about this. 1) Congrats to all these eight quarterfinalists, who are champions (or at least quarterfinalists) no matter where they developed their games; and 2) Coaches everywhere, you have your work cut out for you. Get to work! (The nice thing is we have the strongest group of cadet players coming up right now probably in U.S. history, so perhaps things will be different in a few years.)

U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary

Here's another good article on the Trials last week.

Defensive play videos

Here are some great examples of defensive play, though much of it is exhibition. A lot of it features Germany's Jorg Rosskopf against chopper Chen Bing.

Non-Table Tennis - Story Published

My humorous fantasy story "Life and Death and Bongo Drums" was just published at Every Day Fiction. (When the entities LIFE and DEATH come for a mysterious Nazi-affiliated time traveler, the only thing standing between him and death are . . . bongo drums?) This is the 57th story I've sold, all science fiction or fantasy. (Here's my Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing page.)

Hilarious table tennis skit

This starts out as a seemingly friendly ping-pong game between two friends. Things get really wild about one minute into this 2:40 video - trust me, wait for it!

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