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!

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.

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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.

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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!"

Platform:

  • 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."

***

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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.

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December 29, 2011

Falling backwards when forehand looping against backspin

This is a common problem with a rather easy fix. Many players go off balance and fall backwards when looping against backspin with their forehand. Why? It's almost always because they are standing too far from the table. And so they have to reach forward to contact the ball. This throws their weight slightly forward; to compensate, you have to lean backwards. You lose control, power, and are off-balance for the next shot.

How do you fix this? Stand closer to the table, and rotate more sideways when you loop. The contact point should be the same as before, but relative to your body, it's farther back in your hitting zone, often in front of the back leg. This allows you to rotate in a circle as you loop, creating torque and maintaining your balance even during your most powerful loops.

Yesterday, during the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, I found at least five players who were doing this. (I also had another chocolate candy "giveaway" - hit the bottle on the table, and get a delicious truffle! I gave out about 50 of them. I think we're the most popular table tennis camp in American right now.)

Table Tennis Training Stage IV: Putting It All Together

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

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's a short video from CCTV of the recent U.S.-China 40th Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy festivities in China, featuring Jimmy Carter, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, and numerous U.S. and Chinese players (2:05).

Crazy Like Table Tennis

Here's your daily table tennis fix - just over four minutes of great points, with an acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley - Crazy in the background.

Classic Table Tennis

Here's your Classic Table Tennis fix - table tennis from the 1947 World Table Tennis Championships, with hardbat.

Table tennis scandal in Singapore!

Yes, and we all love a scandal!

Michael Maze kicks table 95 times

Someone took a video of Denmark star Michael Maze (former European Top Twelve Champion, World Men's Singles Semifinalist) kicking the table, looped it over and over, and put it to music ("Red Red Wine"). Here's the video - interesting for five seconds, skip the last 1:22.

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December 28, 2011

MDTTC Christmas Camp

We're in the middle of the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. It's our 21st consecutive year we've had a Christmas Camp, along with about 150 other camps, mostly during the summer. (All camps are five days/30 hours long.) I basically run the morning sessions, where I give short lectures and then go into groups where the players rotate, doing multiball with the coaches. Coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun are the other coaches. Cheng and Jack run the afternoon sessions. Coach Jack Hsu is also coming in during the morning sessions to assist and put in the hours needed toward his ITTF coaching certification.

We have about 30 players this year, including a number of "luminaries," such as 2011 and 2012 National Cadet Team member Tong Tong Gong, 10 & Under Boys' Finalist at the Open and Nationals Derek Nie, U.S. Under 10 and Under 12 #1 Girl Crystal Huang (she's 9 and rated 2150!), 15-year-old Nathan Hsu (2277), and a bunch of others that range from beginner to 2200, including players from California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington DC., and of course Maryland.

Yesterday I brought in a box of chocolates - 48 in all - and during break I put them on the table near the edge. (They were individually wrapped.) Nearly the entire camp joined in as I fed multiball - two shots each, a forehand from the backhand side, and one from the forehand side - where if they knocked one off, they got the chocolate. It took about 20 minutes for them to knock off all 48, thereby saving me the trouble of having to eat them all and gain 20 pounds.

After two weeks at the Nationals and Christmas, I hadn't fed multiball in a while. After two days of feeding multiball, my out-of-shape arm is sore. Soon I'll be off for another day, with today's focus on forehand looping. Plus I have another box of chocolates.

Coaching Seminar at the USA Nationals

As I noted in my blog yesterday, Stefan Feth and Richard McAfee held a coaching seminar at the USA Nationals last week. I attended as did about twenty others. USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth went first, with a presentation on "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game," which I also wrote about yesterday.  

Richard McAfee's presentation was on Half-Pattern Drills. Many players use rote pattern drills, where you know where the next ball is going, and so do repetitive footwork and stroke practice. However, in a game, the balls do not come out in a set pattern. At the other extreme from rote drills are pure random drills where the ball can go anywhere, such as anywhere on the forehand side and you have to move and play forehand, or randomly to the backhand or forehand, and you have to react accordingly.

With Half-Pattern drills, it's in the middle, with perhaps half the shots in the drill a pattern, and half random. This bridges the gap between rote and random drills. Including in his presentation was a printout, with nine examples of half-pattern drills, which were demonstrated in the presentation.

For example, instead of a rote drill where balls alternately to the forehand or backhand, or a random drill where the ball goes randomly to either side, a half-pattern version would be one or two balls to the forehand, one or two balls to the backhand, and repeat. In this case, you know where every other ball is going, and every other ball is random. Or do a drill where you go backhand-to-backhand until after 2-3 shots, one player goes to the forehand (either one player always does this, or either can), and then it's free play.

Come up with your own half-pattern drills - find something you need to work on, and work out a drill where about half the shots are a pattern, the rest random.

Timo Boll versus Chen Weixing

Here's a nice 44-second exhibition point between Timo Boll and Chen Weixing. And here's a more serious match between the two (9:57) from the 2009 German Open. (Germany's Boll is the #1 European player, currently #4 in the world but #1 for three months this year. Chen, formerly of China but now Austria for Germany, is currently #38 in the world but was formerly in the top ten.)

Table Tennis Nation Paddles

Table Tennis Nation now has a selection of nine fancy paddles for your selection! These are sandpaper rackets, but even if you don't plan to use them serious matches, they look pretty nice, perhaps as wall ornaments. The selections are Liberty, Zebra, Crazy Leopard, Leopard, Tiger, Patriot (sold out), Manga Mascot, Sunset, and Starry Starry. (Yes, it's "Starry Starry.")

Passionate Ping-Pong

Here's a humorous table tennis video from comic table tennis player Adam Bobrow (4:09), also starring cadet star Ethan Chua - enjoy!

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December 27, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance is a Habit.

Back from break

I've mostly been away the last two weeks, coaching at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach and at Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, CA. I'm pretty much setting a policy that when I'm out of town, I take a vacation from blogging. But now I'm back, and so expect new blogs to go up every morning, Mon-Fri, normally by 9 or 10 AM. It won't be easy this week - I'm coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center Christmas Camp, and so have to get it all done before I leave each morning. (It's our 21st consecutive Christmas Camp - every year starting in 1991 - and roughly our 150th five-day camp overall.)

Coaching Seminar at the USA Nationals

At the recent USA Nationals Stefan Feth and Richard McAfee held a coaching seminar on behalf of the USATT coaching committee. I attended as did about twenty others. USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth went first, with a presentation on "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game." Unfortunately, you had to be there to see the demos to really understand these techniques, but I'll cover them briefly.

Serve:

  • Ways to serve forehand backspin but fake topspin with an upward elbow follow-through.
  • Importance of focusing on one or two service motions.
  • Nine spots to serve to - short, half-long, and long to the forehand, middle, and backhand.
  • Inside-out hook serves

Receive - Banana and Strawberry flips. I'm not making this up!

  • Banana flips are becoming somewhat standard for top players. It is done with the backhand against a short ball (usually a serve, often against backspin) where you wrist the ball back with topspin and sidespin, with the sidespin coming from a right-to-left motion. Here's a video from PingSkills (4:09) where they teach the shot, though they call it a backhand sidespin flick.
  • The Strawberry flip (more commonly called a Reverse Banana Flip) is the rarer version where you create a backhand sidespin drive with a left-to-right motion. Many players can sort of do this as a simple sidespin receive, which can be effective as a change-up, but a Strawberry flip is an actual aggressive drive that jumps at you with lots of topspin and especially sidespin - with the ball jumping away from you if it goes to your forehand. Sorry, no video! (This shot was a specialty of Feth's when he was on the German team - not sure how many others use this shot regularly.)

Richard McAfee's presentation was on Half-Pattern Drills - I'll cover that in a later blog, perhaps tomorrow.

2012 US Olympic Table Tennis Trials

Here's a 31-second video promoting the U.S. and North American Olympic Table Tennis Trials. (I'll be there coaching.)

Barack Obama and David Cameron playing table tennis

A while back I posted pictures of Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron playing table tennis - see the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. Now we have video!!! (I don't think I posted this 2:10 video before.)

2011 Best of Table Tennis

Here's a collection of some of the best rallies of 2011 (7:38).

Liu Guoliang versus Ma Long - on the mini-table

Yes, these two are going at it like champions for 42 seconds! Ma is the current world #1, while Liu is the current Chinese Men's Coach and former World, Olympic, and World Cup Men's Singles Champion.

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December 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Time-out Tactics.

Christmas Sabbatical

As noted last week, I'll be away for Christmas, so my next blog entry will be right after Christmas. Then I'll return to blogging every morning, Mon-Fri.

USA Nationals

I had a great time last week at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach. Here are the results. (Make sure to set the tournament field to "2011 US Nationals.") Ty Hoff and I won Hardbat Doubles (my 12th time at the Nationals or Open, eight of them with Ty, the other four with Steve Berger). However, I was mostly there to coach. Below are a number of segments about the Nationals.

USA Cadet Trials

Tong Tong started out poorly, losing numerous close games and matches the first three days, Tues-Thur, Dec. 13-15. However, the BIG event for him was the Cadet Trials, which were on days four and five. Last year he had gone in seeded #9 in the ratings, but made the team (top four) by pulling off four upsets to grab the fourth spot. This year he went in seeded #10 in the ratings, but made the team (finishing third) by pulling off five consecutive upsets! So he made the team two straight years by pulling off nine upsets without losing to anyone below him - not bad. If he had lost any of those nine matches or to anyone below him, he wouldn't have made the team that year. He's the only one to make the team both years. Key to his turnabout in the Trials - stronger mental focus and more two-winged attack. (He'd been playing too much forehand.) We also came very prepared tactically.

Between matches we spent as much time discussing NCIS and the Baltimore Ravens as we did table tennis tactics. He knew that I was doing this just to get his mind off table tennis, making it easier to clear his mind and focus when the time came, and he was smart enough to play along.

All-Maryland Men's Final

18-year-old Peter Li made an incredible comeback in the semifinals against defending champion Timothy Wang - who had beaten him in the final the year before - coming back from down 0-3 in games and from two match points in the fifth (after blowing a 9-4 lead!) to win, -6,-6,-4, 9,10, 8, 14. This led to an all-Maryland final between Peter and Han Xiao. (Han had his own deuce-in-the-seventh win in the quarters over Michael Landers.) During their junior years I played Han and Peter probably 700 matches and countless hours of training. (They were both primarily students of Cheng Yinghua.) Han also won men's doubles for the third time, teaming this time with Timothy Wang. Peter made the final of Mixed Doubles with Lily Zhang.

Other Marylanders who did well: Derek Nie made the final of Boys' 10 and Under Singles, losing the final 11-9 in the fifth (after leading 9-7, alas). Crystal Wang made both the cadet and mini-cadet girls' teams and got second in Girls 10 and Under Singles. Amy Feng made the quarters of Women's Singles. Charlene Liu won Over 50 Women's Singles. Mort Greenberg won over 80. Steve Hochman and Jeff Smart pulled off a flurry of upsets to make the final of Over 50 Doubles. Timothy La got second in Standing Disabled. And as noted, Tong Tong Gong made the National Cadet Team. 

Enez

Several people were calling this Nationals the Enez Nationals. Enez is the device that reads whether a racket has illegal vapors coming out of it, indicating illegal gluing or some other substance. There are some problems with this as sometimes new sponge right out of the package fails the test, so you have to air the rubber out for a bit. The device devastated the men's draw. Here's a short rundown - I'm sure I'm missing some, so feel free to chat if there are any I missed. Top seed David Zhuang was defaulted when both his rackets failed the test. Dan Seemiller's primary racket failed the test, so he had to use a backup. Barney Reed's racket failed the test, and he had to play with a borrowed racket.

Umpiring at the Nationals

Nearly all of the umpires did a fantastic job, and I tried to remember to thank them after each match (though I sometimes forgot in all the excitement - my apologies). They are often the forgotten and unthanked ones. We should make it a policy to really thank umpires when they do a good job, and understand the pressures they are under when they don't seem to be doing so well. It happens.

There were some problems. One cadet in the final twelve used illegal hidden serves over and over, and many of the umpires wouldn't call it. Ironically, his serves were faulted numerous times - forcing him to change to a legal motion - in the match before and after playing Tong Tong, but in their match the umpire wouldn't call the serves, putting Tong Tong at a huge disadvantage. However, Tong Tong persevered and barely won, deuce in the fifth after being down match point. The umpire graciously admitted after the match that he simply couldn't tell that the serves were hidden, that the motion was simply too fast, and in a future match he was scheduled to umpire that involved that cadet, he switched with another umpire. (I actually came prepared with printouts of this cadet's serve, showing it was illegal, but it really does happen so fast that umpires are hesitant to call it - but there is that rule that says the umpire must be satisfied that the serve is legal, so if he's not sure, he should warn and then fault.)

If Tong Tong had lost this match because of these illegal serves, it would have knocked him off the team. But how can you enforce the hidden serve rule in the cadet trials when anyone could see that many or most of the top men were clearing hiding their serves, and that it wasn't being called?

During one break, I chatted with an umpire, and made the jaw-dropping discovery that he thought that the service rule said that receiver must only see contact, and that there was no rule about removing the playing arm as long as it doesn't hide contact. Actually, receiver must be able to see the ball throughout the service motion (not just the split second at contact), and the non-playing arm must be removed immediately after tossing the ball up from the area between the ball and the net. (I'm just paraphrasing the rules.) I showed him the actual rules, and he was rather surprised.

Tong Tong got faulted in one match for dropping his hand below the table level while projecting the ball upward. In that situation, it's a rather petty rule, and yet it's a rule, correctly called - but few umpires call this. I'd never noticed how Tong Tong sometimes drops his hand during his toss, but it was an easy fix. This same umpire was one of the few who also correctly faulted players for hiding their serves.

The big umpiring problem in the Cadet Trials

There was one really serious umpiring problem that's going to bother me for a long time. In the crossovers for the top four, Tong Tong was faulted several times by an umpire for apparently hiding his serve, which he absolutely does not do. During the match, I was stunned by this, as was Tong Tong. He was forced to change his well-practice and legal service motion. After the match, which Tong Tong lost 11-8 in the fifth, I asked the umpire why he had faulted Tong Tong's serve. He said that the rules state that throughout the service motion, the ball must be visible to the receiver and the umpire! That simply is not true. (However, I wish it were a rule - but if it were, players would learn to serve that way.) A number of people probably saw my reaction to this in the arena, and it wasn't happy time.

I pulled out the USATT rules and showed him the actual wording of the rule, but he brushed that off, saying that the tournament was being played under ITTF rules, and that their rules were different. I was quite surprised that the USA Nationals would be using ITTF rules instead of USATT rules, but it didn't matter - the service rules for both are identical, as was shortly verified at the control desk. The umpire said it didn't matter, that it was impossible to tell if the serve was visible to the receiver unless the umpire could see the ball throughout the serve - again, this is false. A player hides the ball from the receiver by sticking his arm or shoulder out, or turning his back partly to his opponent at contact, and if he doesn't, then he's not hiding the serve, even if the umpire cannot see the ball throughout the serve. When a player lines up sideways to serve forehand, the umpire often cannot see the ball, but it's obvious to the umpire that the ball is visible to the opponent, which is what the rules require. If the intent of the rule was that the receiver and the umpire should both see the ball throughout the serve, then that's what the rule would say.

By this umpire's definition, essentially every forehand serve would be illegal on one side of the table if there were one umpire, including Tong Tong's opponent, whose serves were not called, despite his also having his back to the umpire when he started this serve. (Perhaps because Tong Tong is bigger and turns his back more to the umpire, but in both cases there is no way the umpire saw the ball throughout the service motion of either player when they were on the umpire's right.) If umpires do want to rule that they must be able to see the ball throughout the serve, then make that clear so players can practice their serves that way - and then enforce the rule with everyone.

The umpire said that if there had been an assistant umpire, then the serve would have been legal. And sure enough, in Tong Tong's next and final crossover match (for third and fourth), the same umpire was sent out. I requested a second umpire, and it was approved. Tong Tong went back to his regular service motion, neither umpire warned or faulted him, and he won the match.

One of the more experienced umpires explained to me later what almost for certain happened here. The current rules say that the umpire must be satisfied that the server is serving legally. However, the wording used to be that the umpire must see that the server is serving legally, and this had been misinterpreted as saying that the umpire must see the ball throughout the service motion. Because of this common misinterpretation, the wording was changed from "see" to "satisfied." It is likely that the umpire was going by the misinterpretation of the previous rule. I actually feel bad for the umpire - he must realize by now that he made a mistake, and that Tong Tong's serve was completely legal. Calling the service rule is by far the hardest thing to do in umpiring, and I don't envy their jobs. 

Alas, we'll never know what would have happened in that match had the umpire not improperly intervened. The two were about as evenly matched as possible; they had played earlier in the tournament in a different event, and that time Tong Tong had been up 10-8 match point before losing deuce in the fifth. It's possible the service interruptions hurt the opponent's focus as well. Without the service problem, it might have been another deuce-in-the-fifth battle. Who knows.

Regardless of that match, the cadets this year were without a doubt the strongest ever in U.S. history in terms of depth. Players that made the team a few years ago likely wouldn't have made the final twelve this year. Congratulations to the four team members - Teddy Tran, Kanak Jha, Tong Tong Gong, and Kunal Chodri!

Sandpaper

I was primarily coaching Tong Tong Gong. However, I was also coaching Ty Hoff in the sandpaper event - yes, I'm now a "professional sandpaper coach" - but he unfortunately lost in the semifinals. I also coached several others.

Table Tennis Videos from Elie

Here's a series of short table tennis coaching videos from Coach Elie Zainabudinova from the Gilbert Table Tennis Center. (Some of them start with a short advertisement.)

Table Tennis Dance

Here's a dance tribute to table tennis (2:40)! (Starts with a short ad.) And here's the St. Louis Junior Team Table Tennis Dance at the 2005 Chinese New Year Festival (3:55), and the Adam Bobrow's Victory Dance (1:11, make sure to watch to the end, starts with short ad).

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December 12, 2011

Tip of the Week

Depth control of serves.

The USA Nationals, Christmas Vacation, and a Sabbatical

After today, I'm taking a short sabbatical from blogging. My next blog will be next Monday, Dec. 19 (right after I return from the USA Nationals), and my next one after that will be when I resume blogging regularly (Mon-Fri) on Dec. 27. 

I'm leaving for the USA Nationals this morning, returning next Saturday. Then on Monday I leave for Santa Barbara, CA, for Christmas with family, returning on a red-eye flight on Christmas night that lands back in Maryland about 8AM on Dec. 26, in time for the MDTTC Christmas camp I coach at that starts that afternoon.

Yes, I know, the Nationals is exactly the time I should have lots to blog about, but I'm going to be extremely busy there, coaching, playing, and attending meetings, and expect to be leaving for the playing site early each morning and returning late.

I'm primarily going to the Nationals to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Hardbat Singles (which I've won twice at the Open or Nationals), Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion) and Hardbat Doubles (I'm 11-time and current champion, and playing with Ty Hoff - we've won it seven times).

I've spent way too much time in recent weeks working on my new table tennis book, watching videos of players that students of mine might be playing, and other sedentary projects at my computer, and now my back has stiffened up again, alas. Hopefully it'll loosen up when I play. However, as is the norm for me (since stiff muscles and coaching regularly don't mix well), I'm continually in a state of various injuries. Currently there's something in the back of my left knee that's hobbling me; my left Achilles tendon feels strained; and there's a strain in my right side. And why is my left big toe hurting? (I think I stepped on something sharp.) Par for me.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

I finished editing it this weekend. The "final" version is 81,066 words, with 21 chapters. In Courier New, double spaced, it prints out at 352 pages. I have a few people who are reading/critiquing it, and I'll probably do one more proofing. I have a publisher interested, though I'm toying with self-publishing. I'll look into the options in January.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminars in the USA

Thirtieth Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy in China

There's a U.S. contingent touring China - and here are links to a number of articles on it. And here's another that features Dell & Connie Sweeris.

Ma Long

Here's an article on the personal side of China's world #1.

Ma Lin's unbelievable (but illegal) serve

Here's a 19-second video of an unbelievable serve by China's Ma Lin. The ball curves so much not because of sidespin, but because of corkscrewspin, with the axis of rotation aimed away from Ma toward the server. (With sidespin, the axis would be up and down.) You can only get this much corkscrewspin with a high-toss serve, such as this one - see how high he tosses the ball. Some other world-class players probably have similar serves, you just don't see several bounces like this because the receiver normally hits the ball after the first bounce - and in this case, Ma has completely fooled the receiver, world champion Zhang Jike, who didn't see the sudden break coming, and thought the serve would go long.

Fantastic serve, but how many people noticed that he illegally hid contact with his arm? Freeze the video at contact and you'll see - you may have to make several attempts to get it. Or just see the image I took from the video. The arrows show the ball and his hand and arm. The rules say:

"From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall ... not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

"As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."

"It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws." 

It's possible that the receiver, Zhang, can barely see contact, but it's close - Ma's arm is rapidly moving out of the way, and the split second before this picture, the arm was completely in the way. It's the server's responsibility to serve so the umpire is satisfied that he is serving legally, and no umpire could possibly say that he is satisfied that this serve was not hidden. But we don't even have to go that far - the serve is blatantly illegal since he has left his free arm and hand between the ball and the net.

Table tennis going to the dogs

Let's watch 52 seconds of a Pekingese playing floor table tennis.

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December 9, 2011

Hidden Service Rules

From the just-received Nov/Dec 2011 issue of USATT Magazine, page 62, from the An Official's View article by International Umpire Joseph C. H. Lee:

[He quotes a service rule.] "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

[He quotes another service rule.] "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

"From the umpire’s angle, sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not the serve is hidden from the receiver. It is the server’s responsibility, however, to demonstrate to the umpire or the assistant umpire that the serve conforms to all aspects of the service rules."

He concludes with this:

"...the server must make sure the umpire can observe the entire motion of the serve, including the moment when the racket strikes the ball. If the umpire is unable to observe the serve, he/she will give a warning and the server had better comply in subsequent serves."

Bingo. Why is it so many umpires refuse to enforce the hidden serve rule? As International Umpire Joseph Lee writes above, if the umpire can't see that the serve is visible, then he gives a warning, and if it happens again, it's a fault. It's not complicated.

I've blogged about this a number of times. Will it be enforced at the Nationals next week? I sure hope so. If not, then umpires are allowing players to win by cheating, and penalizing the ones who do not cheat. If not enforced, it likely will be the difference between a player winning a championship or making a USA Team or going home frustrated because he was cheated out of these things.

Unfortunately, we ran into this at last years USA Cadet Team Trials, and again at the U.S. Open, when umpires often wouldn't call hidden serves. (And to be fair, it's often not called internationally either.) This year I've brought printouts from videos of many of the players in question, showing blatantly illegal hidden serves that umpires wouldn't call, even after protests by opponents or their coaches. Because some of the players involved are minors, I'm not going to make these public, but I will show them to umpires & referees, and anyone who privately (and cordially) asks to see them.

If umpires do not enforce the hidden serve rules at the Nationals, then I'm declaring these rules null and void (and the umpires incompetent), and our top players (including cadets and juniors) will have no choice but to learn these illegal serves to compete. A rule that is openly not enforced soon ceases to be a rule.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion

At the club last night I told a player about the upcoming expansion. (MDTTC doubles in size in January, taking over the space next door, with the wall between coming down, giving us about 11,000 square feet and 20 or so tables.) His immediate response? "There aren't enough players to support it!"

It's exactly what people said when we first opened 20 years ago, and there truly weren't nearly enough local players at that time to support a full-time table tennis center. Where will we get the players? The same way we did then, the same way any successful club does - you make the club as good as it can be, and promote the heck out of it. You build your membership, you don't wait for players to magically appear before creating the club.

I faced the same thing with USATT a few years ago when I pushed for nationwide leagues and junior training programs, with the goal of increasing the number of players and juniors. The response by many? "But there aren't enough players and juniors to create leagues and junior programs!" Alas.

Prize money increased for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids

And here's the article!

The Chinese Advantage

Here's an article by Coach Massimo Constantini on why the Chinese are so good. It mostly involves European laziness and problematic backhand techniques that led to problems on the forehand as well.

Pongcast Episode 5 - ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals

Here's the video (26:54) - enjoy!

Blake Griffin versus Soo Yeon Lee

Here a hilarious commercial for Red Bull (2:53), which features Griffin taking up professional table tennis and taking on Lee. Blake Griffin is a basketball player with the LA Clippers, for those of you who didn't know - like me until a few seconds ago. Soo Yeon Lee is a professional table tennis player and model - she was on the cover of the July/August USA Table Tennis Magazine.

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