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!

November 15, 2011

Tip of the Week

Forehands from the Backhand Corner

Wang Hao's Illegal Serve

Here's Wang Hao against Zhang Jike in the final of the Men's World Cup this past weekend. Over and over Wang's serves are blatantly illegal. And yet, in one of the biggest matches of the year, with huge numbers of spectators (live or online), with coaches, players, and up-and-coming juniors watching, the umpires very publicly do not call it.

First, when Wang serves, notice how he always leaves his arm out until the last second, when the rules say, "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." I'm using his second serve in the video as an example (the first one was partly cut off), which starts eight seconds in. Here's a picture just before the ball drops behind his arm. He clearly did not remove his arm "as soon as the ball has been projected." Essentially all his serves are like this.

Second, notice how he hides contact with the arm? Here's another picture, a split second after the one above, where the ball has now disappeared from view - and note that he still has not removed his arm. Zhang is to our left and has a slightly better view, but contact is easily hidden from him by the arm in this picture. And yet, the rules state, "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."

Here's his first serve in game two.  Look at the racket, ball, and arm. His arm is directly between the ball and the opponent. Can anyone possibly say this is even remotely legal? Or this one, his second serve in game two, right at contact with his arm hiding it? Essentially every one of his serves are like these. (Earlier I had put up this randomly-chosen picture from later in the match, but I decided that made it looked like I was picking and choosing, so I changed to the ones he did right at the start of games one and two.)

Any umpire should be able to see that Wang is obviously not removing his arm from between the ball and the net, and that he is hiding contact with his arm. Even if they aren't 100% sure whether he is hiding contact, the rules state, "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." And yet, it doesn't get called.

This is frustrating to watch because if umpires will not call illegal serves, then the players who practice illegal hidden serves have a tremendous advantage. It's almost impossible to return hidden serves effectively unless you practice regularly against them, and you can't do that unless the other players you train with are also hiding their serves. If you are coaching a junior program, you can either 1) teach the juniors to serve illegally, or 2) don't teach them to serve illegally, and watch them lose to those who do because umpires won't follow the rules, and so are cheating the honest players.

Training with Timo Boll

Here are four great training segments with Timo Boll, world #2 and European #1.

Each segment is about 2.5 minutes, totaling just over ten minutes. For segments 2-4, his partner is Vladimir Samsonov. (You'll need to spend a lot of time in the Jim, I mean gym, to get the long and short of this shot. This is my way of mentioning that Jim Short first posted this video.)

  • 0:30: Forehand pendulum serve, including reverse pendulum. See how fast he whips the racket into the shot at the last second.
  • 2:27: Receive - flips, short push, long push, and loops.
  • 5:28: Forehand Loop - the Europeans just call it "topspin." One interesting note - Timo is known for changing his grip to a forehand grip when he forehand loops, but in the demonstration here he is using a neutral grip. You should always learn to loop that way or you risk developing bad habits. Some advanced players adjust their grip after their shots are ingrained.
  • 8:02: Backhand Loop. Watch the slow motion of the backhand loop, and see the shoulder motion? (Here it is again from a different angle.) I had a big argument with a U.S. National coach over this, who said the shoulder should be still during a backhand loop, with the entire shot rotating around the stationary elbow only. Actually, the shoulder moves early in the stroke, essentially dragging the arm up and setting the elbow rotation into motion like a whip. I know this not just from watching and learning from top players and coaches, but also because I have a very tight shoulder that makes the motion somewhat difficult for me. I actually have a decent backhand loop in drills, but in a match situation, because of the stiffness, my hitting zone seems about the size of a ping-pong ball. Recently it's improved, and I'm using it more against deep pushes instead of doing more usual step around forehand loop from the backhand corner.

Pongcast TV Episode 03 - 2011 World Team Cup

Here's Pongcast's video on the 2011 World Team Cup, their third video, just over 30 minutes long.

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 2 (7:47).

Table Tennis on the Simpsons

Yes, here's Bart Simpson playing table tennis! This segment is only 14 seconds, and he's only playing part of it, but in the actual episode (which I saw), the table tennis playing goes on a bit longer.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 14, 2011

Zhang Jike wins 2011 Men's World Cup

Here's coverage at Table Tennista, a great place to get your table tennis news (besides here!), including many articles translated from Chinese. Zhang was down 0-2 in the final to Wang Hao in the all-China final (what else is new?) before staging his comeback, -7,-7,9,4,5,3. Here's the whole match in just 13:49, with the time between points removed. (Note - this was originally linked to their match at the 2010 World Cup; it didn't get corrected until Monday night at 7PM.) Here's the ITTF home page for the Men's World Cup, with results, articles, and photos.

World Cup 2011: Zhang Jike (CHN) vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER)

One of the best matches of the 2011 World Cup was the Zhang-Ovtcharov match in the preliminaries. Both had already defeated the other two in the group (), and were playing for positioning in the final draw of eight players. Here's is the entire match in just 7:50, with the time between points removed. Zhang comes from behind 0-2 and 1-3 to win deuce in the seventh, -10,-7,5,-8,5,8,10. This is a great match to study. Watch how they vary their serves and receives.

Also note how Ovtcharov often serves backhand to the forehand side (see first point), and over and over Zhang returns it with his backhand. See extreme case at 0:50. Ovtcharov does it as well - see 1:05, for example. Also see 1:10, where Ovtcharov is about to return backhand from the forehand side, then realizes the serve is long, and switches to a forehand loop. As mentioned in previous blogs, this technique of using the backhand to attack short serves to the forehand, mostly against backhand sidespin type serves, is relatively new at the world-class level, and went against what coaches taught until just a few years ago, when top Chinese players like Ma Long and now Zhang began doing it successfully.

Day Five at the Writer's Retreat

Friday was the fifth and final day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I was working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

44,327 words, over 38,000 since Monday. I'm about two-thirds through the book, and hope to get most of that done this week - we'll see. Here's the wordy sentence of the day (which might get rewritten): "This book is for all levels, from beginners learning to play (who should focus on developing their game strategically so they can later have the weapons to use tactically) to intermediate players (who can execute many of the shots the best players do, at a lower level, and need to both find ways to maximize their tactical performance with the tools they have, and to strategically develop new weapons) to top players (who can use this book to develop - or further develop - the habit of thinking strategically and tactically).

Richard McAfee and the Micronesian Month

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee just finished his month-long coaching excursion to the Federated States of Micronesia, where he's been coaching at the South Pacific islands of Kosrae, Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei. Here's the ITTF article. I will make no jokes about Richard fitting into a place called Micronesia because it's never good to make jokes about a person who is bigger than Micronesia.

ITTF Museum Newsletter #26

The ITTF Museum released Newsletter 26. The issue includes:

o   Their first royal visitor
o   Kjell Johansson remembered - his personal 1973 racket donated
o   ITTF Museum exhibition at the China Open in Suzhou
o   Jean Devys (FRA) donation:  Budapest 1950 World Ch. program
o   The Final Relay - arrival of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic torch
o   Colin Clemett visit, with previously unknown World Ch. scores

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 1 (3:27).

Top Ten Political Excuses for Losing

  1. "I'm part of the 99% . . . the ones who don't win tournaments. Occupy Court One!"
  2. "During my match with Zhang Jike, the teleprompter was telling me how to play Timo Boll."
  3. "There's this third reason . . . I can't remember it. Sorry. Oops."
  4. "The "trickle down theory of rating points" hasn't work for me. I'm more of a ratings creator, and then they just trickle down to whoever I'm playing."
  5. "I'm a Democrat, my opponent was a Republican, and he waterboarded me."
  6. "A billion dollar stimulus program didn't bring me a single rating point."
  7. "The accusations that I harassed four opponents are absolutely untrue. It was my righty forehand that harassed them. But I still lost because they kept hitting to my left, my backhand."
  8. "I absolutely deny that in Massachusetts tournaments I was pro-choice on long pips, no matter what the videos say. I've always been against long pips, and I always will, as long as Republican primary voters are against them, or at least until the general election."
  9. "To help finance my training, I hired a Greek economist."
  10. "Unlike Trump, Bachman, Perry, Cain, Palin, Christie, Mother Theresa, the ghost of Ronald Reagan, and a plumber from Ohio, I haven't yet had my fifteen minutes as the conservative alternative to Romney."

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 11, 2011

Half-Long Serves

I've been ruminating on the proper terminology for serves where the second bounce, if given the chance, would go near the end-line. The problem is the definition of a "half-long serve" seems to vary from person to person and region to region. Some say it means the second bounce is just short of the end-line; others say the second bounce is around the end-line (i.e. it might go slightly short or long); and others say the second bounce is just off the end.

I've always called this type (or these types?) of serve a "tweeny serve," but half-long serves seems to be the more popular term among advanced players. One person thought a half-long serve is always slightly long, while a tweeny serve is always slightly short.

Pretty frustrating for us wordsmiths! But the exact terminology isn't nearly as important as understanding these serves, both the execution of them and returning them.

Here's how five-time U.S. Men's Champion and two-time U.S. Olympic team member Sean O'Neill described how to return a half-long serve where the second bounce is slightly long, though you can go a bit over the table and do this against one where the second bounce would be very close to the end-line.

"Keys to remember when attacking these knuckle busters:

1) get closer to the table and often more sideways
2) smaller backswing
3) more upward motion with hands and forearm
4) more shoulder turn after the point of contact

Attacking topspin half longs are a little easier as the ball with help with the lifting. Don't forget to aim deep on your opponent's side and to see where they are vulnerable before hitting the shot."

Day Four at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the fourth day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

After typing almost nonstop Mon-Wed, yesterday exhaustion began to set in, and I had my least productive day, and by that, I mean I did more than I had expected to do each day when this retreat began. I "only" did 4856 words, but that brought to 35,419 the total I've written since Monday morning, and 40,275 overall. I figure I'm about two-thirds through the book.

I've been thinking about this book for so long that the words are just pouring out in an explosive torrent of organized and properly formatted text.

I spent most of yesterday writing about specific strategies for various styles, including a very long section on tactics for loopers, as well as sections on tactics for hitters and blockers. I also did some rewriting of some earlier sections. Today I hope to finish the section on tactics for various styles, and move on to the chapters on playing against various grips, surfaces, and styles.

Soon I'll start going through past coaching articles I've written and begin incorporating some of that. (I've done a little of that, but most of what I've written is new.)

Today's quote: "Table tennis is a game of utter complexity and utter simplicity. If you get too caught up in the myriad of complex strategies available, you'll be lost in a sea of uncertainty. If your thinking is too simple, you aren't maximizing your play."

Here is the current Table of Contents. I'm toying with adding an "Odds and Ends" chapter where I can put tactical tips that don't quite fit elsewhere, but so far I think I can fit everything in these chapters. I had a chapter on "Rallying Tactics," but everything in that was incorporated into the chapters on "Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics" and "Tactics for Specific Styles." Otherwise, things would get a bit redundant. I also might need to add a chapter - do I really want to have thirteen chapters???

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One                Tactical Thinking
  • Chapter Two                Strategic Thinking
  • Chapter Three              All About Spin
  • Chapter Four                Your Tactical Game
  • Chapter Five                Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics
  • Chapter Six                  Beginning Tactics
  • Chapter Seven              Service Tactics
  • Chapter Eight               Receive Tactics
  • Chapter Nine                Tactics for Specific Styles
  • Chapter Ten                 Playing Different Surfaces
  • Chapter Eleven Playing Different Grips and Styles
  • Chapter Twelve            Doubles Tactics
  • Chapter Thirteen           The Mental Side of Tactics
  • Glossary
  • About the Author
  • Index

Interview Time

The Daily Quarterly did a two-part interview with me. Part 1 went up last Friday. Here's Part 2, which went up this morning. They are the same satirical site that did the spoof of Brad Pitt starring as me in the movie adaptation of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. And so I gave my answers accordingly.

USA Nationals Entries

Want to see who's entered in the USA Nationals (Dec. 13-17, Virginia Beach)? Here's the listing. (Make sure to set the tournament to 2011 US Nationals.) They have 562 entries, and I think they are nearly done, though a few more last-minute ones might be added. Here's the home page for the USA Nationals.

Video of the Day

Here's The Best of Timo Boll (4:35).

Paralympic Table Tennis Pictures

Here are photos taken during table tennis tournaments for disabled, care of Flickr and the ITTF.

Ones in a Lifetime

For those living in a cave or who do not worship weird numbers and dates, twice today the time and date will be 11-11-11 11:11:11, once at 11:11 AM and again at 11:11 PM. (Make sure to set your clock according to official time so you'll know exactly when it's 11 seconds past these two times.) What does this have to do with table tennis? Well, why do you think the ITTF changed the scoring system from 21 to 11 a few years back? Obviously in anticipation of today (won't happen again for 100 years), so that somewhere out there two crazy players can go out and play an 11-11 deuce game at one of the two indicated times. (Here's the CNN article on this.)

And this is spooky. Take the last two digits of the year you were born (60 for me) and add them to your age (51 for me), it'll add up to 111 for those age 12 and over, and to 11 for those 11 and under. (It's basic math, but still fun to see.) 

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 10, 2011

Talking Table Tennis with the Teens

When I discuss table tennis with our top junior players, two things jump out at me.

First, they know the best players in the world inside and out. Name a top player, and they can mimic his strokes and serves, his favorite tactics, recite his best titles, and tell me what they had for lunch.

Second, if I ask them what tactics they use against a specific player they have recently played, often a dazed look comes over their faces. After a short "senior" moment, they'll usually say something vague like, "I serve short and loop" or "I attack his backhand." (There are exceptions. Some can discuss in great detail what they do.) If I draw them out, they often admit they hadn't really thought about it. It turns out they are thinking a lot about their strokes, but little about their tactics. They know more about Ma Long's tactics than their own!

It always amazes me how much our juniors know about the top players, and how little they know about their own games. This is an area where we can improve - but their knowledge of the top players is a huge asset if they can incorporate it into their own games.

Day Three at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the third day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

It was another historic day as I broke my previous day's word count record, with exactly 11,000 words. (I was about ten words short when I stopped, so I typed one more sentence, which happened to be exactly ten words long.) Since 10AM on Monday, I've done over 29,000 words, for a total of 35,419! (This includes about 6000 words I had done in advance.) I'm over halfway through; I'm guessing the first draft will be around 60,000 words, but we'll see.

Today I'm going to be incorporating a lot of past articles, so that may give me a bloated word count. (Some of those 11,000 words were from past articles, but it had to be rewritten and updated.)

I haven't decided whether to use the following line on in the Introduction: "You are about to enter into another dimension, a dimension not only of speed and spin, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of creativity. It is an area we call . . . table tennis tactics." Too non-serious?

The real question is this: Will "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" become the cherished bible to billions of ping pologists, or will it be laughed to oblivion?

On a side note, Jennifer Crawford, the wife of Parris Glendening, former governor of Maryland (1995-2003), stopped by on Tuesday.

Coaching Seminar at the Nationals

USATT will hold a coaching seminar at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, Dec. 13, from noon to 2PM. You need to register in advance to attend. Two major topics will be:

  • "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game," by USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth.
    • Serves with elbow involvement and higher ball toss like Mizutani, Ryu Seung Min and Ma Long;
    • After motions on ball contact during serves (fake motions);
    • Inside out serves (hook serves) like Timo Boll, Liu Shiwen, Zhang Jike;
    •  More sidespin motions on returning serves;
    • Backhand receives with banana flicks like Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, Petr Korbel;
    • Hook drop shots;
    • Reversed banana returns.
  • "The Use of Half-Pattern Drills to Teach Anticipation Skills," by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.
    • Come and learn what “half-pattern” drills are and how they can prepare your athletes for tournament play.

How to Execute the Ma Lin Serve

Ma Lin has one of the heaviest backspin serves imaginable. This Pingskills video (2:14) explains and shows how he does it.

Have you practiced your serves this week?

Well, have you?

Juic International Junior and Cadet Championships

Here's where you can find all about the tournament, which was held last weekend in Milpitas, CA - results, news, videos, pictures.

Top Ten Shots of all time?

You decide. (2:57)

Spectacular trick-shot exhibition

Or is this exhibition by three Norwegian women all fake? You decide. (2:21)

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 9, 2011

Looping versus hitting backhands

Back in the good old days, when games were to 21, balls were 38mm, and ping-pong was the only thing the Chinese did better than the U.S. (I'm joking), most players hit their backhands in rallies. When opponents hit the ball hard, you could take a half step back and rally them down. These days, even at the intermediate level, it seems everyone's looping their backhand, and so you have to stay at the table and block. If you step back against a loop, the ball jumps at you and it's almost impossible to make a good return. But this means you are jammed at the table, and no longer can take that half step back to react to the fast incoming ball. It makes rallying and life in general much harder for us backhand hitters, doesn't it?

This also tells you something about how the game has changed, especially in terms of equipment, which allows players to loop the backhand more easily. If you are developing your game, for the love of pong, if you are physically capable of doing so, develop a backhand loop!

Of course, I'm only half serious in the above. Many players who backhand loop aren't consistent enough, and are easy to block down (especially with quick blocks to the middle), plus backhand loopers often are too quick to back off and give up the table. If you are going to backhand loop, develop a good backhand loop, and the techniques and tactics to back it up. Otherwise us backhand hitters (combined with forehand loops and a zillion other techniques and tactics) will eat you alive, with some fava beans and a nice chianti. 

Day Two at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the second day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

It was an historic day as one of the most venerated, can't-be-broken records fell to the steady tapping on my keyboard. More specifically, I broke my personal writing record, typing almost non-stop all day and ending with 10,124 words for the day. This was after roughly tying my all-time record on day one with 8063. Coming in I'd done 6222, so I'm now up to 24,419 total. (I finished the looooong chapter on service strategy, and am well into the chapter on receive strategy.)

I started the workshop with the entire book pretty much written in my head - I've been thinking about it for years. But there was some trepidation going in as I wasn't sure if the words would flow.

They did.

Originally I was thinking the book would be about 50,000 words, but I'm guessing it'll be a bit longer. I'm now hoping to get to about 48,000 words or so by the end of Friday (8000 words per day? Take a deep breath, Larry...), and then we'll see where things stand. I should have a first draft done within a week after that, and soon after that it'll be ready for critique by a few selected coaches. And then I send to the publisher that's waiting to see it. Then comes fame and fortune, right?

"Tactical thinking is a habit. I know some brilliant people who do not think at the table, and some not-so-brilliant ones who know exactly what they are doing out there. Which do you choose to be?"

Third-ball attack

Here's a video from Pingskills that explains how to do a third-ball attack.

Interview with Dora Kurimay

Here's an audio interview from Pongcast of Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes long, so get comfortable!

How to react to an edge ball

In this 15 second video, Adam Bobrow shows the proper etiquette after getting an edge ball.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 8, 2011

Day One at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the first day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM. I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." Going into the retreat I'd done exactly 6222 words, and I was hoping to average 5000-6000 per day. On Day One, I did 8063, for a total of 14,285. That's actually a crazy pace, but it's only for five days. I'm guessing the book will total about 50,000 words, but we'll see - I'll probably keep writing well past that and end up with 100,000. I do have a publisher that's interested in the book, but whether I go that route or self-publish, it should be out next year, hopefully before the U.S. Open.

I spent much of today writing about conventional and non-conventional tactics (lots of examples of both), and on service tactics. For example, I gave ten ways to mess up your opponent with a short serve, and the thinking behind each. I'm also writing a lot about tactical (how to win the current match) versus strategic (how to develop your game) thinking. But the best part of the book is the chapter on Tactical Thinking, which I began last week, and finalized this morning. I put a lot into that chapter. Tomorrow I finish up service tactics, and move on to receive tactics. And there's a lot more coming after that.

I have a pretty extensive outline, and yet I'm barely using it. The book is basically written in my head, so I'm just transcribing it. I open the book with this: "The purpose of tactics is to mess up your opponent." The rest of the book is just elaborating. I've also got some ideas for the cover, but I won't go into that yet.

Finding Your Zone

This weekend I read the sports psychology book Finding Your Zone (156 pages, published in 2008) by Michael Lardon, M.D.  Some of you may recognize the name - he was a former junior star, who made the final of the 1977 U.S. Junior Championships. (In fact, he led Perry Schwartzberg 2-0 before losing in five.) I got to know Mike a bit in the late 1970s when he was at his peak and I was on my way up. He'd probably vaguely remember me.

The book gives ten core lessons for "achieving peak performance in sports and life." For table tennis, it gives many excellent and practical methods for getting "in the zone." As a coach and player, I can relate to what he is teaching, and I strongly recommend the book. Or at least most of it. - see my comments below on Lessons Eight, and to a lesser degree, Lesson One.

The ten lessons are:

  1. Dream
  2. Be Prepared to Overcome the Odds
  3. Transform Desire into Will
  4. Trust Your Brain, Keep It Simple, and Stay Positive
  5. Stay in the Now and Be in the Process
  6. Manage Your Emotions and Thoughts
  7. Keep Your Motivation Pure
  8. Acceptance and Faith Conquer Fear
  9. Build Confidence and Win
  10. Perform Under Pressure

I have one major nitpick with the book, Lesson Eight's "Acceptance and Faith Conquer Fear." A good portion of this chapter is basically religious in nature, where he explains why believing in God makes it easier to relax. That alone bothered me, but that wasn't the real problem. There was an entire page that argued that the second law of thermodynamics proves there must be a god, since otherwise all energy on earth would dissipate through the law of entropy. But this refers to a closed system, and earth is definitely not a closed system - the sun pours energy into it. If you want to see the law of entropy in action, enclose the earth inside a large hollow sphere so that no energy can get in or out (i.e. turn it into a closed system), and come back in a thousand or a million years. But what is all this doing in a book on sports psychology?

Parts of Lesson One were also a bit off-putting, since they were not about dreaming of greatness, but literally about dreaming, including listening to your dream, lucid dreaming, etc., and seemed the least applicable to sports psychology of the lessons, other than the parts in lesson eight I write about below. I'm not sure why he started with this chapter.

It's easy to get caught up in the parts of a book you disagree with when reviewing it, so let me be clear - I found eight of the ten chapters extremely valuable and I strongly recommend the book for those chapters, as well as for parts of Lessons One and Eight. And I'm sure some will find valuable the very parts I did not. Lesson Seven alone is worth the price of the book, where he talks about the different types of motivations, and why those who want the end product - fame - do not do as well as those with the more pure motivation of wanting to be the best they can be.

Other great sports psychology books include With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham; The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey; and Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert.

Short, fast serves

Here's a video from Pingskills that explains how to do a short, fast serve (1:40). Yes, short and fast!

Song Hongyuan highlights reel

Here's a nice highlights reel (1:18) of China's junior star Song Hongyuan from cmetsbeltran15.

100-year old table tennis player

Here's a video (0:51) with commentary of Australia's Dorothy de Low, 100, at the 2010 World Veteran's Championships, the oldest player there. "I feel like a film star," she said. The headline is "100-year-old with a killer forehand," but she actually does a couple of nice backhand kills in the video.

USATT minutes

Here are the minutes to USATT's September 21-22, 2011 board meeting.

Kitchen Ping-Pong

Here's 33 seconds of kitchen ping-pong. "You can't play ping-pong in a suit." So, why don't you have a net strung across your kitchen or dining room table?

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 7, 2011

Tip of the Week

How to ace an opponent. You can see all the past Tips here, or see link on menu on left.

FIT Open

There's not a whole lot I want to write about. I couldn't move on the slippery floors, or see the ball against the orange-brown tile floors (colored to look like real wood). Players would put the ball to my forehand, normally a strength, and I couldn't move to the ball and couldn't see the ball. Halfway through I withdrew from the tournament. (Several players said that it was much more slippery this year than in past years.) 

The irony is that part of the problem I faced was that I play and coach almost exclusively on the red rubberized flooring at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, with great lighting and background. And so I faced the same thing players at our club have complained about in the past, that they couldn't play effectively in bad conditions. If there were national championships held on slippery floors or other bad conditions, we'd have to train our players in those conditions, but since the vast majority of such matches are on better conditions, we'll just have to live with it in some tournaments.

Personally, I'm going to pretty much avoid ever playing in a tournament where the floors are slippery or the lighting or background make seeing the ball difficult. I'm used to really gripping the floor with my feet and getting quick starts, and seeing the ball pretty much right into my paddle, so when I try to move and my feet slide, or the ball disappears right in front of me, my game pretty much shuts down. Others also had problems seeing the ball, but I think I had more problems than most - could be my eyes simply don't pick up orange objects on an orange-brown background as well as others. It's hard enough being primarily a one-winged forehand attacker at age 51, but on slippery floors where I can barely track the ball? Yikes. I actually reverted to chopping in several matches, with my super-fast racket and fast sponge, and at times played better that way.

Of course, now everyone can say I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), which was where the tournament was held. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around "Fashion" and "Technology" in the same sentence. Sorry fashion people.

Backhand receive of short serves

More and more top players are adopting a new technique of receiving balls short to the forehand with their backhands. This is especially true against backhand serve type sidespin, where it's awkward to get the racket angle right on the forehand side. This went against what almost any coach would teach until just a few years ago. Now it's done regularly by players such as world #1 Ma Long. Here's his match with Ma Lin at the 2011 China Open (8:45), and see the serve returns at 0:38 and 0:54. After that, Ma Lin rarely serves short to the forehand again. Maybe watch the whole match - lots of great shots and tactics.

Which was the better backhand?

Here are two great backhands (0:33) by Timo Boll and Ma Long. Which is better?

A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics

This week I'm in a workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Mon-Fri, 9:30AM-5PM. I did this last year while working on a fantasy novel (now making the rounds of publishers and agents), and did 30,000 words in those five days. This time I'm working on "A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics." (I'm still debating between that title, which I prefer, and "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which I'm told would come up sooner in Internet searches for table tennis.) I've had to do some rearranging of my coaching schedule, but it'll be worth it if I get a lot done. It might mean some rushed blog entries, but we'll see. I hope to have a first draft done by the Nationals in mid-December, and published hopefully sometime early next year.

Sean O'Neill teaches the fundamentals

Five-time USA Men's Singles Champion Sean O'Neill teaches stroking fundamentals in this video (8:21).

Richard McAfee's Micronesian Odyssey

Here's another article on the ITTF webpage on USATT coaching chair Richard McAfee's coaching clinics in Micronesia. Big Mac sure gets around - and with all the ITTF articles, it's a Noisier Mac! (Just kidding - "Noisier Mac" is an anagram for Micronesia, so I had to work that in. Richard could respond, "I Senior Mac," another anagram. Don't you love anagrams?)

Interview at The Daily Quarterly

As noted on Friday, I was interviewed by The Daily Quarterly. Here it is! (Remember, they are a satirical site, and so I gave my answers accordingly.) This is only Part 1; Part 2 goes up next Friday.

Just for Laughs - Table Tennis!

"Just for Laughs" did a table tennis prank video in May this year (1:31). Their description: "Old woman is carrying a box full of ping pong balls, as she gives it to the victim, all the ping pong balls fall and roll everywhere."

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 4, 2011

Vary your serves

I recently played a match against a strong player about my level who basically used three serves: short backspin or no-spin to the middle or backhand, or a deep side-top serve to my backhand that was telegraphed by the delivery. The player never served to my forehand. Since I could see the deep serve coming a mile away (and could just hit it back with my backhand and force a neutral backhand exchange on his serve), all I had to do was worry about the short serves. Since they were so predictable, I hung over the table and returned them right off the bounce, with last-second changes of directions, mostly dropping them short to all parts of the table. Because of the quickness off the bounce, the tweeniness of many of the returns (i.e. second bounce would be near the end-line), and the last-second changes of direction, even when I went long the opponent had great difficulty attacking. And so I completely controlled the match off the opponent's serve. This is the type of thing that happens all the time in matches, where players get into the habit of using the same few serves over and over, thereby making things easy for the opponent. I have one word of advice about this: Don't.

FIT Open in New York City

This morning I'm catching a bus to Manhattan to play in the FIT Open, run by Lily Yip. I'll be staying at Tim Boggan's house, and probably talking table tennis late into the night with him and Eric. Other than playing some hardbat events, I've mostly been retired as a tournament player since 2006. However, recently (after getting into much better physical shape, and actually practicing) I've been playing so well that I decided it would be a crime against humanity if I didn't play in one, and I didn't want to get sent to Gitmo. I'll report on this next week.

Interview Time

The Daily Quarterly did an interview with me, and part 1 should go up sometime this morning. (Part 2 goes up next Friday.) They are the same satirical site that did the spoof of Brad Pitt starring as me in the movie adaptation of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. And so I gave my answers accordingly.

Wang Liqin Multiball

Here's 30 seconds of three-time world men's singles champion Wang Liqin doing multiball at the 2011 World Championships in May in Rotterdam.

The Reverse Pendulum Tomahawk Serve

Here's a video by Pingskills (2:19) on this serve used by Sweden's Par Gerell. (He calls it the "punch serve.") Note all the variety possible from the basic forehand pendulum serve motion - the regular version (with racket moving right to left for a righty), and the reverse pendulum variations (with the racket moving left to right), which can be done two ways - racket tip down or racket tip up (as shown in this video). The video says that you don't use as much wrist with this serve, but I use this serve, and use lots of wrist. I find it most effective served into the middle of the table where it suddenly breaks into the forehand.

Michael Landers now part of Team Kelloggs

Really! Click on his picture to get his bio.

China-Qatar Relations Bolstered by Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's an article in the Huffington Post on Ping-Pong Diplomacy in Qatar.

How to solve the Occupy Wall Street situation

You knew that Marty Reisman had a solution, didn't you? "Table tennis has an incredible diplomatic history," noted Marty Reisman, 23-time National and International ping-pong champion and President of Table Tennis Nation. "Ping Pong Diplomacy opened the doors for relations between China and the US, and can help settle Occupy Wall Street. ... Table Tennis Nation is offering representatives from Wall Street and the Occupy Wall Street $100 per team to play a Table Tennis Nation Brawl to settle their issues once and for all. Over ping-pong."

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 3, 2011

November 3, 2011

How Leagues Spur Growth

I was asked this morning who could (or would?) play in a nationwide table tennis league. I'd already talked about Germany and its 11,000 clubs and 700,000 players, England's 500,000, France's 300,000, etc., and how other sports also do this, and how these huge numbers come almost exclusively from leagues. Here's an excerpt of my response, which explains a bit more precisely and concisely how this happens.

"Anyone can join the league as part of a team representing a club, with the membership rate to be determined. This is the stage where new clubs are often certified or created, as players list the place they practice as their club (solving the U.S. problem of hordes of non-sanctioned clubs full of non-USATT players), or find and create ones for the purposes of the league (leading to hordes of new clubs, which soon fill up with new players who join the league, snowballing membership). There are always details to be worked out, which is why you go to experienced league directors (in club to club leagues) in the U.S., overseas, and in other sports to see how they did it, and then design a U.S. model."

There was a lot more written in the discussion, but I can't print what others wrote, and much of what I wrote only makes sense in the context of what others had written. I may write more on this later. However, one thing I've concluded is that it is far more likely that an independent group creates such a league - some are already working on it - than USATT, since independent groups can make and implement decisions in ways USATT is simply unable to do.

Plus, of course, leagues simply aren't among USATT's three vague "priorities," as decided at the 2009 Strategic Meeting (and unchanged), which are "Junior Development," "Grow Membership Through Added Value," and "Communications." I do agree with the "Junior Development" one, but not in the direction they are going, which I won't go into. The focus needs to be on recruiting and training coaches to set up and run junior programs. But nothing has been implemented from the task force on "Junior Development" in the two years since it was created.

Someone did say that I had convinced USATT at the Strategic Meeting that leagues should be a priority, and I responded, "On the contrary, I completely failed to convince everyone, or even a majority, that leagues should be a priority, which is why it did not become one of the three priorities. Please, nobody argue otherwise; if a majority agreed that leagues should have been one of the top three priorities, than it would have been one of the top three priorities. A huge opportunity was missed."

Article #1300

In the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of USA Table Tennis Magazine, I have a coaching article on footwork entitled, "Are You a Tree or a Squirrel?" This is my 1300th published article (plus four books). Wowie! Here's a listing of all 1300, many linked online - why not spend the next few weeks reading them all? Here's the opening paragraph of the article:

"Squirrels run circles around trees, and there's a lesson there. If you are a tree, you just stand there, rooted to the ground, waiting on each shot to see if you have to move. By the time you realize you have to move - how often does your opponent happen to hit the ball right into your forehand or backhand pocket so it'll hit right in the middle of your paddle? - it's too late, and so you can only awkwardly reach for the ball. There are no proud redwoods in table tennis, only weeping willows."

Samson Dubina returning half-long balls

Here's Samson topspinning half-long balls, with his forehand (1:57) and with his backhand (1:46). These are balls that, given the chance, the second bounce would be just off the end. These are difficult for some players to loop, but once you get the knack, they are easy to topspin.

The Art of Table Tennis

Here's a video (4:05) of amazing points from 2010 and 2011. A lot of both great forehand and backhand play - many such videos focus mostly on forehand shots. Don't miss the Samsonov backhand counter-kill at 3:29, which they then show in slow motion from two angles.

The Table Tennis Collector

The November, 2011 issue of The Table Tennis Collector just came out, their 62nd issue. The Table Tennis Collector is a quarterly magazine published by the ITTF Museum. If you are really, Really, REALLY interested in table tennis history, especially U.S. history, then buy some of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis books. You won't be able to put them down.

The NBA and Table Tennis

Table Tennis Nation talks about NBA players and table tennis, including Michael Jordan, Yao Ming, Rod Higgins, Carmelo Anthony, and Speedy Claxton. (If you want to see more basketball players, or other athletes and celebrities playing table tennis, see the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page.)

***

Send us your own coaching news!

November 2, 2011

Frustrating emails

I spent much of yesterday, and already a chunk of this morning, responding to highly frustrating emails. There's an email discussion going on among USATT board members and some committee members about coaching that I won't elaborate on. I'd love to quote the emails, but that would be inappropriate. It's more about the type of thinking behind the emails than the specifics of the current argument that I find so mind-numbing and representative of the same type of thinking that has stagnated table tennis in this country for so long. Let's just say that times like this I am deeply pessimistic about whether USATT can ever take the lead in developing table tennis in this country. Almost for sure it's going to have to come from outside individuals and clubs by setting up leagues and coaching programs independently from the national governing body for table tennis in the USA.

Strategic Versus Tactical Thinking

Here's an excerpt from the book I'm working on, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

"What's the difference between Strategic and Tactical thinking? Strategic thinking is how you develop your game. Tactical thinking is how you use what you have to win. For example, if you have a good loop, a strategic thinker would think about what types of serves will set up your loop, and develop those serves in practice sessions. A tactical thinker would think about what serves will set up your loop in a match against a given opponent. Strategic thinking takes place during the developmental stage of your game--which never ends as long as you are still practicing. Tactical thinking takes place while preparing for and playing a specific match.

"Suppose you have a weak forehand attack against backspin. When an opponent pushes heavy to your forehand, you have to tactically choose whether to use your weak forehand attack (perhaps using good ball placement to make up for the weakness of the attack), or whether to just push it back. Tactically, these are probably your only options. Strategically, you should note this weakness in your game, and go practice it so next time you aren't so limited tactically."

In an email on coaching mixed in with the aggravating ones I mentioned above, I wrote the following, which I think is pertinent to the above. 

"One important distinction is the difference between tactical and strategic coaching. Tactical coaching is what you do at the table in a match. Strategic coaching is how you coach the player to develop their games. In this country, we need coaches like Bengtsson and Constantini (and others - I'm not going to make a comprehensive list) who can take the lead in strategic development of our players. For example, when our players go overseas, they get clobbered on receive. So we need someone at the top to work with the coaches so that they will better train the aspects of the game where our players are lacking. As Sean [O'Neill] wrote, our players tend to train to be USA champions or team members, and so aren't prepared when they play outside the U.S., where players are trained with higher aspirations. In other words, in the U.S. we train to be 2600, while overseas players train to be 2900."

From Stiff and Slow to Loose and Juiced

I played some practice matches yesterday with a hardbat against Ty Hoff, who was in town for a few days. At first, I felt stiff and slow. Then, as I got tired, my muscles began to loosen up. Suddenly, I was tired, and yet loose and juiced! (When I say "juiced," I mean I was moving fast, but that doesn't rhyme with "loose.") It was a grueling match where I was racing around the court attacking with my forehand, and I began to tire. The more tired I got, the faster I got! By the end, I was exhausted but moving like a cheetah. I wonder if this was unique to me, who's pretty stiff, or if others have had this experience? (We won't talk about Ty's three net winners at the very end as Ty pulled it out, 21-18 in the fifth.)

Designing Your Table Tennis Game Plan

Here's a nice article by Samson Dubina on planning game strategy. He asks the following questions about your opponent, and elaborates on each.

  • How are their serves better than mine?
  • How are their serve returns better than mine?
  • How are their attacks better than mine?
  • How is their defense better than mine? 
  • How is their footwork better than mine? 
  • How are their game patterns?
  • How are they able to adjust to the playing conditions?

Zhang Jike versus Timo Boll

Here's a nice video of World Champion Zhang Jike of China versus world #2 Timo Boll of Germany, the best European. The time between points has been removed, so you get it all in 6:13. (It's from two years ago at the Danish Open.) 

The Mouse That Toured

Yesterday, after finishing a table tennis session, I pulled open my playing bag to put my racket back inside. A mouse jumped out! Apparently the mouse had climbed in while I was at the table, perhaps after taking a tour of the club. Should we set out cheese to feed the mouse, or mousetraps?

Here's a 34-second video of what happens when 100 ping-pong balls meets 100 mousetraps.

And since we're on the subject of mice, if you want a ping-pong mouse, here are seven. Here's another.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content