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

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. 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 ficiton, 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 2, 2017

Tip of the Week
Last-Second Changes of Direction on Receive. (As explained in my Dec. 28 blog in the Tip of the Week, I'm putting up extra Tips of the Week and post-dating them for earlier in December so I'll end up with 150 Tips for the period 2014-2016. So today's Tip of the Week is dated Dec. 26.)

Barry Dattel: 1958-2016
Last night I got the horrible news – here's the USATT news item. Apparently Barry, an icon in our sport, had a heart attack while at his club late on Friday, Dec. 30, and passed away around 1:30 AM on Saturday morning, Dec. 31, at age 58. So it was a very bad end to the year. (Here's the Legacy obit.) 

I've known Barry since around 1980; we've competed against each other ever since, first as players (where he soon left me behind as he reached a 2500+ level), and later as opposing coaches in many a match. He was a top USA player for many years; as recently as 2013 he was the U.S. Open Over 50 Men's Singles Champion. He was the father figure in the First Family of Table Tennis – husband to Hall of Famer, Olympian, and head coach Lily Yip at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center; stepfather to star players Adam and Judy Hugh (both former USA Team Members and many other titles), and father-in-law to Cory Eider (married to Judy), former U.S. Men's Singles Finalist, Men's Doubles Champion, and past USATT High Performance Director.

Barry was one of the hardest-working people in table tennis, truly one of our shining lights. Along with Lily, he was the driving force behind the Lily Yip TTC in New Jersey (one of USATT's ten National Centers of Excellence), where he often ran the desk, ran tournaments, promoted and organized, and did whatever else was necessary. I worked with him quite a bit at the USATT Supercamp that was held at LYTTC in July, where often he was the authoritarian figure who made sure things got done, whether it be giving rides as needed, or coming in late one night to fix the broken door at the house we were staying at.

He was mind-numbingly intelligent, with very strong opinions that he was never shy about expressing. Often at major tournaments you'd see him in consultation with the powers-that-be of table tennis (of which he was one), discussing how best to develop our sport and players. He was also a computer programmer, who wrote his own tournament software. Before the LYTTC, he was president of the New Jersey TTC. He was a top player, coach, director, organizer, and entrepreneur. Here is the USATT interview, 11 Questions with Barry Dattel.

My deepest condolences to Lily, Adam, Judy, Cory, family and friends, and the LYTTC.

Wishing Everyone a Prosperous 2017
Here's the video (38 sec) from Allen Wang. Personally, I think he should be putting out the lights for 2016, a year whose lights definitely should be knocked off.

Ask a Table Tennis Coach
Here's the new feature from Expert Table Tennis.

Tom's Table Tennis Newsletter
Here's the new issue, which include links to a number of coaching articles (including one of mine).

Multiball Angle Training
Here's the video (30 sec). I've done this with my students as well.

Samson Dubina: Enhance Your Game with TT-Flex
Here's the new podcast (35:03) from Expert Table Tennis.

Flip Like a Boss
Here's the video (20 sec) as Michael Maze flip-kills a serve like no serve has ever been flip-killed before. Michael is a professional – do not try this at home!!! Lots of replay. (In Europe they call it a flick.)

Table Tennis - Best Points In 2016
Here's the video (6:23).

Vote for the Best Dressed Team at the 2016 ITTF Star Awards
Here's the ITTF page for voting.

Robot Pong
Here's the new video (63 sec). These robots keep getting better and better. Say hello to our new Lords and Masters!

Table Tennis in Virtual Reality
Here's the video (8:44).

Coca-Cola Table Tennis
Here's the video (2:54) of what appears to be a Coke commercial in Arabic that features table tennis!

Man vs. Dog
Here's the cartoon video (15 sec, repeating) of these two extremely fast, gifted players go at it! Just think of the years of hard training they underwent to develop these skills.

Non-Table Tennis – Zombies Anonymous
Here it is – it's the lead story at Galaxy's Edge, one of the top pro science fiction & fantasy magazines! It's the humorous story of a zombie math professor and the three steps to not being a zombie.

Send us your own coaching news!

December 30, 2016

High Performance Director and Supercamps
As those of you at the U.S. Open's USATT Assembly learned, High Performance Director Cory Eider resigned. (I think it's effective Dec. 31.) It was depressing for me as I'd had high hopes for this. But the problems had been mounting, many of them communications problems, as well as some policy problems, such as the youth team selection process. I hope Cory won't get mad at me for this (!), but IMHO, communicating was not his strength, and so often many of us had little idea what was going on, including the athletes and coaches.

Cory and I had a number of long late-night discussions, often via Facebook Messenger. We agreed on a lot, but also disagreed on a number of issues, but I'm not going to go into that. He brought a focus on aiming high, with a 52-week a year training mentality that aimed at beating our overseas rivals rather than our domestic ones.

One cornerstone to all this were the Supercamps (though in the end we only did one, plus an ITTF Cadet Camp at MDTTC). Below are the write-ups of the one held in July in New Jersey. (Why was it held at the Lily Yip TTC, Cory's home club, owned by his mother-in-law? Because it had to be put together very quickly, and other clubs, such as ICC, weren't able to do so at that last minute. It was a huge task, and far easier to do locally, where you have built-in help, then trying to do it alone elsewhere. As it was, they did an incredible job. But alas, the appearance to many was not good. The plan was – is? – to have the camps move about at the various high-performance facilities.)


Some would argue that the players get the same training at their home clubs, usually with top coaches and practice partners. There's a partial truth to that, but it misses the key aspects of the Supercamps. When you get the top USA juniors training together, they see their USA "rivals" training, and it spurs them on to work even harder – both there and the rest of the year. Plus it turns them more into team players, where they focus together on beating overseas players, rather than just each other. Finally, the tips and inspiration they get from the great champions and coaches at the camps gives them a new outlook they cannot get from their own coaches – any good coach has something extra to contribute, and when you have five-time USA Men's Singles Champions like Dan Seemiller and Sean O'Neill, plus other great coaches like Lily Yip, Richard McAfee, Samson Dubina, Han Xiao, Wang Qing Liang, and Cory Eider, there's a lot of extra there. (Hey, I was there too!) The camps also introduced most of them to high-level physical training, something USA juniors are lacking in comparison to their overseas rivals.  

Now the future of the Supercamps are in doubt – there were just so many complaints from people who were not at them, and they are expensive and complicated to put together. Since USATT doesn't have the budget to fund them, the players themselves have to pay. (One other big problem was that the Supercamps were used to select some players, which was a mistake. I was skeptical of this from the beginning, and they will no longer be used directly for selections.)

What exactly is the role of the High Performance Director? (Not to be confused with the High Performance Committee. I'll call them the HPD and the HPC.) Here is the criteria developed earlier this year by USATT.  

  • Program Development. Develop, in writing, a “National Team Program” articulating the overall philosophy as well as clear guidelines and expectations of USATT National Team programs to all key stakeholders.
  • Coaches. Create an integrated and collaborative national team coaching system, including hiring coaches, managing communication, and collaboration among National Team and local coaches, assigning competition coaches, and evaluating system-wide and individual performance. The system needs to provide our athletes with access to the best coaching resources.
  • Athlete Selection. Collaborate with the United States Olympic Committee and other key stakeholders to establish and implement proper athlete selection procedures for Olympic, International, and National Teams.
  • Competition and Training. Devise and implement unified “52-week” programs for National Team members with a  strong emphasis on active collaboration and coordination between the HPD, National Team coaches, local coaches, and training centers, including:
    • USATT funded National Team training camps;
    • USATT funded domestic and international competition;
    • Locally-funded activities (e.g. training provided by parents or local training centers, private lessons, training camps,); and
    • Locally-funded regional, national and international competition.
  • National Team Development Program. Create and implement development programs to include both NT members and a selected number of National Team aspiring players of a sufficient playing level and commitment.
  • National Team Travel. Manage arrangements for able-bodied national team members and coaches to attend international competitions.
  • Performance Metrics. Establish and manage realistic performance metrics for athletes and coaches with a strong emphasis on performance and accountability.
  • Fundraising. Assist CEO in National Team directed fundraising activities.
  • Budget. Manage USATT High Performance budget and resource allocation.
  • Para Program. Assist CEO with supervision of Para National Program.
  • Coaching. As needed, coach National Teams in international competition.

So we're back to finding a new HPD. One change is that while before we focused on finding someone with a table tennis background (such as Cory, a 2500+ player, former USA National Men's Singles Finalist and Men's Doubles Champion, and a professional coach), now they are looking to recruit from outside the sport, looking for more of an administrator type. (When I say "They," I mean the USATT CEO, Gordon Kaye, and the Chair of the High Performance Committee, Carl Danner, as well as various advisors, such as the Player Reps, the National Team Coaches, and the Board of Directors, of which I'm a member.) I'm a bit leery of this as I think a high-level table tennis coach with administrative and communication skills would be ideal, but I'll keep an open mind. Obviously a non-table tennis HPD wouldn't be able to do all of the above, such as the last item ("Coaching"), and would have to rely on others for table tennis knowledge. We'll see.

The key thing here is that a HPD has to justify the huge expense (salary and expenses). How will he make our top up-and-coming players better? Specifically, if a top junior is already training full-time with high-level coaches and practice partners, what can the HPD director do to make him even better? If the HPD doesn't have a positive impact on, say, the Kanak Jhas and other up-and-coming USA stars, then he doesn't justify the expense.

At the board meeting at the recent U.S. Open I made my views on this clear to those making the decision. I'd really like a HPD who can also work indirectly to improve the level of our up-and-coming players – specifically, one who can recruit and train coaches and entrepreneurs to set up and run full-time training centers, which is where we get our up-and-coming players. We might even want one who might even be able to help set up a professional league for our players. I also want one who can investigate overseas training and professional league opportunities for our players, and make these opportunities available to them. The HPD position is a full-time, 40-hour/week job, so I'm hoping a few of those hours can be devoted to these issues.

I'll finish by posting my email to the Board, CEO, and HPC Chair back on Jan. 6, 2016, when we first began the process of hiring a HPD, which was basically a numbered list. 

  1. Just as the USATT board of directors has mostly allowed the CEO a free hand in most of his actions, we need to allow the HPD a relatively free hand in his job. The only way this won’t work is if we hire the wrong person. So the key to everything is hiring the right person. To some of us, that’s equates to “duh!” But it’s very easy to hire the wrong person – flashy credentials don’t always mean flashy results.
  2. A key is to rely on the resources of clubs, including the parents who are paying for their kid’s training. USATT may be able to budget one or two hundred thousand dollars to this; many millions are already being spent at clubs. Just for perspective, I would estimate that just my club, MDTTC, has at least four kids whose parents pay over $20,000/year for their training, and at least 15 whose parents pay over $10,000/year. The HPD needs to find ways to best utilize the resources we already have.
  3. The HPD needs to emphasize the development of general weaknesses among U.S. players. For example, many of our top juniors don’t do enough physical training – and while there are several reasons for this (coaches get paid mostly for table time, not physical training; lack of time in general due to school and other activities; no one taking the initiative to start physical training programs), a HPD could approach the clubs with strong junior programs and work to get physical training more emphasized. (You only need one coach at each club to run the physical training sessions, which would be group sessions.) There are other general weaknesses among U.S. players, such as receive, so the HPD could also ask that training centers put more emphasis into that, or whatever aspects he believes are needed.
  4. Because we need training centers all over the country to buy into this national concept, we need three things: a) reasons why they should buy into it; b) a HPD who can sell them on it; and c) a few top training centers to join in early on, so others would follow.
  5. In general, we need to change the culture from the current situation, where most up-and-coming players focus almost exclusively on winning national events and making national teams, to focusing on beating other countries and becoming the best in the world. At the cadet level (both boys and girls), we can challenge any team in the world outside China, and might even give them a run for it. This is the perfect backbone of a future world-conquering team. Now is the perfect time to start moving in that direction.
  6. We also need to remember why we suddenly have so many promising cadet players – the dramatic increase in the number of full-time training centers in the country, from 8-10  just eight years ago to over 80 now. This is the source of our future elite players, and if we keep increasing the number of such training centers with top coaches and training programs, our situation will continue to improve. So we need to focus on that aspect as well. The depth of play now compared to just a few years ago is mind-boggling – at the cadet level we now have dozens of players who likely would have dominated their age group ten years ago, while players who used to make the semifinals or even finals couldn’t make the final 16 or even 32 these days. I remember one year the final of Under 14 Boys was won by the top seed, rated just over 2100, over a 1950 player who had upset a 2000 player in the semifinals! Those players wouldn’t make the final 32 these days.

Tip of the Week
Maximize Coverage For Your Stronger Side. (As explained in my Dec. 28 blog in the Tip of the Week, I'm putting up extra Tips of the Week and post-dating them for earlier in December so I'll end up with 150 Tips for the period 2014-2016. So today's Tip of the Week is dated December 25 – Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year as well!)

Ma Long Backhand Loop Slow Motion 2016
Here's the video (2:18).

Milestone Year for PingPong.GIVES
Here's the video (2:42) about this table tennis charity. "Greater24 Positive World Network reports impact PingPongforCHARITY having to benefit Mental Health!" Note that PingPong.GIVES is their website.

Nice Table Tennis Rallies
Here's the new music video (5:30), which includes a lot of slow motion.

World-Class Rally Between Marcos Freitas and Stéphane Ouaiche
Here's the video (26 sec).

Top 10 Jean-Philippe Gatien
Here's the video (3:29) of the 1993 Men's Singles World Champion.

Beerless Beer Pong – Ten for Ten on Vertical Pyramid!
Here's the video (33 sec).

Jonathan Groth - Funny Olympic Training
Here's the humorous video (3:05). Somehow I didn't see this when it came out in August. (It's in Danish, with English subtitles.) It's especially good a little over a minute in when one puts on the Knight suit!

Beetle Bailey Cartoon
Here's another Beetle Bailey table tennis cartoon, found by Marv Anderson. This time it's Zero who is stymied by Beetle! Here's my Sept. 28, 2016 blog, where (at the end) I've compiled (and updated) all the Beetle Bailey table tennis cartoons I know of, all 19 of them.


Send us your own coaching news!

December 29, 2016

Tip of the Week: Ask the Distributor!
(Today's blog is both a regular blog entry and a Tip of the Week.)

At clubs all across the nation and the world, the same routine goes on all the time - players are constantly asking and talking about equipment. Only ratings are more discussed. (Typical greeting at a club: “What’s your rating? What equipment do you use?”) And it’s true that you can learn a lot by asking others about equipment - and better still, trying out their equipment.

But think about it - a distributor might have dozens of sponges and dozens of rackets that might suit your game. The possible combinations can run into the thousands. While you may gain valuable information asking questions, remember that they mostly know what works for them, and no two players play alike. You need to find what works for you. You may find this by experimenting, but the probability that someone else at the club just happens to have the perfect racket and sponge combination for you isn’t likely.

But there’s an expert out there ready to help - and that’s the equipment expert at the distributor. All of the major ones have someone like this, who has literally tried out every combination of their equipment, and knows just about all there is to know about all of them. Their job is to find a perfect combination for you - because if they don’t, you’ll be going to a rival. Not only that, but each of these distributor “equipment junkies” lives and breathes table tennis equipment, and so it will be his lifelong dream to discuss your equipment needs and find you the perfect combination. He’ll know what questions to ask of your game with the goal of finding you just what you need.

So if you aren’t sure yet about what equipment to use, why not contact one of the major distributors and ASK? (You can also do this at most major tournaments.)

Butterfly vs. JOOLA on a Blimp
Last night I had one of those surreal table tennis dreams. I had some sort of flying device, and used it to fly up to the Butterfly Blimp. It was huge and luxurious, reminiscent of the huge cruise ship I was recently on. It was vacant, and I felt a bit guilty as I explored it, including the private quarters of the Butterfly owners, and even a hot tub. Then I heard a thumping sound – it was a JOOLA attack! The JOOLA crew boarded the ship, armed with machine guns, and it was "Die Hard" on a blimp as I raced about, avoiding them. Finally, one of them caught me, and we had a discussion about my fate as he gently stroked a shaggy white cat on his lap, a la James Bond. Then I leaped out a window, only to discover I'd forgotten my flying device, and woke up as I fell. (Only one of the "JOOLA people" was a recognizable person, and he isn't even affiliated with JOOLA.)

Table Tennis Phenom Harimoto Shows Age No Limit
Here's the article from The Japan News (in English).

Ma Long No Spin Serve Technique Slow Motion 2016
Here's the video (7:18).

This 15-year-old Orthodox girl is a Pingpong Champion
Here's the article on Estee Ackerman. She's beaten Rafael Nadal!

DHS ITTF Top 10 - Best Shots of 2016
Here's the video (7:56).

Images of the Paralympics Go Viral
Here's the video (31 sec).

Net-Eye Glasses
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Insane Table Tennis Under leg shot by Jakub Dyjas!
Here's the video (37 sec).

Dog Hypnotized by Table Tennis
Here's the video (37 sec).

Send us your own coaching news!

December 28, 2016

Tip of the Week
Racket Rotation Serve. You'll note that it's dated December 23, 2016, which was last Friday? Here's the reason. When I compiled my book "Table Tennis Tips," it included all 150 Tips of the Week (in logical fashion) from 2011-2013. Well, it's three years later, and soon I will be compiling all the Tips from 2014-2016 into "More Tips of the Week." However, because I traveled more these past years, I made the discovery that, as of this morning (before I put up today's Tip), I had only 141 Tips. So I'm going to cheat – and will date the last nine Tips of the Week as Dec. 23 to Dec. 31, thereby ending the three years with another 150 Tips. I'm still undecided whether to post a daily "Tip of the Week" until all I've reached 150 (with the last one going up on Jan. 9), or to continue posting them every Monday, with the 150th Tip going up on Feb. 20, but dated as Dec. 31. Of the eight remaining, I've already written four, and have topics for the other four. If other activities don't intervene, I hope to write all four today. (But there are already a number of things on my todo list, alas. But I'm off today from the MDTTC Christmas Camp, so I have more time, though I have private coaching tonight.)

Eventful Three Weeks
It's been a whirlwind three weeks! As noted previously, it started with the "Sail to Success" science fiction writing workshop Bahamas cruise, Dec. 4-9. I won't bore you with the details here since this is a table tennis blog, but here is my write-up of the cruise from my science fiction & fantasy blog – and note that I won the cruise ping-pong tournament!

Then it was on to the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, Dec. 10-18. For those of you who have been living in a cave (with Internet access so you can read my blog), here are the complete results. I was there to attend meetings (including the full-day USATT board meeting), coach, and played in two events. I finished second in Hardbat Doubles (with A.J. Carney), and made the semifinals of Over 40 Hardbat. (I normally use sponge, but like to play hardbat at major tournaments when I'm not coaching.) Alas, I played horribly in the Hardbat Doubles final.

Then it was on to Eugene, Oregon, for family Christmas, Dec. 20-25. While there I did much writing, both table tennis (writing five Tips of the Week and going over plans for upcoming "Parents Guide to Table Tennis" book) and science fiction. I also received much chocolate!

And now it's back to the "daily grind" of coaching and writing!

USATT Board Meeting
The board met all day on Sunday, Dec. 11, just before the U.S. Open. Here's a quick rundown.

  1. Approval of minutes from the Nov. 21, 2016 teleconference.
  2. Long discussion of Licensing of Commercial Rights for both USATT and ITTF events.
  3. SafeSport discussion. This is now required of all USATT certified coaches. I don't like the red tape, but it's required by the USOC.
  4. Committee Reports – Umpires & Referees, Ethics and Grievance, and Rules Committee.
  5. High Performance Committee. Lots and lots of discussion here, including a report on activities, long discussion on Youth National Team Selection, the new ITTF Coaching Rule (coaching allowed at any time except during a point), and USOC update.
  6. USATT voted to adopt the ITTF coaching rule. Here are the ITTF rules. The new rule is the following: "Players may receive advice at any time except during rallies provided play is not thereby delayed (; if any authorised person gives advice illegally the umpire shall hold up a yellow card to warn him or her that any further such offence will result in his or her dismissal from the playing area."
  7. USTT Events Update – 2016 U.S. Open, 2017 U.S. Nationals (July 3-8 in Las Vegas), 2017 world Championships Trials (probably last week in May), and 2018 World Veterans Championships (in Las Vegas).
  8. Long Budget and Financial Update. There's been a drop in membership, but much of that is because of the increase in players buying player passes, and in the timing, since USATT changed its membership standards a year ago.
  9. Closed session to discuss top-secret personnel and legal matters.
  10. 2017 Board Election. It looks like Rajul Sheth and Attila Malek will be running for the upcoming vacant spot on the board for At-Large member, with Mike Babuin's term ending (he's also termed out so can't run for re-election).  
  11. Committee Appointments. Since five of the current nine board members will be replaced in January of 2017, it was decided to postpone making committee appointments until the new board members are in. Besides the at-large spot, we'll have two new player reps, two new independent directors, and a new national organization director. More on this later.
  12. General Assembly. We discussed this briefly. The basic plan was to make it mostly a discussion on the Junior Team Selection process. More on this later, perhaps tomorrow.
  13. Adjourn!

Washington Post Feature
Here's their recent article, The calming presence pushing table tennis out of the basement and into the spotlight. The story features MDTTC and Cheng Yinghua. (I'm quoted a few times.)

Mental Toughness in Table Tennis
Here's the must-read article. It includes "Eleven Tips for Mental Toughness in Competition Table Tennis."

Samson Dubina Coaching Articles
While I've been away, Samson's been busy!

Articles from Coach Jon

Tom's Table Tennis Newsletter
Here's the new issue, which includes links to a number of coaching articles and other news.

USA Table Tennis, ITTF, and Butterfly News Items
Here's their News Page – they've had a LOT of news items while I was away, including some duplicates with the below. They've also had several issues of USATT Insider. There's also a lot of new items on the ITTF News and Butterfly News pages. (Disclaimer – I'm sponsored by Butterfly.)

Khalil Al-Mohannadi Announces Candidacy for ITTF President
Here's the ITTF press release. He's president of the Qatar TTA. Incumbent Thomas Weikert of Germany also plans to run for re-election. I believe Jean-Michel Saive is also planning to run, but apparently hasn't made it official yet.

Japan Looks to Serve Up Pro Table Tennis League
Here's the article. I've looked into USATT or some other group doing something like this, but Japan has huge advantages - they have more money, better players, and less area to cover.

Tom’s Table Tennis Quiz 2016
Here it is from Tom Lodziak.

Table Tennis Represents Healthy in Ad for Centrum Silver
Here's the ad in the Washington Post – see page 7.

2016 Table Tennis Season in Review
Here's the ITTF video (6:36).

World Table Tennis Champions, Istvan Jonyer, Li Zhenshi & Zhang Li Reunite
Here's the video (3:54). Jonyer was the 1975 World Men's Singles Champion, while Li Zhenshi and Zhang Li were among the dominant Chinese players in the 1970s, winning multiple doubles and team championships.

Ping Pong Training for Young Children in North Korea
Here's the video (2 min).

Amazing Rally by Daniela Dodean
Here's the video (58 sec).

"Star Boy" Backspin Serve
Here's the music video (22 sec) of Roy Ke's serve at MDTTC.

Talking Ping-Pong Ball at Hanoi Open
Here's the video (2:44) with Adam Bobrow.

Send us your own coaching news!

December 2, 2016

Last Blog Until Wednesday, December 28
I'm going out of town almost continuously for the next three weeks. Here's my upcoming schedule.

  • Dec. 4-9: Science Fiction Writer's Workshop Cruise in Bahamas (sort of a working vacation)
  • Dec. 10-18: U.S. Open and USATT Board Meetings in Las Vegas
  • Dec. 20-25: Christmas in Eugene, Oregon
  • Dec. 26-31: MDTTC Christmas Camp in Maryland

USA Youth Team – Selections or Trials? – and the Missing Link
One of the interesting things about being on the USATT Board of Directors is that you hear all sorts of perspectives. Often there are "huge" controversies that go on and on, that few members of USATT actual even know about. The current example is the 2017-18 Youth National Team Trials Procedures Draft for Public Comment. We've received dozens of emails from concerned parents on this, and right now it's perhaps the biggest USATT issue. But the great mass of USATT members is mostly oblivious to this.

And yet this is a rather important issue. USATT is responsible for the selection process of USA Teams for table tennis, and getting this right is a rather touchy process. Alas, there's been more controversy on this over the past year then perhaps, well, ever. But again, the controversy only affects a few people directly, and so for most, it barely shows up on the table tennis radar.

The crux of the matter is two questions.

  1. Should USA youth teams be mostly chosen by Team Trials, or mostly Selected by committee? This is really two questions – the selection of the ten players that make up each national youth team (juniors, cadets, mini-cadets, for boys and girls), and the selection of which players go to specific major tournaments, such as the World Junior Championships.
  2. Should participation and performance in USATT Super Camps be used as a selection criteria?

Historically, youth teams have been selected mostly by Trials, with a small number of spots typically selected as a safety net for the truly elite players who were sick, injured, or just had a bad day at the Trials. For example, Kanak Jha was top ten in the world when he left the cadet age group, and with at least another year left in juniors, is ranked #30 in the world, well above other USA juniors. If he's sick, injured, or just has a bad day and is upset at the Team Trials, should he be left off the team for a year, probably missing international competitions? Probably not. So perhaps a few spots should be left aside for such cases. In my opinion, if the team has 4-5 players, then one spot should be selected. If a team has ten players, then perhaps two selected.

The argument for Selecting the team is that coaches can best judge who has potential, based not just on current level, but potential, attitude, etc. However, I'm leery of this, since there's just too much subjectivity. Waldner and Appelgren were both called "uncoachable," Deng Yaping was kicked off the Chinese national team at least once because the coaches didn't feel she was physically big enough to be a top player, and Wang Liqin was considered by some coaches as too "mentally weak" to be a great player. These are four of the greatest players of all time. Even Eric Boggan, the highest ranked USA player in modern history, going back to the 1950s (17th in the world) was thought by many coaches to have little world-class potential due to his playing style and attitude. Personally, I've disagreed with some of the selections already made, as have other coaches - meaning that the choice of who made the team was decided by who were the selectors, rather than the players themselves. 

So I'm firmly on the side of selecting the teams mostly by Trials. So far, of the dozens of emails and postings on the topic, that's been the strong preference of I believe 100% of the writers, most of them parents of top youth players. The main split in these letters is between those who want all the spots selected by Trials, and those who believe nearly all should be, as I do.

A complication here is that the Nationals and youth team trials are held in July. This is fine for that year, but only through Dec. 31. At that time, many team players age out, so who is on the team from Jan. 1 until the next Trials? We could have another Trials at the U.S. Open in December, but many can't make that because the timing usually conflicts with school and many finals. We could just take the players next in line from the July Trials, but those are a bit old at that time. Or we could just select the rest of them by committee. I'm flexible on this as there is no easy solution. At the moment I'm leaning toward having a second Trials in December, though it's too late for this year.

Regarding the Super Camps, I attended the first one this past summer (as a coach, chaperone, and writer), and it was great. This may come under the category of "You had to be there," but the perspectives given to the players by our National Coaches, including champions like five-time U.S. Men's Champions Dan Seemiller and Sean O'Neill, plus Sampson Dubina, Richard McAfee, Wang Qing Liang, Cory Eider, Lily Yip, and others, was incredibly valuable, and I wish all our team members, or potential team members, could have been there.

But should the Super Camp have been used to select the players? I think the primary purpose of Super Camps should be to make the players better. If we can't do that, or convince the players we are doing that, then they aren't working. If we can fund them, then they can be part of the selection process. If not, then probably not. (Another purpose of the Super Camps is to turn them into team players, instead of individuals playing for themselves, but that's another subject.)

A core problem with the Super Camps is that USATT cannot fully fund them at this time, meaning that attendees – even members of National Teams – often have to pay at least some of their expenses. That's a major problem as it means it favors those with greater financial support from parents. I don't think we want to go in that direction when it comes to selecting players. Plus those two weeks or so is only 4% of the year. At the last camp, players who worked hard during those camps often were ranked the same or ahead of players who were obviously in better shape, i.e. players who had been doing this training year round. (I've already brought his up as an issue with the coaches involved.)

I'm trying to find the actual costs of these camps, and how much money would be needed to make the free for youth team members. I think there's a simple solution – people are often very quick to help out kids, so I think USATT should do a direct funding request to members, starting with a recurring news item that solicits such funding, and with specifics on how much is needed and what it will be used for. Perhaps we'll find one wealthy donor who will sponsor the whole thing.

One thing I left out in the above is that even before the Trials or Selections, a small number of players make the team automatically, based on world ranking. At first, this is an obvious thing, but after thinking it over, it's completely unnecessary. I believe those players should take part in the Trials anyway, with the Trials combined as the National Championship or similar national title (as it's already done), so they have strong incentive to win. If a truly high-ranking junior doesn't make the team, he'd get selected by committee with one of the few spots I believe should be left open for this.

So here's what I'd like to see regarding youth team trials – and note that I'm flexible on specifics.

  1. Of the ten on each team, the top eight come from the Team Trials in July.
  2. Two of the ten selected by committee, with a strong emphasis on selecting the strongest players, not just those who they believe have potential. If a player has potential, they'll become good enough to make the team on their own, so we don't need to just give it to them. It has to be earned. If, say, Kanak Jha or Crystal Wang, the top ranked junior boy and girl in the U.S., don't make the team, they'd be put on the team, as long as they went through the Trials/Age Championship (or had a medical waiver if they couldn't).
  3. On Jan. 1 after the Trials, when players age out, they should be replaced either by a new Trials in December, or in order of finish at the previous Trials in July. But this should start next year, not this year. At this point, we'll have to live with selections to fill out the team for the first half of 2017.

One problem with all this is simple reality: a number of people, many of them unpaid volunteers, spent a lot of time and effort putting together the current rather complicated procedures. After all that work, they are going to be resistant to it all being wasted if we go back to a much simpler process with Trials. But Trials have worked historically, and I think they are the primary way to go.

There is one other major issue that I think USATT needs to focus on, the "Missing Link" in our elite pipeline. For many years, USA hasn't had many top juniors or much depth. In recent years, due to the growth of full-time training centers and huge escalation in the number of top coaches, we have riches beyond what we'd have dreamed of just eight years ago. At all levels of our youth teams we can now battle with just about any team in the world, other than perhaps China and perhaps one or two others.

But we keep losing our top juniors when they reach age 18. So the obvious thing to do is to fix the problem, which is keeping our top juniors active and training after age 18. So what are we doing? Now that we are successful at developing top player under age 18, but have been unsuccessful at keeping them after age 18, the obvious thing is to focus on the latter – but instead we seem to be focusing on the former, which we're already doing well. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and we seem to be trying to make the stronger links stronger while ignoring the one that's broken.

The solution? We need some sort of professional league for our top players. I blogged about this on November 18, but I'm going to repost some of it. How do we set up such a pro league in time for this generation of up-and-coming USA junior stars? I see three options:

  • USATT develops such a pro league. It would most likely be a team league, where clubs buy franchises, and compete regionally. There'd be a limit of probably one non-citizen per team. The key here is money, which USATT doesn't really have, so it would have to work with sponsors or major table tennis companies.
  • USATT sends our top juniors and players to overseas leagues. There are very strong leagues all over Europe and Asia. Many of our past top players played and developed their games in the German leagues, such as Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan.
  • USATT or someone else organizes a Players Association. They would have incentive to set up such a league. They'd probably have to pool resources in some way to hire an Executive Director, or find one who works right from the start on commissions. If we don't do #1 or #2 above, I might have to push for this one.

In closing, I'm hoping as many as you as possible will attend the USATT Assembly at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 8-10PM. The primary topic there will be open discussion about youth team selections.

Table Tennis Books for Christmas!
Here's a selection by me, and by others over the past two years.

Table Tennis Books by Larry Hodges

Table Tennis Books by Others, 2015-2016

World Junior Championships
Here's the ITTF home page for the event, in Cape Town, South Africa, Nov. 30 – Dec. 7. Here's the USATT page, with results, schedule, pictures, and other info on the USA Team. The Butterfly News Page has been linking to ITTF articles that features USA or Canada. The USA Boys' Team is Adar Alguetti, Kanak Jha, Victor Liu, and Jack Wang; the Girls' Team is Angela Guan, Amy Wang, Crystal Wang, and Grace Yang. (These are listed alphabetically.) Here's video (34 sec) of the USA Junior Girls' Team marching in to play a team match. (I've probably spent 500 hours hitting with Crystal Wang, and have coached against Amy Wang a number of times. Sorry Amy!)

Your Grip
Here's the new coaching article and five videos by Samson Dubina.

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue that came out Wednesday morning.

The Ghostly Dab Serve - Revisited
Yesterday I linked to this video (14 sec) of U.S. Junior Team Member Allen Wang doing a heavy backspin high-toss serve – so that it comes back into the net, i.e. the "ghost" serve – with a quick neck dab during the toss. It had gone viral, with 559,000 views (!), 4700 likes (!) and 4600 comments (!) – but those numbers have continued to skyrocket in the one day since then. It now has 705,000 views, 5800 likes, and 5600 comments!!!

Foot Injury Forces Zhang Jike to Withdraw from Grand Finals
Here's the ITTF press release.

Ma Long: Best Table Tennis Matches
Here's the new video (10 min).

Kenta Matsudaira – Incredible
Here's the video (5:27).

Jan-Ove Waldner | The Serve Legend
Here's the music video (2:43).

Attack vs. Defense!
Here's video (22 sec) from the chopper's perspective.

Around-the-Net Looping Multiball Training
Here's the video (73 sec). Now we know the real reason top players are able to pull off these types of shots!

Wang Liqin vs. an Australian Football (Soccer) Team
Here's the video (42 sec) as the three-time World Men's Singles Champion takes on the Port Adelaide Football Club.

Final Update of the Club Sport US Warmup and Turkey Trot Doubles Tournament
Here's the info page on the recent tournament in the Bay Area, "perhaps the biggest small tournament in the US - only two events." The two events were Under 4200 and Under 3200 Teams.

No Need to Have a Racket If Your Name is Zhang Jike
Here's the picture as the Chinese superstar plays with a mirror. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Tyrannosaurus Rex Playing Table Tennis Jigsaw Puzzle
Here's the picture of this 70-piece puzzle. If you are into Tyrannosaurs playing table tennis pictures and videos, then see the last item in my Feb. 12, 2016 blog.

Table Tennis Mannequin Challenges

Send us your own coaching news!

December 1, 2016

Boosting – No, Nobody's Doing It. Move Along. Nothing to See.
What brought this up now? They are openly discussing boosting at right now – yes, right out in the open, they are talking about CHEATING!!! But no, it's not really happening. It's all imaginary. The numerous top players I've seen boosting before people began to complain didn't really boost, and when faced with opponents who strangely get more speed and spin on their shots than would seem possible from their strokes, it's all wizard stuff, not undetectable boosting. Magic.

I've blogged many times about how cheating is prevalent in our sport, both with illegal serves and boosting. Players blatantly hide their serves, but umpires and referees simply won't enforce the rules on this, and so to compete on an even basis at the higher levels you also have to serve illegally – it's sickening to me, but far too many others in authority positions prefer to look the other way. (I've blogged about illegal hidden serves many times, such as July 17, 2015. Here's my Net Visibility Rule proposal.)

With boosting, the problem is subtler – unlike illegal serving, which is done right out in the open where all can see (and ignore – move along, nothing to see!), you can't easily tell if someone is boosting. Here the problem is that boosting is a big advantage for loopers, but it's essentially undetectable. Yes, you heard that right, we've made something that can't be detected illegal, and assume players will simply follow the rule, i.e. the honor system. For years I've watched players illegally boost, and players have protested it, since those who follow the rules are at a disadvantage against those who do not. Here's the ITTF article, Jun Mizutani Boycotts ITTF For His Battle Against Illegal Boosters. Matt Hetherington also blogged about the silliness of this rule, Should ITTF Legalise Boosting? Here's a six-minute video from Samson Dubina on boosting. (Here's discussion of that at Bottom line is that boosting isn't harmful (unlike speed glues), and banning it when you can't enforce it creates an unfair playing field.

Samson and I made a big issue about this in 2015, but couldn't get the USATT or ITTF to do anything. I blogged about this on August 18, 2015, and made a rules proposal on Sept. 30, 2015. Here's the actual Racket Testing Rule I proposed.

Alas, my proposal was met with skepticism, with two common responses. One was that we were making cheating legal. That's nonsense, because the very changing of the rule, as in the proposal, would make boosting legal, and so we weren't making cheating legal; we were making most types of boosting (i.e. once that didn't affect health) legal. The basic rule change was that if the boosted racket passes the racket testing procedure at the tournament – which primarily checks for unhealthy fumes – it is legal. Read the proposal for more specifics. (Wikipedia has a good entry on speed glues, which explains why and what they are tested for. Boosting doesn't have any of these problems – they do not contain the halogenated solvents, solvents with benzene rings, or N-hexane, as cited in the article. If they did, they wouldn't pass the racket testing procedure.)

The other common response was the "Prove it!" response, where we set up a rule that can't be enforced about something that can't be detected, and then insist it isn't happening unless we can't detect this undetectable thing as actually happening. Once again, I was sickened by the responses, but there doesn't seem to be any way of getting through the bureaucracy with any common sense.

The funny thing is that if, say, USATT chose to make rackets that pass the racket testing procedure legal, the only real effect would be that those top players who refuse to boost – because, you know, it's illegal – would no longer be handicapped. Those that already boost – seemingly the vast majority – wouldn't be affected in the least, other than when they have to face play players who didn't previously boost. ("Unfair! Now they get to boost just like me!")

Why not read over the thread on boosting at – 27 postings as of now – and the above links from myself, Hetherington, Dubina, and Mizutani, and decide if we should continue this "honor system" regarding boosting, or use a little common sense.

1700 Articles
Last night, as I updated my web pages, I realized I'd hit a new milestone – exactly 1700 published articles! This does not include about 1400 blog entries (or I'd be over 3000). This includes 1508 articles on table tennis. 

MDTTC HW Global Foundation Junior Teams
Here's a photo gallery (45 pictures) by Ping Du, and another (8 photos) by Steve Hsu. MDTTC HW Global Foundation sponsored four teams (14 players, mostly ages 8-10), with two of the teams playing in the Division Ten Finals.

The Ghostly Dab Serve
Here's video (14 sec) of U.S. Junior Team Member Allen Wang doing a heavy backspin high-toss serve – so that it comes back into the net, i.e. the "ghost" serve – with a quick neck dab during the toss. You never know what's going to go viral – it now has 559,000 views (!), 4700 likes (!) and 4600 comments (!) – and these numbers are going up fast even as I write this. (When I went to bed last night it "only" had 360,000 views, 3200 likes.) Allen, what have you done???

World Junior Championships
Here's the ITTF home page for the event, in Cape Town, South Africa, Nov. 30 – Dec. 7. The USA Boys' Team is Adar Alguetti, Kanak Jha, Victor Liu, and Jack Wang; the Girls' Team is Angela Guan, Amy Wang, Crystal Wang, and Grace Yang. (These are listed alphabetically.) There was some controversy about the teams, with Krish Avvari, who finished first at the junior team trials at the Nationals in July, being left off the Boys' Team – see my Nov. 7 blog (see item #1 in the numbered listing).

2016 Hawaii Island Open and Aloha State Championships
Here are the article, results, and photos.

Table Tennis Achieves Balance of Life
Here's the video (69 sec). "Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) interviews Dean Johnson, Board Member of PingPong. GIVES Charity Foundation, on the Health Benefits of playing Table Tennis." Dean, 84, was inducted into the USATT Hall of Fame in 2015.

Ai Fukuhara and Chiang Hung-chieh Table Tennis Marriage Video
Here's the video (70 sec). Fukuhara of Japan (world #12, formerly #4 for six months, 2015-2016) and Chiang of Taiwan (world #76, formerly #49) married earlier this year. (Google translates his name as Jiang Hongjie, but I'm going with the spelling in the ITTF rankings and Wikipedia.)

Frederick John Perry
Here he is – World Table Tennis Champion (1929), career Grand Slam Champion in tennis (U.S., French, Australian, and Wimbledon champion).

Amayzlin Music
Here's the music video (5:05), with recurring table tennis scenes.

Send us your own coaching news!

November 30, 2016

Breakability, Playability, and Financiability of Plastic Balls
There are regular complaints about how the new plastic balls (which aren't so new anymore) break more easily than celluloid ones. Someone posted a note about this last night, and I responded as follows, about my experiences at the North America Teams – with the "breaking point" observation.

Most of the new plastic balls break more often than the celluloid ones. All you can do is call a let when it happens. One thing I noticed - I coached junior teams where the players were mostly 8-10 years old, and I don't remember them breaking a single ball. But I kept hearing from others, like you, that the balls kept breaking. Adults smash harder, and there's apparently a "breaking point" speed where they break too often.

Most of them also don't play as well as celluloid, though some of them are pretty good. There's going to be a titanic struggle at some point between the forces of seamed and unseamed balls – I'm guessing that eventually it'll be one or the other.

There are always going to be suspicions that the switch to plastic balls was more commercial than out of necessity due to the flammability of celluloid (which causes shipping and insurance difficulties). Perhaps it was both. Switching to plastic balls both enriches those who have the patents for them, and increases the number sold since they break more often. (I have no idea if they knew that part in advance.) However, I don't claim to be an expert on this.

I often get asked what I, or USATT, will do about the plastic ball situation, with the hope that we'll take legal action of some sort. The problem is how do you go about taking legal action from the U.S. when the ITTF Headquarters is in Switzerland, and the plastic ball manufacturers at various locations around the world (I think China, Japan, and Germany)? Do you hire Swiss lawyers, as well as Chinese, Japanese, and German? Who pays for it? The list of complication goes on and on. It's a non-starter for USATT because they don't have anywhere close to the resources for something like that.

U.S. Open
They are 819 entries, with entries closed. (Make sure to set menu to "2016 US Open.") Here's the home page. And here are two new items:

"Tilden's Doubles Falk Drill" Based on The Falkenberg
Here's the video (45 sec). The Falkenberg Drill is the most popular footwork drill among top players (and wannabes!) but here it's being done by a doubles pair. Note how each player plays a backhand, then a forehand from the backhand side, then a forehand from the forehand side, and then repeat. 

2016 Massachusetts State Championships
They are this Saturday, and you can still enter! Events include Men's and Women's Singles, Over 50, Under 14, and U2300, U2000, U1700, U1400, and U1100.

Teenager but Seasoned Competitor, Fifth Consecutive Appearance for Kanak Jha
Here's the ITTF article.

Top US Table Tennis Player From China Making Her Fame in the U.S
Here's the article on Jenny Wu from the Digital Journal.

Pingpong Tournament Brings in $100,000 for Chicago Tech Academy
Here's the article from the Chicago Tribune.

Fremont Table Tennis Academy Hosts Successful 2-star USA Table Tennis Sanctioned Tournament
Here's the article.

Saturday Morning Pong with Roy and Steve Emmons
Here's the video (5:51). Roy, the dad, is 77; they've been doing this for 33 years.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - Hyboime 2016 Austrian Open
Here's the new video (4:55).

Incredible Table Tennis Point by Jeoung Youngsik
Here's the video (38 sec).

How We Built an Arduino-Powered Ping Pong Scoreboard
Here's the article from The Conversation.

A Little Table Tennis Math and Science . . . Enjoy!

Chinese Astronaut Plays Table Tennis Alone in Zero-Gravity
Here's the article and videos, which include reaction from Chinese National Team members.

It's Pinging, It's Ponging, the Ping-Pong Balls are Thronging
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) So . . . how many ping-pong balls are in this picture?

With Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore
By Glenn O'Dea, Melton Table Tennis

'Twas the night of the finals, and all through the hall
Not a player was playing, 'cause they'd broken the ball.
The manufacturer said they'd been made with great care,
But still they broke open, which caused much despair.

The supplier had said that he's not to blame,
But the balls kept on breaking which was really a shame.
The players had frustration that just kept on growing
And all through the hall the expletives were flowing.

They needed an answer, a fix, a solution.
Balls made, perhaps, by nuclear fusion?
They turned to the ITTF for reaction
'cause this problem with plastic was quite a distraction.

The players said, "Please let's have celluloid back.
This plastic keeps breaking when we give it a whack."
And the answer came down from the leaders on high;
"Just suck it up boys, bad luck and goodbye."
Send us your own coaching news!

November 29, 2016

Tip of the Week
Follow the Elbow.

North American Teams
I spent the weekend coaching at the JOOLA North American Teams. (Here are complete results.) As noted in my blog last week, I always have this conflict as I'm sponsored by Butterfly, which runs the Butterfly Teams the same weekend, but the JOOLA Teams are practically next door, and my students play there. So that's where I coach. 

As usual, since I was busy coaching MDTTC junior teams on the back tables, I didn't see many of the big matches. During the Division One Finals I was watching the Division Ten Final. Note I said watching, not coaching? That's because it was between MDTTC/HWGF1 and MDTTC/HWGF2! Yes, an all MDTTC final. (HWGF stands for HW Global Foundation, which sponsors and runs the Talent Program at MDTTC, which is mostly kids from around 7 to 11. Contact them if you are interested in such a program at your club.) The players on the two teams were mostly 8-10 years old. I'd coaching both teams during the tournament, though I'd been assigned to mostly  coach the #1 team. (Others coaching the MDTTC junior teams were Jeffrey Zeng Zun, Wang Qing Liang, John Hsu, and Jack Huang.) But when two MDTTC junior teams play each other, we have a firm rule – no coaching from coaches or parents; only the kids can coach each other. They are all teammates, and we don't want coaches or parents coaching against each other there. It was a battle, as the players were used to each other, with the #1 defeating #2, 5-2. It could have been closer as the #1 team won two matches deuce or 11-9 in the fifth. These players all came in with ratings roughly 1100 to 1400, but they were severely under-rated.

MDTTC/HWGF1 ended up going 6-1 in their division half, and then won the crossovers and finals. MDTTC/HWGF2 was in the same half, and also went 6-1, with their only loss to MDTTC/HWGF1! They also won their crossover match, and so played MDTTC/HWGF1 again in the final.

Does coaching make a difference? You better believe it! I could give many examples from this tournament alone. Here's my favorite. I had just finished coaching MDTTC/HWGF1, and ran over to coach MDTTC/HWGF2. I think it was the ninth match (I never saw the match sheet, so not sure). One of our players, just turned age 8 (exactly four feet tall, as he told me), and coming in with a rating of about 1100, was down 0-2 and 4-8 to a 1550 player. His opponent had already won both her other matches easily, both 3-0, and it looked like this match was over.

I watched him serve two points, which they split, and now he was down 5-9, two points away from losing. I called a time-out, and told him he was about to have an historic comeback that we'd be talking about for years to come, and asked if he was ready. He perked up and said he was ready. Then I told him two things. First, to simplify things, switch from the forehand pendulum serve he'd used twice to his forehand tomahawk serve, short to the forehand, which would likely force a predictable crosscourt return to his forehand. Second, and more importantly, I told him to relentlessly go after her elbow. (See this morning's Tip of the Week.) She was tall and very good from the corners, and that's where he'd been playing. For the rest of the match he did just that – in rally after rally, he just pounded her middle, and her strong countering game completely wilted. From 5-9 he scored five in a row, 10-9, then was down 10-11 match point, then won 14-12. She struggled with the tomahawk serve, missing two, and returning the rest predictably to his forehand.

Before game four I told him to start varying the tomahawk serve, to set up as if he were going to go short to the forehand again, but then go deep to backhand. The tactic worked, and he continued to pound her middle, especially in fast backhand rallies, and won, 11-4.

Between games, after he told them the score to mark down, the opposing team argued that the score had been 11-5. My player said that it had been 11-4 – and I knew it had been 11-4, since they'd changed serves just before that and he was serving 10-4. But quickly went over and told them to put it down as 11-5, and explained to our player that it didn't matter. I didn't want him to lose his focus. It's amazing how often little unimportant things can throw off a player's focus, and it's up to both the player and coach to make sure this doesn't happen.

Before game five I suggested he sometimes follow up his attacks to the middle by going to the open corner. He didn't seem sure when to do that, so I changed my mind, and told him to just keep pounding the middle until he got an easy ball to smash. He again did this flawlessly, and went up 10-4, lapsed for a few points, then won 11-7. And so he and his team leaped in celebration as they won the team match!

There were many matches like that. It was also great watching these players. One of them (not the one above) plays (both strokes and tactically) like an 8-year-old Waldner! (He'll be about 1500 after this tournament.) Another player was on fire on Sunday, and beat two players that were seemingly stronger who he likely would have lost to the day before. We also saw problems to work on. One player probably lost three matches because of a lack of a good backspin serve. Another got so frustrated whenever he lost a game that he probably lost a number of matches he could have otherwise won. There were also technical issues that some of them will have to work on.

One thing that many didn't realize was that the ITTF coaching rule was in effect. North American Table Tennis, which ran the tournament, had sent out a note letting players know that the rule would be in effect, which allowed coaching at any time except during points. However, most that I talked to didn't realize this. Most coaches were low-key on this, not sure yet how much they should coach, and so it wasn't a serious problem. As coaches and players get more used to it, I'm worried it'll become more of a distraction as coaches may try to signal servers, etc. I took advantage of it a few times, whispering advice to players when they were nearby. I also had one of our Chinese coaches sometimes call out things to our Chinese kids when they were playing non-Chinese players. (Of course, that's risky – some non-Chinese players know Chinese! But it's rare.)

On Sunday afternoon I coached one of our players, an 8-year-old chopper, against a pusher/blocker who almost never attacked. The match would have gone expedite if it had been timed, but I figured that favored her, so didn't call for an umpire, and neither did the opponents. So I sat there for probably 40 minutes as the two pushed back and forth before the opponent finally won, 3-1. And then I stood up.

OWWW! Yes, I injured my left leg just standing up. I had tightened up during that long match. Even when I coached him I was sitting down as I don't want kids to have to look up at someone looking down at them. (It's psychologically better to get down to their level, either sitting or squatting.) For the next hour I literally couldn't put any weight on the leg. It gradually eased up to the point where I could hobble about some, but I really hurt it pretty badly. I'm still hobbling about, and had to cancel or get a substitute for my coaching for Mon-Wed. On Thursday I have a one-hour junior class and a one-hour session with a beginner, so I'll wait and see if I can do that. (It's rather funny that all these players play for three days and are fine, and I stand up after coaching a match and get hurt like this. Jeez...) 

The tournament was run efficiently by North American Table Tennis. As usual, Director John Miller kept the matches running right on time, and other than that injury problem at the end, I had a great time, and so did the kids! I've been going to the Teams since I started in 1976, so this was my 41st time. Wow.

Butterfly Teams and JOOLA North American Teams Articles
USATT has lots of articles and videos from both on their News Page. Butterfly has articles on the Butterfly Teams on their News Page.

Liu Shiwen Suspended from International Play
Here's the ITTF press Release on the world #2 and former #1. "The reason cited by Kong Linghui, the head coach of the Chinese Women’s Team, is Liu Shiwen's last minute withdrawal from the Seamaster 2016 Women’s World Cup held last October [in Philadelphia]."

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

New Articles by Coach Jon

Men vs Women – What We Can Learn From Each Other
Here's the article from Tom Lodziak.

One Million Table Tennis Players to Be Trained
Here's the article from the Indian Express.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 10! Or order your own print copies at

Training with Belgium National Team 2016 Part 1
Here's the video (12:36).

Jun Mizutani vs Vladimir Samsonov Training
Here's the video (22:15).

Top Serve of Table Tennis
Here's the new music video (4:16).

Great Doubles Point
Here's the video (28 sec).

Ask a Pro Anything - Doo Hoi Kem
Here's the video (4:19). "Hong Kong's female youngster takes on the ITTF Ask a Pro Anything challenge with Adam Bobrow! Watch to learn more about her as she tries to answer questions from her fans." She's world #16, #4 under 21.

Ma Long & Zhang Jike Exhibition After Rio Olympics 2016
Here's the video (5:53) that just went up.

When Table Tennis Gets Angry!
Here's the video (1:40).

Human Net
Here it is! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Monkey Sports
Here's the cartoon – "Earn £100 a Week Teaching Monkeys Table Tennis."

Send us your own coaching news!

November 23, 2016

Next Blog – Tuesday, Nov. 29
I'll be eating Meleagris on Thursday, coaching at the Teams Fri-Sun, and exhausted in bed on Monday. See you Tuesday!

Coaching at the Teams
On Fri-Sun I'll be at the JOOLA North American Teams, coaching one of the junior teams from the Maryland Table Tennis Center. It's a rather big job, herding the kids to the right table, warming them up, getting the match slips filled out, scouting opponents, coaching matches, consoling tearful kids after a loss, and making sure they eat and drink properly. Fortunately, most of the kids are now "old pros," having played numerous tournaments.

It's a tough decision for many of us each year – JOOLA North American Teams in DC, or Butterfly Teams in Philadelphia? It's unfortunate they are on the same weekend, and only 2.5 hours apart, but both want the Thanksgiving weekend. For me, it's an especially uncomfortable choice, since I'm sponsored by Butterfly, but the North American Teams are practically in my back yard. Since the players I coach are playing there, I'll be coaching at the JOOLA North American Teams in DC. But I wish I could do both.

For those of you playing at the Teams (either one), here's my article, Top Ten Ways to Play Your Best in a Tournament. Unless you are playing an MDTTC Team. Then go out and party late the night before, and show up at the last minute to play – only wimps need to warm up, right?

One thing of possible great interest – at the North American Teams they will be following the new ITTF coaching rule. This means coaches are allowed to coach at any time during the match that the ball is not in play. I do not like this rule, and am not looking forward to it. Hopefully it'll be low key, and not three days of coaches screaming out instructions. But I'm sure there'll be some coaches signaling every serve.

U.S Open, JOOLA Teams, Butterfly Teams
There is no greater pastime in American than counting the number of players and teams at the various large tournaments. It's as American as grandma and Kung Pao Chicken. Sure, some of you may prefer to watch table tennis glue dry or pick up ping-pong balls during training sessions, but nothing is as enthralling as watching those online numbers as, one by one, they move up. Those of us who live and breathe this stuff hit refresh every ten seconds or so, in constant anticipation of those occasional times when one of the numbers clicks up one – and then it's pandemonium as we pump our fists in the air, screaming Olé! Okay, now you know what a boring life some of us lead, but it is fun to occasionally watch as they numbers grow. Here are the current totals.

  • U.S. Open – 816 entries, with I'm told more paper entries still to be inputted. We may end up with about 850.
  • JOOLA North American Teams – 713 players on 180 teams.
  • Butterfly Teams – 224 players on 60 teams. They are the "upstarts," starting up just a few years ago.

Table Tennis Books
(Warning - shameless commercial solicitation coming!) It's not too late to buy one of my table tennis books, or Dan Seemiller's Revelations of a Champion, for Christmas! Or just for yourself. What could be better than curling up next to the fire and reading about Tactics and Tips and Dan Seemiller's journey to the top? I've noticed a recent bump in sales of The Spirit of Pong, where you get to train (in spirit) with past champions – why not find out what all the excitement is about?

Black Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – at USATT Webstore
The USATT Webstore is having a big sale on these days, so make sure to shop

Rochester Coach Will Lead U.S. Junior National Table Tennis Team
Here's the article from the Rochester, MN Post Bulletin.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 9! Or order your own print copies at

Topspin Charity Supports Youth Education in NYC with Star-Studded Table Tennis Event
Here's the USATT article.

Three Black Americans See China as Their Land of Opportunity
Here's the article from The Daily Progress.

Alton High, Marquette Square Off in Table Tennis Match
Here's the article from the Alton Advantage News in Illinois.

Private Equity Execs Raise Money With a Different Kind of Back-and-Forth
Here's the article from the Wall Street Journal – alas, you have to subscribe to read it.

Photos from the November Westchester Open
Here's the gallery from Glen Randmer Photography. Here are results, and video of the final (16:51). 

Great Exhibition Point
Here's the video (52 sec) of a point to wake you up for Thanksgiving – and it doesn't really look like an exhibition until one of the players circles the table!

Art and Ping-Pong, Together at Last
Here's the gallery, seven images. Make sure to click on Slideshow.

Boston, the Table Tennis Playing Dog
Here's the picture and short article.

Turkey Pong
This is a repeat from last year, but it's the season! I did some searching, but there doesn't seem to be any new turkey table tennis pictures since last year – apparently turkeys don't play TT much . . . those turkeys. . . .

Send us your own coaching news!

November 22, 2016

Sixteen and Training Again . . . with Christer Johansson
The year was 1976, I was 16, and I'd just finished a week of hard training at the Monty Merchant Christmas Training Camp. On the last day I got a surprise – Monty had been so impressed with my skills that he'd arranged for Christer Johansson, the great Swedish coach, to fly to the U.S. to take personal charge of my training.

The preceding never happened – or did it? Let me tell the story in order.

I'm in my room, shadow-practicing my forehand, when Monty and Christer walk in. Monty introduces us, then Christer takes charge. Tells me I need to focus on looping from both sides. On the forehand, I was both hitting and looping; he assures me that the future is looping, and to focus on that.

But then we get to my backhand. "You must loop your backhand," he says. He guides me through the stroke as he wants me to do it, and I begin to shadow practice it.

"It's easy to do in practice," I vividly remember telling him, "but hard to do it in games."

"But you must do it in games," he says. We're still in my room at home, with a table somehow jammed into it. We begin training, as he blocks to my backhand loop, constantly on me to spin it harder, Harder, HARDER!!! He's moving me side to side, backhand to forehand, and I'm really into it, looping everything, as I want to be the best in the world, and now I have one of the best, maybe the best, coach in the world training me. Every now and then I see Monty in the background, nodding. I'm a hard worker, and both of them are impressed. He's focusing especially on my backhand, turning it into a deadly weapon.

Soon I'm ripping loops from both wings, relentlessly, like a champion. I'm 16 and I have a great future ahead.

Then I'm lying in bed, just waking up and thinking about the upcoming day's training. I'm going to work so hard, I tell myself, and the coaches will be impressed, and someday I'm going to be world champion. As I lay there, 16 years old, realization gradually dawns, even as it is dawn outside. I'm not 16; I'm 56, and I've been having an unbelievably vivid dream. I'm extremely disappointed. I never did develop a strong backhand loop, just a steady blocking, countering game. I look over at the clock, and it's 5:55 AM. 

I really did go to the Monty Merchant Christmas Camp in December, 1976, my first training camp. I only started to play when I was 16, early in 1976, and at the camp was about 1400 level. But I trained pretty hard right from the start. Alas, Monty died in 2008; here's his obit. Little remembered fact – when I was about 1850 but about to jump up a lot, I played my former coach in a tournament and led 19-13 in the third (best of three to 21). Monty came back to win – I still tense up just thinking about that choke – and then he withdrew from the tournament, saying that that match proved to him that he just didn't have it anymore. He never played a tournament again, at least in the U.S. (For a time he was Sean O'Neill's near full-time coach.)

But who was Christer Johansson? I never met him, and don't think I've thought about him much in decades. But back then he was a big-time coach from Sweden. He was the older brother of Kjell Johansson, the 1973 World Men's Singles Finalist. Christer was on the Swedish Men's Team that won the bronze medal at the 1967 Worlds. He even had a racket named after him. But it was as a coach that he most shined, first for the Swedes, later for Norway. He wrote a book on table tennis, Bordtennis (in Swedish, alas). Here's a recent picture. He'll be 72 on Dec. 10. 

And amazingly, he's on Facebook. We're not Facebook friends (yet), but we do have nine mutual friends. I just sent him a friend request. (Update: He accepted.) 

I never met Christer Johansson, but we did have one great night training together, last night, when I was 16.

Short Stuff

  • USATT Teleconference. We had one last night, with ten people on the call. Topics covered included approval of the minutes of the September Teleconference and the October meeting in Philadelphia; discussion and plans for future USATT events and commercial rights; upcoming U.S. Open (online listing currently has us at 808 entries, but we're actually around 850); the upcoming General Assembly at the U.S. Open; budget update (membership appears down, but we always get a membership bump at the end of the year from the Teams and the Open/Nationals); upcoming Board elections and committee appointments; upcoming December Board meeting at the Open; and then we adjourned. There were no fireworks or issues of monumental importance; we'll likely have bigger issues to cover at the December in-person meeting at the Open, where we'll meet all day, instead of just the 81 minutes the teleconference took. There'll also be the General Assembly, which will focus entirely this year on the Youth Team Selection Process.
  • Campaign 2100. Have any of you read my novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions? It has lots of table tennis! It currently has nine reviews on Amazon, six 5-star, three 4-star. Apparently good things happen at certain magic numbers of reviews, and ten is one of them – so I could use one more (good!) review.
  • Non-Table Tennis: Philcon. That's the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention, where I was on Friday and Saturday, where I was a panelist and did a book signing. Here's a picture of me at the "Utopias That Make Us Cringe" panel. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) I also moderated the "Dinosaur Fiction!" panel. Here I am at the book signing, alongside big-time author Lawrence Schoen on the left. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) The 2.5-hour drive up took five, do to traffic. I returned Saturday night (little traffic this time), in time for my regular Sunday coaching.

Tactical Analysis: A Brief Study of Harimoto
Here's the analysis by Samson Dubina. Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan is the #1 ranked under 18 player in the current ITTF junior boys' rankings. The analysis was done for USA juniors who will face him.

The Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes
Here's the article.

USA Table Tennis Participates in AmazonSmile Program
Here's the info page – when you buy from Amazon, they'll send a percentage to USATT!

ITTF & TMS International End Their Exclusive Marketing Agreement
Here's the ITTF press release. Maybe you or your company can take over?

Kickstarter for Table Tennis Shirt
Here's the page for the new shirt by artist Steve Worthington.

Highlights from the 2016 Swedish Open
Here's the video (3:33). Here are more videos from the Swedish Open this past weekend. Here's the home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.  

Table Tennis - The Power of Shot Placement (Precision and Power)
Here's the video (5:31).

1972 Table Tennis: Stellan Bengtsson vs. Istvan Jonyer
Here's the video (57 sec). Bengtsson was the reigning 1971 Men's World Champion and world #1, Jonyer was world #3 and would become the 1975 Men's World Champion.

Eight-Two, Brute
Here's the cartoon!

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