February 14, 2022

Tip of the Week
The Most Important Technique in Table Tennis.

Coaching at the MDTTC Open and Weekend Coaching
I spent Saturday coaching players from our junior program at the MDTTC Open. It wasn't easy - I had a secret I kept from everyone. I woke up with an intense headache, probably from reading late the night before. It never went away - I spent the whole day with a jackhammer in my head. But I didn't tell anyone, and hopefully none of the kids I coached noticed anything different. I still had the headache this morning, and almost postponed the blog, but it's a bit better now. Yeah, that late-night reading habit can be a headache!!! (I might need new reading glasses - I have an eye appointment Feb. 24.) 

Here are the complete results of the tournament, care of Omnipong. There were 102 players in the tournament, run by Coach Wang Qingliang, with Liam Draper, Kevin Yang, Mu Du, James Zhang, and other kids in our junior program helping out. I coached matches for Stanley & Kurtus Hsu, Mu Du, James Zhang, Todd Klinger, and Christian Funderberg. (I mostly coach those who ask me to coach them.) I could write a book about the various tactics used. (But I'll only write about things that don't give things away.) Many, probably most players are easy to coach against - most players fit into a "textbook" case with standard strengths and weaknesses, so it's just a matter of finding them, and not overusing the best tactics so they don't get used to them. Others are harder to coach against because they adjust their tactics on the fly as you or your student changes theirs.

One interesting tactical issue that came up several times was players who start the rally as "forehand" players, where you attack the wide corners. But once the rally starts, they become more two-winged, and then you want to attack both the corners and their middle, roughly the elbow, the transition between forehand and backhand. It becomes tricky with players who switch back and forth and so the player has to constantly adjust. I used to be one of those players - if you go after my middle, I'm an all-out forehand player and you were just giving me forehands; if you attack the corners then I became a wall on both sides, since I didn't have to cover the middle. Smart players, of course, went back and forth, and then I'd crumble a bit, alas. But so do other opponents if you learn to make these adjustments on the fly.

One tactic that came up a few times was flipping short serves to the middle. Most players only practice flipping to wide angles, and so aren't comfortable or able to consistently flip to the middle. In one big match, it was the key to winning - and if the player I coached hadn't been able to do that he probably would have lost.

One tactical question came up, a common that's sometimes tricky to decide. It came up when I coached Stanley Hsu (US #1 in 13 and Under, rated 2400 even and a finalist in Open Singles here). He has a devastating close-to-table forehand loop that's almost become his trademark. But sometimes the opponent is able to make a strong counterloop from mid-court. When that happens, Stanly (and other players like him) normally keep counterlooping. But in such a rally, a simple forehand block down the line to the backhand would catch the opponent out of position as well as throw off their timing, plus it's a more consistent shot than trying to counterloop. However, there's a problem. If the player knows that once he starts looping, he's basically going to keep looping until the point is over, then there's no hesitation and the looping becomes very strong and pretty consistent. Once you add the decision of whether to loop or block, that can cause the player to hesitate and the loop becomes more erratic. So it's a judgement call on by the player and the coach on whether it's better to keep coming at them with loops or to throw in occasional forehand blocks based on the situation. It's sort of like comparing Ma Long (who would likely keep ripping forehand loops until the point is over) or Jan-Ove Waldner (who would tactically forehand block a ball if the situation called for it). In the modern game, you lean toward the continuous attack . . . but an occasional forehand block can really work wonders.

On Sunday, toward the end, we had a two-hour Novice Class, with 13 players, mostly ages 7-8. At the start, Coach Wang ran it while I took over at the tournament desk for him (with junior star Mu Du helping), but once the session started he asked if I could feed multiball, so I did for an hour while he ran the tournament. One problem that came up was two kids who kept changing their grip drastically between forehand and backhand. We worked on that.

The last half hour was "fun time." First we played the cup game, where the kids built pyramids out of paper cups, and then took turns knocking them down as I fed multiball. We finished with a round of Simon Says - I'm getting good at doing it rapid fire! My favorite tactic is to say "Simon says" something, but act out something different. So I might say "Simon says clap your hands" as I jump in the air. But the kids quickly pick up on these things. I got a lot of them when I said, "Simon says clap your hands once" and I clap them twice. I also got a bunch of them when I said, "All those who haven't missed yet move over there," and of course I didn't say "Simon says," so those who moved over lost! This video (5:58) is my inspiration.

Stanley Hsu assisted in the session - here's a Facebook picture of him helping, with me in the background. See my comment under it. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

The Spirit of Pong
I thought I'd give a plug for my fantasy table tennis novel The Spirit of Pong. It's an easy read, only 100 pages, plus features a short humorous fantasy table tennis story at the end, "Ping-Pong Ambition." You can read the first two chapters (17 pages) for FREE! Here's a Review at MH Table Tennis. Here's the Amazon description:

Andy "Shoes" Blue wants to be a table tennis champion, but he’s just another wannabe American. And so he goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis. He is trained by the mysterious Coach Wang, and begins an odyssey where he learns the secrets of table tennis from the spirits of Japan's Ichiro Ogimura (who helped spawn China’s greatness), Rong Guotuan (China’s first world champion in 1959, whose tragic story Andy must relive), and others, and must face the mysterious "Dragon." Can he overcome treachery and learn the final secret of table tennis in time to defeat his ultimate nemesis?

From the Amazon reviews:

  • "This lovely little book is loaded with a lot of information about the giants of the game."
  • "...if you cried during the ending scene of 'Rudy', then this book is for you."
  • "I was hijacked away by this book almost from its beginning looking forward each new paragraph."
  • "A fascinating story of an American wanting to be the best in the world of table tennis, going to China for some magical and intriguing training sessions, and how he eventually achieved his hard-earned success."
  • "This was a real page-turner, and was one of the best binges I've been on."
  • "An enjoyable and amusing read, Larry Hodges writes in a capturing style."

Here are all of my books - 17 in all, with two more coming out later this year.

Valentine's Day Table Tennis
Here's what you get if you put this headline into Google:

ITTF Hopes Squad
I wrote about this last week, but the links went up late, so I'm reposting them. Congrats to Ryan Lin, Mandy Yu, and Tashiya Piyadasa, who each made the ITTF's ten-player World Hopes Squad - ten boys and ten girls, all ages 12 and under. (Links to these articles are repeated elsewhere in the blog, under the ITTF, USATT, and Steve Hopkins/Butterfly news links.)

USATT Board Meeting This Thursday, Feb. 17
Here is the USATT Agenda and Notices page. It will be a Zoom meeting, at 8PM eastern time, and USATT members may attend, but only to watch and listen. One big change you will see in the notice - they are disabling the chat feature, and requiring any questions to be made in advance via email. Why? Because at the last board meeting (Feb. 7), several people, including me, complained about certain USATT issues. This is their way of dealing with that. Alas. There are three things on the agenda:

  • 2022 Budget
  • Proposed Amendments to Bylaws as Required Under USOPC Audit Implementation Guide
  • Proposed Amendments to USATT Board Code of Conduct and Social Media Policy (Executive Session)

Timos Week #5 - Back on Track
Here's the video (3:06) from Timo Boll. He just got over Covid.

Kanak Jha Talks Playing Timo Boll, Lin Yun Ju and Tactics Against Lefties
Here's the video (25:27) from Seth Pech, featuring USA Olympian and four-time USA Men's Singles Champion Kanak Jha.

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich
I normally avoid linking to equipment articles and reviews - I'm sponsored by Butterfly and so have a conflict of interest. But besides the below, EmRatThich reviews a series of Butterfly blades in his PingSunday blog this past week, including the Falcima, Timo Boll CAF, Timo Boll ZLF, Lin Gaoyuan ALC, Timo Boll ZLC, Viscaria, and the Timo Boll ALC. What I find interesting is he called the Timo Boll ALC "the best Butterfly blade" - and it's the blade I've used for the last eight years or so! I had a student who I coached at the National Team Trials, Tong Tong Gong, who by upset made the National Cadet Team by pulling off a series of upsets. As a bonus, he gave me the very blade he used to make the team, a Timo Boll ALC, and I fell in love with it! I still use it that very same blade, though I have a newer backup in my bag.

Butterfly Training Tips

New from Matt Hetherington

New from Samson Dubina

New from Coach Aabid
Here's his latest coaching article, and links to his previous ones and videos.

Camouflaging Your Serves
Here's the article by Vikash Sahu

How Your Grip Might Be Destroying Your Loop
Here's the video (5:37) from Coach Jon.

Defeats, Despair and Big Lessons Learnt in My Veteran Tournament Debut
Here's the article by Tom Lodziak.

New from the Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis
Lots of new videos here! (Alas, they no longer seem to date them, so it's tricky trying to figure out which ones are new.)

Ask the Coach
Here are the latest questions from PingSkills.

New from USA Table Tennis

New from Steve Hopkins

New from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association

Indian Coach Guilty of Match Fixing, Table Tennis Federation of India Executive Committee Suspended
There seem to be some scandals going on in Indian table tennis. Here are five different reports. I tried to choose just one, but they seem to take different angles, so here are all five, which all came out on Friday. (Thanks to Ray Arditi for finding these.)


2021 US National Champion Men's Under 21 Champion and Men's Singles Finalist - Sharon Alguetti Highlights
Here's the video (4:10).

Adam Bobrow vs. Homeless Paralympic Champion
Here's the video (11:21) featuring Tahl Leibovitz - playing lefty!

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here.

Freestyle Pong
Here's the video (20 sec) from Lin Yun!

Wow Clips
Here are links.

Surrender Pong
Here's the picture!

The Bad Guys in My Next Science Fiction Horror Story?
Here's the picture!

Our New Ping Pong Paddles Make Funny Sounds
Here's the video (1:31)!

Waldner's Trick Serve
Here's the video (12 sec)!

Send us your own coaching news!