November 29, 2022

Tip of the Week
What Comes First, Speed or Consistency?

JOOLA North American Teams
I spent Thanksgiving weekend coaching at the Teams at the National Harbor in Maryland. It was my 46th consecutive Teams – every year starting my first year in table tennis, 1976, back when it was in Detroit from the early 1970s to 1997. (It would be 47 years in a row, but they didn’t hold it in 2020 due to Covid.) I was a player or player/coach for most years, but in modern times I’ve only coached. (I’ve also been to every US Open and Nationals since 1984, plus a few before that.) Here are complete results. (Make sure to set the dropdown menu to 2022 JOOLA NA Teams.) Here is the list of entries.

There were 1119 players, 270 teams, and 166 tables this year – I believe all records. I heard rumors that there were some top players playing in the Championship division on the front tables, but I never really saw any of it except occasionally walking by – I was on the back tables coaching Maryland Table Tennis Center junior teams. We had twelve junior teams but only five coaches, so we were jumping about each round, coaching different teams. (Here’s video of the Team Final, Kou Lei TTC vs. PongPod One, 91 min.)

This is I think the second year in a row where they went paperless, with everything run online. Team captains got their schedules, registered, and put in results via smart phones. Alas, problems arose the first morning when the server went down. Teams couldn’t register for their upcoming round and so things fell behind. Fortunately, they had paper backups, and so got the matches going again after a 45 minute delay. They got the server back up, but it went down other times, especially in the morning when everyone was checking in at once. This led to scheduling problems – including late-starting team match that didn’t finish until 12:25 AM, with a few other teams still playing as we left. But I think this was a one-time problem they’ll be more ready for next year. While I’m old-fashioned and prefer paper, most seemed happy with the new system. They’ve been running the Teams efficiently since they took over in 1998 and there have been few problems like this before. A great thanks goes to the hard-working staff that sets up and runs the event!

 As usual, there were lots of tactical issues that came up. I think I did a lot of emphasis on placement, making sure the players played to the “three spots” – wide forehand and backhand, and middle (mid-point between opponent’s forehand and backhand). I also emphasized figuring out early which two spots were the best to go to. Or sometimes one – there were several matches won with the simple tactic of pushing to the very wide backhand so the opponent couldn’t forehand loop.

One opponent, rated just over 1800, had a 2200 forehand and backhand loop against backspin, but the rest of his game was weaker – in particular, he didn’t block very well– and he was somewhat slow. But since he got to serve half the time, and mostly served short backspin, and since my players were unable to consistently flip or drop the serve short, over and over they were stuck pushing long and facing those 2200 loops. We did find some success by pushing quick to the middle, so he had to move some to loop (and go out of position if my player blocked it back), but even that usually didn’t work. One player found himself down 0-2 in games against this player, and I pointed out that, except for a couple times when the opponent served long and he’d looped the serve, he’d pushed the serve back fifteen times, the opponent had looped all fifteen, and we’d lost all fifteen points! “You might as well try flipping. Even if you miss, it’s better than losing every point pushing.” It almost worked – while he missed most of the flips and went back to pushing, it forced the opponent to be ready for both. They went five, but we lost. But now the three who lost to him know that there are better options against a short serve than pushing back long every time! (I spoke with the opponent later. His level would go up dramatically – well over 2000 – with a few months of serious training, including physical training.)  

One player dominated against an opponent by mixing up short backspin and no-spin serves. When the next player to play him admitted he didn’t really know how to serve no-spin except by just patting the ball on the table (so it doesn’t look like backspin), I took him aside and gave him a quick lesson on it – but it was too late for this match. (To serve a good no-spin serve – often called “heavy no-spin,” one of my favorite terms – you have to use the same motion as heavy backspin, except contact the ball near the handle instead of the tip. You have to really sell it as backspin so they’ll push as if it’s backspin – and then the ball pops way up.)

There were two matches where, at key times, I called timeout, and called for short no-spin serves to the forehand. I was expecting, or at least hoping, the opponents would pop the serves up, since the player hadn’t been serving there much. Both times I was wrong – both times the opponent pushed the serve off the end. Yay!

Coaching kids between games is half tactical, half psychological. Or sometimes, 100% psychological. During that late-night team match that ended at 12:25 AM my main purpose between games was to wake the player up! They were pretty sleepy – one could barely keep his eyes open.

In one of our team matches, the opposing team had what appeared to be a 2300 player on their team, while the rest of the players were around 1500. This guy looked GOOD!!! He had world-class form and athleticism, and his shots were way too powerful for our players. But . . . as he began to play matches, we realized something – he kept missing. I’ve never seen a player look so good but not be so good. As I explained to one of our players, “He’s all swing, no bling.” We ended up winning two of the three matches against him, mostly by serving and looping, and watching him miss shots that most players couldn’t even attempt. If this guy plays a lot for a year, he’ll be really good.

Here's a quiz question I kept asking our kids, and none answered correctly. The question was, “Why am I wearing my arm brace when I’m not playing?” Answer – because my arm was hurting from clapping! I have periodic arm problems. Basically, there are microscopic tears in the muscles or tendons, and the brace holds them together so they don’t tear more. It’s mostly preventive these days, but I wear it when I have to do a lot of playing. If I don’t, the arm starts to hurt after a while.

In one of our matches, my player was down 6-10 in the first game. But he thought he’d already lost, and so came over. I thought it was 6-10, but he said he’d lost 11-6. So for about twenty seconds I coached him for the next game. Then the coach for the other team came over and asked, “Are you taking a timeout?” That’s when we discovered the game wasn’t over! They were nice about it and our player went back out but lost the game, and a minute later we were talking tactics again, preparing for game two. But for the first time in years, I was stuck on a rules question – did that “break” we’d taken at 6-10 count as our one time-out? I wasn’t sure. I kept debating whether I could legitimately call a timeout after that. But late in the fifth game, my player called a timeout on his own, and no one complained. Alas, he lost. Later, I checked with one of the umpires, and he said that while it was a mistake when we started talking, no time-out was called, and so it wasn’t a timeout. (Also alas, there’s probably at least one person reading this who is thinking, “Hey, I’m going to take advantage of that next time I play!” Yes, there are cheaters out there.)

There were other interesting “incidents.” One opponent left the court after every game and sat down on a chair that was a well away from the playing area. Since he was elderly and I didn’t feel like getting into an argument, we let it go, but twice I timed him, and one time he took over five minutes, other time over four. Another opponent had this unique but completely illegal serve – he’d stand about five feet to the left of the table (he’s a righty), and then would suddenly almost jump to the table, waving his free hand with the ball about, including well below the table, and then, in a continuous motion, he’d serve. I explained to him after the first game that he had to come to a complete stop when serving and keep the ball above the playing area, and he agreed and toned it down a bit – though still illegal – for a few points. Then he went back to full illegal serve mode. Since my player was beating him easily, we decided not to make an issue out of it. Another opponent hid his serve with his body, but he stopped when we asked him to do so.

Now we get to the nastier side of table tennis and the boundary between cheating and just not knowing the rules. In one of our matches,  with our team leading 4-3, my player, age nine, won the first two games rather easily against an elderly opponent, who was rated about the same. At the start of the third, first point, the opponent set up to receive and my player served. The opponent put the serve in the net. Then he stepped back and realized that it should have been his serve. The point counted, however, since he had played the point. The opponent then served, and lost that point as well. Then it was my players turn to serve, due to Rule 2.14.1:

2.14.1 If a player serves or receives out of turn, play shall be interrupted by the umpire as soon as the error is discovered and shall resume with those players serving and receiving who should be server and receiver respectively at the score that has been reached, according to the sequence established at the beginning of the match

The facts were not in dispute, but the opponent insisted it was his serve again, and he was holding the ball. I explained the rule to him, but he absolutely insisted it was his serve, as did one of his teammates. It got rather heated. Several times I said we needed to go to the referee’s desk and get a ruling, but both of them were absolutely insistent it was his serve. After five minutes of this, I decided it was better to just let the other guy serve rather than spend more time on this, which could disrupt my player’s focus. Since my player was winning rather easily so far I didn’t really want to make the long walk to the referee’s desk, since the break could disrupt my player’s focus. So I finally said, “Fine, you can serve. But if you do, you are cheating.”

Pandemonium. The opponent and his teammate spent the next five minutes screaming at me, demanding an apology. But what I said was accurate. Not knowing the rules is not cheating, but they were refusing to even check with the referee to get a ruling – the opponent still held the ball and insisted he was going to serve. It was willful ignorance. - "A decision in bad faith to avoid becoming informed about something so as to avoid having to make undesirable decisions that such information might prompt." I'll let readers decide if that is cheating. 

At this point, with matches all around now disrupted by their screaming, I had no choice but to get the referee. They still refused to do so, so I went on my own – but they then followed. Once there, it took about five minutes before we could get them to stop yelling so we could explain the situation to the referee. Of course, the referee explained the rule and said it was my player’s serve. They were dead wrong.

However, the referee also thought I should apologize for calling the player a cheater. As I explained, I didn't call him a cheater, I said that if he served - given that he refused to check with the referee on the actual rule - he would be cheating. (Since he ended up not serving, he didn't actually "cheat.") The referee was insistent that I apologize, and for all I know he'd ban me from the playing hall if I didn't. Rather than spend more time on this (and risking my player's focus even further), I finally said. "Fine. I apologize for calling you a cheater. Now, can we finish the match?" However, I was only apologizing for the benefit of my player. Given the situation, I don't think what I said was wrong in itself. However, I probably shouldn't have said it simply to avoid any more argument, so my player could keep his focus and continue to dominate the match. It's irritating but true that sometimes it's in your player's favor to grit your teeth and let an opponent get away with willfully breaking the rules rather than have a long argument that can change the course of a match. And in this case, my player was winning rather easily, and so of course it was greatly in the opponent's favor to find a way to disrupt things. 

I then asked several times that the opponent apologize to my nine-year-old player for disrupting the match by his ignorance of the rules and his insistence on breaking the rules rather than checking with the referee on the correct ruling. He ignored me and there was no apology. 

We finally went back. My player (who stayed warmed up by hitting with his dad), served, and easily won the third game and the match. I apologized to both the kid and his dad for the whole issue. The risk of his losing his focus or getting cold was greater than the small disadvantage of letting the opponent serve illegally. My player and his dad deserved an apology, from me, and from the opponent and his teammate; the opponent did not. 

In a later team match I coached we had another rules problem. My player was up 2-1 in games, but down 9-10 in the fourth. (Our team was up 4-3.) They played a point, and my player seemed to hit a winner. One of the parents (not this player's dad) yelled, "Yes!" But the opponent made a spectacular return. My player popped the ball back high, and the opponent ran in and smashed - into the net. Deuce!!! Except - the opponent immediately demanded a let, saying the loud "Yes!" call had distracted him. The rule on this is also clear - he could have immediately called a let after making the great return, since he would have already been going for that shot when the disruption occurred. But once he went in and tried to kill the ball, he could no longer call a let - you can't play out a point and then call let after the point. Here's a simple way of explaining this - if the player could have called a let, then if he makes the smash, he wins the point, but if he misses it, it's a let - and my player has no way of winning the point! (I went over this with the referee afterwards, and he of course agreed.)

However, the opponent and his teammates insisted he'd immediately called a let. I wanted to go to the referee again, but the problem was that since the opponent was saying he'd called a let immediately, the referee would have called it a let. I finally relented, and they replayed the point - and the opponent won the point, forcing a fifth game. In the fifth, the opponent was up 10-5 match point, and won 11-9. Afterwards, we had a cordial discussion about what happened, and I asked him point blank if the disruption affected his shot. He said that yes, it distracted him and caused him to miss the smash. That's when I pointed out that he'd just admitted that he'd lost the point, since he attempted the smash after the disruption, as I’d been claiming all along - it was, in fact, his second shot after the disruption. Once I explained the rules, he admitted it shouldn’t have been a let, but it was too late to go back and replay it. The ninth match had already begun (and I had to coach that), which we would win in five.  

Holiday Shopping – Buy My Books!
Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays are coming up – time to buy my table tennis books! (But feel free to buy my science fiction ones as well.) Here’s a listing with descriptions of each. Below are direct links to the table tennis books. 

What Advice Should You Give to Teammates During Matches?
Here’s the article from Tom Lodziak. This, in a nutshell, is similar to my thinking on coaching between games. Make sure that you notice that the first three examples are things you shouldn’t do! (At first, when I saw the subheading, “Focus on Technique,” I thought he was advocating that, when (as he explains) that’s a big mistake.

Butterfly Training Tips

Serve Return Lesson
Here’s the video (6:42) from Samson Dubina.

New from Ti Long

New from Taco Backhand

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich

The Magnus Effect in Table Tennis and Why Topspin is the Most Dominant Stroke
Here’s the video (8:16) from Drupe Pong. I bet this could be the inspiration for a school science project!

Tomokazu Harimoto Evolution (Age 4-19)
Here’s the video (6:35) from Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis.

Ask the Coach
Here are the latest questions from PingSkills.

New from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association

  • NCTTA and AYTTO Partner Up for the George Braithwaite Scholarship
  • NCTTA looking for directors!
    =>Minnesota Division Director is available now and is in charge of a division that covers Minnesota, Iowa and Idaho.
    =>Great Lakes Regional Director is available now and is in charge of a region that covers Upstate NY, Ohio schools near Akron and Canadian schools in Ontario and Quebec. This director is also a non-voting member of the NCTTA Board of Directors!
    =>Directors have some perks, getting to come to the NCTTA Championships free, please reach out to to get on board with NCTTA in these positions!


New from Steve Hopkins/Butterfly


Lots of videos here.

Table Tennis Character T-Shirt
Here’s where you can buy one – or a hoodie, mug, or mask!

Ping Pong Club Cap
Here’s where you can buy it!

Adam vs. French Champion
Here’s the video (11:21) from Adam Bobrow - he takes on French Champion Simon Gauzy, world #33!

Impossible Penalty Kicks
Here’s the video (5:13) from Pongfinity!

Send us your own coaching news!