History of U.S. Table Tennis

April 29, 2014

Shoulder Rotation

One of the most common problems with beginners is they don't rotate their shoulders on the forehand. Several players have this problem in beginning/intermediate class I teach on Monday nights. Even when they learn to rotate the shoulders when hitting forehand to forehand or in multiball they tend to fall back on arm only (i.e. no shoulder rotation) when doing footwork.

The solution I've found is to emphasize the rod-through-the-head coaching technique. When you hit or loop a forehand, imagine a vertical rod going through the top of your head, and rotate around the rod. In reality, the head normally moves a little forward doing the stroke from the back-to-front leg weight transfer, but often very little is needed since most of power comes from torque, as the body rotates in a circle. So for beginners especially it's important for them to focus on this idea of rotating their shoulders around this rod through their head. This gives them the right feel of the shot, and something to focus on to fix the shoulder rotation problem - and when they do footwork drills, it tends to stick with them and they continue to rotate the shoulders properly.

If you watch most world-class players, you'll find that much of the secret to their ability to produce great power and recover almost instantly for the next shot is this idea of rotating in a circle, so they end up balanced and ready for the next shot. The head does move forward or sideways some (and often up), and does so even more when rushed after stepping around the backhand corner to play forehand, but in general most of the movement is circular, creating torque while staying balanced. (Two keys to balance: keep weight between your feet, and use your non-playing arm as a counter-balance to your playing arm.)

Here's Men's Single's World Champion Zhang Jike playing a chopper. Note the circular rotation? His primary head movement is up as he lifts the heavy backspin. Here's Zhang Jike looping in multiball, against both backspin and topspin. (In the latter you'll note that the more rushed he is when moving to the backhand the more his head moves forward or sideways.) Here's Ma Long (world #2, former #1) demonstrating (and explaining in Chinese) his forehand (and then backhand) drives. Here's Timo Boll (former world #1) demonstrating his forehand loop. Here's a lesson on forehand counter-hitting by ttEdge. Even when smashing a lob most of the motion is circular - here's a demo on smashing lobs by PingSkills. (The link should take you to 1:47, where they demo the shot.)

Knee Update

After hobbling about on Friday after hurting my knee on Thursday night while demonstrating forehand looping for a class, it got better over the weekend. So I probably only wrenched it. I can still feel a slight strain there, and will go easy for a time, but it's mostly okay.

History of U.S. Table Tennis at Amazon

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis (now 14 volumes, from the sport's beginning in this country to 1986) are now on sale at Amazon. You can order direct from Tim Boggan (and he'll sign them) or from Amazon. (See links below each volume.) How can any serious player not buy these books??? (Disclaimer: I did the page layouts and much of the photo work for all but volume 1.)

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll probably run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Shot of the Day from the Worlds

Here's the video (36 sec, including slow motion replay), where Xu Xin (#1 in the world) pulls off this around-the-net counterloop against Tsuboi Gustavo of Brazil (world #69). (In my initial posting, I inadvertently said Gustavo pulled off the shot. Special thanks to Douglas Harley who caught this. Hey, they're both lefties!!!)

Stroke Mechanics

Here's a preview (2:35) of Brian Pace's new video.

Giving Advice During a Match

Here's the video (7:26) from PingSkills.

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a nice video (1:12) that demonstrates the serve, using slow motion and a colored ball so you can see the spin.

St. Louis Open Hopes to Set Example with U.S. Citizens Only "Elite Event"

Here's the article.

Triples Ping-Pong

Here's the article. It's "…taken Australia by storm"!

The King of Table Tennis

Don't you love Xu Xin's shirt?

Ping-Pong the Animation

Here's the video (3:55) of this anime cartoon. It's in Chinese, with English subtitles.

Jan-Ove Waldner in TV

Here's a video (3 min) from five years ago where Waldner beats a TV host with various implements as a racket before finally losing with a banana! I believe it's in Swedish, but you can follow what's going on.

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February 8, 2013

Recent and Future Technical Changes in High-Level Table Tennis

Here are what I consider the five biggest technical changes in table tennis over the last ten years, in no particular order. The last four were all being done ten years ago, but they've gone from a few players doing it to being commonplace at the higher levels.

  • The rise of super-looping sponges that practically loop by themselves.
  • Backhand banana flip, even against short serves to the forehand, turning the receive against short serves into a dangerous weapon.
  • Off-bounce backhand loops as regular backhands.
  • Reverse penhold backhand, making the conventional penhold backhand almost obsolete.
  • Shovel serve, which is a forehand pendulum serve where at the last second before contact you can serve either serve regular or reverse pendulum serve, i.e. sidespin either way, or backspin or no-spin.

Here are three possible ones to come.

  • Super-fast "hyperbolic serves" as a regular serve. These are serves where you hit the ball as hard as you possibly can, with the power going into both topspin and speed, just like a loop, allowing one to serve faster than was previously believed possible.
  • Strawberry flips. This is the opposite of a banana flip, where your racket goes from left to right instead of right to left as with a banana flip (for righties). Many players have learned to sidespin this way, but more as a change-of-pace sidespin. A few players, such as Stefan Feth, can do a serious drive this way, so that the ball literally jumps away from you if he backhand flips it to your forehand (assuming both are righties).
  • More off-the-bounce sidespin counterloops. Sidespin loops from off the table are about as good as they'll ever get, unless we get even better sponges. Players are already looping off the bounce with heavy topspin as a matter of routine. So the logical next step is to do this with sidespin, hooking and fading the ball at extreme angles. Lots of players do this occasionally, but imagine the player who perfects this as a routine shot.

Status: Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13

This volume covers 1984, and brother (or should I say Big Brother), it covers it all! We've been working on the page layouts for three days now. Besides the covers (4 pages, including inside covers), we're through page 162 and chapter 9 out of 29. I've now fixed up and placed on the page (including captions and attributions) 343 graphics - just over two per page. I'm sort of featured in chapter 9, where he talks about the many coaching articles I wrote that year and the year before, and so I got a head shot. Then he treated me to dinner at the Outback.

USA Team Trials

Chinese Team Trials

China is also having their National Team Trials. Here's where you can see articles, results, and video.

The Serve and Backhand Attack of Seiya Kishikawa

Here's a video (4:00) where Seiya Kishikawa (world #28, recently as high as #16) demonstrates his serve and backhand attack. With English subtitles and lots of slow motion.

The Proper Way to Finish a Match

Here's video (16 seconds, including slow motion) the last point in the Chinese Team Trials between Ma Long and Fan Zhendong. Ma shows how to end a match.

You Can't Take the China Out of Coaching

Don't see it? Look at the word "coaching." After the "coa" you get "ching." Drop the tail off the "g" and what do you have left? (Of course we all know what "COA" stands for.) No, I didn't hear this somewhere - I just noticed it.

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July 18, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Two

The schedule yesterday was similar to the day before, except that the morning's focus was on the backhand, and my lecture after the break was on return of serve.

I did a lot of coaching on serves, where the focus was on creating spin. One thing I introduced was a way to practice spin with just the racket and ball. You toss the ball into the air and try to sidespin it straight into the air, catch it, and repeat. It's a simple exercise any player can learn to do, and it's a great way to practice your spin contact as well as control (since you have to hit the ball straight up).

One serve especially has gained interest - the reverse forehand pendulum serve, especially short to the forehand. I've explained that this is probably the most effective serves against junior players (because of their shorter reach, making it hard both to handle the serve or to return it anywhere except crosscourt to a righty's forehand), and this seems to have sparked interest. Here's a video (1:22) that features Men's Singles World Champion Zhang Jike doing the serve, with slow motion. Normally I'd recommend the serve to go wider to the forehand, but at the advanced levels that gives the receiver a very wide angle into the forehand, so at that level it is often done more to the middle. Learn the serve and experiment on what works best in your matches against different opponents.

Things weren't all lovey-dovey in the camp; we had our first real fight of the season. One kid wanted to share a chair with another (both about 9), for some reason didn't want to use the open chair five feet away. I had to pull them apart. Amazing how such little things can escalate at that age level. (I previously blogged about a fight over paper cups, I think about who got to stack them for knocking down with ping-pong balls.) But an hour later they were happily taking turns on the robot together, and later were teammates in Brazilian Teams, cheering for each other. I wish my memory were that short.

In the ongoing clipboard challenge matches during break, I haven't yet lost to anyone rated under 2200, and am now 5-0 against players rated between 2000 and 2200. However, I believe players are now conspiring together by studying videos late into the night, comparing notes, consulting with coaches, and doing early morning training, all for the express purpose of beating me and my clipboard.

Fundraising for Topspin the Movie

To do the documentary on Michael Landers, Ariel Hsing, and Lily Zhang, they need to raise $75,000. As of this writing, 405 people have donated a total of $44,771. It's all or nothing - so they need you to donate! Here's the movie webpage, here's the fundraising site, and here's a link to the 48-hour Top Spinnathon they started Tuesday at 3:30 PM.

Ariel Hsing on CNN

Here's an article with a link to a two-minute video that ran on CNN yesterday. The person hitting with Ariel in the video is coach and practice partner Anol Kashyap.

Timothy Wang in the News

Here's an article on USA Olympian Timothy Wang.

What Vikash Learned at the U.S. Open

Vikash Sahu blogs about what he learned at the U.S. Open, in particular about attacking, playing different styles, and physical conditioning.

History of U.S. Table Tennis

Chapter 14 of Volume 12 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis was featured yesterday on the USATT web page. The heading: "1983: New USTTA Editor Tom Wintrich Replaces 50-Year-Old 'Table Tennis Topics' with 'SPIN.' 1983: Boggan's Fury at President Schiff's Public Explanation as to Why Tim was Fired as 'Topics' Editor. 1983: Boggan Immediately Begins Renegade 'Timmy’s North American World of Table Tennis.'  1983: Initial Responses to SPIN and 'Timmy's' from readers."

Why not buy a copy of this volume and/or the preceding eleven? Perhaps pick and choose the years you are most interested in. Here's Tim Boggan's table tennis page, where you can buy the books or just read about Tim. Here's his Hall of Fame profile.

Wheel of Fortune

Table tennis was on Wheel of Fortune yesterday, as related online by "jj4tt" at the about.com table tennis forum. As he narrates about "Round 2 - Same Letter" (and I presume Wheel of Fortune aficionados can make sense of this?):

Sarah instantly duds out w/ T while Karla goes BANKRUPT. Jed picks up that MDW with three N's. That's followed by $7,000 worth of L's, but he blows it with the C. Back to Sarah who finds the SL of four P's; that allows her to pick up a 1/2 KIA. She narrows the puzzle down to this...
P R O _ E S S I O N A L
P I N _ - P O N _
P L A _ E R
She solves PROFESSIONAL PING-PONG PLAYER for $2,500. Jed left a total of $8,300 on the table in this round.  ...

A Table at Spin NY

I think it's a drowning woman - the table top seems to be blocking her from surfacing. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be posting about Murder at Spin NY.

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March 14, 2012

All-out Attackers and Ball Control

All-out attackers often believe that they have to attack all out. It's the death of many a game. While it's true that a strong attacker should attack most of the time, there's one time where they shouldn't look to always attack - when receiving. If they can only attack the serve, while the opponent has more variation, then, all things being equal, they are toast.

Instead of blindly attacking every serve, an "all-out attacker" should mix in subtle returns, such as short pushes and sudden quick ones. This keeps the opponent off guard, and so when the attacker does attack the serve, it's far more effective. At the highest levels, the top players are great at mixing in flips and short pushes to mess up opponents. Players at all levels from intermediate up should learn to do return serves with such variation. If you are an all-out attacker, then you use the receive to disarm the opponent, and look to attack (or counter-attack) the next ball.

If you always attack the serve, then the server knows the ball is coming out to him, and can hang back waiting for the aggressive receive. This, combined with your missing by being so aggressive, gives him a tactical advantage. However, if the receiver's not sure if you are going to attack the ball, push it back heavy (so he has to drop down to loop) or drop it short (so he can't hang back and wait for your shot), he's going to have trouble reacting to your receive. If you can hide what you are going to do until the last second, and perhaps change directions at the last second as well, it will further mess up the poor server and set you up to attack the next ball. 

Ironically, I'm one of the great offenders of this "don't attack every serve" rule - but only when I play hardbat. When I use sponge, I mostly use control to receive while mixing in aggressive returns. When I play hardbat, I attack nearly every serve, hoping to set up my forehand on the next ball. I do so both because I don't play enough hardbat to have the control to finesse the serve back, and because if I don't attack the serve it leaves my overly-weak hardbat backhand open to attack. (In sponge I have a steady backhand; in hardbat my backhand is awful, and so I usually chop backhands while hitting all-out on the forehand.) Also, in hardbat, if I attack the serve I don't have ot worry about a sponge counter-hit; it's much harder to do that with hardbat. I mention my hardbat game because I'm off to defend my hardbat titles at the Cary Cup from 2010 and 2011. Hopefully my overly aggressive receives won't make me "toast"!

It's also important not to return every serve defensively. Sometimes be aggressive, sometimes use control. Variety messes up an opponent. Predictability does not. 

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Yes, all 460 pages and 837 photos are done and sent to the printer as PDFs. Now I get a day to rest before leaving for Cary. Wait . . . did I say rest? Today I tutor calculus for two hours (I do that once a week), coach table tennis two hours, and do my taxes. Meanwhile, Tim Boggan has already found a number of items that need to be changed. On Monday, after the Cary Cup, I get to input the new changes and send new PDFs to the printer.

Amazing table tennis shots from 2011

Here's a nice selection (8:49). I vaguely remember some of these shots, and there's a chance I posted this video before, but it's worth watching again.

Table Tennis on Talk Show

Talk show host and actor/comedian Chris Gethard shows up, plays, and videos a table tennis tournament for his show, "The Chris Gethard Show" (2:03).

A scientific experiment using ping-pong balls

The video (1:40) is about the transfer of energy and, indirectly, whether or not the flooring under a table affects play.

Lighting ping-pong balls on fire

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March 8, 2012

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 12

As mentioned in this blog, USA Table Tennis Historian Tim Boggan moved in with me for two weeks starting on Tuesday, Feb. 28, so that I could do the page layouts and photo work on his next volume of History of U.S. Table Tennis. Yep, it's volume 12! I've done the layouts for all except the first one. I get to read a lot of it as we work, with him sitting next to me and pointing at the screen saying, "That photo goes there. No, I said there, you fool!"

We've now finished the covers, Acknowledgements, Introduction, and 25 chapters (370 pages) of the 31-chapter book. We should finish it all on Friday. He'll spend Saturday proofing the pages, and on Sunday and Monday we'll be making the corrections. Then I'll do all the pre-press work, and send the 500-page PDF file to the printer. Since we're not leaving for the Cary Cup until Thursday morning, we should finish two days early. What'll we do on Tues & Wed? I don't know. Movies, sight-seeing, maybe even some ping-pong.

Here's an excerpt, from page 332 on the Rochester Michigan Open between Danny and Ricky Seemiller (as written by Cody Jones), when matches were still best of three to 21:

Ricky won a seesaw first game from brother Danny, 28-26, and seemed to be in the driver’s—or looper’s—seat. Ricky was aggressive, took chances, while Danny played more of a control game. The second game Danny won at 14. In the third, at 22-21 his favor, Ricky missed a set-up kill—which, since Danny went on to win this game, might well have cost him the match.

Said Danny, "At ad down I had to lunge to my left to return the ball, and when I saw it float back high, I knew Ricky was going to put it away and that I had no chance to get back into position and return it. So it flashed into my mind that my only chance was to keep on going to my left and hope wildly that Ricky would be so surprised by my movement that he’d be watching me instead of the ball. And, unbelievably, that’s just what happened."

50 forehands, 50 backhands

I have a new informal "policy" for beginning/intermediate juniors I coach. They have to hit 50 forehands and 50 backhands in a row before we do anything else. This forces them both to groove their shots while improving their focus. (I also tell them that they don't really have a forehand or backhand until they can hit 100 in  a row, a goal I want them all to strive for.)

Another injury

As if having an injured arm weren't enough, on Tuesday night I strained my hip. I'm walking with a limp, and will have to somehow find a way to coach. It's not too bad, but these (mostly minor) injuries are a real problem. It's not easy coaching one-on-one when you're 52 and have very stiff muscles. The good news is the arm is healing nicely. I'm going to play as a chopper in some matches this weekend, and hope to start playing regular (i.e. lots of forehand hitting and looping) in perhaps two weeks.

Mark your Calendars for Saturday, April 7

That's the Grand Opening for the expanded and renovated Maryland Table Tennis Center. Lots of activities that day, starting around 11AM - demonstrations, exhibitions, coaching seminar, junior program, raffles, refreshments, parade of champions tournament, with lots of top coaches and players. Details coming soon! (If you would like to be on the MDTTC mailing list, send me an email.)

Spring Break Camp at MDTTC

We're having our first camp at the newly expanded and renovated Maryland Table Tennis Center, April 2-6, with coaches Larry Hodges (that's me), Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Xun Zeng. It's mostly for junior players (locals are off school that week for spring break), but all ages are welcome. Here's more info. Come join us!

Who was having a ball yesterday?

Yesterday I asked if anyone knew who this player was, with all the balls in the air. Aaron Avery emailed that it was Polish paralympic player Natalia Partyka, and sure enough her web page includes that photo. Thanks Avery!

Tampa Bay baseball and hockey stars playing table tennis

Here's baseball star Evan Longoria and hockey star Martin St. Louis playing table tennis (1:45). They play for the Tampa Bay Rays and Lightning, respectively.

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