Forehand Smash

November 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

Developing Your Forehand Smash. (Note - this is a greatly expanded version from a blog entry from Oct. 19, 2012.)

USATT's Newsletter Blog and a Possible New USATT Partnership with Clubs

My blog on Friday about the USATT's Newsletter and ways USATT could promote themselves and non-USATT table tennis programs around the country, was by far my most read blog ever, with 1690 reads (so far), versus 605 for the day before. It also led to some helpful email exchanges among USATT officials and myself, leading to a possible new emphasis on promoting leagues and junior programs around the U.S. with the newsletter and web page. The last paragraph of the blog was the key part, so I'll reprint it here:

Why not use the USATT eNewsletter (and webpage) to systematically promote the leagues and junior programs from around the country, even if they are not USATT programs? This brings players into the sport, and these players usually become USATT members. Specifically, they could have a central online listing of these leagues and junior programs, and use the eNewsletter to refer readers to them. (They already have this for tournaments, so they just need to refer to them in the eNewsletter. But there's far greater membership potential in leagues and junior programs, as demonstrated in Europe.) If a kid or parent gets the USATT eNewsletter (or goes to the USATT web page, for that matter), they don't learn about the great junior programs at clubs around the country. They don't learn about the great leagues in SF, LA, NY, and other regions, or in individual clubs. They don't even know these things exist. And so we lose them. Tennis and European table tennis actively refers people to these programs as their central focus. Why not use these non-USATT programs to promote table tennis, referring to them constantly in the eNewsletter and webpage, leading to a more prosperous USATT?

I think the key is that new players who come to the USATT home page or receive the newsletter have no idea there are leagues and junior programs out there, often right in their backyards. USATT doesn't have the resources to set up and run these programs, but others are already doing them - so a natural partnership is practically slapping us in the face, where USATT promotes these programs on their highly-trafficked web page, and these programs bring in USATT members. (In my emails, I explicitly pointed out I have a conflict of interest in this, since I run junior programs at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which also has leagues.)

Developing Your Deep Serves

Here's an article "Your Deep Serves Should be a Weapon" by Olympian and three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Jim Butler. This is a must read for anyone who wants to turn their serves - long or short - into a weapon. Jim not only talks about how to make the long serve effective, but how it makes your short serves effective. (I find it almost astonishing how his thinking on this topic parallels my own - and he has the "moral" authority of someone who's beaten many of the top players in the world - including Waldner - with these serving tactics.) Here's my own article on the topic, "Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves," the Tip of the Week on Oct. 22, 2012.

World Cadet Challenge

The World Cadet Challenge in Guam ended yesterday. Here's the ITTF page where you can get full results, articles, and pictures, and see how the players from your country did. (Here's another page that has lots of pictures from the event.) And here's a highlights video (2:52) that features USA Cadets Jonathan Ou and Allen Wang.

Biba

Here's a video feature (1:35) of USA's table tennis star and model Biba. When you only need one name to be known, you're good!!!

That is Table Tennis

Here's a new table tennis highlights video (14:54) from ttGermany. The second point shown (between Kalinikos Kreanga and Tokic Bojan) might be the best counterlooping point of the year.

"Ping Pong Summer"

The filming in Ocean City for the upcoming movie "Ping Pong Summer" (starring Spin NY owner Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson, John Hannah, Robert Longstreet, Amy Sedaris, and of course the great Judah Friedlander - who I've coached several times!) just finished. Here's an article on it, and here's the IMDB page. "The story is a coming-of-age tale involving one boy's love of hip-hop and ping pong during a summer in Ocean City in the 1980's."

I'm Running for President of the United States

Yes, I, Larry Hodges, am throwing my paddle into the ring. Here is my platform where I answer the hard questions facing our illustrious nation. I'm ready to debate Obama and Romney anytime (today) and anywhere (within driving distance of my house in Maryland) - or we could just settle it, mano-a-mano, on the table.

  1. Foreign Affairs. We're too soft on the Chinese. Next time I see Zhang Jike I will punch him in the nose. This will show the world we're serious about these foreign affairs thingies and gain us respect so other countries will cower in fear and do our bidding.
  2. Immigration. If your name is Wang, come on in. (Penhold or shakehand?) If your name is Rodriquez, sorry.
  3. Economy. I will require all Americans to play table tennis for one hour every day. With 300 million people regularly buying exorbitantly priced table tennis sponge, rackets, shoes, and other table tennis necessities, it will spur the economy.
  4. Health Care. Who needs it when everyone's getting in such great shape from an hour of ping-pong every day?
  5. Energy Independence. I've tried oil, coal, even radium, and all it did was get my paddle all gooey, dusty, and gave me cancer. We'll just have to rely on Japan for our tenergy needs.
  6. Taxes. I will neither raise nor lower taxes. I believe taxes should stay right where they are, at street level, ready to transport Americans from airports and hotels to tournament playing halls every weekend. You should tip your hats to these hard-working Americans, and tip them well.
  7. Bi-partisanship. I am willing to work across the aisle with anyone, except those stupid pen holders who can't shake hands without jabbing you with their pen. Pen holders should be banned; we have things called word processors.
  8. Vice President. I want a vice president who is level-headed, thoughtful, and without ego. Marty Reisman is my choice. (We'll ignore for now that his name is an anagram for "Misery Mantra," "Remain Smarty," "Martyr is Mean," and "My Rat Seminar.")
  9. Service. I have nothing but praise for the service, whether it be pendulum, tomahawk, or backhand. The service is our front-line defense, and I have nothing but contempt for those who receive the service aggressively rather than give it the respect it deserves.
  10. Hard bat. I am very much in favor of the hard bat movement. In fact, I keep a toy plastic bat on my desk. Go ahead and wrap your knuckle against it, it's hard as rock.
  11. Core Values. Unlike some candidates, I do not flip based on the situation just to score political points. I pledge to you that I will only push against short balls. Let my opponents be the flippers we all despise.
  12. National Debt. We've been building up a national debt for many years, while China, Japan, Sweden, Hungary, and other countries have had an imbalance with us. I figure we should sweep the next ten World Championships, and we'll call it even.
  13. Self-sufficiency. There's an old saying, "Give someone a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime." It's true - some of the best fishers play in the European leagues, and with their topspin defense, make hordes of money. They'll never go hungry.
  14. Capitalism or Socialism? Yes.
  15. Table Tennis or Ping-Pong? Yes.
  16. Size of Government. I want government to keep their dirty hands off our social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and off our streets and out of our schools and libraries. Why can't they just build ping-pong centers and leave us alone?

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August 03, 2012

Southern Open and Junior Olympics

I'm back!!! I've been away for a week coaching at the Southern Open and Junior Olympics in Houston. Both were held in the same huge hall at George R. Brown Convention Center, with the Southern Open on Saturday and Sunday, the Junior Olympics Mon-Wed. While I coached a number of Maryland players, I was there mostly to coach John and Nathan Hsu.

Here are complete results for the Southern Open (release on "Southern Open" in the drop box). I coached Nathan Hsu and Yahao Zhang as they pulled off several upsets to win Open Doubles, defeating the U.S. Open Over 40 Doubles Champions Viktor Subonj and Niraj Oak in the final. The standout tactic was how effective they were serving simple no-spin serves disguised as backspin. (This is a standard tactics in singles and especially doubles.) Tactically, Nathan played mostly control while Yahao put the ball away, though Nathan ripped a lot of backhand loops as well. Topping that off Nathan's brother John and father Hans won Under 3600 Doubles over a rather large field. 

Jim Butler dominated to win Open Singles as he continues his comeback from nearly a decade off. Now 41 and a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, he's in the mix as a contender to win Men's Singles at this year's USA Nationals, with his dominant serves and backhand.

In the Junior Olympics, the best match of the tournament might have been Nathan Hsu versus Andrew Chen in the final of Division A. (On the first day players are put in divisions based on rating, so it's essentially rating events, with Division A essentially Open Singles for all players. On the second day they get into age specific events.) Both played looping forehands, but on the backhand it was a contrast in styles, with Nathan all-out looping everything against Andrew's blocking and hitting pips-out backhand. Nathan won the first two. Down 2-10 in the third, he scored five in a row, forcing Andrew to take his timeout. In the fourth, Nathan was up match point, and he led 9-8 in the fifth before Andrew finally won.

We weren't the only events held in the huge hall. We also shared it with sports stacking, wrestling, weight lifting, and Tae Kwon Do. The sports stacking, where they rapid-fire stack and unstuck cups, was especially fun to watch. Here's a video.

I managed to convince at least two kids that they used to have younger events at the Junior Olympics, and that I was once the U.S. Boys' Under 2 Gold Medalist. I also explained to a set of parents after their son won a game that without my coaching the opponent would have scored twice as many points. Their son had just won 11-1. (And on the way home I introduced our players to "Airport Ping-Pong" - see segment blow.)

The players in the Junior Olympics were probably 90% Chinese, a huge increase from the last time I went. I started coaching there in the 1980s and went nearly every year until around 2005 or so. It used to be something like 60% Chinese. It's also become more regionalized, as the large majority of players were local Texas juniors. MDTTC used to send 30 or so players every year, but this year we only had nine (including two Virginia players who train at MDTTC). California only had two. Here is the state-by-state breakdown of entries, from an Excel file from a few days before the tournament:

TX: 49
GA: 13
NJ: 8
MD: 7
NY: 6
VA: 2
CA: 2
AL: 1
FL: 1
MA: 1
MO: 1
PA: 1
WA: 1
TOTAL: 93

I was quite happy with the running and officiating at the tournament. They even did something that often doesn't happen - they enforced the hidden serve rule. Twice I asked referee Scott Ryan to watch the serve of a player, and each time he agreed the serve was hidden, and sent out an umpire (I believe Ken Potts in both cases) who called the serve. In both cases the player didn't complain, and simply began to serve legally.

On Monday night someone broke into Director John Miller's car and stole his computer, printouts, his glasses, and lots of other stuff. This could have created havoc, but John stayed up all night with a borrowed computer and recreated the entire tournament from scratch. Though he had to squint all day at the computer screen (often staring from a few inches away), he managed to keep the tournament running successfully the rest of the way. No results were lost, though he said he'd have a lot of tedious re-entering to do.

Here are complete Results of the 2012 Junior Olympics. (Ignore the links for Saturday and Sunday, which are mistaken repeats of other results and should be taken down soon.) MDTTC won a bunch of medals, even though we only had a small contingent this year. MDTTC winners were:

  • Amy Lu (Gold in Under 12 Girls' Singles and Under 16 Girls' Doubles and Teams)
  • Lilly Lin (Bronze in Under 16 Girls' Singles, Gold in Under 16 Girls' Doubles and Teams)
  • Lisa Lin (Bronze in Under 10 Girls' Singles, Silver in Under 10 Girls' Doubles, and Gold in Under 16 Girls' Teams)
  • John Hsu (Silver in Under 22 Men's Singles, Doubles, and Teams)
  • Nathan Hsu (Bronze in Under 18 Boys' Singles, Silver in Under 22 Men's Doubles and Teams, and runner-up in Division A)
  • Jackson Liang (Silver in Under 18 Boys' Doubles and Under 22 Men's Teams)
  • George Nie (Silver in Under 18 Boys' Doubles and Under 22 Men's Teams)
  • Wesley Duan (Bronze in Under 14 Boys' Teams)
  • Kyle Wang (Bronze in Under 14 Boys' Teams)

Now the down side.

  • After watching his son miss a shot, a father yelled out to him, "You suck, [son's name]!" I wanted to punch him. It amazes me at how many parents see nothing wrong with berating their kids, even publicly.
  • In the third point of a game an opponent got a clear edge ball to go up 3-0. His father jumped to his feet cheering and clapping non-stop, and went on so long the players had to delay the next point until he stopped.
  • A player entered as an unrated player, using his Chinese name rather than his Americanized one. He had a 2227 rating, but didn't tell anyone. So he was placed in the lowest divisions on the first day of competition, which are essentially rating events. The result? This 2200+ player won the equivalent of Under 800 and Under 1200, and messed up the Under 18 draws, where he should have been seeded. Disciplinary action will likely be taken against him, and he will probably be asked to return the division medals.
  • I've never seen so much "strategic dumping" by junior players. A number of them were told to dump matches so as to get better draw positions or to avoid playing teammates. One 2500 player dumped to a 1900 player, a student of his, to give him a better draw, but was ordered to play the match by the referee or drop out of the event. (They played and he won.) Another player was up 2-1 in games when, after a consultation with his father, he suddenly defaulted, thereby apparently avoiding playing a teammate. (He later claimed he was sick, but then played his other matches. He ended up playing the teammate after all when the 2500 player was forced to play the 1900 player.)
  • And now we get to the biggest problem, one that will leave a bad taste in my mouth for a long time to come. In the small print in the entry form it said that "Non-citizens are welcome to play in the AAU events" (i.e. the Junior Olympics age events), and so, I believe for the first time ever, non-citizens played in the U.S. Junior Olympics. (Yes, this means the Chinese junior champion can take a quick vacation to the U.S. and win the U.S. Junior Olympics.) The result? The older events of the tournament were dominated by Chinese Province players who had been hired to train U.S. players. Worse, there was no way to check the ages. I've been assured for years by just about everyone from China that it is standard to subtract 2-4 years from ages of junior players to better their chances of making teams. And strangely enough, all these Chinese Province players looked much older than their listed ages. (You'd think there'd be at least one that looked young for his "age.")

    And so we had at least two Chinese Province Players, now professional coaches in the U.S., who looked in their mid-twenties, playing in and dominating the U.S. Junior Olympics. Several Chinese told me they knew of the Under 18 Singles, Doubles, and Team winner as a Chinese Province Player they said was 24 years old, but of course there's no way to prove it. (In China I'm told all you do is pay a fee and fill out a form and you can get a birth certificate with whatever age you put down. This is very different from the U.S., where we expect birth certificates to be accurate.) Finally, someone pulled me aside and assured me the player wasn't 24, he was "only 21." And that's who beat Nathan Hsu in the semifinals of Under 18 Singles.

    The tournament referee said he had already contacted the people running the tournament next year to warn them of the problem. I think the only solution is to go back to citizens only in the U.S. Junior Olympics. Who knows, maybe these older-looking Chinese Province Players/Professional Coaches playing in the U.S. Junior Olympics really are the age they say they are, but there's no way of knowing.

Airport Ping-Pong

On the flight back from the Junior Olympics on Wednesday night our flight at Houston International Airport was delayed four hours. So how did we pass the time? Airport Ping-Pong! Here's the video (1:42) of Nathan Hsu, Lilly Lin (righty) and Amy Lu (lefty) hitting on the airport lounge tables, which we positioned about four feet apart. (I'm the ballboy on the left.) We played for over an hour. I hit with Nathan for fifteen minutes at the end (lot of vicious countering, looping, and lobbing), and I might be able to get some footage of that up later.

Olympics

I've been away. Did an Olympics happen? I'm guessing there's been coverage somewhere else.

Baltimore Sun and Gazette Articles

While I was away coaching at the Southern Open and Junior Olympics, the Baltimore Sun and local Gazette Newspapers both ran recent articles on the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here is the Baltimore Sun article that features U.S. Open Boys' 11 & Under Champion Derek Nie, and here is the Gazette article (where it quotes me as saying San Francisco is a hotbed for table tennis, when I said the Bay Area near San Francisco). The print editions also have pictures. The Washington Post also has a feature on us, most likely coming out next week.

Google Table Tennis Logos

Yesterday, for the third time, Google had a table tennis Google Doodle (that's what they call it) as their logo. They did the same thing for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, doing one for each sport. Here are the three table tennis logos:

Forehand Smash

Here's a short video (0:48) from 2011 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Peter Li giving a tip on the forehand smash.

Panda Ping-Pong

Here's a hilarious video (5:03) of the folks at PingSkills training a Panda (someone in a Panda suit) to be an Olympic Table Tennis player.

Non-Table Tennis - Leashing the Muse and The Haunts of Albert Einstein

I just sold another story, this time the fantasy story "Leashing the Muse" to Space and Time Magazine. It's the story of an English professor (modeled on Tim Boggan) who is disgusted with the poor work his students are turning in. And then, due to global warming, the muse Polyhymnia (the muse of sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric, and the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyn) is released from where she had been imprisoned in arctic ice for thousands of years by Zeus for criticizing his poetry. She decides her mission is to turn all written work into masterpieces, whether it be Milton, a newspaper articles, or a how-to manuals. When any three-year-old with a crayon can write masterpieces, nothing stands out anymore, and so there are no more masterpieces. It's up to our English professor to capture the muse and convince her to stop - and it'll take a powerful story-generating computer (fifty billion stories per second) to do so.

World Weaver Press has also announced the table of contents for its new anthology, "Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales," which includes my humorous ghost story "The Haunts of Albert Einstein," which deals with Einstein's problems with bickering physicists and the paparazzi in the afterlife.

***

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