Backhand

July 31, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand, as it always is on Tuesdays during our camps. (Mon=FH, Tue=BH, Wed=FH Loop, Thu=BH Attack, Fri=Pushing and Player's Choice.) One local six-year-old kid badly wanted to demonstrate his backhand loop, and though I was skeptical at first, I let him - and it turned out to be very nice and fluid. So I let him do a bunch of that, along with other hitting drills. Not too many six-year-olds are already backhand looping! (If a kid wants to do something that you aren't sure he's ready for, it's better to teach it to him so he learns it properly than have him learn on his own, as he undoubtedly would.)

The kids I'm working with are improving rapidly. There are five beginners in the 6-8 age group that I'm mostly in charge of. None had even a semblance of forehand or backhand strokes when we started on Monday, but after two days all have the basic shots in multiball, and three of them can now rally live with me forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand. Two of them still struggle to serve, so we're going to focus on that a bit today. We did some service practice yesterday, and I even brought out the serving bar so they could practice serving low. (This is an adjustable bar that goes over the net. Here's a picture of it set high, and here's a picture of it set low.  John Olsen made this for the club and for a few others. It has about ten height settings.)  

Today I'm going to bring out the colored balls and teach pushing to the beginners. The soccer-colored balls (I have a bag of about 20 of them now) make it easier to see the backspin on the ball. (While the focus on pushing is on Friday, we start earlier for the beginners.) To start them off, I'll do a demo, then I'll have them push as I feed the ball multiball style. When they're ready, we'll push live, using the colored balls at first so they have instant feedback on whether they are getting backspin or not. I also use these balls so they can see if they are getting spin on their serves.

While I was working with the beginners, several of the advanced players focused today on relooping against an opponent's opening loop against backspin. I've always wondered why so many players practice straight counterlooping by serving topspin when the first loop they often have to counterloop comes at them against a backspin, and so has more topspin, has a different trajectory, and comes at you somewhat quicker (because of the extra spin and because it's done closer to the table).

Poor Froggy took a beating yesterday. We divided the players into two groups, one lined up on the forehand side, one on the backhand side, and they'd take turns trying to smack him as I fed multiball, with the first team to hit it ten times winning.

Busy

Here's my current schedule and todo list. Something has to give - I'm not kidding. Though things will slow down by mid-September.

  1. Daily Blog and Weekly Tip of the Week
  2. Coaching at MDTTC Camps, four more weeks, 10AM-6PM
  3. Private and group coaching (nights and weekends).
  4. MDTTC August Newsletter.
  5. Promotions and possible translations of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.
  6. ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course Sept. 2-7 in New Jersey (attending) - lots of study and preparation needed. 
  7. ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course Oct. 2-6 in Indiana (teaching).
  8. Small claims court against previous tenant in my townhouse. The guy left without paying rent, without cleaning the place, with lots of damaged items behind, and without a forwarding address. (I spent $2700 in cleanup and damages.) I've got piles of mail for him - much of it from lawyers and courts for various infractions. I'm not the only one going after this guy. One of the worst people I've ever met.
  9. A new family has moved in downstairs, and there are all sorts of complications as they get situated.
  10. Promotion, editorial, and cover work, new web page, numerous others things for my novel coming out Nov. 15 - "The Giant Face in the Sky."
  11. Sequel to the novel.
  12. Note to US Airways over flight this weekend - my flights were kept getting postponed or cancelled, and instead of arriving home at around 10PM Saturday I didn't get home until about 3PM Sunday. Free travel voucher?
  13. The planned Maryland Junior League (probably on hold for now).
  14. Dozens and dozens of emails each day, each needing a personalized response.

Former USATT President Mel Eisner Died

Here's the USATT article.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Wang Hao

Here's a video of their recent match in the Chinese Super League (6:54, with time between points removed).

NBA Star Chris Paul Playing Table Tennis

Here's a picture from a TopSpin Charity event held at The Palazzo in Las Vegas.

Jan-Ove Waldner Rolls Ball Around the Net

Here's the video (42 seconds) - it appears to be in an exhibition. Unlike most cases where a player does it while desperately reaching for a ball that drops off the side of the table, Waldner does it against an easier ball that he could have smashed, and instead intentionally lets the ball drop so he can do this shot.

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August 14, 2012

The Flat, Regular, and Topspinny Backhand

In my Tip of the Week yesterday I wrote about the Racket Tip Angle on the Backhand. I also referred to the various types of backhands, such as flatter ones and "topspinny" backhands. What exactly are these? Here are three ways of hitting a backhand drive; all are done mostly on the rise or top of the bounce. (Note that the three terms below are my invention, though most coaches would recognize from the meaning what they are.)

  • The Flat Backhand. This is probably the easiest way to hit a backhand, where you hit the ball with little topspin. A good flat backhand isn't completely flat; it almost always has a little topspin, but the key is that it has very little. This makes it easy to learn, since you simply start with the racket behind where contact will be and drive forward. This is how I hit my backhand, and I consider it a weakness in my game. The lack of topspin means precision and timing are key, and if you are 1% off, you are completely off. At the higher levels, players with flat backhands are often turned into blockers. However, backhand kills are often done flat as they maximize the speed, and players known for their backhand kills often have flat backhands. But often they either become hit or miss types, unable to rally consistently, or they become very consistent, but mostly just keep the ball in play. (The latter is me, alas). It's a dying style at the higher levels as backhand loops dominate (see Topspinny Backhand below), but there are still many who play aggressive flat backhands quite successfully.
  • The Regular Backhand. The difference here is that you start with the racket slightly below where the contact point will be. As the ball rises after bouncing on your side of the table, your racket rises to meet it. Contact is a bit more upward, which creates more topspin and, once mastered, more control. This is how I generally teach the backhand to new players. As they develop, they often hit the ball harder and harder (and sometimes flatter), or they start increasing the topspin, and develop topspinny backhands. Others simply stick with regular backhands, where they can be both steady and aggressive.
  • The Topspinny Backhand. This is the same as a Regular Backhand, except that you bring your wrist down and back, and snap the wrist through the ball to increase the topspin. It is essentially a mini-backhand loop off the bounce. This is what most top players do these days. Often there's no clear distinction between a "topspinny" backhand and a backhand loop.

However you play your backhand, make sure to do something with it. This means speed, quickness, spin, placement (both direction and depth), consistency, or some variation of these elements. Put pressure on your opponent or they will put pressure on you. Focus on developing to a high level at least one of these elements so that you'll have something that you know you can do that's better than your opponent. (Note that most of this applies to the forehand as well, except players tend to do that anyway; it's the backhand that's often underdeveloped.)

ITTF Coaching Seminar

Here's an ITTF writeup of the recent ITTF Coaching Seminar run by Sydney Christophe at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in New York.

Sidespin Push Return

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:33) about pushing short with sidespin.

Table Tennis Perfection

Here's a highlights video (14:40) of table tennis shots.

A VW Bug Covered with Ping-Pong Balls

It's colorful and with a happy face!

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August 13, 2012

Tip of the Week

Racket Tip Angle on the Backhand.

Table Tennis Records

11-year-old Sameer Shaikh, while on break in our camp on Friday, bounced a ball on his paddle 1210 times in a row. Is it a world record? Probably not, but I'll let someone else google it. But it does bring up the question of table tennis records. Unfortunately, I haven't kept track of who did what and when. For example, in our camps I know the record for completely knocking over a pyramid of 10 and 15 cups is 2 and 3 shots, respectively, but I don't remember who did it. These may sound silly, but they are actually great practice. I remember when Sameer couldn't bounce more than a few in a row; now he has good racket control. (When you start a little kid on table tennis, start him with ball bouncing, and see how many he can do. This is how he begins developing the hand-eye coordination to actually rally.) Hitting pyramids of cups may sound frivolous, but it challenges them to be accurate, besides being a fun way to end a three-hour session in a training camp. 

I have a few personal records which may or may not be "records": 2755 backhands in a row (at a Seemiller camp in 1978 when I was 18); 14 consecutive bounces up and down off the edge of my racket; 14 consecutive "come back" serves (i.e. high backspin serves that bounce directly back over the net after hitting the opponent's side of the table); and blowing the ball back 33 consecutive times in a rally. So what are your records?

Busyness

My todo list is bizarrely long. Every five minutes I seem to get another email asking questions (often very involved ones), requesting letters of recommendation for green cards or college (I have two to write today), news interviews or questions, stuff about my blog, MDTTC and USATT stuff, not to mention all the correspondence regarding my outside science fiction writing career and complications with insurance after my car accident last week. Plus all the usual coaching in camps and private sessions. It's getting way out of hand. I was up late last night getting things done, and the result was I woke up with a headache this morning. That's why the blog and weekly tip went up late today.

2016 Paralympic Hopeful Timmy La

Here's an article and video (1:55) from Channel 9 News/WUSA, featuring 2016 Paralympic hopeful Timmy La, who trains at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (I'm interviewed about him throughout the article and video.)

Table Tennis in The Daily Beast

Here are two "dueling" articles in The Daily Beast about the state of modern table tennis in the USA. Most of you know probably know of the flamboyant Marty Reisman, champion player and champion of hardbat (and sandpaper) table tennis. (Here's his U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Profile.) Matt Simon is a former Junior Olympic star who came to a number of my table tennis camps back in the 1990s, when the Maryland Table Tennis Center was known as the National Table Tennis Center in Maryland (as it is referred to in the article).

Coming Soon: Spin LA

There's already a Spin NY, Spin Milwaukee, and Spin Toronto, all courtesy of actress and table tennis entrepreneur Susan Sarandon. Now comes Spin LA, which opens this fall. Here's an article about it in The Huffington Post.

Rhode Island Table Tennis

Here's an article and video (2:44) in "The Rhode Show" about Rhode Island table tennis, which features their club, top player Grant Li, and President Chuck Cavicchio.

Crazy Kids Playing Table Tennis

Here's a video (5:45) of some Japanese show featuring the apparent trash-talking hosts taking on two girls about 4 or 5 years old. The kids are pretty good! If you know Japanese, feel free to post what they are saying!

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August 08, 2012

MDTTC Camps Week Seven Day Two

Here's a typical day at an MDTTC camp, morning session, divided into segments based on my most common camp phrases.

  • "Lunch orders!" (We have Chinese food delivered for lunch for $6.)
  • "Everybody out! Schnell, Schnell!!!"
  • "Today's focus will be the _____."
  • "What's the first thing you do?" (That's how I start every lecture. Correct answer is "Get in position!")
  • "Everybody into their groups."
  • "You're on ball pickup."
  • "Number ___, you're up."
  • [Lots of multiball.]
  • "Pick up the balls! Balls in boxes!"
  • "Break!"
  • "Everybody out!!! Schnell, Schnell!!!"
  • [Lots of multiball.]
  • "Pick up the balls! Balls in boxes!"
  • "Who wants to be team captains?" (For Brazilian Teams at the end of the session.)
  • "Lunchtime!"
  • "Who wants to go to 7-11?" (I get stampeded.)

Yesterday's focus (as usual on Tuesdays) was the backhand. This doesn't mean that's all we do; it's just the focus, especially for new players. We personalize it more for more advanced players, though even there we focus a bit on the day's focus. Today we'll be focusing on the forehand loop.

Regarding the backhand, besides the basics, I always point out the various backhand styles. For example, players who keep the racket tip low tend to play their backhand almost like another forehand, with great power, but often less consistent, not as quick, and weaker in the middle, compared to those who hold the racket tip a bit higher. Taller players tend to hold the racket tip lower, but not always.

It's going to be a busy day. My rough schedule for today:

  1. Write blog
  2. MDTTC Camp, 10AM-1PM, including lectures on forehand loop and pushing
  3. Interview and coaching demo for Channel 9 News (see below)
  4. Thirty-minute coaching session during lunch break
  5. Lunch
  6. Take kids to 7-11 (it's become a lunch break camp ritual)
  7. One hour drive into Virginia for a one-hour coaching session I do once a week during the day. (I'm off for the afternoon camp session.)
  8. One-hour coaching session at MDTTC at 6PM
  9. Write letter of recommendation for one of our top players going to college
  10. If there's any energy left, do some of my SF & fantasy writing. I've got this great idea for a story where...

Channel 9 News

This morning Channel 9 New (WUSA) is coming in to do a feature on MDTTC 2016 Paralympic hopeful Timmy La. We've had a lot of media coverage recently, and there's supposed to be a feature on us in the Washington Post in the next few days. (It keeps getting bumped because of Olympics coverage.)

Olympic Coverage

As noted in previous blogs, you can get full Olympic Table Tennis coverage at the ITTF page.

2012 Olympic Table Tennis Pin

Here's where you can see a picture of and buy one. Here are some technical problems I see with this mascot's form. First, he's only got one eye on the ball - it's important to keep both eyes on the ball for better depth perception. Second, it's better to bend the knees than to have them cut off, and don't get me started on his lack of playing shoes. Third, he's holding the racket almost straight up and down on a forehand shot, and so is probably blocking. It'd be better to focus on looping on the forehand side. (In fact, it looks to me like he's doing a forehand block from the backhand corner - how weird!) Fourth, it's important to have a mouth so you can call the score, call timeouts, and argue with umpires. And fifth,  his lack of ears make me wonder if he's listening to me.

There's also a Paralympic logo playing table tennis - here are all the Paralympic mascots. Table tennis is on lower left.

God or Galileo?

We'll let the religious people think this is a picture of God in various activities, including table tennis. Us scientific types know it's really Galileo. Or perhaps Mark Twain.

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June 20, 2012

Day Two at the MDTTC Camp - the Backhand

There are just over 30 players in the camp, ranging from beginner to 2400, from age 7 to 24. Today's focus was on the backhand, though of course that varied from player to player. I did a backhand demo with Tong Tong Gong where he and I went at it backhand to backhand. I am happy to say I smacked about three dozen consecutive backhands at full speed, an incredible display of advanced backhand prowess. I am unhappy to say that Tong Tong did three dozen plus one. Yeah, I finally missed.

So how's your backhand? Do you tend to keep the racket tip down? (This is for shakehanders.) This gives you extra power and can turn your backhand into almost a second forehand. However, it may cost you control and quickness, and make you weaker in the middle. Do you tend to keep the racket tip more up? That'll give you extra quickness and control, and make it easier to cover the middle. To use two classic examples, Jan-Ove Waldner tended to keep his tip up a bit while Jorgen Persson kept his down. (If you don't know these two Swedish world champions, google them.) Jim Butler is another player who keeps his racket tip down, giving him a great backhand smash. Dave Sakai is an example of a player who keeps his racket tip more up, giving him a great backhand counter-hitting and blocking game.

These days, at the world-class level, most players loop almost everything on both backhand and forehand, and so they tend to keep the racket tip down.

I pointed out to the campers that we've run over 150 five-day camps, which comes out to over two years of camps. Yes, I've spent two years of my life running these things. They were suitably impressed.

USA's Kanak Jha wins ITTF Hopes Challenge

Here's the ITTF article!

Challenge the brain with table tennis

Here's an table tennis graphic with Spanish captions. Here is the English translation from an online translator - see #6! ("Apparently"?)

Six Steps to Exercise the Brain

1. Play an instrument, play, not only listen, strengthens the neural pathways.

2. Learn another language. Pay attention to hear another language sharpens the brain functions.

3. Juggle.

4. Dance. Memorize the dance steps improved the memory balance and posture.

5. Put together puzzles. Improve your concentration.

6. Table Tennis. Apparently this sport requires very fine movements that challenge the brain.

London Olympics/Coca-Cola Commercial

And it features table tennis! It's a mixture of music video and coke commercial (4:28). The table tennis player is Darius Knight of the English table tennis team.

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June 12, 2012

Backhand Breakthrough

Yesterday a kid I was coaching had a major breakthrough. His forehand has been coming along really well, but his backhand . . . well . . . the stroke was awkward, the contact more like a jab then a stroke, often coming out dead or even with backspin. We've spent the last few weeks focusing on this. Usually it takes him about five minutes of hitting before he can start hitting it decently at even a slow pace, quite a contrast with his nice forehand, which he impatiently steps around to smash every chance since he too was getting sick of his problematic backhand.

And then, yesterday, we hit backhand to backhand, and lo and behold, it all come together. The stroke was textbook, the contact just right. We went backhand to backhand longer than usual as I wanted to really ingrain this. He'd been thinking about backhands a lot, and the visualizing seems to have worked. Let's just way I was pleasantly surprised. So was he.

He had additional incentive. I'd promised he could start working on backhand looping only after I declared his backhand "solid," and yesterday I did just that. I cautioned him that I wanted him to still focus on ingraining the regular backhand before we spend too much time on backhand loop, but next session he's going to finally get to backhand loop against backspin (multiball).

Adventures with Print on Demand and Ebooks, and No More Volunteering

I'm now an "expert" on POD and ebooks after several hours of research. Actually, I now know pretty much what I need to create and sell them. Now I have to do the page layouts, including covers. I think I will reach my goal of having all my books on sale in both formats by the end of the year - though secretly I'm toying with getting it done by the end of August. It depends on how much energy I have at night after coaching in our MDTTC training camps, which start on Monday for eleven weeks.

One side effect is that I positively, absolutely, conclusively CANNOT TAKE ON ANY MORE VOLUNTEER PROJECTS. Right now I'm trying to be a full-time table tennis coach, a tournament director (starting this fall) and organizer; a table tennis writer and blogger; and a science fiction & fantasy writer. It seems every day I get emails asking for volunteer help on something. I just don't have time or energy for everything.

I'm on USATT's Coaching, Club, and Editorial Advisory Committees, and on the U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League Advisory Board, but the key phrase here is "Advisory." When I was asked if I'd be willing to serve on these committees I made it clear that I would be willing to as long as it was advisory as I simply wouldn't have time to take initiative on these committees.

Olympic Coach Magazine

The new issue of Olympic Coach Magazine is out, and here's your link to that issue and past ones.

Table Tennis Gifs

Here are some great table tennis gifs. (Gifs are animated pictures.) Why are there so many cats?

$45,000 Ping-Pong Table

Here's the story! What makes it so expensive? The table is made of black rubber to make it extra bouncy. Here's a better picture of it. And here's a video advertisement for the table (1:46).

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May 22, 2012

Want a consistent forehand and backhand?

Then start off every session by hitting 50 (or even 100) in a row at a steady pace with good technique. Don't start counting until the shot feels comfortable. Don't go out there hitting at different speeds - to develop a repeatable shot you need to repeat it the same way over and Over and OVER, until it is so ingrained you find yourself absentmindedly practicing your forehand as you take your wedding vows, and after your prospective wife kills you, you'll reflexively smack the coroner with another forehand howitzer.

Once the shots are so ingrained, then you should focus on random drills that involve using these repeatable strokes when you don't know whether the next shot will be a forehand or backhand. For example, your partner hits the ball randomly to your forehand or backhand, and you respond by returning each shot with your forehand or backhand to the same spot he's hitting from. (Partner should be hitting all forehands or all backhands.) Take it slow - it's better to do this at a pace where you respond correctly each time then at a pace where your strokes begin to deteriorate and you practice bad form. As you improve, increase the pace. (Maybe an expanded version of this should be a Tip of the Week?)

U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League

In case you missed it when I posted it before, here's the promotional video for the new USNTTL (5:06). I'm now on their Advisory Board, though I don't know how I'm going to find time or energy to take on one more thing. (Hey, they left my best credential off my bio - I'm in the danged U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame!) Hopefully "Advisory Board" means just that, as opposed to say, a "Workory Board" (otherwise known as a Task Force). Why am I so busy these days? It has something to do with three careers. . . .

Three Careers

Why am I so busy these days? Somehow I've found myself working on three careers: table tennis coach, table tennis writer, and science fiction writer. (Technically, it's science fiction and fantasy writer, but we'll go with science fiction as shorthand.)

Table tennis coach: I coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my primary source of income. (Though surprisingly, my SF writing income this past month has almost matched it due to a bunch of sales.) Besides private coaching, I run a pair of 90-minute beginning junior classes, act as a practice partner for two other junior training sessions, plus am a hired coach at major tournaments, such as the upcoming Easterns and U.S. Open. With summer coming up, the busiest time for coaches, thing are about to get even more hectic. (We're running eleven consecutive weeks of training camps, Mon-Fri each week, mostly for junior players, though adults who don't mind training mostly with juniors are welcome as well. Coaches mostly work nights and weekends, but during the summer it becomes a day job.) In addition to coaching, I'm also involved in numerous promotional and organizational matters with MDTTC. Starting this fall I'm also running the MDTTC tournaments.

Table tennis writer: I've got four books on table tennis, with a fifth almost done. I've also got over 1200 published articles on table tennis (1224 to be exact), and that does not include any of my 350+ daily blog entries. (Here's a complete list of my written work, updated yesterday.) I've been paid plenty for some of these writings over the years, but not as much as you might think. Over the next few months I'm planning to put all five books into both ebook and print on demand (POD) format and look to dramatically increase online sales. The good news is I've learned it's easy to convert from Word to ebook format, and I'm already an expert in page design so I can create the PDF pages for POD. (Don't you love acronyms?) The books are:

  • Table Tennis: Steps to Success. This is my all-time best-seller, with over 28,000 copies sold in English, and unknown numbers sold in five other languages, some legal, but mostly illegal bootleg copies sold all over China and other countries. It's now out of print from its original publisher, so I have complete rights to it again. It'll be the first one I turn into an ebook and POD. However, it'll mean a lot of page designing as well as arranging all the photos.
  • Table Tennis: Tales & Techniques. I self-published this a couple years ago and sold about a thousand copies. I still have about 500 more sitting in boxes. Since I designed the pages, it's pretty much ready for POD. However, I'll have to redo the pages in Word so I can convert to ebook format.
  • Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. I wrote this for USA Table Tennis. However, it's never really been used much except independently by coaches.
  • Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis. I wrote this in the early 1990s for USA Table Tennis as a guide for coaches on how to coach table tennis. I'm toying with combining this with the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. It will need a lot of updating, plus I'd have to recreate the pages in Word. I have the pages in PDF for POD. However, I'm not sure which photos to use with it - the originals I used, or the updated ones from Dan Seemiller and Mark Nordby, when they updated it for USATT. (I'd have to get permission to use the latter.)
  • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development. I'm in the final editing/proofing stages, and it should be done by the weekend. (It's now about 93,000 words, about 400 pages in double spaced 12-point Times. It'll be my longest book, with over twice the text as Steps to Success.) Then I have to decide whether to illustrate it with pictures or not. Also, I'm still debating whether to go to a professional publisher or self-publish. I'm leaning toward the latter. I'm also debating the final title. Here are the ones I'm thinking about - suggestions and recommendations are welcome.
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development (the current working title)
    • Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide (the working title until yesterday)
    • A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics (the original title until someone told me it'd come earlier in Internet searches if I start the title with "Table Tennis.")
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development: A Thinker's Guide (a little of everything)
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Thinking (the one I'm now leaning toward, as of this morning)
    • Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (another obvious possibility that I didn't think of until ten seconds ago)

Science Fiction Writer: This is my "side" career. I've sold 62 short stories, and have two novels making the rounds. Recently there's been a lot of nibbles by agents and publishers on the novels - several read the opening chapters and requested the rest, which they are now reading. (You normally query agents and publishers with just the opening chapters.) Here's my science fiction and fantasy page.

Over the last couple months or so I've had a flurry of short story sales - nine to be exact, including ones to nice magazines like Weird Tales, Penumbra, Electric Spec, and Flagship. Yesterday I sold my 62nd short story, "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" to Penumbra, a "pro" market that pays well. (Despite the dragon in the title, it's actually science fiction, not fantasy. What should the president of the United States do when a huge dragon swoops out of the sky and lands on the U.S. Capitol, a seeming threat to congress and the American people? It's like King Kong on the Empire State Building, but attack helicopters instead of bi-planes - and things are not as they seem.)

My 30 best short story sales (circa 2010) are combined in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of Larry Hodges." Buy it!!! I've almost sold enough new stories for its sequel, "More Pings and Pongs."

Other: And when I grow up, I still want to be a math professor, astronomer, presidential historian, cartoonist, and play second base for the Baltimore Orioles. See, I'm a realist; I'd really rather play shortstop (like Cal Ripken) or third base (like Brooks Robinson) but I know I can't make the throw to first, so I'm willing to compromise.

Ariel Hsing on CBS News

Here's a CBS article and video (2:09) on 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion and Olympic hopeful Ariel Hsing. Very nice presentation, and don't you love the mentions of Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill?

Oriole Table Tennis

As mentioned in past blogs, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team plays a lot of table tennis in their clubhouse. I've been invited to come in sometime to do some coaching (primarily with J.J. Hardy, Jake Arrieta, and trainer/former center fielder Brady Anderson), but the date is not yet set. Here's a quote from an article that mentions table tennis: "It's fun any time you're winning, no matter what the sport is," [Nick] Markakis said. "We have a bunch of competitive guys in this locker room, whether it's playing cards or ping pong or baseball."

The Google Ping-Pong Dragon

Since I sold a story called "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" just yesterday, in honor of that here's the Google Ping-Pong Dragon.

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April 6, 2012

MDTTC Open House

If you are within driving distance of Gaithersburg, Maryland, come to our Open House and Grand Re-Opening this Saturday! There will be free refreshments and raffles throughout the day, and it's your chance to talk table tennis with the MDTTC coaches and players, as well as to see the newly renovated and now gigantic MDTTC, which has doubled in size to 10,000 sq feet and 18 tables. Here's the schedule:

  • 10:30 AM - Noon: Junior Group Training (FREE!)
  • 12:00-1:00 PM: Demonstrations and Exhibitions (FREE!), featuring MDTTC Coaches and Top Players: Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Han Xiao, Tong Tong Gong, Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Crystal Wang, Larry Hodges, others.
  • 1:00-1:30 PM: Service Seminar by Larry Hodges (FREE!)
  • 1:30-2:00 PM: Lucky Draw Mini Tournament (used to be called Parade of Champions), anyone can sign up (FREE!), single elimination with games to 3 points! Gift certificates to the Final Four.
  • 2:00-4:00 PM: Open Play (FREE!)

MDTTC Spring Break Camp Highlights

Here are the highlights from yesterday, Day Four of the five-day camp:

  • The "best" way to teach the backhand. I've found the most successful way to teach the backhand to beginning kids is to have them keep their rackets low to the table, slightly closed, and have them raise the racket as the ball hits the table, so that the racket and ball are always lined up. By doing this they learn to contact the ball with a topspin motion, and take the ball on the rise. When I just show them the stroke and guide them through it, often they end up with a very flat and awkward technique.
  • Backhand push and the violin. I learned from Cheng Yinghua a new way to teach the backhand push - he tells them the forward swing is like the downswing of the bow when you play the violin. I tried this out with several kids and it seemed to work.
  • Today was looping day. I introduced looping backspin to all the beginning kids. It's amazing how fast they pick it up.
  • Footwork practice. A new and popular footwork exercise was to pair the kids off, and have them take turns moving side to side quickly, with lots of starts and stops, with the other trying to match them. It quickly became exhausting - which was good, since it meant they weren't jumping up and down for the next half hour.
  • I introduced a new game to the kids. We often play a game where they rotate hitting two forehands, trying to hit my water bottle on the table. If they hit it, I have to drink it, and it's never just water - it's something like worm juice or (today) slug juice. The new version has one player hitting ten shots, and all the rest on the other side, along with two bottles. If the ball hits a bottle, they get 2 points. If it hits the table, and nobody catches it, they get 1 point. If the shot hits the table but someone catches it, or they miss the shot, then 0 points. Most of the kids seem to have more fun trying to catch the incoming shots than actually hitting them.
  • Open House exhibition with junior stars. I went over with several of the top junior players what we'd be doing at the Open House demos and exhibitions this Saturday.

New World Rankings

Here are the new world rankings after the recent World Team Championships. And here's an ITTF article about the new rankings and China's dominance - they hold the top five spots for both men and women. On the men's side their main challengers are Germany (with world #6, 10, 21), Korea (world #8, 14, 15) and Japan (world #7, 19, 20). On the women's side their main challengers are Japan (with world #6, 10, 12) and Singapore (world #7, 9, 14).

Want to bid to run the 2012 North American Championships?

Here are the specs!

Ping-Pong Door

Why have a door when you can have a door and a ping-pong table?

Eating a ping-pong ball

Here's a 31-second video of someone eating a ping-pong ball. I've eaten a lot of Chinese food this week, but does eating a ping-pong ball count?

Non-Table Tennis: Weird Tales sale

Yesterday I sold a story to Weird Tales, "Galahad Returns," 6300 words. It's a humorous fantasy about Sir Galahad (of King Arthur fame), who returns to Earth after spending 1500 years searching the galaxy unsuccessfully (on the Greek winged horse Pegasus) for the Holy Grail. He jousts with fighter jets and tangles with the U.S. president, nukes, and a painting of former president and unfortunate King Arthur namesake Chester Arthur. It's my 59th short story sale and my second sale to Weird Tales. (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.)

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March 7, 2012

Returning Serve

It's everyone's biggest weakness, or so it seems. But it shouldn't be that way. Let's review:

  1. If the ball is deep, return it aggressively, ideally with a loop.
  2. If the ball is short without backspin (i.e. sidespin, side-top, topspin, or no-spin), mostly return it aggressively with a flip.
  3. If the ball is short with backspin, either push it long (deep, low, good backspin, quick off the bounce, angled, and hide the direction until the last second), push it short (so that it is low and that, given the chance, would bounce twice on the opponent's side of the table), or flip it.
  4. Above all else, returning serve is about BALL CONTROL. If you have trouble controlling the ball, or reading the spin, play against players with good serves until you can read the spin and control the ball. If you don't have anyone like that you can practice against, then you better find someone because you aren't going to learn to do something unless you practice it.
  5. That is all.

How arm problems are improving my game

More specifically, it is helping my backhand tremendously. Ever since I hurt my arm ten days ago I've avoided hitting or looping forehands with any power. It's really helped the healing process while allowing me to continue coaching every day. However, it's meant a huge amount of backhand play since I'm having everyone play most there in drills. And since I'm not looping forehands, guess what? When we play points, I'm opening with my backhand loop. The result is my backhand blocking, hitting, and looping have both improved tremendously. My normally steady backhand is still steady but at a faster pace, while I'm backhand looping in pushes and serves to all parts of the table, something I don't usually do as I'm more the all-out forehand looper type. Also, after nine days of non-stop backhand play, my backhand muscles are now tireless - I can hit backhands forever without my arm getting tired.

Take me out to the Ball Game--that'd be Ping-Pong
You all know the lyrics to the baseball version, which can be found here (with the second stanza the commonly sung one). Here's my version!

Take me out for some ping-pong,
Take me out for some fun.
Buy me a racket and ping-pong balls,
I don't care if I don't score at all!
Let me hit, hit, hit with my forehand,
If they don't land it's a shame,
For it's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven points and you're out,
In the new pong game.

Talking to the Curator of the World's Greatest Collection of Photos of Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

Oh, that would be me! Yes, I was interviewed about my "Celebrities Playing Table Tennis" site. The interview went up yesterday - here it is!

Dan Seemiller article

Here's an article on Dan Seemiller in yesterday's South Bend Tribune.

Zhang Jike

Here's a tribute video (9:21) to World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike, strangely titled, "World Champion or Small Boy?"

Lots of Ping-Pong Balls

Yes, that's a lot of ping-pong balls in the air. I keep thinking I recognize the player, but I'm not sure. Anyone know? [NOTE: Aaron Avery emailed that it was Polish paralympic player Natalia Partyka, and sure enough her web page includes that photo. Thanks Avery!]

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February 28, 2012

Tim Arrives

Yes, that's Tim Boggan, USATT Historian and past president, and, well, just about everything else. (Here's his short bio, his USATT Hall of Fame bio, and here's my long 1996 interview with him, with pictures.) As some of you may know, he's been writing a comprehensive History of U.S. Table Tennis, with eleven volumes published, and number twelve just written. Every year about this time he makes the drive from New York to Maryland and moves in with me for two weeks, sleeping on my sofa, and spending the day looking over my shoulder as I lay out the pages and do photo work for the next volume, with each book about 500 pages. ("No, it goes there, you fool!" he'll say as he smacks me with a hardbat.) Here's the page I maintain for him on his books. It's going to be a busy two weeks as we work from roughly 7AM (he's a morning person) until 5PM or so (he lets me have a lunch break), and then I run off to the club to coach.

Arm update

As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I hurt my arm over the weekend. It was still bothering me yesterday, but mostly when I played fast. I was hitting mostly with beginning-intermediate players, and mostly just blocked, so it wasn't too bad. I'm a little worried about what'll happen when I hit with stronger players, as I will in my sessions tonight. We'll see.

Topspin on the Backhand

Just as on February 23, I had a student yesterday who had difficulty hitting his backhand with any topspin. This time the primary problem was that he was constantly reaching for the ball. Against his better instincts (he's 10), I got him to sloooooow down, and move to each ball so he could hit from a better position. Suddenly his backhand picked up. After struggling to get even ten in a row, he suddenly got into a rhythm and hit 145 straight. More importantly, he was hitting them properly.

Chinese National Team

Here's an inspirational video of the Chinese National Team (2:39), with background narration by "The Hip Hop Preacher" that starts out, ""Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute or an hour or a day or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever."

The Falkenberg Drill

Here's a video (3:10) that demonstrates what many consider the best table tennis drill - you learn to cover the wide forehand, the wide backhand, and the step around forehand. It's called the Falkenberg Drill because it was popularized there by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's also called the 2-1 drill or the backhand-forehand-forehand drill.

Jan-Ove Waldner breaking his racket

Here's a video of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner accidentally breaking his racket (0:47).

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