Fan Zhendong

February 28, 2014

Making a Living at Table Tennis

I started this article by writing, "Not a lot of people in the U.S. do it," but by the time I was through, I decided to change that to, "A surprising number of people in the U.S do." So who and how does one make a living at this Olympic sport?

  • Professional Players. Right now there's really only one USA player who is basically a full-time professional player, Timothy Wang. Historically we've rarely had more than one or two at a time, though a few times we've had several making a living at it in the German and other European leagues, especially back in the 1980s. (Edit - I'm told that USA's Chance Friend is also a full-time professional player, playing in the German Leagues.) 
  • Coaches. There are a LOT of professional coaches out there. The numbers dwarf where we were just seven years ago, before full-time training centers began popping up all over the U.S.  My club, MDTTC, has seven full-time professional coaches, including me. (The other "full-timers" at my club work longer hours than I do, but I do many of the group sessions.) Four other local clubs have roughly another ten. That makes at least 17 full-time professional coaches within a 45 minute drive of me. There are equal or larger number of coaches in a number of other regions in the U.S., such as the bay area and LA in California, the NY/NJ region, and others. I would guess there are hundreds of full-time professional table tennis coaches in the U.S. right now, all busy plugging away day after day. The irony is that they mostly coach at about 50 clubs, so the other 350 or so USATT clubs never see them, and so most USATT members and leaders are oblivious to what's going on out there. (Want to make a living at table tennis? Then get a copy of the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook!)
  • Staffing at Professional Clubs. Many of these clubs have professional staffing that run the clubs. MDTTC used to have hired staff at the desk, though now the coaches and owners do this. I'm guessing there are several dozen people making a living primarily running professional clubs. Many of them may have other duties - some also coach part-time, as well as run other activities, such as tournaments.
  • Running Tournaments. A number of people run regular tournaments, but how many make a living at it? Primarily North American Table Tennis. They are closely affiliated with JOOLA USA, with some of their staff working for both. Overall, several people are primarily NATT staffers making a living running their North American Tour and the North American Teams. A number of others make a supplementary income from tournaments, but I don't know of others in the U.S. where it is their primary income. 
  • Leagues. Unlike Europe and Asia, there are few large-scale leagues in the U.S., mostly just small clubs ones. I believe Mitch Seidenfeld makes much of his living running leagues in Minnesota, along with other activities. There are large leagues in the New York, SF Bay area, and LA regions, but I believe they are all volunteer run.
  • Dealers. This includes both those who own such businesses, and their staff. The bigger ones are JOOLA, Paddle Palace, Butterfly, and Newgy. (I was shocked recently at how many people now work for JOOLA USA - not all are listed in their staff listing - but I'm not sure they want the exact numbers public.) There are also a lot of smaller dealers. I'd say well over a hundred people make a living in the U.S. this way.
  • Entertainers. The main ones I know of are Scott Preiss, Adam Bobrow, and Soo Yeon Lee. Scott's made a living for several decades as a table tennis entertainer. He's hired by corporations to put on shows, often at equipment expos and conventions. Adam's a stand-up comedian and actor (including lots of voice acting) who more and more is moving into table tennis entertainment. Soo is an actress, model, and does table tennis shows - sometimes playing in high heels! You don't have to be a superstar to do what they do - at their peaks, Scott and Adam were pushing 2200 level, which is good but not great - while Soo, former South Korean junior champion, is about 2450. All three have mastered the art of flamboyant table tennis play, and all have repertoires of trick shots as well as the usual toolbox of spectacular table tennis play, such as lobbing, long-distance serving, smashing, etc.
  • USA Table Tennis. USATT currently has nine people in their staff listing, each making a living at table tennis. I used to work for USATT, as magazine editor for twelve years (also as webmaster and programs director), and as manager/director/coach for four years for the resident training program they once had at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
  • Authors. Every year a number of new table tennis books come out, but they are primarily just added income for the writer. Only one person in the U.S. that I know of is really making substantial money right now as a table tennis writer - ME!!! Last year I actually made more money as a writer than as a coach, though that was primarily because of the surprisingly sales from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. (I've lazily cut down on my coaching hours as a result.) While continued sales of that and my other books will help, I expect my coaching will make more money this year. I also make some money for articles I write, and a small amount from this web page via advertisers.
  • Anything I missed?

USA's Kunal Chodri Picture Featured by ITTF

Here's the article!

Ma Long and Fan Zhendong

Here are two articles featuring these two. Sixteen-year-old phenom Fan recently beat Ma for the first time

Girls in Training

Here's a great music video (3:21) showing top junior girls training in Europe.

Jo Drinkhall Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:24), featuring the British #1 woman.

Florida Colleges

Here's the article, Great Showing from Florida Colleges at Local Tournament.

LA Dodgers Play Table Tennis

Here's the article and a video (7 sec, looping over and over) of pitchers Brian Wilson and Chris Withrow playing. The article claims the Dodgers are better than the Orioles in table tennis, but sorry, it's not even close. I've watched half the Orioles play, and coached three of them, and I've watched this video, and it's like comparing U.S. table tennis to China. The Orioles have 5-6 players who would destroy either of these Dodgers players. JJ Hardy would beat them so bad they'd be sent back to the minors to work on their ping-pong.

Ping Pong Anime Series

It's coming this Spring - here's the article! This reminds me of the old anime cartoon series Ping-Pong Club from the mid-1990s.

Hovering Table

Here it is!

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February 7, 2014

How to Teach a Beginning/Intermediate Class

Starting on Feb. 17, I'm teaching a new Beginning/Intermediate Table Tennis Class at MDTTC. It's designed for adult players from beginners to roughly 1500 in USATT ratings. The class is every Monday for ten weeks, from 6:30-8:00PM. If you are in the Gaithersburg, Maryland area and would like to participate, contact me. We have an even ten already signed up, so I'm hoping for a good-sized group. (There's a whole chapter on teaching classes in my book Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook.)

The purpose of the class is to give players a complete introduction to the sport of table tennis. That means covering every major aspect, including grip and stance, the strokes, footwork, equipment, and tactics. But there's another reason for such a class. When new players come to a club, they often are a bit lost. They don't know the sport and they don't know other members of the club - they have no peers. By having a class, we get all of them together, and they not only learn about the sport, they develop their own peer group. I've taught a few dozen of these classes, dating back to when we started MDTTC in 1992. Some of the classes had over 20 players.

I'll start each class with a demo with an assistant coach, and lecture on the focus for the class. Since it's an adult class (younger players allowed in with permission of the instructor), it'll have a lot more lecturing and demos than in a typical junior class or clinic. Then we'll go out on the tables and practice the new technique, with myself walking around and coaching. If there's an odd number of players, one will hit with the robot, or I'll have my assistant coach hit with someone or do multiball. Usually there's a second topic to be covered in each session, so roughly halfway through we'll come together for a second demo and lecture. Most weeks may start off with players practicing/warming up the basic strokes, especially forehands and backhands, before we get to the demo/lecture stage.   

Here's the planned weekly schedule:

Week 1: Intro to TT; Grip; Stance; Forehand drive
Week 2: Table tennis equipment; Backhand drive
Week 3: Footwork; Beginning serves
Week 4:  Pushing; Advanced serves
Week 5:  FH loop vs. backspin; Blocking
Week 6:  BH attack (looping & hitting vs. backspin)
Week 7:  Smashing; Introduction to USATT, tournaments, and leagues
Week 8:  Return of Serve (and review of serving)
Week 9:  Loop/smash combinations (i.e. loop backspin, smash topspin); Tactics
Week 10:  Smashing lobs; player's choice; 11-point games

Fan Zhendong Learned His Lessons from Zhang Jike

Here's the article from Table Tennista, with links to several videos.

Umpires to 2014 World Championships

There are two ways to make it to the courts at the World Championships: as a player or as an umpire. The ITTF just announced the list of umpires for the 2014 Worlds. The list includes two USA umpires: Stephen Banko and Michael Meier. Congrats to them! (Now, what's the going bribe rate?)

Angles Galore

Here's a video (28 sec) of one of the best rallies I've ever seen - and talk about angles!!! That's Wang Liqin on the far side, Werner Schlager on the near side. I'm guessing this is from the 2003 World Championships, where Schlager upset Wang in the quarterfinals and went on to win Men's Singles. (EDIT - according to comment below, it was from the 2003 World Cup - so I was close!)

"Plastic Ball"

When I read about the new plastic balls that are replacing celluloid ones, I start humming to myself the theme music to the 1989 World Championships, "Magic Ball," except in my head it's now "Plastic Ball." So here's the greatest table tennis music (and music video) ever produced (3:10).

A Little Sit-Down Table Tennis

Here's the picture and German article (which my Chrome browser conveniently translated into English) of Milan Orlowski and Jindrich Pansky on the table.

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December 13, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Nationals (Monday, Dec. 23) 

I leave for the USA Nationals this Sunday, Dec. 15, and don't return until the following Sunday, Dec. 22. So the next blog will be on Monday, Dec. 23. One thing that might help to keep track of when I don't have a blog is to friend me on Facebook, assuming you have a Facebook account. Every morning as soon as the blog goes up I put a note out on Facebook, which always starts off, "This morning in my table tennis blog I wrote about…" I'm easy to find on Facebook; I'm right here.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Jason Voorhees, table tennis player, says hi!

The Hobbit and Early-Morning Writing

I saw the midnight showing of The Hobbit Part 2, and didn't get to bed until after 4AM. (I still can't believe that Gollum is Gandalf's father!!!) And I still got up at 8AM to write this blog and do other table tennisy stuff. So if my mind wanders off I have a doggy and I start repeating myself or saying weird things or repeating myself Gollum Gollum loopsy please bear with me I said bear okay?

USA Nationals

I'm off to the USA Nationals in Las Vegas this Sunday for a week. I'm not playing, only coaching, but I'll be incredibly busy. How busy can a coach be since he's only working when one of his players is playing? Extremely! Because there's a lot more to it than just showing up for each match. (Plus I'm coaching two top juniors who are entered in numerous events.)

Before the tournament I have to make sure they are mentally and physically ready. The mental part could take up a book (and of course there are many good books on sports psychology). Suffice to say it's a coach's job to make sure the players go into the tournament with the right frame of mind, as well as well rested and fed. I also have to make sure their equipment is ready. Is the sponge on their rackets new? Do they have backup rackets? Did they remember their shoes? (You wouldn't believe how often junior players forget their playing shoes.) Do they have backup shirts for each day? Are the shirts all different colors than the ball?

Of course I have to prepare for the tournament as well, such as reviewing likely opponents so my players are ready to face them. Plus I did the all-important trip to the grocery store for trail mix, which is what I live on when I'm coaching at tournaments.

Once in Las Vegas I have to arrange practice sessions for the players. At tournaments players and coaches are constantly calling each other to make arrangements, or just to let the other know where they are. How did players survive before there were cell phones?

The tournament starts on Tuesday, but we're flying in on Sunday. That gives us Monday to practice, get used to the conditions, and to the three-hour time difference. When the kids aren't practicing, I want them to relax and have fun. Swimming pool and video games are musts.

When we check in I generally have to pay a few extra dollars for copies of my players' schedules. Once I have them, I sit down somewhere and plan out my schedule for the tournament. It can get complicated, since sometimes there are time conflicts. That's why I consider it important to arrange in advance the guidelines for who I'll coach when. I already know which of my players I'll favor in any given event, though there are judgment calls at any given time, based on the opponent. For example, I may decide that one match isn't as meaningful or competitive as another, and choose what match to coach based on that. However, each player has their priority events, and I'll coach them in every competitive match in that event.

Besides coaching, I'm hoping to attend the USATT Assembly on Wednesday night, and the Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. It all depends on my players' schedules. I'll also spend some time hanging around the Paddle Palace booth, since they sponsor me, where I'll perhaps sign copies of my various table tennis books on sale there.

Coaching is a nerve-racking profession at tournaments. Players may be nervous before a match, but once the match begins most relax and just play. (If they don't, then there's some sports psychology sessions needed.) But coaches don't get to play, and watching is definitely more nerve-racking then playing. Who do you think is more nervous on Sunday night football when the game is on the line, the players or the fans watching? Or the coaches?

I've done this so many times it's all sort of second nature now. Even packing is easy as I have a standard "To Pack" list, which I update for individual tournaments.

This year I've given incentives to some of the Maryland players. Read about them on my Nov. 5 blog. My stomach is already growling in agony just thinking about it.  

Tips of the Day

Below are the USATT Tips of the Day since last Friday. These are from the 171 Tips of the Week I did for them from 1999-2003 as “Dr. Ping-Pong.” (Click on link for complete tip.) Note that the Dec. 8 tip is by Carl Danner. The rest are by me.

Dec 13, 2013 Tip of the Day - Playing Dead Blockers
Dead blockers slow the ball down (throwing off your timing), and keep it shorter than you are used to.

Dec 12, 2013 Tip of the Day - Practice Service Spin on a Rug!
It’s often difficult to judge how much spin you are putting on the ball when you practice serves. Without this feedback, it’s not easy to improve your serves. So try this find a large, carpeted room, and practice serving there! 

Dec 11, 2013 Tip of the Day - Think Strategy, Then Let the Shots Happen
Between points, think about what you want to do, especially at the start of the rally what serve to use, what type of receives.

Dec 10, 2013 Tip of the Day - Shoe Grippiness "El Dente"
If your shoes aren’t grippy enough, you slide when you play, and so can’t move properly.

Dec 09, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Serve
Many players use the forehand "pendulum" serve. It’s the most popular serve in table tennis. 

Dec 08, 2013 Tip of the Day - Getting Run Off the Table by Carl Danner
Whoops, you're down a game and this one's going badly, too. How do you stop the bleeding in time -- assuming this is an opponent you might expect to beat?

Dec 07, 2013 Tip of the Day - Backhand Serve Deception
The key to deception on the backhand serve is the elbow. 

Dec 06, 2013 Tip of the Day - Get the Back Foot Around when Stepping Around
When stepping around the backhand corner to play a forehand (usually a loop or smash), many players don’t get their back foot around enough.

Table Tennis Club Survey

Georgia State University PHD student Yi Zhang is doing a research project to study the reasons that players join and attend a table tennis club. The survey is a bit lengthy but goes pretty fast - it didn't take me very long. I'm sure she'd appreciate your help. Here's the survey.

ITTF Was Founded in 1926

And so I can write . . . Four score and seven years ago table tennis players brought forth on this world a new federation, conceived in ping-pong, and dedicated to the proposition that table tennis should dominate the world.

I could go on, but I'll let someone else pull up the Gettysburg Address and rewrite the rest of it in table tennis lingo. I just wish I'd thought of this on Nov. 19, the 150th Anniversary of the speech.

China Prepares for 2014 World Team Squad Trials

Here's the article.

Win a Signed Blade from Fan Zhendong

Here's the contest page at Table Tennis Daily.

Reggie Miller vs. Nate Robinson

Here's video (37 sec) as the two NBA players prepare to have it out at ping-pong on the TV show NBA Inside Stuff.

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November 26, 2013

The Downs and Ups of Knee Problems

Knee problems are somewhat common in table tennis, especially as we get older. Normally it takes time for them to heal. Okay, it always takes time for them to heal, but sometimes it's a mixture of physical and mental, and sometimes it takes time for the mental to catch up with the physical.

As I've blogged a number of times recently, I've been having knee problems for some time - both knees. When I'm out there I feel like I'm tottering about on stilts. My level of play dropped dramatically as even simple blocking became difficult as I'm used to stepping to the ball (good technique!), and now I found myself reaching (bad technique!). Since I had no confidence in the knees, deep down I was scared to even try bending them, so I mostly stood up straight and, as I said, tottered about on stilts.

I probably hit rock bottom this past weekend. On Saturday I was could barely move in my coaching sessions - fortunately it's my students who have to do most of the moving as I mostly block. When I did play points or games I struggled. On Saturday afternoon, after coaching all day, I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I normally end Saturdays as a playing partner in our 4:30-6:30 match session, where kids who train nearly full-time try to knock me off. I started out by barely beating a 2000-level kid, 11-8 in the fifth, where I mostly blocked and fished ball after ball back. Then I played an 1800 kid. I won the first, then I felt a slight tinge in the right knee early in the second - and from there on I played like a scared tree. I should have defaulted there just in case, but decided to try and finish. I lost that game 11-3, and it didn't get much better. I ended up losing 11-8 in the fifth, the only time I'd lost to someone of that level in roughly forever. I dropped out of the session after that. (What was really irritating is the kid was screaming every point, even though it was obvious I was tottering about instead of my normal forehand-oriented attack game.)

On Sunday, at the end of a 90-minute session with Sameer, about 1300 level, we played games were I'd spot five points, and after each game the spot goes up or down one point. Normally I can get it up to 6 or 7, but this time I was so frozen I could barely play, and he got it down to 2, and kept it at 2 or 3 for a while. (At least he wasn't choing every point!) Time to retire as a player, right?

Then on Monday I had a two-hour session with Sameer again. (He's taking extra sessions to prepare for the North American Teams this weekend.) I did a lot of stretching before the session, and some easy shadow-stroking, and strangely, the knees felt okay. I spent much of the session harping on staying low, since Sameer tends to stand up too straight. I kept demonstrating the lower, wider stance, and the knees kept feeling better and better, as if they were loosening up. I started to have confidence in them again, and was able to let myself go when we played points. At the end of the session we again played games, and this time I was back to normal, and got the spot up to 6 or 7 each game. He was playing well, but so was I, for the first time in I think months.

Afterwards I had a 30-minute session with Derek Nie, where we worked only on receive (25 minutes) and serve (five minutes at the end). (He'd already had a longer session with one of our 2500 training partners.) Mostly I just served and grabbed the next ball so he could get as much receive practice as possible, but toward the end we played out some points - and again, I was able to move around and play at my "normal" 2200 level or so.

So the knees seem mostly healed. The strange thing is they might have been okay the last week or so, but I was so used to having problems with them that I was afraid to really put weight on them or stay low or bend them much, and so couldn't play well until I inadvertently discovered they were mostly healed. We'll see how they are in my sessions today - I have three hours scheduled, but due to the heavy sleet predicted, they might all get canceled. (Today and tomorrow's weather here in Maryland are supposed to be pretty nasty.)

USATT Editors

As noted in yesterday's blog, the minutes of the USATT Board Meeting in October say that USATT is strongly considering moving the magazine to USATT headquarters. Here are motions #5 and #6:

MOTION 5:
MOVED that the USATT explore the possibility of producing its magazine in house as part of its budget cycle this year.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract provide for an editor’s salary that is a significant part of USATT’s marketing budget. Rather than having an independent magazine editor, USATT’s marketing staff can produce the magazine in house, integrating it with the USATT website, Internet and digital outlets.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

MOTION 6:
MOVED that the current USATT magazine editor’s contract not be renewed without the Board’s approval.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract either can be renewed this year or allowed to expire. The last 2013 issue of the magazine is almost completed. The first issue of 2014 may be completed soon. While there will be overlap between transferring of magazine publication to the marketing staff from the current editor, the editor’s contract should not be renewed without the Board’s express approval.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

A little history lesson: USATT tried this once before, and it was an utter disaster. They seem to think editing a magazine is just something anyone can do, so yeah, let's have some marketing person do the magazine. And while he's at it he can do the accounting, coach our national team, and do the occasional brain surgery, perhaps on those who truly don't see the problem here.

Here's a listing of USATT Magazine editors since 1970. Since 1989 we've had 17 editors (some had more than one tenure). I did 71 issues (in two tenures), and Steve & Marie Hopkins have done 39 since May/June 2007. The other 15 editors (all working out of USATT headquarters) did 41 issues, an average of 2.7 issues per editor before getting fired or resigning. Why were there so many editors? Those of us who remember those years remember the poor quality of the magazines because they were not being done by professionals; they were put together at USATT headquarters by marketing type people with little editorial and zero table tennis experience, who USATT hired to save money. The great in-house experiment was a failure over and over, and only continued through so many editors because the people in charge had spent so much time talking about the "huge" money savings by moving it to headquarters and having these inexperienced interns (translation: low salary) do it that they couldn't admit their mistake, and so we all paid for it.

And the huge irony of it was that not only did USATT end up with poorly-done magazine (which led to a lot of board members getting voted out of office), but they ended up losing a lot of money because the advertisers fled, not wanting to be associated with such a weak magazine, and knowing that people wouldn't read their ads if they don't read the magazine. When I was editor I broke every advertising record, and when these "marketing" people did the magazine, they lost a fortune for USATT. (When I was hired the first time as editor, the record for annual advertising was $14,000; I got it up to $33,000. When I was hired the second time, revenue had dropped back again below the $30,000 mark; this time I got it up to something like $80,000/year. I didn't do this by being a salesman, but by putting together a timely and classy product that advertisers liked and that people would read, so they'd see the ads.)

What are the chances that USATT will find someone with the editorial and table tennis experience necessary to do a competent magazine, who lives locally to Colorado Springs or is willing to relocate for such a low-paying job? We learned all about the odds the last 15 times we tried this.

The simple reality is that in this day and age, we have this thing called the "Internet," and it allows people from anywhere in the world to work on such things as a magazine as if they were in the next room. You don't need to restrict your candidates for the job to those who happen to live nearby. And you can't expect to find someone who's competent in one field by hiring someone from another field. How many times do we need to relearn this lesson?

Here we go again (maybe). Cliche alert: "People who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fan Zhendong?

Here's the article about the Chinese 16-year-old phenom.

"...The World's Best, Zhang Jike"

This is according to Fan Zhendong. Here's the article. (There are links to several videos.)

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Singapore

Here are photos of the recent ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course in Singapore, taught by USA's Richard McAfee. (Click on pictures to see next one.)

Breathtaking Table Tennis

Here's a highlights video (7:45) I don't think I've posted before. It's set to music, with much of it in slow motion.

Curvy Pong?

Here's the picture!

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November 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Three Reasons Players Miss Against Deep Sidespin and Topspin Serves.

Seamless Plastic Ball

I recently ordered three of the new Palio seamless plastic poly balls that the ITTF has ordained shall replace celluloid balls in July of 2014. I ordered them from Eacheng.net, and they came in on Friday. I brought them to the club and about ten different players tried them out, mostly top players.

The consensus was pretty much the same as others have said. Hopefully the ITTF will work to fix these problems, even if it means delaying the change. Here's what we found out.

  1. Though I ordered them from Europe, they are made in China, and come in Chinese packaging.
  2. For unknown reasons, the balls are closer to 41mm than 40mm. Why didn't they keep them the same size? I can't measure them accurately but holding them side-by-side makes the size difference obvious. Because of this they also appear to be heavier.
  3. They are harder than celluloid balls. The contrast is obvious when you press your finger into one and then into a celluloid ball.
  4. They are faster than celluloid balls. We dropped them and a celluloid ball from about three feet up over and over, and every time the new balls bounced nearly an inch higher.
  5. They sound cracked when you hit with them.
  6. They are harder to spin. This might simply be due to the larger size and weight. One player thought this would favor hitters. I have a feeling it might simply favor bigger, stronger loopers, just as going from 38mm to 40mm did while pretty much killing the hitting game at the higher levels.
  7. Most players didn't like them, but enjoyed playing with something different. One 2300 player thought players would have no problem adjusting, but most didn't think they'd be accepted because of the cracking sound and the difficulty in spinning them - though that could be fixed by simply making them 40mm. I think players would adapt to the lower spin, but that cracked sound is not so good.
  8. According to John Olsen (who hit with earlier versions at a Stellan Bengtsson camp, they are better than the earlier versions.

Knees Problems

I've been having knee problems for several weeks. Right now they don't really hurt, but I feel like I'm playing on a slippery floor every time I try to move, even though I'm playing on grippy rubberized red flooring. I feel like I'm just tottering about. Even simple moves like stepping to the left or right to block or stepping in for a short serve to the forehand leave me slightly off balance. Trying to move to attack with my forehand (which is central to my game) is turning into a distant memory, and I mostly just wave at balls to my wide forehand. Again, it's as if I'm playing on a slippery floor. For the first time in decades (except when playing on slippery floors) I don't have that feeling that, no matter what's happening, I can turn it on at any time. I have no idea when or if the knees are going to get better. It's not too bad when I hit with beginning players or feel multiball, but when I hit with stronger players it's a serious problem.

I haven't seen a doctor, since I figure what's the point - they'll just say to rest them. Am I missing something?

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

My novel "Sorcerers in Space" came out on Friday. It's a humorous fantasy that spoofs the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s - sort of Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. You can buy it directly from Class Act Books in four formats: Print, PDF, ePUB, or MobiPocket. (For some reason it's listed on the Class Act Books pages as "Sorcerers in Space PDF," which makes it appear that the only format they have is the PDF version. I've pointed this out to the publisher, but she didn't seem to know how to change this.)

It's also sold at Amazon in Kindle format, and a print version will be sold there sometime soon. (It was supposed to be up already, but I'm told it might be a few more days or longer.) It's my first novel, though I also have Pings and Pongs, an anthology of my best sold short stories, along with five books on table tennis.

Table tennis or ping-pong is mentioned in eleven different scenes. In the novel the hero, 13-year-old Neil, has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world. Here's a short description of the novel:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face first can lob spells down and have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, the god Apollo, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?

Receive Secrets from Japan - the Banana Flip

Here's the article: Service Receive Secrets From Japan. The key point is that you should be aware of the axis of rotation on a spin serve, and either contact the ball on the axis (so the spin doesn't take on your racket much) or use the spin. In Japan, they apparently call the banana flip the "Tikita" or "Chiquita" flip.

German Open Men's Final

Here's video (9:52, with time between points removed) China's 16-year-old whiz kid Fan Zhendong defeating Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the Men's Singles Final at the German Open this past weekend. Here's video (8:40) of Fan defeating Vladimir Samsonov in the semifinals. The week before at the Polish Open Fan became the youngest ever Men's Singles Champion at a Pro Tour event, so this week, one week older, he became the second youngest as well? Meanwhile, here's video of a great point in the semifinals (39 sec) between Ovtcharov and Timo Boll. Here's another nice point where Samsonov does an around-the-net return against Sweden's Kristian Karlsson in the round of 64.

Fan Zhendong Training

Here's a video (7:40) of a Chinese news show that features Fan in training. It's in Chinese, but it's still interesting to watch.  

Cape Fear 4-Table Open

Here's video (3:10) of Richard Perez capturing the first 4-table Open Championship with a comeback against Greg Robertshaw.

Monsters Playing Table Tennis

  • Phantomness of the Opera. Click on the picture and see four other interesting pictures. (Picture two: three balls in play. Older man with blue shirt in two pictures is Scott's father.)
  • Scream (video, 59 sec). I like his backhand counter-hitting.

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November 12, 2013

Tip of the Week

Pushing Short.

Potomac Open

Here are the basic Potomac Open results, held here in Maryland this past weekend. Winning the tournament (for the third straight time) was chopper/looper Wang Qing Liang, rated 2545 (but who spent most of last year over 2600), over Chen Bowen, rated 2509. Chen had upset Wang the last two times they had played, and looked to win for the third straight time here - he led 8-2 in the seventh! Then something happened. Chen had a match point at 10-9, but to no avail as Wang came back with a 10-2 run to win 12-10 in the seventh.

In the semifinals Wang defeated another local player/coach, Steve Dong, under-rated at 2370. Dong won the first two games, but then Wang's forehand caught fire and he played about half chopping, half ripping everything (seemingly never missing) the rest of the way in winning the next four.

Local player/coach Zhang Jake (only one letter away from the World Champion!) also made the semifinals of the Open (losing in seven games to Chen Bowen). He's about 2450, maybe 2500. But he also won Under 2300, and was in the final of Under 2150. (He's listed as second in Under 2150, but I'm guessing he defaulted or split the final - too tired from all his other matches.) What was his rating coming into the tournament? 2088!!!

How did this happen? He'd played in the recent JOOLA Virginia Open, his first tournament, and went 7-0. Here are his results at the tournament. Though he did lose an 11-9 game to a 1947 player (after winning the first two games), there simply isn't enough info in these results to give an accurate rating, hence the 2088 rating, which was about 400 points off.

Here are some videos from the tournament, care of "Bogeyhunter" (Sutanit Tangyingyong, himself a quarterfinalist in the Open).

Doubles Multiball

Here's a video (2:27) of Coach Roger Yuen feeding multiball to Ariel Hsing and Shirley Fu at Princeton University TTC. (Note the collision 18 seconds in!)

Receive Tips from Pierre-Luc Hinse

Here's a video (6:26) of North American Champion Hinse giving tips on returning serves.

New Full-time Clubs

There's still another full-time club in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Pleasanton Table Tennis Club. This makes approximately one million clubs in that general area. (Side note - full-time clubs are also popping up here in Maryland. Last month the Howard Country Table Tennis Club opened. Another one is opening later this month in northern Gaithersburg, just a few miles from the Maryland Table Tennis Center, making five full-time clubs with 40 minutes of MDTTC.)

Table Tennis Good for Seniors

Here's the article in the Chicago Tribune. "Belsky, 54, a former mayor of Highland Park, recently engaged in a non-stop, hour-long workout with ranked table tennis professional Lukasz Fita, 35, at Deer Creek Courts, until he was soaked with sweat but still matching monster serves and slams from nearly 20 feet behind the table."

Around the Net Shot by Fan Zhendong

Here's video (46 sec, including slow motion replay) of Fan making the shot of the day at the Polish Open this past weekend, where the 16-year-old from China became the youngest player ever to win Men's Singles at an ITTF Pro Tour Event.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Here's a video (3:39) of Soo Yeon Lee coaching the Kardashians. Now all we have to do is get Honey Boo Boo to play table tennis and the world will be complete!

Cat Gives High Five

Here's a repeating gif image of a player smacking in a forehand and then getting a high-five from his cat!

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October 4, 2013

MyTableTennis.com

Over the last few days I've joined in discussions at the MyTableTennis.com forum. I've been in several threads, but the one I was most interested in was one titled "How should I coach someone in a match." I have a lot of experience there, so I posted some notes there, starting on page 5. (For a time the thread was basically hijacked by someone who put a "Hex" on it, but that person has since been banned, both for those postings and numerous postings in other threads.) Below are three postings I put up. Much of the discussion is on whether you should coach technique in a tournament match - which I consider a very bad idea, as my postings explain.

To learn to win close matches means playing lots of close and/or important matches where you develop the habit of tactically using all of your tools to win. To do so takes certain mental skills that can only be practiced at such times. So it's a highly effective time to develop tactical and mental skills, and not a very effective time to develop or fix technique. Some technique problems can be overcome indirectly in the course of a match - I gave examples in my Tip of the Week ("Mid-Match Technique Adjustments"), which was linked to above - but mental and tactical skills are what need to be emphasized in such matches. Hopefully you have far more time at the practice hall to work on the mechanical skills (i.e. technique) - and it is in important matches where you often find out what techniques you need to work on. 

(Addendum: much of this posting is about not worrying about technique in matches. However, you do want to focus on using the shots that you want to develop. If you are a looper, for example, you should generally try to win mostly by looping, not by pushing.) 

-Larry Hodges

Shortly after the above I posted a note about a pertinent Tip of the Week I'd recently done, "Real Tactics versus Parroting Tactics." Later, it was pointed out that there was one person arguing that you should coach technique in a match, while everyone else pretty much disagreed. Below is my response.

I would essentially never coach technique in a match, so I'm in the second category with most everyone else [about never coaching technique when coaching a tournament match]. However, there's a subcategory of the second version. The large majority of the time when coaching in a tournament I coach the player to win. But there are occasional times where you might coach a player to win a certain way. This is not coaching technique; this is coaching playing style. 

For example, I was coaching a kid named Tong Tong Gong (age 13) at the North American Teams a few years ago against Allen Wang. Tong Tong was about 2150 at the time, with a very good backhand and a quick but erratic forehand loop. Allen was about 2200, a pure two-winged looper from mid-distance, and about a foot taller. I believe Tong Tong was up 2-1 in games but lost the fourth game when he got into too many counterlooping duels with Allen, and Allen was a better counterlooper. I was all set to coach Tong Tong to stay at the table, and block and pick loop winners. Before I could say anything, Tong Tong said, "I can beat him counterlooping." It sort of floored me since he thought he could beat Allen at his own game. But I recovered, and made a snap decision to go with it. So I told him how best to win those counterlooping duels - get Allen off the table on the wide forehand, then counterloop off the bounce to the backhand; get the first attack so Allen has to go for the first difficult counterloop; etc. The whole game plan was on winning with counterlooping rather than just winning, which I thought he could do if he stayed right at the table. Anyway, Tong Tong won the match deuce in the fifth, counterlooping like a maniac. He might have won staying right at the table, but by doing it by counterlooping, he gained great confidence in that shot which would pay off later. One month later he'd pull off five upsets at the Nationals to make the National Cadet Team. (I coached all those matches, and they were ALL played strictly to win.) 

There have been a few other cases where I've coached a player to focus on playing the way he was developing as a player, such as looping when he might have won by pushing and blocking. But when I do so, I usually let the player know his options, and let him choose, and they choose both ways. It's good to develop the habit of trying to win with the shots you are developing. But these cases are infrequent; usually you coach to win, period, and usually that means using the shots the player is training to use. 

-Larry Hodges

After I posted this, someone posted the following:

larry, doesn't coaching about playing style involves technique also? i think i would rather coach about adaptation and it involves technique. as long as it it not too complicated and too long to execute just to win a point, there is nothing wrong with coaching technique. also, would you agree with me if for example in a match a player needs to adjust the angle of his bat to compensate for the incoming spin either against a heavy underspin or very light underspin, if you see your player commit errors against this wouldn't it better if you just told me him to compensate bat angle? IMHO, technique is important to coach as long as the player can adjust to it. also, not every player has a mental fortitude problem. i would rather coach the player as what is needed to be coached. i'm just confused where to draw the line between coaching technique and coaching playing style because both obviously involves technique to some point basing on your statement. 

And here's my response:

Coaching playing style and coaching technique are two different things, at least the way I define them. So is telling a player to adjust his racket, which isn't really technique. 

If the player I'm coaching isn't looping enough, I would likely tell him to loop more, and give tactics to help set it up. But if his looping technique were off, there's not much you can do in the match, with occasional exceptions. The technique is done subconsciously, and it's not likely you can change that in the short course of a match. You can do a lot more by scheduling a practice session afterwards where you can focus on fixing the problem. 

You can remind someone in the middle of a match to, say, adjust their racket angle against incoming spin, but that rarely makes a big difference. When someone loops at you, your subconscious sets the racket angle reflexively. If you try to do it consciously, you're not going to do well. However, the subconscious is constantly making adjustments, and will normally adjust by closing the racket regardless of whether a coach tells the player to do so. (Though of course the coach might take credit afterwards for it, even though the player's subconscious was already working on the problem!) It's usually better to use various workarounds, such as one I posted about earlier. Instead of telling them to close the racket against a spinny loop that they keep blocking off, tell them to block more aggressively. Then the spin will take on it less. Adjusting the racket angle to incoming heavy topspin that you are not used to is tricky to do, but blocking more aggressively is much simpler. The player might still have to close the racket more, but it's a less drastic change, and the subconscious can adjust quicker, and then the player can play free, i.e. let the subconscious take over. 

Here's an easy test I've done many times. When I coach a complete beginner if I give him a heavy backspin serve, he goes right into the net. However, it doesn't take long for him to learn to open his racket to return it. But that's because I'm giving it to him over and over, and so he can consciously open the racket. If I then start varying the serves, and come back to the heavy backspin serve every third serve or so, even if I make it obvious that it's a backspin serve (and make it obvious the others are not), the player can no longer react consciously, and goes right back into the net again, over and over. It takes some training to learn to react properly in a game situation, where you don't know what's coming until the ball's coming at you and you have little time to react consciously. That's why telling a player to adjust his racket angle during a match usually won't work because his conscious mind isn't what's setting the angle in the match. (But as noted, the player's subconscious is already making adjustments, and perhaps might make the adjustment before the match is over.) An exception might be if the opponent is, say, giving the same serve every single time (say a heavy backspin serve), in which case you can tell your player to open his racket - and hope the opponent doesn't start changing his serve. 

-Larry Hodges

The Speed of Fan Zhendong

Here's the video (34 sec) of the Chinese 16-year-old, already #10 in the world. He's doing a random footwork drill with a coach feeding multiball. The key to his speed? Much of it comes from his balance. He's balanced even in his follow-throughs, and that is key to his being almost instantly ready for the next shot. His head remains almost still during his shots, even on the forehand. His feet are wide and parallel to the table, allowing great stability and quick transition from forehand to backhand and back.  

Coach Wanted in Northern California

Established Club in northern California is accepting applications for a full time coaching position. Compensation is 30-60K depending on level and experience. The ideal candidate plays at a level of 2500 or higher, has multiple years coaching experience, and speaks English. Mandarin and Cantonese are a plus. Less coaching experience will be accepted from those who currently play at a very high level. You must be able to document your playing and coaching history. Match video is helpful. For more information send your resume to norcalttclub@yahoo.com.

Improve Your Serve

Here's the new article and video (1:28) from Killerspin.

Phil Mickelson Hires TT Coach

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation - who is the mystery coach? Mickelson resides in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Any guesses? Or will the mystery coach please stand up?

The Ultimate Trick Shot

Here's a hilarious video (3:18) that shows the tribulations of two players apparently attempting to create a video for the ITTF Trickshot competition, and failing miserably - until something happens at the very end.

Non-Table Tennis: Sheeba and Bacon

I'm told that if one puts up a picture of a cat eating bacon, you'll triple your hits. Well, I don't have a cat, but I do have Sheeba, a corgi mix I got at a shelter 12 years ago. She'll be 16 in February, but still loves her bacon snacks. Here's a picture of her desperately trying to get that yummy bacon at the bottom of a large bacon snack jar. Yeah, I torture her this way - but she did get it! (Here's a head shot.)

Yesterday I did a scientific experiment.
Hypothesis: Dogs don't need their eyes to find food.
Methodology: I blindfolded Sheeba (she went along willingly), then waved a bacon treat under her nose.
Result: She snapped it up instantly.
Conclusion: Hypothesis proven correct. Also, dogs apparently love bacon, but this will require further testing.

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March 7, 2013

Biggest Things Happening in Table Tennis

Here are the biggest things happening in U.S. table tennis right now. (I'm toying with putting in sandpaper table tennis, with all the new money events they are offering. I may feature them in an upcoming blog.)

  • The rise of full-time training centers. They are all over the place now. Ten years ago there were about ten. Now there are well over fifty, with more popping up regularly. The result is by far the strongest group of cadet players in our history. The depth of the competition these days is just mind-boggling. Now if we can just get them to continue training when they reach college age....
  • Influx of top Chinese players and coaches. This dramatically raises the level of play in the U.S., as our up-and-coming players get coaching, practice, and compete with these top players and coaches. My club, MDTTC, has Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun (currently out of the country, but returning full-time in June), Wang Qing Liang, Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), and our two newest, Chen Jie ("James") and Zhang Liang Bojun ("Brian"). This list doesn't include local Chinese players, only ones who came from China to coach and be practice partners at MDTTC. Clubs in New York, California, and other regions similarly rely on these Chinese coaches and players, and is one of the driving forces for the rise of full-time training centers.
  • Spin NY, LA, Milwaukee, Toronto. These bring a lot of publicity to the sport. By themselves, I don't think they'll make the sport big, but by keeping us on the media radar, they could help a lot when the time comes.
  • Strong team leagues in the SF, LA, and NY regions. This is long-term, since it'll take time for this type of thing to grow and expand in each region, as it did in Europe. MDTTC takes part in the NY league, and of course runs its own singles leagues. We plan a new junior team league starting this fall.
  • Publication of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. Duh!!!

Book Signing

Reminder! Tomorrow (Friday) at 7PM I will be doing a book signing at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, in Germantown, MD, USA. I will be selling and signing four of my books - hope to see you there! All books will cost $15, with a Special - buy the Tactics book, get a copy of the Tales & Techniques book for only $5! Here's the info flyer. Below are the books - later I hope to go back to selling Steps to Success and Tales & Techniques online.

Table Tennis part of 2014 Youth Olympics

Here's the article. The event will be held in Nanjing, China, Aug. 17-28, 2014.

Wang Hao vs Fan Zhendong

Here's a video (4:44) of these two at the Chinese World Team Trials, with time between points removed.

Judah Friedlander on a Ping-Pong Paddle and NBC Sports

Here he is, Judah Friedlander (from 30 Rock and stand-up comedian), looking like he's just faced one of Ma Lin's ghost serves. The other paddle shown, "How to Beat Up Anybody," comes from Judah's book. And here's Judah on NBC Sports (2:34) giving a table tennis lesson to anchors Michelle Beadle and Dave Briggs. Since I've given Judah several lessons, that sort of puts me on NBC Sports, right?

Table Tennis Meme

Here's a great table tennis meme: "What society thinks I do ... What my friends think I do ... What Asians think I do ... What Americans think I do ... What I think I do ... What I really do."

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List

My article entitled "Top Ten Reasons Brian Roberts Will Have a Monster Season" was the cover story at Orioles Hangout for much of the last two days. Here's the direct link.

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