USATT High Performance Committee

April 16, 2014

Spring Break Camp - TV, Backhands, and Shoot the Moon

Yesterday was day two of our Spring Break Camp. The highlight was Channel 5 News coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and the MDTTC. They filmed lots of Crystal and other players, and did interviews with Crystal, Coach Jack Huang, and me. I think the feature of my interview was when he asked about Crystal's goals for making the Olympics. I explained how making the 2016 Olympic Team was first priority, but that she'd be only 18 for the 2020 Olympics - and that was where the goal would be to medal, perhaps gold medal. Then I pointed out that we'll know she's made it when the Chinese coaches start studying her on video, and develop a practice partner who mimics her game so they can practice against her! Yes, that's what the Chinese do, and you haven't really made it in table tennis until you have a Chinese doppelganger who studies you on video and copies for other players to train against.

After some time reviewing the forehand, spent a lot of time yesterday on the backhand. The beginning players mostly seemed to pick this up quicker than the forehand - perhaps they're getting used to learning new TT stuff. However, several are having trouble with their serves. That's going to be a focus today. I'm also going to introduce pushing.

Our Monopoly set was discovered during our two-hour lunch break, and that'll be in continuous use the rest of the camp. However, the real obsession this camp is the Shoot the Moon game I brought in. It's in continuous use during breaks, with the kids taking turns, usually getting three turns each before the next one gets it. One kid, about ten, has been at it continuously since he got here, including non-stop practice while many of us went to 7-11, and has become the champion, several times getting "Pluto" ten times in a row. (You can't see it from the picture, but Pluto is the highest score possible. The goal is to pull the two rods apart so the heavy metal ball rolls toward the player, who drops it in one of the holes, the higher the better.)

However, none can challenge the true champion - me! When I was also about ten I had this game, and I also became obsessed with it. I practiced it day after day, and kept careful track of my results. This went on for weeks. I finally stopped when it became just too easy - I had several stretches where I'd get Pluto hundreds of times in a row. I finally put it aside and didn't play for about 44 years - then I picked up a set a few weeks ago, and discovered I could still do it. I mostly let the kids use it non-stop, but now and then I stop by and get Pluto a bunch of times in a row, which only makes them more determined.

Adam Bobrow - the Voice of Table Tennis!

The ITTF has made the final decision - and USA's Adam Bobrow is the Next Voice of Table Tennis! Here's their Facebook announcement. Here's video of Adam's contest entry (9:40), where he does commentary on a match at the Qatar Open between China's Xu Xin (then world #4, but now #1) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (then ranked #44, but now #20). I blogged about the ITTF contest last Wednesday. (There's no article on this yet on the ITTF News page, though I expect one later today.) Here's the ITTF's original announcement of the contest, the announcement of the Finalists, and USATT's reposting of that with pictures of Barbara and Adam. (They are both from the U.S., with David Wetherill of Great Britain the third finalist.)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here is the High Performance Report for March, 2014, by Chair Carl Danner. You can read previous ones and reports from other USATT Committees at the USATT Reports page.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC Schools

Here's the article! (I blogged about this briefly yesterday, but now we get the details.)

Expert in a Year

Coach Ben Larcombe from England has been on a one-year project to see if he can turn a beginning adult player (Sam Priestley, age 24) into an "expert" in one year. He even has a web page where he explains and chronicles the adventure, and where you can sign up for regular updates. Here's an article on the project.

Krish Avvari Gets Last Youth Olympics Spot

Here's the story, and here's the ITTF video interview with him (1:40).

Interview with Lily Yip

Here's the ITTF video interview (3:40) with USA coach Lily Yip during the recent Canadian Junior Open.

Amazing Around-the-Net Backhand in the Russian League

Here's the video (46 sec, including slow-motion replay).

Tina Lin - Age Nine

Here's the video (3:43) of junior star Tina Lin, which introduces her at age nine and other ages.

Lily Zhang and her Prom Date

Here's the picture. "Not everyone can say they've gone to the prom with an Olympian! Thanks for a great night!" Lily was on the 2012 Olympic Team and was the 2012 USA Women's Singles Champion.

Ping Pong Animation Episode One

Here's the video (23 min). I haven't had a chance to watch it yet - too busy with spring break camp and other coaching - but if someone wants to do a short review, please comment below. I did browse through it and there's lots of table tennis action, all animated, apparently in a training environment.

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December 3, 2013

Tip of the Week

Use a Wider Stance.

North American Teams

It was a LOOOOONG weekend of playing (for 858 players and 213 teams) and coaching (for me and many others). I’m still recovering!!!

Here are the results. This should take you to the Summary page. You can use the second dropdown menu to see more detailed results of the Preliminaries on Friday and Division play on Saturday and Sunday.

I was primarily coaching Derek Nie, though I also coached seven other players at various times, including Derek’s teammates (Crystal Wang, Chen Jie, and Tony Qu). I can’t really discuss most of the coaching itself since they will likely play these players again. But there’s still a bunch of stuff I can write about. None of it is about the players in Division One (i.e. the Championships Division) since Derek’s team was in Division Two, where the average rating was a little over 2300 or so. I was so busy coaching that I never saw a single Divisions One match.

Derek had a strange tournament. He started out Friday by beating a 2300 player in five games, after being down 0-2. But then he lost five consecutive five-gamers over Fri & Sat, against players ranging from about 2280 to 2490. But on Sunday he was 2-0 in five-gamers against a pair of 2300+ players.

I called an interesting timeout in one of his matches, one which might have been a head-scratcher to observers. Derek had lost the first game badly, and was down 4-8 in the second and about to serve. (I generally like to call timeouts when my player is serving so we can discuss what serve to use while not letting the opposing coach tell the opponent what serve to use, and so didn’t call one at 4-6. Alas the opponent won both points on his serve.) Normally a timeout then is kind of a waste – he’s probably going to lose that game, so it’s better to save the timeout for later, right? The problem is I saw two ways of playing this player, and didn’t want to have Derek have to experiment at the start of the third game when he’d already be down 0-2. So I called the timeout so Derek could try out one of the new strategies. The timeout also had value in that if the new strategy worked, he might actually win the game before the opponent adjusted. If the strategy worked, then we’d not only have it ready for the next game, but it would give Derek confidence even if he lost the second game because of the 4-8 deficit. As it turned out, the strategy worked, and Derek quickly won two points. But the opponent played well and managed to win that game (I think at deuce). In the third, the new strategy almost paid off, but the opponent won 11-9.

I saw two of the strangest shots in two of his matches. There was a point where Derek got a net-edge off to the right, with the ball hitting the side edge near the net and jumping sideways. The opponent lunged for the shot, but completely mis-hit it off the edge of his racket – and the ball went around the net at table level, and just rolled unreturnably across the table. In his very next match, no more than ten minutes later, Derek mis-hit a ball that popped up, hit the top of the net, bounced up a foot, then dropped right back on the net again and rolled over for an unreturnable winner.

I also was able to watch and coach a few matches of “Larry’s Loopers,” which was named after me! Two of the players, Sameer Shaikh and Matt Stepanov (both 12), are students of mine, and they were teamed with Darwin Ma (13, who chops and loops, and only lost two matches on Sat & Sun). All three had great tournaments as they won Division 12, going 7-0 in their side of the Division, and then barely edging out TeamRacket (Ryan Dabbs, Patrick Chen, Spencer Chen, Michael Li, and Ronald Chen) 5-4 in an all-MDTTC junior final. John Hsu coached most of their matches. Here’s a picture of the three with their trophies (L-R Matt, Darwin, Sameer). Here’s another picture that includes John Hsu and me – as I indicate with my arms, what’s going on here? Here’s a picture of TeamRacket.

The final of Division 12 was one of the craziest and most entertaining I’ve ever seen. Since it was between MDTTC players, all kids ages 10-13 or so, the coaches and parents only watched while the kids coached themselves. It was great watching them as the players on both teams coached each other between games. I’ve learned that while kids sometimes aren’t tactically aware while at the table, they are surprisingly aware when watching, and can pick out what is and isn’t working. I could see their tactics change after each of these coaching consultations between games and timeouts, and almost always for the better.

In the first match, Sameer was down 0-2, then he was up 10-5 match point in the fifth – but lost six straight! The killer was at 10-9, when he absolutely ripped what should have been a winner, but somehow it came back, an unreturnable block. Down match point twice, he managed to win, I think 14-12 in the fifth! In another match, Darwin lost the first two games and was down 3-7 in the third. He’d been playing almost completely defensively. After a timeout, he went back and attacked, and won that game 11-8 (an 8-1 run), and the fourth. In the fifth he went back to pure defense, both chopping and lobbing, and was down 9-10 match point – but pulled it out, deuce in the fifth! In another match, Matt lost the first game and was down 7-10 in the next two games – but won both of them and the fourth game to win the match! In the end, Larry’s Loopers edged out TeamRacket, 5-4. Congrats to both teams!

USATT Pins Program

Here’s the new USATT Pins page. Make sure to click on “Eligibility Rules” and “USATT Merit Pins” so you can read about the program. I’ll likely blog about this sometime soon. Here’s their promo: “You’ve worked hard to get where you are. All these hours of practice, all the hard-fought matches – Let everyone know how far you’ve made it!” (I think it’s a great idea – but one thing that leaps out to me: the pins are color coded for each rating level. Wouldn’t it be better if they gave the rating number for each rating level attained, since that’s the whole point of it?)

Two Surprising Ways Your Brain Stops You from Winning

Here’s the article, which talks about lacking “skill experience,” and about how the brain sabotages you when you’re on the brink of victory. (I’m quoted in the article, including a link to “Larry’s Six-Month Law.”)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here’s the report for Aug-Oct, from HPC Chair Carl Danner.

ITTF Training Camp at Lily Yip Center

Here’s the ITTF Article on the camp, held Nov. 23-28.

World Junior Championships

Here’s a write-up of it so far by Bruce Liu. Here’s the official website with results, articles, pictures, and videos. The event is taking place in Rabat, Morocco, Dec. 1-8. USA players are Kunal Chodri, Kanak Jha, Allen Wang, Theodore Tran, Ariel Hsing, Erica Wu, Prachi Jha, and Tina Lin.

The Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here’s the article. Sections include: Great physical exercise yet gentle on the body; Improved reflexes, balance, and coordination; Table tennis is the world’s best brain sport; Social bonding and fun at any age or level; and Fight obesity.

Last World Junior Championships for Ariel Hsing

Here’s the ITTF article.

National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter

Here’s the November issue.

Interview with Ulf “Tickan” Carlsson

Here’s the ITTF video interview (13:58) with the former World Doubles and Team Champion, where he talks about his career, coaching, and talent identification.

Fan Zhendong Forehand Training

Here’s the video (1:55). Watch how he moves his feet.

Saive and the Pope

Here’s a picture of Belgium star Jean-Michel Saive shaking hands with Pope Francis in Vatican City.

Indians and Pilgrims Paddle

In honor of Thanksgiving last week, here’s a paddle that commemorates the first Thanksgiving. Hopefully this led to centuries of good will between these two peoples.

Xu Xin Between Legs Shot

Here’s the video (15 sec).

World’s Most Incredible Trick Shots

Here’s the video (4:05). It’s a compilation of all the trick shots from the ITTF Trick Shot Competition (plus a few failed attempts).

Action-Packed Blindfold Table Tennis!

This video is hilarious. It’s blindfold table tennis at its best, including under legs and behind-the-back shots, all in rapid sequence. The video repeats after about ten seconds or so. This is how table tennis should be played - and of course it’s all real!

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September 25, 2013

Examples of Saturation Coaching

My Tip of the Week on Monday was on Saturation Training, where a player focuses on developing one aspect of his game. I thought I'd give some examples of this.

Probably the most famous example was Istvan Jonyer. He made the Hungarian National Team in the early 1970s mostly by blocking. While on the team he developed his powerful forehand loop and became Hungarian National Champion. But he had a weak backhand, and couldn't really compete with the best players in the world. Then he spent six months up in a mountain training, where he did essentially nothing but backhand loop. When he finished, he had a great backhand loop - though other aspects of his game had deteriorated, and he had to practice them to get them back. About two years later he became the 1975 Men's World Champion, and was #1 in the world for two year and a dominant top ten (usually top five) player for over a decade.

Another example is Todd Sweeris, who just yesterday was selected as one of the two inductees this year into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame. (See my blog yesterday.) Todd made the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Teams - but through much of 1995 it didn't look like he had a chance. Only the top three U.S. players would make the team, and he couldn't even get games off the top three U.S. players: Jim Butler, David Zhuang, and Khoa Nguyen. He figured his best chance was against Khoa, and that the main thing he could really dominate in would be receive. (That was my suggestion!) So he spent nearly all of that year training overwhelmingly on receive, and with practice partners who copied Khoa. (Sorry Khoa!) He became one of the best serve returners in the country. The strategy worked as Todd beat Khoa 3-0 to make the team. (Fortunately Khoa would, after years of tribulations, make the Olympic team in 2004, and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.)

I've got three students right now where I'm using saturation training. Sameer, 12, has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays, and as a result uses too much arm when he forehand loops. So we're focusing on forehand loop in all our sessions, where he has to stay lower (for all shots), and use more lower body when he loops. Another is Matt, 12, who has a strong forehand but weaker backhand, and so we're focusing on backhand right now. Another is Jim, an older player with a strong backhand but awkward forehand, so we're focusing on that, often spending 30-40 minutes of our one-hour sessions on that.

I've used saturation training myself. I've never had a strong backhand attack, but I've always been steady. In the early 1980s, Dave Sakai (now a fellow Hall of Famer) was steady but didn't have a strong forehand attack. So we often drilled and Drilled and DRILLED with him forehand looping and hitting into my steady backhand, which made my backhand so steady that I could literally rally forever with it. That, combined with my strong forehand attack and serve & receive game, became central to my game. I've used saturation training with other aspects of my game as well. I even went through a one-year period (circa 1980) where I practiced my serves 30 minutes/day, seven days/week, and really developed them that way.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - Reviews

Haven't bought a copy yet? WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!!! Here's where you can buy a copy at Amazon. (You can also buy it from Paddle Palace.) Oh, you need some convincing?

Here's a really nice review of the book that just came out by Ben Larcombe of Expert Table Tennis. It's probably the most extensive review yet. He lists the seven most important key points he got from the book - a pretty nice summation - and gives a detailed explanation for each of them. He brings up such good examples of these points that I strongly recommend you read this - it's like an addendum to my book. 

There have been a number of other reviews. Here's one from Alex Polyakov (author of Breaking 2000 and The Next Step - see his webpage). There are 24 at amazon.com (twenty 5-star, four 4-star) and two more at Amazon UK (both 5-star). The reviews at amazon have headlines; here are the 23 headlines given, most recent first. (One person just put in his username, so I left that out.)

  1. Bible of Table Tennis
  2. My best table tennis purchase so far
  3. Excellent addition to table tennis library
  4. Definitely for thinkers
  5. A very good book covers a broad range of table tennis tactics
  6. Good book for someone transitioning from basement star to begin playing at higher levels
  7. Excellent Advice Lies Herein
  8. An outstanding book
  9. Very useful info
  10. Solid on many aspects of tactics and strategy
  11. Maybe the Best Table Tennis Book Ever Written
  12. A MUST for table tennis players who play club and tournaments
  13. Great Book from a Great Guy
  14. Playing smart
  15. For all skill levels
  16. Finally I can think!
  17. Very good book on under-covered subject
  18. Great for the developing (or established) player!
  19. A tremendous amount of info!
  20. Highly recommended!
  21. Hard to find sources on tactics other than Mr. Hodges
  22. Great Resource For Improving Your Table Tennis Results
  23. It Made Me Think!

Here are a few other quotes from notable table tennis coaches:

"Larry has done an excellent job in breaking down the skills needed by all players to improve in these areas. This book should be on every table tennis player’s mandatory reading list."
-Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach, ITTF Trainer, and USATT Coaching Chair, 2009-2013 

"Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a must read for any player serious about winning. This tactical Bible is right on the mark, and is exactly how I was taught to put together game-winning tactics and strategies."
-Sean O'Neill, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympian 

"Larry Hodges' book on table tennis tactics is the best I have ever seen on this subject. This is the first book that explains how to play against the many styles of the game."
-Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and long-time U.S. Men's Team Coach 

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here's the Report (PDF), by Chairperson Carl Danner, covering June and July.

Ping Pong While Playing Drums?

Here's the story and video (3:02) from Table Tennis Nation! A guy sets the "world record" for most consecutive table tennis hits against a wall while playing the drums.

Curvy, Mirrowy Table

Here's the picture! I think that based on the way the table is curved, balls will tend to bounce inward, and so it'll be easy to keep the ball in play - I think. Unless, of course, you are admiring your funhouse mirror image on the table.

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