2014 USA Team Trials

March 7, 2014

Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - On Sale! - and Other Books

I've spent much of the last few weeks putting Table Tennis Tales & Techniques into a new format. You can now buy it print on demand at Amazon.com, with the price lowered from its previous $17.95 retail to only $11.61. There are some minor wording changes, and the format is slightly larger (9"x6" instead of the previous 8.5"x5.5"). While the book originally came out in 2009, the articles - both stories about table tennis, essays on technique, coaching tips, and a lot of table tennis humor - are timeless. Or so says me, the author! Of course, while there, don't forget to buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers or my other books on sale at Amazon. (Alas, due to the way the book was original set up, it would be incredibly time-consuming to put the Tales & Technique book in an ebook format, so that's not planned for now.)

Note that I expect to have an updated version of Table Tennis: Steps to Success - tentatively retitled as Table Tennis Fundamentals - by the end of this year. The key thing is finding time to get new photos for all the techniques in the book - there are a LOT. I've tentatively settled on who will demo most of the shots, and have a nice camera I can borrow. Then I go through it and update everything. There's a lot of updating to do.

I'm also planning to use those photos for an update to Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, a manual I wrote for USATT many years ago that covers how to coach. This is different from the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers the professional side to coaching - how to recruit and keep students, set up coaching programs, maximize, income, and other issues needed to make a living as a professional coach. (But of great value even for part-time coaches or promoters who wish to set up junior development programs or other types of classes or coaching programs.) I've learned a lot in the years since I originally wrote this, so there'll be a lot of updating.

I'm currently working on two books. Soon I'll finalize Table Tennis Tips, which is a compilation of all my Tips of the Week into one book, with the Tips organized in logical fashion, with a few notes added. All of these books will eventually go on sale at Amazon in print on demand and probably ebook format.

I'm also working on a rewrite of Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates, a science fiction novel I wrote a few years ago. (Yep, that's what I do in my free time!) I have a publisher interested, but they requested a rather extensive rewrite of certain aspects of the book. The book features table tennis a number of times - one of the main protagonists is a professional table tennis player who defaults out of a major tournament to run the third-party campaign for president of earth in the year 2100. The publisher said the best scene in the book was the scene where the player mentioned above does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership in an attempt to get their political support, with an alien ambassador he's been coaching as his playing partner. What happens during this exhibition I can't say without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say things don't go well for either of our table tennis players when the world government intervenes.   

I have another novel already out, Sorcerers in Space, which you can buy at Amazon or a few dollars cheaper in various formats straight from the publisher, Class Act Books. That main protagonist there is also a table tennis player - a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong, though last name is never actually given], a sorcerer's apprentice, who has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world in the U.S.-Soviet space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts. I also have a collection of my best published short stories, Pings & Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges.

USA Team Trials

They start this morning. You can follow all the action here. I couldn't go, but last night after seeing the draws I emailed some tactical tips to some of the MDTTC players.

Crystal Watch

What do I tell kids about ratings? They aren't important, but they are fun when they go up. They are also used in rankings, and while winning events is more important, achieving a high ranking is a goal to achieve. And Crystal Wang keeps getting these high rankings!

After her latest tournament, where she won Under 2400 and made the semifinals of Open Singles at the MDTTC Open (beating players rated 2370, 2370, 2344, 2323, 2304, and 2257, while losing to players rated 2344 and 2565), she's up to 2395, good for #1 in U.S. girls in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. (She turned 12 one week ago.) She'd also be #1 boys under 13 and second in boys under 14 (after California's phenom Kanak Jha, who won't be 14 until June 19).  Surprisingly, the 2395 isn't Crystal's highest rating - she was 2402 after the North American Teams in November, as an 11-year-old.

What's the highest rating ever for a 12-year-old? That would be 2468, by Kanak a year ago, with Crystal's 2395 (or 2402?) easily the second highest. These two have been breaking every rating record for kids since they were nine years old. Kanak set the record for the highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old in U.S. history, with Crystal breaking those records for 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds. Crystal's top goals this year are winning major events and making U.S. teams, but it will be fun to watch her "pursuit" of that 2468 over the next year. I happen to know that Crystal doesn't care one twit about ratings, and is pretty much oblivious to them. She has higher goals, which is why she trains about a zillion hours a day, a zillion days a week.

She's at the U.S. Team Trials right now, probably the youngest trying out. She made the quarterfinals of Women's Singles at the Nationals and won Under 22 Women over Ariel Hsing, who would go on to win her third Women's Singles title. But apparently due to school conflicts, Ariel isn't trying out for the U.S. team this year. The top seed is Lily Zhang at 2522. Number two is Judy Hugh at 2397. If they use the ratings that came out last night for seeding then Crystal would be seeded #3, two points behind Judy.

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.

Coaching a Beginning Kid

Want to see how it's done? Here's a video (3:05) of a coach, who seems to know what he's doing, working with a new kid, about 9-10 years old. There's a wide variety of skill when players first start out. Some pick it up quickly, seem to have a feel for the ball and for hitting it properly. Others have almost no control over the ball or their own bodies. The latter are tricky to work with because they are unable to really do what you want them to do. But with patience, they pick it up. The kid in the video is doing pretty well if it's his first session. He probably needs to put his right foot slightly back (which some kids are resistant to do, while others way overdo it), turn his shoulders more (which becomes more natural with the right foot slightly back), and raise his left arm for balance. (The coach comes over at one point to stress the shoulder turn, and the kid does better after that.)

More Against Poly Balls

Here's an article by Australian player Greg Letts where he discusses and comes out against the upcoming change to poly plastic balls.

Coach Wanted in Northern California (USA)

Here's the help wanted note they put up:

Established Club in Northern California is accepting applications for a full time coach / sparring partner. Compensation is 24-36K depending on level and experience. Your title will be developmental coach and you will report to the head coach who will oversee the curriculum and assign your duties. You must be a team player who can work together with the other coaching staff and be passionate about developing young players. You should play at a high enough level to stretch our current juniors who are 2400 +. 

The ideal candidate plays at a level of 2500 or higher, has coaching experience, and speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

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.

2-2 Footwork Drill

Here's a video (1:44) of an advanced player doing the 2-2 drill - two forehands from the forehand side, two forehands from the backhand side. I haven't really done this drill much with my students - I may add it to my repertoire.

The Coaching Scam Continues

On Feb. 27 I wrote about a coaching scam that's taking advantage of U.S. coaches. The idiot doing this is back, once again sending a mass email to U.S. table tennis coaches. I received mine yesterday at 6:53PM. Soon after other coaches also reported getting it. The emails have several variations - strangely, he doesn't send out the exact email to everyone. Here's the one I got, typos and all:

Hi there,
How are you doing today? My wife and I are looking to hire a qualified Coach that can train our Son and his name is David and he is 14yrs old,What we want for him is a just a general brush-up with his trainaing and in any areas he might have difficulties with.If you are available and qualified,kindly get back to me with your rates and location hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Regards,
Mr. Derick Bentley

Here's another one sent to another coach:

Hi there,
I send you Compliments and greetings? Hope you having a great week?
Anyway I and my wife are looking to hire a  qualified coach for our child who is 14yrs old. What we wanted for our child is a just a general brush-up with training and in any areas our child might be have difficulties with. If you are available and qualified, kindly get back to me with your rates and your location and hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Have a nice day.
Regards,
Mr. Derick Bentley

I got tired of the idiot and responded with this:

How long are you going to do this scam? Every email you send to U.S. coaches is being turned over to the FBI. We know the scam - you insist on paying in advance, you overpay, and then you ask for a refund. The coach sends you the difference, then your fake check bounces. Oh, and then you go to jail.
-Larry

Only Sort-of-Table-Tennis-Related Tongue-Twister

Yesterday at the club I heard one of the kids mention something about his backpack. It got me thinking - what if you say it backwards, packback? Better still say it both ways: "Backpack Packback"? Then I realized how hard it is to say that, and I realized I'd invented the most difficult tongue-twister ever developed. (That's my position and I'm sticking with it.) So I challenged the kids to say it five times fast, and pretty soon the room was full with the attempts. I don't think anyone was successful unless they slowed down dramatically. Try it - just say "Backpack Packback" five times fast, and do so without reading it off the page (which seems to make it easier). If you can do that, you have outdone the MDTTC juniors. (Disclaimer - our top four juniors weren't there, with three of them off to the U.S. Team Trials. So you are only up against the MDTTC Junior "B" Team!)

Sic 'em!

Here's a picture of someone holding back the table tennis dog that we're going to sic on that table tennis scammer above. 

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January 6, 2014

Tip of the Week

Three Parts to a Swing.

New Seamless Plastic Poly Balls

I blogged about these on Dec. 26 (see second segment). There's been a lot of discussion online of these non-celluloid balls and how they'd change our sport. Here's my take.

First, a caveat. When I tested the newest poly ball at the Nationals, I was having arm problems at the time and so couldn't loop at full power, so perhaps my judgment on that is suspect. On the other hand, the top juniors who tried the ball out (four of them, all around 2300) thought it played pretty much the same as a regular ball. I wish I had a copy of the ball now so I could try it out again (with my arm mostly okay), along with others at my club. 

At least one other person has tested the ball and posted he believes the ball (even the newest version) has less spin and speed. I'm suspicious that it's substantially different. I know the ball was the same size as a Nittaku, and had the same speed when I bounced them side by side, and seemed substantially the same when I hit with it, including the same weight, grippiness, etc. Serious question: what physical property would cause it to have less spin, and in particular, substantially less spin? Comments are welcome below.  

But let's assume that the new ball does have less speed and spin, as some think. This might be true if, for example, the ball were bigger. (Though the slightly bigger ball I tested previously was actually faster than the current ball, though less spinny.)

If there is less spin with the new ball, I'm pretty sure that'll hurt choppers, even if the ball were slower. Choppers need spin to work with to mess up attackers, so even if they are more consistent with a slower ball, they would be less effective overall. (It'd sort of be like sandpaper matches, where it's easy to chop over and over, but hard to win points that way against the best sandpaper attackers.) However, if the ball were slower, that should help topspin defenders (fishers and lobbers). 

As to hitters, going from 38mm to 40mm balls hurt hitters, and going to a ball with even less speed would do the same - less ball speed gives loopers more time to loop, and hitters (and aggressive blockers) rely on rushing loopers into missing, making weak loops, or backing too much off the table. The same is true of blockers. Inverted and pips-out blockers need to rush loopers, and a slower ball makes that more difficult. Long pips blockers need spin to work with (like choppers), and a less spinny ball gives them less to work with - thereby putting them more at the mercy of smart but powerful loopers. Without those heavy backspin returns of loops, they'll have great difficulty messing loopers up.

The hard-to-call case is the modern defender, who chops and loops. A slower, less spinny ball would make their chops more consistent but less deceptive (and overall chopping alone would be less effective), but the slower ball would allow them to get into position to rip forehand winners. Most likely the change wouldn't affect their level, but it would tilt them toward more aggressive play. 

The surprising truth is that a ball with less spin and speed would likely favor powerful loopers who can still produce great spin and speed. I think it'd move the sport even more in the direction of pure looping, just as the increase from 38mm to 40mm did. It might favor all-out forehand loopers to a degree, since they will have more time to get into position for their powerful forehand loops. If you want to bring back choppers, blockers, and hitters, go back to a smaller, faster, spinnier ball. 

Addendum added later: with less spin and speed, these pure topspin rallies would likely be better than current ones as players relentlessly counterloop back and forth with fewer errors. Some will love this; some will find it repetitively boring. I'm on the fence here. I really miss the greater diversity of styles in the past. If you want to see the future, look at the juniors of today; overwhelmingly they are two-winged loopers, which is what I mostly coach and coach against. There are subtle differences, but in general they play much more similar to each other than players in the past. And yet, with a slower, less spinny ball the given topsin rallies would be better, and there'll fewer errors in returning serves, with the lower amount of spin. But I sure would like to see a bit more variation. 

Baltimore Sun

Yesterday the Baltimore Sun sent a reporter to Maryland Table Tennis Center to do a feature on Crystal Wang, 11, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women's Singles at the USA Nationals. (I'd sent out press releases everywhere afterwards. Here's a short article on this that was already in the Baltimore Sun - with two errors from the original press release, which were my fault: Crystal's actually a 6th grader now in the magnet program at Roberto Clemente Middle School.) The reporter spoke to Crystal and a number of players and coaches, and interviewed me for half an hour. I was able to give her lots of background, explain how she developed, and give details on her modern playing style (close to table looping from both wings).

$100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong

They just completed the third annual World Championships of Ping Pong, which is a sandpaper event - with $100,000 in prize money! Yes, you read that right. For the third year in a row it was won by Russia's Maxim Shmyrev, this time defeating USA's Ilija Lupulesku in the final at 8, 7, 12. (Strangely, games are to 15 in the sandpaper format.) Here's video of the final (24:04). Alas, both players are attacking all out - little chopping in this match.

2014 USA Team Trials

Here's info on the upcoming USA National Team Trials (Men's and Women's), to be held at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth Texas, March 7-9.

Message from ITTF President

Here's the end-of-the-year message from ITTF President Adham Sharara.

Ariel Hsing's Website

Here's the new website for our 18-year-old three-time USA Women's Singles Champion!

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's a review in the New York Times on the book "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin.

Search for Professional Players, Clubs, and Coaches Around the World

Here's a new website that does this. I haven't really tested it out yet, but it looks interesting.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast

Here's the December 2013 issue (11:44).

Chinese National Team in Training

Here's a video (3:31) of the Chinese National Team doing physical training and then table training. With Chinese narration.

Bernoulli's Ping Pong Ball Launcher

Here's the video (60 sec) - it's both table tennis and science!

Jean-Michel Saive vs. Chuang Chih-Yuan

Here are two videos of these two stars doing exhibitions. Tape one (1:35) and tape two (4:10).

Real or Fake?

If this is real (15 sec), then it might be the greatest table tennis trick shot ever.

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November 14, 2013

Darren O'Day and Other Coaching

Yesterday I had my second coaching session (90 min) with Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day. He's really picking things up fast! As noted in my Nov. 4 blog on coaching him, he tends to hold his racket tip up on strokes, which he copied from Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy, the best Orioles player. However, in today's session, we really straightened that out, and he had great fun as we went forehand to forehand pretty fast. (The two keys there were dropping the racket tip, and thinking of yourself as just a spectator so the subconscious can take control on the strokes.) We also worked on his backhand, pushing, serves, and footwork. But I also introduced him to looping against backspin via multiball. He had sort of a soft roll he used against backspin. It wasn't bad as he was at least spinning the ball, but there was little power - it was just a roll. We worked on this for a while, but he tended to stay too close to the ball (and a few other problems), and so swung mostly with his arm. I finally began feeding the ball farther away, forcing him to stretch out more - and lo and behold, suddenly he was looping with great power, both spin and speed! We did this for a while, and he can't wait to start using this in games - though I warned him it'll take some practice to incorporate into match situations consistently. He's taking another session this Friday afternoon, and then we'll settle into weekly sessions on Wednesday afternoons.

In another session that night I did some saturation training with Doug. He's had some trouble with players serving to his forehand, so I spent about 15 minutes serving to his forehand. At first I went easy, even letting him know the spin that was coming, but as we went along I stopped telling him and I started going to my best serves. Each step of the way he improved until he was looping all the deep ones somewhat consistently, even when I varied from disguised heavy backspin to side-topspins. When I went for the heavy side-topspin serves he tended to lift off the end. I pointed out that he was using the same racket angle he would against a topspin in a rally, but that in a rally he'd probably take the ball 1-3 feet further back - meaning he'd have 1-3 feet more table to aim for. Since you usually loop a serve closer to the table, and so are 1-3 feet closer to the far side of the table, you have to bring the ball down sooner, and so you have to close your racket more. (This might become a Tip of the Week.)

Another player I coached was Matt, a 12-year-old who's gearing up to play in the North American Teams in two weeks. With a tournament approaching it's time to focus on game play, so we did a lot of game-simulation drills. A lot of them involved him serving backspin, me pushing it back, and him looping. At the start I'd push to the same spot over and over, but later on I'd push them to varied spots. I also served a bunch of balls to him so he could work on receive as well as handling my first loop.

2014 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials

Here's a news item from USA Table Tennis on the 2014 Team Trials.

Jackson Chance Foundation Exhibition

Here's a news video (2:05) from Fox News in Chicago promoting a table tennis exhibition by Killerspin they will be doing tonight for the Jackson Chance Foundation. At the start you can hear the sound of ping-pong in the background, and after a bit the camera then pans over to see the players. "The Jackson Chance Foundation is an Illinois non-for-profit, tax exempt 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to providing resources to families with babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU)."

Chopper vs. Attacker at Westchester Open

Here's video (10:43) of game five in the semifinals of the Westchester October Open between Jishan Liang (2661) and chopper/looper Kewei Li (2686). Another nice example of attack vs. defense, though of course Li also attacks.

Multiball Around-the-Net Rolling Receives

Here's a video (43 sec) of 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist in Doubles Seiko Iseki (then known as Wei Qingguang, the lefty, with Chen Longcan his doubles partner) feeding angled serves to (if I read the comments correctly) Wei Gucci, who returns them around the net so they roll on the table. We have to try this new drill at my club!

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