Table Tennista

February 12, 2014

Here Comes the Snow (again)

We've had several snowstorms already this year here in Maryland and much of the east coast. Tonight and tomorrow we're supposed to get another 5-12 inches. Plus it's 18 degrees out, and was 12 when I got up this morning. I stocked up with supplies at the supermarket last night, and have several great books ready, as well as work to do on my upcoming book, "Table Tennis Tips." Bring it on!!!

Quips and Quotes

My favorite quips while playing:

  1. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  2. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  3. "I'm too good to miss that shot." (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  4. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987." (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  5. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  6. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  7. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)
  11. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  12. "The most powerful loop in the world." (With a Dirty Harry accent).

Inspiring table tennis quotes from:

Things I constantly say or harp on with my students:

  • Fix your grip. Balance. Wider stance. Relax the shoulders. Free hand. Rotate the shoulders. Topspin (or backspin) the ball. Remember the feel of the good shots, forget the bad ones. Place your shots. Don't think, just do. Step, don't lean. First move has to be the right move. More spin! Vary your serves. 

Three more quotes on playing. (I should have kept a running log of such quotes over the years, in which case I'd have dozens of these.)

  • "If you focus on playing well, you probably will; if you focus on winning, you probably won't."
  • "If you can't write a book about your own game, then you either don't have a game, or don't know your game."
  • "Let go, have fun." (Stolen from Ariel Hsing, who used to write this on her arm before playing.)

Here's a page where I keep my favorite non-TT quotes (including three by me).

Here's an article I sold to Science Fiction Writers of America for their web page, "Fifty Writing Quotes." I came up with all fifty of these in one long feverish night.

Shirley Temple RIP

Shirley Temple Black died Monday. Here are five pictures of the famous child actress playing table tennis.

International Table Tennis

Here's where you can get a daily fix of international table tennis.

22 Great Table Tennis GIFs

Here they are! (A few of the links don't seem to be valid, but most are there.) 

Non-Table Tennis: Redcoats

Yesterday I sold my 70th short story (all science fiction or fantasy), with the sale of "Redcoats" to Abyss & Apex. (The story parodies Christmas in the 1790s, with alien conquerors in red coats coming down the chimney every Christmas to get tribute left out for them, and how a boy defeats the aliens.) It's also my 1498th published or sold article or story - I'll hit 1500 shortly. (Here's a listing of my complete published works.)

***
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January 2, 2014

My Year in Review

I had a pretty busy year. Here's a review of my 2013.

I coached at nine MDTTC camps, six hours a day, totaling 44 days: March 25-29, June 17-21, 24-28, July 8-12, 15-19 (missed the last day), July 29-Aug. 2, Aug. 12-16, 19-23, Dec. 26-31 (missed the last day).

I ran approximately 120 junior training sessions, most of them 90 minutes long. I also did about 800 hours of private coaching. I was also a practice partner at about 80 training sessions - it would have been more except for various injuries. I also ran three table tennis birthday parties.

I had three more books come out, two on table tennis, one a humorous fantasy novel.

I also had 235 blog entries, exactly 50 Tips of the Week at TableTennisCoaching.com and PaddlePalace.com, 121 Tips of the Day at USATT.org, 10 articles in USATT Magazine, 1 article at Butterflyonline.com, 10 sold or published science fiction or fantasy stories, and 11 feature articles at OriolesHangout.com. I also created 12 MDTTC Newsletters and 1 Hall of Fame Program Booklet.

From Feb. 5-15, USATT Historian Tim Boggan stayed at my house as I did the page layouts and photo work (with him looking over my shoulder) for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13. It was a mammoth job, totaling 448 pages with 918 photos. (We start Volume 14 on Jan. 13.) Here's the page where you can learn more about these books and buy them. (I created and maintain the page for him.)

I coached at 13 tournaments this year:

  • Mar. 2-3, MDTTC Open
  • Mar. 15-17, Cary Cup in Cary, NC
  • Apr. 6-7, MDTTC Open
  • Apr. 20-21, North American Hopes Trials at Westchester TTC in NY
  • June 8-9, Eastern Open in Princeton, NJ
  • July 2-6, U.S. Open in Las Vegas
  • Aug. 24-25, MDTTC Open
  • Sept. 21, Coconut Cup Under 1800 at MDTTC
  • Sept. 28, Coconut Cup Over 1800 at MDTTC
  • Oct 26-27, South Shore Open at South Shore, IN
  • Nov. 9-10, Potomac Open in Maryland
  • Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, North American Teams in Washington D.C.
  • Dec. 17-21, USA Nationals in Las Vegas

Early in the year I gave regular coaching sessions to U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Coach Audrey Weisiger, who was training to beat the other coaches at an upcoming summer gathering. Here are some blog entries on her sessions: Jan. 17, Feb. 7, May 16, Apr. 26 (where I convert her to long pips on the backhand), and May 3.

On May 13, JJ Hardy and Brady Anderson from the Baltimore Orioles visited MDTTC, and I gave both of them lessons. Here's my blog entry on it. I later coached pitcher Darren O'Day at MDTTC four times.

On Aug. 21, I visited the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse with our top junior players, and stayed for three hours. Here's my blog entry on it.

From Sept. 2-7, I attended the ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course at the Lily Yip TTC in NJ, and achieved ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification, the highest level available right now in the U.S.  I had the only perfect score on the test. Here's my blog entry on it, and here's the ITTF article on it.

On Oct. 9, I spent the day on the set of the TV show Veep, which was doing an episode that features table tennis that should come out around March. Here's my blog entry on it.

I'm essentially retired as a player, but did play a couple of hardbat events this year, getting second place in Hardbat Singles at the Cary Cup in North Carolina (May 15-17), and winning Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jay Turberville at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas (July 2-6). (Here's a picture of Jay and I with our trophies, with "coach" Derek Nie.)

I was a panelist at two science fiction conventions: Balticon, May 24-26, in Baltimore, MD, and Capclave, Oct. 11-13 in Gaithersburg, MD.

From July 19-27 I attended the Never-Ending Odyssey Writers Workshop in Manchester, NH, which is an annual program for graduates of the Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop, which I attended in 2006.

I was interviewed twice this year, but strangely both times it was by science fiction magazines rather than in table tennis. Here's my interview in Weird Tales Magazine, and here's my interview in New Myths Magazine.

I saw over 50 movies at the theater - I generally see at least one every week.

I read 32 book in 2013, which is somewhat of a low for me. I also read the Washington Post each day, plus USA Table Tennis Magazine, Scientific American, and Bulletin of SFWA. Here are the books I read in 2013:

TABLE TENNIS (1)

  • ITTF Advanced Coaching Manual

NON-FICTION (3)

  • The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
  • Which President Killed a Man by James Humes
  • Vietnam, A History by Stanley Karnow

ON WRITING (5)

  • Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Edited by Michael Knost
  • Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O'Conner
  • From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds: A Writer’s Primer by Ken Rand
  • Writing to the Point: A Complete Guide to Selling Fiction by Aldis Budrys
  • How to Write Funny edited by John Kachuba

FICTION (23)

  • Buffalito Buffet by Lawrence Schoen
  • Trial of the Century by Lawrence Schoen
  • The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF edited by Mike Ashley
  • Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett Serviss
  • Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson
  • Hounded by Kevin Hearne
  • Hexed by Kevin Hearne
  • Hammered by Kevin Hearne
  • Tricked by Kevin Hearne
  • Trapped by Kevin Hearne
  • Hunted by Kevin Hearne
  • Two Ravens and One Crow by Kevin Hearne
  • Grimoire of the Lamb by Kevin Hearne
  • Blockade Billy by Stephen King
  • Dawn of Dragons by James Maxey
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele
  • Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
  • The Alien Within (Voyagers Series) by Ben Bova
  • Star Brothers (Voyagers Series) by Ben Bova
  • The Return (Voyagers Series) by Ben Bova

International Table Tennis

Want to read lots of articles on table tennis internationally? Then check out two places, TableTennista and the ITTF page

MDTTC Juniors Go Skiing

Here they are - L-R: Derek Nie, Darwin Ma, Amy Lu, and Crystal Wang. The four took a day off during our Christmas Camp. No broken legs.

ITTF to Ban Wood Rackets in 2015

Here's the article! (This is a satire on the ITTF's regularly changing the rules, including the upcoming ban of celluloid balls.)

Colorful Table

Here's the picture - imagine a club full of these!

Belated Happy New Year!

Here are some Table tennis Happy New Year images:

***
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August 13, 2013

MDTTC Camp and The Pongs of Power

There are lots of younger kids at the camp this week, which is Week Nine of our ten weeks of summer camps. It's the youngest group of the summer, maybe ever. We have about 30 kids, with about 20 of them under age 10. I'm in charge of the beginning under 10 crowd. In most past camps I pretty much worked with them on my own, but this time there are just too many - 12 of these under 10's are beginners - so coaches John Hsu and Chen Jie ("James") are helping me with them.

The focus yesterday was on the forehand. There were the usual problems - many want to put their index finger down the middle, don't turn their shoulders, lunge for the ball, try to take the ball too quickly, stand up too straight, and above all, won't close their rackets. (I probably said "Aim lower" five hundred times.) I'm always amazed that until about age 8 or 9, most beginning kids don't really understand that the ball is going to go where their racket is aiming. They understand it when I point it out to them, but it's something that doesn't really occur to many of them on their own.

We ended the day with the ten-cup challenge, where I set up a pyramid of 10 paper cups, and each kid had 10 shots (fed multiball) to see how many they could knock down. Several got 7 or 8, but four missed all 10. They now have something to work for. By the end of the week they'll be the terror of paper cups everywhere.

I called this week's beginning under 10 group "The Pongs of Power." What does that mean? I don't know, and neither did the kids, though they debated it. But it has a ring to it, and would be a great name for a music band.

We have a large collection of beginning sponge paddles. However, the rubber on about 2/3 of them was starting to come off the sponge, and so would flap about as they kids rallied. About half were essentially unusable. So yesterday during lunch break I took about 20 of them and glued them all back on. Most came out okay, though a few had bubbles, since I had to glue them wet and then flatten out the sponge by placing them on the table, some with weights on top. But most are now usable. This is what table tennis coaches do - they glue rackets, lead expeditions to 7-11, come up with group names, stack paper cups, and every ten seconds yell "Aim lower!"  

I've had one day off since June. I'm coaching Mon-Fri 10AM-6PM (with a two-hour break in the middle), along with about one private coaching hour per day. Weekends are even busier, and are mostly private coaching, which is physically more tiring. My hair, fingernails, and toenails are the only parts of me that don't ache. But I have this Friday off. (I did leave for that nine-day writer's workshop in July, but that wasn't "time off" as I was pretty much writing and attending workshops and classes all day. Somehow those aren't great for the back either - when I returned to Maryland, my back was solid neutronium.) After our summer camps end next week, I'll catch up on rest and life will return to normal, or as normal as it can be for a table tennis coach and writer.

World-Class Serve Training

Here's a video (5:01) that demonstrates a number of advanced serves.

Why Ping Pong Just Might Be the Elixir of Youth

Here's the article, and here's the opening paragraph: "Table tennis, ping pong, wiff-waff: call it what you will, it's increasingly popular in the UK, with 2.4 million players. Now there are suggestions it could even help with conditions like dementia."

Table Tennista

Periodically I like to list the current international articles at Table Tennista - and there are a lot of good ones right now! Here's a listing.

Country Ping-Pong Showdown

Here's a video (1:57) of Ariel Hsing on the CMA Musicfest last night on ABC TV. She plays two men from the music group Lady Antebellum.

Top Ten Hand-Switch Shots

Here's the video (6:01).

Ping-Pong Strike

The most powerful loop ever - at a bowling alley? Here's the video (14 sec)!

***
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June 20, 2013

MDTTC Camps - Day Three Highlights

Yesterday's focus was on forehand looping. I did a short lecture and demo, both against backspin and block.

There are four ways to demo a forehand loop against backspin. You could just serve backspin, your partner pushes it back, and you loop. But then they only get to see the shot one at a time. Another way is to feed multiball backspin to someone with good form so they can see it over and over. Another way, if you can chop, is to serve backspin, partner pushes, you loop, partner blocks, and you chop. Then your partner pushes, and you loop again. (If your partner is the one who can chop, then adjust for this.) If you or your partner can really chop (i.e. against loops, not just against blocks), then one loops, the other chops. A good player with a sheet of antispin, long pips, or hardbat can often chop loops back over and over even if they aren't normally a chopper. (If they use long pips, it may put some strain on the looper since he's getting all his topspin back as backspin!)

Two of the players in my group had never looped before. One picked it up pretty quickly, though he had one of those ragged strokes with lots of extra movements. We worked on simplifying it. One thing I often tell players is that much of coaching isn't telling players what to do; it's telling them what not to do. In this case, there was a lot of excess motion to get rid of - sort of a waving backswing, extra wristiness, and too-jumpy feet.

The other player had hitting thoroughly ingrained, and had difficulty switching to looping against backspin. He had trouble dropping the racket or bringing the tip down and back, dropping his shoulder, and getting down in general to lift the backspin. He also had trouble grazing the ball for topspin, but as I quickly suspected, this was more because of his not dropping his racket than an inability to "roll" the ball with topspin. Once I got him to drop his racket (which wasn't easy), he began getting pretty decent topspins. He'll need a lot of practice on this.

One of the "highlights" I have fun doing when teaching the loop to new players is their first regular forehand drive or smash after doing lots of looping against backspin, where they are lifting the ball instead of driving forward. I always tell them that I'm going to now give them a regular topspin ball (I'm feeding multiball), and that they shouldn't drop the shoulder, just drive forward. But invariably, even though I warn them and predict they'll go off the end, sure enough their first few shots go off. This happened with all five players in my morning group, even the ones who had had done some looping before. I ended the session by having them all alternate looping backspin and hitting topspin so they could work on switching back and forth.

Fortune Cookie Frivolities

Now we find out if any of the kids in the camp read my blog. (Some do, but not each morning.) We have Chinese food delivered to the club at lunch each day, with the players making their orders in the morning, which we call in. At lunch yesterday I pulled a trick on them that I'd pulled in the last camp as well. Using Photoshop, I created a fake fortune cookie fortune that read, "A meteor will kill you in five minutes." I opened my fortune cookie very publicly, made a surreptitious switch of the fortune with the fake one I'd hidden in my hand, and held it up and read it, and then showed it to them. The kids went crazy with disbelief. Five minutes later, when none were looking, I smacked a rock I'd snuck in against the ground and claimed it was a meteor that had just missed me. Today I've got another fake fortune ready, which read, "A ping-pong player will kill you this afternoon." I'll report tomorrow on the response.

Jungle Pong

This is the all-time favorite game of the kids in every camp during breaks. I think I've described it before, but it's so popular I'll go over it again. I'm not sure, but I think the kids in our camp from years ago might have invented and named the game - I don't remember ever seeing this until it suddenly began popping up in our camps.

The rules are simple. You can have as many players on one table as you want, numbered in the order they will hit the ball. You start the rally with a player serving just like table tennis. From there on, whether off the serve or in a rally, the next player must wait for the ball to go off the table and bounce on the floor, even if it means waiting for the ball to bounce several times or roll across the table, and even if it hits the net. The player must then return the ball so it hits either side of the table, and the rally continues until someone misses. Then that person is out. You continue until there is only one player. The only other rule is no looping; they are almost impossible to return. Soft topspins are allowed, but nothing aggressive. If one does loop, it's a takeover.

There are some interesting tactics, such as faking a hit to one side and going the other way, or using various spins to make the ball do funny bounces - backspin is especially popular in throwing off the next player. Players sometimes smack the ball into the net so that the next player will break the wrong way, and then have to recover when the ball rebounds off the net. Some of the kids focus on just getting every ball back; others are more creative with their shots. Since it takes time for the ball to bounce both on the table and the floor, players have time to run down most shots. I watched them play for a while - at one point there were two adjacent tables going with about eight on each - and I've decided my next book will be "Jungle Pong Tactics for Thinkers."

Table Tennista and ITTF

As usual, there are lots of international news articles at Table Tennista and the ITTF News Page.

Serena Williams Table Tennis

Here's a picture of her where she "...trades her tennis racket in for a table tennis one on her way to Wimbledon." (If you can't see the Facebook version, try this.)

Pong-Style Beach Surfing

Here's Kim Gilbert doing a little beach surfing, pong style. 

Now That's a Lot of Ping-Pong Tables

Here's the picture!

***
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June 13, 2013

Staying Low Revisited

The Tip of the Week this past Monday was Staying Low. It was inspired by a student of mine, Sameer, 11, who tends to stand up straight when he plays. I've been on him about this for some time, and usually he gets lower - but only in practice drills if I constantly remind him. Once he plays points, he stands up again. At the Eastern Open this past weekend he won Under 800 and made the final of U950, but there were times where he didn't look so good since he was standing up so straight. (In newer ratings from before the tournament, he's rated 1181.)

So I told him that for the next month, our sessions are going to be very "boring," that we're going to focus almost exclusively on staying low. It's not just getting low, it's how you do it. When he does get low, his tendency is to simply bend his knees while leaning backwards from the waist, instead of forward. Also, his feet tend to be too close together, his feet pointing too much forward. You can't fix any one of these; they all go together. He also tends to either let his free arm tightly at his side, either hanging down or jammed up to his chest. Keeping the free hand out for balance is closely related to the ready position as you need it to stay balanced when you move.

So yesterday we started off by spending about ten minutes just shadow practicing with the proper stance. Once he looked comfortable doing this, we hit forehand to forehand at a very slow pace - it almost drove him crazy since he likes to play fast (like most kids), and every now and then in exasperation he'd smack one in. But we did this for twenty minutes, just forehand to forehand, adding some side-to-side footwork near the end. Then we did the same thing, backhand to backhand.

Then we played some points. The key was that he wasn't to play table tennis; he was to play "low table tennis," where he had to play the points in his newer stance. I expected problems, and kept the rallies simple - but lo and behold, he'd developed the habit during those excruciatingly slow rallies! Normally when I spot him 6 points I win over and over. This time he did something unthinkable - he won four out of five! Now I probably did miss a few shots, and was keeping things simple, but it was by far the best he's ever played. As a side bonus, by staying low he was able to see and react to my serve better than before, and returned them better than ever, even the "trick" serves I threw at him near the end of most games.

Table Tennista

Here are this week's headlines at Table Tennista:

China Open

Here's an ITTF story that features USA player Ariel Hsing - unfortunately, it features her upset loss. Here's the ITTF home page for the China Open, with results, articles, photos, and videos.

Behind the Scenes at the 2013 China Open

Here's a 38-second video with a few action shots and short interviews with Chinese players at the China Open. Interesting to watch, even more interesting if you understand Chinese, which I do not. Feel free to translate anyone!  

Three More Books Coming Out By Next Year

By the end of the year I'll have enough Tips of the Week to put them together in one volume, "Table Tennis Tips." (Highly original title - have a better suggestion?) It'll clearly be marked as a compilation of my previously published Tips of the Week. So far I've done 123 Tips of the Week here at TableTennisCoaching.com, one every Monday since Jan. 11, 2011. (Confession: a few didn't go up until Tuesday.) I anticipate doing 29 more this year, for a total of 152, plenty for a book. Sadly, I'm running out of topics, and so anticipate ending the Tips of the Week at the end of this year. (I also did 169 much shorter Tips of the Week, which were published near the back of Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - took up only 54 of the book's 272 pages. The Tips I do here are considerably longer, more like features than simple tips.)

Next year I'll also be publishing "More Pings and Pongs," the second anthology of my best published science fiction & fantasy stories. "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" came out in 2010 with my 30 best; I've now sold enough new stories for a new volume. The only problem is that typically when you sell a story, the buyer generally has sole rights to the story for six months, and so I anticipate I won't have rights to all the stories I'd like to use until April of 2014.

As a special, I've lowered the price for the Kindle version of Pings and Pongs to $2.99 - buy yours today!!! (I'd lower the price of the print version, but due to printing costs and other issues, the lowest I can sell it for is $8.35 - a bargain!!! It includes "Ping-Pong Ambition," a table tennis fantasy story.)

I have one other book also planned - "Table Tennis Fundamentals," the rewrite of "Table Tennis Steps to Success."

Here's my Amazon page that lists all my books, other than the USATT manual "Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis," which I plan to rewrite and have professionally published sometime in the future.

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List

Orioles Hangout published another of my infamous Top Ten Lists. This one was "Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Get a TOR Starter." (For you non-baseball people, "TOR Starter" means "Top Of Rotation Starter," i.e. a pitching ace.) It's the eleventh article of mine they've published - nine "Top Ten" lists and two regular articles.

Non-Table Tennis - Sheeba

Yesterday I did 3.5 hours of coaching, and was pretty exhausted afterwards. I got home around 8:15PM, and let Sheeba, my dog, outside. She's 15 years old, which puts her in her eighties in human years. She's almost completely deaf, and half blind - almost completely blind without bright light - and has arthritic back legs so she hobbles around. When I went down around 8:30 PM the gate was open. One of the tenants downstairs had just left, and likely left it open, not realizing she was in the yard. Sheeba was nowhere to be seen.

I spent the next hour and 45 minutes circling the neighborhood and expanding outward, trying to find her. Calling for her was pointless since she's deaf, though I found it was a good way to indicate to people that I was searching for a lost dog. I kept asking around, and twice I found people who had seen her going by. Finally, at around 10:15 PM, I got a call from someone who had found her. I thanked her profusely, and walked the evil, naughty dog back home, where she demanded (and got) a bacon snack.

My legs are exhausted this morning, partly from 3.5 hours of coaching, but mostly from walking around for an hour and 45 minutes.

Table Table Tennis and Office Table Tennis

My legs are so tired from coaching and searching for Sheeba that for now on I'm going to play table tennis like this. Or perhaps like this.

***
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May 31, 2013

Good Misses, Bad Misses

In a session with an advanced beginner yesterday, while hitting forehand to forehand (we're both righties), I pointed out to him the difference between a "good miss" and a "bad miss." Ideally, there would be no misses, but some are better than others.

When his shot went long, that was a "good miss" since at least he was driving into the ball, usually with some topspin, and he only needed to adjust his racket angle and perhaps not lift so much. When his shot went into the net, it was a "bad miss" because it usually meant he was taking the ball too quick and hitting it straight on into the net, rather than with any type of topspin. The same was true later on when I had him loop against backspin (multiball) - spinny loops off the end - good. Loops into the net - bad.

When his shot went wide (to my right), it was a "good miss" because, again, he was driving into the ball, and only needed to adjust his timing. If his shot went toward the middle of the table but actually hit the table, that was still a "bad miss" because it meant he was probably turning his wrist in and letting his racket tip fall back, i.e. it was a technique problem, not just a timing issue.

Another "good miss" is a missed serve that has lots of spin. When I play practice matches with juniors, I often claim "I wasn't ready!" if they miss a serve. I want them to push the envelope and go for great, spinny serves rather than wimp out and go for safe ones. If they serve high I'll return it passively, but mention they need to practice keeping it lower. (Key to that is a low contact point with a fine grazing motion.) A "bad miss" is any serve that misses - or hits! - that's not otherwise a good serve, i.e. spinny. (Not all serves have to be spinny, but I'm talking about players learning to serve with spin, not advanced players learning to serve no-spin that looks spinny, i.e. "heavy no-spin.")

Best Shots of My Life

Here are the best shots I've ever made in my life in a tournament, in rough order:

  1. The dive under the table.
    This was against Marty Reisman in a hardbat challenge match in the late 1990s (so not really a tournament match), but it was at a tournament, so I count it. I was out of position and he hit wide to my backhand. I lunged over and chopped it back short to his wide backhand. He did a short drop shot to my forehand that went off the side. We were playing on a table where the table legs were near the end, and there was no obstruction underneath. So I dived under the table, in front of the table leg on my forehand side, and managed to scoop the ball back up onto the table. Marty pushed it back for a winner, though I didn't see it - was I was sprawled on the ground.
  2. Forehand Counter-Smash From Two Tables Away While Knocking Over Eric Boggan.
    I was on table three playing Dave Sakai in 1983. U.S. Men's Champion Eric Boggan was on table one. I was back lobbing against Dave, and lobbed one high and wide to his backhand. I knew that Dave had this inside-out forehand smash he'd do on such shots, so as he was about to smash I ran way around my backhand to forehand counter-smash. Dave smashed it inside out with sidespin so it broke way over, all the way into court one. I ran after it, and ran right into Eric Boggan, knocking him off his feet - but I made the forehand counter-smash! Dave blocked it back for a winner, alas. Eric was not happy with me.
  3. The counterloop against Allen Barth.
    He's a lefty, and he looped to my backhand in a tournament match in the early 1980s. I started to block, but the ball hit the net. I readjusted, but the ball hit the side edge and jumped to my left. I dived after it, and did a mid-air backhand counterloop around the net that just rolled on his side of the table for a winner. I landed on the floor on my stomach.
  4. The underhanded counter-smash.
    This was against a much weaker player in the late 1980s. I was back lobbing, and the guy just creamed one to my forehand. I backed way, way back, and lobbed it back. He smashed again to my forehand, but not as hard. For some reason, spur of the moment, I did an under-handed counter-smash, bowling style. (I think I'd seen Jan-Ove Waldner do this shot, so perhaps I was subconsciously copying it.) It went in for a clean winner.
  5. Backspin Chop Lob Ace.
    This was against Sunny Li, the U.S. Under 10 and 12 Champion in the early 1990s, and already rated something like 1900 or so. (He would go on to win just about every junior event up to Under 18 before going off to Iraq as a sharpshooter.) I was up match point, something like 20-15. Sunny served short backspin to my backhand. I chop lobbed it into the air so it landed very short on his forehand side and bounced back to my side for a match-winning ace. (I've also done backspin serves that bounce back to my side of the table, usually against in less serious matches, but those aren't great shots - I can do that serve 2/3 of the time.)

Kagin Lee Blog on the College Championships

Here's the blog that went up this morning, "The Making of the College Table Tennis Championships, 2013 Edition." (Kagin is on the USATT Board of Directors.)

ITTF Development and Education Programs

Here's a report on the ITTF's plans on this for the next four years.

Table Tennista

Here are this morning's headlines at Table Tennista.

Ping Pong Hustler

Here's a short film (15:03) made in 2006 featuring the late great Marty Reisman.

Table Tennis Movie Posters

I did a Google search for "Table Tennis Movie Posters," and this is what I found. Lots of great pictures!

Scripps National Spelling Bee

Table Tennis Nation did this preview of the spelling bee - turns out a number of the contestants are table tennis players! Alas, the final winner wasn't one of the table tennis players, even though three of the four finalists were.

River Table Tennis

Here's a video (39 sec) of table tennis played on a floating mini-table in a river! Added bonus - you get to see player fall into river.

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May 29, 2013

U.S. Open Entries Shooting Up

They are up to 847, with more likely being entered as I type this. (They were at 835 when I started writing this.) You can check the numbers, see who's entered, and find out who is in what events here. The deadline for entering the Open ended on May 24, last Friday.

Note that there is no Men's or Women's Singles listed, or Under 21 Men and Women. These four events are part of the ITTF Pro Tour event, technically called the "America's Challenge Series." You can see the list of entries for that here. (This goes straight to "Men Entries." For women, click on the link for "Women Entries" at top left.)  The listing says there are 86 entries, which seems strange because I see 34 men and 32 women listed, or 66 total. I don't see a separate listing for Under 21 - they seem to be included in the Men's and Women's listings. The deadline for entering is June 3, so more entries are probably coming. Here's the ITTF page for the America's Challenge Series.

There's an overlap between the events - many players are entered in both the Open and the Pro Tour Events. (But there are restrictions - for example, players were told they had to choose between the Under 21 events and the Junior Team Competition in the Open, since both start Tuesday morning.) To get an exact number I'd have to go through the Pro Tour entries one by one to see if they are also in the Open, so I'll leave that to someone else. (Plus it's kind of pointless right now, since the Pro Tour deadline isn't until June 3, so there'll be more entries.)

It'll be the most entries at an Open since the ratings went online in 1994 (so you can check the numbers), and has already topped the most for a Nationals, the 837 in 2006. The "normal" record is still held by the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens in Oklahoma City and Houston, where we had over 1000 entries. We were also over 800 at the Open a number of times in the 1980s when it was held in Miami Beach. (I did all the computer entry input for two U.S. Opens, I believe in 1988 and 1989.) Technically, the record is held by the 1990 U.S. Open in Baltimore, where there were something like 2000 players, but that included players in the World Veterans Championships and a World Junior Championships (not sure of the exact title of that).

One discrepancy problem - numbers given online for Opens and Nationals do not show those entered only in doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper events (since they are not rated by USATT), while the listing for this year's Open does. This is especially true since the introduction of hardbat events at the Nationals in 1997 and at the Open in 1998. For those years, you can probably add 20-30 entries to the numbers. Before that, perhaps add 10-20 for doubles-only players.

I'll be at the U.S. Open (of course!) both coaching and playing. My focus there will be coaching, but I'm also entered in a bunch of hardbat events (Open, Over 40, Open Doubles, Over 50 Doubles) and Open Sandpaper. I've won a bunch of these hardbat events in the past, and hope to add a few more while I can still play. If there are a lot of conflicts in my schedule with players I'm coaching, however, I might have to default some of them.

Hardbat doubles has always been my strength. (I'm normally a sponge player, and coach sponge, but hardbat is a sideline.) I've won it 13 times at the Open or Nationals, nine times with Ty Hoff, four times with Steve Berger. Neither of them are playing this year, so I have a new partner - Jay Turberville in both Open Hardbat Doubles and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles. (They only started the Over 50 Doubles last year, and this is my first time playing in it.) Hopefully our styles will mesh. In hardbat, I'm an all-out forehand attacker with a chopping backhand. I believe Jay is mostly attack from both sides, though he can also chop. As to singles, I've won Over 40 four times and Open Hardbat twice, but it's harder and harder every year to play my all-out forehand attack, and I'm 53. I could of course chop more, but then my level goes down. (Also, I use a very fast hardbat racket for attacking, and it's difficult to chop with it. If I went to a slower, more defensive blade, my forehand attacks would be less effective.)

I am so tempted to enter Over 50 Men, which starts Friday at 6PM. The top seed is rated 2280, not that far ahead of me. (Dan Seemiller isn't entered - so far.) If I play well, I'd be in the mix for that event. However, I'm already in too many events, and the more I play, the more conflicts there would be with my coaching. Plus, perhaps even more important, while I can go from sponge to hardbat easily, the reverse is difficult, and after playing hardbat events from Tue-Thur, I doubt I'd play well with sponge on Friday. (Though I would be playing some sponge - warming up players I coach. Not quite the same thing, though)

How Table Tennis Players Should Introduce Themselves

I've never been good at recognizing people. At tournaments people regularly come up to me to say hi, and I'm lost as to who they are. It's not their fault; it's mine. Many of them were at camps I've run, or players I've played or coached against. So here's my solutions, as I explained to some of our players at MDTTC: for now on, at tournaments, table tennis players should adopt a new method of greeting whereby instead of saying "hi" and shaking hands, they call out their rating and shadow practice their forehand and backhand strokes. From that I will unerringly know who they are. I'm sure most could similarly recognize my snappy forehand stroke, or my even more distinctive forehand pendulum serve where I tend to jerk my head.

Table Tennista

As usual, there are lots of international articles at Table Tennista. Here are the current headlines.

Laser vs. Ping-Pong Ball

Here's a video (2:21) showing what happens when a laser beam hits normal objects, including (58 seconds in for 22 seconds) a ping-pong ball.

USA Soccer Team Members Play TT

Here's a video (5:12) from last year where "U.S. Men's National Team players Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Heath Pearce battle it out for table tennis supremacy during their downtime from training."

Non-Table Tennis Writing

Yesterday Science Fiction Writers of American published my article "Fifty Writing Quotes." It's literally what the title says, fifty quotes I came up with about writing for the benefit of writers. They pay 5 cents/word, so I got $45 for the article. (Here's the direct permanent link.)

I also sold two science fiction stories this month: "Human Help Desk" (1000 words) on May 3 to Abyss & Apex, and "Tyler's Ten" (6800 words) to New Myths Magazine. Plus my SF story "Better or Worse?" came out in Suddenly Lost in Words Vol. 3  on May 23. It's been a busy year for my SF writing; I have two other stories forthcoming, "Leashing the Muse" (4800 words) coming out soon in Space and Time Magazine, and "Galahad Returns" (6300 words) in Weird Tales, scheduled for their October issue.

Stop Monkeying Around

An orangutan with a modified penhold grip. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

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May 24, 2013

Memorial Weekend Off

It's Memorial Weekend, and like millions of Americans, I'm taking a four-day weekend. So no blog today or Monday. Instead, I'm spending today on various writing projects. (Oops, there goes my day off.) Then this afternoon I'm off for Balticon, a regional science fiction convention in Baltimore. Sat & Sun I'm coaching all day (and so will miss the rest of Balticon). Then I'm off on Monday. So my four-day weekend is really a one-day weekend. Oh well. I'll start blogging again on Tuesday, including the Tip of the Week.

Meanwhile, if you need a table tennis fix, why not read up on the international articles at Table Tennista? Or explore usatt.org and ittf.com? Or see Will Shortz (world famous puzzlist and NY Times crossword editor, and more importantly, owner of the Westchester TTC) on the Artie Lange Show on Wednesday (16:16)? As Will describes it, "I was on the 'Artie Lange Show' last night (via DirecTV's Audience Network), with guest host Colin Quinn. The conversation started with puzzles, then segued to table tennis, and ended with me playing Colin in a TT match." For the record, Will wins 11-1.

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May 15, 2013

Play With Creativity - Do Something Different!

In my blog yesterday I wrote about how some of our players had trouble with Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy's serve. It was a pretty good forehand pendulum serve, but there wasn't anything seemingly special about it. He actually used less wrist motion than he should, and had just two versions - side-top and side-back - though he did vary the depth well. As I watched it, I began to see why they were having trouble with it, and there were two reasons.

First, he wasn't changing his grip to unlock his wrist, and so he had less spin than he could have. But because he has such quick wrists and a good grazing contact, it was sufficient spin to make it effective, and the different grip seemed to give players difficulty in reading it.

Second, he served it over and over from his forehand side. We're all used to players serving forehand pendulum serves from the backhand side, since that allows a player to more easily follow up against a weak return with a forehand attack. And so when the same serve came at them from the forehand side, crosscourt into their forehand, they struggled. It wasn't something they had seen very often.

But I had - or at least I from JJ's side of the table! While I usually serve from the backhand side, at key moments in matches I often do forehand pendulum serves from the forehand side, both regular and reverse pendulum. It's a great way to get a free point or two. It was also a tactic I'd used in a pair of key matches years ago, which I described in my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers in Chapter 7, Tactical Examples:

Changing Service Position

At the North American Teams one year I was playing with slightly lower-ranked players as a player/coach. I was one of the three undefeated players in the division. The other two were two junior players from Canada. Our teams played in the final. Both of the Canadian juniors played the same style, which had created havoc throughout the division: big forehand looping attacks, but medium long pips on the backhand which they used to flat hit shot after shot. They quick-hit every short serve with their backhands (spin didn’t take on their pips), even short ones to their forehand, and followed with their big forehands.

As I watched them play, I realized that they would have little trouble with my best serve, a forehand pendulum serve I do from my backhand corner, which sets up my forehand. No matter where I’d serve it, if it was long, they’d loop it; if it was short, they’d backhand hit it. I could use a tomahawk serve to their forehand, but that would take away my big serving strength. What to do?

When I went out to play the first of the two, I set up like I normally do to serve, in the backhand corner. Then I took two steps to my right, and spent the whole match serving forehand pendulum serves from my forehand corner. This gave me an angle into his forehand so that he’d have to receive with his forehand (or risk me going down the line to his open backhand side if he tried to cover the short forehand with his backhand), and so I was able to use my pendulum serve to his inverted forehand, something he had probably rarely had to deal with. Since he couldn’t return it aggressively, I was able to move back into position after each serve to attack with my forehand. The same strategy worked against the other Canadian junior, and I won both matches. (Ironically, before the last match, the perceptive Canadian coach took the other junior off to a table and mimicked my serve over and over from the forehand side so the kid could practice against it, but it wasn’t enough.) I won all three of my matches, but alas, we lost the final 5-3.

The key point is that often you have to think outside the box to find the right tactics, and that often it is an advantage to do something different. So try and do things different - it really messes up an opponent's strokes and timing. I know; I do it all the time! Vary where you serve from; use sidespin on a push or block; dead block; aim one way and at the last second change directions; play a backhand from the forehand side; fake spin and serve or push no-spin; vary the height of the toss on your serve; open up your wrist on a forehand shot so the ball goes to the right (for a righty), perhaps putting some sidespin on it as well; vary your contact so it's sometimes off the bounce, or later than usual; put a little topspin in your blocks; or something else. Be creative!

Jan-Ove Waldner is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. He's also considered the most creative of players, constantly doing different shots to mess up opponents. So be like Waldner - and J.J. Hardy! - and do something different, and mess up your opponents.

2013 World Championships

They started yesterday, in Paris, May 13-20. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, articles, pictures, etc.

Team USA at 2013 Worlds

Here's the USA Team at the Worlds Page, which shows up-to-date results and video.

For USA, the last one standing is Lily Zhang.

Table Tennista

Lots of great coverage of the Worlds here. Included among the articles - China's head coach Liu Guoliang proposes an international training camp in China, and Table Tennista starts a new magazine.

ITTF Daily Show

Here's the World Table Tennis Championships Daily Show - Day 1 (3:05), Day 2 (5:02).

Orioles Hangout

I blogged yesterday about Baltimore Oriole shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder/current VP Brady Anderson at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I wrote a short article on this for Orioles Hangout, with a link to the blog. It's their front-page story this morning.

Ultimate Edge to Edge

Here's a video (43 sec) of Tomas Pavelka (CZE) against Bastian Steger (GER, world #25) at 8-9 in the first game. Pavelka mishits a ball high into the air off his racket's edge and turns his back to the table in frustration. Watch what happens!

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May 9, 2013

To Super Serve or Not to Super Serve?

I often play matches with beginning and intermediate players who say in advance, "don't use your serves!" It's a mixed thing; by my not using my best serves, we have better rallies, but they don't get to practice against these serves. On the other hand, most of them won't face these types of serves until they reach a higher level. So what to do? I try to find a logical balance.

Against beginners, I most serve just to put the ball in play so they can get some rallying practice. But then I might throw a spin serve at them. After they miss it, I'll tell them I'm going to do the same serve, and point to where they need to aim. Then I'll give them the same serve over and over until they can return it pretty well. Then I do the same with a different serve. Sometimes I'll also throw one of my super-fast serves at them, but I'll let them know in advance where it's going. The key is I want them to get into the rally for practice, but at the same time I want them to see what type of serves are possible, and begin thinking about how to return them. (I'm a strong believer in showing beginners the most advanced serves, even if they are far, far away from learning them at that level, just so they can see what's possible, so as to inspire them to work toward those types of serves.)

Against intermediate players, I don't have to tell them where to aim; they can do that themselves if they read the spin. So against them I hold back on the deception and throw spinny serves at them. If they have trouble with one, I'll give them the same serve over and over until they figure it out. Sometimes I'll warn them that I'm about to throw my best serves at them, just so they can see what's possible so they'll be inspired to learn those types of serves. I'll also throw my fast serves at them, so they'll learn to return those as well as to get them to practice them.

Against advanced players, I have two options. Sometimes I throw my trickiest serves at them. Some of them are designed to either win the point outright, or to set up an easy winner. However, if they are read well, the receiver can attack them, stopping my attack. So other times I'll simplify and go for straight third-ball serves, which give me more practice on my own attack. Serves like these are usually very low and short, and are very difficult for the receiver to attack, but relatively easy to return passively - and so I get to attack. Mostly I am playing to win, and so look for the right balance between tricky serves and third-ball serves. (Note that there is no firm line between these types of serves - a third-ball serve can also be tricky. At the higher levels, third-ball serves are generally best, but you always want a few trick serves for a few free points before the opponent gets used to them.)

I have a simple test for predicting which junior players will become table tennis stars. I look to see which kids spend time on their own practicing their serves. It's a surprisingly good predictor! (On Saturday night when I left the club, guess who was off in a corner practicing her serves by herself after spending nearly all day practicing? Crystal Wang, the 11-year-old North American Hopes Champion with the 2292 rating. Why weren't you?)

ITTF's Inaugural Monthly Pongcast

Here's the video (14:15), which covers the ITTF American and Latin American Cup's and previews the upcoming 2013 ITTF World Championships on 13-20 May in Paris, France.

USA World Team Rankings

Yesterday I gave listed all the USA players with world rankings. Here are their rankings in Teams, taken from the World Team Rankings. (Use dropdown menu on top left to see the four categories.) Rankings are done by looking at the ranking of the country's top three players. We're doing pretty well in one of those categories! (In parenthesis are the top three players and their rankings.)

  • Men: 43 (Jishan Liang 378, Wang Qing Liang 393, Timothy Wang 405)
  • Women: 20 (Lily Zhang 94, Ariel Hsing 95, Zheng Jiaqi 148)
  • Under 18 Boys: 38 (Wang Qing Liang 40, Feng Yijun 213, Li Hangyu 247)
  • Under 18 Girls: 3 (Lily Zhang 6, Ariel Hsing 7, Prachi Jha 68)

Table Tennista

Four more international articles:

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Service

Here's a video (8 sec) of him doing his patented backhand serve fast and deep. Note the ball sitting on the far corner that he is aiming for! (I didn't see that at first.) Here's a video (3:30) where you see him doing his serves in slow motion.

Paddle Skillets

Hungry? Then why not fry up some steak and eggs on your racket between matches? You can buy these and other weird or personalized sandpaper rackets at Table Tennis Nation.

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