Banana flip

May 22, 2014

Playing Modes

You can divide players into two types. There are those who are ready for anything, and can do any appropriate shot in their repertoire at any time. This pretty much describes all world-class players, but also many who are nowhere near that level. They are often just considered athletic or coordinated, since they can do just about anything anytime. And there are those who switch from one "mode" to another. I'm one of the latter. What does this mean?

When I play, I'm often in one of the following modes: forehand looping mode, forehand hitting mode, two-winged hitting mode, steady backhand/looping forehand mode, steady blocking mode, or defensive off-table defensive mode (fishing, lobbing, chopping). What this means is that I'm much better at any of these if I focus on that shot, but weaker at other shots. The problem is if I don't go into one of these modes, I'm often weaker at everything, and have no strengths to challenge my opponent.

This doesn't mean a "mode" player can't switch modes in a rally. I can - but it's not so easy, and often the switch is from an offensive mode to off-table defense. But once in a mode in a rally, it's often hard to switch. For example, once they start blocking in a rally many players have difficulty doing anything but block the rest of the rally.

Ideally, you don't want to be a "mode" player. It's much better to be able to effortlessly switch from one shot to another, doing the appropriate shot rather than the one you are looking for (i.e. in the "mode" for).

I've often wondered why I have to resort to these various modes to play my best, knowing it's also a big handicap. I think it was because in my early years I did lots and lots of rote drills, where I'd do some footwork drill where I'd move from A to B to A to B to A to B to A, and so on. If I could go back, I'd tell myself to do more random drills as well, where you don't know where the ball is going each time, and have to just react to the incoming ball with the appropriate shot. This develops the reactions to any shot so you don't have to sort of anticipate what you'll do by going into a "mode." (Random drills will likely be the topic of the next Tip of the Week on Monday.)

A simple version of a random drill is your partner backhand blocks or counters the ball to your backhand or forehand, but randomly, and you keep driving the ball back to his backhand. (You can also do this to his forehand, of course.) When you become comfortable with this, then have him go to all parts of the table, including your middle. There are many variations.

Teaching the Banana Flip

I had an interesting session Wednesday with a student who was learning how to backhand banana flip against a short serve. There's nothing greater in coaching than seeing that look of shock and awe when they realize how easy it is to banana flip even a very low, heavy, short backspin serve! In practice, he picked it up pretty quickly, but he'll need to do it regularly in matches for a while before it becomes consistent - and then he'll be a terror against short serves.

Junior Class at MDTTC

Here's a short video (14 sec) taken at the start of last Sunday's junior class by my assistant coach for the class, Jeffrey Zeng Xun. (Jeffrey added the music.) I especially like the shot of the little kid on the left shadow practicing his forehand near the end! I think I can name all the players, but it's never easy as there are so many of them, and there are more kids off to the left you can't see. According to Google Translate, the caption in Chinese says, "Each week the most troublesome Training has begun. Filling it! Jeffrey! Too cute little mixed race." I think something got lost in the translation. Can anyone give a better translation?

Table Tennis Tips

My newest book is officially published. However, just to be safe, I ordered a copy to check out. (It's print on demand, so I can still make corrections.) According to the post office tracking system, it'll be delivered today. Assuming all is well, I'll "officially" announce it tomorrow, and you can all buy a copy!

ITTF's Developmental Program

Here's an article on the ITTF's Developmental Program.

Ping Pong Summer

The movie was officially released on January 18, but there's been no wide release. But there's a showing in my area on Thursday, June 5, at 7:30 PM, at the Carroll County Arts Council in Mount Airy, Maryland. Any locals want to join me? (I teach a junior class on Thursday nights from 6-7PM, but by great luck the current ten-week session ends the week before, and there's no session scheduled on this date. So I'm off that night after a coaching session that ends at 5PM.) Here's a picture of the theater where it'll be play - it's already advertised in big letters! The movie stars Susan Sarandon, Judah Friedlander, and others. Here's the Ping Pong Summer Facebook page. The IMDB page. The Rotten Tomatoes page. (It's at 83% fresh!) And here's the trailer (2:10).

Yasiel Puig Plays Table Tennis

Here's an article and video (1:42, plus some short gif videos) of LA Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig playing table tennis.

Mattress Table Tennis Commercial

What's the connection between table tennis and selling mattresses? Here's the 30-sec commercial! "Honey, I quit my job to become a professional ping-pong player."

Send us your own coaching news!

February 4, 2014

Not Going Against or With the Spin

When counterlooping, you'll notice how top players tend to counterloop with lots of sidespin. They rarely counterloop with straight topspin. To do so would mean contacting the ball directly on top of the ball, and going directly against the incoming topspin. The ball would then jump off the paddle, and it would be tricky keeping it on the table. Instead, they mostly contact the ball on the far side, which avoids taking on the incoming topspin directly while putting a sidespin that curves to the left (for a righty). Some do the opposite, and contact the ball on the near side, and the ball curves to the right, again avoiding taking on the incoming topspin directly. (This is a bit more difficult.)

Of course once they are into a counterlooping duel, the incoming counterloop usually has sidespin, and if you counterloop it back with sidespin (assuming both are contacting the ball on the far side), you are taking on the incoming sidespin directly. But that's not much of a problem because by doing so it becomes trickier controlling the sideways movement of the ball, just as taking on the topspin directly makes controlling the up-down movement of the ball more difficult. But you have a much wider margin for error with sideways movement; few players miss because they go too wide, while many miss by going off the end.

You actually get a bit more topspin when going directly against the incoming topspin, where the ball rebounds back with topspin, if you can control it. The same is true against an incoming loop with sidespin and topspin - if you go directly against the incoming spin and loop back with your own sidespin and topspin, you get a bit more spin overall. (And that is one reason why in counterlooping rallies both players continue to sidespin loop.) However, the difference here is minimal as players are often throwing themselves into each shot, thereby getting tremendous spins regardless of the incoming spin.

When the backhand banana flip, you face the opposite. (Side note - I call it a backhand banana flip for clarity, even though there is no corresponding forehand banana flip.) Against a heavy backspin ball, it's difficult to lift the ball with heavy topspin and keep it on the table. The table is in the way, and so you can't really backswing down as you would when doing a normal loop against a deeper backspin. The banana flip solves this problem by having the player spin the ball with both sidespin and topspin. Contact is more sideways, which makes lifting much easier as you are no longer going directly against the backspin. Intuitively this doesn't seem to make sense to a lot of people until they try it out, and discover how much easier it is to flip the ball, often with good pace as well as good spin (both topspin and sidespin).

Some players face the same thing when looping against deeper backspins - they have trouble lifting the ball. This is mostly a technique problem. However, some top players do sidespin loop against heavy backspin, which makes it easier to lift. Jan-Ove Waldner was notorious for this, often sidespin looping over and over against choppers until they gave him one to loop kill. But the difference here is that you have room to backswing, and so you can actually use the backspin to create your own topspin.

Sometimes you want to go against the spin. For example, when pushing it's easier to load up the backspin against an incoming heavy backspin as you can use that backspin to catapult the reverse spin back, giving you an extra heavy backspin. You get a lot more backspin when pushing against incoming backspin than you do against an incoming no-spin ball. And with a banana flip, against a topspin serve it's easy to go against the spin by contacting the ball nearly on top, using the incoming topspin to rebound off your racket to give you an extra heavy topspin.

Teaching How to Tell Time

Yesterday I made the mistake of teaching a 7-year-old how to tell time. He was used to digital, and had no idea what the various hands on the clock meant. So I taught him. He not only was fascinated by this, but the rest of the session he became a clock-watcher. He didn't completely get the idea, and kept running over to the clock and trying to figure out the time (usually getting it wrong). I tried to convince him that time slows down if you keep watching the clock, but to no avail. This was the second time I've made this mistake - I taught another kid the same age how to tell time sometime last year, with the same result. Never again!!!

New Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina

There are a number of new coaching articles up on the news section of his web page.

Juicing for Athletes

Here's a video (5:28) about table tennis coach and cyclist Brian Pace's new book, Juicing for Athletes.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast - January 2014

Here's the video (12:33).

ITTF Approves First Poly Ball

They also now mark all approved balls as either celluloid or plastic. Here's the listing: see item #49 (you'll have to go to page 2). The approved Xushaofa ball is the same one I tested and blogged about on Dec. 26. (See second segment.)

Ma Long Endorses New Plastic Ball

Here's the article.

Prince Plays Table Tennis on New Girl

Here's the video (45 sec) of Prince on the TV show New Girl, which includes a segment where he plays table tennis.

Sony Commercial

Here's an ad (32 sec) for Sony TV that features Justin Timberlake (on right) and Peyton Manning playing table tennis.

A (Ping-Pong) Table for Two?

Here's the cartoon!

Non-Table Tennis: My Thoughts and Ranking of the Academy Award Nominated Movies

I've now seen all nine movies nominated for Best Picture for the Academy Awards. Here's my personal ranking and short analysis of each. Note that all nine were good, so finishing last here merely makes the picture one of the best of the year. I'm pretty sure my #1 will win best picture.

  1. 12 Years a Slave: Will and should win Best Picture. Brought something new to the screen: slavery as seen by someone who, like us, learns about it as he experiences it. Pretty brutal movie.
  2. Gravity: Also brought something new to the screen: the experience of being in space. One of the few movies you really should see in 3-D. It reminded me of Jurassic Park. Both are examples of "special effects movies" that also have good stories and good acting. Along with "American Hustle," has a chance to challenge "12 Years a Slave" for best picture.
  3. Captain Phillips: Great performance by Tom Hanks, great drama. Rather than demonize the bad guys, shows it from their point of view as well so you see why they did what they did.
  4. Philomena: Surprisingly good. I went in thinking this would be a somewhat boring movie, but it got better and better as it went along. When I see old pictures of people I almost immediately wonder what happened to them, and so this movie was almost an extension of that as the main character tries to find out what happened to her long-lost son. It got even more interesting when we find out what happened to him, and she tries to learn more about him.
  5. Nebraska: Interesting movie, but pretty grim, despite the intermittent humor. I kept hoping I don't end up like that when I'm old. I kept wondering how in heck could they end this movie effectively, and they found a way. (Though I found it a bit convenient that the bullying character just happened to walk out of the bar at just the right time.)
  6. The Wolf of Wall Street: Fun movie. We all know about the extravagances of Wall Street, so it didn't really add to that. A little long for the story.
  7. Dallas Buyers Club: This was a tough one to rank. Ultimately it came out toward the bottom because I could never like the main character. He started out as a ridiculous redneck character because he was surrounded by ridiculous redneck characters. Then he changes because he's now around new types of people, and begins to take on their traits. So he's basically just becoming whoever is around him. Not much of a thinker.
  8. Her: A bit long and slow at times. Nice concept.
  9. American Hustle: Entertaining, but didn't have the substance of some of the others. Surprisingly, this is the main challenger to "12 Years a Slave" for best picture, and it has a chance. 

Send us your own coaching news!

February 3, 2014

Tip of the Week

Winning with Ball Control.

Topspinny Backhands: When to Learn?

Yesterday was a pivotal moment in one young player's table tennis career. One of the tougher decisions for some coaches is when to have their up-and-coming junior players begin to topspin more on the backhand in rallies. At the start, you teach basic backhand drives. But at the higher levels, most players these days topspin the ball, basically a backhand loop with a shorter swing, often right off the bounce. It's not easy to learn to do this in a rally, where it's tricky enough playing a regular backhand, but to topspin the ball off the bounce, practically a backhand loop, against an often fast incoming ball?

Some coaches advocate teaching this starting at around the 1800 level; others do so much earlier. But everyone's different. If a player seems to have a knack for it, and is training regularly, then perhaps he can start earlier. The problem is that in a fast rally, you have little time to topspin the ball, and players who try to do so before they're ready will make lots of mistakes.

I've got several students who are reaching the stage where they're ready to really topspin on the backhand in faster rallies. Yesterday's breakthrough was for Sameer, 12, rated 1378 after the Teams in November. He's developed a pretty nasty backhand drive, especially in drills, though he sometimes still has trouble getting the drilling backhand into games. Sameer already has a pretty decent backhand loop against backspin, but was he ready to do this over and over in rallies?

We tried it out yesterday, and he surprised me on how quickly he picked it up. We did it first in multiball, and then live, and in both cases he seemed comfortable doing so. He's also ready for the rigors of reality - that he'll probably have some bad losses over the next few months as he incorporates this into his game, especially against players who rush him on the backhand. (If you are an opponent of his, please use go ahead and rush him on the backhand - it gives him the practice he needs!) But we have a longer-term goal - the U.S. Open in July. He's going to focus on just training until then, with the plan to show up with a devastating backhand topspin, as well as (hopefully) a few other devastating shots. Maybe he'll be a true basher by then. (See Tip of the Week article above.)

Banana Flip

This video (3:22) may be the best tutorial I've seen on the backhand banana flip. Lots of slow motion and clear explanations.


Here are two videos from PingSkills on the Backhand Push (3:14) and the Forehand Push (3:19).

Table Tennis Strategy Page

Here's a new page, Table Tennis Strategy. It includes pages on Strategy, Fun Facts, Jokes, and others.

Superbowl Ad with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Here's the complete ad (3:44), which ran in several parts. The table tennis starts exactly two minutes in. "Prepare to be crushed in tiny tennis," says the long-haired wigged Arnold.

CNN Features Table Tennis

Here's the video (1:57), which ran on Friday, and is on the growing trend to play table tennis. Features Arnold Schwarzenegger, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee, and with clips of Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Biba Featured

Here's a feature article on Biba Golic in Women's Fitness Magazine.

Bounce Back Shots

Here's a video (57 sec) that compares a desperation backspin shot by Ding Ning that unreturnably bounces back over the net to win the point to a similar shot by Roger Federer in tennis.

Table Tennis on a Boat

Here's video (12 sec) of two men playing table tennis on a boat that's not much bigger than a canoe.

Hit the Card Trick Shot

Here's video (24 sec) of a trick shot where the player smacks a card out from under a ball without knocking the ball off.

When Table Tennis Gets Angry!

Here's the video (1:41) of some very angry players.

Send us your own coaching news!

November 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Three Reasons Players Miss Against Deep Sidespin and Topspin Serves.

Seamless Plastic Ball

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

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

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

Knees Problems

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

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

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

Receive Secrets from Japan - the Banana Flip

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

German Open Men's Final

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

Fan Zhendong Training

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

Cape Fear 4-Table Open

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

Monsters Playing Table Tennis

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

Send us your own coaching news!

November 15, 2013

What to Focus on in Training

At the forum someone asked about how one should practice if they have limited time. Below is an expanded version of my answer.

Every case is different, but the short, simple answer I usually give is this: Practice everything you might do in a game, but focus on your strengths and weaknesses. Make the strengths overpowering and get rid of the weaknesses.
If you have limited time, then focus intensely on one aspect until it's greatly improved (Saturation Training), then focus on the other until it is greatly improved. You'll improve faster this way then if you do just a little of each in limited time. If you practice everything for just a few minutes each, you'll keep those shots tuned up, but won't really improve them very much. Instead, spend lots of time on something until you can do it in your sleep, and then you can focus on something else.

You should probably start by improving the weakness if you only have time for one. But with limited time, it's going to be a long process. Once the weakness is up to par, focus on making the strengths overpowering. You can't dominate if you don't have something to dominate with.

Some would argue that it's better to focus on your strengths, since those are the shots you will be using mostly in a match. But it works two ways - if you have a weakness, the opponent is going to go after that weakness.
Regarding making the strengths overpowering, this includes both developing overpowering shots and setting them up. If you have a great forehand loop, then you also need ways to get it into play. So develop the serves, receives, and other shots that set up these overpowering strengths, or (if the serve and/or receive are the overpowering strengths) the shots to follow them up. At the same time develop these serves, receives, and other shots to cover up your weaknesses so the opponent can't get at them.

USATT Tips of the Day

USATT has been putting up as "Tips of the Day" the 171 Tips of the Week I wrote for them a few years ago as "Dr. Ping-Pong." Here are the Tips they put up this past week. (Click on link for complete tip.)

Nov. 11 Tip of the Day - Be Quicker or More Powerful
If you look at top players, you might notice a slight skewing in sizes there tend to be more tall or short players then the average population. Why is this? Here’s a theory, and a suggestion that might help your game.

Nov. 10 Tip of the Day - How To Play Wildly-Attacking Junior Players
No matter what your level is, at some point you’ve had to go up against some up-and-coming junior player.

Nov. 9, 2013 Tip of the Day - Pushing Short: When to Learn?
At the higher levels, short pushing becomes more and more important as a way to stop an opponent from looping.

Nov. 8, 2013 Tip of the Day - Forehand Counter-Smashing When Lobbing
There is nothing more spectacular and more thrilling than counter-smashing a winner from 15-20 feet back!

Guess or Not to Guess?
Here's an article by Samson Dubina on anticipation. Opening paragraph: "In table tennis, there are 2 aspects of anticipation.  The first is to have a reasonable guess as to where your opponent will hit the next ball.  The next aspect is watching his body position and racket angle and adjusting based on the direction of his swing."

Backhand Banana Flip

Here's a video (2:47) on the shot (a backhand topspin and/or sidespin return of a short ball, especially a short serve), demonstrated and explained by North American Champion Pierre-Luc Hinse.

Zhang Jike Singing

Here's the video (1:52)!

Chimpanzee Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (2:25). Seriously, a real chimp playing on a robot, and then live with another player. This might be my favorite table tennis video ever!!!

Send us your own coaching news!

January 31, 2013

Ongoing Tactical Adjustments

I've had some interesting matches in recent times with a local elderly 2100 chopper. I haven't lost to him in many years, but he's been finding ways to make it more . . . interesting.

I'm better against choppers than any other style, and once went over 20 years without losing to a chopper rated under 2400, while beating five over 2400. And this chopper is a very defensive one, with long pips on the backhand, inverted on the forehand. He often covers much of the court with his backhand chop - he's pretty mobile. With his defensive game, I have no trouble winning; it's no contest. I generally win points five different ways against him when he's chopping: 1) Serve light topspin to his long pips and rip a winner; 2) Steady soft and not too spinny loops over and over to his long pips until he misses or pops one up slightly, which I can rip; 3) Line up to loop to his forehand, but at the last second go inside out to his wide backhand; 4) Line up to loop to his wide backhand, but at the last second whip around and loop quicker off the bounce to his wide forehand; 5) Sudden attacks his middle, which in his case is toward his forehand side; and  As long as he plays defensive, I'm pretty much at home.

But he's been working on his attack. I think before he had some relatively dead sponge on his forehand, but at some points went to some sort of modern-age looping sponge. Every time I come to the club I see him practicing looping, which is eye-opening as he's never really even had much of a forehand in all the years I've known him, and he's older than I am (I'll be 53 next month). But it's starting to pay off for him as he is starting to not only loop, but even counterloop on the forehand.

I played him two weeks ago, and this was the first time his attack really worked. He kept ripping forehand loops. Often he'd serve short backspin or sidespin, I'd push, and he'd loop a winner, something I'd never seen him do before. He won the first game mostly by attacking. I won the next three games, but all were 11-9 or deuce, and I won some of them by making reflex blocks off his loop that I could have easily missed. He also won a number of points by counterlooping when I looped to his forehand; it got to the point that I kept the ball mostly to his backhand, which made him more comfortable, since that's where he's strongest chopping - and it took some of the deception out of my game as I became leery of faking to his backhand going to the forehand side. The steady soft loops to his backhand also didn't work so well - he'd chop a few and then suddenly step over and counterloop with his forehand. This was the first time in a long time I'd really felt threatened by his game - he could have won this one.

I thought about all this a bit, and was ready when I played him a few days ago. Even though he's a "chopper," I couldn't start the rallies off as if he were. So this time I backhand banana flipped all his short serves into his wide backhand. He'd chop with his long pips, and I was right back at home. I also started to set up most of my loops as if I were going to his forehand, and change and go to this backhand at the last second. This kept him protecting his forehand side, so he wasn't able to step over and counterloop with the forehand. And after I'd lulled him this way a few times, I'd line up to go to the backhand, and then I'd rip to the forehand. (I also play the middle a lot, but I tend to be better against choppers by aiming one way and then changing directions.)

I think he's realized that the next step is to develop more variety on his serves so I won't be able to flip so well. Plus he'll probably get better at not getting faked out when I fake one way and go the other.

Regarding the backhand banana flip, I've recently made it my mission to really use this shot aggressively against our local junior players, both so they can get used to it, and so I can win against them (duh!). Normally I flip with light topspin, but now I'm focusing on really turning that shot into a mini-backhand loop, with both topspin and sidespin. It's been highly effective already in practice matches.

Here are articles I've written on Forehand Deception with Shoulder Rotation, on the Backhand Banana Flip, and on Playing Choppers.

ITTF Eligibility Reminder

If you were born in another country but now live in the U.S., and wish to perhaps someday represent the U.S. in world events (either on the U.S. Men's, Women's, Paralympic, Junior, Cadet, or Mini-Cadet Teams), here are the rules you need to know about.

Calling hournikova17

While cleaning out some spam last night I inadvertently deleted your account. Sorry about that! You'll have to register again.

Table Tennis Scheduling

Normally I'm off Tuesdays, but coach from 5-8PM on Wednesday. But there was a school play ("Shrek"!) at a local middle school, and both my 6PM and 7PM students were in it - one as (I think) the Gingerbread Man, the other a techie. So one rescheduled for Tuesday night, the other cancelled for this week. Then my 5PM person emailed on Monday, worried about the upcoming snowstorm predicted for Wednesday (it didn't happen - just lots of rain and wind), and also rescheduled for Tuesday. So I ended up getting two hours on Tuesday, and had Wednesday off. Well, sort of - I spent the day on the Tactics book (see below). Maintaining a table tennis coaching schedule is always a matter of moving things around to accommodate local events. One regular student of mine has two schedules - one for basketball season, one for non-basketball season. (He's on his middle school basketball team.)

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Update

When I converted from Word 2003 to Word 2010, the page layouts were messed up. I spent much of yesterday redoing them. Unfortunately, I'm still having technical problems with the publisher's online software, which now insists certain text is outside the margins when it clearly is not. I also learned that I can convert directly from Word to PDF and upload the file as a PDF instead of Word (thereby bypassing their online conversion process that was causing so many problems), but then their software insists that the graphics aren't high enough resolution (though they are), and that the embedded fonts are not embedded. So this morning, after I finish the blog (and also the new MDTTC monthly newsletter), I'll try to figure out what's going on.

I'll be running short of time soon. Tim Boggan is moving in with me for two weeks on Tuesday to work on his newest volume of U.S. table tennis history, so I need to finalize everything before then. I won't be able to do much of anything on Sat or Sun as I'm coaching all day both days. And Monday is pretty packed as well. So I need to finish everything by tomorrow afternoon before I go to the club at 5PM.

This is getting irritating - I fully expected to have had it all competed already.

Last Orange Ball

From our opening in 1993 to May of 2012, the Maryland Table Tennis Center used orange training balls. They would be scattered about the club all day long as coaches coached and players played, often with multiball using boxes of balls at a time. And then, in April of last year, there was a shortage of orange balls from sponsor Butterfly, and we needed more balls for our Spring Break Camp - and so we ordered a few boxes of white training balls. With the red flooring we'd had installed they seemed more visible than the orange, so we decided to switch over to white balls. However, we still had boxes of orange balls, and so we've been using a mixture since then. We often have as many as seven coaches coaching at one time, and so always have at least seven boxes of balls ready to use (one gross each, 144). One by one, the orange balls broke, until we were down to only seven at our Christmas Camp. In my latest census two days ago, we were down to our final orange ball. The death watch toward the final orange ball extinction at MDTTC begins.

Attack of the Baby Monster

We're gonna need a bigger net!

Send us your own coaching news!

January 21, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Backhand Banana Flip.

Bringing Back the Forehand

It's harder and harder to play an all-out forehand attack as I approach age 53 next month. But sometimes the stars - or is that ping-pong balls? - align just right. On Friday and Saturday I played as a practice partner in two-hour match sessions with our top juniors. On Friday, I did a little of everything - looping, hitting, blocking, fishing & lobbing, even chopping. And nothing worked.

So on Saturday I decided to bring back the 1980s and play all-out forehand attack, mostly looping, as well as lots of smashing. To do this, I focused on staying very low, with a much wider stance than I've used in recent years, but probably the same stance I used back in the 1980s. And lo and behold, I started to move pretty well, and the shots started to hit pretty well, and guess what? I played pretty well, going undefeated. Most of the players I played were lower, including a horde of 1900 to 2000 players, but I did beat one 2250 player, losing the first game and then dominating three straight. It wasn't until my very last match that my muscles suddenly realized that I'd been coaching or playing since 10AM (it was now almost 6:30 PM), and that's when they let out. Since we were running out of time, the last match was a best of three to 11 against a 1600 player, and after a barrage of misses where my legs and back were on strike, it went deuce in the third before I pulled it out against a very hot but (even though he lost) still pretty excited kid. I almost feel sorry for how hard I plan to play him next time, assuming I'm a bit more rested!

Even though I won, I was impressed with several of the kids on how much better they are getting at returning my serves. Some are still returning them passively with deep pushes (often popping up my side-top serves for easy smashes), but others have been playing more advanced shots, flipping and dropping them short, and one has developed what seems like a 100 mph quick push that is almost unloopable.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Update

I'm now 2/3 through the tedious line-by-line proofing of the book. (Unfortunately, I probably won't get much work done on it today - huge todo list - but I'll get back to it Tuesday.) Then I have to input all the corrections - including a few new paragraphs here and there - and then get everything properly formatted for final submission to the online printing and ebook formats. So far I'm still on schedule for it to be on sale online by Feb. 1 in Print on Demand and Kindle ebook formats.

The Table Tennis Playbook

Here's a free online 26-page "playbook" that lists tactical plays used by Coach Ben Larscombe of Expert Table Tennis.

China Adds Online Popularity to World Team Trials

Here's the article on how China used online voting to put three players into the final qualification round for the World Team Trials for the upcoming World Championships in May in Paris. China's top two, Zhang Jike and Ma Long, were not in the top three. The three players voted in were, in order, Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Tianjin player Hao Shuai.

Ma Lin and Wang Hao training

Here's a video (4:28) of Chinese team members Ma Lin and Wang Hao in training. Wang Liqin and Chen Qi are seen doing some drills next to them.

Table Tennis on Grey's Anatomy

There was a table tennis scene in the episode last Thursday, Jan. 17, titled "The End is the Beginning is the End." Here's the video (1:02)! Turns out ping-pong is a recurring theme in the show -  two years ago in another episode (titled "Something's Got to Give"), they saved a life by using a ping-pong ball in surgery!

Air Ping-Pong

Here's 42 seconds of air ping-pong, featuring the worst table tennis strokes ever to fester around a ping-pong table. 

Send us your own coaching news!

December 27, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance is a Habit.

Back from break

I've mostly been away the last two weeks, coaching at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach and at Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, CA. I'm pretty much setting a policy that when I'm out of town, I take a vacation from blogging. But now I'm back, and so expect new blogs to go up every morning, Mon-Fri, normally by 9 or 10 AM. It won't be easy this week - I'm coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center Christmas Camp, and so have to get it all done before I leave each morning. (It's our 21st consecutive Christmas Camp - every year starting in 1991 - and roughly our 150th five-day camp overall.)

Coaching Seminar at the USA Nationals

At the recent USA Nationals Stefan Feth and Richard McAfee held a coaching seminar on behalf of the USATT coaching committee. I attended as did about twenty others. USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth went first, with a presentation on "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game." Unfortunately, you had to be there to see the demos to really understand these techniques, but I'll cover them briefly.


  • Ways to serve forehand backspin but fake topspin with an upward elbow follow-through.
  • Importance of focusing on one or two service motions.
  • Nine spots to serve to - short, half-long, and long to the forehand, middle, and backhand.
  • Inside-out hook serves

Receive - Banana and Strawberry flips. I'm not making this up!

  • Banana flips are becoming somewhat standard for top players. It is done with the backhand against a short ball (usually a serve, often against backspin) where you wrist the ball back with topspin and sidespin, with the sidespin coming from a right-to-left motion. Here's a video from PingSkills (4:09) where they teach the shot, though they call it a backhand sidespin flick.
  • The Strawberry flip (more commonly called a Reverse Banana Flip) is the rarer version where you create a backhand sidespin drive with a left-to-right motion. Many players can sort of do this as a simple sidespin receive, which can be effective as a change-up, but a Strawberry flip is an actual aggressive drive that jumps at you with lots of topspin and especially sidespin - with the ball jumping away from you if it goes to your forehand. Sorry, no video! (This shot was a specialty of Feth's when he was on the German team - not sure how many others use this shot regularly.)

Richard McAfee's presentation was on Half-Pattern Drills - I'll cover that in a later blog, perhaps tomorrow.

2012 US Olympic Table Tennis Trials

Here's a 31-second video promoting the U.S. and North American Olympic Table Tennis Trials. (I'll be there coaching.)

Barack Obama and David Cameron playing table tennis

A while back I posted pictures of Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron playing table tennis - see the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. Now we have video!!! (I don't think I posted this 2:10 video before.)

2011 Best of Table Tennis

Here's a collection of some of the best rallies of 2011 (7:38).

Liu Guoliang versus Ma Long - on the mini-table

Yes, these two are going at it like champions for 42 seconds! Ma is the current world #1, while Liu is the current Chinese Men's Coach and former World, Olympic, and World Cup Men's Singles Champion.


Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content