Saturday 17 January 2015

The Importance of A Loose Elbow in Table Tennis

This may sound like a very odd topic title, granted it is a little strange, but it is important. A lot of new and developing players have trouble learning strokes and a common problem is the tightening of the elbow. Sometimes the swing is too big, or the elbow is locked when playing a shot which results in the stroke centering around a swing from the shoulder. See more from my Coaching Blog.

Why Is a Loose Elbow Important?

Firstly let's talk about the consequences of a tight elbow. A tight elbow results in tightening of the tricep and also forearm and prevents the ability to maintain good touch. A grip on the handle too tight can also have a similar effect.

In a game where touch is so important and minute changes can create big differences in the impact on the ball and the results, the over-tightening of muscles can have a detrimental effect. Here are some examples.

  • A tight full arm swing is much harder to control and focuses on the shoulder too much, this reduces accuracy and the ability to transfer speed into the ball as a shoulder swing is slower.
  • A tight arm swing without full extension limits the speed transfer of the ball as the player is controlling the pace of the swing with their arm and thus may disrupt the balance and mechanics of the stroke.
  • A tight extended elbow when pushing long or short limits control and usually causes the ball to bounce higher off the bat.
  • A tight elbow often prevents a correct backswing for looping strokes.
  • Swinging through the shoulder can often result in muscle knotting, shoulder pain and potential further injury of the rotator cuff etc.
The Master of Relaxed Play and Touch
Jan-Ove Waldner

Benefits of a Lose Elbow

  • Helps a more natural backswing where the body turns and allows the bat to naturally drop in a controlled manner. This means the player is able to start below the ball each time when they wish to play with more topspin and the swing is more natural.
  • The arm becomes more of a follow-through to the real weight transfer which comes from the legs and core muscles, a relaxed arm results in the most accurate and efficient transfer of weight.
  • Additional flexibility of the elbow allows greater touch and control which will allow more pace and spin variation and also helps keep the ball low to the net, especially in short and long pushing situations.
  • Easier to make controlled adjustments to swing and angle of bat.

In a sport like table tennis it pays to be relaxed in many facets of the game (you can read this blog by Ben Larcombe on How to Play 'Relaxed' Table Tennis), but personally I think the elbow is one of the key components in the sport for which it is vital to remain loose and flexible. Hope this was useful and gives you something to think about or check on next time you play :)

Friday 16 January 2015

The Bionic Man, Ping Pong's Ultimate Inspiration

A dedicated reader of my blog, Arnab Ghosh was kind enough to send me this interview he did with a truly inspirational character. Navin Kumar has survived 5 major heart surgeries and now survives with a carbon fiber bionic heart and is rediscovering his passion for table tennis. Check out Arnab's blog HERE and enjoy this inspiring tale of a remarkable man.

Tell us a little bit about your condition.

I was born with a congenital heart condition that has required 5 open-heart surgeries throughout my life to correct. My heart is now mechanical and made of the same carbon fiber material that you see in some table tennis paddles and I also have a pacemaker implanted inside me which is cool because occasionally I get to have software downloaded inside me so I feel like my old childhood bionic hero, The Six Million Dollar Man. A year and half ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which affects me 2 ways – muscle stiffness and right hand tremors.

Navin Kumar Cheerful to be playing the sport he loves!

What do you bring away from each of the five successful heart surgeries that you had to go through since childhood?

Gratefulness for still being alive to enjoy my journey and a strong determination to show my gratitude for being alive by inspiring others to good health via table tennis playing.

You have decided to inspire others to live heart healthy lives. What is ‘heart healthy life’?
How do you think the changes that took place in time from the late 1970s till now have affected people in terms of heart health - To be more exact has it become more important than before to pay attention to one’s heart and why?

Heart-healthy life is exactly just that in terms of definition – living a lifestyle that promotes good heart health via exercise and proper diet. The changes that have taken place since the late 70s until now, specifically in terms of getting awareness out to the general public about the importance of good heart health, have definitely influenced the general public to take better care of their hearts and this is evidenced by healthier eating options at restaurants, increased participation at fitness clubs, and the realization that if people don’t take care of themselves in terms of heart health then they risk possible heart attack or other heart related issues.

Tell us your dad’s playing career in India.

He mostly played in school and with friends. His primary passion when it came to sports was Kabaddi and he was amazing at the game. He was the smallest guy on his team but lightning quick and wound up captaining the Mysore State Team and had there been a National Kabaddi Team back then he would have definitely been on it. I still have copies of all his newspaper articles that talked about his matches and I have some of his medals as well. He has been such an inspiration to me to get better in table tennis since he was my first teacher when I was four years old.

Improvement in table tennis in America since your childhood till now over the years
and peoples attention and knowledge...table tennis’ popularity in general over the years. – What are your thoughts?

Table tennis has definitely increased in popularity over the years and people now realize that table tennis is great for exercise, and with the work and awareness I am doing now, people are starting to realize the great health benefits for table tennis.

Tell us more about your table tennis experience in College.

Primarily recreational experience, though I did manage to win a tournament in college. I had two sporting passions in college – table tennis and pocket billiards (i.e. pool) so when I wasn’t playing table tennis, I was shooting pool and wound up representing my school at a collegiate national tournament for pool.

You won gold in a doubles event. What tournament was that and where? What is the difference in terms of difficulty between singles and doubles matches for you?

This was a doubles table tennis tournament on a Bermuda Cruise Ship. My brother-in-law was my doubles partner. The primary difference between singles and doubles matches is the fact you have a partner in doubles and the difficulty lies in being sure that you and your partner are in sync with one another and can work together.

How exactly did winning change your perspective towards the game?

Winning absolutely had no effect on my perspective towards the game. Win or lose, I love this game and enjoy losing as much as winning because you can take losing in a positive sense and use it as a learning experience to see what you did wrong and what you need more work on so you get better the next time you play.

A lot of the youngsters who are coming in contact and falling in love with table tennis think that table tennis really picked up after the golden era of Sweden, but actually there were a lot of good players before that era. Tell us something about some of your favourites from that time.

Table tennis has been around much longer than the golden era of Sweden, and there were plenty of great players that played during the 1920s to 1940s. My personal favorites include Viktor Barna who was known for his insanely wicked backhand, my dear friend Marty Reisman who sadly passed away a few years ago, Dick Miles, Johnny Leach, and Richard Bergmann to name a few.

Tell us something about Larry Hodges, Jimmy Pelletier and Marty Reisman and their impact on you.

Larry is currently my coach, as well as my older daughter’s coach since she recently started taking group lessons from him. Larry is well known worldwide in the table tennis world and is a great player, not only in the sponge game but the other table tennis games including hardbat and sandpaper. 

His knowledge is vast, having written many articles, books, etc. on the subject and I am totally in love with his strong forehand. He will be focusing on helping me improve my forehand as I start the next phase of coaching from him. Jimmy and Marty both had a strong impact on me in terms of helping me develop a deep love and respect for the sandpaper and hardbat table tennis games, and Jimmy has been great in being my primary hitting partner for sandpaper and hardbat table tennis games which has helped me to improve greatly.

Importance of table tennis in your life.

It is helping to keep me alive and in good health and surprisingly, table tennis has made my reflexes lightning quick compared to how they were before I resumed playing last July. Now that my daughters are learning to play table tennis, this is very important to me because we now share the same passion for this game and it’s a great father-daughter bonding activity.

Larry Hodges and his signature 2000 level clipboard play

Things that make Larry and Jimmy unique in their coaching from one another as far as your limitations are concerned.

Larry has coaching down to a science and has been able to pick apart my game and help me improve my technique, as well as adjust my technique to adapt to my Parkinson’s limitations. Jimmy has taught me much in the same way that the great Marty Reisman taught Jimmy for sandpaper and hardbat playing.

You’ve played all forms of the game, which one is the best and you enjoyed the most?

I love all forms equally. I love the fast speed that the ball moves in the sponge game and I love returning smashes, which has helped me greatly to improve my reflexes and that is the number one compliment I get from opponents regarding how unusually fast my reflexes are so they jokingly call me “the wall” since I return their smashes. I love the long rallies in the hardbat and sandpaper games and love the sound that hardbat and sandpaper paddles make when you hit the ball.

After you were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease you must have found it difficult to continue with the stroke techniques like you did before. How were you able to work around it?

I was able to work around it by good coaching and adjusting my stroke as needed to compensate for the Parkinson's. I also kept an open mind about table tennis blades and rubber and through trial and error I experimented with different blades and rubber to find combinations that would help me compensate for my Parkinson’s.

How did you play in Las Vegas at the US Nationals?

Had a great tournament and went undefeated in my group in which I won all my matches and later lost in the quarterfinals. I was so happy that I made it as far as I did because I proved to myself that I can compete on this level despite my heart and Parkinson’s conditions. I also got observed by members of the U.S. Paralympic Program and wound up being admitted to the program so I am now eligible to compete at Paralympic events and represent the USA at international competitions starting this year, though I will have to self-pay, meaning that I will need to find sponsors to help me fund my participation at these international table tennis competitions.

Did you make any special preparation for that tournament?

No special preparation was taken.

What were your aims in the tournament, what were you looking to achieve?

My main goals were to meet and pay my respects to the “masters” of the game whom I knew online but had never met in person, bring awareness to my mission of inspiring others to play table tennis for the wonderful health benefits, and to prove to myself that I can compete on this national level despite my medical issues. I am honored to say that I successfully achieved all my goals. ☺

Practicing/playing against a person versus practicing with a robot.

With a robot you can program it to help you focus on specific areas such as programming the robot to hit topspin shots to your backhand only. For me personally, the robot was great for me to test out a bunch of different paddles and different rubber combinations. Playing against a person is of course better when preparing to play in a tournament since you can mimic the “unpredictability factor” that you would experience against a person versus a robot which would be more repetitive and predictable.

Would you encourage your daughters to pick up the sports on a professional level?

Absolutely and I already have! The emphasis though would be to pick up the game for the sake of good health.

Importance of sports in a person’s life in general.

Important in terms of good health, confidence, and in the case of team sports, to help improve skills with working with others on a team. It is important to know that not everyone can play sports, such as those people with medical issues, so for them it is important that they seek out the advice from their doctor before starting any new physical activity.

Do you keep the bitter memories of your heart surgeries in the past and use it for your motivation or would your rather forget about them and move on?

On the contrary, none of my memories are bitter. I consider my heart surgeries and diagnosis of Parkinson’s to be like the “Prasadam” we receive at Indian temples from the priest. These medical issues are gifts that have helped me to love life and have helped me to become the person I am today as someone who is becoming more well-known worldwide as an advocate for table tennis for good health and as a motivational speaker to inspire folks to good health, and as the first Parkinson’s athlete in history to compete on an international level for table tennis. It is the DIFFICULT times in life and how you choose to deal with them that shape and define you. I will never forget them, nor would I want to. I am not ashamed of my medical issues and they have only made me stronger. These are definitely a blessing and my prasadam. ☺

Any opinions on
- the recent changes in table tennis rules or the materials used
-china’s dominance

No opinions, other than the fact that more and more people are playing the game and getting coached, so I have a feeling that eventually we will start seeing that no particular country is dominating and that more countries will be evenly matched which will be great for the game in my opinion.

You recently met Tim Boggan. Your experience with him.

It was a thrill of a lifetime for me. Gem of a human being and a walking encyclopedia of historic table tennis knowledge. I came away with a new friend for life.

Recommendations of table tennis books that youngsters learning the game can read.

“Ping Pong for Fighters” by Tahl Leibovitz (Foreword by the legendary Swedish table tennis player, Stellan Bengtsson).

“Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers” by Larry Hodges

Other hobbies and pastimes - cars and music

Car customizing (BMWs primarily), shooting pool, professional violinist and singer including Bollywood music, shark tooth and fossil hunting, motivational speaking, being a good father to my kids.

Do you like Indian movies or music, spicy cuisines.
Any plans on visiting to the country.

Love it all. Though I was born and raised in the USA, my parents did a great job making sure I was exposed to Indian culture at a young age and I love Indian culture as much as American culture. I am hoping to visit India within the next few years.

Finally on a lighter note, do you feel that you connect with table tennis itself better than others because your heart and the blades share the same carbon fibre material? Thoughts.

I do feel like I have a strong connection because of the carbon fiber, but the fact that my father was the one who introduced me to this game at the age of 4 and that this brought me and my father closer together when I was 4 is the strongest connection I have to table tennis and ultimately why I love this game so much. I love my Appa and think of him whenever I play the game. ☺

TableTennisDaily Stiga Carbonado Blade Reviews

My good friend Dan from TableTennisDaily has been busy with some of Stiga's most high performing sponsored players. In the three detailed video reviews below, Dan gives us some insight into the capabilities of Stiga's new Carbonado blades and the Textreme blade whilst holding his own against none other than Xu Xin, Fan Zhendong and Kristian Karlsson. Great reviews Dan!

TableTennisDaily has asserted itself as the leading table tennis forum on the web with an incredible amount of hard work put in by Dan Ives. Be sure to head over and check it out at

Will We See A Defensive Player at The Top?

Over the decades, defensive players have provided an incredible amount of entertainment in table tennis, displaying consistency and a high level of athleticism, but it has been quite some time since a defender has really challenged a place in the top 5 players in the world.

Joo Se Hyuk has been the defender of this generation, peaking at number 5 in the world rankings on a couple of occasions but only for a month each time and of course making his incredible performance at the 2003 World Championships where he won a silver medal and 2011 World Cup where he defeated Boll to win bronze.

Joo Se Hyuk in the Chinese Super League
So here is the real question. How long will it be till a defender becomes number 1? Is it even possible? The Chinese National Team are incredibly well trained to face defensive players and have many defensive practice partners to learn from. While Joo is still as wonderful as ever to watch out on the table, the peak of his career has certainly passed. Or has it?

I am not one to discourage defensive players or fans of defensive table tennis, I for one thoroughly enjoy watching choppers play on the international stage. I'm a great fan of Joo and Shiono and Gionis also. What is the potential of defensive players, can they reach the top spot? This would be a great topic for a lot of discussion, there are a lot of good defensive players out there, but there are also an overwhelming number of strong offensive players. At the end of the day, what does it take for the defensive players to overcome the offensive players and make the top 5 in the world?

Even a player from the last generation with exceptional skills, Koji Matsushita, only reached a peak ranking of 17th in the world. The Chinese National Team don't see many defensive players rising through the ranks, not in the men's competition at least. Ding Song was probably the last great Chinese defender who won a bronze in the 97 World Champs.

You also have the likes of Chen Weixing who was top 15 in China but moved to Austria where he reached the top 10 in the world with a high of number 9. Also Hou Yingchao who was top 20 in the world for the year of 2007, peaking at number 10 in January of that year.

These players seem to be few and far between. We see Gionis who recently reached a peak world ranking of 18th and is moving up in the recent year, not so many other choppers from Europe to join him at that level.

Out of interest does anybody know the last time a defensive player was top 5 in the world or even ranked number 1? Welcome as much discussion as possible here, can defensive players be competitive in the top 5 in the world, what needs to change, what will it take?

Yip Repeats Success as Coach of the Year

Lily Yip was US National Coach of the Year in 2013 after a successful year, but 2014 was quite something else with a string of historic events for the USA with Yip leading the teams. Having been at Lily's club for some time now it is clear that Lily Yip is no ordinary coach. She is one to go far beyond the call of duty for table tennis, it is her passion and her life.

In 2014 Lily packed up and left her club where she dedicates hours each day to coaching her young students and keeping her club maintained to the highest standard. She headed away to China with Lily Zhang for the Road to Nanjing Training Camp, then across to Korea for the Korean Junior Open where Zhang made history by reaching the final of the Under 21 event.

Lily Zhang and Coach Lily Yip at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing 2014
The exhausting schedule continued with Yip travelling to Japan for the next Junior Circuit Event. I distinctly remember after the final stint in China, Lily returned to the club for just a single day and then caught a flight to Canada to coach the US Junior Girls team in the North American Team Championships. You simply can't put a price on that kind of dedication!

The Junior Girls team qualified after beating Canada and not long after that Lily was back in the air, flying to Nanjing for the Youth Olympic Games with Lily Zhang. Again history was made, Zhang played incredibly well and the moment she won the bronze medal after victory over Japan was really something special.

The result was another historic milestone for the USA, the first Olympic or Youth Olympic medal for the nation, one Lily Zhang should be very proud of and that I know Lily Yip was honoured to be a part of.

The year was not over yet though. Lily's next stop was the World Junior Championships in Shanghai. She left her beloved training center yet again and departed to China with the team of Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang and Angela Guan. The team played incredibly well and made it through the group stages. The first big result came against Russia where the girls were able to win 3-0 in the round of 16 stage, setting up a quarterfinal appearance against South Korea, an incredibly tough opponent on the world stage.

The result sent ripples around the globe, not only a victory for USA, but a 3-0 win. History had been made yet again by America who were now in the semifinal of the World Junior Championships. Despite their efforts they were defeated by Japan but still clenched a bronze medal in the event, the first medal for the US in the event and an amazing result for the team.

Team USA in the Semifinal of the World Junior Championships
Lily stayed on in China for a bit of extra time and then headed home, only to depart to Las Vegas for the US National Champs where she won the Over 50 Women's Singles. Needless to say an incredibly busy year for Lily Yip. Having spent a lot of 2014 with her I will say one thing. She does not rest if there is work to be done, she does not hesitate to help whenever someone asks or is in need and she is committed to table tennis just as much as the air she breathes. She is a remarkable and inspiring coach and very much deserves 2014 National Coach of the Year. Congratulations to Lily Yip and to Lily Zhang and the US Junior Girls Team for an outstanding year! :)

Thursday 8 January 2015

Is Zhang Jike a Sure Bet in 2015?

Zhang Jike is the player of the generation for rising to the occasion on the big stage. 2015 will again be an opportunity for him to show his prowess on the table with the World Table Tennis Championships in Suzhou, China. But can Zhang Jike pull through again and win his 3rd World Individual Championships title? Who knows, it may not be a sure thing.

Zhang Jike after his 2014 World Cup Victory
Image from ITTF
For the die hard fans of Zhang Jike, perhaps he is the best bet still and no doubt he will have the odds in his favour for those willing to try their luck on William hill betting, but there will be stiff competition standing in his way.

2014 saw Quadri Aruna steal away 2 games from the Grand Slam Champion at the inaugural World Cup event, then in the semi-final it was Timo Boll who pushed Zhang all the way to the 7th game. Following that he narrowly overcame his teammate Ma Long in 7 in the final. So there are some potential competitors out there, but you still have to put above all others the fact that Zhang Jike still won the event.

One thing is for sure though, Zhang Jike will face the ultimate test in 2015. For the first time in his Grand Slam career he will face a new opponent in the final. At the 2011 and 2013 World Championships, the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympic Games it was Wang Hao who stood between Zhang Jike and victory. But Wang Hao has retired from the Chinese National Team after a long and successful career and so it will be another challenger who will stand in his place. Should Jike make it to the final, there will be a very new and different kind of pressure facing him.

What really backs Zhang Jike is just one thing. He had been doubted before, perhaps more so than any player, but what makes him such a unique competitor is his distinct ability to fuel off the doubt and pressure placed upon him and rise above it to assert himself as the world's best player. Will 2015 place the World's crown upon Zhang Jike for a third time? The eyes of the table tennis world will surely be watching carefully upon the Grand Slam Champion as he attempts to endure the test!

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Croatia's Champ Aiming for Top 10 and Olympic Medal

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of Europe's stronger players, Andrej Gacina from Croatia. Check out the interview below and for more top international player interviews head to my Interviews Page.

Full Name: Andrej Gaćina
Age: 28
Date Of Birth: 21.5.1986.
Nation Represented: Croatia
Highest World Ranking: 18

Croatia's Andrej Gacina
Image from ETTU
Equipment Used?
Blade: Butterfly Innerforce ZLC
FH Rubber: Tenergy 05
BH Rubber: Tenergy 80

Your Career

How long have you been playing table tennis for, when and how did you start?
I am playing table tennis since I was 6 years old. I started at age of 6, first I started with football (played it for about 3 months) but then I switched to table tennis because at that time Croatia was in war against Serbia and I played table tennis inside the hall and football was on open field so it was less dangerous.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
I had many coaches so I cannot say that only one coach influenced my career. But some of coaches that made a big influence in my career are: Zvonimir Korenic – present Croatian team coach; Dubravko Skoric – present coach of TTF Liebherr Ochsenhausen and the one who probably helped me the most is Chen Zhibin – former Chinese national team player and Top 10 in the World ranking list back in the time

How did you progress from starting table tennis into becoming a professional player?
The biggest turning point in my career was when I left education and started to pursue more professional my table tennis career. I made that decision at 18 years of age.

You just reached a career best World Ranking of 18th. How does it feel to be in this position and do you see a possibility to reach the top 10?
It feels great to be among 20 best players in the world and I feel I have more room to improve my game which will hopefully get me to better places then 18 in the world.

Andrej's amazing effort to save a match point from Timo Boll

You had an amazing rally with Timo Boll in the 2013 European Championships where you managed to retrieve a number of difficult balls to try and save his championship point. What was in your mind during this point?
I just did not want to give up no matter how difficult the ball was that Timo played against me and I think the last shot I played with my forehand was really difficult to play against because I gave a lot of downspin but Timo just played it back with ease, and that shows how great a player he is.

You have won a gold medal in doubles at European Championships, do you feel you are in strong form to content for a singles medal next time?
If I will be in good shape at that tournament then I think I have a chance to win a medal.

In the recent Euro championships the new ball was played. How did you feel about playing with the new ball and its performance?
The new ball is not that much different but there are some differences. Like, it is not possible to produce much spin like with the celluloid ball and the ball is a bit slower then the celluloid one. But the biggest issue is the quality of the balls. They break much easier than the old ones and I think the manufacturers should think better how to make the balls firmer.

A formidable pairing, Marcos Freitas and Andrej Gacina in Doubles together

What is your biggest goal in table tennis?

To win a medal at Olympic games.

Off the Topic QuestionsWho’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?Michael Jordan

Favourite food?
Steak with grilled vegetables

What do you do when you aren't playing table tennis?
I rest :)

Dream Car?
Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Ideal holiday destination?
Croatia ;)

First thing you would do if you won $1million?
Think good where to spend it ;)

And Lastly
Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?
There is always a solution,if you look hard enough for it, you will find it to reach your goal, no matter what the goal is.

Thank you Andrej!