January 17, 2013

Coaching an Olympic Figure Skating Coach

Yesterday I had the honor of coaching for an hour Audrey Weisiger, the celebrated USA figure skating coach. (She was coach of the 1998 and 2002 USA Olympic Team, and coach of Michael Weiss, and has also coached Timothy Goebel, Lisa Kwon, Christine Lee, Parker Pennington, and Tommy Steenberg.) She plans on taking a series of lessons with me at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She was referred to me by John Olsen, a player/coach at the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Center.

Audrey had been playing with an extreme backhand grip, trying to cover the whole table with her backhand. Hitting a forehand was a completely new experience for her. When we started out, she sort of slashed at the ball with an open racket, and the balls sailed off the end. (Part of the reason for this was she was used to playing with a hardbat, not the sponge racket she was now using.) She also tended to either use no body rotation, or rotate the entire body stiffly as if it were one solid object.

The first half of the session was all multiball. The key to fixing her stroke was to have her start with the racket slightly lower and slightly closed, and stroke slightly upwards. I also had her rotate her upper body backwards a bit during the backswing. When we did these things, she went off the end with an awkward stroke. She still wasn't used to how the sponge racket grabbed the ball, and so was instinctively aiming too much up. So I had her try to topspin the top of the ball into the net. This she had no trouble doing - and miraculously, it led to a good stroke, just not enough lift. Next I had her do the same stroke but try to lift the ball just over the net. Bingo! From there on her stroke was correct, and she proceeded to hit lots of nice forehands (with decent topspin) in a row. (She also had a tendency to close the racket during the forward stroke, and to back off the table too much, but we mostly fixed those problems.)

We did a lot of forehands to ingrain the stroke, and then did some side-to-side stroking drills, occasionally going back to one spot to make sure she didn't lose the stroke. Finally, when she looked pretty comfortable, we went forehand-to-forehand live. Within minutes she was able to hit up to 20 in a row. It still needs work as she still sometimes backed off the table too much and the stroke sometimes gets erratic if she has to move, but the foundation is now there.

We also worked on her backhand, where she was much more comfortable. We had to change her grip from the extreme backhand grip she had been using, but she picked it up quickly. (At first she was using a different grip for forehand and backhand, but we got away from that.)

We won't talk about her serve as we only had a few minutes at the end, where I learned she'd been using a "bounce" serve where she bounced the ball on her side of the table and hit it directly to the other side, rather than have it bounce on her side first. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!! But she was able to serve correctly before we finished, and promised to practice her serve for next time, along with shadow practicing the forehand and backhand strokes. She has to mix next week - out of town traveling - but will continue the next week.

It was interesting discussing the similarities in coaching between our sports. In both, there's a lot of training to develop muscle memory, and a lot of visualization.

Other celebrities I've coached at MDTTC include Jack Markell (governor of Delaware) and Judah Friedlander (standup comic and one of the stars of 30 Rock.)


After I finish this blog and do some promised editing of a long table tennis article for someone, I either collapse into bed or start the final tedious line-by-line proofing of the pages of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The book is 240 pages with 99,528 words. The bigger question is where do I do the proofing? Ledo's Pizza (pepperoni pizza)? Hong Kong Café (kung pau or sesame chicken)? Wendy's (chili with cheese and onion)? Or at MDTTC (no food, just lots of ping-pong on the side)? For some reason, I rarely do extensive paper proofing at home; I always like to go out somewhere for that, usually Ledo's.

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Two ITTF Coaching Seminars in the U.S. in 2013 are now scheduled, both in Austin, TX. There will be a Level 1 Course on June 10-14, and a Level 2 Course on Sept. 9-14. I took the Level 1 course in 2010, and in 2011 I taught one. There's a chance I may teach another one this year - not sure yet. I was going to take the Level 2 course last year but just didn't have the time or money for it. I really want to go, but to go I'd have to pay roughly $300 registration, $300 air fare, $300 hotel, and lose at least $500 in lost coaching fees, or $1400 total. I can't afford $1400. Anyone want to sponsor me?

USATT Annual Giving Campaign

It's time for the annual USATT Giving Campaign! USATT receives matching funds from the U.S. Olympic Committee for money donated.

Send Gary Schlager to the Maccabiah Games

Here's a nice page Gary's put together to raise funds for his trip. He's raised $5849 of the $10,000 needed. (Maybe I should put one of these together to solicit the money to send me to the ITTF Level 2 course? See segment above.)

$1,000,000 Sandpaper Tournament?

We've already had a couple of $100,000 World Ping Pong Championships, with sandpaper rackets only. Now promoter Barry Hearn is talking $ one million. "You're not going to get kids to pick up the game if it is not aspirational. So I need to get my tournament up to US$1 million prize money as quickly as possible. And then we will blow the whole table tennis world up with a bang." He described sandpaper table tennis this way: "It's rock 'n' roll. It's going to be high-fives, knocking balls into the crowd, interaction between the players and the crowd." And he aims to "catapult the game into the big league" and onto the international television stage, which he says has a potential audience of 700 million.

Timo Boll vs. the Chopper

Adam Bobrow's been posting daily videos on Facebook of Timo Boll, in anticipation of his visit to Spin LA this Saturday. Here's one showing a great point (47 sec) as Timo loops nearly 50 shots to win a point against chopper Ding Song.

Drinkhall's Multiball

Here's a video (7:37) and analysis of England's Paul Drinkhall doing a multiball training session, by Bar Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis.

Table Tennis Mural

They've put up a sports mural at the University of California at Berkeley at the Recreational Sports Facility - and it features a picture of Yau-Man Chan playing table tennis! Also shown are soccer and kayaking, and perhaps others not shown in the picture.

"Trust the Topspin"

I was teaching someone to loop yesterday and he kept looping into the net. I told him to sweep the ball upwards, and "trust the topspin" to pull the ball down. He looped the next ball way off the end. I said "Not that much!" Somehow this exchange struck me as hilarious at the time. Maybe you had to be there.

TT on TV

There were a pair of table tennis scenes on TV recently:

  • CSI NY, Jan. 4 episode, "Command + P," with a 50-second table tennis scene starting at 34:20.
  • Storage Wars New York, Jan. 15 episode, "I've Got a Bride to Sell You in Brooklyn," featuring table tennis player Will Horowitz. The table tennis starts at 16:45 and lasts about a minute as Will explains to two woman the value of their table tennis robot.

Chinese Women's Team Gangnam Dance

Here's the Chinese National Team doing a Gangnam Dance (1:22)!

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