May 9, 2014

Three Less Obvious Reasons China Dominates

The primary reasons for China's dominance are they train harder, have more players, and have more and better coaches. These are all true. However, the base of the dominance actually comes from three almost iconic changes in their training and playing styles.

First, the more obvious one, was the change from the close-to-the-table pips-out attacking styles that dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as (to a lesser degree) one-winged penhold loopers. By the late 1980s it was obvious that two-winged looping was going to dominate the game, and that the last few successful hitters were mostly hanging on because European loopers weren't used to playing that style. Countries like Sweden brought in pips-out hitting practice partners, got used to playing it, and in the early 1990s China went through a drought as European players dominated the game. Many of the Chinese coaches who had advocated sticking with their traditional pips-out games were replaced, and soon China began dominating with two-winged loopers who were even better than the Europeans. In fact, they revolutionized the game by developing loopers who could stay closer to the table than the traditional European looping style, and soon European loopers were struggling to keep up.

Second, during the 1990s another traditional Chinese style nearly died out - penholders. For a time they nearly disappeared from the world-class rankings. But then players from China developed the reverse penhold backhand, and learned to play their backhands almost the same as a shakehander. It started with Liu Guoliang, then Ma Lin, then Wang Hao (world #6, former #1) and Xu Xin (current #1 in the world). The big question for years was whether the future of penhold play was a combination of reverse penhold backhands for attacking with conventional backhands for blocking, or just reverse penhold backhands, even when blocking. The latter won out. While the pips-out penhold style pretty much died out, the one-winged penhold looping game transitioned into a two-winged penhold looping style that competes evenly with two-winged shakehand loopers.

Third is perhaps the less obvious one to many. China and most Asian countries have traditionally worshipped training, and would drill for hour after hour, day after day, often seven days a week. Because of this the Chinese always had the best players from a technical point of view. And yet, the European men would often battle with them with their obviously "weaker" games. The reason? The Europeans had one ace up their sleeve - they knew the value of constant competition, and they competed constantly in leagues and training matches, as well as drills that mimicked match play. And so their players, while not as technically proficient as the Chinese, knew how to win with what they had, while the Chinese often were more robotic, playing matches as if they were drills. But the Chinese figured this out, and by the turn of the century their coaches had their players playing more and more matches, both in practice and in leagues and tournaments. Events like the Chinese Super League allowed even more matches. They also incorporated more match-type drills into their training.

And so the match-savvy Europeans found themselves up against match-savvy Chinese, and with the Chinese technological superiority, the rest is history. Just browse this listing of World Champions (singles, doubles, teams) and you'll see. They've won Men's Teams seven times in a row and nine of the last ten. (Note that just before that Sweden won three times in a row.) They've won Women's Teams ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20 times.

"Dang"

I have a new official policy. Roughly every 30 seconds while coaching, when playing out points with students, I'll say something along the lines of "I would have gotten to that ball ten years ago," or "Shots like that used to be so easy." Well, this takes up a lot of time and gets repetitive. And so, starting this past week, my new policy is that whenever I can't run down or make a shot that I know, with 100% absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, that I would have made in the past when I was a world-class conditioned professional athlete (stop laughing now), I will just say, "Dang," and my student will know what it means.

Ma Long's Earned Everyone's Respect

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to his two matches in the Men's Final at the Worlds against Germany. Here are videos with the time removed between points: Ma Long vs. Timo Boll (4:07) and Ma Long vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (4:21).

Liu Guoliang Doesn't Blame Zhang Jike

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to the Zhang Jike-Dimitrij Ovtcharov video (31:10); here's a video of the match with time between points removed (5:01).

Table Tennis for the Cure

Here's the article. "A Sheffield man with a brain disorder is battling back to health after a coma – and puts his recovery down to table tennis."

USATT Awarded US Paralympic Grant from US Department of Veterans Affairs

Here's the article.

2014 US Para Team Profiles

Here's the video (11:12), narrated by Stellan and Angie Bengtsson

Selfies from the Worlds

Here's the music video (1:14) of players at the worlds doing selfies to music.

Human Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the picture - though I think he looks more like a big fat onion to me!

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Re: May 9, 2014

Good points on CNT dominance.  However, you can't mention the history of the reverse penhold backhand without mentioning Wang Hao.  You really should put his name in there instead of Ma Lin. 

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: May 9, 2014

You're completely right - I added him. What was I thinking leaving him out?