February 2, 2015

Tip of the Week

Develop the Five Types of Rallying Shots.

The Culture of Table Tennis in the U.S.

As I help set up the Capital Area Super League (with Mike Levene and Stefano Ratti the primary movers and creators, using their experience from playing in leagues in England and Italy), one thing that keeps jumping out is the culture of table tennis in America. It's quite different from the table tennis culture in more successful countries. For one thing, we have a rating-obsessed culture in USATT, where often little else matters other than the almighty rating. What's the goal of most tournament players in the U.S., win an event or gain rating points? Since most players focus on playing in higher events in the hopes of pulling off an upset, while avoiding the lower ones (i.e. the ones they might win) in order to avoid getting upset, I think we have our answer.

But it's not just ratings. In Europe, where memberships dwarf USATT's, it's a team culture. Few players play regularly in tournaments; it's all about playing on a team in a league. There are team leagues everywhere, leading to huge memberships, which lead to the growth of clubs, which is why there are 600,000 (paid) league members in Germany and 11,000 clubs. Players from Europe talk about how much we're missing without such leagues, where players get to play on a TEAM, surrounded by friends cheering you on.

I'm always amazed that some believe that the leagues in Germany and other countries started because of the large memberships, when in fact the leagues were the cause. And yet this faulty reasoning is used to argue that we're not ready for team leagues in the U.S. because (drum roll please) we don't have enough players!

But there is some truth that developing these team leagues won't be easy, and that's because of the culture of table tennis here, where few have ever played regularly on a table tennis team. They don't know what it's like to compete regularly on a team where your teammates and friends are cheering you on, even as you cheer them on - you know, like most of you were cheering on a football team at the Super Bowl last night! Except - you get to be Tom Brady or Russell Wilson.

As we promote the Capital Area Super League here in the Maryland/Virginia/Washington DC area, the hardest part is explaining what a team league is. Many only have a vague idea of what it's about. The info is all on the web page, but that's like telling a math student all the info is in a math textbook. Having the info available doesn't mean they understand it, even though in this case it's really simple. But we're working on it, and the good news is playing on a team league is a lot simpler than math! (You only occasionally have to count past 11.)

It's not just the players. Local and National leaders are also often stuck in the past, going with "what works," i.e. the same "winner stay on" club mentality that handicaps an often status quo USATT and keeps its membership under 10,000, i.e. a round-off error compared to more successful table tennis countries. These are often the very ones who a few years ago didn't believe there were enough interested players in this country to support more than a few full-time training centers - and then we went from less than ten to about 80, with more popping up regularly. (I expect they'll continue to do this until there are many hundreds of them or more.) Now they don't believe we have enough interested players to run successful team leagues. It's the same old "Which came first, chicken or egg?" question we've always faced, except when asked "What comes first, leagues & coaching programs, or large numbers of players?", the answer is categorically leagues and coaching programs, since they are what lead to the large number of players. It's all about cause and effect. Waiting for the large number of players to miraculously appear so you can run these programs is sort of like sitting around waiting to become a top player rather than practicing to become one.

It's going to be a long, difficult process dragging USA Table Tennis into the modern table tennis culture that's so successful overseas. Those looking for immediate results should look elsewhere; it's going to take years. But just as a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, developing table tennis in this country also starts with a few simple steps - and that's why we need to focus on taking those steps to continue to develop training centers, and to begin the process of spreading team leagues around the country.

As a member of the USATT Board of Directors, this will be my focus over the next four years and perhaps beyond. Right now I'm watching and studying the process as we create the Capital Area Super League (much of it based on the LA League and overseas leagues) so we can develop a prototype that can spread to other regions. It'll be a long process, but it has to start sometime. Soon I'll be writing about more specific plans, which involve creating state & regional associations and/or working with current ones, with the primary purpose to spread team leagues and coaching programs, as well as state championships. While I'm not yet ready to go nationwide, the process has to begin at some point, even if it's still in the exploratory learning stage. And so I declare that the process begins . . . Now.

Learning Good Mechanics: Following Through

Here's the new coaching article by Han Xiao, which includes links to videos of Yan An, Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, Ma Long, and Joo Sae-Hyuk. (This is follow-up to his article I linked to last week on Weight Transfer and Using Your Legs.)

Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

  • Test Time: How much do you REALLY know about your FOOTWORK?
  • The #1 Question: Learn about the 17 needed adjustments!!!!

Ask the Coach - Werner Schlager Academy Version

They are now doing a continuing series with head coach Richard Prause. They are in German, but with English subtitles. Here are the first three. (I linked to the first two previously, but #1 didn't have subtitles at that time, and #3 is new.)

Ask the Coach- PingSkills Version

Episode #68 (16:56) - Banana Flip

  • Discussion - 1:26: How can I download PingSkills videos on to my iPhone?
  • Previous #PQOTD  - 3:26: How many training sessions did you do last week?
  • #PQOTD  - 4:52
  • How high on the World Rankings do you think Quadri Aruna can reach?
  • Question 1 - 5:35: So usually I use a low tomahawk serve, and it works quite well. The only problem is I don't get much sidespin on the ball. Sometimes I get a lot and sometimes I get almost no spin at all. Any tips on how I can produce more spin on the ball? Lukas
  • Question 2 - 8:39: If you would answer my question I would be very grateful.  In which point at your bat must the ball be hit for the Banana Flick? Thanks Nick
  • Question 3 - 10:29: My hitting partner and I were discussing that we think we blink when our opponent hits a hard smash or drive.  So we lose track of the ball at a critical time.  What is your experience with this?  Do most players do this?  Is there a way to stop this? Phil
  • Question 4 - 13:13: I and my partner often practice topspin but after hitting the first topspin i am not able to return the second one. How can I hit the second topspin and return to my position quickly. Charankamal

Which is the Best Poly Ball?

Here's the video (2:33) from Expert Table Tennis.

Most Expensive Table Tennis Bat

Here's the article from Expert Table Tennis, which also covers the most expensive rubbers. Regarding rackets, I use the Butterfly Timo Boll ALC (flared), which is mentioned in the article. It may be the most popular high-end racket right now. I'm pretty sure I'll be using this one forever. It's now used by well over half my students and a good percentage of the players at my club. (I use Tenergy 05 2.1 black on the forehand, and Tenergy 25 2.1 red on the backhand.)

Great Point - Wang Liqin vs. Werner Schlager

Here's the video (27 sec) of one of the best points I've ever seen played. (I may have linked to this before, but watch it again!)

Creative Senior Table Tennis?

Here's the video (38 sec) showing multiple versions of table tennis by these experience warriors.

Novak Djokovic and Stefan Feth

Djokovic just won his fifth Australian Open (some of you may have missed that while watching that Pretty-Good Bowl game). Here he is with USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth at the 2012 Olympics.

Inflategate - the Truth

I can't keep hiding the truth. These new plastic balls simply don't bounce enough. So a couple weeks ago during a trip up to New England I stole some air from a bunch of footballs to inflate the plastic balls a little more, and it did the trick. Yeah, and I also told the Seattle coach to throw the ball at the one-yard line.

iPhone Pong

Here's the video (22 sec), from the iPhone's perspective!

Minion Pong

Here's the continuing gif image that all table tennis webmasters should make permanent features of their web pages. Here's my technical analysis.

  • Player on left: An excellent example of proper weight transfer. Note how he puts his full weight into each shot, and yet maintains his balance for the next shot? An excellent example for you and your students. Note the excellent use of the free arm as a counterbalance to his playing arm. The shots are especially impressive given the lack of depth perception since he only has one eye - but note how hard he concentrates, and how he keeps his eye on the ball. As a coach, the main thing that needs work is the foot positioning for the forehand - you'll note that he strokes it with the left foot in front (he's a lefty). Instead, he needs to move that ball back for better weight transfer. Also, I'd recommend a better playing outfit as the heavy playing clothes he wears likely slows him down. He probably needs to replace the mittens with gloves so that he can extend his finger onto the blade for a better shakehands grip. Finally, based on his strokes, I believe he's using a hardbat. I'd recommend he get inverted and work on his looping, such as another energetic student of mine who successfully made the transfer to inverted. (He also needs to get a legal black surface for his forehand.)
  • Player on right: This is an excellent example of winning with sheer brick-wall blocking - I'm fairly certain he read my Tip of the Week on this. I watched the video for over eight hours last night, and he did not miss a single block. As a coach, I'd recommend that he try watching the ball, as well as use the racket he has in his hand, though of course I always recommend to my students that they learn to use their head. (He's using a green racket, so he needs to switch to a legal black and red one.) You'll note how he is watching at a particular spot in the snow, which undoubtedly is done as an aide to concentration and to withstand the pressures of match play.


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