July 15, 2015

Tip of the Week

Change, and the Definition of Insanity. (Originally I was going to skip this week, but this Tip just jumped into my head, and so I wrote it.)

US Open

As usual, it was a busy week at the US Open, July 6-11 in Las Vegas. I spent my time coaching MDTTC players, but can't go into details on that – opponents might be reading this! Here's a rundown.

  • Let's start by thanking all the volunteers who helped run the US Open. They include both the volunteers who did the work of running it, and the officials who officiated. Here's a group picture of the US Open Officials (Referees and Umpires). Let's also thank the USATT staff for their hard work on this.
  • In nearly every way, this was one of the best-run US Opens ever. (I may blog more later on some of the things they got right, as well as on how they got 1064 entries.) I could list all the things they did well, but instead, I'll list the one thing that wasn't so great – the lighting. I already discussed this with CEO Gordon, and they think they have a solution.
  • Here's the US Open page, and here are the results.
  • Here's a feature front-page article from the Las Vegas Sun. Great article, though of course Jimmy Butler isn't "6-foot-8" – he's "only" 6'4".
  • I had lots of meetings and discussions. As noted previously, my USATT work is mostly on hold until the end of summer, due to our summer camps, but I'm still in the "gathering info" mode, and I did manage to gather lots of info for my plans.
  • Because I was busy coaching or having meetings/discussions, I didn't get to see many major matches, alas, though I had a courtside seat for the Finals.
  • There was an extravagant pool party on Friday night at the Linq Hotel, which is owned by Caesars Palace. I'm not a party person, so I was sort of in unfamiliar territory. I arrived at 8PM, right after they opened. By 8:15PM I was lying down on one of the reclining chairs/beds by the pool with a notebook, and for the next two and a half hours brainstormed on USATT issues, in particular on the topics I'll be working on this fall – regional associations, regional team leagues, training centers, recruiting and training professional coaches, and state championships. One of the items now on my rather long todo list is to type up all these notes on my computer and integrate them with my other plans.
  • I met with Hardbat Chair Scott Gordon. While I'm mostly a sponge player and coach, I've taken it upon myself to create some sort of hardbat & sandpaper info flyer or booklet. I put together a quick draft yesterday. I might do two things – a short brochure for major tournaments, and then perhaps a longer edited book of writings on the topic, where I'd just be the editor.
  • Once again I came away from a major tournament disgusted at all the cheating – in particular, players hiding serves. Why do they do it? Because it helps them win and they get away with it. They may fool the umpires, who aren't sure if the serve is hidden (which is synonymous with saying the serve is illegal, but that's the least enforced rule in table tennis), but they don't fool coaches and experienced players, who know who the cheaters are. It's common at the world-class level, of course, but that was also true of, say, steroids. Does that mean we should copy those who cheat? I have no objection to someone hiding their serve if their opponent does it first and the umpire doesn't call it. It's the ones who do it first, with the sole intent of winning by cheating, that disgusts me. A player I coached lost two matches because of this cheating – learning to return them is going to become a major part of his training. (Note that few players hide the serve every time. The norm is to use border-line serves early on, to numb the umpire to such serves, and pull out the hidden ones several times a game and at key points at the end. I have video and still pictures showing many of these players hiding their serve.)
  • Speaking of serves, probably the most important thing that the US Open constantly re-enforces is the importance of moving the serve around. So many players serve to the same spots over and Over and OVER, and never realize how much they are handicapping themselves with this lack of variation. Trust me - your opponents know, and are very thankful. 
  • Common prevailed in another arena. Many years ago players were required to either have a player number or their name on their back. Then, at some silly period in time, it was decided that all players must wear player numbers, even if their name was on their back. Why were they required to wear player numbers? So spectators could identify who they were. And yet, when asked why they were forced to wear player numbers when their name was on their back, for a number of years the answer was, "It's policy." I always railed against this silliness. But now they are back to a common-sense policy where they don't require the player numbers if your name is on your back. I think they may have changed this policy sometime last year – I'm not sure when. I remember I used to point out players wearing player numbers over the name on their back!!!
  • If you watched the Men's or Women's final, and saw the scores being updated on the screen, guess who was doing it? Yep, it was Tong Tong Gong, who I used to coach at these tournaments, and who twice made the USA National Cadet Team. (He stopped playing two years ago.) He's starting college this fall at University of Maryland, and plans to start playing again. He flew out to the US Open as a volunteer, as he's done the last two years. On the video of the two Finals, look at the raised area where the announcers are sitting. Then look to the far left, the person in a black shirt. That's Tong Tong updating the scores each point, both for online scores and for a large screen above that you can't see in the video. (Here's video of game 1; about eight seconds in it pans up, and you can see him on the dais, far left, behind the white laptop.) I pointed him out to several top juniors in the crowd, Tong Tong's former rivals, who didn't realize he was there. (Here's a picture of a bored-looking Tong Tong volunteering last year as a videotaper.)
  • The Finals were not particularly well played. I think the conditions at the Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace might have caught them somewhat off guard, though all four finalists were able to practice there in advance. While having the final in this type of environment might be a good idea for spectators, the players may not have been used to it. (While others were watching the players, I was often watching the spectators, and they seemed pretty happy with the environment – much more into it than with a "normal" final in a regular arena.) Technically, the conditions seemed good – it was well lit, and the loud music they played before and after each game was off during play. The first two games of the Women's Final were sloppy, though they seemed to adjust after that. Adrian Crisan in the Men's Final never looked comfortable, while his opponent, Wang Jinxin seemed to adjust more quickly, perhaps leading to his upset win. But adjusting is a huge part of table tennis.

US Open Men's Final Video

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a continuous one, or one of the Women's Singles. Here's the Men's Singles Final, between Wang Jinxin and Adrian Crisan.

Sports Psychology

Here are some great sports psychology articles from the USOC. Most are by Sean McCann, who along with Shane Murphy, has spent a huge amount of time working with table tennis athletes. I met with them semi-regularly during my four years as (at different times) manager/director/assistant coach for the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, 1985-1989.

Ask the Coach Show

While I was away at the US Open there were six more of these shows from PingSkills. Here they are!

Training in China

Here's the first blog entry from Matt Hetherington.

Minion Pong

Here's the short table tennis scene from The Minion Movie that just came out. (It repeats as a gif image.) Here's my technical analysis, repeated from my blog on Feb. 2, 2015, when I first saw it in the trailer.

  • 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.

11 Questions with Bill Hadden

Here's the USATT interview.

National Senior Games Table Tennis Results

Here are results of the Games that were held in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Here are more detailed results.

Table Tennis – the Game of Spin

Here's the article.

Conquering the World and Championing Humanity Through Ping-Pong

Here's the article from the Waco Tribune. "I have an answer for all the dysfunctional local and global angst. Play ping pong."

Blowing the Ball?

Here's video (14 sec) as a player makes a desperation attempt to return a ball – and succeeds by blowing the ball onto the table! So . . . is this legal?

New Jan-Ove Waldner Documentary

Here's the video (58:57). Alas, it's in Swedish, but still some interesting viewing.

Xu Xin – The "Cloud Walking" Penholder

Four-Table Trick Shots

Here's the video (4:27).

Ma Long – Zhang Jike Show

Here's video (6:06) of the two putting on a demonstration/exhibition.

Hotel Pong

Here's the video (17 sec) from Adam Bobrow.

Shocking Images from Pluto

Here's the photo NASA doesn't want you to see – yes, it's a 40+!!!

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