November 26, 2018

Tip of the Week
Use Your Weaknesses or They Will Always Be Weaknesses.

North American Teams
Or as I would put it, here we go again! It was my 43rd year in a row at the Teams, starting in 1976 as a player, but primarily as a coach the last decade or so. Here are complete results - you can use the dropdown menu to see the results of any division and the preliminaries. You can see any player's complete results by going to the Team listing and clicking on their rating. Here is video from the livestreaming. Alas, as usual I saw little of it as I was out coaching. Here are Pongmobile Photos from the North American Teams. Here's a video (25 sec) showing the sheer size of the playing hall - for 260 teams and 1002 players!

This year we had ten HW Global Foundation junior teams, who are from the Talent Development Program that trains at MDTTC. Coaching them were the HWGF and MDTTC coaching team of myself, Wang Qingliang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, John Hsu, Wen Hsu, Klaus Wood, Greg Mascialino, Cheng Yinghua, and Jack Huang. (I think Martin Jezo and Lidney Castro also coached some when not playing.) Here is a group photo on Sunday afternoon - alas, at least five players missed the photo - some had left, and others were out playing. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

I was primarily in charge of HWGF TDP#2, which was Stephanie & James Zhang, and Todd Klinger. They went in with respective ratings of 1730, 1736, and 1668. These were relatively up-to-date ratings - James has played in eight tournaments this year, Stephanie seven, and Todd 15, and all three played in the October MDTTC Open, and Todd played in the Southeastern Open in November. However, they had been training very hard, and Stephanie and James were in the USA Team Training Camp the week before the Teams as one of the locals. All three are among the hardest workers in practice, all came in primed and ready! So . . . how did they do? In short, they executed brilliantly!!!

Going by ratings, they pulled of a total of 33 upsets. (So yeah, all three were way under-rated.) They only had two upsets against them, and both were against players who were also "ringers" and so will likely be adjusted upwards. All three pulled off lots of upsets, mostly against 1800+ and 1900+ players. (Todd had the slightly lower rating, which helped him rack up the upsets!) 

On day one, they were seeded to be in the ninth division, but they not only beat the two teams below them (5-0 and 5-1), but the team one ahead of them 5-3, and the team two above them 5-1! So they played the tournament two divisions up. At that point, they had already pulled off fifteen upsets (since the teams below them were lopsided, with higher-rated players combined with lower-rated ones). But their assault had only just begun. They were seeded last out of eight in their division, but beat the #1, #2, and #3 seeded teams, 5-1, 5-2, and 5-0! Overall, they basically dominated against 1800 players and played even or better with 1900 players. They finished 4-3 in the division - it turned out the lower-rated teams in the division were stronger than the higher ones, including our team. 

There were a lot of really interesting tactics used these three days, and I could write a book on just this One thing that worked really well was holding back on calling timeouts as often as possible until my players were up game point, and using the timeout to decide on what serve or receive to use. It worked really - over and over opponents would miss the serve we chose to go with.

Here are some of the interesting tactics that came up - and I'm being careful here as I'm not about to let on anything about how to play these three! (But these are all standard tactical things - they key is knowing which ones to apply and when.) As noted above, their execution both tactically and of the things they'd been training at was brilliant - and they were also tactically astute and so knew when to change tactics if something wasn't working anymore. (A coach's bane is telling a player to do something, the opponent adjusts, but the student sticks to the no-longer-working tactic.)

  • Players are so used to pushing to the backhand, or at most going to both sides, that they often struggle against a player who is much stronger on the backhand. We faced such a player. In the first match against this 1900+ player, our player pushed to both sides, and the opponent just waited for the push to the backhand, and ripped backhand loops over and over. So I told the player to push everything to the wide forehand, relentlessly, unless the opponent stepped over to try to play backhand, then push to the wide backhand. The opponent completely fell apart and after we lost the first game badly, we won the next three easily. One of the other two players played him and used the same tactic, and also beat this player.
  • There's something almost mystical with how many times I'd call for a no-spin serve, usually during a timeout, and the opponent would dutifully push the ball three feet high. The key, of course, is that all three players knew how to serve "heavy no-spin," where you fake heavy backspin and serve no-spin, which is a basic serve at the world-class level. They usually didn't need me to call these serves as they learned quickly what serves worked against each player.
  • "Attack the middle relentlessly" was a big winner for Todd and James, the attackers.
  • Some matches were decided by a choice of whether it was better to move the ball around, or pin them down on their weak side, where you might then change directions off a weak return to rip a winner.
  • A winning tactic in a number of matches was mixing the serves between short to the forehand (then going to their backhand while they are jammed to the table) or big breaking serves long to the backhand and jumping on the backhand returns. For attackers, the more often go-to serve is short or half long (so second bounce is right at the table edge), low to the middle (to cut off extreme angles), with backspin or no-spin, sometimes side-top. But if you do this too much, the opponent gets used to it.
  • I think the players were surprised how easy it was to take away an opponent's attack by simply pushing quick off the bounce to the extreme wide backhand. This led to lots of four-ball attacks - serve, quick-push receive, server pushes, receiver loops.
  • Sport psychology is a huge thing in table tennis - the game is more mental than physical. So much of the focus was on proper mental approach. James, for example, plays best when he lets go and "plays free." Stephanie plays best when she gets into "grinder" mode (see below). Todd plays best when he gains confidence, often by remembering his best matches.
  • For Todd and James, the byword was relentlessly "serve and attack" and (especially for James), "play free." But this is true of most attacking players. For Stephanie, a chopper, it was "grind it out," which means a willingness to play as many shots as needed while refusing to make a single weak return, whether pushing or chopping, with a focus on strong chops against slow or medium loops and not worrying about the fast loops.

I also developed nicknames for the three - Todd was Harry Potter (he looks the part, even wears glasses, and has about the same demeanor), James was Ron Weasley (because he makes the same type of funny faces that Ron does in the movies), and Stephanie was a tall Hermione (since she also has her demeanor). Stephanie is one of our regular volunteers for various activities, such as running our leagues and leads the junior team in warm-up exercises, while Todd is a volunteer practice partner for our beginning junior class that I teach.

USATT Training Camp
USATT ran a training camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, Nov. 18-22, just before the North American Teams. Close to 30 players were in the camp - here's a group photo. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

 Pieke Franssen was the head coach. He was the primary boys' coach in the camp, assisted by Wei Qi, while Wang Qingliang was the primary girls' coach, assisted by Ying Peng. I wasn't a coach in this camp, though I observed two sessions, but I was a volunteer driver - including picking up a player at 6AM at Dulles Airport and dropping another off at 5AM (for a 6AM flight) at BWI! (Both airports are about 45 minutes away with no traffic.) On most days they had two three-hour sessions, plus physical training. On Monday, they had three training sessions! The final session was on Thanksgiving morning, then most were off to the hotel for the North American Teams.

2018 Pan American Championships
Here's the ITTF page, with complete results, news, video, and pictures for the event which finished yesterday in Santiago, Chile. Congrats to Kanak Jha on winning Gold in Men's Singles! For USA fans, here are USA results (one gold, four silvers) and articles featuring Team USA.

  • Kanak Jha: Gold in Men's Singles
  • Kanak Jha/Wu Yue: Silver in Mixed Doubles
  • Lily Zhang/Wu Yue: Silver in Women's Doubles
  • USA Men: Silver in Men's Teams (Kanak Jha, Nikhil Kumar, Nicholas Tio, Victor Liu)

Nominating and Governance Announces Procedures for Open Board Positions
Here's the USATT news item. My four-year term on the USATT Board of Directors ends on Dec. 31, while my two-year term as chair of the USATT Coaching Committee ends on March 1. These days I'm just so busy on so many issues that I've decided not to run for re-election or continue as coaching chair. (Note - due to complications in finalizing the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee, the board election was held up, so as per the bylaws, I'll be staying on the board until March 1, 2019, when the election concludes.)

New from EmRatThich

New from Samson Dubina

"Palm Up, Palm Down" – The Secret to Effortless Loops (Part 3)
Here are the articles (with links to video) by Ben Larcombe.

How to Beat a Pusher
Here's the article and video (7:53) by Tom Lodziak.

Table Tennis Ups and Downs
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Playing Doubles
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

University Table Tennis in America
Here's the article by Bill Draper, which also features University of Maryland and Nathan Hsu.

20 Years and Counting--Florida State University Table Tennis
Here's the article by Michael Reff.

ITTF Strategic Plan, 2018-2024
Here it is - I don't think I've linked to it before. "The ITTF have developed its Strategic Plan with five strategic priority areas – Organisation & Governance, High Performance & Development, International Events, Promotion and Revenue. These five areas will be underpinned with 55 objectives to be achieved between 2018-2024. The Strategic Plan was unanimously endorsed at the 2018 ITTF Annual General Meeting." (USATT also has a new one coming out, but it won't be public until sometime after the December USATT board meeting at the U.S. Open.)

ePonger League Software
Here's the info page. "ePonger is software used by table tennis clubs worldwide to manage league games, player results, and reporting.  It’s based on Microsoft Excel and runs standalone on any Windows PC that has Microsoft Office 2010 or later.  It does not require an internet connection.  It was originally developed by Jeff Pepper for the Pittsburgh Oakland Table Tennis club in 2013, and has been used since then at clubs around the world."

Pittsburgh Fall Table Tennis Tournament
Here are results and video.

Hotel Room Pong
Here's the video (18 sec) as Arcot (near side) and Nandan Naresh go at it in their hotel room at the North American Teams, with some serious lobbing and smashing at the end. What, you've never done this before? You must lead a boring life.

Ping-Pong Ball Bouncing
Here's the video (24 sec) - but he's doing four at a time, with two paddles and both feet!

How Many Shots Can You Do in Ten Seconds?
Here's the video (3:54) from Pongfinity!

The Best Table Tennis Shot of 2018?
Here's the video (46 sec, including slo-mo replay) - maybe the craziest shot of all time? Here are two other nominees for craziest shots of all time - the Kit Jeerapaet behind-the-back counter-smash (54 sec) and this crazy racket-edge chop-lob come-back return (6 sec)! Which is your pick, or do you have another?
ADDENDUM (added Thursday) - CNN picked up on this!

Turkey Pong
This is mostly a repeat from past years, but the first three items are new. (Only Thanksgiving Turkey stuff, not the country.)  

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