March 6, 2023

Tips of the Week
I've been out of town since Feb. 12. Here are the last four Tips of the Week, including this week's!

Elite Camp Training Camp at Samson Dubina TTC
Was it a middle-age (or old age?) crisis that told me that, just before turning 63 on Feb. 27, I should train for eleven days to get back in shape? When I first saw the notices of the Elite Camps at the Samson Dubina TTC in Akron, OH (Feb. 13-23 and Mar. 21-31), for players from 2000 to 2700 level, my first thought was, why not? At my club, I’m a coach and sometimes-practice partner, but there’s nothing like an actual training camp to get into really good shape. And so I decided to go to the one in February. I was over twice the age of the next oldest in the camp (not including coaches/practice partners), but . . . why not? Yes, that was my mantra.  

After five days, that changed to, oh yeah, that’s why. What happened? I’ll get to that.

It was a great camp, with intense training that I recommend for any up-and-coming player or anyone in good shape (or in reasonable shape and trying to get in good shape). It’s fun and invigorating to spend a week or so inundated with nothing but table tennis, two sessions per day (2-3 hours each), surrounded by table tennis people. We even had a birthday party for those having birthdays during or around the camp – me, Sid Naresh, Sarah Jalli, and Amoolya Menon. A great thanks goes to Samson for setting up and running these camps, along with his fellow coaches and practice partners.

I spent the week at the house of two of the nicest people, Doyle and Tammy Harbaugh, along with their two great dogs, Reagan and Hope. (Doyle’s a pretty good wheelchair player!) Also staying with them (and so sharing rides, meals, shopping, etc.) were Senura Silva (who lives with them), Matthew Lehman, Andrew Yang, and Gediminas “Ged” Mickus, who also drove us back and forth and (along with Tammy) cooked many of our meals – but he’s also “Death from Above” with his two-winged power looping, 2245 rating, and extreme height. (Nothing was more entertaining than the daily “boxing” matches between him and perhaps a foot shorter Senura – who I gave some impromptu boxing lessons). Also special thanks to Tim Detwiler, who also gave rides and took care of other issues that came up during the camp.

While I was there primarily as a player, I also coached a bit, and at Samson’s request, gave a lecture on Service Tactics (52 min). I meant to keep the talk to 30 minutes, but there were a number of questions, and the reality is I could have gone on for about fifty hours. Samson also led a video analysis session where we watched world-class players.

The level of play was very high, with the average rating well over 2300. Players over 2300 including Sid & Nandan Naresh (both pushing 2600 at 19 and 16, respectively, and who would dominate the upcoming US Junior Trials), Senura Silva (over 2500), junior star Sarah Jalli (has been over 2500), Canada’s former national team member (and currently on the “Shadow National Team”) Matthew Lehmann, junior star Aziz Zarehbin, Laurent Jutras-Vigneault, Takahiro Sato, and Andrew Yang. (Ryan Lin, from my club and the reigning US Under 13 Boys’ Champion, also was there to get some variation to his training.) Head coach was Samson Dubina, along with coaches/practice partners Jeff Yamada, Chance Friend, and sometimes Seth Peth – these three, and I state this for the record, never miss.

I mostly trained with players from 2000 to 2250, and sometimes with one of the practice partners. When I blocked, I mostly did fine. It was irritating that I can’t move to react to balls hit to my left or right like I used to. One drill that really helped was with Chance looping randomly all over my backhand side, from the wide corner to the middle, and I had to move to cover them all. Yes, many players don’t think about blocking footwork, but it’s key.

 When I did footwork drills myself, it was a struggle. I faced a conflicting problem – I’m super consistent, which meant lots of long rallies – but I’m not nearly in good enough shape to play lots of long rallies. So it wasn’t easy. But I dug in and tried to keep up. I often started footwork drills looping on the forehand side, but switched to less exhausting hitting when needed.

Alas, on Day Five I hurt my shoulder. I skipped a session, and then hurt it again in a practice tournament. I then told Samson I could try to continue . . . as a chopper! While I’m normally a regular inverted player who only chops when caught out of position, I’ve been chopping for students for years, and once played six months and about nine tournaments as a chopper (with long pips on backhand), and came out 2183. (Ironically, I once did the same with hardbat – and came out with that exact same rating.)

So on Day Seven I chopped, and did pretty well, even chopping to 2500+ Senura for half an hour and others. But about ninety minutes into the session I started feeling intense pain in my lower back and upper hip . . . and that ended the chopping experiment and my playing in the camp. For the rest of the camp I could only hobble about. I took over a desk in Samson’s office and it became my Samson Dubina Writing Camp. I ended up writing seven Table Tennis Tips of the Week and two new science fiction/fantasy short stories – one a SF time travel story taking place 500 million years in the past (the beginning of the Cambrian), the other a ghost story taking place eight billion years in the future – when the sun expands into a red giant and turns Earth into a cinder, what happens to the ghosts that have been “living” there all those eons? I also outlined a new table tennis book I may be writing – but the topic, for now, is top secret.

There was an unsanctioned (no ratings) practice tournament in the middle of the camp. I played in it, but struggled, though my serves gave everyone fits. I had to drop out halfway when my shoulder injury flared up again. But one big highlight was meeting one of the players in the tournament - Nikolaj Coster-Waldau! (Here’s the non-Facebook version.) He’s the actor who plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones – yes, I saw every episode. As I humorously pointed out to him (though he’s likely heard it a zillion times), his playing hand had grown back! (Spoiler Alert – it was chopped off in the early seasons.)

Finally, on Friday, Feb. 24, I left, flying directly to Charlotte, NC to coach at the US Junior Team Trials, arriving in time to help train our players the day before the Trials began.

USA Junior Trials
I coached at the Trials in Charlotte, NC, Feb. 25-28. It’s actually only part 1 of the Trials, with part 2 at the US Nationals in July in Forth Worth, TX. (Information on that is on the Prospectus for the Trials in Charlotte.) Here are complete results, and here are the Top Eight finishers in each age category. They were run by Jasna Rather and Vlad Farcas, with Referee Bill Englebreth, and other staff and umpires. Thanks to all of them, including the ones not named! Overall, things went really well – on time and good playing conditions. (It would have been nice to have all the tables individually barriered, instead of just two, but that might have meant having a few less tables.)

We had eleven players from my club, MDTTC. Three had private coaches. The others were coached by four other MDTTC coaches, Wang Qingliang, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and me. Two of our players finished in the Top Eight – Stanley Hsu (14) was eighth in Under 19 and third in Under 15, while Ryan Lin (13) was eighth in Under 15. (Alas, Ryan had some really close losses, including against the undefeated top finisher Charles Shen’s closest call – Ryan was up 2-0 and had two match points in the fourth before losing that game on a pair of nets, and the fifth 11-8. But Charles was on a roll this tournament! I coached him for a few weeks in ITTF Hopes camps and tournaments in Ecuador a year or so ago.) I wonder how many times I’ve spent my birthday coaching at tournaments (as I did here on Monday, Feb. 27) or at the club? (Ironically, while they had a premature birthday party for me at the Samson Dubina Elite Camp the week before, along with three others having birthdays around the camp time, nobody from my club knew about it.)

As usual, lots of interesting tactical things came up. My favorite was a match where I studied the opponent on video in advance, and saw three specific weaknesses – awkward against quick, deep, heavy pushes to backhand; trouble with short side-top serves, especially to forehand; and after moving to the wide backhand, slow to cover the wide forehand. The player I coached went after these three weaknesses right from the start, executed perfectly, and a match that might have been close ended up with average scores around 11-5.

One problem with the tournament was trying to warm up – with 210 players and only 24 tables, trying to practice and warm up was often a madhouse of 4-6 players on a table taking turns. (There were also many coaches brought in by players as practice partners, including me, and so it was really over 250 people vying for those tables.) While not all the players came in at the same time, several times there were over 144 players or coaches on the tables – yes, six per table. The gym opened each morning at 8AM; by 8:05AM one morning there were four on every table, and by 8:15AM six on every table. There are three possible ways of alleviating this.

  1. First would be to have more tables. I suggested they try to get this large adjourning room next time that was mostly vacant (I think it was used just once during our stay, for a Tae Kwon Do practice), where they could fit a bunch more practice tables – since practice tables can have smaller courts, they could almost double the number of tables. This would mean shipping in a lot of extra tables, which costs money, plus probably having to pay for the room.
  2. Second, instead of running the boys’ and girls’ events of the same age at the same time (i.e. Under 13 boys and Under 13 girls), where all the players from both events come in to practice at the same time just before the events start (along with coaches and players from other events practicing for later), run one at a time consecutively. That way, instead of one table per group, they could have two tables per group, thereby finishing that event nearly twice as fast and allowing time for the next one, both practice time and the event itself. Scheduling-wise, it would add a little more time to the schedule, but would help solve the practice problem.
  3. Third, when tables are full, they could require that only players in the upcoming event use the tables. (They could also ask that coaches not hit with their players, instead paring up players, but that’s problematic – the coaches were often brought in to hit with the players, and it’s awkward paring up players who are different levels, some playing unique styles.) Of course, it’s easy to suggest this, but it means they’d have to have someone policing the tables, and trying to figure out who should and shouldn’t be practicing, not a fun task.

Weekend Coaching
I had a busy weekend, coaching 10.5 hours in six group sessions and one private session. It was a conglomeration of walk-around coaching, feeding multiball, and in two sessions, practice partner/coach. One issue that I focused on with several players was the sound of the ball hitting their racket. For the same shot, it should sound the same each time. If you are doing a repetitive drill and the ball doesn’t sound the same each time you hit it, then you are changing your stroke or contact, and need to correct that. There’s a stereotype of a Chinese coach who walks around doing two things – watching players’ feet and listening to the sound of their contact. It’s a surprisingly valuable thing for coaches to do.

One player is working on his new backhand serve. I sent him links to Dimitrij Ovtcharov doing the serve, and pointed how he drives the shoulder into the serve, and the low contact. (His contact for the long serve is a little higher, but he’s not playing as serious in that one.) You don’t need to squat down like he does, that’s just something he does but it’s not necessary. Here are the three links I sent the player:

I also had my first session with Navin Kumar in a while. (I retired from private coaching several years ago but made an exception for him. He has both Parkinson’s and a partially artificial heart.) As followers of his on Facebook know, he had a heart attack on Christmas Day 2022, and his heart stopped for a time before getting restarted – he was “legally dead” during that period. Anyway, I still made him do some footwork! Here’s video (46 sec) of our session that he put up.

News from All Over
Since I haven't blogged since Feb. 7 (out of town at the Samson Dubina elite camp in Akron and the US Junior Team Trials in Charlotte), rather than try to list every interesting article, for this blog I'll just link to some of the main news and coaching pages, and you can pick and choose.

How Many Calories are Burned Playing Ping Pong?
Here’s the article.

Table Tennis – “It’s okay if you don’t like Table Tennis. It’s kind of a smart people hobby anyway.”
Here’s where you can buy the shirt!

Playing a Cat

The Comprehensive Beetle Bailey Table Tennis Cartoon Listing
Here it is, all 31 of them
! Steve Grant got me the final one, May 11, 1964, and the missing dates for others.

Ping Pong Inventions That Are On the Next Level
Here’s the video (9:30) from Pongfinity!

Send us your own coaching news!