October 17, 2023

Tips of the Week (two since I was away last week)

Huntsman World Senior Games and Sightseeing in Utah and Las Vegas
I had a great time at the Huntsman World Senior Games last week in St. George, Utah, Oct. 9-12, Mon-Thur. This was my first time there. The Games include 44 sports, with 11,000 athletes from 88 countries, and 3,000 volunteers. I was there just for table tennis, of course. There were 235 table tennis players, all age 50 or over. Here are complete results, care of Omnipong.

The tournament was well run by Director Jean Bulatao and Sanjoy Bhattacharya,  along with Craig Krum (from Omnipong), Joe Bulatao, and Eric Aki, with officials Hiro Moriyasu (Referee), Steve Lee (Deputy Referee), Helen Prusakov (Chief Umpire), volunteer officials Jon Redman, Mei Wang, Jerry Li, Ning Cheng and Irina Hellwig, and Neuropong Manager Antonio Barbera. (Hope I didn’t leave anyone out!) Jean, who was very helpful in some pre-event arrangements, even made 2023 Huntsman Table Tennis magnets, which is now on my refrigerator!

I retired from sponge tournaments years ago, and generally coach at tournaments and play hardbat events for fun and titles. This time I was just a player, and planned to play hardbat only. I was in four events – Hardbat Singles, Hardbat Doubles (with Lily Yip), Over 50 Men’s Doubles (with Joe Ryan – technically this was 50-54 Doubles, but they allow players to play in younger events, so I was in it despite being 63), and 60-64 Mixed Doubles (with Wendy Guo). By Tuesday afternoon I’d played all my matches except the Hardbat Doubles final, so they let us play that on Tuesday night, and so I was done after two days – meaning two days of sightseeing! (More on that below.)

I won Hardbat Singles and Doubles. I ran into two problems in Hardbat Singles, my first event, starting at 8:30AM on Monday. The starting time wasn’t a problem – I’m from Maryland, so that’s 10:30AM to me. I arrived around 7PM the night before, but the playing hall was closed, so couldn’t practice.(I’d flown to Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove the two hours to St. George.) The registration line (for all sports, all 11,000 of us) snaked around the hallways around the playing hall, and one of the volunteers who’d been there much of the day said it would take about two hours to get through the line. (I was entered, but you still had to register on site.) So I decided to register the following morning when they opened at 7:30AM. I got there early, and with only a few dozen ahead of me, was registered by 8AM. I warmed up with Scott Preiss for ten minutes, and then it was time to play – and that’s when problems arose.

The first problem was that St. George has an elevation of 2,700 feet, which means the air is thinner, and so the ball moves differently. Adjusting to this might take an hour, but I’d only had ten minutes. No problem, I was the top seed in the event, and my first two matches would be easy and would be a good warmup, right?

My second match was against Qingping Liu, rated 1694 in sponge (from four tournaments, all two or more years ago), with a 1751 hardbat rating. Another easy match for me, right? I turns out he’s been practicing regularly, including regular hardbat play, and both of those ratings were way, Way, WAY off. (He’s a lefty pips-out penholder, which means his games translates easily to hardbat.) Between that, and my problems with the air, I barely won the first, 21-19, lost the second 22-20, and found myself down 11-13 in the third. (Hardbat is best of three to 21.) I called a timeout, and played well the rest of the way, winning 21-17. The top two advanced to RR – and guess who I’d play again in the final? Yep, Qingping Liu. This time I won 21-15, 21-17. He should probably have a 2100 hardbat rating. (His regular hardbat practice partner is Mark Kraut, who I played in the semifinals – and after losing the first 21-18, I won the next two at 13 and 11. Hardbat is a lot easier when I play sponge players who aren’t used to playing hardbat!)

Lily Yip and I easy won Hardbat Doubles, 7,11 over Rudy Miranda/Jean Newby. There were six teams, but they decided to divide it into Over 3500 and Under 3500, so there were only two entries in Over 3500, so we only played one match. I actually didn't play well in this match, but with Lily on my team I didn't have to. (She would win four golds and one silver.) 

In Over 50 Men’s Doubles with Joe Ryan, I made three mistakes. First, I decided to play hardbat. While I rally better with sponge, my flip receive is better with hardbat, and except against a loop, I smash better with it. Plus I hadn't really played "competitive" sponge in a long time, and thought my sponge game would be rusty (especially receive), even though that's what I coach with. But I’d later play sponge in the mixed doubles (below), the receive was fine, and realized I should have used sponge in both doubles events. Second, after playing hardbat all morning, I thought I was warmed up and ready – except I was only warmed up and ready against hardbat. I should have warmed up more against sponge loops. And so I didn’t block or hit against loops as well as I should have. And so we ended up getting second. Joe would win 50-54 Men's Singles and 50-54 Mixed Doubles with Oana Tataru Hogrefe, so I ruined his "sweep." (Oana would also win 50-54 Women's Singles and get second in 50-54 Women's Doubles.) The third mistake? Remember how I said above I’d played hardbat all morning? Each time I’d reminded the umpire or scorekeeper that in hardbat, games are best of three to 21. This was my first “sponge” event, but out of habit I mistakenly told the umpire it was best of three to 21. Oops! He and the other players quickly corrected me.

In one of our matches here I literally brained myself. The ball went to my wide backhand, I stepped around to hit forehand, but was late. I leaned back, and made a nice shot – but followed through hard into my right eyebrow. The rally continued, and despite being dazed, I made a difficult but reflexive smash to win the point. But blood was now running down my face. I wiped it with a towel, and the umpire got a band-aid from the control desk, and I was able to continue. But I had a headache for the rest of the day, and a week later, there’s still a substantial scab and bump there. It’ll probably leave a permanent scar.

I played Mixed Doubles with Wendy Guo, who is unrated. After the Over 50 Men’s Doubles, I decided to switch to sponge, and I think I played better that way, even though I had minimal warmup with it. We had a chance get win or at least advance in second in our RR group of four, but lost two close ones, and came in third.

Here are some photos of me at the Huntsman Senior Games.

Afterward I did some sightseeing – always collecting a souvenir magnet for my refrigerator, of course! Actually, I now have three magnetic boards in addition to my refrigerator for all these magnets from all the places I’ve been – 239 USA, 132 international. I toured five places.

  • Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum. This was right next door to the playing hall, so I was able to spend an hour there on Monday afternoon. It was a bit creepy, since the huge collection of animals were all taxidermy, i.e. skinned and stuff animals, and the place had a slight chemical or dead animal smell – not sure which. Very realistic.
  • St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site. I spent an hour or so there on Wednesday morning. Much of it was fossilized footprints from the dinosaur age. There was also a timeline exhibit outside where you walked in a big circle, with exhibits starting from Cambrian Period (about 500 million years ago) through the Cretaceous (ending 66 million years ago).
  • Zion National Park. It was an hour north of St. George. I drove up on Wednesday right after an early lunch. You could spend a week hiking the trails there. Incredible sights all over. I did the shuttle tour, with eight stops where you get off and look or hike about, and then catch the next shuttle when you’re done. I spent five hours there, seeing the Canyon Junction; Court of the Patriarchs (most spectacular view); Zion Lodge; The Grotto; Weeping Rock (second most spectacular sight); Big Bend; Temple of Sinawava; and the Zion Museum. Alas, I only saw three wildlife: a deer, a surprisingly large raven, and a large green caterpillar that I think will turn into monarch butterfly.
  • The Mob Museum. I drove down to Las Vegas on Thursday morning and spent two hours here. Most memorable part – the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall. Also saw Al Capone’s pistol. Lots of gory pictures.
  • Titanic the Artifact Exhibit. I was there for over two hours going over these artifacts. Amazing that each of these items was not only on the Titanic, but then spent about a century 2.5 miles down at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Lots of pictures, such as the Goodwin family, none of whom survived. Sad way to end my trip.

And then it was off to the airport to return the rental car and catch my 10:47PM Thursday night flight from Las Vegas, with a six-hour stopover in Orlando, Florida, arriving at BWI Airport (Baltimore) at 2:43PM on Friday, and getting home about 5PM.

Weekend Coaching
I did five junior group sessions this weekend, including two hours with the top group. We have about 70 players in our junior program, divided into four groups. Group 1 (the top group) meets three times/week, on Sat, Sun, and Wed; group 4 (novice group) meets once a week on Sundays; the other two groups meet twice a week, on Sat & Sun. I had at least one session with each this weekend.

As usual, I did a lot of multiball training, especially with groups 3 and 4. I spent some of my time with group 2 as a practice partner. One interesting drill was as follows: I’d loop forehands from my backhand corner, two to the wide backhand, then two to the wide forehand. The player has to move side to side, blocking all of them to my wide backhand. (The tricky part for them is often the down-the-line forehand block, an under-utilized skill.) Then the player did it, with me doing the blocking. There are alternate versions of this, such as one shot to each side, instead of two, or two to one side, one to the other.

Another drill started with me either serving short to the forehand or long to the backhand. Player had to flip or backhand loop the serve to my backhand, and then it was random as I blocked the ball anywhere and they played to my backhand. Consistency and movement was the focus of this and most other drills.

One thing I jumped on a number of players, even in group 1, was a tendency to lean toward a shot before moving. This puts your weight on the foot in the direction you are moving, and makes it almost impossible to move in that direction, leading to reaching. Even in group 1 some of the players would do this when blocking, though not when attacking – they are too advanced for that.

News from All Over
Since I haven't blogged since Oct. 2 due to traveling, rather than try to list every interesting article, here are links to some of the main news and coaching pages that have been active in that time, and you can pick and choose.

Ball Balancing Robot
Here’s the video (71 sec)! This is similar to what we have beginning kids do, both balancing the ball on their racket and ball bouncing, to develop their hand-eye coordination.

Ping-Pong! (Political Cartoon Creation + Analysis)
Here it is!

Table Tennis Cartoons from CartoonStock
Here they are! (I’ve linked to some on the past.)

World's Highest Ping Pong Table
Here’s the video (8:01) from Pongfinity!

Send us your own coaching news!