Eastern Open

June 8, 2012

Too tight when you play?

I'm one of the roughly way-too-many-to-count players who often struggle to get loose before playing, whether in matches or practice. But I have found a solution that works most of the time, and works for many players I coach.

When you start a session (practice or matches), have fun at the start. Let yourself go. If it's practice, start out with something you do really well (preferably something physical, like looping or smashing), and have fun doing it. If it's a match, take it lightly and have fun. The goal in both cases is to relax and loosen up. Once you feel loose - and this shouldn't take too long - then take deep breath, clear your mind, and focus.

When I say focus, this doesn't mean to get super-serious. You can have a clear mind and still smile on the inside. The best players may often look impassive on the outside, but on the inside they are having the time of their life. So lighten up at the start of your sessions, loosen up, then focus, and you may surprise yourself by how well you play.

At the Easterns last weekend, the kid I was coaching, Derek Nie, started the tournament off very nervous, and played horribly in his first match. Afterwards I took him to a back table where we did some counterlooping for a while, joked about, and then played challenge matches where we trash talked. ("I cannot be beaten!" I'd say whenever I win a point," which of course just spurred him on.) In his matches shortly afterwards, he played the best of his life. (See next item.)

Eastern Open Recap

Here's a nice video recap of the Eastern Open last weekend at Rutgers University (2:50). Alas, they somehow missed me, but at 2:25 you can see Derek Nie, the kid I was coaching, who won Under 13, beat players rated 2258 and 2142, and was up double match point on a 2233 player. Not bad for a 60-pounder! (We already have a list of things he needs to work on before the U.S. Open in a few weeks, and he's been training much of this week on them. Sorry, can't report on them here, there are rival coaches reading! Perhaps after the Open. But last night he had a great session with Jeffrey Xeng Xun, one of our 2600-rated coaches, and he seemed to be playing like he had at the Easterns.)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's another nice exhibition between Sweden greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson (1:53), with five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller doing the commentary. (On Monday I'd linked to another exhibition they'd done.)

Why does Waldner come up so often when showing spectacular shots and exhibitions? Actually, today has three items pertaining to Sweden, so we'll belatedly declare today National Day of  Sweden, an national holiday in Sweden that was actual celebrated two days ago, on June 6.)

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a five-minute compilation of spectacular points that feature sidespin, mostly sidespin looping. Perhaps the best one is the one (shown in slow motion) of Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner that starts right at the one minute mark.

Sweden #1 Denied Olympic Spot?

Matilda Ekholm of Sweden qualified for the Olympics, but the Swedish Olympic Association apparently didn't believe she was good enough or competitive to win an Olympic medal, and so denied her a spot on the Olympic team. She is ranked 51 in the world, the highest ranked Swedish woman. (The next best is Daniela Moskovits, #399 in the world.) For comparison, on the men's side, Sweden is sending, in singles, Par Gerell (world #80) and Jorgen Persson (#88, though of course World Men's Singles Champion in 1991, 21 years ago), and a men's team of Persson, Gerell, and Jens Lundqvist (#48). (Sweden didn't qualify for an Olympic Women's Team.)

There's been a huge outcry about this, culminating in these two letters yesterday to the Swedish Olympic Committee by ITTF President Adham Sharara and Vladimir Samsonov, chair of the ITTF Athlete's Commission (and former world #2 and current #14). There's a Facebook page devoted to her cause. And here's a discussion of the situation on the about.com table tennis forum.

Rapper Yelawolf Plays Table Tennis

Here's a three-minute video interview of rapper Yelawolf, which goes back and forth between him performing and the interview, which seems to take place as he's playing table tennis. You can see him actually playing at 1:09 and 2:20, but at other times he seems to be playing as he talks, though they only show his head (you can hear the ball bouncing back and forth in the background).

Fun with Robots

Here's 33 seconds of someone having fun with a robot at full speed, set to music. Reminded me of a sequence from Forrest Gump, but this wasn't computer generated.

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May 15, 2012

$100,000 U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League

Yesterday I was in on a phone conference with the organizers, advisers, and sponsors of the upcoming USNTTL. (I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say who was on the call. Attila Malek, 1979 U.S. Men's Champion and long-time coach, is the driving force behind it.) I'm now on their advisory committee.

I had some suggestions for promoting the league, which I've used regularly in the past - meetup.com, craigslist.com, mailings to clubs (including a request that clubs call a meeting to discuss the league with members), and an online printable roster sheet that league directors can use to sign up players. Mailings to coaches was also discussed, as coaches are often the ones running local leagues. I also suggested they contact some "big names" to help them promote the league. (For example, see the segment below on Susan Sarandon. A few words from her to the proper news medium would be hugely helpful.)

I only agreed to be on their advisory committee because they really seem to be dead serious about setting up this nationwide league, which has been paramount importance to developing table tennis in this country for so many years - and the fact that it's never been done is a primary (if not the primary) reason the sport has so long stagnated in this country. Successful countries used leagues to bring in large memberships and revenue, and (if you are more interested in elite table tennis) used that money to develop their national teams. It's win-win. I've constantly been dumbfounded at the refusal to undertake any serious league development by USATT, but now we have someone actually taking action. I hope you will support this league. I hope USATT will support it.

Note that a nationwide league doesn't mean you have to travel all over the U.S. to participate. A nationwide league in a country this size is set up regionally, so all your competitions would be within driving distance.

And you did read the headline correctly - the league has $100,000 in prize money. They have sponsors!

DEADLINE: The entry deadline for the league is June 30. See the USNTTL web page for info, and especially the Regulations page, which gives all the rules, etc.

Some of you may remember that I once tried to create a national league, the USATT League, which is still in operation. I was never able to get USATT to take it seriously, and even when it brought in money ($15,000), the money was used for other things rather than going back into developing the league. My plan was to start with a Singles League to bring in players, and then expand to Team Leagues, which are the key - players like playing on teams, and it's why countries like Germany (700,000), England (500,000), and others have such large memberships. Since I could never get USATT support, I was pretty much operating alone (except for software development from the ever-helpful Robert Mayer), and eventually gave up the idea of moving on to the team aspect. Though it mostly operates under the radar, there are currently 272 active leagues in the USATT League, with an average of 6000 processed (i.e. rated) matches per month. (Not sure how active the 272 leagues are - I think it means leagues that have played matches in the past year.) A total of 14,193 players have played in processed league matches since its creation in 2003.

Eastern Open

The deadline to enter the Eastern Open is this Friday. I'll be there coaching. Will you? Stop by and say hello!

New coaching videos from PingSkills

Susan Sarandon talks table tennis on Anderson Cooper

Actress Susan Sarandon told Anderson Cooper on his show about her passion for ping pong and said she enjoys playing it because "it cuts across age, body type, gender… little girls can beat their fathers, they can beat their big brothers." Here's the video (1:15).

Non-Table Tennis - Nebula News!

This weekend is the annual Nebula Awards Weekend, where the science fiction and fantasy writers from around the U.S. gather for workshops, panels, and the awards banquet where the best writers are honored with Nebula's (their equivalent of the Oscars). This year it is being held locally in Arlington, VA. I just found out that a story of mine is included in the Award Weekend's Collector's Anthology! I'll be at the Science Fiction Writers of America table Friday night with other writers included signing copies of the book for buyers. Unfortunately I'll have to miss all or most of the rest of the weekend because of coaching commitments. (On a side note, this morning I sold my 60th short story to an anthology - but the editor asked that I not yet announce the sale until they have made all their selections. Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.) 

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May 30, 2011

Every point is a match.

That's the piece of advice I've been giving players in tournaments a lot this year. Most competitive matches are won by just a few points. Give away two points a game, and half the games you would have won in a competitive match are lost. Give away even one point a game, and you lose all those deuce games you won, and half those 11-9 games you won. So treasure every point. Stop before serving and receiving and make sure you really are ready. If serving, think tactically about what's the best serve to use. If receiving, consider how you can mess up the opponent with your receive. If you play like every point is a match, you'll win a lot of matches.

Easterns

From a purely won-loss perspective, it wasn't the most successful tournament I've coached at. Players I coached this past weekend at the Eastern Open in New Jersey developed a nasty tendency to not play well, and for some reason there's a correlation between not playing well and not winning. Three times players I coached were at 9-all in the fifth, and all three times they lost 11-9. (That's the stuff that makes nightmares.) But many Marylanders did well.

Nine-year-old Crystal Wang, rated 2009, upset players rated 2321, 2182, 2145, and 2038, winning Under 22 Women and making the semifinals of Under 2250. Ten-year-old Derek Nie, rated 1866, upset players rated 2202, 2083, and 2022, making the semifinals of Under 16 Boys (as did his brother, George, with both losing in the opposite sides in the semis). Xiyao "Pamela" Song won Under 18 Girls and was second in Under 22 Women. And let's not forget Jeff Smart, the Over 50 winner! (He attended the recent ITTF Coaching Seminar I ran at MDTTC - see how much he learned?) And of course Xun "Jeffrey" Zeng won the Open! So Maryland brought home a few titles.

Derek Nie was fun to coach. Against the 2202 player he upset, the key was mixing up serves (especially his "tomahawk" serve, though he needs to toss it up more), and a mixture of aggressive attacks and dead blocks to the forehand. In the fifth game, the scores tell a story: he led 6-1, 6-4 (I called a timeout at 6-3), 9-4, 9-8, 11-8.

I spent much of my time coaching 13-year-old Tong Tong Gong (2298, on USA National Cadet Team). He didn't have a good tournament, mostly because his normally extremely good backhand wasn't extremely good. (Lack of confidence in that led to a lack of confidence in other shots. It's a nasty cycle many go through.) We pretty much know the cause of his backhand problems - he's in the transitional stage from mostly hitting backhands in topspin rallies to backhand looping out of the rally (not just against underspin, where he has an excellent backhand loop). He still mostly hits the backhand, but he's doing so much backhand looping against block practice that it's starting to mess up his regular dominant backhand. Before major tournaments, we may have to focus on backhand hitting the last few days. Long-term? We'll see which way he'll eventually go.

Open Singles Winner Xun "Jeffrey" Zeng, 23, joined the MDTTC coaching staff in December, but he's still competing at about a 2600-2650 level. While he has a nice backhand loop, overall he doesn't really dominate with any one shot against his peers, who often look more dominating with their attacks. How does he win? He dominates with his return of serve. Watch and you'll see how uncomfortable he makes his opponents on their own serve, and how often he ends up in a dominant position. (Because I was coaching mostly junior players, I didn't get to see many of the Open matches, alas.) 

Here are complete results of the Easterns. (Make sure to set tournament to "Eastern Open" in box at top.) Isn't it great now North American Table Tennis has created software so we can see the result of every match literally immediately after the results are returned to the desk and typed into the computer?

Liu Guoliang Serving Low

Here's a video (1:38) of former World and Olympic Champion Liu Guoliang of China demonstrating low serves. (Also shown serving are Wang Liqin, Ma Long, and Zhang Chao.) This is something I'm always harping on - most players serve too high, and don't realize it. It's not that opponents will rip these serves - only much stronger players can do that - but that they handle the serve much more effectively. Keep the serve very low, and opponents have to lift up on the ball, causing more mistakes and defensive returns. The dialogue is in Chinese, but you can see what he's doing, serving low under a racket held about two inches over the net. Translated (according to a comment below it), Liu is saying that anyone on the national team can serve that low regularly but when they are asked to doso, their mentalities changes. The pressure causes irregularities in your mind so you aren't able to perform regularly. The point is to just play with a normal mind set.

Memorial Day

Have a Happy Memorial Day - take a moment to think about what the day really means. But if you are a true die-hard Table Tennis Aficionado, you'll then head out to the table for some serve practice, knowing that your rivals are taking the day off. This is your chance to get ahead!

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