Arm

March 7, 2012

Returning Serve

It's everyone's biggest weakness, or so it seems. But it shouldn't be that way. Let's review:

  1. If the ball is deep, return it aggressively, ideally with a loop.
  2. If the ball is short without backspin (i.e. sidespin, side-top, topspin, or no-spin), mostly return it aggressively with a flip.
  3. If the ball is short with backspin, either push it long (deep, low, good backspin, quick off the bounce, angled, and hide the direction until the last second), push it short (so that it is low and that, given the chance, would bounce twice on the opponent's side of the table), or flip it.
  4. Above all else, returning serve is about BALL CONTROL. If you have trouble controlling the ball, or reading the spin, play against players with good serves until you can read the spin and control the ball. If you don't have anyone like that you can practice against, then you better find someone because you aren't going to learn to do something unless you practice it.
  5. That is all.

How arm problems are improving my game

More specifically, it is helping my backhand tremendously. Ever since I hurt my arm ten days ago I've avoided hitting or looping forehands with any power. It's really helped the healing process while allowing me to continue coaching every day. However, it's meant a huge amount of backhand play since I'm having everyone play most there in drills. And since I'm not looping forehands, guess what? When we play points, I'm opening with my backhand loop. The result is my backhand blocking, hitting, and looping have both improved tremendously. My normally steady backhand is still steady but at a faster pace, while I'm backhand looping in pushes and serves to all parts of the table, something I don't usually do as I'm more the all-out forehand looper type. Also, after nine days of non-stop backhand play, my backhand muscles are now tireless - I can hit backhands forever without my arm getting tired.

Take me out to the Ball Game--that'd be Ping-Pong
You all know the lyrics to the baseball version, which can be found here (with the second stanza the commonly sung one). Here's my version!

Take me out for some ping-pong,
Take me out for some fun.
Buy me a racket and ping-pong balls,
I don't care if I don't score at all!
Let me hit, hit, hit with my forehand,
If they don't land it's a shame,
For it's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven points and you're out,
In the new pong game.

Talking to the Curator of the World's Greatest Collection of Photos of Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

Oh, that would be me! Yes, I was interviewed about my "Celebrities Playing Table Tennis" site. The interview went up yesterday - here it is!

Dan Seemiller article

Here's an article on Dan Seemiller in yesterday's South Bend Tribune.

Zhang Jike

Here's a tribute video (9:21) to World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike, strangely titled, "World Champion or Small Boy?"

Lots of Ping-Pong Balls

Yes, that's a lot of ping-pong balls in the air. I keep thinking I recognize the player, but I'm not sure. Anyone know? [NOTE: Aaron Avery emailed that it was Polish paralympic player Natalia Partyka, and sure enough her web page includes that photo. Thanks Avery!]

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March 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

For a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, as well as my usual coaching and other duties, I'm going to take today and next Monday to put these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Proper Use of the Free Arm.

Shadow practice

Do you only practice at your local club, or do you practice whenever the urge hits you? You can practice anywhere by shadow practicing. It's also a great way to exercise and to wake yourself up from long hours sitting at a desk. (It's also a nice to practice proper use of your free arm - see Tip above.)  Here's an article I wrote a while back on shadow-practicing. So get up from your computer and start stroking!

Arm Update

The arm is getting better, but still needs more time to heal. (I injured my forearm about a week ago.) I still can't forehand hit or loop aggressively. Yesterday I coached much of the day, but did almost exclusively backhands and multiball. One student, Kevin Walton, lent me an arm brace which seemed to help, but when using the muscles for certain shots it was like having someone grabbing my arm in mid-stroke. It's great to protect the arm when hitting (tentative) forehands, but when hitting backhands or feeding backspin in multiball, I had to take it off.

I'm supposed to be defending my hardbat titles from 2010 and 2011 at the Cary Cup in eleven days. However, my arm is not going to be ready for my all-out forehand hitting style. So yesterday I borrowed a defensive hardbat from John Olsen (an oversized Hock), and we practiced for a time. I'll almost for certain be chopping at Cary, and hopefully pick-hitting forehands, but not too much.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion Update

The wall is down! The long-awaited expansion of the Maryland Table Tennis Center is happening. They are still working on the new area we're taking over next door, and to protect our side from the dust of the wall going down and other work there's a ceiling-to-floor plastic tarp still dividing the place, but that's temporary. Soon we'll be up to 11,000 square feet, about 18 tables, all-new red flooring, showers, weight room, etc. All should be ready within two weeks.

Here's a picture of the place right now by Barbara Wei. The plastic tarp on the left actually cuts off about 10-15 feet of the current club, so for the next week or so we're actually smaller than normal.

Overheard at the Maryland Table Tennis Center yesterday: "Nobody plays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center anymore. It's too crowded." (Admission: I said it. With proper regards to Yogi Berra.)

Lily Zhang Interview

Here's an interview with Lily Zhang, U.S. Women's Singles Finalist, Women's Team Member, and #1 Cadet Girl.

Sol Schiff in New York Times

Here's Schiff's obit in the NY Times. Most of the story is based on phone interviews by the author with Tim Boggan, who was at my house during the interviews.

The World Economic Forum, Mick Jagger, and Ping-Pong

Here's an excerpt from an article this morning in The New Yorker:

Jagger was there. He had on a pink button-down, black jeans, and snazzy Nike running shoes. There was a Ping-Pong table folded up against the wall; apparently Jagger had been playing when the first guests arrived. Now he was dancing, with one woman, then another, to classic reggae playing at mid-volume.

Tips from Marty Reisman

Here's a two-minute video from Men's Journal and Marty Reisman: "The Hustler's Guide to Ping-Pong: Learn how to impress friends and fleece strangers with these tips from Marty Reisman, the world’s best table-tennis player."

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 13 table tennis cartoons by Cartoon Jazz that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

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March 2, 2012

A way to handle fast opponents

This won't work for everyone, but it works for me. Suppose you are playing someone who plays very fast at the table, such as one of those super-quick bang-bang playing junior players. Suppose he pins you down with fast, quick shots to your backhand and middle, and wins points either on your backhand mistakes and pop-ups, or with sudden shots to the forehand. You struggle to keep up the pace, but it's too fast, and the table is too wide. Let's supposed you have a somewhat steady backhand and a good forehand when you are in position and not too rushed. (If not, work on that.)

What I often do is stand toward the backhand side but in a slight forehand stance, with my right foot slightly back (I'm right-handed). Then I just stick my racket up and rebound back anything hit to my backhand or middle with my backhand, using my opponent's own speed to so that I barely have to stroke the ball. (It's almost like playing a video game.) Try to keep the ball deep, and pin your opponent on his own backhand by going wide there. The strategy is to either outlast the opponent, or when he finally goes to my forehand, to tee off on that shot since I'm standing in a forehand stance.

I've been coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center for over two decades, and most of my practice matches during that time have been as a practice partner against our up-and-coming juniors. The strategy outlined above has been honed for twenty years.

Arm problems update

As noted in my blog this week, I hurt my arm on Sunday. I've coached at least two hours every day this week, but so far haven't aggravated it. The key? I haven't looped or smashed a ball. While coaching I'm mostly blocking. There have been a few times where I started to reflexively loop or smash, but each time something in my arm sent a red alert signal and I stopped. Perhaps the arm can heal without taking time off. I am doing lots of stretching and massage before and after playing.

USATT Job Openings

Pongcast TV Episode 10 - 2012 Kuwait Open

Here it is (20:23)!

1946 English Open

Here's a video of the 1946 English Open Table Tennis Championships (8:40), and here are links to lots of other vintage table tennis footage.

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 30 table tennis cartoons by Marek Zochowski that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

Non-Table Tennis: SF story in Story Quest

My science fiction story Rationalized was just published in the online magazine Story Quest Magazine. The story won the Story Quest Short Story Contest in November. (See second column at top.) It's about a future dystopian society where everyone has an operation on their brain at age 13 to remove all emotions, and the underground society that secretly avoids this operation, but must pretend to always be unemotional - and the lengths they must go to hide their secret when a terrible accident occurs. (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.) 

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February 28, 2012

Tim Arrives

Yes, that's Tim Boggan, USATT Historian and past president, and, well, just about everything else. (Here's his short bio, his USATT Hall of Fame bio, and here's my long 1996 interview with him, with pictures.) As some of you may know, he's been writing a comprehensive History of U.S. Table Tennis, with eleven volumes published, and number twelve just written. Every year about this time he makes the drive from New York to Maryland and moves in with me for two weeks, sleeping on my sofa, and spending the day looking over my shoulder as I lay out the pages and do photo work for the next volume, with each book about 500 pages. ("No, it goes there, you fool!" he'll say as he smacks me with a hardbat.) Here's the page I maintain for him on his books. It's going to be a busy two weeks as we work from roughly 7AM (he's a morning person) until 5PM or so (he lets me have a lunch break), and then I run off to the club to coach.

Arm update

As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I hurt my arm over the weekend. It was still bothering me yesterday, but mostly when I played fast. I was hitting mostly with beginning-intermediate players, and mostly just blocked, so it wasn't too bad. I'm a little worried about what'll happen when I hit with stronger players, as I will in my sessions tonight. We'll see.

Topspin on the Backhand

Just as on February 23, I had a student yesterday who had difficulty hitting his backhand with any topspin. This time the primary problem was that he was constantly reaching for the ball. Against his better instincts (he's 10), I got him to sloooooow down, and move to each ball so he could hit from a better position. Suddenly his backhand picked up. After struggling to get even ten in a row, he suddenly got into a rhythm and hit 145 straight. More importantly, he was hitting them properly.

Chinese National Team

Here's an inspirational video of the Chinese National Team (2:39), with background narration by "The Hip Hop Preacher" that starts out, ""Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute or an hour or a day or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever."

The Falkenberg Drill

Here's a video (3:10) that demonstrates what many consider the best table tennis drill - you learn to cover the wide forehand, the wide backhand, and the step around forehand. It's called the Falkenberg Drill because it was popularized there by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's also called the 2-1 drill or the backhand-forehand-forehand drill.

Jan-Ove Waldner breaking his racket

Here's a video of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner accidentally breaking his racket (0:47).

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