MDTTC Spring Break Camp

April 9, 2012

Tip of the Week

The 3-2-1 Placement Rule.

Seamless balls

As some of you may know, the ITTF is going to seamless balls. The first ones are out. Here's an analysis (5:44) by Australian star William Henzell - and it's not good. Some quotes:

  • "They sound broken."
  • "Bounce feels different and generally higher."
  • "The bounce will take some getting used to and the ball will be in a different position to what you're used to."
  • "We found there was less spin generally."
  • "The balls wobbled from side to side when spun."
  • "The new balls are definitely harder."
  • "The new balls feel heavier."
  • "After just a few minutes of play we had our first broken ball."
  • "We all hope this will improve."

Cheng gone, me busy

Cheng Yinghua is vacationing in China for three weeks (April 9-May 1). I'm subbing for a number of his students during this time (as are the other coaches), so I'll be rather busy and tired. But hey, I get paid for it!

MDTTC Open House and Spring Break Camp

The MDTTC Open House this past Saturday (10:30 AM - 4PM) was a big success. About 200 players showed up, including many new ones. Dozens of new kids showed up, most of them in the beginning junior class held at the start. Numerous prizes were given away in various raffles. The demos (featuring Nathan Hsu, Tong Tong Gong, Derek Nie, Crystal Wang, plus Cheng Yinghua in a multiball demo) and exhibitions (me versus Derek in a humorous one, Han Xiao versus Jeffrey Zeng Xun in a more serious one) went off really well. The 30-minute service seminar I ran was jammed with new faces. And the three-point tournament (46 players) went great, with George Nie ($30 gift certificate) defeating Adam Yao ($20) in the all-junior final, with Lixin Lang and Kyle Wang ($10 each) in the semifinals. Here are pictures taken by raffle winner (and Tong Tong's dad) Chaoying Gong. The pictures show the club after the recent renovation and expansion.

Our five-day Spring Break Camp ended on Friday, with over 40 players. This is the 21st consecutive year we've had a spring break camp, ever since we opened in 1992. (As noted last week, it was the 150th five-day camp I've run or co-run.) Friday morning was the final training session; that afternoon we had practice tournaments. For the beginners, I put chocolates on the table and fed multiball, and they kept whatever ones they knocked off. (I had a little fun at one point, demonstrating the art of blindfold multiball - when you've been feeding multiball for 30 years you can close your eyes and still do it pretty accurately.)

Interviews

Here are some interviews (8:55) taken of local junior stars (or past junior star in Barbara's case) George and Derek Nie, Barbara Wei, and Lilly Lin, taken at the Maryland Table Tennis Center and Club JOOLA. (The MDTTC interviews of George, Derek, and Barbara were taken before the recent expansion that doubled its size.)

Jim Butler vs. Peter Li

A number of people were rather shocked when Jim Butler, after a few months practice, was able to upset USA National Men's Champion and Finalist Peter Li and Han Xiao at the recent Cary Cup. Part of the reason was they were more used to spinny backhands, and Butler's flatter backhand gave them trouble, as did his serves. Here's the video of Jim Butler versus Peter Li (35:57).

Baltimore Orioles Ping-Pong

I received an email this weekend from a PR person from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It seems they are playing a lot of table tennis in the clubhouse, with shortstop JJ Hardy and former center field star and now trainer Brady Anderson the best. These two are interested in receiving coaching to improve. So they are hiring me to come to Oriole Park to coach them in the clubhouse, with coverage by MASN, the Orioles network! Wrote the PR guy of Hardy, "He seemed pretty serious about learning to play ping pong better." I'll post more info when the dates are finalized.

Tiger Woods on table tennis

Here's a quote from Table Tennis Nation from Tiger Woods:

Q: Is there any correlation between hand-eye coordination required in videogames and hand-eye coordination in golf?

Tiger: "Absolutely. I think that people don't realize this, but most golfers are really good at table tennis and pool. And I think it's just because of the fact that our sport is so hand-eye based, and guys just have a good feel with their hands. And those two sports, table tennis and pool, correlate to what we do in golf whether it's reflexes with table tennis or pool, which is like putting to us."

Easter Pong Bunny

Here's a cartoon of the Easter Bunnies playing ping-pong. And here's the Newgy Eastern Bunny. And here's a video of a real rabbit attacking a ping-pong paddle (1:43)!

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April 5, 2012

Wandering grips and open rackets

One of the more common problems I see with beginners and some intermediate players are what I call "wandering grips." I wrote about grip problems in this week's Tip of the Week, and this is a related problem. It seems that no matter how many times I remind them, some players change to a bad grip as soon as the rally begins. They aren't even aware of it. The reason is that they have unfortunately learned to hit the ball with the bad grip, and this has led to bad stroking technique. Since this bad technique has become habit, they automatically use this bad technique as soon as the rally begins - and so they subconsciously switch to the bad grip that matches the bad technique, since they cannot do the bad technique with a good grip.

The solution, of course, is lots of repetitive practice with the good grip and good technique in a controlled practice situation, usually multiball training. When the good technique seems ingrained in such rote practice drills, then the player can try them in more random drills, and finally in practice matches.

In theory, that's all you have to do to fix these problems. In practice, there are times where I'm busy smiling and being patient on the outside, but on the inside I'm screaming, "For the zillionth time, fix your grip!"

One beginning player I was working with yesterday had played a lot of "basement" ping-pong, and had developed the habit of sticking his finger down the middle of his racket and open his racket as hit his forehand, which led to him smacking the ball with backspin off the end over and over. (I think the shot might hit with the cheap blades he had been using, but not with a modern sponge racket.) When I got him to use a proper grip, he would hit a few good ones, and then fall back to the old habit. I think I said various versions of "Watch your grip!" and "Close your racket!" about one hundred times in one session. (More specifically, I'd tell him to lead with the top part of the racket, and to aim for the net, which worked sometimes.) At the end of the session he was getting it right some of the time, but as he himself noted, his racket hand seemed to have a mind of its own.

MDTTC Spring Break Camp

Here are highlights from yesterday.

  • Confusing two players. There's a beginning player I worked with extensively at our Christmas Camp in December, about twelve years old. Around February I began coaching him regularly - or so I thought. I was quite impressed with his improvement as he learned to loop and even occasionally counterloop. Then something came up, and he missed a few sessions. Then he showed up at the Spring Break Camp, but was playing miserably. He couldn't loop, could barely hit the ball; it was as if he'd forgotten all I and other coaches had taught him. It was rather frustrating at first. Then yesterday he not only showed up, but he showed up twice. It turns out that the beginning player I'd worked with at the Christmas Camp and the improving one I'd coached in February were two different look-a-like players, and yesterday was the first time I'd seem both at the club at the same time! Both are Chinese, and really do look alike, at least to me, though one is about two inches taller. I'm poor at recognizing both faces and names, alas. Neither of them have any clue about this mix up, and I'd like to keep it that way. So let's keep this a secret between you and me.
  • Cup game. Once again the most popular game with the kids at the end of each session is the Cup Game. We take paper cups and stack them in various shapes, often pyramids, and each player gets ten shots to see how many they can knock down. The most popular version is to take ten cups, and stack them with four on the bottom, three on top, two more on top of that, and one on the very top. A few times they took out the all the cups and did a pyramid that was seven stories high with 28 cups, with rows of 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Then they'd take turns knocking it down, though whoever hit it first usually knocked down most of them.
  • Worm, caterpillar, and octopus juice. Another popular game is to put my water bottle on the table and the kids line up, taking turns taking two shots each trying to hit it. If they hit it, I have to take a sip. What makes it more interesting is that every day I have another story about how (for example) that morning I'd gotten up early, went outside and caught hundreds of worms, then squeezed them in a juice machine and that the liquid in the bottle was worm juice. I'm good at making sour faces as I drink it. I've also been forced to drink caterpillar juice and octopus juice. Tomorrow I'm thinking spiders.
  • 50-foot serves. During break today I introduced the more advanced players to the joys of fifty foot serves. You stand directly to the side of the table, about fifty feet away, and serve as hard as you can with sidespin so that the ball curves through the air, reaches the table, hits one side, and bounces sideways and hits the other. You can do this either forehand tomahawk or pendulum style. George Nie and Karl Montgomery got quite good at this. Tong Tong Gong joined in late and managed to land a few.  
  • We also did some coaching. One player in particular went from essentially a complete beginner on Monday to hitting fifty steady forehands on Wednesday. The beginners focused a lot on smashing yesterday. We also introduced "mirror footwork" to the kids, where they have to follow the leader (me at the start, then others from the group) who move side to side, constantly changing directions and trying to leave the group behind.
  • Cramps. After three days of mostly standing by a table and feeding multiball while yelling sage advice, my legs and back are starting to cramp up, and my voice is getting hoarse. And the sun rises in the east and water is wet. (As I'm typing this my right leg is cramping up a storm.)

ITTF Coaching Courses

Fremont, CA (June 11-15) and Austin, TX (Aug. 13-17) will hold ITTF coaching courses this summer. Info is here. I also plan to run one at MDTTC (Gaithersburg, MD), probably in late summer or September. If interested in the one I'll be running, email me and I'll put you on the list to notify when I have it scheduled. (I ran one last April, so this'll be the second one I've run, along with several USATT coaching seminars.)

Octopus vs. Rabbit

In honor of the octopus juice I was forced to drink (see segment above), here's an octopus playing a rabbit cartoon. And here's a rather psychedelic rabbit playing table tennis.

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April 4, 2012

Adventures in Babysitting and Coaching

Yesterday we finished Day Two of the MDTTC Spring Break Camp. Anyone who thinks coaching is just about coaching hasn't done much coaching - at least not with younger kids. I had most of the beginning kids in my group yesterday, average age around 8 or 9. I've learned to referee fights about cups and dominoes (yes, it's a table tennis camp), about setting up doubles teams ("I won't play doubles with a girl" says one, and another says, "My mom says I have to play with her!"), and how best to get them to aim for a target on the table (either use candy they win if they knock it off the table, or use a drink bottle and tell them it's "worm juice" that I have to drink if they hit it).

Oh, and their shots are getting better and better!!!

Beginning kids often hit the ball off the end over and over when learning new strokes. The cure? I tell them, "Put the next ball in the net." With clockwork efficiency, they inevitably hit the next shot perfectly on the table, to their utter surprise.

One kid really, Really, REALLY wanted to learn to serve with sidespin, but no matter how hard he tried, all he got was backspin. After many tears were shed, something clicked, and now he's serving with sidespin.

There are 34 players in the camp, all but two 15 or younger. The strongest players in the camp are Tong Tong Gong (age 14, rated 2334) and Nathan Hsu (15, rated 2317). Also in the camp are 11-year-old Derek Nie (2080) and 10-year-old Crystal Wang (on right, as Barbara Wei smacks in a forehand; Crystal's rated 2079, but was recently an even 2150 before she began focusing more on looping). Coaches are myself (need to work on the kid's grip), Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. (The pictures linked here are from the Coconut Cup tournament held this past Saturday - see "MDTTC Open House and Pictures" segment below.)

Fourteen-year-old Karl Montgomery (rated 1963) took me and my clipboard down on Monday, 11-6. Yesterday we went at it again twice, and this time I won 11-5, 11-9. He's tough - he can loop both hard and spinny over and over, moves me in and out with hard and soft loops and drop shots, mixes in backhand loops, and ends the point to my middle.

There are few things funnier than yelling out "Emily!" and watching the three inseparable girls with the same name, all about age nine, look up at the same time. We do this at least once every twenty minutes.

Chinese food (big portions) is delivered for lunch as part of the camp for $6. I had Chicken with Garlic Sauce. It was great! Only - friends don't let friends over age 20 eat an entire dish of Chinese food, as I lectured some of our players as I wiped the gravy off my face after eating it all. If I keep doing this all week I'm going to gain some weight.

MDTTC Open House and Coconut Cup Pictures

It's just three days until the MDTTC Open House! See you there this Saturday for demonstrations, exhibitions, a serving seminar, junior program, games, raffles, refreshments, and open play. Anyone who is anybody will be there; so should you. (MDTTC is in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA.) Junior players should come for the 10:30AM-Noon junior training session. Adults should be there by noon, when the demonstrations and exhibitions begin. (Don't be late!)

Here are pictures taken at the recently renovated MDTTC this past Saturday during the Coconut Cup tournament by James Mu. I'm pictured in a few of them doing a group junior session on the back tables. Here's one of me and Jeffrey Zeng Xun working with a new kid. Even 2011 U.S. Men's Singles Finalist Han Xiao got in on the action (on right, playing doubles with Steve Hochman), as did the Over 50 Women's Champion Charlene Liu.

Reverse Penhold Backhands

After nearly a decade of playing against it semi-regularly, I still have trouble playing reverse penholders. I've played for 36 years now, and those first 26 pretty much ingrained my play against shakehand and "conventional" penhold backhands. I put conventional in quotes because what was once conventional is now unconventional as the new generation of penholders nearly all play with reverse penhold backhands. But when I play against it, something in my bring freezes up and I end up doing a lot of lobbing and fishing against these players. When I'm playing well I can sort of stick my racket out there and make solid counter-hits - I'm not hopeless against it - but I doubt I'll ever have the comfort level against this style backhand that I do against others. Here's world #3 Wang Hao's reverse penhold backhand in slow motion (2:16).

This segment was brought on by a practice match with a 12-year-old 1200-level junior who had a reverse penhold backhand, and while I won the match easily, I struggled to stay at the table with him in backhand exchanges. On a related note, while I know the basics of the shot, at some point I need to really learn the subtleties - probably by experimenting with it myself, as well as examining the grips and strokes of those who do it well.

World Team Championships Final

Here's a video (9:49) showing the men's final between China and Germany from a spectator's view (featuring the Zhang Jike-Timo Boll match), with a focus on the huge packed stadium (it's like an NBA basketball game) and all the pomp and ceremony of the event. When the Zhang-Boll match begins, the zoom lens puts you right in the action. (And here are some great photos taken during the Final.)

Justin Bieber vs. Ellen DeGeneres

Here's a picture and story about the two playing table tennis from Table Tennis Nation.

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March 29, 2012

Pushing the limits

Last night I was coaching an 8-year-old girl. We've been working on her strokes for months, and while she could occasionally get 50 or so in a row at a slow pace, it was sort of a "just keep the ball in play" type rally, at a slow pace, with her mostly standing stationary as she patted the ball back. She was looking pretty bored as I encouraged her to get 50 in a row. So I tried something different - I decided it was time to teach her to forehand loop. Normally I'd want her to have a bit more ball control and athleticism in her game before I'd start this. So I got a bucket of balls and fed her backspin with multiball. At first she struggled, but after a few minutes she made a rather nice loop, and then another, and after a while she was able to hit about every other one on the table with a good stroke and decent topspin. She ran off to tell her mom (who was hitting on another table). Then she ran back and did some more.

Here's the real surprise. We ended the session hitting forehands - and after all the struggles, suddenly she came alive, her feet moving, and for the first time ever we were steadily smacking the ball back and forth, at a faster and more consistent rate than ever. I decided to test her backhand as well, and the same thing. So it was a triple whammy.

Maybe next week I'll teach her counterlooping.

MDTTC Spring Break Camp and other activities

It's not too late to register for our Spring Break Camp next week, Mon-Fri, 10AM - 6PM (with a two-hour lunch break in the middle). It's also not too late to join our beginning junior class starting this Saturday, 10:30AM-Noon. I'll be teaching the class, with Jeffrey Zeng Xun assisting. (We postponed the first session from today to Saturday as we still have people working all day on the club's new expansion, which should be complete by tomorrow.) We also have a new Tuesday Night League starting April 10, along with our usual one on Friday nights.

Once the expansion is complete I plan on starting a beginning adult class and a weekly service practice session. The latter will start off with a service seminar where I teach the basics of advanced serves, and then we meet 30 minutes each week to practice.

Jorgen Persson vs. Ma Lin

Here's a great match from the Worlds between two great veterans (6:03). Of course Persson (who'll turn 46 on April 22) was 1991 World Men's Singles Champion when Ma Lin (32) was 11.

Susan Sarandon

Here's an old article from Sept. 2010 in NY Magazine on Sarandon and table tennis, with a picture of her playing table tennis. And here's a more recent picture of her also playing table tennis, this time on the cover of what I think is Home Magazine.

"Interestingly no one has ever been killed playing ping-pong."

This video (1:47) starts out innocently enough, and for the first 18 seconds seems to be a video about guns deaths. Then it takes a deadly turn into table tennis! Lots of photoshopping, with scenes and actors from numerous major movies, all strangely playing ping-pong.

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