ITTF Coaching Courses

June 17, 2014

Arm Wrestling and Table Tennis

During a break today during our MDTTC camp yesterday, several of the kids began arm wrestling. Alarms began blaring in my head.

Long ago I was a competitive arm wrestler. How competitive? Here's a picture in the newspaper of me winning the 1983 University of Maryland arm wrestling championships. (Little known fact: arm wrestling is more technique than strength, though of course at the higher levels you absolutely need both. In a few minutes I can teach an average person how to beat a much stronger person.) What's not mentioned in the picture caption was that during this match I hurt my arm so badly that I was out of table tennis for six months. And it was far worse than that - I've had ongoing arm problems ever since.

After I'd mostly recovered from this injury, someone heard about my arm wrestling background in the late 1980s, and challenged me to a match. I smiled, and pretty much slammed his arm down so fast it was over in one second. Result? I was out another five months or so as it healed again. (I actually played some during this time, but only blocking or chopping.) 

It not only knocked me out of table tennis for months at a time, it ruined my game on and off for years. When I hurt the arm I was a 2200 player. Here's chapter 11 of volume 14 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, which just went online. In it you'll find me losing in the final of Under 2000 to Stephen Yeh at the 1985 U.S. Open. Under 2000??? Me??? But that's what happens when your arm is constantly hurting, and you can barely loop or hit backhands. I probably took off 1-2 months to rest it at least 7-8 times, and it rarely helped. (I finally mostly got over it with a combination of ultrasound treatments, strength exercises involving stretching a thick rubber band in various ways, and lots of irritating rest.

I'm not the only one this has happened to. I'm hitting a blank, but I remember others who have injured their arm from arm wrestling and had to take time off from table tennis. It's just so easy to spend a few seconds with an impromptu and informal arm wrestling match, without realizing the possible consequences. Here's a page showing common injuries from arm wrestling. The list is rather long. 

So when I saw the kids arm wrestling, after a moment of reminiscing and reliving painful memories, I warned them against it. I also pulled aside some of our top juniors and sort of gave them the riot act - basically, do not risk all your years of training for this. No arm wrestling!

I wonder what other activities up-and-coming table tennis players should avoid. Skiing? (Several of our kids ski regularly, and as far as I know there's been no broken legs or other injuries.) Sky diving? Bungee jumping? Bear wrestling? Some coaches advise against tennis since it can mess with your table tennis strokes, and that's probably true for developing players, but I don't think it seriously affects a table tennis player whose strokes are ingrained.

If you want to see hyper-muscled arm wrestlers showing off their strength and then playing table tennis, here's the page.

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was the first day of our MDTTC summer camps. They are Mon-Fri every week for ten straight weeks. They are for all ages and levels, but are dominated by our junior players. (This week's camp has only one player over age 18, and he's 22 or so.) Turnout was a little smaller than usual, with fewer out of towners than usual. Coach Cheng Yinghua said he thinks this is because there are so many other training centers now running camps. We used to get contingents from New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and other states, but they all have their own training camps. 

One side result is that since it was mostly locals, we decided to skip my normal lectures and get the players out to the tables as quickly as possible. So there will be fewer of my brilliant, world-renowned lectures (that's how I remember them) but more sweating time at the table. (Though we do have air conditioning!) 

Today's most difficult task in my group? Convincing the younger kids when we do multiball that it doesn't matter who goes first, you are all going to get the same number of turns!!! One kid had a meltdown over this, all because he lost a rock-paper-scissors thing with another kid over who got to go first. (Okay, they were about seven years old, the youngest in the camp.) Meanwhile, as we usually do, on day one we focused on the forehand.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Here's a listing:

Nittaku Poly Ball

I blogged about this extensively yesterday. Here's a long discussion about it at the Mytabletennis.com forum. (The discussion began before I blogged about it.) 

ITTF Reforms Dangerous Says Liu Guoliang

Here's the article

Susan Sarandon, Ping Pong, and Testicular Cancer

Here's the article on her ping-pong related charity work.

Frank Caliendo and the Baltimore Orioles

Here's an article about Frank's visit to the Orioles clubhouse on Saturday, where he played table tennis with the players. (I blogged about this yesterday.)

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-five down, 75 to go!

  • Day 76: The Wonderful World of Disney's
  • Day 77: Paying Tribute to Our “Founder-President” Patriarch: Hon. Ivor Montagu

Table Tennis in a Mall in Orlando

Here's an article in the Orlando Sentinel about an exhibition at a mall. Taking part were Michael McFarland, Gary Fraiman, Mark Hazell, and Timothy & Aydin Lee. 

Incredible Point at World Hopes Challenge

Here's the video (40 sec) where USA's Michael Tran (far side) goes up against Mexico's Dario Arce in the quarterfinals in Austria. Besides the incredible blocking, see Dario's spin move near the end! Dario had beaten Michael in the team competition, and went up 2-0 in games here, but Michael came back to win in five.

Marco Freita and Soccer

Here's the video (~15 sec) of the Portugal #1 (and world #13) showing off his soccer skills.

Adam Bobrow Playing Outdoors in China

Here's video (1:57) of Adam playing outdoor table tennis in a park in China.

"Think Different" Apple Ad

Here it is - with table tennis!

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February 21, 2014

USATT President's Blog

Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's new blog on "Changes for 2014."  It's mostly good stuff. Many of the items he writes about we can't really judge until we know more about the programs, and see if they will actually be implemented. USATT historically doesn't have a high batting average in that regard. Here are my short comments on each.

  • On Change. Mike quotes Einstein: "Madness is best described as doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results." He also talks about how some are resistant to change. I've been arguing the same type of thing for decades as I've watched one administration after another do the same type of stuff while expecting different results. However, not all change is good. Change for the sake of change isn't going to help things; there has to be a specific reason for each change. Some changes are obvious; others are experimental as you don't always know if something will work until you try it. Often leaders are afraid of the latter type because they'll get blamed if their program doesn't work. Solution - try a number of programs, and if you think them through and plan them out, some will work. The alternative is to do nothing, which is most of USATT's history.
  • On the Polyethylene Ball: He says USATT is still evaluating the change. Personally, I'm ambivalent about it. I'd prefer celluloid, but the new poly ball I tried at the Nationals (see second item in this blog entry) is pretty similar. But even the subtle differences will take time to get used to. Some say that the new ball gets less spin, but it's not clear if they were using the same ball I tried, or another type, since they're not all the same. Also, as I noted in the blog entry, when I tried out the ball I was having serious arm problems and couldn't loop very hard, and partially relied on others to tell me how the ball played.
  • On RailStation Roll-out: We'll have to wait and see on this one. USATT has periodically gotten infatuated with various softwares, such as one I think used by the Brazilian TTA that we talked about adopting for years but never did so. I have no idea if this will useful.
  • On Creation of a Recreational Division and Website: I'm all for both. However, it's not clear what the program constitutes. If it's just informational, then it's somewhat helpful but not much. What's needed is something that a new player can immediately get into on a regular basis - i.e., a league. I've blogged about this so many times it's repetitive, but it's one of those obvious things that many don't get. When a new player comes into a club, you can't toss him in with the experienced players and expect him to have a positive experience as he's getting killed. You need leagues for all levels, as well as available coaching (classes or private coaching). Without that, we're just waving our hands. Recreational players are recreational players until we give them a reason to become serious players and join USATT. I once joined the U.S. Tennis Association for one reason only, as did the vast majority of their 700,000 members - to play in their tennis leagues.
  • On the Digital Magazine: I've blogged about this several times, such as here and here. I'm all for it. Some still don't get it that you can be for the online magazine, as I am, while still against canceling the print one. I'm also a bit peeved that members who paid expecting the magazine, and especially life members, will have to pay a fee to get a printed version. As to the magazine eventually being members-only again (the online version), that might be a good idea as it at least returns some added value to memberships.
  • On Tournament Sanction Process Roll-Out: I haven't studied the new sanctioning procedures - they changed right at the time I stopped running tournaments at MDTTC (Charlene Liu took over). However, it is a good idea to go to the quality of the tournament, not just the prize money. However, I'm a little reticent about their removing any regional protection for tournaments. That's one of the primary reasons to sanction a tournament. It means higher risk for tournament directors and clubs. Some clubs rely on revenue from tournaments to finance their club; if someone suddenly decides to run a competing tournament locally on the same date, they have a serious problem.
  • On the $5-million Quad Roll-out: We'll need a lot more info on this to figure out what it is. Announcing a plan to raise $5 million is about five million times easier than actually raising $5 million. It's been a long time since USATT has raised any serious money, as they used to do in the 1980s with a series of large sponsors.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in USA

There are two coming up, a Level 1 Course in Akron, OH (July 28-Aug. 1) and a Level 2 Course in Austin, TX (Aug. 25-30). For more info, see the USATT Coaching Courses Page

2016 Olympic Rio Qualification System

Here are the rules for qualifying.

2014 Friendship Trophy

This is part of the ITTF's Women's Development Program, where they encourage you to "… find a way to celebrate women and girls in Table Tennis."

Chinese Retirement Ceremony

Here's an article with a link to a video trailer (4:49) where retiring Chinese team members give messages to their teammates (in Chinese, alas).

Mike Meier to Umpire at Worlds

Here's the article.

Amazing Table Tennis Serves

Here's a video (4:03) where a player demonstrates his tricky spinny serves. I think the commentary is in Chinese. Note that the serve where the ball bounces back into the net is more for show, and is easy to return; in a real match, it's better to serve the ball so second bounce is near the end-line.

Orioles' David Lough and Table Tennis

Here's an interview with new Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough. See third item:

Hidden talent: I thought I was good at ping-pong until I saw some of these other guys playing in here. [Laughs]. I don't have anything else cool, I'm boring.

Adam Bobrow on Table Tennis, Comedy, Excessive Celebrations

Here's the video (20:49). Here's more about Actor, Comedian, and Table Tennis Player Adam Bobrow.

Qatar Open's 20th Birthday

Here's their 20th Birthday Cake. (Here's the home page for the Qatar Open in Doha, held Feb. 18-23 - yes, right now!)

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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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