Staying low

June 13, 2013

Staying Low Revisited

The Tip of the Week this past Monday was Staying Low. It was inspired by a student of mine, Sameer, 11, who tends to stand up straight when he plays. I've been on him about this for some time, and usually he gets lower - but only in practice drills if I constantly remind him. Once he plays points, he stands up again. At the Eastern Open this past weekend he won Under 800 and made the final of U950, but there were times where he didn't look so good since he was standing up so straight. (In newer ratings from before the tournament, he's rated 1181.)

So I told him that for the next month, our sessions are going to be very "boring," that we're going to focus almost exclusively on staying low. It's not just getting low, it's how you do it. When he does get low, his tendency is to simply bend his knees while leaning backwards from the waist, instead of forward. Also, his feet tend to be too close together, his feet pointing too much forward. You can't fix any one of these; they all go together. He also tends to either let his free arm tightly at his side, either hanging down or jammed up to his chest. Keeping the free hand out for balance is closely related to the ready position as you need it to stay balanced when you move.

So yesterday we started off by spending about ten minutes just shadow practicing with the proper stance. Once he looked comfortable doing this, we hit forehand to forehand at a very slow pace - it almost drove him crazy since he likes to play fast (like most kids), and every now and then in exasperation he'd smack one in. But we did this for twenty minutes, just forehand to forehand, adding some side-to-side footwork near the end. Then we did the same thing, backhand to backhand.

Then we played some points. The key was that he wasn't to play table tennis; he was to play "low table tennis," where he had to play the points in his newer stance. I expected problems, and kept the rallies simple - but lo and behold, he'd developed the habit during those excruciatingly slow rallies! Normally when I spot him 6 points I win over and over. This time he did something unthinkable - he won four out of five! Now I probably did miss a few shots, and was keeping things simple, but it was by far the best he's ever played. As a side bonus, by staying low he was able to see and react to my serve better than before, and returned them better than ever, even the "trick" serves I threw at him near the end of most games.

Table Tennista

Here are this week's headlines at Table Tennista:

China Open

Here's an ITTF story that features USA player Ariel Hsing - unfortunately, it features her upset loss. Here's the ITTF home page for the China Open, with results, articles, photos, and videos.

Behind the Scenes at the 2013 China Open

Here's a 38-second video with a few action shots and short interviews with Chinese players at the China Open. Interesting to watch, even more interesting if you understand Chinese, which I do not. Feel free to translate anyone!  

Three More Books Coming Out By Next Year

By the end of the year I'll have enough Tips of the Week to put them together in one volume, "Table Tennis Tips." (Highly original title - have a better suggestion?) It'll clearly be marked as a compilation of my previously published Tips of the Week. So far I've done 123 Tips of the Week here at TableTennisCoaching.com, one every Monday since Jan. 11, 2011. (Confession: a few didn't go up until Tuesday.) I anticipate doing 29 more this year, for a total of 152, plenty for a book. Sadly, I'm running out of topics, and so anticipate ending the Tips of the Week at the end of this year. (I also did 169 much shorter Tips of the Week, which were published near the back of Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - took up only 54 of the book's 272 pages. The Tips I do here are considerably longer, more like features than simple tips.)

Next year I'll also be publishing "More Pings and Pongs," the second anthology of my best published science fiction & fantasy stories. "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" came out in 2010 with my 30 best; I've now sold enough new stories for a new volume. The only problem is that typically when you sell a story, the buyer generally has sole rights to the story for six months, and so I anticipate I won't have rights to all the stories I'd like to use until April of 2014.

As a special, I've lowered the price for the Kindle version of Pings and Pongs to $2.99 - buy yours today!!! (I'd lower the price of the print version, but due to printing costs and other issues, the lowest I can sell it for is $8.35 - a bargain!!! It includes "Ping-Pong Ambition," a table tennis fantasy story.)

I have one other book also planned - "Table Tennis Fundamentals," the rewrite of "Table Tennis Steps to Success."

Here's my Amazon page that lists all my books, other than the USATT manual "Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis," which I plan to rewrite and have professionally published sometime in the future.

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List

Orioles Hangout published another of my infamous Top Ten Lists. This one was "Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Get a TOR Starter." (For you non-baseball people, "TOR Starter" means "Top Of Rotation Starter," i.e. a pitching ace.) It's the eleventh article of mine they've published - nine "Top Ten" lists and two regular articles.

Non-Table Tennis - Sheeba

Yesterday I did 3.5 hours of coaching, and was pretty exhausted afterwards. I got home around 8:15PM, and let Sheeba, my dog, outside. She's 15 years old, which puts her in her eighties in human years. She's almost completely deaf, and half blind - almost completely blind without bright light - and has arthritic back legs so she hobbles around. When I went down around 8:30 PM the gate was open. One of the tenants downstairs had just left, and likely left it open, not realizing she was in the yard. Sheeba was nowhere to be seen.

I spent the next hour and 45 minutes circling the neighborhood and expanding outward, trying to find her. Calling for her was pointless since she's deaf, though I found it was a good way to indicate to people that I was searching for a lost dog. I kept asking around, and twice I found people who had seen her going by. Finally, at around 10:15 PM, I got a call from someone who had found her. I thanked her profusely, and walked the evil, naughty dog back home, where she demanded (and got) a bacon snack.

My legs are exhausted this morning, partly from 3.5 hours of coaching, but mostly from walking around for an hour and 45 minutes.

Table Table Tennis and Office Table Tennis

My legs are so tired from coaching and searching for Sheeba that for now on I'm going to play table tennis like this. Or perhaps like this.

***
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June 10, 2013

Tip of the Week

Staying Low.

Eastern Open

It was a tiring weekend, but tournaments always are. I think coaching is more tiring than play. Seriously! Here are the results. We got there on Friday afternoon so our players could practice. I ended up volunteering with the NATT group running the tournament and spent some time putting together barriers. It was nostalgic - I was in charge of barriers at two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Nationals, and one North American Teams.

I mostly coached Derek Nie (12) and Sameer Shaikh (11). Sameer won Under 800 and made the final of Under 950, so it was a successful tournament for him. However, he needs serious work on staying low - hence the inspiration for this week's Tip of the Week (above). Often in practice with me he stays down, but once he gets into matches he tends to stand up straight, and his strokes and movement become awkward. We're going to focus on this for the foreseeable future.

Derek, rated 2215, had a strange tournament. On the one hand, he made it to the final of Under 2375, and had wins over players rated 2353 and 2332. He also went through stages where he was playing extremely well; his backhand play especially has improved as he can now do five types of backhand loops very well - over the table against short balls (especially serves), i.e. "banana flips"; off regular backspin; backhand rips against weak balls; in fast topspin rallies where he backhand loops the ball without backing up much, almost off the bounce; and from off table when forced to back up.

However, he had several matches where, at key stages, he seemed to tighten up and miss a few shots, especially finishing forehands. Astonishingly, he also kept missing his own serve, something he'd never done much before. Not fast and deep serves, but simple short serves that normally are almost never missed. He must have missed his own serve over 20 times this tournament - he has some work to do on this. In one five-game loss, after going up 2-1 in games, he missed his own serve four times in the last two games. (He also had a knee problem that affected him in some of his matches, especially toward the end; in his very first match he dived for a ball, and landed on it. Hopefully it's just a bone bruise. I don't think it affected him too much, but he's taking the next two days off to rest it.)

In the end, he lost five-game matches to three of his rival juniors, and another in four where he was down 1-2 but leading 10-8, with the opponent deucing it on a net-edge and winning on a net. (All four were actually rated higher, all in the 2260-2310 range.) Derek and I both agreed that while the actual results this time were somewhat disappointing, his actual play showed great promise. It'll take him time to gain the experience to incorporate his greatly improved backhand play with his already strong forehand play. And we had a lot of fun both to and from the tournament (four-hour drive) doing brain teasers and (I kid you not) discussing physics.

Here's a good place to thank fellow MDTTC players Raghu Nadmichettu and Harold Baring for their help in practicing with Derek throughout the tournament - and also to congratulate them for both making the quarterfinals of the Open. Chen Bo Wen, also from MDTTC and regular practice partner/coach for Derek, made the final of the Open.

I wish I could go into some of the tactics used in the tournament, but some give away too much for possible future opponents. Derek has a new-found "rivalry" with senior player Vladimir Shapiro (2332), who Derek beat in the Open but lost to in the U2375 final. In their first match, Vladimir was up 2-0, but with a major change in tactics Derek won the next three. In the U2375 final, Vladimir made a nice tactical adjustment to win at 7,8,9. "The future belongs to him," he told me, but the present belongs to him - with his two-winged looping game, varied serves, and smart tactical play, he swept three events - U2375, Over 40, and Over 50.

Because I was busy coaching, I didn't see many of the big matches. We left on Sunday as they were about to start the Open Quarterfinals.

We didn't stay at the tournament hotel, instead staying at a cheaper Day's Inn - and paid the price in other ways! I'm not picky about hotels, and didn't really mind it, but I did note a few things about the hotel:

  1. There was litter scattered all over - in the streets, walkways, outside rooms, and hallways.
  2. The coke machine just outside the front desk looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. I could barely make out the flavors. It was situated so that to get at it I had to squeeze between a bush and an over-loaded trash can that smelled of old garbage. When I clicked on Lemon Ice Tea, I got a Ginger Ale. The front desk refunded my $1.50. They said that there had been complaints about this. I mentioned I'd try the lemonade, but they said that if I did, I'd probably get a coke instead. I ended up going for a water.
  3. The arm rests on the chair in our room were both broken and hanging off sideways.
  4. The light fixture between the beds was broken and hanging off the wall.
  5. The front door had some sort of paint splattered over it.
  6. There was trash scattered about the bathroom.
  7. While walking to the front desk to check out, in a walkway littered with trash, I stopped and watched a giant spider crawling about the wall. Spider webs were all over.
  8. The clock at the front desk was 12 minutes slow.
  9. The complimentary was only corn flakes or sugar frosted flakes, plain bagels, bread, sugar donuts, orange juice, and coffee. I didn't mind; I had two bagels.

In contrast to this, the playing conditions were excellent, with grippy wood floors and good lighting. It was rather humid, which gave some players problems. I'll never understand why so many players show up at tournaments without a towel to wipe their racket with. When it's humid, I bring two - one for me, one for the racket and ball.

Here was an "interesting" incident. A very loud argument was going on between a coach and the referee. Several spectators told me what had happened. In the fifth game of a close match a ball rolled into the court. One player raised his finger to signal let. As he was doing this, his opponent, a junior player, not seeing the raised finger (he was watching the ball) went for a shot and missed. The adult who had raised his finger for let claimed the point. The referee was called. Since the junior player didn't know that his opponent had called a let, the point stood, with his opponent getting the point. (I'm not sure if the adult denied calling a let or claimed that since the junior went for the shot the point counted.) The referee couldn't rely on spectators on what happened (or you might get a biased view), and you can't check the video (or everyone would have to video their matches just in case), and so he could only go by what the players said - and so probably made the right call. However, the adult, if did in fact call the let, pulled a fast one there - and he won the fifth game 11-9. Anyway, there was a LOUD interaction between the junior's coach and the referee, which led to the coach getting red-carded and kicked out.

I had another interesting experience. One of the juniors from my club was playing a match and seemed to be struggling. I wasn't coaching the match, but I asked his dad how he was doing, and discovered he was down 2-1 in games and down 5-1 in the fourth against a player rated considerably lower, whose game I knew. (Very strong backhand, very weak forehand, with specific tactics needed to adjust for this since the player was willing to play backhands from the forehand side.) So I called a time-out, explained how to play this player, and our junior went back out and won the game and match.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

More reviews for the book are in. At Amazon.com, there are 17 so far - 15 five-star ones, and two four-star ones. They are selling pretty well at Amazon, both the print and Kindle versions. A few also sold at The Easterns. Hopefully we'll sell a bunch at the U.S. Open.

Butterfly App

Here's an app from Butterfly that allows you to watch the top players on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (Alas, my phone is circa 18th century, and it makes phone calls. Yes, just phone calls. Though I've heard rumors it takes pictures as well.)

Receive Secrets

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Service Receive Secrets From Japan.

Do You Know (the Ping Pong Song)

Here's a table tennis song I hadn't heard before - the music is to the beat of a bouncing ping-pong ball.

Michael Maze - Literally

Here's a cartoon from Mike Mezyan that combines Danish table tennis star Michael Maze, Michael Jackson, a maze, and a table tennis tour. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

***
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July 10, 2012

Staying Low

This past weekend I watched a 10-year-old I coach in matches at the club. I was grimacing as I watched him stand up nearly straight while receiving and in rallies, leading to awkward shots, especially on the backhand drive and forehand loop. So guess what the focus was in his lesson yesterday? Yes, staying low. For much of the hour I harped on staying down, with knees slightly bent, legs a bit wider. The result? His backhand drive and forehand loop shot up, and he moved much better. Near the end, we played points, and he was able to serve and loop better than he'd ever done before. In rallies, he could cover his backhand and hit real backhands, which had been a serious weakness.

Staying low helps you in multiple ways. First, by bending your knees, it gives you a quicker start. If the knees are straight, then before you can move you have to bend them, which wastes time. Second, it lowers your center of gravity, giving you more leverage in moving quickly. Third, with the legs wider, it allows you to stay balanced even on the move, since it's easier to keep the center of gravity between the legs. Fourth, with the knees bent, it makes it easier to step to the ball rather than lean. And fifth, it gets the coach out of your hair.

Can China Sweep the Olympics (Again)?

Here's an article in the China Daily on their chances, as well as going over their players and the opposition. From a mathematical point of view, if the Chinese have a 84% chance of winning in each of the four events, then their chances of sweeping are (.84)^4=.498, or only about 50%. Even a 90% chance in each event gives them about a 66% of sweeping.

Ariel Hsing versus Uncles Bill and Warren

Here's a video (1:57) by the Wall Street Journal that revisits U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her battles at shareholder meetings with Uncle Bill Gates and Uncle Warren Buffett, as well as against Wall Street Journal Reporter Jared Diamond.

Ping-Pong, Senior Style

Here's a video about a documentary on octogenarian table tennis. It has some nice sequences and interviews. The actual documentary, "Ping Pong: Never Too Old For Gold," is now out in limited release. 

Paralympic Backhand

So you think you have backhand problems?

The Ping Festival in England

The Ping Festival (2:56) features street table tennis, costumes, ducks playing table tennis, big paddles, long-handled paddles, mayors, and things I can't even describe.

Roger Federer vs. Ma Lin

On Sunday, Federer won Wimbledon. Now he's trying to beat the Chinese.

***

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April 26, 2012

Staying low

A low stance lowers the center of gravity while bending the knees. Both of these allow for quicker movements as well as added power. This is important, especially at higher levels where quick footwork and power dominate. At the beginning stage it's not as comfortable, but once you get used to it it's hard to imagine playing without a low stance. So it's a good idea to get in the habit early in your playing career. (If someone plays most of their life but are not professionals, like 99.9999% of us, is it a "playing career"?)

Many players say they can read spin better when they stay low, especially when returning serves. Many players adopt an extra low stance for receiving serve, and then go to a less low stance the rest of the rally. I've always suspected that the low stance doesn't really help read the spin better so much as it allows them to react to the spin faster.

When players think about footwork, they mostly think about moving to the ball in a rally, where they move mostly side to side as they run down each shot. Footwork for returning serves is way underestimated, which is one reason players often return serves awkwardly as they reach for balls they should move to. In that split second as the ball leaves the opponent's racket a receiver has to make a snap decision on whether to step under the table and move in to the forehand, backhand, or middle for a short ball; whether to step off from the table if the ball is extra deep; whether to move to the wide forehand or backhand for a deep serve there; whether to move left or right to receive a deep ball to the middle with the forehand or backhand; whether to use a forehand from the backhand or (mostly against short balls) a backhand from the forehand side. A low stance that gives a quick start makes this a lot easier.

U.S. Nationwide Club Team League

Just the below via email about the U.S. Nationwide Club Team League. I'll know more tomorrow as I'm going to be in an online meeting about it tonight. Already 104 clubs have registered, including my club, MDTTC.  

Teams enrolling by April 30th will save $75.

Who can enroll teams?

Table tennis clubs, college teams, schools and corporations who have registered with USNTTL.  

In order to grow table tennis in the U.S. table tennis must become a team sport where clubs are taking care of their players. Existing clubs need to be the center of table tennis activities in their local areas. 

This league with the $100,000 prize money will provide free publicity and will bring in new players and increased revenue for the clubs. 

What do I need to do? 

  1. Create one or more team rosters.
  2. List the players in order from the highest level to the lowest level.
  3. Ask players to remove their name if they want to be left out of the club team competition (10 players in a roster would cost only $30/player for the whole league)
  4. Go to our website (www.usnttl.com) and enroll your team/s.

How do I get additional teams?

  1. Send a press release to your local papers.
  2. Create a new roster for players who respond to your press release.
  3. Ask your club members if they play table tennis at work or school?
  4. Ask them to form a team to compete against other companies or schools in their area.
  5. Go to our website (www.usnttl.com) and enroll your team/s.

Remember, the home court advantage goes to teams in order of registration.

The more teams you enroll, the more funds you'll generate for your club.

If you have any question please contact Attila Malek at 714-677-0048 or attila@usnttl.com

Best Regards,

Attila Malek

USNTTL Director

ITTF Initiatives Shortlisted Four Times for SportAccord Awards

Here's the article.

Highlights video

Here's a great highlights video (7:56) set to music - enjoy!

Harry Potter plays table tennis

Table Tennis Nation brings us news of Harry Potter, I mean Daniel Radcliff, playing table tennis.

Funny table tennis pictures

Here are eight hilarious table tennis pictures from Eric Jenson's Facebook page:

  1. A "tennis" table
  2. Ping-pong soup
  3. Ping-pong cake
  4. The human chipmunk
  5. What the knights around King Arthur's round table do on break
  6. Warren Buffett talks softly and carries a big stick
  7. Outdoor table tennis
  8. A curvy, portable table

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