ITTF

September 4, 2014

Where Do Top Players Come From?

I'm always hearing about how USATT leaders want to develop medal contenders and world-class players. When I hear this I have a simple set of questions for them, which leads to a conclusion that's sort of obvious.

  1. Where do the overwhelming majority of top players come from? (Answer: successful junior training programs.)
  2. Where do successful junior programs come from? (Answer: successful training centers.)
  3. Where do successful training centers come from? (Answer: coaches and directors who take the initiative to create them, where they have to reinvent the wheel over and over from scratch and figure out how to do this because there is no one helping them out, no manual or guidance, nothing from any organizing body for table tennis, and of course no one's recruiting them to do any of this.)
  4. What's the major stumbling block here?

That's why I strongly believe that one of USATT's top priorities should be to recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run training centers with junior programs. This is not something that costs much. USATT is already running ITTF coaching courses. What's needed is to adjust the focus to recruiting and training those who wish to become full-time coaches or run junior training programs. If there are additional costs, the coaches in training would pay for them, just as they already pay for the ITTF coaching courses. The "hook" toward recruitment is that coaches can make a full-time living as coaches at these training centers, making $40-$50/hour. (I write about this quite a bit in my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd donate at cost to those who run such programs to recruit and train coaches.) I still have on the backburner the idea of starting up my own coaching academy where I recruit and train coaches, but right now I'm just too busy on other things.

Breaking the Upper Body Forehand Muscling Habit

A common problem for players is to try to muscle the ball when forehand looping. This means they try to produce most of their power with their upper body and arm rather than using the legs and rotating the body's weight into the shot. Normally a way to break this habit is to do lots of shadow-practicing where the player exaggerates the leg and body rotation, and then do lots of multiball. However, in a session with a kid this weekend I found a new way. I've always pointed out that a player should be able to loop with great power while carrying on a conversation, since the power mostly comes from the legs and weight transfer. Players who muscle the ball instead tense their upper body as they use that as the primary source for power. But it's almost impossible to do that if you are talking. The kid I was coaching was trying to rush the shot, and so was muscling the ball with his upper body instead of rotating into the ball properly. So while I fed him multiball so he could practice looping I had him tell me about school, about his favorite sports, or just count. Result? Once he got over giggling, he stopped muscling the ball.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

6th Annual Ping Pong Charity Tournament

Here's the article and video (3:11) that'll take place in Virginia Beach, VA.

Turn Your Kitchen Table into a Ping-Pong Table!

Here's the article and video (2:37).

Kids Playing TT

Here's a video (47 sec) of a kid playing table tennis. Watch his reaction as he loses the first two points, and especially his celebration when he wins the third point! Here's another video (2:44) as Samson Dubina trains his daughter in on-table cross-legged Gatorade-bottle target practice. (Spoiler alert: she hits it at 2:22, and after celebrating gets to drink it.)

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June 25, 2014

The Tactics of Doubles and Serve & Attack

Today during break from our MDTTC camp I gave another one-hour lesson on tactics to Kaelin and Billy. We spent the first 20 minutes on doubles tactics, the rest on serve and attack. The two are playing Under 4200 Doubles at the U.S. Open next week. Both are righties rated about 2000, ages 15 and 16. Here's a summary. In each of the discussions above we also played out examples at the table. 

I explained the importance of one of them focusing more on control, the other on attack. We decided that Kaelin, since he has fast footwork, should focus on constant attack (i.e. trying to loop everything) while Billy would focus on control (i.e. setting up Kaelin). While Kaelin has the tougher physical task, Billy has the more difficult mental task as he has to do things that aren't as natural, as he looks to set up shots for his partner instead of doing his own shots. I went over some of the ways of doing this, especially on receive - pushing short (with last second changes of direction), faking crosscourt flips but then going down the line instead, etc.). 

We also went over doubles serves. Most doubles serves center around backspin and no-spin serves that go very low toward the middle of the table. But you need to test out the opponents with other serves or you may miss out on some easy points. I showed how easy it is to attack and to angle if you serve too wide in doubles, and yet some players have trouble with this. I also showed how awkward it can be to flip against short serves to the middle. 

We discussed receive. Rule one - loop anything deep. Both players are going to receive forehand, so this is the easier part. Many world-class players now receive forehand against deep serves, but if you serve short (as most do), they reach over and banana flip with the backhand. (Of course they also push, usually short.) Against short serves you use mis-direction as you mix in short and long pushes, and either aggressive or deceptive flips. I also showed them how to angle the racket to meet the spin directly when pushing, by dropping or raising the racket tip. This makes it much easier to drop the ball short. Between two righties, if the server does a forehand pendulum side-back serve, the receiver should drop the tip on the backhand, or raise it on the forehand, so that the paddle is aiming to the left. Against the opposite spin, he should do the reverse.

We discussed rallies. Rule one is to try to hit shots toward the player who just hit the ball, on the far side from his partner, so they get in each other's way. Since players in doubles are often moving into position as they hit the ball, they often have trouble blocking since in singles players are usually more in position. So looping first with good placement is generally even more important in doubles than in singles. Attacking down the line will often catch an opponent off guard in doubles, and is often the best place to smack winners. But it also gives the opponents an extreme angle, which often gets your partner in trouble.

We discussed footwork. Many players move too far off to the side after their shot, leaving them out of position for the next shot. Instead they should move mostly backwards and slightly sideways. A more advanced type of doubles footwork is circling footwork where the players circle about clockwise after each shot so that both players can approach the table from the backhand side, i.e. favoring the forehand. However, this takes lots and lots of practice to get right, so I suggested a hybrid, where whoever serves or receives steps back and circles over to the left so that he gets a forehand shot. Once you get past that first circling, it's tricky, so after that they should mostly move in and out, improvising when necessary.

Then we moved to singles tactics. We had a lengthy discussion of serve and attack (with numerous examples at the table), especially after serving short. This should center around serving half-long to the middle, so that the second bounce, given the chance, would hit near the end-line. By going toward the middle, the receiver has to make a quick decision on whether to receive forehand or backhand; has a rather awkward forehand flip; has no angle; is drawn out of position and so leaves a corner open; and the server has less ground to cover. (For players who favor one side against short serves - usually the backhand - you might move the serve some the other way.) the main disadvantage of serving short to the middle is that so many players do this that players get used to it; the receive can receive with his stronger side (forehand or backhand); and has both angles to go after, though no extreme angles. 

Serving short to the forehand is a bit riskier as it gives the receiver an extreme angle to flip into. If the serve tries to cover this, he leaves the down-the-line side open. However, many receivers find it awkward to receive short to the forehand, and many can't flip down the line (so you can just serve and get ready for a forehand). I also pointed out the value of serving short to the forehand, but not too wide, so that the serve is midway between the middle of the table and the sideline. This can be more awkward to flip then a serve that goes wider, almost like flipping from the middle, plus there's less angle to go after.

Serving short to the backhand takes away the angle into the forehand, so a forehand attacker can serve and stand way over on his backhand side and likely play a forehand from the backhand side. But it's often where a receiver is most comfortable receiving short serves. (So it's often better to serve deep breaking serves to the backhand if the receiver can't loop this serve effectively, forehand or backhand.) When a forehand attacker serves to the backhand he should stand as far to the backhand side as he can while still able to just cover a shot down the line to his forehand, knowing that usually those shots aren't too aggressive.

We also discussed the differences between serving short backspin, no-spin, and side-top. If the receiver tends to push the backspin serves long, then you can either look for a forehand loop, or just stand in the middle of the table and attack either forehand or backhand. Many players like to follow these serves with a backhand loop, since this allows them to stay in position to attack from either wing on the next shot, plus it forces the opponent to adjust to a different loop than just forehands. When serving backspin players are often more likely to flip very aggressively than against no-spin as a receiver can use the incoming backspin to flip with topspin. Against a low no-spin serve, it's easy to flip medium fast, but aggressive flips are usually more difficult. 

On the other hand, when you serve short no-spin (with the focus on keeping it very low, though this is true of all serves), you can more likely anticipate a weaker return that can be attacked with the forehand. If they push it long, it'll tend to be higher and with less spin. If they push short, it'll tend to pop up. So even two-winged loopers often become more forehand oriented when serving short no-spin. 

When serving short sidespin or side-top, the serve is likely to be flipped, but if the serve is done well and kept low, it won't be flipped too aggressively with any consistency. The key here is that the opponent is unlikely to drop the serve short, and so you can serve and hang back a bit, looking to attack either with your stronger side or from either side. 

We also started to get into the tactics of long serves. I'll likely write about that and other tactics issues tomorrow.

MDTTC Camp

Pleasant surprise yesterday! After six days of struggling to hit forehands or serve, the six-year-old girl I mentioned previously suddenly made a breakthrough today. I'd been pulling my hair out trying to get her to hit a proper forehand (though she'd managed to pick up a decent beginning backhand), but day after day, no matter what I did, the minute no one guided her stroke she'd revert to this slashing, racket twirling, wristy stroke that had no business existing in this plane of existence. And then, as if by magic (and after lots and lots of imploring), she suddenly figured it out yesterday. Now she's hitting proper forehands, and even made ten in a row!

And then, perhaps 20 minutes later, she suddenly figured out how to serve, even managed to make 9 out of 10. For perspective, in the first six days of the camp, in nearly an hour of total practice, she'd made exactly one serve. Armed with a serve and a workable forehand, she was able to join in a game of "Master of the Table," and twice was master. (One of them came about when she served on the edge, and then the Master missed his own serve. To become Master of the Table you have to score two points in a row against the Master.) We often call the game King of the Table, but the girls objected!

I taught several players how to push today. I brought out the soccer-colored balls so they could see if they were getting any spin. It's always funny watching their eyes go wide the first time they see the ball spinning and realized they put that spin on the ball. Also, I have to confess that at one point I did say the following: "I'm a pushy pushover for power pushing pushers."

Rolling Ball Loop Drill

Here's video of an interesting looping drill (1:34), where your partner rolls the ball to you (under the net), and you loop it as it comes off the end. I've done this at a number of camps - it's not just for beginners, it's also good for teaching players to loop those slightly long serves. One key is to set up so you are almost directly over the ball, looking down on it - which is exactly what you need to do when looping slightly long balls.

Interview with Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay

Here's the video interview (7:19). She had a new ebook out recently, Get Your Game Face Out Like the Pros!

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, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirty-two down, 68 to go!

  • Day 69: Thomas Weikert Speaks about Peace and Sport

Crystal Wang - Youngest U.S. Team Member in History

Here's my feature article on Crystal in USA Table Tennis Magazine. 

Lily Zhang Featured by ITTF

Here's the article, "Lily Zhang the Shining Star in Tokyo, the Top Seed and Senior Member in Burnaby."

Timothy Wang Featured by ITTF

Here's the article, "Timothy Wang Aiming for Las Vegas Reprise but Beware Teenage Colleague."

Incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert Reveals Direction of ITTF

Here's the interview. It's rather short. 

Exercise Makes the Brain Grow

Here's the article. So go play ping-pong!

Ping-Pong Ball to the Eye

Here's the video (35 sec). 

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May 16, 2014

What to Do at Age 18?

I've blogged in the past about how the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the cadet level (under 15) is the highest we've ever had, due to the rise of full-time training centers all over the country over the past eight years. It's gotten ridiculously good. It's a group that any country outside China could be proud of. And in three years this group of players will be competing as juniors (under 18), and the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the junior level will be the highest we've ever had. And a few years after that they'll hit their peak as players, and the level and depth of play in the U.S. will be the highest we've ever had, right? 

But there's one problem. What's going to happen when they all turn 18?

Case in point. Over the last few years we've watched Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang develop as probably the two best junior girls in our modern history. Ariel is currently #81 in the world and has been as high as #73. She was the youngest USA Nationals Women's Singles Champion when she won in 2010, and she repeated in 2011 and 2013. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #4 in the world in both Under 15 and Under 18 Girls. Lily recently shot up to #66 in the world. She won women's singles at the 2012 USA Nationals at age 16. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #2 in the world in Under 15 Girls and #5 in Under 18 Girls. 

But Ariel is now 18, and is attending Princeton. She didn't even try out for our last National Team because she was busy with school. Lily will be 18 next month, and is going to University of California at Berkeley. She didn't even attend our last USA Nationals because she was busy with school. They are still training, but let's face it; they are no longer training full-time as before. In contrast, all over Asia and Europe players like Ariel and Lily are training full-time. Part-time can't compete with full-time. 

The same has happened on the men's side. Michael Landers won men's singles at the 2009 USA Nationals at age 15, and improved dramatically in the three years after that. Peter Li won men's singles at the 2011 USA Nationals at age 17. Both of them hit age 18 and went to college, and their levels both dropped dramatically. The same is true of a long list of other elite juniors. I remember just a few years ago when three players from my club (MDTTC) were #1, #2, and #5 in the country in Under 18 Boys - Peter Li, Marcus Jackson, and Amaresh Sahu. All three went to college when they turned 18, and so none reached the level they might have reached if they'd continued a few more years.

Who knows how good these players might have been if they had continued training full-time into their 20s?

Unless something happens in the next few years, in about five years we will be looking back and asking ourselves, "What happened?" We had all these up-and-coming kids, and the future was bright. Instead, we'll have the strongest group of college table tennis players in our history. While that's a very good thing from one point of view (and it would be great if table tennis were to become a big college sport with scholarships in the best colleges all over the country, but that's a separate topic), it's not a good thing if we're trying to develop athletes who can compete at the highest levels. Excluding China, this generation really has the potential to someday compete with anyone. (Perhaps we'll be world college champions circa 2020?)

There is little money in our sport. So what's the long-term benefit for these kids to continue to train full-time? Sure, there's the usual incentives, such as being National Champion and making the U.S. Olympic Team, and . . . um . . . well, that's about it. (How much do these pay?) So yes, unless something changes, it'll be another "lost" generation. Sure, some will continue, and we'll almost for certain have stronger teams than we do now, but nothing like what it could be. Perhaps our men will improve from #53 in the world to top 20, but they could be top five or better. Perhaps our women will improve from #21 to top ten, but they could be top five or better. (With Ariel together with Lily and Prachi Jha, they already are close to top ten level - #16, according to the ITTF team rankings based on individual ranking.) And you know something? If you can reach top five, you can make the final of the World Championships. (We're not ready for China yet, but we'll worry about that when we actually have a top five team.) 

Ironically, in the past when we had fewer truly elite juniors, the ones that were elite were often more likely to focus on table tennis because, by U.S. standards, they were truly "elite." They would train full-time well into their twenties before moving on to college or other work. Now these same elite cadets and juniors are just another in a pack of them, and so they don't feel they are truly "elite," and so are less likely to continue training full-time. And so they go to college rather than train full-time for a few more years. (Just to be clear, I'd urge them all to go to college, but there's nothing wrong with putting it off a few years, even into their mid-20s for a truly elite player. Some might decide to stay with the sport and become professional coaches, which actually pays pretty well.) We have standouts like Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang and a few others, but will they continue when they hit college age? (The financial outlook for women players is even bleaker, since many tournaments have an open singles instead of men's and women's singles.)

What can we do? There has been regular discussions over the years on the idea of setting up professional leagues or circuits, and develop a core group of pro USA players who would travel about competing in these professional leagues or circuits. It's been a serious topic of discussion since I first got active in table tennis in 1976. And there have been attempts by a few to make something like this happen, from the American All-Star Circuit that we used to have in the U.S. to the current North American Tour. The latter has potential, but without major sponsors there isn't nearly enough money, and the money that is there mostly goes to players from China. There's nothing wrong with these Chinese players winning money, but it means there's little chance a U.S. player can make enough money to afford to play in such a circuit - especially since it's often part-time U.S. players pitted against full-time Chinese players.

Do the Chinese raise the level of play for USA players? Potentially yes. But if our top juniors quit and go to college right when they begin approaching the level needed to compete with these Chinese players, it's wasted. Equally important, when approaching college age, it's tough for a USA player to look at table tennis as a professional career when nearly all the money goes to foreign players living in the U.S., which doesn't leave much for prospective professional USA players. (Some argue that the USA players shouldn't avoid playing tournaments where they'd have to play these elite full-time foreign players, but that's easier to say when you aren't the one spending huge amounts of time and money on your training, and are looking at losing another $500 on a tournament just so you can lose to one of them. There needs to be a balance if we want to give USA players incentive.) 

Bottom line? "Serious talk" on this topic isn't really serious anymore until someone actually does something. Real action is needed. USATT wants to get sponsors but doesn't really have a serious product to sell. (They've tried for many years.) I've argued they should focus on developing our product with regional leagues (as is done all over Europe) and coaching programs, and sell that to sponsors, but that didn't interest them. Perhaps something a bit more elite-oriented would be more enticing, since USATT (with USOC encouragement and funding) is more focused on elite development than grassroots development. 

Why not have USATT partner with the North American Tour or some other group, and assign the incoming USATT CEO to focus on selling sponsorship for that Tour? Isn't the purpose of USATT to improve table tennis in the United States? USATT is the national governing body for the sport in this country, and so has a great platform to sell from, if they only had something lucrative to sell - and here's a natural product.

The goal would be to create a truly Professional Tour, where U.S. players could actually make a living, while bringing regular exposure to the sponsor. (Perhaps the circuit tournaments would have both an Open event and an All-Star American event for U.S. citizens. Or it could be citizens only.) The circuit is already there as a product, it just needs more money. Once we have such a professional circuit, there are other ways to bring in money - spectators, TV, and so on - and what sponsor wouldn't want to be the national sponsor for something like this if we show it has potential to truly take off?  We can do this, and have a good chance to dramatically improve table tennis in the United States. Or we can continue to talk and do the same old things we always do - nothing. 

U.S. Open Blog - Deadlines! Deadlines!

Here's the latest U.S. Open blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. Want to play in the U.S. Open? Deadline without penalty is this Sunday, May 18. After that there's a $75 penalty, with no entries accepted after Sunday, May 25.

"The Ping Pong Man"

Here's an article and video (3:09) on table tennis Globetrotter Scott Preiss, and his visit to Beaverton, Oregon.

International News

Lots of articles at Tabletennista (including one on Ma Long undefeated at the last two World Team Championships) and at the ITTF page.

2014 U.S. Para European Update

Here's the video report (2:02), from the bus, by Tahl Leibovitz, with Wayne Lo and others.

The Best Scoring System for Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:39) from PingSkills in PingPod 38.

Round Table with Spinning Net

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation

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January 2, 2014

My Year in Review

I had a pretty busy year. Here's a review of my 2013.

I coached at nine MDTTC camps, six hours a day, totaling 44 days: March 25-29, June 17-21, 24-28, July 8-12, 15-19 (missed the last day), July 29-Aug. 2, Aug. 12-16, 19-23, Dec. 26-31 (missed the last day).

I ran approximately 120 junior training sessions, most of them 90 minutes long. I also did about 800 hours of private coaching. I was also a practice partner at about 80 training sessions - it would have been more except for various injuries. I also ran three table tennis birthday parties.

I had three more books come out, two on table tennis, one a humorous fantasy novel.

I also had 235 blog entries, exactly 50 Tips of the Week at TableTennisCoaching.com and PaddlePalace.com, 121 Tips of the Day at USATT.org, 10 articles in USATT Magazine, 1 article at Butterflyonline.com, 10 sold or published science fiction or fantasy stories, and 11 feature articles at OriolesHangout.com. I also created 12 MDTTC Newsletters and 1 Hall of Fame Program Booklet.

From Feb. 5-15, USATT Historian Tim Boggan stayed at my house as I did the page layouts and photo work (with him looking over my shoulder) for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13. It was a mammoth job, totaling 448 pages with 918 photos. (We start Volume 14 on Jan. 13.) Here's the page where you can learn more about these books and buy them. (I created and maintain the page for him.)

I coached at 13 tournaments this year:

  • Mar. 2-3, MDTTC Open
  • Mar. 15-17, Cary Cup in Cary, NC
  • Apr. 6-7, MDTTC Open
  • Apr. 20-21, North American Hopes Trials at Westchester TTC in NY
  • June 8-9, Eastern Open in Princeton, NJ
  • July 2-6, U.S. Open in Las Vegas
  • Aug. 24-25, MDTTC Open
  • Sept. 21, Coconut Cup Under 1800 at MDTTC
  • Sept. 28, Coconut Cup Over 1800 at MDTTC
  • Oct 26-27, South Shore Open at South Shore, IN
  • Nov. 9-10, Potomac Open in Maryland
  • Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, North American Teams in Washington D.C.
  • Dec. 17-21, USA Nationals in Las Vegas

Early in the year I gave regular coaching sessions to U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Coach Audrey Weisiger, who was training to beat the other coaches at an upcoming summer gathering. Here are some blog entries on her sessions: Jan. 17, Feb. 7, May 16, Apr. 26 (where I convert her to long pips on the backhand), and May 3.

On May 13, JJ Hardy and Brady Anderson from the Baltimore Orioles visited MDTTC, and I gave both of them lessons. Here's my blog entry on it. I later coached pitcher Darren O'Day at MDTTC four times.

On Aug. 21, I visited the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse with our top junior players, and stayed for three hours. Here's my blog entry on it.

From Sept. 2-7, I attended the ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course at the Lily Yip TTC in NJ, and achieved ITTF Level 2 Coaching Certification, the highest level available right now in the U.S.  I had the only perfect score on the test. Here's my blog entry on it, and here's the ITTF article on it.

On Oct. 9, I spent the day on the set of the TV show Veep, which was doing an episode that features table tennis that should come out around March. Here's my blog entry on it.

I'm essentially retired as a player, but did play a couple of hardbat events this year, getting second place in Hardbat Singles at the Cary Cup in North Carolina (May 15-17), and winning Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jay Turberville at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas (July 2-6). (Here's a picture of Jay and I with our trophies, with "coach" Derek Nie.)

I was a panelist at two science fiction conventions: Balticon, May 24-26, in Baltimore, MD, and Capclave, Oct. 11-13 in Gaithersburg, MD.

From July 19-27 I attended the Never-Ending Odyssey Writers Workshop in Manchester, NH, which is an annual program for graduates of the Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop, which I attended in 2006.

I was interviewed twice this year, but strangely both times it was by science fiction magazines rather than in table tennis. Here's my interview in Weird Tales Magazine, and here's my interview in New Myths Magazine.

I saw over 50 movies at the theater - I generally see at least one every week.

I read 32 book in 2013, which is somewhat of a low for me. I also read the Washington Post each day, plus USA Table Tennis Magazine, Scientific American, and Bulletin of SFWA. Here are the books I read in 2013:

TABLE TENNIS (1)

  • ITTF Advanced Coaching Manual

NON-FICTION (3)

  • The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
  • Which President Killed a Man by James Humes
  • Vietnam, A History by Stanley Karnow

ON WRITING (5)

  • Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Edited by Michael Knost
  • Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O'Conner
  • From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds: A Writer’s Primer by Ken Rand
  • Writing to the Point: A Complete Guide to Selling Fiction by Aldis Budrys
  • How to Write Funny edited by John Kachuba

FICTION (23)

  • Buffalito Buffet by Lawrence Schoen
  • Trial of the Century by Lawrence Schoen
  • The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF edited by Mike Ashley
  • Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett Serviss
  • Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson
  • Hounded by Kevin Hearne
  • Hexed by Kevin Hearne
  • Hammered by Kevin Hearne
  • Tricked by Kevin Hearne
  • Trapped by Kevin Hearne
  • Hunted by Kevin Hearne
  • Two Ravens and One Crow by Kevin Hearne
  • Grimoire of the Lamb by Kevin Hearne
  • Blockade Billy by Stephen King
  • Dawn of Dragons by James Maxey
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
  • The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele
  • Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
  • The Alien Within (Voyagers Series) by Ben Bova
  • Star Brothers (Voyagers Series) by Ben Bova
  • The Return (Voyagers Series) by Ben Bova

International Table Tennis

Want to read lots of articles on table tennis internationally? Then check out two places, TableTennista and the ITTF page

MDTTC Juniors Go Skiing

Here they are - L-R: Derek Nie, Darwin Ma, Amy Lu, and Crystal Wang. The four took a day off during our Christmas Camp. No broken legs.

ITTF to Ban Wood Rackets in 2015

Here's the article! (This is a satire on the ITTF's regularly changing the rules, including the upcoming ban of celluloid balls.)

Colorful Table

Here's the picture - imagine a club full of these!

Belated Happy New Year!

Here are some Table tennis Happy New Year images:

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June 20, 2013

MDTTC Camps - Day Three Highlights

Yesterday's focus was on forehand looping. I did a short lecture and demo, both against backspin and block.

There are four ways to demo a forehand loop against backspin. You could just serve backspin, your partner pushes it back, and you loop. But then they only get to see the shot one at a time. Another way is to feed multiball backspin to someone with good form so they can see it over and over. Another way, if you can chop, is to serve backspin, partner pushes, you loop, partner blocks, and you chop. Then your partner pushes, and you loop again. (If your partner is the one who can chop, then adjust for this.) If you or your partner can really chop (i.e. against loops, not just against blocks), then one loops, the other chops. A good player with a sheet of antispin, long pips, or hardbat can often chop loops back over and over even if they aren't normally a chopper. (If they use long pips, it may put some strain on the looper since he's getting all his topspin back as backspin!)

Two of the players in my group had never looped before. One picked it up pretty quickly, though he had one of those ragged strokes with lots of extra movements. We worked on simplifying it. One thing I often tell players is that much of coaching isn't telling players what to do; it's telling them what not to do. In this case, there was a lot of excess motion to get rid of - sort of a waving backswing, extra wristiness, and too-jumpy feet.

The other player had hitting thoroughly ingrained, and had difficulty switching to looping against backspin. He had trouble dropping the racket or bringing the tip down and back, dropping his shoulder, and getting down in general to lift the backspin. He also had trouble grazing the ball for topspin, but as I quickly suspected, this was more because of his not dropping his racket than an inability to "roll" the ball with topspin. Once I got him to drop his racket (which wasn't easy), he began getting pretty decent topspins. He'll need a lot of practice on this.

One of the "highlights" I have fun doing when teaching the loop to new players is their first regular forehand drive or smash after doing lots of looping against backspin, where they are lifting the ball instead of driving forward. I always tell them that I'm going to now give them a regular topspin ball (I'm feeding multiball), and that they shouldn't drop the shoulder, just drive forward. But invariably, even though I warn them and predict they'll go off the end, sure enough their first few shots go off. This happened with all five players in my morning group, even the ones who had had done some looping before. I ended the session by having them all alternate looping backspin and hitting topspin so they could work on switching back and forth.

Fortune Cookie Frivolities

Now we find out if any of the kids in the camp read my blog. (Some do, but not each morning.) We have Chinese food delivered to the club at lunch each day, with the players making their orders in the morning, which we call in. At lunch yesterday I pulled a trick on them that I'd pulled in the last camp as well. Using Photoshop, I created a fake fortune cookie fortune that read, "A meteor will kill you in five minutes." I opened my fortune cookie very publicly, made a surreptitious switch of the fortune with the fake one I'd hidden in my hand, and held it up and read it, and then showed it to them. The kids went crazy with disbelief. Five minutes later, when none were looking, I smacked a rock I'd snuck in against the ground and claimed it was a meteor that had just missed me. Today I've got another fake fortune ready, which read, "A ping-pong player will kill you this afternoon." I'll report tomorrow on the response.

Jungle Pong

This is the all-time favorite game of the kids in every camp during breaks. I think I've described it before, but it's so popular I'll go over it again. I'm not sure, but I think the kids in our camp from years ago might have invented and named the game - I don't remember ever seeing this until it suddenly began popping up in our camps.

The rules are simple. You can have as many players on one table as you want, numbered in the order they will hit the ball. You start the rally with a player serving just like table tennis. From there on, whether off the serve or in a rally, the next player must wait for the ball to go off the table and bounce on the floor, even if it means waiting for the ball to bounce several times or roll across the table, and even if it hits the net. The player must then return the ball so it hits either side of the table, and the rally continues until someone misses. Then that person is out. You continue until there is only one player. The only other rule is no looping; they are almost impossible to return. Soft topspins are allowed, but nothing aggressive. If one does loop, it's a takeover.

There are some interesting tactics, such as faking a hit to one side and going the other way, or using various spins to make the ball do funny bounces - backspin is especially popular in throwing off the next player. Players sometimes smack the ball into the net so that the next player will break the wrong way, and then have to recover when the ball rebounds off the net. Some of the kids focus on just getting every ball back; others are more creative with their shots. Since it takes time for the ball to bounce both on the table and the floor, players have time to run down most shots. I watched them play for a while - at one point there were two adjacent tables going with about eight on each - and I've decided my next book will be "Jungle Pong Tactics for Thinkers."

Table Tennista and ITTF

As usual, there are lots of international news articles at Table Tennista and the ITTF News Page.

Serena Williams Table Tennis

Here's a picture of her where she "...trades her tennis racket in for a table tennis one on her way to Wimbledon." (If you can't see the Facebook version, try this.)

Pong-Style Beach Surfing

Here's Kim Gilbert doing a little beach surfing, pong style. 

Now That's a Lot of Ping-Pong Tables

Here's the picture!

***
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May 24, 2013

Memorial Weekend Off

It's Memorial Weekend, and like millions of Americans, I'm taking a four-day weekend. So no blog today or Monday. Instead, I'm spending today on various writing projects. (Oops, there goes my day off.) Then this afternoon I'm off for Balticon, a regional science fiction convention in Baltimore. Sat & Sun I'm coaching all day (and so will miss the rest of Balticon). Then I'm off on Monday. So my four-day weekend is really a one-day weekend. Oh well. I'll start blogging again on Tuesday, including the Tip of the Week.

Meanwhile, if you need a table tennis fix, why not read up on the international articles at Table Tennista? Or explore usatt.org and ittf.com? Or see Will Shortz (world famous puzzlist and NY Times crossword editor, and more importantly, owner of the Westchester TTC) on the Artie Lange Show on Wednesday (16:16)? As Will describes it, "I was on the 'Artie Lange Show' last night (via DirecTV's Audience Network), with guest host Colin Quinn. The conversation started with puzzles, then segued to table tennis, and ended with me playing Colin in a TT match." For the record, Will wins 11-1.

***
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April 11, 2013

New Back Problem

I live life by several rules. And one of the main ones is never, Ever, EVER carry heavy objects with my playing arm. On Tuesday I broke that rule and paid for it. I went grocery shopping. Normally I'm careful not to carry anything heavy with my (right) playing arm. I own a townhouse and live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors. When I was about to carry the groceries out of my car and up the stairs to the third floor, I picked up all of the bags in my left arm. But I also had a case of Deer Park water. They normally come with 24 bottles, but this one was some sort of special, with 28, each of them 16.9 ounces. That's about 30 pounds. No problem, I picked them up with my right arm. It wasn't until I was nearly at the third floor that I began to feel the strain behind and to the left of my right shoulder. I made it to the top, no problem. None whatsoever.

Yesterday I only had two sessions. The first was with a beginning-intermediate player, age 11, rated about 800. He'd just played a tournament and had had trouble blocking. So near the end of the one-hour session I did a multiball drill where I stood near the end-line of my table with a box of balls, and tossed balls up one by one and looped them at him so he could practice blocking. At first I didn't notice the strain, but after a few minutes of this the pain in my back began again. I'd hurt it the day before, but now I'd aggravated it pretty badly.

My next session was 30 minutes with a 2200+ junior, where we were working strictly on return of serve. We warmed up for a few minutes (no problem), and then I began the drill. I tossed the ball up, preparing to do a reverse pendulum serve - and had to catch the ball. I couldn't do any body rotation into the serve without hurting the back. As I quickly discovered, I couldn't do forehand pendulum serves (regular or reverse) or backhand serves. I also couldn't forehand loop or smash. We ended up spending the session working on his backhand loop while I blocked.

I'm off today, and have already cancelled my two hours on Friday. I've got a busy weekend, but don't know yet what condition my shoulder/back will be in. I can do multiball, and regular forehand and backhand drives or blocks, but that's about it.

Maybe I'm getting too old for this! (At 53?) On the other hand, after the session, while lamenting about my newest injury, I had fun watching "tag-team math," as four of our junior girls (all 11-12 years old or so) worked on math problems for school together between practice sessions at the club. There was a lot of giggling, and yet they seemed to get the work done.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook

Are you interested in becoming a professional table tennis coach, but aren't sure if you can make a living at it? Do you feel you have most of the knowledge needed to coach, but aren't sure how to get started? Do you want to run a junior class or teach classes? Then this is the book for you, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. I wrote an earlier version of this a few years ago; this is an updated and professional published version.

I mentioned this before in my blog when it came out a few days ago, but I was sort of holding back because, due to some error, it was showing two different pages, one for the print version, and one for the eBook version. Now they are together.

It's a short read, only 44 pages, but the price matches that - only $7.99 for the print version, $5.99 for Kindle.

ITTF Features Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here's the article!

Want To Win a FREE Signed Copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers?

As noted in my blog yesterday, they are running a contest at Expert Table Tennis. All you have to do by this Sunday is answer the question: Why do you deserve to win a free copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers? I will personally sign and mail out a copy of the book to the winner. See link for details.

Forehand Flip

Here's a good tutorial (4:23) on the forehand flip (called a flick in Europe) from Table Tennis Master. What makes it good is that it shows the progression from the most basic flip (too high and soft) and works its way toward high-level flipping, with slow motion so you can see what's happening.

Rockford Media Try Table Tennis

Here's an article about a Celebrity Table Tennis Tournament held in Rockford, IL. It's part of the buildup toward the National College Championships there this weekend.

Golfer Webb Simpson in Table Tennis Commercial

Here's the video (32 sec). The table tennis is for two seconds, starting at second 15, showing them playing on an American flag table (!) out in the ocean (!).

Invading Alien Table Tennis Players!

Here's a new artwork from Mike Mezyan, with the caption, "To All Table Tennis Players....Be Ready...They Come To You With A Message..." The message is in ping-pongese (as you can tell by the use of ping-pong paddles for some of the letters). These aliens obviously have some good ideas, as you can see the light bulbs going off in their heads - except those are ping-pong paddles! All these years we thought a good idea was symbolized by a light bulb going off, but now we realize it was really an exploding racket.

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July 16, 2012

 

Tip of the Week

Serving Low.

Stiffest Player in the World

It's official. I'm the stiffest player in the world. Even Jim Butler (2-time USA Table Tennis Olympian) says so. Recently I've been doing lots and Lots and LOTS of multiball coaching, and standing to the side of a table and feeding balls all day long is a great way to make stiff muscles even stiffer. (We have a new MDTTC camp starting this morning - week #5 of our eleven consecutive weeks of training camps - and I'll be spending my morning feeding multiball again. Afterwards I'll carve my initials in a diamond with my muscles.)

Ironically, it doesn't really affect me in static drills. If someone needs to work on their block, I can loop over and over with ease, and I can even more to loop. But if the ball starts scattering around the table, the stiffness seems to slow down my reactions, and so I'm slow in reacting to forehand and backhand shots. Subconsciously my mind knows this, and so it's overanticipating where the next ball goes, and so I'm often moving to do a forehand while the ball goes to my backhand, and vice versa.

Yes, I'm stretching regularly. But that's like asking a diamond to stretch so as to lose some of its stiffness. Doesn't do a lot. What I need to do is simply play very active table tennis (or other sports, such as tennis), and stretch after I play, when the muscles are loose. After a coaching session, the muscles are the opposite of loose; they are catatonic.

I regularly remind players I coach not to copy my stiffness. I'm sure there are juniors who look at my stiffness and think, "Gee, I'm too loose, I better tighten my muscles if I want to be a top player like Coach Larry!"

Review of New Plastic Balls

A while back I posted a video of Australian National Team Member William Henzell's review of the new plastic balls that we're supposed to switch to worldwide in 2014. Here is his review again, this time with both text and a link to the video (5:45).

U.S. Open Ratings

The ratings from the U.S. Open have been processed. Unfortunately, for some reason the ratings from the ITTF Junior Pro Tour have not yet been processed. (I assume they will be.) So the ratings aren't quite up to date for most of our juniors.

MDTTC has some nice junior rankings after the Open.

  • Under 18 Boys: #1: Wang Qing Liang 2641
  • Under 15 Boys: #2 Chen Bo Wen 2431, #10 Tong Tong Gong 2334 (There's a huge jam of players within 100 points of each other.)
  • Under 12 Boys: #2 Derek Nie 2170
  • Under 12 Girls: #1 Crystal Wang 2099, #3 Amy Lu 1838, #4 Princess Ke 1821
    (Crystal is #1 in Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13 Girls.)

Complete the Sentence

From the ITTF: "Table Tennis makes me feel __________"?

USA's Worst Olympic Sports

There are only three Olympic Sports that USA has never medalled in: Badminton, Handball, and (you guessed it) Table Tennis. Here's an article on the subject.

Mizutani High Toss Serve

Pingskills brings you this new video on the Mizutani High Toss Serve (2:23).

Brain Pong

Here's a video (3:17) on a project to allow one to play the computer game Pong with your mind via brain waves. Really!

Werner Schlager versus the Three-Year-Old

That's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager on the right, and that's his three-year-old son Nick on the table, showing great tennis volleying form. Quick, anyone, is it illegal to stand on the table? Show me a rule that forbids it!

Non-Table Tennis: Agent Says No

Here's a letdown. An agent from one of the largest agencies has been interested in my humorous fantasy novel "The Giant Face in the Sky." Unfortunately, after contemplating it for just over a year, he decided to turn it down. The moderately good news is that a small press that owns a science fiction magazine that's published a few of my stories is interested in publishing it - but they've agreed to let me shop it around first to large publishers and agents. I'm debating whether to take their offer or keep shopping it around. (Another agent liked the first two chapters and asked for the rest; hopefully they won't take a year.) Below is the agent's rejection note - kind of a nice one, but still a rejection. So it's back to table tennis coaching, right? (I do both.)

I'm cartoonishly embarrassed that it's been so many months since you first sent along The Giant Face of the Sky, and I apologize for the egregiously extended radio silence! Every time I picked up your novel, I was torn between how fluid and likeable your idiosyncratic imagination was, and how right-from-the-get-go-off-the-wall the story was, and the "what could possibly happen next?" kept me moving forward even as I was wishing for more context, more of an explanation for at least some of the world the story found itself occurring in, etc. Ultimately, despite my sincere admiration for the inventiveness on display here, I just wasn't able to figure out exactly how (or to whom) I'd pitch your book, and that's my failing, and my failing alone, but it does mean that I'm not the right agent for you. I'm very sorry to disappoint you, and sorrier still to have taken so long to respond, but I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to have seen your work, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck, inside and outside of fortune cookies!

***

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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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