Ready position

July 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Ready Position.

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Five

On Friday we completed Week Five of our summer camps. (We have six more to go!) Week Six starts today.

The big highlight on Friday was the Washington Post coming in to do a feature on Derek Nie and the Maryland Table Tennis Center. While Derek (the recent U.S. Open Boys' 11 and Under Champion) was the focus, they also interviewed me, coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang, and players Nathan Hsu, Amy Lu, and Timmy La. They are sending a photographer in later on, with the story running in a week or so. 

I gave a lecture and demon on pushing in the morning. And then it was our usual Friday morning's "Player's Choice," where players decided what they wanted to work on when they did multiball training with the coaches. I was impressed that most in my group did footwork drills. At the end of the session I did my usual "surprise" (to new players) and brought out bags of candy - Hershey's Kisses and Jolly Ranchers (hard candy). I spread them out thickly near the end of the table, and the kids took turns trying to knock them off (two shots each). Whatever they knocked off, they got! (I allowed trades, and the Jolly Ranchers proved the more popular, with many of the kids trading in their chocolate kisses for these.)

At lunch I was fascinated by what kids know about. The kids were all talking about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, presumably because it happened during a showing of the new Batman movie, which all planned to see.  They are all Pixar experts. But many only vaguely knew of Mitt Romney or the war in Afghanistan. Of course they know everything about online places like Facebook, games, etc.

USA Olympic Table Tennis Program

Here's the nine-page program booklet for USA Table Tennis at the Olympics. (It's rather large at 27.7 MB, due to the many graphics.) It profiles the USA players, plus lots of background info, including the playing schedule. The Olympics start this Friday, with table tennis starting on Saturday.

Chinese Olympic Team

Here's an article about the Chinese team training in Leeds in England. Here's another one, which includes a team picture.

The Spin and Speed of Table Tennis

Here's a video that explains some of the science of spin and speed in table tennis, starring Olympian Erica Wu. 

The Mythical Double Bounce Loop!

Go to 2:26 of this match between Jean-Philippe Gatien and Chuang Chih-Yuan. Now watch the loop by the lefty Gatien - yep, it bounces twice! There really is such thing as a double-bounce loop. Now all we have to do are find the mythical Loch Ness Bigfoot that plays table tennis on the grassy knoll in Area 51 and we'll have seen all the wonders of the universe.

Milo Kerrigan Does Table Tennis

Here's a funny table tennis video by comedian Milo Kerrigan (2:10).

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June 26, 2012

MDTTC Camp - Week Two, Day One

Yesterday we started another week of camps. As we usually do, the first day we focused on the forehand, though we personalized this for more advanced players. In the second half I gave my service lecture. The players had a good time doing some of the service spin drills I demonstrated: serving on the floor and making the ball curve sideways (toward a target) or backwards into their hands; serving from wide backhand or forehand and making the ball spin around so it bounced in all four quadrants of the table, and ending up down the line from where the serve started and hitting a target set up there; or serving backspin so the ball bounced back into or over the net.

As I was about to do multiball with one new 12-year-old, he walked over and said, "Let me apologize in advance." Before he could continue, I asked him if he'd stolen my car or wallet. He laughed, then said, "No, I'm just apologizing because I can't play at all." I explained to him that everyone started out as a beginner. Then we started, and to be honest, he was rather ragged at the start, with a short, jerky stroke that ended right at contact. It took a while to get him to follow through smoothly, but by the end of the morning session he was hitting decent forehands.

Four Days Until the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids

Have you practiced your serves today? I have. (But I'm only playing hardbat doubles. I'm going primarily to coach.) I recently discovered a new variation of my reverse pendulum serve that's going to create havoc . . . I hope.

Ready Position

In this article and video (4:36), ICC Head Coach Massimo Constantini explains the importance of stance and posture to the "Ready Position." (Seems to be audio only.)

Amateur and Pro Ping-Pong Players Wanted for Reality TV Game Show

Yes, you can be a TV ping-pong star! All you have to do is be willing to look silly. Okay, my bias against reality shows is showing, so here's the actual description:

Amateur heroes take on the pros under extreme conditions in order to score points, win money, and to elevate the sport. WIN MONEY! You don't have to beat them, just score a few points. We believe the time has come, for the very best amateurs to compete head-to-head against the best table tennis players in the world. Submit an online application and upload a video to get on the show.

Non-Table Tennis: Those Onerous Overdone Outlines

Musa Publishing (no connection to Nigerian star Atanda Musa!) recently published a blog item I wrote for them on outlining science fiction stories. The funny thing was they were supposed to notify me when it went up, but they forgot. I just discovered it - it went up on June 14. Here's the blog entry, entitled "Those Onerous Overdone Outlines." They also published my eStory "Willy and the Ten Trillion Chimpanzees" (only 99 cents!). Here's the story description from their web page: "What if William Shakespeare was a demon with ten trillion captive chimpanzees in his basement, where time is sped up a trillion-fold, and where they are forced to randomly type as they produce the works of Shakespeare? And then the chimpanzees rebel…." They also bought another story from me that'll be in their upcoming July issue of Penumbra Magazine, "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" - here's the cover. (And here's my science fiction & fantasy page.)

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January 25, 2012

Ready position and basketball

So many players have poor ready positions. They stand up too straight, their feet are too close together, their weight isn't on the balls of their feet, and their non-playing arm hangs loosely at their side like a dead snake. But there's a simple cure I now use with many students. I go over to their side and say, "Let's play imaginary basketball. Cover me!" They immediately bend their knees to get down slightly, their feet go wider, their weight goes onto the balls of their feet, and their non-playing hand goes up. A perfect playing stance! So next time you play, why not get in the habit of starting each rally with a little imaginary basketball? (I wrote about this same topic yesterday, including the basketball angle, but I wanted to elaborate here.) 

Ten steps to a great service game

  1. Learn to serve with lots of spin by accelerating the racket through the ball and grazing it.
  2. Learn to serve various spins, including backspin, side-backspin, sidespin, side-topspin, and topspin, with the sidespins going both ways.
  3. Learn to serve low.
  4. Learn to control the depth and direction of the serve.
  5. Learn to serve with spin using a semi-circular motion so you can create different spins with the same motion by varying where in the motion you contact the ball.
  6. Learn to minimize and do quickly this semi-circular motion so receiver has trouble picking up contact.
  7. Learn to change the direction of your follow-through with your racket the split second after contact to mislead the receiver.
  8. Learn to fake spin and serve no-spin by contacting the ball near the handle.
  9. Learn to serve fast & deep as a variation to your spin serves.
  10. Learn to follow up your serve.

Evolution of Table Tennis

Here are five videos that showcase the evolution of table tennis, from the hardbat days to the present. It includes extensive segments on the major champions. For example, Vol. 2 features Bohumil Vana and Ferenc Sido, while Vol. 3 features (among others) Johnny Leach and Hiroje Satoh (the latter the first sponge player).

  1. Vol. 1 (9:50)
  2. Vol. 2 (9:58)
  3. Vol. 3 (8:26)
  4. Vol. 4 (9:37)
  5. Vol. 5 (13:33)

"Breaking 2000"

Here's a new ebook on table tennis, "Breaking 2000," by Alex Polyakov, about his journey to a 2000+ USATT rating. The cost is $2.99, or free if you are a member of the Kindle Prime program. While we're on the subject of table tennis books, here's my collection of 203 of 'em.

Non-table tennis: "Twisted Tales"

While you're downloading "Breaking 2000" (above), why not download "Twisted Tales" for 99 cents? It's a collection of 66 super-short horror stories, all of the 66 words long, including two of mine, "The Hand of God" and "A Brush with Dirty Yellow Teeth."

Non-table tennis: Credit Card Crime

Yesterday someone got my credit card number and tried to make a $1000+ purchase. The credit card company somehow recognized it as fraud, blocked the purchase, and contacted me. So the card was cancelled, and a new one is coming. Highly irritating.

Quadruple table tennis

This is one of the crazier looking table tennis sets I've seen, but for only $249.95, you can now have your own quad table tennis game!

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September 12, 2011

Tip of the Week:

The Myth of Thinking Too Much

MDTTC Open and Receive

I spent much of the weekend watching and coaching at the MDTTC Open. One thing became obvious, as if it weren't obvious already - the large majority of points were won or lost on serve & receive, steadiness versus missing easy shots, and awkward footwork. Probably 70% of coaching was about choosing the serves and figuring out how to return the opponent's problem serves. Remember, when receiving, emphasize placement and consistency!

Here are some articles I've written on returning serves:

Adjusting the receive ready position for specific opponents

One thing that came up a couple times during the tournament was ready position when receiving. While all players should have a standard ready position when receiving, sometimes you might want to adjust this against certain opponents. One player I coached had a very forehand-oriented receive position, which helped him to use his forehand to loop long serves and flip short serves. One opponent had a tricky serve that always looked like it was going to the backhand - but at the last second the opponent would often drop a short, spinny serve very short to the forehand, catching opponent after opponent off guard. The first time out against this player, the forehand-oriented player lost almost primarily because of this serve, which caught him over and over. They played again, and this time he won by (I'm told, I didn't see the match) standing more in a backhand stance, ready to cover that short serve.

I probably vary my receive positions more than most. I have my extreme forehand position, where I stand well to the left, somewhat jammed to the table so I can easily flip or drop short balls with my forehand, or forehand loop deep serves quick off the bounce. I have my neutral stance, where I favor receiving most serves with my backhand, often flipping or rolling them deep to the opponent's backhand to get into a neutral exchange. And I have numerous variations in between. Sometimes I change my ready position as my opponent is serving. Against some players (especially juniors) I even have my chopping stance (centered, a step off table, right foot slightly in front), where I chop the serve back and then (usually) go back to a more neutral ready position. (Sometimes I just stay back and chop.)

And then the roof caved in....

I had a Newgy robot throughout the 1990s, but sometime in the early 2000's or so it disappeared. I'd thought it had been stolen. However, a week ago I noticed what looked like the top of a robot sticking up on the roof of the large closet area by the office. Almost for sure it was my long-lost robot.

On Saturday morning I came in early to warm up John Olsen for the MDTTC Open. We decided this would be a good time to get the robot down. So we brought over the MDTTC ladder (for changing lights), and I went up. There were dozens of boxes up there, as well as the robot. Since the roof was supporting all those boxes, it looked sturdy enough to support my weight. (You now know where this is going.) I did test it, and it seemed to hold my weight - at first. And then it didn't. I fell through the roof. Fortunately, I was able to grab hold of the metal girders so I didn't completely fall through. I was able to still reach the robot, balanced precariously on the caved-in roof, and handed it down to John before coming down myself. So my robot and I were reunited.

On Sunday night John came in with some tools and, along with help from Kevin Walton, we fixed the roof. The boxes that had been sitting up there for years were full of junk and were thrown out.

Viktor Barna would be 100

Here's an article from the ITTF on possibly our greatest champion, five-time men's singles world champion Viktor Barna, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 24.

Ninja Nunchuck Ping-Pong

You've probably seen the (yes it's fake) video of Bruce Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks (2:38). Well, here's an even funnier video of ninja twins playing with nunchucks, karate kicks, and multiple balls (2:11).

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June 8, 2011

Ready position

I've been thinking about ready positions recently. Conventionally, you aim your racket tip at the opponent, with the racket held midway between forehand and backhand. In theory, that's all you have to do. In reality, some players tend to hold their arm out to the side too much, and so are more ready for forehands than backhands. Try holding the racket more in front of you, even if it means bringing the playing elbow more out in front.

However, there's another problem. Conventionally, the backhand is hit quicker off the bounce than the forehand. This means you have less time to hit the backhand. In many cases, this doesn't matter since the stroke is shorter. However, for some--including me--I find the backhand rushed and awkward when starting from a neutral position, while the forehand, where you have plenty of time to get the paddle into position as you turn sideways, is much easier.

So years ago I adjusted my ready position so that the racket is in a slight backhand position, i.e. the backhand side of the blade partly faces the opponent. This gives me a head start on backhands, while I still have plenty of time to move the racket over for the forehand. I wonder if others have tried this out? I don't normally coach this, but I have advised some players who feel rushed on the backhand to experiment with this.

ITTF certified coaches from my seminar

In April, I ran an ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland, the first such seminar in the U.S. run by a U.S. coach. Fourteen coaches participated. After the seminar, to qualify for ITTF Coaching Certification, all coaches were required to do thirty hours of coaching (at least half group coaching), including five hours of "supervised" coaching with an ITTF coach or other approved coach. At this point, nine of them have now qualified: Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu, Changping Duan, Charlene Liu, Juan Ly, Dan Notestein, John Olsen, Jef Savage, Jeff Smart, and Vahid Mosaferi.

You can see the listing for ITTF coaches here. If you set country to USA, then you can see the 26 ITTF coaches from the U.S. Congrats to all of them! Here's the article on the seminar by Jef Savage, including a group picture with names.

Non-Table Tennis: Museums

I took most of yesterday off to visit museums and memorials in downtown Washington DC. (I live in Germantown, about 15 miles north.) I took the subway down, and during that 45 minutes or so was able to get a lot of proofing done of a new science fiction story I was writing that features President John Tyler, the tenth U.S. president. (I'm a full-time table tennis coach, but I write SF on the side.)

First stop, at 10 AM (opening time) was the National History Museum, which I'd last visited in the 1990s. I was there until noon, enough time to walk through most of it. I spent over half the time in the President's exhibit, since presidential history is another hobby of mine, hence the story featuring John Tyler. (Ask me at a tournament, and I'll recite all 44 presidents and their terms of office, along with trivia - careful what you ask for!)

After lunch (barbecued chicken sandwich and baked beans at the Stars and Stripes Café), I was off for the Holocaust Museum for the first time. The amount of security to get into the building was incredible, understandably far more than the other museums. When they saw I had a water bottle in my carry bag, they made me drink from it to make sure it was water. (I wonder if there are clear and edible liquid explosives?)

I'm not much of a sentimental writer, but let's just say the Holocaust Museum was a sobering experience. I was there for two and a half hours on the self-guided chronological tour that roughly takes you from 1933 to 1945. At the start, all visitors were given an "Identification Card," which was a short pamphlet about an actual Holocaust survivor or victim. Mine was of a kid named Shulim Saleschutz, born March 7, 1930 in Poland. It gives a picture of him and a short history of his life up to his getting sent to the Belzec camp in July of 1942. It ends with the words, "There, Shulim was gassed with his mother, brother and sister. He was 12 years old." Here's a scan I did of the pamphlet.

From roughly 3-4 PM I walked over to the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. (The latter is huge, far larger than it appears in pictures.) It was in the mid-90s and sunny, so I wore my white 2005 Shanghai World Table Tennis Championships cap. At the Lincoln Memorial, I sat on the floor against the wall for twenty minutes, looking up at Lincoln as crowds came and went. I couldn't help but think that he and I both faced similar problems - how best to serve, lots of killing, etc. Okay, his problems were a bit bigger. At the end, I thought about that John Tyler story I was writing, and suddenly the perfect way to open the story popped into my head. Thanks Abe! Here's a picture of Lincoln I took while sitting on the floor.

From 4 to closing time at 5:30 PM, I visited the National History Museum - or rather, revisited, since I practically grew up there. Both of my parents had offices there when I grew up, and I remember doing homework while sitting on the floor against the wall under the huge blue whale. (Alas, it's gone, replaced by I think a humpback whale - it just isn't the same.) I spent most of the time in the Ascent of Man exhibit, also walked through the dinosaur hall (of course!), mammals, and marine life. Then I stopped by the insect zoo - thirty years ago I was a volunteer for them. My dad's office used to be almost next door (he's an entomologist), but the entomology department had moved, and where my dad's desk used to be was now a ticket desk for the live Butterfly exhibit. Here's a picture.

Alas, it was time to go home. Did I mention that by this time my back was killing me? I'm probably going to regret all this walking about when I next coach (tonight), but I guess my problems are rather minor compared to Shulim's.

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