February 21, 2013

Preparing for Tournaments

Yesterday I coached two junior players who were getting ready for their first USATT tournament. (The MDTTC Open on March 2-3.) Neither have actual USATT ratings, but both have league ratings under 1000 - I'm not sure if they will use those or treat them as unrated. I coached a third this past weekend who is also getting ready for his first tournament, and who also has a league rating under 1000. What did I tell these players to do to prepare?

Sam, 11, a lefty, has a good forehand smash, and can forehand loop against backspin, though he's not too confident in the shot. He pushes and blocks well, and has decent serves, though he tends to have a short toss (under six inches) on his backhand serve, his best serve - we're working on that. Recently he's been learning to backhand loop. I told him to focus on practicing his serves, on steadiness with his backhand (pushing and blocking), and on steady hitting on the forehand side. Since he doesn't have great confidence in his forehand loop, I told him to focus on looping only on pushes to his forehand side. We also agreed to drop the backhand loop from his game for now. After the tournament, we'll get back to backhand looping, and work to increase his confidence in his forehand loop.

TJ, 12, a righty, likes to loop, and does so pretty well from both sides. I was at first unsure if he was ready to unleash his backhand loop in matches, but he has confidence in it, so he's going to be looping from both sides against most deep pushes in the tournament. He still has trouble controlling his serve when he puts spin on it, so we're going to focus on that more than anything else until the tournament. Because he's only recently learned to loop - though he has great confidence in the shot - he has trouble going from looping to hitting on both sides, so between now and the tournament we're going to focus on backhand hitting and forehand smashing. After the tournament we're going to focus more and more on mostly looping on the forehand side, while working his backhand loop into his game more and more. He already likes to spin the backhand even against fast incoming topspins, so he's undoubtedly going to become a two-winged looper.

Sameer, 11, a righty, most practices at home, where there's only about five feet behind each side of the table. Because of this he's mostly a hitter, though he has a decent loop against backspin. (He uses inverted on both sides, though I've considered having him try pips-out.) He's developing pretty good serves and a good follow-up loop or smash. Recently his backhand has gotten a lot better. In drills, his backhand loop is pretty good against backspin, but because he's so forehand oriented, he rarely uses it in games yet. For the tournament, I told him to focus on serves and following up his serve with his forehand (looping or smashing), which he has great confidence in. Once in rallies he needs to play a steady backhand until he gets a weak one to smash from either side. He's probably not going to be backhand looping at the tournament, but we'll work on that later. We worked a lot on his backhand push, since he can't step around to loop every ball with his forehand. We're also working on his balance - he tends to go off balance a bit when forehand looping from the backhand side, and so leaves the wide forehand open. (If he stays balanced, he'd be able to recover quickly to cover that shot with his forehand smash.)

What should YOU do to prepare for tournaments? Here's my Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success.

Amazon Reviews

I'm still waiting for the first Amazon review of my new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. If you really liked the book, what are you waiting for??? I will not eat or sleep until I get a great review there, at least until I get hungry or sleepy.  

Extraordinary Nets & Edges Match

I once blogged about how nets and edges don't really even out - some styles simply get more than others. Unfortunately, I have the type of style that rarely gets either. My shots are very clean - a mostly steady and arcing forehand (until I get the right shot), and a steady backhand. This past weekend I had a rather crazy match with one of our juniors. When she began getting net after net in the first game, we (or at least I!) began keeping track. For the match (four games), she got 17 net balls and zero edges, winning 15 of those points. I got zero nets or edges. Now I normally get a few, so my getting zero was rare, but 17-0? In one game she got eight nets, winning all eight of them.

How to Hold the Racket

Here's a video from PingSkills (4:03) on how to hold the racket, both shakehands and penhold.

The Power of Sweden

Here's a highlights video (10:48) that features the great Swedish players of the past.

Susan Sarandon: Ping-Pong Queen

Here's a feature article from England's The Guardian on Susan Sarandon and table tennis.

The Dodgers Playing Table Tennis

Here's an article in the LA Times on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team having a table tennis doubles tournament.

NBA All-Star Week

Here are ten pictures at NBA All-Star Weekend, where they invited members of the Houston TTC to play table tennis. Included are pictures of Houston player Jim Butler and NBA star Jeremy Lin.

Mario Lopez Plays Ping-Pong

Here's a picture of actor and TV host Mario Lopez (middle) posing with his paddle and table tennis player/actor/stand-up comedian Adam Bobrow (left) and no-doubt a famous woman (or top table tennis player?) on the right who I don't recognize.

Harlem Shake

Here's a video (33 sec.) of . . . um . . . if I could figure out what is going on here, I will die happy. A bunch of people dancing around and on ping-pong tables.

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September 27, 2012

Last-Minute Looping: Learning to Loop

Yesterday I taught an 11-year-old girl to forehand loop. She'd attended ten junior group sessions I'd taught, and this was I think her fourth private session. Her forehand and backhand drives are getting pretty steady, and of course we'll continue to work on them to make them "perfect."  

Sometimes it's good to wait longer to really ingrain the forehand and backhand drives before starting them on looping, but I'm a believer in getting to looping (at least against backspin) as soon as possible. Otherwise, they tend to become pusher/blockers (since they can't attack backspin), their loops aren't as natural (since they ingrain drive strokes early on rather than topspin strokes), and they don't take advantage of a characteristic that gives them the advantage at that age - they are shorter, and so looping is a bit more natural since they can let the ball drop down to their level. Plus, it gives them something to get excited about when they begin doing shots that match what the best players in the club are doing, and that excitement leads to more focus and determination, which leads to faster improvement.

I started her on looping in the last ten minutes of the session, feeding backspin with multiball. At first she had difficulty. Sometimes she wouldn't bring her racket down enough, or she wouldn't sweep up enough and would instead start up, then switch to a more forward-driving stroke. The result was flat strokes with little topspin. The scary part here is that since I'm giving her the same spin over and over, it's pretty easy to drive the ball with light topspin, and to believe that it's a good shot. (And it would have - in the hardbat era.) So I have to explain how a drive against backspin without great topspin isn't that good and will rarely be as consistent or effective in a match situation as looping. She understood, and kept trying.

When the time for the session came to an end, she was so close, and had managed to make two shots that I would charitably describe as loops, but most of the others were still just topspin drives. I went to her side and said let's just shadow practice the shot for two minutes so she can get the feel for the stroke, so she could shadow practice on her own all week and be ready next time. (We'd been doing shadow stroking, but usually for 10-20 seconds at a time at most.) We did so, and her stroke looked better and better. So I asked the dad if we could stay a little late, and he said sure. I fed her more multiball - and from the first ball, after that two minutes of shadow-practice, she was looping!!! She was grazing the ball and getting good topspin. She did seven in a row, missed a few, and then made a bunch more. I wanted to ingrain the stroke, so we did it for another five minutes. We were both very excited over this.

Now I'll be working on both her drives and loops. (As much as I like to get to looping, it's equally important to get those drive shots down - the fundamentals are key.) When I feel she's ready, I'll have her try them in combination - loop a backspin and then smash a topspin. Eventually, we'll have her looping against topspin as well. And yes, the backhand loop will be coming up as well in a few weeks.

Henzel's World Cup Blog

William Henzel of Australia is keeping a blog of his trip to the Men's World Cup in Liverpool, England, where he arrived yesterday - the tournament is Fri-Sun, Sept. 28-30. Here's Day One, where he arrives and ponders the expense of hiring a coach for his matches.

Documentary on the Rise of Sweden

Here's a documentary of how Sweden rose to challenge and defeat the Chinese at the 1989 World's. They would continue to dominate the world for about six more years, and would battle with the Chinese for nearly 15 more years. The only problem is the video, about an hour long, is in Swedish, without English subtitles. I watched much of it, and though I didn't know what was being said, you could figure much of it out from the context. Plus it was nostalgic for those of us who were around back then! The video features Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Erik Lindh, Stellan Bengsston, Kjell Johansson, and other Swedish players and coaches, as well as Chinese players such as Jiang Jialiang and Chen Longcan.

ITTF Coaching Seminar - in India

Stopping by India anytime soon? Or already live there? USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee will be teaching three ITTF coaching seminars in India, in Ajmer (Oct. 3-7), in Bangalore (Oct. 10-14), and in Bangalore (Oct. 17-21). Here's the ITTF announcement.

Howard Tong Video

Here's a video (2:58) featuring 12-year-old Howard Tong of the World Champions Table Tennis Club in the San Francisco Bay area.

Orioles J.J. Hardy - "No one can beat me."

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is the best pingpong player on the team, according to an article in ESPN on Tuesday. The article says Hardy is the best athlete on the team, and says "He also is the best pingpong player on the Orioles." It then quotes Hardy:

"The next-best is Brady [Anderson, a special instructor]," Hardy said, half joking. "I've played him 100 times. I've beaten him 100 times. He'll never beat me. No one can beat me."

Some may remember that earlier this season the Orioles contacted me about doing a table tennis special with the Orioles for their TV network (featuring Hardy, Anderson, and pitcher Jake Arrieta, another table tennis enthusiast. However, it was put off when Hardy began having wrist problems, and now they are in a pennant race. So I don't know when or if this will happen. I've been in email contact with them, and my best guess is it'll be put off until next year. We'll see.

Inmates at the Teams

That's me scratching my head as I'm literally surrounded by "inmates" playing in the 2006 North American Teams in Baltimore. Yes, that was their team uniform - and there are at least eight of them, so it might have been two teams. The ones in "uniform," L-R, are: Unknown (you can just see his hat and leg); Ray Mack; I think Fong Hsu; Unknown; Connie Sweeris (short one with back to us); Unknown; I think Jim McQueen (or was the one I thought was Fong Hsu actually McQueen? Hard to tell); and Alan Fendrick.

MDTTC Goes to the Birds

Earlier this month a bird visited the Maryland Table Tennis Center. No, not the Baltimore Orioles mascot or Larry Bird; an actual bird! Here's the video (3:47), starring Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Raghu Nadmichettu, Tong Tong Gong, and a seemingly very tame (but probably just traumatized) bird. I can't believe I missed all of this, but I wasn't there for the big event.


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June 8, 2012

Too tight when you play?

I'm one of the roughly way-too-many-to-count players who often struggle to get loose before playing, whether in matches or practice. But I have found a solution that works most of the time, and works for many players I coach.

When you start a session (practice or matches), have fun at the start. Let yourself go. If it's practice, start out with something you do really well (preferably something physical, like looping or smashing), and have fun doing it. If it's a match, take it lightly and have fun. The goal in both cases is to relax and loosen up. Once you feel loose - and this shouldn't take too long - then take deep breath, clear your mind, and focus.

When I say focus, this doesn't mean to get super-serious. You can have a clear mind and still smile on the inside. The best players may often look impassive on the outside, but on the inside they are having the time of their life. So lighten up at the start of your sessions, loosen up, then focus, and you may surprise yourself by how well you play.

At the Easterns last weekend, the kid I was coaching, Derek Nie, started the tournament off very nervous, and played horribly in his first match. Afterwards I took him to a back table where we did some counterlooping for a while, joked about, and then played challenge matches where we trash talked. ("I cannot be beaten!" I'd say whenever I win a point," which of course just spurred him on.) In his matches shortly afterwards, he played the best of his life. (See next item.)

Eastern Open Recap

Here's a nice video recap of the Eastern Open last weekend at Rutgers University (2:50). Alas, they somehow missed me, but at 2:25 you can see Derek Nie, the kid I was coaching, who won Under 13, beat players rated 2258 and 2142, and was up double match point on a 2233 player. Not bad for a 60-pounder! (We already have a list of things he needs to work on before the U.S. Open in a few weeks, and he's been training much of this week on them. Sorry, can't report on them here, there are rival coaches reading! Perhaps after the Open. But last night he had a great session with Jeffrey Xeng Xun, one of our 2600-rated coaches, and he seemed to be playing like he had at the Easterns.)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's another nice exhibition between Sweden greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson (1:53), with five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller doing the commentary. (On Monday I'd linked to another exhibition they'd done.)

Why does Waldner come up so often when showing spectacular shots and exhibitions? Actually, today has three items pertaining to Sweden, so we'll belatedly declare today National Day of  Sweden, an national holiday in Sweden that was actual celebrated two days ago, on June 6.)

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a five-minute compilation of spectacular points that feature sidespin, mostly sidespin looping. Perhaps the best one is the one (shown in slow motion) of Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner that starts right at the one minute mark.

Sweden #1 Denied Olympic Spot?

Matilda Ekholm of Sweden qualified for the Olympics, but the Swedish Olympic Association apparently didn't believe she was good enough or competitive to win an Olympic medal, and so denied her a spot on the Olympic team. She is ranked 51 in the world, the highest ranked Swedish woman. (The next best is Daniela Moskovits, #399 in the world.) For comparison, on the men's side, Sweden is sending, in singles, Par Gerell (world #80) and Jorgen Persson (#88, though of course World Men's Singles Champion in 1991, 21 years ago), and a men's team of Persson, Gerell, and Jens Lundqvist (#48). (Sweden didn't qualify for an Olympic Women's Team.)

There's been a huge outcry about this, culminating in these two letters yesterday to the Swedish Olympic Committee by ITTF President Adham Sharara and Vladimir Samsonov, chair of the ITTF Athlete's Commission (and former world #2 and current #14). There's a Facebook page devoted to her cause. And here's a discussion of the situation on the about.com table tennis forum.

Rapper Yelawolf Plays Table Tennis

Here's a three-minute video interview of rapper Yelawolf, which goes back and forth between him performing and the interview, which seems to take place as he's playing table tennis. You can see him actually playing at 1:09 and 2:20, but at other times he seems to be playing as he talks, though they only show his head (you can hear the ball bouncing back and forth in the background).

Fun with Robots

Here's 33 seconds of someone having fun with a robot at full speed, set to music. Reminded me of a sequence from Forrest Gump, but this wasn't computer generated.


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