Nathan Hsu

August 19, 2014

Hong Kong Junior & Cadet Open, and Player Selection

I've been raising heck via email recently over what happened at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open. And perhaps I actually accomplished something, though too late for this time. Here's what happened.

There are limited number of entries for each country, and so each country has to work out rules for who can represent them. A number of USA juniors had paid their own way, and wanted to play singles. (All were able to play doubles and teams, but there weren't enough openings for singles.) According to the rules set by the USATT High Performance Committee (HPC), first and then second priority goes to those who made the National Junior Team (top four), and then the National B Team (next four). That's good so far. But after that, next priority went to players who were from "USATT Hot Spots," which really means ITTF Hot Spots in the U.S. There are four in the U.S., but MDTTC (my club) is not one. The application process goes through USATT, and we started this process in September, 2013. Unfortunately it turns out ITTF is no longer approving new Hot Spots while it rethinks the concept, and so we are not an ITTF Hot Spot, though we obviously qualify, and are one of USATT's eight National Centers of Excellence.

What does all this mean? A member of our club, Nathan Hsu, a U.S.-born citizen rated 2416, is training in China right now, and wanted to play Under 18 Singles at the Hong Kong Open. He's been playing very well recently, even knocking off a 2648 player at the U.S. Open, his best win ever. But he had not made one of the USA Teams at the Trials in December, and so because of the rules set up by USATT, priority went to members of Hot Spots. Result? Because he played at the "wrong club," Nathan wasn't allowed to play singles. Instead, two players rated 1792 (age 14) and 1864 (age 17), who played at the "right club," were entered and represented USA in singles at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open (along with others who were on USA Teams).

Think about that. There were two spots open, and we had players rated 2416, 1864, and 1792. None were on the USA Team. One had a world ranking (Nathan, #298 in Under 18). But the choice was made not by the player's ranking or level, but by which club he played at! And so the two players with ratings around 1800 represented USA in singles, while the 2400+ player sat on the sidelines and watched. He was punished for not playing at the "right club." Can you imagine trying to explain that to Nathan? Or in a court of law? Or to the U.S. Olympic Committee? This is not about the two players who played, their club, or their coach; it's about very bad rules set up by USATT that led to a very unfair outcome.

Even if you decide choosing players based on what club they play at rather than their actual ranking or level is somehow okay, ITTF is no longer accepting Hot Spots, so there's no way of becoming one. (Full disclosure - not only does Nathan play at my club, but I often coach him, especially in tournaments. There's even a picture of me coaching him and his brother John in doubles on the back cover of my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book.)

In fairness to the HPC, the chair, Carl Danner, who I greatly respect, explained that they never anticipated this result, and that the surge of interest among parents to send their kids to these international events was unprecedented. He said that part of the intent of the rule was to recognize the most advanced training centers, and a freeze on the Hot Spot designations was unexpected. He said that in light of this experience, he will recommend changing the rule.

I accept that the HPC never expected this outcome, but I sure wish I'd been in the room or saw a draft of this when they were creating the rules to point out the unfairness. Creating rules have consequences. Choosing players to play in international events based on what club they play at isn't fair, and it turns them into pawns, to be given out to favored clubs like chattel - something that they somehow never foresaw. It's too late for Nathan - this was his last chance to compete in junior events. However, he'll continue to train hard for future events.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Video

Here's the video (1:50) created by Evan Sery created by last week. Much of it features Coach Jack Huang, but most of the taping is from a junior session I'm running - you can hear me coaching and yelling out things in the background.

Trip to Zoo (Non-Table Tennis)

Yesterday we had a small turnout in our MDTTC camp, and so I wasn't needed. (Besides, the other coaches need the money more - outside my coaching I have writing income.) So I decided to take most of the day off from everything, and took the subway to the National Zoo in Washington DC! I hadn't been there since I was a kid, probably over 40 years ago. I enjoyed both the animals and the fresh air. Here are the most memorable moments there.

  • I had pizza for lunch. Pigeons and smaller birds were all over, and so I decided to feed them. A large crowd of them gathered! We're not supposed to feed the zoo animals, but I think this was okay. I think. At least I wasn't dragged away in chains, though there were a few moments I thought the birds were getting a bit too close.
  • Three times I stared eye-to-eye with wild animals. At the Great Apes building an orangutan and I watched each other for several minutes. It had these tiny, soulful eyes, just as the orangutan from the recent Planet of the Apes movies. (Later I'd see an exhibit showing brain sizes of various great apes, and seeing how small its brain was compared to a human's, I wondered how much thinking was really going on. But it sure seemed like there was a thinking, aware being in those eyes.) As I left the building, a gorilla stood next to the glass at the front of its cage, and we looked at each other for a moment. Later, at the Great Cats area, I watched the lions for perhaps ten minutes. The male lion, which was pretty large with a huge mane, seemed to pick me out of the crowd and stared at me. I waved at it, and it definitely began to watch me. After a few minutes, as I left, its eyes followed me the whole time. Perhaps it was hungry.
  • My favorite animals: the orangutan, gorilla, and lion that I went eye-to-eye with; the giant tortoise that went on a "sprint" across its enclosure (okay, a craaaaawl); the sea lions; the giant anaconda; the lemurs (so like our ancestors!); the two elephants; the prairie dogs; the komodo dragon; a giant stingray; and a gigantic arapaima fish. My only disappointment was that the Invertebrates House had closed down, so no octopuses.
  • I saw the pandas, but they were just sleeping.
  • To my non-expert eyes, I thought the elephants, lions, and tigers needed larger enclosures. They looked pretty bored, with the elephants pacing back and forth while the lions and tigers just lay about, as they do in the wild something like 20 hours/day.
  • My legs are once again extremely tired from walking around for four hours. 

Youth Olympic Games

USA's Lily Zhang made it all the way to the semifinals of junior girls before losing this morning (i.e. afternoon in Nanjing, China, where they are playing) to top-seeded Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong, 1,-5,8,9,6. It was quite a turnaround for her to come back and win game two 11-5 after losing the first 11-1! She will be playing for the bronze tomorrow. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, with articles, results, video, and pictures. (Krish Avvari is the other USA player competing.) Here's a blog entry about Lily by Matt Hetherington. A big Congrats to Lily!!!

$36,000 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

Here are the last two articles by Barbara Wei on the LA Open this past weekend. I linked to the previous seven in yesterday's blog, as well as the results and the LA Open home page.

About.com Articles

Here are three new ones, including two coaching articles.

Sidespin/Topspin and Sidespin/Backspin Serve Tutorial

Here's the video (4:38). (Note for beginners - backspin and underspin are the same thing.) It's in Chinese, but has some English subtitles, and you can learn just by watching.

This Applies to Table Tennis

"I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end." -Larry Bird.

Table Tennis: The Best Sport Ever

Here's the video (3:11). "Do you know someone who dislikes Table Tennis? Let's show this video!"

Sometimes It Is Not Just About Winning

Here's a nice meme on this.

Is Timo Boll an Unlucky Player?

Here's the article and video (5:33). "Why hasn't Timo Boll been able to win major titles? Is he an unlucky player?"

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. Eighty-eight down, 12 to go!

  • Day 13: Germany’s Hans Wilhelm Gäb Provided ITTF the Model for TMS

Barry Ratner Obituary

Here it is. He was a long-time player and organizer. He will be missed.

73 Questions with Daniel Radcliffe

Here's the video (6:21) where the Harry Potter star "…plays ping–pong with us and answers 73 questions on everything from his desire to star in Guys and Dolls to what he would bring on a one-way trip to Mars. What’s something he knows about Harry Potter that no one else does? Watch and find out." This is hilarious! Daniel seems to be playing a lot of ping-pong recently - on Aug. 7 I linked to an article and video (1:46) where he also played.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Movie Might Be Coming

Here's the article.

Electric Pong

Is your paddle charged? Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Michael Mezyan.

Dimitri Ovtcharov Plays Clipboard Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:06) from the 2013 LA Open (last year).

Unbreakable Ball?

Here's the article and picture. It's a collapsible ball made of a flexible material that's created with a 3-D printer! I can't wait to try this out.

Table Tennis Ice Bucket Challenge

It's spread to the table tennis world, including my club. Here are some.

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July 17, 2014

Serve and Attack Patterns

There are all sorts of ways to serve and attack. For the uninitiated, let me remind you what the purpose of the serve is - it is to set up your attack! You may have serves that are designed to win a point outright - "trick serves" - but there's no point in serving and hoping for a winner. You should always expect a return, and so from that point of view, the point is to follow your serve with an attack. The exception, of course, is when the opponent returns your serve in such a way as to stop your attack. But until he does that, you should be looking to serve and attack in some way.

This is true for defending players as well. Otherwise you lose your entire serve advantage. If you say you don't have a strong enough attack to serve and attack, then you've answered your own question - you need to develop that attack. Nobody reaches their potential on just attack or just defense - you need both. Defenders should look to follow their serves with attacks if the return is weak. If it is not weak, then they can stick to defense.

Below are some of my personal favorite serve and attack tactics. I'm writing these as if I were still at my peak, when I had good footwork and tried to follow most serves with a forehand loop or smash. Everyone's different, so pick out the ones that you like, and ignore others. I can follow my serves equally well with a forehand loop against backspin or topspin, or a forehand smash, but almost always with a forehand. Others may only loop or smash, or may have better backhand attacks.

  1. Short backspin or no-spin to middle. If I served backspin and they pushed it back, I tended to look to follow with a spinny forehand loop deep on the table, but if the push is weak I go for a winner. If I serve no-spin, I almost always looked to serve and rip, as no-spin serves tend to come back with less backspin and a little higher. By serving to the middle I cut off the extreme angles, and there's less ground to cover.
  2. Short backspin or no-spin to backhand. This is the same as serving to the middle (regarding backspin or no-spin), but now the opponent has an angle into my backhand, but can only go down the line to my forehand. After the serve I'd stand as far to my left as I could, ready to loop any push to my wide backhand with my forehand. Since most players guard the crosscourt angle more than down the line, I often looked to loop a winner down the line - but the danger here is that they have an open angle to my wide forehand, so if you go down the line, you either have to loop a winner, or loop it slow and spinny, so the slowness gives you time to get back into position.

    The second option is to loop to the middle - though for many this should be the first option. It's the hardest place for an opponent to defend, and since they have no extreme angles, you can often follow with another forehand.

    The third option is to loop to the wide backhand. This is usually an easier block for the opponent, but since they have no angle into the wide forehand, you can stand toward your backhand side and often follow with another forehand. You can rip a winner to the very wide backhand, if it's open, or just loop slow and spinny and deep on the table. Deep, spinny loops are often hard to block on the backhand.

  3. Short backspin or no-spin to forehand. This is the same as serving to the middle (regarding backspin or no-spin), but now the opponent has an angle into my forehand, but can only go down the line to my backhand. It's especially effective for me with a reverse pendulum or a tomahawk serve (or for others, a backhand serve). Many players are awkward against short serves to the forehand and give weak returns. It also brings them over the table, so they are awkward on the next shot. Most players return these crosscourt, so you can almost camp out there. However, better players learn to take these down the line. Since you have to guard that wide forehand angle, these serves are mostly effective only against those who are awkward against short serves to the forehand, or who predictably go crosscourt.

    However, an alternate version is to serve short to the middle forehand. This cuts off the extreme forehand angle, and makes the short awkward to flip for many players.

  4. Short side-top serves. Most players return these with soft drives or flips. Since there's no backspin on the ball, you can drive into the ball with a point-ending loop. It's just a matter of getting into position. Most players return these serves crosscourt, so be ready for that. Make sure to fake backspin on these serves by following through down after contact!
  5. Long serves to the backhand. Most of these serves are returned crosscourt, so you can hang out to your backhand side and follow with a forehand (or backhand if you are stronger with that side). The key is variation. Be able to serve big breaking serves that curve to the right (receiver's left); fast ones that catch them off guard; heavy topspin that gets popped up or goes off; and fast no-spin that they tend to put in the net or return weakly. If the opponent can consistently loop this serve (backhand or forehand), then you probably want to use other serves.
  6. Fast to the middle. This makes them choose between forehand and backhand, and often results in weak returns. It's especially effective with fast no-spin. If they can loop this serve consistently, then switch to other serves.
  7. Fast down the line. Many players leave this spot open, and are vulnerable to this. You can't always follow with a forehand, so be ready to attack or counter-attack from both wings.
  8. Serves from the forehand side. This gives a different angle, and often results in weak returns. I do this either with a tomahawk serve or with a regular pendulum serve. The serve usually comes back toward the forehand side, and so is easy to attack. But the key is giving the opponent a different "look" to adjust to, with the result you get many weak returns.

    One of my favorite tactics is to serve this down the line from the forehand side. The opponent is looking for a crosscourt serve, and is often caught off guard, and so makes a weak return. He almost always will return this crosscourt to the backhand. So if you have reasonable foot speed, you can move all the way over to your backhand and follow with a forehand! But this does leave your forehand side wide open, and usually only works once - then the opponent will take it down the line. So for most, it might be better to follow with a backhand attack.

Chinese Super League Introduces Two-Toned Ball

Here's the story. This is a great idea - I've blogged in the past how silly it is that in such a spin-oriented sport, we have a ball where you can't see the spin, and suggested we use a soccer-colored one or something like that.

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. Fifty-five down, 45 to go!

  • Day 46: Steve Dainton’s Journey to Becoming the ITTF’s Director of Marketing

Kreanga Backhand

Here's video (28 sec, including slow motion replay), of a great point, ending with an incredible Kreanga backhand Loop kill. Actually two of them, but opponent Liu Guoliang smashes the first! This is from the 2001 World Championships. Liu, the last of the great pips-out penholders, is now coach of the Chinese Men's Team.

Epic Point

Here's an epic point (28 sec, all rally!). That's Wang Liqin on the far side, Werner Schlager on the near side. From the comments I think it's from the 2003 World Cup, but I'm not sure.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's a 13-sec video of Nathan Hsu training in China, created by Coach Jeffrey Xen Xun.

Teqball Anyone?

Here's the video (2:15) of rules for the new version of table tennis/soccer that's taking the world  by storm.

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October 15, 2013

RGIII Response Video

On Friday, Robert Griffin III (alias RGIII, the Washington Redskins quarterback) put out a video (3:22) where he talked about his Olympic dreams. At the end of it (go to 2:57) he jokes that he might make the Olympics in ping-pong.

We at MDTTC decided we were not going to take this quietly. Here is the response video (1:15), put together by Nathan Hsu (17, 2303 but recently 2397), with players Derek Nie (12, 2297), Crystal Wang (11, 2267), and Roy Ke (14, 2261).

LET'S MAKE THIS VIDEO GO VIRAL!!! Post it wherever you can - on Facebook, Twitter, in blogs, any place you can. It's already the Video of the Day at USA Table Tennis, with RGIII's video featured on Friday.

Go Girls

Did you know that girls are dominating the lower age groups in the U.S. right now? Go to the USATT ratings, click on "Customizable Member Lists," and put in the proper settings (make sure to put in a number in the first field), and here's what you get.

In Under 9, the #1 player is Tiffany Ke of Maryland at 1749. (The #2 is Ted Chensheng Li of Texas at 1559.) Among girls, the #2 is Katherine Fang, also of Texas, at 819, almost a thousand points behind Tiffany.

In Under 10, the top two are Youruo Wu and Rachel Sung of California, both girls, rated 1978 and 1906. Tiffany Ke is #4 at 1749.

In Under 11, the #1 is Amy Wang of New Jersey at 2217. Youruo Wu is #4 at 1978, Rachel Sung #6 at 1906, Kelly Zhao #9 at 1796, and Tiffany Ke #12 at 1749.

In Under 12, the #1 is Crystal Wang of Maryland at 2267. Amy Wang is #2 at 2217. Youruo Wu is #12 at 1978.

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team, Part 1

Here's a video (7:41), covering the forehand serve.

Best of Penholder Players

Here's a video (5:56) that shows spectacular rallies and shots by penholders, such as Ma Lin, Xu Xin, Wang Hao, and Ryu Seungmin. Some really great rallies here.

Ping-Pong Ball Fires

Here's an article about a beer-pong ball setting an apartment alight. But that's nothing. Here's a short article about a half million ping-pong balls bursting into flame. (Go to the "Noisier Than Bubble Wrap" segment, but the entire text follows.) "During a heat wave in Hong Kong this summer, a metal container packed with more than half a million ping-pong balls burst into flames. 'The blast was probably caused by air expansion inside the ping-pong balls,' a police spokesperson said."

Alternate Piggyback Pong

Here are two attempts at this incredibly difficult and dangerous version of table tennis. Here are Yahao Zhang and his wife (15 sec), and here are Adam Hugh and Michael Landers (20sec). Do not try this yourself - these are trained professionals!

Non-Table Tennis - Cover of My Novel

My novel "The Giant Face in the Sky" comes out Nov. 15 from Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy that parodies the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. It's Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. Here's the cover. And here's the blurb on the back cover:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face will have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?

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August 28, 2013

Nathan and Cheng: Short Push Drill

Last night, as I was about to leave the club, I saw Nathan Hsu (17, about 2400) and Coach Cheng Yinghua doing a short push drill. It looked interesting, so I stopped to watch. I ended up watching for something like half an hour as they were really working on this. The basic drill was they'd push short until one of them either popped the ball up (flip it!) or accidentally or intentionally pushed long (loop it!). Most often they'd push short a few times, with Nathan moving in and out each time, and then Cheng would fake another short push and instead push long, Nathan would loop, and then they'd rally.

Three words describe this drill: Tiring, Finesse, and Tricky!

Tiring: There is no more tiring drill in table tennis than in and out drills. Top players are in such great shape they can endlessly and tirelessly move side to side. But those in-and-out drills are the absolute worse. These are drills where the coach drops one short, and the student has to step in and push or flip it, then step back, and be ready for either a deep ball or stepping in for another short ball. For some physiological reason, this is the most tiring drill you can do in table tennis - many top players have commented on this, and I know it from many years of personal experience.

Finesse: Dropping the ball short as you move in like this takes great control. Few players have the finesse for this. Watching Cheng take every ball right off the bounce and dropping it short and low was something to watch. Nathan wasn't far behind on this, though he was often caught by Cheng's...

Trickiness: It's not enough to just drop the ball short. At the higher levels they are tricky with this, and can change the depth and direction of their returns at the last second while seemingly doing the opposite. Cheng got Nathan over and over when he'd seemingly push aggressively. Nathan would get ready for the long push, but the ball would go short again. How did Cheng do this? By varying the grazing contact with the ball. Even with an aggressive pushing motion, if he barely grazed the ball it would go short and very heavy. If he grazed it slightly less, the ball would go deep. Both strokes looked the same, so you couldn't tell what he was doing until the ball left the racket. The problem was when Cheng would push short one way, and then suddenly do this "aggressive" motion that really looked like it was going deep, but it would also go short, catching Nathan and zillions of past opponents as they switched from ready to loop the deep push, to last-second lunges for the unexpectedly short ball.

But it wasn't just the depth. At the last second, as Cheng's racket moved toward the ball, it would become "obvious" which direction he was pushing, and Nathan (and zillions of past opponents) would start moving toward that spot. Then, with a last-second wrist move, he'd push the other way.

The great thing about this was watching Nathan make adjustments as he figured out how to deal with these pushes, and watching him experiment in doing these tricky pushes right back. It'll take a lot of practice to reach Cheng's level at this. (The irony is that at his peak, Cheng was such a good blocker that against USA players he'd often just push long over and over - changing the direction at the last second - and save the short pushes for when he played world-class players or when a game unexpectedly got close.)

None of this pushing stuff is really new to an experienced player or coach - I've been doing all this for decades. But knowing about it and doing it at a pretty high level isn't quite the same as watching it done at the highest level. (Want to learn more? I talk about this stuff in my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.)

Don't know who Cheng and Nathan are? Cheng was a member of the Chinese National team for eleven years (1977-87), and won Men's Singles at the U.S. Open twice ('85, '93), and - after becoming eligible at age 38 after retiring to become a coach in the U.S. - Men's Singles at the USA National four times ('96, '97, '99, and '04 at age 46). He had a rating over 2800 for many years. Nathan spent most of the last year rated just under 2400, and was 2397 before a few bad tournaments brought his rating down. But after winning Under 2400 at the MDTTC Open this past weekend he's back to 2400 level and is ready to move beyond that.

North American Championships

The North American Championships are done - congrats to the many winners: Eugene Wang, Ariel Hsing (thrice!), Hongtao Chen, Allen Wang, Tina Lin, USA Men, Canada Women, USA Junior Boys, and USA Junior Girls! Here's the home page with results, articles, and video, and here's the ITTF page with lots of articles.

Tribute to Karakasevic

Here's a video tribute (8:22), to Serbia's Aleksandar Karakasevic, known for his great backhand looping and doubles play. He was #32 in the world in 2006, and as recently as 2012 was #40. He won Men's Singles at the U.S. Open three times - 2003, 2006, and 2007. He never won an ITTF Pro Tour event in Men's Singles (making the semifinals two times and the quarterfinals five times), but he won Men's Doubles three times and was runner-up twice. He made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the 2011 European Championships, where he was also Mixed Doubles Champion three times.

Great Rally at the Czech Open

Here's a great rally (35 sec) at the 2013 Czech Open between chopper/looper Masato Shino (JPN) and Pavel Sirucek (CZE). The rally includes a great net ball off the side return, chopping, and counterlooping.

Longest Table Tennis Rally

Two Wisconsin teenagers set a new record for longest table tennis rally - 8 hours 30 minutes and 6 seconds! Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation.

Ping Pong Portal Picture

Here's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. Sometimes, when you dig yourself a big hole in a match, you just have to climb or tiptoe your way back out of that hole. A green hoodie helps, except perhaps in Florida. (Sorry, Sunshine State!) Or maybe that's a portal to another dimension of time, space, and table tennis.

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August 27, 2013

Tip of the Week

A Step-by-Step Sequence to Learning Pendulum Serves.

MDTTC Camps

"It's Monday . . . and there's no camp??? No lectures on grip, stance, forehand, and serves?" (Okay, it's really Tuesday, but this is what I was thinking yesterday.) Our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC ended Friday. I've now run about 180 five-day camps, six hours per day, or 900 days and 5400 hours of camp. That's nearly 2.5 years of camps. I've given each of my standard lectures 180 times, or about 1800 lectures in all. I've led in stretching (twice a day) 1800 times. (Well, actually less since I've sometimes missed the afternoon sessions.) And we're not done for the year - we have another camp, our Christmas Camp, Dec. 26-31. (Our camps are primarily for kids, but adults are welcome - we usually get 2-3 each week, sometimes none, sometimes more.)

MDTTC August Open

Here are the results (which I also gave out yesterday) of the August Open this past weekend, run by Charlene Liu. Congrats to Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), who finally broke through and won against Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") after a series of second-place finishes to Wang. It was a dominant performance - he didn't lose a game. Anther having a nice tournament was Nathan Hsu, who's been in a slump recently - but this time he won Under 2400.

I mostly coached Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh in the tournament. (I also coached Tony Li one match, against a Seemiller-style player with antispin, something he'd never seen before. A new experience, and next time he'll be ready.) Derek (12, rated 2291) started well, with wins over a pair of 2150 players - including a mind-numbing win over Lixin Lang (2187) at 16-14, 19-17, 11-8! - but his elbow began to hurt during his match with Lixin. He kept clutching at it, and I almost had him default there. He finished the match, but decided he had to drop out to rest it. Hopefully he'll be okay in a few days.

Derek's other decent win was against Nam Nguyen (2137). They had one of the most incredible three-shot sequences I've ever seen. Nam lobbed a ball short. Derek absolutely crushed it. Nam absolutely crushed a counter-kill from no more than eight feet back, and Derek absolutely crushed a counter-counter-kill off the bounce. It was the fastest three-shot sequence I've ever seen - three forehand smashes/counter-smashes in the blink of an eye. I wish it was on video - it could have gone down as the fastest three-shot sequence ever!!! 

Sameer had a strange tournament - he literally could have won or lost all eight or so of his matches. As it was, he made the final of Under 1150. Down 0-2 in games in the final, he led 5-3 in the fifth before losing 11-8.

During the tournament a player said, "I have to play [higher-rated player]." I pointed out that he had it all wrong - that this [higher-rated player] had to play him! I often quote to my players Rorschach from the movie Watchmen, where he's allowed himself to be taken prisoner and he's surrounded by other prisoners out to get him. After dispatching one in very violent fashion, he says to the group of prisoners gathered around in his gravelly voice, "You don't understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!" Here's the video of the scene (47 sec) - warning, it's pretty violent!!!

North American Championships

The North American Championships end today, Aug. 25-27 in Vancouver Canada. Here's their home page, which includes results, write-ups, photos, video, video interviews, live streaming

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of a USATT teleconference meeting on July 22 and the email approval vote of those minutes. Here are USATT minutes going back to 1999.

Footwork for a Short Ball

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:46) showing how to step in for a short ball and recover for the next shot.

Zhang Jike Doing Multiball

Here's a video (36 sec) of World Champion Zhang Jike doing multiball. Want to have footwork like Zhang's? Then watch his stance - wide, with left foot off to the side for stability as he rips shots from the backhand side. There needs to be a balance here. If the left foot is too far off to the side, then the follow-through goes too much sideways, and you're not in position for the next shot. If it's more parallel to the table, you lose body torque. (I had a disagreement with a coach recently - not from my club - who insists that when you step around the backhand corner to play a forehand the feet should be parallel to the side of the table. However, not many top players do that, if any.)

Top Ten Shots at the Harmony Open

Here they are (4:38)!

Table Tennis Through Google Glass

Here's an article and video (17 sec) showing table tennis through Google Glass. (Why isn't it called Google Glasses?)

Kim Gilbert After a Two-Hour Session

Here's the picture! So restful....

Mouthful of Pong

Here's another video (14 sec) from the (Tumba Ping Pong Show"! I linked to two other of their videos on my blog on Aug. 16 (at the very end).

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January 10, 2013

Beginner's Forehand & Backhand Loop

One week ago, on Jan. 3, I wrote about a "Beginner's Topspinny Backhand and Forehand Looping." This was about an 11-year-old who was learning to forehand loop, and was developing a rather topspinny backhand. I worked with him again yesterday. Jackpot!!!

When I say "Jackpot," I'm referring to how fast he picked up the forehand loop against topspin, which I taught him for the first time yesterday using multiball. We worked on it for 30 minutes, and he was able to do it pretty nicely. He still has a tendency to jam the table and rush the shot (leading to too much arm, not enough body rotation), so I kept reminding him to step off the table to give himself time to use a full body shot - but when I remind him, he has no trouble backing off and doing the shot properly without rushing. (Backing off against an incoming topspin and giving yourself time is key to learning the loop properly, since it's a longer stroke than a regular drive, and the timing is different. When you are proficient at the shot you can start taking it closer to the table.)

He also has a tendency to use too much arm in general, but we're working on that, and when he backs off to give himself time he's better at that. Overall, a very nice first day on looping against topspin. Next session I may let him try it "live" against my block - but only if he's doing it very nicely in multiball.

He's also got a nice backhand loop now against backspin in drills (though he doesn't use it effectively in game situations yet), and really does topspin the ball quite a bit in regular rallies. Yesterday I figured out why, and it's sort of funny. I coach him every week at the same time, and at that same time every week, on the table next to us, Nathan Hsu (16), currently the top-rated junior in Maryland at 2351, has a training session. Nathan always plays on the same side of the table I'm on, so my 11-year-old student has a clear view of Nathan while he's practicing. Nathan's known for his ferocious backhand loop, which he often does close to the table. Guess what? The two have matching strokes!!! The kid I've been coaching, whether consciously or not, has been copying Nathan's backhand.

USATT Coaches of the Year

The results are out! (The page includes shot bios of the winners.) The winners are:

  • Paralympic Coach of the Year – Daniel Rutenberg 
  • Volunteer Coach of the Year – Joel Mitchell
  • Developmental Coach of the Year – Stefan Feth
  • National Coach of the Year – Xin Zhou

Ma Long's Forehand Loop

Here's 23 seconds of 2012 World Cup Winner and former #1 Ma Long's forehand loop.

Schlager's Backhand Block

Here's 53 seconds of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager backhand blocking against teammate Karl Jindrak.

Ruth Aarons' and Sandor Glancz's Exhibition

Here's 58 seconds of 1936 & 1937 World Women's Singles Champion Ruth Aarons (USA's only world singles champion) and 1933 World Men's Doubles Champion and 3-time World Team Champion Sandor Glancz doing an exhibition, circa late 1930s.

Justin Bieber's Ping-Pong

Here's 41 seconds of Pencils of Promise star Justin Bieber's ping-pong. I think he's famous for other stuff too. 

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October 15, 2012

Tip of the Week

How to Handle the First Loop Off Backspin.

A Commuting Weekend - Table Tennis and SF

I spent the weekend shuttling back and forth between coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center and being a panelist at the annual Capclave Science Fiction Convention. By great luck (or was it?), Capclave was held at the Hilton in Gaithersburg, about five minutes from MDTTC. I managed to cancel or postpone some coaching that conflicted with panels at Capclave. By simple good luck, my morning coaching on Saturday and Sunday were with beginners, meaning I didn't get all sweaty and so was able to just change into normal clothes and rush over to Capclave. So here's how my weekend went. (Panels are usually one-hour affairs where 3-5 writers or others talk about a topic in front of an audience.) Here's my online Capclave Bio - note the table tennis ice cube mention!

Panelists are allowed to display their books, and so I displayed on a mini-bookstand in front of me my collection of SF & Fantasy stories, "Pings and Pongs," and explained the title pertained to my table tennis background - which usually brought a few questions.

FRIDAY

I'm normally in a 5-7 PM Elite Junior session, but I was able to get out of it. I was in one Capclave panel, on "Comic Relief" (in science fiction), from 4-5PM. Here's a picture of the panel - L-R: Me, Lawrence Schoen, Doug Fratz, and James Maxey. We talked a lot about the comic relief in "The Big Four" (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings), and other humorous characters. The rest of the night I attended other panels and toured the Dealer's Room, with its extensive number of booths selling books and other SF & fantasy items.

SATURDAY

I coached a junior class from 10:30AM - Noon, then changed, ate a quick lunch, and rushed over to Capclave for my 1-2 PM panel, "21st Classics," which was on what books since 2000 will become classics, and why. (Lots of nominations!) Then I rushed back to MDTTC, changed back to my TT clothes, and coached from 2:30-4:30. (In that session we did a lot of the improvised multiball drill I describe in this week's Tip of the Week - see above.) Then I went home, let my dog out and fed her, showered, and was back that night for a few panels, including my own late-night one from 11-12PM, "Shortest Fiction," which was on flash stories (under 1000 words) and twitter stories (under 140 characters or less). Here's a twitter story I wrote and sold: "Droid for sale. Minor space damage, memory wiped. Pesky hologram feature disabled."

SUNDAY

Sunday morning I coached a beginning 7-year-old from 10-11AM, and watched him make a big breakthrough when he hit 45 backhands in a row (live, not multiball). Then I changed, ate, and rushed over to Capclave for my 12-1PM panel, "My First Time," about the first SF and fantasy books we read and how they brought us into the world of SF and fantasy reading and writing. (For me, it was three very specific books. For SF, it was "The Forgotten Door." For fantasy, it was "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow." For horror, it was "The House on the Square," a short story in "Chilling Stories from the Twilight Zone.") Then I went back to MDTTC to coach from 3-7PM. I finished off the day eating a late dinner while watching the third season premier of "The Walking Dead" on TV.

Ginny's...Where East Meets West

The television program "Ginny's...Where East Meets West" did a 30-minute feature on Maryland table tennis recently, where they interviewed Wen Hsu (MDTTC officer and Nathan Hsu's mom), Barbara Wei (former member of U.S. Junior Girl's Team), and Nathan Hsu (2011 U.S. Junior Olympic Under 16 Boys' Gold Medalist). The show is about the intersection of the East (i.e. table tennis) and the West (i.e. table tennis in the U.S.). Yes, it's in English!

ITTF Coaching Seminar #2 in India

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee just finished the second of three ITTF coaching seminars in India. Here's the ITTF article on it. (Here's the article on the first one, which I posted last week.)

2012 Chinese National Championships

So who was in the final of the Chinese Men's Singles Championships that finished yesterday? World #1 Zhang Jike? World #2 Ma Long? World #3 Xu Xin? World #4 Wang Hao? World #5 Timo Boll? (No wait, he's from Germany!) World #6 Ma Lin? World #9 Wang Liqin? World 14 Hao Shuai? World #16 Chen Qi?

None of the above. After they were all eliminated, the two left standing, and showing the depth of Chinese table tennis, were Fang Bo (world #69) and Zhou Yu (world #85). Here's the shortened video of the final (12:14), with Zhou winning 4-1.

Ping-Pong Wedding

Here's a picture of Czech star Dana Hadacova (world #97, #86 in July) playing ping-pong on a mini table at her wedding with her new husband. Anyone know who the husband is? (My quick googling didn't find anything.) She seems to go by two last names, Hadacova and Cechova (which is how the ITTF lists her) so presumably one was her previous name, and the latter is the name she took on after marrying. (Here's her official home page.)

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September 28, 2012

2009 Strategic Meeting

I just realized that Wednesday, Sept. 26 (two days ago) was the three-year anniversary of the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting. I still consider that one of the greatest disappointments in USATT history. We had a new board of directors looking to really do things but not sure what, and they and table tennis people from all over the country gathered for two days to decide what to do. Unfortunately, the same old arguments that look good but lead to nothing won them over, and we ended up with lots of slogans and a series of vague priorities that predictably never led to anything. I wrote much more about this one year ago, on Sept. 26, 2011. I don't know when we'll ever have such an opportunity again to get USATT to really start developing the sport the way it's done successfully in other countries and other sports. I was going to write more about this, but you know what? It's too depressing. So instead we'll go to anagrams and smile. Yes, smile.

Table Tennis Anagrams

Don't blame me - I'm just the messenger!!! On February 22, 2012, I did anagrams of the U.S. Men's Team (Michael Landers: "Me Learn as Child," "Lame Child Nears," many more; Timothy Wang: "I Own That Gym"), and the next day, February 23, 2012, I did them on the U.S. Women's Team (Ariel Hsing: "Irish Angel," "Shinier Gal," several more). Here are others; Tim and Mike are going to kill me! (Remember, I'm just the messenger!!! If they can find "positive" ones with their name, I'll post them.)

  • USA Table Tennis: Uneatable Snits, Attain Blueness, Baseline Taunts, Nastiest Nebula, Instant Useable, A Baseline Stunt, A Subtle Inanest, A Sensible Taunt, Unsatiable Nets, Abase Silent Nut, Abates Nuts Line
  • USATT Hall of Fame: Fat Lush Meatloaf, A Shameful Fat Lot, A Flame That Fouls, Slam Fateful Oath, Hamlet Faults Oaf, Them's A Fatal Foul, Fateful Lot A Hams, Am A Slothful Feat.
  • Maryland Table Tennis Center: A Barnacle-Styled Internment, A Sternly Nerd Tent Imbalance, Rents A Cleanable Trendy Mint.
  • Dan Seemiller (USATT Hall of Famer): Learned Miles, Learned Smile, Learned Slime, Slender Email, Smellier Dean, A Smellier Den, Ills Neared Me, Erased Ill Men.
  • Tim Boggan (USATT Hall of Famer): Aging Tomb, Maggot Bin (Sorry Tim!!!)
  • Mike Cavanaugh (USATT Executive Director): Again Have Muck, I Vague Hack Man (Sorry Mike!!!)
  • Larry Hodges: Dasher Glory, Holy Regards, Shared Glory, Gory Heralds, Godly Sharer,
  • Hodges: He's God!

2012 Men's World Cup

It started today at Liverpool, England. Here's the home page, with results, articles, and photos. And here's a great lobbing point played just this morning from Adrien Mattenet of France.

Chicago International Table Tennis Festival

It's going on right now (Thur-Sat, Sept. 27-29), and here's the home page. Players include Wang Liqin, Wang Hao, Ma Lin, Chen Qi, Ding Ning, Kalinikos Kreanga, Ryu Seung Min, Biba, Jorgen Persson, Zoran Primorac, Aleksandar Karakasevic, Ilija Lupulesku, Chen Weixing, and Ariel Hsing.

Table tennis at the heart of Team USA bonding at Ryder Cup

That's the headline of this article in the Chicago Business. Unfortunately you have to register to see the rest of the article. But here's a quote - "The Ryder Cup is all about pingpong, everybody." -2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson

Table Tennis Jewelry

Here are a few places to buy it:

Baby Doing Multiball - Really!

I think I posted this once before, but it should be posted again. Yes, it's a baby doing multiball (1:35), and he's actually doing it well! (And there's no rule I know of against sitting on the table, though that wooden bat is illegal - needs a legal surface.) Here are more photos of this prodigy and his dad.

National Chinese Honor Society Speech - with Table Tennis!

Here's another hilarious video (0:55) from junior table tennis star Nathan Hsu - his 55-second pitch for the presidency of the National Chinese Honor Society, which includes table tennis.

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July 26, 2012

Last Blog for a Week

I leave early tomorrow morning to coach at the Southern Open (Sat & Sun) and the Junior Olympics (Mon-Wed), both in Houston. As I've learned in the past, blogging while coaching and keeping track of numerous hordes of table tennis juniors is not an easy mix, so no more blogs until I return. (Next blog will be Friday, Aug. 3.)

Long Night

After coaching much of yesterday, I went to work on finalizing both the "MDTTC Junior Medals Listing, 1992-2012" file and the Coach Jack Huang for the U.S. Hall of Fame Application. I finished both a little after 5AM. It's now 5:20 AM as I write this, and in a few hours I'm off to the MDTTC camp to coach. And then I have to do laundry, go to the bank, get a haircut, pack, finalize and send off the application, and then watch videos to prepare for matches I'll be coaching in Houston the next five days. (See above item.) Yes, I study videos of prospective opponents and take extensive notes. Why don't you?

Yesterday was a wild day. Both the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun came in. The Post sent a writer, a photographer, and a videographer - besides a regular article with pictures they are doing a video feature on the club, which I believe will feature Derek Nie, Wang Qing Liang, Nathan Hsu, Amy Lu, and Timmy La. The Sun is featuring Derek Nie. I spoke with them about Derek for about half an hour. Derek, you're my buddy, but I'm getting sick and tired of talking about you!

The videographer filmed me as I fed multiball to beginning kids as they tried to 1) knock down pyramids made of paper cups; 2) smack a large rubber frog I placed on the table in a team competition; and 3) hit my "Gatorade bottle," which I'd convinced them was actually full of squeezed worm juice - I had to drink it whenever they hit it. He also videoed us using the robot. (But he spent most of his time videoing our top juniors in action, especially doing multiball.) I'll post a link to the video and the articles when the are up. (The Sun article is supposed to be in this Sunday's paper.)

Today will be even more fun - I'm bringing loads of candy, and at the end of the morning's sessions I'll put it all on the table, near the end, and the kids take turns trying to hit it. Whatever they knock off they get. Meanwhile, I have to figure out a way to stay awake. It's now past 5:30 AM, and I still haven't gone to bed. Yikes. (But I'd rather get the blog done before I go to bed for a few hours.)

Olympic Draws

They are posted on the ITTF home page. Table tennis starts Saturday. 

Chinese Domination in Table Tennis

PingSkills brings you this video (7:12) where they are mostly goofing off in London before the Olympics. They play ping-pong with a Panda. About three minutes in they start to talk about why China is so good.

Ben Stiller Talks Ping Pong with Jimmy Kimmel

Brought to you by Table Tennis Nation! Includes links to two videos (4:15 and 3:10).

Nathan's Guide to Table Tennis

This long awaited Guide is finally out! Brought to you by Maryland junior star Nathan Hsu, and assisted by visiting New Jersey junior star Allen Wang (12:33). And here's a hilarious 60-second video by Nathan that shows that if you don't play ping-pong, you might get bitten by a rabid rabbit.

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July 20, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Four

Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. I again used Nathan Hsu as my demo partner, since he has an excellent backhand loop, far better than mine. (His backhand loop is now his greatest strength - few can stand up to it when he unleashes it.) I demonstrated a few where I'd serve backspin, he'd push, I'd backhand loop, he'd block, I'd chop, he'd push, and then I'd backhand loop again, and we'd continue in this way. Then I had him demo it, both against backspin (multiball fashion) and my block.

I also explained a bit on how the game has changed. When I was coming up, the general belief was "one gun is as good as two," and the dominant styles were very forehand oriented. And so I never really developed my backhand attack, and instead focused on forehand attack and a steady backhand. These days, however, most top players attack all-out from both sides.

During one multiball session one of the larger players in the camp smacked a ball that hit me smack on the forehead - and it actually dazed me for a moment! I don't think that's ever happened before. I'm glad I wear glasses to play table tennis; I think I'd be nervous otherwise about getting hit in the eye.

On Tuesday the younger kids had a blast with the adjustable height device, shown here in a high setting. They had fun with it again yesterday, but now the advanced players discovered it. Two were practicing their serves during break on the lowest setting.

Yesterday I blogged about Froggy, a large rubber frog about the size of a soccer ball that the kids took turns in team trying to hit. Here's Froggy! Here he is from a little further way, from the kids' point of view. After smacking the poor amphibian around for a bit, we ended the day with "Mountain Master," which is our version of "King of the Hill," where you have to win two points in a row from the "Master" to become the new Master. Since about half the players were girls, they rebelled at the name "King" of the Hill!

Washington Post at MDTTC

The Washington Post will be at MDTTC this morning at around 11AM to do a special. They will feature Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Singles Champion, already rated 2170) and other players.

How can you get news coverage such as the Washington Post and CCTV (see below)? To start with, it is essential that you have a Ph.D in media relations, with many years of practical experience with a large media firm, and you must be trained in the intricacies of exactly how to write a press release in the exact format required or the press will laugh you off. You must also, of course, have the very best players in the country to have any chance of attracting any interest.

Yes, I'm kidding. To get press coverage, whenever you run a tournament or league or some other event, or a player at your club has good results, write a basic press release. (Just state what the event or results were, giving names, ages, and where they are from, etc.) Go online and Google local news media, primarily newspapers and TV, perhaps radio. Once you have the contact info, email the press release to them. Wait a few days, and resend or even call. Believe me, local media is always looking for local human interest stories, and it's not that hard to sell them on table tennis. Just make sure you have something that will interest readers and viewers. TV especially is always looking to feature people with charisma.

CCTV America Features MDTTC

Maryland Table Tennis Center was featured on CCTV American Wednesday night (3:05). While lots of players are shown training, those featured include Coach Cheng Yinghua and players John Hsu, Timmy La, Lisa Lin, and Derek Nie. (They interviewed lots of players and coaches, including me, but alas mine didn't make the cut this time, though you can see me in the background several times.) The video is also featured on the USATT home page this morning. (CCTV American is a Chinese station that broadcasts in the U.S. in English.) And, as noted above, the Washington Post is coming in this morning to do a feature!

There was actually a sort of behind-the-scenes spat about this. After seeing the video, a member of the USATT board emailed the rest of the board and staff, criticizing the video and Chinese immigrants for calling the sport "ping-pong." The letter was seen by members of our club, who were pretty unhappy about it. I responded with a lengthy email that basically said "Who cares as long as they are covering the sport, and covering it well," and pointed out all the more important things we should focus on in developing our sport rather than worrying about whether they call it table tennis or ping-pong. (I especially pointed out that it is these very Chinese immigrants who call it "ping-pong" that have developed the large majority of our top players and especially the current horde of top juniors and cadets.) The board member apologized and the matter was dropped.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Champaign, IL

Here's an article from the ITTF on the ITTF Coaching Seminar that USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee is running in Champaign, IL.

Justin Bieber Playing Table Tennis in Japan

Table Tennis Nation talks about and links to the video (14:47, with the table tennis starting at around 11:00). Bieber is actually decent - check out the topspin backhands he does at 12:27 and 13:47, and especially the behind the back serve he does at 13:54!!!

Lessons with Larry (Bavly)

Math professor Larry Bavly is at it again. A few months ago I linked to his video "Lesson One: The Ratings Game" (4:26), where he facetiously teaches the important things about table tennis to a little girl. Now he has come out with "Lesson Two: Mental Toughness" (2:32). I'm about 90% sure the girl is in on the joke. Okay, maybe only 70% sure.

Things You Won't See at the Olympics

PingSkills, which usually does serious training videos that teach serious skills, took a journey to the silly side in this "Will See Won't See Olympic Table Tennis - Invade London" video (4:12), where they play with a shoe, a big paddle, a little paddle, two balls at once, and use the hidden ball serve trick.

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