John Olsen

June 25, 2013

John and Kevin's Backhands, Forehands, and Receives

A couple of years ago John Olsen was a low-1800 player with a weak backhand but strong forehand. Kevin Walton was a 1750 player with a strong backhand but a weak forehand. Both had strong receives. I've been coaching and training them since then, usually a two-hour joint session every Saturday that focuses on multiball. John is in his mid-50s, Kevin his late 40s. Both are inverted shakehand players. (John can be "difficult" to coach as he has very good technique, and so not a whole lot to say to him, and mostly just needs practice and physical training.)

One of my coaching mantras is, "Practice everything, but focus on your strengths and weaknesses." In John's case, the focus has been on fixing his main weakness - the backhand - while making his strengths - forehand loop and receive - even stronger. Besides multiball, we'd play backhand-to-backhand games to force him to rally with his backhand, often putting boxes on the table to block off the non-backhand part of the table. We'd also play games where I served all the time so he'd make his receive even better. We worked on making his forehand even stronger mostly with multiball. The result? He often wins the backhand-to-backhand games that I once easily dominated, can mostly shut down my third-ball attacks off my serve, his forehand can be deadly efficient, and he is now rated 1999. In practice he plays even with the local 2100 players. (The initial backhand-to-backhand work had almost immediate effect, and brought him to a 1950 level about 1.5 years ago.) 

In Kevin's case, the focus was on fixing his weak forehand, while making his backhand and receive even stronger. Since he's left-handed, we often played crosscourt games, my forehand to his backhand or vice versa. We'd also play regular games so he could work on receiving my serve. The result? He now dominates in those my-forehand-to-his-backhand games that I used to win all the time, and like John, he can mostly shut down my third-ball attacks off my serve. His forehand looping still doesn't have penetrating power, but he can now play strong, aggressive rallies with it. His rating hasn't caught up to him yet because he hasn't played many recent tournaments, but I expect he'll be into the 1900s when he does. (At the Teams in November, his last tournament, he played on a stronger team and so mostly played much stronger players, but did beat a 1903 player, and was up 2-0 on both a 2224 and a 2034 player before losing to both in five. And he's improved since then.)

It's almost eye-opening how much stronger their backhands have become. John's always had a pretty good backhand loop but couldn't exchange backhands very well; now he can go bang-bang backhand to backhand with just about anyone. Kevin's always had that strong backhand, but now can both hit and topspin it, which makes it very hard to play against, and is why he can dominate those crosscourt rallies to my (or others) forehands. As to receive, let's just say that if other players returned my serves as well as they do now, I'd be in serious trouble.

MDTTC Camp Day One - Again

Once again we're into another five-day camp, the second of ten consecutive ones this summer, all Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. Our routine is fairly set; on day one we focus on the forehand. I gave short lectures on grip, ready stance, and the forehand. In the afternoon session I worked with the beginners. Last week we had about 30 players during most sessions; this week we seem to have even more.

ITTF World Hopes Team Selected

Here's the article. USA's Crystal Wang was among the five girls selected.

ITTF World Tour

Here's the article from Inside the Games, "Top Table Tennis Players Gear Up for Return to Lucrative ITTF World Tour." They will give out $2.5 million in prize money this next year. Here's the ITTF Calendar for it - note the U.S. Open, July 3-6.

Shadow of the Pong

Here's an inspirational table tennis image.

Ariel Hsing vs. Doo Hoi Kem

Here's the complete video (59:14) of their match in the Junior Girls' Final at the Egypt Junior & Cadet Open this past weekend. Spoiler Alert! Ariel is up 10-9 match point in the sixth and seventh games, and leads 6-0 in the seventh before losing 12-10 in the seventh.

Sidespin Serving Trick Shot

Here's a video of a serving trick shot (40 sec). I may add a version of it to my own bag of exhibition tricks.

Monster University Ping-Pong

Don't forget to see the movie Monster University - just for the table tennis scene! Here's a gif image of it. Here's more on it at Table Tennis Nation: "The website even mentions ping pong and school champ Zane 'Great Wall' Xiao who appears in the GIF above. PING PONG Multi-paddled behemoth Zane 'Great Wall' Xiao defends his singles title in his single year. Sports Monstrated called Xiao 'ruthless at the table, with his omnidirectional vision and octo-dextrous hand-eye coordination. He’s a force to be reckoned with.'"

Send us your own coaching news!

April 3, 2013

Update on the Plastic Ball

As some of you know, the ITTF has plans to replace the celluloid ball with a new plastic one. (Yes, celluloid is a type of plastic, but let's not get technical.) This is apparently because they believe the celluloid ball is too flammable, causing problems in shipping. (Put in "Plastic ball" in the search engine on the left to see previous articles on this topic.)

Readers, feel free to comment below with your opinions and any links you have on this topic. This could be a big change to our sport.

ITTF Coach John Olsen was able to try them out this past week. Below is his report, and here's the picture he took of the "new" plastic ball, where you can see the seam.

I recently attending the March 2013 Stellan and Angie Bengtsson training camp at the Willamette Table Tennis Club in Salem, Oregon. The subject of the new plastic balls came up, and Stellan had a surprise for us. Not only did he have one of the plastic balls passed out at the 2012 Worlds, there was also a new one he had received from Japan just a couple of months ago.

First up was the "old" plastic ball. The first thing you notice is that this ball is seamless. There were no markings on it, but Stellan said it had come from DHS. As others have described, the sound it makes when it bounces was just awful, like it was badly cracked. The surface was very smooth, similar to how a Nittaku will get after much playing. Stellan couldn't remember if it was just worn or had always been that way. The ball was also fractionally larger than the current balls, what we play with now is just under 40 mm and Stellan said these plastic balls are slightly over 40mm. We didn't have any way to measure them accurately, but if you held a regular and a plastic ball in your hand, you could see a small difference in size. Hitting with the seamless ball felt like playing at high altitude, spin had significantly less effect on bringing it down. I couldn't tell if it was the size difference, the lack of texture or some other factor like weight that was causing the lack of spin effect. It also felt slower, but this could just be a subjective opinion on my part. One surprise was that, even with the terrible sound, it did bounce higher. We did some side-by-side drop tests, and the "old" seamless ball had a significantly higher bounce than a regular ball. I can't comment on how fragile it was, I mostly hit medium speed loops against a block.

The "new" plastic ball has a seam! There were no markings on this ball either, and Stellan did not know which company in Japan had manufactured it. Both plastic balls appeared to be the same size. The "new" one had a much more normal texture on the surface and sounded similar to a normal ball. The new plastic ball played closer to a celluloid ball than the seamless did, but still seemed to have less spin and felt a little slower. We didn't do a bounce test, but I didn't notice anything unusual when I was hitting, unlike with the seamless ball.

ITTF Presidency

Long-time ITTF President Adham Sharara has competition. Stefano Bosi of Italy, the current president of the European Table Tennis Union, announced plans to run against him in the upcoming ITTF election. Here's an article from Table Tennista on this, which says that "Bosi criticized the lack of transparency and the strategy of ITTF to help continents to improve their level."

Amazingly, the ITTF has had only six presidents since its founding in 1926 - see list below. Here's info on all six. I met the last two. President Xu's son, Xu Huazhang, was a member of the Chinese National Team when he came to the U.S. for most of the 1990s, achieving a rating at one point of 2777 while getting a degree in computer science at University of Maryland. He and I shared a house for a few years. When Huazhang introduced me to his father at the Worlds in China one year, President Xu gave me a watch with his picture on it! (I just spent 20 minutes trying to find that watch, but couldn't. I've got table tennis mementos lying about all over the place; I just put it on my todo list to organize them. I'll find that watch.) I believe Xu is still president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association.

  1. Ivor Montagu, 1926-1967
  2. H. Roy Evans, 1967-1987
  3. Ichiro Ogimura, 1987-1994
  4. Lollo Hammarlund, 1994-1995
  5. Xu Yinsheng, 1995-1999
  6. Adham Sharara, 1999-present

2013 USA College Table Tennis National Championships

Here's the home page for the upcoming College Championships, to be held in Rockford, IL, April 12-14.

Table Tennis Played with the Foot

Here's a picture of an armless player who plays with his racket held in his foot. Caption: "Never give up on your dreams."

Interview with Joo Se Hyuk

Here's an interview with Joo Se Hyuk of South Korea (just out this morning), the best defensive player in the world. He was a Men's Singles finalist at the 2003 World Championships. Currently ranked #12 in the world, he's been as high as #5.

Chris O'Dowd Plays Ping Pong

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on actor Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40) and his table tennis. Unfortunately, it includes this statement from O'Dowd: "Ping-Pong is one of those sports where you don't have to have any fitness level." I hope to get him into one of my training camps and see how long that attitude lasts!!!

World Team Classic Top 10 Shots

Here's the video (3:46). Some of the shots and rallies are replayed in slow motion.

Crazy Japanese Table Tennis Stuff

Here's a video (9:47) showing Japanese players doing crazy things, such as using human faces as targets, spinny serves that curve around objects, playing on improvised tables (small roughly one-foot square tables about 6-8 feet apart with a net in between - here's a picture), and lots of other stuff.

Non-Table Tennis - After Death Anthology

"After Death," an anthology of fantasy and horror stories about what happens after death, is out, and on sale at Amazon. It includes my story, "The Devil's Backbone." It's the story of an ice cream man who is killed and pulled into the ground by an incredibly gigantic hand, which turns out to be the Devil's, who literally jams him down his throat and (from the inside) onto his equally gigantic backbone, where there is an entire city of lost souls. How can he escape? (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.)

Send us your own coaching news!

December 17, 2012

Last Blog Until January 2

This will be my last blog (and Tip of the Week) until Jan. 2, 2013. I leave in a few hours for the USA Nationals in Las Vegas (Dec. 18-22), then Christmas with family in Santa Barbara (Dec. 22-25), then I'll be coaching non-stop at the MDTTC Christmas Camp (Dec. 26-31). Then I'm going to sleep in on Jan. 1. See you in 2013!

Tip of the Week

Distance from Table.

Ratings - Crystal and Derek

Wow. Just wow. The North American Teams were processed, and two of our MDTTC juniors have mind-boggling ratings. Let me once again start off by reminding readers (and myself) that ratings are just indicators of level, and fluctuate up and down quite a bit. But there are times when they are a lot of fun.

We'll start with Crystal Wang, 10, who saw her rating go from 2245 to 2353. (I coached three of her matches, where she went 2-1.) This makes her the following:

  • The highest rated 10-year-old in U.S. history, boys or girls, breaking the record that had been set by Kanak Jha, who was 2265 as a 10-year-old two years ago. (The 2245 had already made her the highest rated 10-year-old girl ever and second highest overall.)
  • #1 Under 11 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 12 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 13 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 14 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 15 Girl in the U.S.
  • #1 Under 16 Girl in the U.S.
  • #2 Under 17 Girl in the U.S.
  • #4 Under 18 Girl in the U.S.
  • #9 Under 22 Girl in the U.S.

Here's her record at the Teams, where she went 23-3 in leading her team (which included Derek Nie, below, Bernard Lemal, and Heather Wang) to winning Division Two:

2347: 7,13,-7,9
2291: 7,5,-4,6
2287: -10,7,10,-7,3
2256: -11,9,6,-5,7
2223: 8,-2,5,-9,6
2199: 7,3,10
2194: 8,3,7
2183: 6,-8,6,10
2183: -10,7,8,3
2160: 7,9,-3-10
2156: 8,9,7
2152: 5,6,4
2149: 5,12,-4,-8,7
2123: 8,4,6
2119: 4,5,8
2113: 9,5,4
2097: 6,6,10
2092: 4,-7,7,7
2091: -9,5,7,-10,4
2064: 5,6,4
2064: -5,9,3,1
2014: 7,4,3
1902: 8,10,5
2369: 10,3,-18,7
2319: -5,6,7,6
2280: 9,10,6

Between Crystal and New Jersey's Amy Wang (2177, just turned 10), the east coast has a dynamic duo following in the footsteps of the west coast's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

Meanwhile, Crystal's teammate, Derek Nie, 11, the U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Singles Champion, saw his rating go from 2139 to 2221 as he went 17-9 at the Teams. (He's been as high as 2170 recently. I coached about a dozen of his matches at the Teams.) While this "only" brings him up to #3 in Under 12 Boys in the U.S., it does something else. At only 65 pounds, he is almost for certain the best player in the U.S., pound for pound, and the lightest player ever to break 2200. We're talking 34.17 rating points per pound!!! (I come in at 11.67 points per pound. How about you?) Derek might be the shortest to break 2200 as well, at 4'5". (Mitch Seidenfeld, how tall are you?)

I must also point out that it was a crime against humanity that John Olsen, after training so hard with the goal of breaking 2000, came out of the Teams in Baltimore with a rating of 1999. The table tennis gods are laughing!


I'll be coaching at the Nationals, primarily Tong Tong Gong and Derek Nie, and sometimes other MDTTC players. I usually play in the hardbat events, where I've won a bunch of titles, but this year I'm just coaching - just too busy to play. I'll also be attending some meetings, since I'm on several USATT advisory committees, plus the USATT Assembly (Tuesday 7:30 PM) and the Hall of Fame Banquet, assuming it doesn't interfere with my coaching duties (Thursday 6:30 PM).

This year's Nationals has a lot of players (781), and a lot of players in Men's Singles (160). There's no single standout player this year, with the top seed Mark Hazinski at 2621), followed by Timothy Wang (2601), Jim Butler (2583), Adam Hugh (2567), Stefan Manousoff (2560), Han Xiao (2536), Dan Seemiller (2521), Li Yu Xiang (2510), Zhang Yahao (2509), Razvan Cretu (2508), and Shao Yu (2503). In newer ratings after the Teams in Baltimore and Columbus and the ICC tournament last weekend, Hazinski is down to 2590, and Timothy Wang is down to 2585. In fact, in the newer ratings, Adam Hugh would be top seed at 2599. I'm pretty sure it's been literally decades since we had a Nationals where the top seed in Men's Singles was under 2600. (And this despite an apparent slow inflation of the rating system!) 

Who are my picks to win? In Men's Singles, I'm biased, so I'm picking the same two finalists from last year when we had the all-Maryland final with Peter Li winning over Han Xiao in the final. (But Peter, now in college, has dropped to 2475.) However, putting aside biases, I suggest viewers watch Jim Butler. The current top U.S. players simply don't know yet how to play the recently un-retired Butler, with his tricky serves and big backhand smash. Another to watch is Adam Hugh, who's been playing very well recently, now that he's out of college and (I'm told) coaching and playing full-time.

On the women's side, the top four seeds easily lap the other players: Jasna Rather (2588), Ariel Hsing (2538), Judy Hugh (2533), and Lily Zhang (2520). However, in new ratings, Judy is back out of the stratosphere with a 2394 rating, while Jasna has mostly been around 2400 for years until one tournament shot her up to 2588. Perhaps she's back to her former world-class level, but for now, I'd bet on an Ariel-Lily final for the third year in row. Who will win? One of them. I'll leave it at that.

World Junior Championships

USA's Lily Zhang made the quarterfinals of Under 18 Girls' Singles at the World Junior Championships, held in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 9-16. Here's the home page, with complete results, articles, and photos. This is probably the best showing of a U.S. junior at the World Junior Championships. (They didn't have them in the old days, when the U.S. was a power.) In reaching the quarterfinals, Lily knocked off the #5 seed (Bernadette Szocs of Romania) and #6 seed (Petrissa Solja of Germany), before losing to the #4 seed (Gu Rouchen of China).

Alas, the eight members of the U.S. Junior Team (which included Crystal Wang - see above - the youngest player at the tournament) will have to fly back and compete at the USA Nationals two days after finishing in India. They will face major problems with the time zone changes and jet lag. 

Prachi Jha

Here's an article from the ITTF that features USA's Prachi Jha and her performance in the team competition at the World Junior Championships.

The Backhand Push

Here's a 45-second video from U.S. Men's Singles Champion Peter Li explaining the basics of the backhand push.

Hitting a Forehand from Below Table Level

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:21) on returning a ball from below table level.

ITTF Development Funds

Here's an article on new funding from the ITTF for continental development. "A quite staggering sum of $1,000,000 is to be made available annually for continents affiliated to the International Table Tennis Federation for development in the next four years, the period from 2013 to 2016."

Look what Michael Found at the Supermarket!

Yes, it's a picture of Michael Landers on the Kelloggs Corn Flakes box! It breaks a 76-year cereal box drought for table tennis since George Hendry made the Wheaties box in 1936.

Santa Claus

In honor of Christmas, here are two pictures of Santa Claus playing table tennis. Here he is with rock star Alice Cooper on right, and here he is again with actress Ginger Rogers on right.

Send us your own coaching news!

July 19, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Three

Yesterday's focus was on the forehand loop. I gave my usual lecture and demo on the subject, with Nathan Hsu as my demo partner. To demonstrate the loop against backspin I alternately forehand looped and forehand chopped while Nathan blocked and pushed.

There were two new players in my multiball group who had just started out on Monday, so this was only their third day of playing. When the first one's turn came for multiball, a 9-year-old boy, right up until the last second I was thinking we should just focus on the basic forehand and backhand drives. Then, for some reason, I changed my mind and asked if he'd like to try looping. He said "Yes!" About two minutes later he'd picked it up and was doing it pretty consistently, still more of a roll, but with pretty good topspin! I was rather surprised.

So I did the same with the next beginner, a 12-year-old girl. Same result! (Many other beginners are not able to pick looping up this quickly.) As I told the two of them, either they are very talented or I'm a really good coach! (We jokingly argued over which it was all morning, with me taking the "very good coach" side.)

Looping and I have a long-term love-hate relationship. I was a late starter to table tennis, starting when I was 16, and right from the start I was a natural hitter. I found looping much more difficult, probably due to tight muscles (even then). However, I was determined to be a looper (just as many natural loopers were determined to be hitters before that style sort of died out at the higher levels), and practiced constantly. Eventually I developed a pretty efficient, if somewhat stiff forehand loop. When I play matches I loop and smash equally, but my hitting is definitely more natural - but I still focus on looping, because, gosh darn it, I wanna be a looper!!!

In the afternoon I introduced the Adjustable Height Device. I blogged about this back on July 20, 2011, when I first used it in camps last summer. It was created by a player I coach, John Olsen, and the kids love it. Here it is in its high and low settings. The challenge is to serve under the bar. The key is to ignore the bar and simply serve low. We also use it sometimes in regular rallies to see if the players can rally under the bar, which in rallies would be set a bit higher than for serves.

I also introduced Froggy (no pictures available, sorry), a large rubber frog, about the size of a soccer ball (but wider, not as tall). I put it on the table, divide players into two teams, and they take turns trying to hit it, two shots each. First team to hit it 20 times wins. I'll try to get a picture today.

Slurpee fever has stuck the camp. During lunch break each day I'm now taking two car trips to the local 7-11 where the kids load up on slurpees. (The kids were shocked to learn that both 7-11 and slurpees were around when I was their age 40 years ago, when I too used to get 7-11 slurpees, back when 7-11 opened at 7AM and closed at 11PM - hence the name. I just looked it up - 7-11 slurpees came out in 1967, when I was seven.) It's not like I'm not compensated for the taxi service; Allen Wang treats me to a Planters Peanut Bar each time. They are my favorite candy bar; if you want to be my friend, you will bring them to me.

Washington Post to MDTTC

The Washington Post will be at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Friday at 11AM for a story on Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Champion) and other MDTTC players. Locals, feel free to come in! Ironically, the player Derek defeated in the final, Gal Alguetti of New Jersey, is here this week for our training camp.

Wang Hao and a Short History of the Penhold Grip

Here's an interesting story on the ITTF web page about the modernization of the penhold grip, which at one point was dying out at the higher levels until the development of the reverse penhold backhand brought it back.

Kalinikos Kreanga vs. Michael Maze

Here are some great points from a video (2:53) of a match between these two from five years ago. Still great play - and notice how tactically they keep attacking the other's middle both to score points and to open up the wide angles?

The Way Table Tennis Should Be Played

Olympian Trick Shots

Lily Zhang and Erica Wu demonstrate their trick shots (1:19) - hilarious!


Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content