Allen Wang

April 23, 2013

Tip of the Week

Proper Practice Progression Prevents Poor Play.

Hopes Trials

The Hopes Trials were held in conjunction with the North American Cup this past weekend in Westchester, NY, at the Westchester Table Tennis Club. And here's an article (lots of photos) on the players at the North American Cup.

I saw very little of the North American Cup since I was alternating coaching matches in the Hopes Boys and Girls Trials. (There was also an all-day USATT Board Meeting on Saturday, but I missed all of that as well.) I did see some spectacular play by 2406-rated 15-year-old Allen Wang - he's moved up to where he's challenging the best players in the country, despite being roughly six feet twenty inches tall. He beat Canada's Xavier Therien (rated 2517), went seven games with Peter Li (2557), and had a spectacular match with eventual North American Cup winner Andre Ho (2522), including an incredible game which Ho finally won, 25-23 (!). I saw some of the women's final - as usual, Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang put on a show, with Zhang winning.

I wrote a lot about the tournament in my blog last Thursday, so I won't repeat all of that. I coached Crystal Wang and Derek Nie in all of their matches, which roughly alternated every hour all day long. Most of the time they practiced together to prepare for their matches, but I also joined in a lot, especially with Derek, where we had a lot of nice counterlooping duels as well as lots of serve & receive and serve & loop practice.

Crystal, rated 2292, won Girls' Singles without losing a game. She beat Ivy Liao of Canada (rated 1939) in the semifinals at 7,3,7. In the finals, she faced Amy Wang of New Jersey (rated 2168, but recently over 2200, and with a winning record against Crystal). However, this time Crystal won at 8,7,8 in a battle of Crystal's two-winged looping (often off the bounce) against Amy's more traditional hitting. Amy is looping more than before, but is forced to block when Crystal starts looping, and Crystal's loops into the forehand and middle were effective.

There were two umpires - the main umpire, and the assistant umpire, who was the scorekeeper. Throughout this match, for some reason, the scorekeeper seemed to stare at me almost continuously between points. Every time I'd glance at the scoreboard he'd be staring - almost glaring. I have no idea why; I'm not even sure if I've met him before. Perhaps he thought I was signaling or something. Several others noted this as well. Neither he nor the main umpire were staring or glaring at the other coach. 

I've never used signals when coaching; they are illegal. (Here's proof: I've been coaching matches for over 30 years, and I've many hundreds of players in tournament matches. ATTENTION, all players I've ever coached - if I've ever used signaling when I coached, please step forward now and let everyone know. But nobody's going to step forward because it never has happened.) Some umpires are overzealous in guarding against signaling, but it's somewhat silly. Any coach could get away with signaling if he wants. For example, no umpire is going to tell a coach he can't clap after a point. So a dishonest coach can, for example, work out with his player that one clap means serve short to the forehand; two claps mean short to the middle; three claps short to the backhand, and so on. Elbows up for topspin, down for backspin, and perhaps clap with the tips for no-spin. (I'm making this up as I go along. Really.) Or use innocuous words of encouragement that mean something. However, all this is rather counter-productive as signaling a player over and over is a really good way to mess up their concentration as well as training them to not be able to think for themselves.

Derek (rate 2215, was 2234 before a bad Cary Cup) made it to the semifinals of Boys' Singles. There he faced Victor Liu (rated 2226). It was a seesaw battle, where one player seemed to dominate every game. Derek led 9-7 in the fifth. The last time these two had played (at the 2011 Nationals) Derek had led 9-6 in the fifth and lost five in a row. Two of the best times to call a time-out are when the player is losing focus, and when the player is serving and on the verge of winning an important game. In the latter case, you do so to make sure the player is completely focused and knows what serves to use to lock up the game. So I called a timeout - but Derek, feeling he was okay, shook it off. He lost the next four points, including an easy loop, a push, and an easy block. Sheer agony as he lost, 8,-5,7,-7,9. We'll never know if the timeout might have helped. Victor went on to win the final over Gal Alguetti at 13,7,9.

With Victor, Derek, and the Alguetti twins (Gal & Sharon, rated 2283 and 2271), I don't think we've ever had such a strong group of players at that age group, all 11 or 12. Add in Kanak Jha (2457) and Jack Wang (2329), who were one year too old for the Hopes Trials, and several others in the 2150-2200 range, and we have a powerhouse group coming up. Not to mention the twin towers on the girls' side of Crystal & Amy Wang! (No relation, though Amy is the younger sister of Allen, mentioned at the start.)

Brain Teasers at the Hopes Trials

It wasn't all table tennis, however. During the five-hour ride to and from the tournament, and also at meals, Derek and Crystal became addicted to brain teasers. I know hundreds of them, but I'd used many in past trips, and so began to make ones up. I think Derek may major in college in brain teasers.

Here are some brain teasers involving table tennis that I made up. Email me your answers, and tomorrow I'll publish whoever gets them right! (I made up many more, but can't remember them, alas.)

  1. A player liked to play table tennis with various animals. He played a lion, a giraffe, a raccoon, and an elephant. Then he played another animal, but over and over the animal served wet balls. Why?
  2. A player liked to play table tennis with various animals. He played a chimpanzee, a dog, an ostrich, and a snake. Then he played another animal, but over and over, rather than playing, the player would drop his paddle, fall to the ground, and lay still. Why?
  3. A group of miners had dug tunnels to extract diamonds from the ground. They decided to set up a ping-pong table in their tunnel. The tunnel was exactly six feet wide, so just wide enough for the table and net (which extends six inches on both sides). It was very long, so there was plenty of room on each side. It was exactly thirty inches tall, and so just enough room for the table and net. However, once it was set up, they were unable to play. Why?
  4. Here's a non-table tennis one I made up. Remember, this is being said out loud, so ignore the actual spelling. An old man with one hair went to a barber and asked him to cut the hair. The barber was outraged, and called the police. Why?

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Featured by Australia TTA

Here's the article. Copies of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers are going fast!

Largest Club in the Country

The Westchester Table Tennis Club has been the largest full-time club in the country for several years, at 13,000 square feet with 18 tables. (My club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, is "only" 10,000, with 16 tables, alas. Though we sometimes jam in 18 tables for training.) However, a new club has just opened in Portland, Pure Pong, with 16,500 square feet and 20+ tables. Here's the article.

Table Tennista

Here are the headline international stories at Table Tennista.

Stiga Tisza Table Tennis Camp in Hungary

Here are three short videos from the camp.

Training in China

Here's a training video (3:38) in China from Tony Table Tennis.

The Lord of the Ping

I think he's cupping his hand - but he doesn't have to follow no rules.

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September 26, 2012

Keep a Player's Attention and Thinking

Want to bore a six-year-old? Feed him multiball and have him hit forehands for a long time. Want to inspire a six-year-old? Put a giant frog toy on the table and tell him to hit it.

Want to bore a sixty-year-old? Have him do nonstop repetitive drills without explaining anything. Want to inspire a sixty-year-old? Have him to a range of drills that cover what he does (or hopes to do) in an actual match, from repetitive drills to perfect strokes to random drills to mimic game play, and explain the purpose of each drill and technique.

Keeping a player's interest is one of those things coaches have to learn to do. If you just spew out instructions in a bland way and just do repetitive stuff, you'll lose them. You don't treat everyone like a six-year-old or a sixty-year-old, of course - it has to be both age-appropriate and personality-appropriate. Some are more analytical than others, and some just want to hit the ball. Younger players often just want to hit the ball, while older players tend to be more analytical. Yet even younger players have their analytical side, and like to think about certain aspects of the game as long as you don't overdo it. Show them something they want to learn to do, and they'll want to know how it's done.

The more the player thinks, the more interesting it is to him as he learns. Older players often enjoy learning the thinking side as much as the actual playing side - tactics, why specific techniques are better than others, mental training, etc.

Table tennis is a game of contradictions. One of them is that you need to think a lot if you want to improve. At the same time you have to clear your mind when you are in an actual rally and let your trained reactions take over - i.e. don't think.

ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee is attending an eight-day ITTF Level 3 Coaching Seminar in Malaysia. Here's the ITTF article - Richard is the tallest one in the back in the second picture. Here are more pictures.

Paralympic Junior Camp

Here's info from USATT on an upcoming Paralympic Table Tennis Junior Camp, to be held Nov. 24-27, 2012, in San Diego, for Paralympic players under age 18. (I had to Google the location since it was given only as "BalboaPark Activity Center and Town & Country Convention Center.")

Allen Wang Highlights Video

Here are highlights (2:20) from Allen Wang winning the North American Cadet Championships in Cary, NC, Sept. 1-2. (Allen came down and trained with us at MDTTC for two weeks this past summer.)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Serve

Here's Olympic Bronze Medalist Dimitrij Ovtcharov's backhand serve. Or is that a forehand serve, since it looks like he's about to hit it with the forehand side? I don't know. I can't even spell his name without cutting and pasting it. Here's a slow motion video (3:30) showing the serve from various parts of the table - the first one is from the forehand side! - which verifies he hits it with the regular backhand side of the racket. Maybe I should teach him my own version of this.

Monks Playing Pong

Here are monks in red and pink playing table tennis. The Chinese wouldn't have a prayer against them.

Table Tennis Club Advertisement

Nathan Hsu created two hilarious video ads for the table tennis club he started at his school, both about 37 seconds long. The first version was deemed "inappropriate" for school due to the violence implied. Here's the second version that was allowed. The videos star Nathan and Andy Zheng as "the little kid." Don't get beat up by a little kid!!! (My favorite part in both videos - see the part where Nathan looks in through the door.)

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September 7, 2012

Tournament Season

Tournament season is upon us! After a long summer of practice (right?), you are now ready to take on all those pampered players who didn't train as you did, and make their ratings points yours while gathering a collection of hardware. (And if you are in the Maryland area, don't miss our Sept. 22-23 MDTTC tournament, which I'm running - we've got hardware AND checks just sitting around, waiting for someone to take. Won't you please?)

It's time to focus more on game-type play. All summer you've been doing stroking and footwork drills (right?), physical training (right?), and practicing your both your regular and new serves (right?). Those stroking and footwork drills will take you far, but in matches, most opponents will object if you ask them to hit the ball back and forth between two spots so you can move back and forth and attack with your forehand. So now's the time to introduce game-type drills.

Focus on serve & attack drills and random drills. When possible, start off drills with a serve and attack, and then either play out the points or combine both rote and random footwork. For example, you might serve backspin, partner pushes deep to your backhand, you loop (forehand or backhand, depending on your style), partner blocks to your wide forehand, you forehand loop, and then you play out the point. Or partner pushes your serve back randomly anywhere, and you loop and play out the point. Or partner flips your short serve anywhere (or perhaps the first flip goes to the wide forehand, or perhaps wide backhand), and then play out the point. Be creative in designing drills that match what you face in matches.

This doesn't mean you should stop doing regular stroking and footwork drills - they are important at all times. But the focus needs to switch to more game-like drills.

You should also be honing your serving skills. Can you pull off in tournament conditions the serves you can do in practice? Can you serve with all spins to all parts of the table, both short and long, with deceptive motions? If not, better start practicing. In particular practice your fast and deep serves out of proportion to how often you use them. You may only serve them a couple of times a game, but they need more precision and therefore more practice if you are going to use them at all.

And don't forget your sports psychology! Playing in a tournament is quite different than playing a regular club match, and if you aren't ready for that, you are sunk. Here are some good links on sports psychology.

Below are two articles I wrote on playing in tournaments (which I also linked to a few days ago):

Coaching Articles

While I'm linking to articles, here are many of my online coaching articles. I've also got over 80 Tips of the Week. And here's a complete listing of my 1382 published articles, many linked online.

Ding Ning to Miss World Cup

Here's an article where defending champion and world #1 Ding Ning explains why she'll miss the World Cup. Article includes a link to the video of last year's final between Ding and Li Xiaoxia.

Interview with Allen Wang

Here's an interview with Allen Wang, who just won the North American Cadet Championships. (And he trained for two weeks this summer at MDTTC, my club!)

Marty Reisman Featured in American Way

The article isn't online, so you'll have to fly American Airlines to read the entire thing. But this article from Table Tennis Nation features a number of excerpts from the article, such as: "Even at 82, I'm itching for a good money game…What I really want to do is play a money match against someone who's young enough to be my grandson — ­someone of note, not some Mickey Mouse player. That’s never been done in professional sports before. Sure, I’ve lost some speed, but I still play a very clever, witty game. I’m pretty athletic for someone who's 82. I’ve still got plenty of vinegar left in me." There are also some nice pictures.

iTable Tennis!

Watch this video of this ordinary room becoming a feature table tennis club in just 20 seconds!

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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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