ITTF Level 3 Course

October 22, 2014

Studying Table Tennis Videos

Yesterday I spent an hour and a half with one of our top up-and-coming players studying videos of himself and potential opponents. This is one of those things that should be basic to any player who wants to improve. Video cameras and Youtube are your friends!

First we watched two of the player's matches. While you can learn from any video of yourself, you probably get the most out of watching yourself when you are playing your best against a somewhat orthodox player. Whatever is your best is what you want to emulate, so those are the ones to study. (Watching yourself play poorly is a good way to emulate poor play. So only do that to 1. figure out why you played poorly, if you think it was a technical thing, and 2. for tactical reasons to study an opponent so you can learn how to beat him.) In this case, the thing that jumped out from the videos was that our up-and-coming player (whose identity I'm hiding!) has been working so hard on a particular weakness that he/she was overplaying it, at the expense of actual strengths, and so didn't play as well as he/she could.

We also saw a video where our up-and-coming player had a serve that an opponent struggled against every time. But the up-and-coming player used the serve only about once a game rather than perhaps 3-4 times, and probably lost a completely winnable match as a result. 

We next watched videos of two players he/she might have to play, both among the best players in the country. One of them had one huge numbingly obvious weakness, and it was almost entertaining watching some opponents go after it over and over (and win), and others go there only as a "variation," and so lose. When someone has a weakness the size of Mount Everest (or even one much smaller), you should go after it relentlessly, with other tactics the "variation." But too often players fall back into the same old habits and thereby find a way to lose despite a huge sign practically saying "Do this and win!" It was also educational watching the player with the huge weakness using various tactics to cover for the weakness - sometimes successfully, other times not. One player who had been playing him for years ate him alive, going after the weakness essentially every single rally.

One thing that also showed up here and in all the videos we watched - partly coincidentally, but a real trend and tactical problem for most players - was that too many attacks were to the backhand. That's the side where most players block better. In general, players should attack more to the middle and forehand. Here's my Tip of the Week on this - the 3-2-1 rule, i.e. in general, against most players, for every attack to the backhand you should attack twice to the forehand and three times to the middle. Few follow this rule except at the elite level - and in some of those matches they don't follow it because at that level the forehand counterloop is so strong that they have to go more to the backhand. We watched a video of our up-and-coming player where he lost to a player who had trouble when his forehand was attacked, but too often the first attack went to the backhand instead. 

We also studied the receive of some players. Far too many players mindlessly return serves, either with blindingly obvious attacks or blindly obvious control shots. If they aim one way, that's the way they go. Then you watch the better receivers, up until the last second you never know what they are going to do, and often they appear to be doing one thing or placing the ball to a certain spot, and then they do something else. One video that was interesting was watching Eric Boggan - former top 20 in the world, now a way-out-of practice player in his early 50s - completely dominate players with his receive. While he did have the advantage of antispin on one side of his racket (with his Seemiller grip and flipping), what jumped out was how he kept changing his placements at the last second, tying his opponent in knots as he constantly reacted to where he thought Eric was going. Eric not only varied the direction, but also the depth and speed of the shots - if the opponent was too close to the table, he'd get an aggressive receive; if he was farther off the table expecting a deep ball, he wouldn't get it.

More on PBS MDTTC Video

One thing I might have mentioned about the PBS video on MDTTC (featuring Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, and myself, which I linked to in my last two blogs) was that I tried to get coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang into them. I think PBS did video them coaching, but both coaches were busy, and since my English is better, they both asked me to do all the talking for the club. I don't want it to appear that I'm "The" MDTTC coach - we have seven full-time coaches. Cheng, Jack, and I co-founded MDTTC 22 years ago in 1992, but these days they do more of the running of it (along with long hours of coaching), while I just coach and help with some organizing and promoting. (I also do our monthly newsletter.) I was pleasantly surprised that they opened the video by featuring my books!!! The video was featured yesterday on the USATT home page.

Nittaku Premium 40+ Balls

These are the new plastic non-celluloid balls that will be used at the USA Nationals. They are not yet available in the U.S., but (from the Paddle Palace web page, which has other info as well on the ball), "A limited supply [will be] available in November, 2014 only for players entered in the US Nationals. The balls will be more readily available starting in January."

First ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course in U.S.

Here's the ITTF article. Wish I could have been there - hopefully next time.

Ask the Coach

Episode #13 (12:10):

  • Question 1: I was just on a training camp and learned to play early, mid and late forehand topspins against under and topspins. I did quite well there but I guess I still need more training for perfection. I forgot to ask when to play which kind of topspin. Michael W
  • Question 2: I saw a point in the match between Timo Boll v Chun Ting Wong, where Chun Ting was serving and after two or three exchanges Timo pointed out it was a let. Do the rules allow players to do this so late in the point if the umpire has not seen it? Abhinav U
  • Question 3: I am able to do some video analysis of myself playing and was wondering what are the criteria I should be looking for when trying to find weaknesses, also are there tests we can do on strokes to see how consistent we are at them? C Cc
  • Question 4: Hi Alois and Jeff! I have been playing TT for the last 2 years and know the basics (topspin, block, backspin push, etc.), but I struggle against opponents with similar skill but more expensive bats with better grip. Should I change my Tibhar Chila Balsa DHT?
  • Question 5: The rules say that serves must be from behind the baseline, and the baseline should be considered as extending out beyond the edges of the table. On another website video it is said that you must serve from within the edge line. Can you clarify? David M

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Movie

Here's the article about the planned movie, coming from Village Roadshow Pictures, and based on the Nicholas Griffin book, "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World."

Adham Sharara on the New Balls

Here's an article from Tabletennista where past ITTF president and now ITTF Chairman Adham Sharara comments on the new plastic 40+ balls and the Chinese team.

Dog Pong

Here's the video (24 sec) of a dog trying to play!

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October 21, 2014

Coaching Happenings

I hope you enjoyed the PBS video I showed yesterday that featured Crystal Wang and Derek Nie. (I said it was a WETA video, but it was actually produced by PBS.) I showed it at MDTTC on my laptop yesterday to a number of players. The video is currently featured on the USATT home page.

Lots of coaching happenings yesterday. The biggest news was Sameer's breakthrough on the backhand loop. Sameer (13, about 1600) has been topspinning his backhand pretty well this past year. But yesterday something clicked, and suddenly he was just ripping backhand loops off the bounce with ease - at least in practice. He was doing it both in rallies against my backhand block, in side-to-side footwork drills (including the 2-1 drill), and in multiball against backspin.

Technique-wise, he's now hitting pretty much the same as Ma Long in this video (1:55, far side). Note the nice, relaxed power with this stroke, with the small body rocking motion that creates power. (Here's a Tip on "Easy Power," demonstrated in the video by Ma Long, which Sameer is now learning.) Sameer still goes through stages where they all hit and then they all miss (often when he tries to muscle the ball), and it'll take time to incorporate this into a match, but now he's on a really scary path (for opponents). Since I wanted him to really ingrain this, we spent about 45 minutes of our two-hour session on this, and we'll continue to focus on this for a time - yes, a little Saturation Training.

Near the end I played Sameer a few games where I chopped, using my regular inverted rubber (Tenergy both sides). He's much better against me when I play regular, and since I'm almost as good chopping as attacking, let's just say things didn't work as well here as it did for his backhand loop. He did throw a lot of backhand loops at me, but he kept putting the balls into my forehand or backhand corners - easy returns for a 2100 chopper. I finally hinted that he needed to go after my middle. He served and looped there several times, and I missed four chops. He said, "Are you messing up on purpose?" He was wondering if I was missing to show him the importance of playing the middle, as opposed to my missing because he was going to my middle. It was the latter!

I've been playing for 38 years, and coaching for 34. And yet, yesterday was the first time I ever had to tell a student (age 7) to stop chewing on his shirt during points.

Plastic Ball Problems

We're facing serious problems at the club because of the changeover to plastic balls. The ITTF really jumped the gun on this - they should have waited until the new plastic balls ("40+") were standardized and there were training balls available. Right now we have different players training with different balls, and players have to check on what the other players are using before they can play or practice. Since Butterfly doesn't have plastic training balls yet, we're still mostly using regular Butterfly celluloid balls for most coaching. Players used to have to contend with going from Butterfly balls to the slightly harder Nittaku balls, but the difference there is only a fraction of the difference between the various plastic balls.

All of the plastic balls are white, as are most of our training balls, which seems to be the preference of most players. At the moment, though, I wish all our training balls were orange so we could tell them quickly from the white plastic ones. A training center is not like a typical club, where players use just one ball on each table. Players train at our club with buckets of balls, and so balls are scattered everywhere. (For an example of this, see the Multiball Footwork segment below.)

Yesterday, at the same time, we had players training with Butterfly celluloid (used in last weekend's 4-star North Carolina Open and MDTTC Open, in next weekend's 4-star South Shore Open and Wasserman Junior Championships, and along with other celluloid balls, still used in most USATT tournaments), JOOLA plastic (for the upcoming North American Teams), Nittaku Premium plastic (for the Nationals) and Nittaku SHA plastic (for the Nationals for players who didn't have the Premium yet). Meanwhile, Crystal Wang is training with various plastic balls to prepare for the World Cadet Challenge which starts next weekend, which will be using Butterfly plastic balls, but we don't have any since they aren't available in the U.S. yet. Players were running about trying to keep the same balls in each court and sifting through balls in boxes and on the floor to find the ones they were training with. And yesterday someone was practicing with DHS plastic balls for some other tournament. This is crazy!!!

One that'll help a little - USATT is requiring all tournament entry forms must list the ball material used in the tournament. Here's the news item.

Is Search Engine Showing Up?

I need help on something. Tell me if you see the search engine on the top left - it should read "Search this site:" with a field underneath it. It shows up for me on both my desktop and laptop computers on all the major search engines, but it's not showing up on someone else's laptop computer for some reason. (Right now it should only show up if you are logged in. I've asked my web page expert to fix that so that the search engine shows up no matter what.)

Multiball Footwork

Here's 34 seconds of some serious multiball footwork. Can you do this? (Note the wide stance - without it, you can't.)

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team

Here's a video library that's a MUST for all players. It has 14 videos of the Chinese National Team or coaches demonstrating and explaining techniques. (This includes seven videos in the "Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team" series. There's a Part 8 that just came out but isn't yet listed, "Forehand Serves and First Attack by Yan An" (7:43).

Contact Point for Maximum Backspin

Here's the new video from PingSkills (3:13).

Ask the Coach

Episode #12 (9:55):

  • Question 1: I play inverted and will play against a hardbat penhold player. He has no problem hitting through chops, and various spins. What I find most difficult is returning his general shots. I hit many balls into the net. Any suggestions? Bob Van Deusen
  • Question 2: There is an attacking shot in badminton called dropshot from the rear court. I haven’t seen it in table tennis where one player is away from the table, slows down shortly before contact so the ball drops short. Is it possible in table tennis? Peter Habich
  • Question 3: Being not a terribly strong guy, I've always preferred blades on the lighter side. Recently I switched to one which weighs only 5 grams less, and the difference is remarkable. I can't be sure yet which to prefer, so what's your view on this? Andrej K
  • Question 4: My issue is that I'm practicing drills mostly at the club with ITTF standard sized tables and the one at my office is one that lays on top of a billiards table, which is about 9cm higher. How I can adjust my strokes so that I can perform better? Gregory S

Photos from the First ITTF Level 3 Course in the U.S.

Here's the photo album from Shashin Shodhan. Photo #17 shows that they stayed in the same dormitory (Building 87) that I stayed in from 1986-1990 during my years as manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center. Others that lived there included Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, Eric Owens, Todd Sweeris, Dhiren Narotam, Diana & Lisa Gee, and many more.

Butterfly Teams

Here's an article by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Butterfly Teams in Hobart, Indiana, to be held on Thanksgiving weekend. (Not to be confused with the 4-star South Shore Open to be held this weekend in Highland, Indiana - I'll be there coaching - or with the North American Teams, also to be held on Thanksgiving weekend in Washington D.C.)

World Women's Cup

Here are two more videos on the Women's World Cup held this past weekend in Austria.

Who Will Win the Men's World Cup Contest

Here's the blog entry on this from Matt Hetherington. The Men's World Cup is this upcoming weekend in Dusseldorf, Germany, Oct. 24-26. The basic challenge is to guess the two finalists and the total number of points the losing player will score in the final. Winning prize is two sheets of Butterfly Tenergy.

ITTF Timo Boll Puzzle Contest

Put poor Timo Boll back together again, and win a signed blade from him.

Top Five Reasons Why Ping Pong Rocks by Susan Sarandon

Here's the video (1:04). #1: "I like ping-pong because Richard Nixon had to leave the country for at least two weeks during Ping-Pong Diplomacy."

Olympic Power Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon!

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October 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Top Ten Ways to Play Your Best in a Tournament.

Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's where you can download the video (60 min) or see the trailer (2:12) about the late Marty Reisman (Feb. 1, 1930 - Dec. 7, 2012). "A chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life. A table tennis champion turned hustler. Pursuing notoriety and motivated by his love of fame and ping pong, he has to face his biggest fear: mortality."

Here's the IMDB entry on the film. Here's the full description:

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler is a chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life, a former international table tennis champion-turned-money player. Pursuing notoriety through his idiosyncratic lifestyle and motivated by his love of fame and Ping Pong, he inadvertently has to face his biggest fear: mortality. Shot over three years, the film follows Marty - a complex mix of childlike excitement, eccentric narcissism and constant charm - as he negotiates between pride, the denial of old age, past defeats and the decline of his fame and fortune, as well as his devoted wife Yoshiko's health, all while clinging onto the hope that his own life and career are just beginning to blossom. The film's observational style, combined with rare archive footage and interviews with key New York and London society characters such Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson and eminent psychotherapist George Weinberg, work to tell the story of one of America's greatest.

I recently watched the video on my computer, along with Tim Boggan. I knew Marty pretty well. In fact, he's how I got into table tennis! Here's the story.

The video uses both old and recent footage of Reisman, showcasing him from his early years (growing up in the depression, discovering "a different world" in table tennis, and developing as a player in the hardbat era) to his last days, and especially the last three years of his life. Parts of it are rather dark, with much of the video taking place in a hospital after his heart surgery and shortly before Marty died. There's also footage of him running Reisman's Table Tennis Club, which ran from 1958 to the late 1970s.

Marty was perhaps the most flamboyant and stylish table tennis player who ever lived. The video features his many outfits, hats, his tailor and dry cleaner, and even the cane he used - not because he needed it, but for style purposes. Marty quotes poetry, jokes with doctors, talks and sings about mortality, teaches his forehand, shows his microscopes (a hobby of his), demonstrates the cigarette trick, talks about Satoh (the man from Japan who introduced the sponge racket and won the 1952 Worlds, the year Reisman thought he should have won), and talks about how much he was looking forward to a challenge match he had planned with 2009 U.S. Men's Champion Michael Landers. "You'll be in a film with the great Marty Reisman," he explained to Landers. (The film mistakenly credits Landers as being on the U.S. Olympic team.) There's also segments about a planned "Marty's Bar" at Spin TTC in New York.

Yes, Marty was an egomaniac, but he didn't hide this fact - in fact, he wore it on his sleeve, with an almost in-your-face ego. And yet he could be incredibly nice if you played along with it and treated him well. He was a God to many, and enjoyed playing the role. Much of his Godhood came about from the stand he took against sponge rubber, insisting on sticking with hard rubber (and later sandpaper), which he considered a far superior game, where two players had a "dialog" when they rallied.

Near the end there's about 3.5 minutes with USATT Historian Tim Boggan, who gives sort of a fact check to some of the items in the film. (Hence the "Fact or Fiction" part of the title.) He also shows a "Marty as Don Quixote" picture, symbolizing Marty fighting the windmills of sponge.

MDTTC Featured at WETA  and PBS

Here's the video (4 min), which features me, Crystal Wang, and Derek Nie.

First Ever ITTF Level Three Course in USA Staged

Here's the ITTF article on the course just completed in Colorado Springs, taught by Richard McAfee. 

Women's World Cup

In the all-Chinese final held Sunday, world #1 Ding Ning defeated world #4 Liu Xiaoxia. Here's a video of the match highlights (4:04). Here's the ITTF home page for the event with results, articles, photos, and video. Here's the ITTF Press Release on the Final. Here's the Daily Shot of the Day:

iPong Basic Series: Forehand Drive

Here's the video (1:19) of Richard McAfee teaching the stroke.

Kenta Matsudaira's Sidespin Block

Here's the new video (3:56) from PingSkills of the Japanese player (world #27, #16 in January). My students hate it when I throw sidespin or chop blocks at them!

Training at Zhou Xin TTA

Here's the list of videos.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills.

Episode #10 (13:26):

  • Question 1: Usually players follow one style, attack or defense. If I want to change mine to All Around to add some defensive strokes, when is it efficient to start? When the attack style is completely confident or it’s better to study all the strokes at the same time? Olena.
  • Question 2: I realize that in table tennis we use only one part of our hand (upper arm, lower arm, and wrist) so what is the time to use each part of it and can I combined them? Frendy.
  • Question 3: How to reply to a player who simply sends every shot back with push & chop shots? I feel like I am playing the ball against a wall. I start to think that I have to do something to end the rally and then I make the mistake & lose the point. Len Buffey.
  • Question 4: What advice can you give to changing the momentum in a match? I was recently up 2-0 in a match and lost all confidence after losing the 3rd set and continued to go downhill losing in 5.
  • Question 5: Is there difference between a lob and a fish? If yes, what is it? Kaustubh Kulkarni.

Episode #11 (13:05):

  • Question 1: Hi Alois! I have my first tournament of the season in a week and I want to practice my serves. One problem: I don't have any plastic balls. Is it bad to practice my serves with celluloid balls? Yoan Pelletier
  • Question 2: Do you other professionals who play with shakehand, use a specific or specialized grip to serve and then quickly shift to the shakehand for the majority of the point? Do you stay with the special grip after the serve? Cole Mooney
  • Question 3: I recently received advice to engage my thumb and apply pressure onto the rubber when backhand counterhitting. The advice improved my backhand but I don't know if should change especially if the rallies are transitioning BH to FH in a fast manner. Danny Ly
  • Question 4: Due to studies I didn’t play table tennis for 1.5 months. I played today in an interschool tournament and I lost to a player whom I used to defeat every time. What is the reason of my defeat and how can I prepare for my state tournament. Shivam Goenka
  • Question 5: As a penhold player, should I hit with the other side of my bat? I tend to find that I can't have as much control as if I simply move more and use the same side of my bat. Colin Young

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship - see last paragraph in particular. Deadline is Nov. 1, 2014. "The Shonie Aki Scholarship award, in the amount of $1250 for one year, will be offered to a young table tennis player who has aspirations to complete a college education, become a better player, and a productive individual who would reflect on Shonie's legacy. In order to be considered to receive this scholarship award, candidates must be expecting to attend college in 2015 (and have at least two years remaining to complete their degree) and have GPAs of at least B or better."

Top 5 Veteran Table Tennis Ladies You Don't Want to Mess With

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis Tournament to Benefit Homeless Portlanders

Here's the article.

The Making of Table Tennis Blades and Rubbers

Here's the video (13:08).

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's the latest episode - Hengdian World Studios! - China Day 48 Part 1 (5:49).

Jorgen Persson and Bill Clinton

Here are five pictures of the two playing golf in 2005. The other player is Brian Laudrup, a Danish soccer player.

Ma Long's Birthday Party

Here's the picture. He just turned 26.

Be So Bold

Here's the video (60 sec) - I think this is a jeans commercial, but I'm not sure. That's one cheap paddle the "star" is using.

Bruce Lee Ping Pong

Here's a new video (3:13) where two hackers flamboyantly play table tennis with various implements, from bottles and paper towel rolls to cheese graters. (Not really a lot to do with Bruce Lee, however, other than the title.)

Cooking Ping-Pong Balls for Breakfast

Here's the video (5 sec) - looks pretty tasty!

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October 15, 2014

All About Color

I'm regularly asked the difference between red and black rubbers, and which color should be used on the forehand and backhand. The short answer - it doesn't really matter. They supposedly play the same. So what you put on each side is just a personal preference. (I have heard that black DHS rubbers are better than the red, the only exception I've heard about.)

But it wasn't always that way - in the early days of the red and black rule the red side was a bit faster. The problem was in the black dye, which apparently slowed the rubber down. And so for the first few years most top players put the red side on the forehand. I was different - I had plenty of pop on my forehand, but needed more on the backhand, and so right from the start I had black on the forehand - and I still do. I always thought more players should do it this way for the same reason, but back in those days it was more acceptable for shakehands players to have softer backhands. (After using black on the forehand for 30 years, it would seem strange to me to put red there.)

After a few years the problem with the black dye was fixed, and the two colors now apparently play the same. However, for years afterwards most top players were in the habit of red on forehand, black on backhand, and many players copied them, so during the 1980s about 2/3 of top players had red on the forehand. However, for some reason the tide has slowly changed, and these days the majority of top players have black on the forehand - I have no idea why. I just did a quick check on Youtube of the top ten players in the world and found that nine of the top ten men and nine of the top ten women use black on the forehand - see below. Of the men, only Chuang (and apparently Boll earlier in his career) use red on the forehand, and only Feng Tianwei of the women does so. (Note that some Chinese players flip when smashing lobs, such as Fan Zhendong below - I think they may have harder or faster sponge on the red backhand and prefer smashing with that.) One reason for this is that some of the Chinese apparently use black DHS rubber on the forehand (since, as noted above, some say black DHS plays better than red), and red Tenergy on the backhand.

MEN - Forehand Color

  1. XU Xin (CHN) - Black
  2. FAN Zhendong (CHN) - Black (but against a lob he flips)
  3. MA Long (CHN) - Black
  4. ZHANG Jike (CHN) - Black
  5. OVTCHAROV Dimitrij (GER) - Black
  6. WANG Hao (CHN) - Black
  7. MIZUTANI Jun (JPN) - Black
  8. CHUANG Chih-Yuan (TPE) - Red
  9. BOLL Timo (GER) - Black (but earlier in career had red)
  10. YAN An (CHN) - Black

WOMEN - Forehand Color

  1. DING Ning (CHN) - Black
  2. LIU Shiwen (CHN) - Black
  3. LI Xiaoxia (CHN) - Black
  4. FENG Tianwei (SIN) - Red
  5. ZHU Yuling (CHN) - Black
  6. WU Yang (CHN) - Black
  7. CHEN Meng (CHN) - Black
  8. HAN Ying (GER) - Black
  9. ISHIKAWA Kasumi (JPN) - Black
  10. SEO Hyowon (KOR) - Black

Why is there a color rule? Let's go back to the 1977 World Championships. Two Chinese players, Liang Geliang and Huang Liang, reached the semifinals in Men's Singles. Both were chopper/loopers, with long pips usually on the backhand. This was a rare style in those days - most choppers were more defensive, pick-hitting mostly when given an easy chance. These two Chinese players had the same color on both sides (as most players did in those days - usually red), and flipped both when serving and during rallies. Opponents couldn't tell which side they were hitting with, and it caused havoc. They devastated most opponents, but (according to numerous sources) were ordered to dump in the semifinals, where both lost. 

Players all over the world copied this. At the time of the 1977 Worlds perhaps 10% of players had combination rackets, and most of them were with short pips on the backhand, rarely if ever flipping. By 1983, when I did a survey at tournaments (I was already running monthly ones in Virginia), over 70% of players had combination rackets, nearly all of them with long pips or antispin. Rallies were getting worse and worse, and players with the same surface on both sides weren't able to compete with players they had easily beaten before - in fact, they could barely get into rallies. It was not a fun time for the sport, and players quit in droves. (Of course, some players loved the havoc this type of game created!)

The ITTF changed the rules in 1983 to require two "clearly different" colors. The first reaction to this was the use of "clearly different" colors that, when the racket was moving, were difficult to tell apart - in particular, maroon and black. The ITTF then made the rule cherry red and black. ("Cherry red" was later changed to "bright red.") It did take some of the color out of the sport. Before the color rule surfaces came in a wide variety of colors, such as green, purple, gold (some of us remember the introduction of Tornado!), and even one that was white. I sort of miss the variety.

I was one of the many that pushed for the two-color rule. But I also promised that if they passed the rule, I'd never complain about a player's legal racket surface again - and I never have. From the intermediate level on, if a player can see what surface the opponent is using he should be able to play it. 

While it was long pips users that caused the most problems before the two-color rule, there were also players using antispin. Some shakehanders used it very successfully, as did many players with the Seemiller grip. Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan both reached about top 20 with the grip, before the color rule. Dan had a powerful forehand loop, and didn't flip nearly as much as Eric, and so many thought Eric would drop a lot after the color rule. Many assume that Eric reached top 20 only because he used the same color on both sides. However, that's not what happened. Eric jumped the gun, and when the ITTF announced a year in advance, in 1982, that they'd be requiring two colors, he made the switch a year in advance. As he explained to me once, he knew he'd have to use two colors for the rest of his career, so he might as well get used to it. 

At the time he went to two colors he had his highest ranking ever, #23 in the world. After making the switch to two colors he reached #17. (I've heard others say he only was #18, but I'm pretty sure I remember seeing #17.) What people didn't understand about Eric's game was that because he hit the ball so quick off the bounce, players had trouble reacting, different colors or not. It was often choppers who took the ball later that caused more problems before the two-color rule, and now players had time to react to them - but not so much time when playing Eric. 

Nationals Deadline This Friday

The deadline to enter the USA Nationals without a $75 late fee is this Friday, Oct. 17. Don't forget to enter!!! I'm going mostly to coach, but also entered hardbat doubles and hardbat over 40. I was toying with other events, but there are just too many conflicts with my coaching.

Fall USATT Magazine

The new issue is out. I have two articles in it: "Why Table Tennis is Chess at Light Speed" (page 45) and "A Visit from St. Timothy" (page 66 - this latter from my blog last week).

ITTF Level 3 Course

The course is taking place right now in Colorado Springs, Oct. 11-20, run by Richard McAfee. I originally planned to go, but finally concluded I was both too busy and couldn't really afford to go at this time. (That's a lot of lessons cancelled!) I will try to go to one in the future. Here are some photos from the ongoing course.

Interview with Hungarian Women's Coach on What Makes the Best Players Stand Out

Here's the interview with Peter Teglas by Dora Kurimay. I found the ball-bouncing thing interesting as I've seen the same thing. Often the little kids who early on are most competitive on who can do the most bounces become the best players.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills - they are creating them pretty fast!

Episode 7 (12:55).

  • Question 1: When I go to club and play with my friends and other players, I'm better than most of them and I can beat them 3-0 or 4-0. But when I play in a tournament with those players I feel scared even if the other player is a lot weaker than me. Ali.
  • Question 2: You show how to execute different strokes, and watching and trying to repeat your moves works well for players who are almost as high as you are. I wonder what adjustments should a player do if he is seemingly lower or higher? Roman.
  • Question 3: You know the backhand block executed with the wrist movement when the bat curves the ball on its side and decreases its spin and speed. I'm wondering if the same kind of stroke can be executed on the forehand side? Evgeny.
  • Question 4: How to make an effective backhand serve and what about the toss should it be lower or higher? Dario.
  • Question 5: Hi Alois and Jeff I tend to have a lot of difficulty with looping half long balls with backspin as they go too high over the net and my opponent can just block it or smash it down. How do i achieve a low arc when this happens? Shea.

Episode 8 (9:41).

  • Question 1: I mainly play in a local league. I have a robot at home. What would be the best preparation for my league match? Matches are played starting at 7.30. How do I warm up? You go straight at the table so any warming up must be done when you hit up. Filippo R
  • Question 2: Hi Alois, Just a simple question. Is the finish position for the topspin stroke always be in front your eyebrow? Or just a matter of preference? Because i find my finish position for my topspin stroke depends on the ball that i receive. Antonius Willson
  • Question 3: I've noticed you use the shakehand in your videos. I'm somewhat new to the game and find the penhold grip a bit more comfortable. Are most of the videos as shown equally relevant for penholders, or are the styles for both hands too different? Tom Adams
  • Question 4: When I play several backhand topspins I bring my thumb on the rubber which helps to close the bat more but the bat rotates in the palm of my hand. If my opponent then switches to my forehand I often don't have the time to recover my grip. Any tips? Thijs G

Kanak Jha Featured by ITTF

Here's the ITTF article on the USA junior star.

Kristian Karlsson in Training

Here's video (51 sec) of the up-and-coming Swedish player in training, who recently shot from world #69 to #50. Note how the drill is a two-shot sequence. Far too often players do continuous drills when in reality, few rallies are like that. When doing multiball at the intermediate and advanced levels much of multiball should be two- or three-shot sequences.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (43) of this rally between Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan and South Korea's Joo Saehyuk. It starts as a standard attack vs. chop rally (and note how Chuang goes after Joo's middle), then the counterlooping begins.

Ping-Pong Protesters in Hong Kong

Here's the article and picture.

Will Shortz and the Quest to Play in All 50 States

Here's the article. I've been to all 50 states, and I've played table tennis in all but three (Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut), so Will and I are tied - but he's about to pull ahead!!!

Trigonometry

It seems like half the top cadet players at MDTTC are starting to take trig, and so I've been helping some of them. (I have a bachelor's in math.) So the sines are I've become a trig tutor, one of the tangents to my coaching. And while I'm making bad puns, has anyone else noticed that the Italy is part of the ETTU (European Table Tennis Union), and that Et Tu was supposedly Julius Caesar's last words? (My careful research also finds that Dennis Brutus was a former VP of the South African Table Tennis Board.)

The Lost Tablet of Amun Ra

Here's the latest TT artwork from Mike Mezyan, hieroglyphics and all - and yes, "tablet" is just a "t" away from table!

Backhand Cartwheel Chop

Here's the video (3:34) of this hilarious "coaching" video from PingSkills featuring cartwheels, pandas, and chopping!

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April 17, 2014

Spring Break Camp

Yesterday was an incredibly busy day (and night). I'm trying to remember how I was able to do my daily blog during our camps the past three summers - there are just so many hours in a day, and just so much energy in the human body. I'm at my limit. But the camp ends Friday. I'll survive.

The camp was 10AM-6PM, with a two-hour lunch break from 1-3PM. However, we had a group of 16 kids who came in for a ping-pong party during our lunch break, and I gave a one-hour clinic for them. We started with some ball-bouncing - first on the forehand side, then the backhand, then alternating. It's always interesting to watch as some pick up on this very quickly, while others struggle. It's also an age thing as 6-year-olds simply can't do it, while 8-year-olds usually can. Then I taught them the forehand (taking them two at a time for very quick lessons). I covered the backhand and the serve very briefly, and then we went to games. First came the bottle game, where they had to hit a bottle to make me drink the "worm juice" inside. (Since they were beginners, I brought out froggy and balanced a bottle on him, and to make me drink it all they had to do was hit froggy or the bottle.) Then I brought out the paper cups and they built huge pyramids with them, which they then knocked down as I fed multiball and they smacked forehands.

The beginning group that I was working with did a lot of service practice yesterday. Two of the younger kids are still having difficulty with this, but they'll pick it up. Others are moving on to putting spin on the ball. (I used the soccer-colored balls so they could see their spin.) Today I will introduce them to serving bar, where they have to serve under the bar. (Here are pictures in the high and low settings.)

Several of our top juniors are working hard to improve their backhand banana flips. In match play, they tend to either spin them too softly, with the ball dropping short (giving advanced players an easy attack, usually a put-away), or chicken out altogether and mostly push. The problem is that many are still trying to lift short, heavy backspin serves head-on. One of huge advantages of the banana flip is that you don't have to lift the heavy backspin; you instead sidespin the ball, perhaps half sidespin and half topspin. This makes it much easier to lift over the net. In practice the top juniors are getting better at it, but need to develop that confidence that they can do this against any short serve.

After the camp was done I did a one-hour private lesson. Then I went to Best Buy to have them look at my laptop computer. For some reason the modem had been failing on and off all day, and the kids weren't happy. (I let them use it for games during breaks. Sometimes they let me use it to check email.) Alas, when I got to Best Buy, the modem worked perfectly, so there was nothing to fix. We'll see how it goes today. Then I was off to Planet Fitness to continue my secret physical training that'll allow me to soon challenge our best juniors again. (Shhh!) I go there Mon, Wed, and Fri, and have been doing this regularly ever since this past Monday.

I didn't get home until 9:30 PM. After going through email and browsing forums it was pretty late, so I once again put off the 246 things on my todo list, including 42 that have earth-shattering consequences if I don't get them done immediately.

MDTTC Coaching Staff

Here's a group picture of the entire MDTTC coaching staff, all ten of us, taken by Wen Hsu yesterday during our Spring Break Camp. L-R: Chen Jie ("James"); Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey"); John Hsu; Larry Hodges; Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"); Chen Ruichao ("Alex"); Cheng Yinghua; Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"); Jack Huang; and Raghu Nadmichettu.

Charlie Disney, RIP

Here's an email I just received. Charlie was one of the huge names in table tennis when I was coming up in the late 1970s. He will be missed.

Dear table tennis friends,

I am deeply saddened to report that Charlie Disney passed away at his home in Rio Verde , AZ yesterday.  I was called this evening by a friend in Rio Verde.   I have never met that acquaintance.

Charlie was one of my dearest friends in my life.  We knew each other for 52 years. We were tirelessly business partners in the Magoo’s (later Disney’s) Table Tennis Centers for 21 of the 26 years I was involved and we were real estate partners for 6 years with several properties.  Charlie and I remained the closest of friends for five-plus decades without a gap.  We discussed endlessly and regularly about how to get table tennis recognized as a major sport, and never gave up on that issue.  I am in deep sorrow.

More information will follow but I have no other as of now.  I had just talked with Charlie on Monday and purchased a plane ticket for him to return for the summer to his home in Roseville, on May 6.  Charlie had returned recently from a trip to FL to visit the entire Soderberg family.   I will never see him again.  He grew up in Edina, MN but he has no family alive except one distant sister, so I have no information as of yet regarding funerals or memorials.

I thought you all should know.

Regards,
Don Larson

ITTF Level 3 Course in Colorado Springs, USA

Here's the info page. I'm hoping to go to this, but am not sure I can afford it. It would mean missing two consecutive weekends of coaching plus the five days in between - that's a lot of hours missed.

World Championships Daily Newsletter

Here's the info page. Sign up now to have these daily updates sent directly to you.

Adam Bobrow the Voice of Table Tennis

As I blogged about yesterday, Adam won the ITTF Voice of Table Tennis Contest. Here's the ITTF article.

China Prepares for the Japanese Team

Here's the article. Here's the main excerpt: "Germany, with Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov, is considered a big threat for the Chinese Team. According to Liu Guoliang, Germany, Japan and South Korea are their main opponents. However, he has placed emphasis on Japan who will be the hosting team in the 2014 World Championships. In order to cope with the challenges from the Japanese Team, China has prepared several players who can imitate the Japanese players and had them fight against their delegates in the Closed Training. This is to help their players adapt to the hosts."

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (33 sec, including slow-motion replay). If you are distracted by the player on the left making that body-spinning forehand rip at the end you may miss that the player on the right made the counter-smash.

Drinkhalls on TV

Here's video (6:53) of the English power table tennis couple of Joanna and Paul Drinkhall on BT Sport. 

Sold his PlayStation for Table Tennis

Here's the Facebook posting and picture of this 13-year-old Namibian player.

Ping-Pong Pepsi Max Challenge Video

Here's a hilarious video (3:52) by Parkour that I can't begin to describe. It's part of the Pepsi Max Challenges.

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October 2, 2012

Table Tennis Centers in Maryland, the U.S., and Belgium

On Friday at the Maryland Table Tennis Center I was wondering how USATT would be different if all their board members were required to spend a week at one of the "elite" training centers. Their perspective on table tennis in the U.S., and where it could go, might be a bit different from what they are used to.

There are about 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. (Current count: 53; let me know if I'm missing any.) Of these, perhaps 5-8 can be considered "elite," i.e. ones with large junior development programs that consistently develop strong players. Key here is both the elite aspect and the large number of players they have.

Recently someone posted on a table tennis forum that "The USA has 50+ full time clubs." Someone responded, "Are you serious about the 50+ or do you mean 500+? In Belgium, there are about 50 clubs for each of the ten regions." Yes, that's 500 full-time clubs in Belgium, which has an area slightly smaller than Maryland (both about 12 thousand square miles), with a population about double Maryland's (about 11 million vs. 5.8 million). (And Belgium's numbers are dwarfed by Germany, England, and of course China and most Asian countries.) Now Maryland is, size for size and population for population, probably the most successful table tennis state in the U.S., with a higher percentage of its population USATT members than any other state. (They have 263 members out of a population of 5.8 million, or one member for every 22,053 people. Only New Jersey is close, with 351 members out of 8.8 million, or one for every 25,071.) Maryland also has one of the most successful junior programs in the country. And yet Maryland has only two full-time training centers to Belgium's 500! They have a full-time center for every 22,000 people, while Maryland has one for every 2.9 million. The U.S. has one for every 5.9 million people.

Of course the biggest difference is Belgium and other successful countries focus on leagues and junior programs. So does Maryland. Here's a rundown of the strongest of the 40+ junior players at MDTTC on Friday during a junior training session and the Friday night league (name, age, rating):

  • Wang Qing Liang, 16, 2644
  • Chen Bo Wen, 14, 2441
  • Tong Tong Gong, 14, 2334
  • Nathan Hsu, 2296 (was recently 2356)
  • Anthony Qu, 12, 2194
  • Roy Ke, 13, 2188
  • Derek Nie, 11, 2149
  • Crystal Wang, 10, 2099 (was 2166 before playing a tournament with a fracture wrist!)
  • Michael Ding, 13, 1989
  • David Varkey, 17, 1882
  • Lilly Lin, 15, 1874
  • Amy Lu, 11, 1852
  • Lisa Cui, 13, 1804
  • Princess Ke, 12, 1776
  • Jason Wei, 14, 1768
  • Adam Yao, 10, 1739
  • Wesley Duan, 12, 1685
  • Tony Li, 11, 1618

Between these, and all the little kids smacking forehands and backhand back and forth (not to mention all the non-juniors in the league - it's not just juniors), it's a different environment than what most in the U.S. sees unless they are at one of these "elite" training centers . . . or perhaps in Belgium.

$100,000 World Championship of Ping-Pong

The inaugural event will be held in London on Jan. 5-6, 2013. Players are required to use sandpaper rackets. $100,000 for sandpaper table tennis - yes, my friends, the world is changing.

ITTF Inaugural Level 3 Course

Here's an ITTF article about the first ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course, held in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Sept. 21-28. It was immediately followed by a two-day Level Three Course Conductor Training Seminar. Attending both were USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.

Table Tennis Artwork

Here is more table tennis art by Mike Mezyan. The four here are labeled "Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind," and feature Chen Qi, Wang Hao, Ma Lin, and Wang Liqin. Here's a larger version. And here's his Facebook page for all his artwork.

Orioles Make Table Tennis a Priority

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on how the Baltimore Orioles baseball team (and their manager, Buck Showalter) made table tennis a priority. "Where is the ping-pong table?" Showalter asked when he showed up in spring training. Meanwhile, you can read my "Top Twelve Things Happening the Last Time the Orioles Had a Winning Season" article at Orioles Hangout, where it's a featured front-page story. I've had eight front-page articles there. My favorites are "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles" and "The Wonderful World of O's."

Phil Mickelson and Table Tennis at the Ryder Cup

Here's an article on golfer Phil Mickelson and table tennis at the Ryder Cup. Here's the table tennis excerpt:

Ask anyone about the team room, and Mickelson's name invariably comes up. He talked of his and Woods' dominance on the Ping-Pong table Wednesday, boasting that few of their U.S. teammates can touch them.

''Put us together on that table, and we're rocking it,'' Mickelson said.

(That's only partly true, Steve Stricker said. Matt Kuchar is actually the Roger Federer of the U.S. Ping-Pong table, and Stricker said Mickelson is putting off that matchup until Sunday. ''He doesn't want to get any bad mojo going before the tournament starts.'')

Top Ten Points

Here's a Top Ten Points video (6:12) from recent years (Worlds, Olympics, World Cup). Includes lots of slow motion.

The Amazing Race - Downgrading to a Sauce Pan

As near as I can tell, "The Amazing Race" is a Chinese show where people compete for prizes. In this segment (1:37), they had to score a point - a single point! - against a little girl who was obviously an elite junior. She played them using a sauce pan and a tambourine, and rarely lost a point.

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