Michael Mezyan

August 29, 2014

Disabled Veterans Camp

Yesterday was Day Three of the four-day camp. As they have every hour of the camp, 13-year-old Sameer Shaikh (who was humorously insulted that I mistakenly listed him as 12 yesterday) and Wendy Brame-Bogie assisted, with Sameer a practice partner and Wendy on ball pickup. Also joining us yesterday (as well as for an hour or so the day before) was Ram Nadmichettu (father of Raghu), who sometimes helps out with coaching at MDTTC. 

Most of the players came early, so I joined in with an impromptu 25-minute practice session before officially starting at 10AM. The day's focus was pushing, forehand looping, and return of serve. We started off with pushing, where I did a short lecture and demo with Sameer. (I even brought out the soccer-colored balls so they could see the amount of backspin.) Then the players rotated about, taking turns hitting with me, Sameer, Ram, and the robot. We did it a second time with the forehand push. 

Next up was forehand loop. Since the players were older and not young athletes, I started by demonstrating and explaining a regular forehand drive against backspin. Then I did the same with looping. Surprisingly, all but one player wanted to focus on looping - and the one who wanted to work on driving experimented with looping, and quickly changed his mind. So all of them worked on looping, even 79-year-old Bernard, and all of them figured out and did some nice ones. (Modern sponges helped! Most of the players were using the brand new rackets they'd been given as part of this USATT program - Donic Waldner Exclusive AR+ rackets and Stiga Magna TC11 max sponges.) Once again I had them rotate among me, Sameer, Ram, and the robot (which was set on backspin so they could loop against backspin). I did multiball, while the other two did live play, with the players serve and looping against backspin. 

We finished with my receive lecture. This took a while as it seemed of great interest to all. As I pointed out, returning serve is almost everyone's weakness! We also had fun as the players attempted to return serves - but unlike last time, this time I actively helped out, so they were able to return my best serves - as long as I let them know what spin was coming. 

It's been a tiring week, since besides the camp I'm also averaging two hours of private coaching each day/night, the blog, and all sorts of other stuff, such as picking up kids after school for our after-school program. 

Stefan Fegerl's Footwork

Here's a nice video (29 sec) showing the side-to-side footwork and two-winged looping of Austria's Stefan Fegerl (world #53).

China Completes Sweep of Youth Olympic Games

Here's the article on their winning Mixed Doubles Teams to complete the sweep. Here's the ITTF page for the tournament, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Table Tennis Second Most Views Sport at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the article.

ITTF Competition Managers Seminar in October

Here's the article. The ITTF Competition Managers Seminar (i.e. for tournament directors for ITTF events) will be held at the Werner Schlager Academy in Schwechat, Austria, Oct. 6-8, 2014.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Ninety-eight down, two to go!

  • Day 3: Reasons for Optimism, Walter Rönmark Positive for Future of Table Tennis

Table Tennis: The Best Sport Ever

Here's the video (3:11). 

Ice Bucket Challenge

  • Mikael Andersson, ITTF Senior Consultant - Development, Education & Training (he challenged Kanak Jha and Rajul Sheth).

The Fiery Racket

Here's another table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan.

A Little Ping-Pong Soccer?

Here's the video (22 sec).

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May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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November 6, 2013

Do Something Different

These days it seems like everyone's trying to be like everyone else. That's a pretty successful way of getting good, if you copy the top players. But many are missing the benefits of doing something different. Give your opponent a different look, at least on some shots, and guess what? He might begin to struggle. This doesn't mean changing your whole game to some unorthodox mess; it means developing certain "pet shots" that are different than the norm. They give you more variation on certain shots than if you only have "orthodox" shots. Some, of course, naturally do something different, by having a non-inverted surface, a different grip (Seemiller grip, or even penhold grip for some), an unorthodox stroke (not usually good unless it's just as a variation), or even something as simple as being left-handed. But for most players, you'll want to do something "different" while sticking to your normal righty shakehands inverted on both sides game. And there are lots of ways. Below are ten examples - and I do all of these on occasion, though less now than when I was an active tournament player and honed these variations by actually using them regularly. Pick out one or two, and give them a try! (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

  1. Serve from forehand side. Nearly everyone serves from the backhand corner these days, with a few tomahawk serves from the forehand. Throw in a few forehand pendulum or backhand serves from the forehand side. The surprise factor will often make up for your starting a bit out of position. (I do this all the time.)
  2. Serve short sidespin to the forehand. So many players serve over and Over and OVER to the middle and backhand it's almost silly, and when they do serve short to the forehand, it's a simple backspin ball. Instead, learn to do this with sidespin that pulls the ball toward your forehand, making it awkward for the opponent to return the ball down the line. You can do this with a backhand serve, a reverse pendulum serve, or a forehand tomahawk serve.
  3. Slow, spinny loop. Most people these days loop either hard or harder. Try letting the ball drop a bit more, and go for a slow, super-spinny one. If it goes deep, it'll drive blockers crazy. If it lands short, it'll drive counter-loopers crazy.
  4. Dead loop. Fake spin, and instead give a dead loop. You sell this by using an exaggerated follow-through right after contact, making it seem spinny.
  5. Dead push. Push without spin, but with an exaggerated follow through to fake spin.
  6. Sidespin push. Come across the ball as you push. This is especially easy on the backhand, with a right-to-left motion (for righties), with the ball breaking to the right. It's especially effective wide to the right, breaking into a righty's opponent's backhand.
  7. Ginzo push. Most players push to keep the ball in play. Thrown in a few super-ginzo (i.e. extremely heavy) pushes, and watch opponents struggle. It's easier if you take the ball a little later for this.  
  8. Dead block. Block it dead, chop block, sidespin block - these will frustrate many opponents and set you up for a conventional attack. They are especially effective and easy on the backhand side.
  9. Countering change-of-pace. Rather than bang every ball in a fast counter-hitting rally, sometimes hit one soft. Either keep it low and short to the net, or deep on the table.
  10. Flatter flip. Most players flip short balls with topspin. (It's called a flick in Europe.) Try a flatter one. Hit it a bit softer since you don't have topspin to pull it down, but not too soft. (Recently I've seen a number of top players at my club experimenting with this variation, with help from our coaches.)

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

Here's the ITTF press release on the competition, won by Josep Antón Velázquez. It's a somewhat controversial choice. The winner was to be decided by four criteria: Youtube views, Youtube likes, Facebook votes, and Expert Opinion. USA's Adam Hugh led in the first three criteria, but the "Expert Opinion" chose Velázquez. Here's Adam's announcement of the result on Facebook and ensuing discussion.

India's Level 2 Coaching Course

Here's an article from the ITTF on the first ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in India, run by USA's Richard McAfee.

Darren O'Day at MDTTC

Here's the picture of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day at MDTTC recently - it's now USATT's Image of the Day. Note the video below it showing O'Day's unique submarine pitching style. Photo by Chris Zhang.

Samson Dubina's Website

Here it is - it has several coaching articles.

Backhand Footwork

Here's a good example of a backhand footwork drill (15 sec), demonstrated with multiball by Daniel Sabatino, current #15 in Italy, former #7.

Table Tennis - the Hardest Sport

Here's a new highlights video (8:36) that features both matches and training.

Great Point with Boll on Floor

Here's video (32 sec) of a great doubles point that includes Timo Boll falling to the floor, then getting up in time to continue the point. He's playing doubles with China's Ma Lin.

Fantasy Table Tennis Receipt with Harry Potter, Gandalf, Captain Kirk, and Oompa Loompa!

Here's Michael Mezyan's recent shopping receipt. It's legit, right? You decide. But I sure hope that Captain Kirk glue is legal! 

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November 2, 2012

USA Table Tennis Newsletter

USATT's monthly eNewsletter came on Wednesday. (Go here to join their mailing list.) Kudos to USATT and editor Andy Horn for putting this together!

Now a little history and comments. The newsletter was "born" at the Strategic Meeting held in Colorado Springs in September, 2009. I put "born" in quotes because there were already plans to create it before the meeting, since nearly every other Olympic sport was already doing them. During the meeting we came up with three "priorities," with a task force for each: Communication, Juniors, and "Grow Membership Through Added Value."  (I wrote a lot about this in my blog on the two-year anniversary, on Sept. 26, 2011.) At the meeting I was initially against making Communication one of the three Priorities, but was convinced otherwise by attendees. However, I argued that Communication as a Priority would be meaningless unless we had programs to communicate about. I thought the three priorities should have been Leagues, Club-based Junior Programs, and (with those two to communicate about) Communication.

Unfortunately, nothing came of the Junior and "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task forces, and so we were left with just Communication. We did get a new website, as well as the eNewsletter. But my point from 2009 is still the same - Communication is somewhat pointless if you don't have programs to communicate.

The current eNewsletter has interesting stuff, with headlines about the USATT's Athletes Advisory Council Accepting Applications; Remembering Olga Feingold Kahan; News on the US Cadets medaling in international tournaments; Ping-Pong film making debut in New York City; Ariel Hsing competing against a celebrity; Playing table tennis with Peter Gabriel; the Annual Giving Campaign; and an item on Renewing Your Membership. These are all nice items, but they do not promote any USATT programs.

Contrast this with the October newsletter I received from the U.S. Tennis Association. Their first headline is about the 2012 League Division Champions (i.e. like a USATT rating event but with teams). It includes a picture of the "2.5 Men's National Champions," which is roughly the equivalent in table tennis of "Under 1500 Men's National Champions." Their second item is titled "Get Your Kids Active - Attend an Event!", which is about "Play Day," an event to bring kids into tennis. Below that there's a headline "10 and Under Tennis - a Whole New Ballgame," which also promotes kids to play tennis. And then there's a link to "The Road to Jr. Team Tennis Nationals." (They also have an item about USTA membership, which includes the headline "Enjoy a Sport for a Lifetime." They also include a tennis coaching tip in each issue.)

All of these items are geared toward getting people to play tennis and join USTA. Over and over in their newsletters USTA focuses on promoting their core programs - leagues, junior programs, and the U.S. Open (which is highlighted in most newsletters, but not this one). The key is that USTA has nationwide leagues and junior programs to promote. USATT does not. So there's not much to put in the newsletter regarding USATT programs. (I'm talking about programs for the masses, not just elite players, which USATT tends to focus on.) This is why Andy gets kudos for putting the issue together, despite it not really promoting USATT programs that don't exist.

USATT does have the U.S. Open and USA Nationals (promoted in the previous eNewsletter), but haven't really made any serious attempt to increase the number of entries at these events, which get far fewer entries these days than the 1000+ players at the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens or the 700 or so many years in the 1990s, and the 800+ at the Nationals in 2005-2006. (This year's U.S. Open had 564 players, one of the worst showings ever, while the last Nationals had 502 players, the second worst ever ands the lowest since the ratings went online in 1994, which allows us to see the number of entries for each tournament).

I run a monthly eNewsletter for the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Every issue focuses on promoting our programs - private and group coaching, junior programs, leagues, and tournaments. Mixed in with these are interesting news items, like the ones USATT does. Other major table tennis centers do the same. The key is to have a core focus, and focus on promoting it.

USTA has a membership of 700,000, USATT about 8000. By contrast, Germany, England, and France, which focus on leagues and junior programs, have table tennis memberships of 700,000, 500,000, and 300,000. Think about it.

Since USATT doesn't currently have many of its own programs to promote to the masses, other than the U.S. Open and USA Nationals, here's an idea: why not use the USATT eNewsletter (and webpage) to systematically promote the leagues and junior programs from around the country, even if they are not USATT programs? This brings players into the sport, and these players usually become USATT members. Specifically, they could have a central online listing of these leagues and junior programs, and use the eNewsletter to refer readers to them. (They already have this for tournaments, so they just need to refer to them in the eNewsletter. But there's far greater membership potential in leagues and junior programs, as demonstrated in Europe.) If a kid or parent gets the USATT eNewsletter (or goes to the USATT web page, for that matter), they don't learn about the great junior programs at clubs around the country. They don't learn about the great leagues in SF, LA, NY, and other regions, or in individual clubs. They don't even know these things exist. And so we lose them. Tennis and European table tennis actively refers people to these programs as their central focus. Why not use these non-USATT programs to promote table tennis, referring to them constantly in the eNewsletter and webpage, leading to a more prosperous USATT?

Bids Wanted for 2013 National Team Trials

Here's the info sheet. Deadline to apply is Nov. 15, 2012. This is for clubs or cities to bid to run the 2013 USA National Team Trials, scheduled for Feb. 7-10, 2013.

Call for Nominations - Annual Coach of the Year

Here's the info sheet. Deadline for nominations is Dec. 15, 2012. "The U.S. Olympic Committee annually conducts a Coach of the Year recognition program within the family of Olympic and Pan American sports. There are five categories for which nominations may be made and they are: Volunteer, Developmental, National, Paralympic and the Doc Counsilman (Technology) area. USA Table Tennis takes this opportunity to solicit nominations from our membership for these categories."

Opening Ceremonies for World Cadet Challenge

Here's the opening ceremonies to the World Cadet Challenge currently being held in Guam (54:32). The World Cadet Challenge is going on right now in Guam, Oct. 27 - Nov. 4. Team North America (USA and Canada) marches in at 5:41, and are announced at 6:01. Here's the ITTF World Cadet Challenge page, with schedules, results, articles, and pictures.

Fantasy Table Tennis Artwork

Here's the latest fantasy table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. Click on the picture and you'll through a whole series of his works. Better still, go to his home photo page, and see all the thumbnails.

Pongress: International Ping Pong Congress

Yes, they almost done with the second "International Ping Pong Congress," and I've never even heard of it. Here's their description - and there's a bit of exaggeration when they say the event "brings together the world's best players." (Somehow I can't picture the Chinese team being there.) "The second International Ping Pong Congress has just taken place at the Cumberland Arms in Newcastle. Ping pong players from around the world came together to celebrate 'Pongress,' a week-long event which brings together the world’s best players (or should that be beer drinkers!). Pongress runs until 3rd November." Make sure to watch the linked video!

Twelve Animals Playing Table Tennis

They may not be Da Vinci's, but they are hilarious! Here are color drawings of 12 animals playing table tennis, including five dinosaurs, an alligator, dolphin, tuna, swordfish, shark, octopus, turtle, and one grouping of six of them.

Ghostly Table Tennis

Here's an animated gif of two ghosts playing table tennis - Happy Belated Halloween!

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