Reverse Pendulum Serve

November 12, 2014

Tournaments and Omnipong

I've run over 120 USATT tournaments, ranging from monthly tournaments at MDTTC all through the 1990s to the 1998 Eastern Open which received 411 entries, still the record for a four-star tournament. (Richard Lee was tournament president for that one, his first big tournament, and he's been running them all over the country ever since with North American Table Tennis.) Running a large one is a massive undertaking, and even the smaller ones take far more time and work than most realize.

I sometimes think all tournament players should be required to run a USATT tournament just one time, to see what really goes on. Observant players have a good idea of what tournament directors do during a tournament; really observant ones who think it through have a good idea of all the work that went on before the tournament. Before the tournament, directors (sometimes working with a referee) receive the entries, enter them onto the computer (unless, heaven forbid in this day and age, they are running it by hand, on paper!), check all the memberships, create draws (including checking for geographical separation and other complexities), finalize the scheduling, and print everything out so it's ready. They get all the tables, nets, and barriers in place, put up the table numbers, and make sure everything is clean. And then there are those thousand small details that, if I listed them all, it'd take up about a year's worth of blogs.

There's also the more advance work - scheduling the tournaments, creating the entry forms, circulating them, publicizing the tournament, and so on. I change my mind; even running a small one is a massive undertaking!!! There's a reason why "tournament" is just an anagram for "one tantrum."

There are various types of software out there you can use to run tournaments. One that I can strongly recommend, and that's spreading all over the country, is Omnipong. I ran two tournaments with it last year, and it worked really well. (Because of conflicts with my weekend coaching, Charlene Liu took over as MDTTC tournament director - and she also uses Omnipong.) It's easy to learn, easy to use, and perhaps best of all, it puts all the results online, so anyone can see all of the results immediately afterwards - even the preliminary round robins.

Go to Omnipong, click on "Tournaments," and note just how widespread the software has become. Then pick out a tournament, any tournament, and click on "Results." Have fun exploring!

I emailed Craig Krum, the creator of the software, and asked if he could tell us about it. Below is his response. (Tournament directors should read and study every word, but the eyes of players will likely glaze over, and they should probably skip ahead to the next segment. Or perhaps read "Top Ten Ways to Play Your Best in a Tournament," or "Should You Play Tournaments When Working on Something New?," or perhaps "Tournament Toughness.")

The Short Version:

  • Started development in the mid-90s as a personal tool to help run tournaments, which I had been doing by hand with Harold Kopper for the Rialto Table Tennis Club. Being a programmer I was able to keep adding the features that I needed to make my job easier.
  • I developed the internet version of OmniPong in 2011, so players would be able to sign up online, and to make the system available to other TDs. To date this version of OmniPong has been used by over 25 Directors to run over 200 tournaments. The tournaments range from unsanctioned events with 20 players, to the National Senior Games, with over 400 players. This total also includes 23 four-star events.
  • Nearly 2500 players have registered with OmniPong, so they can enter tournaments online.

Online Registration System Highlights:

  • Online entry.
  • Online payment using credit cards or PayPal. Connects directly to Tournament Director's account.
  • Payment tracking and verification.
  • Weekly updates from USATT, to keep ratings and membership information current.
  • Automatically verifies which events a player can enter, based on their rating, age, gender, time conflict, etc.
  • Electronic submission of results file to NATT for processing.
  • Electronic submission of the reports that need to be sent to USATT for processing (Tournament Report, Player Listing, Membership Applications).
  • Ability to send custom emails to all players for various reasons (welcome message, entry verification, balance due, link to results, etc.)
  • Immediate publication of results online.
  • Family members can link OmniPong accounts together, for easy entry and payment for tournaments.
  • Many reports available.

Control Desk Highlights:

  • Easy to use visual interface.
  • Tracks table usage, including who is on the table, and how long a match has been playing.
  • Handles Round Robin groups up to 12 players.
  • Automatically breaks ties based on USATT/ITTF rules.
  • Draws automatically try to avoid conflicts when players are from the same club,  have played each other before, or live close to each other.
  • Time scheduling of all matches, which shows potential player conflicts.
  • No internet connection is necessary during the tournament.

Future Plans:

  • Finish Team format.
  • Add League system.
  • Add Club management system.
  • A million other things!

2015 Pan Am, National Men and Women’s Team, and Men and Women’s World Team Selection Procedure

Here they are.

Forehand Loop of Tao Wenzhang

Here's video (39 sec) of the 2014 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion that shows perfect looping form. You can learn a lot by watching this. I had a student watch it to see the contact point in relation to the body, since the student was contacting the ball too much in front (thereby losing power) instead of more to the side, as Tao and other world-class players do.

Reverse Pendulum Backspin Serve Swing and Contact Point

Here's the video (3:04). This is part 3 - you can find parts 1 & 2 here.

Interview with Tamara Boros

Here's the interview by Dora Kurimay with the former world #2 woman, on "The Key to Success: Positive Mental Attitude."

Training for a Purpose

Here's the new video (1:24) from the Zhou Xin TT Academy.

Ask the Coach

Here's episode #25. (12:10).

  • Question 1 - 2:22: How and when to move to ready position after you've made a pendulum serve from the backhand corner with your left leg in front of you. Should you move into position when you know where your opponent will place the return or as soon as you’ve served? Robin
  • Question 2 - 4:41: Why Can't We Start With a Fast Bat? Why do we need different blades and rubber? Why we can't start with a higher topspin or power? Can I buy Pingskills Touch Vega Pro Bat for my second Bat? Kritpol
  • Question 3 - 8:00: I recently purchased a small table tennis table and I was wondering what kind of training will I be able to do with a small table? Enoch Oppong
  • Question 4 - 9:53: Is it a good move to chop smash and why none of the professional players use it? Petar

Now This is a Great Point!

Here's the video (39 sec) - and it's at match point!

Tribute to the Troops

Here's Mike Mezyan's table tennis tribute artwork to the Troops yesterday on Veteran's Day.

JOOLA Fun Games Finalists

Here's the video (48 sec) of the four finalists!

Recent Movies with Table Tennis

Here are some recent movies that were not about table tennis, but had table tennis scenes.

  • Big Hero 6 - As I blogged yesterday, when the hero Hiro (pun intended!) visits the university where they are making robots there are two robots rallying in the background. A few minutes later they are seen again. Alas, I can't find video or pictures.
  • Minions - the trailer features table tennis 80 seconds in. (Movie doesn't come out until July of next year.)
  • Despicable Me 2 - There's a brief shot in the film in which Edith is playing ping pong with a minion, but uses a pair of nunchaku instead of a ping pong paddle. There's also a party scene where the minions are sitting about on the ping-pong table. Here's an online video (11 sec) of the minions playing table tennis that's not in the movie.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past - Here's an animated gif of the character Quicksilver playing table tennis, as Hank/Beast, a young Charles Xavier (in background), and Wolverine look on.
  • About Time - here's a clip (53 sec) where father and son play.
  • Gravity - When they get to the Chinese ship, about ten minutes from the end, twice you see a ping-pong paddle floating about. I wasn't able to find video or a picture.
  • 22 Jump Street (okay, it was only beer pong, but close enough.)
  • Monster University - Here's a gif image of the table tennis scene.

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November 10, 2014

Tip of the Week

Keep the Ball Deep.

Shorter Blog Today

At 11:15 AM I learned that local schools are letting out early today, at noon, and that I'm supposed to pick kids up at that time rather than the usual 3PM time. So I have to rush off now to pick them up and do about 90 minutes of coaching and tutoring. So no main blog today - just the Tip of the Week and the segments below. Back tomorrow!

Reverse Pendulum Backspin Serve - Like a Boss!

Here's the new video (5:37) where the serve is taught. The coach (Brett Clarke from TTEdge) has a very animated and unique approach to teaching the serve! I may have to dig out my old Frisbee from my closet….

Returning the Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's the new video (12:28) from Coach Brian Pace.

Ask the Coach

Here's episode #22.

  • Question 1 - 1:11: I try to make a forehand topspin but I hit the edge of the paddle or miss the hit. I saw your forehand topspin clip and i try to hit well but the same result. I thought that the paddle angle is too low and I opened up but the shot goes out. Paul Chitic
  • Question 2 - 3:08: I noticed on your pendulum serves that you hit the ball quite close to your body. Is this a personal thing or do you gain more control and spin by doing this? Bevan Henderson
  • Question 3 - 4:38: The rubber has started peeling away from the blade at the top of the bat. Since the rubber is only a few months old and is pricey, I'd prefer not to rip the rubber off and replace it with new rubber. Can I do a local re-glue? Ken Cominsky
  • Question 4 - 7:01: While playing backhand topspin against both chop and topspin which part of my hand should be locked? Is it the elbow or shoulder? I am getting lot of pain in my shoulder while playing the backhand topspin against chop continuously. Singaraju

Plastic Ball Testing

I linked last week to parts 1 & 2 of the Preston videos where they test the new plastic balls. They've now down six of the eleven videos planned. They are linked below. Here's a thread where all six videos are linked and discussed.

  1. Random Sample Testing: Plastic Ball vs Celluloid Ball - Introduction (6:41)
  2. Plastic Ball Tested: ITTF Technical Leaflet T3, Quality, Packaging and Appearance (20:38)
  3. Plastic Ball Tested: Seam / Surface of the Ball / Hardness (10:56)
  4. Plastic Ball Tested: Luminance and Colour (12:37)
  5. Plastic Ball Tested: Bounce and Conformity (11:12)
  6. Plastic Ball Tested: Veer (Roundness) (7:53)

Keep Existing Celluloid Balls Petition

Don't like the switch to Plastic? Here's the petition! (See comments below it.)

Ping Magazine

Here's the new table tennis magazine - English version! (This is actually the third issue of this international magazine.)

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Inspires American-Chinese Co-Production

Here's the article on the upcoming movie planned, based on Ping-Pong Diplomacy. "Forty-three years ago, a Ping-Pong match between American and Chinese players in Japan led to a diplomatic breakthrough between the U.S. and China. It resulted in a historic 1972 meeting between then-President Richard Nixon and Chinese leader Mao Zedong that changed world history.

What came to be called “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” led to the normalization of U.S.–China relations for the first time since World War II, and is at the heart of a planned $40 million movie called Let It Be."

Atanda Musa's World Ranking

On Friday I had a segment in my blog about the ITTF's press release saying that Nigerian star Aruna Quadri was now the highest ranked African player in history, at #30 - but linked to an article that said former Nigerian star Atanda Musa had reached #20 in the word. I still don't have a definitive answer for this, but Volker Schroder wrote me that Zdenko Uzorinac wrote in his book "Table Tennis Legends" (page 270) that "Musa was ranked 40th in 1981, 48th in 1982, 54th in 1986, 49th in 1989, 60th in 1990, and 74th in 1992." This implies that Musa's highest ranking was #40 - but it's not completely clear, as it doesn't give his rankings for every year, and it does contradict the other article. If anyone has a definitive answer to this, comment below! (I'm also curious if anyone knows if Musa is still coaching in New York City. I haven't seen or heard about him in years.)

What Kind Of A Table Tennis Player Are You?

Here's the quiz from Mezyantt. (About ten questions.) I wonder what the possible answers are? I got, "You Are a Table Tennis Lover Most Indeed, You Are Passionate about The Game, Truly Loves it and want to play at any chance you get! People Like Yourself Inspire Others To Start Playing Table Tennis!"

$140 Sponge?

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Here's where you can buy a sheet of DHS Hurricane 3 Neo National for $140. Back in 1976 when I started I remember buying Sriver for $5/sheet. Now both the price and the number of words in a sponge's name have increased dramatically!

Switching Hands

Here's a video (27 sec) where Japan's Koki Niwa (world #14) makes some great returns, including one where he switches hands!

Sitting in Stands Lobbing

Here's the video (10 sec) as a lazy Adam Bobrow sits down on the job.

Balloon Man Table Tennis

Here they are, care of SmashTT - click on pictures to see all four pictures!

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April 29, 2014

Shoulder Rotation

One of the most common problems with beginners is they don't rotate their shoulders on the forehand. Several players have this problem in beginning/intermediate class I teach on Monday nights. Even when they learn to rotate the shoulders when hitting forehand to forehand or in multiball they tend to fall back on arm only (i.e. no shoulder rotation) when doing footwork.

The solution I've found is to emphasize the rod-through-the-head coaching technique. When you hit or loop a forehand, imagine a vertical rod going through the top of your head, and rotate around the rod. In reality, the head normally moves a little forward doing the stroke from the back-to-front leg weight transfer, but often very little is needed since most of power comes from torque, as the body rotates in a circle. So for beginners especially it's important for them to focus on this idea of rotating their shoulders around this rod through their head. This gives them the right feel of the shot, and something to focus on to fix the shoulder rotation problem - and when they do footwork drills, it tends to stick with them and they continue to rotate the shoulders properly.

If you watch most world-class players, you'll find that much of the secret to their ability to produce great power and recover almost instantly for the next shot is this idea of rotating in a circle, so they end up balanced and ready for the next shot. The head does move forward or sideways some (and often up), and does so even more when rushed after stepping around the backhand corner to play forehand, but in general most of the movement is circular, creating torque while staying balanced. (Two keys to balance: keep weight between your feet, and use your non-playing arm as a counter-balance to your playing arm.)

Here's Men's Single's World Champion Zhang Jike playing a chopper. Note the circular rotation? His primary head movement is up as he lifts the heavy backspin. Here's Zhang Jike looping in multiball, against both backspin and topspin. (In the latter you'll note that the more rushed he is when moving to the backhand the more his head moves forward or sideways.) Here's Ma Long (world #2, former #1) demonstrating (and explaining in Chinese) his forehand (and then backhand) drives. Here's Timo Boll (former world #1) demonstrating his forehand loop. Here's a lesson on forehand counter-hitting by ttEdge. Even when smashing a lob most of the motion is circular - here's a demo on smashing lobs by PingSkills. (The link should take you to 1:47, where they demo the shot.)

Knee Update

After hobbling about on Friday after hurting my knee on Thursday night while demonstrating forehand looping for a class, it got better over the weekend. So I probably only wrenched it. I can still feel a slight strain there, and will go easy for a time, but it's mostly okay.

History of U.S. Table Tennis at Amazon

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis (now 14 volumes, from the sport's beginning in this country to 1986) are now on sale at Amazon. You can order direct from Tim Boggan (and he'll sign them) or from Amazon. (See links below each volume.) How can any serious player not buy these books??? (Disclaimer: I did the page layouts and much of the photo work for all but volume 1.)

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll probably run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Shot of the Day from the Worlds

Here's the video (36 sec, including slow motion replay), where Xu Xin (#1 in the world) pulls off this around-the-net counterloop against Tsuboi Gustavo of Brazil (world #69). (In my initial posting, I inadvertently said Gustavo pulled off the shot. Special thanks to Douglas Harley who caught this. Hey, they're both lefties!!!)

Stroke Mechanics

Here's a preview (2:35) of Brian Pace's new video.

Giving Advice During a Match

Here's the video (7:26) from PingSkills.

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a nice video (1:12) that demonstrates the serve, using slow motion and a colored ball so you can see the spin.

St. Louis Open Hopes to Set Example with U.S. Citizens Only "Elite Event"

Here's the article.

Triples Ping-Pong

Here's the article. It's "…taken Australia by storm"!

The King of Table Tennis

Don't you love Xu Xin's shirt?

Ping-Pong the Animation

Here's the video (3:55) of this anime cartoon. It's in Chinese, with English subtitles.

Jan-Ove Waldner in TV

Here's a video (3 min) from five years ago where Waldner beats a TV host with various implements as a racket before finally losing with a banana! I believe it's in Swedish, but you can follow what's going on.

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March 25, 2014

Smooth Acceleration + Grazing Contact = Great Spin

This came up last night in the Beginning/Intermediate Class I teach on Monday nights. The two most common mistakes players make in failing to create great spin are these two, which are the pillars of creating spin, especially when serving, pushing, and chopping. It's true for looping as well, but only for slow, spinny loops. When you loop faster, you sink the ball more into the sponge. (I'm mostly writing for players using inverted sponge, but the same principles apply to most pips-out surfaces as well, as long as they have some grippiness.) 

When serving and pushing, beginning and intermediate players often use a short stroke (to help with control) and sort of jab at the ball. They are thinking that the velocity they get with this jabbing will create great spin. Actually, it just leads to a loss of control as you can't control the racket this way. Plus, for physics reasons I won't get into (partially because I'm not a physicist), you get far more spin if you smoothly accelerate into the ball, and almost hold the ball on your racket as it carries it through the shot. This literally slings the ball out with tremendous spin.

But you only get this tremendous spin if you graze the ball - the second problem many players have. Too often players sink the ball into the sponge at an angle, which isn't the same as grazing the ball. To learn to graze the ball, just toss one up and graze it with your racket, making it spin. Generally do this with a pendulum serve motion, but contact the ball on the left side of the ball (for a righty), with the racket going mostly up and slightly left, so that the ball goes straight up. Catch it and repeat. It's important to spin the ball so it goes straight up, both so you can catch it and repeat, and so you can develop ball control. (If you can't control the direction the ball goes when you graze it with this exercise, how can you do it when actually serving?)

As always, I recommend beginning players get a colored ball (or put markings on a ball) so they can see the spin they are creating. This gives feedback on whether you are really spinning the ball or not.

For more advanced players, I recommend they also do the ball spinning drill I wrote about above. It's a great way to really develop those grazing skills so you can both spin the heck out of the ball and control it. Advanced players should also experiment with smooth acceleration and grazing on their spin shots, and see how much they can make the ball spin.

When you can put great spin on the ball with your serve, apply the same principles to pushing and slow looping. Don't be afraid to throw in some slow, spinny loops, even if you normally loop pretty hard. Slow, spinny loops are extremely effective at the beginning/intermediate level, but many forget or never realize how effective they are at the advanced level if not overused. They not only are effective on their own as the opponent struggles to adjust to the slower speed and higher spin, but the contrast makes your other loops more effective.

Snow

Yep, it's snowing again here in Maryland. We're supposed to get 2-3 inches, though it shouldn't stick on the roads and sidewalks, which are too warm. For once, schools and government offices are open - usually a single snowflake closes everything down. This has been one crazy winter, with one snowfall after another.

Reverse Pendulum Serve of Achanta Sharath Kamal

Here's the video (36 sec), which shows it first in slow motion, then in super-slow motion. This serve, combined with a regular pendulum serve (so you can spin the ball both ways) is an incredible one-two punch.

2014 Youth Olympic Games: Coach/Leader Selection

Here's the info. The 2014 Youth Olympic Games will be held Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.

USATT Forum

With the demise of the about.com forum, USATT has set up their own forum.

No Hands Table Tennis?

Here's the video (6:47) of this unbelievable armless Egyptian star who plays with the racket in his mouth! Wow. Just wow. (Near the end he's even fishing and lobbing.) Interesting thought - how good would this player be against regular players, and how good would he be against a good player who went out of his way to go after the weaknesses of the "mouth" grip, such as serving super short, or with wide-angled breaking sidespin serves?

Waldner on David Hasselhoff Show

Here are two pictures of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner on the David Hasselhoff Show, in a posting by Waldner himself. Alas, the video is not yet available. (I searched on Youtube.)  

Shot of the Day

Here's the video - see the shot nine seconds in, and the opponent's response!

Top Ten Shots

Here's a Top Ten Shots video (6:19) from Mrtheportal Tabletennisvideo. Includes a "bonus" eleventh (the first one shown) of a nice rally ending with a crazy side-post ricochet shot and a pair of smiling girls, one of them a little bit exasperated.

Bobby Flay's Ping-Pong Throwdown

Here's the video (3:07). "Chef Bobby Flay has been challenged to a throwdown, but this time it’s not in a kitchen! He's used to taking challenges there on his new Food Network show, *Beat Bobby Flay*, but now he’s up against 12-year-old ping pong prodigy Estee Ackerman in a battle with rackets and a ball. Will Estee take it easy on Bobby?"

Extreme Ping Pong

Here's the video (3:11) - you really have to see the acrobatics they show in the "making of" this video! And here's the actual final video (3:52)!

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July 18, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Two

The schedule yesterday was similar to the day before, except that the morning's focus was on the backhand, and my lecture after the break was on return of serve.

I did a lot of coaching on serves, where the focus was on creating spin. One thing I introduced was a way to practice spin with just the racket and ball. You toss the ball into the air and try to sidespin it straight into the air, catch it, and repeat. It's a simple exercise any player can learn to do, and it's a great way to practice your spin contact as well as control (since you have to hit the ball straight up).

One serve especially has gained interest - the reverse forehand pendulum serve, especially short to the forehand. I've explained that this is probably the most effective serves against junior players (because of their shorter reach, making it hard both to handle the serve or to return it anywhere except crosscourt to a righty's forehand), and this seems to have sparked interest. Here's a video (1:22) that features Men's Singles World Champion Zhang Jike doing the serve, with slow motion. Normally I'd recommend the serve to go wider to the forehand, but at the advanced levels that gives the receiver a very wide angle into the forehand, so at that level it is often done more to the middle. Learn the serve and experiment on what works best in your matches against different opponents.

Things weren't all lovey-dovey in the camp; we had our first real fight of the season. One kid wanted to share a chair with another (both about 9), for some reason didn't want to use the open chair five feet away. I had to pull them apart. Amazing how such little things can escalate at that age level. (I previously blogged about a fight over paper cups, I think about who got to stack them for knocking down with ping-pong balls.) But an hour later they were happily taking turns on the robot together, and later were teammates in Brazilian Teams, cheering for each other. I wish my memory were that short.

In the ongoing clipboard challenge matches during break, I haven't yet lost to anyone rated under 2200, and am now 5-0 against players rated between 2000 and 2200. However, I believe players are now conspiring together by studying videos late into the night, comparing notes, consulting with coaches, and doing early morning training, all for the express purpose of beating me and my clipboard.

Fundraising for Topspin the Movie

To do the documentary on Michael Landers, Ariel Hsing, and Lily Zhang, they need to raise $75,000. As of this writing, 405 people have donated a total of $44,771. It's all or nothing - so they need you to donate! Here's the movie webpage, here's the fundraising site, and here's a link to the 48-hour Top Spinnathon they started Tuesday at 3:30 PM.

Ariel Hsing on CNN

Here's an article with a link to a two-minute video that ran on CNN yesterday. The person hitting with Ariel in the video is coach and practice partner Anol Kashyap.

Timothy Wang in the News

Here's an article on USA Olympian Timothy Wang.

What Vikash Learned at the U.S. Open

Vikash Sahu blogs about what he learned at the U.S. Open, in particular about attacking, playing different styles, and physical conditioning.

History of U.S. Table Tennis

Chapter 14 of Volume 12 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis was featured yesterday on the USATT web page. The heading: "1983: New USTTA Editor Tom Wintrich Replaces 50-Year-Old 'Table Tennis Topics' with 'SPIN.' 1983: Boggan's Fury at President Schiff's Public Explanation as to Why Tim was Fired as 'Topics' Editor. 1983: Boggan Immediately Begins Renegade 'Timmy’s North American World of Table Tennis.'  1983: Initial Responses to SPIN and 'Timmy's' from readers."

Why not buy a copy of this volume and/or the preceding eleven? Perhaps pick and choose the years you are most interested in. Here's Tim Boggan's table tennis page, where you can buy the books or just read about Tim. Here's his Hall of Fame profile.

Wheel of Fortune

Table tennis was on Wheel of Fortune yesterday, as related online by "jj4tt" at the about.com table tennis forum. As he narrates about "Round 2 - Same Letter" (and I presume Wheel of Fortune aficionados can make sense of this?):

Sarah instantly duds out w/ T while Karla goes BANKRUPT. Jed picks up that MDW with three N's. That's followed by $7,000 worth of L's, but he blows it with the C. Back to Sarah who finds the SL of four P's; that allows her to pick up a 1/2 KIA. She narrows the puzzle down to this...
P R O _ E S S I O N A L
P I N _ - P O N _
P L A _ E R
She solves PROFESSIONAL PING-PONG PLAYER for $2,500. Jed left a total of $8,300 on the table in this round.  ...

A Table at Spin NY

I think it's a drowning woman - the table top seems to be blocking her from surfacing. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be posting about Murder at Spin NY.

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April 1, 2012

Tip of the Week

Grip and Stance.

Wang Liqin is Coming to Maryland

As reported yesterday in numerous online forums and news agencies, Wang Liqin, the 2001, 2005 and 2007 World Men's Singles Champion (but now down to #9 at age 33), wasn't happy about not being chosen to play in the World Men's Team Final against Germany this past weekend. We'd been negotiating with him, but this slap in the face was the final straw for the unhappy superstar. I pick him up tonight at Dulles Airport, on United 933 from Frankfurt, GER. "I think I've done all I can for China," the disgruntled star said through a translator. "China don't need me, they don't want me, so they can't have me. Maybe I can help United States instead."

Wang also noted that he'd like to explore his other interest outside table tennis, science fiction writing. Under a pseudonym of "Wan Ling Qi" (which is an anagram of his real name), he's had several stories published in Science Fiction World, the largest SF magazine in China with a circulation of 300,000. His favorite was "Ping Pong Scientist," a story he wrote of a boy growing up playing table tennis in a futuristic world where players were more technicians than athletes with futuristic paddles covered with dials and buttons.

Wang's son, nine-year-old Tongtong, is also coming with him, and I've been told he's a level better than any USA kids his age. Both of them will be staying at my house for the first month or so while he looks for a permanent place to stay. Meanwhile, he'll both be playing for and coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.

World Team Championships

The Worlds ended on Sunday with another easy victory for China in both Men's and Women's Teams, beating Germany and Singapore 3-0 in the two finals. (How many remember that Singapore actually upset China in the Women's Final two years ago? From 1975 to 2012 China has lost in Women's Teams only twice - the loss to Singapore in 2010, and in 1991 to Korea, the latter the subject of the upcoming movie "As One," previously titled "Korea.") USA Men and Women came in 53 and 23, respectively. Complete results and articles are on the ITTF home page. Here are photos by the ITTF, and photos by USATT Photographer Diego Schaaf.

There were a number of questions about why USA #1 woman Gao Jun only played in one of the five preliminary matches. Presumably we'll find out why in Coach Doru Gheorghe's team report. Here's an article on the question.

There was some great play in the Men's Team Final. (Sorry, haven't watched the Women's Final yet, but you can easily find them on youtube.) Here are those three matches, with the time between points removed so you can watch the entire thing in about 20 minutes.

Faults at the Worlds!

Here's a video of the now infamous Robert Gardos (Austria) vs. Bartosz Such (Poland) match at the Worlds (6:14), where both players were faulted over and over. At one point Such was faulted on five consecutive serves.

MDTTC expansion and Spring Break Camp

The MDTTC expansion finished last week, and we're almost getting used to playing in a full-time playing hall (10,000 sq ft) that seems the size of a soccer stadium. (I think some people spend hours wandering about the place lost - it's that big.) Right now we have 16 courts set up, and we have two others we can put up. If we want, we can buy more tables and probably fit in 25 or so.

On Saturday we had a small local tournament, the Coconut Teams, an annual event. While they ran their tournament on twelve tables, the four coaches (including me) coached on the other four. I counted 93 players that morning, and we probably had over 100.

This morning we start our Spring Break Camp, which coincides with spring break in the local schools. I can't wait to see the expression on some of the kids when they come in and see the new place for the first time.

Backspin on Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a video from PingSkills on the creating backspin with the Reverse Pendulum Serve (1:06).

Table Tennis Cards

Mike Mezyan has created two table tennis cards, and plans to create sixty of them. Here are his first two cards:

April Fools Prank

Here's a hilarious 16-second April Fool's ping-pong balls in a car joke. That's a lot of balls in that car! Of course, we here at TableTennisCoaching.com never do April Fool's postings. 

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September 7, 2011

They Called Me Mad

I recently read a really interesting book, "They Called Me Mad," which highlights about twenty famous scientists who in various ways were misunderstood or thought of as "mad scientists." On page 226 there's this quote from physicist Max Planck: "A new scientific truth does not as a rule prevail because its opponents declare themselves persuaded or convinced, but because the opponents gradually die out and the younger generation is made familiar with the truth from the start." (In Wikipedia there's a slightly different variation attributed to him: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.")

What does this have to do with table tennis? First, to be clear, I'm not advocating anyone in table tennis dying. However, this is exactly the problem USA Table Tennis faces. Generation after generation of often well-meaning USATT leaders come and go, but over and over they try variations of the same failed ideas--often relying on the advice of the same table tennis "experts" who advised previous generations of unsuccessful leaders--and USATT goes nowhere. (There are always some among the USATT leadership that see the light, but they are few, they are outnumbered, and they usually have given up being that pesty person that tries to convince the unconvinceable.) Trying to convince USATT to adopt the methods to develop the sport that have been used successfully in other countries and other sports--and that have been used successfully in some regions of the U.S.--doesn't work; see the Planck quote. I know, I've tried and Tried and TRIED. (So have others.)

In recent years, however, independent of USATT, we suddenly have full-time training centers popping up all over the place (from 5-10 just five years ago to about 50 now), and regional leagues around major cities (NYC, SF, LA) that could grow and become national. (The ITTF coaching seminars created by the USATT coaching committee are promising, though I'd like to see more emphasis on recruiting and training of those who would like to be professional coaches and run junior programs--with an equal emphasis on the professional side (recruiting students, setting up clubs and programs, etc)--and on club-based junior programs.) This is exactly how other countries and other sports developed, and this is the "younger generation" developing our sport. If these same people someday ran USATT, imagine how fast our sport would progress. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Many players develop forehand pendulum serves, the most common serve in competitive table tennis. But not so many develop reverse pendulum serves. Why not? It gives you a huge variation to your serves. Not having one is a huge handicap. Not only does the variation make your other serves more effective, but many players--probably most--have great difficulty with this serve, partly because they rarely see it. (It's especially effective short to the forehand, along with sudden long ones to the backhand.) So here's a video (1:48) that shows the serve from multiple angles and in slow motion. Now go practice.

Samsonov and the ITTF Players' Commission

Here's a short article on Samsonov on the ITTF Players' Commission.

Top players analyze their own games

Here's a video (10:25) of Australian star William Henzell analyzing his match against French star Adrien Mattenet. See if you agree with his analysis. Do you do this type of analysis with your own matches? Why not?

Tutoring

In addition to coaching and writing, I've added a new sideline. I've been hired as a private tutor for four hours a week (two hours twice a week) at my regular coaching rate. I'm tutoring calculus, English, and creative writing. It actually means a bit more than four hours a week since I have to review and plan everything in advance. I'm also relearning calculus since my bachelor's in math was from 1985, though I've done some tutoring on and off since then. I'm especially looking forward to teaching creative writing since, outside table tennis, I'm a science fiction & fantasy writer.

Funny table tennis rackets

Here are some funny table tennis rackets. And here's a holy one.

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July 4, 2011

HAPPY 4TH!

2011 U.S.Open

I flew back to Maryland last night from the U.S. Open in Milwaukee - didn't have any coaching duties today. At the airport in Milwaukee there was a Killerspin table set up with sponge paddles and barriers! I watched for a while as parents played with kids, often "coaching" them in ways that made me squirm a bit. I debated whether to help out, but decided they were having fun, so who was I to tell them what to do?

Because I had a bunch of stuff to take back to Maryland, I had two bags to check in at Airtran, which would cost $45. The attendant told me that since first-class passengers get two free bags, I could upgrade to first class for $49, and get the two bags free. So for $4 I traveled first class. The only other time I did that was nearly 20 years ago when I traveled with Andre Scott - we had regular tickets, but when they saw he was in a wheelchair, they put him in first class (for free), and since they had an open seat next to him, they gave that to me.

Funniest part of the U.S. Open for me was watching opponents struggle with Sun Ting's ("The Sun King") serve. Whenever he serves, it's showtime as opponents miss shots all over the place. The problem isn't so much that they misread the type of spin as they misread the amount of spin. How he puts so much spin on the ball without seemingly doing so is a mystery that only Albert Einstein might have solved. Alas, Sun Ting lost 11-9 in the seventh (from up 3-1), 4,-2,-4,-11,9,8,9, in the quarters to Canada's Pradeeban Peter-Paul. Sun Ting has been at my club, MDTTC, for the past month, and will be here for another month. He defeated Ma Lin in a tournament a few years ago, and had a 2730 rating from the 1999 North American Teams, when he was 15.

The players I coached had up and down records; unfortunately, we were 0-5 in five-game matches this time around. Have to work on that. Because I was mostly coaching or playing hardbat, I didn't see many big matches, and so can't report on them.

My Hardbat Results at the Open - skip if not interested!

While I was there primarily to coach, I did enter three hardbat events. (I normally play with sponge.) I had to default out of Open Hardbat because it conflicted with the junior team competition. I've won that event twice at the Open and Nationals, and while I probably wouldn't have won it, I had a good chance to do pretty well, maybe make the semifinals, and after that, who knows?

I made the final of Over 40 Hardbat. (I've won this four times at the Open or Nationals, including the last Nationals.) In the preliminaries, I had to play Peter Cua, one of the top Philippine hardbat players. He had me 16-11 in the third (two out of three to 21 in hardbat), but I went on a hitting binge and won ten in a row. (I told myself to just take the shots and let the shots happen, and they happened.) I had another huge battle with Jeff Johnson in the semifinals, who as usual ran me all around the court in a battle of his steadiness versus my forehand hitting/backhand chopping, and despite a near comeback by him late in the second game I won two straight, 15 & 16. In the final I played Richard Gonzalez, but his forehand hitting and heavy & varied backhand chopping was just too much, and he won easily, 13 & 11. I think I may be able to take on his chopping in a rematch, since I'm good against that, but it had been a while since I'd played a hardbat chopper of that level - but if I had, he'd have just attacked more, and his attack was way too strong. The guy was a member of the Philippine National Team and I believe is their hardbat and sandpaper champion.

I also played hardbat doubles with Ty Hoff. I've won that event ten times, six times with Ty (including at the last Nationals), and we did pull off a nice win over Dan Seemiller Sr. and Jr. - I had to smash Dan Sr's loop from down 19-20 match point in the second to deuce it! - but we lost in the semifinals to Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon. They in turn lost to the Philippines, Richard Gonzales and Joseph Cruz. Those two pretty much dominated all hardbat play.

Tip of the Week

This week's Tip is about Coaching Against Yourself. It's short and to the point. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Here's a great example of the reverse pendulum serve, by 2010 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion Sharath Kamal of India. It's shown in both real and slow motion. (37 seconds long.)

Hidden Serves

Unfortunately, Sharath Kamal, like many others, doesn't always serve legally. Here's a video of him on Youtube from the 2010 Egypt Open - it's not easy finding videos that give the right angle so you can see if the serve is hidden. See his serve 29 seconds in. Here is a four-sequence screen shot of the serve, showing how it disappears behind his body. At the 2010 U.S. Open, he and many of his opponents served illegally, hiding the ball (and especially contact) as they served, but umpires rarely call this.

Notice how with the arm stuck out, it's easy to thrust out the shoulder and hide contact. If the player pulls the arm back, as the rules require, then the shoulder isn't naturally thrust out, and if the player does thrust the shoulder out while pulling the arm back, it becomes rather obvious. This is what happened at the U.S. Open a few days ago when, at the request of the players I was coaching, I twice had to call an umpire against the same opponent because he sometimes stuck his arm and shoulder out, thereby hiding the serve. (This led to a very unhappy parent; hopefully he and I can put aside our disagreement on this so as not to be a distraction to the kids. After all, if the serves are legal, then there shouldn't be any objection to having an umpire.) The opponent may not even have been aware he was doing it, but the umpire warned him immediately to pull his arm in - on the second serve after the umpire came to the table - and the rest of the way the serves were pretty much all visible.

It's important players know the service rules, so there are the pertinent ones regarding hidden serves. (Bolds are mine.)

Rule 2.06.04: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall be above the level of the playing surface and behind the server's end line, and it shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry." (Here are the service rules.)

Rule 2.06.05: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."

Rule 2.06.06: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

Rule 2.06.06.01: "If either the umpire or the assistant umpire is not sure about the legality of a service he may, on the first occasion in a match, interrupt play and warn the server; but any subsequent service by that player or his doubles partner which is not clearly legal shall be considered incorrect."

Many players push the service rule to the limit - which in itself is okay in most cases - but they serve with the ball so close to the body, with the arm or shoulder thrust out, that it's difficult to tell if the ball was actually hidden or not. Many forget that a "tie" goes to the receiver, i.e. if the serve is not clearly legal, then it's supposed to be a warning or a fault, even though many umpires don't call this.(See 2.06.06 and 2.06.06.01 above.) So when a player serves with the ball so close to the body, or with the arm or shoulder stuck out, and the umpire can't tell if the serve was visible or not, then he's supposed to give a warning and then a fault. But many umpires do not. Some umpires enforce the rule about the arm being pulled out of the way, but then ignore it when the player continues to hide the ball with the shoulder, even when it's seemingly obvious.

On the other hand, illegally hiding the serve is so prevalent at the higher levels, since umpires usually don't call it, that many coaches believe you should just accept it, and learn to return such serves, while (at least publicly) saying you shouldn't do them yourself. The problem is that it doesn't take that long to learn (or teach) illegal hidden serves, but it's extremely difficult these days for a junior to learn to return hidden serves effectively because they are against the rules, and so if the junior trains in a junior program, he won't see hidden serves unless the other juniors are being trained to serve illegally. So he only sees them infrequently at tournaments. As he reaches higher levels, he sees them more and more, but by then he's already been trained to read the spin of legal serves, and now has to almost start over, when of course to really be able to return these serves at a high level he'd have to start training against them at an early age.

Of course a coach could spend his coaching time serving illegally to the student so he can learn to return hidden serves. But since most students only have limited hours of private coaching per week, you can't spend much of that time on that, and it takes a tremendous amount of time to learn to read and return such serves effectively.

So what's a coach to do? Call for an umpire every time an opponent serves illegally, thereby causing hassles while often just getting an umpire who will not call hidden serves, and so essentially giving their stamp of approval to the illegal serves? Teach illegal serves to all or most of their juniors so they can both practice against them and use them in tournaments as so many others do, and ignore the fact that it is illegal, and to be blunt, cheating? Or just serve legally, and accept the fact that they will always be at a large disadvantage when opponents do not? I've talked it over with some of our cadets and juniors, and most don't want the hassle, and lean toward just accepting that some opponents are going to serve illegally, and they'll just have to try to learn to return them, and accept that because they serve legally they are at a severe disadvantage. Is this fair?

There is currently a new service rule proposal being worked out that may solve the hidden serve problem. I'll post about that later, since I'm not sure if they want to go public yet.

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