2013 USA Team Trials

February 8, 2013

Recent and Future Technical Changes in High-Level Table Tennis

Here are what I consider the five biggest technical changes in table tennis over the last ten years, in no particular order. The last four were all being done ten years ago, but they've gone from a few players doing it to being commonplace at the higher levels.

  • The rise of super-looping sponges that practically loop by themselves.
  • Backhand banana flip, even against short serves to the forehand, turning the receive against short serves into a dangerous weapon.
  • Off-bounce backhand loops as regular backhands.
  • Reverse penhold backhand, making the conventional penhold backhand almost obsolete.
  • Shovel serve, which is a forehand pendulum serve where at the last second before contact you can serve either serve regular or reverse pendulum serve, i.e. sidespin either way, or backspin or no-spin.

Here are three possible ones to come.

  • Super-fast "hyperbolic serves" as a regular serve. These are serves where you hit the ball as hard as you possibly can, with the power going into both topspin and speed, just like a loop, allowing one to serve faster than was previously believed possible.
  • Strawberry flips. This is the opposite of a banana flip, where your racket goes from left to right instead of right to left as with a banana flip (for righties). Many players have learned to sidespin this way, but more as a change-of-pace sidespin. A few players, such as Stefan Feth, can do a serious drive this way, so that the ball literally jumps away from you if he backhand flips it to your forehand (assuming both are righties).
  • More off-the-bounce sidespin counterloops. Sidespin loops from off the table are about as good as they'll ever get, unless we get even better sponges. Players are already looping off the bounce with heavy topspin as a matter of routine. So the logical next step is to do this with sidespin, hooking and fading the ball at extreme angles. Lots of players do this occasionally, but imagine the player who perfects this as a routine shot.

Status: Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13

This volume covers 1984, and brother (or should I say Big Brother), it covers it all! We've been working on the page layouts for three days now. Besides the covers (4 pages, including inside covers), we're through page 162 and chapter 9 out of 29. I've now fixed up and placed on the page (including captions and attributions) 343 graphics - just over two per page. I'm sort of featured in chapter 9, where he talks about the many coaching articles I wrote that year and the year before, and so I got a head shot. Then he treated me to dinner at the Outback.

USA Team Trials

Chinese Team Trials

China is also having their National Team Trials. Here's where you can see articles, results, and video.

The Serve and Backhand Attack of Seiya Kishikawa

Here's a video (4:00) where Seiya Kishikawa (world #28, recently as high as #16) demonstrates his serve and backhand attack. With English subtitles and lots of slow motion.

The Proper Way to Finish a Match

Here's video (16 seconds, including slow motion) the last point in the Chinese Team Trials between Ma Long and Fan Zhendong. Ma shows how to end a match.

You Can't Take the China Out of Coaching

Don't see it? Look at the word "coaching." After the "coa" you get "ching." Drop the tail off the "g" and what do you have left? (Of course we all know what "COA" stands for.) No, I didn't hear this somewhere - I just noticed it.

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November 21, 2012

Quick Note on Malware

Most or all of the malware warning problems I blogged about previously seem to be gone, but there might still be some traces left of whatever got the site blacklisted on Google. If you are reading this, you arrived here successfully, so all's well with the world.

Merit Badges for Table Tennis?

As noted in my blog on Monday, there's a great proposal on the USATT web page (by Diego Schaaf and Wei Wang) to award "merit badges" for achieving various rating levels. Read it over and see what you think.

I've always argued that players take ratings way too seriously, and that they are, in general, a very bad thing for junior players. (Here's my article Juniors and Ratings.) Because of ratings players (especially juniors) tend to focus on immediate results instead of long-term improvement; it makes them nervous when they play as they worry about their rating (and this nervousness becomes a habit); and it often causes them not to play tournaments so they can protect their rating (thereby losing valuable tournament experience and so falling behind their peers).

I've always found the bridge system to be intriguing. In bridge, you cannot go down in rating; you only go up. This gives incentive to play more as you try to go up. It's not as accurate a system, but it incentive to compete. Given a choice between an inaccurate system with zillions of players (such as the American Contract Bridge League with 160,000 members), or a more accurate one with 8000 (USATT says hi), I have 152,000 reasons to go with the less accurate system. (This is a simplistic version of a more complex argument I won't go into here.)

The strength of the proposed system by Diego and Wei is that it gives incentive to keep playing as you get merit badges for going up, but unlike rating points, they aren't taken away when you go down. Sure, you might blow your current rating, but you'll still have that merit badge to show how good you were, plus every time you go out there you know there's a chance you might have that great day where you beat everyone and win ANOTHER merit badge!

As I wrote in my blog on Monday, similar suggestions have come up in the past, but three things always stopped it: 1) What should be awarded for these achievements - belts, like in martial arts? Pins? Badges? Certificates? etc.; 2) Few ever put together an actual proposal such as this eon, and 3) No one ever follows up on it.

There is the question of who pays for the merit badges, but that's a no-brainer to me. It's the responsibility of the player who achieves the new level to apply and pay for the merit badge. If it's not worth the small payment needed to pay for the badge and the office time to deal with them, then it's not worth their having.

There's also the transition period - at the start, why not let players send in proof of their highest rating achieved? It's all online since 1994, and before that there are magazines that can be copied. (Sorry, USATT doesn't owe you that. But I'm sure there are USATT members who might help out with this at the start.)

I hope someone from USATT follows up on this.

Last-minute coaching and preparation for Teams

Lots of last-minute training for the Teams in Baltimore and Ohio! I'm writing this blog the night before (Tuesday night) because I have to be up early to coach this morning. (Or should that be tomorrow morning since I'm writing it tonight, the night before the morning that the blog goes up? Never mind.) I've even got some coaching on Thursday. (I expect to blog on Thanksgiving morning, but perhaps a shorter one.)

I'm primarily going to be coaching, but I was talked into playing as a part-time fifth player by two of my students. I'm only committed to playing about one team match per day. The rest of the time I'll be coaching. (I'm mostly coaching Tong Tong Gong. At the Nationals I'll be working with him and Derek Nie.)

ITTF Video World Cup

There are now 17 entries in the ITTF Video World Cup. Take some time and watch them - they're pretty good. Of course the one I most like is "TTism (in slow motion)," by Richard Heo. Why? Because I'm in it!!! (I show up for about three seconds at 1:29, cheering silently and motionlessly for Raghu Nadmichettu, who is celebrating a win silently and motionlessly. That segment was filmed at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.) Here's the info page for the contest. First and second places are $5000 and $2500. Deadline to enter is Nov. 30. Oh, and it turns out you can vote once every 24 hours! So vote, and vote often.

2013 USA Team Trials

Here's a short news item from USATT: "The 2013 National Team Trials will be held on February 7-10, 2013, at the Top Spin Club in San Jose, CA. Prospectus and entry form will be posted on USATT webpage."

Reverse Forehand  Pendulum Serve

Here's an article and photo sequence on a version of the reverse forehand pendulum serve by world #27 Sayaka Hirano.

Ma Long Dong a Split?

Now here's a great picture of China's Ma Long looping from the backhand corner. Not sure if he's going to recover for the block to his wide forehand.

Table Tennis iPhone App

Here's the new TTProPlanner Promo - "for those of you who would like to plan/review your Table Tennis training" - on video, or read about it at the app store.

Terese Terranova in Broward County Hall of Fame

Here's a short article from Table Tennis Nation on wheelchair player and coach Terese Terranova's induction into the Broward Country Hall of Fame.

The Passion of Table Tennis

Here's another new highlights video (4:18). This one starts off by building tension as we watch the players get up and prepare for the tournament.

Ariel Hsing, Athlete of the Year

Here's a video about a minute long showcasing Ariel Hsing as the 2012 San Jose Female High School Athlete of the Year.

The Ping-Pong Dance on ABC Good Morning America

Here it is! (It's about one minute long, where they show Adam Bobrow doing one of his patented celebratory dances after winning a point.)

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November 9, 2012

Random Drills

Recently I've been introducing a lot of our new juniors to random drills. Until you have the fundamentals down, it's important to focus on rote drills, where you do the same thing over and Over and OVER again until you can do them in your sleep - forehands, backhands, loops, blocks, pushes, etc. But once you have the stroke down pretty well, you have to be able to do them in match situations, where your opponent doesn't put the ball to the same place over and over - instead, you have to react to the shot. That's where random drills come in.

There are two basic types of random drills. The more basic one is where you have a choice between two spots. For example, the coach or practice partner (often using multiball) puts the ball either to the forehand or backhand, and you have to react to the shot with either your forehand or backhand. The key is that you don't anticipate; just react until this becomes second nature. Your first move should be the right move; you don't want to start to your forehand side and then have to recover to hit a backhand, or vice versa. Make sure to move to each ball (don't reach), and focus on balance - no leaning.

The other way is where the ball goes more randomly anywhere on the table or within a restricted area. For example, the coach or practice partner might put the ball randomly to the forehand side, and you have to move about driving these balls back with your forehand, moving to each one. Or, or in the ultimate random drill, the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and you drive the ball back.

If you just do rote drills where you know where the ball is going, you are not matching what you will face in a game. So put some randomness into your drills, along with rote drills to hone your strokes. What you develop with random drills is called neuromuscular adaptation, where your brain learns to react properly and quickly to any shot. Not only is this the key to high-level play, but it's fun to say! (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

MDTTC Junior Team, Ratings, and Rankings

I thought I'd give a shout-out today to the juniors at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (Some also play at other local clubs.) They're a great bunch of kids whose sole goal is to beat me, um, I mean to win Olympic Gold Medals. Here's a listing of those over 1600 with some of their ranking/best title(s).




Best Ranking or Titles


Wang Qing Liang


#1 Under 18 in the U.S., U.S. Open Men's Singles Semifinalist


Chen Bo Wen


#1 Under 15 in the U.S., #3 Under 18


Tong Tong Gong


Member of USA National Cadet Team (#3 on team)


Nathan Hsu


2011 Junior Olympic Under 16 Boys' Singles Gold Medalist, 2012 Southern Open Doubles Champion


Anthony Qu


#5 Under 13 Boys in the U.S.


Roy Ke


#12 Under 14 Boys in the U.S.


Derek Nie


U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Singles Champion


Crystal Wang


#1 Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13 Girls in the U.S. (was 2166 before inadvertently playing two tournaments with a fractured wrist!!!), member of USA Cadet Girls' Team


George Nie


2012 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys Doubles Silver Medalist


Michael Ding




Karl Montgomery




Lily Lin


#20 Under 16 Girls in the U.S.


Jackson Liang


2012 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys Doubles Silver Medalist


Amy Lu


#3 Under 12 Girls in the U.S., 2012 Junior Olympics Under 12 Girls' Singles Gold Medalist


Lisa Cui


#14 Under 14 Girls in the U.S.

1769 Michael Li 11 #21 Under 12 Boys in the U.S.


Princess Ke


#8 Under 13 Girls in the U.S. (was 1877 a few months ago, #3 in Under 12 Girls)


Jason Wei




Adam Yao


#10 Under 11 Boys in the U.S.


Wesley Duan


2012 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Team Bronze Medalist


Kaylee Zou




Tony Li



SPiN for the Cause Charity

Here's the Facebook page for "Susan Sarandon presents: SPiN FOR THE CAUSE - Hurricane Sandy Relief Fundraiser," which is being held tonight at Spin NY.

TopSpin Charity

Here's an article in the Huffington Post that features TopSpin, the table tennis charity that has raised $750,000 for educational non-profits.

2013 USA Team Trials Bids

Want to run the 2013 USA Team Trials, Feb. 7-10, 2013? The deadline to bid is Nov. 15. Here's bidding info.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar

Here are two articles on the ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar held in Colorado Springs, Oct. 30 - Nov. 6. Here's the USATT article by Richard McAfee, and the ITTF article by Ian Marshall. Alas, I wasn't able to make the seminar - too busy coaching and writing in Maryland.

People's Ping Pong Party

Here's the Facebook page of this exhibition of table tennis and art (or something like that), starting Nov. 10 (tomorrow). One of the two running this is Rocky Wang, alias "LiL Big Wong," a 2300 (formerly 2400) player originally from Maryland (a junior star from the 1980s) but now living in New York. I'm having a hard time describing this, so I'll just cut & paste their first two paragraphs.

Present Company is delighted to announce the inauguration of the People’s Ping Pong Party (PPPP) and introduce their two leaders Madame WuWeiWoo and LiL Big Wong. WuWeiWoo, an unbeknownst time traveller, was born in Cuba from a union between a Buffalo Soldier and a young Martial Artist during the Spanish American War. LiL Big Wong’s lineage comes from an ex-Black Panther mother and a Chinese Ping Pong champion, but given his strict Chinese upbringing, he has no clue that he’s actually Black.

A collaboration between artists iona rozeal brown (WuWeiWoo) and Rocky Wang (LiL Big Wong), PPPP serves as an artistic and proto-political paradigm based on the Venn intersections of the radical politics of the Black Panther Party, Ping Pong Diplomacy of the 1970’s, the ethnic stereotypes of not only Chinese and African Americans, but a host of other offbeat characters and the B-movie antics of Kung Fu Saturday Matinee.

Wide-eyed with Happiness or Disbelief

This is what most people looked like after the presidential election. The only difference was whether the mouth was concave up or down.


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