ITTF Level 2 Course

September 19, 2013

Yesterday's Coaching Activities

I had three hours of private coaching, then a meeting with others to go over our new junior progress reports.

The first session was with an 8-year-old, about 1200 level, who's struggling to decide whether to be an attacker or defender. He may well be the best 8-year-old lobber I've ever seen; he can lob back my hardest smashes dozens of times in a row as long as I don't smother kill at wide angles. (There's something humorous about a little kid lobbing from way back at the barriers!) He also chops well. He's also got a nice loop from both wings, but has one serious problem on both: he's too impatient to do the same shot over and over, and so it's hard to get him to develop a repeating stroke. Unless I keep a firm hand on the drills, most rallies end up with him looping a couple balls, taking a step back after each, and then he's off lobbing and fishing, and looking for chances to suddenly counter-smash. He's recently faced the realization that if he's going to chop, he'll probably need long pips, which will take away his backhand lob - and he doesn't like that. So we're in a state of flux on whether to train him as an attacker or defender. Ultimately, I'm letting him make the final decision. I've advised him that, unless he very much wants to be a chopper/looper, he should focus on attacking, and he can always switch to more chopping later on. It's a big decision that'll affect the rest of his life!!!

The second session was with an 11-year-old, about 1200 level, who's about to finally start playing tournaments. He's playing in the MDTTC October Open and the North American Teams in November, and perhaps others. He's a big forehand attacker who likes to run around the table ripping forehand loops and smashes. Most interesting part of the session was when I urged him to really develop the backhand (while still focusing on the forehand) - and his reaction was he wanted to practice backhands for nearly half the session. We had some great rallies, and near the end it started to really click in. He wants to really focus on serves as well, and I promised we'd start off next session with that.

The third session was with a 12-year-old who was having only his second session since being away all summer. He's about 1000, but rusty. So we're focusing on fundamentals. He's doing really well in multiball drills, where we did a lot of looping against backspin (both wings) and combinations (loop a backspin, smash a topspin). In live drills he's still a bit too erratic, but it's getting better.

Then I met about what I've been calling the Junior Progressions. These are a series of criteria a beginning/intermediate player needs to fulfill to move from Level 1 to Level 5. At the lowest level, players need to bounce the ball on the racket a certain number of times, demonstrate proper grip and ready position, know the basic rules, hit a small number of strokes, etc. As they move up, it gets harder; at Level 5 they have to hit 100 forehands and backhands and demonstrate a few counterloops. We're still finalizing and testing them. We'll be using them for the first time later this fall. Once I'm more confident we have the right criteria, perhaps I'll publish them. (We'd been shown examples of how some other programs did this, such as AYTTO.

The Importance of Lobbing

Here's the latest USATT Tip of the Week, another of the ones I wrote.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in Austin

Here's the ITTF article on the coaching course Richard McAfee ran in Austin, TX last week.

Adam Hugh's Juggling No-Look Target Serve

Here's the entry of former USA team member Adam Hugh to the ITTF Trick Shot Showdown Contest. "Your move." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

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September 11, 2013

Practicing with Weaker Players

Reader Allen Lin asks me how best to practice with lower-rated players. This comes up regularly at clubs. In a practice match, a lower-rated player cannot consistently push a stronger player. However, just because a player is lower rated doesn't mean everything they do is weaker. There are two ways to get the most out of playing or practicing with weaker players.

First, do practice drills where you play into the weaker player's strengths. Perhaps he can't loop, but can he block? Or perhaps he can't block, but he can loop? Or maybe he has a very good push to practice against. Or good serves. Examine his game and find the best of it, and that's what you can practice against. It's not all one-way, however - he wants practice as well, so take turns. In fact, if you look long turn, you can turn that "weaker" player into a peer that'll give you even more practice and competition. Even if he doesn't reach your level he'll get used to your shots, and at least when he plays you he'll be a good practice partner.

Second, play practice matches where you intentionally play into the weaker player's strengths. If he can't handle your best serves, hold back on them. (Unless, of course, he objects.) Find ways to play what you need to practice against his strengths.  You may risk losing this way, but this is practice. When I play weaker players I often just serve short backspin over and over, and when they push it, I go for a forehand loop on the next shot over and over. It's great footwork and looping practice for me, especially as the opponent realizes what I'm doing and begins to push quicker, wider, lower, heavier, and with last-second changes of direction. He doesn't have to be very good to learn to do this, and it makes me play my very best to get to all these pushes with my forehand. Or if your partner can't block or attack well but has a nice counter-hitting game, serve lots of topspin and go at it with him.

ITTF Level 2 Course

Here's the ITTF article on the ITTF Level 2 I took last week and blogged about yesterday. It includes the following: "Special congratulations to Larry Hodges who scored a rare perfect score of 20." (The article is also linked from the USATT web page.) In the classroom picture I'm on the very far side. The names in the group picture are, L-R, Richard McAfee, Simplice Sourou, Jeff Smart, Larry Hodges, Lily Yip, Nelson Gore, Barry Dattel, Sydney Christophe, Doon Wong, Roger Yuen, and Mieczyslaw "Matt" Suchy.

USA Sandpaper Team

Want to go to the $100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong in London in January, 2014? Here's the info page. "Dr. Mike Babuin, World Championship of Ping Pong USA Qualifier Director, announced today the format for USA players to qualify for the 2014 World Championship of Ping Pong to be played in London, England in January 2014. There are spots for two USA players."

Effective Service Practice

Here's a short article on Serving Practice from Table Tennis Master.

ITTF Trick Shot Showdown

Think you can do trick shots? Then enter the Stiga ITTF Trick Shot Competition! I'm toying with entering something...

Ola from New Zealand

A Piotr "Peter" Ratka from New Zealand is trying to raise money for his 15-year-old daughter Ola Ratka's training. (She is a member of the New Zealand National Women's Squad.) To do so he's created and is selling the Kiwi Ball Picker for picking up balls, with all profits going to her training.

She's also entered in the AMP "Do Your Thing" People's Choice Scholarship. Piotr is asking for your vote - so if you like table tennis and want to support her, go to Ola's Page and vote!

Ma Long is Chinese Men's Singles Champion

He defeats Fan Zhendong in the final, 7,-9,7,-9,-7,9,6. Here's the article, which includes a link to video of the final.

Three Futuristic Ping-Pong Tables

Here they are, from UBERPONG.

Insane Backhand

Here's video (32 sec) of an insane backhand!

History of U.S. Table Tennis

USATT has been running weekly excerpts from Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis. Up right now is Chapter 15 of Volume 13, the most recent one, from 1984. (About 2/3 through there's a long excerpt from an article I wrote back then on serving short and returning short serves. Yep, I was writing coaching articles way back then!)

Manga Ping Pong Comic Books

Here they are!

Non-Table Tennis on the 12th Anniversary of 9-11:

The jets soared down from high and bright,
Tumbling towers in the darkest night,
3000 died in this crazy blight,
Who brought forth this unspeakable sight?

Towers toppled from a monster’s spite,
Bodies crushed with no chance of flight,
What was, to a madman, the highest height,
For the rest brought forth just rage and fright.

The world exploded in a bigger fight.
We bombed and killed in a show of might.
We avenged the act because we were right.
But when will humanity see the light?
-Larry Hodges

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August 30, 2013

NOTE - While I'm away at the ITTF coaching course (see below) I'm taking time off from blogging. I'll have lots to report when I return next Monday, Sept. 9!

ITTF Coaching Course

I'm off to an ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course next week, Mon-Sat, at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in Dunellen, NJ. The course is six days long, six hours/day and so 36 hours total. Here's the info page. The course is taught by Richard McAfee.

Coaching the Forehand

I had a new student last night, a 62-year-old semi beginner. He'd take a few lessons before, but had an awkward forehand - he'd drop his back shoulder during his backswing (and so tended to lift the ball instead of drive it forward), and lean toward the ball (so was off balance for the shot, not to mention this killed his timing). The stroke needed some serious rehab.

Rather than have him start off by hitting forehands, I had him do the following sequence.

  1. First we shadow stroked the shot over and over to get it right. This means practicing the stroke without a ball.
  2. Next I had him stand by the table with a ball, then toss the ball up and hit it with the proper stroke so the ball hit my side. This was surprisingly difficult - his timing had been built up based on a faulty stroke, and so he had to learn new timing with the new one. But by doing it this way he was able to hit off a nearly stationary ball. We did this over and over until he felt comfortable doing it.
  3. Next I fed him multiball to one spot as he continued to ingrain the new stroke.
  4. Next we did live hitting, going slow so he could use the new stroke. I focused on keeping the ball to the same spot. We were in no rush to increase the speed; the focus was on doing it right.
  5. Finally we did some side-to-side footwork, again going slowly so he could make sure to use the new stroke.

The entire training sequence took half an hour. By that time he was stroking the ball properly. It'll take more time to really ingrain the stroke so muscle memory will default to this in a game situation, but now he's on the right path.

He had a pretty good backhand, could actually topspin it pretty well. However, when I increased the pace, the shot fell apart. We worked on meeting the ball more straight on as the pace increased, which helped his rallying skills tremendously.

Observing Top Players and Coaches

After I finished coaching last night I found a perfect spot to sit and observe the action on three tables. On one table was Coach Cheng Yinghua working with Nathan Hsu (16, about 2350). They again were doing the short push drill I blogged about on Wednesday. (USATT featured that blog entry on their home page.) They went through various other drills after that.

On another table Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") was working with Derek Nie (12, rated 2297). They were doing a drill where Bowen served and looped, and Derek counterlooped off the bounce with his forehand, and then they'd play out the point. While most of Derek's counterloops were crosscourt, he was also working on going down the line. Afterwards I talked to Derek, who I coach in tournaments, and pointed out how important it would be for his game if he could master that down-the-line off-the-bounce counterloop. (They also sometimes do a similar drill to Derek's backhand, where Derek topspin blocks aggressively.) Everyone's game is different, but for technical reasons I won't go into here (his rivals might be reading this!) this shot fits his game perfectly.

On another table three players were playing winner stay on: Harold Baring (2414), Raghu Nadmichettu (2321), and Larry Abass (2316, but 2362 before his last tournament). What most caught my attention there was how Harold's third-ball forehand attacking style was similar to how I used to do it 20+ years ago. Alas, the good old days!

You don't really need to be a top player to be a top coach or to be really knowledgeable about the game. But only rarely can a non-top player have the circumstances where they spend huge amounts of time observing top players and coaches as they train. You can't learn this from just watching videos of tournament matches; you need to watch how the players got there to really understand the game at a higher level. Players and wannabe coaches should look for chances to observe top players and coaches in training sessions every chance they can. 

USA Nationals Entry Form

The USA Nationals entry form came out yesterday. And here's the home page for the 2013 Nationals (not much is there yet), to be held in Las Vegas, Dec. 17-21. They really do need to get these things out earlier; some people make vacation plans well in advance. At minimum, it should be distributed at the U.S. Open in July, just as the 2014 U.S. Open entry form should be distributed at the Nationals in December. There are complications in doing this, but they need to overcome those complications.

For perspective, I'm a member of Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). The World Science Fiction Convention starts today, in San Antonia, TX. (I can't believe I'm missing it!!! I've been to three. About 5000 people attend each year, though the number fluctuates based mostly on location.) Here's the World Science Fiction Convention home page. And already they are featuring next year's World Con in London! If you go to that page, you'll see it's pretty extensive. They even have the guests of honor for next year already signed up so they can advertise them - seven of them! People are already making plans to attend. Even more importantly, they take advantage of the excitement of this year's World Con to get people to sign up for next year's. USATT should do the same.

Two Tips to Increase Forehand Power

Here's another tip of mine from long ago that USATT ran yesterday. (I did 171 Tips of the Week for them as "Dr. Ping-Ping," 1999-2007.) Has anyone noticed that the length of my tips have increased over the years? They used to be short things; now each one's practically a feature!!!

Jorgen Persson: The Story

Here's a video (5:19) that tells the story of 1991 World Men's Singles Champion Jorgen Persson of Sweden. Those who followed his career will recognize the many scenes, including the many Sweden-China confrontations back when Sweden was the dominant table tennis country. Yes, it wasn't always China! (But the few times since 1960 when China wasn't #1 they were the country that others had to beat to become #1.)

Adam Bobrow on TV

Here's an episode of the TV show "Code." As Adam describes it on Facebook, "Check out my dance battle with rugby superstar Liam Messam! My main segment is from 25:45 – 31:30 plus a moment getting crazy on the turntables at 33:14. The show was a BLAST! I am so happy I showed up for the live taping."

iPhone Ping-Pong

Here's a video (3:11, but starts with an irritating 30-sec commercial) showing plays table tennis with an iPhone on the Today Show. As described by Table Tennis Nation, "Franck from SPiN went on the Today Show yesterday to show off some bar tricks and demonstrated how you play ping pong with an iPhone (the ping pong starts at 2:05)."

"As One" Outtake?

I think this five-second video is an outtake from the movie "As One," which tells the story of the unified Korean team winning Women's Teams at the 1991 Worlds. I thought I'd seen everything in table tennis, but this is new - a player's toss in doubles hitting her partner in the head? But I think these are actors, not actual players, playing the part of real-life players Hyun Jung Hwa of South Korea (played by actor Jiwon Ha) and Li Bun Hui of North Korea (played by actor Doona Bae). Someone correct me if I'm wrong.


Here's a hilariously spectacular video (2:56) with lots of great special effect that went up yesterday. Perhaps the best part is when the woman looks in and we see the reality.

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August 20, 2013

MDTTC Camp - Week Ten

Yesterday we started the final week of our ten weeks of training camps. The kids were restless! I've never had so much trouble getting them to quiet down as we got started. I'm not sure if it was because school's one week away or because it was the last week of summer camps. (A number of them had been with us all or nearly every camp.) I had to send two of them to sit in the lounge, only the second time I'd done that all summer. (The previous time was when two kids got into a pushing fight, I think way back in week one or two.)

The focus on day one, as usual, was the forehand. We had a new group of beginners. Several had surprisingly good forehands to start with - not from coaching, but from watching and playing in their basements or other places. Two of them had been playing regularly at a table at their neighborhood swimming pool.

Watching the Ball

Players often advise beginners to "watch the ball." I always thought this was somewhat silly as I can't imagine anyone, even a beginner, not watching the ball, assuming they are playing serious. It's rarely come up when I coach, even with little kids, who naturally watch the ball intently. There are some technical aspects, such as do you watch the ball all the way to contact, or only to a certain point, since you can't react at the end?

I advise players to try to watch the ball right to contact, to allow for last-second adjustments and to make sure they are seeing the ball as well as possible. Watching the ball all the way especially helps when doing spin shots, where you just graze the ball, such as looping, pushing, chopping, and serving.

Some say you should look up sooner to see what the opponent is doing, but since at that point you can't really change your shot, that's pointless. You have plenty of time to hit the ball and then look up and prepare for your next shot, partially based on what the opponent is doing. Looking up sooner doesn't help any since the opponent doesn't yet know what you are going to do.

Here's something you can try doing - don't just watch the ball, watch the part of the ball you are going to hit. For example, if you are counterlooping, watch toward the top of the ball as the opponent's loop comes at you. The ball may be just this fuzzy white thing zipping at you, but you can still watch the top of the fuzzy thing. (If it's too fuzzy, perhaps you need glasses or contacts.) If you are pushing, watch toward the bottom of the ball.

Problems Reading This Blog?

Someone emailed me saying they were often getting Internal Server Errors when they came to this page. Anyone else having this problem? If so, please email me.

ITTF Level 2 Course in Atlanta

Here's an article from the ITTF on the course recently taught in Atlanta by Richard McAfee, Aug. 11-16.

USATT Tip of the Day

Here's a USATT Tip of the Day that features an excerpt from an interview with USA Olympian and nine-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion Gao Jun by USATT Magazine, from Jan/Feb 2000. The question asked by interviewer USATTM is, "What’s your secret? Can you share with our readers?" Gao's response starts off, "I have three words to share with everybody: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE." (Guess who interviewer "USATTM" is? Yes, that was me! I was editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine from 1991-1995 and 1999-2007, twelve years and 71 issues.)

Gerry Chua's Video Page

Here's Gerry Chua's Youtube page, where you can find lots of table tennis videos.

The Warrior Versus the Mayor

Here's an article and video (15 sec) from Table Tennis Nation of Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors playing San Francisco mayor Ed Lee in San Francisco‘s Third Annual Ping Pong Tournament and Festival in Chinatown.

Fancy Tables

Here are four fancy tables: Donald Duck and University of Oregon, Earth, some sort of texture, and Oregon State Beavers. (Click on each picture to see the next one.)

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March 27, 2013

Spring Break Camp

We had 47 players in camp yesterday, all at the same time. How did we accommodate them all with 18 tables? In the morning session, we had 7 coaches feeding multiball, leaving 11 free tables. With 22 players on those 11 tables, that meant we had 25 players at any given time on the 7 multiball tables, rotating around between doing multiball, picking up balls, or practicing on the free tables. In the afternoon session the advanced players did more live play (two to a table), while younger beginners were grouped on a few tables for multiball and various games - such as hitting a bottle supposedly filled with my dog's saliva, where I had to drink it if they hit it. (I'm working with the beginners mostly this camp.)

The coaches are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"); Chen Jie ("James"); and Raghu Nadmichettu. Jack Huang used to be Huang Tong Sheng ("Jack"), but he's been Jack so long we no longer use his Chinese name.

While most of the players are local from Maryland or Virginia (since Spring Break Camp coincides with spring break in local schools), we have a bunch from out of town. There's a nine-year-old from Japan who's about 1900; four members of the University of Missouri team; and several from New Jersey and New York.

One of the beginners who was having so much trouble yesterday did a bit better today. However, he's still got a ways to go - every now and then he'll do a series of proper strokes, and then he'll fall back into bad habits. The other also showed some signs of learning, but doesn't seem too motivated to learn. Surprisingly, the latter one picked up serving pretty well, while the first one is struggling with that.

I gave lectures on the backhand, on serving, and on doubles tactics. However, since most of the players are local juniors, I kept the lectures short. I had a problem with a few overly excited kids who kept talking among themselves during the doubles lecture, which took place right after we got off break.

I got to talk some with the University of Missouri team for a bit. Their best player is about 2100, the other three somewhere in the 1700-1800 range or so. One (I think the 2100 player) was having trouble covering the table after stepping around his backhand to do a forehand penhold loop. Many players have this trouble because they don't position themselves properly so that they'll follow through in a balanced position, which is what allows a player to recover quickly. Players often follow through with their weight going off to the side, which means they waste precious time recovering. Instead, players should position themselves so their weight is moving more toward the table as they loop, putting themselves right back into position to cover even a block to the wide forehand. I can still do this at age 53 (well, against most blocks!), not because of foot speed, but because of proper footwork technique.

I'm getting a bit banged up. (This is me.) Here's a roll call:

  • Sore throat and hoarse voice from lecturing and coaching.
  • Slight limp from an injured right toe. I can't really put any weight on it. It feels like I've fractured it at the base (though it's probably something less serious), but I have no idea when or how. If it persists, I'll have it x-rayed after the camp.
  • Slight limp from pulled upper front left thigh muscle, which I originally injured at Cary Cup on March 15, and keep aggravating. (See my blog from March 22.)
  • Major infection from that cut on left index finger I got during the exhibitions last Thursday. (See my blog from March 22.)
  • Jammed middle finger on my right (playing) hand. This has been bothering me for months, and I don't know how I hurt it originally, though I know I aggravated it recently giving someone a high-five, where we missed and I rejammed it against his hand. I can't make a fist with my right hand - the middle finger won't bend all the way. (Insert appropriate middle-finger joke here.) If it were any of the other four fingers (including the thumb), this would affect my playing, but this one doesn't.
  • Growing upper back problems from being too busy to do my regular back stretching. This one's my own fault.
  • Exhaustion from my dog getting me up at 4AM to go out (see yesterday's blog), while trying to coach all day at our camp, do various paperwork and other stuff at night, and still do the daily blog.

Returning Serve: Part One

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master. I'll post part two and others as they come up.

ITTF Level 2 Course in New Jersey

Richard McAfee will be running an ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course at the Lily Yip TTC in Dunellen, NJ, Aug. 26-31. Here's a listing of all upcoming ITTF coaching seminars in the U.S.

Ariel Hsing Article

Here's a feature article on her from the ITTF.

Table Tennista

Here are four new articles on China Table Tennis.

Multiball Training in Hungary

Here's a new video (3:18) featuring multiball training with members of the Hungarian Woman National Team and with some young players in the Hungarian Table Tennis Centre in Budapest. This is roughly what I do all day long at our MDTTC training camps.

Multiball Training in China

Here's a video (7:09) showing multiball training in China. There are many styles of multiball feeding; I was fascinated to see that the man in red feeding multiball uses almost the exact technique I do, i.e. first bounce on the table. Even the drills he does are about the same as the ones I do.

The Correct Way to Finish a Point

Here's a six-second video where Richard Lee demonstrates your basic serve and zillion mile per hour loop kill. Do not try this in your basement; he's a professional.

Best of Xu Xin vs. Ma Long

Here's a video (8:29) of the best rallies between these two Chinese superstars. Many of these points are truly impressive - are we reaching the pinnacle of human performance in table tennis? (I'm sure someone will quote this back to me someday when someone makes these two look like amateurs.)

Artistic Table Tennis Pictures

Here's an interesting and artistic table tennis picture. And here's an artistic table - it's like playing bumper ping-pong.

Staged Shot-Making

Here are 13 spectacularly staged trick shots.


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