Footwork

September 19, 2014

USATT Board of Directors August 2014 Teleconference and Stuff They Should Do

Here are the minutes. Here's the same question I ask after every such meeting: Was anything done that might lead to the serious growth of our sport?

I sometimes look at USATT as being perpetually like the U.S. in 1932, in the depths of a depression and with leadership who believed in doing things the same old ways. We need an FDR or TR type to come along and shake things up by actually doing things. But no one wants to be The Man in the Arena. Back on Nov. 13, 2013 I blogged about ten relatively easy things USATT could do to grow the sport (and I've referred to them a number of times since), but there just doesn't seem to be interest in doing such things - though as the new minutes show, they are interested in things like new formatting for the minutes. That's nice, but perhaps we should focus more on doing things rather than on how we format them?

Below is that same list from a year ago of things USATT could do to develop the sport. It's not rocket science. Note that the first three are just different ways of developing leagues, since that's where there is great membership potential. I'm personally most interested in #4 and #5, though #7 (along with any of #1-3) could lead to serious growth potential. And #8, by getting USATT leaders to focus on developing the sport, could be most important of all. Let's make things happen. Or we could continue in our Hooverish ways.

  1. Advertise to hire someone to set up Professional Leagues. Offer him 33% of revenues brought in, and the USATT's support with its web page, emails, magazine, and any other way feasible. It would be an historic position, similar to the first commissioner of sports such as baseball, basketball, and football.
  2. Redirect the purpose of the current "League" committee so that its primary purpose would be to actively increase the number and quality of leagues in the U.S.  First job would be to bring in people to put together a manual for setting up such leagues. The authors would then publish on Amazon and get profits from sales. It's not large money, but they might get a few hundred dollars and the prestige of being a published author.
  3. Bring together the directors of the largest and most successful leagues in the U.S., figuratively lock them in a room, and don't let them out until they've put together a model for such leagues that can be done regionally all over the U.S.
  4. Create a "Training Center" committee whose primary purpose would be increase the number and quality of full-time clubs in the U.S.  First job would be to bring in people to put together a manual for setting up and running such centers. The authors would then publish on Amazon and get profits from sales. It's not large money, but they might get a few hundred dollars and the prestige of being a published author. I already did a version of this with my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, and have sold over one hundred copies and made over $100. This manual covers half the stuff a manual on setting up and running a full-time center would cover.
  5. Change the focus of USATT coaching seminars from just teaching technique to the recruitment and training of professional coaches and directors of junior programs. I've argued this one for years.
  6. Advertise for someone to bring in sponsorships for U.S. Open and Nationals, where the person gets 33% or more in commission.
  7. Recruit State and Regional Directors all over the U.S. to set up regional associations, which would include election of officers, and appointment of Coaching, League, Tournament, and Club Directors for each state or region. (Some regions or states already have such associations.) USATT would supply the basic bylaws for these associations, using bylaws that have been created for this very purpose multiple times in the past, or modeled on current successful ones.
  8. Direct that the USATT Board of Directors main focus will be the development of the sport, and that "fairness" issues will go to the appropriate committee, freeing up board time for actually developing the sport. (I blogged about this on March 19, 2013.)
  9. Require that all prospective USATT board members must give at least one major area where they will take initiative in developing the sport, and give their plan for doing so. Along with this they should allow people on the ballot if they get 150 signatures from USATT members, with a deadline set after the North American Teams, which is where they could get the signatures. (This is how it was done in the past.)
  10. Do a mass mailing to the 50,000 or so past USATT members on the USATT database, and invite them to rejoin. The letter should come from a top, well-known U.S. table tennis star. There's one catch - there has to be something new to invite these players back. See previous items on this list. Any such mailing, done properly, would pay for itself. There's a reason why I and others get inundated with mailings from organizations I once belonged to. I still get regular mail from the U.S. Tennis Association since I played in their leagues about ten years ago. (Eventually we can move to emailing past members, but we don't have the email address of most of these past members.) I blogged about this on Feb. 19, 2014 and May 13, 2014.

2014 USA Junior and Cadet Team Trials

Here's the info sheet. Minor nitpick: Can't anyone learn to proof and format these things so they don't look like they were thrown together by a third grader? I found 14 typos or formatting problems on the first page. Let's try to look professional! I've volunteered to proof USATT documents for them before they go public, completely in confidence, and they used to take me up on this, but not in recent years. The offer still stands. And I'm sorry if I'm embarrassing whoever put this together, but c'mon - we can do better. (Am I picking on USATT here, in the segment above, and in previous blogs? You bet I am - they need to get their act together and change the thinking and organizational funk they've been in for so many years.)

USA Nationals Entry Form

It's linked at the USA Nationals Home Pagehis came out two hours after I posted this blog, but I'm adding it late. I'll link to it again on Monday.

Practice Your Serves

Have you practiced your serves this week? Why not??? Few things are more under-practiced than serves, and time for time you probably get more from serve practice than just about anything else. Here are a few articles that might help out.

Covering Long Distances

Here's the coaching video (3:27) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Emad Barsoum Leading Player at 2014 Butterfly Badger Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

International News

As usual, you can find lots of international news at TableTennista (which covers the big names more) and at the ITTF news page (more regional news). 

Chinese National Team in Training

Here's the new video (4:01) of them as they trained for the 2014 World Team Championships.

Xu Xin - Pure Brilliance!

Here's a great point (22 sec). Xu is on near side, playing Germany's Dimitrij Ovcharov.

Ping-Pong as It Should Be Played

Here I am with playing with a vintage clipboard. (I'm about 2100 with it. Really! Challenge me at the Nationals - I'll have the clipboard ready!)

Getting Balled Out?

Here's the picture.

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March 11, 2014

Constant Competition

Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.

While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.

Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given.  Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."

I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.

Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day.  I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper.  That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.

Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.

Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.

But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built.  Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years.  The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."

(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.) 

Interview with Jim Butler

While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.

Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)

Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball

Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.

The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork

Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.

Wang Liqin Doing Multiball

Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.

Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)

Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal. 

Attempt on World's Longest Rally

Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.

China Primary School Ping Pong Army

Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.

Crossword Puzzle Pong

Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)

Table Tennis Memes

Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!

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November 21, 2013

Zhang Jike Footwork Drills

Here's a video (36 sec) showing Zhang doing multiball random footwork drills. You'll either be inspired or depressed.

Now I'm going to let you in on a secret: as long as you are in generally good shape - not too overweight or with leg problems - anyone can be fast as long as they learn one hugely important lesson: It's all about balance. Watch how Zhang is constantly balanced, allowing him to move quickly in either direction. It's when a player leans one way even slightly that he's off-centered, and unable to recover quickly. "Fast" players are fast, but mostly because of their balance. It's not the foot speed that's the limiting factor; it's the recovery time from the previous shot.

Another thing that leads to non-fast play: flat-footedness. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet throughout the rally, knees slightly bent, with a somewhat wide stance. This allows you to dance around the court like a mongoose or a Zhang Jike. (Sometimes the heel of the back foot might touch the ground during the backswing of a forehand loop.)

Another limiting factor in footwork is simply not using it. If you just stand at the table without trying to move, you're not going to develop any foot speed. Even blockers need to dance about the table if they want to be good blockers, as opposed to just reaching for the ball. (Some players reach for the ball and just dead block, usually with dead surfaces like long pips, but they get away with that because they don't have to really stroke the ball. You won't find many high-level players like this.)

So stop reaching and learn to move to every ball. You may never have Zhang Jike speed, but if you think of yourself as being like Zhang Jike and copy some of the techniques that make him so fast, you might not be so far behind. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Footwork from Table Tennis Master

Speaking of footwork, here are three articles on footwork that all go together, so I'll post all three.

USATT Election

The USATT Nominating and Governance Committee selected the two final candidates to run for the vacant spot on the USATT Board: Jim McQueen and Ross Brown.

Samsonov's Longevity

Here's an article on "Why Samsonov Will Last the Long Mile."

Ping-Pong and the Fight Against Alzheimer's

Here's the video (4:29).

Mitsubishi Electric Pumps $300,000 into Singapore Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Evolution

Here's the ultimate evolution poster showing apes evolving into....

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

The print version is now available at amazon.com (along with the Kindle version). Or you can save $3 by buying directly from First Class Books. (Not sure why amazon's selling above the retail rate. Normally they discount.) 

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October 9, 2013

Off to Veep

I'm off to the Veep taping this morning, leaving at 5:15 AM. I'll be there all day (and perhaps partially into the night) today and tomorrow. I'll say hello to Julia Dreyfus for you! I'll ask if I'm allowed to post anything about the taping, but I'm probably going to be sworn to secrecy. Or perhaps I'll come up with some wild, imaginary story about it and see if anyone believes me. (Julia, the Vice President, is hijacked by lizard-like ping-pong playing alien cyborgs! I play the lizard-like ping-pong playing alien cyborg leader!)

Don't Think About Form When Playing Matches

Here's a Guest Posting by Des Preston that I found interesting - and I agree with it. It comes at a timely time since (as noted above) I'm leaving at 6AM for the Veep posting.

I love the tips you give to your readers and I'd like to share one that I often remind myself of. A lot of intermediate-advanced players 1800+ spend too much time thinking of their own technique/form during matches. At the 1800+ level, unless you are purposely trying to fit a certain shot into your game, constantly reminding yourself of your own technique can be a hindrance.

To help me pay more attention to my opponent and less time watching myself I switch the wording around in my head. If I miss a shot or make a weak return, instead of saying, "Open your paddle more" or, "C'mon swing like this!", I think to myself, "Ok his serve has more backspin on it than I thought," or "His blocks are mostly dead." This way I'm thinking more about their shots, and letting my own subconscious figure out how to handle it. 

At a lower level this may be difficult, but once a player has all the shots they need in their arsenal, this might be a better way to think. It's less taxing on the player's mindset as well. I feel like I'm not blaming myself, I'm just pointing out that the other player did something I wasn't expecting.

Three Secret Steps to Supercharge Your Footwork

Here are the articles from Table Tennis Master: Part 1 and Part 2.

Houston Rockets Renovated Locker Room Features Ping Pong

Here's the article. "The Houston Rockets recently spent $7 million upgrading their locker room as they enter the beginning of the James Harden-Dwight Howard era and it seems like table tennis playing General Manager Daryl Morey had at least a little bit of an influence since the locker room features table tennis."

The Funny Table Tennis

Here's a video (4:31) with a compilation of hilarious and spectacular play, much of it exhibition, and set to music. It's from 2010, but I don't think I'd ever seen or posted it.

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September 18, 2013

Focus While You Play

Have trouble focusing when you play? Here are a few tips for keeping or regaining your focus in a match. (Here are some helpful links on sports psychology.)

  1. Make a habit of clearing your mind before every point. If it becomes habitual, then it becomes part of your routine, and it'll get easier and easier.
  2. Develop simple rituals before each point to help clear your mind. For example, bounce the ball a certain number of times before serving, or take a deep breath, or rub your hand on the table, or relax and drop your playing arm and swing it back and forth (which I do), or something else. If you do the same thing every time, your mind develops a Pavlovian response to it as the ritual signals to it that it's time to focus.
  3. If you lose focus, call a 60-second timeout to regain it. You can do this once per match.
  4. Pick out something in the distance and stare at it. This helps to clear the mind.
  5. Walk around the court between points. Don't overdo it - that's stalling - but a quick walkabout can help you regain focus.
  6. Think about tactics before the point as this gives you something to focus on. Then clear your mind just before the point begins.
  7. Remember that it is your subconscious that controls play in a rally. Your conscious mind should be just a spectator - its job during rallies is to just watch play and stay out of the way so the subconscious can do its job. So just let yourself go and spectate.
  8. Convince yourself it's just another match at your club. Then relax and have fun.
  9. Have something on your mind? Then mentally ball it up, spit it out, and put it on the sidelines. Now you can put it out of your mind; it'll be there for you when you finish your match.
  10. Too nervous to focus? That's a huge topic. But here's a simple way that often works, similar to the previous one. Imagine balling up all your nervousness. Then spit it out and toss it in the trash can, or toss it out the 

One Awful Footwork Mistake You Don't Realize You Make

Here's the article. Do you fall back on your heels after a strong forehand?

Longest Rally

Here's the article on high schoolers Max Fergus and Luke Logan recently setting the Guinness World Record for longest rally, going 8 hours 30 minutes and 6 seconds to break the old record by about 15 minutes.

Michael Maze

Here's a video (57:04) all about the Danish star and his training. (He's currently #22 in the world, formerly #8.)

Cartwheel Table Tennis

Here's a video (57 sec) that shows a player twice making a shot while doing a cartwheel, apparently an entry for the ITTF Trick Shot Showdown Contest. (Here's a 37-sec video of another cartwheeler from a while back, chopper Chen Xinhua on the far side.) Want to see more? Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

Comedian Daniel Tosh Carries a Big Stick

Okay, THAT's a big PADDLE.

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December 7, 2012

Breaking News - Marty Reisman Passes Away

(Added Friday afternoon)  He will be missed. 

Warming Up

When players warm up at a club or tournament, they invariably start out by hitting forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand. And there's nothing wrong with that as it gets the timing going while loosening the muscles a bit. However, often they do this for a long time. There's no reason to do this more than a few minutes. Instead, after about two minutes, why not do some footwork, which will really get you warmed up?

If you are just warming up, then 1-1 footwork is plenty. Your partner hits the ball alternately to your forehand and the middle of the table, and you move side to side, hitting (or looping) your forehand. You'll find moving and hitting not only is more like what you'll do in a game, it'll get you warmed up much faster.

Some will argue that it'll also tire them out quicker. Then hit less! What's better, spending 30 minutes trying to get warmed up, or getting a better warm-up in 15? But it's not that tiring since half the time your partner will be doing the footwork. That's where you not only rest, but work on your ball control. You'll get more practice on that hitting side to side then repetitively hitting to one spot.

Now do the same thing on the backhand. Don't just hit backhand to backhand - have your partner move you side to side some! Yes, a backhand footwork drill. In a match, you wouldn't just stand there and expect your opponent to hit to one spot, so why warm up for that? Have your partner hit one to your wide backhand, and one toward the middle. You might only want to cover, say, 1/3 of the table when you do backhand footwork, if that's what you'd do in a match. On the other hand, 2001 USA National Men's Singles Champion Eric Owens told me that he attributed his winning the title to his improved backhand, and he attributed that to doing drills where he'd cover over half the table with his backhand loop in footwork drills - saying that after doing that, covering 1/3 to 1/2 of the table with his backhand in a real match was easy.

Make sure to use the shot you'd use in a match. If you are a looper, go to looping once your drives are warmed up.

MDTTC Shirt on 30 Rock!

At the very start of 30 Rock last night at 8PM on NBC, Judah Friedlander ("Frank Rossitano") wore a blue Maryland Table Tennis Center shirt! I'd given him the shirt a few months ago. Judah is from Gaithersburg, Maryland (near MDTTC), and comes to MDTTC semi-regularly. I've given him a few lessons, though of course he's the World Champion, so nobody really gives him a lesson! Here are pictures I have of Judah playing table tennis, from the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page:

photo1 photo2 photo3 (with Spider-man) photo4 (Anna Kournikova on right) photo5 (L-R: Table Tennis Superstar Mikael Appelgren, Judah Friedlander, Actress Susan Sarandon, Table Tennis Superstar Jan-Ove Waldner)

Table Tennis Robots

In my blog on December 5 (Wednesday), I wrote about table tennis robots. I've since done some updates - added a couple videos for Newgy and Butterfly. So I thought I'd link to it again so you can have a second chance to go out and buy these robots for Christmas!

Peter Li Teaches the Basics

Reigning USA Men's Singles Champion teaches the forehand push in this short video (41 seconds).

Forehand Pivot Footwork

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:25) on Forehand Pivot Footwork. "The key to all footwork is balance." I say the same thing in all my footwork lectures. This is one of the more valuable coaching videos to watch. Too many players don't pivot correctly, and they pay for it in balance and recovery. (Often players have no trouble stepping around to attack with the forehand, but cannot recover for the next shot because of a poor pivot move.)

PingPod #34

Here's a PingPod video from PingSkills (7:23). "In this episode of the PingPod, Alois and Jeff discuss the Ping Pong Zone. This zone is what you enter into the first time you venture into a club. There are often unorthodox players who don't look very good but are extremely difficult to beat. Watch this video to see what we are talking about and how to overcome the Ping Pong Zone."

Attack vs. Defense

Here's a video (8:28) of Tan Ruiwu (Croatia, formerly of China) vs. Joo See Hyuk (KOR) in a vintage attack vs. defense/offense match-up in the first round of the ITTF Grand Finals. Time between points has been removed so it's non-stop action.

Animals Playing Table Tennis

In my collection of Animals Playing Table Tennis pictures, I've just added an orangutan. He's not actually playing, but waving a ping-pong paddle about is good enough for me. It's called shadow practice. He's going to be good! (So who wins between him and the chimp?)

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August 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Movement in Doubles.

MDTTC Camp, Week Eleven, Day Five

The eleven week camp marathon is over - each camp Mon-Fri, with a total of 55 days of camp. We averaged over 30 players per camp.

On Friday, the final day, I gave lectures on flipping short balls, on equipment (inverted, short pips, long pips, antispin, hardbat) and on how to play certain styles (choppers, penhold, Seemiller grip). We ended the morning with the candy game, where I put piles of candy on the table (jolly ranchers and Hershey kisses), and the kids took turns trying to knock them off as I fed multiball, three shots each. There was a stack left at the end so I distributed that among everyone.

Then we had lunch, and then 17 of us walked to the 7-11 down the street. (They keep giving me free small Slurpees for bringing in so many customers!) In the afternoon we had a practice tournament. I also had an informal awards ceremony for Wesley Fan and Kyle Wang, who had won bronze medals at the Junior Olympics a month ago for Under 14 Boys' Teams, but had left without getting their medals (or even knowing they had won them!). The medals had been mailed to me to give to them. We also sang Happy Birthday to Daniel Zhu, turned ten that day.

Things I Learned This Summer

  • The human head weighs a lot. You don't know this until you have a neck injury. According to the kid in the movie Jerry Maguire, the human head weighs eight pounds. According to Wiki Answers, it's 8-12 pounds. My own subjective belief is mine weighs 100 pounds. (Here's that picture of me in the neck brace. Tong Tong Gong took the picture.)
  • The amount of Slurpee that a kid can fit into his stomach after a table tennis training session is larger than the volume of his stomach. (This is true even after he has eaten lunch.)
  • When you walk to 7-11 during break, you have to go outside, and it's HOT outside in the summer.
  • The most accurate forehand in the world is from a kid who's told he can have the candy on the table if he can hit it off.
  • If you eat Chinese food for lunch during camps all summer, you gain weight. I went from 175 to 183, and now begins the torturous journey back to 175. My diet starts today.
  • When driving through an intersection, watch for Metro Access Buses on the left that suddenly pull in front of you.
  • The grip and foot positioning are still the core problems with most bad technique. If both are done properly, everything in between tends to fall into place, though there are a few common problems that still persist - not using shoulder rotation, muscling the ball, hitting shots too flat, etc.

The Backhand Block

Here's an article by Tom Nguyen on improving his backhand, with tips from Steven Chan.

Tahl Leibovitz: Saved from Homelessness by Table Tennis

Here's an article in the Times of Israel about how table tennis saved Paralympic Champion Tahl Leibovitz from homelessness.

Chinese Training

Here's a video from two years ago (7:54) that shows the Chinese team in training.

1958 U.S. Table Tennis Nationals

Here's a video (9:59) with clips of matches from the 1958 Nationals (now usually referred to as U.S. Opens), with commentary by Marty Reisman, who also appears in many of the clips. (He would win Men's Singles.)

Bryan Brothers Play Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:23) of the Bryan Brothers (twins Bob and Mike, #1 tennis doubles team in the world and recent Olympic Gold Medalists) playing table tennis in a charity to benefit the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Note the two-handed backhand by Mike! You also get to see Bugs Bunny (or a very large rabbit) playing. Really.

Real Table Tennis!

Here are six pictures of vintage table tennis as it should be played. (Click on each picture to see the next.)

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May 31, 2012

Forehand Looping from Backhand Corner

There's a discussion at the about.com forum about a point showing Larry Bavly (Heavyspin) winning a point with a "relatively low speed block to show that all points do not have to be won by hitting the ball hard." He does this against an opponent who had forehand looped from the wide backhand corner. There was some debate as to how this happened. The basic problem was that the woman looping against Bavly was rushed, and so was left off balance at the end of the stroke, and unable to recover back into position for the next shot. Here's the video. (This will download the video as a wmv file, which you should be able to play.) See how she is off-balanced at the end of the stroke, leaning to her left (our right)?

Now watch this example (in the point starting at 2:41) on youtube of a player doing the same shot and having no trouble covering the wide forehand for the next shot. This is a match between Wang Liqin (near side, in yellow shirt) versus Ma Long (far side, purple shirt). Wang is serving. Ma pushes the serve back, blocks the next ball, then steps way around his backhand to forehand loop. Wang blocks the ball to Ma's wide forehand, and Ma has no trouble covering it. Throughout the match watch how both players take turns ripping forehand loops, and see how fast they recover - because they are balanced throughout the shot, and so are able to recover almost instantly for the next shot. (Watch the slow motion replay.) There's another example of Ma doing this at 4:35, though this time he barely is able to cover the wide forehand  Note how the players sometimes even use their momentum from the previous shot to get back into position.

A similar point happens in the second point shown, starting 22 seconds in. This time it's Wang Liqin who steps around to forehand loop, and is ready to cover the wide forehand. Ma actually blocks more to the middle of the table, but you can see Wang was ready to cover the wide forehand - and since the ball wasn't so wide, he is able to take this ball right off the bounce. (Watch the slow motion replay of this point.) There's another point like this starting at 2:24, where Wang again steps around to forehand loop, and is immediately able to cover the wide forehand - but this time, while he's there, he misses. There's another one at 3:43 where Wang against steps around, and this time Ma has an extremely wide angle to block to. Watch how easily Wang recovers and moves to cover the wide forehand, though Ma misses the block.

Regardless of where you are looping from, or even what stroke you are doing, balance throughout the stroke and rally is one of the key differences between elite and non-elite players. Players who can do repeated attacks in the same rally can do so because they are balanced and in control of their positioning and momentum; players who can only do one or at most two good shots in a row are usually off-balanced and not really in control. This doesn't mean you should always be perfectly centered between your feet, but that your weight should almost always be centered somewhere between your feet, with you in control of your body positioning, regardless of the momentum from the previous shot.

We won't talk about the rather awkward (but effective this time) "Seemiller" style block Bavly uses this point. Some things better remain unspoken.

Serving Short and Low

Are you playing in the Easterns this weekend, or any other upcoming tournaments? Have you been practicing your spinny serves so you can keep them short and low? No? Good. Then if you play anyone I'm coaching (and I'm coaching at the Easterns), we're going to loop or flip your serve in, and like the piggy with no roast beef, you'll cry all the way home. Oh, you've changed your mind, and decided to practice your serves? (Monday's Tip of the Week will be on how to do this. And no, you don't have to serve short all the time, just most of the time, or at least when facing an opponent who can effectively loop your serve.)

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Overcoming Fear of Defending (1:32)

Joint Table Tennis and Golf Scholarship

Austin Preiss is going to Lindenwood College on a joint table tennis and golf scholarship, which must be a first. Here's the article. Some of you may know Austin both as a top junior player the last few years and for doing exhibitions around the country with his father Scott.

Stop-Motion Video Ping-Pong

This was a school project by someone, but it's hilarious, and gets better and better as it goes on (2:26).

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March 26, 2012

Tip of the Week

The Great Scourge of Table Tennis Footwork: Leaning.

Counterlooping and the Sunset Years

I'm not exactly into my sunset years at age 52, and yet every year my counterlooping skills take another small step backward. Even minor decreases in muscle flexibility and quickness affect this more than most other shots. I did a lot of counterlooping last fall with students who were developing their counterlooping skills, and recently I felt that my own counterlooping skills were getting back to their norm (i.e. the way I remember them from long ago). Yesterday I was counterlooping with a student and there were times where I was just staring at my racket, hoping I could blame all the misses on that. The reality is I was stiff and tired (okay, a few dozen loops beyond bone tired) after four hours of coaching and playing (and seven straight hours the day before), but skills like these should be ingrained and automatic. Instead, balls were jumping all over the place and sometimes I felt like I was just flailing at them. I even had a second wind, felt energized - but still kept missing. It probably wasn't as bad as I remember, since I probably remember all the misses instead of the ones that hit, but in practice most of them are supposed to hit. Alas. (Here's an article I wrote on counterlooping.) 

Speaking of counterlooping, during a recent group practice session I was playing matches with the beginning/intermediate kids, spotting most of them 6 points each. We also let adults join in as practice partners, and an elderly man in his 60s showed up. I didn't see him playing, and don't think I'd ever seen him play, so when Cheng asked me to play him a practice match I went in figuring he was another beginning/intermediate player, and took it easy on him. Down 2-7 in the first game, after watching him rip loop after loop from both wings, I realized my error. I tried blocking his non-stop barrage of loops, but to no avail - the guy may have been in his 60s, but his backhand loop was unreal! I finally went after his slightly-softer forehand, and since he seemed to go mostly crosscourt, I was able to get my counterlooping going. With my back to the wall, I came back to win that first game, lost the second (more backhand rips, plus he started smashing some of my loops), then won the next two very close games on my serves (he had great trouble with my forehand pendulum serve short to his forehand) and counterloops. It turns out he was a former top player from Ukraine. (Note to self: every unknown opponent is a possible top player from Ukraine, or China, or Timbuktu, so be ready!)

For the weekend (Fri-Sun), I coached an even ten hours, but also played about 20 practice matches, and went undefeated, including wins over one 2300+ player, one 2250 player, two wins over a 2100 player, and the rest against players from beginner to 1900.

World Team Championships

The World Team Championships started yesterday in Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1. You can follow all of the action online.

Zhang Jike Backhand Looping Multiball

Here's a short video (0:53) of world #1 Zhang Jike of China doing multiball backhand loop practice at the World Championships. He makes it look so easy.

Road to London

Here's a TV feature (4:22) on USA's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

The Pongcast - Episode 12

The latest Pongcast (21:14) features the European Champions League.

Dog referee?

Just let the dog play! (0:45)

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February 29, 2012

Sol Schiff RIP

Sad news. "Mr. Table Tennis," Hall of Famer Sol Schiff, died yesterday at age 94. He was the 1934 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion, the 1938 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Jimmy McClure), and a member of the 1937 World Men's Team Champion (the only time the U.S. ever won the title). He also served as USTTA (now USATT) president for many years. Here's his USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame profile. (It's only "Part 1" - hopefully Tim Boggan will write Part 2 at some point.) Note - A number of reports incorrectly have him as being 95, but he was born on June 28, 1917, passed away on February 26, 2012, and so wouldn't have turned 95 until June 28. 

Leap Day

In honor of Leap Day, go practice your footwork. Or at least read about footwork - here are five articles I've written on footwork that you may browse while lounging in a chair sipping diet coke.

The one time I was faulted

As promised last week, here is the story of the only time my serve was ever faulted in a tournament.

I've been playing tournaments since I started playing 36 years ago in 1976. I've probably played in about 600 tournaments. How many times have I been faulted? Exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. Here's how it happened.

In the early 1980s I was about to play another player about my level, around 2200 or so at the time. This was just before the color rule was passed, and so many players used different racket surfaces with the same color. Often they would flip the racket and serve with either side, and about the only way to tell which side the server used was by sound. And so many players with combination rackets began stamping their foot as they served to hide the different sound. It became a serious problem with all the loud distracting foot stomps, and so foot stomping during the serve became illegal. The wording of the rule roughly said that if the umpire believed you stomped your foot to hide the sound of contact, the serve would be a fault.

Before the match my opponent reminded the umpire of this rule, and incorrectly said that if I lifted my foot during my serve, it was a foot stomp and I should be faulted. I was using inverted on both sides, and did not stomp my foot during my serve - but I did left my left foot slightly off the ground when doing my forehand pendulum high-toss serve, my primary serve.

On the very first point of the match the umpire faulted me for foot stomping. I pointed out the actual wording of the rule, and the umpire looked confused. So I called for the referee. The referee explained the rule to the umpire, and the umpire then changed his ruling, saying that in he had gotten the rule wrong, and that I hadn't tried to foot stomp to hide the sound of contact. So it's a let, right?

Wrong. The opponent then argued that foot stomping is a judgment call, and that an umpire cannot change a judgment call. After thinking it over, the referee agreed, and so the fault stood.

I won the match.

Side note - I just read the above to Tim Boggan. (See my blog yesterday about his staying at my house for two weeks.) He said that if he'd been there, said I'd been ROBBED and that he'd still be arguing to this day about it.

Table Tennis in New York Post

Here's a feature on Michael Landers in yesterday's New York Post. Here's an excerpt:

"Some people joke around saying that [table tennis] is a combination of running, boxing and playing chess at the same time, but in reality it really is," Landers said. "There’s so much thinking involved, so much strategy and you have to have the agility of a boxer and the speed of a runner."

Commercials with Table Tennis

Here's a lipstick commercial (0:30) that features table tennis.  Here's a Metro PCS commercial (0:31) that has one second of table tennis. (Watch quickly 16 seconds in or you'll miss it!)

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