Ball Bouncing

July 21, 2014

Tip of the Week

Overplaying and Underplaying.

Sameer's Tournaments

On Saturday I coached one of my students at the Howard County Open. Sameer, who just turned 13 last week, has played about two years, but mostly just once a week the first year. He's had an interesting run recently, playing in tournaments for three straight weeks. This was after taking over seven months off from tournaments to work on his game as he transitioned to looping nearly everything from both wings.

Two weeks ago he played at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He went in rated 1378. In match after match he was nervous, and unable to play well. Occasionally he'd put it together. As I pointed out to him afterwards, there were two Sameers - the 1200 Sameer when he was nervous, and the 1600 one when he wasn't. (When he's nervous, he rushes, stands up straight - which makes all his shots awkward - and smacks balls all over the place.) He beat one player over 1600 and battled with some stronger players, but way too often was too nervous to play his best. He came out rated 1409.

I tell my students not to worry about ratings, but after all the work he'd put in, and all the improvement in practice, it was a major disappointment to play at barely a 1400 level. We both knew he was 200 points better than that. We'd worked on various sports psychology techniques since he'd had this problem before, but after months of league play at our club I'd hoped he was over it. So we went back to working on sports psychology. But overall, as I explained to Sameer and his mom, the solution was to play a bunch of tournaments until he got more used to them, and was able to play more relaxed.

The following weekend he played in the Lily Yip Open in New Jersey. I'd like to say he turned things around, but not really. He started out just as nervous, unable to perform properly, and lost his first two matches to players rated in the 1100s. This was a disaster - two 50-pointers to start things off. (Partly because of their wins over Sameer, the two players would be adjusted to about 1300 and 1400.) But then, with nothing to lose, he started to turn things around. He beat a 1450 player, then a 1500 player. Since they were using older ratings, he was eligible for Under 1400. He made it to the final where he had to play a "ringer" - the guy had already won Under 1600! But Sameer pulled out a close deuce in the fourth match to win Under 1400. It was a good finish, and yet once again there'd been two Sameers - one about 1200, the other about 1600.

This past Saturday he played in the Howard County Open. Playing three consecutive tournaments paid off - he went in determined to do better, and this time only the 1600 Sameer showed up. He had three 1550+ wins, beat several 1400 players, and his worst loss was to a 1660 player - and more importantly, he won Under 1600! The hard work was finally beginning to pay off. To the 1200 Sameer who stayed away this weekend - you're a loser and we don't like you, so get lost!!! (Here's a picture of Sameer with his U1600 $50 prize money, which I obviously want. Here's a picture of him with his U1400 Trophy at the Lily Yip tournament the week before.)

Even better than winning Under 1600 what that while he finally played in tournaments at the level he could play in practice, he showed potential to go beyond that level. When you have good technique, it's just a matter of executing the technique and you control the games and your fate - and soon you realize you can beat even the players you are currently losing to. Sameer may be 1600 now, but it won't be a big jump for him to jump up to 1700 level, then 1800 level, and so on. (Note that I'm referring to level, not rating. If you play 1800 level, and play it in tournaments, then you'll get that 1800 rating, but that's secondary.)

There were some tactical lessons from the tournament. Sameer often relies on mixing in short serves (that he follows with a forehand or backhand loop) and deep serves (that often win the point outright or set up winners). Doing a fast, deep serve under pressure is not easy. So I had him practice the fast serves quite a bit just before the tournament, and while warming up for it.

One of the most important things I kept reminding him before each match and between games was for him not to overplay. (See today's Tip of the Week.) Under pressure he'll often swat at shots rather than play the shots he can make, i.e. nice, strong loops, without trying to rip everything for a winner. Tactically, some of the keys for him was to vary and move his serves around; attack the opponent's forehand and middle; and just control the serves back to force rallies. Perhaps most important for him, he stayed down, breaking that nasty habit of standing up straight while playing that we've battled against for months.

Opportunity for Clubs to Host Camps for Veterans with Disabilities

Here's the info page. USATT has a grant to pay for these camps.

Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina

He's been writing up a storm recently on his Article Page. Here are his more recent coaching articles.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-eight down, 42 to go!

  • Day 43: Khalil Al-Mohannadi: “The language of sports is a universal human language and a message of love” 
  • Day 44: Shi Zhihao Is Committed to Making TT More Popular

Ma Long Chop Block

Here's the video (2:26) showing him using the shot in competitions. I have one student who screams bloody murder whenever I do this shot, says nobody else does it! It is a dying shot, but many top players still do this as a variation, as shown here by world Ma Long (currently world #2, formerly world #1 for 30 months, as recently as February this year).

Ball Control Practice with Bouncing and Balancing

Here's the video (1:28) showing various bouncing and balancing drills you can do with a paddle and ball.

Incredible Point at Match Point

Here's the video (1:28, including slow motion replay) as Germany's Timo Boll (world #10, formerly #1) battles to win that last point against Croatia's Andrej Gacina (world #30).

Houston Rockets GM Donated Thousands of Dollars so He Could Whoop Us in Ping-Pong

Here's the story.

Mini-Table Doubles

Here's the video (2:25) - pretty good doubles play!

Chinese National Team Trick Shots

Here's the video (1:07).

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April 1, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Many Ways to Receive a Short Backspin Serve.

12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup

All you have to do is train the players really well, and they will get really good.
Perhaps that's a little simplistic, but it's what a top coach once told me, and he was
right. This past weekend 12-year-old Derek Nie, all of 70 pounds, won Open Singles
in the MDTTC Coconut Cup tournament. In the quarterfinals he upset Mang Bang
Liang, a chopper/looper rated 2600 - Derek's best win ever. "Before the match, I
found a whole chapter in Larry Hodges' book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers"
on playing choppers," Derek said. "I read it over in the back room. Everything worked!"
Only it was just the beginning of his banner tournament. In the semifinals he defeated
Lee Zhang Wook, a 2650 pips-out penholder visiting from China. "There's a section
about playing them in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and before the match I read it. I
played to the wide forehand, then came back to the backhand, like the book said, and it
really worked!" In the final, Derek played 2700+ Sammy Callaghan. "He's a bratty kid from
Ireland. But the Tactics book has an entire section on playing bratty kids!" Derek was able to
loop Sammy's serves, which had created havoc against other players. Most players had
found the serves almost unreturnable, but Derek had few problems. "There's a whole chapter
on returning serves in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and I read it over before going
out to play him." Derek won the match in a seven-game battle, ending the match by
loop-killing Sammy's serve at 11-10 in the last game. Congrats to Champion Derek!

World Team Cup

China sweeps Men's and Women's Teams, though it wasn't always so easy this time. Here are articles from Table Tennista on China winning Men's Teams and Women's Teams. Here's an article from them on the huge upset of Germany by Egypt in the quarterfinals - and here's a video (1:47) of the end of the match when Egypt wins. (There are several more articles on the tournament at Table Tennista.) Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Spring Break Camp

Spring Break Camp ended on Friday. In the morning we had "Player's Choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on during multiball sessions. Usually we do regular multiball drills, but most of the players in my group wanted to work on serves, so we did that.

Right after lunch, when I was about to take 16 of them to 7-11, a group of about 16 kids and parents came in unexpectedly and asked if someone could run a clinic for them. So I got Coach Raghu to take the kids to 7-11, and I ran a 45-minute clinic where covered grip, stance, forehand, backhand, and basic serves. They stayed and played another hour. Hopefully some will return.

In the afternoon most of the players had a practice tournament. I worked with the beginners, doing a lot of one-on-one play (instead of multiball). And then we were done!

Over 60 players attended the camp, though not all at once. One session had 47 players, most were in the 35-40 range. We used 18 tables, with both one-on-one drills, multiball, and robot play.

Ball Bouncing

We often have ball-bouncing contests in our junior classes on weekends. This Sunday Matvey Stepanov (11) had done about 100 at the start of class. He was supposed to be on ball pickup, but I told him he could keep bouncing until he missed, and then go on ball pickup. Mistake!!! We had to work around him on ball pickup as he went on and On and ON!!! He shattered the previous record of 1360 (I believe set by Kai MaClong, also 11) with 2216 bounces before missing.

Jim Butler on Receiving Serve

Here's a great quote from Jim Butler (Olympian and 4-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) on how he approaches serve return, from the about.com forum.

When I'm receiving serves in a tournament, I usually have a mental plan each serve.  I will look at the server, look at his racket angle and service motion, and anticipate what serve I feel he's about to do.  The serve I'm anticipating is the one I'm looking to attack, or receive with aggression.  If the server does a different serve I'm not expecting, I have a plan to react to the serve, and play it safe on the table.... not too much speed.  If a server does a serve you are not expecting, it's usually best to play that receive conservative.  

For example:  If I'm receiving I may decide to step around with my forehand and attack any long serve or half long serve that comes to my bh corner..  As I go around on the receive to attack with my forehand, I'm looking to pounce on any serve to my backhand that's long or half long.  If any other serve comes though, I will cancel on a hard attack, and react accordingly with a safe receive.  I'm in position to only aggressively attack a long or half long serve to my bh.  Any other serve that comes, I will not  be in a good position to do much but receive it back safely, and hopefully with good placement.  

Tribute to Ding Ning

Here's a video tribute (4:17) to China's Ding Ning, world #1 since November, 2011.

Oriole Pingpong

"I've stayed here until 4 o'clock playing pingpong before." -Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day, in this article in the Baltimore Sun yesterday.

Happy Easter!

Here are two Easter Bunnies playing table tennis.

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August 13, 2012

Tip of the Week

Racket Tip Angle on the Backhand.

Table Tennis Records

11-year-old Sameer Shaikh, while on break in our camp on Friday, bounced a ball on his paddle 1210 times in a row. Is it a world record? Probably not, but I'll let someone else google it. But it does bring up the question of table tennis records. Unfortunately, I haven't kept track of who did what and when. For example, in our camps I know the record for completely knocking over a pyramid of 10 and 15 cups is 2 and 3 shots, respectively, but I don't remember who did it. These may sound silly, but they are actually great practice. I remember when Sameer couldn't bounce more than a few in a row; now he has good racket control. (When you start a little kid on table tennis, start him with ball bouncing, and see how many he can do. This is how he begins developing the hand-eye coordination to actually rally.) Hitting pyramids of cups may sound frivolous, but it challenges them to be accurate, besides being a fun way to end a three-hour session in a training camp. 

I have a few personal records which may or may not be "records": 2755 backhands in a row (at a Seemiller camp in 1978 when I was 18); 14 consecutive bounces up and down off the edge of my racket; 14 consecutive "come back" serves (i.e. high backspin serves that bounce directly back over the net after hitting the opponent's side of the table); and blowing the ball back 33 consecutive times in a rally. So what are your records?

Busyness

My todo list is bizarrely long. Every five minutes I seem to get another email asking questions (often very involved ones), requesting letters of recommendation for green cards or college (I have two to write today), news interviews or questions, stuff about my blog, MDTTC and USATT stuff, not to mention all the correspondence regarding my outside science fiction writing career and complications with insurance after my car accident last week. Plus all the usual coaching in camps and private sessions. It's getting way out of hand. I was up late last night getting things done, and the result was I woke up with a headache this morning. That's why the blog and weekly tip went up late today.

2016 Paralympic Hopeful Timmy La

Here's an article and video (1:55) from Channel 9 News/WUSA, featuring 2016 Paralympic hopeful Timmy La, who trains at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (I'm interviewed about him throughout the article and video.)

Table Tennis in The Daily Beast

Here are two "dueling" articles in The Daily Beast about the state of modern table tennis in the USA. Most of you know probably know of the flamboyant Marty Reisman, champion player and champion of hardbat (and sandpaper) table tennis. (Here's his U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Profile.) Matt Simon is a former Junior Olympic star who came to a number of my table tennis camps back in the 1990s, when the Maryland Table Tennis Center was known as the National Table Tennis Center in Maryland (as it is referred to in the article).

Coming Soon: Spin LA

There's already a Spin NY, Spin Milwaukee, and Spin Toronto, all courtesy of actress and table tennis entrepreneur Susan Sarandon. Now comes Spin LA, which opens this fall. Here's an article about it in The Huffington Post.

Rhode Island Table Tennis

Here's an article and video (2:44) in "The Rhode Show" about Rhode Island table tennis, which features their club, top player Grant Li, and President Chuck Cavicchio.

Crazy Kids Playing Table Tennis

Here's a video (5:45) of some Japanese show featuring the apparent trash-talking hosts taking on two girls about 4 or 5 years old. The kids are pretty good! If you know Japanese, feel free to post what they are saying!

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August 15, 2011

Tip of the Week

Can you write The Book on Your Game?

MDTTC Coaching Camp - Day Five

  • Day Five was actually last Friday. Day Six of the two-week MDTTC Camp is today. A number of new players are joining us - this'll probably be our biggest summer camp, with over 30 players, quite a jam on 12 tables. (We do lots of multiball so we can have more than two players on a table.)
  • As noted in previous blogs, one of the favorite games we do in the camp is to put ten paper cups on the table in various configurations, and see how many a player can knock down with ten shots. Unfortunately, on Friday this degenerated into "cup wars." During break, several of the kids took the whole stack of cups (about 50) and created a huge pyramid on the table they planned to knock down by hitting it with ping-pong balls. Another kid walked by and knocked it over with his hand. The others were angry, but couldn't really do much about it. They created another pyramid, and again the same kid came over and knocked it down. Then he wanted to join them in creating a new pyramid, but they wouldn't let him. (Gee, I wonder why?) So the kid grabbed a bunch of the cups. Then we had various chase scenes as the others tried to get the cups back, and it ended up with some punching and a lot of shoving. I finally had to intervene, and took the cups away from the destructive kid - which led to a total meltdown. "I just want to play with the cups!" he wailed. It's easier teaching a beginner how to beat the world champion than trying to explain to a screaming 8-year-old that they wouldn't let him play with him because he kept knocking down their cups - and he vowed he'd keep knocking them down. Alas. Someday I'll ask Stellan Bengtsson if refereeing cup wars is part of table tennis coaching.
  • On the brighter side, a 7-year-old girl couldn't hit one shot in a row when she started on Monday. By Friday, she was smashing winners.
  • Week One was a great success - and Week Two'll be even better!

Ball bouncing

For beginners, one of the best things they can do to develop hand-eye coordination in table tennis is ball bouncing. We have them bounce the ball up and down as many times as they can on their forehand side. It's very difficult for a typical 7- or 8-year-old, though by age 9 or 10 it becomes much easier. After they master this, we introduce the next step: ball bouncing on the backhand side, which is a bit more difficult for most players. When they master that, then we have them alternate, bouncing on the forehand and backhand sides.

We also have advanced players join in this, and have competitions between the beginners and advanced players. The advanced players have to alternate hitting one on their racket's surface, and one on the edge of their racket! I've taken on many of the beginners with this handicap, and it's often a close battle. Try this out and see how many you can do. I usually average about ten shots before missing; my record is 31. But if I practice, I think I can break that, and so should you.

Equipment reviews

One of my students in the camp we're running is looking to change his racket and sponge. I knew basically what he wanted - he loops just about everything on the forehand, both hits and loops on the backhand - but to help with the decision-making I had him do two things. First, he tried out every racket and sponge he could from players at the camp and club. (One problem with that is you often have to try out sponge on an unfamiliar racket, and so aren't sure how it'll play on your own racket.) Second, we researched them online at the Table Tennis Database. It's a great place to find equipment reviews!

When you're starting out, it's a good idea to really learn what's out there by trying out as many rackets and sponges as possible. Once you find the right equipment for you, I urge players to stick with it unless their game changes or there's a real equipment breakthrough (which happens about once every five to ten years).

My web pages

I maintain a number of web pages, mostly for table tennis. Here are the main ones. 

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