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September 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. Time to put some balance into your game!

Tactics against hitting juniors

Because I'm out of practice after months of back problems, when I went back to playing local juniors, I had to go back to "basic principles" to compete. And while I wasn't really playing well, I kept winning, but almost exclusively on tactics. Here are the main tactics I used, and that you should try when playing super-fast hitting juniors, where you simply cannot play at their pace. (I can't.)

When serving, often serve slow, super-spinny serves, mostly long, with lots of spin variation, often so they break into the wide backhand. You want lots and lots of serve variation. With side-top serves, vary between extra topspin and extra sidespin. Vary the service motion, especially right after contact - mostly follow-through down for side-top serves, follow-through up for side-backspin serves. Throw in lots of fast, dead (almost backspin) serves to the middle (playing elbow). Be aggressive and decisive in following up the serve - it might be the only shot in the rally that you won't get a bang-bang counter-hitting return. If you have a good loop, serve short backspins to the middle or forehand (or long to the backhand, if they push it back), and follow with loops at wide angles--but try to hide the direction you are going, or even fake one way, go the other. (Juniors have smaller middles, but are weaker at covering the corners when you are attacking.)

When receiving, look for every chance to push or chop the serve back extremely heavy and low, at wide angles. (Receiving against fast-attacking juniors is one of the few times where you may break the cardinal rule of attacking the deep serve, since it's often better to push it back heavy.) Often aim to the backhand, then push to the wide forehand at the last second. When they move to the forehand to loop, quick block the next ball to the wide backhand before they are back in position, or to the wide forehand again if they move to cover the backhand too quickly. If the junior loops from both wings, a heavy push to the middle will often give them trouble. If you topspin the serve back, make sure to go very deep. If you loop the serve, deep, spinny loops are usually best; if they smash this with their forehand, then do it mostly to the backhand. Quicker loops to the forehand are effective - any loop to the forehand they can't smash is effective.

When rallying, use lots of variation. You may start the rally off close to the table - try to start the rally with an aggressive, well-placed shot (wide angles or middle) - then hit the next shot a step back, but don't back up too much until you are forced to. Use varying topspins and backspins, and move the ball around the table, keeping it deep. Throw in some dummy loops. If you are good at fishing and lobbing, that is effective as long as you don't overdo it - it's better to force the junior to make at least one risky shot that he might miss before you start lobbing, so don't give up the table too easily. Heavy backspin (pushing and chopping) can be extremely effective, so here's your chance to learn to win with backspin.

Here are two other articles that might be helpful: 

Back and Playing Update

This past weekend (Fri-Sun) I played more than I had in the previous two months. It was the first real test of my back since I'd had the back problems I've probably over-blogged about. Overall, things went really well. On Friday and Saturday I played practice matches with some of our top juniors (and some non-juniors), including several that were rated about the same as me or higher. I went in fully expecting (as did everyone else) that after several months of non-playing, I'd get killed. Instead, I went undefeated, a combined 9-0! Rating-wise, I defeated players rated 2300, 2200, 2150, two 2100's, 2000, 1800, 1700, and 1300. I'm not going to give out names, but suffice to say I had Cheng Yinghua staring at me with a silly grin and saying, "Larry, how are you playing so good?" He and Jack coached several of the juniors against me ("He's slow! Attack his forehand and middle! Most of his serves are topspin! Serve topspin so he can't push quick and heavy!), but to no avail.

Two things that really helped. First, the honest truth I wasn't playing that well, and feeling rather vulnerable, I really, Really, REALLY focused on tactics. And that worked rather well. Second, it had been months since they had seen my serves, and I decided to just serve for winners. And so I gave my opponents a steady diet of long, breaking serves with varied spin, often with a herky-jerky serving motion to throw them off, along with fast, dead serves to the middle, and occasionally short, spinny serves, especially to the forehand. They missed my serve over and over. Like magic, whenever I served and needed a point, a service winner would appear. As I got more comfortable, I did more serve & attack, especially with short no-spin serves to the middle or forehand, followed by a forehand loop.

On Sunday, I did 3.5 consecutive hours of coaching, the first time I'd done more than an hour of coaching in months. It went pretty well, but combined with all the playing on Friday and Saturday, by the end my back was done. I played one practice match with a 1700 junior (won the first, struggled to win the next three mostly with serves and by fishing and lobbing), then had to stop. The good news was this morning my back feels fine.

A USA National League System

Over the past few days there has been a lot of emails discussions on how to set up a national league system. I've argued for years that we should focus on learning how they do it so successfully in Europe, and from that create a USA model. I know NYTTL (the New York league, which has teams from all over the northeast) does that (Mauricio Vergara explained how they modeled it after the European leagues), and I think BATTF (Bay area) and LATTF (Los Angeles) are also similar to European leagues. The best news of the weekend was that Richard Lee (president of North American Table Tennis) is going to Europe on business, and volunteered to meet with officials there and ask about how they developed their leagues. (And the key is how they did so at the start, not just how they are being run today.) I was also asked the following:

>In your opinions how can we realistically implement the National Club
>League System? What would work best in the U.S.?

Here is my response:

"Here is the recommendation I made repeatedly at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and previous ones as and board meetings. Arrange to meet at the Worlds (or other major competition) with officials from Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), or other countries with successful leagues. The key is to learn from them how they created and developed their leagues, not how they are run now, though that is the ultimate goal. Discuss it with them, exchange ideas, and see what we can learn.

"Then we take this info to successful league directors in the U.S. (such as ones from BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL), and ask them to work out a U.S. model, based on what we learn from European leagues and their own experiences in the U.S. (Actually, we should send these league directors to the Worlds to meet with European league directors, so they can learn first hand. At our cost. It would be the single best investment in USATT history.) Then we make this model available to those interested, and promote it on a regional basis. I believe they are already working on this, but they are reinventing the wheel, when the wheel (how to set up successful leagues) has already be invented many times overseas. We just need to decide the specific design of our wheel.

"We have to stop thinking in terms of setting up a nationwide league for current clubs, and think about setting up a league that will create clubs, such as Germany did, whose Bundesliga led to their 11,000 clubs. How do they and others do this? Given the choice between learning this, and not learning this, we've consistently chosen ignorance, often hiding behind the oft-repeated "But things are different there!" without even bothering to learn the differences and similarities. Yes, there are differences, which is why we take the best of Europe to experienced U.S. league directors, and create a U.S. model. Believe it or not, the 700,000 players in the German league system are human beings just like us; they are not some alien species that genetically wants to play table tennis. Neither are the English, the Chinese, the Japanese, and other countries that do it right, and yet we consistently pretend we know everything when in reality USATT knows very little about developing table tennis in this country. That's why we have 8000 members."

A TV show that features Ping-Pong? (I mean table tennis!)

NBC is developing Pong, a single-camera comedy based on the 2010 book Everything You Know Is Pong by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz.

Brian Pace in Training

Brian write of this new video (37:21), "In Episode 9 of BP Reloaded I update you on my training in Romania, I go over my weight loss, I show you some of my daily meals, and I go through a training session with Lucian M."

Matrix Table Tennis

I know you have seen this (if not, where have you been???), but I watched it again this morning, and I think every table tennis player should watch the Matrix Table Tennis Video (1:44) at least once a month. And while you're at it, why not watch the parodies?

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September 14, 2011

Develop the non-hitting side

I remember when Coach (and five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) Dan Seemiller talked about this at training camps back in the late 1970s, and for some reason, it didn't make sense at the time. He kept saying how players over-developed their playing side, leaving the other side undeveloped, and as a result couldn't rotate properly and at full power on forehand shots, especially when looping. I didn't see how you needed the left side to rotate your body about. So I spent years developing my right side, to the point where I could do 40 one-arm pushups with my right arm, and couldn't even get off the floor with my left side. My loops never had pure, raw power, and it wasn't until I became a coach that I realized that part of the reason was I wasn't really pulling much with my left side.

As a coach, not only do I realize I don't, but I see most players don't do this very well either, with many players sort of rotating their playing side into the ball, but not pulling equally back with the non-playing side, which is half the equation when rotating - and if you don't pull with that left side, you lose power. Generating the torque needed for full power, in particular when looping, comes from both sides of the body. This doesn't mean you need to spend time at the gym weight training (though that helps!), but remember to use both sides when rotating on forehand shots - imagine a pole going through your head, and rotate around it, with the playing side pushing forward, the non-playing side pulling backward.

Back update

After months of back problems, I'm finally able to play again. I've been seeing a physical therapist twice a week for about six weeks, and doing a ten-minute stretching/strengthening routine three times a day. During much of this time I had locals do my hitting for me while I coached. I got the go ahead from the doctor to start hitting again last week, and so far, while the back still gets sore, and I'm pretty slow (that happens when you take time off!), I'm able to practice with students normally again. As a coach, I'm no longer handicapped; as a player, I'm in mortal fear of our super-fast juniors because right now, my back (and the rest of me) just doesn't want to move very fast. Hopefully that'll come back soon.

Math and English and Creative Writing, Oh My!

I'm working on this morning's blog quickly because I'm off shortly to do my newest sideline, four hours/week tutoring math, English, and creative writing with a local junior table tennis star. Today's math focus is Cramer's Rule, Gauss-Jordan Elimination, Descartes' Rules of Signs, the Rational Roots Test, and other goodies - though we've already started calculus, he's preparing for a pre-calculus test. And we're also working on a fantasy zombie story!

Free Table Tennis e-Book

You can download a free (yes, FREE!) copy of "Boys look at the Stars - Ping-Pong." It's 216 pages, and looks rather interesting as it covers the history of the sport and its stars, with drawings of many of the table tennis greats of the past and present. I downloaded it but haven't read it, just browsed it, so if anyone wants to do a review, I'll post it here. (It comes in either ePub or PDF format.)

Here's what the author (Enzo Pettinelli) wroteabout the book: "Hi all, I'm an Italian table tennis player and I would like present you this free e-book about table tennis history. The e-book "Boys Look at the Stars - Ping-Pong" talks about the history of table tennis in the world. But it is not only ping-pong or table-tennis. It is an adventure lived by children, through their way of being. Love, cruelty, the story of the great table tennis champions from all the world, stimulates their creativity. Dreams, reality, goals morality, the search of oneself, are the ingredients." There's also a video about the book (2:52), though it mostly shows drawings of the stars, leaving the impression that it's a picture book, while the book actually has plenty of text.

Table tennis promo video

Here's a nice table tennis promo video (3:15).

Here's an article on Jan-Ove Waldner...

...because you can never have enough of Jan-Ove Waldner. And here's a video tribute to Waldner (4:36).

Here's an article on Vladimir Samsonov...

...because you can never have enough of Vladimir Samsonov. And here's a video tribute to Samsonov (4:18).

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September 5, 2011

Tip of the Week

Short serves to the middle

Keeping a notebook

Do you keep a table tennis notebook? I did for years, and I recommend you do as well. I used a steno notebook. From front to back, I would take notes on my own play - what I was working on, what drills I was doing, what worked and didn't work in matches, etc. On the other side - back to front - I kept tactical notes on opponents. When the side on me was filled up (it usually went first), I'd simply flip it over, and it would be a permanent record of my notes on opponents, and I'd get a new notebook and start fresh. At tournaments, I'd bring past notebooks (with the ever-growing notes on opponents), and would be ready against any opponent I'd ever played against.

Years later I started transcribing my tactical notes onto my computer, and then all my notes, including the ones on my game. And then, after doing this for perhaps a decade, I realized that I'd been doing it so long that all the notes were in my head, and that I no longer needed to write things down to remember them. So I retired my notebook. Even now, when I see an opponent from long ago, I usually can remember my tactical notes against him.

However, while I no longer have a notebook for my game, I still keep a notebook for players I coach. When I show up at, say, the USA National Cadet Trials, I have about a page of notes on each of the major contenders, which I regularly update.

Back update

Yesterday was the first time I played in three or four weeks. During that time I've had others do my hitting when I coached. But after getting the okay from the sports therapist last week, I did 2.5 hours on Sunday. It was mostly multiball, but that had hurt my back before. Now the back seems almost back to normal - there were no problems during the 2.5 hours. I'm going to continue with light play for perhaps another week or so, and gradually work myself back to regular play. The two things that most hurt the back - forehand looping and forehand pendulum serves - didn't seem to bother it yesterday, but I only did a few to test it out. The real test is if I can do these things repetitively.

In layman's terms, here's roughly what had been the problem with my back. The muscles on the right had grown so tight over they years they had shortened dramatically. As near as I can understand it, they attach to the backbone underneath, and so had pulled the base of the spine out of alignment, so the spine was now pointed off to my left. When the doctor and therapist first saw it, they both wondered how I could even stand up with my spine twisted like that! After a month of doing a ten-minute stretching routine three times a day, and meeting twice a week with the therapist (where she put it through far more), the spine has straightened out. Soon my loops will once again terrorize opponents who don't instead sneer at it and counterloop.

New USATT Hall of Famers

USATT Historian Tim Boggan has done writeups on the latest five members of the USATT Hall of Fame: Amy FengAzmy IbrahimBrian MastersMitch SeidenfeldBill Walk. Congrats to all!

ITTF Interview with Adham Sharara

Here's another interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara where he once again talks about increasing the ball size and increasing the height of the net. Two excerpts:

  • "We already have 42 millimetre balls in a test series and are waiting for the results."
  • "And of course, the increase of the net up to one centimetre is always a topic."

Los Angeles Open

They just ran the $45,000 (!!!) Los Angeles Open this past weekend, and here's the web page, but I can't find any results there. Am I missing something? The web page is packed with great info, but is missing the most important info of all after the tournament - the results! I could piece together most of the results from postings on various table tennis forums (Wang Zeng defeated Zhou Xin in the final, 4-1, etc.), but it sure would be helpful to have the results posted publicly on their web page. Could you imagine, say, a similar tennis tournament where the results were not posted?

New York City Open

Here are the results of the New York City Open held this past weekend. (Make sure to set it to New York City Open in the field at the top, and note that you can then look at all results of any event by selecting that events in the second field.) As you may know, it was schedule for the previous weekend, but it got Irened. So they rescheduled for one week later, and still got 167 entries, down about a hundred. They didn't run the Open - many of the top players were now at the LA Open, and of course when you lose 100 players because of a hurricane, you probably can't afford to run the Open.

Exhibition point

Here's a nice exhibition point by China's Wang Liqin and Ma Lin (1:06) - enjoy!

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September 2, 2011

Develop an Overpowering Strength and Ways to Use It

This article, now online at Butterflyonline.com, was originally a Tip of the Week from back in February, but I added some stuff from Coach Jack Huang (one of my co-coaches at MDTTC), and sent it in to Butterfly, who published it yesterday. (You even get to see a picture of me and my "devastating" forehand!) A related article is How to Move Up a Level, which explains the five things you need to do to improve a level, with #5 about finding that overpowering strength and ways to use it.

Back update - I'm back!

Yesterday I got the okay from my physical therapist to resume table tennis activities as long as I go easy on it. I can finally hit with my students! For the last couple weeks I've had others come in to do my hitting.

Originally I was going to take six weeks off, but the therapist thought three weeks would be enough, and now, after two weeks, after examining my back, said I'm ready. It's been a busy two weeks; I've been doing a ten-minute stretching and strengthening routine three times a day, and meeting with the therapist twice a week for a more rigorous routine.

For now, I'll just do easy stuff  - multiball, blocking and easy countering, and perhaps I'll do a few easy loops just to test it out. Surprisingly, the back rotation from my forehand pendulum serve (along with looping) put the most strain on my back; I'll test that out. Playing games also put a lot of strain as I wouldn't know where the next ball was going and often did last-second moves that strained the back - and this was even more true even when playing beginners, since they spray the ball randomly all over.

So you want to be a better table tennis coach?

PATT (that's Principles Approach to Table Tennis) tells you how with their article, How To Become a Better Table Tennis Coach. They also sell two books on table tennis, "PATT - A Principles Approach to Table Tennis" and "PATT Notes - Volume I," both written by USATT National Coach Donn Olsen. These are rather theoretical books that try to develop the basic principles of table tennis and apply them as "a foundation for exceptional play" (the subtitle of the first book).

Interview with German National Coach Richard Prause

From Matt Hetherington's blog.

Virginia Beach Tournament for the Homeless

The Annual PingPongforPOVERTY.com Charity Tournament will be held Sept. 30 - Oct. 1 in Virginia Beach. Here's an article about it. "The event is open to all age groups and skill levels from beginner to expert. It's a great time to get a new pingpong table too, as all the tables are either auctioned off or sold and proceeds go directly to PIN." (People in Need Homeless Ministry of Virginia Beach.)

Illegal hidden serves

Here's video, pictures, and discussion of World Men's Doubles Champion Xu Xin illegal hidden serve, which, like other world-class players with such serves, is rarely if ever called. The fact that he's a lefty only makes it easier to hide the serve. I'm linking to this one because this is the one someone chose to use as an example; they could just as easily have used most other world-class players, since most at least sometimes hide their serves.

Counterlooping extraordinaire

Here's an incredible counterlooping point between Wang Hao and Ma Long (1:05).

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