History of U.S. Table Tennis Vol. 14

April 8, 2014

Great Spin on Serve

In my beginning/intermediate class last night the players were rather impressed by how much spin I could put on the ball when I serve with seemingly little effort. The spin comes from three things: smooth acceleration into the ball; wrist snap; and grazing with a grippy surface. Beginners lose spin because they tend to start with the racket right behind the ball rather than from the side. Intermediate players lose spin because they tend to think in terms of racket speed instead of acceleration.

I can't explain the physics, but it is acceleration that leads to great spin. It could involve the rubber surface grabbing the ball and, since it is accelerating at contact, it grabs the ball like a slingshot and practically spins it out of orbit. Or perhaps this acceleration leads to high velocity that you can control, but the smooth acceleration makes the racket appear to be moving slower than it actually is going. If you instead think in terms of velocity and try to snap the racket into the ball all-out rather than with this smooth acceleration might get more racket speed (not sure), but they can't control it and so lose the control needed for a fine grazing contact - and so lose spin.

But regardless of the reason, it is this smooth acceleration that leads to the great spin. However, there's a conflict here - for deception, you want sudden changes of racket direction. So top servers learn to smoothly accelerate into the ball with sudden changes of direction, essentially whipping the racket around the ball in very quick arcs.

Of course it's not all about spin. If you fake spin but serve no-spin, it's just as effective as a spin serve if the opponent thinks there is spin. So many serves do simple backspin-like serves, but sometimes it's backspin, other times they change the contact so there's no spin. (You do this by contacting the ball closer to the handle, and by changing contact from a grazing motion to sort of patting the ball while faking a grazing motion, often with an exaggerated follow through.)

So . . . have you practiced your serves this week?

Forehand Flip

Here's a tutorial video (5:10) on the forehand flip (usually called a flick in Europe) against short backspin by Coach Yang Guang, a former Chinese team member. He's explaining in Chinese, but several times the key points are subtitled in English. Plus you can learn just by watching. Note that when he does the demos, he's being fed slightly high balls, and so is flip killing. Against a lower ball you might want to slow it down and put a little topspin on the flip.

Why Don't Top Players Serve More Topspin?

Here's the video (2:17) from PingSkills. Ironically this very topic was covered in my beginning/intermediate class. I was teaching how to do fast serves, and explained why they are good as a variation, but how top players would attack them. They wanted a demo, so I had my assistant coach, the 2600 player Coach Jeffrey (Zeng Xun), demonstrate what he could do with my fast serves when he knew they were coming. It wasn't pretty! I have pretty good fast serves, but they have to be used sparingly against top players.

I once aced 1986 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Hank Teekaveerakit three times in a row with my fast down-the-line serve. He was a penholder who tried to loop everything with his forehand, and this happened the first three points of the match as he looked to loop my serves from the backhand corner. After the third ace, he broke up laughing, and said, "Larry, nobody serves fast down the line three times in a row!" He then began returning my serves to his backhand with his backhand, and caught up and won somewhat easily. Late in the match he went back to trying to loop all my serves with his forehand, and I obligingly played cat and mouse, serving fast and deep to all parts of the table, and abandoning my short serves, not for tactical reasons but just for the fun of challenging him to return all my fast ones with his forehand. Once he got used to my service motion, he was able to do so.

Crystal Wang in Sports Illustrated

She's featured in the Faces in the Crowd section. It came out in print last Wednesday. (While there, see the photo credits underneath and note the name of the Professional Photographer that took her picture.)

Deputy Referee Report, German Open

Here's the report from USA's Kagin Lee.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

Chapter one is up. This volume covers the years 1985-1985. Want to see more?

Great Rally at the College Nationals

Here's video (29 sec) of a great point between Ariel Hsing (near side) against Maria Castillo in the women's singles quarterfinals. Ariel went on to win the title.

Marcos Freitas

Here's a highlights video (3:29) featuring Marcos Freitas of Portugal doing numerous trick shots. He recently shot up to #12 in the world.

The Sayings of Coach Larry

A while back I jokingly posted a few of my favorite sayings when I coach. One of my students (who wishes to remain anonymous) quoted to me many more of my favorite statements, and I dutifully jotted them down. Here's the more comprehensive listing of my favorite quips.

  1. "Pick up the balls." (Spoken with the same tone as the infamous "Bring out your dead" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
  2. "You are going up against the most powerful forehand in the world." (Spoken with the same tone as the quote from Dirty Harry, "…the most powerful handgun in the world.")
  3. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed." (A paraphrasing of the quote from The Princess Bride. At the start of the scene, both swordfighters are fighting left-handed. Watch the video to see what happens.)
  4. "Time to get serious." (When I'm losing a game, usually against a student where I've spotted points.)
  5. "Time to take my watch off." (Meaning time to get serious.)
  6. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  7. "I never miss that shot."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "This serve cannot be returned."
  11. "No one can get through my block. No one!"
  12. "The most powerful forehand block in the world."
  13. "He cheats, he scores!" (When opponent wins a point on a net or edge.)
  14. "I cannot be scored upon." (Told to students repeatedly as a challenge.)
  15. "Don't think about it. Let the subconscious take over. It's better than you."
  16. "Even [insert name of top player within hearing distance] can make that shot!"
  17. "When I get angry…" (Followed by a short but detailed description of whatever I do the next point.)
  18. "This is for the world championship of the galactic universe."
  19. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  20. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  21. "I'm too good to miss that shot!" (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  22. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987!" (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  23. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  24. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  25. "No coaching in coaching camps!" (When someone coaches against me in a practice match during a camp.)
  26. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)

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January 28, 2014

15 Days a Slave

We're done!!! After 15 days of seemingly non-stop work, I finished the page layouts and photo work for Volume 14 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis. (Mal Anderson does most of the photo scanning and supplies about half the photos. I do a lot of fixes on the photo.) It's 465 pages with 962 photos - a new record. I put it all in PDF format, and uploaded it to the printer yesterday afternoon. Now I'm exhausted - for weeks I've been running back and forth between this, coaching, and zillions of other stuff that constantly comes up (mostly involving table tennis or writing). At 11:30 PM last night Tim left for home in New York.

Yesterday we mostly were inputting corrections, doing pre-press work, creating the book flyer and ad, and updating the online page. I also did some coaching, and tutored two of our junior players in English and math at the club for an hour.

I celebrated last night by seeing the movie "I, Frankenstein." (I've already seen most of the good ones out there.) I think most would agree it was somewhat of a dumb movie with cheesy special effects, but it had its moments. Spoiler alert - since it took place in modern-day times, and much of the battling was over possession of Victor Frankenstein's notes, which kept changing hands as the two groups kept stealing it from the other, I wanted to scream at them, "Just make some photocopies and hide the backups!!!"

And now I get to attack the growing list of items on my todo list, which have accumulated like snow over the past two weeks.

Early Round Matches at Tournaments

Many players start slowly in tournaments, and start out with some bad early-round losses before getting their game together. Often they are playing these early matches against weaker players to not lose, rather than to win, and can't get loose enough to play well. So why not look at these matches as if they were a final, and convince yourself you've battled round by round to get there, and that this is the match you've been waiting to play all your life? Then go out there and be a gladiator! Once you learn to do that type of thinking, you can get your game going a lot earlier in tournaments.

Another thing that would help - instead of just warming up, play practice matches or play points with someone, and imagine those as the most important matches or points you've ever played. This will get yourself into tournament mode.

For me (back when I was still playing tournaments regularly), there was nothing better than playing a first-round match against some player who could push me, but couldn't beat me if I played my level - and so I would pretend he was the favorite, and go out there ready to do battle, and push myself to pull off an "upset." Not only would I consistently win those matches, but they would get my game going.

Pros and Cons of 3rd and 5th Ball Offensive Style

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Jun Mizutani: "I can beat the Chinese"

Here's the article and video (4:30).

Wall Street Financiers Play Ping Pong for Charity

Here's the article, which includes a picture. "NEW YORK—Dozens of Wall Street financiers competed at the 6th Annual Tournament of the Champions Pong table tennis tournament in Grand Central Terminal Friday. The five-hour event drew hundreds of spectators throughout the day. The Ping-Pong matches, however, weren’t about winning. Each team paid $3,500 to participate. The money goes to the youth mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York, a nonprofit that serves children in need of adult role models."

Governor Chris Christie Wins Challenge With 13-Year-Old

Here's the article and video (3:05) as the New Jersey governor challenges a boy at a Boys and Girls Club. Other (living) governors who play include former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (here's a 17-sec video), former Arkansas Governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who I've coached a few times, and has a USATT rating of 1223.

The Schwarzenegger Closed

Here's the draw sheet, care of Table Tennis Nation, with 16 Schwarzenegger characters ranging from The Terminator and Kindergarten Cop, to Conan and The Governator. Which of these characters would win? (They put a lot of time into this!)

Percussion Pong

Here's a hilarious video (1:50) that features two comic musician table tennis players, and two superstars - Jean-Philippe Gatien (1993 World Men's Singles Champion, zillions of other titles as former world #1) and Patrick Chila (Bronze Medalist in Men's Doubles with Gatien at 2000 Olympics and four-time French Men's Singles Champion). Both Gatien and Chila are lefties; Gatien's on the left at the start. Not sure who the other two musician comic players are, though they seem to be able to play.

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January 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing the Seemiller or American Grip. (This is an excerpt from "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.")

MDTTC Mini-Camp

Local schools are closed today and tomorrow for Martin Luther King birthday and a teacher's meeting. And so we're running a two-day mini-camp at MDTTC, 10AM-6PM. Normally I'd be there all day both days, but because I'm working on Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis (Vol. 14), with Tim at my side ("No, stupid, that photo there!"), I'm only doing the morning sessions. What does this really mean for me? It means I'm up all last night working on this blog, the Tip of the Week, and all the other stuff I have to take care of each day; it means I'm at my desk with Tim at 5AM to get two chapters done before I leave at 9:30AM; it means I'm coaching at the club from 10AM-1PM (and likely taking a large group of kids to the 7-11 down the street afterwards); it means I rush home to an impatient Tim and do several more chapters that afternoon and night; and it means starting all over again that night with the following day's blog so I can get started early with Tim the following morning. Somewhere in there I sleep.

Tim's Book, and Tim's Trials and Tribulations

Due to our various illnesses and my coaching, we're behind schedule on History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 14. However, we're catching up fast. Yesterday we got three more chapters done, so we've done eleven chapters, plus the covers and early intro pages. We just went through the 1985 U.S. Open, and once again Cheng Yinghua wins over Taiwan's Wen Chia-Wu, who had upset world #1 Jiang Jialiang in the semifinals! Cheng also won Men's Doubles with Jiang. And now he's my fellow coach at MDTTC.

Sports Psychology

One of my students (age 12) gets way too nervous in matches. So our top focus now is sports psychology. (This really should be everyone's top priority, since you get more for your time put into it than just about anything else.) I started today's session by having him simply tie his shoes. No problem. Then I had him do the same thing where he had to consciously tell himself what to do each step of the way. He laboriously went through the process, but the contrast with trying to consciously do it and letting your subconscious do what it's been trained to do (i.e. muscle memory) made the point about how you want to play table tennis. (For the record, I made up this exercise myself.)

Then we moved on to ping-pong ball shooting. I set up a box on the table, and we stood about fifteen feet away and simply shot baskets. The catch - you couldn't think about aiming. You just looked at the target, visualized the trajectory of the ball from hand to box, and then let it happen. At first the student had some problems - he kept trying to consciously aim the ball, or reacted to misses and swishes, when the conscious mind needs to get out of the way and let the subconscious do the job. After a few minutes of this, he was able to let go, and his shooting increased tremendously. (I had a streak where I made over 50 in a row without a conscious thought.

Then I held up a ping-pong ball, and said, "This is your conscious mind." Then I waved my hand about and said, "Your house is your subconscious. That's their relative sizes." Then I compared the conscious mind to some bad boss who flits about an office of well-trained employees and interferes with their work. For the well-trained employees (the subconscious) to get their work done they need the boss (the conscious mind) to get out of the way. Nervousness comes from the conscious mind; the subconscious is as cool as ice. Get out of the way and let it do its job. (Of course, there's the separate issue of training the subconscious - but that's what you are doing every time you practice, as you develop muscle memory. Most players have far better muscle memory than they realize, if they'd only stop being a bad boss and get out of the way.)

We didn't get to the table for the first half hour. (It was a 90-minute session.) Then he had a very good session. Much of the session we focused on reaction drills, where the key was to just let go and react, with muscle memory doing the natural reaction. He has a tendency to anticipate forehands and so loses a lot of points when the ball goes to his wide backhand, so we did drills where he had to just react to the ball, forehand or backhand.

We also went over routines. For example, anyone who's played me knows that when I serve, I start by loosening my right sleeve with my left arm; then I let my playing arm drop back and forth once like a pendulum; and then I serve. When I receive, I hold up my left hand as I approach the table; shuffle my feet a few times; and then lower my arm. Little routines like these become habit to the point that by doing them, they put you in the proper frame of mind for the point. Everyone should develop these little routines, with at least one thing you always do just before each point.  (This could become a Tip of the Week at some point.)

Aurora Cup

Now here's how you do publicity for a major tournament - with daily articles all week in advance! Below are the daily articles by Barbara Wei for the Butterfly Aurora Cup. (I believe there might be at least one more coming, covering Sunday's results, which I'll put up tomorrow.) And here are the results.

U.S. National Team Programs

Here's a listing of upcoming programs for the U.S. National Team.

Crystal Wang in Baltimore Sun

Here's an article and video (1:32) in the Baltimore Sun on 11-year-old Crystal Wang, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women at the USA Nationals. (She's from my club!) Here are more photos.

Disguise Topspin as Backspin with the Maharu Yoshimura Serve (Photo and Video Analysis)

Here's an article and video (3:49) from Table Tennis Master on how the Japanese star disguises his serves.

Gossip Pong

A few days ago I watched as two girls at my club played table tennis - or sort of played. They were chatting non-stop, with the table tennis just along for the ride. I realized we don't have a name for this, and so I have christened this new sport: "Gossip Pong." I'm copyrighting it. For now on, every time you use this name, you owe me $1. If you talk to your opponent when you play table tennis, you owe me $1. If you so much as call out the score, you owe me $1.

Ping-Pong with the Fishes

Here's the picture!

Schwarzenegger Super Bowl Commercial

Here's a video preview (17 sec) of an upcoming Super Bowl ad that shows Arnold trying to make it as a table tennis player. (Look at those strokes! Look at that hair!)  

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