Richard McAfee

November 7, 2011

Tip of the Week

How to ace an opponent. You can see all the past Tips here, or see link on menu on left.

FIT Open

There's not a whole lot I want to write about. I couldn't move on the slippery floors, or see the ball against the orange-brown tile floors (colored to look like real wood). Players would put the ball to my forehand, normally a strength, and I couldn't move to the ball and couldn't see the ball. Halfway through I withdrew from the tournament. (Several players said that it was much more slippery this year than in past years.) 

The irony is that part of the problem I faced was that I play and coach almost exclusively on the red rubberized flooring at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, with great lighting and background. And so I faced the same thing players at our club have complained about in the past, that they couldn't play effectively in bad conditions. If there were national championships held on slippery floors or other bad conditions, we'd have to train our players in those conditions, but since the vast majority of such matches are on better conditions, we'll just have to live with it in some tournaments.

Personally, I'm going to pretty much avoid ever playing in a tournament where the floors are slippery or the lighting or background make seeing the ball difficult. I'm used to really gripping the floor with my feet and getting quick starts, and seeing the ball pretty much right into my paddle, so when I try to move and my feet slide, or the ball disappears right in front of me, my game pretty much shuts down. Others also had problems seeing the ball, but I think I had more problems than most - could be my eyes simply don't pick up orange objects on an orange-brown background as well as others. It's hard enough being primarily a one-winged forehand attacker at age 51, but on slippery floors where I can barely track the ball? Yikes. I actually reverted to chopping in several matches, with my super-fast racket and fast sponge, and at times played better that way.

Of course, now everyone can say I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), which was where the tournament was held. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around "Fashion" and "Technology" in the same sentence. Sorry fashion people.

Backhand receive of short serves

More and more top players are adopting a new technique of receiving balls short to the forehand with their backhands. This is especially true against backhand serve type sidespin, where it's awkward to get the racket angle right on the forehand side. This went against what almost any coach would teach until just a few years ago. Now it's done regularly by players such as world #1 Ma Long. Here's his match with Ma Lin at the 2011 China Open (8:45), and see the serve returns at 0:38 and 0:54. After that, Ma Lin rarely serves short to the forehand again. Maybe watch the whole match - lots of great shots and tactics.

Which was the better backhand?

Here are two great backhands (0:33) by Timo Boll and Ma Long. Which is better?

A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics

This week I'm in a workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Mon-Fri, 9:30AM-5PM. I did this last year while working on a fantasy novel (now making the rounds of publishers and agents), and did 30,000 words in those five days. This time I'm working on "A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics." (I'm still debating between that title, which I prefer, and "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which I'm told would come up sooner in Internet searches for table tennis.) I've had to do some rearranging of my coaching schedule, but it'll be worth it if I get a lot done. It might mean some rushed blog entries, but we'll see. I hope to have a first draft done by the Nationals in mid-December, and published hopefully sometime early next year.

Sean O'Neill teaches the fundamentals

Five-time USA Men's Singles Champion Sean O'Neill teaches stroking fundamentals in this video (8:21).

Richard McAfee's Micronesian Odyssey

Here's another article on the ITTF webpage on USATT coaching chair Richard McAfee's coaching clinics in Micronesia. Big Mac sure gets around - and with all the ITTF articles, it's a Noisier Mac! (Just kidding - "Noisier Mac" is an anagram for Micronesia, so I had to work that in. Richard could respond, "I Senior Mac," another anagram. Don't you love anagrams?)

Interview at The Daily Quarterly

As noted on Friday, I was interviewed by The Daily Quarterly. Here it is! (Remember, they are a satirical site, and so I gave my answers accordingly.) This is only Part 1; Part 2 goes up next Friday.

Just for Laughs - Table Tennis!

"Just for Laughs" did a table tennis prank video in May this year (1:31). Their description: "Old woman is carrying a box full of ping pong balls, as she gives it to the victim, all the ping pong balls fall and roll everywhere."

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September 6, 2011

Better shots = Win More?

Not always right away. Every year about this time lots of junior players have just finished a summer of training, either locally or often overseas, most often in China. (We had eight juniors from Maryland Table Tennis Center training in China this summer.) They all now have better shots, some devastatingly so. I watched a couple of them after they returned, and got this deep-down tingling of fear - I have to face that on the table soon!

And yet, when they go out to play, while they dominate the rallies, and do one "woh!" shot after another, their results often are no better than before, or even worse. The problem is that while they have better shots, they are not yet experienced in how to use those better shots. For example, if they now have a much more powerful forehand loop, they may use it more - and end up missing off serves that they would have returned more passively (and consistently) before. In rallies the may be able to pull off shots that they couldn't do before - but they are also missing shots that they may not have tried before. And then uncertainty sets in - they aren't sure when to use what shots, and so they spiral downward. (As an experienced player and coach, I know exactly how tactically to play into this uncertainty. Do you? Hint - lots of variation. Actually, that's pretty much the whole answer.)

It can be pretty disappointing for a player to do all that training, develop these better shots, and seem to have nothing to show for it!

But the good news is that this is temporary. They just need match experience, and soon they will become the terrors that their shots already are.

This applies not just to juniors but to all players who train and improve. It's like an archer who is handed a high-powered rifle for the first time. He has a much better weapon, but he probably needs to learn how to use the thing first. When he does, watch out!

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee teaches heavy backspin

Here's a video (9:44) of Richard McAfee teaching what I call the scooping method of serving heavy backspin. Most players try to serve backspin by stroking down, when they should be stroking up. Don't believe it? See the video. And note that the contact point is toward the front of the ball as the racket goes under the ball. Here's a general rule: beginning players mostly contact the ball above the ball's equator. Intermediate players mostly contact the ball around the ball's equator. Advanced players mostly contact the ball well below the ball's equator, near the south pole. Are you a south pole server?

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee teaches an ITTF Coaching Seminar

Yes, here's Richard again, teaching an ITTF Coaching Seminar at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey (31:14).

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee in another headline

Because I like to do things in threes. Because I like to do things in threes. Because I like to do things in threes.

USA Nationals and North American Teams

Yep, it's time to start thinking about attending the USA Nationals, Dec. 13-17 in Virginia Beach, VA. Will you be there? The other huge upcoming USA tournament is the North American Teams, Nov. 25-27 in Baltimore, MD. Both of these tournaments will have in the range of 700-800 players. It so happens that for the first time probably ever, both tournaments are on the east coast, and in fact just a three-hour drive apart. So this is a rare "two-for" opportunity for many on the east coast - we can all become road warriors and drive to these tournaments, along with the many others held on the east coast. Of course, there are plenty of tournaments in other regions as well, including some big ones.

My tentative fall tournament schedule

I expect to be at the following tournaments. I'll only be coaching at them, except for the Millcreek Open and the USA Nationals, where I'll also probably play in the hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.)

  • Sept. 10-11, MDTTC Open, MD
  • Sept. 24-25, Lily Yip Open, NJ
  • Oct. 8-9, Westchester Open, NY
  • Oct. 15-16, MDTTC Open, MD
  • Oct. 22, Millcreek Open, PA
  • Nov. 5, Two-Tier Giant RR in Lancaster, PA
  • Nov. 25-27, North American Teams, MD
  • Dec. 3-4, Potomac Open, MD
  • Dec. 13-17, USA Nationals, VA

New table tennis tables

I have no idea how to play on these tables. After 35 years of playing and over 30 years of coaching, I'm stumped.

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