North American Teams

December 3, 2013

Tip of the Week

Use a Wider Stance.

North American Teams

It was a LOOOOONG weekend of playing (for 858 players and 213 teams) and coaching (for me and many others). I’m still recovering!!!

Here are the results. This should take you to the Summary page. You can use the second dropdown menu to see more detailed results of the Preliminaries on Friday and Division play on Saturday and Sunday.

I was primarily coaching Derek Nie, though I also coached seven other players at various times, including Derek’s teammates (Crystal Wang, Chen Jie, and Tony Qu). I can’t really discuss most of the coaching itself since they will likely play these players again. But there’s still a bunch of stuff I can write about. None of it is about the players in Division One (i.e. the Championships Division) since Derek’s team was in Division Two, where the average rating was a little over 2300 or so. I was so busy coaching that I never saw a single Divisions One match.

Derek had a strange tournament. He started out Friday by beating a 2300 player in five games, after being down 0-2. But then he lost five consecutive five-gamers over Fri & Sat, against players ranging from about 2280 to 2490. But on Sunday he was 2-0 in five-gamers against a pair of 2300+ players.

I called an interesting timeout in one of his matches, one which might have been a head-scratcher to observers. Derek had lost the first game badly, and was down 4-8 in the second and about to serve. (I generally like to call timeouts when my player is serving so we can discuss what serve to use while not letting the opposing coach tell the opponent what serve to use, and so didn’t call one at 4-6. Alas the opponent won both points on his serve.) Normally a timeout then is kind of a waste – he’s probably going to lose that game, so it’s better to save the timeout for later, right? The problem is I saw two ways of playing this player, and didn’t want to have Derek have to experiment at the start of the third game when he’d already be down 0-2. So I called the timeout so Derek could try out one of the new strategies. The timeout also had value in that if the new strategy worked, he might actually win the game before the opponent adjusted. If the strategy worked, then we’d not only have it ready for the next game, but it would give Derek confidence even if he lost the second game because of the 4-8 deficit. As it turned out, the strategy worked, and Derek quickly won two points. But the opponent played well and managed to win that game (I think at deuce). In the third, the new strategy almost paid off, but the opponent won 11-9.

I saw two of the strangest shots in two of his matches. There was a point where Derek got a net-edge off to the right, with the ball hitting the side edge near the net and jumping sideways. The opponent lunged for the shot, but completely mis-hit it off the edge of his racket – and the ball went around the net at table level, and just rolled unreturnably across the table. In his very next match, no more than ten minutes later, Derek mis-hit a ball that popped up, hit the top of the net, bounced up a foot, then dropped right back on the net again and rolled over for an unreturnable winner.

I also was able to watch and coach a few matches of “Larry’s Loopers,” which was named after me! Two of the players, Sameer Shaikh and Matt Stepanov (both 12), are students of mine, and they were teamed with Darwin Ma (13, who chops and loops, and only lost two matches on Sat & Sun). All three had great tournaments as they won Division 12, going 7-0 in their side of the Division, and then barely edging out TeamRacket (Ryan Dabbs, Patrick Chen, Spencer Chen, Michael Li, and Ronald Chen) 5-4 in an all-MDTTC junior final. John Hsu coached most of their matches. Here’s a picture of the three with their trophies (L-R Matt, Darwin, Sameer). Here’s another picture that includes John Hsu and me – as I indicate with my arms, what’s going on here? Here’s a picture of TeamRacket.

The final of Division 12 was one of the craziest and most entertaining I’ve ever seen. Since it was between MDTTC players, all kids ages 10-13 or so, the coaches and parents only watched while the kids coached themselves. It was great watching them as the players on both teams coached each other between games. I’ve learned that while kids sometimes aren’t tactically aware while at the table, they are surprisingly aware when watching, and can pick out what is and isn’t working. I could see their tactics change after each of these coaching consultations between games and timeouts, and almost always for the better.

In the first match, Sameer was down 0-2, then he was up 10-5 match point in the fifth – but lost six straight! The killer was at 10-9, when he absolutely ripped what should have been a winner, but somehow it came back, an unreturnable block. Down match point twice, he managed to win, I think 14-12 in the fifth! In another match, Darwin lost the first two games and was down 3-7 in the third. He’d been playing almost completely defensively. After a timeout, he went back and attacked, and won that game 11-8 (an 8-1 run), and the fourth. In the fifth he went back to pure defense, both chopping and lobbing, and was down 9-10 match point – but pulled it out, deuce in the fifth! In another match, Matt lost the first game and was down 7-10 in the next two games – but won both of them and the fourth game to win the match! In the end, Larry’s Loopers edged out TeamRacket, 5-4. Congrats to both teams!

USATT Pins Program

Here’s the new USATT Pins page. Make sure to click on “Eligibility Rules” and “USATT Merit Pins” so you can read about the program. I’ll likely blog about this sometime soon. Here’s their promo: “You’ve worked hard to get where you are. All these hours of practice, all the hard-fought matches – Let everyone know how far you’ve made it!” (I think it’s a great idea – but one thing that leaps out to me: the pins are color coded for each rating level. Wouldn’t it be better if they gave the rating number for each rating level attained, since that’s the whole point of it?)

Two Surprising Ways Your Brain Stops You from Winning

Here’s the article, which talks about lacking “skill experience,” and about how the brain sabotages you when you’re on the brink of victory. (I’m quoted in the article, including a link to “Larry’s Six-Month Law.”)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here’s the report for Aug-Oct, from HPC Chair Carl Danner.

ITTF Training Camp at Lily Yip Center

Here’s the ITTF Article on the camp, held Nov. 23-28.

World Junior Championships

Here’s a write-up of it so far by Bruce Liu. Here’s the official website with results, articles, pictures, and videos. The event is taking place in Rabat, Morocco, Dec. 1-8. USA players are Kunal Chodri, Kanak Jha, Allen Wang, Theodore Tran, Ariel Hsing, Erica Wu, Prachi Jha, and Tina Lin.

The Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here’s the article. Sections include: Great physical exercise yet gentle on the body; Improved reflexes, balance, and coordination; Table tennis is the world’s best brain sport; Social bonding and fun at any age or level; and Fight obesity.

Last World Junior Championships for Ariel Hsing

Here’s the ITTF article.

National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter

Here’s the November issue.

Interview with Ulf “Tickan” Carlsson

Here’s the ITTF video interview (13:58) with the former World Doubles and Team Champion, where he talks about his career, coaching, and talent identification.

Fan Zhendong Forehand Training

Here’s the video (1:55). Watch how he moves his feet.

Saive and the Pope

Here’s a picture of Belgium star Jean-Michel Saive shaking hands with Pope Francis in Vatican City.

Indians and Pilgrims Paddle

In honor of Thanksgiving last week, here’s a paddle that commemorates the first Thanksgiving. Hopefully this led to centuries of good will between these two peoples.

Xu Xin Between Legs Shot

Here’s the video (15 sec).

World’s Most Incredible Trick Shots

Here’s the video (4:05). It’s a compilation of all the trick shots from the ITTF Trick Shot Competition (plus a few failed attempts).

Action-Packed Blindfold Table Tennis!

This video is hilarious. It’s blindfold table tennis at its best, including under legs and behind-the-back shots, all in rapid sequence. The video repeats after about ten seconds or so. This is how table tennis should be played - and of course it’s all real!

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September 6, 2012

Baltimore or Columbus?

This Thanksgiving a number of table tennis players will face a conundrum: Baltimore or Columbus?

The North American Teams in Baltimore (now in its 15th year) is a 4-star tournament that last year had 767 players playing 6557 matches, dwarfing the other two big U.S. tournaments that year, the 5-star U.S. Open (548 players, 2989 matches) and 5-star USA Nationals (502 players, 2934 matches). (The Open and Nationals stats don't include doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper matches, which might increase their numbers 10% or so.) They usually get about 200 teams, with 150 tables in a 150,000 square foot playing area at the Baltimore Convention Center, and give out over $20,000 in prize money. It's the biggest table tennis tournament in North America. One of my favorite activities each year is to watch newbies walk into the hall for the first time. The look on their faces when they see the endless rows of tables and equipment booths is priceless.

However, some players were unhappy with the prices and awards given out at the NA Teams last year. And so an alternative was born this year - the Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus, OH. Though technically only a 2-star tournament, they promise players will have just as much competition in the same format for the three days of the tournament (both are run Nov. 23-25, starting the day after Thanksgiving), with better awards, though only $3000 in total prize money.

So what'll it be, Tradition or Upstart? Personally, I'm going to coach at whichever one my students go to, and I'll let them go wherever they choose. (My club is only an hour from Baltimore, while Columbus is seven hours away - but my club and many of its top players are sponsored by Butterfly. Quite the conundrum.)

Here's a quick comparison:

North American Teams in Baltimore

Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus

Hardbat at the Nationals

Alas, I won't be playing hardbat events at this year's Nationals. Hardbat Doubles starts on the first day, Tuesday at 2:15, but with Under 22 Men at noon and the Junior Teams at 4PM, there's just too much conflict since I'll be coaching players in both events. Hardbat Singles and Over 40 Hardbat start on Wednesday and Friday, right in the middle of numerous events I'll be coaching.

It's the end (for now) of a "dynasty." I've won Hardbat Doubles at the Open or Nationals 13 times (9 times with Ty Hoff, 4 times with Steve Berger), and am the defending champion at both the Open and Nationals (both with Ty). I've also won Over 40 Hardbat four times and Hardbat Singles twice. (I normally use sponge, but play with hardbat as a sideline.)

Liu Guoliang: "I Am a Passionate Coach"

That's the title of this article on the Chinese National Coach and former superstar player.

Jim Butler on the Women's Game

Olympian and Three-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler wrote a pair of insightful postings about the women's game recently on the about.com forum (responses #23 and 24), in response to questions. (After reading the second, I must sheepishly admit that I play my backhand like a woman - but I do it pretty well!!!) Here they are:

Question: Wouldn't THE best thing at this stage be for them [the top U.S. junior girls] to compete in international events against WOMEN?

Jim Butler: Yes in a perfect world with unlimited resources, that would be ideal. However, there is no USATT budget to do that. I have always felt that the U.S. Women's game has the best chance to reach success internationally. They have high enough level competition in this country to reach that goal.

To simulate that competition though, they must move over to the men's side. The women can compete year around in this country against men, and get the level and regularity of competition it takes to be successful internationally.

If you are a 2700 level man in this country, there are very few athletes higher than that, so competing internationally becomes a must to raise your game further to the likes of the Chinese, Germans, etc. The best women in the world are not better than 2700.

The U.S. Women's Team members are also in school, so competing in the United States also makes it possible to do both.

Question: Also, although the ratings suggest an equal level, playing against a 2600 man is a different experience from playing against a 2600 woman, and they need to face their peers and develop strategies against those styles

Jim Butler: It's not as different as one might think. The men's game clearly has more speed and power, but the women tend to be more consistent. I think most men can learn a lot by watching the women's game more, and appreciating the level of consistency they tend to play at.

If you watch a 2500 women beat a 2500 level man, they do it with consistency, and they make fewer unforced errors. The men can wow everyone with incredible power and speed on their shots. The highest level women force you to make a high quality shot nearly every point in order to beat them. They smother people with consistency.

Another very important aspect of the game the women tend to be better at than the men, is their ability to stay within their limits and game. Because men have the ability to hit the ball so hard, they tend to over play shots in their matches. If you watch most men play (especially at lower levels), you will see them lose many points a match because they tried to hit the ball out of the gym, instead of backing off and putting it on the table.

Younger male players really tend to do this, and so many points are wasted by trying to hit the ball too hard. Women will rarely hit the ball harder than they need to. 

Non-Table Tennis: "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles"

My humorous poem (a takeoff on "You are Old, Father William") is featured on Orioles Hangout, the main online forum for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It's the seventh time they've featured my work. I wrote the poem on Tuesday night, the night that the Orioles tied the Yankees for first place in the American League East. (They had been trailing by ten games just a month ago.) Here's the first of the eight stanzas:

"You're no good, Baltimore Orioles," the sportswriter said,
"And your play all year long has been trite;
And yet you keep winning when you should be dead?
Do you think, since you're bad, it is right?"

Disastrous Table Tennis Slide

This video (17 seconds) shows why you should never jump on your ping-pong table when it is covered with ice.

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December 8, 2011

Backup plans

On Monday I blogged about always having a backup attack plan if your main tactic doesn't work. In my case, I wrote about switching from forehand looping to forehand hitting because my opponent was blocking too quick and fast for me to keep looping aggressively. Someone asked me what I would have done if my forehand smash was missing - good question! But there are always options, though not all options work. (In fact, most do not, and the goal is to find the ones that do.) Here were my main rallying options against this quick-hitting penholder, roughly in order of preference.

  1. Aggressive forehand looping, steady backhand countering
  2. Aggressive forehand hitting, steady backhand countering
  3. Steady forehand looping and backhand countering
  4. Steady forehand and backhand counter-hitting
  5. Steady forehand counter-hitting and an aggressive backhand
  6. Quick-blocking and hitting from both sides with varied pace
  7. Chopping, fishing, lobbing, and pick-hitting

Spinny serves

So you want spinny serves? Then focus on two things: an extremely fast acceleration of the racket into the ball and an extremely fine grazing motion. After the arm gets the racket moving, the wrist should snap the racket into the ball like the tip of a whip. The grazing motion should be so fine, barely touching the rubber (and not sinking into the sponge) that you struggle to get the ball over the net. Focus on these two things, practice until you can control it (height, depth, direction), learn to vary the spin by contacting the ball at different parts of the swing (and so on different parts of the ball as the racket goes through a semi-circular motion), and you'll have good serves. (I just went through all this with a relatively new student yesterday, and while he paid for it, you all get this for free. But he got a live demonstration!)

Liu Guoliang's concerns for the "Fab Five"

Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang gives his concerns for the Chinese men at the 2012 Olympics. Here's an excerpt from near the end, when Liu talks about their rivals.

"In the team events, the German and Korean teams are still star studded. They also have some rising stars. So, Liu Guoliang still considers them as their main rivals for the Olympics. As for the Singles, the sudden emergence of rookies from France and Russia obviously gave a certain level of concern for the Chinese team. However, Liu Guoliang thinks that Jun Mizutani, Joo Se Hyuk and their old rivals are still the threatening players."

Zachary Levi and Kaley Cuoco play table tennis

They did this on stage at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards (2:28).

North American Teams Championships Final

In case you missed it, here are the four matches in the Team Final:

Turtles playing table tennis

From the cover of the 1979 record "Pablo Cruise: Part of the Game." Here's the front (two turtles playing), and here's the back (a very crestfallen turtle - click to see why!).

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December 1, 2011

Reasons to attack the middle

I did some video coaching for someone recently. One of my primary comments was that over and over his first loop went to the corners, where the opponent was ready. Instead, I recommended his first attack primarily should go to the middle (i.e. roughly at the elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand). Why? It's much harder to block or counter-attack from there, as 1) the player has to decide whether to play forehand or backhand; 2) he then has to move into position, which is usually harder than moving to cover the corners; and 3) it draws the player out of position, allowing you to attack to the open corner, or (if the player rushes to cover it), to the other corner, or right back at the middle again.

Far too often players attack the corners with the idea they are looking for a ball to attack to the middle, with the common result of a strong return that they can't attack effectively. This is backwards - instead, attack the middle first, and then look for a chance to attack the next ball to the corners or the middle again.

Personally, I love opponents who mostly attack first to the corners, making my life easier. I'll buy my peers a drink if they promise to do so at key points. I hate with a vengeance those who attack my middle, who simply do not understand the "Do not go here!" sign implied by my constantly missing against those shots.

The main time you wouldn't attack the middle is when the opponent is looking to cover as much table as possible with his forehand, in which case the corners are probably more vulnerable, or else the middle moves toward the backhand side. But even here, while a soft or medium loop to the middle will probably get attacked with the forehand, a strong loop to the middle is very hard to handle with the forehand because the player is often jammed, and can only use the front half of their forehand hitting zone, while on a strong attack to the wide forehand, they can use the whole zone.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

Alas, I discovered yesterday that I'd stopped midway through the chapter on Loopers, so I've got a bunch of work to do on that. (It'll be a long chapter, already almost 4000 words.) The book is now at 69,000 words, and the first draft - hopefully done within days - will probably be about 75,000 words, though the final version will likely be well over 80,000. Here are the opening paragraphs to the chapter on Serving Tactics (currently 8400 words, the longest chapter):

"What is your goal when you serve? That is the primary question you must ask yourself when considering service tactics.

"Serves are one of the most under-practiced aspects of the game, and yet they are often the quickest way to improve and to develop the tactical weapons needed to win. Not only do serves start off half the rally, but a good serve sets you up to attack, and if you do this enough, you improve your attack as well.

"Remember in the chapter on Strategic Thinking I talked about how you needed to develop an overpowering strength? (If your overpowering strength happens to be serve and receive, then focus on the strongest shot in your game that your serve and receive sets up.) The primary purpose of your service game should be to get that overpowering strength into play. But what is that strength?

"For some players, the answer is both easy and hard. It's easy because they know what they want to do: serve and loop, the most common goal at the higher levels. It's difficult because you can't effectively use the same serve over and over and over or your opponent will adjust. So even these players have to develop a repertoire of serves that set them up to do what they want to do."

Time Lapse Photography of the North American Teams Set-up

This is great - you actually get to see the entire set up in 29 seconds! It was created by Tom Nguyen of NATT. (As a side note, for several years I worked part-time for them at tournaments, and helped with these set-ups - and believe me, it's a LOT of work!)

Best points from the 2011 JOOLA North American Teams

Enjoy! (10:50)

Want to serve on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Board of Directors?

 Here's the opening (roughly the first half) to the job description:

"The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Athlete Advisory Council is pleased to announce its nationwide application process by which qualified athlete candidates may be nominated to serve as an Athlete Member on the US Anti Doping Agency’s Board of Directors.  A total of up to three candidates will be proposed to USADA’s Nominating Committee for their approval and acceptance for one of the two Athlete Member seats on USADA’s Board.  The Athlete Director shall serve a four year term starting Fall of 2012 and may be reelected for an additional four years. 

"Candidates should share the core values USADA: Integrity, respect, teamwork, responsibility, and courage.  The role of Athlete Member on USADA’s Board shall entail advocating and protecting athletes’ rights while remaining objective in achieving USADA’s goals.

"Candidates must have represented the United States in the Olympic, Pan American, Para Pan American, Paralympic Games, World Championships, or an event designated as an Operation Gold event within the ten (10) years preceding election.  However, it is preferred that candidates have competed more recently than the 10 year rule.  No candidate should have any prior doping violations and candidates may be required to complete and adequately pass a background and criminal check.

"The Anti Doping Division hopes to select from diverse pool of candidates from various backgrounds.  Although a minimum of Bachelor’s Degree is a must, no specific degree is required.  Knowledge of medicine, law, and chemistry may facilitate understanding of USADA policies and protocol.  Athletes may come from any sport under the Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American or Para Pan American umbrella."

This cat doesn't like ping-pong

Six seconds of feline fury.

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November 24, 2011

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

JOOLA North American Teams

For those that missed it, yesterday I did a special on the Teams, with links to articles, tips on how to play well, and video. Don't be a turkey; read and watch all of it!

The Turkey Theory of Forehands and Backhands

Players who are turkeys develop very strong forehands and weak backhands, or vice versa. Sometimes their weaker side isn't really that weak, it's just not that strong. If you have a weaker side, why not make it a goal to turn your weak/average/somewhat strong side into an overpowering strength? You can do it; simply choose not to be a turkey.

Turkey, Table Tennis, and Tong Tong

(The following is a reprint from Sept. 8, 2011 - but it seems rather timely now, especially for those of you competing in the Teams, who might eat a turkey sandwich before a match.)
I've had several cases over the years of a student eating a turkey sandwich for lunch at a tournament, and getting sleepy afterwards. This is presumably because of the relatively high levels of L-Tryptophan in turkey. Now this is controversial - while there's no question L-Tryptophan can cause drowsiness, it supposedly only happens if given almost in pure form on an empty stomach. Regardless, I've had enough bad experiences with this that I warn all my students never to eat turkey during a tournament until they are done playing for the day. For example, I was coaching U.S. Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong at a tournament last year. He had a turkey sandwich for lunch. When he had to play soon afterwards, he complained of sleepiness, said he could barely keep his eyes open. I took him into the restroom to splash cold water on his face, and it helped somewhat. He struggled for a couple matches before he felt alert again.

Marathon Training, Ping-Pong, and Turkeys

This is probably the only article ever that combines these three topics. Plus a bonus picture of a bearded Forrest Gump running.

Turkish Table Tennis

They call it Turkish Table Tennis (1:03), but it looks to me like a game of Around the World with some dancing thrown in.

Canada vs. Turkey: A Ping-Pong Odyssey

Yes, the long-awaited clash between these two table tennis powers (2:52).

Thanksgiving at the Ping-Pong Place

For Thanksgiving dinner, there's nothing like grandma serving a roasted Robo-Pong with ping-pong ball stuffing.

Turkey Table Tennis

Really! Winner gets the turkeyball.

Turkey Table Tennis with a Real Turkey

Are you ready to cut up a turkey with a blade, and serve it? Well, this turkey also has a blade and he's also ready to serve. (It's just a larger version of the turkey at the top.)  Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 23, 2011

Special on the North American Teams

The JOOLA North American Teams is this weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center, Fri-Sun, Nov. 25-27. This is one of the "big three" tournaments in the U.S. (along with the U.S. Open in July and USA Nationals in December), with the largest participation of any USA tournament - about 800 players, 200 teams, 144 tables, 150,000 square feet, $20,000 in prize money. Here's a series of articles that you might want to browse, whether you are playing in the tournament or just want to know more. I've only missed one year since 1976, including 33 straight years from 1976-2008. I'll be there all three days coaching - come say hello! (The secret handshake is to point your finger at me and say, "Secret handshake.")

Pushing Epiphany

Yesterday I suddenly realized something I already knew, but now I realized that I knew it. And that is that your average club or tournament player (say, 1500-1800) pushes poorly not just because he doesn't know better, but because he isn't forced to push better by his peers. I can serve backspin to your average under 1900 player and the large majority of the time they will push it back so that it is easy to loop a winner - if you can loop at a 2000+ level. It's not any one thing - sometimes the pushes aren't deep or short, aren't low, aren't heavy, are predictable, or wander out from the corners. Any one of these things make the push easy to attack. If you do all of these things even pretty well, then they are difficult to attack well by just about anyone - which is what most 2000+ players do when they push. (Here's a Tip of the Week on pushing effectively.)

Maximizing Your Game Under Poor Circumstances

Here's an article by Samson Dubina on eight ways to improve when your training conditions are less than ideal. He asks the question, "One must play against better players in order to improve?" The answer is, of course, false. He explains, "It is possible to improve your table tennis game even if you don’t have ideal training partners, ideal coaching, and an ideal facility.  In this article, I’m going to suggest eight ways that you can maximize your game under poor training circumstances.

USA's Lily Zhang wins doubles at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup

And here's the article that proves it! Lily, world #154, teamed with Russia's Anne Tikhomirova, world #68. In the final, they defeated the unified Korean team of Kim Kyung Ah (South Korea, world #13, perhaps the best women chopper in the world) and Kim Hye Song (North Korea, World #120), -6,8,-3,3,8. In the semifinals they defeated Cao Zhen (China, unranked, but world #30 in Feb., 2011, world #11 in 2006) and Aia Mohamed (Qatar, no ranking), 11,-10,7,8. Here's a picture of Zhang and Tikhomirova with their trophies, and an action shot (with the caption saying, "Russia's Anna Tikhomirova hits a return during the women's doubles table tennis match at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup," but of course she's actually serving.)

Guinness World Record for most players in a rally

A total of 107 players took part in this rally (3:01). Perhaps the most boring table tennis video ever made, but are you in the Guinness Book of World Records?

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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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