College TT

April 23, 2014

Beginning/Intermediate Class, Racket Surfaces, and Herb Horton

In the class on Monday night I introduced the class to non-inverted surfaces by bringing out the huge racket case where I keep six rackets: hardbat; short pips/inverted; pips-out penhold; anti/inverted; long pips no sponge/inverted (for blocking); and long pips thin sponge/inverted (for chopping). My plan was to talk about the characteristics of each for perhaps 15 minutes, and then introduce them to doubles. However, there was so much interest that, after a brief discussion and unanimous vote, we instead adjourned to the tables so they could all experiment playing with and against the various surfaces. (This is an adult class, with most of them ranging from about 25 to 60, plus one 13-year-old. Playing level ranges from about 800 to 1500.) 

The long pips without sponge was the biggest hit as the players lined up to play me as I stood at the table and just blocked everything back, covering the whole table with my backhand, "chicken wing" style. At the start they all had difficulty with my "heavy" backspin serves with the long pips, which they all popped up since there was actually no spin. Similarly, when they served backspin and I pushed it back vigorously, they all went off the end, thinking there was backspin when it was light topspin. They found this amazing, but all of them eventually learned to react properly. However, once we got into a rally and they gave me a topspin, and I blocked it back, over and over they went into the net. They just couldn't react to the backspin, which they didn't see coming since they had never seen a block with heavy backspin. 

Another player spent much of the time using the pips-out shakehands blade. These days it's practically a no-no for a coach to teach a kid to use short pips. After all, how many short pips players are there at the world-class level? (Off hand, I can't think of a single man in the top 100 with short pips - readers, let me know if I'm correct. I think there are a few women.) However, for recreational play short pips is still a good choice. Remember, USA's David Zhuang held on to his 2700 level well into his 40s, and most players aren't looking anywhere near that high. I do miss the variety of the past, where we'd see more short pips as well as antispin. 

If you have trouble playing against any of these surfaces, one of the best ways to learn to play them is to experiment using them yourself. That way you learn first-hand what it's like using them, and what works and doesn't work against them.

Personally, I think the most fun table tennis in the world is to put antispin on both sides of your racket, and just chop everything back. The anti with its slick surface makes it easy to return just about anything, but it also is easy for the opponent to keep attacking, since the anti doesn't really return much of the spin, unlike long pips. (There are some new antispins that are nearly spinless that play like long pips, but I'm talking about "normal" antispin.) I used to have an all-antispin racket, but at some point it disappeared - I think another anti fan "borrowed" it. 

I also find it great fun playing against an anti chopper. I started playing in 1976, and the first 2000+ player I ever played was Herb Horton, who chopped with anti on both sides. I'd just started playing (I was 16), and thought I was pretty good. He was very nice to play me, but also "respected" me by playing his best as he won 21-1, 21-0, 21-2! He continued to play me regularly as I improved, and he's a primary reason I developed a strong forehand. So kudos to him for helping out this beginner! It was a little over a year later, as I approached the 1700 level, that he became the first 2000+ player I ever beat in a tournament - and it only happened because he'd played me so much I was used to his anti chopping. I'm sure he wasn't happy about losing that match, but we had so many great matches that hopefully he enjoyed those more than the cost of his willing to play me so much. Another result of all those matches with Herb was that I became better against choppers than any other style, and I went about 20 years without losing to a chopper under 2500 while beating five over 2400. Herb continued to play, and was a regular at the Maryland Table Tennis Center which I opened (along with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang) in 1992. Around the mid-1990s, I think in his mid-70s, he died of a heart attack while playing at the club. 

2014 U.S. Open Blog - It's a Roller Coaster Ride

Here's a new blog entry on the U.S. Open by co-chairs Dell & Connie Sweeris.

USATT Staff Changes

It's been nearly a month since the news item that CEO Mike Cavanaugh and Membership Director Joyce Grooms would be leaving USATT. Three changes to their staff directory went up yesterday. First, Doru Gheorghe, who was listed before as (I think) Technical Director and USA Women's Coach, is now listed as Interim CEO & Chief Operating Officer. Second, Andy Horn, who I think was listed as Ratings Director (and something else?) is now listed with Joyce's old title, Membership Director. And third, there's a new person, Tiffany Oldland, listed as Administrative Assistant/Ratings. Welcome to USATT, Tiffany!

Trailer for Ping Pong Summer

Here it is (2:10), just came out! Looks like a great movie. 

Golf Pros Take on Pong Pros in China

Here's the article, pictures, and video (1:54) from pga.com. Reigning PGA Champion Jason Dufner and former world #5 Ian Poulter take on table tennis legends Jan-Ove Waldner (1989 & 1997 World Men's Singles Champion from Sweden), Jorgen Persson (1991 World Men's Singles Champion from Sweden), and Jiang Jialiang (1985 & 1987 World Men's Singles Champion from China). Note that the table tennis players use golf clubs as rackets!

School Hit by Ferry Disaster Wins National Table Tennis Title

Here's the article from the Wall Street Journal. Weird coincidence.

College Ping Pong Lures Chinese Students

Here's the article from China Daily.

Coach Calls for Table Tennis League in India

Here's the article from the Times of India.

Table Tennis Federation of India Hires North Korean Coaches to Train Youngsters

Here's the article from NDTV Sports.

Highlights of Steffen Mengel's Upset over Wang Hao

Here's the video (7:20) as Mengel (then world #102, now #49) defeats Wang (then world #5, now #6, former #1) in the quarterfinals.

Aussie Paralympian Makes Able-Bodied Team

Here's the article and video (1:32) about Melissa Tapper. 

Happy Birthday Steven!

Here's a Mario Brother ping pong cake.

Animals Playing Pong

Here's the picture - there's a swordfish, dolphin, alligator (or is that a crocodile?), killer whale, shark, turtle, and octopus. I think I once posted a different picture of these same seven ping-pong playing animals, but it's been a while.

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March 26, 2014

You Are What You Train

Most players understand this, but don't really absorb how important this simple lesson is. Here are two examples.

On Monday I was teaching the backhand loop to a beginning/intermediate class. I don't have a particularly good backhand loop, so I had assistant coach John Hsu demonstrate it. It seemed a good time to also teach the blocking, so I went over that as well as I blocked John's loop. Then I pointed how at the higher levels many players topspin their blocks, essentially mini-loops, and explained how while I blocked the normal way (relatively flat), John almost always topspins his blocks.

To demo this, I looped forehands from my backhand corner to his backhand and he backhand topspin blocked away. The rally went on for a time, and then I ripped one down the line to his forehand. John reacted quickly and forehand blocked to my wide forehand. I raced over and looped down the line to his backhand. He blocked back wide to my backhand, but not too aggressively. Now I'd just been teaching the backhand loop, and you'd think that at 54 years old I'd play an easy backhand winner (as John and most "top" players would have), but no - I did what I'd trained myself to do way back in the late 1970s and 1980s, and ran all the way over from my wide forehand to my wide backhand and ripped a forehand winner down the line for a winner. Afterwards neither I nor John nor the players in the class could believe I'd gotten over there so fast - and I was sort of surprised as well. But it was a simple matter of balance on the previous shot so I could recover quickly, proper footwork technique that got me there quickly, and the automatic instincts that led me to attempt that shot. (I just wish I could still do shots like that regularly in matches - technique aside, my legs aren't as fast anymore, mostly due to knee problems.)

Another example was two kids I watched play yesterday, both ten years old. One was the #1 10-year-old from Japan, about 2000 level, visiting for a week along with his older brother (about 12 and 2250 level). He was playing a 10-year-old from my club who was about 1900. The Japanese kid had been taught to attack relentlessly, and that's exactly what he did, attacking not only off his serve, but attacking nearly every serve as well, often with over-the-table backhand banana flips. For much of the match the kid from our club was constantly on the defensive as he could only push the Japanese kid's serve back, and his own serves were often slightly high and were getting pulverized. He tried attacking the serve, but unlike the Japanese kid, he hadn't really trained that shot, and so was pretty erratic, and went back to pushing. Then he simplified his own serve to a simple backspin serve so that he could serve lower, and the Japanese kid started missing - and it became apparent that if he couldn't attack the serve as he'd been trained to do, his game went down quite a bit as he didn't push or block well. And so what started out as a rout got close. The Japanese kid won, but it was a battle. And now our kid is going to learn to serve lower with his normal serves, and to backhand banana flip.

So we have me, forcing the forehand because it was what I trained to do, and two kids both doing what they were trained to do and being comfortable otherwise. If I could go back 38 years and talk to myself as I developed, the main thing I'd say was "Develop a backhand loop!" But because I trained as a one-winged attacker, and didn't train the backhand loop, I became what I trained - a one-winged looper with a relatively weak backhand loop that I developed only in later years. (Back in those days the theory was often "One gun is as good as two.") I've got forehand attacking so ingrained in me that I can't imagine ever being a two-winged looper - and ongoing arm and shoulder problems preclude me from even attempting any intense training at this point to develop a stronger and more instinctive backhand loop. (But that doesn't mean you can't - see Backhand Loop tutorial below!)

A few key lessons from all this - train to develop a complete game. Develop both forehand and backhand. Develop effective serves that are low to the net. Develop receives that handle all situations. And develop the ability to both attack and to handle the opponent's attack.

Backhand Loop Against Backspin Tutorial

Here's the video (5:28). Coach Yang Guang (former Chinese Team Member) demonstrates and explains, breaking down the shot to its most basic points, and with slow motion at the end. This is one of the best demos and explanations of the shot I've ever seen - I spent some time copying his form. The common mistakes he points out are the very same ones I commonly see. (Ironically, I just taught the backhand loop to my beginning/intermediate class on Monday. I will point out this video to them next time.)

The Impact of College Table Tennis

Here's an essay by Kagin Lee, USATT Board Member and National College TTA Vice President-External Affairs. He has some good stuff (from a college-oriented table tennis background), but the most important to me is item #3, which is where any discussion of developing the sport in this country should begin. (The only other way to really develop the sport is via club-based junior programs, which happens successfully all over the world in conjunction with leagues.)

Six Seconds of Physical Training

Here's the video. I've done this drill numerous times in training camps. Those "ladders" are great for physical training.

Two-Year-Old Player

Wanna play?

Water Pong

Here's the picture. Hey, let's go play table tennis out in the bay!

Cat That Wants to Play

Here's the video (1:37) - and don't get me started on analyzing the players' technique….

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