Krish Avvari

September 11, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my coaching yesterday. I left my house at 2:30 to pick up two players for our afterschool program (Willie and Jessie). From 3:30-4:00 PM I worked with Andrew, the nine-year-old I blogged about yesterday who was rapidly learning how to hit forehands. Today's goal was to hit 20 forehands in a row. Believe it or not, he got 19 in a row and then missed three times in a row! Obviously it was mental - and sure enough, as he approached 20 each time he fell back into his old habit of lunging at the ball, thereby swatting the ball off the end. I had him shadow stroke some more, and we tried again - and this time he not only got 20, he went right on up to 54. Not bad for this fourth 30-minute lesson. From 4-4:30 PM I fed multiball to him and Willie.

I was supposed to coach Daniel from 5-6 PM (nine-year-old, rated about 1600), but his dad called around 4:30 and said that his wrist was bothering him from some accident at school, and so needed to rest it. Between 4:30 and 5:00 I helped Willie and Andrew with their homework. Then I got in my car and drove to McDonalds where I had a chicken sandwich and read for nearly an hour.

Then I coached Matt (13, about 1600) from 6-7:15PM. Matt has a lot of power on his forehand, and doesn't seem to realize it and his shots wander about a bit, so when we do drills it's often hard for me to adjust to them and block back as accurately as I'd like. We spent a lot of time doing the 2-1 drill - backhand from backhand side, forehand from backhand side, forehand from forehand side, with all his shots going to my backhand - and because of the pace he kept, we had trouble with consistency. It got better as we went along. When I said it was time to switch to some multiball practice, he wanted to continue, so we probably did over 20 minutes straight of the 2-1 drill. When you do this drill, if you have trouble covering the wide forehand it's usually because you were off-balanced when you finished the previous shot, the forehand from the backhand side, with your weight off to the right (for a righty). Also, if you go too fast and the balls spray around, then even a coach can have difficulty placing the balls correctly!

Last up was Sameer (13, also around 1600). This was only his second session after taking a month off because of knee problems. His goal was to do 50 forehand loops and 50 backhand loops (or off-the-bounce topspins) in a row. On the forehand side he kept missing between 35 and 40, but eventually he got it. He got the 50 on the backhand pretty quickly. After taking the time off, the biggest hurdle is he's fallen back into his old habit of standing up too straight, so we're working on that.

Today's going to be just as busy. Once I again I leave at 2:30 to pick up kids, then coach the afterschool program from 3:30-4:30. Then I coach pretty much continuously until 8:15PM, including a new junior training program from 6-7PM with an even ten kids.

After today I'm going to focus on my science fiction writing for a few days - primarily doing the absolutely final rewrite work on my Campaign 2100 novel (which, as I've blogged before, features table tennis!). It was critiqued this summer at a writing workshop, but I haven't had time until now to do the rewriting. There's a chance - just a chance - that I might take a few days off next week from blogging to focus on the novel. It depends on how much I'm able to do over the next few days while still doing my regular coaching, blogging, and other TT writing and work. Friday I have about 3.5 hours of coaching, but only about two on Saturday. But things get busy again, coaching-wise, on Sunday.  

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

They've announced the 2014 USATT Hall of Fame Inductees. (It's not "officially" announced, but it's been posted on Facebook and verified by Hall of Fame Committee members.) They are Sheila O'Dougherty, Lisa Gee, Tawny Banh, Richard Butler, and Lifetime Achievement Award Donna Sakai. Congrats to all! (Here's the USATT Hall of Fame.)

Juggling and Table Tennis

I've found juggling to be a great tool to develop hand-eye coordination, whether for table tennis or other racket-type sports. Long ago I learned to juggle three ping-pong balls, and to go under the leg or bounce on the floor in mid-juggle, as well as to do two in one hand. I've seen others in table tennis as well who learned juggling, including one of Maryland's top juniors (well, he's 18 now), Nathan Hsu. So I was impressed with Xavier Therien's juggling/table tennis contraption video (and note that he's juggling four balls at the start), which is his entry in the ITTF Stiga Trickshot Showdown. (The final five for the contest is judged based on views, so by watching his video or others you are voting for it!)

Match Strategy Playing as a Chopper

Here's the new video (10:10) from PingSkills.

Great Point between Wang Liqin and Werner Schlager

Here's the video (1:07) of the point between these two legends.

The Power of Lob

Here's a highlights video (7:52) from four years ago that I don't think I've ever posted.

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari - USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article.

Players Announced for Upcoming ITTF World Cups

Here's the ITTF Press Release. Representing North America are 14-year-old Kanak Jha (USA) on the men's side, and Mo Zhang (CAN) on the women's side.

21 Gold Medals Handed Out at ITTF Para World Championships

Here's the ITTF Press Release. (Sadly, no USA winners in singles, which just completed.)

Members of Chinese National Team at Triangle Table Tennis

Here's the info flyer. Members of the Chinese team will be at the Triangle TTC in Morrisville, NC, Sept. 24-26, to do exhibitions, clinics, and private lessons. Chinese players attending are Fang Bo (world #25), Wu Hao, Liu Jikang, Wen Jia, Feng Yalan, and Mu Zi. This isn't the Chinese "A" Team, but anyone on the Chinese Team is a superstar in the U.S.!

Header Table Tennis

Here's the article and video (3:36) of this new version of table tennis that's sweeping the world, or least Germany! It's a combination of table tennis, soccer, and insanity. I get a headache just watching.

Waldner and Persson Goofing Off

Here's video (1:23) of the two goofing off in Moscow, with Waldner impersonating former top players.

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July 9, 2014

Fighting Spirit

One thing that always bothers me is how people judge a player's fighting spirit not by their fighting spirit during a point - where it counts - but by their fighting spirit between points. And they inevitably judge this by how loud the player is. It sometimes seems as if a player has to constantly yell and scream between points just to prove to the audience that he's fighting hard!

Fighting spirit is a must in table tennis and all sports. It's something coaches look for. But not everyone is loud about doing this. A person may fight quietly just as effectively as someone who screams his head off after each point. And yet he's not considered so much a fighter because he's quiet while the other guy is yelling. Can't spectators just watch the points and see how much he fights for the points? Does he move at full speed? Does he try for every ball? Does he keep this up every point the entire match? If the answer to these questions is yes, then he's fighting just as hard as someone who also does these things, but yells between points.

There's nothing wrong with some yelling between points, especially in big matches, as long as it's not overboard. It helps some players keep their confidence up, and helps them fight all the way. In fact, for many, especially juniors, yelling encouragement to themselves between points helps to the point that many coaches - including me - encourage it from them, as long as it's not overdone. But let's not mistake what a person does between points with what he does during the points.

Back Injury

I won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston at the U.S. Open. Along the way I managed to mess up my left knee, left ankle, and back. The back injury was a new one, different from the one I've had in the past from overuse. The good news is my arm and the two places in my shoulder that regularly get hurt are fine, and my right knee is in its normal state of bothering me but not stopping me from playing. And after coaching yesterday, the left knee and ankle are mostly okay. (Much of this is because I'm 54 and still insist on playing a "young player's style," i.e. trying to attack all out with my forehand.)

But the new back injury is enjoying its moments of glory as it went into full agony mode yesterday, and turned my entire back into a mass of stiffened muscles as they went to war with each other every time I tried to stroke. I could barely move my upper body. About ten minutes into my first lesson yesterday I had to switch to multiball training, and then a (much needed) sports psychology session. (When the student mentioned his arm was a little sore, I said, "That's 4-1 me." He finally figured out I was referring to injuries - my four were the left ankle, both knees, and the new back injury.) I had to bring in Coach Raghu to substitute my second hour, and I've already cancelled my private coaching for today and tomorrow.

I have an air bed with a slow leak. I normally pump it up once a week. When I returned from the Open it was pretty soft, but I neglected to pump it up the first two nights. I think sleeping on the soft mattress may have affected the back. I won't let that happen again.

So once again I'm in rehab mode. I've got naturally stiff, dense muscles, and so need to do more to keep them in shape.

USATT and USOC Coaches of the Year

As noted in a previous blog, I was this year's USATT Doc Counsilman Science Award Coach of the Year, for this coaching blog, tips, and coaching books. (Lily Yip was Coach of the Year, Stefan Feth Developmental Coach of the Year, and Angie Bengtsson was Paralympic Coach of the Year. I was previously a Developmental Coach of the Year, and was second twice for Coach of the Year.) Out of the 56 Olympic sports, the USOC chooses three finalists in each category, and then chooses one as the USOC coach of the year. This year I was one of the three finalists for the Doc Counsilman Science Award, along with coaches from tennis and speed skating. Alas, the tennis coach won, the fiend! Here's the USOC press release. (Note that Angie Bengtsson was also a finalist.)

Two-Table Footwork

Here's video (3:42) showing this footwork training. I've done this, and the kids actually love it - as long as they take turns so they can rest!

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari Training

Here's a video (2:24) from 2009 showing the two in training. The two will be representing USA at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, Aug. 16-28.

USATT and Medical Insurance

If you've tried to join USATT online, you might have seen part of the waiver where you were apparently required to have medical insurance. Specifically, it says, "I agree to carry primary medical insurance and abide by all USATT policies." This was pointed out on the USATT forum and others pointed it out to me. I contacted USATT, and it turns out they didn't know that was in the waiver. They are having it removed. So for those who didn't join because of this, it's a false alarm - you don't have to have medical insurance to join USATT.  

Hall of Famer Dell Sweeris: Five Unforgettable Memories from a Seven-Decade Career

Here's the article.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Forty-seven down, 53 to go!

  • Day 54: The ITTF’s Record of Awards and Humanitarian Projects, Part II 
  • Day 55: The ITTF’s Record of Awards and Humanitarian Projects, Part I

Back and Forth with "The Machine," a Korean Table Tennis Master

Here's the article about 73-year-old coach Jong Jin Lee and the Nevada Table Tennis Club in the Las Vegas Sun.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Wife Jenny Mellström

Here's their marriage picture. Oh, and Dimitrij is pretty happy about Germany's 7-1 win over Brazil in the semifinals!

Amazing Point in U.S. Open Final

Here's the video (7 sec) - net ball, emergency popped return, rip, off-the-bounce counter-rip!

Ten-Minute Point

Here's video that should take you directly to the ten-minute pushing point that starts at about 15:45 of the Day Two night session at the U.S. Open. Prepare to be mesmerized and hypnotized.

Table Tennis Kung Fu

Here's the picture. It looks more like All-Star Wrestling to me!

Baby Girl's First Lesson

Here's video (31 sec) - she's good at keeping her eye on the ball, though not necessarily the one coming at her!

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July 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing Bad - It's All Mental (Usually).

2014 U.S. Open

I was at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids from June 30 to July 6. As usual, it was an exhausting and exhilarating time. Once again Grand Rapids and USATT put on a great show - they are getting good at running Opens and Nationals. It was mostly on time (falling behind only when specific matches held things up), organized, and they even did the little things. For example, every morning we'd find all the trash had been picked up, and the barriers and chairs around all the courts all lined up nice and neatly. When you consider the size of the playing hall, that's a big job! Results were regularly updated on the results walls. So a great thanks goes out to the organizers and workers at this event.

Here's the USATT home page for the U.S. Open, which includes links to results, articles, pictures, and video.

The showcase events started at 3:45PM on Saturday with the women's semifinals. The schedule was for a new match to start every 45 minutes, with the two women's semifinals, the two men's semifinals, the women's final, and then the men's final, which would presumably start at 7:30 PM. But they ran into a problem right from the start - the first women's semifinal was between two very defensive choppers, Riyo Nemoto of Japan, and Li Xue of France (but presumably from China). The two pushed and Pushed and PUSHED all through the first game, with Nemoto essentially never attacking and Xue only occasionally attacking. I think it was 8-4 in the first when ten minutes had passed and expedite was called. From there on they alternated serves, with the receiver winning the point if she returned 13 shots in a row. Xue had a decidedly better attack, and after losing the first, won the next four games easily under expedite.

But the match took forever, and put things well behind. Could they catch up in the next match, between two attackers? The points were faster, but it took another eon before Yuko Fujii won, 11-9 in the seventh. She would go on to win the final, 4-1 over the chopper Xue, who had no answer to her relentless light topspins to the backhand long pips and sudden loop kills and smashes to the middle or wide angles. Fujii used the Asian style of playing choppers to perfection. (Here's my Tip of the Week on Playing Choppers, which explains this.)

Going into the tournament, most players were picking Japan's Jin Ueda to win. After all, he defeated world #7 Chuan Chih-Yuan in last week's Japan Open. But it was another Japanese player who took out top seed and defending champion Eugene Wang of Canada, as Hidetoshi Oya took him out 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The two Japanese met in the semifinals, but this time Oya had no magic as Ueda won 4-1. Meanwhile, China's Tao Wenzhang - the player considered by most as the least likely of the four semifinalists to win - took out two-time U.S. Open Men's Champion Thomas Keinath, also 4-1. Most picked Ueda to win the final, but it was not to be as the under-estimated Tao won the final with another 4-1 win.

Here's an interesting tactical thing about that match. For years I've encouraged players to serve not just to the short forehand, but to the middle forehand. Some players do have trouble if you serve short to the forehand, but others take advantage of the extreme angle you give them to your forehand (assuming two righties), the extra table means they can flip more aggressively. If the server tries to cover this wide angle, the receiver can just take it down the line. But if you instead serve short to the middle forehand, the following happens. 1) the extreme angle to the forehand is mostly cut off; 2) the extra table when flipping to the wide forehand his shortened, so aggressive flips are more difficult; 3) the receiver, who usually favors backhand against short serves to the middle, has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand; and 4) the receiver is either drawn well over the table if he receives backhand (leaving his backhand side open and taking his forehand mostly out of play on the next shot if the server goes to the backhand), or has a somewhat awkward forehand shot to play over the table. So what did Tao do in both the semifinals and final? He serve short to the middle forehand probably half the time, a primary reason he dominated the points.

The USATT Coach of the Year Awards were given out between games in the Women's Semifinals. The four winners were Lily Yip (Coach of the Year); Stefan Feth (Developmental Coach of the Year); Angie Bengtsson (Paralympic Coach of the Year) and me (Doc Counsilman Science Award, for my coaching blog, tips, and books.) However, when they started to give them out I was on the other side of the arena, with my back turned as I was explaining the expedite rule to some spectators. When they called my name I was caught off guard, and couldn't get to the award stand in time. They gave it to me after the next game. The actual plaques are nice, but were left behind at USATT Headquarters, and will be mailed to us. So they improvised with certificates. I'll post a picture of the actual plaque when it comes in.

There are always problems with any large tournament, and this was no exception. There were many top Chinese players at the tournament without ratings or world rankings, and so they were mostly stuck in randomly, causing havoc in some parts of the draws. Perhaps more effort should go into contacting these players or their associations to better get an idea of their level. After all, if a player travels all the way from China to play Men's Singles, he's likely at least 2400 or better! For example, two cadet players came to my club for about ten days of training before the U.S. Open. They were both 2450-2500 players. But at the Open they were unrated and unseeded. One result was that second-seeded Kunal Chodri, rated 2480, had to play one of them in his first match in Cadet Boys' Singles, and lost 3-0. Those two shouldn't have been playing until the later rounds.

There's also the problem of old ratings. For example, I coached a 12-year-old in Under 1500. In the round robin stage he had to play a girl from Canada rated 1427. The problem was that the rating was a year old, from last year's U.S. Open, and she was now at least 1800. The kid I was coaching was a "ringer," under-rated by a couple hundred points, but not nearly as under-rated as this girl, who would not only win the RR group, but would go on to win Under 1500 and Under 1650 (which at the Open is like winning Under 1800 and Under 1950), while beating players in other events over 1800. It wasn't a one-time thing with her; she got an initial rating of 892 at a U.S. tournament in June of 2012. Her next tournament was the 2013 U.S. Open, where she was way under-rated, and shot up to 1427. Now she'll likely jump to 1800+. Next year she'll likely show up with that rating, but perhaps 2000 level. Perhaps junior players with ratings over six months old should have 100 points added to their ratings for eligibility purposes?

Here are the two best shots of the tournament that I saw. First, a Chinese player at least three times pulled off a "push flip." What is that? He reached in for a short ball to the forehand as if pushing off the bounce, but intentionally missed the ball - then pulled his racket back quickly and flipped the ball at the top of the bounce! I've seen this shot before, but not in years. The other best shot? I was warming up one of my players and accidentally mishit the ball off the racket edge so it shot very hard at my face, ricocheting extremely fast off my glasses and back to the other side! My player didn't hesitate to counter-hit it, and the rally continued. Oh, and I'm sure the top players made a few good loops as well.

It's never over until it's over, as one of my players learned. Down 0-2 in games and 1-6 in the third, I called a time-out. I gave him my vintage speech for players down 0-2. ("How bad do you want this?...") Since he was New York Giants football fan, I asked him, "What would Eli Manning do?" He was all psyched up, went back to the table - and the other player got a net winner, then smacked in a winner, and now my player is down 1-8. But with me yelling, "C'mon, Eli, you can do it!", he scored eight in a row, and won that game in deuce - and went on to win the match, deuce in the fifth.

It doesn't always end that way. A nine-year-old kid I coached made the quarterfinals of Under 1500. There he faced an older kid who, in up-to-date ratings, was actually 1576. My player won the first two games, but lost the next two. In the fifth it was 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all, 15-all. Both players had multiple match points. At 15-all the other player mis-hit his serve off to the side, and it was another match point for my player - or was it? The other kid thought his serve hit the edge, and while I was certain it wasn't close, we had to play a let. My player won the next point (and seemingly might have won the match at that point, since he'd won two in a row from 15-all), but wasn't able to convert that match point, and ended up losing 18-16 in the fifth.

Because of ringers, the draws were often rather haphazard. I mentioned the 12-year-old I coached above who had to play the ringer girl from Canada. Actually, all three players in his preliminary group were ringers, way under-rated, as was he himself. On the other hand, the nine-year-old above (yes, another ringer, since he was rated under 1200 but about 1500 level) went up against "normal" players. I'm fairly sure the three players he played in his round robin and in the first two rounds of single elimination wouldn't have won a match in the other player's preliminary RR.

I started to write about some of my favorite coaching moments, especially the tactics used by Nathan Hsu, 18 and about 2350 (though he's been over 2400) in upsetting a 2648 player. But alas, I can't write about them publicly - they are trade secrets we need for the next time the two play. Suffice to say he executed them perfectly - in particular his serve and receive tactics - and mostly shut down the opponent's big forehand. (You can ask me about them privately.)

Players from my club, MDTTC, did very well. Here's a short listing of their best results:

  • Crystal Wang, 12, won Cadet Girls Singles (15 & Under), made the semifinals of 18 & Under Girls, and the quarterfinals of Under 21 Women.
  • Derek Nie, 13, won 13 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Charlene Liu, 61, pulled off a triple sweep - or was it a quadruple sweep? She won Over 40, Over 50, and Over 60 Women's Singles, made the final of Over 30 Women's Singles, and won Over 60 Women's Doubles with Barbara Kaminsky.
  • Dave Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Men's Singles, and won four doubles events - Over 50 and Over 60 Doubles with Dan Seemiller, Over 65 Men's Doubles with Dell Sweeris, and Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Donna Sakai. (Am I the only one who noticed that all four of these players have initials DS?)
  • Donna Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Women's Singles, Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Dave Sakai, and made the final of Over 60 Women's Doubles with Connie Sweeris.
  • Ruichao Alex Chen, 16, made the final of 18 & Under Boys' Singles, upsetting U.S. #1 Under 18 player Kai Zhang, rated 2704, in the round of 16. He made the semifinals of Under 2600. He made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Chen Bo Wen, 16, made the quarterfinals of 18 & Under Boys' Singles and the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Nathan Hsu, 18, made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams, and in 18 & Under Boys' Singles upset Chen Keda, rated 2648 and the U.S. #1 Under 17 player.
  • Wang Qing "Leon" Liang, 19, made the semifinals of Under 2600.
  • Ryan Dabbs, 11, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Tiffany Ke, 10, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Girls' Singles.
  • Daniel Sofer, 9, made the quarterfinals of Under 1500.
  • Larry Hodges, way too old, won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston. 

1970s Table Tennis Revisited

In my blog on June 23 I likened the equipment used in 1971 by Stellan Bengtsson (and by extension, other sponge rackets of that era) as "toy" rackets. Stellan wasn't happy with my assessment. He was using Mark V sponge, which isn't exactly a "toy" sponge though essentially no top players use these types of sponges anymore in this age of tensor and high-tension sponges. (But they are still an appropriate surface for beginning/intermediate players.) I'd actually thought the Mark V used then was slower than the Mark V now, but I've been told that it's about the same now as it was then. (I'm talking about the original version, not all the new types.) The point I was making (and overstated by likening it to "toy" sponge) was that much of the reason the game was slower back then, as seen in the tape, was that the inverted sponges were slower than what are used these days by top players, especially when looping, where modern sponges practically slingshot the ball out. (I've added an edit to the original statement.)

Plastic Ball Implementation at ITTF Events

Here's the article.

USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article on Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha.

Ariel Hsing Aims to Learn & Win in the Super League

Here's the article on the USA Women's Champion in China.

Road to Nanjing

Here's the article, on Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari, who will be representing the United States in the 2nd Summer Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China on August 16-28.  

Ovtcharov Confident to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

Here's the article. Oh, and he just got married!

About.com is Back - Sort of

I checked on it, and there are no plans to bring back the table tennis forum. But they are putting up table tennis articles. Here's a listing of new ones.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin 

Here's the review of the book. "The real history of table tennis is a bizarre tale of espionage, aggravation, and reconciliation, of murder, revenge, and exquisite diplomacy, says a new book. It's the story of how Ivor Montagu molded the game, and how the Chinese came to embrace it and then shaped it into a subtle instrument of foreign policy."

My Way to Olympia

Here's an article and video (1:38) on this PBS documentary on the Paralympics, which covers four athletes, including a table tennis player with one hand.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. (Since I've been away for a week at the U.S. Open we have an accumulation of them today.) Forty-five down, 55 to go!

  • Day 56: Glenn Tepper Explains the ITTF’s Continental Affiliation Option
  • Day 57: Countdown Hijacked! (by Adham Sharara)
  • Day 58: Peter Karlsson Is a True “Champion for Peace”
  • Day 59: Patrick Gillmann: A Passionate Advocate for Juniors
  • Day 60: Richard Scruton Reflects on the 2012 Olympics
  • Day 61: Catching up with Raul Calin, who’s on the Road Again
  • Day 62: ITTF’s Matt Pound Promotes Table Tennis 24/7
  • Day 63: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part II (here's Part 1)

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's the article and trailer (2:10) for the upcoming documentary.

Angel Table Tennis

Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Mike Mezyan.

One Energy Commercial

Here's the video (30 sec) of this neon Tron-like commercial featuring Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen!

No One Knew Kanak Jha Was That Fast!

Here's the picture! Poor Adam Hugh is up against eight Kanaks. (Adam defeated Kanak in the preliminaries at the North American Cup, but lost to him in the final. Or to one of them.)

Top Players in Cartoons

Here are cartoon images of the world's top players.

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June 10, 2014

Incentives

There's nothing better for a coach than a player who's so self-motivated that the coach's main job is to just keep up with him. You don't need to push a player like that; they are already pushing themselves. But this is rare, and even the most motivated players sometimes need some incentive. Of course success in tournaments and leagues is a primary incentive, but that's long-term. Often players need a more immediate incentive. Here are some I use when I coach.

A primary motivator for all ages is to see how many they can do in a row. At the beginning stages this means things like how many forehands or backhands they can hit in a row, or pushes, or loops against backspin in multiball. Keep it simple, and let them challenge themselves to more and more in a row until it's ingrained.

As they advance, move on to more advanced drills. For example, I've always been a firm believer that one of the key stages to rallying success in matches is to be able to do the following two drills so well you can essentially do them forever. One is the 2-1 drill, where the player does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. This covers three of the most common moves in table tennis: covering the wide forehand, covering the wide backhand, and the step-around forehand. The other drill is a simple random drill, done either live or with multiball, where the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and the player has to return each shot consistently, using forehands or backhands. The first is a mobility drill, the second a reaction drill. If you can do both consistently at a good pace, you are ready to rally in matches. The more advanced you are, the faster you do the drills. You can do them live or with multiball.

I often challenge students to see how many of these they can do in a row. In my May 21 blog I quoted myself saying to a student, "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it." I'd told the student, 12-year-old Sameer, that when he could do 100 shots in a row in the 2-1 drill (looping both forehands and backhands), he could say this to me. So he made it a goal – and a few days ago, it happened. After many tries, he suddenly did 100 – and continued, all the way to 217 in a row!!! Technically, if he'd waited until after he'd missed, he couldn't really say he never missed, could he? Fortunately, I missed one somewhere around 150 or so (his shot went wider than usual!), and that's when he said, "The rumors are true. I never miss." Next on his list: 100 random shots in a row, also all looping.

I remember many years ago when I was learning to do fast, deep serves that I'd put a racket on both far corners of the table, and do my fast forehand pendulum serve from the backhand side and try to hit them. For months I would end each serving session by serving and hitting the targets ten times in a row, first ten crosscourt, then ten down the line, and the serving session wouldn't stop until I could do this. When this became too easy, I alternating serving fast and deep to the corners (crosscourt and then down the line), and I had to keep doing this until I hit the paddles ten times in a row. It wasn't enough to just practice the fast serve; it had to be so proficient that I could hit the target nearly every time, and aiming at targets and sticking with it until I got the ten in a row (even when alternating crosscourt and down the line) gave me incentive to do this. Later I would do the same thing with my spin serves, where I'd draw a chalk line a few inches from the far side of the table, and I'd have to do ten serves in a row where the second bounce would be between the line and the end-line.

Another incentive is to tell the student that when they achieve a certain goal, they should celebrate by getting themselves a gift, such as a nice table tennis shirt. Or it can be non-table tennis. I often award myself for reaching a goal or getting something done by seeing a movie. (I see a lot of movies, so I must be reaching a lot of goals and getting a lot done!)

For younger kids, I have other incentives. To work on their accuracy, I'll put a Gatorade bottle on the table and challenge them to hit it – except the bottle supposedly contains worm juice or some other disgusting liquid, which I have to drink if they hit it. I also give out "million dollar bills" to kids who reach certain goals. (I bought them from some novelty place.) For others I keep charts showing their progress, such as how many forehands they did in a row, and regularly update it. One kid had 14 categories we kept track of for nearly a year!

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Nineteen down, 81 to go!

  • Day 82: Growing Pains in the ITTF
  • Day 83: 59 Editions of the World Table Tennis Championships

ITTF Pongcast

Here's the video (11:02) for the month of May.

Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better

Here's video (35 sec) of a great rally between Xu Xin and Gao Ning in the quarterfinals of Men's Singles at the China Open. Xu went on to win, 11-6 in the seventh. Here's video (54 sec) of another great rally at the China Open, in the final between Ma Long and Xu Xin.

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari

Here are videos of then training in China.

Porpoise Pong

Here's a dolphin playing table tennis. See, it's not so hard to play without arms!

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May 12, 2014

Tip of the Week

Anyone Can Become Very Good at Something.

Youth Olympic Games Controversy

There's a controversy involving the training and coaching of the USA Youth Olympic Games athletes (Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari). Basically, USATT set up a training program for the two, then chose a coach. Since Massimo Costantini (from the ICC Table Tennis Center) is the coach for both players, it seemed logical to choose him, but since he wasn't available to go overseas for the entire training program planned (nearly two months), another coach was selected. Officials from ICC were not happy.

I too thought they should have hired the coach first, then have him develop the training program for the players, in particular since he was the coach of both players. From USATT's point of view, they were just incorporating the ITTF's YOG training program, which involves a lot of overseas training and in general is a good idea. It might have been better if they had not locked themselves into requiring the coach to be there the entire time, allowing some flexibility so someone else could substitute for the few weeks when the coach can't make it. Regardless, hopefully they will work something out where Massimo oversees most of their training while missing some of it because of his other commitments. There is lots of discussion of this at the USATT Facebook and ICC Facebook pages.

The coach who was hired (though the official announcement is not yet up) is the highly qualified Lily Yip. (I've known her for decades, and we even attended the same ITTF Level 2 Seminar, held at the Lily Yip TTC last year.) It's unfortunate there's any controversy on this as she's an excellent coach. The problem is that the two players in question just happened to both be students of Massimo, and this was known at the time Lily was hired. Massimo was USATT's first choice because of this, but because he couldn't commit to the entire overseas training program they went with Lily. If they hadn't apparently locked themselves into requiring the coach there the entire time, perhaps they could have hired Massimo, and hired Lily for the times when Massimo could not make it.

Ironically, I also considered applying for the YOG coach position, but since I haven't worked directly with these players (other than a week about four years ago when I practiced daily with Krish during a Stellan Bengtsson camp, plus coaching against him in tournaments a few times), and since I figured Massimo or someone else who worked more regularly with these players was applying, I decided not to. (Plus it's a big commitment for a full-time coach with lots of students.) Perhaps another time, when an MDTTC player is on the team in question. MDTTC's Crystal Wang is already on the USA Women's Team and Cadet Girls' team, and we have a number of other up-and-coming players. But what happens if I or some other coach also can't commit to the entire "required" time? The irony is that coaches who are in demand are usually the ones who will often have the most trouble taking time off - and they are often the ones we'd want to hire.

This isn't the first time ICC has felt burned by USATT. As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule? 

USATT Launches New Membership System - RailStation

Here's the announcement. Could be helpful. It definitely gets our membership system into the modern age! A key phrase from the announcement: "USATT members with a current email on file will be sent instructions on how to log in and activate their account.  If you have not provided an email address to USATT or need to update it, please contact Andy Horn at admin@usatt.org."

U.S. Open Entry Deadline Extended to May 18

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee was Saturday (two days ago), but they've extended it to May 18 (next Sunday). Here's a listing of players currently entered, and of entries by event. (There are 381 players listed as entered as I write this, but I'm sure there are still a lot of paper entries not uploaded yet, plus the extended deadline should bring in some more.) Here's more info:

MDTTC - the Laughingstock of Table Tennis

Yes, it's true. On Friday and Saturday, famous stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo spent several hours at MDTTC playing. (He was in town for some local shows.) He has a rating of 1658, but that was from three years ago - he appears about 1800 now. Between coaching sessions I even got to play doubles with him on my team. (Alas, I coach too much and play too little, and so my receive was way off, and we lost to Julian Waters and Steve Hochman. But then Julian and I took down Steve and Frank!) Then on Sunday another famous stand-up comedian came in to play for a few hours, Judah Friedlander, who is rated 1565 (and who've I've coached before), though as his home page says, he's the World Champion. (Judah grew up locally, and while he spends most of his time in New York City doing stand-up, he comes to Maryland often to visit his family.)

ITTF Athletes Commission

Vladimir Samsonov was re-elected as Chair. Others elected or appointed were Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), Zoran Primorac (CRO), Krisztina Toth (HUN), David Powell (AUS), Angela Mori (PER), Elsayed Lashin (EGY), Yu Kwok See April (HKG), Wang Liqin (CHN), and USA's own Ashu Jain.

ITTF Legends Tour

I wrote about the Legends Tour last Thursday. Here are more pictures.

International News

As usual, there are lots and lots of international news items up at Tabletennista.

Matthew Syed Launches New Table Tennis Academy in England

Here's the story. (Syed is a former English table tennis champion, one of the best defensive players in the world.)

Shot of the Day

Here's video (46 sec) of a very strange rally at the recent World Championships between China's Ding Ning and Japan's Yuka Ishigaki in the Women's Team Final.

Ibrahim Hamato - Nothing is Impossible

Here's more video (2:43) of the famous armless Egyptian player from the ITTF. Includes interviews (with English translation) and showing him hitting with the best players in the world. I've actually put a racket in my mouth like he does to rally in exhibitions, but not at this level!

Happy Mother's Day (one day late)

Here's the Table Tennis Mother's Day Graphic by Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - Bram Stoker Award

"After Death" just won Best Horror Anthology at the Bram Stoker Awards, which is sort of the Academy Awards for written horror. It includes a story of mine, "The Devil's Backbone." You can buy the anthology at Amazon. And here's a review of the book, which says, "… and “The Devil’s Backbone” by Larry Hodges, which I found to be well-conceived, well-executed, and well-written, my favorite in the anthology."

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April 16, 2014

Spring Break Camp - TV, Backhands, and Shoot the Moon

Yesterday was day two of our Spring Break Camp. The highlight was Channel 5 News coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and the MDTTC. They filmed lots of Crystal and other players, and did interviews with Crystal, Coach Jack Huang, and me. I think the feature of my interview was when he asked about Crystal's goals for making the Olympics. I explained how making the 2016 Olympic Team was first priority, but that she'd be only 18 for the 2020 Olympics - and that was where the goal would be to medal, perhaps gold medal. Then I pointed out that we'll know she's made it when the Chinese coaches start studying her on video, and develop a practice partner who mimics her game so they can practice against her! Yes, that's what the Chinese do, and you haven't really made it in table tennis until you have a Chinese doppelganger who studies you on video and copies for other players to train against.

After some time reviewing the forehand, spent a lot of time yesterday on the backhand. The beginning players mostly seemed to pick this up quicker than the forehand - perhaps they're getting used to learning new TT stuff. However, several are having trouble with their serves. That's going to be a focus today. I'm also going to introduce pushing.

Our Monopoly set was discovered during our two-hour lunch break, and that'll be in continuous use the rest of the camp. However, the real obsession this camp is the Shoot the Moon game I brought in. It's in continuous use during breaks, with the kids taking turns, usually getting three turns each before the next one gets it. One kid, about ten, has been at it continuously since he got here, including non-stop practice while many of us went to 7-11, and has become the champion, several times getting "Pluto" ten times in a row. (You can't see it from the picture, but Pluto is the highest score possible. The goal is to pull the two rods apart so the heavy metal ball rolls toward the player, who drops it in one of the holes, the higher the better.)

However, none can challenge the true champion - me! When I was also about ten I had this game, and I also became obsessed with it. I practiced it day after day, and kept careful track of my results. This went on for weeks. I finally stopped when it became just too easy - I had several stretches where I'd get Pluto hundreds of times in a row. I finally put it aside and didn't play for about 44 years - then I picked up a set a few weeks ago, and discovered I could still do it. I mostly let the kids use it non-stop, but now and then I stop by and get Pluto a bunch of times in a row, which only makes them more determined.

Adam Bobrow - the Voice of Table Tennis!

The ITTF has made the final decision - and USA's Adam Bobrow is the Next Voice of Table Tennis! Here's their Facebook announcement. Here's video of Adam's contest entry (9:40), where he does commentary on a match at the Qatar Open between China's Xu Xin (then world #4, but now #1) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (then ranked #44, but now #20). I blogged about the ITTF contest last Wednesday. (There's no article on this yet on the ITTF News page, though I expect one later today.) Here's the ITTF's original announcement of the contest, the announcement of the Finalists, and USATT's reposting of that with pictures of Barbara and Adam. (They are both from the U.S., with David Wetherill of Great Britain the third finalist.)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here is the High Performance Report for March, 2014, by Chair Carl Danner. You can read previous ones and reports from other USATT Committees at the USATT Reports page.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC Schools

Here's the article! (I blogged about this briefly yesterday, but now we get the details.)

Expert in a Year

Coach Ben Larcombe from England has been on a one-year project to see if he can turn a beginning adult player (Sam Priestley, age 24) into an "expert" in one year. He even has a web page where he explains and chronicles the adventure, and where you can sign up for regular updates. Here's an article on the project.

Krish Avvari Gets Last Youth Olympics Spot

Here's the story, and here's the ITTF video interview with him (1:40).

Interview with Lily Yip

Here's the ITTF video interview (3:40) with USA coach Lily Yip during the recent Canadian Junior Open.

Amazing Around-the-Net Backhand in the Russian League

Here's the video (46 sec, including slow-motion replay).

Tina Lin - Age Nine

Here's the video (3:43) of junior star Tina Lin, which introduces her at age nine and other ages.

Lily Zhang and her Prom Date

Here's the picture. "Not everyone can say they've gone to the prom with an Olympian! Thanks for a great night!" Lily was on the 2012 Olympic Team and was the 2012 USA Women's Singles Champion.

Ping Pong Animation Episode One

Here's the video (23 min). I haven't had a chance to watch it yet - too busy with spring break camp and other coaching - but if someone wants to do a short review, please comment below. I did browse through it and there's lots of table tennis action, all animated, apparently in a training environment.

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