Waldner

March 20, 2014

Tricky Serves

Here's an interesting dynamic I've noticed over the years. Players who play the same players over and over at clubs, and only occasionally play at tournaments or at other clubs, rarely develop tricky serves that they can use when they do play in tournaments or against different players. Players who play lots of different players and compete in tournaments tend to develop tricky serves. Why is this?

It's all about feedback. If a player starts to develop tricky serves, his opponents will at first have trouble with them. But if he plays the same players all the time and rarely plays new ones, then the players he plays quickly get used to the tricky serves, and they stop being that effective. And so the feedback the player gets is that the serves aren't that effective, and he stops developing those serves and tries other ones. A player who regularly plays tournaments or other players gets more realistic feedback on the quality of those serves as his opponents aren't seeing them as regularly.

The same is true of other aspects of the game. For example, a player develops a nice backhand loop, his regular opponents might get used to it, and he'll stop using it as often - never realizing how much havoc the shot might create against players not used to it.

So if you want to really develop your game, seek out new players, either at your club, other clubs, or in tournaments, and see how they respond to your serves and other techniques. If your ultimate goal is to play well in tournaments (even if you only play in them occasionally), then you need this feedback to develop your game.

By the way, this strongly applies to me. When I used to play tournaments, most of my opponents had difficulty with my serves, especially some of my side-top serves that look like backspin. But in practice, most of the people I play are used to those serves, and I tend to serve more backspin and no-spin, which may set up my attack but rarely give me "free" points. If I went by what happened in practice, I'd be giving away a lot of free points in tournaments by not using those tricky side-top serves.

About.com Table Tennis Forum (RIP)

After something like fifteen years of operation, the about.com table tennis forum is closed. When you go there you get "Forum Closed" and "We are sorry, this forum is no longer in operation" notes. Nobody seems to know why, but presumably it was because there hasn't been a moderator for some time, and the powers that be (i.e. about.com) decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not a big forum poster (though I used to be), but I like to browse them and sometimes post things. I'll probably frequent the mytabletennis.com forum more often.

Learn to Play in the "Zone"

Here's the article by Samson Dubina. This is an important lesson I endlessly try to instill in students - let the subconscious take over when you play.

Expert in a Year

Here's the home page for Ben Larcombe's "Expert in a Year" challenge. He's trying to turn a beginning player into an expert in one year. Can he do it? They are eleven weeks in, with a weekly diary and lots of video.

Zhang Jike's Shoulder Injury

Here's the article. He had to withdraw from the Asia Cup. Fortunately, the injury is to his left shoulder (he's a righty), but this shows how important it is to use both sides of the body when playing - the left side pulls around just as much as the right side.

Table Tennis is Life

Here's the video (4:46).

Testing Timo Boll's Eyesight

Here's the article with a link to the video (8:02).

Planning Underway for Even Greater 2015 Cary Cup

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Cary Cup Final

Here's the video (39:03) of the final between Eugene Wang and Li Kewei this past weekend, with Li the chopper/looper defeating the top seeded Wang (who's won the last two Cary Cups and U.S. Opens) at 8,9,-7,12.

The Brain of a Table Tennis Player

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's video (59 sec) of an incredible exhibition point between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

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January 14, 2014

Tip of the Week

Maximum Power and Control.

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis and Other Stuff

Once again we're at it, for the 14th year in a row. (Disclosure, I only helped a little on the first volume.) Yesterday morning USATT Historian Tim Boggan (now an experienced 83 years young) moved into my house so he could direct as I do layouts and photo work (with great help from photographer and USATT Hall of Famer Mal Anderson) on his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 14. Yes, you read that right; we're into the 14th volume, which covers the years 1985-86. Here's TimBogganTableTennis.com, where you can learn about and order the books.

It's not going to be a fun two weeks. Basically it means being at my desk at 7AM every day and working most of the day, until it's time for my coaching hours. If I get back early enough, we work on it again that night. Then he goes to sleep, and I sit down and stare at my computer, completely exhausted, and debate whether to do the next morning's blog then (as well as the weekly Tip of the Week), or get up extra early and do it in the morning. (I'm typing this a little after 11PM at night, and still have the Tip to write. I already put together all the short segments below, though I'll likely add more in the morning.)

As I noted in my last blog, I was away at my nephew's wedding and a family gathering in New Orleans Wed-Sun, returning around midnight on Sunday night. I had three hours of work that night that I had to take care of, and then I got a good four hours of sleep before starting work. Technically Tim didn't come in until 9:30 AM (driving down from New York), but I had a lot of stuff to do to prepare for him, from cleaning the house a bit to preparing the documents we'd be working on.

On an exhaustion scale of 1 to 10, I'm at 17 right now. And we've only done one day. And my coaching gets busier as the week goes on.

I actually had little coaching yesterday or today. Instead, I'm picking up kids at schools, taking them to the club, and watching over them as they do homework for our new Afterschool Program. Starting Wednesday my coaching picks up, with three hours that night. I don't even want to talk about the weekend!

While in New Orleans I mostly was busy with family and wedding stuff. (It's been something like 20 years since I was last at a wedding, and eight years since I last wore a suit and tie.) I did get one afternoon off where I spent four hours at the World War II Museum. I also put together (with help from other family members) a 550-piece The Hobbit jigsaw puzzle.

USA Grand Tour Finals

The USA Grand Tour Finals were this past weekend. Here's where you can find results, photos, video, etc. On a side note, ten copies of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques were given out as raffle prizes!

SafeSport

USATT Coaches, listen closely: ALL USATT certified coaches need to go online and complete the background check process now required by the USOC. Here's the USATT info page on this.

USATT Athletes of the Month - Dec. 2013

Here's the article on Ariel Hsing (female), Kanak Jha (male), and Tahl Leibovitz (Paralympic).

USATT and Leagues

At the about.com table tennis forum there's a discussion of the Atlanta Tennis Leagues (tennis, not table tennis), and how they are ten times bigger than USATT. Jay wrote about this; here's my short response. And here's USATT National and ITTF Coach Donn Olsen's response to me.

Morrisville, NC Might Get Full-time Training Center

Here's the article in yesterday's The Cary News.

Introduction to Multiball

Here's a new video (2:46) from PingSkills that teaches how to do multiball training.

Using Pivot Forehand to Your Advantage

Here's the article from TableTennisMaster - and the two common errors.

"Speed Gluing was Harmless" (Waldner didn't say this)

That's the headline and quote in this article that came out yesterday. However, what Jan-Ove Waldner really said in the article is, "Speedgluing should have been allowed to continue providing it was harmless." That's a very different statement than the headline. But the article does have some interesting stuff about Waldner's views on various rules topics.

How Wealthy is World's Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike?

Here's an article on it!

Tahl Leibovitz Highlights Video

Here's the video (4:31)! Due to disabilities, he uses a somewhat unique grip, holding the racket very low so the handle is almost in his palm. And he's a shot-maker!

Star Rally Shot of the Year

Here's the video (23 sec) of the shot at the 2013 World Championships by Timo Boll, who just won the TMS International contest.

2013 Ping Pong Dubai Male and Female Table Tennis Stars

Here's their videos of winners Zhang Jike (male, 23sec) and Li Xiaoxia (female, 24 sec). And here's video of the male nominees (1:09) and female nominees (1:09).

Triples

Here's a video (2:38) from the BBC on the newest TT fad - triples!

Ghostly Table Tennis

Or is this Death playing table tennis? You decide; it's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - After Death Anthology

The After Death fantasy horror anthology came out last year, with my story "The Devil's Backbone." Here's a review of the anthology that came out yesterday - and read what they wrote about my story!

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November 25, 2013

Tip of the Week

Mentality in a Match and in Practice.

USATT Elections and Ten Things USATT Should Do

There's a great discussion of USATT issues going on right now at the about.com table tennis forum, with 83 postings as of this writing. It started with a posting about the two candidates put on the ballot by the USATT Nominating and Governing Committee (Ross Brown and Jim McQueen), and the ones they left off (Jim Butler, Rajul Sheth, Mauricio Vergara, and Ray Cavicchio. Many people, including myself, thought it tragic that some of these were left off when they are some of the ones actively doing things or pushing for new things. For example, Jim Butler's been pushing strongly for nationwide leagues or similar competitions, and is of course three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and an Olympian; Rajul runs the highly successful ICC club in Milpitas, California; and Mauricio runs the New York Table Tennis League.

Unfortunately, USATT no longer allows the option for candidates to get on the ballot by petition - it used to be you could do so if you got 150 signatures from USATT members. It so happens I strongly disagree on nearly all the major issues with Ross Brown, and I'm not sure if Jim McQueen is pushing for new initiatives to develop our sport, so I'd like to see some of these new people and doers on the board with fresh ideas.

In the online discussion I had a couple short postings at #3 and #7, but then chimed in with a long posting at #68 and others at #70, 82 and 83. Others in the discussion include such table tennis luminaries as Jim Butler (the most active poster), Dan Seemiller (some very pointed postings), Sean O'Neill, Rajul Sheth, Carl Danner, Donn Olsen, and Larry Thoman. (If you don't know who these people are, then make Google your friend, or ask in the comments below.)

The thread got me thinking once again about all the "easy" things USATT could do that could pay off big if they'd just take initiative. Here are ten:

  1. Advertise to hire someone to set up Professional Leagues. Offer him 33% of revenues brought in, and the USATT's support with its web page, emails, magazine, and any other way feasible. It would be an historic position, similar to the first commissioner of sports such as baseball, basketball, and football.
  2. Redirect the purpose of the current "League" committee so that its primary purpose would be to actively increase the number and quality of leagues in the U.S.  First job would be to bring in people to put together a manual for setting up such leagues. The authors would then publish on Amazon and get profits from sales. It's not large money, but they might get a few hundred dollars and the prestige of being a published author.
  3. Bring together the directors of the largest and most successful leagues in the U.S., figuratively lock them in a room, and don't let them out until they've put together a model for such leagues that can be done regionally all over the U.S.
  4. Create a "Training Center" committee whose primary purpose would be increase the number and quality of full-time clubs in the U.S.  First job would be to bring in people to put together a manual for setting up and running such centers. The authors would then publish on Amazon and get profits from sales. It's not large money, but they might get a few hundred dollars and the prestige of being a published author. I already did a version of this with my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, and have sold over one hundred copies and made over $100. This manual covers half the stuff a manual on setting up and running a full-time center would cover.
  5. Change the focus of USATT coaching seminars from just teaching technique to the recruitment and training of professional coaches and directors of junior programs. I've argued this one for years.
  6. Advertise for someone to bring in sponsorships for U.S. Open and Nationals, where the person gets 33% or more in commission.
  7. Recruit State and Regional Directors all over the U.S. to set up regional associations, which would include election of officers, and appointment of Coaching, League, Tournament, and Club Directors for each state or region. (Some regions or states already have such associations.) USATT would supply the basic bylaws for these associations, using bylaws that have been created for this very purpose multiple times in the past, or modeled on current successful ones.
  8. Direct that the USATT Board of Directors main focus will be the development of the sport, and that "fairness" issues will go to the appropriate committee, freeing up board time for actually developing the sport.
  9. Require that all prospective USATT board members must give at least one major area where they will take initiative in developing the sport, and give their plan for doing so. Along with this they should allow people on the ballot if they get 150 signatures from USATT members, with a deadline set after the North American Teams, which is where they could get the signatures. (This is how it was done in the past.)
  10. Do a mass mailing to the 50,000 or so past USATT members on the USATT database, and invite them to rejoin. The letter should come from a top, well-known U.S. table tennis star. There's one catch - there has to be something new to invite these players back. See previous items on this list. Any such mailing, done properly, would pay for itself. There's a reason why I and others get inundated with mailings from organizations I once belonged to. I still get regular mail from the U.S. Tennis Association since I played in their leagues about ten years ago. (Eventually we can move to emailing past members, but we don't have the email address of most of these past members.)

Here's a more general thing USATT should do: Set up specific goals for USATT, and make their fulfillment the primary goal of the USATT Board. For example, in 2006 there were only 10 full-time centers in the U.S., and it was proposed (yeah, by me in a presentation that was, alas, ignored) that we make a goal to create 100. Board members rejected this, arguing there weren't enough players for these training centers. There are now over 60 of them, with little USATT support. So what type of goals could we set up now? How about making it a goal to have, within five years, 200 full-time training centers with junior programs; 20,000 USATT members; and a U.S. Open or Nationals with prize money over $500,000. Then set up programs (see above) to achieve these goals. The nice thing about setting such goals is even if you miss the specific number and end up with, say, 190 full-time training centers with junior programs, 18,000 USATT members, and U.S. Open or Nationals with prize money of $400,000, guess what? We have dramatically improved the sport.

Rushing

So many players rush when they play when they have lots of time to make their shots if they'd focus on proper movement. To quote 2001 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Eric Owens, "You have more time than you think." Or my updated version of this, "The only reason to rush is if you want a rushed shot." 

I Made Sports Illustrated!

Here's the article, about my coaching Orioles players. This is actually my second article in Sports Illustrated; I had one in 1999 about the Chinese table tennis dynasty. 

Waldner: "Today's Table Tennis Lacks Shrewdness"

Here's the article! "Today many players, mainly Chinese ones, have incredible athletic bodies but play like robots. I think that table tennis lacks shrewdness, the little technical details, surprises, tricks." I wholeheartedly agree. Is this the future, or are they missing something that could raise their level perhaps another notch?)

Three Reasons Timo Boll Will Soon Be Outside the Top 10

Here's the article! I'm not so sure of this; I think he's still recovering from the long break he took, plus losing to a teammate who is used to playing him is not the same as losing to ones who are not used to playing Timo, who often have trouble with his lefty inside-out loops.

Sport of the Century

Here's a new highlights video (14:03) that came out yesterday in high definition. It starts as if it were doing coverage of the World Men's Cup semifinals between Xu Xin and Samsonov (showing a great point with commentary), then moves on to lots of great highlights stuff.

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of the Oct. 12, 2013 USATT minutes. Lots of interesting stuff, especially about the new poly (plastic) ball and about USATT Magazine possibly moving in-house. (Some of us remember that last time USATT did that - it didn't work out so well, did it?) Here are all USATT minutes. (Note that the Oct. 23 email vote, while coming after the Oct. 12 meeting above, had its minutes published a while ago, and I already linked to them previously.)

This Guy Just Read the USATT Minutes

Here he is. (Just kidding, USATT!)

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November 7, 2013

Health Checklist, Sheeba and Me

Today I can say we're both a mess. Here's our checklist.

ME: I just came down with a cold (again!!!), though it's a minor one. (I'm living on Nyquil.) Both of my knees are bothering me, so I'm wearing knee braces when I play. And remember how I hurt my arm a month ago and had to take a week off? Yesterday it was hurting again whenever I played backhands with students. I iced it last night, and today I'm going to have to go easy on it. My weight, which regularly fluctuates between 180 and 190, is at the high end right now, so I'm going to have to diet. However, to any students reading this: I'm ready to take you on!!!

SHEEBA (my dog, who's 3/4 corgi, 1/4 some sort of hound): She'll be 16 in February, which is about 76 in human years. I've had her since she was four, when I got her at the local dog shelter. She has arthritis in her back legs, and so has great difficulty walking up and especially down stairs, and no longer can go for walks. She's completely deaf - I can clap my hands together right behind her head as loudly as I can and she won't even react. She's also nearly blind, and regularly walks into doors and walls. She normally weighs around 23 pounds, but she's been losing weight rapidly this year, and is down to about 17 - she just won't eat much anymore. Here she is a few years ago.

I'm not the only one with health problems. As noted in a blog last week, my 5PM Wednesday student (Daniel) hurt his arm, and is out for month. My 6PM Wednesday student (Matt) had an apparent concussion (hit by a door in school!) and was out for a week, but came back last night. Since my 7PM Wednesday student (TJ) was away and my 8PM student (Doug) only comes in twice a month and was off last night, that meant that last night I only had one student - so I gave him an extra 15 minutes, and then spent some time watching the players I'll be coaching at the upcoming USA Nationals as they trained (Nathan Hsu and Derek Nie).

"About Time" Table Tennis

Yesterday I saw the movie "About Time." While technically a time-traveling SF movie, it wasn't really a SF movie, and more of a relationship movie as a man learns to accept the world as it is rather than constantly trying to change it for the better. Along the way were several table tennis scenes. Early on they show him talking with his dad as they play table tennis. Later the dad, played by Bill Nighy, gives a humorous speech while he plays about the greatness of his and his son's play, as if they were in some championship match. (I hope to see this on youtube someday.) They mention table tennis several other times, including the dad at his son's wedding giving a speech where he jokingly says how bad his son is at ping-pong. (Spoiler Alert!) After the dad has terminal cancer, the son appears to often travel back to the times they played ping-pong to visit with his dad when he was healthy - including one last time when, because of the rules for time travel in the movie, he can't do it again.

U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Program Booklet

Yesterday I started work on this year's U.S. Hall of Fame Banquet Booklet. (What, you thought those things made themselves?) This will be the fifth consecutive year I've done this for them. This year's inductees (as noted previously in my blog) are Todd Sweeris (who I've known and sometimes coached since he was 13) and Terese Terranova, with Yvonne Kronlage getting the Lifetime Achievement Award.

ITTF Monthly Podcast

Here's this month's edition (12:03), covering ITTF events in the month of October.

Waldner-Grubba Point

Here's video (54 sec) of a great point from twenty years ago at the 1993 European Top 12, between greats Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden and Andrzej Grubba of Poland.

Celebrity Table Tennis

  • Gael Monfils: Here's video (1:31) of tennis star Gael Monfils playing table tennis. He's currently #31 in the world, formerly world #7. He seems to play a driving forehand and a chopping backhand. They are using what appear to be sandpaper or cheap plastic blades.
  • Jamie Foxx: Here's video (1:23) of actor Jamie Foxx playing table tennis with table tennis star and model Soo Yeon Lee.
  • Deron Williams: Here's a picture of NBA star Deron Williams getting coached by 2009 U.S. National Men's Singles Champion Michael Landers.

Table Tennis Stats as Animated Gifs

Here they are!

Lots of Bouncing Ping-Pong Balls

Not sure what's going on here, but that's a bunch of balls bouncing around in what appears to be a bathroom with two woman who are oddly dressed for ping-pong.

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September 26, 2013

Daniel the Lobber

One of my students, Daniel, age 8, has an amazing ability to soft loop, fish, and lob from off the table, with both topspin and amazing amounts of sidespin), as well as sudden counter-kills. His lobbing may be the best I've ever seen of a kid his age. I even suggested they put together a video for the ITTF Trick Shot Competition of him sidespin lobbing from way off to the side and then perhaps counter-killing - his age and size might give him an advantage. (On the forehand he lobs both ways - racket tip down, the conventional way, and racket tip up, the extreme sidespin way.)

The problem with Daniel is he absolutely hates to play at the table. Every rally he wants to back up and soft spin (topspin and sidespin, usually from nearly off the floor), fish, lob, and chop. (He's a pretty good chopper but doesn't want long pips since that'll take away from his lobbing.) He'd rather go to the dentist than stay at the table. When he loops it's always from way off the table. Some kids are successfully trained this way in Europe, where the idea is that it's easier for the kid to learn to loop if he lets the ball drop down to his level, plus you are learning a topspin contact from the very beginning. (I've coached a few players this way.) However, it's about as non-Chinese as you can get. Chinese coaches mostly have players stay at the table. First they learn to hit and counter-hit, bang-bang style. As they get better, the hitting is extended into looping, again without backing up too much. As they get older and they face more powerful opponents, they back up some to counterloop, but usually not as much as European-trained players. Against blocks they loop over and over within a step of the table. It's all about close-to-the-table power, and it's a highly-proven way to develop players.

I've decided to go ahead and train Daniel "European style," and forget hitting and counterhitting, which he hates doing (except when he counter-kills). He can block okay, but prefers to counterspin and fish from well off the table against loops, even on the backhand, sort of a mini-Lupulesku, if you've seen him play. I'm a bit leery as the five full-time Chinese coaches at our club might not agree with this, especially when he fishes and lobs. Even as I practiced with Daniel, his father noted how the kids practicing at other tables were mostly staying at the table, even when they looped. But getting Daniel to do that would be like taking cotton candy from a kid, and he has great fun with this off-table type of play. So we agreed to train him this way; maybe when he's older he'll start playing closer to the table, or perhaps not. I'll try to convince him to focus on mid-distance looping rather than lobbing everything, but he's pretty quick to throw one up - he lives to lob. (Paging James Therriault!)

This reminds me of a year at the Junior Olympics, at least 20 years ago, when there was a very weak field in under 10 boys. The winner was a kid who simply lobbed everyone's serves and returns of his serves (usually pushes) up in the air, often with funny sidespins, and the other kids didn't know what to do with it. So the lobbing kid won Under 10 Boys, but he wasn't really a good lobber - he could only lob back serves and pushes. I don't think we ever saw him again.

North American Tour Gains Momentum

Here's the article! Along with the rise of modern full-time training centers, this could be the best thing happening in our sport - we'll see. (There have been other attempts at setting up such tours, but it only takes one successful attempt to make it successful.)

Waldner Playing in Swedish League

Here's recent video (7:35) of Jan-Ove Waldner playing - he's still got it! What struck me about the video is how return of serve has changed since Waldner's time. Waldner steps around over and over to receive with his forehand, even against short balls. This is almost a lost art; these days players use their backhands over and over against short balls, with "banana flips" (i.e. over-the-table backhand loops with both topspin and sidespin). Also watch how over and over, both in receive and in rallies, he'll be aiming one way and the last second change directions. There's a reason many call him the greatest player of all time.  

Ma Long's Instructional Video

Here's the video (55:29) - I don't think I've linked to this before. (Ma Long has been #1 in the world for the past three months, as he has for 25 months since 2010.) It gives a table of content at the start, so you can skip ahead to the parts that interest you. Here's the listing - see which parts interest you.

1:00 -- (1) Serving With The Shakehand Grip
1:03 -- »» Short Forehand Serve
4:56 -- »» Long Forehand Serve
7:57 -- »» Short Backhand Serve
11:08 -- (2) Shakehand Basics
11:11 -- »» Forehand Drive
11:23 -- »» The Forehand Grip
14:56 -- »» Backhand Drive
18:29 -- »» Transitioning Between Forehand & Backhand
23:40 -- (3) Variations in Service Receive
23:43 -- »» Service Receive, 'Push' & Attack
26:21 -- »» Backhand Flip
31:28 -- (4) Looping Close-to-table Returns
31:32 -- »» Looping Down-the-line from the Forehand Position
35:29 -- (5) Over-the-table Backhand Loop

Great Rally - Timo vs Who?

Here's video (60 sec) of an incredible rally between Timo Boll and someone I can't quite place though I'm sure it'll turn out to be someone I should know. (Anyone know? Neither player is identified in the video. I think the player's name is on his back but I can't make it out. I don't see it in the comments either.) The scoreboard on the far left shows the other player up 3-1 in games on Boll - not too many players can do that!

UPDATE - John Olsen informs me that the other player is Christian Suss. I've met him but didn't recognize him.

Lieutenant Uhura and the Kenya TTA

I've been watching the shopping mall tragedy unfold in Kenya. I can't help notice that the president of Kenya, who has made a number of speeches or announcements, is Uhuru Kenyatta. His first name is just one letter away from Uhura from Star Trek, while his last name is essentially Kenya TTA. This combines the best of my two worlds, science fiction and table tennis. (Kenyatta's father was the founder and first president of Kenya.)

Cat Playing Table Tennis

Here's a pair of repeating gif images of a cat playing table tennis.

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August 12, 2013

Tip of the Week

Service Contact Point.

When and Where to Learn to Loop

One of the toughest decisions for a coach is when to start a player on looping. There is the "Chinese" theory, which is that you focus on the fundamentals - forehand and backhand drives - for a long period, while teaching the loop only against backspin. When the drives are well developed, then the player just extends his backswing and changes his contact and the shot becomes a loop, and soon the player is looping everything. Then there is the "European" method, where players often learn to loop almost from the start. This allows even smaller kids to loop the ball as they let the ball drop down to their level and spin it on the table. (Of course they have to first learn to hit the ball, so even here they first learn basic forehand and backhand drives.) I put the two methods in quotes because this isn't an exact thing; some Chinese coaches teach the "European" method, and vice versa.

I generally go with Chinese theory, but teaching the loop a bit sooner than most Chinese coaches. However, some kids seem to take to looping very easily, and for them, we go to looping much sooner. More and more Chinese coaches are also introducing looping earlier. Those who learn looping early tend to have more natural loops. Those who go the "Chinese" method tend to have more powerful loops. However, these are just tendencies.

There's also the question of whether to loop from off the table when learning to loop, so as to give time to develop the stroke before trying it closer to the table (which can lead to rushing and a poor stroke), or learning it close to the table from the start. I prefer to have players learn from farther off the table and gradually move in as they improve. Others think they should be topspinning close to the table very early on. I find that in a faster rally, those who try learn to loop close to the table are rushed, and so learning this way often leads to awkward strokes.

These questions have come up a few times because some local juniors have gotten conflicting advice from coaches and top players. The conflicting advice they get isn't wrong, it's just different ways, and you can't do two contradictory things at the same time.

MDTTC Camp and Montgomery County Fair

Last Friday ended Week Eight of our ten weeks of camps; today we start Week Nine. Lots of stuff was covered, as usual. When one kid wasn't using good for when hitting forehands, this is what I told him:

"Don't use bad form because then you miss. When you miss, you get irritated. When you get irritated, you bicker with others. When you bicker with others, it makes me go crazy. When I go crazy, I kill small children. Don't let me kill small children. Use good form."

After the camp ended at 6PM on Friday I took a group to the Montgomery County Fair - lots of rides and games. Here are some pictures, all taken by Celina Wu (except when she's in the picture!)

New Ball Confirmed by ITTF for 2014

Here's an article/forum discussion, which links to the ITTF study and announcement. We're going non-celluloid in 2014!!! (I'd say we're going plastic, as the article states, but technically celluloid is a type of plastic.)

Liu Shiwen and Guo Yan Training

Here's a short video (33 sec) of Liu Shiwen (on right, world #2, world #1 for nine months in 2010) and Guo Yan (world #6, world #1 for five months in 2010-2011) in training.

The Power of Block

Here's a video (3:25, I might have posted this once before) of Jan-Ove Waldner that demonstrates his incredible blocking skills.

How a Nittaku Table Tennis Ball is Made

Here's the video (14:01).

Timo Boll vs Liu Guoliang

Here's a video (5:55) from the 2013 Shakehand vs. Penhold Challenge. The match was Boll vs Ma Lin, but the rules allowed for another player to come in as a substitute for 2 points, and so Liu Guoliang came in. The former World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion, the last of the "great" pips-out penholders, retired in 2001, and is now the Chinese Men's National Coach, but can still play a little at age 37.

Table Tennis, the People's Sport

But usually you don't have a people as the net!

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July 31, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand, as it always is on Tuesdays during our camps. (Mon=FH, Tue=BH, Wed=FH Loop, Thu=BH Attack, Fri=Pushing and Player's Choice.) One local six-year-old kid badly wanted to demonstrate his backhand loop, and though I was skeptical at first, I let him - and it turned out to be very nice and fluid. So I let him do a bunch of that, along with other hitting drills. Not too many six-year-olds are already backhand looping! (If a kid wants to do something that you aren't sure he's ready for, it's better to teach it to him so he learns it properly than have him learn on his own, as he undoubtedly would.)

The kids I'm working with are improving rapidly. There are five beginners in the 6-8 age group that I'm mostly in charge of. None had even a semblance of forehand or backhand strokes when we started on Monday, but after two days all have the basic shots in multiball, and three of them can now rally live with me forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand. Two of them still struggle to serve, so we're going to focus on that a bit today. We did some service practice yesterday, and I even brought out the serving bar so they could practice serving low. (This is an adjustable bar that goes over the net. Here's a picture of it set high, and here's a picture of it set low.  John Olsen made this for the club and for a few others. It has about ten height settings.)  

Today I'm going to bring out the colored balls and teach pushing to the beginners. The soccer-colored balls (I have a bag of about 20 of them now) make it easier to see the backspin on the ball. (While the focus on pushing is on Friday, we start earlier for the beginners.) To start them off, I'll do a demo, then I'll have them push as I feed the ball multiball style. When they're ready, we'll push live, using the colored balls at first so they have instant feedback on whether they are getting backspin or not. I also use these balls so they can see if they are getting spin on their serves.

While I was working with the beginners, several of the advanced players focused today on relooping against an opponent's opening loop against backspin. I've always wondered why so many players practice straight counterlooping by serving topspin when the first loop they often have to counterloop comes at them against a backspin, and so has more topspin, has a different trajectory, and comes at you somewhat quicker (because of the extra spin and because it's done closer to the table).

Poor Froggy took a beating yesterday. We divided the players into two groups, one lined up on the forehand side, one on the backhand side, and they'd take turns trying to smack him as I fed multiball, with the first team to hit it ten times winning.

Busy

Here's my current schedule and todo list. Something has to give - I'm not kidding. Though things will slow down by mid-September.

  1. Daily Blog and Weekly Tip of the Week
  2. Coaching at MDTTC Camps, four more weeks, 10AM-6PM
  3. Private and group coaching (nights and weekends).
  4. MDTTC August Newsletter.
  5. Promotions and possible translations of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.
  6. ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course Sept. 2-7 in New Jersey (attending) - lots of study and preparation needed. 
  7. ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course Oct. 2-6 in Indiana (teaching).
  8. Small claims court against previous tenant in my townhouse. The guy left without paying rent, without cleaning the place, with lots of damaged items behind, and without a forwarding address. (I spent $2700 in cleanup and damages.) I've got piles of mail for him - much of it from lawyers and courts for various infractions. I'm not the only one going after this guy. One of the worst people I've ever met.
  9. A new family has moved in downstairs, and there are all sorts of complications as they get situated.
  10. Promotion, editorial, and cover work, new web page, numerous others things for my novel coming out Nov. 15 - "The Giant Face in the Sky."
  11. Sequel to the novel.
  12. Note to US Airways over flight this weekend - my flights were kept getting postponed or cancelled, and instead of arriving home at around 10PM Saturday I didn't get home until about 3PM Sunday. Free travel voucher?
  13. The planned Maryland Junior League (probably on hold for now).
  14. Dozens and dozens of emails each day, each needing a personalized response.

Former USATT President Mel Eisner Died

Here's the USATT article.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Wang Hao

Here's a video of their recent match in the Chinese Super League (6:54, with time between points removed).

NBA Star Chris Paul Playing Table Tennis

Here's a picture from a TopSpin Charity event held at The Palazzo in Las Vegas.

Jan-Ove Waldner Rolls Ball Around the Net

Here's the video (42 seconds) - it appears to be in an exhibition. Unlike most cases where a player does it while desperately reaching for a ball that drops off the side of the table, Waldner does it against an easier ball that he could have smashed, and instead intentionally lets the ball drop so he can do this shot.

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May 15, 2013

Play With Creativity - Do Something Different!

In my blog yesterday I wrote about how some of our players had trouble with Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy's serve. It was a pretty good forehand pendulum serve, but there wasn't anything seemingly special about it. He actually used less wrist motion than he should, and had just two versions - side-top and side-back - though he did vary the depth well. As I watched it, I began to see why they were having trouble with it, and there were two reasons.

First, he wasn't changing his grip to unlock his wrist, and so he had less spin than he could have. But because he has such quick wrists and a good grazing contact, it was sufficient spin to make it effective, and the different grip seemed to give players difficulty in reading it.

Second, he served it over and over from his forehand side. We're all used to players serving forehand pendulum serves from the backhand side, since that allows a player to more easily follow up against a weak return with a forehand attack. And so when the same serve came at them from the forehand side, crosscourt into their forehand, they struggled. It wasn't something they had seen very often.

But I had - or at least I from JJ's side of the table! While I usually serve from the backhand side, at key moments in matches I often do forehand pendulum serves from the forehand side, both regular and reverse pendulum. It's a great way to get a free point or two. It was also a tactic I'd used in a pair of key matches years ago, which I described in my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers in Chapter 7, Tactical Examples:

Changing Service Position

At the North American Teams one year I was playing with slightly lower-ranked players as a player/coach. I was one of the three undefeated players in the division. The other two were two junior players from Canada. Our teams played in the final. Both of the Canadian juniors played the same style, which had created havoc throughout the division: big forehand looping attacks, but medium long pips on the backhand which they used to flat hit shot after shot. They quick-hit every short serve with their backhands (spin didn’t take on their pips), even short ones to their forehand, and followed with their big forehands.

As I watched them play, I realized that they would have little trouble with my best serve, a forehand pendulum serve I do from my backhand corner, which sets up my forehand. No matter where I’d serve it, if it was long, they’d loop it; if it was short, they’d backhand hit it. I could use a tomahawk serve to their forehand, but that would take away my big serving strength. What to do?

When I went out to play the first of the two, I set up like I normally do to serve, in the backhand corner. Then I took two steps to my right, and spent the whole match serving forehand pendulum serves from my forehand corner. This gave me an angle into his forehand so that he’d have to receive with his forehand (or risk me going down the line to his open backhand side if he tried to cover the short forehand with his backhand), and so I was able to use my pendulum serve to his inverted forehand, something he had probably rarely had to deal with. Since he couldn’t return it aggressively, I was able to move back into position after each serve to attack with my forehand. The same strategy worked against the other Canadian junior, and I won both matches. (Ironically, before the last match, the perceptive Canadian coach took the other junior off to a table and mimicked my serve over and over from the forehand side so the kid could practice against it, but it wasn’t enough.) I won all three of my matches, but alas, we lost the final 5-3.

The key point is that often you have to think outside the box to find the right tactics, and that often it is an advantage to do something different. So try and do things different - it really messes up an opponent's strokes and timing. I know; I do it all the time! Vary where you serve from; use sidespin on a push or block; dead block; aim one way and at the last second change directions; play a backhand from the forehand side; fake spin and serve or push no-spin; vary the height of the toss on your serve; open up your wrist on a forehand shot so the ball goes to the right (for a righty), perhaps putting some sidespin on it as well; vary your contact so it's sometimes off the bounce, or later than usual; put a little topspin in your blocks; or something else. Be creative!

Jan-Ove Waldner is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. He's also considered the most creative of players, constantly doing different shots to mess up opponents. So be like Waldner - and J.J. Hardy! - and do something different, and mess up your opponents.

2013 World Championships

They started yesterday, in Paris, May 13-20. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, articles, pictures, etc.

Team USA at 2013 Worlds

Here's the USA Team at the Worlds Page, which shows up-to-date results and video.

For USA, the last one standing is Lily Zhang.

Table Tennista

Lots of great coverage of the Worlds here. Included among the articles - China's head coach Liu Guoliang proposes an international training camp in China, and Table Tennista starts a new magazine.

ITTF Daily Show

Here's the World Table Tennis Championships Daily Show - Day 1 (3:05), Day 2 (5:02).

Orioles Hangout

I blogged yesterday about Baltimore Oriole shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder/current VP Brady Anderson at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I wrote a short article on this for Orioles Hangout, with a link to the blog. It's their front-page story this morning.

Ultimate Edge to Edge

Here's a video (43 sec) of Tomas Pavelka (CZE) against Bastian Steger (GER, world #25) at 8-9 in the first game. Pavelka mishits a ball high into the air off his racket's edge and turns his back to the table in frustration. Watch what happens!

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May 2, 2013

Fundamentals and 1000 Forehands in a Row

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. These are the three things that make up the foundation of your game. If you want to be good, you develop them until they are so ingrained you can do them in your sleep while tap dancing on a hot air balloon Here is my article, Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes and Footwork, from the May/June 2005 USATT Magazine.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because a student of mine, 11-year-old Sameer Shaikh, is rapidly developing the fundamentals - and had a huge breakthrough yesterday. We started the session by seeing how many forehands he could hit in a row. In the first rally he missed after 38 in a row. The second rally went on and On and ON - until I caught the ball after he'd hit 1000 in a row!! Not bad for a kid with a rating of 804. (It'll be a bit higher after his last tournament is processed.) I remember five-time U.S. Champion Sean O'Neill once said that his coach, Chutchai Chan, often made him hit 1000 in a row before they'd move on to other things. (It takes about 20 minutes - if you don't miss.)

It's a matter of muscle memory. When you practice a technique the right way enough times, it becomes so ingrained that it repeats over and over whenever you need it. All you have to do is blank your mind out and let the subconscious take over, and the shot will be there for you when you need it. (Muscle memory doesn't come from the muscles; it comes from the subconscious part of your brain that controls your muscles when you let it do so.)

This doesn't mean you have to do 1000 in a row every session. It's more a mental thing. If you do that 1000 in a row one time, then you pretty much have confidence you can do it anytime. Plus it's great mental training to have the focus to hit 1000 in a row. Once the shot becomes ingrained, you should move on to more advanced practice where you combine strokes with footwork.

I was coaching another kid yesterday, age 10, who had just started. He had a developed a pretty good forehand from hitting with his father (who's also a developing player at the 1000+ level), but he had a few small technique problems, such as a habit of leaning forward as he stroked the ball. He was fine with multiball, but as soon as we went live (i.e. forehand to forehand) he'd fall back in his bad habits. So I used a trick I've used to cure this habit - I had him stand by the table, throw the ball up himself, and smack in a forehand. Since he's no longer chasing after an incoming ball, he stopped leaning forward, and instead stroked with his body going in a circle, as if rotating on a pole stuck through his head, as you want to do. At first he struggled with this, but then it came together. When we went back to forehand to forehand, he'd adopted the change and no longer leaned forward as he stroked the ball. Boom, another fundamental down!

The father had pretty good fundamentals, and is working hard to master looping. He has nice technique on the backhand side (just needs practice to use it in games). On the forehand, he tends to fall back as he's looping the ball against backspin. Why? Because he stands too far from the table, and so has to reach forward to reach the ball. To compensate for this, he falls back with his left foot. Once he moved closer to the table and took the ball from the side instead of in front, the problem was solved. Boom, another fundamental down!

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. The three foundations of your game. Have you got your fundamentals down?

The Table Tennis Collector and the ITTF Museum Newsletter

Here's the May issue of The Table Tennis Collector (#68). Here are links to all 68 issues. And here are links to all 31 issues of the ITTF Museum Newsletter. If you are a table tennis history buff, this should keep you happy for a few millenniums. (Still want more? Than order copies of Tim Boggan's 13 volumes - so far - of History of U.S. Table Tennis.)  

New World Rankings

The new world rankings from the ITTF are out. The big change - Xu Xin passed Ma Long for #1 in the men's. Here are the top ten for men and women. (Vladimir Samsonov of BLR just missed the men's top ten at #11.)

MEN

  1. Xu Xin, CHN
  2. MA Long, CHN
  3. WANG Hao, CHN
  4. ZHANG Jike, CHN
  5. BOLL Timo, GER
  6. CHUANG Chih-Yuan
  7. OVTCHAROV Dimitrij, GER
  8. MA Lin, CHN
  9. WANG Liqin, CHN
  10. MIZUTANI Jun, JPN

WOMEN

  1. DING Ning, CHN
  2. LIU Shiwen, CHN
  3. LI Xiaoxia, CHN
  4. FENG Tianwei, SIN
  5. GUO Yan, CHN
  6. ZHU Yuling, CHN
  7. SHEN Yanfei, ESP
  8. ISHIKAWA Kasumi, JPN
  9. WU Yang, CHN
  10. KIM Kyungah, KOR

Beauty of Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights video (5:34) set to music.

Westchester Open Final

There was a great final recently on April 28 at the Westchester Open, between Damien Provost and Zhen Wang. Below are links to all five games. Don't have time to watch them all? Then just check out game five, which ends in a 13-11 victory for...
Game1 (7:50)
Game2 (12:04)
Game3 (9:02)
Game4 (5:05)
Game5 (11:26)

LATE ADDITION: Here's the entire match (45:25)

Stockholm Open Poster

Here's a great promotional poster for the Stockholm Open in May - with Jan-Ove Waldner and Mikael Appelgren with tuxedoes and rackets, looking like a pair of gangsters!

Juwooowww!

Here's a Facebook video (10 sec) of 10-year-old Boris Pavlotsky, a student of Brian Pace, looping forehands, winning the point, and his celebratory exclamation. I don't think you need to be on Facebook to see it.

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April 18, 2013

No Blog Tomorrow (Friday)

I'm off to the Hopes Trials in at the Westchester TTC in Pleasantville, New York. See you on Monday!

Hopes Trials at Westchester TTC in NY

I'm going up to coach the two Maryland players who qualified, Crystal Wang and Derek Nie. We've been training for this for weeks! I did a 90-minute session with Derek just last night, while other coaches worked with Crystal. What is it?

Every year the ITTF has Hopes Week. This year it's going to be at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria, June 10-16. (I think it was there last year as well.) The best 11- and 12-year-olds from around the world will be invited there for a week of training, culminating in a tournament. The North American Hopes Trials are this weekend, coinciding with the North American Cup. Here are some info links:

For the Hopes Trials, USATT chose the top four boys and girls born in 2001 or 2002, so they are all 11 or 12 years old. Canada did the same. (USA is only sending three girls - I don't think others applied - but the top two girls are going, Crystal Wang and Amy Wang, as are the top four boys. No, Crystal and Amy are not related.) Because ITTF requires a joint Trials for each continent, the Trials are combined. The top finishing player from each country then qualifies for Hopes Week. (So if USA players finish first and second, and a Canadian third, then the Canadian goes, not the #2 USA player. At least that's my understanding.)

BOYS
Gal Alguetti (NY, 2283)
Sharon Alguetti (NY, 2271)
Victor Liu (CA, 2226)
Derek Nie (MD, 2215)
Edison Huang (CAN)
Alexander Bu (CAN, 2093)
Edward Ly (CAN)
Boris Kalev (CAN)

GIRLS
Crystal Wang (MD, 2292)
Amy Wang (NJ, 2203)
Estee Ackerman (NY, 1721)
Benita Zhou (CAN)
Laura Yin Lai (CAN)
Sophie Gauthier (CAN)
Christian Lin (CAN)

Backswing Practice

Having trouble smashing against medium-high balls, or (for more advanced players) low topspin balls? One of the keys is to have the exact same backswing every time. Here's a way to learn to do that, as shown to one of my students last night. This is also how I developed my smash many years ago.

First, do a few smashes with someone (ideally have them feed multiball, or just serve topspin, they return the ball, and you smash), and when you make good ones, note where you backswing to. The question is how to repeat this over and over? Go near a wall and shadow practice the shot. Do your backswing just like you did in the good smashes. Then find a mark on the wall and move so the mark is just above where your racket is when you backswing. (You might have to put a mark on the wall yourself, alas.) Once you've done this, you can backswing to that same spot over and over. Get a feel for where the backswing should be. If you do this enough, it'll become so automatic that backswinging any other way will feel awkward.

Expert Table Tennis

Two new articles are up at Expert Table Tennis:

Table Tennista

Lots of new international articles at Table Tennista, mostly featuring China. Here are the current front-page stories:

Table Tennis Spectacular

Here's a new video (1:54) of some nice exhibition play between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson, with Dan Seemiller giving animated commentary.

Ping-Pong Ball in the Face

Here's a new video (25 sec) of someone getting smacked in the face by an opponent's mis-hit smash. Shown in slow motion!

One Twisted Table

Maybe they Hopes Trials should be held on these tables?

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