Dora Kurimay

May 2, 2012

Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America by Steve Grant

During a break between coaching sessions I pulled out the book "Ping Pong Fever" (260 oversized pages, available at amazon.com, $15.95) and spent a fascinating afternoon learning about the 1902 American table tennis craze. (Here's the cover.) The basic story is this: table tennis swept America in 1902 as a huge fad, and then was nearly forgotten for over two decades. If you have any sort of historical bent, or simply want to read about table tennis and its beginnings, you'll want to read this book. You don't even have to read it, though that's highly recommended; just the pictures tell the story. And it's absolutely packed with vintage table tennis pictures, circa 110 years ago. (Now I know why Steve Grant is the #1 contributor of pictures for CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com.) A bunch of kids on break gathered around and spent a bunch of time browsing the pictures with me.

The book has an unbelievable number of excerpts from newspapers of the time, giving readers a flavor of just how the game was viewed in those days. Numerous Ping pong cartoons also adorn the pages. The book has 26 chapters divided into six sections: 1. Going Viral; 2. Changing Lives; 3. The Victims and Their Gatherings; 4. Serious Cases; 5. How It All Started; and 6. How It All Ended. There are also ten "Side-Spin" sub-chapters that cover various themes, as well as an epilogue with four sections.

One of the best chapters is the one titled "Who Really Invented It?", which explains that "As with many inventions, this one was evolutionary, not revolutionary." The chapter gives "...the true early history of table tennis and ping pong, the most complete and accurate yet published, beginning at the beginning." While the sport was developed incrementally, Steve traces the name Ping Pong back to 1884, and declares the actual inventor of the game: James Devonshire, an electrician, in 1885.

You'll learn that originally players served by hitting the ball directly to the opponent's court, like in tennis (i.e. the ball didn't have to bounce on your side first), but the serve had to be done underhand--and to thwart very tall players from smacking the ball downward, contact had to be no more than five inches above the table. Did you know that in doubles players once had to use one racket, and between shots place the racket on the table for the partner to grab? (You couldn't hand it to him directly.) And that scoring was at one time done tennis style ("40-love!"). You'll also learn about tiddledy wink tennis, balloon tennis, and other early versions of the game.

You'll read about ping pong perfume, ping pong drinks, twins named Ping and Pong, ping pong in Broadway shows, ping pong gambling, and ping pong on a train. You'll read about the early tennis champions that dominated early table tennis. You'll learn that a wedding was cancelled because a woman insisted that she'd continue to play ping-pong even after the wedding, and the non-ping-pong-playing husband-to-be thought that was unbecoming of a lady. Yes, ping-pong players were crazy even back then.

I'll close the review with the poem on page 1 (from a ping pong ad), one of several from the time:

That's Ping Pong dear---it's all the rage,
The Bar, the Church, the House, the Stage
All Ping pong now---it's quite the fashion,
And you don't know it? (with compassion).
"Such ignorance is quite a shame;
Come, you shall see us play a game!"
Alas, she saw---she caught the fever---
(And goodness knew when it would leave her.)

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 19 pictures of 9 new celebrities. This brings the total to 1407 pictures of 819 celebrities! This month's updates:

  • Andy Sonnanstine, baseball pitcher (4 pictures)
  • John Garfield, actor
  • Chris Gethard, actor, comedian, and talk show host (3 pictures)
  • Dave Haywood, Lady Antebellum band member (2 pictures)
  • Hillary Scott, Lady Antebellum band member (3 pictures)
  • Charles Kelley, Lady Antebellum band member (6 pictures)
  • Jason Slim Gambill, Lady Antebellum band member (2 pictures)
  • Redfoo, member of band LMFAO (2 pictures)
  • SkyBlu, member of band LMFAO (2 pictures)

Interview with Dora Kurimay

Here's an interview with Dora Kurimay, author of the ebook "Get Your Game Face On," the sports psychology book for table tennis.

Crazy table tennis shot

Here's one of the craziest table tennis shots you'll ever see (0:30) - the ball hits the net and goes off the side of the table at a crazy angle. The opponent scoops the ball off the floor besides the net, and hits a pop-up ball with backspin - but the ball lands very short, and bounces back onto her side of the table, unreturnable! (Wait a minute - I do versions of this shot every day while coaching kids, where I'll suddenly throw a backspin lob up, and if they don't get to the side of the table quickly (and pick the right side to go to), the ball bounces back to my side. Of course I don't normally scoop it off the floor....)

Warren Buffett's Olympic Discovery

Here's an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal on Warren Buffett and . . . Ariel Hsing! According to Ariel, "The luckiest moment of my life was meeting Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill." To find out why (and to find out who "Uncle Bill" is - Duh!), read on!

Pong . . . with Cars???

Remember the game that started the video game craze, Pong? Well, here's a video (1:30) of the new version of Pong that's sweeping the nation, "Smart E-Ball," i.e. Pong played with cars! We're talking real cars, driving back and forth to "hit" the ball on a video screen! 

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February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)

This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.

I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)

I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:

  • "No one's called me on it before." (I know of at least one player who has used this excuse probably a dozen times. Thank about that! But even if it were true, then that doesn't change the fact that the serve is illegal; it simply means there has been lax umpiring.)
  • "That's the way everyone's serving." (Not true, but a lot do get away with it.)
  • "Why would you call me on serves?" (Because you are hiding your serve.)
  • "I'll call my opponent for serving illegally in practice, but no way should you call him on it in a tournament." (This is one of the stranger ones.)
  • "He's from your own player's club!" (So why is he hiding his serve against someone from his club who is not hiding his serve?)

It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.

Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.

By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.

Service seminars

I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!

2012 U.S. Open

Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!

Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book

Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player

While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:

  • "Never show what you want, if one thousand words will do.  All explanations should be as wordy as possible to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the game."
  • "Make sure to always tell the player what he or she did wrong."
  • "Teach volleyball [table tennis] the way it is supposed to be taught, on the chalkboard."
  • "Make sure to bawl players out about their mistakes, win or lose.  It is better to do this in front of a whole gym full of spectators, rather than in the locker room, or worse, one on one in private."

Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's

Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.

Kuwait Open Highlights Tape

Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.

Lady Antebellum Table Tennis

After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).

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November 9, 2011

Looping versus hitting backhands

Back in the good old days, when games were to 21, balls were 38mm, and ping-pong was the only thing the Chinese did better than the U.S. (I'm joking), most players hit their backhands in rallies. When opponents hit the ball hard, you could take a half step back and rally them down. These days, even at the intermediate level, it seems everyone's looping their backhand, and so you have to stay at the table and block. If you step back against a loop, the ball jumps at you and it's almost impossible to make a good return. But this means you are jammed at the table, and no longer can take that half step back to react to the fast incoming ball. It makes rallying and life in general much harder for us backhand hitters, doesn't it?

This also tells you something about how the game has changed, especially in terms of equipment, which allows players to loop the backhand more easily. If you are developing your game, for the love of pong, if you are physically capable of doing so, develop a backhand loop!

Of course, I'm only half serious in the above. Many players who backhand loop aren't consistent enough, and are easy to block down (especially with quick blocks to the middle), plus backhand loopers often are too quick to back off and give up the table. If you are going to backhand loop, develop a good backhand loop, and the techniques and tactics to back it up. Otherwise us backhand hitters (combined with forehand loops and a zillion other techniques and tactics) will eat you alive, with some fava beans and a nice chianti. 

Day Two at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the second day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

It was an historic day as one of the most venerated, can't-be-broken records fell to the steady tapping on my keyboard. More specifically, I broke my personal writing record, typing almost non-stop all day and ending with 10,124 words for the day. This was after roughly tying my all-time record on day one with 8063. Coming in I'd done 6222, so I'm now up to 24,419 total. (I finished the looooong chapter on service strategy, and am well into the chapter on receive strategy.)

I started the workshop with the entire book pretty much written in my head - I've been thinking about it for years. But there was some trepidation going in as I wasn't sure if the words would flow.

They did.

Originally I was thinking the book would be about 50,000 words, but I'm guessing it'll be a bit longer. I'm now hoping to get to about 48,000 words or so by the end of Friday (8000 words per day? Take a deep breath, Larry...), and then we'll see where things stand. I should have a first draft done within a week after that, and soon after that it'll be ready for critique by a few selected coaches. And then I send to the publisher that's waiting to see it. Then comes fame and fortune, right?

"Tactical thinking is a habit. I know some brilliant people who do not think at the table, and some not-so-brilliant ones who know exactly what they are doing out there. Which do you choose to be?"

Third-ball attack

Here's a video from Pingskills that explains how to do a third-ball attack.

Interview with Dora Kurimay

Here's an audio interview from Pongcast of Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes long, so get comfortable!

How to react to an edge ball

In this 15 second video, Adam Bobrow shows the proper etiquette after getting an edge ball.

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September 20, 2011

More on Serving

On Friday, I gave my periodic "Practice your serves!" reminder, a public service for the benefit of the vast throngs of table tennis players who forget to practice their serves unless I remind them. Over the weekend I put up two more articles on serving, both previously published in USA Table Tennis Magazine: Serving Short with Spin and Serving Short the Productive Way. Want more? Here are 19 articles I've written on serving. (The two new ones are at the end.)

The Shoulder Method of Hiding the Serve

I've blogged about hidden serves a number of times, but I want to point out the most popular method of hiding serves so you can watch for it. Think of it as a public address announcement for the benefit of umpires, who are in the unenviable position of having to call hidden serves, as well as for players and coaches who have to call the service rule on opponents who hide their serves.

It's not enough these day to just hide the serve these days; illegal servers now are able to hiding their hiding! (Hopefully you will read the following so as to watch for it, not to learn to do it - though of course some will do that, alas.) Most umpires watch the non-playing arm closely to make sure the serve isn't obviously hidden by that. The rule says that the non-playing arm must be "pulled out of the way as soon as the ball is projected upwards." However, most umpires aren't strict on this as long as the arm is pulled out before contact so as not to hide the ball. And this is where they are getting fooled.

Most players who hide their serves now do it with their shoulder. They leave their non-playing arm out as long as possible, and then pull it back just before contact. Since most umpires are watching the arm to make sure it is pulled out in time, they think the serve is legal. What they don't see is that by keeping the arm out, the server is able to keep his shoulder thrust out. While the arm is pulled out of the way before contact, the shoulder lags behind and doesn't quite come out of the way until just after contact, and that's what hides the contact. It's like a magic trick, where you distract the observer with one thing (the arm) so they don't see the more important thing (the shoulder). 

And just as a reminder, here are the pertinent parts of the service rule about hiding contact:

  • Rule 2.6.4: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server..."
  • Rule 2.6.5: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server's free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."
  • Rule 2.6.6: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws."

Three more coaching articles by Samson Dubina
(Here are all his coaching articles.)

Deng Yaping

Here's a short profile of the great Deng Yaping, now 38 years old and with a Ph.D from Cambridge.

Dora Kurimay

Dora Kurimay, top table tennis player and sports psychologist, is interviewed at The Pongcast. Then check out her table tennis sports psychology page.

Table Tennis and More Commercial

Here's a commercial (1:29) for Table Tennis and More, a club in Phoenix, Arizona. Why doesn't your club have one?

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