MDTTC Video

October 22, 2014

Studying Table Tennis Videos

Yesterday I spent an hour and a half with one of our top up-and-coming players studying videos of himself and potential opponents. This is one of those things that should be basic to any player who wants to improve. Video cameras and Youtube are your friends!

First we watched two of the player's matches. While you can learn from any video of yourself, you probably get the most out of watching yourself when you are playing your best against a somewhat orthodox player. Whatever is your best is what you want to emulate, so those are the ones to study. (Watching yourself play poorly is a good way to emulate poor play. So only do that to 1. figure out why you played poorly, if you think it was a technical thing, and 2. for tactical reasons to study an opponent so you can learn how to beat him.) In this case, the thing that jumped out from the videos was that our up-and-coming player (whose identity I'm hiding!) has been working so hard on a particular weakness that he/she was overplaying it, at the expense of actual strengths, and so didn't play as well as he/she could.

We also saw a video where our up-and-coming player had a serve that an opponent struggled against every time. But the up-and-coming player used the serve only about once a game rather than perhaps 3-4 times, and probably lost a completely winnable match as a result. 

We next watched videos of two players he/she might have to play, both among the best players in the country. One of them had one huge numbingly obvious weakness, and it was almost entertaining watching some opponents go after it over and over (and win), and others go there only as a "variation," and so lose. When someone has a weakness the size of Mount Everest (or even one much smaller), you should go after it relentlessly, with other tactics the "variation." But too often players fall back into the same old habits and thereby find a way to lose despite a huge sign practically saying "Do this and win!" It was also educational watching the player with the huge weakness using various tactics to cover for the weakness - sometimes successfully, other times not. One player who had been playing him for years ate him alive, going after the weakness essentially every single rally.

One thing that also showed up here and in all the videos we watched - partly coincidentally, but a real trend and tactical problem for most players - was that too many attacks were to the backhand. That's the side where most players block better. In general, players should attack more to the middle and forehand. Here's my Tip of the Week on this - the 3-2-1 rule, i.e. in general, against most players, for every attack to the backhand you should attack twice to the forehand and three times to the middle. Few follow this rule except at the elite level - and in some of those matches they don't follow it because at that level the forehand counterloop is so strong that they have to go more to the backhand. We watched a video of our up-and-coming player where he lost to a player who had trouble when his forehand was attacked, but too often the first attack went to the backhand instead. 

We also studied the receive of some players. Far too many players mindlessly return serves, either with blindingly obvious attacks or blindly obvious control shots. If they aim one way, that's the way they go. Then you watch the better receivers, up until the last second you never know what they are going to do, and often they appear to be doing one thing or placing the ball to a certain spot, and then they do something else. One video that was interesting was watching Eric Boggan - former top 20 in the world, now a way-out-of practice player in his early 50s - completely dominate players with his receive. While he did have the advantage of antispin on one side of his racket (with his Seemiller grip and flipping), what jumped out was how he kept changing his placements at the last second, tying his opponent in knots as he constantly reacted to where he thought Eric was going. Eric not only varied the direction, but also the depth and speed of the shots - if the opponent was too close to the table, he'd get an aggressive receive; if he was farther off the table expecting a deep ball, he wouldn't get it.

More on PBS MDTTC Video

One thing I might have mentioned about the PBS video on MDTTC (featuring Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, and myself, which I linked to in my last two blogs) was that I tried to get coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang into them. I think PBS did video them coaching, but both coaches were busy, and since my English is better, they both asked me to do all the talking for the club. I don't want it to appear that I'm "The" MDTTC coach - we have seven full-time coaches. Cheng, Jack, and I co-founded MDTTC 22 years ago in 1992, but these days they do more of the running of it (along with long hours of coaching), while I just coach and help with some organizing and promoting. (I also do our monthly newsletter.) I was pleasantly surprised that they opened the video by featuring my books!!! The video was featured yesterday on the USATT home page.

Nittaku Premium 40+ Balls

These are the new plastic non-celluloid balls that will be used at the USA Nationals. They are not yet available in the U.S., but (from the Paddle Palace web page, which has other info as well on the ball), "A limited supply [will be] available in November, 2014 only for players entered in the US Nationals. The balls will be more readily available starting in January."

First ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course in U.S.

Here's the ITTF article. Wish I could have been there - hopefully next time.

Ask the Coach

Episode #13 (12:10):

  • Question 1: I was just on a training camp and learned to play early, mid and late forehand topspins against under and topspins. I did quite well there but I guess I still need more training for perfection. I forgot to ask when to play which kind of topspin. Michael W
  • Question 2: I saw a point in the match between Timo Boll v Chun Ting Wong, where Chun Ting was serving and after two or three exchanges Timo pointed out it was a let. Do the rules allow players to do this so late in the point if the umpire has not seen it? Abhinav U
  • Question 3: I am able to do some video analysis of myself playing and was wondering what are the criteria I should be looking for when trying to find weaknesses, also are there tests we can do on strokes to see how consistent we are at them? C Cc
  • Question 4: Hi Alois and Jeff! I have been playing TT for the last 2 years and know the basics (topspin, block, backspin push, etc.), but I struggle against opponents with similar skill but more expensive bats with better grip. Should I change my Tibhar Chila Balsa DHT?
  • Question 5: The rules say that serves must be from behind the baseline, and the baseline should be considered as extending out beyond the edges of the table. On another website video it is said that you must serve from within the edge line. Can you clarify? David M

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Movie

Here's the article about the planned movie, coming from Village Roadshow Pictures, and based on the Nicholas Griffin book, "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World."

Adham Sharara on the New Balls

Here's an article from Tabletennista where past ITTF president and now ITTF Chairman Adham Sharara comments on the new plastic 40+ balls and the Chinese team.

Dog Pong

Here's the video (24 sec) of a dog trying to play!

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August 19, 2014

Hong Kong Junior & Cadet Open, and Player Selection

I've been raising heck via email recently over what happened at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open. And perhaps I actually accomplished something, though too late for this time. Here's what happened.

There are limited number of entries for each country, and so each country has to work out rules for who can represent them. A number of USA juniors had paid their own way, and wanted to play singles. (All were able to play doubles and teams, but there weren't enough openings for singles.) According to the rules set by the USATT High Performance Committee (HPC), first and then second priority goes to those who made the National Junior Team (top four), and then the National B Team (next four). That's good so far. But after that, next priority went to players who were from "USATT Hot Spots," which really means ITTF Hot Spots in the U.S. There are four in the U.S., but MDTTC (my club) is not one. The application process goes through USATT, and we started this process in September, 2013. Unfortunately it turns out ITTF is no longer approving new Hot Spots while it rethinks the concept, and so we are not an ITTF Hot Spot, though we obviously qualify, and are one of USATT's eight National Centers of Excellence.

What does all this mean? A member of our club, Nathan Hsu, a U.S.-born citizen rated 2416, is training in China right now, and wanted to play Under 18 Singles at the Hong Kong Open. He's been playing very well recently, even knocking off a 2648 player at the U.S. Open, his best win ever. But he had not made one of the USA Teams at the Trials in December, and so because of the rules set up by USATT, priority went to members of Hot Spots. Result? Because he played at the "wrong club," Nathan wasn't allowed to play singles. Instead, two players rated 1792 (age 14) and 1864 (age 17), who played at the "right club," were entered and represented USA in singles at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open (along with others who were on USA Teams).

Think about that. There were two spots open, and we had players rated 2416, 1864, and 1792. None were on the USA Team. One had a world ranking (Nathan, #298 in Under 18). But the choice was made not by the player's ranking or level, but by which club he played at! And so the two players with ratings around 1800 represented USA in singles, while the 2400+ player sat on the sidelines and watched. He was punished for not playing at the "right club." Can you imagine trying to explain that to Nathan? Or in a court of law? Or to the U.S. Olympic Committee? This is not about the two players who played, their club, or their coach; it's about very bad rules set up by USATT that led to a very unfair outcome.

Even if you decide choosing players based on what club they play at rather than their actual ranking or level is somehow okay, ITTF is no longer accepting Hot Spots, so there's no way of becoming one. (Full disclosure - not only does Nathan play at my club, but I often coach him, especially in tournaments. There's even a picture of me coaching him and his brother John in doubles on the back cover of my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book.)

In fairness to the HPC, the chair, Carl Danner, who I greatly respect, explained that they never anticipated this result, and that the surge of interest among parents to send their kids to these international events was unprecedented. He said that part of the intent of the rule was to recognize the most advanced training centers, and a freeze on the Hot Spot designations was unexpected. He said that in light of this experience, he will recommend changing the rule.

I accept that the HPC never expected this outcome, but I sure wish I'd been in the room or saw a draft of this when they were creating the rules to point out the unfairness. Creating rules have consequences. Choosing players to play in international events based on what club they play at isn't fair, and it turns them into pawns, to be given out to favored clubs like chattel - something that they somehow never foresaw. It's too late for Nathan - this was his last chance to compete in junior events. However, he'll continue to train hard for future events.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Video

Here's the video (1:50) created by Evan Sery created by last week. Much of it features Coach Jack Huang, but most of the taping is from a junior session I'm running - you can hear me coaching and yelling out things in the background.

Trip to Zoo (Non-Table Tennis)

Yesterday we had a small turnout in our MDTTC camp, and so I wasn't needed. (Besides, the other coaches need the money more - outside my coaching I have writing income.) So I decided to take most of the day off from everything, and took the subway to the National Zoo in Washington DC! I hadn't been there since I was a kid, probably over 40 years ago. I enjoyed both the animals and the fresh air. Here are the most memorable moments there.

  • I had pizza for lunch. Pigeons and smaller birds were all over, and so I decided to feed them. A large crowd of them gathered! We're not supposed to feed the zoo animals, but I think this was okay. I think. At least I wasn't dragged away in chains, though there were a few moments I thought the birds were getting a bit too close.
  • Three times I stared eye-to-eye with wild animals. At the Great Apes building an orangutan and I watched each other for several minutes. It had these tiny, soulful eyes, just as the orangutan from the recent Planet of the Apes movies. (Later I'd see an exhibit showing brain sizes of various great apes, and seeing how small its brain was compared to a human's, I wondered how much thinking was really going on. But it sure seemed like there was a thinking, aware being in those eyes.) As I left the building, a gorilla stood next to the glass at the front of its cage, and we looked at each other for a moment. Later, at the Great Cats area, I watched the lions for perhaps ten minutes. The male lion, which was pretty large with a huge mane, seemed to pick me out of the crowd and stared at me. I waved at it, and it definitely began to watch me. After a few minutes, as I left, its eyes followed me the whole time. Perhaps it was hungry.
  • My favorite animals: the orangutan, gorilla, and lion that I went eye-to-eye with; the giant tortoise that went on a "sprint" across its enclosure (okay, a craaaaawl); the sea lions; the giant anaconda; the lemurs (so like our ancestors!); the two elephants; the prairie dogs; the komodo dragon; a giant stingray; and a gigantic arapaima fish. My only disappointment was that the Invertebrates House had closed down, so no octopuses.
  • I saw the pandas, but they were just sleeping.
  • To my non-expert eyes, I thought the elephants, lions, and tigers needed larger enclosures. They looked pretty bored, with the elephants pacing back and forth while the lions and tigers just lay about, as they do in the wild something like 20 hours/day.
  • My legs are once again extremely tired from walking around for four hours. 

Youth Olympic Games

USA's Lily Zhang made it all the way to the semifinals of junior girls before losing this morning (i.e. afternoon in Nanjing, China, where they are playing) to top-seeded Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong, 1,-5,8,9,6. It was quite a turnaround for her to come back and win game two 11-5 after losing the first 11-1! She will be playing for the bronze tomorrow. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, with articles, results, video, and pictures. (Krish Avvari is the other USA player competing.) Here's a blog entry about Lily by Matt Hetherington. A big Congrats to Lily!!!

$36,000 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

Here are the last two articles by Barbara Wei on the LA Open this past weekend. I linked to the previous seven in yesterday's blog, as well as the results and the LA Open home page.

About.com Articles

Here are three new ones, including two coaching articles.

Sidespin/Topspin and Sidespin/Backspin Serve Tutorial

Here's the video (4:38). (Note for beginners - backspin and underspin are the same thing.) It's in Chinese, but has some English subtitles, and you can learn just by watching.

This Applies to Table Tennis

"I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end." -Larry Bird.

Table Tennis: The Best Sport Ever

Here's the video (3:11). "Do you know someone who dislikes Table Tennis? Let's show this video!"

Sometimes It Is Not Just About Winning

Here's a nice meme on this.

Is Timo Boll an Unlucky Player?

Here's the article and video (5:33). "Why hasn't Timo Boll been able to win major titles? Is he an unlucky player?"

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. Eighty-eight down, 12 to go!

  • Day 13: Germany’s Hans Wilhelm Gäb Provided ITTF the Model for TMS

Barry Ratner Obituary

Here it is. He was a long-time player and organizer. He will be missed.

73 Questions with Daniel Radcliffe

Here's the video (6:21) where the Harry Potter star "…plays ping–pong with us and answers 73 questions on everything from his desire to star in Guys and Dolls to what he would bring on a one-way trip to Mars. What’s something he knows about Harry Potter that no one else does? Watch and find out." This is hilarious! Daniel seems to be playing a lot of ping-pong recently - on Aug. 7 I linked to an article and video (1:46) where he also played.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Movie Might Be Coming

Here's the article.

Electric Pong

Is your paddle charged? Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Michael Mezyan.

Dimitri Ovtcharov Plays Clipboard Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:06) from the 2013 LA Open (last year).

Unbreakable Ball?

Here's the article and picture. It's a collapsible ball made of a flexible material that's created with a 3-D printer! I can't wait to try this out.

Table Tennis Ice Bucket Challenge

It's spread to the table tennis world, including my club. Here are some.

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