October 6, 2011

Random drills

Random drills are among the most under-utilized drills in table tennis. Rote drills (where you know where the ball is going to go) are great for developing strokes and footwork, but in game-type situations, you don't know where the ball is going. So you have to train for that, and that means random drills.

As you improve and master the fundamental strokes, you should add more and more random drills to your practice sessions, but only at a pace where you can do the drill with good fundamentals. (If you go too fast and your strokes start to fall apart, you are practicing bad technique and should slow down the drill.)

Here are two important keys to doing random drills properly. First, focus on reacting to the incoming ball; don't try to anticipate. You want your first move to be the correct one every single time. If you find yourself moving one way and having to correct yourself to go the other way, you are anticipating since you are moving before you know where the ball is going. If necessary, slow the drill down until you can do the right first move every time.

Second, move to the ball and stay balanced. Some players react by reaching for the ball and go off balance. Keep the weight centered and step toward the ball, don't reach. Here's an article related to this, Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. And if you are looking to put together a killer practice session, then, well, here's an article called Killer Practice Sessions.

Beating higher-rated players in practice and tournaments

Tournaments and practice are different. Often a player challenges higher-rated players in practice, but can't beat them in tournaments very often. This is often a tactical thing, because the higher-rated player is literally more experienced at playing at that higher level, and so knows what to do in a close match. (It's also psychological because the lower-rated player is often more nervous for the simple fact that he isn't as sure of what to do as the other, more-experienced-at-that-level player.) What I've noticed is that you generally have to be able to challenge the higher-rated player in practice matches for about six months before you can challenge them the same way in a tournament. Many players lament about how they battle with specific players in practice but lose all the close games in tournaments. This is common, but all you have to do is stick with it, learn from the losses (and wins), and in about six months (sooner if you are a quick learner, longer if not), you'll start beating them.

Best thing I did to make coaching easy

Get in shape. There were times I dreaded coaching because it was so physically hard. Then I lost weight (196 to 173), started lifting weights three times a week, and began a serious stretching routine. Now coaching is much easier; physically I can play for hours now without major muscles strains or exhaustion. (On a completely unrelated note that I just want to put in there, I just noticed that the three students I'm coaching today are Justin, Jerry, and Jess. And I also have a pair of John's I'm working with. Lots of J's, and I won't even mention I'm a fan of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. Maybe noticing these silly coincidences makes coaching more interesting and therefore easier.)

The Coca-Cola Move to the Beat 2012 Olympic Campaign

Coca-Cola and DJ Mark Ronson unveil the Move to the Beat campaign (3:01) in support of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which features table tennis player Darius Knight (member of English national team), archers, and track and field athletes.

2009 USATT Strategic Meeting (and Task Force Minutes)

Several people have asked me why I seem so angry over the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting. After all, the meeting was two years ago!!! The answer is two-fold. First, while the meeting was two years ago, the things they claimed they would do - in vague terms that they claimed were all that was needed - predictably didn't happen, and so two more years have gone by without implementing anything. (And yes, I still have vivid memories of being surrounded by table tennis leaders congratulating themselves for such a great meeting and telling me how wrong I was to think we actually needed real goals and implementable plans to meet those goals.) Many slogans were created, vague priorities were set, and task forces were set up to achieve these vague priorities. Of course nothing has come of this.

HOWEVER - and this is the key thing, the most important thing - the 2009 Strategic Meeting was a tipping point for USATT. We had a relatively new group of USATT leaders, and the future of USA Table Tennis was in the balance. Would it break from the past and begin to do the things necessary to grow our sport? Unfortunately, a few people almost single-handedly tipped USATT right back into its old habits of half-measures and clutching at failed methods while ignoring what actually works. We had a great opportunity to change the momentum of the organization, but now that it has once again set its direction, it's very hard to change that. It won't happen unless and until USATT leaders are willing to put aside everything that happened at that meeting and start fresh. Until then, USATT will continue its meandering stroll through the garden of mediocrity.  

Go to the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting summary, and decide for yourself if it was worth bringing in 30 table tennis leaders and organizers from all over the country for two days to come up with all these slogans and vague priorities. Do you think the time would have been better spent creating goals and programs to reach those goals? (Note - the summary incorrectly names Ashu Jain as the chair of the junior task force, but he actually turned it down, and David Del Vecchio was the chair. The junior task force has since been dissolved - see July 01, 2011 USATT board meeting. Here is the current list of USATT Committees and Task Forces.)

Did any of these task forces accomplish anything? Nothing was implemented over the past two years from the Junior Task Force or the "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task force. If they ever met and created any plans, they didn't follow USATT bylaws (bolded "task force" is mine):

"Section 9.10. Minutes of Meetings. Each committee and task force shall take minutes of its meetings.  The approved minutes must be published within thirty (30) days of completion of the meeting."

No minutes of any meetings were ever published. I pointed this out to various USATT officials a number of times over the past year, and USATT actually sent a note to committees and task forces asking them to post these minutes.  Here are the USATT minutes. See if you can find the minutes of any USATT committee or task force meetings at all, other than one for the Hall of Fame Committee meeting listed on "December 20, 2011" (they mean 2010) - and they are not actually a USATT committee. 

The Cat without a Bat in a Tub with a Ball

Yes, here's 46 seconds of a cat playing with a ping-pong ball in a tub.


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September 30, 2011

Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em

Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.

Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.

Peter Li and Michael Landers in China

Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.

Weight Training Update

During my second session of my new weight training regimen I added four new exercises to the list: fly & rear delts, calf extension, and back extension. The calf extension was especially obvious - guess which muscle is used when short-stepping around the table? And the fly delts seem to build up muscles used when forehand looping. I'm basically an amateur when it comes to weight training, and yet I'm gradually beginning to remember that I was somewhat knowledgeable about table tennis weight training routines back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've forgotten a lot, but it's starting to come back. Here is my updated regimen, three times a week, doing three sets of ten for each, usually after a table tennis session:

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)
  11. Fly Delts
  12. Rear Delts
  13. Calf Extension
  14. Back Extension

Also, I made the interesting discussion that one of the people I rent the downstairs of my townhouse to works at Fitness First. (I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors to a father and 23-year-old son; the latter is the one who works at Fitness First.) We discussed my routine, and he thought (as did a commenter here) that I should eventually go to free weights, so as to build up the stabilizing muscles. But he thought my plan of using the machines until I'm a bit stronger and more experienced seemed reasonable. I did discover they have free weights at the back of the Planet Fitness I'm working out at.

Werner Schlager exhibition shots

Here's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria playing an exhibition point (0:51) against Oh Sang Eun of Korea.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book

Yes, "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement," by Mayumi Itoh, 266 pages, is out! But $72???

Another option for those interested is to read Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 5, which covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy. (Presumably the Itoh book covers things a big differently; Tim covers it in a very personal way, since he was on the trip to China, and part of the U.S. tour.) You can buy the eleven volumes in this series (individually or all of them) at, or you can read it online:

Inspirational Music for Table Tennis

I may have posted this once before, but the subject of inspirational music for table tennis came up recently, so here's a good listing. I don't actually train with music, but many do, and many find listening to such music before playing revs them up. (These are mostly from movies.) What are yours?

A Cat and Beverly Hills Cop

And since we're on the subject of table tennis music, here's a cat, table tennis, and the theme music to Beverly Hills Cop (starring Eddie Murphy at his peak). (3:42)


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