Ask the Coach

October 16, 2014

Lack of Creativity in Serving

I'm always amazed at how simple most players serve. Serving is the most creative part of the game (though receive is close), and yet most players seem to serve with little purpose or variation.

A major reason for this is because most players play the same players at their club over and over. There are all sorts of little nuances you can do with your serve that can give opponents trouble - last second changes of spin and direction (via last-second changes to the racket's motion), widely varying spins and placements, serving the extremes (deep breaking serves to backhand/short to forehand, or short heavy backspin/short side-topspin), or just different serving motions - but few use them. Many probably experiment, but since they play the same players over and over, opponents quickly get used to them, and the advantage of these little nuances mostly goes away.

Now even in practice there are ways to overcome this. If an opponent adjusts to your variations when serving from the backhand corner, for example, try it from the middle or forehand side - you'll be amazed at how much this changes things. Or just come up with variations. The more you have, the harder it is for an opponent to get used to them all. Or just hold back on certain serves for a while, and then, when you come back to them, they are effective again. Meanwhile, while you use those newly effective serves, hold back on some others for a while. (When I say hold back for a while, I mean both for a few games or for a few weeks of play - both ways work.)

When you watch world-class players play, often their serves look all the same. What does this mean? It means the world-class server has been successful at hiding his variations from you! There are nuances in every serve they do; they don't just serve to get the ball in play. If they did, world-class opponents would be all over those serves. Instead, they throw lots of little variations out there, varying the motion, spin, and placement just enough to keep the opponent slightly guessing and not completely comfortable. They may not get outright misses as we see at lower levels, but they force slightly weaker returns.

But a key thing to note from all this is that while all your serve variations might not continue to work in practice matches against the same players, they will work in tournaments. If you have a few serve variations that work at first at the club, but then players get used to them and they are no longer effective, guess what? They will still be effective in tournaments against new players, because for them, it is the first time they've seen them, just as it was for the players at your club before they got used to them.

I face this type of thing every day. All of my students are so used to my serves that most of them return them better than players rated far higher who don't face them regularly. In practice games at the end of sessions I often am split between using serves they'll see in matches, or coming up with new variations of my own serves just to throw them off, knowing that they are unlikely to face those specific serves in tournaments. (Last night, for example, one of my students was playing very well and led against me in two straight games. I fell to the dark side of the force and threw at him a series of Seemiller-grip windshield-wiper serves that he'd never seen before, and "stole" the games. Afterwards I let him practice against them, and they probably won't work next time. But I still feel guilty about "stealing" those games!)

One things I always stress is to find the right balance between "set-up serves" and "trick serves." At lower levels, trick serves are more effective, but as players get better they lose some of their effectiveness, and set-up serves become more important - but you should always have both. (Set-up serves are designed to set up a follow-up attack but don't usually win the point outright, while trick serves are designed to win the point outright or give an easy winner.) There's a lot of gray area between the two - a set-up serve can also be a trick serve in some circumstances. Here's a short tip I wrote on this a while back.

Why Karakasevic's Backhand Deserves Recognition

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. The Serbian star has always been known for his phenomenal backhand. From 2001 to 2013 his world ranking mostly bounced about in the 40 to 70 range, with his highest at #33 in January, 2007.

Ask the Coach

Here's another episode from PingSkills.

Episode 9 (11:51)

  • Question 1: Hi Alois, I've noticed that the quality of the training somehow depends on the mood and the concentration. The same strokes I perform differently and miss more with the higher concentration on the ball. What is an object and level of concentration? Olena
  • Question 2: I play at a local club and have received comments that I have a good serve. However, I have noticed that almost all of my backspin serves (Pendulum) have sidespin as well. Is this taking away from the effectiveness of the backspin? Adam
  • Question 3: While playing with my opponent when I tossed the ball for a serve my opponent asked me to stop as he wasn't ready then after a pause of 4 to 5 seconds I served again and again the same thing happened. Is this legal? Rutvik Thakkar
  • Question 4: Hi, sometimes I see professional players immediately smash the ball when returning a serve, I was wondering in what circumstances could and should you do this. Thanks! Alan C

USATT Tournament Advisory Committee Meeting

They met via teleconference on Sept. 18. Here are the minutes.

PingPongRuler.com

Here's a new website that features equipment reviews, videos, and custom-made paddles. Lots of good stuff there! (One thing that wasn't at first clear - in the Equipment Review section it looked at first like there were only very short reviews of each item. Click on the picture or heading and you get a far more extensive review.)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Visits Piing of Power

Here's the article. (And yes, there are two i's.)

International Articles

As usual Tabletennista has lots of international articles.

Ping Pong Trend Bounces Across the Nation

Here's the article on the rising popularity of the sport.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's his latest entry, "Names, names, names - China Day 47" (4:47).

The Spinning Paddle Bouncing Ball Cookie Jar Trick

Here it is (13 sec) - but is it real?

***

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October 15, 2014

All About Color

I'm regularly asked the difference between red and black rubbers, and which color should be used on the forehand and backhand. The short answer - it doesn't really matter. They supposedly play the same. So what you put on each side is just a personal preference. (I have heard that black DHS rubbers are better than the red, the only exception I've heard about.)

But it wasn't always that way - in the early days of the red and black rule the red side was a bit faster. The problem was in the black dye, which apparently slowed the rubber down. And so for the first few years most top players put the red side on the forehand. I was different - I had plenty of pop on my forehand, but needed more on the backhand, and so right from the start I had black on the forehand - and I still do. I always thought more players should do it this way for the same reason, but back in those days it was more acceptable for shakehands players to have softer backhands. (After using black on the forehand for 30 years, it would seem strange to me to put red there.)

After a few years the problem with the black dye was fixed, and the two colors now apparently play the same. However, for years afterwards most top players were in the habit of red on forehand, black on backhand, and many players copied them, so during the 1980s about 2/3 of top players had red on the forehand. However, for some reason the tide has slowly changed, and these days the majority of top players have black on the forehand - I have no idea why. I just did a quick check on Youtube of the top ten players in the world and found that nine of the top ten men and nine of the top ten women use black on the forehand - see below. Of the men, only Chuang (and apparently Boll earlier in his career) use red on the forehand, and only Feng Tianwei of the women does so. (Note that some Chinese players flip when smashing lobs, such as Fan Zhendong below - I think they may have harder or faster sponge on the red backhand and prefer smashing with that.) One reason for this is that some of the Chinese apparently use black DHS rubber on the forehand (since, as noted above, some say black DHS plays better than red), and red Tenergy on the backhand.

MEN - Forehand Color

  1. XU Xin (CHN) - Black
  2. FAN Zhendong (CHN) - Black (but against a lob he flips)
  3. MA Long (CHN) - Black
  4. ZHANG Jike (CHN) - Black
  5. OVTCHAROV Dimitrij (GER) - Black
  6. WANG Hao (CHN) - Black
  7. MIZUTANI Jun (JPN) - Black
  8. CHUANG Chih-Yuan (TPE) - Red
  9. BOLL Timo (GER) - Black (but earlier in career had red)
  10. YAN An (CHN) - Black

WOMEN - Forehand Color

  1. DING Ning (CHN) - Black
  2. LIU Shiwen (CHN) - Black
  3. LI Xiaoxia (CHN) - Black
  4. FENG Tianwei (SIN) - Red
  5. ZHU Yuling (CHN) - Black
  6. WU Yang (CHN) - Black
  7. CHEN Meng (CHN) - Black
  8. HAN Ying (GER) - Black
  9. ISHIKAWA Kasumi (JPN) - Black
  10. SEO Hyowon (KOR) - Black

Why is there a color rule? Let's go back to the 1977 World Championships. Two Chinese players, Liang Geliang and Huang Liang, reached the semifinals in Men's Singles. Both were chopper/loopers, with long pips usually on the backhand. This was a rare style in those days - most choppers were more defensive, pick-hitting mostly when given an easy chance. These two Chinese players had the same color on both sides (as most players did in those days - usually red), and flipped both when serving and during rallies. Opponents couldn't tell which side they were hitting with, and it caused havoc. They devastated most opponents, but (according to numerous sources) were ordered to dump in the semifinals, where both lost. 

Players all over the world copied this. At the time of the 1977 Worlds perhaps 10% of players had combination rackets, and most of them were with short pips on the backhand, rarely if ever flipping. By 1983, when I did a survey at tournaments (I was already running monthly ones in Virginia), over 70% of players had combination rackets, nearly all of them with long pips or antispin. Rallies were getting worse and worse, and players with the same surface on both sides weren't able to compete with players they had easily beaten before - in fact, they could barely get into rallies. It was not a fun time for the sport, and players quit in droves. (Of course, some players loved the havoc this type of game created!)

The ITTF changed the rules in 1983 to require two "clearly different" colors. The first reaction to this was the use of "clearly different" colors that, when the racket was moving, were difficult to tell apart - in particular, maroon and black. The ITTF then made the rule cherry red and black. ("Cherry red" was later changed to "bright red.") It did take some of the color out of the sport. Before the color rule surfaces came in a wide variety of colors, such as green, purple, gold (some of us remember the introduction of Tornado!), and even one that was white. I sort of miss the variety.

I was one of the many that pushed for the two-color rule. But I also promised that if they passed the rule, I'd never complain about a player's legal racket surface again - and I never have. From the intermediate level on, if a player can see what surface the opponent is using he should be able to play it. 

While it was long pips users that caused the most problems before the two-color rule, there were also players using antispin. Some shakehanders used it very successfully, as did many players with the Seemiller grip. Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan both reached about top 20 with the grip, before the color rule. Dan had a powerful forehand loop, and didn't flip nearly as much as Eric, and so many thought Eric would drop a lot after the color rule. Many assume that Eric reached top 20 only because he used the same color on both sides. However, that's not what happened. Eric jumped the gun, and when the ITTF announced a year in advance, in 1982, that they'd be requiring two colors, he made the switch a year in advance. As he explained to me once, he knew he'd have to use two colors for the rest of his career, so he might as well get used to it. 

At the time he went to two colors he had his highest ranking ever, #23 in the world. After making the switch to two colors he reached #17. (I've heard others say he only was #18, but I'm pretty sure I remember seeing #17.) What people didn't understand about Eric's game was that because he hit the ball so quick off the bounce, players had trouble reacting, different colors or not. It was often choppers who took the ball later that caused more problems before the two-color rule, and now players had time to react to them - but not so much time when playing Eric. 

Nationals Deadline This Friday

The deadline to enter the USA Nationals without a $75 late fee is this Friday, Oct. 17. Don't forget to enter!!! I'm going mostly to coach, but also entered hardbat doubles and hardbat over 40. I was toying with other events, but there are just too many conflicts with my coaching.

Fall USATT Magazine

The new issue is out. I have two articles in it: "Why Table Tennis is Chess at Light Speed" (page 45) and "A Visit from St. Timothy" (page 66 - this latter from my blog last week).

ITTF Level 3 Course

The course is taking place right now in Colorado Springs, Oct. 11-20, run by Richard McAfee. I originally planned to go, but finally concluded I was both too busy and couldn't really afford to go at this time. (That's a lot of lessons cancelled!) I will try to go to one in the future. Here are some photos from the ongoing course.

Interview with Hungarian Women's Coach on What Makes the Best Players Stand Out

Here's the interview with Peter Teglas by Dora Kurimay. I found the ball-bouncing thing interesting as I've seen the same thing. Often the little kids who early on are most competitive on who can do the most bounces become the best players.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills - they are creating them pretty fast!

Episode 7 (12:55).

  • Question 1: When I go to club and play with my friends and other players, I'm better than most of them and I can beat them 3-0 or 4-0. But when I play in a tournament with those players I feel scared even if the other player is a lot weaker than me. Ali.
  • Question 2: You show how to execute different strokes, and watching and trying to repeat your moves works well for players who are almost as high as you are. I wonder what adjustments should a player do if he is seemingly lower or higher? Roman.
  • Question 3: You know the backhand block executed with the wrist movement when the bat curves the ball on its side and decreases its spin and speed. I'm wondering if the same kind of stroke can be executed on the forehand side? Evgeny.
  • Question 4: How to make an effective backhand serve and what about the toss should it be lower or higher? Dario.
  • Question 5: Hi Alois and Jeff I tend to have a lot of difficulty with looping half long balls with backspin as they go too high over the net and my opponent can just block it or smash it down. How do i achieve a low arc when this happens? Shea.

Episode 8 (9:41).

  • Question 1: I mainly play in a local league. I have a robot at home. What would be the best preparation for my league match? Matches are played starting at 7.30. How do I warm up? You go straight at the table so any warming up must be done when you hit up. Filippo R
  • Question 2: Hi Alois, Just a simple question. Is the finish position for the topspin stroke always be in front your eyebrow? Or just a matter of preference? Because i find my finish position for my topspin stroke depends on the ball that i receive. Antonius Willson
  • Question 3: I've noticed you use the shakehand in your videos. I'm somewhat new to the game and find the penhold grip a bit more comfortable. Are most of the videos as shown equally relevant for penholders, or are the styles for both hands too different? Tom Adams
  • Question 4: When I play several backhand topspins I bring my thumb on the rubber which helps to close the bat more but the bat rotates in the palm of my hand. If my opponent then switches to my forehand I often don't have the time to recover my grip. Any tips? Thijs G

Kanak Jha Featured by ITTF

Here's the ITTF article on the USA junior star.

Kristian Karlsson in Training

Here's video (51 sec) of the up-and-coming Swedish player in training, who recently shot from world #69 to #50. Note how the drill is a two-shot sequence. Far too often players do continuous drills when in reality, few rallies are like that. When doing multiball at the intermediate and advanced levels much of multiball should be two- or three-shot sequences.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (43) of this rally between Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan and South Korea's Joo Saehyuk. It starts as a standard attack vs. chop rally (and note how Chuang goes after Joo's middle), then the counterlooping begins.

Ping-Pong Protesters in Hong Kong

Here's the article and picture.

Will Shortz and the Quest to Play in All 50 States

Here's the article. I've been to all 50 states, and I've played table tennis in all but three (Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut), so Will and I are tied - but he's about to pull ahead!!!

Trigonometry

It seems like half the top cadet players at MDTTC are starting to take trig, and so I've been helping some of them. (I have a bachelor's in math.) So the sines are I've become a trig tutor, one of the tangents to my coaching. And while I'm making bad puns, has anyone else noticed that the Italy is part of the ETTU (European Table Tennis Union), and that Et Tu was supposedly Julius Caesar's last words? (My careful research also finds that Dennis Brutus was a former VP of the South African Table Tennis Board.)

The Lost Tablet of Amun Ra

Here's the latest TT artwork from Mike Mezyan, hieroglyphics and all - and yes, "tablet" is just a "t" away from table!

Backhand Cartwheel Chop

Here's the video (3:34) of this hilarious "coaching" video from PingSkills featuring cartwheels, pandas, and chopping!

***

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October 14, 2014

Tip of the Week

Working With Your Subconscious.

The Last Two Weeks

I'm back!!! The past two weeks have been among the busiest I have ever had. As noted in my blog from a week ago (before I took a sort of forced sabbatical), USATT Historian Tim Boggan moved in with me on Tuesday, Sept. 30, so I could once again do the photo work and page layouts for Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis. Here's a rundown on that, on my coaching, on a science fiction convention, health - and on a theft at the supermarket!

Because Tim goes to bed every night around 7:30 PM and gets up by 3AM, I tried to sort of match his schedule. For eleven days I mostly got up around 5:30 AM (sometimes earlier!), and we'd go to work by 6:30AM. (Several times we started by 5:30 AM.) We'd work until about 2:30 PM, with a 30-minute lunch break. At 2:30PM I'd normally leave to coach, since that's when I have to leave to pick up kids for our afterschool program. On weekends I was even busier with coaching, and Tim and I had to work around that.  

We "sort of" finished everything on Friday night. I saw "sort of" because, even though Tim left on Saturday morning, I still had a bunch of work on it. It got worse when Tim emailed me on Sunday night with a long list of changes and corrections needed, which I did on Monday. I finally sent the finished version to the printer on Monday afternoon. It should be available in ten days or so.

The final version is 401 pages long, with 978 photos, and covers the years 1986-88. The 401 is actually a bit shorter than his norm, but the 978 photos is a record. Think about this - for each photo I had to pull it up, fix it up in Photoshop (taking anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes), place it on the page where Tim indicated (he had copious notes), put in the caption (which Tim read to me), and then (when the photos for the page were up), lay out the page so everything lined up to Tim's satisfaction. It would have been a lot harder if not for Mal Anderson, who not only took the majority of the photos used, but scanned them all in advance. (In the early volumes, I did all the scanning, which added about two days to the project each time.)

I don't think any of my students noticed how exhausted I was each day during Tim's stay. My busiest days are Wed, Thur, Fri, and Sun. On those days I'd go straight from long hours with Tim to long hours at the table. On other days I did the same, but typically only had perhaps two hours of coaching. Often I'd be working essentially non-stop from 6:30AM to 9PM, then coming home and trying to do this blog and other work. (This is why I finally had to take a sabbatical.)

One of my students, Matt, has been working hard on his backhand loop. (He recently turned 13, is about 1700 level now.) During his session on Wednesday we did an improvised game where he served backspin, I pushed to his backhand, and he backhand looped anywhere, then we played out the point. At first I won every game easily. Near the end of the session he had a game where he led until the very end, and then I came back to win. I won the next few games easily, and he grew increasingly frustrated. The session ended - my last of the day - but he was determined to do better, and so I stayed late. We played more games, and some were close, but I kept winning. And then it all came together, and he played a brilliant game, making nearly every shot (forehands and backhands), and he won. As I've blogged before, anything you can do in practice you are perhaps six months away from being able to do in a serious match, so perhaps he'll be able to play like this all the time in six months - in which case he'll be pretty scary!!!

In the group sessions on Thursday and Sunday we did a lot of smashing and serving practice. With Navin on Sunday we worked more on his forehand smash and on his backhand chop block (he uses hardbat). He's had a problem in that he often has me use hardbat to practice with him, so his chop block became used to that - but when he played sponge players, he'd pop the ball up against their greater topspin. So this session I used sponge, and hopefully that'll pay off. With Doug, we focused on forehand looping and backhand banana flip - and it paid off as he did very well in the league afterwards. On the downside, Daniel, one of the top 10-year-olds in the country, is having arm problems and had to cancel lessons both weeks. He'll likely rest it another week or so.

After Tim left on Saturday morning I spent much of the weekend jumping between the Capclave Science Fiction Convention here in Gaithersburg and coaching. I was a panelist (yes, people paid to hear me speak!); here's my Capclave bio. Here are the three panels I was on. (I moderated the one on Flash Fiction.)

  • Flash Fiction - Writing for the Short Attention Span Generation. Markets are opening up everywhere for stories of 500 to 1,000 words or less and with the advent of Twitter and Facebook, there are markets for stories just a few sentences in length. In this panel we will discuss the markets, the writing techniques, the agony and the ecstasy and the future of writing the super-short story.
  • The Greatest Animated Films. A debate over a list of the greatest animated films. Can we agree on a top ten list for the best or will the panel erupt into fisticuffs?
  • I Hate His/Her Politics But I Love His/Her Books. Should a personal evaluation of an author be separated from how you view his/her politics? Many people refused to see the movie Ender's Game because of Orson Scott Card's statements on homosexuality and other writers charge that political views influence award nominations and who is picked for con programming. Is this true and if so, is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Healthwise, I was exhausted all week, but it's been a while since I've had any real injuries. (I'm crossing my fingers.) I've had some minor twinges in my right knee, but nothing serious yet. As noted in previous blogs, I had dropped my weight from 196 in July to 178.4 when Tim arrived. Alas, with the long hours and Tim's treating me to fancy meals, this morning I'm at 181.8. So back to dieting. (I plan to get to 170.) 

Now the theft. I went to Giant for some shopping on Sunday. Included on my shopping were two bottles of Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, which is my morning staple. At the checkout counter, as the items were being rung up, someone walked by. I noticed them lean over my stuff for a moment, but didn't pay close attention. Then I saw the person carrying a bottle of Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice as he walked away. I remember thinking, "I'm not the only one who likes the stuff." Then, as my items were being bagged, I noticed I only had one bottle of the juice. That's when I realized the person had stolen one of them when he'd leaned over my stuff! I showed the receipt to the person at the cash register, who verified I'd been charged for two but only had one. They allowed me to get a new one. So somewhere out there is a bottle of stolen Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice. To paraphrase another "juice" person, "I will not rest until I find my juice's stealer." (Bonus points to whoever correctly comments below who I'm paraphrasing.)

ITTF Trickshot Competition

Josep Anton Velazquez won it for the second year in a row. Here's the ITTF press release, and here's the winning video (42 sec). I can do the same serve that breaks sideways and parallel to the end-line (at least with my forehand pendulum serve, where tried this out after seeing the video), and can do the same fast down-the-line serve, but I wonder how many tries it would take to get them both together so they collide (not to mention the carpentry work to create the props)? That's some awesome precision. Here's the runner-up video (1:09) and here's the ITTF Trickshot Competition Page.

A Lesson in "Work Ethic" from 5-time U.S. Champion Sean O'Neill

Here's the video (4:05) by Brian Pace.

Learn How to Develop Your "A" Game

Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Ask the Coach

PingSkills has a new "Ask the Coach" video series. I previously posted links to their first two episodes. Here are four more.

Episode 3 (11:10).

  • Question 1: Sir, as i play table tennis, while playing too fast the ball sometimes hits my fingers and the whole game goes wrong. So how to prevent it? Rishabh
  • Question 2: I was having problems with countering services with combined spin like the topspin with sidespin services. How to counter them? Pat
  • Question 3: My coach told me to hold the bat differently when i am serving, but in my last competition i felt that i didn’t manage to change the grip on the bat fast enough after i am serving, so when my opponent returns my serve. David
  • Question 4: I am facing difficulty while countering the high returns bouncing just on the end of the table. I often play close to the table and I have an attacking style of play. I know this is an unusual weakness but can you guide me how counter these. Mukul

Episode 4 (9:40).

  • Question 1: Can you give me tips on the traditional pen-hold backhand topspin? I tried gripping the handle a little further from the face, curling my three fingers, and twisting the paddle so the forehand side is facing down, but to no avail. Table Tennis Guy
  • Question 2: I sometimes tend to lean back when I loop or drive. I'm guessing it's a problem with me shifting weight from right to left and instead keeping the weight on my right leg forcing me to lean back to take the shot. I'm not sure though. Justin
  • Question 3: Can you say that drills are essential or are plenty of matches required to become a good table tennis player? Meet Master
  • Question 4: If both sides of the blade has same rubber glued to it e.g. Xiom Vega Pro is on both sides of a blade then can they be both of same color or they should be black and red? Please guide me according to ITTF rules. Muhammad

Episode 5 (12:56).

  • Question 1: Hi Jeff and Alois, I often practice to attack backspins with a topspin using a Donic robot, but because of these exercises I tear my rubbers against the table at least twice a month. What I am doing wrong? Stanislav.
  • Question 2: Against beginners when I play my full loop I miss more because it feels like their ball has nothing on it and my ball just flies into space. It's got to the point where unless the player puts a lot of pace or spin I'm afraid to do a full forehand. Peter C.
  • Question 3: I was bored waiting, so I did some wall practice, it got faster, after a few minutes I noticed my eyes were adjusting to the speed then, we played table tennis I got a winning streak of 6 matches. What other warmups are effective. Jigo.
  • Question 4: Hello, I want to ask: How can I return a fast topspin stroke without blocking it? What are the options? Thanks, Tibor.

Episode 6 (13:36).

  • Question 1: Hello, I'm trying to develop a serve that just nicks the table, is this legal? Thanks. George.
  • Question 2: As I play short pimples on backhand I have recently begun to wonder if it would be good to turn my bat during a rally and hit the ball with my short pips but on my forehand side. What do you think, is it a good idea to train on that? Fredrik.
  • Question 3: I saw when professional players get serves to their forehand they often move over and return it with their backhand. Should I start practicing returning serves that come to my forehand with my backhand or should I practice my forehand more? David.
  • Question 4: I have an 11 year old son I am trying to teach table tennis. We practice about once a month and we have been doing that for a while but not making much progress. I feel I should teach him how to consistently bounce the ball. Can you tell me how? Fatih.
  • Question 5: Hi guys, just to ask what serves did you both use in your careers? Also can you tell me what serves encourage a forehand return? Sasha.

Table Tennis Can Help Those with Parkinson's

Here's the article.

Maccabi USA Seeking Jewish Athletes for European and Pan American Maccabi Games

Here's the USATT article.

USATT Joins AmazonSmile Program

Here's the USATT article.

The Immigrant Sport: What Ping-Pong Means in America

Here's the article.

Table Tennis Included in 2020 Paralympic Games

Here's the ITTF Press Release.

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - September 2014

Here's the video (13:58).

Nathan Hsu in China

Here are his latest videos.

Secret of Olympic Medals

Here's the video (2:28) featuring physical training and other aspects at the ICC table tennis center.

The Top Spin League's Challenge

Here's the video (2:33) from the Top Spin Club in San Jose, CA.

The King of Backhands - Kreanga

Here's the highlights video (2:56).

Omron Table Tennis Rallying Robot

Here's the video (41 sec) - these robots are getting better and better. Soon they will master the deadly secret of reading spin and Chinese domination of our sport will be at an end as we bow to our new robot masters.

Big Bang Theory and Ping Pong

Last night on The Big Bang Theory there was a sequence where the actors watched a video of pigeons playing ping pong. I was curious and looked it up, and sure enough, here it is - a 38-sec video of pigeons trained to play a version of table tennis!  

Cat Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (34 sec) - and in this one, the cat really is rallying!

Table Tennis's Ten Funniest Moments

Here's the video (7:25) from the ITTF. These are great!!! If you haven't seen the highlights of the famous Saive-Chuang shown at the end, then you haven't seen table tennis.

***

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October 3, 2014

A Visit from St. Timothy

As readers here know, Tim Boggan moved in with me this past Monday so I could do the page layouts and photo work on his latest History of U.S. Table Tennis book - this is Volume 15! He's been writing and publishing these books for about 15 years, moving in with me about once a year for 10-14 days. We expect to finish the current one by the end of next week. (We've done the covers and have finished seven of the 25 chapters.) You can learn more about these books (and buy them!) at Tim Boggan Table Tennis, which I created and maintain for him.

Tim Boggan, 84, is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame - here's his Hall of Fame Profile, and here's the feature interview I did with him in 1996 (which includes lots of pictures, including ones of him growing up). His two sons, Eric and Scott Boggan, both were USA Men's Singles Champions and are members of the USATT Hall of Fame. (So am I!) Eric was top 20 in the world.

The first thing to know about Tim is that he keeps strange hours. He goes to bed around 7:30 PM each night, and gets up around 3:00 AM. This means he's impatiently waiting for me to get started each morning. While he's here I do the bulk of the blog the night before, but in the mornings before we start I still have to get any new TT items, and put it up. Typically we start work by 6:30AM. (That's why the blog has been going up extra early this week - usually around 6:00 AM - instead of the normal 9:30 AM or so. Though not this morning since I was up late last night working, alas, so the blog is going up until around 7:45AM this morning, meaning we are starting work on the book "late." Tim is grouching!) Except for a 30-minute lunch break, we work until 2:30 PM. That's when I have to leave Mon-Fri to pick up kids for our afterschool program, which lasts until 4:30 PM. I usually then have group or private coaching for several more hours, so I don't get home until sometime between 7:30 and 9:00 PM - and Tim's already in bed. So I do my blog, catch up on other work, read a bit, and go to bed. (Tim sleeps on the sofa in my office.) Then I get up by 5:30 AM and we start over. (On weekends it'll be even busier.)

This is how we actually do the work. I work on my desktop computer with Tim sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder. He comes prepared, with printouts of each chapter, and notes on where each picture goes. We move through the chapters one photo at a time. Since the books typically are about 500 pages with 900 photos, it's a huge job.

We're greatly helped by still another U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Famer, Mal Anderson, photographer extraordinaire. Over half of the photos used are by him. He also helps by scanning the large majority of photos we'll use in advance. When it's time to put in a photo (~900 times per volume), as Tim watches over my shoulder I open the photo, clean it up in Photoshop, and then place it where Tim needs it. Then he gives me the caption and the "photo by" credit, and I put them in. Then we continue. As we move through each chapter I do the page layouts, make sure everything lines up, etc.

Since many of the scans are from newsprint or from old, beaten-up or vintage photos, I spend a lot of time cleaning up the photos in Photoshop. I'm sort of an expert at that, from my 12 years as editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine. But Tim is pretty picky about one thing - he's constantly scanning the backgrounds of pictures, and always wants them cleaned up. If there's someone standing in the background that detracts from the person featured in the photo . . . well, I try not to get too emotionally attached to that person. He often mysteriously disappears. I also spend a lot of time removing blemishes from backgrounds. If there's a pixel that shouldn't be there, Tim will find it and indignantly demand that the guilty pixel be removed.

When the volume is done, I do a lot of pre-press work, getting it into proper PDF format for the printer. I also create the files so we can put it up for sale on Amazon. Then I put together the ads for the newest volume. Then I sleep for a week.

Some of the side effects off all this work? Let's just say I usually do not have Mountain Dew at 7AM. (I normally restrict my soft drinks to one 7.5 oz can per day, but I'm a bit lax on that during Tim's stays.) But on the days that I get back early from coaching (only twice a week it looks like) he treats me to extravagant meals at nice restaurants.

It wouldn't be right to not mention Tim's ongoing wars with my gate, front door, and microwave. Let's just say he and they don't see eye to eye. But eventually he always wins, but only after a lot of, well, scrimmaging and loud cussing.

I kept track of some of our interesting "discussions" today. Here they are!

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Larry: "I didn't know you were a devout Muslim."
Tim: "I'm not!"
Larry: "Then why are you writing about a 'South Koran'?"
(He had me change it to "South Korean.")

~

Tim: "Die Lily!"
(Okay, he wasn't threatening U.S. National Coach Lily Yip; he was referring to photos of Dai Lili, former Chinese champion.)

~

Larry: "Is that a 'yes' yes, or an 'I'm not paying attention' yes?"

~

Larry: "Is that an inkblot test?"
Tim: "But it's the only photo I have of him!"
(We use the photo.)

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Larry: "I can barely make out the guy's face."
Tim: "Then clean up the background."
Tim (A minute later): "It came out better than I thought."

~

Larry: "Photo by?"
Tim: "Nobody."
Larry: "Three . . . two . . . one . . ."
Tim: "Sorry, photo by Mal Anderson."

~

Larry: "Does that picture add to the book?"
Tim: "No. Put it in anyway."

~

Larry: "That's the worst picture I've ever seen."
Tim: "Yes."
Larry: "Is the person important?"
Tim: "No. Put it in anyway."

~

Larry: "While I'm changing these historically accurate pictures by changing them for you, should I fix up their technique as well?"

~

Larry: "Given the choice between doing it right or doing it your way, what do you want to do?"
Tim: "My way."

~

Larry: "Where should I put this blur?"
Tim: "Right hand top of the page."

~

Tim: [Long description of where the next photo goes, how he wants it, etc.]
Larry: "I'm still cleaning up the photo."
Tim: [Continues description of where the next photo goes.]
Larry: "I still haven't got it on the page."
Tim: [Description of where the next photo goes continues.]
Larry: "Okay, photo is ready. Where does it go?"

~

Tim: "Bring up photo [photo's name]"
Larry: "There isn't any photo by that name."
Tim: "#@$#@^*&^%$#@*^%$%!!!"

~

Larry: "Are you still here?" (At 5:30 AM after getting up.)

~

Tim: "Something wrong here." (Said approximately every five minutes.)

~

Larry: "Are we done yet?" (Said approximately every five minutes.)

~

Tim: "We're doing fine. We're doing fine. (Said approximately every five minutes.)

~

Larry: "Can I go home now?" (Said approximately every five minutes. I'm already home.)

~

Ask the Coach Show - Episode 2

Here's the video (14:14) from PingSkills. Here are the questions asked and answered this episode (yeah, there are typos in the questions, but this is the Internet):

  1. How do you play deceptive shots? Do you have any tricks?
  2. I've asked and also found a lot of information about getting a lot of spin on my serve but my serve only has a little spin on it. I've also tried to brush the ball finely and fast and also the contact point is on the end of the bat. Frendy
  3. What are the best but well priced table tennis tables to get? Adam
  4. I have played Table tennis for about 4 years and 6 months ago my coach said that i should try short pimples on my backhand, i have become a much better player thanks to it but for some reason i cant block with it very good when doing drills. Fredrik
  5. Hi, I want to know that how can I play like Timo Boll. I consider him as the greatest table tennis player. Can you make a video on this topic. And I also want to know how to play with both hands like Timo Boll.

2015 Special Olympic World Games Technical Officials Application

Here's the USATT news item.

ITTF Establishes Testing Lab in Singapore

Here's the article. "The International Table Tennis Federation sets up a joint lab with Nanyang Technological University, which will focus on testing of table tennis balls and racket coverings, among other projects."

Kanak Jha Training

Here's video (61 sec, much of it in slow motion) showing Kanak training for the upcoming World Cup. Looks like a random drill.

International News

As usual, you can follow international news at Tabletennista (great coverage of top players) and the ITTF News Page (great regional coverage). Both are covering table tennis at the ongoing Asian Games.

Great Trick Shot

Here's the video (44 sec) - bouncing ball on racket's handle while rolling a tube target, then serving through the moving target.

Amazing Michael Maze Maze

Here's the cartoon!

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October 1, 2014

Forehand Accuracy

One of my favorite tricks for new players is demonstrating forehand accuracy. (You can also do this with the backhand.) It's a simple trick - I put a bottle on one side of the table (typically a 16oz Gatorade or water bottle), and standing at the other end, I drop a ball on the table and smash it against the bottle. I hit it easily over 80% of the time, and over 90% once I get warmed up. It looks impressive, even to advanced players. When they try it, they often miss. But there's a simple reason for that. They don't know how to aim.

Here's what you do. Assuming you are a righty, put the bottle on the far left side, perhaps a foot from the sideline. You stand on the same side (your wide backhand), so you are next to your left sideline. Practice dropping the ball a few times and note where your contact point would be. Now here's the secret: put your racket up against where contact would be made, and simply make sure it's aimed directly at the bottle at that point. You should be able to keep the racket aimed exactly at the bottle for at least a foot during your forward swing - about six inches before and after contact. Practice this a few times without the ball, making sure the racket is aimed directly at the bottle whenever the racket is near where the ball would be.

Then drop the ball and smack the bottle. You might mess up a few times at first, but with practice you'll be surprised at how consistent you can be with this. I'm guessing that the large majority of the readers of this blog will be able to hit the bottle at least half the time. If you can't, there's a simple answer - practice! You can also do this looping, though hitting is probably more accurate.

Here's the late great Marty Reisman demonstrating in this hilarious video (1:14) - except instead of a bottle, he's smacking (and breaking) a cigarette! (He's doing it from right by the net. With a bottle, I do this from near my end of the table.)

Here's the shocker. Once you can hit the bottle pretty consistently, it will likely help with your smashing accuracy in a game.

Video Review: Men's Final - European Team Championships 2014

Here's the video (18:40), with analysis of the Team Final between Germany and Portugal.

Video Review: Women's Final - European Team Championships 2014

Here's the video (9:24), with analysis of the Team Final between Germany and Austria.

Ask the Coach Show - Episode 1

Here's the video (6:05) from PingSkills.

Chinese National Table Tennis Team - Exhibition Matches

Here are photos from the Chinese exhibition at the Triangle TTC this past Friday.

Betting Can Inject a Thrill into Table Tennis

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington - but is it legal? (Depends on the state and location.)

Palestine's Youngest Player

Here's the article and video (4:09) about this three-year-old sensation.

Unbelievable Table Tennis on a Helipad

Here's the new ad (30 sec) for China Dubai One Energy - done way up in the air! (Can you name the Chinese National Team Members?)

***
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