Cheng Yinghua

January 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing the Seemiller or American Grip. (This is an excerpt from "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.")

MDTTC Mini-Camp

Local schools are closed today and tomorrow for Martin Luther King birthday and a teacher's meeting. And so we're running a two-day mini-camp at MDTTC, 10AM-6PM. Normally I'd be there all day both days, but because I'm working on Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis (Vol. 14), with Tim at my side ("No, stupid, that photo there!"), I'm only doing the morning sessions. What does this really mean for me? It means I'm up all last night working on this blog, the Tip of the Week, and all the other stuff I have to take care of each day; it means I'm at my desk with Tim at 5AM to get two chapters done before I leave at 9:30AM; it means I'm coaching at the club from 10AM-1PM (and likely taking a large group of kids to the 7-11 down the street afterwards); it means I rush home to an impatient Tim and do several more chapters that afternoon and night; and it means starting all over again that night with the following day's blog so I can get started early with Tim the following morning. Somewhere in there I sleep.

Tim's Book, and Tim's Trials and Tribulations

Due to our various illnesses and my coaching, we're behind schedule on History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 14. However, we're catching up fast. Yesterday we got three more chapters done, so we've done eleven chapters, plus the covers and early intro pages. We just went through the 1985 U.S. Open, and once again Cheng Yinghua wins over Taiwan's Wen Chia-Wu, who had upset world #1 Jiang Jialiang in the semifinals! Cheng also won Men's Doubles with Jiang. And now he's my fellow coach at MDTTC.

Sports Psychology

One of my students (age 12) gets way too nervous in matches. So our top focus now is sports psychology. (This really should be everyone's top priority, since you get more for your time put into it than just about anything else.) I started today's session by having him simply tie his shoes. No problem. Then I had him do the same thing where he had to consciously tell himself what to do each step of the way. He laboriously went through the process, but the contrast with trying to consciously do it and letting your subconscious do what it's been trained to do (i.e. muscle memory) made the point about how you want to play table tennis. (For the record, I made up this exercise myself.)

Then we moved on to ping-pong ball shooting. I set up a box on the table, and we stood about fifteen feet away and simply shot baskets. The catch - you couldn't think about aiming. You just looked at the target, visualized the trajectory of the ball from hand to box, and then let it happen. At first the student had some problems - he kept trying to consciously aim the ball, or reacted to misses and swishes, when the conscious mind needs to get out of the way and let the subconscious do the job. After a few minutes of this, he was able to let go, and his shooting increased tremendously. (I had a streak where I made over 50 in a row without a conscious thought.

Then I held up a ping-pong ball, and said, "This is your conscious mind." Then I waved my hand about and said, "Your house is your subconscious. That's their relative sizes." Then I compared the conscious mind to some bad boss who flits about an office of well-trained employees and interferes with their work. For the well-trained employees (the subconscious) to get their work done they need the boss (the conscious mind) to get out of the way. Nervousness comes from the conscious mind; the subconscious is as cool as ice. Get out of the way and let it do its job. (Of course, there's the separate issue of training the subconscious - but that's what you are doing every time you practice, as you develop muscle memory. Most players have far better muscle memory than they realize, if they'd only stop being a bad boss and get out of the way.)

We didn't get to the table for the first half hour. (It was a 90-minute session.) Then he had a very good session. Much of the session we focused on reaction drills, where the key was to just let go and react, with muscle memory doing the natural reaction. He has a tendency to anticipate forehands and so loses a lot of points when the ball goes to his wide backhand, so we did drills where he had to just react to the ball, forehand or backhand.

We also went over routines. For example, anyone who's played me knows that when I serve, I start by loosening my right sleeve with my left arm; then I let my playing arm drop back and forth once like a pendulum; and then I serve. When I receive, I hold up my left hand as I approach the table; shuffle my feet a few times; and then lower my arm. Little routines like these become habit to the point that by doing them, they put you in the proper frame of mind for the point. Everyone should develop these little routines, with at least one thing you always do just before each point.  (This could become a Tip of the Week at some point.)

Aurora Cup

Now here's how you do publicity for a major tournament - with daily articles all week in advance! Below are the daily articles by Barbara Wei for the Butterfly Aurora Cup. (I believe there might be at least one more coming, covering Sunday's results, which I'll put up tomorrow.) And here are the results.

U.S. National Team Programs

Here's a listing of upcoming programs for the U.S. National Team.

Crystal Wang in Baltimore Sun

Here's an article and video (1:32) in the Baltimore Sun on 11-year-old Crystal Wang, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women at the USA Nationals. (She's from my club!) Here are more photos.

Disguise Topspin as Backspin with the Maharu Yoshimura Serve (Photo and Video Analysis)

Here's an article and video (3:49) from Table Tennis Master on how the Japanese star disguises his serves.

Gossip Pong

A few days ago I watched as two girls at my club played table tennis - or sort of played. They were chatting non-stop, with the table tennis just along for the ride. I realized we don't have a name for this, and so I have christened this new sport: "Gossip Pong." I'm copyrighting it. For now on, every time you use this name, you owe me $1. If you talk to your opponent when you play table tennis, you owe me $1. If you so much as call out the score, you owe me $1.

Ping-Pong with the Fishes

Here's the picture!

Schwarzenegger Super Bowl Commercial

Here's a video preview (17 sec) of an upcoming Super Bowl ad that shows Arnold trying to make it as a table tennis player. (Look at those strokes! Look at that hair!)  

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August 28, 2013

Nathan and Cheng: Short Push Drill

Last night, as I was about to leave the club, I saw Nathan Hsu (17, about 2400) and Coach Cheng Yinghua doing a short push drill. It looked interesting, so I stopped to watch. I ended up watching for something like half an hour as they were really working on this. The basic drill was they'd push short until one of them either popped the ball up (flip it!) or accidentally or intentionally pushed long (loop it!). Most often they'd push short a few times, with Nathan moving in and out each time, and then Cheng would fake another short push and instead push long, Nathan would loop, and then they'd rally.

Three words describe this drill: Tiring, Finesse, and Tricky!

Tiring: There is no more tiring drill in table tennis than in and out drills. Top players are in such great shape they can endlessly and tirelessly move side to side. But those in-and-out drills are the absolute worse. These are drills where the coach drops one short, and the student has to step in and push or flip it, then step back, and be ready for either a deep ball or stepping in for another short ball. For some physiological reason, this is the most tiring drill you can do in table tennis - many top players have commented on this, and I know it from many years of personal experience.

Finesse: Dropping the ball short as you move in like this takes great control. Few players have the finesse for this. Watching Cheng take every ball right off the bounce and dropping it short and low was something to watch. Nathan wasn't far behind on this, though he was often caught by Cheng's...

Trickiness: It's not enough to just drop the ball short. At the higher levels they are tricky with this, and can change the depth and direction of their returns at the last second while seemingly doing the opposite. Cheng got Nathan over and over when he'd seemingly push aggressively. Nathan would get ready for the long push, but the ball would go short again. How did Cheng do this? By varying the grazing contact with the ball. Even with an aggressive pushing motion, if he barely grazed the ball it would go short and very heavy. If he grazed it slightly less, the ball would go deep. Both strokes looked the same, so you couldn't tell what he was doing until the ball left the racket. The problem was when Cheng would push short one way, and then suddenly do this "aggressive" motion that really looked like it was going deep, but it would also go short, catching Nathan and zillions of past opponents as they switched from ready to loop the deep push, to last-second lunges for the unexpectedly short ball.

But it wasn't just the depth. At the last second, as Cheng's racket moved toward the ball, it would become "obvious" which direction he was pushing, and Nathan (and zillions of past opponents) would start moving toward that spot. Then, with a last-second wrist move, he'd push the other way.

The great thing about this was watching Nathan make adjustments as he figured out how to deal with these pushes, and watching him experiment in doing these tricky pushes right back. It'll take a lot of practice to reach Cheng's level at this. (The irony is that at his peak, Cheng was such a good blocker that against USA players he'd often just push long over and over - changing the direction at the last second - and save the short pushes for when he played world-class players or when a game unexpectedly got close.)

None of this pushing stuff is really new to an experienced player or coach - I've been doing all this for decades. But knowing about it and doing it at a pretty high level isn't quite the same as watching it done at the highest level. (Want to learn more? I talk about this stuff in my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.)

Don't know who Cheng and Nathan are? Cheng was a member of the Chinese National team for eleven years (1977-87), and won Men's Singles at the U.S. Open twice ('85, '93), and - after becoming eligible at age 38 after retiring to become a coach in the U.S. - Men's Singles at the USA National four times ('96, '97, '99, and '04 at age 46). He had a rating over 2800 for many years. Nathan spent most of the last year rated just under 2400, and was 2397 before a few bad tournaments brought his rating down. But after winning Under 2400 at the MDTTC Open this past weekend he's back to 2400 level and is ready to move beyond that.

North American Championships

The North American Championships are done - congrats to the many winners: Eugene Wang, Ariel Hsing (thrice!), Hongtao Chen, Allen Wang, Tina Lin, USA Men, Canada Women, USA Junior Boys, and USA Junior Girls! Here's the home page with results, articles, and video, and here's the ITTF page with lots of articles.

Tribute to Karakasevic

Here's a video tribute (8:22), to Serbia's Aleksandar Karakasevic, known for his great backhand looping and doubles play. He was #32 in the world in 2006, and as recently as 2012 was #40. He won Men's Singles at the U.S. Open three times - 2003, 2006, and 2007. He never won an ITTF Pro Tour event in Men's Singles (making the semifinals two times and the quarterfinals five times), but he won Men's Doubles three times and was runner-up twice. He made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the 2011 European Championships, where he was also Mixed Doubles Champion three times.

Great Rally at the Czech Open

Here's a great rally (35 sec) at the 2013 Czech Open between chopper/looper Masato Shino (JPN) and Pavel Sirucek (CZE). The rally includes a great net ball off the side return, chopping, and counterlooping.

Longest Table Tennis Rally

Two Wisconsin teenagers set a new record for longest table tennis rally - 8 hours 30 minutes and 6 seconds! Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation.

Ping Pong Portal Picture

Here's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. Sometimes, when you dig yourself a big hole in a match, you just have to climb or tiptoe your way back out of that hole. A green hoodie helps, except perhaps in Florida. (Sorry, Sunshine State!) Or maybe that's a portal to another dimension of time, space, and table tennis.

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December 14, 2012

Warm-up Partners

With the Nationals coming up, perhaps I should mention the importance of a good warm-up at the start of a tournament? Many players just show up and hope they find someone to hit with. I always tell my students to arrange in advance who they'll hit with and when. (At big tournaments in big arenas, add "where.") You want someone who's reliable, with solid, consistent shots. This is NOT the time to practice against weird styles and surfaces - sorry! (The time for that is regularly at your club, and before a match with someone like this, if you can get someone similar to warm up with. If there are two long-pips blockers at a tournament, for example, they both become in demand - by whoever is playing the other one.)

You want to get your game warmed up. The best way to do that is to use the same routine you warm up with at your club. What, you don't have a warm-up routine at your club? Better fix that! With experience, you'll know what you need to do to warm up all the shots you'll be using, as well as your feet, serves, and receive.

Now I'm going to tell you about "Black Sunday." (This is my Black Sunday; there are others.) One year at the Teams in Detroit (before it moved to Baltimore in 1998), I had what should have been the tournament of my life. I went in rated just over 2270. On Friday and Saturday I beat just about every one in sight. Playing in the "B" division (where the ratings ranged mostly from about 2200 to 2400), I had only one loss, to a 2500 player. I beat a whole bunch of players from 2250 to 2400, and I think three over 2400. I later calculated that if I had stopped playing after Saturday, I would have been over 2500, which would have been my highest rating ever.

I had arranged with my teammates to meet at the playing hall about an hour before play began. They were late. I sat around waiting for them as time ticked by, getting more and more ticked off myself. Finally, about twenty minutes before play was to begin, I began looking for someone else to warm up with - but couldn't find anyone good. I finally found a 1700 player with long pips (no sponge) to warm up with. He flipped his racket throughout the warm-up and swatted balls all over the table and off it, often with weird sidespins. Five minutes before play began, my teammates showed up, all smiles as I glowered at them.

After destroying everyone the first two days, I went 0-6 on Sunday. Worse, all six players were rated lower than me. Worse still, three of them were over 100 points lower than me. When the ratings came out, despite Black Sunday, I came out almost exactly even for the tournament.

Moral: Get a good and reliable warm-up partner.

2013 Cadet and Junior Team Selection

At long last, here they are! (They are linked from this page.) Unfortunately, I see four possible problems in them.

1) Have they forgotten about the Mini-Cadet Trials? The Selection Procedures only reference the Junior and Cadet Trials. [ADDENDUM: I've since learned that the procedures for the Mini-Cadet Trials are on the USA Nationals entry form. For some reason they differentiate them from the Junior and Cadet Trials.]

2) In 2-b it says that if a player is unable to finish all matches in the second stage, then all of his or her matches do not count. Do they realize what this means? A player could "clinch" his spot on the team, but then, in the last round, a player he beat (but who beat someone else) could decide not to play, canceling all his previous matches in one shot, and by doing so dramatically change the results of the Trials. In other words, in the last round, there will likely be at least one player who has the power to change who makes the team simply by choosing not to play.

This is why the standard (especially overseas) is that all matches count if you have played over half of them, and none count if you don't play a match before you have played half of them. To allow all of the matches to suddenly not count because someone chooses not to play in the last round is a disaster waiting to happen. (I won't even get into the blackmail/bribery possibilities here.)

3) They refer to players "unable to finish all matches." Which means a player can simply say he is able to finish all matches, but chooses not to. "Unable" and "unwilling" have different meanings.

4) I'd also recommend that they allow the referee to adjust the Second Stage schedule for geographical purposes. Otherwise there likely will be cases where a player who cannot make the team plays someone from his club (or even a relative) who cannot, and has incentive to dump or at least not try hard. In the past, they often required players from the same club, or who were related, to play early. With all the players from a few top training centers, this is likely to happen. (This is standard in China, and most Chinese coaches, and likely other coaches, would ask the player to dump for the benefit of his teammate. Let's not put them in that situation if it can be avoided.)

How to Return Ma Lin's Backspin Serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:18) on returning Ma Lin's heavy backspin serve, the ones that would bounce back into the net if given the chance.

Pongcast Episode 21

Here's the latest Pongcast (16:58). "In this episode: The 2012 ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals, plus the life and times of Marty Reisman, who just recently passed away; accompanied by music by Dave Brubeck, which seemed fitting. May they both RIP."

Crazy Like Table Tennis

Here's another highlights video (4:04)!

One-Point Knockout Event

This is kind of interesting - a one-point single elimination tournament! Here's the video (8:55). Pete May used to run something similar in his tournaments down south - 3-point games, which he called the "Parade of Champions." I copied that from him and have run a few of these "Parades." Perhaps I'll try the one-point version next time?

Spin Standard LA

Here's an article about the new Spin Standard LA club, with an interesting picture. I count 25 ping-pong balls, one Robert Redford, and one Paul Newman.

What Really Happens at Big Tournaments

What the heck is going on? L-R: USATT President Sheri Pittman, Chen Xinhua, Cheng Yinghua, at the USA Nationals or Open, circa late 1990s. (Photo by Mal Anderson.)

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September 4, 2012

Tip of the Week

Multiball Training.

Coaching New Players

This past weekend had three new kids in the Beginning Junior Class I teach, Sat 10:30AM-Noon and Sun 4:30-6:00 PM. (All three came for the Sunday session.) All three started out really well. One of them picked up the strokes so fast she was doing footwork drills by the end of the session - and she's just six and a half! I've taught the class since it started in April, and about eight of the new players have gone on to take private lessons, including one who is starting with me this Wednesday.

One issue I still struggle with after all these years is how soon to bring on new techniques. Is it better to spend the first few sessions focusing on just the forehand, or spend time equally on forehand and backhand? When to introduce pushing? How much focus on serves? In a class situation, I generally focus more on the forehand early on, introducing the backhand perhaps in the second half of the second session. I introduce serves generally on the third session. I postpone pushing until the player can stroke effectively from both sides while doing footwork.

When doing private coaching, where you have more time, in a typical one-hour session I introduce the forehand, backhand, and serving in the first session, but again focus on the forehand more early on. The reasoning behind focusing on the forehand first (in both classes and private coaching) is that it's best to get one side really ingrained before focusing on the other side, and you have to choose one side - so I go with the forehand first. This would have been a no-brainer a few decades ago, when the game was somewhat dominated by forehand players, but now the game is more evenly divided between forehand players, backhand players, and those who do both equally. Another reason to focus on the forehand first is that it leads to more mobile footwork than if you focus on the backhand, where players tend to stand in one position more. (One remedy - have them do side-to-side backhand footwork, which most players neglect to do, instead focusing only on forehand footwork.)

Hardbatters of the Past, Present, and Future, part 2

In my blog on Friday, Aug. 31, I addressed the questions of how good were the best hardbat players of the past, compared to modern hardbat and sponge players, and where I also wrote about Cheng Yinghua playing hardbat. I wrote more about this yesterday in response to questions on the about.com forum. Here's what I wrote, with a few changes so it won't seem out of context.

I remember watching a little bit of the hardbat doubles match where Cheng Yinghua played with Julian Waters [at a USA Nationals about ten years ago]. However, Cheng didn't really practice for that match, other than a short warm-up with Julian. As I mentioned in my blog, it was only after about half an hour of intense practice with me that a light bulb sort of went off in his head, and from there on he dominated. If Cheng at that moment had then played doubles with Julian, he would have dominated the match and you would have been duly impressed with his attacking and counterhitting.

He also can chop surprisingly well, since he chops to students regularly with various rackets. However, one of the things I learned long ago about hardbat is that chopping hardbat to hardbat is very different than chopping against a sponge looper, which is what Cheng is used to. This is why Derek May's chopping with a hardbat isn't as effective as Steve Berger's, even though Derek is a far better chopper in the sponge game. While Cheng's hardbat chopping would dominate most players, the best hardbatters wouldn't have a lot of trouble with it. When you chop hardbat to hardbat, you have to learn to dig into the ball more aggressively than with sponge or against a loop, and you have to do a lot of spin variation. If you don't, the better attackers will go right through you. This is why, for example, Marty Reisman once beat a 2000 sponge chopper 21-0, since the chopper was only getting balls back without doing anything to make Reisman miss.

In a hypothetical match with Miles, assuming Cheng (at his peak) practiced for many months, I don't know what would happen. I do know that both players would have to work very hard for the match. In any hitting/counter-hitting duel at less than smashing speeds, Cheng would dominate. So Miles would be chopping and pick-hitting - no big deal, since that's primarily his game. When Miles pick-hits at full speed, that's where Cheng would be at a disadvantage as it is very difficult to counter-hit or even block against a smash with a hardbat, while it is surprisingly easy, for the best hardbatters, to chop them back from off the table - and Cheng doesn't really have that in his arsenal at a comparable level.

But Miles would have his hands full because Cheng's not going to have much trouble reading his changing spins, and would be attacking pretty hard with few mistakes. (But he won't have a devastating point-ending loop.) At his peak (i.e. when he was much younger), Cheng could hit as hard as the best. Of course Miles can return nearly everything, and the varied spin will force mistakes. If he does enough stiff chops, Cheng will eventually push or drive one soft, and that's when Miles might go for the smash. There would be great rallies because both of these players are incredibly consistent at what they do - Cheng attacking aggressively, Miles chopping aggressively.

One unknown is how well Cheng would develop his drop shot against Miles' chopping. Cheng has great touch in dropping spinny serves short with sponge, and showed nice touch with a hardbat when I played him, but we don't know how well his sponge touch, after a few months of practice, would convert to hardbat touch and instincts at the level needed. On the other hand, I have a feeling Cheng would play a patient topspin game, mixing in hard, medium, and soft topspins while he looks for a shot to put away, and so wouldn't drop shot too much.

Regarding serves, it's not just the hidden serves that'll give Miles trouble as much as the semi-circular serves, where Cheng can use a fast motion and give varied spins that are difficult to read, something that Miles not only said nobody did in his day but to the end told me he didn't believe it was possible to do. (I had a long argument with him on this, pointing out that many 1800 players can do this, but he really didn't believe me.) However, I'm sure that Miles would have adjusted and would have been able to chop most of the serves back effectively, though the serves would wear him down a bit for a few points at least each game. (If he had to attack the serves, then he would have had far greater difficulty, but chopping allows you to take the ball as late as possible and just float it back.)

It's sort of funny to me that most people are either on one "side" or the other - they either think Miles would kill Cheng, or that Cheng would kill Miles. I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in between. Miles has the advantage that he was about the best of the hardbat players in his era. Cheng has the advantage that he systematically trained his attacking strokes, footwork, and reflexes eight hours/day from age five to about 25, and has modern serving techniques Miles never saw. As good as Miles was, I don't think he could compete with the best out of thousands of kids training full-time from age five with a hardbat with top practice partners and under the tutelage of professional coaches (teaching both hardbat and modern techniques, such as modern serves), but of course Cheng did that training with sponge, and so never developed the hardbat defensive game, though his sponge attack and counter-hitting does convert rather well to hardbat. Overall, we're talking one heck of a nice match, and I would love to see it. Anyone got a time machine?

I don't think most current world-class players could convert to hardbat and challenge the very best hardbatters of the past. Every one is different, and some are more adaptable to change than others. A player like Cheng, whose game is based on control, is better at adapting then, say, an all-out two-winged power looper. But any world-class player, with practice, is going to dominate with a hardbat against all but the best current hardbat players.

Liu Guoliang's Love Story

Here's an article about Liu Guoliang falling in love at age 16, and the problems that ensued since the Chinese team had strict rules about this type of thing. Liu's most romantic memory? "Walking in the rain." 

SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays

David Wetherill of Great Britain made #1 on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays with a diving shot off a crutch. Here's a link to the video of the match (42:49), which should take you straight to the where the shot takes place, just after 37:30.

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June 27, 2012

MDTTC Camp - Week Two, Day Two

Yesterday was Day Two of the second week of our summer camps. The focus was on the backhand. After the break I gave a talk on return of serve, and then the players practiced serve and receive.

There was a lot of interest in the fast serves I demonstrated. This has always been a strength of mine, but for some reason my fast serves yesterday seemed amped up a bit, and were going out like guided missiles. During break I told the story of the time I opened a match against 1986 U.S. National Champion Hank Teekaveerakit with three aces down the line, one of my proudest moments. He was a penhold forehand looper who tried to loop all deep serves with his forehand. My fast down-the-line serve always looks like it's going crosscourt, and so he got caught going the wrong way three times in a row. After the third, he looked at me, and said (and this was how he always pronounced my name), "Lally, Lally, nobody serves down the line three times in a row!" The rest of the game he received with his backhand, and he came back to win the game. In game two, he went back to trying to loop all my serves, and we had a great time playing sort of cat and mouse as I threw fast serves both down the line and crosscourt, and he tried (and mostly succeeded) in forehand looping them all. He won, and said it was a great practice session. 

Three Days until the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids

Are you shadow practicing your strokes?

PingSkills Videos

Here are three more PingSkills coaching videos:

Jim Butler on Scorekeepers

Here's an article by three-time U.S. Men's National Champion and two-time Olympian Jim Butler on scorekeepers.

Jeffrey Wins JOOLA Open in Newport News

Fellow MDTTC coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun won the JOOLA Open in Newport News this past weekend. Here's the article!

Topspin, the Documentary

Here's the latest on this video project, including a video (3:33).

Pings and Pongs

I'm putting all my books in ebook and POD (print on demand) formats so I can sell them directly on line. For "practice," I started with "Pings and Pongs," an anthology of my 30 best science fiction & fantasy stories, all previously sold stories to various markets. (It includes "Ping-Pong Ambition," a fantasy table tennis story, and a few other stories have table tennis references.) Since it has few pictures, it was relatively easy to do as a test. Here's the page - make sure to buy a few dozen copies! Later on all my other books will be sold in these formats: Table Tennis: Steps to Success; Table Tennis Tales & Techniques; Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis; Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook; and the upcoming Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide. (I'm creating the pages myself in both formats, but it's a slow process since we're also in the middle of the summer camps season at MDTTC.)

Exhibition Picture from 1990s

Here's a picture from an exhibition at the USA Nationals, I believe in the late 1990s, between Chen Xinhua (standing on table) and Cheng Yinghua (sitting on table), with USATT President Sheri Pittman also joining in. As Jim Butler points out above, with no scorekeeper we have no idea what's going on here . . . right?

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April 9, 2012

Tip of the Week

The 3-2-1 Placement Rule.

Seamless balls

As some of you may know, the ITTF is going to seamless balls. The first ones are out. Here's an analysis (5:44) by Australian star William Henzell - and it's not good. Some quotes:

  • "They sound broken."
  • "Bounce feels different and generally higher."
  • "The bounce will take some getting used to and the ball will be in a different position to what you're used to."
  • "We found there was less spin generally."
  • "The balls wobbled from side to side when spun."
  • "The new balls are definitely harder."
  • "The new balls feel heavier."
  • "After just a few minutes of play we had our first broken ball."
  • "We all hope this will improve."

Cheng gone, me busy

Cheng Yinghua is vacationing in China for three weeks (April 9-May 1). I'm subbing for a number of his students during this time (as are the other coaches), so I'll be rather busy and tired. But hey, I get paid for it!

MDTTC Open House and Spring Break Camp

The MDTTC Open House this past Saturday (10:30 AM - 4PM) was a big success. About 200 players showed up, including many new ones. Dozens of new kids showed up, most of them in the beginning junior class held at the start. Numerous prizes were given away in various raffles. The demos (featuring Nathan Hsu, Tong Tong Gong, Derek Nie, Crystal Wang, plus Cheng Yinghua in a multiball demo) and exhibitions (me versus Derek in a humorous one, Han Xiao versus Jeffrey Zeng Xun in a more serious one) went off really well. The 30-minute service seminar I ran was jammed with new faces. And the three-point tournament (46 players) went great, with George Nie ($30 gift certificate) defeating Adam Yao ($20) in the all-junior final, with Lixin Lang and Kyle Wang ($10 each) in the semifinals. Here are pictures taken by raffle winner (and Tong Tong's dad) Chaoying Gong. The pictures show the club after the recent renovation and expansion.

Our five-day Spring Break Camp ended on Friday, with over 40 players. This is the 21st consecutive year we've had a spring break camp, ever since we opened in 1992. (As noted last week, it was the 150th five-day camp I've run or co-run.) Friday morning was the final training session; that afternoon we had practice tournaments. For the beginners, I put chocolates on the table and fed multiball, and they kept whatever ones they knocked off. (I had a little fun at one point, demonstrating the art of blindfold multiball - when you've been feeding multiball for 30 years you can close your eyes and still do it pretty accurately.)

Interviews

Here are some interviews (8:55) taken of local junior stars (or past junior star in Barbara's case) George and Derek Nie, Barbara Wei, and Lilly Lin, taken at the Maryland Table Tennis Center and Club JOOLA. (The MDTTC interviews of George, Derek, and Barbara were taken before the recent expansion that doubled its size.)

Jim Butler vs. Peter Li

A number of people were rather shocked when Jim Butler, after a few months practice, was able to upset USA National Men's Champion and Finalist Peter Li and Han Xiao at the recent Cary Cup. Part of the reason was they were more used to spinny backhands, and Butler's flatter backhand gave them trouble, as did his serves. Here's the video of Jim Butler versus Peter Li (35:57).

Baltimore Orioles Ping-Pong

I received an email this weekend from a PR person from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It seems they are playing a lot of table tennis in the clubhouse, with shortstop JJ Hardy and former center field star and now trainer Brady Anderson the best. These two are interested in receiving coaching to improve. So they are hiring me to come to Oriole Park to coach them in the clubhouse, with coverage by MASN, the Orioles network! Wrote the PR guy of Hardy, "He seemed pretty serious about learning to play ping pong better." I'll post more info when the dates are finalized.

Tiger Woods on table tennis

Here's a quote from Table Tennis Nation from Tiger Woods:

Q: Is there any correlation between hand-eye coordination required in videogames and hand-eye coordination in golf?

Tiger: "Absolutely. I think that people don't realize this, but most golfers are really good at table tennis and pool. And I think it's just because of the fact that our sport is so hand-eye based, and guys just have a good feel with their hands. And those two sports, table tennis and pool, correlate to what we do in golf whether it's reflexes with table tennis or pool, which is like putting to us."

Easter Pong Bunny

Here's a cartoon of the Easter Bunnies playing ping-pong. And here's the Newgy Eastern Bunny. And here's a video of a real rabbit attacking a ping-pong paddle (1:43)!

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March 9, 2012

Shouldn't there be an age limit for backhand looping?

Yesterday I coached one of our 7-year-olds for an hour. That in itself is rare - most at that age do only 30 minutes at a time. But this one was a bit ahead of the curve for the average kid in that age bracket. He loops just about everything on both sides. He regularly backhand loops 5-6 in a row against a block. And he can fish and lob with heavy topspin, often forcing me to miss smashes not because I couldn't handle the spin, but because I was having difficulty believing he was putting that much spin on the ball.

This is how the game is changing. There was a time when few kids would learn to loop before they were 9 or 10, and that would only be against backspin. Looping against topspin wouldn't start until even later. Now, with sponges that practically loop the ball for you, and with more and more full-time training centers with full-time coaches popping up around the country, the level of play is going up dramatically, and players fall behind if they wait until they are 9 or 10 to learn to do what others are doing earlier.

Many of the top sub-10-year-olds still mostly hit in matches, but the better ones are looping more and more in practice, and it's just a matter of time before they incorporate this into matches. It's scary watching a 10-year-old flawlessly backhand looping off the bounce over and over in drills, and knowing you will have to face that in matches.

Hitting the backhand is almost passé at the higher levels. At the world-class level, a hitter very quickly is turned into a blocker by a looping opponent; even smashes are often looped back. Even to me, playing at only a 2200 level, it's not hard to play a hitter - you just take a half step back to give yourself time to react, and then just rally them down, using their own pace against them as you move them around or pin them on their weaker side (usually the backhand), and look for balls to loop back. Against someone who loops everything you can't effectively back up to give yourself time to react (unless you can counterloop), and so you are stuck at the table blocking - and then the pace becomes overwhelming since you have no time to react that close to the table. Add that these kids are now looping right off the bounce on the backhand, and with more and more power on the forehand, and it's a nightmare out there.

Unless, of course, you are the one doing the looping. When I play these up-and-coming kids, the key is to use serve and receive so I'm the one initiating the attack, forcing them to react. It allows you to at least get in a few good shots before facing the inevitable blitzkrieg.

Injury checklist

  • Forearm: I injured that on Sunday, Feb. 26. Since that time I've rested it by not looping or hitting any forehands very hard, and avoiding repetitive forehand shots. (This is not easy since I'm coaching several hours each day, but I've had most students drill into my backhand.) It's coming along fine, and I expect to be back to normal in another week or so. Hopefully. This weekend I'm going to play matches chopping with a hardbat, as I will be doing at the Cary Cup next weekend.
  • Hip: On Tuesday, a few hours after I finished coaching, I began feeling an almost burning pain in my left hip. Since that time I've been hobbling about. I'm hoping this will heal on its own, but we'll see. It doesn't affect my coaching much except I can't move to my wide forehand very well.
  • Back: After spending many months last year partly debilitated by back problems, it's pretty much okay after doing lots of stretching and weight training. However, due to hip injury, I stopped weight training a few days ago, and already there are hints of returning back problems.
  • Knees: I've had knee problems periodically over the years, though never really bad. When I do, I wear knee braces, which really help. After some problems last fall, the knees have been fine for a while. Yippee!
  • Brain: After way too many hours these past ten days working all day with Tim Boggan on the layouts and photos of History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, and coaching at night, the brain is toast.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

This is from Chapter 27 - with USA Team Member Mike Bush writing about fellow teammate Eric Boggan's match with future U.S. Hall of Fame Player (and now fellow coach at MDTTC) Cheng Yinghua  at the 1983 Hungarian Open, when Eric was ranked in the top 20 in the world. Here's the photo of Cheng (by Mal Anderson) that accompanies the article, also from the 1983 Hungarian Open.

Eric played Cheng Yinghua in the last-16 round. Cheng, a righty shakehand topspinner, beat Sweden’s Waldner in five games in the round of 64 [some early match-up that was!]. I remembered Cheng’s versatile game from the German Open three years ago where he’d been spinning every ball against Dvoracek in the final of the Team event. Late in the second game, however, Cheng had gotten severe hamstring cramps and in the third had stayed up to the table and blocked Dvoracek down, sometimes blocking literally more than 40 topspins to win the point.

Eric went into the match with the same strategy that he’d beaten Gergely with. It was amazing what took place. Cheng had no problems moving in or out (or laterally for that matter). He could spin powerfully and with control from both sides, defend, block and counter. Eric blocked and dropped, blocked and dropped, looped and killed. The points were very long but Cheng kept winning them. He just kept putting in one more shot or making one more return than Eric. Match to Cheng, 10, 9, 13.

"A Throwback Player, With a Wardrobe to Match"

That's the subheading of this article yesterday in the New York Times on Marty Reisman.

"Rising from the Slumber, the Sleeping Giant Awakes"

That's the title of this article from the ITTF on Kanak & Prachi Jha, and the rise of American Table Tennis.

Clipboard Table Tennis

This is the Official Clipboard Promotional Video (1:52), featuring Tahl Leibovitz and Al Papp (the lefty) at the start, with Berndt Mann officiating, Wendell Dillon the referee who (humorously) objects to the illegal (i.e. non-Legal sized) clipboards, and then Marty Reisman (in the hat) and Berndt Mann play.

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November 16, 2011

Short push and loop drill

Here's a simple drill that covers four basic skills in three shots. Your partner serves short backspin anywhere on the table. You push it back short anywhere - try and hide the direction and at the last second maneuver it somewhere on the table short. Your partner quick pushes to your backhand. You backhand loop (or drive) crosscourt. Your partner blocks crosscourt. You step around and try to end the point with your forehand. You've practiced your short push, your backhand loop, your step around backhand footwork (as well as other footwork for the other shots), and your forehand.

Variations: You can backhand loop anywhere, and then it's free play. Or instead of stepping around with a forehand, you can try to end the point with your backhand. Or backhand loop down the line, partner blocks or counterloops to your forehand, you loop/counterloop, and it's free play. Or any other variation you can think of that fits your game, or how you want to play.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion

Now it can be told! In January, the Maryland Table Tennis Center (my club) is doubling in size. The full-time club and training center has been open since 1991, and in the same location since 1997, with 5500 square feet and 12 tables. In January, the wall between us and the identical space next door goes down, and the club becomes a full-time 11,000 square foot facility, with 22-24 tables. Coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and myself will continue, plus new coaches will be brought in, probably some from China. Donn Olsen is also joining our coaching staff.

The entire playing area will have the red rubberized flooring that currently covers only half the club. The bathroom in the middle is moving to the side. (Finally!) We'll even have wireless Internet. Lots of new programs are planned - my hours will soon increase dramatically. I'll be in charge of promoting, setting up, and running numerous programs, including the after-school junior training program; a beginning class; intermediate and advanced training; and a monthly e-newsletter.

The Lefty Penhold Hardbat Coach with a Federer Forehand

After one of his 2250 junior students struggled with a lefty at a tournament this past weekend, Coach Cheng Yinghua switched hands during a training session last night at MDTTC and proceeded to dominate the rallies as a lefty! Much of this was from shock as the poor junior couldn't believe this was happening. (Neither could I.) But Cheng looked solid 2200 as a lefty. Add in the fact that he's a proven 2400+ as a penholder and dominates in hardbat when he chooses, and you start to wonder what he can't he do. Did I mention he also has a Federer-like forehand in tennis? I've played him. (But he serves underhand.) It turns out that while the Europeans goof off by lobbing, the Chinese goof off by playing opposite hand and opposite grip.

More seriously, Cheng was able to mimic the lefty's tricky forehand pendulum serve, and so the junior was able to practice against it - though with great difficulty at first. The fact that Cheng kept following up the serve with lefty forehand and backhand loops, giving even more practice against a lefty, was just icing.

Counterlooping Video

Here's a good instructional video on forehand counterlooping (1:48).

2011 Para Pan Am USA Results

Here they are - singles results so far. So far, Tahl Leibovitz won a gold in Class 9 (standing disabled); Pam Fontaine a Silver in Class 1-3 (wheelchair); and Andre Scott a Silver in Class 5 (wheelchair). Daryl Sterling, Jr. finished fourth in Class 7. Team events are next. Here's an article on the opening ceremonies that includes a lengthy quote from Sterling.

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 3 (4:10).

How Mean People Serve Aces

In just 20 seconds.

Non-Table Tennis - my story wins Story Quest Contest!

This morning I found out that my dystopian science fiction story "Rationalized" won the Story Quest Short Story Contest! It's about a future society where everyone has an operation on their brain at age 13 to remove all emotions, and the underground society that secretly avoids this operation, but must pretend to always be unemotional - and the lengths they must go to hide their secret when a terrible accident occurs. (Here's my science fiction page. Yes, I have a life outside table tennis!)

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October 5, 2011

Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill

Yesterday I watched Coach Cheng Yinghua do an interesting drill with John Hsu (2300 junior player). Cheng would serve from his backhand side a short backspin or no-spin to John's backhand. John would over-the-table backhand loop it (a very wristy shot) to Cheng's backhand. Cheng would already be standing there as part of the drill and would forehand counterloop off the bounce anywhere on the table. John had to counterloop, either forehand or backhand (over the table with his backhand). Cheng wouldn't play out the point; he'd already be grabbing the next ball to serve for the drill, which was surprisingly rapid-fire. It's a very physical and game-type drill, but only for the very fit. A version of this for those who wouldn't be able to counterloop all these shots would be to either block Cheng's counterloop, or to perhaps counterloop the forehand, block the backhand (which is what I probably would do). John, however, has a nice over-the-table backhand loop against short serves or loops, and it was scary watching him do these over and over.

The racket tip on the forehand

I was coaching a relatively new player yesterday. He had a very consistent backhand and an equally inconsistent forehand. It was obvious very quickly the reason why - on the backhand, he drove the racket through the ball, with the racket tip driving forward. On the forehand, he kept raising the racket tip as the racket approached the ball, with the tip probably at 80 degrees at contact (90 degrees would be straight up), a common mistake that seems to increase control at slow speeds, but makes precision impossible at higher speeds. (The habit often comes about from contacting the ball too close to the body, which makes it natural to bring the racket in closer, raising the racket tip in the process.) Against a backspin ball (especially with a pips-out or similar low-friction surface) you might drop the racket tip to drive upward against the backspin, but not with inverted against topspin, and in this case, the player was starting with the tip already partly up, and then going nearly vertical.

I had him imagine a rod coming out of the top of his arm and over his racket on the forehand, and to keep the arm down and the racket tip below the rod. I also had him focus on staying a little further from the ball on forehands to make him extend his arm more. Within minutes his forehand was nearly as consistent as his backhand, and at higher speeds. Soon he was driving the ball almost like a pro.

Twelve Drills

Here is 2009 USA Men's Singles Finalist Samson Dubina's latest article, on his twelve favorite drills.

Chinese sports training

I'm somewhat familiar with the Chinese training methods, and how they test and recruit kids at around age five for special sports schools. It has led to a lot of success in sports like table tennis, badminton, and gymnastics, and is a primary reason the Chinese beat the U.S. 51-36 in the gold medal count at the 2008 Olympics. (The U.S. won 110 medals in all to China's 100.)

The Chinese method didn't work initially in sports like basketball and soccer for a simple reason - they used Chinese coaches in sports where there were few Chinese coaches with the background and knowledge to develop world-class players in those sports. There was a major policy change a few years ago, and China began recruiting top international coaches from all over the world for their sports schools in sports like basketball and soccer. The reports I've heard is that they are getting pretty scary at the younger age groups, but it'll be a few more years before we see this at the international level.

In China, there are about 10,000 sports schools, where the kids may have only one hour of schooling and seven hours of sports training a day from age 5-12, and then are full-time athletes. When they grow up, they either become top athletes (a small percentage), coaches, or the government gives them an often menial job, or they go into the increasingly free market, if they find an opportunity, but this last is difficult since they are generally uneducated.

I expect that by the 2016 Olympics, China will dominate in most Olympic sports (they already are nearly doing this), and the U.S. and other countries (and in particular families of young athletes) will have to take a hard, serious look at whether it is worth taking kids mostly out of school at young ages to train full-time (i.e. more home schooling, where we are still at a disadvantage since U.S. law requires far more home schooling then can be done in one hour/day), since otherwise it might be very difficult to compete. Even in sports like basketball and soccer, where China does not yet appear highly competitive, we may be ambushed in a few years (if not in 2016, then in 2020) by Chinese kids who have trained essentially full-time (often together as a team) since age five.

Here's an article I co-wrote with Cheng Yinghua a few years ago, "The Secrets of Chinese Table Tennis, and What the Rest of the World Needs to Do to Catch Up." And see the video below of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng on the Ellen DeGeneres show!

Ellen DeGeneres and the glass ping-pong table

No mansion is complete without it! Here's an enlarged close-up of the table.

While we're at it, here are four pictures of DeGeneres playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4

And here's a video of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng and USA Team Member Barney J. Reed on the show(9:31).

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