Ellen DeGeneres

September 20, 2013

Walter Wintermute Visit

Coach and player Walter Wintermute from North Carolina visited MDTTC last night. He'd emailed in advance, saying he would be in town for a business trip, and wanted to observe our coaching. So he watched while I ran a one-hour session with five beginning junior players. Then he watched some of our top juniors in training (Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, others), and played a practice match with another local top junior (Josh Tran). Then we talked table tennis coaching for half an hour. He's been coaching more and more and wanted to see how we did it. So I went over the various techniques used for coaching juniors, as well as how we ran the sessions, the games we played at the end, etc.

Walter and I go way back. In early 1977, when I was 17 and had been playing about a year, I was rated 1480; he was rated just a few points lower and was two years younger. We played in three finals in a tournament in Virginia - I believe it was Under 1500, Under 1600, and Under 1700. He won two of them, alas. Later that year we would both shoot up in ratings to 1900. Two years later, in 1979, I would move to North Carolina for two years, where I would play Walter regularly on weekends and at the monthly tournaments.

The last two years his son, David, 15, has been coming to our camps. He has an unearthly resemblance to his dad from 35 or so years ago, so it's sort of nostalgic when I work with him. 

Looping Seniors

Sometimes a student surprises you. Yesterday I was coaching an older player, one of the few non-juniors I'm coaching . He had some major technique problems with his forehand, and we'd been working for a few weeks on fixing them. His backhand, however, was pretty good. His overall level was about 1200 or so. I decided it was time to start him on looping. I figured we'd start with the backhand loop against backspin and spend a few weeks on that before moving on to the forehand loop, where I figured we'd have some problems.

So I went over the backhand loop stroke with him, making sure he had the technique down before actually hitting anything. Then I began feeding him multiball to his backhand with backspin. And he picked it up immediately! I was pleasantly surprised, but not shocked as he did have a pretty good backhand. We worked on it for perhaps 8-10 minutes, and I told him he should make that a strength.

Then, with about 15 minutes left in the session, I asked if he wanted to focus on serves the rest of the way or start work on the forehand loop. He wanted to try looping. So, weeks ahead of schedule, I went over the forehand loop with him, again making sure he had the technique down before hitting anything. Then I began fed him multiball. The very first shot - wham, a perfect loop! Okay, not perfect; he tended to stroke from the shoulder, and hit inside-out. But it looked like one of Timo Boll's patented inside-out forehand loops! We worked on it for ten minutes, and he did the shot over and over, no problem. I was severely impressed. We're going to continue working on these shots so that he can serve and loop from both wings against any push return. And then - dare I say it? - looping out of the rally? Or even counterlooping???

Message from Saive

Here's a video interview (7:19) from Belgium superstar Jean-Michel Saive, former world #1. He talks about his beginning, coaches, the importance of talent, and family.

Ellen Degeneres Surprises Tour Group with Private Ping Pong Tour

Here's the story and video (4:59) from Table Tennis Nation.

Adam Hugh's Second Entry

Yesterday I linked to Adam Hugh's entry to the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. He has a second entry (1:17). He wrote of this one, "This is my 2nd submission. Actually it was the first one I recorded and was originally intended to be a test for the camera but I figured what the heck." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

Adam Bobrow's 40-Shot Dialog Rally

Here's the video (60 sec) as he lobs away. (Spoilers ahead!) The smasher (Sherwin Afshar) yells something like "Foo-aw!" over and over, and Adam does it right back. Then the dialog begins: "Die!" "No." "Die!" "Not yet." "Die!" "Why?" It all ends with - you guessed it - an edge ball.

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October 10, 2012

Coaching in the Wilderness and Run-ins with Animals

I do some coaching each week on the road, including a trip out into Virginia. They pay me double to do this, otherwise I wouldn't want to leave the safe confines of the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which is eight minutes from my house. The kid I'm coaching in Virginia is five years old, and like most kids his age has an attention span of roughly from now to now. So I find all sorts of interesting ways of keeping him interested during our one-hour sessions - mostly with targets on the table (giant rubber frogs, stacks of cups, etc.) or by setting up imaginary scenarios where he has to do something or the world will explode. This kid lives in a mansion in the middle of woods - a great place to grow up.

Yesterday after I drove down their front driveway (about two hundred yards) and pulled into the street out front, I found myself surrounded by six deer. I'd driven right into their midst and then stopped my car, and rather than run, they all just stared at me as if they were used to this. I stayed absolutely still, and after a minute they ignored me. Four more joined them, and now ten deer surrounded me. As if that weren't enough, I very large hawk sat perched on a telephone cable just over the street, looking down on us like the specter of death.

After about five minutes the deer all took off suddenly as another car came by. (Apparently my car wasn't as scary.) As I drove out, four more deer came out onto the road, blocking my path. They froze for a moment, and then they too took off. A minute later, as I drove home, I passed a large horse farm with dozens of grazing horses.

I've had other run-ins with wildlife in my years as a coach. Many years ago, while spending a summer coaching in Oklahoma, I woke up in the middle of the night with a searing pain, and discovered a scorpion perched on top of me that had just stung me. Numerous times I've had birds flying around in clubs and tournaments, including this segment from the Maryland Table Tennis Center (starring a very traumatized bird and Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Raghu Nadmichettu, Tong Tong Gong) just a few weeks ago. A kid once brought a box turtle to MDTTC and let it walk about the club all afternoon while he played. We've had numerous dogs visit the club, though all seemed well trained. One woman at one of our training camps brought her dog, which was so well trained it would sit quietly by the table as her owner trained, never interrupting anything until she gave the okay, I think by snapping her fingers or something. The kids had a blast with it as it would lie quietly as they covered it with ping-pong balls.

Here are lots of animals playing table tennis!

Exhibition and Teaching in Guam

Australian player and coach Alois Rosario puts on a show for the kids in Guam (2:05).

Great Point at World Cup

Here's a great point (1:09) from the 2012 Men's World Cup between Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan. The point took place with Samsonov leading 9-8 in the seventh, and gave him match point. Chuan would win the next two points, but Samsonov would win 12-10 in the seventh.

Ariel Hsing vs. Matthew Perry

USA Olympian Ariel Hsing was on The Ellen DeGeneres show yesterday (3:12). DeGeneres was playing actor Matthew Perry when she faked a back injury, and said someone else would have to play for her. Then she called in Ariel, who proceeded to clobber poor Perry, who was actually pretty good. DeGeneres had told Ariel not to hold back, and she didn't.

Three-Way Table Tennis

This looks like someone's homemade table, but they decided it needed three sides. And they are playing outdoors.

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April 4, 2012

Adventures in Babysitting and Coaching

Yesterday we finished Day Two of the MDTTC Spring Break Camp. Anyone who thinks coaching is just about coaching hasn't done much coaching - at least not with younger kids. I had most of the beginning kids in my group yesterday, average age around 8 or 9. I've learned to referee fights about cups and dominoes (yes, it's a table tennis camp), about setting up doubles teams ("I won't play doubles with a girl" says one, and another says, "My mom says I have to play with her!"), and how best to get them to aim for a target on the table (either use candy they win if they knock it off the table, or use a drink bottle and tell them it's "worm juice" that I have to drink if they hit it).

Oh, and their shots are getting better and better!!!

Beginning kids often hit the ball off the end over and over when learning new strokes. The cure? I tell them, "Put the next ball in the net." With clockwork efficiency, they inevitably hit the next shot perfectly on the table, to their utter surprise.

One kid really, Really, REALLY wanted to learn to serve with sidespin, but no matter how hard he tried, all he got was backspin. After many tears were shed, something clicked, and now he's serving with sidespin.

There are 34 players in the camp, all but two 15 or younger. The strongest players in the camp are Tong Tong Gong (age 14, rated 2334) and Nathan Hsu (15, rated 2317). Also in the camp are 11-year-old Derek Nie (2080) and 10-year-old Crystal Wang (on right, as Barbara Wei smacks in a forehand; Crystal's rated 2079, but was recently an even 2150 before she began focusing more on looping). Coaches are myself (need to work on the kid's grip), Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. (The pictures linked here are from the Coconut Cup tournament held this past Saturday - see "MDTTC Open House and Pictures" segment below.)

Fourteen-year-old Karl Montgomery (rated 1963) took me and my clipboard down on Monday, 11-6. Yesterday we went at it again twice, and this time I won 11-5, 11-9. He's tough - he can loop both hard and spinny over and over, moves me in and out with hard and soft loops and drop shots, mixes in backhand loops, and ends the point to my middle.

There are few things funnier than yelling out "Emily!" and watching the three inseparable girls with the same name, all about age nine, look up at the same time. We do this at least once every twenty minutes.

Chinese food (big portions) is delivered for lunch as part of the camp for $6. I had Chicken with Garlic Sauce. It was great! Only - friends don't let friends over age 20 eat an entire dish of Chinese food, as I lectured some of our players as I wiped the gravy off my face after eating it all. If I keep doing this all week I'm going to gain some weight.

MDTTC Open House and Coconut Cup Pictures

It's just three days until the MDTTC Open House! See you there this Saturday for demonstrations, exhibitions, a serving seminar, junior program, games, raffles, refreshments, and open play. Anyone who is anybody will be there; so should you. (MDTTC is in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA.) Junior players should come for the 10:30AM-Noon junior training session. Adults should be there by noon, when the demonstrations and exhibitions begin. (Don't be late!)

Here are pictures taken at the recently renovated MDTTC this past Saturday during the Coconut Cup tournament by James Mu. I'm pictured in a few of them doing a group junior session on the back tables. Here's one of me and Jeffrey Zeng Xun working with a new kid. Even 2011 U.S. Men's Singles Finalist Han Xiao got in on the action (on right, playing doubles with Steve Hochman), as did the Over 50 Women's Champion Charlene Liu.

Reverse Penhold Backhands

After nearly a decade of playing against it semi-regularly, I still have trouble playing reverse penholders. I've played for 36 years now, and those first 26 pretty much ingrained my play against shakehand and "conventional" penhold backhands. I put conventional in quotes because what was once conventional is now unconventional as the new generation of penholders nearly all play with reverse penhold backhands. But when I play against it, something in my bring freezes up and I end up doing a lot of lobbing and fishing against these players. When I'm playing well I can sort of stick my racket out there and make solid counter-hits - I'm not hopeless against it - but I doubt I'll ever have the comfort level against this style backhand that I do against others. Here's world #3 Wang Hao's reverse penhold backhand in slow motion (2:16).

This segment was brought on by a practice match with a 12-year-old 1200-level junior who had a reverse penhold backhand, and while I won the match easily, I struggled to stay at the table with him in backhand exchanges. On a related note, while I know the basics of the shot, at some point I need to really learn the subtleties - probably by experimenting with it myself, as well as examining the grips and strokes of those who do it well.

World Team Championships Final

Here's a video (9:49) showing the men's final between China and Germany from a spectator's view (featuring the Zhang Jike-Timo Boll match), with a focus on the huge packed stadium (it's like an NBA basketball game) and all the pomp and ceremony of the event. When the Zhang-Boll match begins, the zoom lens puts you right in the action. (And here are some great photos taken during the Final.)

Justin Bieber vs. Ellen DeGeneres

Here's a picture and story about the two playing table tennis from Table Tennis Nation.

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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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