Random Drills

May 27, 2014

Tip of the Week

Random Drills.


If you work with top players, one of the things that quickly jumps out at you is that they are nearly all perfectionists. They developed their nearly perfect techniques because they weren't satisfied with anything less than perfection - and so they worked at it, year after year after year, until they got as close to it as it was humanly possible.

If you want to reach a decent level, you too should be a perfectionist when you practice. This doesn't mean everything has to be perfect; it means as close to perfect as can reasonably be done. The operative word here is "reasonably." If your goal is to be world champion, then your goal is true perfection in all your shots because if you aim for absolute perfection, you'll get a lot closer to it than if you aim lower. But for most people who are not striving to be world champion, "reasonably" is a flexible term. For example, most players do not have the foot speed to cover as much of the table with their forehands as many of the top world-class players. Trying to do so is an exercise in futility. So instead of trying to play a "perfect" game like Zhang Jike or Ma Long, you might settle for something more within your abilities - and yet you might still strive to have their stroking techniques.

Even the stroking techniques are subject to the "reasonably" guideline. For example, if you are primarily a blocker/hitter and have played that way for many years, you might find looping in a fast rally awkward to learn. So you might only want to loop against backspin - and if so, you might not want to copy the great counterlooping techniques of the top players, but instead develop a good old-fashioned loop against backspin only. (Which sometimes means a more concave up stroke, i.e. the path of the racket curves upward.) Or you could spend a lot of time developing that loop in a rally, if you so choose. It all depends on your physical abilities and how much time you can "reasonably" put toward this training.

It also sometimes comes down to whether you want to develop a technique for the sake of learning that technique, or whether you are focused strictly on winning. Many players want to play like the world-class players, style-wise, even if they might be better playing some other way. There's nothing wrong with that. Others are more focused on winning, and there's nothing wrong with that either - but here the key is the timetable, i.e. how long are you willing to focus on perfecting your game now so you can win later.

I started out as a shakehand inverted all-out forehand hitter my first few years. (I was a late starter, starting at age 16.) Looping was difficult for me at first, but I decided I wanted to play like the top players, and so I spent an inordinate amount of time practicing looping. Eventually I reached the point that I could play both looping or hitting, which became valuable tactically. It also made me a much better coach since I went through the same process as most up-and-coming players do as they learn to loop - only it's more in my memory as I went through this when I was around 19 or so. I've always thought that was an advantage I have in my coaching as I'm teaching things I learned around that age while other top coaches are teaching stuff they learned when they were perhaps eight years old, and so I have a better memory of the process.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Cioroslan (formerly Pittman) is doing a 100-day countdown daily article through the end of ITTF President Adham Sharara's tenure as president of the ITTF. As she explains it, "Over this 100-day period, I will share a series that features the past, present and future of the ITTF, with a particular emphasis on news and developments during the Sharara era." Here are the first three.

Winning Deuce Games

Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Ariel Hsing Joins JinHua Bank Team for the 2014 China Super League

Here's the story.

The Expert in a Year Challenge is Heading to Denmark

Here's the article, and info on the camp in Denmark.

Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better Than This!

Here's the video (52 sec) of this great point in the fifth game between Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Japan's Jun Mizutani in the Team Semifinals at the recent World Championships in Tokyo. Mizutani would go on to win the match, 11-8 in the fifth, but Germany would win the Team match 3-1 to advance to the final against China.

Ping Pong the Animation

There are now seven episodes in this table tennis cartoon. Here's where you can see all seven.

X-Men Table Tennis

There's a scene about midway into the movie where we meet the super-fast Quicksilver. How did they introduce us to him and his speed? By having him play table tennis by himself! Here's an animated gif of him playing as Hank/Beast, a young Charles Xavier (in background) and Wolverine look on.

Non-Table Tennis - Baltimore Science Fiction Convention

I spent Saturday at Balticon, where I was a panelist in three different one-hour panels. Here's a picture of me with my fellow panelists in one of them, with my two science fiction/fantasy books on display. You can't tell from this angle but there's a sizeable audience there. This panel was on "Favorite Science Fiction Authors." My other two panels were "Five Books for the Last Town on Earth" and "Titles Looking for Stories." (This latter involved audience members choosing titles, and each panelist coming up with a story synopsis on the spot.) (Here's my science fiction page.

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February 6, 2014

Backhand Games and Random Drills

It seems that recently half my students are challenging me in backhand-to-backhand games. These are games where we put boxes on each side of the table to block off the forehand side of the table, and play a strictly backhand-to-backhand game. If a shot doesn't go to the backhand, or if a player hits a forehand, he loses the point. You'd think I'd dominate this type of game since I can hit a million backhands in a row, but not really. The players quickly learn to match my consistency, while throwing speed, quickness, placement, and variation at me. I've struggled to win games (and sometimes lost) to 12-year-olds with ratings about 700 points lower than mine, as well as to adult players.

What does this mean? It means that, when isolated, they are developing very good backhands. They are learning to do all of the things mentioned above - consistency, speed, quickness, placement, and variation. (Yes, even with only half a table you can move the ball around.) There are times where I'm just pounding the ball with my backhand, and can't get through their steadiness. There are other times where I'm just keeping the ball going, and struggling to find ways to win a point since they aren't missing either, and they are pressing me with all of the attributes mentioned here. (As I regularly remind them, if they find they are pressing because I'm not missing, remember it works both ways - keep coming at me with the same consistency, and I'm the one who'll be pressing because they aren't missing.)

As good as this is, it also exposes one of the "secrets" of table tennis: In a real game, you don't know where the ball is going. In a real game, we wouldn't be going backhand-to-backhand. If we're smart players, we'd both be looking for chance to move the ball around, attacking the middle and wide corners. Without the certainty that the ball's coming back to our backhand side the backhand isn't nearly as strong. It's the ability to react to these random balls all over the table that make up much of the difference in rallying skills between 1500 and 2200.

But the foundation is there. Now I'm doing lots of random drills with them (as they know!), and that will soon pay off just as all the stroking work is now paying off. The most basic one is they keep the ball to my backhand while I put the ball randomly to their forehand and backhand. When they are comfortable against that, I up the stakes and put the ball randomly anywhere on the table, including their middle and wide angles. We also do a lot of random multiball drills. (Did I mention that they are also developing terrorizing forehands?)

New Plastic Balls Approved by the ITTF

Here's the ITTF article.

USATT Reports

Here's a listing of USATT Committee reports, with links to each. I just browsed through most of them. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

Piing of Power - Michael Maze

Here's the video (1:35) that features the lefty Danish star. (I'm not sure why there are two i's.) While currently ranked #28 in the world after injuries to his knees in 2010 (losing nearly a year) and then undergoing hip surgery in December 2012, he was as high as #8 in 2010, and made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the World Championships in 2005, and the quarterfinals in 2009. He was the 2009 European Men's Singles Champion, and the 2004 European Top-12 Champion. He has strong serves and a strong forehand, but is mostly known as probably the best lobber in the world. Maze recently had an "amazing" training session with USA's top cadet and junior, Kanak Jha - here's the short article from USATT, and here's the feature article on Maze, his comeback, and his session with Kanak.

Xu Xin Received Advice from Wang Liqin

Here's the article, with links to several videos. Said Wang, "In the Chinese Team, your brilliant moments are not usually in the good times but in the most difficult times. As long as you can rebound from those difficult moments, then is already indicates that your potential is very big."

Ma Long vs. Yan An

Here's a nice match (3:03, with time between points taken out) between these two Chinese stars at the recent Chinese Trials. (Ma Long in the red shirt.) You can learn a lot by watching how they attack from both wings, but even more by watching their receive. Here's where you can find similar videos of many (or all?) of the matches at the Chinese Trials.

Cerebral Palsy Can't Smash Table Tennis Talent

Here's the feature article on Paralympic star Mike Brown.

Congress is Playing Professional Tournament-Level Ping-Pong With This Nation's Future

Here's the article - and if it's from The Onion, you know it's true!

Ping-Pong Masters

Here's a hilarious video (2:26) that features two (or more?) players in an intense table tennis battle! Lots of special effects, including player cloning.

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October 17, 2013

Random Drills

One of the best ways to improve is through multiball training, and one of the best drills you can do there (besides an intense stroke workout) are random drills. When you play a match, you don't know where your opponent is going to put the ball, so you have to be ready to cover the whole table. When you do simple rote drills like forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, or side-to-side footwork, you get practice, but you are not getting the practice needed to prepare you for the randomness of actual match play. For that you need to do random drills.

The problem with random drills is that you can't really do them very well live (i.e. with a practice partner) until both players are relatively advanced. And so players avoid doing them until they are somewhat proficient - and then they practically have to start from scratch doing random drills that they should have been doing early on. Once you can hit a decent forehand or backhand you should be doing some sort of random drills as well. Few do so.

So get a coach, or a practice partner you can take turns with, and do random multiball drills. At first have them feed the ball randomly to two spots - middle forehand and middle backhand. Make sure your first move is the right one; you have more time than you think, so don't rush. When you are comfortable at doing this at rally speeds, then go random the whole table. Learn to cover all five spots - wide forehand, middle forehand, middle, middle backhand, and wide backhand.

Let me emphasize - the key is that the first move must be the right move. No moving to the forehand and then changing when you see the ball going to the backhand, or vice versa.

Here's a short video (26 seconds) of Soo Yeon Lee doing random multiball. She's hitting; depending on your level and playing style, you can do this hitting or looping.

RGIII Response Video

The RGIII Response Video has gone semi-viral, with over 1000 views in two days. Last night I sent a press release out to all the local media, hoping they will pick up on the story. I also posted it on three Redskins football forums. Last night it was featured in the Dallas Morning News, and it's also featured at Table Tennis Nation, on the USATT web page, and the USOC web page. Let me know if there are other places featuring it. Keep reposting - let's make this go viral!!!

RGIII vs. the MDTTC Kids

Here's Berndt Mann's version of what would happen if RGIII were to actually take on the MDTTC juniors in table tennis, as posted in the about.com forum:

I can just imagine the matches between RGIII and your talented juniors.

First up is Crystal vs. RGIII.  RGIII lines up in the shotgun formation, some five yards behind the table.  She serves a hard long side-top to RGIII, who snatches the ball in his right hand, then rifles it 75 yards down the MDTTC to a friend, who makes a spectacular one-handed catch and slams the ball down on the Gerflex, breaking it.

"You can't do that", says the ref.  RGIII doesn't seem to notice.  On Crystal's second serve, RGIII deftly catches the ball, holds it snug against his chest, doesn't see anybody open, and does an end around the table, Nathan, Derek, and Roy trying vainly to catch up to him.  Touchdown, or it would be if this weren't table tennis.

This time the ref is miffed.  He issues RGIII a yellow card.  RGIII sneers a true jock sneer and proceeds to tear up the card.  His buddies cheer.  But he's down 2-0 and playing football when he should be trying to play table tennis and he loses every match and ends up with a rating of -256.  So much for Olympic aspirations.  

But RGIII is a good sport about it all.  He offers to take Crystal, Nathan, Derek, and Roy out to a nearby pizza parlor in his limousine.  Gracious in victory, they accept his offer in the spirit in which it was made.

Never Doubt a Man and His Paddle

Here's a video (2:02) that profiles (mostly without words) a player at Spin Standard.

Ten Cool and Unusual Table Tennis Table Designs

Here's the article and pictures.

25 Best Points of 2012

Here they are (13:14).

Chen Weixing Secret Training

Here's the video (1:27) - it's Karate Kid meets the Food Network meets Table Tennis!

Non-Table Tennis - Publisher's Author's Page

I'm now listed in the author's page at Class Act Books, which is publishing my novel on Nov. 15 ("The Giant Face in the Sky").

Non-Table Tennis - My Science Fiction & Fantasy Page

I've recently redone my SF & Fantasy page to include Wordpress, so I could blog there a couple times a week. However, I've run into some problems with this. For one thing, I can't find a way to put in pictures other than the thin one in the header. I'd like to have a permanent picture of the cover of my upcoming book somewhere near the top. Anyone experienced with this have any idea what I'm supposed to do? I've tried about a zillion "themes" but none seem to allow this.

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November 9, 2012

Random Drills

Recently I've been introducing a lot of our new juniors to random drills. Until you have the fundamentals down, it's important to focus on rote drills, where you do the same thing over and Over and OVER again until you can do them in your sleep - forehands, backhands, loops, blocks, pushes, etc. But once you have the stroke down pretty well, you have to be able to do them in match situations, where your opponent doesn't put the ball to the same place over and over - instead, you have to react to the shot. That's where random drills come in.

There are two basic types of random drills. The more basic one is where you have a choice between two spots. For example, the coach or practice partner (often using multiball) puts the ball either to the forehand or backhand, and you have to react to the shot with either your forehand or backhand. The key is that you don't anticipate; just react until this becomes second nature. Your first move should be the right move; you don't want to start to your forehand side and then have to recover to hit a backhand, or vice versa. Make sure to move to each ball (don't reach), and focus on balance - no leaning.

The other way is where the ball goes more randomly anywhere on the table or within a restricted area. For example, the coach or practice partner might put the ball randomly to the forehand side, and you have to move about driving these balls back with your forehand, moving to each one. Or, or in the ultimate random drill, the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and you drive the ball back.

If you just do rote drills where you know where the ball is going, you are not matching what you will face in a game. So put some randomness into your drills, along with rote drills to hone your strokes. What you develop with random drills is called neuromuscular adaptation, where your brain learns to react properly and quickly to any shot. Not only is this the key to high-level play, but it's fun to say! (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

MDTTC Junior Team, Ratings, and Rankings

I thought I'd give a shout-out today to the juniors at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (Some also play at other local clubs.) They're a great bunch of kids whose sole goal is to beat me, um, I mean to win Olympic Gold Medals. Here's a listing of those over 1600 with some of their ranking/best title(s).




Best Ranking or Titles


Wang Qing Liang


#1 Under 18 in the U.S., U.S. Open Men's Singles Semifinalist


Chen Bo Wen


#1 Under 15 in the U.S., #3 Under 18


Tong Tong Gong


Member of USA National Cadet Team (#3 on team)


Nathan Hsu


2011 Junior Olympic Under 16 Boys' Singles Gold Medalist, 2012 Southern Open Doubles Champion


Anthony Qu


#5 Under 13 Boys in the U.S.


Roy Ke


#12 Under 14 Boys in the U.S.


Derek Nie


U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Singles Champion


Crystal Wang


#1 Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13 Girls in the U.S. (was 2166 before inadvertently playing two tournaments with a fractured wrist!!!), member of USA Cadet Girls' Team


George Nie


2012 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys Doubles Silver Medalist


Michael Ding




Karl Montgomery




Lily Lin


#20 Under 16 Girls in the U.S.


Jackson Liang


2012 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys Doubles Silver Medalist


Amy Lu


#3 Under 12 Girls in the U.S., 2012 Junior Olympics Under 12 Girls' Singles Gold Medalist


Lisa Cui


#14 Under 14 Girls in the U.S.

1769 Michael Li 11 #21 Under 12 Boys in the U.S.


Princess Ke


#8 Under 13 Girls in the U.S. (was 1877 a few months ago, #3 in Under 12 Girls)


Jason Wei




Adam Yao


#10 Under 11 Boys in the U.S.


Wesley Duan


2012 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Team Bronze Medalist


Kaylee Zou




Tony Li



SPiN for the Cause Charity

Here's the Facebook page for "Susan Sarandon presents: SPiN FOR THE CAUSE - Hurricane Sandy Relief Fundraiser," which is being held tonight at Spin NY.

TopSpin Charity

Here's an article in the Huffington Post that features TopSpin, the table tennis charity that has raised $750,000 for educational non-profits.

2013 USA Team Trials Bids

Want to run the 2013 USA Team Trials, Feb. 7-10, 2013? The deadline to bid is Nov. 15. Here's bidding info.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar

Here are two articles on the ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar held in Colorado Springs, Oct. 30 - Nov. 6. Here's the USATT article by Richard McAfee, and the ITTF article by Ian Marshall. Alas, I wasn't able to make the seminar - too busy coaching and writing in Maryland.

People's Ping Pong Party

Here's the Facebook page of this exhibition of table tennis and art (or something like that), starting Nov. 10 (tomorrow). One of the two running this is Rocky Wang, alias "LiL Big Wong," a 2300 (formerly 2400) player originally from Maryland (a junior star from the 1980s) but now living in New York. I'm having a hard time describing this, so I'll just cut & paste their first two paragraphs.

Present Company is delighted to announce the inauguration of the People’s Ping Pong Party (PPPP) and introduce their two leaders Madame WuWeiWoo and LiL Big Wong. WuWeiWoo, an unbeknownst time traveller, was born in Cuba from a union between a Buffalo Soldier and a young Martial Artist during the Spanish American War. LiL Big Wong’s lineage comes from an ex-Black Panther mother and a Chinese Ping Pong champion, but given his strict Chinese upbringing, he has no clue that he’s actually Black.

A collaboration between artists iona rozeal brown (WuWeiWoo) and Rocky Wang (LiL Big Wong), PPPP serves as an artistic and proto-political paradigm based on the Venn intersections of the radical politics of the Black Panther Party, Ping Pong Diplomacy of the 1970’s, the ethnic stereotypes of not only Chinese and African Americans, but a host of other offbeat characters and the B-movie antics of Kung Fu Saturday Matinee.

Wide-eyed with Happiness or Disbelief

This is what most people looked like after the presidential election. The only difference was whether the mouth was concave up or down.


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October 6, 2011

Random drills

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

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

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

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

Beating higher-rated players in practice and tournaments

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

Best thing I did to make coaching easy

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

The Coca-Cola Move to the Beat 2012 Olympic Campaign

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

2009 USATT Strategic Meeting (and Task Force Minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cat without a Bat in a Tub with a Ball

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


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