Persson

June 8, 2012

Too tight when you play?

I'm one of the roughly way-too-many-to-count players who often struggle to get loose before playing, whether in matches or practice. But I have found a solution that works most of the time, and works for many players I coach.

When you start a session (practice or matches), have fun at the start. Let yourself go. If it's practice, start out with something you do really well (preferably something physical, like looping or smashing), and have fun doing it. If it's a match, take it lightly and have fun. The goal in both cases is to relax and loosen up. Once you feel loose - and this shouldn't take too long - then take deep breath, clear your mind, and focus.

When I say focus, this doesn't mean to get super-serious. You can have a clear mind and still smile on the inside. The best players may often look impassive on the outside, but on the inside they are having the time of their life. So lighten up at the start of your sessions, loosen up, then focus, and you may surprise yourself by how well you play.

At the Easterns last weekend, the kid I was coaching, Derek Nie, started the tournament off very nervous, and played horribly in his first match. Afterwards I took him to a back table where we did some counterlooping for a while, joked about, and then played challenge matches where we trash talked. ("I cannot be beaten!" I'd say whenever I win a point," which of course just spurred him on.) In his matches shortly afterwards, he played the best of his life. (See next item.)

Eastern Open Recap

Here's a nice video recap of the Eastern Open last weekend at Rutgers University (2:50). Alas, they somehow missed me, but at 2:25 you can see Derek Nie, the kid I was coaching, who won Under 13, beat players rated 2258 and 2142, and was up double match point on a 2233 player. Not bad for a 60-pounder! (We already have a list of things he needs to work on before the U.S. Open in a few weeks, and he's been training much of this week on them. Sorry, can't report on them here, there are rival coaches reading! Perhaps after the Open. But last night he had a great session with Jeffrey Xeng Xun, one of our 2600-rated coaches, and he seemed to be playing like he had at the Easterns.)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's another nice exhibition between Sweden greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson (1:53), with five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller doing the commentary. (On Monday I'd linked to another exhibition they'd done.)

Why does Waldner come up so often when showing spectacular shots and exhibitions? Actually, today has three items pertaining to Sweden, so we'll belatedly declare today National Day of  Sweden, an national holiday in Sweden that was actual celebrated two days ago, on June 6.)

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a five-minute compilation of spectacular points that feature sidespin, mostly sidespin looping. Perhaps the best one is the one (shown in slow motion) of Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner that starts right at the one minute mark.

Sweden #1 Denied Olympic Spot?

Matilda Ekholm of Sweden qualified for the Olympics, but the Swedish Olympic Association apparently didn't believe she was good enough or competitive to win an Olympic medal, and so denied her a spot on the Olympic team. She is ranked 51 in the world, the highest ranked Swedish woman. (The next best is Daniela Moskovits, #399 in the world.) For comparison, on the men's side, Sweden is sending, in singles, Par Gerell (world #80) and Jorgen Persson (#88, though of course World Men's Singles Champion in 1991, 21 years ago), and a men's team of Persson, Gerell, and Jens Lundqvist (#48). (Sweden didn't qualify for an Olympic Women's Team.)

There's been a huge outcry about this, culminating in these two letters yesterday to the Swedish Olympic Committee by ITTF President Adham Sharara and Vladimir Samsonov, chair of the ITTF Athlete's Commission (and former world #2 and current #14). There's a Facebook page devoted to her cause. And here's a discussion of the situation on the about.com table tennis forum.

Rapper Yelawolf Plays Table Tennis

Here's a three-minute video interview of rapper Yelawolf, which goes back and forth between him performing and the interview, which seems to take place as he's playing table tennis. You can see him actually playing at 1:09 and 2:20, but at other times he seems to be playing as he talks, though they only show his head (you can hear the ball bouncing back and forth in the background).

Fun with Robots

Here's 33 seconds of someone having fun with a robot at full speed, set to music. Reminded me of a sequence from Forrest Gump, but this wasn't computer generated.

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June 4, 2012

Tip of the Week

Serving Short with Spin.

Eastern Open

I was at the Eastern Open this past weekend, coaching 11-year-old Derek Nie. Derek made the final of 11 and Under at the last USA Nationals, and came in with a rating of 2127. (He's very small for his age, only about 60 pounds, and is almost for certain the best player in the U.S., pound for pound.) He played very well this tournament. But he also had a very bad experience with an opponent who was the ultimate in bad sportsmanship. Balancing that was a revelation Derek had about the mental game. Here's a synopsis.

On Saturday morning he started off at 9AM in Under 2500 against Wesley Fan, rated 2163. He didn't play well this match, and Wesley played much better than his rating, and won three straight easily. (Wesley would go on to win both Under 2250 and Under 2375.) Afterwards I took Derek aside and we practiced for an hour, the last half playing practice games. Since I know what "buttons" to push when I play him, I won all five games, but they were closer and closer toward the end. The first three we had a little fun, which helped him relax, then I told him to focus the last two games, and though I won, that's when he started playing well. I could see it, and couldn't wait for his next match. We finished the session with him practicing his serves for ten minutes.

In the Open Preliminary RR, starting at 10:30 AM, he started out against Scott Lurty, rated 2268. He'd played Scott in tournaments twice in the last month and lost both badly. (He hadn't had a coach in those matches.)  I knew Scott's game pretty well, and went over the important points with Derek before the match began. He started out having trouble with Scott's serves, and was down 3-9. That's when he figured them out, and Scott got a bit soft, and next thing you know Derek had come back to win the first game at deuce! Derek was really playing well - as someone watching said, "His forehand is like a machine - he never misses!" And his backhand was almost as good, both looping and smashing.) Derek won that match three straight, 10,7,11. (Scott would go on to win Under 22 and make the final of Under 2375.) Scott said afterwards that he thought he would have won if I hadn't been coaching Derek. (He and Derek are good friends, and bantered back and forth the rest of the tournament.)

In his next match Derek played Tina Lin, rated 2233, who is playing great. This may have been the match of the tournament. By now many players were gathering around to watch this tiny dynamo who was running around the court looping and smashing from both wings, and with good serves as well. The match was a doozy. Derek won the first 12-10, Tina the second 13-11 (I think Derek had a game point), Derek won the third 11-9. Derek then went up double-match point at 8-10 in the fourth, with Tina serving. He missed a backhand smash, 9-10. They then had the point of the match. Derek started the point on the attack, looping a series of forehands. Tina blocked them back, and finally smashed. Derek fell back and fished several back, then looped one back. Tina blocked, and was again on the attack, and finally smashed a winner to deuce it. She won the game in deuce. In the fifth, Derek served at 9-all, and both times he serve and looped, but missed a backhand smash and then a loop, and Tina pulled it out, -10, 11,-9,11,9. 

Derek next played Nhu Phong Pham, rated 2142. Pham had gone five with Tina (also coming back from down 0-2 to force the fifth) and gotten a game from Scott. Derek won the first two, but Pham won the next two before Derek won the fifth and the match, 8,5,-7,-10,6.

In the last match of the, Scott played Tina. If Tina wins, she advances at 3-0. If Scott wins, then he, Tina, and Derek are tied at 2-1, and Derek advances for sure (since he beat Scott 3-0 and went five with Tina). Even though he knew he couldn't advance, Scott fought hard for Derek and had Tina match point before losing at -8,10,13,-9,13! So Tina advanced by coming back from down double match point against Derek, down match point against Scott, and having to go five with Pham as well. Talk about your pressure play!

Derek then went 5-0 in winning Under 13, winning all five matches 3-0. He was quite proud of the trophy, which he said was the "tallest" he'd won. He came off the table after one match very apologetic because he'd just played a beginning kid he'd made friends with, and leading 10-0 in the third he'd tried to give away a point, but his attempted backhand smash into the net trickled over the net for a winner. "I didn't mean to win 11-0!"

Now is where things got a bit dark. In Under 2375 he faced an opponent rated about 2000 who exhibited about the worst sportsmanship imaginable - and we knew he would act like this before the match since he had a history of doing this, especially when playing junior players. I'd coached against him once before and he'd done the same thing in that match (though not as bad as this time), and other players, especially kids, said they'd had the same experience. The player had a strong backhand but weak forehand. So I had Derek go after his forehand over and over, and he won the first two games 11-3, 11-4. The opponent talked to Derek throughout, arguing about the score and other matters, but nothing major, and Derek was under orders not to talk to the opponent except when necessary, i.e. calling out the score, etc. A large crowd was beginning to gather, and they began booing this guy for his antics and cheering for Derek.

In the third, it got ridiculous. Essentially every single point the opponent come up with something new to complain about, and began to bicker constantly with Derek, over and over making things up, and slowing the match to a snail's crawl as minutes would sometimes go by between points as he complained about the score, about lets he'd call after the point, that the ball was too shiny, about Derek's serve, and whatever else popped into his mind. He seemed to revel in the crowd booing him. Derek completely fell apart, unable to believe an adult would act like this and not sure how he should react, and lost that game 11-7. Between games I managed to get his head back together, but the guy kept it up in the fourth, making up new things to complain about all through the fourth. Derek managed to focus, and goes up about 7-3. They have another big argument about the score or something, and that's when I finally called for an umpire. Derek loses the next two points, missing easy shots, but finally gets focused, and wins the match at 3,4,-7,5, to huge cheers from the crowd.

Playing mind games with a kid? How low can one go. Derek said he'd never experienced anything like that, and couldn't imagine an adult acting like this. Another lesson learned. (Addendum added later: Five people have emailed me guessing who the person was. All five guessed correctly. The person is notorious.) 

In the last match of the round robin, Derek plays Richard Williams, rated 2269, a very athletic two-winged looper. Derek's barely able to concentrate after the last match, but he still plays pretty well, just not like he had that afternoon when his forehand was like a "machine." Over and over he'd play nice points, only to miss the final winning shot, the very shot he'd made over and over earlier. Match to Richard, 9,-9,9,6, who told Derek, "This is the last time I will ever be able to beat you."

On Sunday morning, Derek was in Under 22. He's seeded fourth in a group of five, but the top seed and fifth seed don't show. He lost the first game against Geoffrey Xiao (who seems way under-rated at 1923), but wins the next three and the match, -9,5,9,5. Geoffrey also won the first against Connor Bockoven, rated 2206, but Connor won the next three. Against Connor, Derek has great difficulty with his serves, and can't seem to control his own serves (his short serves keep going long), and the one serve that Connor has difficulty with - sorry, can't mention it here! - Derek is unable to do effectively. With Connor controlling points with his serve and receive, Derek not only spotted lots of points (mostly care of missing against Connor's serves), but was uncomfortable in the rallies. So Connor wins easily at 5,4,5. It was the only match Derek played where he lost the serve and receive battle. He now has "homework" so he'll be ready for the type of long, spin serves Connor kept throwing at him, as well as working on his own serves.

Derek had a revelation this tournament. He told me, "You can't improve your skills at a tournament. So at tournaments, the game is all mental." He is a wise fifth grader.

Derek couldn't play other Sunday events as his dad had to catch a flight that night to France for a business trip, and so we left around noon. 

Two other interesting notes. Normally the Easterns is held on Memorial Day Weekend, which was the week before. I asked why they had moved it, and was told they wanted to have Memorial Day Weekend off themselves. That's a good reason, but that meant the tournament took place right as high school students (at least in Maryland) were getting ready for finals exams, and they lost at least ten players from my club alone. I'm guessing they lost over 50 players by postponing the tournament one week. They ended up with 164 entries, compared with 227 (plus players who entered in doubles only or who paid and didn't play) last year.

Also, I saw a player wearing a CCCP shirt with hammer and sickle. CCCP is Russian for the old Soviet Union, with the hammer and sickle their official emblem. I had to check my calendar to make sure this wasn't 1991, the year the USSR collapsed!

Sports Psychology Night at MDTTC

On Friday, June 22, Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay will run a 40-minute sports psychology workshop at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She runs the table tennis sports psychology page dorakurimay.com, and is the co-author of the book "Get Your Game Face On!" (Here's my review of the book on the USATT website.) The schedule for the night will be: 6:30-7:00PM - book signing; 7:00-7:40PM: Sports Psychology Seminar ($20, which includes a free copy of the book); after 7:40PM: Personalized Sport Psychology Consultation. Here is the flyer for the event. Come join us!

USATT Coaching Newsletters

There have been five USATT Coaching Newsletters since Nov. 2009. Here's where you can read all five!

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Positioning to Return a Smash (2:53)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition

Here are some nice exhibition points (4:10) between Swedish greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson. (For some reason they also have a few exhibition points stuck in between Waldner and I think Chen Xinhua of China, a chopper.)

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January 27, 2012

Weight training for table tennis

As noted in previous blogs, I started weight training (along with stretching) last fall because of back problems, and it not only fixed the back problems, but raised my level of play. At almost 52, the muscles simply do not move the body around fast enough, and they were breaking down trying to do so. As also noted, I stopped weight training after Christmas, and paid for it.

Now, after two weeks of weight training again, the back is fine again, and once again my level of play has escalated. Now I'm able to run around the court forehand looping better than I had in years. I've even increased the weight on most of the 16 exercises I've been doing.

There are others who also do this. Many are amazed at the exploits of George Braithwaite, a two-winged looper still about 2100 level at age 77. He regularly weight trains as well, and is in better shape than many in their 20s. Take away the weights, and watch how fast he'd fall to earth.

The simple reality is that to play a physical game, your muscles have to move your body around quickly and easily, with fast body rotations in both directions, and you have to practically throw yourself into many shots. If the muscles struggle to do this, then your shots lose power and consistency, or you simply can't do them at all in a fast rally. The measure for me is simple - if I can't react to a fast block to my forehand with a relaxed but strong forehand loop without backing up too much, then I'm too slow. And I can only do this these days if I train physically.

In the words of Mr. TT, "I pity the fool who doesn't weight train for table tennis."

Here are the 16 exercises I do, and the weights I'm currently doing. I do them Mon, Wed, and Fri, three sets of ten each. I increased the weights for several on Wednesday. (I could do more weight on some of the shoulder and leg exercises, but I'm being cautious - I've had shoulder and knee problems.) The whole routine takes about 35 minutes, and then I do about ten minutes of stretching.

  1. Arm Extension (40)
  2. Arm Curl (40)
  3. Chest Press (40)
  4. Pull Down (80)
  5. Row (90)
  6. Overhead Press (40)
  7. Leg Curl (60)
  8. Leg Extensions (60)
  9. Leg Press (140)
  10. Calf Extension (190)
  11. Fly Delts (60)
  12. Rear Delts (40)
  13. Back Extension (150)
  14. Abdominal Machine (90)
  15. Torso Rotation left (60)
  16. Torso Rotation right (60)

Shadow Practice

While we're on the subject of physical training, there's another exercise you can do away from the table that will greatly improve your play - shadow practicing. This means practicing your strokes and footwork without a ball. Here are two articles I wrote on this:

He Zhi Wen's serve

Here's a video from PingSkills that teaches the serve of He Zhi Wen (2:25).

Help Wanted: 2012 Olympic Games Team Leader for USA Table Tennis

Here's your chance to be a part of the Olympic Games!

Wall Street's Ping-Pong Wizards

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal on a ping-pong tournament for Wall Streeters!

100-year-old table tennis player

Here's an article from the ITTF on 100-year-old Alexander Kaptarenko.

Waldner and Persson warming up

With chop kills versus chop lobs (0:37). Yes, that's how Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson warm up, at least sometimes - they do things like this to loosen up before playing serious matches. I once saw them spend half an hour goofing off at the table with things like this at the World Championships a short time before they had to play matches. 

Just one happy family

Here's Tom Nguyen's companions. L-R: Grumpy, Doc, Bashful (hiding behind electrician's tape), Sneezy, Dopey (stuck in his kite string again), Happy, Sleepy, and of course Snow White. She's white, isn't she?

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October 14, 2011

The Falkenberg, 2-1, and Backhand-Forehand-Forehand drills

Okay, these are all names for the same drill. It was made popular at the Falkenberg club in Sweden by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's almost for certain the most popular footwork drill in the world among top players because it covers the three most common footwork moves in table tennis - cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, and step around forehand from the backhand corner. How do you do the drill?

Your partner hits two balls to your backhand, then one to your forehand. You take the first with your backhand. You step around and take the second with your forehand. Then you move to the wide forehand and take that with your forehand. Then repeat.

There are many variations. You can start the drill off backspin with a loop, then continue. You can either hit or loop the forehands or backhands. You can do the drill to your partner's backhand or forehand. You can have free play after a certain number of repetitions, such as after three (nine shots). Or use your own imagination and make something up. Or just use the basic standby, as described above, as most do.

Here are four new articles/videos from PingSkills

Table tennis tips

Here's a listing of 60 table tennis tips  ("Lenisms" from Len Winkler) that will propel you to international stardom, or at least to beating that hated rival of yours at the club.

Jorgen Persson vs. Werner Schlager

Great footage from the ongoing European Championships in Gdansk-Sopot, Poland, with the breaks between points taken out so it's non-stop action (3:28). There is lots of coverage at the ITTF European Championships page.

Zhang Xielin, "The Magic Chopper"

Here's vintage footage of the famed Chinese penhold chopper from the 1960s (3:18). He was infamous for beating the Europeans (often with weird sidespin chops) while losing to his teammates.

Robots playing table tennis

In my blog on Tuesday I linked to articles and pictures of robots that actually play table tennis, invented by a Japanese company. Here's the video (1:40)!  Its footwork and shoulder rotation on the forehand need a lot of work - and that is not a legal serve.

What the heck is this?

I don't know what this is, but it seems to be something to do with table tennis, and it's on sale at Ebay. All real table tennis players should own one of these whatever they ares.

Non-Table Tennis - Capclave SF Convention

This weekend I'll be at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention in Gaithersburg, Maryland - which this year is held about 1.5 miles from my club, the Maryland Table Tennis Center! Because I'm coaching much of Friday and Sunday, I can't attend much those days, but I'll be there all day on Saturday.

I'm moderating a literary panel Saturday at 1PM on "When Characters Threaten to Take Over," which is about what writers should do when writing and a character "refuses" to do what you want it to do and seems to take on a life of its own. (It's happened to me many times.) I'm also doing a 30-minute reading at 3PM - I'll be doing my annual "Larry Hodges Over-the-Top Humorous Flash Story Reading," where I'll be reading three of my published flash stories. (Flash stories are under 1000 words long, about four pages double spaced.)

Here's a link to my Capclave bio and schedule. I'm also bringing John Hsu, a local 17-year-old table tennis player (2255 rating) who I've been working with on creative writing - we're working on a zombie story together. He's attending the 10AM writer's workshop with Allen Wold. This will be his first SF convention - heaven help him. If we can find a ping-pong table at the hotel, we'll be hustling people for spare change.

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