Wall Street Journal

April 21, 2014

Tip of the Week

Every Battle Is Won Before the Battle Begins.

Note from 1979 - Starving in NC

I was going through my files last week, and found this note from May 26, 1979. It brought back some serious memories. I was 19 and had just moved to North Carolina a few months before to train for table tennis at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center in Wilson. I had thought I had a job at McDonalds, but that fell through. And so I found myself jobless and running out of money. On this date I sat down and listed all my assets and deficits. It wasn't pretty. I would use up most of the food listed in the next few days. I would use the last $5.03 I had to buy cheap loaves of bread (which I'd eat with just jelly) and corn flakes (which I'd eat straight, since I quickly ran out of milk). During this time I pretty much ran out of real food, and went from being skinny to probably skeletal. I'm guessing I lost 20 pounds. (I was too stubborn to call my parents.) 

Finally, a few weeks after I wrote the note (and unable to pay rent, but not yet kicked out of the room I was renting), I was given a job at a Hardees by a local table tennis player, Dick Barnes. I became the biscuit maker there! For about a year I would work there from 5:30AM-11AM, then I'd walk over to the Butterfly club to practice serves during my lunch break (eating lunch as I walked over), and then return to work the lunch shift, I think 12-2PM. Then I'd be back to the club to practice all afternoon (originally with Bowie Martin Jr., and then daily for about a year with Bowie Martin Sr., the founder of the company), and play matches at night. During my two years in Wilson, 1979-81, my level went from about 1900 to 2150 or so. (I took two years off after high school for table tennis, even though I was "only" 1900 at the time.) Here's a listing of what's in the note:

Assets
$5.03 in cash
$3 owed by Greg Cox
1/4 pounds sloppy joes
1.5 loaves bread
9 cans misc. vegetables
2 boxes cereal
4 servings oatmeal
1/2 gallon milk
10 eggs
1 head of lettuce
4 waffles
4 fish fillet [this was before I stopped eating fish, though I'd stopped eating shellfish for many years]
1 lb strawberries
6 apples
1 lb carrots
Misc.: syrup, sugar, choc. Mix, jelly, margarine, tartar sauce, one-a-day vitamins
Water

Deficits
$23.00 owed to Tom Poston
$31.46 owed to Bowie Martin [I think Sr.]
$80.00 rent on June 1

USATT Magazine

Here's the new USA Table Tennis Magazine. I have two article in this one, one on Crystal Wang ("Youngest US Team Member in History") and on Shadow Practice.

Article in Wall Street Journal

Here's the article from the Friday issue, titled, "Don't Call It Ping Pong: College Sports Rivalry Expands to Table Tennis."

Michael Maze

Here's an article on him, "If you have some goals you want to reach, fight for them."

1979 Hungarian World Champion Team

Here's a current picture of Hungary's "Three Musketeers" from 1979 with Jorgen Persson, L-R: Istvan Jonyer, Tibor Klampar, Persson, and Gabor Gergeley. The three defeated China in team final at the 1979 Worlds. Here's a picture of them after winning the title 35 years ago (from left, Gergeley, Klampar, and Jonyer. The other three are Janos Takacs, Tibor Kreisz , and coach Zoltan Berczik). Jonyer's gained a little weight, and Gergeley's a little gray!

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Physical Training

Here's seven seconds of the world #4 (and #1 outside China) doing physical training.

Great Rally

Here's the video (50 sec). But why didn't the Japanese player (near side) loop down the line to the Hong Kong player's almost open backhand? He had several chances.

Why doesn't the player on the near side loop one to the backhand?

Table Tennis Touch Game

Here's the trailer (1:33) for Table Tennis Touch, a new table tennis video game.

Table Tennis Tutorial, Beginning to Advanced

(This was in my Friday blog, but I forgot to put in the link until that night. So here it is again.) Here's the video (58:58). Alas, it's in Chinese, no English sub-titles.

Happy Easter Table Tennis!

Gangnam Style Table Tennis

Here's the video (52 sec). It starts slow, then from 20 seconds on it gets a faster and then crazier.

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June 11, 2013

Timeouts

I've found it interesting how different coaches and players use timeouts. Far too many use it as a desperation measure, usually late in a match when a player has fallen way behind, and where it's unlikely to make a difference. Almost always it's done when a player is behind.

I'd argue that it should be used most often when a player is losing focus at a key time, where the timeout has the best chance of helping to win a game, whether it's in the first game, last game, or any in between. I think most would agree with this. Putting that aside, when should one call a timeout?

Let's suppose your player is serving up 9-7 in the fifth. I was once criticized for calling a timeout in that situation, with the argument that it lets the opponent talk to his coach and focus, and so maximize his chances of coming back. But I find that reasoning backwards. With my player is leading 9-7 in the fifth, if both players are focused and play smart, then my player is probably going to win. The most likely way my player loses is if he loses his focus and/or doesn't play smart - so by calling a timeout, I maximize the chances that my player will be focused and play smart, and therefore likely win. In other words, if you are leading, you are in control, and so worry less about the opponent and more about making sure you are prepared.

In other words, if you are behind by a score such as 7-9, and if you are focused and know what to do, the last thing you want is to give the opponent time to focus and think tactically. It's very easy for a player to lose focus when he is leading and about to win, and a timeout allows him to recover. (However, if you are behind 7-9 because you are losing focus or not sure what to do tactically, then you should call the timeout.)

Ironically, I sometimes hesitate to call a time-out near the end of a match when my player is leading because I know there's a good chance the other side will call one, so I get to save our timeout for later if needed.

Another mistake I think some make is waiting too long. It's better to call a timeout early in a match where it might lead to winning a game than to wait until later where it might not. At the Easterns I was coaching 11-year-old Sameer in his first major tournament. In one of his first matches he was serving and leading 10-8 in the first game, and lost the next point. On his own he called a timeout - he wanted to make absolutely sure he won that game, and wanted to ask what serve I thought he should use. (I said short backspin to the forehand, and the opponent put it in the net! Sameer won the match 3-1; if he'd lost that first game, it might have been 2-2. A very smart timeout that few would have done because it was still "too early" in the match.)

Here's the chart from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers on when to call timeouts. Number two is the one that's way underused when players are leading in a close game - see the second part of that one.

When to Call a Time-out

  1. When losing focus before a key point. This is the most important time to call a time-out. A time-out is a good way to get your concentration back.
  2. To think about or discuss tactics at a key point. Generally do this when you are about to serve, since you have complete control over choosing your two serves. If you have a coach, he might be able to help choose two serves to use. Call it when you are receiving mostly if you have a good idea what the opponent will serve, and are debating how you should return that serve. Or call it to think or discuss any other tactical plans. It’s also valuable to call a time-out when you are winning a relatively close game (especially late in a match), such as at 10-8 or 9-7, so as to clear your mind, think tactically, and close out that game. This is often when the Chinese team calls time-outs.
  3. When falling behind in a key game. It’s useful to call a time-out if you lose the first game and are falling behind in the second (since you absolutely do not want to fall behind 0-2), or if you have already lost two games and will lose the match if you lose another. The key is not to wait until you are way behind; instead, call the time-out when you are still relatively close and can still find a way to come back. The time-out allows you to make sure you are focused and to rethink your tactics. It’s also a good way to give your opponent a chance to cool off if he’s playing well—there’s nothing wrong with calling a time-out in hopes of disturbing his concentration or throwing off his rhythm.
  4. Desperation tactic. Far too many players call time-outs as a desperation tactic near the end of a match when they are way behind and are pretty much out of it, but this rarely leads to a win. If you are losing badly, why wait until you are way down in the last game? It’s far better to call the time-out earlier in the hope of not being in this situation, where the time-out will rarely help.

Fingerprinting

We're starting up an afterschool table tennis program this fall with Montgomery County Schools. As noted in my blog last week, one of their requirements is anyone working with students gets a background check - and that means we have to get fingerprinted! So this morning I'm leaving about 8:30 AM to meet at a county office to be fingerprinted, along with fellow coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu. I'm hoping to get pictures. If they look into my background they'll find I kill dozens of times every day. More on this tomorrow, though it might be simply a repeat of this note, saying "We've been fingerprinted."

Game Strategy

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Game Strategy

Non-Celluloid Balls

Here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville reviews one of the new plastic balls (i.e. not celluloid).

The Fight to Save Table Tennis

Here's an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that features Marty Reisman and hardbat & sandpaper table tennis. There were quite a few errors in the article, however - here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville lists nine mistakes, and Scott Gordon adds a few others.

Lady Antebellum’s Ping Pong Tournament Serves Up the Fun

Here's an article and pictures of the charity tournament. Here are more pictures.

Dog Spectator

Here's 49 seconds of a very jumpy dog spectator at table tennis.

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July 10, 2012

Staying Low

This past weekend I watched a 10-year-old I coach in matches at the club. I was grimacing as I watched him stand up nearly straight while receiving and in rallies, leading to awkward shots, especially on the backhand drive and forehand loop. So guess what the focus was in his lesson yesterday? Yes, staying low. For much of the hour I harped on staying down, with knees slightly bent, legs a bit wider. The result? His backhand drive and forehand loop shot up, and he moved much better. Near the end, we played points, and he was able to serve and loop better than he'd ever done before. In rallies, he could cover his backhand and hit real backhands, which had been a serious weakness.

Staying low helps you in multiple ways. First, by bending your knees, it gives you a quicker start. If the knees are straight, then before you can move you have to bend them, which wastes time. Second, it lowers your center of gravity, giving you more leverage in moving quickly. Third, with the legs wider, it allows you to stay balanced even on the move, since it's easier to keep the center of gravity between the legs. Fourth, with the knees bent, it makes it easier to step to the ball rather than lean. And fifth, it gets the coach out of your hair.

Can China Sweep the Olympics (Again)?

Here's an article in the China Daily on their chances, as well as going over their players and the opposition. From a mathematical point of view, if the Chinese have a 84% chance of winning in each of the four events, then their chances of sweeping are (.84)^4=.498, or only about 50%. Even a 90% chance in each event gives them about a 66% of sweeping.

Ariel Hsing versus Uncles Bill and Warren

Here's a video (1:57) by the Wall Street Journal that revisits U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her battles at shareholder meetings with Uncle Bill Gates and Uncle Warren Buffett, as well as against Wall Street Journal Reporter Jared Diamond.

Ping-Pong, Senior Style

Here's a video about a documentary on octogenarian table tennis. It has some nice sequences and interviews. The actual documentary, "Ping Pong: Never Too Old For Gold," is now out in limited release. 

Paralympic Backhand

So you think you have backhand problems?

The Ping Festival in England

The Ping Festival (2:56) features street table tennis, costumes, ducks playing table tennis, big paddles, long-handled paddles, mayors, and things I can't even describe.

Roger Federer vs. Ma Lin

On Sunday, Federer won Wimbledon. Now he's trying to beat the Chinese.

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October 21, 2011

Looping versus Hitting

The advantage goes to looping, at least at the higher levels. But everyone's different, and below world-class levels there are many hitters who eat loopers for breakfast. 

The advantages of looping versus hitting

  1. The extreme topspin in a loop pulls the ball down, so you can keep the ball in play at high speeds and effectively attack even low balls.
  2. The topspin makes the ball bounce low and fast on the table, making it hard for the opponent to handle it.
  3. The topspin jumps up off the opponent's racket, making it tricky to keep on the table and low.
  4. Because you can loop the ball on the drop, you have more time to get into position for the shot, and so can loop over and over more easily than hitting over and over.
  5. A looper can often turn a hitter into a blocker.
  6. Because the ball jumps off the table and then sails downward, it's difficult to block or counter a loop effectively from off the table unless you are advanced enough to counterloop. To make an effective return, you generally have to stay at the table and block the ball off the bounce. Against a fast incoming ball, you have little time to react. Against a hitter, you can take a half step back to give yourself more time. Against a looper, that rarely works.

The advantages of hitting versus looping

  1. It's a quicker stroke.
  2. It's easier to learn.
  3. A hitter can often turn a looper into a lobber.
  4. You can generally create more speed since all of your power is going into speed.

The 2011 U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Inductees

They are (and this link includes bios) . . . drum roll please . . . Quang Bui, Jim Butler, Jasna Rather (players); Jim McQueen (contributor); and Mal Anderson is the Mark Mathews Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. Here's a listing of the current U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Table Tennis at the Pan Am Games

Here are the table tennis results from the just completed Pan Am Games. Here are some articles. USA finished with three bronzes, in Women's Team (Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu), with Ariel and Lily each getting bronze medals in Women's Singles. Mo Zhang of Canada won the gold medal for Women's Singles. Here are more detailed USA results.

Table Tennis News Video

Pongcast brings you the table tennis news, putting together this video (26:53) on the latest table tennis news. After a rather long one-minute intro, they talk about the sport, starting with a video of Susan Sarandon playing at the Spin Club in New York City, then go on to table tennis robots, the new "hyperbolic" serve, news from Europe, and other news.

ITTF Coaches in the USA

All fourteen of the coaches from the ITTF seminar I ran in April are now certified. They are (in alphabetic order): Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), John Hsu (MD), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD), David Varkey (PA), and Shaobo "Bob" Zhu (PA). Overall, there are now 44 USA coaches who are ITTF certified. Here is the ITTF coaches database; put in "USA" and you'll see the complete list for USA.

Group Coaching for Kids

This morning I'm off to coach a new group of about 20 new kids coming to the Maryland Table Tennis Center. They are from a local Optimal Learning Center. I'm going to start off with an exhibition, then go over a few basics, then introduce them to ball bouncing on the racket and various table tennis relay races. Then it'll on to the tables.

Entries at the USA Nationals

Currently there are 374 entries listed in the online listing. (You can search by name or event.) However, there are undoubtedly numerous entries not yet entered into the database or entering late, so I expect a bunch more, though it'll probably be a low turnout since, let's face it, Virginia Beach is not a "vacationland" like Las Vegas.

Here's a graph of the number of entries we've received at the Nationals each year going back to 1994, when the info first went online. (These numbers are from the USATT ratings database and only include players who played in rated events; they do not include players who only played doubles or hardbat.)  It was held in Las Vegas in each of these years. As you can see, we've regressed badly since 2006, though we had an uptick last year. It'd be nice if we could get back to where we were five years ago. Below are the actual numbers, though I think the graph shows it better.

  • 2011: ?
  • 2010: 686
  • 2009: 597
  • 2008: 604
  • 2007: 730
  • 2006: 837 record high
  • 2005: 829
  • 2004: 755
  • 2003: 707
  • 2002: 678
  • 2001: 672
  • 2000: 686
  • 1999: 658
  • 1998: 592
  • 1997: 650
  • 1996: 613
  • 1995: 660
  • 1994: 598

Photos of the Day in the Wall Street Journal

See photo #2!

This is not where the ball is supposed to go

Here are seven seconds of someone spitting a ball at a wall and catching it in his mouth.

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