Table Tennis Tactics

September 21, 2012

Table Tennis Tactics

This past week I've been jumping back and forth from working on the page layouts of "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" and 246 other things. Here's an excerpt from the book:

Table tennis is a game of utter complexity and utter simplicity. If you get too caught up in the myriad of complex strategies available, you'll be lost in a sea of uncertainty. Think KISS—"Keep It Simple, Stupid." On the other hand, if your thinking is too simple, you aren't maximizing your play.

There's no conflict here. Much of tactics involves simplifying things so the game becomes simple and easy. If you use tactics that force your opponent into predictable returns that feed into your strengths, you've won the tactical battle and made the game simple and easy. In this book we'll cover the tactical and strategic ways of doing this, as well as the tactical frame of mind that makes tactical play come naturally.

Most matches are tactically won on at most two or three tactical things, not the zillions that are possible. It's finding those two or three out of the zillions that's key. (Hey, I may add this to the book! Addendum - just did.) And if you can't think of zillions of tactical things to do, you need to start thinking tactically! To further quote the book:

Tactical thinking is a habit. I know some brilliant people who do not think at the table, and some not-so-brilliant ones who know exactly what they are doing out there. Which do you choose to be? It’s a choice.

Help is on the way! The book should be out by December in time for the USA Nationals, and perhaps sooner. (If I get going on it, it might be ready by November.)

One Day Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? Deadline is past, but for only $5 late fee you can still enter until 7PM tonight, and avoid others talking and making cracks about you behind your back. This weekend could be the beginning of your professional career, the big breakthrough where, out of nowhere, you suddenly are looping and smashing like a pro, and nobody can stop you, allowing you to drop out of the drudgery of work and join the elite athletes who spend their days sipping tea by poolside (after training eight hours/day) while you are slaving away at a desk.

USA's Ariel Hsing wins Intercontinental Title at World Cup!

Here's the ITTF Story. This puts her in the Final Sixteen. 

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team

Here are three coaching videos. I may have posted the first two in my blog sometime in the past, but the third one (Forehand Receive) is definitely new. (It has four parts - Pushing Short, Pushing Long, Looping, and Flipping.) They are in Chinese with English subtitles.

  1. Forehand Serve (7:42)
  2. Backhand Serve (6:36)
  3. Forehand Receive (7:47)

Journal of My Paralympic Journey

Tara Profitt's journal about her time at the Paralympics and the table tennis competition.

Table Tennis on a Gigantic Rock Slab

This is great (4:16) - but it's practically tennis! Now we know how to handle short balls - don't step in like coaches teach you, just crawl on the table! Can anyone recognize the language they are speaking?

White Ping-Pong Table

We have a White House, white chocolate, and Gandalf the White (yeah, he didn't stay grey long). Now we have a white ping-pong table - and it looks snazzy! White balls, anyone?

Batman!

Yes, that's Batman with a ping-pong paddle, in an illustration used at the Buenos Aires Grand Prix by the Argentina Table Tennis Federation.

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May 29, 2012

Tip of the Week

Make a game of your weaknesses.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland

I will be running my second annual ITTF Coaching Seminar at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on two consecutive weekends, Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 18-19, with an optional Paralympics session on Aug. 25. The seminar runs from 9AM-Noon, 1-4PM each day. This is your chance to learn both how to coach as well as inner knowledge of how to play the game.

Here's the info flyer. If you are interested or have any questions, email me.

The seminar is featured this morning on the USATT web page. Yes, that's me on the left lecturing. There were 14 in the seminar - the rest are off to the right, no doubt spellbound by my oratory. My review of the book "Breaking 2000" is also highlighted on their home page, below and to the right.

Saturday - in the Zone

On Saturday I was coaching almost non-stop from 10AM to 4:00 PM, and then we had a 4:30-6:30 junior session, and then I had another one-hour coaching session from 6:30-7:30. It was an exhausting day. But an interesting thing happened.

During the 3-4PM session, I had a student working on his forehand block. So I did a LOT of looping to him. Before that I'd been playing poorly all day, feeling stiff and tired. The looping should have tired me out even more, but instead it sort of woke me up. But it eventually also wore me out, and when the session ended I collapsed on a sofa and pretty much lay down for an hour. I wasn't needed the first half of the junior session. In the second half I came out to play practice matches.

Based on how poorly I had been playing earlier, I was a bit leery of the junior I was about to play, even though he was "only" about 2050. He'd been giving me difficulties, and had recently won a deuce-in-the-fifth match. But something happened. All the play I'd done that day, combined with the hour of rest, seemed to put me in the zone, physically and mentally.

In the first game, up 8-0, I told him I wasn't giving him any points, if he wanted to score he'd have to earn it. Up 10-0, my reverse forehand pendulum serve to the forehand went slightly long, and the junior absolutely pulverized it. 10-1, he jokingly celebrated. I sort of fished and lobbed the next two points before winning 11-3.

I won game two 11-0. (There was one point where the junior literally creamed three balls in a row, which came at me in sort of slow-motion 100mph. I blocked the first two easily, then backhand counter-smashed the third for a clean winner. The junior screamed, "God!!!")

Between games I jokingly told a junior on the sidelines that "Right now, I'm the single greatest player in the history of the universe." Then I fell behind 4-5 in the third, mostly because I went for a few wild swats, plus a couple nets and edges. The junior on the sidelines said, "Larry, you're not playing so well now." I said, "Watch the rest of this game." I scored the next seven in a row with ease, despite some crazy rallies. (The rest of the session I played younger, beginning juniors, and so didn't get to test out my suddenly brilliant play, alas.)

How would I describe the way I played? I couldn't miss anything, not even my normally erratic backhand loop. The ball was traveling in slow motion. When my opponent ripped the ball, the ball came at me like a tortoise. Everything was easy.

I may try this again sometime, i.e. play hard all day, take an hour off, and then play.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

When I announced on Friday that the book was "done," it was 97,768 words. I've added another 500+ words (about two pages), so it's now at 98,304. I'll probably keep adding bits here and there. I'm fairly confident it'll end up breaking 100,000.

Over the weekend I went over it page by page, listing photos and graphics needed. Then I went through my own photo files to see which ones I had. (I have to get permission from photographers to use their photos.) Soon I'll be contacting one of the regular table tennis photographers to see if I can use some of their photos, with a listing of photos needed. (I'm willing to pay, but not too much!)

I also learned how to create an index in Word. Soon I'll be starting the page layouts.

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Forehand Counterhit (4:04)

Cary selected for North American Championships

Cary, North Carolina has been selected by USATT to run the North American Championships on Sept. 1-3. Here's the article. Cary is rapidly becoming a center for table tennis, having run both the U.S. and North American Olympic Trials this year, as well as the annual 4-star Cary Cup.

Xu Xin wins China Open

And here's the story!

U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Collectible Cards

Topps has created Olympic Table Tennis cards for USA Olympians Timothy Wang and Ariel Hsing. (Not sure why they haven't done Lily Zhang and Erica Wu.) The Ariel one is already listed as "out of stock," but you can still get Timothy for $2.95.

Ethan Jin

Here's a nice article on junior star Ethan Jin. (Go to page 28.)

Table Tennis joins Occupy Wall Street

Yes, table tennis joining the fray - and here's the Table Tennis Nation picture and article to prove it!

Non-Table Tennis - I share a table of contents with Asimov!

Wildside Press just put out their fourth Science Fiction Megapack, with 30 stories. They included a story of mine, "Tom the Universe." Look at the list of my "colleagues": Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Ayn Rand, Philip Dick, and Harry Harrison!!!

Meanwhile, Flagship Magazine just started selling their magazines at Amazon (Kindle editions), including several issues with stories by me - including the Nov. 2010 issue, with my story "ggg.earth.gxy" the cover story.

And if you want to see a wild cover, here's my ebook "Willy and the Ten Trillion Chimpanzees"!

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May 17, 2012

My writing

This blog has a lot about my own writing. It wasn't planned - it just happened. So be it!

How table tennis will change, according to "Campaign 2100"

I've long wondered how table tennis will change in the future. Here are some possibilities that are straight from my book "Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates," a 117,000-word SF novel I wrote that is currently making the rounds of agents and publishers. (It covers the 2100 election for president of Earth, where the whole world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. I describe it as "West Wing in the 22nd century," with the underlying theme moderation in politics; some will read it as a Moderate Manifesto.)

One of the main characters, Bruce, is a professional college table tennis player, and one of the dramas is when, at 19-all in the fifth in the semifinals of the college championships against his nemesis, he loses interest and defaults the match to join the presidential election campaign. (Yes, the game has gone back to 21-point games in my future. Hey, it's my future!) Throughout the novel Bruce often has a ping-pong ball in hand, which he nervously fiddles with, tosses about, or throws at people.

Here is an excerpt that describes Bruce's futuristic paddle, which he calls Lore.

Lore was the latest model of ping-pong paddle, a Maestro Prime covered with Spinsey pinhole sponge, both from Trump Sports. When the ball hit it, the Spinsey sponge compressed, forcing air out through the tiny, angled holes that permeated the surface. If he held it one way, the air shot upward from the parallel holes, creating a topspin. If he flipped the paddle, so the backhand side became the forehand side and vice versa, then the air would shoot downward, creating a backspin.

Here's a listing of the changes to the sport I put in the novel:

  • Table tennis is the #1 sport in world. Everyone watches it.
  • As noted above, the sponge has microscopic holes that shoot air out when ball hits sponge. The holes are angled so they put topspin on the ball. If you flip the racket, it puts backspin on the ball.
  • College players are all highly-paid professionals.
  • Professional players use steroids as matter of course, except for Bruce, who refuses to use them even though they are completely safe. This is a huge handicap for him.
  • Striped balls.
  • Playing shoes have adjustable traction.
  • Tables have sensors that detect hits.
  • Games are back to 21 points

Regarding the "Campaign 2100" novel, it's currently at a publisher who, after reading the opening three chapters, wrote the following:

"I found your premise interesting and your opening chapters engaging -- I was a great fan of The West Wing when it aired, and the show might have been influential in my misguided decision to attend law school for a semester.  I wised up about my own incompatibility with law school, but I remain intrigued by real and fictional political drama like yours. I enjoy the succinct narration and explanations from Toby Platt's point of view and the intriguing twist chapter three provides with the introduction of a student on vacation for Earth's first contact. I would like to consider the full manuscript for CAMPAIGN 2100: RISE OF THE MODERATES. Please send the manuscript as an attached Word document or .rtf file at your earliest convenience."

The novel has multiple table tennis scenes, including the following:

  • Bruce's introduction scene, described above, where he defaults out of the college nationals at 19-all in the fifth to join the presidential campaign.
  • Bruce teaches table tennis to Twenty-Two, an alien ambassador who is observing the election, and they play constantly in the "floater," the flying vehicle the campaign uses to campaign around the world. Since his ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air, the alien has fantastic reflexes and coordination and becomes very good very quickly, and is soon beating Bruce, to the latter's great chagrin.
  • Bruce and Twenty-Two do a table tennis exhibition in front of the Chinese leadership in a packed stadium. The scene ends with Twenty-Two getting arrested on orders from President Dubois, leading to major political ramifications.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

The book is basically done, but I'm going to do one last reading on screen (where I'll undoubtedly make lots of minor wording changes, and probably add new stuff), and then I'll print it out for one last proofing. It's currently at 91,000 words, which is 395 double-spaced pages in Courier.

I'm leaning toward changing the title to "Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development." What do you think? I'm also leaning toward self-publishing. I do have a convention publisher interested, but that'll mean putting off publication for at least a year, plus lots of likely rewrites for the publisher, who have their own idea on what they want. More likely I'm going to put this and my other books all in ebook and POD (print on demand) formats, and sell them online by the end of the year or sooner.

New full-time clubs in NYC and Philadelphia

A Mini-table as a Graduation Gift?

RealSimple.com has it as one of their 29 "unique" graduation gifts!

Pneumatic Ping-Pong

Flashing lights, blasting music, high-powered fans, toys dropping on you, tables covered with hundreds of balls . . . this is the ultimate ping-pong challenge, right? Brought to you by Table Tennis Nation.

Non-Table Tennis - Two story sales

In my separate science fiction & fantasy writing career, I sold two stories in the last two days. "The Oysters of Pinctada" (4400 words) went to Flagship Magazine yesterday (Wednesday), my fourth sale to them. It's the story of a space pirate's kidnapping of the king of the planet Pinctada to find the secret of where they get the giant pearls they sell - and the lengths the Pinctadan's will go to save their king, and the terrible secret the pirate learns.

"The Devil's Backbone" (7000 words) sold to an anthology on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the editor asked that I not publicize which anthology until he's ready to announce the entire lineup. It's the story of an ice cream man who is killed and pulled into the ground by an incredibly gigantic hand, which turns out to be the Devil's, who literally jams him down his throat and (from the inside) onto his equally gigantic backbone, where there is an entire city of lost souls. How can he escape?

This makes 61 short stories sales. And while we're at it, here are my complete writing stats: 1356 published articles in 133 different publications, including 1224 on table tennis. Here's my science fiction & fantasy page, and here's my complete publication history.

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January 19, 2012

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide - Update

First, let me think the reviewers for their help editing/proofing/critiquing the first draft of the book, which should be available later this year. They are (alphabetically) Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton.

I'd told them I would be starting the (hopefully) finally rewrite from their comments starting this past Tuesday, two days ago. However, with fellow MDTTC coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun temporarily in China, my coaching hours have doubled. Add that I'm still tired from having a cold from Jan. 1-12, that I started weight training again this week (so I'm exhausted from that - see my blog entry from Monday on my back problems), that I'm continually hungry from dieting (after gaining four pounds over the holidays), and that 523 new things came up this week (most involving MDTTC), I'm sorry to say I haven't been able to get started on it yet. Tentatively, in my mind, I'm still going to start on Tuesday, but it'll be next Tuesday. (My weekends and Mondays are busy.)

Backswing on forehand

I was working with a kid yesterday who kept hitting forehands off the end. Like many beginning and even intermediate players, he tended to hit up too much on the ball, focusing on getting the ball over the net even though most misses are off the end. So I told him to shadow stroke his forehand, but freeze at the end of his backswing. Then I went to his side, and shadow stroked my forehand, and also froze at the end of my backswing. My racket was about four inches higher than his. (It doesn't make a difference how tall the player is, the racket should backswing to about the same spot, which for me is about elbow height, while for the kid, about shoulder height.) So he raised his racket to match mine, shadow stroked with the new backswing height (with me harping on remembering the feel of it), and then we went back to hitting. Magically, his forehand smash came alive! (There are differences in backswings based on how much topspin you put on the ball. A player with a very topspinny backhand will have a lower backswing than one who hits flatter. In the case above, both of us were hitting pretty much standard forehands, not too topspinny and not too flat.)

Chocolate quote

I've blogged about how I sometimes give out chocolates as a reward for kids who achieve a certain task, such as hitting a certain number of shots in a row or hitting a target I put on the table. Yesterday I was hitting with an 8-year-old girl who was having trouble getting the thirty forehands in a row she needed to win a chocolate. I jokingly warned her that if she didn't hit thirty, she'd get to watch me eat the chocolate. Her response? "I know you'll give me chocolate because you're a big softy!" (Soon afterward she got the thirty and got the chocolate. And three more before the session was over.)

Tong Tong Gong in Howard County Times

Here's another article about Tong Tong making the USA National Cadet Team. (And that's me in the background! I'm one of Tong Tong's coaches.) Strangely, the Howard Country Times seems to use the Baltimore Sun webspace for their online version. He was also in the Baltimore Sun on Sunday. Here's the print version, with a large picture of Tong Tong.)

Peter Li vs. Timothy Wang

In case you missed it, here's the epic men's singles semifinal match at the 2011 Nationals between 2010 champion Timothy Wang and 2011 champ-to-be Peter Li, where Peter comes back from down 0-3 and multiple match points in the seventh to win, -6,-6,-4,9,10,8,14. It's a long one, just over an hour. And here's the other semifinal, Han Xiao over Chance Friend (7,6,8,-10,8), and the final, Peter Li over Han Xiao (9,7,7,6).

Ping-pong table made of ice!

Yes, it's all part of the Hunter Ice Festival

Racket Repertoire

Here's a hilarious video (2:39) of Wade Sun using just about any available item for a racket. I do the same thing!

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December 12, 2011

Tip of the Week

Depth control of serves.

The USA Nationals, Christmas Vacation, and a Sabbatical

After today, I'm taking a short sabbatical from blogging. My next blog will be next Monday, Dec. 19 (right after I return from the USA Nationals), and my next one after that will be when I resume blogging regularly (Mon-Fri) on Dec. 27. 

I'm leaving for the USA Nationals this morning, returning next Saturday. Then on Monday I leave for Santa Barbara, CA, for Christmas with family, returning on a red-eye flight on Christmas night that lands back in Maryland about 8AM on Dec. 26, in time for the MDTTC Christmas camp I coach at that starts that afternoon.

Yes, I know, the Nationals is exactly the time I should have lots to blog about, but I'm going to be extremely busy there, coaching, playing, and attending meetings, and expect to be leaving for the playing site early each morning and returning late.

I'm primarily going to the Nationals to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Hardbat Singles (which I've won twice at the Open or Nationals), Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion) and Hardbat Doubles (I'm 11-time and current champion, and playing with Ty Hoff - we've won it seven times).

I've spent way too much time in recent weeks working on my new table tennis book, watching videos of players that students of mine might be playing, and other sedentary projects at my computer, and now my back has stiffened up again, alas. Hopefully it'll loosen up when I play. However, as is the norm for me (since stiff muscles and coaching regularly don't mix well), I'm continually in a state of various injuries. Currently there's something in the back of my left knee that's hobbling me; my left Achilles tendon feels strained; and there's a strain in my right side. And why is my left big toe hurting? (I think I stepped on something sharp.) Par for me.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

I finished editing it this weekend. The "final" version is 81,066 words, with 21 chapters. In Courier New, double spaced, it prints out at 352 pages. I have a few people who are reading/critiquing it, and I'll probably do one more proofing. I have a publisher interested, though I'm toying with self-publishing. I'll look into the options in January.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminars in the USA

Thirtieth Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy in China

There's a U.S. contingent touring China - and here are links to a number of articles on it. And here's another that features Dell & Connie Sweeris.

Ma Long

Here's an article on the personal side of China's world #1.

Ma Lin's unbelievable (but illegal) serve

Here's a 19-second video of an unbelievable serve by China's Ma Lin. The ball curves so much not because of sidespin, but because of corkscrewspin, with the axis of rotation aimed away from Ma toward the server. (With sidespin, the axis would be up and down.) You can only get this much corkscrewspin with a high-toss serve, such as this one - see how high he tosses the ball. Some other world-class players probably have similar serves, you just don't see several bounces like this because the receiver normally hits the ball after the first bounce - and in this case, Ma has completely fooled the receiver, world champion Zhang Jike, who didn't see the sudden break coming, and thought the serve would go long.

Fantastic serve, but how many people noticed that he illegally hid contact with his arm? Freeze the video at contact and you'll see - you may have to make several attempts to get it. Or just see the image I took from the video. The arrows show the ball and his hand and arm. The rules say:

"From the start of service until it is struck, the ball shall ... not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

"As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."

"It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws." 

It's possible that the receiver, Zhang, can barely see contact, but it's close - Ma's arm is rapidly moving out of the way, and the split second before this picture, the arm was completely in the way. It's the server's responsibility to serve so the umpire is satisfied that he is serving legally, and no umpire could possibly say that he is satisfied that this serve was not hidden. But we don't even have to go that far - the serve is blatantly illegal since he has left his free arm and hand between the ball and the net.

Table tennis going to the dogs

Let's watch 52 seconds of a Pekingese playing floor table tennis.

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December 5, 2011

Tip of the Week

Going to the Well Too Often. This was a tricky one to write because I didn't want to encourage players to avoid a winning tactic when leading and thereby blowing a game, yet I wanted to get the point across that to win on one winning tactic you need to both use it sparingly and find other winning variations or tactics.

Nationals in one week

I leave for the USA Nationals in one week. All potential opponents of my students, wouldn't this be a nice time to take a week off, eat lots of ice cream, and watch TV? Here is my article Ten-point Plan to Tournament Success. Please do not read this. Please do not follow this. Please pretend I never posted a link to this recipe for tournament success. In fact, there's some really nice shows on TV right now, and Rocky Road ice cream is soooooo good. . . .

Why is Your Grip Pressure So Important?

Here's a nice article by Coach Massimo Constantini. We know he's a great coach, a real icon, because "Constantini" is just an anagram for "Instant Icon." (Of course, "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God," so maybe we're reading too much into this.) You may also notice that this week's Tip of the Week (see above) is also a news item at Paddle Palace - they are now sponsoring me, and so I'll be putting the weekly Tips up both here and there as news items, as well as putting up some past ones.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

If you heard the fireworks yesterday around 11:30 AM Eastern Time, that was me celebrating the completion of the first draft at 75,237 words, 21 chapters, and 319 pages double spaced. (I added a final chapter called "Tactical and Strategic Thinking Revisited.") Today I'll be coaching much of the day, so tomorrow starts the long process of rewriting, editing, and proofing.

Northern Virginia Table Tennis Center

Here's an article on the NVTTC, a full-time club in Chantilly, VA, featuring Coach Zhongxing "Coach" Lu. These full-time clubs keep popping up. (This has nostalgic value to me - I was president and Tournament & League Director of the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club for several years in the early 1980s, though it wasn't full-time back then.)

Timo Boll and Chen Weixing exhibition point

Here's a 44-second exhibition rally between Timo Boll and Chen Weixing.

Nani and Veloso play ping pong

Watch these two soccer players go at it (2:41). I'll put them in the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page when I next update, around Jan. 1. They are members of the Portuguese National Football Team (soccer in American terms). Nani is actually Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, and Veloso is Miguel Luís Pinto Veloso.

A new ping-pong song?

Yes, it's The Glowtones - Ping Pong (Doo Wop), in this video from 1957 (1:56)! The words "ping pong" are used over and over in the lyrics, and a ping-pong table in the background in the second half.

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December 2, 2011

Great "multiball" serve, receive, attack drill.

Here's a great "multiball" drill, where neither player actually feeds multiball. Start with a box of balls near the server's side of the table. The server (using his best serves) only serves and attacks one ball, then lets the next ball go by as he grabs the next ball. Receiver returns serve and plays one shot only. Then they repeat, in rapid-fire fashion. The goal of the server is to set up a strong third-ball attack. The goal of receiver is to stop server's attack. Take turns on the drill, with each doing perhaps 5-10 minutes.

You can do variations of this, where the server uses a specific serve over and over, the receiver a specific receive, etc. I posted variations of this drill in the past. The drill is especially valuable for learning to receive effectively. Most rallies at the intermediate and advanced levels don't go much beyond these four shots, so this drill lets you rapidly practice the most important shots of the game - the first two shots by each player.

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page yesterday with 14 new photos of six celebrities. New celebrities are basketball players Chris Mullin and Carmelo Anthony, and German soccer player Gunther Netzer (or as they more correctly call it, football). There are also six new pictures of basketball star Yao Ming, and new pictures of actresses Fay Wray and Joan Davis. There are now 1299 pictures of 751 celebrities.

USA Nationals in Ten Days

I leave for the USA Nationals in ten days, on Monday, Dec. 12; events start the next day. I'll be mostly coaching at the Nationals, as well as playing hardbat. Regarding my coaching, it would be very helpful for me if any readers who are not students of mine would refrain from practicing their serves, receives, and other table tennis techniques until after the Nationals. I mean, practice is so passé; if you know the game, just show up and play, right? And practice is such work. So just have fun, don't practice, and me and my students will have lots of fun at the Nationals. Seriously, do not practice your serves - good serves are such a pain to coach against. I don't want to have to remind you again. Thank you for your attention.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

Here is the (current) opening to the chapter on Receiving Tactics (5300 words):

"What is your goal when you receive? That is the primary question you must ask yourself when considering receive tactics. This is no different than thinking about serve tactics, except when you serve, you get to spend time between points deciding which serve to use.

"Receive is the most under-practiced aspect of the game, with serves a close second. Every rally starts with a serve and a receive, and yet players rarely take the time to practice and develop these techniques. Receive is probably the most difficult part of the game to master, and it's doubly hard when players only practice it in actual games. Instead, find a practice partner and take turns practicing your serve and receive.

"Most players are either overly aggressive or too passive when they receive. It's important to find the middle range. However, it is even more important to understand that it is consistency, placement, and variation that are most important."

German soccer players playing table tennis

Here's a video of German soccer players playing table tennis, including Emmanuel Frimpong - yes, "frompong." (1:38). I'll add to Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page next month. 

A History of Table Tennis

All told in 4:51 in this hilarious video by Pierre Knows, from why the name of the game changed from Whiff Whaff to Ping Pong to Table Tennis and why the Chinese still call it Ping Pang. (I think I linked to this video once a long time ago, but I searched my archives and couldn't find it - so if I did, enjoy it again!)

Rallying with a grenade

You read that right - here's a video of two top women rallying with a live grenade (3:34), in slo-mo, in front of a high-class, wine-sipping audience. Warning - has a gory finish.

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November 30, 2011

Angelica Rozeanu

Angelica Rozeanu of Romania was World Women's Singles Champion six straight years, 1950-56 - and believe it or not, she was the last European to win that title! (The Worlds were held annually through 1957, every two years since then.) From 1957 to present, women from China won it 19 times, Japan seven times (all the titles from 1956-69 except the 1961 win by Giu Zhonghui of China), and three times by Korea (Pak Yung Sun of North Korea in 1975 and 1977, and Hyun Jung Hwa of South Korea in 1993). China has won six in a row, 12 of the last 13, and 14 of the last 16.

So how good was Rozeanu, a hardbat chopper, who also won Women's Doubles and Mixed Doubles at the Worlds three times each? Judge for yourself in this video (4:51) from the late 1950s when she was at her peak.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players

I wrote this a while back, but I was thinking about it recently during the Teams, since it seems to fit the profiles of so many top players. Does it fit you?

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

I'm 67,000 words into the first draft, with 18.5 of 20 chapters completed. (I've also done the Introduction, Glossary, and yep, even About the Author.)  I'm halfway through the chapter on Hardbat Tactics (yep, I'm doing that!) and haven't started Mental Tactics (tactics to get yourself into the right frame of mind to play your best). Soon I'll be going over all my past articles to see if there are more items I should add. Here are some excerpts:

Opening to chapter on Tactical Thinking:

"What are tactics? Tactical thinking is how you figure out the best way to use what you have to win. Pretty simple, right?

"The goal of tactics is to mess up your opponent. That's all there is to it.

"Tactical thinking is a habit. Many highly intelligent people are not good tactical players because they never developed the habit. And I've seen some not-too-bright people who were good tactical players because, yes, they spent a lot of time watching and observing, and learned what to do to maximize their games - and so became very good tactical players.

"Tactical thinking takes place in five settings: Between tournaments, after matches, before matches, between games, between points, and during practice. The one time you don'tthink is during points."

Opening to chapter on Strategic Thinking:

"Strategic thinking is how you develop the tools you will use tactically. If you don't have the proper tools, you can't get the job done. It's like having a nail and a screwdriver - wrong tools."

Here's the tentatively final table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One               Tactical Thinking
  • Chapter Two               Strategic Thinking
  • Chapter Three             All About Spin
  • Chapter Four               Your Tactical Game
  • Chapter Five                Beginning Tactics
  • Chapter Six                  Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics
  • Chapter Seven             Service Tactics
  • Chapter Eight               Receive Tactics
  • Chapter Nine                Rallying Tactics
  • Chapter Ten                 Different Grips
  • Chapter Eleven             Pushing
  • Chapter Twelve             Loopers
  • Chapter Thirteen           Blockers, Counter-Drivers, and Hitters
  • Chapter Fourteen         Choppers
  • Chapter Fifteen             Fishers and Lobbers
  • Chapter Sixteen            Non-Inverted Surfaces
  • Chapter Seventeen       Hardbat Tactics
  • Chapter Eighteen          Doubles Tactics
  • Chapter Nineteen          Mental Tactics
  • Chapter Twenty            Tournament Tactics
  • Glossary
  • About the Author
  • Index

The Ping-Pong Workout - on FOX News!

Yes, they did a special on table tennis and fitness (2:21, starts with a 30-sec commercial), and concluded that it was good for fitness. Almost makes me want to vote Republican. :)

Table tennis going to the dogs

This tailless dog just wants to join in, while this one actually does join in, though I think you lose the point if your non-playing paw touches the table.

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November 17, 2011

Timing for beginners

I was hitting with a relatively new student yesterday, an eight-year-old girl, who was having trouble timing her shots. I did something I've done before - I may have blogged about this a while ago - and started to say, "Da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da" as we hit, timing each "da" with the ball hitting the table or the racket. This greatly helped her timing. When I stopped doing it, she protested, and made me do it for about ten minutes. Finally, I switched to saying other things, like "No more, no more, no more, no more," and "Don't miss, don't miss, don't miss, don't miss," which she thought was pretty funny - but it also worked.

Focus on strengths and weaknesses

I've written about this before, but thought this was a good time to remind readers of my views on practice. Practice everything your game needs, but focus on the your strengths and weaknesses. You want to turn the strengths (or potential strengths) into overpowering strengths that strike fear in the heart of your peers. You want to get rid of any weaknesses that might hold you back.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

The book is moving along slowly, now at 55,000 words. I'm probably going to spend the next few days reworking some sections. I keep running into terminology questions, such as the one I blogged about last week (does a half-long serve go slightly long, slightly short, or in between?), and yesterday's "big" question - what do you call the three types of penhold backhands? Two are "conventional penhold backhand" (or is it "conventional Chinese penhold backhand"?) and "reverse penhold backhand," but what of the third, where the penholder swings from the side and turns their backhand into almost a second forehand? I've always known it as a "Korean penhold backhand," and Cheng Yinghua agreed - but someone else thought it was a "Japanese penhold backhand." I went with Korean for now.

Wang Hao's serve and the ITTF Umpires Chair response

I blogged on Tuesday about Wang Hao's illegal serves in the Men's World Cup Final, with video and pictures to verify. To recap, here are the pertinent rules:

  • 2.6.4: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
  • 2.6.5: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."
  • 2.6.6: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

As a blogger, I decided to go right to the source, and so I emailed the chair of the ITTF Umpires and Referees Committee, and pointed out that the pictures and video show that on essentially ever serve, Wang was not pulling his arm away "as soon as the ball has been projected," and in fact was leaving it there right up until contact. Here's the video, and below are pictures that clearly show him hiding contact with his arm. (Also note that in all these serves, Wang has tossed the ball roughly to the top of his head, above his eyes, so the contact points shown here are well after he has projected the ball.)

Here is the pertinent part of his response:

"I have watched the YouTube video with great interest, and it may surprise you that the services were not as bad as I expected. You are right that most umpires do nothing about this, but that is not because they don't want, it is because they don't see. If there would be a camera on the position of the umpire it would be clear that from that position the service looks perfectly legal."

I find this response almost chilling in its dismissal of what our own eyes tell us. There is no way any umpire, from any angle, cannot see that Wang leaves his arm out right up until contact, breaking rule 2.6.5. And there is no way an umpire, from any angle, can conclude that the serves are not hidden. They may not be sure, but that's the whole point - if they aren't sure, then the serve is illegal - see rule 2.6.6. As it is, you can see from the still pictures that the serves are clearly hidden by the arm.

This problem of umpires not enforcing the rules, and thereby rewarding cheaters and cheating their opponents, is a serious problem that players and coaches have to face. Umpires are supposed to enforce the rules. How can the chair of the Umpires and Referees Committee from the worldwide governing body defend such an obvious and repeated public failure to enforce the rules?

Interestingly, most players who hide their serves do not do so in such obvious fashion as Wang does here. More commonly they will leave the arm out as long as possible, and then pull it in before contact. The umpire sees this, and since the arm obviously is not hiding contact, concludes the serve isn't hidden, and so doesn't bother strictly enforcing the rule about removing the arm as soon as the ball has been projected upwards. But as the server pulls the arm out, he thrusts his shoulder out, and it is the shoulder that hides contact - but since the umpire is distracted because he is watching the arm being pulled out, he misses the shoulder hiding contact. It's almost like a magic trick, where at the key moment the magician distracts the viewer from seeing what he doesn't want him to see. (While I may have just explained how to hide your serve to players who are willing to cheat, it's more important that players and umpires know what to watch for.)

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis the Best (3:01).

Table Tennis in a Car

I've never seen a drive by drive until now. (1:39)

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November 8, 2011

Day One at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the first day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM. I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." Going into the retreat I'd done exactly 6222 words, and I was hoping to average 5000-6000 per day. On Day One, I did 8063, for a total of 14,285. That's actually a crazy pace, but it's only for five days. I'm guessing the book will total about 50,000 words, but we'll see - I'll probably keep writing well past that and end up with 100,000. I do have a publisher that's interested in the book, but whether I go that route or self-publish, it should be out next year, hopefully before the U.S. Open.

I spent much of today writing about conventional and non-conventional tactics (lots of examples of both), and on service tactics. For example, I gave ten ways to mess up your opponent with a short serve, and the thinking behind each. I'm also writing a lot about tactical (how to win the current match) versus strategic (how to develop your game) thinking. But the best part of the book is the chapter on Tactical Thinking, which I began last week, and finalized this morning. I put a lot into that chapter. Tomorrow I finish up service tactics, and move on to receive tactics. And there's a lot more coming after that.

I have a pretty extensive outline, and yet I'm barely using it. The book is basically written in my head, so I'm just transcribing it. I open the book with this: "The purpose of tactics is to mess up your opponent." The rest of the book is just elaborating. I've also got some ideas for the cover, but I won't go into that yet.

Finding Your Zone

This weekend I read the sports psychology book Finding Your Zone (156 pages, published in 2008) by Michael Lardon, M.D.  Some of you may recognize the name - he was a former junior star, who made the final of the 1977 U.S. Junior Championships. (In fact, he led Perry Schwartzberg 2-0 before losing in five.) I got to know Mike a bit in the late 1970s when he was at his peak and I was on my way up. He'd probably vaguely remember me.

The book gives ten core lessons for "achieving peak performance in sports and life." For table tennis, it gives many excellent and practical methods for getting "in the zone." As a coach and player, I can relate to what he is teaching, and I strongly recommend the book. Or at least most of it. - see my comments below on Lessons Eight, and to a lesser degree, Lesson One.

The ten lessons are:

  1. Dream
  2. Be Prepared to Overcome the Odds
  3. Transform Desire into Will
  4. Trust Your Brain, Keep It Simple, and Stay Positive
  5. Stay in the Now and Be in the Process
  6. Manage Your Emotions and Thoughts
  7. Keep Your Motivation Pure
  8. Acceptance and Faith Conquer Fear
  9. Build Confidence and Win
  10. Perform Under Pressure

I have one major nitpick with the book, Lesson Eight's "Acceptance and Faith Conquer Fear." A good portion of this chapter is basically religious in nature, where he explains why believing in God makes it easier to relax. That alone bothered me, but that wasn't the real problem. There was an entire page that argued that the second law of thermodynamics proves there must be a god, since otherwise all energy on earth would dissipate through the law of entropy. But this refers to a closed system, and earth is definitely not a closed system - the sun pours energy into it. If you want to see the law of entropy in action, enclose the earth inside a large hollow sphere so that no energy can get in or out (i.e. turn it into a closed system), and come back in a thousand or a million years. But what is all this doing in a book on sports psychology?

Parts of Lesson One were also a bit off-putting, since they were not about dreaming of greatness, but literally about dreaming, including listening to your dream, lucid dreaming, etc., and seemed the least applicable to sports psychology of the lessons, other than the parts in lesson eight I write about below. I'm not sure why he started with this chapter.

It's easy to get caught up in the parts of a book you disagree with when reviewing it, so let me be clear - I found eight of the ten chapters extremely valuable and I strongly recommend the book for those chapters, as well as for parts of Lessons One and Eight. And I'm sure some will find valuable the very parts I did not. Lesson Seven alone is worth the price of the book, where he talks about the different types of motivations, and why those who want the end product - fame - do not do as well as those with the more pure motivation of wanting to be the best they can be.

Other great sports psychology books include With Winning in Mind by Lanny Bassham; The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey; and Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert.

Short, fast serves

Here's a video from Pingskills that explains how to do a short, fast serve (1:40). Yes, short and fast!

Song Hongyuan highlights reel

Here's a nice highlights reel (1:18) of China's junior star Song Hongyuan from cmetsbeltran15.

100-year old table tennis player

Here's a video (0:51) with commentary of Australia's Dorothy de Low, 100, at the 2010 World Veteran's Championships, the oldest player there. "I feel like a film star," she said. The headline is "100-year-old with a killer forehand," but she actually does a couple of nice backhand kills in the video.

USATT minutes

Here are the minutes to USATT's September 21-22, 2011 board meeting.

Kitchen Ping-Pong

Here's 33 seconds of kitchen ping-pong. "You can't play ping-pong in a suit." So, why don't you have a net strung across your kitchen or dining room table?

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