Jun Mizutani

April 24, 2014

Wednesday Coaching

I had four sessions yesterday (and sort of a fifth), plus I picked up two kids from school to take to our afterschool TT program.

Session #1: This was with a 7-year-old, where we continued to work on the basics. He gets impatient pretty quickly and asks how much time is left about every sixty seconds. (And so my standard answer is, "One minute after the last time you asked.) He's more into videogames than table tennis, alas. However, he is improving. Yesterday he hit 30 backhands in a row, and I told him his backhand was better than Han Xiao's. (Former U.S. Team Member and four-time Men's Doubles Champion and Singles Finalist Han was practicing on the next table.)

Session #2: This was with a 12-year-old. Last week's session didn't go so well - he wasn't playing well and wasn't happy about it - but this time it was a great session as he played about the best he's ever played. He's about 1600 but could be 1800 this year. His forehand keeps getting better, and this time his backhand was pretty good as well. He's in that in between stage where he's both hitting and looping backhands. We played two games at the end, and he shocked me by taking a 6-2 lead the first one. This sort of woke me up, and I came back to win both games. The first step to beating a stronger player is to force them to play their best. The second step is consistently battle with them. The third step is to beat them. He's passed step one.

Session #3: This was with a 9-year old, the one I've blogged about before who likes to lob. He's listed as 1300, but that won't last. He has too much ball control and too strong a backhand. We've been working hard on his forehand, which can be erratic as he likes to loop or hit it about six different ways. One problem is that he's had some shoulder problems, and so there are times where we have to go easy on his forehand drills. Sometimes it's difficult to get him to focus on attacking as he likes lobbing and chopping so much, but yesterday he was more into attacking, and we had a great session. (I believe I've blogged about why we're not turning him into a chopper. He was interested until he discovered he'd probably have to go to long pips, and he wants to stick with inverted so he can lob. I toyed with turning him into an inverted chopper, but we discussed it and he decided against it.)

Session #4: This was with an 11-year-old who's a relative beginner who's attended some of my junior classes. This was his second private session. He's just started looping, and not only does it pretty well in multiball, but did it surprisingly well in drills where he serves backspin, I push, and he loops. It was the follow-up shot against my block - smashing - where he had problems. Soon he'll start looping the second ball as well. We also worked hard on serving, where he'd been unable to get spin, but we had a breakthrough (using the soccer-colored balls so he can see the spin better) and he began producing decent sidespin and backspin. Next step is to learn to serve them lower while increasing the spin even more. He has a table at home and is going to practice this on his own.

Sort-of-Session #5: This was basically a long discussion on what was needed for one of our up-and-coming juniors to become a top player over the next couple of years. New focus (for this player - everyone is different) will be on physical training, serve, receive, and becoming a student of the game. (Much of being a student of the game means studying and learning from videos of yourself, of top players, and of potential rivals.)

USATT Chairman's Blog: CEO Update

Here's the blog entry, and see my comment below (and follow up comments). As you can see, I'm not happy with my posting about this being so trivialized.

Ariel Hsing Will Play the 2014 Super League in China

Here's the article in Chinese (including a picture of her posing with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), and here's another one, also in Chinese. Here's a summary in English of both by Bruce Liu, which I'm pasting below:

  • Ariel is referred as Jeremy Lin in Table Tennis in one the article titles.
  • Ariel will join the Jinhua Bank Team, the only women's team in the Super League in Zhejiang Province.
  • There is a possibility to have one of the home court contests in the US someday, according to the club owner.
  • Playing to gain experience, not for money.
  • Got admissions from both Yale and Princeton. She chose Princeton because there is no table tennis team in Yale.
  • Her match vs Li XiaoXia in 2012 London Olympics.
  • Friendships with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
  • Won't play in the season opening in May 18 due to school but will probably join the team at the end of May.
  • Her playing position will be determined later. She may play singles or doubles.

Jun Mizutani Admits Better Mental Strength

Here's the article.

Wang Hao Doesn't Want His Son to Be in Table Tennis

Here's the article. One interesting thing - it says Nan Li (daughter of Li Zhenshi and Zhang Li) "serves as a secretary of the US Table Tennis Association," which I don't believe is true. She and her parents are professional coaches at the World Champions Club in San Jose, CA.

Poly Ball Test Results

Here's a list of test results on the diameter and weight of the new Doublefish poly ball, put together by Larry Thoman, General Manager for Newgy Table Tennis and former long-time chair of the USATT Tournament Committee.

Charlie Disney Led as Landlord and Table-Tennis Champ

Here's the obit. As noted in my blog on April 17 (with words from Disney's long-time business partner Don Larson), the long-time table tennis organizer and entrepreneur passed away last week.  

World Team Championships

Here's the promo video (1:03) for the upcoming Worlds in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

The Incredible History of Olympic Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:35). I don't think I've ever posted this.

Table Tennis Spin Wheel

Here's the video (4:01) of this training tool for players learning to loop. I had a smaller, cheaper version of this, but it broke. I was tempted to buy one and did some searching, and found you can buy one from Tees Sports - but cost is £67.99, or about $114, a bit much.

Trailer for Ping Pong Summer

Here it is (2:10), just came out! Looks like a great movie. (I put this in yesterday's blog late, so I'm putting it up again for those who missed it.)

Happy Birthday Hannah!

Here's another TT birthday cake, this time for Hannah Ricci Tayad - and yes, I now officially put in pictures of all birthday cakes when birthdays come up! (Sorry, only current ones, not past ones.)

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January 28, 2014

15 Days a Slave

We're done!!! After 15 days of seemingly non-stop work, I finished the page layouts and photo work for Volume 14 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis. (Mal Anderson does most of the photo scanning and supplies about half the photos. I do a lot of fixes on the photo.) It's 465 pages with 962 photos - a new record. I put it all in PDF format, and uploaded it to the printer yesterday afternoon. Now I'm exhausted - for weeks I've been running back and forth between this, coaching, and zillions of other stuff that constantly comes up (mostly involving table tennis or writing). At 11:30 PM last night Tim left for home in New York.

Yesterday we mostly were inputting corrections, doing pre-press work, creating the book flyer and ad, and updating the online page. I also did some coaching, and tutored two of our junior players in English and math at the club for an hour.

I celebrated last night by seeing the movie "I, Frankenstein." (I've already seen most of the good ones out there.) I think most would agree it was somewhat of a dumb movie with cheesy special effects, but it had its moments. Spoiler alert - since it took place in modern-day times, and much of the battling was over possession of Victor Frankenstein's notes, which kept changing hands as the two groups kept stealing it from the other, I wanted to scream at them, "Just make some photocopies and hide the backups!!!"

And now I get to attack the growing list of items on my todo list, which have accumulated like snow over the past two weeks.

Early Round Matches at Tournaments

Many players start slowly in tournaments, and start out with some bad early-round losses before getting their game together. Often they are playing these early matches against weaker players to not lose, rather than to win, and can't get loose enough to play well. So why not look at these matches as if they were a final, and convince yourself you've battled round by round to get there, and that this is the match you've been waiting to play all your life? Then go out there and be a gladiator! Once you learn to do that type of thinking, you can get your game going a lot earlier in tournaments.

Another thing that would help - instead of just warming up, play practice matches or play points with someone, and imagine those as the most important matches or points you've ever played. This will get yourself into tournament mode.

For me (back when I was still playing tournaments regularly), there was nothing better than playing a first-round match against some player who could push me, but couldn't beat me if I played my level - and so I would pretend he was the favorite, and go out there ready to do battle, and push myself to pull off an "upset." Not only would I consistently win those matches, but they would get my game going.

Pros and Cons of 3rd and 5th Ball Offensive Style

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Jun Mizutani: "I can beat the Chinese"

Here's the article and video (4:30).

Wall Street Financiers Play Ping Pong for Charity

Here's the article, which includes a picture. "NEW YORK—Dozens of Wall Street financiers competed at the 6th Annual Tournament of the Champions Pong table tennis tournament in Grand Central Terminal Friday. The five-hour event drew hundreds of spectators throughout the day. The Ping-Pong matches, however, weren’t about winning. Each team paid $3,500 to participate. The money goes to the youth mentoring organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York, a nonprofit that serves children in need of adult role models."

Governor Chris Christie Wins Challenge With 13-Year-Old

Here's the article and video (3:05) as the New Jersey governor challenges a boy at a Boys and Girls Club. Other (living) governors who play include former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (here's a 17-sec video), former Arkansas Governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who I've coached a few times, and has a USATT rating of 1223.

The Schwarzenegger Closed

Here's the draw sheet, care of Table Tennis Nation, with 16 Schwarzenegger characters ranging from The Terminator and Kindergarten Cop, to Conan and The Governator. Which of these characters would win? (They put a lot of time into this!)

Percussion Pong

Here's a hilarious video (1:50) that features two comic musician table tennis players, and two superstars - Jean-Philippe Gatien (1993 World Men's Singles Champion, zillions of other titles as former world #1) and Patrick Chila (Bronze Medalist in Men's Doubles with Gatien at 2000 Olympics and four-time French Men's Singles Champion). Both Gatien and Chila are lefties; Gatien's on the left at the start. Not sure who the other two musician comic players are, though they seem to be able to play.

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October 16, 2013

RGIII Response Video

We're up to 689 views (as of 10AM EST) on the RGIII Response Video (1:15). Let's make it go viral!!! (I blogged about this yesterday.)

Last night I posted it two Washington Redskins forums, The Hogs forum and Extreme Redskins forum. I also posted it several times on Facebook, on my page and on the pages of the four players, with requests for others to repost, and it's been reposted by a number of people. (So should you.) It's also on the USATT web page and on the USOC web page. Today I plan to send it to some local media.

Video Review Before Tournaments

On Oct. 26-27 I'll be coaching at the 4-star South Shore Butterfly Open in Indiana. This means lots of practice for the players going there over the next ten days. For me, it means video review. I'll be coaching three top players, so I'm spending more and more time watching them in practice so I'm ready to coach them. More importantly, I'm about to hit the video screen soon to study video of their recent tournament matches. This is where you really learn a lot about a player. You can learn a lot by watching them play locals, but they are used to playing those locals, and so it's not the same thing. To properly prepare to coach someone in a tournament you need to see what they do against players they are not used to playing.

For example, one of our local top players tends to do a lot of very short serves. Players get used to this and expect it, and so are comfortable against it. Another likes to serve long a lot, and again, players are used to it and are ready for it. But against a player they are not used to, they have no clue what's coming next, at least at the start, and so their comfort zone is lower. Often they fall back on something simple like flipping all the serves, or pushing all the backspin serves back long. (When coaching top juniors, the first thing that goes when they play a new player is their short game - they may do it well against players whose serves they are used to, but they aren't so comfortable doing it against a new player. So I usually have to remind them to bring that receive into play.)

There are also rallying tendencies. A player may not hesitate to counterloop against players they are used to playing, where they probably react very quickly to shots since they are so used to the opponent. But there's often some hesitation when playing a new player. Often you have to remind the player to play "free," and just let himself go and do what he does in practice. There are also the never-ending reminders to attack an opponent's middle. (I think players forget this in matches because so many practice drills involve going into the practice partner's backhand or forehand corner, and so they naturally do that in matches as well. They all do drills to the middle as well, but the majority of practice shots generally go to a corner.)

I also watch videos of likely opponents, but for a tournament like this, there are just too many possible opponents, and so I instead will mostly rely there on memory of past matches, watching them at the tournament, and my rather lengthy file of notes from past matches.

Great Rally at Japan Open

Here's a video (35 sec) showing a great rally at the Japan Open between Japan's Jun Mizutani and Taiwan's Chen Chien-An.

Ping-Pong Ball Fire Pit

Here's a video (2:09) of what happens when you fill a fire pit with ping-pong balls and light it. Wait'll you see how high the flames go!

Hold On to Your Racket

Here's a video (56 sec) of USA's Erica Wu and Lily Zhang at the worlds against Ai Fukuhara and Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan. As Erica goes for a shot, her racket hits Lily in the leg and goes flying! She gets great distance. (I may have posted this once before, but let's watch it again.) 

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February 14, 2013

Most Memorable Practice Sessions

I've had some memorable ones. Here are a few.

At the 1981 U.S. Open in Princeton, NJ,  I was practicing with others from my club (13-year-old Sean O'Neill, Dave Sakai, and Ron Lilly) when the Chinese team came in. (I'm pretty sure this was the first time they had ever attended a U.S. Open.) They practiced for an hour or so on nearby tables. Then they came over and offered to pair up with U.S. players, as part of their "Friendship First" policy. I was paired up with one of their women, but I had no idea who she was at the time. We hit forehands and backhands, and I didn't realize at first that she had long pips on the backhand, and that she'd flipped her racket to put the inverted side there to hit backhands with me. Then she began chopping. I sort of smiled, as I'm better against choppers than any other style, and so I gave her (hopefully!) a pretty good practice session (about an hour), where I both looped and smashed pretty consistently against her chops. Afterwards I found out who she was. TONG LING!!! The reigning World Women's Singles Champion and #1 woman in the world! A few days later she'd win the U.S. Open Women's Singles.

At some large tournament in the late 1980s, out of the blue Zoran Kosanovic asked if I'd warm him up. He knew me from a camp he'd run in Canada in 1980 that I'd attended. However, he was the #1 player in North America, rated about 2750 (to my roughly 2250 at the time), and had recently been ranked in the top 20 in the world. I expected he'd want to do some standard drills, but that's now what he wanted to do - he wanted to do "free play," where whoever got the ball just served topspin and we just rallied anywhere on the court. This might have worked for him, but he spent the entire session - about an hour - dominating the rallies, using me as target practice as he'd fake one way and go the other, with a non-stop barrage of inside-out and hooking loops that I could only flail at. Afterwards I could barely play, and I had one of my worst tournaments ever. He also had a so-so tournament, losing to Eric Boggan, and getting in trouble with the umpire and referee after losing one point when he picked up his side of the table and slammed it down in anger.

Many years ago, when I was around 1900, I was a good hitter, and was developing my loop, but for some reason my blocking against spinny loops wasn't that consistent. At the Eastern Open a top player was preparing for a match, and couldn't find anyone to hit with. So he asked me, figuring that at 1900 I could at least block. Then he walked out to the first table for our warm-up, in front of hundreds of people. Well, I could barely keep the ball on the table, both because my blocking was still poor, and because I was nervous about all these people seeing me miss block after block against this player. The top player should have just thanked me, and looked for someone else. Instead, he finally walked over, and in a very loud and exasperated voice said, "You can't keep the ball on the table. I need to find someone better." Then he walked off. I was pretty embarrassed, but also pretty angry. I was somewhat happy when he was upset in his next match. I get some of the credit for that, right?

I was coaching at a training session in the summer of 1987 at the Butterfly Center in Wilson, NC, when I was 27. Several junior players were complaining about having to do too much footwork in the 90 degree heat. I said I could do side to side footwork for fifteen minutes, so why couldn't they do it for half that? When one said there was no way I could do it for fifteen minutes in the heat, I upped the ante and said I could do it for 30 minutes continuously if someone fed me multiball (so there'd be no breaks even if someone missed) - but if I did, everyone had to 1) promise never to complain about training again that week, and 2) go outside and run a mile. They agreed. I not only did the 30 minutes, with two of the juniors taking turns feeding the balls, but I went the entire 30 minutes without missing a shot! (What they didn't know was that I'd spent two years in North Carolina, 1979-81, in that very gym, practicing every day even in 100 degree heat. Heat never bothered me until I was much older. Also I was a miler in high school, and had once run a marathon. Plus, I did so many side-to-side footwork drills when I was developing that I could do them endlessly without missing.)

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - ON SALE!!!

Current cost is only $11.45!!! (Instead of the regular retail of $17.95.)

I was a bit confused about this. The book is supposed to retail for $17.95, and that was the price I set when I began selling it on Amazon.com, and that's what it was selling for. Yesterday I discovered it was selling on Amazon for $11.45! I was about to send them an irritated email trying to figure out why that was happening, but decided to check the online royalty statement first. Despite the lower price, I'm getting paid the exact same royalties for the books as when it was going for $17.95. So Amazon is apparently making up the difference.

I sent an email to CreateSpace (the subsidiary of Amazon that actually prints the book) about this last night, and here is their response this morning:

Amazon.com, as well as other retailers, sets the selling price of items on its website. In some cases, the selling price will be above the list price; in other cases, the selling price will be discounted to a price below the list price. Keep in mind that you set and control the list price of your work, while the selling price and any discounts are set at the discretion of the retailer and are subject to change.

Only you can alter the list price you set in your CreateSpace account. The royalties you earn from Amazon.com retail sales, as well as sales by other retailers, will be based on the list price, not the selling price. Neither you nor CreateSpace has the ability to change the selling price of your work on Amazon.com.

So for now, you can buy it for $11.45. Buy now or you may regret it later!!!

Make Your Serves More Effective

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on making your serves more effective.

Update - History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

We did three more chapters today, bringing totals to 23 chapters and 365 pages. I've now cleaned up, placed, and captioned 724 graphics. The book is now projected to be 29 chapters and 460 pages, with 906 graphics. Chapter 23 ended with the Nissen Open, where Danny Seemiller won Men's Singles over Chartchai "Hank" Teekaveerakit, and Connie Sweeris won Women's Singles over Takako Trenholme.

A Truth About Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Tim Boggan continues to be a might irritated that, in accounts of Zhuang Zedong's death, it's said that Glenn Cowen accidentally boarded the private Chinese bus where Zhuang would give him a gift. Tim said, "I was a confidante of Glenn's on this Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip and he told me, in the absence of any available transportation from his practice hall, he was invited onto the Chinese bus by someone other than Zhuang. This authoritative gesture was of enormous seminal importance for China-U.S. relationships. For when that bus came to rest and Glenn emerged to reporters, China-U.S. relationships would never be the same. I suspect there's a political reason to continue this myth of an accidental boarding."

U.S. National Team

I heard yesterday that Peter Li turned down the non-funded fourth spot on the USA National Team. Only the first three spots are funded. (Presumably he turned it down because of the cost, not because it interferes with college since if he couldn't go because of college, why would he be trying out?) This means that Jim Butler, who finished fifth, was next - and he accepted the spot, and will pay his way. (Actually, he hopes his sponsors will help him out.) One ramification of this - while we now have an all-junior Women's Team, our Men's team now has Jim (42) and Khoa Nguyen (46). The aging vets are taking over!

Jun Mizutani Returns to World Tour

Here's the story. He'd been boycotting it in protest of illegal boosters.

Zhang Jike in Training

Here are three pictures of Zhang Jike doing physical training.

Water Ping-Pong

"Not a bad way to waste away the day..."

Table Tennis Valentines

There's lots more stuff like this, and some rather interesting pictures, if you put "table tennis valentine pictures" into a Google search. This is what you get!

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June 11, 2012

Tip of the Week

Dealing with Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship.

Bad coaches

Since this week's Tip of the Week is on Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship, let's continue the trend and look at the dark side of coaching. There are lots of great coaches out there. And I've often blogged about good coaching habits. However, let's talk about the other side of the coin: bad coaches. Here is a list of seven types of bad coaches. (I'm sure I missed some.) There is a lot of overlap between these categories, and the differences between some of them are subtle. There are probably bad coaches who combine the worst of multiple categories!

  1. Self-taught coaches who either don't really understand high-level table tennis that well. Often they were mid-level players who really think they know the game, but don't have the experience to realize they don't. The stereotypical example is the player who has had little or no experience in watching top players develop, but believe they know how it is done by watching the end product, i.e. top players (usually on video) after they have already become top players. Highly perceptive people can sometimes learn to be good tacticians this way, but to learn what a top coach does in the practice hall you have to be in the practice hall to learn.
  2. Highly-opinionated coaches who can only teach one way, and often are mistaken in what they do teach. They usually were not top players, and teach techniques that they themselves have little experience at and which they don't really understand. These types of coaches are legendary, but players usually see through them once they start observing what top players actually do, and see that there are sometimes multiple ways of doing something, depending on the player's style and technique.
  3. Those who can only coach their own playing style. Often they are former top players. I've seen coaches take well-developed and successful styles and practically destroy them by trying to make them play the way they did. A good coach understands the game in general, not just from his own game's point of view. Some top players are masters of knowledge regarding their own game and how it relates to playing other styles, but only know little beyond their own game.
  4. Those who live in the past, who essentially say, "This is how I did it, this is how my coach did it, and this is how my coach's coach did it, so that's how you will do it." I call these types of coaches "Parrot Coaches." These types of coaches are unable to change with the times as new techniques are developed.
  5. Those who do not personalize, and instead teach everyone the same. This comes out of pure laziness.
  6. Those only out for money, and are impatient or unenthusiastic. They often teach sound fundamentals, but getting them to take the extra effort to really develop someone as a player is like pulling teeth.
  7. Bad attitudes. Some of the "best" coaches are not very good coaches because of bad attitudes. One of my best students ever early in my coaching career reached #1 in both Under 14 and Under 16. He idealized a particular world-class player whose style he had copied, watching huge numbers of tapes of this player. Then, one day, lo and behold, the player came to the U.S., and was going to play in a major local tournament! Better still, he advertised that he would be coaching the night before at the tournament site, at a very high rate. My excited student signed up for a 30-minute lesson. They were speaking Chinese during the session, so I didn't know what they were saying as I watched, but gradually my student seemed more and more unhappy, and he left the session crying. According to him and to several onlookers who understood Chinese, the "coach" had spent the entire session berating him, insulting his game, and ended the session by telling the kid he had no potential as a top player. If I'd known what was going on, I'd have pulled him from the session immediately. Instead, completely disheartened at this treatment from his "hero," the kid barely tried that weekend, losing to nearly everyone as I watched helplessly from the sidelines, and never really overcame it. After years of training six days a week, he stopped trying in training sessions, stopped trying in school, and six months later, his parents pulled him from table tennis. (I later found out that this top player was notorious for this type of thing.)

Interview with Stellan Bengtsson on Sports Psychology

Table tennis sports psychologist Dora Kurimay interviews Coach Stellan Bengtsson (1971 World Men's Singles Champion) on the most important aspects of sports psychology.

Spin City Sports Table Tennis

Here's an article from the Tampa Bay Times on the Spin City Sports full-time table tennis club in Largo, Florida.

Great Point, Great Shot

Here's a video of a great 34-shot rally in the final of the Japan Open this past weekend, with Japan's Jun Mizutani (the lefty on the far side) fishing or lobbing back 13 shots in a row against Korea's Oh Sang Eun, ending with one of the best point-winning lobs you'll ever see. (Mizutani wins the final, 9,9,.-11,-4,12,5.)

Ping-Pong Death Match

Since we have an interview with Bengtsson on sports psychology, it's only appropriate that we end with a video of a Ping-Pong Death Match (5:28). Ever play ping-pong with a guy who takes the game way too seriously?

Non-Table Tennis - New SF Story Published

My science fiction story "The Oysters of Pinctada" went up today in the new issue of Flagship Magazine. My name's on the cover! Alas, you'll have to buy the issue to read the story. (Here's my Science Fiction & Fantasy page.)

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February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)

This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.

I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)

I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:

  • "No one's called me on it before." (I know of at least one player who has used this excuse probably a dozen times. Thank about that! But even if it were true, then that doesn't change the fact that the serve is illegal; it simply means there has been lax umpiring.)
  • "That's the way everyone's serving." (Not true, but a lot do get away with it.)
  • "Why would you call me on serves?" (Because you are hiding your serve.)
  • "I'll call my opponent for serving illegally in practice, but no way should you call him on it in a tournament." (This is one of the stranger ones.)
  • "He's from your own player's club!" (So why is he hiding his serve against someone from his club who is not hiding his serve?)

It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.

Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.

By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.

Service seminars

I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!

2012 U.S. Open

Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!

Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book

Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player

While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:

  • "Never show what you want, if one thousand words will do.  All explanations should be as wordy as possible to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the game."
  • "Make sure to always tell the player what he or she did wrong."
  • "Teach volleyball [table tennis] the way it is supposed to be taught, on the chalkboard."
  • "Make sure to bawl players out about their mistakes, win or lose.  It is better to do this in front of a whole gym full of spectators, rather than in the locker room, or worse, one on one in private."

Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's

Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.

Kuwait Open Highlights Tape

Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.

Lady Antebellum Table Tennis

After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).

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October 28, 2011

Werner Schlager on Talent

2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria recently made a surprise appearance on the about.com table tennis forum. While explaining how Germany's Timo Boll (European #1, world #2) did something so well, he wrote, "I can assure you, there is only one 'magic' behind it: a little talent and many of years of practice." When asked to elaborate on the subject of talent, this is what he wrote:

"Imagine you are born with a double resolution of your eyes retina. You can see with more detail than others. Any exercise regarding reading, searching, etc. is somehow easy for you. But: Probably you wouldn't even realize that you have that gift. Because for you it is NORMAL.

"And this is why i see my gift (far more unspectacular than double resolution retinas, lol) also as "not so special". Probably it is very special to others, but i couldn't even describe you my talent. Is it logical thinking? Is it body movement sensitivity? Is it vision? Is it creativity? Is it my low muscle tension? Hmmm- most likely a little bit of all the things i just mentioned...that is why i stated: 'a little bit of talent' ;)

"But i somehow still believe everybody can play as good as i do- or better. And every time somebody fails, i scratch my head and almost can't believe it.

"Because for me it is easy and normal."

Jun Mizutani's backspin serve

They call it his "ghost serve," but it's just heavy backspin. The video shows how he does it in just 55 seconds. (One thing you can't see very well in the video is that he contacts the ball near the tip, where the racket is moving fastest, thereby creating the most spin.) Here are two tips.

First, while it's good practice to create a backspin serve that's so spinny and short that it bounces back into the net, you generally have to serve slightly high to do so, as Mizutani does here. It's more effective to serve it lower, and so that the second bounce (given the chance) is near the end-line, with more forward motion so that it doesn't bounce backward despite the extreme backspin. The serve Mizutani is doing is more for show, and is easier to return than one that goes deeper, faster, and lower.

Second, learn to do this serve where you also contact the ball near the handle, but with the same vigorous motion you use to produce heavy backspin by contacting the ball toward the tip. Then you'll be able to create heavy backspin and "heavy no-spin" with the same motion, which will confuse your opponent and lead to many missed or popped-up returns. ("Heavy no-spin," where you use a big serving motion but serve with no spin, is my favorite table tennis term.)

Zhang Jike loop

Here's world champion Zhang Jike's loop against a chopper (2:20).

High rating ambitions

Every year at about this time I'm always struck by the number of players using the "Team Finder" page for the North American Teams Championships to try to get on a much higher-rated team than their own rating. Personally, I'd feel rather awkward about trying to team up with players rated much higher. I'm sure every one of these players would argue that they are under-rated. (If they were over-rated, would they be looking for lower-rated teammates?) I've cut & pasted some of the ratings and messages there.

  • 500: I'm looking for a team rated in the 500-1300 range.
  • 1287: I am underrated and play as if I'm rated 2100.
  • 1635: We are looking for three players 1700 to 1850. Call me or email.
  • 1650: looking to join a team around 1700-1850 rating
  • 1700: Looking for a team with players ranging from 1750-1900.
  • 1884: Im looking for a syrong team who hace a rating between 1900- 2100
  • 1948: I'm looking to join a team with 2 players over 2000.
  • 2145: LOOKING FOR A TEAM 2300 LEVEL
  • 2236: Want a team with ratings above 2400 as that was my rating before.

Jackie Chan table tennis commercial

Here's a 30-second 2007 Visa commercial starring Jackie Chan as he tries to get it to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 by making the Olympic Team. He ends up using his Visa card instead.

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