Fundamentals

April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

I had a question on the six-inch toss rule, so I decided to submit it to USATT's Stump the Ump, where umpire questions are answered by Paul Kovac, an international umpire and certified referee. (He's also a regular at my club, MDTTC, and referees the MDTTC tournaments.) The question was seemingly simple, but as you'll see, may not be as obvious as you'd think. Here's my question:  

Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.

Here is the answer Paul gave, which is now published at Stump the Ump.

This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:

2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

The important part is:

"...so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."

The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.

Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.

Thanks, 
Paul

However, I don't think the answer is that clear, as shown by the 3-3 split by umpires/referees when I asked the question at the Nationals. Here's my response to Paul's answer:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. However, I don't think the ruling on this is that clear, based on the actual wording of the rules.

The rules say the ball must rise at least 6". Suppose a player serves so that the ball leaves his hand exactly 40 inches above the ground. If the ball then goes up six inches, it has risen six inches, from 40 inches to 46 inches, and it would seem to have fulfilled requirements of the rule, regardless of what the serving hand does. Nowhere does the rule state that there must be six inches clearance between the hand and the ball - that's a common sense interpretation, but I don't see how one can get that from the wording of the rules.

As noted, many umpires and players read the rule as it is written (and interpret it differently than what you wrote), i.e. the ball must rise six inches, and since it isn't indicated otherwise, they measure it from the point where it leaves the hand. Based on that, a player's serving hand could rise and stay with the ball, and still fulfill the requirements of the rules as they are worded as long as he doesn't use it to hide the ball, and as long as he quickly removes the serving arm and hand from the space between the ball and the net. If there is an interpretation that the ball must rise six inches relative to the hand - which would be difficult to justify, based on the wording of the rule - then that needs to be published somewhere so as to remove the confusion.

I'm CCing Roman and Wendell again as I'd like to see if they concur with your ruling, and why. This came up twice at the Nationals (I didn't make an issue of it), and as noted below, six umpires/referees I asked about it split down the middle on the ruling - so it's obviously not clear to everyone, even officials, and I guarantee most players aren't sure about this. Once the wording of a ruling on this is agreed on, I think this should be published in the Stump the Ump column, or somewhere, so it can be referred to. (Ideally, they'd change the wording of the serving rule to make this clear, but that probably won't happen.)

-Larry Hodges

So what do you think? Is there anything in the actual rules that state that there must be six inches of separation between the hand and the ball when serving? I don't see it. All I see is that the ball must rise six inches, and I don't see how that is affected by the location of the serving hand. I'll go by this interpretation even though I don't really agree with it. I haven't received a response yet from Roman Tinyszin (chair of the USATT Officials and Rules Advisory Committee) or Wendell Dillon (former chair).

Have a rules question? Feel free to ask me. If I can't answer it (impossible!!!), then we can submit it to Stump the Ump.

Veep

As I blogged about on Friday, the episode of Veep that would "feature" table tennis was on Sunday night. Alas, while there was some recreational table tennis, all the scenes with the three top players I'd brought in were cut. However, in most of the scenes taking place at the fake Clovis corporation - about half the episode - I'm often standing just behind the camera or off to the side, out of view, watching it as it is filmed. 

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

Here's the article, where he explains why he wants to deal with the "China" crisis, and will remain involved in the newly created position of ITTF Chairman.

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship.

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

Here's the video (52 sec, including slow motion replay). Maze is on far side (lefty). This'll wake you up before you move on!

WORLD TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

Here's the home page for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, April 28 - May 5, in Tokyo, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. It starts today. Since Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us, all of the first day action should be complete already. (So 9AM east coast time is 10PM Tokyo time.) Here are more articles involving the Worlds.

USA at the Worlds

  • Men's Video Update #1 (1:37) by Jim Butler (before play began).
  • Women's Video Update #1 (43 sec) by Lily Zhang (before play began).
  • Day One Results (do search for "USA"): USA Men went 2-0, defeating Luxembourg 3-1, and Kazakhstan 3-2. USA Women were apparently in the middle of their first tie, and were listed as 1-1 with Hungary, so by the time you read this that'll probably be done.

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

Here are the photos - click on the photos to see more.  

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

Here's the new article by Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star.

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

Here's a video (10:11) where they demonstrate and explain (in Chinese) their serves. Even if you can't understand the Chinese you can watch the serves themselves. About halfway through they start showing other players doing other shots.

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:27), where he talks about his table tennis and shows him playing.

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

Now that's a unique paddle! I want one. Especially the swimming pool part. Artwork by Milan Mirkovic. 

Beetle Bailey on Friday

Here's the cartoon! So Beetle has learned to serve with heavy backspin?

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's the cartoon! Now I'll never look at our own junior program the same way.

Table Tennis Epic

Here's a hilarious video (1:12), showing Michael Maze and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in an "epic" match . . . sort of.

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June 14, 2013

Fundamentals and a Strong Foundation

I had a 1200-rated 11-year-old student recently at a tournament who faced long pips for the first time, against a higher-rated player. The opponent was a long pips blocker, no sponge, and pretty much covered the entire table with the long pips on the backhand, i.e. a "pushblocker." My student went in having no idea what to do, other than my admonition to give lots of deep no-spin, play steady, and patiently wait for an easy ball to put away. However, it became obvious very quickly that even against a high ball, he wasn't going to be smashing the high balls with any consistency; the long pips returns were just too different for him.

So pretty much on his own he stopped smashing, and simply rolled ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after . . . (I think you get the idea). The rallies were extremely long, but his patience won out; he won, 11-9 in the fifth. (The opponent went on to have a great tournament - probably because my student warmed him up!)

Later, in a training session, I mentioned that in tournaments you are going to face all sorts of different and strange styles like this one, and there were just too many to prepare him for everything. I also told him that at some point, I'd bring out a sheet of long pips for him to practice against, but not now; it wasn't worth it, and would just take away from other training. I wanted to install strong fundamentals, not worry about learning to play all the different styles this early in his development. He'll learn that later.

I told him something that I thought should be highlighted for others developing their games:

"If I try to prepare you for everything, you'll be prepared for nothing. If I give you a solid foundation, you can adjust to anything."

The point was that if I tried to prepare him for [and here I started to write a LONG list of weird styles, but decided I'd leave it to your imagination instead - there's a lot], then he'd know what to do against all of them, but would have less of a foundation in his game since we'd have wasted so much time preparing for things he'll rarely face. And so even if he knew how to play these weird styles, he wouldn't have the foundation to execute what was needed to win, and so he wouldn't be prepared against anyone. Instead, I told him to develop the foundation of his game (i.e. the fundamentals) so that his foundation is stronger than his opponents, and learn to adjust to them. If he did, I assured him he'd go right through opponents that he would otherwise have struggled with.  

Another way to think of it is this: if the opponent has a "weird" game, then he's not playing like most players. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a reason certain techniques are considered "good" and others "not so good." If you have "good" technique, and the other has "not so good" technique, then his only overall advantage over you is the very weirdness of his game. His weakness is that his technique is flawed, and if you have better technique, then you can adjust to his weirdness and win because of the sounder technique.

Rest assured there are many players with so-called "not so good" technique who are very good. They have honed these "not so good" techniques to the point where they are pretty good. But overwhelmingly they would be even better if they had spent the same amount of time and energy developing more proper technique. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, there's a reason why good technique is considered as such. (The biggest exception to this might be the very style mentioned above, "pushblockers," where players who are not as physically "athletic" as others can often reach a pretty high level by just blocking with long pips instead of conventional technique - but with long pips no sponge, that could be considered "proper technique." But that's a whole other essay for another time.)

I do believe that players should experiment and learn to do a few things different, especially on the serve, and perhaps on at least one receive or rally shot. Having something different can throw off an opponent. Just don't overdo it for the sake of doing it if your goal is to reach your maximum potential.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Due to near-hurricane thunderstorms, three of my four students cancelled (normally not "good," but I needed the rest); I got a bunch of writing and reading done; the Orioles, in a four-team AL East Divisional race, beat the rival Red Sox while the other two in the race, the Yankees and Rays, both lost (and as noted in yesterday's blog, Orioles Hangout published my Top Ten List); and I got to see the midnight showing of "Man of Steel."

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Here's an ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 coaching seminar in Austin, Texas run by Richard McAfee, starting last Monday and ending today. I ran a similar one in Maryland in 2011, and am running another in South Bend, IN, Oct. 2-6. More info on that soon - probably Monday.

Chinese Versus European Loop

Here's an article that highlights the difference between the "Chinese" and "European" loops.

USATT Board Chair Blog

Here's a blog entry posted yesterday by the Chair of the USATT Board Mike Babuin. Here's the opening paragraph: "Recently I had the distinct pleasure to introduce table tennis into Valor Games. For those unfamiliar with Valor Games it is a competition designed and geared towards military personnel and veterans who are physically disabled and/or who have suffered from one of several conditions, traumas, or disorders as a result of their service to our country.  While many people may be familiar with the Wounded Warrior Program, Valor Games is a similar yet distinct competition that is gaining in recognition and participation across the United States."

The Pongcast

Here's the latest Pongcast (18:46). "This month the Pongcast reviews the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships and looks at what has been happening at the ITTF in May."

Lily and Ariel at China Open

Below is a summary of how the USA girls are doing in the China Open, as posted this morning by Bruce Liu. (Here's the ITTF China Open Page with results, pictures, and articles, and here are a few matches of Lily, Ariel, and Wu Yue on iTV. The China Open ends this Sunday.)

June 14 (China time) Summary:
Women's Singles:

  • Lily upset the #16 seed BARTHEL Zhenqi (#66 in the world) in the round of 32. It was another wild 7-gamer (11-5, 12-10, 7-11, 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-1).Her round of 16 opponent will be World Champion/World Cup Champion/Olympic Gold Medalist, aka the Grand Slammer, GUO Yue from China. We will see how wild Lily can be. It will be tough for sure. But that why it is worth fighting for.
  • Ariel fought hard as usual. She lost to GUO Yan (#5) in 5 (9-11, 5-11, 11-9, 5-11, 5-11). A great effort. 

Women's Doubles:

  • Lily and Ariel are in the quarterfinals at the China Open! Not too shabby for two 17-year-old. Due to their busy schedule, they really did not have much time practice doubles. Imagine if they can practice more together... Their opponents in the quarterfinal will be GUO Yue(#16) / LIU Shiwen (#2) from China. I'm pretty sure other than Lily and Ariel, all other players still in the Women's Doubles are full-time professional players! In fact, most likely the majority of the players in the whole tournament are professional players. 

U21 Girls' Singles:

  • Lily played twice today in the event. In the round of 16, she duly stopped the dangerous HIRANO Miu 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 14-12, 18-16). Alas, lost to ZHOU Yihan (#102) from Singapore 4-1 in the quarterfinals. It is a great accomplish already, especially in China.
  • Ariel lost 0-3 to the red hot So Eka is out but don't let the game counts fool you. It was a highly competitive match. You can see it yourselves from the score (13-15, 9-11, 8-11).

Go girls! 

Musical Ping-Pong Table

Yes, an interactive musical ping-pong table, on display at Union Depot in St. Paul, MN!

Apparently this table plays music as the ball hits the surface.

Kim Kardashian Plays Ping-Pong With Her Family

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. The apocalypse has occurred.

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May 2, 2013

Fundamentals and 1000 Forehands in a Row

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. These are the three things that make up the foundation of your game. If you want to be good, you develop them until they are so ingrained you can do them in your sleep while tap dancing on a hot air balloon Here is my article, Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes and Footwork, from the May/June 2005 USATT Magazine.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because a student of mine, 11-year-old Sameer Shaikh, is rapidly developing the fundamentals - and had a huge breakthrough yesterday. We started the session by seeing how many forehands he could hit in a row. In the first rally he missed after 38 in a row. The second rally went on and On and ON - until I caught the ball after he'd hit 1000 in a row!! Not bad for a kid with a rating of 804. (It'll be a bit higher after his last tournament is processed.) I remember five-time U.S. Champion Sean O'Neill once said that his coach, Chutchai Chan, often made him hit 1000 in a row before they'd move on to other things. (It takes about 20 minutes - if you don't miss.)

It's a matter of muscle memory. When you practice a technique the right way enough times, it becomes so ingrained that it repeats over and over whenever you need it. All you have to do is blank your mind out and let the subconscious take over, and the shot will be there for you when you need it. (Muscle memory doesn't come from the muscles; it comes from the subconscious part of your brain that controls your muscles when you let it do so.)

This doesn't mean you have to do 1000 in a row every session. It's more a mental thing. If you do that 1000 in a row one time, then you pretty much have confidence you can do it anytime. Plus it's great mental training to have the focus to hit 1000 in a row. Once the shot becomes ingrained, you should move on to more advanced practice where you combine strokes with footwork.

I was coaching another kid yesterday, age 10, who had just started. He had a developed a pretty good forehand from hitting with his father (who's also a developing player at the 1000+ level), but he had a few small technique problems, such as a habit of leaning forward as he stroked the ball. He was fine with multiball, but as soon as we went live (i.e. forehand to forehand) he'd fall back in his bad habits. So I used a trick I've used to cure this habit - I had him stand by the table, throw the ball up himself, and smack in a forehand. Since he's no longer chasing after an incoming ball, he stopped leaning forward, and instead stroked with his body going in a circle, as if rotating on a pole stuck through his head, as you want to do. At first he struggled with this, but then it came together. When we went back to forehand to forehand, he'd adopted the change and no longer leaned forward as he stroked the ball. Boom, another fundamental down!

The father had pretty good fundamentals, and is working hard to master looping. He has nice technique on the backhand side (just needs practice to use it in games). On the forehand, he tends to fall back as he's looping the ball against backspin. Why? Because he stands too far from the table, and so has to reach forward to reach the ball. To compensate for this, he falls back with his left foot. Once he moved closer to the table and took the ball from the side instead of in front, the problem was solved. Boom, another fundamental down!

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. The three foundations of your game. Have you got your fundamentals down?

The Table Tennis Collector and the ITTF Museum Newsletter

Here's the May issue of The Table Tennis Collector (#68). Here are links to all 68 issues. And here are links to all 31 issues of the ITTF Museum Newsletter. If you are a table tennis history buff, this should keep you happy for a few millenniums. (Still want more? Than order copies of Tim Boggan's 13 volumes - so far - of History of U.S. Table Tennis.)  

New World Rankings

The new world rankings from the ITTF are out. The big change - Xu Xin passed Ma Long for #1 in the men's. Here are the top ten for men and women. (Vladimir Samsonov of BLR just missed the men's top ten at #11.)

MEN

  1. Xu Xin, CHN
  2. MA Long, CHN
  3. WANG Hao, CHN
  4. ZHANG Jike, CHN
  5. BOLL Timo, GER
  6. CHUANG Chih-Yuan
  7. OVTCHAROV Dimitrij, GER
  8. MA Lin, CHN
  9. WANG Liqin, CHN
  10. MIZUTANI Jun, JPN

WOMEN

  1. DING Ning, CHN
  2. LIU Shiwen, CHN
  3. LI Xiaoxia, CHN
  4. FENG Tianwei, SIN
  5. GUO Yan, CHN
  6. ZHU Yuling, CHN
  7. SHEN Yanfei, ESP
  8. ISHIKAWA Kasumi, JPN
  9. WU Yang, CHN
  10. KIM Kyungah, KOR

Beauty of Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights video (5:34) set to music.

Westchester Open Final

There was a great final recently on April 28 at the Westchester Open, between Damien Provost and Zhen Wang. Below are links to all five games. Don't have time to watch them all? Then just check out game five, which ends in a 13-11 victory for...
Game1 (7:50)
Game2 (12:04)
Game3 (9:02)
Game4 (5:05)
Game5 (11:26)

LATE ADDITION: Here's the entire match (45:25)

Stockholm Open Poster

Here's a great promotional poster for the Stockholm Open in May - with Jan-Ove Waldner and Mikael Appelgren with tuxedoes and rackets, looking like a pair of gangsters!

Juwooowww!

Here's a Facebook video (10 sec) of 10-year-old Boris Pavlotsky, a student of Brian Pace, looping forehands, winning the point, and his celebratory exclamation. I don't think you need to be on Facebook to see it.

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November 7, 2011

Tip of the Week

How to ace an opponent. You can see all the past Tips here, or see link on menu on left.

FIT Open

There's not a whole lot I want to write about. I couldn't move on the slippery floors, or see the ball against the orange-brown tile floors (colored to look like real wood). Players would put the ball to my forehand, normally a strength, and I couldn't move to the ball and couldn't see the ball. Halfway through I withdrew from the tournament. (Several players said that it was much more slippery this year than in past years.) 

The irony is that part of the problem I faced was that I play and coach almost exclusively on the red rubberized flooring at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, with great lighting and background. And so I faced the same thing players at our club have complained about in the past, that they couldn't play effectively in bad conditions. If there were national championships held on slippery floors or other bad conditions, we'd have to train our players in those conditions, but since the vast majority of such matches are on better conditions, we'll just have to live with it in some tournaments.

Personally, I'm going to pretty much avoid ever playing in a tournament where the floors are slippery or the lighting or background make seeing the ball difficult. I'm used to really gripping the floor with my feet and getting quick starts, and seeing the ball pretty much right into my paddle, so when I try to move and my feet slide, or the ball disappears right in front of me, my game pretty much shuts down. Others also had problems seeing the ball, but I think I had more problems than most - could be my eyes simply don't pick up orange objects on an orange-brown background as well as others. It's hard enough being primarily a one-winged forehand attacker at age 51, but on slippery floors where I can barely track the ball? Yikes. I actually reverted to chopping in several matches, with my super-fast racket and fast sponge, and at times played better that way.

Of course, now everyone can say I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), which was where the tournament was held. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around "Fashion" and "Technology" in the same sentence. Sorry fashion people.

Backhand receive of short serves

More and more top players are adopting a new technique of receiving balls short to the forehand with their backhands. This is especially true against backhand serve type sidespin, where it's awkward to get the racket angle right on the forehand side. This went against what almost any coach would teach until just a few years ago. Now it's done regularly by players such as world #1 Ma Long. Here's his match with Ma Lin at the 2011 China Open (8:45), and see the serve returns at 0:38 and 0:54. After that, Ma Lin rarely serves short to the forehand again. Maybe watch the whole match - lots of great shots and tactics.

Which was the better backhand?

Here are two great backhands (0:33) by Timo Boll and Ma Long. Which is better?

A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics

This week I'm in a workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Mon-Fri, 9:30AM-5PM. I did this last year while working on a fantasy novel (now making the rounds of publishers and agents), and did 30,000 words in those five days. This time I'm working on "A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics." (I'm still debating between that title, which I prefer, and "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which I'm told would come up sooner in Internet searches for table tennis.) I've had to do some rearranging of my coaching schedule, but it'll be worth it if I get a lot done. It might mean some rushed blog entries, but we'll see. I hope to have a first draft done by the Nationals in mid-December, and published hopefully sometime early next year.

Sean O'Neill teaches the fundamentals

Five-time USA Men's Singles Champion Sean O'Neill teaches stroking fundamentals in this video (8:21).

Richard McAfee's Micronesian Odyssey

Here's another article on the ITTF webpage on USATT coaching chair Richard McAfee's coaching clinics in Micronesia. Big Mac sure gets around - and with all the ITTF articles, it's a Noisier Mac! (Just kidding - "Noisier Mac" is an anagram for Micronesia, so I had to work that in. Richard could respond, "I Senior Mac," another anagram. Don't you love anagrams?)

Interview at The Daily Quarterly

As noted on Friday, I was interviewed by The Daily Quarterly. Here it is! (Remember, they are a satirical site, and so I gave my answers accordingly.) This is only Part 1; Part 2 goes up next Friday.

Just for Laughs - Table Tennis!

"Just for Laughs" did a table tennis prank video in May this year (1:31). Their description: "Old woman is carrying a box full of ping pong balls, as she gives it to the victim, all the ping pong balls fall and roll everywhere."

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