Writer's Retreat

November 14, 2011

Zhang Jike wins 2011 Men's World Cup

Here's coverage at Table Tennista, a great place to get your table tennis news (besides here!), including many articles translated from Chinese. Zhang was down 0-2 in the final to Wang Hao in the all-China final (what else is new?) before staging his comeback, -7,-7,9,4,5,3. Here's the whole match in just 13:49, with the time between points removed. (Note - this was originally linked to their match at the 2010 World Cup; it didn't get corrected until Monday night at 7PM.) Here's the ITTF home page for the Men's World Cup, with results, articles, and photos.

World Cup 2011: Zhang Jike (CHN) vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER)

One of the best matches of the 2011 World Cup was the Zhang-Ovtcharov match in the preliminaries. Both had already defeated the other two in the group (), and were playing for positioning in the final draw of eight players. Here's is the entire match in just 7:50, with the time between points removed. Zhang comes from behind 0-2 and 1-3 to win deuce in the seventh, -10,-7,5,-8,5,8,10. This is a great match to study. Watch how they vary their serves and receives.

Also note how Ovtcharov often serves backhand to the forehand side (see first point), and over and over Zhang returns it with his backhand. See extreme case at 0:50. Ovtcharov does it as well - see 1:05, for example. Also see 1:10, where Ovtcharov is about to return backhand from the forehand side, then realizes the serve is long, and switches to a forehand loop. As mentioned in previous blogs, this technique of using the backhand to attack short serves to the forehand, mostly against backhand sidespin type serves, is relatively new at the world-class level, and went against what coaches taught until just a few years ago, when top Chinese players like Ma Long and now Zhang began doing it successfully.

Day Five at the Writer's Retreat

Friday was the fifth and final day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I was working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

44,327 words, over 38,000 since Monday. I'm about two-thirds through the book, and hope to get most of that done this week - we'll see. Here's the wordy sentence of the day (which might get rewritten): "This book is for all levels, from beginners learning to play (who should focus on developing their game strategically so they can later have the weapons to use tactically) to intermediate players (who can execute many of the shots the best players do, at a lower level, and need to both find ways to maximize their tactical performance with the tools they have, and to strategically develop new weapons) to top players (who can use this book to develop - or further develop - the habit of thinking strategically and tactically).

Richard McAfee and the Micronesian Month

USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee just finished his month-long coaching excursion to the Federated States of Micronesia, where he's been coaching at the South Pacific islands of Kosrae, Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei. Here's the ITTF article. I will make no jokes about Richard fitting into a place called Micronesia because it's never good to make jokes about a person who is bigger than Micronesia.

ITTF Museum Newsletter #26

The ITTF Museum released Newsletter 26. The issue includes:

o   Their first royal visitor
o   Kjell Johansson remembered - his personal 1973 racket donated
o   ITTF Museum exhibition at the China Open in Suzhou
o   Jean Devys (FRA) donation:  Budapest 1950 World Ch. program
o   The Final Relay - arrival of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic torch
o   Colin Clemett visit, with previously unknown World Ch. scores

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 1 (3:27).

Top Ten Political Excuses for Losing

  1. "I'm part of the 99% . . . the ones who don't win tournaments. Occupy Court One!"
  2. "During my match with Zhang Jike, the teleprompter was telling me how to play Timo Boll."
  3. "There's this third reason . . . I can't remember it. Sorry. Oops."
  4. "The "trickle down theory of rating points" hasn't work for me. I'm more of a ratings creator, and then they just trickle down to whoever I'm playing."
  5. "I'm a Democrat, my opponent was a Republican, and he waterboarded me."
  6. "A billion dollar stimulus program didn't bring me a single rating point."
  7. "The accusations that I harassed four opponents are absolutely untrue. It was my righty forehand that harassed them. But I still lost because they kept hitting to my left, my backhand."
  8. "I absolutely deny that in Massachusetts tournaments I was pro-choice on long pips, no matter what the videos say. I've always been against long pips, and I always will, as long as Republican primary voters are against them, or at least until the general election."
  9. "To help finance my training, I hired a Greek economist."
  10. "Unlike Trump, Bachman, Perry, Cain, Palin, Christie, Mother Theresa, the ghost of Ronald Reagan, and a plumber from Ohio, I haven't yet had my fifteen minutes as the conservative alternative to Romney."

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November 11, 2011

Half-Long Serves

I've been ruminating on the proper terminology for serves where the second bounce, if given the chance, would go near the end-line. The problem is the definition of a "half-long serve" seems to vary from person to person and region to region. Some say it means the second bounce is just short of the end-line; others say the second bounce is around the end-line (i.e. it might go slightly short or long); and others say the second bounce is just off the end.

I've always called this type (or these types?) of serve a "tweeny serve," but half-long serves seems to be the more popular term among advanced players. One person thought a half-long serve is always slightly long, while a tweeny serve is always slightly short.

Pretty frustrating for us wordsmiths! But the exact terminology isn't nearly as important as understanding these serves, both the execution of them and returning them.

Here's how five-time U.S. Men's Champion and two-time U.S. Olympic team member Sean O'Neill described how to return a half-long serve where the second bounce is slightly long, though you can go a bit over the table and do this against one where the second bounce would be very close to the end-line.

"Keys to remember when attacking these knuckle busters:

1) get closer to the table and often more sideways
2) smaller backswing
3) more upward motion with hands and forearm
4) more shoulder turn after the point of contact

Attacking topspin half longs are a little easier as the ball with help with the lifting. Don't forget to aim deep on your opponent's side and to see where they are vulnerable before hitting the shot."

Day Four at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the fourth day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

After typing almost nonstop Mon-Wed, yesterday exhaustion began to set in, and I had my least productive day, and by that, I mean I did more than I had expected to do each day when this retreat began. I "only" did 4856 words, but that brought to 35,419 the total I've written since Monday morning, and 40,275 overall. I figure I'm about two-thirds through the book.

I've been thinking about this book for so long that the words are just pouring out in an explosive torrent of organized and properly formatted text.

I spent most of yesterday writing about specific strategies for various styles, including a very long section on tactics for loopers, as well as sections on tactics for hitters and blockers. I also did some rewriting of some earlier sections. Today I hope to finish the section on tactics for various styles, and move on to the chapters on playing against various grips, surfaces, and styles.

Soon I'll start going through past coaching articles I've written and begin incorporating some of that. (I've done a little of that, but most of what I've written is new.)

Today's quote: "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. If your thinking is too simple, you aren't maximizing your play."

Here is the current Table of Contents. I'm toying with adding an "Odds and Ends" chapter where I can put tactical tips that don't quite fit elsewhere, but so far I think I can fit everything in these chapters. I had a chapter on "Rallying Tactics," but everything in that was incorporated into the chapters on "Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics" and "Tactics for Specific Styles." Otherwise, things would get a bit redundant. I also might need to add a chapter - do I really want to have thirteen chapters???

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One                Tactical Thinking
  • Chapter Two                Strategic Thinking
  • Chapter Three              All About Spin
  • Chapter Four                Your Tactical Game
  • Chapter Five                Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics
  • Chapter Six                  Beginning Tactics
  • Chapter Seven              Service Tactics
  • Chapter Eight               Receive Tactics
  • Chapter Nine                Tactics for Specific Styles
  • Chapter Ten                 Playing Different Surfaces
  • Chapter Eleven Playing Different Grips and Styles
  • Chapter Twelve            Doubles Tactics
  • Chapter Thirteen           The Mental Side of Tactics
  • Glossary
  • About the Author
  • Index

Interview Time

The Daily Quarterly did a two-part interview with me. Part 1 went up last Friday. Here's Part 2, which went up this morning. They are the same satirical site that did the spoof of Brad Pitt starring as me in the movie adaptation of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. And so I gave my answers accordingly.

USA Nationals Entries

Want to see who's entered in the USA Nationals (Dec. 13-17, Virginia Beach)? Here's the listing. (Make sure to set the tournament to 2011 US Nationals.) They have 562 entries, and I think they are nearly done, though a few more last-minute ones might be added. Here's the home page for the USA Nationals.

Video of the Day

Here's The Best of Timo Boll (4:35).

Paralympic Table Tennis Pictures

Here are photos taken during table tennis tournaments for disabled, care of Flickr and the ITTF.

Ones in a Lifetime

For those living in a cave or who do not worship weird numbers and dates, twice today the time and date will be 11-11-11 11:11:11, once at 11:11 AM and again at 11:11 PM. (Make sure to set your clock according to official time so you'll know exactly when it's 11 seconds past these two times.) What does this have to do with table tennis? Well, why do you think the ITTF changed the scoring system from 21 to 11 a few years back? Obviously in anticipation of today (won't happen again for 100 years), so that somewhere out there two crazy players can go out and play an 11-11 deuce game at one of the two indicated times. (Here's the CNN article on this.)

And this is spooky. Take the last two digits of the year you were born (60 for me) and add them to your age (51 for me), it'll add up to 111 for those age 12 and over, and to 11 for those 11 and under. (It's basic math, but still fun to see.) 

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November 10, 2011

Talking Table Tennis with the Teens

When I discuss table tennis with our top junior players, two things jump out at me.

First, they know the best players in the world inside and out. Name a top player, and they can mimic his strokes and serves, his favorite tactics, recite his best titles, and tell me what they had for lunch.

Second, if I ask them what tactics they use against a specific player they have recently played, often a dazed look comes over their faces. After a short "senior" moment, they'll usually say something vague like, "I serve short and loop" or "I attack his backhand." (There are exceptions. Some can discuss in great detail what they do.) If I draw them out, they often admit they hadn't really thought about it. It turns out they are thinking a lot about their strokes, but little about their tactics. They know more about Ma Long's tactics than their own!

It always amazes me how much our juniors know about the top players, and how little they know about their own games. This is an area where we can improve - but their knowledge of the top players is a huge asset if they can incorporate it into their own games.

Day Three at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the third day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

It was another historic day as I broke my previous day's word count record, with exactly 11,000 words. (I was about ten words short when I stopped, so I typed one more sentence, which happened to be exactly ten words long.) Since 10AM on Monday, I've done over 29,000 words, for a total of 35,419! (This includes about 6000 words I had done in advance.) I'm over halfway through; I'm guessing the first draft will be around 60,000 words, but we'll see.

Today I'm going to be incorporating a lot of past articles, so that may give me a bloated word count. (Some of those 11,000 words were from past articles, but it had to be rewritten and updated.)

I haven't decided whether to use the following line on in the Introduction: "You are about to enter into another dimension, a dimension not only of speed and spin, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of creativity. It is an area we call . . . table tennis tactics." Too non-serious?

The real question is this: Will "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" become the cherished bible to billions of ping pologists, or will it be laughed to oblivion?

On a side note, Jennifer Crawford, the wife of Parris Glendening, former governor of Maryland (1995-2003), stopped by on Tuesday.

Coaching Seminar at the Nationals

USATT will hold a coaching seminar at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, Dec. 13, from noon to 2PM. You need to register in advance to attend. Two major topics will be:

  • "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game," by USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth.
    • Serves with elbow involvement and higher ball toss like Mizutani, Ryu Seung Min and Ma Long;
    • After motions on ball contact during serves (fake motions);
    • Inside out serves (hook serves) like Timo Boll, Liu Shiwen, Zhang Jike;
    •  More sidespin motions on returning serves;
    • Backhand receives with banana flicks like Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, Petr Korbel;
    • Hook drop shots;
    • Reversed banana returns.
  • "The Use of Half-Pattern Drills to Teach Anticipation Skills," by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.
    • Come and learn what “half-pattern” drills are and how they can prepare your athletes for tournament play.

How to Execute the Ma Lin Serve

Ma Lin has one of the heaviest backspin serves imaginable. This Pingskills video (2:14) explains and shows how he does it.

Have you practiced your serves this week?

Well, have you?

Juic International Junior and Cadet Championships

Here's where you can find all about the tournament, which was held last weekend in Milpitas, CA - results, news, videos, pictures.

Top Ten Shots of all time?

You decide. (2:57)

Spectacular trick-shot exhibition

Or is this exhibition by three Norwegian women all fake? You decide. (2:21)

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November 9, 2011

Looping versus hitting backhands

Back in the good old days, when games were to 21, balls were 38mm, and ping-pong was the only thing the Chinese did better than the U.S. (I'm joking), most players hit their backhands in rallies. When opponents hit the ball hard, you could take a half step back and rally them down. These days, even at the intermediate level, it seems everyone's looping their backhand, and so you have to stay at the table and block. If you step back against a loop, the ball jumps at you and it's almost impossible to make a good return. But this means you are jammed at the table, and no longer can take that half step back to react to the fast incoming ball. It makes rallying and life in general much harder for us backhand hitters, doesn't it?

This also tells you something about how the game has changed, especially in terms of equipment, which allows players to loop the backhand more easily. If you are developing your game, for the love of pong, if you are physically capable of doing so, develop a backhand loop!

Of course, I'm only half serious in the above. Many players who backhand loop aren't consistent enough, and are easy to block down (especially with quick blocks to the middle), plus backhand loopers often are too quick to back off and give up the table. If you are going to backhand loop, develop a good backhand loop, and the techniques and tactics to back it up. Otherwise us backhand hitters (combined with forehand loops and a zillion other techniques and tactics) will eat you alive, with some fava beans and a nice chianti. 

Day Two at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the second day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

It was an historic day as one of the most venerated, can't-be-broken records fell to the steady tapping on my keyboard. More specifically, I broke my personal writing record, typing almost non-stop all day and ending with 10,124 words for the day. This was after roughly tying my all-time record on day one with 8063. Coming in I'd done 6222, so I'm now up to 24,419 total. (I finished the looooong chapter on service strategy, and am well into the chapter on receive strategy.)

I started the workshop with the entire book pretty much written in my head - I've been thinking about it for years. But there was some trepidation going in as I wasn't sure if the words would flow.

They did.

Originally I was thinking the book would be about 50,000 words, but I'm guessing it'll be a bit longer. I'm now hoping to get to about 48,000 words or so by the end of Friday (8000 words per day? Take a deep breath, Larry...), and then we'll see where things stand. I should have a first draft done within a week after that, and soon after that it'll be ready for critique by a few selected coaches. And then I send to the publisher that's waiting to see it. Then comes fame and fortune, right?

"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?"

Third-ball attack

Here's a video from Pingskills that explains how to do a third-ball attack.

Interview with Dora Kurimay

Here's an audio interview from Pongcast of Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star. It's about an hour and fifteen minutes long, so get comfortable!

How to react to an edge ball

In this 15 second video, Adam Bobrow shows the proper etiquette after getting an edge ball.

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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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