Top Ten Shots

June 4, 2014

New USATT Ratings Portal

USATT has a new ratings portal. Prepare to be let down.

One of my students gets out of taking PE at school because of his age ranking in Maryland, and instead does extra hours of table tennis training. Last night I had to fill out a form for his school, and needed to look up his current Maryland ranking for his age. I went to the USATT ratings page, and there it was – the new USATT Ratings Portal, created by RailStation, who does our new membership system. For comparison, here is the old USATT Ratings Portal. I don't know if the old one will stay up or not, but there no longer is a link to it from the USATT webpage. I suggest you bookmark it. (If you haven't used it before, here's your chance to have some fun and create your own lists by clicking on the Customizable Members List link near the top on the right.)

Let's do a point-by-point comparison. I'm using Chrome for this, but I checked it out on Explorer as well and seemed to get the same results. Feel free to test it yourself.

In the old version, it showed what date the ratings were through, and listed tournaments before that date that were not yet processed, and even gave the reason why. It also listed the ratings by year so you could click on the year and choose any tournament from that year, with the tournaments listed chronologically, even listing the number of players and matches in each one. The new version has none of this. Want to find the results from a specific tournament? You can't. (My first reaction to this was You've Got to Be Kidding!!!) Want to see what tournaments were processed? You can't.

In the old version, if you wanted to look up someone's rating, you put in their last name, hit enter, and chose the person from the alphabetical list. In the new version, you also put in their last name, but if you hit enter, it doesn't work. You have to manually hit submit. The new version also has a field where you put in state, but if you do, it ignores the name you put in and gives you the entire alphabetical listing for that state rather than just those in the state with that last name. Also, the old version had the name field at the top of the screen. Now, unless you have a large screen, you have to scroll down to it.

The old version had the Customizable Membership Lists, which I use regularly. With that you could create just about any ranking list. You could chose the age (under or over); gender; choose only players who played since a certain date (or before); only those over or below a certain rating; by USATT members only or all past members; and from specific states, USA only, or all. Now you can barely do any of this. In the new version, you cannot narrow down the selection by multiple criteria, and you have to use the ages they give. For juniors, you can only choose under 18 or under 20; for seniors, only in five-year increments. Or you can choose just men or women. You cannot choose these as USA only, or by state. You can't create an age ranking list by state, for example.

If you want a simple ranking list of, say, top men, that was easy in the old version – and you could do it by USATT members or not, USA only, or by state, age, gender, etc. In the new version if you click the handy Top Men Singles Button, you get as the #1 player Thomas Keinath of Germany. The #2 is Ilija Lupulesku, who hasn't played a USATT tournament in four years. Meanwhile, USA Team Member Timothy Wang is left out, presumably because his membership is currently expired – and there's no option to list non-members. If you want a listing of only top USA men or women who are active (say, played in the last year) – good luck. You can't.

The new version has several fields. The first one is Ranking Category, but there is only once choice – USA Table Tennis. Why is there a field when there's only once choice? If there are going to be other choices later, then put the field in later. But what other choices would we want than USA Table Tennis in the USA Table Tennis ratings portal? The next field is Game, and again there is only one choice – Singles-Adult. (Apparently we don't have juniors?)

The next field is the Ranking Group, which I already covered above. But when I actually tried out each field, a number of them didn't work. The Men's, Women's, Under 18, and Under 20 fields wouldn't work, but after I'd tried them several times, the Under 18 and Under 20 suddenly worked – but not the Men's or Women's. One problem is that when you release on a ranking category, you assume the page will bring you that list, but it doesn't unless you also manually hit Submit. (Again, Enter doesn't work.) Also, the next field, Season, caused problems as nothing worked unless you chose a season – but there was only one season to choose, 1994-2014. The problem is that the one choice there kept disappearing, and to get it back I had to choose another category, and then it would reappear.

Below this is the Search for a Member field, which I discussed above. If you want a state listing, you have to use the Select State field, which doesn’t make sense – why would you go to Search for a Member fields to find a state listing? In the old version there was a listing of each state, and you just clicked on the state to get an alphabetical listing. Or you could add criteria for this in the Customizable Members List.

Anyone care to create a list of, say, Under 14 Boys in Maryland, or any other age listing by state? (Preferably only ones who have competed in the last year?) Or just about any other ranking list that involves more than one criteria (and in most cases, even one)? You can't in the new system.

I'm sure the ones who put this together will say they plan to fix these problems. But why would we switch to this when IT'S NOT READY YET??? It's not ready for prime time, and is a massive downgrade from what we had before. It's like going from Tenergy to sandpaper. Didn't anyone from USATT test it before they decided to go live with it?

I strongly urge USATT to go back to the old portal until the new one can match what we had before.

Tips for Effective Receiving

Here's the article.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. I linked to the first nine on Monday (I'd been linking to them earlier as they went up), and here are three more. Twelve down, 88 to go!

  • Day 89: ETTU President Ronald Kramer Enjoys Taking on Challenges
  • Day 90: Interview with Incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert
  • Day 91: Interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara: “I am motivated to do the best for our sport.”

USOC May Athlete of the Month

Here's where you can vote for Lily Zhang and Tahl Leibovitz as USOC Athlete of the Month. Lily has some tough competition – the voting shows the leaders are a triathlete and someone from track and field. Tahl's up against athletes from triathon and diving who currently lead the men's voting. 

Interviews with Table Tennis Manufacturers

These interviews are mostly with makers of non-inverted surfaces: TSP, Avalox, Dr. Neubauer, Xiom, and Re-Impact.

Around Net Shot

Here's the video – but watch the table off to the left! (The link should take you directly to 3:22 in the video.)

Top Ten Shots

Here's the video (4:50).

Ping Pong Summer Smashes Its Way to Theaters

Here's the article and video (1:34). There's a showing of the movie in my area this Friday at 7:30PM that I'm planning to see. I'll probably blog about it next week.

The Story Behind the Paddles in Ping Pong Summer

Here's the article. Apparently they are using hardbat rackets in the movie, which takes place in 1985. (Note to non-TT historians – the hardbat era mostly ended in the 1950s, and by the 1960s all the top players were pretty much using sponge.)

Susan Sarandon Plays Table Tennis on Today Show

Here's the video (2:06, starts with 30sec commercial), where she plays doubles with actor Ansel Elgort against Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb.

Kids Play Piano at ICC Fundraiser

Here's video (1:52) of kids at the recent ICC club fundraiser showing off their piano skills.  

Facebook v Spotify v Moshi Monsters

Who will win Tech City's Ping Pong Fight Club? Here's the article.

Why I'm Bad at Ping Pong – Illustrated!

Here's a drawing by Lance, a 7-year-old student of mine.

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March 25, 2014

Smooth Acceleration + Grazing Contact = Great Spin

This came up last night in the Beginning/Intermediate Class I teach on Monday nights. The two most common mistakes players make in failing to create great spin are these two, which are the pillars of creating spin, especially when serving, pushing, and chopping. It's true for looping as well, but only for slow, spinny loops. When you loop faster, you sink the ball more into the sponge. (I'm mostly writing for players using inverted sponge, but the same principles apply to most pips-out surfaces as well, as long as they have some grippiness.) 

When serving and pushing, beginning and intermediate players often use a short stroke (to help with control) and sort of jab at the ball. They are thinking that the velocity they get with this jabbing will create great spin. Actually, it just leads to a loss of control as you can't control the racket this way. Plus, for physics reasons I won't get into (partially because I'm not a physicist), you get far more spin if you smoothly accelerate into the ball, and almost hold the ball on your racket as it carries it through the shot. This literally slings the ball out with tremendous spin.

But you only get this tremendous spin if you graze the ball - the second problem many players have. Too often players sink the ball into the sponge at an angle, which isn't the same as grazing the ball. To learn to graze the ball, just toss one up and graze it with your racket, making it spin. Generally do this with a pendulum serve motion, but contact the ball on the left side of the ball (for a righty), with the racket going mostly up and slightly left, so that the ball goes straight up. Catch it and repeat. It's important to spin the ball so it goes straight up, both so you can catch it and repeat, and so you can develop ball control. (If you can't control the direction the ball goes when you graze it with this exercise, how can you do it when actually serving?)

As always, I recommend beginning players get a colored ball (or put markings on a ball) so they can see the spin they are creating. This gives feedback on whether you are really spinning the ball or not.

For more advanced players, I recommend they also do the ball spinning drill I wrote about above. It's a great way to really develop those grazing skills so you can both spin the heck out of the ball and control it. Advanced players should also experiment with smooth acceleration and grazing on their spin shots, and see how much they can make the ball spin.

When you can put great spin on the ball with your serve, apply the same principles to pushing and slow looping. Don't be afraid to throw in some slow, spinny loops, even if you normally loop pretty hard. Slow, spinny loops are extremely effective at the beginning/intermediate level, but many forget or never realize how effective they are at the advanced level if not overused. They not only are effective on their own as the opponent struggles to adjust to the slower speed and higher spin, but the contrast makes your other loops more effective.

Snow

Yep, it's snowing again here in Maryland. We're supposed to get 2-3 inches, though it shouldn't stick on the roads and sidewalks, which are too warm. For once, schools and government offices are open - usually a single snowflake closes everything down. This has been one crazy winter, with one snowfall after another.

Reverse Pendulum Serve of Achanta Sharath Kamal

Here's the video (36 sec), which shows it first in slow motion, then in super-slow motion. This serve, combined with a regular pendulum serve (so you can spin the ball both ways) is an incredible one-two punch.

2014 Youth Olympic Games: Coach/Leader Selection

Here's the info. The 2014 Youth Olympic Games will be held Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.

USATT Forum

With the demise of the about.com forum, USATT has set up their own forum.

No Hands Table Tennis?

Here's the video (6:47) of this unbelievable armless Egyptian star who plays with the racket in his mouth! Wow. Just wow. (Near the end he's even fishing and lobbing.) Interesting thought - how good would this player be against regular players, and how good would he be against a good player who went out of his way to go after the weaknesses of the "mouth" grip, such as serving super short, or with wide-angled breaking sidespin serves?

Waldner on David Hasselhoff Show

Here are two pictures of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner on the David Hasselhoff Show, in a posting by Waldner himself. Alas, the video is not yet available. (I searched on Youtube.)  

Shot of the Day

Here's the video - see the shot nine seconds in, and the opponent's response!

Top Ten Shots

Here's a Top Ten Shots video (6:19) from Mrtheportal Tabletennisvideo. Includes a "bonus" eleventh (the first one shown) of a nice rally ending with a crazy side-post ricochet shot and a pair of smiling girls, one of them a little bit exasperated.

Bobby Flay's Ping-Pong Throwdown

Here's the video (3:07). "Chef Bobby Flay has been challenged to a throwdown, but this time it’s not in a kitchen! He's used to taking challenges there on his new Food Network show, *Beat Bobby Flay*, but now he’s up against 12-year-old ping pong prodigy Estee Ackerman in a battle with rackets and a ball. Will Estee take it easy on Bobby?"

Extreme Ping Pong

Here's the video (3:11) - you really have to see the acrobatics they show in the "making of" this video! And here's the actual final video (3:52)!

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January 30, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching Events

Had a lot of interesting things happen yesterday - here's a rundown!

  • For the second time, those months when I was about twelve where I learned how to pick locks paid off, making me a hero. On Tuesday night someone accidentally closed the bathroom door while it was locked. We have two bathrooms at MDTTC, but this was the one where we stored paper towels and toilet paper - and the other bathroom was running low. When I came in Wednesday afternoon they hadn't been able to open it, and were about to call a locksmith. So I grabbed a credit card and a paper clip, and picked the lock. I was a hero!!! For future cases, I taught Coach Jack how to pick that particular lock. The previous time my lock-picking made me a hero was about 15 years ago at a U.S. Open or Nationals, where nobody came to unlock the playing hall at 8AM, and about 100 of us were stuck outside, with events to start at 9AM. I picked the lock, to thunderous applause.
  • During a practice session a student mentioned that some of my blocks against his loop came out flatter than others. There's a simple reason for that - when the ball lands at normal depth or deep, a player blocks normally. But when the ball lands shorter and you have to reach forward, there is sometimes a tendency to block flatter. This is also why players who block right off the bounce tend to block flatter. 
  • One student tended to block from about five feet off the table. So we spent some time working on blocking within an arm's length. There are generally two types of blockers: those who take it right off the bounce (and go for quickness, consistency, angles, and change-of-pace - penholders with conventional backhands are notorious for this) and those who take it a bit later, but still on the rise, and focus on blocking more aggressively.
  • I did drills with one player where he had to loop to my middle. This is easier when backhand looping then with forehand looping. Why? For the simple reason that when backhand looping the opponent is in front of you, clearly in sight, while for forehand looping you are looking to the side, and so can't see the opponent. I know several top players who are great at finding my middle with their backhands, but aren't so good at doing this with their forehands.
  • One of the sessions was a lot of fun. Why? The student had had recent problems against players who lobbed and fished. And so I spent a good 20 minutes lobbing and fishing to him! This happens to be a strength of mine, and so we had some vicious rallies. I can lob down pretty much anyone under 1800 level, and (at my peak, when I was faster) most 2000 players.
  • Had one of the most interesting conversations ever while driving kids to the club - see next segment!

Blue Whales at the MDTTC

Recently we've started an afterschool program where I pick up some of our students from their schools and take them to the club. Yesterday I picked up a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. What follows is a rough synopsis of the conversation, mostly with the 7-year-old. Be forewarned - it gets silly, and if you're not in a silly mood, skip ahead or it'll ruin your non-silliness by making you laugh. (And there's plenty of other table tennis stuff afterwards.)

Me: "I'm going to drive the car up the Washington Monument, which is 555 feet tall, and drive off the top."
7-year-old: "No, don't do it! We'll all die! And the police will arrest you!"
Me: "I'll drive off the top so fast we'll land in the Atlantic Ocean and get swallowed by a blue whale."
7-year-old: "You won't make it to the Washington Monument because the police will stop you with their bazookas!"
Me: "They'd arrest me for driving off the top of the Washington Monument?"
7-year-old: "Yes!"
Me: "But then they'd have to wait until I'd actually driven off the Washington Monument before they could arrest me for driving off the Washington Monument. Then they'd only have three seconds to do so. Besides, the hungry blue whale will stop them from arresting us."
7-year-old: "Blue whales don't eat people, they eat plankton!"
Me: "Ah, I see you know your whales. But this is a special man-eating whale that's realized that in one bite, it can save hours of scouring the ocean for plankton."
7-year-old: "The police will kill the blue whale with their bazookas!"
Me: "No way. In a fight between a 100-foot blue whale weighing 200 tons, and a few puny humans with bazookas, the blue whale would win."
7-year-old: "Not if I bring in the army!"
Me: "If you bring in the army, I'll bring in a gang of octopuses with machine guns. And I think the plural of octopus is octopi."
7-year-old: "Then I'll bring in all the rest of the animals in the world!"
Me: "Then I'll bring in blood-sucking vampire cheetahs, since you missed them since they are dead."
7-year-old: "I'll bring in tanks!"
Me: "I'll bring in super-plankton, this little plankton that's been lifting weights and beating up blue whales everywhere! He's small but deadly."
7-year-old: "I'll eat your plankton!"
Me: "I'll bring in the planet Mars, and smash your policemen, armies, animals, and tanks."
7-year-old: "I'll smash your Mars with Jupiter!"
10-year-old, joining in for first time: "I'll smash Mars and Jupiter with my Jupiter-sized fists, which are made of rock."
Me: "Okay, now I'm scared."
[We arrive at club.]
Me: "But this raises the age-old question: How many blue whales could we fit in the Maryland Table Tennis Center?"
7-year-old: "None, they're too big."
Me: "I think we could fit four across the floor, and stack four more on top, so we could fit eight of them."
7-year-old: "How are you going to get them into the club? You can't carry eight blue whales!"
Me: "I'll toss them over my shoulder, one by one, of course."
10-year-old: "I'll smash your blue whales with my giant fists."
7-year-old: "But blue whales won't fit in the club!"
Me: "Let's find out." 

And so I paced off the club, and got its dimensions: 77' wide and 126' long. By measuring the size of the panels on one wall that went up to the ceiling, I calculated the height at 18 feet. (Technically, we have two bathrooms sticking out of one wall, which reduce the volume, but we also have a back room of about the same size.)

Now according to my Internet research, an adult blue whale is roughly 100 feet long, and (when lying out of water on dry land) about 10 feet tall and 25 feet wide at its widest. The 10 feet tall thing is problematic since that would make it difficult to stack them since the ceilings are 18 feet high, but I'm going to assume we can squeeze them down a bit more and stack them two high - but this would make them wider, perhaps 30 feet wide. Since the club is 77 feet wide, we would be able to fit two side by side, and two on top of that. Then we'd have 17 feet left on the side. We should be able to squeeze one more in there. But the club is 126 feet long, so we have an area 26 feet by 77 feet left over. Taking into account that the whales don't take up as much space with their flukes, and being careful to load them into the club fluke first, we should be able to jam in one more blue whale, left to right, if we fold its flukes back over. So that makes us a six blue whale club.

Here's another way of looking at this. A blue whale's density is pretty close to water. A blue whale can weigh up to 200 tons, let's assume we have a very large one at 200 tons. Now if MDTTC's dimensions are 77x126x18, then it has a volume of 174,636 square feet. A square foot of water weighs about 62.4 pounds. So MDTTC could hold up to 10,897,286 pounds of water, or about 5448 tons, which equates to 27.24 blue whales at 200 tons each. Suddenly I'm realizing that my blue whale packaging above wasn't very efficient. So now we're a 27 blue whale club, assuming we can fold and perhaps cut up the whales to make them fit. The key question - will they pay membership?

Balancing Training of Strengths and Weaknesses

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

The Laughmaster of Ping-Pong - Adam Bobrow

Here's an article on this entertaining player, "The Laughmaster Of Ping-Pong, Adam Bobrow Combines Comedy And Table Tennis And Tours The World In Leopard Print," which includes a link to a video (4:08) that compiles some of his adventures.

Liu Shiwen Criticized by Liu Guoliang

Here's the article, which includes a link to a video (18:06).

Top Ten Table Tennis Points of 2013

Here's the video (3:37).

Top Ten Shots of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

Here's the video (4:24) from the ITTF.

Eager Thief Tries to Gift Wrap Table Tennis Table

Here's the article! (Alas, it links to a video that is no longer available, which I saw last night, with video footage of the hapless criminal actually trying to wrap the table.)

Cat Smacking in Forehands

Here's the latest cat-playing-table-tennis video (27 sec) starring an acrobatic cat with a world-class forehand, I mean forepaw.

Will Ferrell Playing Table Tennis

Here's the picture, where he demonstrates his unique penhold grip - while wearing white with a white ball, the cheater.

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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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