Lily Zhang

June 25, 2014

The Tactics of Doubles and Serve & Attack

Today during break from our MDTTC camp I gave another one-hour lesson on tactics to Kaelin and Billy. We spent the first 20 minutes on doubles tactics, the rest on serve and attack. The two are playing Under 4200 Doubles at the U.S. Open next week. Both are righties rated about 2000, ages 15 and 16. Here's a summary. In each of the discussions above we also played out examples at the table. 

I explained the importance of one of them focusing more on control, the other on attack. We decided that Kaelin, since he has fast footwork, should focus on constant attack (i.e. trying to loop everything) while Billy would focus on control (i.e. setting up Kaelin). While Kaelin has the tougher physical task, Billy has the more difficult mental task as he has to do things that aren't as natural, as he looks to set up shots for his partner instead of doing his own shots. I went over some of the ways of doing this, especially on receive - pushing short (with last second changes of direction), faking crosscourt flips but then going down the line instead, etc.). 

We also went over doubles serves. Most doubles serves center around backspin and no-spin serves that go very low toward the middle of the table. But you need to test out the opponents with other serves or you may miss out on some easy points. I showed how easy it is to attack and to angle if you serve too wide in doubles, and yet some players have trouble with this. I also showed how awkward it can be to flip against short serves to the middle. 

We discussed receive. Rule one - loop anything deep. Both players are going to receive forehand, so this is the easier part. Many world-class players now receive forehand against deep serves, but if you serve short (as most do), they reach over and banana flip with the backhand. (Of course they also push, usually short.) Against short serves you use mis-direction as you mix in short and long pushes, and either aggressive or deceptive flips. I also showed them how to angle the racket to meet the spin directly when pushing, by dropping or raising the racket tip. This makes it much easier to drop the ball short. Between two righties, if the server does a forehand pendulum side-back serve, the receiver should drop the tip on the backhand, or raise it on the forehand, so that the paddle is aiming to the left. Against the opposite spin, he should do the reverse.

We discussed rallies. Rule one is to try to hit shots toward the player who just hit the ball, on the far side from his partner, so they get in each other's way. Since players in doubles are often moving into position as they hit the ball, they often have trouble blocking since in singles players are usually more in position. So looping first with good placement is generally even more important in doubles than in singles. Attacking down the line will often catch an opponent off guard in doubles, and is often the best place to smack winners. But it also gives the opponents an extreme angle, which often gets your partner in trouble.

We discussed footwork. Many players move too far off to the side after their shot, leaving them out of position for the next shot. Instead they should move mostly backwards and slightly sideways. A more advanced type of doubles footwork is circling footwork where the players circle about clockwise after each shot so that both players can approach the table from the backhand side, i.e. favoring the forehand. However, this takes lots and lots of practice to get right, so I suggested a hybrid, where whoever serves or receives steps back and circles over to the left so that he gets a forehand shot. Once you get past that first circling, it's tricky, so after that they should mostly move in and out, improvising when necessary.

Then we moved to singles tactics. We had a lengthy discussion of serve and attack (with numerous examples at the table), especially after serving short. This should center around serving half-long to the middle, so that the second bounce, given the chance, would hit near the end-line. By going toward the middle, the receiver has to make a quick decision on whether to receive forehand or backhand; has a rather awkward forehand flip; has no angle; is drawn out of position and so leaves a corner open; and the server has less ground to cover. (For players who favor one side against short serves - usually the backhand - you might move the serve some the other way.) the main disadvantage of serving short to the middle is that so many players do this that players get used to it; the receive can receive with his stronger side (forehand or backhand); and has both angles to go after, though no extreme angles. 

Serving short to the forehand is a bit riskier as it gives the receiver an extreme angle to flip into. If the serve tries to cover this, he leaves the down-the-line side open. However, many receivers find it awkward to receive short to the forehand, and many can't flip down the line (so you can just serve and get ready for a forehand). I also pointed out the value of serving short to the forehand, but not too wide, so that the serve is midway between the middle of the table and the sideline. This can be more awkward to flip then a serve that goes wider, almost like flipping from the middle, plus there's less angle to go after.

Serving short to the backhand takes away the angle into the forehand, so a forehand attacker can serve and stand way over on his backhand side and likely play a forehand from the backhand side. But it's often where a receiver is most comfortable receiving short serves. (So it's often better to serve deep breaking serves to the backhand if the receiver can't loop this serve effectively, forehand or backhand.) When a forehand attacker serves to the backhand he should stand as far to the backhand side as he can while still able to just cover a shot down the line to his forehand, knowing that usually those shots aren't too aggressive.

We also discussed the differences between serving short backspin, no-spin, and side-top. If the receiver tends to push the backspin serves long, then you can either look for a forehand loop, or just stand in the middle of the table and attack either forehand or backhand. Many players like to follow these serves with a backhand loop, since this allows them to stay in position to attack from either wing on the next shot, plus it forces the opponent to adjust to a different loop than just forehands. When serving backspin players are often more likely to flip very aggressively than against no-spin as a receiver can use the incoming backspin to flip with topspin. Against a low no-spin serve, it's easy to flip medium fast, but aggressive flips are usually more difficult. 

On the other hand, when you serve short no-spin (with the focus on keeping it very low, though this is true of all serves), you can more likely anticipate a weaker return that can be attacked with the forehand. If they push it long, it'll tend to be higher and with less spin. If they push short, it'll tend to pop up. So even two-winged loopers often become more forehand oriented when serving short no-spin. 

When serving short sidespin or side-top, the serve is likely to be flipped, but if the serve is done well and kept low, it won't be flipped too aggressively with any consistency. The key here is that the opponent is unlikely to drop the serve short, and so you can serve and hang back a bit, looking to attack either with your stronger side or from either side. 

We also started to get into the tactics of long serves. I'll likely write about that and other tactics issues tomorrow.

MDTTC Camp

Pleasant surprise yesterday! After six days of struggling to hit forehands or serve, the six-year-old girl I mentioned previously suddenly made a breakthrough today. I'd been pulling my hair out trying to get her to hit a proper forehand (though she'd managed to pick up a decent beginning backhand), but day after day, no matter what I did, the minute no one guided her stroke she'd revert to this slashing, racket twirling, wristy stroke that had no business existing in this plane of existence. And then, as if by magic (and after lots and lots of imploring), she suddenly figured it out yesterday. Now she's hitting proper forehands, and even made ten in a row!

And then, perhaps 20 minutes later, she suddenly figured out how to serve, even managed to make 9 out of 10. For perspective, in the first six days of the camp, in nearly an hour of total practice, she'd made exactly one serve. Armed with a serve and a workable forehand, she was able to join in a game of "Master of the Table," and twice was master. (One of them came about when she served on the edge, and then the Master missed his own serve. To become Master of the Table you have to score two points in a row against the Master.) We often call the game King of the Table, but the girls objected!

I taught several players how to push today. I brought out the soccer-colored balls so they could see if they were getting any spin. It's always funny watching their eyes go wide the first time they see the ball spinning and realized they put that spin on the ball. Also, I have to confess that at one point I did say the following: "I'm a pushy pushover for power pushing pushers."

Rolling Ball Loop Drill

Here's video of an interesting looping drill (1:34), where your partner rolls the ball to you (under the net), and you loop it as it comes off the end. I've done this at a number of camps - it's not just for beginners, it's also good for teaching players to loop those slightly long serves. One key is to set up so you are almost directly over the ball, looking down on it - which is exactly what you need to do when looping slightly long balls.

Interview with Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay

Here's the video interview (7:19). She had a new ebook out recently, Get Your Game Face Out Like the Pros!

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, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirty-two down, 68 to go!

  • Day 69: Thomas Weikert Speaks about Peace and Sport

Crystal Wang - Youngest U.S. Team Member in History

Here's my feature article on Crystal in USA Table Tennis Magazine. 

Lily Zhang Featured by ITTF

Here's the article, "Lily Zhang the Shining Star in Tokyo, the Top Seed and Senior Member in Burnaby."

Timothy Wang Featured by ITTF

Here's the article, "Timothy Wang Aiming for Las Vegas Reprise but Beware Teenage Colleague."

Incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert Reveals Direction of ITTF

Here's the interview. It's rather short. 

Exercise Makes the Brain Grow

Here's the article. So go play ping-pong!

Ping-Pong Ball to the Eye

Here's the video (35 sec). 

***
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June 16, 2014

Tip of the Week

Be a Perfectionist.

MDTTC Summer Camps

Our ten weeks of MDTTC summer camps starts today, Mon-Fri every week, 10AM-6PM. It's going to be a busy summer. I'll miss two of the weeks, June 30-July 4 for the U.S. Open, and July 28-Aug. 1 for a writers workshop. I'm still doing my usual private coaching, plus this blog and Tip of the Week, and other writing, so it's going to be a hyper-busy summer. As usual.

Nittaku Premium 40+ Poly Ball

Paddle Palace sent me one of the newly created Nittaku Poly balls, the 3-Star Nittaku Premium 40+, made in Japan. These are the plastic ones that will replace celluloid balls later this year in many tournaments. This ball is of special interest because it's possibly the ball we'll be using at the USA Nationals in December, as well as other USA tournaments. (There will also be a Nittaku SHA 40+ ball that is made in China, but it's likely the Premium from Japan that might be used at the Nationals.) 

Why is this important to you? Because it's likely these are the balls YOU will be using soon. Might as well learn about them and get used to them.

I tried the new ball out on Sunday morning at MDTTC, hitting with Raghu Nadmichettu, Derek Nie, Quandou Wang (Crystal Wang's dad), John Olsen, and Sutanit Tangyingyong. There was pretty much a consensus on it. Here are my findings, based on my play with it and comments from the others.

  1. The ball sounds almost exactly like a regular celluloid ball - no more cracked sound like many of the previous versions.
  2. The ball is extremely sturdy, almost unbreakable. Unlike a celluloid ball, you could press your thumb on it and there was little give. No soft spots. These balls will last forever until someone steps on it.
  3. The surface of the ball is slightly rougher than a celluloid ball.
  4. It didn't have the powder that covers a new celluloid ball.
  5. It was seamed, but you could barely see it.
  6. The ball is heavier and slightly wider than the celluloid ones. I think to get rid of the crack sound they made the walls thicker. When you hit with it the extra weight is instantly obvious.
  7. I compared it to a 40mm ball, and it looks 40.5mm. That's why they label it "40+."
  8. It spins slightly less because of the extra weight and greater diameter. All shots initially have less spin - serves, loops, pushes, chops, etc. However, what spin you put on the ball tended to stay, as the extra weight allowed it to better overcome air resistance. At the same time the ball reacted to the spin slightly less, due to the extra weight.
  9. It was very easy to serve short with spin with it. I think this was because the extra weight meant the ball came off the racket slower when serving with spin.
  10. I did a bounce test, dropping it and a Butterfly 3-star next to each other. The poly ball bounced slightly higher every time.
  11. Even though it was technically faster on the bounce test, in rallies it played a touch slower, again presumably because of the extra weight, and because the lower trajectory off the racket (due to the extra weight) made the ball cross the net lower and therefore bounce lower on the other side. One player in backhand-backhand rallies kept putting it in the net.  
  12. The ball seemed especially heavy when looping, and a bit more difficult to spin. There was less loft - you had to aim slightly higher. Overall I found it a touch harder to loop against blocks, mostly because of the extra effort needed to overcome the extra weight.
  13. Counterlooping was easier, but the ball definitely felt heavier the more you backed off the table. But balls that might have gone off the end seemed to drop on the table like a rock. This was because even though the ball started with less spin than normal, the spin dissipated less, and so there was as much or more spin at the end than a normal counterloop. However, this was partially offset by the extra weight, meaning the ball reacted slightly less to the spin.
  14. It's very easy to block with it. The ball could bring back the quick-blocking game. But I think blockers with long pips are going to have trouble as the ball won't return with as much spin. Part of this is because the incoming ball will tend to have less spin. 
  15. I think hitting is about the same with it. Because there's less spin it's easier for a hitter to hit against a loop. But because the ball tended to have a slightly lower trajectory, the ball bounced lower, which might even things out. When an opponent loops close to the table, there's less spin with this ball than with a celluloid one. But as the looper backs off, the ball tends to come out spinnier since the spin doesn't dissipate as quickly due to air resistance. (Remember that many players thought going from 38 to 40mm balls would favor hitters, but it was the reverse. And now we've gone slightly bigger.)
  16. When I first tried chopping, balls that normally would have hit the table kept sailing off. (I'm about a 2100 chopper, though I'm normally an attacker.) There was noticeably less spin. Then I hit with Sutanit Tangyingyong, a 2300+ chopper, and he had no such trouble. His chops were extremely heavy, though he said they'd be heavier with the regular ball. (I struggled to lift and to read his chops, and then realized something - since I primarily coach these days, I haven't played a seriously good chopper in well over a decade!) He concluded that the ball would favor choppers who vary their spin - his no-spin chop with this ball was deadly - but choppers who rely on heavy backspin wouldn't do as well. I realized afterwards that part of the reason I had so much trouble with his chopping is that his heavy chops, while starting with less spin, kept the spin due to the ball's extra weight, and so the balls were heavier than I expected. Also, lifting a heavier ball against heavy backspin is more difficult.
  17. My conclusions - the new ball might affect players perhaps the equivalent of 25 ratings points at most. However, that's a 50-point swing, since one player might be 25 points better, another 25 points worse. (Note that 25 points means more at the higher levels. But at the lower levels, where 25 points doesn't mean as much, it'll affect play less as players are less specialized, and so it'll come out about the same.)
  18. The ball is going to help blockers and counterloopers. It's going to hurt long pips blockers, and looping against blocks. After the difficulty I experienced lifting against chops, I'm starting to think it might help choppers, the most surprising thing I found. 

Paddle Palace also gave me what five-time U.S. Men's champion and 2-time Olympian Sean O'Neill wrote about the ball. Here's what he wrote:

The Nittaku Premium 40+. Two words - "Game Changer."
a) Really round, others have noticeable wobble
b) Different matt finish. I don't think these will get glassy with age
c) Spin doesn't dissipate. Really true flight paths.
d) Hard as a rock. No soft spots at all. Feels if the walls are thicker than other 40+
e) Sounds good, no hi pitched plastic sound
f) Texture very noticeable. This makes for truer bounce especially on spin shots
g) Durable. These things are gonna last big time.

Orioles Host Frank Caliendo and Han Xiao

When I heard that famed stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo was in town doing shows, and was interested in playing the Orioles, I contacted their press manager. And so it came about that on Saturday morning Frank (who's about 1800) and Han Xiao (former long-time USA Team member) visited the Orioles clubhouse on Saturday morning to play the Orioles. I wasn't there, and don't have pictures or video, but I'm told they played a lot with Darren O'Day (who I've coached a few times) and others, but they weren't sure of the names. Alas, the Orioles best TT player, JJ Hardy (also around 1800), wasn't available. There was a 10-15 second video of them playing on the Orioles pre-game show. (Here's the link to my blog last August when I visited and played the Orioles in their clubhouse, along with some of our top junior players.)

Non-Table Tennis: Speaking of the Orioles…

This weekend they featured another of my Top Ten Lists. Except this one had 12: Top Twelve Ways That Orioles Fans Can Help Out. This is the 20th article of mine that they've featured. (It contains some inside jokes; feel free to ask about them in the comments below.)

Samson Dubina Coaching Articles

He's put up several more coaching articles on his home page. These include articles on Boosting Your Attack, Returning No-Spin Serves, and How Ratings Can Mentally Fool You.

Why Are the Chinese So Strong?

Here's the article. Includes links to numerous videos.

Lily Zhang Wins Silver in Korea

She made the final of Under 21 Women's Singles at the Korean Open, losing 4-1 in the final to Hitomi Sato of Japan. Here's the "playing card" picture of Lily!

Amy Wang and Michael Tran Winners at World Hopes Week

First, they won the Team Competition; here's the ITTF article. Then Amy won Girls' Singles while Michael made the finals of Boys' Singles; here's the ITTF article.

2014 U.S. Open Blog - A BIG THANK YOU!!!

Here's the blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. They are co-chairs of the upcoming U.S. Open in Grand Rapids and are both members of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Kagin Lee's Blog

Tokyo Recap, Part Two. Kagin is on the USATT Board of Directors and is a Vice President for the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

USA Umpires Pass International Umpire Exams

Here's the story and pictures. Congrats to Ed Hogshead, Linda Leaf, and David Pech!

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-three down, 77 to go!

  • Day 78: A Special Father’s Day Remembrance: President Sharara Pays a Tribute to His Father
  • Day 79: Origination of the 100-Day Countdown

Table Tennis Company Competitions in Washington DC

Here's the story. Golden Triangle is organizing the competitions between June 6 and Sept. 19.  

Table Tennis Keeps Youth Out of the Streets

Here's the article and video (2:19).

Best of the Legends Tour

Here's the video (2:06), featuring Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jean-Michel Saive, and Jiang Jialiang.

Unbelievable Rally at the Korean Open

Here's the video (55 sec) of the point between Yu Ziyang of China and Romain Lorentz of France.

Table Tennis is So Simple

Here's the cartoon!

***
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June 10, 2014

Incentives

There's nothing better for a coach than a player who's so self-motivated that the coach's main job is to just keep up with him. You don't need to push a player like that; they are already pushing themselves. But this is rare, and even the most motivated players sometimes need some incentive. Of course success in tournaments and leagues is a primary incentive, but that's long-term. Often players need a more immediate incentive. Here are some I use when I coach.

A primary motivator for all ages is to see how many they can do in a row. At the beginning stages this means things like how many forehands or backhands they can hit in a row, or pushes, or loops against backspin in multiball. Keep it simple, and let them challenge themselves to more and more in a row until it's ingrained.

As they advance, move on to more advanced drills. For example, I've always been a firm believer that one of the key stages to rallying success in matches is to be able to do the following two drills so well you can essentially do them forever. One is the 2-1 drill, where the player does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. This covers three of the most common moves in table tennis: covering the wide forehand, covering the wide backhand, and the step-around forehand. The other drill is a simple random drill, done either live or with multiball, where the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and the player has to return each shot consistently, using forehands or backhands. The first is a mobility drill, the second a reaction drill. If you can do both consistently at a good pace, you are ready to rally in matches. The more advanced you are, the faster you do the drills. You can do them live or with multiball.

I often challenge students to see how many of these they can do in a row. In my May 21 blog I quoted myself saying to a student, "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it." I'd told the student, 12-year-old Sameer, that when he could do 100 shots in a row in the 2-1 drill (looping both forehands and backhands), he could say this to me. So he made it a goal – and a few days ago, it happened. After many tries, he suddenly did 100 – and continued, all the way to 217 in a row!!! Technically, if he'd waited until after he'd missed, he couldn't really say he never missed, could he? Fortunately, I missed one somewhere around 150 or so (his shot went wider than usual!), and that's when he said, "The rumors are true. I never miss." Next on his list: 100 random shots in a row, also all looping.

I remember many years ago when I was learning to do fast, deep serves that I'd put a racket on both far corners of the table, and do my fast forehand pendulum serve from the backhand side and try to hit them. For months I would end each serving session by serving and hitting the targets ten times in a row, first ten crosscourt, then ten down the line, and the serving session wouldn't stop until I could do this. When this became too easy, I alternating serving fast and deep to the corners (crosscourt and then down the line), and I had to keep doing this until I hit the paddles ten times in a row. It wasn't enough to just practice the fast serve; it had to be so proficient that I could hit the target nearly every time, and aiming at targets and sticking with it until I got the ten in a row (even when alternating crosscourt and down the line) gave me incentive to do this. Later I would do the same thing with my spin serves, where I'd draw a chalk line a few inches from the far side of the table, and I'd have to do ten serves in a row where the second bounce would be between the line and the end-line.

Another incentive is to tell the student that when they achieve a certain goal, they should celebrate by getting themselves a gift, such as a nice table tennis shirt. Or it can be non-table tennis. I often award myself for reaching a goal or getting something done by seeing a movie. (I see a lot of movies, so I must be reaching a lot of goals and getting a lot done!)

For younger kids, I have other incentives. To work on their accuracy, I'll put a Gatorade bottle on the table and challenge them to hit it – except the bottle supposedly contains worm juice or some other disgusting liquid, which I have to drink if they hit it. I also give out "million dollar bills" to kids who reach certain goals. (I bought them from some novelty place.) For others I keep charts showing their progress, such as how many forehands they did in a row, and regularly update it. One kid had 14 categories we kept track of for nearly a year!

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Nineteen down, 81 to go!

  • Day 82: Growing Pains in the ITTF
  • Day 83: 59 Editions of the World Table Tennis Championships

ITTF Pongcast

Here's the video (11:02) for the month of May.

Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better

Here's video (35 sec) of a great rally between Xu Xin and Gao Ning in the quarterfinals of Men's Singles at the China Open. Xu went on to win, 11-6 in the seventh. Here's video (54 sec) of another great rally at the China Open, in the final between Ma Long and Xu Xin.

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari

Here are videos of then training in China.

Porpoise Pong

Here's a dolphin playing table tennis. See, it's not so hard to play without arms!

***
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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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May 16, 2014

What to Do at Age 18?

I've blogged in the past about how the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the cadet level (under 15) is the highest we've ever had, due to the rise of full-time training centers all over the country over the past eight years. It's gotten ridiculously good. It's a group that any country outside China could be proud of. And in three years this group of players will be competing as juniors (under 18), and the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the junior level will be the highest we've ever had. And a few years after that they'll hit their peak as players, and the level and depth of play in the U.S. will be the highest we've ever had, right? 

But there's one problem. What's going to happen when they all turn 18?

Case in point. Over the last few years we've watched Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang develop as probably the two best junior girls in our modern history. Ariel is currently #81 in the world and has been as high as #73. She was the youngest USA Nationals Women's Singles Champion when she won in 2010, and she repeated in 2011 and 2013. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #4 in the world in both Under 15 and Under 18 Girls. Lily recently shot up to #66 in the world. She won women's singles at the 2012 USA Nationals at age 16. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #2 in the world in Under 15 Girls and #5 in Under 18 Girls. 

But Ariel is now 18, and is attending Princeton. She didn't even try out for our last National Team because she was busy with school. Lily will be 18 next month, and is going to University of California at Berkeley. She didn't even attend our last USA Nationals because she was busy with school. They are still training, but let's face it; they are no longer training full-time as before. In contrast, all over Asia and Europe players like Ariel and Lily are training full-time. Part-time can't compete with full-time. 

The same has happened on the men's side. Michael Landers won men's singles at the 2009 USA Nationals at age 15, and improved dramatically in the three years after that. Peter Li won men's singles at the 2011 USA Nationals at age 17. Both of them hit age 18 and went to college, and their levels both dropped dramatically. The same is true of a long list of other elite juniors. I remember just a few years ago when three players from my club (MDTTC) were #1, #2, and #5 in the country in Under 18 Boys - Peter Li, Marcus Jackson, and Amaresh Sahu. All three went to college when they turned 18, and so none reached the level they might have reached if they'd continued a few more years.

Who knows how good these players might have been if they had continued training full-time into their 20s?

Unless something happens in the next few years, in about five years we will be looking back and asking ourselves, "What happened?" We had all these up-and-coming kids, and the future was bright. Instead, we'll have the strongest group of college table tennis players in our history. While that's a very good thing from one point of view (and it would be great if table tennis were to become a big college sport with scholarships in the best colleges all over the country, but that's a separate topic), it's not a good thing if we're trying to develop athletes who can compete at the highest levels. Excluding China, this generation really has the potential to someday compete with anyone. (Perhaps we'll be world college champions circa 2020?)

There is little money in our sport. So what's the long-term benefit for these kids to continue to train full-time? Sure, there's the usual incentives, such as being National Champion and making the U.S. Olympic Team, and . . . um . . . well, that's about it. (How much do these pay?) So yes, unless something changes, it'll be another "lost" generation. Sure, some will continue, and we'll almost for certain have stronger teams than we do now, but nothing like what it could be. Perhaps our men will improve from #53 in the world to top 20, but they could be top five or better. Perhaps our women will improve from #21 to top ten, but they could be top five or better. (With Ariel together with Lily and Prachi Jha, they already are close to top ten level - #16, according to the ITTF team rankings based on individual ranking.) And you know something? If you can reach top five, you can make the final of the World Championships. (We're not ready for China yet, but we'll worry about that when we actually have a top five team.) 

Ironically, in the past when we had fewer truly elite juniors, the ones that were elite were often more likely to focus on table tennis because, by U.S. standards, they were truly "elite." They would train full-time well into their twenties before moving on to college or other work. Now these same elite cadets and juniors are just another in a pack of them, and so they don't feel they are truly "elite," and so are less likely to continue training full-time. And so they go to college rather than train full-time for a few more years. (Just to be clear, I'd urge them all to go to college, but there's nothing wrong with putting it off a few years, even into their mid-20s for a truly elite player. Some might decide to stay with the sport and become professional coaches, which actually pays pretty well.) We have standouts like Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang and a few others, but will they continue when they hit college age? (The financial outlook for women players is even bleaker, since many tournaments have an open singles instead of men's and women's singles.)

What can we do? There has been regular discussions over the years on the idea of setting up professional leagues or circuits, and develop a core group of pro USA players who would travel about competing in these professional leagues or circuits. It's been a serious topic of discussion since I first got active in table tennis in 1976. And there have been attempts by a few to make something like this happen, from the American All-Star Circuit that we used to have in the U.S. to the current North American Tour. The latter has potential, but without major sponsors there isn't nearly enough money, and the money that is there mostly goes to players from China. There's nothing wrong with these Chinese players winning money, but it means there's little chance a U.S. player can make enough money to afford to play in such a circuit - especially since it's often part-time U.S. players pitted against full-time Chinese players.

Do the Chinese raise the level of play for USA players? Potentially yes. But if our top juniors quit and go to college right when they begin approaching the level needed to compete with these Chinese players, it's wasted. Equally important, when approaching college age, it's tough for a USA player to look at table tennis as a professional career when nearly all the money goes to foreign players living in the U.S., which doesn't leave much for prospective professional USA players. (Some argue that the USA players shouldn't avoid playing tournaments where they'd have to play these elite full-time foreign players, but that's easier to say when you aren't the one spending huge amounts of time and money on your training, and are looking at losing another $500 on a tournament just so you can lose to one of them. There needs to be a balance if we want to give USA players incentive.) 

Bottom line? "Serious talk" on this topic isn't really serious anymore until someone actually does something. Real action is needed. USATT wants to get sponsors but doesn't really have a serious product to sell. (They've tried for many years.) I've argued they should focus on developing our product with regional leagues (as is done all over Europe) and coaching programs, and sell that to sponsors, but that didn't interest them. Perhaps something a bit more elite-oriented would be more enticing, since USATT (with USOC encouragement and funding) is more focused on elite development than grassroots development. 

Why not have USATT partner with the North American Tour or some other group, and assign the incoming USATT CEO to focus on selling sponsorship for that Tour? Isn't the purpose of USATT to improve table tennis in the United States? USATT is the national governing body for the sport in this country, and so has a great platform to sell from, if they only had something lucrative to sell - and here's a natural product.

The goal would be to create a truly Professional Tour, where U.S. players could actually make a living, while bringing regular exposure to the sponsor. (Perhaps the circuit tournaments would have both an Open event and an All-Star American event for U.S. citizens. Or it could be citizens only.) The circuit is already there as a product, it just needs more money. Once we have such a professional circuit, there are other ways to bring in money - spectators, TV, and so on - and what sponsor wouldn't want to be the national sponsor for something like this if we show it has potential to truly take off?  We can do this, and have a good chance to dramatically improve table tennis in the United States. Or we can continue to talk and do the same old things we always do - nothing. 

U.S. Open Blog - Deadlines! Deadlines!

Here's the latest U.S. Open blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. Want to play in the U.S. Open? Deadline without penalty is this Sunday, May 18. After that there's a $75 penalty, with no entries accepted after Sunday, May 25.

"The Ping Pong Man"

Here's an article and video (3:09) on table tennis Globetrotter Scott Preiss, and his visit to Beaverton, Oregon.

International News

Lots of articles at Tabletennista (including one on Ma Long undefeated at the last two World Team Championships) and at the ITTF page.

2014 U.S. Para European Update

Here's the video report (2:02), from the bus, by Tahl Leibovitz, with Wayne Lo and others.

The Best Scoring System for Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:39) from PingSkills in PingPod 38.

Round Table with Spinning Net

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation

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May 12, 2014

Tip of the Week

Anyone Can Become Very Good at Something.

Youth Olympic Games Controversy

There's a controversy involving the training and coaching of the USA Youth Olympic Games athletes (Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari). Basically, USATT set up a training program for the two, then chose a coach. Since Massimo Costantini (from the ICC Table Tennis Center) is the coach for both players, it seemed logical to choose him, but since he wasn't available to go overseas for the entire training program planned (nearly two months), another coach was selected. Officials from ICC were not happy.

I too thought they should have hired the coach first, then have him develop the training program for the players, in particular since he was the coach of both players. From USATT's point of view, they were just incorporating the ITTF's YOG training program, which involves a lot of overseas training and in general is a good idea. It might have been better if they had not locked themselves into requiring the coach to be there the entire time, allowing some flexibility so someone else could substitute for the few weeks when the coach can't make it. Regardless, hopefully they will work something out where Massimo oversees most of their training while missing some of it because of his other commitments. There is lots of discussion of this at the USATT Facebook and ICC Facebook pages.

The coach who was hired (though the official announcement is not yet up) is the highly qualified Lily Yip. (I've known her for decades, and we even attended the same ITTF Level 2 Seminar, held at the Lily Yip TTC last year.) It's unfortunate there's any controversy on this as she's an excellent coach. The problem is that the two players in question just happened to both be students of Massimo, and this was known at the time Lily was hired. Massimo was USATT's first choice because of this, but because he couldn't commit to the entire overseas training program they went with Lily. If they hadn't apparently locked themselves into requiring the coach there the entire time, perhaps they could have hired Massimo, and hired Lily for the times when Massimo could not make it.

Ironically, I also considered applying for the YOG coach position, but since I haven't worked directly with these players (other than a week about four years ago when I practiced daily with Krish during a Stellan Bengtsson camp, plus coaching against him in tournaments a few times), and since I figured Massimo or someone else who worked more regularly with these players was applying, I decided not to. (Plus it's a big commitment for a full-time coach with lots of students.) Perhaps another time, when an MDTTC player is on the team in question. MDTTC's Crystal Wang is already on the USA Women's Team and Cadet Girls' team, and we have a number of other up-and-coming players. But what happens if I or some other coach also can't commit to the entire "required" time? The irony is that coaches who are in demand are usually the ones who will often have the most trouble taking time off - and they are often the ones we'd want to hire.

This isn't the first time ICC has felt burned by USATT. As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule? 

USATT Launches New Membership System - RailStation

Here's the announcement. Could be helpful. It definitely gets our membership system into the modern age! A key phrase from the announcement: "USATT members with a current email on file will be sent instructions on how to log in and activate their account.  If you have not provided an email address to USATT or need to update it, please contact Andy Horn at admin@usatt.org."

U.S. Open Entry Deadline Extended to May 18

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee was Saturday (two days ago), but they've extended it to May 18 (next Sunday). Here's a listing of players currently entered, and of entries by event. (There are 381 players listed as entered as I write this, but I'm sure there are still a lot of paper entries not uploaded yet, plus the extended deadline should bring in some more.) Here's more info:

MDTTC - the Laughingstock of Table Tennis

Yes, it's true. On Friday and Saturday, famous stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo spent several hours at MDTTC playing. (He was in town for some local shows.) He has a rating of 1658, but that was from three years ago - he appears about 1800 now. Between coaching sessions I even got to play doubles with him on my team. (Alas, I coach too much and play too little, and so my receive was way off, and we lost to Julian Waters and Steve Hochman. But then Julian and I took down Steve and Frank!) Then on Sunday another famous stand-up comedian came in to play for a few hours, Judah Friedlander, who is rated 1565 (and who've I've coached before), though as his home page says, he's the World Champion. (Judah grew up locally, and while he spends most of his time in New York City doing stand-up, he comes to Maryland often to visit his family.)

ITTF Athletes Commission

Vladimir Samsonov was re-elected as Chair. Others elected or appointed were Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), Zoran Primorac (CRO), Krisztina Toth (HUN), David Powell (AUS), Angela Mori (PER), Elsayed Lashin (EGY), Yu Kwok See April (HKG), Wang Liqin (CHN), and USA's own Ashu Jain.

ITTF Legends Tour

I wrote about the Legends Tour last Thursday. Here are more pictures.

International News

As usual, there are lots and lots of international news items up at Tabletennista.

Matthew Syed Launches New Table Tennis Academy in England

Here's the story. (Syed is a former English table tennis champion, one of the best defensive players in the world.)

Shot of the Day

Here's video (46 sec) of a very strange rally at the recent World Championships between China's Ding Ning and Japan's Yuka Ishigaki in the Women's Team Final.

Ibrahim Hamato - Nothing is Impossible

Here's more video (2:43) of the famous armless Egyptian player from the ITTF. Includes interviews (with English translation) and showing him hitting with the best players in the world. I've actually put a racket in my mouth like he does to rally in exhibitions, but not at this level!

Happy Mother's Day (one day late)

Here's the Table Tennis Mother's Day Graphic by Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - Bram Stoker Award

"After Death" just won Best Horror Anthology at the Bram Stoker Awards, which is sort of the Academy Awards for written horror. It includes a story of mine, "The Devil's Backbone." You can buy the anthology at Amazon. And here's a review of the book, which says, "… and “The Devil’s Backbone” by Larry Hodges, which I found to be well-conceived, well-executed, and well-written, my favorite in the anthology."

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May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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May 6, 2014

The 27 Types of Spin

How many basic types of spin are there when someone serves to you? The simple answer is that, in theory, there are 27. In practice, there are 25. (Before we go farther, here's my article "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Spin But Were Afraid to Ask." If you are new to the idea of spin, or don't really know what corkscrewspin is - also known as deviation spin - you might want to read it.) In reality, of course, there are an infinite number of spins, but they can generally be categorized as these 27. In fact, you can narrow this down to three main types of spin - topspin/backspin, sidespin left or right, and corkscrewspin left or right. All spins just varying amounts of these three main types.

You don't really need to worry about identifying these 27 or 25 spins when receiving. When I list 27 different spins, these are only of theoretical and intellectual interest. When reading spin, you don't have to identify which combos of these spins it is. You simply have to read the direction the ball is spinning and how fast it is spinning, and then react to it. That's it.

How do you react to these spins? In simple terms, if it's spinning with any corkscrewspin, then if you see it coming you anticipate the sideways jump. (It'll also jump off your racket, but generally less than other spins.) If it's coming with any sidespin, you anticipate the sideways jump off your racket, knowing that a firm return will minimize the effect, and aim your racket to compensate. If it has any backspin, you know you have to lift some or push. If it has any topspin you know you have to drive through it or get on top of it to topspin it. You don't consciously do any of this; with practice, it becomes second nature as you react to the way the ball is spinning. A player doesn't have to know about corkscrewspin if he simply reacts to this type of spin by anticipating the sideways jump. 

Before we go further, here's a video (5:40) where someone explains corkscrew spin, though he's calling it deviation spin, as well as demonstrating other spins. And here's an article (part 1 and part 2) that graphically shows the difference between sidespin and corkscrew spin.

So what are these 27 spins? First a few notes. We're talking about spins when serving, though you can also produce these spins in a rally. Second, we're talking about the spin as it leaves the racket. As soon as it bounces on the table the spin begins to change. And third, note that for every axis of rotation, there are two spins, since the ball can spin in either direction.

The three main categories of spin can be thought of as three different axis of rotation, each perpendicular to each other. They are like the XYZ coordinates when mapping something in 3-D. (Here's a picture that shows this.) All spins can be represented by using varying amounts of each of these spins:

  • Topspin and backspin (which are just opposites of each other), where the axis of rotation (from the point of view of the server) is left to right.
  • Sidespin left and sidespin right, where the axis of rotation is top to bottom.
  • Corkscrewspin (also called Deviation Spin) left and right, where the axis of rotation is between the server and the receiver.

What this means is that every serve, in theory, can have some or none of each of these spins. In simple terms, it means every ball has each of the following:

  1. Topspin, backspin, or neither.
  2. Sidespin left, sidespin right, or neither.
  3. Corkscrewspin left, corkscrewspin right, or neither. 

For example, a topspin/sidespin left serve has topspin from the first category, sidespin left from the second, and neither from the third. A no-spin serve (yes, that's a spin!) has neither from all three categories. And you can combine all three, with, for example, a backspin/sidespin right/corkscrew left serve, taking the corresponding part from each category.

This means there are three to the third possibilities, or 27 total spins. (Remember, this includes no-spin.)

Are all of these actually possible to do? The rotation of a spin from the first two categories includes part of the ball spinning in the direction of the opponent, meaning you can serve this type of spin and make it move forward. However, if you serve a pure corkscrewspin serve, there's no way to make the ball move forward; all of your motion is sideways. So in practice, you have to combine it with one of the other spins. So two of the 27 theoretical spins isn't possible in practice - a pure corkscrewspin left or right. So only 25 are possible in practice. (What this also means is that of all the infinite variations of spin possible, there are only two rotations that are absolutely impossible, the two pure corkscrewspins.)

How can you imagine these 27 spins? Here's one way. Hold a ball up. Mark the top and bottom, i.e. the axis of rotation for a pure sidespin. Now mark off eight equidistant spots around the equator. Now look at the northern hemisphere. Draw a line from each of these eight spots on the equator to the north pole. Put a dot at the midpoint of each of these lines, so you have eight more dots. Now do the same for the southern hemisphere. You now have a total of 26 dots on the ball - the two poles, eight on the equator, eight in the northern hemisphere, and eight in the southern hemisphere. However, each axis of rotation has two dots - one on each side of the ball - so while there are 26 dots on the ball, each is directly opposite one on the other side. So there are now 13 axis of rotation. Since the ball can spin in either direction on each of these axis, that makes 26 spins. Add no-spin, and you have 27!

Wasn't that simple?

Without further ado, here are the 27 types of spin.

  1. No-Spin
  2. Topspin
  3. Backspin
  4. Sidespin left
  5. Sidespin right
  6. Corkscrewspin left
  7. Corkscrewspin right
  8. Topspin/Sidespin left
  9. Topspin/Sidespin right
  10. Topspin/Corkscrewspin left
  11. Topspin/Corkscrewspin right
  12. Backspin/Sidespin left
  13. Backspin/Sidespin right
  14. Backspin/Corkscrewspin left
  15. Backspin/Corkscrewspin right
  16. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  17. Topspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  18. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  19. Topspin/Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  20. Backspin/Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  21. Backspin /Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  22. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  23. Backspin /Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right
  24. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin left
  25. Sidespin left/Corkscrewspin right
  26. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin left
  27. Sidespin right/Corkscrewspin right

Final Standings from the Worlds

Here's the listing. For some reason there were reports that USA Men finished tied for 49th, but they actually were tied for 53rd, according to the listing. USA Women finished tied for 21st.

How does this compare with how USA Teams in the past have finished? Alas, not very good. (Though the women's team would likely have done a lot better if they'd had Ariel Hsing, who's off to college, alas.) Here's a chart showing the USA Teams' ranking going back to 1935. The trend is rather obvious. Here are two things that jump out. First, going back to ancient history, USA began its long decline when the world went to sponge in the early 1950s. Before that, we were a world power. And second, notice how the men's team reached a modern peak in the early 1980s, with rankings in the 13-15 range? Other than the blip in 1991 when the men were #12, it's been a steady decline since then - and the decline coincides almost exactly with when USATT began getting Olympic windfall money. The women also began a major decline at that time, though they recovered in recent years (due to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang). Considering membership has also stayed about the same, how much has this money really helped us? They money should be helpful, but it's the way it's been used that has been wasted.

However, the trend will end in the next few years. As I've blogged before, we have the strongest group of cadets (under 15) in our history. We could be top ten in the world when they are all reaching 20 years old or so, in about 5-7 years or so. Unless, of course, they all go to college at 18. Yikes.

New World Rankings

Here they are, after the Worlds. That was fast! Lily Zhang jumped from her previous 109 to #66.

Last Newsletter from the Worlds

Here's the final Worlds Newsletter, which came out yesterday.

Videos of Men's and Women's Final

In yesterday's blog I didn't have the women's matches, and I didn't have the Xu Xin- Franziska men's match (though I put that up in the afternoon). Here are videos of both finals, with time between points removed.

Men's Final:

  1. Ma Long (CHN) d. Timo Boll (GER), 6,9,9 (4:07);
  2. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) d. Zhang Jike, 11,8,6 (5:01);
  3. Xu Xin (CHN) d. Patrick Franziska (GER), 5,2,8 (3:33);
  4. Ma Long (CHN) d. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), 10,5,2 (4:21).

Women's Final:

  1. Ding Ning (CHN) d. Yuka Ishigaki (JPN), 5,-8,2,5 (7:41);
  2. Li Xiaoxia (CHN) d. Kasumi Ishikawa (JPN), 8,7,7 (4:19);
  3. Liu Shiwen (CHN) d. Sayaka Hirano (JPN), 4,2,5 (4:47).

More Worlds Coverage

There are lots of articles on the Worlds at TableTennista.

China Highlight Video

Here's the video (2:08) showing the Chinese players after big wins at the Worlds.

Don't Lose Track of the Basics

Here's a new coaching article by Britt Salter from the Oklahoma Table Tennis Club's webpage.

News from New York

Here's the article, covering the recent Westchester Open.

Kim Jong Un Loves Playing Table Tennis?

Here's a video of Dennis Rodman talking about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At 1:23, he says the dictator "…loves playing table tennis…"

***
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May 5, 2014

Tip of the Week

Returning Smashes and Loop Kills.

World Championships

The World Championships finished today, and by today I mean Tokyo time, meaning it's already over. And guess what? It's hard to believe, but once again China came out of NOWHERE to sweep everything . . . again. Okay, that's sarcasm; I figured there was about a 90% chance they'd sweep it all. It would have taken an earthquake to stop them - and there was an earthquake in Tokyo just yesterday, just not enough to stop the unstoppable from being unstoppable.

On the men's side, Germany gave them a good battle in the final, but Ma Long proved to be the Chinese hero. Ma started things off by defeating Timo Boll at 6,9,9. Timo actually led all three games but Ma came back each time. In the second match things got interesting as Dimitrij Ovtcharov upset reigning men's world champion Zhang Jike at 11,8,6. Then Xu Xin dispatched the German #3, Patrick Franziska, at 5,2,8. Then it was Dimitrij against Ma, with the German hoping to find lightning a second time and send things into the fifth and final set - but Ma was way too much, winning at 10,5,2.

Here are videos of the men's matches:

  1. Ma Long d. Timo Boll, 6,9,9 (4:07);
  2. Dimitrij Ovtcharov d. Zhang Jike, 11,8,6 (5:01);
  3. Xu Xin d. Patrick Franziska, 5,2,8 (3:33);
  4. Ma Long d. Dimitrij Ovtcharov, 10,5,2 (4:21).

The women's final between China and Japan was taking place as I write this, and I plan on posting this as soon as it's done. In the first match Ding Ning of China defeated Yuka Ishigaki at 5,-8,2,5. In the second match it was Li Xiaoxia over Kasumi Ishikawa, 8,7,7. In the third and final match (which just finished as I write this), it was Liu Shiwen over Sayaka Hirano at 4,2,5.

I'll post video of the women's final tomorrow - it doesn't seem to be up yet at TTCountenance. (I prefer to use them because they take the time out between points. It's possible others do this as well, but I'm not sure.)

China has now won Men's Teams at the Worlds seven consecutive times, and nine of the last ten. Due to a blip in 2010 where they were upset by Singapore, China has won Women's Teams "only" two consecutive times (ending a streak of eight consecutive wins) - but they've won it all but twice since 1975, including ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20.

You can get complete results and articles at the ITTF World Championship Page. You can find videos of all the great action at the tt-news page. (TTCountenance has also been putting the videos up, with time between points removed.) Here are Daily Video Reviews. And here are the daily World Championship Newsletters, with one more to come.

  • April 28
  • April 29
  • April 30
  • May 1
  • May 2
  • May 3
  • May 4
  • May 5 (this one is not yet up, but I know the address it'll have when ready, so you can keep checking on it until it goes up. It should be the final one, with news on the Men's and Women's Team Final.)

And speaking of Chinese domination…

ITTF Introduces Changes. Are They to Reduce Chinese Domination?

Here's the ITTF Press Release. And  here's an article on it. 

USA at the Worlds

You can get coverage of the USA Team at the USA at the Worlds Page. (The men finished tied for 49th, the women tied for 21st.) Here's a slideshow tribute to Team USA.

Bruce Liu did daily rundowns on the USA Team. Here they are:

  1. Day 1: Men and Women
  2. Day 2: Women Men
  3. Day 3: Women Men
  4. Day 4: Women Men
  5. Day 5: Men and Women

Lily Zhang was the women's team star. She went in with a world ranking of #109 from March (but off the list in April due to inactivity), and compiled the following 7-2 record (with special thanks to compiler John Olsen):

WINS:

  • Viktoria Pavlovich, world #11
  • Georgina Pota, world #35
  • Szandra Pergel, world #90
  • Ana-Maria Erdelji, world #101
  • Alexandra Privalova, world #102
  • Andrea Todorovic, world #157
  • Miao Miao, world #224 in February

LOSSES:

  • Yuka Ishigaki, world #38
  • Chen Szu-Yu, world #54

Day 7 Shot of the Day at the Worlds

Here's video (52 sec, shown twice from different angles) of an incredible rally in the Men's Semifinals between Japan's Jun Mizutani and Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here are other Shots and Moments of the Day from the Worlds.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Want more of a USA table tennis fix? Here are all of Barbara Wei's articles on the $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open, held this weekend. I linked to the early ones on Friday, but here are all eight articles.

Robots vs. Multiball

Here's the article and video (3:45) from PingSkills.

Meet Penn State's Own Marcus "Pingpong" Jackson

Here's the article on this former MDTTC prodigy!

Ariel Hsing vs. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

As they do every year, at an annual gathering of gadzillionaires, they brought in Ariel Hsing to play the two she calls "Uncle Bill" and "Uncle Warren." (I think she won.) Here is video (after an irritating 30 sec commercial), and here are ten photos (click on photo to see the next one).

Phoenix - Trying To Be Cool

Here's video of this music video. The link should take you directly to 2:25, where there's several seconds of rather intense table tennis action!

***
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April 16, 2014

Spring Break Camp - TV, Backhands, and Shoot the Moon

Yesterday was day two of our Spring Break Camp. The highlight was Channel 5 News coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and the MDTTC. They filmed lots of Crystal and other players, and did interviews with Crystal, Coach Jack Huang, and me. I think the feature of my interview was when he asked about Crystal's goals for making the Olympics. I explained how making the 2016 Olympic Team was first priority, but that she'd be only 18 for the 2020 Olympics - and that was where the goal would be to medal, perhaps gold medal. Then I pointed out that we'll know she's made it when the Chinese coaches start studying her on video, and develop a practice partner who mimics her game so they can practice against her! Yes, that's what the Chinese do, and you haven't really made it in table tennis until you have a Chinese doppelganger who studies you on video and copies for other players to train against.

After some time reviewing the forehand, spent a lot of time yesterday on the backhand. The beginning players mostly seemed to pick this up quicker than the forehand - perhaps they're getting used to learning new TT stuff. However, several are having trouble with their serves. That's going to be a focus today. I'm also going to introduce pushing.

Our Monopoly set was discovered during our two-hour lunch break, and that'll be in continuous use the rest of the camp. However, the real obsession this camp is the Shoot the Moon game I brought in. It's in continuous use during breaks, with the kids taking turns, usually getting three turns each before the next one gets it. One kid, about ten, has been at it continuously since he got here, including non-stop practice while many of us went to 7-11, and has become the champion, several times getting "Pluto" ten times in a row. (You can't see it from the picture, but Pluto is the highest score possible. The goal is to pull the two rods apart so the heavy metal ball rolls toward the player, who drops it in one of the holes, the higher the better.)

However, none can challenge the true champion - me! When I was also about ten I had this game, and I also became obsessed with it. I practiced it day after day, and kept careful track of my results. This went on for weeks. I finally stopped when it became just too easy - I had several stretches where I'd get Pluto hundreds of times in a row. I finally put it aside and didn't play for about 44 years - then I picked up a set a few weeks ago, and discovered I could still do it. I mostly let the kids use it non-stop, but now and then I stop by and get Pluto a bunch of times in a row, which only makes them more determined.

Adam Bobrow - the Voice of Table Tennis!

The ITTF has made the final decision - and USA's Adam Bobrow is the Next Voice of Table Tennis! Here's their Facebook announcement. Here's video of Adam's contest entry (9:40), where he does commentary on a match at the Qatar Open between China's Xu Xin (then world #4, but now #1) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (then ranked #44, but now #20). I blogged about the ITTF contest last Wednesday. (There's no article on this yet on the ITTF News page, though I expect one later today.) Here's the ITTF's original announcement of the contest, the announcement of the Finalists, and USATT's reposting of that with pictures of Barbara and Adam. (They are both from the U.S., with David Wetherill of Great Britain the third finalist.)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here is the High Performance Report for March, 2014, by Chair Carl Danner. You can read previous ones and reports from other USATT Committees at the USATT Reports page.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC Schools

Here's the article! (I blogged about this briefly yesterday, but now we get the details.)

Expert in a Year

Coach Ben Larcombe from England has been on a one-year project to see if he can turn a beginning adult player (Sam Priestley, age 24) into an "expert" in one year. He even has a web page where he explains and chronicles the adventure, and where you can sign up for regular updates. Here's an article on the project.

Krish Avvari Gets Last Youth Olympics Spot

Here's the story, and here's the ITTF video interview with him (1:40).

Interview with Lily Yip

Here's the ITTF video interview (3:40) with USA coach Lily Yip during the recent Canadian Junior Open.

Amazing Around-the-Net Backhand in the Russian League

Here's the video (46 sec, including slow-motion replay).

Tina Lin - Age Nine

Here's the video (3:43) of junior star Tina Lin, which introduces her at age nine and other ages.

Lily Zhang and her Prom Date

Here's the picture. "Not everyone can say they've gone to the prom with an Olympian! Thanks for a great night!" Lily was on the 2012 Olympic Team and was the 2012 USA Women's Singles Champion.

Ping Pong Animation Episode One

Here's the video (23 min). I haven't had a chance to watch it yet - too busy with spring break camp and other coaching - but if someone wants to do a short review, please comment below. I did browse through it and there's lots of table tennis action, all animated, apparently in a training environment.

***
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