Lily Zhang

September 10, 2012

Tip of the Week

If You Can See It, You Can Loop It.

Department of Angry Emails

A certain prominent USATT member (former top player) wrote a long email to a huge number of people last night. Someday I'll learn to stay out of these things, but I just couldn't help but respond to some of the false information in the email. (None of it was about me.)

The writer was angry about the "cancelled" USATT election for CEO four years ago. (There never was an election for CEO; the USATT Board hires and fires the CEO.)

The writer was angry that only one member of the nine members of the USATT Board is elected from the membership, not including the two player reps. (There are actually three.)

The writer was angry about skipped issues of the magazine in recent years. (There weren't any skipped issues.)

There were also some unsubstantiated claims, such as saying the USATT web page was worth $75,000 without giving a source or rationale.

I have nothing against dissent. But it should be informed dissent. Don't send out mass emails with various accusations just to see what sticks, or spread rumors you've heard that are easily checked on. If the writer had sent a simple email to any board member or just about anyone involved in USATT, that person could have directed his attention the Bylaws that show that the CEO is hired by the USATT Board (not elected) and that three members are elected by the membership, and he could have directed him to the old USATT Magazine page and the recent one that went up this year, both of which show the actual covers of every issue going back to 2007, with a link from the old one to the archives that have every cover going back to 1999. (This is what I put in my email response.)

In other words, if you see something you don't like, make sure to get your facts straight before lashing out in public. It's not that hard. Really.

The writer responded this morning by making a big deal about how I said there was no election four years ago and demanding that I apologize for this statement, when of course I had very clearly said there was no election for CEO. He argued that he had gotten his info on board members elections by cut and pasting from the Bylaws, when he quite obviously had not. He also argued that the magazine had been delayed, which of course is quite different than saying there had been skipped issues. (He also argued that there were several late CEO Reports on the web page, which "proved" that the magazine had been delayed, when of course the web page updating had nothing to do with the magazine.) I responded one more time, but as I promised, it'll be the last one I respond to.

Now if I can only stay out of online political debates as the U.S. presidential election approaches....

Beginning Junior Class

We have dozens of junior players at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Recently we've had an influx of beginners. I had eleven beginners in my beginning junior class yesterday. Coach Wang Qing Liang assisted as we put them through various multiball and robot drills. We finished with target practice as I fed multiball as the kids took turns trying to hit a Gatorade bottle (red fruit flavor) that I assured them was actually full of nosebleed from my pet rhinoceros. If they hit it, I had to take a sip. I spent the whole time mocking them and saying they had no chance to hit it, leading to great delight (and feigned consternation on my part) when they did. 

Coaching beginning junior players, especially in the 5-9 age group, is quite different than other types of coaching. They don't yet have the hand-eye coordination to actually rally among themselves. So you start them out with ball bouncing. (I wrote about this in my blog on Aug. 15, 2011.) Then you work with them using multiball and/or a robot, directing them through the shot. If you make sure they have a proper grip and foot positioning, most of the rest falls into place. You still have to make sure they rotate the body (not just arm) and not slap at the ball with a wristy motion.

Hardbatties, Unite!!!

Are you a serious hardbat player? Well, the old Hardbat Forum has been resurrected, care of hardbat guru Scott Gordon. Come join us for hardbat discussions, as well as sandpaper and clipboard, which both fall under the "hardbat" umbrella. (I'm normally a sponge player, but I do hardbat on the side.)

Lily Zhang in the School Paper

Here's an article in The Viking: Palo Alto High School Sports News, entitled Olympian Lily Zhang named 2012 Junior and Women’s North American Champion."

Have You Practiced Your Under-the-Leg Smash Today?

Here's Kim Gilbert demonstrating proper form!

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July 19, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Three

Yesterday's focus was on the forehand loop. I gave my usual lecture and demo on the subject, with Nathan Hsu as my demo partner. To demonstrate the loop against backspin I alternately forehand looped and forehand chopped while Nathan blocked and pushed.

There were two new players in my multiball group who had just started out on Monday, so this was only their third day of playing. When the first one's turn came for multiball, a 9-year-old boy, right up until the last second I was thinking we should just focus on the basic forehand and backhand drives. Then, for some reason, I changed my mind and asked if he'd like to try looping. He said "Yes!" About two minutes later he'd picked it up and was doing it pretty consistently, still more of a roll, but with pretty good topspin! I was rather surprised.

So I did the same with the next beginner, a 12-year-old girl. Same result! (Many other beginners are not able to pick looping up this quickly.) As I told the two of them, either they are very talented or I'm a really good coach! (We jokingly argued over which it was all morning, with me taking the "very good coach" side.)

Looping and I have a long-term love-hate relationship. I was a late starter to table tennis, starting when I was 16, and right from the start I was a natural hitter. I found looping much more difficult, probably due to tight muscles (even then). However, I was determined to be a looper (just as many natural loopers were determined to be hitters before that style sort of died out at the higher levels), and practiced constantly. Eventually I developed a pretty efficient, if somewhat stiff forehand loop. When I play matches I loop and smash equally, but my hitting is definitely more natural - but I still focus on looping, because, gosh darn it, I wanna be a looper!!!

In the afternoon I introduced the Adjustable Height Device. I blogged about this back on July 20, 2011, when I first used it in camps last summer. It was created by a player I coach, John Olsen, and the kids love it. Here it is in its high and low settings. The challenge is to serve under the bar. The key is to ignore the bar and simply serve low. We also use it sometimes in regular rallies to see if the players can rally under the bar, which in rallies would be set a bit higher than for serves.

I also introduced Froggy (no pictures available, sorry), a large rubber frog, about the size of a soccer ball (but wider, not as tall). I put it on the table, divide players into two teams, and they take turns trying to hit it, two shots each. First team to hit it 20 times wins. I'll try to get a picture today.

Slurpee fever has stuck the camp. During lunch break each day I'm now taking two car trips to the local 7-11 where the kids load up on slurpees. (The kids were shocked to learn that both 7-11 and slurpees were around when I was their age 40 years ago, when I too used to get 7-11 slurpees, back when 7-11 opened at 7AM and closed at 11PM - hence the name. I just looked it up - 7-11 slurpees came out in 1967, when I was seven.) It's not like I'm not compensated for the taxi service; Allen Wang treats me to a Planters Peanut Bar each time. They are my favorite candy bar; if you want to be my friend, you will bring them to me.

Washington Post to MDTTC

The Washington Post will be at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Friday at 11AM for a story on Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Champion) and other MDTTC players. Locals, feel free to come in! Ironically, the player Derek defeated in the final, Gal Alguetti of New Jersey, is here this week for our training camp.

Wang Hao and a Short History of the Penhold Grip

Here's an interesting story on the ITTF web page about the modernization of the penhold grip, which at one point was dying out at the higher levels until the development of the reverse penhold backhand brought it back.

Kalinikos Kreanga vs. Michael Maze

Here are some great points from a video (2:53) of a match between these two from five years ago. Still great play - and notice how tactically they keep attacking the other's middle both to score points and to open up the wide angles?

The Way Table Tennis Should Be Played

Olympian Trick Shots

Lily Zhang and Erica Wu demonstrate their trick shots (1:19) - hilarious!

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May 30, 2012

Summer Table Tennis Training

Now's the time to start seriously thinking about your summer training, especially for those out of school, but also for the rest of you. There are training camps all over the USA. My club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, will be running eleven consecutive weeks of camps, Mon-Fri every week from June 18 to Aug. 24. Here is info on the camps. I will be coaching along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Xeng Xun. We will also have several 2400-2600 practice partners.

Don't have time to come to a camp? Or don't feel comfortable training with a bunch of juniors? (Most camps are dominated by kids, though all ages are welcome.) Here's the list of USATT coaches, or if you are in the Maryland area, here's info on private coaching at MDTTC.

Many players practice for years and never improve as much as they'd like. The problem is that they rarely go through a period of intense training, which is where you can maximize improvement. Set aside a week or so for a training camp, arrange a couple months afterwards with both private coaching and a regular practice schedule, and it'll pay off for years to come.

Before undergoing any training, take some time to think about your game. What are your current or potential strengths? What are your weaknesses? How to you envision yourself playing later on? One thing I tell all of my students is that you should be able to write a book about your game, at least in your head. If you can't, then either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. In most cases, players have a game but haven't really thought it through. Do some thinking, perhaps consult with a coach or top player, and decide where you want to go in terms of style, level, and/or goals. Then start your journey. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and your journey to reach your table tennis goals starts with your next practice session.

"As One" movie

This is the first major "real" table tennis movie (as opposed to comedies that poke fun at the sport), about the joint Korean women's team that won the Worlds in 1991, upsetting China in the final. It opens tomorrow in three U.S. cities (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia), as well as in Toronto and Vancouver. It opens in Los Angeles one week later. Here is info on the theaters and times, as well as a link to the trailer. Here's info on the movie from the ITTF. Here's a photo gallery from U.S. umpire Michael Meier, who had a major role in the movie authentically playing a U.S. umpire. Here's the IMDB page on the movie.

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Backhand Counterhit (4:54)

USA Olympic Table Tennis Team

Here's an article with photo slideshow of the USA Olympic Team, with pictures and info on all four - Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Erica Wu.

Mike Mezyan Table Tennis Art

Here's the page for Mike's table tennis artworks. Or you can go directly to the Album.

Jan-Ove Waldner: The Power of Blocking

Here's a highlights video showing the blocking skills of the great Jan-Ove Waldner. Watch the change of pace and placements he uses. Note how he often sidespin blocks.

Turning Trash into Table Tennis

Really!

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April 18, 2012

Cancellations and a needed rest

Yesterday I was scheduled to coach from 5-7 and 8-9 PM. Late in the afternoon the 5-7 sessions were cancelled - it was a family of three, a father and two sons, and one of the sons was sick and they couldn't leave him at home alone. Then the 8 PM cancelled for unknown reasons. Suddenly I had the day off, my first in a while. Let's just say I needed it - my back and forearm were starting to go, and every muscle in my body was beginning to feel like five-year-old sponge that had blocked a few too many power loops. So I got to stay home and watch NCIS and the Orioles defeat the White Sox 3-2.

Today I'm tutoring Calculus from 10AM to noon for one of the local table tennis stars, who is taking the AP exam in late May. I do this every Wednesday, and with the exam coming up soon we may be doing it twice a week. I've got a 5-7PM session tonight. Rather than come home between noon and 5PM I'm going to head out to MDTTC and spend the afternoon there working on the rewrite of Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide. We've got wireless now so I'll be connected - but not sure if that's a good thing while working on a project. (I'm also editing a short SF story written by another local junior, who emailed it to me. It's not for school, he just likes to write.)

I was going to write something about chop blocks this morning, but it seemed more of a Tip of the Week. So I'll keep it to this for now - do you ever chop block? If you are playing someone who beats you in topspin rallies (either blocking, counter-hitting, or looping), perhaps this would be a way to change things up? It's an especially good changeup on the backhand, and can be done with sidespin as well.

Erica Wu, Ariel Hsing, and Lily Zhang battling for Olympic Spots

Here's the ESPN story. Also note that USA Table Tennis tweeted that top seeded Gao Jun has withdrawn (no reason given), and her spot in the North American Olympic Trials (this weekend) has been taken by Judy Hugh. (What player took Gao's spot? Hugh. Who? That is correct. Who took Gao's spot?!!! Yes. And so on, with apologies to Abbott and Costello.) 

Timo Boll Video

Here's a tribute video to German star Timo Boll (7:37).

Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators battle over ping-pong

The Predators hockey team just wanted to play, but the Todd Bertuzzi of the Red Wings said no, get your own table. Here's the story

Online table tennis jigsaw puzzles

I've always liked doing jigsaw puzzles (I collect ones with dragons and wizards), and last night I had a brainstorm - why not find a table tennis themed jigsaw puzzle and bring it to the club? Alas, I was unable to find one - but I found two online ones! Here's the Jigzone Table Tennis Puzzle, and here's the Free Online Games Virtual Ping Pong Puzzle (the latter starts with a 15-second commercial, alas). I solved the latter; the first one looks tougher.

Non-Table Tennis: Top Twelve Reasons the Orioles are the Best Hitters in Baseball

My Top Twelve list was published on Orioles Hangout. See the listing there, or go directly to it. I'm actually somewhat notorious there for my semi-regular "Top Ten" lists, which I post on their forum every now and then under the pseudonym larrytt. This time one of the editors/owners/managers really liked it and so published it as a Hangout article. (In the past I'd have asked you to pity me for being an Orioles fan, but we're in first place in the AL East at 7-4, and lead or are near the lead in most hitting and pitching categories.)

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March 26, 2012

Tip of the Week

The Great Scourge of Table Tennis Footwork: Leaning.

Counterlooping and the Sunset Years

I'm not exactly into my sunset years at age 52, and yet every year my counterlooping skills take another small step backward. Even minor decreases in muscle flexibility and quickness affect this more than most other shots. I did a lot of counterlooping last fall with students who were developing their counterlooping skills, and recently I felt that my own counterlooping skills were getting back to their norm (i.e. the way I remember them from long ago). Yesterday I was counterlooping with a student and there were times where I was just staring at my racket, hoping I could blame all the misses on that. The reality is I was stiff and tired (okay, a few dozen loops beyond bone tired) after four hours of coaching and playing (and seven straight hours the day before), but skills like these should be ingrained and automatic. Instead, balls were jumping all over the place and sometimes I felt like I was just flailing at them. I even had a second wind, felt energized - but still kept missing. It probably wasn't as bad as I remember, since I probably remember all the misses instead of the ones that hit, but in practice most of them are supposed to hit. Alas. (Here's an article I wrote on counterlooping.) 

Speaking of counterlooping, during a recent group practice session I was playing matches with the beginning/intermediate kids, spotting most of them 6 points each. We also let adults join in as practice partners, and an elderly man in his 60s showed up. I didn't see him playing, and don't think I'd ever seen him play, so when Cheng asked me to play him a practice match I went in figuring he was another beginning/intermediate player, and took it easy on him. Down 2-7 in the first game, after watching him rip loop after loop from both wings, I realized my error. I tried blocking his non-stop barrage of loops, but to no avail - the guy may have been in his 60s, but his backhand loop was unreal! I finally went after his slightly-softer forehand, and since he seemed to go mostly crosscourt, I was able to get my counterlooping going. With my back to the wall, I came back to win that first game, lost the second (more backhand rips, plus he started smashing some of my loops), then won the next two very close games on my serves (he had great trouble with my forehand pendulum serve short to his forehand) and counterloops. It turns out he was a former top player from Ukraine. (Note to self: every unknown opponent is a possible top player from Ukraine, or China, or Timbuktu, so be ready!)

For the weekend (Fri-Sun), I coached an even ten hours, but also played about 20 practice matches, and went undefeated, including wins over one 2300+ player, one 2250 player, two wins over a 2100 player, and the rest against players from beginner to 1900.

World Team Championships

The World Team Championships started yesterday in Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1. You can follow all of the action online.

Zhang Jike Backhand Looping Multiball

Here's a short video (0:53) of world #1 Zhang Jike of China doing multiball backhand loop practice at the World Championships. He makes it look so easy.

Road to London

Here's a TV feature (4:22) on USA's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

The Pongcast - Episode 12

The latest Pongcast (21:14) features the European Champions League.

Dog referee?

Just let the dog play! (0:45)

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March 13, 2012

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Well, almost. We actually finished the "first draft" on Saturday, and spent much of Sunday and all of Monday inputting changes from Tim's proofing of the pages. (He's very, Very, VERY picky!) I printed out the "final" version last night, but Tim's told me he has many more changes, which we'll be inputting today. Alas.

Meanwhile, you can order the first 11 volumes, and pre-order #12, at the Tim Boggan Table Tennis page. I've already updated the page and the new order form.

How I play "lower" players

The key to beating lower players consistently is to take control right from the start with serve and receive. On the serve, you should have lots of serve and attack patterns. The key is not to serve and go for winners unless the shot is there. Instead, serve and attack with placement to put pressure on the opponent, and let them miss or give you an easy ball. Don't give away easy points by going for reckless shots.

On my serve, I test all opponents out with a variety of short and long serves, looking for two things: serves that they can't return without giving me an easy opening attack (either a long push or weak flip receive), and serves that they pop up or miss outright. Then I focus on serve and steady attack, mixing in the serves that win points outright so that they don't get used to them. My serve and attack serves are mostly short serves with varying spin, often with sidespin, side-top, and no-spin disguised as backspin, and often backspin or side-backspin to set up loops if they push them long. If they can't attack my deep serves, then they'll get a lot of those.

If they can return my serve consistently without giving me easy attacks, and I don't have any serves that they consistently miss, then I have to put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game. In general, weaker players can't return my serve effectively.

On the receive, all I want to do is neutralize the serve and get into a neutral rally. Control is key. This usually means consistent loops or drives against deep serves, and varied receive against short serves. A push to the backhand corner that's quick off the bounce, deep, angled, low, and heavy, as well as the threat of a sudden push to the wide forehand, is usually all it takes to disarm a weaker player. A quick but not too aggressive flip that's well placed (again, usually to the backhand) also disarms most players. Once you've neutralized the serve, you can take control of the rally. If you can't neutralize the opponent on his serve, then put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players - again, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game.

You don't need to be too aggressive when receiving - that's the one time that even an aggressive player should focus on control. If the serve pops up or you see an long serve that you read well, you may go for a shot. But that's only because the opponent messes up on the serve. Instead, control the serve, and then look to attack. Control the serve doesn't mean just pushing the ball; if you can loop it, or topspin it from over the table, do so, but focus on spin and control, not speed.

Once in the rally, find the weaker player's weaker side and go after it every chance. Move the ball around, but do so mostly to pull the opponent out of position so you can go after the weaker side. Focus on steady aggressive shots rather than risky point-winners, but be ready to pounce on the many weak balls you'll probably get.

If there's something the weaker player does in rallies that gives you trouble, and it's something you can't avoid getting, then play into it early to get used to it. For example, when I play a shakehands player with short pips on the backhand, I like to go straight backhand to backhand early on to get used to the pips. Once I'm comfortable with that I start moving the ball around, often attacking the middle. (Shakehand players with short pips are notoriously weak in the middle - they generally try to play quick off the bounce, so have little time to react to the middle, and their pips don't have the extra rebounding effect of inverted, meaning they have to stroke more with less time to cover the middle.)

So the key to beating lower players consistently is to serve and attack, but not over-attack; and control the receive to get into a neutral rally, and then get the attack.

One last thought - do you want to know the opponent's rating or level in advance? Most players do, but it often messes them up if the rating isn't accurate. I also like to know an opponent's rating, but I'm quick to put it aside if they can handle my serve, if I can't neutralize them on their serve, or if they are strong ralliers. Many players are more successful by not knowing an opponent's rating, and simply playing their game. I generally consider anyone rated within 300 rating points of me as a "threat," and even if they aren't a serious threat, a primary reason why they are not a threat is because I treat them as a threat.

Ariel & Lily on TV

Here's TV coverage of Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:22), the U.S. women's singles champion and finalist and the top two junior girls in the U.S. as well. 

Tribute to Jean-Michel Saive

Here's a tribute video to Saive (11:30), one of the all-time greats and former #1 in the world. He's one of the most spectacular players ever, with his combination of all-out forehand looping and off-table lobbing and fishing, as well as his one of the more livelier players between points.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Vol. 12

Tim suggested this one. It's not exactly table tennis, but there are human skulls! It's about Dr. Michael Scott's 1983 travels in Northern Borneo.

Here’s USTTA Sports Medicine Chair Dr. Michael Scott (SPIN, Dec., 1983, 18) to tell us about some of his recent travels to places where U.S. players and officials are normally not seen:

Among the most fascinating of my world travel experiences was a visit with the Dyak headhunters of Northern Borneo. To reach them [what in the hell did you want to reach them for?—you were gonna teach them ping-pong, lecture them on the dangers of melanoma? (“Let me see your scalp, your neck, please?”] I had to be flown in by plane and then take a lengthy river trip in a small outboard boat.

When the 'Headman' welcomes you to the longhouse (communal dwelling), shoes are removed upon entering the covered porch, and tan woven mats are spread on its spotless hardwood floor. Inhabitants and guests gather in a ten-foot circle sitting cross-legged. While seated in this circle, I glanced up and observed numerous human skulls dangling from the porch’s ceiling. They were suspended by a short rattan cord that entered through a small hole drilled in the vertex of the skull. Elderly men were tattooed, many even on the anterior aspect of their throat. The location of the tattoo was significant—for example, neck tattoos indicate the tribesman did the capitation himself. Fortunately, the last known incident occurred in the 1960’s.

When I ran out of gifts, I presented one Dyak Headman an embroiderd USTTA emblem. He was totally perplexed as to what it was or what he was to do with it. He turned it sideways, upside down, flipped it over, and still could not determine a use for it. {Not a good idea to frustrate him, do you think?] Another Dyak finally took it and placed it against the Headman’s T-shirt. I’m certain he’s the only headhunter with an official USTTA emblem.”

Perkins the Cat

He/she just wants the ball, and gets the net instead (0:17).

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March 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

For a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, as well as my usual coaching and other duties, I'm going to take today and next Monday to put these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Proper Use of the Free Arm.

Shadow practice

Do you only practice at your local club, or do you practice whenever the urge hits you? You can practice anywhere by shadow practicing. It's also a great way to exercise and to wake yourself up from long hours sitting at a desk. (It's also a nice to practice proper use of your free arm - see Tip above.)  Here's an article I wrote a while back on shadow-practicing. So get up from your computer and start stroking!

Arm Update

The arm is getting better, but still needs more time to heal. (I injured my forearm about a week ago.) I still can't forehand hit or loop aggressively. Yesterday I coached much of the day, but did almost exclusively backhands and multiball. One student, Kevin Walton, lent me an arm brace which seemed to help, but when using the muscles for certain shots it was like having someone grabbing my arm in mid-stroke. It's great to protect the arm when hitting (tentative) forehands, but when hitting backhands or feeding backspin in multiball, I had to take it off.

I'm supposed to be defending my hardbat titles from 2010 and 2011 at the Cary Cup in eleven days. However, my arm is not going to be ready for my all-out forehand hitting style. So yesterday I borrowed a defensive hardbat from John Olsen (an oversized Hock), and we practiced for a time. I'll almost for certain be chopping at Cary, and hopefully pick-hitting forehands, but not too much.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion Update

The wall is down! The long-awaited expansion of the Maryland Table Tennis Center is happening. They are still working on the new area we're taking over next door, and to protect our side from the dust of the wall going down and other work there's a ceiling-to-floor plastic tarp still dividing the place, but that's temporary. Soon we'll be up to 11,000 square feet, about 18 tables, all-new red flooring, showers, weight room, etc. All should be ready within two weeks.

Here's a picture of the place right now by Barbara Wei. The plastic tarp on the left actually cuts off about 10-15 feet of the current club, so for the next week or so we're actually smaller than normal.

Overheard at the Maryland Table Tennis Center yesterday: "Nobody plays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center anymore. It's too crowded." (Admission: I said it. With proper regards to Yogi Berra.)

Lily Zhang Interview

Here's an interview with Lily Zhang, U.S. Women's Singles Finalist, Women's Team Member, and #1 Cadet Girl.

Sol Schiff in New York Times

Here's Schiff's obit in the NY Times. Most of the story is based on phone interviews by the author with Tim Boggan, who was at my house during the interviews.

The World Economic Forum, Mick Jagger, and Ping-Pong

Here's an excerpt from an article this morning in The New Yorker:

Jagger was there. He had on a pink button-down, black jeans, and snazzy Nike running shoes. There was a Ping-Pong table folded up against the wall; apparently Jagger had been playing when the first guests arrived. Now he was dancing, with one woman, then another, to classic reggae playing at mid-volume.

Tips from Marty Reisman

Here's a two-minute video from Men's Journal and Marty Reisman: "The Hustler's Guide to Ping-Pong: Learn how to impress friends and fleece strangers with these tips from Marty Reisman, the world’s best table-tennis player."

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 13 table tennis cartoons by Cartoon Jazz that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

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November 23, 2011

Special on the North American Teams

The JOOLA North American Teams is this weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center, Fri-Sun, Nov. 25-27. This is one of the "big three" tournaments in the U.S. (along with the U.S. Open in July and USA Nationals in December), with the largest participation of any USA tournament - about 800 players, 200 teams, 144 tables, 150,000 square feet, $20,000 in prize money. Here's a series of articles that you might want to browse, whether you are playing in the tournament or just want to know more. I've only missed one year since 1976, including 33 straight years from 1976-2008. I'll be there all three days coaching - come say hello! (The secret handshake is to point your finger at me and say, "Secret handshake.")

Pushing Epiphany

Yesterday I suddenly realized something I already knew, but now I realized that I knew it. And that is that your average club or tournament player (say, 1500-1800) pushes poorly not just because he doesn't know better, but because he isn't forced to push better by his peers. I can serve backspin to your average under 1900 player and the large majority of the time they will push it back so that it is easy to loop a winner - if you can loop at a 2000+ level. It's not any one thing - sometimes the pushes aren't deep or short, aren't low, aren't heavy, are predictable, or wander out from the corners. Any one of these things make the push easy to attack. If you do all of these things even pretty well, then they are difficult to attack well by just about anyone - which is what most 2000+ players do when they push. (Here's a Tip of the Week on pushing effectively.)

Maximizing Your Game Under Poor Circumstances

Here's an article by Samson Dubina on eight ways to improve when your training conditions are less than ideal. He asks the question, "One must play against better players in order to improve?" The answer is, of course, false. He explains, "It is possible to improve your table tennis game even if you don’t have ideal training partners, ideal coaching, and an ideal facility.  In this article, I’m going to suggest eight ways that you can maximize your game under poor training circumstances.

USA's Lily Zhang wins doubles at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup

And here's the article that proves it! Lily, world #154, teamed with Russia's Anne Tikhomirova, world #68. In the final, they defeated the unified Korean team of Kim Kyung Ah (South Korea, world #13, perhaps the best women chopper in the world) and Kim Hye Song (North Korea, World #120), -6,8,-3,3,8. In the semifinals they defeated Cao Zhen (China, unranked, but world #30 in Feb., 2011, world #11 in 2006) and Aia Mohamed (Qatar, no ranking), 11,-10,7,8. Here's a picture of Zhang and Tikhomirova with their trophies, and an action shot (with the caption saying, "Russia's Anna Tikhomirova hits a return during the women's doubles table tennis match at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup," but of course she's actually serving.)

Guinness World Record for most players in a rally

A total of 107 players took part in this rally (3:01). Perhaps the most boring table tennis video ever made, but are you in the Guinness Book of World Records?

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November 21, 2011

Tip of the Week

Remember the Good Shots.

Rushing the quicker player

It's tough playing a quicker player who bangs every shot before while you're still following through on your previous shot. But a lot of players don't understand that on the first shot of the rally, especially on your serve, you can rush the quicker player. It just comes down to setting yourself up for a shot you can attack quickly, before the quick opponent can get into a quick rally. If you place your first quick attack well, the quicker player will have great difficulty and won't be able to rush you - and you'll get a second shot to attack.

For example, I like to serve fast no-spin at the receiver's elbow. This often forces a weaker topspin return - but more importantly, it draws the receiver out of position, especially if he returns it backhand. (For that reason, I tend to serve it slightly to the backhand side, though a forehand also draws the player out of position.) Once the player is drawn out of position, it's just a matter of you attacking that ball quickly to an open corner.

Another way is to serve short side-top to the forehand. Many players have trouble attacking this ball, and so you tend to get a softer return you can attack quickly - and while the opponent is drawn over the table reaching for that short ball to the forehand. Or serve a breaking sidespin serve deep to the backhand - many players will take this ball late and essentially roll it back, allowing you to go for the first quick, aggressive shot.

Of course, the best way to overcome a quicker player is to keep the ball deep, attack his elbow and wide corners, and focus on making consistent, strong shots. 

Trials and Tribulations

After a month of playing great (due to extra practice, weight training, and stretching), over the last week I've been feeling progressively stiffer, especially in the upper back. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens. Exercising and stretching only help it marginally. Unfortunately, this is causing havoc to my forehand attacking game in practice matches. After a month of feeling like I had the speed of a meteor, now I'm feeling a bit more like a meteorite. Dan Seemiller told me this used to happen to him as well as he got older, that there were times he just couldn't play, and who am I to disagree with him? Anyway, I'm not playing terrible, just not nearly as well as before. I can still pretty much go through "lower players," but I'm not challenging stronger, faster players (i.e. our top juniors) so much anymore. Hopefully it'll come back. I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams next weekend (Fri-Sun), and fortunately the players have to do the playing; I don't.

Video Coaching

I'm off this morning for another two-hour video coaching session. We're not only watching the player I'm coaching, but other possible opponents as well. Top players, if you feel a cold tingle going down your spine, we're watching you.

USA Interviews at the World Junior Championships

Modern Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Why a simple game holds the key to world peace. (From the English newspaper The Independent.)

How to Practice Without a Serious Practice Partner

Coach Tao of Table Tennis University explains how to practice while playing games (4:58).

Non-Table Tennis - "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination" anthology

I recently submitted three stories to "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination," a science fiction and fantasy anthology put out by the famous editor Warren Lapine. They are literally the highest paying SF/fantasy anthology, and received well over 1000 submissions. All three of my stories made the final 40! (They expect to pick only about 20.) Here's what Warren wrote about my stories: "Larry, your stories were passed up to me by three different first readers in one night. I think that's a record." One of the assistant editors wrote, "Larry, I spent the last section of this evening wishing I had been first reader on one of your stories! Even if you don't make it into Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, know that you impressed a multitude of readers, writers, and editors, with myriad tastes." Okay, I'm ready to write some more stories! (Meanwhile, they plan to announce the final selections by Wednesday.) (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job, I mean my mostly night job, which is table tennis.)

Behind-the-back winner

Here's Liam Pitchford (English #1 player in men's and juniors) hitting a behind-the-back winner at the World Junior Championships last week. Notice how nonchalant he is about it? This reminds me of the best shot I ever saw in table tennis, also from an English junior. In the late 1980s, an English junior star trained for a week or so with the top USA juniors at the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While playing a match with Chi-Ming Chui (Chi-Sun's older brother), he mis-hit a serve almost straight up. Chi-Ming pulverized the shot. The English junior, seeing he was about to be creamed with the ball, turned his back, and without looking, jumped into the air and made a backhand, over-the-head, no-look counter-smash as the ball was rising from the table! He was as surprised as anyone watching - he had no idea he'd actually make the shot.

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