Topspin Charity

August 6, 2014

Virginia Camp

Yesterday was Day Two of the training camp at Fairhill Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. There are 14 in the camp, ages 6-14, all right-handed shakehanders, and strangely, no girls. On Day One we focused on forehand and backhand, and beginning serves. Yesterday we introduced them to footwork, forehand smash, spin serves, and doubles. I'm still surprised at the level of play - for 14 kids this age who have never been to a table tennis club, they are pretty talented. In most camps like this there would be several players who simply cannot rally, and so you have to put them with coaches. None of the players in the camp come under that category. 

John and Wen Hsu are my assistant coaches (with Wen the administrator), but John couldn't make it yesterday, so Raghu Nadmichettu substituted. After lunch he and I did an exhibition. I had my usual fun, lobbing while sitting on the floor, blowing the ball back, 50-foot serves from the side, racing side to side as Raghu angled me, playing with mini-paddle and clipboard, and various trick serves. As I usually do, before the match I told the kids to cheer for me when I scored, and to boo when Raghu scored, and predictably (as in past exhibitions) they did the opposite. I had my usual run-ins with the scorekeeper, who always held firm no matter how much I claimed my shot that went way off had actually hit the edge.  I always play the "bad" guy, and I always lose.

Probably the most impressive player in the camp is an 11-year-old who has no hands, and an inability to even lower his upper arms, which are jammed up against his side. He grips the paddle's handle in the crook of his arm, i.e. the inside of his elbow - and amazingly, is one of the better players in the camp! He's been playing a lot he said at a table at his swimming pool, and has an amazing forehand smash. I want you, the reader, to imagine holding a paddle with the inside of your elbow and imagine smashing the ball. If you can't imagine it, neither could I until I saw it. In our multiball session with me yesterday he was making the smash about 80% of the time. He also has a decent backhand. He picks the ball off the floor by squeezing it between his elbow and his chin. He also serves by holding it between his elbow and chin and then tossing it up. He's one of the fastest on his feet in the camp. During the one-hour lunch break on Monday the kids played "bottle soccer" in the cafeteria, and he was perhaps the best player, with all sorts of fancy footwork. 

They also were going to play bottle soccer yesterday during lunch break. (It's just soccer but with an empty bottle as the ball, and two trash cans on each side of the cafeteria as goal posts.) But a strange thing happened - we had rolled a table into the cafeteria for Raghu and I to do the exhibition. (The room we were doing the coaching had low ceilings, and we thought the cafeteria would be a more fun place to do it.) Within minutes, the kids came over to the table and were playing "King of the Table." So despite all the table tennis - six hours a day - they wanted more! 

Tomorrow we'll do more stroke and footwork drills (as always), plus I'll introduce them to pushing, backhand smash, and fast serves. 

International News

As usual, you can find lots of international news at TableTennista (which covers the big names more) and at the ITTF news page (more regional news). 

Vote for Prachi Jha for USOC Athlete of the Month

Here's the ballot!

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. Seventy-four down, 26 to go!

  • Day 27: Christian Veronese Describes ITTF Marketing Strategies and Successes

Quentin Robinot Bullet Shot at the ITTF China Open

Here's the video (34 sec) as he first plays defense (against Yan An), and then makes an incredible counter-smash.

Topspin Charity Event in Las Vegas

Here's the blog entry by Matt Hetherington, where a bunch of NBA players (with Chris Paul hosting) and table tennis players raised money for charity. Also links to a video of the event (10:14).

Table Tennis Anime

Here's some anime table tennis pictures and a video (1:36). 

Texas Tech Red Raiders - College Football and Table Tennis

Here's the article

Coffee Table Ping-Pong Table

Here it is!

Action Packed Cartoon

As near as I can tell, six people get hit in the head and a light bulb smashed in this table tennis cartoon

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November 14, 2012

Looping or Handling the Loop?

Is your game centered around looping or handling the loop? At the intermediate and advanced levels, the game is dominated by looping. Most players center their games around looping. But some take the reverse approach, and center their game around handling the loop. This includes both defensive players (choppers, fisher/lobbers, and blockers) as well as hitters.

Often players who center their games around handling the opponent's loop (or simply not letting him loop, at least not effectively) make the mistake of going too far, and never developing their own loop. Even if looping will never be their strength, it's a great variation at minimum, forcing the opponent to deal with one more thing. It's almost always the best way to deal with a deep backspin ball. Even players with short pips and hardbat can loop against backspin, and if the opponent has to adjust to both your drive and loop against backspin, he's got a lot to deal with.

Players who do loop often make the mistake of also going too far, centering their game around looping but not learning to deal with the opponent's loop very well, both in terms of keeping him from doing it (or doing it effectively) and from dealing with it when the opponent does loop. It always amazes me how many players with strong loops will serve or push long over and over, letting the opponent loop rather than serve or push short to set up their own loop.

Some are so loop happy that they try to counterloop any incoming loop. This can lead to problems as it's not easy trying to counterloop an opponent's opening loop against backspin (often very spinny) if the opponent is mixing up the speed, spin, direction, and depth. That's way too many variables for any but the very best players. If you are one of the very best players (or if you aspire to be, and are training at least 4-5 days a week), then perhaps you can learn to do this. Otherwise, consider blocking against more aggressive loops, and perhaps jab-blocking (i.e. aggressively blocking) or even smashing against loops that land short. A loop that lands short is easy to jab-block or smash (if you don't hesitate), but it really rushes a looper, and unless you are able to jump all over that ball with a full swing in a split second, counterlooping it is not easy. (Remember that you also have to wait and see if the ball is going to your forehand or backhand, and then judge the depth, speed, and spin before you can properly react.)

On the other hand, some players learn to shorten their counterloop stroke against shorter balls and sort of soft-spin off the bounce. This can be effective but takes lots of practice to get the timing down. This is especially effective if you use some of the modern high-end looping sponges (i.e. expensive ones). If you use more of a hitter's sponge, then it's better to jab-block or smash.

The main advantage of counterlooping anything that goes long, including an opponent's loop? You don't have to hesitate since you know what you are going to do. You just have to decide forehand and backhand, and then let the shot go. (You do have to decide how hard and what direction you are looping, but that's relatively easy.) This works for many world-class players, but remember - it takes lots of practice and perhaps some physical training as well.

TopSpin's Charity Benefit

Here's an article in Forbes Magazine on the TopSpin Charity Benefit being held tonight, and here's the opening paragraph: "Over 1,000 members of the sports, entertainment and media communities will be hoisting ping-pong paddles in New York City tomorrow at TopSpin’s fourth annual Ping-Pong Tournament.  And they will be doing so in an effort to benefit three city programs for under-served students.  Among the confirmed guests are Hakeem Nicks, Prince Amukamara and Terrell Thomas of the New York Giants, and Gerald Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse of the Brooklyn Nets."

ITTF Video World Cup

Here are the twelve entries received so far for the ITTF Video World Cup. You can view them and vote for the winner! Of course, the best one is "TTism (in slow motion)," by Richard Heo. Why? Because I'm in it!!! (I show up for about three seconds at 1:29, cheering silently and motionlessly for Raghu Nadmichettu, who is celebrating a win silently and motionlessly. That segment was filmed at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.) Here's the info page for the contest. First and second places are $5000 and $2500. Deadline to enter is Nov. 30.

Sampson Dubina's Favorite Serving Videos

Former USA Men's Singles Finalist Samson Dubina posted links to his favorite videos of top players serving. (And here's his article "Perfecting Your Serve.") I've added names/descriptions. Here are the serving videos:

John Ping Pong

Here's a ping-pong song (2:44) I hadn't heard before. It's set to some old-time music.

Non-Table Tennis - "The Devil's Backbone"

The new anthology "After Death," which features fantasy stories about what happens after you die, includes my story "The Devil's Backbone." (Anthology comes out in March, but they just announced the table of contents.) It's the story of an ice cream man who is killed and pulled into the ground by an incredibly gigantic hand, which turns out to be the Devil's, who literally jams him down his throat and (from the inside) onto his equally gigantic backbone, where there is an entire city of lost souls. How can he escape?

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December 30, 2011

MDTTC Christmas Camp

Yesterday at the MDTTC Christmas Camp the focus was on backhand attack. That meant lots of backhand smashes, backhand drives and flips against backspin, and backhand loops. I was amazed at how fast some of the "beginner" kids picked up the backhand loop. The old paradigm that you have to be relatively advanced before you can backhand loop has been wrong for many years, and yet it still plagues many junior players whose old-fashioned coaches hold back on teaching this shot, thereby handicapping their games. My general rule of thumb is as soon as the kid can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands with a good stroke he's ready to learn to loop.

This reminds me of a Junior Olympics many years ago where a full-time professional coach from another region was admiring the level of play of the Maryland juniors. She was amazed at how well some of our kids in the 10-year-old range could loop, and commented, "None of my students that age are good enough to learn to loop yet." As she explained, she thought it was assumed a kid needed to be at least 1500 before he should be taught to loop. Yikes!!!

Once again I gave out lots and lots of chocolates in a game where the players had to hit a bottle to win one. My chocolate supply is making me very popular.

Entries at USA Nationals

We now have the entry totals for the USA Nationals - and it ain't particularly pretty. (The ratings for both the North American Teams and the USA Nationals were processed last night.)

Using the USATT ratings database, there were 502 players at the 2011 USA Nationals in Virginia Beach who played in rated events. (Players who only entered doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper are not included in these totals.) This is by far the lowest total in the ratings histories, which start in 1994, with the next lowest the 592 in 1998, and 27% down from last year's 686, and way down from the 829 and 837 in 2005-2006. Other than the 1986 Nationals in Pittsburgh (where I believe there were less than 400 entries), I believe this is the lowest turnout ever for a USA Nationals since the first one in 1976. (I'm not including U.S. Opens, which were sometimes referred to as the USA Nationals before the first "official" one in 1976.) It also pales by comparison to the totals for the North American Teams, which had 767 players. Of course, the reality is that neither of these are large totals. There were two U.S. Opens in the mid-1970s that had over 1000 entries, in Houston and Oklahoma City.

I've put together a graph showing the annual totals for the USA Nationals starting in 1994. (Other than 1986 in Pittsburgh and one year in Anaheim in the last 1980s, I believe it's been held in Las Vegas every year.) I also put together one for the U.S. Open.

Some will immediately conclude that the problem was the location - Virginia Beach. This is basically correct. Putting the Nationals at a "vacation" area like Las Vegas automatically attracts players. But as proven by the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids in 2010 (645 entries, versus 610 the year before in Las Vegas), you can attract players to non-vacation lands. I had an email exchange with the Grand Rapids organizers about a year before the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids where I gave numerous recommendations on how to get entries, and they did use many of those methods, whether on their own or because of my email. (Maybe sometime later I'll publish the entire list.)

I have some experience in this, which is why I was contacted by the Grand Rapids people. While I've run about 150 tournaments, I've run only one 4-star tournament, the 1998 Eastern Open in Baltimore. It received 411 entries - 359 in rated events, the rest in doubles events or paid no-shows - which I believe is still the record for most entries in a 4-star event (other than the North American Teams, which for some silly reason, is still listed as a 4-star). I promoted the heck out of that tournament, as did Richard Lee and others who put it together. 

How did we get so many entries at the 1998 Easterns? By promoting the tournament to potential players. I'm sure the tournament committee for the 2011 Nationals also worked like crazy to get entries, but they didn't seem to have any experience in doing this, and didn't seem to consult with those who did. For example, there are a huge number of players in neighboring Maryland, including the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my home club, with a 200+ membership. I don't recall a single mailing or any other serious contact made with MDTTC to attract players. There also was no personal invitation to enter the tournament by "names," as Grand Rapids did with Dell and Connie Sweeris. Get a Sweeris, Seemiller, or similar "name," send out a personal invitation to enter the tournament from them (focusing on regions within driving distance, and flooding the local regional clubs with flyers), and use other successful methods  to promote the tournament (I won't elaborate here, maybe later), and you'll be surprised at how many entries you can get.

I really believe they can get 700+ entries in Virginia Beach if they promote the heck out of the tournament using the successful methods others have used. On the other hand, if they did the same in Las Vegas, they might get 1000. Heck, if Houston and Oklahoma City can get over 1000, why can't Virginia Beach or just about any other location that promotes the tournament properly?

Here are the entry totals for the Nationals, 1994-2011.

USA Nationals

  • 2011: 502        Virginia Beach
  • 2010: 686        Las Vegas
  • 2009: 597        Las Vegas
  • 2008: 604        Las Vegas
  • 2007: 730        Las Vegas
  • 2006: 837        Las Vegas
  • 2005: 829        Las Vegas
  • 2004: 755        Las Vegas
  • 2003: 707        Las Vegas
  • 2002: 678        Las Vegas
  • 2001: 672        Las Vegas
  • 2000: 686        Las Vegas
  • 1999: 658        Las Vegas
  • 1998: 592        Las Vegas
  • 1997: 650        Las Vegas
  • 1996: 613        Las Vegas
  • 1995: 660        Las Vegas
  • 1994: 598        Las Vegas

USA Nationals Videos

You can now watch just about every major match from the 2011 USA Nationals!

Mission Impossible: Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang

Here's a photo montage to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:46), set to the theme music of Mission Impossible, who just played each other in the Women's Singles Final at the USA Nationals for the second year in a row, and now have their eyes set on the 2012 Olympics.

One-Year-Olds Forehand

Here's actual footage (1:21) of the 2028 U.S. Women's Singles Champion, currently one year old. (I believe its Samson Dubina's daughter - that's him "coaching" her.)

Topspin Charity Ping-Pong and Baron Davis

Here's a humorous video (3:14) of Baron Davis of the Cleveland Cavaliers promoting the Topspin Ping-Pong Charity Tournament. Here's more info on the event.

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