September 17, 2014

Tip of the Week:

Should You Watch the Ball All the Way Into the Racket?


I've spent most of the last two days in bed with a cold, but I'm over it now. It's fortunate timing as my Mon-Tue schedule is light, while Wed-Sun I'm very busy. There are a lot of segments in this morning's blog as they have accumulated over the last five days. I have no more sicknesses scheduled for this year.

Why Players Plateau

Here's a great article on this topic. This happens to players all the time - they reach a comfort level, and then stick with what's comfortable and works at that level, and so aren't able to progress beyond that point. I'm always trying to convince players at all levels to avoid this type of roadblock to improvement.

Here are two segments from the article.

In the 1960s, psychologists identified three stages that we pass through in the acquisition of new skills. We start in the “cognitive phase,” during which we’re intellectualizing the task, discovering new strategies to perform better, and making lots of mistakes. We’re consciously focusing on what we’re doing. Then we enter the “associative stage,” when we’re making fewer errors, and gradually getting better. Finally, we arrive at the “autonomous stage,” when we turn on autopilot and move the skill to the back of our proverbial mental filing cabinet and stop paying it conscious attention.

And so we get to the so-called “OK Plateau” — the point at which our autopilot of expertise confines us to a sort of comfort zone, where we perform the task in question in efficient enough a way that we cease caring for improvement. We reach this OK Plateau in pursuing just about every goal, from learning to drive to mastering a foreign language to dieting, where after an initial stage of rapid improvement, we find ourselves in that place at once comforting in its good-enoughness and demotivating in its sudden dip in positive reinforcement via palpable betterment.

How many of you are in the "autonomous stage," where you are blindly sticking to your comfort zone with the things that work at that level, but stop you from progressing? Watch what stronger players do, and emulate that. This doesn't mean you should completely lose what helped you reach your current level; much of that will be useful even at higher levels. The problem is when you rely on lower-level techniques and wonder why you can't reach a higher level.  

Navin Kumar: A Passion for Table Tennis

Here's the article. He has "a congenital heart condition that has required 5 major open heart surgeries throughout my lifetime, and I now have a mechanical heart made of the same carbon fiber material that you see in high end table tennis blades nowadays." He recently became one of my students. (He mentions me in the article.)

Three Years Eight Month Old Player

Here's the video (4:33). At the start he's standing on a chair. About thirty seconds in he's on a platform. We need to get something like this at my club. In tennis they start kids at three years old and sometimes even younger, using smaller courts and slower balls. Because of the height of the table players can rarely start in table tennis until they are five or six. There's no reason they can't start by age three if we have either platforms for them to stand on or lower tables. They actually make adjustable tables overseas, where you can lower the table, but they are expensive.

Volunteer Prize for Table Tennis Teacher

Here's the article on USATT Coaching Chair Federico Bassetti.

Berkeley Open

Here's a write-up of the tournament held this past weekend, with a link to a photo album.

Humble Beginnings to Established Event, 6th Annual Badger Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Ariel Hsing: There Are Not Many Powerful Players in America

Here's the article.

Butterfly Legends

Here's the article on Nobuhiko Hasegawa and Shigeo Itoh of Japan, the 1967 and 1969 Men's Singles World Champions. Includes links to numerous vintage videos.

China's Table Tennis Girls Team Spends Three Days in School, Four Days at Practice

Here's the article. I'm told by many Chinese players that in many Chinese sports schools they spend only one hour per day on school and 7-8 hours on sports.

Crazy Double Around-the-Net Shot

Here's the video (45 sec, including slow motion replay).

Triangle Table Tennis

Here's the video (2:24) of a news item on the Triangle Table Tennis Club in Morrisville, NC.

Princeton Pong - Battle of the Sexes 2014

Here's the video (7:13) of the exhibition doubles match between David Zhuang/Shao Yu and Ariel Hsing/Erica Wu at the grand opening of Princeton Pong on Saturday.

Chuang Chih-Yuan - Off the Table

Here's the video (3:42) of the world #8 from Taiwan.

Out of This World Doubles Rally

Here's the video (39 sec, including slow motion replay).

Stiga 2014 Trick Shot Showdown

Here are the selections - 65 of them! There's a "Play All" button.  

Interview with Piing of Power

Here's the interview, with a link to a hilarious video (1:12).

Carl Sagan's Understanding of the Afterlife

Here's the cartoon sequence. If you're impatient, skip down to the last few pictures!

Marty Reisman, His Forehand, and the Table Tennis Robot

Here's the video (14 sec) of the late table tennis great.

Exhibition by Saive and Merckx

Here's the video (1:35) as all-time great Jean-Michel Saive and Jasper Merckx (both from Belgium) lob and spin the table about.

Dude Perfect: Ping Pong Challenge

Here's the video (3:43) as the twins Coby and Cory go at it in this "ping pong battle for the ages."

Larry Bavly Copies the Famous Ma Lin Serve

Here's the original (1:18) as a shirtless Ma Lin serves backspin so the balls spin back into the net, his "ghost serve." Here's Larry Bavly mimicking this (2:30) in his XXL version. It brings back memories of the famous Saturday Night Live Chippendale skit (2:53) with Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley.

Non-Table Tennis - Letter from a Time Traveler to Orioles Fans

Here's another feature article I had at Orioles Hangout. This year everything that could possibly go wrong with the Orioles went wrong, as the article shows - and yet they clinched the American League East Division last night, with a 13.5 game lead with 11 games left to play. As noted in the past, I've coached three of the Orioles - shortstop J.J. Hardy, star reliever Darren O'Day, and Vice President and former start center fielder Brady Anderson. I've also hit with about half of them. (Here's the blog entry on my day at the Orioles clubhouse last summer.)

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September 15, 2014

Alas, I've come down with a cold. I think I've had it for 2-3 days, but thought it was some sort of throat infection. But now I've got all the standard symptoms of a cold - feeling sick, sore throat, runny nose, aching teeth, and a slight fever. (Or could it be strep throat? Or the dreaded Ebola virus?) So back to bed - no blog today. I'm hoping NyQuil and DayQuil will handle it, with a lot of throat lozenges. I hope to start up again tomorrow, including the Tip of the Week. 

September 13, 2013

Friday the 13th and a Cold

I've still got my cold, and was tempted to skip the blog again this morning. After all, what worse combination is there than a cold on Friday the 13th? Alas, I dragged myself out of bed and forced myself to do this. Let's all have a round of pity for poor, poor me. (Anybody know where I can get cheap Kleenex? I'm going through a lot.) I managed to do my two hours of coaching last night, but am not sure about tonight's 2.5 hours scheduled.

Wallet and Other Old Stuff

Since I'm feeling very old right now due to my cold, I thought I'd tell the story of my wallet, which turns 32 years old this month. This is only peripherally table tennis related, but since it's a source of legend among the locals, I might as well tell the story.

 In September of 1981, when I was 21 years old, I started classes at University of Maryland. (I'd taken two years off to train for table tennis in North Carolina.) On the very first day I went to the Student Union for lunch, where there were a number of restaurants. I went to the pizza place. When I reached the front of the line I ordered a pepperoni pizza, pulled out my wallet, and paid. As I handed the cashier the cash, I placed the wallet on the counter for a few seconds. When I reached for it, it was gone. I looked around, but couldn't find it. Someone behind me said, "Excuse me, was that your wallet on the counter?" I said yes. The person said someone had just picked it up and left. I ran out into the hallway, but I never saw the wallet again.

That afternoon I bought a new one, and vowed it would last me a lifetime. That was 32 years ago, and I still have the same wallet. It's rather beat up, with several holes, including one in the change purse. (I have to be careful or coins fall out.) The Velcro that closes it is almost gone, but there's still a tiny bit that sort of keeps it closed. Anyway, this month is the 32nd anniversary of someone stealing my wallet, and it's never happened again. Here are two pictures of this ancient wallet, top and bottom.

Unfortunately, while my wallet has remained safe, a lot of other stuff has gotten stolen, mostly in table tennis tournaments. My playing bag was stolen at a U.S. Open or Nationals back in the early 1990s; it not only had my rackets, but also all of my coaching files as the then-chair of the USATT coaching committee. I've had my laptop computer stolen twice, once right off the USATT desk at an Open or Nationals in the 1990s, where I was doing coverage, and once at a tournament in Philadelphia in the 1990s. (That time I made the mistake of leaving the laptop in the back seat of my car, and someone broke a window to get in and steal it. Always leave your laptop in the trunk!!!) Surprisingly, I've never had a racket stolen, though I once had my hardbat racket "borrowed" - just before my Hardbat Singles Final at the Nationals against Marty Reisman in 1997, forcing me to borrow a racket for the match (I lost), with the racket later returned anonymously. (But that's another story.)

Actually, it's been a long time since I've had anything stolen - the playing bag and laptops were both stolen in the 1990s. Maybe I've learned to be more protective of my stuff.

Review of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here's a review of the book by Alex Polyakov, the author of "Breaking 2000." And if you want to improve your game (as opposed to its smoldering away like a burning ember that'll never quite catch fire), then buy the book! (While debating whether to buy the book or allow your game to never reach its potential, you can read the other 22 reviews there.)

Interview with Ferenc Karsai

Here's a video interview (8:57) with Coach Karsai, coach of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager of Austria, the last European World Singles Champion. He talks about talent in table tennis and working with Schlager.

Creepy Pong

In honor of Friday the 13th, here's Creepy Pong - see how many Halloween ghouls you can beat at table tennis! I couldn't get it to work in Chrome, but it worked fine in Explorer. It starts with an irritating 30-second Power Rangers ad. Note that when you do play, you can hit the ball harder by moving the cursor in as you hit; otherwise you'll just rally and never score.

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September 12, 2013

I'm fighting a cold, so no blog today. I think I started coming down with it yesterday, but managed to do the blog and some coaching. But it's a bit worse this morning, so I'm going back to bed, hoping to be in shape to coach tonight (two hours starting 6PM). Meanwhile, here are two matches to watch: Ma Long versus Wang Hao (6:24, with time between points removed) at the 2013 Chinese Nationals (I think Men's Singles QF - can anyone verify?), and here are two of the early great Swedes Kjell "The Hammer" Johansson versus Hans Alser (44:23) in 1970. (Johansson would make the final of Men's Singles at the Worlds in 1973.) Boy has the game changed! Part of this is equipment - try playing modern world-class shots with a sheet of cheap beginner's sponge, which is essentially what they played with back then.

February 25, 2013

I came down sick yesterday, and had to get others to substitute for me for yesterday afternoon's coaching rather than infect everyone. It's probably just a cold. I'm taking today off. So no blog this morning, and the Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow. After all, I wouldn't want to infect anyone. (If you are reading this, you might already have caught my cold.) If you are really desperate for something TT to read, why not explore or

November 26, 2012

Teams Aftermath

It's official: I have a cold. I spent the last three days mostly coaching kids at the North American Teams, and somewhere along the way probably got exposed. I've been doing this blog for almost two years, and except for major holidays and when I'm out of town, I don't think I've missed a day. But since I normally take holidays off, and yet I did a blog on Thanksgiving, I'm taking today off both as a sick day and as my unofficial Thanksgiving holiday. I'll have turkey soup for lunch. (The Tip of the Week will also go up tomorrow.)

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January 11, 2012

Reverse penhold backhand

I'm coaching two penholders who have reverse penhold backhands - one an elderly player who normally uses a conventional penhold backhand but is learning the new version, the other a 12-year-old learning this way from the start. For penholders, this is the biggest revolution in penhold play since, well, the invention of penhold play. For shakehanders, it is the shot that stopped shakehanders from dominating at the world-class level. For a while, it looked like the penhold grip would vanish from the world's elite, but this stroke brought it back to par with shakehands. It is also a shot that shakehanders must learn to play against.

What is a reverse penhold backhand? It is a backhand by a penhold player where he hits with the opposite side of the racket rather than using the same side for forehand and backhand (i.e. a conventional penhold backhand). Just as with shakehands, you can block, hit, or loop with it. More and more top penholders play their backhands this way as it gives a stronger backhand attack, though it leaves the player weaker in the middle and often isn't as good for blocking. Historically coaches would say this is simply wrong, and would guide penholders into hitting conventional penhold backhands. Then along came Liu Guoliang in the 1990s, who hit his backhand both ways while winning men's singles at the World and Olympics. Then came Wang Hao, who became the best in the world and the 2009 Men's Singles World Champion playing almost exclusively reverse penhold backhands. Other top Chinese penholders who used the shot include Ma Lin and Xu Xin. Now it is considered the "norm," while conventional penhold backhands are somewhat passé.

Here is a slow motion video (2:17) showing Wang Hao's reverse penhold backhand.

The first time I played someone with a reverse penhold backhand in a serious match was about ten years ago, which was also in my first tournament after the change to 11-point games in 2001. I was probably rated about 2250 at the time, while my opponent was only about 1800; I should have been able to beat him about 11-4 every game. However, all my instincts were wrong because of this "weird" backhand, and I found myself fishing and lobbing point after point - and the player hit very hard and rarely missed. Feeling like a complete beginner, I lost the first two games. I finally went to playing every ball to his forehand - his strength - and eked out a five-game win. It could very easily have been my worst loss in something like twenty years.

It just goes to show that you have to practice against different techniques if you want to play well against them. In this case, an opponent hit his backhand in a way I'd never seen, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to react properly to it. Your subconscious is what controls shots, and when it sees something it's never seen before, it sometimes goes, "What the heck?" Mine was simply lost. I've since learned to play against the grip by simply playing against players who use it, though I'm still not completely comfortable against it - too many years of playing against "normal" backhands, both shakehands and regular penhold. Tactically, you play the grip like a shakehander, attacking the middle (the playing elbow) every chance.

The first time I actually saw anyone do this stroke was back in the 1980s, when future four-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler (a shakehander) did it while fooling around in penhold matches. We all laughed at him, even though he had a better penhold backhand this way than any of his rival shakehanders trying to play conventional penhold style. He got the last laugh.

Day Eleven

For those keeping track, today is Day Eleven of the Great Cold of 2012. It simply will not go away.

2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

I'll be coaching at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12. Come join us!

Ten serves

Here's a video (1:58) that shows ten different serves, both in regular and slow motion. I think I may have posted this (or a version of it) once before, but I think it's an excellent video to watch if you are developing any of these serves.

Racket testing procedures

Here's a tutorial video (11:58) that covers racket testing procedures, as set up by ITTF. My players have been through this numerous times, though it's usually much quicker than this, as they aren't explaining everything.

Playing alone

Who needs a playing partner when you have the Wally Rebounder???


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