U.S. Olympic Trials

February 20, 2012

Tip of the Week

Moving Players In and Out.

Topspin

I'm often amazed at how the world of table tennis is divided between two types: those who use the full power of topspin in their games, and those who don't. This doesn't mean looping every ball, but it does mean using topspin to control your offensive shots and often your defensive ones as well. Even when doing simple forehands or backhands a little topspin goes a long way. I know; I sometimes hit the ball too flat and pay the price.

It's actually very simple. Topspin pulls the ball down. This means balls that would go off the end instead curve down and hit the table. It's like having an additional couple of feet of table to aim for. The best way of demonstrating it is to drop a ball near the end line, and hit it as it reaches table level. Try smashing flat, and watch it go off. Then smash with a little topspin, and watch as it occasionally hits the far side, but only barely. Then loop kill it, and watch how it often hits the table with two feet to spare. (Of course, you have to be able to do these shots at a relatively high level to do the above - but if you can't, then get some top player to demonstrate, or just trust me.)

When attacking, you don't have the entire 4.5 feet of the far side of the table to aim for. On many shots, if you don't use topspin, you might only have the last few inches to aim for. With topspin, the size of your target goes up tremendously.

And we haven't even gotten into how topspin makes it easier to return hard-hit balls (again, larger target), or how the topspin jumps both on the table and off the opponent's racket, making it harder for them to make good returns. There's a place for all types of spin in table tennis, but from the intermediate to the advanced levels, topspin is king.

The problem, of course, is that it takes a lot of practice to learn to create this topspin, right? Actually, not really. It does take a lot of practice to use a lot of topspin, but even a little topspin on your drives goes a surprisingly long way, and that's not too hard to develop. How do you do this? Get a coach to work with you, and then practice.

To paraphrase a famous horror movie quote, next time you're playing grab the ball and tell it, "The power of topspin controls you!"

Western Open - note the quarterfinalists

Here are the results of the Western Open this past weekend. Congrats to all the winners! But as someone pointed out to me, there's something troubling here. Go to the Open results and look at the quarterfinalists. What do they have in common? All eight were born and trained in China. Not one American-trained player made the quarters. I have two things to say about this. 1) Congrats to all these eight quarterfinalists, who are champions (or at least quarterfinalists) no matter where they developed their games; and 2) Coaches everywhere, you have your work cut out for you. Get to work! (The nice thing is we have the strongest group of cadet players coming up right now probably in U.S. history, so perhaps things will be different in a few years.)

U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary

Here's another good article on the Trials last week.

Defensive play videos

Here are some great examples of defensive play, though much of it is exhibition. A lot of it features Germany's Jorg Rosskopf against chopper Chen Bing.

Non-Table Tennis - Story Published

My humorous fantasy story "Life and Death and Bongo Drums" was just published at Every Day Fiction. (When the entities LIFE and DEATH come for a mysterious Nazi-affiliated time traveler, the only thing standing between him and death are . . . bongo drums?) This is the 57th story I've sold, all science fiction or fantasy. (Here's my Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing page.)

Hilarious table tennis skit

This starts out as a seemingly friendly ping-pong game between two friends. Things get really wild about one minute into this 2:40 video - trust me, wait for it!

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February 16, 2012

Over- and Under-Playing

Both Over- and Under-playing are scourges of match play. I'm not sure which happens often. I'm guessing most would say they lose more often from under-playing down to a "weaker" opponent, but I’m not so sure. Players often lose by over-playing, but don't realize it.

Under-playing means you play down to the level of your "weaker" opponent. It usually means that you hold back on your stronger aggressive shots, playing a safer, passive game that allows the opponent to take control and often win. It's a quick way to blow a rating or ranking.

Over-playing means you try to play at a level that's not only beyond your normal capacity, but beyond what is needed to win. For example, I'll often play lower-rated players who feel that to beat me they have to blast winners on every shot. It makes winning rather easy. (On the other hand, it's a far scarier opponent who attacks consistently, forcing a stronger opponent to choose between risky counter-attacks or playing steady and giving the opponent more chances to find the right ball to blast for a winner.) However, players do this against both stronger and weaker players, going for winners on the first shot when a steadier attack would set up an easier winner. You don't want to play down to a weaker player, but you also don't want to play so risky that you are giving away points and risking losing. It's a judgment call.

For an attacking player, it's best to develop a strong core to your game, with attacking shots you can depend on. For example, develop an opening loop against backspin that you know you can do over and over, rather than one where you can win the point with one shot, but only if you are playing well. (You won't always be playing well, and key to playing at a higher level is winning even when you are not at your best.)

We had an example of this at the U.S. Olympic Trials this past weekend, where I was coaching Han Xiao. In game one of one match, Han was so ready to counterloop the opponent's strong loop that he lost the first game when the opponent mostly looped soft with heavy topspin, and he wasn't ready for the slower shot. The rest of the match he stopped over-playing, focused on counter-looping the softer loop, and won easily.

Shoutout to a well-run Trials

Congrats to Cary, NC and the U.S. Olympic Trials staff for a well-run Trials!

Coaches Wanted for National League

I just receive the following from the U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League. (Besides coaches they are also looking for Regional Directors and have a contest where you can win a Smart Pong Table Tennis Robot.) If you are a coach but didn't get the email, and are interested in getting involved, contact them.

Hello Coaches,

The U.S. Nationwide Club Team competition is scheduled to start in September, 2012. The competition is going to be advertised all over the nation and we're expecting large number of basement players responding to our ads. New corporate and school teams going to be formed and in most cases they want professional assistance to prepare for the competition. Our goal is to connect these new players with local coaches in their area. So, if you're interested, please send us an email with your information.

Name:
Your Club:
City:
State:
Phone:
Best time to reach you:
(Al levels are welcome).

We would love to work with you.

Please let us know. Regards,

Team USNTTL

Banana Receive in Chinese

Yesterday I blogged about the backhand banana receive. I'm told that in China they have a less fruited term for the stroke - there it is called "ning." And for those interested, banana in Chinese (Pinyin) is xiāngjiāo. (Thank you Google.)

The Chinese Fab Five

Here's an article on China's "Fab Five" players (Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Wang Hao, Xu Xin, and Ma Lin) and their preparations for the upcoming Olympics, with numerous quotes from head coach Liu Guoliang. (Amazing how the world has changed - Wang Liqin isn't in the "Fab Five" anymore.)

Pingtuated Equilibripong

Yes, it's the new ping-pong table that's sweeping the nation! And it comes to you from evolutionary Biologist Stephen J. Gould! (Sort of.)

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February 8, 2012

NO BLOG ON THURSDAY & FRIDAY

I'm off this morning to coach at the U.S. Olympic Trials (Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12), so no blog entries the next two days. See you all again on Monday - hopefully with lots of news from the Trials!

U.S. Olympic Trials Live Streaming and Schedule

Yes, you can watch the U.S. Olympic Trials live! They are care of NBC Universal Sports Live Feeds. (Trials are Feb. 9-12, Thur-Sun, in Cary, NC.)

Here is the basic format of the Trials. For both men and women, the top ten seeded players are seeded to the Top Twelve. The rest play a qualifier on Thursday, Feb. 9, for the final two spots. On the men's side, 32 players (13 of them rated over 2400, led by Jeff Huang and Dan Seemiller at 2504 and 2494) will play single elimination to the final two, who will advance to the Top Twelve. On the women's side, there are only three in the qualifier, so they will play a rather short round robin to see which two advance to the Top Twelve. (See player listing below to see who the players are in the Qualifiers.)

The players in the Top Twelve then play a complete round robin, eleven matches each, four on Friday, four on Saturday, and three on Sunday. All matches are best 4 out of 7.

Schedule

Note that the tentative playing times are listed in the Prospectus above.

  • Thursday, February 9, Qualifying Tournament, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Friday, February 10, Final Round Robins, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. 
  • Saturday, February 11, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. 
  • Sunday, February 12, 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. 

Live Streaming

The non-playing arm

While coaching yesterday I found myself having trouble moving to my left to block against a student's loop. Something felt wrong. I grabbed my towel, and stalled while trying to figure it out. Then it hit me - I'd been coaching for three hours, and I'd gotten lazy with my left (non-playing) arm. Instead of holding it out for balance, it was hanging loosely by my side. Without it to counterbalance my playing arm, and to actually initiate rotations to the left by pulling, my movements were sluggish. I raised the arm, and the problem was gone. I felt like greased lightning again. (Okay, tired greased lightning.)

The irony is that I'm always harping on my students to use their non-playing arm for balance. Many players, especially beginners, simply do not use it, letting it hang down like a limp rag. You not only need it for balance, but in any rotation to the left (moving to play a backhand, any forehand stroke) you should pull with that side.

Special note to coaches: It's very easy for a coach to get lazy or tired from hours of coaching, and to let the non-playing arm hang loosely. Most coaches are strong enough players that it won't greatly affect their play. However, this puts great pressure on your upper back to rotate the upper body without any help from the non-playing arm, which should be both balancing as well as initiating many movements. If you do this, you'll probably end up with back problems. I know now that this is one of the reasons I had so many back problems last year.

Why red and black?

For those not historically-endowed, the two-color rule was passed in 1983 so that players could tell which side an opponent with two surfaces used to hit the ball. Originally the rule was that the surface colors must be "clearly different." Players and manufacturers immediately began the search for "clearly different" colors that look the same in action - and they found it in black and maroon. When examined, they are clearly different, but when the racket is moving and ten or so feet away, they are hard to tell apart. Confusion reigned.

So the ITTF ruled that the two surfaces must be black and cherry red. The latter was later changed to bright red.

An interesting side issue is that for many years the die used for the black side dye slowed the surface down. Because of this, most players put black on their backhands, red on the forehands. (There was a study on this once, and found that 70% of tournament players had red on the forehand. I was one of the rebels - I've had black on my forehand since 1983! I like a springy backhand.) This isn't a problem anymore, but perhaps because players tend to copy other players, I think players still tend to have the red on the forehand. At the U.S. Olympic Trials (I leave for them tomorrow) I'll try to remember to do a count among the players on this.

U.S. Champ Timothy Wang hopes to bring table tennis out of the basement

Here's an interview with Timothy Wang . . . in Sports Illustrated! See, we've made it out of the basement.

USATT Videos Archive

Here's USATT's video archive, with 60 videos, including most of the major matches from the 2011 USA Nationals.

Pongcast TV Episode 9

Here's Pongcast TV Episode 9 (25:37), which covers the 2012 Slovenian Open.

Jan-Ove Waldner vs. Ma Long?

I think Waldner wins this one on a landslide. Ma Long's a great player, but to become an all-time great, you have to actually win the big events. Give him time, and perhaps we'll have this discussion in five years.

Baby doing multiball is Internet hit

On Feb. 3, I blogged about and linked to the video of Jamie Myska-Buddell, 18 months old, doing multiball training. The video is now an Internet sensation, attracting over 800,000 hits. Here's the article.

Highlights Video

Here's another highlights video (6:44). I sometimes think there's a sweatshop somewhere in China or Africa that churns these things out.

One-year-old "Joy Se Hyuk" demonstrates her long-pips chopping skills

Someday she will beat you (1:51).

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February 7, 2012

Seven-year-old looper

He's been playing only about six weeks. Last week he learned to loop for the first time. Normally I start players looping against backspin with multiball, but he'd seen others looping against block and wanted to try it, so we started with that. Apparently he practiced it all week. Yesterday he showed up, and he's looping against my block like a pro! He lets the ball drop very low, since he's very short, but he was getting very good spin with textbook technique. Wow. Can't wait to see how he develops.

You may remember this kid - he's the one I blogged about last week, on Jan. 31. Here's what I wrote: "A third kid, age seven, has the weird habit of hitting until the ball is high. Then he'll wait for it to drop, and loop it! He has loop written all over him, and will probably be looping everything soon. The interesting thing here is that at age seven, he already knows all the best players in the world, and likes to mimic them. Yesterday he was showing off his 'Ma Lin backhands,' mimicking both Ma's conventional and reverse penhold backhands, though he's a shakehander. He also tried to mimic Timo Boll's loop - needs work." Okay, now he has the Timo Boll loop down cold.

This is how many Europeans coaches teach kids - starting them off early looping against the block, where the kid lets the ball drop down to his level, so contact is below table level. This kid's going to be counterlooping in another month.

Next week I'm going to spend a good portion of the session split between looping against block and looping against backspin, using multiball for the latter. When he's ready I'll get out my hardbat chopping blade and have him loop against my chop.

U.S. Olympic Trials

Here's USATT's news item on the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12, including the rough schedule and the broadcasting schedule at the end. I'll be there coaching. My notes on potential opponents (from many hours of watching videos and past experience) are ready. I'm coaching John Hsu in the Qualifier and Han Xiao in the Final Twelve. Han also write extensive notes on each of the other top ten players.

All that's left to do is laundry, packing, and four hours of coaching tonight. Then I'm off to the Trials early tomorrow morning. I'm going down with Cheng Yinghua and the Hsu's - John, Nathan, and their mom, Wen. We'll have an afternoon practice and then the jury meeting at 6PM, where we'll see the draws for the Qualifier, and find out who will be John & Nathan victims there - but first we'll adjourn to the room to watch videos of these potential victims.

Dan Seemiller and Joey Cochran in the News

Here's an article and video on these two from South Bend, IN, about their training for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Ma Long Tribute

Here's a tribute video to Chinese star and world #1 Ma Long (3:18).

The Magic of Table Tennis

Here's another table tennis music video (5:16).

How to Hit the Forehand

Here's Chris Grace's humorous video on how to hit the forehand (1:43).

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February 6, 2012

Tip of the Week

Hooking and Slicing Loops.

U.S. Olympic Trials

Here's a short article on the U.S .Olympic Trials in Cary, NC this Thur-Sun, including the playing schedule. I'll be there coaching Han Xiao, John (and possibly Nathan) Hsu - see you there! (Here's the official home page for the Trials.)

Nets & Edges

Convention wisdom says that nets and edges even out. As I've pointed out before in this blog, this simply isn't true. Some players get more or less than others, either because of their playing style or because of their precision. It doesn't always even out.

As I've done many times, I'm willing to put it to the test - and did so again this weekend. And the results are inevitably the same - I'm one of those players who gets very few nets and edges. During coaching sessions with players rated 1750-1900, we kept track of nets and edges. (We didn't count edges at the start, but started counting them partway into the first session.) Here are the results. In the first session, my opponent got 18 nets or edges to my 7. In the second, one, it was 14-3. So I was net-edged 32-10 for the two sessions.

In the past we've kept track of nets & edges during matches, and the results are the same. I may be the only person in history to lose two consecutive tournaments matches to the same player (hi John W.!), where that player got two consecutive net or edge winners both times at 9-all in the fifth to win.

Hitters, blockers, and especially players with less bouncy surfaces (long pips, anti, short pips, hardbat) tend to get more nets than other styles because they tend to hit lower shots than loopers and most inverted players, whose ball has a higher trajectory. Blockers who go for wide angles tend to get more edges. Players with great precision tend to have very clean shots and so rarely get nets or edges.

Overseas scam

There's a common scam to use table tennis clubs to get foreigners into our country. Over the years, the Maryland Table Tennis Center has been contacted dozens of times by individuals who wanted to set up "coaching sessions" for "foreign players." All they want is an invitation letter, and they'll be here. We fell for this a few times in the past, and actually were contacted by the State Department about it back in the 1990s.

According to the State Department, there are people who make a living getting people into the United States any way they can. They find places like table tennis clubs that have real events or programs that they might invite foreigners to come to, and try to get an invitation letter. They sell their services to people trying to get into the U.S. by pretending they are table tennis players (or whatever else is needed). They say they will pay in advance, though they will inevitably agree to do so only after receiving the invitation letter, after which you never hear from them again.

I received one of these requests a few days ago. The guy used every trick in the book trying to set up "lessons" for his "son," a top junior player from Europe. (The guy ignored my questions about where in Europe.) When I pointed out that if he was a "top junior," I should be able to look him up in the rankings, the guy said he'd made a mistake, that his son was a beginner interested in becoming a top player. Then I did something I started doing in the 1990s - I told him he'd made a mistake, that I teach tennis (not table tennis), and asked if he'd be interested in tennis lessons. The guy then said yes, his "son" was very interested in becoming a top tennis player, asked me to set up lessons and send an invitation letter, and he'd send the money right away. I then emailed for him to send payment, and if I didn't receive payment within one week, I'd turn over his emails to the State Department. I didn't hear from him again.

USATT also fell for these scams back in the 1990s, though I'm not sure if "fell" is the right word, since they made a lot of money off it. Players from Africa, usually Nigeria, would enter the U.S. Open in droves, often 30 at a time. Each would enter one event, and they would pay. USATT would then send out an invitation letter, they'd be entered into the tournament, and they would never show. The State Department contacted USATT about this, and I think they had to take measures against this.

European Top Twelve

Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Wu Jiaduo won the Europe Two Twelve.

Chinese National Team in Training

Here's the Chinese National Team training in 2010 (4:59), with commentary in Chinese (though you don't need to understand Chinese to see the training - we all speak ping-pong). Featured players include Ma Long, Ma Lin, Qiu Yike, Wang Liqin, and Guo Yue. See the chalk rectangles on the table when you see Ma Lin practicing with Qiu Yike? I think they are there as targets for service practice.

Going to the dogs

Once again the sport is going to the dogs, in 49 seconds. Can someone please give Tessie a high chair? You can see other dog, cat, and other humorous table tennis videos in the Fun & Games section of TableTennisCoaching.com.

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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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