Friday the 13th

June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th, a Full Moon, and a Honey Moon!!!

Jason Vorhees says hello! (It's the first Honey Moon on Friday the 13th in about 100 years.)

Campaign 2100

I've spent most of the last four days focused on the rewrite of my science fiction novel Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates. A publisher is interested in this novel, which features table tennis extensively. The rewrite is done, for now. However, from July 25 - Aug. 2 I'll be at writer's workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the first seven chapters of the novel are being extensively critiqued, so I'll be doing more rewriting on that. And then I send the rewrite to the publisher, and pray to the TT and SF gods. (The publisher really liked the novel, but had specific areas they wanted rewritten or expanded on.)

The novel covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the entire world has adopted the American two-party electoral system. (Why did they do this? It's explained in the novel.) The novel is a drama that satirizes and skewers American politics. I hope for it to come out in January, 2016, as the presidential election takes off. I hope to be on all the political talk shows!

How is table tennis in the novel? Let's see (and there are some spoilers here):

  • One of the four main characters is the highly sarcastic and brilliant Bruce Sims. (Confession: he's really me, unleashed to say whatever I want!) He had helped run the campaign for the current president, but left the campaign over policy disagreements and because he considers the president an idiot. He plays professional table tennis on the college circuit - yes, it's professionalized - and he's quite wealthy from it. He's one of the best in the world, which is dominated by American and Chinese players. There's an entire chapter early on where he's introduced as he's playing the semifinals of the national college championships. At deuce in the fifth, he simultaneously gets into arguments with his opponent, with members of the crowd, and with the referee, all while listening to breaking news (in a mental implant) about the upcoming election and an alien ambassador who just arrived and got into a spat with the president - first contact. He walks off the court on the spot to get involved. Soon he's traveling the world running a quixotic third-party moderate challenge for president of Earth, against the conservative president and the liberal challenger. (Campaign slogan: "Extremism in the pursuit of moderation is no vice.")
  • In the year 2100, nearly all the top athletes, including professional table tennis players, are big, hulking brutes on steroid-type drugs. Bruce is one of the few who refuses to use them, and so is always at a disadvantage against his more powerful opponents. In fact, he names his racket Sling after the weapon used by David against Goliath.
  • Bruce teaches the alien ambassador, Twenty-Two, how to play table tennis. They play regularly as they travel the world during the campaign. Because her ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air, her reflexes and coordination are far beyond human - and she soon starts beating him, to his great chagrin.
  • The publisher said the best chapter of the novel is the Ping-Pong Diplomacy scene in China, where Bruce and Twenty-two play an exhibition for the Chinese leadership while trying to convince them to support their candidate. After the match, on orders from the world president, world security forces show up and arrest Twenty-two on the ping-pong court, causing an international incident.  
  • Bruce's racket Sling is the latest model of ping-pong paddle, a Maestro Prime covered with Spinsey pinhole sponge, both from Trump Sports. When the ball hits it, the Spinsey sponge compresses, forcing air out through the tiny, angled holes that permeate the surface. If he held it one way, the air shoots upward from the parallel holes, creating a topspin. If he flipped the paddle, so the backhand side became the forehand side and vice versa, then the air would shoot downward, creating a backspin. He also has shoes with variable grippiness, depending on the floor.
  • There's a scene where Bruce is walking through the Great Mall of China (500 miles long and growing, paralleling the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World introduced in the novel), and finds a table tennis store, where he buys a new racket. (His old one, Sling, had been broken.)
  • Bruce is running the campaign for president for Toby Platt. Toby's son, Tyler, age 13, is also an active table tennis player and is running for president of his middle school. Despite his running a worldwide campaign for president, Bruce gets very involved in both coaching Tyler and running his campaign for school president.
  • One of Bruce's idiosyncrasies is that he always carries a ping-pong ball around, tossing it back and forth in his hands, fidgeting with it, throwing it against walls, etc. When he's irritated at someone, he smacks him with the ball.

Table Tennis in Recent Movies

Table Tennis has been in three recent movies that I've seen in the past two weeks or so. There was of course Ping Pong Summer, which I reviewed on Monday. Then there's that scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past where we are introduced to the superfast Quicksilver by watching him play table tennis by himself - here's an animated gif of him playing, with Hank/Beast, a young Charles Xavier (in background), and Wolverine looking on. And then last night I saw 22 Jump Street, where there were several table tennis scenes where Jenko (played by Channing Tatum) plays at a college fraternity, using a wood paddle with no covering and the handle broken off. I don't have video of that, but here's video from the movie of Tatum holding up a Beer Pong shirt (link should take you directly to this, 51 seconds in). As an added bonus, here's video (10 sec) of Tatum levitating a ping pong ball with his breath, though this isn't from the movie. (The ball bounces up and down when he does it; when I do this, I not only can keep the ball in one place, but by spinning the ball I can do it sideways so the ball appears to float to the side of my head. I'll post video of this some other time.)

Building Depth Footwork Skills

Here's the coaching article.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-one down, 79 to go!

  • Day 80: Interview with ITTF’s Deputy CEO Glenn Tepper

World Hopes Week Draw

Here's the article. USA's Amy Wang is seeded #1 in girls' singles, and she and USA's Michael Tran are seeded #1 in Teams. (This is for players ages 11-12, and is taking place at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.)

World Team Championships - Most Watched in History

Here's the article from the ITTF. 188 million watched it.

Johnny Leach's Legacy

Here's the article.

Ariel Hsing, Welcome to China!

Here's how they welcome her.

Name the Game Contest

Here's the video (49 sec) where you are asked to come up with a name for the game. Alas, it's already been done - they are playing gnip gnop (read it backwards), where you hit the ball so it hits your side of the table first instead of directly over the net. I was introduced to this game back when I first started in 1976, and it's been a favorite at camps ever since, and presumably for many years before. I sometimes teach the game to beginning kids, as it's easier for them to rally this way while they develop their hand-eye coordination, but I mostly don't because it's too addictive, and once they get started with gnip gnop it's all they want to play.

Maria Sharapova Plays Table Tennis

Here she is shortly after winning the French Open. For some reason she's playing left-handed, even though she's a righty in tennis. Anyone know who her opponent is? Here are four more pictures of her playing: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4

Herbalife Soccer Ad

Here's video (30 sec) of an ad from three years ago for Herbalife, a nutrition and weight management company. It features Argentina's star player Lionel Messi, who is currently playing for them at the World Cup. This is a rare combination of the world's two most popular participation sports!

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December 13, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Nationals (Monday, Dec. 23) 

I leave for the USA Nationals this Sunday, Dec. 15, and don't return until the following Sunday, Dec. 22. So the next blog will be on Monday, Dec. 23. One thing that might help to keep track of when I don't have a blog is to friend me on Facebook, assuming you have a Facebook account. Every morning as soon as the blog goes up I put a note out on Facebook, which always starts off, "This morning in my table tennis blog I wrote about…" I'm easy to find on Facebook; I'm right here.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Jason Voorhees, table tennis player, says hi!

The Hobbit and Early-Morning Writing

I saw the midnight showing of The Hobbit Part 2, and didn't get to bed until after 4AM. (I still can't believe that Gollum is Gandalf's father!!!) And I still got up at 8AM to write this blog and do other table tennisy stuff. So if my mind wanders off I have a doggy and I start repeating myself or saying weird things or repeating myself Gollum Gollum loopsy please bear with me I said bear okay?

USA Nationals

I'm off to the USA Nationals in Las Vegas this Sunday for a week. I'm not playing, only coaching, but I'll be incredibly busy. How busy can a coach be since he's only working when one of his players is playing? Extremely! Because there's a lot more to it than just showing up for each match. (Plus I'm coaching two top juniors who are entered in numerous events.)

Before the tournament I have to make sure they are mentally and physically ready. The mental part could take up a book (and of course there are many good books on sports psychology). Suffice to say it's a coach's job to make sure the players go into the tournament with the right frame of mind, as well as well rested and fed. I also have to make sure their equipment is ready. Is the sponge on their rackets new? Do they have backup rackets? Did they remember their shoes? (You wouldn't believe how often junior players forget their playing shoes.) Do they have backup shirts for each day? Are the shirts all different colors than the ball?

Of course I have to prepare for the tournament as well, such as reviewing likely opponents so my players are ready to face them. Plus I did the all-important trip to the grocery store for trail mix, which is what I live on when I'm coaching at tournaments.

Once in Las Vegas I have to arrange practice sessions for the players. At tournaments players and coaches are constantly calling each other to make arrangements, or just to let the other know where they are. How did players survive before there were cell phones?

The tournament starts on Tuesday, but we're flying in on Sunday. That gives us Monday to practice, get used to the conditions, and to the three-hour time difference. When the kids aren't practicing, I want them to relax and have fun. Swimming pool and video games are musts.

When we check in I generally have to pay a few extra dollars for copies of my players' schedules. Once I have them, I sit down somewhere and plan out my schedule for the tournament. It can get complicated, since sometimes there are time conflicts. That's why I consider it important to arrange in advance the guidelines for who I'll coach when. I already know which of my players I'll favor in any given event, though there are judgment calls at any given time, based on the opponent. For example, I may decide that one match isn't as meaningful or competitive as another, and choose what match to coach based on that. However, each player has their priority events, and I'll coach them in every competitive match in that event.

Besides coaching, I'm hoping to attend the USATT Assembly on Wednesday night, and the Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. It all depends on my players' schedules. I'll also spend some time hanging around the Paddle Palace booth, since they sponsor me, where I'll perhaps sign copies of my various table tennis books on sale there.

Coaching is a nerve-racking profession at tournaments. Players may be nervous before a match, but once the match begins most relax and just play. (If they don't, then there's some sports psychology sessions needed.) But coaches don't get to play, and watching is definitely more nerve-racking then playing. Who do you think is more nervous on Sunday night football when the game is on the line, the players or the fans watching? Or the coaches?

I've done this so many times it's all sort of second nature now. Even packing is easy as I have a standard "To Pack" list, which I update for individual tournaments.

This year I've given incentives to some of the Maryland players. Read about them on my Nov. 5 blog. My stomach is already growling in agony just thinking about it.  

Tips of the Day

Below are the USATT Tips of the Day since last Friday. These are from the 171 Tips of the Week I did for them from 1999-2003 as “Dr. Ping-Pong.” (Click on link for complete tip.) Note that the Dec. 8 tip is by Carl Danner. The rest are by me.

Dec 13, 2013 Tip of the Day - Playing Dead Blockers
Dead blockers slow the ball down (throwing off your timing), and keep it shorter than you are used to.

Dec 12, 2013 Tip of the Day - Practice Service Spin on a Rug!
It’s often difficult to judge how much spin you are putting on the ball when you practice serves. Without this feedback, it’s not easy to improve your serves. So try this find a large, carpeted room, and practice serving there! 

Dec 11, 2013 Tip of the Day - Think Strategy, Then Let the Shots Happen
Between points, think about what you want to do, especially at the start of the rally what serve to use, what type of receives.

Dec 10, 2013 Tip of the Day - Shoe Grippiness "El Dente"
If your shoes aren’t grippy enough, you slide when you play, and so can’t move properly.

Dec 09, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Serve
Many players use the forehand "pendulum" serve. It’s the most popular serve in table tennis. 

Dec 08, 2013 Tip of the Day - Getting Run Off the Table by Carl Danner
Whoops, you're down a game and this one's going badly, too. How do you stop the bleeding in time -- assuming this is an opponent you might expect to beat?

Dec 07, 2013 Tip of the Day - Backhand Serve Deception
The key to deception on the backhand serve is the elbow. 

Dec 06, 2013 Tip of the Day - Get the Back Foot Around when Stepping Around
When stepping around the backhand corner to play a forehand (usually a loop or smash), many players don’t get their back foot around enough.

Table Tennis Club Survey

Georgia State University PHD student Yi Zhang is doing a research project to study the reasons that players join and attend a table tennis club. The survey is a bit lengthy but goes pretty fast - it didn't take me very long. I'm sure she'd appreciate your help. Here's the survey.

ITTF Was Founded in 1926

And so I can write . . . Four score and seven years ago table tennis players brought forth on this world a new federation, conceived in ping-pong, and dedicated to the proposition that table tennis should dominate the world.

I could go on, but I'll let someone else pull up the Gettysburg Address and rewrite the rest of it in table tennis lingo. I just wish I'd thought of this on Nov. 19, the 150th Anniversary of the speech.

China Prepares for 2014 World Team Squad Trials

Here's the article.

Win a Signed Blade from Fan Zhendong

Here's the contest page at Table Tennis Daily.

Reggie Miller vs. Nate Robinson

Here's video (37 sec) as the two NBA players prepare to have it out at ping-pong on the TV show NBA Inside Stuff.

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July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

Yes, it's Friday the 13th - and in honor of that, here's an extremely acrobatic black cat at the net (2:01). It's hilarious, and set to music. 

How Eric Messed Players Up

Yesterday I blogged about Eric Boggan's national and international record, and mentioned how some of the things he did are basically dying arts. Here is his Hall of Fame profile, written by father and fellow Hall of Famer Tim Boggan.

First, let's clear up one myth. Some believe Eric was only effective because he used inverted and anti, with the same color, so opponents couldn't see which side he used. The two-color rule came about in 1983, when Eric was 19 and not yet at his peak. He had his best results and highest world rankings after the color rule, where he reached #18 in the world. In fact, Eric went to two colors at least six months in advance, figuring he might as well get used to it, since two colors were the future. If not for the two-color rule, he likely would have reached top ten in the world. (But we'll never know.)

What exactly did he do that made his game so effective?

He had either the best, or close to the best, backhand block and overall blocking in the world. His Seemiller grip allowed him to jab block from all parts of the table at wide angles. The grip meant there was no middle weakness, which by itself put him above other blockers who had to guard the wide angles as well as the middle. Plus he regularly would flip his racket and dead block with the antispin side. His anti blocks sometimes double-bounced, and opponents who stepped off the table to loop against regular blocks were left thrashing about trying to react to blocks that died over the table or barely came off. And if they did topspin those ones, they were then stuck too close to the table to react to Eric's next shot, would either be another aggressive block or a smash. (While his loop wasn't great, he had a very nice smash from both sides.)

He also messed up opponents when receiving. Against short serves he'd usually use the antispin side and either drop it short or flip - and he'd hide which until the last second. Then he'd flip to the inverted side and start attacking or aggressive blocking. You haven't faced sheer terror until you face an Eric anti flip and try to loop it. (If you set up for it, he drops the ball short instead.)

His biggest strengths were exactly what were most players' weaknesses. Your typical world-class player liked to serve short and then attack to the middle or backhand. They also liked to return serves short. These tactics were often suicide against Eric - he was at his best against short serves and receives, and his blocking from the middle and backhand were just too good. Thinking players quickly realized they had to serve more long balls and attack his forehand, and to push long against his serves. (Few world-class players were in the habit of letting the opponent loop first, which is exactly what you often had to do against Eric.) Many players, such as Dan Seemiller, found success by chopping to get out of a losing rally since few could withstand his side-to-side jab blocks and anti dead blocks. Many found these tactics too different, and fell back on their old habits - often to their great regret.

Sandpaper News - $2000 Sandpaper Event at Nationals

You read that right - the top eight players will receive $2000 in total prize money, with $1000 going to the winner. Here's the press release, which reads:

July 12, 2012 Colorado Springs, CO and Palm Harbor, FL - Michael Cavanaugh, USATT CEO and Ty Hoff of FASTT announced the co-sanctioning of the Sandpaper event at the 2012 US Nationals in Las Vegas, NV December 18-22, 2012. The event will be the 2012 USATT/FASTT Sandpaper National Championships and will feature $2,000 in prize money for the top eight finishers with a top prize of $1,000.  

The USATT is the national governing body for the Olympic sport of Table Tennis.  FASTT is a national organization promoting the sport of Sandpaper Table Tennis.  These two organizations have come together to expand the base of players in the United States through this cooperative effort. 

Players interested in the Olympic sport of Table Tennis are encouraged to visit http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis.aspx.  Players interested in the sport of Sandpaper Table Tennis are encouraged to visit http://www.ttprotour.com/.  

The Backhand Topspin

Pingskills brings you this new video on the Backhand Topspin (1:38). (Yes, this is the backhand loop, but these days the dividing line between a backhand drive and a backhand loop is less clear than before as more and more players play topspinny backhands, which is made much easier by modern sponges.) 

USA Olympians Highlighted in Bay Area

The four (Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu) are highlighted in the San Francisco TV Station and web page KTSF. "This is a twelve-day series introducing twelve Chinese-American athletes in various sports who will represent US to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. KTSF chooses table tennis as its first four episodes. Timothy's was aired yesterday, Ariel's on July 12, Lily's on July 13, and Erica's on July 14. Once aired, the video clips will be also available from KTSF's website. Tune in at channel 26, cable 8 in the Bay Area."

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Table Tennis on TV

Their University Team, which won lots of hardware at the College Nationals, is featured in this video (1:53).

Which Olympic sport is the hardest? Fourth-Place Medal ranks all 32

They put table tennis at #27!!! They obviously don't know our sport. But then put Equestrian - riding horses - as the hardest sport. I don't think they know sports, period. (Earth Fourth-Place Medal - the horse is doing most of the work!!!)

Crazy Sidespin

Here's an extreme sidespin by Xu Xin versus Ma Long (0.36).

Ariel Hsing on Nickelodeon

They try to figure out what she does - Olympic Table Tennis Player! (4:20)

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January 13, 2012

Anticipating versus Reacting versus Responding

One of the things I've always taught is that, in most circumstances, you should react, not anticipate, in a rally. This is because way too often players do anticipate a certain return, and are caught off guard when they don't get that shot. For example, when they attack, many players anticipate a crosscourt return, and so are caught off guard if it is returned down the line. Or they serve short backspin and anticipate a long backspin return. There are times where you can anticipate, such as against a player who does return your attacks crosscourt over and over (as many do), or against an opponent who does push your short backspin serves back long over and over (as many do). In these cases, you can anticipate, but you still have to react if you don't get the ball you expect.

However, in the context I'm using, perhaps I should instead say a player should respond, not react. What's the difference? React may imply that you are simply doing something that you are forced to do, i.e. in reaction to what the opponent is doing. It almost implies that the opponent is in charge, forcing you to react to his actions. Respond implies that you are choosing your response, and that you are in control. It's still a reaction, but it's a more selective reaction.

For example, suppose an opponent attacks hard to your backhand. You could react and block it back crosscourt, the most natural and easy way to return it. Or you could respond by noting the opponent is waiting for that ball and is already edging over, and instead respond by blocking it down the line. Or suppose your opponent serves short backspin. You could react and simply push it back long, the most natural and easiest way to return it. Or you could respond by noting the opponent is waiting to loop that ball, and instead respond by pushing short or flipping.

Here are two links to similarly titled articles that discuss the difference between react and respond, courtesy of Sean O'Neill:

Friday the 13th

Yes, today is an unlucky day, at least for the 20 million or so Americans (and hundreds of millions of others) who suffer from varying degrees of friggatriskaidekaphobia. Yes, tonight when you play at the club, you will be unlucky and your opponent will gets lots and lots of nets and edges. And yes, when your opponent plays tonight he will also be unlucky and his opponent (that's you) will gets lots and lots of nets and edges. So today is the best day of the year for practicing against nets and edges, an annual net-edge extravaganza. When else will you get to practice systematically against these shots? So today is a blessing in disguise. Good luck!

Wang Liqin drill

Here's Wang Liqin doing a multiball drill (0:48) where he gets a short backspin ball to the forehand, then a random long backspin (about 2/3 to his backhand), where he has to loop the long backspin with his forehand. This is one of the best drills for forehand-oriented attackers, one I used to all the time. (Wang Liqin of China was the 2001, 2005 and 2007 World Men's Singles Champion.)

One of the standard ways to disarm a player with a strong forehand loop is to serve or push short to the forehand, bringing the player in over the table, and then go out to the backhand. While this will often work, if you develop good footwork you might be able to still use a forehand. For more mortal players whose footwork doesn't push lightspeed, you can do the same drill where you use a backhand loop for the deep ball to the backhand, though you might experiment to see if you can sometimes get around and loop a forehand. (The advantage of looping a forehand from the backhand isn't just that the forehand is often the stronger shot; it's also that it puts you in forehand position for the next shot.)

Michael Maze - Simply A'maze'ing

Here's a Michael Maze highlights reel (5:51), which especially shows his lobbing points against Chinese star Hao Shuai (the lefty he's playing at the start), where he came back from down 0-3 and three match points to win in seven in the quarterfinals of the World Championships in 2005. He's the #1 player from Denmark and has been ranked as high as #8 in the world.

Table tennis players use their heads

This is one of the funnier "table tennis" videos you'll see (0:39).

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