June 9, 2014

Tip of the Week

Controlling a Match.

Ping Pong Summer Review

On Friday, I got to see the 7:30PM showing of Ping Pong Summer at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. (The 400-seat theater was pretty full – at least 300 people.) There were a number of other table tennis players there. It was an excellent movie and a lot of fun, 91 minutes long. Here's a quick intro, from their home page:

"The year is 1985. Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is a shy 13-year-old white kid who's obsessed with two things: ping pong and hip hop. During his family's annual summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland, Rad makes a new best friend, experiences his first real crush, becomes the target of rich local bullies, and finds an unexpected mentor in his outcast next-door neighbor (Susan Sarandon). Ping Pong Summer is about that time in your life when you're treated like an alien by everyone around you, even though you know deep down you're as funky fresh as it gets."

So it's basically a coming-of-age ping pong story. Spoiler alert – don’t read further if you don't want to learn some of the plot points!

The movie begins with Rad in the back seat of the car as they drive to Ocean City. He's got a ping pong paddle, and there's a quick glimpse of what appears to be a book on table tennis that he's reading. Purists may or may not appreciate that the racket, and all rackets throughout the movie, are sandpaper. Even in 1985 sponge was the dominant surface by far in "serious" table tennis, but these weren't championship players. Rad is more of a basement player who gets caught up playing other basement players, though of course it's not actually in a basement. They even started games by "pinging" for serve, where one player would literally toss the ball to the other side, and they'd rally four shots (P-I-N-G), and then whoever won the point got to serve first. All the players had perfect shakehand grips, and at the end decent strokes – someone was coaching them!

When Rad arrives, he's quickly befriended by Teddy, a local black kid. As both later admit, neither have any friends. So they hang out together. Rad also meets Stacy, who becomes his first crush. Teddy brings him to the local recreation center, where there are all sorts of games, circa 1985, so lots of pinball. And there's a ping-pong table. So Rad and Teddy play – but surprisingly for a kid who's apparently obsessed with ping pong, Rad is horrible, just popping the balls back high in the air. Teddy's no better.

When Rad first arrived at the rec center, he's made fun of by the bully Lyle and his fawning sidekick Dale, and this of course is a continuing thing, both on and off the table. It also turns out that Stacy is Lyle's girlfriend, or sort of. When Lyle finally agrees to play Rad, he destroys him in front of everyone, skunking him 11-0, smashing winner after winner, with Dale mocking him throughout as he loudly calls out each score. Lyle is sort of like Biff from the Back to the Future movie (which also came out in 1985), but who smiles while he bullies. Dale is like Biff's sidekicks, but a bit more verbal and more openly living his life through Lyle. There are other similarities to Back to the Future – Rad's mom is played by Lea Thompson, who played Lorraine, mother of Marty McFly! (In that movie Marty travels back to 1955 and met his teenaged mom, who falls in love with him, and after that it gets complicated, involving Marty, Marty's teenaged dad, and Biff.) There's also a cameo of the DeLorean!

But while the characters in the movie reminded me of Back to the Future, the plot is a bit more Karate Kid. (And Lyle has a bit of Johnny in him as well, the bad kid from Karate Kid.) When the bullies shove Rad to the ground and pour a gallon of milk on him, who shows up? Yes, it's fisherwoman Susan Sarandon, channeling her inner Mr. Miyagi as she chases them off while brandishing a huge fish. Soon Rad breaks into her basement – hmmm – and discovers all her ping pong trophies. He asks her to help, and so begins the Karate Kid/Rocky/Batman Begins training sequences – but with a twist. Randi says, "You should be able to beat that punk after one lesson." So she dusts off the table in her basement, and the one training session begins. She supplies him with a mini sandpaper paddle, puts up the far side of the table, and has him rally by himself, all the time with the mantra "Ball, make contact, ball, make contact, ball, make contact." She gives other psychological advice, much of it seemingly right out of Dora Kurimay's "Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros!" table tennis sports psychology book.

There's a big challenge rematch coming up, and with kids from all over watching (as well as Rad's parents and his Goth sister), the showdown begins. Lyle and Dale are wearing vintage 1980s Stiga yellow and blue outfits – identical to ones I had when I was sponsored by them! But after falling way behind in this game to 21, things don't look good for poor Rad. Until Randi arrives, gives him a pep talk, and everything changes. Among other things, she tells him it's time to stop being a loser and kiss the girl. He takes this literally (angering Lyle), and then the match continues. Rad has a new serving motion that incorporates a hip-hop shoulder swirl, he suddenly has a knack for serving on the edge, and he's suddenly gotten very good at that "ball, make contact" thing. So it's a battle of Lyle's forehand hitting against Rad's keep-it-in-play style. It all goes to deuce, and then . . . well, I guess you'll have to go see the movie. Yeah, there's a dramatic finish.

Since this was the premiere in Maryland, where the movie takes place, the director and several of the cast were on hand. Director Michael Tully gave a talk at the start. (He wore a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap – it turns out he was throwing out the first pitch of the game on Saturday.) After the movie, there was a Q&A. Then four of the movie's stars came up front: Joseph McCaughtry, who played the bully Lyle; Andy Riddle, who played the sidekick Dale; Myles Massey, who played Rad's friend Teddy; and Maddie Howard, who played a friend of Stacey's. I got to meet and talk to Michael and Joseph, the director and bully. (Joseph wore a Ping Pong Summer shirt that said on the back, "The bully.") I also learned they had a cast & crew tournament, which was won by the sidekick Myles Massey, who apparently has a good backhand. (Stand-up comedian, actor, and 1600 player Judah Friedlander, who has a small role as a mocking storekeeper, would have won easily of he'd played. During the movie I sat next to his brother, Joshua. I've coached both Friedlander brothers and have known them since they were kids.)

All in all, I had a great time. Next we need a sequel, where Rad gets into serious pong, meets up with some Chinese-trained kid who serves and rips everything and yells "Oosha!" every point – and Susan is forced to give him some serious training! (And sorry, he'd have to use sponge to compete.) Or perhaps we'll just leave Ping Pong Summer alone, as a magical time where a kid learns how to stand up for himself and be a winner.

My New Mantra

I have a new mantra when I play matches with students: "I'm going to break your heart and destroy your dreams." Of course if I really did this it would break my heart and destroy my dreams. (If you want to read more of my sayings or mantras, see last item in my April 8, 2014 blog.)

Report from the China Open

Here's an informal posting by Adam Bobrow about happenings in his trip to China to broadcast the China Open.

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. Seventeen down, 83 to go!

  • Day 84: The Origination of the World Table Tennis Championships 
  • Day 85: Accomplishments during the Sharara Era
  • Day 86: A Review of the ITTF’s First Five Presidents

Samson Dubina Coaching Articles

There are new coaching articles on his web page.

Do Financial Incentives increase Effort in Practice Matches?

Here's the article. What do you think about the idea of putting up small stakes in practice matches? I know some players who swear by this.

Mississippi College's Cheng Li Recognized by Governor

Here's the article. Cheng won Men's Singles at the U.S. National Collegiate Championships in April.

Table Tennis . . . a Championship Sport (and the Physical Benefits)

Here's an article from the Wellsboro Gazette in England outlining the physical benefits of table tennis.

Best Point Ever?

Here's video (1:03) of the final 67-shot point of a match between Zhang Jike and Ma Long, with Zhang leading 11-10 championship point in the seventh at the 2011 Austrian Open. At first it seems the rallies are all crosscourt, but you'll note that Ma Long (on far side) is actually attacking Zhang's wide backhand and middle. Chris Zhang (no relation) turned this point into an animated gif. (Though Ma won this point to deuce it, Zhang would go on to win it, 15-13 in the seventh.) 

Counterlooping in Practice

Here's video (27 sec) posted by Dimitrij Ovtcharov of a nice counterlooping exchange he had in practice.

Mikael Appelgren vs. an Entire Company

Here's video (32 sec) of the former world #1 taking on everyone, one by one in around-the-world.

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Re: June 9, 2014

omfg!...adam bobrow is the luckiest dude in the world i think.  so jelly. crying