November 29, 2016

Tip of the Week
Follow the Elbow.

North American Teams
I spent the weekend coaching at the JOOLA North American Teams. (Here are complete results.) As noted in my blog last week, I always have this conflict as I'm sponsored by Butterfly, which runs the Butterfly Teams the same weekend, but the JOOLA Teams are practically next door, and my students play there. So that's where I coach. 

As usual, since I was busy coaching MDTTC junior teams on the back tables, I didn't see many of the big matches. During the Division One Finals I was watching the Division Ten Final. Note I said watching, not coaching? That's because it was between MDTTC/HWGF1 and MDTTC/HWGF2! Yes, an all MDTTC final. (HWGF stands for HW Global Foundation, which sponsors and runs the Talent Program at MDTTC, which is mostly kids from around 7 to 11. Contact them if you are interested in such a program at your club.) The players on the two teams were mostly 8-10 years old. I'd coaching both teams during the tournament, though I'd been assigned to mostly  coach the #1 team. (Others coaching the MDTTC junior teams were Jeffrey Zeng Zun, Wang Qing Liang, John Hsu, and Jack Huang.) But when two MDTTC junior teams play each other, we have a firm rule – no coaching from coaches or parents; only the kids can coach each other. They are all teammates, and we don't want coaches or parents coaching against each other there. It was a battle, as the players were used to each other, with the #1 defeating #2, 5-2. It could have been closer as the #1 team won two matches deuce or 11-9 in the fifth. These players all came in with ratings roughly 1100 to 1400, but they were severely under-rated.

MDTTC/HWGF1 ended up going 6-1 in their division half, and then won the crossovers and finals. MDTTC/HWGF2 was in the same half, and also went 6-1, with their only loss to MDTTC/HWGF1! They also won their crossover match, and so played MDTTC/HWGF1 again in the final.

Does coaching make a difference? You better believe it! I could give many examples from this tournament alone. Here's my favorite. I had just finished coaching MDTTC/HWGF1, and ran over to coach MDTTC/HWGF2. I think it was the ninth match (I never saw the match sheet, so not sure). One of our players, just turned age 8 (exactly four feet tall, as he told me), and coming in with a rating of about 1100, was down 0-2 and 4-8 to a 1550 player. His opponent had already won both her other matches easily, both 3-0, and it looked like this match was over.

I watched him serve two points, which they split, and now he was down 5-9, two points away from losing. I called a time-out, and told him he was about to have an historic comeback that we'd be talking about for years to come, and asked if he was ready. He perked up and said he was ready. Then I told him two things. First, to simplify things, switch from the forehand pendulum serve he'd used twice to his forehand tomahawk serve, short to the forehand, which would likely force a predictable crosscourt return to his forehand. Second, and more importantly, I told him to relentlessly go after her elbow. (See this morning's Tip of the Week.) She was tall and very good from the corners, and that's where he'd been playing. For the rest of the match he did just that – in rally after rally, he just pounded her middle, and her strong countering game completely wilted. From 5-9 he scored five in a row, 10-9, then was down 10-11 match point, then won 14-12. She struggled with the tomahawk serve, missing two, and returning the rest predictably to his forehand.

Before game four I told him to start varying the tomahawk serve, to set up as if he were going to go short to the forehand again, but then go deep to backhand. The tactic worked, and he continued to pound her middle, especially in fast backhand rallies, and won, 11-4.

Between games, after he told them the score to mark down, the opposing team argued that the score had been 11-5. My player said that it had been 11-4 – and I knew it had been 11-4, since they'd changed serves just before that and he was serving 10-4. But quickly went over and told them to put it down as 11-5, and explained to our player that it didn't matter. I didn't want him to lose his focus. It's amazing how often little unimportant things can throw off a player's focus, and it's up to both the player and coach to make sure this doesn't happen.

Before game five I suggested he sometimes follow up his attacks to the middle by going to the open corner. He didn't seem sure when to do that, so I changed my mind, and told him to just keep pounding the middle until he got an easy ball to smash. He again did this flawlessly, and went up 10-4, lapsed for a few points, then won 11-7. And so he and his team leaped in celebration as they won the team match!

There were many matches like that. It was also great watching these players. One of them (not the one above) plays (both strokes and tactically) like an 8-year-old Waldner! (He'll be about 1500 after this tournament.) Another player was on fire on Sunday, and beat two players that were seemingly stronger who he likely would have lost to the day before. We also saw problems to work on. One player probably lost three matches because of a lack of a good backspin serve. Another got so frustrated whenever he lost a game that he probably lost a number of matches he could have otherwise won. There were also technical issues that some of them will have to work on.

One thing that many didn't realize was that the ITTF coaching rule was in effect. North American Table Tennis, which ran the tournament, had sent out a note letting players know that the rule would be in effect, which allowed coaching at any time except during points. However, most that I talked to didn't realize this. Most coaches were low-key on this, not sure yet how much they should coach, and so it wasn't a serious problem. As coaches and players get more used to it, I'm worried it'll become more of a distraction as coaches may try to signal servers, etc. I took advantage of it a few times, whispering advice to players when they were nearby. I also had one of our Chinese coaches sometimes call out things to our Chinese kids when they were playing non-Chinese players. (Of course, that's risky – some non-Chinese players know Chinese! But it's rare.)

On Sunday afternoon I coached one of our players, an 8-year-old chopper, against a pusher/blocker who almost never attacked. The match would have gone expedite if it had been timed, but I figured that favored her, so didn't call for an umpire, and neither did the opponents. So I sat there for probably 40 minutes as the two pushed back and forth before the opponent finally won, 3-1. And then I stood up.

OWWW! Yes, I injured my left leg just standing up. I had tightened up during that long match. Even when I coached him I was sitting down as I don't want kids to have to look up at someone looking down at them. (It's psychologically better to get down to their level, either sitting or squatting.) For the next hour I literally couldn't put any weight on the leg. It gradually eased up to the point where I could hobble about some, but I really hurt it pretty badly. I'm still hobbling about, and had to cancel or get a substitute for my coaching for Mon-Wed. On Thursday I have a one-hour junior class and a one-hour session with a beginner, so I'll wait and see if I can do that. (It's rather funny that all these players play for three days and are fine, and I stand up after coaching a match and get hurt like this. Jeez...) 

The tournament was run efficiently by North American Table Tennis. As usual, Director John Miller kept the matches running right on time, and other than that injury problem at the end, I had a great time, and so did the kids! I've been going to the Teams since I started in 1976, so this was my 41st time. Wow.

Butterfly Teams and JOOLA North American Teams Articles
USATT has lots of articles and videos from both on their News Page. Butterfly has articles on the Butterfly Teams on their News Page.

Liu Shiwen Suspended from International Play
Here's the ITTF press Release on the world #2 and former #1. "The reason cited by Kong Linghui, the head coach of the Chinese Women’s Team, is Liu Shiwen's last minute withdrawal from the Seamaster 2016 Women’s World Cup held last October [in Philadelphia]."

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

New Articles by Coach Jon

Men vs Women – What We Can Learn From Each Other
Here's the article from Tom Lodziak.

One Million Table Tennis Players to Be Trained
Here's the article from the Indian Express.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 10! Or order your own print copies at

Training with Belgium National Team 2016 Part 1
Here's the video (12:36).

Jun Mizutani vs Vladimir Samsonov Training
Here's the video (22:15).

Top Serve of Table Tennis
Here's the new music video (4:16).

Great Doubles Point
Here's the video (28 sec).

Ask a Pro Anything - Doo Hoi Kem
Here's the video (4:19). "Hong Kong's female youngster takes on the ITTF Ask a Pro Anything challenge with Adam Bobrow! Watch to learn more about her as she tries to answer questions from her fans." She's world #16, #4 under 21.

Ma Long & Zhang Jike Exhibition After Rio Olympics 2016
Here's the video (5:53) that just went up.

When Table Tennis Gets Angry!
Here's the video (1:40).

Human Net
Here it is! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Monkey Sports
Here's the cartoon – "Earn £100 a Week Teaching Monkeys Table Tennis."

Send us your own coaching news!