November 28, 2023

Tip of the Week
Forcing or Adjusting Your Game.

North American Teams
I just completed another North American Teams, my 47th in a row. (It would be 48 except they skipped 2020 because of Covid.) My first one was in 1976, where I played with Mike Shapiro and Jackie Heyman. I was a player for most of those years, then a player/coach, but in modern times I’ve only been coaching. Let’s see, 47 Teams, three days each, that’s 141 days at the Teams! (Almost five months.)

This year I think I set two records that will never be broken. Over those three days I coached 102 matches, going 61-41 in all. Has anyone every coached that many matches in a tournament? I coached 46 matches on Saturday, which has got to be a record for one day. On that day I coached from 8AM until 11:40PM, even eating meals while coaching. In several of them I coached two matches at the same time. (I normally only do that with lower-rated teams, where coaching is a bit simpler.) When one team finished a team match, I’d move to another. On Friday and Sunday I coached 28 matches each day.

There were 1096 players on 283 teams, with 166 tables. Here are complete results. As usual, I didn’t see any of the big matches as I was on the back tables coaching our junior teams. The great news was that all of the tables had rubberized flooring – no more playing on concrete. Playing on concrete hurts my knees, and will likely hurt yours as well if you do it a lot. Rubberized flooring also gives better footing, so the level of play is higher. As usual, a big thanks to the JOOLA crew and staff for running the event.

We had 47 players on 13 Maryland Table Tennis Center (MDTTC) junior teams, with seven coaches: me, Wang Qingliang, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Lidney Castro, Bruno Ventura Dos Anjos, and Wang Cheng. (Not all the coaches were available at all times, so we usually had 5-6 coaches at work.) Khaleel Asgarali from the Washington DC TTC also helped out with some of our teams. There was a time when I organized much of the MDTTC coaching, but I’m retired from that and so Coach Wang did the scheduling of coaches. We have an online spreadsheet we use, where the parents and team captains put in who they are playing as soon as the schedule comes up, and then Wang puts in the coaching assignments, rotating so each team gets a coach as often as possible. The kids did really well this year – I’ll go out on a limb and predict that they will average over 100 points each in rating gains.

Four MDTTC teams won medals in the 17 divisions:

  • MDTTC 3 (AJ Salatov, Justin Liu, Adam Fan) won Division 8.
  • MDTTC 10 (Michael Zhang, Leo Li, Michael Meng, and Aarush Sharma) won Division 15.
  • MDTTC 11 (Yani Morse-Achtenberg, Audrey Liu, Agastya Brahmandam, Batra Aarav) made the semifinals of Division 15, losing a close 5-4 battle, or it would have been an all MDTTC final.
  • MDTTC 2 (Feng Xue, Jonathan Cai, Stephanie Zhang, William Wu) made the semifinals of Division 4, also losing a close 5-4.

The funniest moments of the tournament:

  • A kid called a timeout so he could tie his shoes.
  • While coaching one team, after coaching continuously all morning, I mentioned that I could use a Dr Pepper. Within minutes various parents had given me five of them.
  • In game two of a match, my player got frustrated because nothing felt right, and his opponent also seemed to be having trouble – and then they realized they were using each other’s paddles.

Here are some of the best team names:

Here are some coaching highlights.

  • I think the theme of the tournament in the matches I coached was “Attack the elbow.” Taller players especially have trouble covering their middle – the midpoint between forehand and backhand, normally around the elbow. Shorter players have more trouble covering the corners. Since I was coaching kids and many of their opponents were adults or taller kids, that meant going after their elbows, sometime over and over, other times to move the opponent out of position as they cover the middle with forehand or backhand, thereby opening a corner to attack. The other benefit is that by going to the middle, it cuts off the angles the opponent can play, which means they couldn’t effectively go after the wide corners as they’d like to do when playing kids. This led to a number of wins. In one match, the kid I was coaching lost the first two games badly against a tall girl who was rated much higher. I told him to put an X on her playing elbow and just go after it relentlessly. He won the next three games and the match.
  • We won a lot of points with well-placed, heavy pushes, especially against opposing junior players. The key words are well-placed and heavy. Just pushing over and over to keep the ball in play is a bad habit, but if you do something with the push, such as placing it and pushing heavy, it becomes more effective while also developing a valuable weapon even at higher levels. (Yes, a well-placed heavy push works at higher levels as long as it’s not overdone.)
  • The kids had ongoing lessons on playing “the three spots” – often I’d quiz them on what the three spots were, and almost all knew it meant the wide corners and middle (playing elbow). They learned when to play all three, and when to mostly go over two of them.
  • Another common theme was to take out the opponent’s forehand by returning serves very wide to the backhand. They are learning that a well-placed, consistent receive is better than a more aggressive but less consistent or poorly placed one. It’s all about ball control.
  • Another thing I stressed with the kids is that if you have a game plan, then you are less likely to be nervous. Nervousness comes from uncertainty. If you know, for example, that you are going to go after the opponent’s elbow every chance, that simplifies things and takes out much of the uncertainty. (This will be a future Tip of the Week.)
  • Another issue I stressed was that the primary purpose of the serve is to set up your attack. That means that in most cases, unless the opponent does something to stop it, you should follow your serve with an attack 100% of the time.
  • Many of our players struggled against forehand tomahawk serves to the wide forehand. It became an in-tournament lesson on how to do so. Here’s my Tip on Returning the Tomahawk Serve and Lefty Pendulum Serve.
  • In the lower divisions, many of our younger players and opponents served illegally, mostly because the hand tossing the ball went under the table when they served. This is because the table is higher to them, and so trying to keep the ball above the table when throwing it up is tricky at first. They don’t really get any advantage directly from serving this way, but they do need to learn to serve legally.

USA Table Tennis Election
I blogged about this on November 6, 2023 and November 13, 2023. There are five candidates running. While all may be excellent candidates, I urge you to vote for Dennis Taylor. The election closes on Dec. 8, so it’s time to do your patriotic duty to USATT (if you are a USATT member) and VOTE!!!

Holiday Shopping – Buy My Books!
Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to do some serious Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays gift-buying – time to buy my table tennis books! (But feel free to buy my science fiction ones as well.) Here’s a listing with descriptions of each. Below are direct links to the table tennis books. 

You can also buy a few from 5-time US Men’s Singles Champion Dan Seemiller!

World Youth Championships
Here’s the ITTF home page for the event taking place right now, Nov. 26 – Dec. 3, in Nova Gorica, Slovenia. Here’s where you can find Results. Here is TeamUSA in Early Action by Steve Hopkins.

Major League Table Tennis

Butterfly Training Tips

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich
22 new videos this past week!

New from Ti Long

New from PongSpace/International Referee Linda Leaf

Ask the Coach
Here are the latest questions from PingSkills.

Talkin' Smash Podcast by JOOLA Ep5: Overcoming Challenge in Serve Receive
Here’s the video (24:37) with Matt Hetherington and Lily Zhang.

Tahl Leibovitz, Jenson Van Emburgh, and Ian Seidenfeld Book Tickets to Paris Paralympics
Here’s the USATT article by Barbara Wei.

ITTF General News

ITTF Chengdu Previews (on the ITTF Mixed Team World Cup, Dec. 4-10 in Chengdu, CHN)

Mengel Surprise Winner in Portugal
Here’s the article by Steve Hopkins.

Coloradans with Neurodegenerative Diseases Turn to Pingpong for Rehabilitation
Here’s the article from the Denver Post. “Scientists are paying attention.” “NeuroPong program, led by founder and CEO Antonino Barbera, marries medicine with a love of table tennis.”

It’s Raining Ping-Pong Balls
Here’s the picture from Steve Rowe/Aerobic Table Tennis! (Here’s the non-Facebook version.)

Are You a Ping Pong Wizard?
Here’s where you can buy the shirt at Amazon! Here’s another version.

You’ve Seen Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, Now Watch These Other Great Science Saru Anime
Here’s the article – see segment on Ping Pong the Animation.

Retirement Gets Ping-Ponged
Here’s the cartoon!

Here’s the video (7:24) from Pingispågarna – Card Pong!

World's Smallest Ping Pong Table
Here’s the video (8:02) from Pongfinity!

Send us your own coaching news!