November 17, 2011

Timing for beginners

I was hitting with a relatively new student yesterday, an eight-year-old girl, who was having trouble timing her shots. I did something I've done before - I may have blogged about this a while ago - and started to say, "Da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da" as we hit, timing each "da" with the ball hitting the table or the racket. This greatly helped her timing. When I stopped doing it, she protested, and made me do it for about ten minutes. Finally, I switched to saying other things, like "No more, no more, no more, no more," and "Don't miss, don't miss, don't miss, don't miss," which she thought was pretty funny - but it also worked.

Focus on strengths and weaknesses

I've written about this before, but thought this was a good time to remind readers of my views on practice. Practice everything your game needs, but focus on the your strengths and weaknesses. You want to turn the strengths (or potential strengths) into overpowering strengths that strike fear in the heart of your peers. You want to get rid of any weaknesses that might hold you back.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

The book is moving along slowly, now at 55,000 words. I'm probably going to spend the next few days reworking some sections. I keep running into terminology questions, such as the one I blogged about last week (does a half-long serve go slightly long, slightly short, or in between?), and yesterday's "big" question - what do you call the three types of penhold backhands? Two are "conventional penhold backhand" (or is it "conventional Chinese penhold backhand"?) and "reverse penhold backhand," but what of the third, where the penholder swings from the side and turns their backhand into almost a second forehand? I've always known it as a "Korean penhold backhand," and Cheng Yinghua agreed - but someone else thought it was a "Japanese penhold backhand." I went with Korean for now.

Wang Hao's serve and the ITTF Umpires Chair response

I blogged on Tuesday about Wang Hao's illegal serves in the Men's World Cup Final, with video and pictures to verify. To recap, here are the pertinent rules:

  • 2.6.4: "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
  • 2.6.5: "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net."
  • 2.6.6: "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."

As a blogger, I decided to go right to the source, and so I emailed the chair of the ITTF Umpires and Referees Committee, and pointed out that the pictures and video show that on essentially ever serve, Wang was not pulling his arm away "as soon as the ball has been projected," and in fact was leaving it there right up until contact. Here's the video, and below are pictures that clearly show him hiding contact with his arm. (Also note that in all these serves, Wang has tossed the ball roughly to the top of his head, above his eyes, so the contact points shown here are well after he has projected the ball.)

Here is the pertinent part of his response:

"I have watched the YouTube video with great interest, and it may surprise you that the services were not as bad as I expected. You are right that most umpires do nothing about this, but that is not because they don't want, it is because they don't see. If there would be a camera on the position of the umpire it would be clear that from that position the service looks perfectly legal."

I find this response almost chilling in its dismissal of what our own eyes tell us. There is no way any umpire, from any angle, cannot see that Wang leaves his arm out right up until contact, breaking rule 2.6.5. And there is no way an umpire, from any angle, can conclude that the serves are not hidden. They may not be sure, but that's the whole point - if they aren't sure, then the serve is illegal - see rule 2.6.6. As it is, you can see from the still pictures that the serves are clearly hidden by the arm.

This problem of umpires not enforcing the rules, and thereby rewarding cheaters and cheating their opponents, is a serious problem that players and coaches have to face. Umpires are supposed to enforce the rules. How can the chair of the Umpires and Referees Committee from the worldwide governing body defend such an obvious and repeated public failure to enforce the rules?

Interestingly, most players who hide their serves do not do so in such obvious fashion as Wang does here. More commonly they will leave the arm out as long as possible, and then pull it in before contact. The umpire sees this, and since the arm obviously is not hiding contact, concludes the serve isn't hidden, and so doesn't bother strictly enforcing the rule about removing the arm as soon as the ball has been projected upwards. But as the server pulls the arm out, he thrusts his shoulder out, and it is the shoulder that hides contact - but since the umpire is distracted because he is watching the arm being pulled out, he misses the shoulder hiding contact. It's almost like a magic trick, where at the key moment the magician distracts the viewer from seeing what he doesn't want him to see. (While I may have just explained how to hide your serve to players who are willing to cheat, it's more important that players and umpires know what to watch for.)

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis the Best (3:01).

Table Tennis in a Car

I've never seen a drive by drive until now. (1:39)


Send us your own coaching news!

Apparently Kil remembered the da-da-da-da rhythm counting method from you because he recently started getting me to count 1-2-3 on forehand loops to develop a rhythm in my strokes.

As for the ITTF chair, did you really believe that he was going to not only agree that one of the top player's in the world was cheating, but accept fault on behalf of the umpire's who are too lenient to enforce the service rules? He did exactly what I have come to expect from not only the ITTF, but the vast majority of those who hold positions of authority.

In reply to by PipProdigy

I would hope that when faced with the obvious proof that the serves were illegal and that the umpires weren't calling it, that the chair would at minimum say he'd look into it, or talk to the umpires, or something. To contradict what what we can plainly see is just stupid. 

I have little respect for that office or the ITTF in genera.  A few years back I sent a simple request asking if the ITTF considered "bamboo" to be "wood."  This came up because bamboo rackets were showing up at the club and botanically bamboo is a grass.  Of course, it is very wood-like in nature so I could imagine how it might be allowed. 

What I got was an email from the USATT telling me to go through them to get such questions answered.  Of course, after multiple follow-up reminder emails (spaced many months apart to give ample time to do something or to get information from the ITTF) to the USATT head referee, the question remains unanswered.  He eventually just stopped responding to my emails

So, you were almost guaranteed to get an unsatisfactory response.  Why?  Well because these infractions are obvious to anyone who watches the games.  Are we to think that umpires never look at video?  Surely they do and surely they notice the things we notice.  These are smart people who must love the game.  They aren't doing that job for the money.  Yet these things are still not called.  It seems clear that either permission or direction to allow these illegal serves comes from a higher authority than the umpire. 

It is outrageous that damage at the periphery of your blade can get the ITTF to disqualify you, but blatently illegals serves are perfectly OK.  No surprise really.  I expect such inconsistency from the ITTF.  Up is down and down is up when it comes to the ITTF.


In reply to by Jay Turberville

It sounds like ITTF officiating has some serious problems. Great. And they are already in full circle-the-wagons mode, where they can do no wrong no matter what our eyes or common sense tell us.