Lady Antebellum

June 24, 2013

Tip of the Week

Feet and Grip.

Exhaustion Times a Thousand and MDTTC Camps

That's how tired I seem to be most of the time, with the sudden increase in coaching hours due to the MDTTC camps. I normally coach or act as practice partner about 20 hours/week. Add six hours/day, Mon-Fri on top of that, and suddenly my legs feel like dried out sticks. Meanwhile, I've got a zillion things on the side I have to do - prepare for the U.S. Open next week, prepare for the ITTF coaching seminar I'm attending in August and the one I'm teaching in October, prepare for the writer's workshop I'm attending in late July, work on the planned rewrite of my Table Tennis Steps to Success book (tentatively retitled Table Tennis Fundamentals), promote the MDTTC junior program, set up the planned Maryland Junior League for the fall, plus the usual daily blog and Tips of the Week. Anyone got some sleep or extra hours each week for sale? (I think the Steps to Success rewrite will probably be the first casualty; I'll probably postpone that until the fall.)

I actually went to bed early last night with a headache, and woke up with a headache at 6:45AM. I went to my computer, and the first thing I wrote was, "I went to bed with a headache and woke up with a headache, so no blog today." Then I reconsidered, and did the blog after all. The headache's still there, but more of a background thing.

On Friday we finished the first week of our ten weeks of summer camps, each of them Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. I gave short lectures on pushing and doubles. We did our usual Friday's "player's choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on in multiball, with the coaches ready with a suggestion if the player wasn't sure. In the afternoon we ran a practice tournament.

Over the weekend I coached about ten hours, which was less than during the camps, but still exhausting. In the Saturday group session, 4:30-6:30, where we play practice matches (I'm a practice partner for it), I was exhausted. So I played a very conservative blocking game, with a bunch of tricky serve and one-shot finals added in, and somehow won all my matches easily (mostly against 1900-2100 players). In the end, consistency is king. (That's true at all levels - it's just at the highest levels it's consistency in loop-killing winners that's king.)

This morning we start a new camp. As usual, I mostly run the morning sessions, with Cheng and Jack running the afternoon sessions. In the afternoon, I'll be working with the beginners. This week will be even more exhausting than last week. The camp hours are 10AM-1PM, 3-6PM, so there's a two-hour break in the middle where we eat lunch, I take the kids on the daily trek to 7-11 (five minute walk), and then rest. But this week I have a one-hour private coaching scheduled every day from 2-3PM.

I'm looking forward to the U.S. Open next week, where I'll finally get to "rest." After all, I'm only coaching three players, attending meetings, and playing in five events! (Only hardbat/sandpaper events - I may have to drop some if they conflict with coaching. I'm normally a sponge player.)

Japan Open

Who'd have thunk it? A chopper, a Japanese player ranked 188 in the world, wins Men's Singles at the Japan Open this weekend in Yokohama. Here's the ITTF home page for it, with articles, pictures, and results. Here's a video of the final (5:13, with time between points taken out), where Masato Shiono defeats China's Xu Chenahao 4-0. Here's more on the final from Table Tennis Daily. Here's a video (5:03) of the Top Ten Shots at the Japan Open. Here's video (50 sec) of a great doubles rally.

Ariel Hsing at Awards Ceremony

Here's video of Ariel at the Awards Ceremony after reaching the final of Under 18 Girls at the Egypt Junior and Cadet Open this past weekend. She was all gracious and professional despite losing a close final - she was up 10-9 match point in both the sixth and seventh games, and was up 6-0 in the seventh before losing to Doo Hoi Kem of Japan, 12-10 in the seventh. Here's the ITTF page for it, with articles, pictures, and results.

Timo Boll Defeats Zhang Jike

Here's the article, pictures, and video (3:55) of his great win at Chinese Super League just yesterday.

Behind-the-Back Shot of the Day

Here's the video (19 sec). And then he just nonchalantly walks away! It's the other guy who reacts.

Hermione Plays Table Tennis

Okay, it's really Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the Harry Potter Series. Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation. Here's what she tweeted: "I just got rid of my sofa and replaced it with a ping pong table. I think this is the best decision I have made in months.#gameon!"

Lady Antebellum at the Country Music Festival

Here's the article, pictures, and video links. That's Homer and Adam Brown playing two of the band members, with Michael Wetzel umpiring.

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June 12, 2013

Fingerprinting and Afterschool Programs

Yesterday I was fingerprinted. Oh no!!! As I blogged about yesterday, it was for an afterschool table tennis program we'll be running at MDTTC this fall. Also fingerprinted were coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu.

I went in expecting to have my fingertips inked. But that's a thing of the past. Instead, they had me put my fingertips on the surface of a scanner, one by one, with the fingerprint image appearing simultaneously on a large screen. It took about 90 seconds in all.

Afterschool programs are a great way to bring in new junior players, as well as a way to make use of a facility in the late afternoon, before the (hopefully) big player rush after 7PM or so. This would be especially important to full-time centers, but part-time clubs already have the tables (and storage area for them), and playing space, so perhaps they too can take advantage of this. (And we get paid! The kids pay a nominal fee for the program.)

How do you do it? Contact the local county school's recreation department. You'll need a coach or organizer. You can handle a lot of players with two coaches - one to coach a few at a time, one to watch over the rest as they play. Ideally, you'd have them doing drills for at least half the session, with the players rotated a few minutes at a time to work one-on one with one of the coaches, probably with multiball. Realistically, if you have a large number of kids and only two coaches, it'll be mostly free play except when they rotate in to work with the coach. The coach can actually work with two at a time, with one kid on the forehand side, the other on the backhand side, with the coach feeding side to side. Or he can work with even more, with the kids lining up and taking turns, perhaps four shots each, then back to the end of the line. (I prefer two at a time if there's a large turnout.)

I blogged a bit more about this on June 4, including the importance of starting with one session a week to concentrate the players in that session so as to get a good turnout. Once you have a good turnout, then you can expand to two days, and so on.

Crystal Wang Impressive at Hopes Week, Wins Tournament

USA's Crystal Wang is featured and pictured in the ITTF story about Hopes Week, where she won the afternoon tournament. Here's an excerpt:

The afternoon session featured the now traditional training tournament with the players starting from the score 8-8 and playing best of five games . . . among the girls Crystal Wang from Maryland in the United States proved most of the coaches who watched her play during the opening day right. Certainly she impressed Mikael Andersson.

"She not only won the training tournament, she basically cruised her way through the first real test in Schwechat," he said. "Great style, wonderful timing and technique was too much for the other young Hopes girls to handle this afternoon." Earlier this year, in April, Crystal Wang won the Hopes Girls’ Singles event at the ITTF-North America Cup in Westchester.

Video Interview with Zhang Jike and Timeouts

Yesterday I blogged about timeouts. As posted by Doug Harley in the comments section, here's a video interview (3:08) of Zhang Jike after winning his semifinal match in Men's Singles at the Worlds, 4-0 over Xu Xin. (He'd go on to win the final.) One minute in he's asked why he called a timeout leading 10-9 in the third. The translator spoke broken English, but corrected into somewhat proper English, he said, "This is a key set for me so if I can win 3-0 it'll be easier for me to play the next set, and secondly, I did not do well the last point when I was leading 10-8 so I called a timeout to reset myself."

How Useful is Shadow Play?

Here's a short article from Table Tennis Master: How Useful is Shadow Play?

The Speed of Table Tennis

Here's a video (3:04) featuring USA's Erica Wu that breaks down the speed of table tennis. (I think I remember seeing and posting perhaps an earlier version of this, but this one was only posted on Monday.)  

China Open

Here's the home page for the China Open, June 12-16, 2013, in Changchun, China. USA players Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Wu Yue are all entered in it. Hsing and Zhang are in Women's Singles, Doubles (teamed together), and Under 21 Women. Wu Yue is in Women's Singles and Doubles (with Shao Jien from Portugal).

2013 USATT Para National Team Training Camp

Here's Richard Xue's photo album - the first ten albums are all from the camp, which is going on right now in San Diego.

Lady Antebellum Ping Pong & Songs Finale

I blogged about this yesterday; here's a video (1:33). The two players on the right at the start are Homer and son Adam Brown; that's Michael Wetzel umpiring.

Four Year Old on TT Robot

Here's a video (2:34) of four and a half year old Jordan Fowler (grandson of Brian) smacking balls on his KingPong Robot.

California Governor Jerry Brown Brings Ping Pong to State Government

Table Tennis Nation brings you the story, with lots of links on this and related items.

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June 11, 2013

Timeouts

I've found it interesting how different coaches and players use timeouts. Far too many use it as a desperation measure, usually late in a match when a player has fallen way behind, and where it's unlikely to make a difference. Almost always it's done when a player is behind.

I'd argue that it should be used most often when a player is losing focus at a key time, where the timeout has the best chance of helping to win a game, whether it's in the first game, last game, or any in between. I think most would agree with this. Putting that aside, when should one call a timeout?

Let's suppose your player is serving up 9-7 in the fifth. I was once criticized for calling a timeout in that situation, with the argument that it lets the opponent talk to his coach and focus, and so maximize his chances of coming back. But I find that reasoning backwards. With my player is leading 9-7 in the fifth, if both players are focused and play smart, then my player is probably going to win. The most likely way my player loses is if he loses his focus and/or doesn't play smart - so by calling a timeout, I maximize the chances that my player will be focused and play smart, and therefore likely win. In other words, if you are leading, you are in control, and so worry less about the opponent and more about making sure you are prepared.

In other words, if you are behind by a score such as 7-9, and if you are focused and know what to do, the last thing you want is to give the opponent time to focus and think tactically. It's very easy for a player to lose focus when he is leading and about to win, and a timeout allows him to recover. (However, if you are behind 7-9 because you are losing focus or not sure what to do tactically, then you should call the timeout.)

Ironically, I sometimes hesitate to call a time-out near the end of a match when my player is leading because I know there's a good chance the other side will call one, so I get to save our timeout for later if needed.

Another mistake I think some make is waiting too long. It's better to call a timeout early in a match where it might lead to winning a game than to wait until later where it might not. At the Easterns I was coaching 11-year-old Sameer in his first major tournament. In one of his first matches he was serving and leading 10-8 in the first game, and lost the next point. On his own he called a timeout - he wanted to make absolutely sure he won that game, and wanted to ask what serve I thought he should use. (I said short backspin to the forehand, and the opponent put it in the net! Sameer won the match 3-1; if he'd lost that first game, it might have been 2-2. A very smart timeout that few would have done because it was still "too early" in the match.)

Here's the chart from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers on when to call timeouts. Number two is the one that's way underused when players are leading in a close game - see the second part of that one.

When to Call a Time-out

  1. When losing focus before a key point. This is the most important time to call a time-out. A time-out is a good way to get your concentration back.
  2. To think about or discuss tactics at a key point. Generally do this when you are about to serve, since you have complete control over choosing your two serves. If you have a coach, he might be able to help choose two serves to use. Call it when you are receiving mostly if you have a good idea what the opponent will serve, and are debating how you should return that serve. Or call it to think or discuss any other tactical plans. It’s also valuable to call a time-out when you are winning a relatively close game (especially late in a match), such as at 10-8 or 9-7, so as to clear your mind, think tactically, and close out that game. This is often when the Chinese team calls time-outs.
  3. When falling behind in a key game. It’s useful to call a time-out if you lose the first game and are falling behind in the second (since you absolutely do not want to fall behind 0-2), or if you have already lost two games and will lose the match if you lose another. The key is not to wait until you are way behind; instead, call the time-out when you are still relatively close and can still find a way to come back. The time-out allows you to make sure you are focused and to rethink your tactics. It’s also a good way to give your opponent a chance to cool off if he’s playing well—there’s nothing wrong with calling a time-out in hopes of disturbing his concentration or throwing off his rhythm.
  4. Desperation tactic. Far too many players call time-outs as a desperation tactic near the end of a match when they are way behind and are pretty much out of it, but this rarely leads to a win. If you are losing badly, why wait until you are way down in the last game? It’s far better to call the time-out earlier in the hope of not being in this situation, where the time-out will rarely help.

Fingerprinting

We're starting up an afterschool table tennis program this fall with Montgomery County Schools. As noted in my blog last week, one of their requirements is anyone working with students gets a background check - and that means we have to get fingerprinted! So this morning I'm leaving about 8:30 AM to meet at a county office to be fingerprinted, along with fellow coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu. I'm hoping to get pictures. If they look into my background they'll find I kill dozens of times every day. More on this tomorrow, though it might be simply a repeat of this note, saying "We've been fingerprinted."

Game Strategy

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Game Strategy

Non-Celluloid Balls

Here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville reviews one of the new plastic balls (i.e. not celluloid).

The Fight to Save Table Tennis

Here's an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that features Marty Reisman and hardbat & sandpaper table tennis. There were quite a few errors in the article, however - here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville lists nine mistakes, and Scott Gordon adds a few others.

Lady Antebellum’s Ping Pong Tournament Serves Up the Fun

Here's an article and pictures of the charity tournament. Here are more pictures.

Dog Spectator

Here's 49 seconds of a very jumpy dog spectator at table tennis.

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February 13, 2013

Tactical Matches

Over the past year I've sort of been the nemesis of one of our top juniors. Since I also sometimes coach this player, I know his game well. Until recently I had a simple way to take his game apart - relentlessly going short to his forehand. I'd serve short to the forehand with varied spins. If he served short, I dropped the ball short to the forehand (usually faking to the backhand first). The only way to stop my going short there was to serve long, and then I'd loop. Plus, because I knew the player so well, I was able to read his serves and tell early in his motion if he was serving long.

Alas, it is no more. Or should that Thank God it is no more? He's finally figured things out. When I serve short to the forehand, he's finally developed a competent flip. He can also drop it short. Or he reaches over and flips with his backhand, often using a banana flip. The more I go wide to his short forehand to get away from his backhand, the wider the angle he gets to my wide forehand. When he flips there, I have to go so wide that I'm open on the backhand on the next shot.

When he serves, he's giving more variations, so it's not as easy to drop the ball short. And just as with my short serves, he's gotten better when I do drop it short, flipping both forehand and backhand. He's also disguising his long serves better so I can't see them coming so easily.

So after at one point beating him 14 times in a row, I am sad - I mean glad! - to say he's won our last two. In fact, I've had to completely revamp my tactics against him, since the relentlessly-go-after-the-short-forehand tactics doesn't work so well anymore. However, this has led to some good news - for me. It's forced me to get more aggressive against his serves, bringing out my own inner backhand banana flip. So I'm now mixing in short receives and flips, and my flips are getting better and better. Unlike many of our past matches, which (because of my tactics) were often sloppy-seeming ones with few good rallies, now we're having really good rallies, and I'm battling with him, shot for shot. He may have won, but he may have awoken a sleeping giant. Or so I hope!

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

***Get your copy of Table Tennis for Thinkers Now! ***

The price right now is $17.95, but it likely will go up to $19.95 sometime soon, when dealers start to distribute it. Dealers would prefer the higher price, and they probably know the business better than I do. Most likely I'll also raise the Kindle price (currently at $9.99 for the text-only version) to about $11.95 when I have time to create and upload the version with pictures (hopefully within a few weeks). As noted previously, if I make "substantial changes" to the original version (and going from text only to adding 90 photos certainly qualifies), then they'll give a free download of the new version to those who downloaded the earlier version.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

So far we've done 20 chapters, 319 pages, 662 graphics. Projections: 29 chapters, 461 pages, 947 graphics. We expect to finish first draft Friday, and finish making corrections on Monday. Then it goes to the printer, and I sleep for a week. Or at least for an hour. (Note - besides the regular chapters, there are seven pages of covers, inside covers, acknowledgements, etc., which also include graphics, which is why the projections don't match up exactly to the ratio of the current 20 chapters to the planned 29.)

Ding Ning - Slow Motion Studies

Here's a video (1:57) that shows world #1 woman Ding Ning's technique in slow motion.

Samsonov over Ovtcharov in Swiss Open

Here's the article.

Ping Pong and Songs

It's for charity! "Lady Antebellum's charity initiative LadyAID™ Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee was created to bring awareness to and generate support for children in need locally, nationally, and globally through partners Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanerbilt, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Children's Miracle Network, myLIFEspeaks, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)."

Adam Bobrow's Valentine's Birthday Party

It's this Friday in LA. It's 3000 miles from me, so I better start driving!!! Here's what he wrote about it: "I haven't thrown a birthday party in AGES! I figure it will be a great way to get to see lots of my friends... old and new and bring some great people together for a fun night. There will be a DJ, a menu will delicious food and drinks and of course... many ping pong tables and awesome people to hit on. 8>) Come hang out, say hi, have a conversation with me, my friends or introduce me to your friends or just hang come play. It's FREE and it will be a blast! Parking is up to you... and dress however you want! (21 and over... dress that way)"

Table Tennis Street Art

An outdoor Christmas decoration?

Awesome Table Tennis Tricks

Here's a video (2:29) showing lots of incredible (though staged) table tennis shots, including replays in slow motion. Some great stuff!

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February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)

This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.

I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)

I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:

  • "No one's called me on it before." (I know of at least one player who has used this excuse probably a dozen times. Thank about that! But even if it were true, then that doesn't change the fact that the serve is illegal; it simply means there has been lax umpiring.)
  • "That's the way everyone's serving." (Not true, but a lot do get away with it.)
  • "Why would you call me on serves?" (Because you are hiding your serve.)
  • "I'll call my opponent for serving illegally in practice, but no way should you call him on it in a tournament." (This is one of the stranger ones.)
  • "He's from your own player's club!" (So why is he hiding his serve against someone from his club who is not hiding his serve?)

It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.

Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.

By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.

Service seminars

I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!

2012 U.S. Open

Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!

Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book

Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player

While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:

  • "Never show what you want, if one thousand words will do.  All explanations should be as wordy as possible to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the game."
  • "Make sure to always tell the player what he or she did wrong."
  • "Teach volleyball [table tennis] the way it is supposed to be taught, on the chalkboard."
  • "Make sure to bawl players out about their mistakes, win or lose.  It is better to do this in front of a whole gym full of spectators, rather than in the locker room, or worse, one on one in private."

Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's

Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.

Kuwait Open Highlights Tape

Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.

Lady Antebellum Table Tennis

After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).

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