Jean-Michel Saive

March 5, 2014

Players from Training Centers vs. Regular Clubs - Style Differences

Ever notice that you can tell much of a player's background just by watching his style and strokes? The most obvious thing is whether the player came out of a training center (i.e. regular coaching and training, constantly surrounded by top players with good technique) versus those who come out of regular clubs (mostly learned on their own by watching local players, who didn't always have the best technique, and developed mostly by playing matches). These are not rules, just general things you mostly see that tell the player's background. It's mostly about where the player started - a self-taught player who then joins a training center will still have some semblance of those self-taught strokes and style even after years of training.  

Players from training centers generally have nice, smooth technique. Even when the technique isn't perfect it's usually close to where only a discerning coach can really tell the difference. They generally play close to the table from hours and hours of coaches stressing this. They almost always loop from both sides. Many almost never smash, instead looping winners even off balls that are eye level or higher. They often topspin their backhands, even in faster rallies, often without backing up much. They rarely push more than once in a row. They move smoothly and quickly, with great balance. Their serves are often seeming mirror images of top players serves - mostly forehand regular and reverse pendulum serves.

Players from regular clubs often have more ragged strokes, though they get the job done for their level. The technique is often jury-rigged and awkward, which leads to inconsistency but - as a partial equalizer - means their shots come out erratically, which causes problems for opponents. They may stay at the table, or they may back off, if they have fast feet (which is not the same thing as good footwork, but it's a major component). In a rally they either hit the forehand or back off to loop, while mostly hitting flat backhands. They often have nice smashes. Against weaker players, they dominate with opening loops and follow-up smashes; against stronger players they are turned into blockers. They'll often push several balls in a row. They are often off balance and don't realize it. They often have a large variety of spinny serves, but individually the serves are not that deceptive, relying on different motions rather than deceptive motions for their effectiveness.

Remember, these are just generalities. There are players who have trained half their lives at training centers and still look like amateurs, while some from regular clubs pick up on high-level technique and look like they've trained with coaches since they were kids - but they are the exceptions. Some of the most interesting matches are clashes between these two types of players. The player from the training center struggles to adjust to the erratic and "weird" shots of the regular club player, who in turn struggles to adjust to the superior technique of the training center player. Which are you?

2014 USA National Team Trials Extended Preview

Here's the video (5:24)! The Trials are this Fri-Sun at Texas Wesleyan University. This is a great compilation of USA players winning big matches, often the championship point at past USA Nationals. I was there for most of them!

Samson Dubina Coaching Tips

He's been putting up short tips almost daily in the news section of his webpage. (Expect a few bible verses as well…)

Interview with Adham Sharara, ITTF President

Here it is, published yesterday by ITTF.

Interview with Vladimir Samsonov, Chair of the ITTF Athletes Commission

Here it is, published yesterday by ITTF.

Ma Lin Hopes to Produce an Olympic and World Champion

Here's the article. Ma is now the director of the Guangzhou Table Tennis Management Centre.

Jean-Michel Saive Wins 25th Belgium Men's Singles Title

Here's the article. (He's 44.)

Paddlestar Galactica

Here's their web page. They are a charity event for 826DC, which had its kickoff yesterday and continues through March 30. "826DC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write."

Amayzlin - Music Trailer

Here's the table tennis music video (4:05), created and starring Alex Mayzlin - actor, singer, musician, songwriter . . . and 2100 table tennis player. "This is my life. This is what I do. I wouldn't have it any other way."

The Ping Pong Ambassador

Here's seven seconds of Scott Preiss, the PingPongMan!

Snowy Tables

Ready for some ping-pong?

Non-Table Tennis - Phone Scam

On Feb. 27, I wrote about coaching scams. Well, I almost got scammed in a non-table tennis way, though I caught it just in time. I don't make or receive a lot of phone calls - I'm more of an emailer - so when my phone stopped working on Saturday I didn't notice at first. I made a call to MDTTC that morning, and got a message saying the phone was disabled or no longer working (something like that), and assumed there was something wrong with their phone. I didn't make or receive any calls on Monday. On Tuesday I called a bank to make sure they were open (lots of snow outside), and got a similar answer. So I tested it and discovered I got the error message no matter who I called. I also realized I hadn't received or made a call since Friday. Then I remembered a "junk" email I'd received from Verizon Wireless (my cell phone carrier) that thanked me for upgrading my service. I'd deleted it, thinking it was some sort of spam, but now I pulled it out of the trash and printed it out.

I drove to Verizon Wireless (roads were fine - only local schools were closed) and they took about an hour trying to figure out the problem. They had to call their own technical support. They discovered that my "upgrade" had added five new phone numbers to my account, and that this upgrade had caused my phone to stop working since it hadn't been approved for my cell phone (something like that). After some investigation, they told me that someone had gone into an Apple store on Saturday (they think one in New York), and had done the upgrade, somehow using my password, and getting five new cheap cell phones. It was a scam - the person had then sold the five cell phones to people overseas at highly inflated prices. For the scam to work, he had to have a valid account (mine, don't know how he got my password, I've since changed it), so he could get the five new numbers and cell phones. I was told that if I hadn't acted right away by going to Verizon, within days I would have gotten a phone bill for approximately $4000!

So if you've called me in the last few days and couldn't get through, now you know why.

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September 20, 2013

Walter Wintermute Visit

Coach and player Walter Wintermute from North Carolina visited MDTTC last night. He'd emailed in advance, saying he would be in town for a business trip, and wanted to observe our coaching. So he watched while I ran a one-hour session with five beginning junior players. Then he watched some of our top juniors in training (Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, others), and played a practice match with another local top junior (Josh Tran). Then we talked table tennis coaching for half an hour. He's been coaching more and more and wanted to see how we did it. So I went over the various techniques used for coaching juniors, as well as how we ran the sessions, the games we played at the end, etc.

Walter and I go way back. In early 1977, when I was 17 and had been playing about a year, I was rated 1480; he was rated just a few points lower and was two years younger. We played in three finals in a tournament in Virginia - I believe it was Under 1500, Under 1600, and Under 1700. He won two of them, alas. Later that year we would both shoot up in ratings to 1900. Two years later, in 1979, I would move to North Carolina for two years, where I would play Walter regularly on weekends and at the monthly tournaments.

The last two years his son, David, 15, has been coming to our camps. He has an unearthly resemblance to his dad from 35 or so years ago, so it's sort of nostalgic when I work with him. 

Looping Seniors

Sometimes a student surprises you. Yesterday I was coaching an older player, one of the few non-juniors I'm coaching . He had some major technique problems with his forehand, and we'd been working for a few weeks on fixing them. His backhand, however, was pretty good. His overall level was about 1200 or so. I decided it was time to start him on looping. I figured we'd start with the backhand loop against backspin and spend a few weeks on that before moving on to the forehand loop, where I figured we'd have some problems.

So I went over the backhand loop stroke with him, making sure he had the technique down before actually hitting anything. Then I began feeding him multiball to his backhand with backspin. And he picked it up immediately! I was pleasantly surprised, but not shocked as he did have a pretty good backhand. We worked on it for perhaps 8-10 minutes, and I told him he should make that a strength.

Then, with about 15 minutes left in the session, I asked if he wanted to focus on serves the rest of the way or start work on the forehand loop. He wanted to try looping. So, weeks ahead of schedule, I went over the forehand loop with him, again making sure he had the technique down before hitting anything. Then I began fed him multiball. The very first shot - wham, a perfect loop! Okay, not perfect; he tended to stroke from the shoulder, and hit inside-out. But it looked like one of Timo Boll's patented inside-out forehand loops! We worked on it for ten minutes, and he did the shot over and over, no problem. I was severely impressed. We're going to continue working on these shots so that he can serve and loop from both wings against any push return. And then - dare I say it? - looping out of the rally? Or even counterlooping???

Message from Saive

Here's a video interview (7:19) from Belgium superstar Jean-Michel Saive, former world #1. He talks about his beginning, coaches, the importance of talent, and family.

Ellen Degeneres Surprises Tour Group with Private Ping Pong Tour

Here's the story and video (4:59) from Table Tennis Nation.

Adam Hugh's Second Entry

Yesterday I linked to Adam Hugh's entry to the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. He has a second entry (1:17). He wrote of this one, "This is my 2nd submission. Actually it was the first one I recorded and was originally intended to be a test for the camera but I figured what the heck." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

Adam Bobrow's 40-Shot Dialog Rally

Here's the video (60 sec) as he lobs away. (Spoilers ahead!) The smasher (Sherwin Afshar) yells something like "Foo-aw!" over and over, and Adam does it right back. Then the dialog begins: "Die!" "No." "Die!" "Not yet." "Die!" "Why?" It all ends with - you guessed it - an edge ball.

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March 22, 2013

Bar-T Exhibition

As noted in my blog yesterday, I did three hours of demonstrations and exhibitions at a health fair at a Bar-T yesterday. The location was about 200 yards from MDTTC, about a 3-iron shot away! They already had a table, so we physically carried over 14 barriers to create a playing court. I did all the talking, giving short intros, then stroke and footwork demonstrations, exhibitions, and then challenges from the audience (sometimes hitting around, sometimes playing games, and sometimes challenging them to return serves). We went through this routine every 30 minutes. My hitting partners were 2500 player Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") the first half, and 2600 player Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") the second half. John Hsu stayed the entire time to give out flyers and talk to potential players.

The actual turnout was not as great as I'd have hoped. When we do exhibitions for schools we typically get a gymnasium full of kids. (And we have plans now for doing a round of exhibitions at local schools - more on that when it comes up.)

One ironic moment - for one of our "shows," we only had about ten people watching. And then all but one had to suddenly had to leave - it turned out it was time for the belly dancing demo at the health fair, and all of them were either belly dancers or watchers! So we cancelled that segment and hit with the one viewer who remained, and others who came by shortly after. It's the first time in my 37 years in table tennis that I've ever lost an audience to belly dancing. Has this happened to you?

About halfway through, while reaching for a ball that had gone into some wooden shelves, I cut myself badly on my left index finger. It began to bleed pretty badly. Fortunately, being a health fair, they had a first aid kit available. I tried putting on a bandage from the kit, and it literally crumbled in my hand. How old was this kit? Older than my 37 years in table tennis? I grabbed a second band aid, and it too crumbled. I finally found one near the bottom that stayed together enough to cover the cut and stop the bleeding. It sufficed for the two hours before I was able to get home to clean it and put on a more recent vintage of a band aid.

Speaking of injuries, I'd pulled a muscle in my thigh during the hardbat competition at the Cary Cup last Friday. I'd been limping slightly since then, but able to coach against non-top players. I aggravated it a bit during the exhibitions, and will probably take today's session off. (Normally I'm a practice partner on Fridays from 5-7 PM for our Elite junior program.)

Explaining Spin to a Six-Year-Old

After the exhibition I still had two hours of coaching to do that afternoon. The most memorable memory of those two hours? Talking about spin for ten minutes with a very curious six-year-old. Literally every sentence out of his mouth began with "Why" or "How come," but I'd rather kids with such interest than ones without. And now the kid knows all about topspin, backspin, and sidespin, and their effects, advantages, and disadvantages - plus I taught him how to push for the first time, backspin to backspin, which he found fascinating. The funniest moment came after I explained and demonstrated sidespin, and he said that's how the earth spins! At some point I'll explain corkscrewspin to him.

Spring Break Camp

Our Spring Break Camp at Maryland Table Tennis Center is Mon-Fri next week, 10AM - 6PM. Come on out and join us! It's for all ages and levels, but will be pretty much dominated by local junior players on spring break from school. I mostly run the morning sessions, where I give short lectures and the mostly do multiball training. (Since it's mostly locals, the lectures will be very short - they've heard them all a zillion times.) We have a two-hour lunch break (with Chinese food delivered), and then the kids play various games, such as "Jungle Pong," while a dedicated few practice their serves or do other training. The afternoon sessions (run by Cheng and Jack) are about half drilling at the table, and half games. 

Table Tennista

Here are new articles at Table Tennista. They do great international coverage.

You Think Table Tennis Is Not a Sport Then Watch This

Here's a recent highlights video (9:13).

Jean-Michel Saive vs. Segun Toriola

Here's a video (8:59, with time between points removed) of an interesting match of two veterans from Belgium and Nigeria at the 2008 Olympics.

Aerobic Table Tennis in Spain

Here's a video (9:48) of an aerobic table tennis session with kids in Spain. Most of it takes place away from the table, but they hit the tables toward the end.

"Well, Kid, Ya Beat Me"

Here's one of my favorite table tennis cartoons, from the Far Side.

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March 13, 2012

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Well, almost. We actually finished the "first draft" on Saturday, and spent much of Sunday and all of Monday inputting changes from Tim's proofing of the pages. (He's very, Very, VERY picky!) I printed out the "final" version last night, but Tim's told me he has many more changes, which we'll be inputting today. Alas.

Meanwhile, you can order the first 11 volumes, and pre-order #12, at the Tim Boggan Table Tennis page. I've already updated the page and the new order form.

How I play "lower" players

The key to beating lower players consistently is to take control right from the start with serve and receive. On the serve, you should have lots of serve and attack patterns. The key is not to serve and go for winners unless the shot is there. Instead, serve and attack with placement to put pressure on the opponent, and let them miss or give you an easy ball. Don't give away easy points by going for reckless shots.

On my serve, I test all opponents out with a variety of short and long serves, looking for two things: serves that they can't return without giving me an easy opening attack (either a long push or weak flip receive), and serves that they pop up or miss outright. Then I focus on serve and steady attack, mixing in the serves that win points outright so that they don't get used to them. My serve and attack serves are mostly short serves with varying spin, often with sidespin, side-top, and no-spin disguised as backspin, and often backspin or side-backspin to set up loops if they push them long. If they can't attack my deep serves, then they'll get a lot of those.

If they can return my serve consistently without giving me easy attacks, and I don't have any serves that they consistently miss, then I have to put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game. In general, weaker players can't return my serve effectively.

On the receive, all I want to do is neutralize the serve and get into a neutral rally. Control is key. This usually means consistent loops or drives against deep serves, and varied receive against short serves. A push to the backhand corner that's quick off the bounce, deep, angled, low, and heavy, as well as the threat of a sudden push to the wide forehand, is usually all it takes to disarm a weaker player. A quick but not too aggressive flip that's well placed (again, usually to the backhand) also disarms most players. Once you've neutralized the serve, you can take control of the rally. If you can't neutralize the opponent on his serve, then put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players - again, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game.

You don't need to be too aggressive when receiving - that's the one time that even an aggressive player should focus on control. If the serve pops up or you see an long serve that you read well, you may go for a shot. But that's only because the opponent messes up on the serve. Instead, control the serve, and then look to attack. Control the serve doesn't mean just pushing the ball; if you can loop it, or topspin it from over the table, do so, but focus on spin and control, not speed.

Once in the rally, find the weaker player's weaker side and go after it every chance. Move the ball around, but do so mostly to pull the opponent out of position so you can go after the weaker side. Focus on steady aggressive shots rather than risky point-winners, but be ready to pounce on the many weak balls you'll probably get.

If there's something the weaker player does in rallies that gives you trouble, and it's something you can't avoid getting, then play into it early to get used to it. For example, when I play a shakehands player with short pips on the backhand, I like to go straight backhand to backhand early on to get used to the pips. Once I'm comfortable with that I start moving the ball around, often attacking the middle. (Shakehand players with short pips are notoriously weak in the middle - they generally try to play quick off the bounce, so have little time to react to the middle, and their pips don't have the extra rebounding effect of inverted, meaning they have to stroke more with less time to cover the middle.)

So the key to beating lower players consistently is to serve and attack, but not over-attack; and control the receive to get into a neutral rally, and then get the attack.

One last thought - do you want to know the opponent's rating or level in advance? Most players do, but it often messes them up if the rating isn't accurate. I also like to know an opponent's rating, but I'm quick to put it aside if they can handle my serve, if I can't neutralize them on their serve, or if they are strong ralliers. Many players are more successful by not knowing an opponent's rating, and simply playing their game. I generally consider anyone rated within 300 rating points of me as a "threat," and even if they aren't a serious threat, a primary reason why they are not a threat is because I treat them as a threat.

Ariel & Lily on TV

Here's TV coverage of Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:22), the U.S. women's singles champion and finalist and the top two junior girls in the U.S. as well. 

Tribute to Jean-Michel Saive

Here's a tribute video to Saive (11:30), one of the all-time greats and former #1 in the world. He's one of the most spectacular players ever, with his combination of all-out forehand looping and off-table lobbing and fishing, as well as his one of the more livelier players between points.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Vol. 12

Tim suggested this one. It's not exactly table tennis, but there are human skulls! It's about Dr. Michael Scott's 1983 travels in Northern Borneo.

Here’s USTTA Sports Medicine Chair Dr. Michael Scott (SPIN, Dec., 1983, 18) to tell us about some of his recent travels to places where U.S. players and officials are normally not seen:

Among the most fascinating of my world travel experiences was a visit with the Dyak headhunters of Northern Borneo. To reach them [what in the hell did you want to reach them for?—you were gonna teach them ping-pong, lecture them on the dangers of melanoma? (“Let me see your scalp, your neck, please?”] I had to be flown in by plane and then take a lengthy river trip in a small outboard boat.

When the 'Headman' welcomes you to the longhouse (communal dwelling), shoes are removed upon entering the covered porch, and tan woven mats are spread on its spotless hardwood floor. Inhabitants and guests gather in a ten-foot circle sitting cross-legged. While seated in this circle, I glanced up and observed numerous human skulls dangling from the porch’s ceiling. They were suspended by a short rattan cord that entered through a small hole drilled in the vertex of the skull. Elderly men were tattooed, many even on the anterior aspect of their throat. The location of the tattoo was significant—for example, neck tattoos indicate the tribesman did the capitation himself. Fortunately, the last known incident occurred in the 1960’s.

When I ran out of gifts, I presented one Dyak Headman an embroiderd USTTA emblem. He was totally perplexed as to what it was or what he was to do with it. He turned it sideways, upside down, flipped it over, and still could not determine a use for it. {Not a good idea to frustrate him, do you think?] Another Dyak finally took it and placed it against the Headman’s T-shirt. I’m certain he’s the only headhunter with an official USTTA emblem.”

Perkins the Cat

He/she just wants the ball, and gets the net instead (0:17).


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February 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Opening Up the Forehand Zone.

Opening Up the Forehand Zone, Part II

The following happened on Saturday night - and I swear it happened after I wrote this week's Tip of the Week. (And now you know what I do on Saturday nights.)

I had a new student, around age 40, with some serious technique problems. His level was somewhere under 1000 in USATT ratings. He'd had a few lessons before at another club, but things hadn't gone well there. As soon as we started hitting forehand to forehand, you could see he had a serious problem with his grip, which seemed to lead to an awkward forehand. His finger pointed upward on the blade, his wrist fell backward, and he more or less punched at the ball in front of him instead of from the side. The obvious and easiest solution was to fix his grip, and then work on the stroke. And that's exactly what others had tried to get him to do. It hadn't worked.

At the USATT coaching seminar I taught last year I regularly harped on the idea of fixing the root cause of problems, not the symptoms. And that's what others had tried to do - the grip wasn't the cause of his problems, it was a symptom of the root cause, which was that he was playing his forehand with a backhand stance, feet parallel to the table, with little waist or shoulder rotation. He was only using about the front one-fourth of his forehand hitting zone, while facing forward. This forced him to adjust his grip to compensate. It took only a few minutes to fix the problem in practice: move the right (back) foot back some, rotate the waist and shoulders, and contact the ball toward the middle of the hitting zone. The key was to start out by hitting forehand to forehand very slowly, focusing on proper technique and timing, until the stroke became ingrained enough to speed up some.

The player still has a lot of practice to do in order to ingrain this new and better forehand technique. If he puts in the time, his stroke will be fine.

Happy Birthday to Sheeba and Me

Today's my 52nd birthday, so people can no longer say I'm not playing with a full deck. (It's also Chelsea Clinton's 32nd birthday. We always go out together and celebrate with root beers.) It's also Sheeba's 78th birthday. Okay, Sheeba is my dog, about 3/4 corgi, 1/4 some sort of hound, and she's actually only 14, though we only know that she was born in February of 1998 (that's from the form about her when I adopted her from a shelter in 2002 when she was four) , but we celebrate it on my birthday. According to the Dog Age Calculator, as a 30 pound dog, she's 78. Here's her picture (from a few years ago, but she looks almost the same), and here she is straining to eat bacon snacks.

Arm problems

With age comes physical problems. Or perhaps they aren't related. My arm has been bothering me for several days, and sometime during yesterday's mornings three hours of coaching it got much worse. That afternoon I was playing matches in a group session (where I'm a practice partner), and had to stop. The injury appears to be a muscle strain, on the forearm, just below the inner elbow, on the right. Here's a picture, with a black dot marking the injury. Any doctors, trainers, or others with suggestions on rehabbing it, other than rest and icing it?

USATT Paralympic Program Manager

USATT has hired Jasna Reed as the Para Program Manager for 2012, a new USATT position. Jasna, two-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, Olympic Bronze Medalist in Women's Doubles, and head table tennis coach at Texas Wesleyan University, has extensive experience in Paralympic table tennis. Here's an interview I did with Jasna back in 2001, with picture.

2012 USA Table Tennis Budget

Here it is: Income Statement Summary | Income Statement Detail | Programmatic Summary

Table Tennis in New York Times

Here's an article in the New York Times on Saturday on Ariel Hsing's Olympic dreams.

Interview with Jorg Rosskopf

German great Jorg Rosskopf was interviewed just yesterday as he prepares for the 2012 Worlds.

2012 Kuwait Open Final

Jun Mizutani (JPN) defeats Ryu Seung Min (KOR) in the Kuwait Open Final on Feb. 18, 2012. Time between points is taken out, so it's non-stop action with the whole match shown in 6:37. Here are results and articles on the tournament.

Hilarious exhibition

Here's an exhibition between Jean-Michel Saive (on left at start) and Andrzej Grubba at the 1996 Gilbert Cup in Beverly Hills (7:36).


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