Tim Boggan

May 23, 2012

U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame

Have you ever visited the online U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame? There are 134 members - 87 players and 47 officials/contributors. It's a fascinating look back at the players and other people that dominated and influenced table tennis in the U.S. since the formation of USA Table Tennis (then U.S. Table Tennis Association) in 1933. Tim Boggan has written profiles of each of them, which are linked here - spend a day reading over them. Someday they should be made into a book.

I've met 79 of them. (I'm not sure how you could "meet" six of the "contributors" inducted - Detroiter, General Sportcraft, Harvard Table Tennis, Nippon Takkyu, P. Becker and Co., and Tamasu Co. Since I've used or played against equipment made by each of these companies, does that mean I've "met" 85?) Go over the list; how many have you met or seen? (And if you studiously read my blog, you can count me as "met"!)

There's also this U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame page, but its listings seem a few years out of date, only going to 2008. It lists the U.S. Hall of Fame Committee, history, retrospectives, annual banquet info, etc.

In addition to the 134 Hall of Famers, there are the 14 recipients of the Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award. (They are all also members of the Hall of Fame.)  I've met all but Leah Thall Neuberger. The recipients are: Bobby Gusikoff, Sol Schiff, Jimmy McClure, Dick Miles, Marty Reisman, J. Rufford Harrison, Leah Thall Neuberger, Thelma "Tybie" Thall Sommer, Joseph R. "Tim" Boggan, George Braithwaite, Danny Seemiller, Houshang Bozorgzadeh, Fred Danner, and Mal Anderson.

And since we're talking history here, don't forget to get your copies of History of U.S. Table Tennis, with twelve volumes published! (Volume 12 just came out.) Tim Boggan is already well into Vol. 13. He just sent me the first six chapters; I do the page layouts for him.

19th Maccabiah Games

If you are Jewish and would like to represent the U.S. in the Maccabiah Games in Israel, July 17-30, here's the info page.

MSNBC Visits Spin

Here's a video from MSNBC (4:09) in their "Sara in the City" segment, on Spin New York, the social table tennis club partially owned by actress Susan Sarandon.

Best of Table Tennis Video

Here's another great video (9:40) of great points. It's set to music, with lots of slow motion. One of the best compilation of great points I've seen.

Hunter Pence Table Tennis

Table Tennis Nation brings us this video of baseball player Hunter Pence of the Philadelphia Phillies playing table tennis. In the linked video the table tennis begins just past the eight minute mark.

Water Table Tennis

Here's the newest craze: water table tennis! Here's another picture.

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April 25, 2012

Set-up serves versus point-winning serves

I was teaching serves to a new student recently, and started to launch into my usual speech about the purpose of serves. Before I could finish, he interrupted and said, "I don't want to focus on serves that opponents miss. I want serves that set me up to do my best shots." He then explained how he wouldn't feel comfortable if he tried to win points on the serve outright, since if the serve did come back it likely wouldn't be setting up his strengths. Instead, he wanted serves that allowed him to use his relatively strong backhand. He also wanted to use serves to help set up his developing forehand and backhand, since the practice he'd get from using these serves and following up with a loop would make his attack stronger. 

I was stunned - this was exactly what I was about to explain, and this relative beginner already understood this. (Okay, he later admitted he'd read some articles of mine on the subject, such as this one, and in past blogs.) But that meant he'd done his research before signing up for lessons with me, which is always a good thing.) The key point is that while your serves should put pressure on an opponent (and thereby win many points outright), they should primarily be used to set up your best shot, or to help develop your attacking shots (which then become your best shots).

Because of his strong backhand, I showed the player how to serve various sidespin and topspin serves, both short and long, and with placements that would primarily favor returns to his backhand. (I also gave him the example of Dave Sakai, a USATT Hall of Fame player with a similar style of play that favored the backhand, and explained how Dave served to force opponents into backhand exchanges, often with short side-top serves to the backhand.) We also worked on short backspin serves that would set up his forehand and backhand loops, often placing these shots so as to force returns to his backhand. By mixing up these type of serves he'll develop a strong set of tactical weapons to use against anybody.

But we didn't completely leave out "trick" serves - as I explained (and he'd already read), you are handicapping yourself if you don't develop some trick serves that are designed to win points outright. Such trick serves tend to either win points outright or give opponents a ball to attack, so if they are over-used they lose their value. But used here and there, they not only win points, they give the opponent one more thing to watch for, thereby making your other serves even better.

Tim Boggan seeing red

Poor Tim Boggan. He was quite comfortable in the typewriter age, and then the world had to go and invent the computer. He uses one for his writing now (using Microsoft Word), along with that Internet thing (for email), but he and the computer have an adversarial relationship. Yesterday all of the text of the article he was writing turned red. In a state of hysteria, he called me and pleaded for help. (He called my cell phone, another device that continually amazes him. Keep in mind that he gave me permission to make fun of him in return for my help.) I was in the middle of a coaching session, but I called him back later that day. At first thinking he had actually turned the text red, I explained how to change font colors. However, that didn't work. I finally figured out that he'd somehow gotten into "Track Changes" mode, and the red was how Word kept track of changes, i.e. new text. I painstakingly explained what was happening and how to fix it, which is similar to explaining calculus to my dog Sheeba. Fortunately, Sheeba is very smart, and Tim is as well (well, in non-technical matters), and we finally got the text back to normal. But I fear it won't be the last time he will see red in his interactions with that confounded computer thing.

ICC's Three Olympians

There are zillions of articles on the USA Olympic Trials and the four Americans who qualified. Here's a good one that features the three that trained at the ICC club.

Koki Niwa upsets Ma Long

Here's the video of Koki Niwa of Japan, world #19, upsetting world #1 Ma Long of China (8:00) 4-2 (-8, 4, 8, 10, -5, 9) at the Asian Olympic Qualification, Apr. 19-22, with the time between points removed.

The most nonchalant point-winning block ever made

Watch this 28-second video and see Waldner basically stroll over and block a forehand winner against Timo Boll!

Adoni Maropis being silly

Yes, this is Adoni Maropis, the guy who nuked Valencia, California (on "24," season six) and is the reigning National Hardbat Champ. Click on the pictures and you'll see two more of Adoni, and if you keep clicking, you'll find a bunch more, including a number of table tennis action shots.

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March 14, 2012

All-out Attackers and Ball Control

All-out attackers often believe that they have to attack all out. It's the death of many a game. While it's true that a strong attacker should attack most of the time, there's one time where they shouldn't look to always attack - when receiving. If they can only attack the serve, while the opponent has more variation, then, all things being equal, they are toast.

Instead of blindly attacking every serve, an "all-out attacker" should mix in subtle returns, such as short pushes and sudden quick ones. This keeps the opponent off guard, and so when the attacker does attack the serve, it's far more effective. At the highest levels, the top players are great at mixing in flips and short pushes to mess up opponents. Players at all levels from intermediate up should learn to do return serves with such variation. If you are an all-out attacker, then you use the receive to disarm the opponent, and look to attack (or counter-attack) the next ball.

If you always attack the serve, then the server knows the ball is coming out to him, and can hang back waiting for the aggressive receive. This, combined with your missing by being so aggressive, gives him a tactical advantage. However, if the receiver's not sure if you are going to attack the ball, push it back heavy (so he has to drop down to loop) or drop it short (so he can't hang back and wait for your shot), he's going to have trouble reacting to your receive. If you can hide what you are going to do until the last second, and perhaps change directions at the last second as well, it will further mess up the poor server and set you up to attack the next ball. 

Ironically, I'm one of the great offenders of this "don't attack every serve" rule - but only when I play hardbat. When I use sponge, I mostly use control to receive while mixing in aggressive returns. When I play hardbat, I attack nearly every serve, hoping to set up my forehand on the next ball. I do so both because I don't play enough hardbat to have the control to finesse the serve back, and because if I don't attack the serve it leaves my overly-weak hardbat backhand open to attack. (In sponge I have a steady backhand; in hardbat my backhand is awful, and so I usually chop backhands while hitting all-out on the forehand.) Also, in hardbat, if I attack the serve I don't have ot worry about a sponge counter-hit; it's much harder to do that with hardbat. I mention my hardbat game because I'm off to defend my hardbat titles at the Cary Cup from 2010 and 2011. Hopefully my overly aggressive receives won't make me "toast"!

It's also important not to return every serve defensively. Sometimes be aggressive, sometimes use control. Variety messes up an opponent. Predictability does not. 

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Yes, all 460 pages and 837 photos are done and sent to the printer as PDFs. Now I get a day to rest before leaving for Cary. Wait . . . did I say rest? Today I tutor calculus for two hours (I do that once a week), coach table tennis two hours, and do my taxes. Meanwhile, Tim Boggan has already found a number of items that need to be changed. On Monday, after the Cary Cup, I get to input the new changes and send new PDFs to the printer.

Amazing table tennis shots from 2011

Here's a nice selection (8:49). I vaguely remember some of these shots, and there's a chance I posted this video before, but it's worth watching again.

Table Tennis on Talk Show

Talk show host and actor/comedian Chris Gethard shows up, plays, and videos a table tennis tournament for his show, "The Chris Gethard Show" (2:03).

A scientific experiment using ping-pong balls

The video (1:40) is about the transfer of energy and, indirectly, whether or not the flooring under a table affects play.

Lighting ping-pong balls on fire

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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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March 9, 2012

Shouldn't there be an age limit for backhand looping?

Yesterday I coached one of our 7-year-olds for an hour. That in itself is rare - most at that age do only 30 minutes at a time. But this one was a bit ahead of the curve for the average kid in that age bracket. He loops just about everything on both sides. He regularly backhand loops 5-6 in a row against a block. And he can fish and lob with heavy topspin, often forcing me to miss smashes not because I couldn't handle the spin, but because I was having difficulty believing he was putting that much spin on the ball.

This is how the game is changing. There was a time when few kids would learn to loop before they were 9 or 10, and that would only be against backspin. Looping against topspin wouldn't start until even later. Now, with sponges that practically loop the ball for you, and with more and more full-time training centers with full-time coaches popping up around the country, the level of play is going up dramatically, and players fall behind if they wait until they are 9 or 10 to learn to do what others are doing earlier.

Many of the top sub-10-year-olds still mostly hit in matches, but the better ones are looping more and more in practice, and it's just a matter of time before they incorporate this into matches. It's scary watching a 10-year-old flawlessly backhand looping off the bounce over and over in drills, and knowing you will have to face that in matches.

Hitting the backhand is almost passé at the higher levels. At the world-class level, a hitter very quickly is turned into a blocker by a looping opponent; even smashes are often looped back. Even to me, playing at only a 2200 level, it's not hard to play a hitter - you just take a half step back to give yourself time to react, and then just rally them down, using their own pace against them as you move them around or pin them on their weaker side (usually the backhand), and look for balls to loop back. Against someone who loops everything you can't effectively back up to give yourself time to react (unless you can counterloop), and so you are stuck at the table blocking - and then the pace becomes overwhelming since you have no time to react that close to the table. Add that these kids are now looping right off the bounce on the backhand, and with more and more power on the forehand, and it's a nightmare out there.

Unless, of course, you are the one doing the looping. When I play these up-and-coming kids, the key is to use serve and receive so I'm the one initiating the attack, forcing them to react. It allows you to at least get in a few good shots before facing the inevitable blitzkrieg.

Injury checklist

  • Forearm: I injured that on Sunday, Feb. 26. Since that time I've rested it by not looping or hitting any forehands very hard, and avoiding repetitive forehand shots. (This is not easy since I'm coaching several hours each day, but I've had most students drill into my backhand.) It's coming along fine, and I expect to be back to normal in another week or so. Hopefully. This weekend I'm going to play matches chopping with a hardbat, as I will be doing at the Cary Cup next weekend.
  • Hip: On Tuesday, a few hours after I finished coaching, I began feeling an almost burning pain in my left hip. Since that time I've been hobbling about. I'm hoping this will heal on its own, but we'll see. It doesn't affect my coaching much except I can't move to my wide forehand very well.
  • Back: After spending many months last year partly debilitated by back problems, it's pretty much okay after doing lots of stretching and weight training. However, due to hip injury, I stopped weight training a few days ago, and already there are hints of returning back problems.
  • Knees: I've had knee problems periodically over the years, though never really bad. When I do, I wear knee braces, which really help. After some problems last fall, the knees have been fine for a while. Yippee!
  • Brain: After way too many hours these past ten days working all day with Tim Boggan on the layouts and photos of History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, and coaching at night, the brain is toast.

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

This is from Chapter 27 - with USA Team Member Mike Bush writing about fellow teammate Eric Boggan's match with future U.S. Hall of Fame Player (and now fellow coach at MDTTC) Cheng Yinghua  at the 1983 Hungarian Open, when Eric was ranked in the top 20 in the world. Here's the photo of Cheng (by Mal Anderson) that accompanies the article, also from the 1983 Hungarian Open.

Eric played Cheng Yinghua in the last-16 round. Cheng, a righty shakehand topspinner, beat Sweden’s Waldner in five games in the round of 64 [some early match-up that was!]. I remembered Cheng’s versatile game from the German Open three years ago where he’d been spinning every ball against Dvoracek in the final of the Team event. Late in the second game, however, Cheng had gotten severe hamstring cramps and in the third had stayed up to the table and blocked Dvoracek down, sometimes blocking literally more than 40 topspins to win the point.

Eric went into the match with the same strategy that he’d beaten Gergely with. It was amazing what took place. Cheng had no problems moving in or out (or laterally for that matter). He could spin powerfully and with control from both sides, defend, block and counter. Eric blocked and dropped, blocked and dropped, looped and killed. The points were very long but Cheng kept winning them. He just kept putting in one more shot or making one more return than Eric. Match to Cheng, 10, 9, 13.

"A Throwback Player, With a Wardrobe to Match"

That's the subheading of this article yesterday in the New York Times on Marty Reisman.

"Rising from the Slumber, the Sleeping Giant Awakes"

That's the title of this article from the ITTF on Kanak & Prachi Jha, and the rise of American Table Tennis.

Clipboard Table Tennis

This is the Official Clipboard Promotional Video (1:52), featuring Tahl Leibovitz and Al Papp (the lefty) at the start, with Berndt Mann officiating, Wendell Dillon the referee who (humorously) objects to the illegal (i.e. non-Legal sized) clipboards, and then Marty Reisman (in the hat) and Berndt Mann play.

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February 28, 2012

Tim Arrives

Yes, that's Tim Boggan, USATT Historian and past president, and, well, just about everything else. (Here's his short bio, his USATT Hall of Fame bio, and here's my long 1996 interview with him, with pictures.) As some of you may know, he's been writing a comprehensive History of U.S. Table Tennis, with eleven volumes published, and number twelve just written. Every year about this time he makes the drive from New York to Maryland and moves in with me for two weeks, sleeping on my sofa, and spending the day looking over my shoulder as I lay out the pages and do photo work for the next volume, with each book about 500 pages. ("No, it goes there, you fool!" he'll say as he smacks me with a hardbat.) Here's the page I maintain for him on his books. It's going to be a busy two weeks as we work from roughly 7AM (he's a morning person) until 5PM or so (he lets me have a lunch break), and then I run off to the club to coach.

Arm update

As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I hurt my arm over the weekend. It was still bothering me yesterday, but mostly when I played fast. I was hitting mostly with beginning-intermediate players, and mostly just blocked, so it wasn't too bad. I'm a little worried about what'll happen when I hit with stronger players, as I will in my sessions tonight. We'll see.

Topspin on the Backhand

Just as on February 23, I had a student yesterday who had difficulty hitting his backhand with any topspin. This time the primary problem was that he was constantly reaching for the ball. Against his better instincts (he's 10), I got him to sloooooow down, and move to each ball so he could hit from a better position. Suddenly his backhand picked up. After struggling to get even ten in a row, he suddenly got into a rhythm and hit 145 straight. More importantly, he was hitting them properly.

Chinese National Team

Here's an inspirational video of the Chinese National Team (2:39), with background narration by "The Hip Hop Preacher" that starts out, ""Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute or an hour or a day or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever."

The Falkenberg Drill

Here's a video (3:10) that demonstrates what many consider the best table tennis drill - you learn to cover the wide forehand, the wide backhand, and the step around forehand. It's called the Falkenberg Drill because it was popularized there by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's also called the 2-1 drill or the backhand-forehand-forehand drill.

Jan-Ove Waldner breaking his racket

Here's a video of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner accidentally breaking his racket (0:47).

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