Serving

September 16, 2011

Wang Liqin forehand loop

In regular and slow motion (0:46) The perfect loop? Note the smooth weight transfer and body rotation as he creates torque. He's a three time World Men's Singles Champion (2001, 2005, 2007), world #1 for 25 consecutive months (second most ever), and winner of 21 Pro Tour singles events, the most ever. And I once interviewed him (through a translator) and shook his hand. Yes, my playing hand touched his. Regrettably, I've washed it since.

Service practice reminder

The following is a public service address. Remember that serve that let you down at the last tournament? The one that was going slightly high, or slightly long, or that nobody seemed to have trouble with? Isn't it time you go out and fix that problem for next time? Get a bucket of balls and practice. Here's a ten-point plan to serving success. I've got a bunch of other articles on serving here

USA Table Tennis Leagues

Yesterday there was an email exchange among USATT and other officials regarding the USA League Finals at the USA Nationals. Should they be an open event, where anyone can show up representing a region, or should they only allow teams representing a region with an established regional league? I'm strongly for the latter. There are established leagues in some areas (such as BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL, representing the bay area (San Francisco region), Los Angeles, and New York (which includes teams from states as far away as Maryland). Here's my response.

"I really, Really, REALLY hope we can turn these leagues into a national thing. This is how many European countries developed huge memberships. I strongly recommend going with only allowing regions that have established leagues; otherwise, it's just another open event at the Nationals, and there's no incentive to grow. We need a nationwide network of leagues like these or we'll always struggle to gain membership. I also hope that those developing these leagues (BATTF, NYTTL, LATTF, others) have studied or will study how the European and Asian leagues started up and grew so that we can steal ideas from them in developing a USA model."

In another email, I wrote:

"I think there are some misconceptions about leagues. First, setting up leagues should not be a primary goal; they are the MEANS to a primary goal, which is to drastically increase membership, as has happened in other countries all over the world and in other sports. (They are an intermediate goal on the way toward this primary goal.) Our membership has been described as a round-off error, and that's not going to change until we do something to change it."

"Second, leagues are not set up for the benefit of the few existing clubs. They are set up to bring in new players which leads to new clubs set up primarily for league play. Germany, for example, didn't create its leagues for the benefit of its 11,000 clubs, which didn't exist at the time. It was the leagues that led to the 11,000 clubs. Before they created their leagues, they were in a similar situation as the U.S."

"Leagues and full-time training centers with full-time coaches and junior programs are beginning to take off around the U.S. . . . and that is the most promising thing I've ever seen in our sport."

I also wrote some strongly worded criticism of USATT's lack of effort in the league department, but I won't post that here at this time. Suffice to say they were severely reprimanded. Severely!!!

U.S. and NA Olympic Trials in Cary, NC

Here's your chance to buy tickets to see the U.S. Olympic Trials (Feb. 9-12, 2012) and North American Olympic Trials (April 20-22, 2012), both in Cary, NC.

Golf Pong

Yes, it's Golf Pong as former junior star Grant Li takes on golf pros Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, and Frederick Jacobson. Jacobson was a nationally ranked player in Sweden twenty years ago, who still plays in San Diego occasionally with Stellan Bengtsson in San Diego. (3:33, but doesn't get to the table tennis until 2:12.)

Machete Pong

Yes, it's Machete Pong as Comedian Jimmy Fallon takes on English adventurer, writer and television presenter Bear Grylls. (2:47, but starts with a 16-second commercial.)

Car Pong

Yes, it's Car Pong. Really. (0:14)

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August 3, 2011

Perfecting your serve

Samson Dubina (2009 USA Nationals Men's Singles Finalist and full-time coach) explains how to perfect your serve, breaking it down point by point. I've always said serve and receive are the most under-developed parts of the game for most players. And serves are the easiest part to develop since you can practice them alone. To quote Nike, just do it!

Here are some articles I've written on serving:

Here are some videos on serving:

Drop shot against a lob

Here's a Pingskills coaching video on how to drop shot a lob (2:23). I'm a little hesitant about drop-shotting lobs that land short as those are the very ones you can smother kill at wide angles, but if you don't have great power, and you are up against a good lobber who's in position and just gave a ferociously topspinny lob that goes short, this is often the best option.

Trolley Car Table Tennis Club

Back on April 8, Philadelphia joined the ever-growing number of big cities with full-time table tennis centers with the Trolley Car Table Tennis Club. They are now they are running a coaching clinic (Aug. 6-7 with coaches Razvan Cretu and Choor Oh) as well as their third tournament (Aug. 13-14, with others scheduled every two months). The club has four coaches (Razvan Cretu, Gerald Reid, Enoch Green, and Choor Oh), eight tables, has a league on Tuesday nights, and is open seven days a week. Here's video (0:24) of their Grand Opening, which includes Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter playing.

Full-time table tennis centers

I'm thinking of putting together a listing of full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. I know of most of them, but if you know of any "obscure" ones, or want to put together a listing yourself, please send it to me! I know of a number in Maryland, the San Francisco bay area, Los Angeles, New York City, and a few here and there. I may have certain requirements - a room with a table isn't a full-time table tennis center. To me, a full-time center (roughly speaking) has a website, at least five or more tables, is open seven days a week (six is acceptable), has professional coaches (preferably at least one full-time), a junior program, and a league. If it's missing one of these but has most of the others, it might make the cut. (This will probably be in tomorrow's blog.)

Back problems - update

As noted in a number of blog posts, I've been having major upper back problems the last few months, which has dramatically affected my coaching and playing. (I already saw an orthopedist sports medicine doctor, and am doing various back exercises.) This past weekend I coached only one hour on Saturday, all multiball, and my back was pretty much okay. On Sunday, I coached two and a half hours - some multiball, most live - and my back was starting to go. Then Coach Cheng Yinghua talked me into joining the two-hour junior session, saying I'd only play beginners. (I had been doing this regularly until my back problems started.) Somehow I agreed, and two hours later my back had gone from bad to massive catastrophe. I was in agonizing pain the next two days. Here's an experiment for you: get a spear, heat up the tip over a fire, and then stick it in your upper back. Welcome to my world.

I've got a two-week camp at Maryland Table Tennis Center starting next week (Aug. 8-12, 15-19, plus regular coaching on the weekend in between), and since that's my job, I'm stocking up with Ibuprofen. Afterwards I may bring in one of our top junior players to do my hitting for me when I coach for 4-6 weeks so the back can heal.

Director Spike Jonze playing with a what?

No day is complete without a picture of Director Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," "Where the Wild Things Are," many more) playing table tennis with his shoe. (And I just learned from his online bio that he lives in Rockville, Maryland, just a few miles from me!)***

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June 27, 2011

Gmail problem

This weekend I was hit with a virtual avalanche of spammers on both the Forum and Blog comments. They all came with varied (and apparently random) gmail addresses. I ended up spending many hours personally deleting several hundred postings and blocking (one by one) over one hundred gmail addresses. Finally, rather than put into place more stringent requirements for registration - something I may have to do later on - I simply blocked all gmail accounts.

If you have a gmail account, you probably can't post or comment right now, and probably can't register. If you have an alternate email, please use that. If you only have gmail, please email me and let me know; it would be helpful to know if many real people are affected by this. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Since I'm leaving for the U.S. Open on Wednesday, I'm probably going to have to leave gmail blocked until I return. Then I'll decide if I have to use more stringent registration procedures. (Which I haven't really researched yet.) The last thing I want to do is spend the U.S. Open deleting spam and blocking individual posters all day long.

Speaking of the U.S. Open...

I leave in (checks watch) exactly 46 hours and six minutes. It's in Milwaukee; here's the info page. I'm there primarily to coach, but I'm also entered in three hardbat events: Open Hardbat (I'm two-time champion), Open Hardbat Doubles (I'm ten-time and defending champion from the Nationals), and Over 40 Hardbat (I'm four-time and defending champion from the Nationals). (Note that when I list how many times I've won I'm including both the Open and Nationals.) If there's a conflict between playing hardbat and coaching an important match, I'll have to default and coach - that's my primary purpose there. (I'll mostly be coaching Tong Tong Gong, a member of the USA Cadet team from my club.) I'm normally a sponge player, but I've been playing hardbat on the side for a few decades. I also expect to attend a few USATT meetings.

Complex Versus Simple Tactics

This week's Tip of the Week is on [read headline, duh!].

The Dominating and Limiting Factors in Your Game?

What are the dominating and limiting factors in your game? Too often players only look at what they do well, and forget the latter, the things they don't do well, i.e. the things opponents go after. I remember watching a player with great footwork and a great loop lose a match because he couldn't effectively return the opponent's simply short backspin serve. Over the next week, the player practiced every day, focusing almost exclusively on his strengths, footwork and looping. He never addressed the problem of his weak return of a short backspin serve. 

A player's level is really based on three things. There are the things he does well (i.e. the things you dominate with); the things he doesn't do well (i.e. the limiting factors that hold you back), and everything else (things you don't dominate with but don't hold you back). I generally advise players to practice everything you do in a game, but focus on making the strengths overpowering while removing any weaknesses. At any given level you need to have at least one thing that scares the opponent while not having any glaring weaknesses the opponent can easily play into.

Great exhibition points

Here's a montage of great exhibition points (4:31), to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama." You can always turn off the sound.

Forehand Pendulum Serve

Here's an interesting two-minute video that shows ten different forehand pendulum serves, both in real time and in slow motion.

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June 21, 2011

Serious Goofing Off versus Non-serious Goofing Off

Some players simply do not understand the advantage of SGO (Serious Goofing Off) versus NGO (Non-serious Goofing Off, with apologies to numerous Vietnamese players). In SGO, you are simply goofing off, and besides insulting your opponent, you are not only not helping yourself, you are developing bad habits. However, SGO can actually be valuable. For example, I saw one of our junior players play a lobber by constantly faking a smash and then just patting the ball back. I pulled him aside and said, "If you are going to drop shot his lob, then try to drop it for a winner." In other words, instead of just patting it back, he should go for a side-spin chop block, and try to double-bounce it so the lobber couldn't even get to it, or had to lunge. Another example: If you are going to lob, try to win the lob point with heavy spin (both topspin and sidespin), basically a high loop. Another example: If you are going to just return the serve without attacking it, then, well, do something serious with it - fake one way and go the other, and try to win the point with a "weak" return. Aim to this backhand, and as he's stepping around, go to the forehand and try not to giggle as the server stumbles all over the place trying to get to it.

Who was the all-time greatest SGO champion? Jan-Ove Waldner. You don't develop his touch and control without some serious SGO.

Why can't you serve like this?

Well, why can't you? There really are two types of serves: those whose purpose is to set you up to attack ("third-ball serves"), and those whose purpose is to either win the point outright or set up an easy winner ("surprise serves"). You should develop both.

Highlights of day one of the MDTTC Camp

Weird stuff happened on the first day of the camp here in Maryland. I was feeding multiball to one kid who was looping, and the ball I fed him hit a ball rolling on his side of the table, and bounced up almost normal. Without hesitation, the kid looped it away. That alone was strange, but about two shots later one of his shots hit my paddle as I was feeding him another shot, and both balls shot toward him. He looped both balls (on the table) with one stroke. One came at me, and hit my paddle again, and again both balls shot at him. Again he hit both balls, and although one went off, this was when we both practically fell to the ground laughing. Later, when someone accidentally (I hope) hit a ball at me, I ducked. A girl asked why I ducked, and I said because I was afraid of the ball hitting me. She called me a "ducking chicken."

And we also taught some table tennis.

ITTF Coaches in the U.S.

There are now 29 ITTF certified coaches in the U.S., including myself. Eleven of them are from the ITTF Coaching seminar in Maryland I ran in April. (To qualify, coaches not only had to take the 24-hour course, but also complete 30 hours of coaching, including five "supervised" by an ITTF coach or other approved high-level coach.) The eleven are Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD). To see all 29 ITTF coaches from the U.S., see the ITTF coaches listing (set country to USA).

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May 30, 2011

Every point is a match.

That's the piece of advice I've been giving players in tournaments a lot this year. Most competitive matches are won by just a few points. Give away two points a game, and half the games you would have won in a competitive match are lost. Give away even one point a game, and you lose all those deuce games you won, and half those 11-9 games you won. So treasure every point. Stop before serving and receiving and make sure you really are ready. If serving, think tactically about what's the best serve to use. If receiving, consider how you can mess up the opponent with your receive. If you play like every point is a match, you'll win a lot of matches.

Easterns

From a purely won-loss perspective, it wasn't the most successful tournament I've coached at. Players I coached this past weekend at the Eastern Open in New Jersey developed a nasty tendency to not play well, and for some reason there's a correlation between not playing well and not winning. Three times players I coached were at 9-all in the fifth, and all three times they lost 11-9. (That's the stuff that makes nightmares.) But many Marylanders did well.

Nine-year-old Crystal Wang, rated 2009, upset players rated 2321, 2182, 2145, and 2038, winning Under 22 Women and making the semifinals of Under 2250. Ten-year-old Derek Nie, rated 1866, upset players rated 2202, 2083, and 2022, making the semifinals of Under 16 Boys (as did his brother, George, with both losing in the opposite sides in the semis). Xiyao "Pamela" Song won Under 18 Girls and was second in Under 22 Women. And let's not forget Jeff Smart, the Over 50 winner! (He attended the recent ITTF Coaching Seminar I ran at MDTTC - see how much he learned?) And of course Xun "Jeffrey" Zeng won the Open! So Maryland brought home a few titles.

Derek Nie was fun to coach. Against the 2202 player he upset, the key was mixing up serves (especially his "tomahawk" serve, though he needs to toss it up more), and a mixture of aggressive attacks and dead blocks to the forehand. In the fifth game, the scores tell a story: he led 6-1, 6-4 (I called a timeout at 6-3), 9-4, 9-8, 11-8.

I spent much of my time coaching 13-year-old Tong Tong Gong (2298, on USA National Cadet Team). He didn't have a good tournament, mostly because his normally extremely good backhand wasn't extremely good. (Lack of confidence in that led to a lack of confidence in other shots. It's a nasty cycle many go through.) We pretty much know the cause of his backhand problems - he's in the transitional stage from mostly hitting backhands in topspin rallies to backhand looping out of the rally (not just against underspin, where he has an excellent backhand loop). He still mostly hits the backhand, but he's doing so much backhand looping against block practice that it's starting to mess up his regular dominant backhand. Before major tournaments, we may have to focus on backhand hitting the last few days. Long-term? We'll see which way he'll eventually go.

Open Singles Winner Xun "Jeffrey" Zeng, 23, joined the MDTTC coaching staff in December, but he's still competing at about a 2600-2650 level. While he has a nice backhand loop, overall he doesn't really dominate with any one shot against his peers, who often look more dominating with their attacks. How does he win? He dominates with his return of serve. Watch and you'll see how uncomfortable he makes his opponents on their own serve, and how often he ends up in a dominant position. (Because I was coaching mostly junior players, I didn't get to see many of the Open matches, alas.) 

Here are complete results of the Easterns. (Make sure to set tournament to "Eastern Open" in box at top.) Isn't it great now North American Table Tennis has created software so we can see the result of every match literally immediately after the results are returned to the desk and typed into the computer?

Liu Guoliang Serving Low

Here's a video (1:38) of former World and Olympic Champion Liu Guoliang of China demonstrating low serves. (Also shown serving are Wang Liqin, Ma Long, and Zhang Chao.) This is something I'm always harping on - most players serve too high, and don't realize it. It's not that opponents will rip these serves - only much stronger players can do that - but that they handle the serve much more effectively. Keep the serve very low, and opponents have to lift up on the ball, causing more mistakes and defensive returns. The dialogue is in Chinese, but you can see what he's doing, serving low under a racket held about two inches over the net. Translated (according to a comment below it), Liu is saying that anyone on the national team can serve that low regularly but when they are asked to doso, their mentalities changes. The pressure causes irregularities in your mind so you aren't able to perform regularly. The point is to just play with a normal mind set.

Memorial Day

Have a Happy Memorial Day - take a moment to think about what the day really means. But if you are a true die-hard Table Tennis Aficionado, you'll then head out to the table for some serve practice, knowing that your rivals are taking the day off. This is your chance to get ahead!

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