Eric Wu

September 19, 2012

Serve Practice - It Pays Off!

Last week I played a practice match with a local top player. He had trouble with my side-top forehand pendulum and reverse pendulum serves to his forehand, which kept going slightly long, but he kept looping them off. Near the end he finally adjusted and started looping them in. I had to mostly switch to other serves to win - barely.

So this weekend I practiced serves for 15 minutes. The main adjustment for both versions (pendulum and reverse pendulum) was to focus on contacting the ball a bit more to the side, and making sure contact was very low to the table. Then I played the top player again, and this time I was able to keep them short when I wanted. I varied short and slightly long (i.e. "half-long" or "tweeny" serves where second bounce would be barely off the end), and he never adjusted, and I won again, using these serves right to the end. (I also threw in no-spin and backspin serves, but the side-top serves were the mainstay here.)

Willy Mays and Other Table Tennis Dreams

This was a strange one. I dreamed I was an elderly Willy Mays at the plate in a baseball game. (Not sure why it was Willy Mays - I'm an Orioles fan! See segment at end.) They walked me on four pitches, including a brush-back pitch that I had to dive to avoid. So next time up I brought a ping-pong paddle, and began spraying topspin shots over the infielder's heads for hits! (The ball seemed to be a baseball-sized ping-pong ball.) No idea why they kept pitching to me and why I didn't run to first base; I was having a blast smacking shots just over the infielder's reach, and letting the topspin pull the ball down before outfielders could get to it!

Then I suddenly dropped one short - a bunt! I took off for first. The throw was wild, and I ran for second. Right about here is when I noticed that all the infielders were waving ping-pong paddles at me. I continued around the bases, rounding second, third, and slid into home as the catcher slapped a ping-pong paddle down on my foot - but he didn't have the ball, so I was safe. I threw the paddle up in the air, and a bird flew by and grabbed it, and flew off with my paddle in its beak. I yelled at it, and that's when I woke up.

Here are four other blogs where I've described weird table tennis dreams:

  • U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream - involving Tong Tong Gong, Arnold Schwarzenegger, murderous black-clad men with black umbrellas, and playing with an illegal book as a racket.
  • U.S. Olympic Trials Dream - where I'm coaching both sides in a Dan Seemiller-Han Xiao match, involving Citizens United, Diana Gee McGonnell, Randy Seemiller, and lots of people demanding I coach them.
  • Table Tennis Foot Dream - where I'm playing table tennis on a street in the middle of a battle, with bullets and explosions all around, and my foot gets shot off, and I keep trying to jam it back on while still playing.
  • Dan Seemiller Ping-Pong Waiter Dream - where I'm trying to convince our local juniors of the riches they can make at table tennis, then Dan Seemiller shows up as the waiter, and I argue how much money he makes as a waiter because of his table tennis skills. 

Three Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? Admit it; don't you dream about how you one day show up at a tournament and beat the best players and win the Open? Well, this could be the one! But if you don't compete, by default you get beat! (Does that make sense? How about, "If you don't show, you can't beat a foe"? Or "If you don't compete, it won't be sweet"?)

Erica Wu and Other White House photos

The link to the Erica Wu picture yesterday with President Obama was inadvertently linked to the picture of Lily Zhang with Obama. Here is the correct picture! And here's a picture of the USA Olympic Table Tennis Team with Malia Obama, and here's Women's Coach Doru Gheorghe with Michelle Obama. (The pictures were taken at the Olympic reception held at the White House on Sept. 14.)

Zhang Jike: Wealthy Bachelor

And here's the article about it!

No-Armed Man Plays Table Tennis

This 24-second video is unbelievable - he holds the paddle in his mouth, and serves by tossing the ball up with his bare foot!

Traffic Light Pong in Germany!

Here's the video (1:22) - yes, you can now play Pong with strangers while waiting for the light to turn green!

Exhibition Trick Serves

Here's a short video from PingSkills (1:19) demonstrating exhibition trick serves. I do these same trick serves when I do exhibitions - they are great fun.

Behind the Back Table Tennis

Try rallying like this - and you have to wear all red!

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Baseball

I'm an Orioles fan, the only sports team I follow. This year they are in a pennant race, with an 84-64 record and tied for first in the American League East with the Yankees, with 14 games left to play. They also hold a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the Wild Card Race, so they have two ways to make the playoffs. (They just won an incredible 18-inning game last night - down 0-2 in the ninth, they scored two, and finally scored two more in the 18th inning to win! It's their near-record 14th consecutive extra-inning win this season - after losing the first two times, they are now 14-2 in extra innings.)

I'm sort of infamous as Larrytt on the Orioles Hangout forum for my Top Ten Lists (and other humorous listings or stories). When I do one they really like, the Orioles Hangout staff publish it as a feature on their front page. This morning they published my latest, "Top Twelve Things Happening the Last Time the Orioles Had a Winning Season." (The Orioles just had 14 straight losing seasons.) Here are the seven they have published. Note that some might not make sense if you aren't familiar with Orioles baseball. (My personal favorite is the story "The Wonderful World of Os," though many will miss the inside jokes.)


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May 4, 2012

Coaching level versus playing level

Does one need to be a top player to be a top coach? The question often comes up, and there's an easy answer. No.

However . . . and this is a big HOWEVER . . . it's very difficult to become a top coach without being a top player first. It's a matter of opportunity. If you are a member of the National Team, you train for many years with other top players and work with the best coaches in the country, and if you are paying attention, you gain the experience necessary to be a top coach.

It's possible to be a very good basics coach, one who can train new and intermediate players very well, without being as experienced working with top players. But the key problem to watch for here is that many coaches who teach basics teach them in a way that will later hurt the player. For example, some hold back on teaching the loop, especially the backhand loop, for so long that hitting becomes ingrained, while looping never becomes comfortable. Or they have the player use beginner's sponge so long that their development is held back because they develop a game around beginner's sponge instead of a modern game based on modern "super sponges." So even coaches of beginning and intermediate players need to have enough experience with top players to see what they are doing so they can teach players a foundation that leads to what the top players do.

Some believe you can be a self-taught coach, and there's some truth to this. But there will always be major holes in your coaching if you don't have the opportunity to spend lots and lots of time with top players and coaches when they train. Even tactical coaching is limited if you haven't spent a lot of time with the player you are coaching when he's practicing. You might be a good tactical coach from personal experience and from watching top players on video and analyzing what you see, but you have to see what the player is doing in practice to see what he can really do. You might see him have trouble with a shot and not know if he normally has trouble with that shot or if he's just off or nervous. You might see a weakness in an opponent that seems to play into your player's strengths, but if the player hasn't practiced that type of sequence, he might not have confidence or be comfortable doing it. Or the player may have techniques he uses in practice that he doesn't use early on in a match (such as a different serve, or an ability to counterloop, or backhand loop, etc.), leading to tactical advice that doesn't take into account these techniques. So being around top players and coaches when they train is important if you truly want to be a top coach. This doesn't mean you can't be a good coach; but to be a top coach you need the full experience.

Suppose you were not a top player, but had these same experiences? Suppose you spent years watching top players train and worked with the best coaches in the country, and paid attention? Then you could also become a top coach. However, it's difficult to find such opportunities to watch or train with the top players and coaches unless you are a top player.

I was lucky to have started my playing career practicing regularly with top juniors and future stars Sean O'Neill and Brian Masters, then spent four years as a manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, then as an assistant coach for Dan Seemiller at his camps for two years, and then spent the last twenty years coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center where I'm surrounded by top coaches and players. I also got to coach the U.S. Junior Team at tournaments around the world, as well as attended numerous coaching seminars, including the recent ITTF ones (which I now teach). I've also spent an inordinate amount of time just thinking about the sport, one of those key things that's often missing when a top player is unable to make the transition to top coach. (And many top players are not good coaches, though most don't reach their high level without learning enough to be pretty good.)

My highest rating was 2292, which was 18th in the country at the time (citizens only), and since the ratings have slowly inflated since, it equates to a considerably higher rating than 2292, but we'll leave it at that. (I've actually had about 50 different ratings over 2250 without ever breaking 2300, probably a record, alas, and I'm now retired from regular tournaments.) That's pretty decent, but I never made the National Team. However, I've been lucky to have had the experiences needed to be a top coach. (I still wish I had more "international" experience - I've been to only two Worlds, and coached the U.S. Junior Team outside the U.S. about five times. There are other coaches with far more international experience than this. But I partially make up for this by spending time with current and former top players at my club who do have this international experience, such as Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Peter Li, and Han Xiao.) Does this make me a "top coach"? That's for others to judge, but the key is that I have the experience needed so I'm in the running. If you want to be a top coach, then you too must find opportunities to be around top players and coaches, observe what they do, ask questions, and above all, think about what you see and learn.

When Ping-Pong Diplomacy Beat China

That's the headline in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday, about the upcoming movie "As One," which tells the story of the joint Korean women's team at the 1991 Worlds that upset China.

Timo Boll in Washington Post

Here's the story from yesterday, with the headline, "German table tennis player Timo Boll wows Chinese women with his ping pong, sex appeal." (It didn't make the print edition, just the online version.)

"I made it to the Olympics and to prom"

That's what Ariel Hsing says in her blog with ESPN. She'll be blogging for them during the Olympics. Here are links to her other ESPN blogs (she's done four so far).

Erica Wu Puts on a Show

Here's an article on Erica doing an exhibition for her school and musing about her making the Olympic team.

Law School and Table Tennis

Here's a story about law school students playing table tennis entitled, "You Can Take Our Lives, But You’ll Never Take Our Ping Pong." Here's an enlarged version of the rather crazy photo!

Metal Men at Ping-Pong

Here's a rather interesting piece of art of two . . . metalicons? . . . playing table tennis.


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