Butterfly Online

Sports Psychology

August 11, 2014

Tip of the Week

Ten Steps to a Great Service Game.

Virginia Camp

On Friday we had the final day of the camp in Fairfax, Virginia. In the morning we split the players into two groups. One group did various physical training and agility exercises with Wen Hsu (as they had been doing all week). The other group did multiball with me and hit with the robot. We did a lot of smashing and pushing, and a few worked on looping. We also did "player's choice," where the players got to choose what to work on. 

Then we had a practice tournament. There were 14 players, so we divided them into two groups of seven, with the top two from each side playing crossovers. All matches were best of three to 11. For prizes we had a series of "large" prizes - a playing bag and copies of all of my books (signed). We also had table tennis key chains. The first place winner got his choice of two large prizes plus a key chain. Second was one large prize and a key chain. Third through six got their choice of one large prize or key chain. (All took books.) I donated the books - in all, the books chosen were three copies of "Table Tennis: Steps to Success," and one copy each of "Table Tennis Tips," "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers," and my humorous fantasy novel (which stars a table tennis wannabe), "Sorcerers in Space." I also gave a signed copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques to all 14 players. (I have a lot of extra copies.) Camp tournament results: 1. Harrison Tun; 2. Brandon Choi; 3-4: Leo Diperna and Ian Ramanata; 5. Vincent Diperna; 6. Chris Kutscher.

Here's a camp picture, with two players missing - they had to leave early, alas, and we forgot to get a picture when they were there. (Coach John Hsu is in background, that's me on the right.) Immediately after the picture they took turns smacking balls at the cup fort, with me feeding multiball. Many cups dies in the onslaught, but Froggy survived.

Koki Niwa and His Techniques and Tactics

Here's an article on Japan's Koki Niwa, world #15, where he talks about his techniques and tactics. Includes instructional pictures and a link to a Koki Niwa tribute video (3:36). (Note that the "chiquita" her refers to is the banana flip - Chiquita is a major producer and distributors of bananas and other produce, so I'm guessing that's where it comes from.)

Seven Things You Need to Know to Master the New Plastic Ball

Here's the posting and some discussion at the OOAK TT Forum.

Sports Psychology - Recognize Your Feelings

Here's the video (5:27) from PingSkills.

Top 10 Servers in Table Tennis

Here's the video (12:40).

Marty Reisman: The Greatest Sportsman You've Never Heard Of

Here's the article from Esquire Magazine. 

USA's Shivansh Kuma Finds Success at Guatemala Junior and Cadet Open

He made the final of Cadet Boys Singles, and teamed with India's Mudit Dani to win Cadet Boys teams. The two also made the semifinals of Cadet Boys Teams and the quarterfinals of Junior Boys Doubles. Here's the home page for the Aug. 6-9 event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's the ITTF article on the Cadet Boys Teams.  

Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open

Here's the home page for the Aug. 6-10 event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Fifteen USA juniors took part in the event - here's a participants listing. Here's a listing USA major results.

  • Krish Avvari: semifinals of Cadet Boys (here's a picture of him on the podium, second from right)
  • Kanak Jha: quarterfinals of Cadet Boys
  • Krish Avvari and Kanak Jha: Semifinals of Cadet Boys Doubles and Teams
  • Adar Alguetti and Victor Liu: Quarterfinals of Cadet Boys Doubles
  • Lily Zhang and Prachi Jha: Semifinals of Junior Girls Doubles, Quarterfinals of Junior Girls Teams
  • Joy Li and Puerto Rico's Adriana Diaz: Quarterfinals of Cadet Girls Doubles

Bockoven Brothers Netting Success in Table Tennis

Here's the article from the Boston Globe. I remember going to a Seemiller camp in 1977 when I was 17 and father Ralph was one of the big stars of the camp! Connor and Chase are the heirs of that tradition.

Top Ten Places to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Final of the China Super League - Zhang Jike vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Here's the video (39 min). To save time and add drama they only play to seven in the fifth game in this league. (Spoiler alert!) Dimitrij leads 4-0 in that decisive fifth game - but Zhang scores seven in a row.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Seventy-nine down, 21 to go!

  • Day 22: The Gift of Braking and Changing Focus
  • Day 23: ITTF’s Museum Curator Chuck Hoey Preserves Our Heritage
  • Day 24: Shahrokh Shahnazi Promotes ITTF’s P5 Plan, Even to the IOC

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Play Table Tennis

Here they are playing at a homeless shelter.

Ruini Li the Cover for the Milpitas Post

Here's the picture. (If you have trouble seeing the Facebook version, try this one.)

Funny Dog Watching Table Tennis

Here's the video (48 sec) - it's hilarious! (I might have posted this a couple years ago, but it's worth repeat viewing.)

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December 4, 2013

Sports Psychology and Sport Psychology Books

After watching and coaching at the Teams, I'm upping the sports psychology training. In fact, I just got out to review my copies of "Get Your Game Face On" by Dora Kurimay, "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey, and "Finding Your Zone" by Michael Lardon. I also discovered that my copy of "Winning Ugly" by Brad Gilbert is missing, and realized I lent it to someone a long time ago and never got it back - so I just ordered a new copy. (A new version came out in May this year anyway.) I also discovered a new book, "Coaches Guide to Sport Psychology" by Rainer Martens which I just ordered. (Dora Kurimay and Michael Lardon are both sports psychologists and top table tennis players. Dora ran a sports psychology session at MDTTC I think in early 2012. "The Inner Game of Tennis" and "Winning Ugly" both use tennis as examples, but the principles apply to all sports, and they are both considered classics that are read by top athletes from every sport.)

I've undergone a lot of sports psychology training, and long ago incorporated much of it into both my game and my coaching. During the four years I was (at different times) manager, director, and/or assistant coach at the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (1985-89), the players often had weekly group sessions with the sports psychologists there, which I normally attended. Many had private sessions as well. But I think it'd be valuable for me to go back and review all the stuff I learned so long ago.

At the Teams it was interesting watching the different responses to tournament pressure by different players. Here are four of them, all ages 12 or 13. All four of them read my blog (at least sometimes), as do some of their parents, so I'm guessing they'll recognize themselves!

Player A was a vintage case of nervousness under pressure. He had difficulty throughout matches overcoming this, and especially when it got close. I'm going to be working with him on this as it really hampers his play as he tends to stand up straight, freeze up, and miss shots over and over that he makes pretty consistently in practice games at the club.

Player B seemed on edge much of the time, but was able to play well in spite of this - but it affected his tactics as he often was afraid to attack. Especially against weaker players he'd just push, chop, fish, and lob, even if he was losing. When he'd fall behind, he'd finally work up the nerve to attack, and then he'd start winning again - and then he'd stop attacking again. He needs to gain confidence in his game, which includes attacking.

Player C seemed to guide his shots early in games rather than just let them go, especially with his forehand loop, his best shot. But in contrast to most players, as it got close, he seemed to get looser, and his shots more fluid. He needs to work on relaxing early on, perhaps by pretending it's already deuce.

Player D wasn't really nervous, but he kept having slow starts as if he couldn't quite get up for the match. Then he'd turn it on and play really well for several games. But late in matches, especially in fifth games, he seemed to lose focus and get careless with his shots. He also is too easily distracted by outside things, which affects his play and leads to some matches where he's mentally not there. I have a few focus drills I want to try on him - one of which is where he practices serves while I try to distract him with "trash talk," and he has to just tune me out. (This is based on the famous Tiger Woods drill where he'd practice at the driving range while his dad would try to distract him.)

I'm working out plans for these players so they can overcome these problems, and ideally turn them into strengths. There's a reason why so many top players say the game is mostly mental. I'll likely be assigning some reading to these players.

While pulling out my sports psychology books, I also pulled out my copy of "Successful Coaching" by Rainer Martens, the best-selling coaching book in America. It also covers sports psychology. The five sections are:

  1. Developing a Coaching philosophy
  2. Sport Psychology
  3. Sport Pedagogy
  4. Sport Physiology
  5. Sport Management

So I'll be reviewing this book as well. (And I still have to read "The Next Step," so I've got some busy reading coming up.)

Difficulty Level of Table Tennis Techniques

Here’s an article that judges the relative difficulty level of various table tennis techniques, and puts them in five categories, from easiest (the counter-hit) to most difficult (topspin against topspin, i.e. counterlooping, and chopping against topspin).

Random Thoughts of a Table Tennis Nut from a Basketball-Crazy Nation

Here’s the essay from fellow TT nut Lorenzo Antonio Angel.

Ma Long for Super League’s Most Valuable Player

Here’s the article.

Ma Long and Yan An Backhand Topspin Training

Here’s the video (1:56).

Snoopy

Here’s a new picture of Snoopy playing table tennis. Here’s another one where he looks like Mr. Cool.

Never Underestimate Your Opponents

Here’s a hilarious new video (2:14) of two guys who underestimate the level of play of the two girls who ask to play. The two women are Austrian stars Amelie and Petrissa Solja.

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June 25, 2012

Tip of the Week

The Game is All Mental.

Week One Day Five and Week Two Begins

Last week was Week One of the MDTTC camp season, with 34 players. We've got eleven weeks of camps, so one down, ten to go!

On Friday morning I gave a lecture on pushing. Topics included the basic push; pushing quick and long, pushing heavy and long, short pushing, and pushing with a purpose. The rest of the morning was multiball. As is our norm, Friday mornings is "player's choice," where the player tells the coach what he wants to work on. If he isn't sure the coach makes suggestions or chooses the drill. Other "highlights" included box battles. (Apparently one kid really, Really, REALLY wanted a particular box to catch balls in, and when another kid wouldn't let him have it, well, things got ugly for a few minutes. Yes, this is a table tennis camp.)

During break I watched the kids play a fascinating game of "24." No, it didn't involve Jack Bauer torturing terrorists who are trying to nuke U.S. cities; it involved dealing out four cards, and trying to find a way to get to 24, using all four cards and using simple arithmetic functions. (Aces are worth 1, face cards 10.)  For example, if the cards dealt are K, 7, 3, 2, then (Kx2)+(7-3)=24. I doubt if they thought of it this way, but I couldn't help think how similar this was to table tennis tactics in a match, where you have only a few seconds between points to puzzle out what to do the next point, just as here they had only a few seconds to solve the puzzle.

This morning we start Week Two. (I'll be missing this Friday, and the first three days of Week Three, since I'll be at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids. But Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang are staying home to run the camp.)

Dora and the Sports Psychology Workshop

On Friday night Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay traveled down from New York to give a sports psychology workshop at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. About fifteen players attended. The workshop went over the main points of her book, "Get Your Game Face On!" (Here's my review of the book on the USATT web page.) Topics included the Four R's (Reaction, Recovery, Ready, and Ritual), the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and other sports psychology topics. If you are interested in a sports psychology workshop at your club, see her webpage

Scott Preiss and Dr. Eric Owens

Here's a nice exhibition (2:42) by Scott Preiss and, yes, DR. Eric Owens. (Our 2001 U.S. Men's Singles Champion now is a medical doctor.) The Ping Pong Man (that's Scott) and the Doctor are performing at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles for the US Olympic Committee and Olympic sponsors.

Dumb Anti-Obama Posting

For the last few days USATT has featured on their home page a picture of President Obama holding up an ICC Table Tennis shirt. (Here's a direct link to the article and picture - scroll down to see the picture, or go directly to it.) Someone posted a bunch of anti-Obama nonsense on a table tennis forum, writing "SHAME on USATT" for "posting pro obama nonsense," and linking to an anti-Obama video that insults the intelligence of anyone with a brain, Democrat, Republican, or Independent. (Thankfully, the moderators deleted it soon afterwards.)  First, this was no "pro obama nonsense," simply a neutral picture of the President of the United States holding up a table tennis shirt, a great promotional item for table tennis. Second, it's a TABLE TENNIS forum, not a political forum. Third, can't these types of people see the difference between the president, who happens to be Obama, and Obama, the person who happens to be a president they don't like?

Milwaukee's Airport and Table Tennis

CNN did a special on "14 airport amenities that will make you long for a layover." The picture nine of them; see #8!!! Yes, it's a ping-pong table at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport! I actually walked by it at last year's U.S. Open in Milwaukee, and considered joining in with the ones playing, but ended up just watching it.

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June 22, 2012

Day Four of MDTTC Camp - the Backhand Loop and Doubles Tactics

On Thursday morning we focused on the backhand attack against backspin, mostly the backhand loop but also the backhand drive against backspin, especially against a short ball. Nathan Hsu (15, rated 2356) was my partner for the demo. I demonstrated my favorite loop versus backspin drill: I serve backspin, partner pushes to my backhand, I backhand loop, partner blocks, I backhand chop, partner pushes, and I backhand loop, and the cycle continues.

Later I gave a short lecture on doubles tactics. (Short version - Serves: serve low and short, mostly toward the middle of the table. Receive: be ready to loop any ball that goes long. Rallies: hit to the opposite side of the player hitting to you from his partner, so they get in each other's way. And lots more.)  Then we played doubles for an hour. We also divided the camp into two groups, and I took the "new" players off to the side and gave a lecture on equipment, which ended with everyone trying out playing against and with anti and long pips. (I also talked about short pips and hardbat.)

There are 34 players in the camp this week. We were a bit worried that we'd get a smaller turnout since we're running camps every week all summer - eleven consecutive weeks - but that doesn't seem to be a problem.

U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League

Here's a new 30-second ad for the upcoming USNTTL league, which starts in September. Here's their home page.

Reminder - Sports Psychology Night at MDTTC

Tonight, Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay will run a 40-minute sports psychology workshop at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She runs the table tennis sports psychology page dorakurimay.com, and is the co-author of the book "Get Your Game Face On!" (Here's my review of the book on the USATT website.) The schedule for the night will be: 6:30-7:00PM - book signing; 7:00-7:40PM: Sports Psychology Seminar ($20, which includes a free copy of the book); after 7:40PM: Personalized Sport Psychology Consultation. Here is the flyer for the event. Come join us! (Dora's also coming in early to join in our afternoon session at the MDTTC training camp.)

Moyer Foundation's Celebrity Ping-Pong Tournament

Baseball pitching star Jamie Moyer will host this celebrity charity event this Saturday, 5:30-9:00 PM, in Philadelphia, with proceeds "will help children in distress – including The Moyer Foundation’s Camp Erin and Camp Mariposa programs." Here's the info page, and here's The Moyer Foundation, founded by MLB World Series-winning All-Star pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen. Celebrities attending include  the following - and note Delaware Governor Jack Markell - I've coached him! Here's a picture of him playing from the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis Page.

ICC Table Tennis in NY Times

Here's an article in yesterday's New York Times on the India Community Center Table Tennis in Milpitas, CA.

"Beer Pong Saved My Life"

That's the title of this 2010 movie, which bombed both critically and at the box office. "Two best friends, Dustin and Erik, are tired of their stagnant and miserable lives. When Dustin hears about a beer pong tournament at a nearby college, Erik is on board right away. Reluctantly, Dustin agrees to play in the tournament and suddenly they are the coolest and best players there. But when the sudden praise goes to their heads, it's all downhill from there!"

In honor of this movie (and despite the fact that I'm a non-drinker), here are some great Beer Pong videos:

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June 21, 2012

Day Three of MDTTC Camp - the Forehand Loop

Yesterday's focus was forehand looping. In my lecture I used 11-year-old Derek Nie (rated 2146) as my demo partner, and we had some nice rallies, including looping against backspin, against block, and counterlooping. It was new to a few players, and I took these players off to the side to teach the fundamentals while the other coaches fed multiball to the others.

Halfway through the morning session I gave a 20-minute lecture on return of serve, and then we went out on the table to practice serve and receive. (I gave a 30-minute lecture on serving yesterday.) It's great watching their serves improve. Earlier that morning before the camp started I'd done an impromptu challenge where I served and campers tried to return my serve. About fifteen formed a line, and if they missed my serve, they went to the end of the line. (The stronger players in the camp watched with amusement.) I think a couple managed to get two back, but the great majority missed the first one. I think this raised the interest level in the receive lecture, and even more in learning these serves. Some are still trying to figure out how I get topspin on my serve when I stroke downward with an open racket and hit the bottom of the ball. (The racket tip is moving down, but just before contact I flip the bottom of the racket sideways and up, and then continue down after contact. But it's probably something you have to see in person.)

Yesterday's "Big Game" at the end of the morning session was Around the World. I feed multiball while the kids hit one shot, and then circle the table. When they miss five, they are out. When they are down to two players, I put a target on the table (usually a box, but today I used my towel) and they take turns trying to hit it. When one hits it and the other misses, the one who hit it is the champion, and we start over. Later I fed more multiball and they had to knock cups off the table (28 of them in a pyramid), with the warning that the galaxy would explode if they didn't knock them all off in five minutes. They knocked the last one off with three seconds to spare, just barely saving the galaxy!

Later that day Coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun (a 2600 player) was drilling with a 2200 pips-out penholder. One of the players in the camp, Minh Nguyen, is an aspiring two-winged looper like Jeffrey, so I called him over and we watched Jeffrey as he completely dominated rallies with his backhand loop, which he could put anywhere on the table with power, control, and consistency, with textbook technique. Players can improve quite a bit just by watching the way he rotates his body and shoulders and then snaps his arm and wrist into the shot. (It's like throwing a Frisbee toward the ceiling.)

That night I did a one-hour private session with a father and son. The son had learned to forehand loop and was working on backhand looping some, though he prefers hitting on both sides. Looping was new to the father, so we spent much of the session on his forehand loop. It's always striking watching the difference in how people of different ages learn. Younger players learn the technique quickly, but can't control it. Older players have trouble with the technique, but have ball control.

Reminder - Sports Psychology Night at MDTTC

Tomorrow, on Friday, June 22, Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay will run a 40-minute sports psychology workshop at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She runs the table tennis sports psychology page dorakurimay.com, and is the co-author of the book "Get Your Game Face On!" (Here's my review of the book on the USATT website.) The schedule for the night will be: 6:30-7:00PM - book signing; 7:00-7:40PM: Sports Psychology Seminar ($20, which includes a free copy of the book); after 7:40PM: Personalized Sport Psychology Consultation. Here is the flyer for the event. Come join us!

100th ITTF Certified Coach in the U.S.

Here's the story from the ITTF. I ran one of the ITTF coaching seminars in the U.S. last April, and certified fourteen of them. I'm running another in August at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here's the flyer. If interested, email me. Come join us!

Historical Mistake on the Origins of Table Tennis

Yesterday I linked to a web page that supposedly gave a historical account about the origins of table tennis. Unfortunately I found out that afternoon that the info there was dated. (I've since deleted the link.) I should have known better since I'd read the book "Ping Pong Fever" by Steve Grant, which gave the newest info on the sports origin. (I plead training camp madness - we just started eleven weeks of training camps at MDTTC, so I was a little rushed in putting together the blog.) Here is the account from the ITTF Museum, which was updated to reflect Grant's discoveries, and Grant's own press release on the subject.

New USA International Umpires

Who are they? Here's the story!

Seniors Embrace Table Tennis

Here's the story from the Evanston Review/Sun Times.

Proper Table Tennis Training with Scott Gordon

In honor of the many summer training camps now being run around the country, here is the greatest table tennis training video ever made (2:31).

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June 11, 2012

Tip of the Week

Dealing with Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship.

Bad coaches

Since this week's Tip of the Week is on Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship, let's continue the trend and look at the dark side of coaching. There are lots of great coaches out there. And I've often blogged about good coaching habits. However, let's talk about the other side of the coin: bad coaches. Here is a list of seven types of bad coaches. (I'm sure I missed some.) There is a lot of overlap between these categories, and the differences between some of them are subtle. There are probably bad coaches who combine the worst of multiple categories!

  1. Self-taught coaches who either don't really understand high-level table tennis that well. Often they were mid-level players who really think they know the game, but don't have the experience to realize they don't. The stereotypical example is the player who has had little or no experience in watching top players develop, but believe they know how it is done by watching the end product, i.e. top players (usually on video) after they have already become top players. Highly perceptive people can sometimes learn to be good tacticians this way, but to learn what a top coach does in the practice hall you have to be in the practice hall to learn.
  2. Highly-opinionated coaches who can only teach one way, and often are mistaken in what they do teach. They usually were not top players, and teach techniques that they themselves have little experience at and which they don't really understand. These types of coaches are legendary, but players usually see through them once they start observing what top players actually do, and see that there are sometimes multiple ways of doing something, depending on the player's style and technique.
  3. Those who can only coach their own playing style. Often they are former top players. I've seen coaches take well-developed and successful styles and practically destroy them by trying to make them play the way they did. A good coach understands the game in general, not just from his own game's point of view. Some top players are masters of knowledge regarding their own game and how it relates to playing other styles, but only know little beyond their own game.
  4. Those who live in the past, who essentially say, "This is how I did it, this is how my coach did it, and this is how my coach's coach did it, so that's how you will do it." I call these types of coaches "Parrot Coaches." These types of coaches are unable to change with the times as new techniques are developed.
  5. Those who do not personalize, and instead teach everyone the same. This comes out of pure laziness.
  6. Those only out for money, and are impatient or unenthusiastic. They often teach sound fundamentals, but getting them to take the extra effort to really develop someone as a player is like pulling teeth.
  7. Bad attitudes. Some of the "best" coaches are not very good coaches because of bad attitudes. One of my best students ever early in my coaching career reached #1 in both Under 14 and Under 16. He idealized a particular world-class player whose style he had copied, watching huge numbers of tapes of this player. Then, one day, lo and behold, the player came to the U.S., and was going to play in a major local tournament! Better still, he advertised that he would be coaching the night before at the tournament site, at a very high rate. My excited student signed up for a 30-minute lesson. They were speaking Chinese during the session, so I didn't know what they were saying as I watched, but gradually my student seemed more and more unhappy, and he left the session crying. According to him and to several onlookers who understood Chinese, the "coach" had spent the entire session berating him, insulting his game, and ended the session by telling the kid he had no potential as a top player. If I'd known what was going on, I'd have pulled him from the session immediately. Instead, completely disheartened at this treatment from his "hero," the kid barely tried that weekend, losing to nearly everyone as I watched helplessly from the sidelines, and never really overcame it. After years of training six days a week, he stopped trying in training sessions, stopped trying in school, and six months later, his parents pulled him from table tennis. (I later found out that this top player was notorious for this type of thing.)

Interview with Stellan Bengtsson on Sports Psychology

Table tennis sports psychologist Dora Kurimay interviews Coach Stellan Bengtsson (1971 World Men's Singles Champion) on the most important aspects of sports psychology.

Spin City Sports Table Tennis

Here's an article from the Tampa Bay Times on the Spin City Sports full-time table tennis club in Largo, Florida.

Great Point, Great Shot

Here's a video of a great 34-shot rally in the final of the Japan Open this past weekend, with Japan's Jun Mizutani (the lefty on the far side) fishing or lobbing back 13 shots in a row against Korea's Oh Sang Eun, ending with one of the best point-winning lobs you'll ever see. (Mizutani wins the final, 9,9,.-11,-4,12,5.)

Ping-Pong Death Match

Since we have an interview with Bengtsson on sports psychology, it's only appropriate that we end with a video of a Ping-Pong Death Match (5:28). Ever play ping-pong with a guy who takes the game way too seriously?

Non-Table Tennis - New SF Story Published

My science fiction story "The Oysters of Pinctada" went up today in the new issue of Flagship Magazine. My name's on the cover! Alas, you'll have to buy the issue to read the story. (Here's my Science Fiction & Fantasy page.)

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June 4, 2012

Tip of the Week

Serving Short with Spin.

Eastern Open

I was at the Eastern Open this past weekend, coaching 11-year-old Derek Nie. Derek made the final of 11 and Under at the last USA Nationals, and came in with a rating of 2127. (He's very small for his age, only about 60 pounds, and is almost for certain the best player in the U.S., pound for pound.) He played very well this tournament. But he also had a very bad experience with an opponent who was the ultimate in bad sportsmanship. Balancing that was a revelation Derek had about the mental game. Here's a synopsis.

On Saturday morning he started off at 9AM in Under 2500 against Wesley Fan, rated 2163. He didn't play well this match, and Wesley played much better than his rating, and won three straight easily. (Wesley would go on to win both Under 2250 and Under 2375.) Afterwards I took Derek aside and we practiced for an hour, the last half playing practice games. Since I know what "buttons" to push when I play him, I won all five games, but they were closer and closer toward the end. The first three we had a little fun, which helped him relax, then I told him to focus the last two games, and though I won, that's when he started playing well. I could see it, and couldn't wait for his next match. We finished the session with him practicing his serves for ten minutes.

In the Open Preliminary RR, starting at 10:30 AM, he started out against Scott Lurty, rated 2268. He'd played Scott in tournaments twice in the last month and lost both badly. (He hadn't had a coach in those matches.)  I knew Scott's game pretty well, and went over the important points with Derek before the match began. He started out having trouble with Scott's serves, and was down 3-9. That's when he figured them out, and Scott got a bit soft, and next thing you know Derek had come back to win the first game at deuce! Derek was really playing well - as someone watching said, "His forehand is like a machine - he never misses!" And his backhand was almost as good, both looping and smashing.) Derek won that match three straight, 10,7,11. (Scott would go on to win Under 22 and make the final of Under 2375.) Scott said afterwards that he thought he would have won if I hadn't been coaching Derek. (He and Derek are good friends, and bantered back and forth the rest of the tournament.)

In his next match Derek played Tina Lin, rated 2233, who is playing great. This may have been the match of the tournament. By now many players were gathering around to watch this tiny dynamo who was running around the court looping and smashing from both wings, and with good serves as well. The match was a doozy. Derek won the first 12-10, Tina the second 13-11 (I think Derek had a game point), Derek won the third 11-9. Derek then went up double-match point at 8-10 in the fourth, with Tina serving. He missed a backhand smash, 9-10. They then had the point of the match. Derek started the point on the attack, looping a series of forehands. Tina blocked them back, and finally smashed. Derek fell back and fished several back, then looped one back. Tina blocked, and was again on the attack, and finally smashed a winner to deuce it. She won the game in deuce. In the fifth, Derek served at 9-all, and both times he serve and looped, but missed a backhand smash and then a loop, and Tina pulled it out, -10, 11,-9,11,9. 

Derek next played Nhu Phong Pham, rated 2142. Pham had gone five with Tina (also coming back from down 0-2 to force the fifth) and gotten a game from Scott. Derek won the first two, but Pham won the next two before Derek won the fifth and the match, 8,5,-7,-10,6.

In the last match of the, Scott played Tina. If Tina wins, she advances at 3-0. If Scott wins, then he, Tina, and Derek are tied at 2-1, and Derek advances for sure (since he beat Scott 3-0 and went five with Tina). Even though he knew he couldn't advance, Scott fought hard for Derek and had Tina match point before losing at -8,10,13,-9,13! So Tina advanced by coming back from down double match point against Derek, down match point against Scott, and having to go five with Pham as well. Talk about your pressure play!

Derek then went 5-0 in winning Under 13, winning all five matches 3-0. He was quite proud of the trophy, which he said was the "tallest" he'd won. He came off the table after one match very apologetic because he'd just played a beginning kid he'd made friends with, and leading 10-0 in the third he'd tried to give away a point, but his attempted backhand smash into the net trickled over the net for a winner. "I didn't mean to win 11-0!"

Now is where things got a bit dark. In Under 2375 he faced an opponent rated about 2000 who exhibited about the worst sportsmanship imaginable - and we knew he would act like this before the match since he had a history of doing this, especially when playing junior players. I'd coached against him once before and he'd done the same thing in that match (though not as bad as this time), and other players, especially kids, said they'd had the same experience. The player had a strong backhand but weak forehand. So I had Derek go after his forehand over and over, and he won the first two games 11-3, 11-4. The opponent talked to Derek throughout, arguing about the score and other matters, but nothing major, and Derek was under orders not to talk to the opponent except when necessary, i.e. calling out the score, etc. A large crowd was beginning to gather, and they began booing this guy for his antics and cheering for Derek.

In the third, it got ridiculous. Essentially every single point the opponent come up with something new to complain about, and began to bicker constantly with Derek, over and over making things up, and slowing the match to a snail's crawl as minutes would sometimes go by between points as he complained about the score, about lets he'd call after the point, that the ball was too shiny, about Derek's serve, and whatever else popped into his mind. He seemed to revel in the crowd booing him. Derek completely fell apart, unable to believe an adult would act like this and not sure how he should react, and lost that game 11-7. Between games I managed to get his head back together, but the guy kept it up in the fourth, making up new things to complain about all through the fourth. Derek managed to focus, and goes up about 7-3. They have another big argument about the score or something, and that's when I finally called for an umpire. Derek loses the next two points, missing easy shots, but finally gets focused, and wins the match at 3,4,-7,5, to huge cheers from the crowd.

Playing mind games with a kid? How low can one go. Derek said he'd never experienced anything like that, and couldn't imagine an adult acting like this. Another lesson learned. (Addendum added later: Five people have emailed me guessing who the person was. All five guessed correctly. The person is notorious.) 

In the last match of the round robin, Derek plays Richard Williams, rated 2269, a very athletic two-winged looper. Derek's barely able to concentrate after the last match, but he still plays pretty well, just not like he had that afternoon when his forehand was like a "machine." Over and over he'd play nice points, only to miss the final winning shot, the very shot he'd made over and over earlier. Match to Richard, 9,-9,9,6, who told Derek, "This is the last time I will ever be able to beat you."

On Sunday morning, Derek was in Under 22. He's seeded fourth in a group of five, but the top seed and fifth seed don't show. He lost the first game against Geoffrey Xiao (who seems way under-rated at 1923), but wins the next three and the match, -9,5,9,5. Geoffrey also won the first against Connor Bockoven, rated 2206, but Connor won the next three. Against Connor, Derek has great difficulty with his serves, and can't seem to control his own serves (his short serves keep going long), and the one serve that Connor has difficulty with - sorry, can't mention it here! - Derek is unable to do effectively. With Connor controlling points with his serve and receive, Derek not only spotted lots of points (mostly care of missing against Connor's serves), but was uncomfortable in the rallies. So Connor wins easily at 5,4,5. It was the only match Derek played where he lost the serve and receive battle. He now has "homework" so he'll be ready for the type of long, spin serves Connor kept throwing at him, as well as working on his own serves.

Derek had a revelation this tournament. He told me, "You can't improve your skills at a tournament. So at tournaments, the game is all mental." He is a wise fifth grader.

Derek couldn't play other Sunday events as his dad had to catch a flight that night to France for a business trip, and so we left around noon. 

Two other interesting notes. Normally the Easterns is held on Memorial Day Weekend, which was the week before. I asked why they had moved it, and was told they wanted to have Memorial Day Weekend off themselves. That's a good reason, but that meant the tournament took place right as high school students (at least in Maryland) were getting ready for finals exams, and they lost at least ten players from my club alone. I'm guessing they lost over 50 players by postponing the tournament one week. They ended up with 164 entries, compared with 227 (plus players who entered in doubles only or who paid and didn't play) last year.

Also, I saw a player wearing a CCCP shirt with hammer and sickle. CCCP is Russian for the old Soviet Union, with the hammer and sickle their official emblem. I had to check my calendar to make sure this wasn't 1991, the year the USSR collapsed!

Sports Psychology Night at MDTTC

On Friday, June 22, Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay will run a 40-minute sports psychology workshop at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She runs the table tennis sports psychology page dorakurimay.com, and is the co-author of the book "Get Your Game Face On!" (Here's my review of the book on the USATT website.) The schedule for the night will be: 6:30-7:00PM - book signing; 7:00-7:40PM: Sports Psychology Seminar ($20, which includes a free copy of the book); after 7:40PM: Personalized Sport Psychology Consultation. Here is the flyer for the event. Come join us!

USATT Coaching Newsletters

There have been five USATT Coaching Newsletters since Nov. 2009. Here's where you can read all five!

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Positioning to Return a Smash (2:53)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition

Here are some nice exhibition points (4:10) between Swedish greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson. (For some reason they also have a few exhibition points stuck in between Waldner and I think Chen Xinhua of China, a chopper.)

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May 10, 2012

Get Your Game Face On!

By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon
Review by Larry Hodges

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of "Get Your Game Face On," the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon ($4.99, available at amazon.com). It's a rather short book - I read it in an hour or two - but with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

The book points out four major problems that plague table tennis players, and then goes about giving systematic ways of combating them:

  • Inconsistency
  • Not being able to play as well as we practice
  • Your energy level can be too high or too low
  • Distractions

Central to the book is developing a "Game Face" (confidence, energy, optimism, calm), the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and a "Game Face Routine," using the four R's:

  • Reaction (use the 80-10-10 rule - 80% neutral, 10% celebration, 10% challenged response, i.e. instead of "That was terrible!" try "You can make that!")
  • Recover (recover from the point, relax, etc., with nine methods listed)
  • Ready (this is where you do your tactical thinking, with a very good listing of things to think about - "Think before you play")
  • Ritual (to prepare mentally for the next point)

Throughout the book there are numerous real-world examples from world-class players. Often I was nodding my head at mental tricks that match what I'd developed over the years, or at recognizing something I'd see others do. The specific breakdown of how you use the time between points - the four R's - especially led to much thought that will influence my own coaching. The book should be a must for table tennis coaches and serious players.

Dora Kurimay was a member of the Hungarian National Table Tennis Team for six years and was six-time National Champion in doubles, singles, and teams. Perhaps more importantly she has a Bachelor's degree in psychology and two Master's degrees, in Psychology and in Sports Psychology. She has a long coaching background as well, both in table tennis and other sports. She now lives in the U.S. and at this writing has a 2388 rating. Kathy Toon coached tennis for twenty-three years, including at the University of California-Berkeley for fourteen years where teams she coached won three national doubles championships.

Serving Seminar

As noted in my blog yesterday, I'm doing a Service Seminar at the Maryland Table Tennis Center this Saturday from 12:30-2:00 PM. Here's the new info page! Make sure to email me in advance if you are coming so you can save $5. I'll be covering how to create spin, deception, specific serve motions, and fast serves. We'll alternate between lecture and on-table practice.

Ariel Hsing in LA Times

Here's a feature on Ariel from yesterday's Los Angeles Times. (And in case you didn't figure out the headline, "DIY" means "Do It Yourself.")

2012 World Team Championships

Here's a video feature (12:25) on the 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund, Germany, held March 25 - April 1. 

Will's World of Sports

Will took on Keith Pech in this video (3:54). It was a battle of . . . beginner versus pro. Keith put on a great show! (Will is from Sports Time Ohio, who likes to go around taking on "pros" at their own sports.)

Santa Barbara Library Tables

They are hoping to put up "ping-pong tables" in their Library Plaza. I put quotes around it because the tables are concrete! (See picture in the article.) However, this is somewhat common in China - see this picture.

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