Samsonov

June 8, 2012

Too tight when you play?

I'm one of the roughly way-too-many-to-count players who often struggle to get loose before playing, whether in matches or practice. But I have found a solution that works most of the time, and works for many players I coach.

When you start a session (practice or matches), have fun at the start. Let yourself go. If it's practice, start out with something you do really well (preferably something physical, like looping or smashing), and have fun doing it. If it's a match, take it lightly and have fun. The goal in both cases is to relax and loosen up. Once you feel loose - and this shouldn't take too long - then take deep breath, clear your mind, and focus.

When I say focus, this doesn't mean to get super-serious. You can have a clear mind and still smile on the inside. The best players may often look impassive on the outside, but on the inside they are having the time of their life. So lighten up at the start of your sessions, loosen up, then focus, and you may surprise yourself by how well you play.

At the Easterns last weekend, the kid I was coaching, Derek Nie, started the tournament off very nervous, and played horribly in his first match. Afterwards I took him to a back table where we did some counterlooping for a while, joked about, and then played challenge matches where we trash talked. ("I cannot be beaten!" I'd say whenever I win a point," which of course just spurred him on.) In his matches shortly afterwards, he played the best of his life. (See next item.)

Eastern Open Recap

Here's a nice video recap of the Eastern Open last weekend at Rutgers University (2:50). Alas, they somehow missed me, but at 2:25 you can see Derek Nie, the kid I was coaching, who won Under 13, beat players rated 2258 and 2142, and was up double match point on a 2233 player. Not bad for a 60-pounder! (We already have a list of things he needs to work on before the U.S. Open in a few weeks, and he's been training much of this week on them. Sorry, can't report on them here, there are rival coaches reading! Perhaps after the Open. But last night he had a great session with Jeffrey Xeng Xun, one of our 2600-rated coaches, and he seemed to be playing like he had at the Easterns.)

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's another nice exhibition between Sweden greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson (1:53), with five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller doing the commentary. (On Monday I'd linked to another exhibition they'd done.)

Why does Waldner come up so often when showing spectacular shots and exhibitions? Actually, today has three items pertaining to Sweden, so we'll belatedly declare today National Day of  Sweden, an national holiday in Sweden that was actual celebrated two days ago, on June 6.)

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a five-minute compilation of spectacular points that feature sidespin, mostly sidespin looping. Perhaps the best one is the one (shown in slow motion) of Sweden's Jan-Ove Waldner that starts right at the one minute mark.

Sweden #1 Denied Olympic Spot?

Matilda Ekholm of Sweden qualified for the Olympics, but the Swedish Olympic Association apparently didn't believe she was good enough or competitive to win an Olympic medal, and so denied her a spot on the Olympic team. She is ranked 51 in the world, the highest ranked Swedish woman. (The next best is Daniela Moskovits, #399 in the world.) For comparison, on the men's side, Sweden is sending, in singles, Par Gerell (world #80) and Jorgen Persson (#88, though of course World Men's Singles Champion in 1991, 21 years ago), and a men's team of Persson, Gerell, and Jens Lundqvist (#48). (Sweden didn't qualify for an Olympic Women's Team.)

There's been a huge outcry about this, culminating in these two letters yesterday to the Swedish Olympic Committee by ITTF President Adham Sharara and Vladimir Samsonov, chair of the ITTF Athlete's Commission (and former world #2 and current #14). There's a Facebook page devoted to her cause. And here's a discussion of the situation on the about.com table tennis forum.

Rapper Yelawolf Plays Table Tennis

Here's a three-minute video interview of rapper Yelawolf, which goes back and forth between him performing and the interview, which seems to take place as he's playing table tennis. You can see him actually playing at 1:09 and 2:20, but at other times he seems to be playing as he talks, though they only show his head (you can hear the ball bouncing back and forth in the background).

Fun with Robots

Here's 33 seconds of someone having fun with a robot at full speed, set to music. Reminded me of a sequence from Forrest Gump, but this wasn't computer generated.

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September 14, 2011

Develop the non-hitting side

I remember when Coach (and five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) Dan Seemiller talked about this at training camps back in the late 1970s, and for some reason, it didn't make sense at the time. He kept saying how players over-developed their playing side, leaving the other side undeveloped, and as a result couldn't rotate properly and at full power on forehand shots, especially when looping. I didn't see how you needed the left side to rotate your body about. So I spent years developing my right side, to the point where I could do 40 one-arm pushups with my right arm, and couldn't even get off the floor with my left side. My loops never had pure, raw power, and it wasn't until I became a coach that I realized that part of the reason was I wasn't really pulling much with my left side.

As a coach, not only do I realize I don't, but I see most players don't do this very well either, with many players sort of rotating their playing side into the ball, but not pulling equally back with the non-playing side, which is half the equation when rotating - and if you don't pull with that left side, you lose power. Generating the torque needed for full power, in particular when looping, comes from both sides of the body. This doesn't mean you need to spend time at the gym weight training (though that helps!), but remember to use both sides when rotating on forehand shots - imagine a pole going through your head, and rotate around it, with the playing side pushing forward, the non-playing side pulling backward.

Back update

After months of back problems, I'm finally able to play again. I've been seeing a physical therapist twice a week for about six weeks, and doing a ten-minute stretching/strengthening routine three times a day. During much of this time I had locals do my hitting for me while I coached. I got the go ahead from the doctor to start hitting again last week, and so far, while the back still gets sore, and I'm pretty slow (that happens when you take time off!), I'm able to practice with students normally again. As a coach, I'm no longer handicapped; as a player, I'm in mortal fear of our super-fast juniors because right now, my back (and the rest of me) just doesn't want to move very fast. Hopefully that'll come back soon.

Math and English and Creative Writing, Oh My!

I'm working on this morning's blog quickly because I'm off shortly to do my newest sideline, four hours/week tutoring math, English, and creative writing with a local junior table tennis star. Today's math focus is Cramer's Rule, Gauss-Jordan Elimination, Descartes' Rules of Signs, the Rational Roots Test, and other goodies - though we've already started calculus, he's preparing for a pre-calculus test. And we're also working on a fantasy zombie story!

Free Table Tennis e-Book

You can download a free (yes, FREE!) copy of "Boys look at the Stars - Ping-Pong." It's 216 pages, and looks rather interesting as it covers the history of the sport and its stars, with drawings of many of the table tennis greats of the past and present. I downloaded it but haven't read it, just browsed it, so if anyone wants to do a review, I'll post it here. (It comes in either ePub or PDF format.)

Here's what the author (Enzo Pettinelli) wroteabout the book: "Hi all, I'm an Italian table tennis player and I would like present you this free e-book about table tennis history. The e-book "Boys Look at the Stars - Ping-Pong" talks about the history of table tennis in the world. But it is not only ping-pong or table-tennis. It is an adventure lived by children, through their way of being. Love, cruelty, the story of the great table tennis champions from all the world, stimulates their creativity. Dreams, reality, goals morality, the search of oneself, are the ingredients." There's also a video about the book (2:52), though it mostly shows drawings of the stars, leaving the impression that it's a picture book, while the book actually has plenty of text.

Table tennis promo video

Here's a nice table tennis promo video (3:15).

Here's an article on Jan-Ove Waldner...

...because you can never have enough of Jan-Ove Waldner. And here's a video tribute to Waldner (4:36).

Here's an article on Vladimir Samsonov...

...because you can never have enough of Vladimir Samsonov. And here's a video tribute to Samsonov (4:18).

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September 7, 2011

They Called Me Mad

I recently read a really interesting book, "They Called Me Mad," which highlights about twenty famous scientists who in various ways were misunderstood or thought of as "mad scientists." On page 226 there's this quote from physicist Max Planck: "A new scientific truth does not as a rule prevail because its opponents declare themselves persuaded or convinced, but because the opponents gradually die out and the younger generation is made familiar with the truth from the start." (In Wikipedia there's a slightly different variation attributed to him: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.")

What does this have to do with table tennis? First, to be clear, I'm not advocating anyone in table tennis dying. However, this is exactly the problem USA Table Tennis faces. Generation after generation of often well-meaning USATT leaders come and go, but over and over they try variations of the same failed ideas--often relying on the advice of the same table tennis "experts" who advised previous generations of unsuccessful leaders--and USATT goes nowhere. (There are always some among the USATT leadership that see the light, but they are few, they are outnumbered, and they usually have given up being that pesty person that tries to convince the unconvinceable.) Trying to convince USATT to adopt the methods to develop the sport that have been used successfully in other countries and other sports--and that have been used successfully in some regions of the U.S.--doesn't work; see the Planck quote. I know, I've tried and Tried and TRIED. (So have others.)

In recent years, however, independent of USATT, we suddenly have full-time training centers popping up all over the place (from 5-10 just five years ago to about 50 now), and regional leagues around major cities (NYC, SF, LA) that could grow and become national. (The ITTF coaching seminars created by the USATT coaching committee are promising, though I'd like to see more emphasis on recruiting and training of those who would like to be professional coaches and run junior programs--with an equal emphasis on the professional side (recruiting students, setting up clubs and programs, etc)--and on club-based junior programs.) This is exactly how other countries and other sports developed, and this is the "younger generation" developing our sport. If these same people someday ran USATT, imagine how fast our sport would progress. 

Reverse Pendulum Serve

Many players develop forehand pendulum serves, the most common serve in competitive table tennis. But not so many develop reverse pendulum serves. Why not? It gives you a huge variation to your serves. Not having one is a huge handicap. Not only does the variation make your other serves more effective, but many players--probably most--have great difficulty with this serve, partly because they rarely see it. (It's especially effective short to the forehand, along with sudden long ones to the backhand.) So here's a video (1:48) that shows the serve from multiple angles and in slow motion. Now go practice.

Samsonov and the ITTF Players' Commission

Here's a short article on Samsonov on the ITTF Players' Commission.

Top players analyze their own games

Here's a video (10:25) of Australian star William Henzell analyzing his match against French star Adrien Mattenet. See if you agree with his analysis. Do you do this type of analysis with your own matches? Why not?

Tutoring

In addition to coaching and writing, I've added a new sideline. I've been hired as a private tutor for four hours a week (two hours twice a week) at my regular coaching rate. I'm tutoring calculus, English, and creative writing. It actually means a bit more than four hours a week since I have to review and plan everything in advance. I'm also relearning calculus since my bachelor's in math was from 1985, though I've done some tutoring on and off since then. I'm especially looking forward to teaching creative writing since, outside table tennis, I'm a science fiction & fantasy writer.

Funny table tennis rackets

Here are some funny table tennis rackets. And here's a holy one.

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June 14, 2011

"Let go, Have fun"

One of the toughest things to do in table tennis (or any skill sport) is to do exactly what the heading says - "Let go, Have fun." In a split-second skill sport like table tennis, you can't consciously control each shot; it's all instinctive. Yet that's exactly what one does when they can't relax. And so all their instincts go out the window, and suddenly they can't make a shot. Afterwards, they wonder why.

USA Women's Champion Arial Hsing, just 15 years old, exemplifies the ability to "Let go, Have fun." It is that ability (along with huge amounts of training, great coaching, experience, etc. - details!) that make her a champion. And how did she learn to do this? During her up-and-coming years, guess what she always wrote on her arm before a tournament? Here she is, about four years ago, at age 11. Yes, that's "Let go, Have fun!" written on her arm. (I have a larger version on my computer so I can zoom in and verify the words, including the exclamation mark at the end.)

Players who learn to do this find themselves basically spectators when they play. They think tactically, but otherwise they just watch the ball and let their bodies play the game while they observe. They just have fun watching as they pull off shot after shot!

Why not say "Let go, have fun" to yourself before every match from now on? Imagine how much better everyone would play. Of course, now that the secret's out, your opponent's going to do the same thing, and soon we'll have matches where the two players just sit around and watch while their bodies go play.

I was now going to direct you to a site dedicated to sports psychology for table tennis, run by table tennis star and sports psychologist Dora Kurimay - but apparently that site has been hacked by a nutty "Isl4m For Ever" extremist group. (Anyone know anything about this?) Hopefully Dora will get control of the site back soon. (I just sent her a message, but I'm guessing she already knows.)
Breaking News - Dora has fixed the problem, so now you can see her sports psychology for table tennis site! 

Here are some nice video points

ITTF Coaching Seminars in the U.S.

There are now five ITTF Coaching Seminars coming up in the U.S. (I ran the first one by a USA coach in April in Maryland.) Here is the upcoming schedule - get out your five-sided coin and choose!

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