Kreanga

October 14, 2014

Tip of the Week

Working With Your Subconscious.

The Last Two Weeks

I'm back!!! The past two weeks have been among the busiest I have ever had. As noted in my blog from a week ago (before I took a sort of forced sabbatical), USATT Historian Tim Boggan moved in with me on Tuesday, Sept. 30, so I could once again do the photo work and page layouts for Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis. Here's a rundown on that, on my coaching, on a science fiction convention, health - and on a theft at the supermarket!

Because Tim goes to bed every night around 7:30 PM and gets up by 3AM, I tried to sort of match his schedule. For eleven days I mostly got up around 5:30 AM (sometimes earlier!), and we'd go to work by 6:30AM. (Several times we started by 5:30 AM.) We'd work until about 2:30 PM, with a 30-minute lunch break. At 2:30PM I'd normally leave to coach, since that's when I have to leave to pick up kids for our afterschool program. On weekends I was even busier with coaching, and Tim and I had to work around that.  

We "sort of" finished everything on Friday night. I saw "sort of" because, even though Tim left on Saturday morning, I still had a bunch of work on it. It got worse when Tim emailed me on Sunday night with a long list of changes and corrections needed, which I did on Monday. I finally sent the finished version to the printer on Monday afternoon. It should be available in ten days or so.

The final version is 401 pages long, with 978 photos, and covers the years 1986-88. The 401 is actually a bit shorter than his norm, but the 978 photos is a record. Think about this - for each photo I had to pull it up, fix it up in Photoshop (taking anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes), place it on the page where Tim indicated (he had copious notes), put in the caption (which Tim read to me), and then (when the photos for the page were up), lay out the page so everything lined up to Tim's satisfaction. It would have been a lot harder if not for Mal Anderson, who not only took the majority of the photos used, but scanned them all in advance. (In the early volumes, I did all the scanning, which added about two days to the project each time.)

I don't think any of my students noticed how exhausted I was each day during Tim's stay. My busiest days are Wed, Thur, Fri, and Sun. On those days I'd go straight from long hours with Tim to long hours at the table. On other days I did the same, but typically only had perhaps two hours of coaching. Often I'd be working essentially non-stop from 6:30AM to 9PM, then coming home and trying to do this blog and other work. (This is why I finally had to take a sabbatical.)

One of my students, Matt, has been working hard on his backhand loop. (He recently turned 13, is about 1700 level now.) During his session on Wednesday we did an improvised game where he served backspin, I pushed to his backhand, and he backhand looped anywhere, then we played out the point. At first I won every game easily. Near the end of the session he had a game where he led until the very end, and then I came back to win. I won the next few games easily, and he grew increasingly frustrated. The session ended - my last of the day - but he was determined to do better, and so I stayed late. We played more games, and some were close, but I kept winning. And then it all came together, and he played a brilliant game, making nearly every shot (forehands and backhands), and he won. As I've blogged before, anything you can do in practice you are perhaps six months away from being able to do in a serious match, so perhaps he'll be able to play like this all the time in six months - in which case he'll be pretty scary!!!

In the group sessions on Thursday and Sunday we did a lot of smashing and serving practice. With Navin on Sunday we worked more on his forehand smash and on his backhand chop block (he uses hardbat). He's had a problem in that he often has me use hardbat to practice with him, so his chop block became used to that - but when he played sponge players, he'd pop the ball up against their greater topspin. So this session I used sponge, and hopefully that'll pay off. With Doug, we focused on forehand looping and backhand banana flip - and it paid off as he did very well in the league afterwards. On the downside, Daniel, one of the top 10-year-olds in the country, is having arm problems and had to cancel lessons both weeks. He'll likely rest it another week or so.

After Tim left on Saturday morning I spent much of the weekend jumping between the Capclave Science Fiction Convention here in Gaithersburg and coaching. I was a panelist (yes, people paid to hear me speak!); here's my Capclave bio. Here are the three panels I was on. (I moderated the one on Flash Fiction.)

  • Flash Fiction - Writing for the Short Attention Span Generation. Markets are opening up everywhere for stories of 500 to 1,000 words or less and with the advent of Twitter and Facebook, there are markets for stories just a few sentences in length. In this panel we will discuss the markets, the writing techniques, the agony and the ecstasy and the future of writing the super-short story.
  • The Greatest Animated Films. A debate over a list of the greatest animated films. Can we agree on a top ten list for the best or will the panel erupt into fisticuffs?
  • I Hate His/Her Politics But I Love His/Her Books. Should a personal evaluation of an author be separated from how you view his/her politics? Many people refused to see the movie Ender's Game because of Orson Scott Card's statements on homosexuality and other writers charge that political views influence award nominations and who is picked for con programming. Is this true and if so, is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Healthwise, I was exhausted all week, but it's been a while since I've had any real injuries. (I'm crossing my fingers.) I've had some minor twinges in my right knee, but nothing serious yet. As noted in previous blogs, I had dropped my weight from 196 in July to 178.4 when Tim arrived. Alas, with the long hours and Tim's treating me to fancy meals, this morning I'm at 181.8. So back to dieting. (I plan to get to 170.) 

Now the theft. I went to Giant for some shopping on Sunday. Included on my shopping were two bottles of Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, which is my morning staple. At the checkout counter, as the items were being rung up, someone walked by. I noticed them lean over my stuff for a moment, but didn't pay close attention. Then I saw the person carrying a bottle of Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice as he walked away. I remember thinking, "I'm not the only one who likes the stuff." Then, as my items were being bagged, I noticed I only had one bottle of the juice. That's when I realized the person had stolen one of them when he'd leaned over my stuff! I showed the receipt to the person at the cash register, who verified I'd been charged for two but only had one. They allowed me to get a new one. So somewhere out there is a bottle of stolen Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice. To paraphrase another "juice" person, "I will not rest until I find my juice's stealer." (Bonus points to whoever correctly comments below who I'm paraphrasing.)

ITTF Trickshot Competition

Josep Anton Velazquez won it for the second year in a row. Here's the ITTF press release, and here's the winning video (42 sec). I can do the same serve that breaks sideways and parallel to the end-line (at least with my forehand pendulum serve, where tried this out after seeing the video), and can do the same fast down-the-line serve, but I wonder how many tries it would take to get them both together so they collide (not to mention the carpentry work to create the props)? That's some awesome precision. Here's the runner-up video (1:09) and here's the ITTF Trickshot Competition Page.

A Lesson in "Work Ethic" from 5-time U.S. Champion Sean O'Neill

Here's the video (4:05) by Brian Pace.

Learn How to Develop Your "A" Game

Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Ask the Coach

PingSkills has a new "Ask the Coach" video series. I previously posted links to their first two episodes. Here are four more.

Episode 3 (11:10).

  • Question 1: Sir, as i play table tennis, while playing too fast the ball sometimes hits my fingers and the whole game goes wrong. So how to prevent it? Rishabh
  • Question 2: I was having problems with countering services with combined spin like the topspin with sidespin services. How to counter them? Pat
  • Question 3: My coach told me to hold the bat differently when i am serving, but in my last competition i felt that i didn’t manage to change the grip on the bat fast enough after i am serving, so when my opponent returns my serve. David
  • Question 4: I am facing difficulty while countering the high returns bouncing just on the end of the table. I often play close to the table and I have an attacking style of play. I know this is an unusual weakness but can you guide me how counter these. Mukul

Episode 4 (9:40).

  • Question 1: Can you give me tips on the traditional pen-hold backhand topspin? I tried gripping the handle a little further from the face, curling my three fingers, and twisting the paddle so the forehand side is facing down, but to no avail. Table Tennis Guy
  • Question 2: I sometimes tend to lean back when I loop or drive. I'm guessing it's a problem with me shifting weight from right to left and instead keeping the weight on my right leg forcing me to lean back to take the shot. I'm not sure though. Justin
  • Question 3: Can you say that drills are essential or are plenty of matches required to become a good table tennis player? Meet Master
  • Question 4: If both sides of the blade has same rubber glued to it e.g. Xiom Vega Pro is on both sides of a blade then can they be both of same color or they should be black and red? Please guide me according to ITTF rules. Muhammad

Episode 5 (12:56).

  • Question 1: Hi Jeff and Alois, I often practice to attack backspins with a topspin using a Donic robot, but because of these exercises I tear my rubbers against the table at least twice a month. What I am doing wrong? Stanislav.
  • Question 2: Against beginners when I play my full loop I miss more because it feels like their ball has nothing on it and my ball just flies into space. It's got to the point where unless the player puts a lot of pace or spin I'm afraid to do a full forehand. Peter C.
  • Question 3: I was bored waiting, so I did some wall practice, it got faster, after a few minutes I noticed my eyes were adjusting to the speed then, we played table tennis I got a winning streak of 6 matches. What other warmups are effective. Jigo.
  • Question 4: Hello, I want to ask: How can I return a fast topspin stroke without blocking it? What are the options? Thanks, Tibor.

Episode 6 (13:36).

  • Question 1: Hello, I'm trying to develop a serve that just nicks the table, is this legal? Thanks. George.
  • Question 2: As I play short pimples on backhand I have recently begun to wonder if it would be good to turn my bat during a rally and hit the ball with my short pips but on my forehand side. What do you think, is it a good idea to train on that? Fredrik.
  • Question 3: I saw when professional players get serves to their forehand they often move over and return it with their backhand. Should I start practicing returning serves that come to my forehand with my backhand or should I practice my forehand more? David.
  • Question 4: I have an 11 year old son I am trying to teach table tennis. We practice about once a month and we have been doing that for a while but not making much progress. I feel I should teach him how to consistently bounce the ball. Can you tell me how? Fatih.
  • Question 5: Hi guys, just to ask what serves did you both use in your careers? Also can you tell me what serves encourage a forehand return? Sasha.

Table Tennis Can Help Those with Parkinson's

Here's the article.

Maccabi USA Seeking Jewish Athletes for European and Pan American Maccabi Games

Here's the USATT article.

USATT Joins AmazonSmile Program

Here's the USATT article.

The Immigrant Sport: What Ping-Pong Means in America

Here's the article.

Table Tennis Included in 2020 Paralympic Games

Here's the ITTF Press Release.

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - September 2014

Here's the video (13:58).

Nathan Hsu in China

Here are his latest videos.

Secret of Olympic Medals

Here's the video (2:28) featuring physical training and other aspects at the ICC table tennis center.

The Top Spin League's Challenge

Here's the video (2:33) from the Top Spin Club in San Jose, CA.

The King of Backhands - Kreanga

Here's the highlights video (2:56).

Omron Table Tennis Rallying Robot

Here's the video (41 sec) - these robots are getting better and better. Soon they will master the deadly secret of reading spin and Chinese domination of our sport will be at an end as we bow to our new robot masters.

Big Bang Theory and Ping Pong

Last night on The Big Bang Theory there was a sequence where the actors watched a video of pigeons playing ping pong. I was curious and looked it up, and sure enough, here it is - a 38-sec video of pigeons trained to play a version of table tennis!  

Cat Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (34 sec) - and in this one, the cat really is rallying!

Table Tennis's Ten Funniest Moments

Here's the video (7:25) from the ITTF. These are great!!! If you haven't seen the highlights of the famous Saive-Chuang shown at the end, then you haven't seen table tennis.

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January 24, 2014

USATT Election and the Petition Rule

Recently USATT had a special election to fill a vacant At-Large seat on the USATT Board of Directors. USATT has a Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC). One of their duties is to evaluate candidates for office and nominate them for the election ballot. If you wish to run for the USATT board, and they don't choose you, you have no recourse. Right away alarm bells should be going off in your head. (The only exception is if you run for an Athlete Director position, but only elite athletes are eligible for that.)

For the At Large positions, here is the pertinent bylaw (from Section 7.6. Election/Selection, b-3 in the USATT bylaws.): "The Nominating and Governance Committee shall evaluate all candidates for At Large Director and nominate at least two (2) individuals per seat to the USATT General Membership for election."

In the special election, I was told six people applied to run. The NGC had to select two or more for the ballot, and could in fact have put all six on the ballot. Now I agree that, given the flawed rules to start with, the NGC had to make a decision, and not all six candidates were greatly qualified. But they could have put more than two on the ballot, and let the voters decide. Instead, they kept four of the six off the ballot, and allowed voters to choose only among the final two.

The NGC chose USATT Hall of Famer Jim McQueen (who went on to win the election, and who I voted for) and Ross Brown. (Here's the announcement.) Nothing wrong with this, though I might have chosen different candidates. For example, Jim Butler applied, but was turned down. His main qualification is as an elite athlete (3-time U.S. Men's Champion, Olympian), but he also has a lot of energy and ideas. Mauricio Vergara, who runs the New York Table Tennis League, also applied and was turned down. (Leagues and junior programs are how table tennis all over the world has grown, as well as most other sports all over the U.S. - but USATT has never recognized these obvious facts, and so puts little value in this sort of thing, which is why membership has stagnated so long. I find this mind-boggling - if we can't figure out the easy stuff, how can we do the hard stuff?)

I could write long arguments for these candidates, but one other candidate was amazingly left off the ballot, the candidate that should have been the first one put on the ballot. Who was that? Rajul Sheth, who set up and runs the ICC Table Tennis Club in the Bay Area, applied, and even he was turned down! I find this mind-boggling. Let's look at some of his credentials, which he sent to the NGC (and which I cut & pasted):

  • Rajul established one of the biggest full time table tennis centers in the country-ICC Table Tennis Center with over 300 members and 150 kids in junior training program.
  • Qualifying athletes in national teams. The most relevant, qualifying 3 athletes Ariel Hsing, Timothy Wang & Lily Zhang at the Olympics, all three forged and prepared in the same club, no other worldwide clubs did the same.
  • Recognition by USATT as Centre of Excellence, and by ITTF as one of the 22 ITTF Hot Spot in the World for talent development.
  • Succeeded in raising funds to sponsor most of the top juniors in bay area for their training and equipment cost including current US National Men’s and Women’s singles champion Timothy Wang and Lily Zhang.
  • Employed the largest professional coaching staff (8 full time and 10 part times) in the country to take our juniors to next level.
  • Rajul won 2008 and 2009 USATT/USOC development Coach of the Year Award. ICC coaches Massimo Costantini and Zhou Xin also won 2011 & 2012 National coach of the year award by USATT/USOC.
  • Hosting three of the top ten USATT sanctioned tournament each year in terms of number of players.
  • Largest USATT singles league in the country with over 120 players compete each week.
  • Introduces our sport to at least 1000-1200 new kids each year in 14 weeks of summer and winter camps. To run these camps he invites at least 15 coaches from India, China and Europe each year.

So the guy is successful in starting up a large-scale full-time table tennis center; in developing elite athletes; in creating large-scale leagues; in creating large-scale junior programs; and in raising hordes of money (many hundreds of thousands of dollars to date). All of these are things that USATT badly needs to be able to do. And yet, voters were blocked from even having the opportunity of voting for him.

The rule used to be that anyone left off the ballot by the NGC could get on the ballot by petition of 150 signatures from USATT members. It used to be an annual rite at the U.S./North American Teams for candidates to get the signatures needed. (I did this when I was left off the ballot in 1991, and I subsequently got on by petition, and won in a landslide over the candidates chosen by the committee. Someday I'll blog about my experiences on the USATT board, though they are not much different than my experience in torturing myself by attending well over fifty USATT board meetings over the years.)

Some might argue that we don't want people like Rajul because of the conflict of interest. Putting aside that the conflict here is that he may favor his home club over others, and that I'm from a rival club (MDTTC) and don't consider it a major conflict, let's look at the logic.

We want USATT to succeed. For it to do so, we need people who are successful in table tennis - people who have set up and run clubs, leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, tournaments, done fundraising, etc. If we immediately exclude anyone who has been successful in these areas that grow the sport, what are we left with? Just the unsuccessful ones to run our sport? No, it is exactly the people who have set up and run such successful programs that we need on the USATT board.

To use a simple example, Jim McQueen has been successful in running table tennis programs in the Raleigh, NC region for decades, and that's a reason for putting him on the ballot. Does anyone consider that a conflict of interest? The irony is that a primary reason some might say Rajul has a conflict of interest is because he has been TOO successful! And so, because his club and organizing efforts are too successful, he has a conflict of interest, and can't run. So we have to find others who weren't as successful.  

One explanation for the above: there are only four members of the NGC, and amazingly, only two of them are table tennis people. So lacking table tennis experience, two of the four have no real way of really evaluating the candidates, and so we're down to two people choosing who will be on the ballot, and who will not. They are welcome to explain the reasoning for the decision to leave Rajul (or others) off the ballot, and assuming it's polite, it'll run without comment that day in my blog. (Here's the listing of USATT committees, including the NGC.)

There's a simple solution to this problem: CHANGE THE BYLAWS.  Bring back the 150 signature rule, i.e. let candidates who are not chosen by the NGC get on by petition. (Actually, 150 always seemed too many; 100 should suffice.) It didn't cause a problem before, and there's no reason to not have it again, unless the goal is to focus all power in a small group, and exclude voters from voting for certain candidates who have been hugely successful. Changing the USATT bylaws isn't that big a deal. Here are the simple rules:

ARTICLE XXII AMENDMENTS OF BYLAWS
Section 22.1. Amendments
Upon at least thirty (30) days advance notice of the proposed changes, the Bylaws may be amended, repealed, altered in whole or in part, and the new Bylaws may be adopted by a two-third (2/3) affirmative vote of the Full Board at any meeting duly

I'd love to see which USATT board member will step up and make the proposal - and which board members would actually oppose this. (There are nine board members, so it would take six to pass this, or four to block it at a meeting of all nine members.) Alas, USATT has a long history of status quo, and I suspect it will continue its status quo of status quo.

I'd also like to see the NGC committee, which is responsible for choosing which table tennis people can run for these table tennis positions, be made up of all table tennis people. That seems a no-brainer.

My personal "agenda" is simple - I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen. I didn't read that from the campaign statements of the two candidates chosen. I hope to be pleasantly surprised in this.

Perhaps I sound like someone who should have run for the board. Guess what? I strongly considered running, but when I heard Rajul was running for the one open spot, I decided not to run. If I'd known he would be excluded (the idea of which never entered my mind, though I knew the bylaws), I might have applied to run - but under the current rules, would I have been allowed to?

Serve Practice

Have you practiced your serves this week? No??? Okay . . . let me know when you are serious about your game again, and we'll talk! To the rest of you, good job.

Infinite Looper

Infinite Looper is a great resource for studying the game. It allows you to choose a table tennis video, and play back one segment over and over. For example, here's a 3-second segment showing Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov's backhand loop kill, which you can watch over and Over and OVER! (The word "looper" in the title has to do with being able to loop the same segment over and over, not a heavy topspin shot!) 

Kreanga vs. Angles

Here's video (58 sec) of an incredible rally between Greece's Kalinikos Kreanga and France's Enzo Angles.

Ping-Pong with Nunchucks

Here's a video (2:10) where "Twins battle in a Ping Pong match using Nunchucks and Martial Arts Skills." This is reminiscent of the infamous Bruce Lee Nunchuck video (2:37) that seemed to show Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks. (It was actually from a Nokia cell phone ad, and the actor was a Bruce Lee look-alike.)

***
Send us your own coaching news!

October 21, 2013

Tip of the Week

Should you Choose Serve, Receive, or Side at the Start of a Match?

Knee Problems

Yes, just a couple weeks after getting over about ten days of arm problems (where I had to cancel or get substitutes for a lot of coaching sessions), now it's my right knee that's acting up. I hurt it on Saturday at the very end of my last session, with John Olsen and Kevin Walton. We normally do nearly 90 minutes of multiball each session (they take turns), then do live drills or games the last 30 minutes or so. I was playing John a game, and he returned my serve to my wide backhand. I stepped around to loop a forehand, and as I put weight on my back (right) leg, I felt something go in the knee. I made the shot, and the rally continued, with me hobbling about fishing to keep the ball in play. Then he went to my wide forehand, and I tottered over for the shot, again putting weight on the knee and aggravating it. We stopped play after the shot.

I did a lot of group session on Sunday, where I limped about. I did one private coaching session where I staggered around in live drills, but fortunately did a lot of multiball so I wouldn't have to shamble around the court running down balls. (Okay, I think I've finally run out of acronyms for "hobble.")

I'm resting it today (my day off), and have only one session tomorrow (Tuesday). But then things get busy again on Wed and Thur. I'll sort of get Fri-Sun off, as I'll be coaching at the South Shore Open in Indiana where hopefully I won't leap to my feet to celebrate some victory and hurt the knee again. Because then I'd be forced to stumble about next week.

How I Taught Serves in Class Yesterday

On Sundays at 4:30 I have a 90-minute session with about 12 beginning kids, ages 7-11. I'd already taught them how to serve legally. Yesterday I introduced them to serving with spin. This is always a tricky subject to teach since they don't have the fine coordination yet needed to really graze the ball and make it spin. Worse, they get little feedback from their shot since they can't really see how much it's spinning. So as I always do, I brought out the ping-pong soccer balls.

First I showed them how to change their grip so as to get extra wrist on a forehand serve. Then I demoed a few serves, showing them backspin serves that bounced back into the net and sidespin serves that curved dramatically. This always gets their attention. Then I showed them a simple exercise to learn to create spin. Hold the racket in front, forehand side up. Then tilt the left side up a bit. (Lefties reverse.) Then toss a ball up, and spin the left bottom of the ball so it goes straight up with spin. Catch the ball, and repeat. After demoing this with a soccer ball, I gave one out to each of them. This way they could see how much spin they were creating as they hit the ball up, and they really like spinning the ball. After a few minutes practicing this, I showed them how to do this with a serve (forehand backspin and sidespin serves), and then sent them out on the tables to practice.

RGIII Response Video Postings

The RGIII Video Response went semi-viral, with over 10,000 views. I'm told it was shown on the NFL Network, but I haven't actually got an eye-witness to that. Anyone see that or have a video of it? Or know of any showings not listed below? Definite online showing are at:

2013 USA Nationals

The deadline for the USA Nationals was extended to Oct. 25, this Friday. Hope to see you there!

Interview with Xiao Zhan

Here's a video interview (4:51) of one of the Chinese National Team Coaches, about how he got started, coaching young players, and talent identification. In Chinese with English captions.

The Kenta Matsudaira Sidespin Block

Here's an article and video analysis of the Japanese star's sidespin block, a rare shot among the world's elite that mostly consists of looping or counterlooping everything.

Physics of Table Tennis

Here's an article explaining the Magnus Effect (how spin makes the ball curve), using Adam Hugh's ITTF Trick Shot Competition entry as an example.

Kreanga vs. Tokic

Here's a great point between these two (54 sec).

The Eight Stages of Every Player

Here's the funny but accurate appraisal! So where are you on this?

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are some pictures.

***
Send us your own coaching news!

February 5, 2013

Tim Boggan Arrives

This morning at 9:30 AM Tim Boggan will arrive for a 10-14 day stay. I'll be doing the page layouts (500+) and photo work (800+) for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13 (as I've done for the past ones). Here's Tim's page (which I created and maintain for him), where you can buy the previous volumes.

Since we'll be working all day, Mon-Fri, until it's done, and since I'll be mostly coaching nights and weekends, I won't have much free time the next two weeks. (I'll be doing most of the blog late at night instead of early in the morning, since Tim will be up and waiting to get started early each morning.) If anyone is dreaming of asking me to do a time-wasting favor for them, well, here's what I have to say about that.

Tactical Matches

Here are more examples of tactics used this past weekend in practice matches.

In one I played a player with a really nice forehand smash. Just about anything that went there he'd smash (even my pushes if I weren't careful), and if I put the ball slow to his backhand, he'd step around and smash that as well. What to do? I took most short serves right off the bounce to his wide backhand with banana flips, which kept his forehand out of play. If the serve went long, I looped, again always wide to the backhand. I varied my serve, following them up with attack - you guessed it - into his wide backhand. His backhand blocking wasn't nearly as strong, and he almost never got a chance to smash. This was a case where he was literally waiting for me to go to this forehand so he could smash, so I almost never did, not unless he wandered toward his backhand side.

In another match I played an extremely fast junior who could pound the ball from both sides to all parts of the table, and was much quicker than me. There's no way I could really cover the whole table in a rally against him. Since he was using standard placement tactics - every ball to the wide corners or at my elbow - I employed a tactic I've blogged about before. I stood in a slight forehand stance, but toward my backhand side. I covered the wide backhand and middle with my backhand, using his own pace to rebound the ball back, countering the balls back wide to his backhand to keep his forehand out of play. I could barely keep up the pace he was setting, but eventually he'd change directions and go to my forehand. The instant I saw the change, I would step to the wide forehand and counter-attack. The two keys to that forehand counter-attack were 1) I was already standing with my feet in a forehand position so I'd be ready, and 2) I didn't look to see where the ball would go on my forehand side - I anticipated it would go wide. Essentially this moves my middle toward my forehand side. If his shot went a foot inside the forehand corner, I'd have been stuck (like a player caught with a ball hit at their elbow), but that's not how players are trained - and so I won.

Other tactics used in this match - lots of receive variation to throw him off, with flips, loops, and short and long pushes. When I attacked (mostly by looping except in fast rallies), I went after his forehand, which took his angle into my backhand away so I was able to follow with another forehand.

In another match against a big-looping junior with a passive receive I served lots of varied short serves. He'd push them, even chopping down on the side-top serves so he could push them low. But the key was that he was predictable, as well as vulnerable to varied amounts of backspin, sidespin, and topspin, since he was trying to push or chop-block them all back. So I could anticipate slow backspin returns every time, and since I didn't have to guard against a flip, I could go for a forehand loop every time. (Whenever it got close, I'd throw a fast, deep serve at him for a free point - he was rarely ready for it.) On his serve (almost all short) I mostly flipped to his wide backhand or dropped it short. Sometimes he'd wind up and rip a backhand loop; when he did that, I knew he was anticipating it, and on the next receive I'd aim to his backhand, and at the last second flip to his wide forehand. It got him every time.

British Rock Band Challenges Justin Bieber

The band Lawson has challenged Justin Bieber at table tennis. Who will win?

Chico Table Tennis Club

Here's an article about the Chico TTC in Durham, CA.

Kong Linghui on the Women's Trials

Here's an article about Kong Linghui, the Chinese Women's Coach. "The Squad Trials is getting much harder!"

New World Rankings

Here's an article on the new world rankings. Zhang Jike drops to third! Here are the new rankings.

Lunar Cup Matches and an Exhibition

The 2013 Lunar New Year Cup Challenge Match was held in China, with the top six Chinese players competing: Xu Xin, Zhang Jike, and Ma Long against Chen Qi, Wang Liqin, and Wang Hao. (Actual matches are Xu vs. Chen; Zhang vs. Wang Liqin; and Ma Long vs. Wang Hao.) Also featured is an exhibition by former superstars Guo Yuehua and Chen Xinhua. Here's where you can watch the videos.

The Best of Samsonov, Schlager, Boll, Kreanga, and Primorac

Here's a highlights video (7:53) featuring many of the best European players.

1946 U.S. National Ping-Pong Championships

Here's vintage video footage (1:06) from the 1946 U.S. Open. It features several clips of Laszlo Bellak clowning around for the camera, including blowing the ball sideways (hey, that's my trick!), rallying by kicking the ball back, and other tricks.

Air Gun Fires Ping-Pong Balls at 900 MPH

See what happens when a ping-pong ball traveling Mach 1.2 strikes a ping-pong paddle!

Table Tennis Cookies

Mmmmmmm...

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September 9, 2011

Internet out

We've had almost non-stop rain the last four days here in Maryland, and yesterday had a thunderstorm that would have scared the Chinese National Team back to the alternate universe from whence they came. (You didn't think anyone from this universe could play that well did you?) At around 5PM both the Internet and cable TV went out, and a few minutes later the power went out for a short time. The cable TV came back on sometime early this morning, but still no Internet. Fortunately, I'd already put together notes for this morning's blog, including various online links. Unfortunately, I would have commented more on them after seeing them against this morning, but can't. After I finishing writing this up, I'm off to Starbucks to use their free wireless so I can put this online.  

Essentials for World Class Coaching

This is a must read for coaches and analytical-minded players. With the Internet out, I can't give the commentary I planned (and don't plan on staying at Panera's Bread long enough to do so), but I'm guessing you'll survive.

Blocking is under-rated

So says junior star Vikash Sahu, and I'm inclined to agree. Back in the early-to-mid 1980s, in between bouts of ongoing arm problems, I was an all-out attacker with a pretty good block. In 1985 I was hired by USATT to go to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to work with our resident training program as (at various times) manager, assistant coach, and director. During the next four and a half years I was a practice partner for our top junior players, and spent the bulk of my time blocking while they drilled. When I returned to Maryland in 1990, my blocking was a zillion times better, but I'd lost my attack. However, after a time my attack came back, and now I had that great block to back it up - and so I probably played the best of my life over the next few years. It also greatly helps me now, since blocking is pretty important for a coach!

Werner Schlager and Kalinikos Kreanga

Here's a video of these two training together recently. (Schlager on far side.) They seem a bit sloppy at first, but it gets better. (5:09)

Video Interviews

The Pongcast does interviews with top players and coaches, including their latest with five-time U.S. Champion and Olympian Sean O'Neill.

Timo Boll's doping worries

Yes, he's worried about testing positive- and blames it on that delicious Chinese food. Now I'm worried about my getting tested....

Grading USATT

Recently I've written a bunch about my frustration with USATT's lack of progress in developing our sport. Someone asked me how I would grade USATT on this. It wouldn't be fair to single out what they do worst while ignoring the rest - it's not all bad. So here are my grades for USATT. (I'm a USATT member - a Life member - so I have a right to grade them!)

  • Maintenance of the sport - working with current membership, running Open and Nationals, magazine, web page, etc.: B. While there's always room for improvement, overall they do fine here, given the limited staff. There are a few things I'd like to see to bump this up to an A, but I won't go into that here.
  • Helping elite athletes: C. Much of the problem here is because of a lack of funding - but why aren't they fund-raising? And it's a lot more cost effective to set up larger and longer training camps in the U.S., using the top players who are already here as practice partners, than to send them overseas. Clubs like ICC have volunteered to do so for free. I too would volunteer to come to such a camp to help out, probably feeding multiball full-time.
  • Development of the sport - increasing USATT membership, setting up leagues and junior programs, etc.: F. I've written plenty on this already. As some would say, "Enough already!" However, I've heard that in a few weeks (Sept. 17-18, if I recall correctly), USATT is holding another "Strategic Meeting" like the one they did in September of 2009. Unless they have learned the lessons on why the 2009 meeting didn't work, and why previous ones didn't work - I've been to at least four of these so far numbingly useless "Strategic Meetings" - this one won't work either. Until they set specific goals (with specific dates), create specific plans to meet those goals, put specific people in charge of implementing those plans, and then implement those plans, they'll continue to just maintain the sport (see above) without actually developing it.

    If I hear one more person from USATT talk about the things they are going to do, instead of actually doing these things, I think I will personally feed rapid-fire multiball at smashing speeds at the mouth those words come out of. (Of course, a major part of the problem is choosing things to do that can actually be implemented and will actually work in meeting whatever goals they are designed to reach.)

    One key thing for USATT to consider when looking to develop the sport: if they set a goal, say, of creating 100 successful junior programs in five years (my recommendation to them), and after five years have created "only" 70, they have not failed. They have created 70 successful junior programs that weren't there before, and that's a huge success. (And we only have maybe 20 in the whole country right now.) The alternative is to not even try, and that is a failure. And that is why they received an F.

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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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