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February 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Learn to Play Defense.

Why the High-Toss Serve Isn't as Popular as Before

I saw an online discussion of why the high-toss serve isn't as popular as before, and thought it would be a good topic for my blog. I've been high-toss serving since the 1970s, and it's still a major part of my serving game. Here's an article I wrote on the high-toss serve.

The higher toss allows extra spin on the serve. However, you lose some control as well as some deception. Here are the two main reasons why the serve isn't as popular as before.

First was the rise of the half-long serve (also called a tweeny serve) as the dominant serve at the advanced levels. These are serves where the second bounce, given the chance, is right about the end-line. Any longer, and they are easy to loop; any shorter, and they are easy to drop short or flip at wide angles. These are probably the most difficult serves to return effectively, which is why essentially every world-class player (and most advanced ones) focus on these serves. The problem is that the difference between an effective half-long serve and a weak one is only a few inches. So control is extremely important - and more difficult to do with a high-toss serve, where the ball is traveling much faster at contact.

Second is that you lose some deception with a high-toss serve. With a shorter toss, the ball is dropping more slowly, and so the server can do more deceptive motions around the contact point, and so it's harder for the receiver to pick up on where contact was actually made. With a higher toss, the ball is dropping faster, and so there's little time for that deceptive motion.

High-toss serves are still effective, but take a lot more practice to develop well than other serves. Most players who high-toss serve can't really control the depth, and so the ball almost always goes long, meaning the receiver knows he's going to get to loop as soon as he sees the high toss. To counteract this, many players hold back on the spin when high-toss serving so they can control the depth - thereby taking away the primary advantage of a high-toss serve, the extra spin.

I find the high-toss serve most effective as a variation to my other serves. I use the same motion for the serve - a forehand pendulum serve - but focus on extreme spins and less deception. Usually I'll serve it short but with either straight backspin or "heavy no-spin" (i.e. I fake backspin but serve without spin). However, I will throw other long serve variations at opponents if I think they start anticipating it will go short.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

We did the last three chapters on Friday, finishing with 29 chapters, 448 pages, and 916 graphics which I painstakingly cleaned up in Photoshop, placed on the page, and captioned. (I also had to scan a lot of them, though thankfully Mal Anderson did most of the scanning for the book in advance.) Tim spent the weekend (and much time before that) proofing everything, and today we input all the changes. Then I do all the pre-press work. It's going to be a looong day.

Sales Update - Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here are the first week of sales, Feb. 11-18. (With Tim leaving tomorrow, I'll finally be able to focus on publicizing it, in various forums and web pages, as well as the upcoming ad in USATT Magazine.)

Personal Sales (mostly at club): 9
Amazon Print Sales: 40
Amazon Kindle Sales: 36
Total Sales: 85

U.S. Open in Las Vegas

It's official from USATT - here's a news item on the U.S. Open and Nationals both being in Las Vegas this year, and why.

Timo Boll and China

Here's an article on how Timo aims to continue to be the strongest opponent for China. Includes a 44-second video of Timo speaking in German.

Table Tennis Instead of Wrestling?

Here's an article in the Canton Daily Ledger where someone argues that table tennis should be dropped from the Olympics instead of wrestling. He writes, "Unless you really believe the ping pong movie 'Balls of Fury,' then I think you would agree that there is just a 'tiny' more amount of effort put into wrestling than table tennis." Sure, wrestling is also at the high end in terms of "effort" needed, but few sports take up as much as table tennis at the highest levels. Obviously this guy has never seen real table tennis or seen the training they undergo. That's why he writes for the Canton Daily Ledger instead of [write in your own favorite high-level media outlet].

Behind the Back Shot

Here's a video (34 sec) of one of the best behind-the-back shots I've ever seen, by Quentin Robinot of France (world #173) against Kiryl Barabanov of Belarus (world #581) at the Kuwait Open this past weekend. See it in both real time and slow motion.

Kang Dong Soo vs Fang Bo

Here's a video (9:25) of chopper/looper Kang Dong Soo of Korea defeating Chinese team member Fang Bo (world #24) at the Kuwait Open. Kang plays very similarly to the current Korean #1, Joo Se Hyuk, currently world #12 (#5 as recently as last March) and 2003 World Men's Singles Finalist). The chopping style, when combined with looping, is alive and well!

Google Ping-Pong

Some of you may remember that Google has three times had a table tennis graphic as their daily Google logo, once each for the last three Olympics: 2004 ("Greeks" in Athens), 2008 (the "dragon" in Beijing), and 2012 (the "White-Haired Woman" in London). Here's former U.S. Junior Champion Barbara Wei at Google Headquarters in New York City, standing in front of a large picture of the 2012 Olympic Table Tennis Logo.

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January 4, 2013

How to Deal with Beginners at a Club

This is a semi-regular topic at table tennis forums, so I thought I'd address it.

Believe it or not, I actually did a skit on this for the USA Table Tennis Board of Directors about 10-12 years ago. It was probably the only skit ever done during one of their live meetings - and you wonder why I can never convince them to do anything!!!

They were discussing how to increase membership, a perennial topic for discussion, but rarely one for action. The problem was that none of the people in the discussion had any serious experience at the club level, which of course is where you get new players. (I've been doing this for decades.) The question of increasing USATT membership and how to deal with beginners at a club really are the same thing. In both cases we are trying to convert non-serious players into serious players - which mostly means converting one of the 15 million or so recreational players into one of  9000 USATT members. (That's roughly a 1700-1 ratio; we aren't converting very well.)

There are three types of beginners. (I'll get to them in a minute.) I'd explained this to the board numerous times, but generally to deaf ears, often to people with strong opinions that are not based on hands-on experience. I needed to find a way to get their attention and show them what really happens at the club level, and how we can convert these three types of new players into USATT members. It was while sitting in that board meeting, listening to discussions on how to increase membership by people who didn't know how to, that I hit on the idea of a skit to get their attention.

So I raised my hand and asked if I could give a short presentation on the subject. Since, for once, they weren't in a rushed schedule - they'd put aside something like an hour for the discussion - they agreed. So I told them I was going to act out the three most common types of interactions with new players - and note that this was exactly the same in table tennis and tennis, except that in tennis (and other successful sports) they had learned to address the needs of these three types of new players.

The skit was in three parts. For each part I actually walked out the door, and then came in. I played the part of both the new player and the club officer.

Part 1: I came in and said, "Hi, I'm a new player and I'd like play somebody." Playing the part of the club officer, and knowing that new player usually means beginner, and knowing that if I put a beginner up against an advanced player he'd get killed and we'd likely never see him again, I told him about our leagues, where he'd play players his own level. He played in the league against players his level, met new players, made friends, and became a regular at the club and a USATT member.

Part 2: I came in and said, "Hi, I'm a beginner, and I'd like to learn how to play better." Playing the part of the club officer, I told him about our coaching programs for beginners, both group sessions and private coaching. He signed up, learned about the sport, met new players, made friends, and became a regular at the club and a USATT member.

Part 3: I came in, and using a woman's voice, said, "Hi, my two kids would like to play table tennis." Playing the part of the club officer, I told them about our junior program. They signed up, made friends, and became regulars at the club and USATT members. And one of them went on to become National Champion.

I then explained that if a club doesn't have programs for these three types, then we lose them. (I also explained there's also a fourth type - a very small minority - which is the crazy guy who comes in, loses badly to everyone, but sticks around and becomes a serious player. They are rare, and are the ones we currently rely on for our membership (along with players from overseas).Hence the 1700-1 ratio.

How do we address these needs? For the player looking to play (Part 1), the answer is leagues. Until we have a nationwide network of leagues for players of all levels, we will keep losing these players. For the player who wants to learn more and for kids, we need more coaches. In both cases, either USATT or someone else has to take the lead in setting up these leagues, and in recruiting and training coaches.

Table tennis has done this in countries all over the world, and other sports have done so in the U.S. and all over the world. As I've blogged in the past, in Europe, nearly every country has more members in their table tennis association than their tennis association - because they address the needs of the new player. In the U.S., USTA has over 700,000 members to our 9000 - about an 80-1 ratio. If table tennis addressed the needs of new players as tennis does, and as table tennis does elsewhere, then we'd also have 700,000 members or more. But it's not going to happen by talking about it. It'll happen when someone does something about it.

I may actually take the lead in the coaching aspect, i.e. recruiting and training coaches. I've been toying with it for a while, but I'm too busy right now. USATT doesn't seem to have interest in acting on these issues, at least right now.

Petition for Table Tennis in School Curriculums

Last month I posted about this petition. Here it is again! (I'm the fifth signee; they need 25,000 by Jan. 11, 2013.) The petition is to do the following:

Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka "Ping Pong" as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice.
Table Tennis should be included as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice to participate and play. The sport isn't only a recreational past time but also an Olympic sport. The sport is considered and recognized relevant by other cultures. The sport is cost effective, fights the obesity problem among young Americans, and is non discriminatory. The sport can be easily incorporated in a schools current athletic curriculum, and easily be taught. Tables should be put on all middle schools to encourage start up programs. There are plenty of qualified coaches in the United States that would love the opportunity to teach and coach this fast growing sport. Starting in middle schools will also identify talented kids and Olympic hopefuls. This is the way It's done in China and Europe.

Review of the New Plastic Ball

Part 2 (14:35) just went up of the Plastic Ball Review from OOAK Reviews, "High speed filming of tests to compare relative rebound speed, bounce and spin." (On Wednesday I linked to Part 1, "Why the change and a comparison of their physical appearance.") Here's their home page, which links to both videos. I'll post here when Part 3 goes up, "Players from our Premier Division who have different styles of play and use different types of equipment try out the three balls and give their opinions on them."

World Championship of Ping Pong

It's being held this weekend, in London - but this isn't the World Table Tennis Championships; this is a sandpaper event, with $100,000 in prize money!!! (That includes $20,000 to the winner.) Here's the home page. Good luck to USA players Ty Hoff, Adoni Maropis, and Ilija Lupulesku!

Corkscrew Spin and Google

So you want to know what corkscrew spin is? This is where the ball spins so that the axis of rotation points away from you. Here's an example of clockwise corkscrew spin: just cut & paste "Do a barrel roll" into a Google engine - for most of us, it's the default search engine so you can just put this in your regular search box, or you can go to Google directly - and there it is!

Wang Liqin vs. Ma Long

Here's a great match (12:05, with time between points removed) between these two in a 2012 China Super League match

Best Table Tennis Clips of the Year

Table Tennis Nation chose the three best table tennis clips of the year, and the grand champion from those three. Two of them are paralympic players!

Amazing Shots While Rolling Around on Ground

Here's the video (1:12).

Modern Age Meets the Stone Age

Here's an iPong robot on a cement table. There's something really wrong about this. It's like a caveman with a machine gun.

Table Tennis Fun with Kids and a Panda

Kids and a Panda show how fun table tennis is in this video from PingSkills (2:23).

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August 03, 2012

Southern Open and Junior Olympics

I'm back!!! I've been away for a week coaching at the Southern Open and Junior Olympics in Houston. Both were held in the same huge hall at George R. Brown Convention Center, with the Southern Open on Saturday and Sunday, the Junior Olympics Mon-Wed. While I coached a number of Maryland players, I was there mostly to coach John and Nathan Hsu.

Here are complete results for the Southern Open (release on "Southern Open" in the drop box). I coached Nathan Hsu and Yahao Zhang as they pulled off several upsets to win Open Doubles, defeating the U.S. Open Over 40 Doubles Champions Viktor Subonj and Niraj Oak in the final. The standout tactic was how effective they were serving simple no-spin serves disguised as backspin. (This is a standard tactics in singles and especially doubles.) Tactically, Nathan played mostly control while Yahao put the ball away, though Nathan ripped a lot of backhand loops as well. Topping that off Nathan's brother John and father Hans won Under 3600 Doubles over a rather large field. 

Jim Butler dominated to win Open Singles as he continues his comeback from nearly a decade off. Now 41 and a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, he's in the mix as a contender to win Men's Singles at this year's USA Nationals, with his dominant serves and backhand.

In the Junior Olympics, the best match of the tournament might have been Nathan Hsu versus Andrew Chen in the final of Division A. (On the first day players are put in divisions based on rating, so it's essentially rating events, with Division A essentially Open Singles for all players. On the second day they get into age specific events.) Both played looping forehands, but on the backhand it was a contrast in styles, with Nathan all-out looping everything against Andrew's blocking and hitting pips-out backhand. Nathan won the first two. Down 2-10 in the third, he scored five in a row, forcing Andrew to take his timeout. In the fourth, Nathan was up match point, and he led 9-8 in the fifth before Andrew finally won.

We weren't the only events held in the huge hall. We also shared it with sports stacking, wrestling, weight lifting, and Tae Kwon Do. The sports stacking, where they rapid-fire stack and unstuck cups, was especially fun to watch. Here's a video.

I managed to convince at least two kids that they used to have younger events at the Junior Olympics, and that I was once the U.S. Boys' Under 2 Gold Medalist. I also explained to a set of parents after their son won a game that without my coaching the opponent would have scored twice as many points. Their son had just won 11-1. (And on the way home I introduced our players to "Airport Ping-Pong" - see segment blow.)

The players in the Junior Olympics were probably 90% Chinese, a huge increase from the last time I went. I started coaching there in the 1980s and went nearly every year until around 2005 or so. It used to be something like 60% Chinese. It's also become more regionalized, as the large majority of players were local Texas juniors. MDTTC used to send 30 or so players every year, but this year we only had nine (including two Virginia players who train at MDTTC). California only had two. Here is the state-by-state breakdown of entries, from an Excel file from a few days before the tournament:

TX: 49
GA: 13
NJ: 8
MD: 7
NY: 6
VA: 2
CA: 2
AL: 1
FL: 1
MA: 1
MO: 1
PA: 1
WA: 1
TOTAL: 93

I was quite happy with the running and officiating at the tournament. They even did something that often doesn't happen - they enforced the hidden serve rule. Twice I asked referee Scott Ryan to watch the serve of a player, and each time he agreed the serve was hidden, and sent out an umpire (I believe Ken Potts in both cases) who called the serve. In both cases the player didn't complain, and simply began to serve legally.

On Monday night someone broke into Director John Miller's car and stole his computer, printouts, his glasses, and lots of other stuff. This could have created havoc, but John stayed up all night with a borrowed computer and recreated the entire tournament from scratch. Though he had to squint all day at the computer screen (often staring from a few inches away), he managed to keep the tournament running successfully the rest of the way. No results were lost, though he said he'd have a lot of tedious re-entering to do.

Here are complete Results of the 2012 Junior Olympics. (Ignore the links for Saturday and Sunday, which are mistaken repeats of other results and should be taken down soon.) MDTTC won a bunch of medals, even though we only had a small contingent this year. MDTTC winners were:

  • Amy Lu (Gold in Under 12 Girls' Singles and Under 16 Girls' Doubles and Teams)
  • Lilly Lin (Bronze in Under 16 Girls' Singles, Gold in Under 16 Girls' Doubles and Teams)
  • Lisa Lin (Bronze in Under 10 Girls' Singles, Silver in Under 10 Girls' Doubles, and Gold in Under 16 Girls' Teams)
  • John Hsu (Silver in Under 22 Men's Singles, Doubles, and Teams)
  • Nathan Hsu (Bronze in Under 18 Boys' Singles, Silver in Under 22 Men's Doubles and Teams, and runner-up in Division A)
  • Jackson Liang (Silver in Under 18 Boys' Doubles and Under 22 Men's Teams)
  • George Nie (Silver in Under 18 Boys' Doubles and Under 22 Men's Teams)
  • Wesley Duan (Bronze in Under 14 Boys' Teams)
  • Kyle Wang (Bronze in Under 14 Boys' Teams)

Now the down side.

  • After watching his son miss a shot, a father yelled out to him, "You suck, [son's name]!" I wanted to punch him. It amazes me at how many parents see nothing wrong with berating their kids, even publicly.
  • In the third point of a game an opponent got a clear edge ball to go up 3-0. His father jumped to his feet cheering and clapping non-stop, and went on so long the players had to delay the next point until he stopped.
  • A player entered as an unrated player, using his Chinese name rather than his Americanized one. He had a 2227 rating, but didn't tell anyone. So he was placed in the lowest divisions on the first day of competition, which are essentially rating events. The result? This 2200+ player won the equivalent of Under 800 and Under 1200, and messed up the Under 18 draws, where he should have been seeded. Disciplinary action will likely be taken against him, and he will probably be asked to return the division medals.
  • I've never seen so much "strategic dumping" by junior players. A number of them were told to dump matches so as to get better draw positions or to avoid playing teammates. One 2500 player dumped to a 1900 player, a student of his, to give him a better draw, but was ordered to play the match by the referee or drop out of the event. (They played and he won.) Another player was up 2-1 in games when, after a consultation with his father, he suddenly defaulted, thereby apparently avoiding playing a teammate. (He later claimed he was sick, but then played his other matches. He ended up playing the teammate after all when the 2500 player was forced to play the 1900 player.)
  • And now we get to the biggest problem, one that will leave a bad taste in my mouth for a long time to come. In the small print in the entry form it said that "Non-citizens are welcome to play in the AAU events" (i.e. the Junior Olympics age events), and so, I believe for the first time ever, non-citizens played in the U.S. Junior Olympics. (Yes, this means the Chinese junior champion can take a quick vacation to the U.S. and win the U.S. Junior Olympics.) The result? The older events of the tournament were dominated by Chinese Province players who had been hired to train U.S. players. Worse, there was no way to check the ages. I've been assured for years by just about everyone from China that it is standard to subtract 2-4 years from ages of junior players to better their chances of making teams. And strangely enough, all these Chinese Province players looked much older than their listed ages. (You'd think there'd be at least one that looked young for his "age.")

    And so we had at least two Chinese Province Players, now professional coaches in the U.S., who looked in their mid-twenties, playing in and dominating the U.S. Junior Olympics. Several Chinese told me they knew of the Under 18 Singles, Doubles, and Team winner as a Chinese Province Player they said was 24 years old, but of course there's no way to prove it. (In China I'm told all you do is pay a fee and fill out a form and you can get a birth certificate with whatever age you put down. This is very different from the U.S., where we expect birth certificates to be accurate.) Finally, someone pulled me aside and assured me the player wasn't 24, he was "only 21." And that's who beat Nathan Hsu in the semifinals of Under 18 Singles.

    The tournament referee said he had already contacted the people running the tournament next year to warn them of the problem. I think the only solution is to go back to citizens only in the U.S. Junior Olympics. Who knows, maybe these older-looking Chinese Province Players/Professional Coaches playing in the U.S. Junior Olympics really are the age they say they are, but there's no way of knowing.

Airport Ping-Pong

On the flight back from the Junior Olympics on Wednesday night our flight at Houston International Airport was delayed four hours. So how did we pass the time? Airport Ping-Pong! Here's the video (1:42) of Nathan Hsu, Lilly Lin (righty) and Amy Lu (lefty) hitting on the airport lounge tables, which we positioned about four feet apart. (I'm the ballboy on the left.) We played for over an hour. I hit with Nathan for fifteen minutes at the end (lot of vicious countering, looping, and lobbing), and I might be able to get some footage of that up later.

Olympics

I've been away. Did an Olympics happen? I'm guessing there's been coverage somewhere else.

Baltimore Sun and Gazette Articles

While I was away coaching at the Southern Open and Junior Olympics, the Baltimore Sun and local Gazette Newspapers both ran recent articles on the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here is the Baltimore Sun article that features U.S. Open Boys' 11 & Under Champion Derek Nie, and here is the Gazette article (where it quotes me as saying San Francisco is a hotbed for table tennis, when I said the Bay Area near San Francisco). The print editions also have pictures. The Washington Post also has a feature on us, most likely coming out next week.

Google Table Tennis Logos

Yesterday, for the third time, Google had a table tennis Google Doodle (that's what they call it) as their logo. They did the same thing for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, doing one for each sport. Here are the three table tennis logos:

Forehand Smash

Here's a short video (0:48) from 2011 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Peter Li giving a tip on the forehand smash.

Panda Ping-Pong

Here's a hilarious video (5:03) of the folks at PingSkills training a Panda (someone in a Panda suit) to be an Olympic Table Tennis player.

Non-Table Tennis - Leashing the Muse and The Haunts of Albert Einstein

I just sold another story, this time the fantasy story "Leashing the Muse" to Space and Time Magazine. It's the story of an English professor (modeled on Tim Boggan) who is disgusted with the poor work his students are turning in. And then, due to global warming, the muse Polyhymnia (the muse of sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric, and the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyn) is released from where she had been imprisoned in arctic ice for thousands of years by Zeus for criticizing his poetry. She decides her mission is to turn all written work into masterpieces, whether it be Milton, a newspaper articles, or a how-to manuals. When any three-year-old with a crayon can write masterpieces, nothing stands out anymore, and so there are no more masterpieces. It's up to our English professor to capture the muse and convince her to stop - and it'll take a powerful story-generating computer (fifty billion stories per second) to do so.

World Weaver Press has also announced the table of contents for its new anthology, "Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales," which includes my humorous ghost story "The Haunts of Albert Einstein," which deals with Einstein's problems with bickering physicists and the paparazzi in the afterlife.

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