MDTTC camp

July 15, 2013

Tip of the Week

Adjusting to Weird Serves and Shots.

MDTTC Camp

On Friday we finished week four of our ten weeks of summer camps, all Mon-Fri. In the morning I gave lectures and demos on pushing - fast & quick; heavy backspin; sidespin; and short pushes). As usual, Friday was "player's choice," where the players chose what they wanted to work on in the morning multiball sessions. The beginners mostly worked on basics; the more advanced ones worked mostly on looping or serving.

I introduced the "Loop and Smash" drill to several players. It's very simple: I feed multiball, usually a backspin ball to the middle, then a topspin ball to the wide forehand. The player has to loop the first, and then either loop or smash the second. If they make both shots, they win the point. If they miss either, I win the point. (If they miss the first shot, the second one is practice.) Game is usually to 11. One kid (Victor) struggled with this, losing several times to his dismay. He came to the junior session on Sunday (yesterday), and we did it again. He lost the first two times. The second time I was leading 7-1, and he came back to tie it 10-all - only to lose 11-10. (We have sudden death rather than win by two.) We played one more time - and lo and behold, he made 22 straight shots to "beat" me, 11-0!!! That was a nice breakthrough.

During one session I demonstrated my "no look" multiball skills. When feeding multiball it's important to be able to watch the player you are feeding balls to, but most coaches look down as they are feeding the ball to make sure they do a good feed, as I usually do. But I don't really need to; I demonstrated doing it while looking backwards and chatting with players doing ball pickup.

During a break many of the kids were playing video games on small hand-held devices. I pointed out that "Video games are better than table tennis. All the kids hunch over video games, bringing them together. Table tennis pulls them apart, at least nine feet."

With so many players in the camp (both last week and this upcoming week, starting today, week #5), the turnout for the weekend junior program I run was rather small, so I got to do a lot of one-on-one work with several of the players.

Orioles and Table Tennis

Here are excerpts from the Saturday, July 13 issue of The Washington Post on baseball team Baltimore Orioles - here are the first three and the last paragraph of the article:

The noise is a mainstay of the Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards clubhouse: the constant "pop" of a ping-pong ball bouncing off a table, a paddle and (sometimes) the table again, punctuated by roars of joy or eruptions of frustration from participants or onlookers.

The Orioles play table tennis pregame and postgame after both wins and losses, a display of Baltimore's rare chemistry and the casual certainty each player has in the efforts of his teammates.

In that tight-knit clubhouse where long-term confidence outweighs daily doubts, no one seems too concerned about the struggles of an Orioles starting rotation that has at times been more consistent on the ping-pong table than the mound, a departure from the late-season dominance that carried Baltimore to the American League Division Series in 2012.

"As a collective group — you can ask any of us — we definitely underachieved," Hammel said over ball bounces and shouts of a heated set between Manny Machado and Troy Patton on the ping-pong table a few yards away.

Todd Sweeris into Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame

Here's an article on Todd's induction. Todd, who is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, moved to Maryland right after graduating high school circa 1994, and (as noted in the article) thereupon made the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Teams while winning Men's Doubles at the USA Nationals in 1996, 1999, and 2000. (Not mentioned in article: he also made the final of Men's Singles at the 1998 USA Nationals, and before that he been USA National Collegiate Men's Singles, Doubles, and Team Champion. I was on his team - as a graduate student - twice when we won the national college team championships.)

Wisconsin Family's Table Tennis Trip to China

Here's the article.

Pingtime

Here's a visual table tennis video (1:12), full of special effects.

Table Tennis as it Should Be Played

Here's a vintage image of how the game should be played, with a classic backhand player on the near side versus a classic all-out forehand player on the far side, both using the same surface on both sides of their racket as they play in front of a local crowd. (If you can't see the Facebook image, try this.)

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July 12, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. This has evolved over the years; it used to be backhand attack against backspin, where I'd teach both the backhand drive and loop against backspin. But these days fewer and fewer players use backhand drives against backspin, and when teaching the backhand attack against backspin, most coaches now go straight to backhand looping, or at least a steady topspin roll (sort of a beginning loop). The backhand drive against backspin is just like a regular drive, except you stroke more up, with a bit more topspin. I did demonstrate this to the players, but explained that these days it's mostly used against short balls, with the loop the better shot against deep balls. (Of course, with the advent of the "banana flip," where you essentially backhand loop a short ball, that's changing as well.) Anyway, even beginners got a chance to loop or roll their backhands against backspin, and most were able to do so.

The funny part was where I ended each backhand loop against backspin session by having them hit regular backhands against regular topspin. (I'm feeding multiball.) Invariably the first few would go off the end as they lifted the ball off, since that's what they had been doing against backspin. It takes a bit of practice for newer players to learn to drive mostly forward against topspin, and more upward against backspin with a more topspinny contact. I did the same thing the day before when teaching the forehand loop against backspin, and also invariably the first few against topspin would go off the end. One of the ways to test if a player has mastered a shot is if they can do it in combination with other shots. Often I do a multiball game to 11 points where I feed a backspin ball and then a topspin ball. The player has to loop the first, and either smash or loop the second. If he makes both shots, he scores; if he misses either, I score. (If he misses the first, the second is a practice shot.)

After the mid-morning break, my group played a lot of "King of the Table." One player is the king. The rest line up on the other side and challenge, one by one. If the challenger loses the first point, he goes to the end of the line, and the next person comes up. (New person always serves.) If the challenger wins the point, then the king serves. If the challenger wins the second point, he becomes the king. (Or the queen. I told the kids to choose their own titles. One became the Shah of the Shambling Chokers of Chattanooga. We came up with creative titles.) Of great interest to me were that a number of players, when it wasn't their turn, were practicing their serves on the side table. Wanting to be king (or Shah?) brought out their best.

On break, we had a few impromptu "basketball" contests, where we'd stand about 15 feet from the basket we use to hold balls for multiball, and try to put the ball in the basket by hitting it with the paddle. From 15 feet, The scoring system is three points if it stays in the basket, two points if it goes in but bounces out, and one point if you hit the basket on the outside. I did eight in a row, with all eight staying in the basket. (My technique: a backhand chop, done high so it drops down into the basket, with the backspin keeping it from bouncing out.) The game sort of devolved when many of the kids put their paddles down and began shooting basketball style.

As noted yesterday, it was Free Slurpee Day at 7-11, and 18 of us walked over for them.

Dealing with a Short Return

Here's the video from PingSkills (2:51).

How to Overcome Lack of Response Time

Here's the video from PingSkills (3:48).

Ping-Pong, Sort Of

Want to go to Sushibar Ping Cocktails, or their neighbor Asian Pong Buffet? Or why not both for a little "Ping Pong"? Here's the picture.

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July 11, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on forehand looping. I also introduced the beginning players to pushing.

One recurring problem I saw with forehand looping was a number of players who moved their head and bodies forward quite a bit when looping, instead of mostly going in a circle. When you overdo this, you lose control and leave yourself off balance and out of position for the next shot, meaning you can't do them over and over rapidly, as required for higher-level play.

It's important when looping to imagine a rod going through your head and going in a circle around it, with the head not moving too much. Here's a 46-second video featuring the forehand loop 3-time world men's singles champion Wang Liqin, whose powerful forehand loop really did own a decade, and may have been the best of all time. Note how his body mostly rotates around the head, with the head moving forward only a little bit. There are exceptions to this, even though this leaves you in a more difficult position for the next shot, such as when going for certain absolute rips, or when stepping around the backhand corner when you are rushed, where you may rotate the body more to the left to create power. If you go more in a circle, you still get great force as you whip around in that circle; you get great control since you are more or less looping from a stationary platform rather than a moving one; and you finish balanced and in position for the next shot.

There is an amazing range of skill levels in the camp. One complete beginner, age 10, picked up looping very quickly. Another, about age 13, is struggling with it. Another, also about 13, picked it up quickly (as well as regular forehands) because he was a competitive tennis player, but he had difficulties learning the backhand since he was used to tennis backhands.

All the kids picked up pushing quickly, as they usually do. I brought out the colored soccer balls again so they could see how much backspin they were creating.

Tomorrow's a big day - it's SLURPEE day at 7-11! Free Slurpees for everyone. We make the daily trek to the 7-11 down the street (across a busy street, so I chaperone everyone) every afternoon after lunch, around 1:20 or so. Normally 5-12 players go, but with the free Slurpee special, I'm guessing we'll have 20+ tomorrow. As usual, I'll get the Strawberry-Lemon Slurpee, which I rank as the #3 technological innovation by humankind. (Just for the record, #2 is air conditioning due to the 115 degree heat in Las Vegas during the U.S. Open, and #1 is . . . the spork. It solved all our eating problems. Really.)

Guatemala and El Salvador

Yesterday I blogged about my summer travels, including going to Guatemala and El Salvador in August to coach at ITTF Junior Pro Tour tournaments there. However, I'm needed at MDTTC camps, and I'm already missing two of the ten weeks (U.S. Open and a writer's workshop), so Coach Cheng will be going in my place. (It also gives Nathan Hsu a regular practice partner down there, since Cheng is 2600 and I'm not. Originally Wang Qing Liang was also going as a player - he's also 2600 - but he dropped out because of visa complications.) Alas . . . I'd already bought a pocket English-Spanish dictionary and read over the Wikipedia entries for both countries. 

Orioles and Ping-Pong

Here's another mention of the Orioles playing table tennis (with J.J. Hardy their top star), from this morning's Washington Post, from article "Camden Yards is finally fun again," by Thomas Boswell: "Three-and-a-half hours before games begin, you can see part of what makes the Orioles cohere. It's a friendly nest. Four tall Birds play high-level doubles Ping-Pong in the middle of the clubhouse, everyone giving the battle room for smashes and retrievals. Occasionally, paddle king J.J. Hardy, all-star starter at shortstop and the son of a tennis coach, deigns to let a rival challenge him for supremacy."

Non-Table Tennis - My Townhouse

A number of people came by to see my townhouse yesterday, and five filled out applications to rent the first two floors. This is going to be an incredibly difficult decision. I've ruled out one of the applicants, but the other four all look perfect. I hate the idea of letting any of them down, but I have to make a decision, offer the place to one, and turn down the others.

Six Mistakes You Probably Make When Practicing Third Ball Attack, Part 1

Here's an essay on the topic from Table Tennis Master.

Amazing Table Tennis Tricks

Here's the video (3:06).

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July 10, 2013

Opening in My Townhouse

Anyone interested in moving to Maryland? I own a three-floor townhouse in Germantown, MD. I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors (two bedrooms, kitchen, living/dining room, laundry room, 1.5 bathrooms) for $1100 month (including utilities). The previous tenants just moved out, so I'm advertising for a new person. It's about ten minutes from the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Here's the ad in Craigslist, which I put up late last night. There are already three responses this morning.

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was day two of week four of our ten weeks of summer camps at MDTTC, all Mon-Fri. Yesterday's focus was the backhand. I gave a short lecture and demo (with Tony Li the demo partner), then lots of multiball practice. I also took the beginning players aside and worked with them on serving. I brought out the colorful ping-pong "soccer" balls so they could practice putting spin on the ball.

The way I introduce new players to putting spin on the ball when serving is to first have them toss the ball up, spin it with their racket, and catch it. This means (for a righty doing a forehand pendulum serve) tilting the racket so the left side of the racket is higher than the right, with contact on the left side of the ball. This allows a player to spin the ball straight up, with the racket moving from right to left in an upward motion. After they can do this I have them try it on the table. I always give a short demo showing backspin serves that bounce back into the net, sidespin serves that curve about dramatically (usually into a target conveniently placed on the table), and quick-jumping topspin serves. The kids have great fun trying to return them. (This is also where they learn how to return spin serves.) Tomorrow I'll introduce them to pushing so they'll have a better chance against backspin serves.

Summer Travels

I've got a busy traveling schedule this summer. Below is my schedule. Meanwhile, we have camps every Mon-Fri at MDTTC all summer long, which I'll be coaching at whenever I'm not away. The trips to the ITTF Junior Pro Tours in Guatemala and El Salvador will be my first time to Central America, though I did coach the U.S. Junior Team at a tournament in Mexico around 1990, as well as in Taiwan. I'll be coaching Nathan Hsu in the ITTF Junior Pro Tours. [EDIT - See note below on Guatemala and El Salvador trips, and tomorrow's blog.]

  • July 1-7: Coaching (and playing) at U.S. Open in Las Vegas, NV.
  • July 19-27: The Never-Ending Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing Workshop in Manchester, NH. (Some people go to the beach or Disneyworld for their vacations; I go to a writer's workshop.)
  • Aug. 5-10: Coaching at the ITTF Junior Pro Tour in Guatemala.
  • Aug. 11-16: Coaching at the ITTF Junior Pro Tour in El Salvador.
    CHANGE IN PLANS: I'm needed at MDTTC camps, and am already missing several weeks, so Coach Cheng will be going to Guatemala and El Salvador instead of me. See tomorrow's blog.
  • Sept. 2-7: Attending ITTF Coaching Seminar in Dunellen, NJ. (It was originally scheduled for Aug. 26-31, but just yesterday was rescheduled.)

Injury Update

The back injury I had before the U.S. Open is mostly healed. I did aggravate it slightly at the Open - at one point in a hardbat doubles match it whole back stiffened up and I could barely move - but not too badly. Since I'm mostly feeding multiball this week, it's getting a good rest. This injury was in upper right part of my back.

However, there's a new problem. Something is hurting in the lower right side of my back, right where the kidney would be. At first I assumed it was another muscle strain, but now I'm not so sure. I sure hope it's not a kidney problem. (Other than hurting, there are no other symptoms.) If it's still bothering me on Monday I may see a doctor. (I hate seeing doctors...)

Playing Doubles

Here's an essay on the topic from Table Tennis Master.

2014 World Championships of Ping Pong (Sandpaper)

The premier sandpaper tournament in the world returns in 2014 - here's the article. It had $100,000 in prize money the last two years, but doesn't specify the prize money this time, only saying it will have a "substantial prize fund."

Monsters of Table Tennis

Here's a video (9:30) of great points played from 2009-2010, recently compiled.

Extreme Service Practice

Here's the video (31 sec) of a curving down-the-line serve through two targets! I do this same serve, so will have to try this out some time.

Johnny Damon TT Video

Here's a video (2:06) from Killerspin that features Johnny Damon and table tennis!

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July 9, 2013

No-Coaching Policy Against Countrymen at ITTF Pro Tour

There is an unofficial policy at ITTF Pro Tour events that when two players from the same country play, there is no coach for either player. This makes sense in Europe and Asia, where the top players train together, often under the same coaches. But in the U.S., where players mostly train on their own with private coaches in private clubs, it doesn't really make sense. I was hired to coach MDTTC players at the U.S. Open, but didn't do so in many of the ITTF pro tour matches because of this. The following isn't really a complaint, but more of an observation of the problems that arose because of this that I hope can be resolved in the future.

Complications arose because it wasn't a rule, just a guideline. All ITTF Pro Tour participants received an email from USATT requesting that they not have coaches when playing other USA players. However, since it wasn't a rule, we would never know in advance if the other player would follow the guideline. And so I had to be available to coach these matches, just in case. The problem was that to do that, it meant someone else had to coach other players from MDTTC, and often that meant I wouldn't be coaching a player I normally would coach because someone else was assigned that match since we didn't know if I'd be available.

The first time an MDTTC player went up against another USA player I tentatively went out to coach, at the request of the parents. The umpire immediately told me it was against the rules, which was incorrect. Then an ITTF official came over and asked me not to coach, that it was against protocol. Then the USA Men's Coach, Stefan Feth, asked me not to coach the match. I agreed (he meant well and made a good argument about us all being USA players and the ITTF protocol against coaching against countrymen) and instead watched from the stands. (Meanwhile, another match in a non-ITTF Pro Tour match that I could have been coaching was instead coached by someone who had never coached that player before.)

Later an MDTTC player played a player from China I'd never seen before, a non-USA citizen, from a club 3000 miles from us, and again I was asked not to coach. The player did live in the U.S. and had entered through USATT (as all USA players were required to), but somehow there seemed something strange about my not being able to coach this match. But I decided not to create an "international incident" and so didn't coach.

Then things go tricky in another match. The ITTF Pro Tour referee, Bill Walk, sat down near me. He noticed I wasn't coaching an MDTTC player who was playing a U.S. player from another club, and asked why. I explained. He got very angry, said it was not a rule, and encouraged me to coach the match. He said he had explained this to the umpires in the official's meeting, and didn't believe coaches should be asked not to coach their players against USA players. I was tempted to coach the match, but not wanting to cause problems, decided not to. Obviously we're not all on the same page on this guideline that isn't a rule.

I hope that the powers that be can get together and either make this a rule or drop it as a guideline completely. I don't see how it's different coaching a Maryland player against a California player in a junior singles event as opposed to an ITTF event. However, I also know it's easy to make an argument for or against this guideline - but if we're going to do it, please make it a rule, and not a guideline that we never know will be enforced. And if we are going to not allow coaching against USA players in these big matches because we're all on the same "team," then we need to actually train together as a team and play as a team, rather than just pretend we are when we really are not at this time.

This reminded me of problems in the past in international events. In Europe and Asia, most top juniors train under the national coaches for at least several months a year, often year round. When they play at international events, the national coaches know the players. In the U.S., this doesn't happen; at most, the USA national coaches have a few days per year working with the National Junior and Cadet Teams. And yet, when USA plays international matches, our top juniors and cadets are normally coached by the national coaches, who don't always know their games, rather than their private coaches, who do, even when the private coaches are available. Our top juniors and cadets reached the levels they did with the work of their own coaches, and it doesn't make sense to then send them on the international stage and handicap them by using coaches who don't really know their games. This isn't a rap on the national coaches, but on the situation where our top juniors and cadets don't train together with the national coaches. I'm all for the national coaches coaching our top juniors and cadets in international events once USATT is able to have them work together for at least a month per year. Until that happens, why handicap our top juniors and cadets when they reach the international stage?

MDTTC Camp

We just started week four of our ten Mon-Fri camps this summer. I missed week three because of the U.S. Open. Yesterday's focus was the forehand; today it'll be the backhand. I'm missing four of the weeks because of travel (see below).

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Here's USATT Board Member Kagin Lee's blog on the U.S. Open.

Best of Asian Championships

Part 1 (8:29) and Part 2 (7:50). And here's a video of one of the semifinals (3:25, with time between points taken out) between Ma Long and Kenta Matsudaira, with Chinese commentary. Originally I listed this as the semifinal, as the video says it's the "Final 2," but that's incorrect. In the final Ma Long defeated Yan An.) 

Playing to Win

Here's an essay on the topic from Table Tennis Master.

Best of Penholder Players

Here's a video (5:56) of the best penholder plays.

$6600 Luxury Ping-Pong Table

Here it is!

Despicable Me 2

I saw it last night. The movie features a very short TT scene. Here's the description from IMDB: "There's a brief shot in the film in which Edith is playing ping pong with a minion, but uses a pair of nunchaku as opposed to a ping pong paddle. This is a reference to a famous Chinese Nokia commercial in which a Bruce Lee impersonator in a mock "lost home video" also plays a game of ping pong using only a pair of nunchaku." There's also a party scene where the minions are sitting about on the ping-pong table.

Here's an online video (11 sec) of the minions playing table tennis (tennis-style) that's not in the movie.

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June 27, 2013

MDTTC Camp, My Back, Looping, Stroking, Pushing, Boys versus Girls, and Untying Knots With My Toes

Yesterday's focus was forehand looping. Because of my back injury (see yesterday's blog), I couldn't demonstrate, so I just gave the lecture and then fed multiball to Nathan Hsu, who demoed it against both backspin and topspin. For some reason for many years I've used the top players in the camp for demoes rather than the coaches themselves. We do have a lot of coaches/practice partners in our camps - Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), Chen Jie ("James"), Raghu Nadmichettu, and myself.

Teaching the loop to a beginner with just one ball is very difficult, and is one of the reasons why conventionally it isn't taught until the player has played for many months and has solid forehand and backhand strokes. While the emphasis early on still should be solid forehand and backhand strokes in most cases, multiball allows players to learn to loop much earlier than before, since they can do it over and over, rapid-fire, rather than the old-fashioned one at a time. My theories on when a junior player should learn to loop are constantly evolving, but more and more I'm sort of letting the player decide - over and over they see others doing it and want to learn, and rather than have them try to learn it on their own and develop bad habits, I teach it to them when they feel they are ready. However, I still focus on developing sound forehand and backhand strokes, which later are essentially extended into loop strokes, as per Chinese theory. I also teach more topspin-oriented strokes than I used to, which makes it easier to learn to loop later on. I still remember when I was learning to play and the emphasis on forehand and backhand strokes was to hit the ball deep into the sponge and into the wood, with a loud wood sound. That's no longer the way it is usually taught anymore, where topspin is more important than that satisfying smack from hitting into the wood.

I also introduced the beginner's group to pushing. I used soccer-ball colored ping-pong balls to do this, as well as when teaching serves, since this allows them to see the backspin on the ball, and see if they are returning it with their own backspin. The kids love the balls, and we are in 100% agreement they should be the official ball of table tennis, rather than the bland white or orange ones we use, where you can't really see the spin. (Here's where I get them at Amazon - you have to buy a six-pack which only contains two of the soccer-style balls. You can't really see the spin on the baseball and basketball style balls.)

Because of my back, Coach Raghu substituted for me in the one-hour coaching session I had scheduled during the 1-3PM break. I also had three more hours of private coaching scheduled today, in addition to the six hours of the camp. Because of the back, two of them cancelled, and will start up again after I return from the U.S. Open (hopefully with the back better). I'm going to do 30 min of the other one, with just backhands and multiball, and then Raghu will do the second 30 min. Since I'm free tonight from my coaching, I'm taking a group of kids to see the movie "White House Down," which opens tonight with a 7PM showing. So the kids are happy I hurt my back, right?

Here's a simple observation, make of it what you want. Over and over, in the beginner's group here and in previous camps, the girls just want to rally, while the boys want to compete. I usually try to do a mixture, but the last two days I've sort of thrown up my hands toward the end of each session and divided them into two groups, letting the girls rally while the boys played games. (The games were sometimes regular games, other times Brazilian Teams, other times "King of the Hill.")

Interesting non-table tennis tidbit: one kid was having trouble moving because his shoe kept coming halfway off. When I asked why he didn't tie it tighter, he showed me that the laces had become tightly knotted, and he couldn't untie them so he could retie them properly. Instant nostalgia! Not because I used to have tightly knotted shoelaces, but sort of the opposite. Back when I was about 12 years old (circa 1972, Nixon was president), I became a fan of Harry Houdini, the escape artist. One of the things he was famous for was his ability to tie and untie knots with his toes! This helped facilitate some of his escapes. I became determined to learn to do that, and I spent many weeks sitting on the side of my bed, with shoes and socks off, practicing this. I became very good at it, and would challenge friends and classmates at school to tie my shoelaces into knots as tight as they could, and then I'd untie them with my toes. (I'd use both feet for this.) Anyway, because of that background I consider myself an "expert" on untying knotted shoelaces, and it took me only seconds to untie this kid's tightly knotted shoelaces, though I did use my fingers for this. Now I'm tempted to take my shoes off and see if I can still tie and untie knots as I did over 40 years ago.

Timo Boll Defeats Xu Xin

Last week, in round two of the China Super League, Germany's Timo Boll defeated world #2 and reigning Men's World Champion Zhang Jike. This week, in round three, he defeated world #1 Xu Xin. Here's the article and video of the match (36:22). These are not huge upsets, as Boll is #5 in the world, but it's not often that non-Chinese have these wins against the top Chinese.

Ping Pong Ball Stop Motion Animation

Here's the video (4:03).

Maria Sharapova Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (1:59) which just went up yesterday. She's playing British TV host Jonathan Ross. The pink table they are using is too small, only about three feet wide instead of the legal five feet wide.

Tube Ping-Pong

Here's the picture. I want to play!

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June 26, 2013

Injured Back and MDTTC Camp

As to the MDTTC camp, yesterday's focus was on the backhand, and that was my only lecture for the day. As usual, I went over the basics, and pointed out the various types of backhands - tip down or more up, flatter or more topspinny, etc. My demo partner was 8-year-old Tiffany Ke, way under-rated at 1430. I also made the discovery after the daily trek to 7-11 after lunch that a strawberry-lemon Slurpee is the single best thing ever invented by mankind. All other things are bland by comparison.

Unfortunately, yesterday morning I also injured my upper right back just below the shoulder blade while feeding multiball. I was feeding rapid-fire loops to an intermediate player so he could work on his blocking when I felt a gradual tightness that slowly became inflamed. It didn't seem too bad at first, but minutes later it as pretty painful, and now I can't loop or even hit forehands, or lift any serious weight with my right arm. I spent the afternoon awkwardly picking up balls lefthanded with our ball nets. 

This is not good.

During the MDTTC camps (Mon-Fri, 10AM-1PM, 3-6PM) I mostly feed multiball or supervise activities. However, I have a one-hour private coaching session each day from 2-3PM. Yesterday I did only half the private session, playing only backhand and multiball, and then brought in Coach Leon (Wang Qing Liang) to do the final 30 minutes. I'm probably going to have to get a substitute for the rest of the week for the 2-3PM sessions, as well as a bunch of coaching sessions Wed-Sun.

Let me repeat: This is not good.

I leave for the U.S. Open on Monday morning. My primary focus there is coaching (mostly Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, and Sameer Shaikh), but I'm also playing in four hardbat and one sandpaper events. (I can go from coaching to hardbat/sandpaper rather easily, but it's more difficult going to sponge, since I can't loop without a lot of warm up. I'm pretty much retired from playing in sponge tournaments, where I focus on coaching.) I'm currently listed as the top seed in Over 40 Hardbat and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles; second seed in Hardbat Doubles and Open Sandpaper; and fourth seed in Open Hardbat.

I normally play with sponge, but my serve & receive, footwork, and especially my forehand work well with hardbat, especially after some extensive practice with it back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. At the Open or Nationals, I've won Hardbat Singles twice; Over 40 Hardbat four times; and Hardbat Doubles thirteen times, nine times with Ty Hoff and four times with Steve Berger. This year I'm playing for the first time with Jay Turberville, in both Hardbat Doubles and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles, the first time I've played this event. (Jay, if you're reading this, I'm going to make every attempt to play, injury or not!) However, as usual, I haven't played any hardbat since the Nationals in December. But it's all there in muscle memory. Or, to be more accurate right now, in injured muscle memory.

One more time: This is not good.

Orioles JJ Hardy and Table Tennis

Here's an article featuring Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy and his table tennis. Alas, see the last line. Ever since J.J. and Brady Anderson visited and took lessons from me at MDTTC from me on May 14 he's been on a hot streak.

National Collegiate Table Tennis Association June Newsletter

Here it is.

Kitten Table Tennis

This might be the funniest 23 seconds ever of a kitten trying to play table tennis.

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June 25, 2013

John and Kevin's Backhands, Forehands, and Receives

A couple of years ago John Olsen was a low-1800 player with a weak backhand but strong forehand. Kevin Walton was a 1750 player with a strong backhand but a weak forehand. Both had strong receives. I've been coaching and training them since then, usually a two-hour joint session every Saturday that focuses on multiball. John is in his mid-50s, Kevin his late 40s. Both are inverted shakehand players. (John can be "difficult" to coach as he has very good technique, and so not a whole lot to say to him, and mostly just needs practice and physical training.)

One of my coaching mantras is, "Practice everything, but focus on your strengths and weaknesses." In John's case, the focus has been on fixing his main weakness - the backhand - while making his strengths - forehand loop and receive - even stronger. Besides multiball, we'd play backhand-to-backhand games to force him to rally with his backhand, often putting boxes on the table to block off the non-backhand part of the table. We'd also play games where I served all the time so he'd make his receive even better. We worked on making his forehand even stronger mostly with multiball. The result? He often wins the backhand-to-backhand games that I once easily dominated, can mostly shut down my third-ball attacks off my serve, his forehand can be deadly efficient, and he is now rated 1999. In practice he plays even with the local 2100 players. (The initial backhand-to-backhand work had almost immediate effect, and brought him to a 1950 level about 1.5 years ago.) 

In Kevin's case, the focus was on fixing his weak forehand, while making his backhand and receive even stronger. Since he's left-handed, we often played crosscourt games, my forehand to his backhand or vice versa. We'd also play regular games so he could work on receiving my serve. The result? He now dominates in those my-forehand-to-his-backhand games that I used to win all the time, and like John, he can mostly shut down my third-ball attacks off my serve. His forehand looping still doesn't have penetrating power, but he can now play strong, aggressive rallies with it. His rating hasn't caught up to him yet because he hasn't played many recent tournaments, but I expect he'll be into the 1900s when he does. (At the Teams in November, his last tournament, he played on a stronger team and so mostly played much stronger players, but did beat a 1903 player, and was up 2-0 on both a 2224 and a 2034 player before losing to both in five. And he's improved since then.)

It's almost eye-opening how much stronger their backhands have become. John's always had a pretty good backhand loop but couldn't exchange backhands very well; now he can go bang-bang backhand to backhand with just about anyone. Kevin's always had that strong backhand, but now can both hit and topspin it, which makes it very hard to play against, and is why he can dominate those crosscourt rallies to my (or others) forehands. As to receive, let's just say that if other players returned my serves as well as they do now, I'd be in serious trouble.

MDTTC Camp Day One - Again

Once again we're into another five-day camp, the second of ten consecutive ones this summer, all Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM. Our routine is fairly set; on day one we focus on the forehand. I gave short lectures on grip, ready stance, and the forehand. In the afternoon session I worked with the beginners. Last week we had about 30 players during most sessions; this week we seem to have even more.

ITTF World Hopes Team Selected

Here's the article. USA's Crystal Wang was among the five girls selected.

ITTF World Tour

Here's the article from Inside the Games, "Top Table Tennis Players Gear Up for Return to Lucrative ITTF World Tour." They will give out $2.5 million in prize money this next year. Here's the ITTF Calendar for it - note the U.S. Open, July 3-6.

Shadow of the Pong

Here's an inspirational table tennis image.

Ariel Hsing vs. Doo Hoi Kem

Here's the complete video (59:14) of their match in the Junior Girls' Final at the Egypt Junior & Cadet Open this past weekend. Spoiler Alert! Ariel is up 10-9 match point in the sixth and seventh games, and leads 6-0 in the seventh before losing 12-10 in the seventh.

Sidespin Serving Trick Shot

Here's a video of a serving trick shot (40 sec). I may add a version of it to my own bag of exhibition tricks.

Monster University Ping-Pong

Don't forget to see the movie Monster University - just for the table tennis scene! Here's a gif image of it. Here's more on it at Table Tennis Nation: "The website even mentions ping pong and school champ Zane 'Great Wall' Xiao who appears in the GIF above. PING PONG Multi-paddled behemoth Zane 'Great Wall' Xiao defends his singles title in his single year. Sports Monstrated called Xiao 'ruthless at the table, with his omnidirectional vision and octo-dextrous hand-eye coordination. He’s a force to be reckoned with.'"

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August 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Movement in Doubles.

MDTTC Camp, Week Eleven, Day Five

The eleven week camp marathon is over - each camp Mon-Fri, with a total of 55 days of camp. We averaged over 30 players per camp.

On Friday, the final day, I gave lectures on flipping short balls, on equipment (inverted, short pips, long pips, antispin, hardbat) and on how to play certain styles (choppers, penhold, Seemiller grip). We ended the morning with the candy game, where I put piles of candy on the table (jolly ranchers and Hershey kisses), and the kids took turns trying to knock them off as I fed multiball, three shots each. There was a stack left at the end so I distributed that among everyone.

Then we had lunch, and then 17 of us walked to the 7-11 down the street. (They keep giving me free small Slurpees for bringing in so many customers!) In the afternoon we had a practice tournament. I also had an informal awards ceremony for Wesley Fan and Kyle Wang, who had won bronze medals at the Junior Olympics a month ago for Under 14 Boys' Teams, but had left without getting their medals (or even knowing they had won them!). The medals had been mailed to me to give to them. We also sang Happy Birthday to Daniel Zhu, turned ten that day.

Things I Learned This Summer

  • The human head weighs a lot. You don't know this until you have a neck injury. According to the kid in the movie Jerry Maguire, the human head weighs eight pounds. According to Wiki Answers, it's 8-12 pounds. My own subjective belief is mine weighs 100 pounds. (Here's that picture of me in the neck brace. Tong Tong Gong took the picture.)
  • The amount of Slurpee that a kid can fit into his stomach after a table tennis training session is larger than the volume of his stomach. (This is true even after he has eaten lunch.)
  • When you walk to 7-11 during break, you have to go outside, and it's HOT outside in the summer.
  • The most accurate forehand in the world is from a kid who's told he can have the candy on the table if he can hit it off.
  • If you eat Chinese food for lunch during camps all summer, you gain weight. I went from 175 to 183, and now begins the torturous journey back to 175. My diet starts today.
  • When driving through an intersection, watch for Metro Access Buses on the left that suddenly pull in front of you.
  • The grip and foot positioning are still the core problems with most bad technique. If both are done properly, everything in between tends to fall into place, though there are a few common problems that still persist - not using shoulder rotation, muscling the ball, hitting shots too flat, etc.

The Backhand Block

Here's an article by Tom Nguyen on improving his backhand, with tips from Steven Chan.

Tahl Leibovitz: Saved from Homelessness by Table Tennis

Here's an article in the Times of Israel about how table tennis saved Paralympic Champion Tahl Leibovitz from homelessness.

Chinese Training

Here's a video from two years ago (7:54) that shows the Chinese team in training.

1958 U.S. Table Tennis Nationals

Here's a video (9:59) with clips of matches from the 1958 Nationals (now usually referred to as U.S. Opens), with commentary by Marty Reisman, who also appears in many of the clips. (He would win Men's Singles.)

Bryan Brothers Play Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:23) of the Bryan Brothers (twins Bob and Mike, #1 tennis doubles team in the world and recent Olympic Gold Medalists) playing table tennis in a charity to benefit the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Note the two-handed backhand by Mike! You also get to see Bugs Bunny (or a very large rabbit) playing. Really.

Real Table Tennis!

Here are six pictures of vintage table tennis as it should be played. (Click on each picture to see the next.)

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August 24, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Eleven, Day Four

Today's the final day of our eleven-week summer camp marathon. We had three new players join us yesterday (but three also left), giving us an even 40 players in the camp. I gave lectures on the backhand drive and flip against backspin (including banana flip, which I talk about in my February 15, 2012 blog), the backhand loop, and on third-ball attack.

In the lecture on third-ball attack I went over the serves different styles should favor. For example, a looper might want to serve a lot of short backspin and no-spin, with sidespin serves mixed in as well as occasional deep serves. A hitter might want to serve more sidespin and topspin, and challenge the receiver with more deep serves, especially breaking ones into the backhand. However, it's different for different players. For example, some loopers prefer looping against backspin (and so would serve more backspin), while others prefer looping against topspin, and so might serve more sidespin and topspin. I also spoke about depth - short serves, half-long serves (where the second bounce is right about the end-line), and long serves (where first bounce is near the end-line). Over and over I stressed that the purpose of the serve was to get the inniative, not just to get the ball into play. 

I also spoke about the importance of "trick" serves, where you have some serves you throw at opponent for "free" points. Your typical trick serve will work a few times before the opponent figures it out. If you don't have any such tricky serves, then you are giving away potentially free points; it's like spotting your opponent points. The problem with trick serves is once an opponent gets used to them, they are often easier to attack then other serves since most go long and can be looped, and so they should be used only a few times. (So focus on third-ball serves that allow you to get the innitiative.) Trick serves work best at the beginning and intermediate levels, but they are effective even at the advanced levels if used sporadically and at the right time. Examples of trick serves are a fast no-spin serve at the elbow or a tomahawk serve (a forehand serve with racket tip up) deep to the forehand so it breaks away from the receiver, causing him to reach for the ball and often miss-hitting off the end and side. 

I'm still in the neck brace. The most comfortable position is with my head back, nose in the air, which leads me to believe that stuck-up people aren't really stuck up; they just have whiplash.

Table Tennis Graphic Designers Wanted!

Uberpong is looking for graphic designers to create table tennis designs. "Are you a graphic designer, illustrator or just a wizard with crayons? Do you want your design to appear on an Uberpong ping pong paddle (table tennis bat)? We need you!!"

Clash of Titans

Here's a video (4:09) that contrasts Jan-Ove Waldner versus Ma Long.

As One

You can now watch the movie "As One" online, with English subtitles. It's the movie about the unified Korean women's team winning at the 1991 World Championships. Here's the IMDB info page.

New World Rankings

Here's an article on the new World Rankings, and here are the rankings themselves. The article includes a link to a video of the Olympic Men's Final between Zhang Jike and Wang Hao for those who missed it.

Ping-Pong with Giraffes

In honor of my neck problems, here are all the ping-pong and giraffe connections I could find.

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