MDTTC camp

July 15, 2011

Playing the Middle

Playing the middle may be the most under-utilized tactic in table tennis. The middle in table tennis is roughly the opponent's playing elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand, and the most awkward place to return a shot. It's usually much easier to move to the forehand or backhand corners than to cover the middle, which involves making a split-second decision no whether to play forehand or backhand, and then moving sideways to allow the shot. (Beginning and intermediate players especially have trouble getting out of the way to play forehand from the middle, and often instead do awkward backhands by leaning over instead of moving.)

Part of the difficulty in playing the middle is because it's a moving target. Here's a quick cure: shadow practice! Imagine an opponent as you do so, and imagine hitting shot after shot right at his elbow. If he begins to favor one side, the middle moves, and you aim for the new spot. Then go to the table and do middle drills where you play everything to your partner's middle, and he returns everything to a pre-arranged spot, either backhand or forehand. If you watch your partner/opponent, and play it right, you should be able to force awkward middle shots over and over by changing where you aim based on where the opponent stands. If he looks to play forehand, just aim more to the backhand, and vice versa if he looks to play backhand. (This might become a Tip of the Week sometime in the future.)

Week One of MDTTC Camp Ends

Week one of the July MDTTC camp ends today; week two starts Monday! (We're halfway through and I'm still alive. Surprisingly my voice isn't hoarse, as it often gets during these camps. On the other hand, it might just be that I'm deaf from all the screaming kids in the camp, and can't hear my own voice. And we have another two-week camp in August.) I'll celebrate/mourn the end of week one by seeing Harry Potter late this afternoon/tonight, if I can get a ticket.

Table Tennis on TV

The TV Show Victorious featured a table tennis segment. First there's a short Popsicle commercial featuring table tennis, then a funny 90-second clip of the tryouts for the school table tennis team!

Fan Yiyong and a first-time student

Here's an interesting account by a journalist of her going to Coach Fan Yiyong in Seattle for a lesson. How familiar is this scene to coaches everywhere?

Comedian Frank Caliendo and Table Tennis

A nice article about Caliendo and his table tennis. He says he lost 25 pounds from table tennis, not to mention getting a 1670 USATT rating.

Ping-Pong Playing Robot

Meet Topio 3.0 - or is it the Ping-Pong Terminator? You decide. I think we can all agree that he can beat you, though not necessarily at the table. Heck, he's strong enough he might beat you with the table. Sarah Connor, where are you?

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July 14, 2011

MDTTC CAMP HAPPENINGS

  • Day Four
    We're in the middle (well, 30% in) of a two-week training camp at Maryland Table Tennis Center, Mon-Fri this week and next week. Coaches at the camp are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and Sun Ting.
  • Knocking off cups
    We had a competition yesterday where I set up ten paper cups on the table, bowling pin fashion, and players were given ten shots to knock off as many as they could, with me feeding the balls mult-ball fashion. Whoever knocked off the most would win a free drink. Two players knocked off nine, and so they had a playoff. One kid again knocked off nine in the playoff. The second kid, Chetan Nama, had knocked off eight, and had one shot left. Then, with everyone screaming, with his last shot nailed the last two cups to knock off all ten and win a free Gatorade!
  • I'm a bad influence
    What else can I be when the kids at camp spent much of break time today playing with clipboards and my oversized racket. I take on challenges with these "rackets" during break, and now it's spreading like a disease.
  • Seriously Black Sirius Black
    I wore all black yesterday. I was quickly nicknamed Seriously Black Sirius Black. If you're an old fuddy-duddy (or more specifically, a muggle), and have no idea who that is, Google it.
  • Harry Potter
    Several of the kids are planning seeing the midnight showing of Harry Potter tonight, and still make camp tomorrow morning. That means they'll get to bed around 3AM. I look forward to working the sleepy little wizards wands, I mean rackets, off.
  • Actual table tennis stuff
    The focus yesterday was on backhand attack - backhand smash, backhand drive against backspin, and backhand loop. (How do you teach someone to attack a backspin? Tell them to arc the ball with topspin way off the end.) Today's focus is footwork - though as I'll explain, all table tennis is footwork.

Thoughts on grip

In general, I strongly recommend new shakehand players use a neutral grip, i.e. the thinnest part of the wrist should line up with the racket. This allows a natural stroke - the racket and the arm face the same way. If you start with a forehand grip (top of the racket tilts to the left for righties) or backhand grip (top of the racket tilts to the right for righties), it will probably mess up your stroke development. However, once your game is developed - say, 1800 level, where you can execute proper shots in a game consistently - some players switch to a forehand or backhand grip to enhance their game. There's nothing wrong with this. Timo Boll, #2 in the world and the best European player, uses a forehand grip, for example, and many top players use backhand grips to enhance their backhands, such as Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece, a former top ten player. 

Many kids have trouble gripping the racket "properly," putting their index finger almost down the middle, sort of like 1967 Men's World Champion Nobuhiku Hasegawa. While that worked for him, that type of grip tends to leave the racket less stable, plus the finger is in the way on the backhand. So I don't normally recommend this. However, many kids with smaller hands have trouble holding the racket with the index finger along the bottom of the blade. So I often compromise with them, with the finger someone up, but not straight up. For one thing, with a shorter index finger, it doesn't really interfere with the backhand. As they get older and bigger, the index finger naturally migrates down into a more stable position.

Another problem is many kids (and adults) hold the racket too tightly. The racket shouldn't be so loose that it moves around on its own, but it should be loose enough so that if someone were to grab the racket out of their hand, it would come right out. Any tighter and it means the muscles are too contracted to move naturally.

Funny ping-pong pictures

Yes, funny ping-pong pictures.

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July 11, 2011

MDTTC Training Camp

We have two back-to-back training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center starting today, Mon-Fri this week and next. So I'll be getting up early to write the blog, then off to coaching. Expect lots of interesting camp tidbits!

Equipment - yours and mine

I am not an EJ, i.e. equipment junkie. Here's my recommendation to new and intermediate players. Everyone needs to go through a stage where they essentially try everything out. This allows you to really learn and understand what's out there, and to find the best equipment for yourself. The cheapest way to do this is to ask to try out the rackets of players at your club. Eventually, you'll find the right combo, and then I recommend they stick with that, unless and until their game changes or there's a major equipment breakthrough. The latter happens about once a decade, though of course you'll read about "new breakthroughs" every year. 

Here's what surfaces I use. (I'll write about rackets some other time, but I'm currently using a JOOLA Fever blade ST.) 

Forehand: Butterfly Tenergy 05 FX 2.1 black. This is a soft looping sponge. It allows easy looping without a long, powerful swing. When you loop, the ball just jumps off this rubber with what some call a high throw angle. If you have a more vigorous stroke, you might want a harder sponge. I both loop and hit, but my hitting is more natural, so I go for a sponge that props up the loop since I can hit with anything. This sponge allows me to run down hard shots off the table and loop them back with good spin. The softness does mean less speed, but the consistency and spin offset that for me. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Energy X-tra.

Backhand: Roundell 2.1 red on the backhand. This is perfect for my basic hitting and countering backhand, and you can also loop with it pretty well. (I generally only loop against backspin on the backhand.)  It plays like glued-up Sriver, which is what I used on my backhand for many years. Another sponge that does this (which I used before) was JOOLA's Express One.

Hardbat: I use an old TSP blade that I bought at a tournament back in 1990. It's a one-play pure wood, and I don't think it's made anywhere, so there's no point in trying to match it. I use Butterfly Orthodox on both sides.

Backhand leverage test

Shakehand players, hold your racket in front of your stomach as if you were about to hit a backhand. Put your free hand against it in front. Now push out. Now raise the racket (or squat down), so the racket is somewhere between your chest and chin. Again put your free hand against it in front and push out. Which way gives you more leverage? If you noticed how much more leverage you had the second time, you'll realize why it's important to stay low when hitting backhands. (Remember, we're talking backhand drives, not loops, where you do start lower.)

Will Shortz and table tennis

Here's a nice article on Will Shortz (NY Times puzzlist), Robert Roberts, and their new full-time table tennis center. 

ITTF photo caption challenge

Here's a rather interesting table tennis photo. Why not come up with your own caption for it?

Thoughts on the Budget and Debt Ceiling Crisis (non-table tennis)

To the talk show hosts on both extremes who have split our country, and the idiots who listen to them and vote, and all those who forget that the Founding Fathers compromised . . . great job. The Apocalypse won't be biblical, but economic.

(I could write much more on this, but I don't want to turn this into a political blog, so I'll leave my own partisan thoughts out of this. Sufficient to say that I'm a moderate Democrat, with the emphasis on moderate.)

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June 24, 2011

Pushing those non-push receives

A lot of beginning/intermediate players tend to push back any serve that comes at them slow. This is fine at the beginning level where backspin serves come at them slow, while topspin serves come at them faster. At the higher levels, this is not true; intermediate players can serve with sidespin and topspin that goes out slowly, since they've learned to graze the ball, and so most of their energy goes into spin. And so if you push these serves, the ball flies off the end or to the side.

The problem is that beginners get it ingrained that they can push a slow serve, when they should be reacting to the spin, not the speed of the ball, and pushing only against backspin or no-spin balls. How do you teach them to break this habit?

I find it useful to have them put their racket down and simply watch (from a ready position) as I serve short sidespin and topspin serves, and to call the spin each time. (I simplify it to having them call out either backspin or side-top.)  They can't always pick it up from just contact, but between contact, and the way the ball travels through the air and bounces on the table, they can begin to read the spin. I stress that they should be looking to attack any serve that's mostly sidespin or topspin, and to look for those serves, rather than look to push. Then, if the serve obviously has backspin, they can choose to push.

Once they can call out the type of spin correctly, I then have them practice attacking the side-top serves. When they can do that, then I vary the serve, and they have to attack those serves, push the backspin serves. This seems a good way to break the "push anything slow" type of receive problem.

MDTTC camp happenings

Today's the last day of the MDTTC June Camp. (We have five this summer, all five days long - see schedule.) The camps are primarily for junior players - we have about 30 in the camp, average age is about 11, ranging from 7 to 18 - but all ages and levels are welcome. I mostly run the morning sessions (short lectures, multiball, games) with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang helping out; they run the afternoon sessions. We also have Jeffrey Zeng Xun (2612) and Sun Ting (2730) coaching, and in the afternoon sessions Raghu Nadmichettu (2390) and Vahid Mosafari (2284) as practice partners.

I'm always amazed at how so many new kids pick things up so quickly. Over and over I'll start one on something new, perhaps something basic like the forehand or something more advanced liked looping, and after a few minutes I'm starting to think, "He'll never get this." And then something clicks, and he gets it. One kid absolutely could not get looping for three days, and then, suddenly, yesterday morning something went "CLICK!," and he was looping over and over during multiball.

Balls are everywhere during the sessions. We have nets that are dragged across the floor to pick them up. While picking up balls yesterday, I told one kid who had a net full of balls that we'd picked up enough. He looked at me, sort of shrugged, and turned the net upside down, emptying the balls onto the floor. I exclaimed, "What did you do that for?" He looked at me defensively and cried out, "You said we had enough!"

Probably the funnest part of the sessions is when I take a number of the new players and we have target practice. They rotate, each hitting two forehands (one from backhand side, one from forehand side), aiming for a bottle I put on the table. I tell them it's full of worm juice (!), and whenever they hit it, I have to take a drink. They take great delight in making me drink the worm juice; I take great delight in trying to convince them that they aren't good enough to hit that tiny target, which turns out to be excellent reverse psychology. I get bloated from drinking too much . . . worm juice. I also bring out the cups - I put them on the table either in a bowling pin pattern or lined up on the endline, and they see how many shots it takes to knock them all down, or how many they can knock down with ten shots.

Ping Pong Power Puma Girl

She shows her magic powers over masses of ping-pong balls in this 48-second video. Do not try this at home; she's a professional. (See lots of other humorous videos in the TableTennisCoaching.com Fun and Games section.)

Why Sponge is Valuable

There are still a lot of players who use plain pimpled rubber (no sponge, i.e. hardbat) rather than jumping on the bandwagon and using sponge like just about all the top players. It’s time we settle this once and for all! So here are 12 advantages of sponge. (This is an updated reprint of something I wrote long ago.) 

  1. You can’t clean a table with pimpled rubber.
  2. You can’t pimpled rubber off a friend.
  3. Pimpled rubber baths hurt and leave abrasions on the skin.
  4. You can’t cleanse the oceans with pimpled rubbers.
  5. You can’t dress up Tim Allen as Santa Clause with pimpled rubber padding.
  6. PimpledRubberBob SquarePants just doesn’t have the same ring.
  7. Pole vaulting onto pimpled rubber hurts like heck.
  8. Pimpled rubber cake tastes like rubber.
  9. A child with a mind like a pimpled rubber will probably be in trouble.
  10. You can’t develop a complex brain from a pimpledrubberioblast
  11. Sponge flies can’t survive off of pimpled rubber, since they live off of fresh-water sponges.
  12. You can’t do public experiments in perception, phenomenology and desire at http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/pimpledrubber.org – you need http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/sponge.org. (You can look it up!)

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June 21, 2011

Serious Goofing Off versus Non-serious Goofing Off

Some players simply do not understand the advantage of SGO (Serious Goofing Off) versus NGO (Non-serious Goofing Off, with apologies to numerous Vietnamese players). In SGO, you are simply goofing off, and besides insulting your opponent, you are not only not helping yourself, you are developing bad habits. However, SGO can actually be valuable. For example, I saw one of our junior players play a lobber by constantly faking a smash and then just patting the ball back. I pulled him aside and said, "If you are going to drop shot his lob, then try to drop it for a winner." In other words, instead of just patting it back, he should go for a side-spin chop block, and try to double-bounce it so the lobber couldn't even get to it, or had to lunge. Another example: If you are going to lob, try to win the lob point with heavy spin (both topspin and sidespin), basically a high loop. Another example: If you are going to just return the serve without attacking it, then, well, do something serious with it - fake one way and go the other, and try to win the point with a "weak" return. Aim to this backhand, and as he's stepping around, go to the forehand and try not to giggle as the server stumbles all over the place trying to get to it.

Who was the all-time greatest SGO champion? Jan-Ove Waldner. You don't develop his touch and control without some serious SGO.

Why can't you serve like this?

Well, why can't you? There really are two types of serves: those whose purpose is to set you up to attack ("third-ball serves"), and those whose purpose is to either win the point outright or set up an easy winner ("surprise serves"). You should develop both.

Highlights of day one of the MDTTC Camp

Weird stuff happened on the first day of the camp here in Maryland. I was feeding multiball to one kid who was looping, and the ball I fed him hit a ball rolling on his side of the table, and bounced up almost normal. Without hesitation, the kid looped it away. That alone was strange, but about two shots later one of his shots hit my paddle as I was feeding him another shot, and both balls shot toward him. He looped both balls (on the table) with one stroke. One came at me, and hit my paddle again, and again both balls shot at him. Again he hit both balls, and although one went off, this was when we both practically fell to the ground laughing. Later, when someone accidentally (I hope) hit a ball at me, I ducked. A girl asked why I ducked, and I said because I was afraid of the ball hitting me. She called me a "ducking chicken."

And we also taught some table tennis.

ITTF Coaches in the U.S.

There are now 29 ITTF certified coaches in the U.S., including myself. Eleven of them are from the ITTF Coaching seminar in Maryland I ran in April. (To qualify, coaches not only had to take the 24-hour course, but also complete 30 hours of coaching, including five "supervised" by an ITTF coach or other approved high-level coach.) The eleven are Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu (NV), Benjamin D. Arnold (PA), Changping Duan (MD), Jeff Fuchs (PA), Charlene Liu (MD), Juan Ly (FL), Vahid Mosafari (MD), Dan Notestein (VA), John Olsen (VA), Jef Savage (PA), Jeff Smart (MD). To see all 29 ITTF coaches from the U.S., see the ITTF coaches listing (set country to USA).

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