Plastic Ball

October 21, 2014

Coaching Happenings

I hope you enjoyed the PBS video I showed yesterday that featured Crystal Wang and Derek Nie. (I said it was a WETA video, but it was actually produced by PBS.) I showed it at MDTTC on my laptop yesterday to a number of players. The video is currently featured on the USATT home page.

Lots of coaching happenings yesterday. The biggest news was Sameer's breakthrough on the backhand loop. Sameer (13, about 1600) has been topspinning his backhand pretty well this past year. But yesterday something clicked, and suddenly he was just ripping backhand loops off the bounce with ease - at least in practice. He was doing it both in rallies against my backhand block, in side-to-side footwork drills (including the 2-1 drill), and in multiball against backspin.

Technique-wise, he's now hitting pretty much the same as Ma Long in this video (1:55, far side). Note the nice, relaxed power with this stroke, with the small body rocking motion that creates power. (Here's a Tip on "Easy Power," demonstrated in the video by Ma Long, which Sameer is now learning.) Sameer still goes through stages where they all hit and then they all miss (often when he tries to muscle the ball), and it'll take time to incorporate this into a match, but now he's on a really scary path (for opponents). Since I wanted him to really ingrain this, we spent about 45 minutes of our two-hour session on this, and we'll continue to focus on this for a time - yes, a little Saturation Training.

Near the end I played Sameer a few games where I chopped, using my regular inverted rubber (Tenergy both sides). He's much better against me when I play regular, and since I'm almost as good chopping as attacking, let's just say things didn't work as well here as it did for his backhand loop. He did throw a lot of backhand loops at me, but he kept putting the balls into my forehand or backhand corners - easy returns for a 2100 chopper. I finally hinted that he needed to go after my middle. He served and looped there several times, and I missed four chops. He said, "Are you messing up on purpose?" He was wondering if I was missing to show him the importance of playing the middle, as opposed to my missing because he was going to my middle. It was the latter!

I've been playing for 38 years, and coaching for 34. And yet, yesterday was the first time I ever had to tell a student (age 7) to stop chewing on his shirt during points.

Plastic Ball Problems

We're facing serious problems at the club because of the changeover to plastic balls. The ITTF really jumped the gun on this - they should have waited until the new plastic balls ("40+") were standardized and there were training balls available. Right now we have different players training with different balls, and players have to check on what the other players are using before they can play or practice. Since Butterfly doesn't have plastic training balls yet, we're still mostly using regular Butterfly celluloid balls for most coaching. Players used to have to contend with going from Butterfly balls to the slightly harder Nittaku balls, but the difference there is only a fraction of the difference between the various plastic balls.

All of the plastic balls are white, as are most of our training balls, which seems to be the preference of most players. At the moment, though, I wish all our training balls were orange so we could tell them quickly from the white plastic ones. A training center is not like a typical club, where players use just one ball on each table. Players train at our club with buckets of balls, and so balls are scattered everywhere. (For an example of this, see the Multiball Footwork segment below.)

Yesterday, at the same time, we had players training with Butterfly celluloid (used in last weekend's 4-star North Carolina Open and MDTTC Open, in next weekend's 4-star South Shore Open and Wasserman Junior Championships, and along with other celluloid balls, still used in most USATT tournaments), JOOLA plastic (for the upcoming North American Teams), Nittaku Premium plastic (for the Nationals) and Nittaku SHA plastic (for the Nationals for players who didn't have the Premium yet). Meanwhile, Crystal Wang is training with various plastic balls to prepare for the World Cadet Challenge which starts next weekend, which will be using Butterfly plastic balls, but we don't have any since they aren't available in the U.S. yet. Players were running about trying to keep the same balls in each court and sifting through balls in boxes and on the floor to find the ones they were training with. And yesterday someone was practicing with DHS plastic balls for some other tournament. This is crazy!!!

One that'll help a little - USATT is requiring all tournament entry forms must list the ball material used in the tournament. Here's the news item.

Is Search Engine Showing Up?

I need help on something. Tell me if you see the search engine on the top left - it should read "Search this site:" with a field underneath it. It shows up for me on both my desktop and laptop computers on all the major search engines, but it's not showing up on someone else's laptop computer for some reason. (Right now it should only show up if you are logged in. I've asked my web page expert to fix that so that the search engine shows up no matter what.)

Multiball Footwork

Here's 34 seconds of some serious multiball footwork. Can you do this? (Note the wide stance - without it, you can't.)

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team

Here's a video library that's a MUST for all players. It has 14 videos of the Chinese National Team or coaches demonstrating and explaining techniques. (This includes seven videos in the "Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team" series. There's a Part 8 that just came out but isn't yet listed, "Forehand Serves and First Attack by Yan An" (7:43).

Contact Point for Maximum Backspin

Here's the new video from PingSkills (3:13).

Ask the Coach

Episode #12 (9:55):

  • Question 1: I play inverted and will play against a hardbat penhold player. He has no problem hitting through chops, and various spins. What I find most difficult is returning his general shots. I hit many balls into the net. Any suggestions? Bob Van Deusen
  • Question 2: There is an attacking shot in badminton called dropshot from the rear court. I haven’t seen it in table tennis where one player is away from the table, slows down shortly before contact so the ball drops short. Is it possible in table tennis? Peter Habich
  • Question 3: Being not a terribly strong guy, I've always preferred blades on the lighter side. Recently I switched to one which weighs only 5 grams less, and the difference is remarkable. I can't be sure yet which to prefer, so what's your view on this? Andrej K
  • Question 4: My issue is that I'm practicing drills mostly at the club with ITTF standard sized tables and the one at my office is one that lays on top of a billiards table, which is about 9cm higher. How I can adjust my strokes so that I can perform better? Gregory S

Photos from the First ITTF Level 3 Course in the U.S.

Here's the photo album from Shashin Shodhan. Photo #17 shows that they stayed in the same dormitory (Building 87) that I stayed in from 1986-1990 during my years as manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center. Others that lived there included Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, Eric Owens, Todd Sweeris, Dhiren Narotam, Diana & Lisa Gee, and many more.

Butterfly Teams

Here's an article by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Butterfly Teams in Hobart, Indiana, to be held on Thanksgiving weekend. (Not to be confused with the 4-star South Shore Open to be held this weekend in Highland, Indiana - I'll be there coaching - or with the North American Teams, also to be held on Thanksgiving weekend in Washington D.C.)

World Women's Cup

Here are two more videos on the Women's World Cup held this past weekend in Austria.

Who Will Win the Men's World Cup Contest

Here's the blog entry on this from Matt Hetherington. The Men's World Cup is this upcoming weekend in Dusseldorf, Germany, Oct. 24-26. The basic challenge is to guess the two finalists and the total number of points the losing player will score in the final. Winning prize is two sheets of Butterfly Tenergy.

ITTF Timo Boll Puzzle Contest

Put poor Timo Boll back together again, and win a signed blade from him.

Top Five Reasons Why Ping Pong Rocks by Susan Sarandon

Here's the video (1:04). #1: "I like ping-pong because Richard Nixon had to leave the country for at least two weeks during Ping-Pong Diplomacy."

Olympic Power Table Tennis

Here's the cartoon!

***
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August 13, 2014

Update on My Books

This seems a good time to remind people that if you haven't bought copies of my books, the Easter pumpkin will run you down on Santa's sleigh and smack you with a menorah. Also, I'll starve. (If not interested in my books - sacrilege! - then skip down below to the other segments.) All of my books are on sale at my Amazon page. (Yes, as some of you know there's been controversy with them and their battles with various publishers, but I'm stuck with them for now.)

If you have not bought a copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers then every time you play a match your opponent (who no doubt has a copy in his bag and consulted it before playing you) will have an insurmountable advantage. The book not only covers tactics, but strategic development, i.e. how to develop your game. (Look over the 30 reviews, and ask yourself why you haven't got a copy yet.) It's in both print and kindle formats. It's been selling like hotcakes (oh god, that's a cliché), so why not join in the bandwagon? There's even a French translation coming out later this year!

My more recent book is Table Tennis Tips, which came out in May in both print and kindle formats. It's a compilation of all 150 of my Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, but in a logical progression, all in one volume. It includes chapters on Serve, Receive, Strokes, Grip and Stance, Footwork, Tactics, Improving, Sports Psychology, Equipment, and Tournaments. (More Table Tennis Tips should come out early in 2017, covering all my weekly tips from 2014-2016.)

Perhaps the most interesting read is Table Tennis Tales & Techniques, which is a compilation of both interesting stories about table tennis (lots of fun stuff), and essays on techniques. It also features a series of pictures of 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager in the top right corner of every page, so if you fan the pages you get a movie of him playing!

Table Tennis: Steps to Success is currently out of print, but I'm planning a new version out probably within six months, tentatively retitled Table Tennis Fundamentals. (First I have to get new pictures for every technique taught in the book, a big job.) However you can still buy used copies. (There is another version of this out by Richard McAfee, but it's not related to this one - it's from the same publisher, and they chose to use the same title.) The book sold 28,000 copies and was translated into seven languages. It probably sold a zillion copies if you include bootleg copies in China. (I'm not kidding.)

If you are interested in coaching, then you'll want to buy the creatively titled Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which is in both print and kindle formats. It covers the professional side of coaching - getting students, keeping them, running classes and junior programs, and other aspects of coaching, with an emphasis on professional coaching and junior training.  

I also have Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, but that was published a while back by USATT, and is no longer sold. I tentatively plan to do a new version of that next year, using the pictures from Table Tennis Fundamentals. It's a guide for how to coach for beginning coaches.

I also have two non-Table Tennis books, a novel and an anthology. Sorcerers in Space is my humorous fantasy novel that came out last year from Class Act Books. It comes in both print and kindle versions. It's about the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon in the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts, and the whole things takes place over one week. (Sorcerers work fast.) It stars a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong] and fictionalized versions of many of the major political names from the 1960s - President Kennedy and his brothers, Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bob McNamara, and Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as dragons and other creatures that keep trying to kill poor Neil - including an attack meteor named Buzz. Oh, and Neil is a wannabe table tennis champion who has to drop his dreams of ping-pong stardom to save the world.

The anthology is Pings and Pongs: the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of Larry Hodges. It includes the 30 best short stories I'd sold through 2009, including "Ping-Pong Ambition." It comes in both print and kindle versions. (More Pings and Pongs should come out sometime next year - another 30 of my best sales since the previous anthology.)

On my Amazon page there's also a booklet called Willy and the Ten Trillion Chimpanzees. That's actually a short story of mine that's sold by Musa Publishers - but it only costs 99 cents!

I have two other books tentatively coming out. I'm doing a (hopefully) final rewrite of my science fiction novel "Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates," about the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, featuring a third-party moderate challenge. One of the four main characters is a professional table tennis player, and there are several table tennis scenes. I have a publisher that liked the previous version, but asked for a rewrite.

The other project? "Parents Guide to Table Tennis," a long-needed manual. I hope to finalize it this Fall, if I have time.

While we're on the topic of writing, I have a few articles published as well. 

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was Day Two of Week Nine of our Ten Weeks of Summer Camp at MDTTC. Once again there were about 40 players. The focus was on the backhand. I also taught spin serves, and did a lot of footwork drills (as always).

Something strange is going on this camp. Usually we have some sort of minor accident perhaps once every few weeks. In the last two days two kids fell and cut themselves and needed bandages, and another had a nosebleed. I'm getting good at cleaning cuts and applying bandages.

One kid, about eight, has struck me as someone to watch. Not because he's particularly good yet - he's only played a few weeks - but because he is the hardest worker in the camp, and totally focused and enthused about getting better. Even on break he's off practicing his serves. In every drill he's the most focused at getting it right. It'll be interesting to see where he is a few years from now, as compared to one or two others who seem great "naturals" who, while not lazy, aren't as focused on improving.

The Plastic Ball

Here are two new articles from the ITTF on the plastic ball.

ITTF Releases Table Tennis Youth Olympic Games Media Guide

You can download it here. The Games will be held in Nanjing, China, Aug. 17-23.

California-Based Chinese Players Pose Stiff Competition to Top Seeds at 2014 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Ping Pong 4 Purpose

Here's the home page for this charity event. "Clayton Kershaw, event host Chris Harrison, the Los Angeles Dodgers and other celebrities are joining together for a unique celebrity ping pong tournament and fundraising event Thursday, September 4 on the field at Dodger Stadium. This second annual Ping Pong 4 Purpose fundraising event will feature a celebrity ping pong tournament, high-end silent auction and more. Event proceeds will benefit the efforts of Kershaw's Challenge in Los Angeles and Zambia to transform at-risk communities and the lives of children."

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Eighty-two down, 18 to go!

  • Day 19: Korea’s Mr. Han Sang Kook is the Picture of “A True Gentleman”

Training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria

Here's the video (22 sec).

Can Ping-Pong Balls Help Clean Up Oil Spills?

Here's the article and video (1:45) from Table Tennis Nation.

Amazing Table Tennis Shot Off Ground

Here's the video (1:11).

Funniest Faces from Table Tennis Players

Here's the gallery!

Non-TT - ESPN Covers the World Series

For the second time in five days I have a humorous story on the front page of Orioles Hangout. Here's ESPN Covers the World Series! Last Thursday they featured my story Top Ten Ways for Orioles Fans to Cope with a Winning Team. I've had 22 stories featured there, going back to April, 2012. (Did I mention that the Orioles lead the American Lead East by 6.5 games?)

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August 11, 2014

Tip of the Week

Ten Steps to a Great Service Game.

Virginia Camp

On Friday we had the final day of the camp in Fairfax, Virginia. In the morning we split the players into two groups. One group did various physical training and agility exercises with Wen Hsu (as they had been doing all week). The other group did multiball with me and hit with the robot. We did a lot of smashing and pushing, and a few worked on looping. We also did "player's choice," where the players got to choose what to work on. 

Then we had a practice tournament. There were 14 players, so we divided them into two groups of seven, with the top two from each side playing crossovers. All matches were best of three to 11. For prizes we had a series of "large" prizes - a playing bag and copies of all of my books (signed). We also had table tennis key chains. The first place winner got his choice of two large prizes plus a key chain. Second was one large prize and a key chain. Third through six got their choice of one large prize or key chain. (All took books.) I donated the books - in all, the books chosen were three copies of "Table Tennis: Steps to Success," and one copy each of "Table Tennis Tips," "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers," and my humorous fantasy novel (which stars a table tennis wannabe), "Sorcerers in Space." I also gave a signed copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques to all 14 players. (I have a lot of extra copies.) Camp tournament results: 1. Harrison Tun; 2. Brandon Choi; 3-4: Leo Diperna and Ian Ramanata; 5. Vincent Diperna; 6. Chris Kutscher.

Here's a camp picture, with two players missing - they had to leave early, alas, and we forgot to get a picture when they were there. (Coach John Hsu is in background, that's me on the right.) Immediately after the picture they took turns smacking balls at the cup fort, with me feeding multiball. Many cups dies in the onslaught, but Froggy survived.

Koki Niwa and His Techniques and Tactics

Here's an article on Japan's Koki Niwa, world #15, where he talks about his techniques and tactics. Includes instructional pictures and a link to a Koki Niwa tribute video (3:36). (Note that the "chiquita" her refers to is the banana flip - Chiquita is a major producer and distributors of bananas and other produce, so I'm guessing that's where it comes from.)

Seven Things You Need to Know to Master the New Plastic Ball

Here's the posting and some discussion at the OOAK TT Forum.

Sports Psychology - Recognize Your Feelings

Here's the video (5:27) from PingSkills.

Top 10 Servers in Table Tennis

Here's the video (12:40).

Marty Reisman: The Greatest Sportsman You've Never Heard Of

Here's the article from Esquire Magazine. 

USA's Shivansh Kuma Finds Success at Guatemala Junior and Cadet Open

He made the final of Cadet Boys Singles, and teamed with India's Mudit Dani to win Cadet Boys teams. The two also made the semifinals of Cadet Boys Teams and the quarterfinals of Junior Boys Doubles. Here's the home page for the Aug. 6-9 event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's the ITTF article on the Cadet Boys Teams.  

Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open

Here's the home page for the Aug. 6-10 event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Fifteen USA juniors took part in the event - here's a participants listing. Here's a listing USA major results.

  • Krish Avvari: semifinals of Cadet Boys (here's a picture of him on the podium, second from right)
  • Kanak Jha: quarterfinals of Cadet Boys
  • Krish Avvari and Kanak Jha: Semifinals of Cadet Boys Doubles and Teams
  • Adar Alguetti and Victor Liu: Quarterfinals of Cadet Boys Doubles
  • Lily Zhang and Prachi Jha: Semifinals of Junior Girls Doubles, Quarterfinals of Junior Girls Teams
  • Joy Li and Puerto Rico's Adriana Diaz: Quarterfinals of Cadet Girls Doubles

Bockoven Brothers Netting Success in Table Tennis

Here's the article from the Boston Globe. I remember going to a Seemiller camp in 1977 when I was 17 and father Ralph was one of the big stars of the camp! Connor and Chase are the heirs of that tradition.

Top Ten Places to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Final of the China Super League - Zhang Jike vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Here's the video (39 min). To save time and add drama they only play to seven in the fifth game in this league. (Spoiler alert!) Dimitrij leads 4-0 in that decisive fifth game - but Zhang scores seven in a row.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Seventy-nine down, 21 to go!

  • Day 22: The Gift of Braking and Changing Focus
  • Day 23: ITTF’s Museum Curator Chuck Hoey Preserves Our Heritage
  • Day 24: Shahrokh Shahnazi Promotes ITTF’s P5 Plan, Even to the IOC

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Play Table Tennis

Here they are playing at a homeless shelter.

Ruini Li the Cover for the Milpitas Post

Here's the picture. (If you have trouble seeing the Facebook version, try this one.)

Funny Dog Watching Table Tennis

Here's the video (48 sec) - it's hilarious! (I might have posted this a couple years ago, but it's worth repeat viewing.)

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July 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing Bad - It's All Mental (Usually).

2014 U.S. Open

I was at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids from June 30 to July 6. As usual, it was an exhausting and exhilarating time. Once again Grand Rapids and USATT put on a great show - they are getting good at running Opens and Nationals. It was mostly on time (falling behind only when specific matches held things up), organized, and they even did the little things. For example, every morning we'd find all the trash had been picked up, and the barriers and chairs around all the courts all lined up nice and neatly. When you consider the size of the playing hall, that's a big job! Results were regularly updated on the results walls. So a great thanks goes out to the organizers and workers at this event.

Here's the USATT home page for the U.S. Open, which includes links to results, articles, pictures, and video.

The showcase events started at 3:45PM on Saturday with the women's semifinals. The schedule was for a new match to start every 45 minutes, with the two women's semifinals, the two men's semifinals, the women's final, and then the men's final, which would presumably start at 7:30 PM. But they ran into a problem right from the start - the first women's semifinal was between two very defensive choppers, Riyo Nemoto of Japan, and Li Xue of France (but presumably from China). The two pushed and Pushed and PUSHED all through the first game, with Nemoto essentially never attacking and Xue only occasionally attacking. I think it was 8-4 in the first when ten minutes had passed and expedite was called. From there on they alternated serves, with the receiver winning the point if she returned 13 shots in a row. Xue had a decidedly better attack, and after losing the first, won the next four games easily under expedite.

But the match took forever, and put things well behind. Could they catch up in the next match, between two attackers? The points were faster, but it took another eon before Yuko Fujii won, 11-9 in the seventh. She would go on to win the final, 4-1 over the chopper Xue, who had no answer to her relentless light topspins to the backhand long pips and sudden loop kills and smashes to the middle or wide angles. Fujii used the Asian style of playing choppers to perfection. (Here's my Tip of the Week on Playing Choppers, which explains this.)

Going into the tournament, most players were picking Japan's Jin Ueda to win. After all, he defeated world #7 Chuan Chih-Yuan in last week's Japan Open. But it was another Japanese player who took out top seed and defending champion Eugene Wang of Canada, as Hidetoshi Oya took him out 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The two Japanese met in the semifinals, but this time Oya had no magic as Ueda won 4-1. Meanwhile, China's Tao Wenzhang - the player considered by most as the least likely of the four semifinalists to win - took out two-time U.S. Open Men's Champion Thomas Keinath, also 4-1. Most picked Ueda to win the final, but it was not to be as the under-estimated Tao won the final with another 4-1 win.

Here's an interesting tactical thing about that match. For years I've encouraged players to serve not just to the short forehand, but to the middle forehand. Some players do have trouble if you serve short to the forehand, but others take advantage of the extreme angle you give them to your forehand (assuming two righties), the extra table means they can flip more aggressively. If the server tries to cover this wide angle, the receiver can just take it down the line. But if you instead serve short to the middle forehand, the following happens. 1) the extreme angle to the forehand is mostly cut off; 2) the extra table when flipping to the wide forehand his shortened, so aggressive flips are more difficult; 3) the receiver, who usually favors backhand against short serves to the middle, has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand; and 4) the receiver is either drawn well over the table if he receives backhand (leaving his backhand side open and taking his forehand mostly out of play on the next shot if the server goes to the backhand), or has a somewhat awkward forehand shot to play over the table. So what did Tao do in both the semifinals and final? He serve short to the middle forehand probably half the time, a primary reason he dominated the points.

The USATT Coach of the Year Awards were given out between games in the Women's Semifinals. The four winners were Lily Yip (Coach of the Year); Stefan Feth (Developmental Coach of the Year); Angie Bengtsson (Paralympic Coach of the Year) and me (Doc Counsilman Science Award, for my coaching blog, tips, and books.) However, when they started to give them out I was on the other side of the arena, with my back turned as I was explaining the expedite rule to some spectators. When they called my name I was caught off guard, and couldn't get to the award stand in time. They gave it to me after the next game. The actual plaques are nice, but were left behind at USATT Headquarters, and will be mailed to us. So they improvised with certificates. I'll post a picture of the actual plaque when it comes in.

There are always problems with any large tournament, and this was no exception. There were many top Chinese players at the tournament without ratings or world rankings, and so they were mostly stuck in randomly, causing havoc in some parts of the draws. Perhaps more effort should go into contacting these players or their associations to better get an idea of their level. After all, if a player travels all the way from China to play Men's Singles, he's likely at least 2400 or better! For example, two cadet players came to my club for about ten days of training before the U.S. Open. They were both 2450-2500 players. But at the Open they were unrated and unseeded. One result was that second-seeded Kunal Chodri, rated 2480, had to play one of them in his first match in Cadet Boys' Singles, and lost 3-0. Those two shouldn't have been playing until the later rounds.

There's also the problem of old ratings. For example, I coached a 12-year-old in Under 1500. In the round robin stage he had to play a girl from Canada rated 1427. The problem was that the rating was a year old, from last year's U.S. Open, and she was now at least 1800. The kid I was coaching was a "ringer," under-rated by a couple hundred points, but not nearly as under-rated as this girl, who would not only win the RR group, but would go on to win Under 1500 and Under 1650 (which at the Open is like winning Under 1800 and Under 1950), while beating players in other events over 1800. It wasn't a one-time thing with her; she got an initial rating of 892 at a U.S. tournament in June of 2012. Her next tournament was the 2013 U.S. Open, where she was way under-rated, and shot up to 1427. Now she'll likely jump to 1800+. Next year she'll likely show up with that rating, but perhaps 2000 level. Perhaps junior players with ratings over six months old should have 100 points added to their ratings for eligibility purposes?

Here are the two best shots of the tournament that I saw. First, a Chinese player at least three times pulled off a "push flip." What is that? He reached in for a short ball to the forehand as if pushing off the bounce, but intentionally missed the ball - then pulled his racket back quickly and flipped the ball at the top of the bounce! I've seen this shot before, but not in years. The other best shot? I was warming up one of my players and accidentally mishit the ball off the racket edge so it shot very hard at my face, ricocheting extremely fast off my glasses and back to the other side! My player didn't hesitate to counter-hit it, and the rally continued. Oh, and I'm sure the top players made a few good loops as well.

It's never over until it's over, as one of my players learned. Down 0-2 in games and 1-6 in the third, I called a time-out. I gave him my vintage speech for players down 0-2. ("How bad do you want this?...") Since he was New York Giants football fan, I asked him, "What would Eli Manning do?" He was all psyched up, went back to the table - and the other player got a net winner, then smacked in a winner, and now my player is down 1-8. But with me yelling, "C'mon, Eli, you can do it!", he scored eight in a row, and won that game in deuce - and went on to win the match, deuce in the fifth.

It doesn't always end that way. A nine-year-old kid I coached made the quarterfinals of Under 1500. There he faced an older kid who, in up-to-date ratings, was actually 1576. My player won the first two games, but lost the next two. In the fifth it was 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all, 15-all. Both players had multiple match points. At 15-all the other player mis-hit his serve off to the side, and it was another match point for my player - or was it? The other kid thought his serve hit the edge, and while I was certain it wasn't close, we had to play a let. My player won the next point (and seemingly might have won the match at that point, since he'd won two in a row from 15-all), but wasn't able to convert that match point, and ended up losing 18-16 in the fifth.

Because of ringers, the draws were often rather haphazard. I mentioned the 12-year-old I coached above who had to play the ringer girl from Canada. Actually, all three players in his preliminary group were ringers, way under-rated, as was he himself. On the other hand, the nine-year-old above (yes, another ringer, since he was rated under 1200 but about 1500 level) went up against "normal" players. I'm fairly sure the three players he played in his round robin and in the first two rounds of single elimination wouldn't have won a match in the other player's preliminary RR.

I started to write about some of my favorite coaching moments, especially the tactics used by Nathan Hsu, 18 and about 2350 (though he's been over 2400) in upsetting a 2648 player. But alas, I can't write about them publicly - they are trade secrets we need for the next time the two play. Suffice to say he executed them perfectly - in particular his serve and receive tactics - and mostly shut down the opponent's big forehand. (You can ask me about them privately.)

Players from my club, MDTTC, did very well. Here's a short listing of their best results:

  • Crystal Wang, 12, won Cadet Girls Singles (15 & Under), made the semifinals of 18 & Under Girls, and the quarterfinals of Under 21 Women.
  • Derek Nie, 13, won 13 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Charlene Liu, 61, pulled off a triple sweep - or was it a quadruple sweep? She won Over 40, Over 50, and Over 60 Women's Singles, made the final of Over 30 Women's Singles, and won Over 60 Women's Doubles with Barbara Kaminsky.
  • Dave Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Men's Singles, and won four doubles events - Over 50 and Over 60 Doubles with Dan Seemiller, Over 65 Men's Doubles with Dell Sweeris, and Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Donna Sakai. (Am I the only one who noticed that all four of these players have initials DS?)
  • Donna Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Women's Singles, Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Dave Sakai, and made the final of Over 60 Women's Doubles with Connie Sweeris.
  • Ruichao Alex Chen, 16, made the final of 18 & Under Boys' Singles, upsetting U.S. #1 Under 18 player Kai Zhang, rated 2704, in the round of 16. He made the semifinals of Under 2600. He made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Chen Bo Wen, 16, made the quarterfinals of 18 & Under Boys' Singles and the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Nathan Hsu, 18, made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams, and in 18 & Under Boys' Singles upset Chen Keda, rated 2648 and the U.S. #1 Under 17 player.
  • Wang Qing "Leon" Liang, 19, made the semifinals of Under 2600.
  • Ryan Dabbs, 11, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Tiffany Ke, 10, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Girls' Singles.
  • Daniel Sofer, 9, made the quarterfinals of Under 1500.
  • Larry Hodges, way too old, won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston. 

1970s Table Tennis Revisited

In my blog on June 23 I likened the equipment used in 1971 by Stellan Bengtsson (and by extension, other sponge rackets of that era) as "toy" rackets. Stellan wasn't happy with my assessment. He was using Mark V sponge, which isn't exactly a "toy" sponge though essentially no top players use these types of sponges anymore in this age of tensor and high-tension sponges. (But they are still an appropriate surface for beginning/intermediate players.) I'd actually thought the Mark V used then was slower than the Mark V now, but I've been told that it's about the same now as it was then. (I'm talking about the original version, not all the new types.) The point I was making (and overstated by likening it to "toy" sponge) was that much of the reason the game was slower back then, as seen in the tape, was that the inverted sponges were slower than what are used these days by top players, especially when looping, where modern sponges practically slingshot the ball out. (I've added an edit to the original statement.)

Plastic Ball Implementation at ITTF Events

Here's the article.

USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article on Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha.

Ariel Hsing Aims to Learn & Win in the Super League

Here's the article on the USA Women's Champion in China.

Road to Nanjing

Here's the article, on Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari, who will be representing the United States in the 2nd Summer Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China on August 16-28.  

Ovtcharov Confident to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

Here's the article. Oh, and he just got married!

About.com is Back - Sort of

I checked on it, and there are no plans to bring back the table tennis forum. But they are putting up table tennis articles. Here's a listing of new ones.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin 

Here's the review of the book. "The real history of table tennis is a bizarre tale of espionage, aggravation, and reconciliation, of murder, revenge, and exquisite diplomacy, says a new book. It's the story of how Ivor Montagu molded the game, and how the Chinese came to embrace it and then shaped it into a subtle instrument of foreign policy."

My Way to Olympia

Here's an article and video (1:38) on this PBS documentary on the Paralympics, which covers four athletes, including a table tennis player with one hand.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. (Since I've been away for a week at the U.S. Open we have an accumulation of them today.) Forty-five down, 55 to go!

  • Day 56: Glenn Tepper Explains the ITTF’s Continental Affiliation Option
  • Day 57: Countdown Hijacked! (by Adham Sharara)
  • Day 58: Peter Karlsson Is a True “Champion for Peace”
  • Day 59: Patrick Gillmann: A Passionate Advocate for Juniors
  • Day 60: Richard Scruton Reflects on the 2012 Olympics
  • Day 61: Catching up with Raul Calin, who’s on the Road Again
  • Day 62: ITTF’s Matt Pound Promotes Table Tennis 24/7
  • Day 63: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part II (here's Part 1)

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's the article and trailer (2:10) for the upcoming documentary.

Angel Table Tennis

Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Mike Mezyan.

One Energy Commercial

Here's the video (30 sec) of this neon Tron-like commercial featuring Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen!

No One Knew Kanak Jha Was That Fast!

Here's the picture! Poor Adam Hugh is up against eight Kanaks. (Adam defeated Kanak in the preliminaries at the North American Cup, but lost to him in the final. Or to one of them.)

Top Players in Cartoons

Here are cartoon images of the world's top players.

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February 7, 2014

How to Teach a Beginning/Intermediate Class

Starting on Feb. 17, I'm teaching a new Beginning/Intermediate Table Tennis Class at MDTTC. It's designed for adult players from beginners to roughly 1500 in USATT ratings. The class is every Monday for ten weeks, from 6:30-8:00PM. If you are in the Gaithersburg, Maryland area and would like to participate, contact me. We have an even ten already signed up, so I'm hoping for a good-sized group. (There's a whole chapter on teaching classes in my book Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook.)

The purpose of the class is to give players a complete introduction to the sport of table tennis. That means covering every major aspect, including grip and stance, the strokes, footwork, equipment, and tactics. But there's another reason for such a class. When new players come to a club, they often are a bit lost. They don't know the sport and they don't know other members of the club - they have no peers. By having a class, we get all of them together, and they not only learn about the sport, they develop their own peer group. I've taught a few dozen of these classes, dating back to when we started MDTTC in 1992. Some of the classes had over 20 players.

I'll start each class with a demo with an assistant coach, and lecture on the focus for the class. Since it's an adult class (younger players allowed in with permission of the instructor), it'll have a lot more lecturing and demos than in a typical junior class or clinic. Then we'll go out on the tables and practice the new technique, with myself walking around and coaching. If there's an odd number of players, one will hit with the robot, or I'll have my assistant coach hit with someone or do multiball. Usually there's a second topic to be covered in each session, so roughly halfway through we'll come together for a second demo and lecture. Most weeks may start off with players practicing/warming up the basic strokes, especially forehands and backhands, before we get to the demo/lecture stage.   

Here's the planned weekly schedule:

Week 1: Intro to TT; Grip; Stance; Forehand drive
Week 2: Table tennis equipment; Backhand drive
Week 3: Footwork; Beginning serves
Week 4:  Pushing; Advanced serves
Week 5:  FH loop vs. backspin; Blocking
Week 6:  BH attack (looping & hitting vs. backspin)
Week 7:  Smashing; Introduction to USATT, tournaments, and leagues
Week 8:  Return of Serve (and review of serving)
Week 9:  Loop/smash combinations (i.e. loop backspin, smash topspin); Tactics
Week 10:  Smashing lobs; player's choice; 11-point games

Fan Zhendong Learned His Lessons from Zhang Jike

Here's the article from Table Tennista, with links to several videos.

Umpires to 2014 World Championships

There are two ways to make it to the courts at the World Championships: as a player or as an umpire. The ITTF just announced the list of umpires for the 2014 Worlds. The list includes two USA umpires: Stephen Banko and Michael Meier. Congrats to them! (Now, what's the going bribe rate?)

Angles Galore

Here's a video (28 sec) of one of the best rallies I've ever seen - and talk about angles!!! That's Wang Liqin on the far side, Werner Schlager on the near side. I'm guessing this is from the 2003 World Championships, where Schlager upset Wang in the quarterfinals and went on to win Men's Singles. (EDIT - according to comment below, it was from the 2003 World Cup - so I was close!)

"Plastic Ball"

When I read about the new plastic balls that are replacing celluloid ones, I start humming to myself the theme music to the 1989 World Championships, "Magic Ball," except in my head it's now "Plastic Ball." So here's the greatest table tennis music (and music video) ever produced (3:10).

A Little Sit-Down Table Tennis

Here's the picture and German article (which my Chrome browser conveniently translated into English) of Milan Orlowski and Jindrich Pansky on the table.

***
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May 28, 2013

May 28, 2013

Tip of the Week

What to Do at the End of a Close Game.

Here Was My Weekend

SATURDAY. I was coaching pretty much all day. I gave a private lesson from 9:15-10:15AM, then a group beginning/intermediate junior session from 10:30AM-Noon. From 2-4 PM I gave private lessons, and then from 4:30-6:30 was a practice partner for a group session.

Probably the most interesting session was the 9:15-10:15AM session with Sameer, 11, rated 1181. I've been coaching him at his house where there's only about four feet going back. Today was the first time I gave him a private lesson at the club where there was room to go back - so much of the lesson was on looping against block, which he can't do at his house. He's going to start taking more lessons at the club for this reason. He has a tendency to stand up straight, and then his strokes fall apart. When he stays low and doesn't rush, he's a lot better.

In the afternoon one of my sessions was with John Olsen, 56, rated 1999. I've been working with him for a few years now, and now he's playing me dead even in our practice matches. Against juniors, I'm still pretty good, but more experienced tactical players are starting to see the holes in my game now that I've slowed down to sloth speed. It's not easy being a mostly one-winged attacker when your feet move like a sloth. Add that John's used to my serves, and that my blocking in matches has also deteriorated due to slower footwork (yes, good blocking takes footwork), and he's not easy to play anymore.

That night I saw the movie Epic, which I thought was pretty good. If you go to see it, early on there is a scene where the main character, M.K., takes a taxi to visit her father out in the wilderness. She has a short discussion with the taxi driver. The taxi driver is voiced by none other than Judah Friedlander, one of the stars from 30 Rock, stand-up comedian, and well-known table tennis player! (I've given him several private lessons. That's why he's the World Champion.)

I looked around that afternoon and realized how spoiled players at MDTTC are, along with a few other clubs around the country. Regular club players were playing side-by-side with some of the best players and juniors in the country. Here's a listing of some of the players or coaches at the club that afternoon, with their rating (and age if a junior - lots of good juniors!), with apologies to those left out.

  • Cheng Yinghua, 2614
  • Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), 17, 2587
  • Jack Huang, 2526
  • Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), 14, 2498
  • Harold Baring, former #2 in Philippines, 2400+
  • Raghu Nadmichettu, 2331
  • Richard Doverman, 2310
  • Crystal Wang, 11, 2292
  • Zhang Liang Bojun ("Brian"), 16, 2251
  • Chen Jie ("James"), 16, 2249
  • Tong Tong Gong, 15, 2246
  • Stephen Yeh, 2233
  • Derek Nie, 12, 2215
  • Roy Ke, 13, 2191
  • Lixin Lang, 2187
  • Heather Wang, 2181
  • Barbara Wei, 2178
  • Larry Hodges, 2145 (I'm getting old!)
  • Greg Mascialino, 2099
  • Changli Duan, 2080
  • Changping Duan, 2065
  • Amy Lu, 12, 2022
  • Princess Ke, 12, 1953
  • Adam Yao, 11, 1908
  • Tony Li, 11, 1799
  • Wesley Duan, 12, 1761
  • Tiffany Ke, 8, 1430
  • Lisa Lin, 9, 1385
  • Missing on Saturday, but back on Sunday: Nathan Hsu (17, 2397) and John Hsu (2248)

SUNDAY. I coached a 6-year-old from 10AM-11AM. He's up to 86 forehands and 35 backhands in a row against multiball. But at his age hand-eye coordination is a problem, so we spent some time on ball bouncing. He was able to bounce the ball up and down on his racket seven times, a new record for him. It isn't easy as his reactions at this age aren't fast enough to really react to the ball in the time it takes to bounce up and down on his paddle. He could just bounce the ball higher, but then he loses control.

I was off until that afternoon. I had another private session from 3:15-4:15, then a group junior session from 4:30-6:00. While I was coaching there was an elderly woman hitting with an older teenager for about an hour, and I realized they had been there the day before as well. I'm guessing it was a grandmother and grandson. What made it interesting is both had these identical windmill-style forehands, sort of like an exaggerated Dick Miles forehand (if you've ever seen that!). They'd bring their rackets way over their heads like a windmill, then bring it down and hit the ball. They weren't much beyond the beginning stage, but it was somewhat obvious he had learned his strokes from her.

The group session was smaller than usual because of Memorial Day weekend. With three coaches (myself, Raghu Nadmichettu, and John Hsu), and a practice partner (11-year-old Tony Li, rated 1799, who helps out in these sessions), the kids got a lot of one-on-one practice.

MONDAY. I believe yesterday was the first morning since Christmas where I didn't have either a blog or coaching in the morning. I actually could sleep late! (Except my 15-year-old dog, Sheeba, can no longer last the night, and as usual got me up at 4AM to go out.) I got a lot of work done on various writing projects.

Plastic Ball Conflict of Interest?

To quote from the OOAK forum, "It comes to light that Dr. Joachim Kuhn, the ITTF Equipment Committee member in charge of ball testing and approval, the man behind the report about how great the new plastic balls are (that was recently suppressed by the ITTF without explanation) has a MAJOR conflict of interest. Turns out that Dr. Kuhn's wife, In Sook Yoo, is one of the two patent holders, so Mr. and Mrs. Kuhn stand to make money on every new ball sold." There are discussions on this on the OOAK forum and About.com.

Kanak Jha Wins Two Silver Medals at Polish Cadet Open

Here's the pictures and caption. The events were Cadet Boys' Doubles and Teams.

What Table Tennis Is All About

Here's a new tribute video (4:50) from Genius Table Tennis.

Worlds Pre-Match Light Show

Here it is (2:13)!

Meet Coach Richard McAfee

JOOLA put together this video (2:00) welcoming him as a sponsored coach. I think all sponsors should do this with all their sponsored coaches and players.

Will Shortz on TV

Here's a video (16:16) of world-renowned puzzlist and Westchester TTC owner Will Shortz last Wednesday on the Artie Lange Show, with guest host Colin Quinn. As described by Will, "The conversation started with puzzles, then segued to table tennis, and ended with me playing Colin in a TT match." The discussion turns to table tennis at 8:46 (here). For the record, Will won 11-1.

Real Table Tennis

Outside, where the buffalo roam. (Or cattle anyway.) Or perhaps indoors, on the floor, with shoes for a net.

Cartoon Fox/Kitten

I'm not sure if this Facebook picture is a baby fox or a kitten. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

***
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April 3, 2013

Update on the Plastic Ball

As some of you know, the ITTF has plans to replace the celluloid ball with a new plastic one. (Yes, celluloid is a type of plastic, but let's not get technical.) This is apparently because they believe the celluloid ball is too flammable, causing problems in shipping. (Put in "Plastic ball" in the search engine on the left to see previous articles on this topic.)

Readers, feel free to comment below with your opinions and any links you have on this topic. This could be a big change to our sport.

ITTF Coach John Olsen was able to try them out this past week. Below is his report, and here's the picture he took of the "new" plastic ball, where you can see the seam.

I recently attending the March 2013 Stellan and Angie Bengtsson training camp at the Willamette Table Tennis Club in Salem, Oregon. The subject of the new plastic balls came up, and Stellan had a surprise for us. Not only did he have one of the plastic balls passed out at the 2012 Worlds, there was also a new one he had received from Japan just a couple of months ago.

First up was the "old" plastic ball. The first thing you notice is that this ball is seamless. There were no markings on it, but Stellan said it had come from DHS. As others have described, the sound it makes when it bounces was just awful, like it was badly cracked. The surface was very smooth, similar to how a Nittaku will get after much playing. Stellan couldn't remember if it was just worn or had always been that way. The ball was also fractionally larger than the current balls, what we play with now is just under 40 mm and Stellan said these plastic balls are slightly over 40mm. We didn't have any way to measure them accurately, but if you held a regular and a plastic ball in your hand, you could see a small difference in size. Hitting with the seamless ball felt like playing at high altitude, spin had significantly less effect on bringing it down. I couldn't tell if it was the size difference, the lack of texture or some other factor like weight that was causing the lack of spin effect. It also felt slower, but this could just be a subjective opinion on my part. One surprise was that, even with the terrible sound, it did bounce higher. We did some side-by-side drop tests, and the "old" seamless ball had a significantly higher bounce than a regular ball. I can't comment on how fragile it was, I mostly hit medium speed loops against a block.

The "new" plastic ball has a seam! There were no markings on this ball either, and Stellan did not know which company in Japan had manufactured it. Both plastic balls appeared to be the same size. The "new" one had a much more normal texture on the surface and sounded similar to a normal ball. The new plastic ball played closer to a celluloid ball than the seamless did, but still seemed to have less spin and felt a little slower. We didn't do a bounce test, but I didn't notice anything unusual when I was hitting, unlike with the seamless ball.

ITTF Presidency

Long-time ITTF President Adham Sharara has competition. Stefano Bosi of Italy, the current president of the European Table Tennis Union, announced plans to run against him in the upcoming ITTF election. Here's an article from Table Tennista on this, which says that "Bosi criticized the lack of transparency and the strategy of ITTF to help continents to improve their level."

Amazingly, the ITTF has had only six presidents since its founding in 1926 - see list below. Here's info on all six. I met the last two. President Xu's son, Xu Huazhang, was a member of the Chinese National Team when he came to the U.S. for most of the 1990s, achieving a rating at one point of 2777 while getting a degree in computer science at University of Maryland. He and I shared a house for a few years. When Huazhang introduced me to his father at the Worlds in China one year, President Xu gave me a watch with his picture on it! (I just spent 20 minutes trying to find that watch, but couldn't. I've got table tennis mementos lying about all over the place; I just put it on my todo list to organize them. I'll find that watch.) I believe Xu is still president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association.

  1. Ivor Montagu, 1926-1967
  2. H. Roy Evans, 1967-1987
  3. Ichiro Ogimura, 1987-1994
  4. Lollo Hammarlund, 1994-1995
  5. Xu Yinsheng, 1995-1999
  6. Adham Sharara, 1999-present

2013 USA College Table Tennis National Championships

Here's the home page for the upcoming College Championships, to be held in Rockford, IL, April 12-14.

Table Tennis Played with the Foot

Here's a picture of an armless player who plays with his racket held in his foot. Caption: "Never give up on your dreams."

Interview with Joo Se Hyuk

Here's an interview with Joo Se Hyuk of South Korea (just out this morning), the best defensive player in the world. He was a Men's Singles finalist at the 2003 World Championships. Currently ranked #12 in the world, he's been as high as #5.

Chris O'Dowd Plays Ping Pong

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on actor Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40) and his table tennis. Unfortunately, it includes this statement from O'Dowd: "Ping-Pong is one of those sports where you don't have to have any fitness level." I hope to get him into one of my training camps and see how long that attitude lasts!!!

World Team Classic Top 10 Shots

Here's the video (3:46). Some of the shots and rallies are replayed in slow motion.

Crazy Japanese Table Tennis Stuff

Here's a video (9:47) showing Japanese players doing crazy things, such as using human faces as targets, spinny serves that curve around objects, playing on improvised tables (small roughly one-foot square tables about 6-8 feet apart with a net in between - here's a picture), and lots of other stuff.

Non-Table Tennis - After Death Anthology

"After Death," an anthology of fantasy and horror stories about what happens after death, is out, and on sale at Amazon. It includes my story, "The Devil's Backbone." It's the story of an ice cream man who is killed and pulled into the ground by an incredibly gigantic hand, which turns out to be the Devil's, who literally jams him down his throat and (from the inside) onto his equally gigantic backbone, where there is an entire city of lost souls. How can he escape? (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.)

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January 11, 2013

Suggested Service Rule

As I've blogged a number of times, many players hide their serve illegally, and many or most umpires allow it. It's frustrating to me as kids see opponents and top players hide their serves illegally and not get called, so why shouldn't they? It's almost reminiscent of the situation baseball players faced in the steroids era.

The current rule requires that the ball be visible throughout the serve to the opponent. The problem is that it's difficult for an umpire, sitting off to the side, to tell if the ball was hidden from the receiver, since often he himself cannot even see the ball, and must estimate where it is, and judge if it is hidden or not from the server's shoulders. Since I've coached and played table tennis nearly every day  for many years, I can see if the serve is hidden or not, but many umpires only see this type of thing on an occasional basis, and so have great difficulty judging it.

Technically, it shouldn't be a problem. The rules state that "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws." That's pretty clear - it means if the umpire isn't sure the serve is visible, i.e. legal, then the umpire is NOT satisfied that the serve complies, and so the player should be warned (the first time) or faulted. But most umpires do not do this, and so at the higher levels many players get away with illegal hidden serves.

There are other serving problems. Many players abuse the "near vertical" toss rule, and few umpires enforce it. But the advantage of throwing the ball backwards (instead of near vertical) is minor compared to the advantage of hiding the serve. The same is true of other common transgressions.

But there's a solution to the problem, if we can convince ITTF (and/or USATT) to adopt it. The proposed rule would be that throughout the serve the ball must be visible to both umpires, or to where the umpires would sit if there is no umpire. Problem solved.

The specific rule change would be as follows, rewording rule 2.6.5 as follows:

Current: 2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net.

Proposed: 2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, no part of the server, his or her doubles partner, or anything they wear or carry may be in the triangular area between the ball and the positions of the two umpires.

Kagin Lee has put together a web page detailing this proposal.

The key thing here is that even if a player tries to abuse the rule and goes into that gray area where it's not clear if the umpires (or where they would sit) can see the ball, it wouldn't matter, as if it's close, then obviously the opponent can see the ball - and that's the whole point of the proposed rule. It's sort of like the six-inch toss rule. For many years, the rule was the ball must be contacted on the drop, but many players would abuse this as it was hard to tell if they were hitting the ball on the drop or not as they practically served out of their hand. A three-inch toss would have been enough to solve the problem, but then there'd be those who'd abuse it by tossing below that, and it would be hard to tell. By making it six inches, the server can abuse the rule all he wants and if it's anywhere close to six inches, the opponent will clearly see the toss, which was the point of the rule.

I'm told that some are opposed to such a new rule because it would mean players would have to change their service motion. Well, duh!!! That's the whole point. But it's not a huge change; anyone change their forehand pendulum serve motion to make it legal; I know, because I can, and I teach this type of thing professionally. You can do so with either a more open position or by holding the ball farther from the body, or some combination of both. And it solves the hidden serve problem. Give players a year to get ready, and there'd be no reason to change the serve rule again . . . ever!!!

Dear Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkeys

Over the next couple of weeks I absolutely have to do the final editing and proofing (that's two complete reads) of my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers." (I also have to finalize the covers.) Every time I get ready to do this, various Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkeys come to me with requests for me to do things that are not editing or proofing the book. Things that are not editing or proofing my book do not decrease the time between now and when the book comes out, and things that do not decrease this time are the spawn of  the Devil and his minions, i.e. Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkeys. So if you are an Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkey, please hold off for a bit. I'll gladly sell my soul and do your work after the book comes out.

I am working under a rather tight deadline. On Monday, Feb. 4, USATT Historian Tim Boggan will be moving in with me for two weeks as I do the page layouts and photo work (with Mal Anderson's help on the latter) on Tim's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13. This one, which will once again run over 500 pages, will feature 1984, and if you've read that book, you have a vague idea of what will happen to me (and you) if I don't get my own book finalized before Tim's arrival. So let me have some peace and quiet for a while so I can finish my book. Big Brother is watching.

I've got 240 pages to edit and proof, I've got a full bottle of Deerpark Water*, half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, it's light, and I'm not wearing sunglasses. Hit it.
    *And Mountain Dew for emergencies

Review of the New Plastic Ball

Part 3 just went up of the Plastic Ball Review from OOAK Reviews. All three parts are linked from their home page. The three parts are:

  1. Why the change and a comparison of their physical appearance (16:16)
  2. High Speed Filming of tests to compare relative rebound speed, bounce and spin (14:35)
  3. Playing Characteristics and Summary (26:40)

1273 Signatures

That's how many we got on the petition to the White House to recognize Table Tennis as a school sport. Not bad, but not good. We were 23,727 short of the needed 25,000. Think of it as a trial run; perhaps next time we can get the major distributors (with their huge mailing lists), celebrities, and others behind it.

The Power of Backhand

Here's a video (8:01) highlighting great backhand shots. The very first rally is pretty wild!

Five-Hour Energy Commercial

With table tennis! (31 seconds)

Be Different

Here's a humorous video (3:21) of some nerdy-looking guy as he takes on the "King Kong of Ping Pong"!

Ping-Pong Ball Spinning in Nitrogen

Here's 89 seconds of a ping-pong ball getting cooled and spinning in liquid nitrogen.

***
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January 2, 2013

Tip of the Week

Balance Throughout the Stroke.

Two Weeks

The last two weeks have been exhausting. I can divide them into four parts: the USA Nationals (Dec. 18-22: Christmas with Family (Dec. 22-25); MDTTC Christmas Camp (Dec. 26-31); and Reading in Bed (Dec. 31 - Jan. 1).

USA Nationals

I've been to every Nationals since the early 1980s, and this is the first one where I didn't play any events, just coached. Much of the tournament is now a blur, but much of it comes back when I look over the extensive notes I took on opponents. (I have to type them up soon for my ongoing coaching notes.)

Derek Nie, 11, played great. I coached him in all his matches as he made the National Mini-Cadet Team (under 13), finishing second (with the top four making the team). His matches from the quarterfinals on were spectacular, and gave meaning to the idea that tactics aren't very helpful if you can't executive. Well, he executed!!! Going in, he was seeded eighth at 2139, but in more recent ratings he was 2221, which would have put him third. He knocked off the second seed (rated 2314) at 7,4,7 in perhaps the best-played match of his life. His two-winged full-court looping game, and especially his counterlooping from all over the court, is especially impressive when you remember he's 4'5" and 65 lbs! (As noted previously, he's the best player in the U.S., pound for pound.) He has another year left in the Mini-Cadets, as well as four years in the Cadets. He trains regularly with Cheng Yinghua and the other MDTTC coaches, including me, although I mostly play practice matches with him so he can work on serve & receive - he's too fast for me in drills. 

Here's a picture of me coaching Derek and Seyed Hesam Hamrahian in doubles in the Junior Team competition. And yes, that's me, getting chased around the table by Derek as we loosen up before a practice session. It started as some easy jogging around the table, then it became a chase, and Bruce Liu (unfortunately) caught the last nine seconds of it.

Here's a nice quote I keep reminding Derek of during the tournament when he was passive in receiving long serves: "At the higher levels, looping a long serve is not a tactic, it's what you do. Not looping the serve is a tactic." Ironically, in one of his key matches, the opponent mixed in long topspin and backspin serves, and in that match the tactic was to push the backspin serve back, since the opponent would either push or loop soft, giving Derek the chance to loop or counterloop.

I didn't get to see much of the main matches in men's or women's singles as I was too busy coaching. I did manage to attend the annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. For the fourth year in a row I did the program booklet for them; here's the 2012 program, in high (1.7MB) or low (174KB) resolution.

Some of you might remember Mike Lardon, a junior star from the 1970s, and now a sports psychologist. He was at the Nationals, playing in the over 50 events. I introduced him to Derek, and he gave him (and signed) a copy of his sports psychology book, Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life. (I reviewed this in my Nov. 8, 2011 blog.) Derek read half the book that night. I've been told that most match coaches don't spend much time on sports psychology, which I believe is a huge mistake. It's often the most important aspect.

It's almost a joke how much strength and depth we now have in the juniors, especially up to about age 14. It's getting ridiculous - players who seven years ago would be battling for national titles are now struggling to reach the QF. The matches in the round of 16 are stronger than finals from ten years ago. They are routinely doing shots that were only rarely done back then. I still cringe every time an opponent power loop to Derek's FH, and Derek (and other players) routinely go for the counterloop, probably not realizing how difficult this is "supposed" to be!

Christmas

I spent Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, Dec. 22-25. No table tennis - sorry! Gave away lots of stuff, received lots of stuff (sorry, no table tennis stuff!). Highlights included my making my annual batch of Larry's Chili (my own secret recipe) for Dec. 23 dinner (and lunches thereafter); seeing The Hobbit on Christmas Day; and catching the annual red-eye flight on Christmas night so I can get back the morning of Dec. 26 for the MDTTC training camp.

We've run over 150 training camps at MDTTC since we opened in 1992, and this was our 21st Christmas Camp - I've coached at all of them. During the camp I gave lectures on ready position, grip, forehand, backhand, forehand loop, backhand loop, flipping, pushing, footwork, serve, receive, playing different surfaces, and doubles.

MDTTC Christmas Camp

The camp was held Dec. 26-31, starting with an afternoon session on Dec. 26, and ending with the morning session on Dec. 31. We had over 40 players. Because we have so many coaches at MDTTC (6), I was only needed in the morning sessions, where I gave short lectures before breaking out into multiball sessions. My highlight was getting a bunch of the kids on break to call out the names of the three great gods of table tennis until they got the secret meaning: Owa, Tegu, Siam. Say them over and over until you get the secret meaning. (If you are lost, email me, but really, you should get it if you keep saying it!) The kids' highlight was probably the candy game on Dec. 30, where I put hoards of candy on the table and fed multiball while the players rotated, two shots each, where they got to keep whatever they knocked off the table.

Reading in Bed

What is your "dream" vacation? For some it's the beach, or out sailing, or hiking in the mountains, or travel, or perhaps watching TV all day. For me it's spending all day in bed reading. I read two fantasy novels, "Hush" and "Witchbreaker," both by James Maxey. They were the second and third books in his Dragon Apocalypse series. (I read book one while in Santa Barbara for Christmas.) While I'm on the subject of writing, I'm sad to announce that I read fewer books in 2012 than any year since early elementary school - and I'm not happy about this. (However, I also read the Washington Post and about a dozen magazines.) But I still managed to read 24 books. Here's a listing:

FICTION (15)
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Firebird by Jack McDevitt
Moonfall by Jack McDevitt
Voyagers by Ben Bova
Ringworld by Larry Niven
The Religion War by Scott Adams
Specter Spectacular edited by Eileen Wiedbrauk
Into the Out Of by Alan Dean Foster
Dinotopia Lost by Alan Dean Foster
Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
Barry's Tale by Lawrence Schoen
Burn Baby Burn: A Supervillain Novel by James Maxey
Greatshadow by James Maxey
Hush by James Maxey
Witchbreaker by James Maxey

NON-FICTION (4)
Building Your Book for Kindle
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Earth by The Daily Show (it's sort of non-fiction!)
How to Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings by Robert Qualkinbush

TABLE TENNIS (5)
Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion, by Werner Schlager & Berndt-Ulrich Gross
Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov (See my review.)
Ping Pong Fever by Steve Grant (See my review.)
Get Your Game Face On! by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (See my review.)
The Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats, Volume, 1 by Fred Danner (See my review.)

2013 USA National Team Trials

Here is info on the 2013 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials, to be held Feb. 7-10 in San Jose at the Topspin Table Tennis Club. Here is the Prospectus and Entry Form, both in PDF format.

Whitney Ping on USOC Board of Directors

Whitney Ping, a member of the 2004 USA Olympic Table Tennis Team, a former player rep on the USATT Board of Directors, and an Athlete Service Coordinator for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, is now one of the 15 members of the USOC Board of Directors. Here's the article.

National Club Championships

Here are the results, with Chinese CC Flushing NY defeating Maryland Table Tennis Center in the final (in Las Vegas), 3-1. In the semifinals, they defeated Newport Beach TTC (CA) 3-0, while MDTTC defeated Los Angeles TTA, 3-1.

Zhang Jike

Here's a feature on the Chinese star and the great year he's had. He's only the second player ever to hold both the World and Olympic Men's Singles Titles. (The other was Chinese Men's Coach - and Zhang's coach - Liu Guoliang in 1996.)

Table Tennis Jump Smash

Here's a coaching video on the Jump Smash against lob from PingSkills (2:25). He recommends against it, and I generally agree. However, some players, such as Dan Seemiller, have perfected this shot, using a scissors-kick method with a running start. The example shown here shows the player jumping from a stationary position with less leg kick than Dan uses. I use this technique in exhibitions, and sometimes in matches.

The New Plastic Ball

Here's a video (16:16) where the new plastic ball is compared to current celluloid balls as well as the old 38mm ones. This is Part 1: Physical Differences.

Beyond Imagination Part 6

Here's Beyond Imagination Part 6 (7:02), a highlights reel of the best rallies from 2012. (Links to the first five appear on the right.)

Pongcast TV Episode 22 - Best of 2012

Here's the video (17:41).

Adam Bobrow in Asia

Here's the video (2:11) of his exhibitions in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea (I think South!)

Aloha 2013!

Here's Hawaiian Table Tennis wishing you a Happy 2013 with a table tennis cartoon! (Is that Rudolf the Red-nosed Moose?)

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November 8, 2012

End-game Surprise Tactics

Last week, due to Hurricane Sandy and Halloween, I didn't coach or play table tennis for four days, and spent the entire time at my computer or reading while eating more junk food than I had in the previous two months combined. It was a great time.

Afterwards, however, I paid the price. When I showed up at the club as a practice partner for our elite junior session, I was stiff, tight, slow, and could barely play. After getting shellacked in a couple matches that I'd normally win, and losing the first game against one of our top juniors (who'd I'd been beating over and over), I switched to chopping. I'm almost as good chopping (inverted both sides) as attacking, but it's usually as a last resort.

I won the second game. Coach Cheng Yinghua was watching and said something to the junior in Chinese. I said, "Cheng, coach him." So the rest of the match Cheng coached the kid between games. In the third, playing much smarter, the kid took the lead, but I tied it up at 9-all, with my serve coming up. I'd been serving all backspin until now, but now I went back to my attack game, served a pair of short side-top serves, ripped two winners against a surprised opponent, and won the game. In the fifth game, again at 9-all, I did it again to win the match.

A chopper attacking at the very end of a close game is a classic example of an end-game surprise tactic. It's hard to guard against it since, in this example, you never know for sure when it's coming, and so can neither prepare for it nor can you get used to it. The difficulty, of course, is that the chopper hasn't been attacking and so has to do something he might not have grooved. But it's a common way for choppers, blockers, and other players who play defensive (or any style centered around steadiness) to win at the end of a close game.

But this type of tactic isn't just for choppers. Some players have a knack for playing multiple styles, and can switch styles under pressure to mess an opponent up. Cheng Yinghua, before he became just a coach, was the best player in the U.S. for ten years. He could play three styles of play equally well - two-winged looping, all-out forehand looping, and a blocking game. Against U.S. players, rather than let them get used to his two-winged looping game, he'd often just push and block, mixing in forehand loops for winners, unless (rarely) it got close. And then he'd bring out the backhand loop, one of the steadiest and spinniest in the world (circa 1980s and 1990s), and dominate the end of any close game.

Another similar case would be someone like Jim McQueen of North Carolina, whose rating seems to bounce back and forth between 2000 and 2150, mostly because he dominates against players who aren't used to him while losing to those who play him more often. He plays a somewhat simple-seeming push and block game. His serves are somewhat simple, usually backspin so he can get into his push and block game. But when it's close, watch out! That's when he pulls out this devastatingly effective backhand sidespin serve that looks like backspin. Few can handle the serve the first few times they see it, and so Jim wins lots of close games by pulling this serve out as an end-game tactic. Others have similar go-to serves at the end of a match - I have a number of them - but the difference is most players use these serves throughout the match, not mostly just at the end of a close game.

It's important to figure out during a match what your "go-to" tactics will be when you badly need a point. Usually you'll use these tactics on and off throughout the match, and go to them when it's close. What are yours?

USATT Minutes

The minutes for the April 19, 2012 USATT board meeting finally went up. (USATT bylaws require they go up within 30 days, but alas.) Here are the USATT minutes, dating back to 1999 when a certain USATT webmaster started putting them online. (Hey, that was me! 1997-2007.)

The New Plastic Ball

Here's a web page and online petition about the proposed introduction of plastic balls in place of celluloid.

Gideon's Ping-Pong Battle in Brooklyn

Here's a video (14:19) featuring Gideon Teitel taking on table tennis challengers. (Warning - starts with some bad language.) Gideon came to one of our training camps at MDTTC this past summer. Here's an early quote: "There are many unsolved crimes in this world. Bird flu, O.J. Simpson. One of them happens to be my backhand."

Robo-Boy Versus Robo-Friend in Robo-Pong

Here's an animated video (2:39) where a trash-talking Robo-Boy challenges his Robo-Friend to a Ping-Pong Showdown. Here's another video (2:53) starring Robo-Boy where he talks more about his Robo-Pong. (There's no actual table tennis in either video, but the dialogue is funny, especially in the first one.)

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