Teaching the Loop
Recently I've taught a lot of new kids how to loop. It always amazes me that some coaches will not teach the loop for the first year, and by that time hitting has been ingrained, and looping will never be as natural. I generally teach kids to loop against backspin as soon as the player can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands in a row. I usually teach the forehand loop against backspin first, and once that is done properly and consistently (usually a few weeks), the backhand loop against backspin. Both are taught with multiball, with serve and loop against push drills when they are ready.
However, there are two caveats to this. First, I always stress with the player that I will pickier about getting the loop right than with any other technique. It's probably easier to learn a messed-up loop stroke than any other stroke. Once ingrained, poor looping technique is harder to fix than just about any other technique since every aspect of the stroke relies so heavily on every other aspect. If you get one thing wrong, a lot of it will be wrong, and fixing one problem means fixing up all the other problems at the same time, not an easy task.
What often happens is that coaches who teach the loop early to a relative beginner have bad experiences with the player learning bad technique. This is because they weren't picky enough with the student in making sure they get it perfect from day one.
And second, there's the problem that a drive and a loop are rather different strokes, and trying to perfect both at the same time can be tricky. With drives, you are mostly hitting top of the bounce (earlier for most backhands), with the shoulders even, and driving mostly forward with the ball going almost straight into the sponge. With a loop you are taking the ball a little later, dropping the back shoulder, lifting more, and grazing the ball for spin. How do you handle this?
Again, by letting the student know in advance that while learning the loop, we'll be obsessing over the drive strokes as well, doing lots of basic stroking drills so as to ingrain both shots. Also, once the player can both drive and loop reasonably well, I introduce combination drills where they do both, to emphasize the differences in the strokes and the ability to use either one. For example, using multiball, I'll feed backspin to the middle of the table and then topspin to the forehand. The player forehand loops the first, and forehand smashes the second. (As they get better, they likely loop the second as well, but that comes a little later.)
There's another reason to teach the loop early - players will often experiment with the shot on their own, and often learn it poorly. It's a lot harder fixing poor technique than teaching it right the first time. Kids especially will try looping on their own if you don't teach it early enough, so it's better to teach it early and get it right.
To make sure they get it right, I've adopted a policy where I actually let the player know how picky I'm going to be with the shot, and make sure we have a good half hour at least to work on it the first time. I let them know that even if they do it pretty well, I'm going to keep on them to get it perfect on the first day. I also let them know that while working on the loop, most of our other drills will focus on basic forehand and backhand drives, since we don't want the player to mess up these strokes while learning to loop. If they don't feel ready for this, we postpone it until they feel ready.
One kid didn't feel ready for it even though he could hit 100 forehands and backhands. He kept worrying about the shot, thinking it was too advanced, and we ended up postponing it for about three months. Now he can loop against backspin both backhand and forehand, and he's gaining confidence that he's almost ready to learn to loop against block.
Others are the opposite. One kid really wanted to learn to loop after taking only three lessons. He's done about 50 forehands and backhands, and normally I'd postpone it a little longer. But he's already been experimenting with the shot, and I was worried he'd get it wrong. So last week I taught him to forehand loop against backspin. We did lots of multiball, and at first he struggled to get it just right. And then, after about ten minutes, it all fell into place. We did about ten more minutes of multiball to ingrain the stroke. Then, at the end of the session, we came back to it for another five minutes. And he's already dying to learn to backhand loop!
Celebrities Playing Table Tennis
I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 51 new pictures of 33 new celebrities. Look at some of the famous names below! Better still, browse over the 1440 pictures of 870 celebrities now in the collection. (And special thanks goes to super contributors Steve Grant and Benjamin Ott.)
Actors & Directors
Oliver Stone, movie director
Terrence Howard, actor
Wallace Ford, actor
Trevor Jackson, actor
Richard Narita, actor
Kim Kardashian, actress
Khloe Kardashian, actress (6 pictures)
Jessica Alban, actress (new picture)
Susan Sarandon, actress (new picture)
Kate Upton, actress & model (4 pictures)
Lynn Bari, actress
Shay Mitchell, actress
Shirley Temple, actress & UN Ambassador (new picture)
Justin Bieber, singer (new picture)
Lady Gaga, singer
Michael Jackson, singer/dancer (new picture)
Nick Jonas, singer (3 pictures)
Booboo Stewart, singer, dancer & actor
Dinah Shore, singer & actress
Adam Yauch, Singer for the Band "Beastie Boys"
Roger Federer, tennis star (new picture)
Rory McIlroy, golfer
Manny Pacquiao, boxer
Ramil Akhadov, boxer
Ken Norton, boxer
Jesse Owens, Olympic sprinter & long jumper
Ronald Belisario, baseball player (2 pictures)
Justin Sellers, baseball player (2 pictures)
Wayne Rooney, English soccer star (3 new pictures)
Rio Ferdinand, English soccer star
Theo Walcott, English soccer star
Joe Hart, English soccer star
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, English soccer star
John Heitinga, Dutch soccer star (2 pictures)
Nani, Portuguese soccer star
Miguel Veloso, Portuguese soccer star
Zoran Tošić, Serbian soccer star
Gojko Kačar, Serbian soccer star
Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William of England (3 pictures)
Ellen DeGeneres, talk show host (new picture)
Snoopy, cartoon dog (new picture)
The Surprising Play of Jan-Ove Waldner
Here's a new highlights video of the great Jan-Ove Waldner (7:26).
$45,000 Black Rubber Table
Bush Versus Kerry & Gore
Here are two election cartoons I did in 2000 and 2004. Here's Bush and Gore battling over Florida in 2000 (gee, Gore's technique looks just like Chiang Peng-Lung, and Bush's resembles Wang Liqin!), and here's Bush and Kerry in 2004 - see if you get all the side jokes in this one!
Non-Table Tennis: Election Predictions
Obama wins the electoral college, 332-206, winning eight of the nine the battleground states (winning OH, VA, NH, FL, CO, WI, IA, NV, losing NC, with FL the toughest pick), and wins the popular vote approximately 50.5% to 48.5%, with 1% going to small party candidates. Yes, there's been a surge toward Obama the last few days, and all reports indicate a high voter turnout, which also favors him. Contrary to many news reports, he's been solidly favored in the electoral college for some time.
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Summer Table Tennis Training
Now's the time to start seriously thinking about your summer training, especially for those out of school, but also for the rest of you. There are training camps all over the USA. My club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, will be running eleven consecutive weeks of camps, Mon-Fri every week from June 18 to Aug. 24. Here is info on the camps. I will be coaching along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Xeng Xun. We will also have several 2400-2600 practice partners.
Don't have time to come to a camp? Or don't feel comfortable training with a bunch of juniors? (Most camps are dominated by kids, though all ages are welcome.) Here's the list of USATT coaches, or if you are in the Maryland area, here's info on private coaching at MDTTC.
Many players practice for years and never improve as much as they'd like. The problem is that they rarely go through a period of intense training, which is where you can maximize improvement. Set aside a week or so for a training camp, arrange a couple months afterwards with both private coaching and a regular practice schedule, and it'll pay off for years to come.
Before undergoing any training, take some time to think about your game. What are your current or potential strengths? What are your weaknesses? How to you envision yourself playing later on? One thing I tell all of my students is that you should be able to write a book about your game, at least in your head. If you can't, then either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. In most cases, players have a game but haven't really thought it through. Do some thinking, perhaps consult with a coach or top player, and decide where you want to go in terms of style, level, and/or goals. Then start your journey. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and your journey to reach your table tennis goals starts with your next practice session.
"As One" movie
This is the first major "real" table tennis movie (as opposed to comedies that poke fun at the sport), about the joint Korean women's team that won the Worlds in 1991, upsetting China in the final. It opens tomorrow in three U.S. cities (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia), as well as in Toronto and Vancouver. It opens in Los Angeles one week later. Here is info on the theaters and times, as well as a link to the trailer. Here's info on the movie from the ITTF. Here's a photo gallery from U.S. umpire Michael Meier, who had a major role in the movie authentically playing a U.S. umpire. Here's the IMDB page on the movie.
New Coaching Video from PingSkills
Backhand Counterhit (4:54)
USA Olympic Table Tennis Team
Here's an article with photo slideshow of the USA Olympic Team, with pictures and info on all four - Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Erica Wu.
Mike Mezyan Table Tennis Art
Jan-Ove Waldner: The Power of Blocking
Here's a highlights video showing the blocking skills of the great Jan-Ove Waldner. Watch the change of pace and placements he uses. Note how he often sidespin blocks.
Turning Trash into Table Tennis
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Yes, that's Tim Boggan, USATT Historian and past president, and, well, just about everything else. (Here's his short bio, his USATT Hall of Fame bio, and here's my long 1996 interview with him, with pictures.) As some of you may know, he's been writing a comprehensive History of U.S. Table Tennis, with eleven volumes published, and number twelve just written. Every year about this time he makes the drive from New York to Maryland and moves in with me for two weeks, sleeping on my sofa, and spending the day looking over my shoulder as I lay out the pages and do photo work for the next volume, with each book about 500 pages. ("No, it goes there, you fool!" he'll say as he smacks me with a hardbat.) Here's the page I maintain for him on his books. It's going to be a busy two weeks as we work from roughly 7AM (he's a morning person) until 5PM or so (he lets me have a lunch break), and then I run off to the club to coach.
As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I hurt my arm over the weekend. It was still bothering me yesterday, but mostly when I played fast. I was hitting mostly with beginning-intermediate players, and mostly just blocked, so it wasn't too bad. I'm a little worried about what'll happen when I hit with stronger players, as I will in my sessions tonight. We'll see.
Topspin on the Backhand
Just as on February 23, I had a student yesterday who had difficulty hitting his backhand with any topspin. This time the primary problem was that he was constantly reaching for the ball. Against his better instincts (he's 10), I got him to sloooooow down, and move to each ball so he could hit from a better position. Suddenly his backhand picked up. After struggling to get even ten in a row, he suddenly got into a rhythm and hit 145 straight. More importantly, he was hitting them properly.
Chinese National Team
Here's an inspirational video of the Chinese National Team (2:39), with background narration by "The Hip Hop Preacher" that starts out, ""Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute or an hour or a day or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever."
The Falkenberg Drill
Here's a video (3:10) that demonstrates what many consider the best table tennis drill - you learn to cover the wide forehand, the wide backhand, and the step around forehand. It's called the Falkenberg Drill because it was popularized there by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's also called the 2-1 drill or the backhand-forehand-forehand drill.
Jan-Ove Waldner breaking his racket
Here's a video of all-time great Jan-Ove Waldner accidentally breaking his racket (0:47).
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NO BLOG ON THURSDAY & FRIDAY
I'm off this morning to coach at the U.S. Olympic Trials (Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12), so no blog entries the next two days. See you all again on Monday - hopefully with lots of news from the Trials!
U.S. Olympic Trials Live Streaming and Schedule
Yes, you can watch the U.S. Olympic Trials live! They are care of NBC Universal Sports Live Feeds. (Trials are Feb. 9-12, Thur-Sun, in Cary, NC.)
Here is the basic format of the Trials. For both men and women, the top ten seeded players are seeded to the Top Twelve. The rest play a qualifier on Thursday, Feb. 9, for the final two spots. On the men's side, 32 players (13 of them rated over 2400, led by Jeff Huang and Dan Seemiller at 2504 and 2494) will play single elimination to the final two, who will advance to the Top Twelve. On the women's side, there are only three in the qualifier, so they will play a rather short round robin to see which two advance to the Top Twelve. (See player listing below to see who the players are in the Qualifiers.)
The players in the Top Twelve then play a complete round robin, eleven matches each, four on Friday, four on Saturday, and three on Sunday. All matches are best 4 out of 7.
Note that the tentative playing times are listed in the Prospectus above.
The non-playing arm
While coaching yesterday I found myself having trouble moving to my left to block against a student's loop. Something felt wrong. I grabbed my towel, and stalled while trying to figure it out. Then it hit me - I'd been coaching for three hours, and I'd gotten lazy with my left (non-playing) arm. Instead of holding it out for balance, it was hanging loosely by my side. Without it to counterbalance my playing arm, and to actually initiate rotations to the left by pulling, my movements were sluggish. I raised the arm, and the problem was gone. I felt like greased lightning again. (Okay, tired greased lightning.)
The irony is that I'm always harping on my students to use their non-playing arm for balance. Many players, especially beginners, simply do not use it, letting it hang down like a limp rag. You not only need it for balance, but in any rotation to the left (moving to play a backhand, any forehand stroke) you should pull with that side.
Special note to coaches: It's very easy for a coach to get lazy or tired from hours of coaching, and to let the non-playing arm hang loosely. Most coaches are strong enough players that it won't greatly affect their play. However, this puts great pressure on your upper back to rotate the upper body without any help from the non-playing arm, which should be both balancing as well as initiating many movements. If you do this, you'll probably end up with back problems. I know now that this is one of the reasons I had so many back problems last year.
Why red and black?
For those not historically-endowed, the two-color rule was passed in 1983 so that players could tell which side an opponent with two surfaces used to hit the ball. Originally the rule was that the surface colors must be "clearly different." Players and manufacturers immediately began the search for "clearly different" colors that look the same in action - and they found it in black and maroon. When examined, they are clearly different, but when the racket is moving and ten or so feet away, they are hard to tell apart. Confusion reigned.
So the ITTF ruled that the two surfaces must be black and cherry red. The latter was later changed to bright red.
An interesting side issue is that for many years the die used for the black side dye slowed the surface down. Because of this, most players put black on their backhands, red on the forehands. (There was a study on this once, and found that 70% of tournament players had red on the forehand. I was one of the rebels - I've had black on my forehand since 1983! I like a springy backhand.) This isn't a problem anymore, but perhaps because players tend to copy other players, I think players still tend to have the red on the forehand. At the U.S. Olympic Trials (I leave for them tomorrow) I'll try to remember to do a count among the players on this.
U.S. Champ Timothy Wang hopes to bring table tennis out of the basement
Here's an interview with Timothy Wang . . . in Sports Illustrated! See, we've made it out of the basement.
USATT Videos Archive
Here's USATT's video archive, with 60 videos, including most of the major matches from the 2011 USA Nationals.
Pongcast TV Episode 9
Here's Pongcast TV Episode 9 (25:37), which covers the 2012 Slovenian Open.
Jan-Ove Waldner vs. Ma Long?
I think Waldner wins this one on a landslide. Ma Long's a great player, but to become an all-time great, you have to actually win the big events. Give him time, and perhaps we'll have this discussion in five years.
Baby doing multiball is Internet hit
On Feb. 3, I blogged about and linked to the video of Jamie Myska-Buddell, 18 months old, doing multiball training. The video is now an Internet sensation, attracting over 800,000 hits. Here's the article.
Here's another highlights video (6:44). I sometimes think there's a sweatshop somewhere in China or Africa that churns these things out.
One-year-old "Joy Se Hyuk" demonstrates her long-pips chopping skills
Someday she will beat you (1:51).
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MDTTC Coaching Camp - Day One - and the Forehand
Day one of our two-week camp at MDTTC went pretty well, just like the other 150 or so I've run. Yes, that's not a typo - I've run approximately 150 five-day training camps now, the equivalent of over two years, seven days a week! Yikes.
Originally I was only going to do the morning sessions (10AM-1PM), both because I'm not usually needed in the afternoon sessions (3-6PM) and because of my ongoing back problems. But there's a large turnout, and more beginners than normal, so I'm doing the afternoon sessions as well. I agreed to take charge of the beginners all week. (After the two weeks end on Aug. 19, I plan to take about six weeks off where I have one of our top local juniors do my hitting for me when I coach, to allow my back to finally heal up.) This week I'll be living on Ibuprofen.
Most interesting experience on day one was with a new eight-year-old kid who had never played before. He stood up straight, jammed up to the table, didn't rotate his shoulders, and was trying to hit forehands while facing the table, i.e. without turning sideways. His forehand hitting zone was about two inches wide. For about two minutes, he looked like what he was - a complete beginner, just sticking his racket out to hit the ball, racket tip straight up, with a rigid body. Then I finally got him stand arm's length from the table (so he'd have time and room to stroke) and to get down some by telling him to stand like a goalie in soccer. (I always tell new players to stand like a goalie in soccer, a shortstop in baseball or softball, or a basketball player - one usually clicks.) Then I got him to bring his right leg back and rotate sideways. This gave him a big forehand hitting zone. It also made dropping the racket tip more natural. Suddenly, without warning, he began hitting really nice forehands! It happened so suddenly that my first thought was, "Where did that come from?" So let me elaborate....
The forehand hitting zone
Many beginners and even intermediate players face the table too much when hitting forehands. It's important to bring the right foot back some (for righties) and to rotate back with the waist and shoulders, which turns the body sideways to the table. This gives you a large hitting zone. The key is to learn to hit through this zone. Normally you'd contact the ball in the middle of the zone, but sometimes you can take it early or late in the zone - but the key is you always stroke through the zone. Develop that habit, and most of your stroking and timing problems will go away.
Another key is not to jam the table - you need to be about arm's length away. New juniors especially tend to jam the table, which makes it nearly impossible to do anything other than stick the racket out on forehand shots, not to mention the problem with handling deep shots.
Paddle Palace Coaching Articles
Paddle Palace has a coaching page, including pages devoted to coaching articles by Samson Dubina and Stellan Bengtsson. The latest article is Four Stages of Peaking for a Tournament by Samson Dubina, which went up last Thursday.
Brian Pace video update
Coach Brian "Table Tennis Video Man" Pace gives a two-part update on his life, including parting ways with Pong Nation, upcoming DVDs for Dynamic Table Tennis, a DTT line of equipment, his own equipment changes, the table tennis app from the Apple store, and updates on his European training trip. The videos start out with a nice 30-second table tennis action intro.
Tribute to Waldner (4:36)
Here's a nice Waldner tribute video (4:36). Enjoy!
Backhand Shot of the Year
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USA Nationals entry form
The long national wait is over; the USA Nationals entry form is online! (Just kidding; the U.S. Open just finished a few days ago.) Here's the USA Nationals page. (Strangely, you have search around to find the dates, and even the location is in small print. Shouldn't that be in a large headline?) For once I get to drive to the tournament, about three hours away; there's going to be a massive Maryland caravan going there. See you in Virginia Beach, VA, Dec. 13-17!
Top Ten Reasons Why Coaches Fail
Here's an interesting Top Ten List of why coaches fail. I don't necessarily agree with all of them. For example, #1 says not to compromise. But sometimes you must listen to your athletes and learn, i.e. compromise. For example, I told a player recently to use his backhand serve short to the forehand, since I knew the opponent had trouble with that serve. The player looked unhappy so I asked why. He said he hadn't used his backhand serve in a while, and didn't have confidence in using it. So we compromised - I had the player use the backhand serve sparingly, so the opponent would have to think about it, which made the other serves more effective. (I also told the player to start using the backhand serve again so it'd be ready when needed.)
I also disagree with #3, about not copying other coaches. I'd say you should copy what works, and expand on it to make it even more successful. To use a classic example, when the Europeans began dominating the Chinese in table tennis in the early 1990s, the Chinese copied their two-winged looping game, expanded on it, and have pretty much dominated the game since. If they hadn't done so, where would they be now? Still playing with pips-out?
I'm also slightly skeptical of #6, which says not to use the same programs over and over and over. It's partially right, but what works before often will work again, in the same situation, as long as you understand why the program worked before, and make any needed adjustments. For example, many pro athletes have very specific habits that prepare them to play their best. There's no reason to not use the same program over and over and over - if it works. At the same time, as the situation changes you might have to make adjustments; for example, older athletes might need more stretching to avoid injury as their muscles tend to be tighter.
The Absolute Last Adoni Maropis Segment (until later)
Adoni still didn't like the pictures I put up of him two days ago, and when an actor from "24," Hidalgo," "Troy," and "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" talks, we sometimes vaguely listen when not hitting ping-pong balls. Yesterday he emailed me, writing "I thought I would include a pic where I didn't look pregnant and/or feminine in any way." He sent me this one and that one. Now we get the real Fayed Abu sinister look!
We also discussed the idea of a "Celebrity Team" at the North American Teams in November, perhaps made up of Adoni (2110 in hardbat ratings, with an 1881 USATT rating from a while back), Frank Caliendo (comedian, about 1900 level now), Will Shortz (puzzlist, about 1800), Julian Waters (about 1900-1950, famed calligrapher), and Judah Friedlander (comedian/actor, and the runt of the lot at about 1500 level, though he still wears those "World Champion" shirts). Maybe they'll even consider Delaware Governor Jack Markell, currently rated 1223 - or is that too low? And there's also Susan Sarandon, co-owner of the Spin NY team - but she's about 800. Will they put together a Fab Five (or Four) team? If they do, remember you heard about it here first! (They are all pictured, along with 700+ other celebrities, at the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page.)
Jan-Ove Waldner - coordinated?
Here's all-time great Waldner showing his ball-bouncing abilities! (0:32) His opponent is Jorgen Persson (1991 Men's Singles World Champion); the second announcer speaking is five-times U.S. Champion Dan Seemiller.
Yes, that's what I weighed this morning. On Dec. 26, 2010, I weighed 196. Despite all my fame and fortune, my goal of becoming a nobody is rapidly becoming a reality. This should strike fear in all my opponents who used to move me around, especially all the kids at the club (many of whom I coach) who used to think it was funny to move me side to side. Try it now! On to 165.
Nibble on my Novel (non-table tennis)
YesterdayI got a major "nibble" on my YA humorous fantasy novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky." The agent - from one of the large NY agencies - wrote: "Well, this is a weird one, but the mere prospect of a buddy comedy where one of the buddies is a meteor is cracking me up, and you’ve got great comic timing, to boot…would you send me the full manuscript when you get the chance? Much obliged!"
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