The U.S. Open this year is in Las Vegas, NV, July 2-6. The entry deadline is in eleven days - May 11. (There's a late deadline of May 18, which requires a $75 late fee.) Have you entered yet? Here's the U.S. Open webpage. I'll be there as a coach. I'm toying with entering some of the hardbat events as well, but not sure if I have time. (I normally play sponge, but have won a bunch of hardbat titles on the side.)
One of my annual pet peeves is that there is rarely any advertising or advance notice about the top players coming. This year the U.S. Open is part of the ITTF World Tour, and we know a bunch of top players are coming - but there's no publicity about who is coming. Year after year the entry deadline comes, and it is only after the deadline that prospective players (i.e. potential cash-paying entries) find out who the top players are. For all we know the Chinese National Team is coming, or the top European players - but we just don't know. Rather than wait and see who enters, and announcing it after the deadline, it would be a lot better if USATT pro-actively found out at least some of the top players who are coming before the deadline, and the publicized it. They did this in the early 1990s, and it seemed to lead to increased entries, as well as happy participants who came both to play and watch (as well as to buy stuff, with all the table tennis venders at the Open).
I hope to see many of you at the Open. There are so many reasons to attend - you get to play, see the top players, see friends, see a huge convention center filled up with a hundred tables and 800 players (and hundreds of family members, coaches, officials, staff, volunteers, etc.), explore the many equipment booths, and oh yeah, it's in Las Vegas!
Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers
For two months in a row I've made more writing about table tennis than actually coaching. So please jump on the bandwagon and buy your copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers! Or any of the other fine books sold on my Amazon page. I also made a sizeable chunk last year writing science fiction & fantasy - about $2000 total. I'm not sure if it's a profitable hobby or a low-paying job. Here's my Science Fiction & Fantasy page.
Me and Marty
Here's a picture posted on Facebook by Bruce Liu of me with the late great Marty Reisman, taken at my U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame induction in 2003. Marty was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the banquet, while Eric Boggan and David Zhuang were my fellow inductees. (If you can't see it on Facebook, try this.)
Ping Pong Candy
Alabama's Michael Wetzel (that's International Umpire and Certified Referee to you) sent me a pair of Ping Pong Candies, made in Venezuela. Here's the picture! They seem to be chocolate covered nuts or something like that. I haven't decided whether to eat them or keep them as a souvenir.
Here are the international headline stories right now at Table Tennista
The Inspiring Chinese National Team
Here's a video (2:39) from a year ago on the Chinese National Team in training that I don't think I've ever linked to. It has inspirational narration (rapping?) by "Hiphoppreacher." I think I may have linked to something by him once before, but I'm not sure.
Table Tennis Can Be Really Awesome
Here's a new video (1:20) of shot-making and trick shots, from the "Piing of Power." (Not sure why there are two i's.)
A Boy and his Cat
Here's a continuous gif image of a boy playing table tennis with his cat (really!), with a seven-shot sequence repeated over and over.
[NOTE - I usually save the fun stuff for the end - like the boy and cat video above - but I decided to stick the USATT stuff here at the end so as not to scare people away.]
Here are the motions from the USATT Board of Director's April 20, 2013 meeting at Westchester, NY (during the North American Cup). You can see the minutes and motions from meetings going back to 1999 at the USATT Minutes page.
- MOVED to appoint Rajul Sheth as Chair of the Juniors Advisory Committee.
- MOVED to appoint David DelVecchio as Chair, and to appoint Adam Bobrow, Alex Figueroa, Willy Leparulo, and Han Xiao (athlete) as members, of the Leagues Advisory Committee.
- MOVED for USATT to review Diego Schaaf’s Merit Pin Proposal, to incorporate Board comments into a revised draft, and to submit the revised draft to Diego Schaaf.
- MOVED to deny North American Table Tennis’s request to vacate the Board’s December 19, 2012 Motion regarding the sanctioning of a Butterfly Teams Championship in 2013.
- MOVED to direct the Clubs Advisory Committee to design a strategy for implementation of the club equipment package proposed by Attila Malek.
- MOVED to affirm the February 17, 2013 Final Decision of the Board’s Special Committee in the disciplinary matter In re Chui, Case No. 2012-003.
- MOVED that any service of Roman Tinyszin on the Officials and Rules Advisory Committee prior to December 31st, 2008, was ultra vires; therefore, the waiver approved on March 25, 2013, is inapplicable.
- Respectfully submitted, Dennis Taylor, Secretary
USATT High Performance Committee
Here are the Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee (HPC) for March by Chair Carl Danner.
During March, the HPC did not hold any formal meetings or conference calls. However, the following summary of its actions and discussions is offered to inform USATT members about the HPC’s activities conducted by email, and through participation in the USATT Board’s March conference call meeting.
- The selection process for the Youth Olympic Games was approved by the Athlete Advisory Council (AAC) and forwarded to the USOC for its approval – which was still pending as of the date this summary was prepared. The HPC reviewed the YOG code of conduct, and approved it subject to one wording change regarding possible serious criminal acts by athletes.
- The HPC continued its discussion about the selection and review of National Team Coaches (NT Coaches). During the Board meeting, Board members advised that the responsibility for selecting, retaining, and opening positions for NT Coaches is the responsibility of the CEO. The HPC and other relevant committees would provide support for that process. The Board also asked the HPC to prepare a memo with its recommendations for the hiring process for able-bodied NT Coaches. As of this writing, it has not yet been determined by the CEO which able-bodied NT Coach positions will be open for applications, or on what schedule. A number of HPC members did emphasize the importance of having defined criteria for the evaluation of the performance of NT Coaches.
- The HPC had some initial discussion of the concept of using multiple trials or tournaments to select national team members, starting first perhaps with the junior and cadet teams. This item will require further research and development prior to being implemented, including identifying specific events that will be counted. No decisions were made in this regard during March.
- Another point of discussion was the potential of requiring some tournament participation during the year in order to validate a player’s rating as current for purposes of seedings in the Nationals Men’s and Women’s Singles events. Lacking that, the tournament committee might be authorized to seed a player based on estimated playing strength instead. Mr. Danner will identify the appropriate USATT committee to forward this proposal.
- HPC members consulted with the CEO and the head of the Coaching Advisory Committee, Federico Bassetti, to help draft position announcements for Para Head NT Coach, NT Coach, and Junior NT Coach positions. USATT Para Program Manager Jasna Rather prepared the announcements, which were posted on the website with an application deadline of May 1.
- The selection discussion for the April ITTF North America Cup in Westchester, NY raised some questions for future consideration about how to select teams for such events. These included understanding the relationship between the members of a U.S. adult team who represented us at a given event (such as the World Championships), the National Team Trial finishing order, and also how the coach’s pick for the World Championship team might fit in. Future selection policies will be more explicit about how priorities will be established among these criteria.
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Table Tennis and Animals
Yesterday morning the comic strip Pearls Before Swine featured table tennis, with Pig winning a ping-pong trophy. That is the inspiration for this morning's blog. We'll start with dogs.
Dogs and table tennis just go together. I've known this since "Junior" became the club mascot for the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club in the early 1980s, even garnering a "Junior of the Month" write-up in USATT Magazine. (I wasn't editor at the time.) Junior came to the club with owner/father John Tebbe, and entertained us while we weren't playing. He was well behaved. Tim Boggan even featured Junior in one of his History of U.S. Table Tennis volumes.
Also well behaved was the dog that a woman from New Jersey had when she came to several of our training camps at MDTTC in the 1990s. This dog would quietly lie down next to her table while she trained, and would never move until she gave the okay. One day several kids tested this by stacking ping-pong balls on the poor dog, balancing dozens of them in its fur as the dog looked on patiently.
In the Fun and Games section here at TableTennisCoaching.com you'll find a Humorous Videos section. Page down a bit and you'll find segments on "Ping-Pong Dogs" (17 videos) and "Ping-Pong Cats" (76 videos!). From this, perhaps table tennis is going to cats more than dogs.
There's also an Animals Playing Table Tennis pictures section. My favorite there is a picture of Mister Ed playing table tennis. He's the talking horse from the TV show from the hit show from 1958-1966. In the episode Mister Ed plays table tennis. There's no digital manipulation; they apparently got the horse to hold the paddle and probably filmed a lot to get what they needed. I remember seeing the footage, but alas, I can't find it on youtube. (Here's the 42-second opening sequence of the show if you want to see a talking horse. Many episodes are online at youtube. Here's a 54-sec video of Mr. Ed hitting an inside-the-park home run against the Dodger's Sandy Koufax!) There's also a nice picture of a chimpanzee playing table tennis, and a bunch of others.
Here's a video (3:48) of the famous bird visit to the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Nathan Hsu narrates. The four in the video are Nathan Hsu, Raghu Nadmichettu, Tong Tong Gong, and Derek Nie.
If you put "Table Tennis Mascots" into Google, you get a lot of table tennis animal mascot pictures.
A few of you might remember the saga of Don Iguana. Here's the true story. In 1993, a three-year-old entered the junior event at an MDTTC Open. He not only lost every game, he didn't win a point, losing all six straight games 21-0. (Games were to 21 back in those days.) He got a rating of 25, the lowest in history. He entered several more tournaments, and continued to lose every game 21-0. Along the way he lost a rating point to some player rated in the 200's, dropping to 24. And then, one tournament, this all changed when this three-year-old, who literally couldn't see over the table, scored his first point, against Michael Squires, losing the match 21-0, 21-1!!! He was so happy - or at least I think he was, but I couldn't quite tell.
For Don Iguana was an actual iguana! Yes, he was my pet, and he was three years old. I bought him a USATT membership and paid rating fees (though not entry fees - I was the tournament director and waived that). The truth was he never actually was at the tournaments, we just entered him, and the kids would take the match clipboard and return it a few minutes late with the results. Only Mike had the decency to allow poor Don to "score" a point. Don't believe this? Go to the USATT ratings database, put in "Iguana," and Don Iguana will show up with his 24 rating! Alas, the ratings database didn't keep track of individual tournaments until 1994, and so his actual tournament record is lost to posterity - but not his name and rating in the database. (When all this came out, one USATT official was very angry at me, saying I had made a mockery of the rating system, and cited the one rating point Don had given to someone to show that I was messing up the rating system.)
For years afterwards Alan Williams (sorry, I'm breaking your cover) wrote numerous stories about the saga of Don Iguana, often involving him sailing the seas in search of table tennis adventure.
In the early 1980s I introduced to the world Gerbil Table Tennis. When I was in college I raised gerbils. We had a ping-pong table in our dormitory. So one day I had the bright idea of putting a gerbil on each side of the table as we rallied. It was great fun as we hit the ball back and forth while the gerbils ran about. Don't worry, no gerbils were hit or injured while we played - we made sure not to hit them, and they seemed oblivious to the ball anyway.
For many years I had a sort of personal trademark, a quick drawing of a tyrannosaurus rex playing ping-pong with a bird. I used to be able to draw the picture in about 30 seconds or so. Perhaps I'll try again, and scan the results here. If you are at MDTTC, I drew one on the whiteboard in the back room several months ago, and it's still there. Maybe someday I'll draw another, and scan it and put it online. I'm no artist, but it's a fun picture.
MDTTC New Programs
We're starting up a series of new programs at Maryland Table Tennis Center. (These are in addition to our ongoing programs.) New ones include:
The Myth of Practice Makes Perfect
Here's an article that talks about the importance of "deliberate practice," as opposed to just practicing - i.e. effective vs. ineffective practice.
USATT Election Results
Marty Reisman Appreciation
Here's an article by David Hartman about Marty Reisman.
Big Brothers Big Sisters at Grand Central
Table Tennis Motivation
Here's a table tennis highlights video (12:00) that somehow I missed when it first came out last July.
Got an iPhone?
Your long wait is over. You can now buy a table tennis iPhone case.
Which of these three master robots do you want to practice with? It's like taking on The Terminator!
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One of the true tests of your stroking precision is simple target practice. It's also a way to develop that precision. How do you do it? Simply set up a target on the far side of the table, and after bouncing the ball on your side of the table (or jus tossing it in the air), hit the target.
I do this regularly both as a demo and with students, usually using either a 16.9 oz Deerpark water bottle or a 20 oz Gatorade bottle. Usually I can hit it five out of five times. If you can't hit it at least three out of five times, you need to work on your precision and possibly your stroking technique. This exercise allows you to focus on the stroke mechanics and precision without having to worry about an incoming ball that isn't in the same spot every time.
To do this, just set the target on the far side of the table. I usually put it on the far left side (a righty's forehand court). Then I stand by my backhand side, bounce the ball on the table, and whack! I do it both hitting and looping, though the latter has a bit less control. As an added exercise, take a step off the table, toss the ball up a bit, and loop it, contacting the ball perhaps just above table height, and hit the target.
Here's a hint: don't consciously aim the shot. Just line yourself up, look at the target, and then the ball, and just let your natural muscle memory take over. Your subconscious controls these shots; your conscious mind just gets in the way.
Here's a video (1:14) of the late great Marty Reisman doing this . . . with cigarettes! He could hit them well over half the time - at age 80! I've never tried cigarettes, but in honor of Marty, I'm thinking of trying. (I don't think I can bring myself to actually buy cigarettes at a store - I'm a non-smoker, and I'd feel like everyone was staring at me! I'd have to order them on the Internet, or borrow from a smoker.) Marty does "cheat" on some of these, hitting the ball from practically right over the net, but then he's aiming at a target about half the width of your little finger!!!
I had an interesting "bad" experience a few days ago. I demoed this for a student, with a Gatorade bottle as the target, but my shots kept missing, often clipping the top of the net. Then I realized we were using new balls, which come with a coating of dust (apparently from the manufacturing system). The dust was on my racket, and so the ball was sliding, which was why they were going out lower than usual and so hitting the net. I wiped the racket, and then was able to hit the target with ease again.
I sometimes end junior sessions (especially with beginners) by putting a Gatorade bottle on the table, and claim that the liquid inside is "squeezed worm juice," or "squeezed jellyfish" or (if it's a bottle of water) "dog saliva" or something similar. I tell them if they hit it, I have to drink it. I feed multiball as they line up trying to hit the target (two shots each), taking great joy in making me drink the disgusting fluids. I usually end the session by grabbing five balls and going to the other side, and smacking the target five times in a row. It's very impressive, both for the kids and the parents. (If I'm feeling really confident, I'll spread five paper cups on the table, and smack all five off with five shots. But for this I'd bring a few extra balls in case one misses.)
Backhand Loop Training
Here's Backhand Loop Training for Table Tennis, Part 2 (9:20), by Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis. This is actually a promo video for the full video, which is 1hr 43 min. Lots of action video of backhand loops. "Brian Pace gets more strategic and tactical about how to use the Backhand Loop in competition. In Part 1, the focus was on building stroke mechanic and stroke production. In part 2 all of the Exercises focus on every possible case scenario that you will every face in competition that requires you to use the Backhand Loop." In case you missed it, here's Part 1 (6:41).
Jun Mizutani Ghost Serve
Here's video and a forum discussion of Jun Mizutani's serves, in particular his heavy backspin serve that comes back into the net. (The video commentary is in Chinese, but you can follow what's going on.) This serve is one of the most attention-grabbing serves you can do for new players and media people, yet it's not that hard to do for an experienced player. I do it all the time - though I can't "slam" it back into the net as hard as Mizutani.
Chinese Footwork Videos
Here are some nice videos of table tennis footwork. The explanations are in Chinese, but you can follow it easily just by watching. There's also some forum discussion in English that explains some of what's being said.
Google's Ping-Pong Hangout
Table Tennis Nation brings us info on Google's new ping-pong hangout, where they are having their first online tournament. "Go head-to-head with Ad Land's finest in the world's first Ping-Pong Hangout Tournament." Good luck!
Here's video (3:17) of someone playing the online game of Pong using only their mind.
Ping-Pong Warrior Carry Big Stick
What Happens When You Mix Silent Hill Movie, Street Fighter Video Game And Table Tennis? You Get This Guy!!!
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Tip of the Week
USA Nationals and Open Entries
The return to Las Vegas for last year's Nationals in December led to a 48% increase in entries, from a modern low of 502 in 2011 in Virginia Beach to 743 in 2012, the most since 2006's 837. (The data used here only includes those who played in USATT rated events, and does not include players who only competed in doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper events.) The online ratings database gives the number of entries for every year back to 1994, with the event held in Las Vegas every year except 2011.
Here's a graph of the Entries at the USA Nationals, 1994-2012. Here's one for the U.S. Open. And here's a chart showing the location of every USA Nationals and U.S. Open ever. (While others watch Honey Boo Boo in their free time, I coach and compile lists.)
From 1994 to 2002, USA Nationals entries were somewhat stagnant, ranging from 592 to 686. Then began a slow increase from 2002-2006, with 678, 707, 755, 829, and 837. Then it dropped to 730, then 604 and 597. After a jump back to 686 in 2010, there was the huge decline in Virginia Beach to 502, followed by the 743 in Las Vegas in December.
What do these numbers tell us? The obvious answer is that you get more entries at the Nationals if you run it in an obvious "vacation" place, such as Las Vegas. USATT had similar experiences with the U.S. Open, getting relatively large numbers when it's run in Ft. Lauderdale (785 in 1997, the most since 1994) or Las Vegas (769 in 2007, second most), with considerable drops when it was run in Charlotte in 2006 (only 455, a modern low) and somewhat surprisingly, only 524 in 1998 when they ran it in Houston. Of course, how they promote the tournaments make a big difference. There were over 1000 entries at the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens in Oklahoma City and Houston, with master promoter Ron Shirley in charge. Similarly, they did a pretty good job of promoting the Open in 2010 in Grand Rapids, leading to a decent 645 entries, probably a hundred more than would be expected in a city not known as a vacation destination.
I had mixed feelings about the Nationals in Virginia Beach. It was nicely run, and it's only three hours from my club. With the reduced traveling time and playing in the same time zone, our players did much better than they often do in Las Vegas, 3000 miles away, where they usually fly in the night before. However, it's hard to argue with 743 entries to 502.
We're still waiting to see where the 2013 U.S. Open will be, but I've been told it's either Las Vegas or Ft. Lauderdale - announcement coming soon - and so either way it'll be a vacationland. (If it's in Ft. Lauderdale, I'm going to arrange a mass trip to Disneyworld - anyone can join us. I've been there once, way back in 1987.)
Marty Reisman Burial and Memorial
Marty Reisman was buried yesterday (Sunday) at Mount Richmond Cemetery on Staten Island. There will be a memorial tribute to him this Friday (Jan. 18) at SPIN New York at 7:30 PM. Info is here.
FASTT Table Tennis
Here's a release from FASTT (Federal Association of Sandpaper Table Tennis) on the sandpaper events at the recent USA Nationals.
How to Handle Drop Shots
Here's a video from PingSkills (1:49) on how to handle drop shots off lobs from under the table by giving a "wobbly" return.
The Beauty of Table Tennis
Here's a new highlights video (8:04) that just came out from ThePerfectionisTT.
Venus & Serena Williams
Table Tennis Nation brings us pictures of the Williams sisters playing table tennis at the Australian Open. As noted in last Thursday's blog, the two were also recently featured playing table tennis in an iPhone 5 commercial.
Table Tennis for the Masses
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Tip of the Week
Marty Reisman, Feb. 1, 1930 - Dec. 7, 2012
The great showman of the hardbat age, as well as in the sponge age (but always with hardbat or sandpaper), died on Friday at age 82. The sport will never be the same.
Marty had a huge influence on my life. In fact, he ruined it! How did he do that? Here's my write-up from Table Tennis Tales & Techniques on how I got started on table tennis, my first meeting with Marty, and his response.
How Marty Reisman Ruined My Life
By Larry Hodges
Back in 1976 (age 16), I was on my high school track team as a miler. I went to the library to get a book on "Track & Field." I happened to look to my left ... and there was a book on table tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I had been playing "basement" ping-pong at a neighbor's house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out. From it, I found out about USATT (then called USTTA). I contacted them, found a local club, and went there. I got killed, but I stuck with it, and a few years later became the best at the club. I later became a professional table tennis coach and writer, and from 1985 on, I've been full-time table tennis almost continuously in various capacities. In 1991, I was hired as editor of USATT's national magazine. About a year later, at a tournament in New York, I met Marty for the first time (although I had probably seen him before), and told him this story. His response? "Great ... another life I've ruined!"
Volkswagen 2012 World Junior Table Tennis Championship
They started yesterday, and are in Hyderabad, India, Dec. 9-16. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, which has the schedule and results, articles, and pictures. Team USA has a Boys' Team (Grant Li, Teddy Tran, Kunal Chodri, Kanak Jha) and Girls' Team (Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Isabel Chu, and Crystal Wang). In doubles, the boy's teams are Li/Chodri and Tran/Jha, and the girls' teams are Zhang/Jha and Chu/Wang.
Faking a Shot
Here's a video from PingSkills on faking a shot. One key thing they say early on: "It's really important first that you get the basic shots right." But once you have the fundamentals, this is one of the most under-used tactics in table tennis from the intermediate level up. For example, even against advanced players when I serve backspin, I can see where they are going to push or flip well before they contact the ball - rarely do player change directions at the last second. This makes it much easier to attack. Instead, at the last second just change directions and watch the havoc it creates!
ITTF Coaching Seminar in Singapore
Here's the ITTF story on the recent ITTF Coaching Seminar in Singapore that was taught by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.
Want to Bring World-Class Table Tennis to U.S. Television?
Here's where you can learn about this. Excerpt: "Reflex Sports and Alpha Productions, two well known names in US table tennis, are planning a series of action-packed, fast-paced 1-hour shows of World-Class Table Tennis for broadcast on U.S. Network TV! These will include action from the WTTC, World Junior Championships, World Cup, Pro Tour, European Championships & more!"
ITTF Video World Cup
Here are the five finalists at the ITTF Video World Cup. They average from around two to four minutes, so you can watch them all in about fifteen minutes.
Table Tennis Dream
I had another of those weird table tennis dreams last night. It started as I landed with a group of others at Los Angeles Airport for some huge international tournament. (I have no idea why it was Los Angeles.) After getting off my flight - carrying four huge bags - I stopped at a restaurant. The others with me disappeared, and I found myself at a table with Matt Damon, who was explaining health care to me, but using table tennis terms like "2-1 drill" and "Falkenberg drill." I finally got away from him, and was suddenly at the playing hall, still lugging around four huge bags.
People kept asking me to hit with them, and I kept saying I can't, I have to do my blog. So I'm sitting there at a table in the middle of the hall, surrounded by my four huge bags and lots of tables as players competed, furiously trying to think of something to write about in my blog.
Then I was told the tournament was over, and I realized I had to catch a bus to the airport. I randomly got on a bus, which drove for a while, then let me off at a hotel. I checked in. Almost immediately after getting to my room I realized it was the following morning, 7AM, and I had a 6AM flight back home! Somehow I thought I could still catch the flight. Then I realized I'd left two of my huge bags at the playing all, and two at the previous hotel. (I have no idea how that happened since I'd been lugging all four about with me until now.) I ran to the lobby, and while eating breakfast with a bunch of table tennis players, Dan Seemiller was suddenly sitting across from me, and he said, "Larry, you can catch a taxi to the playing hall, pick up your bags there, then take the taxi to the hotel, pick up your other bags, and still catch your flight."
Right about now I realized that since it was 7AM (it still was 7AM), and that it was too late to catch the 6AM flight. But Dan started calling me a chicken, so I grabbed my four huge bags (which had reappeared), and rushed out to catch a taxi to go pick up the four huge bags (which were apparently both with me, and at the playing hall and previous hotel, at the same time). After tossing all four huge bags into the trunk of a taxi, I closed the trunk - and the taxi took off without me! I ran after it, yelling for it to stop, and then I woke up in a sweat. It took me a few minutes to realize I wasn't in Los Angeles anymore.
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Tournament season is upon us! After a long summer of practice (right?), you are now ready to take on all those pampered players who didn't train as you did, and make their ratings points yours while gathering a collection of hardware. (And if you are in the Maryland area, don't miss our Sept. 22-23 MDTTC tournament, which I'm running - we've got hardware AND checks just sitting around, waiting for someone to take. Won't you please?)
It's time to focus more on game-type play. All summer you've been doing stroking and footwork drills (right?), physical training (right?), and practicing your both your regular and new serves (right?). Those stroking and footwork drills will take you far, but in matches, most opponents will object if you ask them to hit the ball back and forth between two spots so you can move back and forth and attack with your forehand. So now's the time to introduce game-type drills.
Focus on serve & attack drills and random drills. When possible, start off drills with a serve and attack, and then either play out the points or combine both rote and random footwork. For example, you might serve backspin, partner pushes deep to your backhand, you loop (forehand or backhand, depending on your style), partner blocks to your wide forehand, you forehand loop, and then you play out the point. Or partner pushes your serve back randomly anywhere, and you loop and play out the point. Or partner flips your short serve anywhere (or perhaps the first flip goes to the wide forehand, or perhaps wide backhand), and then play out the point. Be creative in designing drills that match what you face in matches.
This doesn't mean you should stop doing regular stroking and footwork drills - they are important at all times. But the focus needs to switch to more game-like drills.
You should also be honing your serving skills. Can you pull off in tournament conditions the serves you can do in practice? Can you serve with all spins to all parts of the table, both short and long, with deceptive motions? If not, better start practicing. In particular practice your fast and deep serves out of proportion to how often you use them. You may only serve them a couple of times a game, but they need more precision and therefore more practice if you are going to use them at all.
And don't forget your sports psychology! Playing in a tournament is quite different than playing a regular club match, and if you aren't ready for that, you are sunk. Here are some good links on sports psychology.
Below are two articles I wrote on playing in tournaments (which I also linked to a few days ago):
Ding Ning to Miss World Cup
Here's an article where defending champion and world #1 Ding Ning explains why she'll miss the World Cup. Article includes a link to the video of last year's final between Ding and Li Xiaoxia.
Interview with Allen Wang
Here's an interview with Allen Wang, who just won the North American Cadet Championships. (And he trained for two weeks this summer at MDTTC, my club!)
Marty Reisman Featured in American Way
The article isn't online, so you'll have to fly American Airlines to read the entire thing. But this article from Table Tennis Nation features a number of excerpts from the article, such as: "Even at 82, I'm itching for a good money game…What I really want to do is play a money match against someone who's young enough to be my grandson — someone of note, not some Mickey Mouse player. That’s never been done in professional sports before. Sure, I’ve lost some speed, but I still play a very clever, witty game. I’m pretty athletic for someone who's 82. I’ve still got plenty of vinegar left in me." There are also some nice pictures.
Watch this video of this ordinary room becoming a feature table tennis club in just 20 seconds!
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Tip of the Week
Table Tennis Records
11-year-old Sameer Shaikh, while on break in our camp on Friday, bounced a ball on his paddle 1210 times in a row. Is it a world record? Probably not, but I'll let someone else google it. But it does bring up the question of table tennis records. Unfortunately, I haven't kept track of who did what and when. For example, in our camps I know the record for completely knocking over a pyramid of 10 and 15 cups is 2 and 3 shots, respectively, but I don't remember who did it. These may sound silly, but they are actually great practice. I remember when Sameer couldn't bounce more than a few in a row; now he has good racket control. (When you start a little kid on table tennis, start him with ball bouncing, and see how many he can do. This is how he begins developing the hand-eye coordination to actually rally.) Hitting pyramids of cups may sound frivolous, but it challenges them to be accurate, besides being a fun way to end a three-hour session in a training camp.
I have a few personal records which may or may not be "records": 2755 backhands in a row (at a Seemiller camp in 1978 when I was 18); 14 consecutive bounces up and down off the edge of my racket; 14 consecutive "come back" serves (i.e. high backspin serves that bounce directly back over the net after hitting the opponent's side of the table); and blowing the ball back 33 consecutive times in a rally. So what are your records?
My todo list is bizarrely long. Every five minutes I seem to get another email asking questions (often very involved ones), requesting letters of recommendation for green cards or college (I have two to write today), news interviews or questions, stuff about my blog, MDTTC and USATT stuff, not to mention all the correspondence regarding my outside science fiction writing career and complications with insurance after my car accident last week. Plus all the usual coaching in camps and private sessions. It's getting way out of hand. I was up late last night getting things done, and the result was I woke up with a headache this morning. That's why the blog and weekly tip went up late today.
2016 Paralympic Hopeful Timmy La
Here's an article and video (1:55) from Channel 9 News/WUSA, featuring 2016 Paralympic hopeful Timmy La, who trains at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. (I'm interviewed about him throughout the article and video.)
Table Tennis in The Daily Beast
Here are two "dueling" articles in The Daily Beast about the state of modern table tennis in the USA. Most of you know probably know of the flamboyant Marty Reisman, champion player and champion of hardbat (and sandpaper) table tennis. (Here's his U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame Profile.) Matt Simon is a former Junior Olympic star who came to a number of my table tennis camps back in the 1990s, when the Maryland Table Tennis Center was known as the National Table Tennis Center in Maryland (as it is referred to in the article).
Coming Soon: Spin LA
There's already a Spin NY, Spin Milwaukee, and Spin Toronto, all courtesy of actress and table tennis entrepreneur Susan Sarandon. Now comes Spin LA, which opens this fall. Here's an article about it in The Huffington Post.
Rhode Island Table Tennis
Here's an article and video (2:44) in "The Rhode Show" about Rhode Island table tennis, which features their club, top player Grant Li, and President Chuck Cavicchio.
Crazy Kids Playing Table Tennis
Here's a video (5:45) of some Japanese show featuring the apparent trash-talking hosts taking on two girls about 4 or 5 years old. The kids are pretty good! If you know Japanese, feel free to post what they are saying!
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Shouldn't there be an age limit for backhand looping?
Yesterday I coached one of our 7-year-olds for an hour. That in itself is rare - most at that age do only 30 minutes at a time. But this one was a bit ahead of the curve for the average kid in that age bracket. He loops just about everything on both sides. He regularly backhand loops 5-6 in a row against a block. And he can fish and lob with heavy topspin, often forcing me to miss smashes not because I couldn't handle the spin, but because I was having difficulty believing he was putting that much spin on the ball.
This is how the game is changing. There was a time when few kids would learn to loop before they were 9 or 10, and that would only be against backspin. Looping against topspin wouldn't start until even later. Now, with sponges that practically loop the ball for you, and with more and more full-time training centers with full-time coaches popping up around the country, the level of play is going up dramatically, and players fall behind if they wait until they are 9 or 10 to learn to do what others are doing earlier.
Many of the top sub-10-year-olds still mostly hit in matches, but the better ones are looping more and more in practice, and it's just a matter of time before they incorporate this into matches. It's scary watching a 10-year-old flawlessly backhand looping off the bounce over and over in drills, and knowing you will have to face that in matches.
Hitting the backhand is almost passé at the higher levels. At the world-class level, a hitter very quickly is turned into a blocker by a looping opponent; even smashes are often looped back. Even to me, playing at only a 2200 level, it's not hard to play a hitter - you just take a half step back to give yourself time to react, and then just rally them down, using their own pace against them as you move them around or pin them on their weaker side (usually the backhand), and look for balls to loop back. Against someone who loops everything you can't effectively back up to give yourself time to react (unless you can counterloop), and so you are stuck at the table blocking - and then the pace becomes overwhelming since you have no time to react that close to the table. Add that these kids are now looping right off the bounce on the backhand, and with more and more power on the forehand, and it's a nightmare out there.
Unless, of course, you are the one doing the looping. When I play these up-and-coming kids, the key is to use serve and receive so I'm the one initiating the attack, forcing them to react. It allows you to at least get in a few good shots before facing the inevitable blitzkrieg.
Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12
This is from Chapter 27 - with USA Team Member Mike Bush writing about fellow teammate Eric Boggan's match with future U.S. Hall of Fame Player (and now fellow coach at MDTTC) Cheng Yinghua at the 1983 Hungarian Open, when Eric was ranked in the top 20 in the world. Here's the photo of Cheng (by Mal Anderson) that accompanies the article, also from the 1983 Hungarian Open.
Eric played Cheng Yinghua in the last-16 round. Cheng, a righty shakehand topspinner, beat Sweden’s Waldner in five games in the round of 64 [some early match-up that was!]. I remembered Cheng’s versatile game from the German Open three years ago where he’d been spinning every ball against Dvoracek in the final of the Team event. Late in the second game, however, Cheng had gotten severe hamstring cramps and in the third had stayed up to the table and blocked Dvoracek down, sometimes blocking literally more than 40 topspins to win the point.
Eric went into the match with the same strategy that he’d beaten Gergely with. It was amazing what took place. Cheng had no problems moving in or out (or laterally for that matter). He could spin powerfully and with control from both sides, defend, block and counter. Eric blocked and dropped, blocked and dropped, looped and killed. The points were very long but Cheng kept winning them. He just kept putting in one more shot or making one more return than Eric. Match to Cheng, 10, 9, 13.
"A Throwback Player, With a Wardrobe to Match"
That's the subheading of this article yesterday in the New York Times on Marty Reisman.
"Rising from the Slumber, the Sleeping Giant Awakes"
That's the title of this article from the ITTF on Kanak & Prachi Jha, and the rise of American Table Tennis.
Clipboard Table Tennis
This is the Official Clipboard Promotional Video (1:52), featuring Tahl Leibovitz and Al Papp (the lefty) at the start, with Berndt Mann officiating, Wendell Dillon the referee who (humorously) objects to the illegal (i.e. non-Legal sized) clipboards, and then Marty Reisman (in the hat) and Berndt Mann play.
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Tip of the Week
For a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, as well as my usual coaching and other duties, I'm going to take today and next Monday to put these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Proper Use of the Free Arm.
Do you only practice at your local club, or do you practice whenever the urge hits you? You can practice anywhere by shadow practicing. It's also a great way to exercise and to wake yourself up from long hours sitting at a desk. (It's also a nice to practice proper use of your free arm - see Tip above.) Here's an article I wrote a while back on shadow-practicing. So get up from your computer and start stroking!
The arm is getting better, but still needs more time to heal. (I injured my forearm about a week ago.) I still can't forehand hit or loop aggressively. Yesterday I coached much of the day, but did almost exclusively backhands and multiball. One student, Kevin Walton, lent me an arm brace which seemed to help, but when using the muscles for certain shots it was like having someone grabbing my arm in mid-stroke. It's great to protect the arm when hitting (tentative) forehands, but when hitting backhands or feeding backspin in multiball, I had to take it off.
I'm supposed to be defending my hardbat titles from 2010 and 2011 at the Cary Cup in eleven days. However, my arm is not going to be ready for my all-out forehand hitting style. So yesterday I borrowed a defensive hardbat from John Olsen (an oversized Hock), and we practiced for a time. I'll almost for certain be chopping at Cary, and hopefully pick-hitting forehands, but not too much.
Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion Update
The wall is down! The long-awaited expansion of the Maryland Table Tennis Center is happening. They are still working on the new area we're taking over next door, and to protect our side from the dust of the wall going down and other work there's a ceiling-to-floor plastic tarp still dividing the place, but that's temporary. Soon we'll be up to 11,000 square feet, about 18 tables, all-new red flooring, showers, weight room, etc. All should be ready within two weeks.
Here's a picture of the place right now by Barbara Wei. The plastic tarp on the left actually cuts off about 10-15 feet of the current club, so for the next week or so we're actually smaller than normal.
Overheard at the Maryland Table Tennis Center yesterday: "Nobody plays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center anymore. It's too crowded." (Admission: I said it. With proper regards to Yogi Berra.)
Lily Zhang Interview
Here's an interview with Lily Zhang, U.S. Women's Singles Finalist, Women's Team Member, and #1 Cadet Girl.
Sol Schiff in New York Times
Here's Schiff's obit in the NY Times. Most of the story is based on phone interviews by the author with Tim Boggan, who was at my house during the interviews.
The World Economic Forum, Mick Jagger, and Ping-Pong
Jagger was there. He had on a pink button-down, black jeans, and snazzy Nike running shoes. There was a Ping-Pong table folded up against the wall; apparently Jagger had been playing when the first guests arrived. Now he was dancing, with one woman, then another, to classic reggae playing at mid-volume.
Tips from Marty Reisman
Here's a two-minute video from Men's Journal and Marty Reisman: "The Hustler's Guide to Ping-Pong: Learn how to impress friends and fleece strangers with these tips from Marty Reisman, the world’s best table-tennis player."
Table Tennis Cartoons
Here are 13 table tennis cartoons by Cartoon Jazz that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.
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Celebrities Playing Table Tennis
This month was a treasure trove, with 19 new celebrities - just look at some of the names below! There are now 1334 pictures of 788 celebrities at the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis Page! (I maintain the page, updating it around the 1st of each month.) New this month:
Actors & Actresses
Politicians and Leaders
Today is Groundhog Day. As you know, on February 2 every year Pingpongatawney Phil comes out of his hole, and if he sees a ping-pong ball, everyone gains 100 rating points. (And for the love of ping-ping, please click on the Pingpongatawney Phil link - I spent a lot of time creating it! Feel free to distribute.) The ball on the ground is a Nittaku, which is the Official Ball for USA Table Tennis.
Today is Groundhogs Day, but yesterday was Hardbat Day. While coaching I had the sudden, inexplicable desire to play hardbat. So I pulled a hardbat racket from my bag and chopped with it, so students could practice their loops. Last night I finally figured what had caused this overwhelming urge - it was Marty Reisman's 84th birthday! (Strangely, according to his Wikipedia entry, he was born on Feb. 1, 1930, which would make him 82. But I'll go with the "official" version.)
Using the hardbat wasn't actually a lark. It really is good practice for students to loop over and over against chop, and I was able to really work on their loop strokes. In each case, we followed that with a serve & loop against push, then loop or hit against block drill (with me back to regular inverted). The key here is that against backspin, you drop the back shoulder and your power goes both forward and up. Against the block, the shoulder stays mostly up (completely up if hitting) with the stroke mostly forward. Beginning/intermediate players need to practice this a lot - its tricky making the adjustment between the two. Here's a short article I wrote on this, with the back shoulder the key.
I regularly use the hardbat racket for students to practice against. I also have one with long pips with sponge so students can practice against long pips chopping. Other rackets I keep around for students to practice against include long pips with no sponge, antispin, and pips-out sponge.
I was interviewed yesterday by someone from American University, who is doing some sort of graduate project in journalism on table tennis. I filled her with lots of info on table tennis. She also got to talk to Crystal Huang (the 9-year-old girl who last year achieved the highest rating ever for anyone under age 10, boys or girls) and her dad, and other club members.
ITTF's Youth Leadership Camp
Here's an article about the ITTF running a table tennis youth leadership camp in Qatar. There's also a video (4:23).
Behind the back shot
This is probably the best behind the back shot I've ever seen. (And they show it both live and in slow motion.) Because my shoulders have the flexibility of frozen neutronium, this is about the only table tennis trick shot I cannot do. So when I see people do these shots I get very envious.
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