April 30, 2014

Butterfly and My Personal Equipment

Here's some news on the equipment front. First, I'm sponsored by Butterfly again. (They haven't put me up yet in their sponsored list - that'll come later.) I was sponsored by them for something like two decades, but was a casualty of the 2008 financial crisis. I had two great years sponsored by Paddle Palace, but they are moving in a different direction, which freed me to reapply with Butterfly. My club, MDTTC, has been sponsored by Butterfly for many years.

I've used a Butterfly Timo Boll ALC flared blade the last few years. I believe it's the most popular high-end racket right now. I discovered it almost by accident. I was coaching Tong Tong Gong about 3-4 years ago while he was on the USA National Cadet Team (and about to try out to make it again) and sponsored by Butterfly. I needed to warm him up, but my racket was in my bag a distance away, so I borrowed his spare blade. After I hit one ball my eyes shot up - it just felt right. Tong Tong later made the National Cadet team for a second straight year, and as a reward for my coaching him at the Trials they gave me his spare racket, which I'd come to really like. (Butterfly had given him a new backup.) I've been using that blade ever since. You can still see where Tong Tong had etched his name into it!

For the last few years I've been using Tenergy 05 FX 2.1 black on my forehand and Roundell 2.1 red on my backhand. Tenergy is the most popular high-end sponge, but it comes in so many types it's hard to keep track - 05, 25, 64, 80, and all in regular and FX, which means a softer version. You can read about each at the Butterfly site.

I use the FX on the forehand for embarrassing reasons - at 54 and very tight muscles, I don't swing as hard as I used to in a fast rally, and FX is more forgiving, but with less power. It means when someone hits the ball aggressively to my forehand it's easier to loop - the sponge practically does it for me as I just stick my arm out and swing a bit. (It's not quite that simple - you still have to have decent technique and timing, but it sure makes it easier.) With harder sponge you have to swing harder to sink the ball into the sponge, and I don't do that in a fast rally as well as I used to. Against a slower ball, I can still swing hard, but a harder sponge would give even more power. FX is also good for players developing their loop. Having said all this, I'm planning on trying out the regular 05 for a time and see how it works.

On the backhand I mostly counter-drive and block, though I do loop sometimes. Roundell is more of an all-around sponge that allows you to do anything. It's a good looping sponge (though not quite like Tenergy), and very easy to rally with. However, I'm toying with going to one of the Tenergy sponges on my backhand. Tenergy 25 is supposed to be better for close-to-table play, so I'm going to give that a try.

Here's the problem. I had a sheet of Tenergy 25 sent 2-day priority mail last Thursday, nearly a week ago. (It's actually coming from Paddle Palace, the last sheet of sponge they owe me.) According to the tracking number, it was sent out for delivery at 1:35AM on Saturday morning (i.e. late Friday night). It was never delivered. Then it was apparently sent out for delivery again at 1:21AM Tuesday morning (i.e. late Monday night), but again it was never delivered. And here it is Wednesday morning, and still nothing. Apparently there's some drunken delivery guy who's been zigzagging about the last four days with my Tenergy in his truck. If anyone sees him, please flag him down, tackle him, taze him, or whatever it takes.

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll probably run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

MDTTC Coaching Staff

Here's a group picture of the MDTTC coaching staff (including names), taken during our Spring Break Camp two weeks ago.

When to Call Timeouts

Here's the article from PingSkills. One of the things they stress is you should call a timeout whenever it would best help you win a game - even if it's in the first game. I've argued the same thing, but some players are resistant to a timeout in the first game. I'd rather do it when it could make a difference than as a desperation tactic near the end when you are already out of the match. Here's my Tip of the Week on this, and here's a blog entry where I talk about timeouts.

Internet Lag Demonstrated with Table Tennis

Here's the article and video (2:58).

Ping-Pong Tapestry

I have no idea what's going on here, but the guy in the middle appears to be holding a ping-pong paddle. It appears to be some sort of historical Chinese thing, but the guy's a shakehander. Should that be penhold? Can anyone translate?

4er Table Tennis

Here it is! I'd call it Giganta Pong. With four tables and a barrier (with something to prop it up higher), anyone can play this. The sport for the masses.

Player Catches Ball in Mouth

Here's the video (24 sec, including slow motion). After catching it in his mouth in this exhibition the player spits it out on the other player's side for the point. I can't quite tell who the ball-catching lefty player is, but I think that's Jorgen Persson on the other side. (Edit: I didn't recognize him from the video at first, but Bernard Lemal emailed that the one on the right catching the ball in his mouth is '93 World Men's Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien! Now that he's pointed it out, it's kind of obvious. Even his strokes are a giveaway.)

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June 11, 2013


I've found it interesting how different coaches and players use timeouts. Far too many use it as a desperation measure, usually late in a match when a player has fallen way behind, and where it's unlikely to make a difference. Almost always it's done when a player is behind.

I'd argue that it should be used most often when a player is losing focus at a key time, where the timeout has the best chance of helping to win a game, whether it's in the first game, last game, or any in between. I think most would agree with this. Putting that aside, when should one call a timeout?

Let's suppose your player is serving up 9-7 in the fifth. I was once criticized for calling a timeout in that situation, with the argument that it lets the opponent talk to his coach and focus, and so maximize his chances of coming back. But I find that reasoning backwards. With my player is leading 9-7 in the fifth, if both players are focused and play smart, then my player is probably going to win. The most likely way my player loses is if he loses his focus and/or doesn't play smart - so by calling a timeout, I maximize the chances that my player will be focused and play smart, and therefore likely win. In other words, if you are leading, you are in control, and so worry less about the opponent and more about making sure you are prepared.

In other words, if you are behind by a score such as 7-9, and if you are focused and know what to do, the last thing you want is to give the opponent time to focus and think tactically. It's very easy for a player to lose focus when he is leading and about to win, and a timeout allows him to recover. (However, if you are behind 7-9 because you are losing focus or not sure what to do tactically, then you should call the timeout.)

Ironically, I sometimes hesitate to call a time-out near the end of a match when my player is leading because I know there's a good chance the other side will call one, so I get to save our timeout for later if needed.

Another mistake I think some make is waiting too long. It's better to call a timeout early in a match where it might lead to winning a game than to wait until later where it might not. At the Easterns I was coaching 11-year-old Sameer in his first major tournament. In one of his first matches he was serving and leading 10-8 in the first game, and lost the next point. On his own he called a timeout - he wanted to make absolutely sure he won that game, and wanted to ask what serve I thought he should use. (I said short backspin to the forehand, and the opponent put it in the net! Sameer won the match 3-1; if he'd lost that first game, it might have been 2-2. A very smart timeout that few would have done because it was still "too early" in the match.)

Here's the chart from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers on when to call timeouts. Number two is the one that's way underused when players are leading in a close game - see the second part of that one.

When to Call a Time-out

  1. When losing focus before a key point. This is the most important time to call a time-out. A time-out is a good way to get your concentration back.
  2. To think about or discuss tactics at a key point. Generally do this when you are about to serve, since you have complete control over choosing your two serves. If you have a coach, he might be able to help choose two serves to use. Call it when you are receiving mostly if you have a good idea what the opponent will serve, and are debating how you should return that serve. Or call it to think or discuss any other tactical plans. It’s also valuable to call a time-out when you are winning a relatively close game (especially late in a match), such as at 10-8 or 9-7, so as to clear your mind, think tactically, and close out that game. This is often when the Chinese team calls time-outs.
  3. When falling behind in a key game. It’s useful to call a time-out if you lose the first game and are falling behind in the second (since you absolutely do not want to fall behind 0-2), or if you have already lost two games and will lose the match if you lose another. The key is not to wait until you are way behind; instead, call the time-out when you are still relatively close and can still find a way to come back. The time-out allows you to make sure you are focused and to rethink your tactics. It’s also a good way to give your opponent a chance to cool off if he’s playing well—there’s nothing wrong with calling a time-out in hopes of disturbing his concentration or throwing off his rhythm.
  4. Desperation tactic. Far too many players call time-outs as a desperation tactic near the end of a match when they are way behind and are pretty much out of it, but this rarely leads to a win. If you are losing badly, why wait until you are way down in the last game? It’s far better to call the time-out earlier in the hope of not being in this situation, where the time-out will rarely help.


We're starting up an afterschool table tennis program this fall with Montgomery County Schools. As noted in my blog last week, one of their requirements is anyone working with students gets a background check - and that means we have to get fingerprinted! So this morning I'm leaving about 8:30 AM to meet at a county office to be fingerprinted, along with fellow coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu. I'm hoping to get pictures. If they look into my background they'll find I kill dozens of times every day. More on this tomorrow, though it might be simply a repeat of this note, saying "We've been fingerprinted."

Game Strategy

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Game Strategy

Non-Celluloid Balls

Here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville reviews one of the new plastic balls (i.e. not celluloid).

The Fight to Save Table Tennis

Here's an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that features Marty Reisman and hardbat & sandpaper table tennis. There were quite a few errors in the article, however - here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville lists nine mistakes, and Scott Gordon adds a few others.

Lady Antebellum’s Ping Pong Tournament Serves Up the Fun

Here's an article and pictures of the charity tournament. Here are more pictures.

Dog Spectator

Here's 49 seconds of a very jumpy dog spectator at table tennis.

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