How Can You Practice By Yourself?
"Seeknshare" asked me this question on the forum, "How can one practice alone (all by himself). I do not have a partner...but would like to better my skills. I remember seeing Tom Hank's 'Forrest Gump' movie where he practices on his own..not sure if it was real or meant as parody. Any help/suggestions?"
There are a number of ways you can practice by yourself. Here are a few:
Want To Win a FREE Signed Copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers?
They are running a contest at Expert Table Tennis. All you have to do by this Sunday is answer the question: Why do you deserve to win a free copy of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers? I will personally sign and mail out a copy of the book to the winner.
To elaborate, it says, "Feel free to tell me a story of your latest and greatest table tennis tactical nightmare, or describe your complete lack of ability to engage your brain at the table. You can be funny, you can be serious. It’s up to you. I’ll be choosing the person that I believe most deserves (desperately needs) their own copy of the book."
MDTTC April Open
Here's a write-up of the MDTTC Open held this past weekend. Congrats to Open Champion Chen Bo Wen, U2400 Champion Raghu Nadmichettu, U2250 Champion Roy Ke, U2050 Champion Josiah Chow, U1900 Champion Robert Gabay, U1650 Champion Deapesh Misra, U1400 Champion Tony Wang, U1150 Champion Darwin Ma, and Under 12 Champion Frank Xie! (And while we're covering MDTTC, here's the April Newsletter that went out a week ago.)
College Championships Coming to Rockford
Here's an article and video (3:16) on the National College Table Tennis Championships to be held in Rockford, Illinois, April 12-14. Also featured is a Celebrity Doubles Tournament to be held on Thursday, April 11.
Samson Dubina and Robopong
Here's a video (3:12) of a news feature on WKBW ("Exercise While Playing With Toys") where Samson demonstrates the Robopong.
Judah Friedlander Wins Celebrity Madness
Judah wins! He defeated former basketball star Christian Laettner in the final, based on online voting at Table Tennis Nation. Take a look at the draw and results of other celebrity match-ups, and see if you agree with the voting.
Includes a link to a hilarious new video (3:41) where comedian Judah "takes us on a grand tour of table tennis, with special guest Tahl Leibovitz."
Tiger Table Tennis
Here's a picture of a tiger playing table tennis, set against a green paddle in a green forest, by Mike Mezyan.
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Tip of the Week
The Flu, Late Players, and James Bond - Oh My!
As readers know, I battled with the flu most of last week, and was pretty much out of commission from Sunday afternoon through Thursday. I was tempted to coach on Wednesday - my 53rd birthday - but I got a call from my dad, and when I answered it, my voice was a croak. (I didn't know since I hadn't talked to anyone that day.) And then it got worse, so I got Raghu Nadmichettu to substitute for me.
It wasn't all bad - I spent part of the time watching James Bond movies which I'd borrowed from ITTF coach and student John Olsen. There are 23 James Bond movies, and I thought I had seen all but two or three. I discovered I had not seen five of them, and only had vague memories of three others. So I spent much of Tuesday through Thursday watching eight of them:
I got back into action on Saturday, running a junior session that morning and two hours of private coaching that afternoon. On Sunday I did two more hours of private coaching and ran another junior session. I also discussed with Wen Hsu plans for starting a junior team league this fall, tentatively on Saturday nights.
The junior session on Sunday was one of the more hectic ones I've run. It's a beginning junior class, so we need a higher ratio of coaches to players, with lots of multiball training. Normally we get 12-15 in this session, and I have two assistant coaches - for this session, Rocky Wang and John Hsu. The session began at 4:30PM, and there were only five players. I figured it was because we were running a tournament this weekend, and so many assumed there would be no session. I'd decided to start the session off with a short talk about the club's other programs - it seemed a good time, since the club was jammed with players for the tournament. (That's the advantage of a 16-table facility - you can run a tournament, a junior program, and have private coaching going on all at the same time!) I spoke for about five minutes to the five players and their parents. A sixth kid showed up in the middle.
I normally break the group into four smaller groups that rotate among the three coaches and the table tennis robot. However, with only five, I could pretty much run it alone, along with the robot. But since Rocky and John were already there, I decided we'd use two coaches and use two tables. So we took the robot down. Rocky volunteered to drop out, so he left. Then a strange thing happened - as we started, two more kids showed up. Then another. And then three came in - and it was now 15 minutes into the 90 minute session! I managed to grab Rocky before he left, and we hurriedly put the robot back up, but it wasted a lot of time for the others. With twelve players (beginners), I put them into four groups of three, and rotated as we always do. Since we had the late start, we only had three rotations, so not all the players worked with all the coaches or the robot. It also meant, due to lost time, we didn't get to work on all that I wanted, so we skipped pushing. After an hour of training, we played 11-point games (where they move up or down the table, depending on whether they win or lose, with 11-10 ending a game - no deuce).
Later today I'm sending out an email to the junior parents reminding them again of the importance of being on time.
I didn't get to see much of it as I was busy coaching. Wang Qing Liang (age 17, rated 2598) came from behind to defeat Chen Bo Wen (age 14, rated 2494) in the final. Wang won the first, Chen won the next three, then Wang won the last three to win 4-3. Crystal Wang, who turned 11 the week before, won Under 2250 and was up 2-0 on Raghu Nadmichettu (2366) in the Open before losing in five.
Just got the first Amazon review of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - and it's a 5-star one! Below is the review, titled "It Made Me Think!" He is correct that there are times when the book is necessarily repetitive. For example, in the chapter about choppers, some of the material covered in the chapter on non-inverted surfaces (especially long pips) is covered again, so readers don't have to page back and forth.
Very enjoyable read. The whole time I was reading this book, my mind would kind of drift off as I was picturing the aspects of my game in whatever part of the book I was reading.
The topics are laid out in a very logical order and explained in great detail.
The verbiage makes the book very conversational, so it doesn't drag on or feel like a sermon.
Many examples are used making it easy to visualize each subject.
Styles are broken down into various subsets - each containing their own goals and strategies
Excellent tactics are provided against a wide variety of styles - I highly recommend the section on non-inverted surfaces!
A little repetitive at times, but this kind of comes with the territory
This Friday at 7PM I will be doing a book signing at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I will be selling and signing four of my books (see below) - hope to see you there! All books will cost $15, with a special - buy the Tactics book, get a copy of the Tales & Techniques book for only $5! Here's the info flyer.
Put the Ball on the Table!
Here's an article by Samson Dubina, along with a video used as an example (Ma Long vs. Ryu Seung Min, 8:02) on the importance of keeping the ball on the table, which features the importance of positioning.
Table Tennista is a great site for articles and videos on international table tennis. They do especially good coverage of China. I've linked to their articles many times. Their current features includes lots of coverage of the Chinese World Team Trials, as well as coverage of the German Nationals (Timo Boll was upset in the final) and Swedish Nationals (Waldner and Persson lost early).
German Nationals Highlights
Here's a video (2:45) with highlights from the German Nationals that finished this weekend. Big upset - Stefan Mengel upset Timo Boll in the Men's Singles Final!
Believe in Yourself
Here's a table tennis highlights motivational video (8:11) on the importance of believing in yourself.
Friendship Trophy for Women
Here's info from the ITTF's Women's Development Program on the Friendship Trophy, an event organized to help promote the participation of women and girls in Table Tennis. Each organizer can create a unique format to best celebrate the contribution of women and girls in Table Tennis.
Tribute to Women Players
Here's a video (59 sec) from ITTF that highlights the best women players in the world.
Hottest Chick in Table Tennis
Since we have two segments above on women, here's the hottest chick in table tennis! (Yes, I made this; blame me.)
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Tip of the Week
Can a "2200 Player" Have the Experience to Coach at a High Level?
The question of whether a lower-rated player has the experience to be a top-level coach often comes up. The answer is yes, but rarely. I've seen numerous lower-rated players - some as low as 1100 - who were excellent coaches, even for high-level players. (I've also seen many former world-class players who couldn't coach at all.)
Some believe they can gain the needed experience to coach at the higher levels simply by watching the top players, usually on video. You can learn a lot that way, but if you think you can gain the experience to be a high-level coach just by watching the top players, you are kidding yourself. You not only have to watch them now, but you have to watch them on a regular basis as they develop. The key is not only knowing what they do now, but how they go there.
It also takes a certain type of mindset. If you watch top players play and gain strong opinions on how to coach players to reach that level, you are on the wrong course. You absolutely have to see what they do as they develop, in the playing hall while training and working with their coaches, and learn from this observing. There is no substitute for this. If you want to be a good coach, then find excuses to come watch these practice sessions. Do this for a few dozen sessions and you'll become knowledgeable. Do this for a few years and you have a chance to become a really good coach.
Some think you don't need to see top players developing if they are only going to coach lower-rated players. There's some truth to this - but often coaches who consider themselves good "beginner coaches" are only good for the first few months. For example, more and more players at the higher levels really topspin their backhands, and so if you want to develop a player with a bright future, you have to work toward that goal. Simply teaching them a basic backhand isn't enough. Other "beginner coaches" keep focusing on the basic counter-driving strokes so long that the player never learns higher-level techniques, such as looping over and over from both wings, counterlooping (the basic rallying shot at the higher levels), or advanced serve & receive. The biggest difference between a good "beginner's coach" and a truly great one takes place after the player can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands. Does the coach keep working only on better and better forehands and backhand drives, or does he move on to more advanced stuff? You still need to focus on the fundamentals - here's my article Develop the Fundamentals - but the fundamentals of high-level play are a bit different than the fundamentals at the lower levels.
So to gain the experience needed to be a high-level coach, you either have to have been a high-level player, or to have spent extensive time with high-level players and coaches, both in training and tournament situations. I'm one of the lucky "2200 players" in that I have spent many years with top players and coaches. Here's my personal background:
So yes, it is possible for a "lower-level player" to gain the experience needed to coach at the higher levels - but it is rare that a player at that level gets the opportunity. You can't do it by just watching players at tournaments or on video; you have to watch their training on a regular basis, and learn from it. I've been lucky to have spent decades doing so.
Today's Todo List
The never-ending list never ceases with its efforts to cease my work on finalizing my new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. All I have left are the covers and a final proofing, which I hoped to do this week, but the todo list grabbed me by the collar and shook me until it got my attention. I have no coaching scheduled today, so this is my "day off," right? Here's my list for today.
World Championship of Ping Pong
USA's Ilija Lupulesku made the semifinals of the $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong - a sandpaper events - held this past weekend in London. "Lupi" pocketed $5000 for his efforts. Winning the event for the second year in a row was Maxim Shmyrev of Russia ($20,000), who defeated Sule Olaleye of Nigeria ($10,000) in the final, apparently 11-9 in the fifth, though the scores seem to show him winning 11-9 in the fourth. (Anyone know the real scores?) Also playing from USA was Ty Hoff and Adoni Maropis.
USATT Player Bio Questionnaire
Why not take a couple minutes to fill out the USATT Player Bio Questionnaire? It's so USATT's "...web streaming commentators will have additional information in case you are featured on center court!" You never know. And it's fun listing your best titles, ratings, etc.!
How Kids Benefit from Table Tennis
Here's an article by Samson Dubina on the benefits of table tennis for kids.
Ambassador Wally Green
Former "bad boy" now table tennis ambassador Wally Green's been getting a lot of press coverage recently. Here he is on the Steve Harvey Show (3:25), using a blackberry as a racket. His partner is Kazuyuki Yokoyama. When asked how he got into ping-pong, Wally said, "It started, I was in a lot of trouble, a guy saw I was in trouble, I was either going to be in jail or just have a terrible life, and this guy said 'Look, I'm going to help you learn ping-pong, so he paid for me to go to Germany for four months to learn ping-pong.'"
Here he is again at the 4th Annual Ping Pong for Poverty Celebrity Event in Virginia Beach (4:20). Here he says, "I used to be in a gang, doing some bad stuff. The worst thing that happened to me is I got shot twice, got stabbed a couple of times, not to the point of death. There were a lot of fights. I was a bad kid, let's say."
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Looping or Handling the Loop?
Is your game centered around looping or handling the loop? At the intermediate and advanced levels, the game is dominated by looping. Most players center their games around looping. But some take the reverse approach, and center their game around handling the loop. This includes both defensive players (choppers, fisher/lobbers, and blockers) as well as hitters.
Often players who center their games around handling the opponent's loop (or simply not letting him loop, at least not effectively) make the mistake of going too far, and never developing their own loop. Even if looping will never be their strength, it's a great variation at minimum, forcing the opponent to deal with one more thing. It's almost always the best way to deal with a deep backspin ball. Even players with short pips and hardbat can loop against backspin, and if the opponent has to adjust to both your drive and loop against backspin, he's got a lot to deal with.
Players who do loop often make the mistake of also going too far, centering their game around looping but not learning to deal with the opponent's loop very well, both in terms of keeping him from doing it (or doing it effectively) and from dealing with it when the opponent does loop. It always amazes me how many players with strong loops will serve or push long over and over, letting the opponent loop rather than serve or push short to set up their own loop.
Some are so loop happy that they try to counterloop any incoming loop. This can lead to problems as it's not easy trying to counterloop an opponent's opening loop against backspin (often very spinny) if the opponent is mixing up the speed, spin, direction, and depth. That's way too many variables for any but the very best players. If you are one of the very best players (or if you aspire to be, and are training at least 4-5 days a week), then perhaps you can learn to do this. Otherwise, consider blocking against more aggressive loops, and perhaps jab-blocking (i.e. aggressively blocking) or even smashing against loops that land short. A loop that lands short is easy to jab-block or smash (if you don't hesitate), but it really rushes a looper, and unless you are able to jump all over that ball with a full swing in a split second, counterlooping it is not easy. (Remember that you also have to wait and see if the ball is going to your forehand or backhand, and then judge the depth, speed, and spin before you can properly react.)
On the other hand, some players learn to shorten their counterloop stroke against shorter balls and sort of soft-spin off the bounce. This can be effective but takes lots of practice to get the timing down. This is especially effective if you use some of the modern high-end looping sponges (i.e. expensive ones). If you use more of a hitter's sponge, then it's better to jab-block or smash.
The main advantage of counterlooping anything that goes long, including an opponent's loop? You don't have to hesitate since you know what you are going to do. You just have to decide forehand and backhand, and then let the shot go. (You do have to decide how hard and what direction you are looping, but that's relatively easy.) This works for many world-class players, but remember - it takes lots of practice and perhaps some physical training as well.
TopSpin's Charity Benefit
Here's an article in Forbes Magazine on the TopSpin Charity Benefit being held tonight, and here's the opening paragraph: "Over 1,000 members of the sports, entertainment and media communities will be hoisting ping-pong paddles in New York City tomorrow at TopSpin’s fourth annual Ping-Pong Tournament. And they will be doing so in an effort to benefit three city programs for under-served students. Among the confirmed guests are Hakeem Nicks, Prince Amukamara and Terrell Thomas of the New York Giants, and Gerald Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse of the Brooklyn Nets."
ITTF Video World Cup
Here are the twelve entries received so far for the ITTF Video World Cup. You can view them and vote for the winner! Of course, the best one is "TTism (in slow motion)," by Richard Heo. Why? Because I'm in it!!! (I show up for about three seconds at 1:29, cheering silently and motionlessly for Raghu Nadmichettu, who is celebrating a win silently and motionlessly. That segment was filmed at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.) Here's the info page for the contest. First and second places are $5000 and $2500. Deadline to enter is Nov. 30.
Sampson Dubina's Favorite Serving Videos
Former USA Men's Singles Finalist Samson Dubina posted links to his favorite videos of top players serving. (And here's his article "Perfecting Your Serve.") I've added names/descriptions. Here are the serving videos:
John Ping Pong
Here's a ping-pong song (2:44) I hadn't heard before. It's set to some old-time music.
Non-Table Tennis - "The Devil's Backbone"
The new anthology "After Death," which features fantasy stories about what happens after you die, includes my story "The Devil's Backbone." (Anthology comes out in March, but they just announced the table of contents.) 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?
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MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day One
Here's a quick rundown of the day's activities. There were 35 players in the camp. Coaches are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and visiting Coach Liu (not sure of his full name) from New York. Wang Qing Liang (2641), Chen Bo Wen (2431) and Raghu Nadmichettu (2389) are practice partners. Players include Allen Wang (15, 2370), Nathan Hsu (16, 2349, 2011 Junior Olympic Under 16 Boy's Singles Champion); John Hsu (18, 2226 but usually higher, 2011 Junior Olympic Under 18 Boys' Singles Champion); Barbara Wei (2199, former U.S. Junior Team member), Derek Nie (11, 2170, U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys Champion), the Alguetti brothers (Adar 12, Gal 11, Sharron 11, rated 2081, 2089, and 2098), Lilly Lin (15, 1885); Amy Lu (11, 1838, U.S. #3 Under 12 girl), and many more. (Regulars Tong Tong Gong, Crystal Wang, and Roy & Princess Ke are in China training.)
ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar
The first ITTF Level 2 Coaching Seminar will be held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Oct. 30 - Nov. 6. I expect to participate. Here's the info page. To be eligible, you must fulfill the following:
Cast Your Vote for Ariel Hsing USOC June Female Athlete of the Month!
Returning a Heavy Backspin Serve
Pingskills brings you this new video on the Returning a Heavy Backspin Serve (2:54).
The U.S. Open Sandpaper Final
Here's Ty Hoff and Adoni Maropis in the Sandpaper final (23:21). Lots of long rallies, with a mix of attack and defense. Check out the point at 15-18 in game one (at 8:54)! And yes, Adoni Maropis, in real life, is the guy (okay, the actor playing Abu Fayed in season six) who nuked Valencia, CA (and tried to nuke others) in the TV series "24." He was also in Troy, Hidalgo, and many other movies.
Samson Dubina on My Valley Sports TV
Here's a news video that features table tennis and Samson Dubina (1:44).
Another Full-time Club in the Bay Area
Here's the article about the upcoming Rossmoor Table Tennis Club.
Ma Long's Under the Net Return
Here it is, in regular and slow motion (0.38).
Practice Safe Pong
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Tip of the Week
I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?
I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those.
However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.
And so I found myself down 2-3 in games. At this point I simply was too tired to continuously attack forehands when needed or to run around and loop her serves (I don't have a strong backhand loop, alas), and my 1% backhand miss rate was way too high against a backhand with a 0% miss rate. So I began to look for chances to chop to get out of these backhand rallies. I chopped her deep topspin serves back (so I didn't have to run around to forehand loop them, and because I get more spin when looping backspin), and if we got into a fast rally, after a few shots I'd find a ball to chop on the backhand. She'd push, and I'd get to loop, usually to her forehand or middle, about 2/3 of the time going for slow, spinny and deep loops, about 1/3 of the time going for rips, usually to the forehand side.
And lo and behold, it through off her rhythm, and I started getting balls to smash or loop kill when she blocked my loops! I won game six. I started game seven with a barrage of attacks that put me in a 1-4 hole. So I went back to mixing in chopping and looping, and finally won, 11-8 in the seventh. If I'd stuck with my normal steady backhand countering game in rallies, and continued to attack the deep serve (as I'm always coaching players to do, since 90% of the time it's the right strategy), I'd have lost.
This strategy was reminiscent of how Dan Seemiller won the men's singles at the USA Nationals one year over Eric Boggan.
Beginners learning forehand and backhand
Recently I've coached a lot of beginners, especially new kids. I've noticed an interesting dynamic. In nearly every case, by the end of the first session they had picked up either the forehand or backhand pretty well, but struggled on the other side. None had trouble on both; none were good on both. In each case, they so mastered the proper technique on one side that by the end of the session I was able to challenge them to see how many they could hit in a row - something I never do until I'm confident they'll do so with good technique. But on the other side we never got to that stage. In most cases they got it down in the second or third session, but even then it was obvious they were more comfortable on the other side. I wonder if this is something that'll be true the rest of their table tennis playing days?
Twelve Tips to Table Tennis Perfection
Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina. They are all great items; I find #1 (goals) and #10 (visualizing) the two that players most overlook. Until you set specific goals (and then work out what you need to do to achieve those goals), it's hard to improve. It's like going on a journey without a destination. As to visualizing, it's the most underused way to improve.
Returning the forehand pendulum serve
Here's a video from PingSkills (1:53) that shows how to return a forehand pendulum serve into the backhand.
2012 Hungarian Men's Singles Final
This was a great match from this past weekend, where shakehand attacker Ma Long of China (#1 in the world) barely defeats South Korea's chopper/looper Joo Se Hyuk (2003 World Men's Singles Finalist), -7,4,-4,4,-7,7,8, in the final of the Hungarian Open. Time between points is taken out so you can see the entire match in about ten minutes. Joo upset current World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (also of China) in the quarterfinals by the unlikely scores of 5,7,7,4. (Here's that match on youtube, but it's shown continuously, so takes about 30 minutes.) Here are articles, pictures, and results.
Liu Guoliang teaching his one-year-old daughter table tennis!
Yes, former World and Olympic Champion and current Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang is already teaching the next generation the family business (1:09).
The bearded Liv Tyler paddle
Here's actress Liv Tyler with her bearded paddle! And the sixth picture down shows her playing with the paddle. She's promoting her upcoming movie "Robot and Frank," but is probably best known for her roles in Lord of the Rings (she's Arwen!), Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk.
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I think I'm the top reverse psychologist in the world of table tennis. When I'm working with a new kid who's trying to hit twenty forehands for the first time, do I what most coaches do and say, "You can do it!"? No. I have more success saying, "Twenty in a row? You can't do twenty, that's way too many. No chance!" And of course the kid is then determined to prove me wrong, even though they know I'm joking. I've been using the trick for so many years that I've got dozens of variations.
It's also a great way to get in shape - all I have to do is say, "I'll bet you twenty pushups you can't do twenty in a row," and I'll be doing twenty before the session is done, often after the next rally. Getting to make a coach drop and do twenty has a way of focusing one's mind. (Confession: I used to bet twenty pushups, but that was getting to be too much, so now I only bet ten.)
Increasing coaching hours
I'm increasing my coaching hours starting this month. So if you are anywhere near the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD, and are looking to become the greatest player in the history of the world, or at least to work on that bad habit of yours that keeps you from beating the Chinese, contact me. (If interested in group sessions, contact me so I can put you on the info lit. I plan to start up some new programs around March, when the club doubles in size and we have lots of free tables.)
Developing your game
And while we're on the subject of your becoming the greatest player in the history of the world and beating the Chinese, what have you been working on right now? If you aren't working on something in your game, then how can something in your game get better? Either find a weakness you want to improve, or a strength (or potential strength) that you want to turn into an overpowering strength, and focus on it for a while.
Preparation for the US Olympic Trials: The Final Week - Stage 5
Interview with Susan Sarandon
Table tennis sports psychologist and professional player & coach (TTSPPPC?) Dora Kurimay interviews actress Susan Sarandon, co-owner of Spin Table Tennis in New York City. You can also follow Dora's blog, which focuses on sports psychology and table tennis.
They just held the World Series of Beer Pong, Jan. 1-5 in Las Vegas. $65,000 in prize money. Here's the promo video of these elite athletes in action (1:11) - but don't worry, no underage ping-pong balls were inebriated in the making of this video.
I'm gonna to be sick. (Actually, I am sick with a cold, but $65,000 beer pong just made this non-drinker sicker.)
Moonpig in action!
Who says you can't play the net in table tennis? Here's 41 seconds of feline fury.
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MDTTC Christmas Camp
Yesterday at the MDTTC Christmas Camp the focus was on backhand attack. That meant lots of backhand smashes, backhand drives and flips against backspin, and backhand loops. I was amazed at how fast some of the "beginner" kids picked up the backhand loop. The old paradigm that you have to be relatively advanced before you can backhand loop has been wrong for many years, and yet it still plagues many junior players whose old-fashioned coaches hold back on teaching this shot, thereby handicapping their games. My general rule of thumb is as soon as the kid can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands with a good stroke he's ready to learn to loop.
This reminds me of a Junior Olympics many years ago where a full-time professional coach from another region was admiring the level of play of the Maryland juniors. She was amazed at how well some of our kids in the 10-year-old range could loop, and commented, "None of my students that age are good enough to learn to loop yet." As she explained, she thought it was assumed a kid needed to be at least 1500 before he should be taught to loop. Yikes!!!
Once again I gave out lots and lots of chocolates in a game where the players had to hit a bottle to win one. My chocolate supply is making me very popular.
Entries at USA Nationals
Using the USATT ratings database, there were 502 players at the 2011 USA Nationals in Virginia Beach who played in rated events. (Players who only entered doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper are not included in these totals.) This is by far the lowest total in the ratings histories, which start in 1994, with the next lowest the 592 in 1998, and 27% down from last year's 686, and way down from the 829 and 837 in 2005-2006. Other than the 1986 Nationals in Pittsburgh (where I believe there were less than 400 entries), I believe this is the lowest turnout ever for a USA Nationals since the first one in 1976. (I'm not including U.S. Opens, which were sometimes referred to as the USA Nationals before the first "official" one in 1976.) It also pales by comparison to the totals for the North American Teams, which had 767 players. Of course, the reality is that neither of these are large totals. There were two U.S. Opens in the mid-1970s that had over 1000 entries, in Houston and Oklahoma City.
I've put together a graph showing the annual totals for the USA Nationals starting in 1994. (Other than 1986 in Pittsburgh and one year in Anaheim in the last 1980s, I believe it's been held in Las Vegas every year.) I also put together one for the U.S. Open.
Some will immediately conclude that the problem was the location - Virginia Beach. This is basically correct. Putting the Nationals at a "vacation" area like Las Vegas automatically attracts players. But as proven by the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids in 2010 (645 entries, versus 610 the year before in Las Vegas), you can attract players to non-vacation lands. I had an email exchange with the Grand Rapids organizers about a year before the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids where I gave numerous recommendations on how to get entries, and they did use many of those methods, whether on their own or because of my email. (Maybe sometime later I'll publish the entire list.)
I have some experience in this, which is why I was contacted by the Grand Rapids people. While I've run about 150 tournaments, I've run only one 4-star tournament, the 1998 Eastern Open in Baltimore. It received 411 entries - 359 in rated events, the rest in doubles events or paid no-shows - which I believe is still the record for most entries in a 4-star event (other than the North American Teams, which for some silly reason, is still listed as a 4-star). I promoted the heck out of that tournament, as did Richard Lee and others who put it together.
How did we get so many entries at the 1998 Easterns? By promoting the tournament to potential players. I'm sure the tournament committee for the 2011 Nationals also worked like crazy to get entries, but they didn't seem to have any experience in doing this, and didn't seem to consult with those who did. For example, there are a huge number of players in neighboring Maryland, including the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my home club, with a 200+ membership. I don't recall a single mailing or any other serious contact made with MDTTC to attract players. There also was no personal invitation to enter the tournament by "names," as Grand Rapids did with Dell and Connie Sweeris. Get a Sweeris, Seemiller, or similar "name," send out a personal invitation to enter the tournament from them (focusing on regions within driving distance, and flooding the local regional clubs with flyers), and use other successful methods to promote the tournament (I won't elaborate here, maybe later), and you'll be surprised at how many entries you can get.
I really believe they can get 700+ entries in Virginia Beach if they promote the heck out of the tournament using the successful methods others have used. On the other hand, if they did the same in Las Vegas, they might get 1000. Heck, if Houston and Oklahoma City can get over 1000, why can't Virginia Beach or just about any other location that promotes the tournament properly?
Here are the entry totals for the Nationals, 1994-2011.
USA Nationals Videos
Mission Impossible: Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang
Here's a photo montage to Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:46), set to the theme music of Mission Impossible, who just played each other in the Women's Singles Final at the USA Nationals for the second year in a row, and now have their eyes set on the 2012 Olympics.
Here's actual footage (1:21) of the 2028 U.S. Women's Singles Champion, currently one year old. (I believe its Samson Dubina's daughter - that's him "coaching" her.)
Topspin Charity Ping-Pong and Baron Davis
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Falling backwards when forehand looping against backspin
This is a common problem with a rather easy fix. Many players go off balance and fall backwards when looping against backspin with their forehand. Why? It's almost always because they are standing too far from the table. And so they have to reach forward to contact the ball. This throws their weight slightly forward; to compensate, you have to lean backwards. You lose control, power, and are off-balance for the next shot.
How do you fix this? Stand closer to the table, and rotate more sideways when you loop. The contact point should be the same as before, but relative to your body, it's farther back in your hitting zone, often in front of the back leg. This allows you to rotate in a circle as you loop, creating torque and maintaining your balance even during your most powerful loops.
Yesterday, during the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, I found at least five players who were doing this. (I also had another chocolate candy "giveaway" - hit the bottle on the table, and get a delicious truffle! I gave out about 50 of them. I think we're the most popular table tennis camp in American right now.)
Table Tennis Training Stage IV: Putting It All Together
Here's a short video from CCTV of the recent U.S.-China 40th Anniversary Ping-Pong Diplomacy festivities in China, featuring Jimmy Carter, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, and numerous U.S. and Chinese players (2:05).
Crazy Like Table Tennis
Here's your daily table tennis fix - just over four minutes of great points, with an acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley - Crazy in the background.
Classic Table Tennis
Here's your Classic Table Tennis fix - table tennis from the 1947 World Table Tennis Championships, with hardbat.
Table tennis scandal in Singapore!
Michael Maze kicks table 95 times
Someone took a video of Denmark star Michael Maze (former European Top Twelve Champion, World Men's Singles Semifinalist) kicking the table, looped it over and over, and put it to music ("Red Red Wine"). Here's the video - interesting for five seconds, skip the last 1:22.
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Special on the North American Teams
The JOOLA North American Teams is this weekend at the Baltimore Convention Center, Fri-Sun, Nov. 25-27. This is one of the "big three" tournaments in the U.S. (along with the U.S. Open in July and USA Nationals in December), with the largest participation of any USA tournament - about 800 players, 200 teams, 144 tables, 150,000 square feet, $20,000 in prize money. Here's a series of articles that you might want to browse, whether you are playing in the tournament or just want to know more. I've only missed one year since 1976, including 33 straight years from 1976-2008. I'll be there all three days coaching - come say hello! (The secret handshake is to point your finger at me and say, "Secret handshake.")
Yesterday I suddenly realized something I already knew, but now I realized that I knew it. And that is that your average club or tournament player (say, 1500-1800) pushes poorly not just because he doesn't know better, but because he isn't forced to push better by his peers. I can serve backspin to your average under 1900 player and the large majority of the time they will push it back so that it is easy to loop a winner - if you can loop at a 2000+ level. It's not any one thing - sometimes the pushes aren't deep or short, aren't low, aren't heavy, are predictable, or wander out from the corners. Any one of these things make the push easy to attack. If you do all of these things even pretty well, then they are difficult to attack well by just about anyone - which is what most 2000+ players do when they push. (Here's a Tip of the Week on pushing effectively.)
Maximizing Your Game Under Poor Circumstances
Here's an article by Samson Dubina on eight ways to improve when your training conditions are less than ideal. He asks the question, "One must play against better players in order to improve?" The answer is, of course, false. He explains, "It is possible to improve your table tennis game even if you don’t have ideal training partners, ideal coaching, and an ideal facility. In this article, I’m going to suggest eight ways that you can maximize your game under poor training circumstances.
USA's Lily Zhang wins doubles at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup
And here's the article that proves it! Lily, world #154, teamed with Russia's Anne Tikhomirova, world #68. In the final, they defeated the unified Korean team of Kim Kyung Ah (South Korea, world #13, perhaps the best women chopper in the world) and Kim Hye Song (North Korea, World #120), -6,8,-3,3,8. In the semifinals they defeated Cao Zhen (China, unranked, but world #30 in Feb., 2011, world #11 in 2006) and Aia Mohamed (Qatar, no ranking), 11,-10,7,8. Here's a picture of Zhang and Tikhomirova with their trophies, and an action shot (with the caption saying, "Russia's Anna Tikhomirova hits a return during the women's doubles table tennis match at the Qatar Peace and Sport Cup," but of course she's actually serving.)
Guinness World Record for most players in a rally
A total of 107 players took part in this rally (3:01). Perhaps the most boring table tennis video ever made, but are you in the Guinness Book of World Records?
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