Tip of the Week
On Saturday I coached one of my students at the Howard County Open. Sameer, who just turned 13 last week, has played about two years, but mostly just once a week the first year. He's had an interesting run recently, playing in tournaments for three straight weeks. This was after taking over seven months off from tournaments to work on his game as he transitioned to looping nearly everything from both wings.
Two weeks ago he played at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He went in rated 1378. In match after match he was nervous, and unable to play well. Occasionally he'd put it together. As I pointed out to him afterwards, there were two Sameers - the 1200 Sameer when he was nervous, and the 1600 one when he wasn't. (When he's nervous, he rushes, stands up straight - which makes all his shots awkward - and smacks balls all over the place.) He beat one player over 1600 and battled with some stronger players, but way too often was too nervous to play his best. He came out rated 1409.
I tell my students not to worry about ratings, but after all the work he'd put in, and all the improvement in practice, it was a major disappointment to play at barely a 1400 level. We both knew he was 200 points better than that. We'd worked on various sports psychology techniques since he'd had this problem before, but after months of league play at our club I'd hoped he was over it. So we went back to working on sports psychology. But overall, as I explained to Sameer and his mom, the solution was to play a bunch of tournaments until he got more used to them, and was able to play more relaxed.
The following weekend he played in the Lily Yip Open in New Jersey. I'd like to say he turned things around, but not really. He started out just as nervous, unable to perform properly, and lost his first two matches to players rated in the 1100s. This was a disaster - two 50-pointers to start things off. (Partly because of their wins over Sameer, the two players would be adjusted to about 1300 and 1400.) But then, with nothing to lose, he started to turn things around. He beat a 1450 player, then a 1500 player. Since they were using older ratings, he was eligible for Under 1400. He made it to the final where he had to play a "ringer" - the guy had already won Under 1600! But Sameer pulled out a close deuce in the fourth match to win Under 1400. It was a good finish, and yet once again there'd been two Sameers - one about 1200, the other about 1600.
This past Saturday he played in the Howard County Open. Playing three consecutive tournaments paid off - he went in determined to do better, and this time only the 1600 Sameer showed up. He had three 1550+ wins, beat several 1400 players, and his worst loss was to a 1660 player - and more importantly, he won Under 1600! The hard work was finally beginning to pay off. To the 1200 Sameer who stayed away this weekend - you're a loser and we don't like you, so get lost!!! (Here's a picture of Sameer with his U1600 $50 prize money, which I obviously want. Here's a picture of him with his U1400 Trophy at the Lily Yip tournament the week before.)
Even better than winning Under 1600 what that while he finally played in tournaments at the level he could play in practice, he showed potential to go beyond that level. When you have good technique, it's just a matter of executing the technique and you control the games and your fate - and soon you realize you can beat even the players you are currently losing to. Sameer may be 1600 now, but it won't be a big jump for him to jump up to 1700 level, then 1800 level, and so on. (Note that I'm referring to level, not rating. If you play 1800 level, and play it in tournaments, then you'll get that 1800 rating, but that's secondary.)
There were some tactical lessons from the tournament. Sameer often relies on mixing in short serves (that he follows with a forehand or backhand loop) and deep serves (that often win the point outright or set up winners). Doing a fast, deep serve under pressure is not easy. So I had him practice the fast serves quite a bit just before the tournament, and while warming up for it.
One of the most important things I kept reminding him before each match and between games was for him not to overplay. (See today's Tip of the Week.) Under pressure he'll often swat at shots rather than play the shots he can make, i.e. nice, strong loops, without trying to rip everything for a winner. Tactically, some of the keys for him was to vary and move his serves around; attack the opponent's forehand and middle; and just control the serves back to force rallies. Perhaps most important for him, he stayed down, breaking that nasty habit of standing up straight while playing that we've battled against for months.
Opportunity for Clubs to Host Camps for Veterans with Disabilities
Here's the info page. USATT has a grant to pay for these camps.
Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina
He's been writing up a storm recently on his Article Page. Here are his more recent coaching articles.
100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-eight down, 42 to go!
Ma Long Chop Block
Here's the video (2:26) showing him using the shot in competitions. I have one student who screams bloody murder whenever I do this shot, says nobody else does it! It is a dying shot, but many top players still do this as a variation, as shown here by world Ma Long (currently world #2, formerly world #1 for 30 months, as recently as February this year).
Ball Control Practice with Bouncing and Balancing
Here's the video (1:28) showing various bouncing and balancing drills you can do with a paddle and ball.
Incredible Point at Match Point
Here's the video (1:28, including slow motion replay) as Germany's Timo Boll (world #10, formerly #1) battles to win that last point against Croatia's Andrej Gacina (world #30).
Houston Rockets GM Donated Thousands of Dollars so He Could Whoop Us in Ping-Pong
Here's the video (2:25) - pretty good doubles play!
Chinese National Team Trick Shots
Here's the video (1:07).
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I've always wanted to put a camera on spectators that shows exactly what they see as they watch a table tennis match. But I'm afraid that most of what we'd see is their eyes focused on the ball as it goes back and forth, with the players themselves slightly blurry images on the side. That's because that's exactly what most spectators are watching when they watch a match. It's almost like self-hypnosis as their eyes go back and forth, Back and Forth, BACK AND FORTH, over and over and over. You might as well just stare at a stationary ball.
Instead, try focusing on one of the players, and see what he does. That's how you can learn what the players are really doing, and learn their techniques, something you can't do by staring at the ball as it goes back and forth. Some of the things you'll learn might surprise you. For example, to the ball-watchers, some players are fast, some are slow. But when you watch the "slow" players, often it turns out they seem slow simply because they got to the ball before the ball got there, and are seemingly just there without really moving. The "fast" players are often the ones who got slower starts, and are just getting to the ball as it arrives, and so you see them move, and so they seem fast. (A famous example of this was Jan-Ove Waldner, who always seemed to be where the ball was, and never seemed to move much - but that's because most of his movement was while spectators' eyes were on the ball that hadn't yet reached his side.)
Another aspect that ball-watching spectators miss is the initial movements on receive. They see the receive, but they don't see the step-ins for short balls, or when the player started to move to receive, and so on. Often receivers start to do one thing, then change as the serve approaches - but you don't see this unless you are focused on the receiver from the start of the point.
So if you really want to learn, don't watch the ball. Pick a player and watch him exclusively for a game or so. Then watch the other. You'll learn a lot more this way than by watching the little ball. Let the players do that.
Improving the Backhand Loop by Brian Pace
Here's the blog entry, with both text and video on the backhand loop.
How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players by Matt Hetherington
Three New Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina
Kasumi Ishikawa Voted Japan's Most Pleasant Athlete
One Energy Commercial - Behind the Scenes
On Monday I linked to the One Energy Commercial (30 sec) that featured Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen playing in neon outfits. Here's the behind the scenes video (2:19) that shows it being put together.
Jordi Alba Plays "Soccer" Table Tennis
Here's the video (36 sec) of the Spanish soccer star and others. (That's football for non-Americans.)
Judah Friedlander Plays Table Tennis in "Teacher's Lounge"
Here's the video (3:09) where Judah - a real-life 1600 player - prepares for the student/faculty ping pong championship. It's in episode 3 of this TV show. Judah and the table tennis starts 1:25 into the video. (Warning - foul language!)
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Is the USATT Rating System Inflationary, Deflationary, or Stable?
I don't have exact numbers on this, but it's fairly obvious that, over the years, the ratings have inflated. When I started out in 1976 there were only three players rated over 2400 (Danny Seemiller, D-J Lee, and Gil Joon Park, with the latter two from South Korea); now there are 116, and this is only among USA players. There are more foreign players now listed as USA players than before, so this is part of the reason, but the bulk of these 2400+ players are just as much USA players as those back in the late 1970s. Dan Seemiller had just reached top 30 in the world with a rating just over 2500. Insook Bhushan (then Insook Na) had just come to the U.S. from South Korea, and was top ten in the world among women, but was rated only about 2250. These days top ten in the world among women would be about 2650. At one point I was 18th in the country among U.S. citizens with a 2292 rating; these days it wouldn't make the top 100. So yes, the ratings have inflated. (My impression, however, is that any inflation has decreased or stopped in recent years. For one thing, the highest rated USA players now are actually a bit lower than some from the previous generations, but that's offset by the fact that the previous generations had players with higher world rankings and deserved the higher ratings.)
But wait, some of you are thinking, hasn't the level of play improved, and that's why there are so many more higher-rated players these days? That modern players have improved is absolutely true - but that has no bearing on the ratings. As players on average improve, so do their opponents. Think of it this way. If everyone were to suddenly improve 100 rating points in level, there would be no effect on the ratings themselves since opponents would also be 100 points better. And so even though everyone's about 100 points better, the ratings themselves would stay the same.
The level of play has improved because of more training centers, more coaches, better equipment, and more advanced techniques. For example, backhand play these days is far stronger than it was when I started out. Players attack from closer to the table, making it harder to keep a rally going. And if I could have had some modern sponges back in the early 1980s, I (and most top players) would have caused some serious havoc.
The interesting question here is what has inflated faster, the rating system or the level of play? It's a tough call. I would say a 2000 player from the 1970s is more skilled than a 2000 player of today, but that doesn't mean he'd beat the 2000 player of today, who makes up for his lesser skill with more modern techniques and better equipment. (For this, I'm not going to worry about details like the larger ball, different serving rules, etc.) To use a simple example, I'm fairly certain that any modern 2300 player could go back in time to the 1940s with a sponge racket and be World Champion. The very best players from the 1940s were more skilled than a modern 2300 player, but the 2300 player would have modern sponge, looping, serves, etc. (To put it another way, at my peak, and with my sponge racket, I could have beaten the best players in the 1940s, but I don't think I was a more skilled player than the best hardbatters of that era. An interesting question is how long it would take the best players of that era to adjust?)
So why has the system inflated? Actually, the system would be a deflationary system except the adjustment factor is too high. The inflation comes from all the points pumped into the system from the adjustment factor, where any player who gains 51 or more points in a tournament is adjusted upwards. (There are no downward adjustments.)
If there were no adjustment factor, the system would be deflationary, and the average rating would be dropping. Why? Because the average player improves after his initial rating. Assuming no adjustment factor, let's say that the average first rating is 1200, and that the average player then improves to 1500. That means the player takes 300 rating points from others in the system. Result? Assuming the same number of players in the system, there are now 300 less points distributed among them, and so the average rating goes down - even though the average level of those players has stayed the same. This should be true of any rating system where there's a direct or indirect exchange of rating points.
Let's assume that the average player instead got worse on average. Then they'd be giving the system points, and so the system would be inflationary.
One distinction to make here is the difference between the ratings going down on average while the average level stays the same (a deflationary system), and one that goes down because there is a large influx of new players with lower levels. The addition of all these lower-rated players would lower the average rating, but deservedly so since the average level will have gone down. But among the established players, where the level has stayed the same, the ratings wouldn't change, and so the system isn't really deflationary, though the average rating has dropped.
"Can You Predict the Odds in a Match from their Ratings?" Revisited
Yesterday I blogged about the above. In it I showed why a rating system will always have more upsets at the lower levels than at the higher levels, even if statistically it appears that the odds should be the same at all levels. Here's an easy way of explaining this, using 100-point upsets as an example.
The most accurate rating system in the world is still going to have more 100-point upsets at the lower levels (and upsets in general) for the simple reason that no matter how accurate the rating is at the time the player last played, players at lower levels are more likely to have major improvements than players at higher levels. In other words, the ratings might be accurate at the time the players played, but they become inaccurate at lower levels more quickly than at higher levels.
Here's a simple example. Suppose you have a highly accurate rating system that accurately rates 20 players. Ten are accurately rated at 1000, and ten are accurately rated at 2500. The next time these 20 players play, the ten who were rated 1000 are more likely to have improved to 1100 than the ten players rated 2500 are to have improved to 2600, and so it's more likely the 1000-rated players are going to be beating 1100 players than the 2500-rated players beating 2600 players. Therefore, it is more likely that these 1000 rated players are going to pull off 100-point upsets than the 2500 players.
Here's still another way of looking at it. The odds of a 1000-level player beating an 1100-level player may be the same as the odds of a 2500-level player beating a 2600-level player, i.e. 1 in 6. The problem is that it's more likely that a player listed as 1000 is actually 1100 in level than a player listed as 2500 is actually 2600 in level.
Playing the Middle
Here's a new coaching article from Samson Dubina, "Are You in a Jam?"
Help Wanted - USATT CEO
Here's the job description and application info for CEO of USA Table Tennis. I read over the listing - that's a LOT of requirements!!! I'll probably blog about this tomorrow.
Review of the Nittaku Poly Ball
My review of the ball in my blog on Monday is now an ITTF featured article. (I did a few minor updates to the blog yesterday when they asked if they could use it.)
Follow Your Favorite Players on Facebook
Here's the article, with links to these player pages.
Lily Yip's China Trip Photo Album
Here's the photo album of Coach Lily Yip in China with Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari.
2014 U.S. Open Foreign Players
Here's a chart of the number of players attending from each country. Here's the U.S. Open Home Page. Here's the where you can see who is entered and who is entered in each event. There are 713 total entries.
Ping Pong Summer Openings
Here's a list of scheduled openings for the movie around the country, including Ocean City; Omaha; San Francisco; Phoenix; Miami; Louisville; Grand Rapids; Athens, GA; Goshen, IN; and Winston-Salem.
Table Tennis Camps for Veterans & Members of the Armed Forces with Disabilities
Table Tennis Nemesis
Here's the article about author Geoff Dyer and table tennis.
Promotional Video for Waldner & Appelgren's Club Sparvagen in Sweden
Here's the video (1:57).
Table Table Tennis
Here's the video (11 sec) - they are playing with two tables set a distance apart.
Earthly Table Tennis
This is what I call an out-of-this-world ping-pong table. I want one!!!
Send us your own coaching news!
Tip of the Week
MDTTC Summer Camps
Our ten weeks of MDTTC summer camps starts today, Mon-Fri every week, 10AM-6PM. It's going to be a busy summer. I'll miss two of the weeks, June 30-July 4 for the U.S. Open, and July 28-Aug. 1 for a writers workshop. I'm still doing my usual private coaching, plus this blog and Tip of the Week, and other writing, so it's going to be a hyper-busy summer. As usual.
Nittaku Poly Ball
Paddle Palace sent me one of the newly created Nittaku Poly balls, the 3-Star Nittaku Premium 40+, made in Japan. These are the plastic ones that will replace celluloid balls later this year. This ball is of special interest because it's likely the ball we'll be using at the USA Nationals in December, as well as many other USA tournaments. (There will also be a Nittaku SHA 40+ ball that is made in China, but it's likely the Premium from Japan that will be used at the Nationals.) The Premium balls will be available in the U.S. in late summer or September, though there might be some to try out at the U.S. Open.
Why is this important to you? Because it's likely these are the balls YOU will be using soon. Might as well learn about them and get used to them.
I tried the new ball out on Sunday morning at MDTTC, hitting with Raghu Nadmichettu, Derek Nie, Quandou Wang (Crystal Wang's dad), John Olsen, and Sutanit Tangyingyong. There was pretty much a consensus on it. Here are my findings, based on my play with it and comments from the others.
Paddle Palace also gave me what five-time U.S. Men's champion and 2-time Olympian Sean O'Neill wrote about the ball. Here's what he wrote:
The Nittaku Premium 40+. Two words - "Game Changer."
a) Really round, others have noticeable wobble
b) Different matt finish. I don't think these will get glassy with age
c) Spin doesn't dissipate. Really true flight paths.
d) Hard as a rock. No soft spots at all. Feels if the walls are thicker than other 40+
e) Sounds good, no hi pitched plastic sound
f) Texture very noticeable. This makes for truer bounce especially on spin shots
g) Durable. These things are gonna last big time.
Orioles Host Frank Caliendo and Han Xiao
When I heard that famed stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo was in town doing shows, and was interested in playing the Orioles, I contacted their press manager. And so it came about that on Saturday morning Frank (who's about 1800) and Han Xiao (former long-time USA Team member) visited the Orioles clubhouse on Saturday morning to play the Orioles. I wasn't there, and don't have pictures or video, but I'm told they played a lot with Darren O'Day (who I've coached a few times) and others, but they weren't sure of the names. Alas, the Orioles best TT player, JJ Hardy (also around 1800), wasn't available. There was a 10-15 second video of them playing on the Orioles pre-game show. (Here's the link to my blog last August when I visited and played the Orioles in their clubhouse, along with some of our top junior players.)
Non-Table Tennis: Speaking of the Orioles…
This weekend they featured another of my Top Ten Lists. Except this one had 12: Top Twelve Ways That Orioles Fans Can Help Out. This is the 20th article of mine that they've featured. (It contains some inside jokes; feel free to ask about them in the comments below.)
Samson Dubina Coaching Articles
He's put up several more coaching articles on his home page. These include articles on Boosting Your Attack, Returning No-Spin Serves, and How Ratings Can Mentally Fool You.
Why Are the Chinese So Strong?
Here's the article. Includes links to numerous videos.
Lily Zhang Wins Silver in Korea
Amy Wang and Michael Tran Winners at World Hopes Week
2014 U.S. Open Blog - A BIG THANK YOU!!!
Kagin Lee's Blog
USA Umpires Pass International Umpire Exams
Here's the story and pictures. Congrats to Ed Hogshead, Linda Leaf, and David Pech!
100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency
Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-three down, 77 to go!
Table Tennis Company Competitions in Washington DC
Here's the story. Golden Triangle is organizing the competitions between June 6 and Sept. 19.
Table Tennis Keeps Youth Out of the Streets
Here's the article and video (2:19).
Best of the Legends Tour
Here's the video (2:06), featuring Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jean-Michel Saive, and Jiang Jialiang.
Unbelievable Rally at the Korean Open
Here's the video (55 sec) of the point between Yu Ziyang of China and Romain Lorentz of France.
Table Tennis is So Simple
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Tip of the Week
If you work with top players, one of the things that quickly jumps out at you is that they are nearly all perfectionists. They developed their nearly perfect techniques because they weren't satisfied with anything less than perfection - and so they worked at it, year after year after year, until they got as close to it as it was humanly possible.
If you want to reach a decent level, you too should be a perfectionist when you practice. This doesn't mean everything has to be perfect; it means as close to perfect as can reasonably be done. The operative word here is "reasonably." If your goal is to be world champion, then your goal is true perfection in all your shots because if you aim for absolute perfection, you'll get a lot closer to it than if you aim lower. But for most people who are not striving to be world champion, "reasonably" is a flexible term. For example, most players do not have the foot speed to cover as much of the table with their forehands as many of the top world-class players. Trying to do so is an exercise in futility. So instead of trying to play a "perfect" game like Zhang Jike or Ma Long, you might settle for something more within your abilities - and yet you might still strive to have their stroking techniques.
Even the stroking techniques are subject to the "reasonably" guideline. For example, if you are primarily a blocker/hitter and have played that way for many years, you might find looping in a fast rally awkward to learn. So you might only want to loop against backspin - and if so, you might not want to copy the great counterlooping techniques of the top players, but instead develop a good old-fashioned loop against backspin only. (Which sometimes means a more concave up stroke, i.e. the path of the racket curves upward.) Or you could spend a lot of time developing that loop in a rally, if you so choose. It all depends on your physical abilities and how much time you can "reasonably" put toward this training.
It also sometimes comes down to whether you want to develop a technique for the sake of learning that technique, or whether you are focused strictly on winning. Many players want to play like the world-class players, style-wise, even if they might be better playing some other way. There's nothing wrong with that. Others are more focused on winning, and there's nothing wrong with that either - but here the key is the timetable, i.e. how long are you willing to focus on perfecting your game now so you can win later.
I started out as a shakehand inverted all-out forehand hitter my first few years. (I was a late starter, starting at age 16.) Looping was difficult for me at first, but I decided I wanted to play like the top players, and so I spent an inordinate amount of time practicing looping. Eventually I reached the point that I could play both looping or hitting, which became valuable tactically. It also made me a much better coach since I went through the same process as most up-and-coming players do as they learn to loop - only it's more in my memory as I went through this when I was around 19 or so. I've always thought that was an advantage I have in my coaching as I'm teaching things I learned around that age while other top coaches are teaching stuff they learned when they were perhaps eight years old, and so I have a better memory of the process.
100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF Presidency
Former USATT President Sheri Cioroslan (formerly Pittman) is doing a 100-day countdown daily article through the end of ITTF President Adham Sharara's tenure as president of the ITTF. As she explains it, "Over this 100-day period, I will share a series that features the past, present and future of the ITTF, with a particular emphasis on news and developments during the Sharara era." Here are the first three.
Winning Deuce Games
Here's the article by Samson Dubina.
Ariel Hsing Joins JinHua Bank Team for the 2014 China Super League
The Expert in a Year Challenge is Heading to Denmark
Here's the article, and info on the camp in Denmark.
Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better Than This!
Here's the video (52 sec) of this great point in the fifth game between Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Japan's Jun Mizutani in the Team Semifinals at the recent World Championships in Tokyo. Mizutani would go on to win the match, 11-8 in the fifth, but Germany would win the Team match 3-1 to advance to the final against China.
Ping Pong the Animation
There are now seven episodes in this table tennis cartoon. Here's where you can see all seven.
X-Men Table Tennis
There's a scene about midway into the movie where we meet the super-fast Quicksilver. How did they introduce us to him and his speed? By having him play table tennis by himself! Here's an animated gif of him playing as Hank/Beast, a young Charles Xavier (in background) and Wolverine look on.
Non-Table Tennis - Baltimore Science Fiction Convention
I spent Saturday at Balticon, where I was a panelist in three different one-hour panels. Here's a picture of me with my fellow panelists in one of them, with my two science fiction/fantasy books on display. You can't tell from this angle but there's a sizeable audience there. This panel was on "Favorite Science Fiction Authors." My other two panels were "Five Books for the Last Town on Earth" and "Titles Looking for Stories." (This latter involved audience members choosing titles, and each panelist coming up with a story synopsis on the spot.) (Here's my science fiction page.)
Send us your own coaching news!
Here's an interesting dynamic I've noticed over the years. Players who play the same players over and over at clubs, and only occasionally play at tournaments or at other clubs, rarely develop tricky serves that they can use when they do play in tournaments or against different players. Players who play lots of different players and compete in tournaments tend to develop tricky serves. Why is this?
It's all about feedback. If a player starts to develop tricky serves, his opponents will at first have trouble with them. But if he plays the same players all the time and rarely plays new ones, then the players he plays quickly get used to the tricky serves, and they stop being that effective. And so the feedback the player gets is that the serves aren't that effective, and he stops developing those serves and tries other ones. A player who regularly plays tournaments or other players gets more realistic feedback on the quality of those serves as his opponents aren't seeing them as regularly.
The same is true of other aspects of the game. For example, a player develops a nice backhand loop, his regular opponents might get used to it, and he'll stop using it as often - never realizing how much havoc the shot might create against players not used to it.
So if you want to really develop your game, seek out new players, either at your club, other clubs, or in tournaments, and see how they respond to your serves and other techniques. If your ultimate goal is to play well in tournaments (even if you only play in them occasionally), then you need this feedback to develop your game.
By the way, this strongly applies to me. When I used to play tournaments, most of my opponents had difficulty with my serves, especially some of my side-top serves that look like backspin. But in practice, most of the people I play are used to those serves, and I tend to serve more backspin and no-spin, which may set up my attack but rarely give me "free" points. If I went by what happened in practice, I'd be giving away a lot of free points in tournaments by not using those tricky side-top serves.
About.com Table Tennis Forum (RIP)
After something like fifteen years of operation, the about.com table tennis forum is closed. When you go there you get "Forum Closed" and "We are sorry, this forum is no longer in operation" notes. Nobody seems to know why, but presumably it was because there hasn't been a moderator for some time, and the powers that be (i.e. about.com) decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not a big forum poster (though I used to be), but I like to browse them and sometimes post things. I'll probably frequent the mytabletennis.com forum more often.
Learn to Play in the "Zone"
Here's the article by Samson Dubina. This is an important lesson I endlessly try to instill in students - let the subconscious take over when you play.
Expert in a Year
Here's the home page for Ben Larcombe's "Expert in a Year" challenge. He's trying to turn a beginning player into an expert in one year. Can he do it? They are eleven weeks in, with a weekly diary and lots of video.
Zhang Jike's Shoulder Injury
Here's the article. He had to withdraw from the Asia Cup. Fortunately, the injury is to his left shoulder (he's a righty), but this shows how important it is to use both sides of the body when playing - the left side pulls around just as much as the right side.
Table Tennis is Life
Here's the video (4:46).
Testing Timo Boll's Eyesight
Here's the article with a link to the video (8:02).
Planning Underway for Even Greater 2015 Cary Cup
Here's the article by Barbara Wei.
Cary Cup Final
Here's the video (39:03) of the final between Eugene Wang and Li Kewei this past weekend, with Li the chopper/looper defeating the top seeded Wang (who's won the last two Cary Cups and U.S. Opens) at 8,9,-7,12.
The Brain of a Table Tennis Player
Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.
Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point
Here's video (59 sec) of an incredible exhibition point between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.
Send us your own coaching news!
Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.
While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.
Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given. Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."
I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.
Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day. I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper. That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.
Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.
Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.
But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built. Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years. The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."
(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.)
Interview with Jim Butler
While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)
The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot
Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.
Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup
Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)
Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball
Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.
The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork
Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.
Wang Liqin Doing Multiball
Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.
Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)
Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal.
Attempt on World's Longest Rally
Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.
China Primary School Ping Pong Army
Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.
Crossword Puzzle Pong
Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)
Table Tennis Memes
Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!
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Want to Improve? Compete with a Junior!
Here's a little tip for those who want to improve. Every club has some up-and-coming junior who practices regularly and keeps getting better. Well, why not grab his coattails (even if you are currently better), and try to stay with him? It gives incentive and can lead to great improvement. Make a friendly rivalry out of it, perhaps practice with and play the kid regularly. As he improves, he'll push you to improve.
It may be counter-intuitive, but even if you are better, and practicing with the kid seems to help him more than you (and thereby make it "harder" to stay with him), it works both ways. His improvement will push you to higher levels, either to stay ahead or to stay with him. He probably plays faster than you; his speed will push you to rally and react at a faster pace. As he gets better, he'll push you to find new ways to win points, and suddenly you'll be thinking more about the aspects where you should have an advantage due to experience: serve, receive, heavy spins (topspin and backspin), placement, or just plain consistency. You'll have incentive to develop these aspects in ways you might not do against other players who are not improving so much. The more he adjusts to you and improves, the more you'll adjust to him and improve. And you can ride his improvement as long as you can, right up to a pretty high level. And if he does finally pull away, with you metaphorically kicking and screaming all the way as you try to stay with him, you'll both have improved dramatically, and will be able to point at this star in the future and say, "I was his practice partner." He may even remember you someday during his USATT Hall of Fame induction speech!
We had the second meeting of the new class yesterday. (Ten Mondays, 6:30-8:00 PM.) There are eleven in the class, ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties. We started with a forehand review and warm-up. I had most hit among themselves. Two players were complete beginners, so I put them with my assistant coach, John Hsu, who did mostly multiball with them.
Then I called everyone together and John and I did a backhand demo, and I lectured on the intricacies of the shot - foot stance, racket tip (sideways or 45 degrees), contact (flat or topspin), etc. Then they paired off for practice again (with the new players with John again). Later I called everyone together again to demo and explain down-the-line shots (on forehand, line up shoulders properly and take the ball later), and then they practiced down the line. Then I called them together again and did a review of serving with spin, which I taught last week. Then we went over service deception. (One key concept I explained is that even if you can't come close to doing it now, it's important to know what's possible so you can work toward it.) I went over the three main types of service deception - sheer spin, semi-circular motion, and spin/no-spin combos.
After serve practice we played a little game the last 5-7 minutes where we stacked ten paper cups in a pyramid, and everyone had ten shots (fed multiball) to see how many they could knock over. (We used two tables, so John and I both fed shots.)
Two players had missed last week session so I stayed 30 minutes afterwards to recap for them what had been covered the previous week - grip, ready stance, forehand, and serving with spin.
USATT Minutes and Reports
Lots of breaking news from USATT. Below are the minutes from the USATT's two-day board meeting at the USA Nationals and from their January teleconference, the news item on the new tournament sanctioning procedures (no more tournament protection, i.e. pure free market), and the 2014 budget. My last two blogs were mostly about an interview with the ITTF president and about the chair of the USATT board's report, so today I'm going to go back to blogging about the emphasis for this blog - coaching - and save my thoughts on the below for later.
Top Ten Shots at the 2014 Qatar Open
Here's the video (4:40).
Here it is! Anyone know who Kosto and Zik are?
Exhibition Tricks from Scott Preiss
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Not Going Against or With the Spin
When counterlooping, you'll notice how top players tend to counterloop with lots of sidespin. They rarely counterloop with straight topspin. To do so would mean contacting the ball directly on top of the ball, and going directly against the incoming topspin. The ball would then jump off the paddle, and it would be tricky keeping it on the table. Instead, they mostly contact the ball on the far side, which avoids taking on the incoming topspin directly while putting a sidespin that curves to the left (for a righty). Some do the opposite, and contact the ball on the near side, and the ball curves to the right, again avoiding taking on the incoming topspin directly. (This is a bit more difficult.)
Of course once they are into a counterlooping duel, the incoming counterloop usually has sidespin, and if you counterloop it back with sidespin (assuming both are contacting the ball on the far side), you are taking on the incoming sidespin directly. But that's not much of a problem because by doing so it becomes trickier controlling the sideways movement of the ball, just as taking on the topspin directly makes controlling the up-down movement of the ball more difficult. But you have a much wider margin for error with sideways movement; few players miss because they go too wide, while many miss by going off the end.
You actually get a bit more topspin when going directly against the incoming topspin, where the ball rebounds back with topspin, if you can control it. The same is true against an incoming loop with sidespin and topspin - if you go directly against the incoming spin and loop back with your own sidespin and topspin, you get a bit more spin overall. (And that is one reason why in counterlooping rallies both players continue to sidespin loop.) However, the difference here is minimal as players are often throwing themselves into each shot, thereby getting tremendous spins regardless of the incoming spin.
When the backhand banana flip, you face the opposite. (Side note - I call it a backhand banana flip for clarity, even though there is no corresponding forehand banana flip.) Against a heavy backspin ball, it's difficult to lift the ball with heavy topspin and keep it on the table. The table is in the way, and so you can't really backswing down as you would when doing a normal loop against a deeper backspin. The banana flip solves this problem by having the player spin the ball with both sidespin and topspin. Contact is more sideways, which makes lifting much easier as you are no longer going directly against the backspin. Intuitively this doesn't seem to make sense to a lot of people until they try it out, and discover how much easier it is to flip the ball, often with good pace as well as good spin (both topspin and sidespin).
Some players face the same thing when looping against deeper backspins - they have trouble lifting the ball. This is mostly a technique problem. However, some top players do sidespin loop against heavy backspin, which makes it easier to lift. Jan-Ove Waldner was notorious for this, often sidespin looping over and over against choppers until they gave him one to loop kill. But the difference here is that you have room to backswing, and so you can actually use the backspin to create your own topspin.
Sometimes you want to go against the spin. For example, when pushing it's easier to load up the backspin against an incoming heavy backspin as you can use that backspin to catapult the reverse spin back, giving you an extra heavy backspin. You get a lot more backspin when pushing against incoming backspin than you do against an incoming no-spin ball. And with a banana flip, against a topspin serve it's easy to go against the spin by contacting the ball nearly on top, using the incoming topspin to rebound off your racket to give you an extra heavy topspin.
Teaching How to Tell Time
Yesterday I made the mistake of teaching a 7-year-old how to tell time. He was used to digital, and had no idea what the various hands on the clock meant. So I taught him. He not only was fascinated by this, but the rest of the session he became a clock-watcher. He didn't completely get the idea, and kept running over to the clock and trying to figure out the time (usually getting it wrong). I tried to convince him that time slows down if you keep watching the clock, but to no avail. This was the second time I've made this mistake - I taught another kid the same age how to tell time sometime last year, with the same result. Never again!!!
New Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina
There are a number of new coaching articles up on the news section of his web page.
Juicing for Athletes
Here's a video (5:28) about table tennis coach and cyclist Brian Pace's new book, Juicing for Athletes.
ITTF Monthly Pongcast - January 2014
Here's the video (12:33).
ITTF Approves First Poly Ball
They also now mark all approved balls as either celluloid or plastic. Here's the listing: see item #49 (you'll have to go to page 2). The approved Xushaofa ball is the same one I tested and blogged about on Dec. 26. (See second segment.)
Ma Long Endorses New Plastic Ball
Prince Plays Table Tennis on New Girl
Here's the video (45 sec) of Prince on the TV show New Girl, which includes a segment where he plays table tennis.
Here's an ad (32 sec) for Sony TV that features Justin Timberlake (on right) and Peyton Manning playing table tennis.
A (Ping-Pong) Table for Two?
Non-Table Tennis: My Thoughts and Ranking of the Academy Award Nominated Movies
I've now seen all nine movies nominated for Best Picture for the Academy Awards. Here's my personal ranking and short analysis of each. Note that all nine were good, so finishing last here merely makes the picture one of the best of the year. I'm pretty sure my #1 will win best picture.
- 12 Years a Slave: Will and should win Best Picture. Brought something new to the screen: slavery as seen by someone who, like us, learns about it as he experiences it. Pretty brutal movie.
- Gravity: Also brought something new to the screen: the experience of being in space. One of the few movies you really should see in 3-D. It reminded me of Jurassic Park. Both are examples of "special effects movies" that also have good stories and good acting. Along with "American Hustle," has a chance to challenge "12 Years a Slave" for best picture.
- Captain Phillips: Great performance by Tom Hanks, great drama. Rather than demonize the bad guys, shows it from their point of view as well so you see why they did what they did.
- Philomena: Surprisingly good. I went in thinking this would be a somewhat boring movie, but it got better and better as it went along. When I see old pictures of people I almost immediately wonder what happened to them, and so this movie was almost an extension of that as the main character tries to find out what happened to her long-lost son. It got even more interesting when we find out what happened to him, and she tries to learn more about him.
- Nebraska: Interesting movie, but pretty grim, despite the intermittent humor. I kept hoping I don't end up like that when I'm old. I kept wondering how in heck could they end this movie effectively, and they found a way. (Though I found it a bit convenient that the bullying character just happened to walk out of the bar at just the right time.)
- The Wolf of Wall Street: Fun movie. We all know about the extravagances of Wall Street, so it didn't really add to that. A little long for the story.
- Dallas Buyers Club: This was a tough one to rank. Ultimately it came out toward the bottom because I could never like the main character. He started out as a ridiculous redneck character because he was surrounded by ridiculous redneck characters. Then he changes because he's now around new types of people, and begins to take on their traits. So he's basically just becoming whoever is around him. Not much of a thinker.
- Her: A bit long and slow at times. Nice concept.
- American Hustle: Entertaining, but didn't have the substance of some of the others. Surprisingly, this is the main challenger to "12 Years a Slave" for best picture, and it has a chance.
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I'm going to take today and tomorrow off - after all, today's Christmas Eve! More importantly, I'm still on west coast time (from the Nationals in Vegas), and when I tried to get up early this morning to do the blog, I was rewarded with a morning headache. So I'll return on a daily Mon-Fri basis on Thursday, Dec. 26 (day one of our Christmas Camp), where I'll blog about the hidden serve problems we had at the Nationals, including a mind-boggling argument over the definition of "satisfied," since the serving rules state, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that s/he complies with the requirements of the law." (When two referees tried to redefine what it meant, I Princess Brideian told them, "I don't think that word means what you think it means." I finally wrote out the definition for them from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.) To tide you over until then, here's Samson Dubina's new website, which has a number of coaching articles, so why not go explore that? (Samson, a full-time coach in Ohio, won Over 30 at the USA Nationals and is a former Men's Singles Finalist at the Nationals.) Now I'm going to take a few Bayer Aspirins and go back to bed.