Top Ten New Table Tennis Rules I'd Like to See
Some serious, some not so serious. You judge which.
Wang Liqin: Ma Lin was a Headache
Here's the article - and no, he's not insulting him, he's talking about what it was like playing him.
Why B2B Marketers Need a Ping-Pong Plan
Here's the article, which includes a nice cats-playing-TT picture.
Drilling with a Robot
Here's a video (29 sec) showing one of the zillions of possible drills with a robot. Most of the major table tennis dealers now sell these advanced robots, but they are more expensive than the less expensive ones, which primarily hit either to one spot or randomly all over the table.
Bay Areas Trying Out for USA National Team
Here's a video (75 sec) that features the players from the SF bay area that are trying out for team at the Trials at Texas Wesleyan University, Fri-Sun, March 7-9.
A Little School Table Tennis
Here's a video (54 sec) of Adam Bobrow hitting with kids at a school. At 34 sec in he can't resist throwing in a high, sidespinning-backspinning lob.
Playing Table Tennis on Drugs!
Here's a hilarious new video (102 sec) where Australians take on Americans in "the most epic table tennis duel in history!!" (It gets really good about 17 seconds in.)
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USATT President's Blog
Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's new blog on "Changes for 2014." It's mostly good stuff. Many of the items he writes about we can't really judge until we know more about the programs, and see if they will actually be implemented. USATT historically doesn't have a high batting average in that regard. Here are my short comments on each.
Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in USA
There are two coming up, a Level 1 Course in Akron, OH (July 28-Aug. 1) and a Level 2 Course in Austin, TX (Aug. 25-30). For more info, see the USATT Coaching Courses Page.
2016 Olympic Rio Qualification System
Here are the rules for qualifying.
2014 Friendship Trophy
This is part of the ITTF's Women's Development Program, where they encourage you to "… find a way to celebrate women and girls in Table Tennis."
Chinese Retirement Ceremony
Here's an article with a link to a video trailer (4:49) where retiring Chinese team members give messages to their teammates (in Chinese, alas).
Mike Meier to Umpire at Worlds
Amazing Table Tennis Serves
Here's a video (4:03) where a player demonstrates his tricky spinny serves. I think the commentary is in Chinese. Note that the serve where the ball bounces back into the net is more for show, and is easy to return; in a real match, it's better to serve the ball so second bounce is near the end-line.
Orioles' David Lough and Table Tennis
Here's an interview with new Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough. See third item:
Hidden talent: I thought I was good at ping-pong until I saw some of these other guys playing in here. [Laughs]. I don't have anything else cool, I'm boring.
Adam Bobrow on Table Tennis, Comedy, Excessive Celebrations
Qatar Open's 20th Birthday
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Yesterday's Coaching Events
Had a lot of interesting things happen yesterday - here's a rundown!
Blue Whales at the MDTTC
Recently we've started an afterschool program where I pick up some of our students from their schools and take them to the club. Yesterday I picked up a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. What follows is a rough synopsis of the conversation, mostly with the 7-year-old. Be forewarned - it gets silly, and if you're not in a silly mood, skip ahead or it'll ruin your non-silliness by making you laugh. (And there's plenty of other table tennis stuff afterwards.)
Me: "I'm going to drive the car up the Washington Monument, which is 555 feet tall, and drive off the top."
7-year-old: "No, don't do it! We'll all die! And the police will arrest you!"
Me: "I'll drive off the top so fast we'll land in the Atlantic Ocean and get swallowed by a blue whale."
7-year-old: "You won't make it to the Washington Monument because the police will stop you with their bazookas!"
Me: "They'd arrest me for driving off the top of the Washington Monument?"
Me: "But then they'd have to wait until I'd actually driven off the Washington Monument before they could arrest me for driving off the Washington Monument. Then they'd only have three seconds to do so. Besides, the hungry blue whale will stop them from arresting us."
7-year-old: "Blue whales don't eat people, they eat plankton!"
Me: "Ah, I see you know your whales. But this is a special man-eating whale that's realized that in one bite, it can save hours of scouring the ocean for plankton."
7-year-old: "The police will kill the blue whale with their bazookas!"
Me: "No way. In a fight between a 100-foot blue whale weighing 200 tons, and a few puny humans with bazookas, the blue whale would win."
7-year-old: "Not if I bring in the army!"
Me: "If you bring in the army, I'll bring in a gang of octopuses with machine guns. And I think the plural of octopus is octopi."
7-year-old: "Then I'll bring in all the rest of the animals in the world!"
Me: "Then I'll bring in blood-sucking vampire cheetahs, since you missed them since they are dead."
7-year-old: "I'll bring in tanks!"
Me: "I'll bring in super-plankton, this little plankton that's been lifting weights and beating up blue whales everywhere! He's small but deadly."
7-year-old: "I'll eat your plankton!"
Me: "I'll bring in the planet Mars, and smash your policemen, armies, animals, and tanks."
7-year-old: "I'll smash your Mars with Jupiter!"
10-year-old, joining in for first time: "I'll smash Mars and Jupiter with my Jupiter-sized fists, which are made of rock."
Me: "Okay, now I'm scared."
[We arrive at club.]
Me: "But this raises the age-old question: How many blue whales could we fit in the Maryland Table Tennis Center?"
7-year-old: "None, they're too big."
Me: "I think we could fit four across the floor, and stack four more on top, so we could fit eight of them."
7-year-old: "How are you going to get them into the club? You can't carry eight blue whales!"
Me: "I'll toss them over my shoulder, one by one, of course."
10-year-old: "I'll smash your blue whales with my giant fists."
7-year-old: "But blue whales won't fit in the club!"
Me: "Let's find out."
And so I paced off the club, and got its dimensions: 77' wide and 126' long. By measuring the size of the panels on one wall that went up to the ceiling, I calculated the height at 18 feet. (Technically, we have two bathrooms sticking out of one wall, which reduce the volume, but we also have a back room of about the same size.)
Now according to my Internet research, an adult blue whale is roughly 100 feet long, and (when lying out of water on dry land) about 10 feet tall and 25 feet wide at its widest. The 10 feet tall thing is problematic since that would make it difficult to stack them since the ceilings are 18 feet high, but I'm going to assume we can squeeze them down a bit more and stack them two high - but this would make them wider, perhaps 30 feet wide. Since the club is 77 feet wide, we would be able to fit two side by side, and two on top of that. Then we'd have 17 feet left on the side. We should be able to squeeze one more in there. But the club is 126 feet long, so we have an area 26 feet by 77 feet left over. Taking into account that the whales don't take up as much space with their flukes, and being careful to load them into the club fluke first, we should be able to jam in one more blue whale, left to right, if we fold its flukes back over. So that makes us a six blue whale club.
Here's another way of looking at this. A blue whale's density is pretty close to water. A blue whale can weigh up to 200 tons, let's assume we have a very large one at 200 tons. Now if MDTTC's dimensions are 77x126x18, then it has a volume of 174,636 square feet. A square foot of water weighs about 62.4 pounds. So MDTTC could hold up to 10,897,286 pounds of water, or about 5448 tons, which equates to 27.24 blue whales at 200 tons each. Suddenly I'm realizing that my blue whale packaging above wasn't very efficient. So now we're a 27 blue whale club, assuming we can fold and perhaps cut up the whales to make them fit. The key question - will they pay membership?
Balancing Training of Strengths and Weaknesses
Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.
The Laughmaster of Ping-Pong - Adam Bobrow
Here's an article on this entertaining player, "The Laughmaster Of Ping-Pong, Adam Bobrow Combines Comedy And Table Tennis And Tours The World In Leopard Print," which includes a link to a video (4:08) that compiles some of his adventures.
Liu Shiwen Criticized by Liu Guoliang
Here's the article, which includes a link to a video (18:06).
Top Ten Table Tennis Points of 2013
Here's the video (3:37).
Top Ten Shots of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals
Here's the video (4:24) from the ITTF.
Eager Thief Tries to Gift Wrap Table Tennis Table
Here's the article! (Alas, it links to a video that is no longer available, which I saw last night, with video footage of the hapless criminal actually trying to wrap the table.)
Cat Smacking in Forehands
Here's the latest cat-playing-table-tennis video (27 sec) starring an acrobatic cat with a world-class forehand, I mean forepaw.
Will Ferrell Playing Table Tennis
Here's the picture, where he demonstrates his unique penhold grip - while wearing white with a white ball, the cheater.
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I'll be away the next five days, Wednesday to late Sunday night (Jan. 8-12), going to my nephew's wedding and family gathering in New Orleans. So no blog until next Tuesday. (I'll also put the Tip of the Week up on Tuesday.) At that point things get exciting - USATT Historian Tim Boggan moves in with me on Monday, and we begin the grueling two-week task of doing the photo work and layouts for Volume 14 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis, as I've done with the previous volumes.
USATT Election Results
I don't like to harp on ratings, but a record's a record. Here are two new ratings records, by Crystal Wang and Klaus Wood, both from my club, MDTTC. (However, as noted below, Klaus has spent most of the last four years in Taiwan.)
Just as she did as a 9-year-old (with a 2150 ratings) and a 10-year-old (with a 2355 rating), Crystal Wang just set the all-time record for highest rating for an 11-year-old, boys or girls, with a 2402 rating after the North American Teams. Alas, it didn't last - at the USA Nationals, where she became the youngest ever to win Under 22 Women (beating in the semifinals soon-to-be three-time USA Women's Singles Champion Ariel Hsing), she sort of imploded in Under 18 Girls' Singles with several huge rating losses, and so came out at 2304. Suffice to say that few who play her think of her as "only" 2304.
Did she deserve the 2402 rating? You decide. (And remember that she beat the 2511 Ariel Hsing three weeks later at the Nationals!)
Wins: 2359, 2356, 2348, 2345, 2315, 2305, 2304, 2289, 2277, 2276, 2262, 2247, 2134, 2059, 2012.
Losses: 2781, 2542, 2394, 2325, 2305.
Crystal has been chasing after Kanak Jha's records for the last few years. Kanak, 13, set the record for highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and now 13-year-old in history, with Crystal breaking the first three. (Kanak's highest ratings at age 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 were 2017, 2265, 2366, 2468, and 2635. This last one especially is going to be tough for anyone to top! Note - I'm not absolutely certain Kanak's 2017 rating at age 9 was the record, but I think it was.) The two are leading a huge surge in elite cadet players in the U.S., which is stronger than it's ever been. Just for the record, both Crystal and Kanak are U.S.-born citizens. I had a listing of Kanak's highest ratings at each age, and now I can't find it, alas - but I know his highest as an 11-year-old was somewhere in the 2350 range, which is still incredible.
At the USA Nationals, Klaus Wood, 12, went from 637 to 1747, a gain of 1110 points, which I believe might be a record. If anyone's gained that many in a tournament, let me know. At worse, it's probably a record for the Nationals. The amazing thing is that's way, way too low for him. Just look at his results - he beat players rated 2261, 2068, 1906, and 1892, and his worst loss was to a 2132 player in five games! He's really 2100+. But his 637 rating was from 2009. Here's his story: he started out as a 9-year-old at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in 2009 (my club), and played five tournaments that year, getting that 637 rating. Apparently I coached him a number of times that year in group sessions. Then his father got a job in Taiwan, and so he moved there and spent the last four years there training. (He's half Chinese.) He came back to Maryland for a time this summer and attended two of our camps. Then he attended the USA Nationals. He's back in Taiwan again, but he's supposed to return to Maryland permanently later this year. We look forward to having him back.
Full-Time Table Tennis Centers
I've added two new clubs to the list I maintain of full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.; there are now 67 on my list. The new ones are the Zaman TTC in Westminster, CA, and the Washington TTC in Gaithersburg, MD. Let me know if there are any I've missed. I'm sure there are a few out there that I don't know about. One rule - the club needs a web page in order to be listed.
There are full-time centers in 23 states. The leaders are California with 20 and New York with 12. After that it drops down to four in Maryland and Texas, and three in Georgia and Oregon, and two in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. States without a full-time center (in order of population) are MI, TN, MO, WI, CO, AL, SC, LA, KY, OK, CT, IA, MS, AR, KS, NE, WV, ID, HI, ME, NH, MT, DE, SD, AK, ND, VT, AND WY.
I was curious as to how they match up if you divide the state's population by the number of centers, and here's what I found, with number of full-time centers in parenthesis.
Population Per Full-Time Center in Millions
- RI (01): 1.1
- OR (03): 1.3
- MD (04): 1.5
- NY (12): 1.6
- CA (20): 1.9
- NM (01): 2.1
- NV (01): 2.8
- UT (01): 2.9
- GA (03): 3.3
- MA (02): 3.4
- NJ (02): 4.9
- MN (01): 5.4
- WI (01): 5.7
- PA (02): 6.4
- IL (02): 6.5
- IN (01): 6.57
- TX (04): 6.61
- AZ (01): 6.63
- WA (01): 7.0
- VA (01): 8.3
- NC (01): 9.8
- OH (01): 11.6
- FL (01): 19.5
Expert Table Tennis
Here's a growing step-by-step guide to playing table tennis. Not all the segments are complete, but it's halfway - nine articles done, nine to go!
Around the Net Winner
Here's video (41 sec) of Adam Bobrow winning a match in Vietnam with a spectacular around-the-net backhand counter-smash winner.
Imitating the Stars
Here's a funny video (1:56) of someone imitating four top Chinese players. See if you can identify which is which! If you're stumped, the comments below it identify them. (Anyone who doesn't recognize the first hasn't been paying attention!)
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Hidden Serves at the Nationals
There were a lot of problems with hidden serves at the USA Nationals. For example, in the Men's Singles Semifinals, David Zhuang was faulted several times for this, and I commend the umpire for this. He often pulls his free arm out of the way immediately, as you are supposed to, but then brings it back just before contact to hide the ball. And yet, even there he got away with a few hidden ones. For example, see the service winner at 8-9 in the second, where he ties it up and goes on to win that game, though he'd go on to lose the match to Cory Eider. (Link should take you to 2:43:42 in the video.) Can't quite tell from the video? Here's a freeze frame image.
But it was also happening in junior events, in particular by one player in the mini-cadets (under 13). There were several matches where the player's opponent, coaches, parents, and spectators bitterly protested, but the umpires didn't enforce the rule, leading to often comical mishits on the receive. In one match, the player hiding the serve won at 5,3,4. Later the two played again, and this time a different umpire enforced the rule, faulting the illegal server several times in the first game - and this time the other player won.
Because I was worried the players I coach would play someone who was hiding their serves, I complained to the deputy referee, who was the acting referee at the time. I know how difficult it is to umpire - I've umpired hundreds of tournament matches and was once a regional umpire - but the rules do say, "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." (Bold is mine.) Like it or not, that's a pretty specific statement, and means that if the umpire isn't sure whether the serve is hidden or not, he cannot possibly be "satisfied" that the serve complies with the requirements of the law, and has to warn or fault the player. And if a player is hiding a serve, there's no way the umpire can say that he's satisfied that the serve is not being hidden, though of course he might not be sure - in other words, not "satisfied."
To my astonishment, the deputy referee insisted that "satisfied" meant only that the player probably served legally, or several other similar vague definitions. When I pointed out that "satisfied" meant "believe something to be true," both he and another referee/umpire argued vigorously with me, saying I was wrong. However, as the Merriam-Webster definition shows clearly, I was 100% right. The pertinent definition is "to cause (someone) to believe something is true."
You cannot say you are not sure if the serve is hidden and simultaneously say that you believe the serve is not hidden; that's a direct contradiction. And yet, a number of umpires seemed to believe they could! Sorry, but you can't have both ways. But this was the argument made by the deputy referee and a number of others.
My opinion? It's a combination of convenience and group think. It's not an easy rule to enforce since most enforcement of it isn't saying the serve is illegal, but saying the umpire couldn't tell if the serve was visible. And so it's much easier to fall for the group think where satisfied means something other than what it really means. As I wrote yesterday, I Princess Brideian finally told them, "I don't think that word means what you think it means." I then wrote out the exact definition from Merriam-Webster, but I don't think it swayed them. Alas.
Things actually got worse after this. I was told there was a video of the player in question serving illegally. The deputry referee refused to look at it. I asked why not. He said, and this is a direct quote, "Because we don't." I point out that was not a reason not to look, and asked three more times, but he would only say the exact same words: "Because we don't." I pointed out that the referees and umpires of every major sport - baseball, basketball, football, etc. - look at video to improve their officiating, but he still refused, and only got angry about my repeated requests for an actual reason. I argued that since it is the responsibility of the referee to make sure that the rules are enforced, how could he not look at a video to see if a player was not following the rules, and then look for a way to make sure they were enforced, i.e. by instructing the umpire to follow the rules? But he refused to even consider looking at a video or watching a match of the player in question. It was like Galileo arguing with church officials to look through his telescope.
So we're stuck with many referees and umpires who will not enforce the rules, and worse, will not even look at evidence that rules are being broken. There's no easy way to say this, so I'll say it like it is; they are allowing players to win by cheating.
I'm told that at the international level, the umpires are far stricter in junior events, and that hidden serves are faulted - and so some of our up-and-coming juniors may face a shock when they go overseas. However, at the same time, they are lax in international men's and women's events, and so the top men and women often do get away with hiding their serves. It's not a good situation. What do you tell the players to do? If an opponent is hiding his serve and the umpire allows it, then I guess you have no choice but to do so yourself. But it gets trickier - how can a player learn to return such serves unless his practice partners also hide their serves? And so we're stuck with a choice between training all year long and losing to players who are allowed to cheat, or teaching our players to cheat so they can compete.
I'd like the referees and umpires who do not enforce these rules to do three things.
The irony is that since the service rule isn't always enforced, many players who do not hide their serve are lax some of the rules. For example, a player I coach got faulted three times at the Nationals because he didn't pull his free arm away as soon as the ball had been projected when doing high-toss serves. He wasn't hiding the serve; he was actually pulling his arm out while the ball was still above his head, but in the umpire's judgment, he hadn't pulled it out quickly enough, and so got faulted. As long as all the umpires are instructed to enforce the rules this strictly, I don't see a problem. Pulling the arm out of the way immediately isn't hard, and no one hides the ball unintentionally; it takes practice to do so.
My Tip of the Week on Monday was inspired by these hidden serves: Returning Hidden and Other Tricky Spin Serves. Some players are better at reacting to hidden serves than others, and often this is simply a matter of how quickly they take the ball off the bounce. For example, the player I mentioned above who lost at 5,3,4 tends to take the ball very quickly off the bounce, and so when caught off guard by a hidden serve was unable to react as quickly as a player who habitually takes the ball later.
I've always said there are three main ways to hide the serve so that the umpire might not call it. Well, at the Nationals I learned there is a fourth way. Sorry, I'm not going to post a tutorial on these four ways to cheat or how to do them!
Seamless Plastic Poly Ball
[I blogged Monday about the USA Nationals, and buried in it all was a segment about the new seamless plastic poly balls. It was easy to miss, and really deserved a segment on its own, so here it is again.]
A month ago I had ordered a packet of the new poly balls, the non-celluloid seamless plastic ones. As I blogged previously, they weren't really acceptable. However, Kagin Lee had several of a newer version (Xu Shaofa balls, also seamless) and he let me and others try them out. Verdict? These ones are usable, and only subtly different from a regular celluloid ball. Even the cracked sound is almost gone. I had several of our junior players try them, and they also said they were usable. One had said of the earlier version, "Unacceptable but fun to use," but these passed both his and my test for usability. So I think this problem has been solved.
NOTE added later: I also compared the ball to a Nittaku 3-star, and found them the same size, unlike the previous poly balls I'd tested, which had been slightly larger. I also bounced them side by side, and found the new poly ball had the same bounce as the Nittaku, as compared to the previous version which was faster, i.e. bounced higher. Because of ongoing arm problems, I couldn't loop with any power and so relied on others to judge how they looped, though they looked pretty much like any other looped ball.
During the USA Nationals last week I found myself coaching against players from the Alameda Table Tennis Club in California. Afterwards I met coach Pieke Franssen (from the Netherlands), and discovered my blog was responsible for his being there at Nationals with them. Below is an email he sent me afterwards.
We met some days ago in Las Vegas. I told you that you and your blog were the reason why I am in the States right now. I saw your post about a northern Californian table tennis club looking for a full-time coach. Then I wrote to them and I came over for a visit to see the club and meet their players. I like it a lot now here and want to return to Alameda to coach if we can arrange the visa. I send you my resume, so you know a little bit more about my background. I hope we will meet in the future again. Best of luck with your center!
Best regards, Pieke Franssen
Chinese Team's Military Training
Here's an article where Ma Long talks about it.
Top Five Angry Players in Table Tennis
Here's the video (5:14).
Under 1200 Final at USA Nationals
Here's the video of the last few points (3:20) - go to 2:53 to see the celebration of all celebrations!
Twas the Night Before Vegas
Here's Adam Bobrow's poem, with great apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.
Merry Christmas from Junior Stars from Around the World
Here's the video (56 sec).
Santa Claus Plays Table Tennis
Send us your own coaching news!
Because of my arm problems (see below), I only gave one lesson yesterday, and it was an all-multiball session. The 12-year-old player (hi Sameer!) has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays. This leads to some awkward strokes. At first glance some would say he needs to loop more forward, or use less arm, or something similar, but that would be treating the symptoms. The problem was how straight he tends to stay, with his feet too close together. So much of the session was focused on not just staying down, but on keeping the feet wider. This gives extra stability and power. The results were good - his looping form was perhaps the best ever. It also helped when he took the ball a little later so he wouldn't be rushed. As he gets used to the wider stance he'll get quicker with it, along with the increase in stability and power. (Stability increases both the consistency as well as the recovery from the previous shot.)
This is true for most players. Watch videos of the top players and see how wide their stance is when they play. It does take some leg muscle, but not as much as you'd think; it's more a habit you have to develop. Once you get in the habit, I think it's actually less tiring as the extra stability means you aren't tiring yourself recovering from shots over and over.
Here's a video (5:37) of the Chinese team training earlier this year before the Worlds. Watch the very first drill sequence, and see how wide the players keep their feet - both the player moving and the one blocking. A few key things about a wider stance: feet should point slightly outward. Knees should be bent. Body should be bent slightly forward at the waist.
I spent some time this past weekend watching some of our top juniors train, especially Nathan Hsu and Derek Nie, whom I'll be coaching at the Nationals. Their stances were plenty wide, but the interesting thing they and our other top juniors all pretty much do is keep their feet mostly parallel to the end-line even on forehands, as they've been trained to do. In the past it was standard to have the right foot back some when playing forehands (for righties), and that's still how beginners are taught. But as players advance, more and more they keep the feet parallel, and rely on the wide stance (for stability and power) and flexible hips and waist to rotate around for most forehand shots. This has several advantages: it means they are equally ready to play forehand or backhand; it makes it easier to loop forehands close to the table; and it makes it easier to rotate the hips and body into the shot. They do bring the right foot back for some shots, but mostly when they have extra time. They also bring it back of course when stepping around the backhand corner, but not as much as players in the past.
As expected, I had to cancel my three hours of private coaching scheduled today (Wednesday). The arm is still very sore, though I hope it'll be okay by the weekend. Other than a one-hour class I teach on Thursday (where I'll only feed multiball) I've cancelled everything until Saturday. The good news is two of the kids I normally coach today have made arrangements to meet to practice and play matches.
60 Full-time Table Tennis Clubs in the U.S.
I just added the King Pong TTC from NYC to the list of full-time table tennis clubs in the U.S. Let me know if there are any I missed! How did I find out about them? From this article in the Tribeca Citizen, "Our Friendly Neighborhood Ping Pong Parlor."
The Most Common Mistakes Made by Beginners
Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.
ITTF on Waldner and Waldner Stamp
Here's the ITTF article on Waldner and the new Waldner Chinese stamp.
Synagogue Welcomes Government Workers to Ping-Pong
With the government closed, this Synagogue is attracting "government refuges" for ping-pong and West Wing reruns. Here's the article.
Adam Bobrow Takes on San Francisco Mayor
Here's a video (17 sec) of Adam Bobrow and a partner (jumpy guy in striped shirt) he apparently chose at random from the crowd taking on San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and 11-year-old William Bai (rated 1970) in a doubles match.
Send us your own coaching news!
Walter Wintermute Visit
Coach and player Walter Wintermute from North Carolina visited MDTTC last night. He'd emailed in advance, saying he would be in town for a business trip, and wanted to observe our coaching. So he watched while I ran a one-hour session with five beginning junior players. Then he watched some of our top juniors in training (Crystal Wang, Derek Nie, Nathan Hsu, others), and played a practice match with another local top junior (Josh Tran). Then we talked table tennis coaching for half an hour. He's been coaching more and more and wanted to see how we did it. So I went over the various techniques used for coaching juniors, as well as how we ran the sessions, the games we played at the end, etc.
Walter and I go way back. In early 1977, when I was 17 and had been playing about a year, I was rated 1480; he was rated just a few points lower and was two years younger. We played in three finals in a tournament in Virginia - I believe it was Under 1500, Under 1600, and Under 1700. He won two of them, alas. Later that year we would both shoot up in ratings to 1900. Two years later, in 1979, I would move to North Carolina for two years, where I would play Walter regularly on weekends and at the monthly tournaments.
The last two years his son, David, 15, has been coming to our camps. He has an unearthly resemblance to his dad from 35 or so years ago, so it's sort of nostalgic when I work with him.
Sometimes a student surprises you. Yesterday I was coaching an older player, one of the few non-juniors I'm coaching . He had some major technique problems with his forehand, and we'd been working for a few weeks on fixing them. His backhand, however, was pretty good. His overall level was about 1200 or so. I decided it was time to start him on looping. I figured we'd start with the backhand loop against backspin and spend a few weeks on that before moving on to the forehand loop, where I figured we'd have some problems.
So I went over the backhand loop stroke with him, making sure he had the technique down before actually hitting anything. Then I began feeding him multiball to his backhand with backspin. And he picked it up immediately! I was pleasantly surprised, but not shocked as he did have a pretty good backhand. We worked on it for perhaps 8-10 minutes, and I told him he should make that a strength.
Then, with about 15 minutes left in the session, I asked if he wanted to focus on serves the rest of the way or start work on the forehand loop. He wanted to try looping. So, weeks ahead of schedule, I went over the forehand loop with him, again making sure he had the technique down before hitting anything. Then I began fed him multiball. The very first shot - wham, a perfect loop! Okay, not perfect; he tended to stroke from the shoulder, and hit inside-out. But it looked like one of Timo Boll's patented inside-out forehand loops! We worked on it for ten minutes, and he did the shot over and over, no problem. I was severely impressed. We're going to continue working on these shots so that he can serve and loop from both wings against any push return. And then - dare I say it? - looping out of the rally? Or even counterlooping???
Message from Saive
Here's a video interview (7:19) from Belgium superstar Jean-Michel Saive, former world #1. He talks about his beginning, coaches, the importance of talent, and family.
Ellen Degeneres Surprises Tour Group with Private Ping Pong Tour
Here's the story and video (4:59) from Table Tennis Nation.
Adam Hugh's Second Entry
Yesterday I linked to Adam Hugh's entry to the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. He has a second entry (1:17). He wrote of this one, "This is my 2nd submission. Actually it was the first one I recorded and was originally intended to be a test for the camera but I figured what the heck." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.
Adam Bobrow's 40-Shot Dialog Rally
Here's the video (60 sec) as he lobs away. (Spoilers ahead!) The smasher (Sherwin Afshar) yells something like "Foo-aw!" over and over, and Adam does it right back. Then the dialog begins: "Die!" "No." "Die!" "Not yet." "Die!" "Why?" It all ends with - you guessed it - an edge ball.
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Due to massive spamming attacks, I've been forced to switch to requiring administrator approval for new accounts. Yesterday I had to block over 50 new accounts, each of which was posting spamming notes all over the comments section on my blog and the forum, which I also had to delete. (Fortunately I can generally delete all postings by a spammer with a few clicks - but it does take time.) So starting last night, new visitors can create accounts but administrator approval is required. It seems to be working - since last night 18 more accounts were created, but only two legit. (On a related note, anyone who has to constantly waste time battling these spammers believes in the death penalty.)
Table Tennis Leagues in the U.S.
Last night I had a debate on the MyTableTennis forum on the future of leagues in the U.S., and whether a nationwide network of local leagues is possible. Here's where I join the discussion. I ended up posting thirteen notes. (You can also read the previous postings of course.) I was thinking of copying and pasting the entire discussion here, but I'll just post my first note, and link to the rest. There's some lively discussion, so if you have any interest in leagues or the growth of table tennis in the U.S., I hope you read the rest of it.
The goal of a nationwide network of local leagues isn't to set up leagues for currently existing clubs. The purpose is to use the leagues spur the creation of new clubs and players. This is how it was done in places all over the world, including Europe. Germany didn't start with 11,000 clubs and 700,000 and then decide to set up leagues; the leagues are what spurred the development of these 11,000 clubs and 700,000 players. The whole point is to set up local leagues, so nobody needs to drive hundreds of miles. [Note: I'm responding to a note that said leagues wouldn't work in the U.S. because players might have to drive hundreds of miles to get to the next local club.]
I remember when we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center many years ago. Over and over we were told there weren't enough players to support a full-time table tennis center devoted to coaching, and that there was no way players would pay enough hours for coaching to make it pay for itself. They missed the point - we weren't going after current players, we were going after NEW players. Now we have seven full-time coaches and over 300 hours of private coaching per week (plus group sessions), and full-time clubs with full-time coaches are popping up all over the country (about 60 of them now, compared to about 10 just seven years ago). Similarly, the purpose of a nationwide network of local leagues would be to bring in new players and new clubs, not just for existing ones.
It will not an easy task, and it probably does need to start in populated regions. If there are local organizers, as tennis does in the U.S. and other countries do in table tennis, than any city can develop table tennis leagues, and from the players signing up for those leagues more clubs can pop up, just as they do overseas. Tennis has such local leagues all over the U.S. and huge numbers of players, and they started out just where we are now. There's no reason why table tennis can't do the same; in Europe, nearly every country sports associations have more table tennis members than tennis members.
Striped Balls and Backhand Flip
Yesterday I blogged about using colorful soccer-style ping-pong balls for table tennis, since it makes it easier to see the spin on the ball. Here's a video (3:25) of Ma Long's backhand flip (also called a flick) where he's using a striped ball so you can see the spin. The video quality isn't good enough to really see the ball spin with the stripes - you can see it much better in person. I wonder how it would show up on normal TV?
USOC Athletes of the Month
USATT has two nominees for USOC Athlete of the Month for April - Lily Zhang and Timothy Wang. Please vote for them! You can vote for both a male athlete and a female athlete. Here are short bios on both, provided by USATT Webmaster Sean O'Neill.
Timothy Wang, Table Tennis
Olympian Timothy Wang (Houston, Texas) battled to a silver medal at the 2013 ITTF-North American Cup, held April 21 in Westchester, N.Y. Rising to the occasion, Wang registered an impressive 3-0 win over top-seeded Pierre-Luc Theriault of Canada. He followed with a 4-1 semifinal victory over 2011 U.S. champion Peter Li (Laurel, M.D.). Wang, the current U.S. men’s singles No. 1, will lead the U.S. men at the 2013 World Championships taking place in Paris in May.
Lily Zhang, Table Tennis
Olympian Lily Zhang (Palo Alto, Calif.) captured first place at the 2013 ITTF North American Cup, held April 21 in Westchester, N.Y. With the tournament featuring some of the best players from the U.S., Canada and Bermuda, Zhang defeated Olympic teammate Ariel Hsing (San Jose, Calif.), 4-1, in the women’s singles final. The victory qualified Zhang to compete in the STARTS Women’s World Cup, while ending Hsing’s attempt to three-peat as the North American Cup winner. Zhang advanced to the final upon beating fellow world team member Tina Lin (Edison, N.J.), 4-0, in the semifinal. Zhang will be representing the U.S. at the 2013 World Championships in May in Paris.
Table Tennis Master
Here's another interesting coaching article from Table Tennis Master, "Mastering the Counterloop."
Chinese Ping-Pong Song for the Worlds
Here's a music video (4:37) of the Chinese National Team singing their Ping-Pong Song for the 2013 World Championships and thanking their fans. How many of the players can you name?
Here's a short article from Table Tennis Nation where actor Jesse Metcalfe (best known for his work on Desperate Housewives and the remake of Dallas) says he sees ping-pong as the future of nightlife.
Six Pictures Preparing for the Worlds
Here are six Facebook pictures from the ITTF showing players preparing for the Worlds at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. How many of the players can you name?
Ariel Hsing with Uncles Warren and Bill
Here's an article and photos from Table Tennista on Ariel Hsing, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates playing table tennis at the annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting this past Sunday. They've been bringing her in annually for this since she was a little kid. And here are three more photos.
Ariel with Bill and Warren
Warren Holding Ariel
Warren and Bill Play Doubles
(If you can't see these on Facebook, try this, this, and this.)
Learn from a Pro
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Forehand or Backhand Receive in Doubles?
More and more these days top players receive short balls with their backhand whenever possible. In doubles, where players only have to cover half the court on the receive, most players used to return everything with their forehands, so that they'd be ready to forehand loop anything that went long. But that paradigm has changed.
Here's a video (4:21, with time between points removed, not all points shown) of the all-Chinese Men's Doubles Final at the Kuwait Open this past weekend, where Xu Xin and Yan An defeated Zhang Jike and Ma Long, -6,9,10,4. The video showed 44 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall, players received forehand 24 times and backhand 20 times. However, these results were skewed by Yan An, who received forehand 12 times, backhand once. Take him out, and the other three had 12 forehand receives to 19 backhand ones.
Make sure to see the nifty ducking move by Ma Long in the point starting around 46 seconds in. Also, see where Zhang Jike and Ma Long accidentally bump into each other, about 65 seconds in. (Xu is the lefty penholder; Yan An his righty shakehands partner. I sometimes had trouble telling Zhang Jike and Ma Long apart in the video, especially on the far side where you couldn't see their names on their backs - they are dressed identically right down to their shoes, both have black on their forehands, have nearly the same haircuts, are about the same height, and from a distance look similar (at least to me on the video). I did so by keeping track of who was serving to who. In game one, Ma Long served to Xu Xin, and you can work out the rest from that.)
I did a similar analysis of an early-round match at the Qatar Open, which started yesterday. Here's a video (3:14, with time between points removed, not all points shown) from the Qatar Open just yesterday showing most of the points in a match in Men's Doubles in the round of 32 where Xu Xin (the same lefty penholder from the match above) and Fan Zhendong (righty shakehander) of China defeated Hungary's Janos Jakab (all-blue shirt) and Czech Republic's Michal Obeslo (blue shirt with orange sleeves), -10,4,8,6. The video showed 39 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall there were 27 forehand receives and 12 backhand, but the stats are again skewed, this time by Jakab's 11-1 stats. Take him out, and the other three had 16 forehand receives to 11 backhand ones.
You could say that Yan An and Janos Jakab are "old school," in that they received nearly everything forehand, just as players in the past (including myself) were taught to do, so as to be ready to loop anything deep. However, newer players like to receive short serves with the backhand whenever possible, using banana flips with heavy topspin and often sidespin. (As I've blogged about before, this is also true in singles.)
In most cases, the players set up in advance to receive forehand or backhand. However, often you'd see them switch, based on the incoming serve. Ma Long and Zhang Jike in particular would sometimes set up forehand and switch to backhand as the serve was coming in. It looks like they were trying to receive long serves with their forehands, and would switch to backhand as soon as they saw the serve was short. Late in the match in the Kuwait Final, there are two points where Zhang Jike looped two serves in with his forehand against Yan An's serve - they were the only forehand receives he used that match, and probably the only long serves he saw.
Xu Xin, the lefty penholder, was tricky to watch. Sometimes it was hard telling if he was receiving forehand or backhand when he pushed (almost always short).
Qingdao Great Personality Award for the year 2012
Zhang Jike has been named the Qingdao Personality of the Year for 2012. Here's the article.
Who is Liu Guoliang's Favorite Player?
Answer: Chen Qi. Here's an article on what the Chinese Men's Coach and former star said. (Actually, despite the article's headline, what he really said was "Chen Qi is one of my favorite players on the National Team." He also said that fans call him a "cute murderer.")
Mario vs. Maria
Here's a video (1:23) of a three-point challenge match between Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos from Extra TV, with "pro" table tennis players Elie Mehl and Adam Bobrow first giving a demo.
Ryder Cup Table Tennis
Here's a video (1:30) of Ryder Cup Golf players discussing table tennis. Players interviewed include Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and the reigning table tennis champion, Matt Kuchar. They make fun of Phil Mickelson, who was the best until Kuchar came along. Some quotes:
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Preparing for Tournaments
Yesterday I coached two junior players who were getting ready for their first USATT tournament. (The MDTTC Open on March 2-3.) Neither have actual USATT ratings, but both have league ratings under 1000 - I'm not sure if they will use those or treat them as unrated. I coached a third this past weekend who is also getting ready for his first tournament, and who also has a league rating under 1000. What did I tell these players to do to prepare?
Sam, 11, a lefty, has a good forehand smash, and can forehand loop against backspin, though he's not too confident in the shot. He pushes and blocks well, and has decent serves, though he tends to have a short toss (under six inches) on his backhand serve, his best serve - we're working on that. Recently he's been learning to backhand loop. I told him to focus on practicing his serves, on steadiness with his backhand (pushing and blocking), and on steady hitting on the forehand side. Since he doesn't have great confidence in his forehand loop, I told him to focus on looping only on pushes to his forehand side. We also agreed to drop the backhand loop from his game for now. After the tournament, we'll get back to backhand looping, and work to increase his confidence in his forehand loop.
TJ, 12, a righty, likes to loop, and does so pretty well from both sides. I was at first unsure if he was ready to unleash his backhand loop in matches, but he has confidence in it, so he's going to be looping from both sides against most deep pushes in the tournament. He still has trouble controlling his serve when he puts spin on it, so we're going to focus on that more than anything else until the tournament. Because he's only recently learned to loop - though he has great confidence in the shot - he has trouble going from looping to hitting on both sides, so between now and the tournament we're going to focus on backhand hitting and forehand smashing. After the tournament we're going to focus more and more on mostly looping on the forehand side, while working his backhand loop into his game more and more. He already likes to spin the backhand even against fast incoming topspins, so he's undoubtedly going to become a two-winged looper.
Sameer, 11, a righty, most practices at home, where there's only about five feet behind each side of the table. Because of this he's mostly a hitter, though he has a decent loop against backspin. (He uses inverted on both sides, though I've considered having him try pips-out.) He's developing pretty good serves and a good follow-up loop or smash. Recently his backhand has gotten a lot better. In drills, his backhand loop is pretty good against backspin, but because he's so forehand oriented, he rarely uses it in games yet. For the tournament, I told him to focus on serves and following up his serve with his forehand (looping or smashing), which he has great confidence in. Once in rallies he needs to play a steady backhand until he gets a weak one to smash from either side. He's probably not going to be backhand looping at the tournament, but we'll work on that later. We worked a lot on his backhand push, since he can't step around to loop every ball with his forehand. We're also working on his balance - he tends to go off balance a bit when forehand looping from the backhand side, and so leaves the wide forehand open. (If he stays balanced, he'd be able to recover quickly to cover that shot with his forehand smash.)
What should YOU do to prepare for tournaments? Here's my Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success.
I'm still waiting for the first Amazon review of my new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. If you really liked the book, what are you waiting for??? I will not eat or sleep until I get a great review there, at least until I get hungry or sleepy.
Extraordinary Nets & Edges Match
I once blogged about how nets and edges don't really even out - some styles simply get more than others. Unfortunately, I have the type of style that rarely gets either. My shots are very clean - a mostly steady and arcing forehand (until I get the right shot), and a steady backhand. This past weekend I had a rather crazy match with one of our juniors. When she began getting net after net in the first game, we (or at least I!) began keeping track. For the match (four games), she got 17 net balls and zero edges, winning 15 of those points. I got zero nets or edges. Now I normally get a few, so my getting zero was rare, but 17-0? In one game she got eight nets, winning all eight of them.
How to Hold the Racket
Here's a video from PingSkills (4:03) on how to hold the racket, both shakehands and penhold.
The Power of Sweden
Here's a highlights video (10:48) that features the great Swedish players of the past.
Susan Sarandon: Ping-Pong Queen
Here's a feature article from England's The Guardian on Susan Sarandon and table tennis.
The Dodgers Playing Table Tennis
Here's an article in the LA Times on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team having a table tennis doubles tournament.
NBA All-Star Week
Here are ten pictures at NBA All-Star Weekend, where they invited members of the Houston TTC to play table tennis. Included are pictures of Houston player Jim Butler and NBA star Jeremy Lin.
Mario Lopez Plays Ping-Pong
Here's a picture of actor and TV host Mario Lopez (middle) posing with his paddle and table tennis player/actor/stand-up comedian Adam Bobrow (left) and no-doubt a famous woman (or top table tennis player?) on the right who I don't recognize.
Here's a video (33 sec.) of . . . um . . . if I could figure out what is going on here, I will die happy. A bunch of people dancing around and on ping-pong tables.
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