robots

September 1, 2014

Tip of the Week

How to Execute a Fast Serve.

Disabled Veterans Camp

Friday was the final day of our four-day Disabled Veterans Camp. It was an honor working with these servicemen. I'd like to thank them for all the hard work they put in, both in uniform and at the camp! I'd also like to thank the USOC and USATT, the Department of Veteran Affairs, MDTTC officer Wen Hsu, and especially Jasna Reed, USATT's Director of Para Programs. 

The focus for the day was backhand attack - smashing, and backhand drive and loop against backspin. We started off by putting the players in six stations, and rotated them every 7.5 minutes. I fed multiball so players could work on their backhand attack against backspin. Steve Hochman had them serve backspin, he'd push it back, they'd backhand attack, and the rally would continue backhand to backhand. Sameer Shaikh had them do backhand-forehand footwork, side to side. Ram Nadmichettu worked on their pushes. Plus I set up the serving bar on the robot table so players could practice serving low. (This is an adjustable bar that goes over the net. Here's a picture of it set high, and here's a picture of it set low. John Olsen made this for our club. It has about ten height settings.) 

Next up was equipment and playing styles. I brought out my "show and tell" super-large racket case, which contains six rackets: an all-around hardbat racket; a pips-out penhold racket; a shakehands racket with inverted and short pips; a shakehands racket with inverted and antispin; and two shakehands rackets with inverted on one side and long pips on the other, one with thin sponge (chopping racket), the other no sponge (pushblocking racket). I went over each of the surfaces and now to play against them, as well as various playing styles that commonly use them. I was planning on some doubles play, but we ran into time problems, and so I only gave a short lecture on doubles tactics. We finished with up-down tables, where they played 11-point games, with the winning moving up, the "runner-up" moving down, with the goal to reach the first table. Steve and Sameer joined in, spotting points to most of them to equalize things. 

It was one of the more fun camps to coach. We used to run senior camps at MDTTC for players over age 50 (and over 40 if they were "old of heart"!). But in recent years the camps we've run were mostly for juniors, where we go easy on the lectures, and there are few questions. This camp was more like the senior camps, with lots of questions and discussion. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Table Tennis

I went to see the movie on Saturday, and despite the mostly negative reviews, I kind of liked it. Out of the blue there was a table tennis scene! The four turtles were being punished for refusing to tell their sensei, Splinter (a giant rat) why they had sneaked out. Each had to spend many hours in some uncomfortable position doing something. Donatello, the smartest of the turtles (the one with the purple mask) was punished by being forced to hold ping-pong paddles in both hands and bounce a ping-pong ball back and forth for hours, while standing on a block of wood that's balanced precariously on a basketball. I've searched but was unable to find a video or picture of this.

North American Championships

They were held this past weekend in Mississauga, Canada. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's the USATT page with lots of video. Note how Canada dominated all the Men's and Women's events, while USA dominated all the junior events. Also, see the final of Junior Boys' Teams, where USA won 3-0 - but in all three matches the USA player was down 0-2 before winning in five, with each pulling out at least one deuce game. One thing I didn't like about the format was that players could only enter one singles event, which hurt USA, since essentially all the players on the USA Boys' and Girls' team would have been competitive in Men's and Women's Singles but were not allowed to compete. Congrats to all the Champions - see below!

  • Men's Singles: Eugene Wang (CAN)
  • Women's Singles: Mo Zhang (CAN)
  • Junior Boys: Jack Wang (USA)
  • Junior Girls: Crystal Wang (USA)
  • Men's Teams: CAN (Pierre-Luc Theriault, Filip Ilijevski, Xavier Therien)
  • Women's Teams: CAN (Mo Zhang, Anqi Luo, Sara Yuen)
  • Junior Boys' Teams: USA (Kanak Jha, Kunal Chodri, Krish Avvari)
  • Junior Girls' Teams: USA (Angela Guan, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang)

New ITTF President Thomas Weikert

Here's the ITTF press release. He took office on Sept. 1 and becomes only the seventh ITTF president since its founding in 1926. He succeeds Adham Sharara, who was president for 15 years. Here's the TableTennista story, which mostly features Sharara. 

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan just finished doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. And today she finishes - one hundred down, zero to go!

Zhang Jike's Serve

Here's the video (3:25).

Slow Motion TT

Here's the video (25 sec) - some nice shots, and you get to see footwork in slow motion. That's Ernesto Ebuen on the left.

Trend: Playing Table Tennis to Enhance Brain Fitness and Mental Health

Here's the article. Well, yeah!

Scientists Teach Ping-Pong Robots to Master Spin

Here's the article. Prepare to meet our future Masters. 

Ice Bucket Challenge

Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers Play TT for Charity

Here's the article and video (2:43).

Six Seconds of Very Strange Rallying!

Here's the video.

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October 14, 2011

The Falkenberg, 2-1, and Backhand-Forehand-Forehand drills

Okay, these are all names for the same drill. It was made popular at the Falkenberg club in Sweden by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's almost for certain the most popular footwork drill in the world among top players because it covers the three most common footwork moves in table tennis - cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, and step around forehand from the backhand corner. How do you do the drill?

Your partner hits two balls to your backhand, then one to your forehand. You take the first with your backhand. You step around and take the second with your forehand. Then you move to the wide forehand and take that with your forehand. Then repeat.

There are many variations. You can start the drill off backspin with a loop, then continue. You can either hit or loop the forehands or backhands. You can do the drill to your partner's backhand or forehand. You can have free play after a certain number of repetitions, such as after three (nine shots). Or use your own imagination and make something up. Or just use the basic standby, as described above, as most do.

Here are four new articles/videos from PingSkills

Table tennis tips

Here's a listing of 60 table tennis tips  ("Lenisms" from Len Winkler) that will propel you to international stardom, or at least to beating that hated rival of yours at the club.

Jorgen Persson vs. Werner Schlager

Great footage from the ongoing European Championships in Gdansk-Sopot, Poland, with the breaks between points taken out so it's non-stop action (3:28). There is lots of coverage at the ITTF European Championships page.

Zhang Xielin, "The Magic Chopper"

Here's vintage footage of the famed Chinese penhold chopper from the 1960s (3:18). He was infamous for beating the Europeans (often with weird sidespin chops) while losing to his teammates.

Robots playing table tennis

In my blog on Tuesday I linked to articles and pictures of robots that actually play table tennis, invented by a Japanese company. Here's the video (1:40)!  Its footwork and shoulder rotation on the forehand need a lot of work - and that is not a legal serve.

What the heck is this?

I don't know what this is, but it seems to be something to do with table tennis, and it's on sale at Ebay. All real table tennis players should own one of these whatever they ares.

Non-Table Tennis - Capclave SF Convention

This weekend I'll be at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention in Gaithersburg, Maryland - which this year is held about 1.5 miles from my club, the Maryland Table Tennis Center! Because I'm coaching much of Friday and Sunday, I can't attend much those days, but I'll be there all day on Saturday.

I'm moderating a literary panel Saturday at 1PM on "When Characters Threaten to Take Over," which is about what writers should do when writing and a character "refuses" to do what you want it to do and seems to take on a life of its own. (It's happened to me many times.) I'm also doing a 30-minute reading at 3PM - I'll be doing my annual "Larry Hodges Over-the-Top Humorous Flash Story Reading," where I'll be reading three of my published flash stories. (Flash stories are under 1000 words long, about four pages double spaced.)

Here's a link to my Capclave bio and schedule. I'm also bringing John Hsu, a local 17-year-old table tennis player (2255 rating) who I've been working with on creative writing - we're working on a zombie story together. He's attending the 10AM writer's workshop with Allen Wold. This will be his first SF convention - heaven help him. If we can find a ping-pong table at the hotel, we'll be hustling people for spare change.

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October 11, 2011

How's your backhand?

You need to dominate with your backhand as well as your forehand, and you can't do that unless you have a (drum roll please) dominating backhand. There are basically five ways you can do this. Which are you? Or which are you striving for? You can - and should - be able to threaten your opponent with more than one of these.

  • Backhand block, where you take every ball quick off the bounce and hit at wide angles and to the opponent's middle, rushing him into mistakes. You can do this either as a "wall" who tries to never miss, or as a more aggress "jab-blocker." This requires fast reflexes. 
  • Backhand counter-hitting, where you get into fast counter-hitting rallies and keep hitting hard and consistently until the opponent misses. This requires fast reflexes and timing.
  • Backhand hit and smash, where you mostly take the ball at the top of the bounce and hit most shots very hard, often threatening to kill every shot. This requires great timing.
  • Backhand loop from off the table, where you control play with heavy topspin from a few feet off the table. Some do this very aggressively, others with a slower, spinnier loop. This requires very good positional footwork, both side to side and in and out.
  • Backhand loop over the table, where you take the ball right off the bounce, over the table, with quick backhand loops that the opponent struggles to react to. This requires great timing.

Wang Liqin's forehand and recovery

You can watch this 9-second video of China's Wang Liqin - arguably the greatest player in history (see his Wikipedia entry) - either for the fun of it or to study his forehand technique. He's hitting it inside-out, so the ball has some sidespin breaking to the right. To me the most impressive part is his recovery - see how fast he's ready for the next shot if the ball comes back. This is where most player wannabes fail as they make a great shot, but are not ready for a follow-up. At the higher levels, you have to be able to do multiple power shots.

Throw angle

Throw angle is one of those lesser understood terms in table tennis, but is basically how high an angle the ball comes off the racket. Here's a good explanation.

Greatest backhand loop in history?

Jan-Ove Waldner says it's Jorg Roskopf's, and here's why. Includes a 7:44 video.

Real table tennis robots

A lab in Zhejiang University in China has designed robots that can rally in ping-pong, tracking the ball and stroking it back and forth. Here's a more extended article about it that doesn't have pictures.

Marty Reisman monologue

Here's Marty talking to the crowd before his Hardbat Doubles Open semifinal match at the 2004 USA Nationals (1:07). Hilarious.

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July 26, 2011

Table tennis equipment reviews

I have a new student who is interested in table tennis robots. While I'm familiar with them and have hit with most of the major brands, I'm no expert. I told the student I'd investigate them and see what the best values were - he was hoping for one under $1000, and I was hoping for one that could alternate hitting the ball in at least two places (i.e. one to forehand, one to backhand) so he could do a side-to-side footwork drill on it. And lo and behold, I was referred to Denis' Table Tennis World, which reviews just about all table tennis equipment, including robots. Very useful! If you are interested in equipment reviews, then stop by this site and browse away.

I've browsed the robot reviews, and later today plan to go over them more carefully so I can make a recommendation to the student. (They don't seem to have a review yet for the ipong, the newest but coolest looking low-end model.) No, I'm not going to make my recommendation public; I don't have enough first-hand knowledge of the robots to do that. All I can do is go by what others say.

Two Months Notice to USATT

In exactly two months, it'll be two years since USATT finished its "Strategic Meeting" at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs on Sept. 25-26, 2009. The focus of the meeting was how to increase membership. Everyone agreed our membership (in the 8-9000 range) was a "round-off error." Many slogans were created (*sigh*), and three strategic priorities: Juniors, Grow Membership Through Added Value, and Communications. (I consider the Communications priority pointless unless one of the first two gives USATT something to communicate about.) Three task forces were created for these three priorities.

This was the fourth such "Strategic Meeting" I've attended with USATT. All four times I've argued that to be successful, specific goals needed to be created, and specific plans to reach those goals. However, each time others disagreed, and so we were left with just generic priorities. I also argued that the Junior priority should be about recruiting and training coaches to create club-based junior programs, as has been done so successfully in table tennis and other sports worldwide, and that the "Grow Membership" priority should instead be Leagues, as that's how other countries have grown their membership in table tennis and other sports worldwide. However, I was unable to persuade the majority of this view. 

And so on Sept. 26 this year, two years after the meeting, I will ask USATT what they have accomplished since that time. Have we taken our game "to the next level"? I absolutely won't want to hear of things they plan to do; the time for that is well past. I'm going to ask them what they have done. I hope they have an answer. If they don't, perhaps it is time they revisit the way table tennis and other sports have successfully grown worldwide and try to emulate it, rather than constantly and poorly trying to reinvent the wheel?

Back problems and the Search for the Physical Therapists

As I blogged last week, I saw a orthopedist sports medicine doctor on Wednesday last week about upper back problems that are interfering with my table tennis playing and coaching. He referred me to the Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, which was conveniently located near me. (I even stopped by to see the place, and it's pretty nice.) So I called on Thursday morning to schedule my twice-weekly meetings. No answer, and no answering service; it just rang and rang. I called numerous times that day, no answer. I tried again all day on Friday, still no answer. I tried again Monday morning, still no answer. So that morning I called back the doctor's office and told them what was happening. They said they'd never had a problem calling them, and that they'd contact them and get them to call me. No one called back. Now it's Tuesday, five days since I first started calling the place. *Sigh*.

Politicians are playing ping-pong with our economy

So why not take a look at the Politicians and Leaders section of the "Celebrities Playing Table Tennis" page? Here's an alphabetical listing - see how many you recognize! (I've bolded some of the more interesting ones, with apologies to those unbolded.)

Prince Akihito, Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Yasser Arafat, Princess Beatrix, Enrico Berlinguer, Tony Blair, Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles Wayland Brooks, Gordon Brown, Andy Burnham, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Felipe Calderon, Dave Cameron, Juan Carlos, Fidel Castro, Prince Charles, Chiang Kai-shek, Chou En-lai, Jean Chrétien, Bill & Hillary Clinton, Norm Coleman, Irvin Cotler, Bao Dai, Jean-Louis Debre, Alexandra Dinges, Ian Duncan-Smith, Dr. Katharina Focke, Tipper Gore, Stephen Harper, Michael Howard, Mike Huckabee, Princess Irene, Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Boris Johnson, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Horst Koehler, Alexandre Kwasniewski, Richard Lagos, Martin Lee, Li Lanqing, Li Zhaoxin, Ma Ying-Jeou, Princess Marta Louise, Chairman Mao, Jack Markell, George McGovern, Mette-Marit, Walter Mondale, Fabio Mussi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Richard Nixon, Kwame Nkrumah, Michael Nutter, Barack Obama, Martin O'Malley, Geun-Hae Park, Pope John Paul II, Göran Persson, Vladimir Putin, Liu Qi, Ronald Reagan, Jacques Rogge, Lenore Romney, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Nicolas Sarkozy, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Eunice Shriver, Sargent Shriver, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, Queen Silvia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza, Silvan Shalom, Maria Shriver, Goh Chok Tong, Walter Veltroni, Princess Victoria, Prince of Wales, Lech Walesa, Wen Jiabao, Prince William, Anthony Williams, Yang Jiechi, Lee Kuan Yew.

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June 2, 2011

Table tennis robots

In the Beginning, God (I mean Sitco, I think they were first) created table tennis robots. They had many problems. They either hit to one spot on the table over and over, or they sprayed the ball about randomly, so you couldn't really do many table tennis drills with them. They were either set to heavy topspin or heavy backspin; there was no in between. And the ball was shot at you by spinning disks instead of coming off a paddle, like in a real game, so you didn't learn to read the ball off a racket. (There were other problems early on, such as catching the balls, recycling them, consistency, etc., but these problems were all worked out long ago.) Fixing these problems were, to me, the three holy grails of table tennis robots.

Many of the modern robots are now programmable so you can actually do real drills with them - in fact, just about any drill you can do with a partner, you can do with these robots. Plus you now have more control over the degree of spin. So they are starting to look like more than glorified toys with nets that could catch the ball for you when you practiced serves, which was my primary use for them for many years. (They were also good for group training with beginners, who were fascinated by them, and allowed you to put 1-3 players rotating on the robot while they worked on basic shots.)

So robots are now much, Much, MUCH better than before, and you can actually get a great workout with them. They are good training for players, especially the ones that have built-in and programmable drills you can choose from. I keep waiting for them to break out among the general public as fitness devices, since anyone can do footwork drills on them, moving side to side and getting in shape, even if you miss many of the shots at first.

But there is still one holy grail left. When will they come up with a commercially successful robot that does all of the above, and also hits the ball at you with an actually ping-pong paddle, so you can learn to react to a ball coming off a racket? This is far more important than in tennis, where ball machines also don't use a racket to hit the ball at you; in tennis, you have a lot more time to react to the ball, since it's hit at you from much farther away.

If interested in a table tennis robot, just go to any major table tennis dealer, and you'll see a selection.

USATT and USOC Blogs

Several top players, coaches, and officials are now blogging for USATT on their USOC site. I did one yesterday on "Develop the Basics: Strokes and Footwork." This was a reprint of one of the articles I did for the 11-article "How to Be a Champion" series for USATT. This morning my blog made the USOC front page! Have fun reading all these blogs; there's some interesting stuff there.

Table tennis camps

Ready to make a serious commitment to develop your game? Want to spend some time with others of like mind training together under a top coach? I've updated the Clinics section; now you can find training camps all over the U.S. (and two overseas), by location, coach, or date. I'm running five camps as well this summer (along with co-coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Zeng "Jeffrey" Xun) at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which are primarily for junior players but are open to all ages; see the listing if interested.

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April 21, 2011

Why forehands are better than backhands

A nine-year-old student of mine named Sam said one of the funniest - and most profound? - things I've heard in a while. He's only had a few lessons, and is just starting to really hit forehands. But he has trouble with the backhand. After hitting forehands, I said let's do backhands, and he looked a bit glum. I asked why. He said, "Forehands are like an adventure. Backhands are like I'm at home watching TV."

Receive practice

I was watching one of our top cadet players practice with one of our top coaches. Near the end of the session the coach began giving his best serves, challenging the cadet to return them effectively, with the coach looking to follow up each serve with an attack. The coach mostly dominated for the simple fact that the cadet rarely got to face such serves and follow-ups. I went out on the court and suggested they do this from now on for at least half their sessions, and the coach agreed. This cadet is going to be very good! Serve & receive are the most under-practiced aspects of the game.

Robots catching and juggling ping-pong balls

As the headline said, here are robots catching and juggling ping-pong balls.

Tip of the Week problem

You may have noticed that there was no Tip of the Week on Monday, that the last two Tips of the Week (April 4 & 11) have disappeared, and that the March 28 Tip appears twice. Yes, I'm having a software problem. I have someone working on it.

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