Beginning/Intermediate Class

April 23, 2014

Beginning/Intermediate Class, Racket Surfaces, and Herb Horton

In the class on Monday night I introduced the class to non-inverted surfaces by bringing out the huge racket case where I keep six rackets: hardbat; short pips/inverted; pips-out penhold; anti/inverted; long pips no sponge/inverted (for blocking); and long pips thin sponge/inverted (for chopping). My plan was to talk about the characteristics of each for perhaps 15 minutes, and then introduce them to doubles. However, there was so much interest that, after a brief discussion and unanimous vote, we instead adjourned to the tables so they could all experiment playing with and against the various surfaces. (This is an adult class, with most of them ranging from about 25 to 60, plus one 13-year-old. Playing level ranges from about 800 to 1500.) 

The long pips without sponge was the biggest hit as the players lined up to play me as I stood at the table and just blocked everything back, covering the whole table with my backhand, "chicken wing" style. At the start they all had difficulty with my "heavy" backspin serves with the long pips, which they all popped up since there was actually no spin. Similarly, when they served backspin and I pushed it back vigorously, they all went off the end, thinking there was backspin when it was light topspin. They found this amazing, but all of them eventually learned to react properly. However, once we got into a rally and they gave me a topspin, and I blocked it back, over and over they went into the net. They just couldn't react to the backspin, which they didn't see coming since they had never seen a block with heavy backspin. 

Another player spent much of the time using the pips-out shakehands blade. These days it's practically a no-no for a coach to teach a kid to use short pips. After all, how many short pips players are there at the world-class level? (Off hand, I can't think of a single man in the top 100 with short pips - readers, let me know if I'm correct. I think there are a few women.) However, for recreational play short pips is still a good choice. Remember, USA's David Zhuang held on to his 2700 level well into his 40s, and most players aren't looking anywhere near that high. I do miss the variety of the past, where we'd see more short pips as well as antispin. 

If you have trouble playing against any of these surfaces, one of the best ways to learn to play them is to experiment using them yourself. That way you learn first-hand what it's like using them, and what works and doesn't work against them.

Personally, I think the most fun table tennis in the world is to put antispin on both sides of your racket, and just chop everything back. The anti with its slick surface makes it easy to return just about anything, but it also is easy for the opponent to keep attacking, since the anti doesn't really return much of the spin, unlike long pips. (There are some new antispins that are nearly spinless that play like long pips, but I'm talking about "normal" antispin.) I used to have an all-antispin racket, but at some point it disappeared - I think another anti fan "borrowed" it. 

I also find it great fun playing against an anti chopper. I started playing in 1976, and the first 2000+ player I ever played was Herb Horton, who chopped with anti on both sides. I'd just started playing (I was 16), and thought I was pretty good. He was very nice to play me, but also "respected" me by playing his best as he won 21-1, 21-0, 21-2! He continued to play me regularly as I improved, and he's a primary reason I developed a strong forehand. So kudos to him for helping out this beginner! It was a little over a year later, as I approached the 1700 level, that he became the first 2000+ player I ever beat in a tournament - and it only happened because he'd played me so much I was used to his anti chopping. I'm sure he wasn't happy about losing that match, but we had so many great matches that hopefully he enjoyed those more than the cost of his willing to play me so much. Another result of all those matches with Herb was that I became better against choppers than any other style, and I went about 20 years without losing to a chopper under 2500 while beating five over 2400. Herb continued to play, and was a regular at the Maryland Table Tennis Center which I opened (along with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang) in 1992. Around the mid-1990s, I think in his mid-70s, he died of a heart attack while playing at the club. 

2014 U.S. Open Blog - It's a Roller Coaster Ride

Here's a new blog entry on the U.S. Open by co-chairs Dell & Connie Sweeris.

USATT Staff Changes

It's been nearly a month since the news item that CEO Mike Cavanaugh and Membership Director Joyce Grooms would be leaving USATT. Three changes to their staff directory went up yesterday. First, Doru Gheorghe, who was listed before as (I think) Technical Director and USA Women's Coach, is now listed as Interim CEO & Chief Operating Officer. Second, Andy Horn, who I think was listed as Ratings Director (and something else?) is now listed with Joyce's old title, Membership Director. And third, there's a new person, Tiffany Oldland, listed as Administrative Assistant/Ratings. Welcome to USATT, Tiffany!

Trailer for Ping Pong Summer

Here it is (2:10), just came out! Looks like a great movie. 

Golf Pros Take on Pong Pros in China

Here's the article, pictures, and video (1:54) from pga.com. Reigning PGA Champion Jason Dufner and former world #5 Ian Poulter take on table tennis legends Jan-Ove Waldner (1989 & 1997 World Men's Singles Champion from Sweden), Jorgen Persson (1991 World Men's Singles Champion from Sweden), and Jiang Jialiang (1985 & 1987 World Men's Singles Champion from China). Note that the table tennis players use golf clubs as rackets!

School Hit by Ferry Disaster Wins National Table Tennis Title

Here's the article from the Wall Street Journal. Weird coincidence.

College Ping Pong Lures Chinese Students

Here's the article from China Daily.

Coach Calls for Table Tennis League in India

Here's the article from the Times of India.

Table Tennis Federation of India Hires North Korean Coaches to Train Youngsters

Here's the article from NDTV Sports.

Highlights of Steffen Mengel's Upset over Wang Hao

Here's the video (7:20) as Mengel (then world #102, now #49) defeats Wang (then world #5, now #6, former #1) in the quarterfinals.

Aussie Paralympian Makes Able-Bodied Team

Here's the article and video (1:32) about Melissa Tapper. 

Happy Birthday Steven!

Here's a Mario Brother ping pong cake.

Animals Playing Pong

Here's the picture - there's a swordfish, dolphin, alligator (or is that a crocodile?), killer whale, shark, turtle, and octopus. I think I once posted a different picture of these same seven ping-pong playing animals, but it's been a while.

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February 25, 2014

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!

Beginning/Intermediate Class

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).

Mini-Table Tennis

Here it is! Anyone know who Kosto and Zik are?

Exhibition Tricks from Scott Preiss

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February 17, 2014

Tip of the Week

Five-Ball Attack.

Most Difficult Questions for Coaches and Players

For me, here are the seven most difficult judgment calls for each student. I could write entire blogs and Tips on each. Whether you're a coach or a player, you too should be thinking about these things. (Readers, let me know if there are any below you'd like me to elaborate on.) 

  • When to stop serious tinkering with the forehand and backhand loops.
  • How much to topspin the backhand.
  • When to go to advanced tensor sponges.
  • Whether they should play tournaments when working on something new.
  • Balance of rote drills, random drills, and game-type play.
  • How much to focus on counterlooping on forehand, as opposed to blocking.
  • How to motivate them.

One-Day Camp

Today we have a one-day camp at MDTTC. Schools are closed because of President's Day. Come join us, 10AM-6PM! (There's a two-hour lunch break, with Chinese food delivered to the club.) It'll be mostly kids, but adults are welcome as well. No lectures today; just training.

Beginning/Intermediate Class

I have a new 10-week beginning/intermediate class starting tonight, 6:30-8:00 PM. The class is for beginners up to roughly 1500. I've been playing around with the schedule a bit, and made some changes from past sessions. For session one, we're going to focus on the grip, stance, and forehand, but I'm also going to introduce them to spin serves, starting with some exercises where they learn to create spin, and working our way to Seriously Spinny Serves. (Do you have SSS?) It's going to be a long day, with the one-day camp (see above) and then the class.

Table Tennis Tips Status

My newest book is now at the proofing stage. Sometime this week I plan on taking all 208 pages (single spaced, with 86,000 words) to Ledos and spend a day proofing and eating pizza. Except for the cover, this one is all text. It's a compilation of all 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, but now in one volume and in an orderly fashion, organized by topic instead of by the date it happened to go up. I'm also going to write an intro to some of the Tips. The cover is done; I'll post it sometime soon.

Snow

We ended up with 19 inches of snow at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. We closed for one day, while local schools closed for two. I didn't want to shovel snow since it'd inevitably lead to back problems. Here's the way I see it. The powerful forces of nature dropped snow on us, and the powerful forces of nature will eventually melt it away. Who is mankind to defy nature with their puny snow shovels? (However, the people I rent to downstairs shoveled the front area, solving the problem. But I did eventually shovel out my car so I could get to club to coach, and yes, I did feel twinges in my back, my knees, and my foot. But hopefully nothing serious.) 

U.S. Open Entry Form

Here it is! And here's the U.S. Open page.

Stellan Documentary

Here's a documentary (5:12) on Sweden's 1971 World Men's Singles Champion and San Diego coach Stellan Bengtsson.

Robot Table Tennis

Last Tuesday I blogged about the upcoming "challenge" between Timo Boll and the table tennis robot Kuka. Who'll win? Duh!!! Timo will easily win. There's no way the robot will be able to react to his spins (looping, pushing, serving, etc.), and I doubt it it'll react to the speed of his shots either. Maybe someday in the future. While Kuka may be the best table tennis playing robot right now, I don't think he's going to be able to go from basic beginner to advanced in two years. Here's where robotic table tennis (3:06) was about two years ago.

Wang Hao's Son

Here he is - meet Wang Ruiting!

Michael Ealy vs. Soo Yeon Lee

Here's the video (3:43). The two squared off on the Arsenio Show. Guess who won between actor Ealy (the self-proclaimed master of table tennis) and pro player Lee?

Table Tennis Ballboy Tutorial

Here's the hilarious video (3:32). I especially like the training sequences starting at 2:07.

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