Wang Liqin Footwork

March 11, 2014

Constant Competition

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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