Timo Boll

June 28, 2012

Last Blog Until After U.S. Open

This will be my last blog until I return from the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids. I should start blogging again on Friday, July 6. I know it will be difficult, but there must be other stuff on the Internet to read. I've heard rumors.

I'm mostly coaching at the Open (primarily Derek and George Nie), though I am entered in one event, Hardbat Doubles with Ty Hoff. (I've won it twelve times at the Open or Nationals, eight times with Ty, four times with Steve Berger.) There's just too many time conflicts in trying to play multiple events while coaching multiple players, and I had to make a choice on whether I'm primarily a player or a coach. (Duh!) Normally I'd also coach Tong Tong Gong, but he's on the National Cadet Team, and so will be mostly coached by the U.S. National Cadet Coach, Keith Evans.

I'm driving up with the Nie family on Friday morning, leaving around 7AM, and should arrive by 5PM or so. I should arrive in time to attend both the ITTF Jury Meeting at 6PM (where they make the draws and go over rules, etc.) and the USATT Coaching Committee Meeting at 8PM (I'm on the committee). The Nie's are staying in Michigan after the Open for a few days of vacation, so I'm flying back on the fourth of July.

MDTTC Camp - Week Two, Day Three

The focus yesterday was on the forehand loop, though as usual we varied this depending on each player's level and playing style. I also gave a lecture and demo of various racket surfaces (pips-out sponge, hardbat, antispin, long pips with and without sponge), grips (penhold, both conventional and with reverse penhold backhand, as well as the Seemiller grip) and how to play choppers.

One 12-year-old beginner really liked the antispin, and asked to borrow it for the day. He's now using it on his backhand in all his drills and matches, dead-blocking with the backhand, attacking with the forehand. I've converted him to the dark side!!! If he stays with this style, most likely he'll eventually "graduate" to long pips (no sponge) on the backhand and become a pushblocker.

There is also a kid, about ten years old, who is developing a chopper/looper style. He spent a lot of time yesterday with Wang Qing Liang, our 17-year-old 2567-rated chopper/looper.

Today's focus will be the backhand attack, especially the backhand loop. Then we'll have the ever-popular "How many paper cups can I knock down in ten shots?" challenge, where we stack the cups in a pyramid and I feed them the balls multiball style.

China and the Timo Boll-Zhang Jike Rivalry

Here's an article that discusses these two players, with insight from Chinese Coach Liu Guoliang.

Top Table Tennis Points

Here's a video (14:12) of top table tennis points. Included in the video are players Adrien Mattenet, Chuang Chih Yuan, Kaii Yoshida, Ryu Seung Min, Jun Mizutani, Chen Chien-An, Fengtian Bai, Christian Suss, Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Alexey Smirnov, Michael Maze, Timo Boll, Jean Michel Saive, Robert Gardos, Christophe Legout, Chen Weixing, Tiago Apolonia, Taku Takakiwa, Patrick Baum, Seiya Kishikawa, Andrej Gacina, Vladimir Samsonov, Gao Ning, Feng Tianwei, Ding Ning, Zoran Primorac, Jan-Ove Waldner, Ding Song, Chen Qi, Lee Jung Woo, Roko Tosic, and Romain Lorentz.

Wanna see a ping-pong ball spin at 10,000 rpm?

Here it is (0:40), care of liquid nitrogen!

Adam Bobrow Reviews the New Plastic Ball

In this new video (0:31), Adam breaks through the window of silence and discovers the shattering truth about the new plastic ball.

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May 4, 2012

Coaching level versus playing level

Does one need to be a top player to be a top coach? The question often comes up, and there's an easy answer. No.

However . . . and this is a big HOWEVER . . . it's very difficult to become a top coach without being a top player first. It's a matter of opportunity. If you are a member of the National Team, you train for many years with other top players and work with the best coaches in the country, and if you are paying attention, you gain the experience necessary to be a top coach.

It's possible to be a very good basics coach, one who can train new and intermediate players very well, without being as experienced working with top players. But the key problem to watch for here is that many coaches who teach basics teach them in a way that will later hurt the player. For example, some hold back on teaching the loop, especially the backhand loop, for so long that hitting becomes ingrained, while looping never becomes comfortable. Or they have the player use beginner's sponge so long that their development is held back because they develop a game around beginner's sponge instead of a modern game based on modern "super sponges." So even coaches of beginning and intermediate players need to have enough experience with top players to see what they are doing so they can teach players a foundation that leads to what the top players do.

Some believe you can be a self-taught coach, and there's some truth to this. But there will always be major holes in your coaching if you don't have the opportunity to spend lots and lots of time with top players and coaches when they train. Even tactical coaching is limited if you haven't spent a lot of time with the player you are coaching when he's practicing. You might be a good tactical coach from personal experience and from watching top players on video and analyzing what you see, but you have to see what the player is doing in practice to see what he can really do. You might see him have trouble with a shot and not know if he normally has trouble with that shot or if he's just off or nervous. You might see a weakness in an opponent that seems to play into your player's strengths, but if the player hasn't practiced that type of sequence, he might not have confidence or be comfortable doing it. Or the player may have techniques he uses in practice that he doesn't use early on in a match (such as a different serve, or an ability to counterloop, or backhand loop, etc.), leading to tactical advice that doesn't take into account these techniques. So being around top players and coaches when they train is important if you truly want to be a top coach. This doesn't mean you can't be a good coach; but to be a top coach you need the full experience.

Suppose you were not a top player, but had these same experiences? Suppose you spent years watching top players train and worked with the best coaches in the country, and paid attention? Then you could also become a top coach. However, it's difficult to find such opportunities to watch or train with the top players and coaches unless you are a top player.

I was lucky to have started my playing career practicing regularly with top juniors and future stars Sean O'Neill and Brian Masters, then spent four years as a manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, then as an assistant coach for Dan Seemiller at his camps for two years, and then spent the last twenty years coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center where I'm surrounded by top coaches and players. I also got to coach the U.S. Junior Team at tournaments around the world, as well as attended numerous coaching seminars, including the recent ITTF ones (which I now teach). I've also spent an inordinate amount of time just thinking about the sport, one of those key things that's often missing when a top player is unable to make the transition to top coach. (And many top players are not good coaches, though most don't reach their high level without learning enough to be pretty good.)

My highest rating was 2292, which was 18th in the country at the time (citizens only), and since the ratings have slowly inflated since, it equates to a considerably higher rating than 2292, but we'll leave it at that. (I've actually had about 50 different ratings over 2250 without ever breaking 2300, probably a record, alas, and I'm now retired from regular tournaments.) That's pretty decent, but I never made the National Team. However, I've been lucky to have had the experiences needed to be a top coach. (I still wish I had more "international" experience - I've been to only two Worlds, and coached the U.S. Junior Team outside the U.S. about five times. There are other coaches with far more international experience than this. But I partially make up for this by spending time with current and former top players at my club who do have this international experience, such as Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Peter Li, and Han Xiao.) Does this make me a "top coach"? That's for others to judge, but the key is that I have the experience needed so I'm in the running. If you want to be a top coach, then you too must find opportunities to be around top players and coaches, observe what they do, ask questions, and above all, think about what you see and learn.

When Ping-Pong Diplomacy Beat China

That's the headline in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday, about the upcoming movie "As One," which tells the story of the joint Korean women's team at the 1991 Worlds that upset China.

Timo Boll in Washington Post

Here's the story from yesterday, with the headline, "German table tennis player Timo Boll wows Chinese women with his ping pong, sex appeal." (It didn't make the print edition, just the online version.)

"I made it to the Olympics and to prom"

That's what Ariel Hsing says in her blog with ESPN. She'll be blogging for them during the Olympics. Here are links to her other ESPN blogs (she's done four so far).

Erica Wu Puts on a Show

Here's an article on Erica doing an exhibition for her school and musing about her making the Olympic team.

Law School and Table Tennis

Here's a story about law school students playing table tennis entitled, "You Can Take Our Lives, But You’ll Never Take Our Ping Pong." Here's an enlarged version of the rather crazy photo!

Metal Men at Ping-Pong

Here's a rather interesting piece of art of two . . . metalicons? . . . playing table tennis.

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April 18, 2012

Cancellations and a needed rest

Yesterday I was scheduled to coach from 5-7 and 8-9 PM. Late in the afternoon the 5-7 sessions were cancelled - it was a family of three, a father and two sons, and one of the sons was sick and they couldn't leave him at home alone. Then the 8 PM cancelled for unknown reasons. Suddenly I had the day off, my first in a while. Let's just say I needed it - my back and forearm were starting to go, and every muscle in my body was beginning to feel like five-year-old sponge that had blocked a few too many power loops. So I got to stay home and watch NCIS and the Orioles defeat the White Sox 3-2.

Today I'm tutoring Calculus from 10AM to noon for one of the local table tennis stars, who is taking the AP exam in late May. I do this every Wednesday, and with the exam coming up soon we may be doing it twice a week. I've got a 5-7PM session tonight. Rather than come home between noon and 5PM I'm going to head out to MDTTC and spend the afternoon there working on the rewrite of Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide. We've got wireless now so I'll be connected - but not sure if that's a good thing while working on a project. (I'm also editing a short SF story written by another local junior, who emailed it to me. It's not for school, he just likes to write.)

I was going to write something about chop blocks this morning, but it seemed more of a Tip of the Week. So I'll keep it to this for now - do you ever chop block? If you are playing someone who beats you in topspin rallies (either blocking, counter-hitting, or looping), perhaps this would be a way to change things up? It's an especially good changeup on the backhand, and can be done with sidespin as well.

Erica Wu, Ariel Hsing, and Lily Zhang battling for Olympic Spots

Here's the ESPN story. Also note that USA Table Tennis tweeted that top seeded Gao Jun has withdrawn (no reason given), and her spot in the North American Olympic Trials (this weekend) has been taken by Judy Hugh. (What player took Gao's spot? Hugh. Who? That is correct. Who took Gao's spot?!!! Yes. And so on, with apologies to Abbott and Costello.) 

Timo Boll Video

Here's a tribute video to German star Timo Boll (7:37).

Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators battle over ping-pong

The Predators hockey team just wanted to play, but the Todd Bertuzzi of the Red Wings said no, get your own table. Here's the story

Online table tennis jigsaw puzzles

I've always liked doing jigsaw puzzles (I collect ones with dragons and wizards), and last night I had a brainstorm - why not find a table tennis themed jigsaw puzzle and bring it to the club? Alas, I was unable to find one - but I found two online ones! Here's the Jigzone Table Tennis Puzzle, and here's the Free Online Games Virtual Ping Pong Puzzle (the latter starts with a 15-second commercial, alas). I solved the latter; the first one looks tougher.

Non-Table Tennis: Top Twelve Reasons the Orioles are the Best Hitters in Baseball

My Top Twelve list was published on Orioles Hangout. See the listing there, or go directly to it. I'm actually somewhat notorious there for my semi-regular "Top Ten" lists, which I post on their forum every now and then under the pseudonym larrytt. This time one of the editors/owners/managers really liked it and so published it as a Hangout article. (In the past I'd have asked you to pity me for being an Orioles fan, but we're in first place in the AL East at 7-4, and lead or are near the lead in most hitting and pitching categories.)

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February 22, 2012

Why good serves and steadiness go together

Many players believe that good serves and an attacking game go together. It makes sense - the good serves set up the attacking game. But I'd argue that good serves work even better if you have a control game. Why is this?

Suppose your good serves set you up to attack effectively against your peers two-thirds of the time. Then one-third of the time when you serve you are stuck not opening with a strong attack. On the other guy's serve you are also forced to start the rally playing more control as you look for a ball to attack. This means that you are starting out about one-third of the time using your strong attack, and stuck on the rest of the points. (Yes, you could attack the serve, but if the opponent is a peer, you shouldn't be able to attack his serve that strongly.)

Now let's suppose you have a control game. Even if you are a control player, those good serves are going to set you up for some easy putaways. Let's suppose you can do this one-third of the time when you serve. Plus you are able to play control on the other guy's serve 100% of the time. Result? You get to serve and attack easy balls one-sixth of the time, and play your control game the rest of the way. With the free spot from the good serves that set you up for some easy points, you should be able to win with control the rest of the way, if that's your game. (Plus the good serves will set the control player up to attack more and more, and so he'll develop his attack.) 

This doesn't mean everyone should become a control player. It means everyone should develop both control and attack. When people watch top players, they see the obvious attacking ability, but not as many notice how much ball control they have.

MDTTC webpage

See the MDTTC new and updated web page! We are doubling in size over the next month, plus starting up a series of new programs.

Timo Boll vs. Jorgen Persson

Here's a 70-shot rally between these two, with Persson back lobbing.

Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's a video on "Aerobic Table Tennis Beginners Session" (6:18), and here's the Aerobic Table Tennis home page, with lots of links. It's mostly for women, and is based in England, but there's no reason why others can't join in. (And I just had an article similar to this on "Cardiopong" published in USA Table Tennis Magazine!)

Anagrams of U.S. Team Members

Before we start, let me point out that "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God." Be nice to me or I might smite you. Tomorrow - the women! (Gao Jun, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu)

Michael Landers

  • Me Learn As Child
  • Handles Miracle
  • He Lands Miracle
  • Lame Child Nears
  • Mean Laser Child
  • Sane Child Realm
  • Me Child Arsenal
  • Nice Llama Herds
  • All Merchandise
  • Malice Handlers
  • His Elm Calendar
  • Calms Headliner

Barney Reed

  • Been Dreary
  • Ye Bear Nerd
  • Be Nerdy Era
  • A Nerdy Beer
  • Ye Darn Beer
  • Any Red Beer
  • Year Bender

Adam Hugh

  • Hug Ham Ad
  • Had Gum - Ha!
  • Had Ma Hug

Timothy Wang

  • I Own That Gym
  • I Won That Gym
  • Not With A Gym
  • Into What Gym?
  • Who Gym Titan
  • Hit A Gym Town
  • A Mighty Town
  • A Towing Myth
  • Hang Mitt - Yow!
  • Giant Ow Myth
  • Among Thy Wit
  • Goat Win Myth
  • Might Not Way
  • My Own Hit Tag
  • Hit My Tag Now
  • Go Thy Man Wit
  • Why Man Got It

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February 1, 2012

Style and personality

Many years ago, while driving to a tournament with Dave Sakai (a top U.S. player for many decades) and Ron Lilly (one of the best pips-out penholders at the time), Dave pointed out that most players tend to develop playing styles that are opposite of their personalities. Dave likes to gamble (and in fact now has houses in both Maryland and Las Vegas, where he likes to spend much of his time), and can be pretty aggressive in arguments. And yet he plays a very safe pushing and blocking game. Ron is a very nice, non-confrontational type, and yet he plays an almost reckless all-out hitting game. And me? Most would say I'm the intellectual type, and yet in my early years, rather than developing some complicated tactical game, I worked hard to develop a pure all-out physical forehand attacking game. (However, as the years went by, my game evolved into a highly tactical game, though I still like all-out forehand attacking.)

Do aggressive people tend to develop passive styles, and vice versa? Do thinkers tend to develop non-thinking games, and vice versa? I think these observations apply to many players. I've found that the smartest people - scientists, doctors, computer programmers - often like to play table tennis mindlessly. I've also found that some of the best table tennis thinkers go home and watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men" or "American Idol." It's almost as if thinker types like to rest their brains and play mindless table tennis, while others who don't spend a lot of time thinking on the job do their thinking in table tennis.

I once coached a scientist who was one of the tops in his field. The guy was brilliant, and away from the table understood the game very well. But at the table he was about the most mindless player I've ever coached. He rarely noticed what worked or didn't work, and was oblivious to what his opponent was doing. He had no ability to adjust his game in a match, or even to follow advice giving between games. A typical 10-year-old would notice obvious things that this player was unable to see.

There is also the opposite - smart people who think tactically so much as they develop their game that they never develop high-level shots, since those shots were low percentage while being developed, and so were never developed. These players are good tacticians, but poor at long-term strategic thinking.

There are also hybrids, smart people who develop very physical attacking games (as opposed to a "tactical" style, usually more defensive), and apply their tactical thinking to developing that style. Often they play somewhat mindlessly while developing their games, and only start to really play a thinking game when they become advanced. Or they apply their thinking only to developing the style, and don't worry about tactics too much until later on. (If they do think about tactics too much early on, it often limits them.)

Among juniors, there are many really nice juniors with non-aggressive personalities who become offensive terrors at the table. Often the ones with more aggressive personalities become pushers and blockers at the table. On the other hand, there are many non-aggressive women, especially in Asia, who become passive choppers. It might be a cultural thing.

One other niche is what I'll call the Chinese penhold mystique style. The penhold grip allows easier maneuvering and variation over the table with pushes and blocks, which leads to tactical play, and my club has a number of older Chinese penholders who are both very smart and play smart tactics. I think it sort of goes with the penhold grip, while shakehanders often tend more toward physical rallying.

Many don't fit into these categories, of course. Where do you fit in?

Mind over Matter?

Here's an interesting article and video from CNN where former English champion Matthew Syed explains why an individual's ability is secondary to the level of coaching they receive and the facilities to which they have access. One thing that jumped out at me was this statement about how a small group of players became the best players in England: "We happened to have the best coach who gave us access to the only 24-hour club." This is similar to what is happening in the U.S., where a few clubs are developing most of the top cadets and juniors in the U.S. - because they are the ones that have full-time clubs and top-level coaches. This is why the level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so much stronger than in the past. (I blogged about this on January 4, 2012.)

Chinese Women's Team

Here's an interesting article on the Chinese Team getting preparing for the World Team Championships.

Kim Gilbert coming back

Here's an article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Kim Gilbert's table tennis comeback. She'll be at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12.

Michael Maze versus Timo Boll

Here's a great point between the two

The scooping backspin bounceback return

I teach this to all my students (0:30).

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December 28, 2011

MDTTC Christmas Camp

We're in the middle of the Christmas Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. It's our 21st consecutive year we've had a Christmas Camp, along with about 150 other camps, mostly during the summer. (All camps are five days/30 hours long.) I basically run the morning sessions, where I give short lectures and then go into groups where the players rotate, doing multiball with the coaches. Coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun are the other coaches. Cheng and Jack run the afternoon sessions. Coach Jack Hsu is also coming in during the morning sessions to assist and put in the hours needed toward his ITTF coaching certification.

We have about 30 players this year, including a number of "luminaries," such as 2011 and 2012 National Cadet Team member Tong Tong Gong, 10 & Under Boys' Finalist at the Open and Nationals Derek Nie, U.S. Under 10 and Under 12 #1 Girl Crystal Huang (she's 9 and rated 2150!), 15-year-old Nathan Hsu (2277), and a bunch of others that range from beginner to 2200, including players from California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington DC., and of course Maryland.

Yesterday I brought in a box of chocolates - 48 in all - and during break I put them on the table near the edge. (They were individually wrapped.) Nearly the entire camp joined in as I fed multiball - two shots each, a forehand from the backhand side, and one from the forehand side - where if they knocked one off, they got the chocolate. It took about 20 minutes for them to knock off all 48, thereby saving me the trouble of having to eat them all and gain 20 pounds.

After two weeks at the Nationals and Christmas, I hadn't fed multiball in a while. After two days of feeding multiball, my out-of-shape arm is sore. Soon I'll be off for another day, with today's focus on forehand looping. Plus I have another box of chocolates.

Coaching Seminar at the USA Nationals

As I noted in my blog yesterday, Stefan Feth and Richard McAfee held a coaching seminar at the USA Nationals last week. I attended as did about twenty others. USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth went first, with a presentation on "Modern Trends in the Serve and Serve Return Game," which I also wrote about yesterday.  

Richard McAfee's presentation was on Half-Pattern Drills. Many players use rote pattern drills, where you know where the next ball is going, and so do repetitive footwork and stroke practice. However, in a game, the balls do not come out in a set pattern. At the other extreme from rote drills are pure random drills where the ball can go anywhere, such as anywhere on the forehand side and you have to move and play forehand, or randomly to the backhand or forehand, and you have to react accordingly.

With Half-Pattern drills, it's in the middle, with perhaps half the shots in the drill a pattern, and half random. This bridges the gap between rote and random drills. Including in his presentation was a printout, with nine examples of half-pattern drills, which were demonstrated in the presentation.

For example, instead of a rote drill where balls alternately to the forehand or backhand, or a random drill where the ball goes randomly to either side, a half-pattern version would be one or two balls to the forehand, one or two balls to the backhand, and repeat. In this case, you know where every other ball is going, and every other ball is random. Or do a drill where you go backhand-to-backhand until after 2-3 shots, one player goes to the forehand (either one player always does this, or either can), and then it's free play.

Come up with your own half-pattern drills - find something you need to work on, and work out a drill where about half the shots are a pattern, the rest random.

Timo Boll versus Chen Weixing

Here's a nice 44-second exhibition point between Timo Boll and Chen Weixing. And here's a more serious match between the two (9:57) from the 2009 German Open. (Germany's Boll is the #1 European player, currently #4 in the world but #1 for three months this year. Chen, formerly of China but now Austria for Germany, is currently #38 in the world but was formerly in the top ten.)

Table Tennis Nation Paddles

Table Tennis Nation now has a selection of nine fancy paddles for your selection! These are sandpaper rackets, but even if you don't plan to use them serious matches, they look pretty nice, perhaps as wall ornaments. The selections are Liberty, Zebra, Crazy Leopard, Leopard, Tiger, Patriot (sold out), Manga Mascot, Sunset, and Starry Starry. (Yes, it's "Starry Starry.")

Passionate Ping-Pong

Here's a humorous table tennis video from comic table tennis player Adam Bobrow (4:09), also starring cadet star Ethan Chua - enjoy!

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December 5, 2011

Tip of the Week

Going to the Well Too Often. This was a tricky one to write because I didn't want to encourage players to avoid a winning tactic when leading and thereby blowing a game, yet I wanted to get the point across that to win on one winning tactic you need to both use it sparingly and find other winning variations or tactics.

Nationals in one week

I leave for the USA Nationals in one week. All potential opponents of my students, wouldn't this be a nice time to take a week off, eat lots of ice cream, and watch TV? Here is my article Ten-point Plan to Tournament Success. Please do not read this. Please do not follow this. Please pretend I never posted a link to this recipe for tournament success. In fact, there's some really nice shows on TV right now, and Rocky Road ice cream is soooooo good. . . .

Why is Your Grip Pressure So Important?

Here's a nice article by Coach Massimo Constantini. We know he's a great coach, a real icon, because "Constantini" is just an anagram for "Instant Icon." (Of course, "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God," so maybe we're reading too much into this.) You may also notice that this week's Tip of the Week (see above) is also a news item at Paddle Palace - they are now sponsoring me, and so I'll be putting the weekly Tips up both here and there as news items, as well as putting up some past ones.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

If you heard the fireworks yesterday around 11:30 AM Eastern Time, that was me celebrating the completion of the first draft at 75,237 words, 21 chapters, and 319 pages double spaced. (I added a final chapter called "Tactical and Strategic Thinking Revisited.") Today I'll be coaching much of the day, so tomorrow starts the long process of rewriting, editing, and proofing.

Northern Virginia Table Tennis Center

Here's an article on the NVTTC, a full-time club in Chantilly, VA, featuring Coach Zhongxing "Coach" Lu. These full-time clubs keep popping up. (This has nostalgic value to me - I was president and Tournament & League Director of the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club for several years in the early 1980s, though it wasn't full-time back then.)

Timo Boll and Chen Weixing exhibition point

Here's a 44-second exhibition rally between Timo Boll and Chen Weixing.

Nani and Veloso play ping pong

Watch these two soccer players go at it (2:41). I'll put them in the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page when I next update, around Jan. 1. They are members of the Portuguese National Football Team (soccer in American terms). Nani is actually Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, and Veloso is Miguel Luís Pinto Veloso.

A new ping-pong song?

Yes, it's The Glowtones - Ping Pong (Doo Wop), in this video from 1957 (1:56)! The words "ping pong" are used over and over in the lyrics, and a ping-pong table in the background in the second half.

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November 15, 2011

Tip of the Week

Forehands from the Backhand Corner

Wang Hao's Illegal Serve

Here's Wang Hao against Zhang Jike in the final of the Men's World Cup this past weekend. Over and over Wang's serves are blatantly illegal. And yet, in one of the biggest matches of the year, with huge numbers of spectators (live or online), with coaches, players, and up-and-coming juniors watching, the umpires very publicly do not call it.

First, when Wang serves, notice how he always leaves his arm out until the last second, when the rules say, "As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net." I'm using his second serve in the video as an example (the first one was partly cut off), which starts eight seconds in. Here's a picture just before the ball drops behind his arm. He clearly did not remove his arm "as soon as the ball has been projected." Essentially all his serves are like this.

Second, notice how he hides contact with the arm? Here's another picture, a split second after the one above, where the ball has now disappeared from view - and note that he still has not removed his arm. Zhang is to our left and has a slightly better view, but contact is easily hidden from him by the arm in this picture. And yet, the rules state, "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."

Here's his first serve in game two.  Look at the racket, ball, and arm. His arm is directly between the ball and the opponent. Can anyone possibly say this is even remotely legal? Or this one, his second serve in game two, right at contact with his arm hiding it? Essentially every one of his serves are like these. (Earlier I had put up this randomly-chosen picture from later in the match, but I decided that made it looked like I was picking and choosing, so I changed to the ones he did right at the start of games one and two.)

Any umpire should be able to see that Wang is obviously not removing his arm from between the ball and the net, and that he is hiding contact with his arm. Even if they aren't 100% sure whether he is hiding contact, the rules state, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect." And yet, it doesn't get called.

This is frustrating to watch because if umpires will not call illegal serves, then the players who practice illegal hidden serves have a tremendous advantage. It's almost impossible to return hidden serves effectively unless you practice regularly against them, and you can't do that unless the other players you train with are also hiding their serves. If you are coaching a junior program, you can either 1) teach the juniors to serve illegally, or 2) don't teach them to serve illegally, and watch them lose to those who do because umpires won't follow the rules, and so are cheating the honest players.

Training with Timo Boll

Here are four great training segments with Timo Boll, world #2 and European #1.

Each segment is about 2.5 minutes, totaling just over ten minutes. For segments 2-4, his partner is Vladimir Samsonov. (You'll need to spend a lot of time in the Jim, I mean gym, to get the long and short of this shot. This is my way of mentioning that Jim Short first posted this video.)

  • 0:30: Forehand pendulum serve, including reverse pendulum. See how fast he whips the racket into the shot at the last second.
  • 2:27: Receive - flips, short push, long push, and loops.
  • 5:28: Forehand Loop - the Europeans just call it "topspin." One interesting note - Timo is known for changing his grip to a forehand grip when he forehand loops, but in the demonstration here he is using a neutral grip. You should always learn to loop that way or you risk developing bad habits. Some advanced players adjust their grip after their shots are ingrained.
  • 8:02: Backhand Loop. Watch the slow motion of the backhand loop, and see the shoulder motion? (Here it is again from a different angle.) I had a big argument with a U.S. National coach over this, who said the shoulder should be still during a backhand loop, with the entire shot rotating around the stationary elbow only. Actually, the shoulder moves early in the stroke, essentially dragging the arm up and setting the elbow rotation into motion like a whip. I know this not just from watching and learning from top players and coaches, but also because I have a very tight shoulder that makes the motion somewhat difficult for me. I actually have a decent backhand loop in drills, but in a match situation, because of the stiffness, my hitting zone seems about the size of a ping-pong ball. Recently it's improved, and I'm using it more against deep pushes instead of doing more usual step around forehand loop from the backhand corner.

Pongcast TV Episode 03 - 2011 World Team Cup

Here's Pongcast's video on the 2011 World Team Cup, their third video, just over 30 minutes long.

Video of the Day

Here's Table Tennis Spectacular, Part 2 (7:47).

Table Tennis on the Simpsons

Yes, here's Bart Simpson playing table tennis! This segment is only 14 seconds, and he's only playing part of it, but in the actual episode (which I saw), the table tennis playing goes on a bit longer.

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November 11, 2011

Half-Long Serves

I've been ruminating on the proper terminology for serves where the second bounce, if given the chance, would go near the end-line. The problem is the definition of a "half-long serve" seems to vary from person to person and region to region. Some say it means the second bounce is just short of the end-line; others say the second bounce is around the end-line (i.e. it might go slightly short or long); and others say the second bounce is just off the end.

I've always called this type (or these types?) of serve a "tweeny serve," but half-long serves seems to be the more popular term among advanced players. One person thought a half-long serve is always slightly long, while a tweeny serve is always slightly short.

Pretty frustrating for us wordsmiths! But the exact terminology isn't nearly as important as understanding these serves, both the execution of them and returning them.

Here's how five-time U.S. Men's Champion and two-time U.S. Olympic team member Sean O'Neill described how to return a half-long serve where the second bounce is slightly long, though you can go a bit over the table and do this against one where the second bounce would be very close to the end-line.

"Keys to remember when attacking these knuckle busters:

1) get closer to the table and often more sideways
2) smaller backswing
3) more upward motion with hands and forearm
4) more shoulder turn after the point of contact

Attacking topspin half longs are a little easier as the ball with help with the lifting. Don't forget to aim deep on your opponent's side and to see where they are vulnerable before hitting the shot."

Day Four at the Writer's Retreat

Yesterday was the fourth day of the writer's retreat at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, Mon-Fri, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM, where I'm working on my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."

After typing almost nonstop Mon-Wed, yesterday exhaustion began to set in, and I had my least productive day, and by that, I mean I did more than I had expected to do each day when this retreat began. I "only" did 4856 words, but that brought to 35,419 the total I've written since Monday morning, and 40,275 overall. I figure I'm about two-thirds through the book.

I've been thinking about this book for so long that the words are just pouring out in an explosive torrent of organized and properly formatted text.

I spent most of yesterday writing about specific strategies for various styles, including a very long section on tactics for loopers, as well as sections on tactics for hitters and blockers. I also did some rewriting of some earlier sections. Today I hope to finish the section on tactics for various styles, and move on to the chapters on playing against various grips, surfaces, and styles.

Soon I'll start going through past coaching articles I've written and begin incorporating some of that. (I've done a little of that, but most of what I've written is new.)

Today's quote: "Table tennis is a game of utter complexity and utter simplicity. If you get too caught up in the myriad of complex strategies available, you'll be lost in a sea of uncertainty. If your thinking is too simple, you aren't maximizing your play."

Here is the current Table of Contents. I'm toying with adding an "Odds and Ends" chapter where I can put tactical tips that don't quite fit elsewhere, but so far I think I can fit everything in these chapters. I had a chapter on "Rallying Tactics," but everything in that was incorporated into the chapters on "Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics" and "Tactics for Specific Styles." Otherwise, things would get a bit redundant. I also might need to add a chapter - do I really want to have thirteen chapters???

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One                Tactical Thinking
  • Chapter Two                Strategic Thinking
  • Chapter Three              All About Spin
  • Chapter Four                Your Tactical Game
  • Chapter Five                Conventional and Non-Conventional Tactics
  • Chapter Six                  Beginning Tactics
  • Chapter Seven              Service Tactics
  • Chapter Eight               Receive Tactics
  • Chapter Nine                Tactics for Specific Styles
  • Chapter Ten                 Playing Different Surfaces
  • Chapter Eleven Playing Different Grips and Styles
  • Chapter Twelve            Doubles Tactics
  • Chapter Thirteen           The Mental Side of Tactics
  • Glossary
  • About the Author
  • Index

Interview Time

The Daily Quarterly did a two-part interview with me. Part 1 went up last Friday. Here's Part 2, which went up this morning. They are the same satirical site that did the spoof of Brad Pitt starring as me in the movie adaptation of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques. And so I gave my answers accordingly.

USA Nationals Entries

Want to see who's entered in the USA Nationals (Dec. 13-17, Virginia Beach)? Here's the listing. (Make sure to set the tournament to 2011 US Nationals.) They have 562 entries, and I think they are nearly done, though a few more last-minute ones might be added. Here's the home page for the USA Nationals.

Video of the Day

Here's The Best of Timo Boll (4:35).

Paralympic Table Tennis Pictures

Here are photos taken during table tennis tournaments for disabled, care of Flickr and the ITTF.

Ones in a Lifetime

For those living in a cave or who do not worship weird numbers and dates, twice today the time and date will be 11-11-11 11:11:11, once at 11:11 AM and again at 11:11 PM. (Make sure to set your clock according to official time so you'll know exactly when it's 11 seconds past these two times.) What does this have to do with table tennis? Well, why do you think the ITTF changed the scoring system from 21 to 11 a few years back? Obviously in anticipation of today (won't happen again for 100 years), so that somewhere out there two crazy players can go out and play an 11-11 deuce game at one of the two indicated times. (Here's the CNN article on this.)

And this is spooky. Take the last two digits of the year you were born (60 for me) and add them to your age (51 for me), it'll add up to 111 for those age 12 and over, and to 11 for those 11 and under. (It's basic math, but still fun to see.) 

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October 17, 2011

Tip of the Week

You must attack those steady deep backspin serve returns.

Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques"

Now it can be told!!! Here's the opening line of the article: "In a casting coup, Paramount confirmed that Brad Pitt, star of 'Thelma and Louise' and 'True Romance,' will star in next year’s film adaptation of 'Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.'" Here's the promotional poster they already created. (I had nothing to do with creating this.)

I've been dying to post about this for weeks, ever since negotiations began for the rights to my book, and yes, Brad Pitt will star in this adaptation as, ahem, me. (And as the article mentions, I made quite a bit of money from this deal.) This breaking news should be all over the Internet within a day or so. 

This will probably give U.S. table tennis the largest exposure in its history. Oh, and tonight I'm having dinner with Brad Pitt!!! (I think he wants to study how I talk and my mannerisms.) One other bit of hopefully soon-to-be-breaking news - Ron Howard has unofficially agreed to direct. (And here's where you go if you'd like to buy a copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.)

Visual tools are the best tools

Often the best way to coach a player is to show, don't tell. A new student of mine (an eight-year-old girl) was struggling to hit a proper forehand this weekend, and kept doing all sorts of extra motions that messed up her stroke. The wrist would lag back, she'd lift the racket tip up, she'd forget to backswing or turn her shoulders, she'd change her grip, she'd put her back foot in front, and so on - practically a "who's who" of classic forehand problems all rolled into one. These didn't seem to be any one overlying problem that led to all of these other problems; she just didn't seem to have control of how she swing the paddle, or any idea of what to do.

Then I noticed one of our top junior girls, a few years older than the one I was coaching, training with another coach. So I had my student watch the top junior, and mimic her shot. Now I'd already demonstrated a proper forehand over and Over and OVER for my student, even calling over another player so we could demonstrate it properly, but to no avail. But seeing another girl a few years older doing it seemed to click with her, and soon she was mimicking the shot almost perfectly. Bingo!!!

Physical Training for the Table Tennis Player

Here's a nice recent article by Stellan Bengtsson on, well, see title above.

Backhand Tomahawk Serve

Here's a nice example of the backhand tomahawk serve (0.38), as done by Kenta Matsudaira of Japan, world #39 (and formerly #29), the 2006 world junior boys' champion, who is known as having among the best serves in the world.

European Champion Timo Boll

Timo Boll of Germany just won the European Men's Singles Championships over teammate George Baum in an all-lefty final. Here's the video (11:40), with all the time between points edited out. Here's an article on the event, which Boll won at 7,-6,3,7,8.

Thirty minutes of non-stop looping

There should be a rule that 51-year-old coaches should never have to forehand loop continuously for thirty minutes straight during a lesson so a student can practice blocking. I did, and I paid for it with my back, neck, and shoulder. I'm almost recovered now. (Note to John, Kevin, and Deapesh: this was probably why my neck stiffened up during our sessions on Sunday. The actual looping marathon was during a Friday lesson.) 

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