Matt Hetherington

September 12, 2014

Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros! By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon

As readers of this blog know, I strongly encourage players to work on sports psychology. It's amazing how many matches are won or lost on this, and yet after losing a match because of nerves or some related issue, players go and practice the shots they missed when they were nervous rather than address the reason they missed the shots with a dose of sports psychology. Here's a number of resources on sports psychology, including this excellent one.

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros!, the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (available at amazon.com). It's 158 pages with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read, since most other books are more general, for all sports. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

I reviewed an earlier and shorter version of this book, "Get Your Game Face On." This version is greatly expanded, both the text and the title. If you are serious about your table tennis, I strongly encourage you to read this book, and try out the various methods explained for strengthening your mental game. It could pay off dramatically in your performance.

The first half is similar to the previous version. In Part 1, the book covers the Game Face System, going over both the routine and how to train for it. It points out four major problems that plague table tennis players, and then goes about giving systematic ways of combating them:

  • Inconsistency
  • Not being able to play as well as we practice
  • Your energy level can be too high or too low
  • Distractions

Central to the book is developing a "Game Face," the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and a "Game Face Routine," using the four R's, which are covered in Part 2:

  • Reaction ("If you want to maintain your Game Face during competition, you must learn to control your reaction consistently right after every point.")
  • Recover (Recover from the point, relax, etc., with eight methods listed)
  • Readiness (This is where you ensure that you are mentally prepared for the action to resume. You ask yourself, "What is the situation? What is my job?" This is where you do your tactical thinking.)
  • Ritual (To prepare mentally for the next point)

Throughout the book there are numerous real-world examples from world-class players. Often I was nodding my head at mental tricks that match what I'd developed over the years, or at recognizing something I'd see others do. The specific breakdown of how you use the time between points - the four R's - especially led to much thought that will influence my own coaching. The book should be a must for table tennis coaches and serious players.

The book then goes on to cover four major problems players face in competition, with a section devoted to each, and how to recover from them: Anger, Nerves, Mistakes, and Distractions. While the Four R's are likely the most important part of the book long-term, these four sections are probably of great value short term for players trying to address these issues right now. (But the Four R's will give a longer-term fix, especially in combination with this section.)

Part 3 is mostly new, and covers a wide variety of issues under the general topic of Develop Your Healthy Lifestyle Choices. After more about the Game Face Performance Triangle (Emotional-Physical-Mental), it covers 14 specific topics under three categories. Under Physiological, it has Nutrition, Hydration, and Sleep. Under Physical it has Practice, Conditioning, and Rehearsal (practicing the four R's of your Game Face routine). Under Mental, it has Self-Talk, Focus, and Visualization. Under Daily Life it has Time Management, Academics and Work, Fun, Relationships, and Environments.

The book finishes with two more sections, "Where to Go from Here," and a note to coaches, "Hey, Coach, Get Your Game Face On!" It's unfortunate that most coaches don't really focus on sports psychology. There's more to coaching than just technique and tactics.

Dora Kurimay was a member of the Hungarian National Table Tennis Team for six years and was six-time National Champion in doubles, singles, and teams. Perhaps more importantly she has a Bachelor's degree in psychology and two Master's degrees, in Psychology and in Sports Psychology. She has a long coaching background as well, both in table tennis and other sports. She now lives in the U.S. and at this writing has a 2380 rating. Kathy Toon coached tennis for twenty-three years, including at the University of California-Berkeley for fourteen years where teams she coached won three national doubles championships. 

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

In my blog yesterday when I announced the new inductees I inadvertently left out Richard Butler as an inductee. (I've since added him there.) So here's actual list: Sheila O'Dougherty, Lisa Gee, Tawny Banh, Richard Butler, and Lifetime Achievement Award Donna Sakai. Congrats to all! (Here's the USATT Hall of Fame.)

Para World Championships

They are taking place right now in Beijing, China, Sept. 6-15. Here's the USATT page and the ITTF page for the event. Here are pictures. Representing USA are Tahl Leibovitz and Sherri Umscheid, with Angie Bengtsson the USA Coach. Tahl made the quarterfinals of Class 9.

The 5 Coolest Table Tennis Tables in Existence

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Youth Olympic Games Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:15), created by Jim Butler. (She got the bronze in Under 18 girls.)

Southern Open Highlights Video

Here's the video (9:56).

Completely Insane Rally by Ma Lin

Here's the video (1:10), with Ma on the far side.

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a highlights video (5:01) from four years ago that I don’t think I've ever posted.

The Port City Ping Pong Throwdown

Here's the promotional video (2:49), from the Wilmington TTC in North Carolina.

Wizard Pong?

Here's an animated gif image of what appears to be a wizard playing table tennis with his scepter! (Is that Loki from the movie Thor?)

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August 11, 2014

Tip of the Week

Ten Steps to a Great Service Game.

Virginia Camp

On Friday we had the final day of the camp in Fairfax, Virginia. In the morning we split the players into two groups. One group did various physical training and agility exercises with Wen Hsu (as they had been doing all week). The other group did multiball with me and hit with the robot. We did a lot of smashing and pushing, and a few worked on looping. We also did "player's choice," where the players got to choose what to work on. 

Then we had a practice tournament. There were 14 players, so we divided them into two groups of seven, with the top two from each side playing crossovers. All matches were best of three to 11. For prizes we had a series of "large" prizes - a playing bag and copies of all of my books (signed). We also had table tennis key chains. The first place winner got his choice of two large prizes plus a key chain. Second was one large prize and a key chain. Third through six got their choice of one large prize or key chain. (All took books.) I donated the books - in all, the books chosen were three copies of "Table Tennis: Steps to Success," and one copy each of "Table Tennis Tips," "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers," and my humorous fantasy novel (which stars a table tennis wannabe), "Sorcerers in Space." I also gave a signed copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques to all 14 players. (I have a lot of extra copies.) Camp tournament results: 1. Harrison Tun; 2. Brandon Choi; 3-4: Leo Diperna and Ian Ramanata; 5. Vincent Diperna; 6. Chris Kutscher.

Here's a camp picture, with two players missing - they had to leave early, alas, and we forgot to get a picture when they were there. (Coach John Hsu is in background, that's me on the right.) Immediately after the picture they took turns smacking balls at the cup fort, with me feeding multiball. Many cups dies in the onslaught, but Froggy survived.

Koki Niwa and His Techniques and Tactics

Here's an article on Japan's Koki Niwa, world #15, where he talks about his techniques and tactics. Includes instructional pictures and a link to a Koki Niwa tribute video (3:36). (Note that the "chiquita" her refers to is the banana flip - Chiquita is a major producer and distributors of bananas and other produce, so I'm guessing that's where it comes from.)

Seven Things You Need to Know to Master the New Plastic Ball

Here's the posting and some discussion at the OOAK TT Forum.

Sports Psychology - Recognize Your Feelings

Here's the video (5:27) from PingSkills.

Top 10 Servers in Table Tennis

Here's the video (12:40).

Marty Reisman: The Greatest Sportsman You've Never Heard Of

Here's the article from Esquire Magazine. 

USA's Shivansh Kuma Finds Success at Guatemala Junior and Cadet Open

He made the final of Cadet Boys Singles, and teamed with India's Mudit Dani to win Cadet Boys teams. The two also made the semifinals of Cadet Boys Teams and the quarterfinals of Junior Boys Doubles. Here's the home page for the Aug. 6-9 event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here's the ITTF article on the Cadet Boys Teams.  

Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open

Here's the home page for the Aug. 6-10 event, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Fifteen USA juniors took part in the event - here's a participants listing. Here's a listing USA major results.

  • Krish Avvari: semifinals of Cadet Boys (here's a picture of him on the podium, second from right)
  • Kanak Jha: quarterfinals of Cadet Boys
  • Krish Avvari and Kanak Jha: Semifinals of Cadet Boys Doubles and Teams
  • Adar Alguetti and Victor Liu: Quarterfinals of Cadet Boys Doubles
  • Lily Zhang and Prachi Jha: Semifinals of Junior Girls Doubles, Quarterfinals of Junior Girls Teams
  • Joy Li and Puerto Rico's Adriana Diaz: Quarterfinals of Cadet Girls Doubles

Bockoven Brothers Netting Success in Table Tennis

Here's the article from the Boston Globe. I remember going to a Seemiller camp in 1977 when I was 17 and father Ralph was one of the big stars of the camp! Connor and Chase are the heirs of that tradition.

Top Ten Places to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Final of the China Super League - Zhang Jike vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov

Here's the video (39 min). To save time and add drama they only play to seven in the fifth game in this league. (Spoiler alert!) Dimitrij leads 4-0 in that decisive fifth game - but Zhang scores seven in a row.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Seventy-nine down, 21 to go!

  • Day 22: The Gift of Braking and Changing Focus
  • Day 23: ITTF’s Museum Curator Chuck Hoey Preserves Our Heritage
  • Day 24: Shahrokh Shahnazi Promotes ITTF’s P5 Plan, Even to the IOC

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge Play Table Tennis

Here they are playing at a homeless shelter.

Ruini Li the Cover for the Milpitas Post

Here's the picture. (If you have trouble seeing the Facebook version, try this one.)

Funny Dog Watching Table Tennis

Here's the video (48 sec) - it's hilarious! (I might have posted this a couple years ago, but it's worth repeat viewing.)

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August 7, 2014

Multi-Colored Balls

I don't get it. No sport relies more on spin than table tennis. We complain all the time about how spectators don't understand high-level table tennis the way they do other sports because they can't see how much spin players are putting on the ball. We complain all the time over how serves often dominate, with way too many rallies ended by the receiver missing or making a weak return that the server puts away. SO WHY DO WE USE ONE-COLORED BALL??? We should be using a multi-color ball so both players and spectators can see the spin.

Sure, this would hurt players who rely on disguising spin - but not as much as you'd think, since by the time players read the spin from the ball it will often be too late. It might hurt defensive players, and that's the only reason for any hesitation on such a switch, and why it should be well tested first. But it might not hurt them as much as it might seem, as defensive players will be able to make better serve returns against attacking players. They'll be able to read the serve better, and since defensive players usually take the ball later than others, will have more time to read the service spin from the multi-colored ball than attacking players. 

I've blogged in the past about this, suggesting we either use a soccer-colored ball or have a contest for a design for a multi-colored ball. (The kids love it when I pull out the soccer-colored balls in our camps, which I do to demonstrate various spin shots, and so they can get feedback when they practice their spin serves.) The ITTF is experimenting with a two-colored ball, but there are two problems with the ball they are trying out. First, world #4 Dimitrij Ovtcharov reported that over half the balls broke when he practiced with them. (Here's the article, which I linked to on Monday. Here's a picture of the two-colored balls.) Second, the balls they are trying out are boring - half orange, half white. Perhaps having each hemisphere of the ball a different color makes it easier to see the rotation - I'm not sure, since I haven't actually used one like that. But I know you can see the ball spinning very clearly on the soccer-colored balls. Give us something exciting to look at, like the soccer balls or a nice design created specifically for table tennis!!! (Note - see Matt Hetherington's article below, "Why Catering For Spectators has Backfired," where he argues against going to two-colored balls and other changes to the sport. I wrote the above last night, and didn't see his article until this morning.) 

Virginia Camp

Yesterday was Day Three of the five-day camp. The focus was on footwork, pushing, and forehand loop. I was amazed at how quickly most of them picked up looping against backspin as I fed multiball. I also introduced them to Froggy, and much target practice ensued. 

We've started each day with ball bouncing, which is a great way for kids to develop hand-eye coordination and ball control. The record for most bounces in a row at MDTTC is 2316 by Matt Stepanov (now 13, but 11 when he set the record). While he still holds that record, a new camp record was set by 11-year-old Leo Diperna, who did 3363 bounces in a row. We didn't plan on it, he just wanted to go until he missed, and we let him. It took about half an hour. 

2014 North American Championships

Here's the info page. They will be held Aug. 31 - Sept. 1 (Sun & Mon) in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

First Non-Celluloid USATT Sanctioned Event

Here's the entry form for this perhaps historic event, the Texas Wesleyan Open, Sept. 20 in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Review of the DHS Plastic Ball

Here's the video (6:17) of Matt Hetherington's review.

Why Catering For Spectators has Backfired

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington, which came out this morning. He takes the opposing view on changing to the two-colored ball. 

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Seventy-five down, 25 to go!

  • Day 26: André Damman Has 70 Years of Table Tennis Experience

Harry Potter Plays Table Tennis

Here's the article that talks about Daniel Radcliffe playing table tennis with Zoe Kazan, his co-star in the new movie "What If," and links to a video (1:46) showing them playing. 

Will Ping Pong be Included in the Robot Olympics?

Here's the article!

Ping-Pong Balls on the Floor Eye View

Here's the picture!

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July 10, 2014

Watching Matches

I've always wanted to put a camera on spectators that shows exactly what they see as they watch a table tennis match. But I'm afraid that most of what we'd see is their eyes focused on the ball as it goes back and forth, with the players themselves slightly blurry images on the side. That's because that's exactly what most spectators are watching when they watch a match. It's almost like self-hypnosis as their eyes go back and forth, Back and Forth, BACK AND FORTH, over and over and over. You might as well just stare at a stationary ball.

Instead, try focusing on one of the players, and see what he does. That's how you can learn what the players are really doing, and learn their techniques, something you can't do by staring at the ball as it goes back and forth. Some of the things you'll learn might surprise you. For example, to the ball-watchers, some players are fast, some are slow. But when you watch the "slow" players, often it turns out they seem slow simply because they got to the ball before the ball got there, and are seemingly just there without really moving. The "fast" players are often the ones who got slower starts, and are just getting to the ball as it arrives, and so you see them move, and so they seem fast. (A famous example of this was Jan-Ove Waldner, who always seemed to be where the ball was, and never seemed to move much - but that's because most of his movement was while spectators' eyes were on the ball that hadn't yet reached his side.) 

Another aspect that ball-watching spectators miss is the initial movements on receive. They see the receive, but they don't see the step-ins for short balls, or when the player started to move to receive, and so on. Often receivers start to do one thing, then change as the serve approaches - but you don't see this unless you are focused on the receiver from the start of the point.

So if you really want to learn, don't watch the ball. Pick a player and watch him exclusively for a game or so. Then watch the other. You'll learn a lot more this way than by watching the little ball. Let the players do that.

Improving the Backhand Loop by Brian Pace

Here's the blog entry, with both text and video on the backhand loop.

How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players by Matt Hetherington

Here's the article.

Three New Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina

Kasumi Ishikawa Voted Japan's Most Pleasant Athlete

Here's the story.

One Energy Commercial - Behind the Scenes

On Monday I linked to the One Energy Commercial (30 sec) that featured Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen playing in neon outfits. Here's the behind the scenes video (2:19) that shows it being put together.

Jordi Alba Plays "Soccer" Table Tennis

Here's the video (36 sec) of the Spanish soccer star and others. (That's football for non-Americans.)

Judah Friedlander Plays Table Tennis in "Teacher's Lounge"

Here's the video (3:09) where Judah - a real-life 1600 player - prepares for the student/faculty ping pong championship. It's in episode 3 of this TV show. Judah and the table tennis starts 1:25 into the video. (Warning - foul language!)

Chimp Pong

Here's a new picture of a chimpanzee playing table tennis. I don't know if it's real or not. Here's another one.

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June 20, 2014

MDTTC Camps

I've coached at over 180 five-day or more training camps, usually six hours per day. That's over 900 days of camp, or two and a half years. (Add camps I went to as a player and it comes to over three years. Add group sessions I've run, and the numbers go up astronomically.) I can do lectures on every topic we cover on the drop of a ping-pong ball, and most of them probably come out word-for-word the same every time as they are so ingrained now. I have changed the lectures somewhat over the years as techniques have changed and as I've learned better ways of explaining them, but most fundamentals haven't changed a lot since we opened up the Maryland Table Tennis Center 22 years ago. (Probably the biggest change in my lectures is a greater emphasis on topspin on the backhand than before.)

This camp I'm not giving many lectures, as most of the players are locals and we decided to get them out to the tables more quickly rather than have them watch demos and listen to lectures from me that they've all heard before. It's actual a surreal experience not giving these lectures.

As always, the players can be divided into three types. There are the goof-offs - the ones who are here strictly for the fun, or because their parents made them, or are just too young to be serious yet, and aren't really interested in learning. They are the hardest to deal with. There are the in-betweens - the ones who do want to learn, sort of, and will do what you ask, but are really counting the minutes until we get to playing games. They're okay to work with, and you push them as hard as you think you can without losing them. And then there are the ones who are determined to get good, and really work at it. They are great to work with. I often surreptitiously give them longer sessions, and sometimes hit with them at the end of a session or even on break. These are the ones who want longer turns at multiball while the others can't wait to finish their turn. They are also the ones who get really good.

Here's an interesting question of biology and physics. Did you know that the average mass of a seven-year-old's foot is many thousands of times greater than an adults? It may not seem so until you see the gravitational pull between the bottoms of their feet and any ping-pong balls that lie on the floor, leading to many broken balls.

Due to this blog and other writing projects, I've been operating on little sleep this week at camp. I confess I've taken the easy way out. When I take the kids to 7-11 during lunch break I've been buying a Mountain Dew each time. I try to go easy on soft drinks, with a general rule of only drinking them at restaurants and at home when working late at night, but I made an exception here. Hopefully I won't be this exhausted all summer.

I've got the summer divided roughly into six segments:

  1. June 16-29: first two weeks of summer camp plus private & group coaching
  2. June 30-July 6: the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids
  3. July 7-24: three more weeks of camps and private & group coaching
  4. July 25-Aug. 3: Writers workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire
  5. Aug. 4-24: three more weeks of camps plus private & group coaching, ending with MDTTC Open
  6. Aug. 25-29: Rest and Recover!!!

Help Wanted - USATT CEO

Yesterday I linked to the job description and application info for CEO of USA Table Tennis. As I noted the, they have a LOT of requirements!!!

One thing that jumped out at me near the end is where it said near the very end under Qualifications, "A genuine passion for the sport of Table Tennis.  Exposure to, or involvement in the sport is a plus." If exposure or involvement in the sport is only a "plus," then how could it be required that the person have a "genuine passion for the sport of Table Tennis"? There were a couple of other things that threw me that I won't get into. It said to apply or respond to this opportunity, please visit www.prodigysports.net/search. I visited it, but it was a bad address. However, under it was a link to apply.

No, I'm not applying. I don't qualify for much of what is required - I'm not what they are looking for. I blogged about this on March 27 and on May 21. As I wrote in those blogs, I believe we are once again playing the lottery in trying to sell the sport now rather than focusing on the process of developing our sport so we can sell it. (You don't need large sums of money to start this process, as I've pointed out repeatedly.) Maybe we'll get lucky this time, but we've tried this unsuccessful approach for many decades. Playing the lottery can be addictive - instant get rich schemes are always more attractive than doing the hard work in developing the sport.

At the end of the application info there's a "Characteristics of the Successful Candidate" section. I decided to grade myself on the ten items. Why not grade yourself as well?

  1. Proven success in effectively leading, building, mentoring, managing, motivating, encouraging professional growth of, and delegating to staff.
    C or Incomplete; I don't have a lot of experience in these areas.
  2. Credible, truthful and honest; a person of high integrity.  Able to express themselves frankly but with respect.  Conflict resolution and sound decision-making skills critical.
    I would hope I get an A here.
  3. Experience in planning and executing fundraising activities in non-profit and/or amateur sports organizations.  Track record of growing revenue and creating progressive, stable and sustainable funding sources.
    C or Incomplete; not a lot of experience here.
  4. A self-starter able to independently assess or enhance existing programs as well as initiate new programs as needed.
    A; this pretty much defines much of what I do.
  5. Skilled written and verbal communicator on all levels along with ability to liaise with Board of Directors, the USOC, and other organizations within and related to the sport.
    Easy A for me here!
  6. Ability to initiate, develop, and maintain favorable relationships with athletes, volunteers, parents, officials, sponsors, members, other related organizations, such as the ITTF, and the United States Olympic Committee.
    I think I'd get an A here as well.
  7. Knowledge and skill to manage a budget effectively.
    Another A. Besides a bachelors in math, I was familiar with the USATT budget for years. I don't know advanced accounting systems, but that's not needed - we have accountants for that.
  8. Ability to successfully negotiate contracts.
    D; I'm not that good a negotiator. I hate haggling. I used to bring in record advertising when I was editor of USATT Magazine, but I sold the ads based on the strong content and timeliness of the magazine, not by salesmanship.
  9. Organizational competence and multitasking proficiency.
    Easy A here.
  10. Tested business savvy coupled with strong people skills.
    C+. When I put aside my idealistic side, I have pretty good business savvy, other than my weak negotiating skills. My people skills are pretty good via email, not so good in person, especially with strangers.

Stop Pushing

Here's a new coaching article by Ben Larcombe at about.com. Yes, at about.com - the table tennis site there is back up, but I don't see the forum yet.

How to Make the Most of Similar Level Training Partners

Here's the new coaching article by Matt Hetherington.

Footwork Training with Jorgen Persson

Here's the video (33 sec) - it's a great and fun way to develop quick feet!

USA Nationals

It's official - it'll be held in Las Vegas, Dec. 16-20. It now shows up in the USATT Tournament listing.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-seven down, 73 to go!

  • Day 74: The Ravages of World War II & Resulting Peace Initiatives in the ITTF

ITTF Schools Program

Just thought I'd give a shout-out to their Table Tennis in Schools Program, which is especially helpful for teaching groups of younger kids. Recently I was looking for more table tennis type games kids in the 6-8 age range could play, and copied a few of the ones they have in their manual in section four, "Activity Cards."

The Internet Wins Pingpong Battle with Obama

Here's the article, where they show how a picture of Obama playing table tennis with English Prime Minister David Cameron has become a hit with online memes.

Ping Pong - the Animation

I'm not sure if I linked to all four of these animated table tennis cartoons before, so there they are. Each episode is exactly 23:07. I haven't watched them yet - I may do so tonight. Can anyone tell us about them in the comments below?

Ping Pong with Oncoming Traffic

Here's the article and pictures - yes, the guy rallied off oncoming cars and trucks!

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May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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