Crystal Wang

October 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Top Ten Ways to Play Your Best in a Tournament.

Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's where you can download the video (60 min) or see the trailer (2:12) about the late Marty Reisman (Feb. 1, 1930 - Dec. 7, 2012). "A chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life. A table tennis champion turned hustler. Pursuing notoriety and motivated by his love of fame and ping pong, he has to face his biggest fear: mortality."

Here's the IMDB entry on the film. Here's the full description:

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler is a chronicle of the final three years of Marty Reisman's life, a former international table tennis champion-turned-money player. Pursuing notoriety through his idiosyncratic lifestyle and motivated by his love of fame and Ping Pong, he inadvertently has to face his biggest fear: mortality. Shot over three years, the film follows Marty - a complex mix of childlike excitement, eccentric narcissism and constant charm - as he negotiates between pride, the denial of old age, past defeats and the decline of his fame and fortune, as well as his devoted wife Yoshiko's health, all while clinging onto the hope that his own life and career are just beginning to blossom. The film's observational style, combined with rare archive footage and interviews with key New York and London society characters such Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson and eminent psychotherapist George Weinberg, work to tell the story of one of America's greatest.

I recently watched the video on my computer, along with Tim Boggan. I knew Marty pretty well. In fact, he's how I got into table tennis! Here's the story.

The video uses both old and recent footage of Reisman, showcasing him from his early years (growing up in the depression, discovering "a different world" in table tennis, and developing as a player in the hardbat era) to his last days, and especially the last three years of his life. Parts of it are rather dark, with much of the video taking place in a hospital after his heart surgery and shortly before Marty died. There's also footage of him running Reisman's Table Tennis Club, which ran from 1958 to the late 1970s.

Marty was perhaps the most flamboyant and stylish table tennis player who ever lived. The video features his many outfits, hats, his tailor and dry cleaner, and even the cane he used - not because he needed it, but for style purposes. Marty quotes poetry, jokes with doctors, talks and sings about mortality, teaches his forehand, shows his microscopes (a hobby of his), demonstrates the cigarette trick, talks about Satoh (the man from Japan who introduced the sponge racket and won the 1952 Worlds, the year Reisman thought he should have won), and talks about how much he was looking forward to a challenge match he had planned with 2009 U.S. Men's Champion Michael Landers. "You'll be in a film with the great Marty Reisman," he explained to Landers. (The film mistakenly credits Landers as being on the U.S. Olympic team.) There's also segments about a planned "Marty's Bar" at Spin TTC in New York.

Yes, Marty was an egomaniac, but he didn't hide this fact - in fact, he wore it on his sleeve, with an almost in-your-face ego. And yet he could be incredibly nice if you played along with it and treated him well. He was a God to many, and enjoyed playing the role. Much of his Godhood came about from the stand he took against sponge rubber, insisting on sticking with hard rubber (and later sandpaper), which he considered a far superior game, where two players had a "dialog" when they rallied.

Near the end there's about 3.5 minutes with USATT Historian Tim Boggan, who gives sort of a fact check to some of the items in the film. (Hence the "Fact or Fiction" part of the title.) He also shows a "Marty as Don Quixote" picture, symbolizing Marty fighting the windmills of sponge.

MDTTC Featured at WETA  and PBS

Here's the video (4 min), which features me, Crystal Wang, and Derek Nie.

First Ever ITTF Level Three Course in USA Staged

Here's the ITTF article on the course just completed in Colorado Springs, taught by Richard McAfee. 

Women's World Cup

In the all-Chinese final held Sunday, world #1 Ding Ning defeated world #4 Liu Xiaoxia. Here's a video of the match highlights (4:04). Here's the ITTF home page for the event with results, articles, photos, and video. Here's the ITTF Press Release on the Final. Here's the Daily Shot of the Day:

iPong Basic Series: Forehand Drive

Here's the video (1:19) of Richard McAfee teaching the stroke.

Kenta Matsudaira's Sidespin Block

Here's the new video (3:56) from PingSkills of the Japanese player (world #27, #16 in January). My students hate it when I throw sidespin or chop blocks at them!

Training at Zhou Xin TTA

Here's the list of videos.

Ask the Coach

Here are two more "Ask the Coach" episodes from PingSkills.

Episode #10 (13:26):

  • Question 1: Usually players follow one style, attack or defense. If I want to change mine to All Around to add some defensive strokes, when is it efficient to start? When the attack style is completely confident or it’s better to study all the strokes at the same time? Olena.
  • Question 2: I realize that in table tennis we use only one part of our hand (upper arm, lower arm, and wrist) so what is the time to use each part of it and can I combined them? Frendy.
  • Question 3: How to reply to a player who simply sends every shot back with push & chop shots? I feel like I am playing the ball against a wall. I start to think that I have to do something to end the rally and then I make the mistake & lose the point. Len Buffey.
  • Question 4: What advice can you give to changing the momentum in a match? I was recently up 2-0 in a match and lost all confidence after losing the 3rd set and continued to go downhill losing in 5.
  • Question 5: Is there difference between a lob and a fish? If yes, what is it? Kaustubh Kulkarni.

Episode #11 (13:05):

  • Question 1: Hi Alois! I have my first tournament of the season in a week and I want to practice my serves. One problem: I don't have any plastic balls. Is it bad to practice my serves with celluloid balls? Yoan Pelletier
  • Question 2: Do you other professionals who play with shakehand, use a specific or specialized grip to serve and then quickly shift to the shakehand for the majority of the point? Do you stay with the special grip after the serve? Cole Mooney
  • Question 3: I recently received advice to engage my thumb and apply pressure onto the rubber when backhand counterhitting. The advice improved my backhand but I don't know if should change especially if the rallies are transitioning BH to FH in a fast manner. Danny Ly
  • Question 4: Due to studies I didn’t play table tennis for 1.5 months. I played today in an interschool tournament and I lost to a player whom I used to defeat every time. What is the reason of my defeat and how can I prepare for my state tournament. Shivam Goenka
  • Question 5: As a penhold player, should I hit with the other side of my bat? I tend to find that I can't have as much control as if I simply move more and use the same side of my bat. Colin Young

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship - see last paragraph in particular. Deadline is Nov. 1, 2014. "The Shonie Aki Scholarship award, in the amount of $1250 for one year, will be offered to a young table tennis player who has aspirations to complete a college education, become a better player, and a productive individual who would reflect on Shonie's legacy. In order to be considered to receive this scholarship award, candidates must be expecting to attend college in 2015 (and have at least two years remaining to complete their degree) and have GPAs of at least B or better."

Top 5 Veteran Table Tennis Ladies You Don't Want to Mess With

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis Tournament to Benefit Homeless Portlanders

Here's the article.

The Making of Table Tennis Blades and Rubbers

Here's the video (13:08).

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's the latest episode - Hengdian World Studios! - China Day 48 Part 1 (5:49).

Jorgen Persson and Bill Clinton

Here are five pictures of the two playing golf in 2005. The other player is Brian Laudrup, a Danish soccer player.

Ma Long's Birthday Party

Here's the picture. He just turned 26.

Be So Bold

Here's the video (60 sec) - I think this is a jeans commercial, but I'm not sure. That's one cheap paddle the "star" is using.

Bruce Lee Ping Pong

Here's a new video (3:13) where two hackers flamboyantly play table tennis with various implements, from bottles and paper towel rolls to cheese graters. (Not really a lot to do with Bruce Lee, however, other than the title.)

Cooking Ping-Pong Balls for Breakfast

Here's the video (5 sec) - looks pretty tasty!

***
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October 6, 2014

Tip of the Week

Should You Play Tournaments When Working on Something New?

Coaching and a Ball Shortage - a Good Thing?

Yesterday was somewhat hectic for an unusual reason - a ball shortage. But perhaps that was a good thing?

I spent the morning working with Tim Boggan on Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis (1986-88). We started around 6AM and stopped at noon. (Over the weekend Tim and I watched the Marty Reisman documentary "Fact or Fiction: The Life & Times of a Ping-Pong Hustler, which I'll blog about later this week, probably tomorrow - I took lots of notes. 84-year-old Tim found it depressing.) After lunch I went to MDTTC for three hours of private coaching and a 90 minute junior group session.

The private coaching went pretty well - two juniors and one adult. The first of the two kids was a relative beginner, age 11. He did pretty well - his basic forehand and backhand strokes are sound - so we spent much of the session working on his forehand loop, and then on serves. His loop gets surprising spin for someone who hasn't been doing it very long - he has very good contact with the ball, though he tends to stop his upper body rotation before contact, costing him power. The second kid was a 7-year old who already topspins all his backhands, essential an off-the-bounce backhand loop that's going to be scary good someday. We spent much of the session also working on his forehand loop. The final session was with Navin, the full-time hardbat and sandpaper player with the artificial heart and Parkinson's. We spent much of the session working on his forehand hitting and backhand chop blocking, and then on hardbat serves.

Then came the hectic part. From 4:30-6:00 I teach a junior class with 12 players. Assisting was Coach Jeffrey. We needed three boxes of balls - two for Jeffrey and I (for multiball) and another for the robot. The problem was that coaches Cheng, Jack, Leon, Bowen, Raghu, and John were all doing private coaching sessions, and several of our top juniors were using boxes of balls to train or practice serves, and suddenly we had a severe ball shortage. (Fortunately, Coach Alex is in China right now or it might have been worse!) We'd opened the last box of training balls a few days later, and for now there were no more. So Jeffrey and I scrounged around the club, grabbing every ball we could. We managed to get enough - barely - though we had to really focus on ball pickup so we wouldn't run out of balls.

We do nearly 300 hours of coaching at MDTTC each week. I'm constantly amazed when I hear from some players and club leaders about how impossible it is to get players, that there just isn't enough demand out there. But there's a simple formula we discovered when we opened MDTTC 22 years ago - if you bring in high-level coaches with great work ethics, and let them keep the bulk of their private coaching income, they will have great incentive to bring in students, and those students will become the backbone of the club, paying for memberships, tournaments, leagues, equipment, and group coaching sessions. That's how you fill a club up. It's not easy at the start, but if you do it, the players will come. That's the formula that works for us, and for the large majority of the roughly 75 full-time clubs in the U.S. (I wrote more about this in the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, in particular on how to find students to develop a full-time coaching practice.)

More Larry & Tim Quotes

On Friday I blogged about working with Tim Boggan on Volume 15 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis, and gave a number of quotes. Here are more.

Larry: "Should we use the good one or the blur?"
Tim: "It goes against my grain, but we'll use the better picture."
Larry: "I knew you'd weaken."

~

Tim: "Let's use them even though they're good." (About two photos that were so good they made the others look bad.)

~

Tim: "Bring the curtain over." (Wanted me to move something in a photo.)

~

Larry: "Posterity will come and go, and no one will ever know." (Musing to himself about the various manipulations he does on the page.

~

Larry: "I want to check something." (Every five minutes.)
Larry: "Have to check on the Orioles game." (Every five minutes.)
Larry: "I have an email coming." (Every 30 seconds.)

Snake Serve Table Tennis

Here's a video (5:19) of a hilarious coaching video. Learn the Snake Serve (a forehand pendulum serve), the Reverse Serve, and the Lizard Serve! Warning - if you suffer from Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), do not watch this.

Top Ten Creative Servers of Table Tennis

Here's the article and video (12:41).

Learn How to Make Your Loops More Deceptive - Just Add Variation!

Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's Nathan's latest vlog (4:12). He's actually back now, and editing and putting the videos online when he's not training. 

USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the USATT article. This month they are Crystal Wang (women), Timothy Wang (men), and Tahl Leibovitz (Paralympic). Crystal, of course, is from my club.

Charity Tournament and Celebrity SLAMFest Huge Success

Here's the USATT article.

Asian Games Men's Final

Here's the video (7:12, with time between points taken out) between the top two players in the world, Xu Xin and Fan Zhendong.

China on Top of Asia after Claiming Men's & Women's Singles Gold

Here's the ITTF Press Release.

Ping-Pong Business Hopes to Restart Table Tennis Craze

Here's the article (with pictures and video) about King Pong Table Tennis in Staten Island.

Happy Birthday Jan-Ove Waldner

Here's the graphic and comments - he turned 49 on Friday.

Arguing About Benghazi Talking Points

Here's the TT cartoon.

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September 26, 2014

The Ping Pong Diet, Table Tennis, and Academics

Dr. Chris Ko just came out with a new book, The Ping Pong Diet: The Twenty-One Point Plan. A few of you may remember Chris as a top MDTTC junior from the early 1990s, usually known back then as Christopher Ko. Here's his home page/blog, where he focuses on diet and nutrition. (The diet part might be of interest to me, though I think I've figured that part out, going from 196 this past summer to 178 this morning.) I just ordered the book, and will likely write about it after I read it. I'm not sure yet how much it applies to table tennis. Here's the book description:

"The Ping Pong Diet teaches you how to use the power of plants and protein to control your hunger and manage your weight. No counting. No calculations. Just eating, and a lot of it! But unlike other diet books, this book teaches you how to both lose the weight and keep it off. These strategies make up the twenty-one point plan for weight management that teaches you to eat well, be well, and finally feel well again. Engaging and inspirational, the Ping Pong Diet combines practical nutritional insight with motivational psychology to give you a new appreciation for food and for yourself. So pick up the Ping Pong Diet and get in the game!"

Here's a list of Chris's titles, where at the Junior Olympic, Junior Nationals, and U.S. Open he won three silvers and seven bronze in various junior events. (I only have a listing from 1992 on, when MDTTC opened, so don't have some of his earlier titles. I believe he also won Under 10 Boys at the Junior Olympics before 1992.) 

  • 1992 Junior Nationals Under 14 Boys' Singles Bronze Medalist
  • 1992 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Singles Bronze Medalist
  • 1992 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Doubles Bronze Medalist
  • 1992 Junior Olympics Under 14 Boys' Team Silver Medalist
  • 1992 U.S. Open Under 14 Boys' Doubles Finalist (Silver)
  • 1993 Junior Nationals Under 16 Boys' Doubles Bronze Medalist
  • 1993 Junior Nationals Under 18 Boys' Team Bronze Medalist
  • 1993 Junior Olympics Boys' Singles Bronze Medalist
  • 1993 Junior Olympics Under 18 Boys' Teams Silver Medalist
  • 1995 Junior Nationals Under 18 Boys' Teams Bronze Medalist

Chris isn't the only former top Maryland junior with a medical degree, i.e. an MD MD. Vivian Lee, Jessica Shen, and Michael Terao all have MDs, and I'm sure there are many others I don't know of or have forgotten about. But it's not just Maryland juniors who are academically oriented - the same is true of kids from training centers all over the U.S. - and I hesitate to list any because I'll leave out some obvious ones. (Readers, please list in the comments former top juniors who now have MDs or equivalent high-level degrees.) Eric Owens, the 2001 USA Men's Singles Champion, either has his MD now or is on the verge. Dennis Hwang, a member of the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs in the late 1980s, trained three hours a day, graduated as the valedictorian, and is now an MD. There are many more. Even Crystal Wang, the 12-year-old 2400 phenom from my club, who recently became the youngest player ever to make the USA Women's Team and win Under 22 Women's Singles, goes to a magnet school because of her advanced academics. But she's just one of the many juniors at my club (and other clubs) who have the discipline to excel at both table tennis and academics.

So why are top junior players in table tennis so successful in academics? There are two primary reasons. Let's face it, one of the reasons is because of the Asian community, which places so much emphasis on academics (bravo!), and since they also dominate the table tennis world, we get a lot of academically-minded table tennis stars. The other reason is that training at anything teaches self-discipline, which applies to other activities as well - so if someone has or develops the self-discipline to train hard and become a top table tennis player, he usually has the same self-discipline to become good at whatever he tries.

European Team Championships

It's going on right now in Lisbon, Portugal, and finishes this Sunday. There's lots of coverage at the ITTF page and Tabletennista.

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

They are down to the Final Five - chose your favorite!

Olympic Coach Magazine

Here's the new issue.

Epic Point Between Ma Lin and Jorgen Persson

Here's the video (53 sec, including slow motion replay).

Amazing Come-Back Scoop Return

Here's the video (29 sec - watch the replay from the side)

The Six-Bounce Ping-Pong Plate Trick

Here's the repeating gif image. It's hypnotizing as it repeats over and over - careful or you'll be watching it all day.

Ping-Pong Balls Gone Wrong

Here's the video (90 sec) of this video prank.

***
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September 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Easy Power.

The Ball at the USA Nationals

USATT has made the smart decision to use only one type of ball at the USA Nationals. Here is USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's blog entry on this. They will be using the Nittaku Premium 40+ ball, a non-celluloid one. This is a departure from their original plans, announced on Aug. 14, that they would be using two types of balls at the Nationals - celluloid for rating and senior events, non-celluloid for men's and women's singles & doubles, and in junior events. That would have meant players having to switch back and forth in the tournament, as well as serious problems at clubs as players have to decide which ball to use for practice and training.

This obviously doesn't solve all the problems. Many don't want to change to non-celluloid, but like it or not, the ITTF has pretty much mandated it. (Not by forcing it on everyone, but by mandating it in their tournaments, meaning others have to follow or their top players will have to switch back and forth.) I think they jumped the gun because the new non-celluloid balls still aren't really standardized - depending on which manufacturer makes them, they play differently, unlike celluloid where the balls are much more similar. Also, there are no training balls available, so training centers are stuck trying to decide what to do, since most training involves using large quantities of balls (especially for multiball).

There's also the problem that the ball to be used at the Nationals isn't actually available yet - it'll be out in mid-October, about two months before the Nationals. It'll be on sale at Paddle Palace. (Note that Paddle Palace is already selling a Nittaku Sha 40+ ball, which is non-celluloid, but I'm told that ball plays very differently and is of lower quality than the Premium. Don't get the two mixed up.) Here's an info page from Paddle Palace on the new balls.

There's a good argument to use celluloid balls one more time, and I was actually leaning toward that. However, I think it's more important to use one ball or the other at the Nationals than which one they actually use. If they had stuck with celluloid, the top players would have been frustrated since they are already competing internationally with non-celluloid balls. While we may have jumped the gun and made the switch a few months too soon, the switch was inevitable (given the ITTF's actions), and so we might as well do it now.

I received an advance Nittaku Premium 40+ ball - just one, which came in a one-ball box. I reviewed it in my June 16 blog. It plays similarly to a celluloid ball, but is slightly larger and heavier, and harder to spin - but once spun, the extra weight keeps the spin on the ball more than a celluloid.

Dana Huang Wedding

On Saturday night I joined over 100 others for the wedding reception of Dana Huang and Charles Song, at the Silver Fountain Restaurant in Silver Spring. Dana is not only the daughter of MDTTC coach and former Chinese Team Member Jack Huang (Huang Tong Sheng), but she was also a pretty good player herself. (And yet, during her playing years she mostly acted as a practice partner for others in her father's coaching sessions and camps.) From my archives - where I compile all the MDTTC medalists from the Junior Olympic and Junior Nationals - here is her record - and note the two bolded ones:

  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Singles Silver Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Olympics Under 14 Girls' Singles Silver Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Doubles Gold Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Team Gold Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Olympics Under 16 Girls' Singles Gold Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 16 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Doubles Silver Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Teams Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Olympics Under 18 Girls' Singles Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Doubles Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Teams Gold Medallist
  • 2002 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2002 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Doubles Gold Medallist

Here's a picture taken at the wedding reception of Coach Jack with three national junior girls' singles champions he's coached. L-R: Katherine Wu, Coach Jack, Barbara Wei, and current junior phenom Crystal Wang.

1983 USA Pan Am Trials

I've added an action picture to the home page here. That's me at the 1983 U.S. Pan Am Trials in Colorado Springs, where I made the final 16, finishing 15th. (Photo is by Donna Sakai. The lefty in the background is Brian Masters playing Brandon Olson. Brian, who was one of my regular practice partners from when I first started in 1976 until 1979, would not only make the team but would go on to win the Gold Medal for Men's Singles at the Pan Am Games.)

The Countdown Comes to an End

Here's the ITTF's wrap-up article about the 100+ articles during the last 100 days of the Sharara ITTF presidency. Here are all the articles, including the interview with me (the last one, other than the wrap-up).

Backhand Receive from Forehand Side

Here's a video (9 sec) where a Chinese coach or player demonstrates a drill where he receives a ball short to his forehand with his backhand, and follows with a regular forehand. (I've also seen this drill where the forehand is done from the middle or even the backhand side.) Ten years ago this type of receive would have been frowned upon by most coaches, but now it's a basic technique at higher levels, since it's easier to create topspin with the backhand against a short ball with a banana flip.

Serving - More Handy Hints

Here's the article from PingSkills.

Backhand Topspin to Topspin

Here's the video (1:55) from PingSkills.

Wang Liqin and Jorgen Persson at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games

Here's a nice article with lots of photos on the two former world men's singles champions attending the Games.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (40 sec) of this rally. Note the player on the far side switches hands to return the ball 22 seconds in!

Tunisian Table Tennis

Here's video (33 sec) of a woman doing very fast multiball footwork with a Chinese coach, in full Arab dress.

Ice Bucket Challenge

Meet the King Kong of Ping Pong

Here's the article and pictures of this $14,500 table, a "700-pound, Bluetooth-compatible, ten-speaker table feels designed for high-stakes tournaments."

***
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September 3, 2014

Playing Off-Table Two-Winged Topspinners

A top player messaged me asking me how to play against a player who is relatively solid on both sides and takes a step back from the table, allowing him to deal with opponent's attacks. Here's my response. It's a general response as I haven't seen the opponent in question, but is the general way to play these types of players.

  1. Bring him in with short serves and short receives, and then get him with your first attack before he can get into his comfortable off-table pocket. Since these players hang off the table, attacking their serve often plays right into their game.
  2. Because he plays off the table, you have more time to get your forehand into position, especially into his wide backhand and middle. He's unlikely to beat you in a counterlooping duel between his backhand and your forehand. [Note - or any other forehand attack against his backhand off the table.] However, don't relentlessly go after the backhand - make sure to go there and to the middle. Players like this often seem vulnerable to the corners, but in reality they usually cover that area pretty well. So often really go after their middle until you have a clear winner to a corner. This was one of the reasons Lupulesku was so successful for years despite backing off the table so much - players relentlessly went after his wide backhand and didn't go after his middle nearly enough.
  3. Change the pace, with either softer loops or soft blocks. Find out early which side he's more vulnerable to a change of pace. This is where a chop block can be valuable.

While this was addressed for a top player (2400+), it's true for all levels. At lower levels this type of player backs off the table and more or less fishes the ball back over and over with soft and late counter-drives with a little topspin, and can seem like a wall, but the principles above follow just as much as for top players - except there's less threat of counter-attack, and so changing the pace (#3 above) is probably even more effective. 

"I am Groot"

On Friday I had a coaching session with an 8-year-old. He hadn't seen the movie "Guardians of the Galaxy," but had seen some sort of cartoon version of it, and so knew the characters - and in particular, knew the catchphrase of the giant tree creature Groot. (For those of you who have lived under a ping-pong table the last month, the only thing Groot ever says is, "I am Groot" - but that's only to human ears. In reality, by varying the inflection, it's an entire language.) So for the last ten minutes all of my coaching commands were "I am Groot," but with inflection and hand motions so he understood, once he got over his initial giggles. 

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan just finished doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. And yesterday she finished - one hundred down, zero to go! However, she had two more articles she wanted to put in regarding new ITTF President Thomas Weikert, and so here they are - Days 1+ and 2+!

As of Monday, the Deputy is the President

Besides the two articles above, here is another ITTF article on new ITTF president Thomas Weikert.

Thomas Weikert

So what do we really know about new ITTF President Thomas Weikert? As usual, we turn to anagrams. And what do they tell us? We know he's going to try very hard to be worthy, since "Make Worthiest" is an anagram of his name. But we must be cautious as some believe he and Sharara worked together to bring about his presidency - as "Teamwork Heist" is another. He may not be worthy of the role as "Shoemaker Twit" is another. In fact, he might not be the best person named Tom for the job as "This Weaker Tom" is another. (And the ITTF Board of Directors does have a Thomas Kiggundu from Uganda.) We might even worry that he'll bring decay to the presidency as "Him Weakest Rot" is another. And the guy might not be a hard worker since "Hate Work Items" is another. Finally, for religious table tennis players, beware the new direction of our sport - for "Ow - Atheist Trek" is another!

North American Championships - Juniors

Here's a new ITTF article about the North American Championships this past weekend that features the Under 18 winners - Jack Wang and Crystal Wang. The article also talks about Crystal's training at MDTTC, my club. I'm one of the other coaches who has worked with Crystal over the years, though I worked with her more when she was younger than in recent times, where she works mostly with her primary coach (Jack Huang) and one-on-one with our top practice partner/coaches. (I do coach her in some major tournaments, such as when she won the North American Hopes Trials last year.) On a side note, for those of you who read this article when it first went up yesterday morning, there was a mistake in the original version, where it had Crystal as being from the LYTTC - but that was corrected as the player from LYTTC was Amy Wang, not Crystal. (I emailed them about this almost immediately after the article went up!)

Butterfly North American Champions

Here's a Butterfly photo layout that features 14 of their players/champions from the North American Championships. (Disclaimer: I'm also sponsored by Butterfly.)

Easy Table Tennis Essentials

Here's a table tennis music video (1:57) from a couple of years ago that I don't think I ever ran.

Mime Your Own Business

Here's another video (3:06) from the Tumba Ping Pong Show. It features table tennis (see background, where someone is smacking people with balls) for the first 35 seconds, but no table tennis after that.

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August 22, 2014

USATT National Volunteer Coordinator

One of the best things USATT has done in recent times is create the position of National Volunteer Coordinator. Here's the info page where you can apply for the position. Even if you aren't selected for the position you might get selected for another volunteer position, based on your skills and interests. So now's the time to apply - or would you rather just sit around watching TV? I hope not!

Here's a short description of the position:

"This position's primary responsibilities are to plan and organize volunteer programs associated with USA Table Tennis's board of directors, committees, and staff efforts. Individuals who are not selected for the primary position, but bring value, will be referred to the selected individual as possible assistant coordinators."

I hope USATT will feature this prominently on their front page and in the magazine. When the notice first came out I think it was on the front page for a day or so, but now it's mostly buried in the news items. If you page down a bit there's a block about this on the USATT home page, but few will see it unless they are looking for it. (Also, it just says, "Opening Position: National Volunteer Coordinator." How about something catchier, like "Would You Like to be USATT's Volunteer Coordinator? USATT Needs Your Help!") Until the deadline comes up on Oct. 15, I'd like to see this featured all over the place, so we get as many applicants as possible, both for this position and for others who are willing to volunteer on other things.

I'm a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, which is nearly all volunteer run. They run regional conventions with over 1000 participants and national ones with 6000. (For comparison, USATT's U.S. Open and Nationals generally get 700 or so players, though they break 1000 sometimes. Regional tournaments get about 200 players.) Who runs these conventions? Volunteers. Who does the membership stuff? Volunteers. Who does their web pages? Volunteers. Who does their promotional work? Volunteers. And it all gets done very smoothly. The irony is their politics is even nastier than USATT's at its worst - these are people who are good with words and not afraid to use them. But they keep the politics (in particular policy making) and the volunteer stuff completely separate. (I'm also a former member of the U.S. Tennis Association, and they also make similar use of volunteers.) 

A key thing to understand is the difference between "fairness issues" and "progressive issues." Both are important, but need to be handled differently. It is the fairness issues that tend to get political, and so we don't want the same people handling fairness issues and progressive issues. (There can be people who work on both, but they too need to keep these types of issues separate.) Progressive issues can also be political, but far less so as they are actually doing things that are presumably positive for the sport.  

Fairness issues include such things as working out policy for choosing teams; choosing the site for U.S. Opens and Nationals; disciplinary proceedings; and other issue where it's important to be fair, and so you don't want just one person making the decision. Fairness issues should usually be decided by committee. In most cases, once the committee makes a recommendation, the USATT Board of Directors should go with it, unless there's something really wrong with the recommendation. More importantly, the USATT CEO and other such leaders should stay out of these issues when possible, going with the committee decisions whenever possible so they can focus on progressive issues.

Progressive issues are those that develop and promote the sport and/or organization. You do not want a committee doing these. Committees are great for working out the fairest way of doing something, but for progressive issues you need someone to take charge. So unless you have a committee chair who is able and willing to take charge and get things done, and committee members willing to act as only advisors while the chair actually does everything (unless they are asked to do specific tasks), committees don't get much done. For progressive issues, you need to put someone in charge and assign him a specific area where he has authority - and then let him go to work. If he messes up, he can always be reined in afterwards or replaced. Sometimes the person in charge works alone, sometimes he has others working for him - but he needs to be in charge and given the freedom to work on his area of authority and expertise.

In USATT, we have lots of committees. In recent times they were renamed "Advisory Committees," to make clear they only advise. So who does the actual progressive work? Neither USATT nor SFWA have the staff to do these things. So we need to bring in volunteers.

The National Volunteer Coordinator wouldn't be doing any volunteer work except for one thing - he'd be in charge of the other volunteers. Here's an example of how I see it working, which would be similar to SFWA.

Recently Lily Zhang won the bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games. USATT doesn't really have someone to write and send out press releases, follow up with phone calls and more press releases, and in general work with the press to maximize publicity. What it could do is have several press volunteers, one perhaps for each of the following:

  • U.S. Open and Nationals
  • Elite players
  • Paralympics
  • Juniors
  • Seniors
  • Coaches
  • Leagues
  • Tournaments

Then, whenever something happens in one of these realms, that volunteer would spring into action. There'd almost be a friendly competition between the press volunteers to see who can get the most press! There would be some overlap, but the volunteers can either work out who works on which ones, or both send out press releases. The more the better!

Similarly we'd want volunteers who take care of other aspects for USATT. For another example, take coaching. As I've blogged about repeatedly in recent years, the single best thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in recent times is the rise of full-time training centers, from less than ten in 2006 to about 75 now. USATT has never gotten involved in this, so every time a top coach wants to create a training center or a junior program, he has to start from scratch, perhaps questioning current ones to find out what needs to be done. There's a lot of reinventing the wheel. That's a major brake on the creation of these training centers - and anyone thinking we're anywhere close to approaching our limit with 75 isn't paying attention. With a little streamlining, we could end up with 500 to 1000 around the country.

But we need a volunteer who is in charge of the creation of a manual for creating training centers, who would recruit others to do most of the work, with payment for those workers in the form of commissions when it sells on Amazon, or perhaps a small direct payment from USATT. (I can assist with part about getting published on Amazon - I'm pretty experienced.) We'd have another in charge of recruiting coaches who wish to create training centers or junior programs, who'd put notices out everywhere - USATT magazine and web page, emails to coaches and top players, etc., promoting the idea that they can make a very nice living as a table tennis coach. We'd have another who would coordinate coaches to train these coaches, something I've toyed with doing, perhaps with a Hodges Coaching Academy. (I've already written the manual for much of this, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd let USATT use at cost if they ever make these things a priority. The manual explains the professional side of table tennis coaching, i.e. how to make a living at it by getting students, keeping them, getting places to play, maximizing income, etc. )

USATT already does this sort of thing in some ways, such as the National Tournament Coordinators, where eight volunteers do the tournament sanctioning, reporting to National Coordinator Larry Thoman, but mostly working independently. This is the model we could use for other aspects of USATT volunteerism. In this case the "fairness issues" were worked out in advance by the USATT Tournament Advisory Committee, which set up the rules and guidelines for sanctioning, but then the progressive work - the sanctioning part - is done by specific volunteers.

Not Recognizing a "Prominent" Player

Yesterday I went to the club to do some private coaching. As I went to my table in the back I glanced over at one of the front tables and noticed we had some new girl dressed in a USA uniform. I didn't look closely as I was in a hurry to get to my table. (I was early, but so was my student, who was following me.) During the lesson, from across the room I saw the girl play some more, and while she looked somehow familiar, I didn't recognize her - the club is pretty big, so it was a good distance. Then Coach Jack Huang walked by, and I asked her who it was. He broke up laughing, and finally told me. It was Crystal Wang! You know, the girl from our club since age 7 (she's now a very tall 12), who'd I'd worked with countless times (though Jack is her primary coach), and coached many times in tournaments! The youngest in U.S. history to make the U.S. Team and win Under 22 at the Nationals! The highest rated of her age in history at about 2400! In fairness to me, I was watching from across the room; she'd been training in China for seven weeks and I'd been told wouldn't be back for another week; and she'd both grown another inch or two and had a new hair style.

New Poly Balls: How Do We Bounce?

Here's the article from Butterfly Mag.

Belarus Open: Non-Celluloid Balls, No Service Let Rule

Here's the article. The tournament, held Aug. 21-14, is the first international competition to use the non-celluloid ball. But they are also experimenting with not having a let on net serves. This means if the serve nicks the net, the point continues.

Lily Zhang Wins Bronze at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the USATT article on her win this past weekend. Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's congratulatory note to her.

Table Tennis Players Crib Sheet

Here's the article, which is about how fast the sport is and how you need to rely not just on your eyes but on your ears as well. One confusing statement - it says, "Sound helps the player because it reach[es] the brain 300 hundreds of a second faster than just using your eyes." This doesn't make sense, since light travels about 186,000 miles per second (i.e. sight), while sound at sea level travels about 760 miles per hour, or about 0.21 miles per second (i.e. hearing), meaning light travels almost 900,000 times faster than sound.

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. Ninety-one down, nine to go!

  • Day 10: Krisztina Tόth Advises Players & the ITTF to Collaborate to Create Stars

Table Tennis Brand Name Artwork

Here's the latest artwork from Mike Mezyan - or should we call this wordwork?

Ice Bucket Challenges

Here are three more prominent ones from a pair of Germans, a Swede, and a Frenchman. I was going to post more from "regular" players, but there are just too many. Note that Dmitrij challenged Jan-Ove Waldner - can't wait to see that!

Twelve Weird and Wonderful Ping Pong Videos

Here they are! I've linked to a few of these in the past. My favorites are #5 ("PongQuest") and #7 ("Ping Pong" – Armin Van Buuren).

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June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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June 26, 2014

North American Cup

Kind of a big upset last night - 12-year-old Crystal Wang upset top seeded Lily Zhang in the semifinals of Women's Singles in a nail-biting seven-gamer (8,5,5,-3,-9,-6,7)  where Lily almost came back from down 0-3. Lots of incredible rallies. I was up late watching it - it started at 8PM western time, which is 11PM eastern time here in Maryland. Worse, I was up much later discussing the match and other issues with others via Facebook and messaging with Han Xiao, one of Crystal's regular practice partners. We're pretty proud of Crystal, who is from my club. She's too fast for me now, but for years I was one of her regular training partners and I coached her in many tournaments. She was training here at MDTTC (as she does essentially every day) just the day before, and then flew out to Vancouver, Canada. (Tournament was held in nearby Burnaby.) To get to the final Crystal had 4-1 wins over Liu Jiabao of Canada and USA's Erica Wu. In the final Crystal will play Mo Zhang of Canada.

In the Men's side, it's an all-USA final between Adam Hugh and Kanak Jha. That match starts at 8PM (i.e. 11 pm my time). Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Men's and Women's finals are tonight at 8PM and 9:20PM (that's 11PM and 12:20 AM eastern time, alas). Here's where you can watch the live streaming.

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was Day Three of Week Two of our Ten Weeks of Summer Camps. I could write about the camp - kids are making breakthroughs right and left, everyone's getting better (except us coaches, alas), and every day's highlight is the daily trip to 7-11. But for me, the dominating feature is physical and mental exhaustion. Ever spend an entire day coaching kids in the 6-8 age range? With a five-second attention span? And do this day after day? We have almost the same kids as the previous week, so they're into their eighth day of this. So I'm not just a coach, I'm their entertainer. However, the key thing to remember here is the rule of five - you have to say everything at least five times to get their attention. And getting them to pick up balls? It wasn't so hard on day one and two, but by day eight it's like pulling teeth. But somehow, inadvertently, and often against their will, they are rapidly improving. Now if I can only keep my sanity and not collapse physically, I'll be just fine! (My legs are pretty much dying right now.) 

Tactics Coaching

I had another tactics coaching session yesterday with Kaelin and Billy during the lunch break. The focus was on deceptive serving and serve variations, the tactics of long serves, receive, and rallying tactics. 

We went over the tactics of serving short. These including varying the placement, even of simple backspin serves; serving to the middle; serving very, very low; heavy no-spin serves; varying the backspin in side-backspin serves; serving with extra-heavy backspin; mixing in sidespin and side-top serves; serving with both sidespins with good placement; deceptive follow-throughs on serves; and serving half-long (so second bounce would be near the end-line); 

We went over the advantages of the various service depths, noting that the emphasis of short serves should be half-long serves, where the second bounce would be near the end-line. But we also went over the advantages of shorter serves - forcing a player to reach more for short serves to the forehand, and bringing a player in over the table so they aren't ready for the next shot. This latter is especially effective if you serve very short to the forehand, bringing the receiver in over the table, and then going after the deep backhand. But it's also somewhat risky as it gives the receiver a chance to flip aggressively into the very wide forehand, or down the line if you move to cover the forehand.

I also went over my Ten-Point Plan to Serving Success - and we spent some time going over each of these. (I wrote quite a bit about these and everything else I'm covering in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

  1. Serve legally
  2. Serve with a plan
  3. Maximize spin
  4. Vary your spin
  5. Disguise your spin
  6. Speed
  7. Low bounce
  8. Direction
  9. Depth
  10. Follow-up

We talked about serve deception, and the four main ways of doing this: sheer spin, semi-circular motion, exaggerating the opposite motion, and spin/no-spin serves by varying the contact point on the racket. We also went over the advantages of specific serves. For example, a primary advantage of the pendulum serve is that you can do either type of sidespin with the same motion until just before contact. A primary advantage of the backhand serve is that you see your opponent throughout the serve, and so see if he reacts to the serve too soon, allowing the server to change serves, such as a sudden fast serve if the opponent is reaching in or stepping around the backhand. We also talked about where to serve from, and why too many players repetitively serve from the backhand corner, ignoring the advantages of sometimes varying this. If you sometimes serve from the middle or forehand side, you mess up the opponent who's not used to this - try it and you'll be surprised how much trouble players have with this. Plus it gives you an angle into the forehand, especially the short forehand against players who like to receive short serves with their backhand. 

We went over what are commonly the most effective long serves. Every opponent is different, but I'd say the most essential serves - the ones that all players should develop, and yes, I mean you - are (for this I'm assuming righty vs. righty - others adjust): 

  • To the Backhand: Big breaking sidespin serves to the wide backhand that break to the right into the wide backhand, ranging from side-topspin, pure sidespin, and side-backspin, as well as a fast no-spin. The reverse sidespin serve can be almost as effective as a variation as it often catches the receiver off guard, and the returns tend to go to the server's forehand. 
  • To the Middle: Fast no-spin serves, and at least one side-top variation. Often a reverse pendulum serve is effective here. 
  • To the Forehand: Fast topspin serves where the direction is well disguised, along with at least one other sidespin or no-spin variation. 

We went over the tactics of receive. Against deep serves, you have to be aggressive unless you are a very defensive player. Against short serves, you can be either passive, disarming, or aggressive. Passive returns are common at lower levels, but unless the opponent is a weak attacker, they aren't too effective at higher levels if used too often. The most common passive receives are long pushes, though soft topspins may also be passive returns, depending on the opponent and how he handles them. Long pushes can be a bit more aggressive (or disarming) if done quick off the bounce and pretty fast. A disarming receive is one designed to stop the server's attack and get into a neutral rally. The classic disarming receive is a short push. Another is a quick flip to the server's weaker side. An aggressive push can also be disarming if the server isn't able to make a strong attack off it. An aggressive receive against a short serve is usually an aggressive flip. Ambitious players should learn all three types of these receives against short serves, but focus roughly equally on disarming and aggressive receives. 

We spent the rest of the session going over rallying tactics. This included when to respond. Usually you respond when you see what and where the opponent's shot is. But sometimes you can anticipate a shot, and move for the shot in the split second between when the opponent has committed to a shot and when you can see what the shot will be. 

We talked about the tools needed when rallying: at least one scary rallying shot (a big loop, a fast, aggressive backhand, etc.); quickness; speed; spin; depth (mostly deep on the table, other times short); placement (wide angles, elbow); variety; misdirection; and finally consistency, which is king. Then we went over the tactics of playing the weaker side (often by playing the stronger side first to draw the player out of position); down the line play; going to the same spot twice; placement of backhand attacks; forehand deception with shoulder rotation; changing the pace; rallying down faster, quicker players; where to place your put-aways; and developing an overpowering strength. (We ran out of time, so have one last item to cover here - playing lefties, which we'll talk about tomorrow.) 

Tomorrow we'll start going over the tactics against various styles, grips, and surfaces. 

Xu Xin: No Regrets in Choosing Penhold

Here's the interview.

Stiga ITTF Approved Plastic/Poly Ball Review

Here's the detailed video review (11:15) by Table Tennis Daily. It seems to play a bit different than the Nittaku poly ball I reviewed on June 16. Much of this was probably because the Nittaku ball was noticeably bigger and heavier while the Stiga ball was the same weight as a celluloid ball. With the bounce test, the Nittaku poly ball bounced higher than the celluloid, while Stiga poly ball they reviewed bounced lower. Both poly balls were harder to spin when looping. You can go straight to their conclusion at 9:10, where they sum things up in about 90 sec.

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. Thirty-four down, 66 to go!

  • Day 67: Mikael Andersson Details Creation of the ITTF’s Junior Program
  • Day 68: Jean-Michel Saive Recounts His Past and Present Successes

Lion Table Tennis

You can come up with your own caption for this table tennis cartoon. How about, "No, we don't want to play winners. We want to eat winners."

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June 25, 2014

The Tactics of Doubles and Serve & Attack

Today during break from our MDTTC camp I gave another one-hour lesson on tactics to Kaelin and Billy. We spent the first 20 minutes on doubles tactics, the rest on serve and attack. The two are playing Under 4200 Doubles at the U.S. Open next week. Both are righties rated about 2000, ages 15 and 16. Here's a summary. In each of the discussions above we also played out examples at the table. 

I explained the importance of one of them focusing more on control, the other on attack. We decided that Kaelin, since he has fast footwork, should focus on constant attack (i.e. trying to loop everything) while Billy would focus on control (i.e. setting up Kaelin). While Kaelin has the tougher physical task, Billy has the more difficult mental task as he has to do things that aren't as natural, as he looks to set up shots for his partner instead of doing his own shots. I went over some of the ways of doing this, especially on receive - pushing short (with last second changes of direction), faking crosscourt flips but then going down the line instead, etc.). 

We also went over doubles serves. Most doubles serves center around backspin and no-spin serves that go very low toward the middle of the table. But you need to test out the opponents with other serves or you may miss out on some easy points. I showed how easy it is to attack and to angle if you serve too wide in doubles, and yet some players have trouble with this. I also showed how awkward it can be to flip against short serves to the middle. 

We discussed receive. Rule one - loop anything deep. Both players are going to receive forehand, so this is the easier part. Many world-class players now receive forehand against deep serves, but if you serve short (as most do), they reach over and banana flip with the backhand. (Of course they also push, usually short.) Against short serves you use mis-direction as you mix in short and long pushes, and either aggressive or deceptive flips. I also showed them how to angle the racket to meet the spin directly when pushing, by dropping or raising the racket tip. This makes it much easier to drop the ball short. Between two righties, if the server does a forehand pendulum side-back serve, the receiver should drop the tip on the backhand, or raise it on the forehand, so that the paddle is aiming to the left. Against the opposite spin, he should do the reverse.

We discussed rallies. Rule one is to try to hit shots toward the player who just hit the ball, on the far side from his partner, so they get in each other's way. Since players in doubles are often moving into position as they hit the ball, they often have trouble blocking since in singles players are usually more in position. So looping first with good placement is generally even more important in doubles than in singles. Attacking down the line will often catch an opponent off guard in doubles, and is often the best place to smack winners. But it also gives the opponents an extreme angle, which often gets your partner in trouble.

We discussed footwork. Many players move too far off to the side after their shot, leaving them out of position for the next shot. Instead they should move mostly backwards and slightly sideways. A more advanced type of doubles footwork is circling footwork where the players circle about clockwise after each shot so that both players can approach the table from the backhand side, i.e. favoring the forehand. However, this takes lots and lots of practice to get right, so I suggested a hybrid, where whoever serves or receives steps back and circles over to the left so that he gets a forehand shot. Once you get past that first circling, it's tricky, so after that they should mostly move in and out, improvising when necessary.

Then we moved to singles tactics. We had a lengthy discussion of serve and attack (with numerous examples at the table), especially after serving short. This should center around serving half-long to the middle, so that the second bounce, given the chance, would hit near the end-line. By going toward the middle, the receiver has to make a quick decision on whether to receive forehand or backhand; has a rather awkward forehand flip; has no angle; is drawn out of position and so leaves a corner open; and the server has less ground to cover. (For players who favor one side against short serves - usually the backhand - you might move the serve some the other way.) the main disadvantage of serving short to the middle is that so many players do this that players get used to it; the receive can receive with his stronger side (forehand or backhand); and has both angles to go after, though no extreme angles. 

Serving short to the forehand is a bit riskier as it gives the receiver an extreme angle to flip into. If the serve tries to cover this, he leaves the down-the-line side open. However, many receivers find it awkward to receive short to the forehand, and many can't flip down the line (so you can just serve and get ready for a forehand). I also pointed out the value of serving short to the forehand, but not too wide, so that the serve is midway between the middle of the table and the sideline. This can be more awkward to flip then a serve that goes wider, almost like flipping from the middle, plus there's less angle to go after.

Serving short to the backhand takes away the angle into the forehand, so a forehand attacker can serve and stand way over on his backhand side and likely play a forehand from the backhand side. But it's often where a receiver is most comfortable receiving short serves. (So it's often better to serve deep breaking serves to the backhand if the receiver can't loop this serve effectively, forehand or backhand.) When a forehand attacker serves to the backhand he should stand as far to the backhand side as he can while still able to just cover a shot down the line to his forehand, knowing that usually those shots aren't too aggressive.

We also discussed the differences between serving short backspin, no-spin, and side-top. If the receiver tends to push the backspin serves long, then you can either look for a forehand loop, or just stand in the middle of the table and attack either forehand or backhand. Many players like to follow these serves with a backhand loop, since this allows them to stay in position to attack from either wing on the next shot, plus it forces the opponent to adjust to a different loop than just forehands. When serving backspin players are often more likely to flip very aggressively than against no-spin as a receiver can use the incoming backspin to flip with topspin. Against a low no-spin serve, it's easy to flip medium fast, but aggressive flips are usually more difficult. 

On the other hand, when you serve short no-spin (with the focus on keeping it very low, though this is true of all serves), you can more likely anticipate a weaker return that can be attacked with the forehand. If they push it long, it'll tend to be higher and with less spin. If they push short, it'll tend to pop up. So even two-winged loopers often become more forehand oriented when serving short no-spin. 

When serving short sidespin or side-top, the serve is likely to be flipped, but if the serve is done well and kept low, it won't be flipped too aggressively with any consistency. The key here is that the opponent is unlikely to drop the serve short, and so you can serve and hang back a bit, looking to attack either with your stronger side or from either side. 

We also started to get into the tactics of long serves. I'll likely write about that and other tactics issues tomorrow.

MDTTC Camp

Pleasant surprise yesterday! After six days of struggling to hit forehands or serve, the six-year-old girl I mentioned previously suddenly made a breakthrough today. I'd been pulling my hair out trying to get her to hit a proper forehand (though she'd managed to pick up a decent beginning backhand), but day after day, no matter what I did, the minute no one guided her stroke she'd revert to this slashing, racket twirling, wristy stroke that had no business existing in this plane of existence. And then, as if by magic (and after lots and lots of imploring), she suddenly figured it out yesterday. Now she's hitting proper forehands, and even made ten in a row!

And then, perhaps 20 minutes later, she suddenly figured out how to serve, even managed to make 9 out of 10. For perspective, in the first six days of the camp, in nearly an hour of total practice, she'd made exactly one serve. Armed with a serve and a workable forehand, she was able to join in a game of "Master of the Table," and twice was master. (One of them came about when she served on the edge, and then the Master missed his own serve. To become Master of the Table you have to score two points in a row against the Master.) We often call the game King of the Table, but the girls objected!

I taught several players how to push today. I brought out the soccer-colored balls so they could see if they were getting any spin. It's always funny watching their eyes go wide the first time they see the ball spinning and realized they put that spin on the ball. Also, I have to confess that at one point I did say the following: "I'm a pushy pushover for power pushing pushers."

Rolling Ball Loop Drill

Here's video of an interesting looping drill (1:34), where your partner rolls the ball to you (under the net), and you loop it as it comes off the end. I've done this at a number of camps - it's not just for beginners, it's also good for teaching players to loop those slightly long serves. One key is to set up so you are almost directly over the ball, looking down on it - which is exactly what you need to do when looping slightly long balls.

Interview with Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay

Here's the video interview (7:19). She had a new ebook out recently, Get Your Game Face Out Like the Pros!

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. Thirty-two down, 68 to go!

  • Day 69: Thomas Weikert Speaks about Peace and Sport

Crystal Wang - Youngest U.S. Team Member in History

Here's my feature article on Crystal in USA Table Tennis Magazine. 

Lily Zhang Featured by ITTF

Here's the article, "Lily Zhang the Shining Star in Tokyo, the Top Seed and Senior Member in Burnaby."

Timothy Wang Featured by ITTF

Here's the article, "Timothy Wang Aiming for Las Vegas Reprise but Beware Teenage Colleague."

Incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert Reveals Direction of ITTF

Here's the interview. It's rather short. 

Exercise Makes the Brain Grow

Here's the article. So go play ping-pong!

Ping-Pong Ball to the Eye

Here's the video (35 sec). 

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April 8, 2014

Great Spin on Serve

In my beginning/intermediate class last night the players were rather impressed by how much spin I could put on the ball when I serve with seemingly little effort. The spin comes from three things: smooth acceleration into the ball; wrist snap; and grazing with a grippy surface. Beginners lose spin because they tend to start with the racket right behind the ball rather than from the side. Intermediate players lose spin because they tend to think in terms of racket speed instead of acceleration.

I can't explain the physics, but it is acceleration that leads to great spin. It could involve the rubber surface grabbing the ball and, since it is accelerating at contact, it grabs the ball like a slingshot and practically spins it out of orbit. Or perhaps this acceleration leads to high velocity that you can control, but the smooth acceleration makes the racket appear to be moving slower than it actually is going. If you instead think in terms of velocity and try to snap the racket into the ball all-out rather than with this smooth acceleration might get more racket speed (not sure), but they can't control it and so lose the control needed for a fine grazing contact - and so lose spin.

But regardless of the reason, it is this smooth acceleration that leads to the great spin. However, there's a conflict here - for deception, you want sudden changes of racket direction. So top servers learn to smoothly accelerate into the ball with sudden changes of direction, essentially whipping the racket around the ball in very quick arcs.

Of course it's not all about spin. If you fake spin but serve no-spin, it's just as effective as a spin serve if the opponent thinks there is spin. So many serves do simple backspin-like serves, but sometimes it's backspin, other times they change the contact so there's no spin. (You do this by contacting the ball closer to the handle, and by changing contact from a grazing motion to sort of patting the ball while faking a grazing motion, often with an exaggerated follow through.)

So . . . have you practiced your serves this week?

Forehand Flip

Here's a tutorial video (5:10) on the forehand flip (usually called a flick in Europe) against short backspin by Coach Yang Guang, a former Chinese team member. He's explaining in Chinese, but several times the key points are subtitled in English. Plus you can learn just by watching. Note that when he does the demos, he's being fed slightly high balls, and so is flip killing. Against a lower ball you might want to slow it down and put a little topspin on the flip.

Why Don't Top Players Serve More Topspin?

Here's the video (2:17) from PingSkills. Ironically this very topic was covered in my beginning/intermediate class. I was teaching how to do fast serves, and explained why they are good as a variation, but how top players would attack them. They wanted a demo, so I had my assistant coach, the 2600 player Coach Jeffrey (Zeng Xun), demonstrate what he could do with my fast serves when he knew they were coming. It wasn't pretty! I have pretty good fast serves, but they have to be used sparingly against top players.

I once aced 1986 U.S. Men's Singles Champion Hank Teekaveerakit three times in a row with my fast down-the-line serve. He was a penholder who tried to loop everything with his forehand, and this happened the first three points of the match as he looked to loop my serves from the backhand corner. After the third ace, he broke up laughing, and said, "Larry, nobody serves fast down the line three times in a row!" He then began returning my serves to his backhand with his backhand, and caught up and won somewhat easily. Late in the match he went back to trying to loop all my serves with his forehand, and I obligingly played cat and mouse, serving fast and deep to all parts of the table, and abandoning my short serves, not for tactical reasons but just for the fun of challenging him to return all my fast ones with his forehand. Once he got used to my service motion, he was able to do so.

Crystal Wang in Sports Illustrated

She's featured in the Faces in the Crowd section. It came out in print last Wednesday. (While there, see the photo credits underneath and note the name of the Professional Photographer that took her picture.)

Deputy Referee Report, German Open

Here's the report from USA's Kagin Lee.

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 14

Chapter one is up. This volume covers the years 1985-1985. Want to see more?

Great Rally at the College Nationals

Here's video (29 sec) of a great point between Ariel Hsing (near side) against Maria Castillo in the women's singles quarterfinals. Ariel went on to win the title.

Marcos Freitas

Here's a highlights video (3:29) featuring Marcos Freitas of Portugal doing numerous trick shots. He recently shot up to #12 in the world.

The Sayings of Coach Larry

A while back I jokingly posted a few of my favorite sayings when I coach. One of my students (who wishes to remain anonymous) quoted to me many more of my favorite statements, and I dutifully jotted them down. Here's the more comprehensive listing of my favorite quips.

  1. "Pick up the balls." (Spoken with the same tone as the infamous "Bring out your dead" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
  2. "You are going up against the most powerful forehand in the world." (Spoken with the same tone as the quote from Dirty Harry, "…the most powerful handgun in the world.")
  3. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed." (A paraphrasing of the quote from The Princess Bride. At the start of the scene, both swordfighters are fighting left-handed. Watch the video to see what happens.)
  4. "Time to get serious." (When I'm losing a game, usually against a student where I've spotted points.)
  5. "Time to take my watch off." (Meaning time to get serious.)
  6. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  7. "I never miss that shot."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "This serve cannot be returned."
  11. "No one can get through my block. No one!"
  12. "The most powerful forehand block in the world."
  13. "He cheats, he scores!" (When opponent wins a point on a net or edge.)
  14. "I cannot be scored upon." (Told to students repeatedly as a challenge.)
  15. "Don't think about it. Let the subconscious take over. It's better than you."
  16. "Even [insert name of top player within hearing distance] can make that shot!"
  17. "When I get angry…" (Followed by a short but detailed description of whatever I do the next point.)
  18. "This is for the world championship of the galactic universe."
  19. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  20. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  21. "I'm too good to miss that shot!" (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  22. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987!" (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  23. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  24. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  25. "No coaching in coaching camps!" (When someone coaches against me in a practice match during a camp.)
  26. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)

***
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