Butterfly Online

Michael Maze

April 28, 2014

Tip of the Week

Develop the Fundamentals: Strokes & Footwork.

The Six-Inch Toss Rule

I had a question on the six-inch toss rule, so I decided to submit it to USATT's Stump the Ump, where umpire questions are answered by Paul Kovac, an international umpire and certified referee. (He's also a regular at my club, MDTTC, and referees the MDTTC tournaments.) The question was seemingly simple, but as you'll see, may not be as obvious as you'd think. Here's my question:  

Here’s a question that keeps coming up, and I’d like to see an online answer that we can refer to. When serving, does the ball have to go six inches up from the exact point where it leaves the hand, or does it actually require six inches of clearance between the hand and the ball? I thought I knew the answer to this, but when I asked six umpires/referees for their ruling at the Nationals, three said the first, three said the latter.

Here is the answer Paul gave, which is now published at Stump the Ump.

This should not be a topic for discussion because the rule is very clear about it:

2.6.2 The server shall then project the ball near vertically upwards, without imparting spin, so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm of the free hand and then falls without touching anything before being struck.

The important part is:

"...so that it rises at least 16cm (6") after leaving the palm...."

The first part of the service rule, namely, "2.6.1 Service shall start with the ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand" is also important because if the serve does not start with "ball resting freely on the open palm of the server's stationary free hand", it is virtually impossible to judge the toss.

Rule 2.6.2 means that after the toss, the separation of ball and player's palm must be at least 6" before the palm and ball get any closer. We see sometime that after the 6" toss the player's hand follows the ball and gets closer than 6" from the ball as the ball raises, and sometimes also when the ball falls. But as long as the 6" separation of the palm and the ball was satisfied, and the palm and hand is not between the ball and the net (not hiding the ball from receiver), the serve is legal.

Thanks, 
Paul

However, I don't think the answer is that clear, as shown by the 3-3 split by umpires/referees when I asked the question at the Nationals. Here's my response to Paul's answer:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. However, I don't think the ruling on this is that clear, based on the actual wording of the rules.

The rules say the ball must rise at least 6". Suppose a player serves so that the ball leaves his hand exactly 40 inches above the ground. If the ball then goes up six inches, it has risen six inches, from 40 inches to 46 inches, and it would seem to have fulfilled requirements of the rule, regardless of what the serving hand does. Nowhere does the rule state that there must be six inches clearance between the hand and the ball - that's a common sense interpretation, but I don't see how one can get that from the wording of the rules.

As noted, many umpires and players read the rule as it is written (and interpret it differently than what you wrote), i.e. the ball must rise six inches, and since it isn't indicated otherwise, they measure it from the point where it leaves the hand. Based on that, a player's serving hand could rise and stay with the ball, and still fulfill the requirements of the rules as they are worded as long as he doesn't use it to hide the ball, and as long as he quickly removes the serving arm and hand from the space between the ball and the net. If there is an interpretation that the ball must rise six inches relative to the hand - which would be difficult to justify, based on the wording of the rule - then that needs to be published somewhere so as to remove the confusion.

I'm CCing Roman and Wendell again as I'd like to see if they concur with your ruling, and why. This came up twice at the Nationals (I didn't make an issue of it), and as noted below, six umpires/referees I asked about it split down the middle on the ruling - so it's obviously not clear to everyone, even officials, and I guarantee most players aren't sure about this. Once the wording of a ruling on this is agreed on, I think this should be published in the Stump the Ump column, or somewhere, so it can be referred to. (Ideally, they'd change the wording of the serving rule to make this clear, but that probably won't happen.)

-Larry Hodges

So what do you think? Is there anything in the actual rules that state that there must be six inches of separation between the hand and the ball when serving? I don't see it. All I see is that the ball must rise six inches, and I don't see how that is affected by the location of the serving hand. I'll go by this interpretation even though I don't really agree with it. I haven't received a response yet from Roman Tinyszin (chair of the USATT Officials and Rules Advisory Committee) or Wendell Dillon (former chair).

Have a rules question? Feel free to ask me. If I can't answer it (impossible!!!), then we can submit it to Stump the Ump.

Veep

As I blogged about on Friday, the episode of Veep that would "feature" table tennis was on Sunday night. Alas, while there was some recreational table tennis, all the scenes with the three top players I'd brought in were cut. However, in most of the scenes taking place at the fake Clovis corporation - about half the episode - I'm often standing just behind the camera or off to the side, out of view, watching it as it is filmed. 

ITTF President Adham Sharara to Step Down as ITTF President

Here's the article, where he explains why he wants to deal with the "China" crisis, and will remain involved in the newly created position of ITTF Chairman.

Shonie Aki Scholarship Award

Here's the article and info for this annual $1250 scholarship.

Incredible Rally, Michael Maze vs. Zoran Primorac

Here's the video (52 sec, including slow motion replay). Maze is on far side (lefty). This'll wake you up before you move on!

WORLD TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

Here's the home page for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships, April 28 - May 5, in Tokyo, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. It starts today. Since Tokyo is thirteen hours ahead of us, all of the first day action should be complete already. (So 9AM east coast time is 10PM Tokyo time.) Here are more articles involving the Worlds.

USA at the Worlds

  • Men's Video Update #1 (1:37) by Jim Butler (before play began).
  • Women's Video Update #1 (43 sec) by Lily Zhang (before play began).
  • Day One Results (do search for "USA"): USA Men went 2-0, defeating Luxembourg 3-1, and Kazakhstan 3-2. USA Women were apparently in the middle of their first tie, and were listed as 1-1 with Hungary, so by the time you read this that'll probably be done.

Players at Worlds Not Happy With Cameras Next to Net

Here's the article.

Photos from Just Before the Worlds

Here are the photos - click on the photos to see more.  

Table Tennis Billboard at World Championships

Here's the picture.

My Passion for Sports and the State of "Flow"

Here's the new article by Dora Kurimay, sports psychologist and table tennis star.

Ma Long and Zhang Jike Serve

Here's a video (10:11) where they demonstrate and explain (in Chinese) their serves. Even if you can't understand the Chinese you can watch the serves themselves. About halfway through they start showing other players doing other shots.

New Coaching Articles at Table Tennis Master

The Downside of Being Fan Zhendong

Here's the article.

Basketball Star Goran Dragic Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:27), where he talks about his table tennis and shows him playing.

Unique Ping-Pong Paddle

Now that's a unique paddle! I want one. Especially the swimming pool part. Artwork by Milan Mirkovic. 

Beetle Bailey on Friday

Here's the cartoon! So Beetle has learned to serve with heavy backspin?

Chicken Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's the cartoon! Now I'll never look at our own junior program the same way.

Table Tennis Epic

Here's a hilarious video (1:12), showing Michael Maze and Dimitrij Ovtcharov in an "epic" match . . . sort of.

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April 21, 2014

Tip of the Week

Every Battle Is Won Before the Battle Begins.

Note from 1979 - Starving in NC

I was going through my files last week, and found this note from May 26, 1979. It brought back some serious memories. I was 19 and had just moved to North Carolina a few months before to train for table tennis at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center in Wilson. I had thought I had a job at McDonalds, but that fell through. And so I found myself jobless and running out of money. On this date I sat down and listed all my assets and deficits. It wasn't pretty. I would use up most of the food listed in the next few days. I would use the last $5.03 I had to buy cheap loaves of bread (which I'd eat with just jelly) and corn flakes (which I'd eat straight, since I quickly ran out of milk). During this time I pretty much ran out of real food, and went from being skinny to probably skeletal. I'm guessing I lost 20 pounds. (I was too stubborn to call my parents.) 

Finally, a few weeks after I wrote the note (and unable to pay rent, but not yet kicked out of the room I was renting), I was given a job at a Hardees by a local table tennis player, Dick Barnes. I became the biscuit maker there! For about a year I would work there from 5:30AM-11AM, then I'd walk over to the Butterfly club to practice serves during my lunch break (eating lunch as I walked over), and then return to work the lunch shift, I think 12-2PM. Then I'd be back to the club to practice all afternoon (originally with Bowie Martin Jr., and then daily for about a year with Bowie Martin Sr., the founder of the company), and play matches at night. During my two years in Wilson, 1979-81, my level went from about 1900 to 2150 or so. (I took two years off after high school for table tennis, even though I was "only" 1900 at the time.) Here's a listing of what's in the note:

Assets
$5.03 in cash
$3 owed by Greg Cox
1/4 pounds sloppy joes
1.5 loaves bread
9 cans misc. vegetables
2 boxes cereal
4 servings oatmeal
1/2 gallon milk
10 eggs
1 head of lettuce
4 waffles
4 fish fillet [this was before I stopped eating fish, though I'd stopped eating shellfish for many years]
1 lb strawberries
6 apples
1 lb carrots
Misc.: syrup, sugar, choc. Mix, jelly, margarine, tartar sauce, one-a-day vitamins
Water

Deficits
$23.00 owed to Tom Poston
$31.46 owed to Bowie Martin [I think Sr.]
$80.00 rent on June 1

USATT Magazine

Here's the new USA Table Tennis Magazine. I have two article in this one, one on Crystal Wang ("Youngest US Team Member in History") and on Shadow Practice.

Article in Wall Street Journal

Here's the article from the Friday issue, titled, "Don't Call It Ping Pong: College Sports Rivalry Expands to Table Tennis."

Michael Maze

Here's an article on him, "If you have some goals you want to reach, fight for them."

1979 Hungarian World Champion Team

Here's a current picture of Hungary's "Three Musketeers" from 1979 with Jorgen Persson, L-R: Istvan Jonyer, Tibor Klampar, Persson, and Gabor Gergeley. The three defeated China in team final at the 1979 Worlds. Here's a picture of them after winning the title 35 years ago (from left, Gergeley, Klampar, and Jonyer. The other three are Janos Takacs, Tibor Kreisz , and coach Zoltan Berczik). Jonyer's gained a little weight, and Gergeley's a little gray!

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Physical Training

Here's seven seconds of the world #4 (and #1 outside China) doing physical training.

Great Rally

Here's the video (50 sec). But why didn't the Japanese player (near side) loop down the line to the Hong Kong player's almost open backhand? He had several chances.

Why doesn't the player on the near side loop one to the backhand?

Table Tennis Touch Game

Here's the trailer (1:33) for Table Tennis Touch, a new table tennis video game.

Table Tennis Tutorial, Beginning to Advanced

(This was in my Friday blog, but I forgot to put in the link until that night. So here it is again.) Here's the video (58:58). Alas, it's in Chinese, no English sub-titles.

Happy Easter Table Tennis!

Gangnam Style Table Tennis

Here's the video (52 sec). It starts slow, then from 20 seconds on it gets a faster and then crazier.

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here are Happy Valentine's wishes from around the world (15 sec video), care of the ITTF. Here are some Valentine's Day table tennis pictures.

How to Practice When Snowed In

We're snowed in here in Maryland (and much of the east coast), with about 17 inches outside, and supposedly 1-2 more coming. All table tennis was cancelled yesterday and tomorrow, and the weekend is still iffy. So what does an ambitious table tennis player do when snowed in? Easy - he trains!!! But how can one train when stuck inside? Glad you asked. Here are five ways.

  • Shadow Practice. I could write a long essay on this, or I could refer you to two articles I've written on this, "Shadow Practice Your Shots" and the more extensive "Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork."
  • Visualization. Get comfortable, close your eyes, and visualize yourself playing as a top player. It'll pay off - the subconscious can't really tell the difference between real playing and visualization. There are plenty of sports psychology books that cover this, and here's an article on sports visualization.
  • Think About Your Game. Again, get comfortable, perhaps with a pad of paper, and just think about your game - where it is now, where you want to go, what you need to work on, what drills you need to do, and how to get another day of the week so you can train eight days a week.
  • Set Goals. It's a lot easier to train when you have specific goals to work on, so come up with some. You want three types of goals - short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term.
  • Read Coaching Articles and Books. You can start with some of mine - hint hint!

USATT Online Magazine

USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh now has a report, "Transition of USA Table Tennis Magazine to a Digital Publication," that explains the transition from print to online that I blogged about on Tuesday. It's strange that they made the public announcement about the decision before putting up the explanation; they should have gone up at the same time. The decision was made a month ago, so they had plenty of time.

As a past advertiser, I received an email from the editor explaining the transition and advertising situation. The key phrase from the email was, "Ad rates will remain at the same level as they have been in the past." This is going to be problematic for them as online advertising rates are generally considerably cheaper than print advertising. They are trying to set a new paradigm here. If they do, then they've hit a home run.

As I wrote in a discussion on this at the about.com forum, they face two serious problems with this. First, while the print magazine went to dedicated table tennis players, going for hits from a web page may bring in more total people, but they are not the dedicated players advertisers are looking for. Second, with the magazine readers paged through it, and so saw the ads. With the online version, readers only zoom in on what they are interested in, and so are less likely to see the ads.

Advertisers are well aware of these problems. The reaction of advertisers to being asked to pay the same amount for an online only magazine is going to be interesting - as noted above, you generally pay a lot less for online advertising than print advertising.

Now, if they'd kept the print magazine but added the online version (which takes little extra work to do since both print and online versions come off the same PDF file), then they could have gone to advertisers and offered the added value of the web version - and with this added value, they could increase the ad rates and number of advertisers, and so greatly increase revenue without losing the print publication. That would have been my recommendation if I'd been in the room. 

Past Magazines Now Online

One piece of good news. In my Tuesday blog, I pointed out that when you go to the new issue, just below it is a listing for "Related publications." USATT Magazine was the second one listed, sandwiched between two magazines with nude cover pictures. They fixed this in two ways. First, they somehow had the nude covers removed. But better still, the link now goes here, with past USATT Magazine covers below. When I clicked on the covers, those magazines are now online! Apparently they simply put the old PDF files into whatever converts them to the online version (Flash, I'm told), and so the last eight issues are now online. 

Coaching Scam from England

There's a new coaching scam that's going around. I, along with at least four other coaches that I know of, have received various versions of the following email from some knucklehead (with typos left as sent):

How are you doing? I hope you are doing great, I am [VARIOUS NAMES] from United Kingdom,my son will be coming for 2weeks holiday in USA (Annandale,VA ) from February 20 2014 ,he's 15years old and i want him to use the period of his holiday to learn the fundamental of table tennis from you. He developed interest when he was very young before he lost his mother and i have assured him that i will make his table tennis dream come through. Please get back to me with your qualification,rate and location so we can start from there.

I've seen these scams before. One coach decided to test it out, and responded. After several back and forths, he received the following email:

Top of the morning to you, how are you today? i tried calling you but your number was not going through. My personal assistant has sent your payment and it will be delivered to you this morning by USPS with tracking number (a tracking number was given here that actually tracked a package sent from Montclair, California to Hilliard, Ohio - it was supposed to have been sent from England!) but my personal assistance made a mistake on the amount on the check he put ($2800) instead of ($480). And it has been authorized already, Please when you receive the check go ahead and cash it and send the excess payment to Owen travel Agent who is incharge of his visa procurement as soon as you can. Below is the information of his travel agent. You can send the excess payment to him through western union or money gram money transfer. Owen will be in your location by 18th of this month ahead the lesson for 20th of this month. I will give you a call later.

Of course, the supposed $2800 check would have bounced. This coach has already forwarded the emails to the FBI.

Three Things No One Tells You About How to Get Motivated

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Why Michael Maze Still Has it

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Federal Association of Sandpaper Table Tennis

Here's their latest release (#42), which covers the sandpaper events at the USA Nationals.

2014 Europe Cup Tribute

Here's a highlights reel (6:27) set to music from the 2014 Europe Cup.

Adidas Ping Pong Short

Here's the video (1:13) of some intense TT competition.

The Art of Ping Pong

Here's a 46-page online booklet on table tennis art.

Skeletal Pong

Here's the latest TT artwork from Mike Mezyan. (He also did the "Valentine's Day Hearty Paddle" at the top.)

So, Tell Me About Your Backhand

Here's the cartoon from the NY Times.

You Can Never Start Too Early

Here's video (26 sec) of a baby doing backhands and forehands.

Non-Table Tennis - "How Bad Are We" Article on the Baltimore Orioles

Here's the article. (It was originally titled "The Big Five Starters - Not So Bad?", but they changed the title. What makes this article interesting (at least to me!) is it's my 1499th published article. #1500 should be up soon!

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February 6, 2014

Backhand Games and Random Drills

It seems that recently half my students are challenging me in backhand-to-backhand games. These are games where we put boxes on each side of the table to block off the forehand side of the table, and play a strictly backhand-to-backhand game. If a shot doesn't go to the backhand, or if a player hits a forehand, he loses the point. You'd think I'd dominate this type of game since I can hit a million backhands in a row, but not really. The players quickly learn to match my consistency, while throwing speed, quickness, placement, and variation at me. I've struggled to win games (and sometimes lost) to 12-year-olds with ratings about 700 points lower than mine, as well as to adult players.

What does this mean? It means that, when isolated, they are developing very good backhands. They are learning to do all of the things mentioned above - consistency, speed, quickness, placement, and variation. (Yes, even with only half a table you can move the ball around.) There are times where I'm just pounding the ball with my backhand, and can't get through their steadiness. There are other times where I'm just keeping the ball going, and struggling to find ways to win a point since they aren't missing either, and they are pressing me with all of the attributes mentioned here. (As I regularly remind them, if they find they are pressing because I'm not missing, remember it works both ways - keep coming at me with the same consistency, and I'm the one who'll be pressing because they aren't missing.)

As good as this is, it also exposes one of the "secrets" of table tennis: In a real game, you don't know where the ball is going. In a real game, we wouldn't be going backhand-to-backhand. If we're smart players, we'd both be looking for chance to move the ball around, attacking the middle and wide corners. Without the certainty that the ball's coming back to our backhand side the backhand isn't nearly as strong. It's the ability to react to these random balls all over the table that make up much of the difference in rallying skills between 1500 and 2200.

But the foundation is there. Now I'm doing lots of random drills with them (as they know!), and that will soon pay off just as all the stroking work is now paying off. The most basic one is they keep the ball to my backhand while I put the ball randomly to their forehand and backhand. When they are comfortable against that, I up the stakes and put the ball randomly anywhere on the table, including their middle and wide angles. We also do a lot of random multiball drills. (Did I mention that they are also developing terrorizing forehands?)

New Plastic Balls Approved by the ITTF

Here's the ITTF article.

USATT Reports

Here's a listing of USATT Committee reports, with links to each. I just browsed through most of them. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

Piing of Power - Michael Maze

Here's the video (1:35) that features the lefty Danish star. (I'm not sure why there are two i's.) While currently ranked #28 in the world after injuries to his knees in 2010 (losing nearly a year) and then undergoing hip surgery in December 2012, he was as high as #8 in 2010, and made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the World Championships in 2005, and the quarterfinals in 2009. He was the 2009 European Men's Singles Champion, and the 2004 European Top-12 Champion. He has strong serves and a strong forehand, but is mostly known as probably the best lobber in the world. Maze recently had an "amazing" training session with USA's top cadet and junior, Kanak Jha - here's the short article from USATT, and here's the feature article on Maze, his comeback, and his session with Kanak.

Xu Xin Received Advice from Wang Liqin

Here's the article, with links to several videos. Said Wang, "In the Chinese Team, your brilliant moments are not usually in the good times but in the most difficult times. As long as you can rebound from those difficult moments, then is already indicates that your potential is very big."

Ma Long vs. Yan An

Here's a nice match (3:03, with time between points taken out) between these two Chinese stars at the recent Chinese Trials. (Ma Long in the red shirt.) You can learn a lot by watching how they attack from both wings, but even more by watching their receive. Here's where you can find similar videos of many (or all?) of the matches at the Chinese Trials.

Cerebral Palsy Can't Smash Table Tennis Talent

Here's the feature article on Paralympic star Mike Brown.

Congress is Playing Professional Tournament-Level Ping-Pong With This Nation's Future

Here's the article - and if it's from The Onion, you know it's true!

Ping-Pong Masters

Here's a hilarious video (2:26) that features two (or more?) players in an intense table tennis battle! Lots of special effects, including player cloning.

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September 18, 2013

Focus While You Play

Have trouble focusing when you play? Here are a few tips for keeping or regaining your focus in a match. (Here are some helpful links on sports psychology.)

  1. Make a habit of clearing your mind before every point. If it becomes habitual, then it becomes part of your routine, and it'll get easier and easier.
  2. Develop simple rituals before each point to help clear your mind. For example, bounce the ball a certain number of times before serving, or take a deep breath, or rub your hand on the table, or relax and drop your playing arm and swing it back and forth (which I do), or something else. If you do the same thing every time, your mind develops a Pavlovian response to it as the ritual signals to it that it's time to focus.
  3. If you lose focus, call a 60-second timeout to regain it. You can do this once per match.
  4. Pick out something in the distance and stare at it. This helps to clear the mind.
  5. Walk around the court between points. Don't overdo it - that's stalling - but a quick walkabout can help you regain focus.
  6. Think about tactics before the point as this gives you something to focus on. Then clear your mind just before the point begins.
  7. Remember that it is your subconscious that controls play in a rally. Your conscious mind should be just a spectator - its job during rallies is to just watch play and stay out of the way so the subconscious can do its job. So just let yourself go and spectate.
  8. Convince yourself it's just another match at your club. Then relax and have fun.
  9. Have something on your mind? Then mentally ball it up, spit it out, and put it on the sidelines. Now you can put it out of your mind; it'll be there for you when you finish your match.
  10. Too nervous to focus? That's a huge topic. But here's a simple way that often works, similar to the previous one. Imagine balling up all your nervousness. Then spit it out and toss it in the trash can, or toss it out the 

One Awful Footwork Mistake You Don't Realize You Make

Here's the article. Do you fall back on your heels after a strong forehand?

Longest Rally

Here's the article on high schoolers Max Fergus and Luke Logan recently setting the Guinness World Record for longest rally, going 8 hours 30 minutes and 6 seconds to break the old record by about 15 minutes.

Michael Maze

Here's a video (57:04) all about the Danish star and his training. (He's currently #22 in the world, formerly #8.)

Cartwheel Table Tennis

Here's a video (57 sec) that shows a player twice making a shot while doing a cartwheel, apparently an entry for the ITTF Trick Shot Showdown Contest. (Here's a 37-sec video of another cartwheeler from a while back, chopper Chen Xinhua on the far side.) Want to see more? Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

Comedian Daniel Tosh Carries a Big Stick

Okay, THAT's a big PADDLE.

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June 10, 2013

Tip of the Week

Staying Low.

Eastern Open

It was a tiring weekend, but tournaments always are. I think coaching is more tiring than play. Seriously! Here are the results. We got there on Friday afternoon so our players could practice. I ended up volunteering with the NATT group running the tournament and spent some time putting together barriers. It was nostalgic - I was in charge of barriers at two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Nationals, and one North American Teams.

I mostly coached Derek Nie (12) and Sameer Shaikh (11). Sameer won Under 800 and made the final of Under 950, so it was a successful tournament for him. However, he needs serious work on staying low - hence the inspiration for this week's Tip of the Week (above). Often in practice with me he stays down, but once he gets into matches he tends to stand up straight, and his strokes and movement become awkward. We're going to focus on this for the foreseeable future.

Derek, rated 2215, had a strange tournament. On the one hand, he made it to the final of Under 2375, and had wins over players rated 2353 and 2332. He also went through stages where he was playing extremely well; his backhand play especially has improved as he can now do five types of backhand loops very well - over the table against short balls (especially serves), i.e. "banana flips"; off regular backspin; backhand rips against weak balls; in fast topspin rallies where he backhand loops the ball without backing up much, almost off the bounce; and from off table when forced to back up.

However, he had several matches where, at key stages, he seemed to tighten up and miss a few shots, especially finishing forehands. Astonishingly, he also kept missing his own serve, something he'd never done much before. Not fast and deep serves, but simple short serves that normally are almost never missed. He must have missed his own serve over 20 times this tournament - he has some work to do on this. In one five-game loss, after going up 2-1 in games, he missed his own serve four times in the last two games. (He also had a knee problem that affected him in some of his matches, especially toward the end; in his very first match he dived for a ball, and landed on it. Hopefully it's just a bone bruise. I don't think it affected him too much, but he's taking the next two days off to rest it.)

In the end, he lost five-game matches to three of his rival juniors, and another in four where he was down 1-2 but leading 10-8, with the opponent deucing it on a net-edge and winning on a net. (All four were actually rated higher, all in the 2260-2310 range.) Derek and I both agreed that while the actual results this time were somewhat disappointing, his actual play showed great promise. It'll take him time to gain the experience to incorporate his greatly improved backhand play with his already strong forehand play. And we had a lot of fun both to and from the tournament (four-hour drive) doing brain teasers and (I kid you not) discussing physics.

Here's a good place to thank fellow MDTTC players Raghu Nadmichettu and Harold Baring for their help in practicing with Derek throughout the tournament - and also to congratulate them for both making the quarterfinals of the Open. Chen Bo Wen, also from MDTTC and regular practice partner/coach for Derek, made the final of the Open.

I wish I could go into some of the tactics used in the tournament, but some give away too much for possible future opponents. Derek has a new-found "rivalry" with senior player Vladimir Shapiro (2332), who Derek beat in the Open but lost to in the U2375 final. In their first match, Vladimir was up 2-0, but with a major change in tactics Derek won the next three. In the U2375 final, Vladimir made a nice tactical adjustment to win at 7,8,9. "The future belongs to him," he told me, but the present belongs to him - with his two-winged looping game, varied serves, and smart tactical play, he swept three events - U2375, Over 40, and Over 50.

Because I was busy coaching, I didn't see many of the big matches. We left on Sunday as they were about to start the Open Quarterfinals.

We didn't stay at the tournament hotel, instead staying at a cheaper Day's Inn - and paid the price in other ways! I'm not picky about hotels, and didn't really mind it, but I did note a few things about the hotel:

  1. There was litter scattered all over - in the streets, walkways, outside rooms, and hallways.
  2. The coke machine just outside the front desk looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. I could barely make out the flavors. It was situated so that to get at it I had to squeeze between a bush and an over-loaded trash can that smelled of old garbage. When I clicked on Lemon Ice Tea, I got a Ginger Ale. The front desk refunded my $1.50. They said that there had been complaints about this. I mentioned I'd try the lemonade, but they said that if I did, I'd probably get a coke instead. I ended up going for a water.
  3. The arm rests on the chair in our room were both broken and hanging off sideways.
  4. The light fixture between the beds was broken and hanging off the wall.
  5. The front door had some sort of paint splattered over it.
  6. There was trash scattered about the bathroom.
  7. While walking to the front desk to check out, in a walkway littered with trash, I stopped and watched a giant spider crawling about the wall. Spider webs were all over.
  8. The clock at the front desk was 12 minutes slow.
  9. The complimentary was only corn flakes or sugar frosted flakes, plain bagels, bread, sugar donuts, orange juice, and coffee. I didn't mind; I had two bagels.

In contrast to this, the playing conditions were excellent, with grippy wood floors and good lighting. It was rather humid, which gave some players problems. I'll never understand why so many players show up at tournaments without a towel to wipe their racket with. When it's humid, I bring two - one for me, one for the racket and ball.

Here was an "interesting" incident. A very loud argument was going on between a coach and the referee. Several spectators told me what had happened. In the fifth game of a close match a ball rolled into the court. One player raised his finger to signal let. As he was doing this, his opponent, a junior player, not seeing the raised finger (he was watching the ball) went for a shot and missed. The adult who had raised his finger for let claimed the point. The referee was called. Since the junior player didn't know that his opponent had called a let, the point stood, with his opponent getting the point. (I'm not sure if the adult denied calling a let or claimed that since the junior went for the shot the point counted.) The referee couldn't rely on spectators on what happened (or you might get a biased view), and you can't check the video (or everyone would have to video their matches just in case), and so he could only go by what the players said - and so probably made the right call. However, the adult, if did in fact call the let, pulled a fast one there - and he won the fifth game 11-9. Anyway, there was a LOUD interaction between the junior's coach and the referee, which led to the coach getting red-carded and kicked out.

I had another interesting experience. One of the juniors from my club was playing a match and seemed to be struggling. I wasn't coaching the match, but I asked his dad how he was doing, and discovered he was down 2-1 in games and down 5-1 in the fourth against a player rated considerably lower, whose game I knew. (Very strong backhand, very weak forehand, with specific tactics needed to adjust for this since the player was willing to play backhands from the forehand side.) So I called a time-out, explained how to play this player, and our junior went back out and won the game and match.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

More reviews for the book are in. At Amazon.com, there are 17 so far - 15 five-star ones, and two four-star ones. They are selling pretty well at Amazon, both the print and Kindle versions. A few also sold at The Easterns. Hopefully we'll sell a bunch at the U.S. Open.

Butterfly App

Here's an app from Butterfly that allows you to watch the top players on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (Alas, my phone is circa 18th century, and it makes phone calls. Yes, just phone calls. Though I've heard rumors it takes pictures as well.)

Receive Secrets

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Service Receive Secrets From Japan.

Do You Know (the Ping Pong Song)

Here's a table tennis song I hadn't heard before - the music is to the beat of a bouncing ping-pong ball.

Michael Maze - Literally

Here's a cartoon from Mike Mezyan that combines Danish table tennis star Michael Maze, Michael Jackson, a maze, and a table tennis tour. (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

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November 28, 2012

Serving to Backhand

I am always amazed at how many players do the same type of serve over and Over and OVER - a serve from the backhand side crosscourt to the receiver's backhand. Watching this it also becomes obvious that receivers are so used to this type of serve that they have little trouble returning it. Why don't servers challenge the receiver with more variations?

First, there are good reasons to serve from the backhand side to the receiver's backhand. Here are a few:

  1. By serving from the backhand side, it allows the server to follow-up against a weak return with his forehand.
  2. Many players can't serve short effectively, and if they serve to the forehand, the serve will likely be looped. Most players loop better on the forehand than on the backhand.
  3.  If they serve short to the forehand, they have to guard against a wide forehand angled receive, which leaves them open on the backhand side to a down-the-line receive.
  4. Players have less reach on the backhand, and a breaking serve to the backhand can make them reach for the ball.

These are good reasons. However, they forget the most important goal of serving - to mess the opponent up. And you don't do that by giving him what he's used to over and over. Variation is key. You can serve crosscourt to the backhand with varying spin, but that's just one type of variation. Serving from and to different parts of the table are other ways of varying the serve to mess up an opponent.

Perhaps most important of all, most players have great difficulty returning short serves to the forehand effectively, and many have the same trouble with deep ones. Why not develop these serves and take advantage of this? Every opponent is different, so go in there armed with whatever might be needed.

I once played a player who could attack any of my serves with his backhand, and loop any deep serve with his forehand. When I served down the line short to the forehand, he reached over and flipped with his backhand. The solution? I stepped over to my forehand side and served nearly every ball from there the rest of the match, where I had an angle to his forehand side that forced him to use his weak forehand receive. I won.

This past weekend at the Teams I played a few matches, and struggled to move on the cement floors. So I adopted the tactic of simply throwing every serve I had at each opponent, with huge variations - what I call "cycling" my serves. It worked well, with opponents struggling to get any of my serves back. One opponent began backhand flipping in my short serves with his backhand. So like the example given above, I began serving half the time from the forehand side into his short forehand.

I once played a blocker where I varied my serves, and lost the first game. When I served to his backhand, he won most of the points. When I served to his forehand, whether long or short, I won most of the points. I threw conventional tactics and most variation out the window and served to his forehand exclusively the rest of the match and won easily.

I've played opponents that could loop any deep serve and flip any short sidespin or topspin serve. So I'd focus on short backspin and no-spin combinations. Amazingly, after a steady diet of those serves, sudden deep serves or short sidespin or topspin serves suddenly became effective.

Every opponent is different. When serving to different opponents, you should be different as well. (See also this week's Tip of the Week, Serving Short to Forehand and Long to Backhand, where I talk about making the receiver cover seven feet of diagonal table while turning him into a pretzel.)

Ian (and Mitch) Seidenfeld

Here's an ITTF article on Ian Seidenfeld, 11, the youngest competitor at the Mike Dempsey Memorial Tournament, a Paralympian tournament in San Diego, Nov. 29 - Dec. 1.

Primorac vs. Maze Point

Here's a 59-second video of "Primorac's Greatest Point," where he's ripping ball after ball against a lobbing, fishing, and counterlooping Michael Maze.

Auburn University Campus Table Tennis

Here's their outdoor ping-pong center!

Kid vs. Cat - the Showdown!

Here's a 35-second video of a kid and a cat playing table tennis - really! Sort of.

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October 19, 2012

Developing Your Smash

So many players have this strange idea that the best way to develop a forehand or backhand smash is to, well, smash a lot. It seems to make sense, but isn't always the best way. I've seen this in student after student - they work on smashing by smashing a lot, and the balls spray all over the place as they ingrain the habit of spraying the ball all over the place. Smashing is, first and foremost, a precision shot, and if you practice smashing by spraying the ball all over the place, you are being counterproductive.

Instead, focus on driving the ball only at the pace that you can control, and develop the precision at that speed. As you get better, increase the speed. If you find yourself spraying the ball all over the place, take it down a notch. Precision comes from good technique and timing, and these are things you should work on at a pace you can control. Spraying the ball over the place is a great way to develop bad technique and poor timing. (I may expand this into a Tip of the Week.)

MDTTC Open - Last Chance

If you live within 100 miles of Gaithersburg, Maryland, then enter the MDTTC October Open this weekend or we will go online and steal rating points from you. Yes, we can do that. I'll take entries at least until 7PM tonight. 

Here are the top seeds as of now:

  1. Wang Qing Liang (2621)
  2. Chen Bo Wen (2516)
  3. Richard Lee (2424)
  4. Raghu Nadmichettu (2328)
  5. Larry Abass (2320)
  6. Nathan Hsu (2312)

Senior and Hardbat/Sandpaper Camps

The training camps at the Maryland Table Tennis Center are open to all ages and levels, but because we have so many junior players, they tend to be dominated by junior players. Most camps have a few non-juniors, but not many. So essentially we run junior camps.

I've been thinking about doing specialized camps for other groups, such as senior camps. Back in the 1990s for a few years we had senior camps, where you had to be over age 40 (though we let some "youngsters" in if we believed they were "old at heart"). Most of the attendees were in their 60s. For some reason, after filling the camp several years in a row, one year we had a small turnout, and we stopped running them. Perhaps we should bring them back? There are some differences in running a camp for seniors, besides the obvious fact that people tend to prefer training with their own age group. With juniors, you run them to death with footwork drills, and with faster and faster rallying drills as you work to increase their speed to beyond human recognition. That's not going to work with most 60-year-olds. Instead, they'd do more steady drills, focusing on control and ball placement, as well as variation. There's also more combination rackets, with lots of long pips, so we focus more on both playing with and against such rackets. There are also more choppers and blockers, so we coach a lot on playing with those styles and against them. We don't teach too many 60-year-olds to race around the court looping everything.

Another camp I'm toying with running would be one for hardbat and sandpaper. There's been a strong hardbat movement in the U.S. since the late 1990s, and now sandpaper play is on the rise, to the great consternation of many, including the upcoming $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong. I'm a many-time national hardbat champion and pretty handy with sandpaper as well, and more importantly, I understand how you play with these rackets from a coaching point of view, so perhaps it's time to run a camp and teach these techniques? At the very least, it'll give a chance for hardbat and sandpaper aficionados to train together.

European Championships - Michael Maze vs. Stefan Fegerl

The European Championships are in Herning, Denmark this year, Oct. 17-21. Here's the home page (in English). Here's the Men's Singles Draw and the Women's Singles draw. And here's a video (8:19, with the time between points removed) of a nice first round match (in the main draw, after the preliminaries), where Stefan Fegerl of Austria (world #131, European #53) upsets Michael Maze of Denmark (the lefty, world #15, European #4), 5,7,7,-10,-10,8.

Table Tennis Nation Uncovers the Canadian Scandal

Eugene Zhen Wang, the top-ranked player in North America, had his Canadian citizenship rushed through for the Olympics, according to this article at Table Tennis Nation. Perhaps the U.S. should invite the Chinese team over, and hold them hostage while we rush through their U.S. citizenship. 

Angry Ball

Don't mess with this 3-star ball.

Circular Table Tennis Triples

I'm not going to describe it. Just see the picture.

Non-Table Tennis - Buzzy Story

Today my story "Running with the Dead" went online at Buzzy Magazine, one of the highest paying science fiction & fantasy markets in the U.S. This is the story of a dead kid who wants to attend high school and run as a miler on the track team. He faces not only public pressure to quit - the country is mostly against letting dead people attend school - but also the captain of the track team and leader of the "Mile Mafia," the very person who murdered him one year before. Here's the first paragraph:

Ben closed his eyes as he jogged on the bike path through the forest, enjoying the cool misty early-morning breeze on his dead flesh. He could feel his dried-up heart loosely bouncing up and down inside his chest cavity in rhythm to his long strides. Toby, his pet mouse, squeaked in protest as he anchored himself deep inside his hole in Ben’s stomach, his claws dug firmly into the lining. It tickled.

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July 19, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Three

Yesterday's focus was on the forehand loop. I gave my usual lecture and demo on the subject, with Nathan Hsu as my demo partner. To demonstrate the loop against backspin I alternately forehand looped and forehand chopped while Nathan blocked and pushed.

There were two new players in my multiball group who had just started out on Monday, so this was only their third day of playing. When the first one's turn came for multiball, a 9-year-old boy, right up until the last second I was thinking we should just focus on the basic forehand and backhand drives. Then, for some reason, I changed my mind and asked if he'd like to try looping. He said "Yes!" About two minutes later he'd picked it up and was doing it pretty consistently, still more of a roll, but with pretty good topspin! I was rather surprised.

So I did the same with the next beginner, a 12-year-old girl. Same result! (Many other beginners are not able to pick looping up this quickly.) As I told the two of them, either they are very talented or I'm a really good coach! (We jokingly argued over which it was all morning, with me taking the "very good coach" side.)

Looping and I have a long-term love-hate relationship. I was a late starter to table tennis, starting when I was 16, and right from the start I was a natural hitter. I found looping much more difficult, probably due to tight muscles (even then). However, I was determined to be a looper (just as many natural loopers were determined to be hitters before that style sort of died out at the higher levels), and practiced constantly. Eventually I developed a pretty efficient, if somewhat stiff forehand loop. When I play matches I loop and smash equally, but my hitting is definitely more natural - but I still focus on looping, because, gosh darn it, I wanna be a looper!!!

In the afternoon I introduced the Adjustable Height Device. I blogged about this back on July 20, 2011, when I first used it in camps last summer. It was created by a player I coach, John Olsen, and the kids love it. Here it is in its high and low settings. The challenge is to serve under the bar. The key is to ignore the bar and simply serve low. We also use it sometimes in regular rallies to see if the players can rally under the bar, which in rallies would be set a bit higher than for serves.

I also introduced Froggy (no pictures available, sorry), a large rubber frog, about the size of a soccer ball (but wider, not as tall). I put it on the table, divide players into two teams, and they take turns trying to hit it, two shots each. First team to hit it 20 times wins. I'll try to get a picture today.

Slurpee fever has stuck the camp. During lunch break each day I'm now taking two car trips to the local 7-11 where the kids load up on slurpees. (The kids were shocked to learn that both 7-11 and slurpees were around when I was their age 40 years ago, when I too used to get 7-11 slurpees, back when 7-11 opened at 7AM and closed at 11PM - hence the name. I just looked it up - 7-11 slurpees came out in 1967, when I was seven.) It's not like I'm not compensated for the taxi service; Allen Wang treats me to a Planters Peanut Bar each time. They are my favorite candy bar; if you want to be my friend, you will bring them to me.

Washington Post to MDTTC

The Washington Post will be at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Friday at 11AM for a story on Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Champion) and other MDTTC players. Locals, feel free to come in! Ironically, the player Derek defeated in the final, Gal Alguetti of New Jersey, is here this week for our training camp.

Wang Hao and a Short History of the Penhold Grip

Here's an interesting story on the ITTF web page about the modernization of the penhold grip, which at one point was dying out at the higher levels until the development of the reverse penhold backhand brought it back.

Kalinikos Kreanga vs. Michael Maze

Here are some great points from a video (2:53) of a match between these two from five years ago. Still great play - and notice how tactically they keep attacking the other's middle both to score points and to open up the wide angles?

The Way Table Tennis Should Be Played

Olympian Trick Shots

Lily Zhang and Erica Wu demonstrate their trick shots (1:19) - hilarious!

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February 1, 2012

Style and personality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind over Matter?

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

Chinese Women's Team

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

Kim Gilbert coming back

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

Michael Maze versus Timo Boll

Here's a great point between the two

The scooping backspin bounceback return

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

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