Zhang Jike

December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

No blog tomorrow, see you on Thursday, Jan. 2.

MDTTC Christmas Camp

The highlight of the camp yesterday was, without a doubt, the candy game, which we did the last half hour of the camp, 5:30-6:00 PM. It's an annual tradition in our Christmas Camp - and sometimes other camps, though I can't afford to buy candy for all 12 of our summer camps. (Yes, I'm paying for the candy out of my pocket, not the club.) Here's how the candy game works. I bought several bags of Hershey's chocolate kisses and of Jolly Ranchers (a hard candy the kids like). I pour them all onto the table, and jam them all against the end of the table so they'll fall off easily. Then I feed multiball as the kids take turns trying to knock the candy off, three shots per turn. Anything they knock off they get to keep. (I allow switches, so if they knock off one type of candy, they can trade it for another on the table.) It's great fun, and since the kids know at least two days in advance that we're going to do it, the younger ones especially have incentive to practice their forehands. Essentially all the kids in the camp join in, but I strongly encourage the older, more advanced ones to share with the younger beginners if they win too many, and they go along with that. At the end, there was (as usual) a lot of candy still on the table, and so I let the kids split that up, keeping a handful of Hershey Kisses for myself.

As to actual table tennis, I gave lectures on pushing and an impromptu one for some of the better kids on serving. But for most of the day the focus was on footwork. I introduced the 2-1 drill to most of the younger kids, where they play three shots over and over: a backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, and then a forehand from the forehand corner. (This is the "perfect" drill, as you do three of the four most common moves in table tennis: cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, and step around forehand. What's the fourth common move? Walk to the barriers to pick up the ball.)

The group of 6- to 8-year olds keeps growing, with ten in the camp yesterday, too many for me alone. So Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") assisted me much of the day, with each of us taking five and switching back and forth. There are about 30 in all in the camp.

Regarding the pushing lecture, where I used Crystal Wang as my hitting partner, I went over the basics first. Beginners should start out by letting the ball fall on their racket. As they advance, they learn to take it quicker off the bounce. The pushes should generally be quick off the bounce, with pretty good pace, have good backspin, be low to the net, go deep on the table, go wide to the corners, and players should be able to change directions at the last second. I also cited the importance of doing something with each push, such as rushing the opponent with an extra-quick push, or loading up the backspin against a player who has trouble with that. We also covered and demoed short pushes. I finished by showing them how to sidespin push, especially deep sidespin pushes that break into the opponent's backhand.

Now the bad news. First, the days of standing on my feet feeding multiball have begun to wear down my legs, especially since I had to take much of December off with arm problems, and so wasn't in as good physical shape as usual. Result?

First, I have a blister on my right foot, something I hadn't had in decades.

Second, at around 1AM Sunday morning I woke up in the middle of the night with an excruciating leg cramp in my right hamstring. It was pretty painful, and it's still very sore.

Third, and perhaps worse of all, came at the end of yesterday's morning session. I ended the session as I often do, gathering the younger kids and having them spread out on one side of the tables while I'm on the other. Then I side step side to side very quickly, with the kids trying to stay with me. It's great footwork practice and the kids love it. I only do this for about 30 seconds, and then let the kids take turns leading - all of them want a turn. Unfortunately, during the 30 seconds I led I managed to both wrench my right knee and strain something in the right calf. I was limping the rest of the day.

So my right leg currently has the following, from the bottom up:

  1. Blister in foot
  2. Strained calf
  3. Wrenched knee
  4. Strained hamstring

I don't think any of these things are going to be long-lasting, and since I've got the next few days off, hopefully all will be well by the time I get back to coaching on Fri or Sat.

The good news is the arm problems I battled all December seem to be over (key word: seem), though I won't know for sure until I start private coaching again.

2013 North American Tour Grand Final

It will take place Jan. 11-12, at the ICC club in Milpitas, California. Here is the current lineup of players, and here is the tentative schedule.

ITTF Star Awards

Here's where you can vote for the ITTF Star Awards, in the following categories: Male Star, Female Star, Para Male Star, Para Female Star, Fan's Male Star, Fan's Female Star, and Star Rally. There's also a 62 sec video. You can also reserve your seat for the awards dinner.

Top Spin Documentary

Here's a trailer (4:34) for the upcoming documentary, a "2014 feature-length documentary about American teenagers coming of age in the world of competitive ping pong." Players featured include Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Michael Landers.

Best Ping-Pong Commercials of the Year

Here's a compilation by Table Tennis Nation.

Ma Long & Zhang Jike Table Tennis Football

Here's 24 seconds of the two of them playing table tennis football. Sort of.

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November 21, 2013

Zhang Jike Footwork Drills

Here's a video (36 sec) showing Zhang doing multiball random footwork drills. You'll either be inspired or depressed.

Now I'm going to let you in on a secret: as long as you are in generally good shape - not too overweight or with leg problems - anyone can be fast as long as they learn one hugely important lesson: It's all about balance. Watch how Zhang is constantly balanced, allowing him to move quickly in either direction. It's when a player leans one way even slightly that he's off-centered, and unable to recover quickly. "Fast" players are fast, but mostly because of their balance. It's not the foot speed that's the limiting factor; it's the recovery time from the previous shot.

Another thing that leads to non-fast play: flat-footedness. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet throughout the rally, knees slightly bent, with a somewhat wide stance. This allows you to dance around the court like a mongoose or a Zhang Jike. (Sometimes the heel of the back foot might touch the ground during the backswing of a forehand loop.)

Another limiting factor in footwork is simply not using it. If you just stand at the table without trying to move, you're not going to develop any foot speed. Even blockers need to dance about the table if they want to be good blockers, as opposed to just reaching for the ball. (Some players reach for the ball and just dead block, usually with dead surfaces like long pips, but they get away with that because they don't have to really stroke the ball. You won't find many high-level players like this.)

So stop reaching and learn to move to every ball. You may never have Zhang Jike speed, but if you think of yourself as being like Zhang Jike and copy some of the techniques that make him so fast, you might not be so far behind. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Footwork from Table Tennis Master

Speaking of footwork, here are three articles on footwork that all go together, so I'll post all three.

USATT Election

The USATT Nominating and Governance Committee selected the two final candidates to run for the vacant spot on the USATT Board: Jim McQueen and Ross Brown.

Samsonov's Longevity

Here's an article on "Why Samsonov Will Last the Long Mile."

Ping-Pong and the Fight Against Alzheimer's

Here's the video (4:29).

Mitsubishi Electric Pumps $300,000 into Singapore Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Evolution

Here's the ultimate evolution poster showing apes evolving into....

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

The print version is now available at amazon.com (along with the Kindle version). Or you can save $3 by buying directly from First Class Books. (Not sure why amazon's selling above the retail rate. Normally they discount.) 

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August 27, 2013

Tip of the Week

A Step-by-Step Sequence to Learning Pendulum Serves.

MDTTC Camps

"It's Monday . . . and there's no camp??? No lectures on grip, stance, forehand, and serves?" (Okay, it's really Tuesday, but this is what I was thinking yesterday.) Our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC ended Friday. I've now run about 180 five-day camps, six hours per day, or 900 days and 5400 hours of camp. That's nearly 2.5 years of camps. I've given each of my standard lectures 180 times, or about 1800 lectures in all. I've led in stretching (twice a day) 1800 times. (Well, actually less since I've sometimes missed the afternoon sessions.) And we're not done for the year - we have another camp, our Christmas Camp, Dec. 26-31. (Our camps are primarily for kids, but adults are welcome - we usually get 2-3 each week, sometimes none, sometimes more.)

MDTTC August Open

Here are the results (which I also gave out yesterday) of the August Open this past weekend, run by Charlene Liu. Congrats to Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), who finally broke through and won against Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") after a series of second-place finishes to Wang. It was a dominant performance - he didn't lose a game. Anther having a nice tournament was Nathan Hsu, who's been in a slump recently - but this time he won Under 2400.

I mostly coached Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh in the tournament. (I also coached Tony Li one match, against a Seemiller-style player with antispin, something he'd never seen before. A new experience, and next time he'll be ready.) Derek (12, rated 2291) started well, with wins over a pair of 2150 players - including a mind-numbing win over Lixin Lang (2187) at 16-14, 19-17, 11-8! - but his elbow began to hurt during his match with Lixin. He kept clutching at it, and I almost had him default there. He finished the match, but decided he had to drop out to rest it. Hopefully he'll be okay in a few days.

Derek's other decent win was against Nam Nguyen (2137). They had one of the most incredible three-shot sequences I've ever seen. Nam lobbed a ball short. Derek absolutely crushed it. Nam absolutely crushed a counter-kill from no more than eight feet back, and Derek absolutely crushed a counter-counter-kill off the bounce. It was the fastest three-shot sequence I've ever seen - three forehand smashes/counter-smashes in the blink of an eye. I wish it was on video - it could have gone down as the fastest three-shot sequence ever!!! 

Sameer had a strange tournament - he literally could have won or lost all eight or so of his matches. As it was, he made the final of Under 1150. Down 0-2 in games in the final, he led 5-3 in the fifth before losing 11-8.

During the tournament a player said, "I have to play [higher-rated player]." I pointed out that he had it all wrong - that this [higher-rated player] had to play him! I often quote to my players Rorschach from the movie Watchmen, where he's allowed himself to be taken prisoner and he's surrounded by other prisoners out to get him. After dispatching one in very violent fashion, he says to the group of prisoners gathered around in his gravelly voice, "You don't understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!" Here's the video of the scene (47 sec) - warning, it's pretty violent!!!

North American Championships

The North American Championships end today, Aug. 25-27 in Vancouver Canada. Here's their home page, which includes results, write-ups, photos, video, video interviews, live streaming

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of a USATT teleconference meeting on July 22 and the email approval vote of those minutes. Here are USATT minutes going back to 1999.

Footwork for a Short Ball

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:46) showing how to step in for a short ball and recover for the next shot.

Zhang Jike Doing Multiball

Here's a video (36 sec) of World Champion Zhang Jike doing multiball. Want to have footwork like Zhang's? Then watch his stance - wide, with left foot off to the side for stability as he rips shots from the backhand side. There needs to be a balance here. If the left foot is too far off to the side, then the follow-through goes too much sideways, and you're not in position for the next shot. If it's more parallel to the table, you lose body torque. (I had a disagreement with a coach recently - not from my club - who insists that when you step around the backhand corner to play a forehand the feet should be parallel to the side of the table. However, not many top players do that, if any.)

Top Ten Shots at the Harmony Open

Here they are (4:38)!

Table Tennis Through Google Glass

Here's an article and video (17 sec) showing table tennis through Google Glass. (Why isn't it called Google Glasses?)

Kim Gilbert After a Two-Hour Session

Here's the picture! So restful....

Mouthful of Pong

Here's another video (14 sec) from the (Tumba Ping Pong Show"! I linked to two other of their videos on my blog on Aug. 16 (at the very end).

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August 2, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. Most of the players in the camp were ready for this, including two of the five beginners I was mostly working with. The harder part for most was doing a backhand loop against backspin and then and a backhand drive against topspin consecutively, fed multiball style. Inevitably, when they first try this, they'd either shorten the backswing on the backhand loop (and go into net), or swing up on the drive (and go off the end). Some of the more advanced players backhand looped against both backspin and topspin, but being more advanced, they had little trouble making the adjustment.

I gave a private lesson to a player roughly in his late 40s (not sure), where I introduced him to forehand looping. This was where the power of the subconscious became a problem. He quickly developed a pretty good forehand loop technique, except his racket was always too closed. And so when I fed him backspin with multiball, over and over he went into the net. Even when I told him to spin the ball way, way off the end, his subconscious took over as soon as he began his stroke, and the balls kept going into the net. This happens all the time when the loop is first introduced to older players. The key is you have to really, Really, REALLY convince yourself to aim to loop way off the end, so that your subconscious gets the message, and so it aims there - with the result that the ball probably hits the table. After doing that a few times, the subconscious has the feedback to aim better, and then it can loop off the end. Then you tell it to aim for the table, and kazzam, you can aim for the table and the ball hits the table.  

It was a long day at the club. Due to the camp, private coaching, meetings, and other TT issues, I was at the club continuously (except for a lunchtime walk over to 7-11 with a bunch of the kids) from 8:30 AM to 9PM.

Here's an interesting note I'll put out for you psychology majors. When the younger kids line up for various target practice games (where I'm feeding multiball), the boys all want to go first, and so I often have them do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first. But the two girls in my group yesterday kept telling the other she could go first, and I finally had them do rock-paper-scissors just to see who could let the other one go first!

Junior Olympic Results

Here they are! They were held in Detroit this past Mon-Wed.

Zhang Jike vs Xu Xin

Here's the video that just went up (3:32, with time between points removed) of their recent match in the Chinese Super League. Zhang is the righty and the reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion. Xu is world #2. (Ironically, despite his recently repeating as world champion, Zhang lost in other tournaments and dropped to #4 in the world in new rankings, with Ma Long #1, Wang Hao #3. Here are the world rankings.)

Desmond Douglas, age 58

He can still play - here's a video (1:12). I remember watching him in the semifinals of the 1976 U.S. Open in Philadelphia, where he lost deuce in the fifth to eventual winner Dragutin Surbek, in my first major tournament and third overall. "See the video below for a 130+ rally between Desmond Douglas, Former World Number 7, and Tim Yarnall former England number 4. Both show that they do not want to miss a shot with balance, technique and placement on every ball. Can you say the same about your game or players? How important is the mentality to not miss a ball in table tennis?"

Amazing Ping-Pong Ball in Cup Tricks

Here's the video (2:41). "Identical twin brothers Austin and Luke Morrel are two regular high schoolers who directed and filmed this extreme ping pong trick video." Note that this is actually their third such video - you can see others by them and other trick shot videos in the video listings to the right.

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April 15, 2013

Tip of the Week

Playing the Big Backhand Player.

Incentive

Yesterday I was coaching a 6-year-old. I've been working with him for a while, but his hand-eye coordination make learning difficult. For example, despite months of trying, he can rarely bounce a ball on his paddle more than two or three times. He also has great difficulty timing serves - the timing of throwing a ball up and hitting it accurately is difficult for kids that age - and he can rarely serve two balls in a row successfully. (His record is four in a row.)

Because of his difficulties in learning, he quickly loses patience if he doesn't get it quickly. He also is obsessed with Star Wars, and I made the mistake of letting him know what a big fan I was as well. It's often all he wants to talk about. Sometimes he insists I call him Yoda. He often tries to steer practice sessions into Star Wars question and answer sessions.

I often challenge him to do as many forehands or backhands as possible. His record on the forehand (when I feed multiball, which is easier than hitting them "live") was an even 40, but that was sort of fluky; his second most was about ten or fifteen. His backhand record is 18. His interest in getting as many in a row as possible is erratic.

I came up with an idea a few days ago. I created a chart, "Anton's Chart," where I listed his records for most forehands and backhands in a row, both with multiball and live, as well as ball bouncing, ball balancing (where he sees how long he can balance the ball on his racket while I time it), and how many serves he can do in a row. At the start of our lesson yesterday I brought out the chart, and taped it to the wall. His eyes went wide.

Suddenly he had a goal. Normally we work on a lot of things during each session, but he decided for some reason that he was going to break his forehand record. And so we ended up doing nothing but forehands for 45 minutes! That broke by about 40 minutes his record for focusing on something. The result was he broke the record twice - first with 55 in a row, and then with 64 in a row.

Even after he got the 64 he wanted to keep playing forehands. Why? Because I had explained to him that in table tennis, it's often said you don't have a forehand or backhand until you hit 100 in a row. And I promised him that if he ever did 100 in a row, I'd print out a nice certificate with his name on it and saying what he'd done. He was determined!!!

He didn't get 100 this time, but he was excited to break his record twice, and to be able to write in his new record on his chart. I have a feeling we'll be hitting a lot of forehands until he gets that 100, and then we'll move on to the backhand.

Ball balancing wasn't on the original chart. I added it as his insistence. We spent ten minutes on this as he kept trying to increase his record, finally getting it up to 5.46 seconds. (This, and ball bouncing, are difficult for kids his age, and so great practice in developing hand-eye coordination, but now that he's got a goal, he'll probably learn faster.)

I think the next step is to tell him that in table tennis, you don't really have a serve until you can do, say, twenty in a row. Right now he can't do that, but I bet this way he'll learn fast!

USA College Championships

They were held this past weekend in Rockford, IL. Here's the home page, with results, articles, and video. Here are the new National Champions:

  • Men's Singles: Emil Santos, Texas Wesleyan University
  • Women's Singles: Jiaqi Zheng, Northwest Polytechnic University
  • Men's Doubles: Grant Li & Justin Huang, University of Southern California
  • Women's Doubles: Sara Hazinski & Claudia Ikezumi, Texas Wesleyan University
  • Coed Team: Texas Wesleyan University
  • Women's Team: Texas Wesleyan University

Pongcast 25

Here's the video (17:29), which covers the Korean Open.

What Makes Zhang Jike Beatable

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on this. Three reasons are given, involving a tendency to take the ball late, attitude, and pressure.

Table Tennista

As usual, there's a host of new international articles on Table Tennista, including Liu Guoliang's sarcastic humor, Zhang Jike criticized by his father, and the Asian Cup.

Tina Lin to Worlds

Here's an article on New Jersey's junior star Tina Lin.

Adam Scott Wins Masters, Plays Ping-Pong

Here's the article and video (5sec) from Table Tennis Nation.

Buried in Ping-Pong Balls

Here's a picture of a woman literally buried in ping-pong balls. (I'm guessing it's actually in a swimming pool, with the balls floating on top. Or perhaps not. (If Facebook doesn't let you see this, try here.)

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March 28, 2013

Spring Break Camp

This week I'm mostly blogging about the Spring Break Camp since that's what I'm doing for eight hours each day this week, Mon-Fri. I almost put up a note saying no blog today as I was so tired last night that I wanted to collapse into bed, knowing full well that I'd be unlikely to have the energy to do it in the morning before leaving for camp. Then I sat down at my computer at around 9:30 PM and it just came together, as it always does.

Yesterday we focused on forehand looping. As I often do I brought out 12-year-old Derek Nie to demonstrate, as he has nice technique to go with his 2234 rating. He demoed against my block, then I demoed it against backspin, where I served backspin, Derek pushed, I looped, he blocked, I chopped, he pushed, and we started over again. Then I gave a short lecture on it, and then it was off to the tables to practice.

Most memorable moment for me yesterday was dealing with a kid who was trying to serve backhand sidespin, but kept throwing the ball into his racket rather than tossing it up six inches or more and contacting it on the drop. I kept trying to show him how to do it legally, but he kept saying over and over (without letting me show him how), "I can't. I can't. I can't." Finally, in disgust (but trying to be nice about it), I told him I didn't want to hear it any more unless he changed it to "I can't yet," or better still, "I will." Several others around seemed to take this to heart, but the kid didn't get it, and actually sort of threw a tantrum and began smacking balls all over the place on purpose. I finally had to give him a "time out," the first one I'd given for the camp. Afterwards, when he'd calmed down, I told him I'd work with him on the serve tomorrow. I really, really hope it works out better today.

The beginning kids I'm working with are now progressing rather well, including the ones who had trouble at the start. Today I introduced them to pushing, and all of them picked up on this far more quickly than I expected. I wish I had a video of their expressions the first few times they pushed with enough backspin so the ball came to a stop and bounced or rolled backwards! The best news is the kid who's been resisting fixing his grip is finally holding the racket properly. I hope I never again see that awkward claw grip he was using.

At lunch I played a practical joke on everyone. We have Chinese food delivered for lunch each day - I had Chicken Lo Mein. I'd been jokingly grumbling about how my fortune cookies always predict disasters for me - that I'd be hit by a car, by lightning, or mauled by a bear or something. On Tuesday I brought home my fortune cookie to eat that night. While eating it I had a brainstorm. It took me about five minutes to create my own fortune, with the same size and type of font, the same blue color, and the same blue design along the sides, with the message, "A meteor will kill you in five minutes." I printed it out, carefully cut it out to match the exact size of the sample fortune, and brought it to the club. At lunch yesterday, I once again complained about my fortunes I get, and then, while several watched, I opened the cookie, and let the fortune drop down out. I did this so that it fell behind the plastic food box holding my food, where I'd hidden the fake fortune. I picked the fake one up, and read it aloud, while carefully tossing the real one under the table. When no one believed me, I let them read it. They went crazy in disbelief! Most of the camp gathered around trying to figure it out. (I'm also a part-time SF & fantasy writer, and one of the stories published in my anthology "Pings and Pongs: the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" is a story titled "A Meteor Will Kill You In Five Minutes." About ten of the kids in the camp have read that story, adding to the consternation.) Finally, when five minutes were up, I stood up, looked up at the ceiling, and tossed a ping-pong ball up, which hit me in the head. I then told them what had happened. I'll save the fortune for future camps with new players.

It would be a crime not to mention that I'm spending our breaks taking on challenges with my clipboard as a racket. So far I'm about 30-0 in games to 11, including several wins over 1900+ players. The higher-rated ones are shying away in stark terror.

Ma Long's Coaching

Here are five coaching videos from Ma Long of China, who recently regained his crown as #1 in the world. It's all in Chinese, but even if you don't understand Chinese you can learn from just watching.

World Team Classic

The event is being held right now in Guangzhou, China, March 28-31. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Interview with Bastien Steger

Here's a video interview (2:17) with Germany's Bastian Steger, who speaks to itTV after securing victory against Thiago Monteiro to give Germany a 3-2 win over Brazil at the Times Property 2013 World Team Classic.

Ryan Giggs Plays Table Tennis

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on how Manchester United player Ryan Giggs used table tennis to improve his soccer game. (That's football outside of USA.)

Zhang Jike and Xu Xin

Here's 21 seconds of these two practicing before the World Team Classic in Guangzhou, China. It starts out as regular counterlooping before they get creative.

Smart Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights video (8:28) from PerfectionisTT

Table Tennis Cartoon

Here's an interesting table tennis cartoon - but it has no caption. Why not come up with your own? Here are three of mine:

  • "Never stare in open-mouthed admiration of your opponent's shot."
  • "The secret to Mr. Specs' game was ball placement."
  • "It was an inadvertent ping-pong accident that led to his revolutionary discovery of the ping-pong diet- filling yet few calories."

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March 20, 2013

Fairness Versus Progressive Issues Revisited

In my blog yesterday I wrote about "USATT: Fairness Versus Progressive Issues." I had an email discussion with someone who believed that it would be interpreted by the average reader as criticism of the current Chair of the USATT Board of Directors, Mike Babuin. To anyone who read it that way - Poppycock!!! Mike was only voted in as Chair at the December board meeting, and his first meeting as chair will take place in April.

It could be read as criticism of past leaders. Some of them left USATT better than when they arrived, and some left it worse. There are many "Fairness" issues that they might have resolved, for the betterment of the sport. What no past leaders has done is find a way to either dramatically grow the sport or consistently develop players that can compete with the best players in the world. The point of my blog was that nearly every past USATT leader got bogged down in the "Fairness" issues, and so weren't able to focus on "Progressive" issues. It is a nasty cycle I hope will come to an end.

What are the progressive issues USATT could focus on? I've argued strongly for two specific ones: a nationwide system of leagues, and more junior training centers.

  • Nationwide System of Leagues: I don't think USATT can set up a nationwide system of leagues on its own. What it can do is take the initiative in getting current league directors together to develop such a system of leagues. We already have successful ones growing around the Bay Area, LA, and NYC. We need them to continue to grow, both in their current regions and to other populated areas. But first a model for such a league must be developed that other populated regions can use as a prototype. If someone wanted to start up such a league right now, there are no models; he'd have to start from scratch. That's a terrible way to grow a sport. USATT needs to be the catalyst in creating such a prototype that can be emulated everywhere.
     
  • Junior Training Centers: When I gave a presentation to the USATT Board in December, 2006, arguing that USATT should get involved in the growing of junior training centers, it got a mixed reaction. At the time, there were about ten full-time table tennis centers in the country with junior programs. Most board members liked the idea, but didn't take action. Two actively spoke out against it, saying there weren't enough players to support such full-time training centers. They didn't understand the most basic principle of any sport that wants to grow, which is that you don't rely on current players - you promote the sport and bring in new ones. I was so disgusted at the reaction that it was the primary reason I resigned shortly afterwards as USATT editor and programs director.

    While USATT didn't get involved, the success of those early centers attracted other promoters and coaches, and now there are well over fifty such full-time centers, each with their own base of players, both adult and junior players. It's been an amazing six years since I gave the presentation as these centers began popping up all over the place, contrary to the arguments made by those two board members. The result has been a dramatic increase in the level and depth of our top cadet players, who in a few years will be dominating table tennis at the highest levels in this country. (Here's my blog on the topic from January, 2012.)

    And yet, we're still in the same situation as with leagues - when someone wants to set up a full-time center, he has to start from scratch. There are no manuals out there on setting up and running a full-time table tennis center. Again, this is a terrible way to grow a sport. This is where USATT should jump in and develop one. (And no, I'm not volunteering; at one time I might have, but I don't have time these days.)

NCTTA

Here's the March issue of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Newsletter.

New Table Designs

Here's an article and pictures from the ITTF on Project M48 - new table designs.

Oriole Ping-Pong!

Here's a picture of Baltimore Oriole baseball players filling out their "March Madness" brackets in the Orioles clubhouse - using the club's ping-pong table to work on! I was supposed to do a demo and clinic for the Orioles last year, but the team's best player, J.J. Hardy, hurt his shoulder (that's why he hit so poorly last year - I was sworn to secrecy!) and so they postponed it. We've been in contact, and it will probably happen this year. They've told me I can bring a few of our top juniors to the session. J.J. Hardy has expressed interest in coming to the Maryland Table Tennis Center for some coaching; I'll let you know when/if that happens.

Samsonov's Upset of Zhang Jike

Here's an article and video on Vladimir Samsonov's upset win over Zhang Jike at the recent Asia-Europe All-Star Challenge. Here's another one, where Samsonov talks about the win and how it inspired him.

Trick Shot Video

Here's a video (4:46) showing non-stop trick shots. Most are around-the-net shots, but they get trickier as the video goes on, including behind-the-back and under-the-legs shots, no-look shots, kicking shots, and doing these shots between barriers.

Big Table Tennis

Here's a video (13:01) of the "biggest" segment of table tennis! The commentary is in German. Things get interesting (visually) 42 seconds in. (Note - I believe these are the same players who did the trick shot video segment above.)

Intense Table Tennis

Very intense picture, and a lot of orange. Perhaps this is a symptom of climate change? Anyone know whose picture that is in the background?

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February 26, 2013

Tip of the Week

Should You Hit or Loop the Backhand?

Two Weeks in a Desk

I'm still fighting off the cold I've had the last two days. However, I was already out of shape before I caught it.

The two weeks working on Tim's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. XIII, left me way, way out of shape. Sitting at a desk 12-16 hours/day for two weeks can do that to you. On Saturday, after coaching all day (arriving at the club at 10AM), I was a practice partner for a 4:30-6:30 match session. By this point I was exhausted as well as out of shape and stiff as neutronium. I was also probably tired from the early stages of the cold I would not realize I had until the next day.

Yet, by playing sound tactics, I was able to beat a 2300 player, and mow down a whole bunch of 1800-2000 players all 3-0. Here's a summary of tactics I used to make up for slow feet, an erratic forehand, and general exhaustion.

  • On my serve, ended points quickly by forcing winners off my serve, either with the serve directly or an easy put-away afterwards. I threw everything at them - I call it "cycling my serves": short to the forehand (backspin, side-back, sidespin both ways, no-spin), long to the backhand (mostly breaking away, usually with a reverse forehand pendulum fake motion), fast no-spin at the elbow, and others short to the backhand or middle, or long to the forehand (either very long or barely long). Often I'd do my infamous "twitch" serve, which looks like backspin but a very small upward twitch right at contact puts light topspin on the ball.
  • Mixed up the receives to mess them up quickly in the rally, with a mixture of short pushes, quick long pushes, and banana backhand flips, all done with last-second changes of direction.
  • On their serve, forced backhand-to-backhand rallies where I just stood there hitting backhands until and unless they went to my forehand, in which case I'd loop or hit. By keeping the ball wide to their backhands, they had no angle into my forehand so I didn't have to move much to cover those balls.
  • Slow, spinny opening loops, followed either by easy put-aways or more backhand to backhand rallies.
  • When they attacked my forehand I'd go wide to their forehand, and then come back to their backhand, and then we'd be right back to backhand-to-backhand exchanges, except they'd start the rally out of position.
  • Occasional quick and heavy pushes to the wide corner. If done infrequently, they lead to miss after miss.

USA Team to the Worlds

Here's USATT's official announcement of the USA Team to the World Championships coming up in Paris, May 13-20. (Peter Li qualified for the fourth unfunded spot on the Men's Team, but turned it down. The fifth spots were coach's picks - Chodri and Lin.)

  • Men's Team - Timothy Wang, Yahao Zhang, Khoa Nguyen, Jim Butler, Kunal Chodri; Coach Stefan Feth
  • Women's Team – Lily Zhang, Erica Wu, Ariel Hsing, Prachi Jha, Tina Lin; Coach Doru Gheorghe

ITTF Education Platform

Here's the page - "the new learning platform for the International Table Tennis Federation."

Ping-Pong: Head Game

Here's an article in the New York Times on table tennis this past weekend. The author writes, "This is not the kids’ game I grew up playing in my dorm at school."

Qatar Open

Here's the home page for the Qatar Open that was played this weekend, with results, articles, and pictures. Here's a video (8:24, with time between points removed) of the all-Chinese Men's Final between Ma Long and An Yan. Here's a video (6:23, also with time between points removed) of the all-Chinese Women's Final between Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen.

Zhang Jike: Fully Recovered?

Here's an article on Zhang Jike's recovery from a series of poor performances.

Interview with Joo Saehyuk

Here's an interview with the South Korean defensive star.  

New York City Table Tennis Academy

Here's a video (4:26) featuring the NYCTTA and Coach Ernesto Ebuen.

Wang Liqin Tricks

Here's an article on Wang Liqin, which includes a 21-second video of him doing table tennis tricks, including showing how tacky his rubber is. (It holds the ball upside-down.)

World's Perfect Vacation?

Here's beach table tennis.

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February 22, 2013

Forehand or Backhand Receive in Doubles?

More and more these days top players receive short balls with their backhand whenever possible. In doubles, where players only have to cover half the court on the receive, most players used to return everything with their forehands, so that they'd be ready to forehand loop anything that went long. But that paradigm has changed.

Here's a video (4:21, with time between points removed, not all points shown) of the all-Chinese Men's Doubles Final at the Kuwait Open this past weekend, where Xu Xin and Yan An defeated Zhang Jike and Ma Long, -6,9,10,4. The video showed 44 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall, players received forehand 24 times and backhand 20 times. However, these results were skewed by Yan An, who received forehand 12 times, backhand once. Take him out, and the other three had 12 forehand receives to 19 backhand ones.

  • Ma Long: FH 4, BH 8
  • Zhang Jike: FH 2, BH 7
  • Xu Xin: FH 6, BH 4
  • Yan An: FH 12, BH 1

Make sure to see the nifty ducking move by Ma Long in the point starting around 46 seconds in. Also, see where Zhang Jike and Ma Long accidentally bump into each other, about 65 seconds in. (Xu is the lefty penholder; Yan An his righty shakehands partner. I sometimes had trouble telling Zhang Jike and Ma Long apart in the video, especially on the far side where you couldn't see their names on their backs - they are dressed identically right down to their shoes, both have black on their forehands, have nearly the same haircuts, are about the same height, and from a distance look similar (at least to me on the video). I did so by keeping track of who was serving to who. In game one, Ma Long served to Xu Xin, and you can work out the rest from that.)

I did a similar analysis of an early-round match at the Qatar Open, which started yesterday. Here's a video (3:14, with time between points removed, not all points shown) from the Qatar Open just yesterday showing most of the points in a match in Men's Doubles in the round of 32 where Xu Xin (the same lefty penholder from the match above) and Fan Zhendong (righty shakehander) of China defeated Hungary's Janos Jakab (all-blue shirt) and Czech Republic's Michal Obeslo (blue shirt with orange sleeves), -10,4,8,6. The video showed 39 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall there were 27 forehand receives and 12 backhand, but the stats are again skewed, this time by Jakab's 11-1 stats. Take him out, and the other three had 16 forehand receives to 11 backhand ones.

  • Xu Xin: FH 4, BH 4
  • Fan Zhendong: FH 7, BH 3
  • Janos Jakab: FH 11, BH 1
  • Michal Obeslo: FH 5, BH 4

You could say that Yan An and Janos Jakab are "old school," in that they received nearly everything forehand, just as players in the past (including myself) were taught to do, so as to be ready to loop anything deep. However, newer players like to receive short serves with the backhand whenever possible, using banana flips with heavy topspin and often sidespin. (As I've blogged about before, this is also true in singles.)

In most cases, the players set up in advance to receive forehand or backhand. However, often you'd see them switch, based on the incoming serve. Ma Long and Zhang Jike in particular would sometimes set up forehand and switch to backhand as the serve was coming in. It looks like they were trying to receive long serves with their forehands, and would switch to backhand as soon as they saw the serve was short. Late in the match in the Kuwait Final, there are two points where Zhang Jike looped two serves in with his forehand against Yan An's serve - they were the only forehand receives he used that match, and probably the only long serves he saw.

Xu Xin, the lefty penholder, was tricky to watch. Sometimes it was hard telling if he was receiving forehand or backhand when he pushed (almost always short).

Qingdao Great Personality Award for the year 2012

Zhang Jike has been named the Qingdao Personality of the Year for 2012. Here's the article.

Who is Liu Guoliang's Favorite Player?

Answer: Chen Qi. Here's an article on what the Chinese Men's Coach and former star said. (Actually, despite the article's headline, what he really said was "Chen Qi is one of my favorite players on the National Team."  He also said that fans call him a "cute murderer.")

Mario vs. Maria

Here's a video (1:23) of a three-point challenge match between Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos from Extra TV, with "pro" table tennis players Elie Mehl and Adam Bobrow first giving a demo.

Ryder Cup Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:30) of Ryder Cup Golf players discussing table tennis. Players interviewed include Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and the reigning table tennis champion, Matt Kuchar. They make fun of Phil Mickelson, who was the best until Kuchar came along. Some quotes:

  • "The Ryder Cup is all about ping-pong."
  • "Bubba thinks he's good, but he just plays defense."
  • "I think it's clear that Matt Kuchar is the best. Phil Mickelson's not quite ready to admit it. I think he's in denial."
  • "When you bring your own paddles and cases, and a briefcase with a paddle, then it's obviously about ping-pong. Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar have their own cases for their paddles. It's nuts."
  • "Phil Mickelson pouts every time we make him play Matt Kuchar. Love you Phil!"

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February 14, 2013

Most Memorable Practice Sessions

I've had some memorable ones. Here are a few.

At the 1981 U.S. Open in Princeton, NJ,  I was practicing with others from my club (13-year-old Sean O'Neill, Dave Sakai, and Ron Lilly) when the Chinese team came in. (I'm pretty sure this was the first time they had ever attended a U.S. Open.) They practiced for an hour or so on nearby tables. Then they came over and offered to pair up with U.S. players, as part of their "Friendship First" policy. I was paired up with one of their women, but I had no idea who she was at the time. We hit forehands and backhands, and I didn't realize at first that she had long pips on the backhand, and that she'd flipped her racket to put the inverted side there to hit backhands with me. Then she began chopping. I sort of smiled, as I'm better against choppers than any other style, and so I gave her (hopefully!) a pretty good practice session (about an hour), where I both looped and smashed pretty consistently against her chops. Afterwards I found out who she was. TONG LING!!! The reigning World Women's Singles Champion and #1 woman in the world! A few days later she'd win the U.S. Open Women's Singles.

At some large tournament in the late 1980s, out of the blue Zoran Kosanovic asked if I'd warm him up. He knew me from a camp he'd run in Canada in 1980 that I'd attended. However, he was the #1 player in North America, rated about 2750 (to my roughly 2250 at the time), and had recently been ranked in the top 20 in the world. I expected he'd want to do some standard drills, but that's now what he wanted to do - he wanted to do "free play," where whoever got the ball just served topspin and we just rallied anywhere on the court. This might have worked for him, but he spent the entire session - about an hour - dominating the rallies, using me as target practice as he'd fake one way and go the other, with a non-stop barrage of inside-out and hooking loops that I could only flail at. Afterwards I could barely play, and I had one of my worst tournaments ever. He also had a so-so tournament, losing to Eric Boggan, and getting in trouble with the umpire and referee after losing one point when he picked up his side of the table and slammed it down in anger.

Many years ago, when I was around 1900, I was a good hitter, and was developing my loop, but for some reason my blocking against spinny loops wasn't that consistent. At the Eastern Open a top player was preparing for a match, and couldn't find anyone to hit with. So he asked me, figuring that at 1900 I could at least block. Then he walked out to the first table for our warm-up, in front of hundreds of people. Well, I could barely keep the ball on the table, both because my blocking was still poor, and because I was nervous about all these people seeing me miss block after block against this player. The top player should have just thanked me, and looked for someone else. Instead, he finally walked over, and in a very loud and exasperated voice said, "You can't keep the ball on the table. I need to find someone better." Then he walked off. I was pretty embarrassed, but also pretty angry. I was somewhat happy when he was upset in his next match. I get some of the credit for that, right?

I was coaching at a training session in the summer of 1987 at the Butterfly Center in Wilson, NC, when I was 27. Several junior players were complaining about having to do too much footwork in the 90 degree heat. I said I could do side to side footwork for fifteen minutes, so why couldn't they do it for half that? When one said there was no way I could do it for fifteen minutes in the heat, I upped the ante and said I could do it for 30 minutes continuously if someone fed me multiball (so there'd be no breaks even if someone missed) - but if I did, everyone had to 1) promise never to complain about training again that week, and 2) go outside and run a mile. They agreed. I not only did the 30 minutes, with two of the juniors taking turns feeding the balls, but I went the entire 30 minutes without missing a shot! (What they didn't know was that I'd spent two years in North Carolina, 1979-81, in that very gym, practicing every day even in 100 degree heat. Heat never bothered me until I was much older. Also I was a miler in high school, and had once run a marathon. Plus, I did so many side-to-side footwork drills when I was developing that I could do them endlessly without missing.)

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - ON SALE!!!

Current cost is only $11.45!!! (Instead of the regular retail of $17.95.)

I was a bit confused about this. The book is supposed to retail for $17.95, and that was the price I set when I began selling it on Amazon.com, and that's what it was selling for. Yesterday I discovered it was selling on Amazon for $11.45! I was about to send them an irritated email trying to figure out why that was happening, but decided to check the online royalty statement first. Despite the lower price, I'm getting paid the exact same royalties for the books as when it was going for $17.95. So Amazon is apparently making up the difference.

I sent an email to CreateSpace (the subsidiary of Amazon that actually prints the book) about this last night, and here is their response this morning:

Amazon.com, as well as other retailers, sets the selling price of items on its website. In some cases, the selling price will be above the list price; in other cases, the selling price will be discounted to a price below the list price. Keep in mind that you set and control the list price of your work, while the selling price and any discounts are set at the discretion of the retailer and are subject to change.

Only you can alter the list price you set in your CreateSpace account. The royalties you earn from Amazon.com retail sales, as well as sales by other retailers, will be based on the list price, not the selling price. Neither you nor CreateSpace has the ability to change the selling price of your work on Amazon.com.

So for now, you can buy it for $11.45. Buy now or you may regret it later!!!

Make Your Serves More Effective

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on making your serves more effective.

Update - History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

We did three more chapters today, bringing totals to 23 chapters and 365 pages. I've now cleaned up, placed, and captioned 724 graphics. The book is now projected to be 29 chapters and 460 pages, with 906 graphics. Chapter 23 ended with the Nissen Open, where Danny Seemiller won Men's Singles over Chartchai "Hank" Teekaveerakit, and Connie Sweeris won Women's Singles over Takako Trenholme.

A Truth About Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Tim Boggan continues to be a might irritated that, in accounts of Zhuang Zedong's death, it's said that Glenn Cowen accidentally boarded the private Chinese bus where Zhuang would give him a gift. Tim said, "I was a confidante of Glenn's on this Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip and he told me, in the absence of any available transportation from his practice hall, he was invited onto the Chinese bus by someone other than Zhuang. This authoritative gesture was of enormous seminal importance for China-U.S. relationships. For when that bus came to rest and Glenn emerged to reporters, China-U.S. relationships would never be the same. I suspect there's a political reason to continue this myth of an accidental boarding."

U.S. National Team

I heard yesterday that Peter Li turned down the non-funded fourth spot on the USA National Team. Only the first three spots are funded. (Presumably he turned it down because of the cost, not because it interferes with college since if he couldn't go because of college, why would he be trying out?) This means that Jim Butler, who finished fifth, was next - and he accepted the spot, and will pay his way. (Actually, he hopes his sponsors will help him out.) One ramification of this - while we now have an all-junior Women's Team, our Men's team now has Jim (42) and Khoa Nguyen (46). The aging vets are taking over!

Jun Mizutani Returns to World Tour

Here's the story. He'd been boycotting it in protest of illegal boosters.

Zhang Jike in Training

Here are three pictures of Zhang Jike doing physical training.

Water Ping-Pong

"Not a bad way to waste away the day..."

Table Tennis Valentines

There's lots more stuff like this, and some rather interesting pictures, if you put "table tennis valentine pictures" into a Google search. This is what you get!

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