Wang Hao

November 4, 2014

Coaching Seven-Year-Olds

Yesterday I coached two seven-year-olds, feeding them multiball for half an hour as they took turns practicing and doing ball pickup. Coaching seven-year-olds is like trying to catch smoke in your hands. If you haven't tried coaching this age group, then you have no idea what it's like. I've worked regularly with these two, who aren't exactly beginners. Both will likely become very good players. I should be taking videos of them now to blackmail them to show them someday.  

I teach a class of beginning kids twice a week. Our last one on Sunday had 15 kids, including one 6-year-old, three 7-year-olds, and four 8-year-olds. So I'm quite experienced at threatening to throttle them if they don't pay attention teaching them the finer points of the game. It's always a matter of finding the balance between strictness (i.e. getting them to learn by actually practicing) and fun. 

At this age they have an attention span of about three seconds. Okay, they can focus longer than that, but it's not easy for them. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a 7-year-old to play serious for more than 30 seconds. Pretty much anything brings on a gigglefest. And yet you have to find a way to get them to do things properly, and to practice it, or as you explain to them they'll grow up flipping burgers at McDonalds they won't reach their potential as table tennis players.

Sometimes you feel like you are tricking them into learning things so that they'll have good techniques ingrained by the time they are more serious. And since no seven year old can focus for more than three seconds while there are seven-year-olds who can focus (for a time, at least), most simply aren't ready to take it seriously for another year or so. But there are ways of getting their attention and getting them to try. For example, if you challenge them to do a number of shots in a row (say, 50 forehands), they'll usually rise to the challenge. Or you can play improvised games, such as feeding multiball where they have to make three smashes in a row to score a point, but if they miss any of them I score a point. Or, as I did with the two yesterday (who were a bit advanced for seven-year-olds), feed them a backspin ball and a topspin ball, and they have to loop the first and smash the second to score a point - but if they miss either shot I score the point. They can get into these types of games.

The same is true of ball pickup. If you are coaching a group, then while one is doing multiball, the other(s) are doing ball pickup. At age seven, one doing ball pickup is a chore; two doing it is a contest. (This is true of boys, but girls often cooperate. Anyone who thinks they are the same at this age hasn't coached them.) And so it's often best to have two of them competing to see who can pick up the most. They'll go at it, with constant cries of "I'm winning!" - often when they obviously are not winning. Between feeding balls I sometimes help with ball pickup, and there's nothing in the world you can do to make one of them happier than to suddenly pour the balls from your pickup net into theirs, to the even louder cries of "I'm winning!" Of course this brings cries of protest from the other - "No fair!" So be an equal opportunity ball sharer and give each half.

You have to be careful what you do around them. If they see something, they want to copy it. In the middle of a demo a few weeks ago I suddenly chopped a ball. OOPS!!! The rest of the session several of the kids wanted to chop. It's easier to get an elephant to fit into a racket case than getting a seven-year-old to focus on hitting and looping when he has chopping on his mind. (I think we've just discovered the origin of choppers - it's not genetic, it's environment.) So be very careful what you do around seven-year-olds because what you do is what they'll be doing for the rest of the session and perhaps the rest of their lives. It's a heavy responsibility.

At this age they have one natural addiction and one learned addiction. They all like speed. Adults think of running around as work, but kids want to run around. It is easier to fit a blue whale into a ping-pong ball then for a seven-year-old to stop moving. And so footwork drills aren't work, they are play. (Well, at least until they get bored with it, so you keep changing the drill to something new rather than have them do 1-1 forehand footwork for more than a few minutes.) The other type of speed they like is smashing. Oh yes, they love smashing. It's like dessert. And so you usually save it for the last drill. Then let them swing away. Only catch is often they don't care if the ball hits the table, they just want to hit the ball hard. So you might have to remind them to aim for the table.

The learned addiction is spin. They are fascinated by how the ball curves with sidespin, and floats and stops on the table with backspin. So guess what becomes their favorite shot, other than smashing? Pushing. In nearly every session the seven-year-olds (and older ones) ask if they can push. When the ball hits the table or floor and dies, they have big grins. I often bring out soccer-colored balls for pushing so they can see the ball spin, which adds to the fun.

Another drill they like is blocking my loops. You'd be amazed at how fast a seven-year-old can learn to block a loop as long as I keep the ball on one spot on the table, say inside a one-foot area. After a few sessions, you can almost let loose at regular power, and they block them back like it was a video game. The only problem is they get addicted to this as well, and always want to block - which can be tiring for a coach. One other problem is that while they quickly learn to block them back, they aren't very accurate, so their blocks spray all over the table. It also becomes apparent that they have very slow reactions - if you move the loop one foot to the side, they barely react to it.

And what is the favorite game in table tennis for seven-year-olds? No, not table tennis; it's either stacking cups on one side of the table so they can knock them down while I feed multiball, or hitting a bottle filled with "worm juice," which I have to drink if they hit it. As I often point out to them, "Friends do not make friends drink worm juice." They are not my friends work hard to hit the bottles so as to improve their stroking accuracy.

USA Nationals

They are now up to 739 players in this year's upcoming USA Nationals (Las Vegas, Dec. 16-20), and the final deadline for entering isn't until Nov. 9, this Sunday, with several more days probably needed to enter them all. Here's the listing. (Set drop-down menu near top to "USA Nationals.") This already tops the 716 players in last year's USA Nationals (also in Las Vegas), so the switch to the plastic ball apparently hasn't had an effect on attendance. I'll put up an updated list sometime next week when all the entries are listed.

Are You Doing What You Think You're Doing?

Here's the coaching article from Expert Table Tennis. "In a nutshell, I’m using today’s post as another opportunity to convince you of the power of filming yourself playing table tennis. But I’ll also go a bit more into the reason why you need to start filming and analysing your own game."

Was the New Ball More Entertaining?

Here's the new blog entry on the new plastic ball by Matt Hetherington.

Wang Hao: The Rumour Was an Insult to Us

Here's another article on the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final apparent fixing story, where Wang Hao sort of denies it. Judge for yourself.

Zhang Jike Fiasco a Benefit to Sponsors

Here's the article. "It is very interesting to note that the Japanese thinks that by his rather destructive merrymaking, Zhang Jike has actually increased the visibility of the sponsor's name and it is a form of advertisement and publicity. For the sponsors, it should be a good thing and they are the biggest beneficiary from this fiasco."

Second Annual Playing It Forward Ping Pong Ball

Here's event info. The charity event takes place 6-10PM on Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago. All proceeds support families with critically ill babies at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Event will include "…a Jocks versus Rocks tournament with pro athletes like Chicago Bears’ players Jordan Mills, Cornelius Washington and David Bass, refereed by TV Personality and CEO/Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, Billy Dec. Talent from Killerspin Table Tennis will be conducting tips and tricks demonstrations. There will also be over 50 silent auction items, including a full wedding package complete with a venue, dress and veil, planner, flowers and more, as well as vacations from all over the world."

Milwaukee Bucks Add Ping Pong Table to Arena

Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation.

Election Day

Here are two cartoons I created long ago. The first is pretty simple. The second is jammed with gags - see if you can find them all. Special bonus if you can figure out who all the talking people are in the second one - especially the three on the left, and explain why they are in the picture.  

Minions Playing Table Tennis!

80 seconds into the trailer for the upcoming movie Minions a pair of bored Minions are playing table tennis for about three seconds!

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October 31, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Table Tennis Plans and Other Work

It's been an incredibly busy week, and yet I'm more energized now than in years. Why is that? Ever since I decided to run for the USATT Board (assuming I get on the ballot) I've been busy planning out the stuff I've been arguing for (and planning for) for years. Much of it is stuff I've already done or others have done, and only need to introduce to this country, so it's not like we're re-inventing the wheel (or the ping-pong ball) again. Since I do the blog (and Tip of the Week) in the morning, this leaves much of the day for other activities, such as promoting MDTTC and (hopefully) working with USATT.

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day working out plans and discussing with others the idea of recruiting an entrepreneurial leader to help create a USA Professional Table Tennis Players Association (hopefully with a better name), whose job it would be to go to cities in the NA Tour (assuming we go that route) and bring in sponsorships for each stop (hopefully to dramatically increase prize money), as well as organize activities, find ways to make and save money for the top players (free places to stay, etc.), and other ways of professionalizing the sport in this country. This is only one of the five main issues I plan to work on - I blogged about this on October 23. I've already worked out plans for all five. (I've had them for a long time, but had to write them out and fine-tune them.) I've told people the plan is to have enough prize money so at least eight USA players can make a full-time living as players by the time Kanak Jha (age 14) is ready to go to college, and has to make that college-or-table-tennis decision. Of course, that's sort of just a slogan (a long one), but the idea is that we want up-and-coming juniors to have this option, as well as being able to show other students that there indeed are professional players in this country.

Regarding item #1 from the Oct. 23 blog, "Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches to Set Up Training Centers and Junior Programs," I've been arguing versions of this for years. At the December, 2006 USATT Board Meeting I made a formal proposal that USATT get involved in this, with the goal of 100 serious training centers with junior programs in five years. At the time there were only about eight in the country. The proposal was pretty much laughed at, even though total financial commitment from USATT was exactly $0. (The plan was to change the focus of currently run USATT coaching clinics, and to use the web page and magazine to recruit potential coaches/directors/promoters.) Two board members openly argued that there simply isn't enough players in this country for full-time training centers, missing the whole point that you develop the demand.

And so the item was checked off the agenda list and they went on to more important stuff that would quickly be forgotten. I had a similar experience at the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting and other USATT meetings. But if I'm on the board, I'll be in a position to get these things done - all it takes is one person to take action. While others might not take initiative, it's not so easy to openly block someone else taking initiative when it costs almost nothing. I've discussed these ideas with enough board members to know they should get enough support to make them happen. (Not all of them were at the meetings I mention above.)

There are now 76 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. that I know of. As I've blogged before, I believe this is the best thing happening in table tennis right now. It's why we now have so many top juniors now, as well as more in general. It's why we've gone from a few dozen full-time coaches to many hundreds of them. And yet this is a fraction of the potential if we simply organize this by recruiting and training such coaches/directors/promoters, rather than make each one of them re-invent the wheel or informally learn how to do it from others doing it. (I've spent a lot of time advising people on this. I spent some of my trip to Indiana this past weekend advising two people who are planning two new full-time centers.)

Meanwhile, I've been doing my usual table tennis work. There's the usual private and group coaching, which is mostly nights and weekends. This week I seem to be emphasizing backhand work with my students, just as last week. Lots of backhand drills! More of my students (and others at MDTTC) are really topspinning their backhands, and those balls are really hopping - it's getting scary! I've had several of our top juniors demonstrate their backhand loops for other up-and-coming ones, and have begun making sort of a study on how they each do it differently. (For example, some never change the racket angle during the backswing, while others close it slightly in the backswing and then open it again as a way to get more "snap" into the shot. World-class players also vary in this way, with the key being that the racket angle should be constant during the time just before, during, and after contact or you can't really control it.) 

Yesterday a new beginning junior class started with 11 players. I'm also doing the afterschool program, which involves picking up kids at school, coaching, and tutoring. I spent some time working out the upcoming training program for one of our top players, and met with him for half an hour to go over it. As blogged about on Tuesday, I spent Fri-Mon traveling to and from and coaching at the 4-star South Shore Open in Indiana. I've since updated my notes on several of the players I watched there - I keep running notes. I also researched some info from an old USATT Magazine for someone - I have nearly every magazine going back to 1976, though some are crumbling.

One of the regular activities of table tennis coaches is writing letters of recommendation for students when they reach college age. I wrote a bunch this week for Tong Tong Gong. We have seven full-time coaches at MDTTC, but I'm the writer-coach, and most of the others are Chinese and don't write English well, so it falls on me to do this.

Back Problems

This is exciting - I have a new back injury! New and different!!! The injury is in my upper right back, I think a small muscle tear. I've never injured this spot before, so let's all give a great welcome to this brand new injury!

I think I hurt it on the 11-hour ride back from Indiana, or at least it stiffened up there. When I returned my air bed was a bit low on air, but it's very noisy to fill up, and so I waited until the next day - and I think sleeping on a soft air bed may have aggravated it further. I was mostly okay when I coached on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it was bothering me a bit. Then, during a session yesterday, my whole upper right back pretty much became a solid mass of injured rock, and I could barely rotate to hit shots. Halfway through a one-hour session I had to stop, and I had to cancel a one-hour session later that night. (In between I did new junior class, but I only had to do simple demos and multiball for that.) Anyway, I'll rest it today and tomorrow (no coaching planned for once), and see how it is on Sunday. I don't think it's too bad; I should be fine soon.

Halloween Table Tennis

World Cadet Challenge

Crystal Wang, Kanak Jha, and Jack Wang all went 3-0 in their preliminary RRs, and are now in the Final 16 in Singles. They will play two rounds today, and the final two rounds (SF and Final) tomorrow. Here's the girls' draw, and here's the boys' draw. Here's a feature ITTF article on Crystal's latest performance. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, which is taking place in Bridgetown, Barbados, Oct. 23 - Nov. 1. In the round of 16 Crystal will play Nanapat Kola of Thailand; Kanak will play Martin Friis of Sweden; and Jack will play Wong Ho Hin of Hong Kong. You can watch the matches live here.

Breaking News added at 1PM on Fri: Crystal, Kanak, and Jack all won their first match in the main draw, and are into the quarterfinals.

Breaking News added at 6:30PM on Fri: Kanak won in the quarterfinals, 4-1 over Vitor Santos of Brazil. Alas, Crystal lost in the quarterfinals, 2-4 to Adina Diaconu of Romania, and Jack lost in the quarterfinals, 1-4 to Cristian Pletea of Romania. (Semifinals and hopefully the final for Kanak are tomorrow - Saturday.) 

Liu Guoliang Misinterpreted by Media?

Here's the article where China's Coach Liu Guoliang apparently denies he ordered Wang Hao to dump the Olympic Men's Singles Final to Zhang Jike in 2012. (See this article, which I linked to yesterday, with the note that a commenter there said Coach Liu had been misquoted.) I'm starting to get more suspicious as he and the players never actually deny it. Here are what Coach Liu, Zhang Jike, and Wang Hao said on this:

Coach Liu Guoliang said, "Zhang Jike deserved the Grand Slam. Wang Hao has no complains being an Olympic runner-up for the third time. Both are my pride. There is no distinction as to my feelings to them. They are like my children. I will never allow them to concede, and I will never allow anyone or anything to hurt them."

Zhang Jike said, "Coach Liu, everything that you've done are all fair and open. We must resolutely put an end to doubts that violate the morals and spirit of sports."

Wang Hao said, "After reaching the finals, I certainly wanted to win the title."

When someone falsely accuses you of ordering someone to dump, isn't the normal response to be a denial that you ordered someone to dump? As noted, this only makes it seem more suspicious. Perhaps Coach Liu said more in Chinese that didn't get translated; I don't know. China does have a long history of ordering players to dump, but that supposedly ended years ago. Or did it? (The dumping was done for various reasons ranging from strategic to political.)

Breaking News: Here's a new article "Fixing the Olympic Finals is Impossible," where Zhang Jike says more on the topic, and seems to insist there was no fixing, though again he doesn't seem to say so explicitly. Technically, only Coach Liu and Wang Hao know if the latter was ordered to dump, so I wish Wang would just say, "I wasn't ordered to dump the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final." 

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 20.

  • Question 1 - 0:49: I’ve got a problem, I don’t twist properly and the speed of my topspin drives are slow. I got the start and end positions right but i don’t twist much with the hip and the only thing that twists from me is my shoulder. How can i fix it? AmekunRaiane
  • Photo Bombing by Jeff's Mum - 2:30
  • Question 2 - 2:40: Hi, I was wondering whether, in doubles, you and your partner are able to switch bats between points. I know that you can't get a new bat, but i couldn't find an answer to this anywhere. Thanks. Bob James
  • Question 3 - 4:15: What should be the minimum height for the toss? And what if the server fails to achieve that minimum height? Can he be penalised in form of a point or is there something like a warning? Rutvik
  • Question 4 - 6:19: Recently I noticed that Ma Lin twiddled his bat right before he serves. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to twiddle. Yu

Mezyan Table Tennis Imaginarium

It's now open, where you can buy table tennis art, clothing, tech stuff, or accessories, featuring the artwork of Mike Mezyan.

Boxer Lennox Lewis Visits Werner Schlager Academy

Here's the article and picture of the visit to the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria by Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world as well as the Olympic Gold Medalist.

GoPro Here 3+ Test

Here's the video (1:28) by PingSkills of table tennis as videoed by a camera attached to a player's forehead! (They look like miners to me.)

The Needle and Table Tennis Nation

Here's an article on the late great Marty Reisman and his founding of Table Tennis Nation.

The Official Table Tennis Nation Halloween Costume Guide

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation!

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Here's the cartoon! (Wouldn't this be a nice Halloween costume?)

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October 30, 2014

George Brathwaite Statement to The View

On Tuesday morning table tennis was disparaged on the TV show The View. First they showed footage of the Zhang Jike barrier-kicking celebration after he won the Men's World Cup. Afterwards, co-host Nicolle Wallace said, "table tennis can be boring without stuff like that." (Wallace was communications chief during the George W. Bush presidency and a senior advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.) Here's a link to 11:40 into the show, where the table tennis starts. At 12:49 is when Wallace makes her statement. The table tennis ends at 13:20. USATT Hall of Famer George Brathwaite sent the following statement to The View. (I may send something as well, but I only saw the video for the first time this morning.)

Hello,

My name is George Braithwaite and I am an original member of the United States Table Tennis Team that participated in the Historic PING PONG DIPLOMACY tour of the People's Republic of China in 1971. I was watching THE VIEW TV episode this morning and was appalled at the ludicrous remark made by Nicole Wallace in reference to table tennis being a boring sport and needed a demonstration like what occurred at the recently concluded World Tour for Table Tennis which was won by Zhang Jike of the People's Republic of China.

After winning the championships, Zhang displayed an unnecessary degree of anger by kicking and breaking down the barriers surrounding the arena, which triggered the reaction of the promoters to forfeit his prize money of $45,000 and which was in absolute contrast and in violation to the principles of the Chinese Table Tennis Association which also holds their athletes to a strict code of conduct.

However, in reference to Ms. Wallace's preposterous remark about the sport of Table Tennis, let me point out and bring to her attention as well as to the knowledge of those who may not be aware, that "TABLE TENNIS IS THE MOST POPULAR RACKET SPORT IN THE WORLD AND IS RANKED SECOND OVERALL IN TERMS OF PARTICIPATION”

Table Tennis is and has been an Olympic Sport since 1988 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) never accepts a sport unless it has a great degree of Athleticism for spectators to VIEW. 

For further information you may access my website at the following: www.GeorgeBraithwaite.com

Disabled Veterans Camp in South Bend, Indiana

Dan Seemiller ran a Disabled Veterans Camp at his club in South Bend, Aug. 23-24 - and got 31 players!!! These camps were made possible by a grant to USATT by USOC, and organized by USATT Director of Para Programs Jasna Reed. Here's the Disabled Veterans Camp listing and other info on Para events. I also ran a Disabled Veterans Camp at MDTTC in August, but mine had only six players. How did Dan get 31?

Dan had earlier contacted me about how to get players in the camp, but frankly, I wasn't much help. We had a player who worked at a local VA hospital, and he distributed flyers for us, but there wasn't exactly a huge surge of players for the camp I ran. Dan decided that he needed to set up an info table in front of a local VA hospital. But first he had to get permission - and that's when he ran into bureaucracy and red tape. He was hassled every step of the way, but wouldn't take no, and kept moving up the ladder until he found someone who gave it the okay. (Dan admitted that it got so bad that he almost gave up.) And so he set up a card table, brought rackets and balls to attract attention, and talked to an estimated 500 people. A total of 51 people signed up for the camp, though "only" 31 were able to make it - but he has all their emails to send future info.

Coaching at the camp were Dan, his son Dan Jr., Barry Chan, and Zach Steele.

World Cadet Challenge

Here's the ITTF home page for the event. It's taking place right now in Barbados, with singles and doubles events starting today. (Team competition already finished - Asia won Cadet Boys while Europe won Cadet Girls.) Follow the action, including USA stars Kanak Jha, Jack Wang, Crystal Wang, and Amy Wang - or, as I put it, Jaws and the Triple Wangs! Yes, I'm officially suggesting we nickname Kanak Jha as "Jaws," a play on his name, what he does to opponents, and named after this and this.

Wang Hao Ordered to Dump to Zhang Jike in 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final?

Here's the article. Unbelievable! I thought they had stopped doing this. I think there's a cultural thing with this - I've had discussions with people from China who believe dumping like this is the right thing to do, and that players should dump if asked to do so as the coaches and other leaders have the best interests of the team and country in mind rather than individual achievement. (See the comments under the article where one person says that Coach Liu Guoliang was misquoted.)

Table Tennis Needs a Big Name like Zhang Jike

Here's the article.

Twenty Tips by Tahl

Here are 20 tips by Tahl Leibovitz. You can learn from all of them, but I especially like #1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 16, and 18.

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 19 (10:50):

  • Question 1 (0:35): Many people just turn around and drive my service. Where do I do the service and what should I do? Srikanth Pyaraka
  • Question 2 (1:55): When looping it seems easier to wait for the ball to reach the top of the arc and start dropping before you brush it up. I hit well when the ball is rising but swing and miss a lot when I try to brush the ball after it starts dropping. Can I improve? Ken
  • Question 3 (5:17): I normally stand on the left side of the table. I face difficulty if short backspin service comes to my forehand. I try to push the service & the opponent attacks with topspin. How to place the ball in such a manner so that I can attack the return? Anushka
  • Question 4 (7:35): Most of my serves have sidespin but when the opponent finds an answer to return it, I'm in trouble because all the sidespin is coming back at me especially if it is pushed back. Should I stop serving with sidespin as it can make life more difficult? Thijs

Zhang Jike, Ma Long, and Timo Boll Review the Plastic Balls

Here's the article, with links to videos.

Interview with Georgina Pota

Here's part 2 of the interview by Dora Kurimay, which went up this morning. (I linked to part 1 last week.) "How Did Georgina Póta Multiple Times European Champion Professional Table Tennis Player Change From Shy To Self-Expressive?"

Top Ten Shots from the Men's World Cup

Here's the video (6:36). If you want to see one of the best "get" returns ever, see #1 at 5:42. The point was over, as even Zhang Jike believed, right? Nigeria's Quadri Aruna - a breakout star at the World Cup as he made the quarterfinals - didn't get the memo.

PingPod #41: Zhang Jike's Fine and the Plastic Ball

Here's the video (6:02).

Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the ITTF article.

Ariel Hsing's Home Page

Here it is - bet you didn't know the three-time USA Women's Singles Champion had one!

Top Spin the Movie

Here's the home page, and here's info on the premiere at the SVA Theatre in New York City on Saturday, Nov. 15, at 4:30 PM. "In Sara Newens and Mina T. Son’s spirited sports film, three driven teenage athletes attempt to go for Olympic gold. Their sport? The perpetually popular but underappreciated game of table tennis. Northern California’s Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang balance friendship and professional rivalry to see who’ll come out on top, while Long Island’s Michael Landers sacrifices his senior year of high school to devote more time to training at NYC’s SPiN."

How Bugs Bunny Cheats

Here's the cartoon! (Actually, wouldn't this mean every ball comes back, and so Elmer Fudd would win?)

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July 23, 2014

Doc Counsilman Science Coach of the Year and Ruminations on Coaching

Look what I got in the mail recently! Here's the plaque for my winning the USATT Doc Counsilman Science Coach of the Year. And here's the plaque/box from the U.S. Olympic Committee for being a finalist for the award - one of three out of all the Olympic sports. (Here's their news item.) The latter is actually a box - it opens up. I can store ping-pong balls inside! ("The Doc Counsilman Science Award recognizes a coach who utilizes scientific techniques and equipment as an integral part of his/her coaching methods or has created innovative ways to use sport science.")

This was my second USATT Coach of the Year award - I was Developmental Coach of the Year in 2002, and finished second in the voting for Coach of the Year three times. I've had a few other plaques from USATT - the 2007 President's Award and my 2003 Hall of Fame Induction Award, plus various certificates showing my coaching certification as a USATT National Coach, ITTF Level 1 Coach, and ITTF Level 2 Coach. (I'll put the latter two online some other time.)

This got me thinking about my strengths and weaknesses as a coach. I think I’m at my best at the following:

  • Tactics
  • Strategic development (i.e. developing a player's game)
  • Fixing bad habits
  • Teaching serve & receive
  • Teaching beginners, both kids and adults

My weaknesses? I’d like to say I have none, but alas, everyone does. I’m not enough of a slave-driver, not like some other coaches who can simultaneously work a player to death and stardom. I’m probably too lenient at fine-tuning advanced strokes - again, I can be too lenient once a player reaches a high level. I'm not as experienced as I'd like in teaching the intricacies of penhold play. And I’m not an equipment junkie. Another problem is sheer level of play - at 54, with numerous nagging injuries, I'm not as fast as I used to be, and so in private sessions can't push top players like I used to.

Of course that's one reason why we have practice partners at MDTTC. These practice partners are also coaches, but it is their playing level that distinguishes them, and allows them to push up-and-coming players to their limit.

Speaking of practice partners and coaches, there's a huge overlap between them. Not all "coaches" are good, while some "practice partners" are very insightful. The primary thing that distinguishes good coaches from bad ones, in my opinion, isn't just their experience and coaching skills - it's their learning skills. Even a relatively inexperienced coach can do a pretty good job if he knows he is inexperienced, and so studies top players and coaches to learn, and more importantly, when he’s not sure what to do with a student, he finds out, either by asking questions of experienced coaches and players, by watching video, or sometimes by just thinking extensively about the problem. The beginning of the end for a coach is when he starts just saying stuff that he thinks might be right, but isn’t sure (or worse, is confident of things that he really doesn't know about), rather than making sure he gets it right. It’s not hard to learn in this day and age – there are these wonderful things called “Google” and “Youtube." Use them!

Wang Hao Takes Pride From His Olympic Silver Medals

Here's the article. Wang won the silver medal at the last three Olympics (2004, 2008, 2012), and was also second in Men's Singles at the last two World Championships (2011, 2013), but did win gold in Men's Teams in 2008 and 2012, as well as World Men's Singles Champion in 2009. (Here's a listing of Olympic Table Tennis Medalists, and a listing of World Champion Table Tennis Medalists.)

Preview of the $36,000 Los Angeles Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei on the $36,000 LA Open to be held Aug. 16-17.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-one down, 39 to go!

  • Day 40: Motivated by Seeing Others Achieve, Leandro Olvech

Timo Boll's Serve in Slow Motion

Here's the video (4:01) of the German star, world #10, formerly #1.

Jean-Michel Saive's Lobbing Point Against Wang Liqin

Here's the video (49 sec, including slow-motion) of the great Belgium player (former world #1) lobbing at the 2003 World Championships.

Michael Maze - Off the Table

Here's the video (3:15) of the Denmark star, world #28, formerly #8.

Serving Trick Shot

Here's the video (42, including slow motion replay) of one of the best and most creative trick shots I've seen, by Josep Antón Velázquez. I think I could do the same pair of serves, but how many tries would it take?

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September 12, 2013

I'm fighting a cold, so no blog today. I think I started coming down with it yesterday, but managed to do the blog and some coaching. But it's a bit worse this morning, so I'm going back to bed, hoping to be in shape to coach tonight (two hours starting 6PM). Meanwhile, here are two matches to watch: Ma Long versus Wang Hao (6:24, with time between points removed) at the 2013 Chinese Nationals (I think Men's Singles QF - can anyone verify?), and here are two of the early great Swedes Kjell "The Hammer" Johansson versus Hans Alser (44:23) in 1970. (Johansson would make the final of Men's Singles at the Worlds in 1973.) Boy has the game changed! Part of this is equipment - try playing modern world-class shots with a sheet of cheap beginner's sponge, which is essentially what they played with back then.

July 31, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand, as it always is on Tuesdays during our camps. (Mon=FH, Tue=BH, Wed=FH Loop, Thu=BH Attack, Fri=Pushing and Player's Choice.) One local six-year-old kid badly wanted to demonstrate his backhand loop, and though I was skeptical at first, I let him - and it turned out to be very nice and fluid. So I let him do a bunch of that, along with other hitting drills. Not too many six-year-olds are already backhand looping! (If a kid wants to do something that you aren't sure he's ready for, it's better to teach it to him so he learns it properly than have him learn on his own, as he undoubtedly would.)

The kids I'm working with are improving rapidly. There are five beginners in the 6-8 age group that I'm mostly in charge of. None had even a semblance of forehand or backhand strokes when we started on Monday, but after two days all have the basic shots in multiball, and three of them can now rally live with me forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand. Two of them still struggle to serve, so we're going to focus on that a bit today. We did some service practice yesterday, and I even brought out the serving bar so they could practice serving low. (This is an adjustable bar that goes over the net. Here's a picture of it set high, and here's a picture of it set low.  John Olsen made this for the club and for a few others. It has about ten height settings.)  

Today I'm going to bring out the colored balls and teach pushing to the beginners. The soccer-colored balls (I have a bag of about 20 of them now) make it easier to see the backspin on the ball. (While the focus on pushing is on Friday, we start earlier for the beginners.) To start them off, I'll do a demo, then I'll have them push as I feed the ball multiball style. When they're ready, we'll push live, using the colored balls at first so they have instant feedback on whether they are getting backspin or not. I also use these balls so they can see if they are getting spin on their serves.

While I was working with the beginners, several of the advanced players focused today on relooping against an opponent's opening loop against backspin. I've always wondered why so many players practice straight counterlooping by serving topspin when the first loop they often have to counterloop comes at them against a backspin, and so has more topspin, has a different trajectory, and comes at you somewhat quicker (because of the extra spin and because it's done closer to the table).

Poor Froggy took a beating yesterday. We divided the players into two groups, one lined up on the forehand side, one on the backhand side, and they'd take turns trying to smack him as I fed multiball, with the first team to hit it ten times winning.

Busy

Here's my current schedule and todo list. Something has to give - I'm not kidding. Though things will slow down by mid-September.

  1. Daily Blog and Weekly Tip of the Week
  2. Coaching at MDTTC Camps, four more weeks, 10AM-6PM
  3. Private and group coaching (nights and weekends).
  4. MDTTC August Newsletter.
  5. Promotions and possible translations of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.
  6. ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course Sept. 2-7 in New Jersey (attending) - lots of study and preparation needed. 
  7. ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course Oct. 2-6 in Indiana (teaching).
  8. Small claims court against previous tenant in my townhouse. The guy left without paying rent, without cleaning the place, with lots of damaged items behind, and without a forwarding address. (I spent $2700 in cleanup and damages.) I've got piles of mail for him - much of it from lawyers and courts for various infractions. I'm not the only one going after this guy. One of the worst people I've ever met.
  9. A new family has moved in downstairs, and there are all sorts of complications as they get situated.
  10. Promotion, editorial, and cover work, new web page, numerous others things for my novel coming out Nov. 15 - "The Giant Face in the Sky."
  11. Sequel to the novel.
  12. Note to US Airways over flight this weekend - my flights were kept getting postponed or cancelled, and instead of arriving home at around 10PM Saturday I didn't get home until about 3PM Sunday. Free travel voucher?
  13. The planned Maryland Junior League (probably on hold for now).
  14. Dozens and dozens of emails each day, each needing a personalized response.

Former USATT President Mel Eisner Died

Here's the USATT article.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Wang Hao

Here's a video of their recent match in the Chinese Super League (6:54, with time between points removed).

NBA Star Chris Paul Playing Table Tennis

Here's a picture from a TopSpin Charity event held at The Palazzo in Las Vegas.

Jan-Ove Waldner Rolls Ball Around the Net

Here's the video (42 seconds) - it appears to be in an exhibition. Unlike most cases where a player does it while desperately reaching for a ball that drops off the side of the table, Waldner does it against an easier ball that he could have smashed, and instead intentionally lets the ball drop so he can do this shot.

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March 7, 2013

Biggest Things Happening in Table Tennis

Here are the biggest things happening in U.S. table tennis right now. (I'm toying with putting in sandpaper table tennis, with all the new money events they are offering. I may feature them in an upcoming blog.)

  • The rise of full-time training centers. They are all over the place now. Ten years ago there were about ten. Now there are well over fifty, with more popping up regularly. The result is by far the strongest group of cadet players in our history. The depth of the competition these days is just mind-boggling. Now if we can just get them to continue training when they reach college age....
  • Influx of top Chinese players and coaches. This dramatically raises the level of play in the U.S., as our up-and-coming players get coaching, practice, and compete with these top players and coaches. My club, MDTTC, has Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun (currently out of the country, but returning full-time in June), Wang Qing Liang, Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), and our two newest, Chen Jie ("James") and Zhang Liang Bojun ("Brian"). This list doesn't include local Chinese players, only ones who came from China to coach and be practice partners at MDTTC. Clubs in New York, California, and other regions similarly rely on these Chinese coaches and players, and is one of the driving forces for the rise of full-time training centers.
  • Spin NY, LA, Milwaukee, Toronto. These bring a lot of publicity to the sport. By themselves, I don't think they'll make the sport big, but by keeping us on the media radar, they could help a lot when the time comes.
  • Strong team leagues in the SF, LA, and NY regions. This is long-term, since it'll take time for this type of thing to grow and expand in each region, as it did in Europe. MDTTC takes part in the NY league, and of course runs its own singles leagues. We plan a new junior team league starting this fall.
  • Publication of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. Duh!!!

Book Signing

Reminder! Tomorrow (Friday) at 7PM I will be doing a book signing at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, in Germantown, MD, USA. I will be selling and signing four of my books - hope to see you there! All books will cost $15, with a Special - buy the Tactics book, get a copy of the Tales & Techniques book for only $5! Here's the info flyer. Below are the books - later I hope to go back to selling Steps to Success and Tales & Techniques online.

Table Tennis part of 2014 Youth Olympics

Here's the article. The event will be held in Nanjing, China, Aug. 17-28, 2014.

Wang Hao vs Fan Zhendong

Here's a video (4:44) of these two at the Chinese World Team Trials, with time between points removed.

Judah Friedlander on a Ping-Pong Paddle and NBC Sports

Here he is, Judah Friedlander (from 30 Rock and stand-up comedian), looking like he's just faced one of Ma Lin's ghost serves. The other paddle shown, "How to Beat Up Anybody," comes from Judah's book. And here's Judah on NBC Sports (2:34) giving a table tennis lesson to anchors Michelle Beadle and Dave Briggs. Since I've given Judah several lessons, that sort of puts me on NBC Sports, right?

Table Tennis Meme

Here's a great table tennis meme: "What society thinks I do ... What my friends think I do ... What Asians think I do ... What Americans think I do ... What I think I do ... What I really do."

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List

My article entitled "Top Ten Reasons Brian Roberts Will Have a Monster Season" was the cover story at Orioles Hangout for much of the last two days. Here's the direct link.

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February 28, 2013

Flu

It looks like what I thought was a cold is actually the flu. The difference is I'm feeling constant muscle aches and soreness, which apparently is a flu symptom, not a cold's. So how am I feeling? Other than the constant coughing, runny nose, green stuff coming out of my lungs, entire body encased in aches, and complete exhaustion, I'm fine, thanks for asking. (I got Raghu Nadmichettu to substitute for my coaching last night as I spent my 53rd birthday in bed.) 

Playing While Sick

Way back in the fall of 1979, when I was 19, I had my big breakthrough tournament at the North Carolina Open. I was rated about 1850, but was way under-rated, and knew it - and so I was somewhat excited in the days before the tournament, so much so that I couldn't sleep. Making it worse is I came down sick. I used to be an insomniac, and often went a night without sleeping. This time I didn't sleep the last two nights before the tournament (Thur and Fri), and I came down with a fever of 101.

Early in the tournament I pulled off a nice win, and celebrated with a quarter pounder with cheese. When I won another match, I had another quarter pounder with cheese. Eventually I found myself in the Open Singles final (despite not being among the top eight seeds). As the match began, my head was burning up - several people had put their hands to my forehand and verified it was pretty bad. I had a horrible stomachache from all the quarter pounders - something like nine of them in one day, and having to play right after eating them. I faced Fred King, who in modern ratings would have been about 2200. Anyway, down 13-17 in the fifth on Fred's serve (games were to 21 back in those days, and you served five times in a row), I scored all five on his serve, and ended up winning 21-19 in the fifth. I also won Under 22, Under 2000, and Open Doubles, all four events I'd been entered in.

I spent the next few days in bed recuperating - I was pretty sick. I also became so sick at the idea of eating hamburgers that I've never eaten another hamburger or cheeseburger since, except at the 2000 Junior Olympics. The kids knew about my aversion to hamburgers, so I made a deal with them before the tournament: if they won over half the gold medals, I'd eat a cheeseburger. They did, and I did. That was the only one I've had since 1979.

Now that I'm as sick as I was that day back in 1979, perhaps I should enter a tournament this weekend?

Paris 2013

Here's the table used at the Chinese Team Trials for the upcoming World Championships in Paris.

Pongcast Episode 24

Here's another Pongcast (15:24). "In this episode: Results and analysis of the 2013 Qatar Open, Project Runway finds style in table tennis, Extra TV gets their pong on, and find out what it's like to be Timo Boll in practice!"

Wang Hao's Around the Net Loop

Here's a video (22 sec) of Wang Hao doing an around-the-net no-bounce loop at the Qatar Open against Germany's Patrick Baum.

Spin Move and Backhand Counterloop

Here's a video (27 sec) showing Kenta Matsudaira who both does a complete 360 spin after one shot, and a few shots later pulls out a winning backhand counterloop.

Trick Shots

Here's a video (2:29) of trick shots.

***
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January 21, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Backhand Banana Flip.

Bringing Back the Forehand

It's harder and harder to play an all-out forehand attack as I approach age 53 next month. But sometimes the stars - or is that ping-pong balls? - align just right. On Friday and Saturday I played as a practice partner in two-hour match sessions with our top juniors. On Friday, I did a little of everything - looping, hitting, blocking, fishing & lobbing, even chopping. And nothing worked.

So on Saturday I decided to bring back the 1980s and play all-out forehand attack, mostly looping, as well as lots of smashing. To do this, I focused on staying very low, with a much wider stance than I've used in recent years, but probably the same stance I used back in the 1980s. And lo and behold, I started to move pretty well, and the shots started to hit pretty well, and guess what? I played pretty well, going undefeated. Most of the players I played were lower, including a horde of 1900 to 2000 players, but I did beat one 2250 player, losing the first game and then dominating three straight. It wasn't until my very last match that my muscles suddenly realized that I'd been coaching or playing since 10AM (it was now almost 6:30 PM), and that's when they let out. Since we were running out of time, the last match was a best of three to 11 against a 1600 player, and after a barrage of misses where my legs and back were on strike, it went deuce in the third before I pulled it out against a very hot but (even though he lost) still pretty excited kid. I almost feel sorry for how hard I plan to play him next time, assuming I'm a bit more rested!

Even though I won, I was impressed with several of the kids on how much better they are getting at returning my serves. Some are still returning them passively with deep pushes (often popping up my side-top serves for easy smashes), but others have been playing more advanced shots, flipping and dropping them short, and one has developed what seems like a 100 mph quick push that is almost unloopable.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Update

I'm now 2/3 through the tedious line-by-line proofing of the book. (Unfortunately, I probably won't get much work done on it today - huge todo list - but I'll get back to it Tuesday.) Then I have to input all the corrections - including a few new paragraphs here and there - and then get everything properly formatted for final submission to the online printing and ebook formats. So far I'm still on schedule for it to be on sale online by Feb. 1 in Print on Demand and Kindle ebook formats.

The Table Tennis Playbook

Here's a free online 26-page "playbook" that lists tactical plays used by Coach Ben Larscombe of Expert Table Tennis.

China Adds Online Popularity to World Team Trials

Here's the article on how China used online voting to put three players into the final qualification round for the World Team Trials for the upcoming World Championships in May in Paris. China's top two, Zhang Jike and Ma Long, were not in the top three. The three players voted in were, in order, Ma Lin, Wang Hao, and Tianjin player Hao Shuai.

Ma Lin and Wang Hao training

Here's a video (4:28) of Chinese team members Ma Lin and Wang Hao in training. Wang Liqin and Chen Qi are seen doing some drills next to them.

Table Tennis on Grey's Anatomy

There was a table tennis scene in the episode last Thursday, Jan. 17, titled "The End is the Beginning is the End." Here's the video (1:02)! Turns out ping-pong is a recurring theme in the show -  two years ago in another episode (titled "Something's Got to Give"), they saved a life by using a ping-pong ball in surgery!

Air Ping-Pong

Here's 42 seconds of air ping-pong, featuring the worst table tennis strokes ever to fester around a ping-pong table. 

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November 1, 2012

Decisive Defense

I'm going to use an example from tennis (what I call "court table tennis"), which I played for years as a hobby. I have a very good forehand in tennis, but a weak backhand. Opponents would often try to bang it out with me, going after my backhand, but I was quick to step around and pound a forehand, usually attacking their wide backhand. Unless they were very good (4.0 or better level in tennis ratings, which is my level when I'm in practice), few could respond with a strong down-the-line backhand winner, and so I'd get a weak return, which I'd pound again, and so I dominated these rallies. Often opponents, faced with my strong forehand attack to their wide backhand, would in desperation throw up a high-bouncing topspin - but because they were usually in an awkward position as they tried to run my shot down, it was often weak and land short, and I'd smack it in for a winner.

One day I played someone who did something different. From the very start of the rally he'd throw up these high, topspin shots. Because he did this on the first shot of the rally, even off my serve, he wasn't attempting an awkward on-the-run shot, and so his shots, though defensive, were decisive, landing deep on my court and bouncing out past the end-line. This forced me off the court, where my forehand isn't so dangerous (since he'd have lots of time to react to it). He moved me side to side, wide to my forehand, then wide to my backhand, over and over, and there was no way I could run these balls down with my forehand all day. Result? My forehand became ineffective and he found my even less effective backhand. Then he'd start pounding shots into my backhand. He won.

The lesson here is that many players play defense only in desperation, and so it's not very effective. At the higher levels, defense doesn't work very well, but when you do it, it must be decisive, not just a "throw the ball up and hope" desperation return that rarely works.

Suppose your opponent is attacking, and you are looking to counter-attack. However, the opponent makes a strong shot wide to your backhand, and you are unable to counter-attack. And so you probably make a weak return, and lose the point. Instead, once you realize your opponent is going to attack, don't look to counter-attack (unless, of course, your whole game is based on attack and counter-attack, which might be a weakness in your game); look to make a decisive and strong defensive return, whether it be a block, a chop, or off-table topspin defense. If you are generally an attacker and get a ball to counter-attack, most likely your reflexes will take over anyway and you'll counter-attack.

Watch the best defenders (blockers, choppers, and topspin defenders), and you'll see that they rarely make desperation shots; their defense is as decisive as an attackers, and because of that, often just as effective.

Halloween Candy

I have four bags of Snickers and three bags of Milky Way left over from Halloween. What the heck should I do with it? I guess I'll do what I always do, and bring it to the club to either give out, or put it on tables when I'm feeding multiball to kids, who get to have whatever they knock off the table.

There is an irritating reason why I have so much candy left over. I own a townhouse and live on the third floor, renting out the first two floors to someone. I was giving out candy (I'd paid for it) when the renter came home, said he'd take over. I go upstairs at 7PM, watch TV for an hour. I come down, discover he's left, and the door was locked the entire hour, no candy given out. I'd heard the doorbell ringing over and over, but assumed he was answering. I actually went outside and yelled, "I've got lots of candy left over! Come and get it!" A few came over, but it was now after 8PM and the "rush" was mostly over.

A Ping Pong High

Here's an article in The Hindu about USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee's three recent ITTF Coaching Seminars held in India. The Hindu is the third largest English-language newspaper in India with a readership of 2.2 million.

Kevin Garnett versus Wang Hao

Here's basketball star Kevin Garnett in China playing Wang Hao (2:05). Note that the right-handed Wang Hao (2009 World Men's Singles Champion, 2008 & 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Silver Medalist, Chinese National Team Member) plays him left-handed! The table tennis ends with them shaking hands 45 seconds into the video.

The Battle: The Art of Pong

Here's a hilarious video (1:53) put out by the staff at JOOLA USA. "An ode to 70's Kung Fu Film Flicks. Watch Steven's journey to become the best table tennis player and defeat his Arch Rival Michael." That's Steven Chan (rated 2426) getting trained by Master Tom Nguyen (JOOLA's equipment guru and martial arts enthusiast), with Michael Squires (rated 2083) playing the "Arch Rival."

Gangnam Style Ping Pong

Here's Adam Bobrow in a video (47 seconds) from an exhibition match at the Chancellor Cup in Manila, The Philippines. He pulls off a great shot, and then goes into a dance routine. (Remember his "Excessive Celebration" video (71 seconds)?

Non-Table Tennis: My "Favorite" Halloween Memory

World Weaver Press published the favorite Halloween memories from three of its authors, including mine.  They recently published Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales, which included my story "The Haunts of Albert Einstein."

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