My Upcoming Novel and Ping-Pong
Yes, the two are connected. Table tennis or ping-pong is mentioned 19 times in 11 different scenes in the novel. Why? Because the 13-year-old protagonist (Neil, alias Armstrong though his last name is never mentioned in the novel) is a sorcerer's apprentice and wannabe ping-pong star who has to leave behind this childhood ambition to save the world in this humorous parody of the 1960s space race. Included in the scenes are mentions of several real players, the Florida State Finals between Brian "Speed Race" Pace and "Tricky Dicky" Fleisher, and two flying carpets that Neil names after Marty Reisman and Tim Boggan.
I'm going to list all the table tennis mentions below, but first, two news items. First, it's been retitled "Sorcerers in Space." (Previous title was the boring "The Giant Face in the Sky.") And second, the really horrible cover that I linked to a week ago has been replaced by a very nice cover. (I really like this one!!!) The novel comes out Nov. 15.
Here's the blurb on the back of the book - no table tennis mention, sorry. The novel is described as Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race.
It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world." Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.
Since whoever gets to the Face will have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.
President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, the god Apollo, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?
And now we get to the table tennis!!! Here are the eleven ping-pong scenes with 19 mentions.
Ping-Pong Scene 1:
I still dreamed of being a rock star or ping-pong champion, but those dreams had taken a bad turn after I'd been sold into slavery, I mean, become a sorcerer's apprentice. Somehow my parents had thought it was a good idea.
Ping-Pong Scene 2:
"Not Russia," Gus said. "The Soviet Union. Russia's just the main part of it. Don't you pay attention in school? Or do you just play ping-pong and listen to Beetles music?"
"It's not ping-pong, it's table tennis! And it's better than practicing magic I'm not allowed to do."
"Maybe, but according to Chef Wang, someday you're going to have to battle the Soviets, so I suggest more studying and less ponging.
Ping-Pong Scene 3:
"Can I go home now?" I asked. "I want to practice my serves." There was a school tournament coming up next week, and my reverse pendulum serve needed work. Maybe ping-pong was where I'd someday be someone, do something.
"Will you forget your ping-pong!" Gus cried. "A Russian agent just tried to kill you, you're supposed to defeat the Soviets, there's a Giant Face in the Sky that that compels us to say its name as if capitalized, and a murderous meteor is following you around, and that's what you're worried about?"
"I'm not murderous!" Buzz exclaimed. "I'm a pacifist." More quietly he added, "Except when someone makes me apprehensive."
"How am I supposed to defeat the Soviets?" I asked. "I'm just an apprentice. Maybe I can beat them at ping-pong."
Ping-Pong Scene 4:
I decided to change channels and said, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, find a station with a ping-pong ball."
The mirror showed me the latest lottery, with numbered ping-pong balls in a container. With gritted teeth, I tried again.
"Mirror, mirror, about to get whacked, find me some table tennis unless you want to get cracked." The mirror found the Final of the recent Florida Table Tennis Championships while the Beetles played "Strawberry Feasts Forever." I pulled up a chair to watch the final between Brian "Speed Race" Pace and "Tricky Dicky" Fleisher.
"Aren't you packed yet?" Gus said. "Tonight, we're going to Washington D.C. to see the president, and you're watching ping-pong on the mirror?" He aimed his staff at the mirror, and the table tennis and Beetles action was replaced by my reflection.
Ping-Pong Scene 5:
I named it the Red Reisman, after a famous table tennis player.
Ping-Pong Scene 6:
So, Gus and I left that afternoon to buy supplies at the Black Market, using the new flying carpet Gus had bought to replace the recently-destroyed Red Reisman. It was identical to the Red Reisman, except this one was blue and even more worn out. I'd named it the Blue Boggan, after another famous table tennis player.
Ping-Pong Scene 7:
Why was I here? What was my purpose, and why was I put on this world? It couldn't have been just to serve Gus his mid-day tea. I'd always wanted to be a ping-pong champ or a rock star, but there had to be more. Was I here to defeat the Soviets, as prophesied by Chef Wang? Or did I have a higher purpose, one which I would only discover in time? I just knew that someday I was going to be somebody, do something. I just didn't know what.
Ping-Pong Scene 8:
Gus looked disgusted. "Don't remember the formula for force, my apprentice with ping-pong balls for brains?"
"Isn't that F equals MA?" I said.
"Correct, Force equals Magic times Acceleration," Gus said.
Ping-Pong Scene 9:
Kennedy was watching the two go back and forth like a ping-pong match.
Ping-Pong Scene 10:
Ten more evils occurred before I finally pronounced it to the booming voice's satisfaction, leading to traffic tickets, an edge ball in a ping-pong game, dandruff, and other calamities.
Ping-Pong Scene 11:
She'd also brought a number of baby hooting owls, parahoots, that, in an emergency, could carry us safely back to Earth. They were cute little creatures, with big, almond-shaped eyes—like all cute creatures—and soft, wavy, brown feathers. Their eyes were the size of quarters, far too large for their ping-pong-ball-sized heads.
Epic Retrieving! Turning Defense into Attack!
Here's a great point (42 sec) showing some great lobbing and counterattacking. Not sure who the players are, though I'm sure I'll recognize them once someone comments below telling us who they are.
How Ping-Pong Saved My Life
No, it's not about me, it's someone else at Uberpong (Eric Jensen).
Kramer (from Seinfeld), Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve McQueen Playing Ping Pong
Here are gifs showing this from Uberpong.
Pizza Hut Table Tennis Commercial
Here's a video of a recent Pizza Hut commercial (31 sec) that includes about one second of table tennis 23 seconds in. Why does it include table tennis? I have no idea. The rest of the commercial they show pizza and people eating pizza, then out of the blue there's table tennis for no apparent reason other than perhaps to show that if you eat pizza, you'll win at ping-pong. Of course, the greatest pizza place on the planet, Comet Ping-Pong, learned this long ago.
Tumba Ping-Pong Show
Here's a video (65 sec, on a page in Chinese but the video doesn't need language) that was first shown to me by Chinese players at my club. I've posted videos by the Tumba Ping-Pong Show before, but this is a compilation of their best ping-pong tricks that's apparently going viral in China.
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One of the true tests of your stroking precision is simple target practice. It's also a way to develop that precision. How do you do it? Simply set up a target on the far side of the table, and after bouncing the ball on your side of the table (or jus tossing it in the air), hit the target.
I do this regularly both as a demo and with students, usually using either a 16.9 oz Deerpark water bottle or a 20 oz Gatorade bottle. Usually I can hit it five out of five times. If you can't hit it at least three out of five times, you need to work on your precision and possibly your stroking technique. This exercise allows you to focus on the stroke mechanics and precision without having to worry about an incoming ball that isn't in the same spot every time.
To do this, just set the target on the far side of the table. I usually put it on the far left side (a righty's forehand court). Then I stand by my backhand side, bounce the ball on the table, and whack! I do it both hitting and looping, though the latter has a bit less control. As an added exercise, take a step off the table, toss the ball up a bit, and loop it, contacting the ball perhaps just above table height, and hit the target.
Here's a hint: don't consciously aim the shot. Just line yourself up, look at the target, and then the ball, and just let your natural muscle memory take over. Your subconscious controls these shots; your conscious mind just gets in the way.
Here's a video (1:14) of the late great Marty Reisman doing this . . . with cigarettes! He could hit them well over half the time - at age 80! I've never tried cigarettes, but in honor of Marty, I'm thinking of trying. (I don't think I can bring myself to actually buy cigarettes at a store - I'm a non-smoker, and I'd feel like everyone was staring at me! I'd have to order them on the Internet, or borrow from a smoker.) Marty does "cheat" on some of these, hitting the ball from practically right over the net, but then he's aiming at a target about half the width of your little finger!!!
I had an interesting "bad" experience a few days ago. I demoed this for a student, with a Gatorade bottle as the target, but my shots kept missing, often clipping the top of the net. Then I realized we were using new balls, which come with a coating of dust (apparently from the manufacturing system). The dust was on my racket, and so the ball was sliding, which was why they were going out lower than usual and so hitting the net. I wiped the racket, and then was able to hit the target with ease again.
I sometimes end junior sessions (especially with beginners) by putting a Gatorade bottle on the table, and claim that the liquid inside is "squeezed worm juice," or "squeezed jellyfish" or (if it's a bottle of water) "dog saliva" or something similar. I tell them if they hit it, I have to drink it. I feed multiball as they line up trying to hit the target (two shots each), taking great joy in making me drink the disgusting fluids. I usually end the session by grabbing five balls and going to the other side, and smacking the target five times in a row. It's very impressive, both for the kids and the parents. (If I'm feeling really confident, I'll spread five paper cups on the table, and smack all five off with five shots. But for this I'd bring a few extra balls in case one misses.)
Backhand Loop Training
Here's Backhand Loop Training for Table Tennis, Part 2 (9:20), by Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis. This is actually a promo video for the full video, which is 1hr 43 min. Lots of action video of backhand loops. "Brian Pace gets more strategic and tactical about how to use the Backhand Loop in competition. In Part 1, the focus was on building stroke mechanic and stroke production. In part 2 all of the Exercises focus on every possible case scenario that you will every face in competition that requires you to use the Backhand Loop." In case you missed it, here's Part 1 (6:41).
Jun Mizutani Ghost Serve
Here's video and a forum discussion of Jun Mizutani's serves, in particular his heavy backspin serve that comes back into the net. (The video commentary is in Chinese, but you can follow what's going on.) This serve is one of the most attention-grabbing serves you can do for new players and media people, yet it's not that hard to do for an experienced player. I do it all the time - though I can't "slam" it back into the net as hard as Mizutani.
Chinese Footwork Videos
Here are some nice videos of table tennis footwork. The explanations are in Chinese, but you can follow it easily just by watching. There's also some forum discussion in English that explains some of what's being said.
Google's Ping-Pong Hangout
Table Tennis Nation brings us info on Google's new ping-pong hangout, where they are having their first online tournament. "Go head-to-head with Ad Land's finest in the world's first Ping-Pong Hangout Tournament." Good luck!
Here's video (3:17) of someone playing the online game of Pong using only their mind.
Ping-Pong Warrior Carry Big Stick
What Happens When You Mix Silent Hill Movie, Street Fighter Video Game And Table Tennis? You Get This Guy!!!
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Tip of the Week
Malware and Spammers and Hall of Fame Program, Oh My!
(And update on "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers")
I was really hoping to finish the page layouts before Thanksgiving for my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers" (previously titled "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide.") However, I'm in an ongoing battle with false malware warnings and spammers, plus I'm doing the USATT Hall of Fame Program booklet for the upcoming inductions at the USA Nationals. Plus, of course, the usual coaching duties, this blog, and little things like eating and sleeping and seeing the dentist this afternoon. (Pause for dramatic cringing.) So it's probably not going to happen. There's still a small chance it'll be done in time so I'll have copies for the Nationals, but probably not. (It's looking like it'll be about 240 pages and right about 100,000 words.)
Regarding the malware problem, the site has been scanned over and Over and OVER, and no spam has been found. You can scan it yourself in seconds at Sucuri Securities, and it comes up clean. (It's the removal that takes time, not the scanning.) The problem, as noted previously, is that there seems to be ongoing vestigial remnants of past malware warnings from a malware problem from over a month ago. The problem comes from Google, and it mostly affects the 40% of viewers who use Google Chrome as their browser. Some Chrome users have said they aren't having problems, and there have been some reports of warnings from Firefox, but none from those using Explorer. You should be able to just ignore the warnings.
I've emailed with Sucuri, and they've assured me they can stop the malware warnings, but it's going to cost $189.99/year for their coverage, on top of a couple hundred I've already spent trying to solve this problem on this mostly volunteer site.
Regarding spammers, the problem there is the malware warnings have somehow effected email notifications to me of spam postings, and so recently I've had to hunt them down manually. Normally, with the email notifications, I can delete them, and block and report the spammers within seconds. If you happen to see a spam posting either as a comment to a blog entry or on the forum, let me know so I can send a nuclear device at whoever created it.
Brian Pace's Serve & Return Videos
Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis has produced two videos on serve and serve return. They are Serve and Server Return Training for Table Tennis, Part 1 (2hr 21min) and Part 2 (1hr 58min). Here's the promo video (1:19).
USATT Coaching Newsletter
Merit Badges for Table Tennis
Here's a proposal from Diego Schaaf and Wei Wang on Merit Badges for Achieving Playing Class (i.e. reaching specific ratings). I'll probably blog about this later on, but for now, what are your thoughts? It seems like a good idea. Similar suggestions have come up in the past, but three things always stopped it: 1) What should be awarded for these achievements - belts, like in martial arts? Pins? Badges? Certificates? etc.; 2) Few ever put together an actual proposal such as this eon, and 3) No one ever follows up on it.
I am sad to report that Ray Chen, 79, a longtime Maryland player and lifetime member of USATT, passed away last Wednesday, on Nov. 14.
Athlete Isn't "Extraordinary" in Visa Bid
Here's an article in the New York Times about the U.S. turning down the visa bid for Afshin Noroozi, Iran's first table tennis Olympian and world #284.
TopSpin's Fourth Annual Ping-Pong tournament
Here's an article about this annual New York City event, which included guest appearances by present and former NBA players Gerald Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, and Allan Houston, as well as radio host Angie Martinez, the "Voice of New York." The tournament raises money for three charities, A Better Chance, Change For Kids, and Horizons.
For People Who Don't Really Know Table Tennis
Here's a great new highlights video that just went up yesterday (7:31), and one of the best I've ever seen. I'm nominating for point of the year the one between Germany's Timo Boll and Croatia's Andrej Gacina that starts at 1:25 and continues all the way to 1:51. Amazingly, as so often it seems to happen, the point was at 10-8 match point in the fifth, and this was no exhibition point.
If I ever find the creator of the malware that caused so many problems on this site, I will do to them what this bunny rabbit does to this ping-pong paddle (1:43).
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Value of the Backhand Loop
If I could go back 36 years and tell myself one thing as I was developing my game, I'd tell myself to develop my backhand loop.
Sponges weren't nearly as good back then as modern ones, and so it was much harder to backhand loop with great power without backing well off the table to give yourself time for a bigger swing. The thinking for many was that if you develop your footwork and forehand, you don't need as much of a backhand attack - i.e., "one gun is as good as two." And backhand loop? It was a nice shot, but not really necessary.
And so I didn't really develop a backhand loop until I'd played many years. The result is it's not natural or particularly strong, can be erratic, and is not a particularly instinctive part of my game.
With modern sponges you can loop just about anything, even balls that land short over the table (especially with the backhand, where you can wrist-loop it), and so players pick up the backhand loop early as a dangerous weapon. A good backhand loop gets you out of those pushing rallies (including pushing back deep serves to the backhand) that put you at the mercy of the opponent's loop. Meanwhile, I still struggle to get myself to backhand loop against deep serves (I can't step around and loop forehand every time), and against quick, angled pushes to my backhand, especially after a short serve to my forehand. You don't have to rip these backhand loops; consistency, depth, and spin are key. (You can often get away with a weak loop if it consistently goes deep.)
Just as difficult is backhand looping in a rally. These days many of our up-and-coming juniors backhand loop (often off the bounce) just about everything - or at least topspin their backhands to the point where, compared to backhands of yesteryear, they are backhand loops. This turns players like me into blockers, and not in a good way.
Not everyone has the athleticism to backhand loop over and over, though most people can if they spend enough time both practicing and (just as important) doing physical training. But just about anyone trained properly can turn their backhand loop into a dangerous weapon against pushes, deep serves to the backhand, and against low but soft blocks. Yes, I mean you, the person reading these words.
So develop that shot, and don't make the mistake I made so many years ago.
More on Backhand Looping
And since we're on the topic of the backhand loop, here's a new video out, "Backhand Loop Training" (6:41) from Dynamic Table Tennis (that's Brian Pace). It shows Brian demonstrating and explaining the backhand loop. Note near the start how he's backhand looping against block almost off the bounce, something few players did when I was starting out (except perhaps for Hungarian great Tibor Klampar).
Here's a tutorial (4:02) on the backhand loop against topspin by ttEdge.
Here's a tutorial (4:12) on the backhand loop against backspin by PingSkills.
Here's a video (1:08) from a year ago of Chinese Coach Liu Guoliang feeding multiball to Ma Long, who is backhand looping against backspin. I don't recommend most of you try to loop with as much speed as Ma, but note that his loops aren't just speed - they have great topspin as well pulling that ball down.
Zhang Jike vs. Timo Boll
Here's a match from the 2012 World Team Championships between world #1 Zhang Jike of China versus the European #1 (and world #1 for three months last year) Timo Boll of Germany, with the time between points removed so it's nine minutes of non-stop action.
Behind the Back Save Against Saive
Here's a video (55 sec) of Marc Closset making a behind-the-back return to win a point at the 2012 Belgian Championships against Jean-Michel Saive. Make sure to watch the slow motion.
How to Win a Key Point
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I'm off for the Eastern Open this afternoon, where I'll primarily be coaching Derek Nie, one of the top 11 and under players in the U.S. with a rating of 2136. If you are there, stop by and say hello!
Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats by Fred Danner
Review by Larry Hodges
If you're a history buff, and enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes happenings in Ping-Pong Diplomacy; war (Chinese Civil War, Korean War, Vietnam War); China, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.; table tennis in the U.S., and even the aerospace industry during the Apollo era, then you'll find this book fascinating. The book is really four short books in one.
Chapters 1-3 (pages 1-86) covers the history that led up to, and the actual events of, the 1971 Ping-Pong Diplomacy trip to China. The three chapters are titled "Setting the Stage for Ping-Pong Diplomacy," "The 1971 World Team's China Trip," and "Who Won the Nobel Peace Prize for Ping-Pong Diplomacy?" These chapters include fascinating background on the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and all the political infighting taking place in these countries, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. The three wars were related in numerous ways, and all led to the eventual Ping-Pong Diplomacy of 1971-72. We also learn how it could have happened in 1961, but the U.S. blew it. The answer to the question posed in the last chapter is nobody won the Novel Peace Prize for any of this, but it goes over the possible recipients and explains why nobody ever did win for it. And here's a hilarious quote from Chairman Mao: "Regard a ping-pong ball as the head of your capitalist enemy. Hit it with your socialist bat, and you have won the point for the fatherland."
Chapters 4 and 6 (pages 89-125 and 162-170, "The Growth of Long Island Table Tennis" and "Table Tennis Becomes a Family Affair") cover the growth of Long Island Table Tennis, as well as how it became a family affair for the Danners. Slowly but inexorably Fred found himself running more and bigger events in Long Island (clubs, leagues, and tournaments) and for USTTA (now USATT), until it led to the U.S. Open (he was Operations Director) and the Long Island stop for Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1972. He also begins to travel to tournaments with his son Carl, now a prominent player and coach in the bay area in California. Did you know that the 1972 U.S. Open in Long Island, forty years ago, had 725 entries? (A few years later these numbers would break a thousand in Houston and Oklahoma City.) For perspective, last year's U.S. Open in Milwaukee had 607. Fred also shows how the world has changed since those days, explaining how USTTA kept records in those non-computer days: "Each membership application required writing or typing the player's name and address nine times."
Chapter 5 (pages 126-161, "Life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry") is about life in the Long Island Aerospace Industry in the '60s, where Fred worked during the many years he was also working with Long Island Table Tennis. In some ways this seemed a bit off-topic, but it was related in various ways to Fred's continuing table tennis endeavors, in particular since all the corporate infighting both interfered with and somewhat mirrored what was going on in the world of table tennis, both in Long Island and the political intrigues in the background of Ping-Pong Diplomacy in the various wars and countries involved. Much of the chapter was about infighting and politics at Grumman Aviation, including their fights with GE and other companies as they bid for various aspects of the Apollo 11 trip to the moon. We also learn about the theft of atom bomb designs by the Soviets, how we could have avoided the Korean War, and how we outwitted the Soviets by helping to bring table tennis and China into the Olympics.
Chapter 7 (pages 171-204, "LITTA's Big Year: The U.S.-China Matches") is about the Chinese National Team's U.S. trip, covering primarily their stop in Long Island, and how that came to be, rather than it being in the New York City's Madison Square Garden, as New York City Mayor John Lindsey wanted. (He doesn't come off very well in the book.)
Now who is Fred Danner? He's not only one of the 134 members of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame (inducted as a contributor in 1993), but he's also one of the 14 recipients of the Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). Fred has a long career promoting table tennis both in Long Island and with USATT. He was instrumental in getting table tennis in the Olympics. He was president of the Long Island Table Tennis Association, founded the National Junior Table Tennis Foundation, wrote the National School Table Tennis Guide, and was at various times USTTA's Junior Development Chair, Membership Chair, Treasurer, Corresponding Secretary, and Vice President. He also got USTTA its tax exempt status.
You'll note this is Volume 1. Volume 2 will cover what Fred calls "$7,000,000 worth of favorable publicity" as a result of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, and the various contrasting ideas on how USTTA should proceed, and the resulting successes and failures. (A third volume is also planned.)
The book has a catchy cover, with USA's D-J Lee (6-time U.S. Men's Champion) serving to a Chinese opponent against a background made up of the U.S. and Chinese flags and the earth as seen from space. It is available at amazon.com for $29.59 (hardcover), $13.22 (soft cover), and $3.99 (ebook).
This is the third book I know of in English that covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy, at least from the table tennis angle. The other two are "History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 5," by Tim Boggan, $40, which covers the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Years, 1971-72, available at timboggantabletennis.com (along with his other eleven books on U.S. Table Tennis History); and "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement" by Shigeo Itoh (1969 World Men's Champion from Japan), available at amazon.com for $90 or $65 used.
Here's a new video from Coach Brian Pace from Dynamic Table Tennis on Setting up the Backhand Loop in Competition (8:38).
New Coaching Video from PingSkills
Returning a Drop Shot (1:41)
Celebrating 40 Years of U.S.-China Exchanges
Here's a video that highlights 40 years of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" (2:36).
Erica Wu in LA Times
Here's an article in yesterday's LA Times on U.S. Table Tennis Olympian Erica Wu.
Spelling Bee Ping-Pong Champion
Table Tennis Nation explains why Nicholas Rushlow, ping-pong player, will win the National Spelling Bee. (He didn't.)
Non-Table Tennis - How to Kill a Dragon
My fantasy story "In the Belly of the Beast" (6600 words) went up on Electric Spec yesterday. A sorcerer with a unique method for slaying dragons is swallowed by his dragon prey. While in the dragon's stomach, he uses a force field to protect himself, his daughter, and others, all of whom have also been swallowed. He abandoned his daughter when she was a child to go to sorcery school, and she doesn't recognize him. To her, there is the inept sorcerer in the dragon's stomach; the father who abandoned her; and the famous dragonslayer on the way to rescue them. She doesn't know that all three are the same. Most of the story takes place in the stomach of the dragon, which features the only battle between a wizard and a warrior in the belly of a dragon in history.
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Tip of the Week
Congrats to the USA Olympians!
Making the Olympic Team for the U.S. were (L-R) Erica Wu, Lily Zhang, Ariel Hsing, and Timothy Wang. And here is the ITTF coverage, which has lots of article, pictures, and complete results. Special thanks to USATT as well for providing live online coverage. (Unfortunately, I was coaching nearly all day Fri-Sun, and so only saw a few minutes of one match.) (Side note - I'm told Gao Jun dropped out because of a knee injury.)
Grassroots table tennis
There was a discussion at a USATT board meeting about eight years ago on the subject of grassroots development. While some wanted to focus almost exclusively on elite development, most were for grassroots development. And then the discussion began.
Several board members insisted that grassroots development meant developing national team members. When I pointed out that that was what elite development meant, I got some serious eye-rolling. They really and truly had the two confused. When I argued that grassroots development, to me, meant increasing USATT membership (primarily through leagues and junior development), they didn't think that was USATT's job - but thought it might be useful to bring in revenue for their own version of "elite" grassroots development.
We move forward a few years. The board is still split between elite development and grassroots development. Publicly, all are for both, but privately some are more for one than the other. But again, there's this disagreement over what it really means. The consensus now seems more toward recreational development. Technically, that is grassroots development, but it is not particularly relevant to what is needed to develop table tennis in the U.S.
After a board member explained his plan to create recreational players through leagues, and how he didn't care if they became USATT members or not, I asked him this. "If you got 1000 new players this way, would it be a success?" He said that would be a good start. Then I asked, "How about 10,000 new players?" That, he said, would be pretty successful. Then I pointed out that, according to surveys, there are already 15 million recreational players in the U.S., and if he brought in 10,000 new players that number would increase to 15.01 million. If he brought in 100,000 new players, that'd be 15.1 million. Not particularly helpful.
What USATT needs to focus on is the same thing successful table tennis countries all over the world focus on - increasing membership. And when I say membership, I mean paying membership. USATT has 8000. Germany has 700,000. England 500,000. France, Italy, Belgium, and others all have memberships in the multiple hundred thousands as well. (We won't even talk about Asia, where the numbers are even larger.) They did this through grassroots development. (Much of this is recreational development through leagues, but with a direct pipeline to membership by requiring membership to play in the leagues, and by setting up a national network of such leagues.) So did nearly every successful sport in the U.S. and around the world.
And yet several outspoken board members (with zero disagreement from others - do they agree or they just don't speak up?) have argued that the situation in the U.S. is unique, and that we cannot learn from what other countries and other sports have done successfully. It makes me sick when I hear this. While every country has a "unique" situation, people in the U.S. are not aliens, and are not so different than people in other countries. People in the U.S. pretty much respond to the same things people in other countries do. There's a lot we can learn from others, and apply to our own situation, but it seems we don't want to.
USATT will become a success when it learns these lessons. That means setting specific goals, and creating programs to reach those goals. (For example, the goal of 100 successful junior programs within five years, or a nationwide network of leagues with 100,000 players within ten years.) What it doesn't mean is creating task forces with vague goals, putting the first board member who raises his hand as the task force leader (rather than doing a serious search for the best qualified person, and then recruiting that person), and then terminating the task force two or three years later after it predictably hasn't accomplished anything, as we seem to do over and over. (See my blog entry on this from Sept. 26, 2011, exactly two years after USATT's 2009 Strategic Meeting. The Junior and "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task forces have since both been disbanded, with no programs implemented to accomplish their vague goals.)
Warren Buffett challenges Ariel Hsing to Rematch
Yes, the grudge match is on, and will take place on May 6. Ariel will also take on other challengers at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. Perhaps Mr. Buffett will bring his big paddle again?
MDTTC Open House
Here's Alan Lang's article on the MDTTC Grand Re-Opening & Open House. That's me on the microphone. On the table is Derek Nie (unseen on left) and Crystal Wang, with Nathan Hsu and Tong Tong Gong watching with their backs to us. The four did demonstrations as part of the Open House.
2012 Broward March Open Highlights
Here's a highlights video of Brian Pace winning the Broward March Open (5:06).
Six table tennis pictures
Here are six table tennis pictures: What society thinks you do, what my friends think you do, what Asians think you do, what Americans think you do, what you think you do, and what you really do.
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Faking topspin and backspin serves
Anyone who has played me knows I like to serve forehand pendulum sidespin-topspin serves that look like backspin. However, I less frequently serve backspin serves that look like topspin. (Instead I tend to mess opponents up by mixing in backspin and no-spin serves.) This has probably been a mistake - I should have developed those serves just as much, and recently I've reincorporated those serves into my game, as recent opponents have lamented. But why was I hesitant before?
First, a short note on how to do these serves - and keep in mind you can't learn them just from reading about them, you need to see a coach or top player do them, and perhaps get some coaching. (Here's an article on using semi-circular motion to disguise your serve. And in the video section here there are a number of videos showing top players serving.)
To serve sidespin-topspin and make it look like backspin, most of the semi-circular motion must be down, but right at contact the left side of the racket (for righties) snaps around, contacting the ball in a sideways and upward direction. Immediately after contact the racket continues down, and if the opponent doesn't watch carefully, it'll look like backspin. They push, and the ball pops up.
To serve sidespin-backspin, you essentially do the reverse. Right after the sidespin-backspin contact the racket rotates up, often with an exaggerated elbow motion. (Technically, an opponent could read these serves by assuming the spin is the reverse of the motion exaggerated, but you don't have time consciously read and react to a serve - it has to be reflex. Plus a good server keeps varying the motion, and the receiver can't pick up on the different motions quick enough.)
Why wasn't I using this latter variation as often? Because I found that strong opponents would read it as sidespin-topspin at first and start to attack it. At the last second, seeing the backspin, they'd lift up and topspin the ball back, often low and aggressively. So this serve, while a great variation, often backfired on me. However, I think part of that is that I didn't develop the serve enough to fool opponents enough, I wasn't serving it low enough, and the backspin wasn't always enough. So I'm reworking the serve with more backspin and lower to the net.
But I still like faking backspin and serving sidespin-topspin, since once an opponent begins to push, there's almost no way of reacting to the serve and attacking it. And since I know the return will come long (very hard to drop a topspin serve short), I can look to follow up with a loop even if the return is low.
Half step back against fishers
I regularly back up and play topspin defense (fishing and lobbing) when coaching. (Here's an article on how to play a fisher, which also explains what it is.) The single biggest reason students miss is they are jammed at the table. To quote from the article, "The arc of a ball from a fisher is longer, and the topspin makes the ball bounce out, so the top of the bounce is about a half step father off the table than you might expect. Unless you have great reflexes and timing and can take the ball off the bounce, you'll need to take a half step back to smash or loop at the top of the bounce. Otherwise you'll get jammed."
The life of a table tennis coach
Last night I had sessions scheduled 4:30-5:30, 6-7, and a pair of 30-minute ones from 7-8. The 4:30 person was a new one, and didn't show. The 6PM one cancelled at the last minute because he strained his thumb. So I was hanging around the club from 4:15 -7PM reading "Moonfall" by Jack McDevitt. (Great book.) The life of a ping-pong coach.
Photos from the 2011 World Championships
Here's a video montage of the 2011 World Championships (2:20) by ITTF photographer Remy Gros, set to music.
The forehand loop in slow motion
Here's a great video from Brian Pace (4:50) of Dynamic Table Tennis demonstrating his forehand loop in slow motion. Trust me, you don't want to face that loop at the table; I'd much rather face it on video.
Red Foo vs. Sky Blu
Here's a video of these two playing table tennis (2:34) from the electro pop duo LMFAO. Warning - Red Foo seems to be playing in sagging and skimpy underwear; watching it could give you nightmares.
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Tip of the Week
Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. Time to put some balance into your game!
Tactics against hitting juniors
Because I'm out of practice after months of back problems, when I went back to playing local juniors, I had to go back to "basic principles" to compete. And while I wasn't really playing well, I kept winning, but almost exclusively on tactics. Here are the main tactics I used, and that you should try when playing super-fast hitting juniors, where you simply cannot play at their pace. (I can't.)
When serving, often serve slow, super-spinny serves, mostly long, with lots of spin variation, often so they break into the wide backhand. You want lots and lots of serve variation. With side-top serves, vary between extra topspin and extra sidespin. Vary the service motion, especially right after contact - mostly follow-through down for side-top serves, follow-through up for side-backspin serves. Throw in lots of fast, dead (almost backspin) serves to the middle (playing elbow). Be aggressive and decisive in following up the serve - it might be the only shot in the rally that you won't get a bang-bang counter-hitting return. If you have a good loop, serve short backspins to the middle or forehand (or long to the backhand, if they push it back), and follow with loops at wide angles--but try to hide the direction you are going, or even fake one way, go the other. (Juniors have smaller middles, but are weaker at covering the corners when you are attacking.)
When receiving, look for every chance to push or chop the serve back extremely heavy and low, at wide angles. (Receiving against fast-attacking juniors is one of the few times where you may break the cardinal rule of attacking the deep serve, since it's often better to push it back heavy.) Often aim to the backhand, then push to the wide forehand at the last second. When they move to the forehand to loop, quick block the next ball to the wide backhand before they are back in position, or to the wide forehand again if they move to cover the backhand too quickly. If the junior loops from both wings, a heavy push to the middle will often give them trouble. If you topspin the serve back, make sure to go very deep. If you loop the serve, deep, spinny loops are usually best; if they smash this with their forehand, then do it mostly to the backhand. Quicker loops to the forehand are effective - any loop to the forehand they can't smash is effective.
When rallying, use lots of variation. You may start the rally off close to the table - try to start the rally with an aggressive, well-placed shot (wide angles or middle) - then hit the next shot a step back, but don't back up too much until you are forced to. Use varying topspins and backspins, and move the ball around the table, keeping it deep. Throw in some dummy loops. If you are good at fishing and lobbing, that is effective as long as you don't overdo it - it's better to force the junior to make at least one risky shot that he might miss before you start lobbing, so don't give up the table too easily. Heavy backspin (pushing and chopping) can be extremely effective, so here's your chance to learn to win with backspin.
Here are two other articles that might be helpful:
Back and Playing Update
This past weekend (Fri-Sun) I played more than I had in the previous two months. It was the first real test of my back since I'd had the back problems I've probably over-blogged about. Overall, things went really well. On Friday and Saturday I played practice matches with some of our top juniors (and some non-juniors), including several that were rated about the same as me or higher. I went in fully expecting (as did everyone else) that after several months of non-playing, I'd get killed. Instead, I went undefeated, a combined 9-0! Rating-wise, I defeated players rated 2300, 2200, 2150, two 2100's, 2000, 1800, 1700, and 1300. I'm not going to give out names, but suffice to say I had Cheng Yinghua staring at me with a silly grin and saying, "Larry, how are you playing so good?" He and Jack coached several of the juniors against me ("He's slow! Attack his forehand and middle! Most of his serves are topspin! Serve topspin so he can't push quick and heavy!), but to no avail.
Two things that really helped. First, the honest truth I wasn't playing that well, and feeling rather vulnerable, I really, Really, REALLY focused on tactics. And that worked rather well. Second, it had been months since they had seen my serves, and I decided to just serve for winners. And so I gave my opponents a steady diet of long, breaking serves with varied spin, often with a herky-jerky serving motion to throw them off, along with fast, dead serves to the middle, and occasionally short, spinny serves, especially to the forehand. They missed my serve over and over. Like magic, whenever I served and needed a point, a service winner would appear. As I got more comfortable, I did more serve & attack, especially with short no-spin serves to the middle or forehand, followed by a forehand loop.
On Sunday, I did 3.5 consecutive hours of coaching, the first time I'd done more than an hour of coaching in months. It went pretty well, but combined with all the playing on Friday and Saturday, by the end my back was done. I played one practice match with a 1700 junior (won the first, struggled to win the next three mostly with serves and by fishing and lobbing), then had to stop. The good news was this morning my back feels fine.
A USA National League System
Over the past few days there has been a lot of emails discussions on how to set up a national league system. I've argued for years that we should focus on learning how they do it so successfully in Europe, and from that create a USA model. I know NYTTL (the New York league, which has teams from all over the northeast) does that (Mauricio Vergara explained how they modeled it after the European leagues), and I think BATTF (Bay area) and LATTF (Los Angeles) are also similar to European leagues. The best news of the weekend was that Richard Lee (president of North American Table Tennis) is going to Europe on business, and volunteered to meet with officials there and ask about how they developed their leagues. (And the key is how they did so at the start, not just how they are being run today.) I was also asked the following:
>In your opinions how can we realistically implement the National Club
>League System? What would work best in the U.S.?
Here is my response:
"Here is the recommendation I made repeatedly at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and previous ones as and board meetings. Arrange to meet at the Worlds (or other major competition) with officials from Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), or other countries with successful leagues. The key is to learn from them how they created and developed their leagues, not how they are run now, though that is the ultimate goal. Discuss it with them, exchange ideas, and see what we can learn.
"Then we take this info to successful league directors in the U.S. (such as ones from BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL), and ask them to work out a U.S. model, based on what we learn from European leagues and their own experiences in the U.S. (Actually, we should send these league directors to the Worlds to meet with European league directors, so they can learn first hand. At our cost. It would be the single best investment in USATT history.) Then we make this model available to those interested, and promote it on a regional basis. I believe they are already working on this, but they are reinventing the wheel, when the wheel (how to set up successful leagues) has already be invented many times overseas. We just need to decide the specific design of our wheel.
"We have to stop thinking in terms of setting up a nationwide league for current clubs, and think about setting up a league that will create clubs, such as Germany did, whose Bundesliga led to their 11,000 clubs. How do they and others do this? Given the choice between learning this, and not learning this, we've consistently chosen ignorance, often hiding behind the oft-repeated "But things are different there!" without even bothering to learn the differences and similarities. Yes, there are differences, which is why we take the best of Europe to experienced U.S. league directors, and create a U.S. model. Believe it or not, the 700,000 players in the German league system are human beings just like us; they are not some alien species that genetically wants to play table tennis. Neither are the English, the Chinese, the Japanese, and other countries that do it right, and yet we consistently pretend we know everything when in reality USATT knows very little about developing table tennis in this country. That's why we have 8000 members."
A TV show that features Ping-Pong? (I mean table tennis!)
Brian Pace in Training
Brian write of this new video (37:21), "In Episode 9 of BP Reloaded I update you on my training in Romania, I go over my weight loss, I show you some of my daily meals, and I go through a training session with Lucian M."
Matrix Table Tennis
I know you have seen this (if not, where have you been???), but I watched it again this morning, and I think every table tennis player should watch the Matrix Table Tennis Video (1:44) at least once a month. And while you're at it, why not watch the parodies?
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MDTTC Coaching Camp - Day One - and the Forehand
Day one of our two-week camp at MDTTC went pretty well, just like the other 150 or so I've run. Yes, that's not a typo - I've run approximately 150 five-day training camps now, the equivalent of over two years, seven days a week! Yikes.
Originally I was only going to do the morning sessions (10AM-1PM), both because I'm not usually needed in the afternoon sessions (3-6PM) and because of my ongoing back problems. But there's a large turnout, and more beginners than normal, so I'm doing the afternoon sessions as well. I agreed to take charge of the beginners all week. (After the two weeks end on Aug. 19, I plan to take about six weeks off where I have one of our top local juniors do my hitting for me when I coach, to allow my back to finally heal up.) This week I'll be living on Ibuprofen.
Most interesting experience on day one was with a new eight-year-old kid who had never played before. He stood up straight, jammed up to the table, didn't rotate his shoulders, and was trying to hit forehands while facing the table, i.e. without turning sideways. His forehand hitting zone was about two inches wide. For about two minutes, he looked like what he was - a complete beginner, just sticking his racket out to hit the ball, racket tip straight up, with a rigid body. Then I finally got him stand arm's length from the table (so he'd have time and room to stroke) and to get down some by telling him to stand like a goalie in soccer. (I always tell new players to stand like a goalie in soccer, a shortstop in baseball or softball, or a basketball player - one usually clicks.) Then I got him to bring his right leg back and rotate sideways. This gave him a big forehand hitting zone. It also made dropping the racket tip more natural. Suddenly, without warning, he began hitting really nice forehands! It happened so suddenly that my first thought was, "Where did that come from?" So let me elaborate....
The forehand hitting zone
Many beginners and even intermediate players face the table too much when hitting forehands. It's important to bring the right foot back some (for righties) and to rotate back with the waist and shoulders, which turns the body sideways to the table. This gives you a large hitting zone. The key is to learn to hit through this zone. Normally you'd contact the ball in the middle of the zone, but sometimes you can take it early or late in the zone - but the key is you always stroke through the zone. Develop that habit, and most of your stroking and timing problems will go away.
Another key is not to jam the table - you need to be about arm's length away. New juniors especially tend to jam the table, which makes it nearly impossible to do anything other than stick the racket out on forehand shots, not to mention the problem with handling deep shots.
Paddle Palace Coaching Articles
Paddle Palace has a coaching page, including pages devoted to coaching articles by Samson Dubina and Stellan Bengtsson. The latest article is Four Stages of Peaking for a Tournament by Samson Dubina, which went up last Thursday.
Brian Pace video update
Coach Brian "Table Tennis Video Man" Pace gives a two-part update on his life, including parting ways with Pong Nation, upcoming DVDs for Dynamic Table Tennis, a DTT line of equipment, his own equipment changes, the table tennis app from the Apple store, and updates on his European training trip. The videos start out with a nice 30-second table tennis action intro.
Tribute to Waldner (4:36)
Here's a nice Waldner tribute video (4:36). Enjoy!
Backhand Shot of the Year
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Table Tennis Troubleshooting by Brian Pace
I spent this morning watching the five-video series by Coach Brian Pace on "Table Tennis Troubleshooting" - and so should you. This goes over how players can identify and fix problems in their games. I'm amazed at how much time he's put into these, both on preparing and organizing what is said and shown in each video, and the nice graphics. Shots are shown both regular and in slow motion. Since Brian has very nice technique (and entertaining besides), every example is great to watch and copy. (Video 4 and 5 are actually listed as episodes 5 and 6; I think there's another one coming later.)
Backspin and Sidespin Serve Exercises
When teaching backspin serves, I've always challenged students to serve so the ball comes back into the net. At first, I tell them to go ahead and serve high, since the goal is to create backspin. This makes it easier to make the ball come back into the net. Once they can do that, the next goal is to serve with just as much (or more) backspin and keep it low. If you barely graze the ball, and put little forward momentum, it'll come right back into the net no matter how low the serve. (In a real match situation, you probably want more forward momentum on the serve, so it might not go into the net; instead, the second bounce would be near the endline, and so it would go off the end after the second bounce, given the chance. This makes it harder to flip, to drop short, or to quick push with an angle.)
I'm now doing a similar exercise for sidespin serves. For the forehand pendulum serve, I have them serve from the forehand side of the table. I put a box of balls (we use Gatorade boxes at MDTTC) on the far side of the table on the right (opponent's backhand side if he's a righty). The goal is to serve the ball with sidespin so it hits on the left side of the opponent's table, then curves around and bounces into the box on the right. I start by demonstrating it. It's much easier than it looks - try it!
The Ping-Pong Song
This piano/ping-pong song is both compelling and relaxing to watch, but it'll play in your head all day! You've probably never seen table tennis played on a piano before, right? (3:40)
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