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August 8, 2014

Virginia Camp

Yesterday was Day Four of the five-day camp I'm running at Fairhill Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia, with 14 players, ages 6 to 12. (John and Wen Hsu are assistant coaches, with Wen the administrator.) The focus yesterday was footwork (as usual), serving, and lots and lots of smashing. We also did a lot of relay races. 

After four days of camp, all 14 of the kids can hit forehands and backhands pretty well, at least in multiball. All can smash, push, and move side to side. Most can put spin on their serves. I think I've put more emphasis in this camp on smashing and serves, and the players are well ahead on those two aspects. All were beginners when we started on Monday, though some had been playing on their own. 

When I do multiball forehand smash training, I like to do two players at a time. One stands on the forehand side, the other on the backhand side. The one on the forehand side starts, smashing three forehands in a row, one from the forehand side, one from the backhand side, and one from the forehand side. After the third shot he steps back, and the other player gets three smashes, one from the backhand side, one from the forehand side, and one from the backhand side. Then he steps back, and we repeat with the other player. The drill is continuous, so the players get lots of smashing and footwork practice. If I have a lot of players, I'll do three or more players at a time, with the players smashing forehands from the backhand and then forehand side, and then circling back to the end of the line as the next player gets two smashes. There are many variations, such as smashing on the forehand side and then backhand side, or mixing in backhand smashes, or even doing the "2-1" drill, with the players hitting a backhand from the backhand side, then a forehand from the backhand side, then a forehand from the forehand side, and then rotating to the end of the line. 

Sometimes a simple suggestion cures a problem. One kid was having difficulty timing his forehand - over and over he'd start too soon or too late, and end up with wild swats and lunges. I suggested he start his forward swing right as the ball hit the table, and presto! Instant success. Another couldn't get spin on his serve because he kept patting at the ball. I reminded him that serving with spin is a violent motion, and that if you want the ball to spin 100 mph, you have to get the racket to move 100 mph. Within minutes he was serving serious backspins that often stopped over the table, with a couple even coming back into the net.

I 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 our club. It has about ten height settings.) The kids had a great time trying to serve under the lowest setting - they insisted on that one. Even I hit the bar about 1/3 of the time with that setting. I also brought out the soccer-colored balls for more spin feedback on serves. Besides spin serves we also practice fast serves. 

I spent the last 20 minutes of the day serving to the kids, who lined up to try to return them. I'd call out where their returns would go in advance, even having kids take turns standing to the side and catching the returns off my sidespin serves. Then I started telling them what they had to do to return them, and some of them were able to make some returns. I also threw in a lot of "trick" serves - backspin serves that bounced back and over the net, under-the-leg serves, fast serves, "blowing serves" (where I'd serve high but then run to the side of the table and blow the ball sideways or back into the net on the opponent's side), and about a dozen others. I also threw in a few 50-foot serves from the side. 

Zhang Jike: The Two-Toned Ball is Okay

Here's the article.

Plastic Ball Reviews from Professionals

Here's the article, with reviews from five world-class players.

Hong Kong Cadet and Junior Open

Here's the info page for the Aug. 6-10 tournament. Fifteen USA juniors are playing in the tournament - here's the player listing by country.

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. Seventy-six down, 24 to go!

  • Day 25: Alison Burchell Hopes to See the ITTF Become the Best Integrated IF

Athletes in Excellence

Here's the info page. "The Athletes in Excellence Award from The Foundation for Global Sports Development recognizes exceptional athletes who uphold the values of good sportsmanship and fair play on the field as well as off the field. Do you know of an athlete who spends countless hours volunteering their skills and time to better the lives of others? Submit your nomination to The Foundation for Global Sports Development, and share the athlete’s good deeds around the world. A total of ten athletes (five international and five domestic) will be awarded unrestricted grants each in the amount of $10,000. Award winners will be announced in fall of 2014."

Three Amazing Points

Here's the video (1:54). Ding Ning vs. Seo Hyowon, Ma Long vs. Jun Mazutani, and Ma Long vs. Fan Zhendong.

Casts of Hot in Cleveland and Glee Play Ping Pong

Here's the article and picture

Doug McDermott vs. Nick Johnson - NBA Basketball Players Play TT

Here's the article, with a link to a 16-sec video.

World Series of Beer Pong

Here's the info page. Oh Jeez!!!

Ulf Carlsson Playing with Racket in Pants

Here's the video (20 sec) of the 1985 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Mikael Appelgren).

Cat Playing Table Tennis

It's been a while since I've shown a video of a cat playing table tennis, so here's one (26 sec) that's probably the best pong-playing cat I've seen on video. We'll ignore that he's standing on the table, touching the net, has no racket, and isn't wearing legal attire. 

Non-TT: Top Ten Ways for Orioles Fans to Cope with a Winning Team

After 14 consecutive losing seasons (1998-2011), the fans of the Baltimore Orioles pretty much got used to losing. They have begun winning the last three years, but many fans are still not used to this weird thing called "winning." So here is my Top Ten List for how they can cope - published at Orioles Hangout. (Here's the thread on their forum where a few are discussing the list.)

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June 30, 2014

Last Blog Until Tuesday, July 8, and the U.S. Open

This morning I'm flying out to the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, along with a large group of other Maryland players. So no more blogs until after I return next week. I'm mostly coaching, though I'm entered in two hardbat doubles events (Open and Over 50 Hardbat Doubles, but I normally play with sponge). When I'm free I'll probably be watching matches or hanging out at the Butterfly booth - stop by and say hello! Better still, buy one of my books (likely on sale at the Butterfly and Paddle Palace booths), and I'll sign it. Prove to me that you read my blog by saying the secret password: "I'm a pushy pushover for power pushing pushers." (Better write that down!) 

Here's the U.S. Open press release, which went out on June 18. Here's the U.S. Open Program Booklet. And here's the U.S. Open Home page. Here's the player listing of the 705 players entered (click on their name and you can see what events they are entered in), the event listing (which shows who is entered in each event), and the results (which won't show results for this Open until events start coming in on Tuesday, though can see results of past Opens and Nationals there).

Tip of the Week

Forehand or Backhand Serve & Attack.

Tactics Coaching

I had my final tactics coaching session with Kaelin and Billy on Friday. We revisited the tactics of playing choppers to go over how to play chopper/loopers, which are a bit different than playing more passive choppers. (For one thing, you can't just topspin soft over and over or they'll attack.) Then we went over playing long pips blockers, and I pulled out one of my long pips rackets, the one with no sponge, and demonstrated what good long pips players can do if you don't play them smart - not just blocking back loops with heavy backspin, but also how they can push-block aggressively against backspin, essentially doing a drive with a pushing motion.

Next we covered the tactics of pushing. The thing I stressed most is that it's not enough to be very good at a few aspects of pushing; you have to be pretty good at all aspects. This means being able to push pretty quick off the bounce, with pretty good speed, pretty good backspin, pretty low to the net, pretty deep, pretty well angled, and be pretty good at last second changes of direction. If you do all of these things pretty well, you'll give even advanced players major fits. If you do four or five these things well, and perhaps even very well, but are weak at one or two of them, a top player will make you pay for it. We also went over pushing short, and how you can also change directions with them at the last second.

Then we covered the tactics of playing different styles - loopers (both one-winged and two-winged loopers); the "flat" styles (blockers, counter-hitters, and hitters); and playing fishers & lobbers. When you play a fisher or lobber, mostly smash at the wide backhand and middle. The goal isn't to win the point outright, though that'll often happen with a good smash. The goal is to get a lob that lands shorter on the table, which you can smash for a wide-angle winner, either inside-out with sidespin to the wide backhand, or a clean winner to the forehand. You don't want to challenge the forehand of most lobbers as they usually have more range and spin on that side, and can counter-attack much better there.

I'd given them an assignment the day before to come with an example of one player that they had trouble playing against so we could go over the tactics that might work there. By an amazing coincidence, they independently chose the same player, a top lefty from their club. So we went over how to play that player. Poor guy doesn't know what's about to hit him!

And so ended our five hours of tactics coaching. But it's all written down in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!

Coach Chen Jian

The last few days before the U.S. Open we had some guests from China, who came to MDTTC to train before the U.S. Open. Heading the group was Coach Chen Jian. He's the former National Junior Coach for China, who coached Zhang Jike and Ma Long as juniors in international events. Now he's the head coach of the full-time Ni Rui club in Hang Zhou, China. Since I was busy coaching in our camp, I only barely noticed him the first few days. But on Friday, after the camp finished, I got to watch him do a session with one of our top players, Nathan Hsu. Nathan just turned 18, and is about to spend three months training in China, including at least a month under Coach Chen. The session was great to watch as he made some changes in Nathan's footwork and strokes. It was all in Chinese, but Ryan Dabbs gave a running translation for me, and Nathan told me about it afterwards.

MDTTC Camp

On Friday we finished Week Two of our ten weeks of summer camps. Because of the U.S. Open I'll be missing Week Three, but coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang are staying home to run that, along with Raghu Nadmichettu and others.

During a short lecture and demo on forehand looping against heavy backspin, I demoed the stroke, and as I often do, held a ball in my playing hand as I did this, releasing it at the end of the stroke to show how the power is going both forward and up. Except this time the ball went up and got stuck in an air conditioning fixture! The kids found that very funny, and we're out another ball.

I also verified something I've always known: given a choice, younger kids seem to like scorekeeping with a scoreboard more than actually playing matches. We did an informal tournament on Friday, and I brought out a scoreboard, which some of them had never seen before. At least two kids were near tears when told they had to play matches, and so couldn't scorekeep. ("But I want to keep score!!!") They battled over control of the scoreboard, and most matches ended up with two or three kids simultaneously and together flipping the score each time.

As I've noted in past blogs, I spend most of these camps working with the beginners and younger players. It wasn't like this for most of our 22 years, but three years ago coaches Cheng and Jack asked if I'd do that during our summer camps. But on Friday I finally did a session with some of the advanced players, and had a great time. We focused on multiball training where I fed backspin followed by topspin, and the player had to loop the first, and either loop or smash the second (depending on their style and level of development).

Table Tennis Lawsuit

Here's a strange one. I received an email this weekend from a lawyer representing a woman who was injured while playing table tennis on a cruise, and was suing the cruise ship! They asked if I could be their table tennis advisor. I don't think that knowing about table tennis is going to help deciding whether the ship was liable for the woman's injuries. She apparently received her injury when she went to retrieve the ball and "struck her face on an unmarked stairwell railing immediately adjacent to the table where she was playing." I told them I didn't have much experience in the safety aspects of table tennis pertaining to this and didn't have time anyway, and gave them contact info for USATT. (Sorry, USATT!)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Physical Training

Here's the page with links to numerous videos - his trainer is creative!

Kanak Jha and Mo Zhang win North American Titles

Here's the ITTF article.

Photos from the North America Cup

Here they are

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirty-six down, 65 to go!

  • Day 64: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part I
  • Day 65: Dr. Amen Questions: "Table tennis is the perfect brain exercise"
  • Day 66: Junior Commission Chair Dennis Davis

Zhang Jike Used Ma Long to Prove Something

Here's the article.

Thomas Weikert on Chinese Domination

Here's the interview with the incoming ITTF President. 

Table Tennis: Like a Fish and Water

Here's the article on junior star Michael Tran. 

Xu Xin Shows the Power of Lob

Here's the video (50 sec) as he lobs and counter-attacks against Ma Long.

Ariel Hsing - Photos from Princeton

Here are seven photos of our three-time National Women's Singles Champion in various poses, including some table tennis ones.

Justin Timberlake Plays Table Tennis!

Here's the picture

Miller Light Commercial

Here's video (31 sec) of a new Miller Light Commercial, with "water" table tennis four seconds in (but only for a second). 

Net-hugging Cat Playing Ping-Pong

It's been a while since I've posted a new video of a cat playing table tennis, so here's 27 seconds of a cat playing while hugging the net.

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November 12, 2013

Tip of the Week

Pushing Short.

Potomac Open

Here are the basic Potomac Open results, held here in Maryland this past weekend. Winning the tournament (for the third straight time) was chopper/looper Wang Qing Liang, rated 2545 (but who spent most of last year over 2600), over Chen Bowen, rated 2509. Chen had upset Wang the last two times they had played, and looked to win for the third straight time here - he led 8-2 in the seventh! Then something happened. Chen had a match point at 10-9, but to no avail as Wang came back with a 10-2 run to win 12-10 in the seventh.

In the semifinals Wang defeated another local player/coach, Steve Dong, under-rated at 2370. Dong won the first two games, but then Wang's forehand caught fire and he played about half chopping, half ripping everything (seemingly never missing) the rest of the way in winning the next four.

Local player/coach Zhang Jake (only one letter away from the World Champion!) also made the semifinals of the Open (losing in seven games to Chen Bowen). He's about 2450, maybe 2500. But he also won Under 2300, and was in the final of Under 2150. (He's listed as second in Under 2150, but I'm guessing he defaulted or split the final - too tired from all his other matches.) What was his rating coming into the tournament? 2088!!!

How did this happen? He'd played in the recent JOOLA Virginia Open, his first tournament, and went 7-0. Here are his results at the tournament. Though he did lose an 11-9 game to a 1947 player (after winning the first two games), there simply isn't enough info in these results to give an accurate rating, hence the 2088 rating, which was about 400 points off.

Here are some videos from the tournament, care of "Bogeyhunter" (Sutanit Tangyingyong, himself a quarterfinalist in the Open).

Doubles Multiball

Here's a video (2:27) of Coach Roger Yuen feeding multiball to Ariel Hsing and Shirley Fu at Princeton University TTC. (Note the collision 18 seconds in!)

Receive Tips from Pierre-Luc Hinse

Here's a video (6:26) of North American Champion Hinse giving tips on returning serves.

New Full-time Clubs

There's still another full-time club in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Pleasanton Table Tennis Club. This makes approximately one million clubs in that general area. (Side note - full-time clubs are also popping up here in Maryland. Last month the Howard Country Table Tennis Club opened. Another one is opening later this month in northern Gaithersburg, just a few miles from the Maryland Table Tennis Center, making five full-time clubs with 40 minutes of MDTTC.)

Table Tennis Good for Seniors

Here's the article in the Chicago Tribune. "Belsky, 54, a former mayor of Highland Park, recently engaged in a non-stop, hour-long workout with ranked table tennis professional Lukasz Fita, 35, at Deer Creek Courts, until he was soaked with sweat but still matching monster serves and slams from nearly 20 feet behind the table."

Around the Net Shot by Fan Zhendong

Here's video (46 sec, including slow motion replay) of Fan making the shot of the day at the Polish Open this past weekend, where the 16-year-old from China became the youngest player ever to win Men's Singles at an ITTF Pro Tour Event.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Here's a video (3:39) of Soo Yeon Lee coaching the Kardashians. Now all we have to do is get Honey Boo Boo to play table tennis and the world will be complete!

Cat Gives High Five

Here's a repeating gif image of a player smacking in a forehand and then getting a high-five from his cat!

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September 27, 2013

Bring Balance to Your Force

I can never stress enough the importance of balance in table tennis. It's both for the shot you are currently doing and (perhaps even more important) for recovery for the next shot. Over and over players move to a ball and hit while slightly off-balance, and never realize it - but this subtle lack of balance leads to variations in their stroke and thereby a loss of control as well as power. Even more subtle is the loss of recovery for the next shot. Over and over players hit a shot and then are unable to react to the next shot if it goes to a wide angle. They blame themselves for being too slow when the real problem was they were off balance on the previous shot (or went off balance during the follow through), and that kept them from recovering for the next shot - not just a lack of foot speed. Even at the higher levels when a player is unable to get to a shot it is often because they went off-balance on the previous shot.

As I've gotten older I've become more and more aware of this. When I step around to play my forehand from the backhand corner (since my forehand attack is much stronger than my backhand attack), I often leave my wide forehand "open." I put that in quotes because if I finish my forehand attack balanced, I can recover quickly enough to cover that wide forehand shot. If I am late in stepping around, and so end up following through more to the side (as opposed to being there early enough to follow through more balanced with the same power), then I'm going to lose precious time recovering balance. And that's why I can't cover the wide forehand sometimes - not because my feet are too slow in covering the wide forehand, but because they are too slow in stepping around the backhand corner, leaving me off balanced and unable to recover for the next shot.

As I said yesterday to a student who was going off balance whenever he hit a powerful forehand, "Bring balance to your force."

Here are three articles I've written on balance.

Water vs. Gatorade

What do you drink when you play? For years I lived on Gatorade, usually the red ones. Then I switched to plain water. However, there are times when I feel I need the extra energy from the calories in Gatorade. So for the past year I've adopted a simple policy for when I'm coaching - I bring out two bottles, one of water, one of Gatorade. I've also made a MAJOR change in my life - I switched from the red Gatorade to "Gatorade Frost Glacier Cherry." So when thirsty, I sort of alternate between plain water and Gatorade (water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, natural flavor, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, glycerol ester of rosin). Mmmm, good!

Want to Run for the USATT Board of Directors?

There's a special election coming up for an At-Large Representative. Here's the info.

Reverse Pendulum Serves

Here's a posting (with discussion) at the MyTableTennis forum that links to videos of top players demonstrating this serve. The "Masters" shown are Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, and Michael Maze.

Milan Stencl Video Interview

Here's the video (8:46). "He is a coach with experience of leading national squads from Holland, Belgium, Italy, Croatia and France, His reputation for hard work, firm discipline and no-nonsense approach is world famous. He coached many elite players and is well-known for bringing up Belgium and JM Saive to world's elite. Hear what he has to say about his introduction to table tennis as a player and coach, table tennis in past and now, working with talented players, what is his advice to young coaches and cooperation with player's families."

Another Cat

Here's the video (27 sec)! There's a whole section on Cats Playing Table Tennis in the Fun and Game Section Video Section.

Paddle with Hat and Sunglasses at the Beach

Don't you wish this was your day?

***
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September 18, 2012

Learn From Others

Something that's always bothered me as weird is that often I'll play someone who absolutely cannot return my serves. If the player is a beginner, they'll often ask how I do the serve and how to return it. But starting at the intermediate and advanced levels, almost nobody asks, even if they struggle with my serve, even if it's someone I coach. This is especially bothersome with up-and-coming juniors, who presumably are striving for a high level. Don't they want to learn?

The same is true of other aspects of the game, but a player can better see what's happening with most other techniques. If they struggle with my short receive, they can see I'm just dropping the ball short. If they can't see the direction of my forehand, they can see that I'm changing directions at the last second by turning my shoulders. But they usually cannot see how, for example, I'm serving topspin when I'm stroking downward with an open racket, hitting the bottom of the ball, and continuing downward. (Short answer - the racket is rotating about an axis centered over the hitting surface, and so the near side of the blade is actually rotating upward at contact, though only for a split second if done properly.) They can't see how it's done, and can't figure out how to read it (since they don't know where the topspin is coming from), and yet they never ask! (Well, rarely.)

Next time you're playing me or someone else and struggling to react to spins that don't look like they should be there, ask how it's done. I'll show you, as will most top players, most of whom you'll find love to talk about their craft. There are multiple ways to create these deceptions (serving is the "trick" part of table tennis), and are much easier to show in person than in an article, even with a photo sequence. Tricky serves are subtle, and subtlety doesn't show up well in photo sequences. 

I mentioned above that intermediate and advanced players rarely ask how these serves are done. Yes, while advanced players are experts at the specific techniques they use, many have large holes in their knowledge and skills.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook and the Most Interesting Criticism I Received This Week

A few years ago I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. The purpose was to show table tennis coaches the professional side of coaching - how to attract and keep students, run programs, maximize profits so they could make a good living, etc. A few days ago I was criticized for not including yoga in the Handbook - really!!!

I've been toying for a while with starting up a Coaches Academy, where I'd recruit and train players and coaches to be professional table tennis coaches, where they'd make a living as a coach while running large junior programs. I've argued for years that USA Table Tennis should be doing this (as is done in many other sports organizations, such as the U.S. Tennis Association), but to no avail. If I ever do this, the PTTCH would be the Handbook. (If only table tennis were played on slabs of ice instead of a table, then we'd call it ice tennis, and the Handbook would be the Professional Ice Tennis Coaches Handbook, or PITCH, and then I could pitch PITCH to everyone!)

Four Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? There will be a surprise guest appearance by everyone's favorite table tennis player - YOU!!! Unless, of course, you disappoint all your fans and don't show. That would be despicable. (Deadline to enter is 5PM Thursday.)

Liu Guoliang on Zhang Jike Missing World Cup

Here's an article where Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang discusses why Zhang Jike will miss the World Cup.

Erica Wu and Barack Obama

Here's a picture of Olympian Erica Wu with President Obama outside the White House. (Yesterday we had Lily Zhang with Obama. I haven't found any with Ariel Hsing or Timothy Wang with Obama.)

Strange Table Tennis Pictures

Here's a page full of strange and weird table tennis pictures.

Transcending Table Tennis

Here's the Transcending Table Tennis page, with seven table tennis videos.

Interspecies Table Tennis

I believe we have humans, cats, and mice playing in this cartoon. Yes, the cat is playing with its food.

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April 17, 2012

"Close the racket!!!"

These three words are the most common ones spoken to kids when they first learn to play. I've come to understand the millions of years ago our ancestors carried around ping-pong paddles to fend off arial attacks from large man-eating eagles. And so it is in our genes to aim the paddle upward to defend against avian attacks. Adults can overcome this ingrained instinct, but kids, being smaller, apparently are more afraid of eagles. No matter how many times I lead them through the proper stroke and have them shadow-practice the shot, as soon as I feed them a ball multiball style most invariably flip their wrist back and aim the paddle up, and hit the ball high into the air, apparently in an attempt to shoot down those ferocious eagles. (Okay, it's usually not that bad, but most kids start with this tendency, and some have great difficulty breaking it. I have one 5-year-old girl who after two lessons still can't stop herself from launching eagle-bound ping-pong balls toward the ceiling.)

Exhibition at MDTTC Open House

Here's a video (8:44) of the exhibition I did with Derek Nie at the MDTTC Open House on April 7. (Derek, 11, is rated 2090 and was a finalist in 10 and under at the 2011 USA Nationals. That's Crystal Wang umpiring and standing up to me no matter how much I harass and bribe her.) I do humorous exhibitions with lots of trick shots and props. This one went decently, but I missed too many times with the clipboard and big paddle. Also, the video cuts off before the game is over. (We played one game to 15, since one 11-point game is too short to get all the tricks in.) In the unseen video afterwards I blew one ball back, aced Derek with a backspin come-back-over-the-net serve, led the crowd in the world's first table tennis wave (I've done that about 200 times), and did a bunch of lobbing while lying on the floor as I "almost" come back. (Derek knew in advance that he gets to win.)  Later on we had another "straight" exhibition between Han Xiao and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. (Here are pictures from another exhibition I did at nearby Lake Forrest Mall.)

French Hardbat

Here's a poster that appears to promote a French Hardbat tournament. (I don't read French, sorry.)

Joo Se Hyuk's sidespin chop

Here's an interesting video from PingSkills that teaches world #8 (and the #1 chopper) Joo Se Hyuk's curving sidespin chop against a smash (1:53).

Lobbing video

Here's a video (7:53) that showcases great lobbing points by many of the best players in the world, both in real matches and exhibitions.

Cat playing table tennis

Here's a new video of a cat playing table tennis (1:49). He doesn't just hit forepaws, he has four paws. And things get really interesting when the net goes down.

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March 13, 2012

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Well, almost. We actually finished the "first draft" on Saturday, and spent much of Sunday and all of Monday inputting changes from Tim's proofing of the pages. (He's very, Very, VERY picky!) I printed out the "final" version last night, but Tim's told me he has many more changes, which we'll be inputting today. Alas.

Meanwhile, you can order the first 11 volumes, and pre-order #12, at the Tim Boggan Table Tennis page. I've already updated the page and the new order form.

How I play "lower" players

The key to beating lower players consistently is to take control right from the start with serve and receive. On the serve, you should have lots of serve and attack patterns. The key is not to serve and go for winners unless the shot is there. Instead, serve and attack with placement to put pressure on the opponent, and let them miss or give you an easy ball. Don't give away easy points by going for reckless shots.

On my serve, I test all opponents out with a variety of short and long serves, looking for two things: serves that they can't return without giving me an easy opening attack (either a long push or weak flip receive), and serves that they pop up or miss outright. Then I focus on serve and steady attack, mixing in the serves that win points outright so that they don't get used to them. My serve and attack serves are mostly short serves with varying spin, often with sidespin, side-top, and no-spin disguised as backspin, and often backspin or side-backspin to set up loops if they push them long. If they can't attack my deep serves, then they'll get a lot of those.

If they can return my serve consistently without giving me easy attacks, and I don't have any serves that they consistently miss, then I have to put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game. In general, weaker players can't return my serve effectively.

On the receive, all I want to do is neutralize the serve and get into a neutral rally. Control is key. This usually means consistent loops or drives against deep serves, and varied receive against short serves. A push to the backhand corner that's quick off the bounce, deep, angled, low, and heavy, as well as the threat of a sudden push to the wide forehand, is usually all it takes to disarm a weaker player. A quick but not too aggressive flip that's well placed (again, usually to the backhand) also disarms most players. Once you've neutralized the serve, you can take control of the rally. If you can't neutralize the opponent on his serve, then put aside any thought that they are "weaker" players - again, unless they are hopeless in the rest of their game.

You don't need to be too aggressive when receiving - that's the one time that even an aggressive player should focus on control. If the serve pops up or you see an long serve that you read well, you may go for a shot. But that's only because the opponent messes up on the serve. Instead, control the serve, and then look to attack. Control the serve doesn't mean just pushing the ball; if you can loop it, or topspin it from over the table, do so, but focus on spin and control, not speed.

Once in the rally, find the weaker player's weaker side and go after it every chance. Move the ball around, but do so mostly to pull the opponent out of position so you can go after the weaker side. Focus on steady aggressive shots rather than risky point-winners, but be ready to pounce on the many weak balls you'll probably get.

If there's something the weaker player does in rallies that gives you trouble, and it's something you can't avoid getting, then play into it early to get used to it. For example, when I play a shakehands player with short pips on the backhand, I like to go straight backhand to backhand early on to get used to the pips. Once I'm comfortable with that I start moving the ball around, often attacking the middle. (Shakehand players with short pips are notoriously weak in the middle - they generally try to play quick off the bounce, so have little time to react to the middle, and their pips don't have the extra rebounding effect of inverted, meaning they have to stroke more with less time to cover the middle.)

So the key to beating lower players consistently is to serve and attack, but not over-attack; and control the receive to get into a neutral rally, and then get the attack.

One last thought - do you want to know the opponent's rating or level in advance? Most players do, but it often messes them up if the rating isn't accurate. I also like to know an opponent's rating, but I'm quick to put it aside if they can handle my serve, if I can't neutralize them on their serve, or if they are strong ralliers. Many players are more successful by not knowing an opponent's rating, and simply playing their game. I generally consider anyone rated within 300 rating points of me as a "threat," and even if they aren't a serious threat, a primary reason why they are not a threat is because I treat them as a threat.

Ariel & Lily on TV

Here's TV coverage of Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang (4:22), the U.S. women's singles champion and finalist and the top two junior girls in the U.S. as well. 

Tribute to Jean-Michel Saive

Here's a tribute video to Saive (11:30), one of the all-time greats and former #1 in the world. He's one of the most spectacular players ever, with his combination of all-out forehand looping and off-table lobbing and fishing, as well as his one of the more livelier players between points.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Vol. 12

Tim suggested this one. It's not exactly table tennis, but there are human skulls! It's about Dr. Michael Scott's 1983 travels in Northern Borneo.

Here’s USTTA Sports Medicine Chair Dr. Michael Scott (SPIN, Dec., 1983, 18) to tell us about some of his recent travels to places where U.S. players and officials are normally not seen:

Among the most fascinating of my world travel experiences was a visit with the Dyak headhunters of Northern Borneo. To reach them [what in the hell did you want to reach them for?—you were gonna teach them ping-pong, lecture them on the dangers of melanoma? (“Let me see your scalp, your neck, please?”] I had to be flown in by plane and then take a lengthy river trip in a small outboard boat.

When the 'Headman' welcomes you to the longhouse (communal dwelling), shoes are removed upon entering the covered porch, and tan woven mats are spread on its spotless hardwood floor. Inhabitants and guests gather in a ten-foot circle sitting cross-legged. While seated in this circle, I glanced up and observed numerous human skulls dangling from the porch’s ceiling. They were suspended by a short rattan cord that entered through a small hole drilled in the vertex of the skull. Elderly men were tattooed, many even on the anterior aspect of their throat. The location of the tattoo was significant—for example, neck tattoos indicate the tribesman did the capitation himself. Fortunately, the last known incident occurred in the 1960’s.

When I ran out of gifts, I presented one Dyak Headman an embroiderd USTTA emblem. He was totally perplexed as to what it was or what he was to do with it. He turned it sideways, upside down, flipped it over, and still could not determine a use for it. {Not a good idea to frustrate him, do you think?] Another Dyak finally took it and placed it against the Headman’s T-shirt. I’m certain he’s the only headhunter with an official USTTA emblem.”

Perkins the Cat

He/she just wants the ball, and gets the net instead (0:17).

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March 12, 2012

Tip of the Week

As I also write one week ago, for a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his latest table tennis history book (we hope to finish today), as well as my usual coaching and other duties, last Monday and today I'm putting up these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Developing a Smash.

Exhaustion

Today is Day 14 of doing the page layouts and photo work on Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Volume 12. No days off, no half days, usually getting up at 5AM and starting work at 6AM, and going until about 5PM or until I have my coaching scheduled. Since I'm also subbing for Coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun, I've been coaching nearly seven nights a week. (Jeffrey was in China for two months, but returned Friday, and starts coaching again today.) I've also been involved in various aspects of the MDTTC expansion project, tutor calculus two hours a week, and sometimes sleep and eat.

So I'm TIRED. As in EXHAUSTED.

Fortunately, we should finish the book today, and with Jeffrey back, my coaching schedule is back to sanity. There's a thing in my room called a bed, and I hope to have a long, first-hand acquaintance with it soon. (I'm off to the Cary Cup this Thursday, where I'm playing hardbat Friday morning and coaching the rest of the way, so that should bring back some of the no-doubt sorely missed exhaustion.)

USATT Junior & Cadet Training Camp

USA Table Tennis is looking for someone to run a one-week training camp for the USA National Junior and Cadet Teams, June 23-29, 2012. I'd actually like to see a longer camp, more like 2-3 weeks, but one week is better than none. Here are the bid specs.

There is no financial incentive, and the club that hosts the camp would likely have to absorb many expenses as well as putting in huge amounts of time. I was thinking about putting in a bid from Maryland Table Tennis Center. MDTTC is currently in the process of expanding to 18 courts (more if we squeeze), along with showers, weight room, all new red flooring, air conditioning, etc. And we have a number of top players/practice partners in the area, including Han Xiao, Peter Li, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, probably a new top Chinese player/coaching coming in, and lots of 2300 players, such as Raghu Nadmichettu, Nathan Hsu, and others. We also have Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong, and Mini-Cadet members Derek Nie and Crystal Wang. Since it's during summer, we'll also probably have others such as Marcus Jackson and Amaresh Sahu back from school. So I think we'd have a pretty strong bid.

However, we probably won't put in a bid. Why? The bid includes this part: "Venue must be exclusive available for National Teams players and coaches only. No other activities to be conducted in the venue during the NT practice time." (Note the word "must.")

We're a full-time training center. The bid estimates that they would want the hall from 9AM-noon and from 4-7PM. The latter are peak hours for our junior training, and we're not about to tell our full-time coaches (me, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, probably one other coach) that they can't coach during peak hours for a week at the club where they make a living. (Not to mention all the junior players who suddenly can't practice after school.) The training camp only needs 12 tables, no problem. We just need 3-4 of them, leaving at least 14 for the camp.

I don't want to go through the time and effort of a bid if this is a "must," as the bid says, especially if there are going to be rival bidders who on paper will sound better because they aren't full-time training centers and so can offer the "exclusive." (Of course there might also be a full-time center out there willing to close down their coaching during these hours for a week.) We're also running camps all summer long starting June 18, and the camp is June 23-29. So we'd have to cancel a camp, meaning the club and coaches would be out several thousand dollars, in addition to other expenses and time spent to accommodate such a camp.

Coaching Videos

Here are two more short but excellent coaching videos from PingSkills:

Michael Landers Highlights Video

Here's the Landers Highlights Video (7:41) from the U.S. World and Olympic Team Trials!

Cat dominates mini-table play

Who's dominating this game? (0:53)

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December 1, 2011

Reasons to attack the middle

I did some video coaching for someone recently. One of my primary comments was that over and over his first loop went to the corners, where the opponent was ready. Instead, I recommended his first attack primarily should go to the middle (i.e. roughly at the elbow, the transition point between forehand and backhand). Why? It's much harder to block or counter-attack from there, as 1) the player has to decide whether to play forehand or backhand; 2) he then has to move into position, which is usually harder than moving to cover the corners; and 3) it draws the player out of position, allowing you to attack to the open corner, or (if the player rushes to cover it), to the other corner, or right back at the middle again.

Far too often players attack the corners with the idea they are looking for a ball to attack to the middle, with the common result of a strong return that they can't attack effectively. This is backwards - instead, attack the middle first, and then look for a chance to attack the next ball to the corners or the middle again.

Personally, I love opponents who mostly attack first to the corners, making my life easier. I'll buy my peers a drink if they promise to do so at key points. I hate with a vengeance those who attack my middle, who simply do not understand the "Do not go here!" sign implied by my constantly missing against those shots.

The main time you wouldn't attack the middle is when the opponent is looking to cover as much table as possible with his forehand, in which case the corners are probably more vulnerable, or else the middle moves toward the backhand side. But even here, while a soft or medium loop to the middle will probably get attacked with the forehand, a strong loop to the middle is very hard to handle with the forehand because the player is often jammed, and can only use the front half of their forehand hitting zone, while on a strong attack to the wide forehand, they can use the whole zone.

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

Alas, I discovered yesterday that I'd stopped midway through the chapter on Loopers, so I've got a bunch of work to do on that. (It'll be a long chapter, already almost 4000 words.) The book is now at 69,000 words, and the first draft - hopefully done within days - will probably be about 75,000 words, though the final version will likely be well over 80,000. Here are the opening paragraphs to the chapter on Serving Tactics (currently 8400 words, the longest chapter):

"What is your goal when you serve? That is the primary question you must ask yourself when considering service tactics.

"Serves are one of the most under-practiced aspects of the game, and yet they are often the quickest way to improve and to develop the tactical weapons needed to win. Not only do serves start off half the rally, but a good serve sets you up to attack, and if you do this enough, you improve your attack as well.

"Remember in the chapter on Strategic Thinking I talked about how you needed to develop an overpowering strength? (If your overpowering strength happens to be serve and receive, then focus on the strongest shot in your game that your serve and receive sets up.) The primary purpose of your service game should be to get that overpowering strength into play. But what is that strength?

"For some players, the answer is both easy and hard. It's easy because they know what they want to do: serve and loop, the most common goal at the higher levels. It's difficult because you can't effectively use the same serve over and over and over or your opponent will adjust. So even these players have to develop a repertoire of serves that set them up to do what they want to do."

Time Lapse Photography of the North American Teams Set-up

This is great - you actually get to see the entire set up in 29 seconds! It was created by Tom Nguyen of NATT. (As a side note, for several years I worked part-time for them at tournaments, and helped with these set-ups - and believe me, it's a LOT of work!)

Best points from the 2011 JOOLA North American Teams

Enjoy! (10:50)

Want to serve on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Board of Directors?

 Here's the opening (roughly the first half) to the job description:

"The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Athlete Advisory Council is pleased to announce its nationwide application process by which qualified athlete candidates may be nominated to serve as an Athlete Member on the US Anti Doping Agency’s Board of Directors.  A total of up to three candidates will be proposed to USADA’s Nominating Committee for their approval and acceptance for one of the two Athlete Member seats on USADA’s Board.  The Athlete Director shall serve a four year term starting Fall of 2012 and may be reelected for an additional four years. 

"Candidates should share the core values USADA: Integrity, respect, teamwork, responsibility, and courage.  The role of Athlete Member on USADA’s Board shall entail advocating and protecting athletes’ rights while remaining objective in achieving USADA’s goals.

"Candidates must have represented the United States in the Olympic, Pan American, Para Pan American, Paralympic Games, World Championships, or an event designated as an Operation Gold event within the ten (10) years preceding election.  However, it is preferred that candidates have competed more recently than the 10 year rule.  No candidate should have any prior doping violations and candidates may be required to complete and adequately pass a background and criminal check.

"The Anti Doping Division hopes to select from diverse pool of candidates from various backgrounds.  Although a minimum of Bachelor’s Degree is a must, no specific degree is required.  Knowledge of medicine, law, and chemistry may facilitate understanding of USADA policies and protocol.  Athletes may come from any sport under the Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American or Para Pan American umbrella."

This cat doesn't like ping-pong

Six seconds of feline fury.

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October 6, 2011

Random drills

Random drills are among the most under-utilized drills in table tennis. Rote drills (where you know where the ball is going to go) are great for developing strokes and footwork, but in game-type situations, you don't know where the ball is going. So you have to train for that, and that means random drills.

As you improve and master the fundamental strokes, you should add more and more random drills to your practice sessions, but only at a pace where you can do the drill with good fundamentals. (If you go too fast and your strokes start to fall apart, you are practicing bad technique and should slow down the drill.)

Here are two important keys to doing random drills properly. First, focus on reacting to the incoming ball; don't try to anticipate. You want your first move to be the correct one every single time. If you find yourself moving one way and having to correct yourself to go the other way, you are anticipating since you are moving before you know where the ball is going. If necessary, slow the drill down until you can do the right first move every time.

Second, move to the ball and stay balanced. Some players react by reaching for the ball and go off balance. Keep the weight centered and step toward the ball, don't reach. Here's an article related to this, Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. And if you are looking to put together a killer practice session, then, well, here's an article called Killer Practice Sessions.

Beating higher-rated players in practice and tournaments

Tournaments and practice are different. Often a player challenges higher-rated players in practice, but can't beat them in tournaments very often. This is often a tactical thing, because the higher-rated player is literally more experienced at playing at that higher level, and so knows what to do in a close match. (It's also psychological because the lower-rated player is often more nervous for the simple fact that he isn't as sure of what to do as the other, more-experienced-at-that-level player.) What I've noticed is that you generally have to be able to challenge the higher-rated player in practice matches for about six months before you can challenge them the same way in a tournament. Many players lament about how they battle with specific players in practice but lose all the close games in tournaments. This is common, but all you have to do is stick with it, learn from the losses (and wins), and in about six months (sooner if you are a quick learner, longer if not), you'll start beating them.

Best thing I did to make coaching easy

Get in shape. There were times I dreaded coaching because it was so physically hard. Then I lost weight (196 to 173), started lifting weights three times a week, and began a serious stretching routine. Now coaching is much easier; physically I can play for hours now without major muscles strains or exhaustion. (On a completely unrelated note that I just want to put in there, I just noticed that the three students I'm coaching today are Justin, Jerry, and Jess. And I also have a pair of John's I'm working with. Lots of J's, and I won't even mention I'm a fan of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. Maybe noticing these silly coincidences makes coaching more interesting and therefore easier.)

The Coca-Cola Move to the Beat 2012 Olympic Campaign

Coca-Cola and DJ Mark Ronson unveil the Move to the Beat campaign (3:01) in support of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which features table tennis player Darius Knight (member of English national team), archers, and track and field athletes.

2009 USATT Strategic Meeting (and Task Force Minutes)

Several people have asked me why I seem so angry over the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting. After all, the meeting was two years ago!!! The answer is two-fold. First, while the meeting was two years ago, the things they claimed they would do - in vague terms that they claimed were all that was needed - predictably didn't happen, and so two more years have gone by without implementing anything. (And yes, I still have vivid memories of being surrounded by table tennis leaders congratulating themselves for such a great meeting and telling me how wrong I was to think we actually needed real goals and implementable plans to meet those goals.) Many slogans were created, vague priorities were set, and task forces were set up to achieve these vague priorities. Of course nothing has come of this.

HOWEVER - and this is the key thing, the most important thing - the 2009 Strategic Meeting was a tipping point for USATT. We had a relatively new group of USATT leaders, and the future of USA Table Tennis was in the balance. Would it break from the past and begin to do the things necessary to grow our sport? Unfortunately, a few people almost single-handedly tipped USATT right back into its old habits of half-measures and clutching at failed methods while ignoring what actually works. We had a great opportunity to change the momentum of the organization, but now that it has once again set its direction, it's very hard to change that. It won't happen unless and until USATT leaders are willing to put aside everything that happened at that meeting and start fresh. Until then, USATT will continue its meandering stroll through the garden of mediocrity.  

Go to the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting summary, and decide for yourself if it was worth bringing in 30 table tennis leaders and organizers from all over the country for two days to come up with all these slogans and vague priorities. Do you think the time would have been better spent creating goals and programs to reach those goals? (Note - the summary incorrectly names Ashu Jain as the chair of the junior task force, but he actually turned it down, and David Del Vecchio was the chair. The junior task force has since been dissolved - see July 01, 2011 USATT board meeting. Here is the current list of USATT Committees and Task Forces.)

Did any of these task forces accomplish anything? Nothing was implemented over the past two years from the Junior Task Force or the "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task force. If they ever met and created any plans, they didn't follow USATT bylaws (bolded "task force" is mine):

"Section 9.10. Minutes of Meetings. Each committee and task force shall take minutes of its meetings.  The approved minutes must be published within thirty (30) days of completion of the meeting."

No minutes of any meetings were ever published. I pointed this out to various USATT officials a number of times over the past year, and USATT actually sent a note to committees and task forces asking them to post these minutes.  Here are the USATT minutes. See if you can find the minutes of any USATT committee or task force meetings at all, other than one for the Hall of Fame Committee meeting listed on "December 20, 2011" (they mean 2010) - and they are not actually a USATT committee. 

The Cat without a Bat in a Tub with a Ball

Yes, here's 46 seconds of a cat playing with a ping-pong ball in a tub.

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