Receive

June 4, 2014

New USATT Ratings Portal

USATT has a new ratings portal. Prepare to be let down.

One of my students gets out of taking PE at school because of his age ranking in Maryland, and instead does extra hours of table tennis training. Last night I had to fill out a form for his school, and needed to look up his current Maryland ranking for his age. I went to the USATT ratings page, and there it was – the new USATT Ratings Portal, created by RailStation, who does our new membership system. For comparison, here is the old USATT Ratings Portal. I don't know if the old one will stay up or not, but there no longer is a link to it from the USATT webpage. I suggest you bookmark it. (If you haven't used it before, here's your chance to have some fun and create your own lists by clicking on the Customizable Members List link near the top on the right.)

Let's do a point-by-point comparison. I'm using Chrome for this, but I checked it out on Explorer as well and seemed to get the same results. Feel free to test it yourself.

In the old version, it showed what date the ratings were through, and listed tournaments before that date that were not yet processed, and even gave the reason why. It also listed the ratings by year so you could click on the year and choose any tournament from that year, with the tournaments listed chronologically, even listing the number of players and matches in each one. The new version has none of this. Want to find the results from a specific tournament? You can't. (My first reaction to this was You've Got to Be Kidding!!!) Want to see what tournaments were processed? You can't.

In the old version, if you wanted to look up someone's rating, you put in their last name, hit enter, and chose the person from the alphabetical list. In the new version, you also put in their last name, but if you hit enter, it doesn't work. You have to manually hit submit. The new version also has a field where you put in state, but if you do, it ignores the name you put in and gives you the entire alphabetical listing for that state rather than just those in the state with that last name. Also, the old version had the name field at the top of the screen. Now, unless you have a large screen, you have to scroll down to it.

The old version had the Customizable Membership Lists, which I use regularly. With that you could create just about any ranking list. You could chose the age (under or over); gender; choose only players who played since a certain date (or before); only those over or below a certain rating; by USATT members only or all past members; and from specific states, USA only, or all. Now you can barely do any of this. In the new version, you cannot narrow down the selection by multiple criteria, and you have to use the ages they give. For juniors, you can only choose under 18 or under 20; for seniors, only in five-year increments. Or you can choose just men or women. You cannot choose these as USA only, or by state. You can't create an age ranking list by state, for example.

If you want a simple ranking list of, say, top men, that was easy in the old version – and you could do it by USATT members or not, USA only, or by state, age, gender, etc. In the new version if you click the handy Top Men Singles Button, you get as the #1 player Thomas Keinath of Germany. The #2 is Ilija Lupulesku, who hasn't played a USATT tournament in four years. Meanwhile, USA Team Member Timothy Wang is left out, presumably because his membership is currently expired – and there's no option to list non-members. If you want a listing of only top USA men or women who are active (say, played in the last year) – good luck. You can't.

The new version has several fields. The first one is Ranking Category, but there is only once choice – USA Table Tennis. Why is there a field when there's only once choice? If there are going to be other choices later, then put the field in later. But what other choices would we want than USA Table Tennis in the USA Table Tennis ratings portal? The next field is Game, and again there is only one choice – Singles-Adult. (Apparently we don't have juniors?)

The next field is the Ranking Group, which I already covered above. But when I actually tried out each field, a number of them didn't work. The Men's, Women's, Under 18, and Under 20 fields wouldn't work, but after I'd tried them several times, the Under 18 and Under 20 suddenly worked – but not the Men's or Women's. One problem is that when you release on a ranking category, you assume the page will bring you that list, but it doesn't unless you also manually hit Submit. (Again, Enter doesn't work.) Also, the next field, Season, caused problems as nothing worked unless you chose a season – but there was only one season to choose, 1994-2014. The problem is that the one choice there kept disappearing, and to get it back I had to choose another category, and then it would reappear.

Below this is the Search for a Member field, which I discussed above. If you want a state listing, you have to use the Select State field, which doesn’t make sense – why would you go to Search for a Member fields to find a state listing? In the old version there was a listing of each state, and you just clicked on the state to get an alphabetical listing. Or you could add criteria for this in the Customizable Members List.

Anyone care to create a list of, say, Under 14 Boys in Maryland, or any other age listing by state? (Preferably only ones who have competed in the last year?) Or just about any other ranking list that involves more than one criteria (and in most cases, even one)? You can't in the new system.

I'm sure the ones who put this together will say they plan to fix these problems. But why would we switch to this when IT'S NOT READY YET??? It's not ready for prime time, and is a massive downgrade from what we had before. It's like going from Tenergy to sandpaper. Didn't anyone from USATT test it before they decided to go live with it?

I strongly urge USATT to go back to the old portal until the new one can match what we had before.

Tips for Effective Receiving

Here's the article.

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. I linked to the first nine on Monday (I'd been linking to them earlier as they went up), and here are three more. Twelve down, 88 to go!

  • Day 89: ETTU President Ronald Kramer Enjoys Taking on Challenges
  • Day 90: Interview with Incoming ITTF President Thomas Weikert
  • Day 91: Interview with ITTF President Adham Sharara: “I am motivated to do the best for our sport.”

USOC May Athlete of the Month

Here's where you can vote for Lily Zhang and Tahl Leibovitz as USOC Athlete of the Month. Lily has some tough competition – the voting shows the leaders are a triathlete and someone from track and field. Tahl's up against athletes from triathon and diving who currently lead the men's voting. 

Interviews with Table Tennis Manufacturers

These interviews are mostly with makers of non-inverted surfaces: TSP, Avalox, Dr. Neubauer, Xiom, and Re-Impact.

Around Net Shot

Here's the video – but watch the table off to the left! (The link should take you directly to 3:22 in the video.)

Top Ten Shots

Here's the video (4:50).

Ping Pong Summer Smashes Its Way to Theaters

Here's the article and video (1:34). There's a showing of the movie in my area this Friday at 7:30PM that I'm planning to see. I'll probably blog about it next week.

The Story Behind the Paddles in Ping Pong Summer

Here's the article. Apparently they are using hardbat rackets in the movie, which takes place in 1985. (Note to non-TT historians – the hardbat era mostly ended in the 1950s, and by the 1960s all the top players were pretty much using sponge.)

Susan Sarandon Plays Table Tennis on Today Show

Here's the video (2:06, starts with 30sec commercial), where she plays doubles with actor Ansel Elgort against Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb.

Kids Play Piano at ICC Fundraiser

Here's video (1:52) of kids at the recent ICC club fundraiser showing off their piano skills.  

Facebook v Spotify v Moshi Monsters

Who will win Tech City's Ping Pong Fight Club? Here's the article.

Why I'm Bad at Ping Pong – Illustrated!

Here's a drawing by Lance, a 7-year-old student of mine.

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May 19, 2014

Tip of the Week

Why to Systematically Practice Receive.

Return to Ready After Forehand Attack

During the Potomac Open this past weekend there was an interesting match that illustrated this. One was a lefty rated over 2400, the other about 2300. The lefty kept serving breaking serves to the righty's wide forehand. The righty would move to his wide forehand and loop these crosscourt to the lefty's backhand. Over and over the lefty would quick-block these to the righty's backhand, and the righty was caught out of position over and over. At first glance it would seem the righty just wasn't fast enough, that the lefty was just too quick. And so the lefty won the first two games.

But then a strange thing happened. I was commenting to some players sitting next to me how the righty was looping off his back foot when he looped these serves, and so finishing off balance. This kept him from getting a quick start to cover his backhand. But sometime in the third game, completely on his own, the player figured this out. The key was to get his right foot wider on the receive so he could push off it, and then he could use the momentum of his own forehand follow-through to help move himself back into position. Two things happened because of this. First, by getting his right foot farther out he was able to push into the shot harder, thereby getting more speed and spin on his loop, which gave the lefty problems. Second, and more importantly, he was now following through into position, and was set for those quick blocks to his wide backhand.

There's a video (which I just spent ten minutes unsuccessfully searching for) of Werner Schlager making this exact same adjustment to a player at the World Hopes Week in Austria a year or two ago. I remember it as several people commented that he was messing up the kid's technique. Actually, what Werner had done was show the kid, one of the top 12-year-olds in the world, how to follow-through back into position so he'd be ready for the next shot. It's one of those little things that many players don't understand, thinking only about the current shot, and not worrying about the next one. (EDIT - here's the 50-sec video I referred to above, care of Daniel Ring in the comments below. Notice how the kid forehand loops very well, but tends to stay in one position when he's moved wide? Werner shows him how to follow through back into position.) 

How often have you attacked with your forehand from the backhand side, only to get caught when your opponent quick-blocked to your wide forehand? (Or the reverse, attacked from the wide forehand, and got caught on the wide backhand, as discussed above?) Most often the problem isn't being too slow; it's finishing the forehand shot off balance, which dramatically slows down how fast you can recover back into position. The most common situation is a player steps around the backhand corner to use the forehand, but is rushed, and so ends up following through too much to his left (for a righty), leaving him wide open for the next shot. Instead, when attacking from a wide corner, whenever possible try to follow-through right back into position, and you'll be surprised at how much easier it is to recover for the next shot, even if it's quick-blocked to the far corner.  

World Veterans Championships

They were held May 14-17 in Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, video, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There were 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

Here are the results. Do a search for if you want to see how players from a specific country did (for example, "USA"). Charlene Xiaoying Liu, who is from my club, finished third in Over 60 women, losing deuce in the fifth to the eventual winner (who would win the final easily 3-0). Charlene was actually up 10-8 match point in the fifth, alas, but struggled her opponent's serve at the end.

Alameda Table Tennis Club Offering Elementary School Kids $20,000 in Ping Pong Scholarships

Here's the article - wow!

Lily Yip Selected as USA Youth Olympic Games Coach

Here's the article.

Kagin Lee's Blog

Tokyo Recap, Part One. (Kagin is a member of the board of directors for USATT and National College Table Tennis Association.)

Cary, NC to Open 25,000 Square Foot Table Tennis Facility

Here's the article (on their home page). Here are some pictures of the new Triangle Table Tennis Center.

ITTF Has as Many National Associations as Any Sport

Here's the article. They now have 220 members, which equals the International Volleyball Federation.

ICC Table Tennis Fund-Raiser

Here's the article.

How to Choose a Table Tennis Bat

Here's the new video from PingSkills (14:45).

Best of Ma Lin

Here's the Video (3:13).

Circular Table Tennis

Here's the picture! I think I once ran a similar picture, but this one really shows how the "sport" is played!

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April 9, 2014

No Blog Until Next Tuesday

I leave for my niece's wedding in Oakview, CA, at 7AM on Thursday morning from Dulles Airport. I won't get back until early Monday morning, and then I have to run over to MDTTC for our Spring Break Camp (Mon-Fri, 10AM-6PM). So my next blog and Tip of the Week will be Tuesday, April 15.

My niece wanted to arrange a series of fun activities during the three days of wedding activities, and asked if I'd put on a table tennis clinic. So I'm bringing my table tennis stuff, including a half gross of balls in a box for multiball. I'm even bringing a few soccer-colored balls so they can see spin. No one else in my family (including the ones marrying into ours) plays seriously. There's also a wine tasting (I'm a non-drinker, alas), I think hiking, and who knows what else.

Breaking News - Voice of Table Tennis Contest! (Added on Friday morning)

USA's Barbara Wei, who practically grew up at my club, MDTTC, as a top junior (and as a member of the USA Cadet and then Junior Girl's Team) has made the Final Three in the ITTF's Voice of Table Tennis Contest. Here's your chance to vote for her! But so has USA's Adam Bobrow. The third contestent is David Wetherill, who I believe is from England. Voting ends on Monday, so vote now!

Shadow Practice and Weighted Rackets

One of my students (who asked to stay anonymous) thought I should ask readers the following question: What do players imagine shadow practicing when, say, at the office and need to work off some energy? I know for me it's forehands, both loops and smashes. I even keep a weighted racket by my desk, which I use both to work off energy and sometimes as a racket when I'm thinking about a technique while writing. One change: when I was younger I also shadow practiced moving side to side. These days it's more stationary forehands, alas.

However, I also think about backhands. Many years ago while sitting on the subway no doubt on the way to some table tennis event I was thinking about backhands. Suddenly and spontaneously I stroked a backhand, smacking an elderly women sitting next to me in the face. I was very apologetic and she took it pretty well, but I was pretty embarrassed.

I bought the weighted racket in Osaka, Japan at the 2001 World Championships; here's a picture. Butterfly used to sell this very model in the U.S. back in the 1970s. (They also had a thinner metal version.) I bought one around 1979, but someone stole it at some point, which is why I had to buy another in Japan. I don't think they sell them in the U.S., alas. (I just did a search and couldn't find any.) If they did, I'd recommend them to my students. I've seen some players make their own by gluing weights to a racket, or even gluing two rackets together. You can get quite a workout with them, and they build up arm strength while you work on your stroke. You don't want to use them in an actual rally, however, as that would mess up your timing.

Here's an article, Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork. Here's a shorter one, Shadow Practice Your Shots. Along with serve practice and mental training these are the three quickest ways to improve - call them "Get Good Guick" schemes. (To the spelling police: the triple G spelling was intentional.) It won't make you good by themselves, but they'll definitely expedite the process.

North American Tour Update

Here's the article.

Another Table Tennis Scammer

Many table tennis coaches probably received some version of the following email, which I received yesterday. It's a scam, where some very dishonest person is getting the emails from the USATT coaches listing. (I've blogged about this before.) Note how he's coming to a country that's 3000 miles wide and 1500 miles high - that's just the continental part - and is ready to hire you without even knowing where you are located? Anyway, as mentioned before, the scam works this way. After he hires you, he'll send you a check in advance. But then he'll email you saying his assistant/accountant/someone accidentally made the check out for way too much, and asks you to send a check to him with the difference. He even agrees for you to wait until you receive his check. But his check is a fake one. Here's the email I received:

Hello,
How are you doing today and I hope you're well? My name is Mr. Michel Piaf, my Wife and I are looking to hire a Table Tennis Instructor for our son who's coming over for holidays to get some rest and ready to learn Table Tennis, Since he's going to have nothing doing while he's there we decide to hire him a Table Tennis Teacher to take him through since Table Tennis is he's only sport he loves so very much and wants to get to learn and join school team. His name is Glen and he's is 14yrs old. If you are available and ready, kindly get back to us with your hour rates and hopefully an arrangement can be made. What city you located now?
Regards,
Mr. Michel Piaf

Playing Out of Position

Here's the article.

Two Surprisingly Easy Ways to Receive Difficult Serves

Here's the article.

Exhibition Points

Here's a video (7:59) that compiles many of the greatest and most hilarious exhibition points ever played.

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April 1, 2014

Tongue Training
Anyone watching TT videos regularly can see that most top
players make use of their tongue. Most assume this is just a
reaction to stress, or a side effect of the effort going into the shot.
It's much more than that. In fact, proper use of the tongue is just
like using any other part of the body in a shot. I'd argue that 
for most, proper use of the tongue is central to the shot. Sure, it
only weighs two to two and a half ounces, but its usage must be
orchestrated properly or you will lose power and control. When
looping, improper use of the tongue can be disastrous.

Chinese theory on this is quite different from European. Most
European coaches believe the tongue should be held more or
less rigid inside the mouth, believing that this maximizes balance.
However, most Chinese coaches believe it should be used to
maximize power when looping. In some ways, it's like the wrist -
for years, many coaches thought the wrist should be held rigid
during power shots, but then some coaches decided it should be
used for extra power, and they were correct. Similarly, Chinese
coaches theorize that the tongue, when used in conjunction with
the rest of the body, can add power. To do so requires proper
timing and training of the tongue.

On forehand loops, the tongue must start in the right side of the
mouth. (This is for righties; lefties reverse.) As the player rotates
into the shot he uses his legs, hips, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist.
The tongue should coil backward and snap into the shot as the
shoulders rotate into the shot, adding extra power as the player
throws his arm into the shot.

On backhand loops, the tongue should start in the bottom of the
mouth. As the player powers into the shot with their lower body
the tongue should snap into the shot, adding extra power as the
player throws the upper body and arm into the shot.

Physical training is extremely important to high-level training, and
most top juniors now incorporate tongue training into this. For
power, they do isometric training, where they alternately press the
tongue into the top, bottom, and both sides of the mouth, three times
in each direction, holding it for ten seconds. For stretching, the tongue
is extended out as far as possible, then up, then down, then to each
side, again doing it three times each for ten seconds. This is similar to
how the Chinese train, although their full-time players do considerably
more physical training, including more tongue exercises.

So if you want to reach your potential in table tennis, train your tongue,
and watch the wins pile up! Here are pictures of Germany's
Thomas Schmidberger and Stefan Schmidt doing tongue stretches,
which they learned while training in China with teammates Timo Boll
and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's China's Wang Hao uncorking a backhand
loop, with his tongue coiled in the bottom of his mouth, about to snap
into the shot - note how the lower lip is pulled in over the tongue.
Here's Ui Young Park of South Korea snapping his tongue into his
forehand. And here's MDTTC junior star John Elson doing tongue
stretches on the MDTTC sofa.

Beginning/Intermediate Class
In my Beginning/Intermediate Class last night we focused on smashing
and on return of serve. These are two of my favorite topics as they are
strengths of mine. I got to demonstrate smash after smash with assistant
coach John Hsu, who returned them over and over, both blocking and
fishing. Later I gave a probably-too-long lecture on return of serve.
One of the things I stress in such classes is that even if they can't do the
things I'm teaching right now, or even in the near future, it's something
to strive for later on. After the class most of the students stayed on and
practiced for over an hour.

The lecture on receive was divided into three parts: How to return short
serves (pushes and flips); How to return deep serves (this one was very
short - you attack them, mostly by looping); and How to read spin.
(Here's my Tip of the Week: Reading Service Spin.)

Three Things Ma Long Can Learn from Fan Zhendong (and You Too!)
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Classes at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria
Here's info.

"All My Body Aches"
That's what Dimitrij Ovtcharov said after winning the German Open. Here's the article.

Tony Yeap Prepares for Nationals
Here's a video (3:14) showing Tony as he prepares for the College Nationals.

Table Tennis Named the Official Sport of the United States
Here's the article.
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March 11, 2014

Constant Competition

Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.

While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.

Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given.  Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."

I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.

Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day.  I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper.  That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.

Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.

Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.

But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built.  Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years.  The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."

(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.) 

Interview with Jim Butler

While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.

Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)

Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball

Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.

The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork

Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.

Wang Liqin Doing Multiball

Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.

Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)

Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal. 

Attempt on World's Longest Rally

Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.

China Primary School Ping Pong Army

Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.

Crossword Puzzle Pong

Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)

Table Tennis Memes

Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!

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February 10, 2014

Tip of the Week

Never Give a Server What He's Looking For.

Developing Good Technique

Table tennis clubs are full of players with poor technique. And there's nothing wrong with this, if the player doesn't care, or at least doesn't put a high priority on it. There are also lots of good players with poor techniques, though few of them get beyond good and become very good. That's subjective, of course; I can name a number of players who have reached 2200 and 2300 levels despite poor technique. The key is they developed a game around that poor technique, and didn't get good because of the bad technique, but in spite of it.

Here's comes the part a lot don't realize, and it's a three-parter.

1) You will not reach your potential unless you develop good technique. This doesn't mean everyone plays with exactly the same technique. There are some techniques where there's clearly a "best" way, and there are others where there are multiple options. Often it depends on the rest of the player's game. Some players have developed such unorthodox games that what is proper technique for others might not be proper technique for them. But that's a rarity. Almost always, to reach your potential, you need to develop good technique.

2) Anyone can develop good technique. I don't care how poor your current technique is, you can fix it, and have good technique. This doesn't mean you'll have great technique - that's almost impossible once you've developed bad habits. But you don't need perfect technique in this sport (except in most cases at the highest levels), and good technique will take you pretty far.

3) It will take lots of time and effort to develop good technique if you currently have bad technique. You'll also lose to a lot of players if you continue to compete while changing your technique. (I usually advise against that.) It takes a lot of saturation training to fix bad technique, and you'll probably need a coach - which usually costs money. But it's a one-time fix, because once it's fixed, it's fixed for a lifetime, as long as you continue to play regularly.

So, do you have bad technique? It's your choice whether to keep it that way, or make it a goal to fix that technique once and for all.

Chinese Team Squad Trials Ranking and Videos

Here's a short article with the final ranking of the Chinese Team Squad (men and women), with links to numerous videos of them in action. 

Zhang Jike on the New Plastic Balls

Here's the article, where he says the speed dropped some. Unfortunately, the article doesn't say which of the new balls they were using. There are at least three ITTF approved plastic balls. Leaving that out sort of makes the article somewhat less useful, and I hesitated in including it here.

USATT Criteria and Procedures for Entering US Athletes in International Competitions

Here's the article from USATT.

NCTTA Newsletter

Here's the Feb. 2014 National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter.

Ping Pong Summer

Here's video (2:45) of a preview of the coming-of-age comedy coming this summer, starring Susan Sarandon and a break dancing, rapping and ping-pong playing 13-year-old.

European Cup Highlights

Here's video (6:52, with time between points removed) of Denmark's Michael Maze's (world #28, but formerly #8) win over Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) in the semifinals of the European Cup this past weekend. (Ovtcharov defeated teammate Timo Boll, world #8, in the semifinals - they were the top two seeds, so presumably one of them was upset in preliminaries?) Here's video of the other semifinals (5:09) where Portugal's Marcos Freitas (world #15) defeats France's Adrien Mattenet (world #52). And here's video of the final (4:54) where Freitas defeats Maze.

Unreal Counterlooping Rally - Ovtcharov vs. Boll

Here's video of the rally (48 sec, includes replays), which took place at the 2014 Europe Cup this past weekend.

Wheelchair Player Cindy Ranii

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury News, "She may be in a wheelchair, but Cindy Ranii is a ping-pong powerhouse."

Shopping Mall Exhibition

Here's video (40 sec) of an exhibition in a shopping mall, with lots of lobbing and changing of sides during rallies.

Holy TT Racket

Here's the racket I lend out to my opponents. 

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November 18, 2013

Tip of the Week

Three Reasons Players Miss Against Deep Sidespin and Topspin Serves.

Seamless Plastic Ball

I recently ordered three of the new Palio seamless plastic poly balls that the ITTF has ordained shall replace celluloid balls in July of 2014. I ordered them from Eacheng.net, and they came in on Friday. I brought them to the club and about ten different players tried them out, mostly top players.

The consensus was pretty much the same as others have said. Hopefully the ITTF will work to fix these problems, even if it means delaying the change. Here's what we found out.

  1. Though I ordered them from Europe, they are made in China, and come in Chinese packaging.
  2. For unknown reasons, the balls are closer to 41mm than 40mm. Why didn't they keep them the same size? I can't measure them accurately but holding them side-by-side makes the size difference obvious. Because of this they also appear to be heavier.
  3. They are harder than celluloid balls. The contrast is obvious when you press your finger into one and then into a celluloid ball.
  4. They are faster than celluloid balls. We dropped them and a celluloid ball from about three feet up over and over, and every time the new balls bounced nearly an inch higher.
  5. They sound cracked when you hit with them.
  6. They are harder to spin. This might simply be due to the larger size and weight. One player thought this would favor hitters. I have a feeling it might simply favor bigger, stronger loopers, just as going from 38mm to 40mm did while pretty much killing the hitting game at the higher levels.
  7. Most players didn't like them, but enjoyed playing with something different. One 2300 player thought players would have no problem adjusting, but most didn't think they'd be accepted because of the cracking sound and the difficulty in spinning them - though that could be fixed by simply making them 40mm. I think players would adapt to the lower spin, but that cracked sound is not so good.
  8. According to John Olsen (who hit with earlier versions at a Stellan Bengtsson camp, they are better than the earlier versions.

Knees Problems

I've been having knee problems for several weeks. Right now they don't really hurt, but I feel like I'm playing on a slippery floor every time I try to move, even though I'm playing on grippy rubberized red flooring. I feel like I'm just tottering about. Even simple moves like stepping to the left or right to block or stepping in for a short serve to the forehand leave me slightly off balance. Trying to move to attack with my forehand (which is central to my game) is turning into a distant memory, and I mostly just wave at balls to my wide forehand. Again, it's as if I'm playing on a slippery floor. For the first time in decades (except when playing on slippery floors) I don't have that feeling that, no matter what's happening, I can turn it on at any time. I have no idea when or if the knees are going to get better. It's not too bad when I hit with beginning players or feel multiball, but when I hit with stronger players it's a serious problem.

I haven't seen a doctor, since I figure what's the point - they'll just say to rest them. Am I missing something?

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

My novel "Sorcerers in Space" came out on Friday. It's a humorous fantasy that spoofs the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s - sort of Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. You can buy it directly from Class Act Books in four formats: Print, PDF, ePUB, or MobiPocket. (For some reason it's listed on the Class Act Books pages as "Sorcerers in Space PDF," which makes it appear that the only format they have is the PDF version. I've pointed this out to the publisher, but she didn't seem to know how to change this.)

It's also sold at Amazon in Kindle format, and a print version will be sold there sometime soon. (It was supposed to be up already, but I'm told it might be a few more days or longer.) It's my first novel, though I also have Pings and Pongs, an anthology of my best sold short stories, along with five books on table tennis.

Table tennis or ping-pong is mentioned in eleven different scenes. In the novel the hero, 13-year-old Neil, has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world. Here's a short description of the novel:

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 first can lob spells down and 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?

Receive Secrets from Japan - the Banana Flip

Here's the article: Service Receive Secrets From Japan. The key point is that you should be aware of the axis of rotation on a spin serve, and either contact the ball on the axis (so the spin doesn't take on your racket much) or use the spin. In Japan, they apparently call the banana flip the "Tikita" or "Chiquita" flip.

German Open Men's Final

Here's video (9:52, with time between points removed) China's 16-year-old whiz kid Fan Zhendong defeating Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov in the Men's Singles Final at the German Open this past weekend. Here's video (8:40) of Fan defeating Vladimir Samsonov in the semifinals. The week before at the Polish Open Fan became the youngest ever Men's Singles Champion at a Pro Tour event, so this week, one week older, he became the second youngest as well? Meanwhile, here's video of a great point in the semifinals (39 sec) between Ovtcharov and Timo Boll. Here's another nice point where Samsonov does an around-the-net return against Sweden's Kristian Karlsson in the round of 64.

Fan Zhendong Training

Here's a video (7:40) of a Chinese news show that features Fan in training. It's in Chinese, but it's still interesting to watch.  

Cape Fear 4-Table Open

Here's video (3:10) of Richard Perez capturing the first 4-table Open Championship with a comeback against Greg Robertshaw.

Monsters Playing Table Tennis

  • Phantomness of the Opera. Click on the picture and see four other interesting pictures. (Picture two: three balls in play. Older man with blue shirt in two pictures is Scott's father.)
  • Scream (video, 59 sec). I like his backhand counter-hitting.

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March 22, 2012

What's your secret weapon?

What do you do when you absolutely, positively have to win the next point? How do you serve and follow, or receive, when the game is on the line?

Note that this is somewhat of a trick question as you should be using these plans throughout a match, often to keep you from actually reaching a point where you absolutely, positively have to win the next point. And if you do reach that point, you should have tried out so many of these plans that you'll know which ones work.

Here are my "go to" plans, the secret weapons I pull out when I absolutely, positively have to win the next point.

On serve:

  • Short forehand pendulum serve with a big downward motion that looks like backspin, but actually has sidespin-topspin. With a subtle snap of the wrist at contact, the inner part of the paddle moves up on contact, creating topspin. Opponents pop it up or return it weakly over and over, setting up easy smashes and loop kills.
  • Deep breaking forehand pendulum serve into the backhand that jumps away from the opponent. If the opponent doesn't have a good backhand loop, or can't step around and forehand loop it (and still cover the wide forehand on the next ball), then this serve sets up many easy smashes and loops. Because it goes so deep I have time to get my forehand on the next ball over and over.
  • Heavy no-spin short to the middle. ("Heavy no-spin" means that I fake lots of spin but put no spin on the ball.) As long as I keep it very low to the net, I almost always get a relatively weak ball, usually a push, that goes deep, setting up an easy loop. It comes back with less backspin than if I served backspin, and flips off it are usually softer than off a sidespin serve.
  • Forehand pendulum serve with heavy sidespin-backspin, short to the forehand. As long as I hang back toward my backhand side this tends to get returned to the forehand or middle, setting up an easy forehand loop.
  • Fast no-spin to the middle (opponent's elbow) with my forehand pendulum motion. The opponent has to decide quickly whether to return forehand or backhand, has to swing harder than usual to overcome the no-spin (as opposed to a fast topspin serve, where the topspin makes it jump off their paddle), and they usually end up returning it into the net. If they do return it, they are out of position (from covering the middle), and so usually open to an attack to the wide corners.
  • Forehand tomahawk serve short to the forehand. Most opponents make weak returns to my forehand, setting up an easy forehand loop.
  • Forehand tomahawk serve deep to the forehand. This works against players with weaker loops. Since it breaks away from them, they often lunge for the ball at the last second, which means they both lose control and lower their racket (meaning they will lift the ball too much, usually off the end).

On receive:

  • My favorite go-to receive is to receive anything on the backhand or middle with my backhand, right off the bounce, and topspin to the opponent's deep backhand. This usually takes away their serve advantage and forces a straight backhand-to-backhand rally. (And I'm confident that NOBODY can beat me straight backhand-to-backhand. This might not be true, but as long as I'm convinced of it, I can outlast most opponents with my steady but not-too-powerful backhand.)
  • Against short backspin serves either drop the ball short or quick push wide to the backhand, sometimes deep wide to the forehand. In either case I try to aim the ball one way and change directions at the last second. This is effective on both short and long pushes. On short pushes, I generally aim to the backhand, and at the last second drop it short to the forehand, where players are generally a little slower reacting to. On long pushes I mostly go long to the backhand, often aiming to the forehand side until the last second. But since many opponents anticipate this, I can get a couple of "freebies" in many games by switching directions at the last second and going to the forehand.
  • Against someone who consistently serves long, just loop the serve, but focus on spin, depth, and consistency.
  • Against a forehand pendulum serve (or other serves with spin that breaks away from me on my backhand) I have a pretty good forehand loop, and I see the serve coming, even under pressure I can often step around and loop it away with my forehand. I would normally only do this against a player who not only predictably serves long, but doesn't have much variety on his serve. Against someone who has great spin variety looping too aggressively is usually too risky.

Korean table tennis movie?

This video (1:06) seems to be a preview of a historical Korean table tennis movie. Can anyone translate what it's about? Added bonus - go to 0:32, and you'll see two Chinese women playing doubles on the far side. The one who starts on the right (while the other woman is hitting the ball), and then moves to the left is Gao Jun, former Chinese star (world #3, 1991 world women's doubles champion) who emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1990s and was USA Women's Singles National Champion nine times.

The table tennis fantasy tour

While we're on the subject of table tennis movies, here's an article I had published in Fantasy Magazine three years ago on fantasy table tennis in movies and on TV.

Nominations open for U.S. Olympic Foundation’s George M. Steinbrenner III Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2011 George M. Steinbrenner III Sport Leadership Award, which annually honors a member of the U.S. Olympic family who has made outstanding contributions to sport.

Day off

After coaching table tennis eight straight days and 18 of the last 19, I'm off today. The bad news: I'm going to spend all day working through my todo list. It's long. Really long. Really, really long. (Will I have enough energy left to see a midnight showing of "The Hunger Games"? We'll see. I read all three books.)

Marty Reisman in slow motion

Yes, now you can stretch out those few seconds of Marty bliss to a full minute and a half!

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March 14, 2012

All-out Attackers and Ball Control

All-out attackers often believe that they have to attack all out. It's the death of many a game. While it's true that a strong attacker should attack most of the time, there's one time where they shouldn't look to always attack - when receiving. If they can only attack the serve, while the opponent has more variation, then, all things being equal, they are toast.

Instead of blindly attacking every serve, an "all-out attacker" should mix in subtle returns, such as short pushes and sudden quick ones. This keeps the opponent off guard, and so when the attacker does attack the serve, it's far more effective. At the highest levels, the top players are great at mixing in flips and short pushes to mess up opponents. Players at all levels from intermediate up should learn to do return serves with such variation. If you are an all-out attacker, then you use the receive to disarm the opponent, and look to attack (or counter-attack) the next ball.

If you always attack the serve, then the server knows the ball is coming out to him, and can hang back waiting for the aggressive receive. This, combined with your missing by being so aggressive, gives him a tactical advantage. However, if the receiver's not sure if you are going to attack the ball, push it back heavy (so he has to drop down to loop) or drop it short (so he can't hang back and wait for your shot), he's going to have trouble reacting to your receive. If you can hide what you are going to do until the last second, and perhaps change directions at the last second as well, it will further mess up the poor server and set you up to attack the next ball. 

Ironically, I'm one of the great offenders of this "don't attack every serve" rule - but only when I play hardbat. When I use sponge, I mostly use control to receive while mixing in aggressive returns. When I play hardbat, I attack nearly every serve, hoping to set up my forehand on the next ball. I do so both because I don't play enough hardbat to have the control to finesse the serve back, and because if I don't attack the serve it leaves my overly-weak hardbat backhand open to attack. (In sponge I have a steady backhand; in hardbat my backhand is awful, and so I usually chop backhands while hitting all-out on the forehand.) Also, in hardbat, if I attack the serve I don't have ot worry about a sponge counter-hit; it's much harder to do that with hardbat. I mention my hardbat game because I'm off to defend my hardbat titles at the Cary Cup from 2010 and 2011. Hopefully my overly aggressive receives won't make me "toast"!

It's also important not to return every serve defensively. Sometimes be aggressive, sometimes use control. Variety messes up an opponent. Predictability does not. 

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

DONE!!! Yes, all 460 pages and 837 photos are done and sent to the printer as PDFs. Now I get a day to rest before leaving for Cary. Wait . . . did I say rest? Today I tutor calculus for two hours (I do that once a week), coach table tennis two hours, and do my taxes. Meanwhile, Tim Boggan has already found a number of items that need to be changed. On Monday, after the Cary Cup, I get to input the new changes and send new PDFs to the printer.

Amazing table tennis shots from 2011

Here's a nice selection (8:49). I vaguely remember some of these shots, and there's a chance I posted this video before, but it's worth watching again.

Table Tennis on Talk Show

Talk show host and actor/comedian Chris Gethard shows up, plays, and videos a table tennis tournament for his show, "The Chris Gethard Show" (2:03).

A scientific experiment using ping-pong balls

The video (1:40) is about the transfer of energy and, indirectly, whether or not the flooring under a table affects play.

Lighting ping-pong balls on fire

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October 17, 2011

Tip of the Week

You must attack those steady deep backspin serve returns.

Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques"

Now it can be told!!! Here's the opening line of the article: "In a casting coup, Paramount confirmed that Brad Pitt, star of 'Thelma and Louise' and 'True Romance,' will star in next year’s film adaptation of 'Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.'" Here's the promotional poster they already created. (I had nothing to do with creating this.)

I've been dying to post about this for weeks, ever since negotiations began for the rights to my book, and yes, Brad Pitt will star in this adaptation as, ahem, me. (And as the article mentions, I made quite a bit of money from this deal.) This breaking news should be all over the Internet within a day or so. 

This will probably give U.S. table tennis the largest exposure in its history. Oh, and tonight I'm having dinner with Brad Pitt!!! (I think he wants to study how I talk and my mannerisms.) One other bit of hopefully soon-to-be-breaking news - Ron Howard has unofficially agreed to direct. (And here's where you go if you'd like to buy a copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.)

Visual tools are the best tools

Often the best way to coach a player is to show, don't tell. A new student of mine (an eight-year-old girl) was struggling to hit a proper forehand this weekend, and kept doing all sorts of extra motions that messed up her stroke. The wrist would lag back, she'd lift the racket tip up, she'd forget to backswing or turn her shoulders, she'd change her grip, she'd put her back foot in front, and so on - practically a "who's who" of classic forehand problems all rolled into one. These didn't seem to be any one overlying problem that led to all of these other problems; she just didn't seem to have control of how she swing the paddle, or any idea of what to do.

Then I noticed one of our top junior girls, a few years older than the one I was coaching, training with another coach. So I had my student watch the top junior, and mimic her shot. Now I'd already demonstrated a proper forehand over and Over and OVER for my student, even calling over another player so we could demonstrate it properly, but to no avail. But seeing another girl a few years older doing it seemed to click with her, and soon she was mimicking the shot almost perfectly. Bingo!!!

Physical Training for the Table Tennis Player

Here's a nice recent article by Stellan Bengtsson on, well, see title above.

Backhand Tomahawk Serve

Here's a nice example of the backhand tomahawk serve (0.38), as done by Kenta Matsudaira of Japan, world #39 (and formerly #29), the 2006 world junior boys' champion, who is known as having among the best serves in the world.

European Champion Timo Boll

Timo Boll of Germany just won the European Men's Singles Championships over teammate George Baum in an all-lefty final. Here's the video (11:40), with all the time between points edited out. Here's an article on the event, which Boll won at 7,-6,3,7,8.

Thirty minutes of non-stop looping

There should be a rule that 51-year-old coaches should never have to forehand loop continuously for thirty minutes straight during a lesson so a student can practice blocking. I did, and I paid for it with my back, neck, and shoulder. I'm almost recovered now. (Note to John, Kevin, and Deapesh: this was probably why my neck stiffened up during our sessions on Sunday. The actual looping marathon was during a Friday lesson.) 

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