Butterfly Online

Sean O'Neill

June 16, 2014

Tip of the Week

Be a Perfectionist.

MDTTC Summer Camps

Our ten weeks of MDTTC summer camps starts today, Mon-Fri every week, 10AM-6PM. It's going to be a busy summer. I'll miss two of the weeks, June 30-July 4 for the U.S. Open, and July 28-Aug. 1 for a writers workshop. I'm still doing my usual private coaching, plus this blog and Tip of the Week, and other writing, so it's going to be a hyper-busy summer. As usual.

Nittaku Poly Ball

Paddle Palace sent me one of the newly created Nittaku Poly balls, the 3-Star Nittaku Premium 40+, made in Japan. These are the plastic ones that will replace celluloid balls later this year in many tournaments. This ball is of special interest because it's possibly the ball we'll be using at the USA Nationals in December, as well as other USA tournaments. (There will also be a Nittaku SHA 40+ ball that is made in China, but it's likely the Premium from Japan that might be used at the Nationals.) 

Why is this important to you? Because it's likely these are the balls YOU will be using soon. Might as well learn about them and get used to them.

I tried the new ball out on Sunday morning at MDTTC, hitting with Raghu Nadmichettu, Derek Nie, Quandou Wang (Crystal Wang's dad), John Olsen, and Sutanit Tangyingyong. There was pretty much a consensus on it. Here are my findings, based on my play with it and comments from the others.

  1. The ball sounds almost exactly like a regular celluloid ball - no more cracked sound like many of the previous versions.
  2. The ball is extremely sturdy, almost unbreakable. Unlike a celluloid ball, you could press your thumb on it and there was little give. No soft spots. These balls will last forever until someone steps on it.
  3. The surface of the ball is slightly rougher than a celluloid ball.
  4. It didn't have the powder that covers a new celluloid ball.
  5. It was seamed, but you could barely see it.
  6. The ball is heavier and slightly wider than the celluloid ones. I think to get rid of the crack sound they made the walls thicker. When you hit with it the extra weight is instantly obvious.
  7. I compared it to a 40mm ball, and it looks 40.5mm. That's why they label it "40+."
  8. It spins slightly less because of the extra weight and greater diameter. All shots initially have less spin - serves, loops, pushes, chops, etc. However, what spin you put on the ball tended to stay, as the extra weight allowed it to better overcome air resistance. At the same time the ball reacted to the spin slightly less, due to the extra weight.
  9. It was very easy to serve short with spin with it. I think this was because the extra weight meant the ball came off the racket slower when serving with spin.
  10. I did a bounce test, dropping it and a Butterfly 3-star next to each other. The poly ball bounced slightly higher every time.
  11. Even though it was technically faster on the bounce test, in rallies it played a touch slower, again presumably because of the extra weight, and because the lower trajectory off the racket (due to the extra weight) made the ball cross the net lower and therefore bounce lower on the other side. One player in backhand-backhand rallies kept putting it in the net.  
  12. The ball seemed especially heavy when looping, and a bit more difficult to spin. There was less loft - you had to aim slightly higher. Overall I found it a touch harder to loop against blocks, mostly because of the extra effort needed to overcome the extra weight.
  13. Counterlooping was easier, but the ball definitely felt heavier the more you backed off the table. But balls that might have gone off the end seemed to drop on the table like a rock. This was because even though the ball started with less spin than normal, the spin dissipated less, and so there was as much or more spin at the end than a normal counterloop. However, this was partially offset by the extra weight, meaning the ball reacted slightly less to the spin.
  14. It's very easy to block with it. The ball could bring back the quick-blocking game. But I think blockers with long pips are going to have trouble as the ball won't return with as much spin. Part of this is because the incoming ball will tend to have less spin. 
  15. I think hitting is about the same with it. Because there's less spin it's easier for a hitter to hit against a loop. But because the ball tended to have a slightly lower trajectory, the ball bounced lower, which might even things out. When an opponent loops close to the table, there's less spin with this ball than with a celluloid one. But as the looper backs off, the ball tends to come out spinnier since the spin doesn't dissipate as quickly due to air resistance. (Remember that many players thought going from 38 to 40mm balls would favor hitters, but it was the reverse. And now we've gone slightly bigger.)
  16. When I first tried chopping, balls that normally would have hit the table kept sailing off. (I'm about a 2100 chopper, though I'm normally an attacker.) There was noticeably less spin. Then I hit with Sutanit Tangyingyong, a 2300+ chopper, and he had no such trouble. His chops were extremely heavy, though he said they'd be heavier with the regular ball. (I struggled to lift and to read his chops, and then realized something - since I primarily coach these days, I haven't played a seriously good chopper in well over a decade!) He concluded that the ball would favor choppers who vary their spin - his no-spin chop with this ball was deadly - but choppers who rely on heavy backspin wouldn't do as well. I realized afterwards that part of the reason I had so much trouble with his chopping is that his heavy chops, while starting with less spin, kept the spin due to the ball's extra weight, and so the balls were heavier than I expected. Also, lifting a heavier ball against heavy backspin is more difficult.
  17. My conclusions - the new ball might affect players perhaps the equivalent of 25 ratings points at most. However, that's a 50-point swing, since one player might be 25 points better, another 25 points worse. (Note that 25 points means more at the higher levels. But at the lower levels, where 25 points doesn't mean as much, it'll affect play less as players are less specialized, and so it'll come out about the same.)
  18. The ball is going to help blockers and counterloopers. It's going to hurt long pips blockers, and looping against blocks. After the difficulty I experienced lifting against chops, I'm starting to think it might help choppers, the most surprising thing I found. 

Paddle Palace also gave me what five-time U.S. Men's champion and 2-time Olympian Sean O'Neill wrote about the ball. Here's what he wrote:

The Nittaku Premium 40+. Two words - "Game Changer."
a) Really round, others have noticeable wobble
b) Different matt finish. I don't think these will get glassy with age
c) Spin doesn't dissipate. Really true flight paths.
d) Hard as a rock. No soft spots at all. Feels if the walls are thicker than other 40+
e) Sounds good, no hi pitched plastic sound
f) Texture very noticeable. This makes for truer bounce especially on spin shots
g) Durable. These things are gonna last big time.

Orioles Host Frank Caliendo and Han Xiao

When I heard that famed stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo was in town doing shows, and was interested in playing the Orioles, I contacted their press manager. And so it came about that on Saturday morning Frank (who's about 1800) and Han Xiao (former long-time USA Team member) visited the Orioles clubhouse on Saturday morning to play the Orioles. I wasn't there, and don't have pictures or video, but I'm told they played a lot with Darren O'Day (who I've coached a few times) and others, but they weren't sure of the names. Alas, the Orioles best TT player, JJ Hardy (also around 1800), wasn't available. There was a 10-15 second video of them playing on the Orioles pre-game show. (Here's the link to my blog last August when I visited and played the Orioles in their clubhouse, along with some of our top junior players.)

Non-Table Tennis: Speaking of the Orioles…

This weekend they featured another of my Top Ten Lists. Except this one had 12: Top Twelve Ways That Orioles Fans Can Help Out. This is the 20th article of mine that they've featured. (It contains some inside jokes; feel free to ask about them in the comments below.)

Samson Dubina Coaching Articles

He's put up several more coaching articles on his home page. These include articles on Boosting Your Attack, Returning No-Spin Serves, and How Ratings Can Mentally Fool You.

Why Are the Chinese So Strong?

Here's the article. Includes links to numerous videos.

Lily Zhang Wins Silver in Korea

She made the final of Under 21 Women's Singles at the Korean Open, losing 4-1 in the final to Hitomi Sato of Japan. Here's the "playing card" picture of Lily!

Amy Wang and Michael Tran Winners at World Hopes Week

First, they won the Team Competition; here's the ITTF article. Then Amy won Girls' Singles while Michael made the finals of Boys' Singles; here's the ITTF article.

2014 U.S. Open Blog - A BIG THANK YOU!!!

Here's the blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. They are co-chairs of the upcoming U.S. Open in Grand Rapids and are both members of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

Kagin Lee's Blog

Tokyo Recap, Part Two. Kagin is on the USATT Board of Directors and is a Vice President for the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

USA Umpires Pass International Umpire Exams

Here's the story and pictures. Congrats to Ed Hogshead, Linda Leaf, and David Pech!

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-three down, 77 to go!

  • Day 78: A Special Father’s Day Remembrance: President Sharara Pays a Tribute to His Father
  • Day 79: Origination of the 100-Day Countdown

Table Tennis Company Competitions in Washington DC

Here's the story. Golden Triangle is organizing the competitions between June 6 and Sept. 19.  

Table Tennis Keeps Youth Out of the Streets

Here's the article and video (2:19).

Best of the Legends Tour

Here's the video (2:06), featuring Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jean-Michel Saive, and Jiang Jialiang.

Unbelievable Rally at the Korean Open

Here's the video (55 sec) of the point between Yu Ziyang of China and Romain Lorentz of France.

Table Tennis is So Simple

Here's the cartoon!

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March 31, 2014

Tip of the Week

Get the Right Feel.

Friday Camp

It was a busy weekend of coaching, though strangely not as busy as usual as I had Sunday morning off for a change, due to a pair of out-of-town students. However, that was offset by our one-day camp on Friday, where I coached from 10AM to 6PM. Schools were closed that day for "Professional Day."

We had another snowstorm on Sunday afternoon, with about 2-3 inches here in Germantown - enough is enough!!! It's been "Spring" for eleven days now. (Hmmm . . . "days now" is one space away from "day snow," which is what happened yesterday.) I'm personally contacting the beings responsible and putting a stop to this. There will be no more snow here in Maryland until December.  

Here's a funny incident that took place during the Friday camp. I called a bunch of the beginning kids together to teach them how to serve. My first question to the seven in the group (ages 6-9) was, "How many of you know how to serve?" Nearly all of them raised their hands. So I asked for volunteers to show how to serve. I wish I had a video of what followed as we got sort of a who's who for every stereotypical illegal basement serve possible!!! One kid did the typical basement serve where he bounced the ball on the table and then hit it directly over the net. One kid reached way over the table to get as close to the net as he could to serve. One simply tossed the ball up and hit it directly to the other side of the table. All but one of them grabbed the ball with their fingertips.

Only one of the kids knew how to actually serve somewhat legal - he'd come to a few of my group sessions - but even he didn't come to a complete stop, cupped his hand severely, and hit the ball in front of the end-line. I'm not picky about the serving rules with beginning kids, so the main focus after this was to get them to serve just roughly legal. I didn't enforce the ball in the palm of the hand, as younger kids have trouble with that, and if contact was sometimes made an inch over the table, so be it. They'll learn better as they play more. For now, I just wanted them to be able to get the ball in play, which is surprisingly difficult for younger kids when they first start out.

However, even if they were struggling just to get the serve in play, one of the things I always like to do is show beginners advanced serves, so they realize there's a lot more to learn than just getting the ball in play. I show them a few spin serves, and they are hooked - they want to learn to do that. So after they had practiced basic serves for a while I called them together and gave them a demo of spin serves - backspin serves that came back into the net (to a chorus of "Woh!"), sidespin serves that broke sharply, and topspin serves that jumped. Then I let them take turns trying to return the serves, giving them mostly spin serves, an occasional speed serve, and (when I was feeling diabolical) a high backspin serve that bounced directly back to my side of the table. (I then showed them how to hit this serve for a winner by standing to the side of the table.)

I brought out the colored soccer balls so they could see the spin I was putting on the balls, and had them try to spin the balls off their rackets for practice. At this point they all wanted to learn to put spin on their serves, and even the ones who had never served before were soon trying to serve with backspin - and all of them got at least a semblance of spin on their serves. A few also spent time trying to serve fast serves.

Table Tennis Tips

My new book, "Table Tennis Tips," will be out by the end of April. It's a compilation of all 150 Tips of the Week I wrote every Monday from January 2011 to December 2013, organized in logical progression. It's basically done, both the text and covers, but it's being proofed by a few people before I finalize it.

Tournament Table Tennis

Here's a new video (2:04) that previews Brian Pace's new upcoming video, Tournament Table Tennis. The preview, which has some nice comparisons to martial arts, starts off with a compilation of some scary forehand loops by Brian, and then highlights the techniques used with spoken quotes from Bruce Lee.

Highlights of the U.S. Team Qualifiers

Jim Butler, who has gone from table tennis star to muscle expert to video expert (and still a table tennis star - he made the U.S. team again!) put together highlight videos for all eight players who qualified for the USA Team at the USA Team Trials. They are all linked (along with lots of other videos) at the USA Table Tennis Video page. Included are videos featuring Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu, Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, and Jim Butler. There's also a 2014 US World's Men's Team Highlights video (14:25).

Amazing Point at Para South American Games

Here's the video (1:07) of this great point.

Spring Break Training

Here's video (1:41) of Sean O'Neill's daughter Kaitlyn in training, set to the Oscar-winning song "Let it Go." Most impressive thing to me as a coach: she keeps her free hand up, allowing balance, which leads to easier moving as well as shoulder turn on the forehand. This is one of those little things that younger kids have trouble doing unless you keep reminding them. Oh, and the thumbs up at the end of each segment was nice!

Youngest ITTF World Tour Winners

Here's the article on a pair of 13-year-olds from Japan that won Women's Doubles at the German Open (Mima Ito and Miu Hirano). The picture of their faces was taken when they were told they had won $5000.

New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff and Table Tennis

Here's an article in the Washington Post on Mankoff that features his love for table tennis. Here's the opening paragraph: "Bob Mankoff does more than like ping-pong. He is a man in efficient and focused motion as his paddle smacks each reply with the precision of a punch line. Bap. A forehand sharp as a verbal half-volley. Boop. A backhanded ball cut as thin as a slice-of-life joke. Bam. The clean put-away that requires an almost silly degree of exertion on what he says is a laughably small field of play. But then, this is what Mankoff has been doing most of his comedic career, too: Creating inventive angles and sly spins and rhythmic tricks with relentless attention to detail, as if necessity were the Jewish mother of invention."

Concrete Outdoor Ping Pong Tables Soon to Adorn NYC Parks

Here's the article.

Double-Bladed Paddle

Remember the double-bladed light saber used by Darth Maul in Star Wars 1? (Hey, forget about Jar Binks already!) Well, here's a double-bladed ping-pong paddle! I want one….

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May 16, 2012

MDTTC Featured

The Maryland Table Tennis Center was featured in a story in the Montgomery Gazette this morning. I'm quoted several times. Make sure to click on the pictures! We've been featured in various media hundreds of times over the years.

How does one go about getting press coverage of your table tennis events? It's not difficult, but it does take some time. First, have something to feature. It can be an actual event (tournament, clinic, big league match, etc.), a person (player or coach), or just table tennis in general. (All reporters need an "angle.") Get a listing of all the local media by Googling your city and state along with "newspapers," "TV stations," and "radio stations." Go to their web pages and compile a list of contact emails. Then write a press release about your event, person, or table tennis in general, and send it off.

If you have a really big event, contact the national press - CNN, MSNBC, FOX, USA Today, Associated Press, etc.

If you don't get any nibbles, do it again a week later. You may have to hit them a few times before you get their attention.

How do you write a press release? Just write about what you hope to feature. Make sure to include all the info - the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then check it for spelling and grammar - there are few quicker ways to turn off literary types (and anyone from a newspaper, TV, or radio considers themselves "literary types") than with misspellings and awkward grammar. Write clearly and focus on the facts and anything that you think might interest people. Let them do the color - after they've come and interviewed you!

Sean O'Neill named U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis Coach

Here's the story. Sean was previously the U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis Coach from 2004-2008.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Atlanta

Here's a story about the ITTF Coaching Seminar that USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee is running. (I ran one last April, and plan to run another one at MDTTC in Gaithersburg, MD, tentatively scheduled Aug. 26-30. Let me know if you are interested.)

"As One" breaks 1.2 million

Over 1.2 million in South Korea have seen the new film "As One" in the ten days since its release, according to the Yahoo story. The movie chronicles the joint Korean team that won Women's Teams at the 1991 World Championships. Apparently that's a lot for Korea. I wasn't able to find when the movie opens in the U.S. - anyone know?

King of the Table Matt Kuchar

Matt Kuchar is the best player in the PGA, according to tweets by fellow golfer Jason Dufner. However, Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy "would give him a good match." Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. (As noted in previous blogs, I may be coaching Hardy soon. More on this when it's finalized.)

Profile of the Over 80's

Here's a video (3:48) that features eight players from around the world (with 703 years between them, ranging from 81 to 99 years old, including players from England, Australia, Sweden, and China) competing in Over 80 in the World Veteran Championships in Inner Mongolia. Over 3500 players compete in the tournament.

Ping-Pong Offices

Here's a CNN story from Monday (2:11) about modern offices in Silicon Valley with all sorts of perks - including table tennis!

Paulini and the Ping Pong Song

Here's a new song from Paulini - the Ping Pong Song (2:43)! Sample lyrics: "You're playing ping pong with my heart." Okay, probably not the greatest table tennis song - the first comment underneath says, "For the sake of humanity, please someone shoot this woman." The greatest table tennis music is, and always will be, "Magic Ball," the theme song to the 1989 World Championships (3:09).

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November 7, 2011

Tip of the Week

How to ace an opponent. You can see all the past Tips here, or see link on menu on left.

FIT Open

There's not a whole lot I want to write about. I couldn't move on the slippery floors, or see the ball against the orange-brown tile floors (colored to look like real wood). Players would put the ball to my forehand, normally a strength, and I couldn't move to the ball and couldn't see the ball. Halfway through I withdrew from the tournament. (Several players said that it was much more slippery this year than in past years.) 

The irony is that part of the problem I faced was that I play and coach almost exclusively on the red rubberized flooring at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, with great lighting and background. And so I faced the same thing players at our club have complained about in the past, that they couldn't play effectively in bad conditions. If there were national championships held on slippery floors or other bad conditions, we'd have to train our players in those conditions, but since the vast majority of such matches are on better conditions, we'll just have to live with it in some tournaments.

Personally, I'm going to pretty much avoid ever playing in a tournament where the floors are slippery or the lighting or background make seeing the ball difficult. I'm used to really gripping the floor with my feet and getting quick starts, and seeing the ball pretty much right into my paddle, so when I try to move and my feet slide, or the ball disappears right in front of me, my game pretty much shuts down. Others also had problems seeing the ball, but I think I had more problems than most - could be my eyes simply don't pick up orange objects on an orange-brown background as well as others. It's hard enough being primarily a one-winged forehand attacker at age 51, but on slippery floors where I can barely track the ball? Yikes. I actually reverted to chopping in several matches, with my super-fast racket and fast sponge, and at times played better that way.

Of course, now everyone can say I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), which was where the tournament was held. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around "Fashion" and "Technology" in the same sentence. Sorry fashion people.

Backhand receive of short serves

More and more top players are adopting a new technique of receiving balls short to the forehand with their backhands. This is especially true against backhand serve type sidespin, where it's awkward to get the racket angle right on the forehand side. This went against what almost any coach would teach until just a few years ago. Now it's done regularly by players such as world #1 Ma Long. Here's his match with Ma Lin at the 2011 China Open (8:45), and see the serve returns at 0:38 and 0:54. After that, Ma Lin rarely serves short to the forehand again. Maybe watch the whole match - lots of great shots and tactics.

Which was the better backhand?

Here are two great backhands (0:33) by Timo Boll and Ma Long. Which is better?

A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics

This week I'm in a workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Mon-Fri, 9:30AM-5PM. I did this last year while working on a fantasy novel (now making the rounds of publishers and agents), and did 30,000 words in those five days. This time I'm working on "A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics." (I'm still debating between that title, which I prefer, and "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which I'm told would come up sooner in Internet searches for table tennis.) I've had to do some rearranging of my coaching schedule, but it'll be worth it if I get a lot done. It might mean some rushed blog entries, but we'll see. I hope to have a first draft done by the Nationals in mid-December, and published hopefully sometime early next year.

Sean O'Neill teaches the fundamentals

Five-time USA Men's Singles Champion Sean O'Neill teaches stroking fundamentals in this video (8:21).

Richard McAfee's Micronesian Odyssey

Here's another article on the ITTF webpage on USATT coaching chair Richard McAfee's coaching clinics in Micronesia. Big Mac sure gets around - and with all the ITTF articles, it's a Noisier Mac! (Just kidding - "Noisier Mac" is an anagram for Micronesia, so I had to work that in. Richard could respond, "I Senior Mac," another anagram. Don't you love anagrams?)

Interview at The Daily Quarterly

As noted on Friday, I was interviewed by The Daily Quarterly. Here it is! (Remember, they are a satirical site, and so I gave my answers accordingly.) This is only Part 1; Part 2 goes up next Friday.

Just for Laughs - Table Tennis!

"Just for Laughs" did a table tennis prank video in May this year (1:31). Their description: "Old woman is carrying a box full of ping pong balls, as she gives it to the victim, all the ping pong balls fall and roll everywhere."

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