Butterfly Online

Han Xiao

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 Premium 40+ 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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February 15, 2012

Banana Receives

Perhaps the biggest change at the higher levels in table tennis in recent years is the advent of the backhand "banana" receive. This is the nickname used for a backhand topspin flip of a serve, essentially a mini-loop, with the name referring to the curve the racket goes through with the stroke. It's done against any type of spin, but it's against short backspin that it is most effective. Some do it with straight topspin; most can add sidespin. It's much easier to do this type of shot on the backhand than the forehand, where the wrist is more locked, and so more and more players are covering more and more of the table with this backhand shot. At the U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials this past weekend (Feb. 9-12), it was the receive of choice of nearly every player.

Some players used it nearly every receive they could. Others mixed it up with short pushes. The ones who didn't use it much were thought of as "old school," while all the younger players used the banana flip over and over.

From a server's point of view, it complicates things. If you serve short to a corner, you give the opponent a wide angle. So most short serves go toward the middle of the table, which is easy for the receiver to banana receive. (If you serve long, then it usually gets looped much harder, so that's only done at the higher levels as a surprise variation.) This means most rallies start with the receiver getting in at least a mini-loop. About the only way to avoid this is to serve very wide to the forehand. The problem here is that the receiver then has a wide angle into the server's wide forehand, and since he has to cover that, the server is open to a simple down-the-line receive to the backhand. (This is for two righties; lefties would reverse all this.)

To see a good banana receive, let's look at the tape of the Men's Singles Final at the recent USA Nationals between Peter Li and Han Xiao. (The match doesn't start until 4:30 into the video.) On the very first point, Peter banana receives Han's serve. On the fourth point, Han does the same to Peter's serve. Throughout the match, against short serves, they mix in this shot with short pushes.

One interesting note about Han Xiao's banana receive that I'm particularly proud of - he copied the shot from me! I've been doing a precursor to the shot for decades, with a quick off-the-bounce backhand topspin receive, but it's only a precursor because my shot doesn't have the extreme topspin or sidespin of the modern banana receive. (So I guess I'm still "old school"?) On the ride back from the USA Trials, Han said that during his junior days he was having trouble stopping a local player from third-ball attacking. Then he saw how I disarmed the player with this shot, and so he copied it, added extra topspin, and suddenly he had what would become one of the best banana receives in the country - except, of course, the term "banana receive" wouldn't come out until a number of years later. (He also said that the reason he's so quick on counterlooping strong loops to the forehand without backing up is because of the zillions of practice matches we had, where my best forehand loops were often aimed at his forehand.)

4-F for Table Tennis

Here's my four F's for table tennis, which I often cite to players before matches: Focus, Free-play, Fysical, Fun. Yeah, one doesn't quite fit, spelling-wise, but this is ping-pong, not Scrabble. Maybe 4-F can become as big as 4-H?

TT on NBC News

Here's Michael Landers on NBC News (1:56).

Dial 800 for Kim Gilbert and Soo Yeon Lee

Here's a short video/commercial (I'm not sure which it counts as) by Dial 800, who sponsors table tennis player Kim Gilbert, who is featured in the video with table tennis star, Soon Yeon Lee (1:32).

Rod Blagojevich and Ping-Pong

Here's a video from Yahoo about luxury prisons (1:50) which doesn't mention table tennis until the very end. Then it talks about the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado, which "...offers foosball, pool, and ping-pong," and finishes by saying, "Rod Blagojevich ... will have fourteen years to work on his backhand."

Cho! - 21 times

21 pictures of table tennis players going "Cho!"

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February 14, 2012

Tip of the Week

Those Dizzying No-Spin Serves.

Happy Valentines Day!

Here's your Ping-Pong Champion Valentine!

Results for U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials

Here are the Final Twelve results for Men and Women. (The top ten men and women were seeded into the Final Twelve, with a Qualifier held for the final two spots in each. Here's the Men's Qualifier and the Women's Qualifier.) The top four made the U.S. National Team and advance to the North American Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, April 20-22, where they will compete against the top four Canadians for the three available spots each for men and women. Making the team and advancing were:

Men: Michael Landers, Barney Reed, Adam Hugh, Timothy Wang
Women: Gao Jun, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu

U.S. Olympic Trials News

Here's a rundown of my four days at the Trials, where I coached John Hsu in the Qualifier and Han Xiao in the Final Twelve.

  • John Hsu's (18 years old, rated 2236) first match on Thursday was against Brian Pace (rated 2410). Brian, who spent years in the 2550 range, was staging a comeback, and had been training in Austria. John's a two-winged looper who often opens with spinny backhand loops. Brian, who had switched to short pips on his backhand a while ago (he used to use inverted) is a big forehand looper whose loops prove ping-pong balls can travel faster than light. John moved him around with his two-winged looping, and often took control with his serve and follows, but Brian's "opportunistic" forehand howitzers (opportunistic as in any ball that went long on his side of the table) finally wore him down - barely. Down 6-10 in the seventh, John deuced it, but lost the next two points and the match, -3,9,-8,7,-7,7,10.
  • Han Xiao, alas, also did not make the team, going 6-5 to finish seventh. He was hampered on the last day by a shoulder problem as well as general exhaustion, which everyone seemed to suffer from, so it sort of evened things out. Razvan Cretu said he thought he was going to die during several matches - I think he died a thousand deaths. It's a grueling schedule to play table tennis at the highest level and go through eleven matches in three days, all best 4 out of 7. It was even worse for Razvan, who had to go through the Qualifier the day before. (Perhaps next time have the Qualifier at the Nationals?)
  • Going into the last round, there was a good chance that there would be a five-way tie for the first five positions, all at 8-3. If Han had won his last two matches that's exactly what would have happened. However, after going up 3-0 on Adam Hugh, he lost in seven, and then lost to Michael Landers 4-2. If he'd won those two (coulda, woulda, shoulda) then Han, Landers, Timothy Wang, Barney Reed, and Peter Li would have all been 8-3. (If Adam had won his last match against Timothy, then he would have been the fifth player at 8-3.)
  • I felt uncomfortable coaching against Peter Li, since he was from my club, and I've spent many hours practicing with him, and coached him in many matches during his junior years. However, his dad wanted to coach him that match, so I had to coach Han. In a rematch of the Final of Men's Singles at the USA Nationals in December, Peter won again, 8,-9,9,-2,3,9. Peter had a lot of service faults called against him in the tournament, alas. He tends to throw the ball back and behind his head on his forehand pendulum serves (his best serve), and seemed unable to adjust his service motion. It probably cost him his last match against Mark Hazinski, and he finished fifth and did not make the team or advance. However, I believe there is a coach's pick for the fifth spot on the World Team, and it would be a crime against humanity if Peter, the U.S. National Champion at age 18, is not selected.
  • Grant Li, age 17, was sort of the unsung breakout star at the Trials. Though he only finished 8th, he challenged a lot of players, with wins over Barney Reed, Razvan Cretu, Lubovic Gombos, and Chance Friend, as well as losing 11-9 in the 7th against Han Xiao (leading 9-7 in the last game), going seven games with Michael Landers, and getting two games each against Fan Yiyong and Timothy Wang. He made it through the Qualifier with wins over Jeff Huang and De Tran, the second and third seeds there, both 2500 players.
  • One spectator had brought a very loud noisemaker, and played it over and over when the player he was rooting for won a point.
    • In Han's match against that player, the spectator with the noisemaker sat almost directly behind me, so I was stuck with this blaring sound every couple of points. It gave me a massive headache. There's a difference between a bunch of people with noisemakers in a stands of thousand of people, and a sometimes sparse crowd with one person with such a loud noisemaker. But to each his own.
    • After the match I spoke with the spectator, and pointed out that though they have these things at the World Championships, there the sound blends into the noise from thousands of people in the stands, plus they are much farther from the playing area. In the match against Han, there were only a few dozen in the stands. (In later rounds the stands would fill up with many hundreds.) So the blaring was a real nuisance. However, the spectator insisted on using it throughout the Trials, and I decided not to make an issue of it. The headache never went away - I literally had it the rest of the Trials.
    • There was some discussion of it in the players' lounge, where the consensus was that it was irritating, but to just ignore it. I also sometimes saw something I had seen at the Worlds - a sort of bubble would form around the noise-making spectator as others edged away so as not to have their ears blasted. One elderly spectator complained about it to one of the officials, but was shrugged off. He returned to the stands and sat as far away from the noisemaker as possible.
    • I was disappointed that the spectator didn't care that he was giving me (and presumably others) a massive headache, and that the blaring interrupted the other matches that were going on at that time. His argument was that he was there to cheer on his player. I disagree with his view, but understand it. Ultimately, this was a difference of opinion. (But I'm the one who had to spend three days with a percussion orchestra pounding away in my head.)
    • Unfortunately, the player he was rooting for overheard this and came over and went on a personal attack tirade that I won't repeat here. Not a civilized response. The spectator and I disagreed, but didn't resort to personal attacks. This player did, and was way out of line. 
    • Maybe at the next Trials I'll bring a jackhammer to play between points. :)

Yahoo for Ariel!

Here's an article at Yahoo about U.S. Women's Champion Ariel Hsing and her Olympic hopes.

173 hits in 60 seconds

12-year-old Ai Fukuhara sets the record for most hits in 60 seconds. This is from the TV show "Ultimate Guinness World Records from a few years ago. She is now #9 in the world, and was #7 for two months last year. Here's a more recent photo, and her Wikipedia page.

Lemonade or Tea?

Here's a Snapples commercial that features table tennis.

Swing Pong

How's this for a new type of table tennis (1:01)? The Swing Pong table is a radical take on ping pong. The table tilts at the whim of the referee, the net moves across the table based on the score as to give the losing player an advantage, and photo flashes blind the players through the table.

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January 31, 2012

Different strokes for different folks

It's interesting to watch the natural tendencies of players come out in their play. Yesterday I coached three kids, all beginning-intermediate players.

The first one, age ten, literally takes every ball off the bounce. It is easier for an elephant to fit through the eye of a needle than to get him to hit the ball at the top of the bounce. In a previous era not dominated by looping he'd be a hitter/blocker. These days? I'm not so sure. Right now he hits everything off the bounce; later on, perhaps he'll loop everything off the bounce. He plays at home with a table that has about four feet going back, so that says something about how and why he's developing this way.

Another kid, also about ten, doesn't seem to get the concept of a flat hit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this topspin-dominated age. His version of a forehand-to-forehand warm-up is no different than when he loops, and he doesn't seem to realize this - he uses the same looping stroke for drives and loops, and seems to think he's doing something different, though I haven't found a difference yet. So we've abandoned any pretense of hitting and he just loops everything. Not bad considering he's played about two months.

A third kid, age seven, has the weird habit of hitting until the ball is high. Then he'll wait for it to drop, and loop it! He has loop written all over him, and will probably be looping everything soon. The interesting thing here is that at age seven, he already knows all the best players in the world, and likes to mimic them. Yesterday he was showing off his "Ma Lin backhands," mimicking both Ma's conventional and reverse penhold backhands, though he's a shakehander. He also tried to mimic Timo Boll's loop - needs work.

What are your natural tendencies, and how have you incorporated them into a winning table tennis style?

Busy day

Yesterday was one of the busiest days I've had in a while. I was on the go non-stop the entire time. A quick rundown, in rough order from my todo list - and don't even try to calculate how I fit all this into the roughly sixteen hours I was up.

  • Wrote the Tip of the Week, on "Quick and Variable Blocks," and put online at TableTennisCoaching.com and PaddlePalace.com.
  • Wrote my daily blog.
  • Put new sponge on my forehand.
  • Paid all my bills for the month of January and worked out my finances for the month, including my monthly coaching payment to MDTTC. (I pay them $10/hour for court time.)
  • Updated four web pages.
  • Worked out hotel arrangements for MDTTC camps and tournaments.
  • Watched and took notes for on three matches for upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials
  • Went to bank.
  • Took car to repair shop for various problems, costing about $400.
  • While waiting three hours for car repairs, went to Jerry's Pizza and read and did short critiques on 39 short stories (all under 750 words long, about 27,000 words or 140 pages total) as part of a SF contest. Consumed two small pepperoni pizzas.
  • Coached three hours.
  • Did 40 minute weight training and stretching routine.
  • Did an hour's work on the final rewrite of "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide."
  • Made popcorn and watched The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Han Xiao hoping to grab a U.S. place at the ping-pong table

Here's an article in the Washington Times this morning on Han Xiao. I'm quoted in the story. The other player with the really good backhand? Fan Yiyong. I'll be coaching Han and John Hsu at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC.

United States National Table Tennis League

Here's an article on the new USNTTL! Attila Malek (full-time coach at Power Pong Table Tennis Club in Huntington Beach, CA, and 1979 U.S. Men's Singles Champion) is the prime mover of this league, though there's apparently a group putting it together and financing it.

Royal Navy Table Tennis Book

Here's the Royal Navy Table Tennis Book!

Tribute to Chinese Dominance

Here's a video that pays tribute to China and their dominance of table tennis (5:24).

Bruce Lee Table Tennis Commercial

You've probably seen this video before - but now it's part of a Japanese Nokia camera commercial. There's no hint that it's a commercial until the last ten seconds of this 73-second video. And for our naïve viewers - it's not real. They just took footage of Bruce Lee (or is that an actor portraying him?) and used real table tennis players and computer animation to make it look like he's playing with nunchucks. Or am I the naïve one?

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January 24, 2012

Standing up too straight

Many players stand up way too straight when they play. The result is they are unable to move as quickly as they could if they kept their legs father apart (which also adds stability and power) and bent their knees slightly. It also tends to mess up some strokes, especially on the backhand, where you lose leverage if you stand up straight.

Some players do this because they are getting old and have knee problems, or are overweight, but even then you can get in the habit of bending the knees slightly, as well as keeping the legs a little farther apart. And very young players (or short players) don't want to get down too low because they are already rather short and if they get down any lower they'll have problems on their backhand. 

There's a rather easy cure. Rather than think of getting down, imagine you are covering someone in basketball, or playing shortstop in baseball, or you're the goalie in soccer. As soon as I tell a player to imagine this, they immediately get lower. It's almost impossible not too - you can't do these things in basketball, baseball, or soccer without getting down, and so players instinctively get down. They don't have this same instinct in table tennis, so the habit needs to be learned.

U.S. Olympic Trials Dream

This is a weird one. Last night I dreamed I was at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are coming up in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12. (In real life, I will be there coaching.) Player after player asked if I would coach them, and I kept saying yes. Next thing I know I'm committed to coaching about a dozen players. The players began arguing over me, and then they got hostile toward me. Then I found myself at a match where five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller was playing current U.S. Men's Doubles Champion and Singles Finalist Han Xiao - and I was coaching both sides!

Between games they both came over for coaching. That's when I explained that according to Citizens United, I couldn't coordinate with them on tactics. (I'm an amateur presidential historian, and follow politics closely, alas.) They began arguing with me, and we finally agreed that I could talk to them as long as they didn't talk back, since if they did that would be "coordinating." (In the dream, this made sense.) Then I started telling them both how to play each other, and then the two of them got into an excited discussion about their strengths and weaknesses, and soon I was just listening as they got into a mutual admiration thing.

Then suddenly I found myself coaching USATT Hall-of Famer Diana Gee McDonnell (a U.S. National and Olympic team member circa late 80's and early '90s, who was a resident at the Olympic Training Center back then when I was at various times the manager/director/a coach) against Han! Then I was interrupted by several others who were demanding that I coach them, then Han got angry that I was coaching against him, and Dan's brother Randy Seemiller started yelling at me for not coaching Dan, and then I woke up at 6AM all sweaty and nervous about who I was supposed to coach.

If you want to read about two other weird dreams I've blogged about, see my entries from June 28, 2011 ("U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream") and Jan. 9, 2012 ("Dan Seemiller, ping-pong and waiter"). Will someone tell Mr. Seemiller to please stay out of my dreams!???

Use of the wrist

Here's an interesting discussion of use of the wrist in table tennis. In particular see the ninth posting, which links to videos of wrist usage by "some of our sport's biggest starts." My "short" take on wrist usage? I'll quote Dan Seemiller (geez, here he is again): "When the ball is coming at you slow, use more wrist. When the ball is coming at you fast, use less wrist." Additionally, beginning players shouldn't use much wrist except on the serve and pushing. Instead, just put the wrist back and let it go through the ball naturally. As you advance, you can start using more and more wrist, especially when looping against slower balls.

Anne Cribbs joins USATT Board

Anne Cribbs, an Olympic Gold medallist for swimming at the 1960 Olympics, was named to the USATT Board of Directors. (Strangely, the USATT article mentions she was an Olympic gold medallist but neglects to mention which sport.)

Backhand Sidespin of the Year

Don't practice this in your basement or you might break a side window.

Roller-Coaster Ping-Pong?

Here's the picture - I'd like to see video!

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January 19, 2012

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide - Update

First, let me think the reviewers for their help editing/proofing/critiquing the first draft of the book, which should be available later this year. They are (alphabetically) Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton.

I'd told them I would be starting the (hopefully) finally rewrite from their comments starting this past Tuesday, two days ago. However, with fellow MDTTC coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun temporarily in China, my coaching hours have doubled. Add that I'm still tired from having a cold from Jan. 1-12, that I started weight training again this week (so I'm exhausted from that - see my blog entry from Monday on my back problems), that I'm continually hungry from dieting (after gaining four pounds over the holidays), and that 523 new things came up this week (most involving MDTTC), I'm sorry to say I haven't been able to get started on it yet. Tentatively, in my mind, I'm still going to start on Tuesday, but it'll be next Tuesday. (My weekends and Mondays are busy.)

Backswing on forehand

I was working with a kid yesterday who kept hitting forehands off the end. Like many beginning and even intermediate players, he tended to hit up too much on the ball, focusing on getting the ball over the net even though most misses are off the end. So I told him to shadow stroke his forehand, but freeze at the end of his backswing. Then I went to his side, and shadow stroked my forehand, and also froze at the end of my backswing. My racket was about four inches higher than his. (It doesn't make a difference how tall the player is, the racket should backswing to about the same spot, which for me is about elbow height, while for the kid, about shoulder height.) So he raised his racket to match mine, shadow stroked with the new backswing height (with me harping on remembering the feel of it), and then we went back to hitting. Magically, his forehand smash came alive! (There are differences in backswings based on how much topspin you put on the ball. A player with a very topspinny backhand will have a lower backswing than one who hits flatter. In the case above, both of us were hitting pretty much standard forehands, not too topspinny and not too flat.)

Chocolate quote

I've blogged about how I sometimes give out chocolates as a reward for kids who achieve a certain task, such as hitting a certain number of shots in a row or hitting a target I put on the table. Yesterday I was hitting with an 8-year-old girl who was having trouble getting the thirty forehands in a row she needed to win a chocolate. I jokingly warned her that if she didn't hit thirty, she'd get to watch me eat the chocolate. Her response? "I know you'll give me chocolate because you're a big softy!" (Soon afterward she got the thirty and got the chocolate. And three more before the session was over.)

Tong Tong Gong in Howard County Times

Here's another article about Tong Tong making the USA National Cadet Team. (And that's me in the background! I'm one of Tong Tong's coaches.) Strangely, the Howard Country Times seems to use the Baltimore Sun webspace for their online version. He was also in the Baltimore Sun on Sunday. Here's the print version, with a large picture of Tong Tong.)

Peter Li vs. Timothy Wang

In case you missed it, here's the epic men's singles semifinal match at the 2011 Nationals between 2010 champion Timothy Wang and 2011 champ-to-be Peter Li, where Peter comes back from down 0-3 and multiple match points in the seventh to win, -6,-6,-4,9,10,8,14. It's a long one, just over an hour. And here's the other semifinal, Han Xiao over Chance Friend (7,6,8,-10,8), and the final, Peter Li over Han Xiao (9,7,7,6).

Ping-pong table made of ice!

Yes, it's all part of the Hunter Ice Festival

Racket Repertoire

Here's a hilarious video (2:39) of Wade Sun using just about any available item for a racket. I do the same thing!

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December 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Time-out Tactics.

Christmas Sabbatical

As noted last week, I'll be away for Christmas, so my next blog entry will be right after Christmas. Then I'll return to blogging every morning, Mon-Fri.

USA Nationals

I had a great time last week at the USA Nationals in Virginia Beach. Here are the results. (Make sure to set the tournament field to "2011 US Nationals.") Ty Hoff and I won Hardbat Doubles (my 12th time at the Nationals or Open, eight of them with Ty, the other four with Steve Berger). However, I was mostly there to coach. Below are a number of segments about the Nationals.

USA Cadet Trials

Tong Tong started out poorly, losing numerous close games and matches the first three days, Tues-Thur, Dec. 13-15. However, the BIG event for him was the Cadet Trials, which were on days four and five. Last year he had gone in seeded #9 in the ratings, but made the team (top four) by pulling off four upsets to grab the fourth spot. This year he went in seeded #10 in the ratings, but made the team (finishing third) by pulling off five consecutive upsets! So he made the team two straight years by pulling off nine upsets without losing to anyone below him - not bad. If he had lost any of those nine matches or to anyone below him, he wouldn't have made the team that year. He's the only one to make the team both years. Key to his turnabout in the Trials - stronger mental focus and more two-winged attack. (He'd been playing too much forehand.) We also came very prepared tactically.

Between matches we spent as much time discussing NCIS and the Baltimore Ravens as we did table tennis tactics. He knew that I was doing this just to get his mind off table tennis, making it easier to clear his mind and focus when the time came, and he was smart enough to play along.

All-Maryland Men's Final

18-year-old Peter Li made an incredible comeback in the semifinals against defending champion Timothy Wang - who had beaten him in the final the year before - coming back from down 0-3 in games and from two match points in the fifth (after blowing a 9-4 lead!) to win, -6,-6,-4, 9,10, 8, 14. This led to an all-Maryland final between Peter and Han Xiao. (Han had his own deuce-in-the-seventh win in the quarters over Michael Landers.) During their junior years I played Han and Peter probably 700 matches and countless hours of training. (They were both primarily students of Cheng Yinghua.) Han also won men's doubles for the third time, teaming this time with Timothy Wang. Peter made the final of Mixed Doubles with Lily Zhang.

Other Marylanders who did well: Derek Nie made the final of Boys' 10 and Under Singles, losing the final 11-9 in the fifth (after leading 9-7, alas). Crystal Wang made both the cadet and mini-cadet girls' teams and got second in Girls 10 and Under Singles. Amy Feng made the quarters of Women's Singles. Charlene Liu won Over 50 Women's Singles. Mort Greenberg won over 80. Steve Hochman and Jeff Smart pulled off a flurry of upsets to make the final of Over 50 Doubles. Timothy La got second in Standing Disabled. And as noted, Tong Tong Gong made the National Cadet Team. 

Enez

Several people were calling this Nationals the Enez Nationals. Enez is the device that reads whether a racket has illegal vapors coming out of it, indicating illegal gluing or some other substance. There are some problems with this as sometimes new sponge right out of the package fails the test, so you have to air the rubber out for a bit. The device devastated the men's draw. Here's a short rundown - I'm sure I'm missing some, so feel free to chat if there are any I missed. Top seed David Zhuang was defaulted when both his rackets failed the test. Dan Seemiller's primary racket failed the test, so he had to use a backup. Barney Reed's racket failed the test, and he had to play with a borrowed racket.

Umpiring at the Nationals

Nearly all of the umpires did a fantastic job, and I tried to remember to thank them after each match (though I sometimes forgot in all the excitement - my apologies). They are often the forgotten and unthanked ones. We should make it a policy to really thank umpires when they do a good job, and understand the pressures they are under when they don't seem to be doing so well. It happens.

There were some problems. One cadet in the final twelve used illegal hidden serves over and over, and many of the umpires wouldn't call it. Ironically, his serves were faulted numerous times - forcing him to change to a legal motion - in the match before and after playing Tong Tong, but in their match the umpire wouldn't call the serves, putting Tong Tong at a huge disadvantage. However, Tong Tong persevered and barely won, deuce in the fifth after being down match point. The umpire graciously admitted after the match that he simply couldn't tell that the serves were hidden, that the motion was simply too fast, and in a future match he was scheduled to umpire that involved that cadet, he switched with another umpire. (I actually came prepared with printouts of this cadet's serve, showing it was illegal, but it really does happen so fast that umpires are hesitant to call it - but there is that rule that says the umpire must be satisfied that the serve is legal, so if he's not sure, he should warn and then fault.)

If Tong Tong had lost this match because of these illegal serves, it would have knocked him off the team. But how can you enforce the hidden serve rule in the cadet trials when anyone could see that many or most of the top men were clearing hiding their serves, and that it wasn't being called?

During one break, I chatted with an umpire, and made the jaw-dropping discovery that he thought that the service rule said that receiver must only see contact, and that there was no rule about removing the playing arm as long as it doesn't hide contact. Actually, receiver must be able to see the ball throughout the service motion (not just the split second at contact), and the non-playing arm must be removed immediately after tossing the ball up from the area between the ball and the net. (I'm just paraphrasing the rules.) I showed him the actual rules, and he was rather surprised.

Tong Tong got faulted in one match for dropping his hand below the table level while projecting the ball upward. In that situation, it's a rather petty rule, and yet it's a rule, correctly called - but few umpires call this. I'd never noticed how Tong Tong sometimes drops his hand during his toss, but it was an easy fix. This same umpire was one of the few who also correctly faulted players for hiding their serves.

The big umpiring problem in the Cadet Trials

There was one really serious umpiring problem that's going to bother me for a long time. In the crossovers for the top four, Tong Tong was faulted several times by an umpire for apparently hiding his serve, which he absolutely does not do. During the match, I was stunned by this, as was Tong Tong. He was forced to change his well-practice and legal service motion. After the match, which Tong Tong lost 11-8 in the fifth, I asked the umpire why he had faulted Tong Tong's serve. He said that the rules state that throughout the service motion, the ball must be visible to the receiver and the umpire! That simply is not true. (However, I wish it were a rule - but if it were, players would learn to serve that way.) A number of people probably saw my reaction to this in the arena, and it wasn't happy time.

I pulled out the USATT rules and showed him the actual wording of the rule, but he brushed that off, saying that the tournament was being played under ITTF rules, and that their rules were different. I was quite surprised that the USA Nationals would be using ITTF rules instead of USATT rules, but it didn't matter - the service rules for both are identical, as was shortly verified at the control desk. The umpire said it didn't matter, that it was impossible to tell if the serve was visible to the receiver unless the umpire could see the ball throughout the serve - again, this is false. A player hides the ball from the receiver by sticking his arm or shoulder out, or turning his back partly to his opponent at contact, and if he doesn't, then he's not hiding the serve, even if the umpire cannot see the ball throughout the serve. When a player lines up sideways to serve forehand, the umpire often cannot see the ball, but it's obvious to the umpire that the ball is visible to the opponent, which is what the rules require. If the intent of the rule was that the receiver and the umpire should both see the ball throughout the serve, then that's what the rule would say.

By this umpire's definition, essentially every forehand serve would be illegal on one side of the table if there were one umpire, including Tong Tong's opponent, whose serves were not called, despite his also having his back to the umpire when he started this serve. (Perhaps because Tong Tong is bigger and turns his back more to the umpire, but in both cases there is no way the umpire saw the ball throughout the service motion of either player when they were on the umpire's right.) If umpires do want to rule that they must be able to see the ball throughout the serve, then make that clear so players can practice their serves that way - and then enforce the rule with everyone.

The umpire said that if there had been an assistant umpire, then the serve would have been legal. And sure enough, in Tong Tong's next and final crossover match (for third and fourth), the same umpire was sent out. I requested a second umpire, and it was approved. Tong Tong went back to his regular service motion, neither umpire warned or faulted him, and he won the match.

One of the more experienced umpires explained to me later what almost for certain happened here. The current rules say that the umpire must be satisfied that the server is serving legally. However, the wording used to be that the umpire must see that the server is serving legally, and this had been misinterpreted as saying that the umpire must see the ball throughout the service motion. Because of this common misinterpretation, the wording was changed from "see" to "satisfied." It is likely that the umpire was going by the misinterpretation of the previous rule. I actually feel bad for the umpire - he must realize by now that he made a mistake, and that Tong Tong's serve was completely legal. Calling the service rule is by far the hardest thing to do in umpiring, and I don't envy their jobs. 

Alas, we'll never know what would have happened in that match had the umpire not improperly intervened. The two were about as evenly matched as possible; they had played earlier in the tournament in a different event, and that time Tong Tong had been up 10-8 match point before losing deuce in the fifth. It's possible the service interruptions hurt the opponent's focus as well. Without the service problem, it might have been another deuce-in-the-fifth battle. Who knows.

Regardless of that match, the cadets this year were without a doubt the strongest ever in U.S. history in terms of depth. Players that made the team a few years ago likely wouldn't have made the final twelve this year. Congratulations to the four team members - Teddy Tran, Kanak Jha, Tong Tong Gong, and Kunal Chodri!

Sandpaper

I was primarily coaching Tong Tong Gong. However, I was also coaching Ty Hoff in the sandpaper event - yes, I'm now a "professional sandpaper coach" - but he unfortunately lost in the semifinals. I also coached several others.

Table Tennis Videos from Elie

Here's a series of short table tennis coaching videos from Coach Elie Zainabudinova from the Gilbert Table Tennis Center. (Some of them start with a short advertisement.)

Table Tennis Dance

Here's a dance tribute to table tennis (2:40)! (Starts with a short ad.) And here's the St. Louis Junior Team Table Tennis Dance at the 2005 Chinese New Year Festival (3:55), and the Adam Bobrow's Victory Dance (1:11, make sure to watch to the end, starts with short ad).

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