Players from Training Centers vs. Regular Clubs - Style Differences
Ever notice that you can tell much of a player's background just by watching his style and strokes? The most obvious thing is whether the player came out of a training center (i.e. regular coaching and training, constantly surrounded by top players with good technique) versus those who come out of regular clubs (mostly learned on their own by watching local players, who didn't always have the best technique, and developed mostly by playing matches). These are not rules, just general things you mostly see that tell the player's background. It's mostly about where the player started - a self-taught player who then joins a training center will still have some semblance of those self-taught strokes and style even after years of training.
Players from training centers generally have nice, smooth technique. Even when the technique isn't perfect it's usually close to where only a discerning coach can really tell the difference. They generally play close to the table from hours and hours of coaches stressing this. They almost always loop from both sides. Many almost never smash, instead looping winners even off balls that are eye level or higher. They often topspin their backhands, even in faster rallies, often without backing up much. They rarely push more than once in a row. They move smoothly and quickly, with great balance. Their serves are often seeming mirror images of top players serves - mostly forehand regular and reverse pendulum serves.
Players from regular clubs often have more ragged strokes, though they get the job done for their level. The technique is often jury-rigged and awkward, which leads to inconsistency but - as a partial equalizer - means their shots come out erratically, which causes problems for opponents. They may stay at the table, or they may back off, if they have fast feet (which is not the same thing as good footwork, but it's a major component). In a rally they either hit the forehand or back off to loop, while mostly hitting flat backhands. They often have nice smashes. Against weaker players, they dominate with opening loops and follow-up smashes; against stronger players they are turned into blockers. They'll often push several balls in a row. They are often off balance and don't realize it. They often have a large variety of spinny serves, but individually the serves are not that deceptive, relying on different motions rather than deceptive motions for their effectiveness.
Remember, these are just generalities. There are players who have trained half their lives at training centers and still look like amateurs, while some from regular clubs pick up on high-level technique and look like they've trained with coaches since they were kids - but they are the exceptions. Some of the most interesting matches are clashes between these two types of players. The player from the training center struggles to adjust to the erratic and "weird" shots of the regular club player, who in turn struggles to adjust to the superior technique of the training center player. Which are you?
2014 USA National Team Trials Extended Preview
Here's the video (5:24)! The Trials are this Fri-Sun at Texas Wesleyan University. This is a great compilation of USA players winning big matches, often the championship point at past USA Nationals. I was there for most of them!
Samson Dubina Coaching Tips
He's been putting up short tips almost daily in the news section of his webpage. (Expect a few bible verses as well…)
Interview with Adham Sharara, ITTF President
Here it is, published yesterday by ITTF.
Interview with Vladimir Samsonov, Chair of the ITTF Athletes Commission
Here it is, published yesterday by ITTF.
Ma Lin Hopes to Produce an Olympic and World Champion
Here's the article. Ma is now the director of the Guangzhou Table Tennis Management Centre.
Jean-Michel Saive Wins 25th Belgium Men's Singles Title
Here's the article. (He's 44.)
Here's their web page. They are a charity event for 826DC, which had its kickoff yesterday and continues through March 30. "826DC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write."
Amayzlin - Music Trailer
Here's the table tennis music video (4:05), created and starring Alex Mayzlin - actor, singer, musician, songwriter . . . and 2100 table tennis player. "This is my life. This is what I do. I wouldn't have it any other way."
The Ping Pong Ambassador
Non-Table Tennis - Phone Scam
On Feb. 27, I wrote about coaching scams. Well, I almost got scammed in a non-table tennis way, though I caught it just in time. I don't make or receive a lot of phone calls - I'm more of an emailer - so when my phone stopped working on Saturday I didn't notice at first. I made a call to MDTTC that morning, and got a message saying the phone was disabled or no longer working (something like that), and assumed there was something wrong with their phone. I didn't make or receive any calls on Monday. On Tuesday I called a bank to make sure they were open (lots of snow outside), and got a similar answer. So I tested it and discovered I got the error message no matter who I called. I also realized I hadn't received or made a call since Friday. Then I remembered a "junk" email I'd received from Verizon Wireless (my cell phone carrier) that thanked me for upgrading my service. I'd deleted it, thinking it was some sort of spam, but now I pulled it out of the trash and printed it out.
I drove to Verizon Wireless (roads were fine - only local schools were closed) and they took about an hour trying to figure out the problem. They had to call their own technical support. They discovered that my "upgrade" had added five new phone numbers to my account, and that this upgrade had caused my phone to stop working since it hadn't been approved for my cell phone (something like that). After some investigation, they told me that someone had gone into an Apple store on Saturday (they think one in New York), and had done the upgrade, somehow using my password, and getting five new cheap cell phones. It was a scam - the person had then sold the five cell phones to people overseas at highly inflated prices. For the scam to work, he had to have a valid account (mine, don't know how he got my password, I've since changed it), so he could get the five new numbers and cell phones. I was told that if I hadn't acted right away by going to Verizon, within days I would have gotten a phone bill for approximately $4000!
So if you've called me in the last few days and couldn't get through, now you know why.
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Want to Improve? Compete with a Junior!
Here's a little tip for those who want to improve. Every club has some up-and-coming junior who practices regularly and keeps getting better. Well, why not grab his coattails (even if you are currently better), and try to stay with him? It gives incentive and can lead to great improvement. Make a friendly rivalry out of it, perhaps practice with and play the kid regularly. As he improves, he'll push you to improve.
It may be counter-intuitive, but even if you are better, and practicing with the kid seems to help him more than you (and thereby make it "harder" to stay with him), it works both ways. His improvement will push you to higher levels, either to stay ahead or to stay with him. He probably plays faster than you; his speed will push you to rally and react at a faster pace. As he gets better, he'll push you to find new ways to win points, and suddenly you'll be thinking more about the aspects where you should have an advantage due to experience: serve, receive, heavy spins (topspin and backspin), placement, or just plain consistency. You'll have incentive to develop these aspects in ways you might not do against other players who are not improving so much. The more he adjusts to you and improves, the more you'll adjust to him and improve. And you can ride his improvement as long as you can, right up to a pretty high level. And if he does finally pull away, with you metaphorically kicking and screaming all the way as you try to stay with him, you'll both have improved dramatically, and will be able to point at this star in the future and say, "I was his practice partner." He may even remember you someday during his USATT Hall of Fame induction speech!
We had the second meeting of the new class yesterday. (Ten Mondays, 6:30-8:00 PM.) There are eleven in the class, ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties. We started with a forehand review and warm-up. I had most hit among themselves. Two players were complete beginners, so I put them with my assistant coach, John Hsu, who did mostly multiball with them.
Then I called everyone together and John and I did a backhand demo, and I lectured on the intricacies of the shot - foot stance, racket tip (sideways or 45 degrees), contact (flat or topspin), etc. Then they paired off for practice again (with the new players with John again). Later I called everyone together again to demo and explain down-the-line shots (on forehand, line up shoulders properly and take the ball later), and then they practiced down the line. Then I called them together again and did a review of serving with spin, which I taught last week. Then we went over service deception. (One key concept I explained is that even if you can't come close to doing it now, it's important to know what's possible so you can work toward it.) I went over the three main types of service deception - sheer spin, semi-circular motion, and spin/no-spin combos.
After serve practice we played a little game the last 5-7 minutes where we stacked ten paper cups in a pyramid, and everyone had ten shots (fed multiball) to see how many they could knock over. (We used two tables, so John and I both fed shots.)
Two players had missed last week session so I stayed 30 minutes afterwards to recap for them what had been covered the previous week - grip, ready stance, forehand, and serving with spin.
USATT Minutes and Reports
Lots of breaking news from USATT. Below are the minutes from the USATT's two-day board meeting at the USA Nationals and from their January teleconference, the news item on the new tournament sanctioning procedures (no more tournament protection, i.e. pure free market), and the 2014 budget. My last two blogs were mostly about an interview with the ITTF president and about the chair of the USATT board's report, so today I'm going to go back to blogging about the emphasis for this blog - coaching - and save my thoughts on the below for later.
Top Ten Shots at the 2014 Qatar Open
Here's the video (4:40).
Here it is! Anyone know who Kosto and Zik are?
Exhibition Tricks from Scott Preiss
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Table Tennis Online
As ITTF Coach John Olsen recently pointed out to me, we live in the golden age of online table tennis. You can watch just about any major table tennis match online these days, both live and afterwards. Over the last few days (and below) I've given links for many of the major matches taking place at the Chinese World Team Trials. During major USA Table Tennis events (Nationals, Open, Team Trials), you can watch the matches live as well. And you can go to youtube and find just about anything - just put in "Table Tennis" and anything else you are looking for. Over the weekend John watched the live streaming of the Swedish Nationals, the English Championships, and the Norwegian Championships. (Note that some of the links here that gave the live streaming still have the videos online.)
The availability of videos of the top players is one of the biggest advantages this generation of players has over past ones - along with more coaches and better sponge. On the other hand, there's also a disadvantage to the easy availability of these videos - players tend to watch a video and then move on to the next, and so don't really learn all that's going on. In the old days, there were fewer videos around, and so players would watch the same ones over and Over and OVER - and would pretty much memorize every point, not to mention really learning what the players did from sheer viewing repetition. I remember back in the late 1970s (when I was learning to play) having trouble with pips-out penholders. Then I got a copy of the famous Stellan Bengtsson vs. Mitsuro Kohno tape from the quarterfinals of the 1977 Worlds, and watched it endlessly, and my level against that style went up dramatically. (Pips-out penholder Kohno won, 19 in the fifth, in what many considered the "real" Men's Singles final as it was likely the best match of the tournament. Kohno went on to win the title.)
Jim Butler on Serves
Here are some nice quotes from four-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler on serving, which he posted yesterday on the about.com table tennis forum. He used to have the best serves in the country, and now, at age 42, he's made a comeback - and he may once again have the best serves in the country.
"I've decided to put a lot of time into practicing my serves. Improvement there takes the least physical energy. I have the motion and understanding already down. To have great serves, they must be practiced daily in order to make them a weapon."
"I'm working on the forehand pendulum right now. I want to have a good chop and topspin mix like that young Chinese kid in Westchester. His serves destroyed me, and I'd like to have those. Easiest way to be competitive in Table Tennis is to have dominating serves."
The Amazing Tomahawk Serve of Kenta Matsudaira
Here's the video (1:09). Note how he can break it both ways - and see the side-by-side slow motion of the two versions. The real question for all you serious table tennis players: Why haven't you developed equally good serves? It's just a matter of technique and practice! If you don't have the technique, see a coach or watch videos and learn. (You don't need to match Kenta's serves - there are many other good serving techniques.) If you don't practice . . . well, then you'll never have the serve of Kenta Matsudaira, and you'll never be as good as you could have been. (This type of serve has been around for a long time. Dean Doyle specialized in this serve when he made the U.S. Pan Am Team over 30 years ago.)
Remembering Zhuang Zedong and Ping-Pong Diplomacy
ITTF President Election
ITTF President Adham Sharara is running for re-election - but he's unopposed so far. The election will take place during the upcoming World Championships in Paris, May 13-20, 2013.
Hunter Pence and Ping-Pong
Here's an article about how the Hunter Pence, an outfielder with the LA Dodgers, builds confidence with ping-pong.
The Terminator vs. Scottie
Here's a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger and table tennis exhibition star Scott Preiss just after their game ended in a "3-3 tie" at the Arnold Sports Classic in Columbus, OH this past week.
Chinese World Team Trials
Here are some nice matches, with time between points removed so it's non-stop action.
Swedish Men's Singles Final
Here's the video (6:53, with time between points removed) as Fabian Akerström upsets Jens Lundquist in the final. Akerström plays with long pips on the backhand - but he's so forehand aggressive it's sometimes difficult to notice.
More TT Videotapes
Here's a Facebook page devoted to collecting table tennis videos.
The Dirty Dozen Throwdown
It's on, this Friday at 9PM: Gideon "The Pigeon" Teitel (17-year-old 150-lb lobber) vs. Sam "the Rock" Rockwell (13-year-old 81-lb attacker). Between them they've had three and a half years of intense training, all leading to this moment.
Monsters University, the upcoming sequel to Monsters Inc. from 2001, will be the greatest movie of all time. How do we know? Here's an animated scene from the movie showing the characters playing table tennis!
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Tip of the Week
Week One Day Five and Week Two Begins
Last week was Week One of the MDTTC camp season, with 34 players. We've got eleven weeks of camps, so one down, ten to go!
On Friday morning I gave a lecture on pushing. Topics included the basic push; pushing quick and long, pushing heavy and long, short pushing, and pushing with a purpose. The rest of the morning was multiball. As is our norm, Friday mornings is "player's choice," where the player tells the coach what he wants to work on. If he isn't sure the coach makes suggestions or chooses the drill. Other "highlights" included box battles. (Apparently one kid really, Really, REALLY wanted a particular box to catch balls in, and when another kid wouldn't let him have it, well, things got ugly for a few minutes. Yes, this is a table tennis camp.)
During break I watched the kids play a fascinating game of "24." No, it didn't involve Jack Bauer torturing terrorists who are trying to nuke U.S. cities; it involved dealing out four cards, and trying to find a way to get to 24, using all four cards and using simple arithmetic functions. (Aces are worth 1, face cards 10.) For example, if the cards dealt are K, 7, 3, 2, then (Kx2)+(7-3)=24. I doubt if they thought of it this way, but I couldn't help think how similar this was to table tennis tactics in a match, where you have only a few seconds between points to puzzle out what to do the next point, just as here they had only a few seconds to solve the puzzle.
This morning we start Week Two. (I'll be missing this Friday, and the first three days of Week Three, since I'll be at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids. But Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang are staying home to run the camp.)
Dora and the Sports Psychology Workshop
On Friday night Table Tennis Sports Psychologist Dora Kurimay traveled down from New York to give a sports psychology workshop at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. About fifteen players attended. The workshop went over the main points of her book, "Get Your Game Face On!" (Here's my review of the book on the USATT web page.) Topics included the Four R's (Reaction, Recovery, Ready, and Ritual), the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and other sports psychology topics. If you are interested in a sports psychology workshop at your club, see her webpage.
Scott Preiss and Dr. Eric Owens
Here's a nice exhibition (2:42) by Scott Preiss and, yes, DR. Eric Owens. (Our 2001 U.S. Men's Singles Champion now is a medical doctor.) The Ping Pong Man (that's Scott) and the Doctor are performing at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles for the US Olympic Committee and Olympic sponsors.
Dumb Anti-Obama Posting
For the last few days USATT has featured on their home page a picture of President Obama holding up an ICC Table Tennis shirt. (Here's a direct link to the article and picture - scroll down to see the picture, or go directly to it.) Someone posted a bunch of anti-Obama nonsense on a table tennis forum, writing "SHAME on USATT" for "posting pro obama nonsense," and linking to an anti-Obama video that insults the intelligence of anyone with a brain, Democrat, Republican, or Independent. (Thankfully, the moderators deleted it soon afterwards.) First, this was no "pro obama nonsense," simply a neutral picture of the President of the United States holding up a table tennis shirt, a great promotional item for table tennis. Second, it's a TABLE TENNIS forum, not a political forum. Third, can't these types of people see the difference between the president, who happens to be Obama, and Obama, the person who happens to be a president they don't like?
Milwaukee's Airport and Table Tennis
CNN did a special on "14 airport amenities that will make you long for a layover." The picture nine of them; see #8!!! Yes, it's a ping-pong table at Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport! I actually walked by it at last year's U.S. Open in Milwaukee, and considered joining in with the ones playing, but ended up just watching it.
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USA Cadet Depth
The depth of play at the cadet level (which roughly means under age 15) has dramatically increased over the lasts five years in the USA. How did this happen and how much stronger is it? First I'm going to digress to five years ago.
In December, 2006, at the USA Table Tennis Board meeting at the USA Nationals, I gave a Junior Training presentation. USATT had struggled for years to find ways to increase the number and level of our juniors, and at the same time was focused on developing elite players. I argued that the solution to both these problems was for USATT to recruit and train coaches to set up full-time training centers and junior programs. USATT was already running coaching clinics; why not just change the emphasis?
The response was, at best, weird. Most of the board loved the idea, crossed it off the agenda, and went on to the next item. It was as if they had no way of actually implementing things they wanted to do. Two board members did speak up strongly against the idea, arguing that we had no idea if there was a demand for such training centers, and if we got coaches to set them up, what if nobody came?
I'm not making this up. (To those of you who aren't sure why this is so silly, it's because the most basic part of setting up a full-time training center or junior program is that you learn how to recruit new players. You don't wait until a hundred players magically appear, waiting in a parking lot for you to open a training center; you open the training center and recruit new players.) In September, 2009, I made the same argument at the USATT Strategic Meeting, but again to no avail.
The reaction to my proposal in 2006 was a primary reason why I resigned one month later as USATT editor and club programs director. But the funny thing is I'm no longer so sure USATT should get involved in these matters, since it's not a high-priority issue for them. I may open my own table tennis coaches academy to recruit and train coaches.
As I noted in my 2006 presentation, there were only about ten serious junior programs and about the same number of full-time training centers in the country. The Maryland Table Tennis Center (my home club, which I co-founded in 1991) had been dominating junior table tennis in the country for 15 years. There wasn't a whole lot of competition during those years as there were so few places in the U.S. actually devoted to training juniors. Boy has that changed!
There are now about fifty full-time training centers, and nearly that many serious junior programs. (Not all full-time training centers have serious junior programs, though most do, and there are some serious junior programs that do not have a full-time training center.) These training centers have been popping up all over the U.S. in the last five years, especially in the Bay area and other regions in California, and in various places in the northeast. (There are now five full-time table tennis centers within 45 minutes of me here in Maryland.) Imagine if USATT had helped out in recruiting and training these coaches - they wouldn't have had to keep reinventing the wheel. We'd probably have over a hundred by now. (And what was the goal of my presentation? "One hundred serious junior training programs in five years.") Even now, if someone wants to open a full-time training center, there is no manual, no guidance; one either has to re-invent the wheel or go to one of the current ones and ask them how they did it. (I did write on my own the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers how to set up and run a junior program, but not how to set up and run a full-time training center.)
What is the result of all these new training centers over the past five years? The results are overwhelming. Here's a rundown of the past five years:
But it's the depth at the higher levels that really stands out. I have copies of the Nov/Dec 2006 and Nov/Dec 2011 USATT Magazines in front of me, both opened to the age rankings which list the top 15 for each category. I also used the "Customizable Member Lists" in our online ratings to check rankings. Here's a comparison.
Under 18 Boys:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2159.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2593 to 2337.
- The 2159 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #54.
Under 16 Boys:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2087.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2540 to 2281.
- The 2087 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #49.
Under 14 Boys:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2323 to 1870.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2417 to 2173.
- The 1870 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #55.
Under 12 Boys:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 1440.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2417 to 1889.
- The 1440 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #48.
Under 10 Boys:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 620.
- In 2011, it ranged from 1900 to 1133.
- The 620 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #33.
(Note - while the #1 under 10 in 2006 was Feng Yijun at 2044, the #2 was only 1495, which would have been #6 in 2011.)
Under 18 Girls:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2330 to 1811.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2544 to 2090.
- The 1811 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #47.
Under 16 Girls:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2113 to 1620.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2544 to 1973.
- The 1620 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #48.
Under 14 Girls:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 1432.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2218 to 1717.
- The 1432 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #31.
Under 12 Girls:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 553.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2150 to 1007.
- The 553 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #38.
Under 10 Girls:
- In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 894 to 80.
- In 2011, it ranged from 2150 to 332.
- The 80 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #23.
* * * * *
Finals of Men's Singles at the 2011 World Championships
For those of you who missed it, here's Zhang Jike and Wang Hao playing the final of Men's Singles at the 2011 World Championships, with the whole thing in just 12:11 (the time between points has been removed).
Three interesting articles from ITTF
Matt Lauer's Epic Match
Here's the article's title: "Matt Lauer Has Epic Ping Pong Match With The Elderly Couple Who Couldn’t Figure Out A Webcam."
"Loopers" - the movie
You know when they make a movie about loopers - with Bruce Willis! - that the sport is taking off. I think. The irony is the movie is really about killing, and looping pretty much ended the hitting style at the higher levels.
28,818 ping-pong balls in a Toyota Prius
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