Austin Preiss

May 31, 2012

Forehand Looping from Backhand Corner

There's a discussion at the forum about a point showing Larry Bavly (Heavyspin) winning a point with a "relatively low speed block to show that all points do not have to be won by hitting the ball hard." He does this against an opponent who had forehand looped from the wide backhand corner. There was some debate as to how this happened. The basic problem was that the woman looping against Bavly was rushed, and so was left off balance at the end of the stroke, and unable to recover back into position for the next shot. Here's the video. (This will download the video as a wmv file, which you should be able to play.) See how she is off-balanced at the end of the stroke, leaning to her left (our right)?

Now watch this example (in the point starting at 2:41) on youtube of a player doing the same shot and having no trouble covering the wide forehand for the next shot. This is a match between Wang Liqin (near side, in yellow shirt) versus Ma Long (far side, purple shirt). Wang is serving. Ma pushes the serve back, blocks the next ball, then steps way around his backhand to forehand loop. Wang blocks the ball to Ma's wide forehand, and Ma has no trouble covering it. Throughout the match watch how both players take turns ripping forehand loops, and see how fast they recover - because they are balanced throughout the shot, and so are able to recover almost instantly for the next shot. (Watch the slow motion replay.) There's another example of Ma doing this at 4:35, though this time he barely is able to cover the wide forehand  Note how the players sometimes even use their momentum from the previous shot to get back into position.

A similar point happens in the second point shown, starting 22 seconds in. This time it's Wang Liqin who steps around to forehand loop, and is ready to cover the wide forehand. Ma actually blocks more to the middle of the table, but you can see Wang was ready to cover the wide forehand - and since the ball wasn't so wide, he is able to take this ball right off the bounce. (Watch the slow motion replay of this point.) There's another point like this starting at 2:24, where Wang again steps around to forehand loop, and is immediately able to cover the wide forehand - but this time, while he's there, he misses. There's another one at 3:43 where Wang against steps around, and this time Ma has an extremely wide angle to block to. Watch how easily Wang recovers and moves to cover the wide forehand, though Ma misses the block.

Regardless of where you are looping from, or even what stroke you are doing, balance throughout the stroke and rally is one of the key differences between elite and non-elite players. Players who can do repeated attacks in the same rally can do so because they are balanced and in control of their positioning and momentum; players who can only do one or at most two good shots in a row are usually off-balanced and not really in control. This doesn't mean you should always be perfectly centered between your feet, but that your weight should almost always be centered somewhere between your feet, with you in control of your body positioning, regardless of the momentum from the previous shot.

We won't talk about the rather awkward (but effective this time) "Seemiller" style block Bavly uses this point. Some things better remain unspoken.

Serving Short and Low

Are you playing in the Easterns this weekend, or any other upcoming tournaments? Have you been practicing your spinny serves so you can keep them short and low? No? Good. Then if you play anyone I'm coaching (and I'm coaching at the Easterns), we're going to loop or flip your serve in, and like the piggy with no roast beef, you'll cry all the way home. Oh, you've changed your mind, and decided to practice your serves? (Monday's Tip of the Week will be on how to do this. And no, you don't have to serve short all the time, just most of the time, or at least when facing an opponent who can effectively loop your serve.)

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Overcoming Fear of Defending (1:32)

Joint Table Tennis and Golf Scholarship

Austin Preiss is going to Lindenwood College on a joint table tennis and golf scholarship, which must be a first. Here's the article. Some of you may know Austin both as a top junior player the last few years and for doing exhibitions around the country with his father Scott.

Stop-Motion Video Ping-Pong

This was a school project by someone, but it's hilarious, and gets better and better as it goes on (2:26).


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January 17, 2012

One-year Anniversary

Yes, it was on January 17, 2011 that I did my first blog entry here. That's was mostly an intro to the site, with a few coaching news items. The January 18, 2011 entry was where things began to take off! ("The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players," "The Backhand No-Spin Serve From the Forehand Court" (see the context), and a couple of other news items.) And then on January 19, 2011 we covered "Closing Out a Match" and "The Carrot and Celery Diet" - yes, that's when I started on my diet, going from 196 lbs to 174, which is my current weight.

And here we are, 248 blog postings later!

Drive-Smash Day

Yesterday was "Drive-Smash Day" during my coaching, with three sessions with three semi-beginning junior players. This is a drill where the player hits a regular drive, and then smashes, and then another drive, then a smash, and so on, alternating. The drive gets the rally back under control and helps the player work on his stroke, and then he gets to practice smashing. It also helps develop timing as they play at different speeds. It's done both forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, and either crosscourt or down the line. (One variation I just thought of I haven't done is they drive down the line, then smash crosscourt, or perhaps the reverse. Have to try that one.) 

A variation for more advanced players is to do this looping - something I plan to introduce to some students next week, both with regular drills and multiball. In this case the player does a regular loop, and then loops one very hard, and continues alternating.

A key for this drill is not to press too hard on the forehand smash or hard loop - let the naturally body rotation provide the power. Many players try to muscle the ball, and end up with a sort of jerky or spastic shot as they try to power the ball mostly with the arm. One thing I like to demonstrate is that you should be able to smash or loop at near full power while carrying on a conversation. (I say "near" full power because you shouldn't think of using "full" power as that leads to trying to muscle the ball. You actually get full power by letting the body swing naturally into the ball on the forehand, but it may seem like less than full power.)

Another article on Vitali Klitschko

Yesterday we linked to an article on world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and his table tennis. Here's another one, this time with a picture!

World-class table tennis in slo-mo

Here's a video of world-class play in slow motion (1:49).

Austin Preiss training in China

Here's a video of Austin Preiss training in China (2:34) at age 7 in 2002, ten years ago. He was only rated about 1100 at the time. He'd spent much of the next decade touring with his father, Scott, who does exhibition shows full-time for a living (see

Judah Friedlander

Here are five things you didn't know about him - see #3! I've coached him on and off over the years when he's been in Maryland, usually on holidays - he's actually from Maryland, though he lives in NYC where he stars in the TV comedy 30 Rock and does standup comedy. He has a USATT rating of 1515. Part of his standup routine is that he's the "World Champion" at everything, including table tennis. Here are some pictures of him playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 (with Spider-man) photo4 (Anna Kournikova on right) photo5 (L-R: Table Tennis Superstar Mikael Appelgren, Friedlander, Actress Susan Sarandon, Table Tennis Superstar Jan-Ove Waldner).


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January 4, 2012

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:

  • Number of juniors who are USATT members increased from 1010 to 1344;
  • Number of juniors over 1500 went from 183 to 379;
  • Number of juniors over 1000 went from 424 to 640.

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

That's Scott & Austin Preiss in the deluge.


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