Breaking 2000

September 13, 2013

Friday the 13th and a Cold

I've still got my cold, and was tempted to skip the blog again this morning. After all, what worse combination is there than a cold on Friday the 13th? Alas, I dragged myself out of bed and forced myself to do this. Let's all have a round of pity for poor, poor me. (Anybody know where I can get cheap Kleenex? I'm going through a lot.) I managed to do my two hours of coaching last night, but am not sure about tonight's 2.5 hours scheduled.

Wallet and Other Old Stuff

Since I'm feeling very old right now due to my cold, I thought I'd tell the story of my wallet, which turns 32 years old this month. This is only peripherally table tennis related, but since it's a source of legend among the locals, I might as well tell the story.

 In September of 1981, when I was 21 years old, I started classes at University of Maryland. (I'd taken two years off to train for table tennis in North Carolina.) On the very first day I went to the Student Union for lunch, where there were a number of restaurants. I went to the pizza place. When I reached the front of the line I ordered a pepperoni pizza, pulled out my wallet, and paid. As I handed the cashier the cash, I placed the wallet on the counter for a few seconds. When I reached for it, it was gone. I looked around, but couldn't find it. Someone behind me said, "Excuse me, was that your wallet on the counter?" I said yes. The person said someone had just picked it up and left. I ran out into the hallway, but I never saw the wallet again.

That afternoon I bought a new one, and vowed it would last me a lifetime. That was 32 years ago, and I still have the same wallet. It's rather beat up, with several holes, including one in the change purse. (I have to be careful or coins fall out.) The Velcro that closes it is almost gone, but there's still a tiny bit that sort of keeps it closed. Anyway, this month is the 32nd anniversary of someone stealing my wallet, and it's never happened again. Here are two pictures of this ancient wallet, top and bottom.

Unfortunately, while my wallet has remained safe, a lot of other stuff has gotten stolen, mostly in table tennis tournaments. My playing bag was stolen at a U.S. Open or Nationals back in the early 1990s; it not only had my rackets, but also all of my coaching files as the then-chair of the USATT coaching committee. I've had my laptop computer stolen twice, once right off the USATT desk at an Open or Nationals in the 1990s, where I was doing coverage, and once at a tournament in Philadelphia in the 1990s. (That time I made the mistake of leaving the laptop in the back seat of my car, and someone broke a window to get in and steal it. Always leave your laptop in the trunk!!!) Surprisingly, I've never had a racket stolen, though I once had my hardbat racket "borrowed" - just before my Hardbat Singles Final at the Nationals against Marty Reisman in 1997, forcing me to borrow a racket for the match (I lost), with the racket later returned anonymously. (But that's another story.)

Actually, it's been a long time since I've had anything stolen - the playing bag and laptops were both stolen in the 1990s. Maybe I've learned to be more protective of my stuff.

Review of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Here's a review of the book by Alex Polyakov, the author of "Breaking 2000." And if you want to improve your game (as opposed to its smoldering away like a burning ember that'll never quite catch fire), then buy the book! (While debating whether to buy the book or allow your game to never reach its potential, you can read the other 22 reviews there.)

Interview with Ferenc Karsai

Here's a video interview (8:57) with Coach Karsai, coach of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager of Austria, the last European World Singles Champion. He talks about talent in table tennis and working with Schlager.

Creepy Pong

In honor of Friday the 13th, here's Creepy Pong - see how many Halloween ghouls you can beat at table tennis! I couldn't get it to work in Chrome, but it worked fine in Explorer. It starts with an irritating 30-second Power Rangers ad. Note that when you do play, you can hit the ball harder by moving the cursor in as you hit; otherwise you'll just rally and never score.

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May 1, 2012

Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov

[Note - I did a very short review of this here in February, but I decided to do a more extensive one - after all, this is primarily a coaching blog, and this is a unique coaching book. Tomorrow I've got another book review, of Steve Grant's "Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America."]

I recently read the excellent book Breaking 2000, by Alex Polyakov (Breaking 2000, 140 pages, available in paperback and ebook). The book is a first-hand step-by-step look at the strategic development of a player from near beginner to an advanced level. I don't think I've seen it covered like this anywhere else. Instructional books generally do a good job in teaching how to do each technique; this book shows the actual events taking place as the techniques were learned, how they were learned, and most important, why. (And on a related note, Alex's coach, Gerald Reid, who is mentioned throughout the book, came to several of my training camps back in the 1990s!)

Improvement in table tennis is rarely a steady upward progression. As you learn new things, your game often temporarily "regresses" as you learn the new technique, and so rapidly-improving players often go up a bunch, then down a little, then up, then down. If you chart their improvement, it's more of an upward staircase. And that proves to be the case with Alex. (See his rating chart.)  

The book is broken down into about forty chapters, often with titles about developing specific techniques ("Forehand Development," "Backhand Development," "A Push," "Service Practice," "Practicing Against Junk Rubber Players," "Timely Backhand Development," "Dealing with Mental Tactics," etc.), specific rating accomplishments that describe how he reached that level ("Breaking USATT 1400," "USATT 1600," "Goodbye USATT 1600," "En Route to USATT 1800," "Back to USATT 1700," "Anxious to Break 1900," "USATT 2000," etc.) and other more colorful sounding chapters ("Facing Demons," "No Mercy, No Hesitation," "Hollywood Shots," "I Hate Playing Him!," "The Winner Always Wants the Ball," and "It is Not About Points.") The chapters talk about how he and Coach Gerald worked to develop and improve the specific techniques needed to reach each level.

The best parts of the book are the specific step-by-step chronicling of how his game was developed from beginner to 2000 player. At each step he and Coach Gerald analyzed his game, decided what was needed to reach the next level, and then set about practicing those techniques. Most of it is applicable to anyone who is ready to put in the time and practice to follow in Alex's footsteps and develop their game to a high level.

Here are some interesting quotes from the book. There are many more that are specific to the techniques he is working on, but these are some of the more general ones that caught my eye. I especially love the "I did not know what I did not know" statement - this is the bane of so many players, who often do not know that they do not know what they do not know.

  • "I know exactly how I was losing my matches during the tournament. I simply did not know what I did not know. My game consisted of simply reacting to the ball and hitting it if the opportunity came up. I had no strategy, no clear and concise thinking; all I had was simple brute force."
  • "Coaching has been the major factor in my success and is the biggest reason why I have been able to achieve my goals."
  • "Gerald proposed to start by shaping my game in such a way that would allow me to develop certain undeniable strengths which would never fail me. He called it a 'base.' Having this base would mean that these basic skills would in time become a power that would tilt the pendulum during my matches against 95% of opponents of my level. This so-called base was meant to establish a set of technically correct strokes, which I could execute flawlessly and with consistency."
  • "Rating points do not define a player. Player's skills define rating points through results produced in competitive tournament level settings."
  • "...there is no need to rush, there is no need to be disappointed and there is no need to ever doubt your ability to win. There is just a need to find new weaknesses in your game and learn to turn the weakness into weapons."

Coaching Break

Cheng Yinghua returns today from his three-week vacation in China. I've been coaching many of his students while he was gone, and it's been exhausting, though it's been a big bonus monetary-wise. But now I'll finally catch up on rest - and soon I'll dive back into the final rewrite of my own newest book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." (It's basically done - I've got perhaps four hours of rewriting to do, but it involves some tricky stuff - I save the hardest for last.) 

Learn to Pong Like a Champ

Here's Part 1 of 3 from 2011 USA National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li, covering 1) Developing the Forehand Smash; 2) Learning the Sidespin Serve; and 3) Learning the Long Fast Serve. It's given both in text form and video (2:18). How do these three seemingly different topics come together? As Peter explains, the sidespin serve sets up the smash, and the fast serve keeps opponents from getting too used to the sidespin serve.

U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships

Home page. Grand Rapids. June 30 - July 4. Starts in sixty days. Be there. 'Nuff said.

North American Olympic Trials Videos

Available online now! Yes, you can watch the great USA-Canadian Clash of 2012!

Matt Jarvis breaks the Ice with table tennis

England's Matt Jarvis, son of former English champions Nick and Linda Jarvis (now Linda Jarvis-Howard), made the English national team football team (that's soccer to us Americans) - and then broke the ice with his new teammates by beating them in table tennis! Here's the story.

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February 3, 2012

Breaking 2000

I just finished reading the excellent book Breaking 2000, by Alex Polyakov. The book is a first-hand step-by-step look at the strategic development of a player from near beginner to an advanced level. I don't think I've seen it covered like this anywhere else. Instructional books generally do a good job in teaching how to do each technique; this book shows the actual events taking place as the techniques were learned, how they were learned, and most important, why. (And on a related note, Alex's coach, Gerald Reid, who is mentioned throughout the book, came to several of our training camps back in the 1990s!)

Improvement in table tennis is rarely a steady upward progression; as you learn new things, your game often temporarily "regresses" as you learn the new technique, and so rapidly-improving players often go up a bunch, then down a little, then up, then down. If you chart their improvement, it's more of an upward staircase. And that proves to be the case with Alex - see his rating chart. (I created the graphic from the USATT ratings page. If you have a rating, just put in your name, and then click on "Chart Ratings" on the right.)

Here are some interesting quotes from the book. There are many more that are specific to the techniques he is working on, but these are some of the more general ones that caught my eye. I especially love the "I did not know what I did not know" statement - this is the bane of so many players, who often do not know that they do not know what they do not know.

  • "I know exactly how I was losing my matches during the tournament. I simply did not know what I did not know. My game consisted of simply reacting to the ball and hitting it if the opportunity came up. I had no strategy, no clear and concise thinking; all I had was simple brute force."
  • "Coaching has been the major factor in my success and is the biggest reason why I have been able to achieve my goals."
  • "Gerald proposed to start by shaping my game in such a way that would allow me to develop certain undeniable strengths which would never fail me. He called it a 'base.' Having this base would mean that these basic skills would in time become a power that would tilt the pendulum during my matches against 95% of opponents of my level. This so-called base was meant to establish a set of technically correct strokes, which I could execute flawlessly and with consistency."

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

Just when I thought the book was nearing completion, it got less competed. After going over the critiques and comments from six pre-readers (my thanks again to Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton), plus my own growing notes since writing the first draft, I keep finding new sections that need to be written or old ones to be rewritten. I'd really hoped to have it pretty much finalized before I leave to coach at the U.S. Olympic Trials next Wednesday. There's little chance of that now. (I'll be spending much of my time between now and then watching videos of opposing players to prepare for the Trials, plus a busy coaching schedule since I'm also subbing for Coach Jeffrey Zheng, who's in China for a few weeks.) On the other hand, in my completely unbiased opinion, the book keeps getting better and better!

Serving low

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:05) that explains how to keep the tomahawk serve low, but the explanation is applicable for all serves. (Basically, to serve low, you need to contact the ball low.) Serving low is one of those keys to serving that players often do not appreciate because you can get away with slightly high serves at the intermediate level. As you advance, stronger players either jump all over these serves, or (more likely) simply have no trouble making effective returns. The server never understands that if they learned to serve very low to the net, the opponent would have to lift up on the ball, making it harder to attack or control the return.

Table tennis jewelry

Here's a place that sells some very nice table tennis jewelry. Yes, you too can show up at the club bedecked with table tennis ornamentation! Check out all four pages. (There should be a way to view all on one page, but I don't see a way.)

Let's pay our respects to the dying

Let's all take a moment and pay our respects to some of those who may soon no longer be with us. May they rest in peace. (Am I missing any?) There are still many practitioners of these "dying arts," but they are getting older and fewer.

  • Forehand flat hit against backspin
  • Forehand chop
  • Conventional penhold backhand
  • Pips-out sponge
  • Antispin (except perhaps the new "frictionless" varieties)
  • Seemiller grip

Jamie at One

Here's future world champion Jamie, age one, demonstrating his futuristic forehand as he does multiball training. Afterwards he'll do some counterlooping, some footwork drills, half an hour of serve practice, and then pushups, sit-ups, and a five-mile run. (See the seven pages of comments on this video.)

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January 25, 2012

Ready position and basketball

So many players have poor ready positions. They stand up too straight, their feet are too close together, their weight isn't on the balls of their feet, and their non-playing arm hangs loosely at their side like a dead snake. But there's a simple cure I now use with many students. I go over to their side and say, "Let's play imaginary basketball. Cover me!" They immediately bend their knees to get down slightly, their feet go wider, their weight goes onto the balls of their feet, and their non-playing hand goes up. A perfect playing stance! So next time you play, why not get in the habit of starting each rally with a little imaginary basketball? (I wrote about this same topic yesterday, including the basketball angle, but I wanted to elaborate here.) 

Ten steps to a great service game

  1. Learn to serve with lots of spin by accelerating the racket through the ball and grazing it.
  2. Learn to serve various spins, including backspin, side-backspin, sidespin, side-topspin, and topspin, with the sidespins going both ways.
  3. Learn to serve low.
  4. Learn to control the depth and direction of the serve.
  5. Learn to serve with spin using a semi-circular motion so you can create different spins with the same motion by varying where in the motion you contact the ball.
  6. Learn to minimize and do quickly this semi-circular motion so receiver has trouble picking up contact.
  7. Learn to change the direction of your follow-through with your racket the split second after contact to mislead the receiver.
  8. Learn to fake spin and serve no-spin by contacting the ball near the handle.
  9. Learn to serve fast & deep as a variation to your spin serves.
  10. Learn to follow up your serve.

Evolution of Table Tennis

Here are five videos that showcase the evolution of table tennis, from the hardbat days to the present. It includes extensive segments on the major champions. For example, Vol. 2 features Bohumil Vana and Ferenc Sido, while Vol. 3 features (among others) Johnny Leach and Hiroje Satoh (the latter the first sponge player).

  1. Vol. 1 (9:50)
  2. Vol. 2 (9:58)
  3. Vol. 3 (8:26)
  4. Vol. 4 (9:37)
  5. Vol. 5 (13:33)

"Breaking 2000"

Here's a new ebook on table tennis, "Breaking 2000," by Alex Polyakov, about his journey to a 2000+ USATT rating. The cost is $2.99, or free if you are a member of the Kindle Prime program. While we're on the subject of table tennis books, here's my collection of 203 of 'em.

Non-table tennis: "Twisted Tales"

While you're downloading "Breaking 2000" (above), why not download "Twisted Tales" for 99 cents? It's a collection of 66 super-short horror stories, all of the 66 words long, including two of mine, "The Hand of God" and "A Brush with Dirty Yellow Teeth."

Non-table tennis: Credit Card Crime

Yesterday someone got my credit card number and tried to make a $1000+ purchase. The credit card company somehow recognized it as fraud, blocked the purchase, and contacted me. So the card was cancelled, and a new one is coming. Highly irritating.

Quadruple table tennis

This is one of the crazier looking table tennis sets I've seen, but for only $249.95, you can now have your own quad table tennis game!

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