Paddle Palace

Washington Post

August 21, 2013

Exhibition and Challenges with the Baltimore Orioles!!!

Today I'm leaving the MDTTC camp at 11:30 to pick up some players so we can go to Orioles Park at Camden Yards (about an hour away), where from 2-3PM we're giving a demo for and taking challenges from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team! They have a huge clubhouse which includes a nice table with lots of room. We'll be surrounded by (on average) 6'3" 230lb multimillionaires. (Average major league salary in 2012 was $3.4 million; the Orioles are a little above that. Here's their listing.)

This all started in May when Orioles star shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder and now vice president of operations Brady Anderson visited the Maryland Table Tennis Center, where I gave each a lesson and then they played our local juniors. (Here's my blog on that.) They, along with Jeff Lantz, the Orioles Manager for Media Relations, invited us for a return visit. It took a while, but we finally got it arranged. We even had to get approval from Manager Buck Showalter - who I'm hoping to meet, along with a few others, such as Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and others.

I discussed with Jeff the idea of bringing in a large contingent of players, who'd get a tour of the Orioles clubhouse, then stay for the game, with a few of us giving the demo and exhibition. However, he and Buck discussed it and decided it'd be better to keep it a smaller affair so it wouldn't be a big distraction, and suggested we bring in three top juniors. So I invited Nathan Hsu, Tong Tong Gong, and Derek Nie. (See listing below.) Tong Tong, Derek and I plan to stay for the game - they're giving us free tickets. Nathan had a previous commitment; he'd volunteered as a guide for the incoming freshman class at his high school. (Bravo!) So he has to leave as soon as we're done at 3PM. His mom quickly recruited Qiming Chen to give him a ride to and from the event since she'd be out of town at the time. I explained the situation to the Orioles, and they agreed to add him to the list.

A number of locals (both juniors and adults) had asked if they could go on the reciprocal visit to the Orioles park, and I'd hoped I could, but it was not to be.

MASN TV (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), home of the Orioles and Washington Nationals, is planning to do coverage and turn it into a pre-game show. One thing we hope to catch on video - JJ Hardy and Jeff are planning a "surprise" for one particularly brash player (the Orioles third best TT player after JJ and Brady), who won't know what he's getting into when he agrees to play a "friendly" game with a visiting kid, Derek Nie, 70 lbs, rated 2291.

Since all four of the players I'm taking are Chinese (and at least two have parents from Taiwan), they were pleasantly surprised to learn that Wei-Yin Chen of Taiwan will be pitching for the Orioles in tonight's game. (Well, Tong Tong and Derek were, since they're staying to watch with me.)  We're playing the Tampa Bay Rays, with who we're in a pennant/wild card race.

Players going with me:

  • Derek Nie, 12, 2012 U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Champion (and looks about 10, only 4'7" and 70 lbs)
  • Nathan Hsu, 17, 2011 USA Junior Olympic Under 16 Boy's Singles Champion and 2012 USA Junior Olympic Under 18 Boy's Singles Finalist, #1 Under 18 player in Maryland (U.S. citizens)
  • Tong Tong Gong, 16, member of USA Cadet National Team (15 & Under), 2011-2012, who lives only 15 min from Camden Yards in Ellicott City, and is a big Orioles fan
  • Qiming Chen, 21, University of Maryland Champion and President of the Univ. of Md. Table Tennis Club 

I'll write more about this in my blog tomorrow.

Speaking of the Orioles, there was an article in the Washington Post Sports section on Monday that said, "[Adam] Jones has at least 25 home runs in three consecutive seasons, joining Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as the only Orioles to accomplish the feat."

On Tuesday there was a correction: "An Aug. 19 Sports article about the Baltimore Orioles' 7-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies incorrectly said that Adam Jones joined Frank Robinson as the only Orioles to hit at least 25 home runs in three consecutive seasons. Eddie Murray also accomplished that feat."

I just sent in a correction yesterday: "Dear Washington Post, the correction in the Post this morning (Aug. 20) about Eddie Murray also hitting 25 or more home runs at least three consecutive seasons for the Orioles (as well as Adam Jones and Frank Robinson) left out Cal Ripken, who did it six years in a row (1982-1987), Rafael Palmeiro four years in a row (1995-1998), and Lee May three years in a row (1976-1978). Jim Gentile and Miguel Tejada both missed it by one home run."

As of this morning, they haven't run my correction  For the record, Ripken from 1982-87 hit 28, 27, 27, 26, 25, and 27 HRs. Palmeiro from 1995-98 hit 39, 39, 38, and 43 HRs. Lee May from 1976-78 hit 25, 27, and 25 HRs. How could they miss this? Especially Hall of Famer Cal Ripken??? (Who, by the way, used to play table tennis with Brady Anderson; both have their own sponge rackets.)

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was the backhand. We had some interesting sessions. One kid had pretty good control, but kept sidespin swiping the ball; I finally took him aside for 15 minutes and straightened that out. Another also had good control, but had a very backhand grip and just jabbed at the ball. I also took him aside for a while and straightened that out. Both had some difficulty making the change as their old stroke was pretty ingrained. It's always easier when working with someone who hasn't played much. One older player had a pretty good backhand but almost no forehand; we worked on and off all day on his forehand, and it's gradually improving.

There's one girl who's a complete beginner, and perhaps the only one who can't really play games yet. All day long for two days she's struggled to hit forehands or backhands. Then, late yesterday afternoon when we played the "cups" game, where we stack the cups and let the kids take turns knocking them down, something happened. Out of the blue she kept smacking them, over and over! Before this she had about a 20% success rate in hitting the table, not to mention a three-inch wide cup. This time she knocked more cups off the table than anyone else (about ten players) two games in a row!

USATT Tip of the Day - Serve Violently!

Here's a tip on serving from Dan Seemiller, five-time USA Men's Singles Champion and former USA Men's Coach.

Table Tennis Good for the Brain

Here's a nice compilation of articles on this from Table Tennis Nation, with five links and a video (4:26).

Ping Pong Only Gets Better When You Add Crazy Visuals

Here's a video (1:12) of some serious psychedelic ping pong.

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October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Well, the power didn't go out, neither did the Internet or TV, and there aren't even any major damages to my house or anything else of mine. All I have to show for the hurricane is lots and lots of non-perishable food I bought just in case I wouldn't have a microwave for a few days, and lots of reading. Anyone want a box of apple fritters?

Drill the Fundamentals and the Specifics

It is important to drill the fundamentals into your game until you can do them in your sleep. (Here's my article on that.) But often players forget to practice specifically what they do in a match. For example, I know a player who likes to counterloop close to the table with his forehand. He spends a lot of time practicing counterlooping. But in matches he has trouble counterlooping against an opponent's first loop off underspin, which is usually done closer to the table than other loops, has a different arc, and usually more topspin. A simple drill to practice against this would be to have a coach serve backspin, the player pushes it back, the coach loops, and the player counterloops. The coach doesn't play out the point; as soon as he finishes his loop, he reaches for a ball from a box. (It's an improvised version of multiball.) This matches what a player faces in a match, as opposed to just counterlooping, and it gives far more practice on this specific skill in a given time than just playing out points.

So work on your fundamentals, but also look at what you do in a match - or need to do - and find drills that match that specifically, and perfect the skill. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Attacking Short Balls

Here's a video from PingSkills on attacking short balls (2:02).

The Need for Strong Coaches

Here's an article in the Deccan Chronicle in India on USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee and the need for strong coaches. Richard just ran three ITTF Coaching Seminars in India.

Ping-Pong Robot Plays Like a Person

Here's an article and pictures in New Scientist about a robot developed in Germany that is learning to play like a real person. Let me be the first one to predict that robots will soon be entered in tournaments like regular people, with ratings and everything. (They do this in chess already.) Not sure if they're ready for the Chinese team yet.

Grant Li and Table Tennis

Here's an article at Paddle Palace, "Grant Li Has Found His Stride in School and on the Table." Grant, rated 2471, is ranked #5 in the U.S. ratings for Under 18, but I believe is #1 among USA citizens.

Table Tennis Picture in Washington Post

Here's a table tennis picture yesterday in the Washington Post front page section (A-10). Caption reads, "Engineering students, showing taking a break from classes at top, are a priority in Mexican higher education." Here's the actual online article (table tennis isn't mentioned in it); the table tennis picture is the seventh one in the gallery.

Zhang Jike on Chinese Game Show

Here's Zhang Jike (World Men's Singles Champion and #1 ranked player) on the popular and humorous Chinese variety show Day Day Up (20:22). It's in Chinese, but with English subtitles. At one point he takes on four players at once - quadruples?

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August 21, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Eleven, Day One

It's the first day of the last week. This camp is full - well over 30 players. I gave lectures on the forehand, on doubles, and on serving. Sometimes I only coach in the mornings at our camps, but because of the numbers, I'll be there all day all five days.

In the first half of the morning session I did multiball with seven players. One was a "blast from the past" - sort of. Back when I was in North Carolina from 1979-81 (when I was 19 to 21 years old), I used to hit a lot with Walter Wintermute, a 1900+ lefty all-out attacker, who was two years younger than me. (He's now rated over 2000.) He was a really nice guy, and we even played doubles together a few times. Now his son, David, 14, already rated over 1800, is at our camp and was in my group. He looks almost exactly like his father 30+ years ago! They even have the same long hair style. According to David, however, his dad is on him to cut it. Walter, by the power invested in me as a table tennis coach, I hereby give David permission to keep his hair long at least until the age when you cut yours!!! (That should bring him at least into his 20's.)

I spent much of the second half working with two new juniors. One was a lefty penholder who wasn't sure whether to play his backhand conventional or reverse penhold. I recommended he learn the reverse version, and he seemed to do it pretty well. On the forehand, however, he had this nasty habit of lifting his elbow and wrist as he stroked, and so his racket would close as he hit the ball. We spent a lot of time trying to undo that habit. We're going to focus on that for a while.

The other new junior hit forehands with just his arm, and had an awkward low grip, with a big gap between his hand and the paddle, and his finger almost straight down the middle. We fixed the grip, got him to rotate his shoulders, and his forehand really came alive - he was smacking in shots by late afternoon. On the backhand, however, he tended to sort of slap at the ball, often hitting with backspin. We fixed that, but he's still having trouble generating any pace - most of his backhands are pretty soft. But the technique is now sound, and I'm confident his backhand will really come alive in the next few days. One thought is to have him hit some with pips-out sponge, which forces a player to stroke more. But we'll see how he does tomorrow.

The Legend of "B"

"B" is a player whose name I'm not going to give out, but we're having a lot of fun with it. He's a little kid who started in a group session. He's doing fine. However, a couple other kids who knew him but were in different group sessions asked about him. I told them how "B" was incredible, how his forehand was already as good as the coaches, and went on and on. And so the legend of "B" began. Now we take turns talking about The Legend of B as we take turns exaggerating his greatness. We're at the point where the best players in the world can sometimes see his shots, but usually can only hear them as they go by for winners.

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team

Here are a couple of nice coaching videos on serving. They are taught by Chinese National Team Member Xu Ruifeng.

Washington Post Feature on MDTTC on USATT Home Page

Yep, we're famous now! (Presumably we'll still be on the USATT front page when you read this.) Make sure to check out both the video and article.

Levitating Table?

Here's the picture. The online translation (Spanish to English) of the caption says, "Bureau in period of experimentation. Is installed with a remote control, and it picks up on the wall in the same way. The technique to keep it in a permanent state of levitation and leveled to the ground 0.76 cts prosecutable parallel to a agency to the NASA that has been inspired by the utensils used for their huge ships."

Outdoor Ping-Pong

Umpires - don't you need a free hand?

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August 15, 2012

Try a New Style

Why not experiment with a new style? Add some variety to your game? You could do something really crazy, like a shakehander playing penhold or Seemiller style, or try out some weird rubber. But why not try out a style you could actually use in your game? You'll have fun as well as adding a new dimension (i.e. tactical tool) to your game.

I suggest chopping. It's a nice weapon to have both as a variation and when you are out of position, especially on the backhand. Some players really have trouble with sudden chops, and it's a crime not to have this skill against these players. Plus, next time you are out of position against a ball wide to your backhand, just chop it back. Just as importantly, you'll quickly see the game from a chopper's point of view, and become a lot stronger playing choppers as a result. (Your biggest shock will probably be how weak a chopper can be on receive - yet many attackers assume choppers can just chop any serve back, and so don't take advantage of this.)

Though most choppers use long pips on the backhand, that's mostly to chop back loops. If you are only going to chop as an occasional variation or when you are out of position, any surface will do, including super charged-up inverted. That's what I have on my backhand, and I regularly throw in chops.

Table Tennis Foot Dream

Last night I had one of those weird table tennis dreams. (Warning - this is sort of gory.) I was battling with "the enemy" (not sure who my opponent was, it was never clear) at ping-pong on a table in a street. Bullets and bombs were exploding everywhere as soldiers ran about shooting at each other. And then my left foot got shot off! I grabbed it from the ground and tried jamming it back on, and it sort of stuck, but kept falling off as we played. I finally just held the foot in my non-playing hand while hopping about, still playing, as an ambulance arrived. I handed them the foot and asked them to sew it back on, but only after I finished the match. I woke up about then, and had to check my foot to make sure it was still there. (Obligatory bad joke: I had not been defeeted.)

Maryland Table Tennis Center in Washington Post

It's on the front page of the sports section this morning. Here's the article, and here's the video (3:26). Featured are Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Amy Lu, and I'm quoted quite a bit. A few corrections: the article has me founding MDTTC, when Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I did it together. It also has me saying there are 11 full-time centers in the country, but there are now about 50. (I may have said there are about 10 that could be considered really strong. And I never was able to get USATT interested in promoting these training centers, alas.) Also, I think the $100,000 investment mentioned was by several owners, not just one.

Pictures from the Southern Open and Junior Olympics

Here are some pictures taken at these two tournaments, mostly featuring MDTTC players.

Olympian Diana Gee to Run Clinic in Cary

If you are around Cary, NC on Sept. 1, you might want to join Olympian Diana Gee ('88 and '92) for a pair of one-hour clinics. Here's the info page.

Can Ping-Pong in the Office Increase Productivity?

Yes, according to this article in the Enviable Workplace. "With a game like ping pong you can get up, play for 20 mins, break a lil sweat, get your brain racing and come back to work refreshed." Here's another segment:

Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, specifically points out that table tennis:

  • Increases concentration and alertness
  • Stimulates brain function
  • Develops tactical thinking skills
  • Develops hand / eye coordination
  • Provides aerobic exercise
  • Provides social and recreational interaction

Chinese Blitz at the Olympic Games

Here's a video from PingSkills (7:01) where they discuss Chinese dominance at the Olympics.

The Duchess of Cambridge Playing Table Tennis

Yes, that's "Smashing Kate" rallying with kids at a sports project. She's pretty good - can keep the ball in play.

Ping-Pong with Sharks

At first you only see the sharks swimming around. It's not until the camera pulls back in this video (1:18) that you realize that they are playing ping-pong on this shark infested table!

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July 26, 2012

Last Blog for a Week

I leave early tomorrow morning to coach at the Southern Open (Sat & Sun) and the Junior Olympics (Mon-Wed), both in Houston. As I've learned in the past, blogging while coaching and keeping track of numerous hordes of table tennis juniors is not an easy mix, so no more blogs until I return. (Next blog will be Friday, Aug. 3.)

Long Night

After coaching much of yesterday, I went to work on finalizing both the "MDTTC Junior Medals Listing, 1992-2012" file and the Coach Jack Huang for the U.S. Hall of Fame Application. I finished both a little after 5AM. It's now 5:20 AM as I write this, and in a few hours I'm off to the MDTTC camp to coach. And then I have to do laundry, go to the bank, get a haircut, pack, finalize and send off the application, and then watch videos to prepare for matches I'll be coaching in Houston the next five days. (See above item.) Yes, I study videos of prospective opponents and take extensive notes. Why don't you?

Yesterday was a wild day. Both the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun came in. The Post sent a writer, a photographer, and a videographer - besides a regular article with pictures they are doing a video feature on the club, which I believe will feature Derek Nie, Wang Qing Liang, Nathan Hsu, Amy Lu, and Timmy La. The Sun is featuring Derek Nie. I spoke with them about Derek for about half an hour. Derek, you're my buddy, but I'm getting sick and tired of talking about you!

The videographer filmed me as I fed multiball to beginning kids as they tried to 1) knock down pyramids made of paper cups; 2) smack a large rubber frog I placed on the table in a team competition; and 3) hit my "Gatorade bottle," which I'd convinced them was actually full of squeezed worm juice - I had to drink it whenever they hit it. He also videoed us using the robot. (But he spent most of his time videoing our top juniors in action, especially doing multiball.) I'll post a link to the video and the articles when the are up. (The Sun article is supposed to be in this Sunday's paper.)

Today will be even more fun - I'm bringing loads of candy, and at the end of the morning's sessions I'll put it all on the table, near the end, and the kids take turns trying to hit it. Whatever they knock off they get. Meanwhile, I have to figure out a way to stay awake. It's now past 5:30 AM, and I still haven't gone to bed. Yikes. (But I'd rather get the blog done before I go to bed for a few hours.)

Olympic Draws

They are posted on the ITTF home page. Table tennis starts Saturday. 

Chinese Domination in Table Tennis

PingSkills brings you this video (7:12) where they are mostly goofing off in London before the Olympics. They play ping-pong with a Panda. About three minutes in they start to talk about why China is so good.

Ben Stiller Talks Ping Pong with Jimmy Kimmel

Brought to you by Table Tennis Nation! Includes links to two videos (4:15 and 3:10).

Nathan's Guide to Table Tennis

This long awaited Guide is finally out! Brought to you by Maryland junior star Nathan Hsu, and assisted by visiting New Jersey junior star Allen Wang (12:33). And here's a hilarious 60-second video by Nathan that shows that if you don't play ping-pong, you might get bitten by a rabid rabbit.

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July 25, 2012

MDTTC Camp

I won't bother giving you the week and day number (okay, yesterday was week six, day two), since they start to blend together when you are doing eleven straight weeks of camps.

This week we have about 30 players, mostly advanced, with only 4-5 "beginners." Since it's a more advanced group (and since I could work with the beginners separately), I decided not to bother my usual stroke lectures. So yesterday I gave a talk on ball placement - playing the corners and middle, when to go for the extreme wide angles (outside the corners), opening up the wide angles by playing the middle, taking away the forehand by playing to the forehand first (often short) and then going to the backhand, moving players in and out, etc. After the break I gave short talk on doubles strategy - what types of serves to use (mostly short and low backspin and no-spin) and where to place them (mostly toward the center of the table), how to receive (forehand or backhand, as long as you can loop the deep ball), where to place the ball, etc.

Last week a reporter from the Washington Post came in to do a feature on Derek Nie, the U.S. Open Boys' 11 and Under Champion. (It looks like they are featuring Nathan Hsu as well, and other MDTTC players.) He's coming back this morning, along with a photographer. Not sure yet when the story will run.

On top of that the Baltimore Sun is doing an interview with Derek this morning for a feature in this Sunday's paper. I don't think Derek even knows about this one yet. We also have a local TV station that arranged yesterday to come in and do a special on us on Aug. 16. Plus the local Gazette is doing a special on us, not sure when they are coming in. Plus there was that CCTV American special on us last week. So it's been a busy media week. Meanwhile, I'll be coaching at the Junior Olympics next week (Mon-Wed), and will send out a whole new slew of press releases afterwards.

On break I saw Derek, Allen Wang, John Hsu, and Leon Bi playing a winner-stay-on game where they started each game at deuce, and you didn't have to win by two. (In other words, first to win two points. Leon, who's about a thousand points lower, only had to win one point.) I joined in, and did surprisingly well, winning at least the first game all five times I went on the table, and winning three in a row one time. I had a nice counterlooping point with Derek, and won a point chopping against John.

Larry's Law

This has come up several times recently, so I'll give it again. "Larry's Law" is a law I came up with years ago. Often as a player trains and improves they start challenging stronger players, but still lose most of these matches close, though they'll occasionally win one. The reason is that while they may now be playing at the same level as the other player, the other player has more experience at that level, and so is tactically and mentally more prepared to win the close games. In other words, if you are challenging stronger players and keep training and playing matches against players at that level, it means that in six months or so you'll have the experience to consistently win at that level

Interview with Jerome Charyn

Here's an interview with Jerome Charyn, table tennis player and author of the table tennis book "Sizzling Chops and Devilish Spins: Ping Pong and the Art of Staying Alive" (2001). The book is "part memoir and part history," and "...bounces from Manhattan in the 1940s (where unheralded lions of the game, like Marty Reisman and Dick Miles, hustled their way through the ping-pong underworld) to China in the 1960s (when Nixon used ping pong as a tool of diplomacy) to present-day France (where Charyn, our faithful guide, battles his way through the lower-division tournaments)."

Table Tennis Center Sprouts Up in South Carolina Mall

Here's an article about a table tennis center that opened up Richland Mall in Columbia, South Carolina.

Jan-Ove Waldner Tribute

I don't think I've posted this Waldner Tribute Video (4:21), with lots of great points from the Master.

Table Tennis as It Should Be

On a makeshift wooden table balanced on barrels.

Uberpong: Table Tennis Paddles Artwork

Here's an article and video (3:52) on Uberpong's numerous table tennis paddle artworks.

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July 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Ready Position.

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Five

On Friday we completed Week Five of our summer camps. (We have six more to go!) Week Six starts today.

The big highlight on Friday was the Washington Post coming in to do a feature on Derek Nie and the Maryland Table Tennis Center. While Derek (the recent U.S. Open Boys' 11 and Under Champion) was the focus, they also interviewed me, coaches Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang, and players Nathan Hsu, Amy Lu, and Timmy La. They are sending a photographer in later on, with the story running in a week or so. 

I gave a lecture and demon on pushing in the morning. And then it was our usual Friday morning's "Player's Choice," where players decided what they wanted to work on when they did multiball training with the coaches. I was impressed that most in my group did footwork drills. At the end of the session I did my usual "surprise" (to new players) and brought out bags of candy - Hershey's Kisses and Jolly Ranchers (hard candy). I spread them out thickly near the end of the table, and the kids took turns trying to knock them off (two shots each). Whatever they knocked off, they got! (I allowed trades, and the Jolly Ranchers proved the more popular, with many of the kids trading in their chocolate kisses for these.)

At lunch I was fascinated by what kids know about. The kids were all talking about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, presumably because it happened during a showing of the new Batman movie, which all planned to see.  They are all Pixar experts. But many only vaguely knew of Mitt Romney or the war in Afghanistan. Of course they know everything about online places like Facebook, games, etc.

USA Olympic Table Tennis Program

Here's the nine-page program booklet for USA Table Tennis at the Olympics. (It's rather large at 27.7 MB, due to the many graphics.) It profiles the USA players, plus lots of background info, including the playing schedule. The Olympics start this Friday, with table tennis starting on Saturday.

Chinese Olympic Team

Here's an article about the Chinese team training in Leeds in England. Here's another one, which includes a team picture.

The Spin and Speed of Table Tennis

Here's a video that explains some of the science of spin and speed in table tennis, starring Olympian Erica Wu. 

The Mythical Double Bounce Loop!

Go to 2:26 of this match between Jean-Philippe Gatien and Chuang Chih-Yuan. Now watch the loop by the lefty Gatien - yep, it bounces twice! There really is such thing as a double-bounce loop. Now all we have to do are find the mythical Loch Ness Bigfoot that plays table tennis on the grassy knoll in Area 51 and we'll have seen all the wonders of the universe.

Milo Kerrigan Does Table Tennis

Here's a funny table tennis video by comedian Milo Kerrigan (2:10).

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July 20, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Four

Yesterday's focus was the backhand loop. I again used Nathan Hsu as my demo partner, since he has an excellent backhand loop, far better than mine. (His backhand loop is now his greatest strength - few can stand up to it when he unleashes it.) I demonstrated a few where I'd serve backspin, he'd push, I'd backhand loop, he'd block, I'd chop, he'd push, and then I'd backhand loop again, and we'd continue in this way. Then I had him demo it, both against backspin (multiball fashion) and my block.

I also explained a bit on how the game has changed. When I was coming up, the general belief was "one gun is as good as two," and the dominant styles were very forehand oriented. And so I never really developed my backhand attack, and instead focused on forehand attack and a steady backhand. These days, however, most top players attack all-out from both sides.

During one multiball session one of the larger players in the camp smacked a ball that hit me smack on the forehead - and it actually dazed me for a moment! I don't think that's ever happened before. I'm glad I wear glasses to play table tennis; I think I'd be nervous otherwise about getting hit in the eye.

On Tuesday the younger kids had a blast with the adjustable height device, shown here in a high setting. They had fun with it again yesterday, but now the advanced players discovered it. Two were practicing their serves during break on the lowest setting.

Yesterday I blogged about Froggy, a large rubber frog about the size of a soccer ball that the kids took turns in team trying to hit. Here's Froggy! Here he is from a little further way, from the kids' point of view. After smacking the poor amphibian around for a bit, we ended the day with "Mountain Master," which is our version of "King of the Hill," where you have to win two points in a row from the "Master" to become the new Master. Since about half the players were girls, they rebelled at the name "King" of the Hill!

Washington Post at MDTTC

The Washington Post will be at MDTTC this morning at around 11AM to do a special. They will feature Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Singles Champion, already rated 2170) and other players.

How can you get news coverage such as the Washington Post and CCTV (see below)? To start with, it is essential that you have a Ph.D in media relations, with many years of practical experience with a large media firm, and you must be trained in the intricacies of exactly how to write a press release in the exact format required or the press will laugh you off. You must also, of course, have the very best players in the country to have any chance of attracting any interest.

Yes, I'm kidding. To get press coverage, whenever you run a tournament or league or some other event, or a player at your club has good results, write a basic press release. (Just state what the event or results were, giving names, ages, and where they are from, etc.) Go online and Google local news media, primarily newspapers and TV, perhaps radio. Once you have the contact info, email the press release to them. Wait a few days, and resend or even call. Believe me, local media is always looking for local human interest stories, and it's not that hard to sell them on table tennis. Just make sure you have something that will interest readers and viewers. TV especially is always looking to feature people with charisma.

CCTV America Features MDTTC

Maryland Table Tennis Center was featured on CCTV American Wednesday night (3:05). While lots of players are shown training, those featured include Coach Cheng Yinghua and players John Hsu, Timmy La, Lisa Lin, and Derek Nie. (They interviewed lots of players and coaches, including me, but alas mine didn't make the cut this time, though you can see me in the background several times.) The video is also featured on the USATT home page this morning. (CCTV American is a Chinese station that broadcasts in the U.S. in English.) And, as noted above, the Washington Post is coming in this morning to do a feature!

There was actually a sort of behind-the-scenes spat about this. After seeing the video, a member of the USATT board emailed the rest of the board and staff, criticizing the video and Chinese immigrants for calling the sport "ping-pong." The letter was seen by members of our club, who were pretty unhappy about it. I responded with a lengthy email that basically said "Who cares as long as they are covering the sport, and covering it well," and pointed out all the more important things we should focus on in developing our sport rather than worrying about whether they call it table tennis or ping-pong. (I especially pointed out that it is these very Chinese immigrants who call it "ping-pong" that have developed the large majority of our top players and especially the current horde of top juniors and cadets.) The board member apologized and the matter was dropped.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Champaign, IL

Here's an article from the ITTF on the ITTF Coaching Seminar that USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee is running in Champaign, IL.

Justin Bieber Playing Table Tennis in Japan

Table Tennis Nation talks about and links to the video (14:47, with the table tennis starting at around 11:00). Bieber is actually decent - check out the topspin backhands he does at 12:27 and 13:47, and especially the behind the back serve he does at 13:54!!!

Lessons with Larry (Bavly)

Math professor Larry Bavly is at it again. A few months ago I linked to his video "Lesson One: The Ratings Game" (4:26), where he facetiously teaches the important things about table tennis to a little girl. Now he has come out with "Lesson Two: Mental Toughness" (2:32). I'm about 90% sure the girl is in on the joke. Okay, maybe only 70% sure.

Things You Won't See at the Olympics

PingSkills, which usually does serious training videos that teach serious skills, took a journey to the silly side in this "Will See Won't See Olympic Table Tennis - Invade London" video (4:12), where they play with a shoe, a big paddle, a little paddle, two balls at once, and use the hidden ball serve trick.

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July 19, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Five, Day Three

Yesterday's focus was on the forehand loop. I gave my usual lecture and demo on the subject, with Nathan Hsu as my demo partner. To demonstrate the loop against backspin I alternately forehand looped and forehand chopped while Nathan blocked and pushed.

There were two new players in my multiball group who had just started out on Monday, so this was only their third day of playing. When the first one's turn came for multiball, a 9-year-old boy, right up until the last second I was thinking we should just focus on the basic forehand and backhand drives. Then, for some reason, I changed my mind and asked if he'd like to try looping. He said "Yes!" About two minutes later he'd picked it up and was doing it pretty consistently, still more of a roll, but with pretty good topspin! I was rather surprised.

So I did the same with the next beginner, a 12-year-old girl. Same result! (Many other beginners are not able to pick looping up this quickly.) As I told the two of them, either they are very talented or I'm a really good coach! (We jokingly argued over which it was all morning, with me taking the "very good coach" side.)

Looping and I have a long-term love-hate relationship. I was a late starter to table tennis, starting when I was 16, and right from the start I was a natural hitter. I found looping much more difficult, probably due to tight muscles (even then). However, I was determined to be a looper (just as many natural loopers were determined to be hitters before that style sort of died out at the higher levels), and practiced constantly. Eventually I developed a pretty efficient, if somewhat stiff forehand loop. When I play matches I loop and smash equally, but my hitting is definitely more natural - but I still focus on looping, because, gosh darn it, I wanna be a looper!!!

In the afternoon I introduced the Adjustable Height Device. I blogged about this back on July 20, 2011, when I first used it in camps last summer. It was created by a player I coach, John Olsen, and the kids love it. Here it is in its high and low settings. The challenge is to serve under the bar. The key is to ignore the bar and simply serve low. We also use it sometimes in regular rallies to see if the players can rally under the bar, which in rallies would be set a bit higher than for serves.

I also introduced Froggy (no pictures available, sorry), a large rubber frog, about the size of a soccer ball (but wider, not as tall). I put it on the table, divide players into two teams, and they take turns trying to hit it, two shots each. First team to hit it 20 times wins. I'll try to get a picture today.

Slurpee fever has stuck the camp. During lunch break each day I'm now taking two car trips to the local 7-11 where the kids load up on slurpees. (The kids were shocked to learn that both 7-11 and slurpees were around when I was their age 40 years ago, when I too used to get 7-11 slurpees, back when 7-11 opened at 7AM and closed at 11PM - hence the name. I just looked it up - 7-11 slurpees came out in 1967, when I was seven.) It's not like I'm not compensated for the taxi service; Allen Wang treats me to a Planters Peanut Bar each time. They are my favorite candy bar; if you want to be my friend, you will bring them to me.

Washington Post to MDTTC

The Washington Post will be at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Friday at 11AM for a story on Derek Nie (U.S. Open 11 & Under Boys' Champion) and other MDTTC players. Locals, feel free to come in! Ironically, the player Derek defeated in the final, Gal Alguetti of New Jersey, is here this week for our training camp.

Wang Hao and a Short History of the Penhold Grip

Here's an interesting story on the ITTF web page about the modernization of the penhold grip, which at one point was dying out at the higher levels until the development of the reverse penhold backhand brought it back.

Kalinikos Kreanga vs. Michael Maze

Here are some great points from a video (2:53) of a match between these two from five years ago. Still great play - and notice how tactically they keep attacking the other's middle both to score points and to open up the wide angles?

The Way Table Tennis Should Be Played

Olympian Trick Shots

Lily Zhang and Erica Wu demonstrate their trick shots (1:19) - hilarious!

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May 4, 2012

Coaching level versus playing level

Does one need to be a top player to be a top coach? The question often comes up, and there's an easy answer. No.

However . . . and this is a big HOWEVER . . . it's very difficult to become a top coach without being a top player first. It's a matter of opportunity. If you are a member of the National Team, you train for many years with other top players and work with the best coaches in the country, and if you are paying attention, you gain the experience necessary to be a top coach.

It's possible to be a very good basics coach, one who can train new and intermediate players very well, without being as experienced working with top players. But the key problem to watch for here is that many coaches who teach basics teach them in a way that will later hurt the player. For example, some hold back on teaching the loop, especially the backhand loop, for so long that hitting becomes ingrained, while looping never becomes comfortable. Or they have the player use beginner's sponge so long that their development is held back because they develop a game around beginner's sponge instead of a modern game based on modern "super sponges." So even coaches of beginning and intermediate players need to have enough experience with top players to see what they are doing so they can teach players a foundation that leads to what the top players do.

Some believe you can be a self-taught coach, and there's some truth to this. But there will always be major holes in your coaching if you don't have the opportunity to spend lots and lots of time with top players and coaches when they train. Even tactical coaching is limited if you haven't spent a lot of time with the player you are coaching when he's practicing. You might be a good tactical coach from personal experience and from watching top players on video and analyzing what you see, but you have to see what the player is doing in practice to see what he can really do. You might see him have trouble with a shot and not know if he normally has trouble with that shot or if he's just off or nervous. You might see a weakness in an opponent that seems to play into your player's strengths, but if the player hasn't practiced that type of sequence, he might not have confidence or be comfortable doing it. Or the player may have techniques he uses in practice that he doesn't use early on in a match (such as a different serve, or an ability to counterloop, or backhand loop, etc.), leading to tactical advice that doesn't take into account these techniques. So being around top players and coaches when they train is important if you truly want to be a top coach. This doesn't mean you can't be a good coach; but to be a top coach you need the full experience.

Suppose you were not a top player, but had these same experiences? Suppose you spent years watching top players train and worked with the best coaches in the country, and paid attention? Then you could also become a top coach. However, it's difficult to find such opportunities to watch or train with the top players and coaches unless you are a top player.

I was lucky to have started my playing career practicing regularly with top juniors and future stars Sean O'Neill and Brian Masters, then spent four years as a manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, then as an assistant coach for Dan Seemiller at his camps for two years, and then spent the last twenty years coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center where I'm surrounded by top coaches and players. I also got to coach the U.S. Junior Team at tournaments around the world, as well as attended numerous coaching seminars, including the recent ITTF ones (which I now teach). I've also spent an inordinate amount of time just thinking about the sport, one of those key things that's often missing when a top player is unable to make the transition to top coach. (And many top players are not good coaches, though most don't reach their high level without learning enough to be pretty good.)

My highest rating was 2292, which was 18th in the country at the time (citizens only), and since the ratings have slowly inflated since, it equates to a considerably higher rating than 2292, but we'll leave it at that. (I've actually had about 50 different ratings over 2250 without ever breaking 2300, probably a record, alas, and I'm now retired from regular tournaments.) That's pretty decent, but I never made the National Team. However, I've been lucky to have had the experiences needed to be a top coach. (I still wish I had more "international" experience - I've been to only two Worlds, and coached the U.S. Junior Team outside the U.S. about five times. There are other coaches with far more international experience than this. But I partially make up for this by spending time with current and former top players at my club who do have this international experience, such as Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Peter Li, and Han Xiao.) Does this make me a "top coach"? That's for others to judge, but the key is that I have the experience needed so I'm in the running. If you want to be a top coach, then you too must find opportunities to be around top players and coaches, observe what they do, ask questions, and above all, think about what you see and learn.

When Ping-Pong Diplomacy Beat China

That's the headline in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday, about the upcoming movie "As One," which tells the story of the joint Korean women's team at the 1991 Worlds that upset China.

Timo Boll in Washington Post

Here's the story from yesterday, with the headline, "German table tennis player Timo Boll wows Chinese women with his ping pong, sex appeal." (It didn't make the print edition, just the online version.)

"I made it to the Olympics and to prom"

That's what Ariel Hsing says in her blog with ESPN. She'll be blogging for them during the Olympics. Here are links to her other ESPN blogs (she's done four so far).

Erica Wu Puts on a Show

Here's an article on Erica doing an exhibition for her school and musing about her making the Olympic team.

Law School and Table Tennis

Here's a story about law school students playing table tennis entitled, "You Can Take Our Lives, But You’ll Never Take Our Ping Pong." Here's an enlarged version of the rather crazy photo!

Metal Men at Ping-Pong

Here's a rather interesting piece of art of two . . . metalicons? . . . playing table tennis.

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