Tip of the Week
Department of Angry Emails
A certain prominent USATT member (former top player) wrote a long email to a huge number of people last night. Someday I'll learn to stay out of these things, but I just couldn't help but respond to some of the false information in the email. (None of it was about me.)
The writer was angry about the "cancelled" USATT election for CEO four years ago. (There never was an election for CEO; the USATT Board hires and fires the CEO.)
The writer was angry that only one member of the nine members of the USATT Board is elected from the membership, not including the two player reps. (There are actually three.)
The writer was angry about skipped issues of the magazine in recent years. (There weren't any skipped issues.)
There were also some unsubstantiated claims, such as saying the USATT web page was worth $75,000 without giving a source or rationale.
I have nothing against dissent. But it should be informed dissent. Don't send out mass emails with various accusations just to see what sticks, or spread rumors you've heard that are easily checked on. If the writer had sent a simple email to any board member or just about anyone involved in USATT, that person could have directed his attention the Bylaws that show that the CEO is hired by the USATT Board (not elected) and that three members are elected by the membership, and he could have directed him to the old USATT Magazine page and the recent one that went up this year, both of which show the actual covers of every issue going back to 2007, with a link from the old one to the archives that have every cover going back to 1999. (This is what I put in my email response.)
In other words, if you see something you don't like, make sure to get your facts straight before lashing out in public. It's not that hard. Really.
The writer responded this morning by making a big deal about how I said there was no election four years ago and demanding that I apologize for this statement, when of course I had very clearly said there was no election for CEO. He argued that he had gotten his info on board members elections by cut and pasting from the Bylaws, when he quite obviously had not. He also argued that the magazine had been delayed, which of course is quite different than saying there had been skipped issues. (He also argued that there were several late CEO Reports on the web page, which "proved" that the magazine had been delayed, when of course the web page updating had nothing to do with the magazine.) I responded one more time, but as I promised, it'll be the last one I respond to.
Now if I can only stay out of online political debates as the U.S. presidential election approaches....
Beginning Junior Class
We have dozens of junior players at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Recently we've had an influx of beginners. I had eleven beginners in my beginning junior class yesterday. Coach Wang Qing Liang assisted as we put them through various multiball and robot drills. We finished with target practice as I fed multiball as the kids took turns trying to hit a Gatorade bottle (red fruit flavor) that I assured them was actually full of nosebleed from my pet rhinoceros. If they hit it, I had to take a sip. I spent the whole time mocking them and saying they had no chance to hit it, leading to great delight (and feigned consternation on my part) when they did.
Coaching beginning junior players, especially in the 5-9 age group, is quite different than other types of coaching. They don't yet have the hand-eye coordination to actually rally among themselves. So you start them out with ball bouncing. (I wrote about this in my blog on Aug. 15, 2011.) Then you work with them using multiball and/or a robot, directing them through the shot. If you make sure they have a proper grip and foot positioning, most of the rest falls into place. You still have to make sure they rotate the body (not just arm) and not slap at the ball with a wristy motion.
Are you a serious hardbat player? Well, the old Hardbat Forum has been resurrected, care of hardbat guru Scott Gordon. Come join us for hardbat discussions, as well as sandpaper and clipboard, which both fall under the "hardbat" umbrella. (I'm normally a sponge player, but I do hardbat on the side.)
Lily Zhang in the School Paper
Here's an article in The Viking: Palo Alto High School Sports News, entitled Olympian Lily Zhang named 2012 Junior and Women’s North American Champion."
Have You Practiced Your Under-the-Leg Smash Today?
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Where do the best players come from?
There are many ways of answering this, but I saw Donn Olsen mention on a table tennis forum how Michael Jordan was described as a "gym rat," and realized that was the answer. Gym rats are people who live and breathe their sport, are the first to show up and the last to leave, and always want to stay longer. They are the ones who practice serves on break, who crave footwork drills, and always are playing at the end. We all know someone like this, and deep down, we all envy them.
Not everyone can be a gym rat. Maybe you can be a gym bird, someone who comes in when he can, then flies south to go back to work, school, or family, and so your table tennis forays are mostly flybys. So make the most of these flybys - practice and play hard! Maybe take a few lessons, practice your serves, and bring a racket to work so you can shadow practice on break.
On the way back from coaching yesterday I was listening to the pre-show before an Orioles game, where they were interviewing Chris Davis. In the background I could hear them playing table tennis! As I've blogged before, I've been invited to coach the Orioles sometime soon, with JJ Hardy, Jake Arrieta, and trainer/former center fielder Brady Anderson three of the main ping-pong players. (It's been temporarily postponed as one of the players has a minor sore arm and so has put aside his ping-pong paddle temporarily. But when we do it, MASN, the Orioles TV network, plans to cover it!)
And speaking of the Orioles, I made the front page of Orioles Hangout again with my article "Ten Worst Things About Being an Orioles Fan." And just below that is my article "Twenty Reasons Matt Wieters is . . . The Most Interesting Man in the World." My other two there are "Top Ten Reasons the Orioles Have the Best Pitching in Baseball" and "Top Twelve Reasons the Orioles Have the Best Hitters in Baseball."
Children's Hospital Exhibition
Here are pictures from an exhibition at Children's Hospital by Soo Yeon Lee and Kim Gilbert. (Click on the pictures to see the next one.) Here is more information on Kim Gilbert's fundraising page for SMASH, a Rally for Kids with Cancer Foundation, with an event coming up on June 23.
2012 Paralympic Table Tennis China Open
Here's a music video (3:33) to the tournament, set to "We Are the World."
Here are the new world rankings, which actually came out on May 3. China has the top five men, the top five women, and the sun rose in the east this morning.
Since we can't all be gym rats and spend our days at the table tennis club playing ping-pong, you can do the next best thing - sit at your desk at work and play Pong! Yes, the classic game that started the video game revolution. If you turn the sound off, then the boss won't hear.
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Perhaps the biggest change at the higher levels in table tennis in recent years is the advent of the backhand "banana" receive. This is the nickname used for a backhand topspin flip of a serve, essentially a mini-loop, with the name referring to the curve the racket goes through with the stroke. It's done against any type of spin, but it's against short backspin that it is most effective. Some do it with straight topspin; most can add sidespin. It's much easier to do this type of shot on the backhand than the forehand, where the wrist is more locked, and so more and more players are covering more and more of the table with this backhand shot. At the U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials this past weekend (Feb. 9-12), it was the receive of choice of nearly every player.
Some players used it nearly every receive they could. Others mixed it up with short pushes. The ones who didn't use it much were thought of as "old school," while all the younger players used the banana flip over and over.
From a server's point of view, it complicates things. If you serve short to a corner, you give the opponent a wide angle. So most short serves go toward the middle of the table, which is easy for the receiver to banana receive. (If you serve long, then it usually gets looped much harder, so that's only done at the higher levels as a surprise variation.) This means most rallies start with the receiver getting in at least a mini-loop. About the only way to avoid this is to serve very wide to the forehand. The problem here is that the receiver then has a wide angle into the server's wide forehand, and since he has to cover that, the server is open to a simple down-the-line receive to the backhand. (This is for two righties; lefties would reverse all this.)
To see a good banana receive, let's look at the tape of the Men's Singles Final at the recent USA Nationals between Peter Li and Han Xiao. (The match doesn't start until 4:30 into the video.) On the very first point, Peter banana receives Han's serve. On the fourth point, Han does the same to Peter's serve. Throughout the match, against short serves, they mix in this shot with short pushes.
One interesting note about Han Xiao's banana receive that I'm particularly proud of - he copied the shot from me! I've been doing a precursor to the shot for decades, with a quick off-the-bounce backhand topspin receive, but it's only a precursor because my shot doesn't have the extreme topspin or sidespin of the modern banana receive. (So I guess I'm still "old school"?) On the ride back from the USA Trials, Han said that during his junior days he was having trouble stopping a local player from third-ball attacking. Then he saw how I disarmed the player with this shot, and so he copied it, added extra topspin, and suddenly he had what would become one of the best banana receives in the country - except, of course, the term "banana receive" wouldn't come out until a number of years later. (He also said that the reason he's so quick on counterlooping strong loops to the forehand without backing up is because of the zillions of practice matches we had, where my best forehand loops were often aimed at his forehand.)
4-F for Table Tennis
Here's my four F's for table tennis, which I often cite to players before matches: Focus, Free-play, Fysical, Fun. Yeah, one doesn't quite fit, spelling-wise, but this is ping-pong, not Scrabble. Maybe 4-F can become as big as 4-H?
TT on NBC News
Dial 800 for Kim Gilbert and Soo Yeon Lee
Here's a short video/commercial (I'm not sure which it counts as) by Dial 800, who sponsors table tennis player Kim Gilbert, who is featured in the video with table tennis star, Soon Yeon Lee (1:32).
Rod Blagojevich and Ping-Pong
Here's a video from Yahoo about luxury prisons (1:50) which doesn't mention table tennis until the very end. Then it talks about the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado, which "...offers foosball, pool, and ping-pong," and finishes by saying, "Rod Blagojevich ... will have fourteen years to work on his backhand."
Cho! - 21 times
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Style and personality
Many years ago, while driving to a tournament with Dave Sakai (a top U.S. player for many decades) and Ron Lilly (one of the best pips-out penholders at the time), Dave pointed out that most players tend to develop playing styles that are opposite of their personalities. Dave likes to gamble (and in fact now has houses in both Maryland and Las Vegas, where he likes to spend much of his time), and can be pretty aggressive in arguments. And yet he plays a very safe pushing and blocking game. Ron is a very nice, non-confrontational type, and yet he plays an almost reckless all-out hitting game. And me? Most would say I'm the intellectual type, and yet in my early years, rather than developing some complicated tactical game, I worked hard to develop a pure all-out physical forehand attacking game. (However, as the years went by, my game evolved into a highly tactical game, though I still like all-out forehand attacking.)
Do aggressive people tend to develop passive styles, and vice versa? Do thinkers tend to develop non-thinking games, and vice versa? I think these observations apply to many players. I've found that the smartest people - scientists, doctors, computer programmers - often like to play table tennis mindlessly. I've also found that some of the best table tennis thinkers go home and watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men" or "American Idol." It's almost as if thinker types like to rest their brains and play mindless table tennis, while others who don't spend a lot of time thinking on the job do their thinking in table tennis.
I once coached a scientist who was one of the tops in his field. The guy was brilliant, and away from the table understood the game very well. But at the table he was about the most mindless player I've ever coached. He rarely noticed what worked or didn't work, and was oblivious to what his opponent was doing. He had no ability to adjust his game in a match, or even to follow advice giving between games. A typical 10-year-old would notice obvious things that this player was unable to see.
There is also the opposite - smart people who think tactically so much as they develop their game that they never develop high-level shots, since those shots were low percentage while being developed, and so were never developed. These players are good tacticians, but poor at long-term strategic thinking.
There are also hybrids, smart people who develop very physical attacking games (as opposed to a "tactical" style, usually more defensive), and apply their tactical thinking to developing that style. Often they play somewhat mindlessly while developing their games, and only start to really play a thinking game when they become advanced. Or they apply their thinking only to developing the style, and don't worry about tactics too much until later on. (If they do think about tactics too much early on, it often limits them.)
Among juniors, there are many really nice juniors with non-aggressive personalities who become offensive terrors at the table. Often the ones with more aggressive personalities become pushers and blockers at the table. On the other hand, there are many non-aggressive women, especially in Asia, who become passive choppers. It might be a cultural thing.
One other niche is what I'll call the Chinese penhold mystique style. The penhold grip allows easier maneuvering and variation over the table with pushes and blocks, which leads to tactical play, and my club has a number of older Chinese penholders who are both very smart and play smart tactics. I think it sort of goes with the penhold grip, while shakehanders often tend more toward physical rallying.
Many don't fit into these categories, of course. Where do you fit in?
Mind over Matter?
Here's an interesting article and video from CNN where former English champion Matthew Syed explains why an individual's ability is secondary to the level of coaching they receive and the facilities to which they have access. One thing that jumped out at me was this statement about how a small group of players became the best players in England: "We happened to have the best coach who gave us access to the only 24-hour club." This is similar to what is happening in the U.S., where a few clubs are developing most of the top cadets and juniors in the U.S. - because they are the ones that have full-time clubs and top-level coaches. This is why the level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so much stronger than in the past. (I blogged about this on January 4, 2012.)
Chinese Women's Team
Here's an interesting article on the Chinese Team getting preparing for the World Team Championships.
Kim Gilbert coming back
Here's an article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Kim Gilbert's table tennis comeback. She'll be at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12.
Michael Maze versus Timo Boll
The scooping backspin bounceback return
I teach this to all my students (0:30).
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