Tip of the Week
Tournament Toughness. (Also covered is the question that's been raised a lot over the years: Should a player play a rating event if he's eligible but who has improved beyond the rating event cutoff?
Coaching Darren O'Day
On Friday last week I had a 90-minute coaching session with Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. He's a 6'4" submarining reliever who had a 2.18 ERA in 68 games last year (the best record of any Oriole pitcher), a 2.28 ERA the year before in 69 games, and a lifetime record of 20-9 with a 2.62 ERA. These are great stats! (That is why he makes $3.2 million/year.)
Readers of this blog know that on May 13 I coached Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder and current Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson, and that on August 21 I took four of our players to the Orioles clubhouse (they have a table) where we did a demo and played them for three hours. Here's a video (1:19) made of the visit at Orioles.com, and here's another video (5:28) played on Orioles Extra TV. Here's a group picture.
While at their clubhouse, several players asked for my business card for future lessons. (Even Chris Davis asked for one.) And so, out of the blue, I got an email from Darren last week asking for lessons. The session was from 1:00-2:30 PM on Friday. Local schools were closed that day for some teacher meeting, and so we were running a mini-camp - and so a number of our junior players were around to watch.
Darren, JJ, Brady, and over half the Orioles have been playing table tennis in their clubhouse almost non-stop the last few years, and it shows. As I blogged before, over half of them play at the 1200 level or better, led by JJ (pushing 1900 level) and Brady (pushing 1800 level). Steve Pearce is probably the next best (1500?), with Darren probably next at around 1400, just ahead of a number of others. JJ and Brady have pretty good technique, with one major exception - JJ tends to hit his shots with the racket tip pointed up a bit, which is good for blocking - and JJ blocks aggressively at a pretty high level. But it's not so good for hitting and looping.
Darren had copied this tip-up technique from JJ, so the first thing we worked on was keeping the racket tip down a bit. He also had a tendency to roll his racket over at contact (i.e. close it), by raising his elbow. So we also worked on that. On the backhand he tended to reach for the ball rather than move - in contrast to his forehand, where he was more mobile. So we did some side-to-side backhand drills where he had to step with his left to move left, step with the right to move right. We also worked on a slightly wider stance so he'd be lower to the table, with more stability when moving and stroking.
He had learned to put some spin on his forehand serve, probably by watching JJ, who has pretty good serves. But he was using the same grip to serve as he played, and so wasn't getting much wrist into the serve. So I showed him how to change the grip to maximize the spin on his forehand pendulum serve.
So the focus of the first session was forehands (including a lot of smashing drills), backhands, footwork, and serves. Like most professional athletes, he was great at focusing on one topic to perfect it, and picked things up quickly. He, JJ, and Brady all that the same "Get it right!" attitude, and were willing to do any technique over and over until it was perfect. He was surprised at how physical table tennis was.
He's signed up for regular lessons now, once a week. (I can't disclose the times publicly, but I might do so for some locals who want autographs or photos.) He also said that Tommy Hunter is interested in lessons, so we might work him into my schedule next. (When he paid for the lesson, he even left a nice tip!)
After the session he hit for about half an hour with Crystal Wang (11, the top girl of her age in the country), and Raghu Nadmichettu (one of our other coaches and a former USA Men's Singles Quarterfinalist at the Nationals) - they went easy on him. He posed for pictures at the end. Here's a picture, L-R: Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Darren O'Day, Crystal Wang, and me (Larry Hodges). Photo by Chris Zhang.
I have a new nickname. I'm "The Oriole Ping-Pong Whisperer."
ITTF Trick Shot Competition - Who/Hugh Should Win?
They are down to five finalists. USA's Adam Hugh's in the lead, but he's in a close two-way race. (Ironically he's actually in third place as well with his second video, but all that counts is first, so he'd rather you focus on that one - the one where he's bouncing the ball on the end of his racket and then making a long-distance serve into a bowl - this one.
It's been a while since USA has won a "world title," so let's bring this one home! Voting ends at 6:59PM USA eastern time (EST), which is 11:59 GMT. Here is a message from Adam on what you need to do:
Thanks to all of your support, I have made it into the final round of the ITTF trick shot contest! This stage is a Facebook vote and takes only a few seconds to do. If you enjoyed my videos and want to help me win, please vote before the poll closes on Monday. All you have to do is:
1) Click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=721598834536789
2) Click "like" for the photo
And that's it :) If you want to help more, you can always "share" it too so your FB friends can help but that's completely up to you. Anyway, I truly do appreciate everybody's support through this entire process and, regardless of the outcome, I just want to say thank you. I wouldn't have even made it this far.
In fairness to the others, here's the home page for the ITTF Trick Shot Competition. Late last night the ITTF put out on their Facebook page the following note:
Due to a really close view count between 5th & 6th position, we have shortlisted 6 instead of 5! They are: Adam Hugh 1 (377k), Josep Anton: (330k), Adam Hugh 2 (322k), Matt Hetherington (275k), Bruchle (256k), Daniel Ives (254k). Have you voted for them in the Poll yet? Stay tuned, we will be announcing the winner tomorrow, 5th Nov!
Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.
You Call It Ping Pong We Call It Table Tennis!
Here's a new highlights video (9:22) set to music with lots of slow-motion play.
Mary Had a Little Lamb - Ping-Pong Style
Here's the video (15 sec) - by Rich Heo, and I'm jealous because I used to do this, but never got it on video!!!
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As noted in my blog yesterday, I did three hours of demonstrations and exhibitions at a health fair at a Bar-T yesterday. The location was about 200 yards from MDTTC, about a 3-iron shot away! They already had a table, so we physically carried over 14 barriers to create a playing court. I did all the talking, giving short intros, then stroke and footwork demonstrations, exhibitions, and then challenges from the audience (sometimes hitting around, sometimes playing games, and sometimes challenging them to return serves). We went through this routine every 30 minutes. My hitting partners were 2500 player Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") the first half, and 2600 player Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") the second half. John Hsu stayed the entire time to give out flyers and talk to potential players.
The actual turnout was not as great as I'd have hoped. When we do exhibitions for schools we typically get a gymnasium full of kids. (And we have plans now for doing a round of exhibitions at local schools - more on that when it comes up.)
One ironic moment - for one of our "shows," we only had about ten people watching. And then all but one had to suddenly had to leave - it turned out it was time for the belly dancing demo at the health fair, and all of them were either belly dancers or watchers! So we cancelled that segment and hit with the one viewer who remained, and others who came by shortly after. It's the first time in my 37 years in table tennis that I've ever lost an audience to belly dancing. Has this happened to you?
About halfway through, while reaching for a ball that had gone into some wooden shelves, I cut myself badly on my left index finger. It began to bleed pretty badly. Fortunately, being a health fair, they had a first aid kit available. I tried putting on a bandage from the kit, and it literally crumbled in my hand. How old was this kit? Older than my 37 years in table tennis? I grabbed a second band aid, and it too crumbled. I finally found one near the bottom that stayed together enough to cover the cut and stop the bleeding. It sufficed for the two hours before I was able to get home to clean it and put on a more recent vintage of a band aid.
Speaking of injuries, I'd pulled a muscle in my thigh during the hardbat competition at the Cary Cup last Friday. I'd been limping slightly since then, but able to coach against non-top players. I aggravated it a bit during the exhibitions, and will probably take today's session off. (Normally I'm a practice partner on Fridays from 5-7 PM for our Elite junior program.)
Explaining Spin to a Six-Year-Old
After the exhibition I still had two hours of coaching to do that afternoon. The most memorable memory of those two hours? Talking about spin for ten minutes with a very curious six-year-old. Literally every sentence out of his mouth began with "Why" or "How come," but I'd rather kids with such interest than ones without. And now the kid knows all about topspin, backspin, and sidespin, and their effects, advantages, and disadvantages - plus I taught him how to push for the first time, backspin to backspin, which he found fascinating. The funniest moment came after I explained and demonstrated sidespin, and he said that's how the earth spins! At some point I'll explain corkscrewspin to him.
Spring Break Camp
Our Spring Break Camp at Maryland Table Tennis Center is Mon-Fri next week, 10AM - 6PM. Come on out and join us! It's for all ages and levels, but will be pretty much dominated by local junior players on spring break from school. I mostly run the morning sessions, where I give short lectures and the mostly do multiball training. (Since it's mostly locals, the lectures will be very short - they've heard them all a zillion times.) We have a two-hour lunch break (with Chinese food delivered), and then the kids play various games, such as "Jungle Pong," while a dedicated few practice their serves or do other training. The afternoon sessions (run by Cheng and Jack) are about half drilling at the table, and half games.
Here are new articles at Table Tennista. They do great international coverage.
You Think Table Tennis Is Not a Sport Then Watch This
Here's a recent highlights video (9:13).
Jean-Michel Saive vs. Segun Toriola
Here's a video (8:59, with time between points removed) of an interesting match of two veterans from Belgium and Nigeria at the 2008 Olympics.
Aerobic Table Tennis in Spain
Here's a video (9:48) of an aerobic table tennis session with kids in Spain. Most of it takes place away from the table, but they hit the tables toward the end.
"Well, Kid, Ya Beat Me"
Here's one of my favorite table tennis cartoons, from the Far Side.
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On Tuesday I did a video analysis for a top USA junior player. I've been doing this for $150, but I just raised the price to $200 - it just takes too long to make it worth the time otherwise. This one took over six and a half hours, and ran 18 pages (single spaced in Times Roman 12 point) and 8653 words, my longest one to date. (I'm not doing any more until January - too busy.) The one I did yesterday covered seven games against four opponents, plus video of him practicing. (One of the games he played ended 25-23!!! Yes, in a game to 11.) Here's my video analysis page, which includes two samples of ones I've done.
I break my video analysis into four parts:
When I do the point-by-point analysis (the most time consuming part), I write about what happened in every point, usually watching each point 2-3 times. Then I go over those notes to analyze the match itself. Then I go over each match analysis to analyze the player's game, and work out what drills he needs to work on.
In the one I did yesterday, some of the things I found (and gave recommendations on how to improve) included:
Peter Li Teaches the Basics
Reigning USA Men's Singles Champion teaches the basics of the grip, stance, and forehand in this short video (1:10).
Playing the Middle
Here's a coaching video (8:26) from Greg Letts on playing the middle.
Magnifique Moment de Tennis de Table
Here's another highlights video (11:21)!
Under 21 Europeans
Here's a good match between the #2 and #4 Europeans under age 21 (#15 and #19 in the world under 21), Simon Gauzy of France versus Kristian Karlsson of Sweden. The future of European table tennis? The time between points is removed so the whole match takes place in 5:26.
Ultimate Ball Control
Here's a video (53 seconds) of a kid who has incredible skill in getting the ball into a cup of . . . water. (So it's not beer pong, it's water pong.)
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Tip of the Week
Malware and Spammers and Hall of Fame Program, Oh My!
(And update on "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers")
I was really hoping to finish the page layouts before Thanksgiving for my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers" (previously titled "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide.") However, I'm in an ongoing battle with false malware warnings and spammers, plus I'm doing the USATT Hall of Fame Program booklet for the upcoming inductions at the USA Nationals. Plus, of course, the usual coaching duties, this blog, and little things like eating and sleeping and seeing the dentist this afternoon. (Pause for dramatic cringing.) So it's probably not going to happen. There's still a small chance it'll be done in time so I'll have copies for the Nationals, but probably not. (It's looking like it'll be about 240 pages and right about 100,000 words.)
Regarding the malware problem, the site has been scanned over and Over and OVER, and no spam has been found. You can scan it yourself in seconds at Sucuri Securities, and it comes up clean. (It's the removal that takes time, not the scanning.) The problem, as noted previously, is that there seems to be ongoing vestigial remnants of past malware warnings from a malware problem from over a month ago. The problem comes from Google, and it mostly affects the 40% of viewers who use Google Chrome as their browser. Some Chrome users have said they aren't having problems, and there have been some reports of warnings from Firefox, but none from those using Explorer. You should be able to just ignore the warnings.
I've emailed with Sucuri, and they've assured me they can stop the malware warnings, but it's going to cost $189.99/year for their coverage, on top of a couple hundred I've already spent trying to solve this problem on this mostly volunteer site.
Regarding spammers, the problem there is the malware warnings have somehow effected email notifications to me of spam postings, and so recently I've had to hunt them down manually. Normally, with the email notifications, I can delete them, and block and report the spammers within seconds. If you happen to see a spam posting either as a comment to a blog entry or on the forum, let me know so I can send a nuclear device at whoever created it.
Brian Pace's Serve & Return Videos
Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis has produced two videos on serve and serve return. They are Serve and Server Return Training for Table Tennis, Part 1 (2hr 21min) and Part 2 (1hr 58min). Here's the promo video (1:19).
USATT Coaching Newsletter
Merit Badges for Table Tennis
Here's a proposal from Diego Schaaf and Wei Wang on Merit Badges for Achieving Playing Class (i.e. reaching specific ratings). I'll probably blog about this later on, but for now, what are your thoughts? It seems like a good idea. Similar suggestions have come up in the past, but three things always stopped it: 1) What should be awarded for these achievements - belts, like in martial arts? Pins? Badges? Certificates? etc.; 2) Few ever put together an actual proposal such as this eon, and 3) No one ever follows up on it.
I am sad to report that Ray Chen, 79, a longtime Maryland player and lifetime member of USATT, passed away last Wednesday, on Nov. 14.
Athlete Isn't "Extraordinary" in Visa Bid
Here's an article in the New York Times about the U.S. turning down the visa bid for Afshin Noroozi, Iran's first table tennis Olympian and world #284.
TopSpin's Fourth Annual Ping-Pong tournament
Here's an article about this annual New York City event, which included guest appearances by present and former NBA players Gerald Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, and Allan Houston, as well as radio host Angie Martinez, the "Voice of New York." The tournament raises money for three charities, A Better Chance, Change For Kids, and Horizons.
For People Who Don't Really Know Table Tennis
Here's a great new highlights video that just went up yesterday (7:31), and one of the best I've ever seen. I'm nominating for point of the year the one between Germany's Timo Boll and Croatia's Andrej Gacina that starts at 1:25 and continues all the way to 1:51. Amazingly, as so often it seems to happen, the point was at 10-8 match point in the fifth, and this was no exhibition point.
If I ever find the creator of the malware that caused so many problems on this site, I will do to them what this bunny rabbit does to this ping-pong paddle (1:43).
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A low stance lowers the center of gravity while bending the knees. Both of these allow for quicker movements as well as added power. This is important, especially at higher levels where quick footwork and power dominate. At the beginning stage it's not as comfortable, but once you get used to it it's hard to imagine playing without a low stance. So it's a good idea to get in the habit early in your playing career. (If someone plays most of their life but are not professionals, like 99.9999% of us, is it a "playing career"?)
Many players say they can read spin better when they stay low, especially when returning serves. Many players adopt an extra low stance for receiving serve, and then go to a less low stance the rest of the rally. I've always suspected that the low stance doesn't really help read the spin better so much as it allows them to react to the spin faster.
When players think about footwork, they mostly think about moving to the ball in a rally, where they move mostly side to side as they run down each shot. Footwork for returning serves is way underestimated, which is one reason players often return serves awkwardly as they reach for balls they should move to. In that split second as the ball leaves the opponent's racket a receiver has to make a snap decision on whether to step under the table and move in to the forehand, backhand, or middle for a short ball; whether to step off from the table if the ball is extra deep; whether to move to the wide forehand or backhand for a deep serve there; whether to move left or right to receive a deep ball to the middle with the forehand or backhand; whether to use a forehand from the backhand or (mostly against short balls) a backhand from the forehand side. A low stance that gives a quick start makes this a lot easier.
U.S. Nationwide Club Team League
Just the below via email about the U.S. Nationwide Club Team League. I'll know more tomorrow as I'm going to be in an online meeting about it tonight. Already 104 clubs have registered, including my club, MDTTC.
Teams enrolling by April 30th will save $75.
Who can enroll teams?
Table tennis clubs, college teams, schools and corporations who have registered with USNTTL.
In order to grow table tennis in the U.S. table tennis must become a team sport where clubs are taking care of their players. Existing clubs need to be the center of table tennis activities in their local areas.
This league with the $100,000 prize money will provide free publicity and will bring in new players and increased revenue for the clubs.
What do I need to do?
- Create one or more team rosters.
- List the players in order from the highest level to the lowest level.
- Ask players to remove their name if they want to be left out of the club team competition (10 players in a roster would cost only $30/player for the whole league)
- Go to our website (www.usnttl.com) and enroll your team/s.
How do I get additional teams?
- Send a press release to your local papers.
- Create a new roster for players who respond to your press release.
- Ask your club members if they play table tennis at work or school?
- Ask them to form a team to compete against other companies or schools in their area.
- Go to our website (www.usnttl.com) and enroll your team/s.
Remember, the home court advantage goes to teams in order of registration.
The more teams you enroll, the more funds you'll generate for your club.
If you have any question please contact Attila Malek at 714-677-0048 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ITTF Initiatives Shortlisted Four Times for SportAccord Awards
Here's a great highlights video (7:56) set to music - enjoy!
Harry Potter plays table tennis
Table Tennis Nation brings us news of Harry Potter, I mean Daniel Radcliff, playing table tennis.
Funny table tennis pictures
Here are eight hilarious table tennis pictures from Eric Jenson's Facebook page:
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NO BLOG ON THURSDAY & FRIDAY
I'm off this morning to coach at the U.S. Olympic Trials (Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12), so no blog entries the next two days. See you all again on Monday - hopefully with lots of news from the Trials!
U.S. Olympic Trials Live Streaming and Schedule
Yes, you can watch the U.S. Olympic Trials live! They are care of NBC Universal Sports Live Feeds. (Trials are Feb. 9-12, Thur-Sun, in Cary, NC.)
Here is the basic format of the Trials. For both men and women, the top ten seeded players are seeded to the Top Twelve. The rest play a qualifier on Thursday, Feb. 9, for the final two spots. On the men's side, 32 players (13 of them rated over 2400, led by Jeff Huang and Dan Seemiller at 2504 and 2494) will play single elimination to the final two, who will advance to the Top Twelve. On the women's side, there are only three in the qualifier, so they will play a rather short round robin to see which two advance to the Top Twelve. (See player listing below to see who the players are in the Qualifiers.)
The players in the Top Twelve then play a complete round robin, eleven matches each, four on Friday, four on Saturday, and three on Sunday. All matches are best 4 out of 7.
Note that the tentative playing times are listed in the Prospectus above.
The non-playing arm
While coaching yesterday I found myself having trouble moving to my left to block against a student's loop. Something felt wrong. I grabbed my towel, and stalled while trying to figure it out. Then it hit me - I'd been coaching for three hours, and I'd gotten lazy with my left (non-playing) arm. Instead of holding it out for balance, it was hanging loosely by my side. Without it to counterbalance my playing arm, and to actually initiate rotations to the left by pulling, my movements were sluggish. I raised the arm, and the problem was gone. I felt like greased lightning again. (Okay, tired greased lightning.)
The irony is that I'm always harping on my students to use their non-playing arm for balance. Many players, especially beginners, simply do not use it, letting it hang down like a limp rag. You not only need it for balance, but in any rotation to the left (moving to play a backhand, any forehand stroke) you should pull with that side.
Special note to coaches: It's very easy for a coach to get lazy or tired from hours of coaching, and to let the non-playing arm hang loosely. Most coaches are strong enough players that it won't greatly affect their play. However, this puts great pressure on your upper back to rotate the upper body without any help from the non-playing arm, which should be both balancing as well as initiating many movements. If you do this, you'll probably end up with back problems. I know now that this is one of the reasons I had so many back problems last year.
Why red and black?
For those not historically-endowed, the two-color rule was passed in 1983 so that players could tell which side an opponent with two surfaces used to hit the ball. Originally the rule was that the surface colors must be "clearly different." Players and manufacturers immediately began the search for "clearly different" colors that look the same in action - and they found it in black and maroon. When examined, they are clearly different, but when the racket is moving and ten or so feet away, they are hard to tell apart. Confusion reigned.
So the ITTF ruled that the two surfaces must be black and cherry red. The latter was later changed to bright red.
An interesting side issue is that for many years the die used for the black side dye slowed the surface down. Because of this, most players put black on their backhands, red on the forehands. (There was a study on this once, and found that 70% of tournament players had red on the forehand. I was one of the rebels - I've had black on my forehand since 1983! I like a springy backhand.) This isn't a problem anymore, but perhaps because players tend to copy other players, I think players still tend to have the red on the forehand. At the U.S. Olympic Trials (I leave for them tomorrow) I'll try to remember to do a count among the players on this.
U.S. Champ Timothy Wang hopes to bring table tennis out of the basement
Here's an interview with Timothy Wang . . . in Sports Illustrated! See, we've made it out of the basement.
USATT Videos Archive
Here's USATT's video archive, with 60 videos, including most of the major matches from the 2011 USA Nationals.
Pongcast TV Episode 9
Here's Pongcast TV Episode 9 (25:37), which covers the 2012 Slovenian Open.
Jan-Ove Waldner vs. Ma Long?
I think Waldner wins this one on a landslide. Ma Long's a great player, but to become an all-time great, you have to actually win the big events. Give him time, and perhaps we'll have this discussion in five years.
Baby doing multiball is Internet hit
On Feb. 3, I blogged about and linked to the video of Jamie Myska-Buddell, 18 months old, doing multiball training. The video is now an Internet sensation, attracting over 800,000 hits. Here's the article.
Here's another highlights video (6:44). I sometimes think there's a sweatshop somewhere in China or Africa that churns these things out.
One-year-old "Joy Se Hyuk" demonstrates her long-pips chopping skills
Someday she will beat you (1:51).
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