January 17, 2013

Coaching an Olympic Figure Skating Coach

Yesterday I had the honor of coaching for an hour Audrey Weisiger, the celebrated USA figure skating coach. (She was coach of the 1998 and 2002 USA Olympic Team, and coach of Michael Weiss, and has also coached Timothy Goebel, Lisa Kwon, Christine Lee, Parker Pennington, and Tommy Steenberg.) She plans on taking a series of lessons with me at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. She was referred to me by John Olsen, a player/coach at the Northern Virginia Table Tennis Center.

Audrey had been playing with an extreme backhand grip, trying to cover the whole table with her backhand. Hitting a forehand was a completely new experience for her. When we started out, she sort of slashed at the ball with an open racket, and the balls sailed off the end. (Part of the reason for this was she was used to playing with a hardbat, not the sponge racket she was now using.) She also tended to either use no body rotation, or rotate the entire body stiffly as if it were one solid object.

The first half of the session was all multiball. The key to fixing her stroke was to have her start with the racket slightly lower and slightly closed, and stroke slightly upwards. I also had her rotate her upper body backwards a bit during the backswing. When we did these things, she went off the end with an awkward stroke. She still wasn't used to how the sponge racket grabbed the ball, and so was instinctively aiming too much up. So I had her try to topspin the top of the ball into the net. This she had no trouble doing - and miraculously, it led to a good stroke, just not enough lift. Next I had her do the same stroke but try to lift the ball just over the net. Bingo! From there on her stroke was correct, and she proceeded to hit lots of nice forehands (with decent topspin) in a row. (She also had a tendency to close the racket during the forward stroke, and to back off the table too much, but we mostly fixed those problems.)

We did a lot of forehands to ingrain the stroke, and then did some side-to-side stroking drills, occasionally going back to one spot to make sure she didn't lose the stroke. Finally, when she looked pretty comfortable, we went forehand-to-forehand live. Within minutes she was able to hit up to 20 in a row. It still needs work as she still sometimes backed off the table too much and the stroke sometimes gets erratic if she has to move, but the foundation is now there.

We also worked on her backhand, where she was much more comfortable. We had to change her grip from the extreme backhand grip she had been using, but she picked it up quickly. (At first she was using a different grip for forehand and backhand, but we got away from that.)

We won't talk about her serve as we only had a few minutes at the end, where I learned she'd been using a "bounce" serve where she bounced the ball on her side of the table and hit it directly to the other side, rather than have it bounce on her side first. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!! But she was able to serve correctly before we finished, and promised to practice her serve for next time, along with shadow practicing the forehand and backhand strokes. She has to mix next week - out of town traveling - but will continue the next week.

It was interesting discussing the similarities in coaching between our sports. In both, there's a lot of training to develop muscle memory, and a lot of visualization.

Other celebrities I've coached at MDTTC include Jack Markell (governor of Delaware) and Judah Friedlander (standup comic and one of the stars of 30 Rock.)


After I finish this blog and do some promised editing of a long table tennis article for someone, I either collapse into bed or start the final tedious line-by-line proofing of the pages of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. The book is 240 pages with 99,528 words. The bigger question is where do I do the proofing? Ledo's Pizza (pepperoni pizza)? Hong Kong Café (kung pau or sesame chicken)? Wendy's (chili with cheese and onion)? Or at MDTTC (no food, just lots of ping-pong on the side)? For some reason, I rarely do extensive paper proofing at home; I always like to go out somewhere for that, usually Ledo's.

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Two ITTF Coaching Seminars in the U.S. in 2013 are now scheduled, both in Austin, TX. There will be a Level 1 Course on June 10-14, and a Level 2 Course on Sept. 9-14. I took the Level 1 course in 2010, and in 2011 I taught one. There's a chance I may teach another one this year - not sure yet. I was going to take the Level 2 course last year but just didn't have the time or money for it. I really want to go, but to go I'd have to pay roughly $300 registration, $300 air fare, $300 hotel, and lose at least $500 in lost coaching fees, or $1400 total. I can't afford $1400. Anyone want to sponsor me?

USATT Annual Giving Campaign

It's time for the annual USATT Giving Campaign! USATT receives matching funds from the U.S. Olympic Committee for money donated.

Send Gary Schlager to the Maccabiah Games

Here's a nice page Gary's put together to raise funds for his trip. He's raised $5849 of the $10,000 needed. (Maybe I should put one of these together to solicit the money to send me to the ITTF Level 2 course? See segment above.)

$1,000,000 Sandpaper Tournament?

We've already had a couple of $100,000 World Ping Pong Championships, with sandpaper rackets only. Now promoter Barry Hearn is talking $ one million. "You're not going to get kids to pick up the game if it is not aspirational. So I need to get my tournament up to US$1 million prize money as quickly as possible. And then we will blow the whole table tennis world up with a bang." He described sandpaper table tennis this way: "It's rock 'n' roll. It's going to be high-fives, knocking balls into the crowd, interaction between the players and the crowd." And he aims to "catapult the game into the big league" and onto the international television stage, which he says has a potential audience of 700 million.

Timo Boll vs. the Chopper

Adam Bobrow's been posting daily videos on Facebook of Timo Boll, in anticipation of his visit to Spin LA this Saturday. Here's one showing a great point (47 sec) as Timo loops nearly 50 shots to win a point against chopper Ding Song.

Drinkhall's Multiball

Here's a video (7:37) and analysis of England's Paul Drinkhall doing a multiball training session, by Bar Lacombe of Expert Table Tennis.

Table Tennis Mural

They've put up a sports mural at the University of California at Berkeley at the Recreational Sports Facility - and it features a picture of Yau-Man Chan playing table tennis! Also shown are soccer and kayaking, and perhaps others not shown in the picture.

"Trust the Topspin"

I was teaching someone to loop yesterday and he kept looping into the net. I told him to sweep the ball upwards, and "trust the topspin" to pull the ball down. He looped the next ball way off the end. I said "Not that much!" Somehow this exchange struck me as hilarious at the time. Maybe you had to be there.

TT on TV

There were a pair of table tennis scenes on TV recently:

  • CSI NY, Jan. 4 episode, "Command + P," with a 50-second table tennis scene starting at 34:20.
  • Storage Wars New York, Jan. 15 episode, "I've Got a Bride to Sell You in Brooklyn," featuring table tennis player Will Horowitz. The table tennis starts at 16:45 and lasts about a minute as Will explains to two woman the value of their table tennis robot.

Chinese Women's Team Gangnam Dance

Here's the Chinese National Team doing a Gangnam Dance (1:22)!

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November 19, 2012

Tip of the Week

Backhand and Forehand Playing Distance.

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

The latest USATT Coaching Newsletter, Issue Number 6, just came out. (You can see the previous five here.) Here's the Table of Contents:

  • Last Call for "Coach of the Year Nominations"
  • USATT Holds First Ever ITTF Level 2 Course
  • First USATT Coaches Certified as ITTF Level 2 and Level 3 Course Conductors
  • USATT Coaching Reaches an Historic Milestone – 100 ITTF Coaches
  • USATT Coaching is Looking for Clubs to Host Regional ITTF Courses
  • Towards the Future!

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.

Ray Chen

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.

Crazy Rabbit

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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February 23, 2012

Topspin on the backhand

One of the junior players I coach has been struggling to put topspin on his backhand. They all come out either totally flat (i.e. spinless) or even with slight backspin. This greatly hampers the pace at which he can rally consistently.

I'd tried for weeks to get him to put a little topspin on the shot, but nothing seemed to work. I had him exaggerate the rolling motion, almost like a mini-loop. I had him watch top players as they hit their backhands. I guided him through the stroke. But as soon as we went to rallying, he'd be back to his super-flat stroke.

Yesterday I tried something new and yet simple. I told him to just take the ball right off the bounce, with the racket at table level, and perpendicular to the table. At contact, I told him to lift the ball up over the net. It seemed so simple, and was nearly the same as the way I'd guided him through the stroke, and yet it worked - the rest of the session his backhand had that light topspin needed to control the ball. (Occasionally he'd fall into his old habits, but I'd remind him, and he'd go back to doing it properly.) He said it was the different sound of the contact that he was trying to match each time. Hopefully he'll still have this better backhand when he comes in to play this weekend, and at our next private session next week.


Recently I've been way too busy on way too many projects. Simultaneously, there's been some really irritating people doing irritating things, making it hard to focus on the way too many projects when other activities beckoned, such as watching TV or reading a good novel. So I printed out a big sign saying "Determination" and put it on my bulletin board just over my computer, where I can't help but see it constantly. It seems to help. (I keep hearing in my head the song "Tradition" from the movie Fiddler on the Roof, except I hear "Determination" instead of "Tradition." I'm not religious, but it's still a great movie.)

Ping-Pong Hero

Here's a news broadcast about Daryl Sterling, Jr., U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis star (5:36). I've actually coached against Daryl in several tournament matches - never successfully, alas. He lost a leg at age five in a car accident, and plays while leaning on a crutch.

Top Ten Rallies

Here's a Top Ten Rallies video (3:30). I don't think I've posted this one before.

Anagrams of U.S. Team Members

As promised yesterday where I did anagrams of the U.S. Men's Team, here are anagrams of the U.S. Women's Team - but as you'll see, they weren't nearly as many good ones, other than the ones for Ariel. Don't criticize or I will run you down and smite you, for not only is "Hodges" just an anagram for "He's God," but "Larry Hodges" is just an anagram for "Dasher Glory."

Gao Jun

  • On A Jug

Ariel Hsing

  • Irish Angel
  • Shinier Gal
  • A Shine Girl
  • Her Ailings
  • Sir Healing
  • English Air
  • I Signal Her
  • Rein His Gal
  • Nag I Relish
  • Has Lie Grin

Lily Zhang

  • Hall Zingy

Erica Wu

  • I Cue War


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February 20, 2012

Tip of the Week

Moving Players In and Out.


I'm often amazed at how the world of table tennis is divided between two types: those who use the full power of topspin in their games, and those who don't. This doesn't mean looping every ball, but it does mean using topspin to control your offensive shots and often your defensive ones as well. Even when doing simple forehands or backhands a little topspin goes a long way. I know; I sometimes hit the ball too flat and pay the price.

It's actually very simple. Topspin pulls the ball down. This means balls that would go off the end instead curve down and hit the table. It's like having an additional couple of feet of table to aim for. The best way of demonstrating it is to drop a ball near the end line, and hit it as it reaches table level. Try smashing flat, and watch it go off. Then smash with a little topspin, and watch as it occasionally hits the far side, but only barely. Then loop kill it, and watch how it often hits the table with two feet to spare. (Of course, you have to be able to do these shots at a relatively high level to do the above - but if you can't, then get some top player to demonstrate, or just trust me.)

When attacking, you don't have the entire 4.5 feet of the far side of the table to aim for. On many shots, if you don't use topspin, you might only have the last few inches to aim for. With topspin, the size of your target goes up tremendously.

And we haven't even gotten into how topspin makes it easier to return hard-hit balls (again, larger target), or how the topspin jumps both on the table and off the opponent's racket, making it harder for them to make good returns. There's a place for all types of spin in table tennis, but from the intermediate to the advanced levels, topspin is king.

The problem, of course, is that it takes a lot of practice to learn to create this topspin, right? Actually, not really. It does take a lot of practice to use a lot of topspin, but even a little topspin on your drives goes a surprisingly long way, and that's not too hard to develop. How do you do this? Get a coach to work with you, and then practice.

To paraphrase a famous horror movie quote, next time you're playing grab the ball and tell it, "The power of topspin controls you!"

Western Open - note the quarterfinalists

Here are the results of the Western Open this past weekend. Congrats to all the winners! But as someone pointed out to me, there's something troubling here. Go to the Open results and look at the quarterfinalists. What do they have in common? All eight were born and trained in China. Not one American-trained player made the quarters. I have two things to say about this. 1) Congrats to all these eight quarterfinalists, who are champions (or at least quarterfinalists) no matter where they developed their games; and 2) Coaches everywhere, you have your work cut out for you. Get to work! (The nice thing is we have the strongest group of cadet players coming up right now probably in U.S. history, so perhaps things will be different in a few years.)

U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary

Here's another good article on the Trials last week.

Defensive play videos

Here are some great examples of defensive play, though much of it is exhibition. A lot of it features Germany's Jorg Rosskopf against chopper Chen Bing.

Non-Table Tennis - Story Published

My humorous fantasy story "Life and Death and Bongo Drums" was just published at Every Day Fiction. (When the entities LIFE and DEATH come for a mysterious Nazi-affiliated time traveler, the only thing standing between him and death are . . . bongo drums?) This is the 57th story I've sold, all science fiction or fantasy. (Here's my Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing page.)

Hilarious table tennis skit

This starts out as a seemingly friendly ping-pong game between two friends. Things get really wild about one minute into this 2:40 video - trust me, wait for it!


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