Tuesday 25 August 2015

How I Lost 35lbs from Playing Ping Pong

During 2015 I hit a very unstable part of my life in table tennis. I wasn't sure whether I should continue competing and aiming for my goals, or whether I should transition into coaching. I was in the process of applying for a green card in the USA and coaching seemed to be my long term future. My training habits slipped and a period of sickness also ensued.

Diet habits in America and a lack of physical exercise as I helped kids improve their games caused me to reach the highest weight I had ever become in my 25 years. I was right on the edge of hitting 200lbs. For a previously aspiring athlete this was unacceptable to me, I had let myself slide.

Me and my teammates in the gym in Zhengding, China
Benefits of Table Tennis

Thankfully Table Tennis came to save the day. What many people don't realise is that table tennis at both social and competitive levels is a very aerobic sport. I have seen many success stories of people coming to table tennis for fun and to help their fitness levels and a healthy body and mind. What are the benefits of table tennis and how can it help you get in shape?

  • Helps build strong hand-eye coordination and reflexes.
  • Involves fast reactive footwork.
  • Strokes are quick and repetitive, helping burn fat and tone.
  • Speed and intensity can cause heavy sweating, good for flushing toxins and burning fat.
  • Involves aerobic and anaerobic fitness elements
  • Sharpens the mind as well as physical aspects

Over the following months my focus back on table tennis caused me to lose 35lbs in extra weight. With the help of a good gym schedule, some multiball training, a month of training in China and a switch from my terrible American diet, I was back in shape again. You can also see Aerobic Table Tennis  which uses table tennis basics to help promote healthy body and fitness.

The earlier stages of training, carrying extra weight

Now not everyone can just jet off to China for practice but there are many health benefits to just playing table tennis socially, even a few times a week. 

The best thing about table tennis is people of all ages can play it, so even older players can benefit from the many advantages of participating in this great sport. Table Tennis has helped me get back in a shape I'm satisfied with and I know many other people who play to keep their fitness levels up. 

What Body Parts Can Table Tennis Tone?

  • Wrists and Forearms which generate fast movements for driving the ball and creating spin.
  • Legs for generating power and footwork (quads, hams and calves)
  • Core strength for weight transfer and balance (central and lateral)
  • General fat and calorie burning (back, upper body, legs etc.)

Table Tennis is a great way to have fun, make friends and keep in shape all at the same time. I utilised games to help along the way, playing friends and kids for 50 situp punishments etc, every small contribution helped me achieve my result.

Getting in better shape, multiball in China

Of course, treating table tennis in a competitive nature can help shed the pounds faster and taking more serious practice regularly can get you in great shape, it depends how far you want to take it. The best part is you can improve so many aspects of your health, mind and body while enjoying an amazing sport!

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Check out the Final of the 17-18th Aug 2015 Challenger Series!

The Challenger Series is an event often overlooked which has live streaming and a reasonable standard of competition! The event takes place in Ochsenhausen, Germany and this week it was Filip Zeljko from Croatia who stole the crown against Poland's Jakub Dyjas.

You can find more information about the Challenger Series HERE.

Friday 14 August 2015

Why We Need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis

Going to China Open, one thing stood out more than anything else. The fans for table tennis in China are simply amazing. Dedicated to their players and crazy about anything ping pong. When I was in Chengdu I realised that this 'relationship' between fans and players (at least for the Chinese players) was pretty one sided.

Not a flicker of emotion from Zhang Jike
Why we need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis
Here are the things I noticed:

  • The players rarely smile in pictures with fans, or show any emotion at all. In fact you can see on their face that they want to get away as soon as possible.
  • They don't engage the fans in the stadium during or after matches. At best they might wave over the back of their head as they exit the playing area.
  • Sometimes they don't sign any autographs they just push past fans and leave.
  • They don't take any time to deal with their fans, they always rush between the venue and the hotel trying to avoid people.
After Ma Long beat Oshima 4-3 there were easily 100 people waiting for autographs and pictures outside the player entrance. He pushed past all of them and jumped in a private car and left. Of course being behind him I got swamped. But I stayed. I signed anything for anyone who wanted anything signing. 

I spoke to Timo Boll about it and he said that in the German league they have 1 hour sessions after their matches and they make sure they sign something for anyone who wants it. Timo Boll is a superstar and I feel he is really loved for this humbleness all around the world.

Timo, humble and always happy to be around fans
Why We Need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis

The Chinese team were very much a closed network. The Europeans were beyond welcoming. They asked if I wanted to join them for dinner, we talked so much. They are much more social.

Is part of the reason the sport is dying that we have no one to cheer for? Are fans of Ma Long and Zhang Jike really satisfied when they go to watch? It felt so one sided. The amount of energy the fans gave and received so little in return.

Look at someone like Federer, Nadal, even Waldner. Hussein Bolt. So much charisma on and off the field/court/table. They offer so much to their fans, they make us satisfied watching them. They engage with the fans, they entertain, show so much emotion. 

I think this is another aspect of Chinese dominance which is hurting the sport a little bit. Seeing how disappointed those fans were when Ma Long drove off after they had waited for him for so long was a little sad. I think there could be a huge improvement with how entertaining table tennis is if the players we idolise can learn to engage the crowd more.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure Ma Long and Zhang Jike have signed more than enough things before but it just looked like they were tired of having fans when I saw them. Perhaps that's understandable, but from the outside it didn't look too great. This is not a vendetta against the Chinese team at all, watching them play is great and I'm sure they are all very nice, but they are very shut off from everyone else, even the other players.

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Thursday 13 August 2015

What I Learnt from Playing Table Tennis in China

A trip to China is really a significant experience for any table tennis player and I was no different. Much to the surprise of many players who asked in the past, I had never trained in China at any point during my playing career. I finally had the opportunity which expanded into one of the biggest journey's I have ever undertaken.

Zhengding National Table Tennis Base at Night

I left the USA and headed for Zhengding National Training Base, 3 hours drive from Beijing. I went with a team from LYTTC which included Judy Hugh and Thomas Benson, both coaches from my club and a group of training kids. I spent 2 weeks training in Zhengding. You can see my blog posts here:

Blog #1    Blog #2    Blog #3    Blog #4

So what did I learn in Zhengding? Every half day was multiball. Multiball was something I had never been overly committed to, but doing it so frequently in Zhengding made me realise a lot.

It's physically demanding. I was on my way into better shape when I left the USA but China took me a step further. I realised how important multiball is if you really want to be a serious player, because it is really serious training. You wake up in the morning exhausted, can you handle multiball for another half a day? That's the real mental test.

The Chinese players are tough, they do this day in day out. Repetition, monotony. During my time there, summer, it was hot and humid, there was no escape from the heat. It was torture for my first few days there. I adjusted to it, torture eventually became something normal. That's really why China excel at this sport, the incredibly high levels of training which may seem like hell to many of us are so incredibly normal for them.

I sat and watched players and saw how easy their mechanics looked and imagined how many hours of multiball they had endured during their lifetime. As I continued through the 2 weeks the multiball became easier and I could feel my mechanics were improving. In my first 2 multiball sessions I needed breaks but after that I was fine soldiering through a bucket without a break. I learnt what I called 'cruise mode' where mechanics overrule the need to be frantic. This breakthrough allowed me to perform some hellishly consistent boxes of multiball like the one below.

I also learnt to value opportunities to rest more than I ever did before. The schedule was more than I had endured before and so sleeping in the afternoons became commonplace.

On one of my final days in Zhengding, Andrew Baggaley from Great Britain arrived to start 16 days of training. I had dinner with him and his brother Stephen and had the chance to hit with him a little and have some fun. I have organised an interview with him once he is back in England too :)

I travelled to Beijing for a week after this experience and trained in Guo Yan's training camp and my last day with the Beijing women's team (one of the best in China).

Blog #1    Blog #2

I had parted ways with my team and I was now in a foreign country by myself where I could understand small bits of the language but not enough to communicate. So what did I learn in Beijing?

No matter how good you think you are playing, there is always a player who can decimate you not far away. China can be whatever you want it to be, your perspective needs to be positive or you can walk away with so many doubts. Whatever you do, don't compare yourself to them, it's simply not comparable. Many of these players have been through incredibly rigorous training from a very young age and sacrificed education for this sport. The kids at Yan's training camp were fairly new players and they were really nice kids. I didn't have too much trouble beating them even with a 4 point handicap against me. Training with Zhou Fang Fang former national team player was an amazing opportunity.

She was a wicked training partner, very consistent and very accurate. Likewise the Beijing team were much better than me in the matches. So what went through my head? Why am I here, this will make no difference. Look at how many amazing players are in China!

No. Look at how much I can gain here, look at how much I can observe, how much I can learn. What can I take away from this. I made a specific point of not comparing myself with them, my story is completely different. It was important for me to take away motivation from the trip and not doubts.

I learnt how small the world of table tennis really is. I met with Guo Yan for lunch, she was incredibly nice to me and very welcoming. It showed that I have achieved what I set out to achieve with my blog, I took the big step closer to the highest level international players and brought the experience to you guys. It took me 4 years to create this network, which I continue to build. Now I have further expanded my links and my next stop on the journey was key in that.

The ITTF World Tour China Open 2015 in Chengdu, Sichuan is the hardest event on the tour, as such qualification is cut-throat. Single elimination from the word go. So why would I go? Well I was in China, it's an experience beyond all else and I wanted to take a shot. Players I had interviewed were going and I wanted to meet up with them also.

Joo Sae Hyuk with Me mhtabletennis.com
I spent an incredible amount of time with Vladimir Samsonov (one of my blog's biggest supporters) and Timo Boll. I dined with them, watched them warmup and play matches, met their families. I ate with Persson, Gardos and Lundqvist a few times. Let me tell you, these guys are unbelievably welcoming. It was an honour to get to know them a little better and to spend time with them, they are very friendly and real legends on and off the table.

I also spent time speaking to Joo Sae Hyuk (we both have the same auto-immune problem) and Korean legends Kim Taek Soo and Yoo Nam Kyu. I have noticed that most Korean players have a good handle of english which is really cool.

I played with Britt Eerland and had some fun matches. I shared a bus and a flight to Beijing with the North Korean team, they were really friendly. They were a little reserved but you can see they are very nice people.

So what did I achieve and learn? Well a lot of interviews organised (you wait! ;) ). I played Yang Heng Wei from Chinese Taipei (160wr) and lost 4-0. I saw what I needed to really step my level up. I saw how insane Chinese fans were (especially after signing well over 100 autographs in one day >.<). I learnt the habits of some of the best international players and heard stories from the greatest players of my generation and before.

I saw live what I had watched on a screen for so long. I enjoyed the audience involvement and the vibe, the venue was amazing too.

I may have lost 4-0 but I got a taste of the ITTF World Tour and I loved it and I hope there will be more to come in the future. There will be more blogs on the way too! :)

My trip to China may only have been for 1 month but I took so much away from it. It really is an experience that I will never forget and it has given me the motivation to continue along my path in all my table tennis goals.

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Sunday 2 August 2015

Training in China: Beijing Blog

So as it turns out the place I was training was actually an outer location for Guo Yan's summer training camp. After a week there Guo Yan invited me to train with the Beijing team for my last day here. I packed all my stuff in a hurry after training and took the train to Beijing West to see my old coach, Sun Yang. I hadn't seen her for 3 years so it was really nice to catch up and have Korean BBQ. The next day I took a taxi and tried to find a hotel.

It took 4 hotels and a lot of walking. The first had the Chinese National Team staying and so foreigners were not permitted to stay. The next was booked out, third again no foreigners and the 4th was more expensive. The result? I managed to book a great room (expensive in China, relatively cheap in USD).

I was invited to lunch by Guo Yan and had some amazing Beijing duck and tried some new things (duck heart and wasabi duck feet). It was a really pleasant experience. Yan told me she may come to Chengdu also which would be cool.

So I checked out the actual center at Longtan Lake which is where I will train tomorrow. It's been really hot here and the thunderstorms at night have made it humid as hell so all the walking around has drained me completely.

Guo Yan's Young Shine Table Tennis Club

Despite the heat I took some time to check out the Temple of Heaven which I am going to do a separate post on soon!

All in all a day of great experiences and no doubt more to come in the next week!