Butterfly Online

Blogs

Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and an author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!

February 21, 2014

USATT President's Blog

Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's new blog on "Changes for 2014."  It's mostly good stuff. Many of the items he writes about we can't really judge until we know more about the programs, and see if they will actually be implemented. USATT historically doesn't have a high batting average in that regard. Here are my short comments on each.

  • On Change. Mike quotes Einstein: "Madness is best described as doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results." He also talks about how some are resistant to change. I've been arguing the same type of thing for decades as I've watched one administration after another do the same type of stuff while expecting different results. However, not all change is good. Change for the sake of change isn't going to help things; there has to be a specific reason for each change. Some changes are obvious; others are experimental as you don't always know if something will work until you try it. Often leaders are afraid of the latter type because they'll get blamed if their program doesn't work. Solution - try a number of programs, and if you think them through and plan them out, some will work. The alternative is to do nothing, which is most of USATT's history.
  • On the Polyethylene Ball: He says USATT is still evaluating the change. Personally, I'm ambivalent about it. I'd prefer celluloid, but the new poly ball I tried at the Nationals (see second item in this blog entry) is pretty similar. But even the subtle differences will take time to get used to. Some say that the new ball gets less spin, but it's not clear if they were using the same ball I tried, or another type, since they're not all the same. Also, as I noted in the blog entry, when I tried out the ball I was having serious arm problems and couldn't loop very hard, and partially relied on others to tell me how the ball played.
  • On RailStation Roll-out: We'll have to wait and see on this one. USATT has periodically gotten infatuated with various softwares, such as one I think used by the Brazilian TTA that we talked about adopting for years but never did so. I have no idea if this will useful.
  • On Creation of a Recreational Division and Website: I'm all for both. However, it's not clear what the program constitutes. If it's just informational, then it's somewhat helpful but not much. What's needed is something that a new player can immediately get into on a regular basis - i.e., a league. I've blogged about this so many times it's repetitive, but it's one of those obvious things that many don't get. When a new player comes into a club, you can't toss him in with the experienced players and expect him to have a positive experience as he's getting killed. You need leagues for all levels, as well as available coaching (classes or private coaching). Without that, we're just waving our hands. Recreational players are recreational players until we give them a reason to become serious players and join USATT. I once joined the U.S. Tennis Association for one reason only, as did the vast majority of their 700,000 members - to play in their tennis leagues.
  • On the Digital Magazine: I've blogged about this several times, such as here and here. I'm all for it. Some still don't get it that you can be for the online magazine, as I am, while still against canceling the print one. I'm also a bit peeved that members who paid expecting the magazine, and especially life members, will have to pay a fee to get a printed version. As to the magazine eventually being members-only again (the online version), that might be a good idea as it at least returns some added value to memberships.
  • On Tournament Sanction Process Roll-Out: I haven't studied the new sanctioning procedures - they changed right at the time I stopped running tournaments at MDTTC (Charlene Liu took over). However, it is a good idea to go to the quality of the tournament, not just the prize money. However, I'm a little reticent about their removing any regional protection for tournaments. That's one of the primary reasons to sanction a tournament. It means higher risk for tournament directors and clubs. Some clubs rely on revenue from tournaments to finance their club; if someone suddenly decides to run a competing tournament locally on the same date, they have a serious problem.
  • On the $5-million Quad Roll-out: We'll need a lot more info on this to figure out what it is. Announcing a plan to raise $5 million is about five million times easier than actually raising $5 million. It's been a long time since USATT has raised any serious money, as they used to do in the 1980s with a series of large sponsors.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in USA

There are two coming up, a Level 1 Course in Akron, OH (July 28-Aug. 1) and a Level 2 Course in Austin, TX (Aug. 25-30). For more info, see the USATT Coaching Courses Page

2016 Olympic Rio Qualification System

Here are the rules for qualifying.

2014 Friendship Trophy

This is part of the ITTF's Women's Development Program, where they encourage you to "… find a way to celebrate women and girls in Table Tennis."

Chinese Retirement Ceremony

Here's an article with a link to a video trailer (4:49) where retiring Chinese team members give messages to their teammates (in Chinese, alas).

Mike Meier to Umpire at Worlds

Here's the article.

Amazing Table Tennis Serves

Here's a video (4:03) where a player demonstrates his tricky spinny serves. I think the commentary is in Chinese. Note that the serve where the ball bounces back into the net is more for show, and is easy to return; in a real match, it's better to serve the ball so second bounce is near the end-line.

Orioles' David Lough and Table Tennis

Here's an interview with new Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough. See third item:

Hidden talent: I thought I was good at ping-pong until I saw some of these other guys playing in here. [Laughs]. I don't have anything else cool, I'm boring.

Adam Bobrow on Table Tennis, Comedy, Excessive Celebrations

Here's the video (20:49). Here's more about Actor, Comedian, and Table Tennis Player Adam Bobrow.

Qatar Open's 20th Birthday

Here's their 20th Birthday Cake. (Here's the home page for the Qatar Open in Doha, held Feb. 18-23 - yes, right now!)

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February 20, 2014

Warming Up

One of my junior students had a sort of bad experience yesterday. He came in a bit early while I was coaching another junior player, who was a friend of his. They wanted to play some, so at the end of the session with the first player I let them play some games - but I was bit worried since the second player had no warm-up. I was right to be worried.

The first player was all warmed up and playing really well, but the second player wasn't. He was rated a bit higher, but while the first player mostly kept the ball in play, the second was an attacker who couldn't attack because he hadn't warmed up. (Both were around 1500 level or so.) With just five minutes warm up he might have played okay. Instead, the second player played horribly, and after a while was reduced to swatting backhands from his forehand side since he had no confidence in his forehand anymore, which was normally his strength. He lost a series of games, and was pretty depressed.

When we started our session (15 minutes late, but I had told him I could go 15 minutes extra at the end), he couldn't play, mentally or physically. He couldn't get himself to care after the drubbing he'd just taken, and his shots were all messed up. It took about 15 minutes before he could play serious. But gradually he got back into it, and by the end of the one-hour session he was back in full form. The other kid was long gone, so no rematch.

I told him a story about my "best" tournament ever, from way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. There's a reason "best" is in quotes. At the U.S. Team Championships in Detroit many years ago (it's now the North American Teams in Washington DC), after two days I had only one loss (to a 2600 player), and I had hordes of wins against 2250 players, a bunch of wins against 2350 players, and several 2400+ wins. I'd gone in rated 2272, and if I'd stopped after two days, I might have been adjusted to 2500. On the third and final day, my teammates didn't show up until the last minute. Back in those days I always needed a good warm-up, but didn't have anyone. Finally, about ten minutes before we had to play I found a 1700 player, a lefty with long pips who swatted shots all over the table, and left more messed up than I would have been if I'd simply played without a warm-up. So what happened? On that day I went 0-6, with all six matches upsets, including three against players rated over 100 points lower. Instead of that adjusted 2500 rating I came out . . . 2273, one point higher than I'd gone in.

So the lesson is to always warm up properly. It's important to practice against all styles, but warming up for a serious match is different. For that, you want someone who plays somewhat orthodox (or can in a warm-up), preferably someone you are used to playing. I encourage all my players to arrange in advance who they will warm up with at tournaments, and arrange when and where they will meet.

Fobbing

A lob is a high, defensive shot with topspin and sometimes sidespin. Fishing is a somewhat high defensive topspin. What about defensive topspin shots that aren't high enough to be lobs, but are too high to really be fishing? I hereby trademark the term "fobbing." I "invented" the shot yesterday while letting a student practice against lobs and fishes (he'd been having trouble in matches), and that's when I discovered and unleashed the power of the fob.

USATT Magazine

I'm wondering how I'm going to read it from now on, now that it's only going to be online. I do not like to read extensively at a computer; reading is something that should be done in a comfortable lounge chair or even in bed. More importantly, extensive reading on a computer screen hurts my eyes. So there's no way I'm going to read the magazine on a computer, other than perhaps selected articles. So I guess I'm going to have to either skip most of it, or print it out to read. (Addendum - I'm all for the online magazine; it's just not for me. As I've blogged, they should have added the online version - leading to increased advertising - but kept the print version.)

No Table Tennis at Junior Olympics

I just saw this. I immediately sent out queries. I just got this response from the Junior Olympics people (AAU):

"Unfortunately Table Tennis will not be a part of the 2014 AAU Junior Olympic Games in Des Moines, Iowa. Due to facility and staffing we are unable to hold the event this year. We hope to have it return in 2015 in Hampton Roads, VA. Stay tuned for more information regarding next year. Once again we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused."

Physical Training for Table Tennis

Here's a video (11 sec) of what 13-year-old Adriana Diaz of Puerto Rico doing some physical training. She's ranked #9 in the world in Under 15 Girls. (All but one of the eight ahead of her are from Asia - three from China, three from Japan, one from Korea, and one from Romania. Of course, these rankings only include those who play in ITTF events.)

Western Open

Here's a video (1:35) of highlights from the Western Open this past weekend. And here's a photo gallery. (I linked to the results on Tuesday.)

Anagrams of the Stars!

TOP MEN

Ma Long: Man Log, Am Long
Wang Hao: Ha Wagon, A Hag Now, A Hag Won, Own a Hag
Dimitrij Ovtcharov: Vivid Major Rich Tot, Vivid Major Rot Itch
Timo Boll: Mi Lob Lot
Chuang Chih-Yuan: China Guy Can Huh?
Vladimir Samsonov: Invalid Savors Mom
Waldner: Law Nerd

TOP WOMEN

Liu Shiwen: Uh - Lie Wins
Feng Tianwei: Wee Fainting, We Fine Giant, Negate If Win, A Fine Twinge, Win Eaten Fig, Win Fine Gate, We Gain Feint
Guo Yan: Nag You

TOP USA

Timothy Wang: I Won That Gym, I Own That gym, Win at Hot Gym, Hit a Town Gym, A Mighty Wont, Goat Myth Win, Into What Gym?, Not With A Gym, Got a Win Myth, Win Toga Myth, Why Man Got It
Corey Eider: I Eye Record
Dan Seemiller: Reels in Medal, Learned Smile
Michael Landers: Me Learn as Child, Handles Miracle, Lame Child Nears, Me Child Arsenal
Ariel Hsing: Irish Angel, Shinier Gal, A Shine Girl, A Relishing
Constantini: Instant Icon
Larry Hodges: Holy Regards, Godly Sharer, He's Gray Lord, Shy Lord Rage, Oh Sly Grader,
Hodges: He's God!
USA Table Tennis: Satan but Senile

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February 19, 2014

USATT Membership and Mass Mailing

USATT has about 8000 members. That's pretty weak in a country of 314 million.

A few days ago I received another brochure in the mail (regular mail, not email) from USTA (U.S. Tennis Association). For many years I played tennis on the side (and had a heck of a forehand!), and used to go to group training sessions twice a week for many years. I also played in their doubles leagues, and joined USTA to do so. Being a smart organization with 700,000 members, which are overwhelmingly league members, they have been trying to get me back ever since. Which is why I regularly receive both mail and email from them.

Is it cost effective? Of course it is; they are not idiots. I still get mail from many other organizations I used to belong to (and I bet you do as well), always encouraging me to rejoin or re-subscribe. Former members are probably the single best group of people to target when trying to increase membership. USATT should target this group.

USATT has a membership of around 8000 or so. (If you include life members who are no longer active or even alive, organizational memberships which were mostly given out for free, and club memberships, the number may shoot to something like 9000, but I don't have up-to-date figures, and USATT doesn't seem to publish them as they used to do.)

How many is 8000? Let's see:

  • It's one out of every 40,000 people in the U.S.
  • It's about one out of every 1900 recreational players in the U.S., according to surveys.
  • It's 1/90th the membership of USTA (tennis), even though throughout Europe and Asia the number of table tennis members is almost always higher than the number for tennis.
  • It's 1/250th the number of members of U.S. bowling leagues.
  • When you go to a baseball game, the average person pays nearly the same amount as the USATT annual fee of $49. Teams play 162 games per year, plus playoff, and yet average about 30,000 spectators per game. 8000 of them can fit in just one large section of the park.
  • It's a round-off error.

So how do we fix this problem? For years I've argued the obvious, that we should do what nearly every successful table tennis country does and what other successful sports in the U.S. do - focus on leagues and training centers. Setting up a nationwide system of regional leagues is about as obvious as you can get, if you any knowledge of how table tennis and other sports develop, but we haven't even begun to do such things. I've blogged about setting up these nationwide regional leagues many times; I just did a search of my blog entries, and here's one example. Bowling in the U.S. has about two million annual paid members in their bowling leagues; can you imagine how fast that would drop if they did what USATT does, and only had tournaments? The same is true of tennis, which focuses on leagues. Take away those tennis leagues, and their membership wouldn't be much higher than table tennis - it too would become a "round-off" error.

As to setting up training centers, the key there is to promote, recruit, and train coaches to be professional coaches who will set up such training centers. That's why I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. We've gone from 10 to 70 of these in eight years, but it's happened because coaches saw it as a way to make a living. Many of them copied the success of my club, MDTTC, which pioneered such a training center when it opened in 1992, with me, Cheng Yinghua, and Jack Huang as the coaches. (We now have seven full-time coaches and a number of part-time ones, and other centers have similar success.) While the focus of training centers tends to be junior programs, it's for all ages and levels. Guess what happens? Coaching turns recreational players who come and go into serious players who stay.

But USATT is a bureaucracy, where doing the obvious things is often difficult. No one seems to have the vision or will to do these things. I think many are scared of trying because if they failed, they'd be blamed. (Perhaps they should read the "Man in the Arena" quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Many leaders think they are in the arena because they deal with the day-to-day issues, mostly putting out fires, doing reports, answering email, and doing the daily running of a status quo sport, instead of actually going into the arena and striving to build the sport.)

I'll continue to argue for these obvious things. But perhaps it's also time for a one-time fix to increase membership. Here's a suggestion to any board members or staff who want to take initiative.

USATT has something like 50,000+ former members of USATT on the computer. That's a lot of mailing addresses just sitting there gathering computer dust. Why not do a one-time mass mailing to them all? Sure, it'd cost money, but takes money to make money, and you'd come out way ahead overall. Have it written by someone who knows how to write - for the love of God, do not have it written by a staffer without a strong writing background! Then have the letter come from a prominent U.S. table tennis star - a Dan Seemiller, Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, or a Sweeris, for example, and include a picture. Have them personally invite these former members to rejoin USATT. Give specific reasons to rejoin. It's unfortunate we can't really offer them leagues as tennis can, and that we no longer offer the print magazine (!!!), but we can offer them tournaments, including the U.S. Open and Nationals. We can point out all the new full-time centers that have popped up.

As a side benefit, maybe, just maybe, as they create or think about this invitational letter, USATT leaders will realize that maybe, just maybe, we do need to think about what USATT really has to offer, and realize that we do, in fact, need that nationwide network of leagues and to start recruiting coaches to be full-time professional running junior and other training programs. These are the incentives you can use to attract members, and that's what we're aiming for, right? If you are aiming for Olympic medals and top players, then we have the same goals. Guess where they come from? Junior training centers. Guess where the money comes for USATT to develop them? Large members that come from leagues.

Multiball Training

Here's 25 sec of Stefan Fegerl doing multiball at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.

Slow Motion Table Tennis

Here's a video (4 min) of slow motion play of the top players. Great to watch and you can learn a lot from watching it this way.

Chinese National Team Show Up at Park

What would you do if you were playing ‎Table Tennis at your local park and the Chinese National Team turned up to play? Here's the video (1:32)!

Wide Stance

I've written about using a wider stance, but this is ridiculous!

Energizer Battery Table Tennis Commercial

Here's the video (31 sec) - this is hilarious! It just came out this past weekend.

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February 18, 2014

Adult vs. Junior Classes

Last night was the first session of the new beginning/intermediate class I'm teaching at MDTTC, Mondays from 6:30-8:00PM. (Here's the flyer.) The class is for beginners up to roughly 1500 level. We had eleven in the class, but one apparently dropped out and another had to miss the first session, but emailed that he'd be there next week. John Hsu, an ITTF certified coach, assisted.

There's a huge difference between teaching adults and teaching kids. Adults have more patience, and so you can lecture and demo a lot longer, and they have lots of questions. Do that with kids and you get a lot of impatient kids. Kids rarely ask questions other than ones like "Are you almost done?" or "When's break?" Working with kids is fun, and you can develop top players from them, but teaching adults is often more interesting because you can go more in depth on each topic. There were lots and lots of insightful questions. Let's face it, I could talk two hours non-stop on any table tennis topic, so I have to restrain myself!

We covered four things in the first session. First was the grip. I went over what a neutral grip is and why players should use it while developing their strokes. (I wrote about this in this Tip of the Week, Should You Use a Neutral Grip?) Then I went into proper ready position, as well as the relationship between the two. (I wrote about this in another Tip of the Week, Feet and Grip. A related Tip is Use a Wider Stance.)

Then we went into the forehand drive. John and I demoed it, and then I went over the basics of the shot. Then the players went out on the table and practiced.

The final thing covered was serving and spin. First I went over the rules. Then I showed and explained how to get great spin on a serve. Part of this included using soccer-colored balls so you can see the spin, and having the players toss the ball up and spin it off their racket and catch it so they could work on grazing the ball, making it spin, and controlling the direction of the ball when spinning it. (I explain all this in this blog entry - see second segment.) Then it was off to the tables again to practice.

At the end of the class I demoed some serves, and nobody wanted to go. So I spent an extra ten minutes letting them take turns trying to return my serves while I threw all sorts of variations at them.

Next week we do some more forehand practice, and then cover the backhand drive, side-to-side footwork, and deception on serves.

ITTF Level Three Coaching Course in Trinidad and Tobago

Here's the ITTF article on the course, to be taught by USATT coach Richard McAfee.

Western Open Results

Here they are. (Set dropdown menu for Western Open, held this past weekend in Berkeley, CA.) Here are photos of the winners of each event.

Elite Multiball Training

Here's video (25 sec) of some multiball training at the Lily Yip Center in New Jersey.

Ma Lin's Touch

Here's 16 seconds of Ma Lin alternating dropping balls short and backhand flipping.

Top Ten Shots from the Kuwait Open

Here's the video (4:08) from the Kuwait Open held this past weekend.

Eleven Curious Facts about Zhang Jike

Here they are! (Did you know he was a championships high jumper?)

Ten Reasons You Should Start Playing Table Tennis

Here they are!

Happiness is…

Here's the cartoon.

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February 17, 2014

Tip of the Week

Five-Ball Attack.

Most Difficult Questions for Coaches and Players

For me, here are the seven most difficult judgment calls for each student. I could write entire blogs and Tips on each. Whether you're a coach or a player, you too should be thinking about these things. (Readers, let me know if there are any below you'd like me to elaborate on.) 

  • When to stop serious tinkering with the forehand and backhand loops.
  • How much to topspin the backhand.
  • When to go to advanced tensor sponges.
  • Whether they should play tournaments when working on something new.
  • Balance of rote drills, random drills, and game-type play.
  • How much to focus on counterlooping on forehand, as opposed to blocking.
  • How to motivate them.

One-Day Camp

Today we have a one-day camp at MDTTC. Schools are closed because of President's Day. Come join us, 10AM-6PM! (There's a two-hour lunch break, with Chinese food delivered to the club.) It'll be mostly kids, but adults are welcome as well. No lectures today; just training.

Beginning/Intermediate Class

I have a new 10-week beginning/intermediate class starting tonight, 6:30-8:00 PM. The class is for beginners up to roughly 1500. I've been playing around with the schedule a bit, and made some changes from past sessions. For session one, we're going to focus on the grip, stance, and forehand, but I'm also going to introduce them to spin serves, starting with some exercises where they learn to create spin, and working our way to Seriously Spinny Serves. (Do you have SSS?) It's going to be a long day, with the one-day camp (see above) and then the class.

Table Tennis Tips Status

My newest book is now at the proofing stage. Sometime this week I plan on taking all 208 pages (single spaced, with 86,000 words) to Ledos and spend a day proofing and eating pizza. Except for the cover, this one is all text. It's a compilation of all 150 Tips of the Week from 2011-2013, but now in one volume and in an orderly fashion, organized by topic instead of by the date it happened to go up. I'm also going to write an intro to some of the Tips. The cover is done; I'll post it sometime soon.

Snow

We ended up with 19 inches of snow at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. We closed for one day, while local schools closed for two. I didn't want to shovel snow since it'd inevitably lead to back problems. Here's the way I see it. The powerful forces of nature dropped snow on us, and the powerful forces of nature will eventually melt it away. Who is mankind to defy nature with their puny snow shovels? (However, the people I rent to downstairs shoveled the front area, solving the problem. But I did eventually shovel out my car so I could get to club to coach, and yes, I did feel twinges in my back, my knees, and my foot. But hopefully nothing serious.) 

U.S. Open Entry Form

Here it is! And here's the U.S. Open page.

Stellan Documentary

Here's a documentary (5:12) on Sweden's 1971 World Men's Singles Champion and San Diego coach Stellan Bengtsson.

Robot Table Tennis

Last Tuesday I blogged about the upcoming "challenge" between Timo Boll and the table tennis robot Kuka. Who'll win? Duh!!! Timo will easily win. There's no way the robot will be able to react to his spins (looping, pushing, serving, etc.), and I doubt it it'll react to the speed of his shots either. Maybe someday in the future. While Kuka may be the best table tennis playing robot right now, I don't think he's going to be able to go from basic beginner to advanced in two years. Here's where robotic table tennis (3:06) was about two years ago.

Wang Hao's Son

Here he is - meet Wang Ruiting!

Michael Ealy vs. Soo Yeon Lee

Here's the video (3:43). The two squared off on the Arsenio Show. Guess who won between actor Ealy (the self-proclaimed master of table tennis) and pro player Lee?

Table Tennis Ballboy Tutorial

Here's the hilarious video (3:32). I especially like the training sequences starting at 2:07.

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here are Happy Valentine's wishes from around the world (15 sec video), care of the ITTF. Here are some Valentine's Day table tennis pictures.

How to Practice When Snowed In

We're snowed in here in Maryland (and much of the east coast), with about 17 inches outside, and supposedly 1-2 more coming. All table tennis was cancelled yesterday and tomorrow, and the weekend is still iffy. So what does an ambitious table tennis player do when snowed in? Easy - he trains!!! But how can one train when stuck inside? Glad you asked. Here are five ways.

  • Shadow Practice. I could write a long essay on this, or I could refer you to two articles I've written on this, "Shadow Practice Your Shots" and the more extensive "Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork."
  • Visualization. Get comfortable, close your eyes, and visualize yourself playing as a top player. It'll pay off - the subconscious can't really tell the difference between real playing and visualization. There are plenty of sports psychology books that cover this, and here's an article on sports visualization.
  • Think About Your Game. Again, get comfortable, perhaps with a pad of paper, and just think about your game - where it is now, where you want to go, what you need to work on, what drills you need to do, and how to get another day of the week so you can train eight days a week.
  • Set Goals. It's a lot easier to train when you have specific goals to work on, so come up with some. You want three types of goals - short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term.
  • Read Coaching Articles and Books. You can start with some of mine - hint hint!

USATT Online Magazine

USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh now has a report, "Transition of USA Table Tennis Magazine to a Digital Publication," that explains the transition from print to online that I blogged about on Tuesday. It's strange that they made the public announcement about the decision before putting up the explanation; they should have gone up at the same time. The decision was made a month ago, so they had plenty of time.

As a past advertiser, I received an email from the editor explaining the transition and advertising situation. The key phrase from the email was, "Ad rates will remain at the same level as they have been in the past." This is going to be problematic for them as online advertising rates are generally considerably cheaper than print advertising. They are trying to set a new paradigm here. If they do, then they've hit a home run.

As I wrote in a discussion on this at the about.com forum, they face two serious problems with this. First, while the print magazine went to dedicated table tennis players, going for hits from a web page may bring in more total people, but they are not the dedicated players advertisers are looking for. Second, with the magazine readers paged through it, and so saw the ads. With the online version, readers only zoom in on what they are interested in, and so are less likely to see the ads.

Advertisers are well aware of these problems. The reaction of advertisers to being asked to pay the same amount for an online only magazine is going to be interesting - as noted above, you generally pay a lot less for online advertising than print advertising.

Now, if they'd kept the print magazine but added the online version (which takes little extra work to do since both print and online versions come off the same PDF file), then they could have gone to advertisers and offered the added value of the web version - and with this added value, they could increase the ad rates and number of advertisers, and so greatly increase revenue without losing the print publication. That would have been my recommendation if I'd been in the room. 

Past Magazines Now Online

One piece of good news. In my Tuesday blog, I pointed out that when you go to the new issue, just below it is a listing for "Related publications." USATT Magazine was the second one listed, sandwiched between two magazines with nude cover pictures. They fixed this in two ways. First, they somehow had the nude covers removed. But better still, the link now goes here, with past USATT Magazine covers below. When I clicked on the covers, those magazines are now online! Apparently they simply put the old PDF files into whatever converts them to the online version (Flash, I'm told), and so the last eight issues are now online. 

Coaching Scam from England

There's a new coaching scam that's going around. I, along with at least four other coaches that I know of, have received various versions of the following email from some knucklehead (with typos left as sent):

How are you doing? I hope you are doing great, I am [VARIOUS NAMES] from United Kingdom,my son will be coming for 2weeks holiday in USA (Annandale,VA ) from February 20 2014 ,he's 15years old and i want him to use the period of his holiday to learn the fundamental of table tennis from you. He developed interest when he was very young before he lost his mother and i have assured him that i will make his table tennis dream come through. Please get back to me with your qualification,rate and location so we can start from there.

I've seen these scams before. One coach decided to test it out, and responded. After several back and forths, he received the following email:

Top of the morning to you, how are you today? i tried calling you but your number was not going through. My personal assistant has sent your payment and it will be delivered to you this morning by USPS with tracking number (a tracking number was given here that actually tracked a package sent from Montclair, California to Hilliard, Ohio - it was supposed to have been sent from England!) but my personal assistance made a mistake on the amount on the check he put ($2800) instead of ($480). And it has been authorized already, Please when you receive the check go ahead and cash it and send the excess payment to Owen travel Agent who is incharge of his visa procurement as soon as you can. Below is the information of his travel agent. You can send the excess payment to him through western union or money gram money transfer. Owen will be in your location by 18th of this month ahead the lesson for 20th of this month. I will give you a call later.

Of course, the supposed $2800 check would have bounced. This coach has already forwarded the emails to the FBI.

Three Things No One Tells You About How to Get Motivated

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Why Michael Maze Still Has it

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Federal Association of Sandpaper Table Tennis

Here's their latest release (#42), which covers the sandpaper events at the USA Nationals.

2014 Europe Cup Tribute

Here's a highlights reel (6:27) set to music from the 2014 Europe Cup.

Adidas Ping Pong Short

Here's the video (1:13) of some intense TT competition.

The Art of Ping Pong

Here's a 46-page online booklet on table tennis art.

Skeletal Pong

Here's the latest TT artwork from Mike Mezyan. (He also did the "Valentine's Day Hearty Paddle" at the top.)

So, Tell Me About Your Backhand

Here's the cartoon from the NY Times.

You Can Never Start Too Early

Here's video (26 sec) of a baby doing backhands and forehands.

Non-Table Tennis - "How Bad Are We" Article on the Baltimore Orioles

Here's the article. (It was originally titled "The Big Five Starters - Not So Bad?", but they changed the title. What makes this article interesting (at least to me!) is it's my 1499th published article. #1500 should be up soon!

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February 13, 2014

Snowmageddon

We have 15 inches of snow here in Germantown, MD, and it's still coming down, though slower than before. A member of our club, Hubert Noah Essomba, has been building this giant sled and collecting two of every style - two loopers, two hitters, two blockers, two choppers, etc. (Noah is from Cameroon, and was ranked #697 in the ITTF world rankings before dropped off the list in September, 2012, presumably to build his mighty sled.) This morning they all sledded off, leaving the rest of us to freeze in the snow. Except, of course, we have heated houses and heated table tennis clubs, so perhaps we'll survive after all.

Since everyone else in the region is taking the day off, I'm taking the day off too, and plan to spend it reading in bed and fighting the urge to go outside and build a snowpingpongball. So no blog this morning, other than this biblical ping-pong account of snowmageddon.

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February 12, 2014

Here Comes the Snow (again)

We've had several snowstorms already this year here in Maryland and much of the east coast. Tonight and tomorrow we're supposed to get another 5-12 inches. Plus it's 18 degrees out, and was 12 when I got up this morning. I stocked up with supplies at the supermarket last night, and have several great books ready, as well as work to do on my upcoming book, "Table Tennis Tips." Bring it on!!!

Quips and Quotes

My favorite quips while playing:

  1. "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over." (Said when my student hits a ball off the end, but I play it off the floor and the rally continues.)
  2. "Here comes a pop-up. You're going to flub it. Prove me wrong." (Usually said near the end of a multiball session with a beginning student.)
  3. "I'm too good to miss that shot." (Said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  4. "I haven't missed that shot since 1987." (Also said by me roughly whenever I miss a shot.)
  5. "Ten years ago I would have got that."
  6. "There's a probability greater than zero that I won't lose another point this match."
  7. "There's something you don't know. I'm really left-handed."
  8. "I cannot be defeated."
  9. "Time to pull out the unreturnable serves."
  10. "Coaches from all over the world come here to study my [whatever shot I happen to be doing]." (I usually say this when blocking forehands, and often tell stories about how the top Chinese coaches journey to American to study my forehand block.)
  11. "Balls in boxes!" (Told to students at the end of playing sessions, with balls scattered all over.)
  12. "The most powerful loop in the world." (With a Dirty Harry accent).

Inspiring table tennis quotes from:

Things I constantly say or harp on with my students:

  • Fix your grip. Balance. Wider stance. Relax the shoulders. Free hand. Rotate the shoulders. Topspin (or backspin) the ball. Remember the feel of the good shots, forget the bad ones. Place your shots. Don't think, just do. Step, don't lean. First move has to be the right move. More spin! Vary your serves. 

Three more quotes on playing. (I should have kept a running log of such quotes over the years, in which case I'd have dozens of these.)

  • "If you focus on playing well, you probably will; if you focus on winning, you probably won't."
  • "If you can't write a book about your own game, then you either don't have a game, or don't know your game."
  • "Let go, have fun." (Stolen from Ariel Hsing, who used to write this on her arm before playing.)

Here's a page where I keep my favorite non-TT quotes (including three by me).

Here's an article I sold to Science Fiction Writers of America for their web page, "Fifty Writing Quotes." I came up with all fifty of these in one long feverish night.

Shirley Temple RIP

Shirley Temple Black died Monday. Here are five pictures of the famous child actress playing table tennis.

International Table Tennis

Here's where you can get a daily fix of international table tennis.

22 Great Table Tennis GIFs

Here they are! (A few of the links don't seem to be valid, but most are there.) 

Non-Table Tennis: Redcoats

Yesterday I sold my 70th short story (all science fiction or fantasy), with the sale of "Redcoats" to Abyss & Apex. (The story parodies Christmas in the 1790s, with alien conquerors in red coats coming down the chimney every Christmas to get tribute left out for them, and how a boy defeats the aliens.) It's also my 1498th published or sold article or story - I'll hit 1500 shortly. (Here's a listing of my complete published works.)

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February 11, 2014

USA Table Tennis Magazine Going All Digital

Well, they've finally done it. USATT has cancelled the print version of its magazine and is going all online with a PDF version. (Correction: I'm told it's actually Flash.) Here's the new Winter 2014 issue (really the Jan/Feb issue), which will also be printed as the last print edition. And here's the home page for USATT Magazine. (Addendum - when you go to the new issue, just below it is a listing for "Related publications." USATT Magazine is the second one listed, sandwiched between two magazines with nude cover pictures. Great.) 

It's good that they now have an online version. But have they really thought through this decision to cancel the print version? It's impossible to tell, since no explanation is given on the USATT web page or the magazine page. If you go to page 8 of the new issue, there's a short explanation from the editor, but it doesn't really give any reasons, just basically tells us it's going all digital without explanation. This is one of the biggest decisions in USATT history, and it's been made without explanation, and without advance notice to the membership so they could give input on the matter. (We are a public organization.)

Presumably they are doing this to save money. They might. But I'm guessing that if they do, they'll save a lot less than they think. They'll save money on printing and postage. But they'll lose money on advertising and membership. (Isn't increasing membership a primary purpose of why USATT needs more revenue? It defeats the purpose when they increase revenue in ways that decrease membership.)

I did discuss this with one insider, and heard some things that I found a bit scary. I'm told they are budgeting advertising to stay the same, which of course won't happen. This reminds me of the group-think that took place a number of years ago when USATT increased the membership fee from $25 to $40 in one year. I was in the room as the 13 board members voted unanimously to do this, and unanimously budgeted membership to stay the same. That was crazy, and I told them so. Membership had just reached 9000, the most ever. I predicted they'd lose 2000 members; I was told by all 13 that I was wrong. One year later they were down to 7200 members. I was in the room one year later, alternating between anger and laughter, as the USATT board had to painstakingly cut about $60,000 from the budget. (It would have been more but with fewer members they saved on printing and postage costs.)

So the question is, do they really believe advertising revenue will stay the same? I was told two of the major advertisers have already committed to paying the same amount this next year. But I spoke with one of the two, and he/she disagreed with that statement.

I was told they are going in the direction of sports like volleyball, which apparently have gone all digital. When that discussion came up, did anyone point out that the demographics are very different? I looked into this once before, and volleyball has a much younger average age than table tennis, with a medium age probably under 20. (I don't have current figures.)  The average and medium age for USATT members is more in the range of 45-50, according to stats from a few years ago, with a lot of much older players, who are more likely to be interested in print issues. We're more like tennis and USTA - which has two monthly print magazines that go to their 700,000 members. (And note that in Europe, the table tennis membership is greater than the tennis membership in nearly every country. USA, where tennis greatly outdoes table tennis, is the exception. We just don't like learning from others.) 

Our current membership is something like 8000-9000, and only about half play tournaments. The only tangible benefit the other half gets is the magazine. Many of them, especially older ones, far prefer the print version; to them, the membership fee is just a subscription fee to the magazine. We're going to lose some of them. How many? I don't know.

So USATT is going to lose advertising and membership revenue. Will this be offset by the savings in printing and mailing? Perhaps. We're a public organization, but no financial figures have been made public on this. The decision was made about a month ago, so there's been plenty of time for a public explanation, giving the reasons and the savings projected. Presumably they had all the facts and projections a month ago when the decision was made, so there's no reason these facts aren't public already. (The alternative was the decision was made, with the facts and projections to rationalize this to be found later. I sure hope not!) So where are these facts and projections?

Did they speak to someone with real journalism experience before making this decision? Or was it made without their input? I don't know, and they aren't saying. Perhaps we'll learn more when the minutes of the meeting go online. Perhaps there is something they're not telling us, but we don't know until they tell us.

I was editor for 12 years in two tenures. When I left we were within $15,000 of "breaking even." I put that in quotes because, since the magazine is a tangible benefit for members, part of the membership fee goes toward the magazine. At $15,000 for an organization of 7500 members, that's a $2 annual fee for six issues, or 33 cents per issue. Think about that - $2 out of your $49 annual adult membership! Even if they are losing $30,000/year, that's only about $4 out of the $49 membership fee. When's the last time you bought six issues of a color glossy magazine for $2 to $4?

If, of course, they are "losing" much more than $15,000/year, then presumably advertising revenue has dropped. If so, then focus on increasing it. It's not just a matter of salesmanship; it's a matter of having a timely magazine with good content so readers will actually read it, and see the ads. I know how this works; in both of my tenures, I increased advertising over 250%. If advertising is down, get feedback from the advertisers on why, and then address the problem. If advertising is substantially down, then something has gone wrong. If it's not, then there's no reason to drop the print version. 

The other rumor I've heard is they are thinking of moving the magazine in-house. I blogged about that on November 26, 2013 (see second segment). Do we really want to go through that nightmare again? But there's a lack of organizational memory in this organization, and we tend to make the same mistakes over and over and over. At least in canceling the print magazine we might be making a new mistake, if that's any consolation. Time will tell.

I have a new book coming out, "Table Tennis Tips." I was planning on running an ad in USATT Magazine for that and my other TT books. But now I'm not so sure. With a print issue, people see the ads. With a PDF version, they are more likely to just page through it, and zoom in only on the articles that directly interest them. They're going to have to greatly reduce the advertising rates before it'll be worth it for me to advertise. 

2014 USA Table Tennis National Team Trials Preview

Here's the video (2:55), with lots of inspirational play!

Backhand Serve

Here's video (3 sec) of a nice backhand serve by Soo Yeun Lee.

Top Ten Shots at the 2014 Europe Cup

Here's the video (4:39).

Timo Boll vs. the Robot!

Here's the home page for the event (to be held on March 11), with a link to the teaser preview (44 sec) showing the two about to play as the robot does a few tricks!

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February 10, 2014

Tip of the Week

Never Give a Server What He's Looking For.

Developing Good Technique

Table tennis clubs are full of players with poor technique. And there's nothing wrong with this, if the player doesn't care, or at least doesn't put a high priority on it. There are also lots of good players with poor techniques, though few of them get beyond good and become very good. That's subjective, of course; I can name a number of players who have reached 2200 and 2300 levels despite poor technique. The key is they developed a game around that poor technique, and didn't get good because of the bad technique, but in spite of it.

Here's comes the part a lot don't realize, and it's a three-parter.

1) You will not reach your potential unless you develop good technique. This doesn't mean everyone plays with exactly the same technique. There are some techniques where there's clearly a "best" way, and there are others where there are multiple options. Often it depends on the rest of the player's game. Some players have developed such unorthodox games that what is proper technique for others might not be proper technique for them. But that's a rarity. Almost always, to reach your potential, you need to develop good technique.

2) Anyone can develop good technique. I don't care how poor your current technique is, you can fix it, and have good technique. This doesn't mean you'll have great technique - that's almost impossible once you've developed bad habits. But you don't need perfect technique in this sport (except in most cases at the highest levels), and good technique will take you pretty far.

3) It will take lots of time and effort to develop good technique if you currently have bad technique. You'll also lose to a lot of players if you continue to compete while changing your technique. (I usually advise against that.) It takes a lot of saturation training to fix bad technique, and you'll probably need a coach - which usually costs money. But it's a one-time fix, because once it's fixed, it's fixed for a lifetime, as long as you continue to play regularly.

So, do you have bad technique? It's your choice whether to keep it that way, or make it a goal to fix that technique once and for all.

Chinese Team Squad Trials Ranking and Videos

Here's a short article with the final ranking of the Chinese Team Squad (men and women), with links to numerous videos of them in action. 

Zhang Jike on the New Plastic Balls

Here's the article, where he says the speed dropped some. Unfortunately, the article doesn't say which of the new balls they were using. There are at least three ITTF approved plastic balls. Leaving that out sort of makes the article somewhat less useful, and I hesitated in including it here.

USATT Criteria and Procedures for Entering US Athletes in International Competitions

Here's the article from USATT.

NCTTA Newsletter

Here's the Feb. 2014 National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter.

Ping Pong Summer

Here's video (2:45) of a preview of the coming-of-age comedy coming this summer, starring Susan Sarandon and a break dancing, rapping and ping-pong playing 13-year-old.

European Cup Highlights

Here's video (6:52, with time between points removed) of Denmark's Michael Maze's (world #28, but formerly #8) win over Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) in the semifinals of the European Cup this past weekend. (Ovtcharov defeated teammate Timo Boll, world #8, in the semifinals - they were the top two seeds, so presumably one of them was upset in preliminaries?) Here's video of the other semifinals (5:09) where Portugal's Marcos Freitas (world #15) defeats France's Adrien Mattenet (world #52). And here's video of the final (4:54) where Freitas defeats Maze.

Unreal Counterlooping Rally - Ovtcharov vs. Boll

Here's video of the rally (48 sec, includes replays), which took place at the 2014 Europe Cup this past weekend.

Wheelchair Player Cindy Ranii

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury News, "She may be in a wheelchair, but Cindy Ranii is a ping-pong powerhouse."

Shopping Mall Exhibition

Here's video (40 sec) of an exhibition in a shopping mall, with lots of lobbing and changing of sides during rallies.

Holy TT Racket

Here's the racket I lend out to my opponents. 

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