January 26, 2011

What, no mention of table tennis in the State of the Union Address??? Looks like we'll have to develop our sport on our own.

ITTF Coaching Development

USA Table Tennis is gradually incorporating the ITTF Coaching Certification Process. In September, they held the first ITTF Certification Seminar in the U.S., run by Glenn Tepper. Great thanks goes to Glenn and to USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee for putting that together, and for advancing coaching worldwide and in the U.S. Here are three articles about it - and I'm sort of featured in the last one!

One aspect of the ITTF certification process is that everyone has to do it, including USATT national coaches. So even though I'm certified as a national coach by USA Table Tennis (the highest level), I needed to take the ITTF course to get certified as an ITTF coach, as did other national coaches who attended. Besides getting certified as an ITTF coach, I also qualified as a course conductor. I plan on running the second ITTF Coaching Seminar in the U.S. - the first run by a USA coach - sometime in April. Tentative dates are April 16, 17, 23, 24, and 30 (all weekends). It'll be six hours/day, with the last session an optional one on coaching Paralympic table tennis (i.e. wheelchair and standing disabled). I also plan on adding an extra two-hour session at night on "Setting Up and Running a Junior Training Program."

Now we get to the good stuff. Sometimes what happens behind the scenes is more interesting than the public side. Here's where you learn the truth - how I messed up! Not once, not twice, but three times! Or was it four?

Early in the seminar, Glenn was lecturing about how to return a serve that breaks wide to the forehand. Now you get to learn a secret of mine: my hearing isn't as good as it used to be. When there's background noise, I have great difficulty making out words. As Glenn lectured, I thought he'd left something important out, and so I raised my hand. I was sitting on the left, and there was some sort of industrial noise coming out of the wall, probably central air conditioning. It suddenly got louder, and I missed the last thirty seconds or so of what Glenn said. Then he finished, and called on me. I explained what I thought he'd missed. There was a moment of silence, and then someone pointed out that he'd just said exactly what I'd said - in those last thirty seconds that I'd missed! Oops. Highly embarrassing.

During the section on footwork, Glenn was demonstrating crossover footwork. Unfortunately, this is something that the Chinese historically didn't do, in contrast to European players. Early in my playing career, I had a lot of Chinese coaching, and crossover footwork was pretty much drilled out of my game in favor of always using "two-step" footwork. (Unfortunately, these days the trend is toward one-step footwork and crossovers - I'll write about that some other time.) When I was called upon to demonstrate crossover footwork, I thought I'd have no trouble as I knew how it was done, and had done it earlier in my career . . . circa late 1970s. Unfortunately, when I tried to demonstrate, instincts took over, and I simply couldn't do it right, and my feet kept doing two-step footwork. Again, oops. I've since practiced it, and can demonstrate it, but I don't think I'll ever work it back into my regular game.

During the segment on long pips, he called for volunteers. My ears perked up as I've always been very good against long pips. I volunteered. That's when I discovered the difference between a long pipped chopper at 5000 feet elevation, as opposed to sea level. The chops were much heavier, and I kept making mistakes. I'm sure I'd have adjusted with time, but not in the few rallies where I "demonstrated."

It got worse when a group of us went to play horseshoes. I swear my muscles locked up, and I couldn't throw straight. I think I almost hit Glenn one time. I tried every sports psychology method I knew of to focus and throw the stupid horseshoes, but nothing worked. I took solace in the idea that if I'm that poorly coordinated, then I must be a really, Really, REALLY smart player to reach a relatively high level in table tennis! (Actually, my problem isn't so much lack of coordination as it is very tight muscles. I'm almost incapable of doing a nice, relaxed toss of a horseshoe.)

Now that I've got the embarrassing parts out, I did have my moments. I have a tendency to talk too fast, and that's not good when lecturing. Many years ago I took a class in public speaking to help with my group lessons. From there, I learned a much slower, clearer lecturing voice. During the ITTF seminar, we were all required to do two presentations, and I think I surprised the heck out of everyone when my voice switched from my normal voice to my much better lecturing voice. Later, I got some good laughs when I pointed out I'd learned to do public speaking by lecturing (I'm not making this up) my dog and the clothes dryer! (When practicing public speaking, it's always better to lecture to something that actually moves about like these, rather than something that just sits there motionless.)  Since I've been doing table tennis presentations for thirty years, my presentations came off pretty well.

Pingpong therapy brings net gains to Alzheimer’s patients

Here's an excerpt from the article:

"In the study, through tests that measured their reasoning skills, communication and memory, a sample of 3,000 elderly table-tennis players were shown to have increased frontal lobe function after two minutes of play. An additional sample of 113 patients with brain diseases and dementia who were put on a pingpong-based rehabilitation program showed physical, mental and emotional improvement after a 10-month period. The number of patients dependent on a wheelchair dropped from 42 to 15, and those able to walk without any assistance rose from 41 to 66. The number of patients suffering from acute depression was halved. More than 70 patients had their dementia rating downgraded after the study period, 25 of them testing 'normal' when their pingpong regimen was completed."

And about 86-year-old Fryda Dvorak, living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease:

"She doesn't remember what she had for breakfast or lunch, but she knows she hit the ball 64 times during her lesson, and that Irina lost three times."

My poor, poor back...

...is killing me. On Friday, I played great, but my back was bothering me at the end of the session. On Saturday, I was on a train to NYC, and spent the day sitting in meetings, then took Amtrak back. I think that stiffened my back. On Sunday, I coached or practice partnered for four hours, and my back was killing me. It's killing me even as I sit in my chair. I've got four days of non-stop table tennis on Fri-Mon. This could get painful. I've grown attached to my tricky high-toss serve, but I'll trade it for a new back.

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