August 7, 2013

Rules Changes I Was Involved In
Yesterday I blogged about rules changes since I started playing in 1976. I also wrote how I was involved or responsible for three, and promised to write about them today. I'll go in reverse order.

1) Paddle Point Rule. Back in 1991 I shared a ride from Maryland to the U.S. Open in Midland, Michigan with Dave Sakai. Along the way we picked up then-USATT president Dan Seemiller in Pittsburgh. During the long drive we discussed the paddle point rule, which a lot of people thought was silly, including all three of us. The rule then was that if an opponent hit the ball off the end but it hit your racket while still in play (i.e. not hitting the floor or something else to end the point), you'd lose the point. The reason for the rule was back in the hardbat era there were many players who blocked so quick off the bounce it was difficult to tell if the ball hit the table first - but in the sponge era, this doesn't happen much.

But many matches were being decided by the paddle point rule, including the Men's Final at a recent Olympic Sports Festival (then a major USATT tournament), where Sean O'Neill was up I believe 20-19 in the fifth match point (games to 21 back then), and smacked a ball off the end for an apparent deuce, but the ball hit Jim Butler's racket, and so Sean won. So right there in the car I got out my steno notebook and wrote a draft of a rule change to rescind the paddle point rule. I gave it to Dan, who gave it to the chair of the Official's Committee (not sure who - Wendell Dillon?), who finalized the language and submitted it to the ITTF, where it was passed.

2) Ball Resting Freely in Palm. Until about ten years ago the service rule said that the ball must be in the flat palm when serving. Nobody actually has a flat palm, of course, so it's a judgment call how flat it must be. Sometime many years ago I began to demonstrate for umpires and referees a serve where I put the ball in the palm of my rather flat palm, asked if it was okay, they'd say yes - and then I'd turn my hand upside down so the ball was underneath my hand, but still in the palm! Anyone can do this by pinching the ball between the base of the thumb and the palm, but that wouldn't really be a flat palm. With some practice (I must have had too much free time) I learned to surreptitiously pinch it right in the middle of the palm, where it wasn't so obvious. I not only could hold it there, but I could shake my hand up and down, palm down, and the ball would stay there!

I demonstrated this to the referees at the Worlds about ten years ago, and challenged them to find anything illegal about it - and they agreed there wasn't anything illegal about it, if the umpire had already judged the palm to be flat. They could retroactively say the palm wasn't completely flat, but that would be unfair since I'd first have them agree my palm was "flat" before turning my hand upside down. A year or so later they changed the rule to "resting freely on the palm."

3) Two-Color Rule. Few active players these days remember what it was like from roughly 1977 to 1983, when there was no two-color rule, and more and more players started using long pips or antispin on one side. Rallies became atrocious where it became incredibly difficult to read the spin on the ball since you couldn't tell what surface was hitting it, and rallies became racket flipping battles where players would struggle to figure out what was on the ball.

The idea was popularized at the 1977 Worlds when two Chinese chopper/loopers made the semifinals using long pips - Liang Geliang and Huang Liang. They constantly flipped their racket, and opponents couldn't see which side they were hitting on, both in rallies and on the serve, and so they absolutely devastated the Europeans. (In the semifinals the story is both were ordered to dump, one to teammate Guo Yuehua, the other to eventual winner Mitsuru Kohno of Japan.) By the early 1980s surveys (including one taken by me) showed that over 80% of U.S. tournament players were using combination rackets, with the large majority of them using long pips or antispin. I was one of the activists to require players to use two colors. I even wrote a poem about it, which was published in USATT Magazine (then called Topics), and which I included in a letter to the ITTF. The ITTF finally began to require two colors in 1983.

Here is the poem:

Little Jack Ding-Dong,
Was Rotten at Ping-Pong,
And he could not figure why.
So he bought some weird rubber,
And beat a top player,
And said, "What a good player am I!"

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand. This week's group seems a bit better on the backhand than the forehand. Can't wait to see if any of them will be ready to backhand loop by Thursday, when we introduce that to the players who we think are ready for it.

I'm having an interesting time with one kid, age 8, who's very shy and won't take part in games. I'm trying to get him to join in with the various target practice games we do at the end of each session with the beginning kids, but he absolutely refuses, seems embarrassed at being a beginner who mostly misses. I'll keep working with him.

Oxford Falls in Love with Table Tennis
Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation about TT mania in Oxford, England. Here's the opening paragraph: "The Oxford City Council in England has recently installed 18 ping pong tables in public areas around the city to get more people involved in our beloved sport. This initiative was funded by Sport England (formerly known as the English Sports Council) with a $23,000 donation to city of Oxford as well as 9 other cities including London, Birmingham and Liverpool."

Six Steps to the Perfect Playlist for Table Tennis Performance (Part 1)
Here's the article, where they even take into account the average rallying pace in finding music that matches that.

Keep Calm & Play Table Tennis
They brought their mini table tennis table with them on a road trip, and here's video (1:18) of the result!

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