June 15, 2020

Tip of the Week
Practice Partner Collaboration - the PPC of TT.

The Play That Changed . . . Everything
Some of you may have heard of the "Butterfly Effect," whereby something seemingly small and insignificant can have major ramifications. It happens in table tennis as well, and I'm not talking about Butterfly table tennis. In fact, if not for at least two seemingly minor things, I wouldn't be in table tennis, and much of the table tennis world would be different. Here's how I switched from baseball to track & field to table tennis.

When I was 13, my sport was baseball. I was obsessed with it - I memorized the results of EVERY World Series (1903-1973), including the winning team, scores, and winning pitcher of every single game, and the MVPs and their stats. I also memorized every stat about the Baltimore Orioles. As a player, I was only so-so - didn't hit or field that well, and due to arm problems, I had a weak throwing arm. (From the start I threw with my feet parallel, which puts tremendous strain on the shoulder, and no coach corrected it until I'd hurt my arm repeatedly. They used to call this "Throwing like a girl," but most girls probably throw better than me.)

I did have a good on-base percentage because I refused to swing the bat unless I had a perfect strike - which usually meant I went almost the whole season without swinging the bat until I had two strikes, to the chagrin of the coaches, who were always yelling, "Swing the bat, Larry!" (I had a home plate that I'd put on my bed, and then attached strings to the walls over it so I could see the exact strike zone, and so memorized it. I also spent a huge amount of time learning to hook slide.) So I basically walked or struck out most of the time, with occasional weak pop-ups or grounders. (I did once hit a triple and got thrown out at the plate going for a home run, but that's another story.) I wanted to play third base like my hero, Brooks Robinson, but I literally couldn't make the throw. So I often played second, which has a much shorter throw - and I often struggled even with that. But sometimes the coach put me in right field, which was strange, since I didn't have the arm for it.

On the last day of the season in 1973, I was in right field. Our star pitcher, who was about twice my size, had moved from pitcher to center field. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and our team led by one run - and the opposing team had the tie run at second. The batter hit a single to right, directly at me. I fielded it cleanly. Anyone else on the team would have tried to throw the ball to home. But even then, at 13, I was tactically minded, and I knew I couldn't make the throw. In fact, the only person on the team who could have made that throw and gotten the runner at the plate was our star pitcher, now playing center field - who had run over, backing up the play. So what did I do? I did the really smart thing, and without hesitating, I flipped the ball to him. He didn't hesitate either - he caught it cleanly in his bare hand, then reared back and uncorked the throw of the ages, a perfect strike over the plate. Our catcher tagged the runner out to end the game. We won!!!

The team completely mobbed him. But me? I walked toward them, but stopped near first base and just watched. All I could think was . . . why wasn't anyone congratulating me? I'm the one who had the foresight to flip the ball to the one person on the team who could make that throw. To my 13-year-old mind . . . and to this 60-year-old one . . . it seemed so unfair. I stood out there for the longest time, watching the celebration, somehow not feeling a part of it. Deep down, I also realized that with my throwing arm, I could never be that good. I finally walked off the field and never played baseball again.

If not for that play, I wouldn't have quit baseball. The chance that I'd later just happen to take up table tennis seriously was essentially zero. I never would have started up the Maryland Table Tennis Center, the first successful full-time training center in the country (along with coaches Cheng and Jack, who, without a full-time club, would have gone back to China), and all the clubs around the country that later copied our model wouldn't have happened, at least in the way that they did. Maybe some would have eventually happened, but the history of all the full-time clubs in this country would have been different - and if you got into table tennis because of one of them, including MDTTC, that club probably wouldn't have existed, and you wouldn't be reading this. Everything I've ever done in table tennis - and I did get the USATT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 - would not have happened. 

But the story doesn't end there. I next became a miler, and got pretty good - I lettered in it, with my best time, when I was 15 or 16, at 4 min 53 sec, though I never really liked running. And then, one day (early 1976), I went to the library to get a book on Track and Field. I just happened to look to my left - and there it was, under Table Tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I'd been playing ping-pong with some of the other kids in our neighborhood, and on the spur of the moment, I checked it out. I discovered a table tennis club a few miles away, and again on the spur of the moment, convinced my parents to take me there. Pretty soon table tennis had replaced track and field, all because I happened to look to my left.

If not for that play, and for that look to my left, I most likely have become a math professor . . . or maybe a science fiction writer! But table tennis? Unlikely. 

Years later, when I met the great and colorful Marty Reisman, I told him the story. His exact words: "Great - another life I've ruined." Hilarious!

Weekend Coaching
For the second Saturday in a row, I had a session with Navin Kumar. Here's the video he put up afterwards (2:15). For now, this is the limit of my active table tennis coaching. At some point soon, the club will open up for group sessions, and then I'll have to see if I still remember how the game is played. Since Navin hasn't been able to play for a while, we're focusing a lot on basics, but also working on his backhand attack, where he flips his racket from his long-pips blocking side to the inverted he usually has on the forehand. A key part then is the decision on whether to keep the inverted on the backhand after the first attack, and try to win the point with it (and moving to the center of the table so as to cover as much of the table as possible with the inverted backhand), or to immediately switch back to his usual long pips on the backhand combo.

USATT Did a News Item on My Book, "Still More Table Tennis Tips"
Here's the news item! C'mon, you know you want to buy my books!!! :) It includes links to some of my other ones. (This went up last Tuesday, so I added it a day late to last week's blog.)

Why Table Tennis? 10 Aspects of the Sport That Will Change Your Life
[I ran this last week, but thought I'd run it one more time.]

The new table tennis book is out! The link takes you to Amazon, or you can get it directly from Samson Dubina Table Tennis. The book is by Samson Dubina, Sarah Jalli, and Jacob Boyd (the latter two are two of Samson's top junior students), and edited by Larry Hodges (hey, that's me!). It's 50 pages. Here are testimonials by Richard McAfeeDora Kurimay, and Christian Lillieroos.

Here's the Amazon description: "The Olympic sport of table tennis is well-respected worldwide for the dexterity of the athletes, the speed of the rallies, and the excitement of watching players of all ages and nationalities compete for world titles. Here in the US, very little is known about table tennis … Until Now! Why Table Tennis takes you on a one-hour journey where you will explore the vastness of the sport, understand how it is healthy for the mind and body, how it has impacted world history, and why it can impact your life too!!! Buckle up for this one-hour journey… The Olympic Sport of Table Tennis!"

MH Table Tennis: 30 Coaching Tutorials in 30 Days
Here's the video page. Matt Hetherington of MH Table Tennis is making one every day! (If you find his videos of value, here's his GoFundMe page.) Below are the recent ones (also see the playlists at the bottom of the page).

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Serves vs TableTennisDaily's Dan!
Here's the video (3:37). In the video, you'll see Dimitrij mostly serving long, since he's trying to get Dan to outright miss - and long serves are almost always better at that. These are examples of what I call "trick" serves, designed to force an outright miss, but risky if done too often since they usually allow an opponent to attack your serve, while not setting up your own attack. See what he says at the end about Ma Long's serves and "Building on your serve" - in other words, third-ball serves, where the serve doesn't win the point like a trick serve, but sets you up to attack and take control of the point. Here's a short tip I wrote about this, Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves.­­­

Can You Push Short Like This?
Here's the video (31 sec). The key thing to learn from this is that when you push short, you don't just pat the ball back softly; you brush it with a fine grazing motion. It's that grazing motion that makes the ball bounce off your paddle softly, while also imparting backspin. Most don't put as much backspin as done in this video, but it gives you an idea of what the contact should be like.

New from Samson Dubina

USATT Happy Hour
USATT had another Happy Hour, 7-8:15 PM this past Thursday. They are every Thursday at 7PM eastern time - see the USATT news page or calendar (on the USATT home page) for link to it, and you can come join us!  This time we had 15 people attending, including me, USATT CEO Virginia Sung, COO Mark Thompson, High Performance Director Sean O'Neill, Director of Para Programs Jasna Rather, and others. Topics discussed included table tennis content for the USATT news page, showcasing table tennis, and (at the start), presidents playing table tennis! These include Obama, the Clintons, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and cartoons of George W. Bush and Richard Nixon (there are many more of Nixon).

=>NOTE - Was told on Tuesday night that it's cancelled this week, due to low turnout - not sure if this is permanent.

USATT Board Seeks Membership Comments on Proposed Bylaw Amendments
Here's the USATT News Item. (NOTE - this was added late, on Monday night.)

USATT Board Meeting on June 1 - Minutes
The Minutes for the meeting are now up in the USATT Minutes page. I blogged about this a bit in my blog last week. (Back in my days as USATT co-webmaster - one of a zillion positions I've had with USATT - I'm the one who argued back in the "early days" of the Internet, in 1999, that we should put our minutes online, and I the created the page.)

Ask a Champion Series - Jean-Michel Saive
Here's the video (59:48) with Jean-Michel Saive former World #1 and Men's Singles Finalist at the Worlds and World Cup.

Coach. Connect. Contribute - Wang Chen
Here's the USATT video (63 sec) with Wang Chen, former World #4 from China, and after emigrating, two-time US Women's Singles Champion.

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here!

New from Steve Hopkins

The 7th Match on Saturday
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

National Collegiate Table Tennis Association - Election Results
Here's the results page.

ITTF United Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination
Here's the ITTF press release. "The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has always held a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and all forms of discrimination."

Table Tennis United | Help Our Community Overcome COVID-19
Here's the video (1:18). "We are asking for your kind donations to the #TableTennisUnited campaign in order to support the athletes, coaches, umpires, national associations and field projects who are all in need of a helping hand in these difficult times." DONATIONS

New from ITTF
Here's their home page and news page.

Safety Procedures to Enter a Club in the Age of Coronavirus
Here's the video (2:50).

New from Kevin Table Tennis

Ping-Pong Conference Tables
Here's the video (27 sec)! Why don't you have one of these at work?

Girls High School Team: The Saga Continues
Here's the video (10:39) from Adam Bobrow. Here's part 1, which I linked to last week: Adam vs. Girls High School Table Tennis Team (10:11).

This is How You Should Treat Your Table Tennis Blade
Here's the video (35 sec)!

Mike Tyson Playing Table Tennis
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Tyson's shirt says, "Pardon Jack Johnson." Jack Johnson was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1908-1915, the second black to do win it, and was, for many years, the most famous black man in the world. He was arrested and served time for what most consider trumped up charges, which is what Tyson is protesting.

Superman and Batman Pong
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) From his grip, you can tell Superman is about to do a forehand pendulum serve, while Batman waits to follow up. Both look focused and "In the Zone." Their opponents, likely Lex Luther and the Joker, have little chance.

Anger Pong
Here's the cartoon! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Hole in the Racket Challenge and Wheelbarrow Pong
Here's the video (4:42) from Pongfinity!

Non-Table Tennis - Best Picture Movies
It's official - I've now seen all 92 Academy Award Best Pictures! Last week I watched the World War I epic "Wings" from 1927, the very first winner and the last one on my list. It's a silent movie (but lots of dialog shown in text), one of only two to win Best Picture - the other being 2011's "The Artist." The aerial dogfighting scenes were spectacular. It's supposedly in black and white (actually, sepia), but surprisingly they have flashes of yellow when machine guns fire or in explosions. It was a breath of fresh air after watching the following year's winner the night before, "The Broadway Melody," the lowest rated Best Picture ever by far at 36% on Rotten Tomatoes (to "Wings" at 93%).

Non-Table Tennis - "Nanogod"!
Yesterday I sold my SF story "Nanogod" to Dark Matter Magazine! (They pay "pro" rates, 8 cents/word. It's my 133rd short story sale, but first to this market.) What happens when a microscopic nanobot, designed for brain surgery, is damaged and becomes an egomaniac that travels the galaxy, conquering civilizations and forcing them to build huge monuments in its honor? It forced us to build the Great Pyramids 4600 years ago . . . and now it's back and wants more! (Coincidentally, the story is 4600 words long.) Sorry, no table tennis in this one.

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