June 22, 2020

Tip of the Week
Do You Really Have Control of Your Shots? (See also "Through the Scoreboard Practice" below.)

Winning Table Tennis by Dan Seemiller and Mark Holowchak
Winning Table Tennis is back! This is a reprinting of the best-selling table tennis book from 1997. Whether you're a competitive tournament player or a serious recreational player, Winning Table Tennis: Skills, Drills, and Strategies will help you improve your game. Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. singles, 12-time doubles champion, and long-time US Men's Team Coach, shows you all the shots and strategies for top-level play. This book features 19 drills for better shot-making, plus Seemiller's own grip and shot innovations that will give you an edge over the competition. Featuring the most effective table tennis techniques and strategies Winning Table Tennis: shows you how to

  • choose the right equipment,
  • serve and return serves,
  • use proper footwork and get into position,
  • practice more efficiently,
  • prepare for competitions
  • make effective strategy decisions in singles and doubles play, and
  • condition your body for optimal performance.

It's also a perfect companion piece to Seemiller's autobiography, Revelations of a Ping-Pong Champion. Learn from the champ AND learn about the champ!

Disclaimer - I helped Dan recreate the book, doing a bunch of technical stuff to recapture the text from an old program, formatting it, and also did a bunch of work to fix up the photos, which were scanned directly from an old copy. I brought in a science fiction writing friend of mine to do the page layouts. I also edited Dan's earlier book, Revelations of a Ping-Pong Champion. (I did all this as a volunteer for a Table Tennis Legend - I did not take any money for it.)

On a side note, I've done a lot of work helping out Dan with his two books above, Samson Dubina with his two, and Tim Boggan with his 23 history volumes. These are some great book, and you can learn a lot! But I'm hoping I can now retire as an editor/page designer/photo fixer for future table tennis books - and perhaps focus on mine. (Though I'll probably continue working with Tim, when and if he's able to do a Volume 24.)

10,000 Hours and a Million Words "Rules"
A few days ago, David Gerrold - famous for writing the famous "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode of original Star Trek, and a full-time science fiction writer and curmudgeon - posted on Facebook about what it takes to master something. He started the rather long posting by writing, "People who have demonstrated skill, or even mastery, in their respective fields often talk about muscle memory, or ten thousand hours of practice. For writers, this is the million words theory. You must write a million words to learn how to write well."

This was one of those rare times where my two worlds intersected - table tennis and science fiction writing! Below was my response. And pardon for the second paragraph, where I give my "table tennis resume" - I was writing this for the SF audience, who mostly don't know my TT side, though many do. The issue has great relevance to both communities - it's all about "Deliberate Practice," which is how you become good at table tennis, writing, and many other endeavors. Some of you may have heard of the "10,000 hours" rule (really just a guideline), but it has a well-known parallel in writing - as David says above, the "million words theory."

This is a fascinating topic, and one I'm sort of uniquely qualified to discuss since I'm in both worlds that David brings up. And sorry about the length of this - I really got into this topic.

I'm a professional table tennis player/coach/writer and did my "10,000 hours" of training long ago. I've won the US National and US Open Hardbat National Table Tennis Championships once each (and doubles 14 times!), and have hordes of other national and state titles. I'm in the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame and was awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award - and most of this was for my 40 years of professional coaching and writing. I was the match coach for over 200 gold medal winners at the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals, the most by any table tennis coach in history. And yes, table tennis is an Olympic sport - I've coached Olympians.

I'm also an active member of Science Fiction Writers of America, with 113 short story sales, including 33 "pro" sales, and four novels. I'm a graduate of the six-week 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I did my "million words" long ago. (I also have nine books on table tennis and over 1900 published articles, and over 1800 blog entries.) I often joke that I'm the best TT player in SFWA and the best SF writer in USATT!

So . . . what does my experience in these two fields tell me? I'll start with table tennis and then get to writing. The 10,000 hour rule in sports is a misunderstood guideline. What's needed is something in the range of 10,000 hours of what's known as "Deliberate Practice."

With Deliberate Practice, you don't just do repetition; you focus on each aspect needed at a high level, and do various drills (with lots of repetition) that make those a habit. From this, you develop the proper muscle memories and reactions to compete at a high level. The player and coach are constantly keying in on very specific techniques of the game, not just putting in the hours. Here's the Wikipedia entry on this:

Here's the key part: "...how expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback. Another important feature of deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it."

Here's a thought experiment. Suppose you take four brothers who are quadruplets, so all about the same age and talent level. Two of them play table tennis together for 10,000 hours, trying hard to improve, but do not receive any coaching and do not study or play top players, where they'd learn what top players do. Give me the other two brothers for 1000 hours (and really, 200 hours would probably do). I guarantee the two I coach would easily beat the two who did the 10,000 hours, who'd be showing up for a gun fight with a pair of water pistols. They'd get creamed.

The two with 10,000 hours would have spent their time learning how to play low-level table tennis, and would become very good at that. When they play someone who's learned how to play high-level table tennis, they'd get blown away. They'd be what we call "basement players" - players who play a lot and think they are good until they go up against real players and face things they haven't seen before - spin serves, topspin loops, heavy backspin, flips, counter-hitting, and so on. They don't know how to move or position themselves properly, won't be able to return most serves (or return them without setting up an easy put-away), won't be able to rally against spins, and when they hit a shot that they think is a "winner," they'll be shocked at how easily a well-trained player effortlessly counter-hits it back just as aggressively.

Now let's look at writing. Suppose someone writes story after story, maybe doing a new one every day, and keeps doing this until he's written a million words. Suppose he does this without getting regular feedback on his writing, or serious instruction about professional writing. He'd be just like those two basement players, and would become very good at low-level writing. But he wouldn't have learned what it takes to write at a higher level - character development and arc; point of view; plotting; subtext; dialog; description; openings; three-act structure; voice; beats; and so on. (Not all top writers are expert at all these things, or even use them all, but all are expert at most of them.) When their stories are compared to someone who has learned these techniques, they get blown away - they have shown up at a gun fight with water pistols. Their stories are rejected.

So a writer may need to write a million words to become truly proficient, but it needs to be with that "Deliberate Practice" idea in mind - they need to be learning as they go along, usually from critiques, workshops, books, and so on. And then they can practice what they learn and get better, just as a table tennis player would learn what's needed to reach a high level, and would practice that.

One big difference between writing and table tennis: writers usually start out as readers, and so they experience high-level writing, and so many start out their writing careers with a decent understanding of what it takes to write at a high level. It's a little different in table tennis and most skill sports, as watching it isn't quite the same as playing against it. It's sort of a culture shock when a recreational player first goes up against a top player and realizes just how out-matched he is, as much of what happens when they play isn't so obvious from just watching. But many who read a lot don't really think about or really understand what the writer is doing - and so they don't learn from it, or miss out on major aspects. And so the first time they show a story they've written to an editor or critiquer, they are shocked at the response, just as those basement table tennis players are shocked when they play a real player. But if they get regular feedback on their writing, and learn from it (and from workshops, reading top writers, books on writing, etc.), then by the time they've put in those million words, they will be the ones with the guns at the gunfight, and they'll likely start making sales.

What is my conclusion here? Not everyone has the ability to play table tennis or write at an extremely high level. But anyone can, with deliberate practice, become very good, and much better than those who just blindly put in those 10,000 hours or million words and just keep getting better at doing the same old things without learning what it takes to do so at a high level.

And in case my writing and coaching are only "very good" and not "extremely high level," and so I'm unable to make a living at them . . . anyone here want to play table tennis for money? :)

USATT Board Seeks Membership Comments on Proposed Bylaw Amendments
Here's the USATT News Item. (This was in last week's blog, but went up late. Deadline to comment is 7PM Eastern Time TODAY.)

Online Coaching with LearnPong
Here's their page, with coaches Kai Zhang, Brad Robbins, Chase Bockoven, Alfred Dela Pena, Christian Stelting, Bjorn Stelting, and Vlad Farcas. "LearnPong is an online table tennis training center specializing in real-time video lessons and match analysis. Our coaches pride themselves in being patient, positive, professional and versatile. We recognize that every student has individual styles and goals and we tailor our lesson plans accordingly. Our team covers various timezones and offers lessons in multiple languages."

New from Samson Dubina

Should I Start Taking Coaching Lessons?
Here's the article by Aabid Sheikh.

Leszcek Kucharski on the Forehand Flick
Here's the video (1:55) - in Europe they call it "flick," in the U.S. it's "flip." Leszcek Kucharski was a star Polish player in the late 1980s, getting a silver and bronze in Men's Doubles and a bronze in Men's Teams at the World Championships.

Jimmy Butler Working on His Backhand Loop
Here's the video (2:20) of the Olympian and 4-time US Men's Singles Champion, in a practice match with US Olympian Wang Huijing - see Jim's comments. (On the right are links to videos of their previous training matches.)

Coach. Connect. Contribute - Jun Gao
Here's the USATT article and video (90 sec) of the 9-time US Women's Singles Champion. (She was at my club, MDTTC, when she was winning all those titles!)

Table Tennis Interview - Timo Boll
Here's the video (54 min) with the former world #1, by Matt Hetherington. (For some reason, no matter how I set it, it takes me about 12 minutes in, so you might have to go to the beginning. I checked with Matt, and he said it goes right to the beginning for him.) Also, Matt just finished his "30 videos in 30 days" - see the other links in his YouTube Page! (I linked to the last of them last week, other than this new Timo Boll interview.)

Through the Scoreboard Practice
Here's the video (45 sec), with Samson Dubina - and see the kid's reaction the three times he makes it!

What I Have Learned & Gained From Playing Table Tennis
Here's the video (5:13), who is (probably) better than you, rated 2062 at age 12.

The GREATEST Table Tennis Shots for 2019
Here's the USATT video (5:49).

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

My Epic Match with USA's #1 (U13)
Here's the video (14:55) from Adam Bobrow. Lots of lobbing - and guess who wins, 19-17 in the seventh?

New from Steve Hopkins

Common Ground in Table Tennis and Beyond
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

National Collegiate Table Tennis - 2020 Superlative Winners
Here's the article and award winners.

Kanak Jha, Seeking Two Steps Higher, Top Seed in Düsseldorf
Here's the ITTF article.

Interview with ITTF President Thomas Weikert
Here's the video (40 min) by Adam Bobrow.

ITTF High Performance & Development Webinar 9 - Training with Style on Different Continents
Here's the ITTF video (62 min).

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

NBA Rules on Table Tennis
Here's the article from USA Today, "NBA safety protocols include interesting rules: No licking hands on court; ping-pong limited to two players."

Ping-Pong Legend Products
Here they are - shirts, mugs, and phone cases.

Broken Table Tennis Paddle Leather Phone Case Cover for Apple iPhone
Here it is!

Trickshots from Pingpong Story
Here's the page with six videos!

Best of Switch Hand Shots
Here's the video (6 min)!

Head Pong
Here's the rally (57 sec)!

Non-Table Tennis - Why Confederate flags and monuments are still up, 155 years after the Civil War ended
Here's my cartoon!

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