Jim Butler

September 12, 2014

Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros! By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon

As readers of this blog know, I strongly encourage players to work on sports psychology. It's amazing how many matches are won or lost on this, and yet after losing a match because of nerves or some related issue, players go and practice the shots they missed when they were nervous rather than address the reason they missed the shots with a dose of sports psychology. Here's a number of resources on sports psychology, including this excellent one.

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros!, the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (available at amazon.com). It's 158 pages with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read, since most other books are more general, for all sports. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

I reviewed an earlier and shorter version of this book, "Get Your Game Face On." This version is greatly expanded, both the text and the title. If you are serious about your table tennis, I strongly encourage you to read this book, and try out the various methods explained for strengthening your mental game. It could pay off dramatically in your performance.

The first half is similar to the previous version. In Part 1, the book covers the Game Face System, going over both the routine and how to train for it. It points out four major problems that plague table tennis players, and then goes about giving systematic ways of combating them:

  • Inconsistency
  • Not being able to play as well as we practice
  • Your energy level can be too high or too low
  • Distractions

Central to the book is developing a "Game Face," the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and a "Game Face Routine," using the four R's, which are covered in Part 2:

  • Reaction ("If you want to maintain your Game Face during competition, you must learn to control your reaction consistently right after every point.")
  • Recover (Recover from the point, relax, etc., with eight methods listed)
  • Readiness (This is where you ensure that you are mentally prepared for the action to resume. You ask yourself, "What is the situation? What is my job?" This is where you do your tactical thinking.)
  • Ritual (To prepare mentally for the next point)

Throughout the book there are numerous real-world examples from world-class players. Often I was nodding my head at mental tricks that match what I'd developed over the years, or at recognizing something I'd see others do. The specific breakdown of how you use the time between points - the four R's - especially led to much thought that will influence my own coaching. The book should be a must for table tennis coaches and serious players.

The book then goes on to cover four major problems players face in competition, with a section devoted to each, and how to recover from them: Anger, Nerves, Mistakes, and Distractions. While the Four R's are likely the most important part of the book long-term, these four sections are probably of great value short term for players trying to address these issues right now. (But the Four R's will give a longer-term fix, especially in combination with this section.)

Part 3 is mostly new, and covers a wide variety of issues under the general topic of Develop Your Healthy Lifestyle Choices. After more about the Game Face Performance Triangle (Emotional-Physical-Mental), it covers 14 specific topics under three categories. Under Physiological, it has Nutrition, Hydration, and Sleep. Under Physical it has Practice, Conditioning, and Rehearsal (practicing the four R's of your Game Face routine). Under Mental, it has Self-Talk, Focus, and Visualization. Under Daily Life it has Time Management, Academics and Work, Fun, Relationships, and Environments.

The book finishes with two more sections, "Where to Go from Here," and a note to coaches, "Hey, Coach, Get Your Game Face On!" It's unfortunate that most coaches don't really focus on sports psychology. There's more to coaching than just technique and tactics.

Dora Kurimay was a member of the Hungarian National Table Tennis Team for six years and was six-time National Champion in doubles, singles, and teams. Perhaps more importantly she has a Bachelor's degree in psychology and two Master's degrees, in Psychology and in Sports Psychology. She has a long coaching background as well, both in table tennis and other sports. She now lives in the U.S. and at this writing has a 2380 rating. Kathy Toon coached tennis for twenty-three years, including at the University of California-Berkeley for fourteen years where teams she coached won three national doubles championships. 

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

In my blog yesterday when I announced the new inductees I inadvertently left out Richard Butler as an inductee. (I've since added him there.) So here's actual list: Sheila O'Dougherty, Lisa Gee, Tawny Banh, Richard Butler, and Lifetime Achievement Award Donna Sakai. Congrats to all! (Here's the USATT Hall of Fame.)

Para World Championships

They are taking place right now in Beijing, China, Sept. 6-15. Here's the USATT page and the ITTF page for the event. Here are pictures. Representing USA are Tahl Leibovitz and Sherri Umscheid, with Angie Bengtsson the USA Coach. Tahl made the quarterfinals of Class 9.

The 5 Coolest Table Tennis Tables in Existence

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Youth Olympic Games Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:15), created by Jim Butler. (She got the bronze in Under 18 girls.)

Southern Open Highlights Video

Here's the video (9:56).

Completely Insane Rally by Ma Lin

Here's the video (1:10), with Ma on the far side.

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a highlights video (5:01) from four years ago that I don’t think I've ever posted.

The Port City Ping Pong Throwdown

Here's the promotional video (2:49), from the Wilmington TTC in North Carolina.

Wizard Pong?

Here's an animated gif image of what appears to be a wizard playing table tennis with his scepter! (Is that Loki from the movie Thor?)

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September 9, 2014

Teaching a Beginning Kid to Block

Recently I've had a lot of fun teaching two kids, ages six and seven, how to block. For some reason they find great joy in this. I'm teaching them all aspects of the game, even looping, but they keep begging to block against my loop - and so that's how we end each session.

Few kids at that age have the reflexes or coordination to really block against a ball with varying spin that moves around the table. It's worse if you serve topspin and then start looping, as they have to adjust to two different shots. So what I do to start the rally is to toss the ball up and loop the very first shot at them, right out of the air. Then I keep looping softly, trying to keep it to one spot with the same depth, while they block. (I'm focusing on backhand blocks, but also having them do forehand blocks.) To them it's like a video game, trying to keep the ball on the table against my heavy topspin. They're getting pretty good at it, and I'm getting some exercise.

2014 USATT Election Notice and Process

Here's the notice. And once again I'm pretty disappointed.

On Nov. 25, 2013, I blogged about how unfair it was that the USATT Bylaws were changed so that candidates can no longer get on the ballot by petition. The only way to get on is to have the USATT-appointed Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC) put you on. If they chose not to, potential candidates have no recourse. It used to be you could get on by petition, but no more. I blogged about this more extensively on Jan. 24, 2014.

On May 12, 2014, I wrote, "As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule?"

This time I got a response that very day, as a USATT Board member (who shall remain nameless for now) emailed me that I was "mistaken," that the problem is being addressed, that there was a task force revising the election rules, and that they would be changed before the next election cycle. Well, the next election cycle is upon us, and there have been no changes, based on the election notice. As I pointed out in an ongoing email discussion I'm having this morning, "Only a bylaw change can change the election rules, and that has to come from the USATT Board. If the USATT Board has not approved a bylaw change, then the election rules haven’t changed. So unless there was a bylaw change at a board meeting whose minutes are not yet up, AND the NGB in defiance or ignorance of this put up this notice without USATT Board approval, nothing has changed."

In one of my emails this morning it took me about 60 seconds to write the following motion that any USATT board member could make, and would lead to changing the bylaws:

"I move that starting with the election cycle starting in Fall, 2014, that the Nominating and Governance Committee create wording for the USATT bylaws that allow potential candidates for USATT office to get on the ballot by petition with the signatures of 150 USATT members, and that they be allowed to get these signatures at the North American Teams and/or USA Nationals."

Sixty seconds. That's all it took. (Okay, I type fast, and I did make a minor wording change afterwards.) If no one on the USATT board can do something this simple, how can they do anything that's more difficult - you know, like develop the sport? (ADDENDUM: There was a motion by the board at the 2014 U.S. Open meeting - Motion 1 - to "recommend" that the NGC change the rules, but since it only recommended rather than directed, didn't specify that it was needed for the election cycle, didn't ask to allow candidates to be included by petition, and because the motion wasn't made until June - seven months after the issue was raised in November - it likely won't happen this election cycle.) 

Regarding the election, once again I'm toying with running. But I'd probably be a hypocrite if I did so. Why? Because I simply don't have time any more to do the things I've argued the Board needs to do. (See one such listing in my Nov. 25, 2013 blog, which I already cited above.) Anyone who's been around USATT for a while knows I've been a very active USATT volunteer (and sometimes staff person) for many years. But I have consistently failed to convince others there of the need to change our ways if we want to really develop the sport in this country. Every time we have one of these discussions at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings, there are convincing people who "look good in a suit" who argue the opposite, and nothing changes.

But if I did run, what would happen? Since other Board members aren't taking initiative to do what's necessary - if they did, they'd be getting done - I'd have to do so myself. But one of the prime requisites for running for the Board (IMHO) is to have the time to do the job. There was a time I could have done so, but these days I'm inundated, trying to do group and private coaching, promote my club, writing about table tennis, and my outside science fiction writing career. I have no interest in running for the Board and becoming another "judge" who sits back and simply judges things brought before them, as opposed to what's really needed - active legislative types who work to grow the sport. As I wrote in my Jan. 24, 2014 blog, "I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen."

And this whole election fiasco is a classic example of board members not making things happen. And it's so simple - all someone has to do is make the motion to allow candidates to get on the board by petition, perhaps using the past 150 signatures from USATT members as a requirement, and allowing them to get the signatures at the Teams in November or the Nationals in December. (They can even consult with the NGC first.) But it won't happen unless someone on the board stops being a passive judge and takes legislative action.

New World Rankings

In the September world rankings, on the men's side, China's 17-year-old phenom Fan Zhendong has moved up to #2 in the world, after Xu Xin. China now has the #1-4 and #6 players, with Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov breaking up the monopoly at #5 (down one spot from #4 last time as Zhang Jike passed him again). Timo Boll, the #2 German, remains at #9, while their #3, Patrick Baum, moved up from #17 to #14. Germany also has Bastian Steger at #18. China also has players at #10, 13, and 25. On the women's side, the top twelve remained unchanged except for a flip of the #6 and #7 positions. China still has #1-3 and #5-7, with Singapore's Feng Tianwei breaking up the monopoly at #4. One big jump - Romania's Elizabeta Samara jumped from #22 to #13, and is the top-ranked non-Asian woman.

Para World Championships

They are taking place right now in Beijing, China, Sept. 6-15. Here's the USATT page and the ITTF page for the event. Representing USA are Tahl Leibovitz and Sherri Umscheid, with Angie Bengtsson the USA Coach.

Jim Butler Wins 2014 Southern Open

Here's the article, results, and picture.

Xu Xin and Ma Long Training

Here's a video (7:25) from a year ago showing Chinese stars Xu Xin (#1 in the world, lefty penholder) and Ma Long (currently #3, former #1, righty shakehander) training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. You can learn a lot by watching both their form and the drills they do.

Table Tennis Unbelievable

Here's a highlights video (9:39) with some of the greatest shots and rallies of the past four years.

Clayton Kershaw and the LA Dodgers

Kershaw, the LA Dodgers pitching star, ran a table tennis charity event last Thursday. Here are pictures. The charity is Ping Pong 4 Purpose.

Two-Year-Old on Mini-Table

Here's the picture.

Elephant vs. Penguin

Here's the picture! Some nice artwork. (A search shows that I actually linked to this two years ago, but thought I'd show it again.)

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August 5, 2014

Tip of the Week

How to Move Up a Level.

TNEO and Table Tennis

This past weekend I returned from "The Never-Ending Odyssey," an annual eight-day writing workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire, for graduates of the six-week Odyssey writing workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. (I'm a 2006 grad.) This was my fifth TNEO - I went in '07, '08, '09, '13, and now '14. Here's a picture of me during a reading at the local Barnes and Noble. (There were about 30-40 listeners.) Here's a group picture. (If you have trouble seeing these Facebook photos, here are other versions for the reading photo and  for the group photo.) Here's my science fiction and fantasy page.) 

What does this have to do with table tennis, besides the fact that I'm a table tennis player at a science fiction and fantasy writing workshop? Actually quite a bit. During the workshop I had the first seven chapters of my SF novel "Campaign 2100" critiqued, and soon I will start the final rewrite on it. The novel has lots of table tennis! I blogged about this on June 13, where I even listed the table tennis scenes and changes in the sport, including "Spinsey pinhole sponge." (One of the main characters is a professional table tennis player who, up match point in the semifinals of the national championships, walks off the court to join - and eventually run - a worldwide third-party challenge for president of Earth in the year 2100. He also coaches the son of the presidential contender, and coaches and then does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership with an alien ambassador.) The table tennis scenes have mostly gone over well with readers and critiquers, even though they are not table tennis people. 

Since I was out of town for nine days, here's the question that comes up: What does one do to stay in table tennis shape when on vacation or out of town for an extended period for some reason? Assuming you can't arrange TT times at the new location, the answer is to shadow practice. (Here's my article Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork.) I brought my weighted racket to the writing workshop. (I bought it at the 2001 World Championships in Osaka, Japan.) At least once a day I shadow practiced forehand loops and smashes, backhands, and side-to-side footwork. 

Coaching Camp in Virginia

The writing workshop pretty much kept us on the go all day the entire time, so I was pretty tired when I returned - and with no break, I went right back to full-time coaching. We have a one-time camp in Virginia this week, 9AM-4PM, Mon-Fri, and so I'm leaving each day around 7:30 AM (because of rush hour) to make the journey. There are 15 kids in the camp, ages 6 to 14. Even though the camp was open to boys and girls, for reasons we still don't understand there are no girls in the camp. Only two are Asian (though two others are I believe part Asian). All 15 are right-handed. I'm head coach, assisted by John and Wen Hsu (the latter is the camp administrator as well). Since I have to leave so early, to do this blog I have to either do it the night before or get up very, very early.

Disabled Veterans Camp

I'm running a camp at MDTTC for disabled veterans, on Aug. 26-29. It's part of a USATT program, which has a grant for such camps. They have seven such camps scheduled - here's a listing. Special thanks goes to Jasna Rather for helping put these together!

Help Wanted - USATT National Volunteer Coordinator

Here's a new volunteer position with USATT - and an important one! 

Help Wanted - Austin Table Tennis Club Coach

Here's the help wanted article

Think Like a Coach

Here's a new coaching article from Oklahoma City coach Britt Salter. (The page is listed as Nov. 27, 2012, but that's when the page was apparently created for the coaching articles. The article just went up.) 

Contact Point for Maximum Backspin

Here's the video (3:14) from PingSkills.

Which Ball Should I Buy?

Here's the new blog entry from USATT Board Member Kagin Lee.

ITTF Coaching Course in Akron, Ohio

Here's the ITTF article.

ITTF Goes Plastic for Future Events

Here's the article.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. I was posting them all here, but while I was gone they went from #38 to #28. You can find them all on the USATT News page. I'll likely start posting them again tomorrow. 

Kanak Jha and the North American Championships

Here's the highlights video (1:36), by Jim Butler.

Lily Zhang's 2012 Olympic Thoughts

Here's the video (1:41). 

Dimitrij Ovtcharov on the Two-Colored Balls

Here's the article. "More than half of the balls were broken after practice." (Includes picture with the broken balls - looks like about ten broken balls, though there seem to be 11 white halves, 9 orange halves.)

Tampa Tries Free Pingpong in the Park

Here's the article

Table Tennis Touch

Here's a video (2:33) on this table tennis game you can play on your smart phone. 

Pong Was Never Supposed to Be Played By the Public

Here's the article on this revolutionary video game. 

Cartoon Woman Smashes Winner in Front of Big Crowd

Here's the picture - what should the caption be?

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May 15, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my day yesterday. After writing my blog in the morning, I spent some time inputting edits for my new Table Tennis Tips book. (They are from four people who proofed the book. More on them soon.) I've been working on this on and off for the last couple of weeks, and hope to finalize it by tomorrow - we'll see. Finalizing it has been a bigger job than I thought, and I've sometimes put it aside for a day or so to work on other stuff. (I'm also doing some science fiction work, but I won't get into that here.)

At 2:30PM, as I do Mon-Fri, I left to pick up kids for our afterschool program. My first pickup is at 3:05, and by leaving at 2:30 I get to his school around 2:50PM. Why do I go this early? Two reasons. 1) In case there's traffic, I don't want to be late; and 2) I've taken to doing the Washington Post crossword puzzle while parked at his school, waiting for him to come out. It's great fun, and I'm able to do the entire thing about half the time, though not always in the 15 minutes there. I may blog about table tennis and crossword puzzles later on - there are a number of connections.

After picking up the 3:05 player I picked up a second one at another school five minutes later, and then we were off to the club. It wasn't one of the more fun pickups as the two bickered back and forth the entire trip. Finally, after arriving at the club I was to hit with one of them (age 7) for 30 minutes, and then do 20-30 minutes of school work with him. Unfortunately, perhaps primed by the bickering in the car, he wasn't happy and let's just say it wasn't one of the better sessions, both the table tennis and the academics. And yet, he played surprisingly well. At one point he hit about 100 forehands in a row (his most ever), but he was oblivious to it as the entire time he was voicing his displeasure with all the work he was being forced to do (especially school), and how much he wanted to play video games instead!

I had two more one-hour sessions. The first was with a nine-year-old, about 1500 level. I've mentioned him before - he likes to lob, and does so at a surprisingly high level. But in recent weeks he's become more determined to develop his attack. His backhand right now is a little better than his forehand, but when he gets going, his forehand looping can be pretty strong. The problem is he tends to change strokes every few shots as he constantly experiments. That's good and bad, but at this state in his development, mostly bad. He likes to swing from the side to get lots of sidespin, but this leads to a rather long and cumbersome stroke without much power. He also likes to switch back and forth every few shots from looping close to the table, then off the table, then back to the table again. Great ball control, but he's not going to develop real precision on his shots this way.

We spent the first 45 minutes of the session on just forehand and backhand looping, including footwork. (He can spin his backhand both close to the table and from off the table.) Then we worked on his serves for five minutes. (He practices these at home, and always has new "show and tell" serves to show me. Currently he's working hard on his reverse pendulum serve.) We were going to play games at the end, but he wanted to counterloop, so we finished that way - though half the counterlooping rallies ended with him lobbing, which is what he really likes to do. He's gotten pretty good at sidespin lobbing from the side, where I hit the ball as wide to his forehand as I can.

The second session was with a 12-year-old who's about 1700 now. He's developing a very strong forehand loop, with fast footwork. His backhand is coming along, but isn't quite as dominating yet, partly because he's constantly looking to play forehand. I wanted to focus on his backhand this session, but his forehand was looking so strong at the start I decided to focus on that the first half of the session, to bring it to a new level. After a bunch of regular forehand and footwork drills against my block, and some multiball, I introduced him to a new drill, an improvised multiball drill I've blogged about before. I put a basket of balls near me. I serve backspin to his backhand, he pushes to my backhand, I forehand loop down the line to his forehand, and he counterloops a winner. As he's doing this, I reach for the next ball and repeat. It's a rapid-fire way to develop a winning counterloop against an opponent's opening shot. At the start I did medium-speed loops, which he was pretty good against. He kept asking me to loop harder, and so I increased the pace, and he did pretty well. It's important in this drill to go at a pace where the player is consistent so he can develop good habits that'll carry over into matches, when you don't know where the ball is going to go. Then I challenged him with very slow, spinny loops, dropping them short on the table. These are especially hard to counterloop, and he had trouble at first, but picked up on it soon.

Then we began work on this backhand. After some straight backhand-to-backhand rallies, I began moving him around, stressing the idea that if you cover only 1/3 of the table with your backhand, you should practice covering 1/2, which will make it easy to cover the 1/3. We did multiball so he could rapid-fire backhand loop against backspin. I also looped to his backhand so he could work on blocking. Then we did another multiball drill where I rapid-fire grabbed balls and looped them at him randomly over the whole table, and he had to aggressively block backhands or counterloop on the forehand. (Later I'll have him spin the backhands when he blocks as well.)

We finished with a series of games. I think he was a little disappointed that he wasn't able to play his forehand in game situations as well as in drills, but as I explained to him (and have blogged about), it takes perhaps six months to incorporate into games what you can do in practice. (I have two "six-month rules." The other one is that if you improve to a higher level in practice games, it'll take about six months before you can consistently do this in tournaments. I call this one Larry's Law.)

I was done coaching for the day, but stayed after for a while to watch one of our top juniors play, since I'll be coaching him at the U.S. Open. Then I went home and started work again on the Tips book - but that's when I discovered I was just too tired to do so, and put it off until today. Yep, it's on my todo list to work on that next (after doing a few other shorter items) until I leave for today's afterschool pickups and coaching.

Serves in Slow Motion

Here's a video (7:24, from 2010) showing top players serving in slow motion. This is the only way to really see the semi-circular motion and last-second changes of direction top players use when they serve.

World Veterans Championships

They are taking place right now, May 14-17, Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, live streaming, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There are 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

College Table Tennis Class

Here's an article about USATT Coaching Chair Fede Bassetti teaching a class at Northern Illinois University.

How Much Should Table Tennis Players Make?

Here's an interesting discussion of this.

Zhang Jike's Father Furiously Disappointed

Here's the article. "I was extremely anxious watching him play that day. Bad techniques, it doesn't matter. Losing the match, it doesn't matter. But looking at his performance that day, there was no fighting spirit. Others were cheering for him but he was simply in a daze. It really worried me to death." (Should parents voice criticism like this in public?)

Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's a musical tribute video (3:43) to Lily Zhang's performance at the recent World Championships, created by Jim Butler.

Trick Serves

Here's a video (1:18) where the guys from PingSkills demonstrate a bunch of hilarious trick serves - fifty-foot serves from the side and backspin bounce-back serves.

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May 8, 2014

The Point's Not Over Until It's Over!

Last night, one of my students, 12-year-old Matt, told me about an interesting point he had in our Tuesday night league. The opponent was attacking, and Matt had been forced off the table fishing. The opponent's smash hit the net and dropped down in front of Matt, seemingly unreturnable. Matt scooped the ball up almost off the floor and made a sidespin return - but the opponent was off to the side of the table, thinking the point was over, and so couldn't react. So Matt won the point, and went on to win his division in the league that night. (After just 14 months of play, his league rating is now almost 1700.)

This type of thing happens all the time. Over the years I've played many dozens of points where my opponent thought the point was over, and so wasn't ready when I'd make a last-minute lunging return. (Alas, it's happened to me a few times as well.) Players often way under-estimate how fast a player can cover the wide corners. (This is one reason why choppers often do well - opponents keep going to the "open" corners instead of attacking the vulnerable middle.) And in our practice games after our session was over, I had at least one point where I blocked a "winner" to Matt's wide forehand and stood up straight, only to be caught when he somehow ran it down and fished it back, forcing me into an awkward block.

When I coach, it also happens all the time - primarily because of my tendency to volley balls that are off the end to keep the rally going, or even to play balls after they hit the floor. My students are often caught off guard by this, though they soon learn to be ready no matter what. As I often say, "Just because the point is over doesn't mean the point is over."

So it's extremely important to expect every ball to come back until the point is actually over. This means no standing up straight in the middle of a point - stay down in your ready position. Desperation returns happen all the time, and they are usually weak returns that are easily put away - but they are often missed by the unready.

I think the most famous (infamous?) case of a player not realizing the ball was still in play was in the final of the New Jersey Open (or was it the Eastern Open?), circa 1978, between Mike Bush and Rutledge Barry (about age 15, battling with Eric Boggan for the #1 rank among USA juniors), with the score (predictably!) deuce in the fifth. (Games were to 21 back then, so it had been a marathon match.) I was on the sidelines watching when the following happened. Bush was lobbing, and after the lefty Rutledge creamed one, Bush did a lunging, desperation lob, extremely high but way off the end - in fact, I think it was still rising when it crossed Rutledge's side of the table. Rutledge turned his back on the table and yelled in celebration - he thought he had match point. What he didn't see, but what we saw from the stands, was the ball change directions as it neared a fan in the ceiling. The fan blew the ball straight backwards, so the ball landed on Rutledge's side of the table, and bounced back to Mike's, hitting his side before going off the end. So whose point was it?

The rules say that the rally shall be a let "…because the conditions of play are disturbed in a way which could affect the outcome of the rally." But the fan had been there at the start of the rally, and so wasn't a "disturbance." And so the umpire (after consulting with the referee) ruled that the ball was still in play, and so Mike's lob, despite its essentially 90 degree turn in mid-air, was a point-winning "ace"! Rutledge was not happy, especially as Mike won the next point and the championship.

U.S. Open Deadline is Saturday

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee is Saturday. "Postmarked after May 10, 2014 will be accepted with a $75 late fee. Entries postmarked after May 17, 2014 WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED." Here's more info:

I'll be there, as usual, mostly coaching, though I'm also playing in a few hardbat events. (I normally use sponge.) When I'm not coaching or playing I'll probably be hanging out by the Butterfly booth, so come by and say hello, and perhaps buy a few of my books!!! (I can sign them.)

ITTF Legends Tour

The first event of the ITTF Legends Tour was held last night, with Jan-Ove Waldner defeating Jean-Michel Saive in the final, 3-2. Here's video of the entire night (about three hours), showing all five matches. Here are pictures from the event. Here's the home page for the event (strangely, no results are given other than the final), and here's the Facebook page. Here are the results.

Final: Jan-Ove Waldner (SWE) d. Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), 3-2; SF: Waldner d. Jorgen Persson (SWE), 3-1; Saive d. Jiang Jialiang (CHN), 3-0; QF: Saive d. Jean-Philippe Gatien (FRA), 3-0; Persson d. Mikael Appelgren (SWE), 3-0; Waldner & Jiang byes.

Here's one interesting picture, showing Saive receiving serve. Note how far he is around his backhand corner? This is sort of a dying art, the all-out forehand receive of serve. These days players mostly favor backhand receive against short serves. Players like Saive (and often me many years ago) focused on returning essentially all serves with their forehand, even short ones, which they'd flip with the forehand, even if the serve was short to the backhand.

"I Wanted to Remind the World That I'm Number One"

Here's the article about why Xu Xin pointed to his player number (where his player number was #1) after winning against Germany's Patrick Franziska, with the two playing in the #3 spot (and so only playing one match, while the top two players would play two each if the team match went five).

Forlorn Superstar

Here's a picture of the Chinese Team reacting during the Men's Team Final at the Worlds. Note Zhang Jike (reigning World and Olympic Men's Singles Champion) on the far left - he's just lost to Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's an interview with Zhang (2:10) after the team match (through an interpreter).

ITTF Facts from the World Championships

A total of 178,527 points were played. Just thought you should know.

Why Restricting China is Bad for the Sport

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. This is in regard to changes made by the ITTF discussed in this article and this ITTF Press Release, which I linked to on Monday.

$16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open

Here are two more follow-up articles by Barbara Wei on the St. Louis Open held this past weekend. Other articles were linked to in my May 5 blog (Monday).

A Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:44), created by Jim Butler.

Michael Mezyan's Latest TT Artwork

Here it is. This could inspire a table tennis fantasy story I may write, involving black magic to create the perfect paddle, etc.

Table Tennis on Veep

I blogged about this on April 28, but didn't have pictures or video. Here's the video (15 sec), care of Table Tennis Nation. And one correction to my blog on this, where I said I didn't see any of the three top table tennis players who were brought in. That's Toby Kutler on the far right, a 2200 player from my club, though of course his table tennis skills weren't actually needed in the scene. But he does have a good look of distress as the VP's aide yells at them for hitting the VP with the ball! (Here's my blog from Oct. 10, 2013, where I wrote about our experiences on the set of Veep.)

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April 18, 2014

The Next USATT CEO

I'm somewhat surprised that there still isn't any "help wanted" note from USA Table Tennis for the next CEO. Previous CEO Mike Cavanaugh announced his resignation on March 26. Presumably someone is working on this.  

I just hope the USATT Board doesn't fall into the same ongoing trap we've been ensnared in since our beginning in 1933, and try to sell a "broken" product. I put "broken" in quotes because there's really nothing wrong with the sport (which is why it is so successful overseas in Europe and Asia), but with the way it is developed and promoted in the USA. And I should put "developed" in quotes as well since there's no serious effort to develop the sport from USATT.

There's this belief that the solution to our problems is to raise money. That's like saying the solution to being rich is to be rich, which sounds great except it doesn't explain how to get rich. Raising large sums of money for USATT is an extremely difficult job at the moment (and in our past) because we are a status quo organization. Sponsors want to get in on the ground floor of a growing sport, not the attic of a small one that's satisfied with the status quo. (And when I say satisfied, I'm referring to actions, not words.) Raising money has been a priority of nearly all our past CEO's, it just isn't publicized much because none were successful at doing it. 

I've blogged about this before, and I'll undoubtedly blog about it again, but what's needed is a CEO who is a table tennis person, whose primary focus is to develop the sport. That means developing a growing network of regional leagues; the recruitment and training of professional coaches and those who wish to run junior programs; a professional league or circuit; setting up regional associations that focus on developing their own regions; developing the U.S. Open and/or Nationals into truly premier events; and similar projects. (Some of these are being developed independently, and USATT could help tremendously by making them top priority items.) We don't need these programs to be highly successful to attract sponsors; we need them to show promise, and that's when sponsors will jump in to be on the ground floor of our growing sport.

USATT needs to hire a CEO from inside the sport committed to developing the sport from within so as to better sell it outside. It's a lot better to fix the product and then sell it then to try and sell a faulty product. That's the point of my Ping-Pong Apartments essay. Any amount of money we can raise now will pale in comparison to what we could raise if we first create a more saleable product. 

We need a five-year plan. There are two types of five-year plans: those that are made for political purposes (for show), and those made to actually accomplish something. The latter is what is needed. And then we raise money and take the sport to the next level. But alas, we'll likely try to skip the development step, just as we have done in the past. It doesn't take great money to get started on this process, but it is the process to develop the sport that will attract the sponsors and money needed to take it to that next level.

We have the opportunity to start fresh. We rarely have this opportunity - the last time was at the 2009 Strategic Meeting, where we had a brand new group of board members. But a few people at the meeting were able to convince them to stick to the same old stuff while convincing them it was new, and the opportunity was lost. Alas, it's not hard for a few people to do this. All they have to do is look convincing and argue for the same great-sounding non-specific general stuff that never works. Specific programs are needed to develop the sport, not just general proclamations to develop something or other.

Who will be the next CEO? It probably won't be me. To be blunt, I don't look good in a suit. (For the too-literal minded, that's a metaphor, meaning I don't look like a "conventional" CEO.) So who will it be? I don't know, though I keep hearing rumors. Whoever it is won't be successful unless he has great table tennis experience, vision, energy, and gets complete buy-in and support from the USATT board.

Training Camp in China

Want to train in China for three weeks this summer? Here's info! There are camps all over the U.S. and the world this summer, including my club, MDTTC.

Table Tennis Tutorial, Beginning to Advanced

Here's the video (58:58). Alas, it's in Chinese, no English sub-titles.

2014 Highlights "Special Moments and Great Plays"

Here's another great video (9:00) from Jim Butler for USATT, showcasing many of the most memorable rallies and moments over the past year.

Elderly and Disabled Encouraged to Play Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Ariel Hsing is Running for Class of 2017 Social Chair

Here's her campaign page! Amazingly, her "About Me" page doesn't mention table tennis - you have to go to her "Events" page to find that. (Though there are a few small photos at the bottom of the home page.) But we do find out she's allergic to bananas!

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April 3, 2014

Table Tennis Niches and Groups

Have you noticed that there are a number of people in table tennis who have their own "niches"? I'm a prime example; while there are plenty of other table tennis coaches around, none write anywhere near as much as I do, so my table tennis niche is writing. (Six books and over 1300 published articles on table tennis, plus this blog.) Who are the others? (This doesn't imply that this is all they do in table tennis; it's what they do that stands out, that few others do.) Anyone and any niches that I missed?

  • Tim Boggan's table tennis niche is history. (He had others before, but this is what he mostly does now.) Mike Babuin and Scott Gordon are following in his footsteps. (Scott earlier found his niche as the main leader for many years in hardbat table tennis, so does he qualify for two niches?)
  • Mike Mezyan's table tennis niche is artwork.
  • Brian Pace's table tennis niche is videos. Jim Butler has recently been joining him in this niche. So has Gerry Chua and a number of others.
  • There are a number who have found their niche as table tennis photographers. They include Mal Anderson, Gerry Chua, Diego Schaaf, Bruce Liu, Tom Nguyen, and the others I accidentally left off who will be angrily emailing me shortly. Then there's Ayoade Ademakinwa, with tabletennisphotos.com.
  • Richard Lee's niche is running nationwide tournaments. Plenty of others run tournaments, but few others run big ones all over the country. Craig Krum also runs a lot of tournaments around the country with his Omnipong software.
  • Scott Preiss, Adam Bobrow and Judah Friedlander are the table tennis entertainers.

There are other niches as well, but most have larger numbers - I'd call them groups instead. To how many of the following 50 table tennis groups do you belong?

  1. Player
  2. Top Player
  3. Olympian
  4. Paralympic player
  5. Paralympian
  6. USATT Member
  7. USATT Officer, Committee Member, or Staff
  8. Coach
  9. Practice Partner
  10. Umpire
  11. Referee
  12. Club Owner
  13. Club President
  14. Club Officer
  15. Tournament Director
  16. 4- or 5-star Tournament Director
  17. League Director
  18. Promoter
  19. Volunteer
  20. Writer
  21. Historian
  22. Artist
  23. Videographer
  24. Photographer
  25. Entertainer (includes those doing exhibitions)
  26. Forum Member
  27. Forum Troll
  28. Mini-Cadet (Under 13)
  29. Cadet (under 15)
  30. Junior (under 18)
  31. Top Junior (any age group)
  32. Senior (over 40)
  33. Esquire (over 50)
  34. Senior Esquire (over 60)
  35. Veteran (over 70)
  36. Top Senior (any age group)
  37. Hardbat player
  38. Sandpaper player
  39. Long Pips player
  40. Antispin player
  41. Short pips player
  42. Inverted both sides player
  43. Lefty player
  44. Penhold player
  45. Seemiller grip player
  46. Player who trains regularly
  47. Player who takes coaching regularly
  48. Player who only plays matches
  49. Has played U.S. Open or Nationals
  50. Other

Larry Hodges Books

I finally put together a simple page where I can list and sell all of my books: larryhodgesbooks.com. It actually takes you to a page I created here at TableTennisCoaching.com. I'm not sure why I didn't do this long ago - I bought the larryhodgesbooks.com domain name a while back.

National College Championships

The USA National Collegiate Championships are this weekend, April 4-6, Fri-Sun, in Monroeville, PA. Here's their home page, and here's where they will have results. They will also have live-streaming, starting 9:30AM on Friday, which is why I'm letting you know now so you can schedule it for tomorrow! (I'll repost this note again tomorrow as a reminder.)

Werner Schlager Meets Wang Liqin in Shanghai

Here's the article. No, it's not a rematch of their famous quarterfinal match at the 2003 Worlds!

"…you make it that much easier for me to beat you."

Here's a nice table tennis meme. The title above is only the ending of the meme's statement.

ITTF Legends Tour Teaser

Here's the video (38 sec).

Ovtcharov vs. Mizutani

Here's video (1:07:29) of the final of the German Open this past weekend, won by Dimitrij Ovtcharov over Jun Mizutani, 11-9 in the fifth. Jump to 1:04:20 to see the start of the last point of the match - a great one! Or watch the entire thing.

Ten Cool and Unusual Ping Pong Table Designs From Around the World

Here's the page from Uberpong. I think I posted this once before, but I was browsing it yesterday and thought I'd put it up again. I don't think the first one was there before, the one with the brick wall and barbed wire! It'll take a lot of topspin to pull the ball down over that - or would you tactically play through the barbed wire? I don't think I covered this in my tactics book.

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March 31, 2014

Tip of the Week

Get the Right Feel.

Friday Camp

It was a busy weekend of coaching, though strangely not as busy as usual as I had Sunday morning off for a change, due to a pair of out-of-town students. However, that was offset by our one-day camp on Friday, where I coached from 10AM to 6PM. Schools were closed that day for "Professional Day."

We had another snowstorm on Sunday afternoon, with about 2-3 inches here in Germantown - enough is enough!!! It's been "Spring" for eleven days now. (Hmmm . . . "days now" is one space away from "day snow," which is what happened yesterday.) I'm personally contacting the beings responsible and putting a stop to this. There will be no more snow here in Maryland until December.  

Here's a funny incident that took place during the Friday camp. I called a bunch of the beginning kids together to teach them how to serve. My first question to the seven in the group (ages 6-9) was, "How many of you know how to serve?" Nearly all of them raised their hands. So I asked for volunteers to show how to serve. I wish I had a video of what followed as we got sort of a who's who for every stereotypical illegal basement serve possible!!! One kid did the typical basement serve where he bounced the ball on the table and then hit it directly over the net. One kid reached way over the table to get as close to the net as he could to serve. One simply tossed the ball up and hit it directly to the other side of the table. All but one of them grabbed the ball with their fingertips.

Only one of the kids knew how to actually serve somewhat legal - he'd come to a few of my group sessions - but even he didn't come to a complete stop, cupped his hand severely, and hit the ball in front of the end-line. I'm not picky about the serving rules with beginning kids, so the main focus after this was to get them to serve just roughly legal. I didn't enforce the ball in the palm of the hand, as younger kids have trouble with that, and if contact was sometimes made an inch over the table, so be it. They'll learn better as they play more. For now, I just wanted them to be able to get the ball in play, which is surprisingly difficult for younger kids when they first start out.

However, even if they were struggling just to get the serve in play, one of the things I always like to do is show beginners advanced serves, so they realize there's a lot more to learn than just getting the ball in play. I show them a few spin serves, and they are hooked - they want to learn to do that. So after they had practiced basic serves for a while I called them together and gave them a demo of spin serves - backspin serves that came back into the net (to a chorus of "Woh!"), sidespin serves that broke sharply, and topspin serves that jumped. Then I let them take turns trying to return the serves, giving them mostly spin serves, an occasional speed serve, and (when I was feeling diabolical) a high backspin serve that bounced directly back to my side of the table. (I then showed them how to hit this serve for a winner by standing to the side of the table.)

I brought out the colored soccer balls so they could see the spin I was putting on the balls, and had them try to spin the balls off their rackets for practice. At this point they all wanted to learn to put spin on their serves, and even the ones who had never served before were soon trying to serve with backspin - and all of them got at least a semblance of spin on their serves. A few also spent time trying to serve fast serves.

Table Tennis Tips

My new book, "Table Tennis Tips," will be out by the end of April. It's a compilation of all 150 Tips of the Week I wrote every Monday from January 2011 to December 2013, organized in logical progression. It's basically done, both the text and covers, but it's being proofed by a few people before I finalize it.

Tournament Table Tennis

Here's a new video (2:04) that previews Brian Pace's new upcoming video, Tournament Table Tennis. The preview, which has some nice comparisons to martial arts, starts off with a compilation of some scary forehand loops by Brian, and then highlights the techniques used with spoken quotes from Bruce Lee.

Highlights of the U.S. Team Qualifiers

Jim Butler, who has gone from table tennis star to muscle expert to video expert (and still a table tennis star - he made the U.S. team again!) put together highlight videos for all eight players who qualified for the USA Team at the USA Team Trials. They are all linked (along with lots of other videos) at the USA Table Tennis Video page. Included are videos featuring Lily Zhang, Prachi Jha, Crystal Wang, Erica Wu, Timothy Wang, Adam Hugh, Yahao Zhang, and Jim Butler. There's also a 2014 US World's Men's Team Highlights video (14:25).

Amazing Point at Para South American Games

Here's the video (1:07) of this great point.

Spring Break Training

Here's video (1:41) of Sean O'Neill's daughter Kaitlyn in training, set to the Oscar-winning song "Let it Go." Most impressive thing to me as a coach: she keeps her free hand up, allowing balance, which leads to easier moving as well as shoulder turn on the forehand. This is one of those little things that younger kids have trouble doing unless you keep reminding them. Oh, and the thumbs up at the end of each segment was nice!

Youngest ITTF World Tour Winners

Here's the article on a pair of 13-year-olds from Japan that won Women's Doubles at the German Open (Mima Ito and Miu Hirano). The picture of their faces was taken when they were told they had won $5000.

New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff and Table Tennis

Here's an article in the Washington Post on Mankoff that features his love for table tennis. Here's the opening paragraph: "Bob Mankoff does more than like ping-pong. He is a man in efficient and focused motion as his paddle smacks each reply with the precision of a punch line. Bap. A forehand sharp as a verbal half-volley. Boop. A backhanded ball cut as thin as a slice-of-life joke. Bam. The clean put-away that requires an almost silly degree of exertion on what he says is a laughably small field of play. But then, this is what Mankoff has been doing most of his comedic career, too: Creating inventive angles and sly spins and rhythmic tricks with relentless attention to detail, as if necessity were the Jewish mother of invention."

Concrete Outdoor Ping Pong Tables Soon to Adorn NYC Parks

Here's the article.

Double-Bladed Paddle

Remember the double-bladed light saber used by Darth Maul in Star Wars 1? (Hey, forget about Jar Binks already!) Well, here's a double-bladed ping-pong paddle! I want one….

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March 11, 2014

Constant Competition

Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.

While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.

Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given.  Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."

I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.

Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day.  I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper.  That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.

Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.

Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.

But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built.  Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years.  The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."

(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.) 

Interview with Jim Butler

While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.

Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)

Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball

Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.

The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork

Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.

Wang Liqin Doing Multiball

Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.

Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)

Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal. 

Attempt on World's Longest Rally

Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.

China Primary School Ping Pong Army

Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.

Crossword Puzzle Pong

Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)

Table Tennis Memes

Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!

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January 24, 2014

USATT Election and the Petition Rule

Recently USATT had a special election to fill a vacant At-Large seat on the USATT Board of Directors. USATT has a Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC). One of their duties is to evaluate candidates for office and nominate them for the election ballot. If you wish to run for the USATT board, and they don't choose you, you have no recourse. Right away alarm bells should be going off in your head. (The only exception is if you run for an Athlete Director position, but only elite athletes are eligible for that.)

For the At Large positions, here is the pertinent bylaw (from Section 7.6. Election/Selection, b-3 in the USATT bylaws.): "The Nominating and Governance Committee shall evaluate all candidates for At Large Director and nominate at least two (2) individuals per seat to the USATT General Membership for election."

In the special election, I was told six people applied to run. The NGC had to select two or more for the ballot, and could in fact have put all six on the ballot. Now I agree that, given the flawed rules to start with, the NGC had to make a decision, and not all six candidates were greatly qualified. But they could have put more than two on the ballot, and let the voters decide. Instead, they kept four of the six off the ballot, and allowed voters to choose only among the final two.

The NGC chose USATT Hall of Famer Jim McQueen (who went on to win the election, and who I voted for) and Ross Brown. (Here's the announcement.) Nothing wrong with this, though I might have chosen different candidates. For example, Jim Butler applied, but was turned down. His main qualification is as an elite athlete (3-time U.S. Men's Champion, Olympian), but he also has a lot of energy and ideas. Mauricio Vergara, who runs the New York Table Tennis League, also applied and was turned down. (Leagues and junior programs are how table tennis all over the world has grown, as well as most other sports all over the U.S. - but USATT has never recognized these obvious facts, and so puts little value in this sort of thing, which is why membership has stagnated so long. I find this mind-boggling - if we can't figure out the easy stuff, how can we do the hard stuff?)

I could write long arguments for these candidates, but one other candidate was amazingly left off the ballot, the candidate that should have been the first one put on the ballot. Who was that? Rajul Sheth, who set up and runs the ICC Table Tennis Club in the Bay Area, applied, and even he was turned down! I find this mind-boggling. Let's look at some of his credentials, which he sent to the NGC (and which I cut & pasted):

  • Rajul established one of the biggest full time table tennis centers in the country-ICC Table Tennis Center with over 300 members and 150 kids in junior training program.
  • Qualifying athletes in national teams. The most relevant, qualifying 3 athletes Ariel Hsing, Timothy Wang & Lily Zhang at the Olympics, all three forged and prepared in the same club, no other worldwide clubs did the same.
  • Recognition by USATT as Centre of Excellence, and by ITTF as one of the 22 ITTF Hot Spot in the World for talent development.
  • Succeeded in raising funds to sponsor most of the top juniors in bay area for their training and equipment cost including current US National Men’s and Women’s singles champion Timothy Wang and Lily Zhang.
  • Employed the largest professional coaching staff (8 full time and 10 part times) in the country to take our juniors to next level.
  • Rajul won 2008 and 2009 USATT/USOC development Coach of the Year Award. ICC coaches Massimo Costantini and Zhou Xin also won 2011 & 2012 National coach of the year award by USATT/USOC.
  • Hosting three of the top ten USATT sanctioned tournament each year in terms of number of players.
  • Largest USATT singles league in the country with over 120 players compete each week.
  • Introduces our sport to at least 1000-1200 new kids each year in 14 weeks of summer and winter camps. To run these camps he invites at least 15 coaches from India, China and Europe each year.

So the guy is successful in starting up a large-scale full-time table tennis center; in developing elite athletes; in creating large-scale leagues; in creating large-scale junior programs; and in raising hordes of money (many hundreds of thousands of dollars to date). All of these are things that USATT badly needs to be able to do. And yet, voters were blocked from even having the opportunity of voting for him.

The rule used to be that anyone left off the ballot by the NGC could get on the ballot by petition of 150 signatures from USATT members. It used to be an annual rite at the U.S./North American Teams for candidates to get the signatures needed. (I did this when I was left off the ballot in 1991, and I subsequently got on by petition, and won in a landslide over the candidates chosen by the committee. Someday I'll blog about my experiences on the USATT board, though they are not much different than my experience in torturing myself by attending well over fifty USATT board meetings over the years.)

Some might argue that we don't want people like Rajul because of the conflict of interest. Putting aside that the conflict here is that he may favor his home club over others, and that I'm from a rival club (MDTTC) and don't consider it a major conflict, let's look at the logic.

We want USATT to succeed. For it to do so, we need people who are successful in table tennis - people who have set up and run clubs, leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, tournaments, done fundraising, etc. If we immediately exclude anyone who has been successful in these areas that grow the sport, what are we left with? Just the unsuccessful ones to run our sport? No, it is exactly the people who have set up and run such successful programs that we need on the USATT board.

To use a simple example, Jim McQueen has been successful in running table tennis programs in the Raleigh, NC region for decades, and that's a reason for putting him on the ballot. Does anyone consider that a conflict of interest? The irony is that a primary reason some might say Rajul has a conflict of interest is because he has been TOO successful! And so, because his club and organizing efforts are too successful, he has a conflict of interest, and can't run. So we have to find others who weren't as successful.  

One explanation for the above: there are only four members of the NGC, and amazingly, only two of them are table tennis people. So lacking table tennis experience, two of the four have no real way of really evaluating the candidates, and so we're down to two people choosing who will be on the ballot, and who will not. They are welcome to explain the reasoning for the decision to leave Rajul (or others) off the ballot, and assuming it's polite, it'll run without comment that day in my blog. (Here's the listing of USATT committees, including the NGC.)

There's a simple solution to this problem: CHANGE THE BYLAWS.  Bring back the 150 signature rule, i.e. let candidates who are not chosen by the NGC get on by petition. (Actually, 150 always seemed too many; 100 should suffice.) It didn't cause a problem before, and there's no reason to not have it again, unless the goal is to focus all power in a small group, and exclude voters from voting for certain candidates who have been hugely successful. Changing the USATT bylaws isn't that big a deal. Here are the simple rules:

ARTICLE XXII AMENDMENTS OF BYLAWS
Section 22.1. Amendments
Upon at least thirty (30) days advance notice of the proposed changes, the Bylaws may be amended, repealed, altered in whole or in part, and the new Bylaws may be adopted by a two-third (2/3) affirmative vote of the Full Board at any meeting duly

I'd love to see which USATT board member will step up and make the proposal - and which board members would actually oppose this. (There are nine board members, so it would take six to pass this, or four to block it at a meeting of all nine members.) Alas, USATT has a long history of status quo, and I suspect it will continue its status quo of status quo.

I'd also like to see the NGC committee, which is responsible for choosing which table tennis people can run for these table tennis positions, be made up of all table tennis people. That seems a no-brainer.

My personal "agenda" is simple - I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen. I didn't read that from the campaign statements of the two candidates chosen. I hope to be pleasantly surprised in this.

Perhaps I sound like someone who should have run for the board. Guess what? I strongly considered running, but when I heard Rajul was running for the one open spot, I decided not to run. If I'd known he would be excluded (the idea of which never entered my mind, though I knew the bylaws), I might have applied to run - but under the current rules, would I have been allowed to?

Serve Practice

Have you practiced your serves this week? No??? Okay . . . let me know when you are serious about your game again, and we'll talk! To the rest of you, good job.

Infinite Looper

Infinite Looper is a great resource for studying the game. It allows you to choose a table tennis video, and play back one segment over and over. For example, here's a 3-second segment showing Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov's backhand loop kill, which you can watch over and Over and OVER! (The word "looper" in the title has to do with being able to loop the same segment over and over, not a heavy topspin shot!) 

Kreanga vs. Angles

Here's video (58 sec) of an incredible rally between Greece's Kalinikos Kreanga and France's Enzo Angles.

Ping-Pong with Nunchucks

Here's a video (2:10) where "Twins battle in a Ping Pong match using Nunchucks and Martial Arts Skills." This is reminiscent of the infamous Bruce Lee Nunchuck video (2:37) that seemed to show Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks. (It was actually from a Nokia cell phone ad, and the actor was a Bruce Lee look-alike.)

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