LA Dodgers

February 28, 2014

Making a Living at Table Tennis

I started this article by writing, "Not a lot of people in the U.S. do it," but by the time I was through, I decided to change that to, "A surprising number of people in the U.S do." So who and how does one make a living at this Olympic sport?

  • Professional Players. Right now there's really only one USA player who is basically a full-time professional player, Timothy Wang. Historically we've rarely had more than one or two at a time, though a few times we've had several making a living at it in the German and other European leagues, especially back in the 1980s. (Edit - I'm told that USA's Chance Friend is also a full-time professional player, playing in the German Leagues.) 
  • Coaches. There are a LOT of professional coaches out there. The numbers dwarf where we were just seven years ago, before full-time training centers began popping up all over the U.S.  My club, MDTTC, has seven full-time professional coaches, including me. (The other "full-timers" at my club work longer hours than I do, but I do many of the group sessions.) Four other local clubs have roughly another ten. That makes at least 17 full-time professional coaches within a 45 minute drive of me. There are equal or larger number of coaches in a number of other regions in the U.S., such as the bay area and LA in California, the NY/NJ region, and others. I would guess there are hundreds of full-time professional table tennis coaches in the U.S. right now, all busy plugging away day after day. The irony is that they mostly coach at about 50 clubs, so the other 350 or so USATT clubs never see them, and so most USATT members and leaders are oblivious to what's going on out there. (Want to make a living at table tennis? Then get a copy of the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook!)
  • Staffing at Professional Clubs. Many of these clubs have professional staffing that run the clubs. MDTTC used to have hired staff at the desk, though now the coaches and owners do this. I'm guessing there are several dozen people making a living primarily running professional clubs. Many of them may have other duties - some also coach part-time, as well as run other activities, such as tournaments.
  • Running Tournaments. A number of people run regular tournaments, but how many make a living at it? Primarily North American Table Tennis. They are closely affiliated with JOOLA USA, with some of their staff working for both. Overall, several people are primarily NATT staffers making a living running their North American Tour and the North American Teams. A number of others make a supplementary income from tournaments, but I don't know of others in the U.S. where it is their primary income. 
  • Leagues. Unlike Europe and Asia, there are few large-scale leagues in the U.S., mostly just small clubs ones. I believe Mitch Seidenfeld makes much of his living running leagues in Minnesota, along with other activities. There are large leagues in the New York, SF Bay area, and LA regions, but I believe they are all volunteer run.
  • Dealers. This includes both those who own such businesses, and their staff. The bigger ones are JOOLA, Paddle Palace, Butterfly, and Newgy. (I was shocked recently at how many people now work for JOOLA USA - not all are listed in their staff listing - but I'm not sure they want the exact numbers public.) There are also a lot of smaller dealers. I'd say well over a hundred people make a living in the U.S. this way.
  • Entertainers. The main ones I know of are Scott Preiss, Adam Bobrow, and Soo Yeon Lee. Scott's made a living for several decades as a table tennis entertainer. He's hired by corporations to put on shows, often at equipment expos and conventions. Adam's a stand-up comedian and actor (including lots of voice acting) who more and more is moving into table tennis entertainment. Soo is an actress, model, and does table tennis shows - sometimes playing in high heels! You don't have to be a superstar to do what they do - at their peaks, Scott and Adam were pushing 2200 level, which is good but not great - while Soo, former South Korean junior champion, is about 2450. All three have mastered the art of flamboyant table tennis play, and all have repertoires of trick shots as well as the usual toolbox of spectacular table tennis play, such as lobbing, long-distance serving, smashing, etc.
  • USA Table Tennis. USATT currently has nine people in their staff listing, each making a living at table tennis. I used to work for USATT, as magazine editor for twelve years (also as webmaster and programs director), and as manager/director/coach for four years for the resident training program they once had at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
  • Authors. Every year a number of new table tennis books come out, but they are primarily just added income for the writer. Only one person in the U.S. that I know of is really making substantial money right now as a table tennis writer - ME!!! Last year I actually made more money as a writer than as a coach, though that was primarily because of the surprisingly sales from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. (I've lazily cut down on my coaching hours as a result.) While continued sales of that and my other books will help, I expect my coaching will make more money this year. I also make some money for articles I write, and a small amount from this web page via advertisers.
  • Anything I missed?

USA's Kunal Chodri Picture Featured by ITTF

Here's the article!

Ma Long and Fan Zhendong

Here are two articles featuring these two. Sixteen-year-old phenom Fan recently beat Ma for the first time

Girls in Training

Here's a great music video (3:21) showing top junior girls training in Europe.

Jo Drinkhall Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:24), featuring the British #1 woman.

Florida Colleges

Here's the article, Great Showing from Florida Colleges at Local Tournament.

LA Dodgers Play Table Tennis

Here's the article and a video (7 sec, looping over and over) of pitchers Brian Wilson and Chris Withrow playing. The article claims the Dodgers are better than the Orioles in table tennis, but sorry, it's not even close. I've watched half the Orioles play, and coached three of them, and I've watched this video, and it's like comparing U.S. table tennis to China. The Orioles have 5-6 players who would destroy either of these Dodgers players. JJ Hardy would beat them so bad they'd be sent back to the minors to work on their ping-pong.

Ping Pong Anime Series

It's coming this Spring - here's the article! This reminds me of the old anime cartoon series Ping-Pong Club from the mid-1990s.

Hovering Table

Here it is!

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March 5, 2013

Table Tennis Online

As ITTF Coach John Olsen recently pointed out to me, we live in the golden age of online table tennis. You can watch just about any major table tennis match online these days, both live and afterwards. Over the last few days (and below) I've given links for many of the major matches taking place at the Chinese World Team Trials. During major USA Table Tennis events (Nationals, Open, Team Trials), you can watch the matches live as well. And you can go to youtube and find just about anything - just put in "Table Tennis" and anything else you are looking for. Over the weekend John watched the live streaming of the Swedish Nationals, the English Championships, and the Norwegian Championships. (Note that some of the links here that gave the live streaming still have the videos online.)

The availability of videos of the top players is one of the biggest advantages this generation of players has over past ones - along with more coaches and better sponge. On the other hand, there's also a disadvantage to the easy availability of these videos - players tend to watch a video and then move on to the next, and so don't really learn all that's going on. In the old days, there were fewer videos around, and so players would watch the same ones over and Over and OVER - and would pretty much memorize every point, not to mention really learning what the players did from sheer viewing repetition. I remember back in the late 1970s (when I was learning to play) having trouble with pips-out penholders. Then I got a copy of the famous Stellan Bengtsson vs. Mitsuro Kohno tape from the quarterfinals of the 1977 Worlds, and watched it endlessly, and my level against that style went up dramatically. (Pips-out penholder Kohno won, 19 in the fifth, in what many considered the "real" Men's Singles final as it was likely the best match of the tournament. Kohno went on to win the title.)  

Jim Butler on Serves

Here are some nice quotes from four-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler on serving, which he posted yesterday on the about.com table tennis forum. He used to have the best serves in the country, and now, at age 42, he's made a comeback - and he may once again have the best serves in the country.

"I've decided to put a lot of time into practicing my serves.  Improvement there takes the least physical energy.  I have the motion and understanding already down.  To have great serves, they must be practiced daily in order to make them a weapon."

"I'm working on the forehand pendulum right now.  I want to have a good chop and topspin mix like that young Chinese kid in Westchester.  His serves destroyed me, and I'd like to have those.  Easiest way to be competitive in Table Tennis is to have dominating serves."

The Amazing Tomahawk Serve of Kenta Matsudaira

Here's the video (1:09). Note how he can break it both ways - and see the side-by-side slow motion of the two versions. The real question for all you serious table tennis players: Why haven't you developed equally good serves? It's just a matter of technique and practice! If you don't have the technique, see a coach or watch videos and learn. (You don't need to match Kenta's serves - there are many other good serving techniques.) If you don't practice . . . well, then you'll never have the serve of Kenta Matsudaira, and you'll never be as good as you could have been. (This type of serve has been around for a long time. Dean Doyle specialized in this serve when he made the U.S. Pan Am Team over 30 years ago.)

Remembering Zhuang Zedong and Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's the article.

ITTF President Election

ITTF President Adham Sharara is running for re-election - but he's unopposed so far. The election will take place during the upcoming World Championships in Paris, May 13-20, 2013.

Hunter Pence and Ping-Pong

Here's an article about how the Hunter Pence, an outfielder with the LA Dodgers, builds confidence with ping-pong.

The Terminator vs. Scottie

Here's a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger and table tennis exhibition star Scott Preiss just after their game ended in a "3-3 tie" at the Arnold Sports Classic in Columbus, OH this past week.

Chinese World Team Trials

Here are some nice matches, with time between points removed so it's non-stop action.

Swedish Men's Singles Final

Here's the video (6:53, with time between points removed) as Fabian Akerström upsets Jens Lundquist in the final. Akerström plays with long pips on the backhand - but he's so forehand aggressive it's sometimes difficult to notice.

More TT Videotapes

Here's a Facebook page devoted to collecting table tennis videos.

The Dirty Dozen Throwdown

It's on, this Friday at 9PM: Gideon "The Pigeon" Teitel (17-year-old 150-lb lobber) vs. Sam "the Rock" Rockwell (13-year-old 81-lb attacker). Between them they've had three and a half years of intense training, all leading to this moment.

Monsters University

Monsters University, the upcoming sequel to Monsters Inc. from 2001, will be the greatest movie of all time. How do we know? Here's an animated scene from the movie showing the characters playing table tennis!

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March 1, 2013

Flu Update

It's much better than before, but I'm still sick. I won't bore (or sicken) you with the details, so let's just say I'm singlehandedly propping up the economy with my support of NyQuil, Campbell Soup, and Kleenex Industries and. If all goes well, I expect to be coaching at the club tomorrow morning. It'll be a short blog this morning, then (after a few other items on my todo list), it's back to bed.

Off-Table Serve Practice

Here's a way to develop your serves away from the table - and it may greatly improve them. Start with a simple exercise: toss a ball in the air as if serving, and spin it with your racket. Try to do this so the ball goes straight up so you can easily catch it. After you've mastered this, try varying the spin. Try spinning it with the racket moving side-to-side, in-and-out, and in both directions. Learn to do all sorts of spins this way, where you focus on sheer spin and control. When you can do this, you are only one step away from doing this with an actual serve.

Ma Long - Superman?

Here's an article on Ma Long, the "Superman of the Chinese Team." Includes links to several videos.

Liu Guoliang and Kong Linghui

Here's an article on these two titans of China, formerly superstar players and now coaches of the Chinese Men's and Women's National Teams.

LA Dodgers Ping-Pong

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on the LA Dodgers baseball team quickly becoming baseball's official ping-pong team.

Ping-Pong Making a Comeback

Here's an article and video (1:42) on how table tennis is "trending." Table tennis coach and player Matt Winkler is featured.

Cape Fear Table Tennis

Here's a documentary (11:26) on the Cape Fear Table Tennis Club in Fayetteville, NC.

Olympian Magazine

Here's a link to the online Olympian Magazine, both the new issue and past ones. Nothing directly table tennis related, but it might be of interest to some. One article might in particular jumped out at me (haven't read it yet) - "The Role of Deliberate Practice in Becoming an Expert Coach: Part 2 - Reflection." (Presumably there's a Part 1 in the previous issue.)

Behind the Back Training

Here's a video (19 sec) showing behind the back training on an iPong robot! That's Steven Chan doing the demo. (I'm jealous; because of stiff shoulders, behind-the-back shots are about the only "trick" shot in table tennis I've never mastered.)

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February 21, 2013

Preparing for Tournaments

Yesterday I coached two junior players who were getting ready for their first USATT tournament. (The MDTTC Open on March 2-3.) Neither have actual USATT ratings, but both have league ratings under 1000 - I'm not sure if they will use those or treat them as unrated. I coached a third this past weekend who is also getting ready for his first tournament, and who also has a league rating under 1000. What did I tell these players to do to prepare?

Sam, 11, a lefty, has a good forehand smash, and can forehand loop against backspin, though he's not too confident in the shot. He pushes and blocks well, and has decent serves, though he tends to have a short toss (under six inches) on his backhand serve, his best serve - we're working on that. Recently he's been learning to backhand loop. I told him to focus on practicing his serves, on steadiness with his backhand (pushing and blocking), and on steady hitting on the forehand side. Since he doesn't have great confidence in his forehand loop, I told him to focus on looping only on pushes to his forehand side. We also agreed to drop the backhand loop from his game for now. After the tournament, we'll get back to backhand looping, and work to increase his confidence in his forehand loop.

TJ, 12, a righty, likes to loop, and does so pretty well from both sides. I was at first unsure if he was ready to unleash his backhand loop in matches, but he has confidence in it, so he's going to be looping from both sides against most deep pushes in the tournament. He still has trouble controlling his serve when he puts spin on it, so we're going to focus on that more than anything else until the tournament. Because he's only recently learned to loop - though he has great confidence in the shot - he has trouble going from looping to hitting on both sides, so between now and the tournament we're going to focus on backhand hitting and forehand smashing. After the tournament we're going to focus more and more on mostly looping on the forehand side, while working his backhand loop into his game more and more. He already likes to spin the backhand even against fast incoming topspins, so he's undoubtedly going to become a two-winged looper.

Sameer, 11, a righty, most practices at home, where there's only about five feet behind each side of the table. Because of this he's mostly a hitter, though he has a decent loop against backspin. (He uses inverted on both sides, though I've considered having him try pips-out.) He's developing pretty good serves and a good follow-up loop or smash. Recently his backhand has gotten a lot better. In drills, his backhand loop is pretty good against backspin, but because he's so forehand oriented, he rarely uses it in games yet. For the tournament, I told him to focus on serves and following up his serve with his forehand (looping or smashing), which he has great confidence in. Once in rallies he needs to play a steady backhand until he gets a weak one to smash from either side. He's probably not going to be backhand looping at the tournament, but we'll work on that later. We worked a lot on his backhand push, since he can't step around to loop every ball with his forehand. We're also working on his balance - he tends to go off balance a bit when forehand looping from the backhand side, and so leaves the wide forehand open. (If he stays balanced, he'd be able to recover quickly to cover that shot with his forehand smash.)

What should YOU do to prepare for tournaments? Here's my Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success.

Amazon Reviews

I'm still waiting for the first Amazon review of my new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. If you really liked the book, what are you waiting for??? I will not eat or sleep until I get a great review there, at least until I get hungry or sleepy.  

Extraordinary Nets & Edges Match

I once blogged about how nets and edges don't really even out - some styles simply get more than others. Unfortunately, I have the type of style that rarely gets either. My shots are very clean - a mostly steady and arcing forehand (until I get the right shot), and a steady backhand. This past weekend I had a rather crazy match with one of our juniors. When she began getting net after net in the first game, we (or at least I!) began keeping track. For the match (four games), she got 17 net balls and zero edges, winning 15 of those points. I got zero nets or edges. Now I normally get a few, so my getting zero was rare, but 17-0? In one game she got eight nets, winning all eight of them.

How to Hold the Racket

Here's a video from PingSkills (4:03) on how to hold the racket, both shakehands and penhold.

The Power of Sweden

Here's a highlights video (10:48) that features the great Swedish players of the past.

Susan Sarandon: Ping-Pong Queen

Here's a feature article from England's The Guardian on Susan Sarandon and table tennis.

The Dodgers Playing Table Tennis

Here's an article in the LA Times on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team having a table tennis doubles tournament.

NBA All-Star Week

Here are ten pictures at NBA All-Star Weekend, where they invited members of the Houston TTC to play table tennis. Included are pictures of Houston player Jim Butler and NBA star Jeremy Lin.

Mario Lopez Plays Ping-Pong

Here's a picture of actor and TV host Mario Lopez (middle) posing with his paddle and table tennis player/actor/stand-up comedian Adam Bobrow (left) and no-doubt a famous woman (or top table tennis player?) on the right who I don't recognize.

Harlem Shake

Here's a video (33 sec.) of . . . um . . . if I could figure out what is going on here, I will die happy. A bunch of people dancing around and on ping-pong tables.

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March 23, 2012

Talking versus Drilling

I often think the most difficult part of coaching is finding that line between coaching (i.e. explaining things demonstrating techniques) and drilling (i.e. letting the student work on a skill). The more you talk and demonstrate, the more information you convey. On the other hand, the more you actually have the student drill, the more the techniques get ingrained.  Where's the balance?

It really depends on the student. Younger players often are not particularly interested in a coach who blathers on and on, even if the blather is laden with nuggets of gold. They just want to play. Older students often look for more info, because they have a longer attention span, they understand the value of the info, and because they probably need the rest break anyway.

Ideally the coach says as little as is necessary for the student to get the technique right. But it's not that simple. Let's say you're teaching a kid to forehand loop. He starts out going crosscourt over and over. Then he gets the bright idea of looping down the line, and does so awkwardly. So you show him how to rotate the shoulders back so he can loop down the line more easily. Then he points out that he likes his way better since the opponent can't see it coming. And so you show him how to loop deceptively down the line by lining up the shoulders to go crosscourt, and at the last second rotating them back to go down the line. Next thing you know you are talking about the various placements when looping from the wide forehand (down the line, to the opponent's elbow/crossover point, crosscourt to the corner, extreme crosscourt outside the corner), and then you're talking about when to loop soft, medium, or hard, and pretty soon you're pretty much teaching a graduate seminar on looping to a fourth grader. (The preceding is a rough synopsis of an actual experience.)

The temptation to expand on any topic is huge, at least for me, since I generally have about 10,000 words to say on any topic. Getting it down to 20 words is harder work than going with the 10,000-word blather. But I restrain myself. Usually. Even older players have their limits, and I probably want to narrow those 10,000 words down to 50. Or less.

It's probably best to keep it simple, and let them work at one skill at a time, and resist the urge to expand to PhD techniques and explanations until your student is relatively advanced. In other words, focus on basics like developing solid drives until he's old enough to drive. I'll save the 10,000 word blathers for my next table tennis book.

My next table tennis book

Speaking of that, I put "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" on hold a few weeks ago. I was just too busy on other things. I've already written a first draft (21 chapters, 86,000 words, about 370 pages double spaced in Courier New), and had it critiqued by a number of people. (Thank you again Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton!) It's still on hold, but I think I might finally get back to it next week, where I expect to both add more material and do some rewriting. It should come out later this year, though it might take longer if I decide to submit to publishers instead of self-publishing. (One publisher has already expressed interest.) 

Ariel Hsing blogs for ESPN

The 2010 and 2011 U.S. Women's Singles Champion blogs about her play at the recent Olympic and World Team Trials.

LA Dodgers partake in Ping-Pong to unwind

Ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw (2011 Cy Young winner) dominates. Here's the article.

More on Korean table tennis movie "As One"

Yesterday I gave the link to the Korean trailer for "As One." It's a movie about how North and South Korea came together to play as one team at the 1991 Worlds, winning the Women's Team event over China. (They defeated Deng Yaping and Gao Jun. The latter would later emigrate to the U.S. and win nine U.S. Women's Singles titles while representing the U.S. at the worlds, Olympics, and other major tournaments a number of times.) The movie will feature actors playing North Korean star Li Bun Hui  (sometimes spelled Lee Boon Hee) and South Korean star Hyun Jung Hwa, rivals until they were suddenly on the same team. (One confusion that took some research to work out - the movie was originally titled "Korea," and is still listed that way in many places, but has been renamed "As One.") I now have more links, all in English.

Cary Cup Highlights Video

Here are two highlights videos from the recent Cary Cup Championships.

Crazy table tennis

Here's another highlights video set to music (3:44).

Eight-year-old does beerless beer pong

Here's 59 seconds of beginning beer pong by an eight-year-old. But it's pretty impressive, even if he probably had to do each shot many times before getting it in.

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