Plastic Balls

November 4, 2014

Coaching Seven-Year-Olds

Yesterday I coached two seven-year-olds, feeding them multiball for half an hour as they took turns practicing and doing ball pickup. Coaching seven-year-olds is like trying to catch smoke in your hands. If you haven't tried coaching this age group, then you have no idea what it's like. I've worked regularly with these two, who aren't exactly beginners. Both will likely become very good players. I should be taking videos of them now to blackmail them to show them someday.  

I teach a class of beginning kids twice a week. Our last one on Sunday had 15 kids, including one 6-year-old, three 7-year-olds, and four 8-year-olds. So I'm quite experienced at threatening to throttle them if they don't pay attention teaching them the finer points of the game. It's always a matter of finding the balance between strictness (i.e. getting them to learn by actually practicing) and fun. 

At this age they have an attention span of about three seconds. Okay, they can focus longer than that, but it's not easy for them. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a 7-year-old to play serious for more than 30 seconds. Pretty much anything brings on a gigglefest. And yet you have to find a way to get them to do things properly, and to practice it, or as you explain to them they'll grow up flipping burgers at McDonalds they won't reach their potential as table tennis players.

Sometimes you feel like you are tricking them into learning things so that they'll have good techniques ingrained by the time they are more serious. And since no seven year old can focus for more than three seconds while there are seven-year-olds who can focus (for a time, at least), most simply aren't ready to take it seriously for another year or so. But there are ways of getting their attention and getting them to try. For example, if you challenge them to do a number of shots in a row (say, 50 forehands), they'll usually rise to the challenge. Or you can play improvised games, such as feeding multiball where they have to make three smashes in a row to score a point, but if they miss any of them I score a point. Or, as I did with the two yesterday (who were a bit advanced for seven-year-olds), feed them a backspin ball and a topspin ball, and they have to loop the first and smash the second to score a point - but if they miss either shot I score the point. They can get into these types of games.

The same is true of ball pickup. If you are coaching a group, then while one is doing multiball, the other(s) are doing ball pickup. At age seven, one doing ball pickup is a chore; two doing it is a contest. (This is true of boys, but girls often cooperate. Anyone who thinks they are the same at this age hasn't coached them.) And so it's often best to have two of them competing to see who can pick up the most. They'll go at it, with constant cries of "I'm winning!" - often when they obviously are not winning. Between feeding balls I sometimes help with ball pickup, and there's nothing in the world you can do to make one of them happier than to suddenly pour the balls from your pickup net into theirs, to the even louder cries of "I'm winning!" Of course this brings cries of protest from the other - "No fair!" So be an equal opportunity ball sharer and give each half.

You have to be careful what you do around them. If they see something, they want to copy it. In the middle of a demo a few weeks ago I suddenly chopped a ball. OOPS!!! The rest of the session several of the kids wanted to chop. It's easier to get an elephant to fit into a racket case than getting a seven-year-old to focus on hitting and looping when he has chopping on his mind. (I think we've just discovered the origin of choppers - it's not genetic, it's environment.) So be very careful what you do around seven-year-olds because what you do is what they'll be doing for the rest of the session and perhaps the rest of their lives. It's a heavy responsibility.

At this age they have one natural addiction and one learned addiction. They all like speed. Adults think of running around as work, but kids want to run around. It is easier to fit a blue whale into a ping-pong ball then for a seven-year-old to stop moving. And so footwork drills aren't work, they are play. (Well, at least until they get bored with it, so you keep changing the drill to something new rather than have them do 1-1 forehand footwork for more than a few minutes.) The other type of speed they like is smashing. Oh yes, they love smashing. It's like dessert. And so you usually save it for the last drill. Then let them swing away. Only catch is often they don't care if the ball hits the table, they just want to hit the ball hard. So you might have to remind them to aim for the table.

The learned addiction is spin. They are fascinated by how the ball curves with sidespin, and floats and stops on the table with backspin. So guess what becomes their favorite shot, other than smashing? Pushing. In nearly every session the seven-year-olds (and older ones) ask if they can push. When the ball hits the table or floor and dies, they have big grins. I often bring out soccer-colored balls for pushing so they can see the ball spin, which adds to the fun.

Another drill they like is blocking my loops. You'd be amazed at how fast a seven-year-old can learn to block a loop as long as I keep the ball on one spot on the table, say inside a one-foot area. After a few sessions, you can almost let loose at regular power, and they block them back like it was a video game. The only problem is they get addicted to this as well, and always want to block - which can be tiring for a coach. One other problem is that while they quickly learn to block them back, they aren't very accurate, so their blocks spray all over the table. It also becomes apparent that they have very slow reactions - if you move the loop one foot to the side, they barely react to it.

And what is the favorite game in table tennis for seven-year-olds? No, not table tennis; it's either stacking cups on one side of the table so they can knock them down while I feed multiball, or hitting a bottle filled with "worm juice," which I have to drink if they hit it. As I often point out to them, "Friends do not make friends drink worm juice." They are not my friends work hard to hit the bottles so as to improve their stroking accuracy.

USA Nationals

They are now up to 739 players in this year's upcoming USA Nationals (Las Vegas, Dec. 16-20), and the final deadline for entering isn't until Nov. 9, this Sunday, with several more days probably needed to enter them all. Here's the listing. (Set drop-down menu near top to "USA Nationals.") This already tops the 716 players in last year's USA Nationals (also in Las Vegas), so the switch to the plastic ball apparently hasn't had an effect on attendance. I'll put up an updated list sometime next week when all the entries are listed.

Are You Doing What You Think You're Doing?

Here's the coaching article from Expert Table Tennis. "In a nutshell, I’m using today’s post as another opportunity to convince you of the power of filming yourself playing table tennis. But I’ll also go a bit more into the reason why you need to start filming and analysing your own game."

Was the New Ball More Entertaining?

Here's the new blog entry on the new plastic ball by Matt Hetherington.

Wang Hao: The Rumour Was an Insult to Us

Here's another article on the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final apparent fixing story, where Wang Hao sort of denies it. Judge for yourself.

Zhang Jike Fiasco a Benefit to Sponsors

Here's the article. "It is very interesting to note that the Japanese thinks that by his rather destructive merrymaking, Zhang Jike has actually increased the visibility of the sponsor's name and it is a form of advertisement and publicity. For the sponsors, it should be a good thing and they are the biggest beneficiary from this fiasco."

Second Annual Playing It Forward Ping Pong Ball

Here's event info. The charity event takes place 6-10PM on Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago. All proceeds support families with critically ill babies at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Event will include "…a Jocks versus Rocks tournament with pro athletes like Chicago Bears’ players Jordan Mills, Cornelius Washington and David Bass, refereed by TV Personality and CEO/Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, Billy Dec. Talent from Killerspin Table Tennis will be conducting tips and tricks demonstrations. There will also be over 50 silent auction items, including a full wedding package complete with a venue, dress and veil, planner, flowers and more, as well as vacations from all over the world."

Milwaukee Bucks Add Ping Pong Table to Arena

Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation.

Election Day

Here are two cartoons I created long ago. The first is pretty simple. The second is jammed with gags - see if you can find them all. Special bonus if you can figure out who all the talking people are in the second one - especially the three on the left, and explain why they are in the picture.  

Minions Playing Table Tennis!

80 seconds into the trailer for the upcoming movie Minions a pair of bored Minions are playing table tennis for about three seconds!

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October 30, 2014

George Brathwaite Statement to The View

On Tuesday morning table tennis was disparaged on the TV show The View. First they showed footage of the Zhang Jike barrier-kicking celebration after he won the Men's World Cup. Afterwards, co-host Nicolle Wallace said, "table tennis can be boring without stuff like that." (Wallace was communications chief during the George W. Bush presidency and a senior advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008.) Here's a link to 11:40 into the show, where the table tennis starts. At 12:49 is when Wallace makes her statement. The table tennis ends at 13:20. USATT Hall of Famer George Brathwaite sent the following statement to The View. (I may send something as well, but I only saw the video for the first time this morning.)

Hello,

My name is George Braithwaite and I am an original member of the United States Table Tennis Team that participated in the Historic PING PONG DIPLOMACY tour of the People's Republic of China in 1971. I was watching THE VIEW TV episode this morning and was appalled at the ludicrous remark made by Nicole Wallace in reference to table tennis being a boring sport and needed a demonstration like what occurred at the recently concluded World Tour for Table Tennis which was won by Zhang Jike of the People's Republic of China.

After winning the championships, Zhang displayed an unnecessary degree of anger by kicking and breaking down the barriers surrounding the arena, which triggered the reaction of the promoters to forfeit his prize money of $45,000 and which was in absolute contrast and in violation to the principles of the Chinese Table Tennis Association which also holds their athletes to a strict code of conduct.

However, in reference to Ms. Wallace's preposterous remark about the sport of Table Tennis, let me point out and bring to her attention as well as to the knowledge of those who may not be aware, that "TABLE TENNIS IS THE MOST POPULAR RACKET SPORT IN THE WORLD AND IS RANKED SECOND OVERALL IN TERMS OF PARTICIPATION”

Table Tennis is and has been an Olympic Sport since 1988 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) never accepts a sport unless it has a great degree of Athleticism for spectators to VIEW. 

For further information you may access my website at the following: www.GeorgeBraithwaite.com

Disabled Veterans Camp in South Bend, Indiana

Dan Seemiller ran a Disabled Veterans Camp at his club in South Bend, Aug. 23-24 - and got 31 players!!! These camps were made possible by a grant to USATT by USOC, and organized by USATT Director of Para Programs Jasna Reed. Here's the Disabled Veterans Camp listing and other info on Para events. I also ran a Disabled Veterans Camp at MDTTC in August, but mine had only six players. How did Dan get 31?

Dan had earlier contacted me about how to get players in the camp, but frankly, I wasn't much help. We had a player who worked at a local VA hospital, and he distributed flyers for us, but there wasn't exactly a huge surge of players for the camp I ran. Dan decided that he needed to set up an info table in front of a local VA hospital. But first he had to get permission - and that's when he ran into bureaucracy and red tape. He was hassled every step of the way, but wouldn't take no, and kept moving up the ladder until he found someone who gave it the okay. (Dan admitted that it got so bad that he almost gave up.) And so he set up a card table, brought rackets and balls to attract attention, and talked to an estimated 500 people. A total of 51 people signed up for the camp, though "only" 31 were able to make it - but he has all their emails to send future info.

Coaching at the camp were Dan, his son Dan Jr., Barry Chan, and Zach Steele.

World Cadet Challenge

Here's the ITTF home page for the event. It's taking place right now in Barbados, with singles and doubles events starting today. (Team competition already finished - Asia won Cadet Boys while Europe won Cadet Girls.) Follow the action, including USA stars Kanak Jha, Jack Wang, Crystal Wang, and Amy Wang - or, as I put it, Jaws and the Triple Wangs! Yes, I'm officially suggesting we nickname Kanak Jha as "Jaws," a play on his name, what he does to opponents, and named after this and this.

Wang Hao Ordered to Dump to Zhang Jike in 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final?

Here's the article. Unbelievable! I thought they had stopped doing this. I think there's a cultural thing with this - I've had discussions with people from China who believe dumping like this is the right thing to do, and that players should dump if asked to do so as the coaches and other leaders have the best interests of the team and country in mind rather than individual achievement. (See the comments under the article where one person says that Coach Liu Guoliang was misquoted.)

Table Tennis Needs a Big Name like Zhang Jike

Here's the article.

Twenty Tips by Tahl

Here are 20 tips by Tahl Leibovitz. You can learn from all of them, but I especially like #1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 16, and 18.

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 19 (10:50):

  • Question 1 (0:35): Many people just turn around and drive my service. Where do I do the service and what should I do? Srikanth Pyaraka
  • Question 2 (1:55): When looping it seems easier to wait for the ball to reach the top of the arc and start dropping before you brush it up. I hit well when the ball is rising but swing and miss a lot when I try to brush the ball after it starts dropping. Can I improve? Ken
  • Question 3 (5:17): I normally stand on the left side of the table. I face difficulty if short backspin service comes to my forehand. I try to push the service & the opponent attacks with topspin. How to place the ball in such a manner so that I can attack the return? Anushka
  • Question 4 (7:35): Most of my serves have sidespin but when the opponent finds an answer to return it, I'm in trouble because all the sidespin is coming back at me especially if it is pushed back. Should I stop serving with sidespin as it can make life more difficult? Thijs

Zhang Jike, Ma Long, and Timo Boll Review the Plastic Balls

Here's the article, with links to videos.

Interview with Georgina Pota

Here's part 2 of the interview by Dora Kurimay, which went up this morning. (I linked to part 1 last week.) "How Did Georgina Póta Multiple Times European Champion Professional Table Tennis Player Change From Shy To Self-Expressive?"

Top Ten Shots from the Men's World Cup

Here's the video (6:36). If you want to see one of the best "get" returns ever, see #1 at 5:42. The point was over, as even Zhang Jike believed, right? Nigeria's Quadri Aruna - a breakout star at the World Cup as he made the quarterfinals - didn't get the memo.

PingPod #41: Zhang Jike's Fine and the Plastic Ball

Here's the video (6:02).

Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the ITTF article.

Ariel Hsing's Home Page

Here it is - bet you didn't know the three-time USA Women's Singles Champion had one!

Top Spin the Movie

Here's the home page, and here's info on the premiere at the SVA Theatre in New York City on Saturday, Nov. 15, at 4:30 PM. "In Sara Newens and Mina T. Son’s spirited sports film, three driven teenage athletes attempt to go for Olympic gold. Their sport? The perpetually popular but underappreciated game of table tennis. Northern California’s Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang balance friendship and professional rivalry to see who’ll come out on top, while Long Island’s Michael Landers sacrifices his senior year of high school to devote more time to training at NYC’s SPiN."

How Bugs Bunny Cheats

Here's the cartoon! (Actually, wouldn't this mean every ball comes back, and so Elmer Fudd would win?)

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February 10, 2014

Tip of the Week

Never Give a Server What He's Looking For.

Developing Good Technique

Table tennis clubs are full of players with poor technique. And there's nothing wrong with this, if the player doesn't care, or at least doesn't put a high priority on it. There are also lots of good players with poor techniques, though few of them get beyond good and become very good. That's subjective, of course; I can name a number of players who have reached 2200 and 2300 levels despite poor technique. The key is they developed a game around that poor technique, and didn't get good because of the bad technique, but in spite of it.

Here's comes the part a lot don't realize, and it's a three-parter.

1) You will not reach your potential unless you develop good technique. This doesn't mean everyone plays with exactly the same technique. There are some techniques where there's clearly a "best" way, and there are others where there are multiple options. Often it depends on the rest of the player's game. Some players have developed such unorthodox games that what is proper technique for others might not be proper technique for them. But that's a rarity. Almost always, to reach your potential, you need to develop good technique.

2) Anyone can develop good technique. I don't care how poor your current technique is, you can fix it, and have good technique. This doesn't mean you'll have great technique - that's almost impossible once you've developed bad habits. But you don't need perfect technique in this sport (except in most cases at the highest levels), and good technique will take you pretty far.

3) It will take lots of time and effort to develop good technique if you currently have bad technique. You'll also lose to a lot of players if you continue to compete while changing your technique. (I usually advise against that.) It takes a lot of saturation training to fix bad technique, and you'll probably need a coach - which usually costs money. But it's a one-time fix, because once it's fixed, it's fixed for a lifetime, as long as you continue to play regularly.

So, do you have bad technique? It's your choice whether to keep it that way, or make it a goal to fix that technique once and for all.

Chinese Team Squad Trials Ranking and Videos

Here's a short article with the final ranking of the Chinese Team Squad (men and women), with links to numerous videos of them in action. 

Zhang Jike on the New Plastic Balls

Here's the article, where he says the speed dropped some. Unfortunately, the article doesn't say which of the new balls they were using. There are at least three ITTF approved plastic balls. Leaving that out sort of makes the article somewhat less useful, and I hesitated in including it here.

USATT Criteria and Procedures for Entering US Athletes in International Competitions

Here's the article from USATT.

NCTTA Newsletter

Here's the Feb. 2014 National Collegiate Table Tennis Newsletter.

Ping Pong Summer

Here's video (2:45) of a preview of the coming-of-age comedy coming this summer, starring Susan Sarandon and a break dancing, rapping and ping-pong playing 13-year-old.

European Cup Highlights

Here's video (6:52, with time between points removed) of Denmark's Michael Maze's (world #28, but formerly #8) win over Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) in the semifinals of the European Cup this past weekend. (Ovtcharov defeated teammate Timo Boll, world #8, in the semifinals - they were the top two seeds, so presumably one of them was upset in preliminaries?) Here's video of the other semifinals (5:09) where Portugal's Marcos Freitas (world #15) defeats France's Adrien Mattenet (world #52). And here's video of the final (4:54) where Freitas defeats Maze.

Unreal Counterlooping Rally - Ovtcharov vs. Boll

Here's video of the rally (48 sec, includes replays), which took place at the 2014 Europe Cup this past weekend.

Wheelchair Player Cindy Ranii

Here's the article from the San Jose Mercury News, "She may be in a wheelchair, but Cindy Ranii is a ping-pong powerhouse."

Shopping Mall Exhibition

Here's video (40 sec) of an exhibition in a shopping mall, with lots of lobbing and changing of sides during rallies.

Holy TT Racket

Here's the racket I lend out to my opponents. 

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September 25, 2012

Coaching Decisions

Here's a tough decision I've got to make - and it's a good decision to have to make. I have a new student, a 7-year-old girl. She has one of those rare combinations of talent, physical ability, and mental focus. She's been playing about two months and already has nice strokes, can even forehand loop backspin with surprising power. (Yes, one month after starting, this 7-year-old is already looping.) Should I go the "normal" route and have her focus on hitting against topspin until she's bigger? Or should I have her loop the forehand against everything right from the start, since she seems to do this naturally? She's too small right now to really be successful trying to loop over and over - her hitting peers would hit her off the table. But imagine where she might be in two years. And since she's picking things up so fast, how soon should I have her spin the backhand as well? (It's tough spinning the backhand until you are taller.) Decisions, decisions . . . but I think she'll almost set the course. If she can loop over and over, then that's what I'll have her do. 

She was using a rather slow blade and sponge, but in our last session she tried out my blade - a fast carbon racket with hyper-tension sponge for looping - and fell in love with it. I was of course skeptical, thinking it was obviously too fast for her, but she was noticeably better with it, could rally faster and more consistently, and loop with great spin. (Yes, great spin at age 7.) After discussing it with her dad, we're likely going to get her the same or similar setup. Many coaches would be against this, and so would I normally, until I saw how well she played with my racket, and especially the way her eyes lit up while doing so.

2013 National Team Trials Host City Bid

Want your club or city to host the 2013 USA National Team Trials, to be held Feb. 7-10? Here's the bidding info! Good luck to you.

Want to Be the Voice of Table Tennis?

The ITTF is running a contest to select a table tennis commentator for the 2013 World Table Tennis Championships in Paris. You can be the winner - if you enter! As the ITTF page asks:

  • Do you love Table Tennis?
  • Have you always wanted to be a commentator? 
  • Have you got the knowledge and insight to engage our viewers? 
  • Does travelling to the biggest events all over the world sound brilliant? 
  • If the answer is a resounding YES, then we want to hear from you

The Anti-Plastic Ball Petition

Here's an article against the upcoming introduction of plastic balls in place of celluloid balls, by former about.com table tennis moderator and Australian player Greg Letts. It includes a link to a petition. (I've been trying to get hold of one of the new plastic balls to try out, but haven't been successful.)

Photos from the 2012 World Women's Cup

Here are 21 photos from the Women's World Cup. The first one is of the very nice outside decorations, including two giant paddles. USA's Ariel Hsing is photo #16. (Is that a black power salute in photo 13?)

Paralympic Graphic

Here's a nice photo collage for the 2012 Table Tennis Paralympics.

Oakland Raiders Game Ball

Here's a picture of the game ball the Oakland Raiders gave to the 2012 London Olympians (or at least to ones in attendance at the Sept. 23 game, where they beat the Steelers), including USA Table Tennis Olympian Lily Zhang.

Ping London 2012 Promotional Video

This is a very nice table tennis promotional video (2:04). It's a bit different than the usual ones. And now that whistling tune is going to be in my head all day.

Non-Table Tennis - Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales

The horror anthology Specter Spectacular was released today, with 13 ghost stories. I said horror anthology, right? Actually, 12 are presumably horror, while one is a humorous ghost story - my story, "The Haunts of Albert Einstein"! "Poor Albert Einstein is destined to haunt his old offices in Princeton for eternity, surrounded by the ghosts of bickering physicists who simply will not shut up, and the relentless paparazzi. What can he do to save himself from this fate?"

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July 16, 2012

 

Tip of the Week

Serving Low.

Stiffest Player in the World

It's official. I'm the stiffest player in the world. Even Jim Butler (2-time USA Table Tennis Olympian) says so. Recently I've been doing lots and Lots and LOTS of multiball coaching, and standing to the side of a table and feeding balls all day long is a great way to make stiff muscles even stiffer. (We have a new MDTTC camp starting this morning - week #5 of our eleven consecutive weeks of training camps - and I'll be spending my morning feeding multiball again. Afterwards I'll carve my initials in a diamond with my muscles.)

Ironically, it doesn't really affect me in static drills. If someone needs to work on their block, I can loop over and over with ease, and I can even more to loop. But if the ball starts scattering around the table, the stiffness seems to slow down my reactions, and so I'm slow in reacting to forehand and backhand shots. Subconsciously my mind knows this, and so it's overanticipating where the next ball goes, and so I'm often moving to do a forehand while the ball goes to my backhand, and vice versa.

Yes, I'm stretching regularly. But that's like asking a diamond to stretch so as to lose some of its stiffness. Doesn't do a lot. What I need to do is simply play very active table tennis (or other sports, such as tennis), and stretch after I play, when the muscles are loose. After a coaching session, the muscles are the opposite of loose; they are catatonic.

I regularly remind players I coach not to copy my stiffness. I'm sure there are juniors who look at my stiffness and think, "Gee, I'm too loose, I better tighten my muscles if I want to be a top player like Coach Larry!"

Review of New Plastic Balls

A while back I posted a video of Australian National Team Member William Henzell's review of the new plastic balls that we're supposed to switch to worldwide in 2014. Here is his review again, this time with both text and a link to the video (5:45).

U.S. Open Ratings

The ratings from the U.S. Open have been processed. Unfortunately, for some reason the ratings from the ITTF Junior Pro Tour have not yet been processed. (I assume they will be.) So the ratings aren't quite up to date for most of our juniors.

MDTTC has some nice junior rankings after the Open.

  • Under 18 Boys: #1: Wang Qing Liang 2641
  • Under 15 Boys: #2 Chen Bo Wen 2431, #10 Tong Tong Gong 2334 (There's a huge jam of players within 100 points of each other.)
  • Under 12 Boys: #2 Derek Nie 2170
  • Under 12 Girls: #1 Crystal Wang 2099, #3 Amy Lu 1838, #4 Princess Ke 1821
    (Crystal is #1 in Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13 Girls.)

Complete the Sentence

From the ITTF: "Table Tennis makes me feel __________"?

USA's Worst Olympic Sports

There are only three Olympic Sports that USA has never medalled in: Badminton, Handball, and (you guessed it) Table Tennis. Here's an article on the subject.

Mizutani High Toss Serve

Pingskills brings you this new video on the Mizutani High Toss Serve (2:23).

Brain Pong

Here's a video (3:17) on a project to allow one to play the computer game Pong with your mind via brain waves. Really!

Werner Schlager versus the Three-Year-Old

That's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager on the right, and that's his three-year-old son Nick on the table, showing great tennis volleying form. Quick, anyone, is it illegal to stand on the table? Show me a rule that forbids it!

Non-Table Tennis: Agent Says No

Here's a letdown. An agent from one of the largest agencies has been interested in my humorous fantasy novel "The Giant Face in the Sky." Unfortunately, after contemplating it for just over a year, he decided to turn it down. The moderately good news is that a small press that owns a science fiction magazine that's published a few of my stories is interested in publishing it - but they've agreed to let me shop it around first to large publishers and agents. I'm debating whether to take their offer or keep shopping it around. (Another agent liked the first two chapters and asked for the rest; hopefully they won't take a year.) Below is the agent's rejection note - kind of a nice one, but still a rejection. So it's back to table tennis coaching, right? (I do both.)

I'm cartoonishly embarrassed that it's been so many months since you first sent along The Giant Face of the Sky, and I apologize for the egregiously extended radio silence! Every time I picked up your novel, I was torn between how fluid and likeable your idiosyncratic imagination was, and how right-from-the-get-go-off-the-wall the story was, and the "what could possibly happen next?" kept me moving forward even as I was wishing for more context, more of an explanation for at least some of the world the story found itself occurring in, etc. Ultimately, despite my sincere admiration for the inventiveness on display here, I just wasn't able to figure out exactly how (or to whom) I'd pitch your book, and that's my failing, and my failing alone, but it does mean that I'm not the right agent for you. I'm very sorry to disappoint you, and sorrier still to have taken so long to respond, but I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to have seen your work, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck, inside and outside of fortune cookies!

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April 11, 2012

Modern sponges make looping easy

Some of the paradigms about teaching the loop are crashing down, with the advent of the modern "super looping sponge." There are modern sponges that make looping so easy that little kids can now topspin the ball in ways that little kids (and most adults) of yesteryear could only dream. Speed glues (now illegal) made looping both easier and more powerful (both speed and spin), but these modern sponges are a level better. (I shutter to think what would happen if you speed glued one of these super sponges - I think the universe would spin out of orbit as it zipped past some cosmic player.)

I asked Coach Cheng Yinghua what would have happened if he had these sponges back in his peak playing days (on Chinese National Team, 1977-1987), and he had a gleam in his eye as he said he'd have beaten everyone.

Yesterday I was coaching a man in his mid-60s, rated about 1500. A decade ago I wouldn't have dreamed of him seriously counterlooping. Instead, the guy came at me like a 2200 player might have in the past, effortlessly counterlooping most of my best loops back. (This was not a former top player - he was at his peak now after several years of practice.) Sure, it was just a drill, and I doubt if he could do this consistently in a match, but if I'd given him a typical sponge from ten years ago, you could glue it all you want and he wouldn't have been able to do this. And it's like this at all ages and levels. Kids aged 10-12 are looping at levels that would be unheard of before.

With these sponges all you have to do is sort of wave at the ball and it goes back with back-breaking topspin that twist Newton and Einstein physics into a quivering mass of torqued rotation. The game has changed. 

Even the basic forehand and backhand have become mini-loops for many. When you warm up with someone forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, you expect basic drives with light topspin, but now many players don't even have that shot - their basic drives have become topspinny. Even fishing and lobbing are easier and more effective as the sponges just shoot the ball back with topspin.

Of course the downside is that opponents can also loop more easily, and many of your loops will be looped right back, as will even your strongest blocks. There are now counterlooping rallies at the 1800 level that were pretty rare in the past. Even during the gluing age few intermediate players bothered to go through the hassle of gluing. Now it's built into the sponge, making looping that much easier for the masses. 

For me, while I don't cover as much ground as I used to or react to fast incoming balls as quickly, I find that nearly anything I can react to and touch with my forehand I can loop back.

What does this mean for coaches and players?

  • You teach the loop much sooner to beginning kids, and counterlooping not long after.
  • You teach the loop against a block even to older players, who in the past might have just looped against backspin and hit against blocks or topspin. Now they can loop over and over with far less effort than was needed in the past.
  • Aging loopers can continue to loop effectively well into their golden years.
  • More players can develop games where they simply loop everything that comes long to their forehand.
  • Looping off the bounce is easier, especially on the backhand, and many players now essentially loop nearly everything off the bounce, even on the backhand.
  • Fast blocks and even smashes are easier to loop back.
  • Forehand blocking becomes almost obsolete for many athletic players from the intermediate level on. If you can see it, you can loop it. (Forehand blocking is still important, but more as a reflex return against powerful shots when you don't have time to swing.)

Forehand Flip

Here's a video from Table Tennis University on the forehand flip (4:23).

Plastic balls
The ITTF had planned to switch from celluloid to plastic balls after the 2012 Olympics. According to this notice, "For production reasons, the plastic ball will be introduced not before July 2014."

Highlights from the 2012 World Team Championships Highlights

Here's a highlights video from the 2012 World Team Championships, set to music (9:49).

"I Love Table Tennis"

Here's a video promoting college table tennis (1:05) that features players saying, "I love table tennis." (One of the players saying this is Mark Hazinski.) The ones I like are the guy saying, "I love table tennis and math" (my bachelor's is in math), the little girl saying, "I sort of like it," and Adam Bobrow interjecting, "He loves table tennis." And if you go to the NCTTA home page you'll see that the College Nationals are this weekend, April 13-15, in Plano, TX. (A bunch of players from my club, MDTTC, are going, representing University of Maryland.)

Rally for Kids with Cancer

There will be a SMASH Celebrity Ping-Pong Tournament for Kids with Cancer Foundation on June 23, 2012 in LA. Includes a 30-second video from actor Terrence Howard.

Keith Pech on TV

Here's a video of Keith in a TV feature (1:50) yesterday from Channel 19 Action News on his going to the College Nationals.

Table tennis hoax

Here's a story about a hoax pulled off about a University of Akron Table Tennis Team in 1974. The team had a great winning record and received lots of press coverage - but there was no team! It was all made up.

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