Mike Mezyan

August 22, 2014

USATT National Volunteer Coordinator

One of the best things USATT has done in recent times is create the position of National Volunteer Coordinator. Here's the info page where you can apply for the position. Even if you aren't selected for the position you might get selected for another volunteer position, based on your skills and interests. So now's the time to apply - or would you rather just sit around watching TV? I hope not!

Here's a short description of the position:

"This position's primary responsibilities are to plan and organize volunteer programs associated with USA Table Tennis's board of directors, committees, and staff efforts. Individuals who are not selected for the primary position, but bring value, will be referred to the selected individual as possible assistant coordinators."

I hope USATT will feature this prominently on their front page and in the magazine. When the notice first came out I think it was on the front page for a day or so, but now it's mostly buried in the news items. If you page down a bit there's a block about this on the USATT home page, but few will see it unless they are looking for it. (Also, it just says, "Opening Position: National Volunteer Coordinator." How about something catchier, like "Would You Like to be USATT's Volunteer Coordinator? USATT Needs Your Help!") Until the deadline comes up on Oct. 15, I'd like to see this featured all over the place, so we get as many applicants as possible, both for this position and for others who are willing to volunteer on other things.

I'm a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, which is nearly all volunteer run. They run regional conventions with over 1000 participants and national ones with 6000. (For comparison, USATT's U.S. Open and Nationals generally get 700 or so players, though they break 1000 sometimes. Regional tournaments get about 200 players.) Who runs these conventions? Volunteers. Who does the membership stuff? Volunteers. Who does their web pages? Volunteers. Who does their promotional work? Volunteers. And it all gets done very smoothly. The irony is their politics is even nastier than USATT's at its worst - these are people who are good with words and not afraid to use them. But they keep the politics (in particular policy making) and the volunteer stuff completely separate. (I'm also a former member of the U.S. Tennis Association, and they also make similar use of volunteers.) 

A key thing to understand is the difference between "fairness issues" and "progressive issues." Both are important, but need to be handled differently. It is the fairness issues that tend to get political, and so we don't want the same people handling fairness issues and progressive issues. (There can be people who work on both, but they too need to keep these types of issues separate.) Progressive issues can also be political, but far less so as they are actually doing things that are presumably positive for the sport.  

Fairness issues include such things as working out policy for choosing teams; choosing the site for U.S. Opens and Nationals; disciplinary proceedings; and other issue where it's important to be fair, and so you don't want just one person making the decision. Fairness issues should usually be decided by committee. In most cases, once the committee makes a recommendation, the USATT Board of Directors should go with it, unless there's something really wrong with the recommendation. More importantly, the USATT CEO and other such leaders should stay out of these issues when possible, going with the committee decisions whenever possible so they can focus on progressive issues.

Progressive issues are those that develop and promote the sport and/or organization. You do not want a committee doing these. Committees are great for working out the fairest way of doing something, but for progressive issues you need someone to take charge. So unless you have a committee chair who is able and willing to take charge and get things done, and committee members willing to act as only advisors while the chair actually does everything (unless they are asked to do specific tasks), committees don't get much done. For progressive issues, you need to put someone in charge and assign him a specific area where he has authority - and then let him go to work. If he messes up, he can always be reined in afterwards or replaced. Sometimes the person in charge works alone, sometimes he has others working for him - but he needs to be in charge and given the freedom to work on his area of authority and expertise.

In USATT, we have lots of committees. In recent times they were renamed "Advisory Committees," to make clear they only advise. So who does the actual progressive work? Neither USATT nor SFWA have the staff to do these things. So we need to bring in volunteers.

The National Volunteer Coordinator wouldn't be doing any volunteer work except for one thing - he'd be in charge of the other volunteers. Here's an example of how I see it working, which would be similar to SFWA.

Recently Lily Zhang won the bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games. USATT doesn't really have someone to write and send out press releases, follow up with phone calls and more press releases, and in general work with the press to maximize publicity. What it could do is have several press volunteers, one perhaps for each of the following:

  • U.S. Open and Nationals
  • Elite players
  • Paralympics
  • Juniors
  • Seniors
  • Coaches
  • Leagues
  • Tournaments

Then, whenever something happens in one of these realms, that volunteer would spring into action. There'd almost be a friendly competition between the press volunteers to see who can get the most press! There would be some overlap, but the volunteers can either work out who works on which ones, or both send out press releases. The more the better!

Similarly we'd want volunteers who take care of other aspects for USATT. For another example, take coaching. As I've blogged about repeatedly in recent years, the single best thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in recent times is the rise of full-time training centers, from less than ten in 2006 to about 75 now. USATT has never gotten involved in this, so every time a top coach wants to create a training center or a junior program, he has to start from scratch, perhaps questioning current ones to find out what needs to be done. There's a lot of reinventing the wheel. That's a major brake on the creation of these training centers - and anyone thinking we're anywhere close to approaching our limit with 75 isn't paying attention. With a little streamlining, we could end up with 500 to 1000 around the country.

But we need a volunteer who is in charge of the creation of a manual for creating training centers, who would recruit others to do most of the work, with payment for those workers in the form of commissions when it sells on Amazon, or perhaps a small direct payment from USATT. (I can assist with part about getting published on Amazon - I'm pretty experienced.) We'd have another in charge of recruiting coaches who wish to create training centers or junior programs, who'd put notices out everywhere - USATT magazine and web page, emails to coaches and top players, etc., promoting the idea that they can make a very nice living as a table tennis coach. We'd have another who would coordinate coaches to train these coaches, something I've toyed with doing, perhaps with a Hodges Coaching Academy. (I've already written the manual for much of this, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd let USATT use at cost if they ever make these things a priority. The manual explains the professional side of table tennis coaching, i.e. how to make a living at it by getting students, keeping them, getting places to play, maximizing income, etc. )

USATT already does this sort of thing in some ways, such as the National Tournament Coordinators, where eight volunteers do the tournament sanctioning, reporting to National Coordinator Larry Thoman, but mostly working independently. This is the model we could use for other aspects of USATT volunteerism. In this case the "fairness issues" were worked out in advance by the USATT Tournament Advisory Committee, which set up the rules and guidelines for sanctioning, but then the progressive work - the sanctioning part - is done by specific volunteers.

Not Recognizing a "Prominent" Player

Yesterday I went to the club to do some private coaching. As I went to my table in the back I glanced over at one of the front tables and noticed we had some new girl dressed in a USA uniform. I didn't look closely as I was in a hurry to get to my table. (I was early, but so was my student, who was following me.) During the lesson, from across the room I saw the girl play some more, and while she looked somehow familiar, I didn't recognize her - the club is pretty big, so it was a good distance. Then Coach Jack Huang walked by, and I asked her who it was. He broke up laughing, and finally told me. It was Crystal Wang! You know, the girl from our club since age 7 (she's now a very tall 12), who'd I'd worked with countless times (though Jack is her primary coach), and coached many times in tournaments! The youngest in U.S. history to make the U.S. Team and win Under 22 at the Nationals! The highest rated of her age in history at about 2400! In fairness to me, I was watching from across the room; she'd been training in China for seven weeks and I'd been told wouldn't be back for another week; and she'd both grown another inch or two and had a new hair style.

New Poly Balls: How Do We Bounce?

Here's the article from Butterfly Mag.

Belarus Open: Non-Celluloid Balls, No Service Let Rule

Here's the article. The tournament, held Aug. 21-14, is the first international competition to use the non-celluloid ball. But they are also experimenting with not having a let on net serves. This means if the serve nicks the net, the point continues.

Lily Zhang Wins Bronze at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the USATT article on her win this past weekend. Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's congratulatory note to her.

Table Tennis Players Crib Sheet

Here's the article, which is about how fast the sport is and how you need to rely not just on your eyes but on your ears as well. One confusing statement - it says, "Sound helps the player because it reach[es] the brain 300 hundreds of a second faster than just using your eyes." This doesn't make sense, since light travels about 186,000 miles per second (i.e. sight), while sound at sea level travels about 760 miles per hour, or about 0.21 miles per second (i.e. hearing), meaning light travels almost 900,000 times faster than sound.

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Ninety-one down, nine to go!

  • Day 10: Krisztina Tόth Advises Players & the ITTF to Collaborate to Create Stars

Table Tennis Brand Name Artwork

Here's the latest artwork from Mike Mezyan - or should we call this wordwork?

Ice Bucket Challenges

Here are three more prominent ones from a pair of Germans, a Swede, and a Frenchman. I was going to post more from "regular" players, but there are just too many. Note that Dmitrij challenged Jan-Ove Waldner - can't wait to see that!

Twelve Weird and Wonderful Ping Pong Videos

Here they are! I've linked to a few of these in the past. My favorites are #5 ("PongQuest") and #7 ("Ping Pong" – Armin Van Buuren).

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July 14, 2014

Tip of the Week

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Table Tennis Players. (Note - this is a complete rewrite of an article I did on this long ago.)

Learning from Reading

Here's an interesting thought: I used to believe the way to improve in sports was primarily by reading books! In fact, that's how I got started in table tennis - I was looking for a book in the Track and Field section of the library to help improve my mile running. (I was 16.) Sure, I knew you had to practice, but deep down I thought there were "secrets" that would be more important than actually, you know, going out and running. I had the same ideas when I was even younger (around 12) and tried to become a great baseball player by reading.

As one who has written eight books, including six on table tennis (plus 1500 published articles plus 3.5 years of blogging and weekly tips), I want you to believe this as well, so repeat after me: "The way to improve in table tennis is through reading." Say that five times. Now go buy my books.

The truth, of course, is that reading does help, but is only one aspect. There are some aspects of table tennis that are pretty much perfect for learning from books, when combined with practical experience - tactics, for example. But whether it's tactics or technique, you need to put in the hours of practice to put what you learn into practice. The primary virtue of reading is it points you in the right direction for what you need to learn, and you then learn it by practicing it, whether it's technique or applying tactics.

I try to pick and choose topics for this blog and the weekly tips that are best suited to writing. An example of a topic that's not easy to write about is serving technique. I've written extensively about the tactics of serving, and have written about the various serves themselves and how to do them, but overall it's the most difficult part to teach in writing. There are just so many subtle things about serving that you need to see it demonstrated live (usually in slow motion) or on video (also in slow motion) or you'll miss most of it. Most of it can be demonstrated with photo sequences, but even there it's tricky catching the subtle aspects of how the racket moves deceptively. (However, a photo sequence with good commentary could suffice, especially if the player also watches top players executing the serve.)

My original belief that there were "secrets" I could learn from reading was true, it just wasn't a complete answer. I was hoping for secrets that would show me how to do something that would immediately lead to massive improvement, when all that reading can do is point you in the direction of what you need to learn to do - and learning to do it takes a lot of practice, alas. Reading opens doors but you have to go through those doors, and that's the hard part.

Maryland Junior Rankings

The new ratings came out a few days ago from the U.S. Open. Our juniors did pretty well. As noted in my blog on Monday, Crystal Wang won Cadet Girls' Singles (15 & Under), and Derek Nie won 13 & Under Boys' Singles. In the newest rankings, Crystal (2384) continues as the U.S. #1 ranked player in Girls Under 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Derek "sort of" regains his spot as #1 under 14 at 2336. (The depth in that category is incredible, with at least six  players who in previous years might have completely dominated that category - Derek, Jack Wang, Gal & Sharon Alguetti, Victor Liu, Michael Tran, with others not far behind. And just one year ahead of them is Kanak Jha. Jack Wang is #1 in Under 14, but wasn't eligible at the U.S. Open for that because he turns 14 this year.) Tiffany Ke takes over the #1 spot for Under 10 Girls at 1767. Here is a listing of Maryland juniors in the Top Ten (including Virginia players who train at MDTTC).

  • Crystal Wang, #1 in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 Girls at 2384
  • Derek Nie, #2 in Under 14 Boys at 2336 (but in ITTF rules, where it's ages as of the following Jan. 1, he's #1)
  • Tiffany Ke, #1 in Under 10 Girls and #5 in Under 11 Girls at 1767
  • Jason Lu, #2 in Under 11 Boys and #7 in Under 12 Boys at 1958
  • Alex Ruichao Chen, #3 in Under 17 Boys and #4 in Under 17 Boys at 2602
  • Daniel Sofer, #4 in Under 10 Boys at 1406
  • Jiu Lu, #6 in Under 12 Girls, #8 in Under 13 Girls, #10 in Under 14 Girls at 1924
  • Chen Bowen, #7 in Under 17 Boys and #9 in Under 18 Boys at 2513
  • Lisa Lin, #8 in Under 11 Girls at 1509
  • Jessica Lin, #9 in Under 11 Girls at 1411
  • Ryan Dabbs, #9 in Under 11 Boys at 1885
  • Amy Lu, #9 in Under 14 Girls, #10 in Under 15 Girls at 1937
  • Alexander Yang, #10 in Under 10 Boys at 1074

Top Player Serves

Here are animated gifs of the serves of 19 top players. You should study these and learn a few.

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-one down, 49 to go!

  • Day 50: “We are blessed to have such a talented, caring and unique table tennis family.”
  • Day 51: Petra Sorling Discusses Para TT, ITTF Finances, and the Future

Nittaku ITTF Pongcast - June 2014

Here's the video (12:57).

Trick Shot of the Day

Here's the video (40 sec) by Kento Nomura.

Jorgen Persson and Famed TV Chef Tareq Taylor

Here's the picture.

Ghost in Pajamas

Here's a new artwork from Mike Mezyan, but this time instead of a drawing, it's a paddle! He calls it "Ghost in Pajamas," but to me it'll always be "Devil in a Blue Dress."

The Man, the Mountain, the Shots

Here's video (2:54) of Larry Bavly's top 15 shots at the U.S. Open. The Viper(s) never had a chance. (Yeah, that's a "Game of Thrones" reference.)

Blue Paddle Beer

Here's the article and picture of New Belgium Blue Paddle Beer, which features a ping-pong paddle on its packaging.

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July 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing Bad - It's All Mental (Usually).

2014 U.S. Open

I was at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids from June 30 to July 6. As usual, it was an exhausting and exhilarating time. Once again Grand Rapids and USATT put on a great show - they are getting good at running Opens and Nationals. It was mostly on time (falling behind only when specific matches held things up), organized, and they even did the little things. For example, every morning we'd find all the trash had been picked up, and the barriers and chairs around all the courts all lined up nice and neatly. When you consider the size of the playing hall, that's a big job! Results were regularly updated on the results walls. So a great thanks goes out to the organizers and workers at this event.

Here's the USATT home page for the U.S. Open, which includes links to results, articles, pictures, and video.

The showcase events started at 3:45PM on Saturday with the women's semifinals. The schedule was for a new match to start every 45 minutes, with the two women's semifinals, the two men's semifinals, the women's final, and then the men's final, which would presumably start at 7:30 PM. But they ran into a problem right from the start - the first women's semifinal was between two very defensive choppers, Riyo Nemoto of Japan, and Li Xue of France (but presumably from China). The two pushed and Pushed and PUSHED all through the first game, with Nemoto essentially never attacking and Xue only occasionally attacking. I think it was 8-4 in the first when ten minutes had passed and expedite was called. From there on they alternated serves, with the receiver winning the point if she returned 13 shots in a row. Xue had a decidedly better attack, and after losing the first, won the next four games easily under expedite.

But the match took forever, and put things well behind. Could they catch up in the next match, between two attackers? The points were faster, but it took another eon before Yuko Fujii won, 11-9 in the seventh. She would go on to win the final, 4-1 over the chopper Xue, who had no answer to her relentless light topspins to the backhand long pips and sudden loop kills and smashes to the middle or wide angles. Fujii used the Asian style of playing choppers to perfection. (Here's my Tip of the Week on Playing Choppers, which explains this.)

Going into the tournament, most players were picking Japan's Jin Ueda to win. After all, he defeated world #7 Chuan Chih-Yuan in last week's Japan Open. But it was another Japanese player who took out top seed and defending champion Eugene Wang of Canada, as Hidetoshi Oya took him out 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The two Japanese met in the semifinals, but this time Oya had no magic as Ueda won 4-1. Meanwhile, China's Tao Wenzhang - the player considered by most as the least likely of the four semifinalists to win - took out two-time U.S. Open Men's Champion Thomas Keinath, also 4-1. Most picked Ueda to win the final, but it was not to be as the under-estimated Tao won the final with another 4-1 win.

Here's an interesting tactical thing about that match. For years I've encouraged players to serve not just to the short forehand, but to the middle forehand. Some players do have trouble if you serve short to the forehand, but others take advantage of the extreme angle you give them to your forehand (assuming two righties), the extra table means they can flip more aggressively. If the server tries to cover this wide angle, the receiver can just take it down the line. But if you instead serve short to the middle forehand, the following happens. 1) the extreme angle to the forehand is mostly cut off; 2) the extra table when flipping to the wide forehand his shortened, so aggressive flips are more difficult; 3) the receiver, who usually favors backhand against short serves to the middle, has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand; and 4) the receiver is either drawn well over the table if he receives backhand (leaving his backhand side open and taking his forehand mostly out of play on the next shot if the server goes to the backhand), or has a somewhat awkward forehand shot to play over the table. So what did Tao do in both the semifinals and final? He serve short to the middle forehand probably half the time, a primary reason he dominated the points.

The USATT Coach of the Year Awards were given out between games in the Women's Semifinals. The four winners were Lily Yip (Coach of the Year); Stefan Feth (Developmental Coach of the Year); Angie Bengtsson (Paralympic Coach of the Year) and me (Doc Counsilman Science Award, for my coaching blog, tips, and books.) However, when they started to give them out I was on the other side of the arena, with my back turned as I was explaining the expedite rule to some spectators. When they called my name I was caught off guard, and couldn't get to the award stand in time. They gave it to me after the next game. The actual plaques are nice, but were left behind at USATT Headquarters, and will be mailed to us. So they improvised with certificates. I'll post a picture of the actual plaque when it comes in.

There are always problems with any large tournament, and this was no exception. There were many top Chinese players at the tournament without ratings or world rankings, and so they were mostly stuck in randomly, causing havoc in some parts of the draws. Perhaps more effort should go into contacting these players or their associations to better get an idea of their level. After all, if a player travels all the way from China to play Men's Singles, he's likely at least 2400 or better! For example, two cadet players came to my club for about ten days of training before the U.S. Open. They were both 2450-2500 players. But at the Open they were unrated and unseeded. One result was that second-seeded Kunal Chodri, rated 2480, had to play one of them in his first match in Cadet Boys' Singles, and lost 3-0. Those two shouldn't have been playing until the later rounds.

There's also the problem of old ratings. For example, I coached a 12-year-old in Under 1500. In the round robin stage he had to play a girl from Canada rated 1427. The problem was that the rating was a year old, from last year's U.S. Open, and she was now at least 1800. The kid I was coaching was a "ringer," under-rated by a couple hundred points, but not nearly as under-rated as this girl, who would not only win the RR group, but would go on to win Under 1500 and Under 1650 (which at the Open is like winning Under 1800 and Under 1950), while beating players in other events over 1800. It wasn't a one-time thing with her; she got an initial rating of 892 at a U.S. tournament in June of 2012. Her next tournament was the 2013 U.S. Open, where she was way under-rated, and shot up to 1427. Now she'll likely jump to 1800+. Next year she'll likely show up with that rating, but perhaps 2000 level. Perhaps junior players with ratings over six months old should have 100 points added to their ratings for eligibility purposes?

Here are the two best shots of the tournament that I saw. First, a Chinese player at least three times pulled off a "push flip." What is that? He reached in for a short ball to the forehand as if pushing off the bounce, but intentionally missed the ball - then pulled his racket back quickly and flipped the ball at the top of the bounce! I've seen this shot before, but not in years. The other best shot? I was warming up one of my players and accidentally mishit the ball off the racket edge so it shot very hard at my face, ricocheting extremely fast off my glasses and back to the other side! My player didn't hesitate to counter-hit it, and the rally continued. Oh, and I'm sure the top players made a few good loops as well.

It's never over until it's over, as one of my players learned. Down 0-2 in games and 1-6 in the third, I called a time-out. I gave him my vintage speech for players down 0-2. ("How bad do you want this?...") Since he was New York Giants football fan, I asked him, "What would Eli Manning do?" He was all psyched up, went back to the table - and the other player got a net winner, then smacked in a winner, and now my player is down 1-8. But with me yelling, "C'mon, Eli, you can do it!", he scored eight in a row, and won that game in deuce - and went on to win the match, deuce in the fifth.

It doesn't always end that way. A nine-year-old kid I coached made the quarterfinals of Under 1500. There he faced an older kid who, in up-to-date ratings, was actually 1576. My player won the first two games, but lost the next two. In the fifth it was 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all, 15-all. Both players had multiple match points. At 15-all the other player mis-hit his serve off to the side, and it was another match point for my player - or was it? The other kid thought his serve hit the edge, and while I was certain it wasn't close, we had to play a let. My player won the next point (and seemingly might have won the match at that point, since he'd won two in a row from 15-all), but wasn't able to convert that match point, and ended up losing 18-16 in the fifth.

Because of ringers, the draws were often rather haphazard. I mentioned the 12-year-old I coached above who had to play the ringer girl from Canada. Actually, all three players in his preliminary group were ringers, way under-rated, as was he himself. On the other hand, the nine-year-old above (yes, another ringer, since he was rated under 1200 but about 1500 level) went up against "normal" players. I'm fairly sure the three players he played in his round robin and in the first two rounds of single elimination wouldn't have won a match in the other player's preliminary RR.

I started to write about some of my favorite coaching moments, especially the tactics used by Nathan Hsu, 18 and about 2350 (though he's been over 2400) in upsetting a 2648 player. But alas, I can't write about them publicly - they are trade secrets we need for the next time the two play. Suffice to say he executed them perfectly - in particular his serve and receive tactics - and mostly shut down the opponent's big forehand. (You can ask me about them privately.)

Players from my club, MDTTC, did very well. Here's a short listing of their best results:

  • Crystal Wang, 12, won Cadet Girls Singles (15 & Under), made the semifinals of 18 & Under Girls, and the quarterfinals of Under 21 Women.
  • Derek Nie, 13, won 13 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Charlene Liu, 61, pulled off a triple sweep - or was it a quadruple sweep? She won Over 40, Over 50, and Over 60 Women's Singles, made the final of Over 30 Women's Singles, and won Over 60 Women's Doubles with Barbara Kaminsky.
  • Dave Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Men's Singles, and won four doubles events - Over 50 and Over 60 Doubles with Dan Seemiller, Over 65 Men's Doubles with Dell Sweeris, and Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Donna Sakai. (Am I the only one who noticed that all four of these players have initials DS?)
  • Donna Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Women's Singles, Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Dave Sakai, and made the final of Over 60 Women's Doubles with Connie Sweeris.
  • Ruichao Alex Chen, 16, made the final of 18 & Under Boys' Singles, upsetting U.S. #1 Under 18 player Kai Zhang, rated 2704, in the round of 16. He made the semifinals of Under 2600. He made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Chen Bo Wen, 16, made the quarterfinals of 18 & Under Boys' Singles and the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Nathan Hsu, 18, made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams, and in 18 & Under Boys' Singles upset Chen Keda, rated 2648 and the U.S. #1 Under 17 player.
  • Wang Qing "Leon" Liang, 19, made the semifinals of Under 2600.
  • Ryan Dabbs, 11, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Tiffany Ke, 10, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Girls' Singles.
  • Daniel Sofer, 9, made the quarterfinals of Under 1500.
  • Larry Hodges, way too old, won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston. 

1970s Table Tennis Revisited

In my blog on June 23 I likened the equipment used in 1971 by Stellan Bengtsson (and by extension, other sponge rackets of that era) as "toy" rackets. Stellan wasn't happy with my assessment. He was using Mark V sponge, which isn't exactly a "toy" sponge though essentially no top players use these types of sponges anymore in this age of tensor and high-tension sponges. (But they are still an appropriate surface for beginning/intermediate players.) I'd actually thought the Mark V used then was slower than the Mark V now, but I've been told that it's about the same now as it was then. (I'm talking about the original version, not all the new types.) The point I was making (and overstated by likening it to "toy" sponge) was that much of the reason the game was slower back then, as seen in the tape, was that the inverted sponges were slower than what are used these days by top players, especially when looping, where modern sponges practically slingshot the ball out. (I've added an edit to the original statement.)

Plastic Ball Implementation at ITTF Events

Here's the article.

USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article on Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha.

Ariel Hsing Aims to Learn & Win in the Super League

Here's the article on the USA Women's Champion in China.

Road to Nanjing

Here's the article, on Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari, who will be representing the United States in the 2nd Summer Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China on August 16-28.  

Ovtcharov Confident to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

Here's the article. Oh, and he just got married!

About.com is Back - Sort of

I checked on it, and there are no plans to bring back the table tennis forum. But they are putting up table tennis articles. Here's a listing of new ones.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin 

Here's the review of the book. "The real history of table tennis is a bizarre tale of espionage, aggravation, and reconciliation, of murder, revenge, and exquisite diplomacy, says a new book. It's the story of how Ivor Montagu molded the game, and how the Chinese came to embrace it and then shaped it into a subtle instrument of foreign policy."

My Way to Olympia

Here's an article and video (1:38) on this PBS documentary on the Paralympics, which covers four athletes, including a table tennis player with one hand.

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. (Since I've been away for a week at the U.S. Open we have an accumulation of them today.) Forty-five down, 55 to go!

  • Day 56: Glenn Tepper Explains the ITTF’s Continental Affiliation Option
  • Day 57: Countdown Hijacked! (by Adham Sharara)
  • Day 58: Peter Karlsson Is a True “Champion for Peace”
  • Day 59: Patrick Gillmann: A Passionate Advocate for Juniors
  • Day 60: Richard Scruton Reflects on the 2012 Olympics
  • Day 61: Catching up with Raul Calin, who’s on the Road Again
  • Day 62: ITTF’s Matt Pound Promotes Table Tennis 24/7
  • Day 63: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part II (here's Part 1)

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's the article and trailer (2:10) for the upcoming documentary.

Angel Table Tennis

Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Mike Mezyan.

One Energy Commercial

Here's the video (30 sec) of this neon Tron-like commercial featuring Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen!

No One Knew Kanak Jha Was That Fast!

Here's the picture! Poor Adam Hugh is up against eight Kanaks. (Adam defeated Kanak in the preliminaries at the North American Cup, but lost to him in the final. Or to one of them.)

Top Players in Cartoons

Here are cartoon images of the world's top players.

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May 14, 2014

Scouting Report on You and Me

It's important to know your game. I've often said that if you can't write a book on your game, either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. (Here's a short Tip on that.)

It's good to look at your game from the point of view of your opponent. What would you say to an opponent if you were coaching him to play you? Now you probably don't want to make this public, but you should be aware of what a good coach would say to an opponent playing you, and from that you'll know what you need to work on. Why not write it out, and see what it tells you?

I'm retired from tournament play (except for some hardbat events - I normally use sponge), so I have less to lose on this - but I do play a lot of practice matches with students and in match sessions, so we'll see how many are reading this! So here is what I would say if I were coaching an opponent against me - except this is too long; you should limit coaching advice to two or three things at most. So normally I'd pick the two or three most important items below if I were coaching against myself. But here's the whole coaching report if you have to play me. I encourage you to memorize it for when you play me, since trying to remember all this will paralyze you when you play, and that'll make it easier for me to win. (Actually, if you have an extensive scouting report on someone you really want to beat, you can absorb more than just two or three items as long as you take them two or three at a time.)

So, you want to beat me? Here's what you do. Keep in mind that I'm 54 and not as fast as I used to be. The book on my game back then would be similar, except I was extremely good at covering the wide forehand - players went there at their own peril. But these days this strength has become a weakness. I also used to attack a lot more with the forehand from the backhand side, looking for every chance to do so in rallies, but not so much anymore. I also used to block much better, but now have trouble covering attacks to the wide corners. (This is my second consecutive blog that's basically auto-biographical. Hmmm...)

How to Beat Larry Hodges

He has trouble with long backhand sidespin-type serves. His forehand loop against them is awkward, and his backhand returns are steady but soft. Mix your serves up a lot or he'll get used to them, but keep coming back to these deep backhand sidespin-type serves. He forehand loops deep pendulum serves very well, so use them sparingly, and only when you can get him to receive them with his backhand. Don't make the mistake of serving short over and over as he's very good against short serves, with short and long pushes and flips, and lots of last-second changes of direction. Don't serve short to the forehand too often as he has a good forehand flip to all parts of the table.

When he serves, beware his short side-top serves, which look like backspin. He'll also serve a lot of fast no-spin serves at your middle, and deep breaking serves to the wide backhand - you have to steady attack these, ideally with good topspin. If he serves short to the forehand, which he'll do with both pendulum and reverse pendulum serves, take it down the line to his backhand - he's waiting for a crosscourt return. When he serves short to the middle or backhand, he's usually looking to forehand attack from the backhand side, so take it quick to his wide forehand where he's often wide open.  If he serves short no-spin, attack it to the corners or drop it short as he's looking to follow with a big forehand loop. If your receives are predictable, he'll be all over them.

His backhand is soft but steady. Don't try to outlast him there. Instead, expect steady returns to your wide backhand that can be attacked with the goal to set up a chance to end the point with your presumably more powerful forehand. Since he doesn't attack well with the backhand, you don't have to guard your wide forehand much, so you can look to use your forehand from your backhand side every chance. Make sure your attacks are very wide or to the middle - he usually only has two of those covered and leaves the other a bit open. If you go to his middle forehand or middle backhand he's a wall, and can counter-attack on the forehand side very well. He's also vulnerable to deep, spinny loops to the backhand. If you can backhand loop close to the table, he hates that. If you attack his wide forehand and then his wide backhand, he'll often be forced off the table, fishing and lobbing. If he does, attack his middle or wide backhand until you see a short ball that can be creamed to either wide corner.

In rallies, he tends to be weak on the forehand side early in the match, but it gets stronger as the match continues and he adjusts to you. If you handle his serves well and attack his forehand, that's often enough to win the first game. If he starts playing his forehand well in rallies - looping or smashing, he does both - focus on moving the ball around, to the wide corners and middle. Sometimes he just rallies everything crosscourt with his backhand, using it to cover his middle as well, and waits for you to change directions with your backhand to his wide forehand, where he's waiting. Don't fall for that trap - instead, keep attacking his wide backhand and middle, and realize that his middle in these types of rallies is actually a bit over to his forehand side. Look for chances to end the point off his weaker backhand shots, especially with your forehand. When his rally shots go short, he expects attacks to his forehand and covers it well - but often leaves the backhand side open. Quick, aggressive backhand shots that go outside his backhand corner give him fits.

If he starts attacking with his forehand, go after his wide forehand, and he'll struggle to cover it, and will likely stop playing so aggressively. His loops aren't as spinny as they look. He has a lot of motion, but not as much snap on them as they seem, so don't be afraid to counter-attack when he loops. He's an instinctive forehand attacker, but not as fast as he used to be, so he's often caught out of position when he forehand attacks, and so will end up fishing and lobbing. When you do go to his wide forehand, he likes to set up like he's going crosscourt, then at the last second rotate his shoulders back to loop a winner down the line. If you anticipate this or see it coming and make a simple block to his backhand, he'll usually start fishing. 

If you take a lead late in a game, be ready if he starts chopping. If he does, go for consistent attacks to his middle.

Finally, be flexible in your tactics. Larry will start out most matches trying to win on serves and serve & attack, and on steady rallying on your serve, where he likes to force backhand-to-backhand rallies. If this doesn't work, he'll start testing you for weaknesses. When he does this, focus on steady and well-placed attacks, and realize you are already halfway to winning as you've taken away his "A" game. If you hear him mutter something like, "I used to be able to get to that ball," or "That shot used to be so easy," that's pretty much an invitation to keep challenging him on that shot!

Fan Zhendong: Youngest World Champion in History

Here's the article

North Korea's Behavior at the 1979 Ping Pong Championships Really Says It All

Here's the article. Apparently the entire Korean crowd walked out after the North Korean star lost the women's final, leaving a nearly vacant stadium for the men's final.

Prizes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials in Wales

Here's the picture. Look closely at the picture in the lower right - yep, the prizes were copies of my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques! (EDIT - I've since been told that actual picture where they are holding up my books was taken at the ICC club in California, where the books were given out as prizes.)

The Ultimate Table Tennis Footwork Guide

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

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May 12, 2014

Tip of the Week

Anyone Can Become Very Good at Something.

Youth Olympic Games Controversy

There's a controversy involving the training and coaching of the USA Youth Olympic Games athletes (Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari). Basically, USATT set up a training program for the two, then chose a coach. Since Massimo Costantini (from the ICC Table Tennis Center) is the coach for both players, it seemed logical to choose him, but since he wasn't available to go overseas for the entire training program planned (nearly two months), another coach was selected. Officials from ICC were not happy.

I too thought they should have hired the coach first, then have him develop the training program for the players, in particular since he was the coach of both players. From USATT's point of view, they were just incorporating the ITTF's YOG training program, which involves a lot of overseas training and in general is a good idea. It might have been better if they had not locked themselves into requiring the coach to be there the entire time, allowing some flexibility so someone else could substitute for the few weeks when the coach can't make it. Regardless, hopefully they will work something out where Massimo oversees most of their training while missing some of it because of his other commitments. There is lots of discussion of this at the USATT Facebook and ICC Facebook pages.

The coach who was hired (though the official announcement is not yet up) is the highly qualified Lily Yip. (I've known her for decades, and we even attended the same ITTF Level 2 Seminar, held at the Lily Yip TTC last year.) It's unfortunate there's any controversy on this as she's an excellent coach. The problem is that the two players in question just happened to both be students of Massimo, and this was known at the time Lily was hired. Massimo was USATT's first choice because of this, but because he couldn't commit to the entire overseas training program they went with Lily. If they hadn't apparently locked themselves into requiring the coach there the entire time, perhaps they could have hired Massimo, and hired Lily for the times when Massimo could not make it.

Ironically, I also considered applying for the YOG coach position, but since I haven't worked directly with these players (other than a week about four years ago when I practiced daily with Krish during a Stellan Bengtsson camp, plus coaching against him in tournaments a few times), and since I figured Massimo or someone else who worked more regularly with these players was applying, I decided not to. (Plus it's a big commitment for a full-time coach with lots of students.) Perhaps another time, when an MDTTC player is on the team in question. MDTTC's Crystal Wang is already on the USA Women's Team and Cadet Girls' team, and we have a number of other up-and-coming players. But what happens if I or some other coach also can't commit to the entire "required" time? The irony is that coaches who are in demand are usually the ones who will often have the most trouble taking time off - and they are often the ones we'd want to hire.

This isn't the first time ICC has felt burned by USATT. 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? 

USATT Launches New Membership System - RailStation

Here's the announcement. Could be helpful. It definitely gets our membership system into the modern age! A key phrase from the announcement: "USATT members with a current email on file will be sent instructions on how to log in and activate their account.  If you have not provided an email address to USATT or need to update it, please contact Andy Horn at admin@usatt.org."

U.S. Open Entry Deadline Extended to May 18

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee was Saturday (two days ago), but they've extended it to May 18 (next Sunday). Here's a listing of players currently entered, and of entries by event. (There are 381 players listed as entered as I write this, but I'm sure there are still a lot of paper entries not uploaded yet, plus the extended deadline should bring in some more.) Here's more info:

MDTTC - the Laughingstock of Table Tennis

Yes, it's true. On Friday and Saturday, famous stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo spent several hours at MDTTC playing. (He was in town for some local shows.) He has a rating of 1658, but that was from three years ago - he appears about 1800 now. Between coaching sessions I even got to play doubles with him on my team. (Alas, I coach too much and play too little, and so my receive was way off, and we lost to Julian Waters and Steve Hochman. But then Julian and I took down Steve and Frank!) Then on Sunday another famous stand-up comedian came in to play for a few hours, Judah Friedlander, who is rated 1565 (and who've I've coached before), though as his home page says, he's the World Champion. (Judah grew up locally, and while he spends most of his time in New York City doing stand-up, he comes to Maryland often to visit his family.)

ITTF Athletes Commission

Vladimir Samsonov was re-elected as Chair. Others elected or appointed were Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), Zoran Primorac (CRO), Krisztina Toth (HUN), David Powell (AUS), Angela Mori (PER), Elsayed Lashin (EGY), Yu Kwok See April (HKG), Wang Liqin (CHN), and USA's own Ashu Jain.

ITTF Legends Tour

I wrote about the Legends Tour last Thursday. Here are more pictures.

International News

As usual, there are lots and lots of international news items up at Tabletennista.

Matthew Syed Launches New Table Tennis Academy in England

Here's the story. (Syed is a former English table tennis champion, one of the best defensive players in the world.)

Shot of the Day

Here's video (46 sec) of a very strange rally at the recent World Championships between China's Ding Ning and Japan's Yuka Ishigaki in the Women's Team Final.

Ibrahim Hamato - Nothing is Impossible

Here's more video (2:43) of the famous armless Egyptian player from the ITTF. Includes interviews (with English translation) and showing him hitting with the best players in the world. I've actually put a racket in my mouth like he does to rally in exhibitions, but not at this level!

Happy Mother's Day (one day late)

Here's the Table Tennis Mother's Day Graphic by Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - Bram Stoker Award

"After Death" just won Best Horror Anthology at the Bram Stoker Awards, which is sort of the Academy Awards for written horror. It includes a story of mine, "The Devil's Backbone." You can buy the anthology at Amazon. And here's a review of the book, which says, "… and “The Devil’s Backbone” by Larry Hodges, which I found to be well-conceived, well-executed, and well-written, my favorite in the anthology."

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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 27, 2014

USATT CEO and Membership Director Leaving

Huge changes are afoot at USATT - here's the article. USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh resigned after seven years, taking a job with USA Handball. (Here's his goodbye letter.) And Membership Director Joyce Grooms is retiring on April 4 after a long tenure - I'm not sure how long, but I'm guessing it goes back to the 1990s or so. I've worked with both of them for many years and consider them good friends - and now we'll have some big shoes to fill. It's going to cause some serious continuity problems. 

Who should our next CEO be? With all due respect to Mike, I believe we need a real table tennis person who can develop the infrastructure of our sport. That was the point of my Ping-Pong Apartments essay in my March 21 blog - we have got to stop trying to sell a broken product and fix the broken product first. Then we can sell it.

I doubt if I'll apply for the CEO position, but several people have urged me to apply. I don't think the USATT Board would want someone who would push for such major changes - most boards, by their very nature, are highly resistant to change. But I was urged on Facebook last night to apply for the position. Here is my response:

I'd want to completely change the focus of the organization, and I don't think the USATT board of directors is ready for that. Focus should be (not in order of priority) 1) setting up a network of regional leagues throughout the U.S., with the goal of hundreds of thousands of members, as is done in Europe and Asia; 2) recruiting and training professional coaches to set up and run full-time training centers and junior programs; and 3) striving for a professional league or tournament circuit for the top players. (There is a current one, which needs to continue to grow and gain sponsors. But membership growth is the best way to increase revenue for this and other programs.)

Also need to focus on college scholarship programs as incentive for junior players and their parents, and on turning the Nationals and/or U.S. Open into a serious event that brings in real sponsorships, and on fund-raising. I'd also want to bring back the print magazine (and the advertising they are about to lose), and instead simply add the online magazine as a way to increase advertising. 

We also need to regionalize the sport, breaking the country into a number of self-governing regions, and develop the sport region by region, as it is done overseas. Once the sport is moving in the right direction, then we can sell it to the masses and to sponsors.  

I'd be very hands-on with the first three items listed, on magazine issues, and on regionalization. I'd be focusing on membership growth, which has never been a serious USATT priority. But USATT probably isn't ready for such change, and isn't likely to hire someone who can barely tie a tie.

Another important issue: We need more working committees made up of volunteers. I'm a member of SFWA, and they have all sorts of things going on, all volunteer run. They run conventions with 6000 people with no paid workers - that's nearly ten times the size of our Nationals and Open. Even their extensive web page is all volunteer run. The key is to find qualified volunteers, put them in charge of something, and let them loose. And then others can focus on developing the sport instead of trying to do every little thing. (Key word: "working" committees. USATT has lots of non-working committees.)

Another big issue: USATT (staff, board, and CEO) spends huge amounts of time and energy on what I call "fairness" issues, which keeps them from progressive issues, i.e. the issues that develop our sport. Fairness issues are important, but should go to committees, and unless the committee's conclusion is nonsense, USATT should normally adopt the committee's recommendation. This allows the CEO and others to focus on developing the sport. 

Having said all this, here's the problem I would face as CEO - I've been urging USATT to do these things for many years, not just here on my blog but in person at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings. I've done a number of reports to the board on how to increase membership, develop juniors, grow leagues in this country, etc. Much of this stuff is obvious to anyone involved in our sport - and if I can't convince the USATT Board to do the obvious stuff, how can I get them to do the less obvious stuff? So I wouldn't even consider such a CEO position unless I had almost complete buy-in from the board on these changes that are necessary if we want our sport to grow. The USATT Board sets policy, and the CEO enacts policy - so to do the policies I'd want, I'd need the Board to go along with them. I have zero interest otherwise.

Two other weaknesses I would face as a CEO: I don't look good in suits, and I have little patience with incompetent people in high places. (And I've made enemies in our sport because of this.) I can overcome this last one and smile and show patience with incompetent people when necessary, but I'll never look comfortable in any type of a suit other than a warm-up suit. Another weakness is I'm not particularly comfortable with strangers - I'm much more comfortable working with people I know or who are already within USATT. I'm not one to "work the room" or to wine and dine people - I'm not a "schmoozer." I don't think much of this is necessary while we are developing the sport in this country.

There's also the small problem that despite all my experience in table tennis, I've never actually been a CEO. But we'll have an office manager, so the CEO's primary job right now (in my opinion) would be to develop the sport in this country, which takes more table tennis experience and know-how than CEO experience. As I wrote above, once the sport is moving in the right direction, then we can sell it to the masses and to sponsors. That's when I'd have to get out of the way and let someone else do that job.

Bottom line - if we want to continue as a status-quo organization like we've done for so long, then USATT should once again hire someone who looks like a CEO rather than someone who will develop the sport.

Reality check: Me, as USATT CEO? Not likely. I'll hold onto my day job. (Actually, it's a day and night job as table tennis coach, organizer, promoter, and writer.)

Crystal Wang and Sports Illustrated

Just got the word that Crystal Wang should be featured in next week's Sports Illustrated in their "Faces in the Crowd" section. (This is for her recently becoming the youngest U.S. Team member ever at age 12 years 14 days, along with youngest ever Under 22 Women's Singles Champion.) I'd been sending out regular press releases, and finally got a big bite! (Though she'd also been featured recently in the Baltimore Sun.) I took the picture they will be using at the club last night. The issue should come out next Wednesday, with the online version coming out the Monday afterwards.

Chinese Team Special Training

Here's an article on how the Chinese Team had a special training session where they played matches where players were prohibited from using certain receives, forcing them to develop other receive techniques. Zhang Jike and Xu Xin were banned from using the banana stroke or the chiquita [backhand banana flips] while Ma Long was prohibited from using a drop-shot reception in their respective matches. I often have players do similar training, where a match is played where a player has to do certain things, such as every point starting with a serve and loop, or where a player has to attack every serve.

Table Tennis Great Deng Yaping Encourages More China Players to Represent Other Countries

Here's the article. And here's info on the all-time great Deng Yaping, often called the greatest woman player of all time. (3-time World Women's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Women's Singles, and #1 in the world for eight straight years.)

Interview with Mike Mezyan - Parts 1 & 2

Here's an interview with Table Tennis Artist Mike Mezyan - Part 1 and Part 2. Here's his home page, which shows much of his artwork.

What Will Happen to Anyone Hired as USATT CEO

Here's the picture!

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March 20, 2014

Tricky Serves

Here's an interesting dynamic I've noticed over the years. Players who play the same players over and over at clubs, and only occasionally play at tournaments or at other clubs, rarely develop tricky serves that they can use when they do play in tournaments or against different players. Players who play lots of different players and compete in tournaments tend to develop tricky serves. Why is this?

It's all about feedback. If a player starts to develop tricky serves, his opponents will at first have trouble with them. But if he plays the same players all the time and rarely plays new ones, then the players he plays quickly get used to the tricky serves, and they stop being that effective. And so the feedback the player gets is that the serves aren't that effective, and he stops developing those serves and tries other ones. A player who regularly plays tournaments or other players gets more realistic feedback on the quality of those serves as his opponents aren't seeing them as regularly.

The same is true of other aspects of the game. For example, a player develops a nice backhand loop, his regular opponents might get used to it, and he'll stop using it as often - never realizing how much havoc the shot might create against players not used to it.

So if you want to really develop your game, seek out new players, either at your club, other clubs, or in tournaments, and see how they respond to your serves and other techniques. If your ultimate goal is to play well in tournaments (even if you only play in them occasionally), then you need this feedback to develop your game.

By the way, this strongly applies to me. When I used to play tournaments, most of my opponents had difficulty with my serves, especially some of my side-top serves that look like backspin. But in practice, most of the people I play are used to those serves, and I tend to serve more backspin and no-spin, which may set up my attack but rarely give me "free" points. If I went by what happened in practice, I'd be giving away a lot of free points in tournaments by not using those tricky side-top serves.

About.com Table Tennis Forum (RIP)

After something like fifteen years of operation, the about.com table tennis forum is closed. When you go there you get "Forum Closed" and "We are sorry, this forum is no longer in operation" notes. Nobody seems to know why, but presumably it was because there hasn't been a moderator for some time, and the powers that be (i.e. about.com) decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not a big forum poster (though I used to be), but I like to browse them and sometimes post things. I'll probably frequent the mytabletennis.com forum more often.

Learn to Play in the "Zone"

Here's the article by Samson Dubina. This is an important lesson I endlessly try to instill in students - let the subconscious take over when you play.

Expert in a Year

Here's the home page for Ben Larcombe's "Expert in a Year" challenge. He's trying to turn a beginning player into an expert in one year. Can he do it? They are eleven weeks in, with a weekly diary and lots of video.

Zhang Jike's Shoulder Injury

Here's the article. He had to withdraw from the Asia Cup. Fortunately, the injury is to his left shoulder (he's a righty), but this shows how important it is to use both sides of the body when playing - the left side pulls around just as much as the right side.

Table Tennis is Life

Here's the video (4:46).

Testing Timo Boll's Eyesight

Here's the article with a link to the video (8:02).

Planning Underway for Even Greater 2015 Cary Cup

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Cary Cup Final

Here's the video (39:03) of the final between Eugene Wang and Li Kewei this past weekend, with Li the chopper/looper defeating the top seeded Wang (who's won the last two Cary Cups and U.S. Opens) at 8,9,-7,12.

The Brain of a Table Tennis Player

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's video (59 sec) of an incredible exhibition point between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here are Happy Valentine's wishes from around the world (15 sec video), care of the ITTF. Here are some Valentine's Day table tennis pictures.

How to Practice When Snowed In

We're snowed in here in Maryland (and much of the east coast), with about 17 inches outside, and supposedly 1-2 more coming. All table tennis was cancelled yesterday and tomorrow, and the weekend is still iffy. So what does an ambitious table tennis player do when snowed in? Easy - he trains!!! But how can one train when stuck inside? Glad you asked. Here are five ways.

  • Shadow Practice. I could write a long essay on this, or I could refer you to two articles I've written on this, "Shadow Practice Your Shots" and the more extensive "Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork."
  • Visualization. Get comfortable, close your eyes, and visualize yourself playing as a top player. It'll pay off - the subconscious can't really tell the difference between real playing and visualization. There are plenty of sports psychology books that cover this, and here's an article on sports visualization.
  • Think About Your Game. Again, get comfortable, perhaps with a pad of paper, and just think about your game - where it is now, where you want to go, what you need to work on, what drills you need to do, and how to get another day of the week so you can train eight days a week.
  • Set Goals. It's a lot easier to train when you have specific goals to work on, so come up with some. You want three types of goals - short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term.
  • Read Coaching Articles and Books. You can start with some of mine - hint hint!

USATT Online Magazine

USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh now has a report, "Transition of USA Table Tennis Magazine to a Digital Publication," that explains the transition from print to online that I blogged about on Tuesday. It's strange that they made the public announcement about the decision before putting up the explanation; they should have gone up at the same time. The decision was made a month ago, so they had plenty of time.

As a past advertiser, I received an email from the editor explaining the transition and advertising situation. The key phrase from the email was, "Ad rates will remain at the same level as they have been in the past." This is going to be problematic for them as online advertising rates are generally considerably cheaper than print advertising. They are trying to set a new paradigm here. If they do, then they've hit a home run.

As I wrote in a discussion on this at the about.com forum, they face two serious problems with this. First, while the print magazine went to dedicated table tennis players, going for hits from a web page may bring in more total people, but they are not the dedicated players advertisers are looking for. Second, with the magazine readers paged through it, and so saw the ads. With the online version, readers only zoom in on what they are interested in, and so are less likely to see the ads.

Advertisers are well aware of these problems. The reaction of advertisers to being asked to pay the same amount for an online only magazine is going to be interesting - as noted above, you generally pay a lot less for online advertising than print advertising.

Now, if they'd kept the print magazine but added the online version (which takes little extra work to do since both print and online versions come off the same PDF file), then they could have gone to advertisers and offered the added value of the web version - and with this added value, they could increase the ad rates and number of advertisers, and so greatly increase revenue without losing the print publication. That would have been my recommendation if I'd been in the room. 

Past Magazines Now Online

One piece of good news. In my Tuesday blog, I pointed out that when you go to the new issue, just below it is a listing for "Related publications." USATT Magazine was the second one listed, sandwiched between two magazines with nude cover pictures. They fixed this in two ways. First, they somehow had the nude covers removed. But better still, the link now goes here, with past USATT Magazine covers below. When I clicked on the covers, those magazines are now online! Apparently they simply put the old PDF files into whatever converts them to the online version (Flash, I'm told), and so the last eight issues are now online. 

Coaching Scam from England

There's a new coaching scam that's going around. I, along with at least four other coaches that I know of, have received various versions of the following email from some knucklehead (with typos left as sent):

How are you doing? I hope you are doing great, I am [VARIOUS NAMES] from United Kingdom,my son will be coming for 2weeks holiday in USA (Annandale,VA ) from February 20 2014 ,he's 15years old and i want him to use the period of his holiday to learn the fundamental of table tennis from you. He developed interest when he was very young before he lost his mother and i have assured him that i will make his table tennis dream come through. Please get back to me with your qualification,rate and location so we can start from there.

I've seen these scams before. One coach decided to test it out, and responded. After several back and forths, he received the following email:

Top of the morning to you, how are you today? i tried calling you but your number was not going through. My personal assistant has sent your payment and it will be delivered to you this morning by USPS with tracking number (a tracking number was given here that actually tracked a package sent from Montclair, California to Hilliard, Ohio - it was supposed to have been sent from England!) but my personal assistance made a mistake on the amount on the check he put ($2800) instead of ($480). And it has been authorized already, Please when you receive the check go ahead and cash it and send the excess payment to Owen travel Agent who is incharge of his visa procurement as soon as you can. Below is the information of his travel agent. You can send the excess payment to him through western union or money gram money transfer. Owen will be in your location by 18th of this month ahead the lesson for 20th of this month. I will give you a call later.

Of course, the supposed $2800 check would have bounced. This coach has already forwarded the emails to the FBI.

Three Things No One Tells You About How to Get Motivated

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Why Michael Maze Still Has it

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Federal Association of Sandpaper Table Tennis

Here's their latest release (#42), which covers the sandpaper events at the USA Nationals.

2014 Europe Cup Tribute

Here's a highlights reel (6:27) set to music from the 2014 Europe Cup.

Adidas Ping Pong Short

Here's the video (1:13) of some intense TT competition.

The Art of Ping Pong

Here's a 46-page online booklet on table tennis art.

Skeletal Pong

Here's the latest TT artwork from Mike Mezyan. (He also did the "Valentine's Day Hearty Paddle" at the top.)

So, Tell Me About Your Backhand

Here's the cartoon from the NY Times.

You Can Never Start Too Early

Here's video (26 sec) of a baby doing backhands and forehands.

Non-Table Tennis - "How Bad Are We" Article on the Baltimore Orioles

Here's the article. (It was originally titled "The Big Five Starters - Not So Bad?", but they changed the title. What makes this article interesting (at least to me!) is it's my 1499th published article. #1500 should be up soon!

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January 14, 2014

Tip of the Week

Maximum Power and Control.

Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis and Other Stuff

Once again we're at it, for the 14th year in a row. (Disclosure, I only helped a little on the first volume.) Yesterday morning USATT Historian Tim Boggan (now an experienced 83 years young) moved into my house so he could direct as I do layouts and photo work (with great help from photographer and USATT Hall of Famer Mal Anderson) on his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 14. Yes, you read that right; we're into the 14th volume, which covers the years 1985-86. Here's TimBogganTableTennis.com, where you can learn about and order the books.

It's not going to be a fun two weeks. Basically it means being at my desk at 7AM every day and working most of the day, until it's time for my coaching hours. If I get back early enough, we work on it again that night. Then he goes to sleep, and I sit down and stare at my computer, completely exhausted, and debate whether to do the next morning's blog then (as well as the weekly Tip of the Week), or get up extra early and do it in the morning. (I'm typing this a little after 11PM at night, and still have the Tip to write. I already put together all the short segments below, though I'll likely add more in the morning.)

As I noted in my last blog, I was away at my nephew's wedding and a family gathering in New Orleans Wed-Sun, returning around midnight on Sunday night. I had three hours of work that night that I had to take care of, and then I got a good four hours of sleep before starting work. Technically Tim didn't come in until 9:30 AM (driving down from New York), but I had a lot of stuff to do to prepare for him, from cleaning the house a bit to preparing the documents we'd be working on.

On an exhaustion scale of 1 to 10, I'm at 17 right now. And we've only done one day. And my coaching gets busier as the week goes on.

I actually had little coaching yesterday or today. Instead, I'm picking up kids at schools, taking them to the club, and watching over them as they do homework for our new Afterschool Program. Starting Wednesday my coaching picks up, with three hours that night. I don't even want to talk about the weekend!

While in New Orleans I mostly was busy with family and wedding stuff. (It's been something like 20 years since I was last at a wedding, and eight years since I last wore a suit and tie.) I did get one afternoon off where I spent four hours at the World War II Museum. I also put together (with help from other family members) a 550-piece The Hobbit jigsaw puzzle.

USA Grand Tour Finals

The USA Grand Tour Finals were this past weekend. Here's where you can find results, photos, video, etc. On a side note, ten copies of my book Table Tennis Tales & Techniques were given out as raffle prizes!

SafeSport

USATT Coaches, listen closely: ALL USATT certified coaches need to go online and complete the background check process now required by the USOC. Here's the USATT info page on this.

USATT Athletes of the Month - Dec. 2013

Here's the article on Ariel Hsing (female), Kanak Jha (male), and Tahl Leibovitz (Paralympic).

USATT and Leagues

At the about.com table tennis forum there's a discussion of the Atlanta Tennis Leagues (tennis, not table tennis), and how they are ten times bigger than USATT. Jay wrote about this; here's my short response. And here's USATT National and ITTF Coach Donn Olsen's response to me.

Morrisville, NC Might Get Full-time Training Center

Here's the article in yesterday's The Cary News.

Introduction to Multiball

Here's a new video (2:46) from PingSkills that teaches how to do multiball training.

Using Pivot Forehand to Your Advantage

Here's the article from TableTennisMaster - and the two common errors.

"Speed Gluing was Harmless" (Waldner didn't say this)

That's the headline and quote in this article that came out yesterday. However, what Jan-Ove Waldner really said in the article is, "Speedgluing should have been allowed to continue providing it was harmless." That's a very different statement than the headline. But the article does have some interesting stuff about Waldner's views on various rules topics.

How Wealthy is World's Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike?

Here's an article on it!

Tahl Leibovitz Highlights Video

Here's the video (4:31)! Due to disabilities, he uses a somewhat unique grip, holding the racket very low so the handle is almost in his palm. And he's a shot-maker!

Star Rally Shot of the Year

Here's the video (23 sec) of the shot at the 2013 World Championships by Timo Boll, who just won the TMS International contest.

2013 Ping Pong Dubai Male and Female Table Tennis Stars

Here's their videos of winners Zhang Jike (male, 23sec) and Li Xiaoxia (female, 24 sec). And here's video of the male nominees (1:09) and female nominees (1:09).

Triples

Here's a video (2:38) from the BBC on the newest TT fad - triples!

Ghostly Table Tennis

Or is this Death playing table tennis? You decide; it's the latest table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - After Death Anthology

The After Death fantasy horror anthology came out last year, with my story "The Devil's Backbone." Here's a review of the anthology that came out yesterday - and read what they wrote about my story!

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