Baltimore Orioles

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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August 21, 2013

Exhibition and Challenges with the Baltimore Orioles!!!

Today I'm leaving the MDTTC camp at 11:30 to pick up some players so we can go to Orioles Park at Camden Yards (about an hour away), where from 2-3PM we're giving a demo for and taking challenges from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team! They have a huge clubhouse which includes a nice table with lots of room. We'll be surrounded by (on average) 6'3" 230lb multimillionaires. (Average major league salary in 2012 was $3.4 million; the Orioles are a little above that. Here's their listing.)

This all started in May when Orioles star shortstop JJ Hardy and former centerfielder and now vice president of operations Brady Anderson visited the Maryland Table Tennis Center, where I gave each a lesson and then they played our local juniors. (Here's my blog on that.) They, along with Jeff Lantz, the Orioles Manager for Media Relations, invited us for a return visit. It took a while, but we finally got it arranged. We even had to get approval from Manager Buck Showalter - who I'm hoping to meet, along with a few others, such as Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and others.

I discussed with Jeff the idea of bringing in a large contingent of players, who'd get a tour of the Orioles clubhouse, then stay for the game, with a few of us giving the demo and exhibition. However, he and Buck discussed it and decided it'd be better to keep it a smaller affair so it wouldn't be a big distraction, and suggested we bring in three top juniors. So I invited Nathan Hsu, Tong Tong Gong, and Derek Nie. (See listing below.) Tong Tong, Derek and I plan to stay for the game - they're giving us free tickets. Nathan had a previous commitment; he'd volunteered as a guide for the incoming freshman class at his high school. (Bravo!) So he has to leave as soon as we're done at 3PM. His mom quickly recruited Qiming Chen to give him a ride to and from the event since she'd be out of town at the time. I explained the situation to the Orioles, and they agreed to add him to the list.

A number of locals (both juniors and adults) had asked if they could go on the reciprocal visit to the Orioles park, and I'd hoped I could, but it was not to be.

MASN TV (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), home of the Orioles and Washington Nationals, is planning to do coverage and turn it into a pre-game show. One thing we hope to catch on video - JJ Hardy and Jeff are planning a "surprise" for one particularly brash player (the Orioles third best TT player after JJ and Brady), who won't know what he's getting into when he agrees to play a "friendly" game with a visiting kid, Derek Nie, 70 lbs, rated 2291.

Since all four of the players I'm taking are Chinese (and at least two have parents from Taiwan), they were pleasantly surprised to learn that Wei-Yin Chen of Taiwan will be pitching for the Orioles in tonight's game. (Well, Tong Tong and Derek were, since they're staying to watch with me.)  We're playing the Tampa Bay Rays, with who we're in a pennant/wild card race.

Players going with me:

  • Derek Nie, 12, 2012 U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Champion (and looks about 10, only 4'7" and 70 lbs)
  • Nathan Hsu, 17, 2011 USA Junior Olympic Under 16 Boy's Singles Champion and 2012 USA Junior Olympic Under 18 Boy's Singles Finalist, #1 Under 18 player in Maryland (U.S. citizens)
  • Tong Tong Gong, 16, member of USA Cadet National Team (15 & Under), 2011-2012, who lives only 15 min from Camden Yards in Ellicott City, and is a big Orioles fan
  • Qiming Chen, 21, University of Maryland Champion and President of the Univ. of Md. Table Tennis Club 

I'll write more about this in my blog tomorrow.

Speaking of the Orioles, there was an article in the Washington Post Sports section on Monday that said, "[Adam] Jones has at least 25 home runs in three consecutive seasons, joining Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as the only Orioles to accomplish the feat."

On Tuesday there was a correction: "An Aug. 19 Sports article about the Baltimore Orioles' 7-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies incorrectly said that Adam Jones joined Frank Robinson as the only Orioles to hit at least 25 home runs in three consecutive seasons. Eddie Murray also accomplished that feat."

I just sent in a correction yesterday: "Dear Washington Post, the correction in the Post this morning (Aug. 20) about Eddie Murray also hitting 25 or more home runs at least three consecutive seasons for the Orioles (as well as Adam Jones and Frank Robinson) left out Cal Ripken, who did it six years in a row (1982-1987), Rafael Palmeiro four years in a row (1995-1998), and Lee May three years in a row (1976-1978). Jim Gentile and Miguel Tejada both missed it by one home run."

As of this morning, they haven't run my correction  For the record, Ripken from 1982-87 hit 28, 27, 27, 26, 25, and 27 HRs. Palmeiro from 1995-98 hit 39, 39, 38, and 43 HRs. Lee May from 1976-78 hit 25, 27, and 25 HRs. How could they miss this? Especially Hall of Famer Cal Ripken??? (Who, by the way, used to play table tennis with Brady Anderson; both have their own sponge rackets.)

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was the backhand. We had some interesting sessions. One kid had pretty good control, but kept sidespin swiping the ball; I finally took him aside for 15 minutes and straightened that out. Another also had good control, but had a very backhand grip and just jabbed at the ball. I also took him aside for a while and straightened that out. Both had some difficulty making the change as their old stroke was pretty ingrained. It's always easier when working with someone who hasn't played much. One older player had a pretty good backhand but almost no forehand; we worked on and off all day on his forehand, and it's gradually improving.

There's one girl who's a complete beginner, and perhaps the only one who can't really play games yet. All day long for two days she's struggled to hit forehands or backhands. Then, late yesterday afternoon when we played the "cups" game, where we stack the cups and let the kids take turns knocking them down, something happened. Out of the blue she kept smacking them, over and over! Before this she had about a 20% success rate in hitting the table, not to mention a three-inch wide cup. This time she knocked more cups off the table than anyone else (about ten players) two games in a row!

USATT Tip of the Day - Serve Violently!

Here's a tip on serving from Dan Seemiller, five-time USA Men's Singles Champion and former USA Men's Coach.

Table Tennis Good for the Brain

Here's a nice compilation of articles on this from Table Tennis Nation, with five links and a video (4:26).

Ping Pong Only Gets Better When You Add Crazy Visuals

Here's a video (1:12) of some serious psychedelic ping pong.

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September 6, 2012

Baltimore or Columbus?

This Thanksgiving a number of table tennis players will face a conundrum: Baltimore or Columbus?

The North American Teams in Baltimore (now in its 15th year) is a 4-star tournament that last year had 767 players playing 6557 matches, dwarfing the other two big U.S. tournaments that year, the 5-star U.S. Open (548 players, 2989 matches) and 5-star USA Nationals (502 players, 2934 matches). (The Open and Nationals stats don't include doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper matches, which might increase their numbers 10% or so.) They usually get about 200 teams, with 150 tables in a 150,000 square foot playing area at the Baltimore Convention Center, and give out over $20,000 in prize money. It's the biggest table tennis tournament in North America. One of my favorite activities each year is to watch newbies walk into the hall for the first time. The look on their faces when they see the endless rows of tables and equipment booths is priceless.

However, some players were unhappy with the prices and awards given out at the NA Teams last year. And so an alternative was born this year - the Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus, OH. Though technically only a 2-star tournament, they promise players will have just as much competition in the same format for the three days of the tournament (both are run Nov. 23-25, starting the day after Thanksgiving), with better awards, though only $3000 in total prize money.

So what'll it be, Tradition or Upstart? Personally, I'm going to coach at whichever one my students go to, and I'll let them go wherever they choose. (My club is only an hour from Baltimore, while Columbus is seven hours away - but my club and many of its top players are sponsored by Butterfly. Quite the conundrum.)

Here's a quick comparison:

North American Teams in Baltimore

Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus

Hardbat at the Nationals

Alas, I won't be playing hardbat events at this year's Nationals. Hardbat Doubles starts on the first day, Tuesday at 2:15, but with Under 22 Men at noon and the Junior Teams at 4PM, there's just too much conflict since I'll be coaching players in both events. Hardbat Singles and Over 40 Hardbat start on Wednesday and Friday, right in the middle of numerous events I'll be coaching.

It's the end (for now) of a "dynasty." I've won Hardbat Doubles at the Open or Nationals 13 times (9 times with Ty Hoff, 4 times with Steve Berger), and am the defending champion at both the Open and Nationals (both with Ty). I've also won Over 40 Hardbat four times and Hardbat Singles twice. (I normally use sponge, but play with hardbat as a sideline.)

Liu Guoliang: "I Am a Passionate Coach"

That's the title of this article on the Chinese National Coach and former superstar player.

Jim Butler on the Women's Game

Olympian and Three-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler wrote a pair of insightful postings about the women's game recently on the about.com forum (responses #23 and 24), in response to questions. (After reading the second, I must sheepishly admit that I play my backhand like a woman - but I do it pretty well!!!) Here they are:

Question: Wouldn't THE best thing at this stage be for them [the top U.S. junior girls] to compete in international events against WOMEN?

Jim Butler: Yes in a perfect world with unlimited resources, that would be ideal. However, there is no USATT budget to do that. I have always felt that the U.S. Women's game has the best chance to reach success internationally. They have high enough level competition in this country to reach that goal.

To simulate that competition though, they must move over to the men's side. The women can compete year around in this country against men, and get the level and regularity of competition it takes to be successful internationally.

If you are a 2700 level man in this country, there are very few athletes higher than that, so competing internationally becomes a must to raise your game further to the likes of the Chinese, Germans, etc. The best women in the world are not better than 2700.

The U.S. Women's Team members are also in school, so competing in the United States also makes it possible to do both.

Question: Also, although the ratings suggest an equal level, playing against a 2600 man is a different experience from playing against a 2600 woman, and they need to face their peers and develop strategies against those styles

Jim Butler: It's not as different as one might think. The men's game clearly has more speed and power, but the women tend to be more consistent. I think most men can learn a lot by watching the women's game more, and appreciating the level of consistency they tend to play at.

If you watch a 2500 women beat a 2500 level man, they do it with consistency, and they make fewer unforced errors. The men can wow everyone with incredible power and speed on their shots. The highest level women force you to make a high quality shot nearly every point in order to beat them. They smother people with consistency.

Another very important aspect of the game the women tend to be better at than the men, is their ability to stay within their limits and game. Because men have the ability to hit the ball so hard, they tend to over play shots in their matches. If you watch most men play (especially at lower levels), you will see them lose many points a match because they tried to hit the ball out of the gym, instead of backing off and putting it on the table.

Younger male players really tend to do this, and so many points are wasted by trying to hit the ball too hard. Women will rarely hit the ball harder than they need to. 

Non-Table Tennis: "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles"

My humorous poem (a takeoff on "You are Old, Father William") is featured on Orioles Hangout, the main online forum for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It's the seventh time they've featured my work. I wrote the poem on Tuesday night, the night that the Orioles tied the Yankees for first place in the American League East. (They had been trailing by ten games just a month ago.) Here's the first of the eight stanzas:

"You're no good, Baltimore Orioles," the sportswriter said,
"And your play all year long has been trite;
And yet you keep winning when you should be dead?
Do you think, since you're bad, it is right?"

Disastrous Table Tennis Slide

This video (17 seconds) shows why you should never jump on your ping-pong table when it is covered with ice.

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June 19, 2012

Day One of MDTTC Summer Camps

Yesterday was the first day of eleven weeks of non-stop camps, Mon-Fri every week. Since I also coach on weekends, I expect to be coaching every day for over 80 consecutive days. (This includes a "break" where I go to the U.S. Open to coach.) I'm actually feeling rested now at the start; check back with me halfway through. I'll feel like a ping-pong ball after a Zhang Jike-Ma Long counter-looping rally.

I worked mostly with beginners yesterday. Lots of basics work, mostly forehand and backhand. Plenty of games as well, including the ever-popular cup game, where the kids build huge pyramids out of paper cups and then I feed them multiball while they knock them down. There were about 30 players in the camps, mostly juniors, including Nathan Hsu, Tong Tong Gong, Derek Nie, and Crystal Wang. Coaches were myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and our new coaches/practice partners Wang Qing Liang and Chen Bo Wen.

Why you need to be aggressive against long serves.

I've been harping with our juniors over being more aggressive against serves that go slightly long. It's so easy to push those balls, but that's exactly what the server wants. If you loop it, the server has to serve shorter, meaning the receiver can rush him, get better angles, and is closer to their target, and so have more control. Even more important, most players lose spin and deception on their serves when forced to serve shorter. The hard part about looping these serves is the ability to quickly recognize they are going slightly long, and the only way to learn that is by practicing, i.e. constantly trying to loop the slightly deep ones, occasionally getting it wrong, until you develop that skill. You can loop serves that go slightly short as well, where the second bounce would be near the edge, by going over the table, especially against sidespin and topspin serves. Players should learn to do that as well, especially on the backhand side where it's easier to go over the table and loop mostly with the wrist.  

Spoiled by a Professional Club

Hi everyone, my name is Larry Hodges, and I'm a spoiled table tennis player.

[Hi Larry!]

How am I spoiled? Let me count the ways.

I am spoiled because I coach and play at a full-time professional table tennis club, MDTTC.

I am spoiled because there are so many tables in my club (16-18) that I never have to wait for a table.

I am spoiled because I always play in perfect conditions - great lighting, red specialize table tennis flooring, high ceilings, lots of room in all directions.

I am spoiled because there are balls scattered all over the club so I never have to bring in my own.

I am spoiled because I am constantly surrounded by top table tennis players and coaches. Olympians? National Champions? National Team Members? Ho-hum.

I am spoiled because I live in an age where we have sponges that practically loop or counter-hit the ball for us.

(Now for the downside: I can barely play except in perfect conditions. I've learned this the hard way.)

Table Tennis Banned on the set of Big Bang Theory

Table Tennis Nation brings you the story of why ping-pong was banned from the set of the TV show Big Bang Theory - it was causing too many injuries!

On a related note, the reverse has happened with the Baltimore Orioles. They had asked me to come in and coach some of their players, who have been playing table tennis in the clubhouse. They were going to turn it into a TV production for a pre-game show. However, some of the players involved have come down with various non-table tennis related injuries, including one with a wrist problem, and so they have temporarily stopped playing table tennis. They said that they still plan to do this when the players are healthy again.

Four Homemade Table Tennis Robots

Here are videos of home-made table tennis robots.

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