Training Centers

October 31, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Table Tennis Plans and Other Work

It's been an incredibly busy week, and yet I'm more energized now than in years. Why is that? Ever since I decided to run for the USATT Board (assuming I get on the ballot) I've been busy planning out the stuff I've been arguing for (and planning for) for years. Much of it is stuff I've already done or others have done, and only need to introduce to this country, so it's not like we're re-inventing the wheel (or the ping-pong ball) again. Since I do the blog (and Tip of the Week) in the morning, this leaves much of the day for other activities, such as promoting MDTTC and (hopefully) working with USATT.

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day working out plans and discussing with others the idea of recruiting an entrepreneurial leader to help create a USA Professional Table Tennis Players Association (hopefully with a better name), whose job it would be to go to cities in the NA Tour (assuming we go that route) and bring in sponsorships for each stop (hopefully to dramatically increase prize money), as well as organize activities, find ways to make and save money for the top players (free places to stay, etc.), and other ways of professionalizing the sport in this country. This is only one of the five main issues I plan to work on - I blogged about this on October 23. I've already worked out plans for all five. (I've had them for a long time, but had to write them out and fine-tune them.) I've told people the plan is to have enough prize money so at least eight USA players can make a full-time living as players by the time Kanak Jha (age 14) is ready to go to college, and has to make that college-or-table-tennis decision. Of course, that's sort of just a slogan (a long one), but the idea is that we want up-and-coming juniors to have this option, as well as being able to show other students that there indeed are professional players in this country.

Regarding item #1 from the Oct. 23 blog, "Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches to Set Up Training Centers and Junior Programs," I've been arguing versions of this for years. At the December, 2006 USATT Board Meeting I made a formal proposal that USATT get involved in this, with the goal of 100 serious training centers with junior programs in five years. At the time there were only about eight in the country. The proposal was pretty much laughed at, even though total financial commitment from USATT was exactly $0. (The plan was to change the focus of currently run USATT coaching clinics, and to use the web page and magazine to recruit potential coaches/directors/promoters.) Two board members openly argued that there simply isn't enough players in this country for full-time training centers, missing the whole point that you develop the demand.

And so the item was checked off the agenda list and they went on to more important stuff that would quickly be forgotten. I had a similar experience at the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting and other USATT meetings. But if I'm on the board, I'll be in a position to get these things done - all it takes is one person to take action. While others might not take initiative, it's not so easy to openly block someone else taking initiative when it costs almost nothing. I've discussed these ideas with enough board members to know they should get enough support to make them happen. (Not all of them were at the meetings I mention above.)

There are now 76 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. that I know of. As I've blogged before, I believe this is the best thing happening in table tennis right now. It's why we now have so many top juniors now, as well as more in general. It's why we've gone from a few dozen full-time coaches to many hundreds of them. And yet this is a fraction of the potential if we simply organize this by recruiting and training such coaches/directors/promoters, rather than make each one of them re-invent the wheel or informally learn how to do it from others doing it. (I've spent a lot of time advising people on this. I spent some of my trip to Indiana this past weekend advising two people who are planning two new full-time centers.)

Meanwhile, I've been doing my usual table tennis work. There's the usual private and group coaching, which is mostly nights and weekends. This week I seem to be emphasizing backhand work with my students, just as last week. Lots of backhand drills! More of my students (and others at MDTTC) are really topspinning their backhands, and those balls are really hopping - it's getting scary! I've had several of our top juniors demonstrate their backhand loops for other up-and-coming ones, and have begun making sort of a study on how they each do it differently. (For example, some never change the racket angle during the backswing, while others close it slightly in the backswing and then open it again as a way to get more "snap" into the shot. World-class players also vary in this way, with the key being that the racket angle should be constant during the time just before, during, and after contact or you can't really control it.) 

Yesterday a new beginning junior class started with 11 players. I'm also doing the afterschool program, which involves picking up kids at school, coaching, and tutoring. I spent some time working out the upcoming training program for one of our top players, and met with him for half an hour to go over it. As blogged about on Tuesday, I spent Fri-Mon traveling to and from and coaching at the 4-star South Shore Open in Indiana. I've since updated my notes on several of the players I watched there - I keep running notes. I also researched some info from an old USATT Magazine for someone - I have nearly every magazine going back to 1976, though some are crumbling.

One of the regular activities of table tennis coaches is writing letters of recommendation for students when they reach college age. I wrote a bunch this week for Tong Tong Gong. We have seven full-time coaches at MDTTC, but I'm the writer-coach, and most of the others are Chinese and don't write English well, so it falls on me to do this.

Back Problems

This is exciting - I have a new back injury! New and different!!! The injury is in my upper right back, I think a small muscle tear. I've never injured this spot before, so let's all give a great welcome to this brand new injury!

I think I hurt it on the 11-hour ride back from Indiana, or at least it stiffened up there. When I returned my air bed was a bit low on air, but it's very noisy to fill up, and so I waited until the next day - and I think sleeping on a soft air bed may have aggravated it further. I was mostly okay when I coached on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it was bothering me a bit. Then, during a session yesterday, my whole upper right back pretty much became a solid mass of injured rock, and I could barely rotate to hit shots. Halfway through a one-hour session I had to stop, and I had to cancel a one-hour session later that night. (In between I did new junior class, but I only had to do simple demos and multiball for that.) Anyway, I'll rest it today and tomorrow (no coaching planned for once), and see how it is on Sunday. I don't think it's too bad; I should be fine soon.

Halloween Table Tennis

World Cadet Challenge

Crystal Wang, Kanak Jha, and Jack Wang all went 3-0 in their preliminary RRs, and are now in the Final 16 in Singles. They will play two rounds today, and the final two rounds (SF and Final) tomorrow. Here's the girls' draw, and here's the boys' draw. Here's a feature ITTF article on Crystal's latest performance. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, which is taking place in Bridgetown, Barbados, Oct. 23 - Nov. 1. In the round of 16 Crystal will play Nanapat Kola of Thailand; Kanak will play Martin Friis of Sweden; and Jack will play Wong Ho Hin of Hong Kong. You can watch the matches live here.

Breaking News added at 1PM on Fri: Crystal, Kanak, and Jack all won their first match in the main draw, and are into the quarterfinals.

Breaking News added at 6:30PM on Fri: Kanak won in the quarterfinals, 4-1 over Vitor Santos of Brazil. Alas, Crystal lost in the quarterfinals, 2-4 to Adina Diaconu of Romania, and Jack lost in the quarterfinals, 1-4 to Cristian Pletea of Romania. (Semifinals and hopefully the final for Kanak are tomorrow - Saturday.) 

Liu Guoliang Misinterpreted by Media?

Here's the article where China's Coach Liu Guoliang apparently denies he ordered Wang Hao to dump the Olympic Men's Singles Final to Zhang Jike in 2012. (See this article, which I linked to yesterday, with the note that a commenter there said Coach Liu had been misquoted.) I'm starting to get more suspicious as he and the players never actually deny it. Here are what Coach Liu, Zhang Jike, and Wang Hao said on this:

Coach Liu Guoliang said, "Zhang Jike deserved the Grand Slam. Wang Hao has no complains being an Olympic runner-up for the third time. Both are my pride. There is no distinction as to my feelings to them. They are like my children. I will never allow them to concede, and I will never allow anyone or anything to hurt them."

Zhang Jike said, "Coach Liu, everything that you've done are all fair and open. We must resolutely put an end to doubts that violate the morals and spirit of sports."

Wang Hao said, "After reaching the finals, I certainly wanted to win the title."

When someone falsely accuses you of ordering someone to dump, isn't the normal response to be a denial that you ordered someone to dump? As noted, this only makes it seem more suspicious. Perhaps Coach Liu said more in Chinese that didn't get translated; I don't know. China does have a long history of ordering players to dump, but that supposedly ended years ago. Or did it? (The dumping was done for various reasons ranging from strategic to political.)

Breaking News: Here's a new article "Fixing the Olympic Finals is Impossible," where Zhang Jike says more on the topic, and seems to insist there was no fixing, though again he doesn't seem to say so explicitly. Technically, only Coach Liu and Wang Hao know if the latter was ordered to dump, so I wish Wang would just say, "I wasn't ordered to dump the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final." 

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 20.

  • Question 1 - 0:49: I’ve got a problem, I don’t twist properly and the speed of my topspin drives are slow. I got the start and end positions right but i don’t twist much with the hip and the only thing that twists from me is my shoulder. How can i fix it? AmekunRaiane
  • Photo Bombing by Jeff's Mum - 2:30
  • Question 2 - 2:40: Hi, I was wondering whether, in doubles, you and your partner are able to switch bats between points. I know that you can't get a new bat, but i couldn't find an answer to this anywhere. Thanks. Bob James
  • Question 3 - 4:15: What should be the minimum height for the toss? And what if the server fails to achieve that minimum height? Can he be penalised in form of a point or is there something like a warning? Rutvik
  • Question 4 - 6:19: Recently I noticed that Ma Lin twiddled his bat right before he serves. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to twiddle. Yu

Mezyan Table Tennis Imaginarium

It's now open, where you can buy table tennis art, clothing, tech stuff, or accessories, featuring the artwork of Mike Mezyan.

Boxer Lennox Lewis Visits Werner Schlager Academy

Here's the article and picture of the visit to the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria by Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world as well as the Olympic Gold Medalist.

GoPro Here 3+ Test

Here's the video (1:28) by PingSkills of table tennis as videoed by a camera attached to a player's forehead! (They look like miners to me.)

The Needle and Table Tennis Nation

Here's an article on the late great Marty Reisman and his founding of Table Tennis Nation.

The Official Table Tennis Nation Halloween Costume Guide

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation!

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Here's the cartoon! (Wouldn't this be a nice Halloween costume?)

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September 4, 2014

Where Do Top Players Come From?

I'm always hearing about how USATT leaders want to develop medal contenders and world-class players. When I hear this I have a simple set of questions for them, which leads to a conclusion that's sort of obvious.

  1. Where do the overwhelming majority of top players come from? (Answer: successful junior training programs.)
  2. Where do successful junior programs come from? (Answer: successful training centers.)
  3. Where do successful training centers come from? (Answer: coaches and directors who take the initiative to create them, where they have to reinvent the wheel over and over from scratch and figure out how to do this because there is no one helping them out, no manual or guidance, nothing from any organizing body for table tennis, and of course no one's recruiting them to do any of this.)
  4. What's the major stumbling block here?

That's why I strongly believe that one of USATT's top priorities should be to recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run training centers with junior programs. This is not something that costs much. USATT is already running ITTF coaching courses. What's needed is to adjust the focus to recruiting and training those who wish to become full-time coaches or run junior training programs. If there are additional costs, the coaches in training would pay for them, just as they already pay for the ITTF coaching courses. The "hook" toward recruitment is that coaches can make a full-time living as coaches at these training centers, making $40-$50/hour. (I write about this quite a bit in my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd donate at cost to those who run such programs to recruit and train coaches.) I still have on the backburner the idea of starting up my own coaching academy where I recruit and train coaches, but right now I'm just too busy on other things.

Breaking the Upper Body Forehand Muscling Habit

A common problem for players is to try to muscle the ball when forehand looping. This means they try to produce most of their power with their upper body and arm rather than using the legs and rotating the body's weight into the shot. Normally a way to break this habit is to do lots of shadow-practicing where the player exaggerates the leg and body rotation, and then do lots of multiball. However, in a session with a kid this weekend I found a new way. I've always pointed out that a player should be able to loop with great power while carrying on a conversation, since the power mostly comes from the legs and weight transfer. Players who muscle the ball instead tense their upper body as they use that as the primary source for power. But it's almost impossible to do that if you are talking. The kid I was coaching was trying to rush the shot, and so was muscling the ball with his upper body instead of rotating into the ball properly. So while I fed him multiball so he could practice looping I had him tell me about school, about his favorite sports, or just count. Result? Once he got over giggling, he stopped muscling the ball.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

6th Annual Ping Pong Charity Tournament

Here's the article and video (3:11) that'll take place in Virginia Beach, VA.

Turn Your Kitchen Table into a Ping-Pong Table!

Here's the article and video (2:37).

Kids Playing TT

Here's a video (47 sec) of a kid playing table tennis. Watch his reaction as he loses the first two points, and especially his celebration when he wins the third point! Here's another video (2:44) as Samson Dubina trains his daughter in on-table cross-legged Gatorade-bottle target practice. (Spoiler alert: she hits it at 2:22, and after celebrating gets to drink it.)

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October 2, 2012

Table Tennis Centers in Maryland, the U.S., and Belgium

On Friday at the Maryland Table Tennis Center I was wondering how USATT would be different if all their board members were required to spend a week at one of the "elite" training centers. Their perspective on table tennis in the U.S., and where it could go, might be a bit different from what they are used to.

There are about 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. (Current count: 53; let me know if I'm missing any.) Of these, perhaps 5-8 can be considered "elite," i.e. ones with large junior development programs that consistently develop strong players. Key here is both the elite aspect and the large number of players they have.

Recently someone posted on a table tennis forum that "The USA has 50+ full time clubs." Someone responded, "Are you serious about the 50+ or do you mean 500+? In Belgium, there are about 50 clubs for each of the ten regions." Yes, that's 500 full-time clubs in Belgium, which has an area slightly smaller than Maryland (both about 12 thousand square miles), with a population about double Maryland's (about 11 million vs. 5.8 million). (And Belgium's numbers are dwarfed by Germany, England, and of course China and most Asian countries.) Now Maryland is, size for size and population for population, probably the most successful table tennis state in the U.S., with a higher percentage of its population USATT members than any other state. (They have 263 members out of a population of 5.8 million, or one member for every 22,053 people. Only New Jersey is close, with 351 members out of 8.8 million, or one for every 25,071.) Maryland also has one of the most successful junior programs in the country. And yet Maryland has only two full-time training centers to Belgium's 500! They have a full-time center for every 22,000 people, while Maryland has one for every 2.9 million. The U.S. has one for every 5.9 million people.

Of course the biggest difference is Belgium and other successful countries focus on leagues and junior programs. So does Maryland. Here's a rundown of the strongest of the 40+ junior players at MDTTC on Friday during a junior training session and the Friday night league (name, age, rating):

  • Wang Qing Liang, 16, 2644
  • Chen Bo Wen, 14, 2441
  • Tong Tong Gong, 14, 2334
  • Nathan Hsu, 2296 (was recently 2356)
  • Anthony Qu, 12, 2194
  • Roy Ke, 13, 2188
  • Derek Nie, 11, 2149
  • Crystal Wang, 10, 2099 (was 2166 before playing a tournament with a fracture wrist!)
  • Michael Ding, 13, 1989
  • David Varkey, 17, 1882
  • Lilly Lin, 15, 1874
  • Amy Lu, 11, 1852
  • Lisa Cui, 13, 1804
  • Princess Ke, 12, 1776
  • Jason Wei, 14, 1768
  • Adam Yao, 10, 1739
  • Wesley Duan, 12, 1685
  • Tony Li, 11, 1618

Between these, and all the little kids smacking forehands and backhand back and forth (not to mention all the non-juniors in the league - it's not just juniors), it's a different environment than what most in the U.S. sees unless they are at one of these "elite" training centers . . . or perhaps in Belgium.

$100,000 World Championship of Ping-Pong

The inaugural event will be held in London on Jan. 5-6, 2013. Players are required to use sandpaper rackets. $100,000 for sandpaper table tennis - yes, my friends, the world is changing.

ITTF Inaugural Level 3 Course

Here's an ITTF article about the first ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course, held in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Sept. 21-28. It was immediately followed by a two-day Level Three Course Conductor Training Seminar. Attending both were USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.

Table Tennis Artwork

Here is more table tennis art by Mike Mezyan. The four here are labeled "Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind," and feature Chen Qi, Wang Hao, Ma Lin, and Wang Liqin. Here's a larger version. And here's his Facebook page for all his artwork.

Orioles Make Table Tennis a Priority

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on how the Baltimore Orioles baseball team (and their manager, Buck Showalter) made table tennis a priority. "Where is the ping-pong table?" Showalter asked when he showed up in spring training. Meanwhile, you can read my "Top Twelve Things Happening the Last Time the Orioles Had a Winning Season" article at Orioles Hangout, where it's a featured front-page story. I've had eight front-page articles there. My favorites are "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles" and "The Wonderful World of O's."

Phil Mickelson and Table Tennis at the Ryder Cup

Here's an article on golfer Phil Mickelson and table tennis at the Ryder Cup. Here's the table tennis excerpt:

Ask anyone about the team room, and Mickelson's name invariably comes up. He talked of his and Woods' dominance on the Ping-Pong table Wednesday, boasting that few of their U.S. teammates can touch them.

''Put us together on that table, and we're rocking it,'' Mickelson said.

(That's only partly true, Steve Stricker said. Matt Kuchar is actually the Roger Federer of the U.S. Ping-Pong table, and Stricker said Mickelson is putting off that matchup until Sunday. ''He doesn't want to get any bad mojo going before the tournament starts.'')

Top Ten Points

Here's a Top Ten Points video (6:12) from recent years (Worlds, Olympics, World Cup). Includes lots of slow motion.

The Amazing Race - Downgrading to a Sauce Pan

As near as I can tell, "The Amazing Race" is a Chinese show where people compete for prizes. In this segment (1:37), they had to score a point - a single point! - against a little girl who was obviously an elite junior. She played them using a sauce pan and a tambourine, and rarely lost a point.

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