May 28, 2014

Power Outage and Flooding

There was excitement at MDTTC yesterday, but not for the normal reasons. I was in the middle of a coaching session around 6PM when the thunderstorms hit. We had the doors open to let in air, and so the flashes of lightning lit up the whole club while the thunder practically knocked us down before we got the doors closed. Water pelted the roof like a whale-sized snare drum on steroids in a rock concert. The kids got excited. And then the power went out. The emergency lights went on, but the club was only dimly lit. The power came back on after a minute, then went out again, then came back on. And then, at 6:13PM, it went out and didn't come back on. The kids had a great time playing table tennis in the dark. (I couldn't join in because trying to see in the dim light hurt my eyes.) This was the first time power had gone out for more than a few seconds in the 22 years we've been open.

Meanwhile, we faced another problem. The rain outside was so great it caused some sort of flash flood in our parking lot. The water kept slamming into the walls. There's a storm drain that runs across the parking lot a few feet outside the club, but it wasn't ready for this, and the flooding shot right over it. Most of the wall in front is actually a garage-type door that opens and closes. While it was closed during the storm, apparently there's a small gap underneath, and water began pouring in. This had never happened before, probably due to the storm drain. So water began cascading into the club. The coaches all grabbed various mops and brooms and began to fight it, trying to push the water back out, with some success. (There weren't enough mops and brooms, so I spent some time soaking up water from the floor in a towel and wringing it out over a mop bucket.) It was difficult as we were doing this in the dark. Anyway, we battled the elements for about half an hour. At the end, we'd gotten most of the water out, but the power was still off.

This was a problem as Tuesdays and Fridays are league nights at the club, and we were expecting large numbers of players. We had to cancel everything - somehow they got the word out.

During the height of the storm, with the power out, I decided it would be a good idea to run out to my car and get a flashlight and umbrella. I opened the door, took one look, and decided to go back to soaking up water with a towel. I've seen many a storm, but nothing like this watery violence.

I left the club around 7:30PM. Traffic was a mess. Most of the traffic lights were out. When I got home I was happy to find my power had not gone out, though my front yard was a mess.

Here are some thoughts that come to mind.

  1. Throughout the entire situation, one elderly Chinese player who had been in the middle of a lesson simply took a box of balls and practiced serves the whole time. How he didn't this I don't know, he must have had good eyes as I tried it and could barely see the ball, much less do a serious spin serve.
  2. The kids had a great time playing in the dark. If the power goes out at the U.S. Open, we'll have the most prepared bunch of kids in table tennis. No other club trains its junior players to play in the dark. We welcome players to the dark side.
  3. The only thing scarier than a big, strong player with a powerful forehand loop is a big, strong player with a powerful mop or broom fighting off the elements.
  4. The situation reminded me of the 1993 Junior Nationals, which I ran at the Potomac Community Center in Potomac, Maryland. The tournament ran on Friday night (doubles events), and all day Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon there was a thunderstorm, and sometime that afternoon all the power went out. It didn't come back on that day, so we had to reschedule everything for Sunday. We still managed to finish around dinner time on Sunday. The only other time I remember this happening was at a 4-star tournament in Augusta, run by Pete May, when the power went out. I believe it came back on after a time, so all was well. I think the power once went out for minute or so once at a U.S. Open or Nationals due to a storm.  

Sheeba: Feb. 1998 - May 27, 2014

I had to put my dog Sheeba to sleep yesterday. (She's a corgi mix.) She was 16 years 3 months old, which (based on her size and breed) put her in her early 90s in human years. I got her at a shelter when she was three, so we were together for 13 years. The first twelve years she loved to jump on things, chew, get scratched on the head, and eat bacon snacks. That's the Sheeba I'll try to remember. Over the last year she changed dramatically. She'd barely eat, going from her normal 25 pounds down to 14.9 at the end. She could no longer walk up or down stairs, so I had to carry her outside several times a day. She went completely deaf - if you clapped your hands behind her head there'd be no reaction, not even a flinching of the ears. She went almost blind, and began to regularly walk into walls. The last month or two she was no longer really house trained, so I was cleaning up lots of messes. Her eyes developed some sort of problem that led to their jumping back and forth continuously. A constant river of gooky stuff began coming out of her eyes that would run down her muzzle, which I had to clean off several times a day. The last week she mostly lost her ability to walk due to arthritis and hip problems, falling to the ground every two or three steps. She completely stopped eating her last three days, refusing even her bacon snacks. She was in pain, so the veterinarian and I agreed it was time.

Last Second Flip

Here's a nice video (18 sec, including slow-mo replay) of China's Ma Long looking like he's going to backhand push, then changing to a flip at the last second. While this might be difficult for most players, there are easier variations, such as last-second changes of direction when pushing long or short. In fact, here's a secret for playing against many players, especially junior players. Juniors are almost programmed to react almost instantly to whatever you do. They also tend to serve a lot of short serves to the middle and backhand. If you receive these as if you are going to push to their backhand, they'll begin to react - so if you change directions and push to the forehand instead (either short or quick and deep), they'll get caught over and over. 

The Mental Game: The Pink Elephant on the Court

Here's a sports psychology article directed at junior tennis players, but it applies to table tennis just as well. When the author wrote, "I've heard it all," I was nodding my head.  

97-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency: A Special Invitation to Tour Butterfly

Here's the article, Day 97 in Sheri Pittman Cioroslan's 100-day Countdown. I linked to the first three articles in yesterday's blog.

History of Table Tennis and an Analysis of Spin

Here's a video (10:56) from three years ago that I don't think I've ever linked to, covering the history of table tennis, including a segment on spin.

Neymar Plays Table Tennis

Here's a short article and video (16 sec) on Brazilian soccer star (that's football for you non-Americans) Neymar playing table tennis. (Neymar goes by the one name.)

Table Tennis with Books

I like books. I like table tennis. This is how the game should be played, as demoed by these kids.

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May 17, 2013

Table Tennis Protocol

There are many aspects of protocol in table tennis. Most players lean these things at their club, and so know to act "properly" at tournaments. Here are some table tennis protocols, and how it varies depending on the circumstances.

  • Handshakes vs. High Fives or Fist Bumps. Players are supposed to shake hands after a match. At tournament, this is standard. However, between practice partners, friends, and often among juniors, players sometimes give a high five instead, or even (occasionally) a fist bump. In practice, it's even more common. For myself, in tournament I essentially always shake hands. In practice, against players I know well, I usually give a high five. I do this with all our junior players, who I play regularly as a practice partner. I also make it clear that they know the difference, and that they should shake hands after a tournament match.
  • Nets & Edges. Always say "Sorry" or raise your hand in an apology after getting a net or edge. It's an acknowledgement that it was a lucky shot, and doing so is considered proper, even if you aren't really sorry about it. Think of the "Sorry" not as a real apology but as just that - an acknowledgement that it was lucky, as individually nets and edges are. In practice matches, I tend to have a little fun with it, often saying "Sorry!" with the "Sor" high-pitched, then dropping a few notes in pitch for the "ry!" When opponents get them I have less fun, often grabbing the offending net or table and throwing it into a black hole and then burning down the club.
  • Warming Up. The rules say you have two minutes to warm up before a match. In tournaments, this usually means hitting forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, about one minute each. At higher levels, players also practice looping against block, and take turns doing this. This sometimes means a rapid-fire series of practice shots as players hit forehand to forehand, then forehand loop to forehand block, then forehand block to forehand loop, then backhand to backhand, then backhand loop to backhand block, then backhand block to backhand loop. Throw in some forehand counterlooping, and sometimes a lot goes on in those two minutes. In practice, it's less formal, and you can take longer for each player to warm up. What you shouldn't spend this warm-up time doing (especially in the limited two minutes in a tournament) is practicing your putaway shots - smashes and loop kills. Your opponent isn't there to pick up balls for you.
  • Dress Code. There is a USATT dress code for tournaments; see Section 3.2.2 of the USATT Rules (PDF). These can be abused. For example, if the tournament ball is orange, can you wear a yellow shirt? Some umpires say yes, others say no. Some players wear a yellow shirt in the hopes of making it harder for the opponent to see the ball - but the smart ones bring an alternate shirt in case the referee objects. Others wear shirts with lots of color so as to give a distracting background to the opponent - or for style reasons. In practice, it's less formal and you can wear anything that's neat. I'm one of those players who really has trouble seeing the ball against a similarly-colored shirt, so don't be surprised if in practice I make at least a joking complaint about a white or orange shirt that matches the ball.
  • Yelling and Choing. This is a toughie. You shouldn't do anything that distracts others from their matches - but many don't follow that. In practice few players yell every point (though some do), but at most tournaments there will be a few, mostly junior players, who yell whenever they win a point, most often "Choing." It's a good psychological release and helps in dealing with nervousness, but it can be a serious distraction to those playing on other tables. The bottom line - if you yell when you win a point, try to keep it down and don't overdo it.

Weird Beetle Table Tennis Dream

I was traveling to a tournament, sitting in the back seat with my fellow player, which happened to be a very large beetle of some sort, about the size of a large rabbit. I kept talking tactics with it, and it kept staring at me with eyestalks. Then we were at the playing hall warming up, and it was having trouble getting onto the table. Then the umpire put a small ladder against the table, and the beetle climbed up onto the table. Then we began warming up, my forehand to its volleys at the net. Then someone asked if they could hit crosscourt with us, and the beetle began making a braying sound (like an unhappy donkey?), and the person walked off. We continued to hit, except now the beetle had grown to gigantic proportions, about the size of a horse, and was standing on its back two legs as we hit normal forehand to forehands. Then I smashed a winner, and the beetle stared at me with its big eyes - it seemed have lost the eyestalks when it increased in size. Then it sprouted wings and flew off. The umpire declared me the winner, but I was in tears at the loss of my friend the beetle. Then someone began yelling at me that they needed the table for the next round, but at first I wouldn't leave. They began shouting, and that's when I woke up, still feeling sad about losing my good friend the beetle. It took me a minute after I woke up to realize I didn't have a beetle as my best friend and practice partner.

I got up and petted my dog Sheeba for a few minutes, then went back to bed. I couldn't sleep, so I got up and let Sheeba out for a few minutes - she's 15, and recently has been getting me up around 4AM or so to go out (I'm not happy about this). Then I went to my computer and put together this morning's blog. (It's 4:10 AM as I write this. I'll post it later.)

Why I'm Not Blogging About the Worlds

I'm not there, and others are, and they are writing about it. So instead I'm just providing links to the main pages. I've been to several world championships, but now I'm home coaching, writing, and hitting with Baltimore Orioles.

2013 World Championships

They are in Paris, May 13-20, and so finish this coming Monday. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, live scoring, articles, video, pictures, etc. Here's their Facebook Page.

Team USA at 2013 Worlds

Here's the USA Team at the Worlds Page, which shows up-to-date results and video. Alas, all USA players are now out.

ITTF Daily Show

Here's the World Table Tennis Championships Daily Show - Day 1 (3:05), Day 2 (5:02), Day 4 (2:54). They seem to have skipped Day 3.

2013 WTTC Shot of the Day - Day 4

Here it is (49 sec), including slow motion. Note the next-to-last shot, when the player on the far side changes hands! And then he follows up with a big backhand counterloop. 

Table Tennista

Lots of great coverage of the Worlds here. Timo Boll overcomes the first-round curse, Ma Lin is out in his final World Championships, Japan's having problems, and lots of other articles.

Syrians Unleash the Power of Ping-Pong Balls

Here's an article in the Wall Street Journal from February, 2012, where rebels used ping-pong balls as part of their protest: "They dyed the public fountains of Damascus and Hama blood red. They scribbled anti-regime slogans on hundreds of ping-pong balls and rolled them down into the Damascene streets from a tall hill. They created phantom demonstrations by recording rallies in one city and broadcasting them from loudspeakers hidden atop buildings in another. And so they forced Assad's goons to spend time frantically draining fountains, sweeping ping-pong balls from sidewalks, and chasing imaginary street protesters."

Neymar Plays Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:46) of Brazilian soccer star (that's football for non-Americans) Neymar (full name Neymar da Silva Santos Junior) playing table tennis.

Waldner Exhibitions

Here are two exhibitions by Jan-Ove Waldner that I don't think I've posted. Here's a video (9:07) of Jan-Ove Waldner and Mikael Appelgren doing an exhibition in 2010. Here's 47 seconds of Jan-Ove Waldner and Steffen Fetzner doing a table tennis exhibition in 2012, featuring tennis-style serving and Waldner trick shots with Fetzner's hilarious reactions.

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