March 12, 2013

Tennis and Table Tennis

I used to play tennis regularly, going to the Quince Orchard Swim and Tennis Club for group training sessions. But it took up a lot of time and money, and I finally stopped about three years ago. Last night I had an urge to play, and so signed up for the 7-8 group session. It's a full-time center, with five tennis courts and a huge swimming pool. Each is contained in a huge "bubble," which comes down during the summer. (I hate when the bubble comes down, and we're stuck playing outside, in the sun, heat, and wind. If tennis were meant to be played outside, there'd have been tennis courts in the Garden of Eden, right?)

While I was paying for the session in the front lobby area, a kid walked up to me and said, "Hi Coach Larry!" I didn't recognize him at first, but I finally figured out he was Kevin, one of the kids in my Sunday junior session. Outside of a table tennis environment I hadn't recognized him at first. Then a man came up to me and asked if I also taught tennis. Again, I didn't recognize him outside the table tennis club, but he was the father of another player in one of my group sessions; his son or daughter was presumably out playing tennis or swimming. We chatted for a few minutes, where I explained I was just a player at the tennis center. When I went out on the tennis courts at 7PM, guess who was sitting next to the next court, watching his son take a tennis lesson? Stephen Yen, a local 2300 player! That's three separate table tennis people I ran into there in the course of a few minutes.

The session went great. I was a bit rusty, but my forehand was pretty much as good as before. All the coaches there agree I have the most lopsided tennis game they've ever seen, with a really good forehand, and a pretty good backhand slice, lob, and drop shot, and placement and positioning well beyond my tennis level. But the rest - backhand, volleys, overhead, etc. - is pretty ordinary, other than lots of hustle.

There's an interesting neurological phenomenon I learned a while back about my tennis and table tennis. From table tennis I instinctively place shots to the right spot without thinking about it - after years of play, it's completely subconscious, as reflexive as, say, getting the angle right when blocking a loop. I do the same thing with my ground strokes in tennis; if an opponent gives me an opening on one side, I don't have to think about it, I'll automatically go to that spot. But here's the interesting phenomenon: when I'm at the net volleying in tennis, I have great difficulty placing the shot. There might be an open court to volley into, and I'll unthinkingly volley right back at my opponent, like a beginner. Then I made a discovery - when I do swinging volleys, then that part of my brain that instinctively places the ball lights up, and I'm back to reflexively putting the ball to the right spot like a pro. I finally figured it out. From years of table tennis my brain has become conditioned to placing my shot during my backswing. If I take a backswing - as I do in table tennis (even when blocking), tennis ground strokes, and swinging volleys - I'm a "pro," always hitting the right spot. But when I don't backswing, such as when I'm volleying at the net, that part of the brain doesn't light up, and so I'm back to being an amateur with no ball placement skills. (Technically, I think I do backswing some when volleying, but it's a different type of backswing then I'm used to, and my brain apparently doesn't register it as a backswing.) My solution has been to do lots of swinging volleys, which are considered less consistent than normal volleys, and so all the tennis coaches always discourage me from doing them. But they are better for me, because otherwise I fell like a beginner at the net, probably with a deer-in-the-headlights look since my brain simply won't operate properly in racket sports if I don't backswing. There must be a budding neurologist out there who can use this phenomenon for their Ph.D dissertation!

I've been thinking for a while about writing an article on Tennis for Table Tennis Players, and Table Tennis for Tennis players. But I'm not sure of the demand for such an article. 

Tim Boggan and Cary Cup

Tomorrow morning at around 9:30 AM, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan will arrive at my house after driving downing from New York. He'll spend the day and night here, and then on Thursday morning we drive down to the Cary Cup Championships in Cary, NC. On Friday morning I'll play in the hardbat event there - I won it in 2010 and 2011. Then I'll be coaching the rest of the way, mostly with Derek Nie, as well as Tong Tong Gong and perhaps others. Then I come back with Derek and his family, playing auto bingo the whole way.

Ma Long Continues Battles with Zhang Jike

Here's the article, entitled "Ma Long Declares to Continue Competing Against Zhang Jike"

Mikael Appelgren in a Reality Show

Here's the article! "Yes, the legendary Mikael Appelgren will participate in a Swedish TV program called "Mästarnas mästar" (the master of masters). This is a contest program that gathers Swedish athletes from different disciplines. During the competition, they have to face physical and mental challenges, where their teamwork, perseverance and strategy are tested. On this occasion, the program will take place in the Peloponnese peninsula in southwestern Greece."

Michael Bolton Plays Table Tennis in Commercial

Here's a commercial (1:02) for Optimum Insurance that features American singer and songwriter Michael Bolton.

Ping-Pong Art Table for Kids

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

Carolina Pong and Überpong Paddles

Here's a video (2:56) of Carolina Pong auditioning the new überpong paddles.

Table Tennis Clocks

I own two table tennis clocks, the first two listed below. The first one sits on my shelf behind my desk, and the second one I put up at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (in the back where I often teach junior classes). In honor of Daylight Savings Time (I'm only two days late), here are other pictures of table tennis clocks. (Here's where you can buy some of these.)


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September 14, 2012

Practice Slower and Better

I have a couple of junior students at the beginning-intermediate level (under 1000) who like to hit everything hard. When they practice with me, they feel they can do it because I'm returning their shots, but they are spraying shots all over the table, and rarely make more than a few shots in a row. I've been on them for a while to slow down, and while this'll get them to slow down for a few shots, they quickly go back to smack it mode.

The only way to get them to slow down I discovered is to challenge them to make a certain number in a row. If I challenge them to make 50 in a row, then they slow down, and they make the 50.

But more important, by slowing down they get far more practice developing a repeating shot that they can do successfully over and Over and OVER again, which is the backbone of success in table tennis. Whenever I get them to hit 50 or 100 in a row, they play well the rest of the session. If I don't get them to slow down, they practice slapping the ball all over the place, and it doesn't help their development much at all. Table tennis is a game of precision, and you can't develop precision unless you practice precision shots over and over. Smacking balls all over the table and off it is a good way to practice smacking balls all over the table and off it.

MDTTC Table Tennis Music Video

On Saturday night (tomorrow) the Edie Sedgwick band is coming to the Maryland Table Tennis to create a table tennis music video. The video will star Derek Nie (U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Singles Champion). I'll be there helping out, mostly as Derek's hitting partner and eating the promised pizza. I'm guessing the video features the band playing table tennis and thinking they're good, and then Derek shows up and destroys them. The band contacted me about this after seeing this Washington Post video (3:26) on MDTTC, and seeing Derek in it. They had already planned the video and were looking to cast the table tennis kid.

Korean Table Tennis Music Video

Normally I put the funny stuff at the end of the blog, but this is video (3:27) from the Korean group Orange Caramel just too funny to put there.

Tracking a Ping-Pong Ball in Flight

Japanese scientists earlier this year created a camera that tracks a ball in flight, even showing the ball's rotation. Here's the article and video.

New York Table Tennis

Now that's a big table tennis sign! Plus other info on this full-time table tennis club in Flushing.


Here's the article "Paddled," a great and hilarious article about a U.S. "basement" table tennis player who thought he was good, who went to China and joined in a training program - and discovered "real" table tennis.

Pongcast Newest Episode

Here's Pongcast Episode 13 (15:34), which covers the 2012 Czech Open, LA Open, North American Championships, and the first week of the new Bundesliga season in Germany. Click on the "13 Videos" link at the top if you want to see earlier episodes.

The Harrison's Beat the Jenson's

Yes, in the ultimate "Hatfield-McCoy" grudge match from professional tennis, the Harrison brothers beat the Jenson brothers in this dynamic showdown. Here's the article.


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October 3, 2011

Tip of the Week

Returning Long Serves with the Backhand.

Chinese players in slow motion

Here's a video (3:30) that showcases top Chinese players in slow motion, which especially showcases their serves - though initially it mostly just shows their strokes. Serves are especially hard to learn by watching at normal speeds since the contact motion by a top server is so fast - it is designed not to be read very easily.

Charity Table Tennis

Practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade

Between actually practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade, I'm suddenly playing the best I've played in years. (My equipment: Timo Boll ALC flared, with Tenergy 05 FX black 2.1 on forehand, Roundell red 2.1 on the backhand.) Suddenly I'm eyeing the tournament schedule, thinking maybe, maybe.... (Conflict: I coach at most local or major tournaments. Need a tournament that's not local or major, but within driving distance.) Regarding the blade, I discovered it the way most players should find out about different blades - I tried out someone else's racket, in this case Tong Tong Gong (a member of the USA National Cadet Team that I coach at tournaments), and really liked it. As I told him, he can have the blade back when he pries it from my cold, dead fingers. (I'm using one of his backups.)

Update on glasses

Last week I blogged about how I was experimenting by playing without glasses. I read without glasses, but have to put them on to see distance. When I played without them for the first time in decades, I found that I could see the ball better on slow shots - my own serve and when attacking pushes. However, opponents serves and loops became blurs, and I couldn't read the spin. I was fine for the two hours I coached without glasses and a two-hour practice session, but when I played matches, things didn't go so well. So I'm back to the glasses. Anyone else have experiences like this, where they have to trade off on distance versus near vision?

Boys Look at the Stars

Just a reminder that you can download this free table tennis book.

Another USATT Rant

I don't plan to keep harping on the problems with USATT, though I'm obviously peeved about things not going on. It wouldn't be much of a blog if I avoided such issues. Whenever I do write about USATT, I tend to get so aggravated that, well, it's simply not worth writing about too often. (And there are people there who are trying, though they often don't speak up or aren't sure what to do.) But here goes! Here's a posting (with a number of changes and additions) that I did at a few days ago.

There have been many times in USA history where Ping-Pong Diplomacy, the Olympics, TT on TV, features in Boy's Life and other major magazines, etc., brought out droves of players. If it were tennis or most other successful sports, they'd put the kids in a junior training program and later leagues. If it were adults who wanted to learn, they'd put them in a class or group training. If they wanted to compete, they'd put them in a league with players their level.

In table tennis, the large majority of USA clubs will tell them, "Call winner on a table." The new person gets killed, he sees little potential to improve or have fun, he leaves, and we never see him again. The next day, another player goes through the same experience and leaves. There is no infrastructure to get these new players together for coaching or leagues for beginners. (Getting new players into a club isn't that hard; it's keeping them that's the trick.)

There are also limited numbers of clubs in the U.S., so few potential players are near a club, not to mention one that's conducive to new players. While Germany has 11,000 clubs in an area half the size of Texas and 1/4 our population, we have about 300 or so. Their 700,000 members are almost all league members - and nearly all the clubs came about BECAUSE OF THE LEAGUE. Reread that last part a few times. Some of the leaders in our sport think those clubs just came about by themselves, and so they decided, "Hey, let's start up a league!" It was the other way around. And while there are always differences between countries, there is no magical gene that makes Germans play table tennis, or the British (500,000 players, nearly all league players, in an area the size of New York with one-sixth our population), or the rest of Europe, or of course the zillions all over Asia.

We should be able to do what countries like Germany, England and others do in several densely populated regions of the country, such as the northeast, the great lakes area, Florida, Texas, and the entire west coast. It's not that we're too spread out; we are like a bunch of Germany's knitted together.

The U.S. has only 8000 members because we completely, positively, and absolutely refuse to learn the lessons that table tennis and other sports in the U.S. and around the world have learned. From the perspective of developing our sport, we're complete idiots, unable to learn even the most basic lessons from those who have.

This is obvious stuff to those who work at our sport, especially those, like myself, who make a full-time living coaching and organizing. It's been explained to USATT leaders numerous times for decades, but there is little interest from that direction in organizing any type of nationwide league, or in recruiting and training coaches to set up and run junior and other coaching programs at a club as professional coaches, as tennis and other sports do. And so while the problem is obvious, and the solution is obvious, nothing gets done. It's not that USATT doesn't do anything, it's that they focus on things that sound nice but don't develop the sport. Since they have no goals in terms of increasing membership, more junior members, more clubs, etc., they can't be held accountable, and aren't.

USATT runs periodic "Strategic Meetings" to solve problems - I've been to four - where they spend the time coming up with slogans and vague priorities, while refusing to make any specific goals or programs to reach the never-created goals. When nothing is accomplished and membership stays at 8000, with about 1200 junior members (the vast majority non-serious, without coaches or regular training), we get a new logo and crow about how "this symbolizes the new USATT." (This latter is an exact quote from a board member.)

If we can't do the obvious stuff, how can we do the hard stuff? Is it any wonder that we can't get the sport going in this country? Is there anyone here who can talk sense to the people who run our sport? I've tried over and over and failed miserably. It's someone else's turn.

I've written about some of this in my blog, and this last week I emailed the board and others from the 2009 Strategic Meeting to ask what programs had been implemented from that meeting two years ago, but of course the answer is pretty much nothing, as was predictable (and predicted) at the time. About the only thing they could come up with as a result of bringing in 30 people from around the country for a weekend of meetings (at USATT expense) was that they now do a monthly e-newsletter (about one page), which really had nothing to do with the Strategic Meeting. (They were planning the e-newsletter before the meeting - we were one of the last Olympic sports to do this.) The newsletter is "nice," but since we have no serious programs to promote, it doesn't accomplish much of anything.

But we have a new logo!!!

I wrote about the 2009 Strategic Meeting and the lack of follow-up in my daily blog on Sept. 26, the two-year anniversary of the meeting. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter if USATT leaders talk big about the things they are going to do if they act small, which keeps the sport small. Big thinking isn't that big a deal, it's just a matter of understanding what's been successful in making the sports big in table tennis and other sports all over the world, adapting it to our situation, and then making it top priority to do the things necessary so our sport can become big in this country. While making the sport will not be an easy task, the things need to be done to do so is rather obvious.

Suppose there are 50 countries that have small table tennis associations. One of them sets up a league, and gets a large membership as a result. So a second country sets up a league, and it too gets a large membership. Then others follow, and soon there are a number of countries with large memberships from these leagues. (This roughly what has actually happened.) And then USA look at this and wonders, "Gee, how can we get a large membership?" And the really startling thing is they really do not know.

I was asked earlier this year to be on the USATT Coaching and Club Committees, and because the chairs of the committee are well-meaning and serious (Richard McAfee and Attila Malek), I agreed. However, I'm contemplating resigning both since it is a waste of time, since USATT simply is not ready to commit to the obvious steps needed to develop our sport. To USATT's credit, despite my obvious displeasure in some of my blogs and online postings, they haven't asked for my resignation.

Tennis growth

Mitch Seidenfeld, a professional table tennis coach and league director from Minneapolis, posted the following recently. "The Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) was founded in 1934 to promote the development of tennis through tournaments and junior tennis programs in the Atlanta, GA area. ALTA started league play in 1971 with less than 1,000 players. It grew to almost 10,000 players by 1975, 35,000 by 1982, over 51,000 in 1988 and 71,000 in 1992. Today ALTA has approximately 80,000 league members. It has evolved from a small group of volunteers to a large non-profit corporation."

Now how does this apply to table tennis? Keep in mind that the U.S. Tennis Association has 700,000 members, and they didn't get these members and then start a league; they started a league, like the one in Atlanta, and that led to the 700,000 members, nearly all of them league players. Just as sports all over the world have done, including table tennis.


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September 8, 2011

Student stops using head, instant success

For months a ten-year-old student of mine has struggled with a habit of moving his head forward when he hits forehands. This threw him off balance so that he lost control on the shot and couldn't recover quickly for the next shot. About two weeks ago he made a breakthrough and seemed to figure out how to hit without using his head that way. Yesterday it all came together, and he was hitting forehands better than ever before. (The head should rotate in a circle as you hit or loop forehands, as if there were a pole coming out of the top, but it should start and finish in about the same spot.) One irony is that he likes hitting so much, and hates looping, that we're thinking of going to short pips on the forehand. He's going to try that out next week.

Fifty full-time table tennis centers

With the addition of the Fremont Table Tennis Club in California run by Shashin Shodhan, we're up to an even 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.! And to think that just five years ago there were less than ten. They've been springing up independently as coaches, seeing the success of these centers, set up their own. In particular there's been an influx of Chinese coaches who open up these centers. Nearly all of them have regular junior programs, leagues, etc. This is the most promising thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in a long time.

Turkey, Table Tennis, and Tong Tong

I've had several cases over the years of a student eating a turkey sandwich for lunch at a tournament, and getting sleepy afterwards. This is presumably because of the relatively high levels of L-Tryptophan in turkey. Now this is controversial - while there's no question L-Tryptophan can cause drowsiness, it supposedly only happens if given almost in pure form on an empty stomach. Regardless, I've had enough bad experiences with this that I warn all my students never to eat turkey during a tournament until they are done playing for the day. For example, I was coaching U.S. Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong at a tournament last year. He had a turkey sandwich for lunch. When he had to play soon afterwards, he complained of sleepiness, said he could barely keep his eyes open. I took him into the restroom to splash cold water on his face, and it helped somewhat. He struggled for a couple matches before he felt alert again.

How U.S. Tennis does it differently (better)

I've been a member of USTA for many years, and have had many discussion with tennis coaches and officials on how they developed their sport to their current 700,000 members. I brought much of this up for discussion at the USATT Strategic Meeting in September, 2009, but there didn't seem much interest in learning from other sports. In a nutshell, what does USTA (tennis) do well in the U.S.? They seem to focus on three core issues: leagues, junior & college programs, and the U.S. Open. The first two are where they get their membership; the Open is where they get TV coverage and sponsorship. (Over 90% of their membership comes from leagues.) These are the issues they harp on over and Over and OVER in their regular e-newsletters, brochures in the mail, and web page.

Before someone says "But that's tennis!" as if that sport naturally has more members, note that just about every country in Europe has equally large tennis memberships (as a percentage of population), and yet their table tennis associations invariably have even more members. For example, Germany and England have about 700,000 and 500,000 members in their table tennis associations, considerably less in their tennis associations - I forget the actual numbers, which I researched long ago, and wasn't able to find online just now. (Anyone have them?) Nearly all their table tennis memberships comes from leagues and junior programs. (Leagues bring in the bulk, but many of them started out in junior programs and then became long-term members.) I did some more browsing, and found that France has over 200,000 members in their table tennis association.)

What are table tennis's core issues? Other successful table tennis countries have found this to be leagues and junior programs. USATT (8000 members) focuses on tournaments, which simply doesn't bring in large memberships. It doesn't even attempt to bring in members through setting up leagues and junior programs, which is central to nearly every successful table tennis country in the world, not to mention nearly every successful sport. It doesn't focus on growing the Open or Nationals, which actually get less players now than in the past. (We've had over 1000 at the Open twice, and used to get 800+ at both. Now we can't even get 700.)

Multiball demo

Here's a nice multiball demo video (1:09) from the English Table Tennis Association.

The next ban?

Table tennis has already banned glue, frictionless pips, and 38mm balls. What's next? I noticed recently that ping-pong tables and rackets are made mostly of wood, which is ORGANIC. Who knows what leftover bio-materials permeate these bastions for disease? And wood is mostly made of cellulose, the primary ingredient in celluloid, and we know how dangerous that is. Plus we're killing off the rain forests. Wood must be banned before it completely destabilizes and destroys our sport. Cement tables and plastic paddles are the only way to go. I will alert ITTF.


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August 2, 2011

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

Yes, it's that time of month again - the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis site gets updated around the first of each month. There are now 1234 pictures of 720 different celebrities playing table tennis - and any short listing of the Who's Who of Celebrities Playing Table Tennis just wouldn't do it justice! There are sections on Politicians/Leaders; Actors and Actresses; Athletes; Musicians; Talk Show Hosts; Writers; Cartoon Characters; and many more!

New celebrities playing table tennis pictures this month include actors Tom Hanks, Haley Joel Osment, Justin Timberlake, Sam Rockwell, Claudette Colbert, Esther Williams, Broderick Crawford; Prince Akihito of Japan (now Emperor); Ed Lee, Mayor of San Francisco; John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of England; Ed Nixon, brother of Richard M. Nixon; golfer Tiger Woods; tennis players Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs; Chinese Olympic Gold Medalist Hurdler Liu Xiang; pool star Mika Immoren; talk show host Regis Philbin; singers Lil Jon and Anne-Marie Godart; English socialite Lady Norah Docker; and cartoon character Donald Duck.

Short sidespin serve to the forehand

Can you serve a short sidespin serve to the forehand that breaks away from a right-hander? A LOT of players have great difficulty with this serve, and many can't return it except crosscourt, i.e. into a right-handed server's forehand. If you play one of these players and can't do this, you are handicapping yourself. Shouldn't you be ready to throw this serve at these people? Three common ways of doing this serve: the forehand tomahawk serve (i.e. racket tip up); reverse forehand pendulum serve; and the regular backhand serve. (This may be expanded into a Tip of the Week.)

New USATT logo

In case you haven't noticed, USATT recently got a new logo. They went from this to this. (The new one is now up on the USATT home page.) One USATT board member told me at the U.S. Open last month that this symbolizes the "new" USATT, and that things were now different.

To quote the oft-used phrase from the fantasy novel "A Dance with Dragons," words are just wind. (Not always, of course, but words that aren't backed up by action are.) To expand on this, logos are just pixels. Things will be different when USATT addresses the real problems of expanding the sport in this country - and that means accepting that our 8000 or so members is (as noted at the infamous Strategic Meeting in 2009) a round-off error, and that we need to find ways to expand on this - like countries like Germany and England have done through leagues (700,000 and 500,000 members respectively), or how they and other countries like Sweden and France developed top players and large junior membership through club-based junior programs. (I'm using the European examples because their situation is more similar to the U.S.'s, as opposed to, say, China, where table tennis became popular because it was decreed to be the national sport by Chairman Mao.)

New Players, Tennis versus Table Tennis

When a new player walks into a typical tennis club in the U.S., he can sign up for a league with players at his level, for private or group coaching, and kids can sign up for junior training programs. When a new player walks into a typical table tennis club in the U.S., they tell him to call winners on a table, where he gets killed by experienced players, and since there are few leagues where he can compete against players his level, little group or private coaching, and few junior programs for kids, they rarely return. The solution, of course, is a new USATT logo. :) At some point, I'll expand more on this novel concept of table tennis clubs actually addressing the needs of new players as a way of getting new players.

Tennis has been my "side sport" for many years, and I spent years going to a training program twice a week where 3-5 of us would work with a coach, who ran us to death. I also competed in USTA tennis leagues (I'm up to about 4.0 level now), and discussed the tennis situation with tennis coaches extensively. We could learn a lot from tennis if we were only willing to listen.

Ping-Pong for Poverty

If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Virginia Beach Sept. 30 - Oct. 1, why not play in the Ping-Pong for Poverty charity tournament?

The Traveling Ping-Pong Parlor

Yes, a truck that brings table tennis to the masses! Who'd have thunk it. (1:52)


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