Non-Celluloid Balls

August 14, 2014

USATT Chairman's Blog - Plastic Ball Update

Here's the new blog entry by USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin. It's mostly about USATT's policy toward the new non-celluloid balls. One item that jumps out is that apparently they will be using celluloid balls at the Nationals in December, but non-celluloid balls in the Team Trials there. That would likely be a serious mistake - some players are training for events that will be using different balls, and so won't be able to play their best. Besides messing up player's games, we might not get the best possible USA teams in the various trials for men's, women's, and junior, cadet, and mini-cadet boys' and girls' teams. Players used to one ball aren't going to play as well using the other. Since the players that do make the various teams will have plenty of time afterwards to adjust to the poly balls, there's no need to use both at the Nationals.

The Men's and Women's Team Trials are normally held separately from the Nationals, but the blog seems to imply they may be held there this year. Do we really want our top players to have to use one ball for Men's and Women's Singles and other events (such as Under 22), and another for the various team trials? Or are they planning or considering combining the Men's and Women's Singles events with the Men's and Women's Team Trials, and so use the non-celluloid balls in all of the "top" events? If so, that would be a rather important piece of info that should be included in the blog. But even then we'd be forcing players to switch back and forth between the balls in various events - for example, nearly all the players in the Junior Team Trials (played with non-celluloid) would normally be playing in Under 22 (played with celluloid). Do we really want to force our top junior stars like Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang (defending champions in Under 22 Men and Women from the last Nationals) to switch back and forth, or to not defend their titles? If we really want our top players to get used to the non-celluloid balls, do we believe the best way of doing this is to have them switch back and forth in the middle of a tournament? This whole thing seems to me a self-inflicted problem by choosing to use two types of balls in one tournament. Hopefully common sense will prevail here.

On a side note, Mike states that the two balls are "closely aligned" in their playing characteristics. However, that's not quite true as nearly every tester, including myself, has reported that the non-celluloid balls are more difficult to spin, and so will take some time to adjust. Here's my own review of the Nittaku non-celluloid ball (i.e. poly ball) where I and all five players who tried it out found it was harder to spin the ball - see items #8 and #12. With practice, players can adjust to the non-celluloid ball, but not in the middle of a tournament, going back and forth. 

MDTTC Camp Happenings

Yesterday was Day Three of Week Nine of our Ten Weeks of Camps. As noted, we have a large turnout this week, with over 40 players. I'm primarily working with the beginning juniors. We worked on all the techniques we've been working on all week - forehand, backhand, footwork, serves, etc. Then I gave a lecture and demo on pushing, and we worked on that. 

We had a lot of interesting happenings yesterday, most of them only somewhat table tennis related. Here's a rundown. 

Willy, age 8, had been coming to all our camps all summer, but had to miss the last half of the camp last week and the first two days this week as he was on vacation in Alaska. (He said it was cold.) When he walked in the door, he was mobbed by about ten others his age. I keep picturing these same kids about ten years from now. Which of them will be dominating play in this country? Many of them, I hope!!!

During the morning break a large moth flew into the club. Perhaps this moth chose the wrong club to blunder into! We have about 15 ball pickup nets at the club. They are made (or at least distributed) by Butterfly Table Tennis, our club's sponsor. So that makes them butterfly nets. The minute that poor moth showed up a pack of kids with butterfly nets went after it. They went back and forth all over the club, but that moth was pretty fast. After about fifteen minutes of racing about, the moth won - the kids couldn't catch it, and we were off break. We couldn't find the moth later, so perhaps it had found its way out with a scary stories to tell its caterpillars. 

Right after lunch I took a group of players to the 7-11 down the street. Because I bring our players there regularly they always give me a free Slurpee. But since I'm on a diet, I only take a few sips through a straw and then give it to the kids in the camp when we return to the club. (I bring back a bunch of extra straws.) Yesterday was hilarious as seven kids, roughly 7-9 in age, circled and drank the Slurpee together, each with a straw. I called it the "Circle of Slurp." 

A few months ago I started doing crossword puzzles from the Washington Post somewhat regularly. I usually solve the entire thing about half the time, but it takes way too long. This summer I've taken to bringing it to the club and doing it during the two-hour lunch break. Yesterday I set a record, solving the entire thing - 124 answers in all - in under an hour as about a dozen kids watched. I was pretty proud! (I'm sure Will Shortz would have solved it in five minutes, or perhaps just a glance and the thing would have filled itself in. In the Shortz-owned Westchester TTC vs. MDTTC crossword championships, they still hold the edge, but we're closing in.)

After solving the puzzle I was sitting on the sofa and was asked how I knew some of the answers. I explained that "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God." This sort of blew their minds. They made me write out my name so they could rearrange it themselves to verify. One even insisted on seeming my driver's license to prove the spelling of my name. This was all followed by about 15 minutes of questions and answers as they tried to prove I wasn't God. (I wish we had taped it!) 

We also had a slightly more somber conversation when I asked if any of them had heard of Robin Williams. In the age 7-12 crowd (twelve of them that I asked), eight had never heard of him, and four said they had heard of him but didn't really know who he was. None of them could name a single movie he'd been in. When I mentioned Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, Mork and Mindy, and about half a dozen others, all I got were blank stares. I'm starting to feel old. 

Near the end of the afternoon session I introduced the younger kids to "Cup Ball." There are a few variations, but the one we did was as follows. I placed four cups on one side of the table, lined up from left to right. Four kids stood at the end-line, roughly one behind each cup. Another kid stood at the other side, and served as fast as he could. If the ball hit both sides of the table and made it past the "catchers" on the other side (i.e. hit the floor before they could catch it), the server scored a point. If the ball hit a cup but was caught, he'd also get a point. If it hit a cup and then made it past the catchers, he'd score three points. Each player gets ten serves, and then they'd rotate. I have a feeling this is going to be a favorite for this group - they actually liked trying to catch the ball more than serving it. 

USATT's 2013 Financials

Here's the report. It includes both the 2013 IRS 990 Form and the 2013 Independent Audit Report.

Serve and Receive Practice

The following is a public service reminder. Every point begins with a serve and a receive. Yet most players spend nearly all their practice time practicing only the shots that come after this. This is downright silly. Have you practiced your serve and receive recently? If not, please continue in case you ever play someone I'm coaching. 

Learn Various Training Methods to Boost Your Level

Here's the coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Poly 40+ Balls Info

Here's a Facebook page devoted to info on the new plastic balls, which are slightly larger than 40mm. 

2014 Butterfly Los Angeles Open Provides High Level Competition for Top US Player Timothy Wang

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Princeton Pong Opens in West Windsor, NJ

Here's the article. David Zhuang is the head coach. 

Why Not Get Yourself a Backyard (Concrete) Ping-Pong Table?

Here's where.

Jan-Ove Waldner-Jorgen Persson Exhibition

Here's the video (10:34) of the new exhibition by these two legends!

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Eighty-three down, 17 to go!

  • Day 18: 1953 World Champion Ferenc Sido Inspired Judit Farago

Congressional Pong

Here are five ping-pong paddles with the faces of congressional leaders. Who can name all five? (It comes from this article.)

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June 11, 2013

Timeouts

I've found it interesting how different coaches and players use timeouts. Far too many use it as a desperation measure, usually late in a match when a player has fallen way behind, and where it's unlikely to make a difference. Almost always it's done when a player is behind.

I'd argue that it should be used most often when a player is losing focus at a key time, where the timeout has the best chance of helping to win a game, whether it's in the first game, last game, or any in between. I think most would agree with this. Putting that aside, when should one call a timeout?

Let's suppose your player is serving up 9-7 in the fifth. I was once criticized for calling a timeout in that situation, with the argument that it lets the opponent talk to his coach and focus, and so maximize his chances of coming back. But I find that reasoning backwards. With my player is leading 9-7 in the fifth, if both players are focused and play smart, then my player is probably going to win. The most likely way my player loses is if he loses his focus and/or doesn't play smart - so by calling a timeout, I maximize the chances that my player will be focused and play smart, and therefore likely win. In other words, if you are leading, you are in control, and so worry less about the opponent and more about making sure you are prepared.

In other words, if you are behind by a score such as 7-9, and if you are focused and know what to do, the last thing you want is to give the opponent time to focus and think tactically. It's very easy for a player to lose focus when he is leading and about to win, and a timeout allows him to recover. (However, if you are behind 7-9 because you are losing focus or not sure what to do tactically, then you should call the timeout.)

Ironically, I sometimes hesitate to call a time-out near the end of a match when my player is leading because I know there's a good chance the other side will call one, so I get to save our timeout for later if needed.

Another mistake I think some make is waiting too long. It's better to call a timeout early in a match where it might lead to winning a game than to wait until later where it might not. At the Easterns I was coaching 11-year-old Sameer in his first major tournament. In one of his first matches he was serving and leading 10-8 in the first game, and lost the next point. On his own he called a timeout - he wanted to make absolutely sure he won that game, and wanted to ask what serve I thought he should use. (I said short backspin to the forehand, and the opponent put it in the net! Sameer won the match 3-1; if he'd lost that first game, it might have been 2-2. A very smart timeout that few would have done because it was still "too early" in the match.)

Here's the chart from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers on when to call timeouts. Number two is the one that's way underused when players are leading in a close game - see the second part of that one.

When to Call a Time-out

  1. When losing focus before a key point. This is the most important time to call a time-out. A time-out is a good way to get your concentration back.
  2. To think about or discuss tactics at a key point. Generally do this when you are about to serve, since you have complete control over choosing your two serves. If you have a coach, he might be able to help choose two serves to use. Call it when you are receiving mostly if you have a good idea what the opponent will serve, and are debating how you should return that serve. Or call it to think or discuss any other tactical plans. It’s also valuable to call a time-out when you are winning a relatively close game (especially late in a match), such as at 10-8 or 9-7, so as to clear your mind, think tactically, and close out that game. This is often when the Chinese team calls time-outs.
  3. When falling behind in a key game. It’s useful to call a time-out if you lose the first game and are falling behind in the second (since you absolutely do not want to fall behind 0-2), or if you have already lost two games and will lose the match if you lose another. The key is not to wait until you are way behind; instead, call the time-out when you are still relatively close and can still find a way to come back. The time-out allows you to make sure you are focused and to rethink your tactics. It’s also a good way to give your opponent a chance to cool off if he’s playing well—there’s nothing wrong with calling a time-out in hopes of disturbing his concentration or throwing off his rhythm.
  4. Desperation tactic. Far too many players call time-outs as a desperation tactic near the end of a match when they are way behind and are pretty much out of it, but this rarely leads to a win. If you are losing badly, why wait until you are way down in the last game? It’s far better to call the time-out earlier in the hope of not being in this situation, where the time-out will rarely help.

Fingerprinting

We're starting up an afterschool table tennis program this fall with Montgomery County Schools. As noted in my blog last week, one of their requirements is anyone working with students gets a background check - and that means we have to get fingerprinted! So this morning I'm leaving about 8:30 AM to meet at a county office to be fingerprinted, along with fellow coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu. I'm hoping to get pictures. If they look into my background they'll find I kill dozens of times every day. More on this tomorrow, though it might be simply a repeat of this note, saying "We've been fingerprinted."

Game Strategy

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master: Game Strategy

Non-Celluloid Balls

Here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville reviews one of the new plastic balls (i.e. not celluloid).

The Fight to Save Table Tennis

Here's an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that features Marty Reisman and hardbat & sandpaper table tennis. There were quite a few errors in the article, however - here's a thread at the about.com table tennis forum where Jay Turberville lists nine mistakes, and Scott Gordon adds a few others.

Lady Antebellum’s Ping Pong Tournament Serves Up the Fun

Here's an article and pictures of the charity tournament. Here are more pictures.

Dog Spectator

Here's 49 seconds of a very jumpy dog spectator at table tennis.

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