Charlene Liu

May 21, 2014

USATT Board Minutes and the CEO Search

Here are the minutes to the USATT Teleconference on April 21, 2014. Probably the most interesting thing is they are hiring an executive search firm for $10,000 to find our next CEO. While this is the way to go if you want a conventional CEO, on April 18 I blogged about why, at this point, we should hire someone internally (i.e. a table tennis expert) to fix up our sports infrastructure so we have a better product both for players and for sponsors (via leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, etc.), and then go the conventional route with a CEO who can bring in sponsor money. (I blogged about an alternate idea for our new CEO on May 16, near the end of the "What to do at age 18?" essay, where I suggested the new CEO partner with outside table tennis groups to raise money for them to develop the sport.)

We used (and paid for) executive search firms several times in the 1990s, and each time the goal was to hire a CEO who could raise lots of money, but none of them were able to do so. We've gone through about ten CEOs in our history (all in the last 30 years or so - we didn't have one throughout most of our history), and none have been able to raise any serious money. Keep in mind that it's not just raising money - they have to raise money well in excess of how much they cost. I'd guess we'll have to pay at least $30,000 more per year for a conventional CEO than if we hire from inside our sport, in addition to the $10,000 search fee. (I'm probably being generous here - if we hire a truly good CEO, he'll probably cost us a lot more than this. If we hire a cheaper one, we get what we pay for.) But it's more than that - we're also giving up the service we'd get from someone who could fix our sport's infrastructure by starting the process of setting up regional leagues (both recreational and professional), junior programs, coaching programs, etc., which would make our sport so much more saleable, as well as bring in money from increased membership fees as membership shoots up, as it did when table tennis associations all over Europe focused on leagues, leading to memberships measured in the hundreds of thousands (to our 8000) in countries with populations a fraction of ours.

So the new CEO will cost us the search fee, the extra salary, and the loss of the badly needed development of our sport. From the current USATT's point of view, they believe they need to raise money to do all the things I suggest. Both of us believe the other has it backwards. I believe a shoe salesman should fix the shoes before trying to sell them; they believe they need to sell broken shoes to raise the money needed to fix the shoes. But it doesn't take that much money to start the process of developing the infrastructure of our sport, and that would only take a few years. It's when we are actually developing these programs that sponsors will more likely want to get in the ground floor. It's much easier selling a sport that has growing leagues and coaching programs to entice sponsors than one that does not.

Also, just to end the rumor mills, no, I am not applying for the USATT CEO position, not that the board would have ever considered a mere table tennis coach/writer/organizer/ promoter like myself. I have no interest in working with USATT to develop the sport without near 100% support from the board (otherwise you spend most of your energy battling with the board), and the board is once again going the "conventional" route, while believing, based on several discussions, that they are doing something new in hiring a CEO whose primary purpose is to raise money. Déjà vu.

Lastly, I do not plan on harping about this over and over and beating USATT over the head with this. They've made their decision, so now we have to accept it and hope that this time we'll get a CEO who can actually sell our sport as it is. Hopefully they will be right this time, soon we'll be squabbling over how to spend the hordes of money the new CEO brings in.

Expert Table Tennis Tips

Here are 18 short tips from top coaches (all pictured) from all over the world - including one from me!

Terminology: Loop vs. Topspin

Here's a new video from PingSkills (1:02) that talks about the terminologies used - loop, loop drive, and topspin. I've seen some really vicious arguments about this!

Charlene Liu Wins Bronze

On Monday I blogged about the World Veterans Games, and mentioned that Charlene Xiaoying Liu (from my club, MDTTC) got the bronze for Women's Singles 60-64. I sent out a press release to local media. Butterfly published the press release.

"The Rumors are True. I Never Miss"

This is one of those silly little mantras I often tell students during drills where I'm blocking for them, after I've gone for a while without missing. Yesterday, in a session with Sameer (12-year-old student) I had a new version. We were doing the 2-1 drill, where he does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. (He's doing this all looping, even spinning the backhands off the bounce.) In multiball he's pretty consistent with this, but when we go live, where I'm blocking, his consistency goes down. This is what I told him after I'd gone a while without missing a block. "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it."

Potomac Open

It was held in Potomac, MD, this past weekend. Here are the main results. The final was between a pair of 2600 players, with Chen Ruichao ("Alex") defeating Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") 4-0 in the final. Here is video of the matches - Alex is the lefty, Leon the chopper/looper.

Game 1; Game 2; Game 3; Game 4.

Blocking Against a Spinny Loop

There's an interesting discussion going on at the forum about blocking against spinny loops. Here's the link to the start of the discussion. (EDIT: I just posted links in the discussion to videos of top players blocking, in post #45. You might want to watch them.) I posted several times in the thread where I point out the importance of blocking firmly, i.e. aggressively, since the spin takes on your racket less this way as well as giving you a more effective block. (You'll note that there are differing opinions on this. Some believe you should just hold the racket out absolutely still, but I disagree, as noted in the postings.) In one posting I wrote the following in the hopes of winning the Nobel Prize for Sports Psychology:

This is huge, stepping to the ball when blocking. When players reach for the ball instead of stepping, they often open their racket as they do so. I think it's because they are no longer doing a shot they have practiced regularly, and so their subconscious no longer knows what racket angle to reflexively use, and so falls back on beginner habits.

Below is a long posting I did on the topic.

What they are demonstrating in this video [referred to by another poster], and what the opening posting asks, are different things. The opening poster isn't a beginner - he even asked if he should try counterlooping against slow, spinny loops. If all he wants to do is pop the ball back weakly, where he's not worried about popping the ball up, then all he has to do is stick his racket out and block back softly, and he'll develop a consistent but weak blocking game. The spin would take on his racket more, so he'd have less control, but if he just pops the ball back weakly then the very slowness of his return would keep it on the table. If he wants to make an effective block that hits consistently, then he needs to block more firmly (i.e. more aggressively). 

If he puts a little pace on the ball but not too aggressively in a misguided attempt to be consistent, that's when it'll probably go off the end over and over. That's why beginners and intermediate players have so much trouble with slow, spinny loops. Instead, they need to block more firmly, more aggressively, so the blocks are both consistent and effective. 

You can go for a soft and low block by just sticking the racket out with a more closed angle, but this is harder to control than if you block more firmly, and will tend to pop balls up. Since the spin takes on the racket more, you have to get the racket angle almost perfectly right, while you have more leeway if you block firmly and somewhat aggressively. (On the other hand, a slower, dead block that stays low is rather easy with most non-inverted surfaces, or with less lively or less grippy inverted surfaces.) 

The video is showing something different, i.e. teaching beginners how to adjust their racket angle against heavy topspin. However, where he says the racket does not move forward, I disagree. I saw this video a few years ago when I first started my blog, and chose not to link to it for that reason. While you can block that way, it's teaching a rather poor habit, and makes things more difficult for beginning and beginning/intermediate players. A more firm block, with the racket moving forward, is easier and more consistent in making decent blocks (not pop-ups), since spin takes on it less. Players with very good slow, spinny loops usually struggle with players who block aggressively as that mostly counteracts their topspin. 

At my club, we have eight full-time coaches, seven of them from China, two former Chinese national team members, the rest former province team members. (I'm the lone non-Chinese full-time coach.) All teach blocking against spinny loops with a firm, aggressive stroke. When I slow loop in practice matches with the kids, they are taught to block aggressively (or counterloop), and they have been pretty successful in this. When they block off, over and over the Chinese coaches tell them to block more aggressively. It is against faster loops that you can mostly just stick your racket out and play off the opponent's own pace. 

When I face an inverted player who just sticks his racket out to block my loop, I'm not going to feed into this by trying to loop hard with my opening loop; I'm going to throw my slowest, spinniest loop deep on the table, and watch them block off or pop it up. I can also mess up these type of blockers by varying my spin (even dead loops) as they have to get their racket angle almost perfect to make an effective block, and that's not easy against heavy or varying spin. 

I think the opening poster was asking how he could block these spinny loops back consistently so he could win the point, not so he could just pop the ball back and hope for the best. Otherwise I'd tell him to just block as weakly as possible so the ball pops back on the table, slow but high. Instead, he should block more firmly, which will lead to consistent and effective blocks. 

Coaching Scams

On Feb. 14 and Feb 27 I wrote about these coaching scams that many coaches are receiving via email. I received another one yesterday. Hint - when you receive a vague request for coaching from some overseas person, and it's addressed to "Undisclosed Recipients," you should be very suspicious. Read my previous blogs for how this works. Here's the one I just received:

To Undisclosed Recipients:
I want to make an inquiry for table tennis intensive training for 10 youngsters .
DUE DATE: 14th July until 2nd of August 2014; 6 days per week Mondays through Saturdays total of 18 days.
Kindly check the rates and availability for the period requested.
Best regards.
George Wong

Playing Table Tennis with a Light Bulb Commercial

Here's video (40 sec) of a commercial for Cree LED light bulbs, where the actor shows that some bulbs are good for playing table tennis while others (theirs) are only good at being light bulbs.

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May 19, 2014

Tip of the Week

Why to Systematically Practice Receive.

Return to Ready After Forehand Attack

During the Potomac Open this past weekend there was an interesting match that illustrated this. One was a lefty rated over 2400, the other about 2300. The lefty kept serving breaking serves to the righty's wide forehand. The righty would move to his wide forehand and loop these crosscourt to the lefty's backhand. Over and over the lefty would quick-block these to the righty's backhand, and the righty was caught out of position over and over. At first glance it would seem the righty just wasn't fast enough, that the lefty was just too quick. And so the lefty won the first two games.

But then a strange thing happened. I was commenting to some players sitting next to me how the righty was looping off his back foot when he looped these serves, and so finishing off balance. This kept him from getting a quick start to cover his backhand. But sometime in the third game, completely on his own, the player figured this out. The key was to get his right foot wider on the receive so he could push off it, and then he could use the momentum of his own forehand follow-through to help move himself back into position. Two things happened because of this. First, by getting his right foot farther out he was able to push into the shot harder, thereby getting more speed and spin on his loop, which gave the lefty problems. Second, and more importantly, he was now following through into position, and was set for those quick blocks to his wide backhand.

There's a video (which I just spent ten minutes unsuccessfully searching for) of Werner Schlager making this exact same adjustment to a player at the World Hopes Week in Austria a year or two ago. I remember it as several people commented that he was messing up the kid's technique. Actually, what Werner had done was show the kid, one of the top 12-year-olds in the world, how to follow-through back into position so he'd be ready for the next shot. It's one of those little things that many players don't understand, thinking only about the current shot, and not worrying about the next one. (EDIT - here's the 50-sec video I referred to above, care of Daniel Ring in the comments below. Notice how the kid forehand loops very well, but tends to stay in one position when he's moved wide? Werner shows him how to follow through back into position.) 

How often have you attacked with your forehand from the backhand side, only to get caught when your opponent quick-blocked to your wide forehand? (Or the reverse, attacked from the wide forehand, and got caught on the wide backhand, as discussed above?) Most often the problem isn't being too slow; it's finishing the forehand shot off balance, which dramatically slows down how fast you can recover back into position. The most common situation is a player steps around the backhand corner to use the forehand, but is rushed, and so ends up following through too much to his left (for a righty), leaving him wide open for the next shot. Instead, when attacking from a wide corner, whenever possible try to follow-through right back into position, and you'll be surprised at how much easier it is to recover for the next shot, even if it's quick-blocked to the far corner.  

World Veterans Championships

They were held May 14-17 in Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, video, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There were 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

Here are the results. Do a search for if you want to see how players from a specific country did (for example, "USA"). Charlene Xiaoying Liu, who is from my club, finished third in Over 60 women, losing deuce in the fifth to the eventual winner (who would win the final easily 3-0). Charlene was actually up 10-8 match point in the fifth, alas, but struggled her opponent's serve at the end.

Alameda Table Tennis Club Offering Elementary School Kids $20,000 in Ping Pong Scholarships

Here's the article - wow!

Lily Yip Selected as USA Youth Olympic Games Coach

Here's the article.

Kagin Lee's Blog

Tokyo Recap, Part One. (Kagin is a member of the board of directors for USATT and National College Table Tennis Association.)

Cary, NC to Open 25,000 Square Foot Table Tennis Facility

Here's the article (on their home page). Here are some pictures of the new Triangle Table Tennis Center.

ITTF Has as Many National Associations as Any Sport

Here's the article. They now have 220 members, which equals the International Volleyball Federation.

ICC Table Tennis Fund-Raiser

Here's the article.

How to Choose a Table Tennis Bat

Here's the new video from PingSkills (14:45).

Best of Ma Lin

Here's the Video (3:13).

Circular Table Tennis

Here's the picture! I think I once ran a similar picture, but this one really shows how the "sport" is played!

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August 27, 2013

Tip of the Week

A Step-by-Step Sequence to Learning Pendulum Serves.


"It's Monday . . . and there's no camp??? No lectures on grip, stance, forehand, and serves?" (Okay, it's really Tuesday, but this is what I was thinking yesterday.) Our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC ended Friday. I've now run about 180 five-day camps, six hours per day, or 900 days and 5400 hours of camp. That's nearly 2.5 years of camps. I've given each of my standard lectures 180 times, or about 1800 lectures in all. I've led in stretching (twice a day) 1800 times. (Well, actually less since I've sometimes missed the afternoon sessions.) And we're not done for the year - we have another camp, our Christmas Camp, Dec. 26-31. (Our camps are primarily for kids, but adults are welcome - we usually get 2-3 each week, sometimes none, sometimes more.)

MDTTC August Open

Here are the results (which I also gave out yesterday) of the August Open this past weekend, run by Charlene Liu. Congrats to Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), who finally broke through and won against Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") after a series of second-place finishes to Wang. It was a dominant performance - he didn't lose a game. Anther having a nice tournament was Nathan Hsu, who's been in a slump recently - but this time he won Under 2400.

I mostly coached Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh in the tournament. (I also coached Tony Li one match, against a Seemiller-style player with antispin, something he'd never seen before. A new experience, and next time he'll be ready.) Derek (12, rated 2291) started well, with wins over a pair of 2150 players - including a mind-numbing win over Lixin Lang (2187) at 16-14, 19-17, 11-8! - but his elbow began to hurt during his match with Lixin. He kept clutching at it, and I almost had him default there. He finished the match, but decided he had to drop out to rest it. Hopefully he'll be okay in a few days.

Derek's other decent win was against Nam Nguyen (2137). They had one of the most incredible three-shot sequences I've ever seen. Nam lobbed a ball short. Derek absolutely crushed it. Nam absolutely crushed a counter-kill from no more than eight feet back, and Derek absolutely crushed a counter-counter-kill off the bounce. It was the fastest three-shot sequence I've ever seen - three forehand smashes/counter-smashes in the blink of an eye. I wish it was on video - it could have gone down as the fastest three-shot sequence ever!!! 

Sameer had a strange tournament - he literally could have won or lost all eight or so of his matches. As it was, he made the final of Under 1150. Down 0-2 in games in the final, he led 5-3 in the fifth before losing 11-8.

During the tournament a player said, "I have to play [higher-rated player]." I pointed out that he had it all wrong - that this [higher-rated player] had to play him! I often quote to my players Rorschach from the movie Watchmen, where he's allowed himself to be taken prisoner and he's surrounded by other prisoners out to get him. After dispatching one in very violent fashion, he says to the group of prisoners gathered around in his gravelly voice, "You don't understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!" Here's the video of the scene (47 sec) - warning, it's pretty violent!!!

North American Championships

The North American Championships end today, Aug. 25-27 in Vancouver Canada. Here's their home page, which includes results, write-ups, photos, video, video interviews, live streaming

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of a USATT teleconference meeting on July 22 and the email approval vote of those minutes. Here are USATT minutes going back to 1999.

Footwork for a Short Ball

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:46) showing how to step in for a short ball and recover for the next shot.

Zhang Jike Doing Multiball

Here's a video (36 sec) of World Champion Zhang Jike doing multiball. Want to have footwork like Zhang's? Then watch his stance - wide, with left foot off to the side for stability as he rips shots from the backhand side. There needs to be a balance here. If the left foot is too far off to the side, then the follow-through goes too much sideways, and you're not in position for the next shot. If it's more parallel to the table, you lose body torque. (I had a disagreement with a coach recently - not from my club - who insists that when you step around the backhand corner to play a forehand the feet should be parallel to the side of the table. However, not many top players do that, if any.)

Top Ten Shots at the Harmony Open

Here they are (4:38)!

Table Tennis Through Google Glass

Here's an article and video (17 sec) showing table tennis through Google Glass. (Why isn't it called Google Glasses?)

Kim Gilbert After a Two-Hour Session

Here's the picture! So restful....

Mouthful of Pong

Here's another video (14 sec) from the (Tumba Ping Pong Show"! I linked to two other of their videos on my blog on Aug. 16 (at the very end).

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