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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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January 16, 2012

Tip of the Week

Larry's Law.

Back problems

It's Baaaaaaaack!  Some of you may remember I spent much of last year suffering from serious back problems which were muscular related. I finally had to take a month off (getting locals to do my hitting for me when I coached), underwent major physical therapy with a physical therapist, and began a strict regimen of weight training and stretching. The back got better, and all was well. Then, after the Nationals in December, I figured my back problems were cured, and I stopped the weight training and relaxed the stretching routine to just basic stretches before and after playing. BIG MISTAKE. The back has been tightening up over the last couple weeks, and now I'm struggling with my play again. After an hour or so of coaching, the back is back to agony again. So starting today, I'm back on the weight training and stretching regimen. Alas.

Serves and Strategy and nothing else

Here's a lesson for all of us - how to win when you are not playing well, and how to win ever more when you are playing well.

On Friday and Saturday, besides coaching, I played in a pair of two-hour match sessions. Until my last match on Saturday (where I lost a close one) I had a dubious distinction of playing perhaps the worst I've ever played at the club and gone undefeated. My back was titanium stiff, my forehand was like a hummingbird with a broken wing, I moved like a crippled snail, and I had the reflexes of a napping sloth. And yet I kept pulling out matches against players at or near my level, almost exclusively on serves and placement. I beat a 2200 player with two basic strategies: short sidespin serves to forehand (both types of sidespins) which he missed or popped up over and over, and quick pushes to the middle off the serve, where he kept making mistakes as he'd hesitate on whether to use his forehand or backhand. Then I beat a 2150 player by cycling serves and quick hitting his serves off the bounce. ("Cycling serves" is my term for throwing every imaginable serve you have at the opponent, essentially cycling through them all and then starting over.)

Now if I can only do this when my back gets better! The lesson here is that players often forget how to win when they are "playing well," and instead rely on (drum roll please) playing well. Instead, when you are playing well, imagine that you have to do whatever it takes to win, and at the same time actually play well, and watch how much better you play.

The Tong Tong Gong of Ping-Pong in the Baltimore Sun

Here's a feature article on USA Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong in the Sunday Baltimore Sun. The print version has a much larger version of this picture. I'm quoted in the story several times - I'm one of Tong Tong's coaches.

Timo Boll serve

Here are slow motions of Germany's Timo Boll's serve (1:30), both forehand pendulum and forehand reverse pendulum. They are shown from two angles. If you are a righty, you can mimic the version on the left of the lefty Boll's serve by being a mirror image. (Boll, currently #4 in the world, was #1 for three months last year.) 

Sport & Art Educational Foundation

The Sport & Education Foundation features table tennis to help senior citizens, in particular to help offset Alzheimer's and dementia. See their intro (where they say, "Current research by renowned psychiatrists has confirmed that ping-pong is the world's best brain sport") as well their "Why Table Tennis" page, and then explore the rest of their web pages.

Senior citizens,

World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Vitali Klitschko

Here's an article about boxing champ Vitali Klitschko and how playing table tennis daily prepares him for fights.

Top Ten Shots of 2011?

And here they are (3:47)!

Table tennis commercial

Here's a humorous table tennis commercial, though you don't find out what the commercial is for until 1:24 into this 1:40 commercial - it's for some sort of 24-hour Energy Drink. Actually, I don't think it's advertising any real drink, just a satire of one. Make sure to see the deadly warning at the end.

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November 21, 2011

Tip of the Week

Remember the Good Shots.

Rushing the quicker player

It's tough playing a quicker player who bangs every shot before while you're still following through on your previous shot. But a lot of players don't understand that on the first shot of the rally, especially on your serve, you can rush the quicker player. It just comes down to setting yourself up for a shot you can attack quickly, before the quick opponent can get into a quick rally. If you place your first quick attack well, the quicker player will have great difficulty and won't be able to rush you - and you'll get a second shot to attack.

For example, I like to serve fast no-spin at the receiver's elbow. This often forces a weaker topspin return - but more importantly, it draws the receiver out of position, especially if he returns it backhand. (For that reason, I tend to serve it slightly to the backhand side, though a forehand also draws the player out of position.) Once the player is drawn out of position, it's just a matter of you attacking that ball quickly to an open corner.

Another way is to serve short side-top to the forehand. Many players have trouble attacking this ball, and so you tend to get a softer return you can attack quickly - and while the opponent is drawn over the table reaching for that short ball to the forehand. Or serve a breaking sidespin serve deep to the backhand - many players will take this ball late and essentially roll it back, allowing you to go for the first quick, aggressive shot.

Of course, the best way to overcome a quicker player is to keep the ball deep, attack his elbow and wide corners, and focus on making consistent, strong shots. 

Trials and Tribulations

After a month of playing great (due to extra practice, weight training, and stretching), over the last week I've been feeling progressively stiffer, especially in the upper back. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it, it just happens. Exercising and stretching only help it marginally. Unfortunately, this is causing havoc to my forehand attacking game in practice matches. After a month of feeling like I had the speed of a meteor, now I'm feeling a bit more like a meteorite. Dan Seemiller told me this used to happen to him as well as he got older, that there were times he just couldn't play, and who am I to disagree with him? Anyway, I'm not playing terrible, just not nearly as well as before. I can still pretty much go through "lower players," but I'm not challenging stronger, faster players (i.e. our top juniors) so much anymore. Hopefully it'll come back. I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams next weekend (Fri-Sun), and fortunately the players have to do the playing; I don't.

Video Coaching

I'm off this morning for another two-hour video coaching session. We're not only watching the player I'm coaching, but other possible opponents as well. Top players, if you feel a cold tingle going down your spine, we're watching you.

USA Interviews at the World Junior Championships

Modern Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Why a simple game holds the key to world peace. (From the English newspaper The Independent.)

How to Practice Without a Serious Practice Partner

Coach Tao of Table Tennis University explains how to practice while playing games (4:58).

Non-Table Tennis - "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination" anthology

I recently submitted three stories to "Fantastic Stories of the Imagination," a science fiction and fantasy anthology put out by the famous editor Warren Lapine. They are literally the highest paying SF/fantasy anthology, and received well over 1000 submissions. All three of my stories made the final 40! (They expect to pick only about 20.) Here's what Warren wrote about my stories: "Larry, your stories were passed up to me by three different first readers in one night. I think that's a record." One of the assistant editors wrote, "Larry, I spent the last section of this evening wishing I had been first reader on one of your stories! Even if you don't make it into Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, know that you impressed a multitude of readers, writers, and editors, with myriad tastes." Okay, I'm ready to write some more stories! (Meanwhile, they plan to announce the final selections by Wednesday.) (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job, I mean my mostly night job, which is table tennis.)

Behind-the-back winner

Here's Liam Pitchford (English #1 player in men's and juniors) hitting a behind-the-back winner at the World Junior Championships last week. Notice how nonchalant he is about it? This reminds me of the best shot I ever saw in table tennis, also from an English junior. In the late 1980s, an English junior star trained for a week or so with the top USA juniors at the resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While playing a match with Chi-Ming Chui (Chi-Sun's older brother), he mis-hit a serve almost straight up. Chi-Ming pulverized the shot. The English junior, seeing he was about to be creamed with the ball, turned his back, and without looking, jumped into the air and made a backhand, over-the-head, no-look counter-smash as the ball was rising from the table! He was as surprised as anyone watching - he had no idea he'd actually make the shot.

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August 26, 2011

Off to New York City Open!

EDIT - BREAKING NEWS AT 10:30 AM - Due to Hurricane Irene, the New York City Open has been postponed.

I leave right after lunch, about 12:30, for the New York City Open. I'm going up with the juniors John & Nathan Hsu and their mom, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. Jeffrey (when he's not playing - he's seeded fifth, and was the recent Cary Cup and Eastern Open Champion) and I will be coaching John & Nathan. I may coach a few other locals when I'm free - Ryan, Greg, Tim. I'm just coaching, not playing. There are 277 players entered in the tournament, and the Open includes 11 players rated over 2550 or higher, and 36 over 2300, listed below. Newly unretired Scott Boggan, rated 2447, is seeded only 21st! (See note on him below.)

  1. Ting Sun (2730)
  2. Zhen (Eugene) Wang (2729)
  3. Peter-Paul, Pradeeban (2682)
  4. Damien Provost (2636)
  5. Xun Zeng (2612)
  6. YanJun Gao (2609)
  7. Barney J. Reed (2592)
  8. Yue Wu (2581)
  9. Therien, Xavier (2564)
  10. Ebuen Jr., Ernesto L. (2561)
  11. Chu, Hiu Yu (2550)
  12. Mieczyslaw Suchy (2549)
  13. Nai Hui Liu (2515)
  14. Florian Mueller (2497)
  15. Hiroka Ooka (2494)
  16. Yu Shao (2491)
  17. Nguyen, Khoa Dinh (2488)
  18. Kazuyuki Yokoyama (2478)
  19. Choor Sime Oh (2468)
  20. XinYue Wang (2464)
  21. Boggan, Scott (2447)
  22. Raghu R. Nadmichettu (2429)
  23. De C. Tran (2423)
  24. Aronov, Nison (2402)
  25. Kurimay, Dora (2396)
  26. Michael Hyatt (2394)
  27. Yu Xiang Li (2390)
  28. Ludovic A. Gombos (2387)
  29. Tahl Leibovitz (2374)
  30. Thomas Pok-Yin Yu (2359)
  31. Doverman, Richard (2348)
  32. Slava Gotlib (2344)
  33. Wang, Rocky (2340)
  34. Mark Croitoroo (2332)
  35. Ethan Jin (2330)
  36. Green, Wally (2321)

Hopefully Hurricane Irene won't interfere. At the top right of the North American Table Tennis home page there's a status update, which currently says, "The NYC Open is still scheduled for August 27 and 28. If weather conditions require us to change the status of the tournament we will notify you here on our website and on our facebook page."

Update on back

I saw the physical therapist again yesterday. She's working on back muscles I didn't know I had until they started hurting! My daily routine has been upped from five to ten minute back stretching sessions, three times a day, in addition to meeting with the therapist twice a week. If all goes well, I'll be back to playing in three weeks.

Newgy 2050 robot

Because of my back problems, yesterday I did a coaching session at the home of one of my 10-year-old students, using his brand new Newgy 2050 robot to do the hitting. The catch was they hadn't set it up yet, so I was there for two hours, spending much of the time setting it up and figuring out how to do the various programmed drills (there are 64 pre-programmed drills), how to reprogram them, etc.  It went pretty well, though there's a lot still to learn about its capabilities. We got it doing various popular drills, including one to forehand, one to backhand, and the Falkenberg drill (three-shot sequence: backhand from backhand corner; forehand from backhand corner; forehand from forehand corner).

Backhand loop

Here's a very nice video (4:02) on the backhand loop by TTEdge.

Scott Boggan's first tournament...

...in a LONG time! He played in the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center Open, Aug. 20-21, and went 5-0, 15-0 in games! I believe he won the Open event - can anyone verify? His rating going in was 2447 (he didn't gain any - best win was Lim Ming Chui, 2094), but that was from the Paleolithic period, circa (I'm guessing) early 1980s or so. Scott is also playing in the New York City Open this weekend (Open, Over 40, Over 50 - how time has passed), so I look forward to seeing him there.

U.S. Leagues

Here's an answer to a question about leagues that I posted on the forum. (I updated a few things.)

I think the ideal situation is for USA Table Tennis to create a model of a U.S. league that states and regions can use. This is not a matter of USATT imposing its model on others; it's about having such a model so those interested in creating leagues will have a model to start with. This is how it was done in table tennis and other sports all over the world. At the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting, I argued strongly that USATT should meet with German, English, and others from the hugely successful European table tennis leagues at the Worlds, to find out how they had created their leagues. Germany has over 700,000 members of their league competing in 11,000 clubs; England over 500,000. It's not a matter of their setting up leagues for a large membership, as some USATT officials believed; the leagues are what create the large memberships.

The key is how they created and grew these leagues, not their current status - though that's what we are working toward. Since we already send numerous officials to the Worlds, meeting with these league officials wouldn't have cost anything. Then we could take this info, study other successful leagues in other sports, and then get successful table tennis league directors in the U.S. to meet and create a model for a USA Table Tennis League that can be used by those interested. (I suggested we put a bunch of successful league directors in a room and lock the door, and tell them they can't come out until they have designed this model.) Sadly, none of this has happened that I know of; USATT is perpetually in a cycle of things we're going to do without actually ever doing them. I look forward to the day when they break out of this cycle.

***

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