Crossword Puzzle

March 11, 2014

Constant Competition

Here's a great posting by 3x USA Men's Champion Jim Butler on the importance of competition. I concur 200%. USATT is always stressing the importance of developing our elite athletes, and yet misses the boat here. Sending our elite juniors overseas for a tournament or two is nice, but that's not how you improve through competition; the improvement comes from constant competition. It just so happens that that's what the Europeans did for years with their leagues to keep up with the better-trained and far more numerous Chinese. It was when the Chinese adopted the concept and added it to their normal training that they became nearly unbeatable.

While we're talking specifically about up-and-coming junior players and how constant competition (along with training) will turn them into truly elite players, it really applies to everyone. If you want to improve, find the right balance of training and competition. Developing the fundamentals is top priority, but once that's done, you need both training and constant competition.

Jim wrote, "Training really hard is a given.  Without the ability to play competition on a weekly to bi-weekly basis we will never develop great athletes in this country beyond the current standard we see now. Our young talent will not develop to their maximum potential until this country develops an infrastructure that gets everyone playing against each other and against the Chinese talent throughout this country in regular competitions."

I see the same thing. I see far too many up-and-coming juniors - including from my own club - who train and Train and TRAIN, and don't understand that's just the "given" part. Many partially make up for this with weekly matches with the other top players from their club, but they are playing the same players each week, with little at stake, and so it isn't quite the same. They need at least two tournaments every month, or a larger-scale league where they play more varied players.

Jim also wrote, "When I played this 3 tournament team trials over the 3 day weekend, I was clearly better by the last day.  I left feeling battle hardened, tougher, and sharper.  That has the same effect on the young players also." This is a common thing. Often our top juniors reach their best right as the tournament ends - and then there's no more competition to take advantage of it. Tournaments develop and bring out the best in our players, but it has to be a regular thing, just as training has to be a regular thing.

Ironically, just yesterday I wrote of Jim, "But now Jim, pushed to play well, often is forced to raise his level of play - and so while we don't often see the 2700+ Jim Butler of the 90s, we often see flashes of it, especially after he's played a bunch of matches where he's getting pushed hard." That's exactly what happened to Jim this past weekend, and exactly what happens to our up-and-coming players whey they are pushed hard in tournaments or other competitions. And guess what? When they are pushed hard, over and over, week after week, they often discover they can play at levels far beyond what they would have if they only trained.

Jim also comments on the strength of our young talent in the country now, and we both agree that it's incredibly strong. I've blogged about it a number of times; with full-time training centers popping up all over the country over the last seven years, the level of our junior and cadet players has skyrocketed, and is stronger than it has ever been. It used to be we'd have maybe one or two really good junior players in each age group. Now we have dozens of them, and with those dozens there are a few who break out and go beyond where anyone has gone before, such as Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang, with others hot on their heels. Who knows which other ones will break out of the field and challenge to be the best? But before we didn't even have a "field" of up-and-coming talent so much as a few isolated good ones.

But for them to reach their potential and keep on pace with their overseas counterparts - both European and Asian - they'll need both the given training and the constant competition. To quote Jim one more time: "This country is going to blow up with success once a tournament infrastructure is built.  Our young talent would thrive and play beyond their teenage years.  The players would become great in time, and the sport will take off. … It would be an incredible loss to watch this young talent die out after their teenage years because no competitive infrastructure has been built yet in the USA."

(Note - I originally ended this with a comparison to tennis. The Williams sisters, for example, didn't follow the conventional route to success, staying out of the junior circuit and mostly training. However, there are a lot of differences between table tennis and tennis, with table tennis having more intricate spins, variations, and instant reactions to complex situations, compared to tennis, where the rallies are more "pure" and the situations less complex. Also, one ad hoc example in tennis doesn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of top tennis players reached their level from both training and competition. But I don't want to distract from the main topic here and turn this into a table tennis vs. tennis training thing. Perhaps another time.) 

Interview with Jim Butler

While we're on the subject of Jim Butler, here's a rather emotional interview with Jim at the USA Team Trials, right after he'd clinched the final spot on the U.S. Team. (The link should take you directly to it, but if not, the interview starts at 1hr43min39sec, and lasts for 5.5 minutes.)

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot

Here's the video (3:52) of the much hyped man vs. robot table tennis match - but judging from the comments, it's a disappointment. It was obviously staged, and wasn't a real match. (If it had, Timo would have killed the robot with ease.) Most believe that much of the play was cgi, though I'm not sure of that. They even had a landing pit for Timo to dive into when he dove for the ball. After watching the video, read the comments and see if you agree. Here's an article on the event, which found it disappointing. My view? I was a bit disappointed that the video really didn't show us the robot's actual capabilities. It made it appear to be blocking Timo's best loops, but since we only saw snippets of rallies, it's not clear if it was actually doing so, if it was only doing so occasionally, or if it was cgi.

Final Preparations Underway for Star-Studded Butterfly Cary Cup

Here's the article - by Butterfly's new traveling reporter and former MDTTC junior star Barbara Wei! She'll have a daily article up each day until the tournament this weekend, and then a flurry of articles during and after the tournament. (I'll be there, in Cary, NC, just playing hardbat on Friday and coaching the rest of the way.)

Liu Guozheng on the New Plastic Ball

Here's the article on his views after testing it. (Liu, a former Chinese star, is now coach of the second men's team.) One problem - they don't say which of the new balls was tested. By most accounts, they play differently. The one that seems to play best is the Xu Shaofa seamless one, but since he says the ball is more fragile, I'm pretty sure it's not that one, which (due to the seamlessness) is far less fragile than a celluloid ball.

The Missing Key in Table Tennis Footwork

Here's the video (2:02) by Ohio top player and coach Samson Dubina - Improving Your Table Tennis Footwork with Better Anticipation.

Wang Liqin Doing Multiball

Here's 29 sec of three-time World Men's Singles Champion Wang Liqin doing multiball.

Around-the-Net Backhand Counterloop (and an almost-nice receive)

Here's the video (60 sec, including slow motion replays). It's a great shot, certainly, but I wonder how many saw something more subtle and more important to your table tennis game? Watch the receive at the start. See how the player reaches in as if he's going to push to the left, and at the last second pushes to the right. That's how advanced receivers push. However, while he made an excellent last-second change of direction, he made another subtle mistake - the push isn't wide enough, and so the server was able to recover and make a strong loop. If the receive had been to the corner or just outside it, it would have been a great receive. If you do these last-second changes of direction, and place the ball well (usually to wide corners when pushing deep), then you are more likely to mess up the server. And that is your goal. 

Attempt on World's Longest Rally

Here's the article. On March 23, Peter and Dan Ives (father and son) will attempt to break the record for world's longest table tennis rally, currently held by Max Fergus and Luke Logan at 8 hours, 30 minutes, and 6 seconds. The Ives are doing so to raise money for Prostrate Cancer UK Charity.

China Primary School Ping Pong Army

Here's a video (2o sec) of a zillion kids in China doing their morning ping-pong.

Crossword Puzzle Pong

Yesterday's Washington Post crossword puzzle had this question for 45 across: "Ping-Pong ball delivery." So what was the answer? It was a bit disappointing: "Random Number." (So more lottery than table tennis.)

Table Tennis Memes

Go to Google. In the search engine put in "table tennis memes pictures." (Or just use this shortcut I created.) And see all the great ones that come up!

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February 26, 2014


I've previously blogged about some of the below, but I'm going to rehash some of it here so as to get to the point about vision.

Way back in December, 2006, I made a proposal to the USATT board for them to get involved in developing training centers and junior programs. The plan basically involved them recruiting and training coaches to set up these centers and programs. They'd use their web page and regular mailings to get prospective coaches into coaching seminars that USATT was already running. The seminars would cover not only how to coach, but the professional side as well - how to get students, set up and run programs, etc., with a major emphasis on developing full-time coaches who would set up full-time training centers and junior programs. I even wrote the manual for the program, which I've since had published, "Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook."

I ended the proposal by asking the USATT board what their vision was for table tennis in America, and gave them mine:

"Hundreds of professional clubs with coaches, junior training programs, classes, and leagues; thousands of recreational clubs with leagues or training programs; and hundreds of thousands playing in leagues or training programs."

At the time there were only about ten full-time centers in the U.S., and about that many serious junior programs. When I finished my proposal, thirteen board members looked back at me with seemingly little interest. Two of them spoke up, saying there weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers except in a few unique areas. I stared back in absolute disbelief. I was so disgusted that I told several people that very night I was resigning my position as editor of USATT Magazine, co-webmaster, and program director, which I officially did one month later.

That was just over seven years ago. Without USATT's involvement, there are now nearly 70 full-time training centers in the U.S., and nearly every one of them has a serious junior program. It happened because many others saw what I saw - there would be a demand for such centers, and where there's a demand, entrepreneurs step in. In this case, lots of table tennis coaches and top players filled the demand. The two board members were correct that there "weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers." What they and others without vision did not see is that you create this demand. With USATT's support, who knows how many more we would have.

Some would say we're better off without USATT getting involved, but as one who's out in the trenches, who's actually set up full-time centers and helps others doing so, I guarantee the lack of any national leadership is perhaps the biggest handicap here. Everyone who opens such a center has to practically re-invent the wheel. Other sports recruit and train coaches and promoters to do these things; we rely on them figuring it out on their own. There should be a partnership between USATT and those trying to set up such centers and junior programs, since both should have the same goals.

The result of all these new junior programs has been staggering. The level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so far ahead of where it was just seven years ago it's not even comparable. Two years ago I blogged about this, and gave a comparison of the top juniors in 2011 to those in 2006, and it wasn't even close. In the last two years, the level has dramatically gone up again. Kids who are now battling to compete with the best of their age would often be the dominating #1 player just seven years ago. The top ten players in every age group are now doing things that at most one player their age might have been doing seven years ago. We have multiple 12-year-olds who could have been the U.S. Under 18 Champion in many past years.

Since USATT still has no interest in helping out in the recruiting and training of the coaches and promoters to set up training centers and junior programs, and also have shown no interest in setting up any sort of nationwide network of regional leagues, they either have some other vision, or no vision. Which is it?

While the staff does the day-to-day running of the sport, the board, with help from committees, sets policy. You can't set effective policy until you know where you are trying to go. Those who don't understand this do not have the vision needed to lead our sport to prosperity.

So here's my question to all USATT board members, as well as committee chairs and members, staff, and anyone else involved in the development of table tennis in the U.S.  Think this over, take your time, and give a serious answer.

What is your vision for table tennis in the U.S.?

USATT Fundraising

In yesterday's blog I linked to the new minutes of two USATT board meetings and reports. I'll blog about them sometime soon. However, here's one really good thing that jumped out at me from the December meeting - the part about raising $5 million in four years in the amended motion #2. The good thing isn't about the proposed raising of $5 million. Here's the motion:

"MOVED to direct the CEO to develop a major fundraising plan that would raise $5,000,000 per quad, in addition to our current operations. The major concepts of the plan are to be presented to the Board at the Spring 2014 Board meeting."

It's good that they are trying to raise money, but there's nothing new about it. What jumps out is that they did one small, seemingly insignificant thing that USATT almost always forgets to do in the past - they put someone in charge of actually doing it - the USATT CEO. Voting to do something may make it look like something is being accomplished and may make the voters feel good about themselves, but it doesn't accomplish anything unless you put someone specifically in charge of actually getting it done. It's a lesson USATT should have learned long ago, but over and over has failed to do, and so rarely gets much done. (Anyone remember the People's Front of Judea in the movie "Life of Brian"? They kept voting to do hugely important things, then would adjourn without actually doing anything.) Perhaps this time it'll be different - I'm actually hopeful here, since I know raising funding is a top priority of board chair Mike Babuin, and now we have our CEO directly in charge of doing so. In the words of a famous captain, "Make it so!"

Crossword Puzzle

Late last night before going to bed I decided to do the crossword puzzle from that morning's Washington Post. Here was 62 across, eleven letters: "Olympic sport with the smallest ball." Let's see, what could that be? Spitballer? Peashooting? ProMarbling?

Poly Balls

Here's an article on the new poly balls, which are supposed to replace celluloid balls starting in July. The newer versions have apparently passed all eleven required laboratory tests. Will they pass the players' test? USATT has announced they will still use celluloid balls at the U.S. Open in July (they had already ordered the balls), but after that we'll see. I believe tournament directors will be able to choose which to use, but I'm not sure.

Richard McAfee's New Knee

Here's a picture of former USATT Coaching Chair and current ITTF roving coach Richard McAfee after having knee replacement surgery. He looks so comfortable, lying back and reading with all those tubes sticking out of him.

Westchester Open Singles Final

Here's the video (35:47), with Eugene Wang of Canada (U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion and North American #1 ranked player) defeating 16-year-old Kai Zhang, -11,10,3,8.

Crazy Rally

Here's an incredible rally (47 sec) posted this morning from the Swedish League.

Pong to the People

Here's the picture!

He's Having a Ball Playing Table Tennis

Here's the picture!

Headis - Soccer-style Table Tennis

Here's video (43 sec) of the fastest growing sport in America. While we're on the subject of soccer, here's video (5:11) of three members of the U.S. Soccer team playing table tennis (Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Heath Pearce).

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