Zhang Jike

February 6, 2013

Feb. 4 USATT Board Minutes and Tournament Sanction Changes

Late last night the minutes of the Feb. 4, 2013 board meeting went up. Part of it was the election of Mike Babuin as the new chairman of the USATT Board of Directors, and the Advisory Committee Chair Appointments (see segment below). However, the bigger news is the new sanctioning standards for USATT tournaments, from zero to 5-star. Here are the new rules. When I get a chance I'll go over them and give my own thoughts. I'll be glad to hear your own - feel free to comment.

Mike Babuin New Chairman of the USATT Board of Directors

The USATT Board chose Mike as the new Chair. I've had many discussions with Mike, and I think they've made a good choice. Here's the article, and here's the actual board minutes, both of which also discuss advisory committee chairs. Here is the list of all newly appointed or re-appointed USATT Advisory Committees chairs.

High Performance Committee   -   Carl Danner
Nominating and Governance Committee   -   Bob Fox
Ethics and Grievance Committee   -   Jim Coombe
Compensation Committee   -   Mike Babuin
Audit Committee   -   Peter Scudner
Athletes Advisory Council   –   Han Xiao
Officials and Rules Advisory Committee   -   Roman Tinyszin
Seniors Advisory Committee   -   Gregg Robertshaw
Tournaments Advisory Committee   -   Larry Rose
Editorial Advisory Committee   -   Jim McQueen
Clubs Advisory Committee   -   Attila Malek
Hardbat Advisory Committee   -   Alberto Prieto
Juniors Advisory Committee   -   Dennis Davis
Coaching Advisory Committee   -   Federico Bassetti
Marketing and Fund Raising Advisory Committee   -   Jim Kahler

Book Blatherings

  • Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13. It's pretty comprehensive, covering the year 1984. We got started on it late Tuesday morning. On Day One, we completed the front and back covers, the inside front cover, and the first 40 pages (through the first two chapters). Tim's on a photo binge - I've already put in 85 photos! At this rate every member of USA Table Tennis, circa 1984, will be in it. I'm doing the page layouts and much of the photo work. The majority of the photos come from Mal Anderson, who scanned all his photos, saving us a huge amount of time.  We'll be working on this for the next 10-14 days. It will be on sale in a few weeks, along with the previous twelve already on sale, at TimBogganTableTennis.com.
  • Homestretch on Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. Yesterday I received the review copy. All looked well. I did make a few changes that I'd already planned, replacing two photos with two new ones, and tweaking a few pages. I've submitted the final version. If all goes well, print copies will be on sale this Friday. It's absolutely amazing how the printing industry has changed - they'll get the final version on Wednesday, and have copies on sale two days later!
  • TableTennisBooks.com? I recently bought the rights to the page, along with LarryHodgesBooks.com. I plan on selling my books on the latter, but am toying with someday becoming a table tennis book dealer on the former. After all, there's nothing we like to do better at a table tennis club than to curl up under a table and read table tennis books!
  • Want more books? Here's a list of all 213 books I have on table tennis. I just added Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

Ma Long vs. Zhang Jike

Here's video (4:40) of their match at the 2013 Chinese Team Trials.

Pool-Pong

This is what happens when you combine pool and ping-pong (39 sec).

Underwater Table Tennis

With a shark!!! But of course sharks can play table tennis. Sometimes they even infest the table.

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January 8, 2013

The Schools Petition

Hopefully by now you're one of the 951 people who have signed the petition to "Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka 'Ping Pong' as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice." I first blogged about this back on Dec. 13 the day after it was created by the enterprising Joel Mitchell (and I was the fifth person to sign), and I blogged about it again on Jan. 4 (Friday). It's now featured on the USATT home page. I think it's great that we're working together on this. 

Unfortunately, to get a response from the White House we need at least 25,000 signatures by Jan. 11, which is this Friday. We're only 24,049 away!!! (And in the time it took me to write this blog, we got two more signatures - we're up to 953!)

So let's be honest; unless someone famous (hi Susan Sarandon) gets this on some extremely watched TV show, we're not going to get those 24,000+ signatures in the next three days. But suppose we did? Are schools really the answer?

Schools are Not the Answer (Not Yet)

I would argue that schools may be Step Two in developing our sport, but not Step One. And we're a long way from even getting started on Step One, which is to develop the sport ourselves so the schools will be interested in taking us to the next level. Sure, someone might put together a school league or club, but the key is that one of us - a table tennis person - has to do it, not the school itself. They are quite willing to make use of the few people we have who can do this. But until we show them table tennis is a growing sport that everyone else is doing, they won't jump on the bandwagon. In other words, schools are not the way to go until we are a larger sport. The way to grow junior table tennis in the country is through club programs, as is done all over Europe. Here are the problems with going through the schools, in no particular order:

1. School systems are not interested in adopting a small sport and making it big. That's our job. When we are a bigger sport, then they will be interested.

2. School systems are not interested in adopting a relatively expensive sport like table tennis (tables, nets, rackets, balls, constantly breaking and needing replacement, lots of storage space needed for tables) unless the sport is already popular. They can toss the kids a soccer ball, basketball, etc., and it's easier and cheaper, and they already have facilities for these and other large sports.

3. No sport in the U.S. has ever gotten big through schools, although a number of big sports got bigger because of schools. (Lacrosse got big through colleges, but they are the exception, and we're talking about high school, middle school, and elementary school here.)

4. Table tennis has not gotten big through schools in any country in the world, except for communist countries like China where the leaders (like Chairman Mao in China) ordained it the national sport. (And Obama doesn't have that authority.) Worldwide, and especially in Europe, players start out in junior programs at local clubs, according to Stellan Bengtsson, Jorgen Persson, and dozens of others I've spoken with over the years. Every player and coach from Europe I've spoken to says the same thing. In the countries in Europe where table tennis has gotten big, there are school teams, but they are relatively unimportant there, since most of the players train at local clubs, where there's a professional coach and players from local schools, instead of just one school. Stellan said he didn't think a single member of the Swedish team started out at a school or ever trained seriously at one, unless it was part of a table tennis club separate from the school.

5. The best we can do with schools is set up some ping-pong clubs, but few are going to fund a real coach. So while the kids play ping-pong, it's just a game like Parcheesi to them. They don't take it seriously and they rarely if ever join USATT.

USATT has a long history of sending coaches to train teachers at large Physical Education Symposiums, but little ever comes of it. The teachers simply don't go back to their schools determined to set up serious junior programs. They go back and sometimes set up tables for a few sessions in PE, where the kids just play games.

At first thought, schools seem like a great way to grow the sport, and it looks good to the membership (so those who are big on going to the schools get elected), and so generation after generation of USATT board members have made schools a priority. The return on investment is incredibly small. (The old argument is often made, "It's better than nothing." If we are thinking small and want to stay small, then this is the way to go.)

This is one of those frustrating things through the years as we so often try to get someone else to fix our problems, i.e. hoping the schools will make us big, or Bill Gates or some other big sponsor will fund us, etc. We have to build our sport from inside before schools and large sponsors will be interested.

The key to junior development - both elite and grassroots (i.e. large numbers) - is to recruit and train coaches to set up and run junior programs, something that is done in successful table tennis countries all over the world.

Keep in mind that the goal is junior development. Schools and club programs are merely a means to this end. Too often people get attached to the means to the end rather than the end itself, and so we never reach the goal. Developing junior programs at clubs will raise us to the next level, and then we can approach school systems, and they will take us seriously. Then they can take us to an even higher level. But we have to do the groundwork first, like every other sport that got successful.

USATT Board Election Status & Update

Here's a notice from USATT on changes on the USATT Board.

The USATT Athletes Advisory Council recently held an election and as a result Han Xiao was elected to serve on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council replacing Ashu Jain and Para athlete Edward Levy was elected to serve as the second Athlete Rep on the USATT Board of Directors.  The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association recently informed USATT that Kagin Lee will serve as their representative on the USATT Board of Directors.  Kagin replaces David Del Vecchio in this capacity.  The Nominating and Governance Committee met in late 2012 and as a result voted that Anne Cribbs and Peter Scudner should continue to serve as Independent Directors on the USATT Board of Directors.  The one remaining Board seat to be filled is currently in a membership wide election that will conclude on Jan 21, 2013.  The announcement of that election result and the posting of the complete composition of the Board of Directors for the next two year term will be made on February 4, 2013.

At this time we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Ashu Jain and David Del Vecchio for their outstanding contributions to the governance process of USATT through their service as Board Members for the last two terms.  Thank you, Ashu and thank you, David!

Xu Xin New #1

Here are the new ITTF world rankings. Zhang Jike and Ma Long have been trading back and forth for a while as the #1 man in the world, but now there's a new gun in town. Yes, they are all Chinese, as is #4 Wang Hao, #6 Ma Lin, #7 "sort of Chinese" Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan, and #9 Wang Liqin. But Germany's up there, with #5 Timo Boll and #8 Dimitrij Ovtcharov. On the women's side, the top four are also Chinese, with Ding Ning #1 for the 15th consecutive month.

USA doesn't have anyone in the top 100 in Men's rankings, but has three players in the top 100 in the women's - #76 Gao Jun, #88 Arial Hsing, and #96 Lily Zhang. USA is ranked #47 and #16 in Men's and Women's Team World Rankings.

USA is pretty strong in girls' top 100 rankings. In Under 21 Women, USA has #19 Ariel Hsing and #23 Lily Zhang. In Under 18 Girls, USA has a strong showing: #5 Ariel Hsing, #6 Lily Zhang, and #61 Prachi Jha. In Under 15 Girls, USA has #48 Diane Jiang, #54 Tina Lin, #69 Angela Guan, #75 Joy Lin, and #77 Crystal Wang. (Crystal is only 10, and is from my club, MDTTC.) In the Under 18 Girls' Team Rankings, USA is #4 after China, Japan, and Romania. (CORRECTION: As pointed out by Aaron Avery, USA is actually in a three-way tie for 2nd with Japan and Romania, but with the head-to-head tie-breaking system used by ITTF, they are #2. See the 2 in the left column - not sure why they have them listed fourth.)

We're not quite as strong on the boys' side. In Under 21 Men, USA has one ranked player - Wang Qing Liang, the chopper/looper from my club who made the semifinals of Men's Singles at last year's U.S. Open. In Under 18 Boys, he is also our only ranked player, at #37. We're a lot better in Under 15 Boys, with eight players: #33 Li Hangyu, #39 Kunal Chodri, #41 Kanak Jha, #55 Chen Bo Wen (from my club!), #63 Allen Wang, #68 Jonathan Ou, #75 Li Fengguang, and #99 Krishnateja ("Krish") Avvari. In Under 18 Boys' Team Rankings, USA is #35.

1400 Articles

I recently discovered I now have over 1400 published articles! Total is 1405 in 138 different publications, including 1263 on table tennis. This does not include blog entries. (If I did, it would put me over 1900!) It does include the weekly Tip of the Week, which is published not only here but also as a news item in the Paddle Palace Blog.

Yesterday's Todo List

Remember all that stuff I had on my todo list yesterday? (See second item.) I got it all done except for finalizing the entry form for our upcoming MDTTC tournaments. (I'm redoing the scheduling.) I expect to do that this morning.

USA Paralympic Team

Here's info on the 2013 USA Paralympic Team Procedures.

First USA ITTF Level 2 Coach

Congrats to Jef Savage of The Table Tennis Centre of Mercersburg, PA, who this past week became the first USA coach to be certified as an ITTF Level 2 coach. (Here's a news item on it.) I've worked with him a bit, and did his five hours of "supervised" coaching. The irony is that although I'm a USATT Certified National Coach, I'm only an ITTF Level 1 Coach. I may go for Level 2 certification later this year. (I was one of the first two ITTF coaches in the U.S., along with Donn Olsen.)

Woman of the Year

Ariel Hsing was named Table Tennis Woman of the Year by Table Tennis Nation. Read about her great year!

From Hardball to Hardbat

Here's an article on Adoni Maropis and his rise from TV villain (the evil Abu Fayed from season six of "24") to table tennis prominence in the hardbat and sandpaper world.

Zhang Jike vs Wang Liqin

Here's a nice match (7:07) between the current world champion Zhang and the past 3-time champ (and still #9) Wang in the Chinese Super League. (Wang is on the near side at the start.) Time between points has been taken out, so it's non-stop action! What can you learn from this match?

2012 Through Our Paddles

Here's a look at the past year - through ping-pong paddle images!

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January 2, 2013

Tip of the Week

Balance Throughout the Stroke.

Two Weeks

The last two weeks have been exhausting. I can divide them into four parts: the USA Nationals (Dec. 18-22: Christmas with Family (Dec. 22-25); MDTTC Christmas Camp (Dec. 26-31); and Reading in Bed (Dec. 31 - Jan. 1).

USA Nationals

I've been to every Nationals since the early 1980s, and this is the first one where I didn't play any events, just coached. Much of the tournament is now a blur, but much of it comes back when I look over the extensive notes I took on opponents. (I have to type them up soon for my ongoing coaching notes.)

Derek Nie, 11, played great. I coached him in all his matches as he made the National Mini-Cadet Team (under 13), finishing second (with the top four making the team). His matches from the quarterfinals on were spectacular, and gave meaning to the idea that tactics aren't very helpful if you can't executive. Well, he executed!!! Going in, he was seeded eighth at 2139, but in more recent ratings he was 2221, which would have put him third. He knocked off the second seed (rated 2314) at 7,4,7 in perhaps the best-played match of his life. His two-winged full-court looping game, and especially his counterlooping from all over the court, is especially impressive when you remember he's 4'5" and 65 lbs! (As noted previously, he's the best player in the U.S., pound for pound.) He has another year left in the Mini-Cadets, as well as four years in the Cadets. He trains regularly with Cheng Yinghua and the other MDTTC coaches, including me, although I mostly play practice matches with him so he can work on serve & receive - he's too fast for me in drills. 

Here's a picture of me coaching Derek and Seyed Hesam Hamrahian in doubles in the Junior Team competition. And yes, that's me, getting chased around the table by Derek as we loosen up before a practice session. It started as some easy jogging around the table, then it became a chase, and Bruce Liu (unfortunately) caught the last nine seconds of it.

Here's a nice quote I keep reminding Derek of during the tournament when he was passive in receiving long serves: "At the higher levels, looping a long serve is not a tactic, it's what you do. Not looping the serve is a tactic." Ironically, in one of his key matches, the opponent mixed in long topspin and backspin serves, and in that match the tactic was to push the backspin serve back, since the opponent would either push or loop soft, giving Derek the chance to loop or counterloop.

I didn't get to see much of the main matches in men's or women's singles as I was too busy coaching. I did manage to attend the annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. For the fourth year in a row I did the program booklet for them; here's the 2012 program, in high (1.7MB) or low (174KB) resolution.

Some of you might remember Mike Lardon, a junior star from the 1970s, and now a sports psychologist. He was at the Nationals, playing in the over 50 events. I introduced him to Derek, and he gave him (and signed) a copy of his sports psychology book, Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life. (I reviewed this in my Nov. 8, 2011 blog.) Derek read half the book that night. I've been told that most match coaches don't spend much time on sports psychology, which I believe is a huge mistake. It's often the most important aspect.

It's almost a joke how much strength and depth we now have in the juniors, especially up to about age 14. It's getting ridiculous - players who seven years ago would be battling for national titles are now struggling to reach the QF. The matches in the round of 16 are stronger than finals from ten years ago. They are routinely doing shots that were only rarely done back then. I still cringe every time an opponent power loop to Derek's FH, and Derek (and other players) routinely go for the counterloop, probably not realizing how difficult this is "supposed" to be!

Christmas

I spent Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, Dec. 22-25. No table tennis - sorry! Gave away lots of stuff, received lots of stuff (sorry, no table tennis stuff!). Highlights included my making my annual batch of Larry's Chili (my own secret recipe) for Dec. 23 dinner (and lunches thereafter); seeing The Hobbit on Christmas Day; and catching the annual red-eye flight on Christmas night so I can get back the morning of Dec. 26 for the MDTTC training camp.

We've run over 150 training camps at MDTTC since we opened in 1992, and this was our 21st Christmas Camp - I've coached at all of them. During the camp I gave lectures on ready position, grip, forehand, backhand, forehand loop, backhand loop, flipping, pushing, footwork, serve, receive, playing different surfaces, and doubles.

MDTTC Christmas Camp

The camp was held Dec. 26-31, starting with an afternoon session on Dec. 26, and ending with the morning session on Dec. 31. We had over 40 players. Because we have so many coaches at MDTTC (6), I was only needed in the morning sessions, where I gave short lectures before breaking out into multiball sessions. My highlight was getting a bunch of the kids on break to call out the names of the three great gods of table tennis until they got the secret meaning: Owa, Tegu, Siam. Say them over and over until you get the secret meaning. (If you are lost, email me, but really, you should get it if you keep saying it!) The kids' highlight was probably the candy game on Dec. 30, where I put hoards of candy on the table and fed multiball while the players rotated, two shots each, where they got to keep whatever they knocked off the table.

Reading in Bed

What is your "dream" vacation? For some it's the beach, or out sailing, or hiking in the mountains, or travel, or perhaps watching TV all day. For me it's spending all day in bed reading. I read two fantasy novels, "Hush" and "Witchbreaker," both by James Maxey. They were the second and third books in his Dragon Apocalypse series. (I read book one while in Santa Barbara for Christmas.) While I'm on the subject of writing, I'm sad to announce that I read fewer books in 2012 than any year since early elementary school - and I'm not happy about this. (However, I also read the Washington Post and about a dozen magazines.) But I still managed to read 24 books. Here's a listing:

FICTION (15)
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Firebird by Jack McDevitt
Moonfall by Jack McDevitt
Voyagers by Ben Bova
Ringworld by Larry Niven
The Religion War by Scott Adams
Specter Spectacular edited by Eileen Wiedbrauk
Into the Out Of by Alan Dean Foster
Dinotopia Lost by Alan Dean Foster
Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
Barry's Tale by Lawrence Schoen
Burn Baby Burn: A Supervillain Novel by James Maxey
Greatshadow by James Maxey
Hush by James Maxey
Witchbreaker by James Maxey

NON-FICTION (4)
Building Your Book for Kindle
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Earth by The Daily Show (it's sort of non-fiction!)
How to Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings by Robert Qualkinbush

TABLE TENNIS (5)
Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion, by Werner Schlager & Berndt-Ulrich Gross
Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov (See my review.)
Ping Pong Fever by Steve Grant (See my review.)
Get Your Game Face On! by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (See my review.)
The Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats, Volume, 1 by Fred Danner (See my review.)

2013 USA National Team Trials

Here is info on the 2013 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials, to be held Feb. 7-10 in San Jose at the Topspin Table Tennis Club. Here is the Prospectus and Entry Form, both in PDF format.

Whitney Ping on USOC Board of Directors

Whitney Ping, a member of the 2004 USA Olympic Table Tennis Team, a former player rep on the USATT Board of Directors, and an Athlete Service Coordinator for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, is now one of the 15 members of the USOC Board of Directors. Here's the article.

National Club Championships

Here are the results, with Chinese CC Flushing NY defeating Maryland Table Tennis Center in the final (in Las Vegas), 3-1. In the semifinals, they defeated Newport Beach TTC (CA) 3-0, while MDTTC defeated Los Angeles TTA, 3-1.

Zhang Jike

Here's a feature on the Chinese star and the great year he's had. He's only the second player ever to hold both the World and Olympic Men's Singles Titles. (The other was Chinese Men's Coach - and Zhang's coach - Liu Guoliang in 1996.)

Table Tennis Jump Smash

Here's a coaching video on the Jump Smash against lob from PingSkills (2:25). He recommends against it, and I generally agree. However, some players, such as Dan Seemiller, have perfected this shot, using a scissors-kick method with a running start. The example shown here shows the player jumping from a stationary position with less leg kick than Dan uses. I use this technique in exhibitions, and sometimes in matches.

The New Plastic Ball

Here's a video (16:16) where the new plastic ball is compared to current celluloid balls as well as the old 38mm ones. This is Part 1: Physical Differences.

Beyond Imagination Part 6

Here's Beyond Imagination Part 6 (7:02), a highlights reel of the best rallies from 2012. (Links to the first five appear on the right.)

Pongcast TV Episode 22 - Best of 2012

Here's the video (17:41).

Adam Bobrow in Asia

Here's the video (2:11) of his exhibitions in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea (I think South!)

Aloha 2013!

Here's Hawaiian Table Tennis wishing you a Happy 2013 with a table tennis cartoon! (Is that Rudolf the Red-nosed Moose?)

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November 30, 2012

1400 Articles!!!

I just realized that the Tip of the Week I published this past Monday was the 1400th article I've had published. (Cue the confetti.) There's a bit of ambiguity in there, as what constitutes a published article? I don't count blog entries (over 500 here since I started two years ago), but I do count the Tips of the Week. (For one thing, they are also published at Paddle Palace.) Included among these 1400 in 138 different publications are 1258 on table tennis. Here's a complete listing.

Pages I Maintain

I maintain a number of webpages. This seems like a good time to post them. (For one thing, I'm battling a cold, and this will be an easy blog to write so I can get back to bed.) Here are the main pages. Each of them includes many sub-pages.

TableTennisCoaching.com. If you are reading this, you are there. Here's your chance to explore some of the pages here. For example, have you gone over to the "Fun and Games" section? Lots of hilarious table tennis stuff - videos, pictures, and games.

CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com. This is where you can find 1440 pictures of 870 celebrities playing table tennis. This is the most important page on the Internet. (I used to update this monthly, but it's rather time-consuming so these days I do it sporadically.

TimBogganTableTennis.com. This is where you can buy copies of Tim Boggan's history books, History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volumes 1-12. You can also learn about the famous Tim himself! (I do the page layouts for Tim's books.) He's almost done with Volume 13! (Each time he finishes a volume, he drives down from New York to Maryland to stay with me for two weeks, where he'll sit next to me as we do the page layouts together. I do the actual layouts while he waves a finger at the screen saying things like, "No, you fool, the photo goes there!!! And I don't like that font - invent a new one!" 

Larrytt.com. This started out as my table tennis coaching page, where I listed my credentials and recent adventures. It's since become basically my everything table tennis page, where I just keep adding stuff.

Larryhodges.org. This is my science fiction and fantasy writing page. As readers of this blog know, outside table tennis I write SF&F - I've sold 65 short stories (also 30 resales and 15 paid "twitter" stories), and have two novels making the rounds. I also maintain a page on writing science fiction & fantasy.

LarryHodgesBooks.com. This is under construction - nothing much there yet except a listing of my six books. Sometime next year this will be where you'll be able to buy copies of your favorite Larry Hodges books!!! I'm currently putting them in proper format for POD (Print on Demand) and ebooks. The following books would be sold there (though I might later start selling other table tennis books):

  • Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (coming in December, 2012, though this might soon become January 2013)
  • Table Tennis Success (formerly titled Table Tennis: Steps to Success)
  • Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
  • Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook
  • Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis
  • Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges

Table Tennis on CNN Home Page

Here's a screen shot of CNN.com last night, with the picture of Ding Ning of China featured. The caption is, "Ning Ding of China plays a forehand during the women's singles table tennis quarter-final match against Ai Fukuhara of Japan on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31." (I think the Ding is supposed to come before the Ning.) It was part of a gallery of "75 Amazing Sports Moments" from 2012." See photo #20.

Stellan Bengtsson Article

Here's an article from the ITTF on Stellan Bengtsson, former World Men's Singles Champion and now a coach in San Diego.

Zhang Jike's Condition

Here's an article from TableTennista, "Zhang Jike Not Satisfied With His Condition."

Ping Pong Talkin Blues

Since I'm fighting a cold, this seems a good time to link to these guitar strumming songs by Dan Cole.

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November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

See my Thanksgiving links at the end of this blog.

Malware warnings all gone

It took a while, and I had to hire Sucuri Securities, but all the problems are over with Google blacklisting the site for malware that was long gone. Our long national nightmare is over. Or at least mine is. (One complication - apparently you might get a false malware warning if you visited the site recently. If so, clear your cache - sorry! - and it'll go away. That's what happened to me.)

No Blog Friday

I'll be coaching (and playing part-time) Fri-Sun at the North American Team Championships. Here's a preview picture!

Crystal Wang Enters the Stratosphere

Crystal Wang, age 10, is now rated 2245. This is by far the highest rating ever achieved by a girl at that age, and the second highest for anyone that age, boys or girls. The highest rating ever achieved by a 10-year-old is Kanak Jha two years ago at 2265. (And Crystal still has three months to gain 20+ points before she turns 11.) No one else has even been close to breaking 2200 at that age. For perspective, Ariel Hsing's highest rating as a 10-year-old was 2066, and Lily Zhang's was 1887 - and these two are now both our best junior girls and our best women as well.

To recap what I wrote in my blog last week (Nov. 13), Crystal already had achieved the highest rating ever for a 9-year-old last year, boys or girls, at an even 2150. She was rated 2166 earlier this year when she began complaining of wrist problems, and had three poor tournaments in a row, dropping to 2099 - still #1 in the country for Under 11, Under 12, and Under 13. They x-rayed the wrist and discovered she'd been playing with a fractured (i.e. broken) wrist. So she had to take most of the summer off. She started up again at the end of the summer, and now she's even better than before. At the Potomac Open she defeated players rated 2334, 2240, 2205, and 2149, without losing to anyone under 2200. It's no fluke as she just before the Potomac Open she defeated two players over 2300 to make the final of the MDTTC Elite League. (Crystal trains at the Maryland Table Tennis Center.)

Crystal (yes, she was born in the U.S.) plays a very modern two-winged looping game, hitting and looping on both sides. She's a member of the USA Cadet Girls' Team, making the team last year as a 9-year-old competing in an under 15 event. She trains long hours, day after day, with Coach Jack Huang her primary coach, though she also trains with the MDTTC coaches and players. She and Amy Wang (no relation, a year younger, coincidentally rated 2099, from NJ) are essentially Ariel & Lily, Part II, east coast version - the new Dynamic Duo, but rated even higher for their ages. The Walloping Wangs? But they both have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to follow in the huge footsteps of Ariel and Lily. 

And to think I'll have to write about this all over again if Crystal breaks 2265 in the next three months....Jeez.

Just to be clear, I'm not obsessed with ratings, and in fact believe they often hurt the sport, especially at the junior stage. (Here's my article on Juniors and Ratings, which I also linked to yesterday.) But they are usually a pretty decent indicator of level.

Update: 2013 USA Junior and Cadet National Team Selection Procedures

There's a mysterious change in the USA Junior and Cadet Team Selection Procedures. Here's the note from the USATT web page - it sure would be helpful to have some hint on why they withdrew the previous procedures. Below is the text from the message:

  • The previously published selection procedures for the 2013 Junior and Cadet National Teams are hereby withdrawn.  The High Performance Committee will promptly review and revise those procedures, subject to the approval of the Athletes’ Advisory Council.   The selection procedures then will be republished.
  • As previously announced, the 2013 Junior and Cadet Trials will be conducted in Las Vegas at the U.S. National Championships on Dec 18 – 22, 2012.  All entries have been received, and all who entered will compete for spots on the National Team.
  • The revised 2013 Selection Procedures will be posted on the USATT website NO LATER THAN Dec. 10, 2012.

The Power of Zhang Jike

Here's a musical highlights video of World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (6:07).

Jean-Philippe Gatien

Here's a highlights reel (5:02) of 1993 World Men's Singles Champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, often called the fastest man in table tennis. (He and 2004 Olympic Men's Singles Gold Medalist Ryu Seung Min should have a race!) The key thing to see when you watch Gatien play is how much of the table he covers with his forehand without backing up.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Last year I did an entire blog on Thanksgiving and Table Tennis. Rather than try to up that, I'll simply link to it so you can again enjoy these nine items, including the Table Tennis Thanksgiving Turkey.

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October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Well, the power didn't go out, neither did the Internet or TV, and there aren't even any major damages to my house or anything else of mine. All I have to show for the hurricane is lots and lots of non-perishable food I bought just in case I wouldn't have a microwave for a few days, and lots of reading. Anyone want a box of apple fritters?

Drill the Fundamentals and the Specifics

It is important to drill the fundamentals into your game until you can do them in your sleep. (Here's my article on that.) But often players forget to practice specifically what they do in a match. For example, I know a player who likes to counterloop close to the table with his forehand. He spends a lot of time practicing counterlooping. But in matches he has trouble counterlooping against an opponent's first loop off underspin, which is usually done closer to the table than other loops, has a different arc, and usually more topspin. A simple drill to practice against this would be to have a coach serve backspin, the player pushes it back, the coach loops, and the player counterloops. The coach doesn't play out the point; as soon as he finishes his loop, he reaches for a ball from a box. (It's an improvised version of multiball.) This matches what a player faces in a match, as opposed to just counterlooping, and it gives far more practice on this specific skill in a given time than just playing out points.

So work on your fundamentals, but also look at what you do in a match - or need to do - and find drills that match that specifically, and perfect the skill. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Attacking Short Balls

Here's a video from PingSkills on attacking short balls (2:02).

The Need for Strong Coaches

Here's an article in the Deccan Chronicle in India on USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee and the need for strong coaches. Richard just ran three ITTF Coaching Seminars in India.

Ping-Pong Robot Plays Like a Person

Here's an article and pictures in New Scientist about a robot developed in Germany that is learning to play like a real person. Let me be the first one to predict that robots will soon be entered in tournaments like regular people, with ratings and everything. (They do this in chess already.) Not sure if they're ready for the Chinese team yet.

Grant Li and Table Tennis

Here's an article at Paddle Palace, "Grant Li Has Found His Stride in School and on the Table." Grant, rated 2471, is ranked #5 in the U.S. ratings for Under 18, but I believe is #1 among USA citizens.

Table Tennis Picture in Washington Post

Here's a table tennis picture yesterday in the Washington Post front page section (A-10). Caption reads, "Engineering students, showing taking a break from classes at top, are a priority in Mexican higher education." Here's the actual online article (table tennis isn't mentioned in it); the table tennis picture is the seventh one in the gallery.

Zhang Jike on Chinese Game Show

Here's Zhang Jike (World Men's Singles Champion and #1 ranked player) on the popular and humorous Chinese variety show Day Day Up (20:22). It's in Chinese, but with English subtitles. At one point he takes on four players at once - quadruples?

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October 5, 2012

Value of the Backhand Loop

If I could go back 36 years and tell myself one thing as I was developing my game, I'd tell myself to develop my backhand loop.

Sponges weren't nearly as good back then as modern ones, and so it was much harder to backhand loop with great power without backing well off the table to give yourself time for a bigger swing. The thinking for many was that if you develop your footwork and forehand, you don't need as much of a backhand attack - i.e., "one gun is as good as two." And backhand loop? It was a nice shot, but not really necessary.

And so I didn't really develop a backhand loop until I'd played many years. The result is it's not natural or particularly strong, can be erratic, and is not a particularly instinctive part of my game.

With modern sponges you can loop just about anything, even balls that land short over the table (especially with the backhand, where you can wrist-loop it), and so players pick up the backhand loop early as a dangerous weapon. A good backhand loop gets you out of those pushing rallies (including pushing back deep serves to the backhand) that put you at the mercy of the opponent's loop. Meanwhile, I still struggle to get myself to backhand loop against deep serves (I can't step around and loop forehand every time), and against quick, angled pushes to my backhand, especially after a short serve to my forehand. You don't have to rip these backhand loops; consistency, depth, and spin are key. (You can often get away with a weak loop if it consistently goes deep.)

Just as difficult is backhand looping in a rally. These days many of our up-and-coming juniors backhand loop (often off the bounce) just about everything - or at least topspin their backhands to the point where, compared to backhands of yesteryear, they are backhand loops. This turns players like me into blockers, and not in a good way. 

Not everyone has the athleticism to backhand loop over and over, though most people can if they spend enough time both practicing and (just as important) doing physical training. But just about anyone trained properly can turn their backhand loop into a dangerous weapon against pushes, deep serves to the backhand, and against low but soft blocks. Yes, I mean you, the person reading these words.

So develop that shot, and don't make the mistake I made so many years ago.

More on Backhand Looping

And since we're on the topic of the backhand loop, here's a new video out, "Backhand Loop Training" (6:41) from Dynamic Table Tennis (that's Brian Pace). It shows Brian demonstrating and explaining the backhand loop. Note near the start how he's backhand looping against block almost off the bounce, something few players did when I was starting out (except perhaps for Hungarian great Tibor Klampar).

Here's a tutorial (4:02) on the backhand loop against topspin by ttEdge.

Here's a tutorial (4:12) on the backhand loop against backspin by PingSkills.

Here's a video (1:08) from a year ago of Chinese Coach Liu Guoliang feeding multiball to Ma Long, who is backhand looping against backspin. I don't recommend most of you try to loop with as much speed as Ma, but note that his loops aren't just speed - they have great topspin as well pulling that ball down.

Zhang Jike vs. Timo Boll

Here's a match from the 2012 World Team Championships between world #1 Zhang Jike of China versus the European #1 (and world #1 for three months last year) Timo Boll of Germany, with the time between points removed so it's nine minutes of non-stop action.

Behind the Back Save Against Saive

Here's a video (55 sec) of Marc Closset making a behind-the-back return to win a point at the 2012 Belgian Championships against Jean-Michel Saive. Make sure to watch the slow motion.

How to Win a Key Point

This player has taken his high-toss serve to a new level (0:20).

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September 19, 2012

Serve Practice - It Pays Off!

Last week I played a practice match with a local top player. He had trouble with my side-top forehand pendulum and reverse pendulum serves to his forehand, which kept going slightly long, but he kept looping them off. Near the end he finally adjusted and started looping them in. I had to mostly switch to other serves to win - barely.

So this weekend I practiced serves for 15 minutes. The main adjustment for both versions (pendulum and reverse pendulum) was to focus on contacting the ball a bit more to the side, and making sure contact was very low to the table. Then I played the top player again, and this time I was able to keep them short when I wanted. I varied short and slightly long (i.e. "half-long" or "tweeny" serves where second bounce would be barely off the end), and he never adjusted, and I won again, using these serves right to the end. (I also threw in no-spin and backspin serves, but the side-top serves were the mainstay here.)

Willy Mays and Other Table Tennis Dreams

This was a strange one. I dreamed I was an elderly Willy Mays at the plate in a baseball game. (Not sure why it was Willy Mays - I'm an Orioles fan! See segment at end.) They walked me on four pitches, including a brush-back pitch that I had to dive to avoid. So next time up I brought a ping-pong paddle, and began spraying topspin shots over the infielder's heads for hits! (The ball seemed to be a baseball-sized ping-pong ball.) No idea why they kept pitching to me and why I didn't run to first base; I was having a blast smacking shots just over the infielder's reach, and letting the topspin pull the ball down before outfielders could get to it!

Then I suddenly dropped one short - a bunt! I took off for first. The throw was wild, and I ran for second. Right about here is when I noticed that all the infielders were waving ping-pong paddles at me. I continued around the bases, rounding second, third, and slid into home as the catcher slapped a ping-pong paddle down on my foot - but he didn't have the ball, so I was safe. I threw the paddle up in the air, and a bird flew by and grabbed it, and flew off with my paddle in its beak. I yelled at it, and that's when I woke up.

Here are four other blogs where I've described weird table tennis dreams:

  • U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream - involving Tong Tong Gong, Arnold Schwarzenegger, murderous black-clad men with black umbrellas, and playing with an illegal book as a racket.
  • U.S. Olympic Trials Dream - where I'm coaching both sides in a Dan Seemiller-Han Xiao match, involving Citizens United, Diana Gee McGonnell, Randy Seemiller, and lots of people demanding I coach them.
  • Table Tennis Foot Dream - where I'm playing table tennis on a street in the middle of a battle, with bullets and explosions all around, and my foot gets shot off, and I keep trying to jam it back on while still playing.
  • Dan Seemiller Ping-Pong Waiter Dream - where I'm trying to convince our local juniors of the riches they can make at table tennis, then Dan Seemiller shows up as the waiter, and I argue how much money he makes as a waiter because of his table tennis skills. 

Three Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? Admit it; don't you dream about how you one day show up at a tournament and beat the best players and win the Open? Well, this could be the one! But if you don't compete, by default you get beat! (Does that make sense? How about, "If you don't show, you can't beat a foe"? Or "If you don't compete, it won't be sweet"?)

Erica Wu and Other White House photos

The link to the Erica Wu picture yesterday with President Obama was inadvertently linked to the picture of Lily Zhang with Obama. Here is the correct picture! And here's a picture of the USA Olympic Table Tennis Team with Malia Obama, and here's Women's Coach Doru Gheorghe with Michelle Obama. (The pictures were taken at the Olympic reception held at the White House on Sept. 14.)

Zhang Jike: Wealthy Bachelor

And here's the article about it!

No-Armed Man Plays Table Tennis

This 24-second video is unbelievable - he holds the paddle in his mouth, and serves by tossing the ball up with his bare foot!

Traffic Light Pong in Germany!

Here's the video (1:22) - yes, you can now play Pong with strangers while waiting for the light to turn green!

Exhibition Trick Serves

Here's a short video from PingSkills (1:19) demonstrating exhibition trick serves. I do these same trick serves when I do exhibitions - they are great fun.

Behind the Back Table Tennis

Try rallying like this - and you have to wear all red!

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Baseball

I'm an Orioles fan, the only sports team I follow. This year they are in a pennant race, with an 84-64 record and tied for first in the American League East with the Yankees, with 14 games left to play. They also hold a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the Wild Card Race, so they have two ways to make the playoffs. (They just won an incredible 18-inning game last night - down 0-2 in the ninth, they scored two, and finally scored two more in the 18th inning to win! It's their near-record 14th consecutive extra-inning win this season - after losing the first two times, they are now 14-2 in extra innings.)

I'm sort of infamous as Larrytt on the Orioles Hangout forum for my Top Ten Lists (and other humorous listings or stories). When I do one they really like, the Orioles Hangout staff publish it as a feature on their front page. This morning they published my latest, "Top Twelve Things Happening the Last Time the Orioles Had a Winning Season." (The Orioles just had 14 straight losing seasons.) Here are the seven they have published. Note that some might not make sense if you aren't familiar with Orioles baseball. (My personal favorite is the story "The Wonderful World of Os," though many will miss the inside jokes.)

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September 18, 2012

Learn From Others

Something that's always bothered me as weird is that often I'll play someone who absolutely cannot return my serves. If the player is a beginner, they'll often ask how I do the serve and how to return it. But starting at the intermediate and advanced levels, almost nobody asks, even if they struggle with my serve, even if it's someone I coach. This is especially bothersome with up-and-coming juniors, who presumably are striving for a high level. Don't they want to learn?

The same is true of other aspects of the game, but a player can better see what's happening with most other techniques. If they struggle with my short receive, they can see I'm just dropping the ball short. If they can't see the direction of my forehand, they can see that I'm changing directions at the last second by turning my shoulders. But they usually cannot see how, for example, I'm serving topspin when I'm stroking downward with an open racket, hitting the bottom of the ball, and continuing downward. (Short answer - the racket is rotating about an axis centered over the hitting surface, and so the near side of the blade is actually rotating upward at contact, though only for a split second if done properly.) They can't see how it's done, and can't figure out how to read it (since they don't know where the topspin is coming from), and yet they never ask! (Well, rarely.)

Next time you're playing me or someone else and struggling to react to spins that don't look like they should be there, ask how it's done. I'll show you, as will most top players, most of whom you'll find love to talk about their craft. There are multiple ways to create these deceptions (serving is the "trick" part of table tennis), and are much easier to show in person than in an article, even with a photo sequence. Tricky serves are subtle, and subtlety doesn't show up well in photo sequences. 

I mentioned above that intermediate and advanced players rarely ask how these serves are done. Yes, while advanced players are experts at the specific techniques they use, many have large holes in their knowledge and skills.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook and the Most Interesting Criticism I Received This Week

A few years ago I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. The purpose was to show table tennis coaches the professional side of coaching - how to attract and keep students, run programs, maximize profits so they could make a good living, etc. A few days ago I was criticized for not including yoga in the Handbook - really!!!

I've been toying for a while with starting up a Coaches Academy, where I'd recruit and train players and coaches to be professional table tennis coaches, where they'd make a living as a coach while running large junior programs. I've argued for years that USA Table Tennis should be doing this (as is done in many other sports organizations, such as the U.S. Tennis Association), but to no avail. If I ever do this, the PTTCH would be the Handbook. (If only table tennis were played on slabs of ice instead of a table, then we'd call it ice tennis, and the Handbook would be the Professional Ice Tennis Coaches Handbook, or PITCH, and then I could pitch PITCH to everyone!)

Four Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? There will be a surprise guest appearance by everyone's favorite table tennis player - YOU!!! Unless, of course, you disappoint all your fans and don't show. That would be despicable. (Deadline to enter is 5PM Thursday.)

Liu Guoliang on Zhang Jike Missing World Cup

Here's an article where Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang discusses why Zhang Jike will miss the World Cup.

Erica Wu and Barack Obama

Here's a picture of Olympian Erica Wu with President Obama outside the White House. (Yesterday we had Lily Zhang with Obama. I haven't found any with Ariel Hsing or Timothy Wang with Obama.)

Strange Table Tennis Pictures

Here's a page full of strange and weird table tennis pictures.

Transcending Table Tennis

Here's the Transcending Table Tennis page, with seven table tennis videos.

Interspecies Table Tennis

I believe we have humans, cats, and mice playing in this cartoon. Yes, the cat is playing with its food.

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September 3, 2012

Tip of the Week

I had a nice Tip of the Week planned for this morning, and was all set to write it, but you know what? It's Labor Day. Nearly everyone else is taking the day off. You know what? So am I. I'll do it tomorrow, and vacation the rest of today (after I finish this blog). I have no coaching scheduled for today. (Also, I'm a little tired as I was up late last night as I got involved in an online political debate at a news forum, where some simply do not accept the basic idea that lying by omission is, in fact, lying. One of my postings actually showed up on Facebook, which I didn't realize until afterwards. If you are on Facebook, by the way, feel free to friend me, and I'll likely friend you back. However, I generally keep my table tennis and politics separate.) I normally plan well in advance what I'm going to write about for each Tip of the Week, but often write it early on Monday morning.

As for the subject for this week's Tip, well, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise! (Confession: I actually have three Tips planned, and hadn't really decided which one: One on how to incorporate multiball training into your practice sessions; one on how table tennis is literally like chess at light speed as the opening moves of a rally are like the opening moves in chess; and one on when to loop on the forehand.)

Feel free to send in suggestions for Tips or Blog topics!

Neck Update

Yesterday was the first time in twelve days that I didn't wear the neck brace at all. I also did live play for the first time, though only lightly. I probably should do some easy drilling to get back in shape. But I can officially say that 1) the neck is mostly healed, and 2) I'm way out of playing shape.

MDTTC Tournaments

Due to a moment of unbelievable insanity, I agreed earlier this year to take over the running of tournaments at the Maryland Table Tennis Center starting with our September Open. And now our Sept. 22-23 tournament is rapidly approaching. I've run over 150 USATT sanctioned tournaments, but this'll be my first in over ten years. I spent part of yesterday putting together a checklist for everything so I'll know what things are ready and what things I should sputter about in panic.

MDTTC has been using the same software for tournaments since the early 1990s. It doesn't even run on modern computers - to use it, we have to use an old laptop computer. While I still have the old one I used to use and presumably can run the software on that, I've decided to enter the modern age. So I'm exploring new softwares.

I'm leaning toward trying Omnipong. A growing number of tournaments are being run on it, and I'm told it's pretty user friendly. The software's developer used it to run the LA Open this past weekend. Any comments/suggestions/dire warnings on tournament software before I make the plunge? (The other one I was considering is Zermelo.)

Because my laptop was old when Obama took office (circa 2005), and my netbook is really too small for running tournaments (as well as a bit clumsy for writing articles on with its small screen) I plan to head out to Best Buy today and finally get a new laptop. I'll use it for running tournaments, and for writing, checking email, and touring the Internet at the club and when I'm traveling. There's a good chance I'll get this one.

And since we're on the subject of tournaments, here's my Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success, and my article Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Playing In Your First Tournament . . . But Didn’t Know Where to Ask!

North American Championships

Here are the results, write-ups, and pictures from the North American Championships this past weekend in Cary, NC. Note the feature write-ups on Lily Zhang and Jim Butler.

Table Tennis Paralympics

Here are the results, write-ups, and pictures from the Table Tennis Paralympics this past weekend in London. One thing they did that I liked were the bios and histories for the top four seeds in every event.

Table Tennis Charity Foundation

Here's a new web page devoted to table tennis charities, the Table Tennis Charity Foundation. (They also have a Facebook page.) From their home page: "The mission of The Table Tennis Charity Foundation is simple; it's to GIVE BACK!  We utilize the brain-stimulating sport of Table Tennis, and the THERAPEUTIC game of Ping Pong to increase awareness and to raise money for organizations that will directly benefit those facing Alzheimer's, Dementia, Depression and Mild to Moderate intellectual disabilities." On the lower left they already have two charities planned, in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia.

Zhang Jike Dropping Out of World Cup

Here's an article explaining why Zhang Jike won't be playing in the World Cup, plus other info on the reigning World and Olympic Men's Champion. The short version: "Zhang Jike said that there were too much activities after the Olympic Games and he hasn't been on training for that period so the team decided to let him give up the competition." He will be replaced by Ma Long, who will join Xu Xin as the Chinese representatives at the World Cup.

Non-Table Tennis - Another Sale!

On Saturday I sold a SF story to Every Day Fiction, "The Shaking Sphere," my 65th short story sale. The story hypothesizes that the ancient Greeks were right and that the moon, planets, sun, and stars are all carried about the Earth in gigantic celestial spheres, with Earth in the center. Humans have colonized the inner-most Moon sphere and even have elevators that take us right to it, 240,000 miles away - but now it's beginning to break apart, and it's up to our heroic engineer to figure out what the problem is.

The Human Chipmunk

I sometimes feel like I have too many balls in the air (i.e. too many activities and responsibilities), and worry what'll happen if I drop a ball. Here's what happens if you drop all the balls with an open mouth.

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