Lily Zhang

September 12, 2014

Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros! By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon

As readers of this blog know, I strongly encourage players to work on sports psychology. It's amazing how many matches are won or lost on this, and yet after losing a match because of nerves or some related issue, players go and practice the shots they missed when they were nervous rather than address the reason they missed the shots with a dose of sports psychology. Here's a number of resources on sports psychology, including this excellent one.

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros!, the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (available at amazon.com). It's 158 pages with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read, since most other books are more general, for all sports. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

I reviewed an earlier and shorter version of this book, "Get Your Game Face On." This version is greatly expanded, both the text and the title. If you are serious about your table tennis, I strongly encourage you to read this book, and try out the various methods explained for strengthening your mental game. It could pay off dramatically in your performance.

The first half is similar to the previous version. In Part 1, the book covers the Game Face System, going over both the routine and how to train for it. It points out four major problems that plague table tennis players, and then goes about giving systematic ways of combating them:

  • Inconsistency
  • Not being able to play as well as we practice
  • Your energy level can be too high or too low
  • Distractions

Central to the book is developing a "Game Face," the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and a "Game Face Routine," using the four R's, which are covered in Part 2:

  • Reaction ("If you want to maintain your Game Face during competition, you must learn to control your reaction consistently right after every point.")
  • Recover (Recover from the point, relax, etc., with eight methods listed)
  • Readiness (This is where you ensure that you are mentally prepared for the action to resume. You ask yourself, "What is the situation? What is my job?" This is where you do your tactical thinking.)
  • Ritual (To prepare mentally for the next point)

Throughout the book there are numerous real-world examples from world-class players. Often I was nodding my head at mental tricks that match what I'd developed over the years, or at recognizing something I'd see others do. The specific breakdown of how you use the time between points - the four R's - especially led to much thought that will influence my own coaching. The book should be a must for table tennis coaches and serious players.

The book then goes on to cover four major problems players face in competition, with a section devoted to each, and how to recover from them: Anger, Nerves, Mistakes, and Distractions. While the Four R's are likely the most important part of the book long-term, these four sections are probably of great value short term for players trying to address these issues right now. (But the Four R's will give a longer-term fix, especially in combination with this section.)

Part 3 is mostly new, and covers a wide variety of issues under the general topic of Develop Your Healthy Lifestyle Choices. After more about the Game Face Performance Triangle (Emotional-Physical-Mental), it covers 14 specific topics under three categories. Under Physiological, it has Nutrition, Hydration, and Sleep. Under Physical it has Practice, Conditioning, and Rehearsal (practicing the four R's of your Game Face routine). Under Mental, it has Self-Talk, Focus, and Visualization. Under Daily Life it has Time Management, Academics and Work, Fun, Relationships, and Environments.

The book finishes with two more sections, "Where to Go from Here," and a note to coaches, "Hey, Coach, Get Your Game Face On!" It's unfortunate that most coaches don't really focus on sports psychology. There's more to coaching than just technique and tactics.

Dora Kurimay was a member of the Hungarian National Table Tennis Team for six years and was six-time National Champion in doubles, singles, and teams. Perhaps more importantly she has a Bachelor's degree in psychology and two Master's degrees, in Psychology and in Sports Psychology. She has a long coaching background as well, both in table tennis and other sports. She now lives in the U.S. and at this writing has a 2380 rating. Kathy Toon coached tennis for twenty-three years, including at the University of California-Berkeley for fourteen years where teams she coached won three national doubles championships. 

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

In my blog yesterday when I announced the new inductees I inadvertently left out Richard Butler as an inductee. (I've since added him there.) So here's actual list: Sheila O'Dougherty, Lisa Gee, Tawny Banh, Richard Butler, and Lifetime Achievement Award Donna Sakai. Congrats to all! (Here's the USATT Hall of Fame.)

Para World Championships

They are taking place right now in Beijing, China, Sept. 6-15. Here's the USATT page and the ITTF page for the event. Here are pictures. Representing USA are Tahl Leibovitz and Sherri Umscheid, with Angie Bengtsson the USA Coach. Tahl made the quarterfinals of Class 9.

The 5 Coolest Table Tennis Tables in Existence

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Youth Olympic Games Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's the video (3:15), created by Jim Butler. (She got the bronze in Under 18 girls.)

Southern Open Highlights Video

Here's the video (9:56).

Completely Insane Rally by Ma Lin

Here's the video (1:10), with Ma on the far side.

The Power of Sidespin

Here's a highlights video (5:01) from four years ago that I don’t think I've ever posted.

The Port City Ping Pong Throwdown

Here's the promotional video (2:49), from the Wilmington TTC in North Carolina.

Wizard Pong?

Here's an animated gif image of what appears to be a wizard playing table tennis with his scepter! (Is that Loki from the movie Thor?)

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September 11, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my coaching yesterday. I left my house at 2:30 to pick up two players for our afterschool program (Willie and Jessie). From 3:30-4:00 PM I worked with Andrew, the nine-year-old I blogged about yesterday who was rapidly learning how to hit forehands. Today's goal was to hit 20 forehands in a row. Believe it or not, he got 19 in a row and then missed three times in a row! Obviously it was mental - and sure enough, as he approached 20 each time he fell back into his old habit of lunging at the ball, thereby swatting the ball off the end. I had him shadow stroke some more, and we tried again - and this time he not only got 20, he went right on up to 54. Not bad for this fourth 30-minute lesson. From 4-4:30 PM I fed multiball to him and Willie.

I was supposed to coach Daniel from 5-6 PM (nine-year-old, rated about 1600), but his dad called around 4:30 and said that his wrist was bothering him from some accident at school, and so needed to rest it. Between 4:30 and 5:00 I helped Willie and Andrew with their homework. Then I got in my car and drove to McDonalds where I had a chicken sandwich and read for nearly an hour.

Then I coached Matt (13, about 1600) from 6-7:15PM. Matt has a lot of power on his forehand, and doesn't seem to realize it and his shots wander about a bit, so when we do drills it's often hard for me to adjust to them and block back as accurately as I'd like. We spent a lot of time doing the 2-1 drill - backhand from backhand side, forehand from backhand side, forehand from forehand side, with all his shots going to my backhand - and because of the pace he kept, we had trouble with consistency. It got better as we went along. When I said it was time to switch to some multiball practice, he wanted to continue, so we probably did over 20 minutes straight of the 2-1 drill. When you do this drill, if you have trouble covering the wide forehand it's usually because you were off-balanced when you finished the previous shot, the forehand from the backhand side, with your weight off to the right (for a righty). Also, if you go too fast and the balls spray around, then even a coach can have difficulty placing the balls correctly!

Last up was Sameer (13, also around 1600). This was only his second session after taking a month off because of knee problems. His goal was to do 50 forehand loops and 50 backhand loops (or off-the-bounce topspins) in a row. On the forehand side he kept missing between 35 and 40, but eventually he got it. He got the 50 on the backhand pretty quickly. After taking the time off, the biggest hurdle is he's fallen back into his old habit of standing up too straight, so we're working on that.

Today's going to be just as busy. Once I again I leave at 2:30 to pick up kids, then coach the afterschool program from 3:30-4:30. Then I coach pretty much continuously until 8:15PM, including a new junior training program from 6-7PM with an even ten kids.

After today I'm going to focus on my science fiction writing for a few days - primarily doing the absolutely final rewrite work on my Campaign 2100 novel (which, as I've blogged before, features table tennis!). It was critiqued this summer at a writing workshop, but I haven't had time until now to do the rewriting. There's a chance - just a chance - that I might take a few days off next week from blogging to focus on the novel. It depends on how much I'm able to do over the next few days while still doing my regular coaching, blogging, and other TT writing and work. Friday I have about 3.5 hours of coaching, but only about two on Saturday. But things get busy again, coaching-wise, on Sunday.  

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

They've announced the 2014 USATT Hall of Fame Inductees. (It's not "officially" announced, but it's been posted on Facebook and verified by Hall of Fame Committee members.) They are Sheila O'Dougherty, Lisa Gee, Tawny Banh, Richard Butler, and Lifetime Achievement Award Donna Sakai. Congrats to all! (Here's the USATT Hall of Fame.)

Juggling and Table Tennis

I've found juggling to be a great tool to develop hand-eye coordination, whether for table tennis or other racket-type sports. Long ago I learned to juggle three ping-pong balls, and to go under the leg or bounce on the floor in mid-juggle, as well as to do two in one hand. I've seen others in table tennis as well who learned juggling, including one of Maryland's top juniors (well, he's 18 now), Nathan Hsu. So I was impressed with Xavier Therien's juggling/table tennis contraption video (and note that he's juggling four balls at the start), which is his entry in the ITTF Stiga Trickshot Showdown. (The final five for the contest is judged based on views, so by watching his video or others you are voting for it!)

Match Strategy Playing as a Chopper

Here's the new video (10:10) from PingSkills.

Great Point between Wang Liqin and Werner Schlager

Here's the video (1:07) of the point between these two legends.

The Power of Lob

Here's a highlights video (7:52) from four years ago that I don't think I've ever posted.

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari - USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article.

Players Announced for Upcoming ITTF World Cups

Here's the ITTF Press Release. Representing North America are 14-year-old Kanak Jha (USA) on the men's side, and Mo Zhang (CAN) on the women's side.

21 Gold Medals Handed Out at ITTF Para World Championships

Here's the ITTF Press Release. (Sadly, no USA winners in singles, which just completed.)

Members of Chinese National Team at Triangle Table Tennis

Here's the info flyer. Members of the Chinese team will be at the Triangle TTC in Morrisville, NC, Sept. 24-26, to do exhibitions, clinics, and private lessons. Chinese players attending are Fang Bo (world #25), Wu Hao, Liu Jikang, Wen Jia, Feng Yalan, and Mu Zi. This isn't the Chinese "A" Team, but anyone on the Chinese Team is a superstar in the U.S.!

Header Table Tennis

Here's the article and video (3:36) of this new version of table tennis that's sweeping the world, or least Germany! It's a combination of table tennis, soccer, and insanity. I get a headache just watching.

Waldner and Persson Goofing Off

Here's video (1:23) of the two goofing off in Moscow, with Waldner impersonating former top players.

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August 22, 2014

USATT National Volunteer Coordinator

One of the best things USATT has done in recent times is create the position of National Volunteer Coordinator. Here's the info page where you can apply for the position. Even if you aren't selected for the position you might get selected for another volunteer position, based on your skills and interests. So now's the time to apply - or would you rather just sit around watching TV? I hope not!

Here's a short description of the position:

"This position's primary responsibilities are to plan and organize volunteer programs associated with USA Table Tennis's board of directors, committees, and staff efforts. Individuals who are not selected for the primary position, but bring value, will be referred to the selected individual as possible assistant coordinators."

I hope USATT will feature this prominently on their front page and in the magazine. When the notice first came out I think it was on the front page for a day or so, but now it's mostly buried in the news items. If you page down a bit there's a block about this on the USATT home page, but few will see it unless they are looking for it. (Also, it just says, "Opening Position: National Volunteer Coordinator." How about something catchier, like "Would You Like to be USATT's Volunteer Coordinator? USATT Needs Your Help!") Until the deadline comes up on Oct. 15, I'd like to see this featured all over the place, so we get as many applicants as possible, both for this position and for others who are willing to volunteer on other things.

I'm a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, which is nearly all volunteer run. They run regional conventions with over 1000 participants and national ones with 6000. (For comparison, USATT's U.S. Open and Nationals generally get 700 or so players, though they break 1000 sometimes. Regional tournaments get about 200 players.) Who runs these conventions? Volunteers. Who does the membership stuff? Volunteers. Who does their web pages? Volunteers. Who does their promotional work? Volunteers. And it all gets done very smoothly. The irony is their politics is even nastier than USATT's at its worst - these are people who are good with words and not afraid to use them. But they keep the politics (in particular policy making) and the volunteer stuff completely separate. (I'm also a former member of the U.S. Tennis Association, and they also make similar use of volunteers.) 

A key thing to understand is the difference between "fairness issues" and "progressive issues." Both are important, but need to be handled differently. It is the fairness issues that tend to get political, and so we don't want the same people handling fairness issues and progressive issues. (There can be people who work on both, but they too need to keep these types of issues separate.) Progressive issues can also be political, but far less so as they are actually doing things that are presumably positive for the sport.  

Fairness issues include such things as working out policy for choosing teams; choosing the site for U.S. Opens and Nationals; disciplinary proceedings; and other issue where it's important to be fair, and so you don't want just one person making the decision. Fairness issues should usually be decided by committee. In most cases, once the committee makes a recommendation, the USATT Board of Directors should go with it, unless there's something really wrong with the recommendation. More importantly, the USATT CEO and other such leaders should stay out of these issues when possible, going with the committee decisions whenever possible so they can focus on progressive issues.

Progressive issues are those that develop and promote the sport and/or organization. You do not want a committee doing these. Committees are great for working out the fairest way of doing something, but for progressive issues you need someone to take charge. So unless you have a committee chair who is able and willing to take charge and get things done, and committee members willing to act as only advisors while the chair actually does everything (unless they are asked to do specific tasks), committees don't get much done. For progressive issues, you need to put someone in charge and assign him a specific area where he has authority - and then let him go to work. If he messes up, he can always be reined in afterwards or replaced. Sometimes the person in charge works alone, sometimes he has others working for him - but he needs to be in charge and given the freedom to work on his area of authority and expertise.

In USATT, we have lots of committees. In recent times they were renamed "Advisory Committees," to make clear they only advise. So who does the actual progressive work? Neither USATT nor SFWA have the staff to do these things. So we need to bring in volunteers.

The National Volunteer Coordinator wouldn't be doing any volunteer work except for one thing - he'd be in charge of the other volunteers. Here's an example of how I see it working, which would be similar to SFWA.

Recently Lily Zhang won the bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games. USATT doesn't really have someone to write and send out press releases, follow up with phone calls and more press releases, and in general work with the press to maximize publicity. What it could do is have several press volunteers, one perhaps for each of the following:

  • U.S. Open and Nationals
  • Elite players
  • Paralympics
  • Juniors
  • Seniors
  • Coaches
  • Leagues
  • Tournaments

Then, whenever something happens in one of these realms, that volunteer would spring into action. There'd almost be a friendly competition between the press volunteers to see who can get the most press! There would be some overlap, but the volunteers can either work out who works on which ones, or both send out press releases. The more the better!

Similarly we'd want volunteers who take care of other aspects for USATT. For another example, take coaching. As I've blogged about repeatedly in recent years, the single best thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in recent times is the rise of full-time training centers, from less than ten in 2006 to about 75 now. USATT has never gotten involved in this, so every time a top coach wants to create a training center or a junior program, he has to start from scratch, perhaps questioning current ones to find out what needs to be done. There's a lot of reinventing the wheel. That's a major brake on the creation of these training centers - and anyone thinking we're anywhere close to approaching our limit with 75 isn't paying attention. With a little streamlining, we could end up with 500 to 1000 around the country.

But we need a volunteer who is in charge of the creation of a manual for creating training centers, who would recruit others to do most of the work, with payment for those workers in the form of commissions when it sells on Amazon, or perhaps a small direct payment from USATT. (I can assist with part about getting published on Amazon - I'm pretty experienced.) We'd have another in charge of recruiting coaches who wish to create training centers or junior programs, who'd put notices out everywhere - USATT magazine and web page, emails to coaches and top players, etc., promoting the idea that they can make a very nice living as a table tennis coach. We'd have another who would coordinate coaches to train these coaches, something I've toyed with doing, perhaps with a Hodges Coaching Academy. (I've already written the manual for much of this, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd let USATT use at cost if they ever make these things a priority. The manual explains the professional side of table tennis coaching, i.e. how to make a living at it by getting students, keeping them, getting places to play, maximizing income, etc. )

USATT already does this sort of thing in some ways, such as the National Tournament Coordinators, where eight volunteers do the tournament sanctioning, reporting to National Coordinator Larry Thoman, but mostly working independently. This is the model we could use for other aspects of USATT volunteerism. In this case the "fairness issues" were worked out in advance by the USATT Tournament Advisory Committee, which set up the rules and guidelines for sanctioning, but then the progressive work - the sanctioning part - is done by specific volunteers.

Not Recognizing a "Prominent" Player

Yesterday I went to the club to do some private coaching. As I went to my table in the back I glanced over at one of the front tables and noticed we had some new girl dressed in a USA uniform. I didn't look closely as I was in a hurry to get to my table. (I was early, but so was my student, who was following me.) During the lesson, from across the room I saw the girl play some more, and while she looked somehow familiar, I didn't recognize her - the club is pretty big, so it was a good distance. Then Coach Jack Huang walked by, and I asked her who it was. He broke up laughing, and finally told me. It was Crystal Wang! You know, the girl from our club since age 7 (she's now a very tall 12), who'd I'd worked with countless times (though Jack is her primary coach), and coached many times in tournaments! The youngest in U.S. history to make the U.S. Team and win Under 22 at the Nationals! The highest rated of her age in history at about 2400! In fairness to me, I was watching from across the room; she'd been training in China for seven weeks and I'd been told wouldn't be back for another week; and she'd both grown another inch or two and had a new hair style.

New Poly Balls: How Do We Bounce?

Here's the article from Butterfly Mag.

Belarus Open: Non-Celluloid Balls, No Service Let Rule

Here's the article. The tournament, held Aug. 21-14, is the first international competition to use the non-celluloid ball. But they are also experimenting with not having a let on net serves. This means if the serve nicks the net, the point continues.

Lily Zhang Wins Bronze at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the USATT article on her win this past weekend. Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's congratulatory note to her.

Table Tennis Players Crib Sheet

Here's the article, which is about how fast the sport is and how you need to rely not just on your eyes but on your ears as well. One confusing statement - it says, "Sound helps the player because it reach[es] the brain 300 hundreds of a second faster than just using your eyes." This doesn't make sense, since light travels about 186,000 miles per second (i.e. sight), while sound at sea level travels about 760 miles per hour, or about 0.21 miles per second (i.e. hearing), meaning light travels almost 900,000 times faster than sound.

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

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

  • Day 10: Krisztina Tόth Advises Players & the ITTF to Collaborate to Create Stars

Table Tennis Brand Name Artwork

Here's the latest artwork from Mike Mezyan - or should we call this wordwork?

Ice Bucket Challenges

Here are three more prominent ones from a pair of Germans, a Swede, and a Frenchman. I was going to post more from "regular" players, but there are just too many. Note that Dmitrij challenged Jan-Ove Waldner - can't wait to see that!

Twelve Weird and Wonderful Ping Pong Videos

Here they are! I've linked to a few of these in the past. My favorites are #5 ("PongQuest") and #7 ("Ping Pong" – Armin Van Buuren).

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August 19, 2014

Hong Kong Junior & Cadet Open, and Player Selection

I've been raising heck via email recently over what happened at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open. And perhaps I actually accomplished something, though too late for this time. Here's what happened.

There are limited number of entries for each country, and so each country has to work out rules for who can represent them. A number of USA juniors had paid their own way, and wanted to play singles. (All were able to play doubles and teams, but there weren't enough openings for singles.) According to the rules set by the USATT High Performance Committee (HPC), first and then second priority goes to those who made the National Junior Team (top four), and then the National B Team (next four). That's good so far. But after that, next priority went to players who were from "USATT Hot Spots," which really means ITTF Hot Spots in the U.S. There are four in the U.S., but MDTTC (my club) is not one. The application process goes through USATT, and we started this process in September, 2013. Unfortunately it turns out ITTF is no longer approving new Hot Spots while it rethinks the concept, and so we are not an ITTF Hot Spot, though we obviously qualify, and are one of USATT's eight National Centers of Excellence.

What does all this mean? A member of our club, Nathan Hsu, a U.S.-born citizen rated 2416, is training in China right now, and wanted to play Under 18 Singles at the Hong Kong Open. He's been playing very well recently, even knocking off a 2648 player at the U.S. Open, his best win ever. But he had not made one of the USA Teams at the Trials in December, and so because of the rules set up by USATT, priority went to members of Hot Spots. Result? Because he played at the "wrong club," Nathan wasn't allowed to play singles. Instead, two players rated 1792 (age 14) and 1864 (age 17), who played at the "right club," were entered and represented USA in singles at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open (along with others who were on USA Teams).

Think about that. There were two spots open, and we had players rated 2416, 1864, and 1792. None were on the USA Team. One had a world ranking (Nathan, #298 in Under 18). But the choice was made not by the player's ranking or level, but by which club he played at! And so the two players with ratings around 1800 represented USA in singles, while the 2400+ player sat on the sidelines and watched. He was punished for not playing at the "right club." Can you imagine trying to explain that to Nathan? Or in a court of law? Or to the U.S. Olympic Committee? This is not about the two players who played, their club, or their coach; it's about very bad rules set up by USATT that led to a very unfair outcome.

Even if you decide choosing players based on what club they play at rather than their actual ranking or level is somehow okay, ITTF is no longer accepting Hot Spots, so there's no way of becoming one. (Full disclosure - not only does Nathan play at my club, but I often coach him, especially in tournaments. There's even a picture of me coaching him and his brother John in doubles on the back cover of my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book.)

In fairness to the HPC, the chair, Carl Danner, who I greatly respect, explained that they never anticipated this result, and that the surge of interest among parents to send their kids to these international events was unprecedented. He said that part of the intent of the rule was to recognize the most advanced training centers, and a freeze on the Hot Spot designations was unexpected. He said that in light of this experience, he will recommend changing the rule.

I accept that the HPC never expected this outcome, but I sure wish I'd been in the room or saw a draft of this when they were creating the rules to point out the unfairness. Creating rules have consequences. Choosing players to play in international events based on what club they play at isn't fair, and it turns them into pawns, to be given out to favored clubs like chattel - something that they somehow never foresaw. It's too late for Nathan - this was his last chance to compete in junior events. However, he'll continue to train hard for future events.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Video

Here's the video (1:50) created by Evan Sery created by last week. Much of it features Coach Jack Huang, but most of the taping is from a junior session I'm running - you can hear me coaching and yelling out things in the background.

Trip to Zoo (Non-Table Tennis)

Yesterday we had a small turnout in our MDTTC camp, and so I wasn't needed. (Besides, the other coaches need the money more - outside my coaching I have writing income.) So I decided to take most of the day off from everything, and took the subway to the National Zoo in Washington DC! I hadn't been there since I was a kid, probably over 40 years ago. I enjoyed both the animals and the fresh air. Here are the most memorable moments there.

  • I had pizza for lunch. Pigeons and smaller birds were all over, and so I decided to feed them. A large crowd of them gathered! We're not supposed to feed the zoo animals, but I think this was okay. I think. At least I wasn't dragged away in chains, though there were a few moments I thought the birds were getting a bit too close.
  • Three times I stared eye-to-eye with wild animals. At the Great Apes building an orangutan and I watched each other for several minutes. It had these tiny, soulful eyes, just as the orangutan from the recent Planet of the Apes movies. (Later I'd see an exhibit showing brain sizes of various great apes, and seeing how small its brain was compared to a human's, I wondered how much thinking was really going on. But it sure seemed like there was a thinking, aware being in those eyes.) As I left the building, a gorilla stood next to the glass at the front of its cage, and we looked at each other for a moment. Later, at the Great Cats area, I watched the lions for perhaps ten minutes. The male lion, which was pretty large with a huge mane, seemed to pick me out of the crowd and stared at me. I waved at it, and it definitely began to watch me. After a few minutes, as I left, its eyes followed me the whole time. Perhaps it was hungry.
  • My favorite animals: the orangutan, gorilla, and lion that I went eye-to-eye with; the giant tortoise that went on a "sprint" across its enclosure (okay, a craaaaawl); the sea lions; the giant anaconda; the lemurs (so like our ancestors!); the two elephants; the prairie dogs; the komodo dragon; a giant stingray; and a gigantic arapaima fish. My only disappointment was that the Invertebrates House had closed down, so no octopuses.
  • I saw the pandas, but they were just sleeping.
  • To my non-expert eyes, I thought the elephants, lions, and tigers needed larger enclosures. They looked pretty bored, with the elephants pacing back and forth while the lions and tigers just lay about, as they do in the wild something like 20 hours/day.
  • My legs are once again extremely tired from walking around for four hours. 

Youth Olympic Games

USA's Lily Zhang made it all the way to the semifinals of junior girls before losing this morning (i.e. afternoon in Nanjing, China, where they are playing) to top-seeded Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong, 1,-5,8,9,6. It was quite a turnaround for her to come back and win game two 11-5 after losing the first 11-1! She will be playing for the bronze tomorrow. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, with articles, results, video, and pictures. (Krish Avvari is the other USA player competing.) Here's a blog entry about Lily by Matt Hetherington. A big Congrats to Lily!!!

$36,000 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

Here are the last two articles by Barbara Wei on the LA Open this past weekend. I linked to the previous seven in yesterday's blog, as well as the results and the LA Open home page.

About.com Articles

Here are three new ones, including two coaching articles.

Sidespin/Topspin and Sidespin/Backspin Serve Tutorial

Here's the video (4:38). (Note for beginners - backspin and underspin are the same thing.) It's in Chinese, but has some English subtitles, and you can learn just by watching.

This Applies to Table Tennis

"I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end." -Larry Bird.

Table Tennis: The Best Sport Ever

Here's the video (3:11). "Do you know someone who dislikes Table Tennis? Let's show this video!"

Sometimes It Is Not Just About Winning

Here's a nice meme on this.

Is Timo Boll an Unlucky Player?

Here's the article and video (5:33). "Why hasn't Timo Boll been able to win major titles? Is he an unlucky player?"

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Eighty-eight down, 12 to go!

  • Day 13: Germany’s Hans Wilhelm Gäb Provided ITTF the Model for TMS

Barry Ratner Obituary

Here it is. He was a long-time player and organizer. He will be missed.

73 Questions with Daniel Radcliffe

Here's the video (6:21) where the Harry Potter star "…plays ping–pong with us and answers 73 questions on everything from his desire to star in Guys and Dolls to what he would bring on a one-way trip to Mars. What’s something he knows about Harry Potter that no one else does? Watch and find out." This is hilarious! Daniel seems to be playing a lot of ping-pong recently - on Aug. 7 I linked to an article and video (1:46) where he also played.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Movie Might Be Coming

Here's the article.

Electric Pong

Is your paddle charged? Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Michael Mezyan.

Dimitri Ovtcharov Plays Clipboard Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:06) from the 2013 LA Open (last year).

Unbreakable Ball?

Here's the article and picture. It's a collapsible ball made of a flexible material that's created with a 3-D printer! I can't wait to try this out.

Table Tennis Ice Bucket Challenge

It's spread to the table tennis world, including my club. Here are some.

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August 18, 2014

Tip of the Week

The Purpose of the Serve.

MDTTC Camp

Last Friday was Day Five of Week Nine of our Ten Weeks of Camp at MDTTC. Today we start Week Ten. Guess what? I'm exhausted! I had a bunch of other things to write about this morning, but I'm running out of time (and energy), so I'll just write about the camp.

Friday was perhaps the most difficult day I've had all summer - I was up late the night before, then got up early to do the blog, and spent the entire day with a headache that was like 40 kids smacking balls against the back of my head nonstop. Only - there were 40 kids, only instead of smacking balls against my head they were at their most excited over-exuberant, since it was the last day of the camp (for the week). Let's just say I just smiled and put up with it while my head pounded away all day.

My headache wasn't helped when two kids thought it'd be interesting to pour two huge bottles of soap down the toilet. These are the bottles that are used to refill the soap dispensers in the bathrooms. Why would these two kids, both about 10, do this? They couldn't explain it, just thought it would be fun. I was the one who had to break the news to their parents, and they were in a lot of trouble.

Worse was what happened over lunch. I was on my laptop, and the youngest player in the camp, a 5-year-old girl, thought it would be funny to keep jabbing at the keys with a pen while I tried to work. I kept asking her to stop, but she wouldn't. She left for a moment. I went to get something, and when I came back, she was randomly tapping away on the laptop. When I got back on it, what I found was unreal - she'd somehow managed to not only log me out of several pages, but to have gotten my automatic logins deleted! Normally when I go to the pages I get logged in automatically, but no more - and I didn't have the passwords with me. It took me forever to figure them out. All this while my head pounded away.

Coach Aabid Sheikh from Boston was in town, and came by to watch for half the day. He watched while I taught two kids to forehand loop for the first time - and both picked up on it pretty fast.

Most of the players in the camp played a practice tournament in the afternoon. Some of the new and younger ones were strong enough to join in, while others did the usual target practice games. I also introduced them to the robot at full speed, where it shoots balls out at full speed at the fastest rate.

Things I'm Irritated About

I'm debating which of these to blog about later on - more on the problem with the Nationals going to half celluloid, half non-celluloid; USATT creating rules that allow 1800 players to represent USA in singles at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Champions while not allowing a 2400 player to do so because he plays at the wrong club (the rules they created favor players who happen to play at ITTF "Hot Spots," rather than individual performance); or more on the ITTF Hall of Fame's silly eligibility requirement of five World or Olympic titles, where being #6 on the Chinese winning team (but not even playing) counts as much as winning Men's or Women's Singles, and so players like Stellan Bengtsson, Istvan Jonyer, Mikael Appelgren, Kjell Johansson, and USA's two-time World Women's Singles Champion Ruth Aarons are not in, while players such as Chen Qi and Peter Karlsson - worthy players, but not at the level of these others - are in.  Alas, I'm out of time this morning, and will likely write more on these topics later on. I'd like to write more on positive stuff, such as new training centers opening up, etc. 

Footwork for Defenders

Here's the video (4:12).

The New USATT Magazine

Here's the U.S. Open issue, headlined "The Plastic Era Begins." I have two articles in it, Review of the Nittaku 3-Star Premium 40+ Ball on pages 16-17, and Pushing Change of Direction on page 47.

$36,000 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

It was held this past weekend. Congrats to Open Champion Chih-Yuan Chuang and Runner-up Eugene Wang! Here are the results, and here is the LA Open home page. And here are articles on the tournament by Barbara Wei, with more coming tomorrow.

Youth Olympic Games

They are taking place right now, Aug. 17-23, in Nanjing, China. Representing USA are Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, with articles, results, video, and pictures. Here's a USATT page with some of Lily's results and quotes. Here are four pictures of Jorgen Persson and Wang Liqin doing an exhibition and signing autographs at the Games.

Interview with Lily Zhang at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the video (1:33).

Ariel Hsing, Teen Chinese-American Table Tennis Sensation

Here's the article in the China Times (in English).

LYTTC Creating Tomorrow's Champions Today!

Here's a new video (3:25) featuring training at the Lily Yip Center in Summer, 2014.

Ping Pong for Charity

Here's a video (30 sec) that advertises the advantages of table tennis (exercise for the brain) while raising money for charities such as Alzheimer's.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Eighty-Seven down, 13 to go!

  • Day 14: Rules Chair Rudi Sporrer Believes Changes Improved Sport’s Presentation
  • Day 15: Jane Pinto Has Been Mentored by Adham Sharara since 1996
  • Day 16: Oceania’s Continental President, James Morris, Shares “Top 5” Ideas

The Sedin Twins of NHL's Vancouver Canucks Play Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:35). 

Milwaukee TTC Fundraising Cake

Here's the picture - someone took a bite out of it before they got the picture!

World's Biggest Table Tennis Player?

Here's the picture! (If you can't see this in Facebook, try this.)

***
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August 5, 2014

Tip of the Week

How to Move Up a Level.

TNEO and Table Tennis

This past weekend I returned from "The Never-Ending Odyssey," an annual eight-day writing workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire, for graduates of the six-week Odyssey writing workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers. (I'm a 2006 grad.) This was my fifth TNEO - I went in '07, '08, '09, '13, and now '14. Here's a picture of me during a reading at the local Barnes and Noble. (There were about 30-40 listeners.) Here's a group picture. (If you have trouble seeing these Facebook photos, here are other versions for the reading photo and  for the group photo.) Here's my science fiction and fantasy page.) 

What does this have to do with table tennis, besides the fact that I'm a table tennis player at a science fiction and fantasy writing workshop? Actually quite a bit. During the workshop I had the first seven chapters of my SF novel "Campaign 2100" critiqued, and soon I will start the final rewrite on it. The novel has lots of table tennis! I blogged about this on June 13, where I even listed the table tennis scenes and changes in the sport, including "Spinsey pinhole sponge." (One of the main characters is a professional table tennis player who, up match point in the semifinals of the national championships, walks off the court to join - and eventually run - a worldwide third-party challenge for president of Earth in the year 2100. He also coaches the son of the presidential contender, and coaches and then does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership with an alien ambassador.) The table tennis scenes have mostly gone over well with readers and critiquers, even though they are not table tennis people. 

Since I was out of town for nine days, here's the question that comes up: What does one do to stay in table tennis shape when on vacation or out of town for an extended period for some reason? Assuming you can't arrange TT times at the new location, the answer is to shadow practice. (Here's my article Shadow Practice for Strokes and Footwork.) I brought my weighted racket to the writing workshop. (I bought it at the 2001 World Championships in Osaka, Japan.) At least once a day I shadow practiced forehand loops and smashes, backhands, and side-to-side footwork. 

Coaching Camp in Virginia

The writing workshop pretty much kept us on the go all day the entire time, so I was pretty tired when I returned - and with no break, I went right back to full-time coaching. We have a one-time camp in Virginia this week, 9AM-4PM, Mon-Fri, and so I'm leaving each day around 7:30 AM (because of rush hour) to make the journey. There are 15 kids in the camp, ages 6 to 14. Even though the camp was open to boys and girls, for reasons we still don't understand there are no girls in the camp. Only two are Asian (though two others are I believe part Asian). All 15 are right-handed. I'm head coach, assisted by John and Wen Hsu (the latter is the camp administrator as well). Since I have to leave so early, to do this blog I have to either do it the night before or get up very, very early.

Disabled Veterans Camp

I'm running a camp at MDTTC for disabled veterans, on Aug. 26-29. It's part of a USATT program, which has a grant for such camps. They have seven such camps scheduled - here's a listing. Special thanks goes to Jasna Rather for helping put these together!

Help Wanted - USATT National Volunteer Coordinator

Here's a new volunteer position with USATT - and an important one! 

Help Wanted - Austin Table Tennis Club Coach

Here's the help wanted article

Think Like a Coach

Here's a new coaching article from Oklahoma City coach Britt Salter. (The page is listed as Nov. 27, 2012, but that's when the page was apparently created for the coaching articles. The article just went up.) 

Contact Point for Maximum Backspin

Here's the video (3:14) from PingSkills.

Which Ball Should I Buy?

Here's the new blog entry from USATT Board Member Kagin Lee.

ITTF Coaching Course in Akron, Ohio

Here's the ITTF article.

ITTF Goes Plastic for Future Events

Here's the article.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. I was posting them all here, but while I was gone they went from #38 to #28. You can find them all on the USATT News page. I'll likely start posting them again tomorrow. 

Kanak Jha and the North American Championships

Here's the highlights video (1:36), by Jim Butler.

Lily Zhang's 2012 Olympic Thoughts

Here's the video (1:41). 

Dimitrij Ovtcharov on the Two-Colored Balls

Here's the article. "More than half of the balls were broken after practice." (Includes picture with the broken balls - looks like about ten broken balls, though there seem to be 11 white halves, 9 orange halves.)

Tampa Tries Free Pingpong in the Park

Here's the article

Table Tennis Touch

Here's a video (2:33) on this table tennis game you can play on your smart phone. 

Pong Was Never Supposed to Be Played By the Public

Here's the article on this revolutionary video game. 

Cartoon Woman Smashes Winner in Front of Big Crowd

Here's the picture - what should the caption be?

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July 24, 2014

Last Blog Until Tuesday, August 5

This will be my last blog until Tuesday, August 5. Most people take vacations at beaches, or camping, or Disneyworld, or Las Vegas, etc. Me? I go to an annual science fiction & fantasy writing workshop for nine days of continuous writing, critiquing, classes, etc. I leave early tomorrow morning for "The Never-Ending Odyssey" (TNEO) in Manchester, New Hampshire for nine days, returning late on Saturday, Aug. 2. This will be the fifth time I've attended this, which is for graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, a six-week workshop for writers of science fiction & fantasy, which I attended in 2006. At the workshop I'm having the first seven chapters of my SF novel critiqued.

Getting TT on TV
(This is from a response I gave to a question on the forum.)

One of the major reasons table tennis isn't on TV much in the U.S. is there's nobody actively pushing for this to happen, or trying to create an attractive package for the TV people. USATT is an amateur organization, and doesn't have anyone devoted to this. So it's unlikely table tennis will get much TV exposure in the U.S. until the same thing that happened in other TV sports happens to table tennis - the top players get together and form a professional organization. Their top priority would be to bring money to the sport via sponsors, and to do that they need to get on TV - and so getting on TV becomes their top priority. They'd hire an executive director who would work to get the sport on TV so that he can bring in sponsors. But until this happens, table tennis is unlikely to be on TV much in this country. 

Wednesday's Coaching

I did 4.5 hours of private coaching yesterday. Here's a rundown.

  • Sameer, 13, about 1600 player (two-hour session): We pretty much covered everything, as you can do in a two-hour session. The highlight of the session, however, was when I introduced him to the banana flip. It only took a few minutes before he was able to do this in drills, and then we practiced it for about ten minutes. Since he just came off playing three tournaments in a row - see my blog about his progress in my blog on Monday - we're focusing on fundamentals as we prepare him long-term for his next "big" tournament - the North American Teams in November. We did a lot of counterlooping. As a special bonus that he begged and pleaded for, I let him lob for five minutes.
  • Tiffany, 9, about 1750 (70-min session as part of the MDTTC camp): Tiffany is the top-rated under 10 girl in the U.S., and the stuff she did in the session shows why. During those 70 minutes she did 55 minutes of footwork drills. The only interruption to her footwork drills was ten minutes when I looped to her block, and five minutes where we pushed. The rest of the time it was non-stop footwork drills for her. When she seemed to slow down between rallies at one point, one of the Chinese coaches playfully called her "lazy," and she immediately picked up the pace again. Today she'll be right back at it, while I'm still sore from the ten minutes of looping. Tiffany's in an interesting point in her game as she's gradually making the transition to all-out looping.  
  • Matt, 13, about 1600 (one-hour session, plus 30 minutes of games): He has an excellent forehand and good footwork, but is in the process of transitioning to a more topspinny backhand. We spent most of the session doing backhand-oriented drills. These included side-to-side backhand footwork; alternate forehand-backhand footwork (forehand from forehand corner, backhand from backhand corner); and the 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand corner, forehand from backhand corner, and forehand from forehand corner). I was planning to work on his receive after all this, but Matt wasn't happy with his 2-1 drill play, and wanted to do more of that. How many players volunteer to do extra footwork? (Perhaps he was inspired when I told him how much footwork Tiffany had done.) So we did another ten minutes or so of the 2-1 drill, about twenty minutes total. Then we did a bunch of multiball, focusing on backhand loop. It won't be long before he hits 1800 level.

    At the end of the session with Matt we played games - I stayed an extra 30 minutes for this, so it was really a 90-minute session. (I often do this when I'm through coaching for the day.) An astonishing thing happened here. After I won the first game, he came back in the second game on fire, and went up - I kid you not - 10-2!!! So on to the third game, right? Wrong. On his serve I switched to chopping (mixing in heavy chop and no-spin), and on my serve I pulled out an old Seemiller windshield-wiper serve (racket going right to left), which he'd never seen before. He got tentative both against the chops and serve, and suddenly it was 10-all. We had a rally there, where I chopped four in a row, and then I threw a no-spin chop at him, and he looped it softly. I tried smashing, but missed, and he had another game point. But he missed the serve again, and I finally won 14-12. He was very disgusted with blowing the game, and was now playing tentative where he'd been on fire just a few minutes before, and the result was he fell apart the next two games, even though I went back to playing regular. I finally had him do a few forehand drills to get his game back, and he ended it with a relatively close game. I'm feeling kind of bad about this because I completely messed up his game when I switched to weird play, when my job as a coach is to help him play well. But he's going to have to face "weird" players in tournaments, so he might as well get used to playing them now.

    The thing Matt needs to take away from this is that if he can play so well that he's up 10-2 on the coach (and I still play pretty well!), then it won't be long before he can do that all the time. The thing I need to take away from this is I better start practicing or Matt, Tiffany, and Sameer are all going to start beating me. (Age, injuries, and lack of real practice have dropped my level down to about 2100 or so, but that should be enough to beat these three, right? Maybe not…)

Liu Shiwen: Hard Work Always Produces Good Results

Here's the article. Liu is the world #1 ranked woman.

Twelve Curious Facts about Table Tennis

Here's the article.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's the final blog on the U.S. Open by Dell & Connie Sweeris.

ITTF Coaching Course in Thailand

Here's the ITTF article on the latest overseas coaching course taught by USATT coach Richard McAfee.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-two down, 38 to go!

  • Day 39: Ian Marshall Feels Privileged to Do What He Loves

Lily Zhang at the ITTF YOG Camp

Here's the video (34 sec).

Another Great Trick Shot

Here's the video (36 sec) of Shi Wei.

Craigslist Ping Pong Table Negotiation

Here's the text of this rather crazy discussion. (Side note - I once met Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.com. At the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention I was in the Science Fiction Writers of American suite - I'm a member - and after grabbing some snacks at the buffet table I joined two others sitting around a table discussing the future of the Internet. One of them began asking lots of questions about my science fiction writing. At some point the discussion turned to how we used online tools, and I mentioned I was in the process of renting out the first two floors of my townhouse, and that I was advertising it on Craigslist.com. The third person said, "Larry, do you know who you are talking to?" I said no, and that's when he pointed out that the guy I'd been talking with for half an hour was THAT Craig. He was at the convention as a member of several panels that involved the Internet.)

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July 15, 2014

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes to the USATT May 19, 2014 Teleconference, which just went up. Below are some items I found interesting, in order, on usage of USATT's logo by distributors of USATT approved equipment; on the digital magazine's ad revenue; and on usage of the poly ball or celluloid ball in future Nationals and Opens. There's also an interesting item in the minutes you might want to read about, "The Chinese Table Tennis Association wants to have a North American Friendship Tour." (I started to write about RailStation, which is talked about in the minutes, and in particular the line, "To ensure smooth transition, RailStation and NATT software will be run concurrently for a specified period of time." As I blogged previously, USATT jumped the gun on that, but has since remedied the problem for now by going back to the old software until the new software is ready.)

As usual, my main frustration with USATT is not what's in the minutes, but what's not in them. There's nothing in there about increasing the USATT membership base of 8-9,000 (basically a round-off error for most sports memberships, and for table tennis in most other countries), which is the source of most of our problems, i.e. lack of revenue. Besides the increase in revenue, large membership should be a goal itself, but few from USATT seem interested in this, for reasons I still don't understand.  Membership growth comes primarily from leagues, and from junior training programs and coaching development. I'm sure the other issues are important, but they are dwarfed by the need to focus on growth, but it's not even on USATT's radar, alas. Anyway, here are some items I found and my commentary.

"While USATT places equipment and product suppliers on USATT’s approved list, use of USATT’s logo on this equipment has not been approved. Suppliers should be contacted informing them that USATT approval is restricted to usage of their equipment and/or products in USATT events."

This seemed strange and unfair. Companies pay a lot of money to have their products USATT approved. Note that USATT doesn't even test them - ITTF does that at no cost to USATT. So these companies are paying money directly to USATT just to have them approve their equipment for USATT tournaments. And now they are going to be told that, even after getting USATT approval, they can't advertise these USATT-approved products with the USATT logo? I don't think that's fair. A USATT-approved product should be allowed to advertise this status with the USATT logo.

"The digital magazine generated $9000 in ad revenue for the Spring 2014 issue, constituting a $6,000 shortfall to budgeted revenue."

In my blog on February 11, 2014 on the cancellation of the print magazine and going digital, "But they'll lose money on advertising and membership." I also wrote, "I'm told they are budgeting advertising to stay the same, which of course won't happen." As verified here, they really did budget $15,000 in advertising for the issue (which is what was budgeted for print), expecting to get the same ad revenue with an online magazine as a print magazine. There was no chance of that happening, and yet they convinced themselves of this. And so they lost $6000 ad revenue in the issue, and presumably $36,000 over the course of a year. I'm guessing that some advertisers stuck with it for now, but will cancel or decrease their advertising later - we'll see. Eventually we'll reach a new rough status quo on advertising at a level considerably lower than before. As noted in my blog, they do save money now on printing and postage. The amount they save in that way would be roughly offset if they simply had kept the print magazine while also going digital, thereby increasing the value of their advertising, and thereby increasing it.

As I also wrote in that blog: "This reminds me of the group-think that took place a number of years ago when USATT increased the membership fee from $25 to $40 in one year. I was in the room as the 13 board members voted unanimously to do this, and unanimously budgeted membership to stay the same. That was crazy, and I told them so. Membership had just reached 9000, the most ever. I predicted they'd lose 2000 members; I was told by all 13 that I was wrong. One year later they were down to 7200 members. I was in the room one year later, alternating between anger and laughter, as the USATT board had to painstakingly cut about $60,000 from the budget."

Just for the record, they lost me as an advertiser as well. I was planning to advertise my in USATT Magazine my new book, Table Tennis Tips, as well as my other table tennis books, just as I had advertised in the magazine my previous book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. But I changed my mind on that when they cancelled the print version. (Note how I instead cleverly inserted ads for the books here?)

However, it was recommended that the celluloid ball continue to be used at the upcoming U.S. Open and Nationals.

This might be a good thing as I don't think many people have the new balls yet. It's even more problematic for the many full-time clubs and junior programs that use large quantities of training balls (for private and group coaching, and lots of multiball), since they are all currently celluloid. Do we have to toss them out and buy new poly training balls? Will they be available anytime soon at the same inexpensive price of training balls? I only know of 3-star balls so far. I hope we aren't ever going to be stuck with using 3-star poly balls in major tournaments but only celluloid training balls. You don't want to train with one if the other is what is used in tournaments - they play somewhat differently.

Please, USATT, do not make the change until poly balls are widely available and affordable both in 3-star and training-ball formats.  

Serving Deep

Here's the new coaching article from Brian Pace, with lots of pictures and links to videos.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov's Serve

Here's video (3:12) of the world #4 German star serves in slow motion.

Talent or Practice?

Here's an article in yesterday's New York Times on the topic. Here's the study in Psychological Science that much of the article is based on.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Fifty-three down, 47 to go!

  • Day 48: Polona Cehovin Susin’s Approach to the ITTF’s Education and Training
  • Day 49: Polona Cehovin Susin Combines Hard Work with Passion

This Was Tokyo

Here's a new highlights video (1:39) on the recent World Team Championships in Tokyo, set to music.

Chinese Article on Lily Zhang

Here's the article and video (2:28) for our Chinese readers. It's apparently about her hopes for a medal at the upcoming Youth Olympics.

Four-Handled Paddle

Here it is.

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July 9, 2014

Fighting Spirit

One thing that always bothers me is how people judge a player's fighting spirit not by their fighting spirit during a point - where it counts - but by their fighting spirit between points. And they inevitably judge this by how loud the player is. It sometimes seems as if a player has to constantly yell and scream between points just to prove to the audience that he's fighting hard!

Fighting spirit is a must in table tennis and all sports. It's something coaches look for. But not everyone is loud about doing this. A person may fight quietly just as effectively as someone who screams his head off after each point. And yet he's not considered so much a fighter because he's quiet while the other guy is yelling. Can't spectators just watch the points and see how much he fights for the points? Does he move at full speed? Does he try for every ball? Does he keep this up every point the entire match? If the answer to these questions is yes, then he's fighting just as hard as someone who also does these things, but yells between points.

There's nothing wrong with some yelling between points, especially in big matches, as long as it's not overboard. It helps some players keep their confidence up, and helps them fight all the way. In fact, for many, especially juniors, yelling encouragement to themselves between points helps to the point that many coaches - including me - encourage it from them, as long as it's not overdone. But let's not mistake what a person does between points with what he does during the points.

Back Injury

I won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston at the U.S. Open. Along the way I managed to mess up my left knee, left ankle, and back. The back injury was a new one, different from the one I've had in the past from overuse. The good news is my arm and the two places in my shoulder that regularly get hurt are fine, and my right knee is in its normal state of bothering me but not stopping me from playing. And after coaching yesterday, the left knee and ankle are mostly okay. (Much of this is because I'm 54 and still insist on playing a "young player's style," i.e. trying to attack all out with my forehand.)

But the new back injury is enjoying its moments of glory as it went into full agony mode yesterday, and turned my entire back into a mass of stiffened muscles as they went to war with each other every time I tried to stroke. I could barely move my upper body. About ten minutes into my first lesson yesterday I had to switch to multiball training, and then a (much needed) sports psychology session. (When the student mentioned his arm was a little sore, I said, "That's 4-1 me." He finally figured out I was referring to injuries - my four were the left ankle, both knees, and the new back injury.) I had to bring in Coach Raghu to substitute my second hour, and I've already cancelled my private coaching for today and tomorrow.

I have an air bed with a slow leak. I normally pump it up once a week. When I returned from the Open it was pretty soft, but I neglected to pump it up the first two nights. I think sleeping on the soft mattress may have affected the back. I won't let that happen again.

So once again I'm in rehab mode. I've got naturally stiff, dense muscles, and so need to do more to keep them in shape.

USATT and USOC Coaches of the Year

As noted in a previous blog, I was this year's USATT Doc Counsilman Science Award Coach of the Year, for this coaching blog, tips, and coaching books. (Lily Yip was Coach of the Year, Stefan Feth Developmental Coach of the Year, and Angie Bengtsson was Paralympic Coach of the Year. I was previously a Developmental Coach of the Year, and was second twice for Coach of the Year.) Out of the 56 Olympic sports, the USOC chooses three finalists in each category, and then chooses one as the USOC coach of the year. This year I was one of the three finalists for the Doc Counsilman Science Award, along with coaches from tennis and speed skating. Alas, the tennis coach won, the fiend! Here's the USOC press release. (Note that Angie Bengtsson was also a finalist.)

Two-Table Footwork

Here's video (3:42) showing this footwork training. I've done this, and the kids actually love it - as long as they take turns so they can rest!

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari Training

Here's a video (2:24) from 2009 showing the two in training. The two will be representing USA at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, Aug. 16-28.

USATT and Medical Insurance

If you've tried to join USATT online, you might have seen part of the waiver where you were apparently required to have medical insurance. Specifically, it says, "I agree to carry primary medical insurance and abide by all USATT policies." This was pointed out on the USATT forum and others pointed it out to me. I contacted USATT, and it turns out they didn't know that was in the waiver. They are having it removed. So for those who didn't join because of this, it's a false alarm - you don't have to have medical insurance to join USATT.  

Hall of Famer Dell Sweeris: Five Unforgettable Memories from a Seven-Decade Career

Here's the article.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Forty-seven down, 53 to go!

  • Day 54: The ITTF’s Record of Awards and Humanitarian Projects, Part II 
  • Day 55: The ITTF’s Record of Awards and Humanitarian Projects, Part I

Back and Forth with "The Machine," a Korean Table Tennis Master

Here's the article about 73-year-old coach Jong Jin Lee and the Nevada Table Tennis Club in the Las Vegas Sun.

Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Wife Jenny Mellström

Here's their marriage picture. Oh, and Dimitrij is pretty happy about Germany's 7-1 win over Brazil in the semifinals!

Amazing Point in U.S. Open Final

Here's the video (7 sec) - net ball, emergency popped return, rip, off-the-bounce counter-rip!

Ten-Minute Point

Here's video that should take you directly to the ten-minute pushing point that starts at about 15:45 of the Day Two night session at the U.S. Open. Prepare to be mesmerized and hypnotized.

Table Tennis Kung Fu

Here's the picture. It looks more like All-Star Wrestling to me!

Baby Girl's First Lesson

Here's video (31 sec) - she's good at keeping her eye on the ball, though not necessarily the one coming at her!

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July 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing Bad - It's All Mental (Usually).

2014 U.S. Open

I was at the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids from June 30 to July 6. As usual, it was an exhausting and exhilarating time. Once again Grand Rapids and USATT put on a great show - they are getting good at running Opens and Nationals. It was mostly on time (falling behind only when specific matches held things up), organized, and they even did the little things. For example, every morning we'd find all the trash had been picked up, and the barriers and chairs around all the courts all lined up nice and neatly. When you consider the size of the playing hall, that's a big job! Results were regularly updated on the results walls. So a great thanks goes out to the organizers and workers at this event.

Here's the USATT home page for the U.S. Open, which includes links to results, articles, pictures, and video.

The showcase events started at 3:45PM on Saturday with the women's semifinals. The schedule was for a new match to start every 45 minutes, with the two women's semifinals, the two men's semifinals, the women's final, and then the men's final, which would presumably start at 7:30 PM. But they ran into a problem right from the start - the first women's semifinal was between two very defensive choppers, Riyo Nemoto of Japan, and Li Xue of France (but presumably from China). The two pushed and Pushed and PUSHED all through the first game, with Nemoto essentially never attacking and Xue only occasionally attacking. I think it was 8-4 in the first when ten minutes had passed and expedite was called. From there on they alternated serves, with the receiver winning the point if she returned 13 shots in a row. Xue had a decidedly better attack, and after losing the first, won the next four games easily under expedite.

But the match took forever, and put things well behind. Could they catch up in the next match, between two attackers? The points were faster, but it took another eon before Yuko Fujii won, 11-9 in the seventh. She would go on to win the final, 4-1 over the chopper Xue, who had no answer to her relentless light topspins to the backhand long pips and sudden loop kills and smashes to the middle or wide angles. Fujii used the Asian style of playing choppers to perfection. (Here's my Tip of the Week on Playing Choppers, which explains this.)

Going into the tournament, most players were picking Japan's Jin Ueda to win. After all, he defeated world #7 Chuan Chih-Yuan in last week's Japan Open. But it was another Japanese player who took out top seed and defending champion Eugene Wang of Canada, as Hidetoshi Oya took him out 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The two Japanese met in the semifinals, but this time Oya had no magic as Ueda won 4-1. Meanwhile, China's Tao Wenzhang - the player considered by most as the least likely of the four semifinalists to win - took out two-time U.S. Open Men's Champion Thomas Keinath, also 4-1. Most picked Ueda to win the final, but it was not to be as the under-estimated Tao won the final with another 4-1 win.

Here's an interesting tactical thing about that match. For years I've encouraged players to serve not just to the short forehand, but to the middle forehand. Some players do have trouble if you serve short to the forehand, but others take advantage of the extreme angle you give them to your forehand (assuming two righties), the extra table means they can flip more aggressively. If the server tries to cover this wide angle, the receiver can just take it down the line. But if you instead serve short to the middle forehand, the following happens. 1) the extreme angle to the forehand is mostly cut off; 2) the extra table when flipping to the wide forehand his shortened, so aggressive flips are more difficult; 3) the receiver, who usually favors backhand against short serves to the middle, has to decide whether to use forehand or backhand; and 4) the receiver is either drawn well over the table if he receives backhand (leaving his backhand side open and taking his forehand mostly out of play on the next shot if the server goes to the backhand), or has a somewhat awkward forehand shot to play over the table. So what did Tao do in both the semifinals and final? He serve short to the middle forehand probably half the time, a primary reason he dominated the points.

The USATT Coach of the Year Awards were given out between games in the Women's Semifinals. The four winners were Lily Yip (Coach of the Year); Stefan Feth (Developmental Coach of the Year); Angie Bengtsson (Paralympic Coach of the Year) and me (Doc Counsilman Science Award, for my coaching blog, tips, and books.) However, when they started to give them out I was on the other side of the arena, with my back turned as I was explaining the expedite rule to some spectators. When they called my name I was caught off guard, and couldn't get to the award stand in time. They gave it to me after the next game. The actual plaques are nice, but were left behind at USATT Headquarters, and will be mailed to us. So they improvised with certificates. I'll post a picture of the actual plaque when it comes in.

There are always problems with any large tournament, and this was no exception. There were many top Chinese players at the tournament without ratings or world rankings, and so they were mostly stuck in randomly, causing havoc in some parts of the draws. Perhaps more effort should go into contacting these players or their associations to better get an idea of their level. After all, if a player travels all the way from China to play Men's Singles, he's likely at least 2400 or better! For example, two cadet players came to my club for about ten days of training before the U.S. Open. They were both 2450-2500 players. But at the Open they were unrated and unseeded. One result was that second-seeded Kunal Chodri, rated 2480, had to play one of them in his first match in Cadet Boys' Singles, and lost 3-0. Those two shouldn't have been playing until the later rounds.

There's also the problem of old ratings. For example, I coached a 12-year-old in Under 1500. In the round robin stage he had to play a girl from Canada rated 1427. The problem was that the rating was a year old, from last year's U.S. Open, and she was now at least 1800. The kid I was coaching was a "ringer," under-rated by a couple hundred points, but not nearly as under-rated as this girl, who would not only win the RR group, but would go on to win Under 1500 and Under 1650 (which at the Open is like winning Under 1800 and Under 1950), while beating players in other events over 1800. It wasn't a one-time thing with her; she got an initial rating of 892 at a U.S. tournament in June of 2012. Her next tournament was the 2013 U.S. Open, where she was way under-rated, and shot up to 1427. Now she'll likely jump to 1800+. Next year she'll likely show up with that rating, but perhaps 2000 level. Perhaps junior players with ratings over six months old should have 100 points added to their ratings for eligibility purposes?

Here are the two best shots of the tournament that I saw. First, a Chinese player at least three times pulled off a "push flip." What is that? He reached in for a short ball to the forehand as if pushing off the bounce, but intentionally missed the ball - then pulled his racket back quickly and flipped the ball at the top of the bounce! I've seen this shot before, but not in years. The other best shot? I was warming up one of my players and accidentally mishit the ball off the racket edge so it shot very hard at my face, ricocheting extremely fast off my glasses and back to the other side! My player didn't hesitate to counter-hit it, and the rally continued. Oh, and I'm sure the top players made a few good loops as well.

It's never over until it's over, as one of my players learned. Down 0-2 in games and 1-6 in the third, I called a time-out. I gave him my vintage speech for players down 0-2. ("How bad do you want this?...") Since he was New York Giants football fan, I asked him, "What would Eli Manning do?" He was all psyched up, went back to the table - and the other player got a net winner, then smacked in a winner, and now my player is down 1-8. But with me yelling, "C'mon, Eli, you can do it!", he scored eight in a row, and won that game in deuce - and went on to win the match, deuce in the fifth.

It doesn't always end that way. A nine-year-old kid I coached made the quarterfinals of Under 1500. There he faced an older kid who, in up-to-date ratings, was actually 1576. My player won the first two games, but lost the next two. In the fifth it was 10-all, 11-all, 12-all, 13-all, 14-all, 15-all. Both players had multiple match points. At 15-all the other player mis-hit his serve off to the side, and it was another match point for my player - or was it? The other kid thought his serve hit the edge, and while I was certain it wasn't close, we had to play a let. My player won the next point (and seemingly might have won the match at that point, since he'd won two in a row from 15-all), but wasn't able to convert that match point, and ended up losing 18-16 in the fifth.

Because of ringers, the draws were often rather haphazard. I mentioned the 12-year-old I coached above who had to play the ringer girl from Canada. Actually, all three players in his preliminary group were ringers, way under-rated, as was he himself. On the other hand, the nine-year-old above (yes, another ringer, since he was rated under 1200 but about 1500 level) went up against "normal" players. I'm fairly sure the three players he played in his round robin and in the first two rounds of single elimination wouldn't have won a match in the other player's preliminary RR.

I started to write about some of my favorite coaching moments, especially the tactics used by Nathan Hsu, 18 and about 2350 (though he's been over 2400) in upsetting a 2648 player. But alas, I can't write about them publicly - they are trade secrets we need for the next time the two play. Suffice to say he executed them perfectly - in particular his serve and receive tactics - and mostly shut down the opponent's big forehand. (You can ask me about them privately.)

Players from my club, MDTTC, did very well. Here's a short listing of their best results:

  • Crystal Wang, 12, won Cadet Girls Singles (15 & Under), made the semifinals of 18 & Under Girls, and the quarterfinals of Under 21 Women.
  • Derek Nie, 13, won 13 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Charlene Liu, 61, pulled off a triple sweep - or was it a quadruple sweep? She won Over 40, Over 50, and Over 60 Women's Singles, made the final of Over 30 Women's Singles, and won Over 60 Women's Doubles with Barbara Kaminsky.
  • Dave Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Men's Singles, and won four doubles events - Over 50 and Over 60 Doubles with Dan Seemiller, Over 65 Men's Doubles with Dell Sweeris, and Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Donna Sakai. (Am I the only one who noticed that all four of these players have initials DS?)
  • Donna Sakai, 67, won Over 65 Women's Singles, Over 60 Mixed Doubles with Dave Sakai, and made the final of Over 60 Women's Doubles with Connie Sweeris.
  • Ruichao Alex Chen, 16, made the final of 18 & Under Boys' Singles, upsetting U.S. #1 Under 18 player Kai Zhang, rated 2704, in the round of 16. He made the semifinals of Under 2600. He made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Chen Bo Wen, 16, made the quarterfinals of 18 & Under Boys' Singles and the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams.
  • Nathan Hsu, 18, made the semifinals of 18 & Under Boys' Teams, and in 18 & Under Boys' Singles upset Chen Keda, rated 2648 and the U.S. #1 Under 17 player.
  • Wang Qing "Leon" Liang, 19, made the semifinals of Under 2600.
  • Ryan Dabbs, 11, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Boys' Singles.
  • Tiffany Ke, 10, made the quarterfinals of 11 & Under Girls' Singles.
  • Daniel Sofer, 9, made the quarterfinals of Under 1500.
  • Larry Hodges, way too old, won Over 50 Hardbat Doubles with Jeff Johnston. 

1970s Table Tennis Revisited

In my blog on June 23 I likened the equipment used in 1971 by Stellan Bengtsson (and by extension, other sponge rackets of that era) as "toy" rackets. Stellan wasn't happy with my assessment. He was using Mark V sponge, which isn't exactly a "toy" sponge though essentially no top players use these types of sponges anymore in this age of tensor and high-tension sponges. (But they are still an appropriate surface for beginning/intermediate players.) I'd actually thought the Mark V used then was slower than the Mark V now, but I've been told that it's about the same now as it was then. (I'm talking about the original version, not all the new types.) The point I was making (and overstated by likening it to "toy" sponge) was that much of the reason the game was slower back then, as seen in the tape, was that the inverted sponges were slower than what are used these days by top players, especially when looping, where modern sponges practically slingshot the ball out. (I've added an edit to the original statement.)

Plastic Ball Implementation at ITTF Events

Here's the article.

USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article on Lily Zhang and Kanak Jha.

Ariel Hsing Aims to Learn & Win in the Super League

Here's the article on the USA Women's Champion in China.

Road to Nanjing

Here's the article, on Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari, who will be representing the United States in the 2nd Summer Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China on August 16-28.  

Ovtcharov Confident to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

Here's the article. Oh, and he just got married!

About.com is Back - Sort of

I checked on it, and there are no plans to bring back the table tennis forum. But they are putting up table tennis articles. Here's a listing of new ones.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin 

Here's the review of the book. "The real history of table tennis is a bizarre tale of espionage, aggravation, and reconciliation, of murder, revenge, and exquisite diplomacy, says a new book. It's the story of how Ivor Montagu molded the game, and how the Chinese came to embrace it and then shaped it into a subtle instrument of foreign policy."

My Way to Olympia

Here's an article and video (1:38) on this PBS documentary on the Paralympics, which covers four athletes, including a table tennis player with one hand.

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

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. (Since I've been away for a week at the U.S. Open we have an accumulation of them today.) Forty-five down, 55 to go!

  • Day 56: Glenn Tepper Explains the ITTF’s Continental Affiliation Option
  • Day 57: Countdown Hijacked! (by Adham Sharara)
  • Day 58: Peter Karlsson Is a True “Champion for Peace”
  • Day 59: Patrick Gillmann: A Passionate Advocate for Juniors
  • Day 60: Richard Scruton Reflects on the 2012 Olympics
  • Day 61: Catching up with Raul Calin, who’s on the Road Again
  • Day 62: ITTF’s Matt Pound Promotes Table Tennis 24/7
  • Day 63: The President’s Views on the Ban of Speed Glue, Part II (here's Part 1)

Fact or Fiction: The Life and Times of a Ping Pong Hustler

Here's the article and trailer (2:10) for the upcoming documentary.

Angel Table Tennis

Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Mike Mezyan.

One Energy Commercial

Here's the video (30 sec) of this neon Tron-like commercial featuring Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen!

No One Knew Kanak Jha Was That Fast!

Here's the picture! Poor Adam Hugh is up against eight Kanaks. (Adam defeated Kanak in the preliminaries at the North American Cup, but lost to him in the final. Or to one of them.)

Top Players in Cartoons

Here are cartoon images of the world's top players.

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