Junior Incentives and Team Leagues
One of the things junior table tennis in the U.S. tends to lack - including at my club - are junior incentives for each level. The kids come out and train and train, but for what? To win a rating event at a tournament? To win an age event at a tournament? (Not enough of them.) To win practice matches? To do well in a singles league? Rating points? These are all nice things, but they aren't quite enough. One way to address this is a junior team league. Another is to give training incentives, especially at the lower levels. At all levels there needs to be a balance between improvement (with specific goals) and fun. I'm now looking into both, with plans to set up various incentives and goals at the beginning level, and a junior team league starting this fall.
How would the junior team league be set up? Kids like doubles, so I want to include that. So most likely it'll be some version of two-person teams. However, rather than have just two or three players on a team (where the third can only play doubles), I'm leaning more toward six-person teams, where the top two play a best of five against the other team's top two (i.e. four singles and a doubles); the third and fourth players do the same against the opposing team's third and fourth; and the same for the fifth and sixth. This means each team will be made up of a balance of advanced, intermediate, and beginning players, but players would mostly compete against players in their own range.
Here are some thoughts on what are needed at the various levels. Please comment or email me if you have any suggestions.
Book Signing Tonight
Reminder! Today at 7PM I will be doing a book signing at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I will also be selling and signing four of my other books. All books will cost $15, with a Special - buy the Tactics book, get a copy of the Tales & Techniques book for only $5! Here's the info flyer. Below are the books.
Table Tennis on TV in Tampa
Here's a video (4:32) where Coach Michael McFarland and college player Matt Delgado demonstrate table tennis on the Tampa local TV show Daytime TV.
How to Play Ping-Pong with Soo Yeon Lee
Here's the video (3:57)!
Table Tennis Music Video
Here's a music video (3:59) in Croatian, by Nevan Dužević. The description, translated into English via online translator, says, "Marigold is Zagreb Dužević songwriter fan of ping pong plays multiple instruments and especially likes to compose on keyboards." I'm not sure what the "Marigold" refers to.
There are a bunch of new articles and videos at Table Tennista, including:
Table Tennis Master
There are a bunch of new articles at Table Tennis Master, including:
Table Tennis on the Moon
Here's the secret picture of what the astronauts really did during the moon landings.
Link to my blog where I wrote about table tennis on other planets? (And here's my blog from Oct. 24, 2012, where I wrote about table tennis on the moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and outer space.)
Collective Table Tennis - Quintuples!
Here's a video (4:30) of five on five table tennis on an "adjusted" table!
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Where do the best players come from?
There are many ways of answering this, but I saw Donn Olsen mention on a table tennis forum how Michael Jordan was described as a "gym rat," and realized that was the answer. Gym rats are people who live and breathe their sport, are the first to show up and the last to leave, and always want to stay longer. They are the ones who practice serves on break, who crave footwork drills, and always are playing at the end. We all know someone like this, and deep down, we all envy them.
Not everyone can be a gym rat. Maybe you can be a gym bird, someone who comes in when he can, then flies south to go back to work, school, or family, and so your table tennis forays are mostly flybys. So make the most of these flybys - practice and play hard! Maybe take a few lessons, practice your serves, and bring a racket to work so you can shadow practice on break.
On the way back from coaching yesterday I was listening to the pre-show before an Orioles game, where they were interviewing Chris Davis. In the background I could hear them playing table tennis! As I've blogged before, I've been invited to coach the Orioles sometime soon, with JJ Hardy, Jake Arrieta, and trainer/former center fielder Brady Anderson three of the main ping-pong players. (It's been temporarily postponed as one of the players has a minor sore arm and so has put aside his ping-pong paddle temporarily. But when we do it, MASN, the Orioles TV network, plans to cover it!)
And speaking of the Orioles, I made the front page of Orioles Hangout again with my article "Ten Worst Things About Being an Orioles Fan." And just below that is my article "Twenty Reasons Matt Wieters is . . . The Most Interesting Man in the World." My other two there are "Top Ten Reasons the Orioles Have the Best Pitching in Baseball" and "Top Twelve Reasons the Orioles Have the Best Hitters in Baseball."
Children's Hospital Exhibition
Here are pictures from an exhibition at Children's Hospital by Soo Yeon Lee and Kim Gilbert. (Click on the pictures to see the next one.) Here is more information on Kim Gilbert's fundraising page for SMASH, a Rally for Kids with Cancer Foundation, with an event coming up on June 23.
2012 Paralympic Table Tennis China Open
Here's a music video (3:33) to the tournament, set to "We Are the World."
Here are the new world rankings, which actually came out on May 3. China has the top five men, the top five women, and the sun rose in the east this morning.
Since we can't all be gym rats and spend our days at the table tennis club playing ping-pong, you can do the next best thing - sit at your desk at work and play Pong! Yes, the classic game that started the video game revolution. If you turn the sound off, then the boss won't hear.
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Service fault controversies
Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)
Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)
This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.
I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)
I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:
It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.
Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.
By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.
I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!
2012 U.S. Open
Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!
Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book
Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.
Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player
While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:
Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's
Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.
Kuwait Open Highlights Tape
Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.
Lady Antebellum Table Tennis
After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).
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Perhaps the biggest change at the higher levels in table tennis in recent years is the advent of the backhand "banana" receive. This is the nickname used for a backhand topspin flip of a serve, essentially a mini-loop, with the name referring to the curve the racket goes through with the stroke. It's done against any type of spin, but it's against short backspin that it is most effective. Some do it with straight topspin; most can add sidespin. It's much easier to do this type of shot on the backhand than the forehand, where the wrist is more locked, and so more and more players are covering more and more of the table with this backhand shot. At the U.S. Olympic and World Team Trials this past weekend (Feb. 9-12), it was the receive of choice of nearly every player.
Some players used it nearly every receive they could. Others mixed it up with short pushes. The ones who didn't use it much were thought of as "old school," while all the younger players used the banana flip over and over.
From a server's point of view, it complicates things. If you serve short to a corner, you give the opponent a wide angle. So most short serves go toward the middle of the table, which is easy for the receiver to banana receive. (If you serve long, then it usually gets looped much harder, so that's only done at the higher levels as a surprise variation.) This means most rallies start with the receiver getting in at least a mini-loop. About the only way to avoid this is to serve very wide to the forehand. The problem here is that the receiver then has a wide angle into the server's wide forehand, and since he has to cover that, the server is open to a simple down-the-line receive to the backhand. (This is for two righties; lefties would reverse all this.)
To see a good banana receive, let's look at the tape of the Men's Singles Final at the recent USA Nationals between Peter Li and Han Xiao. (The match doesn't start until 4:30 into the video.) On the very first point, Peter banana receives Han's serve. On the fourth point, Han does the same to Peter's serve. Throughout the match, against short serves, they mix in this shot with short pushes.
One interesting note about Han Xiao's banana receive that I'm particularly proud of - he copied the shot from me! I've been doing a precursor to the shot for decades, with a quick off-the-bounce backhand topspin receive, but it's only a precursor because my shot doesn't have the extreme topspin or sidespin of the modern banana receive. (So I guess I'm still "old school"?) On the ride back from the USA Trials, Han said that during his junior days he was having trouble stopping a local player from third-ball attacking. Then he saw how I disarmed the player with this shot, and so he copied it, added extra topspin, and suddenly he had what would become one of the best banana receives in the country - except, of course, the term "banana receive" wouldn't come out until a number of years later. (He also said that the reason he's so quick on counterlooping strong loops to the forehand without backing up is because of the zillions of practice matches we had, where my best forehand loops were often aimed at his forehand.)
4-F for Table Tennis
Here's my four F's for table tennis, which I often cite to players before matches: Focus, Free-play, Fysical, Fun. Yeah, one doesn't quite fit, spelling-wise, but this is ping-pong, not Scrabble. Maybe 4-F can become as big as 4-H?
TT on NBC News
Dial 800 for Kim Gilbert and Soo Yeon Lee
Here's a short video/commercial (I'm not sure which it counts as) by Dial 800, who sponsors table tennis player Kim Gilbert, who is featured in the video with table tennis star, Soon Yeon Lee (1:32).
Rod Blagojevich and Ping-Pong
Here's a video from Yahoo about luxury prisons (1:50) which doesn't mention table tennis until the very end. Then it talks about the Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado, which "...offers foosball, pool, and ping-pong," and finishes by saying, "Rod Blagojevich ... will have fourteen years to work on his backhand."
Cho! - 21 times
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Hidden Service Rules
From the just-received Nov/Dec 2011 issue of USATT Magazine, page 62, from the An Official's View article by International Umpire Joseph C. H. Lee:
[He quotes a service rule.] "From the start of service until it is struck, the ball ... shall not be hidden from the receiver by the server or his or her doubles partner or by anything they wear or carry."
[He quotes another service rule.] "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws, and either may decide that a service is incorrect."
"From the umpire’s angle, sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not the serve is hidden from the receiver. It is the server’s responsibility, however, to demonstrate to the umpire or the assistant umpire that the serve conforms to all aspects of the service rules."
He concludes with this:
"...the server must make sure the umpire can observe the entire motion of the serve, including the moment when the racket strikes the ball. If the umpire is unable to observe the serve, he/she will give a warning and the server had better comply in subsequent serves."
Bingo. Why is it so many umpires refuse to enforce the hidden serve rule? As International Umpire Joseph Lee writes above, if the umpire can't see that the serve is visible, then he gives a warning, and if it happens again, it's a fault. It's not complicated.
I've blogged about this a number of times. Will it be enforced at the Nationals next week? I sure hope so. If not, then umpires are allowing players to win by cheating, and penalizing the ones who do not cheat. If not enforced, it likely will be the difference between a player winning a championship or making a USA Team or going home frustrated because he was cheated out of these things.
Unfortunately, we ran into this at last years USA Cadet Team Trials, and again at the U.S. Open, when umpires often wouldn't call hidden serves. (And to be fair, it's often not called internationally either.) This year I've brought printouts from videos of many of the players in question, showing blatantly illegal hidden serves that umpires wouldn't call, even after protests by opponents or their coaches. Because some of the players involved are minors, I'm not going to make these public, but I will show them to umpires & referees, and anyone who privately (and cordially) asks to see them.
If umpires do not enforce the hidden serve rules at the Nationals, then I'm declaring these rules null and void (and the umpires incompetent), and our top players (including cadets and juniors) will have no choice but to learn these illegal serves to compete. A rule that is openly not enforced soon ceases to be a rule.
Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion
At the club last night I told a player about the upcoming expansion. (MDTTC doubles in size in January, taking over the space next door, with the wall between coming down, giving us about 11,000 square feet and 20 or so tables.) His immediate response? "There aren't enough players to support it!"
It's exactly what people said when we first opened 20 years ago, and there truly weren't nearly enough local players at that time to support a full-time table tennis center. Where will we get the players? The same way we did then, the same way any successful club does - you make the club as good as it can be, and promote the heck out of it. You build your membership, you don't wait for players to magically appear before creating the club.
I faced the same thing with USATT a few years ago when I pushed for nationwide leagues and junior training programs, with the goal of increasing the number of players and juniors. The response by many? "But there aren't enough players and juniors to create leagues and junior programs!" Alas.
Prize money increased for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids
The Chinese Advantage
Here's an article by Coach Massimo Constantini on why the Chinese are so good. It mostly involves European laziness and problematic backhand techniques that led to problems on the forehand as well.
Pongcast Episode 5 - ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals
Here's the video (26:54) - enjoy!
Blake Griffin versus Soo Yeon Lee
Here a hilarious commercial for Red Bull (2:53), which features Griffin taking up professional table tennis and taking on Lee. Blake Griffin is a basketball player with the LA Clippers, for those of you who didn't know - like me until a few seconds ago. Soo Yeon Lee is a professional table tennis player and model - she was on the cover of the July/August USA Table Tennis Magazine.
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