November 7, 2012

Table Tennis Truisms That Are False

Here are some off the top of my head. These are primarily about the running of our sport. When you hear these, run for the hills!

"We'll build our junior program up gradually until it's a success."
A junior program that starts small and tries to build up loses players as fast as they attract them. A successful program does enough promotion to get a sufficient number on the first day, and then it's almost self-perpetuating.

"A full-time club can't survive without major sponsors."
Back when there were few full-time clubs (i.e. five or six years ago, when there were about ten), I heard this all the time. Now that there are 56 (see my listing), I still hear it. And yet nearly all of these clubs are self-financed (through memberships, coaching, leagues, tournaments, equipment & refreshment sales, etc.), with only minor sponsors. My full-time club, MDTTC, primarily gets training and tournament balls, equipment discounts, and tournament prize money from its sponsors. At the December, 2006 USATT board meeting I tried to convince the board to get involved in recruiting and training of coaches to set up such full-time training centers, but was basically told there weren't enough players to support such clubs without major sponsors.

"Why don't we get table tennis into the schools?"
No sport has gotten big by relying on middle or high schools, nor has table tennis gotten big around the world via schools. When a sport is already getting big, that's when schools are interested in that sport. So we need to develop our sport on our own, and then schools can take us to the next level. Often the thinking is that we can train PE teachers to teach table tennis, and so we send table tennis coaches to national or state meetings of these teachers. But while we might get a few teaches teaching it that way, little really comes of it. They simply are not interested in a small sport (in the U.S.) like ours.

"If the USA Men's and Women's Team trained together regularly, they could compete with the best in the world."
Not really, unless you mean only the junior members. By the time they make the U.S. Team a non-junior player is generally already too far behind his/her peers in stronger countries. If you got our best cadets and juniors together, along with top-level coaches and practice partners, then it might be different. We are stronger now at the cadet level (roughly age 15 and under) than ever before, so the next generaton of USA team members might be strong enough so that training together might allow them to compete with the best in the world. 

"USATT's goal is to win a medal at the Olympics by the year [choose your year]."
Is the goal to win a medal or to develop a medalist? If the former, then there should be no training at all of our players; we should be importing top Chinese players. If the latter, then USATT should recognize that future medallists come from juniors training at full-time centers with high-level coaches, and focus on recruiting and training coaches and directors to set up and run such centers.

"It's better than nothing."
This is the response I often hear when someone does a program that sounds nice, but doesn't really accomplish anything. Often it's worst than nothing, because precious resources (money, time) were used for something that did only a little better than nothing, rather than invest it in something that might accomplish something. I hate hearing this response. 

"There should be more prize money at the U.S. Nationals and U.S. Open."
That money has to come from a limited USATT budget, and that money should be used mostly to develop the sport, not in one-shot deals that leave us no better than before. As the sport develops, more revenue would come in, and then prize money can go up. Or we can get sponsors. Or we can find a way to use the extra prize money to bring in more revenue, such as paying spectators or TV.

USATT At-Large Position

Want to run for the USA Table Tennis Board of Directors? There's an election for one spot coming up. Here's complete info. Deadline to apply is Dec. 10. I keep toying with running, but reality tells me that USATT and I have different visions for our sport, and leave it at that. (Also, between my coaching and writing careers, I don't have much free time.)

105-Year-Old Table Tennis Champion

Here's the article in the Warwick News.

Robot Playing Table Tennis

I blogged recently about a robot that actually plays table tennis. Here's a video of it rallying with a person at the China International Industry Fair (45 seconds, though only the first 26 are of the table tennis robot). I think it's using a plain wood blade. Notice it can react with either forehand or backhand. Pongcast (see below) includes a robot playing as well.

Pongcast Episode 19

Here's the newest Pongcast (14:56). In this episode, "Adam Bobrow's dancing goes viral again, F1 driver tests his reactions on the table, TT robots are the future, Zhang Jike makes them laugh, Kevin Garnett plays Wang Hao(!?!?) and the 2012 German Open!" The robot play begins at 3:02 and includes a video showing how the robot was "taught" to play.

Maze vs. Kamal

Here's a video of Michael Maze (world #18 from Denmark) vs. Achanta Sharath Kamal (world #79 from India) at the recent Europe-Asia All-Star Series (5:14, with the time between points taken out).

Astronaut Playing Table Tennis?

Uberpong runs a weekly table tennis caption contest. This week's picture to caption is of an astronaut playing table tennis. What's your caption?

Non-Table Tennis: The Election

Yesterday in my blog I gave my election predictions. The last unannounced state, Florida, unofficially just finished their counting, with Obama winning by 6/10 of a percentage point. (And that was the state I said was the toughest to call.) So I was 50 for 50 in my state predictions, which meant I also called the final electoral count exactly, 332-206. (Four years ago I was 49 for 50, missing only Ohio, and eight years ago I was 48 for 50.) As to the popular vote, I predicted "approximately 50.5% to 48.5%." The current numbers (with some counting around the country still going on) are 50.3% to 48.3%, so I got Obama's margin for victory exactly, and was only off by 0.2% overall. I wonder how quickly people will forget all the predictions of a Romney landslide? But those who predicted that lived inside an ideological bubble, much of it caused by a network that shall not be named.


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January 9, 2012

Tip of the Week

Proper Care of Your Racket.

Serve practice

A few days ago a practiced my serves for 15 minutes, something I hadn't done in a few months. (Remember, I'm 99% coach, 1% player these days.) Last night at the club everyone had absolute fits with them. One player even asked me when I'd developed the new serves - and all I was doing was using my normal serves, but with a bit more spin, lower to the net, and with a quicker, and so more deceptive motion. This has actually happened many times in the past. Serves are one of the most under-practiced techniques in table tennis. I've never understood why more players don't understand this - but it might be because you have to develop your serves to a certain level before the huge advantage from service practice starts to really pay off. Suffice to say that players who usually challenge me struggled to get five points against me last night.

Baltimore Sun and other press coverage

How do you get press coverage for table tennis? By sending out press releases. I've sent out three since the U.S. Nationals in late December. Yesterday the Baltimore Sun sent a reporter out to do a feature story on Tong Tong Gong, who made the U.S. National Cadet Team for the second straight year. He interviewed most of "Team Tong Tong" - me (tactical coach), Cheng Yinghua (who along with Jack Huang and Jeffrey Zeng Xu, are his main drilling coaches), his dad (manager), and we also talked about Tong Tong's physical trainer (he meets with him once week, does other physical training on his own as assigned). The only downside - the players I was coaching during this time (hi John, Kevin) had their sessions interrupted several times as I spoke with the reporter. (I now owe them big time, or as I told them, time and a half.)

Later this week a reporter from the Howard Country Time is also sending a reporter out to do a story on Tong Tong. As I told the Sun reporter, I will not rest until I see a major newspaper headline that says, "The Tong Tong Gong of Ping-Pong." (The Sun already did a short article on the results from the Nationals, featuring Maryland players, including the all-Maryland men's final between Peter Li and Han Xiao.)

Dan Seemiller Ping-Pong Waiter Dream

I had the weirdest dream last night. I was at a restaurant with some of our top junior players. They were asking about how much money they could make at table tennis, and in the dream I was trying to convince them of all the wonderful riches they'd make if they became champions. Then five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller came over as our waiter! Now dreams can be weird, and I spent the rest of the meal trying to convince the kids of how much money Dan made as a waiter because of his table tennis skills. (Sorry, Dan! Just for the record, Dan's a professional coach in South Bend, Indiana, and other than his wife and kids, I don't think he waits on anyone.)

Pongcast TV Episode 07 - 2011 Year in Review Part 2

Here is part 2 (23:18), which reviews the world of table tennis for the second half of 2011. "A certain Chinese player goes on a stunning winning streak, just before the end of the year a certain European player makes a comeback, and my pick for the best finals of the year!" Part 1 (22:47) went up last Thursday, covering the first half of 2011.

Justin Bieber to Unveil New Ping-Pong Playing Robot at CES

I've blogged about Topio, the ping-pong playing robot that looks like the Terminator. Now Justin Bieber will introduce us to his new brother, Tosy! (And here are Justin Bieber's ping-pong playing credentials.)


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