Butterfly Online

Kim Gilbert

September 22, 2014

Tip of the Week

Power in Table Tennis.

USATT Hires New CEO

Here's the USATT announcement. Gordon Kaye is a USATT member rated 1469, who's played in 32 processed USATT tournaments since 2009, plus the Badger Open in Wisconsin this past weekend. (Highest rating: 1510.) Our paths even crossed once - he and I were both at the 2010 Eastern Open in New Jersey, him as a player, me as a coach. Here's his tournament record. He's a standard inverted shakehands player, who likes to attack but doesn't always have confidence in his loop, and so often blocks and counter-attacks. Here's an interview with him at the Badger Open by Barbara Wei, which includes an action picture. Here's another picture of him posing with Barbara.

I'm told he successfully transformed two failing organizations before coming to USATT. One was a minor league hockey team. Here are some online articles I found on him:

What does he need to do to be successful as USATT CEO? I'll write at length about this later. But the most important things are the following:

  1. Recognize the doers and the "empty suits" in our sport. I don't really like the phrase "empty suit," but it gets the idea across. Some "empty suits" are successful in some non-table tennis activities, but it doesn't always cross over. Doers are those who do table tennis things and get results, who understand how to develop the sport. Empty suits are far better at selling themselves than doers, who are better at selling the sport than themselves. Historically, guess which type has had the most influence in USATT policy?
  2. Understand how table tennis grew overseas, and how other sports grew in the U.S., and then come up with a model that'll work for USATT.
  3. Set specific goals to develop the sport, and create and implement plans to reach them.
  4. Think long-term.
  5. Break out of USATT sponsorship logjam. There are two main ways for USATT to find sponsors:
  • Find a rich table tennis person who will give us money. We've been trying that for 81 years. How has that worked?
  • Find a business person who believes he can make money by sponsoring USATT. To do this we need to convince him that USATT is growing, and that he should get in on the ground floor. If we were focusing on developing the sport (developing regional leagues, recruiting and training coaches, etc. - all the stuff I've been arguing for the last two decades or more) this would be a lot easier. In the late 1980s Bob Tretheway raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for USATT (more when adjusted for inflation) - with the selling point that table tennis had just become an Olympic sport in 1988, and so was about to take off in the U.S. (it didn't). How do we sell it now? I believe that the best way to convince a business person that USATT is growing is by USATT actually growing. Getting the process started doesn't take much funding. (I've blogged about this many times, and will elaborate on this tomorrow.)

One obvious problem is that Gordon will face what all USATT CEOs face - conflicting direction from the USATT Board of Directors. Some are forward thinkers; some are not. Should his primary focus be raising money? Developing the sport? I know that at least one board members believes the primary focus of the CEO should be as office manager!!!

Anyone who reads my blog knows I believe the focus for now should be to develop the sport. Rather than trying to sell faulty shoes, fix the shoes first, then sell them. USATT has even had Strategic Meetings about growing the sport (i.e. fixing the shoes), and I've attended several. Somehow the main focus of these meetings has been vague generalities with no follow-up, slogans, and lots of self-congratulatory back-slapping for such a productive meeting.

So how did Gordon do at the Badger Open? Here are the complete tournament results. He had a pretty good tournament, with wins against players rated 1741 (congrats!), 1490, 1221, 1138, and 962, and losses to players rated 2073, 2056, 1879, 1705 (went five!), 1689, 1652, 1603, and 1562. Since he went in rated 1469, my ratings calculations say he'll pick up 49 points, and so come out at 1518 - a new high for him. (See, we know what's important.)

Now that we've read about him, know his rating and playing style, and know how he did at the Badger Open, we have to judge him. And I prefer to judge a person by anagrams. (After all, "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God.") So what do we get from Gordon Kaye?

  • Okay Go Nerd
  • Gone Ya Dork
  • Rake Yon God

So he's either a nerdy dork or a God. Only time will tell. Let's support him, and maybe, just maybe, he'll be the one to break the long-time USATT lethargy.

Celluloid vs. Non-Celluloid - Who's Using What?

While for the time being most tournaments in the U.S. are still using celluloid, the two upcoming big ones are both using non-celluloid. The North American Teams just announced they will use the non-celluloid balls, presumably the JOOLA Super-P 40+ balls they were selling at the U.S. Open. And as noted in previous blogs, the USA Nationals will use Nittaku Premium 40+ balls. (They aren't on sale yet, but should be available in mid-October. Don't mistake this for the Nittaku Sha 40+ ball, which is on sale now but plays differently.) My guess is that most tournaments will switch to non-celluloid sometime in 2015.

$10,000 Butterfly Badger Open

Here are the results of the tournament, which was held this past weekend in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with 204 players. (Included among the players was Gordon Kaye, the newly hired USATT CEO.) Butterflyonline has video and a photo gallery. Here are three articles on the tournament by Barbara Wei. (She tells me she has three more coming.)

The Forgotten Skill - Blocking

Here's the coaching article by Samson Dubina.

How to Receive Serves from Opposite Handed Players

Here's the coaching video (2:32) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Ma Long Serving Technique Slow Motion

Here's the video (3:03).

Sandpaper Qualifiers for $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong

Here's the news release.

Nothing is Impossible Video Reaches Two million Views

Here's the ITTF press release on the video (2:44) of armless Egyptian player Ibrahim Hamato.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here are two more videos from Nathan in China. (All eight are linked from the initial video, China Day 4.)

Zhou Xin Table Tennis Academy Physical Training

Here's the video (64 sec) by Bruce Liu.

George Brathwaite

The USATT Hall of Famer called me a few days ago to discuss USATT issues. He might be getting active in USATT again. Here's his web page.

Ping-Pong 4 Purpose

Here's another article on the charity event that was held Sept. 4 at Dodger Stadium, by Kim Gilbert.

Adam Bobrow Exhibition at Bloomingdales

Great Point

Here's the video (61 sec) - the point lasts about 40 seconds!

Katy Perry - This Is How We Do

Here's the music video (3:29), which includes three table tennis segments - seconds 19-24, second 33, and seconds 1:21-1:23. In the first segment she sings, "Playing ping-pong all night long."

Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Ryder Cup, and Ping-Pong

Here's the CNN article. The eighth and final picture shows Tiger playing table tennis penhold style, with the caption, "But with Mickelson's erstwhile ping pong partner Tiger Woods missing the Ryder Cup with injury, could self-confessed table tennis fan Fowler partner up with "Lefty" in Scotland?"

Teasing a Dog, Ping-Pong Style

Here's the cartoon.

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August 27, 2013

Tip of the Week

A Step-by-Step Sequence to Learning Pendulum Serves.

MDTTC Camps

"It's Monday . . . and there's no camp??? No lectures on grip, stance, forehand, and serves?" (Okay, it's really Tuesday, but this is what I was thinking yesterday.) Our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC ended Friday. I've now run about 180 five-day camps, six hours per day, or 900 days and 5400 hours of camp. That's nearly 2.5 years of camps. I've given each of my standard lectures 180 times, or about 1800 lectures in all. I've led in stretching (twice a day) 1800 times. (Well, actually less since I've sometimes missed the afternoon sessions.) And we're not done for the year - we have another camp, our Christmas Camp, Dec. 26-31. (Our camps are primarily for kids, but adults are welcome - we usually get 2-3 each week, sometimes none, sometimes more.)

MDTTC August Open

Here are the results (which I also gave out yesterday) of the August Open this past weekend, run by Charlene Liu. Congrats to Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"), who finally broke through and won against Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") after a series of second-place finishes to Wang. It was a dominant performance - he didn't lose a game. Anther having a nice tournament was Nathan Hsu, who's been in a slump recently - but this time he won Under 2400.

I mostly coached Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh in the tournament. (I also coached Tony Li one match, against a Seemiller-style player with antispin, something he'd never seen before. A new experience, and next time he'll be ready.) Derek (12, rated 2291) started well, with wins over a pair of 2150 players - including a mind-numbing win over Lixin Lang (2187) at 16-14, 19-17, 11-8! - but his elbow began to hurt during his match with Lixin. He kept clutching at it, and I almost had him default there. He finished the match, but decided he had to drop out to rest it. Hopefully he'll be okay in a few days.

Derek's other decent win was against Nam Nguyen (2137). They had one of the most incredible three-shot sequences I've ever seen. Nam lobbed a ball short. Derek absolutely crushed it. Nam absolutely crushed a counter-kill from no more than eight feet back, and Derek absolutely crushed a counter-counter-kill off the bounce. It was the fastest three-shot sequence I've ever seen - three forehand smashes/counter-smashes in the blink of an eye. I wish it was on video - it could have gone down as the fastest three-shot sequence ever!!! 

Sameer had a strange tournament - he literally could have won or lost all eight or so of his matches. As it was, he made the final of Under 1150. Down 0-2 in games in the final, he led 5-3 in the fifth before losing 11-8.

During the tournament a player said, "I have to play [higher-rated player]." I pointed out that he had it all wrong - that this [higher-rated player] had to play him! I often quote to my players Rorschach from the movie Watchmen, where he's allowed himself to be taken prisoner and he's surrounded by other prisoners out to get him. After dispatching one in very violent fashion, he says to the group of prisoners gathered around in his gravelly voice, "You don't understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me!" Here's the video of the scene (47 sec) - warning, it's pretty violent!!!

North American Championships

The North American Championships end today, Aug. 25-27 in Vancouver Canada. Here's their home page, which includes results, write-ups, photos, video, video interviews, live streaming

USATT Minutes

Here are the minutes of a USATT teleconference meeting on July 22 and the email approval vote of those minutes. Here are USATT minutes going back to 1999.

Footwork for a Short Ball

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:46) showing how to step in for a short ball and recover for the next shot.

Zhang Jike Doing Multiball

Here's a video (36 sec) of World Champion Zhang Jike doing multiball. Want to have footwork like Zhang's? Then watch his stance - wide, with left foot off to the side for stability as he rips shots from the backhand side. There needs to be a balance here. If the left foot is too far off to the side, then the follow-through goes too much sideways, and you're not in position for the next shot. If it's more parallel to the table, you lose body torque. (I had a disagreement with a coach recently - not from my club - who insists that when you step around the backhand corner to play a forehand the feet should be parallel to the side of the table. However, not many top players do that, if any.)

Top Ten Shots at the Harmony Open

Here they are (4:38)!

Table Tennis Through Google Glass

Here's an article and video (17 sec) showing table tennis through Google Glass. (Why isn't it called Google Glasses?)

Kim Gilbert After a Two-Hour Session

Here's the picture! So restful....

Mouthful of Pong

Here's another video (14 sec) from the (Tumba Ping Pong Show"! I linked to two other of their videos on my blog on Aug. 16 (at the very end).

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August 22, 2013

Visit to the Orioles Clubhouse

Yesterday was an incredible day. As noted in yesterday's blog, we were invited to give a demo and take challenges from the Baltimore Orioles baseball team in their clubhouse/locker room. They have a nice Killerspin table and lots of room. Many of the players have been playing regularly for the past few years - and it showed! This was not a bunch of "basement" players; they were surprisingly good. About a dozen of them could show up at any table tennis club and battle with the regulars. (Photos are now up in Tomorrow's blog.) 

We were supposed to be there from 2-3PM, but the Orioles kept challenging and challenging, and we ended up taking them on for three hours, from 2-5PM.

There's already been a lot of media coverage. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN, home of the Orioles and Washington Nationals) did a special pre-game show on it, but I haven't seen it yet. (They just emailed me that they'll mail me copies of the video next week.) There's a short article in the Baltimore Sun, and an article and video (1:19) on the Orioles home page. The video has a great interview about us from Orioles Manager Buck Showalter - you should hear what he had to say about us! They also have video of me, Tong Tong Gong, and Derek Nie in the stands watching the game that night, which started at 7:05PM. (Orioles beat Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2. We sat directly behind home plate! They showed us briefly on the Jumbotron. Nathan and Qiming couldn't stay for the game.)

The players from the Maryland Table Tennis Center were:

  • Derek Nie, 12, 2012 U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Champion (and looks about 10, only 4'7" and 70 lbs)
  • Nathan Hsu, 17, 2011 USA Junior Olympic Under 16 Boy's Singles Champion and 2012 USA Junior Olympic Under 18 Boy's Singles Finalist, #1 Under 18 player in Maryland among U.S. citizens.
  • Tong Tong Gong, 16, member of USA Cadet National Team (15 & Under), 2011-2012, who lives only 15 min from Camden Yards in Ellicott City, and is a big Orioles fan
  • Qiming Chen, 21, past University of Maryland Champion and President of the Univ. of Md. Table Tennis Club 
  • Coach Larry Hodges, member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame (hey, that's me!)

Playing for the Orioles? Over half the team was at tableside nearly the entire three hours, cheering and jeering. Here are the ones that I remember playing against us: Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Steve Pearce, Taylor Teagarden, Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day, and Chris Tillman. (I probably missed a few.) Also playing was former Orioles star centerfielder and now VP of Operations Brady Anderson. Their best player, shortstop JJ Hardy (about 1800), has had recent back problems and so didn't play - but he acted as the scorekeeper for many of the matches.

Here's a group picture taken near the end - many of the players had already left. Tomorrow I'll put up more photos taken (mostly by Qiming), and hopefully identify the players. (I don't have time now - this is a rather rushed write-up, as I didn't get to bed until 2:30 AM this morning, and I have to leave to coach shortly - I'll be coaching until 8PM today.)

To get a flavor for what this was like, image playing table tennis with these stars, with over half the rest of the Orioles all gathered around watching! Many of the players kept coming up to me to ask table tennis questions, and I bravely introduced myself to some of the others. I met and spoke with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, JJ Hardy, Manny Machado, Nate McLouth, Matt Wieters, Taylor Teagarden, Alexi Casilla, Steve Pearce, Miguel Gonzales, Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day, Troy Patton, Chris Tillman, Brady Anderson, Manager Buck Showalter, and former hitting coach Terry Crowly. I mostly let the kids play, but I did play Tillman, Hunter, and Brady Anderson, and at one point I did an exhibition with Nathan, and at JJ's request, demonstrated my ball-blowing trick where I blow the ball in the air sideways, keeping the ball in the air by spinning it with my breath. Derek was especially in demand - everyone wanted to challenge him, and he ended up playing nearly half the team.

Much of the time I was standing next to Chris Davis, who leads the majors with 46 home runs after hitting another last night. We talked for 20 minutes on how players develop in skill sports, and how China is developing players in sports school funded by the government. He said that it's almost impossible to make the major leagues these days unless you have systematic training from the time you were a little kid, and that he'd been trained as a baseball player since he was four. Adam Jones and a few others joined in the discussion. When Chris had to leave, he pointed at his large locker area and said, "While I'm gone, Larry, my office is yours." (Here's a picture of Qiming Chen and Chris Davis.)

We owe JJ Hardy (the Orioles power-hitting and gold-glove winning shortstop) and Orioles Media Manager Jeff Lantz a huge thank you for all of this. They invited us, and made all the arrangements. When we first arrived, J.J. Hardy had set up an ambush for Orioles outfielder Steve Pearce, who had no idea what was going on. Pearce, apparently the Orioles third best player after JJ and Brady Anderson (if he counts, since he's not front office) didn't know what hit him when JJ suggested he play this little kid, who happened to be the 70 lb, 2291-rated Derek Nie. Pearce quickly realized he'd been had as the MASN cameras caught it all! So began the night. (Derek was nervous at the start, and since we didn't want to alert Pearce to what was happening, he didn't get any warm-up - and so started shaky, missing a couple of easy shots as Pearce tied it at 2-2. Then it was all Derek the rest of the way, 11-3.)

For the first ten minutes or so, the kids were very nervous, but the Orioles were so welcoming and friendly (when they weren't jokingly trash talking) that they quickly relaxed. At one point Tong Tong disappeared for a while; it turned out Steve Pearce had taken him out to the batting cages, where Tong Tong got to take ten swings against a practice partner pitcher. (Tong Tong and I were the two who knew all the Orioles; Nathan, Derek, and Qiming were all more or less baseball novices.)

Some interesting notes on the players: Nick Markakis plays with sandpaper, and can both chop and attack. Steve Pearce has a nice forehand sidespin loop. Chris Tillman has a pretty good smash. Manny Machado had incredible enthusiasm, never wanted to stop challenging us. Darren O'Day had lots of equipment questions and can keep the ball in play. Brady Anderson is an all-out forehand player, and can really move - he's in incredible shape, and wore both Derek and I out. He's improved dramatically since last time we played when I gave him a lesson at MDTTC in May. (He said he'd been playing nearly every day since then.) Near the end Derek and I played him a series of games. At first he was getting only 2-4 points a game against us. Near the end, as I tired and as he energetically continued to move at full speed, and he got used to my serves, and our last three games were actually close, including one game where (with a little net and edge help!) got to deuce. Derek and I both estimated him at 1800. He may give JJ a run for it now.

Afterwards player after player invited us to come back again, and based on the video interview with Manager Showalter (see link above), he seemed to like it to. Since the Orioles won that night, we are now their good luck charm!

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Smashing Speed

Here's a video (1:27, though it really ends at 1:14) of Germany's Ovtcharov (world #6) smashing as hard as he can with a radar gun, even tossing the ball up by the net and using a big wrist snap to add speed. His fastest was 122 kilometers per hour or 75.76 mph. This seemingly disproves the myth that a table tennis ball can be hit at 100 mph, assuming the radar gun is accurate.

Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's an article by former USA table tennis star Kim Gilbert on Aerobic Table Tennis.

Just Do It!

Here's video (1:32) of a new Nike Commercial that features table tennis about halfway through. The girl playing is Amanda Malek (daughter of 1979 USA Men's Singles Champion and Coach Attila Malek).

Venus Williams

Here's a picture of tennis star Venus playing table tennis at Madison Square Park in New York City on Aug. 21 at the Delta Open Table Tennis Tournament. (I don't think she actually played in the tournament.)

Baby in Backpack Pong

Is this singles or doubles?

***
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June 20, 2013

MDTTC Camps - Day Three Highlights

Yesterday's focus was on forehand looping. I did a short lecture and demo, both against backspin and block.

There are four ways to demo a forehand loop against backspin. You could just serve backspin, your partner pushes it back, and you loop. But then they only get to see the shot one at a time. Another way is to feed multiball backspin to someone with good form so they can see it over and over. Another way, if you can chop, is to serve backspin, partner pushes, you loop, partner blocks, and you chop. Then your partner pushes, and you loop again. (If your partner is the one who can chop, then adjust for this.) If you or your partner can really chop (i.e. against loops, not just against blocks), then one loops, the other chops. A good player with a sheet of antispin, long pips, or hardbat can often chop loops back over and over even if they aren't normally a chopper. (If they use long pips, it may put some strain on the looper since he's getting all his topspin back as backspin!)

Two of the players in my group had never looped before. One picked it up pretty quickly, though he had one of those ragged strokes with lots of extra movements. We worked on simplifying it. One thing I often tell players is that much of coaching isn't telling players what to do; it's telling them what not to do. In this case, there was a lot of excess motion to get rid of - sort of a waving backswing, extra wristiness, and too-jumpy feet.

The other player had hitting thoroughly ingrained, and had difficulty switching to looping against backspin. He had trouble dropping the racket or bringing the tip down and back, dropping his shoulder, and getting down in general to lift the backspin. He also had trouble grazing the ball for topspin, but as I quickly suspected, this was more because of his not dropping his racket than an inability to "roll" the ball with topspin. Once I got him to drop his racket (which wasn't easy), he began getting pretty decent topspins. He'll need a lot of practice on this.

One of the "highlights" I have fun doing when teaching the loop to new players is their first regular forehand drive or smash after doing lots of looping against backspin, where they are lifting the ball instead of driving forward. I always tell them that I'm going to now give them a regular topspin ball (I'm feeding multiball), and that they shouldn't drop the shoulder, just drive forward. But invariably, even though I warn them and predict they'll go off the end, sure enough their first few shots go off. This happened with all five players in my morning group, even the ones who had had done some looping before. I ended the session by having them all alternate looping backspin and hitting topspin so they could work on switching back and forth.

Fortune Cookie Frivolities

Now we find out if any of the kids in the camp read my blog. (Some do, but not each morning.) We have Chinese food delivered to the club at lunch each day, with the players making their orders in the morning, which we call in. At lunch yesterday I pulled a trick on them that I'd pulled in the last camp as well. Using Photoshop, I created a fake fortune cookie fortune that read, "A meteor will kill you in five minutes." I opened my fortune cookie very publicly, made a surreptitious switch of the fortune with the fake one I'd hidden in my hand, and held it up and read it, and then showed it to them. The kids went crazy with disbelief. Five minutes later, when none were looking, I smacked a rock I'd snuck in against the ground and claimed it was a meteor that had just missed me. Today I've got another fake fortune ready, which read, "A ping-pong player will kill you this afternoon." I'll report tomorrow on the response.

Jungle Pong

This is the all-time favorite game of the kids in every camp during breaks. I think I've described it before, but it's so popular I'll go over it again. I'm not sure, but I think the kids in our camp from years ago might have invented and named the game - I don't remember ever seeing this until it suddenly began popping up in our camps.

The rules are simple. You can have as many players on one table as you want, numbered in the order they will hit the ball. You start the rally with a player serving just like table tennis. From there on, whether off the serve or in a rally, the next player must wait for the ball to go off the table and bounce on the floor, even if it means waiting for the ball to bounce several times or roll across the table, and even if it hits the net. The player must then return the ball so it hits either side of the table, and the rally continues until someone misses. Then that person is out. You continue until there is only one player. The only other rule is no looping; they are almost impossible to return. Soft topspins are allowed, but nothing aggressive. If one does loop, it's a takeover.

There are some interesting tactics, such as faking a hit to one side and going the other way, or using various spins to make the ball do funny bounces - backspin is especially popular in throwing off the next player. Players sometimes smack the ball into the net so that the next player will break the wrong way, and then have to recover when the ball rebounds off the net. Some of the kids focus on just getting every ball back; others are more creative with their shots. Since it takes time for the ball to bounce both on the table and the floor, players have time to run down most shots. I watched them play for a while - at one point there were two adjacent tables going with about eight on each - and I've decided my next book will be "Jungle Pong Tactics for Thinkers."

Table Tennista and ITTF

As usual, there are lots of international news articles at Table Tennista and the ITTF News Page.

Serena Williams Table Tennis

Here's a picture of her where she "...trades her tennis racket in for a table tennis one on her way to Wimbledon." (If you can't see the Facebook version, try this.)

Pong-Style Beach Surfing

Here's Kim Gilbert doing a little beach surfing, pong style. 

Now That's a Lot of Ping-Pong Tables

Here's the picture!

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September 10, 2012

Tip of the Week

If You Can See It, You Can Loop It.

Department of Angry Emails

A certain prominent USATT member (former top player) wrote a long email to a huge number of people last night. Someday I'll learn to stay out of these things, but I just couldn't help but respond to some of the false information in the email. (None of it was about me.)

The writer was angry about the "cancelled" USATT election for CEO four years ago. (There never was an election for CEO; the USATT Board hires and fires the CEO.)

The writer was angry that only one member of the nine members of the USATT Board is elected from the membership, not including the two player reps. (There are actually three.)

The writer was angry about skipped issues of the magazine in recent years. (There weren't any skipped issues.)

There were also some unsubstantiated claims, such as saying the USATT web page was worth $75,000 without giving a source or rationale.

I have nothing against dissent. But it should be informed dissent. Don't send out mass emails with various accusations just to see what sticks, or spread rumors you've heard that are easily checked on. If the writer had sent a simple email to any board member or just about anyone involved in USATT, that person could have directed his attention the Bylaws that show that the CEO is hired by the USATT Board (not elected) and that three members are elected by the membership, and he could have directed him to the old USATT Magazine page and the recent one that went up this year, both of which show the actual covers of every issue going back to 2007, with a link from the old one to the archives that have every cover going back to 1999. (This is what I put in my email response.)

In other words, if you see something you don't like, make sure to get your facts straight before lashing out in public. It's not that hard. Really.

The writer responded this morning by making a big deal about how I said there was no election four years ago and demanding that I apologize for this statement, when of course I had very clearly said there was no election for CEO. He argued that he had gotten his info on board members elections by cut and pasting from the Bylaws, when he quite obviously had not. He also argued that the magazine had been delayed, which of course is quite different than saying there had been skipped issues. (He also argued that there were several late CEO Reports on the web page, which "proved" that the magazine had been delayed, when of course the web page updating had nothing to do with the magazine.) I responded one more time, but as I promised, it'll be the last one I respond to.

Now if I can only stay out of online political debates as the U.S. presidential election approaches....

Beginning Junior Class

We have dozens of junior players at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Recently we've had an influx of beginners. I had eleven beginners in my beginning junior class yesterday. Coach Wang Qing Liang assisted as we put them through various multiball and robot drills. We finished with target practice as I fed multiball as the kids took turns trying to hit a Gatorade bottle (red fruit flavor) that I assured them was actually full of nosebleed from my pet rhinoceros. If they hit it, I had to take a sip. I spent the whole time mocking them and saying they had no chance to hit it, leading to great delight (and feigned consternation on my part) when they did. 

Coaching beginning junior players, especially in the 5-9 age group, is quite different than other types of coaching. They don't yet have the hand-eye coordination to actually rally among themselves. So you start them out with ball bouncing. (I wrote about this in my blog on Aug. 15, 2011.) Then you work with them using multiball and/or a robot, directing them through the shot. If you make sure they have a proper grip and foot positioning, most of the rest falls into place. You still have to make sure they rotate the body (not just arm) and not slap at the ball with a wristy motion.

Hardbatties, Unite!!!

Are you a serious hardbat player? Well, the old Hardbat Forum has been resurrected, care of hardbat guru Scott Gordon. Come join us for hardbat discussions, as well as sandpaper and clipboard, which both fall under the "hardbat" umbrella. (I'm normally a sponge player, but I do hardbat on the side.)

Lily Zhang in the School Paper

Here's an article in The Viking: Palo Alto High School Sports News, entitled Olympian Lily Zhang named 2012 Junior and Women’s North American Champion."

Have You Practiced Your Under-the-Leg Smash Today?

Here's Kim Gilbert demonstrating proper form!

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May 8, 2012

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. 

Orioles Ping-Pong

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."

World Rankings

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.

Classic Pong

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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February 15, 2012

Banana Receives

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

Here's Michael Landers on NBC News (1:56).

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

21 pictures of table tennis players going "Cho!"

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February 1, 2012

Style and personality

Many years ago, while driving to a tournament with Dave Sakai (a top U.S. player for many decades) and Ron Lilly (one of the best pips-out penholders at the time), Dave pointed out that most players tend to develop playing styles that are opposite of their personalities. Dave likes to gamble (and in fact now has houses in both Maryland and Las Vegas, where he likes to spend much of his time), and can be pretty aggressive in arguments. And yet he plays a very safe pushing and blocking game. Ron is a very nice, non-confrontational type, and yet he plays an almost reckless all-out hitting game. And me? Most would say I'm the intellectual type, and yet in my early years, rather than developing some complicated tactical game, I worked hard to develop a pure all-out physical forehand attacking game. (However, as the years went by, my game evolved into a highly tactical game, though I still like all-out forehand attacking.)

Do aggressive people tend to develop passive styles, and vice versa? Do thinkers tend to develop non-thinking games, and vice versa? I think these observations apply to many players. I've found that the smartest people - scientists, doctors, computer programmers - often like to play table tennis mindlessly. I've also found that some of the best table tennis thinkers go home and watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men" or "American Idol." It's almost as if thinker types like to rest their brains and play mindless table tennis, while others who don't spend a lot of time thinking on the job do their thinking in table tennis.

I once coached a scientist who was one of the tops in his field. The guy was brilliant, and away from the table understood the game very well. But at the table he was about the most mindless player I've ever coached. He rarely noticed what worked or didn't work, and was oblivious to what his opponent was doing. He had no ability to adjust his game in a match, or even to follow advice giving between games. A typical 10-year-old would notice obvious things that this player was unable to see.

There is also the opposite - smart people who think tactically so much as they develop their game that they never develop high-level shots, since those shots were low percentage while being developed, and so were never developed. These players are good tacticians, but poor at long-term strategic thinking.

There are also hybrids, smart people who develop very physical attacking games (as opposed to a "tactical" style, usually more defensive), and apply their tactical thinking to developing that style. Often they play somewhat mindlessly while developing their games, and only start to really play a thinking game when they become advanced. Or they apply their thinking only to developing the style, and don't worry about tactics too much until later on. (If they do think about tactics too much early on, it often limits them.)

Among juniors, there are many really nice juniors with non-aggressive personalities who become offensive terrors at the table. Often the ones with more aggressive personalities become pushers and blockers at the table. On the other hand, there are many non-aggressive women, especially in Asia, who become passive choppers. It might be a cultural thing.

One other niche is what I'll call the Chinese penhold mystique style. The penhold grip allows easier maneuvering and variation over the table with pushes and blocks, which leads to tactical play, and my club has a number of older Chinese penholders who are both very smart and play smart tactics. I think it sort of goes with the penhold grip, while shakehanders often tend more toward physical rallying.

Many don't fit into these categories, of course. Where do you fit in?

Mind over Matter?

Here's an interesting article and video from CNN where former English champion Matthew Syed explains why an individual's ability is secondary to the level of coaching they receive and the facilities to which they have access. One thing that jumped out at me was this statement about how a small group of players became the best players in England: "We happened to have the best coach who gave us access to the only 24-hour club." This is similar to what is happening in the U.S., where a few clubs are developing most of the top cadets and juniors in the U.S. - because they are the ones that have full-time clubs and top-level coaches. This is why the level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so much stronger than in the past. (I blogged about this on January 4, 2012.)

Chinese Women's Team

Here's an interesting article on the Chinese Team getting preparing for the World Team Championships.

Kim Gilbert coming back

Here's an article in the Los Angeles Daily News on Kim Gilbert's table tennis comeback. She'll be at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12.

Michael Maze versus Timo Boll

Here's a great point between the two

The scooping backspin bounceback return

I teach this to all my students (0:30).

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