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June 5, 2012

Bad Sportsmanship and Cheaters

Yesterday I blogged about the Eastern Open, including the extremely bad sportsmanship of one player. Here are some examples of really bad sportsmanship or cheating I've experienced in the past.

  • I was coaching a top 13-year-old against a much higher-rated player in a best of five to 21. The 13-year-old won the first two games. The opponent won the first point of the third game. He then walked over to the 13-year-old's side of the table, put his fist in the kid's face, and screamed very loudly, "Yeah!" He then walked back to his side of the table. The kid was stunned, and didn't want to play. I called for the referee, who actually had seen it, but all he did was give a warning and send out an umpire. The kid barely tried the rest of the way, saying before they started up again, "If he wants to win that bad, then let him."
  • Back when foot stomping was illegal when serving (since players were using it to cover up the sound of contact with combination rackets), a player I was about to play convinced the umpire in advance that if a player lifts his foot during the service motion, it's an illegal foot stomp. The umpire fell for it, and since I do lift my foot up slightly on my forehand pendulum serve, he faulted me on the very first point. I called the referee, who explained to the umpire that it was a foot stomp only if, in the umpire's opinion, the stomp was loud enough to cover the sound of contact. The umpire then tried to change his call to a let, but my opponent insisted it was a judgment call, and an umpire can't change a judgment call after the fact. The referee reluctantly agreed, and the point stood. (The opponent admitted he'd planned the whole thing.) This is still the only time in 36 years and probably over 500 tournaments that I've been faulted.
  • I discovered an opponent had great difficulties with my forehand tomahawk serve. When I served it to him at 19-all (games to 21), he caught the ball saying he wasn't ready. I served it again, and again he caught the ball. This happened four times in a row! I called for an umpire. Again I served the tomahawk serve, and the opponent again caught the ball saying he wasn't ready. The umpire then asked him specifically if he was ready before each of the next two points, the opponent reluctantly agreed, I gave him two tomahawk serves, and forced to actually return them, he missed both. He admitted afterwards he'd decided he was going to catch it and say he wasn't ready anytime I gave him that serve.
  • Two top players were battling it out, and the score reached 17-12 in the third (best of three to 21). Both agreed on the score, but both claimed to be up 17-12. Havoc ensued. The referee finally had them replay the game from scratch.
  • In the 1980s there was a player who was notorious for cheating. Opponents basically called an umpire against him nearly every match. I played him once, and he kept calling lets whenever I hit a winner even if there was no ball anywhere ("Yes there was!" he'd claim), and then he simply called the score wrong, giving himself a lead when I was winning. I had to call an umpire, and then beat him easily. (Fortunately, there were a number of spectators who were watching, who all verified to the umpire what the score was.)
  • I was watching play from a balcony on a hot and humid day when Dan Seemiller called me over and pointed at a top player who was about to serve. The player was a chopper who, surprisingly, had long pips on both sides of his racket. Just before serving, over and over, he'd turn his back on his opponent, spit on the ball (!), and then serve. The opponent would put it in the net, and thought it was just the humidity.
  • There have been a number of times I've watched grown men berate little kids throughout a match in an attempt to intimidate them, such as the example I blogged about yesterday at the Easterns. One time I was playing Perry Schwartzberg a match, and we kept getting interrupted by the antics of a grown man on the next table, who kept badgering the little kid he was playing. Finally Perry walked over and let the guy have it. I wish I had done it.
  • Here's a controversial one. In the final of Men's Singles at the 1987 World Championships, defending champion Jiang Jialiang of China was up 2-1 in games on Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden. Waldner led 20-16 game point, and it seemed they were about to go into the fifth and final game. Jiang won four in a row to get to 20-all. He then did his infamous walk around the table: With his fist in the air, he circled the table, walking right in front of Waldner on his side of the table. Waldner later admitted this bothered him, and Jiang won in deuce to win the championship. Here's the video of the match (17:26). At 10:07 Waldner is leading 20-16. At 11:27 they start the spectacular point where Jiang deuces it, and then you see him walk around the table. Poor sportsmanship, over-exuberance, or basic gamesmanship?

Fast Serves

How many players have confidence they can pull of a very fast serve at a key moment in a match? It's risky, since most players don't practice this serve just before a tournament to get the timing down. Key phrase: "most players don't practice this serve just before a tournament." Fast serves need more precision and timing then spin serves or they are easy to miss, and so they need more warm-up and practice before a serious match. So, how do you think you can fix this? Duh!!! (When I warm up a player I'm coaching at a tournament, I almost always finish by having them practice their serves, including the fast ones.)

Want to Find Your Record Against Anyone?

Go to the TTSPIN ratings page, search for your name (see "player search" at top, since it seems to have David Zhuang as the default), choose your opponent, and your complete record (going back to 1995) will appear! (Green means you won, red you lost.)

Final of the China Open

Here's Xu Xin defeating Ma Long 4-2 (-6, 5,10,-9,7,4) in the final of the China Open in Shanghai, May 23-27. Time between points is taken out so entire match takes just nine minutes. (Xu is the penholder.)

Easterns and Meiklejohn Results

There were two major 4-star tournaments this past weekend, the Eastern Open at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the Meiklejohn Senior Championships in Laguna Woods, California. Here are the results:

100 ping-ping balls. 100 mousetraps

Here's the result (34 seconds).

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January 4, 2012

USA Cadet Depth

The depth of play at the cadet level (which roughly means under age 15) has dramatically increased over the lasts five years in the USA. How did this happen and how much stronger is it? First I'm going to digress to five years ago.

In December, 2006, at the USA Table Tennis Board meeting at the USA Nationals, I gave a Junior Training presentation. USATT had struggled for years to find ways to increase the number and level of our juniors, and at the same time was focused on developing elite players. I argued that the solution to both these problems was for USATT to recruit and train coaches to set up full-time training centers and junior programs. USATT was already running coaching clinics; why not just change the emphasis?

The response was, at best, weird. Most of the board loved the idea, crossed it off the agenda, and went on to the next item. It was as if they had no way of actually implementing things they wanted to do. Two board members did speak up strongly against the idea, arguing that we had no idea if there was a demand for such training centers, and if we got coaches to set them up, what if nobody came?

I'm not making this up. (To those of you who aren't sure why this is so silly, it's because the most basic part of setting up a full-time training center or junior program is that you learn how to recruit new players. You don't wait until a hundred players magically appear, waiting in a parking lot for you to open a training center; you open the training center and recruit new players.) In September, 2009, I made the same argument at the USATT Strategic Meeting, but again to no avail.

The reaction to my proposal in 2006 was a primary reason why I resigned one month later as USATT editor and club programs director. But the funny thing is I'm no longer so sure USATT should get involved in these matters, since it's not a high-priority issue for them. I may open my own table tennis coaches academy to recruit and train coaches. 

As I noted in my 2006 presentation, there were only about ten serious junior programs and about the same number of full-time training centers in the country. The Maryland Table Tennis Center (my home club, which I co-founded in 1991) had been dominating junior table tennis in the country for 15 years. There wasn't a whole lot of competition during those years as there were so few places in the U.S. actually devoted to training juniors. Boy has that changed!

There are now about fifty full-time training centers, and nearly that many serious junior programs. (Not all full-time training centers have serious junior programs, though most do, and there are some serious junior programs that do not have a full-time training center.) These training centers have been popping up all over the U.S. in the last five years, especially in the Bay area and other regions in California, and in various places in the northeast. (There are now five full-time table tennis centers within 45 minutes of me here in Maryland.) Imagine if USATT had helped out in recruiting and training these coaches - they wouldn't have had to keep reinventing the wheel. We'd probably have over a hundred by now. (And what was the goal of my presentation? "One hundred serious junior training programs in five years.") Even now, if someone wants to open a full-time training center, there is no manual, no guidance; one either has to re-invent the wheel or go to one of the current ones and ask them how they did it. (I did write on my own the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers  how to set up and run a junior program, but not how to set up and run a full-time training center.)

What is the result of all these new training centers over the past five years? The results are overwhelming. Here's a rundown of the past five years:

  • Number of juniors who are USATT members increased from 1010 to 1344;
  • Number of juniors over 1500 went from 183 to 379;
  • Number of juniors over 1000 went from 424 to 640.

But it's the depth at the higher levels that really stands out. I have copies of the Nov/Dec 2006 and Nov/Dec 2011 USATT Magazines in front of me, both opened to the age rankings which list the top 15 for each category. I also used the "Customizable Member Lists" in our online ratings to check rankings. Here's a comparison.

Under 18 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2159.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2593 to 2337.
  • The 2159 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #54.

Under 16 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2087.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2540 to 2281.
  • The 2087 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #49.

Under 14 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2323 to 1870.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2417 to 2173.
  • The 1870 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #55.

Under 12 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 1440.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2417 to 1889.
  • The 1440 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #48.

Under 10 Boys:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 620.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 1900 to 1133.
  • The 620 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #33.
    (Note - while the #1 under 10 in 2006 was Feng Yijun at 2044, the #2 was only 1495, which would have been #6 in 2011.)

Under 18 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2330 to 1811.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2544 to 2090.
  • The 1811 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #47.

Under 16 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2113 to 1620.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2544 to 1973.
  • The 1620 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #48.

Under 14 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 1432.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2218 to 1717.
  • The 1432 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #31.

Under 12 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 553.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2150 to 1007.
  • The 553 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #38.

Under 10 Girls:

  • In 2006, the top 15 ranged from 894 to 80.
  • In 2011, it ranged from 2150 to 332.
  • The 80 rating that was #15 in 2006 would now be #23.

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Finals of Men's Singles at the 2011 World Championships

For those of you who missed it, here's Zhang Jike and Wang Hao playing the final of Men's Singles at the 2011 World Championships, with the whole thing in just 12:11 (the time between points has been removed).

Three interesting articles from ITTF

Matt Lauer's Epic Match

Here's the article's title: "Matt Lauer Has Epic Ping Pong Match With The Elderly Couple Who Couldn’t Figure Out A Webcam."

"Loopers" - the movie

You know when they make a movie about loopers - with Bruce Willis! - that the sport is taking off. I think. The irony is the movie is really about killing, and looping pretty much ended the hitting style at the higher levels.

28,818 ping-pong balls in a Toyota Prius

That's Scott & Austin Preiss in the deluge.

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September 30, 2011

Ratings - Love 'em or Love 'em

Way too many players are obsessed with ratings. Ratings are fun when they go up, but players (and coaches and parents) shouldn't worry too much about them. They are a good measure of level and improvement, and while you shouldn't worry too much about what your current ratings is, they are a good shorthand for various levels of play. Since goals are generally about winning a specific event (which includes making a team), or about reaching a specific level of play, ratings can be useful for the latter. They are also useful as a stepping stone toward winning a specific event - you aren't going to win a state title, for example, if the best players are 2100, and you are only 1500. Just to be a contender you need to approach that 2100 level, and rating level is useful in keeping track of that.

Here's my article about Juniors and Ratings. (It was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter.) But most of it applies to all ages.

Peter Li and Michael Landers in China

Both are training and competing in China. (At age 18 and 17, they are the best in the U.S. for their age.) I'm kind of proud of them - Peter was from my club from when he started until about age 14 or so and I used to practice with him and coach him in camps, and Michael came to a number of our summer camps when he was about 11 to 13, where I did a lot of multiball coaching with him.

Weight Training Update

During my second session of my new weight training regimen I added four new exercises to the list: fly & rear delts, calf extension, and back extension. The calf extension was especially obvious - guess which muscle is used when short-stepping around the table? And the fly delts seem to build up muscles used when forehand looping. I'm basically an amateur when it comes to weight training, and yet I'm gradually beginning to remember that I was somewhat knowledgeable about table tennis weight training routines back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've forgotten a lot, but it's starting to come back. Here is my updated regimen, three times a week, doing three sets of ten for each, usually after a table tennis session:

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)
  11. Fly Delts
  12. Rear Delts
  13. Calf Extension
  14. Back Extension

Also, I made the interesting discussion that one of the people I rent the downstairs of my townhouse to works at Fitness First. (I live on the third floor, and rent out the first two floors to a father and 23-year-old son; the latter is the one who works at Fitness First.) We discussed my routine, and he thought (as did a commenter here) that I should eventually go to free weights, so as to build up the stabilizing muscles. But he thought my plan of using the machines until I'm a bit stronger and more experienced seemed reasonable. I did discover they have free weights at the back of the Planet Fitness I'm working out at.

Werner Schlager exhibition shots

Here's 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager of Austria playing an exhibition point (0:51) against Oh Sang Eun of Korea.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy Book

Yes, "The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement," by Mayumi Itoh, 266 pages, is out! But $72???

Another option for those interested is to read Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 5, which covers Ping-Pong Diplomacy. (Presumably the Itoh book covers things a big differently; Tim covers it in a very personal way, since he was on the trip to China, and part of the U.S. tour.) You can buy the eleven volumes in this series (individually or all of them) at TimBogganTableTennis.com, or you can read it online:

Inspirational Music for Table Tennis

I may have posted this once before, but the subject of inspirational music for table tennis came up recently, so here's a good listing. I don't actually train with music, but many do, and many find listening to such music before playing revs them up. (These are mostly from movies.) What are yours?

A Cat and Beverly Hills Cop

And since we're on the subject of table tennis music, here's a cat, table tennis, and the theme music to Beverly Hills Cop (starring Eddie Murphy at his peak). (3:42)

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June 1, 2011

Contact point on the block

At the Easterns, while blocking to warm up Tong Tong Gong's loop, something clicked. It's one of those things I've always known and coached, but it helps when it works in your own game. I'd been holding my racket too high on blocks (both forehand and backhand), and that's why it hadn't been particularly comfortable in recent times. By starting with the racket lower to the table, I can actually raise the racket slightly as the ball bounces on the table, allowing the center of the racket to "follow" the ball. This leads to a quicker block, better timing, contact in the center of the racket, a bit of topspin on the block, and overall, a more consistent block. If you hold the racket slightly higher, you have to wait for the ball to come up to it, and then try to catch it in the center, which is trickier.

Holding it higher does give a flatter block, which is effective against some, but the price is less control. But you can do this while holding the racket low by taking the ball right off the bounce and stroking straight forward. This is how many penholders block, and is why they so often give such flat blocks.

Celebrities playing table tennis

On Monday I updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page, which now has 1192 pictures of exactly 700 celebrities playing table tennis. Also, the site now has its own domain - yes, CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com. Make sure to bookmark it! There are now so many famous celebrities pictured that any short listing would shortchange the site, and any more comprehensive listing would take up more space than there are ping-pong balls in the universe, give or take a few. It's divided into ten sections: Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other.

Here's a fun one that just went up, of actor Jack Oakie, circa 1933, playing table tennis in a suit of shining armor. He acted in lots of movies around that time, so I have no idea what movie this takes place in. Anyone know? Here's his acting record.

Rating stats galore!

You can now look up your rating stats, head-to-head record, and other stats at the Table Tennis Spin site!

Marty Reisman Analyzes President Obama's Table Tennis Play

Dang, he beat me to it! (I actually meant to post this last Friday, but had so much other stuff I left it off. Then it got left out on Monday somehow, and then my computer crashed yesterday and so it got left off again. But for those who missed it....) Here's Marty's analysis, which includes a link to the video. (I blogged about this on Thursday, May 26.)  Here's an opening quote from Marty: "Not being certain that either president Obama or I may be able to take the necessary time away from our other respective responsibilities for a lesson in the flesh, as an alternative, here is my Presidential Ping Pong 11 Point Internet Lesson that should ensure our national image will never be tarnished in the event our president should ever be challenged to play a competitive match against a leader of any nation having opposing political views."

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May 26, 2011

 

Champions and Chumps

Do you strive to be a Champion or a Chump?

A Champion isn't necessarily the best. He's the best in an event. If you are rated 1099 and enter an Under 1100 event, you are striving to be a Champion. If you win the event, you are a Champion. If you don't win the event but gain experience, you may be a Future Champion. If you have fun, you are a Normal Person. If you avoid the event out of fear of losing rating points, you are a Chump.

So where do you stand? Do you play for titles (Champions), experience (Future Champions), fun (Normal People), or rating points (Chumps)? Let's talk about Champions and Chumps.

During the week, you may be an accountant, a programmer, a cook, a laborer, or anything else. But when you show up at a tournament, you not only get to pretend to be a Champion, you have the opportunity to be one. If you want to be a Champion, think like a Champion. If you want to be a Chump, think like a Chump.

Champions:

  • want to win titles, not rating points.
  • thrive by meeting challenges, not avoiding them.
  • want to win, not avoid losing.
  • hate losing, but hate avoiding challenges even worse.

Chumps:

  • want to win rating points.
  • avoid challenges.
  • want to avoid losing.
  • hate losing, and so avoid challenges.

There's nothing wrong with using ratings as a goal. A Champion reaches a rating goal by taking on the challenge of beating opponents in the events he strives to win. A Chump reaches a rating goal by avoiding such challenges, and avoids events he might win where he might risk his rating.

The fear of losing rating points causes more damage to up-and-coming players than just about anything else, especially among junior players. Here's my article on Juniors and Ratings, which was published in the USATT Coaching Newsletter, November 2009.

To those of you who do have difficulty in beating lower-rated players consistently, and are a bit leery of blowing your rating if you play in events where you are among the higher seeds where you'd have to play these lower-rated players - are you a Champion or a Chump?

To the Champions and Future Champions: If you want to beat lower-rated players consistently, here's an equation for you. Versatility + tactics + concentration = mowing down weaker players. It also helps to have good serves and/or be consistent, especially on the opponent's serve. If you do lose to a lower-rated player, don't think of it as just a loss. Your opponent has just found a weakness in your game. By competing and losing, you have found this weakness and can now fix it. You'll be a better player for it and will have a better chance of winning future events. That's how Champions think. (Ironically, by becoming a better player, you'll also end up with a higher rating.)

To the Chumps: Just keep avoiding these events and continue with your rating infatuation. Let the Champions win. In the short run, you may end up with a slightly higher rating. In the long run you'll be a weaker (and lower-rated) player. You'll never really understand what it means to be a true Champion.

Robot Adept: a technological paddle versus a magic paddle?

Piers Anthony (www.hipiers.com) was one of the best-selling and most prolific fantasy writers of the 1980s and 1990s. His books - about140 - usually involved magic and humor (often risqué humor), and he is best known for his Xanth series. However, it is "Robot Adept" (published in 1989), which is book five of his seven-book "Apprentice Adept" series that is of special interest to us. The book contains 16 chapters - and the last two chapters are nearly all table tennis! The gist of it is a battle between the champions of two worlds - one a world of magic, one a world of science. Especially interesting is the game played with one using a magic paddle, the other a highly technological paddle. Some of it may be confusing, since you’ve missed the first 14 chapters, but you can figure most of it out. The "champions" are Bane, a former human now in a robot body and representing the technological world, Proton; and Mach, a former robot now in a human body and representing the magic world, Phaze! (And yes, these two are Champions, not Chumps!)

Anthony was himself a player, although he no longer plays due to arthritis. He and I corresponded regularly in the late 1980s/early 1990s as we are both members of Science Fiction Writers of America as well as table tennis players.

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