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Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 9 or 10 AM, a little later on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week).
Larry is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame, a USATT Certified National Coach, a professional coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (USA), and an author of six books and over 1300 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!

September 17, 2014

Tip of the Week:

Should You Watch the Ball All the Way Into the Racket?

Cold

I've spent most of the last two days in bed with a cold, but I'm over it now. It's fortunate timing as my Mon-Tue schedule is light, while Wed-Sun I'm very busy. There are a lot of segments in this morning's blog as they have accumulated over the last five days. I have no more sicknesses scheduled for this year.

Why Players Plateau

Here's a great article on this topic. This happens to players all the time - they reach a comfort level, and then stick with what's comfortable and works at that level, and so aren't able to progress beyond that point. I'm always trying to convince players at all levels to avoid this type of roadblock to improvement.

Here are two segments from the article.

In the 1960s, psychologists identified three stages that we pass through in the acquisition of new skills. We start in the “cognitive phase,” during which we’re intellectualizing the task, discovering new strategies to perform better, and making lots of mistakes. We’re consciously focusing on what we’re doing. Then we enter the “associative stage,” when we’re making fewer errors, and gradually getting better. Finally, we arrive at the “autonomous stage,” when we turn on autopilot and move the skill to the back of our proverbial mental filing cabinet and stop paying it conscious attention.

And so we get to the so-called “OK Plateau” — the point at which our autopilot of expertise confines us to a sort of comfort zone, where we perform the task in question in efficient enough a way that we cease caring for improvement. We reach this OK Plateau in pursuing just about every goal, from learning to drive to mastering a foreign language to dieting, where after an initial stage of rapid improvement, we find ourselves in that place at once comforting in its good-enoughness and demotivating in its sudden dip in positive reinforcement via palpable betterment.

How many of you are in the "autonomous stage," where you are blindly sticking to your comfort zone with the things that work at that level, but stop you from progressing? Watch what stronger players do, and emulate that. This doesn't mean you should completely lose what helped you reach your current level; much of that will be useful even at higher levels. The problem is when you rely on lower-level techniques and wonder why you can't reach a higher level.  

Navin Kumar: A Passion for Table Tennis

Here's the article. He has "a congenital heart condition that has required 5 major open heart surgeries throughout my lifetime, and I now have a mechanical heart made of the same carbon fiber material that you see in high end table tennis blades nowadays." He recently became one of my students. (He mentions me in the article.)

Three Years Eight Month Old Player

Here's the video (4:33). At the start he's standing on a chair. About thirty seconds in he's on a platform. We need to get something like this at my club. In tennis they start kids at three years old and sometimes even younger, using smaller courts and slower balls. Because of the height of the table players can rarely start in table tennis until they are five or six. There's no reason they can't start by age three if we have either platforms for them to stand on or lower tables. They actually make adjustable tables overseas, where you can lower the table, but they are expensive.

Volunteer Prize for Table Tennis Teacher

Here's the article on USATT Coaching Chair Federico Bassetti.

Berkeley Open

Here's a write-up of the tournament held this past weekend, with a link to a photo album.

Humble Beginnings to Established Event, 6th Annual Badger Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Ariel Hsing: There Are Not Many Powerful Players in America

Here's the article.

Butterfly Legends

Here's the article on Nobuhiko Hasegawa and Shigeo Itoh of Japan, the 1967 and 1969 Men's Singles World Champions. Includes links to numerous vintage videos.

China's Table Tennis Girls Team Spends Three Days in School, Four Days at Practice

Here's the article. I'm told by many Chinese players that in many Chinese sports schools they spend only one hour per day on school and 7-8 hours on sports.

Crazy Double Around-the-Net Shot

Here's the video (45 sec, including slow motion replay).

Triangle Table Tennis

Here's the video (2:24) of a news item on the Triangle Table Tennis Club in Morrisville, NC.

Princeton Pong - Battle of the Sexes 2014

Here's the video (7:13) of the exhibition doubles match between David Zhuang/Shao Yu and Ariel Hsing/Erica Wu at the grand opening of Princeton Pong on Saturday.

Chuang Chih-Yuan - Off the Table

Here's the video (3:42) of the world #8 from Taiwan.

Out of This World Doubles Rally

Here's the video (39 sec, including slow motion replay).

Stiga 2014 Trick Shot Showdown

Here are the selections - 65 of them! There's a "Play All" button.  

Interview with Piing of Power

Here's the interview, with a link to a hilarious video (1:12).

Carl Sagan's Understanding of the Afterlife

Here's the cartoon sequence. If you're impatient, skip down to the last few pictures!

Marty Reisman, His Forehand, and the Table Tennis Robot

Here's the video (14 sec) of the late table tennis great.

Exhibition by Saive and Merckx

Here's the video (1:35) as all-time great Jean-Michel Saive and Jasper Merckx (both from Belgium) lob and spin the table about.

Dude Perfect: Ping Pong Challenge

Here's the video (3:43) as the twins Coby and Cory go at it in this "ping pong battle for the ages."

Larry Bavly Copies the Famous Ma Lin Serve

Here's the original (1:18) as a shirtless Ma Lin serves backspin so the balls spin back into the net, his "ghost serve." Here's Larry Bavly mimicking this (2:30) in his XXL version. It brings back memories of the famous Saturday Night Live Chippendale skit (2:53) with Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley.

Non-Table Tennis - Letter from a Time Traveler to Orioles Fans

Here's another feature article I had at Orioles Hangout. This year everything that could possibly go wrong with the Orioles went wrong, as the article shows - and yet they clinched the American League East Division last night, with a 13.5 game lead with 11 games left to play. As noted in the past, I've coached three of the Orioles - shortstop J.J. Hardy, star reliever Darren O'Day, and Vice President and former start center fielder Brady Anderson. I've also hit with about half of them. (Here's the blog entry on my day at the Orioles clubhouse last summer.)

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September 16, 2014

I'm still stuck in bed with a cold, though I did struggle out yesterday to do an exhausting one-hour multiball session for some students. (I kept my distance! But I felt like I was going to collapse a few times.) One way or another I expect to be back in action tomorrow, blogging and coaching. The irony is that I'm in the final rewriting stage of my science fiction novel (which was critiqued at a writers workshop this summer), and I was tentatively planning to take two days off this week to work on it. (I worked on it some on Saturday, but nothing since then.) I might do that next week - we'll see. It's getting timely as USATT Historian Tim Boggan moves in with me on Monday, Sept. 29 so I can do the page layouts and photo work on his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 15. (Here's the home page for the series, which I maintain for him.) Back to bed - I'm working my way through The Dresden Files novels. (Sorry, no table tennis in them.) 

September 15, 2014

Alas, I've come down with a cold. I think I've had it for 2-3 days, but thought it was some sort of throat infection. But now I've got all the standard symptoms of a cold - feeling sick, sore throat, runny nose, aching teeth, and a slight fever. (Or could it be strep throat? Or the dreaded Ebola virus?) So back to bed - no blog today. I'm hoping NyQuil and DayQuil will handle it, with a lot of throat lozenges. I hope to start up again tomorrow, including the Tip of the Week. 

September 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

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

Para World Championships

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

The 5 Coolest Table Tennis Tables in Existence

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

Youth Olympic Games Tribute to Lily Zhang

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

Southern Open Highlights Video

Here's the video (9:56).

Completely Insane Rally by Ma Lin

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

The Power of Sidespin

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

The Port City Ping Pong Throwdown

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

Wizard Pong?

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

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September 11, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame

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

Juggling and Table Tennis

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

Match Strategy Playing as a Chopper

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

Great Point between Wang Liqin and Werner Schlager

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

The Power of Lob

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

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari - USATT Athletes of the Month

Here's the article.

Players Announced for Upcoming ITTF World Cups

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

21 Gold Medals Handed Out at ITTF Para World Championships

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

Members of Chinese National Team at Triangle Table Tennis

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

Header Table Tennis

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

Waldner and Persson Goofing Off

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

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September 10, 2014

From Pathetic to Perfect in Seconds!

I've been working recently with a new nine-year-old kid in our afterschool program. Right now we're only doing multiball. He has been struggling with the forehand. He starts off the stroke fine - I made sure of that, with his right foot slightly back (he's a righty), racket moves backward, and so on. But as soon as he starts his forward swing, he sort of lunges at the ball, driving his right shoulder forward, and then falls backward, with his left leg going back. Contact is basically a backspin slap. I've never seen such an awkward stroke! At first I thought he was too far from the ball, hence the lunging, with the falling back a compensation to keep his balance. We tried different distances from the table, but even if he jammed the table he'd lunge at the ball, as if he couldn't help himself. I also kept reminding him to imagine a vertical rod going through his head, and to rotate around it, but he couldn't as he was always lunging forward and then falling backward. (Falling backward after a forehand usually does mean the player was too far from the ball, with the left side falling back to compensate.)

Then I had a brainstorm. I told him to focus on dropping his racket on his backswing. This forced him to put more weight on his back foot. This led to a more natural weight shift from the back foot to his front foot, and a more natural rotation around the imagined rod in the brain. It also led to a topspin contact rather than the lunging backspin one from before. In the course of seconds, his forehand went from pathetic to perfect!!!

We worked on it for another fifteen minutes, and then I had him do more shadow practice. I'm working with him again today, and if all goes well, we might even try some live forehand-to-forehand - but only if I'm pretty sure he can maintain the newly "perfect" forehand.

His backhand is coming along pretty well, though he also has a tendency to slap at the ball, plus he tends to stand up too straight. We'll keep working on it. Today I also plan to introduce him to serving.

Physical Fitness and Headaches

Around the start of July my weight hit 195, tying the most ever for me. I was starting to feel slow on the court. I started dieting, and in six weeks got down to 181. My dieting secret? I'm a snacker, so rather than fight the snacking urge, when I diet I snack on cherry tomatoes, carrots, bananas, and plums. The key is to snack on them before I get hungry, since by that time I'll want something with more calories. For regular meals, my staples are a banana nut muffin for breakfast; and usually a peanut butter & jelly sandwich for lunch, with a slice of Swiss cheese and several carrots on the side. I eat a bit more for dinner, but when dieting keep that in the 500 or less calorie range.

But over the last month a strange thing has happened - even though my diet has stayed the same, I can't seem to break the 180lb barrier. I've basically been bouncing between 181 and 182 for four weeks. It's getting a bit irritating. My plan was to reach 170 by the end of September, but that's not looking likely now. I may have to get a bit more drastic on the calorie cutting. Maybe I'm eating too many cherry tomatoes? (I really do eat a lot!)

Meanwhile, I spent the last few days doing way too much reading. (Remember, I'm both a reader and writer of both table tennis and science fiction.) I read Dora Kurimay's "Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros!" (and will do a review here soon); I read and critiqued two short stories for fellow writers; I did about fifty "final" readings of a new short story I'm finalizing ("Tooth Apocalypse"); plus I've started reading The Dresden Files this past week, and am now well into book three. (Next up for table tennis reading: "The Next Step" by Alex Polyakov.) I sometimes use reading glasses to read as my right eye isn't that good close up, while my left eye is fine. Alas, I chose not to use the reading glasses for all this reading, and it led to several headaches, including one when I woke up this morning after a late-night reading session. When I read without them it seems to affect me more afterwards (i.e. headaches) than while I'm actually reading, where my right eye gets tired but doesn't actually hurt. I still don't like the bother of the reading glasses, but I might have to use them more often.

USA Nationals

They will be held Dec. 16-20 in Las Vegas. Alas, the entry form isn't out yet, which is surprising considering the tournament is in a little over three months - they lose people every year when they wait this long. Here is the 2014 USA Nationals home page, but there isn't much on it yet other than the hotel, which is the Westgate Resort. When I saw that I immediately Googled it since it's a new hotel for us, right? Actually, when I went over the hotel's home page, it looked sort of familiar - and then I discovered it was formerly the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, which was formerly the Las Vegas Hilton, which is the hotel we've been using for years - so no real change there. 

Xu Xin Saddens Former Coach

Here's the article on the world #1 changing coaches.

Nice 54-shot Rally

Here's the video.

The Ultimate Guide to Ping Pong Nutrition: Maximize Your Table Tennis Potential

Here's the book. I just happened to find this while browsing.

Cow Pong

Here's the picture.

***
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September 9, 2014

Teaching a Beginning Kid to Block

Recently I've had a lot of fun teaching two kids, ages six and seven, how to block. For some reason they find great joy in this. I'm teaching them all aspects of the game, even looping, but they keep begging to block against my loop - and so that's how we end each session.

Few kids at that age have the reflexes or coordination to really block against a ball with varying spin that moves around the table. It's worse if you serve topspin and then start looping, as they have to adjust to two different shots. So what I do to start the rally is to toss the ball up and loop the very first shot at them, right out of the air. Then I keep looping softly, trying to keep it to one spot with the same depth, while they block. (I'm focusing on backhand blocks, but also having them do forehand blocks.) To them it's like a video game, trying to keep the ball on the table against my heavy topspin. They're getting pretty good at it, and I'm getting some exercise.

2014 USATT Election Notice and Process

Here's the notice. And once again I'm pretty disappointed.

On Nov. 25, 2013, I blogged about how unfair it was that the USATT Bylaws were changed so that candidates can no longer get on the ballot by petition. The only way to get on is to have the USATT-appointed Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC) put you on. If they chose not to, potential candidates have no recourse. It used to be you could get on by petition, but no more. I blogged about this more extensively on Jan. 24, 2014.

On May 12, 2014, I wrote, "As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule?"

This time I got a response that very day, as a USATT Board member (who shall remain nameless for now) emailed me that I was "mistaken," that the problem is being addressed, that there was a task force revising the election rules, and that they would be changed before the next election cycle. Well, the next election cycle is upon us, and there have been no changes, based on the election notice. As I pointed out in an ongoing email discussion I'm having this morning, "Only a bylaw change can change the election rules, and that has to come from the USATT Board. If the USATT Board has not approved a bylaw change, then the election rules haven’t changed. So unless there was a bylaw change at a board meeting whose minutes are not yet up, AND the NGB in defiance or ignorance of this put up this notice without USATT Board approval, nothing has changed."

In one of my emails this morning it took me about 60 seconds to write the following motion that any USATT board member could make, and would lead to changing the bylaws:

"I move that starting with the election cycle starting in Fall, 2014, that the Nominating and Governance Committee create wording for the USATT bylaws that allow potential candidates for USATT office to get on the ballot by petition with the signatures of 150 USATT members, and that they be allowed to get these signatures at the North American Teams and/or USA Nationals."

Sixty seconds. That's all it took. (Okay, I type fast, and I did make a minor wording change afterwards.) If no one on the USATT board can do something this simple, how can they do anything that's more difficult - you know, like develop the sport? (ADDENDUM: There was a motion by the board at the 2014 U.S. Open meeting - Motion 1 - to "recommend" that the NGC change the rules, but since it only recommended rather than directed, didn't specify that it was needed for the election cycle, didn't ask to allow candidates to be included by petition, and because the motion wasn't made until June - seven months after the issue was raised in November - it likely won't happen this election cycle.) 

Regarding the election, once again I'm toying with running. But I'd probably be a hypocrite if I did so. Why? Because I simply don't have time any more to do the things I've argued the Board needs to do. (See one such listing in my Nov. 25, 2013 blog, which I already cited above.) Anyone who's been around USATT for a while knows I've been a very active USATT volunteer (and sometimes staff person) for many years. But I have consistently failed to convince others there of the need to change our ways if we want to really develop the sport in this country. Every time we have one of these discussions at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings, there are convincing people who "look good in a suit" who argue the opposite, and nothing changes.

But if I did run, what would happen? Since other Board members aren't taking initiative to do what's necessary - if they did, they'd be getting done - I'd have to do so myself. But one of the prime requisites for running for the Board (IMHO) is to have the time to do the job. There was a time I could have done so, but these days I'm inundated, trying to do group and private coaching, promote my club, writing about table tennis, and my outside science fiction writing career. I have no interest in running for the Board and becoming another "judge" who sits back and simply judges things brought before them, as opposed to what's really needed - active legislative types who work to grow the sport. As I wrote in my Jan. 24, 2014 blog, "I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen."

And this whole election fiasco is a classic example of board members not making things happen. And it's so simple - all someone has to do is make the motion to allow candidates to get on the board by petition, perhaps using the past 150 signatures from USATT members as a requirement, and allowing them to get the signatures at the Teams in November or the Nationals in December. (They can even consult with the NGC first.) But it won't happen unless someone on the board stops being a passive judge and takes legislative action.

New World Rankings

In the September world rankings, on the men's side, China's 17-year-old phenom Fan Zhendong has moved up to #2 in the world, after Xu Xin. China now has the #1-4 and #6 players, with Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov breaking up the monopoly at #5 (down one spot from #4 last time as Zhang Jike passed him again). Timo Boll, the #2 German, remains at #9, while their #3, Patrick Baum, moved up from #17 to #14. Germany also has Bastian Steger at #18. China also has players at #10, 13, and 25. On the women's side, the top twelve remained unchanged except for a flip of the #6 and #7 positions. China still has #1-3 and #5-7, with Singapore's Feng Tianwei breaking up the monopoly at #4. One big jump - Romania's Elizabeta Samara jumped from #22 to #13, and is the top-ranked non-Asian woman.

Para World Championships

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

Jim Butler Wins 2014 Southern Open

Here's the article, results, and picture.

Xu Xin and Ma Long Training

Here's a video (7:25) from a year ago showing Chinese stars Xu Xin (#1 in the world, lefty penholder) and Ma Long (currently #3, former #1, righty shakehander) training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. You can learn a lot by watching both their form and the drills they do.

Table Tennis Unbelievable

Here's a highlights video (9:39) with some of the greatest shots and rallies of the past four years.

Clayton Kershaw and the LA Dodgers

Kershaw, the LA Dodgers pitching star, ran a table tennis charity event last Thursday. Here are pictures. The charity is Ping Pong 4 Purpose.

Two-Year-Old on Mini-Table

Here's the picture.

Elephant vs. Penguin

Here's the picture! Some nice artwork. (A search shows that I actually linked to this two years ago, but thought I'd show it again.)

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September 8, 2014

Tip of the Week

Easy Power.

The Ball at the USA Nationals

USATT has made the smart decision to use only one type of ball at the USA Nationals. Here is USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's blog entry on this. They will be using the Nittaku Premium 40+ ball, a non-celluloid one. This is a departure from their original plans, announced on Aug. 14, that they would be using two types of balls at the Nationals - celluloid for rating and senior events, non-celluloid for men's and women's singles & doubles, and in junior events. That would have meant players having to switch back and forth in the tournament, as well as serious problems at clubs as players have to decide which ball to use for practice and training.

This obviously doesn't solve all the problems. Many don't want to change to non-celluloid, but like it or not, the ITTF has pretty much mandated it. (Not by forcing it on everyone, but by mandating it in their tournaments, meaning others have to follow or their top players will have to switch back and forth.) I think they jumped the gun because the new non-celluloid balls still aren't really standardized - depending on which manufacturer makes them, they play differently, unlike celluloid where the balls are much more similar. Also, there are no training balls available, so training centers are stuck trying to decide what to do, since most training involves using large quantities of balls (especially for multiball).

There's also the problem that the ball to be used at the Nationals isn't actually available yet - it'll be out in mid-October, about two months before the Nationals. It'll be on sale at Paddle Palace. (Note that Paddle Palace is already selling a Nittaku Sha 40+ ball, which is non-celluloid, but I'm told that ball plays very differently and is of lower quality than the Premium. Don't get the two mixed up.) Here's an info page from Paddle Palace on the new balls.

There's a good argument to use celluloid balls one more time, and I was actually leaning toward that. However, I think it's more important to use one ball or the other at the Nationals than which one they actually use. If they had stuck with celluloid, the top players would have been frustrated since they are already competing internationally with non-celluloid balls. While we may have jumped the gun and made the switch a few months too soon, the switch was inevitable (given the ITTF's actions), and so we might as well do it now.

I received an advance Nittaku Premium 40+ ball - just one, which came in a one-ball box. I reviewed it in my June 16 blog. It plays similarly to a celluloid ball, but is slightly larger and heavier, and harder to spin - but once spun, the extra weight keeps the spin on the ball more than a celluloid.

Dana Huang Wedding

On Saturday night I joined over 100 others for the wedding reception of Dana Huang and Charles Song, at the Silver Fountain Restaurant in Silver Spring. Dana is not only the daughter of MDTTC coach and former Chinese Team Member Jack Huang (Huang Tong Sheng), but she was also a pretty good player herself. (And yet, during her playing years she mostly acted as a practice partner for others in her father's coaching sessions and camps.) From my archives - where I compile all the MDTTC medalists from the Junior Olympic and Junior Nationals - here is her record - and note the two bolded ones:

  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Singles Silver Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Olympics Under 14 Girls' Singles Silver Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Doubles Gold Medallist
  • 1998 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Team Gold Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Olympics Under 16 Girls' Singles Gold Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 16 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 14 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Doubles Silver Medallist
  • 1999 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Teams Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Olympics Under 18 Girls' Singles Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Doubles Gold Medallist
  • 2001 Junior Nationals Under 18 Girls' Teams Gold Medallist
  • 2002 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Singles Bronze Medallist
  • 2002 Junior Nationals Under 22 Women's Doubles Gold Medallist

Here's a picture taken at the wedding reception of Coach Jack with three national junior girls' singles champions he's coached. L-R: Katherine Wu, Coach Jack, Barbara Wei, and current junior phenom Crystal Wang.

1983 USA Pan Am Trials

I've added an action picture to the home page here. That's me at the 1983 U.S. Pan Am Trials in Colorado Springs, where I made the final 16, finishing 15th. (Photo is by Donna Sakai. The lefty in the background is Brian Masters playing Brandon Olson. Brian, who was one of my regular practice partners from when I first started in 1976 until 1979, would not only make the team but would go on to win the Gold Medal for Men's Singles at the Pan Am Games.)

The Countdown Comes to an End

Here's the ITTF's wrap-up article about the 100+ articles during the last 100 days of the Sharara ITTF presidency. Here are all the articles, including the interview with me (the last one, other than the wrap-up).

Backhand Receive from Forehand Side

Here's a video (9 sec) where a Chinese coach or player demonstrates a drill where he receives a ball short to his forehand with his backhand, and follows with a regular forehand. (I've also seen this drill where the forehand is done from the middle or even the backhand side.) Ten years ago this type of receive would have been frowned upon by most coaches, but now it's a basic technique at higher levels, since it's easier to create topspin with the backhand against a short ball with a banana flip.

Serving - More Handy Hints

Here's the article from PingSkills.

Backhand Topspin to Topspin

Here's the video (1:55) from PingSkills.

Wang Liqin and Jorgen Persson at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games

Here's a nice article with lots of photos on the two former world men's singles champions attending the Games.

Incredible Rally

Here's the video (40 sec) of this rally. Note the player on the far side switches hands to return the ball 22 seconds in!

Tunisian Table Tennis

Here's video (33 sec) of a woman doing very fast multiball footwork with a Chinese coach, in full Arab dress.

Ice Bucket Challenge

Meet the King Kong of Ping Pong

Here's the article and pictures of this $14,500 table, a "700-pound, Bluetooth-compatible, ten-speaker table feels designed for high-stakes tournaments."

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September 5, 2014

ITTF Interview

I was interviewed by Sheri Cioroslan for the ITTF, and it was featured yesterday on the ITTF web page. (It's also up on the USATT web page.) The interview "closes out" the ITTF 100-day Countdown to the end of Adham Sharara's 15 years as president.

Aches and Exhaustion and Coaching

One of the toughest parts of coaching is you always have to be "on." As a regular player, if you aren't feeling well you just take the night off. (Unless, of course, you are in serious training to be an elite player, in which case you tough it out - like many of the players at my club, MDTTC. Of course, "normal" 9-5 jobbers have to do the same, correct?) On both Monday and Tuesday nights I was up very late, one time working on the ITTF interview, the other time on one of my SF stories (my sideline outside TT). Unfortunately, I had a Tuesday morning coaching session scheduled and a Wednesday morning dental appointment, so I had to get up early both mornings to get the blog done before leaving. (I normally don't schedule morning activities Mon-Fri, other than my blog and other writing.) So I got very little sleep those two nights. Tuesday wasn't so bad as I had only an hour of coaching after the morning session, but on Wednesday I was tired and headachy the entire day, but had three hours of coaching. I toughed it out, figuring I'd catch up on rest that night. 

Unfortunately, the dentist on Wednesday morning had found a small cavity, and so we had scheduled an appointment on Thursday morning to put in the filling. I did the blog the night before, got plenty of sleep, and thought all was well. Alas, by Thursday afternoon the pain killer the dentist had put into my gums had worn off, and the tooth with the filling and the area around it felt someone was doing target practice with a power drill - but I had to pick up kids for our afterschool program, do some tutoring, and do three hours of private coaching. I did it all with a smile on my face but often in agony. Fortunately, when you're playing or coaching you don't notice it as much most of the time, but there's no way you can completely ignore the feeling of knives being jabbed into your gums. When the night finally finished I went home and collapsed onto my easy chair to watch TV and wait for the gums to stop hurting. (Which they didn't do that night, but by this morning it was just a nasty ache.) 

The funny thing was that for me, when I'm tired, headachy, or in pain, it tends to focus me, and I probably did some of my best coaching. Thinking hard about the student helps keep my mind on that and not on being tired, headachy, or in pain. On Wednesday I found a little problem with a student's backhand loop technique that turned it into a monster shot. Another student went from spinning forehands to really drive looping them, and also made a breakthrough on serves. On Thursday I had a nice workout with one student on his serve and attack game and on his backhand flip. Another student, who was getting over a one-month break due to knee problems, had a nice return-to-the game session as we focused on fundamentals. 

Today I've only got the afterschool program (pick up two kids from school and take them to the club, then an hour of mostly multiball coaching and some tutoring), and then I'm off, where I'll likely spend some time in bed reading and resting. Saturday is a miracle - I have NO COACHING for this Saturday, which was unexpected and extremely rare. (I teach a junior class Saturday mornings, but there are two weeks break between the summer session and the upcoming one, so no session this Saturday, and my other Saturday students are all off for now.) So by Sunday (a busy day) I'll be rested and ready to go again. Meanwhile, I have several other writing projects I'm working on (both TT and SF), and perhaps I'll write up a storm on Saturday and next week. 

No Forehand Looping?

Were the hardbat and sandpaper players right all along? Has sponge and big forehand loops made the game so boring that they can't put it on TV without a rule outlawing these incredible topspin shots? Apparently, since No Forehand Looping (NFL) was on TV everywhere last night. (Let the booing and hissing begin.)

Tony Kiesenhofer Now President of North American Table Tennis Union

Here's the ITTF article. Tony is the Executive Director of Table Tennis Canada. Here's the NATTU home page.

2014 ITTF Para Table Tennis World Championships

They will be the largest ever, according to the ITTF press release.

ITTF Coaching Course Held in Flushing, NY

Here's the ITTF article on the event, coached by Sydney Christophe.

Top Ten Shots at the Czech Open

Here's the video (4:58).

Who Won?

Here's the picture - but when he wakes up I don't think he'll remember. Anything.

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September 4, 2014

Where Do Top Players Come From?

I'm always hearing about how USATT leaders want to develop medal contenders and world-class players. When I hear this I have a simple set of questions for them, which leads to a conclusion that's sort of obvious.

  1. Where do the overwhelming majority of top players come from? (Answer: successful junior training programs.)
  2. Where do successful junior programs come from? (Answer: successful training centers.)
  3. Where do successful training centers come from? (Answer: coaches and directors who take the initiative to create them, where they have to reinvent the wheel over and over from scratch and figure out how to do this because there is no one helping them out, no manual or guidance, nothing from any organizing body for table tennis, and of course no one's recruiting them to do any of this.)
  4. What's the major stumbling block here?

That's why I strongly believe that one of USATT's top priorities should be to recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run training centers with junior programs. This is not something that costs much. USATT is already running ITTF coaching courses. What's needed is to adjust the focus to recruiting and training those who wish to become full-time coaches or run junior training programs. If there are additional costs, the coaches in training would pay for them, just as they already pay for the ITTF coaching courses. The "hook" toward recruitment is that coaches can make a full-time living as coaches at these training centers, making $40-$50/hour. (I write about this quite a bit in my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd donate at cost to those who run such programs to recruit and train coaches.) I still have on the backburner the idea of starting up my own coaching academy where I recruit and train coaches, but right now I'm just too busy on other things.

Breaking the Upper Body Forehand Muscling Habit

A common problem for players is to try to muscle the ball when forehand looping. This means they try to produce most of their power with their upper body and arm rather than using the legs and rotating the body's weight into the shot. Normally a way to break this habit is to do lots of shadow-practicing where the player exaggerates the leg and body rotation, and then do lots of multiball. However, in a session with a kid this weekend I found a new way. I've always pointed out that a player should be able to loop with great power while carrying on a conversation, since the power mostly comes from the legs and weight transfer. Players who muscle the ball instead tense their upper body as they use that as the primary source for power. But it's almost impossible to do that if you are talking. The kid I was coaching was trying to rush the shot, and so was muscling the ball with his upper body instead of rotating into the ball properly. So while I fed him multiball so he could practice looping I had him tell me about school, about his favorite sports, or just count. Result? Once he got over giggling, he stopped muscling the ball.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

6th Annual Ping Pong Charity Tournament

Here's the article and video (3:11) that'll take place in Virginia Beach, VA.

Turn Your Kitchen Table into a Ping-Pong Table!

Here's the article and video (2:37).

Kids Playing TT

Here's a video (47 sec) of a kid playing table tennis. Watch his reaction as he loses the first two points, and especially his celebration when he wins the third point! Here's another video (2:44) as Samson Dubina trains his daughter in on-table cross-legged Gatorade-bottle target practice. (Spoiler alert: she hits it at 2:22, and after celebrating gets to drink it.)

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