Butterfly Online


Larry Hodges' daily blog will go up Mon-Fri by noon USA Eastern time (usually by 10 AM, more like noon on Mondays when he does a Tip of the Week and has three days to cover). 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 author of eight books and over 1500 articles on table tennis. Here is his bio

Make sure to order your copy of Larry's best-selling book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers!
21 chapters, 240 pages, 102,000 words. Finally, a tactics book on this most tactical of sports!!!
Also out - Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips, which cover, in logical progression, his Tips of the Week from 2011-2013 and 2014-2016, with 150 Tips in each! Or, for a combination of Tales of our sport and Technique articles, try Table Tennis Tales & Techniques
If you are in the mood for inspirational ficiton, The Spirit of Pong is also out - a fantasy story about an American who goes to China to learn the secrets of table tennis, trains with the spirits of past champions, and faces betrayal and great peril as he battles for glory but faces utter defeat. Read the First Two Chapters for free!

November 17, 2016

Ten Things That Require Zero Talent
On Monday I linked to the list Ten Things That Require Zero Talent. The point is that even if you have little talent – whatever talent is – you can still make the most of what you have, and these ten things will, in the long run, almost always overcome talent. (Unless, of course, the "talented" one also does these ten things to a very high degree.) Here's the actual list:

  1. Being on time
  2. Work ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Body language
  5. Energy
  6. Attitude
  7. Passion
  8. Being coachable
  9. Doing extra
  10. Being prepared

I can't help but think the list is somewhat redundant. You really should do all ten, but in reality, #7 (Passion) leads to #6 (Attitude), which leads to the other eight. Now it's possible to have a good Attitude without the Passion, but that does make it more difficult. (A person working a menial job may not have passion for the job, but can still have a good attitude about it.) But a good Attitude is a must, and automatically leads to the rest.

Some might try to nitpick, for example claiming energy comes from fitness – but it's still mostly attitude, unless you are out running a marathon. Even if you are doing footwork drills, you can have energy until you run out of it, and then you rest and it comes back. But even more directly, if you don't have energy, then you should do the fitness training to get it back – which comes from passion and/or attitude.

I always look at #1 as an indirect way of testing students. Those with great attitudes, who go on to become the best at what they do, are invariably on time – because they are just dying to get there to start training, or whatever else it is they do. (Or, if they are doing something that helps others, they are there on time because they feel the obligation to do so – part of attitude.) Being on time is not something you should do most of the time; it's an attitude in itself, the idea that you should simply be on time, always – and if you aren't there early enough to make sure you can be there on time, you are not on time. (For the record, I've coached about 20,000 hours at MDTTC since we opened in 1992. I've been late for a session exactly twice. Once because of a traffic jam, and once because I got my times mixed up. And those two instances still make me grit my teeth.)

Work ethic, effort, body language, energy, being coachable, doing extra, and being prepared – they all come from attitude, which is the core cause for nearly all success. The best players have all of this. They are the ones who do it all, and then some (i.e. "Doing extra").

So how do you do on this list, in table tennis and in your other endeavors?

9 Serving Tips
Here's the new coaching video (13:53) from Samson Dubina.

Under Pressure: Stress Management for the Athlete
Here's the article.

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue which came out yesterday.

Xu Xin vs Fan ShengFeng China Super League 2016
Here's the new video (18:47) – penholder vs. penholder. (See links to other matches on right.)

Lily Yip TTC on ICEPN TV
Here's the video (27:21).

Strange Rackets

Hilarious Table Tennis Shots
Here's the new video (1:56)!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 16, 2016

Miscellaneous Stuff
I think I've been fighting a minor cold the last few days. This morning I woke up with my head feeling like it was full of cotton, a minor background headache that won't go away, sniffles, and a general feeling of "I should be in bed." Today's a slow day for me - I only have one hour of coaching today - so I should be able to do that. I'm also going to try to get some writing done.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post came in yesterday for the follow-up to their previous visit. This time they had both a writer and a photographer, who took pictures for three hours. So far they have interviewed me, Cheng Yinghua (the focus of the story, along with MDTTC), Jack Huang, Ryan Dabbs, Tiffany Ke, and Lisa Lin. They took many pictures yesterday of these players and coaches, plus lots of shots of 8-year-old Stanley Hsu (about 1350) smacking balls against Cheng. The article will most likely come out next week.

I had a great 90-minute session with Daniel Sofer, recently turned 12, and told him afterwards that if he trained like that all the time, he'd soon be battling with the best players his age in the country. "Soon," of course, is a relative term. He's about 1700 right now, with a great feel for the ball, but still lacks confidence in his attack.  

My upcoming schedule is going to be massively travelish. (Yeah, I made up that word.) I'll blog about this later, but the short version (not in chronological order) is that over the next six weeks I'll be coaching for three days at the North American Teams; attending USATT board meetings and the U.S. Open in Las Vegas for eight days (plus a USATT teleconference next Monday); helping run our Christmas Camp for six days; attending the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention for two days (that's this Friday and Saturday); attending a science fiction writing workshop in a cruise in the Bahamas for five days (!); and spending Christmas in Eugene, Oregon for five days. In between I'll be doing the usual coaching, USATT/MDTTC stuff, and blogging and other writing. And fighting this stupid cold….

2017-18 Youth National Team Trials Procedures Draft for Public Comment
Here's the document from the USATT High Performance Committee. I think it's great that they are putting it up for public comment in this way before finalizing it, though of course it means they'll also have to deal with lots of commentary. I haven't had a chance to go over this yet, but will soon, and will likely blog about it. But I really don't know what's in it. Ooh, the anticipation!!!

World Championships of Ping Pong Official Entry Form
Here's the info page for this sandpaper event to be held on Saturday morning, Dec. 17, at the U.S. Open. (One small mistake that they will likely fix – it has the entry fee as $20, but it's only $10 for those entered in the U.S. Open, which would probably be true for nearly all the entries.) This is the Qualifier for the USA sandpaper team that will go to the $100,000 World Ping-Pong Championships, which will be held Jan. 28-29, 2017 in London. I plan to take part in the USA Trials, and will destroy all those who oppose me unless of course they happen to win.

Can China's Table Tennis Team Be Beaten?
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Training Video: Samson Dubina and Jiwei Xia
Here's the video (3:12).

Interview with a Guy Who Once Played Ping Pong with Prince
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Looking to Bounce Back
Here's the article on Alabama (and Louisiana) Table Tennis, and Hurricane Katrina.

Family Fun: Table tennis is Fun and Easy to Learn
Here's the article.

Penn Ping Pong is Undefeated Against Local Universities
Here's the article.

Ma Long, King of Epic Shots
Here's the new video (5:19).

FIT Open, November 12-13, 2016
Here's the USATT article by Matt Hetherington. Here's the video (14:08) – Final between champion Kai Zhang and runner-up Kaden Xu, by Jules Apatini.

Top 10 Best Behind-the-Back Shots of All Time
Here's the video (2:45) from Table Tennis Daily.

Lots of Little Big-Eyed Red Creatures on the Ping-Pong Table
Here's the picture!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 15, 2016

Playing Lefty – and Reading vs. Reacting
Yesterday, at the end of a 90-minute session, my 12-year-old 1700 opponent challenged me to a game where he lobbed, while I played lefty. He was overconfident, and he was serving down 6-8. (I had perfected sort of a lefty "jab-smash.") But then he "cheated," and started throwing spinny sidespin serves at me – and I was suddenly helpless, unable to read spins that I normally would read with ease. It went to deuce, but my inability to return his sidespin serves led to his fist-pumping victory. (He even did the "infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table" of Jiang that I'd described to him earlier – see below.)

But it got me thinking – why was I unable to read the spin on serves that I could easily read when playing right-handed? And the answer was obvious. You don't read spin. You react to it – subconsciously.

Think about it. When an opponent puts spin on the ball, do you consciously think to yourself, "The ball's spinning at 2133 RPM, so I need to put my racket angle at 62.5 degrees"? Of course not. From lots and lots of playing time, your subconscious automatically reacts to it. It may not always get it right, but it's usually in the ball park. But what's actually happening? Your subconscious reads the spin and tells your muscles how to react, i.e. racket angle and so on. Consciously, there's no reading of spin (except as an afterthought) – you just react at a subconscious level. But the subconscious has been trained to tell your playing arm what to do, not your non-playing arm, where everything is essentially reversed. It doesn't know what to do. And so, instead of reacting instinctively to the spin, as I'm used to when I play righty, I just stood there, waiting for my subconscious to tell me what to do, and it just sat there, unable to do so. Dang you, subconscious, where were you when I needed you???

I've always thought it's a good exercise for coaches to sometimes play lefty – not just rally, but actual games – so they can see what it's like to play as a beginner. It's rather instructive.

1987 WTTC Men Final Jiang Jialiang vs Jan-Ove Waldner
Here's the video (37:05), where (Spoiler Alert!) pips-out penholder Jiang defends his title from 1985 – just barely. In the best of five to 21, he's up 2-1 but down 16-20 in the fourth. At 31:40 he serves at 19-20, wins a nice point to deuce it, and then does the infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table, walking right in front of Waldner! The latter later admitted it unnerved him, and Jiang won the next two points easily to win the title again. This match sort of marked the end of the age of world-class pips-out play (with the notable exception of Liu Guoliang, who would come along a few years later), and the rise of two-winged looping, which now completely dominates.

Washington Post
They are coming to MDTTC today from 4-8PM to do a story, with a writer and photographer. Come on in if you want a chance to be in the background of a picture, or possibly even interviewed!

Devastate the Defensive Chopper
Here's the new article from Samson Dubina.

How to Recover Table Tennis Form and Confidence in Training
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis for Beginners
Here's the online class with Tom Lodziak from Table Tennis University.

5 Surprising Ways the Right Music Makes You Better at Table Tennis
Here's the article from Table Tennis Spot.

2016 Male & Female Para Table Tennis Star Nominees Announced
Here's the ITTF press release.

Why This Start-up Has Job Candidates Play Ping Pong During the Interview
Here's the article from CNBC.

A Young Ping Pong Expert
Here's the video (1:51) that features Jason Piech.

The Force is Strong If You Play Ping Pong!
Here's the picture from Mike Mezyan! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Send us your own coaching news!

November 14, 2016

Tip of the Week
How to Develop a Quicker Forehand.

Youngest Table Tennis Players
Here's a picture of Shia Williams, age 5, playing his first tournament. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) He's playing in the Robopong October 2016 Broward TTC Open. Here's the video (2 min)!

He achieved a rating of 994 – not bad! Anyway, this raises the question of who was the youngest player ever to play a USATT tournament. I'm sure if I had access to the entire database and the proper data tools, I could figure this out. But I already know the answer – sort of.

The youngest to enter a USATT tournament and get a rating was three-year-old Don Iguana back in the 1990s. He entered Under 12 singles, and got a rating of 25, losing every game 21-0 except for one historic time when it was 21-1. (Games were to 21 back then.) But note I said he entered and got a rating, but didn't say he actually played? Don Iguana was my three-year-old pet iguana. I bought him a USATT junior membership and entered him in three tournaments I ran. The kids went along with it, and would take the clipboard for about five minutes, then return it with scores filled out - Don always lost. Poor kid. (No, Don never actually went to the table to play.) Look him up – USATT # 65421! However, our online database only goes back to 1994, and he played his tournaments I think in 1992, so his actual results back then are lost to the mists of history. (They brought in everyone's current rating when they went online in 1994.)

I'm told Don had a unique strategy when he played. He'd stand there, staring at his opponent, refusing to even attempt make a return, but just waiting, waiting, waiting until his opponent missed a serve. And his strategy and persistency paid off, as he finally scored his first point, against an 11-year-old Michael Squires, who according to the scoreboard defeated the lizard, 21-0, 21-1, apparently missing a serve in game two in this historic match.

When the USATT Ratings Director found out about Don, he was furious, saying it make a mockery of the ratings, and was very unhappy that a player had gained a rating point in a match that didn't take place. He took Don out of the ratings. A few years later his successor, who didn't have a reptilian bias, put him back in. (For several years, Alan and Dave Williams used to write great online tales of Don's feats as he traveled the globe, often as a pirate. Alas, I think those postings were also lost to the mists history.)

Here's the stunner. According to the USATT listing, Don is listed as playing a tournament at the Triangle TTC in North Carolina . . . in 2014!!! He "lost" all four of his matches, but scored a lot of points, and even won his first game! Yes, he lost at 8,-9,8,10 to Jerred Miklowcic, the first time in history that a lizard won a game from a human. Apparently Don, now about 27 years old (and 25 in 2014) has been practice and getting better. (Someone in NC had a sense of humor – I suspect Mike Babuin.)

This might be a shot of Don in action. But the lizard has gone on to bigger and better things. He's apparently the mayor of something, an actor (here's video), and seems to be active on Facebook.

(Going back to Shia at the beginning, there's something wrong with the ratings algorithm here. He played players rated 1323, 1159, and 1005, and lost all three 3-0 without scoring more than 3 points in a game. How does an unrated player lose to a 1005 player at 2,3,1, and come out rated 994? I've already emailed the question to the powers that be. Something seems out of whack with the algorithm for initial ratings. The system apparently no longer takes scores into consideration, but losing 0-3 to the 1005 should make you come out lower than 994, which is only 11 points lower. But you know something? 994 or not, Shia looked pretty good in the video!)

Expectation: A Danger for Athletes in Table Tennis
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Ten Things That Require Zero Talent
Here's the list

Review of Table Tennis University
Here's the article by Tom Lodziak.

East Coast National Youth Reflect on Outstanding Results Overseas
Here's the article by Matt Hetherington.

10 Christmas Gift Ideas for a Table Tennis Player
Here's the article from Expert Table Tennis. Or you can buy them one of these!!!

Coffee Cup: "Table Tennis Coach: To Save Time, Just Assume I'm Always Right"
I want one! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) And if you're a coach, so should you. (And I don't even drink coffee.) Here's where you can buy one, and about twenty other table tennis mugs – though you have to order from England. (ADDENDUM: While they can ship to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous other places, they don't appear to be able to ship to the U.S. - it doesn't appear on their dropdown menu when filling out address. I tried ordering one but wasn't able to.) 

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 18 (1990-1991)
Here's chapter 8! Or order your own print copies at TimBogganTableTennis.com.

Table Tennis "Mannequin" Challenge
Here's the video (21 sec). But here's an even better one (2:13), from four years ago by Richard Heo, before the "Mannequin" challenge had come out. And that's me at 1:28 making an appearance as a fist-pumping, screaming coach at the barriers!

Table Tennis, the Beautiful Game - Part 2
Here's the video (4:27). (Here's Part 1, from March, 2013.)

Music to Jam With When Playing?
Here's the video (23 sec) of animated table tennis set to music.

Fairy Child Pong?
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Paddle Boulevard?
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Note that the "balls" are the normal lamps.

Swing Softly But Carry a Big Stick
Here's the video (42 sec) of Samson Dubina warming up with super-big paddle.

Send us your own coaching news!

November 11, 2016

It's Veteran's Day, so I'm off today. (In reality, I've got a rather long todo list to take care of, but at least I can start fresh and early.) Here's some Championship Table Tennis (cartoon) to tide you over. 

November 10, 2016

How Fast Can You Smash?
We often talk about how a ping-pong ball often travels at speeds up to 100 mph (about 161 kph). That simply isn't true, at least at this time.

Here's the video How Fast Does a Table Tennis Ball Travel? (1:26). Until recently, the "official" record was I believe 69.9 mph (112.5 kph), as noted in Table Tennis Ball Speed page from 2003-2004, which analyzes the data at the time. But Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov (world #6) "smashed" that record with a 75.8 mph (122 kph) smash. To get that speed, he did an all-out wristy forehand smash.

But this raises the question – just how fast can one smash a ball? While world-class players like Ovtcharov are undoubtedly among the hardest hitters, that doesn't mean he's the hardest hitter. Few have been tested. World-class players are actually trained mostly to loop, so when trying to hit the ball at the maximum speed they are actually doing something they are not trained to do.

Let's suppose there were big-money competitions for hardest-hit smash. We won't worry about the details about how to judge this – we'll assume the radar gun used in the video above is sufficient, and go with its results. How fast could players smash?

First, the equipment would make a big difference. Most modern high-level rackets are designed for looping, not pure speed smashing. Back in the days when pips-out hitters dominated, most companies had at least one super-fast carbon blade, which was probably too fast for any human to use, but was used by many players because they liked the idea of using such a macho blade. They were like rockets when smashing, but weren't so good for looping unless you were one-shot loop-killing everything. I don't know if any company still makes such a blade, using space-age materials to give added speed – I'm guessing yes. (Feel free to comment below.)

The sponge covering makes a difference as well. Current sponges are also mostly designed for looping. However, I think they are pretty good for pure speed as well. You'd probably want the thickest, hardest sponge you can get.

The stroke would be as flat as possible, with no energy going into spin. The player would put his entire body into the shot, as Ovtcharov does in the video above – legs, hips, waist, shoulders, arm, and with a big wrist snap at the end. Timing this properly is huge, going from the big, lower-body muscles to the smaller, upper-body ones, and takes lots of training to get right. Snapping the wrist into the ball like this isn't something that players are generally taught – usually the wrist is used for adding spin, not speed, though of course a player like Ovtcharov can adjust and use it for pure speed.

Now imagine a competitive hard-hitting competition, and someone who's a professional at this "sport." He'd have a super-fast racket made of whatever legal space-age material they can use to add pure speed, with thick, super-hard sponge. They'd be able to put their entire body into the shot, with that big wrist snap. If Ovtcharov, an "amateur" at this new sport, can approach 76 mph, how fast could our "professional" do it?

There's a comparable sport to consider – baseball. There the players are throwing the ball instead of hitting it, with the fastest pitch ever at 105 mph. If you used a similar technique, why can't a player hit the ball at a similar speed? Or does a ping-pong ball inherently slow down as it comes off the racket, so that not all of the energy transfers to a thrown baseball also transfers to a ping-pong ball hit with a ping-pong paddle? (I'm talking the ball coming off the racket's surface, not air resistance, which also slows it down dramatically.) This is the part that we just don't know.

On the one hand, if Ovtcharov can do only 76 mph, then perhaps the limit of human performance is reached in the 80-85 mph range. But if we were developing players purely for the purpose of hitting a ball as fast as possible, as is somewhat done in baseball, with techniques and equipment designed specifically for this, perhaps the speeds would go up dramatically, into the 90-100 mph range or more.

But we're not thinking outside the box. Legally there's no limit to how long a ping-pong paddle's handle can be. If we really want to smash a ball at super-high speeds, we should use a paddle that's essentially a tennis racket, with a similar long handle. Then imagine the speeds we could do! In the 1980s or so, a former top player named Carl Kronlage used to play in tournaments with just such a racket, with something like a 15-inch handle. Why not use a tennis-type racket, which are up to 27-29 inches long? Or even longer? Think of all the power you could generate with such a racket!!! (I googled for pictures of such rackets, but couldn't find any.)

And we're still not thinking completely outside the box. Why are we using regular forehand smashing techniques? In tennis, the hardest-hit balls are done with serves and overheads, a completely different hitting technique. If we want to maximize speed in table tennis, we would likely want to do the same. So now we're using a long-handled, space-age materials racket, covered with thick, hard sponge, and smashing with an overhead motion. How fast can we now go? I think we'd break the 100 mph barrier. (Of course what we'd want to hit with such a smash trumps doing so in some smashing contest.)

Interview with Paralympian Csonka on Mental Preparation (by Dora Kurimay)
Here's the article.

Olympic Coach Magazine
Here's the Fall issue.

USATT Invites Members to Annual General Assembly
Here's the USATT info page on the Assembly, which will take place Wednesday night at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas. The focus will be on USATT’s National Team programs – in particular, the selection process. I'll be there; will you?

USATT Nominating and Governance Committee Announces At Large Board Seat Election
Here's the USATT info page. Want to run for the USATT Board? Here's your chance! (It's too late for me, I'm already on the Board – save yourself! Run away!!!)

USATT Insider
Here's the new issue, which came out on Wednesday.

USATT and Super Micro Team Up To Support Youth Table Tennis
Here's the USATT article.

Nominees for ITTF Breakthrough Star & Star Coach are Released
Here's the ITTF press release.

Rio Reflections with Table Tennis Athlete Jennifer Wu
Here's the article.

Secret to Living Long Healthy Life for 109yo Woman
Here's the article – but (spoiler alert!) secret is sweet tooth and table tennis.

2016 Butterfly LA Open: Interview with Vladamir Samsonov
Here's the video interview (2:04) by Barbara Wei.

2016 World Cadet Challenge Highlights: Cho Daesong/Wang Amy vs Uda Yukiya/Elena Z. (Final)
Here's the video (2:06) which features USA's Amy Wang!

Sculpture of No-Armed Paralympic Star Ibrahim Hamato
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Here's video (2:43) of him playing with paddle in mouth.

Best Swap Hand Shot in the History of Table Tennis!
Here's the video (27 sec).

Dining Room Pong
Here's the video (14 sec)!

Ellen DeGeneres Table Tennis Mannequin Challenge
Here's the video (40 sec)!

Funny Guy Table Tennis
Here's the video (3:37)!

Hilarious Table Tennis Exhibition
Here's the video (7:35) of the finish of a match long ago between Jean-Michel Saive and Andrzej Grubba.

Send us your own coaching news!

November 9, 2016

Life in Idiocracy; No Blog Today
I'm stunned at the historically stupid thing America did last night, and I will hold accountable those responsible. Most have no clue what they have done, and how they have made the race for the gutter the norm in American politics – and that's the least of our problems. (We are now living the movie Idiocracy. Even Biff from Back to the Future was modeled on Trump.) However, since this isn't a political blog, I'll refrain from saying more. But I'm not really into blogging about ping-pong when our country now faces far more serious problems than how to hit a forehand, so no blog today. Good luck America – you are going to need it. (Feel free to comment, but since this is a table tennis blog, absolutely no political debates here. If you want to defend Trump, do so elsewhere. I will delete any such postings.) 

November 8, 2016

Election Day
Today we decide between Trump and Clinton. But schools are closed and it's practically a national holiday, so I'm taking the day off as well. Meanwhile, here are two cartoons I did on the election that I previously posted. Now, go out and vote practice your serves!

November 7, 2016

Tip of the Week
Three Ways to Play the Forehand.

Reasons for More Trials Instead of Selections
As I blogged on Friday, I believe we need to go back to more Trials for our youth teams, and less selections, as we used to do it. I didn't like the idea from the start, but was willing to give it a try – but now I'm convinced it was a mistake.

The main argument for primarily choosing our youth teams rather than doing so by Trials is they feel that Trials only puts players against other USA players, and isn't a valid measure of their level against international players. I disagree, as a player who is better domestically will tend to do just as well internationally – when he has the international experience, which is the whole point of sending them overseas to tournaments like the World Junior Championships. Often the argument is made for a player with a world ranking to be chosen over a seemingly stronger player without a world ranking because that player's parents couldn't afford to send their player overseas to achieve an international ranking – and this comes down to essentially saying, "We're not sending you out for international experience because of your lack of international experience." Or we argue for a junior with a current world ranking that's much lower than another junior who no longer has a current world ranking simply because he wasn't able to go overseas.

They also feel that by choosing, they can pick the players they believe are hardest working or have most potential. There is an argument for this – they want to choose the player who is single-minded about table tennis over the one who they feel will favor academics – but it's also a subjective argument. Worse, this can lead to favoritism, where they may convince themselves that the player they want to pick is the best pick. It's not always intentional, but it happens. Many coaches, including myself, have disagreed with some of the selections. There have also been many historic examples of top players who were called "uncoachable" by their national coaches, or sent home for lack of potential – such as Jan-Ove Waldner ("uncoachable") and Deng Yaping ("too small"), often considered the greatest man and woman ever to play.

If at any time USATT puts up a note about why they favor Selections over Trials, or choose to do a guest blog here, I'll link to it or post it. 

I don't want to get into this game of publicly putting down specific juniors by arguing another player should have been selected over them. But that's the situation we're often put in when we see these selections and disagree. I simply am not going to play that game – the kids involved did nothing wrong, and arguing publicly why one is more qualified than another highly qualified one who was selected instead just embarrasses the junior who was chosen. Instead, I'm going to simply make the arguments over why we the teams should be chosen more by Trials, and less by Selections, which make us look like the teams are being chosen in the proverbial smoke-filled room. Here are my reasons.  

  1. Many other coaches, myself included, disagree over the Selections. What does this mean? It means that the teams are being decided not by the players, but by who is chosen to do the selecting. Case in point: USATT just selected the players going to the World Junior Championship. (It hasn't been officially announced by USATT, but the entries are listed at the World Junior Championships page – here's the list of entries.) The controversial decision was not to include Krish Avvari, who finished first at the Junior Team Trials in July, is the current National Junior Singles and Team Champion, is rated #2 among USA juniors available to go to the Worlds, and in the USATT's own complicated point system, is #3 ranked among USA junior available to go to the Worlds. USA chose four players, and left him off the list. (Sharon Alguetti wasn't available to go.) The reason given was that Krish had only played five tournament this past year – though all five were 4- and 5-star tournaments. Should he be on the team? By Trials, he's #1, and by nearly every other factor he should be. But the selected selectors said no, and so he's not going. Many others, including myself, disagreed with the decision. And so the selection was made not by the players, but by who was chosen to do the selecting.
  2. The Selectors are often being put in the position of choosing between players from their own state or club over others, or to make such decisions about students of their colleagues. Even if they are objective in their decisions, or try to be, the appearance is often very bad. (This has happened multiple times already.) And so when players are chosen who have any connection to the Selectors, it is now under suspicion. The contrary is also true – if players connected to the Selectors are overlooked, they may feel they were overlooked because of the appearance of conflict.
  3. If Selections are preferable to Trials, why do we have Olympic Trials? Shouldn't we just choose our Olympic Team? Some would say this is different, that at the youth level we are looking for potential, while at the Olympic level we're looking for our best players – i.e., in both cases, we're looking for our best chance of winning, whether long-term with youth players, or now with Olympic players. But these are actually the same case. If the goal in the Olympic was to win, then we shouldn't have Trials – we should have coaches choose the players so they can also send weaker players with unorthodox styles that international players may have trouble with. So if you favor Selecting our youth teams rather than Trials, then by the same logic you should favor Selecting our Olympic Teams rather than having a Trials. I don't think many would agree with this.
  4. We're going to have non-stop controversies (and threats of lawsuits) over this as long as we select the players rather than going primarily by Trials. It's already happened this year in both sets of selections. With Trials, as long as you word the rules properly, there is little controversy, and the players consider it fair because the decision was made at the table, not in a back room. (I do believe we should select up to 25% of the players, as I explained in my Friday blog, but we've almost always done something like that and it rarely led to any controversy.)

This doesn't mean I'm against any selections - as I explained on Friday, perhaps up to 25% should be selected, as a "safety net" for our very best juniors who are sick, injured, or just have a bad day at the Trials. 

USATT does have a complication in that the Nationals moved to July. It used to be they could just have a Trials in December for the following year. But now the Trials at the Nationals in July means we're split, since half the team becomes ineligible on Dec. 31, six months before the next Nationals. The problem with having Trials in December at the Open is the same reason they flipped the Open and Nationals – it's right during finals week for kids, and many have great difficulty making it.

I'm one of the ones who initially didn't think we should have a Trials in December for this reason – I know at least half of the top youth players at my club can't make it, and the same situation is true nationwide. However, I'm rethinking this. So what do we do on Dec. 31, when half the players on our youth teams become ineligible? Here are some options.

  1. Fill out the team in order of finishers from July who are still eligible. Objective, but it means the results are affected by players who are no longer eligible. It also means you are using a Trials from six months before, but since we normally were having annual Trials for a 12-month period, that specifically isn't a big problem.
  2. Have a new Trials in December. Many will have difficulty making it. The Trials could be for the entire team, or only for those spots that open up when players age out on Dec. 31. If the latter, the number of spots that open up will vary from year to year. However, it's too late to do it this year. Also, while at the Nationals you can combine the Junior Team Trials with the National Junior Singles Championship, you can't really do that at the Open, since it's open to all players, not just USA players. It would mean adding six new Trials events.
  3. Have the HPC or HPD choose the remaining team. That's the current plan, and may be inevitable for this year.
  4. Have smaller teams. But this just penalizes players who might otherwise have made the team, whether by Selection or Trials.

ITTF Cadet Camp at MDTTC 2016
Here's the new video (1:52), from Matt Hetherington. It shows highlights, set to music, of the ITTF Cadet Camp we held at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in September – here's my write-up, which now has a link to the video. 

Tactique Stratégie Tennis de Table
Here's the video (4:53) of the new French video ad for the French version of my book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. You can buy it in English or French versions, print or kindle versions. I'm pictured in the background giving a service clinic at MDTTC. The part where I stand on one leg and hold my arms in the air is where I'm about to demonstrate my "Karate Kid" serve and telling a joke about that movie.

Devastate the Offensive Chopper
Here's the coaching article from Samson Dubina.

Forehand Mechanics
Here's the coaching article from Carl Hardin.

The Table Tennis Training Partner: An Endangered Species
Here's the new article from Coach Jon.

Basic Rules of Table Tennis and Common Myths
Here's the new article from Matt Hetherington.

Tom's Table Tennis Newsletter
Here's the link. It includes both new coaching articles and links to others, most of which I've also linked to recently.

  • Why you should “attack the middle”
  • My biggest table tennis failures (so far)
  • Tactics for beating a one-wing attacker
  • A simple way to improve your practice sessions
  • Online table tennis lessons

Best from the Web:

  • How to Win Crucial Points in Table Tennis Matches
  • The Ultimate Guide to Table Tennis Psychology
  • Play Both Weaker and Stronger Players
  • Waldner Table Tennis Tips
  • How to improve your anticipation
  • 5 Tips To Improve Your Long Push
  • Vote for the best table tennis point of 2016

"I have unfinished business in India" - Massimo Costantini
Here's the ITTF article from one of our former National coaches.

Training with Jakub Dyjas
Here's the video (11:42) of the world #36 from Poland as he trains.

The Tomahawk Ghost Serve by Dimitrij Ovtcharov!
Here's the repeating video (5 sec).

Double Table Training with Gary Fraiman and Sherlyn Barvie
Here's the video (18 sec).

Chinese-born Spanish Player Juanito He Zhiwen Retires at Age 52
Here's the article. The pips-out penholder still ranked 78 in the world after three decades of competing. His peak was #24 in 2007.

Recent Photo of the Hungarian Trio
Here's the photo of Gabor Gergely, Istvan Jonyer, and Tibor Klampar, 1979 World Team Champions over China. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Here they are on the winner's podium in 1979 (Gergely, Klampar, and Jonyer on far left). Here's a listing of all Men's World Team Champions, and Women's World Team Champions.

Kids Going Crazy over Balancing Ball Relay
Here's the video (60 sec).

Timo Boll and a Lot of Balls
Here's the picture. Should we call him Timo Ball?

Iron Pong
Here's the video (59 sec) of someone playing with an iron, including some tricky shots – and his clothes are wrinkle free!

Send us your own coaching news!

November 4, 2016

A Hodgepodge of Topics

  • Team Selections vs. Trials. Probably only a few people are aware of the latest controversy regarding the U.S. Junior Team, specifically about who goes to the World Junior Championships. USATT has not yet officially announced the eight players (four boys and four girls) they will select, so I won't comment on it. However, I'm tired of the constant controversies regarding these youth team selections. The key word here is Selections. We used to have Team Trials to decide the teams. Now only four of the ten members of each team make it by Trials, and for each major international tournament, rather than go by the order of finish at the Trials, the players are selected. This means, for example, you can finish #1 in the U.S. Junior Team Trials, be National Junior Champion, be #2 rated among juniors available to go, and be #2 among juniors available to go in USATT's own complicated point system – and still not get selected as one of the four players to go.
         I believe we need to go back to the Team Trials system, where perhaps 8 of the 10 players are selected by Trials, with the last two on each ten-person team selected by the High Performance Committee. For international tournaments, they should go in order of finish at the Trials (unless a player does something to disqualify himself), with perhaps only the final spot on each team selected. (The reason for allowing a small number of selections is in case a truly standout player is sick, injured, or just has a bad day at the Trials. It happens, but selections shouldn't be the primary way of making a youth team.)
         I'm going to get a lot of flak from USATT people who strongly disagree with me here. I welcome them to write a guest column here arguing for Selections over Trials. The basic argument is that they are competing against other USA players, not international players, and it's a one-shot event - but a Trials, IMHO, is still a better and fairer indicator of who should be on the team then selecting them. There's a reason we have Olympic Trials, not Olympic Selections. And I do argue for leaving open a few spots to be selected. I will likely write a more at-length blog on this later on.
         I'm pretty sure that if I made a motion at a USATT Board meeting to change to Trials over Selections – I'm a Board member - it would lose badly. (The USATT High Performance Committee, High Performance Director, and other USATT people support Selections, and the Board would support them.) If we had a vote among the membership, players, coaches, or parents, it would pass overwhelmingly. Very different perspectives.
  • USATT League. I'm aware of the software problems, and USATT has people working on this. Alas, there's nothing I can do on this. I actually chair the USATT League Committee, but that's primarily in charge of team leagues – the singles league stuff is handled by USATT headquarters. One other reason I'm frustrated by these software problems is that I co-founded the USATT Singles League system many years ago with Robert Mayer, and it worked smoothly for all those years. Now there are all sorts of database problems that need to be fixed, not all of which are USATT's fault. (It's complicated.) I do not plan to continue as League chair when my term ends on Dec. 31 – I'm more into the coaching side of things – so if you are interested in this, let me know.
  • U.S. Open. It's fun watching the entries come in – here's where they are listed. As of this writing, there are exactly 300 entries. We'll probably end up with 700 or so. I'm leaning against playing this year, will just coach, attend meetings, sign copies of my table tennis books, and walk around looking important. Here's the U.S. Open home page.
  • Talent. There are two types of people who argue against the value of talent in sports. There are those who simply deny it exists, and there are those who realize it exists, but consider it less important in the long run. I lean toward the latter, but there definitely is such a thing as talent. There's a huge example I'm dealing with right now in my beginning table tennis classes. Exhibit A: a 9-year-old boy who literally cannot learn the proper strokes. I've tried and tried, and so has he, but he simply isn't able to even mimic a good stroke. Despite many hours of coaching, he still slashes at the ball, and rarely gets it on the table. Exhibit B: a 7-year-old girl who started well after the previous example, but after two sessions already has textbook strokes, and in multiball can keep the ball going really well. She picks things up like a sponge.
  • 2017 MDTTC Tournaments. We're going to two-day tournaments in 2017, and I'm now working with Wen Hsu to redo the entry form and scheduling for next year. When that's done, we also have to finalize the entry form for the 2017 Maryland State Closed.

Call for Nominations - Annual USATT Coaches of the Year!
Here's info from USATT. There are five categories:

  • Volunteer
  • Developmental
  • National
  • Paralympic
  • Doc Counsilman (Technology) Award

Zhang Jike and Li Xiaoxia Talk About Future
Here's the article.

AITTA Had Another Celebration Party
Here's the article.

Ma Long vs Fan Zhendong China Trials for WTTC
Here's the video (10:45).

1961 Beijing and 1963 Prague World Table Tennis Championships featuring Zhuang Ze Dong
Here's the video (7:48). Back in those days color was not allowed.

Paddle on My Mind
Here's the new table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Some Hearty Table Tennis
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Chilling Dog Pong?
Here's the picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Non-Table Tennis: First Cat
My story "First Cat" just went up at World Weaver Press! It's a humorous SF story about the president's temporarily super-intelligent cat saving the world from inter-dimensional invaders in the Oval Office. (It's actually a reprint - the story appeared a few years ago in another anthology.) How did the cat become so smart? Read the story - but it involves his sticking his head through a portal into a four-dimensional universe. 

Send us your own coaching news!

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