October 11, 2016

No Blog on Wednesday and Thursday
(I'll get to the table tennis part shortly.) Last week I received an unexpected email from a legendary science fiction writer. He's familiar with my own science fiction writing, and made an offer: Would I like to collaborate on a SF novel with him and one other person? The answer, of course, was yes. But I need a few days to really focus on getting started with this. I can't give out his name yet, but should be able to do so in a month or so. Meanwhile, the plan is this. He's already written the final third of the novel; he had another writer do the middle third; and I'm supposed to do the first third. Yes, it's a strange way of working! I've read the other two parts, and know the main character and where my first third will end, and have spent the last week planning out my part . . . and now I have to get to work!

Don't worry, I'm not leaving table tennis. I do both TT and SF. TT actually pays the bills – both coaching and writing - but I've sold 80 short stories and have three novels, so that's a big sideline for me, both as a hobby and a growing side-profession. Meanwhile, I really have three write-ups below, the Tip of the Week, the World Women's Cup, and the USATT Board Meeting, so this should last you a few days.

Tip of the Week
Taking the Shot Versus Letting it Happen.

$150,000 Women's World Cup in Philadelphia
I was only there on the Sunday, for the semifinals, the third-fourth playoff, and the final. I actually bought a $25 ticket in advance, but then discovered I had a "VIP" ticket – but it was too late. But it did allow me to sit up front in a box seat, next to High Performance Committee Chair Carl Danner. It was a bit disappointing when world's top two players and Olympic Champions Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen dropped out, but it meant a more even competition instead of the usual all-Chinese final. In fact, this would be the first World Cup ever not won by a Chinese player. Below are a few notes on the players and other links.

  • Champion Miu Hirano (JPN) – the 16-year-old from Japan, seeded fourth and ranked 17th in the world, was the upset winner. She probably had the best side-to-side transition from forehand to backhand and vice versa, giving her the strongest overall two-winged attack. She was pretty much down on the ropes to Feng Tianwei in the semifinals, down 1-2 in games and 5-10 in the fourth, but scored seven straight points to win that game and go on to win 4-2. It was here that Hirano raised her level to where she needed in order to win this tournament – and she'd hold that level in the final as well. In the sixth game, Feng had three game points before Hirano pulled it out. One fascinating thing about Hirano – between games and during timeouts she and her coach went over a notebook each time, with Hirano holding it up and going over notes. From a distance, it looked like both notes and charts of the table, apparently with notes on placement. Another interesting thing about Hirano – when she's about to serve, and often between points, she often stops and just stares at her opponent. (Reminds me of the old Cheng Yinghua stare, back in his peak days.)
  • Finalist Cheng I-Ching (TPE) – The other three semifinalists were stronger on the backhand than forehand; Cheng was the only one who was more forehand oriented, though her backhand was also pretty good. However, I was disappointed in that she literally hid her serve every point, and was never called on it. As I've blogged before, this is pretty common at the higher levels, but while some only hide their serves a few times per game, she did it nearly every time, pushing her head out at the last second to hide it. Hirano also hid her serve some, but perhaps only one-fourth of the time, though all of her serves were borderline and likely should have been called as there was no way of the umpire to tell if they were borderline hidden or borderline visible.
  • Feng Tianwei (SIN) – She had the most defined game – she'd cover perhaps 60% of the table with her off-the-bounce backhand topspins, and dominated those rallies against everyone. She was much weaker on the forehand, and didn't transition to it well, but tried to compensate by covering less of the table with it. Her opponents all went after her forehand relentlessly, but Feng often stopped that by pinning them down on their backhand with her own relentless backhand attack, taking away any angle into her forehand. She looked to me like the favorite to win the tournament when the Chinese pulled out, and seemed on track to do so when she led Hirano 2-1 and 10-5, but it was not to be. She occasionally hid her serve, but nothing to the extent that Cheng did.
  • Tie Yana (HKG) – She served nearly all backhand, often serving short to the forehand to get away from her opponent's strong backhand attacks.

And now some links:

USATT Board Meeting
On Monday we had a USATT board meeting in Philadelphia, the day after the Women's World Cup. Only five of the nine board members were able to attend – Peter Scudner, Kagin Lee, Ed Hogshead, Anne Cribbs, and me. Also attending were USATT CEO Gordon Kaye, High Performance Committee Chair Carl Danner, USATT Legal Counsel Dennis Taylor, Assistant Secretary Lee Kondo, Athlete Advisory Council Member Tahl Leibovitz, and a Strategic Planning Advisor named Henry. Also listening in at times were USATT umpires/referees Joseph Lee and Linda Hsing. We met from 9:30AM to 2:30PM.

We started with a report from Gordon on the Women's World Cup. We'd originally anticipated a solid profit for the event, but when the top two seeds and Olympic Champions from China both dropped out, it hurt ticket sales, and so we will likely break even or lose money. And yet, we still had a pretty good turnout on Sunday for the final, semifinals, and third-fourth playoff.

There was a long discussion on the National Teams Selection Process and other High Performance Issues. There was some discussion on why our current men's team is so weak, while our cadets so strong; I pointed out that our men's team was mostly developed before the rise of full-time clubs and training centers in the U.S., and the much higher level and depth of our cadets – and therefore the next generation of teams on both the men's and women's side – would be much higher. I urged USATT to focus on recruiting and training people to set up and run such training centers and junior programs.

Regarding the selection process, I argued for going to more trials, and less selection. In the current structure set up earlier this year, with ten players on each youth team (junior, cadet, mini-cadet, boys and girls for each), only four make the team via trials, the rest are selected. I'd like to see eight by trials, with two selected. (Selections are a "safety net" as you don't want, say, the #1 player in the age group, with a top ten in the world ranking, not on the team because he's sick or injured, or has one bad day.) I'm leery of subjective selections where players deemed "high potential" are selected over stronger players as this often leads to great controversy and the selections just don't seem fair to me – and coaches are often wrong in how they judge "potential." If a player has high potential but isn't yet strong enough for the team, invite them to USATT camps for training, but don't put them on the team over a stronger player.

However, we still need to find a way to get more of them to postpone college for a few years to focus on training as we lose most of them at age 18, right when they are approaching their peak years. I hate the idea of telling someone not to go to college, but why not take a few years off to train first? That's what I did; I took two years off before college.

There was discussion and planning for the next board meeting and USATT Assembly, both at the U.S. Open in December. (Board meeting will likely be on the Sunday before the Open starts.) There was also discussion of the upcoming USATT elections. Five of the nine board members are going to be off, so it'll be a lot of new people. There should be news on the election soon for those interested in running. We also discussed National Collegiate Table Tennis Association issues and the new ITTF coaching rule.

Then came the main topic for the day – Strategic Planning. Alas, we only had about 90 minutes for this, and so I didn't think we were able to really get into this. One interesting thing is the moderator, Henry, had us each anonymously answer three questions, and asked to score them from 1 to 6, with one being we strongly disagree, and six we strongly agree. Here are the three questions (as near as I can remember), and the scoring results.  

  1. Do we have a clear idea of what the board's vision is? Scoring: One 5, three 3's, four 2's, and one 1.  
  2. Does USATT operate at full potential? Two 4's, four 3's, two 2's, and one 1.
  3. Do we devote enough time to discussing USATT strategy. Six 4's, one 2, and two 1's.

There was some discussion of vision, which we need more of. Some do not have the same understanding of vision that I have. For example, one person thought I had a vision of training centers all over the country, and another that I had a vision of regional leagues all over the country. My vision is of a greatly improving the level of play for our national teams and a huge increase in USATT membership. Training centers and leagues are a means to those ends. I believe USATT has the resources to recruit and train coaches and directors to set up full-time clubs. For leagues, we need a full-time USATT League Director, and we currently do not have the money to hire one – so that has to be on the back burner for now.

I really wish we could spend more time discussing our specific visions for the future of our sport, specific goals to reach those visions, plans to reach those goals, and how to implement those plans.

Attitude is the Make or Break of Sports
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Why You Should Attack the Middle
Here’s the new coaching article by Tom Lodziak.

Resistance Training with Kanak Jha
Here's the video (22 sec) where Kanak is hooked up to a strap that pulls him backward, forcing him to work to move to the table. (You can't see the strap until after halfway through.) The strap makes it harder to move in, thereby developing the muscles needed to do so, thereby increasing his speed in moving in and making it more active and dynamic.

Li Xiaoxia and Zhang Jike - The Grip
Here’s the video (1:13) in Chinese with English subtitles.

Table Tennis in Another Dimension
Here’s the new article from Coach Jon.

Ask a Pro Anything: Meet Wong Chun Ting
Here's the article and video (5:41). Wong, from Hong Kong, finished third at the recent World Men's Cup.

Lily Zhang reflects on meeting President Barack Obama at the White House
Here's the article.

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast - September 2016
Here’s the video (12:01).

Fan Zhendong Multiball Training with Wu Jingping
Here’s the new video (3:55).

Can You Solve It? The Ping Pong Puzzle
Here's the puzzle. You have until 5PM Eastern Time to solve it, and then they post the answer.

Ball Spins Inside Roll of Tape
Here's the video (13 sec) where Allen Wang smacks the ball into the roll of tape, and the ball spins like crazy inside!

Teddy Bear Pong
Here's the video (59 sec) from NBC Sports of a dog dressed as a teddy bear playing table tennis!

Non-Table Tennis – Capclave Science Fiction Convention
On Friday and Saturday I was at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention in Gaithersburg, MD – coincidentally only five minutes from MDTTC. I was on three panels, two author signings, a reading, and a finalist in their annual "Small Press Award for Short Fiction." The three panels were on humor in science fiction; politics in science fiction; and on writing workshops. I had a lot of fun with the author signings - didn't sell enough books, alas - and didn't win the Small Press Award, also alas. On the other hand, things are looking up right now, as noted in the segment at the top!

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