January 7, 2019

Tip of the Week
Top Ten Things to Remember in Doubles.

2020 USA Olympic Selection Procedures
The 2020 Olympic Games Athlete Selection Procedures went live a month ago on the USATT Selection Procedures page. Although I'm on the board of directors for USATT, that was the first time I saw them. They were created by the USATT High Performance Committee (HPC) and the USATT High Performance Director (HPD). 

They are our designated experts on these topics, and so in most cases, even though I would probably be considered an "expert" on these topics as well, I normally defer to them on these matters. However, in the case of the procedures planned for choosing USA table tennis players for the 2020 Olympics, I simply can't agree. 

The procedures are a bit complex. However, in simple terms, the most likely scenario is that we will have six Olympic spots, with a committee selecting 4 of those 6 spots, and the other two spots going to the winners of the Olympic Trials (one man, one woman). The committee that would choose the rest of the team would be made up of the HPD; the chair of the HPC; two USA National Team Coaches; and one of the Athlete Representatives on the USATT board of directors.

To get all six spots, USA has to beat Canada in an upcoming team match, one for men, one for women. (I'm assuming no USA player will prequalify, which would mean reaching top 25 in world rankings or the quarterfinals of men's or women's singles at the upcoming Worlds.) 

Here are the main arguments for having so much of the USA Olympic Team selected by committee instead of mostly be an Olympic Trials. 

  1. Trials can be erratic - a weaker player may get hot, while a stronger player has an off day or is sick or injured. So if you want your best team, you should bring in your best experts to select them.
  2. Trials favor those who play against players from their own country, who they are used to playing against. If we want to challenge other countries, we need to send the players who do best internationally.
  3. Doubles is now part of the Olympic Team Competition, so choosing the team based on singles play ignores the doubles aspect.

Now putting aside the fairness aspect, and arguing strictly on the idea of maximizing our chances of winning medals, these are all good arguments. But much of this goes against our sense of fairness. Heck, experts are often wrong - I've been told by multiple sources that Deng Yaping, arguably the greatest women player of all time, was sent home from the Chinese National Team three times because the coaches didn't think she had the potential to be great, due to her short height and unconventional playing style. Many thought Eric Boggan's playing style wouldn't work past the junior stage, and he became the highest ranked USA male player in the sponge era (#17 in the world).

USATT adopted the policy a few years ago of using more selections and less trials in its team selections. Besides some of the reasons above, the core principle was that to develop a really strong team, we needed to bring in a very good High Performance Director (and we seem to have one in Jörg Bitzigeio), and then give him the freedom to do his job - which often meant choosing many of the players he thought have potential, as well as which players would gain the most from playing internationally on a USA team and which ones should stay home at that time to focus on training, and similar aspects. (And he and others have taken a LOT of flak for this.)

This does makes more sense at the junior/cadet/mini-cadet level, if the sole goal is to develop teams for the future. However, I've never been completely comfortable with this, preferring players directly earn their spots on the team with perhaps 25% of the team made up of coach's picks. But I've gone along with it, especially since the top coaches from other countries assure me it's the way to go. I had a long discussion with Stellan Bengtsson on this, and he also agreed with this. Who am I to argue with Stellan??? (1971 World Men's Singles Champion, then a world-renowned coach for Sweden, now coaching in San Diego and a member of the USATT High Performance Committee.)

But for the Olympic Team? The arguments fall apart there. Let's suppose we believe that Kanak Jha on the men's side, and Wu Yue, and Lily Zhang on the women's side have earned the right to be on the Olympic Team. Kanak is world #51, Wu Yue is world #46, and Lily Zhang #95 (previously #53). But if we believe they are good enough to have earned their spots, doesn't that imply they have earned that right by showing they are medal contenders by their international performance? So why not simply put it in the pre-qualifying rules that whatever it is they did to earn that right means they pre-qualify? Why not, for example, simply have it that the top two USA players with rankings at least, say, the top 50, 75, or 100 pre-qualify, for all but the final spot? If players know this well in advance, they know what they need to do to qualify. (Even if you do it all by Trials, it's overwhelmingly likely these three would make the team anyway . . . unless someone better comes along.)

And since this gives incentive for them to do more international play, they all get better by this very international experience. Nobody I know of has complained about pre-qualifying, only about a committee choosing players, in particular possibly choosing 4 of the 6 members. (This gives an advantage to players who can afford to travel the world, playing internationally, in addition to playing on USA teams. But to prove yourself internationally, you have to play internationally - and playing internationally will make you better, period.)

I envision a future where we have trials for only one spot because the other spots are all taken by players who prequalify by being medal contenders. But we haven't reached that spot yet. (Maybe I just gave our players incentive to prove me wrong!)

When we are in contention to win medals, then sending those medal contenders is the top priority. But until we reach that point, we shouldn't be selecting by committee which non-medal contender should go over another. It defeats the argument that we are trying to win medals by using committee picks that don't affect our medal outcome, and only affects which non-medal contender gets to be an Olympian and which non-medal contender stays home.

I'm not 100% against any committee selections. There could be a compromise where the final player on each team is selected (so two make each team by Trials, assuming no pre-qualifiers), so we can make sure we get our "best" player to the Olympics, in case he has a bad day at the Trials, or is sick or injured, or in case the coaches want a doubles specialist. We could also have two Trials, with perhaps the two winners making the team. This takes out the problem of a player being injured, sick, or just having a bad day. But setting it up so that we will likely select by committee 4 of the 6? I don't agree with that. This is the OLYMPICS, the biggest sports event in the world, and players should directly earn their right to be on that team.

Another problem we face in having so many committee selections is the simple reality that the players involved are hesitant to complain about the procedures for the simple reason that it would give the appearance they don't trust the ones making the selections (who also created the selection procedures), and so could influence whether they would be selected. This is NOT a criticism of the committee's integrity in any way, but a simple reality that would be true no matter who was on the selection committee. It's a natural concern. I've already had four players tell me they are afraid to speak up for this reason, and others have told me they have heard the same thing. My suggestion is they go to the player reps to voice their concerns, but ask to be kept confidential.

One argument that comes up is comparing our sport to others to see how other sports select their team. Most Olympic sports seem to go mostly or all by Trials. But comparing us to a sport that's not a one-on-one competition (whether singles, doubles, or teams) isn't really the same thing. In track and field, or weight lifting, or similar events, you can measure a player's performance by their results directly, and rank them accordingly. But table tennis is style-oriented, and so how a player does against a player from his own country that he's used to playing isn't quite the same as playing internationally, against players you aren't used to. So comparisons should only be made with similar type sports - such as tennis, badminton, boxing, wresting, judo, etc. (Here's a listing of the Summer Olympic Sports, if anyone wants to investigate how other sports like ours do their selections.)

If you have a strong opinion on this, either for or against, and especially if you are a top player who might be trying out for the 2020 USA Olympic Team (or the coach of one), feel free to contact the USATT Board, especially the player reps (listed at the end), High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio, the High Performance Committee (contact info in the USATT Committee Listing), or the USOC Ombudsmen (contact info at the end of the 2020 Olympic Games Athlete Selection Procedures.

USATT is currently doing a search for a new CEO. (Here's info on that - see last paragraph. We have a CEO search task force already set up.) I jotted down what I considered to be the most important qualities in a table tennis CEO, and then did some Googling of "Qualities of a CEO" and "Qualities of a Leader." I then did some rewriting, and eventually came up with the following "Qualities I'd Like to See in a USATT CEO." (I wanted to get it to ten, but couldn't come close.) In no particular order:

  1. Passion for the job (favors a table tennis background)
  2. Drive to develop the sport
  3. Integrity
  4. Great communicator
  5. Open-minded and willing to listen
  6. Able to think outside the box
  7. Able to learn from the past
  8. Common sense decision-making skills
  9. Able to work with and read people
  10. Able to assemble and inspire a great team
  11. Understands and creatively embraces new technologies and ideas
  12. Understands and able to organize key constituent groups
  13. Able to generate revenues
  14. Looking to turn USATT into a strong brand and lead it in the right direction
  15. Able to compartmentalize and deal with criticism and political battles
  16. Not using us to build a resume and then move on

USATT Teleconference
We had one on Thursday, Jan. 3, for a little over an hour. Topics were the CEO search, Strategic Priorities, and a personnel matter. The Strategic Priorities will likely be voted on at our Jan. 14 teleconference, and then published. (We usually have only one per month, and three in-person meetings per year.) It was initially our Strategic Plan, but I refused to approve it as a "plan" since, at this point, there is no plan in it, just a list of priorities and goals. So we changed it to "Strategic Priories." I'm assured that plans will be added later.

Weekend Coaching
We started a new ten-week Beginning Junior Class on Sunday, 4-5:30PM. There are 14 in the class, with John Hsu and Lidney Castro assisting. I've been teaching these classes for years. U.S. #1 in Ten and Under Boys (and ten and under champion at the Nationals and Open) Stanley Hsu started in my class, as did many others. For the first session, the focus was on grip, ball bouncing, stance, and forehand. Then we finished with games, with the class split between Up-down tables and building the Pretty Good Wall of China out of paper cups on a table, and then taking turns knocking it down as I fed multiball.

From 5:30-7:15 we had the advanced juniors. I fed multiball for half the session, then worked with four of them on serves. One of the kids I worked on made a huge breakthrough - out of nowhere, he suddenly is getting great spin on his backhand serve! After the session ten of the coaches went out to dinner, where we discussed each player.

USATT Coaches of the Year 2018 Announced
Here's the USATT announcement. As coaching chair, I chaired the selection committee. I abstained from voting in the Developmental Coach of the Year category since Coach Wang is a co-coach of mine from MDTTC. One thing that came up was that the only award for Para coaches is at the elite level, for Paralympic Coach of the Year. There was some discussion of having co-Developmental Coaches of the Year. I suggested we simply add the category of Para Developmental Coach of the Year, and it was unanimously agreed - and so we now have a new category. Congrats to:

  • Coach of the Year: Kanak Jha's Coaches Team: Jörg Bitzigeio, Stefan Feth, Dirk Wagner
  • Mark Nordby Developmental Coach of the Year: Wang Qingliang
  • Para Developmental Coach of the Year: Sean O'Neill
  • Paralympic Coach of the Year: Gary Fraiman
  • Doc Counsilman Technology Coach of the Year: Samson Dubina
  • Volunteer Coach of the Year: Mike Lauro

Books I Read and Movies I Saw in 2018
For those with a rabid interest in what I do in my free time, here's a listing of the 84 books I read and 130 movies I saw in theaters in 2018. I'm always amazed at how few books American read. But I'm guessing most of you are more amazed at the 130 movies I saw! Yes, I'm a movie buff, and saw many late-night movies, often after coaching. But many of them were close to free, due to MoviePass (which worked for half the year) and volume bonuses. However, I'm guessing most of you spent more time watching TV than I did movies! I just like the movie experience - always with a popcorn and Mr. Pibb. (They don't have Mountain Dew at the regal Germantown Theater, which is three minutes from me.)

Gordon Kaye Appointed ITTF Managing Director of Product Innovation
Here's the ITTF announcement of their hiring of the former USATT CEO. Gordon resigned to take this job - we're going to miss him!

New from Samson Dubina

  • Facebook Live Q & A Session. "On Saturday, Jan 12th at 5pm, I'll be doing a Facebook Live Session answering your table tennis questions."
  • It Ain't Piano. "If you ever took piano lessons, you probably know that there is a very systematic approach for beginners."
  • 20 Different Opponents! "Playing the right tactics is one of the vital keys to winning your next match.  In order to know which tactics to play, it is often helpful to label your opponent as a looper, chopper, lobber, blocker, etc.  Once you have placed him in a category, then you can begin making a game-plan."
  • 5 Levels of Communication. "To reach your highest potential, you and your coach must communicate on a detailed level realizing that communication is a two-way street."

Powerful Backhand like Jon Persson
Here's the article and video (5:23) from EmRatThich.

New from Steve Hopkins

New from Eli Baraty

Why is Boll Strong? #4
Here's the article and video (3:36).

Team USA Trains with Boxing Coach
Here are the videos!

Strawberry Flips . . . Forever!
Here's the video (47 sec) of this extremely deceptive shot. Stefan Feth popularized and coined the term "strawberry flip." It's the opposite type of sidespin on a banana flip, and he told me that he needed another fruit to call it, so came up with strawberry! (A banana flip is called that because the forward swing of the stroke is banana shaped.) The player doing it here is Romain Ruiz of France.

China's Liu Guoliang on Japan's Tomokazu Harimoto
Here's the video (6:16) with English subtitles.

Table Tennis Training Methods in China
Here's the video (8:10) from Table Tennis Destiny.

Exclusive Interview: Brazilian Table Tennis Star - Hugo Calderano!
Here's the ITTF video (7:14). He's the world #6 from Brazil.

Interview with Coach Jack Huang
Here's the interview by Ayan Bagchi on my fellow Hall-of-Fame coach at MDTTC.

Peace. Passion. Pride. Unified Korea!
Here's the ITTF article on the unified Korean team that will compete at the 2018 Worlds. Includes link to video (14:38).

Time For a Table Tennis Tune-up
Here's the article by Coach Jon. "Well, 2019 is here and it’s time to make some table tennis resolutions. I’m always willing to make a few suggestions as to how you might have a more successful year playing your favorite sport."

Teen Wins Table Tennis Gold While Observing Jewish Fast Day
Here's the article featuring Estee Ackerman.

This Cincinnati Table Tennis Club is Known Worldwide
Here's the article.

2018 West Coast Teams in Newark
Here's the article and pictures from Shashin Shodhan.

Best Table Tennis Shots in Vietnam
Here's the video (3:54).

ITTF Top 10 Table Tennis Points of 2018
Here's the ITTF video 6:40) from DHS.

Around-the-Net Backhand Loop Roller
Here's the video (41 sec, including slo-mo replay).

Pianist Pong
Here's the podcast - Dec. 31 broadcast, Show 262 (table tennis is from 19:20-19:40), featuring Tristan Parody, a 17-year-old pianist from Burbank, California. (She's introed at 15:10.) "I know you're on the tennis team. I hear you're a vicious competitor at the ping pong table as well." "Many people I play in ping pong I learn from.  Each person I play I learn from them and then, I destroy them."

Ping-Pong Kid Trick Shots
Here's the video (76 sec)

Catch the Spin!
Here's the video (13 sec).

Ponginfity - Best Ping Pong Shots of 2018
Here's the video (5:02)!

Panda Pong Ad
Here's the ad (15 sec) from Cox Communication for their ping-pong game played as pandas, with Gigablast Internet.

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igorponger's picture

USA Team at boxing session. How can we see this?


 So, this link seems to take me nowhere. No video can be found/   Why?


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: USA Team at boxing session. How can we see this?

It works when I go there. However, I just realized it's a Facebook page, and so those not on Facebook might not be able to see it. Not sure.