November 2, 2020

Tip of the Week
Backhand Chopping in an Emergency.

Table of Contents
This blog has a lot of stuff, so here's a quick listing of the major items, with links to take you to them.

George Braithwaite RIP
It's hard to believe that this fixture in USA Table Tennis since roughly forever is gone. He died of Covid-19. Over the years, I had many great discussions with him on developing table tennis in the US, including during his years as a USATT vice president. I also had a great time watching and sometimes doing match coverage of his many senior battles with Dave Sakai, Lim Ming Chui, and Dell Sweeris, as well as some earlier ones with a rising junior, Eric Boggan. He was a great sportsman and a constant cheerful presence.

Here's an interesting tidbit involving George and I. For many years - decades, really - he and I, and a lot of others, played in lots and Lots and LOTS of tournaments. There was always a central group of dozens of players who played all the major and regional tournaments. Most of them I'd end up playing a dozen times or more. But for some weird statistical quirk, in all those years I only played George once in a tournament. We used to jokingly accuse each other of ducking each other.

I vividly remember the one time we played, probably early 1990s. We were both rated about 2270, but he was much, much older. I started out well, and almost won the first game. What happened was that, as the match went on, it became obvious that George was figuring me out. I was strong on the forehand, so it was dangerous to go there or to my middle, which I'd cover with my forehand. I was super-steady on the backhand, so he couldn't get through me there, and if he went there too much, I'd step around and rip a forehand. I sound invincible, right? But that's only looking at individual shots. George found patterns that created weaknesses, such as going to my middle to draw me out of position, I'd play forehand, then he'd go wide to my forehand, moving me farther out of position - but I'd often still make a strong shot. (If he'd gone to my forehand first, I'd be in position and would often end the point with one shot.) But it wouldn't matter, because the next shot would be to my wide backhand, and the rest of the point I'd be fishing and lobbing. (He couldn't get past my off-table defense with one shot. But he never missed, and he always placed the ball perfectly.) Other times he'd go to my middle, but a bit toward my backhand side, getting me to play a backhand away from my backhand corner - and once again he'd follow with a shot to my wide backhand, and I'd be on defense the rest of the way. He had trouble with my serves - everyone does - but that lasted about half a game, and then he handled them well. He won two straight close games. We never played again.

Here are some links.

USATT Election
The USATT election began Oct. 29 and continues until Dec. 13. (I'm not sure why they needed six and a half weeks for an email election, but that's the way it's set up. I think there's some other election happening tomorrow.) I wrote about this in my Oct. 26 blog, where I strongly endorsed Khoa Nguyen and Thomas Hu, and also endorsed Will Shortz for Club Rep, though both candidates for that spot were good, the other being Mike Babuin. One big piece of news - Susan Sarandon, the actress and founder of SPiN Table Tennis has endorsed Thomas Hu! He now has 46 testimonials on the Thomas Hu for USATT Board of Directions Facebook page.

USATT High Performance Committee Removes World Ranking as Criteria to Make National Team
Minutes of High Performance Committee Taken Down
Chair of USATT High Performance Committee Resigns
Oh My!!!

It's been a crazy week with USA Table Tennis. I've never written a segment in my blog that's left me so confused. The following segment should only be read by insane USATT members who find diving into silly USATT business as gratifying as, say, arguing politics or drinking lava. Feel free to skip it and go on to the other good stuff that follows.

We'll start with Bruce Liu's resignation as chair of the High Performance Committee (HPC). He emailed his resignation letter to USATT on Oct. 27 and posted it on several Facebook pages. Here it is on the Table Tennis Think Tank page, which gives his reasons. If you are unable to see that, here is a graphical version. Here are the two links he includes, to the minutes of the High Performance Committee meetings in September and October:

There are two issues here:

  1. Removing world rankings as criteria for making the National Team
  2. The minutes of the Sept. 29 and Oct. 13 HPC meetings - specifically, the emails that were included

USATT had been putting the top USA man and woman on the team, provided they were in the top 50 in the world (such as Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang). The HPC voted 3-2 to remove world ranking as a criterion. Voting to remove it were Jimmy Butler, Amy Feng, and Angela Guan; voting to keep them were chair Bruce Liu and Khoa Nguyen. Others expressed their opinions on this, with CEO Virginia Sung against using world rankings, while High Performance Director Sean O'Neill and High Performance Manager Doru Gheorghe were in favor of using them. (I'll get to this shortly, but you can see their emails in the link above for the 10/13/2020 meeting minutes.)

The general thinking on this, and all or most top countries do, is to either automatically qualify players with very high world rankings (such as top 50  in the world), or have a committee pick for perhaps the final spot on the team. This way a team always has their best players, the ones who have already proven their level with their performances over the past year. Some say this is unfair, that others do not have the opportunity to play internationally and get a world ranking, but this is not about them; this is about players who have (and I repeat myself here) already proven their level, and not just showing they are good enough to be on the team, but that they are the best on the team over the past year - and so definitely in the top four or so that would make the team. But now they might not be on the team, despite proving their level consistently over a full year.

The problem is if you are sick or injured, or have a bad day, tough; you're off the team. This problem is partly eliminated by USATT automatically qualifying whoever wins men's and women's singles at the Nationals, which is an argument for not using world rankings, since that way players get two chances to make the Team. (But only one man and woman can win the Nationals.) Some of us remember, for example, the case of Eric Boggan. He first won the US Nationals at age 15, when he wasn't a top seed. After that, he made the Men's Final six more times, and I'm pretty certain he was top seed all six times - but only won once, getting upset five times by US players who had learned how to play his game. But internationally, he was easily our best player during those years. If he'd been sick or injured during the Trials during those years, he wouldn't have been on the National Team despite reaching #17 in the world. I also remember the decade when the Hungarians had three players who could challenge and beat the Chinese - could you imagine them showing up at the Worlds without all three? Or China showing up without their best?

Some may think that's fine, let them all battle it out equally, but then you go to the World Championships and your team isn't that good because your best players might not be there. Note that our funding from USOPC is partially based on our international results and rankings.

I could make a seemingly strong argument for either side, but have to lean toward either automatically qualifying our best man and woman (assuming they are in the top 50 in the world, which would make sure Kanak Jha and Lily Zhang, both currently ranked #27 in the world, are on the team, with Wu Yue just behind at #32); or having the final spot selected by committee.

Thomas Hu, one of the candidates running for the USATT At-Large position, asked constituents on his page what they thought in neutral language, and created a poll. The results are not scientific, but do show a trend - the current vote is 27-4 to keep world rankings as a criterion for making the National Team.

These minutes were written up by Chair Bruce Liu. They were then sent to the HPC for approval, using the standard "unanimous consent" method recommended for the approval of minutes by Robert's Rules of Order. (This is how previous minutes for the HPC had been approved, and numerous issues with USATT when I was on the Board. There's nothing nefarious here.) When he sent them to the committee, he wrote, "Please let me know if you have any questions by the end of Thursday 10/22. Will submit the two minutes for USATT to publish." When no one had questions at the end of Thursday, Oct. 22 (three days later), he sent them to USATT for publication, and the staff published them on the USATT Committee Minutes Page this past Monday, Oct. 26, a full week after the notice sent to the HPC.

As I was about to post my blog last Monday (Oct. 26), I did a quick check of to see if there were any updates, and saw the minutes for the HPC meetings had just gone up. So I did a short segment on them, including a note about them, "which includes a number of emails giving the thoughts of committee members and others."

Fireworks!!! Explosions!!! Pandemonium!!!

USATT CEO Virginia Sung had not seen the HPC minutes before they were published. (Nothing nefarious there; they are committee minutes, created by the committee.) She told me she first saw them after seeing the link in my blog. She was not happy about the five emails that were included in the minutes. They included one from her, and others from High Performance Director Sean O'Neill, High Performance Manager Doru Gheorghe, HPC Chair Bruce Liu, and HPC Member Angela Guan. Each stated their opinion on whether USATT should use world rankings as a criterion for selecting National Teams.

Virginia made some phone calls, and was apparently told by one or two HPC members that they had never specifically voted to approve the HPC minutes. She ordered the USATT staff to take them down. She then called me, and asked that I remove the segment I'd written, since she said that the HPC minutes were not approved. Not knowing at the time that they had actually been approved (by unanimous consent), I agreed and removed the segment about two hours or so after I had posted the blog.

Now comes the really interesting part. I learned later that the minutes had been approved by unanimous consent, plus Bruce posted them online. I've now had five phone calls from CEO Virginia about the world rankings issue. I'm not going to give out the details of these discussions, but the primary argument is that the five emails shouldn't be included in the minutes. The argument was initially that the minutes hadn't actually been approved, but that argument fell apart once it became apparent that they had been approved by unanimous consent. I'm not 100% certain when they first began making the argument that the minutes weren't done properly, though it took six days before I was given anything specific on this - more on that below.

The HPC minutes that I linked to above (along with Bruce's resignation letter) are now highly public - at last count, they have been shared on at least 15 Facebook pages plus the forum. As to the attached emails, as I pointed out to USATT, sending a letter to a USATT committee and demanding that that letter remain secret is no different than standing up in a public meeting and giving your opinion, and then demanding that your opinion be kept secret. USATT is a public organization, and so there is no expectation of privacy.

USATT put out a response to the controversy on Friday, Oct. 30, about taking down the HPC minutes:
USA Table Tennis Statement Regarding High Performance Committee

(Colorado Springs, CO – October 30, 2020) – Ever since the USOPC required governance changes as a means of bringing USATT into compliance with best practices in nonprofit procedures, USATT has endeavored to promote improvements throughout the corporation and its committees.  This process does not occur overnight, and when we see things that need to be changed, we change them.  When HPC's practices regarding corporate minutes did not follow our own corporate guidelines or best practices as articulated by leading nonprofit scholars and nonprofit organizations, our outside counsel notified the HPC, explained the problems with HPC's processes, and recommended changes.  Counsel also advised USATT to take the minutes down to give the HPC an opportunity to handle them properly. The HPC Chair choose to resign rather than to accept this advice.  The issues regarding the minutes is largely procedural, and the suggestion that USATT is hiding something is fanciful, as anyone who reads the original minutes and materials will readily see for themselves. Procedures will be followed and the HPC minutes will be edited to comply with best practices and reposted to the USATT website. USATT will continue to focus on improving its governance in every respect that it can.

When I read it, I went, huh???

There were many problems with it, including several grammar problems that shouldn't be in such an official document, but that's a minor issue and I won't go into that. The notice says, "the suggestion that USATT is hiding something is fanciful." And yet:

  • The notice says that the HPC didn't follow USATT's "corporate guidelines" or "best practices" - but doesn't specify what corporate guidelines or best practices were not followed. These need to be cited.
  • It says, "The issues regarding the minutes is largely procedural" - but doesn't specify which procedures were not followed.
  • It says, "…outside counsel notified the HPC, explained the problems with HPC's processes, and recommended changes" and "Counsel also advised USATT to take the minutes down to give the HPC an opportunity to handle them properly" - but it doesn't show any actual notice from the counsel or any statement specifying what the problems were that the counsel raised. This would be a simple matter of citing the bylaws or Robert's Rules of Order.
  • Plus, there is the obvious fact that USATT is trying to hide (with little success) the emails that were sent to the committee. In a public organization like USATT, when people email their opinion to a committee, they have no reasonable expectation of privacy. These are neither personnel nor legal matters that require confidentiality. It's no different than stating your opinion in an open meeting and then demanding that nobody repeat what you said.

Whether on purpose or not, USATT is literally claiming they are not hiding anything while openly hiding things. I sent a version of the above to CEO Virginia on Friday (Oct. 30) after I read the notice. She called, and we discussed it again, but none of the above was resolved. Finally, late last night (Sunday), I had an email exchange with the USATT lawyer. He claimed that the minutes were improper because he didn't think they followed Robert's Rules of Order, 12th Edition, 48:2-6. (Feel free to dive into that if you choose.) I'm not sure I disagree, but I have no plans to get into a long discussion of Robert's Rules here - to me, it's a moot point, since the minutes were taken down initially because of the claim that they had not been voted on by HPC, as Virginia told me. (And it's quite possible some of those members did not know the term "unanimous consent," though it had been used in two previous minutes approvals.) And so it appears they were just looking for a technicality to rationalize taking the minutes down.

And so the conclusion is that a lot of time and energy were expended to keep those emails private, even though they are widely public. This makes no sense to me - they are already public. All it is doing is creating a public relations nightmare for USATT. The comments on this on Facebook and elsewhere are pretty negative, including some scathing ones from Kanak Jha's father.

So what exactly is in these emails that is so controversial? Absolutely nothing, other than showing the opinions and arguments of these interested parties. As noted above, there is no expectation of privacy here, and they are already widely public. And since this is all closely part of the issue whether to use world rankings or not, let's look at where everyone involved stands. (Remember, on the HPC members vote, and it passed 3-2.)

=>FOR keeping world rankings as a consideration for team selection: 

  • High Performance Director Sean O'Neill (as explained in his email)
  • High Performance Manager Doru Gheorghe (as explained in his email)
  • High Performance Committee Chair Bruce Liu (as explained in his email and by his vote; he resigned on Oct. 27)
  • High Performance Committee Member Khoa Nguyen and current USATT At-Large candidate (as noted by his vote)

=>AGAINST keeping world rankings as a consideration for team selection:

  • CEO Virginia Sung (as explained in her email)
  • High Performance Member Jimmy Butler (as noted by his vote)
  • High Performance Member Amy Feng (as noted by her vote)
  • High Performance Member Angela Guan (as explained by her email and vote, though she was on the fence until near the end; she cites Virginia's email in giving her reasoning)

I don't think Sean or Doru care that their emails are public; in all of the discussions of the past week (there have been a LOT), this hasn't come up, and they are simply sharing opinions I believe they have consistently held in the past. Bruce and Angela are both on the HPC, so their emails are part of the committee discussion. The only other email is CEO Virginia's. I have no idea why she doesn't want it public, but the cow's already out of the barn on that.

She has an opinion, as expressed in her email, that world rankings shouldn't be used in selecting National Teams. That's fine; if you have an opinion and an argument justifying it, then stand behind it. (You can always change your mind later.) But you can't email a committee in a public organization and have an expectation that it'll be private. (The only "legal" question is whether they should specifically be in the minutes, a pointless argument now.)

But the part I simply don't get is why, when the HPC minutes with the emails are now widely public and seen by all interested parties, is there still a fight to keep them off the USATT committee minutes page? What's the point, unless the goal is lots of bad publicity and unhappy constituents?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the CEO of an organization, like Virginia, getting involved and expressing her opinion. She did so in the HPC Sept. 29 meeting, where the minutes say she and Bruce discussed using world rankings for 27 minutes. She did so at the Oct. 13 USATT Board Teleconference (held just before the HPC meeting on that date), an open meeting that I attended, where she also said she was against using world rankings. She made the argument in her email to the HPC, which was cited by Angela Guan in her reasoning on this in her email to the HPC.

I've now had five phone calls from Virginia on this topic. I have no battle with Virginia, but I'm perplexed by the attempt to keep her involvement in this "secret" and the attempt to find a technicality to do so, even though it's widely public. (It also keeps "secret" that both the High Performance Director and High Performance Manager recommended we continue to use world rankings. Both sides have arguments, whether you agree with them or not.) If you have a strong opinion on something, as she obviously does here, then make your argument and own it. And as noted above, you can always change your mind.

=>BREAKING NEWS: CEO Virginia Sung has posted a blog, "Chop & Smash by Virginia Sung," that explains some of her side of the HPC situation. Most of it as fine. However, in the last paragraph, it says, "In addition, there is no such thing as 'unanimous consent' to approve minutes under our Bylaws or corporate law in the way the HPC acted." (Italics mine.) This is an example of argument by assertion, similar to the assertions made in the USATT Statement that I pointed out. Robert's Rules of Order makes it clear that "unanimous consent" is the standard way to approve minutes, saying, "The correction and approval of minutes is an example of business that is normally handled by unanimous consent." But Virginia's statement seems to disagree - until we get to the last part of the sentence, where it says, " the way the HPC acted." But it doesn't explain what was improper "in the way the HPC acted," and so it is an example of argument by assertion. I don't see how they can argue that the unanimous consent used by the HPC was improper, but I'm also tired of responding to vague assertions where I have to do their research. If there's something improper with how the HPC used unanimous consent, then they need to say what it is, not just assert it. 

USOPC Opens Ethics Investigation
[BREAKING NEWS added one day late, on Tuesday]
Here's the news item about former USATT board chair Anne Cribbs. Yikes! I'm glad I got off the board when I did - a lot of bad stuff seems to have happened afterwards. We'll see how this turns out. And try to remember - innocent until proven guilty. 

Weekend Coaching
On Saturday I did my weekly session with Navin Kumar. He likes to put up videos of him smashing against my lobs, but that's only part of his training, which we usually do at the end of the session. Here are two videos from our past session - we got into the Halloween spirit for the first one!

  • Halloween Smash - Hulk vs. Scream! (1:29)! Strange thing was that I discovered that with the mask on, I could barely lob, since it cut off my peripheral vision. When lobbing, if you try following the ball all the way into your racket, you'd hurt your neck and your head would be moving so fast you couldn't really see anyway. So you only watch the ball partway, and your peripheral vision does the rest. I didn't realize until I tried lobbing with the Scream mask just how important that was!
  • Smash vs. Lob - and Blowing the Ball (1:44) - make sure to see the last five seconds!

On Sunday I worked with our junior program. The last few weeks I've actually done a lot of one-on-one hitting with players and a lot of multiball, but this session I ran four tables/eight players the entire time, walking around. The big change for me was that, for this, I had to wear a mask, which I normally only do for short periods of time, such as when shopping. This time I had to wear it the entire 90 minutes. We did a lot of basic drills, focusing on strokes and footwork. Toward the end we switched to serve and receive games, where they played games, moving up and down tables - but we'd give certain rules, such as had to serve long to the backhand, or had to serve short to the forehand, with the receiver returning to the server's middle.

USATT Coaches Meeting
USATT High Performance Director Sean O'Neill has been organizing bi-monthly Zoom meetings for all USATT Coaches. They are normally the second and fourth Friday every month, usually at noon eastern time, and last about 30-60 minutes. Sean announces each meeting, including agenda and the link to attend, on the USATT Coaches Facebook Page. I attended the one last Friday, which started at noon and lasted about 54 minutes. Attending were Sean O'Neill, High Performance Manager Doru Gheorghe, Director of Para Programs Jasna Rather, Samson Dubina, Mike Lauro, and Larry Hodges (me). I'm hoping we get more coaches to these meetings. Here's the meeting video (53:45). Some of the items discussed included:

  • T2 (Thursday Night Live), both the completed season and the upcoming season that starts Nov. 18. Here's the info page.
  • There was a discussion of what USA coaches could use from USATT. I suggested sports psychology (such as videos), which I think is a weakness of many junior programs. Mike suggested Hotspot help, and Samson suggested recognition of players for achievements - such as automated emails congratulating a player for reaching, for example, top ten in their age group.

USATT's Thursday Night Live - Season 2
Here's the info page. The new season starts Nov. 18. "USATT and T2 wants you to be a part of the exciting upcoming season 2 of Thursday Night Challenge - T2 Challenge.  Preliminary rounds will be open to the public and we invite you to register at your local tennis club located near you.  The top 32 players will then advance to Season 2 of the Thursday Night LIVE - T2 Challenge which starts November 30th, 2020 and goes to February 2021. The Finals will be in taken place Feb 16-19 in LAS VEGAS!" [NOTE - I'm told there is $43,000 in prize money, but I don't see that listed in the info page.]

New from Samson Dubina

How to Play Deceptive Shots – with Craig Bryant
Here's the video (5:21), from Tom Lodziak.

I Got Coached by Dimitrij Ovtcharov!
Here's the video (8:42) from Table Tennis Daily.

USATT Ratings Calculator
Here it is! From a posting in "I am Tony Ma and you may know me from the USATT 2000 in 2 Years video on YouTube, but I'm posting here today to tell you guys about a mobile app I created. I am studying computer science in college so I decided to use my skills and work on a project relating to something I was passionate about, table tennis! The result is a "USATT Rating Calculator" app which word for word implements the USA Table Tennis rating system explanation on their website. It is currently both on the Android Google Play Store and iOS App Store AND now I have also created a website for it I think it turned out pretty good but there's always room for improvement so I'd love to hear your guys' feedback so don't be afraid to tell me what I could improve for future updates!"

New from Steve Hopkins

USA Table Tennis and Happy Paradise Foundation Team Up for Third Year of Pong4Kids Grant Program
Here's the USATT news item.

The Darkside
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

New from the ITTF
Here's their home page and news page.

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here!

Contender for Point of the Year?
Here's the video (33 sec) of Sharon Alguetti (near side) vs. Samson Dubina.

Halloween Video of "Ghost" Serves
Here's the video (1:58) from TI Long Table Tennis!

Halloween Multiball with Wei Qi

Happy Halloween from Butterfly and JOOLA!

"Holey" Racket
Here's where you can buy one!

How to Defend in Table Tennis
Here's the video (5:09) from Pongfinity - but this one's also instructional!

Email Exchange with Online Scammer
On Oct. 28, 2020, I received an email from someone claiming to be Teodor (Doru) Gheorghe, USATT National Teams Coach/Manager. He quickly tried to convince me to send him money. I double-checked with the real Doru (who is the USATT High Performance Director - here's his USATT bio), and he verified his account had been hacked. I decided to have some fun, and so strung the guy along with a series of emails, where I kept promising to send him money, but in return asking for his coaching advice, as he was the "Great Doru," the "Greatest Table Tennis Coach in History." Throughout it I asked him on advice on how to play Kanak Jha in our upcoming league match, who I said played with the Seemiller grip, with long pips and anti, and all sorts of nonsensical semi-table tennis technical terms, like banana serves, forehand pendulum receives, and double axels. He didn't answer my last two emails, alas.

Making this even funnier is that I began BCCing the real Doru on these (after sending him an explanatory email). I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the real Doru did give me advice on how to play Kanak - he wrote me, " Use your baseball bat. You might have a chance."

IMPORTANT -  For best effect, go to the very bottom and read in order from there.  

Here are the emails. Enjoy!!!