November 30, 2020

Tip of the Week
Letting an Opponent Control Play is Risky.

Sports Illustrated
They have an article in the new issue, Table Tennis Remains Diversity's Best Kept Secret. (I think it's in the December print issue.) The story features one of my students, Navin Kumar, as well as Nancy Zhou, Dr. Tsz Lun (Alan) Chu, Ibrahim Hamadtou, Anushka Oak, and Lily Zhang. Navin's involvement (and I think some of the others) came about when the writer contacted me with a series of questions about diversity in table tennis. I thought about it for a few days, and realized I was probably not the right person to interview about this. To use a metaphor, cars are important, but I'm probably not the person to interview about cars. (What's a carburetor? I have no idea.) So I sent them some other contacts, and then turned them over to Navin, who is Indian, as well as having Parkinson's (bronze in singles, silver in doubles at the 2019 World Parkinson's Table Tennis Championships) as well as having a mostly artificial heart.

Why Doesn't Table Tennis Get More Exposure?
I was asked on Facebook recently (by Mike Clardy) why our sport gets so little TV (and online) exposure from the major venues, while sports like bowling, darts, and even axe throwing get more coverage. Here was my response (with some minor updating).

It's always been a strange phenomenon that table tennis gets so little TV exposure in the US, while more obscure sports (and in some cases, "sports") are on TV. There have been a few isolated cases, such as ESPN's coverage of table tennis circa 1980, and we had some TV exposure in the early 1990s due to Dan Seemiller's efforts. But these are the exceptions. In general, table tennis doesn't get nearly as much TV exposure as other, seemingly lesser sports. The same thing applies to the various major online venues as well. But long ago I realized why. I'm going to explain with a seemingly non-related item - the history of Star Trek.

In 1964, Gene Roddenberry went to Desilu Productions with the idea for Star Trek. It was well-thought out, but was so revolutionary that it was turned down by CBS and NBC. The board of Desilu also voted against producing it - but they were overruled by their owner, Lucille Ball, of "I Love Lucy" fame. Ball liked the idea and championed it, and made Star Trek happen. If not for her, there would be no Star Trek. (Here's an article about it from Entertainment Weekly and here's another from Star

How does this relate to table tennis? Well, look at all those sports and "sports" that get exposure on TV. Also look at all the bad movies and TV shows that get made. Why does that happen? Because of each of them had a "champion" who made it happen. It means that no matter what you do, there is an element of luck in getting something produced on TV.

However - and this is the BIG HOWEVER - there's a saying in sports that champions make their own luck. What that means when it comes to getting on TV is two-fold. (And now I'm going to cleverly and completely change the meaning of the word "champion.") First, you have to find your champion. Second, you have to sell your champion. In the case of Star Trek, Roddenberry went to multiple networks and studios in search of a champion, and found one in Lucille Ball. Then he was able to sell her on the idea. She championed its production, and the result is history.

In the case of all those bad movies, TV shows, and "sports" that get more TV and online coverage in the US than table tennis, they all did the same thing - they looked for and sold themselves to a champion, and that champion made it happen.

What does this mean for table tennis in the US? Occasionally someone from USATT or elsewhere looks for a champion, but is unable to sell it. Others might be able to sell it, but aren't looking for that champion, or don't know how to do so. More often, neither happens. And so (with rare, temporary exceptions), we have never found and sold ourselves to a champion to get table tennis regularly on TV in the US.

How can we change this? Simple, and by that, I mean the idea is simple, but the execution not so easy. It means going to those people (like Lucille ball) who are in a position to put both good and bad movies, TV shows, sports, and "sports" on TV and large online venues, and selling them on table tennis, just as Roddenberry did with Star Trek. It's how all those good and bad productions got on TV. All we have to do is to follow in their footsteps, and keep doing so until we find our champion - i.e. we MAKE our luck. (Hopefully as a sport, not a "sport.") If all goes well, someday someone will point at us and say, "How come a 'sport' like table tennis gets so much TV exposure, while our sport doesn't?"

One addendum I'd add to the above is that when we do get coverage, we need to make it stand out (duh!). Many focus on the personalities, which is important. But equally important, and maybe even more so, is to focus on conflicting styles. One of the reasons people love to watch Federer vs. Nadal in tennis is that clash of styles - the elegant Federer, with his power forehand and one-handed backhand, vs. the runs-down-everywhere Nadal with his topspinning forehand and two-handed backhand. One of the reasons the current world #1, Novak Djokovic, is considered boring is that he doesn't really bring anything exciting, style-wise - he's basically a robotic backboard who never misses. The same is true of the past tennis - think of the clash in styles of McEnroe (net-rusher) vs Borg (two-winged topspinner) v. Connors (aggressive flat hitter). Or boxing - who could forget the dancing, boxing style of Muhammed Ali vs. the constantly coming-at-you attack of Joe Frazier? (Okay, I'm dating myself.)

In the past, table tennis at the top had more styles, but many of those styles are almost dead now - pips-out hitters, choppers, even Seemiller grip players. The difference in styles is more subtle, so it's more important that the commentators and public relations directors emphasize the differences - for example, the backhand dominance of Japan's Tomokazu Harimoto vs. the off-table topspins of Xu Xin vs. the two-winged blistering attacks of Ma Long and Fan Zhendong.

Weekend Coaching and MDTTC Juniors
On Sunday, I worked mostly with two of the younger players in the junior session, with a focus (as usual) on fundamentals. One thing that always surprises me about younger kids - they are fascinated with serves, and given a choice, will often choose to do that (and do ball pickup!) rather than actually, you know, play!!! Afterwards, I stayed late and hit with two of our 1800 juniors. I'm way, Way, WAY out of shape after eight months of pandemic isolation (i.e. mostly sitting in my lounge chair reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, and watching TV), and when I played a practice match with one of them, it showed.

This was the first Friday-Sunday after Thanksgiving since 1975 that I didn't play or coach at the North American Table Tennis Teams Championships (previously the US Teams). My first year was 1976, when I was 16, and it's been 44 years in a row until now. It was cancelled this year.  

All these cancelled tournaments is, of course, disappointing to the kids, who train so hard for them, as well as the incredible coaching staff that works with them. I'm pretty proud of our players. In the new rankings that came out last week (after the Presper Financial Architects Open in Ohio, which didn't get cancelled), in Hopes Boys (12 and under), my club (MDTTC) now has the #1, 3, 5, and 6 players in the country, with ratings of 2286, 2078, 2020, and 1994. We also have the #2 and #3 in 11 and under, at 2078 and 1994 - these two are also in the Hopes rankings at #3 and # 6, and have another year of eligibility. We also have the #1 in 9 and under. (The latter plays out of Philadelphia but trains with us on weekends.) We also have 7 of the 21 players in Mini-Cadet Boys (13 and under). Along with my great fellow coaches, I've worked extensively with most of these players, several of them starting out with me. Here's a listing of some of our top junior players.

  • Stanley Hsu (12, 2286, #1 in Hopes Boys, National Hopes Champion)
  • Tiffany Ke (16, 2220, #12 in Junior Girls, but recently #1 with a rating over 2400, with two years of eligibility left, National Team Squad)
  • Nicole Deng (14, 2116, National Mini-Cadet Champion, National Team Squad, trains with us on weekends)
  • Ryan Lin (11, 2078, #3 in Hopes Boys, #2 in 11 and Under)
  • William Wu (14, 2071)
  • James Zhang (13, 2059, #14 in mini-cadets)
  • Stephanie Zhang (17, 2038)
  • Lance Wei (13, 2027, #17 in mini-cadets)
  • Mu Du (12, 2020, #5 in Hopes Boys)
  • Winston Wu (11, 1994, #6 in Hopes Boys, #3 in 11 and Under)
  • Ryan Lee (13, 1986, #21 in mini-cadets)
  • Arjun Kumar (9, 1585, #1 in 9 and Under, trains with us on weekends)
  • A dozen others from 1600-1900

On Saturday, I had my weekly session with Navin Kumar. (As I've often noted, I'm retired from private coaching except for these sessions.) He made a breakthrough on attacking pushes with his long pips (no sponge), as he's gaining confidence in taking the ball right off the bounce and "bumping" it with a quick topspin. His forehand was also much stronger than usual this session. Here's video (14 sec).

World Table Tennis
Here's their home page, with the large title, "Introducing World Table Tennis: A New Perspective." WTT was set up by the ITTF to run all of their events.

Here's the ITTF home page for World Table Tennis Macao, held Nov. 25-29 in Macao, China (where they have created a "bubble" for players and others involved, due to the pandemic), with complete results, articles, pictures, and video. Note the links to Prize Money ($400,000, including $15,000 appearance fees), Playing Format, and Scoring - the latter two are especially of interest.

USATT Coverage (from World Table Tennis)

Other Articles and Video

USATT Coaches Meeting
The Zoom meeting was on Friday, Nov. 27, at 11AM. Here's video of the meeting (83 min), hosted by Sean O'Neill. The meetings usually take place the second and fourth Friday of each month, and usually last about an hour - and ALL USATT coaches are invited to attend to ask questions and give their thoughts. (Info on each meeting is posted in advance in the USATT Coaches Facebook page.) Discussions included Coaches feedback on their latest activities; Coach of the Year award; SafeSport/Background Checks; Articles for the USATT website; National Development Team; World Table Tennis Feedback; and perhaps of most interest to viewers, a great discussion of coaching between games that starts at 16:56 where all five of us give our thoughts on this. There were five of us attending:

  • USATT High Performance Director and five-time US Men's Singles Champion Sean O'Neill
  • USATT High Performance Manager and long-time USA Women's Team Coach Doru Gheorghe
  • USA National Team Coach and 8-time US Women's Singles Champion and former world #3) Gao Jun
  • USATT Certified National Coach and 2018 USATT Volunteer Coach of the Year Mike Lauro
  • Me

Champion and Great Entertainer, Jacques Secretin passes (1949-2020)
Here's the ITTF obit. He was a big star in the 1970s and 80s, reaching #3 in the world, 1976 European Men's Singles Champion, 1977 World Mixed Doubles Champion (along with four silver medals), and completely dominating French table tennis for decades. (Here's his Wikipedia page.) Besides his lefty topspin attacking, he was also known for his lobbing - when I started out in 1976, I was told he was one of the "Big Three Lobbers" - Secretin, Surbek, and Hasegawa. However, he was best known as half of the famous "Secretin-Purkart" exhibition team - he was the brilliant and incredibly skillful straight man to Vincent Purkart's clowning. Here's video from their exhibitions (8:20). Here's another article, Jacques Secrétin, the legend of table tennis, is dead, from World Today News, with more pictures and great video.

PongNow: Ty Hoff
Here's the video (20:17) by Steve Hopkins. Ty and I have a long history. I was one of his original coaches. His first coaching came at the 1980 Perry Schwartzberg Camp in Wilson, NC, where I was Perry's assistant coach. Later, Ty hired me as a private coach for I think three days in New Bern, NC. Still later, Ty and I teamed up to nine US Open and Nationals Hardbat Doubles titles. (I also won singles twice, while he won I think four times. I normally use sponge.) We also made the quarterfinals of Men's Doubles at the Nationals one year. In 1990, when I became the director of the Resident Table Tennis Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, I brought in Ty as the dorm manager, where he also acted as a practice partner.

Table Tennis Took Angie Bengtsson Around the world, Letting Her Share Her Native Heritage
Here's the USATT article

New from Samson Dubina

Table Tennis VOD Review #5 - Need to Be More Stable
Here's the video (32:50) from Louis Levene, where he analyzes a match.

World's Best Table Tennis Server Par Gerell vs Dan and Tom
Here's the video (7:39) from Table Tennis Daily.

How to Reverse Serve from Basic to Professional and Tips of World Stars
Here's the video (19:55) from Ti Long.

Windshield Wiper Serve Tutorial | Short Deadball
Here's the video (9:24) from Joey Cochran at Table Tennis Junkie.

Basic Skills is the Key
Here's the video (6:28) from Table Tennis TV.

Ding Ning Full Training Session WTT MACAO 2020
Here's the video (25:14). She's the three-time World Women's Singles Champion and reigning Olympic Women's Singles Gold Medalist.

Reflections on Excellence by Michel Gadal
The book is now on sold as a Kindle book at Amazon. I reviewed the digital book in my November 9 blog.

Move Like a Table Tennis Player
Here's the article from Coach Jon.

Table Tennis Returns Thanks to You!!
Here's the ITTF video (3 min).

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

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

ProSpin95 Table Tennis Trick Shots
Here's the video (53 sec).

Blue Funny Face Table Tennis Paddle
Imagine playing someone with this paddle!!! Wouldn't it be great if you could use rackets like this, instead of the all-one-color surfaces required?

International Political Table Tennis Cartoons
Here they are, one on climate change, and one on Greece, Turkey, EU, and Refugees.

AJAX Retro Comic Book Cover Full Fun PING Pong Black Art Print
Here's your chance to order this table tennis poster - I think it's a dog playing a kangaroo and its baby joey!

Broken Table
Here's the cartoon!

Happiness is . . .
Here's the cartoon.

New from Pongfinity!

Spider-Man into the PingPongverse - Basic Table Tennis drills with Spider-Man
Here's the video (5:49)!

Legos Table Tennis!

Non-Table Tennis - "The Untold Christmas Carol" and "Pinning the Egg"
Tangent, one of the big science fiction reviewers, did a very positive review of a current story of mine in Galaxy's Edge, "The Untold Christmas Carol," the behind-the-scenes expose of what really happened to Tiny Tim - with Satan and Benedict Arnold involved. The review finished with this: "The prose was well-paced and told in a whimsical style. A nice nugget to pass a few minutes with a smile." Here's the review. On Wednesday, I sold a humorous science fiction story to the Sci-Fi Journal, "Pinning the Egg." (It involves an alien invader and Excalibur, but in a SF fashion.)

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