April 12, 2021

Tip of the Week
Learn from a Match.

Breaking News - World Table Tennis Championships to Be Held in Houston
Here's the ITTF news item, and here's an article from Inside the Games. They will be held Nov. 23-29, 2021. (I added this Tuesday morning.) They were awarded to USATT in April, 2019 and were originally scheduled for Houston in June this year before they were postponed. One problem - this coincides with the Thanksgiving weekend dates for the North American Teams in Washington DC, which would normally be held Nov. 26-28. (Nov. 25 is Thanksgiving.) 

Weekend Coaching
I squeezed a lot into Sunday, pretty much non-stop from 11AM to 7PM. Two of the group sessions were with beginning-intermediate junior players, where (as always) the focus was on fundamentals, though I always keep it fun. The key to coaching younger beginning kids? F&F: Fun and Fundamentals!

I also had a one-hour session with Navin Kumar. For various reasons, he had to take most of the past month off, so we worked a lot on fundamentals again. Here's video (56 sec) where I'm warming up his forehand block. The next drill? Multiball looping, where I feed (multiball style) forehand loops to all parts of the table, at first side to side, then random.

I also had two 45-minutes sports psychology sessions with two of our top juniors. It was the third session for one, the first for the other. I use Dora Kurimay's Get Your Game Face On Like The Pros! as a reference - she can thank us for seven book sales so far! I have another top junior taking his first session with me this week. (We're getting them all ready for the Butterfly Invitational in North Carolina this weekend - I'll be coaching at it.) 

Student of the Game
Last week I linked to Samson Dubina's Help Wanted Video, Hiring!!!! The Samson Dubina TT Academy is now hiring! (4:58). He had an interesting statement about how he is looking for coaches who can see the game "from the lens of the student." This is similar to a concept I've blogged about before - becoming a student of the game. Here are four levels - where are you on this spectrum?

  • Level 1: Student of the Game. Learns all aspects of the game. Classic example - Chinese Men's Team Coach Liu Guoliang, probably the most successful table tennis coach of all time. He was a pips-out penhold hitter/blocker, and yet his coaching is almost entirely with shakehand inverted loopers. But because he was as student of the game, it didn't matter - he simply knows and understands the game. He can see the game from the point of view of a student, not just his own.
  • Level 2: Student of Your Game. This type really knows his game. He knows exactly what he needs to do in any given situation, and adjusts his game as needed to opponents. He is a smart player - but he only knows his own game. This type has difficulty coaching others because he only knows his own game. Some elite players have this problem when coaching - they simply cannot understand the game except from their own perspective.
  • Level 3: Student of Your Game Limited. This type of player knows his game pretty well, in most situations, and is often good tactically against most players. But against unorthodox styles that he's not familiar with, he doesn't really know what to do. I know of a former 2750 player who was incredible against most players - but there were certain players that he was almost clueless about how to play.
  • Level 4: Non-Table Tennis Thinker. May have good strokes, but doesn't really know how to use them. Doesn't really play much tactically and so has difficulty winning or improving.  

Ping-Pong Diplomacy
April 10 was the 50th Anniversary of the start of 1971's Ping-Pong Diplomacy, where the US Table Tennis began its tour of China. (Here's Tim Boggan's book on it - here are his other table tennis history books.) There were articles and videos on this all over the place - here are a few. (Ray Arditi helped compile this.)

Rules Changes
There was a discussion on one of the table tennis forums about rules changes. Somehow, my name came up - a well-known table tennis "troll" claimed I was responsible for the Aspect Ratio rule, which (as he knows) is false. (I didn't even know about that rule until after it was announced.) However, someone then mistakenly said that I hadn't been involved in any rule changes - and that too was false, though this time probably an honest mistake. Back in 2013 I blogged about the three rules changes I was involved with, including two that pretty much instigated - here's the blog!

US Nationals
I really, Really, REALLY do not like writing negative things about USATT, an organization I've been with for 45 years. I'm a life member and a member of their Hall of Fame. I'd really like to focus more on things like coaching and promoting the sport, and other interesting stuff - like the segment above about "Student of the Game." But they make it so hard to ignore these problems, and as a table tennis blogger, I'm feel stuck writing about these problems.

SINGLE ELIMINATION. I blogged at length about this in last week's blog, in the segment "USATT Nationals Entry Form and USATT Coaches Meeting." The more I think about it, the more I feel let down by USATT in their decision to go all single elimination this year. I think USATT owes its membership more than this. For most players, it's going to be a pale imitation of past Nationals. (I've been going to Opens and Nationals since my first in 1976, and I've been to every Open and Nationals starting in 1985.)

I gave the explanation in last week's blog on why USATT decided to go all single elimination, as explained to us in the coaches meeting. Here's what I wrote last week:

"Because of the pandemic, it was feared there would be a low turnout at the Nationals. If USATT rented the normal hall, expecting perhaps 800 players, but only got 300, they'd lose a fortune on the tournament. So instead of getting one with room for perhaps 90 tables, they rented one with room for only 45. But then they realized that if they did get a big turnout, they'd be overwhelmed running RR events on just 45 tables, and decided they couldn't risk that - and so went with all single elimination."

However, at the USATT board meeting last Monday, CEO Virginia Sung gave a completely different explanation, saying, "The reason for running all single elimination is to better manage schedule and conflicts more efficiently." I sort of fell out of my chair when I heard this. Now I feel even more let down - they are running all single elimination because they can't do the scheduling and handle conflicts, as they've done at every Nationals and Open for many decades? I spent all week debating whether to email for further comment, but what's the point? It'll just be another circle-the-wagons, Larry's a trouble-maker moment. Besides completely contradicting what we were told in the coaches meeting, it also seems to imply they want to run future Nationals and Opens this way - if they want to go all single elimination this year to "better manage schedule and conflicts more efficiently," the situation won't change in future Nationals and Opens. The quote speaks for itself, and I'll let readers interpret it as they see best.

Regardless of the reason, running it all single elimination is a mistake. If you go by the first argument, the worry of a low turnout (likely self-inflicted, due to going all single elimination), they seem out of touch with what's going on in the table tennis world. First, they are getting large turnouts at recent tournaments held in Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey, and other locations. Second, people are HUNGRY for a Nationals - there hasn't been one since 2019. Third, by the time of the Nationals, anyone over age 16 who wants to will be vaccinated. Conclusion? If they'd run the Nationals with the usual RR format, there would have been a very large turnout and a nice financial windfall for USATT at a time they really need it. As to the second reason, that's basically an admission that they don't feel they can do what others have done in every past Nationals and Open since I began going to them in 1976.

On a related note, single elimination does not make it easier to manage the schedule. Round robin events are easier to schedule - you just send them out and let them play it out, with fewer SE matches afterwards. Single elimination is more difficult to schedule since you have to schedule every round, while in RR events you have fewer rounds after the RR stage to schedule. The only thing that makes SE easier to schedule is the presumption that by going all SE, you'll get fewer players. And THAT makes it easier to schedule.

Someone told me that if they'd run the Nationals with the usual RRs, they might get stuck with too MANY players - and they can't really handle more than a thousand. While I disagree that they can't handle more than a thousand, there's a simple solution - cap the entries at a thousand.)

CHANGES TO ENTRY FORM. There were two major changes to the entry form since it went up last week. At the coaches meeting on Friday, April 2, we spent much of the session discussing the Nationals. I pointed out (repeatedly) that if they were going to have a consolation event for every event in the tournament, it should say this on the entry form. (I can't believe something so basic needed to be pointed out - it literally doubles the minimum number of matches you play in each event.) I also pointed out that the wording on the entry form implied that parents couldn't coach their kids unless they were certified as USATT coaches, which is exactly what I thought they meant based on past discussions, but I was assured that wasn't what they meant. A week later, at the coaches meeting on April 9, I pointed out that none of the changes had been made. After that meeting, I think that very day, they made those two changes to the entry form. To those who fixed this, we appreciate it!!!

SCHEDULING PROBLEMS. There is still a major scheduling problem for players and parents. Several parents at my club last night were frustrated over this. If you look at the entry from (page 5, first column), you can see the scheduling is very top-heavy - lots of events scheduled on the first two days (Sun and Mon), then a lot fewer after that. We were told at the coaches meeting that events should finish by the day after they start - but that's not what it says on the entry form. What it actually says is:

"Event Scheduling: Events are not guaranteed to be completed on the same day that they begin. No refunds will be given for early departure. All events will be completed by Friday (July 9, 2021) evening."

To use the example of the 20 or so kids from my club who plan (or planned) to go to the Nationals, the majority only play in events that start on Sunday and Monday, so presumably they'll be done by Tuesday. A few might stay an extra day for Under 2300 on Tuesday. So, can they fly home on Tuesday or Wednesday, or do they actually have to stay through Friday, where they would likely spend three days stuck there with no events? I've run over 200 USATT tournaments and was Operations Director for two US Opens with large turnouts (i.e. did the scheduling with the Director), and know that USATT should have no problem in finishing these SE events by the day after they start (including the SE consolation) - but the players and parents don't know that, and we don't know if they will schedule it that way. So players and parents are stuck, trying to guess what to do. The entry deadline for the tournament is June 15, and presumably USATT is playing it safe on their side, waiting to see what the turnout will be before making these scheduling decisions. But players and parents need to work out schedules well before that - flight plans, hotel plans, and even their own plans at home if they don't have to stay through Friday. Since the tournament is all single elimination, USATT shouldn't need to wait on this - just put it on the entry form that all events will finish by the day after they begin. Don't leave us in the dark like this - there are junior players whose only events are on Sunday and perhaps Monday (if they play rating events) - are they and their parents really expected to block out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for this? (They did in past Nationals, but that was because the events were RR and spread out over six days, instead of all SE and at the very start of the tournament.) USATT - PLEASE FIX THIS!!!

Some Nationals links:

  • 2021 USA Nationals Home Page
  • Omnipong listing (You'll have to search for the Nationals - it's in CAPS. The problem is that it should stand out as a 5-star tournament, with the regional ones as 3-stars, the state ones as 2-stars.)
  • Entry Form
  • Player Listing (Alphabetical, by rating, and by event. I've emailed Omnipong asking if they could add a State and Club column. If you hover the cursor over a player, club info appears, but that means hovering over every player if you want to find the players from a club.)
  • USATT News Item

USATT Board Meeting
They met last Monday night, April 5. It was supposed to start at 8PM, but they ran into technical problems on Uberconference and so switched over to Zoom. The meeting began around 8:10PM, then went into executive session an hour later, at 9:10PM, and so I had to get off while they presumably discussed legal and personnel matters. There were 23 people in the meeting. The minutes for the meeting are not yet up, but will go up at some point on the USATT Minutes and Actions page. Here are some highlights.

  • CEO Report: Membership, Clubs, Nationals, Coaches Licensing. Membership and clubs are way down due to Covid. Membership 7007 to 4536. Clubs from 207 to 145. Understandable, with Covid.
  • Mark Thompson (COO) gave a report on SafeSport. SafeSport is important, but I am so tired of it that whenever I hear it, my mind goes to sleep. The "S" in USATT has almost become SafeSport - more time is spent on that than probably any other topic.  
  • Sean O'Neill gave the High Performance Director Report on upcoming events and trials.
  • Kelly Watson gave the Audit Committee report.
  • Bylaw proposals - no vote at this meeting. I wrote about this briefly in my blog last week in the "USATT Board Meeting" segment, where I wrote about the meeting to be held that night. Based on lots of input, they will be rewritten again. (I've blogged about this a few times.) One interesting quote - Dave Patterson from the USOPC said, "Athletes should select who represent them." This sort of ended the argument over whether one of the two incoming athlete reps should be appointed by the Athlete's Advisory Committee and approved by the USATT board (as some on the board were pushing for) or elected directly by the athletes. I wrote about this briefly in last week's blog, but frankly, I'm so tired of USATT bylaw battles that I haven't gotten to involved in this one or the other proposed bylaws.

USATT Coaches Meeting
We had our weekly meeting last Friday at noon, lasting almost an hour. (Here's the video, 58 min.) There was more discussion of the Nationals and Team Trials. Here was the agenda:

  • Welcome
  • Schlager Interview (China) - Linked below
  • Kanak Interview (High/Low) - this is with Stupa Analytics, linked below
  • National Team (Trials)
  • Nationals (2021 &2022) - see mention above about the entry form and the changes that came out of this discussion here and in the previous week's meeting.
  • Use of Titles (dropping words). Some people advertise themselves as, for example, the "US Open Champion" when they won a rating event, such as maybe Under 1800. I've run into this problem - when news reporters ask me about my playing career, if I honestly tell them I was the US Open and National Champion in Hardbat Table Tennis, they don't know that's different than "regular" table tennis unless I explain it. (I'm normally a sponge player, but play hardbat on the side, and have won a lot of hardbat titles.)
  • Ball Speed (100mph?) Some still claim this, but test show the fastest smashes seem to be just over 70mph. I think if players trained just for this, they could get it higher with wristy smashes, but at most they might approach 80mph.
  • Questions

Happy World Table Tennis Day (April 6)

RIP Fred Tepper, 1928-2021
Here's the obit of Mr. Baltimore Table Tennis. I knew him pretty well from many years ago. I even have a copy of his book, "Ping-Pong is Not Table Tennis!" by Fred Tepper, 1990. (I don't think it was published professionally, but I have a copy of the manuscript.)

Heaviest Spin Ever!? My Signature Shot
Here's the video (3:43) from Timo Boll.

How To Create More Spin
Here's the video (3:37) from David Zhuang.

Short Game Play
Here's the video (2:15) from Zhou Xin.

Flip to Random Play
Here's the video (1:29) from Crystal Wang.

Top 6 Exercises for Powerful Forehand
Here's the video (2:24) from inMotion Table Tennis.

Backhand Table Tennis Topspin Technical Tips
Here's the video (26 sec) from eBaTT.

New from Ti Long

New from Samson Dubina

Werner Schlager - "Talk to Me"
Here's the video (33:08) with the 2003 World Men's Singles Champion, from the Canadian TTA and Adham Sharara.

Kanak Jha Joins Stupa Analytics for a Fun Interview
Here's the USATT video (45:30).

Mandy Yu: Byron's Table Tennis Sensation
Here's the article from The Post Bulletin in Rochester, MN.

Ma Long Multiball Training with Liu Guoliang
Here's the video (68 sec). So, how's your backhand loop?

Five Things to Know About Table Tennis Olympic Champ Ma Long
Here's the article and videos from the Olympic Channel.

A Big Stack of Table Tennis Skills
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Interview with Sweden Olympian Matilda Ekholm
Here's the interview (21:21) from Kevin Table Tennis. Ekholm is currently #50 in the world, and was #20 in 2017.

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich

New from Steve Hopkins

New from the ITTF

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

I Played Against a Long Pips Player
Here's the video (12:43) from Adam Bobrow.

When Players Go Around the Net
Here's the video (23 sec) from Table Tennis Central!

Hawaiian Table Tennis Shirt
Here it is!

Nick Kyrgios Table Tennis
The controversial tennis player also plays table tennis.

Grasscourt Pong
Here's the cartoon!

Riley Dog Pong
Here's the video (63 sec)!

Real Dog Pong
Here's the video (9 sec)!

Ma Long, Timo Boll or Harimoto? Guess The Table Tennis Pro Player
Here's the video (6:18) from XOLAY!

Send us your own coaching news!