February 28, 2022

Tip of the Week
Be a Machine But Not Mechanical.

Weekend Coaching, an Exhausting Session, . . . and USATT or Local TT
It was another busy week at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. I had four group sessions, plus a private session with Navin Kumar. (As noted previously, I'm retired from private coaching, but made an exception for Navin, a Paralympic player. I'll likely be coaching him at the World Parkinson's Championships at the 2022 ITTF Parkinson's World Table Tennis Championships, Sept. 30 - Oct. 3, 2022, in Pula, Croatia.) Head junior coach Wang Qingliang ran most of these sessions, with Coach Lidney Castro running one of them. (I used to run many or most of these sessions, but now that I'm "semi-retired," I've taken a back seat and let others be in charge while I assist.)

With the Novice group, the focus is always on fundamentals. We do a lot of shadow-stroking at the start. One interesting thing - the local middle schools require all students to do a certain number of hours of volunteer work. MDTTC had applied as an option, and so for the last few years we've had many of our junior stars helping out in such classes. This time around we had six of them (ages 12 to 15), along with Wang and I - so eight coaches/practice partners with 13 players!!! So we were able to do a lot of one-on-one hitting and multiball. In other sessions I was split between feeding lots and Lots and LOTS of multiball, and being a "walking around" coach.

In the last session on Sunday afternoon, they played practice matches to help some of them prepare for upcoming tournaments. There were 15 in the group and needed a 16th, so I became a player once again. The level in this group ranged up to about 1850. At the start, I was winning most of my games by scores ranging from 11-0 (sorry!) to 11-3. (All best of three to 11.) Then I started getting tired. Why was I tired? Well . . . perhaps it was age. No one there knew it, but I turned 62 (!!!) on Sunday. As I got tired, I made mistakes and struggled to cover the table against these way-too-fast kids, who more and more seemed like Tasmanian devils on steroids. No, I didn't lose any games, but the second half I had a number of close ones, even down 7-10 one game to a kid around 1600 (but swinging for the fences and hitting!) - but I came back. I probably need to start practicing and do some physical training if I want to stay ahead of them!

I'm going up to Princeton Pong in New Jersey to coach at a tournament this weekend. Normally, when I travel to tournaments, it's to coach our top juniors. This time, a number of younger, lower-rated kids are doing their first out-of-town tournament. I've met with some of the parents to go over various aspects of the trip. We leave sometime on Friday afternoon. These kids are enthused and can't wait!!!

With all of this local TT, and my growing disillusionment with the current leadership of USA Table Tennis, I'm leaning more and more towards just focusing on local table tennis until things get better at USATT. (One board member told me that members have always complained about USATT. My response was the key thing was whether the complaints are justified.) We have over 50 kids in our junior program, generally divided into four training groups. There are some really hard-working kids. They may not all become "champions" in table tennis, but they will all have fun, learn discipline and sportsmanship, and have a sport for a lifetime - i.e. they will all be champions.

However, it's also fun to work with the top ones. In the current rankings, in 13 and Under, we have players like Stanley Hsu (13, 2402), Mu Du (13, 2286), Ryan Lin (12, 2216), Winston Wu (2079) - the four are ranked #1, 3, 6, and 8 in the country. In 12 and Under, Ryan and Winston are #1 and #2. In 11 and Under, Riley Yang (11, 1920) is #5; in 9 and Under Girls, Audrey Yang (9, 1242) is #4. And there are many others. (It's tempting to list them all . . . lots of kids from 1800 to 2200, we have some great coaches at MDTTC!) Anyway, I'd rather work with these kids, most of whom I've worked with since they were beginners, then spend a huge amount of time tilting at windmills, i.e. dealing with USATT. I'm on the USATT coaching committee, and will continue that - though we haven't met since June of 2020. 
=>ADDENDUM - Another reason for my disinterest in USATT is that, with all their problems, they are insignificant compared to what's happening in Ukraine as well as what's happened to American politics. There's a good chance our next president will be one who regularly tells us how much he likes and admires Putin and how much Putin likes him, and about a thousand other problems. I usually stay out of US politics in this blog, but jeez...

US Team Trials and Nationals
The US Team Trials (for men, women, and juniors, June 25 - July 1) and the US Nationals (July 2-7) will be held back-to-back this year in Fort Worth. So it looks like I'll be very busy coaching for two weeks! Then I'm going on vacation. Tentatively, immediately afterwards I'm taking a bus or flight to San Antonio (270 miles south) to visit the Alamo. (I'm told I was there when I was two years old, but strangely I don't remember it.) Then I'm doing something I've held off for a couple of years for some pandemical reason - I'm hoping to do a one-to-two week tour of Mexico - probably one of these. (I especially like visiting historical sites.) Some of you may remember my 7-week tour of Europe and Egypt in late 2019, just before the pandemic - here's my book in that trip, Larry's Adventures in Europe and Egypt: Seven Weeks Following Tour Guides with Little Flags and Funny Hats, and the Quest for the Elusive Dr Pepper. (Flights from San Antonio to Mexico are inexpensive, about $200 round trip.)

Number of Events at the US Open and Nationals
I'm hearing rumors that they are thinking of once again lowering the number of events a player can enter at the US Open and Nationals. I hope this is wrong - they should go the other way and increase it. I checked some of my old entry forms, and as recently as 2015 players could enter up to ten events, with just as many or more events held as current Opens and Nationals. They lowered it to nine for the next two years, then to seven, then last year they lowered it to six. For a six-day event such as these, players want to play more, especially juniors, seniors, para players, and hardbat/sandpaper players who can play a lot of singles and doubles events. Since they had no problems with the scheduling in past years with players entering nine or ten events, why can't they do that now? The entry form will be out soon, so we'll know then.
=>ADDENDUM - Jasna from USATT posted, "From what I understood at the task force meeting, it seems it will be allowed for up to 10 events for athletes to enter." Another person from USATT had told me they were "considering" going to only five events, but presumably that was vetoed. (Another person also mentioned this to me, though not sure if it was a prediction or they'd also heard it, possibly from same source. It's quite possible the idea of going to five events was privately discussed but not brought up in official meetings and subsequently dropped. It would be an easy - and bad - partial solution to the recent scheduling problems.) If so, that's a good decision. Now, let's just run it on time and deal with the other problems raised from the last three US Opens and Nationals. 

Ping-Pong on Space Force
I've been watching Space Force, the satirical show on Netflix, which recently released season 2. In Season 2, Episode 4, at 10:40, one of the scientists, Dr. Chan, is described, "Did you know that at age ten, Chan was actually a table tennis champion." There's a picture of him as a child holding a paddle. (The series stars Steve Carell and John Malkovich.)
=>ADDENDUM - Matt Hetherington informs me of the following:

"That picture of Dr Chan in SpaceForce is actually a real picture of Jimmy O Yang, the actor who plays him. Jimmy played table tennis in Hong Kong at a young age and his father took him to competitions in Guangzhou sometimes. He's mentioned it in his standup shows a couple of times, I sent him a new racket last year so here's hoping we can get him on a table a little in 2022!" 

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