May 9, 2022

Tips of the Week
While I was in Austria, two Tips went up, plus this week's Tip. Here they are!

WTT Youth Contender and ITTF Hopes Camp in Linz, Austria
I've divided this into four parts:

=>PART 1: Travel
Wow, what a great twelve days in Austria! On Monday, April 25, I flew to Linz with Ryan Lin (USA #1 in 12 and Under). The nine-hour flight arrived in Vienna on Tuesday morning. It was delayed 90 minutes after we boarded, so we were on the plane for nearly eleven hours. We then took an hour and 45-minute train to Linz. Below are a couple of pictures. (For all Facebook pictures, I'm also linking to the non-Facebook versions, since those not on Facebook often can't see Facebook photos.)

On the flight to Vienna, a man across the aisle, one seat up, wouldn't put on his mask. Flight attendants kept asking and telling him to do so. At times he'd say none fit him or they are uncomfortable. For much of the flight, he simply put a drink on his tray table and said he was drinking. Other times he'd put it on until they left, then immediately take it off. The Stewardesses finally got tired of asking and seemed to give up on him. Ryan and I mostly slept on the flight, though he also did some of his homework.

=>PART 2: WTT Youth Contender
The first part of our trip was the WTT Youth Contender (boys' events), April 27-29. The local organizers picked us up at the train station and took us straight to the playing venue, the Tips Arena. It was divided into two areas, the Match Area and the Practice Area. (Here's the non-Facebook versions: Match Area and Practice Area.) Ryan and I were both Covid vaccinated, and as required, we'd both had a PCR Covid test just before leaving the US. They gave us another test at the venue. The Ryan and I had a 90-minute practice session to get used to the playing conditions. (After the long flight and train, I was tottering about this first session, and Ryan wasn't playing well either, but we both got better.) Then we checked into our hotel for the stay, the Hotel Park Inn. (I spent twelve days wondering if I should point out that "Inn" and "Hotel" seemed redundant.) We had another practice session the following morning, then Ryan practiced with Emmanuel Otalvaro of Columbia - who would not only be his ongoing practice partner for much of the trip, but would move in with Ryan on the second day and be roommates and video game partners. Here's Ryan and Emmanuel. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Emmanuel and Ryan came in 1-2 at the America's Hopes Tournament in Ecuador last year. Emmanuel is about 2250, Ryan about 2200.

Here's the ITTF page for the WTT Youth Contender; click on EVENT INFO to get to the WTT page with results. Ryan was in two events, Under 13 Boys and Under 15 Boys. Here are some pictures of Ryan:

In Under 13, Ryan didn't play well at the start. Part of the problem was the time difference. He'd arrived the previous morning, and so only had one day to adjust to a six-hour time difference. His first match was against a Croatian player at 10:30 AM Wednesday, which was 4:30 AM Maryland time. In a match I'm certain he could have won, he instead lost at 9,7,7. After that, he played better, defeating a player from Ukraine, 6,-8,7,2. Yes, he was able to attend despite what's going on in his country - don't get me started on that. I spoke some with his mom on the issue - and it turned out she was from the US (spoke perfect English) before emigrating to Ukraine. Her son had actually been born in the US before moving to Ukraine, and had joint citizenship. In his final match in the RR, Ryan played a player from Qatar, and started out well, and ended up having to struggle before pulling it out, 9,11,-6,-9,9, and advancing into the main draw.

In the first round (round of 32), played Wednesday night, Ryan played a player from Spain, and won, 11,8,-10,9. In the second round (round of 16), he played the top seed, Benjamin Girlinger of Austria. This would be Ryan's worst match of the tournament by several magnitudes - he'd lose at 4,5,4 - but he'd get redemption.

In Under 15 the next day, Ryan was in a group of three. As luck would have it, he had Girlinger again - and in his first match Thursday morning! The match was at 9:30 AM, which is 3:30 AM Maryland time, and since Ryan had just gotten killed by him in his last match the night before, I was worried about this match. But Ryan and I discussed tactics (shh!), and this time he played much, much better in a spectacular match by both players - but oh, how the Lords of Fate conspired against Ryan!!! In game one, at 9-10, Girlinger gets an edge to win. In game two, at 10-all, he gets another edge, and wins 12-10. At this point Ryan is beyond frustration, but he's playing well - and with nothing to lose, he lets loose in the third, winning 11-4. Game four is close all the way, but Girlinger pulls away at the end and wins, 9,10,-4,8. But now Ryan is playing well - only thing is, the tournament is almost over for him. But not only did he get some redemption from that poorly played match on Wednesday night, he also, as I pointed out to him, played dead even with Girlinger this time, as the two ended up tied in points, 38-38. Oh, those edges! (The online listing has Ryan losing the fourth 11-7, but it was 11-8.)

In his second match, he played Mihai Nagy of Romania, and player he knew well from the previous Hopes Camp and Tournament in Jordan, and who would also be in the upcoming Hopes Camp. They played a great dead-even match, but alas, the Romanian pulled it out, -9,10,-12,8,9. So Ryan was done with the tournament. 

=>PART 3: Time Off
We now had two days off before the ITTF Hopes Camp would start on Sunday. We spent Friday mostly at the venue where Ryan practiced much of the day with Emmanuel and did serve and receive practice with me. He also did a lot of homework. We also discovered the four local pizza places - we'd eat at all of them. (We ordered a pepperoni pizza at the first place - and due to some miscommunication, we got a pizza covered with hot peppers! But we picked them out and it was very good.) Throughout our stay meals were served at the playing venues for free, but sometimes we wanted something different. On our off days, we would have to take a 15-minute bus ride each way to get the meals, so we had pizzas. 

On Saturday, Ryan and I walked one mile and toured the Linz Castle and Museum. (The Wikipedia article is rather sparse, and doesn't mention that it's mostly a museum now.) Then we went to the Zoo Linz! Lots to see there. The he and Emmanuel played video games the rest of the day while I read and did some writing. 

=>PART 4: ITTF Hopes Camp
[Here is the ITTF article on the camp, which went up on Tuesday: Hopes Squad Assembles in Linz.]
What a great job by Massimo "Max" Costantini (ITTF High Performance Elite Coach, ITA) and Dominique Plattner (AUT)! This was my third ITTF Hopes Camp with them, following ones in Ecuador and Jordan last year. Everything was well organized, they kept discipline (not easy with a pack of 12-year-olds), and of course the training was once again excellent. They were not only great in the training, but very helpful outside of training - they helped arrange our Covid tests, make changes in our train schedule, and other issues.

The physical training sessions were run by Dominique and Didi, the latter a top physical trainer and former boxer who had highly entertaining exercises for the kids - including some boxing practice!!! (No real punching except at targets.) Here's video (13 sec) of the physical training in the morning (13 sec), with Dominque running it.

The camp was held at the Linz AG Froschbert Sportpark Lissfeld, which has a full-time table tennis training center. There were 14 "official" players in the camp (most with their coaches present), with others brought in on a day-to-day basis, so we usually had 16 players. The players, mostly age 12 (a few 11 or 13) were from USA, Puerto Rico, Columbia, England, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Belgium, Czech Republic, South Africa, Tunisia, Iran, and Australia. There wasn't a weak link in the group, basically the best 12-year-olds in the world from Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. They ranged from about 2100 to 2350 in level, with most of them (including Ryan) in the 2200 range.

With some daily variations, here was the basic training schedule:

  • 7:40 AM: Meet in lobby for 15 minutes of outside physical training, then breakfast.
  • 9:30 AM-12:30 PM: Training, including about 15 minutes of physical training at the start and finish.
  • 4:00-7:30 PM: Training, including about 15 minutes of physical training at the start and finish.

The drills were varied and intense, and included lots of footwork and stroking drills, lots of serve and receive drills, and an hour of multiball training each afternoon, fed by the players' coaches. (So I fed to Ryan.) There were also several practice tournaments, so the kids got lots of match play as well. Ryan didn't play particularly well in the practice tournaments at first, but on the last day he exploded and played really well.

The kids had a welcome surprise one afternoon when 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager showed up and spent the afternoon with us. He gave a talk on how to become a champion and answered lots of questions from the players and the coaches. He watched Ryan play for ten minutes and had a few suggestions for him. Here's a picture of Ryan and I with Werner, from Ryan's Facebook Table Tennis Page. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) Here's a group picture of the whole camp with Werner. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) I'm second from the left in the back; Werner's right in the middle in the back; Ryan's in the front in the blue and black shirt; Emmanuel is the slightly shorter kid two spots to the right of Ryan in front. (Enrique Rios from Puerto Rico is in the second row, toward the left, in the dark blue shirt with "Churry" in green on it - that's one of his sponsors. He has a sandwich named after him! He has a USATT rating of 2319, and was one of the two or three strongest in the camp. Here's his Athlete Facebook page.)

For meals, most days we had an "Americas Table," where the two from USA, two from Columbia (Emmanuel and his coach), and two from Puerto Rico (Enrico Rios and his mom) sat together. It was an interesting mix: I only speak English; Ryan speaks English and Chinese (though he's learning Spanish); Emmanuel, his coach, and Enrique's mom only speak Spanish. Enrique speaks Spanish and his rapidly improving English, so he ended up being a translator for much of the time, though Ryan and Emmanuel often used the English-Spanish translator app on their phones. Every night the three of us helped ourselves to the free hot chocolate offered in the lobby. (The machine also had various types of coffee for others.)

We had the morning of Wednesday, May 4 off - yes, Star Wars Day. So the six from the Americas went for a long walk about Linz. It's also when the kids discovered the ice cream place nearby - or rather, gelato, which is the European version of ice cream, which the kids absolutely loved. In the last three days of the camp we had three trips to the gelato place. We had another walk that night. Here are two pictures:

I kept notes on Ryan's matches and training throughout the trip, and compiled a list of things he should focus on as he continues his training at home in Maryland. Other coaches did the same, of course - I saw one coach's notebook that was absolutely jammed with about 50 pages of notes and sketches of various drills.

Before leaving, we were required to have another Covid PCR test, which we did two days before leaving. Because the medical facility at the playing venue had closed the day before, they arranged for our tests at a local facility - but it cost $69 each. (In all, we both had four tests for the trip.) the PCR test was required - but for some reason, nobody ever asked for it on our return flights, at either end!

On Friday, May 6, it was time to go home. Once again we took the hour and 45-minute train to Vienna, and the nine-hour flight back to Maryland, full of jokes, brain teasers, and homework. I even got some writing done!

Countries I've Been To
With the addition of Austria, I've now been to 23 countries. (I've also been to all 50 US states.) Here they are in the order that I've visited them: USA, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan*, Japan, China, Bahamas, Portugal, Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Egypt, Panama, Ecuador, Jordan, Austria. (*For this listing, I have the self-governing Taiwan as a country, for lack of better word ("self-governing entity" is too ponderous), but that's not a political statement or a claim that Taiwan is a country, so please leave the politics out of this.) Here's my book on my seven-week tour of Europe and Egypt in 2019: 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, one of my 17 books (with two more coming out later this year - "Yet Still More Table Tennis Tips" and "Yet Still More Pings and Pongs"). In October this year I'll be in Pula, Croatia, coaching Navin Kumar at the World Parkinson's Table Tennis Championships, and I likely will do a one-week or so tour of some neighboring countries afterwards. There's also a chance I might be going to Argentina in a few weeks to coach at another ITTF Hopes Camp and two junior tournaments.

WTT Feeder Fremont
Here's the WTT page for the event, just held May 5-8 in Fremont, CA. Following that is . . .

WTT Feeder Westchester
I'll be going up on Tuesday to coach and spectate for 1-2 days at the WTT Feeder in Westchester, NY, May 11-15. I'm going up with Ryan Lin (US #1 in 12 and Under, just back from Austria) and his dad. He's playing in Men's Singles, but likely won't last long there. The primary purpose is for Ryan to watch some of the matches in person . . . and maybe get an autograph and picture with top-seeded Chuang Chih-Yuan!!! (Ryan was born in the US, but his parents are from Taiwan, as is Chuang.) Poor Ryan will be stuck in the stands as I commentate on tactics and technique in the matches!

Weekend Coaching
I returned from Austria on Friday night, exhausted and used to Austrian time, six hours ahead of us. Alas, I had six group sessions to coach at on Saturday and Sunday, each 90 minutes. Our junior program is divided into four groups - Group 1 ("Select"); Group 2 ("Progress"); Group 3 ("Intermediate"); and Group 4 ("Novice"). On Saturday, I did Group 4 (mostly feeding multiball), Group 1 (where I was a wandering coach), and a combined Group 2-3 session, where I was a practice partner. On Sunday I did Group 3 (mostly feeding multiball), Group 2 (practice partner); and Group 1 (wandering coach). I also did a one-hour session with Navin Kumar on Sunday. Here's video (27 sec).

It was one of the most tiring weekends ever, as I came in tired, and the sessions were almost all back-to-back-to-back. On Saturday I was on my feet for five hours straight, and on Sunday it was 2.5 hours, off an hour, and then three more hours on my feet.

A lot of the focus was (as usual) making sure we have active feet. I also harped a lot on keeping the ball to wide corners in drills rather than just to the middle forehand or backhand. What you do in practice you will do in a match.

News from All Over
Since I haven't blogged since April 18 (due to my 12-day trip to Austria), rather than try to list every interesting article, for this blog I'll just link to some of the main news and coaching pages, and you can pick and choose.

D Vishwa: The Future of Indian Table Tennis, Destined for Great Things, Until Tragedy Struck
Here's the article on the 18-year-old Indian star. Here's another article on it. He was entered at the WTT Youth Contender (Under 19 events) in Linz, Austria, which I just returned from. They held a moment of silence for him there.

Who Did It Best? Around The Net
Here's the video (2:36), from World Table Tennis.

'Futuristic' Ping Pong Venue Opens In Astoria, Promising 24/7 Gameplay
Here's the article on the new PongPod in Queens, NYC.

Inside the NBA got Chuck again with Ping Pong Balls
Here's the video (4:40) from House of Highlights. Table tennis section starts at 1:51. See Charles "Chuck" Barkley dowsed in ping-pong balls!

Boxing Pong Shirts
Here's where you can get them at Amazon!

Ice Table
Here's the picture! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Anything Can Be a Table Tennis Table
Here's the video (22 sec)!

New from Pongfinity!

And The Winner is ...
Here's the video (15:38) from Adam Bobrow!

Mostly Non-Table Tennis - Eight Sales in Eight Weeks!
It's been a crazy two months in my science fiction writing world - eight sales!!! As noted below, a ping-pong ball has a major impact in "Christmas Interrupted." (Here's my science fiction bibliography, with links to many of my stories. I've sold 131 short stories and 4 novels.)  

  1. "Small Step" (6600 words) to Abyss & Apex. What really happened on the moon when Neil Armstrong left out the "a" in "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." Buzz must negotiate with time-altering aliens to save mankind!
  2. "Christmas Interrupted" (3600 words) to the Flame Tree Christmas Gothic anthology. What happens thousands or millions of years from now, when humankind is extinct but Santa, suffering from Alzheimer's, still tries to deliver presents to children every year, to the extreme annoyance of his aging elves? A darkly comic story, with a surprise ending that many will find touching. A ping-pong ball has a major impact on the story!
  3. "Rationalized" (2400 words) to the Flame Tree Compelling Science Fiction anthology. A dystopian society requires everyone to have an operation when they turn 13 to remove the parts of the brain responsible for emotion. An underground that avoided the operation fights back - and their leader faces an impossible decision. Probably the best tear-jerker I've ever written.
  4. "The Vampire on the Tesseract Wall" (3900 words) to Dark Matter Magazine, my third sale to them. A 4-D being collects 3-D beings to display on its wall. It gets more than it bargained for when it collects a powerful vampire. 
  5. "Packing List for the Invasion" (1000 words) to Daily Science Fiction, my third sale to them since December. The story is told in the form of a literal packing list.
  6. "Ten Songs of Halloween" (1700 words) to the B Cubed Alternative Holidays anthology. A nasty spirit explains what happens each hour, a countdown toward its killing you, with a new song every hour. Can you escape?
  7. "A Grand Canyon of Lions" (100 words) to Martian Magazine. Yeah, that happened. Anything that's possible happens somewhere in the multiverse, right?
  8. "Death Message" (100 words) to Martian Magazine. A deadly way to send a ship-to-ship message.

Send us your own coaching news!