As One

August 30, 2013

NOTE - While I'm away at the ITTF coaching course (see below) I'm taking time off from blogging. I'll have lots to report when I return next Monday, Sept. 9!

ITTF Coaching Course

I'm off to an ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course next week, Mon-Sat, at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in Dunellen, NJ. The course is six days long, six hours/day and so 36 hours total. Here's the info page. The course is taught by Richard McAfee.

Coaching the Forehand

I had a new student last night, a 62-year-old semi beginner. He'd take a few lessons before, but had an awkward forehand - he'd drop his back shoulder during his backswing (and so tended to lift the ball instead of drive it forward), and lean toward the ball (so was off balance for the shot, not to mention this killed his timing). The stroke needed some serious rehab.

Rather than have him start off by hitting forehands, I had him do the following sequence.

  1. First we shadow stroked the shot over and over to get it right. This means practicing the stroke without a ball.
  2. Next I had him stand by the table with a ball, then toss the ball up and hit it with the proper stroke so the ball hit my side. This was surprisingly difficult - his timing had been built up based on a faulty stroke, and so he had to learn new timing with the new one. But by doing it this way he was able to hit off a nearly stationary ball. We did this over and over until he felt comfortable doing it.
  3. Next I fed him multiball to one spot as he continued to ingrain the new stroke.
  4. Next we did live hitting, going slow so he could use the new stroke. I focused on keeping the ball to the same spot. We were in no rush to increase the speed; the focus was on doing it right.
  5. Finally we did some side-to-side footwork, again going slowly so he could make sure to use the new stroke.

The entire training sequence took half an hour. By that time he was stroking the ball properly. It'll take more time to really ingrain the stroke so muscle memory will default to this in a game situation, but now he's on the right path.

He had a pretty good backhand, could actually topspin it pretty well. However, when I increased the pace, the shot fell apart. We worked on meeting the ball more straight on as the pace increased, which helped his rallying skills tremendously.

Observing Top Players and Coaches

After I finished coaching last night I found a perfect spot to sit and observe the action on three tables. On one table was Coach Cheng Yinghua working with Nathan Hsu (16, about 2350). They again were doing the short push drill I blogged about on Wednesday. (USATT featured that blog entry on their home page.) They went through various other drills after that.

On another table Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen") was working with Derek Nie (12, rated 2297). They were doing a drill where Bowen served and looped, and Derek counterlooped off the bounce with his forehand, and then they'd play out the point. While most of Derek's counterloops were crosscourt, he was also working on going down the line. Afterwards I talked to Derek, who I coach in tournaments, and pointed out how important it would be for his game if he could master that down-the-line off-the-bounce counterloop. (They also sometimes do a similar drill to Derek's backhand, where Derek topspin blocks aggressively.) Everyone's game is different, but for technical reasons I won't go into here (his rivals might be reading this!) this shot fits his game perfectly.

On another table three players were playing winner stay on: Harold Baring (2414), Raghu Nadmichettu (2321), and Larry Abass (2316, but 2362 before his last tournament). What most caught my attention there was how Harold's third-ball forehand attacking style was similar to how I used to do it 20+ years ago. Alas, the good old days!

You don't really need to be a top player to be a top coach or to be really knowledgeable about the game. But only rarely can a non-top player have the circumstances where they spend huge amounts of time observing top players and coaches as they train. You can't learn this from just watching videos of tournament matches; you need to watch how the players got there to really understand the game at a higher level. Players and wannabe coaches should look for chances to observe top players and coaches in training sessions every chance they can. 

USA Nationals Entry Form

The USA Nationals entry form came out yesterday. And here's the home page for the 2013 Nationals (not much is there yet), to be held in Las Vegas, Dec. 17-21. They really do need to get these things out earlier; some people make vacation plans well in advance. At minimum, it should be distributed at the U.S. Open in July, just as the 2014 U.S. Open entry form should be distributed at the Nationals in December. There are complications in doing this, but they need to overcome those complications.

For perspective, I'm a member of Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). The World Science Fiction Convention starts today, in San Antonia, TX. (I can't believe I'm missing it!!! I've been to three. About 5000 people attend each year, though the number fluctuates based mostly on location.) Here's the World Science Fiction Convention home page. And already they are featuring next year's World Con in London! If you go to that page, you'll see it's pretty extensive. They even have the guests of honor for next year already signed up so they can advertise them - seven of them! People are already making plans to attend. Even more importantly, they take advantage of the excitement of this year's World Con to get people to sign up for next year's. USATT should do the same.

Two Tips to Increase Forehand Power

Here's another tip of mine from long ago that USATT ran yesterday. (I did 171 Tips of the Week for them as "Dr. Ping-Ping," 1999-2007.) Has anyone noticed that the length of my tips have increased over the years? They used to be short things; now each one's practically a feature!!!

Jorgen Persson: The Story

Here's a video (5:19) that tells the story of 1991 World Men's Singles Champion Jorgen Persson of Sweden. Those who followed his career will recognize the many scenes, including the many Sweden-China confrontations back when Sweden was the dominant table tennis country. Yes, it wasn't always China! (But the few times since 1960 when China wasn't #1 they were the country that others had to beat to become #1.)

Adam Bobrow on TV

Here's an episode of the TV show "Code." As Adam describes it on Facebook, "Check out my dance battle with rugby superstar Liam Messam! My main segment is from 25:45 – 31:30 plus a moment getting crazy on the turntables at 33:14. The show was a BLAST! I am so happy I showed up for the live taping."

iPhone Ping-Pong

Here's a video (3:11, but starts with an irritating 30-sec commercial) showing plays table tennis with an iPhone on the Today Show. As described by Table Tennis Nation, "Franck from SPiN went on the Today Show yesterday to show off some bar tricks and demonstrated how you play ping pong with an iPhone (the ping pong starts at 2:05)."

"As One" Outtake?

I think this five-second video is an outtake from the movie "As One," which tells the story of the unified Korean team winning Women's Teams at the 1991 Worlds. I thought I'd seen everything in table tennis, but this is new - a player's toss in doubles hitting her partner in the head? But I think these are actors, not actual players, playing the part of real-life players Hyun Jung Hwa of South Korea (played by actor Jiwon Ha) and Li Bun Hui of North Korea (played by actor Doona Bae). Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

Piingfinity

Here's a hilariously spectacular video (2:56) with lots of great special effect that went up yesterday. Perhaps the best part is when the woman looks in and we see the reality.

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August 24, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Eleven, Day Four

Today's the final day of our eleven-week summer camp marathon. We had three new players join us yesterday (but three also left), giving us an even 40 players in the camp. I gave lectures on the backhand drive and flip against backspin (including banana flip, which I talk about in my February 15, 2012 blog), the backhand loop, and on third-ball attack.

In the lecture on third-ball attack I went over the serves different styles should favor. For example, a looper might want to serve a lot of short backspin and no-spin, with sidespin serves mixed in as well as occasional deep serves. A hitter might want to serve more sidespin and topspin, and challenge the receiver with more deep serves, especially breaking ones into the backhand. However, it's different for different players. For example, some loopers prefer looping against backspin (and so would serve more backspin), while others prefer looping against topspin, and so might serve more sidespin and topspin. I also spoke about depth - short serves, half-long serves (where the second bounce is right about the end-line), and long serves (where first bounce is near the end-line). Over and over I stressed that the purpose of the serve was to get the inniative, not just to get the ball into play. 

I also spoke about the importance of "trick" serves, where you have some serves you throw at opponent for "free" points. Your typical trick serve will work a few times before the opponent figures it out. If you don't have any such tricky serves, then you are giving away potentially free points; it's like spotting your opponent points. The problem with trick serves is once an opponent gets used to them, they are often easier to attack then other serves since most go long and can be looped, and so they should be used only a few times. (So focus on third-ball serves that allow you to get the innitiative.) Trick serves work best at the beginning and intermediate levels, but they are effective even at the advanced levels if used sporadically and at the right time. Examples of trick serves are a fast no-spin serve at the elbow or a tomahawk serve (a forehand serve with racket tip up) deep to the forehand so it breaks away from the receiver, causing him to reach for the ball and often miss-hitting off the end and side. 

I'm still in the neck brace. The most comfortable position is with my head back, nose in the air, which leads me to believe that stuck-up people aren't really stuck up; they just have whiplash.

Table Tennis Graphic Designers Wanted!

Uberpong is looking for graphic designers to create table tennis designs. "Are you a graphic designer, illustrator or just a wizard with crayons? Do you want your design to appear on an Uberpong ping pong paddle (table tennis bat)? We need you!!"

Clash of Titans

Here's a video (4:09) that contrasts Jan-Ove Waldner versus Ma Long.

As One

You can now watch the movie "As One" online, with English subtitles. It's the movie about the unified Korean women's team winning at the 1991 World Championships. Here's the IMDB info page.

New World Rankings

Here's an article on the new World Rankings, and here are the rankings themselves. The article includes a link to a video of the Olympic Men's Final between Zhang Jike and Wang Hao for those who missed it.

Ping-Pong with Giraffes

In honor of my neck problems, here are all the ping-pong and giraffe connections I could find.

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June 13, 2012

Tactics Case Study

I recently had an interesting practice match with a top player. I'm not going to name the player, so I'll call him "Bob" (not his real name). Bob has a very good backhand, both looping against backspin and hitting against once in the rally. He also has a rather quick off-the-bounce forehand loop, so it can be dangerous going there. His serves are mostly short backspin or no-spin, with deep, spinny serves thrown in as a variation. When he flips short balls with his forehand, they almost always go crosscourt - a weakness I was about to ram an entire match through. He was playing well, and had just defeated two very strong players, while I was not playing very well. But tactics, not playing level, decided this match. Here's what happened.

Early on I could tell when his serve was going long, but I wasn't sure why - there was something different about the way he set up. So whenever he served long, I was ready to loop. (Near the end of the second game I realized it was because he set up for his long serve with his racket farther back and more closed. I pointed this out to him after the match.) Because I was looping his deep serves so well, he had to serve short over and over. This allowed me to drop them almost all short, often faking to the backhand and then dropping it short to his forehand. He mostly pushed these or predictably flipped them crosscourt to my forehand. In both cases, I took the attack. So throughout the match I was the aggressor on his serve.

On my serve, I gave him a steady diet of varying serves short to his forehand, occasionally to the middle. I used forehand pendulum and reverse pendulum serves from the backhand side (and occasionally, to mess him up, from the forehand side), and tomahawk serves from the middle and forehand side. This allowed me to throw both types of sidespin at him, mixed with varying backspin and topspin, as well as "heavy no-spin" serves, where I fake spin but serve a dead ball. Since his returns were either passive, or aggressive right into my forehand, I was able to attack.

When I attacked, I almost always went after his wide forehand and middle. Sometimes I'd aim at his forehand and at the last second go to his wide backhand. With his forehand he'd usually try to counterloop, but since I was getting the first attack over and over it wore him down. I could tell by the way he set up if he was ready for the longer, more aggressive loop since he'd be a step farther off the table, so when he did that I'd try to loop very short and spinny, which completely threw him off. If he stayed too close to the table, then my loops were aggressive and deep, and again his counterloop would be erratic. Any loops that landed in between he'd counter-loop away off the bounce, so depth control was key. If he did make the counterloop, he was usually vulnerable to a quick block at wide angles or to his middle. Since I knew he was going to mostly counterloop, I didn't even attempt to follow my first loop to his forehand with another; I'd set up to quick-block, which often set me up for another attack.

Another key was that when he attacked my forehand, he'd set up to counterloop my expected loop to his forehand. So often I'd get free points by looping down the line to his open backhand side.

I won the match three straight. The keys to the match? His backhand loop against backspin is very good, but he got exactly zero chances to backhand loop against backspin. Not even one. His backhand counter-hitting is very strong, and we had exactly three backhand exchanges during the match. Other than a few points on his serve where I decided to very things by chopping (yes, I do that!) he had exactly zero chances to serve and loop against a deep push. Over and over I played into that little weakness where he was unable to forehand flip down the line. I fought the temptation to vary things in a way that would allow him to get his strengths into play.

Obviously players with different styles and levels have to use tactics that are relevant to their style and level. For example I wouldn't coach a beginning-intermediate player in an important match to vary the depth of his loop - he doesn't have the depth control yet, and trying to vary the depth would just lead to his own misses. But the key is to find ways to use your strengths against the opponent's weaknesses. In the above, I focused on Bob's telegraphing of his long serve, his inability to flip down the line effectively, and his sometimes erratic forehand counterloop against varying incoming loops. I used my own strengths - ability to loop balls when I can anticipate chances to do so (against the deep serves and crosscourt flips to my forehand), varying the depth on my loop, short push control when I can anticipate a short serve (and so didn't have to guard against a deep serve), my varying short serves to his forehand, and the ability to quick-block when I know early on the opponent is going to counterloop.

ITTF Hopes Training Camp

The ITTF Hopes program is a worldwide program where the best kids age 12 and under get together to train under top coaches. This morning USA's Kanak Jha is featured on the ITTF web page. There is also a video (4:35) of a training session, featuring coach and former Swedish star Erik Lindh.

Team Tryouts for 2013 USA Maccabiah Table Tennis Team

The Tryouts will be held Aug. 26 at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center. Here's info on the USATT web page.

Table Tennis Screensaver

Want a table tennis screensaver for your computer? Here it is!

"As One" star featured in GQ Magazine

Bae Doona, who stars as North Korea's Li Bun Hui in the new table tennis movie "As One," is featured in the June GQ Magazine. The issue isn't online yet, but here are pictures from Korean Lovers Photoblog.

Strange Looking Tables

If you are shopping for the strangest, weirdest looking tables you can find, look no further. Here are eight of the strangest, ranging from a martini table to a Spider-man table. 

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June 7, 2012

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Here's a note about upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminars that was sent to all USATT Certified Coaches from the USATT Coaching Committee. (I'm a member.) If you are interested, see the info page. I'm running my second one at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Aug 11-12, 18-19 (with possible Paralympic session on Aug. 25), so I hope to see you there! Here's the flyer for the one I'm running. 

Special Notice to All USATT Members, USATT Coaches, and USATT Clubs
From: Richard McAfee, Chairman, USATT National Coaching Advisory Committee

In the upcoming summer months, USATT Coaching is offering 5 regional ITTF-PPT Level 1 Coaching Courses.  USATT Coaching would like to urge anyone who is actively involved or has thought about becoming involved in coaching table tennis to plan to attend one of these courses.

Coaches completing all the course requirements of the ITTF-PPT Level 1 Course will become ITTF Certified and listed on the ITTF Coaches Registry.  In addition, coaches becoming ITTF Level 1 who are not currently USATT Certified (or certified at a “club” level) are eligible to become USATT “State” Level Coaches.  For current USATT Coaches, your ITTF Certification will be added to your name on the USATT Coaching Data-base.

Course Content:

The ITTF-PPT Level 1 Course focuses on preparing coaches to work with children and also on developing effective group coaching skills.  Topics include: how to conduct introductory programs for children, teaching in a school setting, how to teach all basic strokes, teaching serve and serve return, physical training, psychological skills, nutrition and energy systems, tournament organization, rules, and junior development planning.  In addition, the course includes a full day of instruction on working with Para athletes which includes: understanding the classification system, special equipment of the Para athletes, Para rules, and basic knowledge of Para techniques and tactics.

More Trained Coaches Needed:

Every USATT Club needs trained and motivated coaches if we are ever going to raise the standard of both our athletes and our clubs.  I would urge every USATT Club to look to recruit one or more persons who are interested in coaching and help sponsor them to attend one of these ITTF Courses.  The benefit back to your club of having more trained coaches will show itself for years to come.  The immediate benefit is the all coaches attending the ITTF Course must complete 30 hours of coaching at their local club of which 5 hours is supervised and graded.  This often results in many new coaching programs for the local club. 

More Advanced ITTF Courses Coming Soon:

While the ITTF-PPT Level 1 Course is an introductory coaching course it still covers a great amount of material that coaches of all levels will find interesting.  More importantly for the elite level coaches, the Level 1 Course sets the stage for the ITTF Level 2, ITTF Level 3, and ITTF High Performance Courses which will be coming to the USATT in the near future.  Regional Level 2 Courses will begin in 2013 and Level 3 in 2014. 

It is important to note that the ITTF does not “grandfather” anyone and every coach must start at Level 1 and work their way up.  Currently there are no USATT Coaches higher than Level 1 so now is the time to get in on the ground floor.  All coaches must be a Level 1 Coach for 1 year before they can apply for the Level 2 Course. 

Summer ITTF-PPT Level 1 Courses:

  • Fremont, CA – June 11-15, 2012
  • Champaign, IL – July 17-21, 2012
  • Pleasantville, NY - (8/4, 8/5, 8/11, 8/12, 8/18), 2012
  • Gaithersburg, MD - (8/11-12, 8/18-19, 8/25), 2012
  • Austin, TX (8/13 - 8/17, 2012)

For Complete Information, please see: http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Coaching-and-Tips/Courses.aspx

Stuff I Did at Ledo Pizza Yesterday

As I do every few weeks, I spent an afternoon at Ledo Pizza yesterday getting work done. I did both table tennis and science fiction & fantasy stuff. What did I accomplish?

  • Reviewed printouts explaining the U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League to prepare for an online meeting, which took place last night at 8PM for about an hour;
  • Edited and rewrote chapter 20 of my Table Tennis Tactics book, "Mental Tactics," based on suggestions from table tennis sports psychologist Dora Kurimay;
  • Proofed several rewritten chapters of the Table Tennis Tactics book;
  • Proofed two new stories, "The Nature of Swords" and "Death, the Devil, and the President's Ghost," which I submitted to markets last night;
  • Proofed rewritten versions of two stories, "The Purple Rose of Retribution" and "Nanogod," and submitted both last night;
  • Ate pepperoni pizza.

Update on Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

It's currently around 99,000 words (over twice as many words as Table Tennis: Steps to Success, my best-selling previous work, which sold over 28,000 copies), as I constantly tinker with it. However, except for some more work I plan to do today on chapter 20 (the Mental Tactics chapter), the written part is done. I've also worked out an agreement with a top table tennis photographer for use of his photos, plus I've ransacked my own photo files, so I'm well into finding the roughly 70 photos that I plan to use to represent various chapters or sections. Then I'll start creating the pages. The plan is to be able to do both POD (Print on Demand) and ebooks. The only thing I'm not sure of at this point is the cover. I have several ideas I'm playing with.

"As One" the movie

Here's a website with info on the movie (about the unified Korean Women's Team winning the 1991 World Team Championships), linked to a video preview (1:48). Later, after I see the movie, I'll blog about it. I do know they have changed history to add drama, apparently having Korea win the doubles in dramatic fashion in the final match to win the championships, when in fact the doubles was the third of five matches played, and they lost that! I'm told that in the movie, an umpire kept faulting the Koreans, but if I remember correctly, that really did happen, though it's likely the movie exaggerated this. I'll get the movie on Netflix when it's available, since it's not playing my area (Maryland).

The Shakehands Serving Grip

Here's an article, and linked video (2:55), that examines the intricacies of the shakehands grip for serving. I think one of the keys here is whether to use the middle finger on the handle to add extra snap, or hold the racket only between thumb and index finger for extra flexibility. I do it both ways, depending on the serve, but generally using the middle finger for extra spin, and taking it off for quicker motions leading to more deception.

Ariel Hsing Wins North American Cup Again

Here's the story.

Princeton Table Tennis Video

Here are video interviews (3:40) with four members of the Princeton Table Tennis Club - Amaresh Sahu, Kevin Ma, Thomas An, and Gabriel Reder. (Amaresh and Kevin are both alumni from my club, Maryland Table Tennis Center.)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Takes on Olympian

He's no match for Mo Zhang. Here's the article, linked to the video (1:07).

A Table Tennis Birthday Cake

Yes, you can have your table tennis cake and eat it too.

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May 30, 2012

Summer Table Tennis Training

Now's the time to start seriously thinking about your summer training, especially for those out of school, but also for the rest of you. There are training camps all over the USA. My club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, will be running eleven consecutive weeks of camps, Mon-Fri every week from June 18 to Aug. 24. Here is info on the camps. I will be coaching along with Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Xeng Xun. We will also have several 2400-2600 practice partners.

Don't have time to come to a camp? Or don't feel comfortable training with a bunch of juniors? (Most camps are dominated by kids, though all ages are welcome.) Here's the list of USATT coaches, or if you are in the Maryland area, here's info on private coaching at MDTTC.

Many players practice for years and never improve as much as they'd like. The problem is that they rarely go through a period of intense training, which is where you can maximize improvement. Set aside a week or so for a training camp, arrange a couple months afterwards with both private coaching and a regular practice schedule, and it'll pay off for years to come.

Before undergoing any training, take some time to think about your game. What are your current or potential strengths? What are your weaknesses? How to you envision yourself playing later on? One thing I tell all of my students is that you should be able to write a book about your game, at least in your head. If you can't, then either you don't know your game or you don't have a game. In most cases, players have a game but haven't really thought it through. Do some thinking, perhaps consult with a coach or top player, and decide where you want to go in terms of style, level, and/or goals. Then start your journey. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and your journey to reach your table tennis goals starts with your next practice session.

"As One" movie

This is the first major "real" table tennis movie (as opposed to comedies that poke fun at the sport), about the joint Korean women's team that won the Worlds in 1991, upsetting China in the final. It opens tomorrow in three U.S. cities (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia), as well as in Toronto and Vancouver. It opens in Los Angeles one week later. Here is info on the theaters and times, as well as a link to the trailer. Here's info on the movie from the ITTF. Here's a photo gallery from U.S. umpire Michael Meier, who had a major role in the movie authentically playing a U.S. umpire. Here's the IMDB page on the movie.

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Backhand Counterhit (4:54)

USA Olympic Table Tennis Team

Here's an article with photo slideshow of the USA Olympic Team, with pictures and info on all four - Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Erica Wu.

Mike Mezyan Table Tennis Art

Here's the page for Mike's table tennis artworks. Or you can go directly to the Album.

Jan-Ove Waldner: The Power of Blocking

Here's a highlights video showing the blocking skills of the great Jan-Ove Waldner. Watch the change of pace and placements he uses. Note how he often sidespin blocks.

Turning Trash into Table Tennis

Really!

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May 16, 2012

MDTTC Featured

The Maryland Table Tennis Center was featured in a story in the Montgomery Gazette this morning. I'm quoted several times. Make sure to click on the pictures! We've been featured in various media hundreds of times over the years.

How does one go about getting press coverage of your table tennis events? It's not difficult, but it does take some time. First, have something to feature. It can be an actual event (tournament, clinic, big league match, etc.), a person (player or coach), or just table tennis in general. (All reporters need an "angle.") Get a listing of all the local media by Googling your city and state along with "newspapers," "TV stations," and "radio stations." Go to their web pages and compile a list of contact emails. Then write a press release about your event, person, or table tennis in general, and send it off.

If you have a really big event, contact the national press - CNN, MSNBC, FOX, USA Today, Associated Press, etc.

If you don't get any nibbles, do it again a week later. You may have to hit them a few times before you get their attention.

How do you write a press release? Just write about what you hope to feature. Make sure to include all the info - the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then check it for spelling and grammar - there are few quicker ways to turn off literary types (and anyone from a newspaper, TV, or radio considers themselves "literary types") than with misspellings and awkward grammar. Write clearly and focus on the facts and anything that you think might interest people. Let them do the color - after they've come and interviewed you!

Sean O'Neill named U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis Coach

Here's the story. Sean was previously the U.S. Paralympic Table Tennis Coach from 2004-2008.

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Atlanta

Here's a story about the ITTF Coaching Seminar that USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee is running. (I ran one last April, and plan to run another one at MDTTC in Gaithersburg, MD, tentatively scheduled Aug. 26-30. Let me know if you are interested.)

"As One" breaks 1.2 million

Over 1.2 million in South Korea have seen the new film "As One" in the ten days since its release, according to the Yahoo story. The movie chronicles the joint Korean team that won Women's Teams at the 1991 World Championships. Apparently that's a lot for Korea. I wasn't able to find when the movie opens in the U.S. - anyone know?

King of the Table Matt Kuchar

Matt Kuchar is the best player in the PGA, according to tweets by fellow golfer Jason Dufner. However, Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy "would give him a good match." Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. (As noted in previous blogs, I may be coaching Hardy soon. More on this when it's finalized.)

Profile of the Over 80's

Here's a video (3:48) that features eight players from around the world (with 703 years between them, ranging from 81 to 99 years old, including players from England, Australia, Sweden, and China) competing in Over 80 in the World Veteran Championships in Inner Mongolia. Over 3500 players compete in the tournament.

Ping-Pong Offices

Here's a CNN story from Monday (2:11) about modern offices in Silicon Valley with all sorts of perks - including table tennis!

Paulini and the Ping Pong Song

Here's a new song from Paulini - the Ping Pong Song (2:43)! Sample lyrics: "You're playing ping pong with my heart." Okay, probably not the greatest table tennis song - the first comment underneath says, "For the sake of humanity, please someone shoot this woman." The greatest table tennis music is, and always will be, "Magic Ball," the theme song to the 1989 World Championships (3:09).

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May 4, 2012

Coaching level versus playing level

Does one need to be a top player to be a top coach? The question often comes up, and there's an easy answer. No.

However . . . and this is a big HOWEVER . . . it's very difficult to become a top coach without being a top player first. It's a matter of opportunity. If you are a member of the National Team, you train for many years with other top players and work with the best coaches in the country, and if you are paying attention, you gain the experience necessary to be a top coach.

It's possible to be a very good basics coach, one who can train new and intermediate players very well, without being as experienced working with top players. But the key problem to watch for here is that many coaches who teach basics teach them in a way that will later hurt the player. For example, some hold back on teaching the loop, especially the backhand loop, for so long that hitting becomes ingrained, while looping never becomes comfortable. Or they have the player use beginner's sponge so long that their development is held back because they develop a game around beginner's sponge instead of a modern game based on modern "super sponges." So even coaches of beginning and intermediate players need to have enough experience with top players to see what they are doing so they can teach players a foundation that leads to what the top players do.

Some believe you can be a self-taught coach, and there's some truth to this. But there will always be major holes in your coaching if you don't have the opportunity to spend lots and lots of time with top players and coaches when they train. Even tactical coaching is limited if you haven't spent a lot of time with the player you are coaching when he's practicing. You might be a good tactical coach from personal experience and from watching top players on video and analyzing what you see, but you have to see what the player is doing in practice to see what he can really do. You might see him have trouble with a shot and not know if he normally has trouble with that shot or if he's just off or nervous. You might see a weakness in an opponent that seems to play into your player's strengths, but if the player hasn't practiced that type of sequence, he might not have confidence or be comfortable doing it. Or the player may have techniques he uses in practice that he doesn't use early on in a match (such as a different serve, or an ability to counterloop, or backhand loop, etc.), leading to tactical advice that doesn't take into account these techniques. So being around top players and coaches when they train is important if you truly want to be a top coach. This doesn't mean you can't be a good coach; but to be a top coach you need the full experience.

Suppose you were not a top player, but had these same experiences? Suppose you spent years watching top players train and worked with the best coaches in the country, and paid attention? Then you could also become a top coach. However, it's difficult to find such opportunities to watch or train with the top players and coaches unless you are a top player.

I was lucky to have started my playing career practicing regularly with top juniors and future stars Sean O'Neill and Brian Masters, then spent four years as a manager/director/assistant coach for the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, then as an assistant coach for Dan Seemiller at his camps for two years, and then spent the last twenty years coaching at the Maryland Table Tennis Center where I'm surrounded by top coaches and players. I also got to coach the U.S. Junior Team at tournaments around the world, as well as attended numerous coaching seminars, including the recent ITTF ones (which I now teach). I've also spent an inordinate amount of time just thinking about the sport, one of those key things that's often missing when a top player is unable to make the transition to top coach. (And many top players are not good coaches, though most don't reach their high level without learning enough to be pretty good.)

My highest rating was 2292, which was 18th in the country at the time (citizens only), and since the ratings have slowly inflated since, it equates to a considerably higher rating than 2292, but we'll leave it at that. (I've actually had about 50 different ratings over 2250 without ever breaking 2300, probably a record, alas, and I'm now retired from regular tournaments.) That's pretty decent, but I never made the National Team. However, I've been lucky to have had the experiences needed to be a top coach. (I still wish I had more "international" experience - I've been to only two Worlds, and coached the U.S. Junior Team outside the U.S. about five times. There are other coaches with far more international experience than this. But I partially make up for this by spending time with current and former top players at my club who do have this international experience, such as Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Peter Li, and Han Xiao.) Does this make me a "top coach"? That's for others to judge, but the key is that I have the experience needed so I'm in the running. If you want to be a top coach, then you too must find opportunities to be around top players and coaches, observe what they do, ask questions, and above all, think about what you see and learn.

When Ping-Pong Diplomacy Beat China

That's the headline in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday, about the upcoming movie "As One," which tells the story of the joint Korean women's team at the 1991 Worlds that upset China.

Timo Boll in Washington Post

Here's the story from yesterday, with the headline, "German table tennis player Timo Boll wows Chinese women with his ping pong, sex appeal." (It didn't make the print edition, just the online version.)

"I made it to the Olympics and to prom"

That's what Ariel Hsing says in her blog with ESPN. She'll be blogging for them during the Olympics. Here are links to her other ESPN blogs (she's done four so far).

Erica Wu Puts on a Show

Here's an article on Erica doing an exhibition for her school and musing about her making the Olympic team.

Law School and Table Tennis

Here's a story about law school students playing table tennis entitled, "You Can Take Our Lives, But You’ll Never Take Our Ping Pong." Here's an enlarged version of the rather crazy photo!

Metal Men at Ping-Pong

Here's a rather interesting piece of art of two . . . metalicons? . . . playing table tennis.

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May 3, 2012

USATT Committee and Task Force Meetings and Minutes

As noted in my blog on April 27, one week ago I sent an email to the USATT board, staff, and committee chairs asking where I could find the minutes of USATT committee and task force meetings. The USATT bylaws require these be published within 30 days (Section 9.10). USATT has not been doing so over the last five years or so (since the new bylaws were created), and so either there have been zero meetings or they have not been following their bylaws. (And I happen to know they have had numerous committee and task force meetings.) This is not a case of them not realizing they were not following the bylaws as I have reminded them of this a number of times over the last three years, by email, at meetings, and in person.

One week later and the only response was a private email by one committee chair who said he kept minutes and sent them to USATT, but they were never published. (He attached a copy of the minutes.)

This is a clear case of USATT being wrong, they know they are wrong, and they refuse to do anything about it. I find this incredibly frustrating - the board knows fully well that the membership only selects two of their nine members, and so they are not accountable to the membership. Two are selected by the Elite Athletes. The other five are selected by the Nominating and Governance Committee. Three of the five members of that committee are non-table tennis people who were chosen by the USOC.

I wonder if there is any benefit in going directly to the USOC and ask that they require USATT to follow their own bylaws? I mean, seriously, isn't following your own rules a major no-brainer?

Learn to Pong Like a Champ

Here's Part 2 of 3 from 2011 USA National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li, covering 1) Getting Good Equipment; 2) Understanding Underspin versus Topspin; and 3) Developing the Deep Push. It's given both in text form and video (2:01). (Here's Part 1.)

Why Guo Yue?

Here's an article on why China picked Guo Yue as the third member of the Chinese Olympic Women's Team.

"As One" pictures

Here are a group of photos taken at the set of the upcoming table tennis movie "As One," care of Mike Meier, who plays an umpire in the movie (and is one in real life as well). He's the one umpiring in many of the pictures, including the first one.

Here are two articles on Senior Table Tennis

Amarillo Slim

I saw the obituary of the famous gambler in the paper (he died Sunday), and it mentioned how he had not only beaten Bobby Riggs in a money match at table tennis with an iron skillet, but claimed he had also won a money match against a "world champion," which didn't seem possible - until I discovered they'd used coke bottles for rackets. Here's the story. (Anyone know who the Taiwanese player was? There have been no "world champions" from Taiwan, at least at the World Table Tennis Championships run by the ITTF.)

Bassnectar's "Ping Pong"

Here's Bassnectar's latest music (4:32), entitled, you guessed it, "Ping Pong." It starts with the sound of a ping-pong ball bouncing, and throughout much of it the beat is to a bouncing ping-pong ball.

Non-Table Tennis - SF Sales

The last two days have been nice ones for my "other" career, science fiction & fantasy writing.

  • I sold a story to Electric Spec, "In the Belly of the Beast," which tells the story of a sorcerer who kills dragons by getting swallowed alive, and then living in the dragon's stomach, protected by a force field, and bringing anything the dragon swallows into the force field - thereby starving the dragon to death. Unfortunately, the daughter he abandoned many years ago to go to sorcery school is also swallowed by the dragon, as well as a belligerent warrior. (It features the only sorcerer versus warrior battle ever fought in the stomach of a dragon.)  I've sold 59 short stories, and this is the 130th different publication I've been published in. (Here's a complete listing of my written work - over 1300 published articles and stories.)
  • I'm on the verge of selling a story to Flagship Magazine - they asked if I could do a rewrite of the ending. This story, "The Oysters of Pinctada," is about a space pirate who kidnaps a king and his crew in an attempt to find the secret of their giant pearls - and the lengths to which the king's people (including his son and daughter) will go to get him back.
  • The acquisitions editor for a publisher liked the first three chapters of my SF novel "Campaign 2100" and asked to see the rest of it. (She was a big West Wing fan, as was I, and the novel is basically West Wing in the 22nd century.)
  • Another publisher asked to see my fantasy novel "The Giant Face in the Sky." (Note - I have just the two novels making the rounds.)

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April 24, 2012

USATT Minutes of Committee & Task Force Meetings

From the USATT Bylaws, Section 9.10, Minutes of Meetings:

"Each committee and task force shall take minutes of its meetings.  The approved minutes must be published within thirty (30) days of completion of the meeting."

I've pointed this out to the USATT board multiple times over the past few years, via email to the board, at the 2009 Strategic Meeting, at board meetings, and I blogged about this on October 11 last year. [See segment"2009 USATT Strategic Meeting (and Task Force Minutes)."]

Either none of the USATT committees or task forces have met even once over the past five years or so, or they simply aren't following the bylaws, even after the problem was pointed out. (I happen to know that a number of these committees and task forces have met.) Alas, the very board that crowed so much about creating these new bylaws (circa roughly 2007, with updates since) has not followed them. Don't believe me?

Then here's a challenge. FIND ME THE MINUTES OF THESE MEETINGS. First person who can find them by 4:30 PM this afternoon when I leave to coach (and no cheating by someone putting them online today) gets a free copy of any one of my books (see below) and public acknowledgement here. (One exception - I'm fairly certain I remember seeing minutes online of an Officials meeting, but am not sure. But if anyone can find those minutes, no book, but I'll acknowledge your finding in my blog tomorrow.) Here are the USATT minutes for USATT board meetings, and the USATT committee listing. (The committee listing includes task forces, some of which have met over the past few years and since been dissolved, such as the "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task force.) Other than board meetings, there are minutes for a Hall of Fame Committee meeting listed on "December 20, 2011" (they mean 2010) - and they are not actually a USATT committee. 

Note that not all committees meet, especially "advisory" committees. I'm on the USATT Coaching, Club, and Editorial Advisory Committees, but none of them have had a formal meeting since I was appointed. However, others have met to formulate various policy, such as the High Performance Committee, which meets to set policy and schedule for the National Teams, and of course the various Task Forces meet to accomplish their various tasks. (At least I hope they do!)

Books by Larry Hodges

Hey, that's me! Since I mentioned my books above (and it's been a while since I listed them here), here's a listing. Note that Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook and Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis (which are really handbooks) are online (free). And this fall I hope to have my new book out, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." (I'm doing the final rewriting right now, but other table tennis issues keep intervening.) 

2012 North American Olympic Table Tennis Trials Press Conference

Here's the video of the press conference with all the players from North America who made the Olympics (19:53). Unfortunately, I can barely hear them even at full volume. Maybe others have louder speakers.

Ariel Hsing slideshow

Here are eight photos with captions of U.S. Women's Champ and Olympian teenager Ariel Hsing at the Olympic Trials.

Michael Landers and the Kelloggs Corn Flakes Box

Here's more on Michael Landers on the Kelloggs Corn Flakes box, including a picture of both the front and back.

"As One" movie

Here's a preview of "As One" (1:48), with English subtitles, the story of the joint Korean 1991 World Women's Team Champions

Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings

Here's another article on hockey's Predators vs. Red Wings table tennis "feud."

Adam Bobrow Highlights

Here's two minutes of Adam Bobrow, mostly from movie and TV roles, including three table tennis scenes. (He's not just a comedian and actor - he's rated 2115, and was recently up to 2172.)

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March 23, 2012

Talking versus Drilling

I often think the most difficult part of coaching is finding that line between coaching (i.e. explaining things demonstrating techniques) and drilling (i.e. letting the student work on a skill). The more you talk and demonstrate, the more information you convey. On the other hand, the more you actually have the student drill, the more the techniques get ingrained.  Where's the balance?

It really depends on the student. Younger players often are not particularly interested in a coach who blathers on and on, even if the blather is laden with nuggets of gold. They just want to play. Older students often look for more info, because they have a longer attention span, they understand the value of the info, and because they probably need the rest break anyway.

Ideally the coach says as little as is necessary for the student to get the technique right. But it's not that simple. Let's say you're teaching a kid to forehand loop. He starts out going crosscourt over and over. Then he gets the bright idea of looping down the line, and does so awkwardly. So you show him how to rotate the shoulders back so he can loop down the line more easily. Then he points out that he likes his way better since the opponent can't see it coming. And so you show him how to loop deceptively down the line by lining up the shoulders to go crosscourt, and at the last second rotating them back to go down the line. Next thing you know you are talking about the various placements when looping from the wide forehand (down the line, to the opponent's elbow/crossover point, crosscourt to the corner, extreme crosscourt outside the corner), and then you're talking about when to loop soft, medium, or hard, and pretty soon you're pretty much teaching a graduate seminar on looping to a fourth grader. (The preceding is a rough synopsis of an actual experience.)

The temptation to expand on any topic is huge, at least for me, since I generally have about 10,000 words to say on any topic. Getting it down to 20 words is harder work than going with the 10,000-word blather. But I restrain myself. Usually. Even older players have their limits, and I probably want to narrow those 10,000 words down to 50. Or less.

It's probably best to keep it simple, and let them work at one skill at a time, and resist the urge to expand to PhD techniques and explanations until your student is relatively advanced. In other words, focus on basics like developing solid drives until he's old enough to drive. I'll save the 10,000 word blathers for my next table tennis book.

My next table tennis book

Speaking of that, I put "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" on hold a few weeks ago. I was just too busy on other things. I've already written a first draft (21 chapters, 86,000 words, about 370 pages double spaced in Courier New), and had it critiqued by a number of people. (Thank you again Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton!) It's still on hold, but I think I might finally get back to it next week, where I expect to both add more material and do some rewriting. It should come out later this year, though it might take longer if I decide to submit to publishers instead of self-publishing. (One publisher has already expressed interest.) 

Ariel Hsing blogs for ESPN

The 2010 and 2011 U.S. Women's Singles Champion blogs about her play at the recent Olympic and World Team Trials.

LA Dodgers partake in Ping-Pong to unwind

Ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw (2011 Cy Young winner) dominates. Here's the article.

More on Korean table tennis movie "As One"

Yesterday I gave the link to the Korean trailer for "As One." It's a movie about how North and South Korea came together to play as one team at the 1991 Worlds, winning the Women's Team event over China. (They defeated Deng Yaping and Gao Jun. The latter would later emigrate to the U.S. and win nine U.S. Women's Singles titles while representing the U.S. at the worlds, Olympics, and other major tournaments a number of times.) The movie will feature actors playing North Korean star Li Bun Hui  (sometimes spelled Lee Boon Hee) and South Korean star Hyun Jung Hwa, rivals until they were suddenly on the same team. (One confusion that took some research to work out - the movie was originally titled "Korea," and is still listed that way in many places, but has been renamed "As One.") I now have more links, all in English.

Cary Cup Highlights Video

Here are two highlights videos from the recent Cary Cup Championships.

Crazy table tennis

Here's another highlights video set to music (3:44).

Eight-year-old does beerless beer pong

Here's 59 seconds of beginning beer pong by an eight-year-old. But it's pretty impressive, even if he probably had to do each shot many times before getting it in.

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