Orioles

July 11, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on forehand looping. I also introduced the beginning players to pushing.

One recurring problem I saw with forehand looping was a number of players who moved their head and bodies forward quite a bit when looping, instead of mostly going in a circle. When you overdo this, you lose control and leave yourself off balance and out of position for the next shot, meaning you can't do them over and over rapidly, as required for higher-level play.

It's important when looping to imagine a rod going through your head and going in a circle around it, with the head not moving too much. Here's a 46-second video featuring the forehand loop 3-time world men's singles champion Wang Liqin, whose powerful forehand loop really did own a decade, and may have been the best of all time. Note how his body mostly rotates around the head, with the head moving forward only a little bit. There are exceptions to this, even though this leaves you in a more difficult position for the next shot, such as when going for certain absolute rips, or when stepping around the backhand corner when you are rushed, where you may rotate the body more to the left to create power. If you go more in a circle, you still get great force as you whip around in that circle; you get great control since you are more or less looping from a stationary platform rather than a moving one; and you finish balanced and in position for the next shot.

There is an amazing range of skill levels in the camp. One complete beginner, age 10, picked up looping very quickly. Another, about age 13, is struggling with it. Another, also about 13, picked it up quickly (as well as regular forehands) because he was a competitive tennis player, but he had difficulties learning the backhand since he was used to tennis backhands.

All the kids picked up pushing quickly, as they usually do. I brought out the colored soccer balls again so they could see how much backspin they were creating.

Tomorrow's a big day - it's SLURPEE day at 7-11! Free Slurpees for everyone. We make the daily trek to the 7-11 down the street (across a busy street, so I chaperone everyone) every afternoon after lunch, around 1:20 or so. Normally 5-12 players go, but with the free Slurpee special, I'm guessing we'll have 20+ tomorrow. As usual, I'll get the Strawberry-Lemon Slurpee, which I rank as the #3 technological innovation by humankind. (Just for the record, #2 is air conditioning due to the 115 degree heat in Las Vegas during the U.S. Open, and #1 is . . . the spork. It solved all our eating problems. Really.)

Guatemala and El Salvador

Yesterday I blogged about my summer travels, including going to Guatemala and El Salvador in August to coach at ITTF Junior Pro Tour tournaments there. However, I'm needed at MDTTC camps, and I'm already missing two of the ten weeks (U.S. Open and a writer's workshop), so Coach Cheng will be going in my place. (It also gives Nathan Hsu a regular practice partner down there, since Cheng is 2600 and I'm not. Originally Wang Qing Liang was also going as a player - he's also 2600 - but he dropped out because of visa complications.) Alas . . . I'd already bought a pocket English-Spanish dictionary and read over the Wikipedia entries for both countries. 

Orioles and Ping-Pong

Here's another mention of the Orioles playing table tennis (with J.J. Hardy their top star), from this morning's Washington Post, from article "Camden Yards is finally fun again," by Thomas Boswell: "Three-and-a-half hours before games begin, you can see part of what makes the Orioles cohere. It's a friendly nest. Four tall Birds play high-level doubles Ping-Pong in the middle of the clubhouse, everyone giving the battle room for smashes and retrievals. Occasionally, paddle king J.J. Hardy, all-star starter at shortstop and the son of a tennis coach, deigns to let a rival challenge him for supremacy."

Non-Table Tennis - My Townhouse

A number of people came by to see my townhouse yesterday, and five filled out applications to rent the first two floors. This is going to be an incredibly difficult decision. I've ruled out one of the applicants, but the other four all look perfect. I hate the idea of letting any of them down, but I have to make a decision, offer the place to one, and turn down the others.

Six Mistakes You Probably Make When Practicing Third Ball Attack, Part 1

Here's an essay on the topic from Table Tennis Master.

Amazing Table Tennis Tricks

Here's the video (3:06).

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June 14, 2013

Fundamentals and a Strong Foundation

I had a 1200-rated 11-year-old student recently at a tournament who faced long pips for the first time, against a higher-rated player. The opponent was a long pips blocker, no sponge, and pretty much covered the entire table with the long pips on the backhand, i.e. a "pushblocker." My student went in having no idea what to do, other than my admonition to give lots of deep no-spin, play steady, and patiently wait for an easy ball to put away. However, it became obvious very quickly that even against a high ball, he wasn't going to be smashing the high balls with any consistency; the long pips returns were just too different for him.

So pretty much on his own he stopped smashing, and simply rolled ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after . . . (I think you get the idea). The rallies were extremely long, but his patience won out; he won, 11-9 in the fifth. (The opponent went on to have a great tournament - probably because my student warmed him up!)

Later, in a training session, I mentioned that in tournaments you are going to face all sorts of different and strange styles like this one, and there were just too many to prepare him for everything. I also told him that at some point, I'd bring out a sheet of long pips for him to practice against, but not now; it wasn't worth it, and would just take away from other training. I wanted to install strong fundamentals, not worry about learning to play all the different styles this early in his development. He'll learn that later.

I told him something that I thought should be highlighted for others developing their games:

"If I try to prepare you for everything, you'll be prepared for nothing. If I give you a solid foundation, you can adjust to anything."

The point was that if I tried to prepare him for [and here I started to write a LONG list of weird styles, but decided I'd leave it to your imagination instead - there's a lot], then he'd know what to do against all of them, but would have less of a foundation in his game since we'd have wasted so much time preparing for things he'll rarely face. And so even if he knew how to play these weird styles, he wouldn't have the foundation to execute what was needed to win, and so he wouldn't be prepared against anyone. Instead, I told him to develop the foundation of his game (i.e. the fundamentals) so that his foundation is stronger than his opponents, and learn to adjust to them. If he did, I assured him he'd go right through opponents that he would otherwise have struggled with.  

Another way to think of it is this: if the opponent has a "weird" game, then he's not playing like most players. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a reason certain techniques are considered "good" and others "not so good." If you have "good" technique, and the other has "not so good" technique, then his only overall advantage over you is the very weirdness of his game. His weakness is that his technique is flawed, and if you have better technique, then you can adjust to his weirdness and win because of the sounder technique.

Rest assured there are many players with so-called "not so good" technique who are very good. They have honed these "not so good" techniques to the point where they are pretty good. But overwhelmingly they would be even better if they had spent the same amount of time and energy developing more proper technique. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, there's a reason why good technique is considered as such. (The biggest exception to this might be the very style mentioned above, "pushblockers," where players who are not as physically "athletic" as others can often reach a pretty high level by just blocking with long pips instead of conventional technique - but with long pips no sponge, that could be considered "proper technique." But that's a whole other essay for another time.)

I do believe that players should experiment and learn to do a few things different, especially on the serve, and perhaps on at least one receive or rally shot. Having something different can throw off an opponent. Just don't overdo it for the sake of doing it if your goal is to reach your maximum potential.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Due to near-hurricane thunderstorms, three of my four students cancelled (normally not "good," but I needed the rest); I got a bunch of writing and reading done; the Orioles, in a four-team AL East Divisional race, beat the rival Red Sox while the other two in the race, the Yankees and Rays, both lost (and as noted in yesterday's blog, Orioles Hangout published my Top Ten List); and I got to see the midnight showing of "Man of Steel."

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Here's an ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 coaching seminar in Austin, Texas run by Richard McAfee, starting last Monday and ending today. I ran a similar one in Maryland in 2011, and am running another in South Bend, IN, Oct. 2-6. More info on that soon - probably Monday.

Chinese Versus European Loop

Here's an article that highlights the difference between the "Chinese" and "European" loops.

USATT Board Chair Blog

Here's a blog entry posted yesterday by the Chair of the USATT Board Mike Babuin. Here's the opening paragraph: "Recently I had the distinct pleasure to introduce table tennis into Valor Games. For those unfamiliar with Valor Games it is a competition designed and geared towards military personnel and veterans who are physically disabled and/or who have suffered from one of several conditions, traumas, or disorders as a result of their service to our country.  While many people may be familiar with the Wounded Warrior Program, Valor Games is a similar yet distinct competition that is gaining in recognition and participation across the United States."

The Pongcast

Here's the latest Pongcast (18:46). "This month the Pongcast reviews the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships and looks at what has been happening at the ITTF in May."

Lily and Ariel at China Open

Below is a summary of how the USA girls are doing in the China Open, as posted this morning by Bruce Liu. (Here's the ITTF China Open Page with results, pictures, and articles, and here are a few matches of Lily, Ariel, and Wu Yue on iTV. The China Open ends this Sunday.)

June 14 (China time) Summary:
Women's Singles:

  • Lily upset the #16 seed BARTHEL Zhenqi (#66 in the world) in the round of 32. It was another wild 7-gamer (11-5, 12-10, 7-11, 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-1).Her round of 16 opponent will be World Champion/World Cup Champion/Olympic Gold Medalist, aka the Grand Slammer, GUO Yue from China. We will see how wild Lily can be. It will be tough for sure. But that why it is worth fighting for.
  • Ariel fought hard as usual. She lost to GUO Yan (#5) in 5 (9-11, 5-11, 11-9, 5-11, 5-11). A great effort. 

Women's Doubles:

  • Lily and Ariel are in the quarterfinals at the China Open! Not too shabby for two 17-year-old. Due to their busy schedule, they really did not have much time practice doubles. Imagine if they can practice more together... Their opponents in the quarterfinal will be GUO Yue(#16) / LIU Shiwen (#2) from China. I'm pretty sure other than Lily and Ariel, all other players still in the Women's Doubles are full-time professional players! In fact, most likely the majority of the players in the whole tournament are professional players. 

U21 Girls' Singles:

  • Lily played twice today in the event. In the round of 16, she duly stopped the dangerous HIRANO Miu 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 14-12, 18-16). Alas, lost to ZHOU Yihan (#102) from Singapore 4-1 in the quarterfinals. It is a great accomplish already, especially in China.
  • Ariel lost 0-3 to the red hot So Eka is out but don't let the game counts fool you. It was a highly competitive match. You can see it yourselves from the score (13-15, 9-11, 8-11).

Go girls! 

Musical Ping-Pong Table

Yes, an interactive musical ping-pong table, on display at Union Depot in St. Paul, MN!

Apparently this table plays music as the ball hits the surface.

Kim Kardashian Plays Ping-Pong With Her Family

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. The apocalypse has occurred.

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June 13, 2013

Staying Low Revisited

The Tip of the Week this past Monday was Staying Low. It was inspired by a student of mine, Sameer, 11, who tends to stand up straight when he plays. I've been on him about this for some time, and usually he gets lower - but only in practice drills if I constantly remind him. Once he plays points, he stands up again. At the Eastern Open this past weekend he won Under 800 and made the final of U950, but there were times where he didn't look so good since he was standing up so straight. (In newer ratings from before the tournament, he's rated 1181.)

So I told him that for the next month, our sessions are going to be very "boring," that we're going to focus almost exclusively on staying low. It's not just getting low, it's how you do it. When he does get low, his tendency is to simply bend his knees while leaning backwards from the waist, instead of forward. Also, his feet tend to be too close together, his feet pointing too much forward. You can't fix any one of these; they all go together. He also tends to either let his free arm tightly at his side, either hanging down or jammed up to his chest. Keeping the free hand out for balance is closely related to the ready position as you need it to stay balanced when you move.

So yesterday we started off by spending about ten minutes just shadow practicing with the proper stance. Once he looked comfortable doing this, we hit forehand to forehand at a very slow pace - it almost drove him crazy since he likes to play fast (like most kids), and every now and then in exasperation he'd smack one in. But we did this for twenty minutes, just forehand to forehand, adding some side-to-side footwork near the end. Then we did the same thing, backhand to backhand.

Then we played some points. The key was that he wasn't to play table tennis; he was to play "low table tennis," where he had to play the points in his newer stance. I expected problems, and kept the rallies simple - but lo and behold, he'd developed the habit during those excruciatingly slow rallies! Normally when I spot him 6 points I win over and over. This time he did something unthinkable - he won four out of five! Now I probably did miss a few shots, and was keeping things simple, but it was by far the best he's ever played. As a side bonus, by staying low he was able to see and react to my serve better than before, and returned them better than ever, even the "trick" serves I threw at him near the end of most games.

Table Tennista

Here are this week's headlines at Table Tennista:

China Open

Here's an ITTF story that features USA player Ariel Hsing - unfortunately, it features her upset loss. Here's the ITTF home page for the China Open, with results, articles, photos, and videos.

Behind the Scenes at the 2013 China Open

Here's a 38-second video with a few action shots and short interviews with Chinese players at the China Open. Interesting to watch, even more interesting if you understand Chinese, which I do not. Feel free to translate anyone!  

Three More Books Coming Out By Next Year

By the end of the year I'll have enough Tips of the Week to put them together in one volume, "Table Tennis Tips." (Highly original title - have a better suggestion?) It'll clearly be marked as a compilation of my previously published Tips of the Week. So far I've done 123 Tips of the Week here at TableTennisCoaching.com, one every Monday since Jan. 11, 2011. (Confession: a few didn't go up until Tuesday.) I anticipate doing 29 more this year, for a total of 152, plenty for a book. Sadly, I'm running out of topics, and so anticipate ending the Tips of the Week at the end of this year. (I also did 169 much shorter Tips of the Week, which were published near the back of Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - took up only 54 of the book's 272 pages. The Tips I do here are considerably longer, more like features than simple tips.)

Next year I'll also be publishing "More Pings and Pongs," the second anthology of my best published science fiction & fantasy stories. "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" came out in 2010 with my 30 best; I've now sold enough new stories for a new volume. The only problem is that typically when you sell a story, the buyer generally has sole rights to the story for six months, and so I anticipate I won't have rights to all the stories I'd like to use until April of 2014.

As a special, I've lowered the price for the Kindle version of Pings and Pongs to $2.99 - buy yours today!!! (I'd lower the price of the print version, but due to printing costs and other issues, the lowest I can sell it for is $8.35 - a bargain!!! It includes "Ping-Pong Ambition," a table tennis fantasy story.)

I have one other book also planned - "Table Tennis Fundamentals," the rewrite of "Table Tennis Steps to Success."

Here's my Amazon page that lists all my books, other than the USATT manual "Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis," which I plan to rewrite and have professionally published sometime in the future.

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List

Orioles Hangout published another of my infamous Top Ten Lists. This one was "Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Get a TOR Starter." (For you non-baseball people, "TOR Starter" means "Top Of Rotation Starter," i.e. a pitching ace.) It's the eleventh article of mine they've published - nine "Top Ten" lists and two regular articles.

Non-Table Tennis - Sheeba

Yesterday I did 3.5 hours of coaching, and was pretty exhausted afterwards. I got home around 8:15PM, and let Sheeba, my dog, outside. She's 15 years old, which puts her in her eighties in human years. She's almost completely deaf, and half blind - almost completely blind without bright light - and has arthritic back legs so she hobbles around. When I went down around 8:30 PM the gate was open. One of the tenants downstairs had just left, and likely left it open, not realizing she was in the yard. Sheeba was nowhere to be seen.

I spent the next hour and 45 minutes circling the neighborhood and expanding outward, trying to find her. Calling for her was pointless since she's deaf, though I found it was a good way to indicate to people that I was searching for a lost dog. I kept asking around, and twice I found people who had seen her going by. Finally, at around 10:15 PM, I got a call from someone who had found her. I thanked her profusely, and walked the evil, naughty dog back home, where she demanded (and got) a bacon snack.

My legs are exhausted this morning, partly from 3.5 hours of coaching, but mostly from walking around for an hour and 45 minutes.

Table Table Tennis and Office Table Tennis

My legs are so tired from coaching and searching for Sheeba that for now on I'm going to play table tennis like this. Or perhaps like this.

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May 14, 2013

J.J. Hardy and Brady Anderson at MDTTC

J.J. Hardy is the star shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. (He's the reigning gold glove winner with 52 homers the last two seasons and a former All-Star.) Brady Anderson was the Orioles star center fielder for 13 of his 15 major league seasons, where he was a 3-time all-star, and once hit 50 homers in a season. They are true baseball stars.

But they are also pretty good at table tennis! With the Orioles having a day off from playing, they spent four hours at the Maryland Table Tennis Center last night, 4-8PM. I gave them a private coaching session the first two hours, and then they hit with our local juniors. I knew in advance that JJ was the Orioles best TT player - they have a table in their clubhouse, and NOBODY beats JJ. Brady is their #2. But how good could they be, considering they hadn't had coaching? I was expecting "basement stars," perhaps 1200 level at most. Boy was I wrong! Both came with their own sponge rackets in racket cases.

JJ's around 1850. Strengths: fast rallying and good serves, and adjusts quickly to opponents. Weaknesses: return of serve and against spin in general. He's very fast and aggressive at the table, with nice forehand and backhand hitting and blocking. He tends to hold his racket tip up on the forehand, which costs him some power, but his bang-bang rallying and reflexes allow him to rally at a 1900+ level - even better if you counter with him instead of looping. He also tends to reach for the ball instead stepping, which allows him to block but means he doesn't end the point as well as he could. He can loop against backspin from both wings, and follow with quick hitting.

He has a surprisingly good forehand pendulum serve. He doesn't change his grip for the serve, and so loses a bit of spin since his wrist is locked up, but it's very deceptive. He does the serve from the forehand side, which seemed to make the serve more effective for him since most players do this serve from the backhand side. He has two main variations, side-backspin and side-topspin, and they both look similar. His depth varies (not sure if it's intentional, need to ask him), so some are long, some are short, and some are half-long, with second bounce right around or just past the end-line.

He played a practice match with Tony Li, 11, rated an even 1800. Tony won the first two as JJ had trouble with his serves, but JJ came back to win, deuce in the fifth! You could pretty much see his mind at work as he figured out how to get Tony's various spinny serves back, and how to block his constant forehand looping. I also played JJ, and while I won easily, 11-3, 11-4, the key was that I was experienced enough to recognize how good he was at rallying, and so rarely let him get into a rally - I serve and looped everything, and looped his long serves while pushing his short ones back heavy, and looping the next ball. I wasn't going to be nice and risk losing!!!

How did he get so good without coaching or playing at a club with top players? His dad was a tennis coach and good table tennis player, and he learned from him. He picks up things very fast, as I saw both in his lesson with me and his adjustments in his match against Tony.

Brady Anderson was a level or so weaker, about 1500. He's a lefty who likes to cover almost the whole table with his forehand - he returned almost all my serves with his forehand. He has very nice footwork and range. He has a pretty good forehand, and can almost match JJ in rallies except that he has great trouble with JJ's serve. He can do a soft loop against backspin with his forehand. Brady also serves almost always from the forehand side, with a tomahawk sidespin serve, which was pretty spinny but without a heavy backspin variation, and so was easier to read than JJ's pendulum serve variations. He's very mobile, and even if you return his serve to his wide backhand, he manages to step around from where he's serving from on the forehand side to play his forehand from the backhand side.

Brady tends to hit the forehand with his arm jammed in too much, raises his elbow as he hits the ball, and often tries to muscle the ball instead of relaxing the arm and shoulder and letting the body do the work. We worked on fixing these problems, and he was quick in making the adjustments in drills. At the start he had sort of a wristy backhand, but I quickly corrected it. While his backhand isn't as good as his forehand, it's technically sound once he made the change, though he'll need a lot of practice to ingrain the stroke. Brady has a deceptive forehand - he usually goes crosscourt, and then he'll suddenly change in mid-stroke and go inside out the other way, which was almost unreturnable, even for me.

The racket Brady was using was too slow, so I lent him my backup, which he liked. He ended up buying a racket from the club, with Coach Cheng Yinghua doing the sale and putting the racket and sponge together for him. (They were in awe of Cheng when they learned he'd been #1 in the U.S. for over ten years.)

Brady also played a practice game with the 1800 Tony Li. Tony was very nervous, and Brady led 10-8 game point, but Tony won in deuce. Later Brady played 8-year-old Tiffany Ke, the #2 ranked Under 9 girl in the U.S. with a rating of 1439. (She trains seven days a week!) Brady was using the new racket and wasn't quite used to it, and seemed mesmerized that this little girl, whose head barely stuck up over the table, was so good, and so lost 0-3. (See their picture below.) I also played Brady, and I won 11-3, 11-1 - but a lot of that was because he couldn't get my serve back, and couldn't handle my spinny loops off his serves. Most 1500 players wouldn't have high-level serves or be able to loop serves, and so they'd rally - and once he gets used to his new paddle, Brady will be in the 1500 range again.

It's tricky giving rating estimate for these two, due to their lack of experience against players with proper coaching. For example, while I estimated JJ at 1850, I'm taking into account how fast he adjusts and learns in each match - he'd probably often lose the first game and have to come back, and might even struggle at first with 1700 players.

Here are some pictures taken via someone's cell phone. (We have a group picture, but I haven't got it yet.)

They hit with many of our top junior players: Nathan Hsu (16, rated 2397), Derek Nie (12, 2215), Roy Ke (13, 2229), Princess Ke (11, 1954), Tiffany Ke (8, 1439, and Tony Li (11, 1800). They were great with the kids, and posed with pictures with all of them as well as signing autographs. I think JJ and Brady were as much in awe of the kids' skills as the kids were of them. By the end of their time at the club, they and the kids were having fun and talking like old friends. These were two very nice athletes; their stardom has not gone to their heads. They were as excited about playing table tennis as a kid playing baseball. Both were interested in coming more often for lessons and regular play, but JJ can't because of the team's schedule. But Brady can, and plans to come regularly. I'm looking forward to working with him - once we've made a few adjustments on his forehand, I can already see him running around looping forehands.

One interesting tidbit - when JJ was hitting with the 2400 Nathan Hsu, Nathan of course dominated with his two-winged looping. But when they played points, Nathan actually had trouble with JJ's serve. Part of this was because he was nervous, and wasn't expecting good serves. I told him to stop thinking about it and just react, and then he began looping them in. I also missed a few of JJ's serves at first, but then stopped missing them.

The Orioles have a table at their clubhouse. Besides JJ and Brady, the other regulars are Manny Machado, Steve Pearce, and Nick Markakis. Nick plays with a hardbat and chops! They've invited us to come in and play at their clubhouse, though we haven't set a date yet. They were also interested to learn that two-time USA Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong lives about 15 minutes from Orioles Park, and may invite him to come in and hit with them. (Tong Tong doesn't know this yet!)

I've been an Orioles fan since 1972, when I was 12, so it was an exhilarating experience hitting with these two. They were extremely nice, and very fast learners. When I made adjustments to their strokes, both picked them up fast, though they'll need more practice to ingrain the changes. You could see how their baseball skills transferred to table tennis with their fast reflexes and ability to learn new skills quickly. Both could react to my best smashes and loop kills. They didn't most back, but they got their rackets on them over and over, and JJ made some nice blocks. Some of you may remember Brady's range as a center fielder. Well, you could see both when he ranged around playing his all-forehand game, and when I taught him how to lob. He'd never done this, but he picked it up very quickly, and with me smashing at 80% speed to his forehand he was not only lobbing ball after ball, but he began counter-smashing, making the shot over half the time.

I gave them both autographed copies of three of my books: Table Tennis: Steps to Success, Table Tennis Tales and Techniques, and Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. They gave the kids autographed copies of baseball cards, and offered free tickets to games. We'll take them up on that sometime soon.

All in all, a great day at MDTTC. The kids have a great story to tell at the school, as well as lots of pictures.

World Championships

They started yesterday, in Paris, May 13-20. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, articles, pictures, etc.

Team USA at Worlds

Here's the USA Team at the Worlds Page, which shows up-to-date results and video.

ITTF Sports Science Congress

Here's Donn Olsen's report on the Congress, with lots of stuff of interest to coaches and players.

Table Tennista

Table Tennista has lots of Worlds coverage.

Timo Boll and Dimitrij Ovtcharov Training

Here's a video (1:47) of these two Germans training for the Worlds taken just yesterday. (Timo is the lefty.) They are ranked #5 and #7 in the world, the two highest Europeans in the rankings.

Rally of the Month

Here's a video (23 sec) of a great video between two kids in the last point of their match.

Pongcast Episode 26

Here's the video (3:45). In this episode: Killerspin promotes table tennis in high schools, Ariel Hsing plays with her friends Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, plus Zhang Jike and Liu Guoliang give us insight on their careers, relationship with each other, and hopes for the future.

The Four Elements of Match Basics

Here's the article - the elements are serve, receive, first attack, and first block.

Degree Deodorant

Here's a video (33 sec) of a new commercial for Degree Deodorant that features table tennis. It shows up 11 and 26 seconds in, both times for about 3 seconds.  

Kasumi Ishikawa Photo Shoot

Here's a rather funny video (23 sec) of Kasumi Ishikawa of Japan during a photo shoot taken just this morning at the Worlds. She's not used to doing these shots without a ball! Ishikawa finished fourth at the 2012 Olympics in Women's Singles (just one short of a medal!), but got the Silver Medal in Women's Teams. She is currently #8 in the world, but reached #5 for two months last year.

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May 13, 2013

Tip of the Week

Beat Weaker Players with Fundamentals.

Coaching Opponent to Victory

I had an interesting practice match with one of our top juniors this past weekend. Going into the match he appeared irritated and tense. Against someone like that all you have to do is vary your shots like crazy - placement, depth, spins, etc. - and watch him fall apart. He was too irritated to even think, and served short to my backhand over and over, which isn't smart - I'm very good there, where I can push short or long, and flip either regular or banana flip (with extra topspin or sidespin). I often messed him up by faking a long push to the backhand and at the last second dropping it short to his forehand. When he guarded against the short ball to the forehand I'd flip to his backhand, taking his service game away. I won the first game 11-3. (I'd also beaten him I think 3-0 the last three times we'd played.)

Between games I went over and asked him what was wrong. He said he'd just lost to someone else and was playing poorly. I told him the obvious - that he had to forget previous matches and focus on his current match. However, more important, I gave him practical ways to do this. I told him to take a walk around the court and not stop walking until his head was clear. Then I told him that once his head was clear, he needed something else to think about so he wouldn't be thinking about his previous match - and of course in table tennis the best thing is to think about tactics. So I told him focus on what serves he was using against me, since the way he'd been serving obviously wasn't working. (Note that you should think about tactics between points, but once the point starts, you have to stop thinking and let the subconscious take over, including tactical play. Serving is the one time where you can easily make a conscious tactical decision, i.e. what serve to use.)

Three things happened. First, the rest of the match he played the best I'd seen him play in months. Second, he began to use smarter serves, mixing in short serves to my forehand and long ones to my backhand, and once I was focused on those two (not easy), he mixed in short ones to the middle, often no-spin. He also pulled two new serves on me he'd been working on, a reverse backhand serve and a reverse forehand pendulum serve. And third, he won three straight games. (And I was playing pretty well!)

JJ Hardy

Today I'm giving a private lesson to the Baltimore Orioles star shortstop, JJ Hardy. When and where I won't disclose until afterwards so the place won't be swarmed by paparazzi, not to mention table tennis/baseball fans. (Only exception - junior players who contact me can come watch and get autographs.) I'll give a full report tomorrow.

Spam Count

As noted in my blog last Tuesday, I was getting hit with so much spam that I had to finally institute a registration system where I had to approve all accounts before they went active. For perspective, since I started this one week ago, I've had 377 account requests, of which about ten were legitimate. Without the approval system, all the rest of those would have registered and started posting automatic spam all over the place, in the comment section of the blog and in the forum.

Three Reasons Not to Serve Short

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

World Championships

They start today, in Paris, May 13-20. Here's the ITTF World Championships page, where you can follow all the action - results, articles, pictures, etc.

Chinese Training Before the World Table Tennis Championships

Here's great video (1:56) of the Chinese team training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria as they prepare for the Worlds. (From 1:27 to 1:32 you can see Donn Olsen, a USA coach, taking notes in a corner.) Here's another page at Table Tennis Daily with a number of videos of the Chinese team training.

U.S. Open Deadline Extended

The deadline is now May 21, with a late deadline of May 24 (the latter requiring a $75 late fee). Here's the U.S. Open page. You can also see the list of currently entered players, either by event or alphabetically.

Bill Gates to Help Promote Table Tennis in U.S.

Here's the article in the China Daily's USA version (in English) - but why is it in a Chinese paper?

Lindenwood Head Coach Wanted

Want to be a College Table Tennis Coach? Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, is looking for one. Info is here. Strangely it doesn't give salary offered or any contact info, but I found that separately - if interested, you contact Mike Elam, Director of Student Life Sports.

USATT CEO Blog

Here's the blog of USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh for the week May 6-10. I think this is new - I don't see previous entries. (He has been doing a bi-monthly CEO Report, which was published in USATT Magazine.)

ITTF President Sharara to do United Nationals Presentation

Adham Sharara, ITTF President, has been invited to attend the Third International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development to be held at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th June 2013. He will make a presentation during Session IV which is dedicated to the theme Sport and Social Development Legacies; the scheduled time for the address is from 10.00am on Thursday 6th June. Here's the article.

Lefty Ma Long

Here's a video (56 sec) of China's Ma Long (a righty) smashing left-handed against teammate Wang Liqin's lobs (he's playing his normal right-handed), where they change sides twice, during practice sessions as they prepare for the Worlds. Yes, Chinese team members like to goof off during practice breaks.

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May 10, 2013

Professional Franchise League System

One way to get a professional league for top players going in the U.S. would be a franchise system. How would it work? Here's a rough outline - feel free to make changes.

It would start in a populated region, with a committed Commissioner getting it started. Perhaps eight league owners would be solicited, each representing a different club or region, with each owner paying perhaps a $5000 franchise fee. What would be the owner's incentive? That owner would have perpetual rights to that franchise. If the league were to take off, they could become very rich.

Each team would have three players minimum, with team matches best of nine. If there were eight teams in the league, with each playing the other team twice, there would be 14 team matches for each team, half played at home, half played on the other teams home clubs.

Income would be generated by franchise fees, ticket sales, refreshment sales, and sponsors. The franchise fees and 20% of ticket sales would go to a Commissioner and league expenses.

The Commissioner would be in charge of running and promoting the league. The Commissioner would also have complete authority over the league for the first two years, after which the owners would take over and have hiring and firing power over the Commissioner. The income that does not go to the Commissioner would be split 50-50 between the owners and the players. During the first two years, the owners could fire the Commissioner with a 3/4 vote; afterwards, it would only require a 2/3 vote.

The Commissioner and Owners would work closely together to promote the league with the goal to bring in spectators by developing a fan base for each team, both from existing club players and others. They would work together in promoting the league and local team in various news media. Owners would look to bring in sponsors for their team. The Commissioner would look to bring in League sponsors, with money from that split 50-50 between the Commissioner and the Teams, with the Teams splitting all sponsors money 50-50 with the players.

To play on a team, players would need to fulfill a minimum level, such as a 2200 rating within the past two years, though the Commissioner may waive this in extenuating circumstances. Players may not make much money the first year, but by competing that first year they would have priority in making future teams, in particular if they were a #1 player on their team.

Umpires and referees would be needed. At the start, they would be solicited as volunteers. As the league's finances improve, they would be paid, with the goal to have professional officials. Those who volunteered at the start would have priority.

Team owners would split income from ticket sales 60-40 with the visiting team. Refreshment sales and sponsors would be split 50-50 with the home team's players. The breakdown on pay to the players could be divided three ways among three players, or proportional if there were more than three players taking turns. Owners may wish to pay extra for "star" players. Unless waived by the Commissioner, all players must live within 50 miles of their team's home club or region. All players must be approved by the Commissioner.

Anyone interested? Want to be a Commissioner, Owner, or Player? Then take charge and make it happen!

The Chinese National Team Training at the Werner Schlager Academy Blog

Here is Coach Donn Olsen's blog about the Chinese Team training for the Worlds, Days 1-6. You don't want to miss this - lots of great stuff.

Ma Long and Xu Xin Tricks

Here's a video (1:30) of the two nonchalantly hitting the ball up with heavy spin and then catching it on their rackets.

Historical Worlds Results

Here are results - the Final Sixteen - for every World Championships from the first in 1926 to the present, for Men's and Women's Singles and Doubles, and Mixed Doubles. Includes pictures of the winners.

Ping Pong School Exercise

Here's a video (21 sec) of hundreds of kids in China doing table tennis dance or aerobics.

Gun Made Out of Ping-Pong Balls

Did he pass the background checks?

Piano Table Tennis - Sort Of

I have no idea what to make of this, so I'll let you watch this video (55 seconds, table tennis comes in 26 seconds in).

Non-Table Tennis - Top Ten Reasons the Orioles Are in First Place

I did another of my patented Orioles Top Ten Lists yesterday, and it was featured on the Orioles Hangout front page.  Here's the direct link.

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April 1, 2013

Tip of the Week

The Many Ways to Receive a Short Backspin Serve.

12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup

All you have to do is train the players really well, and they will get really good.
Perhaps that's a little simplistic, but it's what a top coach once told me, and he was
right. This past weekend 12-year-old Derek Nie, all of 70 pounds, won Open Singles
in the MDTTC Coconut Cup tournament. In the quarterfinals he upset Mang Bang
Liang, a chopper/looper rated 2600 - Derek's best win ever. "Before the match, I
found a whole chapter in Larry Hodges' book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers"
on playing choppers," Derek said. "I read it over in the back room. Everything worked!"
Only it was just the beginning of his banner tournament. In the semifinals he defeated
Lee Zhang Wook, a 2650 pips-out penholder visiting from China. "There's a section
about playing them in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and before the match I read it. I
played to the wide forehand, then came back to the backhand, like the book said, and it
really worked!" In the final, Derek played 2700+ Sammy Callaghan. "He's a bratty kid from
Ireland. But the Tactics book has an entire section on playing bratty kids!" Derek was able to
loop Sammy's serves, which had created havoc against other players. Most players had
found the serves almost unreturnable, but Derek had few problems. "There's a whole chapter
on returning serves in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and I read it over before going
out to play him." Derek won the match in a seven-game battle, ending the match by
loop-killing Sammy's serve at 11-10 in the last game. Congrats to Champion Derek!

World Team Cup

China sweeps Men's and Women's Teams, though it wasn't always so easy this time. Here are articles from Table Tennista on China winning Men's Teams and Women's Teams. Here's an article from them on the huge upset of Germany by Egypt in the quarterfinals - and here's a video (1:47) of the end of the match when Egypt wins. (There are several more articles on the tournament at Table Tennista.) Here's the ITTF home page for the event, with results, articles, pictures, and video.

Spring Break Camp

Spring Break Camp ended on Friday. In the morning we had "Player's Choice," where players chose what they wanted to work on during multiball sessions. Usually we do regular multiball drills, but most of the players in my group wanted to work on serves, so we did that.

Right after lunch, when I was about to take 16 of them to 7-11, a group of about 16 kids and parents came in unexpectedly and asked if someone could run a clinic for them. So I got Coach Raghu to take the kids to 7-11, and I ran a 45-minute clinic where covered grip, stance, forehand, backhand, and basic serves. They stayed and played another hour. Hopefully some will return.

In the afternoon most of the players had a practice tournament. I worked with the beginners, doing a lot of one-on-one play (instead of multiball). And then we were done!

Over 60 players attended the camp, though not all at once. One session had 47 players, most were in the 35-40 range. We used 18 tables, with both one-on-one drills, multiball, and robot play.

Ball Bouncing

We often have ball-bouncing contests in our junior classes on weekends. This Sunday Matvey Stepanov (11) had done about 100 at the start of class. He was supposed to be on ball pickup, but I told him he could keep bouncing until he missed, and then go on ball pickup. Mistake!!! We had to work around him on ball pickup as he went on and On and ON!!! He shattered the previous record of 1360 (I believe set by Kai MaClong, also 11) with 2216 bounces before missing.

Jim Butler on Receiving Serve

Here's a great quote from Jim Butler (Olympian and 4-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) on how he approaches serve return, from the about.com forum.

When I'm receiving serves in a tournament, I usually have a mental plan each serve.  I will look at the server, look at his racket angle and service motion, and anticipate what serve I feel he's about to do.  The serve I'm anticipating is the one I'm looking to attack, or receive with aggression.  If the server does a different serve I'm not expecting, I have a plan to react to the serve, and play it safe on the table.... not too much speed.  If a server does a serve you are not expecting, it's usually best to play that receive conservative.  

For example:  If I'm receiving I may decide to step around with my forehand and attack any long serve or half long serve that comes to my bh corner..  As I go around on the receive to attack with my forehand, I'm looking to pounce on any serve to my backhand that's long or half long.  If any other serve comes though, I will cancel on a hard attack, and react accordingly with a safe receive.  I'm in position to only aggressively attack a long or half long serve to my bh.  Any other serve that comes, I will not  be in a good position to do much but receive it back safely, and hopefully with good placement.  

Tribute to Ding Ning

Here's a video tribute (4:17) to China's Ding Ning, world #1 since November, 2011.

Oriole Pingpong

"I've stayed here until 4 o'clock playing pingpong before." -Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day, in this article in the Baltimore Sun yesterday.

Happy Easter!

Here are two Easter Bunnies playing table tennis.

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March 20, 2013

Fairness Versus Progressive Issues Revisited

In my blog yesterday I wrote about "USATT: Fairness Versus Progressive Issues." I had an email discussion with someone who believed that it would be interpreted by the average reader as criticism of the current Chair of the USATT Board of Directors, Mike Babuin. To anyone who read it that way - Poppycock!!! Mike was only voted in as Chair at the December board meeting, and his first meeting as chair will take place in April.

It could be read as criticism of past leaders. Some of them left USATT better than when they arrived, and some left it worse. There are many "Fairness" issues that they might have resolved, for the betterment of the sport. What no past leaders has done is find a way to either dramatically grow the sport or consistently develop players that can compete with the best players in the world. The point of my blog was that nearly every past USATT leader got bogged down in the "Fairness" issues, and so weren't able to focus on "Progressive" issues. It is a nasty cycle I hope will come to an end.

What are the progressive issues USATT could focus on? I've argued strongly for two specific ones: a nationwide system of leagues, and more junior training centers.

  • Nationwide System of Leagues: I don't think USATT can set up a nationwide system of leagues on its own. What it can do is take the initiative in getting current league directors together to develop such a system of leagues. We already have successful ones growing around the Bay Area, LA, and NYC. We need them to continue to grow, both in their current regions and to other populated areas. But first a model for such a league must be developed that other populated regions can use as a prototype. If someone wanted to start up such a league right now, there are no models; he'd have to start from scratch. That's a terrible way to grow a sport. USATT needs to be the catalyst in creating such a prototype that can be emulated everywhere.
     
  • Junior Training Centers: When I gave a presentation to the USATT Board in December, 2006, arguing that USATT should get involved in the growing of junior training centers, it got a mixed reaction. At the time, there were about ten full-time table tennis centers in the country with junior programs. Most board members liked the idea, but didn't take action. Two actively spoke out against it, saying there weren't enough players to support such full-time training centers. They didn't understand the most basic principle of any sport that wants to grow, which is that you don't rely on current players - you promote the sport and bring in new ones. I was so disgusted at the reaction that it was the primary reason I resigned shortly afterwards as USATT editor and programs director.

    While USATT didn't get involved, the success of those early centers attracted other promoters and coaches, and now there are well over fifty such full-time centers, each with their own base of players, both adult and junior players. It's been an amazing six years since I gave the presentation as these centers began popping up all over the place, contrary to the arguments made by those two board members. The result has been a dramatic increase in the level and depth of our top cadet players, who in a few years will be dominating table tennis at the highest levels in this country. (Here's my blog on the topic from January, 2012.)

    And yet, we're still in the same situation as with leagues - when someone wants to set up a full-time center, he has to start from scratch. There are no manuals out there on setting up and running a full-time table tennis center. Again, this is a terrible way to grow a sport. This is where USATT should jump in and develop one. (And no, I'm not volunteering; at one time I might have, but I don't have time these days.)

NCTTA

Here's the March issue of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Newsletter.

New Table Designs

Here's an article and pictures from the ITTF on Project M48 - new table designs.

Oriole Ping-Pong!

Here's a picture of Baltimore Oriole baseball players filling out their "March Madness" brackets in the Orioles clubhouse - using the club's ping-pong table to work on! I was supposed to do a demo and clinic for the Orioles last year, but the team's best player, J.J. Hardy, hurt his shoulder (that's why he hit so poorly last year - I was sworn to secrecy!) and so they postponed it. We've been in contact, and it will probably happen this year. They've told me I can bring a few of our top juniors to the session. J.J. Hardy has expressed interest in coming to the Maryland Table Tennis Center for some coaching; I'll let you know when/if that happens.

Samsonov's Upset of Zhang Jike

Here's an article and video on Vladimir Samsonov's upset win over Zhang Jike at the recent Asia-Europe All-Star Challenge. Here's another one, where Samsonov talks about the win and how it inspired him.

Trick Shot Video

Here's a video (4:46) showing non-stop trick shots. Most are around-the-net shots, but they get trickier as the video goes on, including behind-the-back and under-the-legs shots, no-look shots, kicking shots, and doing these shots between barriers.

Big Table Tennis

Here's a video (13:01) of the "biggest" segment of table tennis! The commentary is in German. Things get interesting (visually) 42 seconds in. (Note - I believe these are the same players who did the trick shot video segment above.)

Intense Table Tennis

Very intense picture, and a lot of orange. Perhaps this is a symptom of climate change? Anyone know whose picture that is in the background?

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October 3, 2012

USA vs. Belgium Clubs

Someone emailed me yesterday saying he was pretty sure Belgium didn't have 500 full-time clubs, as I'd quoted someone posting yesterday. There's no way to judge from here. But the key is that both seem to agree they have 500 clubs in an area about the size of Maryland with about twice the population. Maryland, the state with the highest percentage of USATT members among its population, has only six clubs. That's about an 83-1 ratio by area, or 42-1 by population. I think we're outgunned.

The writer also pointed out that clubs in Europe are organized differently and said there's no point in comparing numbers, but I disagree. People are people, and if we create a good product, they will come. Every time someone has opened a nice table tennis club in the U.S. and run it properly, the people have come. The limiting factor isn't the U.S.; it's the small number of people in the U.S. able and willing to create such clubs. Sure, Belgium and other European countries have more government support, but entrepreneurs in the U.S. have shown over and over that professional table tennis clubs can make it in the U.S.  Look no further than the San Francisco Bay area, where new full-time clubs seem to pop up every week.

There's a reason why so many can open in a relatively small area and be successful. While more dedicated players will travel longer distances to play at a nice club, something like 90% of a club's business is with players within five miles. That's five miles in both directions, so call it a square with a ten mile diameter, or 100 square miles. You could ring most major cities with full-time clubs, as they have in the Bay area, and they'd barely affect each other. Plus the major cities themselves, with their much denser populations, can support a larger percentage. (The Maryland Table Tennis Center, my club, is about 15 miles north of Washington D.C.  I once estimated that the D.C. area could support 20-30 full-time clubs.)

Of course, from the point of view of each club, do we really want more local clubs that will take away some business? Of course it hurts a little bit, but not nearly as much as you'd think. More clubs means more players, and more players mean a larger field to draw when running leagues and tournaments. The simple reality is that most of a club's business is not only local, but from locals they develop themselves by promoting the sport and setting up programs that meet the needs of the players, i.e. leagues, coaching programs, etc.

Here's the current list of full-time clubs in the USA. I really wish USA Table Tennis had chosen to get involved in recruiting and training of coaches and promoters to set up these centers (as well as leagues), but my proposals to them over the years haven't convinced them. So we're on our own. Why not take an online virtual tour? Each of these clubs is the result of someone who took the initiative. They are the heroes of our sport, the ones who will take it to the next level.

The Orioles Excuse

Some readers may remember my back problem tribulations of last year. I got over them from a regimen of weight training and stretching. After the back was better, I stopped weight training, and so far my back has survived. However, the weight training did something else - it made me play better. In particular, my upper body and legs were stronger, and this led to my better play. I found myself looping with mobility, consistency, and power that I hadn't had in years.

Now it's mostly gone and I'm back to futilely waving at balls as they whip past me. The solution? Back to weight training. However - I'm going to put it off a few more days, possibly a few more weeks. I've been following Baltimore Orioles baseball, and now they are in the playoffs. I usually did weight training at Planet Fitness on the way home from coaching sessions at the club, which often finish as the Orioles are about to play. They could be done as early as Friday (if they don't win the AL East today over the Yankees and then lose in the one-game wild-car playoff), or they could continue all the way to the World Series, with a potential seventh game scheduled on Nov. 1.  

So here's my vow. Starting after the Orioles finish their season, I will start up weight training again. Opponents beware!!!

USA Junior and Cadet Team Selection Procedures

Here is how USATT will selection their 2013 junior and cadet teams.

Ryder Cup Table Tennis

It seems the real reason USA lost to Europe at the Ryder Cup is the golfers spent all their time playing ping-pong. Here's another article on the topic care of Table Tennis Nation. (Yesterday I wrote about Phil Mickelson at the Ryder Cup; last Thursday I wrote about how table tennis was the heart of Team USA bonding at Ryder Cup.)

The Ping-Pong Round Table

I'm not sure if this is a conference table or King Arthur's table, but it looks like fun.

The King Kong of Ping Pong

Yes, King Kong plays ping-pong. Guess what he uses for balls?

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October 2, 2012

Table Tennis Centers in Maryland, the U.S., and Belgium

On Friday at the Maryland Table Tennis Center I was wondering how USATT would be different if all their board members were required to spend a week at one of the "elite" training centers. Their perspective on table tennis in the U.S., and where it could go, might be a bit different from what they are used to.

There are about 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. (Current count: 53; let me know if I'm missing any.) Of these, perhaps 5-8 can be considered "elite," i.e. ones with large junior development programs that consistently develop strong players. Key here is both the elite aspect and the large number of players they have.

Recently someone posted on a table tennis forum that "The USA has 50+ full time clubs." Someone responded, "Are you serious about the 50+ or do you mean 500+? In Belgium, there are about 50 clubs for each of the ten regions." Yes, that's 500 full-time clubs in Belgium, which has an area slightly smaller than Maryland (both about 12 thousand square miles), with a population about double Maryland's (about 11 million vs. 5.8 million). (And Belgium's numbers are dwarfed by Germany, England, and of course China and most Asian countries.) Now Maryland is, size for size and population for population, probably the most successful table tennis state in the U.S., with a higher percentage of its population USATT members than any other state. (They have 263 members out of a population of 5.8 million, or one member for every 22,053 people. Only New Jersey is close, with 351 members out of 8.8 million, or one for every 25,071.) Maryland also has one of the most successful junior programs in the country. And yet Maryland has only two full-time training centers to Belgium's 500! They have a full-time center for every 22,000 people, while Maryland has one for every 2.9 million. The U.S. has one for every 5.9 million people.

Of course the biggest difference is Belgium and other successful countries focus on leagues and junior programs. So does Maryland. Here's a rundown of the strongest of the 40+ junior players at MDTTC on Friday during a junior training session and the Friday night league (name, age, rating):

  • Wang Qing Liang, 16, 2644
  • Chen Bo Wen, 14, 2441
  • Tong Tong Gong, 14, 2334
  • Nathan Hsu, 2296 (was recently 2356)
  • Anthony Qu, 12, 2194
  • Roy Ke, 13, 2188
  • Derek Nie, 11, 2149
  • Crystal Wang, 10, 2099 (was 2166 before playing a tournament with a fracture wrist!)
  • Michael Ding, 13, 1989
  • David Varkey, 17, 1882
  • Lilly Lin, 15, 1874
  • Amy Lu, 11, 1852
  • Lisa Cui, 13, 1804
  • Princess Ke, 12, 1776
  • Jason Wei, 14, 1768
  • Adam Yao, 10, 1739
  • Wesley Duan, 12, 1685
  • Tony Li, 11, 1618

Between these, and all the little kids smacking forehands and backhand back and forth (not to mention all the non-juniors in the league - it's not just juniors), it's a different environment than what most in the U.S. sees unless they are at one of these "elite" training centers . . . or perhaps in Belgium.

$100,000 World Championship of Ping-Pong

The inaugural event will be held in London on Jan. 5-6, 2013. Players are required to use sandpaper rackets. $100,000 for sandpaper table tennis - yes, my friends, the world is changing.

ITTF Inaugural Level 3 Course

Here's an ITTF article about the first ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course, held in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Sept. 21-28. It was immediately followed by a two-day Level Three Course Conductor Training Seminar. Attending both were USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.

Table Tennis Artwork

Here is more table tennis art by Mike Mezyan. The four here are labeled "Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind," and feature Chen Qi, Wang Hao, Ma Lin, and Wang Liqin. Here's a larger version. And here's his Facebook page for all his artwork.

Orioles Make Table Tennis a Priority

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on how the Baltimore Orioles baseball team (and their manager, Buck Showalter) made table tennis a priority. "Where is the ping-pong table?" Showalter asked when he showed up in spring training. Meanwhile, you can read my "Top Twelve Things Happening the Last Time the Orioles Had a Winning Season" article at Orioles Hangout, where it's a featured front-page story. I've had eight front-page articles there. My favorites are "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles" and "The Wonderful World of O's."

Phil Mickelson and Table Tennis at the Ryder Cup

Here's an article on golfer Phil Mickelson and table tennis at the Ryder Cup. Here's the table tennis excerpt:

Ask anyone about the team room, and Mickelson's name invariably comes up. He talked of his and Woods' dominance on the Ping-Pong table Wednesday, boasting that few of their U.S. teammates can touch them.

''Put us together on that table, and we're rocking it,'' Mickelson said.

(That's only partly true, Steve Stricker said. Matt Kuchar is actually the Roger Federer of the U.S. Ping-Pong table, and Stricker said Mickelson is putting off that matchup until Sunday. ''He doesn't want to get any bad mojo going before the tournament starts.'')

Top Ten Points

Here's a Top Ten Points video (6:12) from recent years (Worlds, Olympics, World Cup). Includes lots of slow motion.

The Amazing Race - Downgrading to a Sauce Pan

As near as I can tell, "The Amazing Race" is a Chinese show where people compete for prizes. In this segment (1:37), they had to score a point - a single point! - against a little girl who was obviously an elite junior. She played them using a sauce pan and a tambourine, and rarely lost a point.

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