USA Olympians

July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

Yes, it's Friday the 13th - and in honor of that, here's an extremely acrobatic black cat at the net (2:01). It's hilarious, and set to music. 

How Eric Messed Players Up

Yesterday I blogged about Eric Boggan's national and international record, and mentioned how some of the things he did are basically dying arts. Here is his Hall of Fame profile, written by father and fellow Hall of Famer Tim Boggan.

First, let's clear up one myth. Some believe Eric was only effective because he used inverted and anti, with the same color, so opponents couldn't see which side he used. The two-color rule came about in 1983, when Eric was 19 and not yet at his peak. He had his best results and highest world rankings after the color rule, where he reached #18 in the world. In fact, Eric went to two colors at least six months in advance, figuring he might as well get used to it, since two colors were the future. If not for the two-color rule, he likely would have reached top ten in the world. (But we'll never know.)

What exactly did he do that made his game so effective?

He had either the best, or close to the best, backhand block and overall blocking in the world. His Seemiller grip allowed him to jab block from all parts of the table at wide angles. The grip meant there was no middle weakness, which by itself put him above other blockers who had to guard the wide angles as well as the middle. Plus he regularly would flip his racket and dead block with the antispin side. His anti blocks sometimes double-bounced, and opponents who stepped off the table to loop against regular blocks were left thrashing about trying to react to blocks that died over the table or barely came off. And if they did topspin those ones, they were then stuck too close to the table to react to Eric's next shot, would either be another aggressive block or a smash. (While his loop wasn't great, he had a very nice smash from both sides.)

He also messed up opponents when receiving. Against short serves he'd usually use the antispin side and either drop it short or flip - and he'd hide which until the last second. Then he'd flip to the inverted side and start attacking or aggressive blocking. You haven't faced sheer terror until you face an Eric anti flip and try to loop it. (If you set up for it, he drops the ball short instead.)

His biggest strengths were exactly what were most players' weaknesses. Your typical world-class player liked to serve short and then attack to the middle or backhand. They also liked to return serves short. These tactics were often suicide against Eric - he was at his best against short serves and receives, and his blocking from the middle and backhand were just too good. Thinking players quickly realized they had to serve more long balls and attack his forehand, and to push long against his serves. (Few world-class players were in the habit of letting the opponent loop first, which is exactly what you often had to do against Eric.) Many players, such as Dan Seemiller, found success by chopping to get out of a losing rally since few could withstand his side-to-side jab blocks and anti dead blocks. Many found these tactics too different, and fell back on their old habits - often to their great regret.

Sandpaper News - $2000 Sandpaper Event at Nationals

You read that right - the top eight players will receive $2000 in total prize money, with $1000 going to the winner. Here's the press release, which reads:

July 12, 2012 Colorado Springs, CO and Palm Harbor, FL - Michael Cavanaugh, USATT CEO and Ty Hoff of FASTT announced the co-sanctioning of the Sandpaper event at the 2012 US Nationals in Las Vegas, NV December 18-22, 2012. The event will be the 2012 USATT/FASTT Sandpaper National Championships and will feature $2,000 in prize money for the top eight finishers with a top prize of $1,000.  

The USATT is the national governing body for the Olympic sport of Table Tennis.  FASTT is a national organization promoting the sport of Sandpaper Table Tennis.  These two organizations have come together to expand the base of players in the United States through this cooperative effort. 

Players interested in the Olympic sport of Table Tennis are encouraged to visit http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis.aspx.  Players interested in the sport of Sandpaper Table Tennis are encouraged to visit http://www.ttprotour.com/.  

The Backhand Topspin

Pingskills brings you this new video on the Backhand Topspin (1:38). (Yes, this is the backhand loop, but these days the dividing line between a backhand drive and a backhand loop is less clear than before as more and more players play topspinny backhands, which is made much easier by modern sponges.) 

USA Olympians Highlighted in Bay Area

The four (Timothy Wang, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, Erica Wu) are highlighted in the San Francisco TV Station and web page KTSF. "This is a twelve-day series introducing twelve Chinese-American athletes in various sports who will represent US to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. KTSF chooses table tennis as its first four episodes. Timothy's was aired yesterday, Ariel's on July 12, Lily's on July 13, and Erica's on July 14. Once aired, the video clips will be also available from KTSF's website. Tune in at channel 26, cable 8 in the Bay Area."

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Table Tennis on TV

Their University Team, which won lots of hardware at the College Nationals, is featured in this video (1:53).

Which Olympic sport is the hardest? Fourth-Place Medal ranks all 32

They put table tennis at #27!!! They obviously don't know our sport. But then put Equestrian - riding horses - as the hardest sport. I don't think they know sports, period. (Earth Fourth-Place Medal - the horse is doing most of the work!!!)

Crazy Sidespin

Here's an extreme sidespin by Xu Xin versus Ma Long (0.36).

Ariel Hsing on Nickelodeon

They try to figure out what she does - Olympic Table Tennis Player! (4:20)

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April 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Reverse Forehand Pendulum Serve.

Congrats to the USA Olympians!

Making the Olympic Team for the U.S. were (L-R) Erica Wu, Lily Zhang, Ariel Hsing, and Timothy Wang. And here is the ITTF coverage, which has lots of article, pictures, and complete results. Special thanks to USATT as well for providing live online coverage. (Unfortunately, I was coaching nearly all day Fri-Sun, and so only saw a few minutes of one match.)  (Side note - I'm told Gao Jun dropped out because of a knee injury.)

Grassroots table tennis

There was a discussion at a USATT board meeting about eight years ago on the subject of grassroots development. While some wanted to focus almost exclusively on elite development, most were for grassroots development. And then the discussion began.

Several board members insisted that grassroots development meant developing national team members. When I pointed out that that was what elite development meant, I got some serious eye-rolling. They really and truly had the two confused. When I argued that grassroots development, to me, meant increasing USATT membership (primarily through leagues and junior development), they didn't think that was USATT's job - but thought it might be useful to bring in revenue for their own version of "elite" grassroots development.

We move forward a few years. The board is still split between elite development and grassroots development. Publicly, all are for both, but privately some are more for one than the other. But again, there's this disagreement over what it really means. The consensus now seems more toward recreational development. Technically, that is grassroots development, but it is not particularly relevant to what is needed to develop table tennis in the U.S.

After a board member explained his plan to create recreational players through leagues, and how he didn't care if they became USATT members or not, I asked him this. "If you got 1000 new players this way, would it be a success?" He said that would be a good start. Then I asked, "How about 10,000 new players?" That, he said, would be pretty successful. Then I pointed out that, according to surveys, there are already 15 million recreational players in the U.S., and if he brought in 10,000 new players that number would increase to 15.01 million. If he brought in 100,000 new players, that'd be 15.1 million. Not particularly helpful.

What USATT needs to focus on is the same thing successful table tennis countries all over the world focus on - increasing membership. And when I say membership, I mean paying membership. USATT has 8000. Germany has 700,000. England 500,000. France, Italy, Belgium, and others all have memberships in the multiple hundred thousands as well. (We won't even talk about Asia, where the numbers are even larger.) They did this through grassroots development. (Much of this is recreational development through leagues, but with a direct pipeline to membership by requiring membership to play in the leagues, and by setting up a national network of such leagues.) So did nearly every successful sport in the U.S. and around the world.

And yet several outspoken board members (with zero disagreement from others - do they agree or they just don't speak up?) have argued that the situation in the U.S. is unique, and that we cannot learn from what other countries and other sports have done successfully. It makes me sick when I hear this. While every country has a "unique" situation, people in the U.S. are not aliens, and are not so different than people in other countries. People in the U.S. pretty much respond to the same things people in other countries do. There's a lot we can learn from others, and apply to our own situation, but it seems we don't want to.

USATT will become a success when it learns these lessons. That means setting specific goals, and creating programs to reach those goals. (For example, the goal of 100 successful junior programs within five years, or a nationwide network of leagues with 100,000 players within ten years.) What it doesn't mean is creating task forces with vague goals, putting the first board member who raises his hand as the task force leader (rather than doing a serious search for the best qualified person, and then recruiting that person), and then terminating the task force two or three years later after it predictably hasn't accomplished anything, as we seem to do over and over. (See my blog entry on this from Sept. 26, 2011, exactly two years after USATT's 2009 Strategic Meeting. The Junior and "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task forces have since both been disbanded, with no programs implemented to accomplish their vague goals.)

Warren Buffett challenges Ariel Hsing to Rematch

Yes, the grudge match is on, and will take place on May 6. Ariel will also take on other challengers at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. Perhaps Mr. Buffett will bring his big paddle again?

MDTTC Open House

Here's Alan Lang's article on the MDTTC Grand Re-Opening & Open House. That's me on the microphone. On the table is Derek Nie (unseen on left) and Crystal Wang, with Nathan Hsu and Tong Tong Gong watching with their backs to us. The four did demonstrations as part of the Open House.

2012 Broward March Open Highlights

Here's a highlights video of Brian Pace winning the Broward March Open (5:06).

Six table tennis pictures

Here are six table tennis pictures: What society thinks you do, what my friends think you do, what Asians think you do, what Americans think you do, what you think you do, and what you really do.

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