Ariel Hsing

May 10, 2012

Get Your Game Face On!

By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon
Review by Larry Hodges

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of "Get Your Game Face On," the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon ($4.99, available at amazon.com). It's a rather short book - I read it in an hour or two - but with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

The book points out four major problems that plague table tennis players, and then goes about giving systematic ways of combating them:

  • Inconsistency
  • Not being able to play as well as we practice
  • Your energy level can be too high or too low
  • Distractions

Central to the book is developing a "Game Face" (confidence, energy, optimism, calm), the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and a "Game Face Routine," using the four R's:

  • Reaction (use the 80-10-10 rule - 80% neutral, 10% celebration, 10% challenged response, i.e. instead of "That was terrible!" try "You can make that!")
  • Recover (recover from the point, relax, etc., with nine methods listed)
  • Ready (this is where you do your tactical thinking, with a very good listing of things to think about - "Think before you play")
  • Ritual (to prepare mentally for the next point)

Throughout the book there are numerous real-world examples from world-class players. Often I was nodding my head at mental tricks that match what I'd developed over the years, or at recognizing something I'd see others do. The specific breakdown of how you use the time between points - the four R's - especially led to much thought that will influence my own coaching. The book should be a must for table tennis coaches and serious players.

Dora Kurimay was a member of the Hungarian National Table Tennis Team for six years and was six-time National Champion in doubles, singles, and teams. Perhaps more importantly she has a Bachelor's degree in psychology and two Master's degrees, in Psychology and in Sports Psychology. She has a long coaching background as well, both in table tennis and other sports. She now lives in the U.S. and at this writing has a 2388 rating. Kathy Toon coached tennis for twenty-three years, including at the University of California-Berkeley for fourteen years where teams she coached won three national doubles championships.

Serving Seminar

As noted in my blog yesterday, I'm doing a Service Seminar at the Maryland Table Tennis Center this Saturday from 12:30-2:00 PM. Here's the new info page! Make sure to email me in advance if you are coming so you can save $5. I'll be covering how to create spin, deception, specific serve motions, and fast serves. We'll alternate between lecture and on-table practice.

Ariel Hsing in LA Times

Here's a feature on Ariel from yesterday's Los Angeles Times. (And in case you didn't figure out the headline, "DIY" means "Do It Yourself.")

2012 World Team Championships

Here's a video feature (12:25) on the 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund, Germany, held March 25 - April 1. 

Will's World of Sports

Will took on Keith Pech in this video (3:54). It was a battle of . . . beginner versus pro. Keith put on a great show! (Will is from Sports Time Ohio, who likes to go around taking on "pros" at their own sports.)

Santa Barbara Library Tables

They are hoping to put up "ping-pong tables" in their Library Plaza. I put quotes around it because the tables are concrete! (See picture in the article.) However, this is somewhat common in China - see this picture.

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May 7, 2012

Tip of the Week

How to Play and Practice with Weaker Players.

Returning the tomahawk serve

This is the serve where you serve with the racket tip up, and contact the ball on the right side, so it curves to the left, and the spin makes the ball come to your right off the opponent's paddle. It's awkward for many to take a ball spinning away from them on the forehand side and aim to the right, especially if the ball is short - try it and you'll see why. Until you reach the advanced levels, nearly everyone returns this serve toward the forehand side, and often they miss by going off the side to the left, or they allow the opponent to camp out on the forehand side. (This is for two righties; lefties make the usual adjustments. Sorry.)

Now think about this. Have you ever missed returning this serve by returning off the right side? Probably not. So just take it down the line, to the (righty's) backhand, knowing the sidespin will keep you from going off the side. Contact the back of the ball, perhaps slightly on the left side, so that the ball goes to the right, down the line.

Keep the racket relatively high - don't lower it as you chase after it as it bounces and spins away from you, or you'll end up lifting the ball high or off the end. Better still, don't chase after it - anticipate the ball jumping away from you and be waiting for it, like a hunter ambushing his prey. It's often this last-second reaching for the ball that both loses control and forces the receiver to hit the ball on the right side, thereby making down-the-line returns impossible. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Learn to Pong Like a Champ

Here's Part 3  of 3 from 2011 USA National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li, covering 1) Making Your Service Count; 2) Ball Placement; and 3) Staying Low. It's given both in text form and video (2:05). (Here's Part 1 and Part 2.)

ITTF Global Junior Circuit

Here's info on the Global Junior Circuit Events to be held at the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30 - July 4.

Ariel Hsing takes on Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill

To find out who won in the Olympian's match-ups against the two richest people in the world (depending on the date - the rankings change regularly but Gates and Buffet usually lead the list), see the article, which includes a video of them playing (1:18). Here are some pictures. And here's an article about it in Chinese!

U.S. Olympian Erica Wu

Here's an article and video (2:28) on new U.S. Olympian Erica Wu from a demonstration at her school. (Here's another article about it, which I posted on Friday.)

Tara Profitt and the Paralympics

Here's a Fox New Video of wheelchair player Tara Profitt (4:33), who will be playing the 2012 Paralympics.

Trek Stemp and baseball

He's not in the big leagues yet, but here's an article about the young phenom, which includes the following quote: "A big thing that helps playing infield — it may sound weird — pingpong," Stemp said. "Me and my friends play a lot of pingpong. A big part of pingpong is hand-eye coordination. That ball comes at you so fast."

The first table tennis political ad

Now they are using table tennis officiating to criticize political opponents! Now they've gone too far....

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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 2, 2012

Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America by Steve Grant

During a break between coaching sessions I pulled out the book "Ping Pong Fever" (260 oversized pages, available at amazon.com, $15.95) and spent a fascinating afternoon learning about the 1902 American table tennis craze. (Here's the cover.) The basic story is this: table tennis swept America in 1902 as a huge fad, and then was nearly forgotten for over two decades. If you have any sort of historical bent, or simply want to read about table tennis and its beginnings, you'll want to read this book. You don't even have to read it, though that's highly recommended; just the pictures tell the story. And it's absolutely packed with vintage table tennis pictures, circa 110 years ago. (Now I know why Steve Grant is the #1 contributor of pictures for CelebritiesPlayingTableTennis.com.) A bunch of kids on break gathered around and spent a bunch of time browsing the pictures with me.

The book has an unbelievable number of excerpts from newspapers of the time, giving readers a flavor of just how the game was viewed in those days. Numerous Ping pong cartoons also adorn the pages. The book has 26 chapters divided into six sections: 1. Going Viral; 2. Changing Lives; 3. The Victims and Their Gatherings; 4. Serious Cases; 5. How It All Started; and 6. How It All Ended. There are also ten "Side-Spin" sub-chapters that cover various themes, as well as an epilogue with four sections.

One of the best chapters is the one titled "Who Really Invented It?", which explains that "As with many inventions, this one was evolutionary, not revolutionary." The chapter gives "...the true early history of table tennis and ping pong, the most complete and accurate yet published, beginning at the beginning." While the sport was developed incrementally, Steve traces the name Ping Pong back to 1884, and declares the actual inventor of the game: James Devonshire, an electrician, in 1885.

You'll learn that originally players served by hitting the ball directly to the opponent's court, like in tennis (i.e. the ball didn't have to bounce on your side first), but the serve had to be done underhand--and to thwart very tall players from smacking the ball downward, contact had to be no more than five inches above the table. Did you know that in doubles players once had to use one racket, and between shots place the racket on the table for the partner to grab? (You couldn't hand it to him directly.) And that scoring was at one time done tennis style ("40-love!"). You'll also learn about tiddledy wink tennis, balloon tennis, and other early versions of the game.

You'll read about ping pong perfume, ping pong drinks, twins named Ping and Pong, ping pong in Broadway shows, ping pong gambling, and ping pong on a train. You'll read about the early tennis champions that dominated early table tennis. You'll learn that a wedding was cancelled because a woman insisted that she'd continue to play ping-pong even after the wedding, and the non-ping-pong-playing husband-to-be thought that was unbecoming of a lady. Yes, ping-pong players were crazy even back then.

I'll close the review with the poem on page 1 (from a ping pong ad), one of several from the time:

That's Ping Pong dear---it's all the rage,
The Bar, the Church, the House, the Stage
All Ping pong now---it's quite the fashion,
And you don't know it? (with compassion).
"Such ignorance is quite a shame;
Come, you shall see us play a game!"
Alas, she saw---she caught the fever---
(And goodness knew when it would leave her.)

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 19 pictures of 9 new celebrities. This brings the total to 1407 pictures of 819 celebrities! This month's updates:

  • Andy Sonnanstine, baseball pitcher (4 pictures)
  • John Garfield, actor
  • Chris Gethard, actor, comedian, and talk show host (3 pictures)
  • Dave Haywood, Lady Antebellum band member (2 pictures)
  • Hillary Scott, Lady Antebellum band member (3 pictures)
  • Charles Kelley, Lady Antebellum band member (6 pictures)
  • Jason Slim Gambill, Lady Antebellum band member (2 pictures)
  • Redfoo, member of band LMFAO (2 pictures)
  • SkyBlu, member of band LMFAO (2 pictures)

Interview with Dora Kurimay

Here's an interview with Dora Kurimay, author of the ebook "Get Your Game Face On," the sports psychology book for table tennis.

Crazy table tennis shot

Here's one of the craziest table tennis shots you'll ever see (0:30) - the ball hits the net and goes off the side of the table at a crazy angle. The opponent scoops the ball off the floor besides the net, and hits a pop-up ball with backspin - but the ball lands very short, and bounces back onto her side of the table, unreturnable! (Wait a minute - I do versions of this shot every day while coaching kids, where I'll suddenly throw a backspin lob up, and if they don't get to the side of the table quickly (and pick the right side to go to), the ball bounces back to my side. Of course I don't normally scoop it off the floor....)

Warren Buffett's Olympic Discovery

Here's an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal on Warren Buffett and . . . Ariel Hsing! According to Ariel, "The luckiest moment of my life was meeting Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill." To find out why (and to find out who "Uncle Bill" is - Duh!), read on!

Pong . . . with Cars???

Remember the game that started the video game craze, Pong? Well, here's a video (1:30) of the new version of Pong that's sweeping the nation, "Smart E-Ball," i.e. Pong played with cars! We're talking real cars, driving back and forth to "hit" the ball on a video screen! 

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April 27, 2012

U.S. Nationwide Club Team League

As I noted in my blog yesterday, you can still enter your club in the league and save $75 if you do so by Monday - so enter now! Here's the web page with full info. I attended an hour-long online video presentation of the league yesterday with live audio as Attila Malek explained the league and answered questions. I expect we'll have a bunch of teams from my club playing in this first ever nationwide league. If a success, this will be the first step toward changing table tennis in the U.S. from a secondhand sport into a powerhouse.

The league is set up regionally so that teams don't have to travel far for their matches. They have sponsors, and are giving out $100,000 in prize money in the five divisions. As of yesterday, they had 104 teams signed up, as I noted in my blog. I just checked, and they are now up to 127 teams.

It is through such leagues that memberships and revenue skyrocket. Germany has 700,000 league members; England 500,000; several other countries in Europe have memberships also measured in the hundred thousands despite relatively small populations. The main difference is that in those countries, the national governing body took the lead in setting up developing these leagues, and so a share of the revenue went to them, which is used to develop their national teams. USATT chose not to get involved (despite my pleadings at the Strategic Meeting in 2009 and before and since), and so Attila Malek and a few others have instead stepped up to the plate and taken charge. Let's support them and who knows where this'll lead. But I can vouch that Attila is in it to develop the sport, and if the league grows, there'll be more and more money in the top division so that the "pro" players can actually make a living at this sport (finally), while all divisions spread to all parts of the country. If this sounds like a description of the highly successful European Leagues, then you are right.

Spread the word!!!

Email to Board about Committee and Task Force Minutes

Yesterday morning (about 10AM) I sent the following self-explanatory email to the USATT Board of Directors, staff, and committee chairs. So far one committee chair emailed me privately saying he actually kept minutes and sent them in, but USATT didn't publish them. Another person thanked me for bringing this up. Otherwise, no response. Will USATT continue to violate the very bylaws this board created five years ago, despite regular reminders for years, or will they fix the problem? (Will they shoot the messenger?)

The bylaws state that the minutes of all USATT committee and task force meetings be published within 30 days, as I've pointed out repeatedly for the past three years. Can someone direct me to these minutes? For example, I keep getting asked about certain decisions made by the High Performance Committee, but I can't find the minutes of any of their meetings, as required by the bylaws. I'm also trying to find the minutes of meetings by the task forces set up at the Strategic Meeting in Sept. 2009, where I also reminded everyone of the bylaw requirements. Has USATT had ANY committee or task force meetings over the past five years? 

-Larry Hodges

From the USATT Bylaws:
ARTICLE IX  COMMITTEES
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."

History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 12

Yes, you read that right, Tim Boggan's Volume 12 is out! So buy yours today, as well as the previous eleven! Here's the webpage with info. As some noted table tennis authority once wrote, how can any serious player not buy these books? (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and photo restoration for these books.)

Ariel Hsing on NPR!

Here's the article.

Warren Buffett versus Ariel Hsing

Here's 34 seconds of them playing in 2007, which includes a scandalous bribe.

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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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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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April 18, 2012

Cancellations and a needed rest

Yesterday I was scheduled to coach from 5-7 and 8-9 PM. Late in the afternoon the 5-7 sessions were cancelled - it was a family of three, a father and two sons, and one of the sons was sick and they couldn't leave him at home alone. Then the 8 PM cancelled for unknown reasons. Suddenly I had the day off, my first in a while. Let's just say I needed it - my back and forearm were starting to go, and every muscle in my body was beginning to feel like five-year-old sponge that had blocked a few too many power loops. So I got to stay home and watch NCIS and the Orioles defeat the White Sox 3-2.

Today I'm tutoring Calculus from 10AM to noon for one of the local table tennis stars, who is taking the AP exam in late May. I do this every Wednesday, and with the exam coming up soon we may be doing it twice a week. I've got a 5-7PM session tonight. Rather than come home between noon and 5PM I'm going to head out to MDTTC and spend the afternoon there working on the rewrite of Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide. We've got wireless now so I'll be connected - but not sure if that's a good thing while working on a project. (I'm also editing a short SF story written by another local junior, who emailed it to me. It's not for school, he just likes to write.)

I was going to write something about chop blocks this morning, but it seemed more of a Tip of the Week. So I'll keep it to this for now - do you ever chop block? If you are playing someone who beats you in topspin rallies (either blocking, counter-hitting, or looping), perhaps this would be a way to change things up? It's an especially good changeup on the backhand, and can be done with sidespin as well.

Erica Wu, Ariel Hsing, and Lily Zhang battling for Olympic Spots

Here's the ESPN story. Also note that USA Table Tennis tweeted that top seeded Gao Jun has withdrawn (no reason given), and her spot in the North American Olympic Trials (this weekend) has been taken by Judy Hugh. (What player took Gao's spot? Hugh. Who? That is correct. Who took Gao's spot?!!! Yes. And so on, with apologies to Abbott and Costello.) 

Timo Boll Video

Here's a tribute video to German star Timo Boll (7:37).

Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators battle over ping-pong

The Predators hockey team just wanted to play, but the Todd Bertuzzi of the Red Wings said no, get your own table. Here's the story

Online table tennis jigsaw puzzles

I've always liked doing jigsaw puzzles (I collect ones with dragons and wizards), and last night I had a brainstorm - why not find a table tennis themed jigsaw puzzle and bring it to the club? Alas, I was unable to find one - but I found two online ones! Here's the Jigzone Table Tennis Puzzle, and here's the Free Online Games Virtual Ping Pong Puzzle (the latter starts with a 15-second commercial, alas). I solved the latter; the first one looks tougher.

Non-Table Tennis: Top Twelve Reasons the Orioles are the Best Hitters in Baseball

My Top Twelve list was published on Orioles Hangout. See the listing there, or go directly to it. I'm actually somewhat notorious there for my semi-regular "Top Ten" lists, which I post on their forum every now and then under the pseudonym larrytt. This time one of the editors/owners/managers really liked it and so published it as a Hangout article. (In the past I'd have asked you to pity me for being an Orioles fan, but we're in first place in the AL East at 7-4, and lead or are near the lead in most hitting and pitching categories.)

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March 26, 2012

Tip of the Week

The Great Scourge of Table Tennis Footwork: Leaning.

Counterlooping and the Sunset Years

I'm not exactly into my sunset years at age 52, and yet every year my counterlooping skills take another small step backward. Even minor decreases in muscle flexibility and quickness affect this more than most other shots. I did a lot of counterlooping last fall with students who were developing their counterlooping skills, and recently I felt that my own counterlooping skills were getting back to their norm (i.e. the way I remember them from long ago). Yesterday I was counterlooping with a student and there were times where I was just staring at my racket, hoping I could blame all the misses on that. The reality is I was stiff and tired (okay, a few dozen loops beyond bone tired) after four hours of coaching and playing (and seven straight hours the day before), but skills like these should be ingrained and automatic. Instead, balls were jumping all over the place and sometimes I felt like I was just flailing at them. I even had a second wind, felt energized - but still kept missing. It probably wasn't as bad as I remember, since I probably remember all the misses instead of the ones that hit, but in practice most of them are supposed to hit. Alas. (Here's an article I wrote on counterlooping.) 

Speaking of counterlooping, during a recent group practice session I was playing matches with the beginning/intermediate kids, spotting most of them 6 points each. We also let adults join in as practice partners, and an elderly man in his 60s showed up. I didn't see him playing, and don't think I'd ever seen him play, so when Cheng asked me to play him a practice match I went in figuring he was another beginning/intermediate player, and took it easy on him. Down 2-7 in the first game, after watching him rip loop after loop from both wings, I realized my error. I tried blocking his non-stop barrage of loops, but to no avail - the guy may have been in his 60s, but his backhand loop was unreal! I finally went after his slightly-softer forehand, and since he seemed to go mostly crosscourt, I was able to get my counterlooping going. With my back to the wall, I came back to win that first game, lost the second (more backhand rips, plus he started smashing some of my loops), then won the next two very close games on my serves (he had great trouble with my forehand pendulum serve short to his forehand) and counterloops. It turns out he was a former top player from Ukraine. (Note to self: every unknown opponent is a possible top player from Ukraine, or China, or Timbuktu, so be ready!)

For the weekend (Fri-Sun), I coached an even ten hours, but also played about 20 practice matches, and went undefeated, including wins over one 2300+ player, one 2250 player, two wins over a 2100 player, and the rest against players from beginner to 1900.

World Team Championships

The World Team Championships started yesterday in Dortmund, Germany, March 25 - April 1. You can follow all of the action online.

Zhang Jike Backhand Looping Multiball

Here's a short video (0:53) of world #1 Zhang Jike of China doing multiball backhand loop practice at the World Championships. He makes it look so easy.

Road to London

Here's a TV feature (4:22) on USA's Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang.

The Pongcast - Episode 12

The latest Pongcast (21:14) features the European Champions League.

Dog referee?

Just let the dog play! (0:45)

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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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