Samsonov

August 26, 2014

Disabled Veterans Camp

I'm running into a time crunch - I was up late last night working on two timely projects, and this morning I'm coaching a disabled veterans camp. (So blog is a little shorter this morning than usual.) Any locals who want to volunteer to help out as practice partners or ball pickup, email me. The camp is Tue-Fri, 10AM-1PM.

Professional Table Tennis Clubs Association

I've toyed with setting up a Professional Table Tennis Club Association (PTTCA), for full-time clubs. As I've blogged a number of times, I consider the rise of full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. to be the best thing that's happened to table tennis in this country in decades - and nothing else is even close. Here's a current listing which I maintain, with a few more to be added soon.

This is where you get both large numbers of junior players, and elite players as well. Want to develop players who can compete for medals? Well, where do they come from? From junior programs, where they train regularly from a young age with top coaches. Where do they do this? At training centers, where top coaches can make a living as professional coaches while running these junior programs. So if you want to develop medal contenders, you need to develop junior programs and training centers - they go together. It's always been somewhat of an eyebrow raiser that this isn't obvious to everyone, and yet it somehow isn't. It's only in roughly the last eight years that we've seen these training centers pop up all over the U.S., and with it, we now have the strongest players in our history at the cadet and under level (15 and under). Both the level and depth is way, way beyond what it was before.

So should there be an association for these centers? What would be its purpose? What would be the incentive for a professional club to join? Should the association focus on developing new centers or on the current ones? Your comments are welcome.

Serve and Receive Practice

Here's my periodic reminder - have you practiced your serves recently? If not, get a bucket of balls and go to it! It's the quickest way to improve. (Here's my Ten-Point Plan to Serving Success.) Just as importantly, have you practiced your receive? If not, get a bucket of balls and have someone serve to you! (Here's my article Why to Systematically Practice Receive.)

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Ninety-five down, five to go!

  • Day 6: Zoran Primorac Credits Sport for Making Him a Better Person
  • Day 7: Ivan Santos Ortega: We Must Create a Mystique about Table Tennis

Dimitrij Ovtcharov: Way to the Top

Here's a great video (7:46) that features the world #4 player - and the first point (against Timo Boll) is incredible!

Westchester Open Final

Here's the video (15:38) of the final this past weekend between Qing Feng Guang (rated 2770) and Kai Zhang (rated 2666). Qing is the chopper.

Samsonov Extends Record for Winning World Tours

Here's the ITTF article about his winning #34 (Belarus Open), the most ever. Second is Wang Liqin with 31.

Jorgen Persson Commends Fan Zhendong's Performance

Here's the article on the Chinese's star's performance in winning gold at the Youth Olympic Games.

Chinese Team Supports & Donates to the ALS Association

Here's the article and video. (Yes, ice bucket challenges taken, including by Liu Guoliang, Zhang Jike, Ma Long, and Wang Hao.)

More Ice Bucket Challenges

Here are more from prominent players.

Choo-Choo Pong

Here's the cartoon.

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June 5, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

I had a number of coaching sessions yesterday. (This was after running around picking some of them up at two schools for our afterschool program.) The last two were rather interesting in that I introduced them to playing against long pips. I keep a huge racket case with five different rackets inside. (I've had this racket case since 1988 – Cheng Yinghua gave it to me the year he came to the U.S. as a practice partner/coach for our resident training program in Colorado Springs, where I was at various times manager/director/assistant coach.)

The rackets are: A long pips with 1mm sponge chopping racket; a long pips no-sponge pushblocking racket; a racket with antispin and inverted; one with short pips and inverted; a pips-out penholder racket; and a defensive hardbat. (I also have an offensive hardbat that I myself use in hardbat competitions, which I keep in a separate racket case in my playing bag.) I pull these rackets out as necessary for students to practice against or with.

I pulled the rackets out at the end of the first player's session, and invited the other player who was about to begin to join in. Then I went over the rackets, explaining each one. (The players were Daniel, age nine, about 1450, and Matt, about to turn 13, about 1650.) Neither had ever seen antispin before. They had played against long pips a few times, but didn't really know how to play it. They had seen hardbat and short pips, but hadn't played against them much, if at all. (I found it amazing they hadn't played against short pips, which used to be so common, but that surface has nearly died out. Just about everyone at my club uses inverted. I know of only one player at the club using short pips, the 2200+ pips-out penholder Heather Wang, who practices and plays against our top juniors regularly, so they are ready if they ever play pips-out players.)

I pulled out the long pips racket with no sponge, and let them play against it. They quickly figured out that when they looped, my blocks came back very heavy and often short. They also discovered that if they gave me backspin, my pushes had topspin. After I suggested trying no-spin, Daniel quickly became proficient at giving me a deep dead ball to the deep, wide backhand, and then stepping around and loop killing my dead return.

Since Matt was my last session and I could go late, I let them hit together for a while. They took turns with the rackets, with Daniel especially trying out all the rackets. He likes playing defense, and ended up using the chopping blade with long pips for about ten minutes against Matt's looping. When learning to play these surfaces, it's important not only to practice against them, but also to try using them so you can see first-hand what the strengths and weaknesses are.

One results of all this - Daniel's dad bought him a copy of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. Soon they will know all the intracacies of playing long pips and all other tactics as well!

On Monday in the segment about the WETA filming I blogged about how I'd hurt my right knee and shoulder. I was toying with getting someone to do my hitting in my private sessions yesterday, but decided the injuries weren't too bad. I managed to get through the sessions without aggravating them. The knee and shoulder are still bothering me, but I think if I'm careful I'll manage to get by. Just don't let any of my students know or they'll start lobbing (exit shoulder) or going to my wide forehand (exit knee). Shhh!

Tactics for Playing Backhand Dominant Players

Here's the article.

2014 Stiga Trick Shot Showdown

It's back! Here's the info page, and here's info video (1:16). The Grand prize is $4000, a trip to the World Tour Grand Final, and a one-year Stiga sponsorship. Second is $2000, third is $500 in Stiga gear. Deadline is Sept. 5. But let's be clear – the rest of you are all playing for second because nobody, Nobody, NOBODY is going to beat the incredible trick shot I will do this year . . .once I come up with one.

Liu Guoliang Criticizes Reform on World Championships.

Here's the article. I've always had mixed feelings on Chinese domination of our sport. It's true that it takes much of the interest away. However, China has done about all it can to help the rest of the world. It's opened up and allowed its top players to go to other countries as coaches – pretty much anyone who makes a Regional team in China (and they have over 30, with most of them stronger than the USA National Team) can become a lifelong professional coach in some other country. A major reason for the increase in level and depth in U.S. junior play in recent years is the influx of Chinese coaches, who have been opening up full-time training centers all over the country. It sort of reminds me of martial arts back in the 1960s and '70s, when Korean and Chinese coaches opened up studios all over the U.S.

ITTF China World Tour Interview with Ariel Hsing

Here's the video (1:04).

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirteen down, 87 to go!

  • Day 88: Interview with Vladimir Samsonov, Chair of the Athletes Commission

Zhang Jike Multiball

Here's the video (1:55) of him training just before the 2013 Worlds. I don't think I've posted this, but if I have, it's worth watching again.

Table Tennis Physical Training

Here's the video (21 sec). Why aren't you doing this?

News from New York

Here's the article.

Incredible Rally

Here's video (27 sec) of one of the more incredible rallies you'll ever see. It doesn't say who the players are, though the player on the near side might be Samsonov – I can't tell, though it looks like his strokes. (You see his face right at the end of the video, and I'm not sure but I don't think that's him.) (EDIT: several people have verified that the player on the near side is Samsonov, and the one on the far side is Kreanga. [Alberto Prieto was the first to do so.] Kreanga's a bit blurry in the video, but I should have recognized his strokes!)

Ping Pong Summer in Maryland

Tomorrow I'm seeing the 7:30 PM showing of Ping Pong Summer at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. Anyone want to join me? (Email me or comment below.)

Ping Pong Summer Challenge

Here's video (2:58) where members of the cast of the movie are challenged to drink a soda while bouncing a ping pong ball on a paddle. Those challenged were actors Marcello Conte, Myles Massey, Emmi, Shockley, and writer/director Michael Tully.

Octopus Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (34 sec) – and this might be the funniest table tennis video I've ever seen! It's an extremely well animated giant octopus playing table tennis simultaneously on four tables. You have to see this.

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May 13, 2014

How I Almost Didn't Go or Stay Full-time in Table Tennis

Sometimes when I look around the Maryland Table Tennis Center I marvel at the series of events that led to the place opening, and all the things that could have derailed it or me from full-time table tennis. There would be no MDTTC if Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and I didn't get together back in 1992 to make it happen. All the players developed there wouldn't have happened. All the training centers that copied our system to open their own training centers might not have happened. How history in U.S. table tennis might have been different!

If Cheng had been chosen to be on the 1989 or 1991 Chinese National Team to the Worlds, as most expected he would, he might have stayed in China. If he had taken the offer to be the Chinese Men's Coach, he would have stayed in China. But after being burned by coaches who wanted stick with the historical Chinese close-to-table styles while using players like Cheng (as well as Huang Tong Sheng, i.e. Jack Huang) as European-style practice partners, he decided to come to the U.S., as did Coach Jack.

As to me, here is a brief listing of all the ways I might have been derailed from joining up with Cheng and Jack in 1992 and from becoming a full-time table tennis coach, writer, and promoter. It's largely biographical, so bear with me as I talk about some of my background.

I'll start at the beginning. Back in 1976 (age 16), I was on my high school track team as a miler. I went to the library to get a book on "Track & Field." I happened to look to my left . . . and there was a book on table tennis, "The Money Player," by Marty Reisman! I had been playing "basement" ping-pong at a neighbor's house, and spur-of-the-moment checked the book out. From it, I found out about USATT (then called USTTA). I contacted them, found a local club, and went there. I got killed, but I stuck with it, and a few years later became the best at the club. I later became a professional table tennis coach and writer, and from 1985 on, I've been full-time table tennis almost continuously in various capacities. If I hadn't happened to look to my left and saw that book, you would be staring at a blank screen right now. (Interesting note - years later I met Marty for the first time and told him this story. His response? "Great . . . another life I've ruined.") So ended my career as a normal person.

Now we move to North Carolina, 1979-81. I went there a year after I graduated high school for the sole purpose of training at table tennis. But I had to make a living, and so at age 19 I began working in restaurants at minimum wage. Meanwhile, I began making batches of my own secret recipe for chili for members of the table tennis club, and many raved about it. Here's a little-known secret - I came close to dropping table tennis at one point and opening up my own chili franchise! It would have started with one of those pushcarts you see at shopping malls. I got all the info needed, and even began experimenting with the chili recipe. But the table tennis bug was too much, and though I got prices on carts and on selling in malls, I finally gave up on my temporary lifelong dream of opening a chili chain. So ended my career as a chili chef.

Now we move to 1985. I've just completed my bachelors in math at University of Maryland, with minors in chemistry and computer science. A Dr. Harold Reiter has invited me to work on my Ph.D in math at the University of North Carolina. (He and I had co-written a paper published in a math journal.) I could have gone there, and eventually I'd have been Dr. Larry Hodges, math professor. But I decided to take time off for table tennis - and USATT hired me. So ended my math career.

Now we move to 1990. At this point I've spent four years working for USATT as (in order) assistant manager, manager, and then director/assistant coach for the resident table tennis program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. But politics intervened, and I was released. (Funny story - when the board decided not to renew my contract, they also went out of their way to "help" me by making arrangements for me to go to Anderson College where I could get a degree. Not one of them realized I already had a degree in math!) Anyway, I returned to Maryland and debated what to do next. At the Nationals that year I did something I'd done year after year in Las Vegas - won piles of money playing 7-card stud. There was no question - I could make a living at it. I debated it, and there were times where I was on the verge of packing up and moving to Vegas to play poker full-time. But while I could make good money at it, I kept asking myself a simple question: Is that what I wanted to do with my life? The answer was no. So ended my poker career.

Now we move to 1992. I'd started work on a master's in journalism, with concentrations in science writing and magazine production. I'm now planning on a journalism career, and plan to be a science writer. But two things intervened. First, I was hired by USATT as editor of USATT Magazine. Second, I met with Cheng and Jack, and we decided to open up MDTTC. So ended my science writing career.

Now we move to 1996. I'd just finished four years as editor of USATT Magazine (while coaching nearly full-time at MDTTC as well as well as coaching USA junior teams around the world), but politics once again intervened and my contract wasn't renewed. I began coaching even more hours at MDTTC. But I began to have injury problems, and I was so disgusted with USATT that I needed a break from table tennis. In 1997 one of my students hired me as a computer programmer. So I spent a year programming while playing and coaching table tennis part-time. I made good money, and for a time planned on becoming rich that way. But the company I worked for closed down. So ended my computer programming career.

Now we move to 1998. I could have gotten other jobs as a computer programmer, but I was more into writing. Plus I had just finished my master's in Journalism, which I'd been working on part-time for five years. So I applied for editorial positions. I was hired as editor of The Quality Observer. I spent nearly a year there. But the table tennis bug began to bite again, and I kept thinking about how I could make about twice as much per hour coaching as editing. Finally I resigned that position and went back to coaching. So ended my non-table tennis editorial career.

I was hired back as editor of USATT Magazine in 1999, and stayed on until 2007. (I continued to coach at MDTTC during this time.) At that point I was disappointed that USATT wouldn't focus on the things needed to be done to grow the sport (sound familiar?), and I was tired of all the politics. So I decided to take some time off and focus on something I'd been doing part-time for years - write science fiction & fantasy. So I resigned as USATT editor/webmaster, and spent the next couple years mostly just writing. My SF writing career has had lots of ups and downs. (Here's my SF writing page.) I've sold an even 70 short stories. Thirty of them were compiled in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges." I wrote two novels. The second one was published last November, the humorous fantasy "Sorcerers in Space." (You can also buy it at Amazon.) A publisher (Larger than the one that published "Sorcerers") is very interested in the first one, Campaign 2100, a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, but requested a rewrite on a number of sections, which I'm currently working on. But while I'm still doing this part-time, I returned to full-time table tennis in 2008, and have been at it ever since. (Both of my novels feature characters who play table tennis.) So ended my full-time science fiction writing career.

I'm a full-time table tennis coach/writer/promoter. But if I hadn't looked left, if I'd become a chili chef, a math professor, a poker player, a science writer, a programmer, a non-TT editor, or a full-time science fiction writer, I wouldn't be doing table tennis full-time. And there'd be no MDTTC if hadn't look left, or if I'd become a chili chef, math professor, or poker player.

Samsonov and Ma Long on the New Plastic Balls

Here's Samsonov ("I think the change will not be that big") and Ma Long (he endorses it). Readers, feel free to send me links on what other top players think about this, or post your own comments below.

The Different Chinese Eras

Here's an interesting posting (and some follow-up responses) about the three most recent eras of Chinese dominance - the Kong Linghui/Liu Guoliang era, the Wang Liqin/Ma Lin era, and the current Zhang Jike/Ma Long era. Wang Hao should probably get more credit in there as he's been dominant throughout the last two of these eras, and I'd add Xu Xin to the current era. Before the Kong/Liu era was a period of 4-6 years where China didn't do so well, the Ma Wenge/Wang Tao era. Before that was the Jiang Jialiang/Chen Longcan/Teng Yi era. Before that was the Guo Yuehua/Cai Zhenhua era. Before that was the Zhuang Zedong/Li Furong era. (I've left out plenty of top players, such as Li Zhenshi, Liang Keliang, and many others, but can't fit everyone in every era! Plus we're only talking about the men, leaving out the women.)

ITTF Pongcast - April 2014

Here's the video (13:22).

NCTTA Best of the Best

Here's the listing of winners from the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here's the article/posting.

Table Tennis Profile Picture

Here's one of the nicer ones I've seen! I should have that on my wall when I'm writing about table tennis . . . like right now. See the action coming out of my keyboard!

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January 3, 2014

Iron Man Will Shortz

Will Shortz, the owner of the Westchester TTC (that's him and manager/coach Robert Roberts in picture) in New York as well as the famed New York Times Puzzle Editor, wrote me about completing his goal. "As you may have heard or read, I set it as my goal for last year to play TT every single day of the year ... and to film myself doing so as proof. On Tuesday, Dec. 31, I completed my goal. Never missed a day. There was a party at my club, with 40-50 people in attendance, in celebration. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, the writers/directors of the 'Paranormal Activity' movies, are making a video for me using bits of my clips."

He also wrote that he played at 38 clubs worldwide during the year, 27 in the U.S. in eight different states, plus Japan and China. He also visited Alaska: "In June Robert Roberts and I flew to Alaska and over the course of a week played at every TT club in the state (all six!). Our trip was written up in the Juneau Empire. Also, Gadling.com, a travel website, posted Vines of our trip every day. As for 2014, I intend to keep playing every day. But a) I'm not going to film myself anymore, and b) if I ever don't feel like playing on a particular day, I won't. I will no longer feel obligated."

I wrote back that "I have a firm rule I try to follow (but can't always), which is I have one day a week where I DON'T play table tennis, usually Mondays. Otherwise I go crazy!" I used to have more iron in me. Back in 1977 and 1978 (when I was 17 and 18) and I used to play seven days a week, and at least twice played every day for six months, though I don't think I went a whole year, thanks to holidays like Christmas. I did manage to play in 33 tournaments in 1978, including 14 consecutive weekends. These days, when I'm healthy, I coach six days/week. However, sometimes things get busy, and I sometimes coach or do other table tennis activities seven days a week. I know I did table tennis every day for two months once last year, and a couple times I did a month at a time.

With Tim Boggan moving in with me on Monday, Jan. 13 for a two-week stay to work on Volume 14 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis (I do layouts and photo work), and with a new afterschool table tennis program at MDTTC (where we combine table tennis and academics - I'll be doing a lot of tutoring as well as TT), my table tennis hours are about to jump up for a while.

I also wrote to Will about how I'd recently been doing the crossword puzzles in the Washington Post, and getting most of the answers. My brother and his wife have been doing them for years, and twice in recent years I'd gotten them signed crossword and Sudoku puzzle books from Will for Christmas. However, I also wrote him, "How the heck was I supposed to know that "Summer on the Riviera" was "ETE," that "One who tries to 'solve a problem like Maria'" is a "NUN," or that a Yale Student is an "ELI"??? He wrote back, saying "ETE is French for "summer." it appears often in crosswords. It's a good word to know. MARIA is a nun in "The Sound of Music." And a student at Yale is known as an ELI. That's also a common bit of crossword trivia. Memorize it!"

Speaking of crosswords, I think in the early 2000s, during the 12 years I was editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine, I ran a few table tennis crossword puzzles. I'd found an application that created them from questions and answers I put together.

Back to Private Coaching

After taking much of the last month off from private coaching (though I did lots of coaching at the Nationals and in our Christmas Camp), today I start with private sessions again. Hopefully the arm problems are over, as well as various leg, knee, and back problems that have made splashy appearances on and off this past year. I'm going in to the club around 5PM to get a good warm-up since I haven't played much recently, then I coach from 6-7PM. Then I have more this weekend.

Tips of the Day

Since the last time I posted about them on Dec. 27, USATT has put up another week of my Tips of the Day. Here's where you can see them all. Browse over them and read the ones that sound interesting or helpful, or just read them all! They are rather short and to the point.

$100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong

Wow! And the World Championships of Ping Pong is a sandpaper tournament! This is the third time for this annual event, to be held in London this weekend, Jan. 4-5. Some people will find that off-putting, but to me, table tennis is table tennis in all its forms. My only regrets are that I'm not there, perhaps 20 years younger, since I'm rather handy with the sand. Here's the actual prize fund. And here's a feature on the American duo (actually trio) going to the tournament (Adoni Maropis, Kit Jeerapaet, Ilija Lupulesku).

2014 U.S. Open Blog

Here's the first entry in the LOC Blog (Local Organizing Committee) for the 2014 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be held July 1-5. Written by co-chairs Connie & Dell Sweeris, it features the seven P's: "We have zeroed in on some key words to describe our goals & aspirations for this year's Open. ParticipationPrestigePresentationPrizes, PromotionPleasure and Profit are all expression for our passion." Then it goes on to detail these items. Can't wait to be there!

Samsonov Highlights

Here's a new highlights video (3:25) featuring Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus.

Iron Man Table Tennis

After blogging about Iron Man Will Shortz above, I googled for "Iron Man Table Tennis" - and found this hilarious video (2:22), of a kid getting killed in table tennis until he puts on the Iron Man mask!

Non-Table Tennis: Top Twelve New Year's Resolutions by Peter Angelos

Here's my latest article at Orioles Hangout.

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November 21, 2013

Zhang Jike Footwork Drills

Here's a video (36 sec) showing Zhang doing multiball random footwork drills. You'll either be inspired or depressed.

Now I'm going to let you in on a secret: as long as you are in generally good shape - not too overweight or with leg problems - anyone can be fast as long as they learn one hugely important lesson: It's all about balance. Watch how Zhang is constantly balanced, allowing him to move quickly in either direction. It's when a player leans one way even slightly that he's off-centered, and unable to recover quickly. "Fast" players are fast, but mostly because of their balance. It's not the foot speed that's the limiting factor; it's the recovery time from the previous shot.

Another thing that leads to non-fast play: flat-footedness. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet throughout the rally, knees slightly bent, with a somewhat wide stance. This allows you to dance around the court like a mongoose or a Zhang Jike. (Sometimes the heel of the back foot might touch the ground during the backswing of a forehand loop.)

Another limiting factor in footwork is simply not using it. If you just stand at the table without trying to move, you're not going to develop any foot speed. Even blockers need to dance about the table if they want to be good blockers, as opposed to just reaching for the ball. (Some players reach for the ball and just dead block, usually with dead surfaces like long pips, but they get away with that because they don't have to really stroke the ball. You won't find many high-level players like this.)

So stop reaching and learn to move to every ball. You may never have Zhang Jike speed, but if you think of yourself as being like Zhang Jike and copy some of the techniques that make him so fast, you might not be so far behind. (An expanded version of this might become a Tip of the Week.)

Footwork from Table Tennis Master

Speaking of footwork, here are three articles on footwork that all go together, so I'll post all three.

USATT Election

The USATT Nominating and Governance Committee selected the two final candidates to run for the vacant spot on the USATT Board: Jim McQueen and Ross Brown.

Samsonov's Longevity

Here's an article on "Why Samsonov Will Last the Long Mile."

Ping-Pong and the Fight Against Alzheimer's

Here's the video (4:29).

Mitsubishi Electric Pumps $300,000 into Singapore Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Evolution

Here's the ultimate evolution poster showing apes evolving into....

Mostly Non-Table Tennis: Sorcerers in Space

The print version is now available at amazon.com (along with the Kindle version). Or you can save $3 by buying directly from First Class Books. (Not sure why amazon's selling above the retail rate. Normally they discount.) 

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October 28, 2013

No Blog or Tip Today

I returned from the South Shore Open in Indiana at 1:30 AM this morning, and because I had to take care of some things I didn't get to bed until after 4AM. So no blog today, and the Tip of the Week will go up tomorrow. But for diehards who need something, here's video (1:05) of the rally of the tournament at the Men's World Cup, with Vladimir Samsonov lobbing down Xu Xin.

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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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February 13, 2013

Tactical Matches

Over the past year I've sort of been the nemesis of one of our top juniors. Since I also sometimes coach this player, I know his game well. Until recently I had a simple way to take his game apart - relentlessly going short to his forehand. I'd serve short to the forehand with varied spins. If he served short, I dropped the ball short to the forehand (usually faking to the backhand first). The only way to stop my going short there was to serve long, and then I'd loop. Plus, because I knew the player so well, I was able to read his serves and tell early in his motion if he was serving long.

Alas, it is no more. Or should that Thank God it is no more? He's finally figured things out. When I serve short to the forehand, he's finally developed a competent flip. He can also drop it short. Or he reaches over and flips with his backhand, often using a banana flip. The more I go wide to his short forehand to get away from his backhand, the wider the angle he gets to my wide forehand. When he flips there, I have to go so wide that I'm open on the backhand on the next shot.

When he serves, he's giving more variations, so it's not as easy to drop the ball short. And just as with my short serves, he's gotten better when I do drop it short, flipping both forehand and backhand. He's also disguising his long serves better so I can't see them coming so easily.

So after at one point beating him 14 times in a row, I am sad - I mean glad! - to say he's won our last two. In fact, I've had to completely revamp my tactics against him, since the relentlessly-go-after-the-short-forehand tactics doesn't work so well anymore. However, this has led to some good news - for me. It's forced me to get more aggressive against his serves, bringing out my own inner backhand banana flip. So I'm now mixing in short receives and flips, and my flips are getting better and better. Unlike many of our past matches, which (because of my tactics) were often sloppy-seeming ones with few good rallies, now we're having really good rallies, and I'm battling with him, shot for shot. He may have won, but he may have awoken a sleeping giant. Or so I hope!

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

***Get your copy of Table Tennis for Thinkers Now! ***

The price right now is $17.95, but it likely will go up to $19.95 sometime soon, when dealers start to distribute it. Dealers would prefer the higher price, and they probably know the business better than I do. Most likely I'll also raise the Kindle price (currently at $9.99 for the text-only version) to about $11.95 when I have time to create and upload the version with pictures (hopefully within a few weeks). As noted previously, if I make "substantial changes" to the original version (and going from text only to adding 90 photos certainly qualifies), then they'll give a free download of the new version to those who downloaded the earlier version.

Update - Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 13

So far we've done 20 chapters, 319 pages, 662 graphics. Projections: 29 chapters, 461 pages, 947 graphics. We expect to finish first draft Friday, and finish making corrections on Monday. Then it goes to the printer, and I sleep for a week. Or at least for an hour. (Note - besides the regular chapters, there are seven pages of covers, inside covers, acknowledgements, etc., which also include graphics, which is why the projections don't match up exactly to the ratio of the current 20 chapters to the planned 29.)

Ding Ning - Slow Motion Studies

Here's a video (1:57) that shows world #1 woman Ding Ning's technique in slow motion.

Samsonov over Ovtcharov in Swiss Open

Here's the article.

Ping Pong and Songs

It's for charity! "Lady Antebellum's charity initiative LadyAID™ Fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee was created to bring awareness to and generate support for children in need locally, nationally, and globally through partners Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanerbilt, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Children's Miracle Network, myLIFEspeaks, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)."

Adam Bobrow's Valentine's Birthday Party

It's this Friday in LA. It's 3000 miles from me, so I better start driving!!! Here's what he wrote about it: "I haven't thrown a birthday party in AGES! I figure it will be a great way to get to see lots of my friends... old and new and bring some great people together for a fun night. There will be a DJ, a menu will delicious food and drinks and of course... many ping pong tables and awesome people to hit on. 8>) Come hang out, say hi, have a conversation with me, my friends or introduce me to your friends or just hang come play. It's FREE and it will be a blast! Parking is up to you... and dress however you want! (21 and over... dress that way)"

Table Tennis Street Art

An outdoor Christmas decoration?

Awesome Table Tennis Tricks

Here's a video (2:29) showing lots of incredible (though staged) table tennis shots, including replays in slow motion. Some great stuff!

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February 5, 2013

Tim Boggan Arrives

This morning at 9:30 AM Tim Boggan will arrive for a 10-14 day stay. I'll be doing the page layouts (500+) and photo work (800+) for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13 (as I've done for the past ones). Here's Tim's page (which I created and maintain for him), where you can buy the previous volumes.

Since we'll be working all day, Mon-Fri, until it's done, and since I'll be mostly coaching nights and weekends, I won't have much free time the next two weeks. (I'll be doing most of the blog late at night instead of early in the morning, since Tim will be up and waiting to get started early each morning.) If anyone is dreaming of asking me to do a time-wasting favor for them, well, here's what I have to say about that.

Tactical Matches

Here are more examples of tactics used this past weekend in practice matches.

In one I played a player with a really nice forehand smash. Just about anything that went there he'd smash (even my pushes if I weren't careful), and if I put the ball slow to his backhand, he'd step around and smash that as well. What to do? I took most short serves right off the bounce to his wide backhand with banana flips, which kept his forehand out of play. If the serve went long, I looped, again always wide to the backhand. I varied my serve, following them up with attack - you guessed it - into his wide backhand. His backhand blocking wasn't nearly as strong, and he almost never got a chance to smash. This was a case where he was literally waiting for me to go to this forehand so he could smash, so I almost never did, not unless he wandered toward his backhand side.

In another match I played an extremely fast junior who could pound the ball from both sides to all parts of the table, and was much quicker than me. There's no way I could really cover the whole table in a rally against him. Since he was using standard placement tactics - every ball to the wide corners or at my elbow - I employed a tactic I've blogged about before. I stood in a slight forehand stance, but toward my backhand side. I covered the wide backhand and middle with my backhand, using his own pace to rebound the ball back, countering the balls back wide to his backhand to keep his forehand out of play. I could barely keep up the pace he was setting, but eventually he'd change directions and go to my forehand. The instant I saw the change, I would step to the wide forehand and counter-attack. The two keys to that forehand counter-attack were 1) I was already standing with my feet in a forehand position so I'd be ready, and 2) I didn't look to see where the ball would go on my forehand side - I anticipated it would go wide. Essentially this moves my middle toward my forehand side. If his shot went a foot inside the forehand corner, I'd have been stuck (like a player caught with a ball hit at their elbow), but that's not how players are trained - and so I won.

Other tactics used in this match - lots of receive variation to throw him off, with flips, loops, and short and long pushes. When I attacked (mostly by looping except in fast rallies), I went after his forehand, which took his angle into my backhand away so I was able to follow with another forehand.

In another match against a big-looping junior with a passive receive I served lots of varied short serves. He'd push them, even chopping down on the side-top serves so he could push them low. But the key was that he was predictable, as well as vulnerable to varied amounts of backspin, sidespin, and topspin, since he was trying to push or chop-block them all back. So I could anticipate slow backspin returns every time, and since I didn't have to guard against a flip, I could go for a forehand loop every time. (Whenever it got close, I'd throw a fast, deep serve at him for a free point - he was rarely ready for it.) On his serve (almost all short) I mostly flipped to his wide backhand or dropped it short. Sometimes he'd wind up and rip a backhand loop; when he did that, I knew he was anticipating it, and on the next receive I'd aim to his backhand, and at the last second flip to his wide forehand. It got him every time.

British Rock Band Challenges Justin Bieber

The band Lawson has challenged Justin Bieber at table tennis. Who will win?

Chico Table Tennis Club

Here's an article about the Chico TTC in Durham, CA.

Kong Linghui on the Women's Trials

Here's an article about Kong Linghui, the Chinese Women's Coach. "The Squad Trials is getting much harder!"

New World Rankings

Here's an article on the new world rankings. Zhang Jike drops to third! Here are the new rankings.

Lunar Cup Matches and an Exhibition

The 2013 Lunar New Year Cup Challenge Match was held in China, with the top six Chinese players competing: Xu Xin, Zhang Jike, and Ma Long against Chen Qi, Wang Liqin, and Wang Hao. (Actual matches are Xu vs. Chen; Zhang vs. Wang Liqin; and Ma Long vs. Wang Hao.) Also featured is an exhibition by former superstars Guo Yuehua and Chen Xinhua. Here's where you can watch the videos.

The Best of Samsonov, Schlager, Boll, Kreanga, and Primorac

Here's a highlights video (7:53) featuring many of the best European players.

1946 U.S. National Ping-Pong Championships

Here's vintage video footage (1:06) from the 1946 U.S. Open. It features several clips of Laszlo Bellak clowning around for the camera, including blowing the ball sideways (hey, that's my trick!), rallying by kicking the ball back, and other tricks.

Air Gun Fires Ping-Pong Balls at 900 MPH

See what happens when a ping-pong ball traveling Mach 1.2 strikes a ping-pong paddle!

Table Tennis Cookies

Mmmmmmm...

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October 10, 2012

Coaching in the Wilderness and Run-ins with Animals

I do some coaching each week on the road, including a trip out into Virginia. They pay me double to do this, otherwise I wouldn't want to leave the safe confines of the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which is eight minutes from my house. The kid I'm coaching in Virginia is five years old, and like most kids his age has an attention span of roughly from now to now. So I find all sorts of interesting ways of keeping him interested during our one-hour sessions - mostly with targets on the table (giant rubber frogs, stacks of cups, etc.) or by setting up imaginary scenarios where he has to do something or the world will explode. This kid lives in a mansion in the middle of woods - a great place to grow up.

Yesterday after I drove down their front driveway (about two hundred yards) and pulled into the street out front, I found myself surrounded by six deer. I'd driven right into their midst and then stopped my car, and rather than run, they all just stared at me as if they were used to this. I stayed absolutely still, and after a minute they ignored me. Four more joined them, and now ten deer surrounded me. As if that weren't enough, I very large hawk sat perched on a telephone cable just over the street, looking down on us like the specter of death.

After about five minutes the deer all took off suddenly as another car came by. (Apparently my car wasn't as scary.) As I drove out, four more deer came out onto the road, blocking my path. They froze for a moment, and then they too took off. A minute later, as I drove home, I passed a large horse farm with dozens of grazing horses.

I've had other run-ins with wildlife in my years as a coach. Many years ago, while spending a summer coaching in Oklahoma, I woke up in the middle of the night with a searing pain, and discovered a scorpion perched on top of me that had just stung me. Numerous times I've had birds flying around in clubs and tournaments, including this segment from the Maryland Table Tennis Center (starring a very traumatized bird and Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Raghu Nadmichettu, Tong Tong Gong) just a few weeks ago. A kid once brought a box turtle to MDTTC and let it walk about the club all afternoon while he played. We've had numerous dogs visit the club, though all seemed well trained. One woman at one of our training camps brought her dog, which was so well trained it would sit quietly by the table as her owner trained, never interrupting anything until she gave the okay, I think by snapping her fingers or something. The kids had a blast with it as it would lie quietly as they covered it with ping-pong balls.

Here are lots of animals playing table tennis!

Exhibition and Teaching in Guam

Australian player and coach Alois Rosario puts on a show for the kids in Guam (2:05).

Great Point at World Cup

Here's a great point (1:09) from the 2012 Men's World Cup between Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan. The point took place with Samsonov leading 9-8 in the seventh, and gave him match point. Chuan would win the next two points, but Samsonov would win 12-10 in the seventh.

Ariel Hsing vs. Matthew Perry

USA Olympian Ariel Hsing was on The Ellen DeGeneres show yesterday (3:12). DeGeneres was playing actor Matthew Perry when she faked a back injury, and said someone else would have to play for her. Then she called in Ariel, who proceeded to clobber poor Perry, who was actually pretty good. DeGeneres had told Ariel not to hold back, and she didn't.

Three-Way Table Tennis

This looks like someone's homemade table, but they decided it needed three sides. And they are playing outdoors.

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