Voice of Table Tennis

April 16, 2014

Spring Break Camp - TV, Backhands, and Shoot the Moon

Yesterday was day two of our Spring Break Camp. The highlight was Channel 5 News coming in to do a feature on Crystal Wang and the MDTTC. They filmed lots of Crystal and other players, and did interviews with Crystal, Coach Jack Huang, and me. I think the feature of my interview was when he asked about Crystal's goals for making the Olympics. I explained how making the 2016 Olympic Team was first priority, but that she'd be only 18 for the 2020 Olympics - and that was where the goal would be to medal, perhaps gold medal. Then I pointed out that we'll know she's made it when the Chinese coaches start studying her on video, and develop a practice partner who mimics her game so they can practice against her! Yes, that's what the Chinese do, and you haven't really made it in table tennis until you have a Chinese doppelganger who studies you on video and copies for other players to train against.

After some time reviewing the forehand, spent a lot of time yesterday on the backhand. The beginning players mostly seemed to pick this up quicker than the forehand - perhaps they're getting used to learning new TT stuff. However, several are having trouble with their serves. That's going to be a focus today. I'm also going to introduce pushing.

Our Monopoly set was discovered during our two-hour lunch break, and that'll be in continuous use the rest of the camp. However, the real obsession this camp is the Shoot the Moon game I brought in. It's in continuous use during breaks, with the kids taking turns, usually getting three turns each before the next one gets it. One kid, about ten, has been at it continuously since he got here, including non-stop practice while many of us went to 7-11, and has become the champion, several times getting "Pluto" ten times in a row. (You can't see it from the picture, but Pluto is the highest score possible. The goal is to pull the two rods apart so the heavy metal ball rolls toward the player, who drops it in one of the holes, the higher the better.)

However, none can challenge the true champion - me! When I was also about ten I had this game, and I also became obsessed with it. I practiced it day after day, and kept careful track of my results. This went on for weeks. I finally stopped when it became just too easy - I had several stretches where I'd get Pluto hundreds of times in a row. I finally put it aside and didn't play for about 44 years - then I picked up a set a few weeks ago, and discovered I could still do it. I mostly let the kids use it non-stop, but now and then I stop by and get Pluto a bunch of times in a row, which only makes them more determined.

Adam Bobrow - the Voice of Table Tennis!

The ITTF has made the final decision - and USA's Adam Bobrow is the Next Voice of Table Tennis! Here's their Facebook announcement. Here's video of Adam's contest entry (9:40), where he does commentary on a match at the Qatar Open between China's Xu Xin (then world #4, but now #1) and South Korea's Cho Eonrae (then ranked #44, but now #20). I blogged about the ITTF contest last Wednesday. (There's no article on this yet on the ITTF News page, though I expect one later today.) Here's the ITTF's original announcement of the contest, the announcement of the Finalists, and USATT's reposting of that with pictures of Barbara and Adam. (They are both from the U.S., with David Wetherill of Great Britain the third finalist.)

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here is the High Performance Report for March, 2014, by Chair Carl Danner. You can read previous ones and reports from other USATT Committees at the USATT Reports page.

Table Tennis a Varsity Sport in NYC Schools

Here's the article! (I blogged about this briefly yesterday, but now we get the details.)

Expert in a Year

Coach Ben Larcombe from England has been on a one-year project to see if he can turn a beginning adult player (Sam Priestley, age 24) into an "expert" in one year. He even has a web page where he explains and chronicles the adventure, and where you can sign up for regular updates. Here's an article on the project.

Krish Avvari Gets Last Youth Olympics Spot

Here's the story, and here's the ITTF video interview with him (1:40).

Interview with Lily Yip

Here's the ITTF video interview (3:40) with USA coach Lily Yip during the recent Canadian Junior Open.

Amazing Around-the-Net Backhand in the Russian League

Here's the video (46 sec, including slow-motion replay).

Tina Lin - Age Nine

Here's the video (3:43) of junior star Tina Lin, which introduces her at age nine and other ages.

Lily Zhang and her Prom Date

Here's the picture. "Not everyone can say they've gone to the prom with an Olympian! Thanks for a great night!" Lily was on the 2012 Olympic Team and was the 2012 USA Women's Singles Champion.

Ping Pong Animation Episode One

Here's the video (23 min). I haven't had a chance to watch it yet - too busy with spring break camp and other coaching - but if someone wants to do a short review, please comment below. I did browse through it and there's lots of table tennis action, all animated, apparently in a training environment.

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March 19, 2014

Successful Clubs Build Each Other Up

I've often blogged about the best thing happening in U.S. table tennis right now - the rise of the full-time training center. There were about ten in 2006; now there are 67 in my listing, with another one about to join the list once I get their website. (Email me if you know of any that I'm missing.) One of the huge results is the number and depth of our elite juniors, which are better than anything we've had in the past - and it's not even close.

However, one of the consistent criticisms of these training centers is that they hurt other clubs. After all, a part-time club can't compete with a full-time club, right? And a full-time club will be hurt if another club opens up nearby, right?

Actually, the answer to both of these questions is a resounding NO. Successful clubs build each other up. In fact, often the best thing that can happen to a part-time club is if a full-time center opens nearby, and often the best thing that can happen to a full-time club is if another full-time club opens up - perhaps not next door, but in the region. It might lead to a temporary problem as you lose a few players, but in the long run the club gains. 

Why is this? People worry too much about the competition for current players. This is similar to the arguments made so often in the past that there aren't enough players (read: current players) to sustain more than a few full-time clubs. What they didn't understand is that a successful club develops its own players. It only helps to have another club developing these players, i.e. increasing the market for your club.

Similarly, when a successful new club opens, it develops its own players. Sure, at first it might take a few current players away from the current club. But this is offset by the new ones it creates, some of whom will end up playing at the other club. Table tennis is not a zero-sum game, though many have a hard time getting out of that thinking.

What happens when more clubs open is they develop a table tennis community, with many players playing at multiple clubs. When a "rival" club opens, some of the players they develop will end up playing in your club, as well as in your leagues, tournaments, and coaching sessions. There's a synergy when multiple clubs all develop players and the table tennis community grows bigger and Bigger and BIGGER!!! All the clubs grow and prosper, except perhaps for really badly-run ones that make no effort to improve.

More clubs also forces clubs to improve to better compete to develop, keep, and attract players, leading to better clubs. This is better for everyone. 

Is this all theoretical claptrap? No, it's from actual experience. For example, the part-time Potomac TTC has been around since the 1980s. It was successful before the Maryland Table Tennis Center opened in 1992, about 20 minutes away. It's now even more successful as result of the many players developed by MDTTC that now play regularly at both clubs. (Many train at MDTTC and play matches at both clubs.) There are also full-time clubs opening up all over the San Francisco Bay Area (12 of them now) - but I don't know of any part-time ones closing down because of this, though a few have instead gone full-time. (I'm sure there are exceptions, but they are exceptions, not the rule.) And the result of all the new training centers in the Bay area is they now have a successful table tennis league, with players from both the full-time and part-time table tennis clubs competing. The same thing is happening in the LA, NY, NJ, and MD regions, and probably others.

How about full-time clubs opening up near each other? For many years MDTTC had the luxury of being the only full-time club in the region, and one of the few in the country. In recent years four others have popped up within a 30-minute drive: Washington TTC in Gaithersburg (about five minutes away), Club JOOLA in Rockville (20 minutes away), Howard County TTC in Ellicott City, and the Northern Virginia TTC in Chantilly. Have we lost any players to them? Not really. But we've gained from players from those centers who often come to our club to train and to compete in our leagues and tournaments. We've prospered from their players coming to our club, and they have prospered partly because of the table tennis community MDTTC built up over the years, and which they are now enlarging.

Don't believe it? MDTTC was a 5000-square foot facility during most of its history. It doubled in size to 10,000 square feet two years ago. It was done partly to keep the club competitive both among local clubs and with other large clubs in the rest of the country, but the larger local TT community helped make it possible. 

Sure, there's competition for the top players between clubs, but that's more for prestige than anything else. (And the more successful ones mostly develop these players on their own rather than rely on the current ones.) The clubs with the better coaches and facilities might get more of the elite players and juniors, but that's not the primary source of revenue for a club, which comes from the average player - and those numbers only go up when more clubs open up.

I'll finish with a famous quote: "A rising tide lifts all boats."

The Two Shoe Salesmen

Here's a great instructional story that was pointed out to me by Bruce Liu. There's no table tennis in it; it's about two shoe salesmen and their differing reactions to a country where nobody wears shoes.

How does this relate to USA table tennis? Relative to the rest of the world, few players play seriously here with our 8000 members, compared to the hundreds of thousands in European countries and millions in some Asian countries. One type of person says, "Nobody here plays table tennis," and thinks that means it's a bad market for table tennis. The other type of persons says, "Nobody here plays table tennis!" and realizes it's an untapped market and a "glorious opportunity."

Unfortunately, too many in our sport think like the first person, including many of the leaders. Many of them simply do not have experience in how table tennis can grow, and so (consciously or subconsciously) continue to support the status quo. You can tell which ones they are - they are the ones who do the little things for the sport, and proclaim it from the highest hills, while avoiding the big things - like growing the sport in this untapped market. They just don't see the glorious opportunity.

Want To Be the Voice of Table Tennis?

Here's the link to the new ITTF contest. "Do you love Table Tennis? Do you fancy yourself as a commentator? Would you like to travel to the biggest events on the planet? If the answers are YES, you might be the new Voice of Table Tennis that we are looking for! 1 lucky and talented winner will join us in Tokyo as a commentator for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships, happening 28 April to 5 May 2014! The winner will also join the ITTF Team as a commentator on the World Tour." Deadline to enter is April 1. (This is NOT an April Fool's Joke!)

Jack Wang Impressive at Cary Cup

Here's the article on the 13-year-old from New Jersey.

International Articles

Here's my periodic note about all the great daily international articles at Table Tennista and at the ITTF News page.

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are the pictures!

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September 25, 2012

Coaching Decisions

Here's a tough decision I've got to make - and it's a good decision to have to make. I have a new student, a 7-year-old girl. She has one of those rare combinations of talent, physical ability, and mental focus. She's been playing about two months and already has nice strokes, can even forehand loop backspin with surprising power. (Yes, one month after starting, this 7-year-old is already looping.) Should I go the "normal" route and have her focus on hitting against topspin until she's bigger? Or should I have her loop the forehand against everything right from the start, since she seems to do this naturally? She's too small right now to really be successful trying to loop over and over - her hitting peers would hit her off the table. But imagine where she might be in two years. And since she's picking things up so fast, how soon should I have her spin the backhand as well? (It's tough spinning the backhand until you are taller.) Decisions, decisions . . . but I think she'll almost set the course. If she can loop over and over, then that's what I'll have her do. 

She was using a rather slow blade and sponge, but in our last session she tried out my blade - a fast carbon racket with hyper-tension sponge for looping - and fell in love with it. I was of course skeptical, thinking it was obviously too fast for her, but she was noticeably better with it, could rally faster and more consistently, and loop with great spin. (Yes, great spin at age 7.) After discussing it with her dad, we're likely going to get her the same or similar setup. Many coaches would be against this, and so would I normally, until I saw how well she played with my racket, and especially the way her eyes lit up while doing so.

2013 National Team Trials Host City Bid

Want your club or city to host the 2013 USA National Team Trials, to be held Feb. 7-10? Here's the bidding info! Good luck to you.

Want to Be the Voice of Table Tennis?

The ITTF is running a contest to select a table tennis commentator for the 2013 World Table Tennis Championships in Paris. You can be the winner - if you enter! As the ITTF page asks:

  • Do you love Table Tennis?
  • Have you always wanted to be a commentator? 
  • Have you got the knowledge and insight to engage our viewers? 
  • Does travelling to the biggest events all over the world sound brilliant? 
  • If the answer is a resounding YES, then we want to hear from you

The Anti-Plastic Ball Petition

Here's an article against the upcoming introduction of plastic balls in place of celluloid balls, by former about.com table tennis moderator and Australian player Greg Letts. It includes a link to a petition. (I've been trying to get hold of one of the new plastic balls to try out, but haven't been successful.)

Photos from the 2012 World Women's Cup

Here are 21 photos from the Women's World Cup. The first one is of the very nice outside decorations, including two giant paddles. USA's Ariel Hsing is photo #16. (Is that a black power salute in photo 13?)

Paralympic Graphic

Here's a nice photo collage for the 2012 Table Tennis Paralympics.

Oakland Raiders Game Ball

Here's a picture of the game ball the Oakland Raiders gave to the 2012 London Olympians (or at least to ones in attendance at the Sept. 23 game, where they beat the Steelers), including USA Table Tennis Olympian Lily Zhang.

Ping London 2012 Promotional Video

This is a very nice table tennis promotional video (2:04). It's a bit different than the usual ones. And now that whistling tune is going to be in my head all day.

Non-Table Tennis - Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales

The horror anthology Specter Spectacular was released today, with 13 ghost stories. I said horror anthology, right? Actually, 12 are presumably horror, while one is a humorous ghost story - my story, "The Haunts of Albert Einstein"! "Poor Albert Einstein is destined to haunt his old offices in Princeton for eternity, surrounded by the ghosts of bickering physicists who simply will not shut up, and the relentless paparazzi. What can he do to save himself from this fate?"

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