2013 National Team Trials

January 2, 2013

Tip of the Week

Balance Throughout the Stroke.

Two Weeks

The last two weeks have been exhausting. I can divide them into four parts: the USA Nationals (Dec. 18-22: Christmas with Family (Dec. 22-25); MDTTC Christmas Camp (Dec. 26-31); and Reading in Bed (Dec. 31 - Jan. 1).

USA Nationals

I've been to every Nationals since the early 1980s, and this is the first one where I didn't play any events, just coached. Much of the tournament is now a blur, but much of it comes back when I look over the extensive notes I took on opponents. (I have to type them up soon for my ongoing coaching notes.)

Derek Nie, 11, played great. I coached him in all his matches as he made the National Mini-Cadet Team (under 13), finishing second (with the top four making the team). His matches from the quarterfinals on were spectacular, and gave meaning to the idea that tactics aren't very helpful if you can't executive. Well, he executed!!! Going in, he was seeded eighth at 2139, but in more recent ratings he was 2221, which would have put him third. He knocked off the second seed (rated 2314) at 7,4,7 in perhaps the best-played match of his life. His two-winged full-court looping game, and especially his counterlooping from all over the court, is especially impressive when you remember he's 4'5" and 65 lbs! (As noted previously, he's the best player in the U.S., pound for pound.) He has another year left in the Mini-Cadets, as well as four years in the Cadets. He trains regularly with Cheng Yinghua and the other MDTTC coaches, including me, although I mostly play practice matches with him so he can work on serve & receive - he's too fast for me in drills. 

Here's a picture of me coaching Derek and Seyed Hesam Hamrahian in doubles in the Junior Team competition. And yes, that's me, getting chased around the table by Derek as we loosen up before a practice session. It started as some easy jogging around the table, then it became a chase, and Bruce Liu (unfortunately) caught the last nine seconds of it.

Here's a nice quote I keep reminding Derek of during the tournament when he was passive in receiving long serves: "At the higher levels, looping a long serve is not a tactic, it's what you do. Not looping the serve is a tactic." Ironically, in one of his key matches, the opponent mixed in long topspin and backspin serves, and in that match the tactic was to push the backspin serve back, since the opponent would either push or loop soft, giving Derek the chance to loop or counterloop.

I didn't get to see much of the main matches in men's or women's singles as I was too busy coaching. I did manage to attend the annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. For the fourth year in a row I did the program booklet for them; here's the 2012 program, in high (1.7MB) or low (174KB) resolution.

Some of you might remember Mike Lardon, a junior star from the 1970s, and now a sports psychologist. He was at the Nationals, playing in the over 50 events. I introduced him to Derek, and he gave him (and signed) a copy of his sports psychology book, Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life. (I reviewed this in my Nov. 8, 2011 blog.) Derek read half the book that night. I've been told that most match coaches don't spend much time on sports psychology, which I believe is a huge mistake. It's often the most important aspect.

It's almost a joke how much strength and depth we now have in the juniors, especially up to about age 14. It's getting ridiculous - players who seven years ago would be battling for national titles are now struggling to reach the QF. The matches in the round of 16 are stronger than finals from ten years ago. They are routinely doing shots that were only rarely done back then. I still cringe every time an opponent power loop to Derek's FH, and Derek (and other players) routinely go for the counterloop, probably not realizing how difficult this is "supposed" to be!

Christmas

I spent Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, Dec. 22-25. No table tennis - sorry! Gave away lots of stuff, received lots of stuff (sorry, no table tennis stuff!). Highlights included my making my annual batch of Larry's Chili (my own secret recipe) for Dec. 23 dinner (and lunches thereafter); seeing The Hobbit on Christmas Day; and catching the annual red-eye flight on Christmas night so I can get back the morning of Dec. 26 for the MDTTC training camp.

We've run over 150 training camps at MDTTC since we opened in 1992, and this was our 21st Christmas Camp - I've coached at all of them. During the camp I gave lectures on ready position, grip, forehand, backhand, forehand loop, backhand loop, flipping, pushing, footwork, serve, receive, playing different surfaces, and doubles.

MDTTC Christmas Camp

The camp was held Dec. 26-31, starting with an afternoon session on Dec. 26, and ending with the morning session on Dec. 31. We had over 40 players. Because we have so many coaches at MDTTC (6), I was only needed in the morning sessions, where I gave short lectures before breaking out into multiball sessions. My highlight was getting a bunch of the kids on break to call out the names of the three great gods of table tennis until they got the secret meaning: Owa, Tegu, Siam. Say them over and over until you get the secret meaning. (If you are lost, email me, but really, you should get it if you keep saying it!) The kids' highlight was probably the candy game on Dec. 30, where I put hoards of candy on the table and fed multiball while the players rotated, two shots each, where they got to keep whatever they knocked off the table.

Reading in Bed

What is your "dream" vacation? For some it's the beach, or out sailing, or hiking in the mountains, or travel, or perhaps watching TV all day. For me it's spending all day in bed reading. I read two fantasy novels, "Hush" and "Witchbreaker," both by James Maxey. They were the second and third books in his Dragon Apocalypse series. (I read book one while in Santa Barbara for Christmas.) While I'm on the subject of writing, I'm sad to announce that I read fewer books in 2012 than any year since early elementary school - and I'm not happy about this. (However, I also read the Washington Post and about a dozen magazines.) But I still managed to read 24 books. Here's a listing:

FICTION (15)
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Firebird by Jack McDevitt
Moonfall by Jack McDevitt
Voyagers by Ben Bova
Ringworld by Larry Niven
The Religion War by Scott Adams
Specter Spectacular edited by Eileen Wiedbrauk
Into the Out Of by Alan Dean Foster
Dinotopia Lost by Alan Dean Foster
Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
Barry's Tale by Lawrence Schoen
Burn Baby Burn: A Supervillain Novel by James Maxey
Greatshadow by James Maxey
Hush by James Maxey
Witchbreaker by James Maxey

NON-FICTION (4)
Building Your Book for Kindle
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Earth by The Daily Show (it's sort of non-fiction!)
How to Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings by Robert Qualkinbush

TABLE TENNIS (5)
Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion, by Werner Schlager & Berndt-Ulrich Gross
Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov (See my review.)
Ping Pong Fever by Steve Grant (See my review.)
Get Your Game Face On! by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (See my review.)
The Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats, Volume, 1 by Fred Danner (See my review.)

2013 USA National Team Trials

Here is info on the 2013 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials, to be held Feb. 7-10 in San Jose at the Topspin Table Tennis Club. Here is the Prospectus and Entry Form, both in PDF format.

Whitney Ping on USOC Board of Directors

Whitney Ping, a member of the 2004 USA Olympic Table Tennis Team, a former player rep on the USATT Board of Directors, and an Athlete Service Coordinator for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, is now one of the 15 members of the USOC Board of Directors. Here's the article.

National Club Championships

Here are the results, with Chinese CC Flushing NY defeating Maryland Table Tennis Center in the final (in Las Vegas), 3-1. In the semifinals, they defeated Newport Beach TTC (CA) 3-0, while MDTTC defeated Los Angeles TTA, 3-1.

Zhang Jike

Here's a feature on the Chinese star and the great year he's had. He's only the second player ever to hold both the World and Olympic Men's Singles Titles. (The other was Chinese Men's Coach - and Zhang's coach - Liu Guoliang in 1996.)

Table Tennis Jump Smash

Here's a coaching video on the Jump Smash against lob from PingSkills (2:25). He recommends against it, and I generally agree. However, some players, such as Dan Seemiller, have perfected this shot, using a scissors-kick method with a running start. The example shown here shows the player jumping from a stationary position with less leg kick than Dan uses. I use this technique in exhibitions, and sometimes in matches.

The New Plastic Ball

Here's a video (16:16) where the new plastic ball is compared to current celluloid balls as well as the old 38mm ones. This is Part 1: Physical Differences.

Beyond Imagination Part 6

Here's Beyond Imagination Part 6 (7:02), a highlights reel of the best rallies from 2012. (Links to the first five appear on the right.)

Pongcast TV Episode 22 - Best of 2012

Here's the video (17:41).

Adam Bobrow in Asia

Here's the video (2:11) of his exhibitions in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea (I think South!)

Aloha 2013!

Here's Hawaiian Table Tennis wishing you a Happy 2013 with a table tennis cartoon! (Is that Rudolf the Red-nosed Moose?)

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November 2, 2012

USA Table Tennis Newsletter

USATT's monthly eNewsletter came on Wednesday. (Go here to join their mailing list.) Kudos to USATT and editor Andy Horn for putting this together!

Now a little history and comments. The newsletter was "born" at the Strategic Meeting held in Colorado Springs in September, 2009. I put "born" in quotes because there were already plans to create it before the meeting, since nearly every other Olympic sport was already doing them. During the meeting we came up with three "priorities," with a task force for each: Communication, Juniors, and "Grow Membership Through Added Value."  (I wrote a lot about this in my blog on the two-year anniversary, on Sept. 26, 2011.) At the meeting I was initially against making Communication one of the three Priorities, but was convinced otherwise by attendees. However, I argued that Communication as a Priority would be meaningless unless we had programs to communicate about. I thought the three priorities should have been Leagues, Club-based Junior Programs, and (with those two to communicate about) Communication.

Unfortunately, nothing came of the Junior and "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task forces, and so we were left with just Communication. We did get a new website, as well as the eNewsletter. But my point from 2009 is still the same - Communication is somewhat pointless if you don't have programs to communicate.

The current eNewsletter has interesting stuff, with headlines about the USATT's Athletes Advisory Council Accepting Applications; Remembering Olga Feingold Kahan; News on the US Cadets medaling in international tournaments; Ping-Pong film making debut in New York City; Ariel Hsing competing against a celebrity; Playing table tennis with Peter Gabriel; the Annual Giving Campaign; and an item on Renewing Your Membership. These are all nice items, but they do not promote any USATT programs.

Contrast this with the October newsletter I received from the U.S. Tennis Association. Their first headline is about the 2012 League Division Champions (i.e. like a USATT rating event but with teams). It includes a picture of the "2.5 Men's National Champions," which is roughly the equivalent in table tennis of "Under 1500 Men's National Champions." Their second item is titled "Get Your Kids Active - Attend an Event!", which is about "Play Day," an event to bring kids into tennis. Below that there's a headline "10 and Under Tennis - a Whole New Ballgame," which also promotes kids to play tennis. And then there's a link to "The Road to Jr. Team Tennis Nationals." (They also have an item about USTA membership, which includes the headline "Enjoy a Sport for a Lifetime." They also include a tennis coaching tip in each issue.)

All of these items are geared toward getting people to play tennis and join USTA. Over and over in their newsletters USTA focuses on promoting their core programs - leagues, junior programs, and the U.S. Open (which is highlighted in most newsletters, but not this one). The key is that USTA has nationwide leagues and junior programs to promote. USATT does not. So there's not much to put in the newsletter regarding USATT programs. (I'm talking about programs for the masses, not just elite players, which USATT tends to focus on.) This is why Andy gets kudos for putting the issue together, despite it not really promoting USATT programs that don't exist.

USATT does have the U.S. Open and USA Nationals (promoted in the previous eNewsletter), but haven't really made any serious attempt to increase the number of entries at these events, which get far fewer entries these days than the 1000+ players at the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens or the 700 or so many years in the 1990s, and the 800+ at the Nationals in 2005-2006. (This year's U.S. Open had 564 players, one of the worst showings ever, while the last Nationals had 502 players, the second worst ever ands the lowest since the ratings went online in 1994, which allows us to see the number of entries for each tournament).

I run a monthly eNewsletter for the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Every issue focuses on promoting our programs - private and group coaching, junior programs, leagues, and tournaments. Mixed in with these are interesting news items, like the ones USATT does. Other major table tennis centers do the same. The key is to have a core focus, and focus on promoting it.

USTA has a membership of 700,000, USATT about 8000. By contrast, Germany, England, and France, which focus on leagues and junior programs, have table tennis memberships of 700,000, 500,000, and 300,000. Think about it.

Since USATT doesn't currently have many of its own programs to promote to the masses, other than the U.S. Open and USA Nationals, here's an idea: why not use the USATT eNewsletter (and webpage) to systematically promote the leagues and junior programs from around the country, even if they are not USATT programs? This brings players into the sport, and these players usually become USATT members. Specifically, they could have a central online listing of these leagues and junior programs, and use the eNewsletter to refer readers to them. (They already have this for tournaments, so they just need to refer to them in the eNewsletter. But there's far greater membership potential in leagues and junior programs, as demonstrated in Europe.) If a kid or parent gets the USATT eNewsletter (or goes to the USATT web page, for that matter), they don't learn about the great junior programs at clubs around the country. They don't learn about the great leagues in SF, LA, NY, and other regions, or in individual clubs. They don't even know these things exist. And so we lose them. Tennis and European table tennis actively refers people to these programs as their central focus. Why not use these non-USATT programs to promote table tennis, referring to them constantly in the eNewsletter and webpage, leading to a more prosperous USATT?

Bids Wanted for 2013 National Team Trials

Here's the info sheet. Deadline to apply is Nov. 15, 2012. This is for clubs or cities to bid to run the 2013 USA National Team Trials, scheduled for Feb. 7-10, 2013.

Call for Nominations - Annual Coach of the Year

Here's the info sheet. Deadline for nominations is Dec. 15, 2012. "The U.S. Olympic Committee annually conducts a Coach of the Year recognition program within the family of Olympic and Pan American sports. There are five categories for which nominations may be made and they are: Volunteer, Developmental, National, Paralympic and the Doc Counsilman (Technology) area. USA Table Tennis takes this opportunity to solicit nominations from our membership for these categories."

Opening Ceremonies for World Cadet Challenge

Here's the opening ceremonies to the World Cadet Challenge currently being held in Guam (54:32). The World Cadet Challenge is going on right now in Guam, Oct. 27 - Nov. 4. Team North America (USA and Canada) marches in at 5:41, and are announced at 6:01. Here's the ITTF World Cadet Challenge page, with schedules, results, articles, and pictures.

Fantasy Table Tennis Artwork

Here's the latest fantasy table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. Click on the picture and you'll through a whole series of his works. Better still, go to his home photo page, and see all the thumbnails.

Pongress: International Ping Pong Congress

Yes, they almost done with the second "International Ping Pong Congress," and I've never even heard of it. Here's their description - and there's a bit of exaggeration when they say the event "brings together the world's best players." (Somehow I can't picture the Chinese team being there.) "The second International Ping Pong Congress has just taken place at the Cumberland Arms in Newcastle. Ping pong players from around the world came together to celebrate 'Pongress,' a week-long event which brings together the world’s best players (or should that be beer drinkers!). Pongress runs until 3rd November." Make sure to watch the linked video!

Twelve Animals Playing Table Tennis

They may not be Da Vinci's, but they are hilarious! Here are color drawings of 12 animals playing table tennis, including five dinosaurs, an alligator, dolphin, tuna, swordfish, shark, octopus, turtle, and one grouping of six of them.

Ghostly Table Tennis

Here's an animated gif of two ghosts playing table tennis - Happy Belated Halloween!

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