Schools Petition

January 11, 2013

Suggested Service Rule

As I've blogged a number of times, many players hide their serve illegally, and many or most umpires allow it. It's frustrating to me as kids see opponents and top players hide their serves illegally and not get called, so why shouldn't they? It's almost reminiscent of the situation baseball players faced in the steroids era.

The current rule requires that the ball be visible throughout the serve to the opponent. The problem is that it's difficult for an umpire, sitting off to the side, to tell if the ball was hidden from the receiver, since often he himself cannot even see the ball, and must estimate where it is, and judge if it is hidden or not from the server's shoulders. Since I've coached and played table tennis nearly every day  for many years, I can see if the serve is hidden or not, but many umpires only see this type of thing on an occasional basis, and so have great difficulty judging it.

Technically, it shouldn't be a problem. The rules state that "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he or she complies with the requirements of the Laws." That's pretty clear - it means if the umpire isn't sure the serve is visible, i.e. legal, then the umpire is NOT satisfied that the serve complies, and so the player should be warned (the first time) or faulted. But most umpires do not do this, and so at the higher levels many players get away with illegal hidden serves.

There are other serving problems. Many players abuse the "near vertical" toss rule, and few umpires enforce it. But the advantage of throwing the ball backwards (instead of near vertical) is minor compared to the advantage of hiding the serve. The same is true of other common transgressions.

But there's a solution to the problem, if we can convince ITTF (and/or USATT) to adopt it. The proposed rule would be that throughout the serve the ball must be visible to both umpires, or to where the umpires would sit if there is no umpire. Problem solved.

The specific rule change would be as follows, rewording rule 2.6.5 as follows:

Current: 2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, the server’s free arm and hand shall be removed from the space between the ball and the net.

Proposed: 2.6.5 As soon as the ball has been projected, no part of the server, his or her doubles partner, or anything they wear or carry may be in the triangular area between the ball and the positions of the two umpires.

Kagin Lee has put together a web page detailing this proposal.

The key thing here is that even if a player tries to abuse the rule and goes into that gray area where it's not clear if the umpires (or where they would sit) can see the ball, it wouldn't matter, as if it's close, then obviously the opponent can see the ball - and that's the whole point of the proposed rule. It's sort of like the six-inch toss rule. For many years, the rule was the ball must be contacted on the drop, but many players would abuse this as it was hard to tell if they were hitting the ball on the drop or not as they practically served out of their hand. A three-inch toss would have been enough to solve the problem, but then there'd be those who'd abuse it by tossing below that, and it would be hard to tell. By making it six inches, the server can abuse the rule all he wants and if it's anywhere close to six inches, the opponent will clearly see the toss, which was the point of the rule.

I'm told that some are opposed to such a new rule because it would mean players would have to change their service motion. Well, duh!!! That's the whole point. But it's not a huge change; anyone change their forehand pendulum serve motion to make it legal; I know, because I can, and I teach this type of thing professionally. You can do so with either a more open position or by holding the ball farther from the body, or some combination of both. And it solves the hidden serve problem. Give players a year to get ready, and there'd be no reason to change the serve rule again . . . ever!!!

Dear Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkeys

Over the next couple of weeks I absolutely have to do the final editing and proofing (that's two complete reads) of my new book, "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers." (I also have to finalize the covers.) Every time I get ready to do this, various Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkeys come to me with requests for me to do things that are not editing or proofing the book. Things that are not editing or proofing my book do not decrease the time between now and when the book comes out, and things that do not decrease this time are the spawn of  the Devil and his minions, i.e. Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkeys. So if you are an Evil Time-Stealing Temporal-Taking Slobber Monkey, please hold off for a bit. I'll gladly sell my soul and do your work after the book comes out.

I am working under a rather tight deadline. On Monday, Feb. 4, USATT Historian Tim Boggan will be moving in with me for two weeks as I do the page layouts and photo work (with Mal Anderson's help on the latter) on Tim's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 13. This one, which will once again run over 500 pages, will feature 1984, and if you've read that book, you have a vague idea of what will happen to me (and you) if I don't get my own book finalized before Tim's arrival. So let me have some peace and quiet for a while so I can finish my book. Big Brother is watching.

I've got 240 pages to edit and proof, I've got a full bottle of Deerpark Water*, half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, it's light, and I'm not wearing sunglasses. Hit it.
    *And Mountain Dew for emergencies

Review of the New Plastic Ball

Part 3 just went up of the Plastic Ball Review from OOAK Reviews. All three parts are linked from their home page. The three parts are:

  1. Why the change and a comparison of their physical appearance (16:16)
  2. High Speed Filming of tests to compare relative rebound speed, bounce and spin (14:35)
  3. Playing Characteristics and Summary (26:40)

1273 Signatures

That's how many we got on the petition to the White House to recognize Table Tennis as a school sport. Not bad, but not good. We were 23,727 short of the needed 25,000. Think of it as a trial run; perhaps next time we can get the major distributors (with their huge mailing lists), celebrities, and others behind it.

The Power of Backhand

Here's a video (8:01) highlighting great backhand shots. The very first rally is pretty wild!

Five-Hour Energy Commercial

With table tennis! (31 seconds)

Be Different

Here's a humorous video (3:21) of some nerdy-looking guy as he takes on the "King Kong of Ping Pong"!

Ping-Pong Ball Spinning in Nitrogen

Here's 89 seconds of a ping-pong ball getting cooled and spinning in liquid nitrogen.

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January 8, 2013

The Schools Petition

Hopefully by now you're one of the 951 people who have signed the petition to "Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka 'Ping Pong' as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice." I first blogged about this back on Dec. 13 the day after it was created by the enterprising Joel Mitchell (and I was the fifth person to sign), and I blogged about it again on Jan. 4 (Friday). It's now featured on the USATT home page. I think it's great that we're working together on this. 

Unfortunately, to get a response from the White House we need at least 25,000 signatures by Jan. 11, which is this Friday. We're only 24,049 away!!! (And in the time it took me to write this blog, we got two more signatures - we're up to 953!)

So let's be honest; unless someone famous (hi Susan Sarandon) gets this on some extremely watched TV show, we're not going to get those 24,000+ signatures in the next three days. But suppose we did? Are schools really the answer?

Schools are Not the Answer (Not Yet)

I would argue that schools may be Step Two in developing our sport, but not Step One. And we're a long way from even getting started on Step One, which is to develop the sport ourselves so the schools will be interested in taking us to the next level. Sure, someone might put together a school league or club, but the key is that one of us - a table tennis person - has to do it, not the school itself. They are quite willing to make use of the few people we have who can do this. But until we show them table tennis is a growing sport that everyone else is doing, they won't jump on the bandwagon. In other words, schools are not the way to go until we are a larger sport. The way to grow junior table tennis in the country is through club programs, as is done all over Europe. Here are the problems with going through the schools, in no particular order:

1. School systems are not interested in adopting a small sport and making it big. That's our job. When we are a bigger sport, then they will be interested.

2. School systems are not interested in adopting a relatively expensive sport like table tennis (tables, nets, rackets, balls, constantly breaking and needing replacement, lots of storage space needed for tables) unless the sport is already popular. They can toss the kids a soccer ball, basketball, etc., and it's easier and cheaper, and they already have facilities for these and other large sports.

3. No sport in the U.S. has ever gotten big through schools, although a number of big sports got bigger because of schools. (Lacrosse got big through colleges, but they are the exception, and we're talking about high school, middle school, and elementary school here.)

4. Table tennis has not gotten big through schools in any country in the world, except for communist countries like China where the leaders (like Chairman Mao in China) ordained it the national sport. (And Obama doesn't have that authority.) Worldwide, and especially in Europe, players start out in junior programs at local clubs, according to Stellan Bengtsson, Jorgen Persson, and dozens of others I've spoken with over the years. Every player and coach from Europe I've spoken to says the same thing. In the countries in Europe where table tennis has gotten big, there are school teams, but they are relatively unimportant there, since most of the players train at local clubs, where there's a professional coach and players from local schools, instead of just one school. Stellan said he didn't think a single member of the Swedish team started out at a school or ever trained seriously at one, unless it was part of a table tennis club separate from the school.

5. The best we can do with schools is set up some ping-pong clubs, but few are going to fund a real coach. So while the kids play ping-pong, it's just a game like Parcheesi to them. They don't take it seriously and they rarely if ever join USATT.

USATT has a long history of sending coaches to train teachers at large Physical Education Symposiums, but little ever comes of it. The teachers simply don't go back to their schools determined to set up serious junior programs. They go back and sometimes set up tables for a few sessions in PE, where the kids just play games.

At first thought, schools seem like a great way to grow the sport, and it looks good to the membership (so those who are big on going to the schools get elected), and so generation after generation of USATT board members have made schools a priority. The return on investment is incredibly small. (The old argument is often made, "It's better than nothing." If we are thinking small and want to stay small, then this is the way to go.)

This is one of those frustrating things through the years as we so often try to get someone else to fix our problems, i.e. hoping the schools will make us big, or Bill Gates or some other big sponsor will fund us, etc. We have to build our sport from inside before schools and large sponsors will be interested.

The key to junior development - both elite and grassroots (i.e. large numbers) - is to recruit and train coaches to set up and run junior programs, something that is done in successful table tennis countries all over the world.

Keep in mind that the goal is junior development. Schools and club programs are merely a means to this end. Too often people get attached to the means to the end rather than the end itself, and so we never reach the goal. Developing junior programs at clubs will raise us to the next level, and then we can approach school systems, and they will take us seriously. Then they can take us to an even higher level. But we have to do the groundwork first, like every other sport that got successful.

USATT Board Election Status & Update

Here's a notice from USATT on changes on the USATT Board.

The USATT Athletes Advisory Council recently held an election and as a result Han Xiao was elected to serve on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council replacing Ashu Jain and Para athlete Edward Levy was elected to serve as the second Athlete Rep on the USATT Board of Directors.  The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association recently informed USATT that Kagin Lee will serve as their representative on the USATT Board of Directors.  Kagin replaces David Del Vecchio in this capacity.  The Nominating and Governance Committee met in late 2012 and as a result voted that Anne Cribbs and Peter Scudner should continue to serve as Independent Directors on the USATT Board of Directors.  The one remaining Board seat to be filled is currently in a membership wide election that will conclude on Jan 21, 2013.  The announcement of that election result and the posting of the complete composition of the Board of Directors for the next two year term will be made on February 4, 2013.

At this time we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Ashu Jain and David Del Vecchio for their outstanding contributions to the governance process of USATT through their service as Board Members for the last two terms.  Thank you, Ashu and thank you, David!

Xu Xin New #1

Here are the new ITTF world rankings. Zhang Jike and Ma Long have been trading back and forth for a while as the #1 man in the world, but now there's a new gun in town. Yes, they are all Chinese, as is #4 Wang Hao, #6 Ma Lin, #7 "sort of Chinese" Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan, and #9 Wang Liqin. But Germany's up there, with #5 Timo Boll and #8 Dimitrij Ovtcharov. On the women's side, the top four are also Chinese, with Ding Ning #1 for the 15th consecutive month.

USA doesn't have anyone in the top 100 in Men's rankings, but has three players in the top 100 in the women's - #76 Gao Jun, #88 Arial Hsing, and #96 Lily Zhang. USA is ranked #47 and #16 in Men's and Women's Team World Rankings.

USA is pretty strong in girls' top 100 rankings. In Under 21 Women, USA has #19 Ariel Hsing and #23 Lily Zhang. In Under 18 Girls, USA has a strong showing: #5 Ariel Hsing, #6 Lily Zhang, and #61 Prachi Jha. In Under 15 Girls, USA has #48 Diane Jiang, #54 Tina Lin, #69 Angela Guan, #75 Joy Lin, and #77 Crystal Wang. (Crystal is only 10, and is from my club, MDTTC.) In the Under 18 Girls' Team Rankings, USA is #4 after China, Japan, and Romania. (CORRECTION: As pointed out by Aaron Avery, USA is actually in a three-way tie for 2nd with Japan and Romania, but with the head-to-head tie-breaking system used by ITTF, they are #2. See the 2 in the left column - not sure why they have them listed fourth.)

We're not quite as strong on the boys' side. In Under 21 Men, USA has one ranked player - Wang Qing Liang, the chopper/looper from my club who made the semifinals of Men's Singles at last year's U.S. Open. In Under 18 Boys, he is also our only ranked player, at #37. We're a lot better in Under 15 Boys, with eight players: #33 Li Hangyu, #39 Kunal Chodri, #41 Kanak Jha, #55 Chen Bo Wen (from my club!), #63 Allen Wang, #68 Jonathan Ou, #75 Li Fengguang, and #99 Krishnateja ("Krish") Avvari. In Under 18 Boys' Team Rankings, USA is #35.

1400 Articles

I recently discovered I now have over 1400 published articles! Total is 1405 in 138 different publications, including 1263 on table tennis. This does not include blog entries. (If I did, it would put me over 1900!) It does include the weekly Tip of the Week, which is published not only here but also as a news item in the Paddle Palace Blog.

Yesterday's Todo List

Remember all that stuff I had on my todo list yesterday? (See second item.) I got it all done except for finalizing the entry form for our upcoming MDTTC tournaments. (I'm redoing the scheduling.) I expect to do that this morning.

USA Paralympic Team

Here's info on the 2013 USA Paralympic Team Procedures.

First USA ITTF Level 2 Coach

Congrats to Jef Savage of The Table Tennis Centre of Mercersburg, PA, who this past week became the first USA coach to be certified as an ITTF Level 2 coach. (Here's a news item on it.) I've worked with him a bit, and did his five hours of "supervised" coaching. The irony is that although I'm a USATT Certified National Coach, I'm only an ITTF Level 1 Coach. I may go for Level 2 certification later this year. (I was one of the first two ITTF coaches in the U.S., along with Donn Olsen.)

Woman of the Year

Ariel Hsing was named Table Tennis Woman of the Year by Table Tennis Nation. Read about her great year!

From Hardball to Hardbat

Here's an article on Adoni Maropis and his rise from TV villain (the evil Abu Fayed from season six of "24") to table tennis prominence in the hardbat and sandpaper world.

Zhang Jike vs Wang Liqin

Here's a nice match (7:07) between the current world champion Zhang and the past 3-time champ (and still #9) Wang in the Chinese Super League. (Wang is on the near side at the start.) Time between points has been taken out, so it's non-stop action! What can you learn from this match?

2012 Through Our Paddles

Here's a look at the past year - through ping-pong paddle images!

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