June 12, 2014

Is Your Club Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem?

Suppose a beginner comes to your club, and wants to learn how to play properly. Does your club have a class for him? Or coaches to work with him? Or is he told to call winners somewhere, he gets killed, and you never see him again?

Suppose a beginner comes to your club, and wants to play others his level. Does your club have a league for all levels, so you can let him know when it's league night, where he can play others his own level? Or is he told to call winners somewhere, he gets killed, and you never see him again?

Suppose a mom comes to your club with two kids, and wants them to learn how to play and to play with others their age. Does your club have a junior program you can put them in? Or is she told her kids should call winners somewhere, they get killed, and you never see them again?

Suppose a beginner comes to your club, and wants to get killed by others. You tell him to call winners somewhere, he gets killed, and he's happy. 

The first three above are the most common new players that come into clubs. Is your club equipped to meet their needs? Does your club have coaches, classes, leagues, and junior programs? Or does it rely on the fourth type? (And we wonder why there are so many crazy people in our sport.) Unfortunately, most clubs rely on the fourth type of player when it comes to getting new players. They probably survive as a club because of a steady influx of experienced players, either from other clubs, or more likely from overseas, where clubs address the needs of the first three types above.

A sport can't take off unless it finds a way to bring in new players. Successful sports like [long list here] learned this long ago, as did table tennis in Europe and Asia - but not in the USA. Is there any doubt as to why table tennis in this country gets so few new players? Most clubs simply aren't equipped to deal with new players, instead relying on experienced players developed by others, or on those crazy types who get killed but keep coming back. 

So . . . is your club equipped to deal with new players? Or does it rely on other clubs and other countries to do this for them? If so, why not become part of the solution? 

Road to Nanjing Training Camp - Shanghai

Here's the video (6:54). This is a must watch. USA players Lily Zhang, Krish Avvari, and Kanak Jha, and Coach Lily Yip are all in it, along with top junior players from all over the world. Coaches include Jorgen Persson, and current or Chinese stars Wang Liqin, Liu Guozheng, Li Xiaodong, and Yan Sen.

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. Twenty down, 80 to go!

  • Day 81: Interview with Adham Sharara: Growing Pains

These articles are also linked from a special ITTF page. Strangely, each of the stories there is prominently listed at the top as "By: Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor." Ian puts in an intro statement for each of the stories, but Sheri writes them (I verified this yesterday), but that's buried in the text. I don't like this.

Remembering Peter Cua

Here's the article.

Spectacular Point in the Champions League

Here's the video (21 sec), between Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Wang Jian Jun.

Unbreakable 3D printed Ping Pong Ball

Here's the story!

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January 4, 2013

How to Deal with Beginners at a Club

This is a semi-regular topic at table tennis forums, so I thought I'd address it.

Believe it or not, I actually did a skit on this for the USA Table Tennis Board of Directors about 10-12 years ago. It was probably the only skit ever done during one of their live meetings - and you wonder why I can never convince them to do anything!!!

They were discussing how to increase membership, a perennial topic for discussion, but rarely one for action. The problem was that none of the people in the discussion had any serious experience at the club level, which of course is where you get new players. (I've been doing this for decades.) The question of increasing USATT membership and how to deal with beginners at a club really are the same thing. In both cases we are trying to convert non-serious players into serious players - which mostly means converting one of the 15 million or so recreational players into one of  9000 USATT members. (That's roughly a 1700-1 ratio; we aren't converting very well.)

There are three types of beginners. (I'll get to them in a minute.) I'd explained this to the board numerous times, but generally to deaf ears, often to people with strong opinions that are not based on hands-on experience. I needed to find a way to get their attention and show them what really happens at the club level, and how we can convert these three types of new players into USATT members. It was while sitting in that board meeting, listening to discussions on how to increase membership by people who didn't know how to, that I hit on the idea of a skit to get their attention.

So I raised my hand and asked if I could give a short presentation on the subject. Since, for once, they weren't in a rushed schedule - they'd put aside something like an hour for the discussion - they agreed. So I told them I was going to act out the three most common types of interactions with new players - and note that this was exactly the same in table tennis and tennis, except that in tennis (and other successful sports) they had learned to address the needs of these three types of new players.

The skit was in three parts. For each part I actually walked out the door, and then came in. I played the part of both the new player and the club officer.

Part 1: I came in and said, "Hi, I'm a new player and I'd like play somebody." Playing the part of the club officer, and knowing that new player usually means beginner, and knowing that if I put a beginner up against an advanced player he'd get killed and we'd likely never see him again, I told him about our leagues, where he'd play players his own level. He played in the league against players his level, met new players, made friends, and became a regular at the club and a USATT member.

Part 2: I came in and said, "Hi, I'm a beginner, and I'd like to learn how to play better." Playing the part of the club officer, I told him about our coaching programs for beginners, both group sessions and private coaching. He signed up, learned about the sport, met new players, made friends, and became a regular at the club and a USATT member.

Part 3: I came in, and using a woman's voice, said, "Hi, my two kids would like to play table tennis." Playing the part of the club officer, I told them about our junior program. They signed up, made friends, and became regulars at the club and USATT members. And one of them went on to become National Champion.

I then explained that if a club doesn't have programs for these three types, then we lose them. (I also explained there's also a fourth type - a very small minority - which is the crazy guy who comes in, loses badly to everyone, but sticks around and becomes a serious player. They are rare, and are the ones we currently rely on for our membership (along with players from overseas).Hence the 1700-1 ratio.

How do we address these needs? For the player looking to play (Part 1), the answer is leagues. Until we have a nationwide network of leagues for players of all levels, we will keep losing these players. For the player who wants to learn more and for kids, we need more coaches. In both cases, either USATT or someone else has to take the lead in setting up these leagues, and in recruiting and training coaches.

Table tennis has done this in countries all over the world, and other sports have done so in the U.S. and all over the world. As I've blogged in the past, in Europe, nearly every country has more members in their table tennis association than their tennis association - because they address the needs of the new player. In the U.S., USTA has over 700,000 members to our 9000 - about an 80-1 ratio. If table tennis addressed the needs of new players as tennis does, and as table tennis does elsewhere, then we'd also have 700,000 members or more. But it's not going to happen by talking about it. It'll happen when someone does something about it.

I may actually take the lead in the coaching aspect, i.e. recruiting and training coaches. I've been toying with it for a while, but I'm too busy right now. USATT doesn't seem to have interest in acting on these issues, at least right now.

Petition for Table Tennis in School Curriculums

Last month I posted about this petition. Here it is again! (I'm the fifth signee; they need 25,000 by Jan. 11, 2013.) The petition is to do the following:

Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka "Ping Pong" as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice.
Table Tennis should be included as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice to participate and play. The sport isn't only a recreational past time but also an Olympic sport. The sport is considered and recognized relevant by other cultures. The sport is cost effective, fights the obesity problem among young Americans, and is non discriminatory. The sport can be easily incorporated in a schools current athletic curriculum, and easily be taught. Tables should be put on all middle schools to encourage start up programs. There are plenty of qualified coaches in the United States that would love the opportunity to teach and coach this fast growing sport. Starting in middle schools will also identify talented kids and Olympic hopefuls. This is the way It's done in China and Europe.

Review of the New Plastic Ball

Part 2 (14:35) just went up of the Plastic Ball Review from OOAK Reviews, "High speed filming of tests to compare relative rebound speed, bounce and spin." (On Wednesday I linked to Part 1, "Why the change and a comparison of their physical appearance.") Here's their home page, which links to both videos. I'll post here when Part 3 goes up, "Players from our Premier Division who have different styles of play and use different types of equipment try out the three balls and give their opinions on them."

World Championship of Ping Pong

It's being held this weekend, in London - but this isn't the World Table Tennis Championships; this is a sandpaper event, with $100,000 in prize money!!! (That includes $20,000 to the winner.) Here's the home page. Good luck to USA players Ty Hoff, Adoni Maropis, and Ilija Lupulesku!

Corkscrew Spin and Google

So you want to know what corkscrew spin is? This is where the ball spins so that the axis of rotation points away from you. Here's an example of clockwise corkscrew spin: just cut & paste "Do a barrel roll" into a Google engine - for most of us, it's the default search engine so you can just put this in your regular search box, or you can go to Google directly - and there it is!

Wang Liqin vs. Ma Long

Here's a great match (12:05, with time between points removed) between these two in a 2012 China Super League match

Best Table Tennis Clips of the Year

Table Tennis Nation chose the three best table tennis clips of the year, and the grand champion from those three. Two of them are paralympic players!

Amazing Shots While Rolling Around on Ground

Here's the video (1:12).

Modern Age Meets the Stone Age

Here's an iPong robot on a cement table. There's something really wrong about this. It's like a caveman with a machine gun.

Table Tennis Fun with Kids and a Panda

Kids and a Panda show how fun table tennis is in this video from PingSkills (2:23).

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June 26, 2012

MDTTC Camp - Week Two, Day One

Yesterday we started another week of camps. As we usually do, the first day we focused on the forehand, though we personalized this for more advanced players. In the second half I gave my service lecture. The players had a good time doing some of the service spin drills I demonstrated: serving on the floor and making the ball curve sideways (toward a target) or backwards into their hands; serving from wide backhand or forehand and making the ball spin around so it bounced in all four quadrants of the table, and ending up down the line from where the serve started and hitting a target set up there; or serving backspin so the ball bounced back into or over the net.

As I was about to do multiball with one new 12-year-old, he walked over and said, "Let me apologize in advance." Before he could continue, I asked him if he'd stolen my car or wallet. He laughed, then said, "No, I'm just apologizing because I can't play at all." I explained to him that everyone started out as a beginner. Then we started, and to be honest, he was rather ragged at the start, with a short, jerky stroke that ended right at contact. It took a while to get him to follow through smoothly, but by the end of the morning session he was hitting decent forehands.

Four Days Until the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids

Have you practiced your serves today? I have. (But I'm only playing hardbat doubles. I'm going primarily to coach.) I recently discovered a new variation of my reverse pendulum serve that's going to create havoc . . . I hope.

Ready Position

In this article and video (4:36), ICC Head Coach Massimo Constantini explains the importance of stance and posture to the "Ready Position." (Seems to be audio only.)

Amateur and Pro Ping-Pong Players Wanted for Reality TV Game Show

Yes, you can be a TV ping-pong star! All you have to do is be willing to look silly. Okay, my bias against reality shows is showing, so here's the actual description:

Amateur heroes take on the pros under extreme conditions in order to score points, win money, and to elevate the sport. WIN MONEY! You don't have to beat them, just score a few points. We believe the time has come, for the very best amateurs to compete head-to-head against the best table tennis players in the world. Submit an online application and upload a video to get on the show.

Non-Table Tennis: Those Onerous Overdone Outlines

Musa Publishing (no connection to Nigerian star Atanda Musa!) recently published a blog item I wrote for them on outlining science fiction stories. The funny thing was they were supposed to notify me when it went up, but they forgot. I just discovered it - it went up on June 14. Here's the blog entry, entitled "Those Onerous Overdone Outlines." They also published my eStory "Willy and the Ten Trillion Chimpanzees" (only 99 cents!). Here's the story description from their web page: "What if William Shakespeare was a demon with ten trillion captive chimpanzees in his basement, where time is sped up a trillion-fold, and where they are forced to randomly type as they produce the works of Shakespeare? And then the chimpanzees rebel…." They also bought another story from me that'll be in their upcoming July issue of Penumbra Magazine, "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" - here's the cover. (And here's my science fiction & fantasy page.)


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January 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Forcing an Opponent Out of Position.

Changing tactics

I had an interesting practice match this weekend - a best four out of seven. My opponent was an extremely steady blocker without a strong attack, rated about 2100. When I say "extremely steady blocker," I mean she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. So how to play her?

I started out well, winning the first game easily on third ball loops, attacking her forehand, and steady countering, taking advantage of the fact that in any rally I could suddenly attack hard, while she mostly just blocked side to side. She often served deep, and I was often able to loop those. 

However, three things began to happen. First, she began wear me down to the point that I felt like I'd just run a marathon - and we were only into the second game. Second, her forehand, which has only missed twice since the Reagan Administration, wasn't missing. Third, she was pinning me down to my backhand, and while I can hit a hundred backhands in a row when needed, she hasn't missed a backhand since the Reagan Administration. Like Romney, what I was hoping would be a quick run to victory instead turned into a war of attrition. And she wasn't attritioning.

And so I found myself down 2-3 in games. At this point I simply was too tired to continuously attack forehands when needed or to run around and loop her serves (I don't have a strong backhand loop, alas), and my 1% backhand miss rate was way too high against a backhand with a 0% miss rate. So I began to look for chances to chop to get out of these backhand rallies. I chopped her deep topspin serves back (so I didn't have to run around to forehand loop them, and because I get more spin when looping backspin), and if we got into a fast rally, after a few shots I'd find a ball to chop on the backhand. She'd push, and I'd get to loop, usually to her forehand or middle, about 2/3 of the time going for slow, spinny and deep loops, about 1/3 of the time going for rips, usually to the forehand side. 

And lo and behold, it through off her rhythm, and I started getting balls to smash or loop kill when she blocked my loops! I won game six. I started game seven with a barrage of attacks that put me in a 1-4 hole. So I went back to mixing in chopping and looping, and finally won, 11-8 in the seventh. If I'd stuck with my normal steady backhand countering game in rallies, and continued to attack the deep serve (as I'm always coaching players to do, since 90% of the time it's the right strategy), I'd have lost. 

This strategy was reminiscent of how Dan Seemiller won the men's singles at the USA Nationals one year over Eric Boggan.

Beginners learning forehand and backhand

Recently I've coached a lot of beginners, especially new kids. I've noticed an interesting dynamic. In nearly every case, by the end of the first session they had picked up either the forehand or backhand pretty well, but struggled on the other side. None had trouble on both; none were good on both. In each case, they so mastered the proper technique on one side that by the end of the session I was able to challenge them to see how many they could hit in a row - something I never do until I'm confident they'll do so with good technique. But on the other side we never got to that stage. In most cases they got it down in the second or third session, but even then it was obvious they were more comfortable on the other side. I wonder if this is something that'll be true the rest of their table tennis playing days?

Twelve Tips to Table Tennis Perfection

Here's the latest coaching article by Samson Dubina. They are all great items; I find #1 (goals) and #10 (visualizing) the two that players most overlook. Until you set specific goals (and then work out what you need to do to achieve those goals), it's hard to improve. It's like going on a journey without a destination. As to visualizing, it's the most underused way to improve.

Returning the forehand pendulum serve

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:53) that shows how to return a forehand pendulum serve into the backhand.

2012 Hungarian Men's Singles Final

This was a great match from this past weekend, where shakehand attacker Ma Long of China (#1 in the world) barely defeats South Korea's chopper/looper Joo Se Hyuk (2003 World Men's Singles Finalist), -7,4,-4,4,-7,7,8, in the final of the Hungarian Open. Time between points is taken out so you can see the entire match in about ten minutes. Joo upset current World Men's Singles Champion Zhang Jike (also of China) in the quarterfinals by the unlikely scores of 5,7,7,4. (Here's that match on youtube, but it's shown continuously, so takes about 30 minutes.) Here are articles, pictures, and results.

Liu Guoliang teaching his one-year-old daughter table tennis!

Yes, former World and Olympic Champion and current Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang is already teaching the next generation the family business (1:09).

The bearded Liv Tyler paddle

Here's actress Liv Tyler with her bearded paddle! And the sixth picture down shows her playing with the paddle. She's promoting her upcoming movie "Robot and Frank," but is probably best known for her roles in Lord of the Rings (she's Arwen!), Armageddon, and The Incredible Hulk.


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July 13, 2011

Why do beginners aim up?

Is there a logical reason why beginners not only open their rackets and hit off the end (with inverted sponge), but after seeing ball after ball go off the end, they continue to keep their rackets too open? I invariably have to point out they've hit 20 off the end, 0 in the net, so perhaps they should aim lower? Is there some primordial fear of closing one's racket or hitting into the net? I'm asking this after 35 years of watching beginners all do the same thing, over and over. C'mon, beginners of the world, all 6.7 billion of you, aim lower!!! (You can probably guess I'm in the middle of a training camp, Mon-Fri this week and next, with lots of beginners who . . . oh never mind.)

Playing pips-out sponge

(I posted a version of this on the forum yesterday.) The only way you'll learn to play against pips-out sponge is by playing against it. The ball from pips-out sponge is deader than you are used to, so you have to either open your racket slightly or lift slightly. (Many players overdo this, and hit many balls off the end.) The only way to learn to do this comfortably is to practice against it. At first, it might be difficult, but soon playing pips will be no big deal - you simply aren't used to them yet.  

In general, don't try to be quicker than the pips-out player (except perhaps on the first shot) as that is their strength. Instead, focus on making stronger and more consistent shots. Keep the ball deep as they will jump on a short ball, rushing you when you need more time to react to a ball you are not used to. Balls that go deep - especially loops - give pips-out players trouble as they don't put as much topspin on the ball to make the ball drop, and so they have to hit a smaller target from farther away. A shakehander with pips on the backhand often is weak in the middle because he needs to stroke the ball more than an inverted player, who often can cover his middle by simply sticking the racket there and letting the inverted rebound it back. Also, it's a good idea to actually play into the pips early in the match to get used to them.

Serve practice

Did you practice your serves yesterday? Are you going to practice them today? (Coaches, ask your students these questions.) If the answer to these questions is no, then have you ever wondered why your serves aren't better? Get yourself a box of balls and find a place to do ten minutes a day, 4-5 times a week, and watch your level improve. Better serves not only make you better, but they improve your attack (since you are following up the serves), and both of these raise your level so you play better players - which also make you better. It's a snowball effect. So start snowballing.

Back problems

I finally saw a doctor yesterday afternoon about back problems I've had for about two months. It's mostly in the middle/upper back area, and comes from forehand looping and hitting, and also from too many forehand pendulum serves. It sometimes makes playing excruciating, even when coaching. The doctor thinks two of the disks are grinding together, or something like that, and referred me to an orthopedist who I'll see next Wednesday (July 20). Until then, I'll just live on Advil.

USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh's blog

The Blog in Chief? He discussed the Ping-Pong Diplomacy's 40th Anniversary festivities around the country, and the recent U.S. Open in Milwaukee.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's one of the more interesting articles on Ping-Pong Diplomacy and its 40th Anniversary. The entire previous sentence is linked to the story, so you know it must be good.


Yes, an iguana can play table tennis.


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