Ben Larcombe

June 20, 2014

MDTTC Camps

I've coached at over 180 five-day or more training camps, usually six hours per day. That's over 900 days of camp, or two and a half years. (Add camps I went to as a player and it comes to over three years. Add group sessions I've run, and the numbers go up astronomically.) I can do lectures on every topic we cover on the drop of a ping-pong ball, and most of them probably come out word-for-word the same every time as they are so ingrained now. I have changed the lectures somewhat over the years as techniques have changed and as I've learned better ways of explaining them, but most fundamentals haven't changed a lot since we opened up the Maryland Table Tennis Center 22 years ago. (Probably the biggest change in my lectures is a greater emphasis on topspin on the backhand than before.)

This camp I'm not giving many lectures, as most of the players are locals and we decided to get them out to the tables more quickly rather than have them watch demos and listen to lectures from me that they've all heard before. It's actual a surreal experience not giving these lectures.

As always, the players can be divided into three types. There are the goof-offs - the ones who are here strictly for the fun, or because their parents made them, or are just too young to be serious yet, and aren't really interested in learning. They are the hardest to deal with. There are the in-betweens - the ones who do want to learn, sort of, and will do what you ask, but are really counting the minutes until we get to playing games. They're okay to work with, and you push them as hard as you think you can without losing them. And then there are the ones who are determined to get good, and really work at it. They are great to work with. I often surreptitiously give them longer sessions, and sometimes hit with them at the end of a session or even on break. These are the ones who want longer turns at multiball while the others can't wait to finish their turn. They are also the ones who get really good.

Here's an interesting question of biology and physics. Did you know that the average mass of a seven-year-old's foot is many thousands of times greater than an adults? It may not seem so until you see the gravitational pull between the bottoms of their feet and any ping-pong balls that lie on the floor, leading to many broken balls.

Due to this blog and other writing projects, I've been operating on little sleep this week at camp. I confess I've taken the easy way out. When I take the kids to 7-11 during lunch break I've been buying a Mountain Dew each time. I try to go easy on soft drinks, with a general rule of only drinking them at restaurants and at home when working late at night, but I made an exception here. Hopefully I won't be this exhausted all summer.

I've got the summer divided roughly into six segments:

  1. June 16-29: first two weeks of summer camp plus private & group coaching
  2. June 30-July 6: the U.S. Open in Grand Rapids
  3. July 7-24: three more weeks of camps and private & group coaching
  4. July 25-Aug. 3: Writers workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire
  5. Aug. 4-24: three more weeks of camps plus private & group coaching, ending with MDTTC Open
  6. Aug. 25-29: Rest and Recover!!!

Help Wanted - USATT CEO

Yesterday I linked to the job description and application info for CEO of USA Table Tennis. As I noted the, they have a LOT of requirements!!!

One thing that jumped out at me near the end is where it said near the very end under Qualifications, "A genuine passion for the sport of Table Tennis.  Exposure to, or involvement in the sport is a plus." If exposure or involvement in the sport is only a "plus," then how could it be required that the person have a "genuine passion for the sport of Table Tennis"? There were a couple of other things that threw me that I won't get into. It said to apply or respond to this opportunity, please visit www.prodigysports.net/search. I visited it, but it was a bad address. However, under it was a link to apply.

No, I'm not applying. I don't qualify for much of what is required - I'm not what they are looking for. I blogged about this on March 27 and on May 21. As I wrote in those blogs, I believe we are once again playing the lottery in trying to sell the sport now rather than focusing on the process of developing our sport so we can sell it. (You don't need large sums of money to start this process, as I've pointed out repeatedly.) Maybe we'll get lucky this time, but we've tried this unsuccessful approach for many decades. Playing the lottery can be addictive - instant get rich schemes are always more attractive than doing the hard work in developing the sport.

At the end of the application info there's a "Characteristics of the Successful Candidate" section. I decided to grade myself on the ten items. Why not grade yourself as well?

  1. Proven success in effectively leading, building, mentoring, managing, motivating, encouraging professional growth of, and delegating to staff.
    C or Incomplete; I don't have a lot of experience in these areas.
  2. Credible, truthful and honest; a person of high integrity.  Able to express themselves frankly but with respect.  Conflict resolution and sound decision-making skills critical.
    I would hope I get an A here.
  3. Experience in planning and executing fundraising activities in non-profit and/or amateur sports organizations.  Track record of growing revenue and creating progressive, stable and sustainable funding sources.
    C or Incomplete; not a lot of experience here.
  4. A self-starter able to independently assess or enhance existing programs as well as initiate new programs as needed.
    A; this pretty much defines much of what I do.
  5. Skilled written and verbal communicator on all levels along with ability to liaise with Board of Directors, the USOC, and other organizations within and related to the sport.
    Easy A for me here!
  6. Ability to initiate, develop, and maintain favorable relationships with athletes, volunteers, parents, officials, sponsors, members, other related organizations, such as the ITTF, and the United States Olympic Committee.
    I think I'd get an A here as well.
  7. Knowledge and skill to manage a budget effectively.
    Another A. Besides a bachelors in math, I was familiar with the USATT budget for years. I don't know advanced accounting systems, but that's not needed - we have accountants for that.
  8. Ability to successfully negotiate contracts.
    D; I'm not that good a negotiator. I hate haggling. I used to bring in record advertising when I was editor of USATT Magazine, but I sold the ads based on the strong content and timeliness of the magazine, not by salesmanship.
  9. Organizational competence and multitasking proficiency.
    Easy A here.
  10. Tested business savvy coupled with strong people skills.
    C+. When I put aside my idealistic side, I have pretty good business savvy, other than my weak negotiating skills. My people skills are pretty good via email, not so good in person, especially with strangers.

Stop Pushing

Here's a new coaching article by Ben Larcombe at about.com. Yes, at about.com - the table tennis site there is back up, but I don't see the forum yet.

How to Make the Most of Similar Level Training Partners

Here's the new coaching article by Matt Hetherington.

Footwork Training with Jorgen Persson

Here's the video (33 sec) - it's a great and fun way to develop quick feet!

USA Nationals

It's official - it'll be held in Las Vegas, Dec. 16-20. It now shows up in the USATT Tournament listing.

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. Twenty-seven down, 73 to go!

  • Day 74: The Ravages of World War II & Resulting Peace Initiatives in the ITTF

ITTF Schools Program

Just thought I'd give a shout-out to their Table Tennis in Schools Program, which is especially helpful for teaching groups of younger kids. Recently I was looking for more table tennis type games kids in the 6-8 age range could play, and copied a few of the ones they have in their manual in section four, "Activity Cards."

The Internet Wins Pingpong Battle with Obama

Here's the article, where they show how a picture of Obama playing table tennis with English Prime Minister David Cameron has become a hit with online memes.

Ping Pong - the Animation

I'm not sure if I linked to all four of these animated table tennis cartoons before, so there they are. Each episode is exactly 23:07. I haven't watched them yet - I may do so tonight. Can anyone tell us about them in the comments below?

Ping Pong with Oncoming Traffic

Here's the article and pictures - yes, the guy rallied off oncoming cars and trucks!

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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 20, 2014

Tricky Serves

Here's an interesting dynamic I've noticed over the years. Players who play the same players over and over at clubs, and only occasionally play at tournaments or at other clubs, rarely develop tricky serves that they can use when they do play in tournaments or against different players. Players who play lots of different players and compete in tournaments tend to develop tricky serves. Why is this?

It's all about feedback. If a player starts to develop tricky serves, his opponents will at first have trouble with them. But if he plays the same players all the time and rarely plays new ones, then the players he plays quickly get used to the tricky serves, and they stop being that effective. And so the feedback the player gets is that the serves aren't that effective, and he stops developing those serves and tries other ones. A player who regularly plays tournaments or other players gets more realistic feedback on the quality of those serves as his opponents aren't seeing them as regularly.

The same is true of other aspects of the game. For example, a player develops a nice backhand loop, his regular opponents might get used to it, and he'll stop using it as often - never realizing how much havoc the shot might create against players not used to it.

So if you want to really develop your game, seek out new players, either at your club, other clubs, or in tournaments, and see how they respond to your serves and other techniques. If your ultimate goal is to play well in tournaments (even if you only play in them occasionally), then you need this feedback to develop your game.

By the way, this strongly applies to me. When I used to play tournaments, most of my opponents had difficulty with my serves, especially some of my side-top serves that look like backspin. But in practice, most of the people I play are used to those serves, and I tend to serve more backspin and no-spin, which may set up my attack but rarely give me "free" points. If I went by what happened in practice, I'd be giving away a lot of free points in tournaments by not using those tricky side-top serves.

About.com Table Tennis Forum (RIP)

After something like fifteen years of operation, the about.com table tennis forum is closed. When you go there you get "Forum Closed" and "We are sorry, this forum is no longer in operation" notes. Nobody seems to know why, but presumably it was because there hasn't been a moderator for some time, and the powers that be (i.e. about.com) decided it wasn't worth the hassle. I'm not a big forum poster (though I used to be), but I like to browse them and sometimes post things. I'll probably frequent the mytabletennis.com forum more often.

Learn to Play in the "Zone"

Here's the article by Samson Dubina. This is an important lesson I endlessly try to instill in students - let the subconscious take over when you play.

Expert in a Year

Here's the home page for Ben Larcombe's "Expert in a Year" challenge. He's trying to turn a beginning player into an expert in one year. Can he do it? They are eleven weeks in, with a weekly diary and lots of video.

Zhang Jike's Shoulder Injury

Here's the article. He had to withdraw from the Asia Cup. Fortunately, the injury is to his left shoulder (he's a righty), but this shows how important it is to use both sides of the body when playing - the left side pulls around just as much as the right side.

Table Tennis is Life

Here's the video (4:46).

Testing Timo Boll's Eyesight

Here's the article with a link to the video (8:02).

Planning Underway for Even Greater 2015 Cary Cup

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Cary Cup Final

Here's the video (39:03) of the final between Eugene Wang and Li Kewei this past weekend, with Li the chopper/looper defeating the top seeded Wang (who's won the last two Cary Cups and U.S. Opens) at 8,9,-7,12.

The Brain of a Table Tennis Player

Here's the artwork by Mike Mezyan.

Waldner-Persson Exhibition Point

Here's video (59 sec) of an incredible exhibition point between Jan-Ove Waldner and Jorgen Persson.

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January 24, 2013

Table Tennis and Weather

We had nearly two inches of snow last night here in Germantown, Maryland, and it's 16 degrees outside. This is is the first snow we've had this winter, and it's by far the coldest. This got me thinking about table tennis and weather - and here's a short list of how weather has affected table tennis!

SNOW - The North American Teams Championships in Baltimore used to be the U.S. Open Team Championships in Detroit. (It moved to Baltimore and was renamed in 1998.) I began playing table tennis in 1976, and started going to the Teams for the first time that November. For the next three years (1976-78) I got a ride up with Jim Mossberg, a ten-hour drive. One of those years we were hit with a snowstorm in Detroit. We planned to drive back starting Sunday night. However, the snowstorm forced us to check into a hotel. The snow kept coming down, and we weren't able to return home until Wednesday. (I did some checking, and there were heavy snows in Detroit in November of 1977 and 1978, so it was one of those years - I think 1977.)

COLD - Players sometimes make the mistake of leaving their racket in the trunk of their car when driving long distances to tournaments. This leaves the sponge cold and dead. At one tournament a player had this problem, but he had a simple solution - he got out a hair dryer and warmed his racket up! (If a cold racket plays dead, wouldn't a very warm on play faster and bouncier? Perhaps players should heat up their rackets before big matches with a hair dryer? I may have just revolutionized the game. Or perhaps umpires and referees will soon be forced to take the temperature of both players' rackets before a match. I've opened a can of worms here.)

HOT - I moved to North Carolina in 1979 for two years to train at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center in Wilson. They had no air conditioning. This was in the South. When I trained there the summers of 1979-1981, the temperature was regularly over 100 degrees and humid. You get used to it.

RAIN - I did an outdoor exhibition once with Scott Preiss in Colorado Springs. It began to rain, along with gusts of wind. Ever tried doing an outdoor exhibition in the rain and wind?

WIND - I did another outdoor exhibition in Baltimore in the late 1990s. It got windy, and so I developed a new shot: the power lob into the wind! If you do it just right, the wind blows the ball back onto the table. If the wind is coming from the side, you hit sideways and let the wind curve it back. If you are hitting into the wind, you hit off the end and let it blow it back. If you are hitting with the wind, just hit straight up (or even backwards), and let the wind carry it over.

THUNDERSTORMS - I ran the 1993 Junior Nationals in Potomac, Maryland. A storm raged outside, and suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, the power went out. It didn't come back on that day, so play stopped. After lots of rescheduling, we managed to run the rest of the tournament on Sunday. Power has actually gone out in a few other tournaments I've been to, but it always came back on relatively quickly.

FOG - Just last month, as a group of us were at BWI airport to fly to the Nationals in Las Vegas, they started to cancel all the flights out due to heavy fog. Ours was one of the last to be cancelled. As a result, we weren't able to fly in the day before. Most of us flew in on Wednesday, arriving after the morning events (with several of our players not arriving in time for Under 21).

SLEET - We have a relatively steep hill outside the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Every now and then we have sleet that makes it so slippery that some cars can't climb it. The good news - there's a parking lot at the top of the hill, so anyone can park there.

HUMIDITY - Ever try looping against a fast incoming ball, or blocking a loop, when it's humid? It's like playing hardbat. The best solution - have two towels, one for you, and one for just your racket and the ball, and keep drying the ball and racket.

EARTHQUAKE - This isn't exactly weather, but close enough. On August 11, 2011, we had the infamous east coast earthquake. At the time I was meeting with a physical therapist, who was working on my back problems. When the ground began shaking, we all ran outside. Later I stopped by the Maryland Table Tennis Center - they had already cleaned things up, but lots of things had been knocked off shelves. The players at the club when the quake hit had stopped play and also run outside. I'm guessing California is used to this sort of thing, but seriously, how often have you had to call a let because of earthquake?

AIR QUALITY - Here are two quick stories. First, way back in 1983, players at the old Northern Virginia Table Tennis Club began to feel woozy, including me. I was one of the first to go outside for air. I woke up in a hospital. Turned out that a neighboring business had left some machinery on, which was spewing out carbon monoxide into the club. Over 20 of us were hospitalized. There were many lawsuits. I received $600 in mine.

And now we jump to the present, where France has invaded England with "Le Pong," as "Households in Kent awoke to the stench of rotten eggs, cabbage and garlic wafting across the channel yesterday after the accidental release of a cloud of mercaptan gas from a factory in Rouen." Here's the article (care of Carl Danner)!

Word Clouds

I made a word cloud of the entire text of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, all 99,534 words. It was created at wordle.net, which does a count of the most popular words and creates a cloud of words based on them, with the most popular words the largest, relative to their popularity. (They don't use all words or "the" would dominate.)

Develop Speed and Power with Plyometric Training

Want to add speed and power to your game? Here's an article on plyometric training for table tennis coach Ben Larcombe. (It's actually part of Table Tennis Master competition for best table tennis articles, with the deadline for voting today. If you like this or any of the other articles, all you have to do to vote is to "like" it.)

Meiklejohn North American Senior Championships

The entry form is online. If you are over age 40 this is your tournament. Besides rating events (where everyone's 40 or over, so no vastly under-rated wildly-attacking juniors), doubles events, and hardbat, there are age events from Over 40 all the way up to Over 90!

Mizutani Boosting Boycott

Here's an article about Jun Mizutani of Japan (world #10, #5 last summer) boycotting international competitions in response to illegal boosting. This is one of those under-the-radar things, where more and more world-class players (nearly all, some say) use these boosters to add to the speed and spin of their racket, just as speed glues used to do before they became illegal.

China to Give Up an Olympic Medal?

At the recent Olympic and Paralympic Commission Meeting, China proposed adding Mixed Doubles to the Olympics. However, since this would add extra time to the schedule, they proposed that countries could only enter 4 out of the 5 Olympic events, meaning that there would be at least one event that China could not compete in. Here's a link to the meeting minutes (PDF format) - see the fifth bullet point in item #5, "Olympic Games 2012."

Put Your Face on a Racket!

Or any other picture. You can do it at Uberpong. (If you create a really interesting one, send me the image and I'll publish it here.)

Ping-Pong Ball Swimming Pool

Table Tennis Nation brings us a ping-pong ball swimming pool, with pictures and video.

Ping-Pong Drinking Games

I'm a non-drinker, simple as that. So I'll never be playing conventional beer pong. However, just reading over these 45 drinking games makes me want to rethink this!!! I want to play Civil War Pong! Battleship! Gretzky Style! Murder Ball! Mr. Teague! Pitcherball! And Spiderweb!

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