USATT

September 19, 2014

USATT Board of Directors August 2014 Teleconference and Stuff They Should Do

Here are the minutes. Here's the same question I ask after every such meeting: Was anything done that might lead to the serious growth of our sport?

I sometimes look at USATT as being perpetually like the U.S. in 1932, in the depths of a depression and with leadership who believed in doing things the same old ways. We need an FDR or TR type to come along and shake things up by actually doing things. But no one wants to be The Man in the Arena. Back on Nov. 13, 2013 I blogged about ten relatively easy things USATT could do to grow the sport (and I've referred to them a number of times since), but there just doesn't seem to be interest in doing such things - though as the new minutes show, they are interested in things like new formatting for the minutes. That's nice, but perhaps we should focus more on doing things rather than on how we format them?

Below is that same list from a year ago of things USATT could do to develop the sport. It's not rocket science. Note that the first three are just different ways of developing leagues, since that's where there is great membership potential. I'm personally most interested in #4 and #5, though #7 (along with any of #1-3) could lead to serious growth potential. And #8, by getting USATT leaders to focus on developing the sport, could be most important of all. Let's make things happen. Or we could continue in our Hooverish ways.

  1. Advertise to hire someone to set up Professional Leagues. Offer him 33% of revenues brought in, and the USATT's support with its web page, emails, magazine, and any other way feasible. It would be an historic position, similar to the first commissioner of sports such as baseball, basketball, and football.
  2. Redirect the purpose of the current "League" committee so that its primary purpose would be to actively increase the number and quality of leagues in the U.S.  First job would be to bring in people to put together a manual for setting up such leagues. The authors would then publish on Amazon and get profits from sales. It's not large money, but they might get a few hundred dollars and the prestige of being a published author.
  3. Bring together the directors of the largest and most successful leagues in the U.S., figuratively lock them in a room, and don't let them out until they've put together a model for such leagues that can be done regionally all over the U.S.
  4. Create a "Training Center" committee whose primary purpose would be increase the number and quality of full-time clubs in the U.S.  First job would be to bring in people to put together a manual for setting up and running such centers. The authors would then publish on Amazon and get profits from sales. It's not large money, but they might get a few hundred dollars and the prestige of being a published author. I already did a version of this with my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, and have sold over one hundred copies and made over $100. This manual covers half the stuff a manual on setting up and running a full-time center would cover.
  5. Change the focus of USATT coaching seminars from just teaching technique to the recruitment and training of professional coaches and directors of junior programs. I've argued this one for years.
  6. Advertise for someone to bring in sponsorships for U.S. Open and Nationals, where the person gets 33% or more in commission.
  7. Recruit State and Regional Directors all over the U.S. to set up regional associations, which would include election of officers, and appointment of Coaching, League, Tournament, and Club Directors for each state or region. (Some regions or states already have such associations.) USATT would supply the basic bylaws for these associations, using bylaws that have been created for this very purpose multiple times in the past, or modeled on current successful ones.
  8. Direct that the USATT Board of Directors main focus will be the development of the sport, and that "fairness" issues will go to the appropriate committee, freeing up board time for actually developing the sport. (I blogged about this on March 19, 2013.)
  9. Require that all prospective USATT board members must give at least one major area where they will take initiative in developing the sport, and give their plan for doing so. Along with this they should allow people on the ballot if they get 150 signatures from USATT members, with a deadline set after the North American Teams, which is where they could get the signatures. (This is how it was done in the past.)
  10. Do a mass mailing to the 50,000 or so past USATT members on the USATT database, and invite them to rejoin. The letter should come from a top, well-known U.S. table tennis star. There's one catch - there has to be something new to invite these players back. See previous items on this list. Any such mailing, done properly, would pay for itself. There's a reason why I and others get inundated with mailings from organizations I once belonged to. I still get regular mail from the U.S. Tennis Association since I played in their leagues about ten years ago. (Eventually we can move to emailing past members, but we don't have the email address of most of these past members.) I blogged about this on Feb. 19, 2014 and May 13, 2014.

2014 USA Junior and Cadet Team Trials

Here's the info sheet. Minor nitpick: Can't anyone learn to proof and format these things so they don't look like they were thrown together by a third grader? I found 14 typos or formatting problems on the first page. Let's try to look professional! I've volunteered to proof USATT documents for them before they go public, completely in confidence, and they used to take me up on this, but not in recent years. The offer still stands. And I'm sorry if I'm embarrassing whoever put this together, but c'mon - we can do better. (Am I picking on USATT here, in the segment above, and in previous blogs? You bet I am - they need to get their act together and change the thinking and organizational funk they've been in for so many years.)

USA Nationals Entry Form

It's linked at the USA Nationals Home Pagehis came out two hours after I posted this blog, but I'm adding it late. I'll link to it again on Monday.

Practice Your Serves

Have you practiced your serves this week? Why not??? Few things are more under-practiced than serves, and time for time you probably get more from serve practice than just about anything else. Here are a few articles that might help out.

Covering Long Distances

Here's the coaching video (3:27) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Emad Barsoum Leading Player at 2014 Butterfly Badger Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

International News

As usual, you can find lots of international news at TableTennista (which covers the big names more) and at the ITTF news page (more regional news). 

Chinese National Team in Training

Here's the new video (4:01) of them as they trained for the 2014 World Team Championships.

Xu Xin - Pure Brilliance!

Here's a great point (22 sec). Xu is on near side, playing Germany's Dimitrij Ovcharov.

Ping-Pong as It Should Be Played

Here I am with playing with a vintage clipboard. (I'm about 2100 with it. Really! Challenge me at the Nationals - I'll have the clipboard ready!)

Getting Balled Out?

Here's the picture.

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May 24, 2013

Memorial Weekend Off

It's Memorial Weekend, and like millions of Americans, I'm taking a four-day weekend. So no blog today or Monday. Instead, I'm spending today on various writing projects. (Oops, there goes my day off.) Then this afternoon I'm off for Balticon, a regional science fiction convention in Baltimore. Sat & Sun I'm coaching all day (and so will miss the rest of Balticon). Then I'm off on Monday. So my four-day weekend is really a one-day weekend. Oh well. I'll start blogging again on Tuesday, including the Tip of the Week.

Meanwhile, if you need a table tennis fix, why not read up on the international articles at Table Tennista? Or explore usatt.org and ittf.com? Or see Will Shortz (world famous puzzlist and NY Times crossword editor, and more importantly, owner of the Westchester TTC) on the Artie Lange Show on Wednesday (16:16)? As Will describes it, "I was on the 'Artie Lange Show' last night (via DirecTV's Audience Network), with guest host Colin Quinn. The conversation started with puzzles, then segued to table tennis, and ended with me playing Colin in a TT match." For the record, Will wins 11-1.

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March 20, 2013

Fairness Versus Progressive Issues Revisited

In my blog yesterday I wrote about "USATT: Fairness Versus Progressive Issues." I had an email discussion with someone who believed that it would be interpreted by the average reader as criticism of the current Chair of the USATT Board of Directors, Mike Babuin. To anyone who read it that way - Poppycock!!! Mike was only voted in as Chair at the December board meeting, and his first meeting as chair will take place in April.

It could be read as criticism of past leaders. Some of them left USATT better than when they arrived, and some left it worse. There are many "Fairness" issues that they might have resolved, for the betterment of the sport. What no past leaders has done is find a way to either dramatically grow the sport or consistently develop players that can compete with the best players in the world. The point of my blog was that nearly every past USATT leader got bogged down in the "Fairness" issues, and so weren't able to focus on "Progressive" issues. It is a nasty cycle I hope will come to an end.

What are the progressive issues USATT could focus on? I've argued strongly for two specific ones: a nationwide system of leagues, and more junior training centers.

  • Nationwide System of Leagues: I don't think USATT can set up a nationwide system of leagues on its own. What it can do is take the initiative in getting current league directors together to develop such a system of leagues. We already have successful ones growing around the Bay Area, LA, and NYC. We need them to continue to grow, both in their current regions and to other populated areas. But first a model for such a league must be developed that other populated regions can use as a prototype. If someone wanted to start up such a league right now, there are no models; he'd have to start from scratch. That's a terrible way to grow a sport. USATT needs to be the catalyst in creating such a prototype that can be emulated everywhere.
     
  • Junior Training Centers: When I gave a presentation to the USATT Board in December, 2006, arguing that USATT should get involved in the growing of junior training centers, it got a mixed reaction. At the time, there were about ten full-time table tennis centers in the country with junior programs. Most board members liked the idea, but didn't take action. Two actively spoke out against it, saying there weren't enough players to support such full-time training centers. They didn't understand the most basic principle of any sport that wants to grow, which is that you don't rely on current players - you promote the sport and bring in new ones. I was so disgusted at the reaction that it was the primary reason I resigned shortly afterwards as USATT editor and programs director.

    While USATT didn't get involved, the success of those early centers attracted other promoters and coaches, and now there are well over fifty such full-time centers, each with their own base of players, both adult and junior players. It's been an amazing six years since I gave the presentation as these centers began popping up all over the place, contrary to the arguments made by those two board members. The result has been a dramatic increase in the level and depth of our top cadet players, who in a few years will be dominating table tennis at the highest levels in this country. (Here's my blog on the topic from January, 2012.)

    And yet, we're still in the same situation as with leagues - when someone wants to set up a full-time center, he has to start from scratch. There are no manuals out there on setting up and running a full-time table tennis center. Again, this is a terrible way to grow a sport. This is where USATT should jump in and develop one. (And no, I'm not volunteering; at one time I might have, but I don't have time these days.)

NCTTA

Here's the March issue of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Newsletter.

New Table Designs

Here's an article and pictures from the ITTF on Project M48 - new table designs.

Oriole Ping-Pong!

Here's a picture of Baltimore Oriole baseball players filling out their "March Madness" brackets in the Orioles clubhouse - using the club's ping-pong table to work on! I was supposed to do a demo and clinic for the Orioles last year, but the team's best player, J.J. Hardy, hurt his shoulder (that's why he hit so poorly last year - I was sworn to secrecy!) and so they postponed it. We've been in contact, and it will probably happen this year. They've told me I can bring a few of our top juniors to the session. J.J. Hardy has expressed interest in coming to the Maryland Table Tennis Center for some coaching; I'll let you know when/if that happens.

Samsonov's Upset of Zhang Jike

Here's an article and video on Vladimir Samsonov's upset win over Zhang Jike at the recent Asia-Europe All-Star Challenge. Here's another one, where Samsonov talks about the win and how it inspired him.

Trick Shot Video

Here's a video (4:46) showing non-stop trick shots. Most are around-the-net shots, but they get trickier as the video goes on, including behind-the-back and under-the-legs shots, no-look shots, kicking shots, and doing these shots between barriers.

Big Table Tennis

Here's a video (13:01) of the "biggest" segment of table tennis! The commentary is in German. Things get interesting (visually) 42 seconds in. (Note - I believe these are the same players who did the trick shot video segment above.)

Intense Table Tennis

Very intense picture, and a lot of orange. Perhaps this is a symptom of climate change? Anyone know whose picture that is in the background?

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November 7, 2012

Table Tennis Truisms That Are False

Here are some off the top of my head. These are primarily about the running of our sport. When you hear these, run for the hills!

"We'll build our junior program up gradually until it's a success."
A junior program that starts small and tries to build up loses players as fast as they attract them. A successful program does enough promotion to get a sufficient number on the first day, and then it's almost self-perpetuating.

"A full-time club can't survive without major sponsors."
Back when there were few full-time clubs (i.e. five or six years ago, when there were about ten), I heard this all the time. Now that there are 56 (see my listing), I still hear it. And yet nearly all of these clubs are self-financed (through memberships, coaching, leagues, tournaments, equipment & refreshment sales, etc.), with only minor sponsors. My full-time club, MDTTC, primarily gets training and tournament balls, equipment discounts, and tournament prize money from its sponsors. At the December, 2006 USATT board meeting I tried to convince the board to get involved in recruiting and training of coaches to set up such full-time training centers, but was basically told there weren't enough players to support such clubs without major sponsors.

"Why don't we get table tennis into the schools?"
No sport has gotten big by relying on middle or high schools, nor has table tennis gotten big around the world via schools. When a sport is already getting big, that's when schools are interested in that sport. So we need to develop our sport on our own, and then schools can take us to the next level. Often the thinking is that we can train PE teachers to teach table tennis, and so we send table tennis coaches to national or state meetings of these teachers. But while we might get a few teaches teaching it that way, little really comes of it. They simply are not interested in a small sport (in the U.S.) like ours.

"If the USA Men's and Women's Team trained together regularly, they could compete with the best in the world."
Not really, unless you mean only the junior members. By the time they make the U.S. Team a non-junior player is generally already too far behind his/her peers in stronger countries. If you got our best cadets and juniors together, along with top-level coaches and practice partners, then it might be different. We are stronger now at the cadet level (roughly age 15 and under) than ever before, so the next generaton of USA team members might be strong enough so that training together might allow them to compete with the best in the world. 

"USATT's goal is to win a medal at the Olympics by the year [choose your year]."
Is the goal to win a medal or to develop a medalist? If the former, then there should be no training at all of our players; we should be importing top Chinese players. If the latter, then USATT should recognize that future medallists come from juniors training at full-time centers with high-level coaches, and focus on recruiting and training coaches and directors to set up and run such centers.

"It's better than nothing."
This is the response I often hear when someone does a program that sounds nice, but doesn't really accomplish anything. Often it's worst than nothing, because precious resources (money, time) were used for something that did only a little better than nothing, rather than invest it in something that might accomplish something. I hate hearing this response. 

"There should be more prize money at the U.S. Nationals and U.S. Open."
That money has to come from a limited USATT budget, and that money should be used mostly to develop the sport, not in one-shot deals that leave us no better than before. As the sport develops, more revenue would come in, and then prize money can go up. Or we can get sponsors. Or we can find a way to use the extra prize money to bring in more revenue, such as paying spectators or TV.

USATT At-Large Position

Want to run for the USA Table Tennis Board of Directors? There's an election for one spot coming up. Here's complete info. Deadline to apply is Dec. 10. I keep toying with running, but reality tells me that USATT and I have different visions for our sport, and leave it at that. (Also, between my coaching and writing careers, I don't have much free time.)

105-Year-Old Table Tennis Champion

Here's the article in the Warwick News.

Robot Playing Table Tennis

I blogged recently about a robot that actually plays table tennis. Here's a video of it rallying with a person at the China International Industry Fair (45 seconds, though only the first 26 are of the table tennis robot). I think it's using a plain wood blade. Notice it can react with either forehand or backhand. Pongcast (see below) includes a robot playing as well.

Pongcast Episode 19

Here's the newest Pongcast (14:56). In this episode, "Adam Bobrow's dancing goes viral again, F1 driver tests his reactions on the table, TT robots are the future, Zhang Jike makes them laugh, Kevin Garnett plays Wang Hao(!?!?) and the 2012 German Open!" The robot play begins at 3:02 and includes a video showing how the robot was "taught" to play.

Maze vs. Kamal

Here's a video of Michael Maze (world #18 from Denmark) vs. Achanta Sharath Kamal (world #79 from India) at the recent Europe-Asia All-Star Series (5:14, with the time between points taken out).

Astronaut Playing Table Tennis?

Uberpong runs a weekly table tennis caption contest. This week's picture to caption is of an astronaut playing table tennis. What's your caption?

Non-Table Tennis: The Election

Yesterday in my blog I gave my election predictions. The last unannounced state, Florida, unofficially just finished their counting, with Obama winning by 6/10 of a percentage point. (And that was the state I said was the toughest to call.) So I was 50 for 50 in my state predictions, which meant I also called the final electoral count exactly, 332-206. (Four years ago I was 49 for 50, missing only Ohio, and eight years ago I was 48 for 50.) As to the popular vote, I predicted "approximately 50.5% to 48.5%." The current numbers (with some counting around the country still going on) are 50.3% to 48.3%, so I got Obama's margin for victory exactly, and was only off by 0.2% overall. I wonder how quickly people will forget all the predictions of a Romney landslide? But those who predicted that lived inside an ideological bubble, much of it caused by a network that shall not be named.

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November 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

Developing Your Forehand Smash. (Note - this is a greatly expanded version from a blog entry from Oct. 19, 2012.)

USATT's Newsletter Blog and a Possible New USATT Partnership with Clubs

My blog on Friday about the USATT's Newsletter and ways USATT could promote themselves and non-USATT table tennis programs around the country, was by far my most read blog ever, with 1690 reads (so far), versus 605 for the day before. It also led to some helpful email exchanges among USATT officials and myself, leading to a possible new emphasis on promoting leagues and junior programs around the U.S. with the newsletter and web page. The last paragraph of the blog was the key part, so I'll reprint it here:

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?

I think the key is that new players who come to the USATT home page or receive the newsletter have no idea there are leagues and junior programs out there, often right in their backyards. USATT doesn't have the resources to set up and run these programs, but others are already doing them - so a natural partnership is practically slapping us in the face, where USATT promotes these programs on their highly-trafficked web page, and these programs bring in USATT members. (In my emails, I explicitly pointed out I have a conflict of interest in this, since I run junior programs at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which also has leagues.)

Developing Your Deep Serves

Here's an article "Your Deep Serves Should be a Weapon" by Olympian and three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Jim Butler. This is a must read for anyone who wants to turn their serves - long or short - into a weapon. Jim not only talks about how to make the long serve effective, but how it makes your short serves effective. (I find it almost astonishing how his thinking on this topic parallels my own - and he has the "moral" authority of someone who's beaten many of the top players in the world - including Waldner - with these serving tactics.) Here's my own article on the topic, "Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves," the Tip of the Week on Oct. 22, 2012.

World Cadet Challenge

The World Cadet Challenge in Guam ended yesterday. Here's the ITTF page where you can get full results, articles, and pictures, and see how the players from your country did. (Here's another page that has lots of pictures from the event.) And here's a highlights video (2:52) that features USA Cadets Jonathan Ou and Allen Wang.

Biba

Here's a video feature (1:35) of USA's table tennis star and model Biba. When you only need one name to be known, you're good!!!

That is Table Tennis

Here's a new table tennis highlights video (14:54) from ttGermany. The second point shown (between Kalinikos Kreanga and Tokic Bojan) might be the best counterlooping point of the year.

"Ping Pong Summer"

The filming in Ocean City for the upcoming movie "Ping Pong Summer" (starring Spin NY owner Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson, John Hannah, Robert Longstreet, Amy Sedaris, and of course the great Judah Friedlander - who I've coached several times!) just finished. Here's an article on it, and here's the IMDB page. "The story is a coming-of-age tale involving one boy's love of hip-hop and ping pong during a summer in Ocean City in the 1980's."

I'm Running for President of the United States

Yes, I, Larry Hodges, am throwing my paddle into the ring. Here is my platform where I answer the hard questions facing our illustrious nation. I'm ready to debate Obama and Romney anytime (today) and anywhere (within driving distance of my house in Maryland) - or we could just settle it, mano-a-mano, on the table.

  1. Foreign Affairs. We're too soft on the Chinese. Next time I see Zhang Jike I will punch him in the nose. This will show the world we're serious about these foreign affairs thingies and gain us respect so other countries will cower in fear and do our bidding.
  2. Immigration. If your name is Wang, come on in. (Penhold or shakehand?) If your name is Rodriquez, sorry.
  3. Economy. I will require all Americans to play table tennis for one hour every day. With 300 million people regularly buying exorbitantly priced table tennis sponge, rackets, shoes, and other table tennis necessities, it will spur the economy.
  4. Health Care. Who needs it when everyone's getting in such great shape from an hour of ping-pong every day?
  5. Energy Independence. I've tried oil, coal, even radium, and all it did was get my paddle all gooey, dusty, and gave me cancer. We'll just have to rely on Japan for our tenergy needs.
  6. Taxes. I will neither raise nor lower taxes. I believe taxes should stay right where they are, at street level, ready to transport Americans from airports and hotels to tournament playing halls every weekend. You should tip your hats to these hard-working Americans, and tip them well.
  7. Bi-partisanship. I am willing to work across the aisle with anyone, except those stupid pen holders who can't shake hands without jabbing you with their pen. Pen holders should be banned; we have things called word processors.
  8. Vice President. I want a vice president who is level-headed, thoughtful, and without ego. Marty Reisman is my choice. (We'll ignore for now that his name is an anagram for "Misery Mantra," "Remain Smarty," "Martyr is Mean," and "My Rat Seminar.")
  9. Service. I have nothing but praise for the service, whether it be pendulum, tomahawk, or backhand. The service is our front-line defense, and I have nothing but contempt for those who receive the service aggressively rather than give it the respect it deserves.
  10. Hard bat. I am very much in favor of the hard bat movement. In fact, I keep a toy plastic bat on my desk. Go ahead and wrap your knuckle against it, it's hard as rock.
  11. Core Values. Unlike some candidates, I do not flip based on the situation just to score political points. I pledge to you that I will only push against short balls. Let my opponents be the flippers we all despise.
  12. National Debt. We've been building up a national debt for many years, while China, Japan, Sweden, Hungary, and other countries have had an imbalance with us. I figure we should sweep the next ten World Championships, and we'll call it even.
  13. Self-sufficiency. There's an old saying, "Give someone a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime." It's true - some of the best fishers play in the European leagues, and with their topspin defense, make hordes of money. They'll never go hungry.
  14. Capitalism or Socialism? Yes.
  15. Table Tennis or Ping-Pong? Yes.
  16. Size of Government. I want government to keep their dirty hands off our social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and off our streets and out of our schools and libraries. Why can't they just build ping-pong centers and leave us alone?

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September 10, 2012

Tip of the Week

If You Can See It, You Can Loop It.

Department of Angry Emails

A certain prominent USATT member (former top player) wrote a long email to a huge number of people last night. Someday I'll learn to stay out of these things, but I just couldn't help but respond to some of the false information in the email. (None of it was about me.)

The writer was angry about the "cancelled" USATT election for CEO four years ago. (There never was an election for CEO; the USATT Board hires and fires the CEO.)

The writer was angry that only one member of the nine members of the USATT Board is elected from the membership, not including the two player reps. (There are actually three.)

The writer was angry about skipped issues of the magazine in recent years. (There weren't any skipped issues.)

There were also some unsubstantiated claims, such as saying the USATT web page was worth $75,000 without giving a source or rationale.

I have nothing against dissent. But it should be informed dissent. Don't send out mass emails with various accusations just to see what sticks, or spread rumors you've heard that are easily checked on. If the writer had sent a simple email to any board member or just about anyone involved in USATT, that person could have directed his attention the Bylaws that show that the CEO is hired by the USATT Board (not elected) and that three members are elected by the membership, and he could have directed him to the old USATT Magazine page and the recent one that went up this year, both of which show the actual covers of every issue going back to 2007, with a link from the old one to the archives that have every cover going back to 1999. (This is what I put in my email response.)

In other words, if you see something you don't like, make sure to get your facts straight before lashing out in public. It's not that hard. Really.

The writer responded this morning by making a big deal about how I said there was no election four years ago and demanding that I apologize for this statement, when of course I had very clearly said there was no election for CEO. He argued that he had gotten his info on board members elections by cut and pasting from the Bylaws, when he quite obviously had not. He also argued that the magazine had been delayed, which of course is quite different than saying there had been skipped issues. (He also argued that there were several late CEO Reports on the web page, which "proved" that the magazine had been delayed, when of course the web page updating had nothing to do with the magazine.) I responded one more time, but as I promised, it'll be the last one I respond to.

Now if I can only stay out of online political debates as the U.S. presidential election approaches....

Beginning Junior Class

We have dozens of junior players at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Recently we've had an influx of beginners. I had eleven beginners in my beginning junior class yesterday. Coach Wang Qing Liang assisted as we put them through various multiball and robot drills. We finished with target practice as I fed multiball as the kids took turns trying to hit a Gatorade bottle (red fruit flavor) that I assured them was actually full of nosebleed from my pet rhinoceros. If they hit it, I had to take a sip. I spent the whole time mocking them and saying they had no chance to hit it, leading to great delight (and feigned consternation on my part) when they did. 

Coaching beginning junior players, especially in the 5-9 age group, is quite different than other types of coaching. They don't yet have the hand-eye coordination to actually rally among themselves. So you start them out with ball bouncing. (I wrote about this in my blog on Aug. 15, 2011.) Then you work with them using multiball and/or a robot, directing them through the shot. If you make sure they have a proper grip and foot positioning, most of the rest falls into place. You still have to make sure they rotate the body (not just arm) and not slap at the ball with a wristy motion.

Hardbatties, Unite!!!

Are you a serious hardbat player? Well, the old Hardbat Forum has been resurrected, care of hardbat guru Scott Gordon. Come join us for hardbat discussions, as well as sandpaper and clipboard, which both fall under the "hardbat" umbrella. (I'm normally a sponge player, but I do hardbat on the side.)

Lily Zhang in the School Paper

Here's an article in The Viking: Palo Alto High School Sports News, entitled Olympian Lily Zhang named 2012 Junior and Women’s North American Champion."

Have You Practiced Your Under-the-Leg Smash Today?

Here's Kim Gilbert demonstrating proper form!

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April 23, 2012

Tip of the Week

Reverse Forehand Pendulum Serve.

Congrats to the USA Olympians!

Making the Olympic Team for the U.S. were (L-R) Erica Wu, Lily Zhang, Ariel Hsing, and Timothy Wang. And here is the ITTF coverage, which has lots of article, pictures, and complete results. Special thanks to USATT as well for providing live online coverage. (Unfortunately, I was coaching nearly all day Fri-Sun, and so only saw a few minutes of one match.)  (Side note - I'm told Gao Jun dropped out because of a knee injury.)

Grassroots table tennis

There was a discussion at a USATT board meeting about eight years ago on the subject of grassroots development. While some wanted to focus almost exclusively on elite development, most were for grassroots development. And then the discussion began.

Several board members insisted that grassroots development meant developing national team members. When I pointed out that that was what elite development meant, I got some serious eye-rolling. They really and truly had the two confused. When I argued that grassroots development, to me, meant increasing USATT membership (primarily through leagues and junior development), they didn't think that was USATT's job - but thought it might be useful to bring in revenue for their own version of "elite" grassroots development.

We move forward a few years. The board is still split between elite development and grassroots development. Publicly, all are for both, but privately some are more for one than the other. But again, there's this disagreement over what it really means. The consensus now seems more toward recreational development. Technically, that is grassroots development, but it is not particularly relevant to what is needed to develop table tennis in the U.S.

After a board member explained his plan to create recreational players through leagues, and how he didn't care if they became USATT members or not, I asked him this. "If you got 1000 new players this way, would it be a success?" He said that would be a good start. Then I asked, "How about 10,000 new players?" That, he said, would be pretty successful. Then I pointed out that, according to surveys, there are already 15 million recreational players in the U.S., and if he brought in 10,000 new players that number would increase to 15.01 million. If he brought in 100,000 new players, that'd be 15.1 million. Not particularly helpful.

What USATT needs to focus on is the same thing successful table tennis countries all over the world focus on - increasing membership. And when I say membership, I mean paying membership. USATT has 8000. Germany has 700,000. England 500,000. France, Italy, Belgium, and others all have memberships in the multiple hundred thousands as well. (We won't even talk about Asia, where the numbers are even larger.) They did this through grassroots development. (Much of this is recreational development through leagues, but with a direct pipeline to membership by requiring membership to play in the leagues, and by setting up a national network of such leagues.) So did nearly every successful sport in the U.S. and around the world.

And yet several outspoken board members (with zero disagreement from others - do they agree or they just don't speak up?) have argued that the situation in the U.S. is unique, and that we cannot learn from what other countries and other sports have done successfully. It makes me sick when I hear this. While every country has a "unique" situation, people in the U.S. are not aliens, and are not so different than people in other countries. People in the U.S. pretty much respond to the same things people in other countries do. There's a lot we can learn from others, and apply to our own situation, but it seems we don't want to.

USATT will become a success when it learns these lessons. That means setting specific goals, and creating programs to reach those goals. (For example, the goal of 100 successful junior programs within five years, or a nationwide network of leagues with 100,000 players within ten years.) What it doesn't mean is creating task forces with vague goals, putting the first board member who raises his hand as the task force leader (rather than doing a serious search for the best qualified person, and then recruiting that person), and then terminating the task force two or three years later after it predictably hasn't accomplished anything, as we seem to do over and over. (See my blog entry on this from Sept. 26, 2011, exactly two years after USATT's 2009 Strategic Meeting. The Junior and "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task forces have since both been disbanded, with no programs implemented to accomplish their vague goals.)

Warren Buffett challenges Ariel Hsing to Rematch

Yes, the grudge match is on, and will take place on May 6. Ariel will also take on other challengers at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. Perhaps Mr. Buffett will bring his big paddle again?

MDTTC Open House

Here's Alan Lang's article on the MDTTC Grand Re-Opening & Open House. That's me on the microphone. On the table is Derek Nie (unseen on left) and Crystal Wang, with Nathan Hsu and Tong Tong Gong watching with their backs to us. The four did demonstrations as part of the Open House.

2012 Broward March Open Highlights

Here's a highlights video of Brian Pace winning the Broward March Open (5:06).

Six table tennis pictures

Here are six table tennis pictures: What society thinks you do, what my friends think you do, what Asians think you do, what Americans think you do, what you think you do, and what you really do.

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March 12, 2012

Tip of the Week

As I also write one week ago, for a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his latest table tennis history book (we hope to finish today), as well as my usual coaching and other duties, last Monday and today I'm putting up these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Developing a Smash.

Exhaustion

Today is Day 14 of doing the page layouts and photo work on Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Volume 12. No days off, no half days, usually getting up at 5AM and starting work at 6AM, and going until about 5PM or until I have my coaching scheduled. Since I'm also subbing for Coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun, I've been coaching nearly seven nights a week. (Jeffrey was in China for two months, but returned Friday, and starts coaching again today.) I've also been involved in various aspects of the MDTTC expansion project, tutor calculus two hours a week, and sometimes sleep and eat.

So I'm TIRED. As in EXHAUSTED.

Fortunately, we should finish the book today, and with Jeffrey back, my coaching schedule is back to sanity. There's a thing in my room called a bed, and I hope to have a long, first-hand acquaintance with it soon. (I'm off to the Cary Cup this Thursday, where I'm playing hardbat Friday morning and coaching the rest of the way, so that should bring back some of the no-doubt sorely missed exhaustion.)

USATT Junior & Cadet Training Camp

USA Table Tennis is looking for someone to run a one-week training camp for the USA National Junior and Cadet Teams, June 23-29, 2012. I'd actually like to see a longer camp, more like 2-3 weeks, but one week is better than none. Here are the bid specs.

There is no financial incentive, and the club that hosts the camp would likely have to absorb many expenses as well as putting in huge amounts of time. I was thinking about putting in a bid from Maryland Table Tennis Center. MDTTC is currently in the process of expanding to 18 courts (more if we squeeze), along with showers, weight room, all new red flooring, air conditioning, etc. And we have a number of top players/practice partners in the area, including Han Xiao, Peter Li, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, probably a new top Chinese player/coaching coming in, and lots of 2300 players, such as Raghu Nadmichettu, Nathan Hsu, and others. We also have Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong, and Mini-Cadet members Derek Nie and Crystal Wang. Since it's during summer, we'll also probably have others such as Marcus Jackson and Amaresh Sahu back from school. So I think we'd have a pretty strong bid.

However, we probably won't put in a bid. Why? The bid includes this part: "Venue must be exclusive available for National Teams players and coaches only. No other activities to be conducted in the venue during the NT practice time." (Note the word "must.")

We're a full-time training center. The bid estimates that they would want the hall from 9AM-noon and from 4-7PM. The latter are peak hours for our junior training, and we're not about to tell our full-time coaches (me, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, probably one other coach) that they can't coach during peak hours for a week at the club where they make a living. (Not to mention all the junior players who suddenly can't practice after school.) The training camp only needs 12 tables, no problem. We just need 3-4 of them, leaving at least 14 for the camp.

I don't want to go through the time and effort of a bid if this is a "must," as the bid says, especially if there are going to be rival bidders who on paper will sound better because they aren't full-time training centers and so can offer the "exclusive." (Of course there might also be a full-time center out there willing to close down their coaching during these hours for a week.) We're also running camps all summer long starting June 18, and the camp is June 23-29. So we'd have to cancel a camp, meaning the club and coaches would be out several thousand dollars, in addition to other expenses and time spent to accommodate such a camp.

Coaching Videos

Here are two more short but excellent coaching videos from PingSkills:

Michael Landers Highlights Video

Here's the Landers Highlights Video (7:41) from the U.S. World and Olympic Team Trials!

Cat dominates mini-table play

Who's dominating this game? (0:53)

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March 1, 2012

Peter Li

Imagine a country that has an 18-year-old National Men's Singles Champion. Suppose that country decides to fund four players to the World Championships. You'd think that winning that Men's Singles title would automatically qualify you for the team. Right? Wrong.

That's the story of Peter Li, who won Men's Singles at the USA Nationals a little over two months ago in December when he was 18. However, at the USA Team Trials (just after turning 19), he finished in a four-way tie for second place with a record of 8-3. But after the tie-breaker (going to matches and games among those tied), he finished in fifth place, just missing the top four. He was then offered the fifth spot as an unfunded position, meaning he would have to pay his own way to the worlds. His family is already spending over $10,000/year on his training, and simply couldn't afford to pay more. And so he will not be going to the Worlds, and will not gain the experience he would get there.

Can anyone imagine this happening in any serious table tennis country? I don't think there are very many countries that fund teams to the Worlds that would not fund a teenaged National Men's or Women's Singles Champion.  

There's little chance USATT will change their procedures for this Worlds. The question is if they will look at the result of their procedure, and ask themselves if that procedure is really getting them the best result. Perhaps anyone winning or making the final of Men's and Women's Singles at the Nationals should automatically qualify. (Conflict of interest note - Peter developed at MDTTC, my club, and still trains and coaches part-time there on weekends.) 

Hit the ball harder!

I'm coaching an eight-year-old girl whose forehand is coming along pretty well, except for one problem: she absolutely will not hit the ball hard. Every shot is the same soft keep-it-in-play stroke that wouldn't break wet tissue paper. I've tried to get her to gradually hit the ball harder, to no avail. She just doesn't want to. So what did I do?

I did the obvious thing. I tricked her.

Near the end of our session yesterday, while feeding multiball, I put a half-filled water bottle on the table. I told her if she could knock it over, she could have a chocolate. (I conveniently had a stash handy.) It took her a few shots to hit the bottle, and she discovered she'd have to hit it harder to knock it over. That's when she started hitting harder, and with good form. She won two chocolates. Afterwards I told her mom about what I'd done, and she promised not to tell her daughter. (Shhhhhhh everyone! Hopefully she's not reading this blog.)

Sol Schiff

Here's the obit on Sol Schiff by his longtime friend Dean Johnson.

The Ma Long serve

He's #1 in the world, and here's his serve (2:31). Here's another video of it (0:55), showing it in action. Both videos show it in regular time and slow motion.

Table Tennis in Bed

Yes, you too can play table tennis in bed, using your hands and feet to rally back and forth!

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January 24, 2012

Standing up too straight

Many players stand up way too straight when they play. The result is they are unable to move as quickly as they could if they kept their legs father apart (which also adds stability and power) and bent their knees slightly. It also tends to mess up some strokes, especially on the backhand, where you lose leverage if you stand up straight.

Some players do this because they are getting old and have knee problems, or are overweight, but even then you can get in the habit of bending the knees slightly, as well as keeping the legs a little farther apart. And very young players (or short players) don't want to get down too low because they are already rather short and if they get down any lower they'll have problems on their backhand. 

There's a rather easy cure. Rather than think of getting down, imagine you are covering someone in basketball, or playing shortstop in baseball, or you're the goalie in soccer. As soon as I tell a player to imagine this, they immediately get lower. It's almost impossible not too - you can't do these things in basketball, baseball, or soccer without getting down, and so players instinctively get down. They don't have this same instinct in table tennis, so the habit needs to be learned.

U.S. Olympic Trials Dream

This is a weird one. Last night I dreamed I was at the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are coming up in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12. (In real life, I will be there coaching.) Player after player asked if I would coach them, and I kept saying yes. Next thing I know I'm committed to coaching about a dozen players. The players began arguing over me, and then they got hostile toward me. Then I found myself at a match where five-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller was playing current U.S. Men's Doubles Champion and Singles Finalist Han Xiao - and I was coaching both sides!

Between games they both came over for coaching. That's when I explained that according to Citizens United, I couldn't coordinate with them on tactics. (I'm an amateur presidential historian, and follow politics closely, alas.) They began arguing with me, and we finally agreed that I could talk to them as long as they didn't talk back, since if they did that would be "coordinating." (In the dream, this made sense.) Then I started telling them both how to play each other, and then the two of them got into an excited discussion about their strengths and weaknesses, and soon I was just listening as they got into a mutual admiration thing.

Then suddenly I found myself coaching USATT Hall-of Famer Diana Gee McDonnell (a U.S. National and Olympic team member circa late 80's and early '90s, who was a resident at the Olympic Training Center back then when I was at various times the manager/director/a coach) against Han! Then I was interrupted by several others who were demanding that I coach them, then Han got angry that I was coaching against him, and Dan's brother Randy Seemiller started yelling at me for not coaching Dan, and then I woke up at 6AM all sweaty and nervous about who I was supposed to coach.

If you want to read about two other weird dreams I've blogged about, see my entries from June 28, 2011 ("U.S. Open Table Tennis Dream") and Jan. 9, 2012 ("Dan Seemiller, ping-pong and waiter"). Will someone tell Mr. Seemiller to please stay out of my dreams!???

Use of the wrist

Here's an interesting discussion of use of the wrist in table tennis. In particular see the ninth posting, which links to videos of wrist usage by "some of our sport's biggest starts." My "short" take on wrist usage? I'll quote Dan Seemiller (geez, here he is again): "When the ball is coming at you slow, use more wrist. When the ball is coming at you fast, use less wrist." Additionally, beginning players shouldn't use much wrist except on the serve and pushing. Instead, just put the wrist back and let it go through the ball naturally. As you advance, you can start using more and more wrist, especially when looping against slower balls.

Anne Cribbs joins USATT Board

Anne Cribbs, an Olympic Gold medallist for swimming at the 1960 Olympics, was named to the USATT Board of Directors. (Strangely, the USATT article mentions she was an Olympic gold medallist but neglects to mention which sport.)

Backhand Sidespin of the Year

Don't practice this in your basement or you might break a side window.

Roller-Coaster Ping-Pong?

Here's the picture - I'd like to see video!

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