Table Table Tennis

June 19, 2014

Is the USATT Rating System Inflationary, Deflationary, or Stable?

I don't have exact numbers on this, but it's fairly obvious that, over the years, the ratings have inflated. When I started out in 1976 there were only three players rated over 2400 (Danny Seemiller, D-J Lee, and Gil Joon Park, with the latter two from South Korea); now there are 116, and this is only among USA players. There are more foreign players now listed as USA players than before, so this is part of the reason, but the bulk of these 2400+ players are just as much USA players as those back in the late 1970s. Dan Seemiller had just reached top 30 in the world with a rating just over 2500. Insook Bhushan (then Insook Na) had just come to the U.S. from South Korea, and was top ten in the world among women, but was rated only about 2250. These days top ten in the world among women would be about 2650. At one point I was 18th in the country among U.S. citizens with a 2292 rating; these days it wouldn't make the top 100. So yes, the ratings have inflated. (My impression, however, is that any inflation has decreased or stopped in recent years. For one thing, the highest rated USA players now are actually a bit lower than some from the previous generations, but that's offset by the fact that the previous generations had players with higher world rankings and deserved the higher ratings.)

But wait, some of you are thinking, hasn't the level of play improved, and that's why there are so many more higher-rated players these days? That modern players have improved is absolutely true - but that has no bearing on the ratings. As players on average improve, so do their opponents. Think of it this way. If everyone were to suddenly improve 100 rating points in level, there would be no effect on the ratings themselves since opponents would also be 100 points better. And so even though everyone's about 100 points better, the ratings themselves would stay the same. 

The level of play has improved because of more training centers, more coaches, better equipment, and more advanced techniques. For example, backhand play these days is far stronger than it was when I started out. Players attack from closer to the table, making it harder to keep a rally going. And if I could have had some modern sponges back in the early 1980s, I (and most top players) would have caused some serious havoc.

The interesting question here is what has inflated faster, the rating system or the level of play? It's a tough call. I would say a 2000 player from the 1970s is more skilled than a 2000 player of today, but that doesn't mean he'd beat the 2000 player of today, who makes up for his lesser skill with more modern techniques and better equipment. (For this, I'm not going to worry about details like the larger ball, different serving rules, etc.) To use a simple example, I'm fairly certain that any modern 2300 player could go back in time to the 1940s with a sponge racket and be World Champion. The very best players from the 1940s were more skilled than a modern 2300 player, but the 2300 player would have modern sponge, looping, serves, etc. (To put it another way, at my peak, and with my sponge racket, I could have beaten the best players in the 1940s, but I don't think I was a more skilled player than the best hardbatters of that era. An interesting question is how long it would take the best players of that era to adjust?)

So why has the system inflated? Actually, the system would be a deflationary system except the adjustment factor is too high. The inflation comes from all the points pumped into the system from the adjustment factor, where any player who gains 51 or more points in a tournament is adjusted upwards. (There are no downward adjustments.)

If there were no adjustment factor, the system would be deflationary, and the average rating would be dropping. Why? Because the average player improves after his initial rating. Assuming no adjustment factor, let's say that the average first rating is 1200, and that the average player then improves to 1500. That means the player takes 300 rating points from others in the system. Result? Assuming the same number of players in the system, there are now 300 less points distributed among them, and so the average rating goes down - even though the average level of those players has stayed the same. This should be true of any rating system where there's a direct or indirect exchange of rating points.

Let's assume that the average player instead got worse on average. Then they'd be giving the system points, and so the system would be inflationary

One distinction to make here is the difference between the ratings going down on average while the average level stays the same (a deflationary system), and one that goes down because there is a large influx of new players with lower levels. The addition of all these lower-rated players would lower the average rating, but deservedly so since the average level will have gone down. But among the established players, where the level has stayed the same, the ratings wouldn't change, and so the system isn't really deflationary, though the average rating has dropped. 

"Can You Predict the Odds in a Match from their Ratings?" Revisited

Yesterday I blogged about the above. In it I showed why a rating system will always have more upsets at the lower levels than at the higher levels, even if statistically it appears that the odds should be the same at all levels. Here's an easy way of explaining this, using 100-point upsets as an example.

The most accurate rating system in the world is still going to have more 100-point upsets at the lower levels (and upsets in general) for the simple reason that no matter how accurate the rating is at the time the player last played, players at lower levels are more likely to have major improvements than players at higher levels. In other words, the ratings might be accurate at the time the players played, but they become inaccurate at lower levels more quickly than at higher levels. 

Here's a simple example. Suppose you have a highly accurate rating system that accurately rates 20 players. Ten are accurately rated at 1000, and ten are accurately rated at 2500. The next time these 20 players play, the ten who were rated 1000 are more likely to have improved to 1100 than the ten players rated 2500 are to have improved to 2600, and so it's more likely the 1000-rated players are going to be beating 1100 players than the 2500-rated players beating 2600 players. Therefore, it is more likely that these 1000 rated players are going to pull off 100-point upsets than the 2500 players. 

Here's still another way of looking at it. The odds of a 1000-level player beating an 1100-level player may be the same as the odds of a 2500-level player beating a 2600-level player, i.e. 1 in 6. The problem is that it's more likely that a player listed as 1000 is actually 1100 in level than a player listed as 2500 is actually 2600 in level. 

Playing the Middle

Here's a new coaching article from Samson Dubina, "Are You in a Jam?"

Help Wanted - USATT CEO

Here's the job description and application info for CEO of USA Table Tennis. I read over the listing - that's a LOT of requirements!!! I'll probably blog about this tomorrow.

Review of the Nittaku Poly Ball

My review of the ball in my blog on Monday is now an ITTF featured article. (I did a few minor updates to the blog yesterday when they asked if they could use it.)

Follow Your Favorite Players on Facebook

Here's the article, with links to these player pages.

Lily Yip's China Trip Photo Album

Here's the photo album of Coach Lily Yip in China with Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari.

2014 U.S. Open Foreign Players

Here's a chart of the number of players attending from each country. Here's the U.S. Open Home Page. Here's the where you can see who is entered and who is entered in each event. There are 713 total entries.

Ping Pong Summer Openings

Here's a list of scheduled openings for the movie around the country, including Ocean City; Omaha; San Francisco; Phoenix; Miami; Louisville; Grand Rapids; Athens, GA; Goshen, IN; and Winston-Salem.

Table Tennis Camps for Veterans & Members of the Armed Forces with Disabilities

Here's the listing.

Table Tennis Nemesis

Here's the article about author Geoff Dyer and table tennis.

Promotional Video for Waldner & Appelgren's Club Sparvagen in Sweden

Here's the video (1:57).

Table Table Tennis

Here's the video (11 sec) - they are playing with two tables set a distance apart.

Earthly Table Tennis

This is what I call an out-of-this-world ping-pong table. I want one!!!

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June 13, 2013

Staying Low Revisited

The Tip of the Week this past Monday was Staying Low. It was inspired by a student of mine, Sameer, 11, who tends to stand up straight when he plays. I've been on him about this for some time, and usually he gets lower - but only in practice drills if I constantly remind him. Once he plays points, he stands up again. At the Eastern Open this past weekend he won Under 800 and made the final of U950, but there were times where he didn't look so good since he was standing up so straight. (In newer ratings from before the tournament, he's rated 1181.)

So I told him that for the next month, our sessions are going to be very "boring," that we're going to focus almost exclusively on staying low. It's not just getting low, it's how you do it. When he does get low, his tendency is to simply bend his knees while leaning backwards from the waist, instead of forward. Also, his feet tend to be too close together, his feet pointing too much forward. You can't fix any one of these; they all go together. He also tends to either let his free arm tightly at his side, either hanging down or jammed up to his chest. Keeping the free hand out for balance is closely related to the ready position as you need it to stay balanced when you move.

So yesterday we started off by spending about ten minutes just shadow practicing with the proper stance. Once he looked comfortable doing this, we hit forehand to forehand at a very slow pace - it almost drove him crazy since he likes to play fast (like most kids), and every now and then in exasperation he'd smack one in. But we did this for twenty minutes, just forehand to forehand, adding some side-to-side footwork near the end. Then we did the same thing, backhand to backhand.

Then we played some points. The key was that he wasn't to play table tennis; he was to play "low table tennis," where he had to play the points in his newer stance. I expected problems, and kept the rallies simple - but lo and behold, he'd developed the habit during those excruciatingly slow rallies! Normally when I spot him 6 points I win over and over. This time he did something unthinkable - he won four out of five! Now I probably did miss a few shots, and was keeping things simple, but it was by far the best he's ever played. As a side bonus, by staying low he was able to see and react to my serve better than before, and returned them better than ever, even the "trick" serves I threw at him near the end of most games.

Table Tennista

Here are this week's headlines at Table Tennista:

China Open

Here's an ITTF story that features USA player Ariel Hsing - unfortunately, it features her upset loss. Here's the ITTF home page for the China Open, with results, articles, photos, and videos.

Behind the Scenes at the 2013 China Open

Here's a 38-second video with a few action shots and short interviews with Chinese players at the China Open. Interesting to watch, even more interesting if you understand Chinese, which I do not. Feel free to translate anyone!  

Three More Books Coming Out By Next Year

By the end of the year I'll have enough Tips of the Week to put them together in one volume, "Table Tennis Tips." (Highly original title - have a better suggestion?) It'll clearly be marked as a compilation of my previously published Tips of the Week. So far I've done 123 Tips of the Week here at TableTennisCoaching.com, one every Monday since Jan. 11, 2011. (Confession: a few didn't go up until Tuesday.) I anticipate doing 29 more this year, for a total of 152, plenty for a book. Sadly, I'm running out of topics, and so anticipate ending the Tips of the Week at the end of this year. (I also did 169 much shorter Tips of the Week, which were published near the back of Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - took up only 54 of the book's 272 pages. The Tips I do here are considerably longer, more like features than simple tips.)

Next year I'll also be publishing "More Pings and Pongs," the second anthology of my best published science fiction & fantasy stories. "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges" came out in 2010 with my 30 best; I've now sold enough new stories for a new volume. The only problem is that typically when you sell a story, the buyer generally has sole rights to the story for six months, and so I anticipate I won't have rights to all the stories I'd like to use until April of 2014.

As a special, I've lowered the price for the Kindle version of Pings and Pongs to $2.99 - buy yours today!!! (I'd lower the price of the print version, but due to printing costs and other issues, the lowest I can sell it for is $8.35 - a bargain!!! It includes "Ping-Pong Ambition," a table tennis fantasy story.)

I have one other book also planned - "Table Tennis Fundamentals," the rewrite of "Table Tennis Steps to Success."

Here's my Amazon page that lists all my books, other than the USATT manual "Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis," which I plan to rewrite and have professionally published sometime in the future.

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten List

Orioles Hangout published another of my infamous Top Ten Lists. This one was "Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Get a TOR Starter." (For you non-baseball people, "TOR Starter" means "Top Of Rotation Starter," i.e. a pitching ace.) It's the eleventh article of mine they've published - nine "Top Ten" lists and two regular articles.

Non-Table Tennis - Sheeba

Yesterday I did 3.5 hours of coaching, and was pretty exhausted afterwards. I got home around 8:15PM, and let Sheeba, my dog, outside. She's 15 years old, which puts her in her eighties in human years. She's almost completely deaf, and half blind - almost completely blind without bright light - and has arthritic back legs so she hobbles around. When I went down around 8:30 PM the gate was open. One of the tenants downstairs had just left, and likely left it open, not realizing she was in the yard. Sheeba was nowhere to be seen.

I spent the next hour and 45 minutes circling the neighborhood and expanding outward, trying to find her. Calling for her was pointless since she's deaf, though I found it was a good way to indicate to people that I was searching for a lost dog. I kept asking around, and twice I found people who had seen her going by. Finally, at around 10:15 PM, I got a call from someone who had found her. I thanked her profusely, and walked the evil, naughty dog back home, where she demanded (and got) a bacon snack.

My legs are exhausted this morning, partly from 3.5 hours of coaching, but mostly from walking around for an hour and 45 minutes.

Table Table Tennis and Office Table Tennis

My legs are so tired from coaching and searching for Sheeba that for now on I'm going to play table tennis like this. Or perhaps like this.

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