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October 3, 2014

A Visit from St. Timothy

As readers here know, Tim Boggan moved in with me this past Monday so I could do the page layouts and photo work on his latest History of U.S. Table Tennis book - this is Volume 15! He's been writing and publishing these books for about 15 years, moving in with me about once a year for 10-14 days. We expect to finish the current one by the end of next week. (We've done the covers and have finished seven of the 25 chapters.) You can learn more about these books (and buy them!) at Tim Boggan Table Tennis, which I created and maintain for him.

Tim Boggan, 84, is a member of the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame - here's his Hall of Fame Profile, and here's the feature interview I did with him in 1996 (which includes lots of pictures, including ones of him growing up). His two sons, Eric and Scott Boggan, both were USA Men's Singles Champions and are members of the USATT Hall of Fame. (So am I!) Eric was top 20 in the world.

The first thing to know about Tim is that he keeps strange hours. He goes to bed around 7:30 PM each night, and gets up around 3:00 AM. This means he's impatiently waiting for me to get started each morning. While he's here I do the bulk of the blog the night before, but in the mornings before we start I still have to get any new TT items, and put it up. Typically we start work by 6:30AM. (That's why the blog has been going up extra early this week - usually around 6:00 AM - instead of the normal 9:30 AM or so. Though not this morning since I was up late last night working, alas, so the blog is going up until around 7:45AM this morning, meaning we are starting work on the book "late." Tim is grouching!) Except for a 30-minute lunch break, we work until 2:30 PM. That's when I have to leave Mon-Fri to pick up kids for our afterschool program, which lasts until 4:30 PM. I usually then have group or private coaching for several more hours, so I don't get home until sometime between 7:30 and 9:00 PM - and Tim's already in bed. So I do my blog, catch up on other work, read a bit, and go to bed. (Tim sleeps on the sofa in my office.) Then I get up by 5:30 AM and we start over. (On weekends it'll be even busier.)

This is how we actually do the work. I work on my desktop computer with Tim sitting next to me, looking over my shoulder. He comes prepared, with printouts of each chapter, and notes on where each picture goes. We move through the chapters one photo at a time. Since the books typically are about 500 pages with 900 photos, it's a huge job.

We're greatly helped by still another U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Famer, Mal Anderson, photographer extraordinaire. Over half of the photos used are by him. He also helps by scanning the large majority of photos we'll use in advance. When it's time to put in a photo (~900 times per volume), as Tim watches over my shoulder I open the photo, clean it up in Photoshop, and then place it where Tim needs it. Then he gives me the caption and the "photo by" credit, and I put them in. Then we continue. As we move through each chapter I do the page layouts, make sure everything lines up, etc.

Since many of the scans are from newsprint or from old, beaten-up or vintage photos, I spend a lot of time cleaning up the photos in Photoshop. I'm sort of an expert at that, from my 12 years as editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine. But Tim is pretty picky about one thing - he's constantly scanning the backgrounds of pictures, and always wants them cleaned up. If there's someone standing in the background that detracts from the person featured in the photo . . . well, I try not to get too emotionally attached to that person. He often mysteriously disappears. I also spend a lot of time removing blemishes from backgrounds. If there's a pixel that shouldn't be there, Tim will find it and indignantly demand that the guilty pixel be removed.

When the volume is done, I do a lot of pre-press work, getting it into proper PDF format for the printer. I also create the files so we can put it up for sale on Amazon. Then I put together the ads for the newest volume. Then I sleep for a week.

Some of the side effects off all this work? Let's just say I usually do not have Mountain Dew at 7AM. (I normally restrict my soft drinks to one 7.5 oz can per day, but I'm a bit lax on that during Tim's stays.) But on the days that I get back early from coaching (only twice a week it looks like) he treats me to extravagant meals at nice restaurants.

It wouldn't be right to not mention Tim's ongoing wars with my gate, front door, and microwave. Let's just say he and they don't see eye to eye. But eventually he always wins, but only after a lot of, well, scrimmaging and loud cussing.

I kept track of some of our interesting "discussions" today. Here they are!

~

Larry: "I didn't know you were a devout Muslim."
Tim: "I'm not!"
Larry: "Then why are you writing about a 'South Koran'?"
(He had me change it to "South Korean.")

~

Tim: "Die Lily!"
(Okay, he wasn't threatening U.S. National Coach Lily Yip; he was referring to photos of Dai Lili, former Chinese champion.)

~

Larry: "Is that a 'yes' yes, or an 'I'm not paying attention' yes?"

~

Larry: "Is that an inkblot test?"
Tim: "But it's the only photo I have of him!"
(We use the photo.)

~

Larry: "I can barely make out the guy's face."
Tim: "Then clean up the background."
Tim (A minute later): "It came out better than I thought."

~

Larry: "Photo by?"
Tim: "Nobody."
Larry: "Three . . . two . . . one . . ."
Tim: "Sorry, photo by Mal Anderson."

~

Larry: "Does that picture add to the book?"
Tim: "No. Put it in anyway."

~

Larry: "That's the worst picture I've ever seen."
Tim: "Yes."
Larry: "Is the person important?"
Tim: "No. Put it in anyway."

~

Larry: "While I'm changing these historically accurate pictures by changing them for you, should I fix up their technique as well?"

~

Larry: "Given the choice between doing it right or doing it your way, what do you want to do?"
Tim: "My way."

~

Larry: "Where should I put this blur?"
Tim: "Right hand top of the page."

~

Tim: [Long description of where the next photo goes, how he wants it, etc.]
Larry: "I'm still cleaning up the photo."
Tim: [Continues description of where the next photo goes.]
Larry: "I still haven't got it on the page."
Tim: [Description of where the next photo goes continues.]
Larry: "Okay, photo is ready. Where does it go?"

~

Tim: "Bring up photo [photo's name]"
Larry: "There isn't any photo by that name."
Tim: "#@$#@^*&^%$#@*^%$%!!!"

~

Larry: "Are you still here?" (At 5:30 AM after getting up.)

~

Tim: "Something wrong here." (Said approximately every five minutes.)

~

Larry: "Are we done yet?" (Said approximately every five minutes.)

~

Tim: "We're doing fine. We're doing fine. (Said approximately every five minutes.)

~

Larry: "Can I go home now?" (Said approximately every five minutes. I'm already home.)

~

Ask the Coach Show - Episode 2

Here's the video (14:14) from PingSkills. Here are the questions asked and answered this episode (yeah, there are typos in the questions, but this is the Internet):

  1. How do you play deceptive shots? Do you have any tricks?
  2. I've asked and also found a lot of information about getting a lot of spin on my serve but my serve only has a little spin on it. I've also tried to brush the ball finely and fast and also the contact point is on the end of the bat. Frendy
  3. What are the best but well priced table tennis tables to get? Adam
  4. I have played Table tennis for about 4 years and 6 months ago my coach said that i should try short pimples on my backhand, i have become a much better player thanks to it but for some reason i cant block with it very good when doing drills. Fredrik
  5. Hi, I want to know that how can I play like Timo Boll. I consider him as the greatest table tennis player. Can you make a video on this topic. And I also want to know how to play with both hands like Timo Boll.

2015 Special Olympic World Games Technical Officials Application

Here's the USATT news item.

ITTF Establishes Testing Lab in Singapore

Here's the article. "The International Table Tennis Federation sets up a joint lab with Nanyang Technological University, which will focus on testing of table tennis balls and racket coverings, among other projects."

Kanak Jha Training

Here's video (61 sec, much of it in slow motion) showing Kanak training for the upcoming World Cup. Looks like a random drill.

International News

As usual, you can follow international news at Tabletennista (great coverage of top players) and the ITTF News Page (great regional coverage). Both are covering table tennis at the ongoing Asian Games.

Great Trick Shot

Here's the video (44 sec) - bouncing ball on racket's handle while rolling a tube target, then serving through the moving target.

Amazing Michael Maze Maze

Here's the cartoon!

***
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November 27, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Teams

This will be my last blog until Monday. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, so I’m taking the day off, and Fri-Sun I’ll be coaching at the North American Teams in Washington DC. I’ll have lots to write about when I return! Here’s a picture of the facility as they are about to set up the tables.

Preparing for the Teams

This week I’m preparing players for the Teams. Compared to normal, that means fewer rote drills, and more random drills. I do a lot of multiball training, but the focus now is on random shots and simulating match play.  We’re also doing a lot of game-type drills, such as where the student serves backspin, I push back anywhere, he loops, and we play out the point. I’m also making sure they are ready to do the “little” things, such as pushing, blocking, and serving. And we play more games at the end of each session. There’s also the psychological aspect. I keep reminding the players that they need to go into the tournament with their minds clear and ready to play. I also want to keep the sessions fun – I don’t want the players too stressed out over getting ready for three days of almost non-stop competition. I want to see determination, but not grim determination.

USATT Magazine and Membership Rates

I blogged yesterday about the problem with USATT likely moving USATT Magazine in-house. A separate question that comes up periodically is whether it should continue as a print magazine or just go online. There’s an easy solution: go online, with a print option. The editor simply does the magazine as if it’s going to print, which means a PDF version. Then he puts the PDF version online, perhaps with a password required so only members can access it. Those who want a print version, such as myself, would pay extra – and with “print on demand” publishing, it’s easy to send the PDF to the printer and print out only as many copies as needed. This is an obvious solution I’ve pointed out over the years.

The real question is whether current members who are already paying $49/year (too much) should pay still more for the print version, or whether those choosing not to receive the print version should get a discount. I’m for the latter. We keep raising our membership rates and keep wondering why membership stays stagnant; gee, I wonder why? I remember a while back when USATT raised the annual rate in one year from $25 to $40 – and they budgeted as if membership would stay constant! At the time membership had reached 8800. I got into a heated debate with the entire room – all 13 board members – both on the silliness of constantly raising the rates while simultaneously trying to find ways to increase membership, and on the even further silliness of expecting membership to stay constant. All 13 believed raising the rate would have little effect on membership numbers, with one of them explaining to me, “If they’re willing to pay $25, they’re willing to pay $40.” I pointed out that based on that logic, every item in a store that costs $25 should cost $40 (and the logic really applies to all items), but I was told I was wrong. I’m just a coach and a writer, so what do I know about business?

One year later membership had dropped to 7000, and the USATT board spent a marathon session cutting everything since they had budgeted for 8800 members. I was in the room snickering as they did this. And you wonder why I can never convince USATT to do the obvious stuff, not to mention the more difficult things? Maybe if I’d worn a tie at that meeting instead of a warm-up suit I could have been more convincing. (I’m told that, after a decade of slowly recovering, membership is again now close to 9000 or so, though I haven’t seen any membership reports anywhere. I’m guessing at any time the rates will go up again, and we’ll see another big drop. Alas.)

USATT Tips of the Day

Below are the USATT Tips of the Day since last Friday. These are from the 171 Tips of the Week I did for them from 1999-2003 as “Dr. Ping-Pong.” (Click on link for complete tip.)

Nov 26, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Floppy Wrist Flip
When an opponent serves short to the forehand, many players reach in and return it with a nearly stiff wrist, and invariably go crosscourt with a forehand flip.

Nov 25, 2013 Tip of the Day - Back Up Slightly When Opponent Backs Up
Suppose you’ve hit a quick, hard shot, and your opponent has moved five feet back to return the ball with a counterdrive or soft topspin. 

Nov 24, 2013 Tip of the Day - Aim One Way, Go the Other
Many players develop strong rally shots. However, they are often very, very predictable. An opponent can anticipate where each ball is going early in your stroke, and so always has lots of time to get to the ball.

Nov 23, 2013 Tip of the Day - Go Down the Line From Wide Forehand
When an opponent goes to your wide forehand, they give you an extreme angle into their wide forehand.

ITTF Coaching Course in Singapore

Here’s the ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 Course that was just taught in Singapore by USA’s Richard McAfee. (I linked to the photos yesterday.)

Best of the Chinese Super League

Here's the video (7:31).

Xu Xin on the Mini-Table (and an Interview)

Here’s the video (4:18) of world #1 Xu Xin of China versus TableTennisDaily’s Dan, on a mini-table with over-sized rackets! (And yes, Xu the penholder is playing shakehands here.) And for the more serious-minded, here’s Dan’s interview with Xu.

Little Girl Phenom

Here’s video (21 sec) of a girl, maybe five years old, drilling at a rather high level – watch out China! I believe she’s from the Mideast; can anyone translate what the comments say?

Ma Long’s Amazing Shots

Here’s the video (42 sec), with four Chinese players all counterlooping crosscourt, including Ma Long (near right) with Wang Liqin. Watch what happens right after 30 sec. First, Ma Long does a rather interesting forehand sidespin chop-block. Then he switches hands and counterloops the other two player’s ball.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here’s the video (1:57) of someone with a series of great trick shots! I especially like the very last one, where he’s rallying with a girl with two balls, but catching each of her returns and quickly feeding it to continue. I may try that out in my coaching sessions today.

Happy First Birthday to Uberpong

Here’s their birthday cake!

How to Make a Ping-Pong Ball Turkey

Here’s the article!

***
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November 26, 2013

The Downs and Ups of Knee Problems

Knee problems are somewhat common in table tennis, especially as we get older. Normally it takes time for them to heal. Okay, it always takes time for them to heal, but sometimes it's a mixture of physical and mental, and sometimes it takes time for the mental to catch up with the physical.

As I've blogged a number of times recently, I've been having knee problems for some time - both knees. When I'm out there I feel like I'm tottering about on stilts. My level of play dropped dramatically as even simple blocking became difficult as I'm used to stepping to the ball (good technique!), and now I found myself reaching (bad technique!). Since I had no confidence in the knees, deep down I was scared to even try bending them, so I mostly stood up straight and, as I said, tottered about on stilts.

I probably hit rock bottom this past weekend. On Saturday I was could barely move in my coaching sessions - fortunately it's my students who have to do most of the moving as I mostly block. When I did play points or games I struggled. On Saturday afternoon, after coaching all day, I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I normally end Saturdays as a playing partner in our 4:30-6:30 match session, where kids who train nearly full-time try to knock me off. I started out by barely beating a 2000-level kid, 11-8 in the fifth, where I mostly blocked and fished ball after ball back. Then I played an 1800 kid. I won the first, then I felt a slight tinge in the right knee early in the second - and from there on I played like a scared tree. I should have defaulted there just in case, but decided to try and finish. I lost that game 11-3, and it didn't get much better. I ended up losing 11-8 in the fifth, the only time I'd lost to someone of that level in roughly forever. I dropped out of the session after that. (What was really irritating is the kid was screaming every point, even though it was obvious I was tottering about instead of my normal forehand-oriented attack game.)

On Sunday, at the end of a 90-minute session with Sameer, about 1300 level, we played games were I'd spot five points, and after each game the spot goes up or down one point. Normally I can get it up to 6 or 7, but this time I was so frozen I could barely play, and he got it down to 2, and kept it at 2 or 3 for a while. (At least he wasn't choing every point!) Time to retire as a player, right?

Then on Monday I had a two-hour session with Sameer again. (He's taking extra sessions to prepare for the North American Teams this weekend.) I did a lot of stretching before the session, and some easy shadow-stroking, and strangely, the knees felt okay. I spent much of the session harping on staying low, since Sameer tends to stand up too straight. I kept demonstrating the lower, wider stance, and the knees kept feeling better and better, as if they were loosening up. I started to have confidence in them again, and was able to let myself go when we played points. At the end of the session we again played games, and this time I was back to normal, and got the spot up to 6 or 7 each game. He was playing well, but so was I, for the first time in I think months.

Afterwards I had a 30-minute session with Derek Nie, where we worked only on receive (25 minutes) and serve (five minutes at the end). (He'd already had a longer session with one of our 2500 training partners.) Mostly I just served and grabbed the next ball so he could get as much receive practice as possible, but toward the end we played out some points - and again, I was able to move around and play at my "normal" 2200 level or so.

So the knees seem mostly healed. The strange thing is they might have been okay the last week or so, but I was so used to having problems with them that I was afraid to really put weight on them or stay low or bend them much, and so couldn't play well until I inadvertently discovered they were mostly healed. We'll see how they are in my sessions today - I have three hours scheduled, but due to the heavy sleet predicted, they might all get canceled. (Today and tomorrow's weather here in Maryland are supposed to be pretty nasty.)

USATT Editors

As noted in yesterday's blog, the minutes of the USATT Board Meeting in October say that USATT is strongly considering moving the magazine to USATT headquarters. Here are motions #5 and #6:

MOTION 5:
MOVED that the USATT explore the possibility of producing its magazine in house as part of its budget cycle this year.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract provide for an editor’s salary that is a significant part of USATT’s marketing budget. Rather than having an independent magazine editor, USATT’s marketing staff can produce the magazine in house, integrating it with the USATT website, Internet and digital outlets.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

MOTION 6:
MOVED that the current USATT magazine editor’s contract not be renewed without the Board’s approval.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract either can be renewed this year or allowed to expire. The last 2013 issue of the magazine is almost completed. The first issue of 2014 may be completed soon. While there will be overlap between transferring of magazine publication to the marketing staff from the current editor, the editor’s contract should not be renewed without the Board’s express approval.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

A little history lesson: USATT tried this once before, and it was an utter disaster. They seem to think editing a magazine is just something anyone can do, so yeah, let's have some marketing person do the magazine. And while he's at it he can do the accounting, coach our national team, and do the occasional brain surgery, perhaps on those who truly don't see the problem here.

Here's a listing of USATT Magazine editors since 1970. Since 1989 we've had 17 editors (some had more than one tenure). I did 71 issues (in two tenures), and Steve & Marie Hopkins have done 39 since May/June 2007. The other 15 editors (all working out of USATT headquarters) did 41 issues, an average of 2.7 issues per editor before getting fired or resigning. Why were there so many editors? Those of us who remember those years remember the poor quality of the magazines because they were not being done by professionals; they were put together at USATT headquarters by marketing type people with little editorial and zero table tennis experience, who USATT hired to save money. The great in-house experiment was a failure over and over, and only continued through so many editors because the people in charge had spent so much time talking about the "huge" money savings by moving it to headquarters and having these inexperienced interns (translation: low salary) do it that they couldn't admit their mistake, and so we all paid for it.

And the huge irony of it was that not only did USATT end up with poorly-done magazine (which led to a lot of board members getting voted out of office), but they ended up losing a lot of money because the advertisers fled, not wanting to be associated with such a weak magazine, and knowing that people wouldn't read their ads if they don't read the magazine. When I was editor I broke every advertising record, and when these "marketing" people did the magazine, they lost a fortune for USATT. (When I was hired the first time as editor, the record for annual advertising was $14,000; I got it up to $33,000. When I was hired the second time, revenue had dropped back again below the $30,000 mark; this time I got it up to something like $80,000/year. I didn't do this by being a salesman, but by putting together a timely and classy product that advertisers liked and that people would read, so they'd see the ads.)

What are the chances that USATT will find someone with the editorial and table tennis experience necessary to do a competent magazine, who lives locally to Colorado Springs or is willing to relocate for such a low-paying job? We learned all about the odds the last 15 times we tried this.

The simple reality is that in this day and age, we have this thing called the "Internet," and it allows people from anywhere in the world to work on such things as a magazine as if they were in the next room. You don't need to restrict your candidates for the job to those who happen to live nearby. And you can't expect to find someone who's competent in one field by hiring someone from another field. How many times do we need to relearn this lesson?

Here we go again (maybe). Cliche alert: "People who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fan Zhendong?

Here's the article about the Chinese 16-year-old phenom.

"...The World's Best, Zhang Jike"

This is according to Fan Zhendong. Here's the article. (There are links to several videos.)

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Singapore

Here are photos of the recent ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course in Singapore, taught by USA's Richard McAfee. (Click on pictures to see next one.)

Breathtaking Table Tennis

Here's a highlights video (7:45) I don't think I've posted before. It's set to music, with much of it in slow motion.

Curvy Pong?

Here's the picture!

***
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