The Hobbit

December 13, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Nationals (Monday, Dec. 23) 

I leave for the USA Nationals this Sunday, Dec. 15, and don't return until the following Sunday, Dec. 22. So the next blog will be on Monday, Dec. 23. One thing that might help to keep track of when I don't have a blog is to friend me on Facebook, assuming you have a Facebook account. Every morning as soon as the blog goes up I put a note out on Facebook, which always starts off, "This morning in my table tennis blog I wrote about…" I'm easy to find on Facebook; I'm right here.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Jason Voorhees, table tennis player, says hi!

The Hobbit and Early-Morning Writing

I saw the midnight showing of The Hobbit Part 2, and didn't get to bed until after 4AM. (I still can't believe that Gollum is Gandalf's father!!!) And I still got up at 8AM to write this blog and do other table tennisy stuff. So if my mind wanders off I have a doggy and I start repeating myself or saying weird things or repeating myself Gollum Gollum loopsy please bear with me I said bear okay?

USA Nationals

I'm off to the USA Nationals in Las Vegas this Sunday for a week. I'm not playing, only coaching, but I'll be incredibly busy. How busy can a coach be since he's only working when one of his players is playing? Extremely! Because there's a lot more to it than just showing up for each match. (Plus I'm coaching two top juniors who are entered in numerous events.)

Before the tournament I have to make sure they are mentally and physically ready. The mental part could take up a book (and of course there are many good books on sports psychology). Suffice to say it's a coach's job to make sure the players go into the tournament with the right frame of mind, as well as well rested and fed. I also have to make sure their equipment is ready. Is the sponge on their rackets new? Do they have backup rackets? Did they remember their shoes? (You wouldn't believe how often junior players forget their playing shoes.) Do they have backup shirts for each day? Are the shirts all different colors than the ball?

Of course I have to prepare for the tournament as well, such as reviewing likely opponents so my players are ready to face them. Plus I did the all-important trip to the grocery store for trail mix, which is what I live on when I'm coaching at tournaments.

Once in Las Vegas I have to arrange practice sessions for the players. At tournaments players and coaches are constantly calling each other to make arrangements, or just to let the other know where they are. How did players survive before there were cell phones?

The tournament starts on Tuesday, but we're flying in on Sunday. That gives us Monday to practice, get used to the conditions, and to the three-hour time difference. When the kids aren't practicing, I want them to relax and have fun. Swimming pool and video games are musts.

When we check in I generally have to pay a few extra dollars for copies of my players' schedules. Once I have them, I sit down somewhere and plan out my schedule for the tournament. It can get complicated, since sometimes there are time conflicts. That's why I consider it important to arrange in advance the guidelines for who I'll coach when. I already know which of my players I'll favor in any given event, though there are judgment calls at any given time, based on the opponent. For example, I may decide that one match isn't as meaningful or competitive as another, and choose what match to coach based on that. However, each player has their priority events, and I'll coach them in every competitive match in that event.

Besides coaching, I'm hoping to attend the USATT Assembly on Wednesday night, and the Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. It all depends on my players' schedules. I'll also spend some time hanging around the Paddle Palace booth, since they sponsor me, where I'll perhaps sign copies of my various table tennis books on sale there.

Coaching is a nerve-racking profession at tournaments. Players may be nervous before a match, but once the match begins most relax and just play. (If they don't, then there's some sports psychology sessions needed.) But coaches don't get to play, and watching is definitely more nerve-racking then playing. Who do you think is more nervous on Sunday night football when the game is on the line, the players or the fans watching? Or the coaches?

I've done this so many times it's all sort of second nature now. Even packing is easy as I have a standard "To Pack" list, which I update for individual tournaments.

This year I've given incentives to some of the Maryland players. Read about them on my Nov. 5 blog. My stomach is already growling in agony just thinking about it.  

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.) Note that the Dec. 8 tip is by Carl Danner. The rest are by me.

Dec 13, 2013 Tip of the Day - Playing Dead Blockers
Dead blockers slow the ball down (throwing off your timing), and keep it shorter than you are used to.

Dec 12, 2013 Tip of the Day - Practice Service Spin on a Rug!
It’s often difficult to judge how much spin you are putting on the ball when you practice serves. Without this feedback, it’s not easy to improve your serves. So try this find a large, carpeted room, and practice serving there! 

Dec 11, 2013 Tip of the Day - Think Strategy, Then Let the Shots Happen
Between points, think about what you want to do, especially at the start of the rally what serve to use, what type of receives.

Dec 10, 2013 Tip of the Day - Shoe Grippiness "El Dente"
If your shoes aren’t grippy enough, you slide when you play, and so can’t move properly.

Dec 09, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Serve
Many players use the forehand "pendulum" serve. It’s the most popular serve in table tennis. 

Dec 08, 2013 Tip of the Day - Getting Run Off the Table by Carl Danner
Whoops, you're down a game and this one's going badly, too. How do you stop the bleeding in time -- assuming this is an opponent you might expect to beat?

Dec 07, 2013 Tip of the Day - Backhand Serve Deception
The key to deception on the backhand serve is the elbow. 

Dec 06, 2013 Tip of the Day - Get the Back Foot Around when Stepping Around
When stepping around the backhand corner to play a forehand (usually a loop or smash), many players don’t get their back foot around enough.

Table Tennis Club Survey

Georgia State University PHD student Yi Zhang is doing a research project to study the reasons that players join and attend a table tennis club. The survey is a bit lengthy but goes pretty fast - it didn't take me very long. I'm sure she'd appreciate your help. Here's the survey.

ITTF Was Founded in 1926

And so I can write . . . Four score and seven years ago table tennis players brought forth on this world a new federation, conceived in ping-pong, and dedicated to the proposition that table tennis should dominate the world.

I could go on, but I'll let someone else pull up the Gettysburg Address and rewrite the rest of it in table tennis lingo. I just wish I'd thought of this on Nov. 19, the 150th Anniversary of the speech.

China Prepares for 2014 World Team Squad Trials

Here's the article.

Win a Signed Blade from Fan Zhendong

Here's the contest page at Table Tennis Daily.

Reggie Miller vs. Nate Robinson

Here's video (37 sec) as the two NBA players prepare to have it out at ping-pong on the TV show NBA Inside Stuff.

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December 12, 2013

Developing Training Centers

The best thing that's happened to table tennis in recent years is the rise of full-time training centers. I predicted this for years, but most thought there simply weren't enough table tennis players to support more than a few of these. In December 2006, when there were no more than eight to ten full-time TT centers in the U.S. (including my club, the Maryland Table Tennis Center), I even gave a presentation to the USATT Board, urging them to get involved by using their resources to recruit and training coaches to set up these full-time centers and junior programs. I wanted them to set a goal of 100 full-time training centers in five years. The response was a room full of eyes staring back at me as if I were crazy, with two board members bluntly telling me that there simply aren't enough players in this country to support more than a few full-time centers. Others nodded in agreement. They also didn't like the idea of setting a specific number as a goal, since they thought they'd be considered failures if they didn't reach the goal. (This last was crazy, as if you have ten centers and make a goal of having 100, and get, say, 80, you are an incredible success, going from ten to 80 - and then you continue to strive for the 100.) I made a similar challenge at the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting; same result. 

In the seven years since the 2006 meeting, we've gone from ten to 64 full-time professional table tennis clubs in the U.S., with more popping up every month. (There's a new one opening up in Houston that'll soon join the list, and another here in Maryland that's opening soon, and others I probably don't know about.) The ones who thought there weren't enough players to support full-time centers simply did not have the vision, experience, or knowledge to understand why this is happening - that when you open these centers, you develop the players needed to support them. They were stuck in the old-fashioned thinking that you opened a club if there are already enough players to support it, which is backwards. Professional clubs develop their own player base.

The result has been mind-boggling to those who have been paying attention. The number and depth of junior players who are now training regularly is so far beyond where it was just seven years ago as to be incomparable. The players who lose in the semifinals of major junior events would have dominated the events back then, especially up to the cadet level (under 15). There used to be one or two kids who'd dominate their age group for a decade; now there are a dozen of them in each age group, all battling for supremacy and at levels that approach or match the best in the world outside China. It bodes well for the future of U.S. table tennis.

The huge weakness in the growth of these centers is there is no manual on putting together a full-time table tennis center. Every time someone wants to do it they have to reinvent the wheel, or go to current centers to learn how to do it. What's needed is such a manual to grease the wheels, not just to make it easier, but to encourage those considering setting up one to do so.

I already did half the job, with my Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers the professional side of coaching - recruiting and retaining students, setting up and running a junior program, etc. But more is needed on the specifics of opening an actual center, from the finances to the specifics of what's needed to open one. It's a rather long todo list.

So here's my offer to USATT: If they bring in someone or put together a committee to create such a manual (and I'm not volunteering, don't have time, though I might help out), they can incorporate my Handbook, and create a manual, which can tentatively be called "Professional Table Tennis Center Handbook." (Can you think of a better title?) We can then put it on sale at Amazon.com (created via createspace.com, which is how I now create my books), where it can be published "print on demand" at a cheap rate. And that will greatly encourage coaches and promoters to create even more of full-time table tennis centers.

The nice thing about this is that USATT doesn't really have to do much work. They just recruit the person or persons to create the manual, either from volunteers, with a small payment, or (my recommendation), whoever creates it gets the profits from sales, as well as the fame and prestige of being a published author.

Arm Problems

My first physical therapy session for my arm was scheduled on Tuesday. Someone also scheduled a snowstorm on that day. So the session was cancelled. Since I'm leaving for the Nationals this Sunday, I won't be able to get another session scheduled until afterwards. So I'll probably just rest it, and if all goes well, I'll be fine by January.

The Hobbit and Friday's Blog

I may see the midnight showing of "The Hobbit" tonight. If so, I won't get home until around 3AM, and probably not to bed until 4AM - which means tomorrow's blog will probably go up late, probably noonish or so. Brace yourselves!

Table Tennis Funding and the Lottery

For so many years people have wondered how to fund table tennis, when it was so obvious. The Meg-Millions lottery is now up to $400 million, with the drawing tomorrow, which is Friday the 13th. So I'm going to buy a few tickets, and use the winnings to fund table tennis. It's so obvious, why hasn't anyone thought of this before? What can possibly go wrong?

Nervousness and "Winning Ugly"

There's a great piece of advice for dealing with nervousness in the book "Winning Ugly" by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison. (I'm referring to the 1994 edition, which I have; there are newer editions.) Chapter 5 is titled, "Four "Nervebusters": Overcoming Pre-Match Nervousness." While he is talking about tennis specifically, all four relate to table tennis as well. The four items are:

  1. Breathe like you've got asthma (take smooth, rhythmic, deep breaths)
  2. Get happy feet (stay on your toes and bounce up and down between points)
  3. Read the label (watch the label on the ball to help you focus)
  4. Sing a song (hum a relaxing song under your breath).

USATT Assembly

In my blog yesterday I wrote, "Unlike past years, there doesn't seem to be time set aside for those who wish to address the assembly." Some seemed to think I was accusing USATT of breaking Article 15.1 of the Bylaws, which includes the statement, "Individual and organization members and other constituencies may be permitted to pose questions to the Board and Chief Executive Officer for response." Technically speaking, this is fulfilled by the 30 minutes set aside in the Assembly this year from 8:15-8:45PM for "Interaction with the Board and Staff." There's just one problem - I never accused USATT of breaking their bylaws. I said exactly what I meant, so I'll repeat it again: "Unlike past years, there doesn't seem to be time set aside for those who wish to address the assembly." I didn't say they didn't get to pose questions to the Board and CEO for response; I said they no longer seem to have time set aside to address the assembly, as had been done in past years.

Aerobic Table Tennis Official Launch

Here's the ITTF article. "After two years of detailed preparation, Aerobic Table Tennis will be launched in January 2014. Aerobic TT is an alternative way to keep fit. Music is played throughout the session to create a high energy zone. The session includes, warm up and stretching, table tennis movement to music, speed agility and quickness exercises plus of course table tennis."

Fan Zhendong Tribute

Here's video (6:16) of a tribute to the 16-year-old Chinese player, who's already winning ITTF Pro Tour events.

2036 U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team

Here's video (1:23) of Fiona (3) and Kenzie (1) demonstrating the beginnings of the forehands that will totally dominate the world in 23 years, care of Coach Samson Dubina.

Non-Table Tennis - "Satan's Soul"

On Tuesday I sold my humorous fantasy story "Satan's Soul" to Stupefying Stories. A depressed Satan knows he's going to lose at Armageddon - until a superbeing appears and offers to have him win, in return for his soul! Satan negotiates seemingly favorable terms regarding his soul, and even gets to keep possession of it though he loses ownership. Jesus and the anti-Christ will soon go at it in a UN parking lot, with the Anti-Christ throwing modern military hardware at Jesus in a somewhat over-the-top scene, while Jesus fights back while listening on an iPod to Beatles music. Oh, and a penguin is central to the story! Sorry, no table tennis in this one.

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