2014 U.S. Open Blog

July 24, 2014

Last Blog Until Tuesday, August 5

This will be my last blog until Tuesday, August 5. Most people take vacations at beaches, or camping, or Disneyworld, or Las Vegas, etc. Me? I go to an annual science fiction & fantasy writing workshop for nine days of continuous writing, critiquing, classes, etc. I leave early tomorrow morning for "The Never-Ending Odyssey" (TNEO) in Manchester, New Hampshire for nine days, returning late on Saturday, Aug. 2. This will be the fifth time I've attended this, which is for graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, a six-week workshop for writers of science fiction & fantasy, which I attended in 2006. At the workshop I'm having the first seven chapters of my SF novel critiqued.

Getting TT on TV
(This is from a response I gave to a question on the forum.)

One of the major reasons table tennis isn't on TV much in the U.S. is there's nobody actively pushing for this to happen, or trying to create an attractive package for the TV people. USATT is an amateur organization, and doesn't have anyone devoted to this. So it's unlikely table tennis will get much TV exposure in the U.S. until the same thing that happened in other TV sports happens to table tennis - the top players get together and form a professional organization. Their top priority would be to bring money to the sport via sponsors, and to do that they need to get on TV - and so getting on TV becomes their top priority. They'd hire an executive director who would work to get the sport on TV so that he can bring in sponsors. But until this happens, table tennis is unlikely to be on TV much in this country. 

Wednesday's Coaching

I did 4.5 hours of private coaching yesterday. Here's a rundown.

  • Sameer, 13, about 1600 player (two-hour session): We pretty much covered everything, as you can do in a two-hour session. The highlight of the session, however, was when I introduced him to the banana flip. It only took a few minutes before he was able to do this in drills, and then we practiced it for about ten minutes. Since he just came off playing three tournaments in a row - see my blog about his progress in my blog on Monday - we're focusing on fundamentals as we prepare him long-term for his next "big" tournament - the North American Teams in November. We did a lot of counterlooping. As a special bonus that he begged and pleaded for, I let him lob for five minutes.
  • Tiffany, 9, about 1750 (70-min session as part of the MDTTC camp): Tiffany is the top-rated under 10 girl in the U.S., and the stuff she did in the session shows why. During those 70 minutes she did 55 minutes of footwork drills. The only interruption to her footwork drills was ten minutes when I looped to her block, and five minutes where we pushed. The rest of the time it was non-stop footwork drills for her. When she seemed to slow down between rallies at one point, one of the Chinese coaches playfully called her "lazy," and she immediately picked up the pace again. Today she'll be right back at it, while I'm still sore from the ten minutes of looping. Tiffany's in an interesting point in her game as she's gradually making the transition to all-out looping.  
  • Matt, 13, about 1600 (one-hour session, plus 30 minutes of games): He has an excellent forehand and good footwork, but is in the process of transitioning to a more topspinny backhand. We spent most of the session doing backhand-oriented drills. These included side-to-side backhand footwork; alternate forehand-backhand footwork (forehand from forehand corner, backhand from backhand corner); and the 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand corner, forehand from backhand corner, and forehand from forehand corner). I was planning to work on his receive after all this, but Matt wasn't happy with his 2-1 drill play, and wanted to do more of that. How many players volunteer to do extra footwork? (Perhaps he was inspired when I told him how much footwork Tiffany had done.) So we did another ten minutes or so of the 2-1 drill, about twenty minutes total. Then we did a bunch of multiball, focusing on backhand loop. It won't be long before he hits 1800 level.

    At the end of the session with Matt we played games - I stayed an extra 30 minutes for this, so it was really a 90-minute session. (I often do this when I'm through coaching for the day.) An astonishing thing happened here. After I won the first game, he came back in the second game on fire, and went up - I kid you not - 10-2!!! So on to the third game, right? Wrong. On his serve I switched to chopping (mixing in heavy chop and no-spin), and on my serve I pulled out an old Seemiller windshield-wiper serve (racket going right to left), which he'd never seen before. He got tentative both against the chops and serve, and suddenly it was 10-all. We had a rally there, where I chopped four in a row, and then I threw a no-spin chop at him, and he looped it softly. I tried smashing, but missed, and he had another game point. But he missed the serve again, and I finally won 14-12. He was very disgusted with blowing the game, and was now playing tentative where he'd been on fire just a few minutes before, and the result was he fell apart the next two games, even though I went back to playing regular. I finally had him do a few forehand drills to get his game back, and he ended it with a relatively close game. I'm feeling kind of bad about this because I completely messed up his game when I switched to weird play, when my job as a coach is to help him play well. But he's going to have to face "weird" players in tournaments, so he might as well get used to playing them now.

    The thing Matt needs to take away from this is that if he can play so well that he's up 10-2 on the coach (and I still play pretty well!), then it won't be long before he can do that all the time. The thing I need to take away from this is I better start practicing or Matt, Tiffany, and Sameer are all going to start beating me. (Age, injuries, and lack of real practice have dropped my level down to about 2100 or so, but that should be enough to beat these three, right? Maybe not…)

Liu Shiwen: Hard Work Always Produces Good Results

Here's the article. Liu is the world #1 ranked woman.

Twelve Curious Facts about Table Tennis

Here's the article.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's the final blog on the U.S. Open by Dell & Connie Sweeris.

ITTF Coaching Course in Thailand

Here's the ITTF article on the latest overseas coaching course taught by USATT coach Richard McAfee.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-two down, 38 to go!

  • Day 39: Ian Marshall Feels Privileged to Do What He Loves

Lily Zhang at the ITTF YOG Camp

Here's the video (34 sec).

Another Great Trick Shot

Here's the video (36 sec) of Shi Wei.

Craigslist Ping Pong Table Negotiation

Here's the text of this rather crazy discussion. (Side note - I once met Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.com. At the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention I was in the Science Fiction Writers of American suite - I'm a member - and after grabbing some snacks at the buffet table I joined two others sitting around a table discussing the future of the Internet. One of them began asking lots of questions about my science fiction writing. At some point the discussion turned to how we used online tools, and I mentioned I was in the process of renting out the first two floors of my townhouse, and that I was advertising it on Craigslist.com. The third person said, "Larry, do you know who you are talking to?" I said no, and that's when he pointed out that the guy I'd been talking with for half an hour was THAT Craig. He was at the convention as a member of several panels that involved the Internet.)

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May 16, 2014

What to Do at Age 18?

I've blogged in the past about how the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the cadet level (under 15) is the highest we've ever had, due to the rise of full-time training centers all over the country over the past eight years. It's gotten ridiculously good. It's a group that any country outside China could be proud of. And in three years this group of players will be competing as juniors (under 18), and the level and depth of play in the U.S. at the junior level will be the highest we've ever had. And a few years after that they'll hit their peak as players, and the level and depth of play in the U.S. will be the highest we've ever had, right? 

But there's one problem. What's going to happen when they all turn 18?

Case in point. Over the last few years we've watched Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang develop as probably the two best junior girls in our modern history. Ariel is currently #81 in the world and has been as high as #73. She was the youngest USA Nationals Women's Singles Champion when she won in 2010, and she repeated in 2011 and 2013. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #4 in the world in both Under 15 and Under 18 Girls. Lily recently shot up to #66 in the world. She won women's singles at the 2012 USA Nationals at age 16. She was on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. She was #2 in the world in Under 15 Girls and #5 in Under 18 Girls. 

But Ariel is now 18, and is attending Princeton. She didn't even try out for our last National Team because she was busy with school. Lily will be 18 next month, and is going to University of California at Berkeley. She didn't even attend our last USA Nationals because she was busy with school. They are still training, but let's face it; they are no longer training full-time as before. In contrast, all over Asia and Europe players like Ariel and Lily are training full-time. Part-time can't compete with full-time. 

The same has happened on the men's side. Michael Landers won men's singles at the 2009 USA Nationals at age 15, and improved dramatically in the three years after that. Peter Li won men's singles at the 2011 USA Nationals at age 17. Both of them hit age 18 and went to college, and their levels both dropped dramatically. The same is true of a long list of other elite juniors. I remember just a few years ago when three players from my club (MDTTC) were #1, #2, and #5 in the country in Under 18 Boys - Peter Li, Marcus Jackson, and Amaresh Sahu. All three went to college when they turned 18, and so none reached the level they might have reached if they'd continued a few more years.

Who knows how good these players might have been if they had continued training full-time into their 20s?

Unless something happens in the next few years, in about five years we will be looking back and asking ourselves, "What happened?" We had all these up-and-coming kids, and the future was bright. Instead, we'll have the strongest group of college table tennis players in our history. While that's a very good thing from one point of view (and it would be great if table tennis were to become a big college sport with scholarships in the best colleges all over the country, but that's a separate topic), it's not a good thing if we're trying to develop athletes who can compete at the highest levels. Excluding China, this generation really has the potential to someday compete with anyone. (Perhaps we'll be world college champions circa 2020?)

There is little money in our sport. So what's the long-term benefit for these kids to continue to train full-time? Sure, there's the usual incentives, such as being National Champion and making the U.S. Olympic Team, and . . . um . . . well, that's about it. (How much do these pay?) So yes, unless something changes, it'll be another "lost" generation. Sure, some will continue, and we'll almost for certain have stronger teams than we do now, but nothing like what it could be. Perhaps our men will improve from #53 in the world to top 20, but they could be top five or better. Perhaps our women will improve from #21 to top ten, but they could be top five or better. (With Ariel together with Lily and Prachi Jha, they already are close to top ten level - #16, according to the ITTF team rankings based on individual ranking.) And you know something? If you can reach top five, you can make the final of the World Championships. (We're not ready for China yet, but we'll worry about that when we actually have a top five team.) 

Ironically, in the past when we had fewer truly elite juniors, the ones that were elite were often more likely to focus on table tennis because, by U.S. standards, they were truly "elite." They would train full-time well into their twenties before moving on to college or other work. Now these same elite cadets and juniors are just another in a pack of them, and so they don't feel they are truly "elite," and so are less likely to continue training full-time. And so they go to college rather than train full-time for a few more years. (Just to be clear, I'd urge them all to go to college, but there's nothing wrong with putting it off a few years, even into their mid-20s for a truly elite player. Some might decide to stay with the sport and become professional coaches, which actually pays pretty well.) We have standouts like Kanak Jha and Crystal Wang and a few others, but will they continue when they hit college age? (The financial outlook for women players is even bleaker, since many tournaments have an open singles instead of men's and women's singles.)

What can we do? There has been regular discussions over the years on the idea of setting up professional leagues or circuits, and develop a core group of pro USA players who would travel about competing in these professional leagues or circuits. It's been a serious topic of discussion since I first got active in table tennis in 1976. And there have been attempts by a few to make something like this happen, from the American All-Star Circuit that we used to have in the U.S. to the current North American Tour. The latter has potential, but without major sponsors there isn't nearly enough money, and the money that is there mostly goes to players from China. There's nothing wrong with these Chinese players winning money, but it means there's little chance a U.S. player can make enough money to afford to play in such a circuit - especially since it's often part-time U.S. players pitted against full-time Chinese players.

Do the Chinese raise the level of play for USA players? Potentially yes. But if our top juniors quit and go to college right when they begin approaching the level needed to compete with these Chinese players, it's wasted. Equally important, when approaching college age, it's tough for a USA player to look at table tennis as a professional career when nearly all the money goes to foreign players living in the U.S., which doesn't leave much for prospective professional USA players. (Some argue that the USA players shouldn't avoid playing tournaments where they'd have to play these elite full-time foreign players, but that's easier to say when you aren't the one spending huge amounts of time and money on your training, and are looking at losing another $500 on a tournament just so you can lose to one of them. There needs to be a balance if we want to give USA players incentive.) 

Bottom line? "Serious talk" on this topic isn't really serious anymore until someone actually does something. Real action is needed. USATT wants to get sponsors but doesn't really have a serious product to sell. (They've tried for many years.) I've argued they should focus on developing our product with regional leagues (as is done all over Europe) and coaching programs, and sell that to sponsors, but that didn't interest them. Perhaps something a bit more elite-oriented would be more enticing, since USATT (with USOC encouragement and funding) is more focused on elite development than grassroots development. 

Why not have USATT partner with the North American Tour or some other group, and assign the incoming USATT CEO to focus on selling sponsorship for that Tour? Isn't the purpose of USATT to improve table tennis in the United States? USATT is the national governing body for the sport in this country, and so has a great platform to sell from, if they only had something lucrative to sell - and here's a natural product.

The goal would be to create a truly Professional Tour, where U.S. players could actually make a living, while bringing regular exposure to the sponsor. (Perhaps the circuit tournaments would have both an Open event and an All-Star American event for U.S. citizens. Or it could be citizens only.) The circuit is already there as a product, it just needs more money. Once we have such a professional circuit, there are other ways to bring in money - spectators, TV, and so on - and what sponsor wouldn't want to be the national sponsor for something like this if we show it has potential to truly take off?  We can do this, and have a good chance to dramatically improve table tennis in the United States. Or we can continue to talk and do the same old things we always do - nothing. 

U.S. Open Blog - Deadlines! Deadlines!

Here's the latest U.S. Open blog by Dell & Connie Sweeris. Want to play in the U.S. Open? Deadline without penalty is this Sunday, May 18. After that there's a $75 penalty, with no entries accepted after Sunday, May 25.

"The Ping Pong Man"

Here's an article and video (3:09) on table tennis Globetrotter Scott Preiss, and his visit to Beaverton, Oregon.

International News

Lots of articles at Tabletennista (including one on Ma Long undefeated at the last two World Team Championships) and at the ITTF page.

2014 U.S. Para European Update

Here's the video report (2:02), from the bus, by Tahl Leibovitz, with Wayne Lo and others.

The Best Scoring System for Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:39) from PingSkills in PingPod 38.

Round Table with Spinning Net

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation

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January 29, 2014

Angular Momentum Conservation and the Forehand

Ever notice how when a figure skater is spinning, if she brings her arms in she spins faster? Here's an explanation of that; it's the law of angular momentum conservation. Here's an article that explains this.

The laws of angular momentum apply to both figure skating and table tennis. What this means is that you can rotate faster with your arms in. On the forward swing you have to extend the arm some to get power, especially if you use a Chinese-style straight arm forehand loop. But there's no need to extend the arm during the backswing, and it just slows you down. So in theory, table tennis players should bring their arms in during the backswing in fast rallies so the backswings are quicker. What does the videotapes tell us?

Here's a video of Zhang Jike (1:55) and his forehand loop during fast multiball. Compare how far his racket is extended at contact to where it is during the backswing, and sure enough, he brings his arm in during the backswing. Here's a video of Ma Long (32 sec) showing his forehand in slow motion, which makes it even clearer. Again, compare the racket's position at contact with where it is during the backswing.

But now we look at a video of Timo Boll (2:12), and see a discrepancy - he holds the racket out about as much during the backswing as the contact point. But there's a reason for this - Boll uses a European-style loop, with his arm more bent, and so never extends his racket that far from his body. Compare to Zhang Jike and Ma Long and see the difference.

How about hitters? Here's a video (51:06, but you only need to watch the first 7 sec) that shows two-time world champion pips-out penholder Jiang Jialiang hitting forehands. Note how he drops the racket tip down for the backswing, then extends it sideways during the forward swing? This quickens the backswing.

An extended version of this might become a Tip of the Week.

The Growing Significance of the Backhand Loop

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master. Somehow I missed this article when it came out a year ago.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's another blog entry from Dell & Connie Sweeris, co-chairs for the 2014 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids: "My Favorite U.S. Open Experiences"

Zhang Jike Wins Chinese Team Trials

Here's the article and video (36.43) of the final against Ma Long. He started with a loss to Liang Jingkun, then followed that with ten consecutive wins, including wins over his main rivals on the team, Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Fan Zhendong.

Westchester Joins North American Tour

The Westchester Table Tennis Club, which runs monthly 4-star tournaments - something no club has ever done - has joined the North American Tour. There'll be a press release at some point on this and other aspects of the Tour, but for now here is the current list of tournaments in the Tour (which includes links for other info on the Tour). Others will be listed as the paperwork is complete. Special thanks to Bruce Liu, who organizes the Tour.

Ping-Pong Ball Boys?

Here's the cartoon!

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January 3, 2014

Iron Man Will Shortz

Will Shortz, the owner of the Westchester TTC (that's him and manager/coach Robert Roberts in picture) in New York as well as the famed New York Times Puzzle Editor, wrote me about completing his goal. "As you may have heard or read, I set it as my goal for last year to play TT every single day of the year ... and to film myself doing so as proof. On Tuesday, Dec. 31, I completed my goal. Never missed a day. There was a party at my club, with 40-50 people in attendance, in celebration. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, the writers/directors of the 'Paranormal Activity' movies, are making a video for me using bits of my clips."

He also wrote that he played at 38 clubs worldwide during the year, 27 in the U.S. in eight different states, plus Japan and China. He also visited Alaska: "In June Robert Roberts and I flew to Alaska and over the course of a week played at every TT club in the state (all six!). Our trip was written up in the Juneau Empire. Also, Gadling.com, a travel website, posted Vines of our trip every day. As for 2014, I intend to keep playing every day. But a) I'm not going to film myself anymore, and b) if I ever don't feel like playing on a particular day, I won't. I will no longer feel obligated."

I wrote back that "I have a firm rule I try to follow (but can't always), which is I have one day a week where I DON'T play table tennis, usually Mondays. Otherwise I go crazy!" I used to have more iron in me. Back in 1977 and 1978 (when I was 17 and 18) and I used to play seven days a week, and at least twice played every day for six months, though I don't think I went a whole year, thanks to holidays like Christmas. I did manage to play in 33 tournaments in 1978, including 14 consecutive weekends. These days, when I'm healthy, I coach six days/week. However, sometimes things get busy, and I sometimes coach or do other table tennis activities seven days a week. I know I did table tennis every day for two months once last year, and a couple times I did a month at a time.

With Tim Boggan moving in with me on Monday, Jan. 13 for a two-week stay to work on Volume 14 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis (I do layouts and photo work), and with a new afterschool table tennis program at MDTTC (where we combine table tennis and academics - I'll be doing a lot of tutoring as well as TT), my table tennis hours are about to jump up for a while.

I also wrote to Will about how I'd recently been doing the crossword puzzles in the Washington Post, and getting most of the answers. My brother and his wife have been doing them for years, and twice in recent years I'd gotten them signed crossword and Sudoku puzzle books from Will for Christmas. However, I also wrote him, "How the heck was I supposed to know that "Summer on the Riviera" was "ETE," that "One who tries to 'solve a problem like Maria'" is a "NUN," or that a Yale Student is an "ELI"??? He wrote back, saying "ETE is French for "summer." it appears often in crosswords. It's a good word to know. MARIA is a nun in "The Sound of Music." And a student at Yale is known as an ELI. That's also a common bit of crossword trivia. Memorize it!"

Speaking of crosswords, I think in the early 2000s, during the 12 years I was editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine, I ran a few table tennis crossword puzzles. I'd found an application that created them from questions and answers I put together.

Back to Private Coaching

After taking much of the last month off from private coaching (though I did lots of coaching at the Nationals and in our Christmas Camp), today I start with private sessions again. Hopefully the arm problems are over, as well as various leg, knee, and back problems that have made splashy appearances on and off this past year. I'm going in to the club around 5PM to get a good warm-up since I haven't played much recently, then I coach from 6-7PM. Then I have more this weekend.

Tips of the Day

Since the last time I posted about them on Dec. 27, USATT has put up another week of my Tips of the Day. Here's where you can see them all. Browse over them and read the ones that sound interesting or helpful, or just read them all! They are rather short and to the point.

$100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong

Wow! And the World Championships of Ping Pong is a sandpaper tournament! This is the third time for this annual event, to be held in London this weekend, Jan. 4-5. Some people will find that off-putting, but to me, table tennis is table tennis in all its forms. My only regrets are that I'm not there, perhaps 20 years younger, since I'm rather handy with the sand. Here's the actual prize fund. And here's a feature on the American duo (actually trio) going to the tournament (Adoni Maropis, Kit Jeerapaet, Ilija Lupulesku).

2014 U.S. Open Blog

Here's the first entry in the LOC Blog (Local Organizing Committee) for the 2014 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be held July 1-5. Written by co-chairs Connie & Dell Sweeris, it features the seven P's: "We have zeroed in on some key words to describe our goals & aspirations for this year's Open. ParticipationPrestigePresentationPrizes, PromotionPleasure and Profit are all expression for our passion." Then it goes on to detail these items. Can't wait to be there!

Samsonov Highlights

Here's a new highlights video (3:25) featuring Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus.

Iron Man Table Tennis

After blogging about Iron Man Will Shortz above, I googled for "Iron Man Table Tennis" - and found this hilarious video (2:22), of a kid getting killed in table tennis until he puts on the Iron Man mask!

Non-Table Tennis: Top Twelve New Year's Resolutions by Peter Angelos

Here's my latest article at Orioles Hangout.

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