Playing Middle

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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January 30, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching Events

Had a lot of interesting things happen yesterday - here's a rundown!

  • For the second time, those months when I was about twelve where I learned how to pick locks paid off, making me a hero. On Tuesday night someone accidentally closed the bathroom door while it was locked. We have two bathrooms at MDTTC, but this was the one where we stored paper towels and toilet paper - and the other bathroom was running low. When I came in Wednesday afternoon they hadn't been able to open it, and were about to call a locksmith. So I grabbed a credit card and a paper clip, and picked the lock. I was a hero!!! For future cases, I taught Coach Jack how to pick that particular lock. The previous time my lock-picking made me a hero was about 15 years ago at a U.S. Open or Nationals, where nobody came to unlock the playing hall at 8AM, and about 100 of us were stuck outside, with events to start at 9AM. I picked the lock, to thunderous applause.
  • During a practice session a student mentioned that some of my blocks against his loop came out flatter than others. There's a simple reason for that - when the ball lands at normal depth or deep, a player blocks normally. But when the ball lands shorter and you have to reach forward, there is sometimes a tendency to block flatter. This is also why players who block right off the bounce tend to block flatter. 
  • One student tended to block from about five feet off the table. So we spent some time working on blocking within an arm's length. There are generally two types of blockers: those who take it right off the bounce (and go for quickness, consistency, angles, and change-of-pace - penholders with conventional backhands are notorious for this) and those who take it a bit later, but still on the rise, and focus on blocking more aggressively.
  • I did drills with one player where he had to loop to my middle. This is easier when backhand looping then with forehand looping. Why? For the simple reason that when backhand looping the opponent is in front of you, clearly in sight, while for forehand looping you are looking to the side, and so can't see the opponent. I know several top players who are great at finding my middle with their backhands, but aren't so good at doing this with their forehands.
  • One of the sessions was a lot of fun. Why? The student had had recent problems against players who lobbed and fished. And so I spent a good 20 minutes lobbing and fishing to him! This happens to be a strength of mine, and so we had some vicious rallies. I can lob down pretty much anyone under 1800 level, and (at my peak, when I was faster) most 2000 players.
  • Had one of the most interesting conversations ever while driving kids to the club - see next segment!

Blue Whales at the MDTTC

Recently we've started an afterschool program where I pick up some of our students from their schools and take them to the club. Yesterday I picked up a 7-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. What follows is a rough synopsis of the conversation, mostly with the 7-year-old. Be forewarned - it gets silly, and if you're not in a silly mood, skip ahead or it'll ruin your non-silliness by making you laugh. (And there's plenty of other table tennis stuff afterwards.)

Me: "I'm going to drive the car up the Washington Monument, which is 555 feet tall, and drive off the top."
7-year-old: "No, don't do it! We'll all die! And the police will arrest you!"
Me: "I'll drive off the top so fast we'll land in the Atlantic Ocean and get swallowed by a blue whale."
7-year-old: "You won't make it to the Washington Monument because the police will stop you with their bazookas!"
Me: "They'd arrest me for driving off the top of the Washington Monument?"
7-year-old: "Yes!"
Me: "But then they'd have to wait until I'd actually driven off the Washington Monument before they could arrest me for driving off the Washington Monument. Then they'd only have three seconds to do so. Besides, the hungry blue whale will stop them from arresting us."
7-year-old: "Blue whales don't eat people, they eat plankton!"
Me: "Ah, I see you know your whales. But this is a special man-eating whale that's realized that in one bite, it can save hours of scouring the ocean for plankton."
7-year-old: "The police will kill the blue whale with their bazookas!"
Me: "No way. In a fight between a 100-foot blue whale weighing 200 tons, and a few puny humans with bazookas, the blue whale would win."
7-year-old: "Not if I bring in the army!"
Me: "If you bring in the army, I'll bring in a gang of octopuses with machine guns. And I think the plural of octopus is octopi."
7-year-old: "Then I'll bring in all the rest of the animals in the world!"
Me: "Then I'll bring in blood-sucking vampire cheetahs, since you missed them since they are dead."
7-year-old: "I'll bring in tanks!"
Me: "I'll bring in super-plankton, this little plankton that's been lifting weights and beating up blue whales everywhere! He's small but deadly."
7-year-old: "I'll eat your plankton!"
Me: "I'll bring in the planet Mars, and smash your policemen, armies, animals, and tanks."
7-year-old: "I'll smash your Mars with Jupiter!"
10-year-old, joining in for first time: "I'll smash Mars and Jupiter with my Jupiter-sized fists, which are made of rock."
Me: "Okay, now I'm scared."
[We arrive at club.]
Me: "But this raises the age-old question: How many blue whales could we fit in the Maryland Table Tennis Center?"
7-year-old: "None, they're too big."
Me: "I think we could fit four across the floor, and stack four more on top, so we could fit eight of them."
7-year-old: "How are you going to get them into the club? You can't carry eight blue whales!"
Me: "I'll toss them over my shoulder, one by one, of course."
10-year-old: "I'll smash your blue whales with my giant fists."
7-year-old: "But blue whales won't fit in the club!"
Me: "Let's find out." 

And so I paced off the club, and got its dimensions: 77' wide and 126' long. By measuring the size of the panels on one wall that went up to the ceiling, I calculated the height at 18 feet. (Technically, we have two bathrooms sticking out of one wall, which reduce the volume, but we also have a back room of about the same size.)

Now according to my Internet research, an adult blue whale is roughly 100 feet long, and (when lying out of water on dry land) about 10 feet tall and 25 feet wide at its widest. The 10 feet tall thing is problematic since that would make it difficult to stack them since the ceilings are 18 feet high, but I'm going to assume we can squeeze them down a bit more and stack them two high - but this would make them wider, perhaps 30 feet wide. Since the club is 77 feet wide, we would be able to fit two side by side, and two on top of that. Then we'd have 17 feet left on the side. We should be able to squeeze one more in there. But the club is 126 feet long, so we have an area 26 feet by 77 feet left over. Taking into account that the whales don't take up as much space with their flukes, and being careful to load them into the club fluke first, we should be able to jam in one more blue whale, left to right, if we fold its flukes back over. So that makes us a six blue whale club.

Here's another way of looking at this. A blue whale's density is pretty close to water. A blue whale can weigh up to 200 tons, let's assume we have a very large one at 200 tons. Now if MDTTC's dimensions are 77x126x18, then it has a volume of 174,636 square feet. A square foot of water weighs about 62.4 pounds. So MDTTC could hold up to 10,897,286 pounds of water, or about 5448 tons, which equates to 27.24 blue whales at 200 tons each. Suddenly I'm realizing that my blue whale packaging above wasn't very efficient. So now we're a 27 blue whale club, assuming we can fold and perhaps cut up the whales to make them fit. The key question - will they pay membership?

Balancing Training of Strengths and Weaknesses

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

The Laughmaster of Ping-Pong - Adam Bobrow

Here's an article on this entertaining player, "The Laughmaster Of Ping-Pong, Adam Bobrow Combines Comedy And Table Tennis And Tours The World In Leopard Print," which includes a link to a video (4:08) that compiles some of his adventures.

Liu Shiwen Criticized by Liu Guoliang

Here's the article, which includes a link to a video (18:06).

Top Ten Table Tennis Points of 2013

Here's the video (3:37).

Top Ten Shots of the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals

Here's the video (4:24) from the ITTF.

Eager Thief Tries to Gift Wrap Table Tennis Table

Here's the article! (Alas, it links to a video that is no longer available, which I saw last night, with video footage of the hapless criminal actually trying to wrap the table.)

Cat Smacking in Forehands

Here's the latest cat-playing-table-tennis video (27 sec) starring an acrobatic cat with a world-class forehand, I mean forepaw.

Will Ferrell Playing Table Tennis

Here's the picture, where he demonstrates his unique penhold grip - while wearing white with a white ball, the cheater.

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