Two-Year-Old

September 9, 2014

Teaching a Beginning Kid to Block

Recently I've had a lot of fun teaching two kids, ages six and seven, how to block. For some reason they find great joy in this. I'm teaching them all aspects of the game, even looping, but they keep begging to block against my loop - and so that's how we end each session.

Few kids at that age have the reflexes or coordination to really block against a ball with varying spin that moves around the table. It's worse if you serve topspin and then start looping, as they have to adjust to two different shots. So what I do to start the rally is to toss the ball up and loop the very first shot at them, right out of the air. Then I keep looping softly, trying to keep it to one spot with the same depth, while they block. (I'm focusing on backhand blocks, but also having them do forehand blocks.) To them it's like a video game, trying to keep the ball on the table against my heavy topspin. They're getting pretty good at it, and I'm getting some exercise.

2014 USATT Election Notice and Process

Here's the notice. And once again I'm pretty disappointed.

On Nov. 25, 2013, I blogged about how unfair it was that the USATT Bylaws were changed so that candidates can no longer get on the ballot by petition. The only way to get on is to have the USATT-appointed Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC) put you on. If they chose not to, potential candidates have no recourse. It used to be you could get on by petition, but no more. I blogged about this more extensively on Jan. 24, 2014.

On May 12, 2014, I wrote, "As I blogged about Jan. 24, 2014, the ICC Director, Rajul Sheth, wanted to run for the USATT Board, but the USATT Nominating and Governance Committee refused to put him on the ballot, with no reason ever given. I still find this unbelievable, both that they wouldn't put him on the ballot and that they have the power to do so, with no recourse such as getting on by petition - and no one from USATT has shown any interest in changing these silly dictatorial rules. It's an easy fix, as I pointed out in the blog. Which USATT board member will become a hero and make the motion to change this rule?"

This time I got a response that very day, as a USATT Board member (who shall remain nameless for now) emailed me that I was "mistaken," that the problem is being addressed, that there was a task force revising the election rules, and that they would be changed before the next election cycle. Well, the next election cycle is upon us, and there have been no changes, based on the election notice. As I pointed out in an ongoing email discussion I'm having this morning, "Only a bylaw change can change the election rules, and that has to come from the USATT Board. If the USATT Board has not approved a bylaw change, then the election rules haven’t changed. So unless there was a bylaw change at a board meeting whose minutes are not yet up, AND the NGB in defiance or ignorance of this put up this notice without USATT Board approval, nothing has changed."

In one of my emails this morning it took me about 60 seconds to write the following motion that any USATT board member could make, and would lead to changing the bylaws:

"I move that starting with the election cycle starting in Fall, 2014, that the Nominating and Governance Committee create wording for the USATT bylaws that allow potential candidates for USATT office to get on the ballot by petition with the signatures of 150 USATT members, and that they be allowed to get these signatures at the North American Teams and/or USA Nationals."

Sixty seconds. That's all it took. (Okay, I type fast, and I did make a minor wording change afterwards.) If no one on the USATT board can do something this simple, how can they do anything that's more difficult - you know, like develop the sport? (ADDENDUM: There was a motion by the board at the 2014 U.S. Open meeting - Motion 1 - to "recommend" that the NGC change the rules, but since it only recommended rather than directed, didn't specify that it was needed for the election cycle, didn't ask to allow candidates to be included by petition, and because the motion wasn't made until June - seven months after the issue was raised in November - it likely won't happen this election cycle.) 

Regarding the election, once again I'm toying with running. But I'd probably be a hypocrite if I did so. Why? Because I simply don't have time any more to do the things I've argued the Board needs to do. (See one such listing in my Nov. 25, 2013 blog, which I already cited above.) Anyone who's been around USATT for a while knows I've been a very active USATT volunteer (and sometimes staff person) for many years. But I have consistently failed to convince others there of the need to change our ways if we want to really develop the sport in this country. Every time we have one of these discussions at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings, there are convincing people who "look good in a suit" who argue the opposite, and nothing changes.

But if I did run, what would happen? Since other Board members aren't taking initiative to do what's necessary - if they did, they'd be getting done - I'd have to do so myself. But one of the prime requisites for running for the Board (IMHO) is to have the time to do the job. There was a time I could have done so, but these days I'm inundated, trying to do group and private coaching, promote my club, writing about table tennis, and my outside science fiction writing career. I have no interest in running for the Board and becoming another "judge" who sits back and simply judges things brought before them, as opposed to what's really needed - active legislative types who work to grow the sport. As I wrote in my Jan. 24, 2014 blog, "I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen."

And this whole election fiasco is a classic example of board members not making things happen. And it's so simple - all someone has to do is make the motion to allow candidates to get on the board by petition, perhaps using the past 150 signatures from USATT members as a requirement, and allowing them to get the signatures at the Teams in November or the Nationals in December. (They can even consult with the NGC first.) But it won't happen unless someone on the board stops being a passive judge and takes legislative action.

New World Rankings

In the September world rankings, on the men's side, China's 17-year-old phenom Fan Zhendong has moved up to #2 in the world, after Xu Xin. China now has the #1-4 and #6 players, with Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov breaking up the monopoly at #5 (down one spot from #4 last time as Zhang Jike passed him again). Timo Boll, the #2 German, remains at #9, while their #3, Patrick Baum, moved up from #17 to #14. Germany also has Bastian Steger at #18. China also has players at #10, 13, and 25. On the women's side, the top twelve remained unchanged except for a flip of the #6 and #7 positions. China still has #1-3 and #5-7, with Singapore's Feng Tianwei breaking up the monopoly at #4. One big jump - Romania's Elizabeta Samara jumped from #22 to #13, and is the top-ranked non-Asian woman.

Para World Championships

They are taking place right now in Beijing, China, Sept. 6-15. Here's the USATT page and the ITTF page for the event. Representing USA are Tahl Leibovitz and Sherri Umscheid, with Angie Bengtsson the USA Coach.

Jim Butler Wins 2014 Southern Open

Here's the article, results, and picture.

Xu Xin and Ma Long Training

Here's a video (7:25) from a year ago showing Chinese stars Xu Xin (#1 in the world, lefty penholder) and Ma Long (currently #3, former #1, righty shakehander) training at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria. You can learn a lot by watching both their form and the drills they do.

Table Tennis Unbelievable

Here's a highlights video (9:39) with some of the greatest shots and rallies of the past four years.

Clayton Kershaw and the LA Dodgers

Kershaw, the LA Dodgers pitching star, ran a table tennis charity event last Thursday. Here are pictures. The charity is Ping Pong 4 Purpose.

Two-Year-Old on Mini-Table

Here's the picture.

Elephant vs. Penguin

Here's the picture! Some nice artwork. (A search shows that I actually linked to this two years ago, but thought I'd show it again.)

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March 26, 2014

You Are What You Train

Most players understand this, but don't really absorb how important this simple lesson is. Here are two examples.

On Monday I was teaching the backhand loop to a beginning/intermediate class. I don't have a particularly good backhand loop, so I had assistant coach John Hsu demonstrate it. It seemed a good time to also teach the blocking, so I went over that as well as I blocked John's loop. Then I pointed how at the higher levels many players topspin their blocks, essentially mini-loops, and explained how while I blocked the normal way (relatively flat), John almost always topspins his blocks.

To demo this, I looped forehands from my backhand corner to his backhand and he backhand topspin blocked away. The rally went on for a time, and then I ripped one down the line to his forehand. John reacted quickly and forehand blocked to my wide forehand. I raced over and looped down the line to his backhand. He blocked back wide to my backhand, but not too aggressively. Now I'd just been teaching the backhand loop, and you'd think that at 54 years old I'd play an easy backhand winner (as John and most "top" players would have), but no - I did what I'd trained myself to do way back in the late 1970s and 1980s, and ran all the way over from my wide forehand to my wide backhand and ripped a forehand winner down the line for a winner. Afterwards neither I nor John nor the players in the class could believe I'd gotten over there so fast - and I was sort of surprised as well. But it was a simple matter of balance on the previous shot so I could recover quickly, proper footwork technique that got me there quickly, and the automatic instincts that led me to attempt that shot. (I just wish I could still do shots like that regularly in matches - technique aside, my legs aren't as fast anymore, mostly due to knee problems.)

Another example was two kids I watched play yesterday, both ten years old. One was the #1 10-year-old from Japan, about 2000 level, visiting for a week along with his older brother (about 12 and 2250 level). He was playing a 10-year-old from my club who was about 1900. The Japanese kid had been taught to attack relentlessly, and that's exactly what he did, attacking not only off his serve, but attacking nearly every serve as well, often with over-the-table backhand banana flips. For much of the match the kid from our club was constantly on the defensive as he could only push the Japanese kid's serve back, and his own serves were often slightly high and were getting pulverized. He tried attacking the serve, but unlike the Japanese kid, he hadn't really trained that shot, and so was pretty erratic, and went back to pushing. Then he simplified his own serve to a simple backspin serve so that he could serve lower, and the Japanese kid started missing - and it became apparent that if he couldn't attack the serve as he'd been trained to do, his game went down quite a bit as he didn't push or block well. And so what started out as a rout got close. The Japanese kid won, but it was a battle. And now our kid is going to learn to serve lower with his normal serves, and to backhand banana flip.

So we have me, forcing the forehand because it was what I trained to do, and two kids both doing what they were trained to do and being comfortable otherwise. If I could go back 38 years and talk to myself as I developed, the main thing I'd say was "Develop a backhand loop!" But because I trained as a one-winged attacker, and didn't train the backhand loop, I became what I trained - a one-winged looper with a relatively weak backhand loop that I developed only in later years. (Back in those days the theory was often "One gun is as good as two.") I've got forehand attacking so ingrained in me that I can't imagine ever being a two-winged looper - and ongoing arm and shoulder problems preclude me from even attempting any intense training at this point to develop a stronger and more instinctive backhand loop. (But that doesn't mean you can't - see Backhand Loop tutorial below!)

A few key lessons from all this - train to develop a complete game. Develop both forehand and backhand. Develop effective serves that are low to the net. Develop receives that handle all situations. And develop the ability to both attack and to handle the opponent's attack.

Backhand Loop Against Backspin Tutorial

Here's the video (5:28). Coach Yang Guang (former Chinese Team Member) demonstrates and explains, breaking down the shot to its most basic points, and with slow motion at the end. This is one of the best demos and explanations of the shot I've ever seen - I spent some time copying his form. The common mistakes he points out are the very same ones I commonly see. (Ironically, I just taught the backhand loop to my beginning/intermediate class on Monday. I will point out this video to them next time.)

The Impact of College Table Tennis

Here's an essay by Kagin Lee, USATT Board Member and National College TTA Vice President-External Affairs. He has some good stuff (from a college-oriented table tennis background), but the most important to me is item #3, which is where any discussion of developing the sport in this country should begin. (The only other way to really develop the sport is via club-based junior programs, which happens successfully all over the world in conjunction with leagues.)

Six Seconds of Physical Training

Here's the video. I've done this drill numerous times in training camps. Those "ladders" are great for physical training.

Two-Year-Old Player

Wanna play?

Water Pong

Here's the picture. Hey, let's go play table tennis out in the bay!

Cat That Wants to Play

Here's the video (1:37) - and don't get me started on analyzing the players' technique….

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