Joyce Grooms

April 4, 2014

The Forehand and Saturation Training

On Wednesday I gave my weekly lesson to an up-and-coming nine-year-old, who (for the moment) is about 1400. He has incredible ball control for a kid his age - he has great lobbing, fishing, and chopping skills, better than most 2000 players. He also has a nice backhand attack, both looping and hitting. And he can keep the ball in play seemingly forever, even if the opponent keeps attacking. But his forehand can be awkward. So our recent training has been overwhelmingly on his forehand loop, where we spend about 35-40 minutes of each session on. (His level is only 1400 partly because of the forehand, where he likes to lob, and because he tends to play way too soft in general, letting opponents blast the ball at him, and at nine years old he's not always big enough to run them all down. I'm constantly working on teaching him to stay at the table, which isn't easy since he likes to play from the barriers.)

This saturation training is starting to pay off in drills, where he sometimes looks really good, but other times he falls back in his old habits, where every other shot is different, and where he often falls back and fishes. He also has a tendency to take the ball at different times in rallies - he might loop one off the bounce, one at the top of the bounce, one on the drop, and then one off the floor, and he'll often use different stroking techniques for each. He also likes to sometimes loop straight topspin, other times with sidespin, and he likes to suddenly hook the ball really wide and watch in glee as I try to get to it. All this shows fine ball control, but since we're trying to systematically fix his forehand technique, it's not so good in this context, where I want him to systematically develop the shot until he can do it in this sleep. At the same time, I don't want him to lose interest by forcing him to become a robot; it's a constant balancing act. I'm guessing whoever was Waldner's coach had to go through something similar.

Until recently he often resisted spending so much time systematically working on his forehand, but recently he's matured, and is starting to see the importance. So it's great seeing him so determined to develop his forehand to match the rest of his game. He's also very much into developing tricky serves. Watch out for him in a year or so.

Table Tennis Niches

I my blog yesterday I listed various people and their table tennis niche. Here's a note I received from Steve Grant, who should have been listed either in the history or writing niches, along with Chuck Hoey (curator of the ITTF history museum) in the history niche. (I added the links below.)

Hi Larry,

As you know, Steve Grant's (my) niche is both writing and history, as is clear from the many articles written for Table Tennis Collector (publication of the ITTF Museum) and of course the book Ping Pong Fever---the Madness That Swept 1902 America, which showed for the first time who really invented the game of table tennis and how the game really got the name Ping Pong..

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation filmed me this week, playing outdoors in Tomkins Square Park with 1902 drumhead rackets and later batting the ball with Spiderman in Times Square, for an hour-long documentary that will essentially be a humorous telling of my book. I also had to continually bat a ball on my racket while hailing a cab, opening the door and then shouting, Take us to the ping pong party! The driver replied, Sure, that's easy to find!

Oh, in the history niche, I would add Chuck Hoey too.

Regards,

Steve

MDTTC Coaching Staff

The MDTTC coaching staff here in Gaithersburg, MD keeps getting bigger! Yesterday marked the return of Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey"), a 2600 player who coached at MDTTC for a couple of years before returning to China to work on his immigration status. He's back permanently, and so rejoins our staff, which now consists of me (USATT Hall of Famer!), Cheng Yinghua (USATT Hall of Famer and former Chinese team member and 2800 player), Jack Huang (former USA #1 and Chinese team member who should be in the USATT Hall of Fame), Zeng Xun ("Jeffrey," 2600 player), Wang Qing Liang ("Leon," 2600 chopper/looper), Chen Ruichao ("Alex," recently arrived lefty 2600-2650 player), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen," 2500 penholder), Chen Jie ("James," lefty 2300 player), Raghu Nadmichettu (2400 player), and John Hsu (2300 player). Of course ratings don't always indicate coaching level, but let's just say these player/coaches were carefully selected for both their playing skills (as practice partners) and coaching abilities.

National College Championships

As noted in yesterday's blog, the USA National Collegiate Championships start this morning, April 4-6, Fri-Sun, in Monroeville, PA. Here's their home page, and here's where they will have results. They also have live-streaming, starting 9:30AM this morning.

Farewell to Joyce Grooms

Today is Joyce's retirement day. Hopefully they are throwing a party at USATT Headquarters for our long-time membership director! I've worked with her a lot over the past decade, and have nothing but praise for her efficient professionalism. Enjoy your retirement - maybe even play a little pong now that you have time to see it from the playing side! (Her picture is on the USATT staff page.)  

New World Rankings

Here are the new ITTF world rankings. On the women's side the top ten remain unchanged from last month, with Austria's Sofia Polcanova jumping from #16 to #11, just behind Germany's Petrissa Solja as the top two Europeans. The top three men remain unchanged (China's Xu Xin, Ma Long, and Fan Zhendong), but Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov moved from #6 to #4. This knocked Zhang Jike down to #5, which is surprising for the guy who keeps winning the Worlds and Olympics, and is generally acknowledged to be the best in the world, at least in a big tournament. With the rise of Ovtcharov, the question for the upcoming World Teams is if he and Timo Boll (world #9, former #1) along with Patrick Baum (#21) and Bastian Steger (#27), can challenge the Chinese.

Chinese Team Members Play with Poly Balls

Here's an article in Chinese (with an English translation here) about Chinese team members playing with the new poly balls. The four players competing with it were Zhang Jike, Ma Long, Xu Xin, and Fan Zhendong.

Kim Taek Soo: No Regrets

Here's the article from Table Tennista.

World Championships Promo

Here's the video (1:03) from the ITTF for the upcoming Worlds in Tokyo, April 28 - May 5.

Table Tennis Joke Ties

Here they are (along with some tennis ones), the perfect gift!

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March 27, 2014

USATT CEO and Membership Director Leaving

Huge changes are afoot at USATT - here's the article. USATT CEO Mike Cavanaugh resigned after seven years, taking a job with USA Handball. (Here's his goodbye letter.) And Membership Director Joyce Grooms is retiring on April 4 after a long tenure - I'm not sure how long, but I'm guessing it goes back to the 1990s or so. I've worked with both of them for many years and consider them good friends - and now we'll have some big shoes to fill. It's going to cause some serious continuity problems. 

Who should our next CEO be? With all due respect to Mike, I believe we need a real table tennis person who can develop the infrastructure of our sport. That was the point of my Ping-Pong Apartments essay in my March 21 blog - we have got to stop trying to sell a broken product and fix the broken product first. Then we can sell it.

I doubt if I'll apply for the CEO position, but several people have urged me to apply. I don't think the USATT Board would want someone who would push for such major changes - most boards, by their very nature, are highly resistant to change. But I was urged on Facebook last night to apply for the position. Here is my response:

I'd want to completely change the focus of the organization, and I don't think the USATT board of directors is ready for that. Focus should be (not in order of priority) 1) setting up a network of regional leagues throughout the U.S., with the goal of hundreds of thousands of members, as is done in Europe and Asia; 2) recruiting and training professional coaches to set up and run full-time training centers and junior programs; and 3) striving for a professional league or tournament circuit for the top players. (There is a current one, which needs to continue to grow and gain sponsors. But membership growth is the best way to increase revenue for this and other programs.)

Also need to focus on college scholarship programs as incentive for junior players and their parents, and on turning the Nationals and/or U.S. Open into a serious event that brings in real sponsorships, and on fund-raising. I'd also want to bring back the print magazine (and the advertising they are about to lose), and instead simply add the online magazine as a way to increase advertising. 

We also need to regionalize the sport, breaking the country into a number of self-governing regions, and develop the sport region by region, as it is done overseas. Once the sport is moving in the right direction, then we can sell it to the masses and to sponsors.  

I'd be very hands-on with the first three items listed, on magazine issues, and on regionalization. I'd be focusing on membership growth, which has never been a serious USATT priority. But USATT probably isn't ready for such change, and isn't likely to hire someone who can barely tie a tie.

Another important issue: We need more working committees made up of volunteers. I'm a member of SFWA, and they have all sorts of things going on, all volunteer run. They run conventions with 6000 people with no paid workers - that's nearly ten times the size of our Nationals and Open. Even their extensive web page is all volunteer run. The key is to find qualified volunteers, put them in charge of something, and let them loose. And then others can focus on developing the sport instead of trying to do every little thing. (Key word: "working" committees. USATT has lots of non-working committees.)

Another big issue: USATT (staff, board, and CEO) spends huge amounts of time and energy on what I call "fairness" issues, which keeps them from progressive issues, i.e. the issues that develop our sport. Fairness issues are important, but should go to committees, and unless the committee's conclusion is nonsense, USATT should normally adopt the committee's recommendation. This allows the CEO and others to focus on developing the sport. 

Having said all this, here's the problem I would face as CEO - I've been urging USATT to do these things for many years, not just here on my blog but in person at USATT Board Meetings and Strategic Meetings. I've done a number of reports to the board on how to increase membership, develop juniors, grow leagues in this country, etc. Much of this stuff is obvious to anyone involved in our sport - and if I can't convince the USATT Board to do the obvious stuff, how can I get them to do the less obvious stuff? So I wouldn't even consider such a CEO position unless I had almost complete buy-in from the board on these changes that are necessary if we want our sport to grow. The USATT Board sets policy, and the CEO enacts policy - so to do the policies I'd want, I'd need the Board to go along with them. I have zero interest otherwise.

Two other weaknesses I would face as a CEO: I don't look good in suits, and I have little patience with incompetent people in high places. (And I've made enemies in our sport because of this.) I can overcome this last one and smile and show patience with incompetent people when necessary, but I'll never look comfortable in any type of a suit other than a warm-up suit. Another weakness is I'm not particularly comfortable with strangers - I'm much more comfortable working with people I know or who are already within USATT. I'm not one to "work the room" or to wine and dine people - I'm not a "schmoozer." I don't think much of this is necessary while we are developing the sport in this country.

There's also the small problem that despite all my experience in table tennis, I've never actually been a CEO. But we'll have an office manager, so the CEO's primary job right now (in my opinion) would be to develop the sport in this country, which takes more table tennis experience and know-how than CEO experience. As I wrote above, once the sport is moving in the right direction, then we can sell it to the masses and to sponsors. That's when I'd have to get out of the way and let someone else do that job.

Bottom line - if we want to continue as a status-quo organization like we've done for so long, then USATT should once again hire someone who looks like a CEO rather than someone who will develop the sport.

Reality check: Me, as USATT CEO? Not likely. I'll hold onto my day job. (Actually, it's a day and night job as table tennis coach, organizer, promoter, and writer.)

Crystal Wang and Sports Illustrated

Just got the word that Crystal Wang should be featured in next week's Sports Illustrated in their "Faces in the Crowd" section. (This is for her recently becoming the youngest U.S. Team member ever at age 12 years 14 days, along with youngest ever Under 22 Women's Singles Champion.) I'd been sending out regular press releases, and finally got a big bite! (Though she'd also been featured recently in the Baltimore Sun.) I took the picture they will be using at the club last night. The issue should come out next Wednesday, with the online version coming out the Monday afterwards.

Chinese Team Special Training

Here's an article on how the Chinese Team had a special training session where they played matches where players were prohibited from using certain receives, forcing them to develop other receive techniques. Zhang Jike and Xu Xin were banned from using the banana stroke or the chiquita [backhand banana flips] while Ma Long was prohibited from using a drop-shot reception in their respective matches. I often have players do similar training, where a match is played where a player has to do certain things, such as every point starting with a serve and loop, or where a player has to attack every serve.

Table Tennis Great Deng Yaping Encourages More China Players to Represent Other Countries

Here's the article. And here's info on the all-time great Deng Yaping, often called the greatest woman player of all time. (3-time World Women's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympic Gold Medalist in Women's Singles, and #1 in the world for eight straight years.)

Interview with Mike Mezyan - Parts 1 & 2

Here's an interview with Table Tennis Artist Mike Mezyan - Part 1 and Part 2. Here's his home page, which shows much of his artwork.

What Will Happen to Anyone Hired as USATT CEO

Here's the picture!

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