Ibrahim Hamato

September 22, 2014

Tip of the Week

Power in Table Tennis.

USATT Hires New CEO

Here's the USATT announcement. Gordon Kaye is a USATT member rated 1469, who's played in 32 processed USATT tournaments since 2009, plus the Badger Open in Wisconsin this past weekend. (Highest rating: 1510.) Our paths even crossed once - he and I were both at the 2010 Eastern Open in New Jersey, him as a player, me as a coach. Here's his tournament record. He's a standard inverted shakehands player, who likes to attack but doesn't always have confidence in his loop, and so often blocks and counter-attacks. Here's an interview with him at the Badger Open by Barbara Wei, which includes an action picture. Here's another picture of him posing with Barbara.

I'm told he successfully transformed two failing organizations before coming to USATT. One was a minor league hockey team. Here are some online articles I found on him:

What does he need to do to be successful as USATT CEO? I'll write at length about this later. But the most important things are the following:

  1. Recognize the doers and the "empty suits" in our sport. I don't really like the phrase "empty suit," but it gets the idea across. Some "empty suits" are successful in some non-table tennis activities, but it doesn't always cross over. Doers are those who do table tennis things and get results, who understand how to develop the sport. Empty suits are far better at selling themselves than doers, who are better at selling the sport than themselves. Historically, guess which type has had the most influence in USATT policy?
  2. Understand how table tennis grew overseas, and how other sports grew in the U.S., and then come up with a model that'll work for USATT.
  3. Set specific goals to develop the sport, and create and implement plans to reach them.
  4. Think long-term.
  5. Break out of USATT sponsorship logjam. There are two main ways for USATT to find sponsors:
  • Find a rich table tennis person who will give us money. We've been trying that for 81 years. How has that worked?
  • Find a business person who believes he can make money by sponsoring USATT. To do this we need to convince him that USATT is growing, and that he should get in on the ground floor. If we were focusing on developing the sport (developing regional leagues, recruiting and training coaches, etc. - all the stuff I've been arguing for the last two decades or more) this would be a lot easier. In the late 1980s Bob Tretheway raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for USATT (more when adjusted for inflation) - with the selling point that table tennis had just become an Olympic sport in 1988, and so was about to take off in the U.S. (it didn't). How do we sell it now? I believe that the best way to convince a business person that USATT is growing is by USATT actually growing. Getting the process started doesn't take much funding. (I've blogged about this many times, and will elaborate on this tomorrow.)

One obvious problem is that Gordon will face what all USATT CEOs face - conflicting direction from the USATT Board of Directors. Some are forward thinkers; some are not. Should his primary focus be raising money? Developing the sport? I know that at least one board members believes the primary focus of the CEO should be as office manager!!!

Anyone who reads my blog knows I believe the focus for now should be to develop the sport. Rather than trying to sell faulty shoes, fix the shoes first, then sell them. USATT has even had Strategic Meetings about growing the sport (i.e. fixing the shoes), and I've attended several. Somehow the main focus of these meetings has been vague generalities with no follow-up, slogans, and lots of self-congratulatory back-slapping for such a productive meeting.

So how did Gordon do at the Badger Open? Here are the complete tournament results. He had a pretty good tournament, with wins against players rated 1741 (congrats!), 1490, 1221, 1138, and 962, and losses to players rated 2073, 2056, 1879, 1705 (went five!), 1689, 1652, 1603, and 1562. Since he went in rated 1469, my ratings calculations say he'll pick up 49 points, and so come out at 1518 - a new high for him. (See, we know what's important.)

Now that we've read about him, know his rating and playing style, and know how he did at the Badger Open, we have to judge him. And I prefer to judge a person by anagrams. (After all, "Hodges" is just an anagram for "He's God.") So what do we get from Gordon Kaye?

  • Okay Go Nerd
  • Gone Ya Dork
  • Rake Yon God

So he's either a nerdy dork or a God. Only time will tell. Let's support him, and maybe, just maybe, he'll be the one to break the long-time USATT lethargy.

Celluloid vs. Non-Celluloid - Who's Using What?

While for the time being most tournaments in the U.S. are still using celluloid, the two upcoming big ones are both using non-celluloid. The North American Teams just announced they will use the non-celluloid balls, presumably the JOOLA Super-P 40+ balls they were selling at the U.S. Open. And as noted in previous blogs, the USA Nationals will use Nittaku Premium 40+ balls. (They aren't on sale yet, but should be available in mid-October. Don't mistake this for the Nittaku Sha 40+ ball, which is on sale now but plays differently.) My guess is that most tournaments will switch to non-celluloid sometime in 2015.

$10,000 Butterfly Badger Open

Here are the results of the tournament, which was held this past weekend in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with 204 players. (Included among the players was Gordon Kaye, the newly hired USATT CEO.) Butterflyonline has video and a photo gallery. Here are three articles on the tournament by Barbara Wei. (She tells me she has three more coming.)

The Forgotten Skill - Blocking

Here's the coaching article by Samson Dubina.

How to Receive Serves from Opposite Handed Players

Here's the coaching video (2:32) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Ma Long Serving Technique Slow Motion

Here's the video (3:03).

Sandpaper Qualifiers for $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong

Here's the news release.

Nothing is Impossible Video Reaches Two million Views

Here's the ITTF press release on the video (2:44) of armless Egyptian player Ibrahim Hamato.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here are two more videos from Nathan in China. (All eight are linked from the initial video, China Day 4.)

Zhou Xin Table Tennis Academy Physical Training

Here's the video (64 sec) by Bruce Liu.

George Brathwaite

The USATT Hall of Famer called me a few days ago to discuss USATT issues. He might be getting active in USATT again. Here's his web page.

Ping-Pong 4 Purpose

Here's another article on the charity event that was held Sept. 4 at Dodger Stadium, by Kim Gilbert.

Adam Bobrow Exhibition at Bloomingdales

Great Point

Here's the video (61 sec) - the point lasts about 40 seconds!

Katy Perry - This Is How We Do

Here's the music video (3:29), which includes three table tennis segments - seconds 19-24, second 33, and seconds 1:21-1:23. In the first segment she sings, "Playing ping-pong all night long."

Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Ryder Cup, and Ping-Pong

Here's the CNN article. The eighth and final picture shows Tiger playing table tennis penhold style, with the caption, "But with Mickelson's erstwhile ping pong partner Tiger Woods missing the Ryder Cup with injury, could self-confessed table tennis fan Fowler partner up with "Lefty" in Scotland?"

Teasing a Dog, Ping-Pong Style

Here's the cartoon.

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May 29, 2014

Playing Bad

[Note - after writing this I debated whether this should be a blog item or a Tip of the Week. Don't be surprised if a rewritten version of this shows up as a Tip of the Week later this year!]

When players play poorly, relative to their normal level of play, they usually attribute it by just saying they played poorly. That's circular reasoning - they played poorly because they played poorly? Actually, there's always a reason when you play poorly. And the reason is almost always mental.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Unless something is physical wrong with you or your equipment, or you are seriously out of practice, playing bad is always mental. Period. It's a simple concept that many don't get.

Is there something physically wrong with you? Don't say you are old or out of shape; these are constants that limit your playing level, but they don't make you play bad, relative to your normal level, since dealing with these factors is part of your normal level. No, something is physically wrong with you only if it's something that's not normal. Other common chronic problems that might lower your level include knee problems, back problems, sore arm, etc. But again, these do not make you play poorly; they simply lower your overall level of play. Maybe you were just tired? Well, that's a reason to play poorly; get more rest!

Is there something wrong with your equipment? This can happen, but it's rare. Usually it's your own fault. Is your rubber surface dirty and so not grabby as usual? Clean it. Is it getting old and so is losing its bounce? Get new sponge. (If you can't afford new sponge, then perhaps it's a chronic problem.)  Is it humid? Keep a towel just for your racket and ball so you can keep them dry. I'll also include here other factors in the equipment category. I'm used to playing in near perfect conditions, and so when I play on slippery floors, on brown wood floors with orange balls (where the floor and ball are similarly colored so I lose the ball in the background), or in bad lighting, I play poorly. Is this an equipment problem or a chronic problem? This might classify as both. The fact that I don't play well in poor conditions is a chronic problem that lowers my overall level of play, but only in certain circumstances.

Are you out of practice? Whose fault is that? Solution: Go practice. If you don't have time to practice, then it's a chronic problem that simply lowers your overall level of play.

So if nothing is affecting your play physically, and you can't blame it on your equipment, and you are in practice, what can you blame your poor play on? Yes, it's all mental. There are so many ways a player can talk himself out of playing well. The most common is by harping on the poor shots instead of the good ones. Harp on the good ones, and you'll likely begin to emulate them. Harp on the bad ones, and that's what you'll continue to do since that's what you're thinking about, and the brain (i.e. the subconscious) tends to mimic what it is thinking about. Or perhaps you got nervous? Yep, that's all in your head. Or you got defensive when you had a lead? Another mental problem. Or you just weren't up to playing? Yep, that's mental.

I could go on and on, but the conclusion over and over is the same. When you play poorly, it's almost always mental. And guess what? With practice, you can get control over the mental aspect. You have to choose to do so, but once you do, you'll rarely have a bad day again. Here are some resources on sports psychology.

Talent

Here's an interesting discussion on the subject of talent on Dora Kurimay's table tennis sports psychology webpage. One part I disagree with was from one of the takeaways at the end, "Talent doesn’t really exist…" I don't see how that came from the discussion. Avi Schmidt argued that you need some talent when he said, "Yes, personality traits matters but you need some hand eye coordination skills as well." And Sean O'Neill also implied the existence of talent while discounting its value when he wrote, "Talent is useless and often counterproductive."

We are not all born exactly alike, with identical brains and body. So of course there is such a thing as talent. (Here's where I blogged on the topic.) The only question is how much of a difference it makes. Ultimately, how hard a person works (as well as other intangibles such as coaching, playing partners, tournament experience, etc.) is more important than talent in the long run, though in the short run talent may seem the dominant factor. Or, as it says in the takeaways at the end, "Motivation and passion matter the most in the long run." 

The Health Benefits of Table Tennis

Here's the article. I don't think I've linked to this one before.

Interview with Stefan Feth

Here's the interview with the USA Men's Coach and former German star.

Killerspin Videos

Here are hordes of videos (including lots of coaching videos) from Killerspin.

Susan Sarandon and Table Tennis in People Magazine

Here's the page. She talks about table tennis in the bubble on the lower right. Here's what it says (it's hard to read on the page): On Celeb Ping-Pong Players, "Jamie Foxx, Ed Norton, and Prince are all very good. Even Jack Kevorkian! When he came to town after he got out of prison, he played all night. Some people get obsessed, but I never play to win. If I have to get competitive, I freeze."

Zhang Jike Impressed with Armless Player

Here's video (13 sec) of World and Olympic Champion Zhang Jike videoing Egyptian player Ibrahim Hamato as he smacks backhands with Samsonov. Here's more video (2:43) of Hamato from my May 14 blog.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Commercial

Here's a commercial (34 sec) for Banco Esperito Santo from 2010 that features soccer player (that's football for non-Americans) Cristiano Ronaldo playing table tennis. I especially liked the service fake near the end!

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May 12, 2014

Tip of the Week

Anyone Can Become Very Good at Something.

Youth Olympic Games Controversy

There's a controversy involving the training and coaching of the USA Youth Olympic Games athletes (Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari). Basically, USATT set up a training program for the two, then chose a coach. Since Massimo Costantini (from the ICC Table Tennis Center) is the coach for both players, it seemed logical to choose him, but since he wasn't available to go overseas for the entire training program planned (nearly two months), another coach was selected. Officials from ICC were not happy.

I too thought they should have hired the coach first, then have him develop the training program for the players, in particular since he was the coach of both players. From USATT's point of view, they were just incorporating the ITTF's YOG training program, which involves a lot of overseas training and in general is a good idea. It might have been better if they had not locked themselves into requiring the coach to be there the entire time, allowing some flexibility so someone else could substitute for the few weeks when the coach can't make it. Regardless, hopefully they will work something out where Massimo oversees most of their training while missing some of it because of his other commitments. There is lots of discussion of this at the USATT Facebook and ICC Facebook pages.

The coach who was hired (though the official announcement is not yet up) is the highly qualified Lily Yip. (I've known her for decades, and we even attended the same ITTF Level 2 Seminar, held at the Lily Yip TTC last year.) It's unfortunate there's any controversy on this as she's an excellent coach. The problem is that the two players in question just happened to both be students of Massimo, and this was known at the time Lily was hired. Massimo was USATT's first choice because of this, but because he couldn't commit to the entire overseas training program they went with Lily. If they hadn't apparently locked themselves into requiring the coach there the entire time, perhaps they could have hired Massimo, and hired Lily for the times when Massimo could not make it.

Ironically, I also considered applying for the YOG coach position, but since I haven't worked directly with these players (other than a week about four years ago when I practiced daily with Krish during a Stellan Bengtsson camp, plus coaching against him in tournaments a few times), and since I figured Massimo or someone else who worked more regularly with these players was applying, I decided not to. (Plus it's a big commitment for a full-time coach with lots of students.) Perhaps another time, when an MDTTC player is on the team in question. MDTTC's Crystal Wang is already on the USA Women's Team and Cadet Girls' team, and we have a number of other up-and-coming players. But what happens if I or some other coach also can't commit to the entire "required" time? The irony is that coaches who are in demand are usually the ones who will often have the most trouble taking time off - and they are often the ones we'd want to hire.

This isn't the first time ICC has felt burned by USATT. 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? 

USATT Launches New Membership System - RailStation

Here's the announcement. Could be helpful. It definitely gets our membership system into the modern age! A key phrase from the announcement: "USATT members with a current email on file will be sent instructions on how to log in and activate their account.  If you have not provided an email address to USATT or need to update it, please contact Andy Horn at admin@usatt.org."

U.S. Open Entry Deadline Extended to May 18

This year's U.S. Open is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. The deadline to enter without a $75 late fee was Saturday (two days ago), but they've extended it to May 18 (next Sunday). Here's a listing of players currently entered, and of entries by event. (There are 381 players listed as entered as I write this, but I'm sure there are still a lot of paper entries not uploaded yet, plus the extended deadline should bring in some more.) Here's more info:

MDTTC - the Laughingstock of Table Tennis

Yes, it's true. On Friday and Saturday, famous stand-up comedian Frank Caliendo spent several hours at MDTTC playing. (He was in town for some local shows.) He has a rating of 1658, but that was from three years ago - he appears about 1800 now. Between coaching sessions I even got to play doubles with him on my team. (Alas, I coach too much and play too little, and so my receive was way off, and we lost to Julian Waters and Steve Hochman. But then Julian and I took down Steve and Frank!) Then on Sunday another famous stand-up comedian came in to play for a few hours, Judah Friedlander, who is rated 1565 (and who've I've coached before), though as his home page says, he's the World Champion. (Judah grew up locally, and while he spends most of his time in New York City doing stand-up, he comes to Maryland often to visit his family.)

ITTF Athletes Commission

Vladimir Samsonov was re-elected as Chair. Others elected or appointed were Jean-Michel Saive (BEL), Zoran Primorac (CRO), Krisztina Toth (HUN), David Powell (AUS), Angela Mori (PER), Elsayed Lashin (EGY), Yu Kwok See April (HKG), Wang Liqin (CHN), and USA's own Ashu Jain.

ITTF Legends Tour

I wrote about the Legends Tour last Thursday. Here are more pictures.

International News

As usual, there are lots and lots of international news items up at Tabletennista.

Matthew Syed Launches New Table Tennis Academy in England

Here's the story. (Syed is a former English table tennis champion, one of the best defensive players in the world.)

Shot of the Day

Here's video (46 sec) of a very strange rally at the recent World Championships between China's Ding Ning and Japan's Yuka Ishigaki in the Women's Team Final.

Ibrahim Hamato - Nothing is Impossible

Here's more video (2:43) of the famous armless Egyptian player from the ITTF. Includes interviews (with English translation) and showing him hitting with the best players in the world. I've actually put a racket in my mouth like he does to rally in exhibitions, but not at this level!

Happy Mother's Day (one day late)

Here's the Table Tennis Mother's Day Graphic by Mike Mezyan.

Non-Table Tennis - Bram Stoker Award

"After Death" just won Best Horror Anthology at the Bram Stoker Awards, which is sort of the Academy Awards for written horror. It includes a story of mine, "The Devil's Backbone." You can buy the anthology at Amazon. And here's a review of the book, which says, "… and “The Devil’s Backbone” by Larry Hodges, which I found to be well-conceived, well-executed, and well-written, my favorite in the anthology."

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