Crystal Wang

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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March 12, 2014

Cary Cup and No Blog on Thursday and Friday

I'm leaving for the Cary Cup very early Thursday morning, so no blog on Thursday and Friday. (See articles below on Cary Cup.)

As we've done the past four years in a row, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan drove down from New York this morning, arriving around 9:30AM. (He's already here.) He'll spend the day puttering about my house while I work on my new TT book and then go MDTTC for our afterschool program and a few hours of coaching (2:30-7:30PM, plus a 30-minute online writer's meeting I'm attending with my laptop at the club from 7:30-8:00PM). Tim wants to leave for Cary Cup around 4AM Thursday; he keeps strange hours, going to bed around 7PM and getting up at 3AM. We'll compromise and leave around 6 or 7 AM for the 4.5 hour ride. Then I run a beginner's clinic in Cary from 4-5 PM - last year we had about 30 players.

I'm only playing in the hardbat event, which is 10AM-3PM on Friday. I won it three years in a row, 2009-2011, finished third in 2012, and lost in the final in 2013. This year the draw is crazy strong, with Jim & Scott Butler (legends!), Xeng Pong (2364 pips-out penholder), 2293 A.J. Carney (experienced lefty hardbat player), and 2248 pips-out penholder Bin Hai Chu, who's won it the last two years (but I beat him in the 2011 final). But I'm a two-time National/U.S. Open Hardbat Champion (okay, it was over 20 years ago), 4-time U.S. Over 40 Hardbat Champion, and 13-times U.S. Hardbat Doubles Champion. (But I'm normally a sponge player.) I got about ten minutes practice with a hardbat on Sunday; that's the only hardbat play I've had since the U.S. Open last July. But it's like a bicycle - once you learn it, you never forget. Your feet just get slower and slower….

Once I'm done with hardbat I'll be coaching 13-year-old 2301-rated Derek Nie the rest of the way. There's going to be a lot of matches, so I'm stocked up on Trail Mix to energize my coaching.

Saturation and Exaggeration Training

Recently some players have been using my Saturation Training Tip of the Week from last September. I also have one on Changing Bad Technique, which is closely related. And I gave examples of saturation training in this blog entry. One of the examples there was how I developed my steady backhand with some saturation training with Dave Sakai, who was doing the same with his forehand attack.

There's actually a better example of my own saturation training back when I was 20 years old. I was a late starter at age 16, and was only rated 2002 when I went to the Zoran Kosanovic two-week camp up in Canada in the summer of 2000. Now Zoran was a somewhat controversial coach as he tended to push one way for everybody, and stressed physical training at levels never dreamed of in the U.S.  (We started each day with a one-hour run, and when he decided we hadn't pushed ourselves hard enough on the first day, we did a second one-hour run.) What follows is an example of both saturation training, and exaggeration training, where you take something that you don't do properly, and exaggerate it in the other extreme, and end up doing it somewhere in the middle, which is what you want.

On the first day he noticed that when I stepped around my backhand corner to do a forehand, I didn't really rotate clockwise much, and so was still pretty much facing my opponent. This meant that I could only attack effectively down the line. I'd been struggling with this for quite some time; when I tried to go crosscourt (to a righty's backhand), it would be soft and erratic as I wasn't positioned for the shot. So the very first morning, while I was hitting with 12-year-old future U.S. team member Scott Butler, he had me do a drill where I hit forehands from my backhand side to Scott's backhand. But with a twist - he made me exaggerate the foot position. I'd been stepping around so my left foot was way off to the left. Now he made me play with my body rotated clockwise in an exaggerated fashion so my left foot was to the right of my right foot, with my back almost to Scott. He put a cinder block next to my left foot to keep it from moving to the left. I had to peek over my left shoulder to see the incoming ball as I hit each shot. We did this twice a day for 15 minutes for fourteen straight days. By the end of that time I had broken my bad habit and now played forehands from my backhand side in the proper position, as I do to this day.

Let me stress one more thing about saturation training. If you are trying to fix poor technique that has been ingrained into you, your subconscious will fight you at first. So start with lots of shadow practice and simple drills where you can ingrain the proper habits. When drilling, you might exaggerate the proper technique, as in the example above. It'll take time, but if you do this long enough, whether it's every day for fourteen straight days or twice a week for three months (with lots of shadow practice on other day!), it'll pay off.

Cary Cup

Here are two more articles by Barbara Wei on the upcoming Cary Cup this weekend in Cary, NC. (The second article mentions Chen Ruichao, the new lefty practice partner/coach at MDTTC, who is seeded at 2600. We don't know for sure yet, but we have suspicions that might be a bit low for him, but we'll see this weekend.) I'm also including the first article from yesterday.

Crystal Wang

Here's the press release I sent out on Crystal Wang making the USA Women's Team at age twelve last weekend. It went out Monday morning.

China Eyes on the Japanese Team in the World Championships

Here's the article.

The Ping Pong Soundtrack

Here's the article, with links to the chosen soundtracks. (I'm not a music expert, so I'll let others judge this.)

Ping Pong Comic Strip

Here's a comic strip take-off on King Kong from 1953, except here the giant gorilla is called Ping Pong! Sorry, no actual table tennis.

What's the Difference Between Ping Pong and Table Tennis?

Here are 27 responses!

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March 7, 2014

Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - On Sale! - and Other Books

I've spent much of the last few weeks putting Table Tennis Tales & Techniques into a new format. You can now buy it print on demand at Amazon.com, with the price lowered from its previous $17.95 retail to only $11.61. There are some minor wording changes, and the format is slightly larger (9"x6" instead of the previous 8.5"x5.5"). While the book originally came out in 2009, the articles - both stories about table tennis, essays on technique, coaching tips, and a lot of table tennis humor - are timeless. Or so says me, the author! Of course, while there, don't forget to buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers or my other books on sale at Amazon. (Alas, due to the way the book was original set up, it would be incredibly time-consuming to put the Tales & Technique book in an ebook format, so that's not planned for now.)

Note that I expect to have an updated version of Table Tennis: Steps to Success - tentatively retitled as Table Tennis Fundamentals - by the end of this year. The key thing is finding time to get new photos for all the techniques in the book - there are a LOT. I've tentatively settled on who will demo most of the shots, and have a nice camera I can borrow. Then I go through it and update everything. There's a lot of updating to do.

I'm also planning to use those photos for an update to Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, a manual I wrote for USATT many years ago that covers how to coach. This is different from the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers the professional side to coaching - how to recruit and keep students, set up coaching programs, maximize, income, and other issues needed to make a living as a professional coach. (But of great value even for part-time coaches or promoters who wish to set up junior development programs or other types of classes or coaching programs.) I've learned a lot in the years since I originally wrote this, so there'll be a lot of updating.

I'm currently working on two books. Soon I'll finalize Table Tennis Tips, which is a compilation of all my Tips of the Week into one book, with the Tips organized in logical fashion, with a few notes added. All of these books will eventually go on sale at Amazon in print on demand and probably ebook format.

I'm also working on a rewrite of Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates, a science fiction novel I wrote a few years ago. (Yep, that's what I do in my free time!) I have a publisher interested, but they requested a rather extensive rewrite of certain aspects of the book. The book features table tennis a number of times - one of the main protagonists is a professional table tennis player who defaults out of a major tournament to run the third-party campaign for president of earth in the year 2100. The publisher said the best scene in the book was the scene where the player mentioned above does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership in an attempt to get their political support, with an alien ambassador he's been coaching as his playing partner. What happens during this exhibition I can't say without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say things don't go well for either of our table tennis players when the world government intervenes.   

I have another novel already out, Sorcerers in Space, which you can buy at Amazon or a few dollars cheaper in various formats straight from the publisher, Class Act Books. That main protagonist there is also a table tennis player - a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong, though last name is never actually given], a sorcerer's apprentice, who has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world in the U.S.-Soviet space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts. I also have a collection of my best published short stories, Pings & Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges.

USA Team Trials

They start this morning. You can follow all the action here. I couldn't go, but last night after seeing the draws I emailed some tactical tips to some of the MDTTC players.

Crystal Watch

What do I tell kids about ratings? They aren't important, but they are fun when they go up. They are also used in rankings, and while winning events is more important, achieving a high ranking is a goal to achieve. And Crystal Wang keeps getting these high rankings!

After her latest tournament, where she won Under 2400 and made the semifinals of Open Singles at the MDTTC Open (beating players rated 2370, 2370, 2344, 2323, 2304, and 2257, while losing to players rated 2344 and 2565), she's up to 2395, good for #1 in U.S. girls in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. (She turned 12 one week ago.) She'd also be #1 boys under 13 and second in boys under 14 (after California's phenom Kanak Jha, who won't be 14 until June 19).  Surprisingly, the 2395 isn't Crystal's highest rating - she was 2402 after the North American Teams in November, as an 11-year-old.

What's the highest rating ever for a 12-year-old? That would be 2468, by Kanak a year ago, with Crystal's 2395 (or 2402?) easily the second highest. These two have been breaking every rating record for kids since they were nine years old. Kanak set the record for the highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old in U.S. history, with Crystal breaking those records for 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds. Crystal's top goals this year are winning major events and making U.S. teams, but it will be fun to watch her "pursuit" of that 2468 over the next year. I happen to know that Crystal doesn't care one twit about ratings, and is pretty much oblivious to them. She has higher goals, which is why she trains about a zillion hours a day, a zillion days a week.

She's at the U.S. Team Trials right now, probably the youngest trying out. She made the quarterfinals of Women's Singles at the Nationals and won Under 22 Women over Ariel Hsing, who would go on to win her third Women's Singles title. But apparently due to school conflicts, Ariel isn't trying out for the U.S. team this year. The top seed is Lily Zhang at 2522. Number two is Judy Hugh at 2397. If they use the ratings that came out last night for seeding then Crystal would be seeded #3, two points behind Judy.

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.

Coaching a Beginning Kid

Want to see how it's done? Here's a video (3:05) of a coach, who seems to know what he's doing, working with a new kid, about 9-10 years old. There's a wide variety of skill when players first start out. Some pick it up quickly, seem to have a feel for the ball and for hitting it properly. Others have almost no control over the ball or their own bodies. The latter are tricky to work with because they are unable to really do what you want them to do. But with patience, they pick it up. The kid in the video is doing pretty well if it's his first session. He probably needs to put his right foot slightly back (which some kids are resistant to do, while others way overdo it), turn his shoulders more (which becomes more natural with the right foot slightly back), and raise his left arm for balance. (The coach comes over at one point to stress the shoulder turn, and the kid does better after that.)

More Against Poly Balls

Here's an article by Australian player Greg Letts where he discusses and comes out against the upcoming change to poly plastic balls.

Coach Wanted in Northern California (USA)

Here's the help wanted note they put up:

Established Club in Northern California is accepting applications for a full time coach / sparring partner. Compensation is 24-36K depending on level and experience. Your title will be developmental coach and you will report to the head coach who will oversee the curriculum and assign your duties. You must be a team player who can work together with the other coaching staff and be passionate about developing young players. You should play at a high enough level to stretch our current juniors who are 2400 +. 

The ideal candidate plays at a level of 2500 or higher, has coaching experience, and speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

You must be able to document your playing and coaching history. Match video is helpful.

For more information send your resume to norcalttclub@yahoo.com.

2-2 Footwork Drill

Here's a video (1:44) of an advanced player doing the 2-2 drill - two forehands from the forehand side, two forehands from the backhand side. I haven't really done this drill much with my students - I may add it to my repertoire.

The Coaching Scam Continues

On Feb. 27 I wrote about a coaching scam that's taking advantage of U.S. coaches. The idiot doing this is back, once again sending a mass email to U.S. table tennis coaches. I received mine yesterday at 6:53PM. Soon after other coaches also reported getting it. The emails have several variations - strangely, he doesn't send out the exact email to everyone. Here's the one I got, typos and all:

Hi there,
How are you doing today? My wife and I are looking to hire a qualified Coach that can train our Son and his name is David and he is 14yrs old,What we want for him is a just a general brush-up with his trainaing and in any areas he might have difficulties with.If you are available and qualified,kindly get back to me with your rates and location hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Regards,
Mr. Derick Bentley

Here's another one sent to another coach:

Hi there,
I send you Compliments and greetings? Hope you having a great week?
Anyway I and my wife are looking to hire a  qualified coach for our child who is 14yrs old. What we wanted for our child is a just a general brush-up with training and in any areas our child might be have difficulties with. If you are available and qualified, kindly get back to me with your rates and your location and hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Have a nice day.
Regards,
Mr. Derick Bentley

I got tired of the idiot and responded with this:

How long are you going to do this scam? Every email you send to U.S. coaches is being turned over to the FBI. We know the scam - you insist on paying in advance, you overpay, and then you ask for a refund. The coach sends you the difference, then your fake check bounces. Oh, and then you go to jail.
-Larry

Only Sort-of-Table-Tennis-Related Tongue-Twister

Yesterday at the club I heard one of the kids mention something about his backpack. It got me thinking - what if you say it backwards, packback? Better still say it both ways: "Backpack Packback"? Then I realized how hard it is to say that, and I realized I'd invented the most difficult tongue-twister ever developed. (That's my position and I'm sticking with it.) So I challenged the kids to say it five times fast, and pretty soon the room was full with the attempts. I don't think anyone was successful unless they slowed down dramatically. Try it - just say "Backpack Packback" five times fast, and do so without reading it off the page (which seems to make it easier). If you can do that, you have outdone the MDTTC juniors. (Disclaimer - our top four juniors weren't there, with three of them off to the U.S. Team Trials. So you are only up against the MDTTC Junior "B" Team!)

Sic 'em!

Here's a picture of someone holding back the table tennis dog that we're going to sic on that table tennis scammer above. 

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January 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing the Seemiller or American Grip. (This is an excerpt from "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.")

MDTTC Mini-Camp

Local schools are closed today and tomorrow for Martin Luther King birthday and a teacher's meeting. And so we're running a two-day mini-camp at MDTTC, 10AM-6PM. Normally I'd be there all day both days, but because I'm working on Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis (Vol. 14), with Tim at my side ("No, stupid, that photo there!"), I'm only doing the morning sessions. What does this really mean for me? It means I'm up all last night working on this blog, the Tip of the Week, and all the other stuff I have to take care of each day; it means I'm at my desk with Tim at 5AM to get two chapters done before I leave at 9:30AM; it means I'm coaching at the club from 10AM-1PM (and likely taking a large group of kids to the 7-11 down the street afterwards); it means I rush home to an impatient Tim and do several more chapters that afternoon and night; and it means starting all over again that night with the following day's blog so I can get started early with Tim the following morning. Somewhere in there I sleep.

Tim's Book, and Tim's Trials and Tribulations

Due to our various illnesses and my coaching, we're behind schedule on History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 14. However, we're catching up fast. Yesterday we got three more chapters done, so we've done eleven chapters, plus the covers and early intro pages. We just went through the 1985 U.S. Open, and once again Cheng Yinghua wins over Taiwan's Wen Chia-Wu, who had upset world #1 Jiang Jialiang in the semifinals! Cheng also won Men's Doubles with Jiang. And now he's my fellow coach at MDTTC.

Sports Psychology

One of my students (age 12) gets way too nervous in matches. So our top focus now is sports psychology. (This really should be everyone's top priority, since you get more for your time put into it than just about anything else.) I started today's session by having him simply tie his shoes. No problem. Then I had him do the same thing where he had to consciously tell himself what to do each step of the way. He laboriously went through the process, but the contrast with trying to consciously do it and letting your subconscious do what it's been trained to do (i.e. muscle memory) made the point about how you want to play table tennis. (For the record, I made up this exercise myself.)

Then we moved on to ping-pong ball shooting. I set up a box on the table, and we stood about fifteen feet away and simply shot baskets. The catch - you couldn't think about aiming. You just looked at the target, visualized the trajectory of the ball from hand to box, and then let it happen. At first the student had some problems - he kept trying to consciously aim the ball, or reacted to misses and swishes, when the conscious mind needs to get out of the way and let the subconscious do the job. After a few minutes of this, he was able to let go, and his shooting increased tremendously. (I had a streak where I made over 50 in a row without a conscious thought.

Then I held up a ping-pong ball, and said, "This is your conscious mind." Then I waved my hand about and said, "Your house is your subconscious. That's their relative sizes." Then I compared the conscious mind to some bad boss who flits about an office of well-trained employees and interferes with their work. For the well-trained employees (the subconscious) to get their work done they need the boss (the conscious mind) to get out of the way. Nervousness comes from the conscious mind; the subconscious is as cool as ice. Get out of the way and let it do its job. (Of course, there's the separate issue of training the subconscious - but that's what you are doing every time you practice, as you develop muscle memory. Most players have far better muscle memory than they realize, if they'd only stop being a bad boss and get out of the way.)

We didn't get to the table for the first half hour. (It was a 90-minute session.) Then he had a very good session. Much of the session we focused on reaction drills, where the key was to just let go and react, with muscle memory doing the natural reaction. He has a tendency to anticipate forehands and so loses a lot of points when the ball goes to his wide backhand, so we did drills where he had to just react to the ball, forehand or backhand.

We also went over routines. For example, anyone who's played me knows that when I serve, I start by loosening my right sleeve with my left arm; then I let my playing arm drop back and forth once like a pendulum; and then I serve. When I receive, I hold up my left hand as I approach the table; shuffle my feet a few times; and then lower my arm. Little routines like these become habit to the point that by doing them, they put you in the proper frame of mind for the point. Everyone should develop these little routines, with at least one thing you always do just before each point.  (This could become a Tip of the Week at some point.)

Aurora Cup

Now here's how you do publicity for a major tournament - with daily articles all week in advance! Below are the daily articles by Barbara Wei for the Butterfly Aurora Cup. (I believe there might be at least one more coming, covering Sunday's results, which I'll put up tomorrow.) And here are the results.

U.S. National Team Programs

Here's a listing of upcoming programs for the U.S. National Team.

Crystal Wang in Baltimore Sun

Here's an article and video (1:32) in the Baltimore Sun on 11-year-old Crystal Wang, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women at the USA Nationals. (She's from my club!) Here are more photos.

Disguise Topspin as Backspin with the Maharu Yoshimura Serve (Photo and Video Analysis)

Here's an article and video (3:49) from Table Tennis Master on how the Japanese star disguises his serves.

Gossip Pong

A few days ago I watched as two girls at my club played table tennis - or sort of played. They were chatting non-stop, with the table tennis just along for the ride. I realized we don't have a name for this, and so I have christened this new sport: "Gossip Pong." I'm copyrighting it. For now on, every time you use this name, you owe me $1. If you talk to your opponent when you play table tennis, you owe me $1. If you so much as call out the score, you owe me $1.

Ping-Pong with the Fishes

Here's the picture!

Schwarzenegger Super Bowl Commercial

Here's a video preview (17 sec) of an upcoming Super Bowl ad that shows Arnold trying to make it as a table tennis player. (Look at those strokes! Look at that hair!)  

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January 7, 2014

Away Wed-Sun

I'll be away the next five days, Wednesday to late Sunday night (Jan. 8-12), going to my nephew's wedding and family gathering in New Orleans. So no blog until next Tuesday. (I'll also put the Tip of the Week up on Tuesday.) At that point things get exciting - USATT Historian Tim Boggan moves in with me on Monday, and we begin the grueling two-week task of doing the photo work and layouts for Volume 14 of his History of U.S. Table Tennis, as I've done with the previous volumes. 

USATT Election Results

USATT just completed a special election for the open seat vacated by Christian Lillieroos. Here's the announcement - Jim McQueen wins over Ross Brown. Here's the USATT Board of Directors listing.

Ratings Records

I don't like to harp on ratings, but a record's a record. Here are two new ratings records, by Crystal Wang and Klaus Wood, both from my club, MDTTC. (However, as noted below, Klaus has spent most of the last four years in Taiwan.) 

Just as she did as a 9-year-old (with a 2150 ratings) and a 10-year-old (with a 2355 rating), Crystal Wang just set the all-time record for highest rating for an 11-year-old, boys or girls, with a 2402 rating after the North American Teams. Alas, it didn't last - at the USA Nationals, where she became the youngest ever to win Under 22 Women (beating in the semifinals soon-to-be three-time USA Women's Singles Champion Ariel Hsing), she sort of imploded in Under 18 Girls' Singles with several huge rating losses, and so came out at 2304. Suffice to say that few who play her think of her as "only" 2304.

Did she deserve the 2402 rating? You decide. (And remember that she beat the 2511 Ariel Hsing three weeks later at the Nationals!)
Wins: 2359, 2356, 2348, 2345, 2315, 2305, 2304, 2289, 2277, 2276, 2262, 2247, 2134, 2059, 2012.
Losses: 2781, 2542, 2394, 2325, 2305.

Crystal has been chasing after Kanak Jha's records for the last few years. Kanak, 13, set the record for highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and now 13-year-old in history, with Crystal breaking the first three. (Kanak's highest ratings at age 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 were 2017, 2265, 2366, 2468, and 2635. This last one especially is going to be tough for anyone to top! Note - I'm not absolutely certain Kanak's 2017 rating at age 9 was the record, but I think it was.) The two are leading a huge surge in elite cadet players in the U.S., which is stronger than it's ever been. Just for the record, both Crystal and Kanak are U.S.-born citizens. I had a listing of Kanak's highest ratings at each age, and now I can't find it, alas - but I know his highest as an 11-year-old was somewhere in the 2350 range, which is still incredible.

At the USA Nationals, Klaus Wood, 12, went from 637 to 1747, a gain of 1110 points, which I believe might be a record. If anyone's gained that many in a tournament, let me know. At worse, it's probably a record for the Nationals. The amazing thing is that's way, way too low for him. Just look at his results - he beat players rated 2261, 2068, 1906, and 1892, and his worst loss was to a 2132 player in five games! He's really 2100+. But his 637 rating was from 2009. Here's his story: he started out as a 9-year-old at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in 2009 (my club), and played five tournaments that year, getting that 637 rating. I coached him a number of times that year in group sessions. Then his father got a job in Taiwan, and so he moved there and spent the last four years there training. (He's half Chinese.) He came back to Maryland for a time this summer and attended two of our camps. Then he attended the USA Nationals. He's back in Taiwan again, but he's supposed to return to Maryland permanently later this year. We look forward to having him back.

Full-Time Table Tennis Centers

I've added two new clubs to the list I maintain of full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.; there are now 67 on my list.  The new ones are the Zaman TTC in Westminster, CA, and the Washington TTC in Gaithersburg, MD. Let me know if there are any I've missed. I'm sure there are a few out there that I don't know about. One rule - the club needs a web page in order to be listed.

There are full-time centers in 23 states. The leaders are California with 20 and New York with 12. After that it drops down to four in Maryland and Texas, and three in Georgia and Oregon, and two in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. States without a full-time center (in order of population) are MI, TN, MO, WI, CO, AL, SC, LA, KY, OK, CT, IA, MS, AR, KS, NE, WV, ID, HI, ME, NH, MT, DE, SD, AK, ND, VT, AND WY.

I was curious as to how they match up if you divide the state's population by the number of centers, and here's what I found, with number of full-time centers in parenthesis.

Population Per Full-Time Center in Millions

  1. RI (01): 1.1
  2. OR (03): 1.3
  3. MD (04): 1.5
  4. NY (12): 1.6
  5. CA (20): 1.9
  6. NM (01): 2.1
  7. NV (01): 2.8
  8. UT (01): 2.9
  9. GA (03): 3.3
  10. MA (02): 3.4
  11. NJ (02): 4.9
  12. MN (01): 5.4
  13. WI (01): 5.7
  14. PA (02): 6.4
  15. IL (02): 6.5
  16. IN (01): 6.57
  17. TX (04): 6.61
  18. AZ (01): 6.63
  19. WA (01): 7.0
  20. VA (01): 8.3
  21. NC (01): 9.8
  22. OH (01): 11.6
  23. FL (01): 19.5

Expert Table Tennis

Here's a growing step-by-step guide to playing table tennis. Not all the segments are complete, but it's halfway - nine articles done, nine to go!

Around the Net Winner

Here's video (41 sec) of Adam Bobrow winning a match in Vietnam with a spectacular around-the-net backhand counter-smash winner.

Imitating the Stars

Here's a funny video (1:56) of someone imitating four top Chinese players. See if you can identify which is which!  If you're stumped, the comments below it identify them. (Anyone who doesn't recognize the first hasn't been paying attention!)

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October 15, 2013

RGIII Response Video

On Friday, Robert Griffin III (alias RGIII, the Washington Redskins quarterback) put out a video (3:22) where he talked about his Olympic dreams. At the end of it (go to 2:57) he jokes that he might make the Olympics in ping-pong.

We at MDTTC decided we were not going to take this quietly. Here is the response video (1:15), put together by Nathan Hsu (17, 2303 but recently 2397), with players Derek Nie (12, 2297), Crystal Wang (11, 2267), and Roy Ke (14, 2261).

LET'S MAKE THIS VIDEO GO VIRAL!!! Post it wherever you can - on Facebook, Twitter, in blogs, any place you can. It's already the Video of the Day at USA Table Tennis, with RGIII's video featured on Friday.

Go Girls

Did you know that girls are dominating the lower age groups in the U.S. right now? Go to the USATT ratings, click on "Customizable Member Lists," and put in the proper settings (make sure to put in a number in the first field), and here's what you get.

In Under 9, the #1 player is Tiffany Ke of Maryland at 1749. (The #2 is Ted Chensheng Li of Texas at 1559.) Among girls, the #2 is Katherine Fang, also of Texas, at 819, almost a thousand points behind Tiffany.

In Under 10, the top two are Youruo Wu and Rachel Sung of California, both girls, rated 1978 and 1906. Tiffany Ke is #4 at 1749.

In Under 11, the #1 is Amy Wang of New Jersey at 2217. Youruo Wu is #4 at 1978, Rachel Sung #6 at 1906, Kelly Zhao #9 at 1796, and Tiffany Ke #12 at 1749.

In Under 12, the #1 is Crystal Wang of Maryland at 2267. Amy Wang is #2 at 2217. Youruo Wu is #12 at 1978.

Drill Your Skills with the Chinese National Team, Part 1

Here's a video (7:41), covering the forehand serve.

Best of Penholder Players

Here's a video (5:56) that shows spectacular rallies and shots by penholders, such as Ma Lin, Xu Xin, Wang Hao, and Ryu Seungmin. Some really great rallies here.

Ping-Pong Ball Fires

Here's an article about a beer-pong ball setting an apartment alight. But that's nothing. Here's a short article about a half million ping-pong balls bursting into flame. (Go to the "Noisier Than Bubble Wrap" segment, but the entire text follows.) "During a heat wave in Hong Kong this summer, a metal container packed with more than half a million ping-pong balls burst into flames. 'The blast was probably caused by air expansion inside the ping-pong balls,' a police spokesperson said."

Alternate Piggyback Pong

Here are two attempts at this incredibly difficult and dangerous version of table tennis. Here are Yahao Zhang and his wife (15 sec), and here are Adam Hugh and Michael Landers (20sec). Do not try this yourself - these are trained professionals!

Non-Table Tennis - Cover of My Novel

My novel "The Giant Face in the Sky" comes out Nov. 15 from Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy that parodies the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. It's Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. Here's the cover. And here's the blurb on the back cover:

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Neil, 13, badly wants to be someone. Instead he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world.” Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text.

Since whoever gets to the Face will have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets invade the U.S. in their attempts to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. A floating, talking meteor assassin named Buzz becomes Neil's companion--but in one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

President Kennedy puts together a motley crew that includes Neil, Gus, Buzz, a dragon, a 2-D sorcerer, and the sorceress Jackie Kennedy. Can they make it to the Face before the Soviets, and before Buzz kills Neil?

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June 12, 2013

Fingerprinting and Afterschool Programs

Yesterday I was fingerprinted. Oh no!!! As I blogged about yesterday, it was for an afterschool table tennis program we'll be running at MDTTC this fall. Also fingerprinted were coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and John Hsu.

I went in expecting to have my fingertips inked. But that's a thing of the past. Instead, they had me put my fingertips on the surface of a scanner, one by one, with the fingerprint image appearing simultaneously on a large screen. It took about 90 seconds in all.

Afterschool programs are a great way to bring in new junior players, as well as a way to make use of a facility in the late afternoon, before the (hopefully) big player rush after 7PM or so. This would be especially important to full-time centers, but part-time clubs already have the tables (and storage area for them), and playing space, so perhaps they too can take advantage of this. (And we get paid! The kids pay a nominal fee for the program.)

How do you do it? Contact the local county school's recreation department. You'll need a coach or organizer. You can handle a lot of players with two coaches - one to coach a few at a time, one to watch over the rest as they play. Ideally, you'd have them doing drills for at least half the session, with the players rotated a few minutes at a time to work one-on one with one of the coaches, probably with multiball. Realistically, if you have a large number of kids and only two coaches, it'll be mostly free play except when they rotate in to work with the coach. The coach can actually work with two at a time, with one kid on the forehand side, the other on the backhand side, with the coach feeding side to side. Or he can work with even more, with the kids lining up and taking turns, perhaps four shots each, then back to the end of the line. (I prefer two at a time if there's a large turnout.)

I blogged a bit more about this on June 4, including the importance of starting with one session a week to concentrate the players in that session so as to get a good turnout. Once you have a good turnout, then you can expand to two days, and so on.

Crystal Wang Impressive at Hopes Week, Wins Tournament

USA's Crystal Wang is featured and pictured in the ITTF story about Hopes Week, where she won the afternoon tournament. Here's an excerpt:

The afternoon session featured the now traditional training tournament with the players starting from the score 8-8 and playing best of five games . . . among the girls Crystal Wang from Maryland in the United States proved most of the coaches who watched her play during the opening day right. Certainly she impressed Mikael Andersson.

"She not only won the training tournament, she basically cruised her way through the first real test in Schwechat," he said. "Great style, wonderful timing and technique was too much for the other young Hopes girls to handle this afternoon." Earlier this year, in April, Crystal Wang won the Hopes Girls’ Singles event at the ITTF-North America Cup in Westchester.

Video Interview with Zhang Jike and Timeouts

Yesterday I blogged about timeouts. As posted by Doug Harley in the comments section, here's a video interview (3:08) of Zhang Jike after winning his semifinal match in Men's Singles at the Worlds, 4-0 over Xu Xin. (He'd go on to win the final.) One minute in he's asked why he called a timeout leading 10-9 in the third. The translator spoke broken English, but corrected into somewhat proper English, he said, "This is a key set for me so if I can win 3-0 it'll be easier for me to play the next set, and secondly, I did not do well the last point when I was leading 10-8 so I called a timeout to reset myself."

How Useful is Shadow Play?

Here's a short article from Table Tennis Master: How Useful is Shadow Play?

The Speed of Table Tennis

Here's a video (3:04) featuring USA's Erica Wu that breaks down the speed of table tennis. (I think I remember seeing and posting perhaps an earlier version of this, but this one was only posted on Monday.)  

China Open

Here's the home page for the China Open, June 12-16, 2013, in Changchun, China. USA players Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Wu Yue are all entered in it. Hsing and Zhang are in Women's Singles, Doubles (teamed together), and Under 21 Women. Wu Yue is in Women's Singles and Doubles (with Shao Jien from Portugal).

2013 USATT Para National Team Training Camp

Here's Richard Xue's photo album - the first ten albums are all from the camp, which is going on right now in San Diego.

Lady Antebellum Ping Pong & Songs Finale

I blogged about this yesterday; here's a video (1:33). The two players on the right at the start are Homer and son Adam Brown; that's Michael Wetzel umpiring.

Four Year Old on TT Robot

Here's a video (2:34) of four and a half year old Jordan Fowler (grandson of Brian) smacking balls on his KingPong Robot.

California Governor Jerry Brown Brings Ping Pong to State Government

Table Tennis Nation brings you the story, with lots of links on this and related items.

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June 4, 2013

Tip of the Week

Five Steps to a Great Spin Serve.

Meeting with Montgomery County School Officials

Yesterday MDTTC officer Wen Hsu and I met with officials from Montgomery County Schools about creating an afterschool table tennis program. The program would start this fall, on Thursdays. If there is a good turnout, then we'd expand to other days.

One interesting item of agreement came up. Many times when clubs look to do such programs they are very ambitious, and look to have such a program every day, or at least multiple times each week. It sounds great, and there's nothing wrong with aiming toward this - that's where the ambition should lead. The problem is that very often all this does is spread a limited number of players at the start over multiple days, and so instead of getting a good turnout once a week, you get a very weak turnout multiple times each week. When the kids come in and see there aren't many others, they lose interest.

When we were first discussing this program, the original idea was to do it multiple times each week. I argued for once a week at the start so we could get as many kids at once to start. (Obviously you have to take your club's size into account; we have 16 tables normally set up and can go to 18.) When we discussed with the school officials how many times per week we should do it, I said once a week to start, and expand later when we have the numbers. They were openly relived - turns out they regularly have this problem with groups wanting to expand too quickly rather than focus on getting a good turnout once a week, and had sort of a "canned lecture" on the importance of this - which was roughly what I said above. Anyway, we agreed on Thursdays, and will expand if we get the numbers.

I'm going to be the primary coach for the sessions, but depending on turnout, I'll have others helping out. I'll always have at least one assistant. During a typical session I'd take a few at a time to work with, doing multiball and using a robot, while another coach (or coaches) oversee the others hitting among themselves. Then the players would rotate between the two groups until I've worked with all of them.

We want all our coaches to be ready to work on this program. One of the requirements for working with kids in Montgomery County Schools is a background check - and so they require all coaches to get fingerprinted! I've never had this done. Next Tuesday all the coaches (nine of us - Cheng, Jack, Leon, Bowen, James, Brian, Raghu, John, and myself) are going to the police station at 10AM to get fingerprinted. I hope to take pictures.

Eye Exam

I had an eye exam last week. My distance vision hasn't changed, but I'm having more and more trouble reading. Normally I read without glasses, but more and more I can't focus on things close up without eye strain. I actually have reading glasses, but I normally don't really need them - my left eye, until recently was pretty much fine for reading, and the right eye only slightly blurry. But now I've ordered stronger reading glasses, which should come in this week. It'll be a sad moment when I make the transition to reading with glasses all the time - but now I'll be able to read again without constant eyestrain or having to hold the book at arm's length to focus. I wear distance glasses when I play or coach table tennis, so in theory I can't see the ball close up - but after experimenting, I've found clearly seeing the opponent (and his racket's contact with the ball) is more important than seeing close-up, since you can't really react to something at that point anyway. In theory, perhaps bifocals would be best, and I've tried that, but in practice there's that transition between the lenses that I could never get used to. 

Serve With No Spin and Beat Timo Boll

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

Meiklejohn North American Senior Championships

Here are the results.They were held this past weekend, May 30 - June 2.

Crystal Wang on NBC Featured by USATT

The video of 11-year-old Crystal Wang on NBC on April 24 is now featured on the USATT web page.

Oceanic Festival of Table Tennis

Here's the info page. "The first ever Oceanic Festival of Table Tennis is taking place across Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. From Monday 17th June to Saturday 22nd June, American Kim Gilbert, and Fijian Steve Reilly will be taking Table Tennis across the island!"

MySpace Executive Brings Ping-Pong to Revived Company

Here's the article (and links) from Table Tennis Nation.

Ping-Pong and Songs

Here's the article. "Join Charles, Hillary and Dave at their inaugural Ping Pong & Songs with all proceeds benefitting LadyAID™. Be a part of it and get your game face on!" Event takes place on June 6, this Thursday.

Superman Table Tennis

Here's the Facebook picture - based on the way he's holding the paddle he needs some serious coaching. (If you can't see it on Facebook, try this.)

Non-Table Tennis - "Tyler's Ten" Online

My new science fiction story "Tyler's Ten" is now online at New Myths Magazine! When Vice President John Tyler takes the oath of office as president after the death of President William Henry Harrison in 1841, an alien vacationer takes over his body and sends his consciousness into a virtual reality world inside a computer - along with the other first ten presidents - Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J-Q Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, and W.H. Harrison! Turns out the first ten presidencies were all run by aliens on vacation, with the aliens taking over as they took the oath of office. What can Tyler do to save them? Features lots of presidential bickering (especially Jackson and J-Q Adams), an alien courtroom battle, and ends on modern earth. (Here's my science fiction & fantasy page.)

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April 25, 2013

Defaults and Rating

There's been an email exchange among some USATT officials, of which I was CCed, on the subject of players defaulting tournament matches to protect their rating, It was instigated by a gentleman who was the victim of this - a player didn't want to play him, perhaps because he had long pips, and so defaulted, apparently to protect his rating. The question raised is why don't players who default matches lose rating points? It's a good question - and below is my response.

I'll jump in and give the reasons for why they do not give away rating points for a default, and then (at the end), I'll offer a possible solution.

It would be somewhat unfair to take away rating points for certain defaults. So the only way I see for a rules change that would allow a rating loss for defaults is if the referee were given the responsibility of determining if the default was "legitimate" or not. That would not be easy to determine, as someone who wanted to avoid playing a match for rating purposes could easily fake one of the below reasons. Here are some legitimate reasons why players default that have nothing to do with avoiding rating point losses - and over the course of 37 years of play, I've defaulted matches at least once for each of these reasons (except for #3 and #8), as have many others. (I'm sure there are other reasons I haven't thought of.)

  1. Tournament runs late, and player has to leave.
  2. Player is injured or sick.
  3. Player is too tired. This happens all the time - sometimes someone older or out of shape advances in multiple events, and simply can't play all of the matches, and has to default some. This especially happens to elderly players.
  4. Player is unhappy with the playing conditions and decides to drop out. If a tournament has poor lighting, a background where you have trouble seeing the ball, slippery floors, or some other such problem, a player might decide to default rather than play in such poor conditions.
  5. Player's equipment is broken, defective, or stolen.
  6. Player is unable to attend a tournament he entered, or is called away from the tournament unexpectedly. Some people are on call, such as doctors. Players have defaulted out of less important matches at big tournaments to do table tennis TV interviews, or to do commentating, or some other function. Or a player may be called away due to a family or work emergency.
  7. Player is also a tournament official or volunteer, and he is unexpectedly needed, and so he drops out (i.e. defaults) to help run the tournament.
  8. Player unexpectedly advances in a major event, and so defaults a less important event. This happens at the U.S. Open and Nationals quite a bit. When I have a top junior who is pulling off upsets and has a chance to win a major age event, I'm almost always going to advise him to drop any rating events so he can focus on the age event and a national title. The problem is the player might not know in advance he'd do so well in the age event, and so enters the rating events as well. This also happens in Men's and Women's Singles, where a player might find himself advancing deep into the draw, and so not want to tire himself out in another event, such as a rating event, some age events, hardbat, sandpaper, etc. When Dan Seemiller, in his late 50s, pulled off some upsets and advanced deep into the Men's Singles event at the 2011 USA Nationals, he defaulted his senior events to save energy for that event.

Some would argue that if a player chooses to default, he should always lose the rating points. But besides being unfair in some cases (such as reason #1 above), that would just make the rating system less accurate. We have enough trouble with under-rated players showing up and sweeping the rating events and messing up the seedings; do we really want to take away 50 points in a default from a player - and possibly multiple times if the player defaults several matches - knowing what this will mean when he shows up at his next tournament? Suppose a player is rated 1830, but defaults out of two round robin events for one of the reasons above. That could be six matches, and perhaps 200-250 rating points. His next tournament he shows up way under-rated and playing in events he should not be eligible for.

What I would suggest as a solution is to have a player who defaults lose rating points unless the referee approves the default, i.e. the defaulting player must give the referee a reason for the default, and the referee must accept it, based on guidelines from the bullet points above. I'd also limit it to a maximum of 50 points lost in one tournament from defaults. I don't think players should gain rating points from a default. There's no perfect solution, and a liar would still get away with defaulting matches to protect his rating, but it would happen less often as many players might have some difficulty flat-out lying to the referee, and sometimes the player's actions would convince the referee he is lying. Also, if a player defaults regularly, then the referee could turn him down.

I'd rather not get into a long discussion of this - I have a busy day coaching and writing tomorrow. But hopefully the above will offer some grounds for thought, discussion, and possible action by those in a position to make changes.

The Plastic Poly Ball

Here's the ITTF's report on the ball. It's 32 pages and seems pretty comprehensive with lots of scientific-looking studies - but no, I haven't read it yet. I'm hoping some of our readers will read it and report your thoughts on it. This could be a scary situation, as one thing that comes out is that the new poly ball plays differently than the current one. Do we really want that? Does the report give a strong reason for doing so?

Stance for Returning Serve

Here's the video from PingSkills (1:16), plus an article on the topic of proper stance and how far to stand from the table when receiving serve.

Table Tennis Master

Here are four new articles from Table Tennis Master.

Crystal Wang on TV

Here's the video (4:34) of Crystal and her dad getting interviewed on NBC 4 yesterday. Crystal (just turned 11 and rated 2292) just won the Hopes Trials at the North American Cup.

Texas Wesleyan University Team on TV

Here's the video (5:03) of the team after winning their tenth straight national collegiate championship, on CBS Local.

Central Florida Table Tennis Club

It's not full-time, but it's 27,000 square feet!!! Here's their web page. They have 18 tables, but with rather large courts.

Great Chopping Point

Here's a great attack versus defense point from the 2012 China Open, featuring world #1 Ding Ning versus world #11 Wu Yang, perhaps the best chopper in the women's game. When it all ends, guess how Wu wins the point?

Roman Table Tennis

I think that's Julius Caesar playing TT!

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April 23, 2013

Tip of the Week

Proper Practice Progression Prevents Poor Play.

Hopes Trials

The Hopes Trials were held in conjunction with the North American Cup this past weekend in Westchester, NY, at the Westchester Table Tennis Club. And here's an article (lots of photos) on the players at the North American Cup.

I saw very little of the North American Cup since I was alternating coaching matches in the Hopes Boys and Girls Trials. (There was also an all-day USATT Board Meeting on Saturday, but I missed all of that as well.) I did see some spectacular play by 2406-rated 15-year-old Allen Wang - he's moved up to where he's challenging the best players in the country, despite being roughly six feet twenty inches tall. He beat Canada's Xavier Therien (rated 2517), went seven games with Peter Li (2557), and had a spectacular match with eventual North American Cup winner Andre Ho (2522), including an incredible game which Ho finally won, 25-23 (!). I saw some of the women's final - as usual, Ariel Hsing and Lily Zhang put on a show, with Zhang winning.

I wrote a lot about the tournament in my blog last Thursday, so I won't repeat all of that. I coached Crystal Wang and Derek Nie in all of their matches, which roughly alternated every hour all day long. Most of the time they practiced together to prepare for their matches, but I also joined in a lot, especially with Derek, where we had a lot of nice counterlooping duels as well as lots of serve & receive and serve & loop practice.

Crystal, rated 2292, won Girls' Singles without losing a game. She beat Ivy Liao of Canada (rated 1939) in the semifinals at 7,3,7. In the finals, she faced Amy Wang of New Jersey (rated 2168, but recently over 2200, and with a winning record against Crystal). However, this time Crystal won at 8,7,8 in a battle of Crystal's two-winged looping (often off the bounce) against Amy's more traditional hitting. Amy is looping more than before, but is forced to block when Crystal starts looping, and Crystal's loops into the forehand and middle were effective.

There were two umpires - the main umpire, and the assistant umpire, who was the scorekeeper. Throughout this match, for some reason, the scorekeeper seemed to stare at me almost continuously between points. Every time I'd glance at the scoreboard he'd be staring - almost glaring. I have no idea why; I'm not even sure if I've met him before. Perhaps he thought I was signaling or something. Several others noted this as well. Neither he nor the main umpire were staring or glaring at the other coach. 

I've never used signals when coaching; they are illegal. (Here's proof: I've been coaching matches for over 30 years, and I've many hundreds of players in tournament matches. ATTENTION, all players I've ever coached - if I've ever used signaling when I coached, please step forward now and let everyone know. But nobody's going to step forward because it never has happened.) Some umpires are overzealous in guarding against signaling, but it's somewhat silly. Any coach could get away with signaling if he wants. For example, no umpire is going to tell a coach he can't clap after a point. So a dishonest coach can, for example, work out with his player that one clap means serve short to the forehand; two claps mean short to the middle; three claps short to the backhand, and so on. Elbows up for topspin, down for backspin, and perhaps clap with the tips for no-spin. (I'm making this up as I go along. Really.) Or use innocuous words of encouragement that mean something. However, all this is rather counter-productive as signaling a player over and over is a really good way to mess up their concentration as well as training them to not be able to think for themselves.

Derek (rate 2215, was 2234 before a bad Cary Cup) made it to the semifinals of Boys' Singles. There he faced Victor Liu (rated 2226). It was a seesaw battle, where one player seemed to dominate every game. Derek led 9-7 in the fifth. The last time these two had played (at the 2011 Nationals) Derek had led 9-6 in the fifth and lost five in a row. Two of the best times to call a time-out are when the player is losing focus, and when the player is serving and on the verge of winning an important game. In the latter case, you do so to make sure the player is completely focused and knows what serves to use to lock up the game. So I called a timeout - but Derek, feeling he was okay, shook it off. He lost the next four points, including an easy loop, a push, and an easy block. Sheer agony as he lost, 8,-5,7,-7,9. We'll never know if the timeout might have helped. Victor went on to win the final over Gal Alguetti at 13,7,9.

With Victor, Derek, and the Alguetti twins (Gal & Sharon, rated 2283 and 2271), I don't think we've ever had such a strong group of players at that age group, all 11 or 12. Add in Kanak Jha (2457) and Jack Wang (2329), who were one year too old for the Hopes Trials, and several others in the 2150-2200 range, and we have a powerhouse group coming up. Not to mention the twin towers on the girls' side of Crystal & Amy Wang! (No relation, though Amy is the younger sister of Allen, mentioned at the start.)

Brain Teasers at the Hopes Trials

It wasn't all table tennis, however. During the five-hour ride to and from the tournament, and also at meals, Derek and Crystal became addicted to brain teasers. I know hundreds of them, but I'd used many in past trips, and so began to make ones up. I think Derek may major in college in brain teasers.

Here are some brain teasers involving table tennis that I made up. Email me your answers, and tomorrow I'll publish whoever gets them right! (I made up many more, but can't remember them, alas.)

  1. A player liked to play table tennis with various animals. He played a lion, a giraffe, a raccoon, and an elephant. Then he played another animal, but over and over the animal served wet balls. Why?
  2. A player liked to play table tennis with various animals. He played a chimpanzee, a dog, an ostrich, and a snake. Then he played another animal, but over and over, rather than playing, the player would drop his paddle, fall to the ground, and lay still. Why?
  3. A group of miners had dug tunnels to extract diamonds from the ground. They decided to set up a ping-pong table in their tunnel. The tunnel was exactly six feet wide, so just wide enough for the table and net (which extends six inches on both sides). It was very long, so there was plenty of room on each side. It was exactly thirty inches tall, and so just enough room for the table and net. However, once it was set up, they were unable to play. Why?
  4. Here's a non-table tennis one I made up. Remember, this is being said out loud, so ignore the actual spelling. An old man with one hair went to a barber and asked him to cut the hair. The barber was outraged, and called the police. Why?

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers Featured by Australia TTA

Here's the article. Copies of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers are going fast!

Largest Club in the Country

The Westchester Table Tennis Club has been the largest full-time club in the country for several years, at 13,000 square feet with 18 tables. (My club, Maryland Table Tennis Center, is "only" 10,000, with 16 tables, alas. Though we sometimes jam in 18 tables for training.) However, a new club has just opened in Portland, Pure Pong, with 16,500 square feet and 20+ tables. Here's the article.

Table Tennista

Here are the headline international stories at Table Tennista.

Stiga Tisza Table Tennis Camp in Hungary

Here are three short videos from the camp.

Training in China

Here's a training video (3:38) in China from Tony Table Tennis.

The Lord of the Ping

I think he's cupping his hand - but he doesn't have to follow no rules.

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