2014 LA Open

August 19, 2014

Hong Kong Junior & Cadet Open, and Player Selection

I've been raising heck via email recently over what happened at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open. And perhaps I actually accomplished something, though too late for this time. Here's what happened.

There are limited number of entries for each country, and so each country has to work out rules for who can represent them. A number of USA juniors had paid their own way, and wanted to play singles. (All were able to play doubles and teams, but there weren't enough openings for singles.) According to the rules set by the USATT High Performance Committee (HPC), first and then second priority goes to those who made the National Junior Team (top four), and then the National B Team (next four). That's good so far. But after that, next priority went to players who were from "USATT Hot Spots," which really means ITTF Hot Spots in the U.S. There are four in the U.S., but MDTTC (my club) is not one. The application process goes through USATT, and we started this process in September, 2013. Unfortunately it turns out ITTF is no longer approving new Hot Spots while it rethinks the concept, and so we are not an ITTF Hot Spot, though we obviously qualify, and are one of USATT's eight National Centers of Excellence.

What does all this mean? A member of our club, Nathan Hsu, a U.S.-born citizen rated 2416, is training in China right now, and wanted to play Under 18 Singles at the Hong Kong Open. He's been playing very well recently, even knocking off a 2648 player at the U.S. Open, his best win ever. But he had not made one of the USA Teams at the Trials in December, and so because of the rules set up by USATT, priority went to members of Hot Spots. Result? Because he played at the "wrong club," Nathan wasn't allowed to play singles. Instead, two players rated 1792 (age 14) and 1864 (age 17), who played at the "right club," were entered and represented USA in singles at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Open (along with others who were on USA Teams).

Think about that. There were two spots open, and we had players rated 2416, 1864, and 1792. None were on the USA Team. One had a world ranking (Nathan, #298 in Under 18). But the choice was made not by the player's ranking or level, but by which club he played at! And so the two players with ratings around 1800 represented USA in singles, while the 2400+ player sat on the sidelines and watched. He was punished for not playing at the "right club." Can you imagine trying to explain that to Nathan? Or in a court of law? Or to the U.S. Olympic Committee? This is not about the two players who played, their club, or their coach; it's about very bad rules set up by USATT that led to a very unfair outcome.

Even if you decide choosing players based on what club they play at rather than their actual ranking or level is somehow okay, ITTF is no longer accepting Hot Spots, so there's no way of becoming one. (Full disclosure - not only does Nathan play at my club, but I often coach him, especially in tournaments. There's even a picture of me coaching him and his brother John in doubles on the back cover of my Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers book.)

In fairness to the HPC, the chair, Carl Danner, who I greatly respect, explained that they never anticipated this result, and that the surge of interest among parents to send their kids to these international events was unprecedented. He said that part of the intent of the rule was to recognize the most advanced training centers, and a freeze on the Hot Spot designations was unexpected. He said that in light of this experience, he will recommend changing the rule.

I accept that the HPC never expected this outcome, but I sure wish I'd been in the room or saw a draft of this when they were creating the rules to point out the unfairness. Creating rules have consequences. Choosing players to play in international events based on what club they play at isn't fair, and it turns them into pawns, to be given out to favored clubs like chattel - something that they somehow never foresaw. It's too late for Nathan - this was his last chance to compete in junior events. However, he'll continue to train hard for future events.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Video

Here's the video (1:50) created by Evan Sery created by last week. Much of it features Coach Jack Huang, but most of the taping is from a junior session I'm running - you can hear me coaching and yelling out things in the background.

Trip to Zoo (Non-Table Tennis)

Yesterday we had a small turnout in our MDTTC camp, and so I wasn't needed. (Besides, the other coaches need the money more - outside my coaching I have writing income.) So I decided to take most of the day off from everything, and took the subway to the National Zoo in Washington DC! I hadn't been there since I was a kid, probably over 40 years ago. I enjoyed both the animals and the fresh air. Here are the most memorable moments there.

  • I had pizza for lunch. Pigeons and smaller birds were all over, and so I decided to feed them. A large crowd of them gathered! We're not supposed to feed the zoo animals, but I think this was okay. I think. At least I wasn't dragged away in chains, though there were a few moments I thought the birds were getting a bit too close.
  • Three times I stared eye-to-eye with wild animals. At the Great Apes building an orangutan and I watched each other for several minutes. It had these tiny, soulful eyes, just as the orangutan from the recent Planet of the Apes movies. (Later I'd see an exhibit showing brain sizes of various great apes, and seeing how small its brain was compared to a human's, I wondered how much thinking was really going on. But it sure seemed like there was a thinking, aware being in those eyes.) As I left the building, a gorilla stood next to the glass at the front of its cage, and we looked at each other for a moment. Later, at the Great Cats area, I watched the lions for perhaps ten minutes. The male lion, which was pretty large with a huge mane, seemed to pick me out of the crowd and stared at me. I waved at it, and it definitely began to watch me. After a few minutes, as I left, its eyes followed me the whole time. Perhaps it was hungry.
  • My favorite animals: the orangutan, gorilla, and lion that I went eye-to-eye with; the giant tortoise that went on a "sprint" across its enclosure (okay, a craaaaawl); the sea lions; the giant anaconda; the lemurs (so like our ancestors!); the two elephants; the prairie dogs; the komodo dragon; a giant stingray; and a gigantic arapaima fish. My only disappointment was that the Invertebrates House had closed down, so no octopuses.
  • I saw the pandas, but they were just sleeping.
  • To my non-expert eyes, I thought the elephants, lions, and tigers needed larger enclosures. They looked pretty bored, with the elephants pacing back and forth while the lions and tigers just lay about, as they do in the wild something like 20 hours/day.
  • My legs are once again extremely tired from walking around for four hours. 

Youth Olympic Games

USA's Lily Zhang made it all the way to the semifinals of junior girls before losing this morning (i.e. afternoon in Nanjing, China, where they are playing) to top-seeded Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong, 1,-5,8,9,6. It was quite a turnaround for her to come back and win game two 11-5 after losing the first 11-1! She will be playing for the bronze tomorrow. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, with articles, results, video, and pictures. (Krish Avvari is the other USA player competing.) Here's a blog entry about Lily by Matt Hetherington. A big Congrats to Lily!!!

$36,000 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

Here are the last two articles by Barbara Wei on the LA Open this past weekend. I linked to the previous seven in yesterday's blog, as well as the results and the LA Open home page.

About.com Articles

Here are three new ones, including two coaching articles.

Sidespin/Topspin and Sidespin/Backspin Serve Tutorial

Here's the video (4:38). (Note for beginners - backspin and underspin are the same thing.) It's in Chinese, but has some English subtitles, and you can learn just by watching.

This Applies to Table Tennis

"I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end." -Larry Bird.

Table Tennis: The Best Sport Ever

Here's the video (3:11). "Do you know someone who dislikes Table Tennis? Let's show this video!"

Sometimes It Is Not Just About Winning

Here's a nice meme on this.

Is Timo Boll an Unlucky Player?

Here's the article and video (5:33). "Why hasn't Timo Boll been able to win major titles? Is he an unlucky player?"

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Eighty-eight down, 12 to go!

  • Day 13: Germany’s Hans Wilhelm Gäb Provided ITTF the Model for TMS

Barry Ratner Obituary

Here it is. He was a long-time player and organizer. He will be missed.

73 Questions with Daniel Radcliffe

Here's the video (6:21) where the Harry Potter star "…plays ping–pong with us and answers 73 questions on everything from his desire to star in Guys and Dolls to what he would bring on a one-way trip to Mars. What’s something he knows about Harry Potter that no one else does? Watch and find out." This is hilarious! Daniel seems to be playing a lot of ping-pong recently - on Aug. 7 I linked to an article and video (1:46) where he also played.

"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Movie Might Be Coming

Here's the article.

Electric Pong

Is your paddle charged? Here's the latest table tennis artwork by Michael Mezyan.

Dimitri Ovtcharov Plays Clipboard Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:06) from the 2013 LA Open (last year).

Unbreakable Ball?

Here's the article and picture. It's a collapsible ball made of a flexible material that's created with a 3-D printer! I can't wait to try this out.

Table Tennis Ice Bucket Challenge

It's spread to the table tennis world, including my club. Here are some.

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August 18, 2014

Tip of the Week

The Purpose of the Serve.

MDTTC Camp

Last Friday was Day Five of Week Nine of our Ten Weeks of Camp at MDTTC. Today we start Week Ten. Guess what? I'm exhausted! I had a bunch of other things to write about this morning, but I'm running out of time (and energy), so I'll just write about the camp.

Friday was perhaps the most difficult day I've had all summer - I was up late the night before, then got up early to do the blog, and spent the entire day with a headache that was like 40 kids smacking balls against the back of my head nonstop. Only - there were 40 kids, only instead of smacking balls against my head they were at their most excited over-exuberant, since it was the last day of the camp (for the week). Let's just say I just smiled and put up with it while my head pounded away all day.

My headache wasn't helped when two kids thought it'd be interesting to pour two huge bottles of soap down the toilet. These are the bottles that are used to refill the soap dispensers in the bathrooms. Why would these two kids, both about 10, do this? They couldn't explain it, just thought it would be fun. I was the one who had to break the news to their parents, and they were in a lot of trouble.

Worse was what happened over lunch. I was on my laptop, and the youngest player in the camp, a 5-year-old girl, thought it would be funny to keep jabbing at the keys with a pen while I tried to work. I kept asking her to stop, but she wouldn't. She left for a moment. I went to get something, and when I came back, she was randomly tapping away on the laptop. When I got back on it, what I found was unreal - she'd somehow managed to not only log me out of several pages, but to have gotten my automatic logins deleted! Normally when I go to the pages I get logged in automatically, but no more - and I didn't have the passwords with me. It took me forever to figure them out. All this while my head pounded away.

Coach Aabid Sheikh from Boston was in town, and came by to watch for half the day. He watched while I taught two kids to forehand loop for the first time - and both picked up on it pretty fast.

Most of the players in the camp played a practice tournament in the afternoon. Some of the new and younger ones were strong enough to join in, while others did the usual target practice games. I also introduced them to the robot at full speed, where it shoots balls out at full speed at the fastest rate.

Things I'm Irritated About

I'm debating which of these to blog about later on - more on the problem with the Nationals going to half celluloid, half non-celluloid; USATT creating rules that allow 1800 players to represent USA in singles at the Hong Kong Junior and Cadet Champions while not allowing a 2400 player to do so because he plays at the wrong club (the rules they created favor players who happen to play at ITTF "Hot Spots," rather than individual performance); or more on the ITTF Hall of Fame's silly eligibility requirement of five World or Olympic titles, where being #6 on the Chinese winning team (but not even playing) counts as much as winning Men's or Women's Singles, and so players like Stellan Bengtsson, Istvan Jonyer, Mikael Appelgren, Kjell Johansson, and USA's two-time World Women's Singles Champion Ruth Aarons are not in, while players such as Chen Qi and Peter Karlsson - worthy players, but not at the level of these others - are in.  Alas, I'm out of time this morning, and will likely write more on these topics later on. I'd like to write more on positive stuff, such as new training centers opening up, etc. 

Footwork for Defenders

Here's the video (4:12).

The New USATT Magazine

Here's the U.S. Open issue, headlined "The Plastic Era Begins." I have two articles in it, Review of the Nittaku 3-Star Premium 40+ Ball on pages 16-17, and Pushing Change of Direction on page 47.

$36,000 Butterfly Los Angeles Open

It was held this past weekend. Congrats to Open Champion Chih-Yuan Chuang and Runner-up Eugene Wang! Here are the results, and here is the LA Open home page. And here are articles on the tournament by Barbara Wei, with more coming tomorrow.

Youth Olympic Games

They are taking place right now, Aug. 17-23, in Nanjing, China. Representing USA are Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari. Here is the ITTF home page for the event, with articles, results, video, and pictures. Here's a USATT page with some of Lily's results and quotes. Here are four pictures of Jorgen Persson and Wang Liqin doing an exhibition and signing autographs at the Games.

Interview with Lily Zhang at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the video (1:33).

Ariel Hsing, Teen Chinese-American Table Tennis Sensation

Here's the article in the China Times (in English).

LYTTC Creating Tomorrow's Champions Today!

Here's a new video (3:25) featuring training at the Lily Yip Center in Summer, 2014.

Ping Pong for Charity

Here's a video (30 sec) that advertises the advantages of table tennis (exercise for the brain) while raising money for charities such as Alzheimer's.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Eighty-Seven down, 13 to go!

  • Day 14: Rules Chair Rudi Sporrer Believes Changes Improved Sport’s Presentation
  • Day 15: Jane Pinto Has Been Mentored by Adham Sharara since 1996
  • Day 16: Oceania’s Continental President, James Morris, Shares “Top 5” Ideas

The Sedin Twins of NHL's Vancouver Canucks Play Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:35). 

Milwaukee TTC Fundraising Cake

Here's the picture - someone took a bite out of it before they got the picture!

World's Biggest Table Tennis Player?

Here's the picture! (If you can't see this in Facebook, try this.)

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July 23, 2014

Doc Counsilman Science Coach of the Year and Ruminations on Coaching

Look what I got in the mail recently! Here's the plaque for my winning the USATT Doc Counsilman Science Coach of the Year. And here's the plaque/box from the U.S. Olympic Committee for being a finalist for the award - one of three out of all the Olympic sports. (Here's their news item.) The latter is actually a box - it opens up. I can store ping-pong balls inside! ("The Doc Counsilman Science Award recognizes a coach who utilizes scientific techniques and equipment as an integral part of his/her coaching methods or has created innovative ways to use sport science.")

This was my second USATT Coach of the Year award - I was Developmental Coach of the Year in 2002, and finished second in the voting for Coach of the Year three times. I've had a few other plaques from USATT - the 2007 President's Award and my 2003 Hall of Fame Induction Award, plus various certificates showing my coaching certification as a USATT National Coach, ITTF Level 1 Coach, and ITTF Level 2 Coach. (I'll put the latter two online some other time.)

This got me thinking about my strengths and weaknesses as a coach. I think I’m at my best at the following:

  • Tactics
  • Strategic development (i.e. developing a player's game)
  • Fixing bad habits
  • Teaching serve & receive
  • Teaching beginners, both kids and adults

My weaknesses? I’d like to say I have none, but alas, everyone does. I’m not enough of a slave-driver, not like some other coaches who can simultaneously work a player to death and stardom. I’m probably too lenient at fine-tuning advanced strokes - again, I can be too lenient once a player reaches a high level. I'm not as experienced as I'd like in teaching the intricacies of penhold play. And I’m not an equipment junkie. Another problem is sheer level of play - at 54, with numerous nagging injuries, I'm not as fast as I used to be, and so in private sessions can't push top players like I used to.

Of course that's one reason why we have practice partners at MDTTC. These practice partners are also coaches, but it is their playing level that distinguishes them, and allows them to push up-and-coming players to their limit.

Speaking of practice partners and coaches, there's a huge overlap between them. Not all "coaches" are good, while some "practice partners" are very insightful. The primary thing that distinguishes good coaches from bad ones, in my opinion, isn't just their experience and coaching skills - it's their learning skills. Even a relatively inexperienced coach can do a pretty good job if he knows he is inexperienced, and so studies top players and coaches to learn, and more importantly, when he’s not sure what to do with a student, he finds out, either by asking questions of experienced coaches and players, by watching video, or sometimes by just thinking extensively about the problem. The beginning of the end for a coach is when he starts just saying stuff that he thinks might be right, but isn’t sure (or worse, is confident of things that he really doesn't know about), rather than making sure he gets it right. It’s not hard to learn in this day and age – there are these wonderful things called “Google” and “Youtube." Use them!

Wang Hao Takes Pride From His Olympic Silver Medals

Here's the article. Wang won the silver medal at the last three Olympics (2004, 2008, 2012), and was also second in Men's Singles at the last two World Championships (2011, 2013), but did win gold in Men's Teams in 2008 and 2012, as well as World Men's Singles Champion in 2009. (Here's a listing of Olympic Table Tennis Medalists, and a listing of World Champion Table Tennis Medalists.)

Preview of the $36,000 Los Angeles Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei on the $36,000 LA Open to be held Aug. 16-17.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-one down, 39 to go!

  • Day 40: Motivated by Seeing Others Achieve, Leandro Olvech

Timo Boll's Serve in Slow Motion

Here's the video (4:01) of the German star, world #10, formerly #1.

Jean-Michel Saive's Lobbing Point Against Wang Liqin

Here's the video (49 sec, including slow-motion) of the great Belgium player (former world #1) lobbing at the 2003 World Championships.

Michael Maze - Off the Table

Here's the video (3:15) of the Denmark star, world #28, formerly #8.

Serving Trick Shot

Here's the video (42, including slow motion replay) of one of the best and most creative trick shots I've seen, by Josep Antón Velázquez. I think I could do the same pair of serves, but how many tries would it take?

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