June 5, 2013


On June 4 I blogged about seeing an optometrist last week. Until recently I could read easily without glasses, but as I wrote on June 4, it's getting harder to focus on near items, and my right eye especially is getting worse. Yesterday I got the new reading glasses, and they work great. I don't need them at my computer, but now I can read books comfortably again. And there is nothing more important than that, right? Other than table tennis, of course.

I'm a bit nearsighted, so without glasses things in the distance get blurry. I discovered this on my first day in college back in 1980. I'd taken two years off after high school before starting college, and apparently my eyes had changed during that time. I sat in the front row, and could barely see what was on the blackboard - I spent the whole class squinting. Immediately afterwards I saw an optometrist, and within a couple of days I had glasses. Normally I only need them for classes, when driving, when watching TV or a movie. I take them off at home, and at most times when not doing something that requires seeing in the distance. They often are perpetually perched on top of my head, where they seem to balance well, ready to be brought down when needed.

I do wear them for table tennis. I simply can't see my opponent's contact with the ball otherwise, or see the ball clearly as it approaches. It means I don't see things as well close on my side - such as my own contact - but that's not quite as important as it would seem, as by the time you are contacting the ball you can't really react anyway. It doesn't seem to affect my serves, where the ball is traveling slower. I've tried progressive/graduated lenses, but the changeover in the lenses as the ball approaches was too much for me - it hurt my eyes and I'd lose track of the ball.

I tried contacts in the late 1980s, but they weren't for me. I never could get used to having something in my eyes, which kept drying up. Plus it's a hassle putting them in and taking them out. They'd put me in a permanent state of seeing things in the distance, but everything near would be blurry, which I don't like.

I wear croakies eyeglass holders (plain brown or black) to keep the glasses in place. Some or most people don't seem to need this, but if I don't, the glasses jump about for me. I have two pairs of distance glasses - my normal ones, and my playing ones with the croakies, which I keep in my playing bag.

I'm so used to wearing glasses when I play that when I feed multiball (which I do a lot), I'd feel uncomfortable without them. Why? Because I'm barely five feet from the player I'm coaching, with little time to react if he accidentally smacks me in the eye. So the glasses are now my eyeguards. I know Coach Jack Huang had serious eye problems for a time when someone hit him in the eye.

What are your eyewear experiences in table tennis?


On May 21, I blogged about seeing a dentist. I'd been averaging one cavity every three years (one every six trips to the dentist), and hadn't changed my brushing or eating habits. I'd been seeing the same dentist for a decade, but she'd left, and I had a new one. Out of the blue the new one said I had 11 cavities, with seven of them needing immediate attention! Total bill would have been $2300.

Yesterday I saw a different dentist to get a second opinion. His verdict? I had zero cavities, though he said there was "one very slight gray area on the x-ray that we'd have to watch, and might be the beginning of a cavity."

Effective Training for Recreational Players

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

History of U.S. Table Tennis - 1984

USATT is once again serializing Tim Boggan's most recent book, "History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. XIII," which covers 1984. Here's Chapter One, with a new chapter going up each week. This is just the text version. If you want the full version (918 photos, 448 pages), go to Tim Boggan's history page, where you can buy any of the 13 volumes.

International News

As usual, check out the news headlines at the ITTF and at Table Tennista. Lots of stuff!

World Championships of Ping Pong (Sandpaper) and Hardbat

Here's the info page. This is the Sandpaper World Championships, which had $100,000 in prize money last year, and (I've heard) will have the same next year - Jan. 4-5, 2014, in London again. In addition to sandpaper, hardbat is pretty active in the UK - here's the European Hardbat Tour 2013 page, presented by the English Association of Table Tennis.

Inclusion: The Future of Table Tennis?

Here's the article and video (1:03), at Kickstarter (they are looking for funding). "INCLUSION combines Table Tennis and Racquetball to create a newly dynamic, fast-paced playing experience. The revolutionary side walls extend the playing surface and function as "bumpers" for novice players to help them enhance their skills.  Expert players similarly benefit from the added dimension which allows for a greater variety of angled shots and a more challenging, intensified gaming experience."

Table Tennis Rally Sculpture

Here's a sculpture that really shows a table tennis rally! (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

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October 3, 2011

Tip of the Week

Returning Long Serves with the Backhand.

Chinese players in slow motion

Here's a video (3:30) that showcases top Chinese players in slow motion, which especially showcases their serves - though initially it mostly just shows their strokes. Serves are especially hard to learn by watching at normal speeds since the contact motion by a top server is so fast - it is designed not to be read very easily.

Charity Table Tennis

Practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade

Between actually practicing, weight training, stretching, and a new blade, I'm suddenly playing the best I've played in years. (My equipment: Timo Boll ALC flared, with Tenergy 05 FX black 2.1 on forehand, Roundell red 2.1 on the backhand.) Suddenly I'm eyeing the tournament schedule, thinking maybe, maybe.... (Conflict: I coach at most local or major tournaments. Need a tournament that's not local or major, but within driving distance.) Regarding the blade, I discovered it the way most players should find out about different blades - I tried out someone else's racket, in this case Tong Tong Gong (a member of the USA National Cadet Team that I coach at tournaments), and really liked it. As I told him, he can have the blade back when he pries it from my cold, dead fingers. (I'm using one of his backups.)

Update on glasses

Last week I blogged about how I was experimenting by playing without glasses. I read without glasses, but have to put them on to see distance. When I played without them for the first time in decades, I found that I could see the ball better on slow shots - my own serve and when attacking pushes. However, opponents serves and loops became blurs, and I couldn't read the spin. I was fine for the two hours I coached without glasses and a two-hour practice session, but when I played matches, things didn't go so well. So I'm back to the glasses. Anyone else have experiences like this, where they have to trade off on distance versus near vision?

Boys Look at the Stars

Just a reminder that you can download this free table tennis book.

Another USATT Rant

I don't plan to keep harping on the problems with USATT, though I'm obviously peeved about things not going on. It wouldn't be much of a blog if I avoided such issues. Whenever I do write about USATT, I tend to get so aggravated that, well, it's simply not worth writing about too often. (And there are people there who are trying, though they often don't speak up or aren't sure what to do.) But here goes! Here's a posting (with a number of changes and additions) that I did at a few days ago.

There have been many times in USA history where Ping-Pong Diplomacy, the Olympics, TT on TV, features in Boy's Life and other major magazines, etc., brought out droves of players. If it were tennis or most other successful sports, they'd put the kids in a junior training program and later leagues. If it were adults who wanted to learn, they'd put them in a class or group training. If they wanted to compete, they'd put them in a league with players their level.

In table tennis, the large majority of USA clubs will tell them, "Call winner on a table." The new person gets killed, he sees little potential to improve or have fun, he leaves, and we never see him again. The next day, another player goes through the same experience and leaves. There is no infrastructure to get these new players together for coaching or leagues for beginners. (Getting new players into a club isn't that hard; it's keeping them that's the trick.)

There are also limited numbers of clubs in the U.S., so few potential players are near a club, not to mention one that's conducive to new players. While Germany has 11,000 clubs in an area half the size of Texas and 1/4 our population, we have about 300 or so. Their 700,000 members are almost all league members - and nearly all the clubs came about BECAUSE OF THE LEAGUE. Reread that last part a few times. Some of the leaders in our sport think those clubs just came about by themselves, and so they decided, "Hey, let's start up a league!" It was the other way around. And while there are always differences between countries, there is no magical gene that makes Germans play table tennis, or the British (500,000 players, nearly all league players, in an area the size of New York with one-sixth our population), or the rest of Europe, or of course the zillions all over Asia.

We should be able to do what countries like Germany, England and others do in several densely populated regions of the country, such as the northeast, the great lakes area, Florida, Texas, and the entire west coast. It's not that we're too spread out; we are like a bunch of Germany's knitted together.

The U.S. has only 8000 members because we completely, positively, and absolutely refuse to learn the lessons that table tennis and other sports in the U.S. and around the world have learned. From the perspective of developing our sport, we're complete idiots, unable to learn even the most basic lessons from those who have.

This is obvious stuff to those who work at our sport, especially those, like myself, who make a full-time living coaching and organizing. It's been explained to USATT leaders numerous times for decades, but there is little interest from that direction in organizing any type of nationwide league, or in recruiting and training coaches to set up and run junior and other coaching programs at a club as professional coaches, as tennis and other sports do. And so while the problem is obvious, and the solution is obvious, nothing gets done. It's not that USATT doesn't do anything, it's that they focus on things that sound nice but don't develop the sport. Since they have no goals in terms of increasing membership, more junior members, more clubs, etc., they can't be held accountable, and aren't.

USATT runs periodic "Strategic Meetings" to solve problems - I've been to four - where they spend the time coming up with slogans and vague priorities, while refusing to make any specific goals or programs to reach the never-created goals. When nothing is accomplished and membership stays at 8000, with about 1200 junior members (the vast majority non-serious, without coaches or regular training), we get a new logo and crow about how "this symbolizes the new USATT." (This latter is an exact quote from a board member.)

If we can't do the obvious stuff, how can we do the hard stuff? Is it any wonder that we can't get the sport going in this country? Is there anyone here who can talk sense to the people who run our sport? I've tried over and over and failed miserably. It's someone else's turn.

I've written about some of this in my blog, and this last week I emailed the board and others from the 2009 Strategic Meeting to ask what programs had been implemented from that meeting two years ago, but of course the answer is pretty much nothing, as was predictable (and predicted) at the time. About the only thing they could come up with as a result of bringing in 30 people from around the country for a weekend of meetings (at USATT expense) was that they now do a monthly e-newsletter (about one page), which really had nothing to do with the Strategic Meeting. (They were planning the e-newsletter before the meeting - we were one of the last Olympic sports to do this.) The newsletter is "nice," but since we have no serious programs to promote, it doesn't accomplish much of anything.

But we have a new logo!!!

I wrote about the 2009 Strategic Meeting and the lack of follow-up in my daily blog on Sept. 26, the two-year anniversary of the meeting. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter if USATT leaders talk big about the things they are going to do if they act small, which keeps the sport small. Big thinking isn't that big a deal, it's just a matter of understanding what's been successful in making the sports big in table tennis and other sports all over the world, adapting it to our situation, and then making it top priority to do the things necessary so our sport can become big in this country. While making the sport will not be an easy task, the things need to be done to do so is rather obvious.

Suppose there are 50 countries that have small table tennis associations. One of them sets up a league, and gets a large membership as a result. So a second country sets up a league, and it too gets a large membership. Then others follow, and soon there are a number of countries with large memberships from these leagues. (This roughly what has actually happened.) And then USA look at this and wonders, "Gee, how can we get a large membership?" And the really startling thing is they really do not know.

I was asked earlier this year to be on the USATT Coaching and Club Committees, and because the chairs of the committee are well-meaning and serious (Richard McAfee and Attila Malek), I agreed. However, I'm contemplating resigning both since it is a waste of time, since USATT simply is not ready to commit to the obvious steps needed to develop our sport. To USATT's credit, despite my obvious displeasure in some of my blogs and online postings, they haven't asked for my resignation.

Tennis growth

Mitch Seidenfeld, a professional table tennis coach and league director from Minneapolis, posted the following recently. "The Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) was founded in 1934 to promote the development of tennis through tournaments and junior tennis programs in the Atlanta, GA area. ALTA started league play in 1971 with less than 1,000 players. It grew to almost 10,000 players by 1975, 35,000 by 1982, over 51,000 in 1988 and 71,000 in 1992. Today ALTA has approximately 80,000 league members. It has evolved from a small group of volunteers to a large non-profit corporation."

Now how does this apply to table tennis? Keep in mind that the U.S. Tennis Association has 700,000 members, and they didn't get these members and then start a league; they started a league, like the one in Atlanta, and that led to the 700,000 members, nearly all of them league players. Just as sports all over the world have done, including table tennis.


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September 29, 2011

The Inner Games of Table Tennis

When a looper plays a blocker, there's an inner game being played between the two. The looper wants to be in a stable position where he can make strong, well-placed loops that force the blocker to lunge for the ball, back up, or just miss or return the ball weakly. The blocker wants to be in position so he can make quick, well-placed blocks that force the looper to lunge for the ball or just miss or return the ball weakly. In most rallies, one style takes control while the other struggles, although the advantage can change quickly and multiple times during a rally. When you are in such a match, are you playing blindly or are you focused on winning this inner game?

There are similar inner games in most matches. For example, between two players with strong backhands, both might battle for control of the backhand diagonal. A righty and a lefty might battle for chances to hit aggressive backhands to the opponent's wide forehand, thereby drawing the opponent out of position, or they might battle for forehand control into the opponent's backhand. Or there's the battle between the serve & attacker against the receiver who wants to force a neutral rally. There are countless such examples of these inner games. Have you learned to recognize the inner games that take place in your matches?

Glasses or no glasses?

I started wearing glasses in college because I had trouble reading what was on the blackboard. I also need them to watch a movie or TV, to read road signs when driving, or to see anything clearly in the distance. At some point around 25 or so years ago, I started wearing them when I play table tennis. The problem is that I take the glasses off to read - my eyes are fine for that. When I wear the glasses, I can't read anything close up. When I wear the glasses in table tennis, I can see my opponent's racket clearly, but up close, the ball is a blur.

Yesterday I experimented playing without glasses. I can see the ball much more sharply when serving - my serves seemed better as a result - and I could almost see the ball right into my racket in rallies. My opponent's racket isn't as focused, but I think I can see the racket motion well enough to read spin. So I'm going to continue this experiment. I'll report back later.

Anyone else have experience in these matters?

Slippery Grip?

If you have problems gripping your racket when you get sweaty, you might consider wearing a wristband, and drying your hands with a towel regularly. When it's humid, you should bring two towels, one for the ball and racket, one for you (in particular your hands). Other options include getting a rubber grip or perhaps power grip. (I haven't tried power grip, but I've seen others use this or something similar. When the blog first went up this morning, I incorrectly called and linked it to court grip, which is for shoe traction - another topic to cover someday.)

It's Ping-Pong Diplomacy Night in Colorado!

Yes, you read that right. Read about it here. There will be a live re-enactment of 1971's Ping-Pong Diplomacy games. Actually, it's Ping-Pong Diplomacy Month in Colorado - there are a whole series of Ping-Pong Diplomacy events taking place, such as Ping-Pong in the Park in Denver.


Ping-Pong and Music and Parties, Oh My!

The London Ping-Pong Company is a company that creates ping-pong events with music in a party atmosphere. To use their own description, "Our unique ping-pong events are based on fun, teams-based ‘tournament-style’ parties involving fantastic venues, trained hosts & umpires, MCs, DJs, super coaches, & exhibition matches." Sounds like something someone in the U.S. could emulate - a niche just waiting to be grabbed.

Polar Bear versus a Penguin

In this episode (3:36, starts with a short ad), Bernard the Hairless Polar Bear plays ping-pong with a penguin. (As someone notes in the comments, the cheating bird illegally hides his serve at 2:22.)


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