Returning Serves

October 11, 2013

Blog Featured on USATT Page

My blog on Thursday morning (on my day on set with "Veep") is featured on the USA Table Tennis home page. Page down and the picture (as of this writing) is on the left. (Last night it was on the right.) I'm sitting next to Derek Nie, the 2012 U.S. Open Under 12 Boys' Champion (currently rated a monstrous 2297). As noted in past blogs, they also are featuring pictures of Derek and I in the numerous Tips of the Week I did for USATT a decade ago in their Tip of the Day feature.

Coaching the Backhand

One of the things I've improved in my coaching is how I coach the backhand. As I've blogged about a number of times, the average backhand these days has more topspin than backhands from the past. It's evolved this way as an interaction between better sponge surfaces, which leads to better topspin technique, and  better technique, which leads to players going to more advanced sponges. These days at the higher levels nearly every backhand is essentially a backhand loop, usually done right up at the table.

But what really stands out is how this has trickled down to the intermediate level. During the speed gluing era (roughly 1980s to early 2000s) most players didn't glue except at the relatively higher levels. It was a lot of hassle, and the conventional wisdom at the time was that you had to reach a pretty high level before you could control a glued-up sponge. These days, with ease of buying a sheet of super sponge, players are using it at lower and lower levels, despite the high prices. With these super sponges it's easy to topspin the backhand (as well as the forehand), and so players do it sooner in their development. This shows that players can do it earlier in their development than was thought before, and so more and more often they are taught to do so. 

When I coach beginners I always mention to them that my backhand tends toward the flat side. (Sometimes when coaching I go for a bit more topspin for the student's sake, but it's not natural for me.) Some students have copied this, and so began to develop too-flat backhands in an age of topspin. So now I really stress putting topspin on these backhands. 

It's showing up in my students. I have several junior players who topspin away with their backhands even though they are still in the 1200 range in level. When I started out not many 1200 players could do this! A few days ago I was silently amazed as one of my students, who was much stronger on the forehand, was topspinning away on the backhand in backhand-to-backhand rallies, and he had no idea how impressive I found this. He (Matt) still needs a lot of work to control this consistently in a match situation, but he's well on his way to developing better backhand technique than I ever had. 

There's still debate on when to start to really topspin the backhand. Should you teach a "regular" backhand until the player is something like 1800 level, or have them topspin earlier? I have an 8-year-old student, about 1400 level already, who likes to back up and topspin everything, often from down at his level, contacting the ball below table level. He basically soft loops or fishes all his backhands AND forehands, except when he's lobbing, which is often.

Returning Serves

Here are two articles on this from Table Tennis Master.

Table Tennis Coaching Gifs

Here are some great gifs of top table tennis players you should study. I especially thought the third one was great in demonstrating how to do the reverse pendulum serve.  

Milwaukee Table Tennis Fundraiser

Here's the article. They will pit amateurs against pros (with creative handicaps) to raise money for Pathfinders Milwaukee, which provides shelter, counseling, education and other support to homeless and at-risk youth. Event takes place Oct. 17 at The Tent at Pier Wisconsin.

Table Tennis: The Sport That Makes You Use Your Brain the Most

Here's the article from Uberpong. I especially like the Albert Einstein Table Tennis graphic. Someone should turn that into a shirt. (Hello, Uberpong?)

Mouth Juggling Anyone?

Here it is, on the David Letterman Show under "Stupid Human Tricks."

Table Tennis Fail

Here's a video (3:27) of top players messing up. Study this one really hard, copy what you see, and play my students!

Non-Table Tennis - the Capclave Science Fiction Convention

This weekend I'll be commuting back and forth between coaching at MDTTC and the Capclave SF Convention, held about five minutes away in Gaithersburg, MD. (As some of you know, besides table tennis coaching and writing I'm also a science fiction & fantasy writer.) I'm on three panels, two of which I'm moderating. I'm also doing a reading. Below is my schedule. Here's my Capclave Bio. If you are in the area, come join us!

Friday 4:00-4:55 pm, Salons CDE
God Emperor of Capclave - The Politics and Religion Panel
Panelists: Brenda W. Clough, John G. Hemry, Larry Hodges (M), James Morrow, Brian Shaw
Verboten at the dinner table, but not here. How do authors' political perspectives and religion influence their writing? And what happens when an author's politics/religion starts influencing the real world (cue Ayn Rand)

Friday 9:00-9:55 pm, Rockville/Potomac Room
Amazon, Hero or Villain?
Panelists: Marilyn "Mattie" Brahen, Larry Hodges (M), John Edward Lawson, Kathryn Morrow
Debate: Amazon is good for its low prices, Kindle, and ease of shopping. Amazon is evil for killing off bookstores, taking more and more profit/control from writers/publishers, and for being so big

Saturday 12:00-12:55 pm, Rockville/Potomac Room
1001 Uses for an Unpublished Story
Panelists: Laura Anne Gilman, Larry Hodges, Victoria Janssen (M), Craig Alan Loewen, Alan Smale
Sometimes they sell,sometimes they don't, what do you do with your unsold stories? Do you ever write anything you know can't be sold? Do you mine the novel in your trunk?

Sunday 3:00-3:25 pm, Frederick Room
I'll be reading an excerpt from my upcoming novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky," a humorous fantasy that parodies the U.S.-Soviet Space race of the 1960s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts. If there's time, I'll also read my "cult classic" short-short story, "The Bat Nerd," about a bat that thinks it's a superhero called Manbat.

Send us your own coaching news!

July 8, 2013

Tip of the Week

Expect to Win.

U.S. Open

As usual I didn't get to see many of the big Men's and Women's matches - I was busy coaching the MDTTC juniors. I was mostly coaching Derek Nie, Sameer Shaikh, sometimes Nathan Hsu, and occasionally others such as Crystal Wang. I flew out on Monday morning, and returned on a red-eye flight that left late Saturday night - it didn't actually take off until after midnight, so it was technically Sunday morning. I landed at BWI airport around 8AM. I'd left my car at the airport so I could drive myself and three others home. I didn't get home until around 10AM.

Here's the USATT page that has links to results, articles, pictures, video, etc.

Here's a rundown of interesting happenings. (It's rather rushed as I have to finish in time to coach at the MDTTC camp this morning. More tomorrow!)

  • Derek Nie's play. He played great. His attacks were fluid and consistent, his recently-developed topspinning backhand in rallies were jumping off the table and rarely missing, his forehand was clicking, and probably best of all, his receive was excellent - backhand banana flips, forehand regular flips, and short and long pushes. Over and over he had opponents practically falling over the table trying to get to his short push, which kept setting up his attack. He came in rated 2261, and beat four players rated between 2334 and 2361. He also had a bad loss to a 2134 player (knocking him out of Under 13), when he had great difficulty with a specific serve over and over. After losing the first two, he won the third and fourth, both 11-4, and seemed on his way to winning, but it's tough coming back from down 0-2, and in the fifth he faltered and lost.
  • Funniest incident. Derek Nie, 12, who's about 4'6" and 65 pounds but has a rating of 2261, was waiting at the table to play a match. I watched as the opponent arrived and stepped into the court, carrying the clipboard. He looked over at Derek, then looked down at the clipboard, where it had Derek's name and rating. Then he looked at Derek again then back at the clipboard. His head moved back and forth at least ten times as he kept looking at the name and rating on the clipboard and the player he was about to play - he obviously was having a hard time believing this was the 2250+ player he was playing! He finally asked, "Are you Derek?" Derek nodded. The player stared at the clipboard one more time, then smiled and went out to play. (Derek won easily over the shell-shocked but much lower rated opponent.)
  • Best Learning Experience. I walked into the ITTF arena, and on the very first practice table was Eugene Wang, the defending (and soon repeating) U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion. He was practicing his serves and backhand banana flip (where you flip the ball with great topspin and sidespin). Players and coaches were walking back and forth completely oblivious to the chance to watch. I sat down and watched for twenty minutes. Wang noticed, and even nodded at me a few times after he made some nice backhand flips. I wish I could have had some of our MDTTC players there to watch.
  • Over 50 Hardbat Doubles. Jay Turberville and I won!!! In the final we defeated Jeff Johnson and Scott Gordon (-15, 10, 15), who had won Open Hardbat Doubles. However, I've decided to retire from tournament play - too many conflicts with my coaching duties (I even defaulted out of Open Hardbat because of a coaching conflict), I keep getting injured (I aggravated my back injury this tournament, though fortunately it's not too bad), plus I'm simply not as good as I used to be - I've lost much of my foot speed, which is pretty important if you're a 53-year-old all-out forehand attacker. I normally use sponge, but mostly retired from that a few years ago, and only play hardbat (and occasionally sandpaper) events.
  • Most interesting quote. "You're a liar and a fraud! Why haven't you called the authorities to make [name withheld] stop playing loud music when he plays table tennis?" A very angry and confused person yelled this and similar versions at me over and over. I was clueless about what he was talking about.
  • Two Best Shots. I played in the Sandpaper Open. In one game there were two incredible shots. First, my opponent mishit a smash that went off the side of the table to my extremely wide backhand. It hit the net post, six inches outside the table - and bounced back on the table! I was already way over to make the return, but relaxed as it went off the side - only to see it bounce back as an unreturnable winner to my wide forehand! Not to be outdone, about two points later he again smashed a ball to my wide backhand, and this one hit. I was out of position toward my forehand side, and lunged for the ball. With my back to the table and my racket tilted straight up, and made an over-the-shoulder counter-hit for a winner!
  • Strangest Let Ball Controversy. I was watching an umpired match between two top juniors. One of them served, and the other caught the ball, saying it was a let since the ball had hit the net. The umpire didn't see it, and gave the point to the server. (I'm not sure what the server thought.) Several in the crowd also said the ball had hit the net, but the umpire can't take that into account. (The spectators could be biased.) Astoundingly, I'm told this happened three different times in the match! When there is no umpire, the players call the lets. When there is an umpire, the umpire calls the lets. Often players will still call lets in an umpired match, but it's risky if the umpire disagrees.
  • Final Autograph versus Tong Tong Count. I usually coach Tong Tong Gong at big tournaments, but he's busy this summer taking college classes (at age 15!) and doing volunteer work, and so didn't make it to the open. Over and over during the Open players asked me about Tong Tong. Players also kept bringing me copies of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers to sign. In the end I signed 19 copies of the book, and 14 people asked about Tong Tong, so I "won," 19-14. (Derek Nie also signed three copies under a picture of himself in it.)
  • Most Fun. On Saturday afternoon I took a group of the kids swimming, and they spent 90 minutes throwing around a beach ball and chasing each other, all in 110 degree heat. (It had been 115 when we arrived.)
  • Best Coaching Advice. I wasn't scheduled to coach Crystal Wang, but I was watching her play the first game against a strong player rated about 100 points lower. The opponent had some specific weaknesses that Crystal wasn't playing into. I pointed them out to her mom, who asked me to coach her. Crystal pulled out the first, 11-9. After I spoke with her she executed perfectly, and won the next two, 11-3, 11-1. Hopefully, I had a lot of other good coaching advice for others. When Derek began playing really well, the best thing I did coaching-wise was to keep things very simple and just let him play, often just reminding him to vary his serve and receive, and perhaps to attack first to a specific spot.
  • More tomorrow. I have to coach at the MDTTC camp that starts this morning, so have to stop now. I should have more to write about the Open tomorrow.

Returning Serves to the Middle

Here's a video on this (1:33) from PingSkills.

One Myth About Attacking Backspin That You Probably Believe

The question is whether it is easier to attack a backspin ball at the top of the bounce, or even after, when the ball is descending. Here's their answer.

Table Tennis Ethics

Here's an essay on this.

Majestic Table Tennis

Here's a new highlights video (5:15), set to music with some interesting graphics.

Three Superpowers Table Tennis Can Give You

What are they?

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March 27, 2013

Spring Break Camp

We had 47 players in camp yesterday, all at the same time. How did we accommodate them all with 18 tables? In the morning session, we had 7 coaches feeding multiball, leaving 11 free tables. With 22 players on those 11 tables, that meant we had 25 players at any given time on the 7 multiball tables, rotating around between doing multiball, picking up balls, or practicing on the free tables. In the afternoon session the advanced players did more live play (two to a table), while younger beginners were grouped on a few tables for multiball and various games - such as hitting a bottle supposedly filled with my dog's saliva, where I had to drink it if they hit it. (I'm working with the beginners mostly this camp.)

The coaches are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Wang Qing Liang ("Leon"), Chen Bo Wen ("Bowen"); Chen Jie ("James"); and Raghu Nadmichettu. Jack Huang used to be Huang Tong Sheng ("Jack"), but he's been Jack so long we no longer use his Chinese name.

While most of the players are local from Maryland or Virginia (since Spring Break Camp coincides with spring break in local schools), we have a bunch from out of town. There's a nine-year-old from Japan who's about 1900; four members of the University of Missouri team; and several from New Jersey and New York.

One of the beginners who was having so much trouble yesterday did a bit better today. However, he's still got a ways to go - every now and then he'll do a series of proper strokes, and then he'll fall back into bad habits. The other also showed some signs of learning, but doesn't seem too motivated to learn. Surprisingly, the latter one picked up serving pretty well, while the first one is struggling with that.

I gave lectures on the backhand, on serving, and on doubles tactics. However, since most of the players are local juniors, I kept the lectures short. I had a problem with a few overly excited kids who kept talking among themselves during the doubles lecture, which took place right after we got off break.

I got to talk some with the University of Missouri team for a bit. Their best player is about 2100, the other three somewhere in the 1700-1800 range or so. One (I think the 2100 player) was having trouble covering the table after stepping around his backhand to do a forehand penhold loop. Many players have this trouble because they don't position themselves properly so that they'll follow through in a balanced position, which is what allows a player to recover quickly. Players often follow through with their weight going off to the side, which means they waste precious time recovering. Instead, players should position themselves so their weight is moving more toward the table as they loop, putting themselves right back into position to cover even a block to the wide forehand. I can still do this at age 53 (well, against most blocks!), not because of foot speed, but because of proper footwork technique.

I'm getting a bit banged up. (This is me.) Here's a roll call:

  • Sore throat and hoarse voice from lecturing and coaching.
  • Slight limp from an injured right toe. I can't really put any weight on it. It feels like I've fractured it at the base (though it's probably something less serious), but I have no idea when or how. If it persists, I'll have it x-rayed after the camp.
  • Slight limp from pulled upper front left thigh muscle, which I originally injured at Cary Cup on March 15, and keep aggravating. (See my blog from March 22.)
  • Major infection from that cut on left index finger I got during the exhibitions last Thursday. (See my blog from March 22.)
  • Jammed middle finger on my right (playing) hand. This has been bothering me for months, and I don't know how I hurt it originally, though I know I aggravated it recently giving someone a high-five, where we missed and I rejammed it against his hand. I can't make a fist with my right hand - the middle finger won't bend all the way. (Insert appropriate middle-finger joke here.) If it were any of the other four fingers (including the thumb), this would affect my playing, but this one doesn't.
  • Growing upper back problems from being too busy to do my regular back stretching. This one's my own fault.
  • Exhaustion from my dog getting me up at 4AM to go out (see yesterday's blog), while trying to coach all day at our camp, do various paperwork and other stuff at night, and still do the daily blog.

Returning Serve: Part One

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master. I'll post part two and others as they come up.

ITTF Level 2 Course in New Jersey

Richard McAfee will be running an ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course at the Lily Yip TTC in Dunellen, NJ, Aug. 26-31. Here's a listing of all upcoming ITTF coaching seminars in the U.S.

Ariel Hsing Article

Here's a feature article on her from the ITTF.

Table Tennista

Here are four new articles on China Table Tennis.

Multiball Training in Hungary

Here's a new video (3:18) featuring multiball training with members of the Hungarian Woman National Team and with some young players in the Hungarian Table Tennis Centre in Budapest. This is roughly what I do all day long at our MDTTC training camps.

Multiball Training in China

Here's a video (7:09) showing multiball training in China. There are many styles of multiball feeding; I was fascinated to see that the man in red feeding multiball uses almost the exact technique I do, i.e. first bounce on the table. Even the drills he does are about the same as the ones I do.

The Correct Way to Finish a Point

Here's a six-second video where Richard Lee demonstrates your basic serve and zillion mile per hour loop kill. Do not try this in your basement; he's a professional.

Best of Xu Xin vs. Ma Long

Here's a video (8:29) of the best rallies between these two Chinese superstars. Many of these points are truly impressive - are we reaching the pinnacle of human performance in table tennis? (I'm sure someone will quote this back to me someday when someone makes these two look like amateurs.)

Artistic Table Tennis Pictures

Here's an interesting and artistic table tennis picture. And here's an artistic table - it's like playing bumper ping-pong.

Staged Shot-Making

Here are 13 spectacularly staged trick shots.


Send us your own coaching news!

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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