Sol Schiff

January 9, 2013

Regionalization

As I've blogged about numerous times, they key to huge USATT membership figures is leagues, along with coaching development. But the U.S. is too big to try to set up leagues all at once. The key is to break the country into numerous regions. Even England, about the size of Alabama, has nine regions. (The English TTA has over 500,000 members, with a population of 53 million, about 1/6 of the U.S., which has 9000 members.)

USATT has tried regionalization a few times. I did so in the early 1990s with the Club Catalyst & Creation Program, which had pretty good results. I explained this program at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and at other times to board members. Here are excerpts from an email where I explained this to a board member yesterday.

We actually started regionalization in the early 1990s. I created the program, called the Club Catalyst & Creation Program. (That was my sense of humor at work - the acronym was CCCP. Google it if you don't recognize it, and note that the CCCP fell right about this time.) Dan Seemiller was president at the time, and strongly supported the program.

I was chair of the Coaching Committee, and started the process by appointing (if I remember my numbers correctly) 43 state coaching directions. Then I switched to chairing the Club Committee, and appointed 47 state club directors. (All of these appointments were made with consultation of locals.) The next stop was to appoint state league directors, which we were about to do before disaster struck in 1995 (see below).

The purpose of all these directors was to set up a club in every city with a population over 50,000 (I created a list), then a coach and league for each club. Once we had the state league directors set up, I was going to get a group of them together to plan out the actual creation of a nationwide network of regional leagues.

With all this infrastructure set up, the next step would be to set up the actual regional organizations, which I thought would be difficult to do effectively without a few years creating the needed infrastructure. (It would also allow those interested in developing their region to get active, and we'd be able to identify these people and encourage their work.) The various aspects of the program would play off each other, catalyzing an increase in the number of clubs, coaches, and leagues, and the leagues would lead to major membership increases. Once the regional organizations were set up, they would have open elections for their own officers. Those officers would then select future league, club, and coaching directors.

During the four years of this program (1991-1995, though we started work on it in 1990 when Dan was elected president) we increased the number of clubs from 223 to 301, greatly increased the number of coaches, and USATT membership went from about 5500 to 7500 - the only major membership increase we've had in modern memory. But those are still very small numbers in comparison to the potential of leagues. Superficially, this program started with clubs, but that was short-term and was for the explicit purpose of setting the structure for leagues and coaching programs. As I wrote before, they all go together.

Unfortunately, this program ended when Terry Timmins defeated Dan Seemiller in the 1995 election. When he came in, he brought in his own people and ideas, and all the regional stuff I'd been working on came to an end. (Ironically, he wanted to set up regional elections, but that didn't work out.) A lot of work went to waste, and a lot of state directors were left pretty angry.

We wrote back and forth a few times on this and related issues. I believe that the key is that we can't just set up regional organizations and hope things work out. USATT or some other organization needs to set up league and coaching programs so the regional people can implement them. They do this very well in table tennis overseas, and in other sports in the U.S. such as tennis.

Number of Daily Readers

We've had at least 500 readers for 25 consecutive blogs now, going back to Nov. 19 last year. I've been doing the blog for over two years now; this is the 477th blog. (I've also done 101 Tips of the Week - here's the Archives, with links to them all.) It started slow, and I spent a long time averaging 300 or so, but now we're averaging over 600. The topics vary quite a bit. I tend to jump around a bit. While it's usually coaching-centered, I also write a lot about related topics. Any suggestions on what type of stuff you'd like to see blogged? Here are the daily reader totals:

  1. Jan. 8: 539
  2. Jan. 7: 692
  3. Jan. 4: 924
  4. Jan. 3: 577
  5. Jan. 2: 584
  6. Dec. 17: 2884
  7. Dec. 14: 900
  8. Dec. 13: 615
  9. Dec. 12: 597
  10. Dec. 11: 658
  11. Dec. 10: 815
  12. Dec. 7: 1073
  13. Dec. 6: 599
  14. Dec. 5: 644
  15. Dec. 4: 528
  16. Dec. 3: 506
  17. Nov. 30: 732
  18. Nov. 29: 577
  19. Nov. 28:  573
  20. Nov. 27: 557
  21. Nov. 26: 825
  22. Nov. 22: 1060
  23. Nov. 21: 564
  24. Nov. 20: 660
  25. Nov. 19: 471

USATT Committee Openings

Want to serve on a USATT Committee? Here's a call for volunteers! Here's a link to the USATT Committee listing which the notice inadvertently leaves out. (I emailed about this, and presumably it'll be added soon.)

USATT Committee Reports

Here's a link to the 2012 USATT Committee Reports. (Minutes for USATT Board meetings are here.)

Top Ten Table Tennis Points of 2012

Here they are! (7:27) They replay each of the points in slow motion, which is why the video is over seven minutes.

1940 U.S. Open

Here's vintage footage (1:31) of the 1940 U.S. Open and the final where Lou Pagliaro defeats Sol Schiff.

Liquid Nitrogen vs. 1500 Ping-Pong Balls

Here's the video (1:08). The explosion takes place 22 seconds in, and is then replayed from different angles and in slow motion.

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March 6, 2012

Muscling the ball when forehand looping

Several players I coach use too much arm when they loop. Looping is a full-body shot, where you use your legs, waist, shoulders, arm, forearm, and wrist for power. However, the sequence is important - always from bottom to top, large muscles to small muscles. Players who use too much arm and forearm try to muscle the ball with those muscles instead of using the legs, waist, and shoulder rotation to power the ball with their body weight and large muscles.

One cure is to essentially make your playing arm and upper body rigid early in the stroke, forcing you to use your lower-body muscles. Those larger muscles will throw your upper body and arm into the shot like a whip, and then you can relax the upper body and let it go naturally.

Another way to fix this problem is to focus on taking the ball in the back of the forehand hitting zone, in front of your back leg. This forces you to keep the arm back rather than use it early in the stroke. If you stroke with the arm muscles too early, you'll contact the ball more in front of you.

Probably the best cure for this, and most other stroke problems, is to 1) watch videos of top players doing it so you can get a visual image of proper technique; 2) work with a coach; and 3) practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

Jim Butler vs. Ariel Hsing

Yes, THAT Jim Butler, the three-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and Hall of Famer, who stopped playing tournaments in 2003, but is playing again at age 41. And THAT Ariel Hsing, the 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion. The two played in the quarterfinals of the Northridge Open in a classic match-up. Jim still has great serves and a great backhand, while Ariel is unbelievably quick. Winning 13-11 in the seventh was . . . Ariel. Here's the video (20:20).

Get Your Game Face On

Here's Dora Kurimay talking about her new eBook on sports psychology for table tennis, "Get Your Game Face On." I plan to read this pretty soon - I've already downloaded it ($4.99).

Sol Schiff Retrospective

Here's a two-part retrospective on Schiff by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan.

Most Congenial!

Here's a quote from Timmy's North American Table Tennis Magazine, Nov/Dec, 1983, and reprinted in Tim Boggan's upcoming History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12. It's about a two-week training camp held in Baltimore. Here's the last paragraph, with the most important parts in bold!

At the end of each week a tournament was held and Awards given. First Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Larry Hodges. 2. Kit Jeerapaet. “B” Group: 1. Dennis Hwang. 2. Steve Kong. Doubles: Manfred Wilke/Kong. Best Footwork: Hwang. Sportsman Award: Ben Ebert. Most Improved: Wilke. Most Congenial: (tie) Steven Olsen, Becky Martin, and Ebert. Second Week winners and recipients: “A” Group: 1. Hodges. 2. Dave Babcock. “B” Group: 1. Ebert. 2. Hwang. Best Footwork: Stephanie Fox. Sportsman Award: Robert Natale. Most Improved: Martin. Most Congenial: Hodges.

The Yankee versus the Comedian

Here's a hilarious video challenge match (4:43) between New York Yankees baseball player Nick Swisher (a penholder!) and comedian KevJumba.

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March 5, 2012

Tip of the Week

For a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, as well as my usual coaching and other duties, I'm going to take today and next Monday to put these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Proper Use of the Free Arm.

Shadow practice

Do you only practice at your local club, or do you practice whenever the urge hits you? You can practice anywhere by shadow practicing. It's also a great way to exercise and to wake yourself up from long hours sitting at a desk. (It's also a nice to practice proper use of your free arm - see Tip above.)  Here's an article I wrote a while back on shadow-practicing. So get up from your computer and start stroking!

Arm Update

The arm is getting better, but still needs more time to heal. (I injured my forearm about a week ago.) I still can't forehand hit or loop aggressively. Yesterday I coached much of the day, but did almost exclusively backhands and multiball. One student, Kevin Walton, lent me an arm brace which seemed to help, but when using the muscles for certain shots it was like having someone grabbing my arm in mid-stroke. It's great to protect the arm when hitting (tentative) forehands, but when hitting backhands or feeding backspin in multiball, I had to take it off.

I'm supposed to be defending my hardbat titles from 2010 and 2011 at the Cary Cup in eleven days. However, my arm is not going to be ready for my all-out forehand hitting style. So yesterday I borrowed a defensive hardbat from John Olsen (an oversized Hock), and we practiced for a time. I'll almost for certain be chopping at Cary, and hopefully pick-hitting forehands, but not too much.

Maryland Table Tennis Center Expansion Update

The wall is down! The long-awaited expansion of the Maryland Table Tennis Center is happening. They are still working on the new area we're taking over next door, and to protect our side from the dust of the wall going down and other work there's a ceiling-to-floor plastic tarp still dividing the place, but that's temporary. Soon we'll be up to 11,000 square feet, about 18 tables, all-new red flooring, showers, weight room, etc. All should be ready within two weeks.

Here's a picture of the place right now by Barbara Wei. The plastic tarp on the left actually cuts off about 10-15 feet of the current club, so for the next week or so we're actually smaller than normal.

Overheard at the Maryland Table Tennis Center yesterday: "Nobody plays at the Maryland Table Tennis Center anymore. It's too crowded." (Admission: I said it. With proper regards to Yogi Berra.)

Lily Zhang Interview

Here's an interview with Lily Zhang, U.S. Women's Singles Finalist, Women's Team Member, and #1 Cadet Girl.

Sol Schiff in New York Times

Here's Schiff's obit in the NY Times. Most of the story is based on phone interviews by the author with Tim Boggan, who was at my house during the interviews.

The World Economic Forum, Mick Jagger, and Ping-Pong

Here's an excerpt from an article this morning in The New Yorker:

Jagger was there. He had on a pink button-down, black jeans, and snazzy Nike running shoes. There was a Ping-Pong table folded up against the wall; apparently Jagger had been playing when the first guests arrived. Now he was dancing, with one woman, then another, to classic reggae playing at mid-volume.

Tips from Marty Reisman

Here's a two-minute video from Men's Journal and Marty Reisman: "The Hustler's Guide to Ping-Pong: Learn how to impress friends and fleece strangers with these tips from Marty Reisman, the world’s best table-tennis player."

Table Tennis Cartoons

Here are 13 table tennis cartoons by Cartoon Jazz that were published in USA Table Tennis Magazine back when I was editor.

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March 1, 2012

Peter Li

Imagine a country that has an 18-year-old National Men's Singles Champion. Suppose that country decides to fund four players to the World Championships. You'd think that winning that Men's Singles title would automatically qualify you for the team. Right? Wrong.

That's the story of Peter Li, who won Men's Singles at the USA Nationals a little over two months ago in December when he was 18. However, at the USA Team Trials (just after turning 19), he finished in a four-way tie for second place with a record of 8-3. But after the tie-breaker (going to matches and games among those tied), he finished in fifth place, just missing the top four. He was then offered the fifth spot as an unfunded position, meaning he would have to pay his own way to the worlds. His family is already spending over $10,000/year on his training, and simply couldn't afford to pay more. And so he will not be going to the Worlds, and will not gain the experience he would get there.

Can anyone imagine this happening in any serious table tennis country? I don't think there are very many countries that fund teams to the Worlds that would not fund a teenaged National Men's or Women's Singles Champion.  

There's little chance USATT will change their procedures for this Worlds. The question is if they will look at the result of their procedure, and ask themselves if that procedure is really getting them the best result. Perhaps anyone winning or making the final of Men's and Women's Singles at the Nationals should automatically qualify. (Conflict of interest note - Peter developed at MDTTC, my club, and still trains and coaches part-time there on weekends.) 

Hit the ball harder!

I'm coaching an eight-year-old girl whose forehand is coming along pretty well, except for one problem: she absolutely will not hit the ball hard. Every shot is the same soft keep-it-in-play stroke that wouldn't break wet tissue paper. I've tried to get her to gradually hit the ball harder, to no avail. She just doesn't want to. So what did I do?

I did the obvious thing. I tricked her.

Near the end of our session yesterday, while feeding multiball, I put a half-filled water bottle on the table. I told her if she could knock it over, she could have a chocolate. (I conveniently had a stash handy.) It took her a few shots to hit the bottle, and she discovered she'd have to hit it harder to knock it over. That's when she started hitting harder, and with good form. She won two chocolates. Afterwards I told her mom about what I'd done, and she promised not to tell her daughter. (Shhhhhhh everyone! Hopefully she's not reading this blog.)

Sol Schiff

Here's the obit on Sol Schiff by his longtime friend Dean Johnson.

The Ma Long serve

He's #1 in the world, and here's his serve (2:31). Here's another video of it (0:55), showing it in action. Both videos show it in regular time and slow motion.

Table Tennis in Bed

Yes, you too can play table tennis in bed, using your hands and feet to rally back and forth!

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February 29, 2012

Sol Schiff RIP

Sad news. "Mr. Table Tennis," Hall of Famer Sol Schiff, died yesterday at age 94. He was the 1934 U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion, the 1938 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Jimmy McClure), and a member of the 1937 World Men's Team Champion (the only time the U.S. ever won the title). He also served as USTTA (now USATT) president for many years. Here's his USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame profile. (It's only "Part 1" - hopefully Tim Boggan will write Part 2 at some point.) Note - A number of reports incorrectly have him as being 95, but he was born on June 28, 1917, passed away on February 26, 2012, and so wouldn't have turned 95 until June 28. 

Leap Day

In honor of Leap Day, go practice your footwork. Or at least read about footwork - here are five articles I've written on footwork that you may browse while lounging in a chair sipping diet coke.

The one time I was faulted

As promised last week, here is the story of the only time my serve was ever faulted in a tournament.

I've been playing tournaments since I started playing 36 years ago in 1976. I've probably played in about 600 tournaments. How many times have I been faulted? Exactly once - and as both the umpire and referee agreed, it was a mistake, the serve I was faulted for was legal. Here's how it happened.

In the early 1980s I was about to play another player about my level, around 2200 or so at the time. This was just before the color rule was passed, and so many players used different racket surfaces with the same color. Often they would flip the racket and serve with either side, and about the only way to tell which side the server used was by sound. And so many players with combination rackets began stamping their foot as they served to hide the different sound. It became a serious problem with all the loud distracting foot stomps, and so foot stomping during the serve became illegal. The wording of the rule roughly said that if the umpire believed you stomped your foot to hide the sound of contact, the serve would be a fault.

Before the match my opponent reminded the umpire of this rule, and incorrectly said that if I lifted my foot during my serve, it was a foot stomp and I should be faulted. I was using inverted on both sides, and did not stomp my foot during my serve - but I did left my left foot slightly off the ground when doing my forehand pendulum high-toss serve, my primary serve.

On the very first point of the match the umpire faulted me for foot stomping. I pointed out the actual wording of the rule, and the umpire looked confused. So I called for the referee. The referee explained the rule to the umpire, and the umpire then changed his ruling, saying that in he had gotten the rule wrong, and that I hadn't tried to foot stomp to hide the sound of contact. So it's a let, right?

Wrong. The opponent then argued that foot stomping is a judgment call, and that an umpire cannot change a judgment call. After thinking it over, the referee agreed, and so the fault stood.

I won the match.

Side note - I just read the above to Tim Boggan. (See my blog yesterday about his staying at my house for two weeks.) He said that if he'd been there, said I'd been ROBBED and that he'd still be arguing to this day about it.

Table Tennis in New York Post

Here's a feature on Michael Landers in yesterday's New York Post. Here's an excerpt:

"Some people joke around saying that [table tennis] is a combination of running, boxing and playing chess at the same time, but in reality it really is," Landers said. "There’s so much thinking involved, so much strategy and you have to have the agility of a boxer and the speed of a runner."

Commercials with Table Tennis

Here's a lipstick commercial (0:30) that features table tennis.  Here's a Metro PCS commercial (0:31) that has one second of table tennis. (Watch quickly 16 seconds in or you'll miss it!)

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October 19, 2011

Secrets of the Quick Push and Punch Block

The quick push is where you push rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. A punch block is where you block rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. See the similarities? But it goes beyond that. In both cases, you use a short stroke; angle the ball or go at the opponent's elbow; make last-minute changes of direction to throw off an opponent; go deep on the table; keep the ball low; and focus on quickness and consistency. The shots are meant to force a weak return or miss. Many players are so focused on attacking that they never learn these more subtle but valuable shots. Placement is especially key - so many pushes and blocks go to the middle forehand or backhand that it's a crime. Or the shots are so passive that they put no pressure on the opponent, when of course every shot in table tennis should put pressure on your opponent in some way. Placement, depth, height, quickness, speed - these are all elements that make the shots effective. (The key differences are that when pushing, you also have backspin as a weapon, and can both load up the spin or vary it, and that when punch blocking, you can also use speed as a weapon.)

Match Analysis

Here's a video from the last World Championships between William Henzell of Australia (world #152) and Adrien Mattenet of France (world #31), with Henzell giving tactical commentary (10:25). Here's your chance to see how world-class players think tactically. Do you agree with his analysis? (Note - after posting this, I discovered that this was the same one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7. Oops. But enjoy it again!)

William's Journey to the Olympics

Since I belatedly discovered that the video above was the same one as one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7, I'm adding this new segment - William Henzell's Journey to the Olympics! Here's Part 1 (4:08),  Part 2 (6:26), and Part 3 (6:38). 

Attack letter

This is kind of funny, but mostly sad. Someone sent out a letter early this morning to a group of people in response to the satirical article a few days ago about Brad Pitt playing me in a movie based on the adaptation of my book, Table Tennis Tales and Techniques. (Here's the article, or see my blog the last two days.) The letter writer still believes it is real, even though I explained in my blog yesterday that it was a satire. He says he also sent the letter to the "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques" website, but I think he means the fake, satirical one at The Daily Quarterly that he still believes is real, not the real one, since I maintain that since it is my book. (And here it is!) As to The Daily Quarterly, I'm sure they took one look at the raving in the letter and put it aside. Or maybe they'll publish it for laughs.

The person, who for many years has been saying I shouldn't be in charge of anything (and far, far worse - he gets pretty nasty), and in fact got kicked out of a USATT Coaching Seminar I ran for USATT for yelling such things and refusing to stop (the USATT coaching chair kicked him out, not I), now attributes those words to the great Sol Schiff. He also writes, "Mr. Marty Reisman, late 60s, beat him in the US Open Hardbat Finals around 1998 and Coach Larry didn't have the backbone or the sense to put Mr. Reisman's photo on the cover of our magazine." To be accurate, it was actually in the final at the 1997 Nationals. Now, letter writer, you've been attacking me on this for years. So, one more time: I was USATT editor from 1991-1995, and from 1999-2007. I wasn't editor at the time of the match in 1997. I wasn't the one who chose the cover. I had nothing to do with it. But, of course, we've been through this many times, and facts don't seem to matter, do they?

Of course, this same letter writer once photoshopped me in a Nazi uniform with a Hitler mustache and sent that out to a large group of people, including the USATT board of directors and staff, claiming it was a school project.

But I did enjoy these parts of this morning's email: "If the movie was about the real Coach Larry, the man behind the curtain, the dirty, two-faced lying flat-sponge manufactures' operative posing as a journalist and couch and 'Hardbatter'--it would be a blockbuster, bigger than _ERAN BROKOVITCH...I've got the shrill characters." (I have no idea what that last part means. The ellipsis was the letter writer's, not mine.) And this: "There is no doubt that The Game is broken, thanks to the Coach Larrys."

Eating a ping-pong ball

Here are 31 seconds of someone actually eating a ping-pong ball. Bon appetite.

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