todo list

January 8, 2013

The Schools Petition

Hopefully by now you're one of the 951 people who have signed the petition to "Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka 'Ping Pong' as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice." I first blogged about this back on Dec. 13 the day after it was created by the enterprising Joel Mitchell (and I was the fifth person to sign), and I blogged about it again on Jan. 4 (Friday). It's now featured on the USATT home page. I think it's great that we're working together on this. 

Unfortunately, to get a response from the White House we need at least 25,000 signatures by Jan. 11, which is this Friday. We're only 24,049 away!!! (And in the time it took me to write this blog, we got two more signatures - we're up to 953!)

So let's be honest; unless someone famous (hi Susan Sarandon) gets this on some extremely watched TV show, we're not going to get those 24,000+ signatures in the next three days. But suppose we did? Are schools really the answer?

Schools are Not the Answer (Not Yet)

I would argue that schools may be Step Two in developing our sport, but not Step One. And we're a long way from even getting started on Step One, which is to develop the sport ourselves so the schools will be interested in taking us to the next level. Sure, someone might put together a school league or club, but the key is that one of us - a table tennis person - has to do it, not the school itself. They are quite willing to make use of the few people we have who can do this. But until we show them table tennis is a growing sport that everyone else is doing, they won't jump on the bandwagon. In other words, schools are not the way to go until we are a larger sport. The way to grow junior table tennis in the country is through club programs, as is done all over Europe. Here are the problems with going through the schools, in no particular order:

1. School systems are not interested in adopting a small sport and making it big. That's our job. When we are a bigger sport, then they will be interested.

2. School systems are not interested in adopting a relatively expensive sport like table tennis (tables, nets, rackets, balls, constantly breaking and needing replacement, lots of storage space needed for tables) unless the sport is already popular. They can toss the kids a soccer ball, basketball, etc., and it's easier and cheaper, and they already have facilities for these and other large sports.

3. No sport in the U.S. has ever gotten big through schools, although a number of big sports got bigger because of schools. (Lacrosse got big through colleges, but they are the exception, and we're talking about high school, middle school, and elementary school here.)

4. Table tennis has not gotten big through schools in any country in the world, except for communist countries like China where the leaders (like Chairman Mao in China) ordained it the national sport. (And Obama doesn't have that authority.) Worldwide, and especially in Europe, players start out in junior programs at local clubs, according to Stellan Bengtsson, Jorgen Persson, and dozens of others I've spoken with over the years. Every player and coach from Europe I've spoken to says the same thing. In the countries in Europe where table tennis has gotten big, there are school teams, but they are relatively unimportant there, since most of the players train at local clubs, where there's a professional coach and players from local schools, instead of just one school. Stellan said he didn't think a single member of the Swedish team started out at a school or ever trained seriously at one, unless it was part of a table tennis club separate from the school.

5. The best we can do with schools is set up some ping-pong clubs, but few are going to fund a real coach. So while the kids play ping-pong, it's just a game like Parcheesi to them. They don't take it seriously and they rarely if ever join USATT.

USATT has a long history of sending coaches to train teachers at large Physical Education Symposiums, but little ever comes of it. The teachers simply don't go back to their schools determined to set up serious junior programs. They go back and sometimes set up tables for a few sessions in PE, where the kids just play games.

At first thought, schools seem like a great way to grow the sport, and it looks good to the membership (so those who are big on going to the schools get elected), and so generation after generation of USATT board members have made schools a priority. The return on investment is incredibly small. (The old argument is often made, "It's better than nothing." If we are thinking small and want to stay small, then this is the way to go.)

This is one of those frustrating things through the years as we so often try to get someone else to fix our problems, i.e. hoping the schools will make us big, or Bill Gates or some other big sponsor will fund us, etc. We have to build our sport from inside before schools and large sponsors will be interested.

The key to junior development - both elite and grassroots (i.e. large numbers) - is to recruit and train coaches to set up and run junior programs, something that is done in successful table tennis countries all over the world.

Keep in mind that the goal is junior development. Schools and club programs are merely a means to this end. Too often people get attached to the means to the end rather than the end itself, and so we never reach the goal. Developing junior programs at clubs will raise us to the next level, and then we can approach school systems, and they will take us seriously. Then they can take us to an even higher level. But we have to do the groundwork first, like every other sport that got successful.

USATT Board Election Status & Update

Here's a notice from USATT on changes on the USATT Board.

The USATT Athletes Advisory Council recently held an election and as a result Han Xiao was elected to serve on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Athlete Advisory Council replacing Ashu Jain and Para athlete Edward Levy was elected to serve as the second Athlete Rep on the USATT Board of Directors.  The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association recently informed USATT that Kagin Lee will serve as their representative on the USATT Board of Directors.  Kagin replaces David Del Vecchio in this capacity.  The Nominating and Governance Committee met in late 2012 and as a result voted that Anne Cribbs and Peter Scudner should continue to serve as Independent Directors on the USATT Board of Directors.  The one remaining Board seat to be filled is currently in a membership wide election that will conclude on Jan 21, 2013.  The announcement of that election result and the posting of the complete composition of the Board of Directors for the next two year term will be made on February 4, 2013.

At this time we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Ashu Jain and David Del Vecchio for their outstanding contributions to the governance process of USATT through their service as Board Members for the last two terms.  Thank you, Ashu and thank you, David!

Xu Xin New #1

Here are the new ITTF world rankings. Zhang Jike and Ma Long have been trading back and forth for a while as the #1 man in the world, but now there's a new gun in town. Yes, they are all Chinese, as is #4 Wang Hao, #6 Ma Lin, #7 "sort of Chinese" Chuang Chih-Yuan of Taiwan, and #9 Wang Liqin. But Germany's up there, with #5 Timo Boll and #8 Dimitrij Ovtcharov. On the women's side, the top four are also Chinese, with Ding Ning #1 for the 15th consecutive month.

USA doesn't have anyone in the top 100 in Men's rankings, but has three players in the top 100 in the women's - #76 Gao Jun, #88 Arial Hsing, and #96 Lily Zhang. USA is ranked #47 and #16 in Men's and Women's Team World Rankings.

USA is pretty strong in girls' top 100 rankings. In Under 21 Women, USA has #19 Ariel Hsing and #23 Lily Zhang. In Under 18 Girls, USA has a strong showing: #5 Ariel Hsing, #6 Lily Zhang, and #61 Prachi Jha. In Under 15 Girls, USA has #48 Diane Jiang, #54 Tina Lin, #69 Angela Guan, #75 Joy Lin, and #77 Crystal Wang. (Crystal is only 10, and is from my club, MDTTC.) In the Under 18 Girls' Team Rankings, USA is #4 after China, Japan, and Romania. (CORRECTION: As pointed out by Aaron Avery, USA is actually in a three-way tie for 2nd with Japan and Romania, but with the head-to-head tie-breaking system used by ITTF, they are #2. See the 2 in the left column - not sure why they have them listed fourth.)

We're not quite as strong on the boys' side. In Under 21 Men, USA has one ranked player - Wang Qing Liang, the chopper/looper from my club who made the semifinals of Men's Singles at last year's U.S. Open. In Under 18 Boys, he is also our only ranked player, at #37. We're a lot better in Under 15 Boys, with eight players: #33 Li Hangyu, #39 Kunal Chodri, #41 Kanak Jha, #55 Chen Bo Wen (from my club!), #63 Allen Wang, #68 Jonathan Ou, #75 Li Fengguang, and #99 Krishnateja ("Krish") Avvari. In Under 18 Boys' Team Rankings, USA is #35.

1400 Articles

I recently discovered I now have over 1400 published articles! Total is 1405 in 138 different publications, including 1263 on table tennis. This does not include blog entries. (If I did, it would put me over 1900!) It does include the weekly Tip of the Week, which is published not only here but also as a news item in the Paddle Palace Blog.

Yesterday's Todo List

Remember all that stuff I had on my todo list yesterday? (See second item.) I got it all done except for finalizing the entry form for our upcoming MDTTC tournaments. (I'm redoing the scheduling.) I expect to do that this morning.

USA Paralympic Team

Here's info on the 2013 USA Paralympic Team Procedures.

First USA ITTF Level 2 Coach

Congrats to Jef Savage of The Table Tennis Centre of Mercersburg, PA, who this past week became the first USA coach to be certified as an ITTF Level 2 coach. (Here's a news item on it.) I've worked with him a bit, and did his five hours of "supervised" coaching. The irony is that although I'm a USATT Certified National Coach, I'm only an ITTF Level 1 Coach. I may go for Level 2 certification later this year. (I was one of the first two ITTF coaches in the U.S., along with Donn Olsen.)

Woman of the Year

Ariel Hsing was named Table Tennis Woman of the Year by Table Tennis Nation. Read about her great year!

From Hardball to Hardbat

Here's an article on Adoni Maropis and his rise from TV villain (the evil Abu Fayed from season six of "24") to table tennis prominence in the hardbat and sandpaper world.

Zhang Jike vs Wang Liqin

Here's a nice match (7:07) between the current world champion Zhang and the past 3-time champ (and still #9) Wang in the Chinese Super League. (Wang is on the near side at the start.) Time between points has been taken out, so it's non-stop action! What can you learn from this match?

2012 Through Our Paddles

Here's a look at the past year - through ping-pong paddle images!

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January 7, 2013

Tip of the Week

Six Great Rallying Tactics.

Can a "2200 Player" Have the Experience to Coach at a High Level?

The question of whether a lower-rated player has the experience to be a top-level coach often comes up. The answer is yes, but rarely. I've seen numerous lower-rated players - some as low as 1100 - who were excellent coaches, even for high-level players. (I've also seen many former world-class players who couldn't coach at all.)

Some believe they can gain the needed experience to coach at the higher levels simply by watching the top players, usually on video. You can learn a lot that way, but if you think you can gain the experience to be a high-level coach just by watching the top players, you are kidding yourself. You not only have to watch them now, but you have to watch them on a regular basis as they develop. The key is not only knowing what they do now, but how they go there.

It also takes a certain type of mindset. If you watch top players play and gain strong opinions on how to coach players to reach that level, you are on the wrong course. You absolutely have to see what they do as they develop, in the playing hall while training and working with their coaches, and learn from this observing. There is no substitute for this. If you want to be a good coach, then find excuses to come watch these practice sessions. Do this for a few dozen sessions and you'll become knowledgeable. Do this for a few years and you have a chance to become a really good coach.

Some think you don't need to see top players developing if they are only going to coach lower-rated players. There's some truth to this - but often coaches who consider themselves good "beginner coaches" are only good for the first few months. For example, more and more players at the higher levels really topspin their backhands, and so if you want to develop a player with a bright future, you have to work toward that goal. Simply teaching them a basic backhand isn't enough. Other "beginner coaches" keep focusing on the basic counter-driving strokes so long that the player never learns higher-level techniques, such as looping over and over from both wings, counterlooping (the basic rallying shot at the higher levels), or advanced serve & receive. The biggest difference between a good "beginner's coach" and a truly great one takes place after the player can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands. Does the coach keep working only on better and better forehands and backhand drives, or does he move on to more advanced stuff? You still need to focus on the fundamentals - here's my article Develop the Fundamentals - but the fundamentals of high-level play are a bit different than the fundamentals at the lower levels.

So to gain the experience needed to be a high-level coach, you either have to have been a high-level player, or to have spent extensive time with high-level players and coaches, both in training and tournament situations. I'm one of the lucky "2200 players" in that I have spent many years with top players and coaches. Here's my personal background:

  • My regular practice partners my first few years when I started out (at age 16) included future stars Sean O'Neill (5-time USA Men's Singles Champion) and Brian Masters (Pan Am Men's Singles Gold Medalist);
  • I spent four years as manager/director/assistant coach at the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, working with coaches such as Li Zhen Shi, Zhang Li, Hennan Li Ai, and Liguo Ai, where I watched future stars develop such as Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, Todd Sweeris, Eric Owens, Dhiren Narotam, Brian Pace, Chi-Sun Chui, Diana & Lisa Gee, and many more;
  • I spent two summers as an assistant coach to five-time U.S. Champion and long-time USA Men's Coach Dan Seemiller;
  • I've attended numerous coaching seminars by "elite" coaches - too many to list;
  • I've spent the last 20+ years at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, where I've learned by watching (and coaching) top players and coaches, including Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Xu Huazhang, Gao Jun, Amy Feng, Todd Sweeris, John Onifade, Sean O'Neill, Peter Li, Han Xiao, Sean Lonergan, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Sunny Li, Brian Pace, and many more. That's five members of the Chinese National Team, ten members of the USA National Team, and a Nigerian National Team Member. Along the way I got to watch and work with many of the top juniors in the U.S. - and personally coached over 200 players to winning gold medals at the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals.

So yes, it is possible for a "lower-level player" to gain the experience needed to coach at the higher levels - but it is rare that a player at that level gets the opportunity. You can't do it by just watching players at tournaments or on video; you have to watch their training on a regular basis, and learn from it. I've been lucky to have spent decades doing so. 

Today's Todo List

The never-ending list never ceases with its efforts to cease my work on finalizing my new book, Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. All I have left are the covers and a final proofing, which I hoped to do this week, but the todo list grabbed me by the collar and shook me until it got my attention. I have no coaching scheduled today, so this is my "day off," right? Here's my list for today.

  • Tip of the Week
  • Blog
  • Junior Class accounting
  • New MDTTC tournament dates
  • Redo and finalize MDTTC tournament entry form
  • Update and print copies of the new Adult Beginning Class flyer
  • Email updates to junior class parents
  • Check on renewals for sponsorship contracts
  • Take Sheeba (my dog) to Vet at 3PM
  • Laundry
  • Bank
  • Arrange car checkup
  • Find out why Super Shuttle is billing me $38.94 for a trip I cancelled well in advance
  • Read and critique Codex stories (something from my SF writing sideline)
  • Not on todo list, but there's an ongoing discussion about leagues with USATT officials which is also somewhat time-consuming, though I'm sort of pulling back from it because of time constraints.

World Championship of Ping Pong

USA's Ilija Lupulesku made the semifinals of the $100,000 World Championship of Ping Pong - a sandpaper events - held this past weekend in London. "Lupi" pocketed $5000 for his efforts. Winning the event for the second year in a row was Maxim Shmyrev of Russia ($20,000), who defeated Sule Olaleye of Nigeria ($10,000) in the final, apparently 11-9 in the fifth, though the scores seem to show him winning 11-9 in the fourth. (Anyone know the real scores?) Also playing from USA was Ty Hoff and Adoni Maropis. 

USATT Player Bio Questionnaire

Why not take a couple minutes to fill out the USATT Player Bio Questionnaire? It's so USATT's "...web streaming commentators will have additional information in case you are featured on center court!" You never know. And it's fun listing your best titles, ratings, etc.!

How Kids Benefit from Table Tennis

Here's an article by Samson Dubina on the benefits of table tennis for kids.

Ambassador Wally Green

Former "bad boy" now table tennis ambassador Wally Green's been getting a lot of press coverage recently. Here he is on the Steve Harvey Show (3:25), using a blackberry as a racket. His partner is Kazuyuki Yokoyama. When asked how he got into ping-pong, Wally said, "It started, I was in a lot of trouble, a guy saw I was in trouble, I was either going to be in jail or just have a terrible life, and this guy said 'Look, I'm going to help you learn ping-pong, so he paid for me to go to Germany for four months to learn ping-pong.'"

Here he is again at the 4th Annual Ping Pong for Poverty Celebrity Event in Virginia Beach (4:20). Here he says, "I used to be in a gang, doing some bad stuff. The worst thing that happened to me is I got shot twice, got stabbed a couple of times, not to the point of death. There were a lot of fights. I was a bad kid, let's say."

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October 23, 2012

Two-Winged Attackers
In this modern era of super-sponges it's a huge advantage to be able to attack effectively from both wings. There was a time (back when I was learning to play) that many players mostly attacked from one side - usually the forehand - and mostly played steady on the backhand, which is how I usually play. It's generally a mistake to develop your game that way; learn to attack from both sides.

However, a common problem for some is trying to rip winners from both wings, whether looping or smashing. This is a very difficult style to master. Even if you have the ability to rip shots both forehand and backhand, it's difficult to get both shots going at the same time. Instead, it's almost always better to focus on ripping winners from one side, and a steady attack on the other side with opportunistic rips when the shot is there. While more players rip on the forehand while playing the backhand as the steady attack side, there are many who do the reverse.

Even on the "ripping" side, you shouldn't rip everything that's potentially rippable, though of course take the shot if it's there. Unless the ball is really easy, in fact, it's almost always best to take a little off for consistency, so even your best smashes and loop kills might be at 80-90% power. But which ones should you rip?

The key is recognizing which shots are rippable and which are not. In general, there are three types of balls that should be put away:

  • High balls - but beware, sometimes a somewhat high ball can be tricky to put away if it's deep on the table with lots of spin.
  • Balls that land in the middle of the table depth-wise, i.e. not too long or too short. With practice, these balls are easy to loop or hit.
  • Balls where, with experience, you get that feel for when you've read the ball perfectly and know you can make the shot. This mostly happens when you are "in the zone."

What I Did Yesterday
This past weekend I ran the Butterfly MDTTC October Open. (See the story, photos, and results in my blog yesterday.) Here's what I did yesterday (straight from my todo list, with these items now crossed off), mostly TT related, much of it tournament related. I had only one hour of coaching scheduled, but the student was sick and cancelled. (I just realized that I never left my house yesterday, unless you count letting my dog in and out.) Yeah, this was my day off....

  • Wrote and posted the weekly Tip of the Week. ("Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.")
  • Wrote and posted my daily blog.
  • Did the USATT Tournament Report for memberships and ratings for USATT. (Will mail out this morning.)
  • Typed up results.
  • Wrote article on tournament for USATT Magazine, Butterfly, and my blog.
  • Fixed up the photos from the tournament, added captions, and put online, and sent to Butterfly.
  • Wrote press release for the tournament and sent to local media.
  • Wrote up a list of possible enhancements for the creator of the Omnipong program that I used to run the tournament.
  • Did the tournament accounting.
  • Did the accounting for the MDTTC weekend junior program.
  • Edited a new MDTTC brochure that Butterfly made for us.
  • Wrote up an application for sponsorship to a major table tennis company for a local junior star.
  • Answered 20+ emails.
  • Watched the Presidential debate.
  • Read for an hour and went to bed.

Scoring Against Ariel
Here's an article in yesterday's issue of Slate called "Smashed: My quest to win a point against one of the world's best table tennis players." The author relates his attempt to score a single point against U.S. Women's Champion and Olympian Ariel Hsing.

Multi-Table-Ball
Forget Multi-ball - it's Chinese Multi-table-ball! Here's the video (3:43). I've done this at my club in the past, though not recently. Time to revive these types of drills?

Point of the European Championships
Here's the last point of the quarterfinal match between eventual champion for the sixth time Timo Boll of Germany (the lefty) and Andrej Gacina of Croatia. The video (2:36) replays the point in slow motion.

Photos from the European Championships
Here's a photo album (347 photos) from the European Championships that finished this past weekend in Herning, Denmark. (As noted in my blog yesterday and last week, here are ITTF articles on it, and here's the home page for the event, with complete results.)

500 MPH Ping-Pong Ball Cannon
In this video (6:49), Professor Harold Stokes uses a ping-pong cannon to demonstrate to his physics class the effects of air pressure. He puts a ping-pong ball into a sealed tube, pumps out all the air, and then punctures one side. The air rushes in, and shoots the ball out the other side at 500mph. He does it three times in the video, but the ball moves too fast to see, and ends up shattered each time. The second time he shoots it through a piece of plywood (leaving a ping-pong ball sized hole). The third time he uses a human target - himself! You get to see the welt at the end.
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January 10, 2012

My todo list and coaching schedule

After careful calculations, I have concluded that my todo list, single spaced in 12-point Time Roman, would circle the earth three times. And I'm subbing for Coach Jeffrey (in China for almost two months), so my coaching schedule has doubled. And I've got a cold. So if you are one of those people waiting for something from me, it's coming, but it might take longer than usual.

It's also come to my attention that due to my subbing for Jeffrey, for the next two months I'll be coaching SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. My back: R.I.P.  

Lagging rackets

Two players I coached yesterday had a similar problem. (One was a relative beginner, the other relatively advanced, both right-handed.) And they had the same problem on both the forehand and backhand. They let the racket tip lag behind in their strokes, and so their crosscourt forehands and backhands tended to go to the middle. It's important to have the tip lead the stroke as you drive the paddle crisply through the ball. The racket should aim toward where you are aiming well before contact. If the tip lags behind, you lose control as well as power.

Backhand-backhand games

Here's a good practice game I used several times yesterday. Put a box or towel on your side of the table so that the left edge is on the table's middle line, so your forehand side is blocked off. Do the same on the other side. (This is for two righties; lefties should adjust accordingly.) Then play a backhand-to-backhand game where whoever has the ball serves straight topspin, and the rally is all backhand-to-backhand crosscourt. By doing this you'll learn to play strong but steady backhands, to move the ball around on the backhand court, and to play aggressive backhands when you see the chance. Players of different levels can play this game by spotting points - I was giving my students yesterday anywhere from 6-8 points per game, and we had some epic battles.

Forehand step around footwork

Here's a slow motion video (4:56) that demonstrates and explains forehand step around footwork (i.e. forehands from backhand corner).

"Making it Easy"

Here's a two-minute highlight video that shows the rackets used by the best Chinese players in the world, and set to music.

Table tennis goes to the dogs

Two corgis play "doubles" (1:09).

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