First Family of Table Tennis

By David Fullen

 

 

 

For the First Family in table tennis Ė first not only because collectively they play more table tennis than probably any other family, but also because individually they come in first in table tennis matches most of the time Ė friendships made are as important as matches played. I had a chance to talk with most of the Yip/Dattel/Hugh family Ė Yip is Lilyís last name and in China itís the custom for women to keep their family name, Hugh is from Lilyís previous marriage, and Dattel is step dad Barryís last name. Adam is currently a first-quarter freshman at Princeton University and was in the middle of finals when this interview took place, so Barry filled in for Adam.

 

What led to your outstanding performance at the recent Nationals? (see inset for results)

 

Judy: Probably more practice and game playing. You have to play games to have the mentality. I play with Barry. I play more games with him, more

drilling with mom. I used to prefer playing games over drilling, but now I see that drill practice really makes a difference. When I don't practice for a couple of days or a week, when I pick up the racket it takes a while to get the touch back.

 

Barry: Judy has this ability to come from behind in tournament matches. She probably did it 10 times last year. She's not rattled by being behind. She's focused on the next point.

 

Lily: I won Mixed Doubles with Adam. We've finished second before, but this was the first time we won. I'm so happy that I won with Adam.

 

Barry: And this might be the first time a mother/son team has won a mixed doubles championship. Three years ago I played with Judy and Lily played with Adam. It seems like a popular event now, with 32 teams this past year. Judy and I lost in a close four games to the team Adam and Lily beat in the finals.

 

I don't consider my performance at Nationals outstanding. I tried my best, but players beat me. Iíve won over 30 singles and over 40 singles at least once before. Semis aren't as good as winning, but Iím not unhappy with my performance.

 

Would you list your major table tennis titles in addition to Nationals?

 

Barry: Adam is the North American champ. He's won every age category starting at age 11. He hasn't won anything on the international scene, but I believe he came in around 3rd in the world junior challenge championships.

 

Judy: #1 under 18 years in Ď04, #1 under 16 girls in Ď03. 6th '03 in world cadet challenge.

 

Lily: Top 16 women's singles in China, 2x women's Guangdong Province champ, selected to Chinese youth team for 3 months. 2x Olympian '92 and '96 for the USA. #1 in tryouts in Ď92 and Ď96. Wei Wang and I got to top 16 women's doubles in the Ď96 Olympics. Gold medal women's doubles in the Ď91 Pan American games. #1 last 5 years in Open Hardbat.

 

Barry: Over 40 national champ, Over 30 national champ, New Jersey state champ twice in singles and doubles many times. Over 40 Senior Doubles champ with Lily.

 

Are you surprised at how well Adam and Judy are doing?

 

Lily: I'm not surprised. They have better conditions than most of the kids. They're very athletic. Adam started when he was 10. They have it their genes. They should be #1.

 

How did you keep them interested when they were growing up?

 

Lily: I tried not to push them too much. I let them know how lucky I was to play table tennis. That's one of the reasons I play, too. They see I'm happy when I play. Sometimes they don't put in the time I expect, but I try not to push. But I don't let them off completely. They enjoy travel and they have so many friends, and they can continue to meet a lot of friends. Judy has a good friend in Berkeley and she loves to go to tournaments so she can see her friends.

 

Barry: When Adam and Judy started playing, I put quarters on the table. If they hit the quarter they could keep it. It supported the idea that if you hit a good shot you were rewarded. I think I lost 5 dollars that night. They were very talented to begin with - coordinated. Lily's genes.

 

In 2005 your family played 594 USATT matches and won an average of 74% of the time. How did you build this habit of winning throughout your family?

 

Lily: I think Judy and Adam give me motivation. I want to show the kids. I do swimming and walking. The harder you work at it you have a better body. They grew up more mature. They understand that if you want to win you have to try your best.

 

In the last 2-3 years I don't train with them as much. If you want to keep your game you have to practice, but with so much homework they're under pressure. They understand that if they want to win they have to practice. They learn by watching other people, too. I just practice with them now. And Barry does, too.

 

 

 

 

In '05 Adamís USATT won about 84% of the time. How does he do it?

 

Barry: He's much better than the people he's played. Adam is well trained. He's obviously fairly smart. He knows how to think and play at the same time with good technique. Good concentration. He has the whole package.

 

He moves well. He has an aptitude for most sports, but especially table tennis. He trained in China for 3-4 summers. He's had Johnny Huang help him out. He's had good international success playing in the junior ranks. He's beaten some top players. He's within the elite category. He was invited to the world junior championships, but we thought it would be better to play the Nationals instead of 2-3 matches in Austria. But he took a chance, and he did well.

 

What is your daily/weekly Training routine? Coaching routine?

 

Lily: I find time to train with my kids 2-4 hrs/week. I coach 2-4 hrs/day maximum and I swim twice a week. I really need to organize my schedule.

 

Barry: I play with Judy. I play sometimes at the club. I play whenever I have a chance. Some weeks are better than others. I think Adam does more running and weight lifting now to keep in shape with table tennis a couple times a week, plus competition. The family tries to go down on Friday night to play with him at the Princeton TTC.

 

Judy: There's no concrete schedule. It's pretty much when I finish homework. I shoot for an hour a day, then 2 hours on the weekend on Saturday or Sunday. 6-7 hours a week. It should be more but with school it's hard. I'm a junior and there's a little bit of pressure in your junior year of high school.

 

When you play are you doing battle or feeling joy? (Or experiencing the joy of doing battle?)

 

Lily: I enjoy it more, especially when I get older. The game has given me so much. I lost a match to a younger player at Nationals, and because of that match I didn't make the American team. But I thought, "Hurray for the younger generation." When I was young it was a competition and I had to win. I still want to win, but you have to win fair. It's the same in business. You have to have a good attitude.

 

Barry: Battle! I think about how to win when I play in tournaments. What can I do tactically to get an advantage and what are the weaknesses. When I practice I think about how to get better. Itís definitely a battle for Adam, too.

 

Judy: Probably more joy. I'm not as competitive as some people. It's not like I want to kill the other person - it's not personal. I'm pretty much in a zone when I play. People have asked me what I think about - they wanted to know what I was thinking at Nationals when I was down in the fifth game and I came back to win, but I didn't know what to say.

 

What is your current equipment? How would you classify your playing style?

 

Judy: I use a Stiga offense blade, with Magna on my backhand and Mendo MP on my forehand. I'm a close to the table looper. Iím trying to become more of a two-winged looper.

 

Barry: Adam is an aggressive attacker. Good power shots on FH and BH.

 

Iím an all around player. Mostly an aggressive spinner. I use a Butterfly paddle with Chinese inverted rubber on the forehand, and Killerspin inverted rubber on the backhand. But it changes.

 

Lily: Aggressive FH attack. I play fast and hit hard. When I was in China I trained with the men more. I use a Stiga carbon offense+ racket with short pips on the FH and long pips on the BH. I play penhold and only use the long pips for one or two points a game.

 

Lily, how did your background in China prepare you for your career in the US?

 

Lily: I was among the best on the Chinese youth team - top 16 - in the Chinese National Championship four-five years straight. I was the best in my province. I was Top 16 in the country many times. Also #3 in Women's Doubles at the Chinese National Championships. After that they sent me to college for Phys. Ed to be a women's coach. I graduated, then came to the US when I was 23. You know - the American dream. I had 2 babies, so I stopped playing for 2-3 years. But it was easy to pick up the game again.

 

When I look back I'm happy I became a US citizen. Iím enjoying being in the game again. I have so many friends through table tennis - I met Barry through table tennis.

 

Barry: We'd play and practice. A couple of years later we had a relationship. My parents also met through table tennis and married.

 

We really like the social aspect of the game. We have friends all over the world, and we like playing to see our friends. Judy has great friends in California, and she looks forward to seeing them. It's not only a sport, but it's a social activity that we really enjoy and that's what keeps bringing people back. You don't have that as much that I've seen in other sports. With Table Tennis we have good friends all over the country. Some are 20-25 year friendships.

 

Tell us about your table tennis background. How did you get started? How did you reach your current level?

 

Judy: When I first started we always came to the club because of my mom and Barry. Adam and I didn't know how to play. Every single day we saw people play, so we got started.

 

Barry: I started playing seriously in college at 18. I was part of the Rutgers team - Rutgers was a powerhouse from 78-88. The team included Brian Eisner, Jeff Steif. Elliot Katz, Paul Rubas, Dr. George Dendrios. A lot of us were on that team.

 

My parents played table tennis - they made the finals in Mixed Doubles in the late 40s. My parents used to go to the club, but I stayed home. It wasn't until I was about 17 that I saw it properly played.

 

I joined the New Jersey Table Tennis Club in Westfield in '78. A lot of people helped me out and I played a lot. I did a lot of tournaments. I was president for 14 years. It's one of the premiere clubs in the nation.

 

What are your next steps in table tennis?

 

Lily: Since we don't have funding from the USOC, I'd like to use some resources from China, like a cultural exchange, to take a team to China to train and have their best players come over here. I want to see the next generation, an American born player, make it to the top 10 in the world. As a coach I'd like to coach a top 10 player. I'm leaving Sunday, January 22nd for

Beijing to see if I can arrange to bring 16 players this summer - 8 boys and 8 girls - to the National Chinese training center in Beijing - to the "secret" Zheng Ding International Table Tennis Training Center where the Chinese National Team conducts its secret training sessions for two months of intense training before the worlds.

 

Judy: I'm not sure what '06 will bring. I'm hoping to make the national team someday. I finished 6th this year and they take four players. Age isn't really a factor in table tennis. Like my mom, for example. So it'll be awhile before older players stop playing and open up some spots.

 

Barry: Maintaining.

 

What are Adamís goals as part of the US Men's National Team? What will he focus on as he prepares for the World's this spring?

 

Barry: It's a good question. He's got to get approval from the school and figure out how he's going to keep up and go to the World's in April. We don't know what they think - we hope they think it's a good thing. But he's got to be able to keep up and school takes precedence. I think his level helped him get accepted to Princeton. And if he's doing well in school, they should let him do it. But if not, he may have to make a decision. There will always be more world championships. He already played in one two years ago.

 

Clearly academics are a priority in the First Family. Judy, how do you balance academics with table tennis? What subjects do you like most?

 

Judy: Academics come first. I try to finish 75% of my homework first, then play. I like languages - I'm taking French. I used to like math, but now it's one of the toughest subjects.

 

How is college going so far for Adam? How does he balance academics with table tennis? What has the transition been like?

 

Barry: It's been a great transition. Heís very busy, though. He has about 20% of the table tennis time that he used to have because of so much schoolwork.

 

What are Adamís plans for an Operations Research and Financial Engineering/ Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering major?

 

Barry: No idea. We have no clue what he might do with it. He might go into some kind of financial thing, but who knows. He's a first quarter freshman.

 

Volleyball player Gabrielle Reese talks about how much she has learned about life from Volleyball. What has table tennis taught you about life so far?

 

Barry: Adam has a very good understanding of different cultures. He's traveled the world. He has better patience for himself and other things. He's a lot more in control of his emotions because of table tennis. He has a burning desire to perform well.

 

Judy: It's helped me know that if you set a goal you'll be able to reach it. If you never believe you can do it, you never will.

 

Lily: Discpline. If you want to be a good player you have to train. And sportsmanship. You have to earn every point. Commitment. You have to set goals. You have to be a good person - that way you make more friends. I teach my young students how to respect the coach and the other player in a match.

 

Barry: Itís given me an appreciation for all different cultures. Itís also taught me that there's always another game tomorrow. For the kids, it shows what discipline and dedication can bring to them.

 

What are your interests outside of table tennis?

 

Lily: I have some interest in the real estate business. I want to buy real estate in china and California, but right now it's just a dream. I enjoy travel. I like to sing - mostly in the shower. But we have a Karaoke system, and every July 4 we have a party and invite friends, 95% are because of table tennis. Everybody has to sing.

 

Barry: Adam has to do school and table tennis. But he likes all sports, including watching and playing basketball. He's a sports enthusiast. He played competitive Frisbee in high school.

 

Judy: I like other sports, but none seriously. I play basketball, tennis, and swimming, but more for pleasure than cross training. Table tennis takes up most of the time.

 

Barry: I still play tennis and golf. In tennis I was New Jersey state college champion in 1981. I had a ranking of 34 in men's in the eastern section of USTA. I was also a very good bowler - I worked very hard to get there. I would ride 3-4 miles with 2 balls on my bike just so I could practice. That was the only transportation I had. I did the same with tennis. My kids are lucky because they have in-house players. We have 2-3 tables up and running.

 

Barry, tell us about your work outside of TT.

 

Barry: I'm a computer consultant. I develop Web applications and business applications. Iím a programmer - I have a degree in computer science. But I enjoy helping Lily with her business, too.

 

Lily, how do you balance being an entrepreneur, a player, a coach and a mom?

 

Lily: #1 I enjoy the game. The more I play the younger I feel. Iím able to train with kids and still show the kids I'm a good player. I can still win, so why not keep playing. I enjoy the travel, meeting new friends, and seeing old friends. It's fun. As a mom, I'm still good enough to play doubles with the kids.

 

Almost five years ago you said in an article with the Star Ledger that, "I think I can play forever. The longer I play, the better touch I have." Could you expand on that idea?

 

Lily: You play so many years that you have a better hand. European players play for twenty years. They have a better touch. The Chinese keep changing players Ė they think the young player is always better. They're afraid to take a chance. Ma Lin was world champion and now plays in Germany. He can still beat the Chinese players.

 

Itís like Chen Yinghua at the Nationals in 2004, when you coach you touch the racket, so your touch improves.

 

Would you give one key training tip for recreational players?

 

Lily: Learn good technique. Find a coach. Do multiball training. In China - as a pro - we spent 40-50% of the time in multiball.

 

Barry: Consistency. Get the ball back on the table.

 

Judy: Just practice. Repetition on forehand and backhand. Practice makes a big difference.

 

What trends do you see in junior/cadet table tennis for girls and boys?

 

Lily: I think the new generation is much better than the last generation. I like to focus on the women. The Women's team is in the top 16 in the world. There is more competition for the men, but I think the girls have more of a chance. Itís easier to get a medal, and if we get a medal, maybe we can get more money and professional training. The girls will have a better chance.