February 2, 2011

The Minutes for the USA Table Tennis Jan. 10, 2011 Teleconference

Here they are. As usual, they got a lot done. As usual, I don't see anything that'll lead to the large membership increase so needed by our sport. At the USATT Strategic Meeting 17 months ago, our 8000 membership was deemed a "round-off error," and there was a consensus that drastically increasing it was our top priority. That won't happen without a nationwide system of leagues and the systematic development of junior programs (i.e. recruit and train coaches to set up and run them). Or we can sit around and wish for it to happen really hard.

I did notice that at a recent meeting they finally did what I pushed so strongly for at that Strategic Meeting: set up a League Task Force, as opposed to the "Grow Membership Through Added Value" (I'm not making that up) Task Force which implemented nothing and is no longer active. The very people who pushed for the "GMTAV" Task Force instead of a League Task Force back then now seem to make up the members of the League Task Force, so I'm a bit . . . peeved.

=>Message to USATT: Naming new task forces isn't going to solve our problems if nothing useful is implemented. As I said over and Over and OVER at the Strategic Meeting, you need to 1) set goals, 2) work out a plan to reach those goals, and 3) implement the plan. We have yet to reach 1). So, League Task Force . . . what are your goals, what is your plan to reach those goals, and will USATT implement that plan?

Obligatory Groundhog Day joke: Did a USATT official see his shadow, and so we're stuck with six more decades of futility? Just kidding, USATT!!! :)  Actually, six decades ago was 1951. At that time, Marty Reisman and Dick Miles were two of the very best table tennis players in the world. One year later sponge would come out, and no U.S. player has really challenged the world's best since.

New York Times

Got a call last night from a reporter from the New York Times. He's putting together a story about Chinese-American table tennis players and their experiences in America. We talked for over an hour. Right now two types of Chinese players dominate in the U.S.: former Chinese National or Province Team Members who are well into their 40s or 50s (such as Cheng Yinghua, Fan Yiyong, David Zhuang, Gao Jun, Amy Feng, Lily Yip), and Chinese-Americans who developed in the U.S., with parents who immigrated from China (Han Xiao, Adam Hugh, Tim Wang, Peter Li, Justin & Alex Yao, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, many more). We also discussed the Great Chinese Exodus, i.e. the proliferation of Chinese coaches (i.e. former top players) to all parts of the world, spreading table tennis technique to the masses, or at least to those willing to pay for lessons. There are probably 50 full-time professional table tennis coaches in the U.S., and probably three-fourths are Chinese. I put the reporter in contact with about a dozen top Chinese-American coaches and players. I'll post a note here when it comes out.

Classic Reunion:

Marty Reisman, Dick Miles, Sol Schiff, Lou Pagliaro

On Sunday, Oct. 14, 2007, these four all-time greats gathered at Dick Miles' house in New York City. The slideshow is now out! Sadly, Miles died on Oct. 12, 2010, and Pagliaro on July 14, 2009. Here is Miles New York Times obit, and Pagliaro's. Here's the USATT homage to Miles (by Tim Boggan and Marv Leff).

Is this, or is this not, the single greatest reverse tomahawk/reverse backhand serve ever done in the history of the world?

Here it is - tell me if you agree. That's a heck of a serve; I'm going to develop one like it. Next time I play a lefty, he better beware! Here's the tricky part - as hinted at in the title, is this a reverse tomahawk serve or a reverse backhand serve? They really are the same thing, except the tomahawk serve (both normal and reverse) is done from the forehand side of the body (with contact on different sides of the racket), and the backhand (normal and reverse) from the backhand side (with contact on the same side of the racket for both). Most players don't learn the reverse versions, which is too bad. Unless, of course, you have to play someone who doesn't have them, in which case it's very good . . . for you.


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I'm really happy that their is someone like you fighting for the growth of the sport with ideas that will address the problem, even if those suggestions fall on deaf ears. I have often pondered ways to promote growth in my city. Even though I do help arrange a lot of table tennis activity and support many good causes, I feel pretty much powerless in making any kind of real impact.

As far as the amazing serve goes, I have always thought that was an incredible serve. That is most definitely a reverse tomahawk serve. The reason I am so convinced of this is due to the service motion. Watch how her body drops (because she bends her legs way down) when she goes to hit the serve. There is also a clear tomahawk chopping motion if you look really closely. I was amazed at how many young players could use both the tomahawk and reverse tomahawk serve at the 2010 U.S. Nationals. I even saw one kid mimic Joey Cochran's windshield wiper serve in a match against him. As I don't know how many people know about that serve, I am unsure as to whether the kid was taught it beforehand or if he learned it on the fly. Either way, I was very impressed.

In reply to by PipProdigy

I'm still undecided on the terminology for that serve! But she does use a tomahawk motion, so we'll call it a reverse tomahawk serve in this case.

Regarding USATT, at some point I'm going to write a letter to them pointing out all the optimistic views about all the things they were going to do at the Strategic Meeting, and the lack of anything serious implemented since. Besides the "goals, plan, implement" problem, there's also a problem in that often the USATT Board will seem to reach a consensus to do something, but it ends there.  As I also kept pointing out, nothing gets done unless someone actually does it. It seems obvious, but it's a real problem. You should have heard all the discussion at the Strategic Meeting about the immediate changes to the USATT web page, none of which happened because . . . nobody did it. (I'm that irritating person at meetings who keeps pointing out the obvious.)

As to juniors and serves, over the years I've noticed there are two types of juniors: those who are really creative with serves, and constantly work on them, and those who just serve to get the ball in play. The latter develop simple but effective serves, but rarely get any "free" points. I think it's important to be more creative and develop "off" serves that give a few free points each match.

In reply to by Larry Hodges

Could you perhaps explain what exactly went on in that teleconference? Because from what I read, that was pointless...Did they really accomplish anything? I know a lot of motions were brought up, some carried through and some shot down, but it seemed as if nothing important was addressed. I agree that I saw nothing in the agenda that seemed as if it would raise USATT membership.

As far as juniors and serves go, what serves do you teach juniors who are barely taller than the table? Since the pendulum serves may be hard for them due to their height, I figured coaches were teaching them the tomahawk and reverse tomahawk serves. If you can confirm or deny this, I would appreciate it.

In reply to by PipProdigy

Hi PipProdigy, I wasn't on the phone conference, though I've attended over 50 USATT board meetings in the past and so have a good idea what happened. I'm trying to be polite about it, because, from the point of view of many board members, they are doing a lot of things. From our point of view, most of what they are doing is treading water - lots of motion, but not really going anywhere. They don't have real goals or a vision of the future as far as popularizing the sport. (Some think mostly in terms of winning Olympic medals.) Alas.

As to juniors, when they are really young, sometimes they start with backhand serves. However, you can teach the forehand pendulum serve to even a very small kid. The key is that they hold their elbow out and up. Few have trouble learning backspin and side-backspin serves, though they sometimes have difficulty serving a pure sidespin or side-topspin if their shoulder isn't that much above the table.

In reply to by Larry Hodges

I apologize if my replies are coming off as rude. I just wish that the board was more proactive, when in reality, it seems heavily watered down by bureaucratic procedure. On a local scene, we just re-initiated the former "Grass Roots" program in the form of the "New Beginnings" program. This helped a local club in Montgomery, Alabama get its start. I say "we", but it was L.A. Johnston who organized the event. I simply helped set up the tournament, donated water, and participated (though I performed poorly). My point is that something was done once a need was determined. I feel that this should be the case in more avenues of table tennis in our country.

That is interesting in regard to the serves. I currently coach a few young players and that is valuable information for me.

No, your comments aren't coming off as rude. But it's hard not to be. Believe me, contrasting what was said at the Strategic Meeting 17 months ago and in discussions before and since, and what actually happens, leaves me wanting to be rude, but that just leads to a "circle the wagons" attitude for Board members. But at some point, I'm going to write a letter to the board, contrasting their words and their actions. Unfortunately, they'll probably see it as an indian attack, and circle the wagons. Seventeen months ago they were full of enthusiasm about all the things they were going to do. Now they are full of enthusiasm about all the things they are going to do. In 17 months, they'll be enthusiastic about all the things they're going to do.