Butterfly Online

February 19, 2014

USATT Membership and Mass Mailing

USATT has about 8000 members. That's pretty weak in a country of 314 million.

A few days ago I received another brochure in the mail (regular mail, not email) from USTA (U.S. Tennis Association). For many years I played tennis on the side (and had a heck of a forehand!), and used to go to group training sessions twice a week for many years. I also played in their doubles leagues, and joined USTA to do so. Being a smart organization with 700,000 members, which are overwhelmingly league members, they have been trying to get me back ever since. Which is why I regularly receive both mail and email from them.

Is it cost effective? Of course it is; they are not idiots. I still get mail from many other organizations I used to belong to (and I bet you do as well), always encouraging me to rejoin or re-subscribe. Former members are probably the single best group of people to target when trying to increase membership. USATT should target this group.

USATT has a membership of around 8000 or so. (If you include life members who are no longer active or even alive, organizational memberships which were mostly given out for free, and club memberships, the number may shoot to something like 9000, but I don't have up-to-date figures, and USATT doesn't seem to publish them as they used to do.)

How many is 8000? Let's see:

  • It's one out of every 40,000 people in the U.S.
  • It's about one out of every 1900 recreational players in the U.S., according to surveys.
  • It's 1/90th the membership of USTA (tennis), even though throughout Europe and Asia the number of table tennis members is almost always higher than the number for tennis.
  • It's 1/250th the number of members of U.S. bowling leagues.
  • When you go to a baseball game, the average person pays nearly the same amount as the USATT annual fee of $49. Teams play 162 games per year, plus playoff, and yet average about 30,000 spectators per game. 8000 of them can fit in just one large section of the park.
  • It's a round-off error.

So how do we fix this problem? For years I've argued the obvious, that we should do what nearly every successful table tennis country does and what other successful sports in the U.S. do - focus on leagues and training centers. Setting up a nationwide system of regional leagues is about as obvious as you can get, if you any knowledge of how table tennis and other sports develop, but we haven't even begun to do such things. I've blogged about setting up these nationwide regional leagues many times; I just did a search of my blog entries, and here's one example. Bowling in the U.S. has about two million annual paid members in their bowling leagues; can you imagine how fast that would drop if they did what USATT does, and only had tournaments? The same is true of tennis, which focuses on leagues. Take away those tennis leagues, and their membership wouldn't be much higher than table tennis - it too would become a "round-off" error.

As to setting up training centers, the key there is to promote, recruit, and train coaches to be professional coaches who will set up such training centers. That's why I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. We've gone from 10 to 70 of these in eight years, but it's happened because coaches saw it as a way to make a living. Many of them copied the success of my club, MDTTC, which pioneered such a training center when it opened in 1992, with me, Cheng Yinghua, and Jack Huang as the coaches. (We now have seven full-time coaches and a number of part-time ones, and other centers have similar success.) While the focus of training centers tends to be junior programs, it's for all ages and levels. Guess what happens? Coaching turns recreational players who come and go into serious players who stay.

But USATT is a bureaucracy, where doing the obvious things is often difficult. No one seems to have the vision or will to do these things. I think many are scared of trying because if they failed, they'd be blamed. (Perhaps they should read the "Man in the Arena" quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Many leaders think they are in the arena because they deal with the day-to-day issues, mostly putting out fires, doing reports, answering email, and doing the daily running of a status quo sport, instead of actually going into the arena and striving to build the sport.)

I'll continue to argue for these obvious things. But perhaps it's also time for a one-time fix to increase membership. Here's a suggestion to any board members or staff who want to take initiative.

USATT has something like 50,000+ former members of USATT on the computer. That's a lot of mailing addresses just sitting there gathering computer dust. Why not do a one-time mass mailing to them all? Sure, it'd cost money, but takes money to make money, and you'd come out way ahead overall. Have it written by someone who knows how to write - for the love of God, do not have it written by a staffer without a strong writing background! Then have the letter come from a prominent U.S. table tennis star - a Dan Seemiller, Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, or a Sweeris, for example, and include a picture. Have them personally invite these former members to rejoin USATT. Give specific reasons to rejoin. It's unfortunate we can't really offer them leagues as tennis can, and that we no longer offer the print magazine (!!!), but we can offer them tournaments, including the U.S. Open and Nationals. We can point out all the new full-time centers that have popped up.

As a side benefit, maybe, just maybe, as they create or think about this invitational letter, USATT leaders will realize that maybe, just maybe, we do need to think about what USATT really has to offer, and realize that we do, in fact, need that nationwide network of leagues and to start recruiting coaches to be full-time professional running junior and other training programs. These are the incentives you can use to attract members, and that's what we're aiming for, right? If you are aiming for Olympic medals and top players, then we have the same goals. Guess where they come from? Junior training centers. Guess where the money comes for USATT to develop them? Large members that come from leagues.

Multiball Training

Here's 25 sec of Stefan Fegerl doing multiball at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.

Slow Motion Table Tennis

Here's a video (4 min) of slow motion play of the top players. Great to watch and you can learn a lot from watching it this way.

Chinese National Team Show Up at Park

What would you do if you were playing ‎Table Tennis at your local park and the Chinese National Team turned up to play? Here's the video (1:32)!

Wide Stance

I've written about using a wider stance, but this is ridiculous!

Energizer Battery Table Tennis Commercial

Here's the video (31 sec) - this is hilarious! It just came out this past weekend.

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