May 21, 2014

USATT Board Minutes and the CEO Search

Here are the minutes to the USATT Teleconference on April 21, 2014. Probably the most interesting thing is they are hiring an executive search firm for $10,000 to find our next CEO. While this is the way to go if you want a conventional CEO, on April 18 I blogged about why, at this point, we should hire someone internally (i.e. a table tennis expert) to fix up our sports infrastructure so we have a better product both for players and for sponsors (via leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, etc.), and then go the conventional route with a CEO who can bring in sponsor money. (I blogged about an alternate idea for our new CEO on May 16, near the end of the "What to do at age 18?" essay, where I suggested the new CEO partner with outside table tennis groups to raise money for them to develop the sport.)

We used (and paid for) executive search firms several times in the 1990s, and each time the goal was to hire a CEO who could raise lots of money, but none of them were able to do so. We've gone through about ten CEOs in our history (all in the last 30 years or so - we didn't have one throughout most of our history), and none have been able to raise any serious money. Keep in mind that it's not just raising money - they have to raise money well in excess of how much they cost. I'd guess we'll have to pay at least $30,000 more per year for a conventional CEO than if we hire from inside our sport, in addition to the $10,000 search fee. (I'm probably being generous here - if we hire a truly good CEO, he'll probably cost us a lot more than this. If we hire a cheaper one, we get what we pay for.) But it's more than that - we're also giving up the service we'd get from someone who could fix our sport's infrastructure by starting the process of setting up regional leagues (both recreational and professional), junior programs, coaching programs, etc., which would make our sport so much more saleable, as well as bring in money from increased membership fees as membership shoots up, as it did when table tennis associations all over Europe focused on leagues, leading to memberships measured in the hundreds of thousands (to our 8000) in countries with populations a fraction of ours.

So the new CEO will cost us the search fee, the extra salary, and the loss of the badly needed development of our sport. From the current USATT's point of view, they believe they need to raise money to do all the things I suggest. Both of us believe the other has it backwards. I believe a shoe salesman should fix the shoes before trying to sell them; they believe they need to sell broken shoes to raise the money needed to fix the shoes. But it doesn't take that much money to start the process of developing the infrastructure of our sport, and that would only take a few years. It's when we are actually developing these programs that sponsors will more likely want to get in the ground floor. It's much easier selling a sport that has growing leagues and coaching programs to entice sponsors than one that does not.

Also, just to end the rumor mills, no, I am not applying for the USATT CEO position, not that the board would have ever considered a mere table tennis coach/writer/organizer/ promoter like myself. I have no interest in working with USATT to develop the sport without near 100% support from the board (otherwise you spend most of your energy battling with the board), and the board is once again going the "conventional" route, while believing, based on several discussions, that they are doing something new in hiring a CEO whose primary purpose is to raise money. Déjà vu.

Lastly, I do not plan on harping about this over and over and beating USATT over the head with this. They've made their decision, so now we have to accept it and hope that this time we'll get a CEO who can actually sell our sport as it is. Hopefully they will be right this time, soon we'll be squabbling over how to spend the hordes of money the new CEO brings in.

Expert Table Tennis Tips

Here are 18 short tips from top coaches (all pictured) from all over the world - including one from me!

Terminology: Loop vs. Topspin

Here's a new video from PingSkills (1:02) that talks about the terminologies used - loop, loop drive, and topspin. I've seen some really vicious arguments about this!

Charlene Liu Wins Bronze

On Monday I blogged about the World Veterans Games, and mentioned that Charlene Xiaoying Liu (from my club, MDTTC) got the bronze for Women's Singles 60-64. I sent out a press release to local media. Butterfly published the press release.

"The Rumors are True. I Never Miss"

This is one of those silly little mantras I often tell students during drills where I'm blocking for them, after I've gone for a while without missing. Yesterday, in a session with Sameer (12-year-old student) I had a new version. We were doing the 2-1 drill, where he does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. (He's doing this all looping, even spinning the backhands off the bounce.) In multiball he's pretty consistent with this, but when we go live, where I'm blocking, his consistency goes down. This is what I told him after I'd gone a while without missing a block. "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it."

Potomac Open

It was held in Potomac, MD, this past weekend. Here are the main results. The final was between a pair of 2600 players, with Chen Ruichao ("Alex") defeating Wang Qing Liang ("Leon") 4-0 in the final. Here is video of the matches - Alex is the lefty, Leon the chopper/looper.

Game 1; Game 2; Game 3; Game 4.

Blocking Against a Spinny Loop

There's an interesting discussion going on at the forum about blocking against spinny loops. Here's the link to the start of the discussion. (EDIT: I just posted links in the discussion to videos of top players blocking, in post #45. You might want to watch them.) I posted several times in the thread where I point out the importance of blocking firmly, i.e. aggressively, since the spin takes on your racket less this way as well as giving you a more effective block. (You'll note that there are differing opinions on this. Some believe you should just hold the racket out absolutely still, but I disagree, as noted in the postings.) In one posting I wrote the following in the hopes of winning the Nobel Prize for Sports Psychology:

This is huge, stepping to the ball when blocking. When players reach for the ball instead of stepping, they often open their racket as they do so. I think it's because they are no longer doing a shot they have practiced regularly, and so their subconscious no longer knows what racket angle to reflexively use, and so falls back on beginner habits.

Below is a long posting I did on the topic.

What they are demonstrating in this video [referred to by another poster], and what the opening posting asks, are different things. The opening poster isn't a beginner - he even asked if he should try counterlooping against slow, spinny loops. If all he wants to do is pop the ball back weakly, where he's not worried about popping the ball up, then all he has to do is stick his racket out and block back softly, and he'll develop a consistent but weak blocking game. The spin would take on his racket more, so he'd have less control, but if he just pops the ball back weakly then the very slowness of his return would keep it on the table. If he wants to make an effective block that hits consistently, then he needs to block more firmly (i.e. more aggressively). 

If he puts a little pace on the ball but not too aggressively in a misguided attempt to be consistent, that's when it'll probably go off the end over and over. That's why beginners and intermediate players have so much trouble with slow, spinny loops. Instead, they need to block more firmly, more aggressively, so the blocks are both consistent and effective. 

You can go for a soft and low block by just sticking the racket out with a more closed angle, but this is harder to control than if you block more firmly, and will tend to pop balls up. Since the spin takes on the racket more, you have to get the racket angle almost perfectly right, while you have more leeway if you block firmly and somewhat aggressively. (On the other hand, a slower, dead block that stays low is rather easy with most non-inverted surfaces, or with less lively or less grippy inverted surfaces.) 

The video is showing something different, i.e. teaching beginners how to adjust their racket angle against heavy topspin. However, where he says the racket does not move forward, I disagree. I saw this video a few years ago when I first started my blog, and chose not to link to it for that reason. While you can block that way, it's teaching a rather poor habit, and makes things more difficult for beginning and beginning/intermediate players. A more firm block, with the racket moving forward, is easier and more consistent in making decent blocks (not pop-ups), since spin takes on it less. Players with very good slow, spinny loops usually struggle with players who block aggressively as that mostly counteracts their topspin. 

At my club, we have eight full-time coaches, seven of them from China, two former Chinese national team members, the rest former province team members. (I'm the lone non-Chinese full-time coach.) All teach blocking against spinny loops with a firm, aggressive stroke. When I slow loop in practice matches with the kids, they are taught to block aggressively (or counterloop), and they have been pretty successful in this. When they block off, over and over the Chinese coaches tell them to block more aggressively. It is against faster loops that you can mostly just stick your racket out and play off the opponent's own pace. 

When I face an inverted player who just sticks his racket out to block my loop, I'm not going to feed into this by trying to loop hard with my opening loop; I'm going to throw my slowest, spinniest loop deep on the table, and watch them block off or pop it up. I can also mess up these type of blockers by varying my spin (even dead loops) as they have to get their racket angle almost perfect to make an effective block, and that's not easy against heavy or varying spin. 

I think the opening poster was asking how he could block these spinny loops back consistently so he could win the point, not so he could just pop the ball back and hope for the best. Otherwise I'd tell him to just block as weakly as possible so the ball pops back on the table, slow but high. Instead, he should block more firmly, which will lead to consistent and effective blocks. 

Coaching Scams

On Feb. 14 and Feb 27 I wrote about these coaching scams that many coaches are receiving via email. I received another one yesterday. Hint - when you receive a vague request for coaching from some overseas person, and it's addressed to "Undisclosed Recipients," you should be very suspicious. Read my previous blogs for how this works. Here's the one I just received:

To Undisclosed Recipients:
I want to make an inquiry for table tennis intensive training for 10 youngsters .
DUE DATE: 14th July until 2nd of August 2014; 6 days per week Mondays through Saturdays total of 18 days.
Kindly check the rates and availability for the period requested.
Best regards.
George Wong

Playing Table Tennis with a Light Bulb Commercial

Here's video (40 sec) of a commercial for Cree LED light bulbs, where the actor shows that some bulbs are good for playing table tennis while others (theirs) are only good at being light bulbs.

Send us your own coaching news!