November 24, 2014

Tip of the Week

Pre-Serve Routine - a 1-2-3 Approach.

USATT Election

Below is Part 1 of my series of blogs about my plans if elected to the USATT Board. Here is my Election Page, and here's the USATT Election Notice. Here's my blogging schedule:

  1. Monday, November 24: Create a Nationwide System of Regional Team Leagues
  2. Tuesday, November 25: Create State Associations
  3. Wednesday, November 26: Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches
  4. Monday, December 1: Turn U.S. Open and Nationals into Premier Events
  5. Tuesday December 2: Create a Professional Players Association, and Professionalize the Sport
  6. Wednesday, December 3: Other Issues (Balloting opens on this day, and continues until Dec. 27.)

Create a Nationwide System of Regional Team Leagues

=>The Goal: Dramatically increase USATT membership.

We need to create a prototype regional team league that can spread nationwide. Right now anyone wanting to create such a league has to start from scratch. We need to study how the German leagues (600,000 members, overwhelmingly league members), and others were created and grew, and how other USA sports developed in this way, such as tennis (700,000 members, overwhelmingly league members) and bowling (over two million, overwhelmingly league members). Then design and create a USA league system for table tennis. (When I say "overwhelmingly," I mean 95-99%.) Countries all over Europe have league memberships that dwarf USATT membership, and Asian countries have even more. Their situation is often different than here in the U.S., which is why we study what they and other sports do successfully, and then design a system for USA Table Tennis.  

One thing that's almost foreign to U.S. players is the idea of a team league. Most U.S. leagues are singles. That's fine for a club league, but if you want it to spread and get huge numbers, you need team leagues, where players represent their club in various divisions, based on level. This is how it's done not only in successful table tennis countries, but nearly all other successful sports, as noted above. I've even played in tennis leagues - I was part of a six-man team - and it was all run by volunteers. And that's how they got 700,000 members. (A key is to have regional team leagues where everyone in the league is in easy driving distance. In general leagues should cover an area no more than perhaps an hour drive across, preferably less.) A typical league would have multiple divisions, from beginning to elite.

Keep in mind that tennis having more members than table tennis, as it does in the U.S., is not the norm - we have to get away from that type of thinking, which has been indoctrinated into us along with an inferiority complex to tennis and other sports. All over Europe table tennis memberships are higher than tennis - though both table tennis and tennis memberships there dwarf USA Table Tennis membership. Table Tennis is often called the #2 participation sport in the world, and some surveys show this, but whether we're actually #2 or merely #3, we're near the top of the list, along with soccer, basketball, and volleyball. (Here's a typical listing, which has us at #3.) The Sporting Good Manufacturing Association polls show there are about 19.5 million recreational players in the U.S. - players who aren't interested in competing in tournaments, but might be interested in a recreational league where they get to play on a team with their friends and other players their level. For them, it's not an out-for-blood competitive thing, but a social gathering with their peers, where their friends root for them when they play.

There already are some rather successful leagues in the U.S., such as the LA League (a possible prototype), with hundreds of players playing in different divisions, based on level. However, we need to take them to the next level, so that we measure membership in the thousands, tens of thousands, and (nationally) in the hundreds of thousands. We need to find what's needed to turn them into regional leagues that can be copied in other regions and spread all over the country. (Right now if someone wants to do such a league, there is no model - he has to invent it from scratch.) We might start in one region, and test out a proto-type league. Once we find the right proto-type, we publicize it and work to make it spread. A big part of this might come through organizing State Associations - which I'll blog about tomorrow. In other regions, a group might organize strictly around the league. (For example, there could be a "Capital Area Table Tennis League" in my region.) While initial organizing and promoting will have to come from the top, the rest is done regionally, mostly by volunteers.

Leagues would likely be rated. However, I don't think they should use the USATT tournament ratings - too many players are protective of these ratings, and might not want to put them on the line week after week. Instead, they would likely use the USATT League Ratings, which currently process about 6700 league matches every month in leagues around the country, and have to date processed 486,946 matches in 416 leagues. (Disclosure: I co-founded the USATT League Rating System in 2003 with Robert Mayer.) 

Here is a rough step-by-step procedure for developing this proto-type league. (Note - I made a few adjustments after my initial posting.) 

  1. Step One is to put together a task force to study how successful table tennis leagues began overseas, other successful sports leagues in the U.S., and successful USA table tennis leagues.
  2. Step Two is to get the task force and successful USA league directors in a room together, lock the door, and don't let them out until they have designed a prototype USA regional league system, a model that can be used by anyone interested in setting up a league, flexible enough to adjust to different situations, that can spread all over the country, region by region. 
  3. Step Three is to test the proto-type in a regional league. Once we find one that works, we write down the procedures, rules, guidelines, etc., so others can copy them. 
  4. Step Four (though this should start earlier) is to convince USATT leaders that league memberships need to be a core issue for them, as it is for successful table tennis associations overseas, leading to membership in the hundreds of thousands in countries all over Europe. There's no reason why the U.S. can't match or top them. Then we use the resources of USATT to promote and develop these regional team leagues. As league memberships grow, revenue grows, and the bulk of that money needs to go back into developing and promoting the league.

Creating such leagues is an obvious thing to do, but it won't be easy. But if wanted to do easy stuff, we'd be playing Parcheesi. Eventually we'll look back and wonder what we were thinking, putting off creating such leagues for so long when they are the well-beaten path to huge memberships, as shown by table tennis overseas and other USA sports. It might take years, but it'll happen if we make it happen, just as it did for so many others. Table tennis membership all over Europe are counted in the hundreds of thousands - so should we.

Some people I have in mind to help with this - and I haven't actually told them yet, so when they read this they may be caught off guard! - include Bruce Liu, Adam Bobrow, Will Shortz, Mauricio Vergara, Mike Levene, and Stefano Ratti - with apologies to others. If you are involved or have experience in team leagues - especially the large ones overseas - and would like to help out, contact me.

Coaching News

Yesterday was a banner day for me and one of my students, 7-year-old Adrian. After months of practice, everything clicked yesterday, and suddenly he's racing around looping everything - and he's pretty consistent! In live drills, he's able to loop over and over to my block, usually getting ten in a row at a time, with good power. He's also spinning his backhands off the bounce. Besides live drills we did a lot of the 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand side, forehand from backhand side, forehand from forehand side, repeat), looping everything from both sides, and he can do it nearly flawlessly now. And while adults struggle to keep up a fast pace, he keeps yelling, "Faster! Faster!" I kept speeding it up, and he kept up the pace - but it was funny how he'd go from all-out Tanzanian Devil speed to completely tuckered out in seconds when he reached his limit. Then I'd pick up the balls while he drank water and caught his breath. (In drills where I don't exhaust like this he helps with ball pickup.)

There are three reasons for his "sudden" success. I put "sudden" in quotes because it's the culmination of many months of training - sudden improvement doesn't really come suddenly, though the result might happen suddenly.

First, I shortened his swing. He has a tendency to take too long a backswing, which costs him control. Shortening it also made it easier for him to use his whole body - he wasn't always using his left side. A lot of shadow practice helped with this.

Second, I had him stay close to the table to loop the first ball (my topspin serve), and then take a half step back for the rest of the rally. Often he'd get jammed on the second ball. Other times, because he was getting jammed, he'd go back way too far and loop from off the floor. Now he's found the right balance.

Third, and here's the "controversial" one - some won't like this - but he's now using Butterfly Tenergy on both sides of his racket (05 on forehand, 25 on backhand, like I have), on a Timo Boll ALC racket (also what I use). A seven-year-old using superfast sponge and rackets? Sponge that costs about $70/sheet (the most expensive type) and a $136 racket? As I've blogged before, the paradigm on this has changed. If a kid is training regularly with a coach and has the fundamentals down, then using cheaper sponge can only hold him back. Adrian wouldn't be running around looping like Zhang Jike if he were using cheaper equipment, and so he's learning to play like Zhang Jike well before he would otherwise.

Pendulum Serve - Like a Boss!

Here's the video (2:50) from Brett Clarke, who teaches it in his usual entertaining way. As noted in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Towels, "A towel is the most important item a hitchhiker can carry."

Backhand Block

Here's the new coaching video (5:06) from PingSkills.

Ask the Coach

Episode 33 (13:46) - Blocking Sidespin Topspins

  • PingSkillers Question of the Day - 0:27: Jun Mizutani heads the standings for the World Tour Grand Finals and won the title in 2010. But can he win the title again?
  • Question 1 - 2:14: I can't return hook and fade sidespin topspins effectively. Please tell me an effective way to return them. Kaustubh
  • Question 2 - 5:45: Hello. What is the difference between forehand loop and forehand drive? When is the appropriate time to use each one? What is the hand movement like? Karan Sagar
  • Question 3 - 9:28: I am wondering what main differences are with the backspin reverse pendulum serve and a standard backspin pendulum serve. Which is easier for almost everyone to do? Stanley Wong
  • Question 4 - 11:56: Is it right that different types of top sheets tacky & non-tacky, have a different type of protection? Can you give some explanations? Ernest Wahyu

Table Tennis Ball Flammability

Here's a video (9:09) from Jay Turberville that shows the relative flammability of four table tennis balls: a standard celluloid, and three of the new plastic balls - the Nittaku Sha, the Ipong seamless polyball (presumably from XuShaoFu), and a Nittaku Premium. One thing I'd like to see is a celluloid and one of the new poly balls lit on fire side by side. Whoever does that first, I'll post it.

First Battle of the Paddles a Big Success

Here's the USATT article on this fund-raiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County (of Central Valley, California).

Fox News Picks Up Violent Table Tennis Kid Video

I reported on this on Friday. Here's the video from Fox News (1:21). As I noted on Friday, sometimes it seems the only way table tennis gets attention is when someone acts up, such as this or when Zhang Jike destroyed the barriers after winning the World Cup.

Table Tennis and the 2024 Olympics in Washington DC

Here's an article in yesterday's Washington Post (Metro Section, page 1) about the local strategy for bringing the 2024 Olympics to Washington DC. Here's the third sentence: "Badminton and table tennis players battling it out in convention space at National Harbor in Prince Georges County." (Yes, an incomplete sentence, but it's in sort of a list of where various sports would play.)

Four-Year-Old Coaching Two-Year-Old

Here's the video (55 sec), care of father Samson Dubina. And here's video (5:40) of Samson coaching the four-year-old as she sits on the table.

Dining Room Pong

Here's the video (64 sec) of this improvised game.

John McEnroe Plays Table Tennis

Here's the video (15 sec), where he plays and throws his paddle.  

Imaginary Commentating

Here's video (56 sec) of Adam Bobrow doing some imaginary (lip reading?) commentary for a table tennis match. As he explains, "Before I was commentating for ITTF... this happened... and the video recently popped up. I was having some fun at the NCTTA nationals. I could never get away with this now!... or could I?"

Forrest Gump iPhone Pong

Here's the repeating gif image of he and his opponent on facing iPhones!

Ping Pong Polly

Here's a vintage table tennis cartoon circa 1940s/1950s. And the original is on sale for $24.99!

Astronaut Pong

Here's the picture! So what would it be like playing table tennis on the moon, other planets, or in outer space? See my blog from Oct. 24, 2012! And, as I showed once before, they already played table tennis on the moon.


Send us your own coaching news!

Re: November 24, 2014

Four year old coaching two year old.

US may never overtake China in producing championship players.  But if we start training our kids in the art of coaching as early as age 4 we could dominate the world of coaching.  Just imagine chinese clubs competeing with each other to get US coaches to immigrate to China and coach at their clubs.  Chinese National team members would all protest that they had no career after playing because of all the imported US coaches.  

Lets revamp the whole focus of the USATT.  Focus on producing world class coaches instead of world class players.   US Nationals would not focus on players.  Instead it would be a coaching competition. Each coach would be given 30 min with a pretested "volunteer" student.  Then they would re-test in a series of drills and the coach whose student made the most progress would advance.  Of course we would have to develop some sort of a coach rating number.  Without that how could coaches decide whether or not to particiapate in a tournament or whether to default a match.  

Coaches would pay students to come to their clinics so that the coaches could get practice in coaching.  Really bad players with difficulties in learning would become highly valued as training partners for those coaches wanting to really advance on the coaching tournament circuit.  I would become a really hot commodity in this new table tennis reality.

What do you think Larry?

Mark - A coach's nightmare today, but possibly a coach's dream in another reality



Larry Hodges's picture

Re: November 24, 2014

Mark, I think you've hit on something here. Why, I have students who can't compete with the Chinese, but just watch me coach them, and you'll agree I look like a far better coach than those Chinese coaches. Someone once asked me what I'd said to a member of the USA National Cadet Team when I was talking with him before a match, as apparently we'd had a very animated discussion before he went out to play. What viewers didn't know was we were arguing about who was the best character on NCIS, and we had very different opinions. Then, after lots of futile arguing, and with two minutes to go before match time, with the player relaxed and ready to go, that's when we discussed tactics. But to viewers, I was out there waving my arms about giving advice for probably 15 minutes!

On a more serious note, I do try to get my player's minds off table tennis until it's almost time to play. After our discussion about NCIS - it really happened! - I told him to take a few minutes to clear his mind (which he did while listening to music), and then we talked tactics for two minutes.