February 13, 2015

Where Do Top Players Come From?

Nearly all top players start out as juniors training at training centers with top coaches. And so if we want more top players, what do we need? More training centers with top coaches. Sometimes I'm amazed at how many people don't see this as obvious.

Back in the pre-TCPUAOTC days (that's Training Centers Popping Up All Over The Country), i.e. before roughly 2007, there were only 8-10 such training centers in the country, and no more than a few dozen kids at most in the whole country doing serious training, while countries all over the world had many thousands. So we obviously needed more junior programs. That meant more training centers. Others argued that all we had to do was take some of the few current kids, and train them well, and they’d catch up to other kids who were years ahead of them – despite the fact that there were many thousands of these kids who were years ahead of them and getting training we could rarely match.

But now we are in the TCPUAOTC days (with nearly 80 full-time clubs), and guess what? More training centers => more junior training => the current explosion of talent. It used to be we’d have perhaps one or two good players in each age group, if we were lucky. Now we have players in the 11-14 age range that are downright scary, and great depth to back them up. We have kids who don't make the quarterfinals of their age group who would have dominated their age group eight years ago. Many of the top cadets of the past wouldn't make it past the early rounds in today's weighty draws.

But 80 full-time training centers barely scratches the surface. I once estimated that the country could support over 500, and that's probably a conservative figure - we probably could have twice that many. (You don't need active players to open and run a full-time training center. As I've blogged numerous times, the whole idea of a full-time training center is you develop your own membership by turning non-players into players via promotion, coaching programs, and leagues for all levels. Any relatively populated area can support one or more.)

Here are some stats, comparing 2006 (end of the year) to 2015, about eight years later. There are non-citizens mixed in these results, just as in 2006, but the bulk are USA citizens. The only one in 2015 that is really affected here is Under 16 Boys. If you went with citizens only, then the top 15 in 2015 ranges from 2562 to 2370, and the #1 from 2006 would be #12. (I did a similar comparison back on Jan. 4, 2012, but here are updated numbers.)

Under 16 Boys:

  • In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2418 to 2087.
  • In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2661 to 2433.
  • The 2418 that was #1 in 2006 would be #17 in 2015.
  • The 2087 that was #15 in 2006 would be #75 in 2015.

Under 14 Boys:

  • In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2323 to 1870.
  • In 2015 it ranged from 2562 to 2187.
  • The 2323 that was #1 in 2006 would be #9 in 2015.
  • The 1870 that was #15 in 2006 would be #65 in 2015.

Under 12 Boys:

  • In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2044 to 1440.
  • In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2198 to 1859.
  • The 2044 that was #1 in 2006 would be #5 in 2015.
  • The 1440 that was #15 in 2006 would be #41 in 2015.

Under 16 Girls:

  • In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2113 to 1620.
  • In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2440 to 2025.
  • The 2113 that was #1 in 2006 would be #9 in 2015.
  • The 1620 that was #15 in 2006 would be #60 in 2015.

Under 14 Girls:

  • In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 1432.
  • In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2440 to 1891.
  • The 2029 that was #1 in 2006 would be #6 in 2015.
  • The 1432 that was #15 in 2006 would be #46 in 2015.

Under 12 Girls:

  • In 2006 the top 15 ranged from 2029 to 553.
  • In 2015 the top 15 ranged from 2181 to 1637.
  • The 2029 that was #1 in 2006 would be #3 in 2015.
  • The 553 that was #15 in 2006 would be #71 in 2015.

Here's another eye-opening stat. In 2006 there were 183 juniors (under 18) rated over 1500. Now there are 639.

If the goal is to win Olympic medals - and that is the goal of many - then instead of thinking short-term and failing (like we have since table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988, and before as well), we should be thinking a little more long-term - like 5-8 years from now. Because that's when this crop of superkids, mostly in the 11-14 age group, will be approaching their peaks. The only problem then, of course, is that many of them will stop playing seriously to go to college when they're around 18. (Did I just say going to college is a problem? Yikes!) I blogged about this on May 16, 2014

With this group of superkids, I'd already be predicting medals for Team USA if not for the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room - yeah, the Chinese team. But if we play our cards right - and perhaps pull an inside straight - that eight-hundred pound gorilla might start sweating someday when they face one of these USA Superkids when they are no longer kids. At various times in the past Sweden and Hungary, with populations under ten million, have overtaken the Chinese. Why not a country of 320 million?

Demonstration and Exhibition

This morning I'm off for the Smash Table Tennis Center in Sterling, Virginia (about 50 minutes away), where from 11AM to 1PM I'll be doing demos, exhibitions, and running a mini-table tennis camp with Smash Coach Michael Levene for 30 local school kids. I'll report on it on Monday.

Happy Friday the Thirteenth and Valentine's Day!

The two go together, don't you think? In honor of Friday the Thirteenth, here's a ping-pong ball with a black cat on it. And while we're at it, here are some table tennis superstitions. But let's not forget Valentine's Day! (Yep, this is what you get when you Google "Table Tennis Valentines Pictures.")

Look. Listen. Feel. Learn to Somewhat Predict the Future

Here's the new coaching article by Samson Dubina.

Royal Navy Table Tennis Coaching Manual

Here it is - 37 pages.

Percentage of Shakehanders vs. Penholders in ITTF World Tour

Here's the chart, with the info from the ITTF - apparently 95% of the men and 97% of the women were shakehanders, so only 5% and 3% were penholders. Wow.

Arnold Sports Festival

Here's the article by Barbara Wei about this 4-star tournament in Columbus, OH, March 6-8.

Fan Zhendong's Forehand Loop in Slow Motion

Here's the video (4:34) - if you don't spend some time studying this, then you must be a hardbat player. Oh, and hardbat players should study the footwork - as should the rest of us. Note how he starts with a short step with his left foot to move left, then after the stroke pushes off the left foot to get back into position. Most importance, note how he's always balanced.

Fan Zhendong - Ready or Not

Here's a tribute video (2:34) to Fan Zhendong, the Chinese 18-year-old ranked #3 in the world.

Training Compilation at Werner Schlager Academy

Here's the video (2:47).

University of NC at Chapel Hill - 2014-15 Highlights

Here's the music video (2:21).

ITTF President Thomas Weikert Resigns as President of German TTA

Here's the ITTF story. He'd hoped to continue as both ITTF and German TTA president, but decided he needed to focus on just one.

Butterfly News

Here's the Butterfly North America News Page.

International Table Tennis

Here's my periodic note (usually every Friday) that you can great international coverage at TableTennista (which especially covers the elite players well) and at the ITTF home page (which does great regional coverage).

Lizard Pong

Here's the gif image - or are these dinosaurs?

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