October 5, 2016

88 Full-time Table Tennis Centers in the U.S.
One of my most vividly bad memories in table tennis was the USATT Board Meeting in December, 2006, almost ten years ago. It was at that meeting that I made a proposal for USATT to actively recruit and train coaches and club directors to set up and run full-time table tennis centers and junior programs, with the goal of 100 such centers in ten years.

At the time there were only 8-10 such full-time centers in the country. I’d co-founded the Maryland Table Tennis Center in 1992, the first successful full-time center devoted to training, and we’d set the model that others were beginning to follow.

The response? It was basically laughed off. Two board members openly said that full-time table tennis centers wouldn’t work in the U.S. except in a few specific areas, and that these areas already had a full-time club, so there was no potential for more. The rest remained silent. I remembered arguing with these two with the growing realization that they had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, and yet they were running our sport and firmly believed what they were saying. [I'll likely blog about this more tomorrow, this deep-set belief of many that it's a zero-sum game, that there are only so many players and so only so many full-time clubs possible, as opposed to the reality that these clubs develop their own base of players.]

At the time I worked full-time for USATT as Editor of USA Table Tennis Magazine and as Program Director. I was so disappointed in the short-sighted response to my proposal that I resigned both positions. (I went back to coaching and writing.)

It’s now nearly ten years later, and without any real help from USATT, we’ve gone from 8-10 to 88 full-time table tennis centers. Over the last ten years coaches have been flooding into the U.S. and these centers have been popping up everywhere. Twenty-five states and DC now have full-time table tennis centers. This in spite of the fact that there’s no group actively recruiting or training these coaches, and that every time someone wants to open a full-time center they essentially have to reinvent the wheel as there wasn’t any manual on this.

One result? We suddenly find ourselves with the strongest group of cadet players in U.S. history – by far – one of the strongest groups in the world. Ten years ago the USATT board was focused on developing top players, but when I pointed out that top players start out as top juniors, and top juniors come from full-time centers where large numbers of them can train full-time under professional coaches – well, the response was underwhelming. (I would estimate that in those ten years we’ve gone from about 10-20 full-time coaches to easily over 300.)

USATT did make a move last year in adopting the USATT Club Development Handbook, written by Yang Yu, which covers much of what’s needed to open a full-time center. (Here’s my review of that on June 22, 2015.) Here’s the table of contents:

  1. Are You Ready to Start a Club?
  2. Mission Statement and Business Entity
  3. Facility and Equipment
  4. Income Sources (tournaments, walk-in play, membership, training programs, equipment sales, private events, donations, food & drink sales, sponsorship)
  5. Business Model (mixed operation model, training center model)
  6. Marketing Your Club (with 13 methods listed)
  7. USATT Club Affiliation and Recognition Program
  8. Club Management
  9. Outline the Financial Budget

There's also the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I wrote and published in 2013. USATT may use it at cost as part of any training program for coaches. The focus here is the professional side - recruiting students, setting up and running programs, maximizing income, finding a playing facility, etc. 

Imagine if USATT had gotten move involved earlier – not trying to run things, but simply by trying to recruit and train such coaches on the professinal side of coahcing, including how to open up full-time clubs? We might have twice as many such centers. It’s something I plan to look more into soon. USATT should be actively recruiting and training these coaches. It doesn’t cost us anything – the coaches pay for the training. It can be done as an add-on to the current ITTF coaching programs we already run. If they don't, there's a chance I might try to do this myself. Whether it's a USATT Coaching Academy or the Larry Hodges Coaching Academy, we need some entity that actively recruits and trains coaches, not just on how to coach, but on the professional side. 

Two new full-time centers have opened this past week, the Paddle Palace Club in Portland, Oregon, and Zing Table Tennis in Easthampton, Massachusetts. (Here’s an article on Zing.) Congrats and welcome aboard to both!!!

Why not browse over this list of full-time table tennis clubs in the U.S., and give thanks to all these table tennis entrepreneurs who took the effort to open and run such centers? Also let me know if there are any missing or other updates/corrections.

Let’s get to 90 this year, and break 100 next year.

USATT SuperCamp Request for Proposal
Here’s the info page.

10 Quick Tips to Better Table Tennis
Here’s the article from Newgy.

Alzheimer’s and Table Tennis
Here are two articles.

Numbers Growing, Healthy Situation as Star Names Head for Philadelphia
Here’s the ITTF article.

Female Table Tennis Pro Faces Average Joes to Promote Women's World Cup in Philadelphia
Here’s the video (1:49) of USA Olympian Wu Yue taking challenges at the Shops at Liberty Place in the Rotunda.

ITTF Flash News
Here’s the ITTF News.

Play Ping Pong Against a Robot Inside an LA Gallery
Here’s the article and pictures.

Princeton: Seniors Earn Table Tennis Gold
Here’s the article.

Diary of a 10-Year-Old
Here’s the entry on the upcoming World Women’s Cup by Sarah Jalli, in Philadelphia this weekend.

Vintage Table Tennis
Here are two very old videos:

Chimpanzee Playing a Table Tennis Robot
Here’s the video (2:24)! The headline says it’s a monkey, but I refuse to spread such ignorance. This is a different video than the 13-second video of a chimp playing that I posted on Sept. 14.

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