October 29, 2018​

Tip of the Week
Don't Try So Hard When Ending the Point.

Upcoming USATT Strategic Meeting
USATT is holding a Strategic Meeting in Colorado Springs, Nov. 3-4. They hold these periodically. They've had a number of mini-strategic meetings, where the USATT board breaks up into groups to discuss specific issues - I've been to about ten of those. But the last time they had a real Strategic Meeting like this was in 2009, which didn't go well and led to nothing. (I've been to five of them.) I was debating whether to attend this one - as Coaching Chair, I was allowed to choose two coaches, and could include myself - but chose not to this time, though now I'm sort of regretting it - I'd like to be there. So I did the next best thing, and wrote the following letter to the attendees, which focuses on learning from the mistakes of past Strategic Meetings, and on Regionalization, which will be a major issue at this meeting. 

Dear Members of the Upcoming 2018 USATT Strategic Meeting, USATT Board and Staff,

I apologize for the length of this email, but I think the content is important. I wrote a similar letter to the USATT Board a few weeks ago, but this one has a number of updates. I am writing about two things:

  1. How to make the upcoming Strategic Meeting successful, in particular by learning from our mistakes in the past;
  2. Regionalization.

I have been to five previous USATT Strategic Meetings, mostly two days long each time, and about ten "mini" Strategic Meetings (where we broke into groups at regular board meetings to discuss and plan various Strategic issues). None have been successful.

I left each of them depressed because each time the same type of mistakes were made, and each was a wasted opportunity. And yet, in every case, the huge majority of those in the meeting left enthused and patting themselves on the back, thinking they had accomplished a lot, when in reality nothing substantive had been done. This is why I decided not to attend this time - I've been to too many of these slow-motion wrecks in progress where we can see what's happening but let it happen anyway. (Though I now regret it - I rather wish I were attending, and would go if there were an opening. Perhaps I'm like Charlie Brown and the football.)

Each time I have brought this up before the latest Strategic Meeting I have been given the same answer - that "This time it will be different." Of course, it wasn't different. A better answer would be, "What can we do to make sure we are successful this time?"

Here are three things to make this Strategic Meeting a success:

  1. Learn from our mistakes in the past. See the link to my blog below.
  2. Figure out how a successful Strategic Meeting is supposed to work. In my opinion, that means having a vision of where you want to go, creating specific goals and plans to reach that vision, and putting specific people in charge of implementing the plans. In the past, the thinking was to just come up with vague goals and slogans, and then set up committees and hope for the best. It has never worked. At past meetings people got sick of me asking about implementation plans, which of course we never got to.
  3. How do I put this delicately? Don't let a Type A personality take control of the meeting, especially on issues he/she have not actually been successfully implementing.

Here is my blog about the infamous 2009 Strategic meeting, and why it didn't accomplish anything. (Most of the links are no longer valid as USATT changed its website since that time.) Like other Strategic Meetings, it was organized and moderated by an outside professional group that specialized in this type of thing, with great credentials. I strongly recommend you read it - those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. One note – I was nice in the blog, and didn't say this, but in my opinion, two people with strong opinions on every topic hijacked much of the meeting and led it in a bad direction. But the same had happened in all previous such Strategic Meetings. A person with great experience and success can rarely compete in these meetings with a Type A personality without such success, but who speaks well and looks good in a suit. :)

One of the big issues at the Strategic Meeting (and nearly all past ones) is Regionalization. There have been numerous "attempts" to regionalize USATT. For one thing, it's required by our bylaws. Here is Article VI from our bylaws in its entirety:

Section 6.1. Regional Divisions. The Board of Directors shall divide the United States into geographic regions as the Board determines in its sole discretion will best serve the interests of the sport of Table Tennis. The regions shall be an extension of USATT and not separate entities. Additionally, USATT may hold regional competitions or conduct such other regional activities that promote the mission of USATT as the Board and the Chief Executive Officer determine in their sole discretion.

Over the last 20 years there have been a number of "attempts" to fulfill this. I put "attempts" in quotes because, to me, they were not serious attempts, though those who made these "attempts" would likely disagree. In each case, they did pretty much the same thing, in this order – and I apologize if this is sarcastic, but I've been through this nearly exact sequence many times already.

  1. USATT board agreed that we must regionalize USATT.
  2. USATT board spends time analyzing the plusses and minuses of regionalizing and decided that they should, in fact, do what they had already decided to do, which was to regionalize.
  3. USATT assigned small groups or set up a Strategic Meeting where they spent much time analyzing the plusses and minuses of regionalizing and decided that they should, in fact, do what they had already decided to do, which was to regionalize. Some discussion was done on the specifics of how it might look like. No specific plans were made, no implementation plans were made, no one was assigned to do anything, and no timeline was created.
  4. A small number of people pointed out that we weren't actually doing anything to actually accomplish the goal of regionalizing, i.e. little discussion or plans on actual implementation, just as in past "attempts" to regionalize. They were told this was a new group and this time it would be different.   
  5. They reported back to the board that we should regionalize with vague ideas and plans, but no implementation plans.
  6. Nearly everyone went home happy.
  7. USATT never regionalized.

Let's NOT do this again!!!

As I explained at the recent USATT board meeting, we did once successfully regionalize the country, or at least were well into the process, when politics intervened and killed the program. Here is what happened, circa 1992-1995. While this is ancient history to many of us, the applicability of the program hasn't changed, and has only grown easier, since we now have email and websites. When I set up and ran the following programs, it was all done by phone and postal mail. I spent years studying and creating these plans, and was able to put them into operation when I became chair of the Club Committee and Coaching Committee. (And yes, I had fun with the acronyms below, as you'll see.) We also had the advantage of a very supportive President Dan Seemiller.

To create these programs, we ran regular articles in USATT Magazine calling for volunteers, as well as direct mailings to club leaders and coaches, with specific instructions on what volunteers would be asked to do. By giving these specifics, there was little uncertainty, and we were able to get a large number of energetic volunteers.

The actual regions were the states themselves, with some exceptions. California, Texas, and New York were divided into two, and could even be three. Some regions were changed to reflect local table tennis populations. For example, instead of a Maryland Association, there might now be a Capital Area Association, which is Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia, which already has the Capital Area League – a good start toward a regional association. (When I refer to a state director below, in some cases it's actually a regional director.)

The thinking behind the plan was simple. If you create State Directors right at the start, or have large regions of multiple states, there's just too much for one person to do, and little infrastructure to start with. So we start with the infrastructure - appointing State Club Directors to create clubs in the larger cities in their state; State Coaching Directors to get coaches in these clubs; State League Directors to create leagues in these clubs (as well as intra-club leagues); and so on. When the infrastructure is there, that's when you bring in a State Director to be in overall charge in that state.

Until that time, someone has to be in charge of appointing and supervising the State Directors. That person has to spend much time organizing it, calling for volunteers from each state, and working with them to fulfil their goals. Because we had no Internet in the early 1990s, we did it step by step, year by year, with the goal to build up each state to the point where they could have semi-independent State Associations. These days some states might be able to do several steps at once.

The result? In 2-3 years – including most of the first year just setting things up, so really about two years – USATT certified clubs went from 223 to 301. USATT membership, which had been around 5000-5500 for the previous 10-20 years, went over 7500, with a net gain of over 2000. Certified coaches went from about 80 to over 200. This was just a start; the goal was to emulate growth in such sports as tennis.

The sports I most studied in developing these plans were tennis, gymnastics, and martial arts. Tennis is an individual sport like ours with similar equipment demands and huge numbers of league players, just as table tennis does in Europe. About 97% of the 700,000 members of USTA are league players, with similarly high percentages in European table tennis, with over 600,000 members of the German TTA, and membership in the hundreds of thousands in a number of other European countries. Gymnastics is an indoor sport that faces the same equipment storage problems we face. Martial arts is another sport that started out as a primarily Asian sport but spread successfully to America.

A key aspect here is that USATT does not lose control by developing State Associations. The purpose of these associations is to develop the sport in their region. USATT can continue to collect membership fees directly. (This is done differently in various parts of the world. At the other extreme is the English TTA, which technically has zero members - but it has over 200,000 members in its regional associations, which is what players pay to join.) 

Here is an outline of the program. The main difference I would do now would be more emphasis on full-time professional clubs with full-time coaching and training programs. At the time I was creating these programs, I was also creating the Maryland Table Tennis Center, the first successful full-time training center in the U.S., which was founded in 1992 (the same year we started the USATT State Directors Program below) and is still going strong. (The business model for MDTTC would later be copied and spread nationwide – there are now 93 such clubs that I know of.)


Step 1: Club Catalyst and Creation Program (CCCP), started in 1992
Goal: A club in every city in the U.S. with a population over 100,000, then 50,000, then 25,000. (At the time there were 463 cities in the U.S. with a population over 50,000; only 103 had clubs.) We actually started this program in a few states for six months, had great success, then expanded it nationwide.

  1. State Club Directors were assigned to each state or region. (We ended up with 47.)
  2. We supplied them with a list of all cities in their state/region with a population over 100,000, 50,000, and 25,000, and worked with them on finding someone to set up and run a club in that city. They were supplied with the USATT Club Handbook. For any new club, USATT agreed to do a mass emailing to all current and past USATT members in that geographic area to publicize the new club.

Result: USATT Clubs went from 223 to 301 in about two years.  

Step 2: Coaches National Network (CNN), started in 1993
Goal: A coach in every USATT club, with a later goal of a junior program in every club run by the club's coaches.

  1. State Coaching Directors were assigned to each state or region. (We ended up with 43.)
  2. We supplied them with a list of certified clubs and coaches in their state, including contact info, and asked them to make sure every club had a coach available. For clubs that did not, coaching certification info was given for players who were willing to become coaches for their clubs. When new players contacted the club and were interested in learning the sport, they were put in contact with the coach.

Result: USATT certified coaches went from around 80 to over 200 in about 1.5 years. (As coaching chair, I created and ran the coaching certification process.)

Step 3: League Incentive Program (LIP), started in 1994 but never really implemented
Goal: A league in every club and a club league system in every state or region.

  1. State League Directors were assigned to each state or region. (We had about 20 when the program was cancelled.)
  2. The State League Director was in charge of finding someone to start up a club league in every club in their state or region, and someone to set up an intra-club league. They would use a version of the USATT rating system for these leagues. (The USATT League system was not yet created – I co-created that with Robert Mayer a number of years later, but it was already something I had planned when the program was cancelled.)
  3. Unlike the State Club and Coaching Directors, the State League Directors were set up so that the league directors – not necessarily the State League Director – could make a profit off the leagues they ran, getting a percentage of entry fees or memberships. This gave them incentive to set up these leagues. (This is no different than coaches who get paid for their work.)

Step 4: State Tournament Directors (witty acronym needed)
Goal: Regular tournaments in every state or region, including a State Championship.

Unfortunately, we never got to this step. Process would have been the same as the above.

Sept 5: State Associations
Goal: Every state or region organized as a state or regional organization, whose purpose would be to develop table tennis in their state or region in every way possible – clubs, coaches, junior programs, leagues, and tournaments.

The thinking here was as follows. If you try to set up a state association where there's little already organized, it's hard to get it off the ground. But if you first set up club, coaching, league, and tournament directors, and use them to create infrastructure, then you are well on your way to creating successful State Associations that can continue to develop the sport in their region. Unfortunately, we never got this state.

In 1995, a new president came in. One of his first acts was to replace all the pertinent committees with his own people, change the USATT emphasis to officials and tournaments, and cancel nearly every program that was created under the previous administration, including the programs above.

Should the above program be copied exactly? Of course not; times have changed, and there are more than one way to do things. But the basic plan worked, and would work today even better, due to better communications.

-Larry Hodges, who is NOT volunteering to be in charge of all this again

Sunday Coaching
In the Beginning Table Tennis Class, the focus was on forehand smashing. We started the session with about 25 minutes of regular stroking and footwork drills. Then 20 minutes of smashing, either with multiball, with a coach or practice partner fishing. Then we did ten minutes of serving practice. Then came games the last 30 minutes. The older kids played Brazilian Teams. For the younger ones, I put my water bottle and Gatorade bottle on the table and fed multiball. If they hit the Gatorade bottle, I had to drink its "worm juice." If they hit the water bottle, I had to hit the "dog saliva" inside. The last 15 minutes they did the usual cup game, where they built paper cup fortresses on the table and then knocked it down in multiball. 

In the Talent Program (the advanced junior class), as usual I spent most of the session feeding multiball. Lots and lots of footwork! They finished the session with Brazilian Teams. Afterwards we had a Talent Program Party - lots of pot luck Chinese food! After eating, the head coaches met with each of the parents and kids to give progress reports. Meanwhile, the kids played various games - mini-paddle, big-ball, Chinese yo-yo, and the younger kids had an incredible game of ping-pong dodgeball. 


  • Realtor Table Tennis: I've been renting out the first two floors of my townhouse since I bought it in 2001. (I literally moved in days before 9-11, and spent my first few days glued to the TV while unpacking during commercials.) I've always rented it out myself, putting ads in places like Craig's List and the Washington Post. The current occupants are leaving Nov. 15, so it's vacant again. Rather than do it myself, this time I hired a realtor. She came in on Friday, and she'll be taking care of this - and I'll actually be making considerately more per month than before, even after she takes her percentage! (I've always undercharged, it seems.) Now comes the weird part - I mentioned table tennis, and she said that her daughter was in a table tennis class. That's when we discovered her daughter was in my Beginning Table Tennis Class on Sundays!!!
    Weird Addendum added Monday night: I hired a maid service to come in to clean the two floors, to come in at 1PM Monday. I also hired a handyman separately to come in for a number of fixes, to come in at 6PM Monday. NEITHER SHOWED!!! They also didn't respond to texts or emails checking on them. So tomorrow I have to hire a new cleaning service and handyman. (I've had about 20,000 coaching sessions since 1992, and I've been late exactly twice.)
  • On Saturday I went to my 40th High School Reunion. Where have the years gone? How did everyone except me get so old? Or am I really that old??? Somehow everyone there seemed to know about my table tennis, and most even knew that I also wrote science fiction - it seemed everyone had been surfing everyone's bio pages on Facebook. When I expressed surprise that one of them knew about both, he said, "Larry, don't you know? You're the most famous member of our class!!!" No, I didn't know, and am still not sure of this.

I recently added links to the About section here to a number of interviews I've done. They are both table tennis and science fiction, my outside activity. Here they are!



World Cadet Challenge
Here's the home page for the event, Oct. 23-31 in Tottori, Japan. They've already finished the team event - Team Japan defeated Team Asia in the final of both Boys' and Girls' Cadet Teams, with Team North American coming in third in Girls' and fourth in Boys'. Here's an article that features USA players, Last four places decided, North Americans shine.

Swedish Open
Here's the home page for the event, Nov. 1-4 (qualifier Oct. 29-31) in Stockholm, Sweden.  

Alameda Table Tennis Club is Looking for a Coach
Interested? Send resume, and preferably some video as well, to the Alameda TTC (in California) at info@alamedattc.org.

iSET NCTTA Coaching Certification
Here's the info page on becoming a National Collegiate Table Tennis Coach.

New from EmRatThich

New from Samson Dubina

How to Do Backhand Topspin vs Backspin…In-Depth Tutorial
Here's the article and video (14:25) from Tom Lodziak.

How Important is a Table Tennis Rally?
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

ITTF Athletes Commission Welcomes Three More Members
Here's the ITTF article. The three are:

  • Jasna Rather (USA, representing North America)
  • Matt Hetherington (New Zealand, representing Oceania, currently coaching in New Jersey)
  • Sarah Hanffou (Cameroon, representing Africa).

Nicholas Tio Embracing the European Experience
Here's the USATT article on the USA junior star, by Matt Hetherington.

Fundamentally Friendly Table Tennis
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

A New Day Coming for US Open
Here's the USATT article by Richard Finn.

WAB Featured Club: Rhode Island Table Tennis Association
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

"Nothing Is Impossible": An Egyptian Paralympian Shows Us How
Here's the new article and pictures of armless Egyptian Paralympian star Ibrahim Hamato at the Westchester TTC in New York.

AYTTO Trip to Beijing, China
Here's the article and pictures.

Huntsman World Senior Games
Here are the results.

University of Maryland Open
Here's the info page and entry form. It's on Nov. 4 at University of Maryland in College Park, MD. Running it is star college player Nathan Hsu, taking the directorial reigns for the first time. It's a double round robin event followed by single elimination. That means you start out in preliminary round robins at 9AM. Based on your performance there you go into a second round robin (with about seven players) at noon. Based on your performance there you go into the single elimination stage at 6:30PM.

Match Review Kanak Jha | 2018 ITTF Men's World Cup
Here's the video (51 sec) featuring Kanak's win over Aruna Quadri at the Men's World Cup.

Out of this World Around Net Rally by Xu Xin
Here's the video (37 sec) of this rally by Xu Xin (CHN, world #2, former #1) against Diogo Carvalho (POR, world #134).

Incredible Point to Finish Comeback
Here's the video (2:17) of Danny Habesohn (AUT, world #38, playing for Post SV Mühlhausen in a European league) winning the incredible last point to win 11-9 in fifth after being down 0-2 in games, against Bojan Tokic (SLO, world #54, former #37). The point itself lasts about 20 seconds, the rest is the team celebrating.

DHS ITTF Top 10 - 2018 Women's World Cup
Here's the ITTF video (5:39).

Matilda Ekholm | Ask a Pro Anything
Here's the video (4:44) from Adam Bobrow, featuring the world #23 (formerly #20) from Sweden.

Richard Hicks, Table Tennis Legend, Named Grand Marshall
Here's the newspaper article and picture. (Here's the non-Facebook version.) He was selected to serve as the Grand Marshal of the Irvington Halloween Festival parade on Saturday, Oct 27.

History of USATT – Volume 21 – Chapter 23
Here's chapter 23 of Tim Boggan's latest volume, which covers 1994-1995. Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. This chapter covers "1995 World Team Cup." Volume 21 is 438 pages with 1667 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1994-95 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Bouncing Ball Off Bottom of Handle
Here's the video (5:10) as he does it 1109 times in a row!!!

Happy Birthday Ma Long !!!
Here's the video (42 sec) as top players wish him a Happy Birthday!

Two-Paddled Halloween Monster on Robot
Here's the video (1:56)!

Send us your own coaching news!