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How to Be a Champion

September 22, 2011

USA Table Tennis Infrastructure

No sport can get big without infrastructure. In countries like Germany and England (700,000 and 500,000 members of their respective table tennis associations), the focus is on their leagues, with a secondary focus on junior development. The U.S. Tennis Association (700,000 members) also focuses on its leagues and junior development, as well as the U.S. Open. Little League Baseball, pretty much by definition, focuses on leagues and junior development, and has millions of players. The United States Bowling Congress, with over 2.5 million members, has over 70,000 leagues administered by 35,000 volunteers in 2900 local and state associations. I could go on and on and on, with country after country, sport after sport, but it's always the same message. What can USA Table Tennis (8000 members) learn from this?

A number of times in our past we've had huge media coverage, and a large influx of players. Each time it was temporary because, predictably, without the infrastructure to absorb the players - leagues for all levels, junior programs for kids - the players came, didn't find what they wanted, and they left. And so the media coverage from Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 and 1972, the Olympic debut in 1988, the Olympics in the U.S. in 1996, even Forest Gump in 1994, didn't help; we simply weren't ready. We've been on national TV numerous times, from the ESPN coverage circa 1980, Prime Network in the early 1990s, various times during the Olympics, and more recently Killerspin ESPN broadcasts. Again, it didn't help without the infrastructure. USATT is like a shoe store with bad shoes; until they fix the shoes, TV and other promotions aren't going to develop a membership base. If we were a shoe store, we'd be out of business. Since we're a non-profit, we stay open, a monument to how not to grow a sport.

USA Table Tennis, don't just say leagues and junior programs are priorities, and create task forces to look into these issues, and then do nothing, as we've done over and Over and OVER. If you can't make these your top priority (or make a strong argument for something else), and act like they ARE your top priority by actually making it your, *cough* *cough* TOP PRIORTY, by actually implementing something - then you are just caretakers for a sport waiting for true leadership.

I've blogged about this numerous times, so here it is in a nutshell. Create the prototypical USA League, make it available to potential league directors, recruit volunteers, and promote the heck out of it. Recruit and train coaches who wish to run junior programs. See sport grow. Grow sport grow.

This is not a sport where talking the talk will get anything done; we need to walk the walk. There is a well-trod path to success; to quote the great Yoda, "Do or do not." Which will it be?

Returning short serves to the forehand

Having trouble with those short serves to the forehand? Often find yourself barely getting them in time, since you also have to be ready to cover deep serves? Try practicing in and out movement. Go into your regular receive stance. Then step in, with the right foot well under the table (for righties), and shadow-practice flipping or pushing that serve. Do this a few dozen times, in and out, in and out, in and out. It can be tiring, but it'll pay off if you do this regularly, perhaps a few times a week.

How to Be a Champion

Required reading for all players and coaches. (I posted this once before, but I should post this a few times a year.) These are from the May/June 2005 USA Table Tennis Magazine "How to Be a Champion" issue.

Werner Schlager

Here's a profile of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager.

iPhone table tennis app

This seems to be table tennis, but since I use a phone designed to make, you know, phone calls, I'm not really sure.

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June 2, 2011

Table tennis robots

In the Beginning, God (I mean Sitco, I think they were first) created table tennis robots. They had many problems. They either hit to one spot on the table over and over, or they sprayed the ball about randomly, so you couldn't really do many table tennis drills with them. They were either set to heavy topspin or heavy backspin; there was no in between. And the ball was shot at you by spinning disks instead of coming off a paddle, like in a real game, so you didn't learn to read the ball off a racket. (There were other problems early on, such as catching the balls, recycling them, consistency, etc., but these problems were all worked out long ago.) Fixing these problems were, to me, the three holy grails of table tennis robots.

Many of the modern robots are now programmable so you can actually do real drills with them - in fact, just about any drill you can do with a partner, you can do with these robots. Plus you now have more control over the degree of spin. So they are starting to look like more than glorified toys with nets that could catch the ball for you when you practiced serves, which was my primary use for them for many years. (They were also good for group training with beginners, who were fascinated by them, and allowed you to put 1-3 players rotating on the robot while they worked on basic shots.)

So robots are now much, Much, MUCH better than before, and you can actually get a great workout with them. They are good training for players, especially the ones that have built-in and programmable drills you can choose from. I keep waiting for them to break out among the general public as fitness devices, since anyone can do footwork drills on them, moving side to side and getting in shape, even if you miss many of the shots at first.

But there is still one holy grail left. When will they come up with a commercially successful robot that does all of the above, and also hits the ball at you with an actually ping-pong paddle, so you can learn to react to a ball coming off a racket? This is far more important than in tennis, where ball machines also don't use a racket to hit the ball at you; in tennis, you have a lot more time to react to the ball, since it's hit at you from much farther away.

If interested in a table tennis robot, just go to any major table tennis dealer, and you'll see a selection.

USATT and USOC Blogs

Several top players, coaches, and officials are now blogging for USATT on their USOC site. I did one yesterday on "Develop the Basics: Strokes and Footwork." This was a reprint of one of the articles I did for the 11-article "How to Be a Champion" series for USATT. This morning my blog made the USOC front page! Have fun reading all these blogs; there's some interesting stuff there.

Table tennis camps

Ready to make a serious commitment to develop your game? Want to spend some time with others of like mind training together under a top coach? I've updated the Clinics section; now you can find training camps all over the U.S. (and two overseas), by location, coach, or date. I'm running five camps as well this summer (along with co-coaches Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Zeng "Jeffrey" Xun) at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which are primarily for junior players but are open to all ages; see the listing if interested.

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