Kunal Chodri

February 28, 2014

Making a Living at Table Tennis

I started this article by writing, "Not a lot of people in the U.S. do it," but by the time I was through, I decided to change that to, "A surprising number of people in the U.S do." So who and how does one make a living at this Olympic sport?

  • Professional Players. Right now there's really only one USA player who is basically a full-time professional player, Timothy Wang. Historically we've rarely had more than one or two at a time, though a few times we've had several making a living at it in the German and other European leagues, especially back in the 1980s. (Edit - I'm told that USA's Chance Friend is also a full-time professional player, playing in the German Leagues.) 
  • Coaches. There are a LOT of professional coaches out there. The numbers dwarf where we were just seven years ago, before full-time training centers began popping up all over the U.S.  My club, MDTTC, has seven full-time professional coaches, including me. (The other "full-timers" at my club work longer hours than I do, but I do many of the group sessions.) Four other local clubs have roughly another ten. That makes at least 17 full-time professional coaches within a 45 minute drive of me. There are equal or larger number of coaches in a number of other regions in the U.S., such as the bay area and LA in California, the NY/NJ region, and others. I would guess there are hundreds of full-time professional table tennis coaches in the U.S. right now, all busy plugging away day after day. The irony is that they mostly coach at about 50 clubs, so the other 350 or so USATT clubs never see them, and so most USATT members and leaders are oblivious to what's going on out there. (Want to make a living at table tennis? Then get a copy of the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook!)
  • Staffing at Professional Clubs. Many of these clubs have professional staffing that run the clubs. MDTTC used to have hired staff at the desk, though now the coaches and owners do this. I'm guessing there are several dozen people making a living primarily running professional clubs. Many of them may have other duties - some also coach part-time, as well as run other activities, such as tournaments.
  • Running Tournaments. A number of people run regular tournaments, but how many make a living at it? Primarily North American Table Tennis. They are closely affiliated with JOOLA USA, with some of their staff working for both. Overall, several people are primarily NATT staffers making a living running their North American Tour and the North American Teams. A number of others make a supplementary income from tournaments, but I don't know of others in the U.S. where it is their primary income. 
  • Leagues. Unlike Europe and Asia, there are few large-scale leagues in the U.S., mostly just small clubs ones. I believe Mitch Seidenfeld makes much of his living running leagues in Minnesota, along with other activities. There are large leagues in the New York, SF Bay area, and LA regions, but I believe they are all volunteer run.
  • Dealers. This includes both those who own such businesses, and their staff. The bigger ones are JOOLA, Paddle Palace, Butterfly, and Newgy. (I was shocked recently at how many people now work for JOOLA USA - not all are listed in their staff listing - but I'm not sure they want the exact numbers public.) There are also a lot of smaller dealers. I'd say well over a hundred people make a living in the U.S. this way.
  • Entertainers. The main ones I know of are Scott Preiss, Adam Bobrow, and Soo Yeon Lee. Scott's made a living for several decades as a table tennis entertainer. He's hired by corporations to put on shows, often at equipment expos and conventions. Adam's a stand-up comedian and actor (including lots of voice acting) who more and more is moving into table tennis entertainment. Soo is an actress, model, and does table tennis shows - sometimes playing in high heels! You don't have to be a superstar to do what they do - at their peaks, Scott and Adam were pushing 2200 level, which is good but not great - while Soo, former South Korean junior champion, is about 2450. All three have mastered the art of flamboyant table tennis play, and all have repertoires of trick shots as well as the usual toolbox of spectacular table tennis play, such as lobbing, long-distance serving, smashing, etc.
  • USA Table Tennis. USATT currently has nine people in their staff listing, each making a living at table tennis. I used to work for USATT, as magazine editor for twelve years (also as webmaster and programs director), and as manager/director/coach for four years for the resident training program they once had at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
  • Authors. Every year a number of new table tennis books come out, but they are primarily just added income for the writer. Only one person in the U.S. that I know of is really making substantial money right now as a table tennis writer - ME!!! Last year I actually made more money as a writer than as a coach, though that was primarily because of the surprisingly sales from my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. (I've lazily cut down on my coaching hours as a result.) While continued sales of that and my other books will help, I expect my coaching will make more money this year. I also make some money for articles I write, and a small amount from this web page via advertisers.
  • Anything I missed?

USA's Kunal Chodri Picture Featured by ITTF

Here's the article!

Ma Long and Fan Zhendong

Here are two articles featuring these two. Sixteen-year-old phenom Fan recently beat Ma for the first time

Girls in Training

Here's a great music video (3:21) showing top junior girls training in Europe.

Jo Drinkhall Aerobic Table Tennis

Here's the video (3:24), featuring the British #1 woman.

Florida Colleges

Here's the article, Great Showing from Florida Colleges at Local Tournament.

LA Dodgers Play Table Tennis

Here's the article and a video (7 sec, looping over and over) of pitchers Brian Wilson and Chris Withrow playing. The article claims the Dodgers are better than the Orioles in table tennis, but sorry, it's not even close. I've watched half the Orioles play, and coached three of them, and I've watched this video, and it's like comparing U.S. table tennis to China. The Orioles have 5-6 players who would destroy either of these Dodgers players. JJ Hardy would beat them so bad they'd be sent back to the minors to work on their ping-pong.

Ping Pong Anime Series

It's coming this Spring - here's the article! This reminds me of the old anime cartoon series Ping-Pong Club from the mid-1990s.

Hovering Table

Here it is!

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November 5, 2013

Junior Hamburger Incentives

A few days ago I promised Crystal Wang and Nathan Hsu that I'd eat a cheeseburger if she won Women's Singles at the Nationals or if he made the Junior Boys' Team. (EDIT: I've since promised the same to Derek Nie if he wins Mini-Cadet Singles or makes the Cadet Team.) Doesn't seem like much of an incentive, does it? Here's the story of my 33-year hamburger estrangement.

In 1980, when I was 20, I was living in Wilson, North Carolina, training every day at the Butterfly Table Tennis Center. My highest rating achieved at the time was 1954, but I'd been stuck at around 1850 for the past two years. I entered four events in the North Carolina Open - Open Singles, Open Doubles (with Tom Poston), Under 2100, and Under 22. I wasn't seeded in Open Singles or Under 2100, and I was one of the lower seeds in Open Doubles and Under 22.

After pulling off an early-round upset I ate a quarter pounder with cheese from the McDonalds down the street. When I pulled off another upset, I had another. Every time I pulled off an upset I ate one. We'll now jump all the way to the final of Open Singles. At this point, here is the situation:

  • I've won Open Doubles
  • I've won Under 2100
  • I've won Under 22
  • I've eaten nine quarter pounders with cheese in the course of about five hours
  • I'm bent over in agony with a stomachache and am nauseous
  • I'm in the final of Open Singles against Fred King, a 2100 player (that's 2200+ in modern ratings)
  • Fred is serving up 17-13 in the fifth (games were to 21 in those days and you served five times in a row)

Despite constantly clutching my stomach in agony between points, and attacking nearly every ball with my forehand (both looping and smashing), I win all five points on Fred's serve to lead 18-17, and finally eke out the win, 21-19 in the fifth. I swept all four events I entered, and it was a major event in my playing career as I jumped from 1850 level to around 2100. But I came out in such agony I almost went to the hospital. At that point the very sight of a hamburger made me nauseous.

Over the next twenty years I didn't eat a single hamburger or cheeseburger. I'd eat meatballs in spaghetti and sloppy joes, but somehow a straight hamburger or cheeseburger brought back memories of that intense stomachache and nauseousness. Then, at the 2000 Junior Olympics, I told the story to our group of 30 Maryland juniors at dinner the night before the competition. They asked me what they had to do to get me to eat one. I said if they won over half the gold medals, I'd do so. Guess what? They did. (Actually, they did this nearly every year in the 1990s through the early 2000s.) So at dinner afterwards, while everyone watched, I ate a cheeseburger. I put lots and lots of lettuce, tomato, and onions on it to drown out the hamburger, and managed to survive.

I haven't eaten another one since.

So here we are, 33 years after that epic comeback against Fred, and I've got two juniors gunning to make me eat another. I'll probably give the same incentive to a few of our other juniors if they reach major goals at the Nationals. And then I'll force myself to eat another cheeseburger. Ugh!

Pretty good junior incentive program!

ITTF Trick Shot Competition

The winner of the ITTF Trick Shot Competition is supposed to be officially announced tomorrow, but I just got an email from USA's Adam Hugh that, even though he led on nearly every objective criteria, the winner is Josep Anton Velazquez of Spain, with this entry, over this one from Adam. We should have more on this tomorrow.

USA's Kunal Chodri and Kanak Jha Win Bronze

They made the semifinals of Cadet Doubles at the ITTF World Cadet Challenge (which ended Sunday in Otocec, Slovenia), defeating Horacio Cifuentes and Gustavo Yokota of Argentina and Brazil in the quarterfinals, 11-8 in the fifth. In the semifinals they led 2-0 against Hwang Minha and Man Kwan of Korea and Hong Kong before losing in five, -12,-9,7,6,4.

Table Tennis Facts

Here are eight of them - but are they all really facts? The fifth items says players smash the ball over 100 mph, but there's been no test that I know of that shows this, while most show that few smashes go over 70mph. (Of course, this might have a lot to do with the testing procedure and definition of the speed. The ball may leave the racket at a high speed and rapidly slow down due to air resistance.) The last item says China, Sweden, and South Korea are the "current world powers," but it's been a while since Sweden was a world power.

Why Serve Variation is Vital

Here's the article from Table Tennis Master.

The Honeymooners Table Tennis

Here's a video (26 minutes, but you only need to watch the first 3-4 minutes) of a table tennis scene in the classic TV show "The Honeymooners." The episode, "Something Fishy," played on Dec. 17, 1955, and opens 32 seconds in with a roughly three-minute table tennis scene between the characters Ralph Kramden (actor Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (actor Art Carney), mostly involving Ed leading Ralph 19-2, with Ralph then pretending to lose the ball so as not to lose a ten-cent bet over the game. About a minute after the table tennis scene sewer worker Ed also quips about playing table tennis in the sewers. Special thanks to Steve Thoren for alerting me to this classic scene.

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