USATT Membership

February 19, 2014

USATT Membership and Mass Mailing

USATT has about 8000 members. That's pretty weak in a country of 314 million.

A few days ago I received another brochure in the mail (regular mail, not email) from USTA (U.S. Tennis Association). For many years I played tennis on the side (and had a heck of a forehand!), and used to go to group training sessions twice a week for many years. I also played in their doubles leagues, and joined USTA to do so. Being a smart organization with 700,000 members, which are overwhelmingly league members, they have been trying to get me back ever since. Which is why I regularly receive both mail and email from them.

Is it cost effective? Of course it is; they are not idiots. I still get mail from many other organizations I used to belong to (and I bet you do as well), always encouraging me to rejoin or re-subscribe. Former members are probably the single best group of people to target when trying to increase membership. USATT should target this group.

USATT has a membership of around 8000 or so. (If you include life members who are no longer active or even alive, organizational memberships which were mostly given out for free, and club memberships, the number may shoot to something like 9000, but I don't have up-to-date figures, and USATT doesn't seem to publish them as they used to do.)

How many is 8000? Let's see:

  • It's one out of every 40,000 people in the U.S.
  • It's about one out of every 1900 recreational players in the U.S., according to surveys.
  • It's 1/90th the membership of USTA (tennis), even though throughout Europe and Asia the number of table tennis members is almost always higher than the number for tennis.
  • It's 1/250th the number of members of U.S. bowling leagues.
  • When you go to a baseball game, the average person pays nearly the same amount as the USATT annual fee of $49. Teams play 162 games per year, plus playoff, and yet average about 30,000 spectators per game. 8000 of them can fit in just one large section of the park.
  • It's a round-off error.

So how do we fix this problem? For years I've argued the obvious, that we should do what nearly every successful table tennis country does and what other successful sports in the U.S. do - focus on leagues and training centers. Setting up a nationwide system of regional leagues is about as obvious as you can get, if you any knowledge of how table tennis and other sports develop, but we haven't even begun to do such things. I've blogged about setting up these nationwide regional leagues many times; I just did a search of my blog entries, and here's one example. Bowling in the U.S. has about two million annual paid members in their bowling leagues; can you imagine how fast that would drop if they did what USATT does, and only had tournaments? The same is true of tennis, which focuses on leagues. Take away those tennis leagues, and their membership wouldn't be much higher than table tennis - it too would become a "round-off" error.

As to setting up training centers, the key there is to promote, recruit, and train coaches to be professional coaches who will set up such training centers. That's why I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. We've gone from 10 to 70 of these in eight years, but it's happened because coaches saw it as a way to make a living. Many of them copied the success of my club, MDTTC, which pioneered such a training center when it opened in 1992, with me, Cheng Yinghua, and Jack Huang as the coaches. (We now have seven full-time coaches and a number of part-time ones, and other centers have similar success.) While the focus of training centers tends to be junior programs, it's for all ages and levels. Guess what happens? Coaching turns recreational players who come and go into serious players who stay.

But USATT is a bureaucracy, where doing the obvious things is often difficult. No one seems to have the vision or will to do these things. I think many are scared of trying because if they failed, they'd be blamed. (Perhaps they should read the "Man in the Arena" quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Many leaders think they are in the arena because they deal with the day-to-day issues, mostly putting out fires, doing reports, answering email, and doing the daily running of a status quo sport, instead of actually going into the arena and striving to build the sport.)

I'll continue to argue for these obvious things. But perhaps it's also time for a one-time fix to increase membership. Here's a suggestion to any board members or staff who want to take initiative.

USATT has something like 50,000+ former members of USATT on the computer. That's a lot of mailing addresses just sitting there gathering computer dust. Why not do a one-time mass mailing to them all? Sure, it'd cost money, but takes money to make money, and you'd come out way ahead overall. Have it written by someone who knows how to write - for the love of God, do not have it written by a staffer without a strong writing background! Then have the letter come from a prominent U.S. table tennis star - a Dan Seemiller, Sean O'Neill, Jim Butler, or a Sweeris, for example, and include a picture. Have them personally invite these former members to rejoin USATT. Give specific reasons to rejoin. It's unfortunate we can't really offer them leagues as tennis can, and that we no longer offer the print magazine (!!!), but we can offer them tournaments, including the U.S. Open and Nationals. We can point out all the new full-time centers that have popped up.

As a side benefit, maybe, just maybe, as they create or think about this invitational letter, USATT leaders will realize that maybe, just maybe, we do need to think about what USATT really has to offer, and realize that we do, in fact, need that nationwide network of leagues and to start recruiting coaches to be full-time professional running junior and other training programs. These are the incentives you can use to attract members, and that's what we're aiming for, right? If you are aiming for Olympic medals and top players, then we have the same goals. Guess where they come from? Junior training centers. Guess where the money comes for USATT to develop them? Large members that come from leagues.

Multiball Training

Here's 25 sec of Stefan Fegerl doing multiball at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria.

Slow Motion Table Tennis

Here's a video (4 min) of slow motion play of the top players. Great to watch and you can learn a lot from watching it this way.

Chinese National Team Show Up at Park

What would you do if you were playing ‎Table Tennis at your local park and the Chinese National Team turned up to play? Here's the video (1:32)!

Wide Stance

I've written about using a wider stance, but this is ridiculous!

Energizer Battery Table Tennis Commercial

Here's the video (31 sec) - this is hilarious! It just came out this past weekend.

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November 27, 2013

Last Blog Until After the Teams

This will be my last blog until Monday. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, so I’m taking the day off, and Fri-Sun I’ll be coaching at the North American Teams in Washington DC. I’ll have lots to write about when I return! Here’s a picture of the facility as they are about to set up the tables.

Preparing for the Teams

This week I’m preparing players for the Teams. Compared to normal, that means fewer rote drills, and more random drills. I do a lot of multiball training, but the focus now is on random shots and simulating match play.  We’re also doing a lot of game-type drills, such as where the student serves backspin, I push back anywhere, he loops, and we play out the point. I’m also making sure they are ready to do the “little” things, such as pushing, blocking, and serving. And we play more games at the end of each session. There’s also the psychological aspect. I keep reminding the players that they need to go into the tournament with their minds clear and ready to play. I also want to keep the sessions fun – I don’t want the players too stressed out over getting ready for three days of almost non-stop competition. I want to see determination, but not grim determination.

USATT Magazine and Membership Rates

I blogged yesterday about the problem with USATT likely moving USATT Magazine in-house. A separate question that comes up periodically is whether it should continue as a print magazine or just go online. There’s an easy solution: go online, with a print option. The editor simply does the magazine as if it’s going to print, which means a PDF version. Then he puts the PDF version online, perhaps with a password required so only members can access it. Those who want a print version, such as myself, would pay extra – and with “print on demand” publishing, it’s easy to send the PDF to the printer and print out only as many copies as needed. This is an obvious solution I’ve pointed out over the years.

The real question is whether current members who are already paying $49/year (too much) should pay still more for the print version, or whether those choosing not to receive the print version should get a discount. I’m for the latter. We keep raising our membership rates and keep wondering why membership stays stagnant; gee, I wonder why? I remember a while back when USATT raised the annual rate in one year from $25 to $40 – and they budgeted as if membership would stay constant! At the time membership had reached 8800. I got into a heated debate with the entire room – all 13 board members – both on the silliness of constantly raising the rates while simultaneously trying to find ways to increase membership, and on the even further silliness of expecting membership to stay constant. All 13 believed raising the rate would have little effect on membership numbers, with one of them explaining to me, “If they’re willing to pay $25, they’re willing to pay $40.” I pointed out that based on that logic, every item in a store that costs $25 should cost $40 (and the logic really applies to all items), but I was told I was wrong. I’m just a coach and a writer, so what do I know about business?

One year later membership had dropped to 7000, and the USATT board spent a marathon session cutting everything since they had budgeted for 8800 members. I was in the room snickering as they did this. And you wonder why I can never convince USATT to do the obvious stuff, not to mention the more difficult things? Maybe if I’d worn a tie at that meeting instead of a warm-up suit I could have been more convincing. (I’m told that, after a decade of slowly recovering, membership is again now close to 9000 or so, though I haven’t seen any membership reports anywhere. I’m guessing at any time the rates will go up again, and we’ll see another big drop. Alas.)

USATT Tips of the Day

Below are the USATT Tips of the Day since last Friday. These are from the 171 Tips of the Week I did for them from 1999-2003 as “Dr. Ping-Pong.” (Click on link for complete tip.)

Nov 26, 2013 Tip of the Day - Inside-Out Forehand Floppy Wrist Flip
When an opponent serves short to the forehand, many players reach in and return it with a nearly stiff wrist, and invariably go crosscourt with a forehand flip.

Nov 25, 2013 Tip of the Day - Back Up Slightly When Opponent Backs Up
Suppose you’ve hit a quick, hard shot, and your opponent has moved five feet back to return the ball with a counterdrive or soft topspin. 

Nov 24, 2013 Tip of the Day - Aim One Way, Go the Other
Many players develop strong rally shots. However, they are often very, very predictable. An opponent can anticipate where each ball is going early in your stroke, and so always has lots of time to get to the ball.

Nov 23, 2013 Tip of the Day - Go Down the Line From Wide Forehand
When an opponent goes to your wide forehand, they give you an extreme angle into their wide forehand.

ITTF Coaching Course in Singapore

Here’s the ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 Course that was just taught in Singapore by USA’s Richard McAfee. (I linked to the photos yesterday.)

Best of the Chinese Super League

Here's the video (7:31).

Xu Xin on the Mini-Table (and an Interview)

Here’s the video (4:18) of world #1 Xu Xin of China versus TableTennisDaily’s Dan, on a mini-table with over-sized rackets! (And yes, Xu the penholder is playing shakehands here.) And for the more serious-minded, here’s Dan’s interview with Xu.

Little Girl Phenom

Here’s video (21 sec) of a girl, maybe five years old, drilling at a rather high level – watch out China! I believe she’s from the Mideast; can anyone translate what the comments say?

Ma Long’s Amazing Shots

Here’s the video (42 sec), with four Chinese players all counterlooping crosscourt, including Ma Long (near right) with Wang Liqin. Watch what happens right after 30 sec. First, Ma Long does a rather interesting forehand sidespin chop-block. Then he switches hands and counterloops the other two player’s ball.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here’s the video (1:57) of someone with a series of great trick shots! I especially like the very last one, where he’s rallying with a girl with two balls, but catching each of her returns and quickly feeding it to continue. I may try that out in my coaching sessions today.

Happy First Birthday to Uberpong

Here’s their birthday cake!

How to Make a Ping-Pong Ball Turkey

Here’s the article!

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