Rajul Sheth

January 24, 2014

USATT Election and the Petition Rule

Recently USATT had a special election to fill a vacant At-Large seat on the USATT Board of Directors. USATT has a Nominating and Governance Committee (NGC). One of their duties is to evaluate candidates for office and nominate them for the election ballot. If you wish to run for the USATT board, and they don't choose you, you have no recourse. Right away alarm bells should be going off in your head. (The only exception is if you run for an Athlete Director position, but only elite athletes are eligible for that.)

For the At Large positions, here is the pertinent bylaw (from Section 7.6. Election/Selection, b-3 in the USATT bylaws.): "The Nominating and Governance Committee shall evaluate all candidates for At Large Director and nominate at least two (2) individuals per seat to the USATT General Membership for election."

In the special election, I was told six people applied to run. The NGC had to select two or more for the ballot, and could in fact have put all six on the ballot. Now I agree that, given the flawed rules to start with, the NGC had to make a decision, and not all six candidates were greatly qualified. But they could have put more than two on the ballot, and let the voters decide. Instead, they kept four of the six off the ballot, and allowed voters to choose only among the final two.

The NGC chose USATT Hall of Famer Jim McQueen (who went on to win the election, and who I voted for) and Ross Brown. (Here's the announcement.) Nothing wrong with this, though I might have chosen different candidates. For example, Jim Butler applied, but was turned down. His main qualification is as an elite athlete (3-time U.S. Men's Champion, Olympian), but he also has a lot of energy and ideas. Mauricio Vergara, who runs the New York Table Tennis League, also applied and was turned down. (Leagues and junior programs are how table tennis all over the world has grown, as well as most other sports all over the U.S. - but USATT has never recognized these obvious facts, and so puts little value in this sort of thing, which is why membership has stagnated so long. I find this mind-boggling - if we can't figure out the easy stuff, how can we do the hard stuff?)

I could write long arguments for these candidates, but one other candidate was amazingly left off the ballot, the candidate that should have been the first one put on the ballot. Who was that? Rajul Sheth, who set up and runs the ICC Table Tennis Club in the Bay Area, applied, and even he was turned down! I find this mind-boggling. Let's look at some of his credentials, which he sent to the NGC (and which I cut & pasted):

  • Rajul established one of the biggest full time table tennis centers in the country-ICC Table Tennis Center with over 300 members and 150 kids in junior training program.
  • Qualifying athletes in national teams. The most relevant, qualifying 3 athletes Ariel Hsing, Timothy Wang & Lily Zhang at the Olympics, all three forged and prepared in the same club, no other worldwide clubs did the same.
  • Recognition by USATT as Centre of Excellence, and by ITTF as one of the 22 ITTF Hot Spot in the World for talent development.
  • Succeeded in raising funds to sponsor most of the top juniors in bay area for their training and equipment cost including current US National Men’s and Women’s singles champion Timothy Wang and Lily Zhang.
  • Employed the largest professional coaching staff (8 full time and 10 part times) in the country to take our juniors to next level.
  • Rajul won 2008 and 2009 USATT/USOC development Coach of the Year Award. ICC coaches Massimo Costantini and Zhou Xin also won 2011 & 2012 National coach of the year award by USATT/USOC.
  • Hosting three of the top ten USATT sanctioned tournament each year in terms of number of players.
  • Largest USATT singles league in the country with over 120 players compete each week.
  • Introduces our sport to at least 1000-1200 new kids each year in 14 weeks of summer and winter camps. To run these camps he invites at least 15 coaches from India, China and Europe each year.

So the guy is successful in starting up a large-scale full-time table tennis center; in developing elite athletes; in creating large-scale leagues; in creating large-scale junior programs; and in raising hordes of money (many hundreds of thousands of dollars to date). All of these are things that USATT badly needs to be able to do. And yet, voters were blocked from even having the opportunity of voting for him.

The rule used to be that anyone left off the ballot by the NGC could get on the ballot by petition of 150 signatures from USATT members. It used to be an annual rite at the U.S./North American Teams for candidates to get the signatures needed. (I did this when I was left off the ballot in 1991, and I subsequently got on by petition, and won in a landslide over the candidates chosen by the committee. Someday I'll blog about my experiences on the USATT board, though they are not much different than my experience in torturing myself by attending well over fifty USATT board meetings over the years.)

Some might argue that we don't want people like Rajul because of the conflict of interest. Putting aside that the conflict here is that he may favor his home club over others, and that I'm from a rival club (MDTTC) and don't consider it a major conflict, let's look at the logic.

We want USATT to succeed. For it to do so, we need people who are successful in table tennis - people who have set up and run clubs, leagues, junior programs, coaching programs, tournaments, done fundraising, etc. If we immediately exclude anyone who has been successful in these areas that grow the sport, what are we left with? Just the unsuccessful ones to run our sport? No, it is exactly the people who have set up and run such successful programs that we need on the USATT board.

To use a simple example, Jim McQueen has been successful in running table tennis programs in the Raleigh, NC region for decades, and that's a reason for putting him on the ballot. Does anyone consider that a conflict of interest? The irony is that a primary reason some might say Rajul has a conflict of interest is because he has been TOO successful! And so, because his club and organizing efforts are too successful, he has a conflict of interest, and can't run. So we have to find others who weren't as successful.  

One explanation for the above: there are only four members of the NGC, and amazingly, only two of them are table tennis people. So lacking table tennis experience, two of the four have no real way of really evaluating the candidates, and so we're down to two people choosing who will be on the ballot, and who will not. They are welcome to explain the reasoning for the decision to leave Rajul (or others) off the ballot, and assuming it's polite, it'll run without comment that day in my blog. (Here's the listing of USATT committees, including the NGC.)

There's a simple solution to this problem: CHANGE THE BYLAWS.  Bring back the 150 signature rule, i.e. let candidates who are not chosen by the NGC get on by petition. (Actually, 150 always seemed too many; 100 should suffice.) It didn't cause a problem before, and there's no reason to not have it again, unless the goal is to focus all power in a small group, and exclude voters from voting for certain candidates who have been hugely successful. Changing the USATT bylaws isn't that big a deal. Here are the simple rules:

ARTICLE XXII AMENDMENTS OF BYLAWS
Section 22.1. Amendments
Upon at least thirty (30) days advance notice of the proposed changes, the Bylaws may be amended, repealed, altered in whole or in part, and the new Bylaws may be adopted by a two-third (2/3) affirmative vote of the Full Board at any meeting duly

I'd love to see which USATT board member will step up and make the proposal - and which board members would actually oppose this. (There are nine board members, so it would take six to pass this, or four to block it at a meeting of all nine members.) Alas, USATT has a long history of status quo, and I suspect it will continue its status quo of status quo.

I'd also like to see the NGC committee, which is responsible for choosing which table tennis people can run for these table tennis positions, be made up of all table tennis people. That seems a no-brainer.

My personal "agenda" is simple - I want candidates who will pro-actively try to develop our sport, i.e. think of themselves as executives and legislators, not just as judges who sit in judgment of whatever comes before them. We need ones who will bring things before the board and make things happen. I didn't read that from the campaign statements of the two candidates chosen. I hope to be pleasantly surprised in this.

Perhaps I sound like someone who should have run for the board. Guess what? I strongly considered running, but when I heard Rajul was running for the one open spot, I decided not to run. If I'd known he would be excluded (the idea of which never entered my mind, though I knew the bylaws), I might have applied to run - but under the current rules, would I have been allowed to?

Serve Practice

Have you practiced your serves this week? No??? Okay . . . let me know when you are serious about your game again, and we'll talk! To the rest of you, good job.

Infinite Looper

Infinite Looper is a great resource for studying the game. It allows you to choose a table tennis video, and play back one segment over and over. For example, here's a 3-second segment showing Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov's backhand loop kill, which you can watch over and Over and OVER! (The word "looper" in the title has to do with being able to loop the same segment over and over, not a heavy topspin shot!) 

Kreanga vs. Angles

Here's video (58 sec) of an incredible rally between Greece's Kalinikos Kreanga and France's Enzo Angles.

Ping-Pong with Nunchucks

Here's a video (2:10) where "Twins battle in a Ping Pong match using Nunchucks and Martial Arts Skills." This is reminiscent of the infamous Bruce Lee Nunchuck video (2:37) that seemed to show Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks. (It was actually from a Nokia cell phone ad, and the actor was a Bruce Lee look-alike.)

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October 22, 2012

Tip of the Week

Turn Opponents into Puppets with Long Serves.

MDTTC October Open

I ran the MDTTC Open this weekend, a rather exhausting ordeal since I also did four hours of coaching. Here is my write-up and results of the event, followed by the usual blog stuff. 

$2600 Butterfly MDTTC October Open
MarylandTable Tennis Center
Gaithersburg, MD • Oct. 20-21, 2012
By Larry Hodges

This month there were extra large trophies waiting for winners of most of the Sunday events, in addition to $2600 in prize money mostly given out in Saturday events at the October Open at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. The larger trophies went over very well, and hopefully will attract more players in our next tournament, sometime early in 2013.

Wang Qing Liang, rated 2621, defended his title from last month, once again defeating fellow MDTTC coach Chen Bo Wen, rated 2516, in another 4-2 battle, this time at -9,10,-9,7,8,5. There's an old adage that choppers tend to get better as the match goes on as they adjust to the opponent's attack, and that's exactly what happened. By the end of the match there seemed no way to get through Wang's chopping defense, and his forehand loop was as spectacular as ever when he'd swoop in against a push or counterloop from off the table. Chen had actually spit matches with Wang at the recent Badger Open, knocking Wang's rating down from the 2642 he'd achieved mostly from making the semifinals of Men's Singles at the U.S. Open. Wang won $1000 to Chen's $400.

Both had semifinal battles. Former MDTTC junior star Richard Lee (rated 2424 and the long-time owner of North American Table Tennis) led 10-9 and 11-10 in the first (going for the possibly the most powerful forehand rip in the history of the universe at 11-10 that just missed) and 10-8 in the second before losing at 11,10,7,8. In the other semifinals, Larry Abass (rated 2320) came from way behind to win the first against Chen, and then made it to deuce in the fifth game, but in between it was all two-winged looping penholder Chen, winning at -9,4,5,4,10. Abass, who also used to be a big two-winged looper (but shakehand style), is now using one millimeter sponge on his backhand, which he uses to backhand loop against backspin but mostly chop against topspin. He caught both Chen and many spectators by surprise with his excellent chopping game, including Raghu Nadmichettu in the quarterfinals. Between him and Wang, the chopping game is alive and well in Maryland. Lee and Abass each pocketed $200 for the semifinals.

Hung Duy Vo, who'd lost the final of Under 2350 last month (to Raghu Nadmichettu), mostly dominated Under 2300 this month for $200, defeating Nasruddin Asgarali (who won $100) in the final, -8,11,6,8, and Roy Ke (age 13, rated 2188) in the semifinals, 7,7,-7,5. Asgarali took out Lixin Lang in the semifinals, 8,-10,6,4, allowing him to return to his greatly appreciated help at the desk.

Chen Qiming won Under 2150 ($150), 7,7,-10,-9,4 over Arsha Kuds ($75), whose comeback from down 0-2 in games fell short. But Kuds then surprised everyone by making the quarterfinals of the Open with wins over Hung Duy Vo and Lixin Lang. Both finalists did Houdini comebacks in the semifinals, with Chen coming back against Lilly Lin, -5,-8,7,11,6, and Kuds against Richard Bowling, -9,-7,6,9,6.

The semifinals of Under 2000 was a battle of experienced veterans against aspiring juniors, with the veterans prevailing in five as Mahesh Balagangadhar defeated Jason Wei (14), 5,-7,5,-6,8, and Gordon Gregg defeated Amy Lu (U.S. #3 Under 12 girl at 1852), 4,-8,7,-7,9. In the final, it was Balagangadhar ($100) over Gregg ($50) with his Seemiller grip variation that seems to give junior players so much trouble.

Mohamed Kamara won $80 by defeating Princess Ke ($40 for the U.S. #4 Under 12 girl at 1821 until she turned 12 in August) in the final of Under 1850, -9,6,11,-9,6.

Timothy La, with his two-winged smashing game, seems to like to go five games. This month he changed the trend from last month (where he kept losing five-gamers), to prevailing deuce in the fifth, defeating David Goldstein in the Under 1600 final, -8,7,4,-8,11, and stopping Alexander Beaulieu's comeback in the semifinals, 8,9,-9,-12,12. In the other semifinal, Goldstein defeated Kyle Wang, 3,-8,4,9, to the great relief of the control desk, since Kyle was holding up many matches by making the semifinals here, and also...

...winning Under 1350 over Michael Zangwill, 7,7,11. Kyle, 13, had a semifinal battle with Daniel Yang (12), -9,4,9,-4,6, while Zangwill defeated an exhausted Ken Chia in the other semifinals, 4,4,2. Why was Ken Chia exhausted?

Leon Bi won Under 1100, exhausting the inexhaustible Ken Chia in the final, 5,8,6. Leon, however, could only lament how he'd been in a three-way tie to advance out of both his Under 1350 and Under 1600 round robins, only to finish in third each time by a single game as two advanced. Not bad for a 12-year-old with a rating of 637 before a full summer of training!

Special thanks goes to tournament sponsors Butterfly and Llewellyn Realtor James Wu.

(NOTE - Click on the names below for a photo of the finalists, or all four semifinalists in the Open.)

Open - Final: Wang Qing Liang d. Chen Bo Wen, -9,10,-9,7,8,5; SF: Wang d. Richard Lee, 11,10,7,8; Chen d. Larry Bass, -9,4,5,4,10; QF: Wang d. Richard Doverman, 4,10,9; Lee d. Nathan Hsu, 6,6,6; Abass d. Raghu Nadmichettu, 6,6,8; Chen d. Arsha Kuds, 8,17.
Under 2300 - Final: Hung Duy Vo d. Nasruddin Asgarali, -8,11,6,8; SF: Vo d. Roy Ke, 7,7,-7,5; Asgarali d. Lixin Lang, 8,-10,6,4.
Under 2150 - Final: Chen Qiming d. Arsha Kuds, 7,7,-10,-9,4; SF: Chen d. Lilly Lin, -5,-8,7,11,6; Kuds d. Richard Bowling, -9,-7,6,9,6.
Under 2000 - Final: Mahesh Balagangadhar d. Gordon Gregg, 10,8,-10,8; SF: Balagangadhar d. Jason Wei, 5,-7,5,-6,8; Gregg d. Amy Lu, 4,-8,7,-7,9.
Under 1850 - Final: Mohamed Kamara d. Princess Ke, -9,6,11,-9,6; SF: Kamara d. Mort Greenberg, 9,4,11; Ke d. Tony Li, 8,4,3.
Under 1600 - Final: Timothy La d. David Goldstein, -8,7,4,-8,11; SF: La d. Alexander Beaulieu, 8,9,-9,-12,12; Goldstein d. Kyle Wang, 3,-8,4,9.
Under 1350 - Final: Kyle Wang d. Michael Zangwill, 7,7,11; SF: Wang d. Daniel Yang, -9,4,9,-4,6; Zangwill d. Ken Chia, 4,4,2.
Under 1100 - Final: Leon Bi d. Ken Chia, 5,8,6; SF: Bi d. Douglas Harley, 2,7,7; Chia d. Michael Borek, -4,8,-7,7,4.

European Championships

The European Championships, though of course somewhat upstaged by the MDTTC Open, were held this weekend in Herning, Denmark. Timo Boll of Germany won Men's Singles for the sixth time, this time over surprise finalist Ruiwu Tan of Croatia, while Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus won Women's Singles for the second time, over Yi Fang Xian of France. Here are ITTF articles on it, and here's the home page for the event, with complete results.

Simple Tactical Advice

"Tactics isn't about finding complex strategies to defeat an opponent. Tactics is about sifting through all the zillions of possible tactics and finding a few simple ones that work." This is the advice I regularly give. I've expanded on this in my upcoming book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide," which will be out in December.

Rajul Sheth for Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship of the Year Award

He's one of the nine nominees - go here to vote!!! The awards will be presented on Nov. 18. Here's a description of the award: "Silicon Valley Awards 2012 'Making a Difference' is all about the people who live in Silicon Valley and who make a difference in one way or another to help the Valley grow and become a better and richer place, culturally and professionally. The objective of the SVA 2012 'Making a Difference,' is to recognize these individuals in Silicon Valley who epitomize the Silicon Valley culture, its philosophy; these people work in a way which creates successful endeavors.

ITTF Coaching Seminars in India

Here's another ITTF article about the last of the three ITTF Coaching Seminars run in India by USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee.

Pongcast Episode 17

Here's their latest video (12:07), this time showcasing the 2012 China National Championships and the 2012-2013 Chinese Super League. (Did you know the Chinese Super League was originally put together by Xu Huazhang, the former Chinese National Team Member who lived in the U.S. for much of the 1990s, at one point achieving a rating of 2777? He lived and trained at MDTTC, and shared a house with me for two years.)

The Lord of the Ping?

I think his hand is cupped.

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