Crazy Rally

February 26, 2014


I've previously blogged about some of the below, but I'm going to rehash some of it here so as to get to the point about vision.

Way back in December, 2006, I made a proposal to the USATT board for them to get involved in developing training centers and junior programs. The plan basically involved them recruiting and training coaches to set up these centers and programs. They'd use their web page and regular mailings to get prospective coaches into coaching seminars that USATT was already running. The seminars would cover not only how to coach, but the professional side as well - how to get students, set up and run programs, etc., with a major emphasis on developing full-time coaches who would set up full-time training centers and junior programs. I even wrote the manual for the program, which I've since had published, "Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook."

I ended the proposal by asking the USATT board what their vision was for table tennis in America, and gave them mine:

"Hundreds of professional clubs with coaches, junior training programs, classes, and leagues; thousands of recreational clubs with leagues or training programs; and hundreds of thousands playing in leagues or training programs."

At the time there were only about ten full-time centers in the U.S., and about that many serious junior programs. When I finished my proposal, thirteen board members looked back at me with seemingly little interest. Two of them spoke up, saying there weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers except in a few unique areas. I stared back in absolute disbelief. I was so disgusted that I told several people that very night I was resigning my position as editor of USATT Magazine, co-webmaster, and program director, which I officially did one month later.

That was just over seven years ago. Without USATT's involvement, there are now nearly 70 full-time training centers in the U.S., and nearly every one of them has a serious junior program. It happened because many others saw what I saw - there would be a demand for such centers, and where there's a demand, entrepreneurs step in. In this case, lots of table tennis coaches and top players filled the demand. The two board members were correct that there "weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers." What they and others without vision did not see is that you create this demand. With USATT's support, who knows how many more we would have.

Some would say we're better off without USATT getting involved, but as one who's out in the trenches, who's actually set up full-time centers and helps others doing so, I guarantee the lack of any national leadership is perhaps the biggest handicap here. Everyone who opens such a center has to practically re-invent the wheel. Other sports recruit and train coaches and promoters to do these things; we rely on them figuring it out on their own. There should be a partnership between USATT and those trying to set up such centers and junior programs, since both should have the same goals.

The result of all these new junior programs has been staggering. The level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so far ahead of where it was just seven years ago it's not even comparable. Two years ago I blogged about this, and gave a comparison of the top juniors in 2011 to those in 2006, and it wasn't even close. In the last two years, the level has dramatically gone up again. Kids who are now battling to compete with the best of their age would often be the dominating #1 player just seven years ago. The top ten players in every age group are now doing things that at most one player their age might have been doing seven years ago. We have multiple 12-year-olds who could have been the U.S. Under 18 Champion in many past years.

Since USATT still has no interest in helping out in the recruiting and training of the coaches and promoters to set up training centers and junior programs, and also have shown no interest in setting up any sort of nationwide network of regional leagues, they either have some other vision, or no vision. Which is it?

While the staff does the day-to-day running of the sport, the board, with help from committees, sets policy. You can't set effective policy until you know where you are trying to go. Those who don't understand this do not have the vision needed to lead our sport to prosperity.

So here's my question to all USATT board members, as well as committee chairs and members, staff, and anyone else involved in the development of table tennis in the U.S.  Think this over, take your time, and give a serious answer.

What is your vision for table tennis in the U.S.?

USATT Fundraising

In yesterday's blog I linked to the new minutes of two USATT board meetings and reports. I'll blog about them sometime soon. However, here's one really good thing that jumped out at me from the December meeting - the part about raising $5 million in four years in the amended motion #2. The good thing isn't about the proposed raising of $5 million. Here's the motion:

"MOVED to direct the CEO to develop a major fundraising plan that would raise $5,000,000 per quad, in addition to our current operations. The major concepts of the plan are to be presented to the Board at the Spring 2014 Board meeting."

It's good that they are trying to raise money, but there's nothing new about it. What jumps out is that they did one small, seemingly insignificant thing that USATT almost always forgets to do in the past - they put someone in charge of actually doing it - the USATT CEO. Voting to do something may make it look like something is being accomplished and may make the voters feel good about themselves, but it doesn't accomplish anything unless you put someone specifically in charge of actually getting it done. It's a lesson USATT should have learned long ago, but over and over has failed to do, and so rarely gets much done. (Anyone remember the People's Front of Judea in the movie "Life of Brian"? They kept voting to do hugely important things, then would adjourn without actually doing anything.) Perhaps this time it'll be different - I'm actually hopeful here, since I know raising funding is a top priority of board chair Mike Babuin, and now we have our CEO directly in charge of doing so. In the words of a famous captain, "Make it so!"

Crossword Puzzle

Late last night before going to bed I decided to do the crossword puzzle from that morning's Washington Post. Here was 62 across, eleven letters: "Olympic sport with the smallest ball." Let's see, what could that be? Spitballer? Peashooting? ProMarbling?

Poly Balls

Here's an article on the new poly balls, which are supposed to replace celluloid balls starting in July. The newer versions have apparently passed all eleven required laboratory tests. Will they pass the players' test? USATT has announced they will still use celluloid balls at the U.S. Open in July (they had already ordered the balls), but after that we'll see. I believe tournament directors will be able to choose which to use, but I'm not sure.

Richard McAfee's New Knee

Here's a picture of former USATT Coaching Chair and current ITTF roving coach Richard McAfee after having knee replacement surgery. He looks so comfortable, lying back and reading with all those tubes sticking out of him.

Westchester Open Singles Final

Here's the video (35:47), with Eugene Wang of Canada (U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion and North American #1 ranked player) defeating 16-year-old Kai Zhang, -11,10,3,8.

Crazy Rally

Here's an incredible rally (47 sec) posted this morning from the Swedish League.

Pong to the People

Here's the picture!

He's Having a Ball Playing Table Tennis

Here's the picture!

Headis - Soccer-style Table Tennis

Here's video (43 sec) of the fastest growing sport in America. While we're on the subject of soccer, here's video (5:11) of three members of the U.S. Soccer team playing table tennis (Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Heath Pearce).

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