2014 Akron Open

September 23, 2014

Five-Part Plan for USATT

Below is a five-part Plan for USATT. I've blogged about these issues in the past, but now that USATT is under new leadership, here's a good time to consolidate them together again. I could write a small book about each of these issues, but I'll keep them short here. 

  1. Recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run full-time centers and junior programs.
    The goal is to have a huge number of such training centers with junior programs, leading to both large numbers of junior players and the development of elite juniors, which leads to elite players. When I made a presentation on this to the USATT Board in December, 2006, two board members openly scoffed at the idea, arguing that there wasn't enough interest in the U.S. to support full-time training centers. The rest sat about silently, waiting for the next item on the agenda. In response I resigned my position as USATT Editor and Programs Director. At the time there were about eight full-time centers in the U.S.; now there are about 75. Once a successful model was created, others copied it. USATT could greatly accelerate this process by recruiting and training coaches and directors as other successful sports do. Since USATT already runs clinics for coaches, and since the coaches would be paying for it (as they do in other sports), the system pays for itself.
  2. Create a nationwide system of regional leagues.
    The goal is to dramatically increase USATT membership from its current 9000 or so. The first step is to create a prototype that can spread. Right now anyone wanting to create such a league has to begin from scratch each time. The focus should be on team leagues. Start by studying how the German league system and others were created and grew (and led to 11,000 clubs and 700,000 members), and how other sports in the U.S. developed in this way, such as tennis (700,000 members) and bowling (over two million). Then create a U.S. system for table tennis.
  3. Instigate an independent Professional League System or Professional Circuit.
    The goal is to develop a central group of professional players in the U.S., leading to both more elite players and publicity that will develop the sport. Need to hire a commissioner to set this up and recruit sponsors, with the goal that his salary come from commissions. It could also be a professional circuit, perhaps growing out of the current North American Tour. A possible model is tennis, where there is a partnership between USTA (the equivalent of USATT) and the ATP (the professional group).
  4. Turn U.S. Open and/or Nationals into premier events.
    The goal is to attract players, spectators, and sponsors to our sport. The model for this is, again, probably tennis. We need to choose either the Open or the Nationals to start with, find a permanent place for it, bring in a group to run it, and develop it into a big property, like tennis and other sports did with their major events.
  5. Instigate regional organizations.
    The goal is to dramatically increase membership by organizing on the local level. The country is too big to have everything run by one centralized group. Model this on tennis in the U.S. or on the regional table tennis league systems all over Europe.

A key issue that affects all of these: Separate progressive and fairness issues. Both are important, but fairness issues take up all the time and energy and so we never get to progressive issues like the five issues above. Leaders need to focus on progressive issues, and send fairness issues to the appropriate committee. I'm guessing that the new USATT CEO, Gordon Kaye, is going to get dragged into fairness issues, and if he's not careful he'll spend his time acting as a judge and negotiator rather than progressively developing the sport, which is a recipe for more status quo.

I previously blogged about Fairness Versus Progressive Issues. The short version:

Fairness issues are those that involve the ongoing governance of the sport. They include setting up procedures for selecting teams; most membership issues; the running of the U.S. Open and Nationals and other similar events (including site selection, dates, choosing personnel, etc.); disciplinary actions; the magazine and website (which can be used to promote progressive issues, but are not progressive issues themselves); and many more. These issues take up the great majority of the time for USATT leaders. Look over the agenda or minutes for any USATT board meeting, and it's dominated by such issues.

Progressive issues are those that grow the sport. There are many different opinions on how this should be done, such as junior development programs (both elite and grass roots), leagues, schools, TV, growing the U.S. Open and Nationals, professional circuits, etc. It also includes raising money for the sport, if the money is used in progressive ways.

Another important issue is use of volunteers. One of the most promising things USATT has done recently is create the USATT National Volunteer Coordinator position. I blogged about this and the use of volunteers on August 22, 2014. (It also discusses Fairness Versus Progressive Issues again, and the use of committees.)

I am toying with running for the at-large position in the upcoming USATT election, and perhaps trying to convince the leadership of the importance of taking action on these issues rather than the usual wait and see attitude that permeates our sport. However, I have no interest in running if it's going to be the same old thing. The current situation is that if you suggest a "new" idea (and I put that in quotes because they are only new to those who haven't been paying attention), you get one of three responses:

  1. It is ignored.
  2. It is ridiculed by people who know nothing about the issue.
  3. It is met with verbal support, but nothing happens unless you do it completely on your own.

Successful organizations do not operate in this fashion. They make goals, create plans to reach those goals, and the organization's leadership gets behind those plans and goals. But that's not how USATT currently or historically works. Right now if someone were to go to USATT with the five ideas above, it would likely get one of the responses listed above. I've been down that cycle multiple times - especially #3 - and do not plan to fall into that trap again. These issues have to be organizational issues, where the CEO and Board of Directors get behind these plans and make it their goal for these plans to succeed.

And tomorrow I plan to go back to blogging about coaching issues! But directly or indirectly, the above dramatically affects all of us in the table tennis community. 

Pushing Short

Here's the coaching video (4:50) by Pierre-Luc Hinse, North American table tennis champion and Canadian Olympian.

Techniques of Long Pimples

Here's the coaching video (6:56) by Tao Li

Xu Xin in Table Tennis World

Here's the feature article in Chinese, and here's an English translation at the Mytabletennis.com forum.

Michael Maze on the Operating Table Again

Here's the article and picture.

$10,000 Butterfly Badger Open

Here's are two more articles by Barbara Wei on the tournament this past weekend.

Newgy Akron Open

Here's the USATT article about the tournament this upcoming weekend.

Table Tennis is Art at its Best Level

Here's the highlights video (8:48).

Former Bloomingdale Mayor is Tops in Table Tennis

Here's the article.

Ryu Seung Min and the Cup of Water

Here's some sort of game show video (2:26) where the Korean star attempts to bounce a ball across the table and into a cup of water.

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