December 30, 2016

High Performance Director and Supercamps
As those of you at the U.S. Open's USATT Assembly learned, High Performance Director Cory Eider resigned. (I think it's effective Dec. 31.) It was depressing for me as I'd had high hopes for this. But the problems had been mounting, many of them communications problems, as well as some policy problems, such as the youth team selection process. I hope Cory won't get mad at me for this (!), but IMHO, communicating was not his strength, and so often many of us had little idea what was going on, including the athletes and coaches.

Cory and I had a number of long late-night discussions, often via Facebook Messenger. We agreed on a lot, but also disagreed on a number of issues, but I'm not going to go into that. He brought a focus on aiming high, with a 52-week a year training mentality that aimed at beating our overseas rivals rather than our domestic ones.

One cornerstone to all this were the Supercamps (though in the end we only did one, plus an ITTF Cadet Camp at MDTTC). Below are the write-ups of the one held in July in New Jersey. (Why was it held at the Lily Yip TTC, Cory's home club, owned by his mother-in-law? Because it had to be put together very quickly, and other clubs, such as ICC, weren't able to do so at that last minute. It was a huge task, and far easier to do locally, where you have built-in help, then trying to do it alone elsewhere. As it was, they did an incredible job. But alas, the appearance to many was not good. The plan was – is? – to have the camps move about at the various high-performance facilities.)


Some would argue that the players get the same training at their home clubs, usually with top coaches and practice partners. There's a partial truth to that, but it misses the key aspects of the Supercamps. When you get the top USA juniors training together, they see their USA "rivals" training, and it spurs them on to work even harder – both there and the rest of the year. Plus it turns them more into team players, where they focus together on beating overseas players, rather than just each other. Finally, the tips and inspiration they get from the great champions and coaches at the camps gives them a new outlook they cannot get from their own coaches – any good coach has something extra to contribute, and when you have five-time USA Men's Singles Champions like Dan Seemiller and Sean O'Neill, plus other great coaches like Lily Yip, Richard McAfee, Samson Dubina, Han Xiao, Wang Qing Liang, and Cory Eider, there's a lot of extra there. (Hey, I was there too!) The camps also introduced most of them to high-level physical training, something USA juniors are lacking in comparison to their overseas rivals.  

Now the future of the Supercamps are in doubt – there were just so many complaints from people who were not at them, and they are expensive and complicated to put together. Since USATT doesn't have the budget to fund them, the players themselves have to pay. (One other big problem was that the Supercamps were used to select some players, which was a mistake. I was skeptical of this from the beginning, and they will no longer be used directly for selections.)

What exactly is the role of the High Performance Director? (Not to be confused with the High Performance Committee. I'll call them the HPD and the HPC.) Here is the criteria developed earlier this year by USATT.  

  • Program Development. Develop, in writing, a “National Team Program” articulating the overall philosophy as well as clear guidelines and expectations of USATT National Team programs to all key stakeholders.
  • Coaches. Create an integrated and collaborative national team coaching system, including hiring coaches, managing communication, and collaboration among National Team and local coaches, assigning competition coaches, and evaluating system-wide and individual performance. The system needs to provide our athletes with access to the best coaching resources.
  • Athlete Selection. Collaborate with the United States Olympic Committee and other key stakeholders to establish and implement proper athlete selection procedures for Olympic, International, and National Teams.
  • Competition and Training. Devise and implement unified “52-week” programs for National Team members with a  strong emphasis on active collaboration and coordination between the HPD, National Team coaches, local coaches, and training centers, including:
    • USATT funded National Team training camps;
    • USATT funded domestic and international competition;
    • Locally-funded activities (e.g. training provided by parents or local training centers, private lessons, training camps,); and
    • Locally-funded regional, national and international competition.
  • National Team Development Program. Create and implement development programs to include both NT members and a selected number of National Team aspiring players of a sufficient playing level and commitment.
  • National Team Travel. Manage arrangements for able-bodied national team members and coaches to attend international competitions.
  • Performance Metrics. Establish and manage realistic performance metrics for athletes and coaches with a strong emphasis on performance and accountability.
  • Fundraising. Assist CEO in National Team directed fundraising activities.
  • Budget. Manage USATT High Performance budget and resource allocation.
  • Para Program. Assist CEO with supervision of Para National Program.
  • Coaching. As needed, coach National Teams in international competition.

So we're back to finding a new HPD. One change is that while before we focused on finding someone with a table tennis background (such as Cory, a 2500+ player, former USA National Men's Singles Finalist and Men's Doubles Champion, and a professional coach), now they are looking to recruit from outside the sport, looking for more of an administrator type. (When I say "They," I mean the USATT CEO, Gordon Kaye, and the Chair of the High Performance Committee, Carl Danner, as well as various advisors, such as the Player Reps, the National Team Coaches, and the Board of Directors, of which I'm a member.) I'm a bit leery of this as I think a high-level table tennis coach with administrative and communication skills would be ideal, but I'll keep an open mind. Obviously a non-table tennis HPD wouldn't be able to do all of the above, such as the last item ("Coaching"), and would have to rely on others for table tennis knowledge. We'll see.

The key thing here is that a HPD has to justify the huge expense (salary and expenses). How will he make our top up-and-coming players better? Specifically, if a top junior is already training full-time with high-level coaches and practice partners, what can the HPD director do to make him even better? If the HPD doesn't have a positive impact on, say, the Kanak Jhas and other up-and-coming USA stars, then he doesn't justify the expense.

At the board meeting at the recent U.S. Open I made my views on this clear to those making the decision. I'd really like a HPD who can also work indirectly to improve the level of our up-and-coming players – specifically, one who can recruit and train coaches and entrepreneurs to set up and run full-time training centers, which is where we get our up-and-coming players. We might even want one who might even be able to help set up a professional league for our players. I also want one who can investigate overseas training and professional league opportunities for our players, and make these opportunities available to them. The HPD position is a full-time, 40-hour/week job, so I'm hoping a few of those hours can be devoted to these issues.

I'll finish by posting my email to the Board, CEO, and HPC Chair back on Jan. 6, 2016, when we first began the process of hiring a HPD, which was basically a numbered list. 

  1. Just as the USATT board of directors has mostly allowed the CEO a free hand in most of his actions, we need to allow the HPD a relatively free hand in his job. The only way this won’t work is if we hire the wrong person. So the key to everything is hiring the right person. To some of us, that’s equates to “duh!” But it’s very easy to hire the wrong person – flashy credentials don’t always mean flashy results.
  2. A key is to rely on the resources of clubs, including the parents who are paying for their kid’s training. USATT may be able to budget one or two hundred thousand dollars to this; many millions are already being spent at clubs. Just for perspective, I would estimate that just my club, MDTTC, has at least four kids whose parents pay over $20,000/year for their training, and at least 15 whose parents pay over $10,000/year. The HPD needs to find ways to best utilize the resources we already have.
  3. The HPD needs to emphasize the development of general weaknesses among U.S. players. For example, many of our top juniors don’t do enough physical training – and while there are several reasons for this (coaches get paid mostly for table time, not physical training; lack of time in general due to school and other activities; no one taking the initiative to start physical training programs), a HPD could approach the clubs with strong junior programs and work to get physical training more emphasized. (You only need one coach at each club to run the physical training sessions, which would be group sessions.) There are other general weaknesses among U.S. players, such as receive, so the HPD could also ask that training centers put more emphasis into that, or whatever aspects he believes are needed.
  4. Because we need training centers all over the country to buy into this national concept, we need three things: a) reasons why they should buy into it; b) a HPD who can sell them on it; and c) a few top training centers to join in early on, so others would follow.
  5. In general, we need to change the culture from the current situation, where most up-and-coming players focus almost exclusively on winning national events and making national teams, to focusing on beating other countries and becoming the best in the world. At the cadet level (both boys and girls), we can challenge any team in the world outside China, and might even give them a run for it. This is the perfect backbone of a future world-conquering team. Now is the perfect time to start moving in that direction.
  6. We also need to remember why we suddenly have so many promising cadet players – the dramatic increase in the number of full-time training centers in the country, from 8-10  just eight years ago to over 80 now. This is the source of our future elite players, and if we keep increasing the number of such training centers with top coaches and training programs, our situation will continue to improve. So we need to focus on that aspect as well. The depth of play now compared to just a few years ago is mind-boggling – at the cadet level we now have dozens of players who likely would have dominated their age group ten years ago, while players who used to make the semifinals or even finals couldn’t make the final 16 or even 32 these days. I remember one year the final of Under 14 Boys was won by the top seed, rated just over 2100, over a 1950 player who had upset a 2000 player in the semifinals! Those players wouldn’t make the final 32 these days.

Tip of the Week
Maximize Coverage For Your Stronger Side. (As explained in my Dec. 28 blog in the Tip of the Week, I'm putting up extra Tips of the Week and post-dating them for earlier in December so I'll end up with 150 Tips for the period 2014-2016. So today's Tip of the Week is dated December 25 – Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year as well!)

Ma Long Backhand Loop Slow Motion 2016
Here's the video (2:18).

Milestone Year for PingPong.GIVES
Here's the video (2:42) about this table tennis charity. "Greater24 Positive World Network reports impact PingPongforCHARITY having to benefit Mental Health!" Note that PingPong.GIVES is their website.

Nice Table Tennis Rallies
Here's the new music video (5:30), which includes a lot of slow motion.

World-Class Rally Between Marcos Freitas and Stéphane Ouaiche
Here's the video (26 sec).

Top 10 Jean-Philippe Gatien
Here's the video (3:29) of the 1993 Men's Singles World Champion.

Beerless Beer Pong – Ten for Ten on Vertical Pyramid!
Here's the video (33 sec).

Jonathan Groth - Funny Olympic Training
Here's the humorous video (3:05). Somehow I didn't see this when it came out in August. (It's in Danish, with English subtitles.) It's especially good a little over a minute in when one puts on the Knight suit!

Beetle Bailey Cartoon
Here's another Beetle Bailey table tennis cartoon, found by Marv Anderson. This time it's Zero who is stymied by Beetle! Here's my Sept. 28, 2016 blog, where (at the end) I've compiled (and updated) all the Beetle Bailey table tennis cartoons I know of, all 19 of them.


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