February 3, 2017

Overseas Professional Leagues and Full-time Training
When I ran for the USATT Board, two of the things I wanted to do were to set up professional leagues for our players and a professional players' association. The problem is that we only really have one "professional" player at the moment - 16-year-old Kanak Jha, who is currently playing in the professional leagues in Sweden while training full-time. Timothy Wang was a full-time player, but now he's coaching full-time in Texas. There are many full-time coaches who are top players, but there just isn't enough money in the U.S. at this time for truly professional table tennis.

I met with players and organizers a couple of times to discuss the idea of a professional players' association, but there just isn't a lot of interest right now. Even worse, there's the one stumbling block I knew we'd face, and still haven't really figured out how to overcome - where do non-USA citizens fit in? Right now, the best players in the U.S. are overwhelmingly non-citizens. When you go to the USATT ratings page and click on "Top 25 Men" (with "US Citizens Only" unchecked), the players range from 2673 to 2774 - but only two are US citizens - Kanak at 2708 (#15) and Yijun Feng at 2684 (#20).

So if we set up a professional players' association, who do they represent? Who can play in a US Professional League? All US players, or citizens only? Those I've spoken with are extremely opinionated on this, and split evenly between the two sides.

My conclusion is that we're not quite ready for either. (It'll happen, just not right away.) So what can we do in the meantime?

It so happens that a huge problem in USA Table Tennis is that we lose nearly all our top up-and-coming players at age 18 when they go to college. College is a good thing - but wouldn't it be nice if more of these kids took off a few years to see just how good they could be, and maybe even make it to the Olympics? I took two years off myself before starting college at age 20. Most players hit their peak in the early-to-mid 20s.

When you play in a professional league overseas, as Kanak is doing, you don't just make a living playing in the league - you train full-time with your teammates under top coaches. And Kanak is only the latest of a number top U.S. players who developed this way - others include Jim Butler, Sean O'Neill, Eric Boggan, Dan Seemiller, and many more. (Most opportunities seem to be in Germany and Sweden, and recently there seem to be more openings in China.) The problem is it's not easy finding these overseas positions.

USATT will soon be hiring a new High Performance Director. One of the things I'm pushing for is that he will be in charge of creating and maintaining a listing of foreign professional league opportunities, where USA players may play professionally while training full-time. I've already discussed this with our CEO and others, and I'm pretty sure it'll be part of his duties. I want all our top players, especially our up-and-coming ones, to know about all such opportunities.

We currently have an incredible group of players in the 16 and under age groups. (For perspective, there are five US citizens rated over 2590 - and four are 16 or younger: Kanak 2708, Sharon Alguetti 2651, Krish Avvari 2610, and Nikhil Kumar 2591, with Jack Wang 2582 and a flurry of others not far behind.) Historically, we'd lose nearly all of them soon. Perhaps this time we can keep a few of them for just a few more years before we send them off to college.

Europe Top 16
Follow the action this weekend! It's Feb. 3-5 in Antibes, France. Just two events - Men's and Women's Singles. Here's some live coverage, and here's live scoring.

How To Beat Your Practice Partners in Matches
Here's the new article by Matt Hetherington.

How to Use Short Pips in the 40+ Ball Era
Here's the article and podcast (7:34) by Ben Larcombe from Expert Table Tennis.

3T Table Tennis Training
Here's the video (1:45) - multiball training with towels as targets.

Capital Area League
The Capital Area League meets this Saturday from noon-10PM at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. There will be over 90 players in four divisions. The team league is organized by the National Table Tennis League, a non-profit group formed by volunteers. Spectators are welcome.

Dan Seemiller: Revelations of a Ping-Pong Champion
For those who missed it yesterday, here's the article and podcast (51:26) at Expert Table Tennis, featuring 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion Dan Seemiller and his autobiography, Revelations of a Ping-Pong Champion. (I'm reposting it because my Friday blog gets the most reads.)

ITTF Coaching Courses in Ft. Worth, TX, and in NY (USA)

(Table) Tennis Anyone?
Here's the article on Transverse Myelitis, table tennis, and Cindy Hall Ranii.

Confidence blossoms, times have changed for Emmanuel Lebesson
Here's the ITTF article on the 2016 European Men's Singles Champion from France. (He's "only" world #31, but upset Samsonov in the final last year.)

Top Ten Paralympic Table Tennis Moments
Here's the video (4:10).

Jimmy Butler and the Houston Rockets
Here's video (49 sec) of the incredible counter-smash by Hakeem Olajuwon (NBA Hall of Famer on the left) against Clyde Drexler (also an NBA Hall of Famer, playing doubles with four-time U.S. Men's Singles Champ Jimmy Butler). Olajuwon (on left) is playing doubles with Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets General Manager. Here's a longer video (5:42) of them playing.

The Most Difficult Table to Play On . . . Ever!
Here's the picture!

Hoverboard Footwork
Here's video (47 sec) as Gal Alguetti does basic forehand-forehand footwork . . . on a hoverboard!

Ellen DeGeneres and Table Tennis
I've bolded the dates of the best ones - but they're all good!

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