April 26, 2017

Tip of the Week
How Do You Develop Ball Control and a Feel for the Ball?

USATT Board Meeting
On Friday I flew out to the USATT board meeting in Milpitas, CA, last Friday, arriving in San Jose Airport around 5PM. I spent much of the flight going over USATT coaching committee plans – I was recently appointed the chair. (It’s my second tenure – I also chaired it for four years in the 1990s.) I flew in with fellow board member Gary Schlager (his first in-person board meeting) and USATT lawyer Dennis Taylor. Local player Michael Greene picked us up at the airport – right on time - and would later be picking up others as well.

That night we did a quick visit at the Silicon Valley TTC, which was a five-minute walk from the hotel, hitting for perhaps 15 minutes. Then we had dinner at the Outback Steakhouse. (I just had a salad.)

On Saturday morning we took what I kept calling the “Great White Whale” (a large white van, almost a bus, which USATT CEO Gordon Kaye drove to charter us everywhere) to the ICC Table Tennis Center to observe elite training. They had huge numbers of players training in three large groups, based on level, including U.S. Team Members Kunal Chodri and Nikhil Kumar. We then had lunch at the home of Anil Godhwani, the primary owner of ICC Table Tennis, who has donated over a million dollars to the center. (Pause while you lift your jaws off the floor.) As he put it, the donations were to get the ball rolling, which led to others donating money as well – and so this might be the only “cash rich” table tennis club in the country! But it all goes back into table tennis, so they have an incredibly successful table tennis program.

The board then went on a tour of some of the local full-time table tennis clubs. Besides ICC Table Tennis, we also visited the Fremont TTA, Table Tennis America, World Champions TTA, and (on Sunday) the Silicon Valley TTC (my second visit there). We were supposed to visit the Alameda TTC, but ran into time problems, and since it was 45 minutes away, we had to cancel that trip.

The board met in a meeting room at Anil’s house Saturday afternoon. There were few contentious issues that afternoon, which featured many reports, including:

  • Upcoming USA Nationals in Las Vegas, July 3-8;
  • 2017 U.S. Open, to be held Dec. 17-22, Sun-Fri, in Las Vegas – we save hordes of money by using these dates;
  • 2018 World Veterans Championships;
  • Discussion about other USATT events - Team Trials and future Nationals and Opens. Some believe that by switching the dates of the Open (now in December) and Nationals (now in July), we lost world-class players who might be more likely to come to the U.S. Open in July. But the switch was done because so many kids in the U.S. had great difficulty making the Nationals in December since it coincided with finals exams. There was also discussion of the format of the Team Trials. I pointed out there were mathematical proofs that there is no such thing as a truly fair trials process, and so all you can do is pick the least unfair one – which in our case seems to be three consecutive days of single elimination. The problem with giant round robins is that in the late rounds it’s easy for players who are out of the running to either stop trying as hard or to dump to friends who have a chance of making the team, and this has unfortunately happened a number of times.
  • Coaching Committee: I’ll write about this later.
  • Discussion of Advisory Committee Roles;
  • Discussion of ITTF election;
  • High Performance and USOC Update on: High Performance Director Update; Upcoming Events; and Funding;
  • CEO’s report on membership, clubs, tournaments, sponsorship, and fundraising;

That night some of us took part in the ICC League, including me. (I didn’t do well – I’ll blog about this probably tomorrow or Friday.)

We’d fallen behind on Saturday, and had to move a few items to Sunday. To make up for this, we met in the hotel lobby at 8AM for a combined breakfast and board meeting, where we went over proposals from the Umpires and Referees Committee (URC) and Tournament Committee. A key part here was about who the URC Selection Sub-committee reports to – the URC itself, or the USATT board? But most believed it should report to the URC, which seemed logical. There was also a discussion about age requirements for coaches. The ITTF has no age restrictions for coaching certification, but USATT – apparently for legal or insurance reasons, but not sure yet – requires coaches to be 18 to be certified. This is something we may look into later. I pointed out that I can see the logic of certifying players under age 18, perhaps at age 16 or 17, but we do have to draw the line or we’ll have 7-year-old certified coaches. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Then we took the van to ICC, where we had our Sunday meeting. It wasn’t actually at the ICC Table Tennis Center, but the Indian Community Center, of which ICC Table Tennis was a part. That afternoon’s discussions:

  • Financial Update;
  • Service Judges Update. At the recent National College Championships they experimented in some matches with Service Judges, where two umpires would sit in the stands behind each player, allowing them to see more easily if the serves were hidden. The accounts were mixed. The report showed that more faults were called, and as a result players served more legally. But the problem was it meant having two more umpires for each match; not all tables had stands behind each player where an umpire could sit; and some thought it changed the playing conditions from what our top players face overseas, putting them at an unfair disadvantage if they have to learn to serve legally when there are service judges, and go back to the usual illegal hidden serves otherwise. (Amazing how that is the norm now.) USATT will experiment with this more at the upcoming Nationals, but not in championship events.
  • Board Fundraising and Philanthropy Seminar. Martha Johnson from the US Olympic Committee gave a roughly 75 minute seminar on raising money. Part of this included getting the USATT Board on board – meaning all nine of us are expected to donate money. I’m going to donate, but will have to guard my wallet so not too much disappears. Anil also spoke of his experiences in fund-raising.
  • Proposal from Resource Development Committee. This was a proposal from Cogeo Sports and Entertainment to partner with USATT “to provide consulting advice and execution services to support the growth of USTTAF’s fundraising initiatives.” (USTTAF = US Table Tennis Association Foundation.) I honestly said that I couldn’t tell if this was the key to USATT’s salvation or something from Dilbert. It’ll be looked at by business minds and perhaps discussed and voted on later.
  • Lunch – Indian food served at the board table.
  • There were several other issues, such as a rewording of Hearing Panels from the bylaws (passed), and a discussion on whether to add language to entry forms that said, “I agree to abide by all ruling of the referee and tournament director provided they are in accordance with the rules.” The latter was not passed – it would basically give players an excuse to refuse to follow the referee’s rulings on the grounds that the player didn’t believe they were in accordance with the rules. But it is the referee who has to make that judgement, not the player, and could lead to havoc, and so this was not passed. (No vote was taken.)
  • During a legal discussion, I learned that in legal terms, “or” supposedly means the same thing as “and/or,” which makes no sense to me, but I’m no lawyer. But I know English – one can serve topspin or backspin, but he can’t serve topspin and/or backspin, as that implies you can sometimes serve topspin and backspin!!! I’m sorry, but or ≠ and/or!

Then came the BIG issue of the day – SafeSport. I’ll likely blog about this more later on. This came about because of abuses in other sports, primarily gymnastics, where some coaches were harassing minors. This, of course, could happen in any sport. So the USOC set up SafeSport – and while they meant well, and I agree that something like this was needed, I think they over-reacted.

Suffice to say that this requires a background check (which I passed), and an online tutorial and quiz that took me about two hours to complete. This will soon be required of all USATT certified coaches, umpires, and referees; all owners and officers of USATT clubs; tournament and league directors and organizers; all USATT board members, committee members, staff, and other positions with USATT; and anyone else in a position of authority over athletes. This is all being required of all Olympic Sports by the USOC, so we really have no choice – if we vote this down, they’ll simply decertify us and/or appoint a new board of directors.

I pointed out numerous problems with the current tutorial and quiz:

  • User Friendliness. I found it tricky getting started. If you have specific instructions, no problem, but I tried doing it from what was on the website, and it took a few minutes to figure things out. Once I got started, it was user-friendly, though at the end it took a few minutes to figure out how to print my certificate of completion.
  • Length. They should have been able to condense this into something much shorter.
  • Bad Questions. Three of the questions or answers I believe were unimportant, confusing, or wrong.
  • Non-English Speakers. Over half of U.S. Table Tennis coaches are Chinese whose English would make it impossible for them to understand the video and/or take the online written quiz. So they’ll either have to get a translator (and probably take five or more hours as they play a snippet of the tutorial, stop, translator translates, then repeat, and then go through the quiz slowly), or simply get others to take it for them. Guess which is more likely? (Note that there are many hundreds of coaches, not to mention all the others who will be required to take the tutorial and quiz.)
  • Underage Volunteers. Many clubs, including mine, have minors under the age of 18 who help out in running coaching sessions and leagues. Do we have to do background checks of 13-year-olds, and force them to take the online tutorial and quiz?
  • Slippery Slope. If this is required – and remember, I’m not against it once they fix the problems – what about other issues? Players have died of heart attacks at clubs – should the USOC require us to have doctors on hand at all clubs at all times? Clubs have had fires – should the USOC require us to have a firefighter on hand at all times? A terrorist could attack a club – should the USOC require metal detectors at all clubs and security guards?
  • Feedback. There is such a thing as good bureaucracy, where you set up procedures to do good things – and that’s the intent of SafeSport. But part of that means that the bureaucrats who create the rules should get feedback from “those on the field” – people like me, who are out there actually coaching and organizing – so they can find and fix problems like those I’ve pointed out.
  • Social Security Numbers. Others pointed out that many would object to giving out their social security numbers for the background checks. I run tournaments at MDTTC, and have one referee and two umpires – and one has already resigned as an umpire rather than give out his SSN. I’m waiting on the other two, one of whom has also voiced objections to giving out his SSN. (I haven’t spoken to the other.) I’m worried I’ll lose all three.

We spent over two hours on this issue. Carl Danner was especially good at going over the language of the actual USATT bylaw that would require SafeSport. One problem we kept coming up with is that based on the wording of SafeSport, we could face issues where a club can’t act with common sense, but must instead rely on SafeSport to resolve problems. I pointed out past examples from my club where common sense worked well, where escalation to SafeSport wouldn’t have been needed. For example, a player once kept bringing in ultra-violent videos and playing them at MDTTC for kids in the 6-9 age group. We told him to stop. He did it again, and the MDTTC management kicked him out for I think a month. When he returned, he did it again, and was kicked out for life. End of problem, and no SafeSport was needed in this case.

Then we voted. With the USOC literally forcing this on us, it passed 8-0-1. I was the abstention – I simply couldn’t vote for it in the current state. I doubt if they will shorten it – it’s more likely to be lengthened as more possible issues come up.

That night we attended the ICC Table Tennis Fundraiser. It started with a few short speeches, and then demonstrations with the ICC coaches and top juniors, following exhibition matches between Olympians Timothy Wang and Lily Zhang, and another between ICC coaches Bob Chen and Wenzhang Tao. Then they asked for donations, starting at $10,000, then $5000, then $2500, then $1000, and kept working their way down. It was very professional. Then Olympians Timothy Wang, Lily Zhang, and Ariel Hsing were all available to hit with players, as well as ICC top juniors. I had a little fun, playing exhibition-type matches against Timothy and Ariel where I chopped with a clipboard! Later I hit for half an hour with the clipboard against ICC juniors.

That night we had dinner again at the Outback, and then we were done! Gordon picked me and two others up at the hotel at 5AM Monday (you read that right) and I caught a 6:30AM flight back to Maryland. I spent Tuesday catching up on things (plus four hours of coaching), and will spend the rest of the week on that as well.

A great thanks goes to Gordon and to ICC (especially Rajul Sheth and Anil Godhwani) for setting up, organizing, and hosting the meeting - they did a great job. Thanks to all those who attended as well!

ITTF Presidential Election, Illegal Serves Question, and ITTF Commenting
Last Thursday, in the second segment, I blogged about this. Well, it took a week and several querying emails, but my question to the candidates about illegal serves finally went up Tuesday night, over a week after I first tried posting the note. It took a day for ITTF to send me the “verification email,” and another six days to approve the note, apparently they say because it included a link. Hopefully if the candidates respond it won’t take them a week or it’ll be a very slow communication process – smoke signals are faster. Strangely, while the questions went up on the announcements for Jean-Michel Saive and Thomas Weikert, it still hasn’t gone up for Khalil Al-Mohannadi. If they respond, I’ll link to their responses here.

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina
While I’ve been away, the Dubina’s been writing away!

Ask the Coach
Here’s the page from PingSkills – they’ve answered 16 more questions while I was away!

How to Play Offensive – You Will Never Win If You Don’t Know These Tips
Here’s the article and video (7:07) from PingPoolShark.

New Articles from USATT
While I’ve been away, USATT’s been posting away! I won’t link to all the new articles; I’ll let you browse their news page.

Westchester TTC Presents “Chip and Gus”
Here’s info on this table tennis play to be held at the Westchester TTC in New York on Friday, April 28. “Chip and Gus, oddball acquaintances meet once a month in the back room of a rundown bar to play ping pong.  But on this funny, smart, sad, and surprising night, something will change their relationship forever.”

Dan Seemiller Leads Camp for Veterans in South Bend
Here’s the article.

Chinese National Team Closed Training for WTTC 2017
Here are articles, video, and pictures.

Man vs. Machine
Here’s the video (44 sec, in slo-mo) as “Ty Petty ‘returns’ a ping pong ball shot out of a vacuum cannon... at 300 plus miles per hour!”

Better Nuclear Power Through Ping Pong
Here’s the article and a video (63 sec) showing a ping-pong ball traveling at Mach 2 (over 1500 mph) going through a paddle.

Ping Pong Pool
Here’s the video (19 sec)!

Ping-Pong Song and Tricks
Here’s the hilarious video (1:41)!

Send us your own coaching news!