March 11, 2019

Tip of the Week
How to Beat a MUCH Stronger Player.

U.S. Open and Nationals
The entry form for the US Nationals recently went up at the 2019 US Nationals Home Page. It's in Las Vegas, June 30 - July 5, and I'll be there! I'll mostly be coaching, though I'm toying with entering Over 40 Hardbat Singles - I've won it five times, and from the schedule it won't conflict with my coaching. (I'd like to play Hardbat Doubles, which I've won 14 times, but it would conflict with events I'd be coaching in, alas. Note that I normally use sponge, but like hardbat on the side.)

There's been some controversy about the cut in prize money. For example, first place in Men's and Women's Singles last year was $7000 each; this year it's only $3000. Overall, prize money dropped from last year's $44,725 to this year's $27,700. However, $7050 of this year's prize money is in the form of vouchers for junior events, which can only be used for "payment towards ITTF Tournaments, USATT National Ranking Tournaments and/or TTTeam USA / USATT Training Camps. Such vouchers are non‐transferrable." If you exclude the vouchers, prize money this year is $20,650, less than half of last years. I don't think we need to get into exact numbers; roughly speaking, prize money is about half of last years. (Here is the 2018 US Nationals entry form for comparison.)

I'm a member of the USATT Board of Directors (for another week, until they finish the current election, since I chose not to run for re-election). The decision to make these cuts was made at USATT headquarters (obviously as a cost-cutting change, we do have to operate within a budget), not by the Board of Directors or the USATT Tournament Committee. There was no board discussion about this and the USATT Tournament Committee chair says they were not consulted. (I was shown some sort of internal memo that said there would be "some changes in the prize money compared to the past," but I've checked and triple checked my email, and I wasn't CCed on that memo - and it's rather vague anyway, with nothing about the drastic cuts.) 

There is an internal debate going on right now on whether this was a policy decision (which would come under the jurisdiction of the USATT Board and Tournament Committee) or part of the day-to-day running of the sport (which is run by USATT headquarters). It does seem like a big policy change, but at this point, with only one week left in my four-year term, I'm going to let my successor and others on the board debate on this issue. But there really are two questions: Who should make this type of decision, and whether it was the right decision.

Below is the email I wrote to the board when we started receiving emails complaining about the cut in prize money - I since found a copy of last year's entry form. The James is James Therriault, who first emailed the board on this issue.

I confess that I proofed the Nationals entry form in advance and didn't pick up on the prize money cuts. No one said anything about this big change and I proofed mostly the wording, and so didn't catch it. (I also didn't have a copy of last year's entry form to compare it to. Does anyone have a copy, or is there one still online? The 2018 US. Nationals page doesn't seem to be online anymore.) The first I knew about it was from the letter from James. Presumably these were cost-cutting changes from headquarters, but I really don't know - it wasn't a board decision. Like James and Dan, I'm a little leery on what the effect is going to be for members when they see the cuts in championships events, and how it will affect entries.

There has been other discussion about the Nationals and Open. Here's what Carl Danner wrote about the Nationals (reprinted with his permission), and my response. (Carl chairs the USATT High Performance Committee and is president of the USATT Foundation. I did some minor formatting.)

I think it's a good time for a broader discussion about the Nationals.  When I stand in the middle of the playing hall, it's hard to tell by looking around what year it is (or even decade).  That seems somewhat odd.   

To me, today's Nationals:

  • is a service that USATT provides to its members at a typical financial loss -- because even where there is a profit on the books, that generally doesn't count all the paid time that USATT staff also puts in;
  • is not growing as it has drawn about the same number of players for decades, plus or minus a hundred or two depending on particular circumstances;
  • provides pretty good conditions for the advanced players (at a cost, including floor mats and many of the umpires), and mediocre ones for everyone else;
  • is run well, something that's easy to overlook except for those of us who remember what a poorly-run event feels like;   
  • has typically offered perhaps $40,000 - $60,000 in prize money, largely provided by the participants themselves; as an example, $40,000 divided by 800 players is an added $50 per person in entry fees;     
  • has been consistently hampered in hotel sponsorships because many players don't use the tournament hotels and rates; 
  • is not spectator-friendly and makes little from paid admissions;
  • does meet the needs of many regulars who want to play some matches, socialize with friends, and watch some good players also;
  • has been able to draw some sponsorships (thank you, partners!), but not enough to transform any significant aspect of the event.

Now a few things have been tried in recent years, including the separate finals venues and all-court floor mats at the World Vets and the Open.  But none of those have been transformative either, and the notion that we should just find someone who will rain sponsorship money on the event is a nice idea that's been tossed around forever without consistent results. 

Throw into the mix what we have been hearing about Las Vegas as a venue, that it's getting more costly as a site and that our really good deals there may be gone.  

What are some questions and options? 

  1. Why is the event so costly to run?  The financial losses seem real despite the high level of entry fees.  Maybe it's easier to explain in light of the number of matches or some other variables, but it's probably worth understanding better.   
  2. Would splitting off some other events make sense and permit more growth?  Perhaps it's time to consider a separate junior or senior Nationals.  The World Vets seemed to bring out many U.S. players who don't go to the Nationals, what was better about that? 
  3. Should we aim to elevate the top player aspect of the event, with better presentation, prize money and a push for spectators?  Or enhance the average player's experience, as they are most of the base and paying most of the freight?  Or should these be two different tournaments?   
  4. Should players continue to be able to enter the Nationals directly, or should there be regional qualifications in some way?  Perhaps these could be a source of growth.   
  5. What about small cash prizes for ratings and age events (the topic of these emails)?  Are they essential, or would nicer awards and some enhanced prestige factors be an effective substitute? 
  6. What about local organizing committees that might want to build the event over time?  For example, Grand Rapids did a nice job with its Opens in local sponsorship and publicity, but some players said they didn't like going there.  Are we better off in a bigger destination city, but mostly ignored?
  7. Do we care about growth, or is this just a good service to members in its present form (with only fine-tuning needed)?      
  8. USATT HQ staff are pressed already with all they have to do, and the Nationals and Open activities absorb up a great deal of their time and thus limit other services they could provide.  Is that ok? 

And of course, there is no need to go drastically in any of these directions all at once -- but it might be helpful for us to figure out if there is a direction that we intend to move over time.  

As an innovation, our current Nationals mostly dates from the 1970s.  Is it time to innovate further?

Here is my response:

Very good points, Carl. An underlying problem is that we are trying to satisfy two masters - the USATT membership that wants to play in the event, and the top players and spectators that want a more professionalized event. I suggest we consider what our vision for the Nationals and the Open should be. Here's mine. 

US Open: Aim to turn this into a huge annual professional event, like the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Bid it out, look for entrepreneurs with a vision and action plan to make it so, one that would be enticing to TV and major sponsors. Hiring a CEO with the vision and ability to get this done should be key. USATT's willingness to give up some control of the event may also be needed. A one-day Giant or Tiered RR run in conjunction, perhaps at the very start or end, might be possible to draw players/spectators and raise revenue (if we can get enough tables), but otherwise only "championship" events. (This could include senior and junior events, run single elimination.) This is our "Professional" event, and hopefully a major ITTF event. 

US Nationals: Keep this as the classic historical event we've had for many years, with the goal of a thousand or more USATT members getting together each year in lots of events, with progressively more prize money in the major events as the numbers and sponsors go up. By having only one such event each year, instead of running both the Nationals and Open this way, means we'd get more players at the Nationals as "The Event" the members all go to each year. With a thousand players, we not only get much more in entry fees, but we can also charge sponsors more for booths and for sponsoring tables, balls, and clothing, as there would be more players. With all this extra revenue, we can afford very good prize money in major events while giving USATT members a great annual event that everyone will want to attend. We should also consider bringing back some historical things we stopped doing, such as the huge players party, as well as clinics, "Meet the Pros," and other features that would turn it into a "must attend" event for members. This is our "USATT members" event. 

2019 Maryland Hopes Regional Camp and Tournament
Here is my write-up of the Hopes Camp and Tournament we just held at MDTTC - I was one of the coaches and ran the tournament. (There are a LOT of links afterwards, so don't miss those!)

2019 Maryland Hopes Regional Camp and Tournament
March 8-10, 2019 at Maryland Table Tennis Center
By Larry Hodges

Forty-two kids, the large majority ages 9-11, congregated at the Maryland Table Tennis Center for two days of training on Friday and Saturday, and (for those born after Jan. 1, 2007, i.e. 12 and under) the regional Hopes tournament on Sunday. Here's a group picture. Here is a photo gallery by Jay Chelur.

Running the camp was USATT National Team Coach and Alameda TTC Coach Pieke Franssen, who flew in from California - taking an all-nighter to Charlotte, NC, and then to Dulles Airport in Virginia around noon, where I picked him up. Wang Qingliang was the main assistant coach - he's on the USATT National Coach Development Team. Others assisting were myself, Lidney Castro, Jeffrey Zheng, and two new Vietnamese Regional Team Members who just moved to Maryland, the brothers Khai and Khoi Dinh. (Khoi Dinh was #2 player on the Vietnamese Junior National Team this year before their family immigrated to the U.S. three weeks ago.) Also hosting were organizer Wen Hsu, and Carolyn Klinger, who took charge of meals at the club. (Here's her non-Facebook picture.) The camp had four sessions, Friday 4:30-6:30PM and 7:30-9:30PM, and Saturday 12:00-2:30PM and 5:30-7:30PM. (Players in the Hopes Tournament were required to come to the camp.)

Each session started with jogging, followed by agility exercises. This usually took up to 30 minutes. Pieke had a range of different ones, all involving various side-stepping. Then we got the tables. The level of play was very high, with two rated over 2140, eight over 1890, and nineteen over 1700. Here are pictures and video (from Facebook). (The kid running side to side in one video is U.S. Open and Nationals 10 and Under Champion Stanley Hsu, who is demonstrating the drill for others. They then broke into six groups and everyone did this and other speed drills.)

How do you run a camp with 42 players on 17 tables? Pieke and Wang organized it so that for the first three sessions, about one-third of the players would do multiball. We had four multiball tables, with Lidney, Jeffrey, Khai, and Khoi feeding as I called the drills. We generally had 14-16 players, so each table had 3-4 players. For many drills, we'd do two players at a time (the others doing ball pickup), with the players doing a footwork/stroking sequence and the rotating out so the player did the drill. Other times one player would do the drill while one or two others stood behind them, shadow-stroking the drill. We also did some interactive drills, where 2-3 players would sometimes get involved. We finished each multiball session with the "box" challenge, where we'd put a box (actually a spaghetti colander) one racket length from the far end of the table, and the players on each table would do drills where they took turns, 2-4 shots each, trying to knock it off the end. It took a number of hard shots, but when they did it, the winning team each got a "trillion dollar bill" (I had a collection of them), or, later in the camp, their choice of that or a Jolly Rancher candy.

The rest of the tables were one-on-one practice, with Pieke and Wang calling the drills and coaching. Alas, I rarely got to see that since I was back in the multiball area. However, I had a copy of the practice schedule, with lots and lots of drills that were mostly centered around serve, receive, and footwork. The players worked hard! (We didn't really give them a choice, did we?)

On Sunday we had the Hopes Tournament, with 20 boys and 7 girls. The girls played a complete round robin while the boys played five groups of four, with two advancing from each group to single elimination. Congrats to the Champions and Final Four! Here are the main results:

  • BOYS: 1st: Patryk Zyworonek; 2nd Mu Du; 3rd Andrew Cao; 4th James Zhang
  • Here's a group picture of the Boys - L-R the players are Andrew Cao (3rd), Patryk Zyworonek (1st), Mu Du (2nd), and James Zhang (4th). Coaches are Jack Huang, Wang Qingliang, Larry Hodges, Pieke Franssen.
  • GIRLS: 1st: Michelle Kang; 2nd Rachel Wang; 3rd: Rachel Ku; 4th: Alyssa Kang
  • Here's a group picture of the Girls - L-R the players are Rachel Ku (3rd), Michelle Kang (1st), and Rachel Wang (2nd) (Alyssa Kang missing). Coaches are Wang Qingliang, Pieke Franssen, and Jack Huang.

After the Hopes events, we had three rating events - Under 2300, 1900, and 1400. Here are complete results (including Hopes), care of Omnipong. And here are the ratings, processed by USATT on Monday. Below are the main results, linked to pictures:

A big thanks goes to all those who helped with the camp, to the superlative job of fellow coaches Pieke, Wang, Lidney, Jeffrey, Khai, and Khoi, and to Referee Paul Kovac and Umpire Stephen Yeh, to Jackson Beaver (and half the local junior program!) for helping at the control desk, and to sponsors USATT, MDTTC, JOOLA, and HW Global Foundation.

Little Rock Hopes
Here's the article by Michael Lauro about the Regional Hopes camp and tourament in Arkansas, with pictures and video.

USATT At-Large Board Director Election - Round 1 Results
Here's the USATT article. If you think about it from a purely political point of view, Lily might have been handicapped. Why? Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that East Coast voters tend to vote for East Coast candidates (Mike and Lily), while West Coast voters tend to vote for West Coast candidates (Bruce). Let's also assume that Chinese voters tend to vote for Chinese candidates (Bruce and Lily), while non-Chinese voters tend to vote for non-Chinese candidates. (Remember, we're talking tendencies in a political framework.) Giving these assumptions, Bruce gets most of the west coast vote and splits the Chinese vote; Mike gets most of the non-Chinese vote and splits the east coast vote; while Lily only gets to split both the east coast and the Chinese vote. Now if someone wants to look deeper into this, they could investigate if there are tendencies, as I hypothesize here, or other ones, and also the number of voters in each of these demographics - but I'll leave that to someone else.

Here are the first-round results, with a second round this Wed-Sun (March 13-17) to decide who takes my current position on the Board. (When I blog next week they will likely be counting the votes, and hopefully they'll know the winner by the end of the day.)

  • Bruce Liu: 140
  • Mike Babuin: 119
  • Lily Yip: 116

HW Global Foundation Talent Development Program - They need your support!
I'm one of their coaches on Saturdays and Sundays, and I hope some of you can help out! Here is their GoFundMe page, where they are trying to raise $15,000. Until April 1, Hans & Wen Hsu, the HW Foundation founders, will match all donations for this Campaign, up $10,000.

USATT Nominates Players for the 2019 World Table Tennis Championships in Budapest, Hungary
Here's the USATT article.

How to Do a Forehand Flick – with Paul Drinkhall
Here's the article and video (5:43) from Tom Lodziak. (A flick is another term for a flip, i.e. an attack against a short ball.)

More Spin
Here's the article by Samson Dubina.

New from EmRatThich

ITTF Level 3 Coaching Course - September 4-11, 2019 - Akron, Ohio
Here's the USATT info page. From the USATT Coaches Courses Page, there are three upcoming courses:

Lauro's Passion Rewarded with National Volunteer Coach of the Year Award
Here's the USATT article by Richard Finn.

Why is Boll Strong? #6
Here's the article and video (4:08).

Is There a Table Tennis Offseason? Should There Be?
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Table Tennis Atmosphere
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Big Matches Upcoming for US Players in Europe
Here's the USATT article by Matt Hetherington, featuring Lily Zhang, Kanak Jha, Michael Tran, Victor Liu, and Rachel & Joanna Sung.

Canadian Championships Underway
Here's an info page.

Hugo Calderano: The Brazilian Looking to Take Budapest by Storm
Here's the ITTF article.

Pitchford Aims to Open Dialogue Around Depression and the Pressures and Expectations of Succeeding in Sport
Here's the article from MH Table Tennis. English #1 Liam Pitchford is world #17.

Díaz Sisters on Female Idols and Celebrating International Women's Day
Here's the ITTF article featuring Puerto Rican stars Adriana and Melanie Diaz.

China’s 2019 Championships Team: Not Marvellous?
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

Germany Still Chasing First Singles Gold, Will 2019 Be the Year That Changes?
Here's the ITTF article.

Olympian & Paralympian Business Development Program
Here's the info page.

Nittaku ITTF Monthly Pongcast | February 2019
Here's the ITTF video (16;24).

WAB Club Feature: California Table Tennis
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

JOOLA Sponsors ICC
Here's the article. They recently sponsored my club, MDTTC. They also just signed Triangle TTC.  

Navin Kumar's Movie Character Publicity Poster
He recently had his first film role in the upcoming movie, "Attack of the Unknown," as Atul, the SWAT Team Driver. Here's the publicity poster. (Here is the non-Facebook version.) Navin is "The Bionic Man" from table tennis. (He's actually be in a number of news videos.)

Scoop Off Floor, Backspin Comeback Return
Here's the video (19 sec)!

We Don't Have Exhibitions Like This Anymore
Here's the video (1:53) of the famed French players Jacques Secrétin and Vincent Purkart.

Jason and Alex Piech at the 2019 Arnold Sports Festival
Here's the video (3:09)! Here are some of their past videos.

Ping-Pong Trickshots
Here's the video (3:35)! These are some incredible and crazy trick shots. (I think I can do any individual trick shown, but doing them all together, in sequence . . . how many attempts would it take?)

Advice, Skill, or New Rubber?
Take your choice! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

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