February 21, 2022

Tip of the Week
If You Don't Spend a Good Portion of Your Practice Developing Overwhelming Strengths, You Won't Develop Overwhelming Strengths.

USA Table Tennis Issues
This site is called TableTennisCOACHING.com, not TableTennisUSATT.com. Readers know I disagree with much of what USA Table Tennis has done over the last two years. I try to ignore much of it, and probably write only 10% of what I could. Alas, there's a lot here to write about. I really do not plan to not do any more USATT "editorials" after this for a while, other than reporting things like the results of the upcoming athlete election, etc. Skip the next five segments if you aren't interested in USATT issues. (Item #5 is about the Nationals going to Fort Worth.) 

The End of the Rubberstamping USATT Board?
The current chair, Richard Char, took office at the Feb. 26, 2020 board meeting. Since then, there have been 26 board meetings (mostly on Zoom) and 104 votes. (I'm not including votes to go into or out of executive session or votes to adjourn, which would add another 50 or so unanimous votes.) Exactly 100 of the 104 votes have been unanimous, including the first 86 votes through 21 board meetings. The first dissenting vote in this era was by Thomas Hu at the Oct. 4, 2021 meeting. The only board members who have ever dissented have been Thomas Hu (4 times), Dan Reynolds (2 times), and in this last meeting, newly elected athlete reps Lily Zhang and Nikhil Kumar once each, both joining Thomas in voting against the proposed 2022 budget. (Thomas and Dan both took office at the start of 2021, so they only started voting at that time.) Here is the USATT Minutes page. (A number of these votes are straightforward ones, but a number are not.) 

So this has been pretty much the definition of a rubberstamping board until now. There are now four who have dissented, and there will be two incoming athlete reps coming in soon - I'm told we'll have the results this Thursday. (It's a bit complicated, but due to the para requirements, it's basically Tahl Leibovitz vs. Jennifer Johnson, and Peter Li vs. Niraj Oak.) One of the ironies is that the incoming athlete reps seem rather grass-roots oriented, despite being athlete reps.

One of the reasons for this "rubberstamping" board is the change in how USATT lawyers advise the board. For decades, the previous USATT lawyers (primarily Dennis Taylor for the past 20 years, until about two years ago) would give the board options, and let the board decide. They'd make recommendations if asked, but their primary job was to give the board the options to choose from, and the advantages/disadvantages of each from a legal aspect. However, anyone attending board meetings these past two years have noticed a major change. Now it seems as if the lawyers argue a specific case, which seems to match what the USATT CEO and Chair (the ones who brought them in) seem to support. Since nearly all of the board is new, few have realized the difference. When I ask board members why they voted a certain way in various controversial decisions, invariably I'm told they did it because the lawyers recommended it.

USATT Budget Meeting
They held that meeting this past Thursday, Feb. 17. I attended, for the entire 14 minutes before the meeting was closed for executive session.

I've had two tenures on the USATT Board and have attended the vast majority of USATT board meetings since 1986. I've been to far too many budget meetings. Until the last few years, the process was straightforward - the board went over it, item by item, with the ED/CEO and others explaining each item, and board members then asking questions. The process typically takes at least three hours, often longer, and ends with each board member having a good understanding of the budget. They discuss, make compromise, and ultimately vote.

The process under this administration is very different. The budget was sent to board members, they were allowed to ask questions via email, and then they spent less than ten minutes discussing it in the Zoom meeting before the call was made to approve it. Without going over each item, most board members really don't know which parts they should ask questions about. That seems the point - rather than the board really going over the budget and then voting on it, the whole point seemed to be to rubberstamp it. How can they approve a budget they haven't really gone over?

There were objections to the budget, in particular by board member Thomas Hu. Thomas has an MBA, was a major in finance with a minor in accounting, has a long history as a financial reporter and planner, and is also CEO of the American Youth Table Tennis Organization. He said the numbers do not add up. Ironically, immediately after Thomas said, "The numbers are wrong," the chair, Richard Char, asked if there was a motion to approve the budget, and the motion was made about five seconds after that. The final vote was 7-3 in favor, with Thomas and the two incoming Athlete Representatives, Lily Zhang and Nikhil Kumar, opposed.

The fact that the vote was 7-3 was in itself "historic" as that was by far the closest vote on this board in the last two years and 104 votes. (See segment above on "rubberstamping.")  

USATT Cancels Chat Function at Board Meetings
Here's the notice from the last board meeting notice:

Process for USATT Members to Submit Questions to the Board of Directors
In an effort to enhance dialogue and transparency with the membership, the Board and USATT staff have developed a process to allow members to submit questions and comments. Questions and comments may be delivered to admin@usatt.org, and the Board will address appropriate inquiries related to topics properly before the Board at its meetings. Questions may also be directed to the Board at admin@usatt.org during the meeting but may not be responded to until after the meeting due to time and attention considerations. Given this enhanced opportunity, it should be noted that the chat function will no longer be available during Board meetings.

Why do they feel the need to mislead us about why they canceled the chat function? This misleading statement is irritating. They canceled the chat function because a number of people (including me and some prominent members of the table tennis community) complained in the chat function during the previous board meeting about certain issues. So why not just tell the truth if you believe in your reasons? (It doesn't matter who actually wrote this; it was written by or on behalf of the USATT CEO and Board Chair.)

Note that it's not an either-or thing - you can do both. Saying they cancelled the chat function because of this "enhanced" opportunity is like saying, "The sky is blue, therefore you can't have chocolate." There's no correlation or cause and effect between the two. It's just a distracting mechanism - but done so poorly that it doesn't fool anyone. Does anyone really think they canceled the chat function because of an "enhanced opportunity"?

I could easily make the argument for them for cancelling the chat function as a distraction. Here's what they could have said, if they'd decided to be honest and straightforward: "In a previous meeting, a number of people used the chat function to disrupt the board meeting, making it difficult for some board members to focus on the meeting. In the future, we'd prefer these comments be sent to the board in advance so board members can give them proper consideration without distracting them from the ongoing meeting." There, was that so hard?

They could simply ignore the chat - the meeting was on Zoom, where board members speak but others cannot without permission - but since they didn't like what was being said, they decided to close it down and mislead us with the reason. Why not just be honest? If you believe you are right, then make your argument, as I did above for them. If you believe you are wrong but decide to do it anyway, that's a reason to hide your real reason and talk about "enhancing dialogue" and "transparency" and pretend it's an "either-or" situation.

Do they really believe just closing down the chat function, a form of censorship, is the way to go here? How'd that work out for, say, "Maus"? All this does is draw attention to it. You can moderate a chat room without closing it down for legitimate comments and discussion. ("In January 2022, the board of trustees of McMinn County schools in Tennessee removed Maus from its schools curriculum. There was significant and widespread backlash to the decision, and Maus became the Amazon #1 best-seller." I'd never heard of it, but I just read it and am now reading the sequel.) By my judgement, only one person in the chat posted anything remotely objectionable (using the word "corruption"). 

On a side note, we've always had the ability email the board of directors - their emails are linked in the USATT board listing.

So, what was the primary issue that people were objecting in the chat room at the last board meeting? That's the next segment.

Athlete Advisory Council Representative
At the Oct. 27, 2021 board meeting, the USATT board passed a series of new bylaws. The USOPC had dictated that USATT must increase athlete representation on the board from two to four. They also said that the athletes needed to be chosen by direct vote of the athletes. (It used to be that way, but in recent times the AAC chose the athlete reps.) So, USATT ran the first athlete rep election, won by Lily Zhang and Nikhil Kumar, and we'll have the results of the other one this Thursday, with two more athlete reps. (I actually wrote a LONG article on this, but decided it was way too long and so drastically shortened it. I debated whether to even bother writing about it, but decided silence wasn't the answer.)

The controversial bylaw? The four incoming athlete reps, voted directly by the elite athletes, replaced the previous two. No problem there. But the board added a new position, the AAC Chair Representative (as designated on the USATT board listing), who represents the Athlete Advisory Council. (To be clear, before the ACC was used to choose the two athlete reps; now they themselves have a rep, representing the AAC itself, in addition to the four athlete reps elected by the athletes.)

The AAC Chair is Tara Profitt. I've known Tara for many years, including during my second tenure on the USATT board. I believe she's hard-working and well-meaning. She is a strong advocate of her fellow para players. (She is in a wheelchair.) She also was forthcoming when I asked her some question, and it helped in gathering facts. But there's one problem - who does she represent? The AAC is not a constituency; they advise a constituency, the elite athletes. Constituencies are groups that USATT might want to help, to better develop the sport of table tennis. Clubs are a constituency, and have a board rep. Colleges are a constituency, and have a board rep. Others that could be considered constituencies include coaches, officials, juniors, seniors, and so on. But the AAC itself is not a constituency; they advise a constituency. (See Article XI of the USATT bylaws for their exact purpose.)

To give an example, USATT lawyers advise USATT on certain issues, but that doesn't mean there should be a lawyer rep on the USATT board of directors. Similarly, while the AAC advises the board on certain athlete issues, that doesn't mean they themselves should have a voting member on the USATT board of directors. (If you represent the ones who voted you in, then Tara technically represents the then-majority of the board that voted to create this position. The votes are no longer there, but the "legacy" of this former 2/3 majority remains.)

So, why does the AAC have a representative? To be specific, what was the cause?

This goes right back to the "rubberstamping" board. There's nothing wrong with voting consistently with a group you agree with. At the same time, if you have voted with or for the chair, Richard Char, in 104 out of 104 votes, as Tara has, then you are obviously a very strong supporter of this administration. By creating this board position, the then-majority created a position for a strong supporter that they would need, knowing that the four incoming athlete reps are not likely to be such supporters. It is likely that in some important issues, or in attempts to change past decisions, Tara will be the deciding vote or (in some cases) would deadlock the board at 6-6, or stop bylaw changes (including the AAC rep position), that require a 2/3 vote of the entire board. (I really wish Tara had simply run for one of the fourth athlete reps. If she was representative of their views, she would have been elected. Alas, she does not seem to represent their views on most issues.)

And this is why so many people are unhappy with this. We welcome Tara's advice and hard work, but not that a then-majority used its majority to pad and try to continue its majority. (Note that they also voted for the new bylaws and had a sudden and unscheduled election for the board chair just before the athlete elections, knowing full well that the four incoming athlete reps would likely be in opposition to the then-majority on both of these.) One other source of unhappiness - I and others believe Tara should have abstained on the bylaws vote that created the position that she now occupies.

The minutes (unanimously approved by the board at the Dec. 6 meeting) say the vote was 7-2, but if you count the voters listed (see below), it's actually 6-2. It also leaves out who made the motion and second - but it turns out Tara made the motion and voted for it. Here's what it says in the Oct. 27 Board Minutes:

Upon Motion properly made and seconded, the following Resolution was approved by a vote of seven (Tara Profitt, Brandon Lawrence, Arjun Chowdri, Tom Feng, Will Shortz and Richard Char) to two (Thomas Hu and Dan Reynolds):

Bylaw changes need a 2/3 majority of the entire board, and since there were nine board members at the time (before the bylaw changes), that meant six votes were needed. Therefore,  outgoing athlete rep and AAC Chair Tara made the motion and cast the deciding vote to create a new board position, an AAC Chair Rep, i.e. herself. (She was an outgoing athlete rep because the USOPC had ordained that all athlete reps must be elected directly, and the very bylaws she moved and cast the deciding vote for created those direct elections - which she no longer would have to run in.) 

ADDENDUM: I rewrote the part above about needing a 2/3 vote of the entire board to pass a bylaw, since I'd initially written it took a 2/3 vote, period. This mean that Tara cast the deciding vote, as noted above. 

I asked one USATT person if they would have created this position if Tara opposed the current administration, and this person admitted, off the record, "Not a chance." Alas, whether knowingly or not, Tara has become a pawn in a power struggle.

I will close with a quote from the USATT Board of Directors Conflict of Interest Form: "Recognize that even the appearance of misconduct or impropriety can be very damaging to the reputation of the USATT and act accordingly."

2022 US National Table Tennis Championships Headed to Fort Worth
Here's the USATT news item. It'll be held July 2-7. They had 730 players when they ran the US Open there in 2019. We'll see how they do this time. 

Weekend Coaching
Last Monday I acted for two hours as a practice partner for Group 1 of our junior program. (We have four groups, with Group 1 the highest.) My stomach was queasy going in, but I did fine at the start, even had a good 20-minute session with Mu Du (13, 2286). But then the stomach got worse and worse, and by the end of the session I was almost dying. I spent the next day mostly in bed and got over it - but my stomach has been queasy all week. I lived on cream of wheat for a couple of days.

Over the weekend I helped run four more group sessions. We had a lot of focus on placement ("Go to the wide corners, not middle backhand or middle forehand!") and serve and attack ("Always follow your serve with an attack unless the receiver does something to stop it"). I also fed a lot of multiball. My arm was starting to get sore from it, so I went back to wearing the arm band that protects it.

It's become almost a tradition that we end the Novice junior group with Simon Says. A few of them are getting really good at it!!! I'm not sure what they like best, that or smacking cups! (The latter is better overall, since it's a table tennis activity - but Simon Says teaches kids to listen, pay attention, and react properly. Plus it's a fun activity that makes them want to keep coming back!)

Naresh and Jalli Make Waves in Metz, France
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins. Here's video (2:12) of Sarah's final!

Butterfly Training Tips

New from Samson Dubina

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich

New from Coach Jon

New from Matt Hetherington

New from the Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis

Destroy Your Opponents With Liam Pitchford’s Table Tennis Serves
Here's the video (5:14) from Table Tennis Daily.

How important is the Center of Gravity in Table Tennis?
Here's the video (9:30) from Ti Long.

Footwork in Table Tennis
Here's the video (8:05) from New Level TT. "Ma Long illustrating 3 main actions in table tennis during long rally. Split step, Ball approaching and Resetting to ready position."

Ask the Coach
Here are the latest questions from PingSkills.

Fundraiser for Bronze Medalist Jenson Van Emburgh to Prepare for World Championships
Here's the GoFundMe page. "Hi everyone!! I am happy to announce that I am preparing for the World Championships which will take place on November 6th in Granada, Spain. I am trying to raise funds to cover my training and travel expenses for this year leading up to the World Championships. No donation is too small and every little bit will help me be at my best at Worlds!"

National Collegiate Regional Championships - Deadlines
Here's the article from NCTTA.

New From Steve Hopkins

USATT Tournament Results and Announcements

ITTF News

Jimmy Butler Plays TT with Basketball Stars Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Rudy Tomjanovich
Here's the video (7 min) by Jimmy Butler!

The Mayor of Dunellen Visits Lily Yip's Table Tennis Center!
Here's the video (5:36).

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here.

I'm Awesome at Ping Pong
Here's the shirt to prove it!

Big Orange Pong Eyes and Big Red Pong Ears
Here's the picture!

Zach King's Best Ping Pong Tricks
Here's the video (5:04) from Pongfinity!

TT Umpiring is a Dangerous Pastime
Here's the video (11 sec)!

"The Office" Table Tennis
Here's the video (73 sec) - it starts with a rather long forehand to forehand sequence, but at 55 seconds, we get "All of my heroes are table tennis players," and he starts naming real players!

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