July 28, 2011

Fixing the backhand

I had an interesting coaching experience yesterday with a new ten-year-old student. He'd picked up the forehand pretty well, but was struggling on the backhand. Over and over he'd stick his elbow way out to the side and drop the racket tip during the forward swing, contacting the ball with an awkward downward backspin swat, and follow through with his arm extended completely forward, as if he were lunging for something. Over and over I went through the stroke with him, but nothing worked. I told him to keep the racket tip up, keep the elbow in, hit the ball with a slight upward swing with topspin, and not to follow-through with his arm lunging forward. The problem was that all these were symptoms of the one actual problem. I suddenly realized he was contacting the ball too far out in front. When I told him to take the ball closer to his body, in one swoop all the problems disappeared - instant good technique as frustration on both sides of the net changed to sheer glee. Within minutes we were smacking backhands back and forth like pros.

A National Table Tennis League?

Countries like Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), and just about every other country in Europe gets its huge memberships through team leagues. The same is true of most major participation sports in the U.S. and throughout the world. I've tried for years to convince USATT to study how the European leagues were created and spread, including at the 2009 Strategic Meeting, but I don't seem to be very persuasive, even on the most obvious things. My basic recommendation is that they set up a fact-finding committee to meet with German, English, and other league officials at the World Championships, get the facts, and then get the major league directors in the U.S. together, and lock them in a room and tell them they can't come out until they create a model for a U.S. league. Once this is created, then whenever someone wants to create a regional league, they don't have to reinvent the wheel; we supply them with this model. That's how table tennis and most other sports did it in the U.S. and throughout the world, and that's how we should do it.

Alas, I've been unable to convince USATT of this idea - I couldn't even get them to meet with the people who set up these huge leagues to get the facts - and so while they spend a lot of time talking about doing such things, little actually gets done. Fortunately, some local groups have been taking action on their own, creating their own regional leagues that hopefully can spread, such as ones in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City. If the sport gets big in the U.S., it'll be through such independent efforts - though it sure would help if USATT would choose to be a catalyst for this type of thing instead of sitting on the sidelines hoping others will do so.

I once tried setting up a USATT League, with the idea of starting with a singles league to bring in players (easier to set up initially), and then move to teams, but USATT not only wouldn't support it (except as cheerleaders), they took the $15,000 brought in by the league (memberships and sponsors) and used it for other things. Without a penny of support, and with all income from the league taken out, I found myself trying to set up and run a nationwide league pretty much single-handed (with programming help from Robert Mayer) in my free time (I was also editor of USATT Magazine at the time, plus coaching at my club), and finally pretty much gave up on it.

And yet the USATT League is still running in many clubs, with nearly as many processed matches each month as USATT tournament matches. Since the league began in 2003, there have been 263,433 processed league matches by 13,381 players in 318 leagues. So far this year there have been 33,255 processed matches, an average of 5772 per month through June. For perspective, there were 6264 processed USATT tournament matches in June, and there have been many months where there were more league matches than USATT tournament matches. The league is pretty much self-run by the software.

The Yorkshire Table Tennis League

Here's actual footage of the Yorkshire Table Tennis League, where they play by their own rules - no net, no paddles, and an oversized ball! The 39-shot rally shown in this 31-second video shows that the sport is going to the dogs - but at least one of these players is using his head, or more specifically his nose. This is table tennis at its highest and purest, a model for table tennis everywhere.

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Re: July 28, 2011

I find that true with most people (including myself) learning new strokes. Sometimes, it's just one tiny thing holding them back. All it takes is a good coach to find that weakness and fix it.