September 22, 2011

USA Table Tennis Infrastructure

No sport can get big without infrastructure. In countries like Germany and England (700,000 and 500,000 members of their respective table tennis associations), the focus is on their leagues, with a secondary focus on junior development. The U.S. Tennis Association (700,000 members) also focuses on its leagues and junior development, as well as the U.S. Open. Little League Baseball, pretty much by definition, focuses on leagues and junior development, and has millions of players. The United States Bowling Congress, with over 2.5 million members, has over 70,000 leagues administered by 35,000 volunteers in 2900 local and state associations. I could go on and on and on, with country after country, sport after sport, but it's always the same message. What can USA Table Tennis (8000 members) learn from this?

A number of times in our past we've had huge media coverage, and a large influx of players. Each time it was temporary because, predictably, without the infrastructure to absorb the players - leagues for all levels, junior programs for kids - the players came, didn't find what they wanted, and they left. And so the media coverage from Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 and 1972, the Olympic debut in 1988, the Olympics in the U.S. in 1996, even Forest Gump in 1994, didn't help; we simply weren't ready. We've been on national TV numerous times, from the ESPN coverage circa 1980, Prime Network in the early 1990s, various times during the Olympics, and more recently Killerspin ESPN broadcasts. Again, it didn't help without the infrastructure. USATT is like a shoe store with bad shoes; until they fix the shoes, TV and other promotions aren't going to develop a membership base. If we were a shoe store, we'd be out of business. Since we're a non-profit, we stay open, a monument to how not to grow a sport.

USA Table Tennis, don't just say leagues and junior programs are priorities, and create task forces to look into these issues, and then do nothing, as we've done over and Over and OVER. If you can't make these your top priority (or make a strong argument for something else), and act like they ARE your top priority by actually making it your, *cough* *cough* TOP PRIORTY, by actually implementing something - then you are just caretakers for a sport waiting for true leadership.

I've blogged about this numerous times, so here it is in a nutshell. Create the prototypical USA League, make it available to potential league directors, recruit volunteers, and promote the heck out of it. Recruit and train coaches who wish to run junior programs. See sport grow. Grow sport grow.

This is not a sport where talking the talk will get anything done; we need to walk the walk. There is a well-trod path to success; to quote the great Yoda, "Do or do not." Which will it be?

Returning short serves to the forehand

Having trouble with those short serves to the forehand? Often find yourself barely getting them in time, since you also have to be ready to cover deep serves? Try practicing in and out movement. Go into your regular receive stance. Then step in, with the right foot well under the table (for righties), and shadow-practice flipping or pushing that serve. Do this a few dozen times, in and out, in and out, in and out. It can be tiring, but it'll pay off if you do this regularly, perhaps a few times a week.

How to Be a Champion

Required reading for all players and coaches. (I posted this once before, but I should post this a few times a year.) These are from the May/June 2005 USA Table Tennis Magazine "How to Be a Champion" issue.

Werner Schlager

Here's a profile of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager.

iPhone table tennis app

This seems to be table tennis, but since I use a phone designed to make, you know, phone calls, I'm not really sure.

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Re: September 22, 2011

Thanks Larry.  I guess now that I've thought about it maybe I'm not that surprised since I myself have never said to a new coach "This is my style and this is how I like to play."  I simply take what they give me without offering them any assistance as to direction.  I guess I need to think about that!

Dave

Re: September 22, 2011

Hi Larry, I read your blog today and the article by Carl Danner about developing a winning style.  What are your own thoughts on this?  When in your opinion should a coach or a player decide to develop a style?  What do you do with your students?

The reason I ask is that the article makes a lot of sense to me but in all the years (6) that I've had coaches (about half a dozen) not one has talked to me about having a style of play.  They either teach me whatever style they play or they take a smorgasbord approach to teaching skills (a little flipping this week, a little bh looping next week, etc.).

Thanks,

Dave

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: September 22, 2011

 

What are your own thoughts on this?  When in your opinion should a coach or a player decide to develop a style?  What do you do with your students?

When you start out, you need to develop the fundamentals (see my article on Develop the Basics in the "How to Be a Champion" articles. As you develop your shots, your playing style will gradually emerge. Some players have a firm idea on how they want to play almost from the start - hitter, looper, blocker, chopper, etc. Others aren't sure at first, often for years, as they develop their game. And the style often changes - I was an all-out hitter my first three years, then switched gradually all-around, with equal emphasis between looping, hitting, and steady countering, plus a little of just about everything else. 

Style comes from two things: what the player does well, and what the player wants to do. They are not always the same, but they usually have a large overlap as players tend to get better at the things they want to do (because they use them more), and they tend to want to do the things that they do well, since that leads to winning. So most often players naturally develop a style based on these two factors. Others really want to play a specific style, perhaps because they saw a top player play that way. They may simply want to be a chopper or lobber because of the spectacular points they play. Or they may develop a blocking style, but simply decide they want to play like most world-class players do and become a looper. (That's a primary reason why I switched from all-out hitting to more looping.) 

With my students, I regularly advise them on how their game is developing, with two things in mind. First, develop an over-powering strength, something will dominate at whatever level they are at, and develop a style around that strength. Second, develop all aspects of the game you will use since having strengths do not help if opponents can simply play into your weaknesses. So I try to lead them into a style that will win for them. But that style also has to match what they want to do. There's no point telling someone to be a looper if he hates looping, like one of my students. (I may put some of the above in my blog next week, or maybe as a Tip of the Week.) 

The reason I ask is that the article makes a lot of sense to me but in all the years (6) that I've had coaches (about half a dozen) not one has talked to me about having a style of play.  They either teach me whatever style they play or they take a smorgasbord approach to teaching skills (a little flipping this week, a little bh looping next week, etc.).

I'm surprised that they haven't discussed your playing style with you. It might be that you have developed a playing style, and they just assume you know what it is, and are working to develop the shots around that style without actually discussing it directly. It is good to develop most aspects of the game, but ultimately you need to focus on the shots that will help your style win.