junior programs

November 2, 2012

USA Table Tennis Newsletter

USATT's monthly eNewsletter came on Wednesday. (Go here to join their mailing list.) Kudos to USATT and editor Andy Horn for putting this together!

Now a little history and comments. The newsletter was "born" at the Strategic Meeting held in Colorado Springs in September, 2009. I put "born" in quotes because there were already plans to create it before the meeting, since nearly every other Olympic sport was already doing them. During the meeting we came up with three "priorities," with a task force for each: Communication, Juniors, and "Grow Membership Through Added Value."  (I wrote a lot about this in my blog on the two-year anniversary, on Sept. 26, 2011.) At the meeting I was initially against making Communication one of the three Priorities, but was convinced otherwise by attendees. However, I argued that Communication as a Priority would be meaningless unless we had programs to communicate about. I thought the three priorities should have been Leagues, Club-based Junior Programs, and (with those two to communicate about) Communication.

Unfortunately, nothing came of the Junior and "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task forces, and so we were left with just Communication. We did get a new website, as well as the eNewsletter. But my point from 2009 is still the same - Communication is somewhat pointless if you don't have programs to communicate.

The current eNewsletter has interesting stuff, with headlines about the USATT's Athletes Advisory Council Accepting Applications; Remembering Olga Feingold Kahan; News on the US Cadets medaling in international tournaments; Ping-Pong film making debut in New York City; Ariel Hsing competing against a celebrity; Playing table tennis with Peter Gabriel; the Annual Giving Campaign; and an item on Renewing Your Membership. These are all nice items, but they do not promote any USATT programs.

Contrast this with the October newsletter I received from the U.S. Tennis Association. Their first headline is about the 2012 League Division Champions (i.e. like a USATT rating event but with teams). It includes a picture of the "2.5 Men's National Champions," which is roughly the equivalent in table tennis of "Under 1500 Men's National Champions." Their second item is titled "Get Your Kids Active - Attend an Event!", which is about "Play Day," an event to bring kids into tennis. Below that there's a headline "10 and Under Tennis - a Whole New Ballgame," which also promotes kids to play tennis. And then there's a link to "The Road to Jr. Team Tennis Nationals." (They also have an item about USTA membership, which includes the headline "Enjoy a Sport for a Lifetime." They also include a tennis coaching tip in each issue.)

All of these items are geared toward getting people to play tennis and join USTA. Over and over in their newsletters USTA focuses on promoting their core programs - leagues, junior programs, and the U.S. Open (which is highlighted in most newsletters, but not this one). The key is that USTA has nationwide leagues and junior programs to promote. USATT does not. So there's not much to put in the newsletter regarding USATT programs. (I'm talking about programs for the masses, not just elite players, which USATT tends to focus on.) This is why Andy gets kudos for putting the issue together, despite it not really promoting USATT programs that don't exist.

USATT does have the U.S. Open and USA Nationals (promoted in the previous eNewsletter), but haven't really made any serious attempt to increase the number of entries at these events, which get far fewer entries these days than the 1000+ players at the 1974 and 1975 U.S. Opens or the 700 or so many years in the 1990s, and the 800+ at the Nationals in 2005-2006. (This year's U.S. Open had 564 players, one of the worst showings ever, while the last Nationals had 502 players, the second worst ever ands the lowest since the ratings went online in 1994, which allows us to see the number of entries for each tournament).

I run a monthly eNewsletter for the Maryland Table Tennis Center. Every issue focuses on promoting our programs - private and group coaching, junior programs, leagues, and tournaments. Mixed in with these are interesting news items, like the ones USATT does. Other major table tennis centers do the same. The key is to have a core focus, and focus on promoting it.

USTA has a membership of 700,000, USATT about 8000. By contrast, Germany, England, and France, which focus on leagues and junior programs, have table tennis memberships of 700,000, 500,000, and 300,000. Think about it.

Since USATT doesn't currently have many of its own programs to promote to the masses, other than the U.S. Open and USA Nationals, here's an idea: why not use the USATT eNewsletter (and webpage) to systematically promote the leagues and junior programs from around the country, even if they are not USATT programs? This brings players into the sport, and these players usually become USATT members. Specifically, they could have a central online listing of these leagues and junior programs, and use the eNewsletter to refer readers to them. (They already have this for tournaments, so they just need to refer to them in the eNewsletter. But there's far greater membership potential in leagues and junior programs, as demonstrated in Europe.) If a kid or parent gets the USATT eNewsletter (or goes to the USATT web page, for that matter), they don't learn about the great junior programs at clubs around the country. They don't learn about the great leagues in SF, LA, NY, and other regions, or in individual clubs. They don't even know these things exist. And so we lose them. Tennis and European table tennis actively refers people to these programs as their central focus. Why not use these non-USATT programs to promote table tennis, referring to them constantly in the eNewsletter and webpage, leading to a more prosperous USATT?

Bids Wanted for 2013 National Team Trials

Here's the info sheet. Deadline to apply is Nov. 15, 2012. This is for clubs or cities to bid to run the 2013 USA National Team Trials, scheduled for Feb. 7-10, 2013.

Call for Nominations - Annual Coach of the Year

Here's the info sheet. Deadline for nominations is Dec. 15, 2012. "The U.S. Olympic Committee annually conducts a Coach of the Year recognition program within the family of Olympic and Pan American sports. There are five categories for which nominations may be made and they are: Volunteer, Developmental, National, Paralympic and the Doc Counsilman (Technology) area. USA Table Tennis takes this opportunity to solicit nominations from our membership for these categories."

Opening Ceremonies for World Cadet Challenge

Here's the opening ceremonies to the World Cadet Challenge currently being held in Guam (54:32). The World Cadet Challenge is going on right now in Guam, Oct. 27 - Nov. 4. Team North America (USA and Canada) marches in at 5:41, and are announced at 6:01. Here's the ITTF World Cadet Challenge page, with schedules, results, articles, and pictures.

Fantasy Table Tennis Artwork

Here's the latest fantasy table tennis artwork from Mike Mezyan. Click on the picture and you'll through a whole series of his works. Better still, go to his home photo page, and see all the thumbnails.

Pongress: International Ping Pong Congress

Yes, they almost done with the second "International Ping Pong Congress," and I've never even heard of it. Here's their description - and there's a bit of exaggeration when they say the event "brings together the world's best players." (Somehow I can't picture the Chinese team being there.) "The second International Ping Pong Congress has just taken place at the Cumberland Arms in Newcastle. Ping pong players from around the world came together to celebrate 'Pongress,' a week-long event which brings together the world’s best players (or should that be beer drinkers!). Pongress runs until 3rd November." Make sure to watch the linked video!

Twelve Animals Playing Table Tennis

They may not be Da Vinci's, but they are hilarious! Here are color drawings of 12 animals playing table tennis, including five dinosaurs, an alligator, dolphin, tuna, swordfish, shark, octopus, turtle, and one grouping of six of them.

Ghostly Table Tennis

Here's an animated gif of two ghosts playing table tennis - Happy Belated Halloween!

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June 29, 2011

Thoughts on the U.S. Open

I leave for the U.S. Open in Milwaukee in just a few hours. Here are a few last-minute thoughts.

  • Will the umpires at the U.S. Open enforce the service rules, in particular the one that states, "It is the responsibility of the player to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." I am so tired of opponents hiding their serves against players I'm coaching, with the umpire saying they weren't sure if the serve was visible to the receiver and so didn't call it. If you aren't sure if the serve is visible to the receiver, then the server has failed "to serve so that the umpire or the assistant umpire can be satisfied that he complies with the requirements of the Laws." Umpires, please reread that ten times, and consider: if a server is serving so that it's so close to whether the receiver can see contact that you aren't sure, that means the server is trying to hide the serve. Are you going to let him cheat? (And to be fair, umpires are among the hardest workers at a tournament doing one of the most thankless jobs, so let me thank you in advance - but only if you call those faults!!!)
  • I keep getting accused of coaching during matches at major tournaments, something I've never done. If I clap, they think it's a signal. If I fidget, grin, frown, or so much as breathe, I'm told I'm coaching. The players I coach think it's hilarious when I get warned, but it's rather irritating. It happened twice at the North American Championships and twice at the Nationals.
  • Just how good are Sun Ting and Jeffrey Zeng Xun? Jeffrey, 23, started coaching at my club (MDTTC) in December, and won the Cary Cup and Easterns, despite being out of practice. He's rated "only" 2612. He's been practicing for the Open, often with Sun Ting, so we may finally see how good he is. As to Sun Ting, 27, he's rated 2730 from the 1999 Teams when he was just 15. Has he improved? (I've nicknamed him "The Sun King.")
  • Should I spend Wednesday at the hotel hot tub, lounging around the hotel room reading and watching movies, lounging around the playing site, helping with the Paralympic training camp, touring Milwaukee, surfing the web, practicing, walking about looking important, or writing? (I arrive around 8AM.)
  • Should I have gotten a haircut before the Open?

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I just updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page. There are now 1204 pictures of 707 celebrities. In the last month I've added pictures of Barack Obama, David Cameron (prime minister of England), Wen Jiabao (premier of China), Nicolas Sarkozy (president of France), basketball player Yao Ming, tennis players Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, alpine skiers Lindsey & Thomas Vonn, Vince Coleman (former senator of Minnesota), Milwaukee Brewers baseball players Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, and John Axford, and new pictures of tennis player Bobby Riggs, boxer Rocky Marciano, and financier Warren Buffett. This is just a small taste of what's there, which includes sections on Politicians/Leaders, Athletes, Talk Show Hosts, Writers, Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Cartoon Characters, and Other. Two celebrity players at this year's U.S. Open are pictured - acter Adoni Maropis and calligrapher Julian Waters. Now go explore the 707 different celebrities caught in the act of playing table tennis! (Top table tennis players do not count as celebrities here.)

Full-time training centers and junior programs

Twenty years ago there were no full-time training centers in the U.S. devoted to full-time training. So we opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center.

Four and a half years ago I made a proposal to USATT urging them to make it a goal to have 100 successful junior programs in the U.S. in five years. The plan involved recruiting and training coaches to become full-time coaches and run junior programs. At the time there were at most ten junior programs in the country that I'd call successful. USATT had no interest. This was a major reason why I resigned all my positions with USATT - editor, webmaster, and programs director.

Now we have a number of full-time training centers and junior programs around the U.S. The result is that the competition in junior and cadet events is much stronger than before. Imagine if USATT had taken the initiative by recruiting and training coaches, instead of sitting around and watching while every now and then someone would take the initiative and create such a program, usually having to reinvent the wheel from scratch. (Actually, they learned from each other; I've spent a huge number of hours talking and emailing with coaches and promoters interested in opening such centers and running junior programs, as have others.) If USATT had made this a priority, there would be far more successful junior programs and the competition could have been even tougher - and since I'm coaching there, I'm thankful at least for that.

Penguin playing ping-pong

Yep, here's a 40-second video of a penguin playing table tennis. Enjoy.

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