Amazing Shots on Ground

January 4, 2013

How to Deal with Beginners at a Club

This is a semi-regular topic at table tennis forums, so I thought I'd address it.

Believe it or not, I actually did a skit on this for the USA Table Tennis Board of Directors about 10-12 years ago. It was probably the only skit ever done during one of their live meetings - and you wonder why I can never convince them to do anything!!!

They were discussing how to increase membership, a perennial topic for discussion, but rarely one for action. The problem was that none of the people in the discussion had any serious experience at the club level, which of course is where you get new players. (I've been doing this for decades.) The question of increasing USATT membership and how to deal with beginners at a club really are the same thing. In both cases we are trying to convert non-serious players into serious players - which mostly means converting one of the 15 million or so recreational players into one of  9000 USATT members. (That's roughly a 1700-1 ratio; we aren't converting very well.)

There are three types of beginners. (I'll get to them in a minute.) I'd explained this to the board numerous times, but generally to deaf ears, often to people with strong opinions that are not based on hands-on experience. I needed to find a way to get their attention and show them what really happens at the club level, and how we can convert these three types of new players into USATT members. It was while sitting in that board meeting, listening to discussions on how to increase membership by people who didn't know how to, that I hit on the idea of a skit to get their attention.

So I raised my hand and asked if I could give a short presentation on the subject. Since, for once, they weren't in a rushed schedule - they'd put aside something like an hour for the discussion - they agreed. So I told them I was going to act out the three most common types of interactions with new players - and note that this was exactly the same in table tennis and tennis, except that in tennis (and other successful sports) they had learned to address the needs of these three types of new players.

The skit was in three parts. For each part I actually walked out the door, and then came in. I played the part of both the new player and the club officer.

Part 1: I came in and said, "Hi, I'm a new player and I'd like play somebody." Playing the part of the club officer, and knowing that new player usually means beginner, and knowing that if I put a beginner up against an advanced player he'd get killed and we'd likely never see him again, I told him about our leagues, where he'd play players his own level. He played in the league against players his level, met new players, made friends, and became a regular at the club and a USATT member.

Part 2: I came in and said, "Hi, I'm a beginner, and I'd like to learn how to play better." Playing the part of the club officer, I told him about our coaching programs for beginners, both group sessions and private coaching. He signed up, learned about the sport, met new players, made friends, and became a regular at the club and a USATT member.

Part 3: I came in, and using a woman's voice, said, "Hi, my two kids would like to play table tennis." Playing the part of the club officer, I told them about our junior program. They signed up, made friends, and became regulars at the club and USATT members. And one of them went on to become National Champion.

I then explained that if a club doesn't have programs for these three types, then we lose them. (I also explained there's also a fourth type - a very small minority - which is the crazy guy who comes in, loses badly to everyone, but sticks around and becomes a serious player. They are rare, and are the ones we currently rely on for our membership (along with players from overseas).Hence the 1700-1 ratio.

How do we address these needs? For the player looking to play (Part 1), the answer is leagues. Until we have a nationwide network of leagues for players of all levels, we will keep losing these players. For the player who wants to learn more and for kids, we need more coaches. In both cases, either USATT or someone else has to take the lead in setting up these leagues, and in recruiting and training coaches.

Table tennis has done this in countries all over the world, and other sports have done so in the U.S. and all over the world. As I've blogged in the past, in Europe, nearly every country has more members in their table tennis association than their tennis association - because they address the needs of the new player. In the U.S., USTA has over 700,000 members to our 9000 - about an 80-1 ratio. If table tennis addressed the needs of new players as tennis does, and as table tennis does elsewhere, then we'd also have 700,000 members or more. But it's not going to happen by talking about it. It'll happen when someone does something about it.

I may actually take the lead in the coaching aspect, i.e. recruiting and training coaches. I've been toying with it for a while, but I'm too busy right now. USATT doesn't seem to have interest in acting on these issues, at least right now.

Petition for Table Tennis in School Curriculums

Last month I posted about this petition. Here it is again! (I'm the fifth signee; they need 25,000 by Jan. 11, 2013.) The petition is to do the following:

Include and recognize the sport of Table Tennis Aka "Ping Pong" as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice.
Table Tennis should be included as part of a school's athletic curriculum of choice to participate and play. The sport isn't only a recreational past time but also an Olympic sport. The sport is considered and recognized relevant by other cultures. The sport is cost effective, fights the obesity problem among young Americans, and is non discriminatory. The sport can be easily incorporated in a schools current athletic curriculum, and easily be taught. Tables should be put on all middle schools to encourage start up programs. There are plenty of qualified coaches in the United States that would love the opportunity to teach and coach this fast growing sport. Starting in middle schools will also identify talented kids and Olympic hopefuls. This is the way It's done in China and Europe.

Review of the New Plastic Ball

Part 2 (14:35) just went up of the Plastic Ball Review from OOAK Reviews, "High speed filming of tests to compare relative rebound speed, bounce and spin." (On Wednesday I linked to Part 1, "Why the change and a comparison of their physical appearance.") Here's their home page, which links to both videos. I'll post here when Part 3 goes up, "Players from our Premier Division who have different styles of play and use different types of equipment try out the three balls and give their opinions on them."

World Championship of Ping Pong

It's being held this weekend, in London - but this isn't the World Table Tennis Championships; this is a sandpaper event, with $100,000 in prize money!!! (That includes $20,000 to the winner.) Here's the home page. Good luck to USA players Ty Hoff, Adoni Maropis, and Ilija Lupulesku!

Corkscrew Spin and Google

So you want to know what corkscrew spin is? This is where the ball spins so that the axis of rotation points away from you. Here's an example of clockwise corkscrew spin: just cut & paste "Do a barrel roll" into a Google engine - for most of us, it's the default search engine so you can just put this in your regular search box, or you can go to Google directly - and there it is!

Wang Liqin vs. Ma Long

Here's a great match (12:05, with time between points removed) between these two in a 2012 China Super League match

Best Table Tennis Clips of the Year

Table Tennis Nation chose the three best table tennis clips of the year, and the grand champion from those three. Two of them are paralympic players!

Amazing Shots While Rolling Around on Ground

Here's the video (1:12).

Modern Age Meets the Stone Age

Here's an iPong robot on a cement table. There's something really wrong about this. It's like a caveman with a machine gun.

Table Tennis Fun with Kids and a Panda

Kids and a Panda show how fun table tennis is in this video from PingSkills (2:23).

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