USTA

September 8, 2011

Student stops using head, instant success

For months a ten-year-old student of mine has struggled with a habit of moving his head forward when he hits forehands. This threw him off balance so that he lost control on the shot and couldn't recover quickly for the next shot. About two weeks ago he made a breakthrough and seemed to figure out how to hit without using his head that way. Yesterday it all came together, and he was hitting forehands better than ever before. (The head should rotate in a circle as you hit or loop forehands, as if there were a pole coming out of the top, but it should start and finish in about the same spot.) One irony is that he likes hitting so much, and hates looping, that we're thinking of going to short pips on the forehand. He's going to try that out next week.

Fifty full-time table tennis centers

With the addition of the Fremont Table Tennis Club in California run by Shashin Shodhan, we're up to an even 50 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S.! And to think that just five years ago there were less than ten. They've been springing up independently as coaches, seeing the success of these centers, set up their own. In particular there's been an influx of Chinese coaches who open up these centers. Nearly all of them have regular junior programs, leagues, etc. This is the most promising thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in a long time.

Turkey, Table Tennis, and Tong Tong

I've had several cases over the years of a student eating a turkey sandwich for lunch at a tournament, and getting sleepy afterwards. This is presumably because of the relatively high levels of L-Tryptophan in turkey. Now this is controversial - while there's no question L-Tryptophan can cause drowsiness, it supposedly only happens if given almost in pure form on an empty stomach. Regardless, I've had enough bad experiences with this that I warn all my students never to eat turkey during a tournament until they are done playing for the day. For example, I was coaching U.S. Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong at a tournament last year. He had a turkey sandwich for lunch. When he had to play soon afterwards, he complained of sleepiness, said he could barely keep his eyes open. I took him into the restroom to splash cold water on his face, and it helped somewhat. He struggled for a couple matches before he felt alert again.

How U.S. Tennis does it differently (better)

I've been a member of USTA for many years, and have had many discussion with tennis coaches and officials on how they developed their sport to their current 700,000 members. I brought much of this up for discussion at the USATT Strategic Meeting in September, 2009, but there didn't seem much interest in learning from other sports. In a nutshell, what does USTA (tennis) do well in the U.S.? They seem to focus on three core issues: leagues, junior & college programs, and the U.S. Open. The first two are where they get their membership; the Open is where they get TV coverage and sponsorship. (Over 90% of their membership comes from leagues.) These are the issues they harp on over and Over and OVER in their regular e-newsletters, brochures in the mail, and web page.

Before someone says "But that's tennis!" as if that sport naturally has more members, note that just about every country in Europe has equally large tennis memberships (as a percentage of population), and yet their table tennis associations invariably have even more members. For example, Germany and England have about 700,000 and 500,000 members in their table tennis associations, considerably less in their tennis associations - I forget the actual numbers, which I researched long ago, and wasn't able to find online just now. (Anyone have them?) Nearly all their table tennis memberships comes from leagues and junior programs. (Leagues bring in the bulk, but many of them started out in junior programs and then became long-term members.) I did some more browsing, and found that France has over 200,000 members in their table tennis association.)

What are table tennis's core issues? Other successful table tennis countries have found this to be leagues and junior programs. USATT (8000 members) focuses on tournaments, which simply doesn't bring in large memberships. It doesn't even attempt to bring in members through setting up leagues and junior programs, which is central to nearly every successful table tennis country in the world, not to mention nearly every successful sport. It doesn't focus on growing the Open or Nationals, which actually get less players now than in the past. (We've had over 1000 at the Open twice, and used to get 800+ at both. Now we can't even get 700.)

Multiball demo

Here's a nice multiball demo video (1:09) from the English Table Tennis Association.

The next ban?

Table tennis has already banned glue, frictionless pips, and 38mm balls. What's next? I noticed recently that ping-pong tables and rackets are made mostly of wood, which is ORGANIC. Who knows what leftover bio-materials permeate these bastions for disease? And wood is mostly made of cellulose, the primary ingredient in celluloid, and we know how dangerous that is. Plus we're killing off the rain forests. Wood must be banned before it completely destabilizes and destroys our sport. Cement tables and plastic paddles are the only way to go. I will alert ITTF.

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