Rising Tide

March 19, 2014

Successful Clubs Build Each Other Up

I've often blogged about the best thing happening in U.S. table tennis right now - the rise of the full-time training center. There were about ten in 2006; now there are 67 in my listing, with another one about to join the list once I get their website. (Email me if you know of any that I'm missing.) One of the huge results is the number and depth of our elite juniors, which are better than anything we've had in the past - and it's not even close.

However, one of the consistent criticisms of these training centers is that they hurt other clubs. After all, a part-time club can't compete with a full-time club, right? And a full-time club will be hurt if another club opens up nearby, right?

Actually, the answer to both of these questions is a resounding NO. Successful clubs build each other up. In fact, often the best thing that can happen to a part-time club is if a full-time center opens nearby, and often the best thing that can happen to a full-time club is if another full-time club opens up - perhaps not next door, but in the region. It might lead to a temporary problem as you lose a few players, but in the long run the club gains. 

Why is this? People worry too much about the competition for current players. This is similar to the arguments made so often in the past that there aren't enough players (read: current players) to sustain more than a few full-time clubs. What they didn't understand is that a successful club develops its own players. It only helps to have another club developing these players, i.e. increasing the market for your club.

Similarly, when a successful new club opens, it develops its own players. Sure, at first it might take a few current players away from the current club. But this is offset by the new ones it creates, some of whom will end up playing at the other club. Table tennis is not a zero-sum game, though many have a hard time getting out of that thinking.

What happens when more clubs open is they develop a table tennis community, with many players playing at multiple clubs. When a "rival" club opens, some of the players they develop will end up playing in your club, as well as in your leagues, tournaments, and coaching sessions. There's a synergy when multiple clubs all develop players and the table tennis community grows bigger and Bigger and BIGGER!!! All the clubs grow and prosper, except perhaps for really badly-run ones that make no effort to improve.

More clubs also forces clubs to improve to better compete to develop, keep, and attract players, leading to better clubs. This is better for everyone. 

Is this all theoretical claptrap? No, it's from actual experience. For example, the part-time Potomac TTC has been around since the 1980s. It was successful before the Maryland Table Tennis Center opened in 1992, about 20 minutes away. It's now even more successful as result of the many players developed by MDTTC that now play regularly at both clubs. (Many train at MDTTC and play matches at both clubs.) There are also full-time clubs opening up all over the San Francisco Bay Area (12 of them now) - but I don't know of any part-time ones closing down because of this, though a few have instead gone full-time. (I'm sure there are exceptions, but they are exceptions, not the rule.) And the result of all the new training centers in the Bay area is they now have a successful table tennis league, with players from both the full-time and part-time table tennis clubs competing. The same thing is happening in the LA, NY, NJ, and MD regions, and probably others.

How about full-time clubs opening up near each other? For many years MDTTC had the luxury of being the only full-time club in the region, and one of the few in the country. In recent years four others have popped up within a 30-minute drive: Washington TTC in Gaithersburg (about five minutes away), Club JOOLA in Rockville (20 minutes away), Howard County TTC in Ellicott City, and the Northern Virginia TTC in Chantilly. Have we lost any players to them? Not really. But we've gained from players from those centers who often come to our club to train and to compete in our leagues and tournaments. We've prospered from their players coming to our club, and they have prospered partly because of the table tennis community MDTTC built up over the years, and which they are now enlarging.

Don't believe it? MDTTC was a 5000-square foot facility during most of its history. It doubled in size to 10,000 square feet two years ago. It was done partly to keep the club competitive both among local clubs and with other large clubs in the rest of the country, but the larger local TT community helped make it possible. 

Sure, there's competition for the top players between clubs, but that's more for prestige than anything else. (And the more successful ones mostly develop these players on their own rather than rely on the current ones.) The clubs with the better coaches and facilities might get more of the elite players and juniors, but that's not the primary source of revenue for a club, which comes from the average player - and those numbers only go up when more clubs open up.

I'll finish with a famous quote: "A rising tide lifts all boats."

The Two Shoe Salesmen

Here's a great instructional story that was pointed out to me by Bruce Liu. There's no table tennis in it; it's about two shoe salesmen and their differing reactions to a country where nobody wears shoes.

How does this relate to USA table tennis? Relative to the rest of the world, few players play seriously here with our 8000 members, compared to the hundreds of thousands in European countries and millions in some Asian countries. One type of person says, "Nobody here plays table tennis," and thinks that means it's a bad market for table tennis. The other type of persons says, "Nobody here plays table tennis!" and realizes it's an untapped market and a "glorious opportunity."

Unfortunately, too many in our sport think like the first person, including many of the leaders. Many of them simply do not have experience in how table tennis can grow, and so (consciously or subconsciously) continue to support the status quo. You can tell which ones they are - they are the ones who do the little things for the sport, and proclaim it from the highest hills, while avoiding the big things - like growing the sport in this untapped market. They just don't see the glorious opportunity.

Want To Be the Voice of Table Tennis?

Here's the link to the new ITTF contest. "Do you love Table Tennis? Do you fancy yourself as a commentator? Would you like to travel to the biggest events on the planet? If the answers are YES, you might be the new Voice of Table Tennis that we are looking for! 1 lucky and talented winner will join us in Tokyo as a commentator for the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships, happening 28 April to 5 May 2014! The winner will also join the ITTF Team as a commentator on the World Tour." Deadline to enter is April 1. (This is NOT an April Fool's Joke!)

Jack Wang Impressive at Cary Cup

Here's the article on the 13-year-old from New Jersey.

International Articles

Here's my periodic note about all the great daily international articles at Table Tennista and at the ITTF News page.

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are the pictures!

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