Only in America

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. My guess, is that you do not think about Table Tennis right away? Instead you may let your mind drift away to flashy hotels, cabarets, entertainment and casinos. Let me tell you , a classic re-think might be more than suitable , at least for the one week of the year , usually mid December,  when the US Nationals in Table Tennis takes hold of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the nearby Hilton Hotel.

Table Tennis in the United States of America!? Welcome to a different world, far away from the comfort of organized sport European style. Estimated number of hobby players = twenty million! The number of USATT members and competitive players = 9800.  USATT budget = some 1.3 million dollars trying to cover everything and everybody. Room for improvement? = BIG.   Interesting market for the ITTF?  = You Bet!

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I am sure that the Convention center once was a state of the art facility. Could have been, judging from the outside look some forty years ago however.  Inside it is well… Fairly large to put it mildly.  With Vegas taking the one week of the year off, facilities for the championships are at no cost to the USATT, which is a good thing. On the other hand, promotion and connection to a local organizer is missing. Another Olympic Sport is by the way holding its National Championships in the same building;  Wrestling.

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It is my first visit to the US National Championships in Table Tennis. To be quite frankly, I have never been to the US Open, the other traditional meet for the fun and table tennis loving membership either. Got to say though, right away, that this was one of the more refreshing experiences in a long time. Hard to describe the feelings really, but heroes and passion are two attributes that comes to mind. Seven hundred and forty-three participants. Sixty nine events. Ninety tables and a four day competition. Organized chaos might be the best word to describe the whole event.

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Clearly it is like Dennis Davis, valuable member of the ITTF Junior commission, and the organizer of the World Junior Table Tennis championships in Palo Alto, 2007 said; “Get one of the more experienced ITTF Competition Managers in here and you will witness a complete mental breakdown”. On the other hand Dennis pointed out; “They got one thing right – the matches normally start on time”

Dennis is by the way one of my all time ITTF Global Junior heroes. I met Dennis for the first time in Santiago, Chile back in 2003. He was there as the coach for the US Junior Girls team and I as the Global Junior Program manager setting up the first ever ITTF World Juniors.  We can do this event in Palo Alto Dennis said, knowing very little about the serves coming his way. Four years later Dennis, with the backing of Anne Cribbs and the BASOC organization pulled of a small miracle by staging the 2007 ITTF WJTTC at Stanford University.

For those who doubted. For those who felt the pain of not having everything served on a plate back in 2007  ; We are  already seeing  the results of all the efforts and one of the best presented ITTF Word  Juniors ;  Growth and Recognition for our sport ; Table Tennis in the Bay Area is booming ! .  Dennis is still by the way active – coaching as hard as ever at this Palo Alto TT  club ;http://www.tabletennisgold.com/.

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Two tables out of the ninety are in a center court setting. When play finally narrows down the presentation somehow excels ,  but again an improved presentation and a better separation of the various events would help I am sure. It is hard, even for a trained table tennis observer, to figure this one out. Especially when the younger clientele is allowed to cross enter in some of the many rating events offered.

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Ever heard about the”hardbat” movement in the USA? Summary; table tennis without sponge.   Craziness the American way for sure. On the other hand it would be pretty exciting to see Jan Ove Waldner handle the hardbat – would it not? Got to love the 100,000 ESPN US Hardbat classic played last year and coming back in February 2011 .  Separated qualification brackets – Bar champions to Pros, all coming together in a handicap format in the end.  Check out the Video  – It’s show time – the American way !

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=iles/090924

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Held my fort by the way and completely stayed away from the poker tables and the flashy machines during my stay in “The Sin City “. Even better, I beat the Hilton sport book for 150 bucks on some NHL Ishockey. Well needed considering that a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel for breakfast will rip your wallet wide open in the morning. EIGHT dollars.. Thank You.

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New ITTF Racket Control rules clashing with reality. US board member and well known TT profile Christian Lillieroos was disqualified in the quarterfinals of one of the “master” events. “The racket controllers ruled my racket illegal due to flatness Christian said. I have played with the same racket for twelve years and had no spare racket – so that was it “

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One thing that you quickly realize when paying a visit to the US Nationals. The number of quality coaches operating in the country. USATT is estimating that not fewer than 40-50 coaches are working full time coaching players of various shapes, ages and form. The quality is steadily improving with a number of prominent Europeans breaking the Chinese domination. I chatted in length with Stefan Feth from Germany, the well travelled Italian mastermind Massimo Constantini and of course my old friend  ,  fellow Swede , Stellan Bengtsson that since some  years back is calling San Diego, California his home.

“I work the whole year around.  The local association is operating a club that stays open six days a week.  . The venue  is very nice and I can use it also for my private lessons. Most of our business is during the summer when we stage summer camps Stellan told me.   “You are what you are over here – a freelance coach. Your clients can be anything from a fifty year old dentist to some young and upcoming players , I just wish that some of the younger players could make up their mind and push harder to become better he said.

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The number of young players calling Table Tennis their sport is growing by the minute. Many club owners that I talked with are opting for expansion and more tables in order to accommodate new members. Northern California and the Palo Alto area is a hub with several clubs in full operation.  Best known by now, very much thanks to great results, in combination with good promotional and smart marketing skills, is the ICC club in Milpitas.  Head Master is Rajul Seth – a self driven table tennis enthusiast with great passion and vision.  In Las Vegas the ICC club collected titles and medals like nobody else. The total count; twenty three medals!

The web site ; http://www.indiacc.org/tabletennis and Facebook ; http://www.facebook.com/pages/North-America-ICC-Table-Tennis/130162363696647?v=wall

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Here are a few other interesting clubs looking for recognition  ;  Top Spin in San Jose, CA – The home of quality coaching , check out the excellent facilities  http://www.thetopspin.com/.   In Southern California close to  Los Angeles you will find the Gracelin Table Tennis clubhttp://www.paddleattack.com/ .  Had a look at some of their many youngsters competing in Vegas . Almost all of them looked good. Encouraging indeed.

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Another good story developing, another promising project; The Lily Yip Table Tennis center in New Jersey. They will open soon, offering   not fewer than twenty five tables in a newly renovated facility. The complete Yip family was by the way playing in Vegas. Good to see Adam Hugh back in the courts following a period off from table tennis due to school and injuries. London 2012 on his mind for sure . http://www.lilyyip.com/

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In many ways it is hard to describe the professional pride connected to the fact that many of the ideas we had back in 2003 , when the ITTF Global Junior Programme was introduced , actually is bearing fruit already seven years later. Here is what I think.  Both the ITTF Cadet Challenge and the ITTF World Junior Championships carries a continental component that guarantees exposure to young players from North America.  Ariel Hsing is a prime example. Lily Zhang is on the move. Erica Wu is an excellent young player. Success feeds success, that is a known fact very much driving youth development in the USA for the moment.  Held an interesting, well attended meet and greet with a number of parents to national team players juniors and cadets.   The main challenge is now to steer some of the ambition and energy towards international success.

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The winner of the 2010 US National Cadet title , thirteen year old Charles Deng from Houston , Texas was one the  first selections  for the ITTF Hopes Programme and 2009  ITTF World Hopes Team. The energetic lefthander has, since his first appearance on the international scene, played at least five to six high quality international events and trained with some of the best coaches in the world. Only this year we are talking some 50-60 days of international table tennis.  Well done and also hard work to juggle tough training hours and travel with a demanding school schedule.

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Eight year old Amy Wang battled her way to a spot on the 2011 US Cadet Girls Team. Imagine having seven years!!!  left in that category.  Anyway.. Be aware of this small dynamo that fired off backhand smashes down the line like I have never seen before.

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Another good battler, a crowd-pleaser, born to be a star, is the ten years old; Jha Kanak  from Palo Alto and a product of several club environments in the area. I can only see upsides with this” bounce ball”  of a table tennis player. Nice, clean technique and good overall touch makes him very, very interesting.  Try Google to find out more about him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpkkym_iPW0

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Always interesting to witness youth beating age in Table Tennis. According to the coaching education guru in US Table Tennis ;Mr  Richard Mcafee,  both final pairings in the Men’s and the Women’s singles featured the youngest players in the history of US Nationals. The Men’s champion Timothy Wang (what an improvement!)  is nineteen years old, his opponent in the final Peter Li, only seventeen.  In the women’s singles fifteen year old Ariel Hsing defeated the one year younger Lily Zhang in a thrilling final. Did I say that the future looks bright?

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I guess that I owe you the complete results ? Here they are http://www.usatt.org/tournaments/results.php?tournament=1

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Still with me ?! Well, then let me throw at least one good idea your way . It belongs to the THINK BIG category . Why not make a strategic decision to take a slimmed , and trimmed down version of  the Individual World Championships to the United States sometime soon  – lets say 2015 ?!. If mighty FIFA could do it with the World Cup in Soccer back in 1986 , not opening bids,  but allocating  by executive decision,   we can do it as well.

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The Times is Now !

With the Bright Future of US Table Tennis in Mind !

Mikael Andersson, ITTF Executive Director Education and Training

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11 Comments

Filed under ITTF Global Junior Programme

11 responses to “Only in America

  1. dennis davis

    Hi Mikael,

    Nice blog post! Thanks for the kind words and for your enthusiasm in vegas! BTW…Kanak Jha is from the Palo Alto Table Tennis Club and also trains with Stefan.

    Cheers and have a great Christmas,
    Dennis Davis

    • OK – Very Good.. A product of varoius training environments. Get the contract out !

    • BTW…Kanak Jha is from the Palo Alto Table Tennis Club and also trains with Stefan.

      Kanak is just amazing. We all in bay area should be proud of him. We are missing some more info on him. Very few people are aware that Kanak was introduced to table tennis, registered and trained only at ICC TT Center for first two years till 2008 with me. Than he also started playing at Palo alto club and with Stefan. Again in 2010 he started training at ICC (summer camps , group lessons, regular weekley private lesson & leagues). In preparation of Nationals he started two private lessons/week at ICC with Anol Kashyap & Tibor Bednar. He also registerd and worked really hard in ICC thanksgiving camp which was organised for Nationals preparation.

      • Hi,
        Although i like the competative spirit among coaches and operators – it is important moving forward that some kind of structured cooperation takes place between centers and coaches. Otherwise we will find ourselves in a situation with parents flipping around between private coaches as they like when the players are a bit more advanced. This is not good for the young players . The message needs to be the same in order to adress weak and strong points. Now i did meet the young Khanak already back in 2007 or 2006 in Dennis Palo Alto Group. I remember him well. However there are many other good players in the area that i am sure can be successfull.
        Lets see what we can do..

  2. J.O. Waldner is supposedly going to play in a hardbat competition on December 28th. So your wish may very well come true.

    http://www.pietridder.nl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1539:oud-olympisch-kampioen-jan-ove-waldner-grote-trekpleister&catid=43:overige&Itemid=58

    Hardbat is not really American. It has a following in many parts of the world including Europe. After all, it is essentially table tennis before sponge.

    This year’s field at the Nationals was particularly diverse and strong with neither of the last two Open and Nationals hardbat champions making it to the final round. The winner, Johnard Baldonado also won the Sandpaper (Yes, you read that right.) Open. Johnard is of Filipono ancestry.

  3. Mr. Andersson,

    Although I now live in Korea and umpired at the Youth Olympics in Singapore, I am a fine product of USATT and its umpire training. I was mentored by past and present ITTF Committee Members, and went through an intensive training program that prepared me diligently to become an ITTF International Umpire. Without the USATT, I would not have been as successful.

    The U.S. Nationals and U.S. Open are both great opportunities for umpiring a wide variety of matches, from hard bat doubles to men’s singles, from under 10 year olds to over 70 year olds. The popularity of table tennis is rising in the United States, and I know USATT will have strong umpires and referees to support it!

  4. Mikael,

    A very informative and well-written post. I was at the U.S. Nationals as well and would have enjoyed meeting you. The future does look bright for table tennis in the USA!

    I hope you will be back soon, maybe you will consider visiting us at the US Open in Milwaukee in 2011!

  5. Rajul

    “Although i like the competative spirit among coaches and operators – it is important moving forward that some kind of structured cooperation takes place between centers and coaches. This is not good for the young players . The message needs to be the same in order to adress weak and strong points”

    It is really good for players but also little tough task as there are 8-10 active centers and 25 coaches just in 10 miles radius competing directly with each other. Actually we faced this problem within our own center last month with different mesage to a student from two ICC coaches working with him.
    To avoide that situation we came up with mendatory morning meeting twice a week with head coach Massimo.

    Once Massimo comes back on Jan 27th I can try to arrange a meeting with all centers and coaches to discuss this important issue.

    You are right about watching Kanak in 2007 at Palo Alto as his first two years at ICC were 2005- mid 2007. Actually Dennis coached him at ICC Winter camp in 2005 as we invited him as a head coach to conduct our camp. Even Stefan coached him at 2006 ICC summer camp when we invited Stefan to conduct our summer camp as a head coach.
    I was so happy to see those old pictures of camps this morning.

  6. Karuna

    Kanak owes his techniques, attitude and sportsmanship to his primary coach Stefan Feth & Coach Zhang, Coach Li, Nan Li from World Junior Table Tennis Academy (WJTTA) and Dennis Davis from Palo Alto TT Club (PATTC). They are AMAZING coaches.

    We & some other people loaded few YouTube matches of Kanak at US Nationals. Check out one of them at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6So7jEzHuk

    Happy New Year 2011 everyone.

    Warm regards,

    Karuna
    (Kanak Mom)

  7. Mikael
    It has taken me a while to get to read the blog that you did. Very well written. Thanks for sharing the paradox of racket testing for a recreational player like myself. I participated at the World Veteran Championships in China last summer and it was no racket testing, but at the Over 50 as US Nationals we have random testing. I however played with the same racket later in another event and was tested again and this time it was fine 🙂
    As you have experienced and documented very well the sport in USA has its own life. The main component for why that is has to do with the non government influence especially financial in sports in USA that is very unique in the world. Sports pretty much have two choices to get money a) to get big sponsors by creating a media circus like American Football Baseball or Basketball. b) to get funds by activating the recreational masses and use the fees for improvement of the sport like Tennis is doing with USTA and Bowling as examples. USATT tries to do both but neither is successful. We do not have any significant sponsors and we neither attract the larger Ping Pong crowds as members of USATT. We use the majority of our very limited money collected from fees from our recreational members to fund our junior and cadet teams but have nothing left for anything else. If we could attract sponsors for about $200,000/year to pay for that, we could use that money to develop the sport much better. An ITTF World Championship in USA is very difficult to afford. If not sufficient sponsor support is obtained it could end up bankrupt USATT.
    High Performance athletes in USA has to pay all the expenses out of their own pocket because USA lacks any system for support of higher level Table Tennis athletes. They have to pay fees to play like anybody else and then they have to pay for private or group lessons. A good player could have up to pay $500/month for just their training then you need to compete on top of that. USA have no clubs in the way we think of it in Europe just places to play like a fitness club. The only environment in USA that supports high level players are the 2-3 colleges that supports table tennis on a scholarship and Athlete department level. That is where the most immediate potential for growth lies with High performance level athletes. They have organized group training like in Europe and have a tournament and league schedule participation that is paid for by the school. However it is only time for one session of training a day and it is not enough to be competitive on the world scene.
    Christian Lillieroos

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