The world of table tennis is filled with people taking a leap of faith into the unknown. Former professional table tennis player Stefan Feth is one of them. The German ended his active career in 2006 and moved to the USA in order to help establish and develop the sport in America. How has the Butterfly coach been? Find out in our exclusive interview.
Q: About yourself, how long have you been working in the US and what are you doing exactly?
I stopped my career as a professional player in 2006. During my career, I played for TTC Karlsruhe Neureut, TTC Zugbruecke Grenzau & TSV Schwalbe Tuendern in the 1. Bundesliga, and the German National Team from 1991 as a Cadet until 2005 as a member of the Men’s Team. I started my coaching career when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in May 2006 and I’ve lived here ever since. When I first moved here, my goal was to bring up a new generation of players (starting with kids from 6 to 10 years old) who can compete against the best in the world in their later years. Many of these young players from my original batch in 2006 are now US Cadet, Junior and Senior National Team Members. As their coach throughout these years, it’s been very rewarding for me to see them develop into successful players now and be able to realize my initial goal from 2006 into reality in 2014.
With growing interest and demand for high quality training, we formed the World Champions Table Tennis Academy (WCTTA), www.tt-champions.com. Along with Nan Li (former US Women’s National Team Member) and her parents, Li Zhenshi and Zhang Li (both 4x World Champions as well as former Chinese & US National Team Coaches), we joined the Top Spin Table Tennis Center (ITTF Hot Spot Training Center) and now train out of Bay Area’s first full time table tennis facility in San Jose, California.
At WCTTA, our coaches teach private 1:1 private lessons, group trainings and have training camps in the Summer and Fall. Along with our local students, we attract players from around the world to participate in our camps, or train with us 1:1 trainings and group trainings while they stay with us extensively for up to 3 months at a time.
Q: What gave you the idea of moving to the USA and how much time do you still spend in Germany?
I played my first US tournament in 2001 at the US Open in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and really liked America since. After this special tournament, I came back over the years and played many tournaments after and made many friends in America. During this time as a professional player in Germany, I still kept in touch with my US friends. In 2004 & 2005, I was invited to help train 2 youngsters at the time (Ariel Hsing & Lily Zhang) during my off season from Germany. At that time I knew there is potential for the sport in America and made a decision in 2005 to give up my playing career and take the risk to move to the US to become a full time coach. At that time no full time training facilities in the area existed and no organized training in the way I was brought up was available.
With my move here, I was able to teach the young and nowadays very accomplished Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and the new up & coming Prachi Jha, Kanak Jha and Kunal Chodri since the very beginning. Remembering back when these kids were beginners to world class players now in their age groups has been a very full-filling journey for me as a coach… I have learned a lot and developed professionally as a coach over these years.
I spend the majority of the year at WCTTA in San Jose and in addition I travel with the US Men’s team to tournaments and training camps. My time is limited but I try to visit my family in Germany once a year.
Q: What does your daily work look like?
Q: What are your long-term goals?
To be able to promote table tennis in America and one day have it grow into a mainstream sport in USA. To continue to help elevate the overall level in the US and one day hopefully through the popularity of the sport, there will be enough support for the game to have professional players competing for USA full time and on the world class level as seniors/adults.
Q: How do you perceive the development of american table tennis?
Like anything else, anything worthwhile takes time to develop. US has many talented players and some high quality training facilities, world class coaches and training partners already. It’s the infrastructure within the sport that needs time to develop. 2 things that are missing in the sport in America is bringing table tennis into schools, starting with elementary schools where it’s apart of their PE classes or offered as an extracurricular activity. The 2nd thing is a career as a professional player and the money in the sport. There needs to be corporate sponsors that are interested to invest in the sport and through their support, be able to develop full time players that could potentially earn world class results on the adult/senior level. These full time players need to be paid for nothing else but to train & compete in table tennis, this would be the only way for them to be able to play competitively on the international scene… and in return one day, earn very good results for Team USA and further popularize the sport & professional career path.
Many kids start the sport in Germany because they have stars to look up to. When I was a kid I looked up to Rosskopf and Fetzner as they became World Champions in Doubles in 1989 in Dortmund,Germany. Nowadays Timo Boll and Dima Ovtcharov are the players that inspire kids to take interest in our sport. Additionally, there are also many high caliber ITTF tournaments and professional league play throughout the year across Germany & Europe, where young kids & families are exposed to. Much of this is still missing here in USA, but more and more kids pick up the sport now because of the growing number of full time training centers in the country. My guess is that we have around 100 full time TT facilities (with the number expanding every month).
Q: What is the image of table tennis in the US?
Funny thing is that quite a few Americans do play the sport, but more recreationally and as a hobby. So the sport is mostly known as “ping pong” or many Americans call it the “basement game” where they play casually with their family & friends in their basements. When most people see the sport playing on a professional level, they are more than amazed… but this exposure right now is lacking… but it is growing.
Q: Which players should we look for in the future?
Currently the US has many promising young players who are committed to the sport and willing to go beyond the usual.
We have some extraordinary talents in the cadet age on the rise and just to name a few below… but there are many more kids out there who have the potential to make a step onto the world stage.
- 14 year olds Kanak Jha & Kunal Chodri from the World Champions Table Tennis Academy (WCTTA)
- 12 year old Crystal Wang & 13 year old Derek Nie from Maryland TTC
- 15 year old Allen Wang from Lily Yip TTC
- 14 year old Krishnateja Avvari & 11 year old Nikhil Kumar from India Community Center
- 13 year old Victor Liu from Silicon Valley TT Club
- 13 year old Grace Yang from Gao Jun’s TTC.
Q: What are tournaments like, and how are clubs organized in the USA?
There are many tournaments in America. The very strange thing is that women also compete against men.
The biggest tournaments are the US Opens and US Nationals, these events are held on approximately 100 tables, between 500-800 participants in huge convention centers. Anyone and everyone can participate.
Since there are more full-time TT centers now, these centers themselves are also hosting tournaments at their clubs as part of their business income.
Full time TT Centers here are typically leasing a warehouse and remodel it into a TT facility and in return are making their income through memberships, drop ins/walk ins, coaching fees, equipment and food sales etc.
To find out more on Stefan Feth and his big projects, check out his website:
or on his official facebook page: