Player Profile – Mark Krotec
Mark Krotec has been one of the most energetic and innovative leaders in the Western PA pong scene. He started an informal Pittsburgh Oakland Table Tennis Club in 2005 with only a couple of tables in the Central Catholic gym lobby, and has led its growth since then. It is now a 9-table, USATT-affiliated club located in East Liberty, with a satellite training site at CCHS. Mark serves as the president and coach of the POTTC club, and he continues to compete locally and in national tournaments. Mark continues to develop the region’s newer and younger players by holding coaching sessions and weekly training clinics, and he’s worked tirelessly to promote the POTTC and pong in general.
When did you start playing, and where?
My dorm at U. of Penn had 4 nice tables in very visible, high traffic areas. I was enthralled with this fun game, though I had no idea how to play. Slowly, I taught myself, and made the traveling club team as a junior and senior. I found it to be a fun, lifetime sport to complement all the other sports I was playing. And we could play at any hour!
Who were some of your greatest influences as you progressed?
In Philly, a fellow student named Peter Dunn was a great model. He was a technical machine and good organizer. When I came home to grad school, a whole new world awaited. The Seemiller club, and Pitt, provided real competition, and the guys were great and so generous. Stan Carrington, Gary Egri, Chip Coulter, Dan Seemiller, etc. They were just awesome. I should have actually been formally coached, I think I could have been really good with my athletic ability. Very bad decision on my part, but I was a hoops junky. Had the attention span of a gnat. Most recently, Chip Coulter has been a big influence, and Akbar Ormes is my technical guru. He is just crazy good at analyzing technique and performance.
How would you describe your playing style?
Preferably, I am an all-out attacker; two-wing looper and smasher. This leads to big shots, but often low consistency.
What players or styles give you the most trouble?
That’s easy to answer. I really struggle against slow balls and people who change spins and speeds frequently. Messes with my timing, which is geared to banging away.
Do you have any goals for your own personal game?
My goals have changed recently. As my body is feeling my age, I have become more aware of my limitations. I would love to increase consistency to the point where I can beat high-rated players, rather than just put a scare in them. Little frustrated by my close calls. My match anxiety has really hurt.
What have been you best or favorite matches?
I just love playing advanced players. It is so much fun to just play all out with no fear or anxiety. I only wish I could do this against my own level. I played great matches against very advanced players (2200-2500) Samson Dubina, Calvin Chang, Maciah Skolnick, Seth Pech, etc. Didn’t win, but won games in impressive fashion.
What is it about those crocs, anyway?
Akbar, Matt, and I found some rare footage of Shaolin priests playing pong in their temple. They were wearing flat sandals, and we engaged in a heated debate of kinesiology and biomechanics of footwork. This led to the decision to copy their technique, hoping to be one with the racket. Actually, it is a boring story. Bone growths near Achilles tendon attachment. Surgeon said long recovery from procedure, if pain too great, wear backless shoes. He said that he would opt to change shoes. They are a pain, and hinder movement, but I don’t need the surgery. I would love to wear tennis shoes again someday.
As a coach, what advice to you have for new or even experienced players?
Learn the techniques first. Akbar and I really feel that players do themselves a huge disservice by wanting to play games early in training. Bottom line: they go back to old, comfortable habits instead of reinforcing proper technique. This is such a hard sell to players, but critical. Multiball until strokes are ingrained. My other advice is the same old adage: learn to move and use legs in every shot.
Tell us about why you started POTTC, and what the first year or two was like.
Some of my high school students said that they heard of a club and HS league that I ran in the 1980’s. They asked me to start again, and I figured it was time for me to retire from hoops and take up a lifetime sport. So I opened my school club and then invited some adults and students from CMU and Pitt. This led to an informal small club which began to expand. It was really obvious that this sport could use a club in the city, and in location amenable to the college/grad audience. CCHS is ideally located, and we can serve the colleges and city well. We have since moved to nearby East Liberty, a growing community.
What are your plans for the club for the next few years?
- EXPAND!! We would really like to get all those Pgh players involved in some capacity. It is amazing how many players are in our list and in South Park’s list. If we could motivate 1/3 to ¼ of them to come on a regular basis, it would be an incredible boost to western PA pong.
- We would like to use a larger facility, and one that enables us to be open at least 5 days/week. This would allow us to improve our status and public perception as a sport, and could lead to much better recruitment of new and junior players
- We really want to promote the sport at the middle school, high school, and college level. We would love to start school leagues, as well as promotional clinics, to promote youth play. In any case, we would really appreciate any help in finding a viable multi-day facility. That would really get the ball rolling in this city.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start a table tennis club?
Find committed people to organize and participate. Sounds like a no-brainer, but can be the major roadblock. I would also advise them to talk to us at POTTC and to South Park to learn how to organize competition, promote, and obtain equipment. Jeff Pepper has a wonderful, multi-faceted rating program to help out organizing your competition. And Chip Coulter has been one of the greatest resources for the sport for decades.
Last, tell us a little more about yourself. Occupation? Hobbies? What else occupies your time and interest?
I spend most of my time teaching biology, writing science curriculum, doing educational outreach for things like BioE/Tissue Engineering. Other hobbies include cross-training and reading science fiction (hope to write a book someday). I am about to be a grandpa for the first time, and my wife and I can’t wait. My daughter lives a block away, so this should be a great hobby!
I would like to reach out to the entire Pittsburgh area, in hopes of promoting our sport. If you have any leads regarding a possible club site, new adult players, and especially junior players, please contact me. Would love to start a junior league soon.