Larry Hodges's blog

October 19, 2011

Secrets of the Quick Push and Punch Block

The quick push is where you push rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. A punch block is where you block rather aggressively and quick off the bounce. See the similarities? But it goes beyond that. In both cases, you use a short stroke; angle the ball or go at the opponent's elbow; make last-minute changes of direction to throw off an opponent; go deep on the table; keep the ball low; and focus on quickness and consistency. The shots are meant to force a weak return or miss. Many players are so focused on attacking that they never learn these more subtle but valuable shots. Placement is especially key - so many pushes and blocks go to the middle forehand or backhand that it's a crime. Or the shots are so passive that they put no pressure on the opponent, when of course every shot in table tennis should put pressure on your opponent in some way. Placement, depth, height, quickness, speed - these are all elements that make the shots effective. (The key differences are that when pushing, you also have backspin as a weapon, and can both load up the spin or vary it, and that when punch blocking, you can also use speed as a weapon.)

Match Analysis

Here's a video from the last World Championships between William Henzell of Australia (world #152) and Adrien Mattenet of France (world #31), with Henzell giving tactical commentary (10:25). Here's your chance to see how world-class players think tactically. Do you agree with his analysis? (Note - after posting this, I discovered that this was the same one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7. Oops. But enjoy it again!)

William's Journey to the Olympics

Since I belatedly discovered that the video above was the same one as one I posted in my blog on Sept. 7, I'm adding this new segment - William Henzell's Journey to the Olympics! Here's Part 1 (4:08),  Part 2 (6:26), and Part 3 (6:38). 

Attack letter

This is kind of funny, but mostly sad. Someone sent out a letter early this morning to a group of people in response to the satirical article a few days ago about Brad Pitt playing me in a movie based on the adaptation of my book, Table Tennis Tales and Techniques. (Here's the article, or see my blog the last two days.) The letter writer still believes it is real, even though I explained in my blog yesterday that it was a satire. He says he also sent the letter to the "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques" website, but I think he means the fake, satirical one at The Daily Quarterly that he still believes is real, not the real one, since I maintain that since it is my book. (And here it is!) As to The Daily Quarterly, I'm sure they took one look at the raving in the letter and put it aside. Or maybe they'll publish it for laughs.

The person, who for many years has been saying I shouldn't be in charge of anything (and far, far worse - he gets pretty nasty), and in fact got kicked out of a USATT Coaching Seminar I ran for USATT for yelling such things and refusing to stop (the USATT coaching chair kicked him out, not I), now attributes those words to the great Sol Schiff. He also writes, "Mr. Marty Reisman, late 60s, beat him in the US Open Hardbat Finals around 1998 and Coach Larry didn't have the backbone or the sense to put Mr. Reisman's photo on the cover of our magazine." To be accurate, it was actually in the final at the 1997 Nationals. Now, letter writer, you've been attacking me on this for years. So, one more time: I was USATT editor from 1991-1995, and from 1999-2007. I wasn't editor at the time of the match in 1997. I wasn't the one who chose the cover. I had nothing to do with it. But, of course, we've been through this many times, and facts don't seem to matter, do they?

Of course, this same letter writer once photoshopped me in a Nazi uniform with a Hitler mustache and sent that out to a large group of people, including the USATT board of directors and staff, claiming it was a school project.

But I did enjoy these parts of this morning's email: "If the movie was about the real Coach Larry, the man behind the curtain, the dirty, two-faced lying flat-sponge manufactures' operative posing as a journalist and couch and 'Hardbatter'--it would be a blockbuster, bigger than _ERAN BROKOVITCH...I've got the shrill characters." (I have no idea what that last part means. The ellipsis was the letter writer's, not mine.) And this: "There is no doubt that The Game is broken, thanks to the Coach Larrys."

Eating a ping-pong ball

Here are 31 seconds of someone actually eating a ping-pong ball. Bon appetite.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 18, 2011

The Brad Pitt Story - the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Yesterday I blogged about the upcoming move, Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques." It was all fake - but I didn't do it! I just played along.

Late on Sunday night I received an email from Richard McAfee, who had been table tennis surfing the net and found the story in The Daily Quarterly. I had no advance knowledge of this, and didn't know about it until I received Richard's email. Now readers, brace yourselves - The Daily Quarterly is a satirical website, like The Onion. Click on the "About" section at the top, and it says, "And for the few of you who found your way onto this site by chance, or couldn’t already tell, be advised: This is ALL SATIRE. Honest. If you have no sense of humor, you are wasting your time here." And just below that, it says, "Did we mention this is a SATIRICAL SITE?"

So no Brad Pitt movie. No great exposure for table tennis. No $3.5 million for me. Sigh. But I still love the poster

If you are angry at Brad Pitt for this, here's a video entitled "Brad Pitt Ping Pong" which shows Pitt getting hit by cars for three minutes and seventeen seconds. If you are angry at me for this, then buy a copy of the book that started it all, "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques," and use the wisdom of the book to learn to beat me in table tennis. All I have to do is sell about 700,000 copies and I'll get that $3.5 million.

The Fastest Serve in the World

A few days ago videos began to surface of a Japanese kid named Asuka Sakai demonstrating what appeared to be the fastest serve in the world. I was at first skeptical because I literally couldn't see the ball bouncing on his side of the table in the video. But here's a slow-motion version (1:04), which clearly shows that the serve hits both sides, and how he does it. The secret, of course, is lots of topspin to pull the ball down, with the difficulty being in creating the power needed for all that topspin and still having enough left over for speed.

I spent a few minutes experimenting with the serve this weekend, and could mimic it at maybe 2/3 the speed. (I may work on it some more later.) Note that while he seems to set up for a forehand serve, he actually hits it with his backhand side, which allows him to stroke the ball vigorously (that's an understatement), creating great speed and topspin. I can also do this serve with a regular forehand motion or a backhand motion, with lots of topspin, but I'm beginning to think the kid had it right - for this serve, you might need to use his backhand-from-the-forehand-side motion to get that much speed and spin.

Could this be a paradigm switch in the way players serve? Who knows. At the higher levels, top players will have little trouble reacting to the serve and at least blocking or stroking it back. But it might be too fast to loop back, and at the higher levels, a deep serve that isn't looped back gets looped. On the other hand, the serve is so fast that perhaps the server will have trouble doing the serve and then reacting in time to loop the next ball.

Neck Problems

After forehand looping for thirty minutes straight on Friday so a student could practice blocking, my back tightened up. Then, after a few more hours of coaching, my neck tightened up, and I could barely do forehand shots. It was like whiplash. I managed to survive my coaching sessions, and the neck is getting better, but I'm taking it easy today. I cancelled a two-hour practice session I had scheduled (not a coaching session, an actual practice session, since I'm getting back in shape), and have no other coaching today. Hopefully it'll be better tomorrow when I have more coaching scheduled.

USA Table Tennis Coach of the Year

Coaches, it's time to nominate the USATT Coaches of the Year. There are five categories: National, Developmental, Paralympic, Volunteer, and Doc Councilman. I was the 2002 USATT Coach of the Year, and I was a finalist three times for National Coach of the Year. (I wonder if this blog and TableTennisCoaching.com qualifies me for the "Doc Councilman" award? Hmmm....)

Table Tennis Drills in China

Here's U.S. Junior Champion, U.S. Team Member, and U.S. National Men's Singles Finalist Peter Li describing his training drills in China.

Ping-Pong and Pop Culture

Here's a short article on the headline above. (That's the problem with descriptive headlines - they give away the text. For now on maybe I'll just headline each item as "Something About Table Tennis.")

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 17, 2011

Tip of the Week

You must attack those steady deep backspin serve returns.

Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques"

Now it can be told!!! Here's the opening line of the article: "In a casting coup, Paramount confirmed that Brad Pitt, star of 'Thelma and Louise' and 'True Romance,' will star in next year’s film adaptation of 'Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.'" Here's the promotional poster they already created. (I had nothing to do with creating this.)

I've been dying to post about this for weeks, ever since negotiations began for the rights to my book, and yes, Brad Pitt will star in this adaptation as, ahem, me. (And as the article mentions, I made quite a bit of money from this deal.) This breaking news should be all over the Internet within a day or so. 

This will probably give U.S. table tennis the largest exposure in its history. Oh, and tonight I'm having dinner with Brad Pitt!!! (I think he wants to study how I talk and my mannerisms.) One other bit of hopefully soon-to-be-breaking news - Ron Howard has unofficially agreed to direct. (And here's where you go if you'd like to buy a copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.)

Visual tools are the best tools

Often the best way to coach a player is to show, don't tell. A new student of mine (an eight-year-old girl) was struggling to hit a proper forehand this weekend, and kept doing all sorts of extra motions that messed up her stroke. The wrist would lag back, she'd lift the racket tip up, she'd forget to backswing or turn her shoulders, she'd change her grip, she'd put her back foot in front, and so on - practically a "who's who" of classic forehand problems all rolled into one. These didn't seem to be any one overlying problem that led to all of these other problems; she just didn't seem to have control of how she swing the paddle, or any idea of what to do.

Then I noticed one of our top junior girls, a few years older than the one I was coaching, training with another coach. So I had my student watch the top junior, and mimic her shot. Now I'd already demonstrated a proper forehand over and Over and OVER for my student, even calling over another player so we could demonstrate it properly, but to no avail. But seeing another girl a few years older doing it seemed to click with her, and soon she was mimicking the shot almost perfectly. Bingo!!!

Physical Training for the Table Tennis Player

Here's a nice recent article by Stellan Bengtsson on, well, see title above.

Backhand Tomahawk Serve

Here's a nice example of the backhand tomahawk serve (0.38), as done by Kenta Matsudaira of Japan, world #39 (and formerly #29), the 2006 world junior boys' champion, who is known as having among the best serves in the world.

European Champion Timo Boll

Timo Boll of Germany just won the European Men's Singles Championships over teammate George Baum in an all-lefty final. Here's the video (11:40), with all the time between points edited out. Here's an article on the event, which Boll won at 7,-6,3,7,8.

Thirty minutes of non-stop looping

There should be a rule that 51-year-old coaches should never have to forehand loop continuously for thirty minutes straight during a lesson so a student can practice blocking. I did, and I paid for it with my back, neck, and shoulder. I'm almost recovered now. (Note to John, Kevin, and Deapesh: this was probably why my neck stiffened up during our sessions on Sunday. The actual looping marathon was during a Friday lesson.) 

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 14, 2011

The Falkenberg, 2-1, and Backhand-Forehand-Forehand drills

Okay, these are all names for the same drill. It was made popular at the Falkenberg club in Sweden by 1971 World Men's Singles Champion Stellan Bengsston. It's almost for certain the most popular footwork drill in the world among top players because it covers the three most common footwork moves in table tennis - cover the wide forehand, cover the wide backhand, and step around forehand from the backhand corner. How do you do the drill?

Your partner hits two balls to your backhand, then one to your forehand. You take the first with your backhand. You step around and take the second with your forehand. Then you move to the wide forehand and take that with your forehand. Then repeat.

There are many variations. You can start the drill off backspin with a loop, then continue. You can either hit or loop the forehands or backhands. You can do the drill to your partner's backhand or forehand. You can have free play after a certain number of repetitions, such as after three (nine shots). Or use your own imagination and make something up. Or just use the basic standby, as described above, as most do.

Here are four new articles/videos from PingSkills

Table tennis tips

Here's a listing of 60 table tennis tips  ("Lenisms" from Len Winkler) that will propel you to international stardom, or at least to beating that hated rival of yours at the club.

Jorgen Persson vs. Werner Schlager

Great footage from the ongoing European Championships in Gdansk-Sopot, Poland, with the breaks between points taken out so it's non-stop action (3:28). There is lots of coverage at the ITTF European Championships page.

Zhang Xielin, "The Magic Chopper"

Here's vintage footage of the famed Chinese penhold chopper from the 1960s (3:18). He was infamous for beating the Europeans (often with weird sidespin chops) while losing to his teammates.

Robots playing table tennis

In my blog on Tuesday I linked to articles and pictures of robots that actually play table tennis, invented by a Japanese company. Here's the video (1:40)!  Its footwork and shoulder rotation on the forehand need a lot of work - and that is not a legal serve.

What the heck is this?

I don't know what this is, but it seems to be something to do with table tennis, and it's on sale at Ebay. All real table tennis players should own one of these whatever they ares.

Non-Table Tennis - Capclave SF Convention

This weekend I'll be at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention in Gaithersburg, Maryland - which this year is held about 1.5 miles from my club, the Maryland Table Tennis Center! Because I'm coaching much of Friday and Sunday, I can't attend much those days, but I'll be there all day on Saturday.

I'm moderating a literary panel Saturday at 1PM on "When Characters Threaten to Take Over," which is about what writers should do when writing and a character "refuses" to do what you want it to do and seems to take on a life of its own. (It's happened to me many times.) I'm also doing a 30-minute reading at 3PM - I'll be doing my annual "Larry Hodges Over-the-Top Humorous Flash Story Reading," where I'll be reading three of my published flash stories. (Flash stories are under 1000 words long, about four pages double spaced.)

Here's a link to my Capclave bio and schedule. I'm also bringing John Hsu, a local 17-year-old table tennis player (2255 rating) who I've been working with on creative writing - we're working on a zombie story together. He's attending the 10AM writer's workshop with Allen Wold. This will be his first SF convention - heaven help him. If we can find a ping-pong table at the hotel, we'll be hustling people for spare change.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

 

October 13, 2011

My books

It has come to my attention that some of you have not yet bought copies of my books. Buy a copy of my book today or I will choke this coach to death.

The hard-soft drill

One of the best drills for developing a forehand or backhand smash is the hard-soft drill. (It really should be called the hard-medium drill, but that doesn't have quite the same ring.) On the backhand side, you just go backhand to backhand, with one player playing steady, and the other alternating between an aggressive ("medium") drive and a smash or near-smash ("hard"). You do the same on the forehand side. This leads to much longer and more consistent rallies than if one player just smashes every ball, plus the attacking player learns to hit at different paces. It's also a great control drill for the steady player, who learns to react to the different paces rather than just stick his racket out and blocking the same ball over and over. Note that you can also do this drill for looping.

The backhand loop in front of the body

Why is the backhand loop taken mostly in front of the body instead of to the side? I theory, you might be able to get more power if you turn sideways and took the ball off to the side and rotated into the ball, like on the forehand side, as players do in tennis. There are players who seemed to experiment with this technique, such as the Mazunov brothers from Russia and Grubba of Poland, but while they sometimes took it from the side, their primary backhand loops were also mostly in front of the body.

There are four reasons for this.  First, unlike tennis, you often have only a split second to react to the incoming ball. If you try to take the ball from the side on both the forehand and backhand, you simply won't have time for both. Since the forehand is naturally from the side, that leaves the backhand to be taken in front.

Second, if you took both the forehand and backhand from the side, that gaping hole in the middle would be the size of Texas. Opponents would attack the middle and you'd have great difficulty covering it.

Third, by taking the ball in the middle, it allows you to use the power from the waist and upper body as you uncoil up during the stroke. I don't know if this allows you as much more power than the torque from rotating the body, but it does give great power.

And fourth, because everyone else does it this way, and so new players copy them or are taught to do it that way. Who knows, perhaps someday someone will change table tennis by learning to backhand loop with great power from the side, overcoming the problems listed above, and revolutionize table tennis. Or perhaps not.

Receiving long serves with backhand

Here's an 18 second video that shows how to return a long serve with the backhand.

Victor Barna 1933

Here's vintage 1933 footage and narration of Victor Barna, five-time men's singles world champion, including a discussion and explanation of his technique.

Amy Lee plays table tennis

Here's an article that talks about the table tennis of Amy Lee, lead vocalist for the rock band Evanescence.

Steve Colbert on Beer Pong

Yes, here's Colbert on beer pong (4:19), including lines like, "Beer pong gives you herpes. Hell, ping pong gives you crabs." I have no idea what that last part means. The beer pong bit starts about 30 seconds in.

Non-Table Tennis

My fantasy story "Mirror My Love" is the feature flash story for this week at Quantum Muse. (Here is my science fiction & fantasy page.)

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 12, 2011

The most under-used serves

Do you see a pattern?

  • The most under-used short serve: no-spin to the middle. This cuts off the wide angles, is difficult to push heavy or push short, and if served low (very important), is tricky to flip aggressively. The opponent has to make a split-second decision on whether to return it forehand or backhand, which is sometimes awkward even against a slow, short serve. It is especially effective if mixed in with backspin serves. Ideally serve so the second bounce, if given the chance, would bounce just short of the end-line.
  • The most under-used deep serve: fast no-spin to the middle (opponent's elbow). This is the receiver's transition point, and if you serve fast there, he has little time to react. By serving a dead ball - actually a light backspin so it's dead when it reaches the receiver after two bounces - the opponent has to generate his own power while rushing. Result? Mistakes galore. If used two or three times a game, this is a free point about half the time against players rated under 2000, and it can be pretty effective against stronger players as well. It's best used against someone who receives both forehand or backhand. Don't use it too often against a forehand player who is looking to loop the serve - against this player serve fast to the corners.

Doing the journey and heavy backspin

Once again while coaching yesterday "doing the journey" was one of the most interesting things for new players learning to serve with sidespin. What is "doing the journey"? For a righty, you place a box or other target on the far right corner of the table. (Where a righty opponent's backhand would be.) You have your player stand by his forehand court on the right. Then he serves a forehand pendulum serve so it bounces on his backhand court (on the left), goes over the net and bounces on the far left court, then curves to the right and hits or goes into the box. After his lesson was done, one kid spent roughly forever practicing this. (He made several, had lots of close calls.)

Another good exercise is to practice serving backspin so the ball comes back into the net. When first learning to do this, it helps to serve high. As you get better and better you can serve it lower and lower. One key thing to remember is that this is practice in learning to put backspin on the ball. In a real game, the "ideal" backspin serve would drive out a bit more, so that (if given the chance) the second bounce would be near the end-line, and that it would then bounce off. But it's great fun to serve slow, heavy backspin, and watch the ball practically slam backwards into the net!

European Championships

The European Championships (Oct. 8-16) are taking place, and you can watch it live! (Well, you can watch it live while play is actually going on.)

Lots of videos

Here's a whole bunch of videos I saw posted somewhere a while back. Take a look - lots of good stuff!

"Green" ping-pong

The new Spin Galactic paddles - translucent green! (And you thought this was going to be something about Kermit the frog, who, in case you didn't know, has eyes made from ping-pong ball halves - see second sentence.)

Marty Reisman Music Video

Yes, a Marty Reisman Music Video! Okay, it's actually the music video for “Superpowers” by Anthony Cruz featuring Julian Diaz. Marty shows up at 2:44 in this 4:45 video, and stays around for 36 seconds. (What, you don't know who Marty Reisman is? Shame on you! He's the one in the white hat.)

The first sponge - Hiroji Satoh in 1952

And while we're on the subject of Marty Reisman, here's vintage footage and narration by Marty and others on the first sponge player - Hiroji Satoh at the 1952 Worlds (4:01).

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 11, 2011

How's your backhand?

You need to dominate with your backhand as well as your forehand, and you can't do that unless you have a (drum roll please) dominating backhand. There are basically five ways you can do this. Which are you? Or which are you striving for? You can - and should - be able to threaten your opponent with more than one of these.

  • Backhand block, where you take every ball quick off the bounce and hit at wide angles and to the opponent's middle, rushing him into mistakes. You can do this either as a "wall" who tries to never miss, or as a more aggress "jab-blocker." This requires fast reflexes. 
  • Backhand counter-hitting, where you get into fast counter-hitting rallies and keep hitting hard and consistently until the opponent misses. This requires fast reflexes and timing.
  • Backhand hit and smash, where you mostly take the ball at the top of the bounce and hit most shots very hard, often threatening to kill every shot. This requires great timing.
  • Backhand loop from off the table, where you control play with heavy topspin from a few feet off the table. Some do this very aggressively, others with a slower, spinnier loop. This requires very good positional footwork, both side to side and in and out.
  • Backhand loop over the table, where you take the ball right off the bounce, over the table, with quick backhand loops that the opponent struggles to react to. This requires great timing.

Wang Liqin's forehand and recovery

You can watch this 9-second video of China's Wang Liqin - arguably the greatest player in history (see his Wikipedia entry) - either for the fun of it or to study his forehand technique. He's hitting it inside-out, so the ball has some sidespin breaking to the right. To me the most impressive part is his recovery - see how fast he's ready for the next shot if the ball comes back. This is where most player wannabes fail as they make a great shot, but are not ready for a follow-up. At the higher levels, you have to be able to do multiple power shots.

Throw angle

Throw angle is one of those lesser understood terms in table tennis, but is basically how high an angle the ball comes off the racket. Here's a good explanation.

Greatest backhand loop in history?

Jan-Ove Waldner says it's Jorg Roskopf's, and here's why. Includes a 7:44 video.

Real table tennis robots

A lab in Zhejiang University in China has designed robots that can rally in ping-pong, tracking the ball and stroking it back and forth. Here's a more extended article about it that doesn't have pictures.

Marty Reisman monologue

Here's Marty talking to the crowd before his Hardbat Doubles Open semifinal match at the 2004 USA Nationals (1:07). Hilarious.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 10, 2011

Tip of the Week

Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves.

Mikael Andersson at Lily Yip TTC

Asif Hussain emailed me about a clinic held last week at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey. With Asif's and Lily's permission, here are excerpts from his email.

Mikael Andersson, ITTF Director of Education and Training along with former Chinese National Team member and coach Zhen Yu San came to Lily Yip's club for a one-hour free coaching class.  I of course got caught in traffic and missed the first half hour so I'm not sure what happened in the first half.  When I got there, Mikael was wearing street shoes, jeans, and jacket and walking around the court with a microphone.  Tina Lin (2200) and Michele (13-year-old around 2000) were doing drills with Mikael directing the drills and providing his observations.  The rest of the club members stood around the court and took in his information.

The girls were doing a countering drill involving both FH and BH, then played a single game to 11.  For the game, Mikael added a point to a player's score in case she made an exceptionally good play (even if the ball missed as he wanted to reward/reinforce the idea of the right shot selection or good/smart play.)  He also deducted a point from a player's score if they made a poor choice (e.g., pushing a ball back that was deep enough to be looped.)  Some of his points:

  1. Coaches should encourage randomness in drills
  2. Far too many players, even at very high levels only attack cross court.  Need to attack to wide FH, wide BH, and most importantly into the body (elbow or pocket.)  If your previous attack was to wide FH, next attack should be to elbow or wide BH.  Don't attack to same location more than once.  Wide means that the ball should cross the opponent's sideline.
  3. Your attacks should land deep on the table or close to the sidelines (in case of wide attack.)  Loops that land short can be crushed or angle blocked easily.
  4. You need very active feet, always move to the ball even if its a very small step.
  5. Always think to attack a serve.  Attack any long serve, even if it is half long.
  6. Push short (backspin) balls right off the bounce.  Push either short so it can't be attacked or push fast and deep.  Any other type of push gets killed.
  7. Move in with your body/leg to push (don't stretch out your arm as you lose control over the ball), then immediately move back out.
  8. Vary your serves in terms of spin and placement.  Need loose wrist and racket speed.  Know what type of return is likely based on your serve and be ready for your 3rd ball accordingly.
  9. On returning serve, you should stand far enough back that when you stretch your arm, the tip of your racket should touch the edge of the table.  This allows you to handle deep serves and allows you to move in to handle short and half long serves (easier to move in to return serve vs. moving back.)
  10. When in ready position to return serve, racket should be pointed straight ahead (not towards your BH or FH) so that you can more quickly move it for either FH or BH return.

On serves to the short FH, he kept talking about technique to come in and push short using the FH.  I asked him about using a banana BH loop (flick) to return.  His response surprised me saying that he is not a fan of the BH banana loop.  After the coaching session I asked him privately about his response and my surprise as the Chinese (e.g., Zhang Jike, Ma Long, et. al.) are all using this technique very effectively. It turns out he had somewhat misunderstood my question.  A BH banana loop to him is when you loop with sidespin with an exaggerated banana shape/motion, which he said some European players use. The Chinese implementation of this technique requires a very strong core/upper body, forearm and wrist.  They tuck in their belly to create space, racket goes back towards this space with the elbow out/away from the body and the wrist is cocked back as much as possible such that top of racket is pointing towards their belly button.  They then uncoil over the ball, imparting mostly topspin and some sidespin.  You need to read location of the serve and very quickly move to the correct position to attempt this return.

Westchester Open in NY

I may write more about the tournament later. We left late on Sunday afternoon, while the tournament (and the Open) were still in full swing, so I don't have the main results. Here are some notes on things that came up while coaching.

  • When you have a lead, slow down, take your time, and protect that lead. Better still, expand on the lead. It's so easy to let up, and a 1% let up often leads to 100% loss. There are always going to be fluky points, so no matter how big the lead, a bunch of them can be lost to nets, edges, finger balls (kept happening this tournament!), etc. No lead is safe until you have made it safe by winning.
  • Especially at big tournaments, the background is very different on each side of the table, often with one side looking into a wall while the other is looking into the distance. So when you warm up, halfway through switch sides so you get used to both sides.
  • Want to start out playing well in your first match? Come early and warm up early and long, preferably with someone you are used to hitting with. I know this might sound hard to believe, but warming up actually gets you warmed up. And it worked for us - we were the first on the tables Sunday morning. Of course, this is no guarantee for success - nervousness or a hot opponent can overcome the best preparations. But you need to focus on the things you can control.

New "multiball" drills

I wrote in my October 5 blog about Cheng Yinghua's "Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill." I've now incorporated this type of drill into my coaching, with my own variations. For example, I may have the student/practice partner push the serve back, I loop, and they counterloop or block as I reach for the next ball. There are countless variations you can do rapid-fire, and they are very match-like. A side benefit is that they are great practice for the coach a well, who gets to start each drill off with a loop or some other shot.

Chinese domination of table tennis - good or bad?

Here's an article on whether Chinese domination of table tennis is good or bad for the sport, by Australian player, coach, and about.com table tennis guide Greg Letts.

Worn-out muscles on Friday

After coaching for 16 straight days, doing weight training three times a week, plus a number of training sessions on my own, my muscles finally hit the wall on Friday night. After losing two straight five-gamers to 2250 juniors who ran me all over the court, complete exhaustion set in. No, I didn't lose any more matches, but my next two matches, against lower-rated players, were sheer torture as the table corners seemed miles away, and the opponents took great glee in putting every ball to these distant corners. I finally got to "rest" this weekend while coaching at the Westchester Open, and hopefully the muscles will be ready for serious coaching later today, and that those table corners will have been moved back to five feet apart.

Do you know why table tennis is often called ping pong?

Here's a hilarious video that purportedly explains, well, see the title above (4:34).

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 7, 2011

Practice game serve rule

Ever gone out and practiced your serves, but then, as soon as you go out to play a practice match, you find yourself holding back on the serves because you're afraid of missing them? And so after spending all that time practicing serving spinier, or lower, or faster, or some new tricky serve, as soon as the game starts you go back to your old serving patterns?

Try the "two-fault rule" in some of your practice matches. All this means is that you are allowed to miss two serves per game without losing a point. This allows you to really push the limit on your serves, and so you can incorporate what you practice into your practice games. After all, they are practice games, right?

Yesterday's coaching highlight

I was coaching a new kid (about eight) in I think his third lesson. He would hit about five in a row and then smack a wild one that would miss. I challenged him to hit fifty forehands in a row. He said no way. The more I encouraged him, the more he insisted it was impossible. Then I tried reverse psychology and told him there was no way he could get fifty. He agreed he couldn't. (Dang, that usually works up to age ten.) Finally, I pretty much got him, kicking and screaming, to try to get fifty. After getting about thirty on the first try (his eyes went wide), he got fifty on about the fifth try. Later he did fifty backhands in a row.

How I spent my Ping-Pongy Thursday
And note that I'm working hard on my table tennis game and fitness not for tournaments - though that might happen - but to be a better coach when I'm hitting one-on-one, and to make it easier to do so, since it's a physically demanding job. And lo and behold, after a few weeks of this, I'm playing perhaps the best I've played in a decade.

  • Half an hour writing my table tennis blog.
  • One hour watching videos of a player I'm coaching at the Westchester Open this weekend.
  • Two hours of actual table tennis practice - I'm getting back in shape!
  • Four hours of table tennis coaching.
  • Forty-five minutes of weight training.
  • Ten-minute run around the neighborhood.
  • Five minutes shadow stroking.
  • Half an hour of stretching in three ten-minute segments spread throughout the day.

Westchester Open

I'm off to coach at the Westchester Open this weekend in Westchester, NY. If you're there, stop by and say hello. Better still, prove you are reading my blog by using the secret code - if you see me, say, "Pong long and prosper." Try not to feel too silly.

A Diplomats Ball with a lot of little balls

The Institute of International Education's Rocky Mountain Center marked the 40th anniversary of Ping Pong Diplomacy by making table tennis the focus of its 10th Diplomats Ball. Guests were told to wear formal attire with tennis shoes. Table tennis stars Marilyn Feinstein and Emad Hussain gave a demo, and the guest ponged it up for the evening.

Spectacular rallies

Here's 5:35 of spectacular rallies from ttCountenance. They have many more table tennis videos on their site - I just added them to the video links here.

JOOLA and The Brady Bunch

JOOLA now has a dedicated USA video channel on YouTube. And yes, JOOLA is all CAPs, since it's a German acronym - here's the story of how the department store Joossand in the city of Landau starting making ping-pong tables in 1952 and soon became JOOLA.

And now for a seemingly unrelated bit of trivia. In the animated sequel to TV show The Brady Bunch, called The Brady Kids, two of the characters were a pair of panda cubs named Ping and Pong! And now, just thinking about JOOLA's history and The Brady Bunch, the theme song to The Brady Bunch is running through my head:

"Here's the story ... of a store named Joossand ... which was making ping-pong tables long ago. All of them were great for ping-pong ... used by champions ... and by boys and girls.

"Here's a story ... of a city named Landau ... which had no ping-pong tables, none at all ... they were a city ... no ping-pong tables ... yet they were ping-pong prone.

"Till the one day when this company met this city ... and they knew that it was much more than a hunch ... that these two would somehow form a company ... that's the way we all became the JOOLA Bunch. The JOOLA Bunch ... the JOOLA Bunch ... that's the way we became the JOOLA Bunch!"

Virtual table tennis against invisible opponent

Who needs the hassle of ping-pong tables, fancy sponges, balls, table tennis clubs, or an actual opponent? Happinet brings you this new type of virtual table tennis at the Tokyo Toy Show 2011 (2:02, starts with a short commercial). It's Japantastic!!!

***

Send us your own coaching news!

October 6, 2011

Random drills

Random drills are among the most under-utilized drills in table tennis. Rote drills (where you know where the ball is going to go) are great for developing strokes and footwork, but in game-type situations, you don't know where the ball is going. So you have to train for that, and that means random drills.

As you improve and master the fundamental strokes, you should add more and more random drills to your practice sessions, but only at a pace where you can do the drill with good fundamentals. (If you go too fast and your strokes start to fall apart, you are practicing bad technique and should slow down the drill.)

Here are two important keys to doing random drills properly. First, focus on reacting to the incoming ball; don't try to anticipate. You want your first move to be the correct one every single time. If you find yourself moving one way and having to correct yourself to go the other way, you are anticipating since you are moving before you know where the ball is going. If necessary, slow the drill down until you can do the right first move every time.

Second, move to the ball and stay balanced. Some players react by reaching for the ball and go off balance. Keep the weight centered and step toward the ball, don't reach. Here's an article related to this, Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. And if you are looking to put together a killer practice session, then, well, here's an article called Killer Practice Sessions.

Beating higher-rated players in practice and tournaments

Tournaments and practice are different. Often a player challenges higher-rated players in practice, but can't beat them in tournaments very often. This is often a tactical thing, because the higher-rated player is literally more experienced at playing at that higher level, and so knows what to do in a close match. (It's also psychological because the lower-rated player is often more nervous for the simple fact that he isn't as sure of what to do as the other, more-experienced-at-that-level player.) What I've noticed is that you generally have to be able to challenge the higher-rated player in practice matches for about six months before you can challenge them the same way in a tournament. Many players lament about how they battle with specific players in practice but lose all the close games in tournaments. This is common, but all you have to do is stick with it, learn from the losses (and wins), and in about six months (sooner if you are a quick learner, longer if not), you'll start beating them.

Best thing I did to make coaching easy

Get in shape. There were times I dreaded coaching because it was so physically hard. Then I lost weight (196 to 173), started lifting weights three times a week, and began a serious stretching routine. Now coaching is much easier; physically I can play for hours now without major muscles strains or exhaustion. (On a completely unrelated note that I just want to put in there, I just noticed that the three students I'm coaching today are Justin, Jerry, and Jess. And I also have a pair of John's I'm working with. Lots of J's, and I won't even mention I'm a fan of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy. Maybe noticing these silly coincidences makes coaching more interesting and therefore easier.)

The Coca-Cola Move to the Beat 2012 Olympic Campaign

Coca-Cola and DJ Mark Ronson unveil the Move to the Beat campaign (3:01) in support of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which features table tennis player Darius Knight (member of English national team), archers, and track and field athletes.

2009 USATT Strategic Meeting (and Task Force Minutes)

Several people have asked me why I seem so angry over the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting. After all, the meeting was two years ago!!! The answer is two-fold. First, while the meeting was two years ago, the things they claimed they would do - in vague terms that they claimed were all that was needed - predictably didn't happen, and so two more years have gone by without implementing anything. (And yes, I still have vivid memories of being surrounded by table tennis leaders congratulating themselves for such a great meeting and telling me how wrong I was to think we actually needed real goals and implementable plans to meet those goals.) Many slogans were created, vague priorities were set, and task forces were set up to achieve these vague priorities. Of course nothing has come of this.

HOWEVER - and this is the key thing, the most important thing - the 2009 Strategic Meeting was a tipping point for USATT. We had a relatively new group of USATT leaders, and the future of USA Table Tennis was in the balance. Would it break from the past and begin to do the things necessary to grow our sport? Unfortunately, a few people almost single-handedly tipped USATT right back into its old habits of half-measures and clutching at failed methods while ignoring what actually works. We had a great opportunity to change the momentum of the organization, but now that it has once again set its direction, it's very hard to change that. It won't happen unless and until USATT leaders are willing to put aside everything that happened at that meeting and start fresh. Until then, USATT will continue its meandering stroll through the garden of mediocrity.  

Go to the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting summary, and decide for yourself if it was worth bringing in 30 table tennis leaders and organizers from all over the country for two days to come up with all these slogans and vague priorities. Do you think the time would have been better spent creating goals and programs to reach those goals? (Note - the summary incorrectly names Ashu Jain as the chair of the junior task force, but he actually turned it down, and David Del Vecchio was the chair. The junior task force has since been dissolved - see July 01, 2011 USATT board meeting. Here is the current list of USATT Committees and Task Forces.)

Did any of these task forces accomplish anything? Nothing was implemented over the past two years from the Junior Task Force or the "Grow Membership Through Added Value" task force. If they ever met and created any plans, they didn't follow USATT bylaws (bolded "task force" is mine):

"Section 9.10. Minutes of Meetings. Each committee and task force shall take minutes of its meetings.  The approved minutes must be published within thirty (30) days of completion of the meeting."

No minutes of any meetings were ever published. I pointed this out to various USATT officials a number of times over the past year, and USATT actually sent a note to committees and task forces asking them to post these minutes.  Here are the USATT minutes. See if you can find the minutes of any USATT committee or task force meetings at all, other than one for the Hall of Fame Committee meeting listed on "December 20, 2011" (they mean 2010) - and they are not actually a USATT committee. 

The Cat without a Bat in a Tub with a Ball

Yes, here's 46 seconds of a cat playing with a ping-pong ball in a tub.

***

Send us your own coaching news!

Syndicate content