July 14, 2011


  • Day Four
    We're in the middle (well, 30% in) of a two-week training camp at Maryland Table Tennis Center, Mon-Fri this week and next week. Coaches at the camp are myself, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and Sun Ting.
  • Knocking off cups
    We had a competition yesterday where I set up ten paper cups on the table, bowling pin fashion, and players were given ten shots to knock off as many as they could, with me feeding the balls mult-ball fashion. Whoever knocked off the most would win a free drink. Two players knocked off nine, and so they had a playoff. One kid again knocked off nine in the playoff. The second kid, Chetan Nama, had knocked off eight, and had one shot left. Then, with everyone screaming, with his last shot nailed the last two cups to knock off all ten and win a free Gatorade!
  • I'm a bad influence
    What else can I be when the kids at camp spent much of break time today playing with clipboards and my oversized racket. I take on challenges with these "rackets" during break, and now it's spreading like a disease.
  • Seriously Black Sirius Black
    I wore all black yesterday. I was quickly nicknamed Seriously Black Sirius Black. If you're an old fuddy-duddy (or more specifically, a muggle), and have no idea who that is, Google it.
  • Harry Potter
    Several of the kids are planning seeing the midnight showing of Harry Potter tonight, and still make camp tomorrow morning. That means they'll get to bed around 3AM. I look forward to working the sleepy little wizards wands, I mean rackets, off.
  • Actual table tennis stuff
    The focus yesterday was on backhand attack - backhand smash, backhand drive against backspin, and backhand loop. (How do you teach someone to attack a backspin? Tell them to arc the ball with topspin way off the end.) Today's focus is footwork - though as I'll explain, all table tennis is footwork.

Thoughts on grip

In general, I strongly recommend new shakehand players use a neutral grip, i.e. the thinnest part of the wrist should line up with the racket. This allows a natural stroke - the racket and the arm face the same way. If you start with a forehand grip (top of the racket tilts to the left for righties) or backhand grip (top of the racket tilts to the right for righties), it will probably mess up your stroke development. However, once your game is developed - say, 1800 level, where you can execute proper shots in a game consistently - some players switch to a forehand or backhand grip to enhance their game. There's nothing wrong with this. Timo Boll, #2 in the world and the best European player, uses a forehand grip, for example, and many top players use backhand grips to enhance their backhands, such as Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece, a former top ten player. 

Many kids have trouble gripping the racket "properly," putting their index finger almost down the middle, sort of like 1967 Men's World Champion Nobuhiku Hasegawa. While that worked for him, that type of grip tends to leave the racket less stable, plus the finger is in the way on the backhand. So I don't normally recommend this. However, many kids with smaller hands have trouble holding the racket with the index finger along the bottom of the blade. So I often compromise with them, with the finger someone up, but not straight up. For one thing, with a shorter index finger, it doesn't really interfere with the backhand. As they get older and bigger, the index finger naturally migrates down into a more stable position.

Another problem is many kids (and adults) hold the racket too tightly. The racket shouldn't be so loose that it moves around on its own, but it should be loose enough so that if someone were to grab the racket out of their hand, it would come right out. Any tighter and it means the muscles are too contracted to move naturally.

Funny ping-pong pictures

Yes, funny ping-pong pictures.


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Larry, the grip question is one that i'm currently dealing with in my own personal development. I see players like Kreanga who appear to be using a backhand grip in order to provide enough "torque" on the BH loop. But this grip seems very awkward on the FH side (at least to me). I seem to lose a lot of feeling on the forehand because the handle is seated more in the webing of the thumb where I have little feeling.

Conversely when testing out the FH grip, I seem to be at a bad racket angle to take my BH counter and I hit a lot of balls into the net. So I guess I'll compromise for now and stay with the neutral grip. My question for you: Is it common for high level players to switch grips within a point (i.e. go from FH to BH grip to execute a BH loop kill)? It seems like there wouldn't be enough time during a rally to do this.



In reply to by trackermike

Hi Mike,

Yes, Kreanga is a great example of a top player with a backhand grip - I should have listed an example, so as soon as I'm done here I'm going to edit my blog to add him. A backhand grip can be awkward on the forehand side if you try to loop the same as with a neutral grip. Typically, players with backhand grips loop a bit farther back in their hitting zone than other players. 

It's rare for world-class players to change grips in the middle of a point, but some do it. I'm told that Timo Boll does this, though I'm not sure. Waldner and some other players rotate the racket slightly in their hand by putting pressure on it with their thumb when hitting backhands so the racket does go into a slightly more backhand grip. There generally just isn't time. However, there are always exceptions; the question is not who else does it, but can you make the grip change naturally as part of your transition from forehand to backhand and vice versa? Unless it's a natural part of that, you don't want to change grips. In general, most coaches would say you shouldn't grip change. 

Confession: while I don't change grips during a point, I often change grips based on who I'm playing. I usually have a neutral grip, but in matches where I'm attacking all-out with the forehand, I sometimes go to a slight forehand girp, and when I'm playing an opponent who is looping everything, forcing me to block, I sometimes go to a slight backhand grip. 

Hope this helps!