February 24, 2015

Why Players Are Getting Better at Younger Ages

Yesterday I blogged about and linked to videos of 11-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto, the new Japanese sensation. And on February 13 I blogged about how much stronger the current USA cadets and juniors are than their predecessors. As noted there and in previous blogs, a primary reason for this (especially in the U.S.) is the rise of full-time training centers, where more and more kids are training full-time. This, of course, leads to more and better junior players (and ultimately better players).

But there's another reason why in recent years we're getting more and more prodigies, where kids compete on an almost even level with much bigger and older players. As I've blogged before, modern tensor-type sponges make looping much easier, practically shooting the ball out, where before players had to put far more energy into a shot to get the same result. So looping becomes both easier and more powerful than before - all the player has to do is supply good technique and timing, and the sponge does the rest, kicking the ball out with speed and spin that wouldn't be possible otherwise. In previous generations (in particularly in the '80s and '90s) this was mostly made up at the intermediate and higher levels by speed glues. But little kids rarely speed-glued back then - if they did, they'd have gotten strange looks. Instead, kids used slower rackets and sponges, and had to supply their own power. Guess what? A little kid can't supply the power needed to compete with bigger and older players, not unless he's using a tensor-type sponge or speed gluing.

But this generation of kids has a new paradigm. Most modern coaches switch their students to modern sponges and rackets relatively early, allowing them to begin to play the way top players do, i.e. running around and looping everything. This gives them a tremendous head start on juniors in the past, who'd be using sponges that didn't kick the ball out the way tensor-type sponges do. And so past generations wouldn't be running around looping everything until they were much older.

This is also true about blocking. With slower sponges and blades, the ball simply doesn't shoot out as fast when blocking. But with modern tensor-type sponges, even a little kid can punch-block a ball at a world-class pace.

The result is two-fold. First, by the time modern kids are 11 or 12, the advanced ones have been looping for years, and so it is second-nature. Second, the tensor-type sponges allow them the needed power to compete with bigger and older players. Result? They can compete with the bigger and older players. If they'd stuck with slower sponges and rackets, they wouldn't have reached that level. (I'm focusing on the sponges here, but the same is true of rackets, with each generation of rackets better for looping than previous generations.) And so you get an 11-year-old like Harimoto and many others like him who are looping and blocking consistently at a pace that wouldn't be possible without such modern sponges and rackets - and more importantly, by using such equipment from a relatively early age.

The old paradigm was that kids should spend years with slower sponges (and rackets) before moving up to faster, spinnier ones. This worked when much of the game revolved around hitting and blocking, and when opponents were doing the same. But in this modern all-looping era, the ones who switch to tensor-type sponges earlier, after developing the fundamentals (that's key), have a head-start on others who put it off. This doesn't mean you start off a beginner with Tenergy or similar super-sponges; it means you switch them to such sponges much earlier than they would have in the past. When exactly should they make the switch? That's still a tough question. But I've found that by the time a kid has a decent loop in multiball, with good technique, he's ready to move on to tensor-type sponges, which allow them to move up to playing at levels they could never play at otherwise. More importantly, it allows them to start playing a modern all-looping game at a much earlier age, and thereby get a head start against those who don't.

I use a Butterfly Timo Boll blade with Tenergy 05 on the forehand, Tenergy 25 on the backhand, 2.1mm on both sides. Over and over when a kid I'm coaching has decent looping technique, I let them try it out - and they invariably fall in love with it. More importantly, they immediately play better with it, especially in practice. Sure, they may have trouble controlling the ball in games at first, but if they can drill at a higher level with such a blade and sponge, they will develop faster as players, and it soon converts into playing at a higher level in games. Many of the top juniors at my club have been using such equipment since they were perhaps eight years old, after training regularly for one to two years. (Younger players have less hand-eye coordination, and so those who start at, say, age six might need two years before going to modern equipment, while one who starts at age nine might switch after just a year of training. It depends on the player and their level of development.) 

A key thing is that this only works if they are training regularly. If they are just part-time players who mostly play games, then using something like Tenergy will only hurt their control. But if they are training regularly with high-level coaches who make sure they are developing proper technique, such sponges allow them to develop much more rapidly. And the result is kids who look like mini-versions of the best players in the world, and who are just scary good.

Capital Area Super League

Because there's going to be a league feature this Wednesday from USATT, the deadline for entering the Capital Area Super League (for players in the Washington DC region) has been extended to February 27, this Friday. Considering this is the first season, we've had a pretty good turnout so far, with 62 players on 12 teams, but the more the merrier! (You can have up to six players on a team.)

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

Tournament Tactics for the Serve Return

Here's the preview video (4:45) for the new coaching video from Brian Pace of Dynamic Table Tennis. Though it's a preview, it covers quite a lot, along with lots of video of great receives.

Ask the Coach

Episode #82 (28:45) - Chinese born players representing other countries

  • Yesterday’s #PQOTD  - 0:54: Should the ITTF put in place stricter rules to stop ex Chinese players playing for different countries?
  • #PQOTD  - 5:43: When your opponent makes a service error, do you say "Thank you”?
  • Playing Against Sidespin - 6:15: Bhaswar: How do we play against a very heavy sidespin? The one that spins on the right? I generally use the forehand topspin stroke.
  • Why are the Chinese Better? - 8:15: Brock: How can a Chinese play better at table tennis than a Swedish player? Different tempo or what?
  • Tomokazu Harimoto - 10:06: Lukas: How old do you think Tomokazu Harimoto was when he started to play table tennis?
  • Waldner - 12:40: Brock: Does Waldner still live in China or does he live in Sweden now or does he still compete?
  • 52 week Training Plan - 13:13: Matthew: I’ve been training for a month and I’ve learnt the forehand and backhand counterhit, backhand and forehand push, and forehand topspin. I can do around 100 of these. I am thinking about becoming a Premium member and using the 52 week training plan.
  • Rolling the ball on bat - 16:00: Tom: How do you roll the ball from one side of the bat to the other. In your 'practicing alone' video at 02:05 you start rolling the ball from one side to the other. How do you do this?
  • Preserving a Lead - 17:46: J-B: Playing against an opponent of similar level. Leading with what statistically looks like a decisive margin, say like 8-5. You think that in this position, it would be a shame to not be able to close it.  You play like your grandmother and blow it.
  • Playing tournaments - 22:36
  • Andre: I have been playing table tennis for 4 years and I want to begin to play in tournaments. There's a tournament in 2 months and it's a regional qualifier.  Should I sign up for it or do I still need more time to practise?
  • Backhand Counterhit Follow Through - 25:08: Bhaswar: When practising the backhand counterhit I don't much follow through but the ball goes really nice? Is it really important now to follow through?
  • Your Idol - 26:31: Brock: Who was your grown-up idol in table tennis when you were kids?
  • Improving Quickly - 26:53: Lukas: It's very impressive, Tomokazu proved how good you can get in a couple of years. Do you think that if you practise hard enough, that you can reach that level in just a couple of years?

Want to Coach in England?

The University of Bath is looking for "…a qualified coach who is willing to come to the University of Bath, preferably on Thursday 5pm-7pm, or Saturday 3pm-5pm. We have 500 pounds budget [for the next seven weeks], and are looking to spend about 25 pounds an hour. [That's $38.58/hour.] We have 66 members but the attendance rate is at Max 20 people at any given session, however this may change if we have the coach, we have five tennis tables. We have some very good squad players and one of them is top 50 under 21 and one of them used to be in the provincial Team in China." If interested, contact Jun Wu.

2015 Selection Procedure Cadet and Junior Teams Changes

Here's the USATT article.

USATT Criteria and Procedures for Entering US Athletes in International Competitions

Here's the USATT article.

Sweden and United States Celebrate on Concluding Day

Yesterday I linked to the ITTF article on USA's performance at the Swedish Junior and Cadet Championships. Here are photos from USATT.

Arnold Table Tennis Challenge Provides Exciting Opportunity to be Part of the Arnold Sports Festival

Here's the USATT article by Barbara Wei.

If You Think Table Tennis is Not a Sport Then Watch This

Here's the new highlights video (9:12).

Best Inventions of 2008

#38: Ovtcharov's Serve! "German Olympian Dimitrij Ovtcharov's serve isn't about power. It's about weirdness. Crouching to table-level, he peers over his paddle and executes a hand dance before launching the ball at his opponent, who is probably too dumbfounded to respond. Which, of course, is the point." Here's a video of Ovtcharov's serves in slow motion; go to 1:24 to see the backhand serve the article pictures. (As you'll see in the video, he does many different serves, including conventional forehand pendulum serves and tomahawk serves.)

Patton, George C. Scott, and Table Tennis

The movie Patton won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1970, as well as Best Actor for George C. Scott as General Patton. (It's still my favorite war movie.) Here's an item from the Trivia section (see third item): "According to his co-star Karl Malden, George C. Scott caused a shooting delay by immersing himself in a ping-pong tournament against a world-champion table-tennis player. Scott (who was in full costume and makeup) kept losing to the champ; yet he was determined to win at least one set, even if they had to stand there playing the entire night."

Cardboard Table Tennis

Here it is - has the world gone mad? The next time you're stuck at an airport waiting for a delayed flight, instead of turning to your smartphone to pass the time, just make sure this cardboard version of table tennis is one of your carry-on items. In just seconds it can be unfolded and assembled into a working ping-pong table, complete with a cardboard net, cardboard, paddles, and a cardboard scoreboard.

"I'm Pinging in the Rain!"

Here's the picture!

Non-Table Tennis: Top Ten Ways the Orioles Can Make It to the 2015 World Series

Here's the new Top Ten List I wrote that's featured at Orioles Hangout.


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