November 5, 2018

Tip of the Week
Heavy and No-Spin Pushes.

Coaching Subtleties and Attacking the Middle
After 42 years of playing and coaching I can pretty much analyze an opponent's weaknesses within a game, based both on what he does, but also on his strokes, stance, footwork, etc. If a shakehand player has long arms and tends to extend his arm when stroking, and so has a big gap between where they contact their forehand and backhand, I don't need to see the player react to an attack to the middle for me to know there's going to be a weakness there.

However, when coaching, you also have to know the player you are coaching to really be effective. Even if you watch a player for a time you can't always pick up on everything. It's not just what your player does, but what he doesn't do - and why. If he isn't playing into an opponent's weakness, is it because he hasn't seen the weakness, or because he can't effectively go after it, at least in some ways?

Here's an example. If I played someone who doesn't cover the middle well (the transition point between forehand and backhand, roughly the playing elbow), and a coach told me to open with my forehand loop to his middle, it wouldn't work. The coach saw the opponent's weakness, and (seemingly correctly) told me to attack it with my forehand. (I was a very aggressive forehand attacker.) But he has no way of knowing whether I could go after that weakness unless he really knew my game. He'd see me attacking the corners relentless with my forehand, and only attacking the middle with my backhand. So he'd tell me to attack the middle with my forehand - but he'd be making a mistake.

Why? Because, like many players, I don't have a good instinct for attacking the middle with my forehand. On the backhand it's easier, since you are looking right at the player, but with the forehand you have to look away, and can only see the opponent and his moving middle with your peripheral vision. (In contrast, the table corners do not move.) When I developed as a player, I developed a deceptive forehand, and can look like I'm going to one corner, and then go to the other. (See Forehand Deception with Shoulder Rotation.) This worked great until I faced 2400+ players, who can cover the corners like walls if they are in position. But I only got away with it because I really spent a lot of time working on forehand deception, and it still handicapped me in many matches, including players well below the 2400 level. (Attacking the middle works at all levels.) 

Against many players, I often should attack the middle first (to draw them out of position as well as force an awkward return), and then go to the corners. Easy, right? Except that I had been attacking the corners with my forehand for so long that I simply couldn't attack the middle effectively. This was both because I hadn't trained at finding and aiming at the middle, and because from my normal forehand ready position as I prepared to forehand loop, I had only trained to go two ways, wide to the right and wide to the left, never in between. Going to the middle was almost like a new stroke.

Perhaps with lots of training I might be able to do this, but it would take serious practice. I read once where the great Chinese player and coach Cai Zhenhua said that learning to attack the middle effectively was one of those things you needed to learn early and young, or you could never really do it effectively. (It's a moving target, and you can't just blindly go there since the opponent will sometimes be ready to blast a forehand off that shot if you aren't aware of what he's doing.) I think he was mostly referring to attacking it with the forehand, as it's much easier to learn to do this with the backhand.

And so the coach, who correctly saw that the opponent I was playing was weak in the middle, and that I wasn't going after it with my forehand, would have given me poor match coaching by telling me to go after the middle. It would have also been distracting since it would make me aware that the coach didn't really know my game. (He would be right to tell me to develop this technique, which is strategic thinking, as opposed to the tactical thinking needed in a match.)

I've faced this type of thing many times. I used to coach Tong Tong Gong at major tournaments, and even after he made the USA National Cadet Team, he was uncomfortable serving short to the forehand, as it opened up an angle to his wide forehand that he not only had difficulty covering, but also pulled him out of position. And so he'd often struggle in matches against players with weak forehand receives versus short serves, since he couldn't take advantage of this. (With training, he finally overcame this weakness.)

I once told a junior player between games to open with slow, spinny loops, and he said, "I don't know how to loop slow, I can only loop fast." I cringed - both because the player had a big hole in his game, and because I should have known this in advance.

So, what types of tactical weaknesses in opponents have you faced that you were unable to take advantage of because of weaknesses in your game? Have you worked to overcome those weaknesses, as I would now be working on overcoming my forehand-vs-middle weakness, if I were still in training?

Weekend Coaching
On Saturday night I coached at the Junior League, which is actually about 50% league, 50% training. The first 45 minutes was doubles. I worked with several teams on proper doubles movement for teams of two righties and for lefty-righty teams, plus other coaching on serve, receive, and placement. Then came singles for 75 minutes, with a number of improvised games to force players to work on specific things - such as learning to play under pressure by starting games with the server down 7-9. (That night I binged watched the final eight episodes of House of Cards, finishing at 3:30AM!)

On Sunday afternoon in the Beginning Class, we started with 25 minutes of various stroking and footwork drills, then ten minutes of pushing practice. Then came the main focus as I introduced them to the forehand loop against backspin. Then they went out on the tables, rotating so they did multiball looping with the coach, and practiced with other players where they'd serve backspin, receiver would push long, and the serve would then push, and play out the point. (That's why I had them do ten minutes of pushing practice.)

In the advanced Talent Program, I mostly fed multiball for about an hour, doing various drills, mostly fast footwork. I also worked with them on serve and attack drills. Then came physical training, and then we finished with Brazilian Teams.

Table Tennis Books by Larry Hodges
Yep, this is one of those periodic postings where I ask you to support a poor (relative to Jeff Bezos), starving (I had a small breakfast and it's almost lunchtime) table tennis writer by buying my books! Here are my table tennis books that are currently sold on Amazon:

Table Tennis Book Collection
I now have 255 table tennis books! The latest three were donated to me by John Olsen, Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 in the World Class American Table Tennis Players of the Classic Age series, by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan. There is also a Volume 4, but John didn't have that, and I can't afford $36.59 for it.

U.S. Open - Early Bird Deadline is Nov. 9
Here's the info page. Enter Now!!! Price goes up $75 after Nov. 9, with final deadline on Dec. 1. I'll be there, attending meetings and coaching, and going to Disneyland afterwards.

Swedish Open
Here's the home page for the event that was held Nov. 1-4 in Stockholm, Sweden, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here are the two finals.

Austrian Open
Here the info page for the event to be held in Linz, AUT, Nov. 8-11, with a qualifier Nov. 6-7.

USATT and ITTF News
Here's the USATT News page and the ITTF News page. Why not browse over them?

USATT Strategic Meeting
It was held this past weekend. Alas, I didn't attend, and haven't heard anything yet about what happened. I will likely write something about it next week.

When Choosing a Coach…
Here are 20 Guidelines, by Edward John Lynn, which is particularly pertinent to parents, though they apply to all.

Free Online Training for Volunteer Youth Coaches
Here's the page. "Nike and the United States Olympic Committee, as part of their commitment to Project Play 2020, has released How to Coach Kids, a free, 30-minute training course on coaching kids ages 12 and under."

New from Samson Dubina

"Pause & Snap" – The Secret to Effortless Loops
Here's the article by Ben Larcombe. What is Pause and Snap? Read on!

Tom's Table Tennis Tips
Here's the Tom Lodziak monthly newsletter.

Why Do Top Chinese Players Switch Rubbers?
Here's the article by EmRatThich.

Think Fast & Watch Slow: Slow Motion Analysis of Xu Xin vs. Harimoto Tomokazu
Here's the video (3:21).

Serve: 5. Yangyang's Collection & Excellent Players' Serve Demonstrations
Here's the video (4:54).

Black Cat Table Tennis
Here's their extensive video page.

Table Tennis! What’s the Point?
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Table Tennis Tournaments in the UK - Oversaturated?
Here's the article by Eli Baraty.

Tenergy 05 Hard
Here's the review from Butterfly. I generally don't link to equipment reviews - too much conflict of interest since I'm sponsored by Butterfly - but this could be a big one.

2018 ITTF World Cadet Challenge Team Update: US/Canada Teams Score Upsets
Here's the article by Steve Hopkins.

How Ping-Pong Saved the Life of a New York City Kid
Here's the article, from the New York Daily News, featuring Wally Green. Full title is, "The first-person story of how ping pong saved the life of a New York City kid and took him all the way to North Korea."

Michael Hyatt in Guam - Scandals Alleged
Here are three recent articles in The Guam Daily Post on Hyatt. He's a table tennis Olympian from Jamaica who for decades has spent much of his time playing and coaching in the U.S., though not recently as he is on the USATT Suspended List, as noted in the articles.  I'm told there will be at least one more article on this.

JOOLA Sponsors Jackson Chance Foundation’s 6th Annual Ping Pong Ball to Support Families with Ill Babies
Here's the info page.

Jean-Michel Saive vs. Vitalii Lievshin - Super Division
Here's the video (11:55) from Belgium TV last week, care of Arnaud Scheen. (Saive is former world #1.)

University of Maryland Open - Division A Final
Here's the video (20:35) of Nathan Hsu vs. Rui Xu. It was held Sunday, Nov. 4.

Accident of Table Tennis - Adam Bobrow
Here's the video (4:13) where Adam injures his head. The actual injury happens 24 seconds in. Adam is the Voice of the ITTF on their videos and tournament coverage, as well as an exhibition player, as he's doing here.

Nandan Naresh Target Practice
Here's the video (16 sec).

Would I Lie To You?
Here's the video (27.59, with link taking you to where table tennis starts at 15:56 and continues to about 20:40). Steve Worthington sent it to me, and wrote, "It's a British show where 2 panels of 3 are trying to convince each other of various lies, while someone is actually telling the truth."

Show Secretin - Purkart
Here's the video (3:41) of the greatest exhibition pair in table tennis history. It's an old video, but still great! They are star players from France. Secretin was one of the best in the world, and he and Purkart (French wiki entry, you can translate to English) became professional exhibition players.

Costumed Pong
Here are three that came out this past Halloween.

Non-Table Tennis - World Fantasy Convention
I was at the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore this past weekend in Baltimore, though I only was able to attend on Friday, due to coaching commitments. I had a reading (read the first two chapters of my novel Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, which has a lot of table tennis), and a book signing session. I also went to dinner with 15 other Odyssey Writing Workshop alumni! (Odyssey is a six-week writing workshop I attended in 2006, with annual nine-day workshops for graduates in July - I've attended nine of those.)

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Re: November 5, 2018

Larry, any comments on USATT CEO resignation (somewhat unexpected)? I guess Strategy Meetings can lead to that.

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: November 5, 2018

It had nothing to do with the Strategic Meeting - Gordon had told us this was going to happen well over a month ago. We set up a CEO Search Committee at the Sept. 22-23 board meeting in Colorado Springs. Gordon said he was resigning for personal reasons. 

Re: November 5, 2018

Thank you.