March 20, 2023

Tip of the Week
When to Serve Long.

Weekend Coaching
This weekend I coached in five group sessions, ranging from 1.5 to 2.0 hours each. It was more tiring than most weekends because I acted as a practice partner/coach for approximately 4.5 hours, over half of it with players over 1700 level or so – and they worked me to death, even though I was often just blocking for them. But I also did a lot of counterlooping, and most exhausting of all, a drill where I forehand looped side to side for nearly 15 minutes so the player could practice moving side to side to block. (The rest of the time I either fed multiball or was a walk-around coach.)

Ironically, literally in the last 15 minutes of the last session I injured my shoulder again. At that point we had gone to up-down tables with 11-point games. Rather than play games, I went to the last table, and whoever was there got to practice smashing against my lobs. Since I’m probably going to reinjure my shoulder every time I play, I might as well schedule them for the end of the weekend! (Luckily, I can still play as a practice partner with the shoulder problems – I just can’t extend the arm out on balls that are short or wide to my forehand, or play aggressive backhands. It doesn’t actually affect my normal forehand shots.)

Besides working on smashing lobs – both at the end and earlier (especially with the novice group), there was also a lot of work on backhand looping and covering the wide forehand. For the backhand loop, the most common mistakes are rushing the shot (i.e. need to be in a better ready position and so ready to execute the shot), and trying to guide the shot rather than just letting your training take over. For the latter, this means remembering the feel of the stroke and contact when done properly – and just repeating this, while forgetting the bad ones since you don’t want to remember them.

Recently I’ve introduced the kids to a new game that’s become almost a craze– I call it “Bounce.” I picked it up at the Samson Dubina Elite Camp in Ohio last month, from Doyle Harbaugh – I stayed at his house. We did it at his house on a kitchen table, but it’s easily done on a ping-pong table across the short five-foot side – and I’ve invented a new version of it. So, what is “Bounce”?

For the classic version, you put aside your paddles. Both players face each from opposite sides of the table on one side of the net. (So you can have two games going on at the same time on the same table, with net separating their “playing courts.” Or you can do this on any type of table.) The first player tosses the ball on the table so that it bounces exactly once on the table before crossing the other sideline. (The first one, one bounce, is always easy.) The other player has to then toss it back so it bounces exactly twice. Then the original player tosses it back so it bounces exactly three times, and so on. As the number of bounces required increases, the difficulty increases. When a player fails to toss the ball so it bounces the correct number of times, he loses. The game is often done winner-stay on, and since a game rarely takes more than a minute, it’s fast-moving. The game is great for developing hand control and mental focus. But the new version I also introduced is the same, except that instead of tossing the ball, you have to serve it with a racket – and with this, they are developing serving control.

The Worst Tactical Match I Ever Played
I’ve often written about tactical issues, usually about tactics that worked. In Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers, I have a long chapter about tactics in specific matches – easily the most fun chapter to write. (I’m tempted to give examples here, but once I get started, I wouldn’t be able to stop.) But what about the other extreme, matches where I played poor tactics? I thought about this, and I think the worse ever was a match I played many years ago against Carl Danner. Here’s what happened.

As I often did when playing someone I’d never played or seen play, I asked others about how he played. Someone I don’t know – and to this day, I have no idea who this person was – spoke up about how good Carl’s loop was, that he could loop over and over but not with great power, and how I’d have to be ready to play long, steady rallies against him. So I went into the match with the mentality that when Carl attacked, I had to play very, very steady, keep the ball going until he missed or made a shot that I could attack. Long rallies was the key! However . . . it turned out that whoever gave me this advice must have come from some other multiverse with a completely different Carl then the one I was facing. Carl’s best shot was his forehand smash. I should have figured this out early in the first game – but as I said, this was the worst tactical match I ever played.

In that first game, when he attacked, I played steady, and he kept forehand smashing winners. Rather than adjust and be more aggressive with my blocks and other shots, or go to his forehand and back to his backhand to get away from his forehand, or just fight more for the attack, for some reason, as the match continued, whenever he attacked, I focused on being even more consistent. Rather than fight for the attack (especially on his serve), I often let him attack first since his first loop wasn’t always that strong – it was the follow-up smash that was the problem. I tried to be ultra consistent in even trying to block his smashes, rather than focusing on not giving him balls to smash. I blocked a few effectively, which gave me false confidence. One of the best matches of my life was one where I beat 2450 Rey Domingo in a match where I felt like I could return everything – and for some weird reason, I felt like I should be able to return Carl’s smashes just as consistently. The problem, of course, was that to beat Carl like this I would literally have to play one of the best matches of my life! The result, of course, was Carl won rather easily – and I only realized how bad my tactics were at the very end, when it was too late. Afterwards I sat down for a long time, thinking about the match and wondering what the heck had been going through my head to play so dumb. I think the problem was I was visualizing myself playing as I did in the Domingo match, which was a level of play, rather than thinking about the tactics I needed in the Carl match, which was a different thing.

If I’d played him with better tactics, could I have won? Who knows. It definitely would have been closer. (I was rated higher at the time, though not by a lot.) The tactical lesson here is simple – when something isn’t working tactically, be flexible and change to something else. A key here is the habit of stopping and thinking things over in a match when things aren’t going well – which I think I normally do in about 99.99999% of my matches. For this match, I give myself the Golden HIT Award for Historically Ill-advised Tactics.

Singapore Smash 2023
Here’s the ITTF/WTT home page for the event that took place March 7-19, with resultsnews, video, and player features. (Here’s the Youtube video site – I think it’s organized better there.) Here is USA Reaches the Round of 16 in Singapore from USATT. Here are five articles by Steve Hopkins:

Butterfly Training Tips

New from Timo Boll

New from Samson Dubina

New from Ti Long

10 new articles!

Part 1 of 3 Serve Series by Angela Guan (2:11)
Here’s the video (2:11) from PongSpace.

New from Taco Backhand

New from the Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis

Your Playing Style Quiz
Here’s the quiz from Racket in Sight, which has a lot of other table tennis content as well.

Ask the Coach
Here are the latest questions from PingSkills.

New Day Cleveland Featuring: Kenzie Dubina
Here’s the video (6:11). I practice with her last month in Ohio at the Samson Dubina Elite Camp!

Dora Kurimay: Championing Mind, Body, and Spirit
Here’s the article from Passion Vista. It’s the cover story!

Folsom Table Tennis Club
Here’s the article by Steve Hopkins.

Marathon Effort Raises Thousands for Hospice
Here’s the article from Table Tennis England. (Here’s the article I linked to about this in advance of the marathon.)

New from ITTF

Fan Zhendong's Celebrations Over the Years
Here’s the video from Drupe Pong.

Great Lobbing and Fishing Point
Here’s the video (37 sec) of Segun Toriola getting everything back!

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of videos here.

Most Popular Sports Since 1930
Here’s the video (3:05) – see the slow rise of table tennis, and some of the surprisingly popular sports at other time periods. (Even Hockey was #1 in the world at one time!)

Table Tennis Sun Hat
Here’s where you can buy it at Amazon!

Table Tennis Posters
From Café Press.

Joker Pong
Here’s the video (59 sec)!

No Racket, No Problem
Here’s the video (13 sec)! (Alas, it’s not legal to return the ball with a non-racket holding hand.)

Adam vs. Marco Reus
Here’s the video (8:55) featuring Adam Bobrow versus the football star from Germany (that’s soccer for Americans)!

Send us your own coaching news!