trick serves

May 15, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my day yesterday. After writing my blog in the morning, I spent some time inputting edits for my new Table Tennis Tips book. (They are from four people who proofed the book. More on them soon.) I've been working on this on and off for the last couple of weeks, and hope to finalize it by tomorrow - we'll see. Finalizing it has been a bigger job than I thought, and I've sometimes put it aside for a day or so to work on other stuff. (I'm also doing some science fiction work, but I won't get into that here.)

At 2:30PM, as I do Mon-Fri, I left to pick up kids for our afterschool program. My first pickup is at 3:05, and by leaving at 2:30 I get to his school around 2:50PM. Why do I go this early? Two reasons. 1) In case there's traffic, I don't want to be late; and 2) I've taken to doing the Washington Post crossword puzzle while parked at his school, waiting for him to come out. It's great fun, and I'm able to do the entire thing about half the time, though not always in the 15 minutes there. I may blog about table tennis and crossword puzzles later on - there are a number of connections.

After picking up the 3:05 player I picked up a second one at another school five minutes later, and then we were off to the club. It wasn't one of the more fun pickups as the two bickered back and forth the entire trip. Finally, after arriving at the club I was to hit with one of them (age 7) for 30 minutes, and then do 20-30 minutes of school work with him. Unfortunately, perhaps primed by the bickering in the car, he wasn't happy and let's just say it wasn't one of the better sessions, both the table tennis and the academics. And yet, he played surprisingly well. At one point he hit about 100 forehands in a row (his most ever), but he was oblivious to it as the entire time he was voicing his displeasure with all the work he was being forced to do (especially school), and how much he wanted to play video games instead!

I had two more one-hour sessions. The first was with a nine-year-old, about 1500 level. I've mentioned him before - he likes to lob, and does so at a surprisingly high level. But in recent weeks he's become more determined to develop his attack. His backhand right now is a little better than his forehand, but when he gets going, his forehand looping can be pretty strong. The problem is he tends to change strokes every few shots as he constantly experiments. That's good and bad, but at this state in his development, mostly bad. He likes to swing from the side to get lots of sidespin, but this leads to a rather long and cumbersome stroke without much power. He also likes to switch back and forth every few shots from looping close to the table, then off the table, then back to the table again. Great ball control, but he's not going to develop real precision on his shots this way.

We spent the first 45 minutes of the session on just forehand and backhand looping, including footwork. (He can spin his backhand both close to the table and from off the table.) Then we worked on his serves for five minutes. (He practices these at home, and always has new "show and tell" serves to show me. Currently he's working hard on his reverse pendulum serve.) We were going to play games at the end, but he wanted to counterloop, so we finished that way - though half the counterlooping rallies ended with him lobbing, which is what he really likes to do. He's gotten pretty good at sidespin lobbing from the side, where I hit the ball as wide to his forehand as I can.

The second session was with a 12-year-old who's about 1700 now. He's developing a very strong forehand loop, with fast footwork. His backhand is coming along, but isn't quite as dominating yet, partly because he's constantly looking to play forehand. I wanted to focus on his backhand this session, but his forehand was looking so strong at the start I decided to focus on that the first half of the session, to bring it to a new level. After a bunch of regular forehand and footwork drills against my block, and some multiball, I introduced him to a new drill, an improvised multiball drill I've blogged about before. I put a basket of balls near me. I serve backspin to his backhand, he pushes to my backhand, I forehand loop down the line to his forehand, and he counterloops a winner. As he's doing this, I reach for the next ball and repeat. It's a rapid-fire way to develop a winning counterloop against an opponent's opening shot. At the start I did medium-speed loops, which he was pretty good against. He kept asking me to loop harder, and so I increased the pace, and he did pretty well. It's important in this drill to go at a pace where the player is consistent so he can develop good habits that'll carry over into matches, when you don't know where the ball is going to go. Then I challenged him with very slow, spinny loops, dropping them short on the table. These are especially hard to counterloop, and he had trouble at first, but picked up on it soon.

Then we began work on this backhand. After some straight backhand-to-backhand rallies, I began moving him around, stressing the idea that if you cover only 1/3 of the table with your backhand, you should practice covering 1/2, which will make it easy to cover the 1/3. We did multiball so he could rapid-fire backhand loop against backspin. I also looped to his backhand so he could work on blocking. Then we did another multiball drill where I rapid-fire grabbed balls and looped them at him randomly over the whole table, and he had to aggressively block backhands or counterloop on the forehand. (Later I'll have him spin the backhands when he blocks as well.)

We finished with a series of games. I think he was a little disappointed that he wasn't able to play his forehand in game situations as well as in drills, but as I explained to him (and have blogged about), it takes perhaps six months to incorporate into games what you can do in practice. (I have two "six-month rules." The other one is that if you improve to a higher level in practice games, it'll take about six months before you can consistently do this in tournaments. I call this one Larry's Law.)

I was done coaching for the day, but stayed after for a while to watch one of our top juniors play, since I'll be coaching him at the U.S. Open. Then I went home and started work again on the Tips book - but that's when I discovered I was just too tired to do so, and put it off until today. Yep, it's on my todo list to work on that next (after doing a few other shorter items) until I leave for today's afterschool pickups and coaching.

Serves in Slow Motion

Here's a video (7:24, from 2010) showing top players serving in slow motion. This is the only way to really see the semi-circular motion and last-second changes of direction top players use when they serve.

World Veterans Championships

They are taking place right now, May 14-17, Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, live streaming, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There are 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

College Table Tennis Class

Here's an article about USATT Coaching Chair Fede Bassetti teaching a class at Northern Illinois University.

How Much Should Table Tennis Players Make?

Here's an interesting discussion of this.

Zhang Jike's Father Furiously Disappointed

Here's the article. "I was extremely anxious watching him play that day. Bad techniques, it doesn't matter. Losing the match, it doesn't matter. But looking at his performance that day, there was no fighting spirit. Others were cheering for him but he was simply in a daze. It really worried me to death." (Should parents voice criticism like this in public?)

Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's a musical tribute video (3:43) to Lily Zhang's performance at the recent World Championships, created by Jim Butler.

Trick Serves

Here's a video (1:18) where the guys from PingSkills demonstrate a bunch of hilarious trick serves - fifty-foot serves from the side and backspin bounce-back serves.

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July 17, 2013

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday's focus was on the backhand. I gave a talk on it, explaining both the technique and the variations, such as how dropping the tip gives more power (sort of a second forehand) but you lose quickness and have more trouble in the middle, while holding the tip higher does the reverse - though you can still hit it pretty hard. I also explained how the backhand has evolved, from the flatter backhands of the past to the more topspinny ones of the modern day. I also talked about the revolutionary change in penhold play, from conventional backhands to reverse penhold backhands.

For some reason many coaches do not have their students do backhand footwork. I too am sometimes guilty of getting lazy on that, focusing on forehand footwork. Often players only do backhand footwork in conjunction with forehands, such as alternating forehand and backhand shots (either alternating from the corners or alternating both shots from the backhand corner). How about backhand-backhand footwork, where the coach puts a ball to the wide backhand, and then a ball to the middle backhand (or even more to the middle), and the player moves side to side hitting backhands? This type of footwork is even more important for players who use good topspin their backhands, whether looping or just having a topspinny backhand, since these players have longer strokes, and so positioning is even more important to get it right. (Players with more of a blocking stroke should also move for each ball, but can often get away with more reaching.)

Later I completed my serving lecture, going over deception and fast serves. Then we had service practice. As usual, we finished with games. Many Brazilian teams were victorious, many cups were knocked off tables, and poor Froggy also got smacked around a bit.

I had a little fun demonstrating long-distance serves, where I'd serve on a table from 50 feet away, usually from the side, using sidespin to curve the ball onto both sides of the table.

Speaking of serves, several of our top juniors are fiddling around with some seriously funky trick serves. One used one at the recent U.S. Open over and over, and kept winning points with it, often about twice a game. I'll never understand why players don't develop their serves more. It's not a matter of trying to rely on trick serves; it's a matter of not throwing away points by an inability to throw variations at an opponent, including a few trick serves for free points. If you don't, you are giving away points and playing level. (Trick serves are generally serves that will win a few free points, but once an opponent gets used to them, they are ineffective. Players should mostly rely on serves that set up their game - usually their attack - while mixing in a few trick serves now and then. There's an overlap between the two types of serves.)  

New Non-Celluloid Ball

Here's a discussion of the new non-celluloid ball proposed for 2014. They say it's confirmed. Anyone want to do some investigative work on this?

I'm Going to Haunt You

Here's a video (5:39) of table tennis to the music of Sharleen Spieri's "I'm going to haunt you," which sounds like country music to me. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.)

New Balance Shoe Commercial

Here's a commercial from New Balance (16 sec) that features table tennis as they advertise that they employ 1300 U.S. workers while their competitors employ zero. I have no idea how the table tennis is relevant to the commercial. But it's table tennis!!!

Non-Table Tennis - Novel Sale

Yesterday I blogged about selling my novel, "The Giant Face in the Sky." The novel is about 90,000 words and 451 pages double spaced. It's a humorous fantasy retelling of the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon in the '60s, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts - sort of Hitchhiker's Guide meets the Space Race. Here's the three-paragraph description in my cover letter when I submitted it. (Not mentioned here - at the start, all Neil wants to do is play ping-pong. He has to drop this "childish" desire to save the world.) 

It is 1969, at the height of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The powerful sorcerer John F. Kennedy has just won his third term as president of the United States. Neil (alias Neil Armstrong, though his last name is never mentioned) is 13 years old, and badly wants to be someone, do something. It's his mantra. Instead, he's stuck as a sorcerer's apprentice for Gus, the "meanest sorcerer in the world," and who (along with just about everyone else) constantly berates and humiliates Neil. Gus creates a magical talisman to spy on the Soviets, but instead it spies on them and sends the text into space. A Giant Face in the Sky shows up, reading the text. It fixates on Neil, reacting wordlessly to whatever he and those around him say or do.

Realizing that anyone who gets to the Face can lob down spells and have the world at their mercy, the Race to the Face begins. The Soviets, led by General Death, invade the U.S. over and over in an attempt to kill Neil, who is prophesied to defeat them. When a meteor assassin named Buzz fails to kill Neil, the talking, floating meteor becomes Neil's protector and companion--with the rather unfortunate problem that in exactly one week, Buzz must kill Neil.

Kennedy, with advice from the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, and with trusty sidekick Dogface (alias Lee Harvey Oswald), puts together a motley crew to go to the Face: Neil, Gus, Buzz, and the sorcerers Jackie Kennedy (weapons expert), Conrad (a hippy dragon whose hobby is swallowing celebrities), Wernhera (a sorcerer living in Conrad's stomach), Apollo (the Greek God and son of famed children's author Dr. Zeus), and Jim (a 2-D sorcerer from another universe). Can they make it to the Face before General Death, and before Buzz kills Neil?

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August 24, 2012

MDTTC Camp, Week Eleven, Day Four

Today's the final day of our eleven-week summer camp marathon. We had three new players join us yesterday (but three also left), giving us an even 40 players in the camp. I gave lectures on the backhand drive and flip against backspin (including banana flip, which I talk about in my February 15, 2012 blog), the backhand loop, and on third-ball attack.

In the lecture on third-ball attack I went over the serves different styles should favor. For example, a looper might want to serve a lot of short backspin and no-spin, with sidespin serves mixed in as well as occasional deep serves. A hitter might want to serve more sidespin and topspin, and challenge the receiver with more deep serves, especially breaking ones into the backhand. However, it's different for different players. For example, some loopers prefer looping against backspin (and so would serve more backspin), while others prefer looping against topspin, and so might serve more sidespin and topspin. I also spoke about depth - short serves, half-long serves (where the second bounce is right about the end-line), and long serves (where first bounce is near the end-line). Over and over I stressed that the purpose of the serve was to get the inniative, not just to get the ball into play. 

I also spoke about the importance of "trick" serves, where you have some serves you throw at opponent for "free" points. Your typical trick serve will work a few times before the opponent figures it out. If you don't have any such tricky serves, then you are giving away potentially free points; it's like spotting your opponent points. The problem with trick serves is once an opponent gets used to them, they are often easier to attack then other serves since most go long and can be looped, and so they should be used only a few times. (So focus on third-ball serves that allow you to get the innitiative.) Trick serves work best at the beginning and intermediate levels, but they are effective even at the advanced levels if used sporadically and at the right time. Examples of trick serves are a fast no-spin serve at the elbow or a tomahawk serve (a forehand serve with racket tip up) deep to the forehand so it breaks away from the receiver, causing him to reach for the ball and often miss-hitting off the end and side. 

I'm still in the neck brace. The most comfortable position is with my head back, nose in the air, which leads me to believe that stuck-up people aren't really stuck up; they just have whiplash.

Table Tennis Graphic Designers Wanted!

Uberpong is looking for graphic designers to create table tennis designs. "Are you a graphic designer, illustrator or just a wizard with crayons? Do you want your design to appear on an Uberpong ping pong paddle (table tennis bat)? We need you!!"

Clash of Titans

Here's a video (4:09) that contrasts Jan-Ove Waldner versus Ma Long.

As One

You can now watch the movie "As One" online, with English subtitles. It's the movie about the unified Korean women's team winning at the 1991 World Championships. Here's the IMDB info page.

New World Rankings

Here's an article on the new World Rankings, and here are the rankings themselves. The article includes a link to a video of the Olympic Men's Final between Zhang Jike and Wang Hao for those who missed it.

Ping-Pong with Giraffes

In honor of my neck problems, here are all the ping-pong and giraffe connections I could find.

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