Developing a smash
At the highest levels, many top players don't even bother to smash - even if the ball is eye-level high, they loop. However, for most players, a smash is a must. Here are some keys to developing a good smash, forehand or backhand.
First, get some coaching or watch the top players. Here's a tutorial from PingSkills (3:58) on the forehand smash, and here's Tahl Leibovitz demonstrating the backhand smash (1:35). It's still best to work with a coach who can figure out and fix any flaws in your technique.
Second, practice. Here are two of the best smashing drills.
Third, use the smash in games. If you don't, you won't learn to use the shot in a real match. Find ways to set it up, with serves, loops, aggressive backhands, etc. (A longer version of this may end up as a Tip of the Week.)
Ariel Hsing in USA Today
Playing a forehand from the backhand side
Here's a short video from PingSkills (1:31) on playing the forehand from the backhand side.
Free hand position
Here's another short video from PingSkills (1:43), this one on the free hand position.
Yes, you can now buy a 30-pack of beer with ping-pong balls included. Here's the article in Business Insider. Pong Beer's big product pitch is the Rack Pack, which is a 30-pack that comes with two pong balls. And while we're at it, here are 3:42 of the most epic beer pong shots you'll ever see.
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Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill
Yesterday I watched Coach Cheng Yinghua do an interesting drill with John Hsu (2300 junior player). Cheng would serve from his backhand side a short backspin or no-spin to John's backhand. John would over-the-table backhand loop it (a very wristy shot) to Cheng's backhand. Cheng would already be standing there as part of the drill and would forehand counterloop off the bounce anywhere on the table. John had to counterloop, either forehand or backhand (over the table with his backhand). Cheng wouldn't play out the point; he'd already be grabbing the next ball to serve for the drill, which was surprisingly rapid-fire. It's a very physical and game-type drill, but only for the very fit. A version of this for those who wouldn't be able to counterloop all these shots would be to either block Cheng's counterloop, or to perhaps counterloop the forehand, block the backhand (which is what I probably would do). John, however, has a nice over-the-table backhand loop against short serves or loops, and it was scary watching him do these over and over.
The racket tip on the forehand
I was coaching a relatively new player yesterday. He had a very consistent backhand and an equally inconsistent forehand. It was obvious very quickly the reason why - on the backhand, he drove the racket through the ball, with the racket tip driving forward. On the forehand, he kept raising the racket tip as the racket approached the ball, with the tip probably at 80 degrees at contact (90 degrees would be straight up), a common mistake that seems to increase control at slow speeds, but makes precision impossible at higher speeds. (The habit often comes about from contacting the ball too close to the body, which makes it natural to bring the racket in closer, raising the racket tip in the process.) Against a backspin ball (especially with a pips-out or similar low-friction surface) you might drop the racket tip to drive upward against the backspin, but not with inverted against topspin, and in this case, the player was starting with the tip already partly up, and then going nearly vertical.
I had him imagine a rod coming out of the top of his arm and over his racket on the forehand, and to keep the arm down and the racket tip below the rod. I also had him focus on staying a little further from the ball on forehands to make him extend his arm more. Within minutes his forehand was nearly as consistent as his backhand, and at higher speeds. Soon he was driving the ball almost like a pro.
Here is 2009 USA Men's Singles Finalist Samson Dubina's latest article, on his twelve favorite drills.
Chinese sports training
I'm somewhat familiar with the Chinese training methods, and how they test and recruit kids at around age five for special sports schools. It has led to a lot of success in sports like table tennis, badminton, and gymnastics, and is a primary reason the Chinese beat the U.S. 51-36 in the gold medal count at the 2008 Olympics. (The U.S. won 110 medals in all to China's 100.)
The Chinese method didn't work initially in sports like basketball and soccer for a simple reason - they used Chinese coaches in sports where there were few Chinese coaches with the background and knowledge to develop world-class players in those sports. There was a major policy change a few years ago, and China began recruiting top international coaches from all over the world for their sports schools in sports like basketball and soccer. The reports I've heard is that they are getting pretty scary at the younger age groups, but it'll be a few more years before we see this at the international level.
In China, there are about 10,000 sports schools, where the kids may have only one hour of schooling and seven hours of sports training a day from age 5-12, and then are full-time athletes. When they grow up, they either become top athletes (a small percentage), coaches, or the government gives them an often menial job, or they go into the increasingly free market, if they find an opportunity, but this last is difficult since they are generally uneducated.
I expect that by the 2016 Olympics, China will dominate in most Olympic sports (they already are nearly doing this), and the U.S. and other countries (and in particular families of young athletes) will have to take a hard, serious look at whether it is worth taking kids mostly out of school at young ages to train full-time (i.e. more home schooling, where we are still at a disadvantage since U.S. law requires far more home schooling then can be done in one hour/day), since otherwise it might be very difficult to compete. Even in sports like basketball and soccer, where China does not yet appear highly competitive, we may be ambushed in a few years (if not in 2016, then in 2020) by Chinese kids who have trained essentially full-time (often together as a team) since age five.
Here's an article I co-wrote with Cheng Yinghua a few years ago, "The Secrets of Chinese Table Tennis, and What the Rest of the World Needs to Do to Catch Up." And see the video below of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng on the Ellen DeGeneres show!
Ellen DeGeneres and the glass ping-pong table
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Those topspin drills
When practicing, most players start off most drills with a simple topspin serve so they can get into the drill, whether it's a looping drill, a footwork drill, or some combination or other drill. But in a match, how often does a rally start that way? Far more often rallies start with someone opening by attacking against a backspin, the most common type of serve. So if you are relatively consistent in these straight topspin drills, you should move to a more advanced version, and start the drill by serving backspin, your partner pushes it back, you attack (normally by looping the deep pushes, flipping the short ones), and then continue with the drill. If you want to get better, you need to both push yourself with more and more difficult drills, and do drills that match what you'll face in a match.
Marty Reisman plays lobby pong
Yes, the flamboyant two-time U.S. Men's Champion passes the time ponging in a hotel lobby (1:21). And here's a clip of him winning the 1949 English Open over five-time World Men's Singles Champion Viktor "Mr. Backhand" Barna (1:50).
Rafael Nadal and Kevin Spacey playing table tennis
I think I posted this once before, but this two-minute video deserves reposting. Spacey says to Nadal, "You should be nervous because I'm about to beat you in a game that demands the physical stamina of a boxer, the agility of a gymnast, the tactical acting of a chess player." Here's Nadal again, hitting forehands
Shakehanders versus Penholders? Oops!
Here's an article in the China Daily (in English) about a match-up of the best shakehand players in the world against the best penholders. But what's really interesting is that they got shakehand and penhold mixed up throughout the article! For example, in the caption at the start, it says, "Shakehand group members (from left) Wang Hao, Ryu Seung-min and Ma Lin, and penhold group members (from right) Ma Long, Zhang Jike and Timo Boll and China's men's head coach Liu Guoliang (center) pose before the match." But of course (as you can also see from the picture), Wang, Ryu, and Ma Lin are penholders, while Ma Long, Zhang, and Boll are shakehanders. I'm wondering if they are going to correct it or not; the story went up yesterday afternoon and they still haven't fixed it.
40th Annual Ping-Pong Diplomacy Festivities - Thrice
As I noted in my blog last Friday (June 17), the 40th Anniversary of the iconic U.S. team's trip to China in 1971 is this year. I gave links to two festivities, but I've added a third, the Bay Area one. (There is also a U.S. delegation going to China for festivities there, but I don't have info on that.)
Also as noted last Friday, you can read more about Ping-Pong Diplomacy in Tim Boggan's two online books on the subject, "Ping-Pong Oddity" (covering the U.S. Team's trip to China in 1971) and "Grand Tour," covering the Chinese team's trip to the U.S. in 1972. Better still, buy the books, along with Tim's other table tennis history books, at TimBogganTableTennis.com! (Disclaimer: I do the page layouts and fix up the photos for these books, and created and maintain his web page.)
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