Teaching the Loop

January 10, 2013

Beginner's Forehand & Backhand Loop

One week ago, on Jan. 3, I wrote about a "Beginner's Topspinny Backhand and Forehand Looping." This was about an 11-year-old who was learning to forehand loop, and was developing a rather topspinny backhand. I worked with him again yesterday. Jackpot!!!

When I say "Jackpot," I'm referring to how fast he picked up the forehand loop against topspin, which I taught him for the first time yesterday using multiball. We worked on it for 30 minutes, and he was able to do it pretty nicely. He still has a tendency to jam the table and rush the shot (leading to too much arm, not enough body rotation), so I kept reminding him to step off the table to give himself time to use a full body shot - but when I remind him, he has no trouble backing off and doing the shot properly without rushing. (Backing off against an incoming topspin and giving yourself time is key to learning the loop properly, since it's a longer stroke than a regular drive, and the timing is different. When you are proficient at the shot you can start taking it closer to the table.)

He also has a tendency to use too much arm in general, but we're working on that, and when he backs off to give himself time he's better at that. Overall, a very nice first day on looping against topspin. Next session I may let him try it "live" against my block - but only if he's doing it very nicely in multiball.

He's also got a nice backhand loop now against backspin in drills (though he doesn't use it effectively in game situations yet), and really does topspin the ball quite a bit in regular rallies. Yesterday I figured out why, and it's sort of funny. I coach him every week at the same time, and at that same time every week, on the table next to us, Nathan Hsu (16), currently the top-rated junior in Maryland at 2351, has a training session. Nathan always plays on the same side of the table I'm on, so my 11-year-old student has a clear view of Nathan while he's practicing. Nathan's known for his ferocious backhand loop, which he often does close to the table. Guess what? The two have matching strokes!!! The kid I've been coaching, whether consciously or not, has been copying Nathan's backhand.

USATT Coaches of the Year

The results are out! (The page includes shot bios of the winners.) The winners are:

  • Paralympic Coach of the Year – Daniel Rutenberg 
  • Volunteer Coach of the Year – Joel Mitchell
  • Developmental Coach of the Year – Stefan Feth
  • National Coach of the Year – Xin Zhou

Ma Long's Forehand Loop

Here's 23 seconds of 2012 World Cup Winner and former #1 Ma Long's forehand loop.

Schlager's Backhand Block

Here's 53 seconds of 2003 World Champion Werner Schlager backhand blocking against teammate Karl Jindrak.

Ruth Aarons' and Sandor Glancz's Exhibition

Here's 58 seconds of 1936 & 1937 World Women's Singles Champion Ruth Aarons (USA's only world singles champion) and 1933 World Men's Doubles Champion and 3-time World Team Champion Sandor Glancz doing an exhibition, circa late 1930s.

Justin Bieber's Ping-Pong

Here's 41 seconds of Pencils of Promise star Justin Bieber's ping-pong. I think he's famous for other stuff too. 

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November 6, 2012

Teaching the Loop

Recently I've taught a lot of new kids how to loop. It always amazes me that some coaches will not teach the loop for the first year, and by that time hitting has been ingrained, and looping will never be as natural. I generally teach kids to loop against backspin as soon as the player can hit 100 forehands and 100 backhands in a row. I usually teach the forehand loop against backspin first, and once that is done properly and consistently (usually a few weeks), the backhand loop against backspin. Both are taught with multiball, with serve and loop against push drills when they are ready.

However, there are two caveats to this. First, I always stress with the player that I will pickier about getting the loop right than with any other technique. It's probably easier to learn a messed-up loop stroke than any other stroke. Once ingrained, poor looping technique is harder to fix than just about any other technique since every aspect of the stroke relies so heavily on every other aspect. If you get one thing wrong, a lot of it will be wrong, and fixing one problem means fixing up all the other problems at the same time, not an easy task.

What often happens is that coaches who teach the loop early to a relative beginner have bad experiences with the player learning bad technique. This is because they weren't picky enough with the student in making sure they get it perfect from day one.

And second, there's the problem that a drive and a loop are rather different strokes, and trying to perfect both at the same time can be tricky. With drives, you are mostly hitting top of the bounce (earlier for most backhands), with the shoulders even, and driving mostly forward with the ball going almost straight into the sponge. With a loop you are taking the ball a little later, dropping the back shoulder, lifting more, and grazing the ball for spin. How do you handle this?

Again, by letting the student know in advance that while learning the loop, we'll be obsessing over the drive strokes as well, doing lots of basic stroking drills so as to ingrain both shots. Also, once the player can both drive and loop reasonably well, I introduce combination drills where they do both, to emphasize the differences in the strokes and the ability to use either one. For example, using multiball, I'll feed backspin to the middle of the table and then topspin to the forehand. The player forehand loops the first, and forehand smashes the second. (As they get better, they likely loop the second as well, but that comes a little later.)

There's another reason to teach the loop early - players will often experiment with the shot on their own, and often learn it poorly. It's a lot harder fixing poor technique than teaching it right the first time. Kids especially will try looping on their own if you don't teach it early enough, so it's better to teach it early and get it right.

To make sure they get it right, I've adopted a policy where I actually let the player know how picky I'm going to be with the shot, and make sure we have a good half hour at least to work on it the first time. I let them know that even if they do it pretty well, I'm going to keep on them to get it perfect on the first day. I also let them know that while working on the loop, most of our other drills will focus on basic forehand and backhand drives, since we don't want the player to mess up these strokes while learning to loop. If they don't feel ready for this, we postpone it until they feel ready.

One kid didn't feel ready for it even though he could hit 100 forehands and backhands. He kept worrying about the shot, thinking it was too advanced, and we ended up postponing it for about three months. Now he can loop against backspin both backhand and forehand, and he's gaining confidence that he's almost ready to learn to loop against block.

Others are the opposite. One kid really wanted to learn to loop after taking only three lessons. He's done about 50 forehands and backhands, and normally I'd postpone it a little longer. But he's already been experimenting with the shot, and I was worried he'd get it wrong. So last week I taught him to forehand loop against backspin. We did lots of multiball, and at first he struggled to get it just right. And then, after about ten minutes, it all fell into place. We did about ten more minutes of multiball to ingrain the stroke. Then, at the end of the session, we came back to it for another five minutes. And he's already dying to learn to backhand loop!

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 51 new pictures of 33 new celebrities. Look at some of the famous names below! Better still, browse over the 1440 pictures of 870 celebrities now in the collection. (And special thanks goes to super contributors Steve Grant and Benjamin Ott.)

Actors & Directors 
Oliver Stone, movie director
Terrence Howard, actor
Wallace Ford, actor
Trevor Jackson, actor
Richard Narita, actor
Kim Kardashian, actress 
Khloe Kardashian, actress (6 pictures)
Jessica Alban, actress (new picture)
Susan Sarandon, actress (new picture)
Kate Upton, actress & model (4 pictures)
Lynn Bari, actress
Shay Mitchell, actress
Shirley Temple, actress & UN Ambassador (new picture)
Justin Bieber, singer (new picture)
Lady Gaga, singer
Michael Jackson, singer/dancer (new picture)
Nick Jonas, singer (3 pictures)
Booboo Stewart, singer, dancer & actor
Dinah Shore, singer & actress
Adam Yauch, Singer for the Band "Beastie Boys"
Yelawolf, rapper
Roger Federer, tennis star (new picture)
Rory McIlroy, golfer
Manny Pacquiao, boxer
Ramil Akhadov, boxer
Ken Norton, boxer
Jesse Owens, Olympic sprinter & long jumper
Ronald Belisario, baseball player (2 pictures)
Justin Sellers, baseball player (2 pictures)
Wayne Rooney, English soccer star (3 new pictures)
Rio Ferdinand, English soccer star
Theo Walcott, English soccer star
Joe Hart, English soccer star
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, English soccer star
John Heitinga, Dutch soccer star (2 pictures)
Nani, Portuguese soccer star
Miguel Veloso, Portuguese soccer star
Zoran Tošić, Serbian soccer star
Gojko Kačar, Serbian soccer star
Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William of England (3 pictures)
Ellen DeGeneres, talk show host (new picture)
Snoopy, cartoon dog (new picture)

The Surprising Play of Jan-Ove Waldner

Here's a new highlights video of the great Jan-Ove Waldner (7:26).

$45,000 Black Rubber Table

The table is made of black rubber. Here's a picture of the table, here's a close-up, and here's an interview (1:46) with the creator.

Bush Versus Kerry & Gore

Here are two election cartoons I did in 2000 and 2004. Here's Bush and Gore battling over Florida in 2000 (gee, Gore's technique looks just like Chiang Peng-Lung, and Bush's resembles Wang Liqin!), and here's Bush and Kerry in 2004 - see if you get all the side jokes in this one!

Non-Table Tennis: Election Predictions

Obama wins the electoral college, 332-206, winning eight of the nine the battleground states (winning OH, VA, NH, FL, CO, WI, IA, NV, losing NC, with FL the toughest pick), and wins the popular vote approximately 50.5% to 48.5%, with 1% going to small party candidates. Yes, there's been a surge toward Obama the last few days, and all reports indicate a high voter turnout, which also favors him. Contrary to many news reports, he's been solidly favored in the electoral college for some time. 


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September 27, 2012

Last-Minute Looping: Learning to Loop

Yesterday I taught an 11-year-old girl to forehand loop. She'd attended ten junior group sessions I'd taught, and this was I think her fourth private session. Her forehand and backhand drives are getting pretty steady, and of course we'll continue to work on them to make them "perfect."  

Sometimes it's good to wait longer to really ingrain the forehand and backhand drives before starting them on looping, but I'm a believer in getting to looping (at least against backspin) as soon as possible. Otherwise, they tend to become pusher/blockers (since they can't attack backspin), their loops aren't as natural (since they ingrain drive strokes early on rather than topspin strokes), and they don't take advantage of a characteristic that gives them the advantage at that age - they are shorter, and so looping is a bit more natural since they can let the ball drop down to their level. Plus, it gives them something to get excited about when they begin doing shots that match what the best players in the club are doing, and that excitement leads to more focus and determination, which leads to faster improvement.

I started her on looping in the last ten minutes of the session, feeding backspin with multiball. At first she had difficulty. Sometimes she wouldn't bring her racket down enough, or she wouldn't sweep up enough and would instead start up, then switch to a more forward-driving stroke. The result was flat strokes with little topspin. The scary part here is that since I'm giving her the same spin over and over, it's pretty easy to drive the ball with light topspin, and to believe that it's a good shot. (And it would have - in the hardbat era.) So I have to explain how a drive against backspin without great topspin isn't that good and will rarely be as consistent or effective in a match situation as looping. She understood, and kept trying.

When the time for the session came to an end, she was so close, and had managed to make two shots that I would charitably describe as loops, but most of the others were still just topspin drives. I went to her side and said let's just shadow practice the shot for two minutes so she can get the feel for the stroke, so she could shadow practice on her own all week and be ready next time. (We'd been doing shadow stroking, but usually for 10-20 seconds at a time at most.) We did so, and her stroke looked better and better. So I asked the dad if we could stay a little late, and he said sure. I fed her more multiball - and from the first ball, after that two minutes of shadow-practice, she was looping!!! She was grazing the ball and getting good topspin. She did seven in a row, missed a few, and then made a bunch more. I wanted to ingrain the stroke, so we did it for another five minutes. We were both very excited over this.

Now I'll be working on both her drives and loops. (As much as I like to get to looping, it's equally important to get those drive shots down - the fundamentals are key.) When I feel she's ready, I'll have her try them in combination - loop a backspin and then smash a topspin. Eventually, we'll have her looping against topspin as well. And yes, the backhand loop will be coming up as well in a few weeks.

Henzel's World Cup Blog

William Henzel of Australia is keeping a blog of his trip to the Men's World Cup in Liverpool, England, where he arrived yesterday - the tournament is Fri-Sun, Sept. 28-30. Here's Day One, where he arrives and ponders the expense of hiring a coach for his matches.

Documentary on the Rise of Sweden

Here's a documentary of how Sweden rose to challenge and defeat the Chinese at the 1989 World's. They would continue to dominate the world for about six more years, and would battle with the Chinese for nearly 15 more years. The only problem is the video, about an hour long, is in Swedish, without English subtitles. I watched much of it, and though I didn't know what was being said, you could figure much of it out from the context. Plus it was nostalgic for those of us who were around back then! The video features Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Erik Lindh, Stellan Bengsston, Kjell Johansson, and other Swedish players and coaches, as well as Chinese players such as Jiang Jialiang and Chen Longcan.

ITTF Coaching Seminar - in India

Stopping by India anytime soon? Or already live there? USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee will be teaching three ITTF coaching seminars in India, in Ajmer (Oct. 3-7), in Bangalore (Oct. 10-14), and in Bangalore (Oct. 17-21). Here's the ITTF announcement.

Howard Tong Video

Here's a video (2:58) featuring 12-year-old Howard Tong of the World Champions Table Tennis Club in the San Francisco Bay area.

Orioles J.J. Hardy - "No one can beat me."

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is the best pingpong player on the team, according to an article in ESPN on Tuesday. The article says Hardy is the best athlete on the team, and says "He also is the best pingpong player on the Orioles." It then quotes Hardy:

"The next-best is Brady [Anderson, a special instructor]," Hardy said, half joking. "I've played him 100 times. I've beaten him 100 times. He'll never beat me. No one can beat me."

Some may remember that earlier this season the Orioles contacted me about doing a table tennis special with the Orioles for their TV network (featuring Hardy, Anderson, and pitcher Jake Arrieta, another table tennis enthusiast. However, it was put off when Hardy began having wrist problems, and now they are in a pennant race. So I don't know when or if this will happen. I've been in email contact with them, and my best guess is it'll be put off until next year. We'll see.

Inmates at the Teams

That's me scratching my head as I'm literally surrounded by "inmates" playing in the 2006 North American Teams in Baltimore. Yes, that was their team uniform - and there are at least eight of them, so it might have been two teams. The ones in "uniform," L-R, are: Unknown (you can just see his hat and leg); Ray Mack; I think Fong Hsu; Unknown; Connie Sweeris (short one with back to us); Unknown; I think Jim McQueen (or was the one I thought was Fong Hsu actually McQueen? Hard to tell); and Alan Fendrick.

MDTTC Goes to the Birds

Earlier this month a bird visited the Maryland Table Tennis Center. No, not the Baltimore Orioles mascot or Larry Bird; an actual bird! Here's the video (3:47), starring Nathan Hsu, Derek Nie, Raghu Nadmichettu, Tong Tong Gong, and a seemingly very tame (but probably just traumatized) bird. I can't believe I missed all of this, but I wasn't there for the big event.


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