Teaching Serves

August 8, 2014

Virginia Camp

Yesterday was Day Four of the five-day camp I'm running at Fairhill Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia, with 14 players, ages 6 to 12. (John and Wen Hsu are assistant coaches, with Wen the administrator.) The focus yesterday was footwork (as usual), serving, and lots and lots of smashing. We also did a lot of relay races. 

After four days of camp, all 14 of the kids can hit forehands and backhands pretty well, at least in multiball. All can smash, push, and move side to side. Most can put spin on their serves. I think I've put more emphasis in this camp on smashing and serves, and the players are well ahead on those two aspects. All were beginners when we started on Monday, though some had been playing on their own. 

When I do multiball forehand smash training, I like to do two players at a time. One stands on the forehand side, the other on the backhand side. The one on the forehand side starts, smashing three forehands in a row, one from the forehand side, one from the backhand side, and one from the forehand side. After the third shot he steps back, and the other player gets three smashes, one from the backhand side, one from the forehand side, and one from the backhand side. Then he steps back, and we repeat with the other player. The drill is continuous, so the players get lots of smashing and footwork practice. If I have a lot of players, I'll do three or more players at a time, with the players smashing forehands from the backhand and then forehand side, and then circling back to the end of the line as the next player gets two smashes. There are many variations, such as smashing on the forehand side and then backhand side, or mixing in backhand smashes, or even doing the "2-1" drill, with the players hitting a backhand from the backhand side, then a forehand from the backhand side, then a forehand from the forehand side, and then rotating to the end of the line. 

Sometimes a simple suggestion cures a problem. One kid was having difficulty timing his forehand - over and over he'd start too soon or too late, and end up with wild swats and lunges. I suggested he start his forward swing right as the ball hit the table, and presto! Instant success. Another couldn't get spin on his serve because he kept patting at the ball. I reminded him that serving with spin is a violent motion, and that if you want the ball to spin 100 mph, you have to get the racket to move 100 mph. Within minutes he was serving serious backspins that often stopped over the table, with a couple even coming back into the net.

I brought out the serving bar so they could practice serving low. (This is an adjustable bar that goes over the net. Here's a picture of it set high, and here's a picture of it set low. John Olsen made this for our club. It has about ten height settings.) The kids had a great time trying to serve under the lowest setting - they insisted on that one. Even I hit the bar about 1/3 of the time with that setting. I also brought out the soccer-colored balls for more spin feedback on serves. Besides spin serves we also practice fast serves. 

I spent the last 20 minutes of the day serving to the kids, who lined up to try to return them. I'd call out where their returns would go in advance, even having kids take turns standing to the side and catching the returns off my sidespin serves. Then I started telling them what they had to do to return them, and some of them were able to make some returns. I also threw in a lot of "trick" serves - backspin serves that bounced back and over the net, under-the-leg serves, fast serves, "blowing serves" (where I'd serve high but then run to the side of the table and blow the ball sideways or back into the net on the opponent's side), and about a dozen others. I also threw in a few 50-foot serves from the side. 

Zhang Jike: The Two-Toned Ball is Okay

Here's the article.

Plastic Ball Reviews from Professionals

Here's the article, with reviews from five world-class players.

Hong Kong Cadet and Junior Open

Here's the info page for the Aug. 6-10 tournament. Fifteen USA juniors are playing in the tournament - here's the player listing by country.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Seventy-six down, 24 to go!

  • Day 25: Alison Burchell Hopes to See the ITTF Become the Best Integrated IF

Athletes in Excellence

Here's the info page. "The Athletes in Excellence Award from The Foundation for Global Sports Development recognizes exceptional athletes who uphold the values of good sportsmanship and fair play on the field as well as off the field. Do you know of an athlete who spends countless hours volunteering their skills and time to better the lives of others? Submit your nomination to The Foundation for Global Sports Development, and share the athlete’s good deeds around the world. A total of ten athletes (five international and five domestic) will be awarded unrestricted grants each in the amount of $10,000. Award winners will be announced in fall of 2014."

Three Amazing Points

Here's the video (1:54). Ding Ning vs. Seo Hyowon, Ma Long vs. Jun Mazutani, and Ma Long vs. Fan Zhendong.

Casts of Hot in Cleveland and Glee Play Ping Pong

Here's the article and picture

Doug McDermott vs. Nick Johnson - NBA Basketball Players Play TT

Here's the article, with a link to a 16-sec video.

World Series of Beer Pong

Here's the info page. Oh Jeez!!!

Ulf Carlsson Playing with Racket in Pants

Here's the video (20 sec) of the 1985 World Men's Doubles Champion (with Mikael Appelgren).

Cat Playing Table Tennis

It's been a while since I've shown a video of a cat playing table tennis, so here's one (26 sec) that's probably the best pong-playing cat I've seen on video. We'll ignore that he's standing on the table, touching the net, has no racket, and isn't wearing legal attire. 

Non-TT: Top Ten Ways for Orioles Fans to Cope with a Winning Team

After 14 consecutive losing seasons (1998-2011), the fans of the Baltimore Orioles pretty much got used to losing. They have begun winning the last three years, but many fans are still not used to this weird thing called "winning." So here is my Top Ten List for how they can cope - published at Orioles Hangout. (Here's the thread on their forum where a few are discussing the list.)

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October 21, 2013

Tip of the Week

Should you Choose Serve, Receive, or Side at the Start of a Match?

Knee Problems

Yes, just a couple weeks after getting over about ten days of arm problems (where I had to cancel or get substitutes for a lot of coaching sessions), now it's my right knee that's acting up. I hurt it on Saturday at the very end of my last session, with John Olsen and Kevin Walton. We normally do nearly 90 minutes of multiball each session (they take turns), then do live drills or games the last 30 minutes or so. I was playing John a game, and he returned my serve to my wide backhand. I stepped around to loop a forehand, and as I put weight on my back (right) leg, I felt something go in the knee. I made the shot, and the rally continued, with me hobbling about fishing to keep the ball in play. Then he went to my wide forehand, and I tottered over for the shot, again putting weight on the knee and aggravating it. We stopped play after the shot.

I did a lot of group session on Sunday, where I limped about. I did one private coaching session where I staggered around in live drills, but fortunately did a lot of multiball so I wouldn't have to shamble around the court running down balls. (Okay, I think I've finally run out of acronyms for "hobble.")

I'm resting it today (my day off), and have only one session tomorrow (Tuesday). But then things get busy again on Wed and Thur. I'll sort of get Fri-Sun off, as I'll be coaching at the South Shore Open in Indiana where hopefully I won't leap to my feet to celebrate some victory and hurt the knee again. Because then I'd be forced to stumble about next week.

How I Taught Serves in Class Yesterday

On Sundays at 4:30 I have a 90-minute session with about 12 beginning kids, ages 7-11. I'd already taught them how to serve legally. Yesterday I introduced them to serving with spin. This is always a tricky subject to teach since they don't have the fine coordination yet needed to really graze the ball and make it spin. Worse, they get little feedback from their shot since they can't really see how much it's spinning. So as I always do, I brought out the ping-pong soccer balls.

First I showed them how to change their grip so as to get extra wrist on a forehand serve. Then I demoed a few serves, showing them backspin serves that bounced back into the net and sidespin serves that curved dramatically. This always gets their attention. Then I showed them a simple exercise to learn to create spin. Hold the racket in front, forehand side up. Then tilt the left side up a bit. (Lefties reverse.) Then toss a ball up, and spin the left bottom of the ball so it goes straight up with spin. Catch the ball, and repeat. After demoing this with a soccer ball, I gave one out to each of them. This way they could see how much spin they were creating as they hit the ball up, and they really like spinning the ball. After a few minutes practicing this, I showed them how to do this with a serve (forehand backspin and sidespin serves), and then sent them out on the tables to practice.

RGIII Response Video Postings

The RGIII Video Response went semi-viral, with over 10,000 views. I'm told it was shown on the NFL Network, but I haven't actually got an eye-witness to that. Anyone see that or have a video of it? Or know of any showings not listed below? Definite online showing are at:

2013 USA Nationals

The deadline for the USA Nationals was extended to Oct. 25, this Friday. Hope to see you there!

Interview with Xiao Zhan

Here's a video interview (4:51) of one of the Chinese National Team Coaches, about how he got started, coaching young players, and talent identification. In Chinese with English captions.

The Kenta Matsudaira Sidespin Block

Here's an article and video analysis of the Japanese star's sidespin block, a rare shot among the world's elite that mostly consists of looping or counterlooping everything.

Physics of Table Tennis

Here's an article explaining the Magnus Effect (how spin makes the ball curve), using Adam Hugh's ITTF Trick Shot Competition entry as an example.

Kreanga vs. Tokic

Here's a great point between these two (54 sec).

The Eight Stages of Every Player

Here's the funny but accurate appraisal! So where are you on this?

Fun with Ping-Pong Ball Eyes

Here are some pictures.

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