MDTTC Mini-Camp

January 21, 2014

MDTTC Mini-Camp

Yesterday we had day one of our two-day mini-camp, with local schools closed for Martin Luther King Day and teachers meetings. Unlike our regular five-day camps, there is no lecturing in these camps, just get the players on the table and start training, with lots of multiball in the morning.

Over and over idea keeps slapping me in the face, one I've said for years: Most of coaching isn't telling players what to do; it's getting rid of unnecessary stuff. For every time I have a player actually do something new, there are probably three times where I tell them to stop doing something they are doing, usually some sort of hitch in a stroke. For example, one beginning kid in the camp was hitting his forehand by dropping his racket but with the racket tip aimed upwards, tilting his wrist back, then doing this round-about stroke where his racket angle started open and ended up closed, with the tip always up. His elbow did all sorts of gymnastics during the stroke, and he used enough wrist to solve the national energy crisis. He couldn't smash to save his life, and his shots sprayed all over the place, often with crazy sidespins. By the end of the day, he had a pretty clean forehand (in drills), and he could smash over and over.

My group did a lot of serve practice in the camp, and I had a lot of fun demonstrating the various dances you can make the ball do with good spin - back into the net, big breaks to the side, etc.

No-spin and Backspin Serving Tactics

I worked with a student recently on serve and attack tactics. For example, I pointed out that when an advanced player serves short no-spin to the middle, he's probably going to look to follow up with his forehand, since he's hoping the opponent misreads it as backspin - so you either attack the serve or push mostly to the wide forehand while chopping down on the ball. Intermediate players will push this ball to the backhand over and over, with less backspin than most pushes (since they don't have any incoming backspin to rebound back as backspin), and often slightly high, and so an easy meatball for a good forehand attacker. A simple push to the wide forehand often wins the point.

On the other hand, a backspin serve to the short forehand gives the receiver the threat of a wide-angled return to the wide forehand, and since the server has to cover that, he can't look to play as aggressively with the forehand. But it's harder to attack a short backspin serve than a no-spin serve, so most returns are pushes, so an advanced player is usually looking to loop against backspin, either forehand or backhand. Off this serve a receiver can just push down the line to the server's backhand - and the server is more likely to look to serve and attack with the backhand, or perhaps just serve and push. I had the student experiment with these, following up the no-spin serve to the middle with his forehand when possible, and following up his short backspin serve to my forehand from both wings. He'd also serve backspin to my backhand, and be ready to either follow from both wings, or do sudden step arounds to attack with his forehand, since there's no angle into his forehand off that serve to cover for.

You should vary your serves all over the place, but understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of serve and play the tactics accordingly. (I think I could write a book on just serving short tactics!) 

Increasing Reaction Speed (Tips and Exercises)

Here's an article from Table Tennis Master on improving your table tennis reaction time.

Aurora Cup Results

You can see the complete results for every round of every event at the Aurora Cup on their Omnipong page.  

Training a Cat to Play Ping-Pong

Here's the video (27 sec)!

The Secret of Bay Area Table Tennis Training

Here's the video (21 sec), with Kanak Jha demonstrating.

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January 20, 2014

Tip of the Week

Playing the Seemiller or American Grip. (This is an excerpt from "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.")

MDTTC Mini-Camp

Local schools are closed today and tomorrow for Martin Luther King birthday and a teacher's meeting. And so we're running a two-day mini-camp at MDTTC, 10AM-6PM. Normally I'd be there all day both days, but because I'm working on Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis (Vol. 14), with Tim at my side ("No, stupid, that photo there!"), I'm only doing the morning sessions. What does this really mean for me? It means I'm up all last night working on this blog, the Tip of the Week, and all the other stuff I have to take care of each day; it means I'm at my desk with Tim at 5AM to get two chapters done before I leave at 9:30AM; it means I'm coaching at the club from 10AM-1PM (and likely taking a large group of kids to the 7-11 down the street afterwards); it means I rush home to an impatient Tim and do several more chapters that afternoon and night; and it means starting all over again that night with the following day's blog so I can get started early with Tim the following morning. Somewhere in there I sleep.

Tim's Book, and Tim's Trials and Tribulations

Due to our various illnesses and my coaching, we're behind schedule on History of U.S. Table Tennis, Volume 14. However, we're catching up fast. Yesterday we got three more chapters done, so we've done eleven chapters, plus the covers and early intro pages. We just went through the 1985 U.S. Open, and once again Cheng Yinghua wins over Taiwan's Wen Chia-Wu, who had upset world #1 Jiang Jialiang in the semifinals! Cheng also won Men's Doubles with Jiang. And now he's my fellow coach at MDTTC.

Sports Psychology

One of my students (age 12) gets way too nervous in matches. So our top focus now is sports psychology. (This really should be everyone's top priority, since you get more for your time put into it than just about anything else.) I started today's session by having him simply tie his shoes. No problem. Then I had him do the same thing where he had to consciously tell himself what to do each step of the way. He laboriously went through the process, but the contrast with trying to consciously do it and letting your subconscious do what it's been trained to do (i.e. muscle memory) made the point about how you want to play table tennis. (For the record, I made up this exercise myself.)

Then we moved on to ping-pong ball shooting. I set up a box on the table, and we stood about fifteen feet away and simply shot baskets. The catch - you couldn't think about aiming. You just looked at the target, visualized the trajectory of the ball from hand to box, and then let it happen. At first the student had some problems - he kept trying to consciously aim the ball, or reacted to misses and swishes, when the conscious mind needs to get out of the way and let the subconscious do the job. After a few minutes of this, he was able to let go, and his shooting increased tremendously. (I had a streak where I made over 50 in a row without a conscious thought.

Then I held up a ping-pong ball, and said, "This is your conscious mind." Then I waved my hand about and said, "Your house is your subconscious. That's their relative sizes." Then I compared the conscious mind to some bad boss who flits about an office of well-trained employees and interferes with their work. For the well-trained employees (the subconscious) to get their work done they need the boss (the conscious mind) to get out of the way. Nervousness comes from the conscious mind; the subconscious is as cool as ice. Get out of the way and let it do its job. (Of course, there's the separate issue of training the subconscious - but that's what you are doing every time you practice, as you develop muscle memory. Most players have far better muscle memory than they realize, if they'd only stop being a bad boss and get out of the way.)

We didn't get to the table for the first half hour. (It was a 90-minute session.) Then he had a very good session. Much of the session we focused on reaction drills, where the key was to just let go and react, with muscle memory doing the natural reaction. He has a tendency to anticipate forehands and so loses a lot of points when the ball goes to his wide backhand, so we did drills where he had to just react to the ball, forehand or backhand.

We also went over routines. For example, anyone who's played me knows that when I serve, I start by loosening my right sleeve with my left arm; then I let my playing arm drop back and forth once like a pendulum; and then I serve. When I receive, I hold up my left hand as I approach the table; shuffle my feet a few times; and then lower my arm. Little routines like these become habit to the point that by doing them, they put you in the proper frame of mind for the point. Everyone should develop these little routines, with at least one thing you always do just before each point.  (This could become a Tip of the Week at some point.)

Aurora Cup

Now here's how you do publicity for a major tournament - with daily articles all week in advance! Below are the daily articles by Barbara Wei for the Butterfly Aurora Cup. (I believe there might be at least one more coming, covering Sunday's results, which I'll put up tomorrow.) And here are the results.

U.S. National Team Programs

Here's a listing of upcoming programs for the U.S. National Team.

Crystal Wang in Baltimore Sun

Here's an article and video (1:32) in the Baltimore Sun on 11-year-old Crystal Wang, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women at the USA Nationals. (She's from my club!) Here are more photos.

Disguise Topspin as Backspin with the Maharu Yoshimura Serve (Photo and Video Analysis)

Here's an article and video (3:49) from Table Tennis Master on how the Japanese star disguises his serves.

Gossip Pong

A few days ago I watched as two girls at my club played table tennis - or sort of played. They were chatting non-stop, with the table tennis just along for the ride. I realized we don't have a name for this, and so I have christened this new sport: "Gossip Pong." I'm copyrighting it. For now on, every time you use this name, you owe me $1. If you talk to your opponent when you play table tennis, you owe me $1. If you so much as call out the score, you owe me $1.

Ping-Pong with the Fishes

Here's the picture!

Schwarzenegger Super Bowl Commercial

Here's a video preview (17 sec) of an upcoming Super Bowl ad that shows Arnold trying to make it as a table tennis player. (Look at those strokes! Look at that hair!)  

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