Timo Boll

September 13, 2011

When to go for winners?

There are two times a player should go for the big winner, especially with a loop. The first is obviously off a weak ball that pops up, or often a lower ball that lands in the middle of the table (which is easy to loop kill). However, we all have seen top players rip winners off what seems to be effective low serves and pushes. Shouldn't we try to do that as well?

The key is whether you are both in position for the shot, and not only have read the ball's spin perfectly, but know you have read it perfectly. (Nobody really does anything "perfectly," but you get the idea.) Top players are almost always in position and almost always read the incoming ball, and so they can go for a big shot. (Plus, of course, they are top players, and so are skilled at making big shots.) If you have a good loop or smash, and are sure you have read the incoming ball very well, then you can go for the shot. This doesn't mean ripping it like the pros, but you can go for perhaps 80% power. That, and good placement, should generally be all that's needed to win the point. For most shots, if a little light bulb doesn't go off in your head that tells you that you have read the ball perfectly, then you probably should focus on aggressive, well-placed steadiness and save the winners for another shot.

Aggressive, well-placed steadiness

Think about it. Aggressive, well-placed steadiness, combined with opportunistic putaways, good serves, and good tactics - put these together, and you have quite a game. (I toyed with adding "controlled receive" here, but that really comes under the "aggressive, well-placed steadiness" banner. A well-controlled receive is actually aggressive as you aren't giving the opponent an easy shot to attack.)

Focus on basics

Yesterday I did a 90-minute lesson with a 1300 player who was about 60 years old. I normally spend perhaps 10 minutes on each shot when working with someone, to give them variety. This time we spent the first 45 minutes just hitting his forehand to my backhand (he's a lefty), with me sometimes playing forehands from my backhand. (He did the last five minutes of it doing side to side footwork.) His forehand really, Really, REALLY improved! We then spent the next 30 minutes with me just hitting my forehand into his backhand - and his backhand hitting really, Really, REALLY improved! Then I looped for ten minutes to his backhand, and after all those backhands, his backhand block became a wall, and (yeah, one more time) really, Really, REALLY improved! So sometimes it's good to really focus on one thing for a long time. (We finished with five minutes practicing serves, for those doing the arithmetic.)

The Table Tennis Museum

Why not take an online tour of the ITTF Table Tennis Museum? Lots and lots of great stuff there. Here's a short video tour of various rackets on display (2:09).

Lobbing point

58 shots!

Timo Boll from age 4 on

This video has been posted before, but in case you haven't seen it, here is Germany's Timo Boll (former world #1, current #3, European #1) playing at ages 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. (5:48)

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September 9, 2011

Internet out

We've had almost non-stop rain the last four days here in Maryland, and yesterday had a thunderstorm that would have scared the Chinese National Team back to the alternate universe from whence they came. (You didn't think anyone from this universe could play that well did you?) At around 5PM both the Internet and cable TV went out, and a few minutes later the power went out for a short time. The cable TV came back on sometime early this morning, but still no Internet. Fortunately, I'd already put together notes for this morning's blog, including various online links. Unfortunately, I would have commented more on them after seeing them against this morning, but can't. After I finishing writing this up, I'm off to Starbucks to use their free wireless so I can put this online.  

Essentials for World Class Coaching

This is a must read for coaches and analytical-minded players. With the Internet out, I can't give the commentary I planned (and don't plan on staying at Panera's Bread long enough to do so), but I'm guessing you'll survive.

Blocking is under-rated

So says junior star Vikash Sahu, and I'm inclined to agree. Back in the early-to-mid 1980s, in between bouts of ongoing arm problems, I was an all-out attacker with a pretty good block. In 1985 I was hired by USATT to go to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to work with our resident training program as (at various times) manager, assistant coach, and director. During the next four and a half years I was a practice partner for our top junior players, and spent the bulk of my time blocking while they drilled. When I returned to Maryland in 1990, my blocking was a zillion times better, but I'd lost my attack. However, after a time my attack came back, and now I had that great block to back it up - and so I probably played the best of my life over the next few years. It also greatly helps me now, since blocking is pretty important for a coach!

Werner Schlager and Kalinikos Kreanga

Here's a video of these two training together recently. (Schlager on far side.) They seem a bit sloppy at first, but it gets better. (5:09)

Video Interviews

The Pongcast does interviews with top players and coaches, including their latest with five-time U.S. Champion and Olympian Sean O'Neill.

Timo Boll's doping worries

Yes, he's worried about testing positive- and blames it on that delicious Chinese food. Now I'm worried about my getting tested....

Grading USATT

Recently I've written a bunch about my frustration with USATT's lack of progress in developing our sport. Someone asked me how I would grade USATT on this. It wouldn't be fair to single out what they do worst while ignoring the rest - it's not all bad. So here are my grades for USATT. (I'm a USATT member - a Life member - so I have a right to grade them!)

  • Maintenance of the sport - working with current membership, running Open and Nationals, magazine, web page, etc.: B. While there's always room for improvement, overall they do fine here, given the limited staff. There are a few things I'd like to see to bump this up to an A, but I won't go into that here.
  • Helping elite athletes: C. Much of the problem here is because of a lack of funding - but why aren't they fund-raising? And it's a lot more cost effective to set up larger and longer training camps in the U.S., using the top players who are already here as practice partners, than to send them overseas. Clubs like ICC have volunteered to do so for free. I too would volunteer to come to such a camp to help out, probably feeding multiball full-time.
  • Development of the sport - increasing USATT membership, setting up leagues and junior programs, etc.: F. I've written plenty on this already. As some would say, "Enough already!" However, I've heard that in a few weeks (Sept. 17-18, if I recall correctly), USATT is holding another "Strategic Meeting" like the one they did in September of 2009. Unless they have learned the lessons on why the 2009 meeting didn't work, and why previous ones didn't work - I've been to at least four of these so far numbingly useless "Strategic Meetings" - this one won't work either. Until they set specific goals (with specific dates), create specific plans to meet those goals, put specific people in charge of implementing those plans, and then implement those plans, they'll continue to just maintain the sport (see above) without actually developing it.

    If I hear one more person from USATT talk about the things they are going to do, instead of actually doing these things, I think I will personally feed rapid-fire multiball at smashing speeds at the mouth those words come out of. (Of course, a major part of the problem is choosing things to do that can actually be implemented and will actually work in meeting whatever goals they are designed to reach.)

    One key thing for USATT to consider when looking to develop the sport: if they set a goal, say, of creating 100 successful junior programs in five years (my recommendation to them), and after five years have created "only" 70, they have not failed. They have created 70 successful junior programs that weren't there before, and that's a huge success. (And we only have maybe 20 in the whole country right now.) The alternative is to not even try, and that is a failure. And that is why they received an F.

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