College Class

May 15, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

Here's a rundown of my day yesterday. After writing my blog in the morning, I spent some time inputting edits for my new Table Tennis Tips book. (They are from four people who proofed the book. More on them soon.) I've been working on this on and off for the last couple of weeks, and hope to finalize it by tomorrow - we'll see. Finalizing it has been a bigger job than I thought, and I've sometimes put it aside for a day or so to work on other stuff. (I'm also doing some science fiction work, but I won't get into that here.)

At 2:30PM, as I do Mon-Fri, I left to pick up kids for our afterschool program. My first pickup is at 3:05, and by leaving at 2:30 I get to his school around 2:50PM. Why do I go this early? Two reasons. 1) In case there's traffic, I don't want to be late; and 2) I've taken to doing the Washington Post crossword puzzle while parked at his school, waiting for him to come out. It's great fun, and I'm able to do the entire thing about half the time, though not always in the 15 minutes there. I may blog about table tennis and crossword puzzles later on - there are a number of connections.

After picking up the 3:05 player I picked up a second one at another school five minutes later, and then we were off to the club. It wasn't one of the more fun pickups as the two bickered back and forth the entire trip. Finally, after arriving at the club I was to hit with one of them (age 7) for 30 minutes, and then do 20-30 minutes of school work with him. Unfortunately, perhaps primed by the bickering in the car, he wasn't happy and let's just say it wasn't one of the better sessions, both the table tennis and the academics. And yet, he played surprisingly well. At one point he hit about 100 forehands in a row (his most ever), but he was oblivious to it as the entire time he was voicing his displeasure with all the work he was being forced to do (especially school), and how much he wanted to play video games instead!

I had two more one-hour sessions. The first was with a nine-year-old, about 1500 level. I've mentioned him before - he likes to lob, and does so at a surprisingly high level. But in recent weeks he's become more determined to develop his attack. His backhand right now is a little better than his forehand, but when he gets going, his forehand looping can be pretty strong. The problem is he tends to change strokes every few shots as he constantly experiments. That's good and bad, but at this state in his development, mostly bad. He likes to swing from the side to get lots of sidespin, but this leads to a rather long and cumbersome stroke without much power. He also likes to switch back and forth every few shots from looping close to the table, then off the table, then back to the table again. Great ball control, but he's not going to develop real precision on his shots this way.

We spent the first 45 minutes of the session on just forehand and backhand looping, including footwork. (He can spin his backhand both close to the table and from off the table.) Then we worked on his serves for five minutes. (He practices these at home, and always has new "show and tell" serves to show me. Currently he's working hard on his reverse pendulum serve.) We were going to play games at the end, but he wanted to counterloop, so we finished that way - though half the counterlooping rallies ended with him lobbing, which is what he really likes to do. He's gotten pretty good at sidespin lobbing from the side, where I hit the ball as wide to his forehand as I can.

The second session was with a 12-year-old who's about 1700 now. He's developing a very strong forehand loop, with fast footwork. His backhand is coming along, but isn't quite as dominating yet, partly because he's constantly looking to play forehand. I wanted to focus on his backhand this session, but his forehand was looking so strong at the start I decided to focus on that the first half of the session, to bring it to a new level. After a bunch of regular forehand and footwork drills against my block, and some multiball, I introduced him to a new drill, an improvised multiball drill I've blogged about before. I put a basket of balls near me. I serve backspin to his backhand, he pushes to my backhand, I forehand loop down the line to his forehand, and he counterloops a winner. As he's doing this, I reach for the next ball and repeat. It's a rapid-fire way to develop a winning counterloop against an opponent's opening shot. At the start I did medium-speed loops, which he was pretty good against. He kept asking me to loop harder, and so I increased the pace, and he did pretty well. It's important in this drill to go at a pace where the player is consistent so he can develop good habits that'll carry over into matches, when you don't know where the ball is going to go. Then I challenged him with very slow, spinny loops, dropping them short on the table. These are especially hard to counterloop, and he had trouble at first, but picked up on it soon.

Then we began work on this backhand. After some straight backhand-to-backhand rallies, I began moving him around, stressing the idea that if you cover only 1/3 of the table with your backhand, you should practice covering 1/2, which will make it easy to cover the 1/3. We did multiball so he could rapid-fire backhand loop against backspin. I also looped to his backhand so he could work on blocking. Then we did another multiball drill where I rapid-fire grabbed balls and looped them at him randomly over the whole table, and he had to aggressively block backhands or counterloop on the forehand. (Later I'll have him spin the backhands when he blocks as well.)

We finished with a series of games. I think he was a little disappointed that he wasn't able to play his forehand in game situations as well as in drills, but as I explained to him (and have blogged about), it takes perhaps six months to incorporate into games what you can do in practice. (I have two "six-month rules." The other one is that if you improve to a higher level in practice games, it'll take about six months before you can consistently do this in tournaments. I call this one Larry's Law.)

I was done coaching for the day, but stayed after for a while to watch one of our top juniors play, since I'll be coaching him at the U.S. Open. Then I went home and started work again on the Tips book - but that's when I discovered I was just too tired to do so, and put it off until today. Yep, it's on my todo list to work on that next (after doing a few other shorter items) until I leave for today's afterschool pickups and coaching.

Serves in Slow Motion

Here's a video (7:24, from 2010) showing top players serving in slow motion. This is the only way to really see the semi-circular motion and last-second changes of direction top players use when they serve.

World Veterans Championships

They are taking place right now, May 14-17, Auckland, New Zealand, for players over age 40. Here's the home page for the event, with lots of news items, pictures, live streaming, and results. Here's the ITTF Page with lots of articles. There are 1665 players entered, including 29 from the U.S. (see player listing, which lists them by country).

College Table Tennis Class

Here's an article about USATT Coaching Chair Fede Bassetti teaching a class at Northern Illinois University.

How Much Should Table Tennis Players Make?

Here's an interesting discussion of this.

Zhang Jike's Father Furiously Disappointed

Here's the article. "I was extremely anxious watching him play that day. Bad techniques, it doesn't matter. Losing the match, it doesn't matter. But looking at his performance that day, there was no fighting spirit. Others were cheering for him but he was simply in a daze. It really worried me to death." (Should parents voice criticism like this in public?)

Tribute to Lily Zhang

Here's a musical tribute video (3:43) to Lily Zhang's performance at the recent World Championships, created by Jim Butler.

Trick Serves

Here's a video (1:18) where the guys from PingSkills demonstrate a bunch of hilarious trick serves - fifty-foot serves from the side and backspin bounce-back serves.

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