Videotaping Yourself

November 4, 2014

Coaching Seven-Year-Olds

Yesterday I coached two seven-year-olds, feeding them multiball for half an hour as they took turns practicing and doing ball pickup. Coaching seven-year-olds is like trying to catch smoke in your hands. If you haven't tried coaching this age group, then you have no idea what it's like. I've worked regularly with these two, who aren't exactly beginners. Both will likely become very good players. I should be taking videos of them now to blackmail them to show them someday.  

I teach a class of beginning kids twice a week. Our last one on Sunday had 15 kids, including one 6-year-old, three 7-year-olds, and four 8-year-olds. So I'm quite experienced at threatening to throttle them if they don't pay attention teaching them the finer points of the game. It's always a matter of finding the balance between strictness (i.e. getting them to learn by actually practicing) and fun. 

At this age they have an attention span of about three seconds. Okay, they can focus longer than that, but it's not easy for them. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a 7-year-old to play serious for more than 30 seconds. Pretty much anything brings on a gigglefest. And yet you have to find a way to get them to do things properly, and to practice it, or as you explain to them they'll grow up flipping burgers at McDonalds they won't reach their potential as table tennis players.

Sometimes you feel like you are tricking them into learning things so that they'll have good techniques ingrained by the time they are more serious. And since no seven year old can focus for more than three seconds while there are seven-year-olds who can focus (for a time, at least), most simply aren't ready to take it seriously for another year or so. But there are ways of getting their attention and getting them to try. For example, if you challenge them to do a number of shots in a row (say, 50 forehands), they'll usually rise to the challenge. Or you can play improvised games, such as feeding multiball where they have to make three smashes in a row to score a point, but if they miss any of them I score a point. Or, as I did with the two yesterday (who were a bit advanced for seven-year-olds), feed them a backspin ball and a topspin ball, and they have to loop the first and smash the second to score a point - but if they miss either shot I score the point. They can get into these types of games.

The same is true of ball pickup. If you are coaching a group, then while one is doing multiball, the other(s) are doing ball pickup. At age seven, one doing ball pickup is a chore; two doing it is a contest. (This is true of boys, but girls often cooperate. Anyone who thinks they are the same at this age hasn't coached them.) And so it's often best to have two of them competing to see who can pick up the most. They'll go at it, with constant cries of "I'm winning!" - often when they obviously are not winning. Between feeding balls I sometimes help with ball pickup, and there's nothing in the world you can do to make one of them happier than to suddenly pour the balls from your pickup net into theirs, to the even louder cries of "I'm winning!" Of course this brings cries of protest from the other - "No fair!" So be an equal opportunity ball sharer and give each half.

You have to be careful what you do around them. If they see something, they want to copy it. In the middle of a demo a few weeks ago I suddenly chopped a ball. OOPS!!! The rest of the session several of the kids wanted to chop. It's easier to get an elephant to fit into a racket case than getting a seven-year-old to focus on hitting and looping when he has chopping on his mind. (I think we've just discovered the origin of choppers - it's not genetic, it's environment.) So be very careful what you do around seven-year-olds because what you do is what they'll be doing for the rest of the session and perhaps the rest of their lives. It's a heavy responsibility.

At this age they have one natural addiction and one learned addiction. They all like speed. Adults think of running around as work, but kids want to run around. It is easier to fit a blue whale into a ping-pong ball then for a seven-year-old to stop moving. And so footwork drills aren't work, they are play. (Well, at least until they get bored with it, so you keep changing the drill to something new rather than have them do 1-1 forehand footwork for more than a few minutes.) The other type of speed they like is smashing. Oh yes, they love smashing. It's like dessert. And so you usually save it for the last drill. Then let them swing away. Only catch is often they don't care if the ball hits the table, they just want to hit the ball hard. So you might have to remind them to aim for the table.

The learned addiction is spin. They are fascinated by how the ball curves with sidespin, and floats and stops on the table with backspin. So guess what becomes their favorite shot, other than smashing? Pushing. In nearly every session the seven-year-olds (and older ones) ask if they can push. When the ball hits the table or floor and dies, they have big grins. I often bring out soccer-colored balls for pushing so they can see the ball spin, which adds to the fun.

Another drill they like is blocking my loops. You'd be amazed at how fast a seven-year-old can learn to block a loop as long as I keep the ball on one spot on the table, say inside a one-foot area. After a few sessions, you can almost let loose at regular power, and they block them back like it was a video game. The only problem is they get addicted to this as well, and always want to block - which can be tiring for a coach. One other problem is that while they quickly learn to block them back, they aren't very accurate, so their blocks spray all over the table. It also becomes apparent that they have very slow reactions - if you move the loop one foot to the side, they barely react to it.

And what is the favorite game in table tennis for seven-year-olds? No, not table tennis; it's either stacking cups on one side of the table so they can knock them down while I feed multiball, or hitting a bottle filled with "worm juice," which I have to drink if they hit it. As I often point out to them, "Friends do not make friends drink worm juice." They are not my friends work hard to hit the bottles so as to improve their stroking accuracy.

USA Nationals

They are now up to 739 players in this year's upcoming USA Nationals (Las Vegas, Dec. 16-20), and the final deadline for entering isn't until Nov. 9, this Sunday, with several more days probably needed to enter them all. Here's the listing. (Set drop-down menu near top to "USA Nationals.") This already tops the 716 players in last year's USA Nationals (also in Las Vegas), so the switch to the plastic ball apparently hasn't had an effect on attendance. I'll put up an updated list sometime next week when all the entries are listed.

Are You Doing What You Think You're Doing?

Here's the coaching article from Expert Table Tennis. "In a nutshell, I’m using today’s post as another opportunity to convince you of the power of filming yourself playing table tennis. But I’ll also go a bit more into the reason why you need to start filming and analysing your own game."

Was the New Ball More Entertaining?

Here's the new blog entry on the new plastic ball by Matt Hetherington.

Wang Hao: The Rumour Was an Insult to Us

Here's another article on the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final apparent fixing story, where Wang Hao sort of denies it. Judge for yourself.

Zhang Jike Fiasco a Benefit to Sponsors

Here's the article. "It is very interesting to note that the Japanese thinks that by his rather destructive merrymaking, Zhang Jike has actually increased the visibility of the sponsor's name and it is a form of advertisement and publicity. For the sponsors, it should be a good thing and they are the biggest beneficiary from this fiasco."

Second Annual Playing It Forward Ping Pong Ball

Here's event info. The charity event takes place 6-10PM on Thursday, Nov. 6, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago. All proceeds support families with critically ill babies at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Event will include "…a Jocks versus Rocks tournament with pro athletes like Chicago Bears’ players Jordan Mills, Cornelius Washington and David Bass, refereed by TV Personality and CEO/Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, Billy Dec. Talent from Killerspin Table Tennis will be conducting tips and tricks demonstrations. There will also be over 50 silent auction items, including a full wedding package complete with a venue, dress and veil, planner, flowers and more, as well as vacations from all over the world."

Milwaukee Bucks Add Ping Pong Table to Arena

Here's the article from Table Tennis Nation.

Election Day

Here are two cartoons I created long ago. The first is pretty simple. The second is jammed with gags - see if you can find them all. Special bonus if you can figure out who all the talking people are in the second one - especially the three on the left, and explain why they are in the picture.  

Minions Playing Table Tennis!

80 seconds into the trailer for the upcoming movie Minions a pair of bored Minions are playing table tennis for about three seconds!

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