Lily Yip TTC

August 15, 2013


There seems to be two groups in this week's group of beginning kids: those who want to play real games (up-down tables games to 11, king of the table) and those who want to hit targets while I feed multiball (pyramids of paper cups, Froggy). Since we have twelve of these beginners in the 5-8 range, I've pretty much divided them into these two groups when we get to games. The better ones tend to want to play real games. None of the four girls want to play competitive games - they perpetually want to line up and take turns hitting the poor paper cups and Froggy. They're inseparable.

There is amazing improvement in their target skills. I end many sessions with the bottle game, where they line up and try to hit a Gatorade bottle that I assure them is filled with something disgusting, like squeezed worm juice, which I have to drink if they hit it. Both groups love this game - the competitive ones compete to see who can make me drink the most. Normally beginning kids in this age group don't hit it that often, but the last two days they've been incredible, hitting it over and Over and OVER! I've drunk a lot of worm juice.

I had a private session with one up-and-coming junior I've been coaching for the past six months or so, with a supposed rating of 950. Yeah, right - he can loop over and over against my block, and pretty hard. "You're really working me!" I told him as I was sweating pretty hard trying to block all his loops. He was looping forehands from his backhand side to my backhand block. Some people don't understand that blocking involves footwork; good blockers work hard to block well.

Nature Versus Nurture

After my blog on talent yesterday someone brought this article in Skeptic Magazine to my attention. It basically debunks the 10,000 hour rule and other arguments for the "no such thing as talent" belief. However, like many other articles, it discusses physical and mental skills as if they were the same. That many purely physical skills are mostly genetic (such as sprinting speed or jumping ability, i.e. fast twitch muscle) is fact, but the bigger question is about the mental ones, such as hand-eye coordination, etc. Some aspects, such as IQ, have been researched to death and much of that is genetic. Like many articles on the topic, the article doesn't really address how hard a player trains, just the hours put in - 10,000 hours of mindless training in a skill sport isn't anything like 10,000 hours of hard-driven practice. There is a difference. The article also cites this New York Times article on the subject, which also seems to show that talent matters.

Regardless, my experiences in table tennis show that even "untalented" kids will become very good if they put in that hypothetical 10,000 hours, as long as they really work at it and have good coaching. Can they become the very best? That's the more interesting question. My current views are in yesterday's blog.

My Life

My life seems to center around seven things.

  • Table tennis coaching
  • Table tennis writing
  • Table tennis organizing and promotion
  • Writing science fiction & fantasy
  • Promoting my science fiction & fantasy
  • Reading and watching movies
  • My dog Sheeba (a corgi mix, now 15 and a half years old)

It's way too much. Here's my "Big Todo List":

  • Full-time coaching.
  • Daily Blog and Tip of the Week.
  • Two upcoming ITTF coaching seminars, Sept. 2-6 and Oct. 2-7 (one I'm attending, one I'm teaching).
  • Rewrite of Table Tennis: Steps to Success (tentatively retitled Table Tennis Fundamentals), with new photos.
  • Rewrite of Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, with new photos.
  • Maryland Junior League (on hold for now).
  • Promotion and translations for Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.
  • Promotion for upcoming novel ("The Giant Face in the Sky," coming Nov. 15).
  • Writing sequel to "The Giant Face in the Sky," with plans to have it out in time for the World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC, Nov. 6-9, 2013.
  • Rewrite of other novel, "Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates" - a publisher is interested, but asked for a rewrite, but with no guarantee that they'd accept the new version. 

Few from the table tennis world realize just how much time and effort I've put into my "second career," science fiction & fantasy writing. I've sold 67 short stories, and currently have 39 others making the rounds. I've got three other short stories in various stages of completion. Here's my science fiction & fantasy page, which I'm planning a major upgrade soon.

During our two-hour lunch break from camp this morning, besides taking the kids to the daily trek to 7-11, I'll be studying for the ITTF coaching seminar, and if I have time, starting the list of needed photos for the planned "Table Tennis Fundamentals" book.

ITTF Hopes Camp in NJ

Here's an ITTF article on the ITTF Hopes Camp being held at the Lily Yip Training Center in New Jersey, Aug. 10-16.

2013 Para Pan Am Games

Here's the USATT table tennis info page on the Para Pan Am Games, to be held in Costa Rica, Dec. 9-16.

Table Tennis for the Elderly in Virginia Beach

Here's a video (3 min) about a table tennis program for the elderly at Westminster Canterbury in Virginia Beach. It shows a 101-year-old playing, interviews the elderly, and talks about the benefits to the brain.

Table Tennis "Boogie Woogie" - Shot of the Day!

Here's a video (32 sec, with replays) of an incredible shot in the final of the 2013 Netherland National Youth Championships.

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October 10, 2011

Tip of the Week

Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves.

Mikael Andersson at Lily Yip TTC

Asif Hussain emailed me about a clinic held last week at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey. With Asif's and Lily's permission, here are excerpts from his email.

Mikael Andersson, ITTF Director of Education and Training along with former Chinese National Team member and coach Zhen Yu San came to Lily Yip's club for a one-hour free coaching class.  I of course got caught in traffic and missed the first half hour so I'm not sure what happened in the first half.  When I got there, Mikael was wearing street shoes, jeans, and jacket and walking around the court with a microphone.  Tina Lin (2200) and Michele (13-year-old around 2000) were doing drills with Mikael directing the drills and providing his observations.  The rest of the club members stood around the court and took in his information.

The girls were doing a countering drill involving both FH and BH, then played a single game to 11.  For the game, Mikael added a point to a player's score in case she made an exceptionally good play (even if the ball missed as he wanted to reward/reinforce the idea of the right shot selection or good/smart play.)  He also deducted a point from a player's score if they made a poor choice (e.g., pushing a ball back that was deep enough to be looped.)  Some of his points:

  1. Coaches should encourage randomness in drills
  2. Far too many players, even at very high levels only attack cross court.  Need to attack to wide FH, wide BH, and most importantly into the body (elbow or pocket.)  If your previous attack was to wide FH, next attack should be to elbow or wide BH.  Don't attack to same location more than once.  Wide means that the ball should cross the opponent's sideline.
  3. Your attacks should land deep on the table or close to the sidelines (in case of wide attack.)  Loops that land short can be crushed or angle blocked easily.
  4. You need very active feet, always move to the ball even if its a very small step.
  5. Always think to attack a serve.  Attack any long serve, even if it is half long.
  6. Push short (backspin) balls right off the bounce.  Push either short so it can't be attacked or push fast and deep.  Any other type of push gets killed.
  7. Move in with your body/leg to push (don't stretch out your arm as you lose control over the ball), then immediately move back out.
  8. Vary your serves in terms of spin and placement.  Need loose wrist and racket speed.  Know what type of return is likely based on your serve and be ready for your 3rd ball accordingly.
  9. On returning serve, you should stand far enough back that when you stretch your arm, the tip of your racket should touch the edge of the table.  This allows you to handle deep serves and allows you to move in to handle short and half long serves (easier to move in to return serve vs. moving back.)
  10. When in ready position to return serve, racket should be pointed straight ahead (not towards your BH or FH) so that you can more quickly move it for either FH or BH return.

On serves to the short FH, he kept talking about technique to come in and push short using the FH.  I asked him about using a banana BH loop (flick) to return.  His response surprised me saying that he is not a fan of the BH banana loop.  After the coaching session I asked him privately about his response and my surprise as the Chinese (e.g., Zhang Jike, Ma Long, et. al.) are all using this technique very effectively. It turns out he had somewhat misunderstood my question.  A BH banana loop to him is when you loop with sidespin with an exaggerated banana shape/motion, which he said some European players use. The Chinese implementation of this technique requires a very strong core/upper body, forearm and wrist.  They tuck in their belly to create space, racket goes back towards this space with the elbow out/away from the body and the wrist is cocked back as much as possible such that top of racket is pointing towards their belly button.  They then uncoil over the ball, imparting mostly topspin and some sidespin.  You need to read location of the serve and very quickly move to the correct position to attempt this return.

Westchester Open in NY

I may write more about the tournament later. We left late on Sunday afternoon, while the tournament (and the Open) were still in full swing, so I don't have the main results. Here are some notes on things that came up while coaching.

  • When you have a lead, slow down, take your time, and protect that lead. Better still, expand on the lead. It's so easy to let up, and a 1% let up often leads to 100% loss. There are always going to be fluky points, so no matter how big the lead, a bunch of them can be lost to nets, edges, finger balls (kept happening this tournament!), etc. No lead is safe until you have made it safe by winning.
  • Especially at big tournaments, the background is very different on each side of the table, often with one side looking into a wall while the other is looking into the distance. So when you warm up, halfway through switch sides so you get used to both sides.
  • Want to start out playing well in your first match? Come early and warm up early and long, preferably with someone you are used to hitting with. I know this might sound hard to believe, but warming up actually gets you warmed up. And it worked for us - we were the first on the tables Sunday morning. Of course, this is no guarantee for success - nervousness or a hot opponent can overcome the best preparations. But you need to focus on the things you can control.

New "multiball" drills

I wrote in my October 5 blog about Cheng Yinghua's "Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill." I've now incorporated this type of drill into my coaching, with my own variations. For example, I may have the student/practice partner push the serve back, I loop, and they counterloop or block as I reach for the next ball. There are countless variations you can do rapid-fire, and they are very match-like. A side benefit is that they are great practice for the coach a well, who gets to start each drill off with a loop or some other shot.

Chinese domination of table tennis - good or bad?

Here's an article on whether Chinese domination of table tennis is good or bad for the sport, by Australian player, coach, and table tennis guide Greg Letts.

Worn-out muscles on Friday

After coaching for 16 straight days, doing weight training three times a week, plus a number of training sessions on my own, my muscles finally hit the wall on Friday night. After losing two straight five-gamers to 2250 juniors who ran me all over the court, complete exhaustion set in. No, I didn't lose any more matches, but my next two matches, against lower-rated players, were sheer torture as the table corners seemed miles away, and the opponents took great glee in putting every ball to these distant corners. I finally got to "rest" this weekend while coaching at the Westchester Open, and hopefully the muscles will be ready for serious coaching later today, and that those table corners will have been moved back to five feet apart.

Do you know why table tennis is often called ping pong?

Here's a hilarious video that purportedly explains, well, see the title above (4:34).


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