Playing Style and Identity
Yesterday, "R8ng_stinks" posted on the subject of a player's "identity":
"I've been curious about this subject for quite awhile. When I started playing a few years ago I simply tried to keep the ball on the table. The best solution, I found, was to glue the ball to the table. Okay...that really didn't allow play to flow very well. I played aggressively, had very little control, then moved to a somewhat defensive style. While trying that, I became aggressively defensive, which, depending on the situation, was not all bad. But then passive mistakes started killing me. I switched to an offensive style with slower inverted rubber, but still had control issues and then wanted to "baby" the ball in certain situations. Control: ZERO. Passive mistakes seemed burned into my long and short-term memory. So I dumped the inverted and moved to short pips forehand and backhand. I have plenty of speed and enough spin, and I can get defensive when necessary. I'm still a below-average player, but my lack of skill is mostly due to my current inability to maintain focus and mental control."
Then he asked:
"To make a L O N G story short, does a player really need to have an "identity", offensive or defensive? How about "can't decide," or "I have no idea"? Does the style define the player, or does the player define the style? Does it matter at all, as long as the play is effective?"
When he writes of a player's "identity," I think that roughly means his playing style. I think the key question is the last line: "Does it matter at all, as long as the play is effective?" If the play is effective, then that play, whatever it is, is the playing style. The player must be doing something to win the points, whether it is looping, hitting, blocking, all-around consistent play, serve & attack, etc. Whatever ingredients being used to make this play effective, taken together is the playing style, i.e. the player's identity.
There are no two identical styles, though they can be similar and to some, seemingly identical. The pieces come together in different ways. For example, if you watch Cheng Yinghua, who was the U.S. #1 player for ten years and a former member of the Chinese National Team, you'll see three distinct styles meshed together - two-winged looping, all-out forehand looping, and a blocking game - as well as many aspects of former greats Jan-Ove Waldner and Tibor Klampar, since early on Cheng copied their games as a practice partner for the Chinese National Team. And so all these parts of Cheng's game came together into a distinct playing style, his playing identity.
How do you develop your own playing style or identity? It's a combination of three things - things that work for you, things that you or your coach believe will work for you if you develop them, and things you want to be part of your game. Put these things together, practice them, get lots of match experience, and gradually you will develop a playing style.
And what is this playing style? It's whatever you do that makes your play effective.
The other question was, "Does the style define the player, or does the player define the style?" I think he is asking whether a player's style develops on its own and defines the player, or whether the player decide on his style and define himself. (If this isn't the question, it's still a great question to answer!) It works both ways. For example, early on I developed a nice forehand tomahawk serve. Because players kept popping it up, I developed good footwork and a nice forehand smash. And so my playing style developed on its own, based on certain strengths (the serve) and the corresponding strengths that developed because of this (footwork and a forehand smash). But I decided I needed a strong forehand loop, and so spent a huge amount of time developing that, as well as a forehand pendulum serve that would set up my loop. And so a big part of my game became serve & loop - and so I defined my own style by developing this.
Interview with Barney J. Reed
Here's an interesting interview with Barney J. Reed on the mytabletennis.net forum. And for those not in the know, Barney J. Reed is the one who was on the U.S. National Team for a number of years (is now coaching), while Barney D. Reed is the father and table tennis coach. How can you keep track? "J" for Junior and "D" for Dad.
Did you practice your serves this week?
Who are the original pictures of?
Here's the poster for the satirical movie based on my book, Table Tennis Tales & Techniques, with Brad Pitt and Michael Cera photoshopped onto two table tennis players. Anyone recognize the pictures and know who the players were before their heads were replaced by Pitt's and Cera's? (If you want more info on this poster, see my blog this week on Monday and Tuesday, and the original article.)
Today is the deadline for entering the USA Nationals without a late fee (Virginia Beach, Dec. 13-17). After today, and through Nov. 1, you can still enter, but with a $75 late fee. So enter now! I'll be there, coaching and playing in three hardbat events. (I normally use sponge, but don't like to play sponge events in tournaments where I'm primarily coaching. I'm the defending and four-time champion in Over 40 Hardbat and defending and ten-time champion in Hardbat Doubles with Ty Hoff, my partner last year and in six of the ten doubles titles).
Tomorrow I'm writing about the rise and fall in the number of entries at the USA Nationals (though there was a small uptick last year), including a graph, with the big question: What will the final numbers be for this year's Nationals? Stay tuned!
Here's 15 seconds of tennis star Rafael Nadal playing table tennis. Someone get him a shirt.
Yoda's Ping-Pong School
To a young Luke Skywalker, table tennis Yoda teaches (1:13). Or something like that.
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The Brad Pitt Story - the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth
Yesterday I blogged about the upcoming move, Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques." It was all fake - but I didn't do it! I just played along.
Late on Sunday night I received an email from Richard McAfee, who had been table tennis surfing the net and found the story in The Daily Quarterly. I had no advance knowledge of this, and didn't know about it until I received Richard's email. Now readers, brace yourselves - The Daily Quarterly is a satirical website, like The Onion. Click on the "About" section at the top, and it says, "And for the few of you who found your way onto this site by chance, or couldn’t already tell, be advised: This is ALL SATIRE. Honest. If you have no sense of humor, you are wasting your time here." And just below that, it says, "Did we mention this is a SATIRICAL SITE?"
So no Brad Pitt movie. No great exposure for table tennis. No $3.5 million for me. Sigh. But I still love the poster.
If you are angry at Brad Pitt for this, here's a video entitled "Brad Pitt Ping Pong" which shows Pitt getting hit by cars for three minutes and seventeen seconds. If you are angry at me for this, then buy a copy of the book that started it all, "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques," and use the wisdom of the book to learn to beat me in table tennis. All I have to do is sell about 700,000 copies and I'll get that $3.5 million.
The Fastest Serve in the World
A few days ago videos began to surface of a Japanese kid named Asuka Sakai demonstrating what appeared to be the fastest serve in the world. I was at first skeptical because I literally couldn't see the ball bouncing on his side of the table in the video. But here's a slow-motion version (1:04), which clearly shows that the serve hits both sides, and how he does it. The secret, of course, is lots of topspin to pull the ball down, with the difficulty being in creating the power needed for all that topspin and still having enough left over for speed.
I spent a few minutes experimenting with the serve this weekend, and could mimic it at maybe 2/3 the speed. (I may work on it some more later.) Note that while he seems to set up for a forehand serve, he actually hits it with his backhand side, which allows him to stroke the ball vigorously (that's an understatement), creating great speed and topspin. I can also do this serve with a regular forehand motion or a backhand motion, with lots of topspin, but I'm beginning to think the kid had it right - for this serve, you might need to use his backhand-from-the-forehand-side motion to get that much speed and spin.
Could this be a paradigm switch in the way players serve? Who knows. At the higher levels, top players will have little trouble reacting to the serve and at least blocking or stroking it back. But it might be too fast to loop back, and at the higher levels, a deep serve that isn't looped back gets looped. On the other hand, the serve is so fast that perhaps the server will have trouble doing the serve and then reacting in time to loop the next ball.
After forehand looping for thirty minutes straight on Friday so a student could practice blocking, my back tightened up. Then, after a few more hours of coaching, my neck tightened up, and I could barely do forehand shots. It was like whiplash. I managed to survive my coaching sessions, and the neck is getting better, but I'm taking it easy today. I cancelled a two-hour practice session I had scheduled (not a coaching session, an actual practice session, since I'm getting back in shape), and have no other coaching today. Hopefully it'll be better tomorrow when I have more coaching scheduled.
USA Table Tennis Coach of the Year
Coaches, it's time to nominate the USATT Coaches of the Year. There are five categories: National, Developmental, Paralympic, Volunteer, and Doc Councilman. I was the 2002 USATT Coach of the Year, and I was a finalist three times for National Coach of the Year. (I wonder if this blog and TableTennisCoaching.com qualifies me for the "Doc Councilman" award? Hmmm....)
Table Tennis Drills in China
Here's U.S. Junior Champion, U.S. Team Member, and U.S. National Men's Singles Finalist Peter Li describing his training drills in China.
Ping-Pong and Pop Culture
Here's a short article on the headline above. (That's the problem with descriptive headlines - they give away the text. For now on maybe I'll just headline each item as "Something About Table Tennis.")
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Tip of the Week
Brad Pitt To Star In Film Adaptation Of "Table Tennis Tales and Techniques"
Now it can be told!!! Here's the opening line of the article: "In a casting coup, Paramount confirmed that Brad Pitt, star of 'Thelma and Louise' and 'True Romance,' will star in next year’s film adaptation of 'Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.'" Here's the promotional poster they already created. (I had nothing to do with creating this.)
I've been dying to post about this for weeks, ever since negotiations began for the rights to my book, and yes, Brad Pitt will star in this adaptation as, ahem, me. (And as the article mentions, I made quite a bit of money from this deal.) This breaking news should be all over the Internet within a day or so.
This will probably give U.S. table tennis the largest exposure in its history. Oh, and tonight I'm having dinner with Brad Pitt!!! (I think he wants to study how I talk and my mannerisms.) One other bit of hopefully soon-to-be-breaking news - Ron Howard has unofficially agreed to direct. (And here's where you go if you'd like to buy a copy of Table Tennis Tales and Techniques.)
Visual tools are the best tools
Often the best way to coach a player is to show, don't tell. A new student of mine (an eight-year-old girl) was struggling to hit a proper forehand this weekend, and kept doing all sorts of extra motions that messed up her stroke. The wrist would lag back, she'd lift the racket tip up, she'd forget to backswing or turn her shoulders, she'd change her grip, she'd put her back foot in front, and so on - practically a "who's who" of classic forehand problems all rolled into one. These didn't seem to be any one overlying problem that led to all of these other problems; she just didn't seem to have control of how she swing the paddle, or any idea of what to do.
Then I noticed one of our top junior girls, a few years older than the one I was coaching, training with another coach. So I had my student watch the top junior, and mimic her shot. Now I'd already demonstrated a proper forehand over and Over and OVER for my student, even calling over another player so we could demonstrate it properly, but to no avail. But seeing another girl a few years older doing it seemed to click with her, and soon she was mimicking the shot almost perfectly. Bingo!!!
Physical Training for the Table Tennis Player
Here's a nice recent article by Stellan Bengtsson on, well, see title above.
Backhand Tomahawk Serve
Here's a nice example of the backhand tomahawk serve (0.38), as done by Kenta Matsudaira of Japan, world #39 (and formerly #29), the 2006 world junior boys' champion, who is known as having among the best serves in the world.
European Champion Timo Boll
Timo Boll of Germany just won the European Men's Singles Championships over teammate George Baum in an all-lefty final. Here's the video (11:40), with all the time between points edited out. Here's an article on the event, which Boll won at 7,-6,3,7,8.
Thirty minutes of non-stop looping
There should be a rule that 51-year-old coaches should never have to forehand loop continuously for thirty minutes straight during a lesson so a student can practice blocking. I did, and I paid for it with my back, neck, and shoulder. I'm almost recovered now. (Note to John, Kevin, and Deapesh: this was probably why my neck stiffened up during our sessions on Sunday. The actual looping marathon was during a Friday lesson.)
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