March 12, 2013

Tennis and Table Tennis

I used to play tennis regularly, going to the Quince Orchard Swim and Tennis Club for group training sessions. But it took up a lot of time and money, and I finally stopped about three years ago. Last night I had an urge to play, and so signed up for the 7-8 group session. It's a full-time center, with five tennis courts and a huge swimming pool. Each is contained in a huge "bubble," which comes down during the summer. (I hate when the bubble comes down, and we're stuck playing outside, in the sun, heat, and wind. If tennis were meant to be played outside, there'd have been tennis courts in the Garden of Eden, right?)

While I was paying for the session in the front lobby area, a kid walked up to me and said, "Hi Coach Larry!" I didn't recognize him at first, but I finally figured out he was Kevin, one of the kids in my Sunday junior session. Outside of a table tennis environment I hadn't recognized him at first. Then a man came up to me and asked if I also taught tennis. Again, I didn't recognize him outside the table tennis club, but he was the father of another player in one of my group sessions; his son or daughter was presumably out playing tennis or swimming. We chatted for a few minutes, where I explained I was just a player at the tennis center. When I went out on the tennis courts at 7PM, guess who was sitting next to the next court, watching his son take a tennis lesson? Stephen Yen, a local 2300 player! That's three separate table tennis people I ran into there in the course of a few minutes.

The session went great. I was a bit rusty, but my forehand was pretty much as good as before. All the coaches there agree I have the most lopsided tennis game they've ever seen, with a really good forehand, and a pretty good backhand slice, lob, and drop shot, and placement and positioning well beyond my tennis level. But the rest - backhand, volleys, overhead, etc. - is pretty ordinary, other than lots of hustle.

There's an interesting neurological phenomenon I learned a while back about my tennis and table tennis. From table tennis I instinctively place shots to the right spot without thinking about it - after years of play, it's completely subconscious, as reflexive as, say, getting the angle right when blocking a loop. I do the same thing with my ground strokes in tennis; if an opponent gives me an opening on one side, I don't have to think about it, I'll automatically go to that spot. But here's the interesting phenomenon: when I'm at the net volleying in tennis, I have great difficulty placing the shot. There might be an open court to volley into, and I'll unthinkingly volley right back at my opponent, like a beginner. Then I made a discovery - when I do swinging volleys, then that part of my brain that instinctively places the ball lights up, and I'm back to reflexively putting the ball to the right spot like a pro. I finally figured it out. From years of table tennis my brain has become conditioned to placing my shot during my backswing. If I take a backswing - as I do in table tennis (even when blocking), tennis ground strokes, and swinging volleys - I'm a "pro," always hitting the right spot. But when I don't backswing, such as when I'm volleying at the net, that part of the brain doesn't light up, and so I'm back to being an amateur with no ball placement skills. (Technically, I think I do backswing some when volleying, but it's a different type of backswing then I'm used to, and my brain apparently doesn't register it as a backswing.) My solution has been to do lots of swinging volleys, which are considered less consistent than normal volleys, and so all the tennis coaches always discourage me from doing them. But they are better for me, because otherwise I fell like a beginner at the net, probably with a deer-in-the-headlights look since my brain simply won't operate properly in racket sports if I don't backswing. There must be a budding neurologist out there who can use this phenomenon for their Ph.D dissertation!

I've been thinking for a while about writing an article on Tennis for Table Tennis Players, and Table Tennis for Tennis players. But I'm not sure of the demand for such an article. 

Tim Boggan and Cary Cup

Tomorrow morning at around 9:30 AM, USATT Historian and Hall of Famer Tim Boggan will arrive at my house after driving downing from New York. He'll spend the day and night here, and then on Thursday morning we drive down to the Cary Cup Championships in Cary, NC. On Friday morning I'll play in the hardbat event there - I won it in 2010 and 2011. Then I'll be coaching the rest of the way, mostly with Derek Nie, as well as Tong Tong Gong and perhaps others. Then I come back with Derek and his family, playing auto bingo the whole way.

Ma Long Continues Battles with Zhang Jike

Here's the article, entitled "Ma Long Declares to Continue Competing Against Zhang Jike"

Mikael Appelgren in a Reality Show

Here's the article! "Yes, the legendary Mikael Appelgren will participate in a Swedish TV program called "Mästarnas mästar" (the master of masters). This is a contest program that gathers Swedish athletes from different disciplines. During the competition, they have to face physical and mental challenges, where their teamwork, perseverance and strategy are tested. On this occasion, the program will take place in the Peloponnese peninsula in southwestern Greece."

Michael Bolton Plays Table Tennis in Commercial

Here's a commercial (1:02) for Optimum Insurance that features American singer and songwriter Michael Bolton.

Ping-Pong Art Table for Kids

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation.  

Carolina Pong and Überpong Paddles

Here's a video (2:56) of Carolina Pong auditioning the new überpong paddles.

Table Tennis Clocks

I own two table tennis clocks, the first two listed below. The first one sits on my shelf behind my desk, and the second one I put up at the Maryland Table Tennis Center (in the back where I often teach junior classes). In honor of Daylight Savings Time (I'm only two days late), here are other pictures of table tennis clocks. (Here's where you can buy some of these.)


Send us your own coaching news!