February 4, 2015

Fixing the Forehand Loop - Slowly and Meticulously

Yesterday was one of the best days I've ever had as a coach. It all happened in a coaching session with ten-year-old Daniel Sofer, #10 in the U.S. in Under 11 Boys with a rating of 1639, and recently #4 in Under 10 until he made the silly decision to turn ten. (I have permission from Daniel and his dad to use his name.)

Daniel has a nice backhand (both hitting and looping - he can do some nice backhand loops from off the table), and extremely good ball control for his age. (He's almost for certain the best lobber his age in the country - he can lob my best smashes back over and over unless I smother-kill them out of the court.) In fact, he does a lot of things pretty well. But for many months we've been trying to fix up his forehand looping. He has about five different strokes, and regularly switches back and forth. He also likes to back up and try to awkwardly spin the ball off the floor, or alternately switch in mid-rally to flat hitting. The result is he isn't really comfortable forehand looping, and in games it shows, as he mostly pushes and blocks, along with some lobbing. In rallies, he mostly hits or pushes with the forehand, despite the fact that in practice all he does is loop.

The primary problem with his forehand loop is that rather than rotate his body fully into the shot (using the legs and hips in particular), he tends to pull upward with the right side of his upper body (he's a righty), ending up with his racket high over his head, which dissipates most of his power and turns his stroke into the opposite of the easy power I've written about. Instead of sort of rocking into the ball with his whole body, all he gets is upper body. Or, when he tries to fix it and use his whole body, he goes the other extreme, and throws his whole body forward, ending up several feet forward, thereby losing balance and control.

For months I've worked with him on fixing the technique, often spending 45 minutes of our one-hour sessions on it. Often he does pretty well after ten minutes, but then he falls back into old habits - and the next session it starts again as he struggled to get the stroke consistently right. It was frustrating for both of us, especially since it meant we weren't working on other things. He's not particularly patient, so it's not easy for us to focus on this one thing session so much.

So yesterday I tried something different. I've done this with older players, but younger players don't often have the patience for what we did - but Daniel seemed in a receptive mood.

First, he was able to watch one of our top players, Alex Ruichou Chen, rated 2674, looping over and over, giving him a visual image. He'd done this before, and it sometimes worked for a short time, but never permanently.

Then I had him put his racket down and simply watch me demonstrate the shot in slow motion, stopping at contact. I wanted him to have a real visual image of how the power is generated up to that point, from the legs and hip rotation. I also showed him how hard I could shove him with this stroke - yes, I shoved him across the court!

Next I had him get his racket and also go through the stroke in slow motion, stopping at contact to emphasize how much power is generated with the legs and hip rotation. I let him shove me around so he could see how much "easy power" is generated this way. (He's not the violent type and didn't like doing this.) He's always understood this, but the key was to create muscle memory of this. We did this for something like 15 minutes, where I gradually let him continue the stroke past contact, focusing on rotating the body about, pulling with the left side, with the head moving forward only a little bit.

Next we grabbed a bucket of balls and tossed balls up to ourselves and looped them out of the air. No rallies, just repetitively looping one tossed ball after another. We did this for about 10 minutes. At this point he's really getting the stroke down - the muscle memory is taking hold.

Finally, 30 minutes into the session, we went to very simple multiball, where I fed light topspin balls very slowly, and he looped them away with ease, always focusing on keeping it simple as we developed the muscle memory. We did this for perhaps about 10 minutes.

Roughly 45 minutes into the session we rallied for the first time, where I blocked and he forehand looped, going easy, where I had him wait on the ball so he could do a non-rushed, easy stroke. And guess what? The muscle memory held!!! We did this for ten minutes, and at this point I'm so excited I can barely play. He wasn't so much excited as relieved as he seemed to finally have the shot down. (He is not the patient type, so it showed how much he wanted this that he had gone through this long, tedious process.)

I'm looking forward to our next session, where we'll continue with this, and start doing it against backspin as well. I'm thinking we start with ten minutes of easy forehands - shadow practice, looping off tossed ball, and then very easy multiball - and if all goes well, then we can go to rallies.

Table Tennis Insider

The first issue ever came out this morning, February 4, 2015. (If you are a USATT member and they have your email on file, you should have received an email last night from USATT CEO Gordon Kaye explaining this.) Insider will come out every week on Wednesdays. It's the end and the start of a new era - the end of the "magazine" era and the start of the "Insider" era. Here's a historical listing of all USATT editors since 1970. Samuel Gest is the editor of Insider, so presumably I should add him to the list? (Note that I have an article in this issue, at the bottom, the "The Culture of Table Tennis in the U.S." blog I did on Monday.)

2015 ITTF/USATT Hopes Program

Here's the article by Ben Nisbet. This is for the best USA players born between Jan. 1, 2003 and Dec. 31, 2004.

Training in China

Here's the English flyer and the Chinese flyer for this May 22 - June 26 trip to the Nanshan Table Tennis School in Shenzhen, China, organized by Atlanta coaches Wang Hui and Yang Shigang (USA Junior Team Coach).

New Coaching Articles from Samson Dubina

Table Tennis Basics - Like a Boss!

Here's the new video (2:02) from the always interesting Brett Clarke - the Golden Point Method!

Great Point!

Here's the video (38 sec) as the player on the far side does everything possible to win the point, including changing hands and diving.

Our Little Table Tennis Champ

Here's video (63 sec) of table tennis champion wannabe three-year-old Shia. (Could use shorter tables!)

2014 ITTF Legends Tour Documentary

Here's the video (25:50), which features Jan-Ove Waldner, Jorgen Persson, Mikael Appelgren, Jean-Philippe Gatien, Jean-Michel Saive, and Jiang Jialiang.

Utah Biz Games

Here's the hilarious video (63 sec)!

Table Tennis Balls + Black Sharpie Pens

This is what you get from Mike Mezyan! Mike also found this metal ping-pong sculpture and Lego ping-pong set.

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