November 15, 2016

Playing Lefty – and Reading vs. Reacting
Yesterday, at the end of a 90-minute session, my 12-year-old 1700 opponent challenged me to a game where he lobbed, while I played lefty. He was overconfident, and he was serving down 6-8. (I had perfected sort of a lefty "jab-smash.") But then he "cheated," and started throwing spinny sidespin serves at me – and I was suddenly helpless, unable to read spins that I normally would read with ease. It went to deuce, but my inability to return his sidespin serves led to his fist-pumping victory. (He even did the "infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table" of Jiang that I'd described to him earlier – see below.)

But it got me thinking – why was I unable to read the spin on serves that I could easily read when playing right-handed? And the answer was obvious. You don't read spin. You react to it – subconsciously.

Think about it. When an opponent puts spin on the ball, do you consciously think to yourself, "The ball's spinning at 2133 RPM, so I need to put my racket angle at 62.5 degrees"? Of course not. From lots and lots of playing time, your subconscious automatically reacts to it. It may not always get it right, but it's usually in the ball park. But what's actually happening? Your subconscious reads the spin and tells your muscles how to react, i.e. racket angle and so on. Consciously, there's no reading of spin (except as an afterthought) – you just react at a subconscious level. But the subconscious has been trained to tell your playing arm what to do, not your non-playing arm, where everything is essentially reversed. It doesn't know what to do. And so, instead of reacting instinctively to the spin, as I'm used to when I play righty, I just stood there, waiting for my subconscious to tell me what to do, and it just sat there, unable to do so. Dang you, subconscious, where were you when I needed you???

I've always thought it's a good exercise for coaches to sometimes play lefty – not just rally, but actual games – so they can see what it's like to play as a beginner. It's rather instructive.

1987 WTTC Men Final Jiang Jialiang vs Jan-Ove Waldner
Here's the video (37:05), where (Spoiler Alert!) pips-out penholder Jiang defends his title from 1985 – just barely. In the best of five to 21, he's up 2-1 but down 16-20 in the fourth. At 31:40 he serves at 19-20, wins a nice point to deuce it, and then does the infamous and controversial fist-pumping walk around the table, walking right in front of Waldner! The latter later admitted it unnerved him, and Jiang won the next two points easily to win the title again. This match sort of marked the end of the age of world-class pips-out play (with the notable exception of Liu Guoliang, who would come along a few years later), and the rise of two-winged looping, which now completely dominates.

Washington Post
They are coming to MDTTC today from 4-8PM to do a story, with a writer and photographer. Come on in if you want a chance to be in the background of a picture, or possibly even interviewed!

Devastate the Defensive Chopper
Here's the new article from Samson Dubina.

How to Recover Table Tennis Form and Confidence in Training
Here's the new coaching article from Matt Hetherington.

Table Tennis for Beginners
Here's the online class with Tom Lodziak from Table Tennis University.

5 Surprising Ways the Right Music Makes You Better at Table Tennis
Here's the article from Table Tennis Spot.

2016 Male & Female Para Table Tennis Star Nominees Announced
Here's the ITTF press release.

Why This Start-up Has Job Candidates Play Ping Pong During the Interview
Here's the article from CNBC.

A Young Ping Pong Expert
Here's the video (1:51) that features Jason Piech.

The Force is Strong If You Play Ping Pong!
Here's the picture from Mike Mezyan! (Here's the non-Facebook version.)

Send us your own coaching news!

Re: November 15, 2016

This is so true!

I'm a right and I've been battling an injuury for the last few months and there's really nothing to do but wait a long time and then slowly easy into it. So I decided to start playing with my left hand in the meantime. I've been at it two months and it's been such a good experience. As you mention you have to relearn everything. I started the first few weeks just hitting with my robot and I could get failrly good, consitent technical shots from both wings, but when I tried to play it was literally like being a novice and you're right sidespin is super hard! I'm about 2100 - 2200 with my right hand and I've been playing the league at my local club lefy with a new account and now I'm a whooping 900 player hehehehe

You're right that every coach should do this in fact I'd say any player. It also allows you to keep in shape and have fun if you're ever injured on your other arm.


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: November 15, 2016

Since I could at least do basic strokes lefty, I was really surprised at how helpless I was at reacting to spin. But that's exactly what beginners face - they can often roughly mimic the basic strokes, but have no way of really reacting to spin. Copying is easier than reacting. 

Re: November 15, 2016

I've observed reacting vs. reading issues numerous times... Notable examples include:

1) I think that coming serve is backspin, but I clearly see the logo of the ball and understand it is no-spin -- and still push it like heavy backspin with predictable consequences

2) Pushing into long pimples -- I know the returned ball should be topspin, but I lift like backspin


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: November 15, 2016

This happens because your subconscious is controlling things. When your conscious mind sees that it's making a mistake, it's too late for the subconscious to react. Even if you took conscious control, you likely would have little control against even a no-spin ball, as your conscious mind isn't used to trying to control racket angles, etc.