January 4, 2017

Visual Imagery with Ma Long
Yesterday I had private sessions with two junior players. The first one, age 12, about 1700, has great ball control, but often falls back on forehand looping with mostly his arm, which leads to both a loss of power and frequent injuries. We've been working hard to fix the problem. Often he'll loop really well for a time, then he'll fall back into old habits. He'd taken some time off during Christmas (partly because I was also away), and so was a bit out of practice, and so I was worried he'd start up with his old habits. What to do?

After a short warm-up, we watched (on my smart phone) the first half of this video of Ma Long (5:06), which features his forehand loop. (For those living in a cave, he's the reigning world men's singles champion and ranked #1 in the world.) The idea was to get that visual image so that he could match it. And it worked – right from the start his loop technique was very Ma Longish.

My second student, age 10, about 1200, is working on developing his forehand loop. He tends to be backhand oriented, and so often blocks with his forehand from a backhand stance. So we're working on rotating sideways on forehands, which opens up the side for a bigger swing. Since we were going to spend much of the session on his forehand loop, about five minutes into the session (after giving him a good warm-up), we stopped and watched the first half of the video. It paid off – once again I had a student looping with Ma Longish technique.

While neither player is going to be Ma Longish level anytime soon, this type of technique training is a big first step. I strongly recommend other players to regularly watch videos of top players with techniques they'd like to emulate.

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Re: January 4, 2017

There is one thing with visualization that I find particularly helpful. May sound odd, though. The idea is to look at the player and imagine how it feels to hit a shot like that, and then try to replicate this inner feeling on the table. With or without visualizing. For example, Ma Long in the video above looks mega relaxed and smooth. So it may helpful to imagine how relaxed he feels. And then how you may feel smoothly hitting forehands being completely relaxed. And then on the table adjust the technique until it generates that relaxed feeling one got during the video.

A little story. I believe that this video helped me learning the proper backhand mechanics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF31CKnEgkk. I watched it over and over, and whenever I saw a juicy backhand winner (there are many over there!), it actually felt pretty good. Then when I practiced and experimented with backhand technique, I noticed that some shots yield a very familiar feeling, and later I realized it was the one I got while watching the Mattenet's highlights. I also used to watch a lot of Ovtcharov's matches, and that probably contributed as well (especially slow mo replays).

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: January 4, 2017

Good observations! Yes, when watching these players, you should imagine yourself doing it, and then, soon, you will be doing it!