July 20, 2017

Gone Until Monday, July 31
I’m on vacation and out of town starting this afternoon until Sunday, July 30. Normal people vacation at places like Disneyworld, beaches, or some other vacationy place. Me? Every year about this time I go to a science fiction writing workshop in Manchester, NH, for nine days of intense writing, critiquing, and classes. Fun!!! See you in eleven days.

How You Can Improve at Table Tennis
This morning I was going to write about the segment title – “How You Can Improve at Table Tennis.” But that literally would take a book. I considered shorter ways of doing it, but those would just touch the surface. Then I realized that probably my best and favorite Tip of the Week, “How to Move Up a Level,” pretty much covered it – and yet, these Tips, once published, tend to be lost and forgotten. So below I am reprinting this Tip of the Week from August 4, 2014. (My books Table Tennis Tips and More Table Tennis Tips both have chapters titled “Improving,” with 54 different Tips out of 300 total in the two books.)

How to Move Up a Level
What does it mean to move up a level in table tennis? I'd define two players to be on different levels if it would be a major upset if one defeated the other. Another way of looking at it would be to say that if the stronger player plays his normal level, he would win pretty much every time. Based on this, I'd say a level in table tennis ranges from about 300 points at the lower levels (under 1000 or so), to about 100 points at the higher levels (over 2500 or so). For most USATT members, a level would be about 200 rating points or so.

How can you move up a level in table tennis? It means improving all parts of your game, as one weak link in your game is like a weak link in a chain.

You could work hard, dramatically improve one aspect of your game, and hope to move up a level. But it's not that simple. Suppose you develop a really nice forehand loop. With this weapon, you would think that your level would go up dramatically. And sure enough, you will do better against players around your own level. But when you play players a level higher, their level is far enough ahead of yours that they'll simply do something to disarm your new weapon. They may serve short, push short, push very heavy, throw spinny or fast serves at you, use ball placement, block well, force backhand exchanges, play quick shots so you don't have time to loop, or simply attack first. In each case, they'll take your weapon away from you, and you still won't move up that coveted level. Often, a stronger player will seem to win on one of his strengths, when in fact he is winning by exploiting a weakness of yours that allows him to use his strength.

The lesson is that to move up a level, you need to improve your overall game, not just one aspect. A player who is a level stronger than you rarely defeats you on one aspect of his game (although many erroneously believe this to be true); he does so by improving the overall level of his game. (There are, of course, players who have improved all but one aspect of their game, and by improving that one final aspect, suddenly go up the coveted level!) A strength in your game can compensate for a weakness, but only to a certain extent.

So how do you go about improving the overall level of your game? To move up a level in table tennis, you have be able to match the players a level higher than you on five key things:

  1. You have to return your opponents' serves as well as they return your serves.
  2. You have to either rally as fast as your opponents can rally, or force your opponents to rally at your pace (by slowing the pace down with pushes, slow loops, controlled drives, etc.). Rallying at their pace means either hitting at their pace, or simply reacting to their pace (i.e. blocking or chopping). "Pace" means both speed and quickness.
  3. You have to be able to react to your opponents' rallying spins (loops, pushes, chops, lobs, spins returned by long pips, etc.) as well as they react to yours.
  4. You have to be able to end the point (i.e. smashing, loop kills) as well as your opponents do. This means either being able to end the point as well as your opponents, or being able to stop them from ending the point better than you can by not giving them shots where they can end the point. Ending the point does not always mean ending it with one shot - it can also mean a series of strong shots that win the point.
  5. And finally, you have to have at least one strength that threatens your opponents as much as their strengths threaten you, and a way of getting your strength(s) into play.

You may have noted that tactics is not one of the five "keys." This is because tactics is part of all five keys. Stronger/weaker tactics simply make you stronger/weaker in each key.

Do some (but not all) of the above five keys, and your performance in a tournament will go up some, perhaps half a level, but not a full level. Developing a single "overpowering" strength won't raise your level as much as you'd think, as opponents a level higher will beat you on the less developed parts of your game. Even players at your "previous" level will still often beat you by exploiting these weaknesses. But ... if you improve all five things, even just a little bit, you'll go up dramatically.

What's stronger, a chain with four powerful links and one weak one, or a chain with five pretty strong ones?

Wanna Buy a Table Tennis Book?
Here’s my Amazon listing! (I just spent $1900 in car repairs and $700 for a new laptop – please buy a book or ten!)

USA Nationals Ratings
They are processed.

Design a Ball Competition
Here’s info on this competition from Aerobic Table Tennis, and here’s the prize listing.

Benefits of Having a Table Tennis Coach
Here’s the article by Brian Pace.

Robert Ho's Table Tennis Tidbits #2
Here’s the article, “Offense and Defense: The Influence of Rubber on Tactics.” (Tidbits #1, “Looping,” was in my Tuesday blog.)

Butterfly Presents: Footwork Drills by Stefan Feth, Drill No. 4
Here’s the new video (74 sec).

Ask the Coach
Questions Answered at PingSkills.

Style or Substance
Here’s the new article by Coach Jon. “Seeing Life Through the Lens of Table Tennis.”

Table Tennis Articles from ThoughtCo
Here they are!

USATT Insider
Here’s the new issue that came out yesterday.

USATT Hall of Fame Banquet Program
It’s online. I’ve been doing these for USATT since 2009.

Adam is the Voice of Table Tennis
Here’s the article in the Deccan Chronicle, one of the biggest newspapers in Chennai.

Ever Wondered Why Table Tennis is Called Ping-Pong?
Here’s the article from Sports Flu.

Liebherr 2017 World Championships, Social and Viewership Records Broken
Here’s the ITTF article.

Fidget Spinner vs. Table Tennis
Here’s the video (11:43) from EmRatThich. I’ve never heard of a fidget spinner, but I’m guessing they are popular in China.

Evolution of Table Tennis 3
Here’s the video (8:25) with some fascinating video of the sport from the hardbat era and early sponge days, including Johnny Leach, Hiroji Satoh, and Ichira Ogimura. Here’s the History of Table Tennis videos home page.

Point from 1978 European Championships
Here’s the video (65 sec) of England’s Desmond Douglas (attacking) vs. France’s Jacque Secretin.

Water Pong
Here’s the video (35 sec) – every club should have one of these. And a pond.

“Elvis Table” at Pong Planet Designed by Gary Alcares
Here’s the article and pictures.

Pong Fire
Here’s the picture – can you take the heat?

Shark Pong
So . . . are you a ping-pong shark?

Send us your own coaching news!