June 3, 2019

Tip of the Week
What to Think About Between Points . . . and What NOT to Think About.

Why Many Top Players and Up-and-Coming Players are NOT Innovative
Here's a strange thing I've noticed. I sometimes let up-and-coming players (especially juniors) practice against my serves, which are notoriously rather tricky. Especially the first time out, they miss, over and over. What I've noticed is that it is the weaker players who immediately try to copy my serves!

I think I know the reason. Suppose you have two players starting out. One copies the best players like Ma Long, and keeps working to develop perfect shots like them. This player hones those shots and improves rapidly until he too is a top player. Now imagine the second one, who is more innovative. Because of this, he experiments more than the first player, and keeps trying new ways of doing his shots. Result? He never quite perfects his shots like the first player. The moral here is that when it comes to fundamentals, you really want to copy the top players and hone your shots until they are nearly perfect. This doesn't mean top players don't experiment on these fundamentals, but the experimentation is more subtle as they strive to perfect the technique. (Many top players do develop perhaps one innovative technique, but mostly they copy, very successfully, the tried and true methods. Your average non-top player has, shall we say, dozens of "innovative" techniques.) 

Note how I italicized fundamentals, because that's where you generally don't want to be too innovative on the technique itself - there are tried and true techniques, and you should learn them. But there are times to be innovative, such as tactics and serves. With serves, you also want to copy the top players, but at the same time there's more room for innovation than with most rallying shots. But the problem is that the same type of mentality that tends to get good in table tennis - focusing on matching the perfect shots of the top players - means that type of player will tend to also only copy the serves used by those players. But here's the problem - there's a LOT more going on when a top player serves than meets the eye. You have to actually face them to realize this. Unlike, say, a forehand loop (where you can see and copy it), it's harder to do that with a serve. And so many of these future stars copy the serving motion of top players, but don't always really get the subtleties of it - and it's the subtle part of the top serves that make them so effective. (Very few fans watching top players serving really see that subtleties going on as the server varies the tricky, quick motions and contact point of his serve.)

The result is that many of these future stars never really start working on truly "elite" serves until they are older and years behind others. When they face a serve they have trouble with, they practice returning it, but since they don't connect those serves with what many top players are doing, they often don't practice or develop such serves themselves until later.

The argument against developing some of these tricky serves is that, while many are effective, period, many of them are more like "trick" serves that are only effective the first few times used, if spaced apart. But if you can develop a serve that gets you 2-3 "free" points a match, that's a big increase in level - not to mention winning most of your close games! Most established players could probably improve more in three months by focusing on developing really high-level serves than just practicing the same rallying shots they have long worked on. (You need both!)

Alas, another problem is that since players who get good tend to copy the top players, it means there are less top players innovating. The result is that there are probably techniques and styles out there that are way under-used, since the main ones trying them out are "less talented players" - and then, because they aren't as good as the more talented ones, this "proves" that the techniques and styles they are using are inferior! It's a Catch 22 situation.

Weekend Coaching

  • Thursday Beginning Class. We set up four stations, and the players rotated between them. Station One was the robot. Station Two was with me, where they practiced smashing. Station Three was serving low, where we set up two tables with adjustable serving bars. One of them was built by local player John Olsen, which has about ten settings - here is picture in a high setting (for beginners), and in a low setting (for more advanced players). On the other table we had Samson Dubina's TT-Serve. Station Four was footwork. We finished by letting the kids take turns on the robot where we set it at full speed and full frequency - basically a smash coming at your every half a second!
  • Saturday Junior League. This is half league, halve instruction. There were about 30 players, divided into three groups. I was in charge of the third group, where we played up-down tables for an hour, where winners moved up, losers down, but with various improvised rules. (For example, serve would serve backspin to the backhand; receiver pushes to the forehand; serve loops; then play out point. Or serve serves topspin to backhand; receiver returns to backhand; and they continue backhand-to-backhand until the serve changes direction, and then play out point.) For the second hour, we continued the up-down play with other improvised games, but with all 30 players in one group, so players who were in a lower group would sometimes play stronger players.
  • Sunday Beginning Class. For the first 20 minutes we practice serves, with the players taking turns using the adjustable serving bars used in the Thursday class above. Then the focus was on backhand attack against topspin, with the main drill the "Hard-Soft" drill, where the players go backhand-to-backhand, and one player alternates a regular backhand and then an aggressive one, while the player plays steady. The last 30 minutes was games, some playing "King of the Table" (we could use "King" because there were no girls in that group), and the others doing first Around-the-World (three misses and you are out), and then the ever-popular Cup Game - they stack the cups, then knock them down as I feed multiball.
  • Sunday Talent Program. This is for the more advanced juniors. I ran the third group, where we did lots of multiball. The focus was on footwork (always!) and flipping. At the start I gave a short demo of forehand and backhand flipping. They also did a number of serve and attack drills. We also did ten minutes of physical training near the end. We finished by playing Brazilian Teams.

Maryland State Championships
I'll be running the Maryland State Championships next weekend, along with Klaus Wood and Greg Mascialino. On Saturday there are six events, all rating events, and those are open to all players - you DON'T have to be a Maryland resident to play in those. (Under 2400, 2100, 1800, 1500, 1200, and 1000.) On Sunday are the "Championships" events, where you do have to be a Maryland resident for at least three months. (Military personnel assigned to Maryland and full-time Maryland students are immediately eligible.) There are also four doubles events on Sunday, and while you have to be a Maryland resident for Open Doubles, you don't have to for Under 4200, 3200, or 2400 Doubles. Deadline to enter is 7PM on Friday, so enter soon - you can enter online through the Omnipong link.

Blog and Tip Reads
The number of reads for each Blog and Tip are going up! In May, each blog averaged 5936 reads, with the last one, May 27, hitting 6811. That's a big jump - they averaged 4733 reads in April, and 4287 in March. The Tips averaged 6235 reads each, with the last one on May 27 hitting 6788. That's also a big jump - they averaged 4875 reads in April, and 3550 reads in March (the latter inexplicably brought down by only 2956 on the April 1 Tip). Of course, they continue to get reads, which is why it's surprising that recent ones have more hits than older ones that have been out there longer. For those who missed them, here are the Tips from the last two months, or just click on Tip of the Week from the menu.

Summer Table Tennis Camps - Send Links If You Are Running Any!!!
Next week I'm going to blog about summer table tennis camps (primarily in the U.S.), so if you have one, email me with a link to online info!

Hong Kong Open
Here's the home page for the event to be held June 4-9. Preliminaries (June 4-5) start tomorrow.

China Open
Here's the home page for the event held in Shenzhen, China this past weekend, with results, articles, pictures, and video. Here are some headline stories:

2019 ITTF North American Hopes Week and Challenge
Here's the USATT info page on the Camp and Tournament, held at the Broward TTC in Florida, May 27 - June 2, with links to results.

New from Samson Dubina

Training with Panagiotis Gionis (defense) and Kreanga Kalinikos
Here's the video (17:22), from Arnaud Scheen.

New from EmRatThich

How to Forehand Counter in Table Tennis
Here's the video (67 sec) by Jason and Alex Piech. (I added this late, and so will include in next week's blog, including any new videos by this fantastic coaching duo - ages 12 and 9, and already rated 1746 and 1552!)

Patrick O'Neill Obituary (1941 - 2019)
Here's the USATT Obituary. Pat was a USATT Vice President and father of five-time Men's Champion and 2-time Olympian Sean O'Neill.

USATT Website Under Maintenance
Here's the USATT article by Matt Hetherington.

The Table Tennis Underground
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

Westchester Ready, Entries Open for Inaugural ITTF 2019 Parkinson’s World Championships
Here's the ITTF article.

Ryu Seung-min Elected KTTA President
Here's the ITTF article. He was the 2004 Olympic Men's Singles Gold Medalist for South Korea.

Solidarity Through Table Tennis
Here's the ITTF article.

History of USATT – Volume 22
Here is Chapter 24 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, subtitled "Voices Heard." Or you can buy it and previous (and future) volumes at www.timboggantabletennis.com. Volume 22 is 469 pages with 1447 graphics, and covers all the wild things that happened in 1996-97 - and I'm mentioned a lot! Why not buy a copy - or the entire set at a discount? Tim sells them directly, so when you order them, you get it autographed - order your copy now!

Incredible Point Between Jun Mizutani and Timo Boll
Here's the video (41 sec)!

Ball Tracking Technology in Table Tennis
Here's the ITTF video (1:36) from the 2019 China Open.

"Hill" Pong?
Here's the video (54 sec) as Tawny Banh takes on challengers on a slanting table!

Camping Pong
Here's the cartoon!

Mickey Mouse and His Ping-Pong Weapon
Here's the cartoon - "I have a PING-PONG PADDLE, and I'm not afraid to use it!"

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