May 17, 2021

Tip of the Week
Patient Decisiveness.

The Subconscious and Table Tennis
One of the hardest things to convince up-and-coming players to do is to just let go, and let their training take over. What that really means is letting your subconscious do what it was trained to do.

Your brain has about 90 billion neurons. On average, each connects to 7,000 others, for a total of roughly 70 trillion connections. Nearly all of that is your subconscious. If I say, "Who was the first US president?", those neurons immediately cough up George Washington. When you tie your shoe, you don't consciously think about each movement - the movements are stored in your subconscious, ready to be brought up on command by your conscious mind.

Similarly, every time you train at table tennis, those neurons are making connections as they learn what they are supposed to do. Once they learn, they are pretty good doing it, as long as you don't interfere. Who is the "you"? That's the conscious mind, which doesn't have all these neurons that instantly do things the way they are taught. Once you bring the conscious mind into it, you start a fight as your conscious mind tries to take control of a process it isn't well trained at, while the subconscious is trying to do what it is well trained at. Here are some examples.

When I teach the forehand, I'll often set up a filled water bottle on the far side of the table. Then I'll systematically grab balls and, from across the table, smack ball after ball into it, almost never missing, the whole time giving a lecture on the stroke. The key thing is that I can only do this if I do not aim at the water bottle - at least not consciously. All I have to do is decide to hit the bottle, and watch it, and the subconscious takes over - and it's really good! I get all the credit, when all I (the conscious me) is doing is watching the bottle and trying hard to do nothing, while the subconscious, which is smacking the bottle over and over, gets no credit. I almost feel guilty! The key I try to get across to students is that you first learn the stroke, which means training the subconscious. And then you let go, and let it take over.

Another example is my serve. For 45 years I've had this habit as I'm about to serve of pulling my racket arm back and then forward. If I don't do that, I lose most of the control and precision on my serves. But as soon as I bring my arm back and forward, the subconscious part of my brain that has learned to serve lights up, and the rest is easy - I decide what serve to do, visualize what I want it to  do, and then just watch it happen.

I used to play tennis. Because of table tennis, I have very good placement. If I see an opening, my subconscious jumps on it, and I smack the ball there. But I made a bad discovery - when I go to the net to volley, whatever part of my subconscious that controls this doesn't turn on! It was frustrating for at time - I felt like an amateur. Then I made good discovery - when I do a swinging volley, that part of my subconscious immediately turned on, and once again I had great placement! What I realized is that, after all these decades of table tennis, it was my backswing on any given shot that alerted my subconscious that I was about to hit a shot, and could it please find the best spot to aim for? Normally, when volleying in tennis, you don't backswing - you often don't have time, and it's harder to control. But for me, except on pure reflex volleys, I started to use swinging volleys all the time, which drove my coaches crazy, but worked for me.

Many years ago I learned about the power of the subconscious in a completely non-table tennis way. Circa 1983, the famous math puzzlist Martin Gardner posed a challenge to college math students in the US - five different math problems where you had to find an algorithm that could be put into a computer to solve the problem. If I remember correctly, two were soon solved by students at MIT and Caltech. Three remained unsolved. I believe I was a sophomore math major at University of Maryland when I took a class from Dr. Harold Reiter, a visiting professor from University of North Carolina. (I was so active in local table tennis I didn't apply for any other colleges than U of M, five minutes' drive from my parent's house where I grew up.) He told the class that if anyone wanted, they could join a research group that was trying to solve the remaining Gardner problems. He promised three things: 1) You will learn a lot about math research; 2) there was roughly a 0% chance of us solving the problem; and 3) if anyone solved any of the problems, they'd get an automatic A for the course.

I signed up and spent a lot of time going over one of the problems. Nothing really came to mind. Then, one night (or rather morning), at 2AM, I literally sat up in bed - the entire solution had just popped into my head! I had no idea where it came from; when questioned about it, I was unable to explain the step-by-step process that got to the solution. I just know that at 8AM, when Dr. Reiter came in, I was at his office door, probably slurring my words and talking 500 mph, yelling, "I solved it! I solved it!" (I had a printout from the computer with the solution from my algorithm.) I got the automatic A. The article with the solution (by myself and Dr. Reiter) was published a few years later (these things take time!) in a math journal, the Spring, 1986 issue of Mathematics and Computer Science Education. (The article was titled, "Magic Rectangles Revisited," since they had done a previous article on a similar topic.)

Where did the solution come from? While my conscious mind was inputting the needed info to solve the problem, my subconscious had been hard at work. I had no clue until the entire solution just popped into my head! But just as you must training your subconscious in table tennis, I had to first spend a lot of time studying the problem, so the subconcious had what was needed to solve the problem. (Alas, little of this is online - there was no public Internet back then. But I have a copy of the math journal.)

So it's no different than table tennis. Train your subconscious - that's why you do table tennis drills and perhaps work with a coach - and then let it go to work! 

Weekend Coaching
As usual, Sunday was my busy day - I'm at the club from 11AM to 7:30PM. Things started with the Group 3 session, with players up to about 1200 level. I alternated between being a roving coach and being a practice partner for some of the kids. I put a lot of them through the usual footwork drills.

After a quick lunch, that was followed by a session with Navin Kumar. (As mentioned before, I'm retired from private coaching, but made an exception for Navin.) Here are two videos:

  • Backhands (30 sec, backhands, a shot off the face, and a forehand smash)
  • More Backhands (22 sec, where he blocks with the pips and then switches to inverted to smash)

Next up was a sports psychology session with one of our players, where we focused on specific issues from the recent tournament in Cary, NC, and on specific situations.

Next up was the Group 2 session (players up to about 2000), where I acted as a practice partner for one hour. The first half were lots of footwork drills, where I blocked side to side. The second half was mostly the player serving backspin, I push to a specific spot, they loop, and play out the point. I worked with several players on improving their opening and follow-up loop, including one who too often just rolled the ball, guiding the shot instead of just letting the shot go.

Next up was the weekly circus, or rather, the Group of Five, or rather the five girls, all ages 7-8. Most coaches are terrorized by such a group, but I know the secret - I constantly banter with them, keep it interesting, and that holds their attention. Plus, of course, regular water breaks so they can do selfies. We always do an hour of practice and then 30 minutes of games. For the games, I started off by setting the robot at full speed, both velocity and feed speed, and let them take turns trying to return it. Surprisingly, they all got the hang of it! Then, as always, we finished with cups - they built the usual pyramids, walls, and forts, and then they knocked them down as I fed multiball. One small change - I brought in "Draggy the Dragon" a stuffed dragon that's about the size of a toaster. Besides using it for target practice while on the robot, they built a fort around him with the cups. At the end, after all the cups had been knocked down and all that was left was Draggy, I stuck a ping-pong ball - a nuclear bomb - under one of his arms and gave them sixty seconds to knock it off before it exploded. Took them 42 seconds, so we were saved from desolation by 18 seconds.

USATT Coaches Meeting
Here's the video (48 min) of the meeting this past Friday. (They meet every Friday at noon eastern time, run by USATT High Performance Director Sean O'Neill - info is posted in advance each week at the USA Table Tennis Coaches Facebook Page.) This week's main topic was "Keeping it fun!" I shared the picture at the top of the MDTTC Group Classes page as an example. I have the kids create huge pyramids and walls of paper cups, and then, as I feed multiball, they take turns knocking it down! (See all those open mouths!) I may do a video later, but I'm a little leery as I'm told I should get permission from all the parents of all the kids in the video, and that's quite a hassle.

California Recall Election
C'mon, people - if there's going to be a recall election and it only takes $4000 and 75 signatures to get on the ballot, we need someone to run on a Table Tennis Platform! The publicity from that stunt would be well worth the $4000!

The Lost Legend And Secret Legacy Of Table Tennis Master Rong Guotuan
Here's the article. Rong Guotuan was the 1959 World Men's Singles Champion - China's first world table tennis champion - and coach of the 1965 Chinese Women's Team that won the Worlds for the first time. But it ended in tragedy during the Cultural Revolution, ending with his suicide. His story is featured in one chapter of my 100-page table tennis fantasy novel, The Spirit of Pong. (You can read the first two chapters - 17 pages - for free.)

USATT Weekly Pongcast Ep 5
Here's the video (13:43) where USATT COO Mark Thompson and HPD Sean O'Neill talk RQT, Hall of Fame Cup, and more.

Para Table Tennis Coaching
Here's the ITTF info page and registration page. It takes place at 7AM Eastern time (yes, 4AM Pacific time) on Tuesday, May 19 - that's tomorrow. "Join us for our webinar on “Para Table Tennis Coaching”. We will be joined by panelists Alois Rosario (AUS), Gorazd Vecko (ENG) and Ela Madejska (GER)."

New from Brian Pace

New from Samson Dubina

Have You Discovered the Benefits of Mindfulness Techniques Yet?
Here's the article by Dora Kurimay.

Half-Long Ball - Effective Backhand and Forehand Topspin Off a Backspin Ball
Here's the video (42 sec) from Eli Baraty.

Serve Position in Table Tennis
Here's the video (2:46) with Truls Moregard (SWE, world #102, #18 in 2019) from PingPonged TV.

Seth Pech vs Martin Jezo 2021 Presper Financial Architects Open Quarterfinals
Here's the video (7:50) with point-by-point analysis from Seth.

Defensive Specialist – Drill #4
Here's the video (1:37) from Rachel Yang.

USATT 1300 Table Tennis VOD Review - Feeding Your Opponent!
Here's the video (34 min) from Louis Levene as he coaches a 1300 player, with commentary.

New from Ti Long

New from the Performance Biomechanics Academy Table Tennis

New from PingSunday/EmRatThich
(Some of the videos are repeats from the articles.)

Taking Aim at the Georgia Games
Here's the article by Coach Jon.

My Table Tennis Journey
Here's the article by Aabid Sheikh from Massachusetts.

New from Steve Hopkins

2021 Butterfly Sandhills Open Tournament Summary
Here's the article and video by Tony Murnahan.

New from the ITTF

Final Point in Under 2650 Final
Here's the video (16 sec) between Jishan Liang (far side) and Jeremy Hazin (CAN) from the $5000 Barbara Wurster Memorial Open in Akron, OH this past weekend. Why do the best points so often come at the end of a match?

The Best Table Tennis Rally You'll See All Week
Here's the video (38 sec).

New from the Malong Fanmade Channel
Lots of new videos here!

Amateur vs. Semi-Pro
Here's the video (11:35) from Adam Bobrow. "Josiah is way better than most people and in table tennis there are so many levels. When you discover spin the game completely changes."

Funny Table Tennis with Syrian Woman, Loop vs. Block, and Some Multiball
Here's the video (64 sec)!

Zhang Jike VS Ren Jialun on Entertainment Show
Here's the video (9 min) - it's in Chinese but you can pretty much see what's going on.

World's Longest Ping Pong Shot? Pongfinity vs. XOLAY Challenge
Here's the video (4:42)!

Extremely Hard Ping Pong
Here's the video (11:29) from Pongfinity! "We drilled a table full of holes and tried playing a table tennis match on it"!

1 VS 4 Tennis Challenge Blind Fold
Here's the video (7 sec)!

Your Serve
Here's the cartoon! (Choo-choo pong?)

Here's the cartoon!

Send us your own coaching news!