June 8, 2011

Ready position

I've been thinking about ready positions recently. Conventionally, you aim your racket tip at the opponent, with the racket held midway between forehand and backhand. In theory, that's all you have to do. In reality, some players tend to hold their arm out to the side too much, and so are more ready for forehands than backhands. Try holding the racket more in front of you, even if it means bringing the playing elbow more out in front.

However, there's another problem. Conventionally, the backhand is hit quicker off the bounce than the forehand. This means you have less time to hit the backhand. In many cases, this doesn't matter since the stroke is shorter. However, for some--including me--I find the backhand rushed and awkward when starting from a neutral position, while the forehand, where you have plenty of time to get the paddle into position as you turn sideways, is much easier.

So years ago I adjusted my ready position so that the racket is in a slight backhand position, i.e. the backhand side of the blade partly faces the opponent. This gives me a head start on backhands, while I still have plenty of time to move the racket over for the forehand. I wonder if others have tried this out? I don't normally coach this, but I have advised some players who feel rushed on the backhand to experiment with this.

ITTF certified coaches from my seminar

In April, I ran an ITTF Coaching Seminar in Maryland, the first such seminar in the U.S. run by a U.S. coach. Fourteen coaches participated. After the seminar, to qualify for ITTF Coaching Certification, all coaches were required to do thirty hours of coaching (at least half group coaching), including five hours of "supervised" coaching with an ITTF coach or other approved coach. At this point, nine of them have now qualified: Carmencita "Camy" Alexandrescu, Changping Duan, Charlene Liu, Juan Ly, Dan Notestein, John Olsen, Jef Savage, Jeff Smart, and Vahid Mosaferi.

You can see the listing for ITTF coaches here. If you set country to USA, then you can see the 26 ITTF coaches from the U.S. Congrats to all of them! Here's the article on the seminar by Jef Savage, including a group picture with names.

Non-Table Tennis: Museums

I took most of yesterday off to visit museums and memorials in downtown Washington DC. (I live in Germantown, about 15 miles north.) I took the subway down, and during that 45 minutes or so was able to get a lot of proofing done of a new science fiction story I was writing that features President John Tyler, the tenth U.S. president. (I'm a full-time table tennis coach, but I write SF on the side.)

First stop, at 10 AM (opening time) was the National History Museum, which I'd last visited in the 1990s. I was there until noon, enough time to walk through most of it. I spent over half the time in the President's exhibit, since presidential history is another hobby of mine, hence the story featuring John Tyler. (Ask me at a tournament, and I'll recite all 44 presidents and their terms of office, along with trivia - careful what you ask for!)

After lunch (barbecued chicken sandwich and baked beans at the Stars and Stripes Café), I was off for the Holocaust Museum for the first time. The amount of security to get into the building was incredible, understandably far more than the other museums. When they saw I had a water bottle in my carry bag, they made me drink from it to make sure it was water. (I wonder if there are clear and edible liquid explosives?)

I'm not much of a sentimental writer, but let's just say the Holocaust Museum was a sobering experience. I was there for two and a half hours on the self-guided chronological tour that roughly takes you from 1933 to 1945. At the start, all visitors were given an "Identification Card," which was a short pamphlet about an actual Holocaust survivor or victim. Mine was of a kid named Shulim Saleschutz, born March 7, 1930 in Poland. It gives a picture of him and a short history of his life up to his getting sent to the Belzec camp in July of 1942. It ends with the words, "There, Shulim was gassed with his mother, brother and sister. He was 12 years old." Here's a scan I did of the pamphlet.

From roughly 3-4 PM I walked over to the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. (The latter is huge, far larger than it appears in pictures.) It was in the mid-90s and sunny, so I wore my white 2005 Shanghai World Table Tennis Championships cap. At the Lincoln Memorial, I sat on the floor against the wall for twenty minutes, looking up at Lincoln as crowds came and went. I couldn't help but think that he and I both faced similar problems - how best to serve, lots of killing, etc. Okay, his problems were a bit bigger. At the end, I thought about that John Tyler story I was writing, and suddenly the perfect way to open the story popped into my head. Thanks Abe! Here's a picture of Lincoln I took while sitting on the floor.

From 4 to closing time at 5:30 PM, I visited the National History Museum - or rather, revisited, since I practically grew up there. Both of my parents had offices there when I grew up, and I remember doing homework while sitting on the floor against the wall under the huge blue whale. (Alas, it's gone, replaced by I think a humpback whale - it just isn't the same.) I spent most of the time in the Ascent of Man exhibit, also walked through the dinosaur hall (of course!), mammals, and marine life. Then I stopped by the insect zoo - thirty years ago I was a volunteer for them. My dad's office used to be almost next door (he's an entomologist), but the entomology department had moved, and where my dad's desk used to be was now a ticket desk for the live Butterfly exhibit. Here's a picture.

Alas, it was time to go home. Did I mention that by this time my back was killing me? I'm probably going to regret all this walking about when I next coach (tonight), but I guess my problems are rather minor compared to Shulim's.


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Re: June 8, 2011

Hi Larry

I liked your ideas on the ready position and tried it at our club last night.  I play very forehand oriented and try to return most serves with my forehand (shakehands player but play forehand oriented more like a penholder).  But having the ready position like you suggested more backhand oriented really felt natural to me and definitely made me feel more ready for quick deep serves to the back hand, yet I felt like I had plenty of time to stroke a forehand on any serves that I would normally use my forehand, exactly like you said.

Anyway, I'm going to adopt this new position as I really like it.  Rather subtle change but everything helps.  Keep up the blogs, really enjoy them.




Larry Hodges's picture

Re: June 8, 2011

Hi Deriderj,

It's good you (and others, including me) are thinking about this issue of ready position. In my outlined book "Table Tennis Tactics and Playing Styles" I already wrote a chapter entitled "The Myth of Thinking Too Much." 

I agree with Donn and Kyongsook on keeping the racket relatively high. (I used to coach along with Donn at Club JOOLA, and know them both well, by the way - had lunc with Donn last week!) As players gain experience, they may develop an instinct for varying their ready position. For example, if my opponent always serves long, or if I can tell from their serving stance or motion that the serve is going long, I sometimes lower my racket's ready position since I'm expecting to forerhand loop, and may rotate slightly to favor my forehand. Or if I'm off the table I may lower the racket if I'm expecting to lob or fish. But the general ready position needs to be ready for anything that comes at you, especially the fast ones (which is where you need the racket high and have little time to react if your racket is low), and so the general position is high. 

Re: June 8, 2011

I made a major change in my ready position by raising my paddle higher at ready (relative to the floor).  I want to say this was due to a new found ability to bend my knees forcing me to raise my paddle smiley but it was actually done after I read "A Principles Approach to Table Tennis" (PATT) by Don Olsen and Kyonsook Kim.  The authors are quite clear that keeping the paddle high at ready is the only way to play the modern game.  I'll leave it to the PATT and the thousands of words dedicated on why this is beneficial.

After making the change I agree, for the most part that having the paddle high at ready is correct and it has allowed me to become more comfortable playing topspin against topspin.  Where I might take exception is the ready position when receiving serve.  For me personally, I found that holding the paddle up high when receiving the serve caused me two problems; first it created tension in my body, specifically my shoulders and second, the highest percentage of serves are nothing balls or under spin and the primary benefit of holding the paddle high in the ready position is related to topspin. 

After first changing to a high paddle ready position I subsequently modified my ready position when receiving serves, dropping the paddle to table level or lower while moving/rocking slightly which helps my muscles "get ready" to move (tension in my body causes serious degradation in my game).  If I happen to play someone that serves fast top spin on a regular basis I will revert back to holding my paddle higher when I receive against that opponent but for the majority of the my opponents that is not the case.  After I have returned the serve I religiously play with my paddle high as part of my ready position.

My ready position is not pure, like Larry's I favor my backhand slightly.  I have not made that as a conscious decision and my coach hasn't asked me to change it, so for now I will continue favoring the backhand at ready.  I do like to experiment, so now that Larry has raised my consciousness on this if I have time I will try squaring up (neutral position) and see what happens.

Larry, you mentioned that people don't always respond to your blog, and I'm generally one of the people, but I am a regular reader and a fan, so please keep writing!

Re: June 8, 2011

I too have been thinking about ready position and have been experimenting with getting my elbow a little more foreward  ( instead of in middle of my side).  Seems to be helping a lot.  One thing I noticed in watching some ITTF videos is that a lot of the women adopt a different ready position as soon as they recognize that their opponent is going to open.  They start with pretty conventional ready positions during push exchanges, but if they see their opponent is going to open they roll the wrist so that the Bh rubber is facing the opponent.  Usually the arm stays in about the normal ready position, but some players even move the arm a little more to the Bh side.  This sets them up nicely to use the Bh punch block that so many of them use against the slower, higher opening loop you see so much of in the womens game.  They still have the ability to use the forehand counter if the ball goes that way.  I tried this the other night and was miserable because once I rolled the wrist I could not unroll it in time to use the Fh.

Do you have any thoughts on adopting a "situation approach" to how you take a ready position?


Larry Hodges's picture

Re: June 8, 2011

but if they see their opponent is going to open they roll the wrist so that the Bh rubber is facing the opponent.  Usually the arm stays in about the normal ready position

This is exactly what I do when in fast exchanges, or if I think my opponent is about to attack. 

Do you have any thoughts on adopting a "situation approach" to how you take a ready position?

I probably could have written about that in my blog as well. I have two "standard" ready positions, my "neutral" one (where I'm actually slightly favoring my backhand, as described above), and my forehand attack position, which I often set up for after serving or when I think I'm about to get a weak ball to attack. For the forehand attack position, right foot is slightly back, arm slight to the right, and I rotate about. It basically is a commitment to all-out forehand play on the next shot. Others have similar varying ready positions, but I think most do come under these two basic stances. 

Re: Ready Position (June 8, 2011)

Hi Larry!

Love your artical on Ready Position.  Me being 6'3" in height, I find it difficult at times to move and set up for balls like shorter players. I can use every advantage I can get in that respect. In an effort to determine what grip I want to stick with, I've been going back and forth between Penhold and Shakehand for 5 years and found that, overall, Penhold works better for me (go figure). With that said, I've noticed Wang Hao actually has a BH favor Ready Position as well. I think I'll give it a whirl!!!!

Thanks,   Tilden

Larry Hodges's picture

Re: Ready Position (June 8, 2011)

Tilden, the new Zoran Kalinic! He was a 6'6" penholder from Yugoslavia, and the 1983 World Men's Doubles Champion.