Footwork in doubles

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Willis
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Joined: 01/24/2011

Larry

Unfortunately, I'm 58 years old and not so fleet of foot as I once was. Poor footwork is definitely one of my weaknesses and in singles I get caught out of position because my reaction time is just too slow.

But in doubles that problem is compounded by having to deal with a partner! I find myself blocking my partner so that he can't get into a good position. Our opponents exploit this weakness by just aiming the ball at ME wherever I am knowing that most of the time I will get in the way of my own partner. Or, if I do get out of the way, I might be way too far over on the backhand side and then the point is easily won with an  easy forehand crosscourt (or vice versa).

Now I think I finally realized what I've been doing wrong. My thought is that I should be taking a strong sideways step one way or the other then stepping back BEHIND my partner? Moving in and out is not my strong suit, but once I back away from the table I can loop or chop reasonably well. This might expose me more to a good short push or drop shot, but I need to figure out how to get out of my partner's way yet recover to a good position for my own next shot.

Regards

Willis

 

Willis
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Joined: 01/24/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

Well the tournament results are in...

The tournament had approximately 50 entrants. It was a non-USATT Open Event with no classes.

Singles was a double-elimination format and I had 4 wins before losing two in a row.

In Doubles my team reached the semi-finals and lost for a second time to a team that had beaten us in an earlier round--but both matches went to 5 games with us losing the 5th game 11-13 in the first match and 7-11 in the semi-final match. Thus our final finish was a tie for Third Place (with a team we had beaten earlier). In the Finals, the team that had beat us twice lost to a team we had not played. As a side note, my doubles partner won the Open Singles!

During doubles I tried to use the footwork advice Larry recommended above. I did a little better at keeping out of my partner's way, but since I'm generally a close-to-the-table player, the moving in and out had an effect on my game, especially my forehand. I had to chop away from the table a lot more than I'm used to even though that was more effective than I expected. A lot of the credit has to go to my partner (1900+) and giving him room to play helped a lot in our result. I only had a few cases of where the opponent was able to use me as a "pick" to keep my partner from getting to the ball.

Thanks for all the advice!

 

Larry Hodges
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Joined: 11/19/2010
Re: Footwork in doubles

During doubles I tried to use the footwork advice Larry recommended above. I did a little better at keeping out of my partner's way, but since I'm generally a close-to-the-table player, the moving in and out had an effect on my game, especially my forehand.

It'll take some practice getting used to. The key is learning that exact instant when you can move back to the table. Many players wait too long, and don't start to return to the table until well after their partner has hit his shot. This is especially important if you normally play close to the table. 

Willis
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Joined: 01/24/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

Thanks Larry, that sounds like a plan. My partner is close to 1900 and I'm about 1350, so he's definitely going to be stronger than me on his forehand. I play a combo-bat with LPs on the backhand. In singles I try to use the LPs to set up my forehand attacks and once a rally really starts going it's mostly forehand. But with your suggestion I can try to use the pips to set my partner up for the kill. (He even suggested I do this.)  So I will practice this with my partner slightly to the left and me to the right and moving in and out rather than side to side.

 

Larry Hodges
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Re: Footwork in doubles

Willis, others have given some good info. Regarding circular footwork, that's what the world-class players do, but I don't recommend that unless you are practicing it regularly and have fast feet. What I recommend is after each shot, stepping mostly backwards, and only slightly the side. If you go off to the side, you'll be open on one angle, and if you rush to cover that angle, you'll either be moving as they hit the shot, or you'll leave the side you were at open as you rush to cover the other side. If both players make it a habit of stepping back, then you are almost always in position. The down side is that often one player will have to stand a bit to the right, the other to the left. This is fine if it's a lefty-righty combination, or if one player is strong on the forehand, the other the backhand. If both players are backhand oriented or forehand oriented, then it could cause a problem. 

Also, be aware of where your partner is. If he's to your left, and you play a shot to the left, you give the opponents an easy angle that your partner will have trouble getting to. Ball placement in doubles is even more important than in singles. 

Hope this helps!

deriderj
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Joined: 03/20/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

Hi Willis,

I am a former Minnesota State Doubles Champion and while I might be able to give you some insight into the best footwork to use I'll leave that to the other probably more knowledgeable posters while I try to make a case for you to remove one of the excuses that may be holding you back from becoming as good a player as you can be at 58.
 
You said, "Unfortunately, I'm 58 years old and not so fleet of foot as I once was. Poor footwork is definitely one of my weaknesses and in singles I get caught out of position because my reaction time is just too slow."

Two quick things: first; what is "unfortunate" about being 58 years old?  I thought it was a remarkable achievement, and second; c'mon were you really that "fleet of foot" once upon a time? wink

More seriously, my premise is that your problem most likely has nothing to do with age.  What you perceive as slow reaction time is (most likely) caused by carrying additional weight,  making it more difficult to move and a just as likely, a reduced fitness level (cardio / muscle tone, strength).  Being overweight or having a reduced fitness level is not caused by age although both may be symptoms of disease that most people attribute to old age.

Here are a couple of quotes from an article written by Reed D. Foley and I recommend that you read the entire article as it will make you feel much better about your chronological age!

  1. "It is diseases that make old age miserable, not the normal changes of aging..."
  2. "Most of the normal changes of aging have no impact on normal functioning..."
  3. "Most neurological declines occur after age 60 and are not that severe. At age 65, less than 2% of older Americans have cognitive impairment. The incidence of cognitive impairment increases with age so that by age 85, up to 1/3 of older persons have some degree of cognitive impairment..."

You and I (I'm 55) are nowhere near 85 so based on current knowledge of the effects of aging  we will have to make up age related excuses for any poor play for up to 30 years or longer before our age related excuses hold any water (are real).  Because I believe this science to be true, I don’t use my age as an excuse for my poor play, although sometimes I really, really want to!

Unless you have a significant illness that you didn't disclose (and I'm sorry if that is the case) then lose a little weight, walk a couple miles a day, run sometimes because I'll bet it has been awhile since you ran at all, sprint a little if you remember how, dance all night with your wife or significant other, workout with some light weights (raising a beer doesn’t count),  workout with heavy weights if you’re a real man!, sing out loud, really loud because it will help with your breathing and last but not least practice moving like a table tennis player with and without the ball (there a coaching tip!) because, despite your comments; you are not too old, you are not to slow and your reaction times are not significantly diminished!

As long as we (us of any age) can stay healthy and no matter our age, I believe we all have infinite potential.  What we want to avoid is having permanent potential (never ending unrealized potential).  Allowing ourselves the luxury of excuses for our poor play (my excuse of choice, for which there is no execuse; is that I'm too fat), will ultimately leave us in the permanent potential category and that would really be a waste of the gifts given to each of us.

I hope you get real coaching help in further posts, but I felt compelled to comment because I didn't want to see another older table tennis player fade from the game because they thought they were too old to play anymore. 

I wrote this post only to inform and hopefully inspire so I hope that you (and others) will take it in the spirit with which it was intended.

If you want to read it, here is a link to the entire article by Reed D. Folley: http://www.ageworks.com/course_demo/513/module3/module3.htm#neurologic

Willis
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Joined: 01/24/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

I appreciate your support and encouragement on the subject of age and fitness. I came to the same conclusion in November 2009 and finally bit the bullet to get off the couch and do something about it. 

Yes, I was once very "fleet of foot" having played semi-pro baseball and tournament level racquetball. I was also active duty military for 9-1/2 years and in peak physical condition. However, as a civilian I was unable to cope with the excessive caloric intake to which I was habituated (Army demands can require 3000-3500 calories/day). Then, I rebelled at any thought of heavy physical training (PT). Combine that with a sedentary job and the result was not pretty.

Now, when I took up TT for the first time as a total noob about 18 months ago I immediately hired a coach who was very heavy into PT. His mulit-ball sessions were brutal at first. But I developed a training regimen that included 2 hours of formal training with my coach, approximately 10-12 hours of match play, at least a few hours of serving practice, and additional calesthenics and weight training at home on the off days every week. I'm not doing the two hours formal training anymore because it gets expensive, but have more or less kept up that same PT schedule since 2009. In addition, I have added training with a robot and do that at least two hours per week, but hope to do more when I can get access to a table away from my club.

The result is that I have lost 60 lbs, regained a lot of lower body strength, and improved my aerobic capacity greatly. Now, when I play a long session it is mostly my legs that go first inspite of this training. 

Now just addressing the age issue alone: it's obvious that as one gets older that physical performance is just going to suffer no matter how much one works at it. You can see that in any sport from football to golf. I don't care who you are--all things being equal--no 55 year old is going to match up physically with a well-conditioned 30-year-old. So when I say that "unfortunately I'm 58" I'm simply saying that for Table Tennis I have and will always have (unfortunately) a disadvantage against younger opponents. It's just a fact and not something to whine about.

Now after all of that, I will disclose that I do happen to have a significant illness (End Stage Renal Disease, more commonly called "kidney failure") and that I'm currently on dialysis. The majority of people on dialysis are not even able to work, but I do all of the training above and also work (more than) full-time. I was determined to avoid going on the permanent disabled list and that was a big incentive to start playing TT back in 2009.

So to get back on-topic, I'm always going to be handicapped somewhat (compared to younger players) when it comes to footwork. But to combine that with bad technique is just a killer. I'm never going to be able to move like Ma Lin (who can at our level?) so I need different strategies that don't require the athleticism I no longer have. Part of the problem is just a lack of experience. I'm finally to a point where I don't have to think about my strokes quite as much and I'm actually starting to see my opponent and learning to react a bit sooner.

Technically, I've been concentrating on staying low and moving my feet without crossing over (a habit learned from baseball as an infielder). My current coach and some other kind higher-level players have been helping with my footwork. I'm making progress I think but when playing doubles the technique is similar but more complicated since a partner is involved.

 

 

 

 

deriderj
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Joined: 03/20/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

Sounds like you have a great handle on the physical aspects, you certainly are training harder than I am right now.  I'm sorry to hear about your  kidney disease, but it sounds like you are doing better than most with similar issues. 

I started playing again 2 years ago after a multi-decade long layoff.  I started playing again primarily because I was concerned about my health and while I played many sports as a teen and into my 20's the one sport that I really loved was table tennis.  I was a bit surprised to find out that I still needed to compete rather than just participate but that need to compete provided the motivation to get me back into the gym and brought me back consistently to the table to try and improve. 

I've lost about 50 pounds from when I started, but I'm still overweight and my fitness levels are always suspect (I have a congenital heart condition that luckily isn't life threatening).  I'm playing 3 times a week right now, which is down from my previous 5-6 times a week over the last year but will get back to 5-6 times starting in August as I prepare to play in the US Nationals.

I recently watched 58 year old Danny Seemiller soundly defeat a 26 year old player who hails here from Minnesota.  The 26 year old is a fantastic athlete in fantastic shape and is currently rated above 2400 and is probably playing closer to 2500 at this time (in the same tournament the 26 year old defeated a young 2600 player from China). I think Danny's victory shows that there is a lot of game available or those who are willing to put in the time and effort and want to play well into their 50's.

So, good luck in your doubles and I hope you continue to enjoy the game for many years to come.

Willis
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Joined: 01/24/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

I think it makes a difference if an athelete has MAINTAINED his physical conditioning over the years. For others like you and me, once lost it's really hard to get back! I think your example of Danny Seemiller just goes to show that there is more to the game than just physical conditioning. I have to assume that physically Seemiller is at a disadvantage to the 26 year old player. So how does he overcome that advantage? That's were training, tactics, strategy, and experience come in to give older players like Seemiller (and Larry Hodges) a different kind of advantage.

My goal is to be able to play in the Over 70 class of the US Open or other high-level tournament someday!

 

mjamja
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Joined: 01/19/2011
Re: Footwork in doubles

In looking at a lot of the doubles matches on the ITTF website you see a lot of almost circular movement by players.  After hitting the ball they step diagonally backwards (moving both back and sideways) by moving the outward foot back diagonally.  Then they step mostly back and a little sideways outward by bringing the inner foot almost straight back and a little deeper than the outer foot.  These two steps put them back and out to the side of the table.  As their partner moves into position they make a standard 2 step movement back toward the mid line of the table (but still behind their partner).  This is done by moving the outward foot in first and then the inside foot moves farther inward.  Once their partner hits the ball they can step diagonally in toward the table in the direction needed based on how their partner played the shot and moved.   This circular motion seems to hold up for the short game part of a point and maybe the first rally strokes, but seems to often break down when the point goes into a full rally mode and one or another player really gets forced wide.  At that point you see a lot of one player moving side to side close to the table (usually blocking) and the other player staying farther back and making smaller in-out movements based on how good a shot his partner hits.

The placement of your shot often has a significant effect on whether or not you are in your partners way on his shot.  If you are not going for a winner you want to hit your shot such that your opponents cross-court angle is away from the direction you move off the table.  Another way to say it is to place the ball so that the opponents down-the-line shot is to the side your moving.  The cross-court angle shot ends up much wider so if you move to that side after hitting you have to move much farther to get out of the way of the next ball and your partner.  Consider a serve return that you hit to the deep Bh corner (for right-handers).  All you have to do is barely move to the outside of the right side of the table and your are completely out of the way of any returning balls.  If however, you hit it to the deep Fh corner a return ball could be angled quite wide to the right side of your table and you would need to move a couple of steps right in order to get out of the way of your partner.   This kind of placement strategy is also good because it usually (depending on how standard your partners positioning is) means your partner has to move less distance to get to the center of angle position for his next shot.

Good luck.  Hopefully Larry can give you better info.

Mark