September 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. Time to put some balance into your game!

Tactics against hitting juniors

Because I'm out of practice after months of back problems, when I went back to playing local juniors, I had to go back to "basic principles" to compete. And while I wasn't really playing well, I kept winning, but almost exclusively on tactics. Here are the main tactics I used, and that you should try when playing super-fast hitting juniors, where you simply cannot play at their pace. (I can't.)

When serving, often serve slow, super-spinny serves, mostly long, with lots of spin variation, often so they break into the wide backhand. You want lots and lots of serve variation. With side-top serves, vary between extra topspin and extra sidespin. Vary the service motion, especially right after contact - mostly follow-through down for side-top serves, follow-through up for side-backspin serves. Throw in lots of fast, dead (almost backspin) serves to the middle (playing elbow). Be aggressive and decisive in following up the serve - it might be the only shot in the rally that you won't get a bang-bang counter-hitting return. If you have a good loop, serve short backspins to the middle or forehand (or long to the backhand, if they push it back), and follow with loops at wide angles--but try to hide the direction you are going, or even fake one way, go the other. (Juniors have smaller middles, but are weaker at covering the corners when you are attacking.)

When receiving, look for every chance to push or chop the serve back extremely heavy and low, at wide angles. (Receiving against fast-attacking juniors is one of the few times where you may break the cardinal rule of attacking the deep serve, since it's often better to push it back heavy.) Often aim to the backhand, then push to the wide forehand at the last second. When they move to the forehand to loop, quick block the next ball to the wide backhand before they are back in position, or to the wide forehand again if they move to cover the backhand too quickly. If the junior loops from both wings, a heavy push to the middle will often give them trouble. If you topspin the serve back, make sure to go very deep. If you loop the serve, deep, spinny loops are usually best; if they smash this with their forehand, then do it mostly to the backhand. Quicker loops to the forehand are effective - any loop to the forehand they can't smash is effective.

When rallying, use lots of variation. You may start the rally off close to the table - try to start the rally with an aggressive, well-placed shot (wide angles or middle) - then hit the next shot a step back, but don't back up too much until you are forced to. Use varying topspins and backspins, and move the ball around the table, keeping it deep. Throw in some dummy loops. If you are good at fishing and lobbing, that is effective as long as you don't overdo it - it's better to force the junior to make at least one risky shot that he might miss before you start lobbing, so don't give up the table too easily. Heavy backspin (pushing and chopping) can be extremely effective, so here's your chance to learn to win with backspin.

Here are two other articles that might be helpful: 

Back and Playing Update

This past weekend (Fri-Sun) I played more than I had in the previous two months. It was the first real test of my back since I'd had the back problems I've probably over-blogged about. Overall, things went really well. On Friday and Saturday I played practice matches with some of our top juniors (and some non-juniors), including several that were rated about the same as me or higher. I went in fully expecting (as did everyone else) that after several months of non-playing, I'd get killed. Instead, I went undefeated, a combined 9-0! Rating-wise, I defeated players rated 2300, 2200, 2150, two 2100's, 2000, 1800, 1700, and 1300. I'm not going to give out names, but suffice to say I had Cheng Yinghua staring at me with a silly grin and saying, "Larry, how are you playing so good?" He and Jack coached several of the juniors against me ("He's slow! Attack his forehand and middle! Most of his serves are topspin! Serve topspin so he can't push quick and heavy!), but to no avail.

Two things that really helped. First, the honest truth I wasn't playing that well, and feeling rather vulnerable, I really, Really, REALLY focused on tactics. And that worked rather well. Second, it had been months since they had seen my serves, and I decided to just serve for winners. And so I gave my opponents a steady diet of long, breaking serves with varied spin, often with a herky-jerky serving motion to throw them off, along with fast, dead serves to the middle, and occasionally short, spinny serves, especially to the forehand. They missed my serve over and over. Like magic, whenever I served and needed a point, a service winner would appear. As I got more comfortable, I did more serve & attack, especially with short no-spin serves to the middle or forehand, followed by a forehand loop.

On Sunday, I did 3.5 consecutive hours of coaching, the first time I'd done more than an hour of coaching in months. It went pretty well, but combined with all the playing on Friday and Saturday, by the end my back was done. I played one practice match with a 1700 junior (won the first, struggled to win the next three mostly with serves and by fishing and lobbing), then had to stop. The good news was this morning my back feels fine.

A USA National League System

Over the past few days there has been a lot of emails discussions on how to set up a national league system. I've argued for years that we should focus on learning how they do it so successfully in Europe, and from that create a USA model. I know NYTTL (the New York league, which has teams from all over the northeast) does that (Mauricio Vergara explained how they modeled it after the European leagues), and I think BATTF (Bay area) and LATTF (Los Angeles) are also similar to European leagues. The best news of the weekend was that Richard Lee (president of North American Table Tennis) is going to Europe on business, and volunteered to meet with officials there and ask about how they developed their leagues. (And the key is how they did so at the start, not just how they are being run today.) I was also asked the following:

>In your opinions how can we realistically implement the National Club
>League System? What would work best in the U.S.?

Here is my response:

"Here is the recommendation I made repeatedly at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and previous ones as and board meetings. Arrange to meet at the Worlds (or other major competition) with officials from Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), or other countries with successful leagues. The key is to learn from them how they created and developed their leagues, not how they are run now, though that is the ultimate goal. Discuss it with them, exchange ideas, and see what we can learn.

"Then we take this info to successful league directors in the U.S. (such as ones from BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL), and ask them to work out a U.S. model, based on what we learn from European leagues and their own experiences in the U.S. (Actually, we should send these league directors to the Worlds to meet with European league directors, so they can learn first hand. At our cost. It would be the single best investment in USATT history.) Then we make this model available to those interested, and promote it on a regional basis. I believe they are already working on this, but they are reinventing the wheel, when the wheel (how to set up successful leagues) has already be invented many times overseas. We just need to decide the specific design of our wheel.

"We have to stop thinking in terms of setting up a nationwide league for current clubs, and think about setting up a league that will create clubs, such as Germany did, whose Bundesliga led to their 11,000 clubs. How do they and others do this? Given the choice between learning this, and not learning this, we've consistently chosen ignorance, often hiding behind the oft-repeated "But things are different there!" without even bothering to learn the differences and similarities. Yes, there are differences, which is why we take the best of Europe to experienced U.S. league directors, and create a U.S. model. Believe it or not, the 700,000 players in the German league system are human beings just like us; they are not some alien species that genetically wants to play table tennis. Neither are the English, the Chinese, the Japanese, and other countries that do it right, and yet we consistently pretend we know everything when in reality USATT knows very little about developing table tennis in this country. That's why we have 8000 members."

A TV show that features Ping-Pong? (I mean table tennis!)

NBC is developing Pong, a single-camera comedy based on the 2010 book Everything You Know Is Pong by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz.

Brian Pace in Training

Brian write of this new video (37:21), "In Episode 9 of BP Reloaded I update you on my training in Romania, I go over my weight loss, I show you some of my daily meals, and I go through a training session with Lucian M."

Matrix Table Tennis

I know you have seen this (if not, where have you been???), but I watched it again this morning, and I think every table tennis player should watch the Matrix Table Tennis Video (1:44) at least once a month. And while you're at it, why not watch the parodies?

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Larry Hodges's picture

Re: September 19, 2011

The link to the Tactics for the Slow of Foot: How to Play a Fast Opponent article was incorrect this morning, but it is now fixed.