October 10, 2011

Tip of the Week

Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves.

Mikael Andersson at Lily Yip TTC

Asif Hussain emailed me about a clinic held last week at the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in New Jersey. With Asif's and Lily's permission, here are excerpts from his email.

Mikael Andersson, ITTF Director of Education and Training along with former Chinese National Team member and coach Zhen Yu San came to Lily Yip's club for a one-hour free coaching class.  I of course got caught in traffic and missed the first half hour so I'm not sure what happened in the first half.  When I got there, Mikael was wearing street shoes, jeans, and jacket and walking around the court with a microphone.  Tina Lin (2200) and Michele (13-year-old around 2000) were doing drills with Mikael directing the drills and providing his observations.  The rest of the club members stood around the court and took in his information.

The girls were doing a countering drill involving both FH and BH, then played a single game to 11.  For the game, Mikael added a point to a player's score in case she made an exceptionally good play (even if the ball missed as he wanted to reward/reinforce the idea of the right shot selection or good/smart play.)  He also deducted a point from a player's score if they made a poor choice (e.g., pushing a ball back that was deep enough to be looped.)  Some of his points:

  1. Coaches should encourage randomness in drills
  2. Far too many players, even at very high levels only attack cross court.  Need to attack to wide FH, wide BH, and most importantly into the body (elbow or pocket.)  If your previous attack was to wide FH, next attack should be to elbow or wide BH.  Don't attack to same location more than once.  Wide means that the ball should cross the opponent's sideline.
  3. Your attacks should land deep on the table or close to the sidelines (in case of wide attack.)  Loops that land short can be crushed or angle blocked easily.
  4. You need very active feet, always move to the ball even if its a very small step.
  5. Always think to attack a serve.  Attack any long serve, even if it is half long.
  6. Push short (backspin) balls right off the bounce.  Push either short so it can't be attacked or push fast and deep.  Any other type of push gets killed.
  7. Move in with your body/leg to push (don't stretch out your arm as you lose control over the ball), then immediately move back out.
  8. Vary your serves in terms of spin and placement.  Need loose wrist and racket speed.  Know what type of return is likely based on your serve and be ready for your 3rd ball accordingly.
  9. On returning serve, you should stand far enough back that when you stretch your arm, the tip of your racket should touch the edge of the table.  This allows you to handle deep serves and allows you to move in to handle short and half long serves (easier to move in to return serve vs. moving back.)
  10. When in ready position to return serve, racket should be pointed straight ahead (not towards your BH or FH) so that you can more quickly move it for either FH or BH return.

On serves to the short FH, he kept talking about technique to come in and push short using the FH.  I asked him about using a banana BH loop (flick) to return.  His response surprised me saying that he is not a fan of the BH banana loop.  After the coaching session I asked him privately about his response and my surprise as the Chinese (e.g., Zhang Jike, Ma Long, et. al.) are all using this technique very effectively. It turns out he had somewhat misunderstood my question.  A BH banana loop to him is when you loop with sidespin with an exaggerated banana shape/motion, which he said some European players use. The Chinese implementation of this technique requires a very strong core/upper body, forearm and wrist.  They tuck in their belly to create space, racket goes back towards this space with the elbow out/away from the body and the wrist is cocked back as much as possible such that top of racket is pointing towards their belly button.  They then uncoil over the ball, imparting mostly topspin and some sidespin.  You need to read location of the serve and very quickly move to the correct position to attempt this return.

Westchester Open in NY

I may write more about the tournament later. We left late on Sunday afternoon, while the tournament (and the Open) were still in full swing, so I don't have the main results. Here are some notes on things that came up while coaching.

  • When you have a lead, slow down, take your time, and protect that lead. Better still, expand on the lead. It's so easy to let up, and a 1% let up often leads to 100% loss. There are always going to be fluky points, so no matter how big the lead, a bunch of them can be lost to nets, edges, finger balls (kept happening this tournament!), etc. No lead is safe until you have made it safe by winning.
  • Especially at big tournaments, the background is very different on each side of the table, often with one side looking into a wall while the other is looking into the distance. So when you warm up, halfway through switch sides so you get used to both sides.
  • Want to start out playing well in your first match? Come early and warm up early and long, preferably with someone you are used to hitting with. I know this might sound hard to believe, but warming up actually gets you warmed up. And it worked for us - we were the first on the tables Sunday morning. Of course, this is no guarantee for success - nervousness or a hot opponent can overcome the best preparations. But you need to focus on the things you can control.

New "multiball" drills

I wrote in my October 5 blog about Cheng Yinghua's "Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill." I've now incorporated this type of drill into my coaching, with my own variations. For example, I may have the student/practice partner push the serve back, I loop, and they counterloop or block as I reach for the next ball. There are countless variations you can do rapid-fire, and they are very match-like. A side benefit is that they are great practice for the coach a well, who gets to start each drill off with a loop or some other shot.

Chinese domination of table tennis - good or bad?

Here's an article on whether Chinese domination of table tennis is good or bad for the sport, by Australian player, coach, and about.com table tennis guide Greg Letts.

Worn-out muscles on Friday

After coaching for 16 straight days, doing weight training three times a week, plus a number of training sessions on my own, my muscles finally hit the wall on Friday night. After losing two straight five-gamers to 2250 juniors who ran me all over the court, complete exhaustion set in. No, I didn't lose any more matches, but my next two matches, against lower-rated players, were sheer torture as the table corners seemed miles away, and the opponents took great glee in putting every ball to these distant corners. I finally got to "rest" this weekend while coaching at the Westchester Open, and hopefully the muscles will be ready for serious coaching later today, and that those table corners will have been moved back to five feet apart.

Do you know why table tennis is often called ping pong?

Here's a hilarious video that purportedly explains, well, see the title above (4:34).

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Re: October 10, 2011

Re-reading these tips, I realized tip 9 deals with a current problem I am facing.

I am having trouble deciding where to stand to recieve serves. I should try out tip 9:

On returning serve, you should stand far enough back that when you stretch your arm, the tip of your racket should touch the edge of the table.  This allows you to handle deep serves and allows you to move in to handle short and half long serves (easier to move in to return serve vs. moving back.)

Sounds like great advice.

Re: October 10, 2011

It took me many years of play to realize point number 10:

When in ready position to return serve, racket should be pointed straight ahead (not towards your BH or FH) so that you can more quickly move it for either FH or BH return.

Wish I had read it somewhere or someone had pointed that out.