April 5, 2012

Wandering grips and open rackets

One of the more common problems I see with beginners and some intermediate players are what I call "wandering grips." I wrote about grip problems in this week's Tip of the Week, and this is a related problem. It seems that no matter how many times I remind them, some players change to a bad grip as soon as the rally begins. They aren't even aware of it. The reason is that they have unfortunately learned to hit the ball with the bad grip, and this has led to bad stroking technique. Since this bad technique has become habit, they automatically use this bad technique as soon as the rally begins - and so they subconsciously switch to the bad grip that matches the bad technique, since they cannot do the bad technique with a good grip.

The solution, of course, is lots of repetitive practice with the good grip and good technique in a controlled practice situation, usually multiball training. When the good technique seems ingrained in such rote practice drills, then the player can try them in more random drills, and finally in practice matches.

In theory, that's all you have to do to fix these problems. In practice, there are times where I'm busy smiling and being patient on the outside, but on the inside I'm screaming, "For the zillionth time, fix your grip!"

One beginning player I was working with yesterday had played a lot of "basement" ping-pong, and had developed the habit of sticking his finger down the middle of his racket and open his racket as hit his forehand, which led to him smacking the ball with backspin off the end over and over. (I think the shot might hit with the cheap blades he had been using, but not with a modern sponge racket.) When I got him to use a proper grip, he would hit a few good ones, and then fall back to the old habit. I think I said various versions of "Watch your grip!" and "Close your racket!" about one hundred times in one session. (More specifically, I'd tell him to lead with the top part of the racket, and to aim for the net, which worked sometimes.) At the end of the session he was getting it right some of the time, but as he himself noted, his racket hand seemed to have a mind of its own.

MDTTC Spring Break Camp

Here are highlights from yesterday.

  • Confusing two players. There's a beginning player I worked with extensively at our Christmas Camp in December, about twelve years old. Around February I began coaching him regularly - or so I thought. I was quite impressed with his improvement as he learned to loop and even occasionally counterloop. Then something came up, and he missed a few sessions. Then he showed up at the Spring Break Camp, but was playing miserably. He couldn't loop, could barely hit the ball; it was as if he'd forgotten all I and other coaches had taught him. It was rather frustrating at first. Then yesterday he not only showed up, but he showed up twice. It turns out that the beginning player I'd worked with at the Christmas Camp and the improving one I'd coached in February were two different look-a-like players, and yesterday was the first time I'd seem both at the club at the same time! Both are Chinese, and really do look alike, at least to me, though one is about two inches taller. I'm poor at recognizing both faces and names, alas. Neither of them have any clue about this mix up, and I'd like to keep it that way. So let's keep this a secret between you and me.
  • Cup game. Once again the most popular game with the kids at the end of each session is the Cup Game. We take paper cups and stack them in various shapes, often pyramids, and each player gets ten shots to see how many they can knock down. The most popular version is to take ten cups, and stack them with four on the bottom, three on top, two more on top of that, and one on the very top. A few times they took out the all the cups and did a pyramid that was seven stories high with 28 cups, with rows of 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Then they'd take turns knocking it down, though whoever hit it first usually knocked down most of them.
  • Worm, caterpillar, and octopus juice. Another popular game is to put my water bottle on the table and the kids line up, taking turns taking two shots each trying to hit it. If they hit it, I have to take a sip. What makes it more interesting is that every day I have another story about how (for example) that morning I'd gotten up early, went outside and caught hundreds of worms, then squeezed them in a juice machine and that the liquid in the bottle was worm juice. I'm good at making sour faces as I drink it. I've also been forced to drink caterpillar juice and octopus juice. Tomorrow I'm thinking spiders.
  • 50-foot serves. During break today I introduced the more advanced players to the joys of fifty foot serves. You stand directly to the side of the table, about fifty feet away, and serve as hard as you can with sidespin so that the ball curves through the air, reaches the table, hits one side, and bounces sideways and hits the other. You can do this either forehand tomahawk or pendulum style. George Nie and Karl Montgomery got quite good at this. Tong Tong Gong joined in late and managed to land a few.  
  • We also did some coaching. One player in particular went from essentially a complete beginner on Monday to hitting fifty steady forehands on Wednesday. The beginners focused a lot on smashing yesterday. We also introduced "mirror footwork" to the kids, where they have to follow the leader (me at the start, then others from the group) who move side to side, constantly changing directions and trying to leave the group behind.
  • Cramps. After three days of mostly standing by a table and feeding multiball while yelling sage advice, my legs and back are starting to cramp up, and my voice is getting hoarse. And the sun rises in the east and water is wet. (As I'm typing this my right leg is cramping up a storm.)

ITTF Coaching Courses

Fremont, CA (June 11-15) and Austin, TX (Aug. 13-17) will hold ITTF coaching courses this summer. Info is here. I also plan to run one at MDTTC (Gaithersburg, MD), probably in late summer or September. If interested in the one I'll be running, email me and I'll put you on the list to notify when I have it scheduled. (I ran one last April, so this'll be the second one I've run, along with several USATT coaching seminars.)

Octopus vs. Rabbit

In honor of the octopus juice I was forced to drink (see segment above), here's an octopus playing a rabbit cartoon. And here's a rather psychedelic rabbit playing table tennis.


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