Kathy Toon

May 20, 2014

Fast and Deep Serves

I've been teaching this a lot recently. These are rarely front-line serves as even intermediate players have little trouble attacking them if you use them too often. However, they are a great variation to spin serves, and if used a few times each game will often catch the opponent off guard. I probably use them more than most both because I'm confident I can pick just the right time (you get a sense for that with experience), and because I spent so much time practicing this in my early years that I have very good fast and deep serves.

Before we go on, isn't fast and deep serves rather redundant? If the serve is fast, it's obviously deep, right? And yet it's part of our lexicon that we call these serve fast and deep serves rather than just fast serves.

Here's a tutorial (2:51) from PingSkills on fast and deep serves (okay, they actually call them "fast and long serves," those Aussies), which covers the topic pretty well. Note the emphasis on having the first bounce hit as close to your end-line as possible, to maximize the time the ball has to drop over the table - this is extremely important. Putting a target on your own side of the table to see if you are hitting the ball near your end-line is a great way of teaching this; I also use that method. Equally important is having a low contact point. (Most players contact the ball too high on all serves. It's a common problem even at higher levels, and many don't even realize this, and so their serves aren't as low as they could be, making things easier for the receiver, whether they attack or control the serve back.)

A key to a fast serve is practicing them to the point where you can do in matches what you can do in practice, especially at a key point. There's no point in having a great fast serve in practice if you can't pull it off under pressure. So practice it until it's second-nature, and make sure to warm up the serve before tournaments so it's ready.

Most players learn to serve fast by gradually building up the speed of the serve as they learn to control it. That's fine, but I found it more valuable to do the opposite - serve very fast, even if it goes off the end, and gradually slow it down until you could keep it on the table. Then work on controlling at that pace, while gradually increasing the pace even more.

Here are three related articles I've written - but it just struck me that I've never done a Tip of the Week on how to do fast and deep serves. I'll probably do one sometime soon, an expanded version of the above.

Get Your Game Face On Like the Pros

Here's the new ebook on sports psychology for table tennis by sports psychologist and top player Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I haven't read it yet, but it's an expanded version of their previous version, "Get Your Game Face On," which I reviewed here. I'm busy on other things right now, but after I read it I'll do a review. Sport psychology is one of the most under-utilized aspects of the game, so I strongly urge you to get ahead of me and read it before I do!

No Money in Ping-Pong?

Here are three postings by Bruce Liu on the subject of money in table tennis.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

And here's a listing of the prize money in ITTF World Tour Events, and the calendar with 23 Tour events listed.

40mm vs. 38mm Ball

Here's PingPod #39 (2:14), where PingSkills looks back at switch from 38 to 40mm, as a preview to the upcoming switch to polyballs.

Before and After Pictures of the Stars

Here they are!

The Fellowship of the Ping

Okay, this is kind of silly, but here it is! (It's Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Mizutani Jun, and Zhang Jike in Lord of the Rings . . . sort of.

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May 10, 2012

Get Your Game Face On!

By Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon
Review by Larry Hodges

"Have you ever stopped to consider how elite table tennis players deal with the pressure of competition and consistently perform at their best?" That's the opening line of "Get Your Game Face On," the new table tennis sports psychology ebook by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon ($4.99, available at amazon.com). It's a rather short book - I read it in an hour or two - but with lots of useful content. It covers sports psychology specifically for table tennis better than anything else I've read. It does so not just with theory, but with practical steps to improve your mental game and thereby your overall game.

The book points out four major problems that plague table tennis players, and then goes about giving systematic ways of combating them:

  • Inconsistency
  • Not being able to play as well as we practice
  • Your energy level can be too high or too low
  • Distractions

Central to the book is developing a "Game Face" (confidence, energy, optimism, calm), the inseparable relationship between emotional, mental, and physical (the "Game Face Performance Triangle"), and a "Game Face Routine," using the four R's:

  • Reaction (use the 80-10-10 rule - 80% neutral, 10% celebration, 10% challenged response, i.e. instead of "That was terrible!" try "You can make that!")
  • Recover (recover from the point, relax, etc., with nine methods listed)
  • Ready (this is where you do your tactical thinking, with a very good listing of things to think about - "Think before you play")
  • Ritual (to prepare mentally for the next point)

Throughout the book there are numerous real-world examples from world-class players. Often I was nodding my head at mental tricks that match what I'd developed over the years, or at recognizing something I'd see others do. The specific breakdown of how you use the time between points - the four R's - especially led to much thought that will influence my own coaching. The book should be a must for table tennis coaches and serious players.

Dora Kurimay was a member of the Hungarian National Table Tennis Team for six years and was six-time National Champion in doubles, singles, and teams. Perhaps more importantly she has a Bachelor's degree in psychology and two Master's degrees, in Psychology and in Sports Psychology. She has a long coaching background as well, both in table tennis and other sports. She now lives in the U.S. and at this writing has a 2388 rating. Kathy Toon coached tennis for twenty-three years, including at the University of California-Berkeley for fourteen years where teams she coached won three national doubles championships.

Serving Seminar

As noted in my blog yesterday, I'm doing a Service Seminar at the Maryland Table Tennis Center this Saturday from 12:30-2:00 PM. Here's the new info page! Make sure to email me in advance if you are coming so you can save $5. I'll be covering how to create spin, deception, specific serve motions, and fast serves. We'll alternate between lecture and on-table practice.

Ariel Hsing in LA Times

Here's a feature on Ariel from yesterday's Los Angeles Times. (And in case you didn't figure out the headline, "DIY" means "Do It Yourself.")

2012 World Team Championships

Here's a video feature (12:25) on the 2012 World Team Championships in Dortmund, Germany, held March 25 - April 1. 

Will's World of Sports

Will took on Keith Pech in this video (3:54). It was a battle of . . . beginner versus pro. Keith put on a great show! (Will is from Sports Time Ohio, who likes to go around taking on "pros" at their own sports.)

Santa Barbara Library Tables

They are hoping to put up "ping-pong tables" in their Library Plaza. I put quotes around it because the tables are concrete! (See picture in the article.) However, this is somewhat common in China - see this picture.

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February 24, 2012

Service fault controversies

Over the past 14 months (and many tournaments) I've been involved in six specific incidents involving hidden serves. Five different times I've called for umpires or complained to umpires about opponents hiding their serves against a player I was coaching. Each case became a controversy as either the umpire wouldn't call the hidden serve, or if they did, and the opponent (or his coach or others in his contingent) became quite unhappy. In the other case where I complained about a fault on my player, an umpire simply got the rules wrong and faulted my player incorrectly for hiding a serve that clearly wasn't hidden. (Just for the record - players I coach were also correctly faulted several times along the way. Only that one time did I complained about a service fault called against a player I coached.)

Other than unhappy people, what's the one thing each case had in common? In every case I was right about the serve, as shown by video and photo sequences taken from the video. (I'm not going to fan the flames by publishing them, but if you were directly involved in one of these hidden serve controversies, feel free to email me and I'll show you the video and photo sequences.)

This isn't bragging. It's rather easy to see if a serve is hidden or not from the sidelines behind the players, where the coach sits, far easier than it is for the umpire off to the side. It's not a matter of being able to tell if the serve is hidden; it's a matter of choosing to speak up rather than let the opponent have the advantage of illegally hiding their serve. Some think a player or coach should just live with the disadvantage of having to face hidden serves, but I just don't buy that.

I generally don't worry about illegal serves unless the opponent is getting a serious advantage out of it. This usually means only on hidden serves, where players hide the ball with their arm, shoulder, body, or head. Other service rules are often abused, but none cause nearly as much trouble for the receiver as hidden serves. (Quick-serving out of the hand is sometimes a problem, but is so obviously illegal that any competent umpire will call it on the first instance.)

I've heard some crazy rationales for why it's "okay" to hide one's serve. (Note - hiding the serve means hiding the ball from the opponent during the serve motion, which is illegal, making it difficult for the opponent to read the spin on the serve. Usually this means hiding contact; sometimes it means hiding the ball until the split second before contact, when it's almost impossible to pick up the contact.) Here are some paraphrases of some of the best excuses:

  • "No one's called me on it before." (I know of at least one player who has used this excuse probably a dozen times. Thank about that! But even if it were true, then that doesn't change the fact that the serve is illegal; it simply means there has been lax umpiring.)
  • "That's the way everyone's serving." (Not true, but a lot do get away with it.)
  • "Why would you call me on serves?" (Because you are hiding your serve.)
  • "I'll call my opponent for serving illegally in practice, but no way should you call him on it in a tournament." (This is one of the stranger ones.)
  • "He's from your own player's club!" (So why is he hiding his serve against someone from his club who is not hiding his serve?)

It is true that many players get away with serving illegally, and umpires are notorious for not calling hidden serves in international matches. It's unfortunate but true that to compete internationally, our top players may have to develop hidden serves to compete against opponents who hide their serves and the umpire doesn't call it. And I have no problem with players hiding their serve if the opponent is doing so. But you better learn to serve legally if you are called for it - without argument - and you really shouldn't hide your serve against an opponent who is serving legally.

Unfortunately, these incidents have caused a lot of tension and are rather frustrating. Some think players and coaches shouldn't call opponents for hiding their serves, and are quick to show their anger at those who do. Others simply angrilly deny that the serves are hidden, despite the many witnesses (often including umpires and referees) and video that show otherwise. Alas.

By the way, in 36 years and about 600 tournaments, I've been faulted for my serve exactly once - and the umpire and referee both admitted afterwards they had made a mistake, that the serve was legal and shouldn't have been faulted. What happened? I'll write about that next week.

Service seminars

I plan on running a series of one-hour Serving Seminars at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, probably starting sometime in April or May. These will cover serving technique from beginning to advanced. The seminars will be both lecture/demonstration and on-the-table practice. Afterwards I may keep up a weekly 30-minute service session where players can get together and practice their serves. More on this later!

2012 U.S. Open

Here it is, the home page for the 2012 U.S. Open in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 30-July 4. See you there!

Table Tennis Sports Psychology Book

Here's a new table tennis sports psychology book, "Get Your Game Face On! Table Tennis" by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon. I've downloaded it to my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Kessel’s Handy Guide to Ruining Volleyball Player

While this was written for volleyball coaches, most of it applies to table tennis coaches as well! Some of my favorites:

  • "Never show what you want, if one thousand words will do.  All explanations should be as wordy as possible to demonstrate your vast knowledge of the game."
  • "Make sure to always tell the player what he or she did wrong."
  • "Teach volleyball [table tennis] the way it is supposed to be taught, on the chalkboard."
  • "Make sure to bawl players out about their mistakes, win or lose.  It is better to do this in front of a whole gym full of spectators, rather than in the locker room, or worse, one on one in private."

Table Tennis Benefit for Alzheimer's

Adam Bobrow, Susan Sarandon, and Soo Yeon Lee are among those who will take part in this benefit on March 4 in Los Angeles.

Kuwait Open Highlights Tape

Here's a highlights video (3:38) from the Kuwait Open of Jun Mizutani (JPN) vs. Kim Min Seok (KOR) in the quarterfinals, set to music.

Lady Antebellum Table Tennis

After a sold-out show on Feb. 17, the members of this country pop music group put on "The First Annual Lady A Ping-Pong Classic" (3:09).

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