modern sponge

March 9, 2012

Shouldn't there be an age limit for backhand looping?

Yesterday I coached one of our 7-year-olds for an hour. That in itself is rare - most at that age do only 30 minutes at a time. But this one was a bit ahead of the curve for the average kid in that age bracket. He loops just about everything on both sides. He regularly backhand loops 5-6 in a row against a block. And he can fish and lob with heavy topspin, often forcing me to miss smashes not because I couldn't handle the spin, but because I was having difficulty believing he was putting that much spin on the ball.

This is how the game is changing. There was a time when few kids would learn to loop before they were 9 or 10, and that would only be against backspin. Looping against topspin wouldn't start until even later. Now, with sponges that practically loop the ball for you, and with more and more full-time training centers with full-time coaches popping up around the country, the level of play is going up dramatically, and players fall behind if they wait until they are 9 or 10 to learn to do what others are doing earlier.

Many of the top sub-10-year-olds still mostly hit in matches, but the better ones are looping more and more in practice, and it's just a matter of time before they incorporate this into matches. It's scary watching a 10-year-old flawlessly backhand looping off the bounce over and over in drills, and knowing you will have to face that in matches.

Hitting the backhand is almost passé at the higher levels. At the world-class level, a hitter very quickly is turned into a blocker by a looping opponent; even smashes are often looped back. Even to me, playing at only a 2200 level, it's not hard to play a hitter - you just take a half step back to give yourself time to react, and then just rally them down, using their own pace against them as you move them around or pin them on their weaker side (usually the backhand), and look for balls to loop back. Against someone who loops everything you can't effectively back up to give yourself time to react (unless you can counterloop), and so you are stuck at the table blocking - and then the pace becomes overwhelming since you have no time to react that close to the table. Add that these kids are now looping right off the bounce on the backhand, and with more and more power on the forehand, and it's a nightmare out there.

Unless, of course, you are the one doing the looping. When I play these up-and-coming kids, the key is to use serve and receive so I'm the one initiating the attack, forcing them to react. It allows you to at least get in a few good shots before facing the inevitable blitzkrieg.

Injury checklist

  • Forearm: I injured that on Sunday, Feb. 26. Since that time I've rested it by not looping or hitting any forehands very hard, and avoiding repetitive forehand shots. (This is not easy since I'm coaching several hours each day, but I've had most students drill into my backhand.) It's coming along fine, and I expect to be back to normal in another week or so. Hopefully. This weekend I'm going to play matches chopping with a hardbat, as I will be doing at the Cary Cup next weekend.
  • Hip: On Tuesday, a few hours after I finished coaching, I began feeling an almost burning pain in my left hip. Since that time I've been hobbling about. I'm hoping this will heal on its own, but we'll see. It doesn't affect my coaching much except I can't move to my wide forehand very well.
  • Back: After spending many months last year partly debilitated by back problems, it's pretty much okay after doing lots of stretching and weight training. However, due to hip injury, I stopped weight training a few days ago, and already there are hints of returning back problems.
  • Knees: I've had knee problems periodically over the years, though never really bad. When I do, I wear knee braces, which really help. After some problems last fall, the knees have been fine for a while. Yippee!
  • Brain: After way too many hours these past ten days working all day with Tim Boggan on the layouts and photos of History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12, and coaching at night, the brain is toast.

Excerpt from Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, Vol. 12

This is from Chapter 27 - with USA Team Member Mike Bush writing about fellow teammate Eric Boggan's match with future U.S. Hall of Fame Player (and now fellow coach at MDTTC) Cheng Yinghua  at the 1983 Hungarian Open, when Eric was ranked in the top 20 in the world. Here's the photo of Cheng (by Mal Anderson) that accompanies the article, also from the 1983 Hungarian Open.

Eric played Cheng Yinghua in the last-16 round. Cheng, a righty shakehand topspinner, beat Sweden’s Waldner in five games in the round of 64 [some early match-up that was!]. I remembered Cheng’s versatile game from the German Open three years ago where he’d been spinning every ball against Dvoracek in the final of the Team event. Late in the second game, however, Cheng had gotten severe hamstring cramps and in the third had stayed up to the table and blocked Dvoracek down, sometimes blocking literally more than 40 topspins to win the point.

Eric went into the match with the same strategy that he’d beaten Gergely with. It was amazing what took place. Cheng had no problems moving in or out (or laterally for that matter). He could spin powerfully and with control from both sides, defend, block and counter. Eric blocked and dropped, blocked and dropped, looped and killed. The points were very long but Cheng kept winning them. He just kept putting in one more shot or making one more return than Eric. Match to Cheng, 10, 9, 13.

"A Throwback Player, With a Wardrobe to Match"

That's the subheading of this article yesterday in the New York Times on Marty Reisman.

"Rising from the Slumber, the Sleeping Giant Awakes"

That's the title of this article from the ITTF on Kanak & Prachi Jha, and the rise of American Table Tennis.

Clipboard Table Tennis

This is the Official Clipboard Promotional Video (1:52), featuring Tahl Leibovitz and Al Papp (the lefty) at the start, with Berndt Mann officiating, Wendell Dillon the referee who (humorously) objects to the illegal (i.e. non-Legal sized) clipboards, and then Marty Reisman (in the hat) and Berndt Mann play.

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