Keith Pech

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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April 11, 2012

Modern sponges make looping easy

Some of the paradigms about teaching the loop are crashing down, with the advent of the modern "super looping sponge." There are modern sponges that make looping so easy that little kids can now topspin the ball in ways that little kids (and most adults) of yesteryear could only dream. Speed glues (now illegal) made looping both easier and more powerful (both speed and spin), but these modern sponges are a level better. (I shutter to think what would happen if you speed glued one of these super sponges - I think the universe would spin out of orbit as it zipped past some cosmic player.)

I asked Coach Cheng Yinghua what would have happened if he had these sponges back in his peak playing days (on Chinese National Team, 1977-1987), and he had a gleam in his eye as he said he'd have beaten everyone.

Yesterday I was coaching a man in his mid-60s, rated about 1500. A decade ago I wouldn't have dreamed of him seriously counterlooping. Instead, the guy came at me like a 2200 player might have in the past, effortlessly counterlooping most of my best loops back. (This was not a former top player - he was at his peak now after several years of practice.) Sure, it was just a drill, and I doubt if he could do this consistently in a match, but if I'd given him a typical sponge from ten years ago, you could glue it all you want and he wouldn't have been able to do this. And it's like this at all ages and levels. Kids aged 10-12 are looping at levels that would be unheard of before.

With these sponges all you have to do is sort of wave at the ball and it goes back with back-breaking topspin that twist Newton and Einstein physics into a quivering mass of torqued rotation. The game has changed. 

Even the basic forehand and backhand have become mini-loops for many. When you warm up with someone forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, you expect basic drives with light topspin, but now many players don't even have that shot - their basic drives have become topspinny. Even fishing and lobbing are easier and more effective as the sponges just shoot the ball back with topspin.

Of course the downside is that opponents can also loop more easily, and many of your loops will be looped right back, as will even your strongest blocks. There are now counterlooping rallies at the 1800 level that were pretty rare in the past. Even during the gluing age few intermediate players bothered to go through the hassle of gluing. Now it's built into the sponge, making looping that much easier for the masses. 

For me, while I don't cover as much ground as I used to or react to fast incoming balls as quickly, I find that nearly anything I can react to and touch with my forehand I can loop back.

What does this mean for coaches and players?

  • You teach the loop much sooner to beginning kids, and counterlooping not long after.
  • You teach the loop against a block even to older players, who in the past might have just looped against backspin and hit against blocks or topspin. Now they can loop over and over with far less effort than was needed in the past.
  • Aging loopers can continue to loop effectively well into their golden years.
  • More players can develop games where they simply loop everything that comes long to their forehand.
  • Looping off the bounce is easier, especially on the backhand, and many players now essentially loop nearly everything off the bounce, even on the backhand.
  • Fast blocks and even smashes are easier to loop back.
  • Forehand blocking becomes almost obsolete for many athletic players from the intermediate level on. If you can see it, you can loop it. (Forehand blocking is still important, but more as a reflex return against powerful shots when you don't have time to swing.)

Forehand Flip

Here's a video from Table Tennis University on the forehand flip (4:23).

Plastic balls
The ITTF had planned to switch from celluloid to plastic balls after the 2012 Olympics. According to this notice, "For production reasons, the plastic ball will be introduced not before July 2014."

Highlights from the 2012 World Team Championships Highlights

Here's a highlights video from the 2012 World Team Championships, set to music (9:49).

"I Love Table Tennis"

Here's a video promoting college table tennis (1:05) that features players saying, "I love table tennis." (One of the players saying this is Mark Hazinski.) The ones I like are the guy saying, "I love table tennis and math" (my bachelor's is in math), the little girl saying, "I sort of like it," and Adam Bobrow interjecting, "He loves table tennis." And if you go to the NCTTA home page you'll see that the College Nationals are this weekend, April 13-15, in Plano, TX. (A bunch of players from my club, MDTTC, are going, representing University of Maryland.)

Rally for Kids with Cancer

There will be a SMASH Celebrity Ping-Pong Tournament for Kids with Cancer Foundation on June 23, 2012 in LA. Includes a 30-second video from actor Terrence Howard.

Keith Pech on TV

Here's a video of Keith in a TV feature (1:50) yesterday from Channel 19 Action News on his going to the College Nationals.

Table tennis hoax

Here's a story about a hoax pulled off about a University of Akron Table Tennis Team in 1974. The team had a great winning record and received lots of press coverage - but there was no team! It was all made up.

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April 3, 2012

Wang Liqin didn't show up

Alas, Wang Liqin didn't show up at the airport yesterday. (See my blog yesterday about this.) Neither did I, since it was of course an April Fool's Joke. I couldn't actually do it on April 1, since that was a Sunday and I blog Mon-Fri, so I started the blog off by writing, "As reported yesterday..." The story spread through the Internet like wildfire. Several players at our Spring Break camp heard about it and thought it might be true. I received dozens of emails. This despite my talking about his nine-year-old superstar son Tongtong (Tong Tong Gong is the top rated cadet in Maryland), about his science fiction writing career (including "a story he wrote of a boy growing up playing table tennis in a futuristic world where players were more technicians than athletes with futuristic paddles covered with dials and buttons" - I'm a SF writer, not him!), and so on.

Strangest and weirdest shots in table tennis

I would rarely, if ever, do these shots in a serious match - but in practice? Why not. I do all of these sometimes, especially near the end of practice matches against lower players, especially kids, who often enjoy the variation from the norm.

  • Backspin lobs. Not against smashes - I do these against serves and pushes. The goal is to make the ball land as short as possible, and to bounce backwards. Then either the opponent is caught off guard and can't even touch it as it bounces backwards, or they go to the side of the table and cream it. In the latter case, however, they often hit downward so much that there's little forward motion, and so all I have to do is run to where the ball will drop and either lob against or perhaps counter-attack. I do this shot against most of the kids in practice matches, usually the last point or two.
  • Forehand tomahawk lobs. If some smashes to your wide forehand, why not do one of these? With the racket tip up, sidespin lob the ball back so that when it hits the opponent's side, it bounces nearly sideways to the left (away from a right-handed opponent). It's almost impossible for most players to smash this ball anywhere except cross-court - especially since they often make a last-second lunge at the unexpected sideways jump - and so they keep smashing to the wide forehand, allowing you to keep tomahawking your lobs. (Interesting note - James Therriault, the premier U.S. lobber from the late 80's and 90's, lobbed like this on his forehand rather than the conventional way, with the tip down.)
  • Backspin comeback serves. You serve the ball high, but with so much backspin it bounces back. (Sort of like the backspin lob described above.) If done properly, the ball bounces back over the net. If the opponent doesn't come around to the side, he gets aced. Even if he goes to the side of the table he's often late and can't make a strong shot. But if he does get there in time, it's an easy kill for him at wide angles. Of course if you serve it really high, then it's like a chop lob, and if the opponent mistakenly smashes straight down, you may be able to run it down.
  • Fifty-foot serve. If you have fifty feet between tables (or even if you don't), why not try this serve? It's great for exhibitions. Serve from about fifty feet away, directly from the side of the table. You can do it either forehand tomahawk (racket tip up, so it curves to the left for a righty) or forehand pendulum (racket tip down, so it curves right for a righty) style, though you can probably get more distance tomahawk style. Serve high into the air well behind the table, and let it curve back, and bounce on both sides of the table. If you actually practice this serve, you'll find it easier than it looks, assuming you can put good spin on your serves. Once you land one the others become easier.
  • Underhand counter-smash. When lobbing, if the opponent smashes to your middle but not too hard, why do a conventional return? Counter-smash underhanded. I saw Jan-Ove Waldner do this in a match once, and have added it to my annual repertoire of shots. (Annual as in I land one about once a year. I did one in a tournament one time and won the point.)
  • Forehand pendulum return. If you have a good forehand pendulum serve, and you get a ball hit at your middle, why not return it with the forehand pendulum motion? I've done this a few times even in serious matches. I first saw this shot in the late 1970s by Charles Butler, a two-winged looper rated about 2300, who was about 6'4" with very long arms. He had a huge middle, and sometimes used this shot to cover for it.
  • Scissors-kick smash. Against a lob, why not jump in the air and do a mid-air scissors kick as you smash the ball? Dan Seemiller is very good at this - it's how he smashes most lobs. And it looks great in exhibitions. It's actually a serious shot, as it allows you to hit the ball from a higher point than normal, and the scissors kick adds power.
  • Blowing the ball back. This should be the standard way to return high, no-spin balls. My record is 33 in a row.

150th five-day camp

I believe the Spring Break Camp I'm running this week at the MDTTC (along with my co-coaches, with 30+ players) is the 150th five-day camp I've run. It's possible I forgot a few from the 1990s, in which case I've done more than 150. That's 750 days of running training camps, or over two years of my life. Not to mention yesterday, today, and the next three days, with six hours of coaching in the camp per day, plus private coaching.

This summer we'll be running camps all summer long, Mon-Fri, starting June 18 and ending Aug. 24 - that's eleven straight camps. Co-coaches are Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, and Jeffrey Zeng Xun. See you there!

A faster forehand topspin

Here's a video from PingSkills on developing a faster forehand topspin (2:15).

Keith Pech to College Nationals

And here's the article!

Martina Navratilova playing table tennis

Here's a 32-second video of the tennis great playing table tennis - and check out her smash five seconds in!

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