Matt Jarvis

May 1, 2012

Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov

[Note - I did a very short review of this here in February, but I decided to do a more extensive one - after all, this is primarily a coaching blog, and this is a unique coaching book. Tomorrow I've got another book review, of Steve Grant's "Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America."]

I recently read the excellent book Breaking 2000, by Alex Polyakov (Breaking 2000, 140 pages, available in paperback and ebook). The book is a first-hand step-by-step look at the strategic development of a player from near beginner to an advanced level. I don't think I've seen it covered like this anywhere else. Instructional books generally do a good job in teaching how to do each technique; this book shows the actual events taking place as the techniques were learned, how they were learned, and most important, why. (And on a related note, Alex's coach, Gerald Reid, who is mentioned throughout the book, came to several of my training camps back in the 1990s!)

Improvement in table tennis is rarely a steady upward progression. As you learn new things, your game often temporarily "regresses" as you learn the new technique, and so rapidly-improving players often go up a bunch, then down a little, then up, then down. If you chart their improvement, it's more of an upward staircase. And that proves to be the case with Alex. (See his rating chart.)  

The book is broken down into about forty chapters, often with titles about developing specific techniques ("Forehand Development," "Backhand Development," "A Push," "Service Practice," "Practicing Against Junk Rubber Players," "Timely Backhand Development," "Dealing with Mental Tactics," etc.), specific rating accomplishments that describe how he reached that level ("Breaking USATT 1400," "USATT 1600," "Goodbye USATT 1600," "En Route to USATT 1800," "Back to USATT 1700," "Anxious to Break 1900," "USATT 2000," etc.) and other more colorful sounding chapters ("Facing Demons," "No Mercy, No Hesitation," "Hollywood Shots," "I Hate Playing Him!," "The Winner Always Wants the Ball," and "It is Not About Points.") The chapters talk about how he and Coach Gerald worked to develop and improve the specific techniques needed to reach each level.

The best parts of the book are the specific step-by-step chronicling of how his game was developed from beginner to 2000 player. At each step he and Coach Gerald analyzed his game, decided what was needed to reach the next level, and then set about practicing those techniques. Most of it is applicable to anyone who is ready to put in the time and practice to follow in Alex's footsteps and develop their game to a high level.

Here are some interesting quotes from the book. There are many more that are specific to the techniques he is working on, but these are some of the more general ones that caught my eye. I especially love the "I did not know what I did not know" statement - this is the bane of so many players, who often do not know that they do not know what they do not know.

  • "I know exactly how I was losing my matches during the tournament. I simply did not know what I did not know. My game consisted of simply reacting to the ball and hitting it if the opportunity came up. I had no strategy, no clear and concise thinking; all I had was simple brute force."
  • "Coaching has been the major factor in my success and is the biggest reason why I have been able to achieve my goals."
  • "Gerald proposed to start by shaping my game in such a way that would allow me to develop certain undeniable strengths which would never fail me. He called it a 'base.' Having this base would mean that these basic skills would in time become a power that would tilt the pendulum during my matches against 95% of opponents of my level. This so-called base was meant to establish a set of technically correct strokes, which I could execute flawlessly and with consistency."
  • "Rating points do not define a player. Player's skills define rating points through results produced in competitive tournament level settings."
  • "...there is no need to rush, there is no need to be disappointed and there is no need to ever doubt your ability to win. There is just a need to find new weaknesses in your game and learn to turn the weakness into weapons."

Coaching Break

Cheng Yinghua returns today from his three-week vacation in China. I've been coaching many of his students while he was gone, and it's been exhausting, though it's been a big bonus monetary-wise. But now I'll finally catch up on rest - and soon I'll dive back into the final rewrite of my own newest book, "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide." (It's basically done - I've got perhaps four hours of rewriting to do, but it involves some tricky stuff - I save the hardest for last.) 

Learn to Pong Like a Champ

Here's Part 1 of 3 from 2011 USA National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li, covering 1) Developing the Forehand Smash; 2) Learning the Sidespin Serve; and 3) Learning the Long Fast Serve. It's given both in text form and video (2:18). How do these three seemingly different topics come together? As Peter explains, the sidespin serve sets up the smash, and the fast serve keeps opponents from getting too used to the sidespin serve.

U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships

Home page. Grand Rapids. June 30 - July 4. Starts in sixty days. Be there. 'Nuff said.

North American Olympic Trials Videos

Available online now! Yes, you can watch the great USA-Canadian Clash of 2012!

Matt Jarvis breaks the Ice with table tennis

England's Matt Jarvis, son of former English champions Nick and Linda Jarvis (now Linda Jarvis-Howard), made the English national team football team (that's soccer to us Americans) - and then broke the ice with his new teammates by beating them in table tennis! Here's the story.


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