Concentration

July 10, 2014

Watching Matches

I've always wanted to put a camera on spectators that shows exactly what they see as they watch a table tennis match. But I'm afraid that most of what we'd see is their eyes focused on the ball as it goes back and forth, with the players themselves slightly blurry images on the side. That's because that's exactly what most spectators are watching when they watch a match. It's almost like self-hypnosis as their eyes go back and forth, Back and Forth, BACK AND FORTH, over and over and over. You might as well just stare at a stationary ball.

Instead, try focusing on one of the players, and see what he does. That's how you can learn what the players are really doing, and learn their techniques, something you can't do by staring at the ball as it goes back and forth. Some of the things you'll learn might surprise you. For example, to the ball-watchers, some players are fast, some are slow. But when you watch the "slow" players, often it turns out they seem slow simply because they got to the ball before the ball got there, and are seemingly just there without really moving. The "fast" players are often the ones who got slower starts, and are just getting to the ball as it arrives, and so you see them move, and so they seem fast. (A famous example of this was Jan-Ove Waldner, who always seemed to be where the ball was, and never seemed to move much - but that's because most of his movement was while spectators' eyes were on the ball that hadn't yet reached his side.) 

Another aspect that ball-watching spectators miss is the initial movements on receive. They see the receive, but they don't see the step-ins for short balls, or when the player started to move to receive, and so on. Often receivers start to do one thing, then change as the serve approaches - but you don't see this unless you are focused on the receiver from the start of the point.

So if you really want to learn, don't watch the ball. Pick a player and watch him exclusively for a game or so. Then watch the other. You'll learn a lot more this way than by watching the little ball. Let the players do that.

Improving the Backhand Loop by Brian Pace

Here's the blog entry, with both text and video on the backhand loop.

How to Win Consistently Against Lower Players by Matt Hetherington

Here's the article.

Three New Coaching Articles by Samson Dubina

Kasumi Ishikawa Voted Japan's Most Pleasant Athlete

Here's the story.

One Energy Commercial - Behind the Scenes

On Monday I linked to the One Energy Commercial (30 sec) that featured Chinese superstars Ma Long, Zhang Jike, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen playing in neon outfits. Here's the behind the scenes video (2:19) that shows it being put together.

Jordi Alba Plays "Soccer" Table Tennis

Here's the video (36 sec) of the Spanish soccer star and others. (That's football for non-Americans.)

Judah Friedlander Plays Table Tennis in "Teacher's Lounge"

Here's the video (3:09) where Judah - a real-life 1600 player - prepares for the student/faculty ping pong championship. It's in episode 3 of this TV show. Judah and the table tennis starts 1:25 into the video. (Warning - foul language!)

Chimp Pong

Here's a new picture of a chimpanzee playing table tennis. I don't know if it's real or not. Here's another one.

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June 9, 2011

Table tennis for concentration & benefit*

*Rhymes with fun & profit - get it?

I had an interesting session last night with a 9-year-old kid, who we'll call "Sammy." He was having trouble with both consistency and concentration. The two go together. Like most relatively new players, he had developed decent stroking technique, but had trouble repeating the stroke over and over - and as all coaches know, if you can't repeat it over and over in practice, it's going to fall apart in games. (See my comments at the end on how this relates to table tennis players in general.)

Like I tell many students, I told him you don't really have a forehand or backhand until you can hit 100. That seemed way too many for him, so he said how about going for 30? We compromised on 50, and I told him that if he got 50 forehands, I'd say he had a "halfway good forehand" - but he'd need 100 before I would say it was a "good forehand." I also told him that something like 3/4 of new players go right from 50 in a row to 100, since once you get the stroke down - and more importantly, the ability to concentrate - there's little difference between 50 or 100 in a row.

After several attempts in a row where he kept missing at around 30 or so, including a disheartening miss at 45, he wanted to quit. I convinced him to keep at it, that it would click.

It clicked. In what might have been our last attempt for that session - we did need to work on his backhand and other stuff - he hit 178 in a row. I wrote on the ball, signing my name:

178 FH
June 8, 2011
Larry Hodges

The ball is now on his trophy shelf. (I also challenged him to hit 50 backhands in a row; he got I think 82. He'd never come close to either of these numbers.)

What can you learn from this? The key to consistency is both good technique and good concentration. The latter is actually more important - you absolutely cannot be consistent without concentration. Learn to simply watch the ball, relax the muscles, and let the mind otherwise go blank; think of yourself as just an observer. Let your instincts and natural reactions take over - that's why you practice, so the shots become second nature. (You have to relax the muscles to allow this to happen.) If you have to think about the shots or try to consciously control them, you will never be consistent.

Slo-Mo Table Tennis

Tilden Table Tennis put together these two slo-mo videos of some of the best players in the world. As I've mentioned in the past, you can't always learn much by just watching the top players at normal speed - everything happens too fast. In slow motion, you can actually see it - and here you can also replay anything. I strongly urge you to watch tapes like these, and especially study how they serve and receive, which are often the most subtle parts of table tennis. Transcending Table Tennis 1 features (5:50) features Ma Lin, Wang Hao, Vladimir Samsonov, and Joo Se Hyuk. Transcending Table Tennis 2 (4:37) features the Chinese team (Wang Liqin, Ma Lin and Chen Qi) against the French team at I believe the 2010 Worlds.

Adam Bobrow's Asian Invasion

Stand-up comedian and table tennis player Adam Bobrow (rated 2086) put together this humorous video of his recent trip to Taiwan and Seoul (8:49), full of interesting commentary on the trip. It's not exactly a table tennis video, but table tennis does show up three times. You can see tables in the background for a few seconds at 1:32; there's about ten seconds of real table tennis action at 3:21; and about 30 seconds of table tennis at 7:26. (Adam appears to have joined in a junior group session, where he's either taught the kids how to have fun or totally disrupted the training program, I'm not sure which.) If you want to see more table tennis, then see Adam's "Freestyle table tennis" video (1:48), where he and others play table tennis on various makeshift tables they find - restaurant and cafeteria tables, cars, off walls, and outdoor picnic tables. Or see the infamous "Excessive Celebration" video (1:11), and make sure to watch this to the end! (Adam has something like 72 online videos.)

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