Consistency

February 20, 2013

Consistency

The most under-rated and probably most important skill in table tennis is consistency. Players may develop high-level shots, but if they can't do those - or the more fundamental ones - with consistency in a match, they will likely lose to more consistent players with less technical games.

This is why it's important to do drills at a pace you can do consistently, so you hone these skills until you can do them in your sleep. Many players try to drill or play at a pace like a world-class player, and only end up scattering the ball all over the table and court, never learning control. Practice at a pace where you can control the ball with good fundamentals, and increase the speed as you get better. You should push yourself to playing faster, but if your shots start to fall apart due to the pace, slow down.

It's good to develop shots by seeing how many you can do in a row. Beginners and intermediate players should see how many forehands and backhands they can do, aiming for nice round numbers like 10, 20, 50, or 100 or more in a row. More advanced players can do the same, but with more advanced shots, such as seeing how many times they can loop in a row while moving side to side, or looping off a randomly placed ball.

When I teach beginners, as soon as they can hit ten in a row I tell them that they don't really have a forehand or backhand until they can hit 100 in a row. That gives them a goal to strive for. It always pays off - I've yet to have a student who, once challenged, didn't get to that magical 100. Most keep track of their current record for forehands and backhands.

In the late 1970s I went to several Seemiller camp in Pittsburgh, with coaches Dan, Rick, and Randy Seemiller, and Perry Schwartzberg. At a camp in 1978 when I was 18 and around 1800 level, Dan ended the morning session by having a contest to see who could hit the most shots in a row. Most were going forehand to forehand, but because I was hitting with a lefty - Ben Nisbet - I hit backhands. When they finished the session and prepared to go to lunch, I was still going. So Dan told me to keep hitting and they'd bring back my lunch. A long time later they returned with my lunch - and I was still going! (There were a number of witnesses as some were eating at the club.) I ended up hitting 2755 backhands in a row. (An easy number to remember - exactly 2000 more than Hank Aaron hit home runs.)

You can challenge beginners in other ways like this. I always start of beginning kids with ball bouncing, where they see how many times they can bounce the ball on their racket, starting with the forehand side. Then I have them do it on the backhand side, then alternating. When they master these, I have them alternate forehand and off the edge of their racket! Some of the kids really get into these things. The current ball-bouncing record is 1218, held by T.J., who did it in the lobby at MDTTC a few months ago.

So how many can you get in a row for any given shot? Consistency is why even players with poor strokes can often beat players with better strokes. A poor stroke might not lead to a strong attack, but it can still be grooved to great consistency.

Here's a video from PingSkills (2:58) on this most important skill - keeping the ball on the table!

Chinese National Training Center

Here's a video (1:26) of training at the Chinese National Training Center in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province, taken in December, 2010.

Guo Yuehua vs. Liang Geliang

Here's an exhibition match (2:56) from 1978 between Chinese starts Guo Yuehua - 1981 & 1983 World Men's Singles Champion, runner-up in 1977 & 1979 - and Liang Geliang - the best chopper in the world at the time, and two-time World Mixed Doubles Champion, and one-time World Men's Doubles Champion (the latter in 1977 with Li Zhenshi, now coaching at the World Champions Club in California).

Return Board Training

Here's a video (8:15) showing some rather interesting training techniques with a return board. And here's a video (3:25) with a rather innovative return board game - hit the target or run around the table!

"The Internship"

Here's a preview (2:30) of "The Internship" (starring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and John Goodman, coming June 7). Almost exactly 60 seconds in you see Vince Vaughn playing table tennis with an Asian woman at Google Headquarters. Here are two screen shots: a wide view (that's Owen Wilson sitting down in the background), and a close-up showing Vaughn with a big forehand follow-through. Then, at 1:50, there's another sort of table tennis scene, where a group of people applying for an internship at Google use ping-pong paddles to indicate choices on questions given to the group - green for yes, red for no. They were asked if it's okay to ask your boss out for a drink, and only the Wilson and Vaughn characters flashed green for yes. Here's a screen shot of that.

Pong to the People!

Just a nice ping-pong graphic.

What Table Tennis Really Looks Like

Here's a gif video of table tennis videoed from Google glasses worn by a player!

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May 22, 2012

Want a consistent forehand and backhand?

Then start off every session by hitting 50 (or even 100) in a row at a steady pace with good technique. Don't start counting until the shot feels comfortable. Don't go out there hitting at different speeds - to develop a repeatable shot you need to repeat it the same way over and Over and OVER, until it is so ingrained you find yourself absentmindedly practicing your forehand as you take your wedding vows, and after your prospective wife kills you, you'll reflexively smack the coroner with another forehand howitzer.

Once the shots are so ingrained, then you should focus on random drills that involve using these repeatable strokes when you don't know whether the next shot will be a forehand or backhand. For example, your partner hits the ball randomly to your forehand or backhand, and you respond by returning each shot with your forehand or backhand to the same spot he's hitting from. (Partner should be hitting all forehands or all backhands.) Take it slow - it's better to do this at a pace where you respond correctly each time then at a pace where your strokes begin to deteriorate and you practice bad form. As you improve, increase the pace. (Maybe an expanded version of this should be a Tip of the Week?)

U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League

In case you missed it when I posted it before, here's the promotional video for the new USNTTL (5:06). I'm now on their Advisory Board, though I don't know how I'm going to find time or energy to take on one more thing. (Hey, they left my best credential off my bio - I'm in the danged U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame!) Hopefully "Advisory Board" means just that, as opposed to say, a "Workory Board" (otherwise known as a Task Force). Why am I so busy these days? It has something to do with three careers. . . .

Three Careers

Why am I so busy these days? Somehow I've found myself working on three careers: table tennis coach, table tennis writer, and science fiction writer. (Technically, it's science fiction and fantasy writer, but we'll go with science fiction as shorthand.)

Table tennis coach: I coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my primary source of income. (Though surprisingly, my SF writing income this past month has almost matched it due to a bunch of sales.) Besides private coaching, I run a pair of 90-minute beginning junior classes, act as a practice partner for two other junior training sessions, plus am a hired coach at major tournaments, such as the upcoming Easterns and U.S. Open. With summer coming up, the busiest time for coaches, thing are about to get even more hectic. (We're running eleven consecutive weeks of training camps, Mon-Fri each week, mostly for junior players, though adults who don't mind training mostly with juniors are welcome as well. Coaches mostly work nights and weekends, but during the summer it becomes a day job.) In addition to coaching, I'm also involved in numerous promotional and organizational matters with MDTTC. Starting this fall I'm also running the MDTTC tournaments.

Table tennis writer: I've got four books on table tennis, with a fifth almost done. I've also got over 1200 published articles on table tennis (1224 to be exact), and that does not include any of my 350+ daily blog entries. (Here's a complete list of my written work, updated yesterday.) I've been paid plenty for some of these writings over the years, but not as much as you might think. Over the next few months I'm planning to put all five books into both ebook and print on demand (POD) format and look to dramatically increase online sales. The good news is I've learned it's easy to convert from Word to ebook format, and I'm already an expert in page design so I can create the PDF pages for POD. (Don't you love acronyms?) The books are:

  • Table Tennis: Steps to Success. This is my all-time best-seller, with over 28,000 copies sold in English, and unknown numbers sold in five other languages, some legal, but mostly illegal bootleg copies sold all over China and other countries. It's now out of print from its original publisher, so I have complete rights to it again. It'll be the first one I turn into an ebook and POD. However, it'll mean a lot of page designing as well as arranging all the photos.
  • Table Tennis: Tales & Techniques. I self-published this a couple years ago and sold about a thousand copies. I still have about 500 more sitting in boxes. Since I designed the pages, it's pretty much ready for POD. However, I'll have to redo the pages in Word so I can convert to ebook format.
  • Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. I wrote this for USA Table Tennis. However, it's never really been used much except independently by coaches.
  • Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis. I wrote this in the early 1990s for USA Table Tennis as a guide for coaches on how to coach table tennis. I'm toying with combining this with the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. It will need a lot of updating, plus I'd have to recreate the pages in Word. I have the pages in PDF for POD. However, I'm not sure which photos to use with it - the originals I used, or the updated ones from Dan Seemiller and Mark Nordby, when they updated it for USATT. (I'd have to get permission to use the latter.)
  • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development. I'm in the final editing/proofing stages, and it should be done by the weekend. (It's now about 93,000 words, about 400 pages in double spaced 12-point Times. It'll be my longest book, with over twice the text as Steps to Success.) Then I have to decide whether to illustrate it with pictures or not. Also, I'm still debating whether to go to a professional publisher or self-publish. I'm leaning toward the latter. I'm also debating the final title. Here are the ones I'm thinking about - suggestions and recommendations are welcome.
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development (the current working title)
    • Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide (the working title until yesterday)
    • A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics (the original title until someone told me it'd come earlier in Internet searches if I start the title with "Table Tennis.")
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development: A Thinker's Guide (a little of everything)
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Thinking (the one I'm now leaning toward, as of this morning)
    • Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (another obvious possibility that I didn't think of until ten seconds ago)

Science Fiction Writer: This is my "side" career. I've sold 62 short stories, and have two novels making the rounds. Recently there's been a lot of nibbles by agents and publishers on the novels - several read the opening chapters and requested the rest, which they are now reading. (You normally query agents and publishers with just the opening chapters.) Here's my science fiction and fantasy page.

Over the last couple months or so I've had a flurry of short story sales - nine to be exact, including ones to nice magazines like Weird Tales, Penumbra, Electric Spec, and Flagship. Yesterday I sold my 62nd short story, "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" to Penumbra, a "pro" market that pays well. (Despite the dragon in the title, it's actually science fiction, not fantasy. What should the president of the United States do when a huge dragon swoops out of the sky and lands on the U.S. Capitol, a seeming threat to congress and the American people? It's like King Kong on the Empire State Building, but attack helicopters instead of bi-planes - and things are not as they seem.)

My 30 best short story sales (circa 2010) are combined in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of Larry Hodges." Buy it!!! I've almost sold enough new stories for its sequel, "More Pings and Pongs."

Other: And when I grow up, I still want to be a math professor, astronomer, presidential historian, cartoonist, and play second base for the Baltimore Orioles. See, I'm a realist; I'd really rather play shortstop (like Cal Ripken) or third base (like Brooks Robinson) but I know I can't make the throw to first, so I'm willing to compromise.

Ariel Hsing on CBS News

Here's a CBS article and video (2:09) on 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion and Olympic hopeful Ariel Hsing. Very nice presentation, and don't you love the mentions of Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill?

Oriole Table Tennis

As mentioned in past blogs, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team plays a lot of table tennis in their clubhouse. I've been invited to come in sometime to do some coaching (primarily with J.J. Hardy, Jake Arrieta, and trainer/former center fielder Brady Anderson), but the date is not yet set. Here's a quote from an article that mentions table tennis: "It's fun any time you're winning, no matter what the sport is," [Nick] Markakis said. "We have a bunch of competitive guys in this locker room, whether it's playing cards or ping pong or baseball."

The Google Ping-Pong Dragon

Since I sold a story called "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" just yesterday, in honor of that here's the Google Ping-Pong Dragon.

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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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