SF

May 2, 2014

Coaches, Heal Thyself! - and Covering the Wide Forehand

I made an interesting discovery while coaching on Wednesday. Over the last few years I've been having more and more problems covering my wide forehand. In drills or free play, when players go to my wide forehand I simply can't get to them very well. Even when blocking forehands if the ball goes a bit outside the corner - an easy block for me in the past - these days I often don't get to it. At age 54 and with on-and-off again knee problems, this is to be expected. Or is it?

Okay, I'll never move as well as I did in the '80s and '90s, but have I really gotten this slow? Apparently not, as I'll explain. During my peak years one of my big strengths was covering my wide forehand, whether blocking, hitting, or looping. My forehand block has always been better than my backhand block, which is somewhat rare - but I've spent so much time blocking with it with practice partners looping forehands that it became a wall, both in drills and games. But now it's like a big hole over there.

I was doing a drill where my student (about a 1600 player) would serve and loop anywhere. I was getting irritated at myself that he kept getting me with loops to my wide forehand. So I asked him to serve and loop a few to my wide forehand so I could practice my forehand block. The first two times he did this I just waved at the ball as it went by - and that's when I realized I was leaning toward the ball instead of stepping. So I forced myself to step to the next one, and lo and behold, suddenly I was able to cover the shot much more easily. I shadow practiced this basic move a few times, then we went back to the serve and loop anywhere drill. And now I was able to (mostly) cover the wide forehand!

What had happened? It seems that as my feet have slowed down in recent years I've felt rushed covering the forehand, and so had started leaning when rushed, which is a bad habit. To cover the wide forehand (whether blocking or any other shot) you have to step to the ball, which is what I teach, what I've done for most of my 38 years of playing, and what I normally do when I have time. But when rushed is exactly when you most need to focus on stepping to the ball, and that's where I'd fallen into a bad habit without really noticing it. If I were still playing tournaments, where I used to regularly analyze my game, I probably would have caught this a lot sooner, or more likely stopped it from ever happening. So if you see me doing quick steps to my right at the club, or in my office, or at the grocery store, you know what I'm practicing.

How about you, dear reader? Have you fallen into any bad habits without noticing it? It's important to regularly analyze your game. One of the ironies of the sport is that many players are constantly learning new things, but unknowingly are almost as rapidly unlearning other things, which is why some players have difficulty improving.

Extremely Busy - TT and SF

I'm in an extremely busy time right now. In the world of table tennis, I'm about to start the final editing phase of my new book, Table Tennis Tips (with special thanks to proofers Kyle Angeles, Scott Gordon, Stephanie, Hughes, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton). I've got my daily blog and weekly tip. I've got about 25 hours total of private and group coaching. I pick up kids after school five days a week to take to our afterschool program. I've got the new MDTTC Newsletter to finalize. Plus a zillion minor things on my todo list, from U.S. Open arrangements to organizing our new Monday night training sessions to doing the accounting for the junior classes I teach. Meanwhile, I'm gearing up for ten consecutive weeks of Mon-Fri training camps this summer, where I do all the talking and much of the organizing. (I do get two of those weeks off - July 1-5 for the U.S. Open, and July 22-26 for the writing workshop I mention below, so I'll only be doing eight of them.)

But it's the world of science fiction & fantasy that's taking up much of my time at the moment. I've got three big projects I'm working on right now. As some of you know, I'm also a novelist. My first novel, Sorcerers in Space came out in November. (It's cheaper if you buy directly from the publisher, Class Act Books. It's a humorous fantasy retelling of the 1960s U.S.-Soviet space race, but with sorcerers instead of astronauts and cosmonauts.) This is in addition to the anthology of my 30 best published short stories, Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges. ("More Pings and Pongs" will be coming out early next year.)

A publisher is interested in another novel I wrote, "Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates," a SF novel that covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100 (where the whole world has adopted the American two-party electoral system - heaven forbid!). But they want rewrites on several parts. So I just began work on that yesterday - some of you may have seen me yesterday disappearing for several hours in the back room at MDTTC to work on it between coaching sessions. I'm also going to a nine-day writer's workshop this summer, which involves reading and critiquing roughly 300 pages of material. (That's my version of an annual vacation.) Finally, I'm in the middle of a new short story. So I'm currently bouncing back and forth between the worlds of TT and SF like a ping-pong ball. (Or like the souls of famous American generals Washington, Grant, Lee, Pershing, Eisenhower, which I pictured bouncing about on a battlefield - like ping-pong balls - in my fantasy horror story War of the Night.)

But rest assured, it's table tennis that mostly pays the bills, and so table tennis gets top priority.

World Championships

I was debating whether to do Worlds coverage here in my blog, but they are already doing an excellent job elsewhere, so I'll just link to the following two places, where you'll find results, articles, and lots of video. (I'll run this segment daily throughout the Worlds.)

Interview at the Worlds with Stefan Feth and Kanak Jha

Here's the interview (3:47) with the USA Men's Coach Stefan and 13-year-old USA Team Member Kanak.

Adam Bobrow and Ma Long Messing Around

Here's the video (1:39) where Adam tries to sidespin chop-lob down the Chinese superstar. Wait'll you see at the end who the cameraman is! (Hint - youngest member of Chinese men's team.) Adam won the ITTF "Voice of Table Tennis" contest and is at the Worlds as their primary broadcaster.

St. Louis Open

Here are the daily press releases by Barbara Wei about the upcoming $16,000 Butterfly St. Louis Open this weekend. (I linked to the previous ones already.)

Ma Long Playing with No-Arms Player

(I ran this yesterday, but had a bad link, so I'm running it again.) Here's the article and video (65 sec) of Ma Long rallying with Ibrahim Elhoseny, who holds the racket in his mouth.

Ten Table Tennis Champs Staring at Ping Pong Balls

Here's the article and pictures.

Butterfly Ad

Here's a video (45 sec) of a rather interesting Butterfly ad. (Disclaimer: I'm sponsored by Butterfly.) It's mostly animated, with an appearance at the end by Timo Boll.

Jimmy Fallon and Diane Keaton Play Beer Pong

Here's the video (3:23). I don't usually post too much about beer pong, but this one was pretty funny as they competed, and then it devolved into a ball fight, and then they just upended the whole baskets of balls on each other. Here's an article about it, with pictures.

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June 11, 2012

Tip of the Week

Dealing with Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship.

Bad coaches

Since this week's Tip of the Week is on Cheaters and Poor Sportsmanship, let's continue the trend and look at the dark side of coaching. There are lots of great coaches out there. And I've often blogged about good coaching habits. However, let's talk about the other side of the coin: bad coaches. Here is a list of seven types of bad coaches. (I'm sure I missed some.) There is a lot of overlap between these categories, and the differences between some of them are subtle. There are probably bad coaches who combine the worst of multiple categories!

  1. Self-taught coaches who either don't really understand high-level table tennis that well. Often they were mid-level players who really think they know the game, but don't have the experience to realize they don't. The stereotypical example is the player who has had little or no experience in watching top players develop, but believe they know how it is done by watching the end product, i.e. top players (usually on video) after they have already become top players. Highly perceptive people can sometimes learn to be good tacticians this way, but to learn what a top coach does in the practice hall you have to be in the practice hall to learn.
  2. Highly-opinionated coaches who can only teach one way, and often are mistaken in what they do teach. They usually were not top players, and teach techniques that they themselves have little experience at and which they don't really understand. These types of coaches are legendary, but players usually see through them once they start observing what top players actually do, and see that there are sometimes multiple ways of doing something, depending on the player's style and technique.
  3. Those who can only coach their own playing style. Often they are former top players. I've seen coaches take well-developed and successful styles and practically destroy them by trying to make them play the way they did. A good coach understands the game in general, not just from his own game's point of view. Some top players are masters of knowledge regarding their own game and how it relates to playing other styles, but only know little beyond their own game.
  4. Those who live in the past, who essentially say, "This is how I did it, this is how my coach did it, and this is how my coach's coach did it, so that's how you will do it." I call these types of coaches "Parrot Coaches." These types of coaches are unable to change with the times as new techniques are developed.
  5. Those who do not personalize, and instead teach everyone the same. This comes out of pure laziness.
  6. Those only out for money, and are impatient or unenthusiastic. They often teach sound fundamentals, but getting them to take the extra effort to really develop someone as a player is like pulling teeth.
  7. Bad attitudes. Some of the "best" coaches are not very good coaches because of bad attitudes. One of my best students ever early in my coaching career reached #1 in both Under 14 and Under 16. He idealized a particular world-class player whose style he had copied, watching huge numbers of tapes of this player. Then, one day, lo and behold, the player came to the U.S., and was going to play in a major local tournament! Better still, he advertised that he would be coaching the night before at the tournament site, at a very high rate. My excited student signed up for a 30-minute lesson. They were speaking Chinese during the session, so I didn't know what they were saying as I watched, but gradually my student seemed more and more unhappy, and he left the session crying. According to him and to several onlookers who understood Chinese, the "coach" had spent the entire session berating him, insulting his game, and ended the session by telling the kid he had no potential as a top player. If I'd known what was going on, I'd have pulled him from the session immediately. Instead, completely disheartened at this treatment from his "hero," the kid barely tried that weekend, losing to nearly everyone as I watched helplessly from the sidelines, and never really overcame it. After years of training six days a week, he stopped trying in training sessions, stopped trying in school, and six months later, his parents pulled him from table tennis. (I later found out that this top player was notorious for this type of thing.)

Interview with Stellan Bengtsson on Sports Psychology

Table tennis sports psychologist Dora Kurimay interviews Coach Stellan Bengtsson (1971 World Men's Singles Champion) on the most important aspects of sports psychology.

Spin City Sports Table Tennis

Here's an article from the Tampa Bay Times on the Spin City Sports full-time table tennis club in Largo, Florida.

Great Point, Great Shot

Here's a video of a great 34-shot rally in the final of the Japan Open this past weekend, with Japan's Jun Mizutani (the lefty on the far side) fishing or lobbing back 13 shots in a row against Korea's Oh Sang Eun, ending with one of the best point-winning lobs you'll ever see. (Mizutani wins the final, 9,9,.-11,-4,12,5.)

Ping-Pong Death Match

Since we have an interview with Bengtsson on sports psychology, it's only appropriate that we end with a video of a Ping-Pong Death Match (5:28). Ever play ping-pong with a guy who takes the game way too seriously?

Non-Table Tennis - New SF Story Published

My science fiction story "The Oysters of Pinctada" went up today in the new issue of Flagship Magazine. My name's on the cover! Alas, you'll have to buy the issue to read the story. (Here's my Science Fiction & Fantasy page.)

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