Return Board Training

February 20, 2013


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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