Stefan Feth

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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April 8, 2013

Tip of the Week

Covering and Recovering From the Middle.

Stellangie Camp

Who/what is "Stellangie"? That's the combination of Stellan and Angie Bengtsson's first names. Who are they? Stellan is the 1971 World Men's Singles Champion and hugely famous coach from Sweden. (I went to one of his camps for two weeks, and can verify it's well deserved.) Angie's a U.S. Hall of Fame player (formerly known as Angelita Rosal) who married Stellan and moved to Sweden for many years. Now both are coaching in San Diego. ITTF Coach John Olsen went to their camp last week, and here's his report, which he wrote for this blog.

I want to give people some idea of what a great table tennis camp is like. I recently attended the Stellan/Angie Bengtsson Training Camp at the Willamette Table Tennis Club, Salem Oregon from March 27-31, 2013. If you ever get the chance to attend one of these camps I highly recommend it.

There were 14 player slots for the camp. The camp had 2 sessions a day, 3 hours each session with a 2 hour break for lunch. A 3 hour session contained 5-6 drills. Most drills had multiple components, such as initially hitting cross court and then down the line. Each player did the drill, Stellan and Angie would tell you when to switch.

At certain times one or two people (depending on whether the camp had an odd or even number) would be taken over to do multiball drills. Angie did multiball in the morning and Stellan did the afternoon sessions. During these multiball sessions you worked on specific things you had asked to improve (in my case return of serve).

Each day followed a similar pattern:

  • 10 minutes of warm-up stretching
  • Find a hitting partner, warm up forehand (FH) for 5 minutes, then backhand (BH) for 5 minutes. Stellan stressed that you should be using the shots you use in a match during warm-ups and drills. It’s OK to hit FH drives for a bit to find your rhythm, but don’t continue to use a drive if you are a looper, go ahead and loop. Players alternated looping and blocking during warm-ups so both partners got practice. At the end of warm-up the players would gather together as Stellan and Angie talk and give us the next drill and explain where it fits into the overall parts of the game.
  • Do 2-3 drills
  • Halfway through a 3 hour session take a 5 minute break and switch hitting partners
  • Do 2-3 drills
  • Do 10 minutes of cool-down stretching at the end of the 3 hour session (different  from the warm-up stretches)
  • 2 hour break for lunch
  • 10 minutes of stretching
  • Find a new hitting partner, warm up FH 5 minutes, BH 5 minutes
  • Do 2-3 drills
  • 5 minute break, switch hitting partners
  • Do 2-3 drills
  • 10 minutes of cool-down stretching

So on any day you would hit with 4 different players. On most drills the level of your partner was not that important. I never had an issue with doing these drills correctly, whether the player was above or below my level. Certain drills, like serve/receive Stellan and Angie would make sure that you were paired with someone close to your own level. Stellan or Angie would circulate during the drills correcting technique, answering questions and make suggestions. Angie would also record you with an iPad and be able to instantly show you what she was talking about regarding your technique.

Every drill related to some aspect of match play. Stellan would explain not only how to do the drill, but what specific skill that drill was designed to help you improve. He would also tell us what bad habits to watch out for so that we were doing the drills correctly and getting the most benefit from them.  I have to say that I have never experienced this kind of detailed information about training drills before.

At times Stellan would substitute competition for a drill. We played Brazilian Teams twice and King of the Table once during the camp.

Also note that you do 4 stretches a day. Normally when I play I do a few minutes of warm-up stretching. What we did at the camp was much more extensive. The point of the cool-down stretches is to not just prevent injury but to relax your muscles and reduce soreness. I am 56 years old and not in the best of shape, but I had fewer sore muscles the entire camp than I normally have from a single casual 3 hour playing session.

What I Told a Student Before a Tournament

I coached a junior player on Sunday morning before he played in the MDTTC tournament. He seemed a bit nervous, so this is what I told him. "If you lose, there will be earthquakes and tornadoes, the polar ice caps will melt and kill off the polar bears, there will be pestilence and hunger, the earth will spin out of orbit and into the sun, and the sun will go supernova, spewing radiation throughout the galaxy and killing off all intelligent life. So the galaxy is depending on you."

I often say things like this to help relax players. Before big matches we often talk about TV shows or sports teams, anything but tactics until maybe five or ten minutes before the match. (We do, of course, discuss tactics well in advance; what we do just before the match is a review.) People often see me in animated discussion with players before a match and assume we're talking high-level tactics when we're really discussing the Baltimore Ravens or Orioles, the TV show NCIS, the latest movies, or who knows what else.

Stefan Feth a Finalist for USOC Developmental Coach of the Year

Here's the article.

Who is the Greatest Celebrity Table Tennis Player?

Table Tennis Nation has been running this online voting contest recently, and they are down to two finalists: Standup Comedian/Actor (of 30 Rock Fame) Judah Friedlander vs. former basketball star Christian Laettner. Who will win? Who should win? You get to vote! (Since I've coached Judah a number of times - he lives near MDTTC when he's not in NYC acting - I voted for him.)

Olympian Iulia Necula Helps Take Aerobic TT to Another Level

Here's the article.

Wang Liqin Demonstrates His Rubber's Tackiness

Here's the video (22 sec).

Korean Open

Here's a video (8:24) of the all-Chinese Men's Final, where Xu Xin defeats Ma Long. Here's an article on it from Table Tennista. Here are the Men's Semifinals, Xu Xin vs. Yan An (4:03), and Ma Long vs. Wang Hao (7:15). Here's the Women's Final (13:22), Seo Hyowon vs. Kasumi Ishikawa - and see the serve Seo pulled out at the end to win! (Time between points has been removed in the videos, so non-stop action.) Here's a video (5:40) of the Korean Open's Top Ten Shots.

Table Tennista

There are more international articles at Table Tennista, covering the Korean Open, the German Bundesliga (Timo Boll injured!), and others.

Albert Einstein Table Tennis Picture

Here it is!

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April 2, 2013

Reprint - Derek Nie Wins Coconut Cup Article

There was so much interest yesterday in 12-year-old Derek Nie's upset wins at the Coconut Cup that I thought I'd run the article again. After all, he keeps quoting sections in my Tactics book, even the section on Playing Bratty Kids! Here's the segment from yesterday (April 1):

12-Year-Old Derek Nie Defeats Three 2600+ Players to Win Coconut Cup

All you have to do is train the players really well, and they will get really good.
Perhaps that's a little simplistic, but it's what a top coach once told me, and he was
right. This past weekend 12-year-old Derek Nie, all of 70 pounds, won Open Singles
in the MDTTC Coconut Cup tournament. In the quarterfinals he upset Mang Bang
Liang, a chopper/looper rated 2600 - Derek's best win ever. "Before the match, I
found a whole chapter in Larry Hodges' book "Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers"
on playing choppers," Derek said. "I read it over in the back room. Everything worked!"
Only it was just the beginning of his banner tournament. In the semifinals he defeated
Lee Zhang Wook, a 2650 pips-out penholder visiting from China. "There's a section
about playing them in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and before the match I read it. I
played to the wide forehand, then came back to the backhand, like the book said, and it
really worked!" In the final, Derek played 2700+ Sammy Callaghan. "He's a bratty kid from
Ireland. But the Tactics book has an entire section on playing bratty kids!" Derek was able to
loop Sammy's serves, which had created havoc against other players. Most players had
found the serves almost unreturnable, but Derek had few problems. "There's a whole chapter
on returning serves in the Tactics book," Derek said, "and I read it over before going
out to play him." Derek won the match in a seven-game battle, ending the match by
loop-killing Sammy's serve at 11-10 in the last game. Congrats to Champion Derek!

Fun, Focus, Forget

I've come up with Triple F as a mantra for players who are too nervous to play their best. Even in a serious match, you'll play your best if you are enjoying yourself rather than obsessing over winning or not losing. Staying focused is always key - and one of the best ways of doing that is to think tactically between points (so you have something to think about rather worrying about winning or losing), then blank the mind out when you are about to play the next point. And forgetting the situation will allow you to play better than if you are obsessing over how important the match is. So have Fun, stay Focused, and Forget the importance of the situation. (And now I'm off to a rare weekday morning coaching session out in Virginia, scheduled at the last minute.)

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

I finally figured out what was causing all the formatting problems with the Kindle version of Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. I'd thought I'd fixed the problem over a week ago, but it turns out some of the photos were still moving about, obscuring the captions and other text. The new version is now up with all 90 photos formatted properly. Amazon sent out an email to those who had downloaded it already with instructions on downloading the new version (for free, since they'd already paid for it).

There are now ten reviews on Amazon - all 5-star! I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The March/April USATT Magazine should be out soon, with a full-page ad, so there should be a bunch of sales coming up. It's already selling pretty well all over the world, with lots of sales in England, and a few in Germany and France.

MDTTC Open

It's this weekend, April 6-7, at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, MD, with about $1800 in prize money. 

Interview with USA Men's Coach Stefan Feth

Here's the video interview (2:36) at the World Team Cup in China.

Best Point at World Team Cup?

Here's a video (1:07) showing the 53-shot rally between Ding Ning (world #1 from China, the lefty) and Feng Tianwei (world #4 from Singapore) in the Women's Team Final.

The Lighter Side of Table Tennis

Here's a video (5:38) of players having fun. 

Door Table Tennis

Here it is! I featured a version of this once before, but I think that one was different.

Non-Table Tennis - Orioles Top Ten

My "Top Ten Reasons Buck Will Lead the Orioles to the World Series" is the feature article right now at Orioles Hangout.

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