Transcending Table Tennis

September 18, 2012

Learn From Others

Something that's always bothered me as weird is that often I'll play someone who absolutely cannot return my serves. If the player is a beginner, they'll often ask how I do the serve and how to return it. But starting at the intermediate and advanced levels, almost nobody asks, even if they struggle with my serve, even if it's someone I coach. This is especially bothersome with up-and-coming juniors, who presumably are striving for a high level. Don't they want to learn?

The same is true of other aspects of the game, but a player can better see what's happening with most other techniques. If they struggle with my short receive, they can see I'm just dropping the ball short. If they can't see the direction of my forehand, they can see that I'm changing directions at the last second by turning my shoulders. But they usually cannot see how, for example, I'm serving topspin when I'm stroking downward with an open racket, hitting the bottom of the ball, and continuing downward. (Short answer - the racket is rotating about an axis centered over the hitting surface, and so the near side of the blade is actually rotating upward at contact, though only for a split second if done properly.) They can't see how it's done, and can't figure out how to read it (since they don't know where the topspin is coming from), and yet they never ask! (Well, rarely.)

Next time you're playing me or someone else and struggling to react to spins that don't look like they should be there, ask how it's done. I'll show you, as will most top players, most of whom you'll find love to talk about their craft. There are multiple ways to create these deceptions (serving is the "trick" part of table tennis), and are much easier to show in person than in an article, even with a photo sequence. Tricky serves are subtle, and subtlety doesn't show up well in photo sequences. 

I mentioned above that intermediate and advanced players rarely ask how these serves are done. Yes, while advanced players are experts at the specific techniques they use, many have large holes in their knowledge and skills.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook and the Most Interesting Criticism I Received This Week

A few years ago I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. The purpose was to show table tennis coaches the professional side of coaching - how to attract and keep students, run programs, maximize profits so they could make a good living, etc. A few days ago I was criticized for not including yoga in the Handbook - really!!!

I've been toying for a while with starting up a Coaches Academy, where I'd recruit and train players and coaches to be professional table tennis coaches, where they'd make a living as a coach while running large junior programs. I've argued for years that USA Table Tennis should be doing this (as is done in many other sports organizations, such as the U.S. Tennis Association), but to no avail. If I ever do this, the PTTCH would be the Handbook. (If only table tennis were played on slabs of ice instead of a table, then we'd call it ice tennis, and the Handbook would be the Professional Ice Tennis Coaches Handbook, or PITCH, and then I could pitch PITCH to everyone!)

Four Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? There will be a surprise guest appearance by everyone's favorite table tennis player - YOU!!! Unless, of course, you disappoint all your fans and don't show. That would be despicable. (Deadline to enter is 5PM Thursday.)

Liu Guoliang on Zhang Jike Missing World Cup

Here's an article where Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang discusses why Zhang Jike will miss the World Cup.

Erica Wu and Barack Obama

Here's a picture of Olympian Erica Wu with President Obama outside the White House. (Yesterday we had Lily Zhang with Obama. I haven't found any with Ariel Hsing or Timothy Wang with Obama.)

Strange Table Tennis Pictures

Here's a page full of strange and weird table tennis pictures.

Transcending Table Tennis

Here's the Transcending Table Tennis page, with seven table tennis videos.

Interspecies Table Tennis

I believe we have humans, cats, and mice playing in this cartoon. Yes, the cat is playing with its food.

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July 25, 2011

Tip of the Week

In this morning Tip of the Week, I write about the importance of serve variety.

Looping against the block

Almost nobody loops a block into the net; when they miss, it's almost always off the end. Part of this is because they are attacking the ball, and so driving it deep on the table, and simply drive it too deep on the table. Part of it is because they drop their back shoulder, lifting the ball as if it were a backspin. (I wrote a short article about the proper use of the back shoulder for smashing and looping.)

Since most players learn to loop first against backspin, when they start looping against a block (or an incoming topspin), they tend to drop that back shoulder too much. While dropping a little is okay if you are away from the table - key word is "little" - most do it way too much. Instead, you want to keep the back shoulder mostly up, and loop almost the top of the ball. It helps to hook the ball a little as well, dropping the tip down so it contacts the ball on the far side.

And yet players often have trouble doing this, especially right after looping a backspin. And since a disproportionate number of rallies start with a player looping against a backspin, invariably players find themselves looping a backspin and then a block consecutively.

The standard way to practice for this is with multiball. For example, the coach would feed a backspin ball to the middle backhand, and player forehand loops; then the coach feeds a topspin ball to the wide forehand, and again the player loops. And this is great if the player can afford a coach to do this endlessly until they have it down, and then still more to keep it tuned up.

Here's a way a player can practice this on their own. Suppose they already can loop against backspin pretty well but are having trouble following that by looping against the block. Have the player hold a ball in his non-playing hand. He then shadow-practices a loop against backspin from the middle backhand. He then steps to the wide forehand, tosses the ball backward (to simulate a block), and loops that ball, keep the shoulder mostly up and looping near the top of the ball. A player can practice this over and over on their own. (They might want to have a supply of balls on hand so they don't have to keep fetching the ball!)

When's your next tournament?

I always tell students they should plan well ahead, and practice for specific tournaments that they should be looking forward to. Ideally, look for one or two major tournaments that are held within a few weeks of each other and plan to go to both. Even better, have one or two smaller tournaments that come before the major one(s), which helps get you tournament tough. See the USATT Tournament Schedule. To find the big ones, click on "Major Tournaments." Then take your pick! The two biggest are the North American Teams (Baltimore, Nov. 25-27) and USA Nationals (Virginia Beach, Dec. 13-17). However, there are also large ones (4-star, sometimes 3-star) coming up in New York City; El Monte, CA ($45,000 LA Open); Waukesha, WI; Berkeley, CA; Highland, Indiana; and Milpitas, CA. Plan your season around these big ones, and find at least one or two smaller tournaments to lead up to the major ones.

Transcending Table Tennis

I think I posted a link a while back to Transcending Table Tennis, Part 1 (5:50). Here's Part 2 (4:37)! Both videos show great table tennis action in dynamic slow motion, where you can really see what's happening.

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