Foundation

June 14, 2013

Fundamentals and a Strong Foundation

I had a 1200-rated 11-year-old student recently at a tournament who faced long pips for the first time, against a higher-rated player. The opponent was a long pips blocker, no sponge, and pretty much covered the entire table with the long pips on the backhand, i.e. a "pushblocker." My student went in having no idea what to do, other than my admonition to give lots of deep no-spin, play steady, and patiently wait for an easy ball to put away. However, it became obvious very quickly that even against a high ball, he wasn't going to be smashing the high balls with any consistency; the long pips returns were just too different for him.

So pretty much on his own he stopped smashing, and simply rolled ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after ball after . . . (I think you get the idea). The rallies were extremely long, but his patience won out; he won, 11-9 in the fifth. (The opponent went on to have a great tournament - probably because my student warmed him up!)

Later, in a training session, I mentioned that in tournaments you are going to face all sorts of different and strange styles like this one, and there were just too many to prepare him for everything. I also told him that at some point, I'd bring out a sheet of long pips for him to practice against, but not now; it wasn't worth it, and would just take away from other training. I wanted to install strong fundamentals, not worry about learning to play all the different styles this early in his development. He'll learn that later.

I told him something that I thought should be highlighted for others developing their games:

"If I try to prepare you for everything, you'll be prepared for nothing. If I give you a solid foundation, you can adjust to anything."

The point was that if I tried to prepare him for [and here I started to write a LONG list of weird styles, but decided I'd leave it to your imagination instead - there's a lot], then he'd know what to do against all of them, but would have less of a foundation in his game since we'd have wasted so much time preparing for things he'll rarely face. And so even if he knew how to play these weird styles, he wouldn't have the foundation to execute what was needed to win, and so he wouldn't be prepared against anyone. Instead, I told him to develop the foundation of his game (i.e. the fundamentals) so that his foundation is stronger than his opponents, and learn to adjust to them. If he did, I assured him he'd go right through opponents that he would otherwise have struggled with.  

Another way to think of it is this: if the opponent has a "weird" game, then he's not playing like most players. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's a reason certain techniques are considered "good" and others "not so good." If you have "good" technique, and the other has "not so good" technique, then his only overall advantage over you is the very weirdness of his game. His weakness is that his technique is flawed, and if you have better technique, then you can adjust to his weirdness and win because of the sounder technique.

Rest assured there are many players with so-called "not so good" technique who are very good. They have honed these "not so good" techniques to the point where they are pretty good. But overwhelmingly they would be even better if they had spent the same amount of time and energy developing more proper technique. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, there's a reason why good technique is considered as such. (The biggest exception to this might be the very style mentioned above, "pushblockers," where players who are not as physically "athletic" as others can often reach a pretty high level by just blocking with long pips instead of conventional technique - but with long pips no sponge, that could be considered "proper technique." But that's a whole other essay for another time.)

I do believe that players should experiment and learn to do a few things different, especially on the serve, and perhaps on at least one receive or rally shot. Having something different can throw off an opponent. Just don't overdo it for the sake of doing it if your goal is to reach your maximum potential.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Due to near-hurricane thunderstorms, three of my four students cancelled (normally not "good," but I needed the rest); I got a bunch of writing and reading done; the Orioles, in a four-team AL East Divisional race, beat the rival Red Sox while the other two in the race, the Yankees and Rays, both lost (and as noted in yesterday's blog, Orioles Hangout published my Top Ten List); and I got to see the midnight showing of "Man of Steel."

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Here's an ITTF article on the ITTF Level 1 coaching seminar in Austin, Texas run by Richard McAfee, starting last Monday and ending today. I ran a similar one in Maryland in 2011, and am running another in South Bend, IN, Oct. 2-6. More info on that soon - probably Monday.

Chinese Versus European Loop

Here's an article that highlights the difference between the "Chinese" and "European" loops.

USATT Board Chair Blog

Here's a blog entry posted yesterday by the Chair of the USATT Board Mike Babuin. Here's the opening paragraph: "Recently I had the distinct pleasure to introduce table tennis into Valor Games. For those unfamiliar with Valor Games it is a competition designed and geared towards military personnel and veterans who are physically disabled and/or who have suffered from one of several conditions, traumas, or disorders as a result of their service to our country.  While many people may be familiar with the Wounded Warrior Program, Valor Games is a similar yet distinct competition that is gaining in recognition and participation across the United States."

The Pongcast

Here's the latest Pongcast (18:46). "This month the Pongcast reviews the ITTF World Table Tennis Championships and looks at what has been happening at the ITTF in May."

Lily and Ariel at China Open

Below is a summary of how the USA girls are doing in the China Open, as posted this morning by Bruce Liu. (Here's the ITTF China Open Page with results, pictures, and articles, and here are a few matches of Lily, Ariel, and Wu Yue on iTV. The China Open ends this Sunday.)

June 14 (China time) Summary:
Women's Singles:

  • Lily upset the #16 seed BARTHEL Zhenqi (#66 in the world) in the round of 32. It was another wild 7-gamer (11-5, 12-10, 7-11, 7-11, 11-7, 4-11, 11-1).Her round of 16 opponent will be World Champion/World Cup Champion/Olympic Gold Medalist, aka the Grand Slammer, GUO Yue from China. We will see how wild Lily can be. It will be tough for sure. But that why it is worth fighting for.
  • Ariel fought hard as usual. She lost to GUO Yan (#5) in 5 (9-11, 5-11, 11-9, 5-11, 5-11). A great effort. 

Women's Doubles:

  • Lily and Ariel are in the quarterfinals at the China Open! Not too shabby for two 17-year-old. Due to their busy schedule, they really did not have much time practice doubles. Imagine if they can practice more together... Their opponents in the quarterfinal will be GUO Yue(#16) / LIU Shiwen (#2) from China. I'm pretty sure other than Lily and Ariel, all other players still in the Women's Doubles are full-time professional players! In fact, most likely the majority of the players in the whole tournament are professional players. 

U21 Girls' Singles:

  • Lily played twice today in the event. In the round of 16, she duly stopped the dangerous HIRANO Miu 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 14-12, 18-16). Alas, lost to ZHOU Yihan (#102) from Singapore 4-1 in the quarterfinals. It is a great accomplish already, especially in China.
  • Ariel lost 0-3 to the red hot So Eka is out but don't let the game counts fool you. It was a highly competitive match. You can see it yourselves from the score (13-15, 9-11, 8-11).

Go girls! 

Musical Ping-Pong Table

Yes, an interactive musical ping-pong table, on display at Union Depot in St. Paul, MN!

Apparently this table plays music as the ball hits the surface.

Kim Kardashian Plays Ping-Pong With Her Family

Here's the story from Table Tennis Nation. The apocalypse has occurred.

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