Todd Sweeris

September 25, 2013

Examples of Saturation Coaching

My Tip of the Week on Monday was on Saturation Training, where a player focuses on developing one aspect of his game. I thought I'd give some examples of this.

Probably the most famous example was Istvan Jonyer. He made the Hungarian National Team in the early 1970s mostly by blocking. While on the team he developed his powerful forehand loop and became Hungarian National Champion. But he had a weak backhand, and couldn't really compete with the best players in the world. Then he spent six months up in a mountain training, where he did essentially nothing but backhand loop. When he finished, he had a great backhand loop - though other aspects of his game had deteriorated, and he had to practice them to get them back. About two years later he became the 1975 Men's World Champion, and was #1 in the world for two year and a dominant top ten (usually top five) player for over a decade.

Another example is Todd Sweeris, who just yesterday was selected as one of the two inductees this year into the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame. (See my blog yesterday.) Todd made the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Teams - but through much of 1995 it didn't look like he had a chance. Only the top three U.S. players would make the team, and he couldn't even get games off the top three U.S. players: Jim Butler, David Zhuang, and Khoa Nguyen. He figured his best chance was against Khoa, and that the main thing he could really dominate in would be receive. (That was my suggestion!) So he spent nearly all of that year training overwhelmingly on receive, and with practice partners who copied Khoa. (Sorry Khoa!) He became one of the best serve returners in the country. The strategy worked as Todd beat Khoa 3-0 to make the team. (Fortunately Khoa would, after years of tribulations, make the Olympic team in 2004, and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.)

I've got three students right now where I'm using saturation training. Sameer, 12, has a tendency to stand up too straight when he plays, and as a result uses too much arm when he forehand loops. So we're focusing on forehand loop in all our sessions, where he has to stay lower (for all shots), and use more lower body when he loops. Another is Matt, 12, who has a strong forehand but weaker backhand, and so we're focusing on backhand right now. Another is Jim, an older player with a strong backhand but awkward forehand, so we're focusing on that, often spending 30-40 minutes of our one-hour sessions on that.

I've used saturation training myself. I've never had a strong backhand attack, but I've always been steady. In the early 1980s, Dave Sakai (now a fellow Hall of Famer) was steady but didn't have a strong forehand attack. So we often drilled and Drilled and DRILLED with him forehand looping and hitting into my steady backhand, which made my backhand so steady that I could literally rally forever with it. That, combined with my strong forehand attack and serve & receive game, became central to my game. I've used saturation training with other aspects of my game as well. I even went through a one-year period (circa 1980) where I practiced my serves 30 minutes/day, seven days/week, and really developed them that way.

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers - Reviews

Haven't bought a copy yet? WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?!!! Here's where you can buy a copy at Amazon. (You can also buy it from Paddle Palace.) Oh, you need some convincing?

Here's a really nice review of the book that just came out by Ben Larcombe of Expert Table Tennis. It's probably the most extensive review yet. He lists the seven most important key points he got from the book - a pretty nice summation - and gives a detailed explanation for each of them. He brings up such good examples of these points that I strongly recommend you read this - it's like an addendum to my book. 

There have been a number of other reviews. Here's one from Alex Polyakov (author of Breaking 2000 and The Next Step - see his webpage). There are 24 at amazon.com (twenty 5-star, four 4-star) and two more at Amazon UK (both 5-star). The reviews at amazon have headlines; here are the 23 headlines given, most recent first. (One person just put in his username, so I left that out.)

  1. Bible of Table Tennis
  2. My best table tennis purchase so far
  3. Excellent addition to table tennis library
  4. Definitely for thinkers
  5. A very good book covers a broad range of table tennis tactics
  6. Good book for someone transitioning from basement star to begin playing at higher levels
  7. Excellent Advice Lies Herein
  8. An outstanding book
  9. Very useful info
  10. Solid on many aspects of tactics and strategy
  11. Maybe the Best Table Tennis Book Ever Written
  12. A MUST for table tennis players who play club and tournaments
  13. Great Book from a Great Guy
  14. Playing smart
  15. For all skill levels
  16. Finally I can think!
  17. Very good book on under-covered subject
  18. Great for the developing (or established) player!
  19. A tremendous amount of info!
  20. Highly recommended!
  21. Hard to find sources on tactics other than Mr. Hodges
  22. Great Resource For Improving Your Table Tennis Results
  23. It Made Me Think!

Here are a few other quotes from notable table tennis coaches:

"Larry has done an excellent job in breaking down the skills needed by all players to improve in these areas. This book should be on every table tennis player’s mandatory reading list."
-Richard McAfee, USATT National Coach, ITTF Trainer, and USATT Coaching Chair, 2009-2013 

"Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a must read for any player serious about winning. This tactical Bible is right on the mark, and is exactly how I was taught to put together game-winning tactics and strategies."
-Sean O'Neill, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion, 2-time Olympian 

"Larry Hodges' book on table tennis tactics is the best I have ever seen on this subject. This is the first book that explains how to play against the many styles of the game."
-Dan Seemiller, 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion and long-time U.S. Men's Team Coach 

Actions of the USATT High Performance Committee

Here's the Report (PDF), by Chairperson Carl Danner, covering June and July.

Ping Pong While Playing Drums?

Here's the story and video (3:02) from Table Tennis Nation! A guy sets the "world record" for most consecutive table tennis hits against a wall while playing the drums.

Curvy, Mirrowy Table

Here's the picture! I think that based on the way the table is curved, balls will tend to bounce inward, and so it'll be easy to keep the ball in play - I think. Unless, of course, you are admiring your funhouse mirror image on the table.

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September 24, 2013

Todd Sweeris, Terese Terranova in Hall of Fame, Yvonne Kronlage Gets Lifetime Achievement Award

Here's the article! I'm especially happy about Todd. He came to the Resident Training Program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1986 as a 13-year-old, the youngest player there. I was the manager of the program at the time. So I got to work with him for a few years there. Then I returned to Maryland and opened the Maryland Table Tennis Center (along with Cheng Yinghua and Jack Huang), and Todd moved to Maryland to train there. On the back of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers is a picture of me coaching him at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1996. I've already gone through my files and pulled out lots of pictures of him for use at his induction at the USA Nationals in December.

I've also known Yvonne a long time - she was president of the New Carrollton TTC where I started play at age 16 in 1976. We've differed on a few things politically, but we've both been promoting TT for roughly forever - but she's been doing it for a longer forever than I have!

Terese I mostly know from coaching our players against her players at the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals for many years, especially in the 1990s when many of the finals were between Maryland and Florida players, and I'd be coaching the Marylanders (along with coaches Cheng and Jack), and she and Marty Prager would be coaching the Floridians.

USA Nationals

Speaking of the USA Nationals, here's the home page on the USATT web page, which includes the entry form and hotel info. I'll be there, but just coaching and attending a few meetings, including the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. (I do the HoF program booklet.)

USATT Web Page

Speaking of the USATT web page, I'm featured there twice right now. I'm pictured, along with Ernesto Ebuen and Roger Yuen, for getting certified as an ITTF Level 2 coach. I'm also pictured (coaching Seyed Hamrahian and Derek Nie in doubles at the 2012 USA Nationals) for my latest Tip of the Day, "Don't Guide Your Loop." Ironically that was half of what I told a kid I coached at the Coconut Cup this past weekend - see my write-up yesterday.

2014 Junior and Cadet National Championships

Want to host them next year, either July 31-Aug. 2 or Aug. 7-9? Here's the Bid Sheet!

However, I'm a bit peeved by this. A lot of the top juniors in the U.S. train in China during the summer, often leaving right after the U.S. Open (usually the first week in July), and returning at the end of August. They are scheduling this right in the middle of that. So many of the best juniors in the country (including several from MDTTC) will likely be in China when this takes place, meaning that if they want to play in the National Junior Championships they'll have to fly halfway around the world. (That's roughly 13-15 hours.) It will cost a fortune - I just did a quick search and the cheapest flights from my area to China round trip are about $1400. Plus they'll show up off by 12 time zones, which affects juniors even more than adults. (A 2PM match is like 2AM for them, etc.) And after flying in for a few days of jet-lagged zombie-like play (which they will then be judged on for the next year), they'll hop back on a plane for the trip back, minus about a week of training (after taking recovery time, etc. into account). What this really means is some of our top juniors won't attend the National Junior and Cadet Championships, and so won't be on the National Junior or Cadet Team because they are too focused on becoming top players by training in China. Or, if they do attend, their poor parents will be out something close to $2000, on top of all the other training expenses.

I'm hoping someone from USATT can tell me if I'm missing something here.

Waldner's Best Drop Shots

Here's a highlights video (6:39) featuring the best drop shots by the great Jan-Ove Waldner. Tired of constant serve and rip and counterlooping rallies? This is completely different!

Four on One Table Tennis

Here's the picture - I have to try this! Maybe on break in our next camp.

Sleepy Table Tennis

That's all I can call this.

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July 15, 2013

Tip of the Week

Adjusting to Weird Serves and Shots.

MDTTC Camp

On Friday we finished week four of our ten weeks of summer camps, all Mon-Fri. In the morning I gave lectures and demos on pushing - fast & quick; heavy backspin; sidespin; and short pushes). As usual, Friday was "player's choice," where the players chose what they wanted to work on in the morning multiball sessions. The beginners mostly worked on basics; the more advanced ones worked mostly on looping or serving.

I introduced the "Loop and Smash" drill to several players. It's very simple: I feed multiball, usually a backspin ball to the middle, then a topspin ball to the wide forehand. The player has to loop the first, and then either loop or smash the second. If they make both shots, they win the point. If they miss either, I win the point. (If they miss the first shot, the second one is practice.) Game is usually to 11. One kid (Victor) struggled with this, losing several times to his dismay. He came to the junior session on Sunday (yesterday), and we did it again. He lost the first two times. The second time I was leading 7-1, and he came back to tie it 10-all - only to lose 11-10. (We have sudden death rather than win by two.) We played one more time - and lo and behold, he made 22 straight shots to "beat" me, 11-0!!! That was a nice breakthrough.

During one session I demonstrated my "no look" multiball skills. When feeding multiball it's important to be able to watch the player you are feeding balls to, but most coaches look down as they are feeding the ball to make sure they do a good feed, as I usually do. But I don't really need to; I demonstrated doing it while looking backwards and chatting with players doing ball pickup.

During a break many of the kids were playing video games on small hand-held devices. I pointed out that "Video games are better than table tennis. All the kids hunch over video games, bringing them together. Table tennis pulls them apart, at least nine feet."

With so many players in the camp (both last week and this upcoming week, starting today, week #5), the turnout for the weekend junior program I run was rather small, so I got to do a lot of one-on-one work with several of the players.

Orioles and Table Tennis

Here are excerpts from the Saturday, July 13 issue of The Washington Post on baseball team Baltimore Orioles - here are the first three and the last paragraph of the article:

The noise is a mainstay of the Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards clubhouse: the constant "pop" of a ping-pong ball bouncing off a table, a paddle and (sometimes) the table again, punctuated by roars of joy or eruptions of frustration from participants or onlookers.

The Orioles play table tennis pregame and postgame after both wins and losses, a display of Baltimore's rare chemistry and the casual certainty each player has in the efforts of his teammates.

In that tight-knit clubhouse where long-term confidence outweighs daily doubts, no one seems too concerned about the struggles of an Orioles starting rotation that has at times been more consistent on the ping-pong table than the mound, a departure from the late-season dominance that carried Baltimore to the American League Division Series in 2012.

"As a collective group — you can ask any of us — we definitely underachieved," Hammel said over ball bounces and shouts of a heated set between Manny Machado and Troy Patton on the ping-pong table a few yards away.

Todd Sweeris into Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame

Here's an article on Todd's induction. Todd, who is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, moved to Maryland right after graduating high school circa 1994, and (as noted in the article) thereupon made the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Teams while winning Men's Doubles at the USA Nationals in 1996, 1999, and 2000. (Not mentioned in article: he also made the final of Men's Singles at the 1998 USA Nationals, and before that he been USA National Collegiate Men's Singles, Doubles, and Team Champion. I was on his team - as a graduate student - twice when we won the national college team championships.)

Wisconsin Family's Table Tennis Trip to China

Here's the article.

Pingtime

Here's a visual table tennis video (1:12), full of special effects.

Table Tennis as it Should Be Played

Here's a vintage image of how the game should be played, with a classic backhand player on the near side versus a classic all-out forehand player on the far side, both using the same surface on both sides of their racket as they play in front of a local crowd. (If you can't see the Facebook image, try this.)

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