Smashing

April 1, 2014

Tongue Training
Anyone watching TT videos regularly can see that most top
players make use of their tongue. Most assume this is just a
reaction to stress, or a side effect of the effort going into the shot.
It's much more than that. In fact, proper use of the tongue is just
like using any other part of the body in a shot. I'd argue that 
for most, proper use of the tongue is central to the shot. Sure, it
only weighs two to two and a half ounces, but its usage must be
orchestrated properly or you will lose power and control. When
looping, improper use of the tongue can be disastrous.

Chinese theory on this is quite different from European. Most
European coaches believe the tongue should be held more or
less rigid inside the mouth, believing that this maximizes balance.
However, most Chinese coaches believe it should be used to
maximize power when looping. In some ways, it's like the wrist -
for years, many coaches thought the wrist should be held rigid
during power shots, but then some coaches decided it should be
used for extra power, and they were correct. Similarly, Chinese
coaches theorize that the tongue, when used in conjunction with
the rest of the body, can add power. To do so requires proper
timing and training of the tongue.

On forehand loops, the tongue must start in the right side of the
mouth. (This is for righties; lefties reverse.) As the player rotates
into the shot he uses his legs, hips, waist, shoulders, arm, and wrist.
The tongue should coil backward and snap into the shot as the
shoulders rotate into the shot, adding extra power as the player
throws his arm into the shot.

On backhand loops, the tongue should start in the bottom of the
mouth. As the player powers into the shot with their lower body
the tongue should snap into the shot, adding extra power as the
player throws the upper body and arm into the shot.

Physical training is extremely important to high-level training, and
most top juniors now incorporate tongue training into this. For
power, they do isometric training, where they alternately press the
tongue into the top, bottom, and both sides of the mouth, three times
in each direction, holding it for ten seconds. For stretching, the tongue
is extended out as far as possible, then up, then down, then to each
side, again doing it three times each for ten seconds. This is similar to
how the Chinese train, although their full-time players do considerably
more physical training, including more tongue exercises.

So if you want to reach your potential in table tennis, train your tongue,
and watch the wins pile up! Here are pictures of Germany's
Thomas Schmidberger and Stefan Schmidt doing tongue stretches,
which they learned while training in China with teammates Timo Boll
and Dimitrij Ovtcharov. Here's China's Wang Hao uncorking a backhand
loop, with his tongue coiled in the bottom of his mouth, about to snap
into the shot - note how the lower lip is pulled in over the tongue.
Here's Ui Young Park of South Korea snapping his tongue into his
forehand. And here's MDTTC junior star John Elson doing tongue
stretches on the MDTTC sofa.

Beginning/Intermediate Class
In my Beginning/Intermediate Class last night we focused on smashing
and on return of serve. These are two of my favorite topics as they are
strengths of mine. I got to demonstrate smash after smash with assistant
coach John Hsu, who returned them over and over, both blocking and
fishing. Later I gave a probably-too-long lecture on return of serve.
One of the things I stress in such classes is that even if they can't do the
things I'm teaching right now, or even in the near future, it's something
to strive for later on. After the class most of the students stayed on and
practiced for over an hour.

The lecture on receive was divided into three parts: How to return short
serves (pushes and flips); How to return deep serves (this one was very
short - you attack them, mostly by looping); and How to read spin.
(Here's my Tip of the Week: Reading Service Spin.)

Three Things Ma Long Can Learn from Fan Zhendong (and You Too!)
Here's the article.

Table Tennis Classes at the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria
Here's info.

"All My Body Aches"
That's what Dimitrij Ovtcharov said after winning the German Open. Here's the article.

Tony Yeap Prepares for Nationals
Here's a video (3:14) showing Tony as he prepares for the College Nationals.

Table Tennis Named the Official Sport of the United States
Here's the article.
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December 6, 2011

Sun Ting joins MDTTC Coaching Staff

Sun Ting, a recently retired lefty player from China with a 2716 rating - soon to be higher, after going undefeated at the North American Teams Championships last weekend - has joined the coaching staff at the Maryland Table Tennis Center. He'd coached there much of the past summer, but now is back permanently. He is famous for his serves, and had a win over Ma Lin in the Chinese Super League. He was probably much better than 2716 at his best, considering he got his first USATT rating of 2675 from the Teams in 1998 at age 14! The following year, at age 15, he increased it to 2730. Now 27, he's semi-retired, but he's maintained his 2700+ rating in four tournaments this year, his first U.S. tournaments since 1999. He joins the MDTTC coaching staff of Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, and Larry Hodges (me). As posted previously, Donn Olsen is also joining the staff soon. (In January, MDTTC doubles in size from its current 5500 square feet and 12 tables to 11,000 and 20 or so tables with larger courts and all-red rubber flooring.)

Back-up attack

This past weekend I had a nice match with a fast penhold blocker. I started the match out forehand looping every chance, along with steady backhands. He was unable to stop me from looping after my serve, and on his serve I'd be looping after a shot or two. However, he soon got used to my looping, and began blocking side to side more and more aggressively. He was soon so tuned into my loop that he rarely missed. I battled on, but at 51 I wasn't as fast as I used to be, and the rallies were just getting too fast for me to have time to run down ball after ball to loop. So I made a simple tactical change - and went to just hitting on the forehand, a shorter, quicker stroke. The first time I smashed off his block, he had this look of surprise, since I'd been looping all his blocks until then. After a few more, he began grumbling in Chinese. He had no answer and I ended up winning in a rout. (He did switch to blocking almost exclusively to my backhand, but after a few of those I started quick-blocking to his middle and forehand to set up my forehand again. Also, since the blocks to my backhand became predictable, I began smashing backhands and stepping around to smash forehands.)

If I hadn't had a backup to my looping attack, things might have been quite different. Moral - do you have a backup game if your primary game isn't working? This doesn't necessarily mean dropping your primary game; it means finding other ways to win when necessary.

Side note - you can't normally cover as much of the table with your forehand if you focus on smashing instead of looping, and the timing makes smashing riskier, assuming you have time to loop. That's why looping tends to dominate at the higher levels instead of hitting - but not in this match. 

This also reminded me that at the upcoming Nationals next week, when I'm not coaching, I'm playing in the hardbat events. Since my hardbat game is centered on all-out forehand hitting, I'm going to focus on all-out hitting with my sponge racket in practice matches this next week.

Adham Sharara and the Celluloid Ban

Here's an interesting posting at the OOAK forum from someone who emailed with ITTF President Adham Sharara, along with discussion. Sharara states, "There is no upcoming world-wide ban of celluloid, this was a simplification of the current status and the status on the use of celluloid for many years past. Their is also no health issue with the finished product. The issue is in the manufacturing of the celluloid sheets that are used to make the ping pong balls." [You can read the rest of his long posting at the link above.]

Table Tennis, It's Not for the Slow of Wrist

Here's a short article on table tennis from craveonline.com by James LeBeau. Here's an excerpt: "Where reflexes are your primary friend in being a good TT player, you also have to have a good head for strategy as the game isn't so cut and dried as the above description would have you believe. A skilled opponent can take a ball and send it at you in a number of different ways, from pure power to the subtleties of a slight flick and they can, and will, try their hardest to put a spin on the ball that will have it flying off your racket in a number of unpredictable ways."

Before the Frost

Tim Boggan emailed me to let me know about a table tennis passage from the novel Before the Frost by Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell. It's one of eleven novels in the Kurt Wallander series, written in Swedish and translated into English. The character references Swedish star Jan-Ove Waldner, arguably the greatest table tennis player ever. Here's the excerpt:

"He's worried [Inspector Wallander is]. First, the report about the swans, and then a calf named Apple is burned alive."

"Apple," he said. "That's an unusual name for an animal."

"I played table tennis when I was younger. I often name my animals after great Swedish champions. I have an ox called Waldner."

Free online table tennis game

Here's a new online table tennis game someone emailed me about.

Smacking the umpire

Angry at the umpire? Tired of bad calls? Here's a 22-second video that ends with a player inadvertently (we think) smacking the umpire with the ball.

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August 17, 2011

MDTTC Coaching Camp - Day Seven

  • Yesterday's session went really well, one of the smoothest. The focus was on forehand looping, though the new players worked on basic forehands and backhands.
  • There were a lot of breakthroughs as new players figured out forehand and backhand drives, more advanced new players figured out looping and spin serves, and advanced players learned world-class shots. Light bulbs enlightened were going off over players' heads like fireflies.
  • Especially rewarding were two players who spent much of their break practicing serves, and three others who asked if they could do extra multiball after the session ended. I put in extra time to work with these five juniors. They were the more "serious" players, and out of that group will come the breakout stars.
  • Quote of the day: "I played really well because of the coffee." -David Bachman, age 13, after drinking coffee from Dunkin' Donuts that morning. 

Smashing

I noticed that a number of players in the camp smash (poorly) with a sudden jerky motion. This comes from trying to contract every muscle at the same time at the last second, creating a spastic shot. Instead, try a more relaxed, smooth motion and longer backswing. You still want a rather sharp motion, but not a herky-jerky one. Key to smashing is always using the same backswing, bringing the racket back to the same exact spot, over and over. If the ball is high, you then raise the racket after backswinging as part of a smooth, continuous motion. (If you raise the racket during your backswing, when you come to a stop you'll be slightly off-balanced, plus you'll have a different backswing for every shot of a different height.) Then just stroke through the ball, shifting the weight through the ball, first from the legs, then waste, then shoulders, and then a vigorous snap from the arm rotating on the elbow. Contact should be relatively flat, but with a slight upward motion, relative to the direction you are hitting the ball, especially if smashing backspin.

When to change your inverted rubber

This varies from player to player, based on playing style, level, and financial situation. Loopers need a grippy surface, and so often change more often then other styles. Higher-level players also change more often as they want the sponge to be both grippy and bouncy. Rich players tend to change more often because they have more money.

So how can you tell if your rubber needs changing? Wash off the surface with a table tennis cleaner or something similar. (Some use a watered-down soap mixture.) Then examine the surface - is it fading? Rub a ball on it - is it as grippy in the middle as along the side? If there's a noticeable difference, then you might want to change. The surface is usually the first part to go, so this is the primary test. However, some of the more recent "breakthrough" sponges that mimic glued sponge seem to lose their bounciness faster than other types, and so you might want to change those when the bounciness starts to drop. That's a more subjective judgment; you should be able to tell if it's starting to die.

When I was playing competitively, I generally changed my forehand sponge every month, my backhand sponge every two months. (I'd often time this so I'd have new sponge for tournaments, especially on the forehand.) The reason is that I looped a lot on the forehand, and so needed a grippy surface. On the backhand, I mostly hit and blocked, and so didn't need to change it as often. Others might not need to change as often as I was playing six days a week. If you play only twice a week, then to match me, you'd only need to change every three to six months. 

More Training in China

California Cadet Star Ethan Chua gives a short report on his training in China.

Holy Moly Rally!

Perhaps the greatest table tennis rally eversmiley

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