Matt

July 24, 2014

Last Blog Until Tuesday, August 5

This will be my last blog until Tuesday, August 5. Most people take vacations at beaches, or camping, or Disneyworld, or Las Vegas, etc. Me? I go to an annual science fiction & fantasy writing workshop for nine days of continuous writing, critiquing, classes, etc. I leave early tomorrow morning for "The Never-Ending Odyssey" (TNEO) in Manchester, New Hampshire for nine days, returning late on Saturday, Aug. 2. This will be the fifth time I've attended this, which is for graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, a six-week workshop for writers of science fiction & fantasy, which I attended in 2006. At the workshop I'm having the first seven chapters of my SF novel critiqued.

Getting TT on TV
(This is from a response I gave to a question on the forum.)

One of the major reasons table tennis isn't on TV much in the U.S. is there's nobody actively pushing for this to happen, or trying to create an attractive package for the TV people. USATT is an amateur organization, and doesn't have anyone devoted to this. So it's unlikely table tennis will get much TV exposure in the U.S. until the same thing that happened in other TV sports happens to table tennis - the top players get together and form a professional organization. Their top priority would be to bring money to the sport via sponsors, and to do that they need to get on TV - and so getting on TV becomes their top priority. They'd hire an executive director who would work to get the sport on TV so that he can bring in sponsors. But until this happens, table tennis is unlikely to be on TV much in this country. 

Wednesday's Coaching

I did 4.5 hours of private coaching yesterday. Here's a rundown.

  • Sameer, 13, about 1600 player (two-hour session): We pretty much covered everything, as you can do in a two-hour session. The highlight of the session, however, was when I introduced him to the banana flip. It only took a few minutes before he was able to do this in drills, and then we practiced it for about ten minutes. Since he just came off playing three tournaments in a row - see my blog about his progress in my blog on Monday - we're focusing on fundamentals as we prepare him long-term for his next "big" tournament - the North American Teams in November. We did a lot of counterlooping. As a special bonus that he begged and pleaded for, I let him lob for five minutes.
  • Tiffany, 9, about 1750 (70-min session as part of the MDTTC camp): Tiffany is the top-rated under 10 girl in the U.S., and the stuff she did in the session shows why. During those 70 minutes she did 55 minutes of footwork drills. The only interruption to her footwork drills was ten minutes when I looped to her block, and five minutes where we pushed. The rest of the time it was non-stop footwork drills for her. When she seemed to slow down between rallies at one point, one of the Chinese coaches playfully called her "lazy," and she immediately picked up the pace again. Today she'll be right back at it, while I'm still sore from the ten minutes of looping. Tiffany's in an interesting point in her game as she's gradually making the transition to all-out looping.  
  • Matt, 13, about 1600 (one-hour session, plus 30 minutes of games): He has an excellent forehand and good footwork, but is in the process of transitioning to a more topspinny backhand. We spent most of the session doing backhand-oriented drills. These included side-to-side backhand footwork; alternate forehand-backhand footwork (forehand from forehand corner, backhand from backhand corner); and the 2-1 drill (backhand from backhand corner, forehand from backhand corner, and forehand from forehand corner). I was planning to work on his receive after all this, but Matt wasn't happy with his 2-1 drill play, and wanted to do more of that. How many players volunteer to do extra footwork? (Perhaps he was inspired when I told him how much footwork Tiffany had done.) So we did another ten minutes or so of the 2-1 drill, about twenty minutes total. Then we did a bunch of multiball, focusing on backhand loop. It won't be long before he hits 1800 level.

    At the end of the session with Matt we played games - I stayed an extra 30 minutes for this, so it was really a 90-minute session. (I often do this when I'm through coaching for the day.) An astonishing thing happened here. After I won the first game, he came back in the second game on fire, and went up - I kid you not - 10-2!!! So on to the third game, right? Wrong. On his serve I switched to chopping (mixing in heavy chop and no-spin), and on my serve I pulled out an old Seemiller windshield-wiper serve (racket going right to left), which he'd never seen before. He got tentative both against the chops and serve, and suddenly it was 10-all. We had a rally there, where I chopped four in a row, and then I threw a no-spin chop at him, and he looped it softly. I tried smashing, but missed, and he had another game point. But he missed the serve again, and I finally won 14-12. He was very disgusted with blowing the game, and was now playing tentative where he'd been on fire just a few minutes before, and the result was he fell apart the next two games, even though I went back to playing regular. I finally had him do a few forehand drills to get his game back, and he ended it with a relatively close game. I'm feeling kind of bad about this because I completely messed up his game when I switched to weird play, when my job as a coach is to help him play well. But he's going to have to face "weird" players in tournaments, so he might as well get used to playing them now.

    The thing Matt needs to take away from this is that if he can play so well that he's up 10-2 on the coach (and I still play pretty well!), then it won't be long before he can do that all the time. The thing I need to take away from this is I better start practicing or Matt, Tiffany, and Sameer are all going to start beating me. (Age, injuries, and lack of real practice have dropped my level down to about 2100 or so, but that should be enough to beat these three, right? Maybe not…)

Liu Shiwen: Hard Work Always Produces Good Results

Here's the article. Liu is the world #1 ranked woman.

Twelve Curious Facts about Table Tennis

Here's the article.

U.S. Open Blog

Here's the final blog on the U.S. Open by Dell & Connie Sweeris.

ITTF Coaching Course in Thailand

Here's the ITTF article on the latest overseas coaching course taught by USATT coach Richard McAfee.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty-two down, 38 to go!

  • Day 39: Ian Marshall Feels Privileged to Do What He Loves

Lily Zhang at the ITTF YOG Camp

Here's the video (34 sec).

Another Great Trick Shot

Here's the video (36 sec) of Shi Wei.

Craigslist Ping Pong Table Negotiation

Here's the text of this rather crazy discussion. (Side note - I once met Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.com. At the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention I was in the Science Fiction Writers of American suite - I'm a member - and after grabbing some snacks at the buffet table I joined two others sitting around a table discussing the future of the Internet. One of them began asking lots of questions about my science fiction writing. At some point the discussion turned to how we used online tools, and I mentioned I was in the process of renting out the first two floors of my townhouse, and that I was advertising it on Craigslist.com. The third person said, "Larry, do you know who you are talking to?" I said no, and that's when he pointed out that the guy I'd been talking with for half an hour was THAT Craig. He was at the convention as a member of several panels that involved the Internet.)

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November 14, 2013

Darren O'Day and Other Coaching

Yesterday I had my second coaching session (90 min) with Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day. He's really picking things up fast! As noted in my Nov. 4 blog on coaching him, he tends to hold his racket tip up on strokes, which he copied from Orioles shortstop JJ Hardy, the best Orioles player. However, in today's session, we really straightened that out, and he had great fun as we went forehand to forehand pretty fast. (The two keys there were dropping the racket tip, and thinking of yourself as just a spectator so the subconscious can take control on the strokes.) We also worked on his backhand, pushing, serves, and footwork. But I also introduced him to looping against backspin via multiball. He had sort of a soft roll he used against backspin. It wasn't bad as he was at least spinning the ball, but there was little power - it was just a roll. We worked on this for a while, but he tended to stay too close to the ball (and a few other problems), and so swung mostly with his arm. I finally began feeding the ball farther away, forcing him to stretch out more - and lo and behold, suddenly he was looping with great power, both spin and speed! We did this for a while, and he can't wait to start using this in games - though I warned him it'll take some practice to incorporate into match situations consistently. He's taking another session this Friday afternoon, and then we'll settle into weekly sessions on Wednesday afternoons.

In another session that night I did some saturation training with Doug. He's had some trouble with players serving to his forehand, so I spent about 15 minutes serving to his forehand. At first I went easy, even letting him know the spin that was coming, but as we went along I stopped telling him and I started going to my best serves. Each step of the way he improved until he was looping all the deep ones somewhat consistently, even when I varied from disguised heavy backspin to side-topspins. When I went for the heavy side-topspin serves he tended to lift off the end. I pointed out that he was using the same racket angle he would against a topspin in a rally, but that in a rally he'd probably take the ball 1-3 feet further back - meaning he'd have 1-3 feet more table to aim for. Since you usually loop a serve closer to the table, and so are 1-3 feet closer to the far side of the table, you have to bring the ball down sooner, and so you have to close your racket more. (This might become a Tip of the Week.)

Another player I coached was Matt, a 12-year-old who's gearing up to play in the North American Teams in two weeks. With a tournament approaching it's time to focus on game play, so we did a lot of game-simulation drills. A lot of them involved him serving backspin, me pushing it back, and him looping. At the start I'd push to the same spot over and over, but later on I'd push them to varied spots. I also served a bunch of balls to him so he could work on receive as well as handling my first loop.

2014 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials

Here's a news item from USA Table Tennis on the 2014 Team Trials.

Jackson Chance Foundation Exhibition

Here's a news video (2:05) from Fox News in Chicago promoting a table tennis exhibition by Killerspin they will be doing tonight for the Jackson Chance Foundation. At the start you can hear the sound of ping-pong in the background, and after a bit the camera then pans over to see the players. "The Jackson Chance Foundation is an Illinois non-for-profit, tax exempt 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to providing resources to families with babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU)."

Chopper vs. Attacker at Westchester Open

Here's video (10:43) of game five in the semifinals of the Westchester October Open between Jishan Liang (2661) and chopper/looper Kewei Li (2686). Another nice example of attack vs. defense, though of course Li also attacks.

Multiball Around-the-Net Rolling Receives

Here's a video (43 sec) of 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist in Doubles Seiko Iseki (then known as Wei Qingguang, the lefty, with Chen Longcan his doubles partner) feeding angled serves to (if I read the comments correctly) Wei Gucci, who returns them around the net so they roll on the table. We have to try this new drill at my club!

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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 19, 2013

Yesterday's Coaching Activities

I had three hours of private coaching, then a meeting with others to go over our new junior progress reports.

The first session was with an 8-year-old, about 1200 level, who's struggling to decide whether to be an attacker or defender. He may well be the best 8-year-old lobber I've ever seen; he can lob back my hardest smashes dozens of times in a row as long as I don't smother kill at wide angles. (There's something humorous about a little kid lobbing from way back at the barriers!) He also chops well. He's also got a nice loop from both wings, but has one serious problem on both: he's too impatient to do the same shot over and over, and so it's hard to get him to develop a repeating stroke. Unless I keep a firm hand on the drills, most rallies end up with him looping a couple balls, taking a step back after each, and then he's off lobbing and fishing, and looking for chances to suddenly counter-smash. He's recently faced the realization that if he's going to chop, he'll probably need long pips, which will take away his backhand lob - and he doesn't like that. So we're in a state of flux on whether to train him as an attacker or defender. Ultimately, I'm letting him make the final decision. I've advised him that, unless he very much wants to be a chopper/looper, he should focus on attacking, and he can always switch to more chopping later on. It's a big decision that'll affect the rest of his life!!!

The second session was with an 11-year-old, about 1200 level, who's about to finally start playing tournaments. He's playing in the MDTTC October Open and the North American Teams in November, and perhaps others. He's a big forehand attacker who likes to run around the table ripping forehand loops and smashes. Most interesting part of the session was when I urged him to really develop the backhand (while still focusing on the forehand) - and his reaction was he wanted to practice backhands for nearly half the session. We had some great rallies, and near the end it started to really click in. He wants to really focus on serves as well, and I promised we'd start off next session with that.

The third session was with a 12-year-old who was having only his second session since being away all summer. He's about 1000, but rusty. So we're focusing on fundamentals. He's doing really well in multiball drills, where we did a lot of looping against backspin (both wings) and combinations (loop a backspin, smash a topspin). In live drills he's still a bit too erratic, but it's getting better.

Then I met about what I've been calling the Junior Progressions. These are a series of criteria a beginning/intermediate player needs to fulfill to move from Level 1 to Level 5. At the lowest level, players need to bounce the ball on the racket a certain number of times, demonstrate proper grip and ready position, know the basic rules, hit a small number of strokes, etc. As they move up, it gets harder; at Level 5 they have to hit 100 forehands and backhands and demonstrate a few counterloops. We're still finalizing and testing them. We'll be using them for the first time later this fall. Once I'm more confident we have the right criteria, perhaps I'll publish them. (We'd been shown examples of how some other programs did this, such as AYTTO.

The Importance of Lobbing

Here's the latest USATT Tip of the Week, another of the ones I wrote.

ITTF Level 2 Coaching Course in Austin

Here's the ITTF article on the coaching course Richard McAfee ran in Austin, TX last week.

Adam Hugh's Juggling No-Look Target Serve

Here's the entry of former USA team member Adam Hugh to the ITTF Trick Shot Showdown Contest. "Your move." Here's the page showing videos entered so far.

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