Yan An

February 6, 2014

Backhand Games and Random Drills

It seems that recently half my students are challenging me in backhand-to-backhand games. These are games where we put boxes on each side of the table to block off the forehand side of the table, and play a strictly backhand-to-backhand game. If a shot doesn't go to the backhand, or if a player hits a forehand, he loses the point. You'd think I'd dominate this type of game since I can hit a million backhands in a row, but not really. The players quickly learn to match my consistency, while throwing speed, quickness, placement, and variation at me. I've struggled to win games (and sometimes lost) to 12-year-olds with ratings about 700 points lower than mine, as well as to adult players.

What does this mean? It means that, when isolated, they are developing very good backhands. They are learning to do all of the things mentioned above - consistency, speed, quickness, placement, and variation. (Yes, even with only half a table you can move the ball around.) There are times where I'm just pounding the ball with my backhand, and can't get through their steadiness. There are other times where I'm just keeping the ball going, and struggling to find ways to win a point since they aren't missing either, and they are pressing me with all of the attributes mentioned here. (As I regularly remind them, if they find they are pressing because I'm not missing, remember it works both ways - keep coming at me with the same consistency, and I'm the one who'll be pressing because they aren't missing.)

As good as this is, it also exposes one of the "secrets" of table tennis: In a real game, you don't know where the ball is going. In a real game, we wouldn't be going backhand-to-backhand. If we're smart players, we'd both be looking for chance to move the ball around, attacking the middle and wide corners. Without the certainty that the ball's coming back to our backhand side the backhand isn't nearly as strong. It's the ability to react to these random balls all over the table that make up much of the difference in rallying skills between 1500 and 2200.

But the foundation is there. Now I'm doing lots of random drills with them (as they know!), and that will soon pay off just as all the stroking work is now paying off. The most basic one is they keep the ball to my backhand while I put the ball randomly to their forehand and backhand. When they are comfortable against that, I up the stakes and put the ball randomly anywhere on the table, including their middle and wide angles. We also do a lot of random multiball drills. (Did I mention that they are also developing terrorizing forehands?)

New Plastic Balls Approved by the ITTF

Here's the ITTF article.

USATT Reports

Here's a listing of USATT Committee reports, with links to each. I just browsed through most of them. Let me know if you find anything interesting.

Piing of Power - Michael Maze

Here's the video (1:35) that features the lefty Danish star. (I'm not sure why there are two i's.) While currently ranked #28 in the world after injuries to his knees in 2010 (losing nearly a year) and then undergoing hip surgery in December 2012, he was as high as #8 in 2010, and made the semifinals of Men's Singles at the World Championships in 2005, and the quarterfinals in 2009. He was the 2009 European Men's Singles Champion, and the 2004 European Top-12 Champion. He has strong serves and a strong forehand, but is mostly known as probably the best lobber in the world. Maze recently had an "amazing" training session with USA's top cadet and junior, Kanak Jha - here's the short article from USATT, and here's the feature article on Maze, his comeback, and his session with Kanak.

Xu Xin Received Advice from Wang Liqin

Here's the article, with links to several videos. Said Wang, "In the Chinese Team, your brilliant moments are not usually in the good times but in the most difficult times. As long as you can rebound from those difficult moments, then is already indicates that your potential is very big."

Ma Long vs. Yan An

Here's a nice match (3:03, with time between points taken out) between these two Chinese stars at the recent Chinese Trials. (Ma Long in the red shirt.) You can learn a lot by watching how they attack from both wings, but even more by watching their receive. Here's where you can find similar videos of many (or all?) of the matches at the Chinese Trials.

Cerebral Palsy Can't Smash Table Tennis Talent

Here's the feature article on Paralympic star Mike Brown.

Congress is Playing Professional Tournament-Level Ping-Pong With This Nation's Future

Here's the article - and if it's from The Onion, you know it's true!

Ping-Pong Masters

Here's a hilarious video (2:26) that features two (or more?) players in an intense table tennis battle! Lots of special effects, including player cloning.

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December 4, 2013

Sports Psychology and Sport Psychology Books

After watching and coaching at the Teams, I'm upping the sports psychology training. In fact, I just got out to review my copies of "Get Your Game Face On" by Dora Kurimay, "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey, and "Finding Your Zone" by Michael Lardon. I also discovered that my copy of "Winning Ugly" by Brad Gilbert is missing, and realized I lent it to someone a long time ago and never got it back - so I just ordered a new copy. (A new version came out in May this year anyway.) I also discovered a new book, "Coaches Guide to Sport Psychology" by Rainer Martens which I just ordered. (Dora Kurimay and Michael Lardon are both sports psychologists and top table tennis players. Dora ran a sports psychology session at MDTTC I think in early 2012. "The Inner Game of Tennis" and "Winning Ugly" both use tennis as examples, but the principles apply to all sports, and they are both considered classics that are read by top athletes from every sport.)

I've undergone a lot of sports psychology training, and long ago incorporated much of it into both my game and my coaching. During the four years I was (at different times) manager, director, and/or assistant coach at the Resident Training Program for Table Tennis at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (1985-89), the players often had weekly group sessions with the sports psychologists there, which I normally attended. Many had private sessions as well. But I think it'd be valuable for me to go back and review all the stuff I learned so long ago.

At the Teams it was interesting watching the different responses to tournament pressure by different players. Here are four of them, all ages 12 or 13. All four of them read my blog (at least sometimes), as do some of their parents, so I'm guessing they'll recognize themselves!

Player A was a vintage case of nervousness under pressure. He had difficulty throughout matches overcoming this, and especially when it got close. I'm going to be working with him on this as it really hampers his play as he tends to stand up straight, freeze up, and miss shots over and over that he makes pretty consistently in practice games at the club.

Player B seemed on edge much of the time, but was able to play well in spite of this - but it affected his tactics as he often was afraid to attack. Especially against weaker players he'd just push, chop, fish, and lob, even if he was losing. When he'd fall behind, he'd finally work up the nerve to attack, and then he'd start winning again - and then he'd stop attacking again. He needs to gain confidence in his game, which includes attacking.

Player C seemed to guide his shots early in games rather than just let them go, especially with his forehand loop, his best shot. But in contrast to most players, as it got close, he seemed to get looser, and his shots more fluid. He needs to work on relaxing early on, perhaps by pretending it's already deuce.

Player D wasn't really nervous, but he kept having slow starts as if he couldn't quite get up for the match. Then he'd turn it on and play really well for several games. But late in matches, especially in fifth games, he seemed to lose focus and get careless with his shots. He also is too easily distracted by outside things, which affects his play and leads to some matches where he's mentally not there. I have a few focus drills I want to try on him - one of which is where he practices serves while I try to distract him with "trash talk," and he has to just tune me out. (This is based on the famous Tiger Woods drill where he'd practice at the driving range while his dad would try to distract him.)

I'm working out plans for these players so they can overcome these problems, and ideally turn them into strengths. There's a reason why so many top players say the game is mostly mental. I'll likely be assigning some reading to these players.

While pulling out my sports psychology books, I also pulled out my copy of "Successful Coaching" by Rainer Martens, the best-selling coaching book in America. It also covers sports psychology. The five sections are:

  1. Developing a Coaching philosophy
  2. Sport Psychology
  3. Sport Pedagogy
  4. Sport Physiology
  5. Sport Management

So I'll be reviewing this book as well. (And I still have to read "The Next Step," so I've got some busy reading coming up.)

Difficulty Level of Table Tennis Techniques

Here’s an article that judges the relative difficulty level of various table tennis techniques, and puts them in five categories, from easiest (the counter-hit) to most difficult (topspin against topspin, i.e. counterlooping, and chopping against topspin).

Random Thoughts of a Table Tennis Nut from a Basketball-Crazy Nation

Here’s the essay from fellow TT nut Lorenzo Antonio Angel.

Ma Long for Super League’s Most Valuable Player

Here’s the article.

Ma Long and Yan An Backhand Topspin Training

Here’s the video (1:56).

Snoopy

Here’s a new picture of Snoopy playing table tennis. Here’s another one where he looks like Mr. Cool.

Never Underestimate Your Opponents

Here’s a hilarious new video (2:14) of two guys who underestimate the level of play of the two girls who ask to play. The two women are Austrian stars Amelie and Petrissa Solja.

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