Balance

September 27, 2013

Bring Balance to Your Force

I can never stress enough the importance of balance in table tennis. It's both for the shot you are currently doing and (perhaps even more important) for recovery for the next shot. Over and over players move to a ball and hit while slightly off-balance, and never realize it - but this subtle lack of balance leads to variations in their stroke and thereby a loss of control as well as power. Even more subtle is the loss of recovery for the next shot. Over and over players hit a shot and then are unable to react to the next shot if it goes to a wide angle. They blame themselves for being too slow when the real problem was they were off balance on the previous shot (or went off balance during the follow through), and that kept them from recovering for the next shot - not just a lack of foot speed. Even at the higher levels when a player is unable to get to a shot it is often because they went off-balance on the previous shot.

As I've gotten older I've become more and more aware of this. When I step around to play my forehand from the backhand corner (since my forehand attack is much stronger than my backhand attack), I often leave my wide forehand "open." I put that in quotes because if I finish my forehand attack balanced, I can recover quickly enough to cover that wide forehand shot. If I am late in stepping around, and so end up following through more to the side (as opposed to being there early enough to follow through more balanced with the same power), then I'm going to lose precious time recovering balance. And that's why I can't cover the wide forehand sometimes - not because my feet are too slow in covering the wide forehand, but because they are too slow in stepping around the backhand corner, leaving me off balanced and unable to recover for the next shot.

As I said yesterday to a student who was going off balance whenever he hit a powerful forehand, "Bring balance to your force."

Here are three articles I've written on balance.

Water vs. Gatorade

What do you drink when you play? For years I lived on Gatorade, usually the red ones. Then I switched to plain water. However, there are times when I feel I need the extra energy from the calories in Gatorade. So for the past year I've adopted a simple policy for when I'm coaching - I bring out two bottles, one of water, one of Gatorade. I've also made a MAJOR change in my life - I switched from the red Gatorade to "Gatorade Frost Glacier Cherry." So when thirsty, I sort of alternate between plain water and Gatorade (water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, natural flavor, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, glycerol ester of rosin). Mmmm, good!

Want to Run for the USATT Board of Directors?

There's a special election coming up for an At-Large Representative. Here's the info.

Reverse Pendulum Serves

Here's a posting (with discussion) at the MyTableTennis forum that links to videos of top players demonstrating this serve. The "Masters" shown are Zhang Jike, Timo Boll, and Michael Maze.

Milan Stencl Video Interview

Here's the video (8:46). "He is a coach with experience of leading national squads from Holland, Belgium, Italy, Croatia and France, His reputation for hard work, firm discipline and no-nonsense approach is world famous. He coached many elite players and is well-known for bringing up Belgium and JM Saive to world's elite. Hear what he has to say about his introduction to table tennis as a player and coach, table tennis in past and now, working with talented players, what is his advice to young coaches and cooperation with player's families."

Another Cat

Here's the video (27 sec)! There's a whole section on Cats Playing Table Tennis in the Fun and Game Section Video Section.

Paddle with Hat and Sunglasses at the Beach

Don't you wish this was your day?

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June 7, 2013

Easterns

At noon today I leave for the Eastern Open this weekend in Piscataway, NJ, coaching Derek Nie and Sameer Shaikh. As usual, I'll bring files of notes of players I've seen before, either live or on video. I'm going up with Derek and his mom. I've actually got some coaching this morning, not to mention my blog and dropping my dog (Sheeba) off at the dog boarding place, so it's going to be a hectic morning.

The complicating factor is I teach a junior class on weekends, on Saturdays 10:30AM-Noon and Sundays 4:30-6:00. Normally Raghu Nadmichettu assists, but he's playing in the Easterns. I have a substitute for Saturday, but not for Sunday. So either I or Raghu have to be back by Sunday at 4:30 for the class. What really complicates things is we don't know if Raghu or Derek will play on Sunday. They will if Raghu makes the quarters of the Open, or Derek the quarters of Under 2375. Sameer will finish on Saturday, so either Raghu or I have to go back with Sameer and his dad when they return that night or the following morning. On the other hand, if Raghu advances and can't go back, and Derek advances (and so has a big quarterfinal match in U2375), I might do some last-minute scrambling to get a substitute for the class so I can stay over to coach Derek.

Derek and I have an established way to pass the time on car trips to tournaments (with his parents driving) - brain teasers. I used to give them off the top of my head - I know hundreds - but I've run out after many trips. Last time I printed out a large number from online sites. Yesterday I stopped at the Library and picked up "The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems." Derek's gotten pretty good at them.

You can see the players in the Easterns by player's list or by event. Top seeds include Zhang Kai (2603), Yu Di (2600), Peter Li (2557, from my club before he went off to college), Eric Zhao (2543), Li Bochao (2500) and Chen Bo Wen (2494, from my club). For a 4-star tournament, it's not particularly strong, but there'll be some strong competition. Under 13 Boys is a powerhouse, with Jack Wang (2338), Gal Alguetti (2252), Derek Nie (2234), and Sharon Alguetti (2176). These ratings are actually old ratings, the ones used for qualification; at the tournament they'll have newer ratings for seeding. We have a large group coming from my area, with an even 20 players from Maryland, Virginia, and DC, almost all who play at MDTTC.

By the way, they will start setting up the playing hall Friday at 4PM, and finish by 7PM. I'm told that players can practice on any available table during that time.

Balance = Rapid-Fire Shots

I was working with an intermediate player today. I was giving him random multiball to his forehand side, and he had to smash every ball. He was struggling - every couple of shots he'd be off balance, and flailing away at the next shot. The problem was just that - balance. But if I only told him to stay balanced, he'd have continued to flail away - the key was to identify why he was going off balance. And that was pretty easy to see - every time he smashed, his whole body would move forward, throwing himself off balance, and then he'd have to move all his weight back to prepare for the next shot. This also threw off his timing.

I pointed out Chen Bowen, a 2500 player, who was looping against block on another table, and told my player to watch Bowen's head - it barely moved when he looped his forehand over and over. Instead, his body rotated rapidly around it, which created great power - and left him in nearly the same position and balanced, weight between his legs, immediately ready for the next shot. (You do this on both forehand loops and drives.) My player tried it out, and greatly improved his ability to play rapid-fire forehands over and over. It's okay for the head to move forward some on very powerful shots (drives or loops), or when rushed when stepping around the backhand corner, but it should be minimized if you want to be ready quickly for the next shot.

To illustrate the above, here are some short videos to study.

McAfee and the ITTF Coaching Program

Here's my article "Man on a Mission: Richard McAfee and the ITTF Coaching Program," published by the ITTF on its Facebook page. The article is also in the current (May/June) issue of USA Table Tennis Magazine.

North American Table Tennis Language Translator

I just noticed a new feature there. Here's the Eastern Open home page. Go to the top right, and see "Select Language." Then start clicking on different languages, and watch the text on the page change! Africaans! Albanian! Arabic! Traditional Chinese! Japanese! Macedonian! Yiddish! Etc. - I had great fun with this.

Ping Pong Prom Proposals

Here's an article and videos from Table Tennis Nation featuring, you guessed it, Ping-Pong Prom Proposals.

Circular Table Tennis?

I have no idea what to call this type of table tennis, so I'm going to call it Circular Table Tennis. Shouldn't they have people on both the inside and outside, rallying back and forth? (If you can't see it in Facebook, try this.)

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January 2, 2013

Tip of the Week

Balance Throughout the Stroke.

Two Weeks

The last two weeks have been exhausting. I can divide them into four parts: the USA Nationals (Dec. 18-22: Christmas with Family (Dec. 22-25); MDTTC Christmas Camp (Dec. 26-31); and Reading in Bed (Dec. 31 - Jan. 1).

USA Nationals

I've been to every Nationals since the early 1980s, and this is the first one where I didn't play any events, just coached. Much of the tournament is now a blur, but much of it comes back when I look over the extensive notes I took on opponents. (I have to type them up soon for my ongoing coaching notes.)

Derek Nie, 11, played great. I coached him in all his matches as he made the National Mini-Cadet Team (under 13), finishing second (with the top four making the team). His matches from the quarterfinals on were spectacular, and gave meaning to the idea that tactics aren't very helpful if you can't executive. Well, he executed!!! Going in, he was seeded eighth at 2139, but in more recent ratings he was 2221, which would have put him third. He knocked off the second seed (rated 2314) at 7,4,7 in perhaps the best-played match of his life. His two-winged full-court looping game, and especially his counterlooping from all over the court, is especially impressive when you remember he's 4'5" and 65 lbs! (As noted previously, he's the best player in the U.S., pound for pound.) He has another year left in the Mini-Cadets, as well as four years in the Cadets. He trains regularly with Cheng Yinghua and the other MDTTC coaches, including me, although I mostly play practice matches with him so he can work on serve & receive - he's too fast for me in drills. 

Here's a picture of me coaching Derek and Seyed Hesam Hamrahian in doubles in the Junior Team competition. And yes, that's me, getting chased around the table by Derek as we loosen up before a practice session. It started as some easy jogging around the table, then it became a chase, and Bruce Liu (unfortunately) caught the last nine seconds of it.

Here's a nice quote I keep reminding Derek of during the tournament when he was passive in receiving long serves: "At the higher levels, looping a long serve is not a tactic, it's what you do. Not looping the serve is a tactic." Ironically, in one of his key matches, the opponent mixed in long topspin and backspin serves, and in that match the tactic was to push the backspin serve back, since the opponent would either push or loop soft, giving Derek the chance to loop or counterloop.

I didn't get to see much of the main matches in men's or women's singles as I was too busy coaching. I did manage to attend the annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday night. For the fourth year in a row I did the program booklet for them; here's the 2012 program, in high (1.7MB) or low (174KB) resolution.

Some of you might remember Mike Lardon, a junior star from the 1970s, and now a sports psychologist. He was at the Nationals, playing in the over 50 events. I introduced him to Derek, and he gave him (and signed) a copy of his sports psychology book, Finding Your Zone: Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life. (I reviewed this in my Nov. 8, 2011 blog.) Derek read half the book that night. I've been told that most match coaches don't spend much time on sports psychology, which I believe is a huge mistake. It's often the most important aspect.

It's almost a joke how much strength and depth we now have in the juniors, especially up to about age 14. It's getting ridiculous - players who seven years ago would be battling for national titles are now struggling to reach the QF. The matches in the round of 16 are stronger than finals from ten years ago. They are routinely doing shots that were only rarely done back then. I still cringe every time an opponent power loop to Derek's FH, and Derek (and other players) routinely go for the counterloop, probably not realizing how difficult this is "supposed" to be!

Christmas

I spent Christmas with family in Santa Barbara, Dec. 22-25. No table tennis - sorry! Gave away lots of stuff, received lots of stuff (sorry, no table tennis stuff!). Highlights included my making my annual batch of Larry's Chili (my own secret recipe) for Dec. 23 dinner (and lunches thereafter); seeing The Hobbit on Christmas Day; and catching the annual red-eye flight on Christmas night so I can get back the morning of Dec. 26 for the MDTTC training camp.

We've run over 150 training camps at MDTTC since we opened in 1992, and this was our 21st Christmas Camp - I've coached at all of them. During the camp I gave lectures on ready position, grip, forehand, backhand, forehand loop, backhand loop, flipping, pushing, footwork, serve, receive, playing different surfaces, and doubles.

MDTTC Christmas Camp

The camp was held Dec. 26-31, starting with an afternoon session on Dec. 26, and ending with the morning session on Dec. 31. We had over 40 players. Because we have so many coaches at MDTTC (6), I was only needed in the morning sessions, where I gave short lectures before breaking out into multiball sessions. My highlight was getting a bunch of the kids on break to call out the names of the three great gods of table tennis until they got the secret meaning: Owa, Tegu, Siam. Say them over and over until you get the secret meaning. (If you are lost, email me, but really, you should get it if you keep saying it!) The kids' highlight was probably the candy game on Dec. 30, where I put hoards of candy on the table and fed multiball while the players rotated, two shots each, where they got to keep whatever they knocked off the table.

Reading in Bed

What is your "dream" vacation? For some it's the beach, or out sailing, or hiking in the mountains, or travel, or perhaps watching TV all day. For me it's spending all day in bed reading. I read two fantasy novels, "Hush" and "Witchbreaker," both by James Maxey. They were the second and third books in his Dragon Apocalypse series. (I read book one while in Santa Barbara for Christmas.) While I'm on the subject of writing, I'm sad to announce that I read fewer books in 2012 than any year since early elementary school - and I'm not happy about this. (However, I also read the Washington Post and about a dozen magazines.) But I still managed to read 24 books. Here's a listing:

FICTION (15)
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Firebird by Jack McDevitt
Moonfall by Jack McDevitt
Voyagers by Ben Bova
Ringworld by Larry Niven
The Religion War by Scott Adams
Specter Spectacular edited by Eileen Wiedbrauk
Into the Out Of by Alan Dean Foster
Dinotopia Lost by Alan Dean Foster
Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
Barry's Tale by Lawrence Schoen
Burn Baby Burn: A Supervillain Novel by James Maxey
Greatshadow by James Maxey
Hush by James Maxey
Witchbreaker by James Maxey

NON-FICTION (4)
Building Your Book for Kindle
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Earth by The Daily Show (it's sort of non-fiction!)
How to Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings by Robert Qualkinbush

TABLE TENNIS (5)
Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion, by Werner Schlager & Berndt-Ulrich Gross
Breaking 2000 by Alex Polyakov (See my review.)
Ping Pong Fever by Steve Grant (See my review.)
Get Your Game Face On! by Dora Kurimay and Kathy Toon (See my review.)
The Adventures of the Ping-Pong Diplomats, Volume, 1 by Fred Danner (See my review.)

2013 USA National Team Trials

Here is info on the 2013 USA Men's and Women's Team Trials, to be held Feb. 7-10 in San Jose at the Topspin Table Tennis Club. Here is the Prospectus and Entry Form, both in PDF format.

Whitney Ping on USOC Board of Directors

Whitney Ping, a member of the 2004 USA Olympic Table Tennis Team, a former player rep on the USATT Board of Directors, and an Athlete Service Coordinator for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, is now one of the 15 members of the USOC Board of Directors. Here's the article.

National Club Championships

Here are the results, with Chinese CC Flushing NY defeating Maryland Table Tennis Center in the final (in Las Vegas), 3-1. In the semifinals, they defeated Newport Beach TTC (CA) 3-0, while MDTTC defeated Los Angeles TTA, 3-1.

Zhang Jike

Here's a feature on the Chinese star and the great year he's had. He's only the second player ever to hold both the World and Olympic Men's Singles Titles. (The other was Chinese Men's Coach - and Zhang's coach - Liu Guoliang in 1996.)

Table Tennis Jump Smash

Here's a coaching video on the Jump Smash against lob from PingSkills (2:25). He recommends against it, and I generally agree. However, some players, such as Dan Seemiller, have perfected this shot, using a scissors-kick method with a running start. The example shown here shows the player jumping from a stationary position with less leg kick than Dan uses. I use this technique in exhibitions, and sometimes in matches.

The New Plastic Ball

Here's a video (16:16) where the new plastic ball is compared to current celluloid balls as well as the old 38mm ones. This is Part 1: Physical Differences.

Beyond Imagination Part 6

Here's Beyond Imagination Part 6 (7:02), a highlights reel of the best rallies from 2012. (Links to the first five appear on the right.)

Pongcast TV Episode 22 - Best of 2012

Here's the video (17:41).

Adam Bobrow in Asia

Here's the video (2:11) of his exhibitions in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea (I think South!)

Aloha 2013!

Here's Hawaiian Table Tennis wishing you a Happy 2013 with a table tennis cartoon! (Is that Rudolf the Red-nosed Moose?)

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May 31, 2012

Forehand Looping from Backhand Corner

There's a discussion at the about.com forum about a point showing Larry Bavly (Heavyspin) winning a point with a "relatively low speed block to show that all points do not have to be won by hitting the ball hard." He does this against an opponent who had forehand looped from the wide backhand corner. There was some debate as to how this happened. The basic problem was that the woman looping against Bavly was rushed, and so was left off balance at the end of the stroke, and unable to recover back into position for the next shot. Here's the video. (This will download the video as a wmv file, which you should be able to play.) See how she is off-balanced at the end of the stroke, leaning to her left (our right)?

Now watch this example (in the point starting at 2:41) on youtube of a player doing the same shot and having no trouble covering the wide forehand for the next shot. This is a match between Wang Liqin (near side, in yellow shirt) versus Ma Long (far side, purple shirt). Wang is serving. Ma pushes the serve back, blocks the next ball, then steps way around his backhand to forehand loop. Wang blocks the ball to Ma's wide forehand, and Ma has no trouble covering it. Throughout the match watch how both players take turns ripping forehand loops, and see how fast they recover - because they are balanced throughout the shot, and so are able to recover almost instantly for the next shot. (Watch the slow motion replay.) There's another example of Ma doing this at 4:35, though this time he barely is able to cover the wide forehand  Note how the players sometimes even use their momentum from the previous shot to get back into position.

A similar point happens in the second point shown, starting 22 seconds in. This time it's Wang Liqin who steps around to forehand loop, and is ready to cover the wide forehand. Ma actually blocks more to the middle of the table, but you can see Wang was ready to cover the wide forehand - and since the ball wasn't so wide, he is able to take this ball right off the bounce. (Watch the slow motion replay of this point.) There's another point like this starting at 2:24, where Wang again steps around to forehand loop, and is immediately able to cover the wide forehand - but this time, while he's there, he misses. There's another one at 3:43 where Wang against steps around, and this time Ma has an extremely wide angle to block to. Watch how easily Wang recovers and moves to cover the wide forehand, though Ma misses the block.

Regardless of where you are looping from, or even what stroke you are doing, balance throughout the stroke and rally is one of the key differences between elite and non-elite players. Players who can do repeated attacks in the same rally can do so because they are balanced and in control of their positioning and momentum; players who can only do one or at most two good shots in a row are usually off-balanced and not really in control. This doesn't mean you should always be perfectly centered between your feet, but that your weight should almost always be centered somewhere between your feet, with you in control of your body positioning, regardless of the momentum from the previous shot.

We won't talk about the rather awkward (but effective this time) "Seemiller" style block Bavly uses this point. Some things better remain unspoken.

Serving Short and Low

Are you playing in the Easterns this weekend, or any other upcoming tournaments? Have you been practicing your spinny serves so you can keep them short and low? No? Good. Then if you play anyone I'm coaching (and I'm coaching at the Easterns), we're going to loop or flip your serve in, and like the piggy with no roast beef, you'll cry all the way home. Oh, you've changed your mind, and decided to practice your serves? (Monday's Tip of the Week will be on how to do this. And no, you don't have to serve short all the time, just most of the time, or at least when facing an opponent who can effectively loop your serve.)

New Coaching Video from PingSkills

Overcoming Fear of Defending (1:32)

Joint Table Tennis and Golf Scholarship

Austin Preiss is going to Lindenwood College on a joint table tennis and golf scholarship, which must be a first. Here's the article. Some of you may know Austin both as a top junior player the last few years and for doing exhibitions around the country with his father Scott.

Stop-Motion Video Ping-Pong

This was a school project by someone, but it's hilarious, and gets better and better as it goes on (2:26).

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March 20, 2012

Balance

Yesterday I coached a player who moved to his wide forehand to loop pretty well, but always ended up off balance. His center of gravity would go outside his outer foot as he stepped toward the ball, and so after the shot would have great difficulty getting back into position for the next shot. It's extremely important to keep your center of gravity between your feet so that you are always balanced. Sure, there are extreme situations where you have to lunge or even dive for the ball, but those rare exceptions. Notice how the top players are able to hit power shots over and over in quick succession? It's because they stay balanced, and so their recovery time from each shot is extremely fast. When going for a powerful forehand loop it helps to think of a rod going through your head, and try to rotate around that rod as much as possible. That'll help keep your balance.

Jim Butler at the Cary Cup

He's 41, and came out of retirement just a few months ago. Sure, he was U.S. National Champion three times, but the last time was in 1993, nineteen years ago, during Bill Clinton's first year in office. So what does he do? He defeats both U.S. National Men's Singles Champion Peter Li and Runner-up Han Xiao. Both are fellow Marylanders who practically grew up and still play at MDTTC. (He defeated Li in the preliminary RR, but both advanced. He defeated Xiao in the 8ths. He lost to Hongtao Chen in the quarterfinals.) Here's a picture of Butler at the Cary Cup. (Butler on right, Greg Robertshaw on left.) Here's his Hall of Fame profile.

I wish I could have coached my fellow Marylanders for that one. I watched (and coached against) Butler for many years, and I might have had some insight about his somewhat unique game, which revolves around his serves and flat backhand kill. His forehand isn't particularly good for his level, and yet he knows how to use it to maximize its effectiveness. He probably blocks better than any of the U.S. players who recently competed at the USA Olympic and World Team Trials. These days most top players topspin their backhands, and probably had difficulty against Jim's flatter shot. Jim's backhand smash, even now, is easily the best with inverted in the U.S.  (Shao Yu's pips-out backhand smash may be as good.)

I've had five articles published about Jim Butler, but alas, none are online. Perhaps later on I'll scan them. (I've also written extensively about him while doing coverage of major U.S. tournaments.) The articles are listed below. (The "Showdown" articles were tactical analysis of what these two players did when they played each other.)

  • The Showdown: Sean O'Neill vs. Jim Butler, Table Tennis Topics, Nov/Dec 1990
  • The Showdown: Jim Butler vs. John Onifade, Table Tennis Topics, Jan/Feb 1991
  • Jim Butler's Backhand, Table Tennis Topics, May/June 1992
  • Jim Butler Most Improved Player, Table Tennis Today, May/June 1993
  • Interview with Jim Butler, Table Tennis World, Mar/Apr 1996

Maryland Table Tennis Center Update

You ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO MISS the MDTTC Open House and Grand Re-Opening on Saturday, April 7. I'll be doing an exhibition and a seminar on serving, and running the various demos. If you are not there we will talk about you behind your back, and it won't be nice things.

Yesterday new red flooring was installed in the new playing area, as part of the MDTTC expansion. Unfortunately, they also took out the old red flooring for half the current club, leaving us with just four tables for a few days. Since we have four full-time coaches, and the four of us were using all four tables last night, there isn't any open play for a few days.

There have been delays to the expansion, leading to the following cancellation note about our scheduled tournament this weekend.

"Due to an unexpected delay with the renovation/expansion project, we have decided to combine the 2012 Butterfly MDTTC March Open and the May Open Tournaments, which will take place on May 5 & 6. The Total Prize Money will be increased significantly. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused and ask for your kind understanding."

Now the good news. In a week or so the expansion will be done, and we'll have 18 full-sized courts (possibly more for junior training), all-new red flooring, showers, and a weight room. Plus wireless web was installed yesterday.

For more info on the club, including tournament schedule, coaching, camps, etc., see the new MDTTC website.

The Pongcast - Episode 11

The latest Pongcast (21:00) features the European Champions League . . . and TableTennisCoaching.com! The site is discussed from 3:45 to 4:50.

Commercial with table tennis

Here's a 33 second Miller 64 commercial with a few seconds of table tennis - twice.

College Republican National Committee

They have turned to ping-pong balls to promote themselves! Table Tennis Nation has the picture and the story. The note on the ping-pong ball box says, "The Best Party on Campus." I think this refers to beer pong.

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September 19, 2011

Tip of the Week

Balance Leads to Feet-first Footwork. Time to put some balance into your game!

Tactics against hitting juniors

Because I'm out of practice after months of back problems, when I went back to playing local juniors, I had to go back to "basic principles" to compete. And while I wasn't really playing well, I kept winning, but almost exclusively on tactics. Here are the main tactics I used, and that you should try when playing super-fast hitting juniors, where you simply cannot play at their pace. (I can't.)

When serving, often serve slow, super-spinny serves, mostly long, with lots of spin variation, often so they break into the wide backhand. You want lots and lots of serve variation. With side-top serves, vary between extra topspin and extra sidespin. Vary the service motion, especially right after contact - mostly follow-through down for side-top serves, follow-through up for side-backspin serves. Throw in lots of fast, dead (almost backspin) serves to the middle (playing elbow). Be aggressive and decisive in following up the serve - it might be the only shot in the rally that you won't get a bang-bang counter-hitting return. If you have a good loop, serve short backspins to the middle or forehand (or long to the backhand, if they push it back), and follow with loops at wide angles--but try to hide the direction you are going, or even fake one way, go the other. (Juniors have smaller middles, but are weaker at covering the corners when you are attacking.)

When receiving, look for every chance to push or chop the serve back extremely heavy and low, at wide angles. (Receiving against fast-attacking juniors is one of the few times where you may break the cardinal rule of attacking the deep serve, since it's often better to push it back heavy.) Often aim to the backhand, then push to the wide forehand at the last second. When they move to the forehand to loop, quick block the next ball to the wide backhand before they are back in position, or to the wide forehand again if they move to cover the backhand too quickly. If the junior loops from both wings, a heavy push to the middle will often give them trouble. If you topspin the serve back, make sure to go very deep. If you loop the serve, deep, spinny loops are usually best; if they smash this with their forehand, then do it mostly to the backhand. Quicker loops to the forehand are effective - any loop to the forehand they can't smash is effective.

When rallying, use lots of variation. You may start the rally off close to the table - try to start the rally with an aggressive, well-placed shot (wide angles or middle) - then hit the next shot a step back, but don't back up too much until you are forced to. Use varying topspins and backspins, and move the ball around the table, keeping it deep. Throw in some dummy loops. If you are good at fishing and lobbing, that is effective as long as you don't overdo it - it's better to force the junior to make at least one risky shot that he might miss before you start lobbing, so don't give up the table too easily. Heavy backspin (pushing and chopping) can be extremely effective, so here's your chance to learn to win with backspin.

Here are two other articles that might be helpful: 

Back and Playing Update

This past weekend (Fri-Sun) I played more than I had in the previous two months. It was the first real test of my back since I'd had the back problems I've probably over-blogged about. Overall, things went really well. On Friday and Saturday I played practice matches with some of our top juniors (and some non-juniors), including several that were rated about the same as me or higher. I went in fully expecting (as did everyone else) that after several months of non-playing, I'd get killed. Instead, I went undefeated, a combined 9-0! Rating-wise, I defeated players rated 2300, 2200, 2150, two 2100's, 2000, 1800, 1700, and 1300. I'm not going to give out names, but suffice to say I had Cheng Yinghua staring at me with a silly grin and saying, "Larry, how are you playing so good?" He and Jack coached several of the juniors against me ("He's slow! Attack his forehand and middle! Most of his serves are topspin! Serve topspin so he can't push quick and heavy!), but to no avail.

Two things that really helped. First, the honest truth I wasn't playing that well, and feeling rather vulnerable, I really, Really, REALLY focused on tactics. And that worked rather well. Second, it had been months since they had seen my serves, and I decided to just serve for winners. And so I gave my opponents a steady diet of long, breaking serves with varied spin, often with a herky-jerky serving motion to throw them off, along with fast, dead serves to the middle, and occasionally short, spinny serves, especially to the forehand. They missed my serve over and over. Like magic, whenever I served and needed a point, a service winner would appear. As I got more comfortable, I did more serve & attack, especially with short no-spin serves to the middle or forehand, followed by a forehand loop.

On Sunday, I did 3.5 consecutive hours of coaching, the first time I'd done more than an hour of coaching in months. It went pretty well, but combined with all the playing on Friday and Saturday, by the end my back was done. I played one practice match with a 1700 junior (won the first, struggled to win the next three mostly with serves and by fishing and lobbing), then had to stop. The good news was this morning my back feels fine.

A USA National League System

Over the past few days there has been a lot of emails discussions on how to set up a national league system. I've argued for years that we should focus on learning how they do it so successfully in Europe, and from that create a USA model. I know NYTTL (the New York league, which has teams from all over the northeast) does that (Mauricio Vergara explained how they modeled it after the European leagues), and I think BATTF (Bay area) and LATTF (Los Angeles) are also similar to European leagues. The best news of the weekend was that Richard Lee (president of North American Table Tennis) is going to Europe on business, and volunteered to meet with officials there and ask about how they developed their leagues. (And the key is how they did so at the start, not just how they are being run today.) I was also asked the following:

>In your opinions how can we realistically implement the National Club
>League System? What would work best in the U.S.?

Here is my response:

"Here is the recommendation I made repeatedly at the 2009 Strategic Meeting and previous ones as and board meetings. Arrange to meet at the Worlds (or other major competition) with officials from Germany (700,000 members), England (500,000 members), or other countries with successful leagues. The key is to learn from them how they created and developed their leagues, not how they are run now, though that is the ultimate goal. Discuss it with them, exchange ideas, and see what we can learn.

"Then we take this info to successful league directors in the U.S. (such as ones from BATTF, LATTF, and NYTTL), and ask them to work out a U.S. model, based on what we learn from European leagues and their own experiences in the U.S. (Actually, we should send these league directors to the Worlds to meet with European league directors, so they can learn first hand. At our cost. It would be the single best investment in USATT history.) Then we make this model available to those interested, and promote it on a regional basis. I believe they are already working on this, but they are reinventing the wheel, when the wheel (how to set up successful leagues) has already be invented many times overseas. We just need to decide the specific design of our wheel.

"We have to stop thinking in terms of setting up a nationwide league for current clubs, and think about setting up a league that will create clubs, such as Germany did, whose Bundesliga led to their 11,000 clubs. How do they and others do this? Given the choice between learning this, and not learning this, we've consistently chosen ignorance, often hiding behind the oft-repeated "But things are different there!" without even bothering to learn the differences and similarities. Yes, there are differences, which is why we take the best of Europe to experienced U.S. league directors, and create a U.S. model. Believe it or not, the 700,000 players in the German league system are human beings just like us; they are not some alien species that genetically wants to play table tennis. Neither are the English, the Chinese, the Japanese, and other countries that do it right, and yet we consistently pretend we know everything when in reality USATT knows very little about developing table tennis in this country. That's why we have 8000 members."

A TV show that features Ping-Pong? (I mean table tennis!)

NBC is developing Pong, a single-camera comedy based on the 2010 book Everything You Know Is Pong by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz.

Brian Pace in Training

Brian write of this new video (37:21), "In Episode 9 of BP Reloaded I update you on my training in Romania, I go over my weight loss, I show you some of my daily meals, and I go through a training session with Lucian M."

Matrix Table Tennis

I know you have seen this (if not, where have you been???), but I watched it again this morning, and I think every table tennis player should watch the Matrix Table Tennis Video (1:44) at least once a month. And while you're at it, why not watch the parodies?

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