Incentives

June 10, 2014

Incentives

There's nothing better for a coach than a player who's so self-motivated that the coach's main job is to just keep up with him. You don't need to push a player like that; they are already pushing themselves. But this is rare, and even the most motivated players sometimes need some incentive. Of course success in tournaments and leagues is a primary incentive, but that's long-term. Often players need a more immediate incentive. Here are some I use when I coach.

A primary motivator for all ages is to see how many they can do in a row. At the beginning stages this means things like how many forehands or backhands they can hit in a row, or pushes, or loops against backspin in multiball. Keep it simple, and let them challenge themselves to more and more in a row until it's ingrained.

As they advance, move on to more advanced drills. For example, I've always been a firm believer that one of the key stages to rallying success in matches is to be able to do the following two drills so well you can essentially do them forever. One is the 2-1 drill, where the player does a three-shot sequence: A backhand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the backhand corner, a forehand from the forehand corner, and then repeat. This covers three of the most common moves in table tennis: covering the wide forehand, covering the wide backhand, and the step-around forehand. The other drill is a simple random drill, done either live or with multiball, where the coach or practice partner puts the ball anywhere on the table, and the player has to return each shot consistently, using forehands or backhands. The first is a mobility drill, the second a reaction drill. If you can do both consistently at a good pace, you are ready to rally in matches. The more advanced you are, the faster you do the drills. You can do them live or with multiball.

I often challenge students to see how many of these they can do in a row. In my May 21 blog I quoted myself saying to a student, "The rumors are true. I never miss. But your goal is to reach the point where eventually, you can look me in the eye during this drill and say it right back to me, and I won't be able to deny it." I'd told the student, 12-year-old Sameer, that when he could do 100 shots in a row in the 2-1 drill (looping both forehands and backhands), he could say this to me. So he made it a goal – and a few days ago, it happened. After many tries, he suddenly did 100 – and continued, all the way to 217 in a row!!! Technically, if he'd waited until after he'd missed, he couldn't really say he never missed, could he? Fortunately, I missed one somewhere around 150 or so (his shot went wider than usual!), and that's when he said, "The rumors are true. I never miss." Next on his list: 100 random shots in a row, also all looping.

I remember many years ago when I was learning to do fast, deep serves that I'd put a racket on both far corners of the table, and do my fast forehand pendulum serve from the backhand side and try to hit them. For months I would end each serving session by serving and hitting the targets ten times in a row, first ten crosscourt, then ten down the line, and the serving session wouldn't stop until I could do this. When this became too easy, I alternating serving fast and deep to the corners (crosscourt and then down the line), and I had to keep doing this until I hit the paddles ten times in a row. It wasn't enough to just practice the fast serve; it had to be so proficient that I could hit the target nearly every time, and aiming at targets and sticking with it until I got the ten in a row (even when alternating crosscourt and down the line) gave me incentive to do this. Later I would do the same thing with my spin serves, where I'd draw a chalk line a few inches from the far side of the table, and I'd have to do ten serves in a row where the second bounce would be between the line and the end-line.

Another incentive is to tell the student that when they achieve a certain goal, they should celebrate by getting themselves a gift, such as a nice table tennis shirt. Or it can be non-table tennis. I often award myself for reaching a goal or getting something done by seeing a movie. (I see a lot of movies, so I must be reaching a lot of goals and getting a lot done!)

For younger kids, I have other incentives. To work on their accuracy, I'll put a Gatorade bottle on the table and challenge them to hit it – except the bottle supposedly contains worm juice or some other disgusting liquid, which I have to drink if they hit it. I also give out "million dollar bills" to kids who reach certain goals. (I bought them from some novelty place.) For others I keep charts showing their progress, such as how many forehands they did in a row, and regularly update it. One kid had 14 categories we kept track of for nearly a year!

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. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Nineteen down, 81 to go!

  • Day 82: Growing Pains in the ITTF
  • Day 83: 59 Editions of the World Table Tennis Championships

ITTF Pongcast

Here's the video (11:02) for the month of May.

Table Tennis Does Not Get Any Better

Here's video (35 sec) of a great rally between Xu Xin and Gao Ning in the quarterfinals of Men's Singles at the China Open. Xu went on to win, 11-6 in the seventh. Here's video (54 sec) of another great rally at the China Open, in the final between Ma Long and Xu Xin.

Lily Zhang and Krish Avvari

Here are videos of then training in China.

Porpoise Pong

Here's a dolphin playing table tennis. See, it's not so hard to play without arms!

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