Piing of Power

October 16, 2014

Lack of Creativity in Serving

I'm always amazed at how simple most players serve. Serving is the most creative part of the game (though receive is close), and yet most players seem to serve with little purpose or variation.

A major reason for this is because most players play the same players at their club over and over. There are all sorts of little nuances you can do with your serve that can give opponents trouble - last second changes of spin and direction (via last-second changes to the racket's motion), widely varying spins and placements, serving the extremes (deep breaking serves to backhand/short to forehand, or short heavy backspin/short side-topspin), or just different serving motions - but few use them. Many probably experiment, but since they play the same players over and over, opponents quickly get used to them, and the advantage of these little nuances mostly goes away.

Now even in practice there are ways to overcome this. If an opponent adjusts to your variations when serving from the backhand corner, for example, try it from the middle or forehand side - you'll be amazed at how much this changes things. Or just come up with variations. The more you have, the harder it is for an opponent to get used to them all. Or just hold back on certain serves for a while, and then, when you come back to them, they are effective again. Meanwhile, while you use those newly effective serves, hold back on some others for a while. (When I say hold back for a while, I mean both for a few games or for a few weeks of play - both ways work.)

When you watch world-class players play, often their serves look all the same. What does this mean? It means the world-class server has been successful at hiding his variations from you! There are nuances in every serve they do; they don't just serve to get the ball in play. If they did, world-class opponents would be all over those serves. Instead, they throw lots of little variations out there, varying the motion, spin, and placement just enough to keep the opponent slightly guessing and not completely comfortable. They may not get outright misses as we see at lower levels, but they force slightly weaker returns.

But a key thing to note from all this is that while all your serve variations might not continue to work in practice matches against the same players, they will work in tournaments. If you have a few serve variations that work at first at the club, but then players get used to them and they are no longer effective, guess what? They will still be effective in tournaments against new players, because for them, it is the first time they've seen them, just as it was for the players at your club before they got used to them.

I face this type of thing every day. All of my students are so used to my serves that most of them return them better than players rated far higher who don't face them regularly. In practice games at the end of sessions I often am split between using serves they'll see in matches, or coming up with new variations of my own serves just to throw them off, knowing that they are unlikely to face those specific serves in tournaments. (Last night, for example, one of my students was playing very well and led against me in two straight games. I fell to the dark side of the force and threw at him a series of Seemiller-grip windshield-wiper serves that he'd never seen before, and "stole" the games. Afterwards I let him practice against them, and they probably won't work next time. But I still feel guilty about "stealing" those games!)

One things I always stress is to find the right balance between "set-up serves" and "trick serves." At lower levels, trick serves are more effective, but as players get better they lose some of their effectiveness, and set-up serves become more important - but you should always have both. (Set-up serves are designed to set up a follow-up attack but don't usually win the point outright, while trick serves are designed to win the point outright or give an easy winner.) There's a lot of gray area between the two - a set-up serve can also be a trick serve in some circumstances. Here's a short tip I wrote on this a while back.

Why Karakasevic's Backhand Deserves Recognition

Here's the article by Matt Hetherington. The Serbian star has always been known for his phenomenal backhand. From 2001 to 2013 his world ranking mostly bounced about in the 40 to 70 range, with his highest at #33 in January, 2007.

Ask the Coach

Here's another episode from PingSkills.

Episode 9 (11:51)

  • Question 1: Hi Alois, I've noticed that the quality of the training somehow depends on the mood and the concentration. The same strokes I perform differently and miss more with the higher concentration on the ball. What is an object and level of concentration? Olena
  • Question 2: I play at a local club and have received comments that I have a good serve. However, I have noticed that almost all of my backspin serves (Pendulum) have sidespin as well. Is this taking away from the effectiveness of the backspin? Adam
  • Question 3: While playing with my opponent when I tossed the ball for a serve my opponent asked me to stop as he wasn't ready then after a pause of 4 to 5 seconds I served again and again the same thing happened. Is this legal? Rutvik Thakkar
  • Question 4: Hi, sometimes I see professional players immediately smash the ball when returning a serve, I was wondering in what circumstances could and should you do this. Thanks! Alan C

USATT Tournament Advisory Committee Meeting

They met via teleconference on Sept. 18. Here are the minutes.

PingPongRuler.com

Here's a new website that features equipment reviews, videos, and custom-made paddles. Lots of good stuff there! (One thing that wasn't at first clear - in the Equipment Review section it looked at first like there were only very short reviews of each item. Click on the picture or heading and you get a far more extensive review.)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov Visits Piing of Power

Here's the article. (And yes, there are two i's.)

International Articles

As usual Tabletennista has lots of international articles.

Ping Pong Trend Bounces Across the Nation

Here's the article on the rising popularity of the sport.

Nathan Hsu in China

Here's his latest entry, "Names, names, names - China Day 47" (4:47).

The Spinning Paddle Bouncing Ball Cookie Jar Trick

Here it is (13 sec) - but is it real?

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September 17, 2014

Tip of the Week:

Should You Watch the Ball All the Way Into the Racket?

Cold

I've spent most of the last two days in bed with a cold, but I'm over it now. It's fortunate timing as my Mon-Tue schedule is light, while Wed-Sun I'm very busy. There are a lot of segments in this morning's blog as they have accumulated over the last five days. I have no more sicknesses scheduled for this year.

Why Players Plateau

Here's a great article on this topic. This happens to players all the time - they reach a comfort level, and then stick with what's comfortable and works at that level, and so aren't able to progress beyond that point. I'm always trying to convince players at all levels to avoid this type of roadblock to improvement.

Here are two segments from the article.

In the 1960s, psychologists identified three stages that we pass through in the acquisition of new skills. We start in the “cognitive phase,” during which we’re intellectualizing the task, discovering new strategies to perform better, and making lots of mistakes. We’re consciously focusing on what we’re doing. Then we enter the “associative stage,” when we’re making fewer errors, and gradually getting better. Finally, we arrive at the “autonomous stage,” when we turn on autopilot and move the skill to the back of our proverbial mental filing cabinet and stop paying it conscious attention.

And so we get to the so-called “OK Plateau” — the point at which our autopilot of expertise confines us to a sort of comfort zone, where we perform the task in question in efficient enough a way that we cease caring for improvement. We reach this OK Plateau in pursuing just about every goal, from learning to drive to mastering a foreign language to dieting, where after an initial stage of rapid improvement, we find ourselves in that place at once comforting in its good-enoughness and demotivating in its sudden dip in positive reinforcement via palpable betterment.

How many of you are in the "autonomous stage," where you are blindly sticking to your comfort zone with the things that work at that level, but stop you from progressing? Watch what stronger players do, and emulate that. This doesn't mean you should completely lose what helped you reach your current level; much of that will be useful even at higher levels. The problem is when you rely on lower-level techniques and wonder why you can't reach a higher level.  

Navin Kumar: A Passion for Table Tennis

Here's the article. He has "a congenital heart condition that has required 5 major open heart surgeries throughout my lifetime, and I now have a mechanical heart made of the same carbon fiber material that you see in high end table tennis blades nowadays." He recently became one of my students. (He mentions me in the article.)

Three Years Eight Month Old Player

Here's the video (4:33). At the start he's standing on a chair. About thirty seconds in he's on a platform. We need to get something like this at my club. In tennis they start kids at three years old and sometimes even younger, using smaller courts and slower balls. Because of the height of the table players can rarely start in table tennis until they are five or six. There's no reason they can't start by age three if we have either platforms for them to stand on or lower tables. They actually make adjustable tables overseas, where you can lower the table, but they are expensive.

Volunteer Prize for Table Tennis Teacher

Here's the article on USATT Coaching Chair Federico Bassetti.

Berkeley Open

Here's a write-up of the tournament held this past weekend, with a link to a photo album.

Humble Beginnings to Established Event, 6th Annual Badger Open

Here's the article by Barbara Wei.

Ariel Hsing: There Are Not Many Powerful Players in America

Here's the article.

Butterfly Legends

Here's the article on Nobuhiko Hasegawa and Shigeo Itoh of Japan, the 1967 and 1969 Men's Singles World Champions. Includes links to numerous vintage videos.

China's Table Tennis Girls Team Spends Three Days in School, Four Days at Practice

Here's the article. I'm told by many Chinese players that in many Chinese sports schools they spend only one hour per day on school and 7-8 hours on sports.

Crazy Double Around-the-Net Shot

Here's the video (45 sec, including slow motion replay).

Triangle Table Tennis

Here's the video (2:24) of a news item on the Triangle Table Tennis Club in Morrisville, NC.

Princeton Pong - Battle of the Sexes 2014

Here's the video (7:13) of the exhibition doubles match between David Zhuang/Shao Yu and Ariel Hsing/Erica Wu at the grand opening of Princeton Pong on Saturday.

Chuang Chih-Yuan - Off the Table

Here's the video (3:42) of the world #8 from Taiwan.

Out of This World Doubles Rally

Here's the video (39 sec, including slow motion replay).

Stiga 2014 Trick Shot Showdown

Here are the selections - 65 of them! There's a "Play All" button.  

Interview with Piing of Power

Here's the interview, with a link to a hilarious video (1:12).

Carl Sagan's Understanding of the Afterlife

Here's the cartoon sequence. If you're impatient, skip down to the last few pictures!

Marty Reisman, His Forehand, and the Table Tennis Robot

Here's the video (14 sec) of the late table tennis great.

Exhibition by Saive and Merckx

Here's the video (1:35) as all-time great Jean-Michel Saive and Jasper Merckx (both from Belgium) lob and spin the table about.

Dude Perfect: Ping Pong Challenge

Here's the video (3:43) as the twins Coby and Cory go at it in this "ping pong battle for the ages."

Larry Bavly Copies the Famous Ma Lin Serve

Here's the original (1:18) as a shirtless Ma Lin serves backspin so the balls spin back into the net, his "ghost serve." Here's Larry Bavly mimicking this (2:30) in his XXL version. It brings back memories of the famous Saturday Night Live Chippendale skit (2:53) with Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley.

Non-Table Tennis - Letter from a Time Traveler to Orioles Fans

Here's another feature article I had at Orioles Hangout. This year everything that could possibly go wrong with the Orioles went wrong, as the article shows - and yet they clinched the American League East Division last night, with a 13.5 game lead with 11 games left to play. As noted in the past, I've coached three of the Orioles - shortstop J.J. Hardy, star reliever Darren O'Day, and Vice President and former start center fielder Brady Anderson. I've also hit with about half of them. (Here's the blog entry on my day at the Orioles clubhouse last summer.)

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