Forehand

September 20, 2012

Preparing for Tournament This Weekend

When I say this, I mean both for my students and for myself.

Students: Yesterday I had one-hour coaching sessions with two junior players who are about to play in their first USATT tournament. (I had a third session with another who might play in our October tournament.) How does one prepare someone for their first tournament? First off, I direct them to this article I wrote a while back, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your First Table Tennis Tournament … But Didn’t Know Where to Ask!"

But you are probably more interested in how to prepare a player to play well? Here's my article "Ten-Point Plan to Tournament Success." In the case of these two students, we did about 30 minutes of regular drills (footwork, steady stroking drills, multiball), and then went to game-type situations. For example, I'd rally steady into the student's backhand, and he'd pick a shot to either step around and smash, or hit his backhand down the line. As soon as he did one of these it was free play. Then we got to even more game-type drills, such as straight serve and attack (he serves backspin, I push it back, he loops, then free play). We did a lot of pushing and loop against push drills. I also had them do a lot of serve practice, always the most under-practiced aspect of a game, especially just before a tournament.

We also talked a bit about tactics, stressing keep it simple - use serve and receive to get their strengths into play and avoid the opponent's strengths while going after their weaknesses. You'll note I didn't emphasize guarding their own weaknesses. That's something more experienced players should do, but at this stage I don't want to enforce in their minds that they have weaknesses they should be guarding since we want those weaknesses to become strengths. The other three aspects are enough for now, and if you get your strengths into play, then you are not using your weaknesses so much.

Me: I'm getting ready to run the tournament with a new software, Omnipong. So far I've set up the tournament (setting all the events, how they should be run, etc.), inputted entries received (47 so far, expecting a bunch more today), and got the new printer to work with it (don't ask, but thanks to John Olsen who figured out that I was trying to print using a printer driver for a 32-bit computer but I had a 64-bit computer . . . or something like that). Today I'm going to test other aspects of the software, such as setting up draws, printing them out, and printing match slips. I've already done some of this, but want to make sure everything's set.

Two Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? Or are you part of the 47% who are dependent on USATT to protect their ratings, who believe that they would be victims if they entered the tournament, who believe that they are entitled to their high rating without defending it . . . people who do not compete? (Now if I could only charge all of you $50,000 each for reading this.)

Note that official deadline is 5PM today. But I'll take entries until I do the draws sometime on Friday. Send your entry in NOW!!!

Zhuang Zedong Battling Cancer

Here's an article about Zhuang Zedong (often called Chuang Tsetung, the three-time World Men's Singles Champion from 1961-65, often called the greatest player ever, who initiated the events that led to Ping-Pong Diplomacy) and his battle with cancer and his other passion, calligraphy.

Ping-Pong Balls in Space!

Here's the article. That's one small roll for a ball, one giant spin for ballkind.

Now That's a Forehand!!!

Like father, like son - here's little Nick Schlager showing incredible form as dad Werner (2003 World Men's Singles Champion) looks on in amazement. And the form looks strikingly like Daddy's.

My Big Forehand

I have a big forehand too, just like little Nick above. Really, it's true. Here's the picture to prove it.

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September 13, 2012

Forehand Foibles:
Wrist Flopping, "Smashing Like a Girl," and Returning to Ready Position

In my blog yesterday, I wrote about an article in the Washington Post entitled "You Throw Like a Girl," and wrote about how this applies to table tennis. Last night was a perfect case.

I was coaching an 11-year-old girl who had taken ten classes in my beginning junior class, and was now taking her second private lesson. She already has a pretty steady forehand and backhand, and can hit 50-100 in a row. However, she had two problems on the forehand. The first was a tendency to flop her wrist back as she stroked the ball, leading to a lack of control, with the ball often spraying out to the right. We spent some time on that, and she's mostly fixed up that problem. (I had her keep the wrist back and firm, and focus on driving the racket tip through the ball instead of letting it hang back.) I assigned her to shadow-stroke the shot correctly 50 times each day. That problem is, or will be, fixed.

The second problem was right out of the Post article. When we went to smashing, she couldn't hit the ball hard because, to quote the article, "Her shoulders and hips rotate at the same time." This meant she didn't have much acceleration in her forward swing, which should get the arm moving, and so wasn't able to snap her forearm into the ball much either. Unlike the wrist flopping back problem, which we fixed immediately (and practice will make it a habit), this will take some time as she gradually learns to rotate properly into the shot for power. I have no doubt she'll develop enough power to put the ball through most players, but it'll be interesting to watch as it develops.

Another player I coached last night had a different forehand problem - he had great difficulty recovering from a smash so he could hit the next one if the ball came back. This was because he followed through off-balance, with his head and whole body moving too much forward. We spent some time focusing on rotating more in circle, as if there were a rod through the head and you rotate around it. By doing this, you finish the stroke more balanced, and can return to ready position almost instantly, even after a powerful smash. I demonstrated how to hit at full power and be back at the ready position before the ball even hits the far side of the table.

Extras for Ping Pong Summer

Here's an article about all the extras that came out for parts in the upcoming Susan Sarandon movie Ping Pong Summer, coming out next summer. According to the article, "The film is set in Ocean City in summer 1985, and revolves around a boy on vacation with his family. Ping-pong and hip-hop music are said to figure prominently in the script." Here's the IMDB.com entry, which describes the movie as "A family vacation during the summer of 1985 changes everything for a teenage boy obsessed with ping pong."

Americans Are Better Than Europeans at Table Tennis

At least that's what English golf star Lee Westwood (world #4, and #1 for much of 2010 and 2011) said in this article about the players getting together after the Ryder Cup. ''Unfortunately, the Americans are slightly better than us at table tennis. I think the Europeans have the edge on the drinking.''

Great Points from the Worlds

Here are the best points from the 2012 World Championships (10:57). I don't think I posted this one before.

Ping-Pong Action Figures!

Here they are! Yes, you can order yours online. You can also order them at here at Amazon.com, which says there are only 9 left. (Make that 8 - I just ordered a set!)

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May 22, 2012

Want a consistent forehand and backhand?

Then start off every session by hitting 50 (or even 100) in a row at a steady pace with good technique. Don't start counting until the shot feels comfortable. Don't go out there hitting at different speeds - to develop a repeatable shot you need to repeat it the same way over and Over and OVER, until it is so ingrained you find yourself absentmindedly practicing your forehand as you take your wedding vows, and after your prospective wife kills you, you'll reflexively smack the coroner with another forehand howitzer.

Once the shots are so ingrained, then you should focus on random drills that involve using these repeatable strokes when you don't know whether the next shot will be a forehand or backhand. For example, your partner hits the ball randomly to your forehand or backhand, and you respond by returning each shot with your forehand or backhand to the same spot he's hitting from. (Partner should be hitting all forehands or all backhands.) Take it slow - it's better to do this at a pace where you respond correctly each time then at a pace where your strokes begin to deteriorate and you practice bad form. As you improve, increase the pace. (Maybe an expanded version of this should be a Tip of the Week?)

U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League

In case you missed it when I posted it before, here's the promotional video for the new USNTTL (5:06). I'm now on their Advisory Board, though I don't know how I'm going to find time or energy to take on one more thing. (Hey, they left my best credential off my bio - I'm in the danged U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame!) Hopefully "Advisory Board" means just that, as opposed to say, a "Workory Board" (otherwise known as a Task Force). Why am I so busy these days? It has something to do with three careers. . . .

Three Careers

Why am I so busy these days? Somehow I've found myself working on three careers: table tennis coach, table tennis writer, and science fiction writer. (Technically, it's science fiction and fantasy writer, but we'll go with science fiction as shorthand.)

Table tennis coach: I coach at the Maryland Table Tennis Center, my primary source of income. (Though surprisingly, my SF writing income this past month has almost matched it due to a bunch of sales.) Besides private coaching, I run a pair of 90-minute beginning junior classes, act as a practice partner for two other junior training sessions, plus am a hired coach at major tournaments, such as the upcoming Easterns and U.S. Open. With summer coming up, the busiest time for coaches, thing are about to get even more hectic. (We're running eleven consecutive weeks of training camps, Mon-Fri each week, mostly for junior players, though adults who don't mind training mostly with juniors are welcome as well. Coaches mostly work nights and weekends, but during the summer it becomes a day job.) In addition to coaching, I'm also involved in numerous promotional and organizational matters with MDTTC. Starting this fall I'm also running the MDTTC tournaments.

Table tennis writer: I've got four books on table tennis, with a fifth almost done. I've also got over 1200 published articles on table tennis (1224 to be exact), and that does not include any of my 350+ daily blog entries. (Here's a complete list of my written work, updated yesterday.) I've been paid plenty for some of these writings over the years, but not as much as you might think. Over the next few months I'm planning to put all five books into both ebook and print on demand (POD) format and look to dramatically increase online sales. The good news is I've learned it's easy to convert from Word to ebook format, and I'm already an expert in page design so I can create the PDF pages for POD. (Don't you love acronyms?) The books are:

  • Table Tennis: Steps to Success. This is my all-time best-seller, with over 28,000 copies sold in English, and unknown numbers sold in five other languages, some legal, but mostly illegal bootleg copies sold all over China and other countries. It's now out of print from its original publisher, so I have complete rights to it again. It'll be the first one I turn into an ebook and POD. However, it'll mean a lot of page designing as well as arranging all the photos.
  • Table Tennis: Tales & Techniques. I self-published this a couple years ago and sold about a thousand copies. I still have about 500 more sitting in boxes. Since I designed the pages, it's pretty much ready for POD. However, I'll have to redo the pages in Word so I can convert to ebook format.
  • Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. I wrote this for USA Table Tennis. However, it's never really been used much except independently by coaches.
  • Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis. I wrote this in the early 1990s for USA Table Tennis as a guide for coaches on how to coach table tennis. I'm toying with combining this with the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. It will need a lot of updating, plus I'd have to recreate the pages in Word. I have the pages in PDF for POD. However, I'm not sure which photos to use with it - the originals I used, or the updated ones from Dan Seemiller and Mark Nordby, when they updated it for USATT. (I'd have to get permission to use the latter.)
  • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development. I'm in the final editing/proofing stages, and it should be done by the weekend. (It's now about 93,000 words, about 400 pages in double spaced 12-point Times. It'll be my longest book, with over twice the text as Steps to Success.) Then I have to decide whether to illustrate it with pictures or not. Also, I'm still debating whether to go to a professional publisher or self-publish. I'm leaning toward the latter. I'm also debating the final title. Here are the ones I'm thinking about - suggestions and recommendations are welcome.
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development (the current working title)
    • Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide (the working title until yesterday)
    • A Thinker's Guide to Table Tennis Tactics (the original title until someone told me it'd come earlier in Internet searches if I start the title with "Table Tennis.")
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Development: A Thinker's Guide (a little of everything)
    • Table Tennis Tactics and Strategic Thinking (the one I'm now leaning toward, as of this morning)
    • Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers (another obvious possibility that I didn't think of until ten seconds ago)

Science Fiction Writer: This is my "side" career. I've sold 62 short stories, and have two novels making the rounds. Recently there's been a lot of nibbles by agents and publishers on the novels - several read the opening chapters and requested the rest, which they are now reading. (You normally query agents and publishers with just the opening chapters.) Here's my science fiction and fantasy page.

Over the last couple months or so I've had a flurry of short story sales - nine to be exact, including ones to nice magazines like Weird Tales, Penumbra, Electric Spec, and Flagship. Yesterday I sold my 62nd short story, "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" to Penumbra, a "pro" market that pays well. (Despite the dragon in the title, it's actually science fiction, not fantasy. What should the president of the United States do when a huge dragon swoops out of the sky and lands on the U.S. Capitol, a seeming threat to congress and the American people? It's like King Kong on the Empire State Building, but attack helicopters instead of bi-planes - and things are not as they seem.)

My 30 best short story sales (circa 2010) are combined in an anthology, "Pings and Pongs: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of Larry Hodges." Buy it!!! I've almost sold enough new stories for its sequel, "More Pings and Pongs."

Other: And when I grow up, I still want to be a math professor, astronomer, presidential historian, cartoonist, and play second base for the Baltimore Orioles. See, I'm a realist; I'd really rather play shortstop (like Cal Ripken) or third base (like Brooks Robinson) but I know I can't make the throw to first, so I'm willing to compromise.

Ariel Hsing on CBS News

Here's a CBS article and video (2:09) on 16-year-old U.S. Women's Singles Champion and Olympic hopeful Ariel Hsing. Very nice presentation, and don't you love the mentions of Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill?

Oriole Table Tennis

As mentioned in past blogs, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team plays a lot of table tennis in their clubhouse. I've been invited to come in sometime to do some coaching (primarily with J.J. Hardy, Jake Arrieta, and trainer/former center fielder Brady Anderson), but the date is not yet set. Here's a quote from an article that mentions table tennis: "It's fun any time you're winning, no matter what the sport is," [Nick] Markakis said. "We have a bunch of competitive guys in this locker room, whether it's playing cards or ping pong or baseball."

The Google Ping-Pong Dragon

Since I sold a story called "The Dragon of the Apocalypse" just yesterday, in honor of that here's the Google Ping-Pong Dragon.

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March 12, 2012

Tip of the Week

As I also write one week ago, for a while I've been bothered by two blog posts that really should have been Tips of the Week. As blog items, they were read and then lost in the avalanche of daily blog postings. As Tips of the Week, they'd be more accessible in the future as coaching articles. Since I'm currently working eight hours a day with Tim Boggan on the page layouts and photo work for his latest table tennis history book (we hope to finish today), as well as my usual coaching and other duties, last Monday and today I'm putting up these two items, with some updating/expansion, as Tips. So here is: Developing a Smash.

Exhaustion

Today is Day 14 of doing the page layouts and photo work on Tim Boggan's History of Table Tennis, Volume 12. No days off, no half days, usually getting up at 5AM and starting work at 6AM, and going until about 5PM or until I have my coaching scheduled. Since I'm also subbing for Coach Jeffrey Zeng Xun, I've been coaching nearly seven nights a week. (Jeffrey was in China for two months, but returned Friday, and starts coaching again today.) I've also been involved in various aspects of the MDTTC expansion project, tutor calculus two hours a week, and sometimes sleep and eat.

So I'm TIRED. As in EXHAUSTED.

Fortunately, we should finish the book today, and with Jeffrey back, my coaching schedule is back to sanity. There's a thing in my room called a bed, and I hope to have a long, first-hand acquaintance with it soon. (I'm off to the Cary Cup this Thursday, where I'm playing hardbat Friday morning and coaching the rest of the way, so that should bring back some of the no-doubt sorely missed exhaustion.)

USATT Junior & Cadet Training Camp

USA Table Tennis is looking for someone to run a one-week training camp for the USA National Junior and Cadet Teams, June 23-29, 2012. I'd actually like to see a longer camp, more like 2-3 weeks, but one week is better than none. Here are the bid specs.

There is no financial incentive, and the club that hosts the camp would likely have to absorb many expenses as well as putting in huge amounts of time. I was thinking about putting in a bid from Maryland Table Tennis Center. MDTTC is currently in the process of expanding to 18 courts (more if we squeeze), along with showers, weight room, all new red flooring, air conditioning, etc. And we have a number of top players/practice partners in the area, including Han Xiao, Peter Li, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, probably a new top Chinese player/coaching coming in, and lots of 2300 players, such as Raghu Nadmichettu, Nathan Hsu, and others. We also have Cadet Team Member Tong Tong Gong, and Mini-Cadet members Derek Nie and Crystal Wang. Since it's during summer, we'll also probably have others such as Marcus Jackson and Amaresh Sahu back from school. So I think we'd have a pretty strong bid.

However, we probably won't put in a bid. Why? The bid includes this part: "Venue must be exclusive available for National Teams players and coaches only. No other activities to be conducted in the venue during the NT practice time." (Note the word "must.")

We're a full-time training center. The bid estimates that they would want the hall from 9AM-noon and from 4-7PM. The latter are peak hours for our junior training, and we're not about to tell our full-time coaches (me, Cheng Yinghua, Jack Huang, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, probably one other coach) that they can't coach during peak hours for a week at the club where they make a living. (Not to mention all the junior players who suddenly can't practice after school.) The training camp only needs 12 tables, no problem. We just need 3-4 of them, leaving at least 14 for the camp.

I don't want to go through the time and effort of a bid if this is a "must," as the bid says, especially if there are going to be rival bidders who on paper will sound better because they aren't full-time training centers and so can offer the "exclusive." (Of course there might also be a full-time center out there willing to close down their coaching during these hours for a week.) We're also running camps all summer long starting June 18, and the camp is June 23-29. So we'd have to cancel a camp, meaning the club and coaches would be out several thousand dollars, in addition to other expenses and time spent to accommodate such a camp.

Coaching Videos

Here are two more short but excellent coaching videos from PingSkills:

Michael Landers Highlights Video

Here's the Landers Highlights Video (7:41) from the U.S. World and Olympic Team Trials!

Cat dominates mini-table play

Who's dominating this game? (0:53)

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February 27, 2012

Tip of the Week

Opening Up the Forehand Zone.

Opening Up the Forehand Zone, Part II

The following happened on Saturday night - and I swear it happened after I wrote this week's Tip of the Week. (And now you know what I do on Saturday nights.)

I had a new student, around age 40, with some serious technique problems. His level was somewhere under 1000 in USATT ratings. He'd had a few lessons before at another club, but things hadn't gone well there. As soon as we started hitting forehand to forehand, you could see he had a serious problem with his grip, which seemed to lead to an awkward forehand. His finger pointed upward on the blade, his wrist fell backward, and he more or less punched at the ball in front of him instead of from the side. The obvious and easiest solution was to fix his grip, and then work on the stroke. And that's exactly what others had tried to get him to do. It hadn't worked.

At the USATT coaching seminar I taught last year I regularly harped on the idea of fixing the root cause of problems, not the symptoms. And that's what others had tried to do - the grip wasn't the cause of his problems, it was a symptom of the root cause, which was that he was playing his forehand with a backhand stance, feet parallel to the table, with little waist or shoulder rotation. He was only using about the front one-fourth of his forehand hitting zone, while facing forward. This forced him to adjust his grip to compensate. It took only a few minutes to fix the problem in practice: move the right (back) foot back some, rotate the waist and shoulders, and contact the ball toward the middle of the hitting zone. The key was to start out by hitting forehand to forehand very slowly, focusing on proper technique and timing, until the stroke became ingrained enough to speed up some.

The player still has a lot of practice to do in order to ingrain this new and better forehand technique. If he puts in the time, his stroke will be fine.

Happy Birthday to Sheeba and Me

Today's my 52nd birthday, so people can no longer say I'm not playing with a full deck. (It's also Chelsea Clinton's 32nd birthday. We always go out together and celebrate with root beers.) It's also Sheeba's 78th birthday. Okay, Sheeba is my dog, about 3/4 corgi, 1/4 some sort of hound, and she's actually only 14, though we only know that she was born in February of 1998 (that's from the form about her when I adopted her from a shelter in 2002 when she was four) , but we celebrate it on my birthday. According to the Dog Age Calculator, as a 30 pound dog, she's 78. Here's her picture (from a few years ago, but she looks almost the same), and here she is straining to eat bacon snacks.

Arm problems

With age comes physical problems. Or perhaps they aren't related. My arm has been bothering me for several days, and sometime during yesterday's mornings three hours of coaching it got much worse. That afternoon I was playing matches in a group session (where I'm a practice partner), and had to stop. The injury appears to be a muscle strain, on the forearm, just below the inner elbow, on the right. Here's a picture, with a black dot marking the injury. Any doctors, trainers, or others with suggestions on rehabbing it, other than rest and icing it?

USATT Paralympic Program Manager

USATT has hired Jasna Reed as the Para Program Manager for 2012, a new USATT position. Jasna, two-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, Olympic Bronze Medalist in Women's Doubles, and head table tennis coach at Texas Wesleyan University, has extensive experience in Paralympic table tennis. Here's an interview I did with Jasna back in 2001, with picture.

2012 USA Table Tennis Budget

Here it is: Income Statement Summary | Income Statement Detail | Programmatic Summary

Table Tennis in New York Times

Here's an article in the New York Times on Saturday on Ariel Hsing's Olympic dreams.

Interview with Jorg Rosskopf

German great Jorg Rosskopf was interviewed just yesterday as he prepares for the 2012 Worlds.

2012 Kuwait Open Final

Jun Mizutani (JPN) defeats Ryu Seung Min (KOR) in the Kuwait Open Final on Feb. 18, 2012. Time between points is taken out, so it's non-stop action with the whole match shown in 6:37. Here are results and articles on the tournament.

Hilarious exhibition

Here's an exhibition between Jean-Michel Saive (on left at start) and Andrzej Grubba at the 1996 Gilbert Cup in Beverly Hills (7:36).

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February 17, 2012

Developing a smash

At the highest levels, many top players don't even bother to smash - even if the ball is eye-level high, they loop. However, for most players, a smash is a must. Here are some keys to developing a good smash, forehand or backhand.

First, get some coaching or watch the top players. Here's a tutorial from PingSkills (3:58) on the forehand smash, and here's Tahl Leibovitz demonstrating the backhand smash (1:35). It's still best to work with a coach who can figure out and fix any flaws in your technique.

Second, practice. Here are two of the best smashing drills.

  • Hard-Soft Drill. This really should be called the Hard-Medium Drill. Your partner blocks while you alternate hitting a medium drive and then a smash. As long as you keep the ball to the same spot, your partner should be able to return many of your smashes, with practice. A variation is to hit two medium drives and then a smash. This allows you to focus more on technique with the two drives. You can do this forehand or backhand.
  • Loop and smash drill. You serve backspin to your partner's backhand, your partner pushes it back to the middle of the table, you loop to his backhand, he blocks to your forehand, you smash, then play out the point. The key here is to lower the shoulder for the loop, but keep it up for the smash. After looping, many players drop the shoulder on the next shot, and their smash will almost always go off. (Here's a short article on the topic.) There are numerous versions of this drill:
    • You can start by serving to the backhand, forehand, or middle;
    • Your partner can push to any pre-set spot on the table - forehand, backhand, middle, or even add some randomness by having the push go anywhere on the forehand or anywhere on the backhand side.
    • You can loop to your partner's forehand instead of his backhand. But to keep the rally going consistently, your first loop should go to the same spot each time.
    • Your partner blocks to another place on the table, and you move there to smash.
    • You can do this drill on the backhand side, with a backhand loop followed by a backhand smash, both from the backhand side.

Third, use the smash in games. If you don't, you won't learn to use the shot in a real match. Find ways to set it up, with serves, loops, aggressive backhands, etc. (A longer version of this may end up as a Tip of the Week.)

Ariel Hsing in USA Today

And here's the article.

Playing a forehand from the backhand side

Here's a short video from PingSkills (1:31) on playing the forehand from the backhand side.

Free hand position

Here's another short video from PingSkills (1:43), this one on the free hand position.

Pong Beer

Yes, you can now buy a 30-pack of beer with ping-pong balls included. Here's the article in Business Insider. Pong Beer's big product pitch is the Rack Pack, which is a 30-pack that comes with two pong balls. And while we're at it, here are 3:42 of the most epic beer pong shots you'll ever see.

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February 7, 2012

Seven-year-old looper

He's been playing only about six weeks. Last week he learned to loop for the first time. Normally I start players looping against backspin with multiball, but he'd seen others looping against block and wanted to try it, so we started with that. Apparently he practiced it all week. Yesterday he showed up, and he's looping against my block like a pro! He lets the ball drop very low, since he's very short, but he was getting very good spin with textbook technique. Wow. Can't wait to see how he develops.

You may remember this kid - he's the one I blogged about last week, on Jan. 31. Here's what I wrote: "A third kid, age seven, has the weird habit of hitting until the ball is high. Then he'll wait for it to drop, and loop it! He has loop written all over him, and will probably be looping everything soon. The interesting thing here is that at age seven, he already knows all the best players in the world, and likes to mimic them. Yesterday he was showing off his 'Ma Lin backhands,' mimicking both Ma's conventional and reverse penhold backhands, though he's a shakehander. He also tried to mimic Timo Boll's loop - needs work." Okay, now he has the Timo Boll loop down cold.

This is how many Europeans coaches teach kids - starting them off early looping against the block, where the kid lets the ball drop down to his level, so contact is below table level. This kid's going to be counterlooping in another month.

Next week I'm going to spend a good portion of the session split between looping against block and looping against backspin, using multiball for the latter. When he's ready I'll get out my hardbat chopping blade and have him loop against my chop.

U.S. Olympic Trials

Here's USATT's news item on the U.S. Olympic Trials in Cary, NC, Feb. 9-12, including the rough schedule and the broadcasting schedule at the end. I'll be there coaching. My notes on potential opponents (from many hours of watching videos and past experience) are ready. I'm coaching John Hsu in the Qualifier and Han Xiao in the Final Twelve. Han also write extensive notes on each of the other top ten players.

All that's left to do is laundry, packing, and four hours of coaching tonight. Then I'm off to the Trials early tomorrow morning. I'm going down with Cheng Yinghua and the Hsu's - John, Nathan, and their mom, Wen. We'll have an afternoon practice and then the jury meeting at 6PM, where we'll see the draws for the Qualifier, and find out who will be John & Nathan victims there - but first we'll adjourn to the room to watch videos of these potential victims.

Dan Seemiller and Joey Cochran in the News

Here's an article and video on these two from South Bend, IN, about their training for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Ma Long Tribute

Here's a tribute video to Chinese star and world #1 Ma Long (3:18).

The Magic of Table Tennis

Here's another table tennis music video (5:16).

How to Hit the Forehand

Here's Chris Grace's humorous video on how to hit the forehand (1:43).

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January 30, 2012

Tip of the Week

Quick and Variable Blocks.

Revamping the forehand

This weekend I was coaching an older player who had a nice backhand but awkward forehand. He stood mostly in a backhand stance, with a low grip (so that his shots were very wristy), and stroked his forehand with his elbow extended out, stroking mostly from the shoulder, with little shoulder rotation. He backswing varied from shot to shot. To fix these problems, we first adjusted the grip. He tried a conventional shakehand grip where his hand was closer to the blade, but it didn't feel right to him. Then we hit on the idea of simply using more pressure with his index finger to secure the blade more firmly on the forehand so that it wouldn't be wristy.

Then we worked on the stance, focusing on putting the right foot slightly back on the forehand. With some practice, this'll become a habit.

Finally we had to fix the elbow and shoulder problem, which really went together. To address this, I went back to a trick I'd seen coaches use long ago when the game was dominated by hitters. We put a rubber cleaning sponge under his arm, forcing him to keep the elbow in. This shortened his stroke, making it easier to rotate the shoulders and stroke more with the elbow. Then we worked on having the same backswing over and over. At this point the stroke really began to come together. Soon he was able to remove the sponge under his arm and he continued to hit with his elbow more in. (You don't want to stroke with the elbow so in that it'll hold a sponge there, but by exaggerating this, it made it easier to adjust to keeping the elbow more in.)

He has a lot of practice ahead of him to undo these bad habits, but he's on his way. The key thing in all this is that when hitting, precision comes mostly from good technique, not just timing. Good technique minimizes the things that can go wrong and make awkward hitting almost difficult.

"The service is the most important stroke in table tennis."

This is what 2003 World Men's Singles Champion Werner Schlager says in his book, "Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion," by Schlager and Bernd-Ulrich Grob. I concur. Why do so few understand this? (Technically, I'd say receive overall may be even more important, but receive is a series of different techniques, no one of which is as important as developing your serve.)

United States National Table Tennis League

I'll probably have more to write about this later, but take the time now to learn about this new upcoming $100,000 nationwide league, and get your club involved!

Playing Ping-Pong for a Passion

Here's an article about basketball's Peter Farnsworth, table tennis, and charity.

Marty Reisman and the Year of the Dragon Paddle

Yes, here's Marty celebrating the Chinese New Year ("Year of the Dragon") with the new Dragon paddle (0:56)!

Forehand loop in multiball

Here's a nice demonstration of the forehand loop (1:22). That's Coach Richard Bowling looping, and Coach Amy Feng (four-time U.S. Women's Singles Champion, 1992-95) feeding multiball. Shown at regular speed, slow motion, and at Forrest Gump speed.
UPDATE - the video above, which was public, is now listed as private, and so we can't watch. Alas. 

Table Tennis and Tennis and Badminton, Oh My!

This is one of the strangest music videos I've ever seen (4:55), to the tune of "The Danger Zone." It features table tennis, tennis, and badminton. Table tennis comes and goes, with the best segment coming at 2:45.

Non-Table Tennis: My entry for "Worst Opening"

This was my entry for a "Worst Opening" contest, where you try to write the most absurd and overdone opening to a science fiction story.

I woke and saw the blue eyes gazing into mine. Lush, blue alien eyes, eyes that cried out "I'm blue!" over and over and over . . . and would not stop. I could only gape back as the reptilian eyes locked into mine, I could not look away, could not blink, could not die in those few seconds that lasted a lifetime of pain and ecstasy. If I'd known then what I would then have never known I would have torn my own eyes out and stuffed them into hers, knowing the holes in my face could never match the growing hole in my heart, nor could the blueness of my rapidly unoxygenating blood pouring down my face onto the floor be anything but a melting blueberry to those pounding blue eyes of tomorrow. That was how my day began.

***

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October 5, 2011

Receive/Over-the-Table Backhand Loop/Forehand and Backhand Counterloop Drill

Yesterday I watched Coach Cheng Yinghua do an interesting drill with John Hsu (2300 junior player). Cheng would serve from his backhand side a short backspin or no-spin to John's backhand. John would over-the-table backhand loop it (a very wristy shot) to Cheng's backhand. Cheng would already be standing there as part of the drill and would forehand counterloop off the bounce anywhere on the table. John had to counterloop, either forehand or backhand (over the table with his backhand). Cheng wouldn't play out the point; he'd already be grabbing the next ball to serve for the drill, which was surprisingly rapid-fire. It's a very physical and game-type drill, but only for the very fit. A version of this for those who wouldn't be able to counterloop all these shots would be to either block Cheng's counterloop, or to perhaps counterloop the forehand, block the backhand (which is what I probably would do). John, however, has a nice over-the-table backhand loop against short serves or loops, and it was scary watching him do these over and over.

The racket tip on the forehand

I was coaching a relatively new player yesterday. He had a very consistent backhand and an equally inconsistent forehand. It was obvious very quickly the reason why - on the backhand, he drove the racket through the ball, with the racket tip driving forward. On the forehand, he kept raising the racket tip as the racket approached the ball, with the tip probably at 80 degrees at contact (90 degrees would be straight up), a common mistake that seems to increase control at slow speeds, but makes precision impossible at higher speeds. (The habit often comes about from contacting the ball too close to the body, which makes it natural to bring the racket in closer, raising the racket tip in the process.) Against a backspin ball (especially with a pips-out or similar low-friction surface) you might drop the racket tip to drive upward against the backspin, but not with inverted against topspin, and in this case, the player was starting with the tip already partly up, and then going nearly vertical.

I had him imagine a rod coming out of the top of his arm and over his racket on the forehand, and to keep the arm down and the racket tip below the rod. I also had him focus on staying a little further from the ball on forehands to make him extend his arm more. Within minutes his forehand was nearly as consistent as his backhand, and at higher speeds. Soon he was driving the ball almost like a pro.

Twelve Drills

Here is 2009 USA Men's Singles Finalist Samson Dubina's latest article, on his twelve favorite drills.

Chinese sports training

I'm somewhat familiar with the Chinese training methods, and how they test and recruit kids at around age five for special sports schools. It has led to a lot of success in sports like table tennis, badminton, and gymnastics, and is a primary reason the Chinese beat the U.S. 51-36 in the gold medal count at the 2008 Olympics. (The U.S. won 110 medals in all to China's 100.)

The Chinese method didn't work initially in sports like basketball and soccer for a simple reason - they used Chinese coaches in sports where there were few Chinese coaches with the background and knowledge to develop world-class players in those sports. There was a major policy change a few years ago, and China began recruiting top international coaches from all over the world for their sports schools in sports like basketball and soccer. The reports I've heard is that they are getting pretty scary at the younger age groups, but it'll be a few more years before we see this at the international level.

In China, there are about 10,000 sports schools, where the kids may have only one hour of schooling and seven hours of sports training a day from age 5-12, and then are full-time athletes. When they grow up, they either become top athletes (a small percentage), coaches, or the government gives them an often menial job, or they go into the increasingly free market, if they find an opportunity, but this last is difficult since they are generally uneducated.

I expect that by the 2016 Olympics, China will dominate in most Olympic sports (they already are nearly doing this), and the U.S. and other countries (and in particular families of young athletes) will have to take a hard, serious look at whether it is worth taking kids mostly out of school at young ages to train full-time (i.e. more home schooling, where we are still at a disadvantage since U.S. law requires far more home schooling then can be done in one hour/day), since otherwise it might be very difficult to compete. Even in sports like basketball and soccer, where China does not yet appear highly competitive, we may be ambushed in a few years (if not in 2016, then in 2020) by Chinese kids who have trained essentially full-time (often together as a team) since age five.

Here's an article I co-wrote with Cheng Yinghua a few years ago, "The Secrets of Chinese Table Tennis, and What the Rest of the World Needs to Do to Catch Up." And see the video below of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng on the Ellen DeGeneres show!

Ellen DeGeneres and the glass ping-pong table

No mansion is complete without it! Here's an enlarged close-up of the table.

While we're at it, here are four pictures of DeGeneres playing table tennis: photo1 photo2 photo3 photo4

And here's a video of seven-year-old Chinese phenom Xin-Xue Feng and USA Team Member Barney J. Reed on the show(9:31).

***

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