Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

June 7, 2012

ITTF Coaching Seminars

Here's a note about upcoming ITTF Coaching Seminars that was sent to all USATT Certified Coaches from the USATT Coaching Committee. (I'm a member.) If you are interested, see the info page. I'm running my second one at the Maryland Table Tennis Center on Aug 11-12, 18-19 (with possible Paralympic session on Aug. 25), so I hope to see you there! Here's the flyer for the one I'm running. 

Special Notice to All USATT Members, USATT Coaches, and USATT Clubs
From: Richard McAfee, Chairman, USATT National Coaching Advisory Committee

In the upcoming summer months, USATT Coaching is offering 5 regional ITTF-PPT Level 1 Coaching Courses.  USATT Coaching would like to urge anyone who is actively involved or has thought about becoming involved in coaching table tennis to plan to attend one of these courses.

Coaches completing all the course requirements of the ITTF-PPT Level 1 Course will become ITTF Certified and listed on the ITTF Coaches Registry.  In addition, coaches becoming ITTF Level 1 who are not currently USATT Certified (or certified at a “club” level) are eligible to become USATT “State” Level Coaches.  For current USATT Coaches, your ITTF Certification will be added to your name on the USATT Coaching Data-base.

Course Content:

The ITTF-PPT Level 1 Course focuses on preparing coaches to work with children and also on developing effective group coaching skills.  Topics include: how to conduct introductory programs for children, teaching in a school setting, how to teach all basic strokes, teaching serve and serve return, physical training, psychological skills, nutrition and energy systems, tournament organization, rules, and junior development planning.  In addition, the course includes a full day of instruction on working with Para athletes which includes: understanding the classification system, special equipment of the Para athletes, Para rules, and basic knowledge of Para techniques and tactics.

More Trained Coaches Needed:

Every USATT Club needs trained and motivated coaches if we are ever going to raise the standard of both our athletes and our clubs.  I would urge every USATT Club to look to recruit one or more persons who are interested in coaching and help sponsor them to attend one of these ITTF Courses.  The benefit back to your club of having more trained coaches will show itself for years to come.  The immediate benefit is the all coaches attending the ITTF Course must complete 30 hours of coaching at their local club of which 5 hours is supervised and graded.  This often results in many new coaching programs for the local club. 

More Advanced ITTF Courses Coming Soon:

While the ITTF-PPT Level 1 Course is an introductory coaching course it still covers a great amount of material that coaches of all levels will find interesting.  More importantly for the elite level coaches, the Level 1 Course sets the stage for the ITTF Level 2, ITTF Level 3, and ITTF High Performance Courses which will be coming to the USATT in the near future.  Regional Level 2 Courses will begin in 2013 and Level 3 in 2014. 

It is important to note that the ITTF does not “grandfather” anyone and every coach must start at Level 1 and work their way up.  Currently there are no USATT Coaches higher than Level 1 so now is the time to get in on the ground floor.  All coaches must be a Level 1 Coach for 1 year before they can apply for the Level 2 Course. 

Summer ITTF-PPT Level 1 Courses:

  • Fremont, CA – June 11-15, 2012
  • Champaign, IL – July 17-21, 2012
  • Pleasantville, NY - (8/4, 8/5, 8/11, 8/12, 8/18), 2012
  • Gaithersburg, MD - (8/11-12, 8/18-19, 8/25), 2012
  • Austin, TX (8/13 - 8/17, 2012)

For Complete Information, please see: http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Coaching-and-Tips/Courses.aspx

Stuff I Did at Ledo Pizza Yesterday

As I do every few weeks, I spent an afternoon at Ledo Pizza yesterday getting work done. I did both table tennis and science fiction & fantasy stuff. What did I accomplish?

  • Reviewed printouts explaining the U.S. Nationwide Table Tennis League to prepare for an online meeting, which took place last night at 8PM for about an hour;
  • Edited and rewrote chapter 20 of my Table Tennis Tactics book, "Mental Tactics," based on suggestions from table tennis sports psychologist Dora Kurimay;
  • Proofed several rewritten chapters of the Table Tennis Tactics book;
  • Proofed two new stories, "The Nature of Swords" and "Death, the Devil, and the President's Ghost," which I submitted to markets last night;
  • Proofed rewritten versions of two stories, "The Purple Rose of Retribution" and "Nanogod," and submitted both last night;
  • Ate pepperoni pizza.

Update on Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

It's currently around 99,000 words (over twice as many words as Table Tennis: Steps to Success, my best-selling previous work, which sold over 28,000 copies), as I constantly tinker with it. However, except for some more work I plan to do today on chapter 20 (the Mental Tactics chapter), the written part is done. I've also worked out an agreement with a top table tennis photographer for use of his photos, plus I've ransacked my own photo files, so I'm well into finding the roughly 70 photos that I plan to use to represent various chapters or sections. Then I'll start creating the pages. The plan is to be able to do both POD (Print on Demand) and ebooks. The only thing I'm not sure of at this point is the cover. I have several ideas I'm playing with.

"As One" the movie

Here's a website with info on the movie (about the unified Korean Women's Team winning the 1991 World Team Championships), linked to a video preview (1:48). Later, after I see the movie, I'll blog about it. I do know they have changed history to add drama, apparently having Korea win the doubles in dramatic fashion in the final match to win the championships, when in fact the doubles was the third of five matches played, and they lost that! I'm told that in the movie, an umpire kept faulting the Koreans, but if I remember correctly, that really did happen, though it's likely the movie exaggerated this. I'll get the movie on Netflix when it's available, since it's not playing my area (Maryland).

The Shakehands Serving Grip

Here's an article, and linked video (2:55), that examines the intricacies of the shakehands grip for serving. I think one of the keys here is whether to use the middle finger on the handle to add extra snap, or hold the racket only between thumb and index finger for extra flexibility. I do it both ways, depending on the serve, but generally using the middle finger for extra spin, and taking it off for quicker motions leading to more deception.

Ariel Hsing Wins North American Cup Again

Here's the story.

Princeton Table Tennis Video

Here are video interviews (3:40) with four members of the Princeton Table Tennis Club - Amaresh Sahu, Kevin Ma, Thomas An, and Gabriel Reder. (Amaresh and Kevin are both alumni from my club, Maryland Table Tennis Center.)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Takes on Olympian

He's no match for Mo Zhang. Here's the article, linked to the video (1:07).

A Table Tennis Birthday Cake

Yes, you can have your table tennis cake and eat it too.

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March 23, 2012

Talking versus Drilling

I often think the most difficult part of coaching is finding that line between coaching (i.e. explaining things demonstrating techniques) and drilling (i.e. letting the student work on a skill). The more you talk and demonstrate, the more information you convey. On the other hand, the more you actually have the student drill, the more the techniques get ingrained.  Where's the balance?

It really depends on the student. Younger players often are not particularly interested in a coach who blathers on and on, even if the blather is laden with nuggets of gold. They just want to play. Older students often look for more info, because they have a longer attention span, they understand the value of the info, and because they probably need the rest break anyway.

Ideally the coach says as little as is necessary for the student to get the technique right. But it's not that simple. Let's say you're teaching a kid to forehand loop. He starts out going crosscourt over and over. Then he gets the bright idea of looping down the line, and does so awkwardly. So you show him how to rotate the shoulders back so he can loop down the line more easily. Then he points out that he likes his way better since the opponent can't see it coming. And so you show him how to loop deceptively down the line by lining up the shoulders to go crosscourt, and at the last second rotating them back to go down the line. Next thing you know you are talking about the various placements when looping from the wide forehand (down the line, to the opponent's elbow/crossover point, crosscourt to the corner, extreme crosscourt outside the corner), and then you're talking about when to loop soft, medium, or hard, and pretty soon you're pretty much teaching a graduate seminar on looping to a fourth grader. (The preceding is a rough synopsis of an actual experience.)

The temptation to expand on any topic is huge, at least for me, since I generally have about 10,000 words to say on any topic. Getting it down to 20 words is harder work than going with the 10,000-word blather. But I restrain myself. Usually. Even older players have their limits, and I probably want to narrow those 10,000 words down to 50. Or less.

It's probably best to keep it simple, and let them work at one skill at a time, and resist the urge to expand to PhD techniques and explanations until your student is relatively advanced. In other words, focus on basics like developing solid drives until he's old enough to drive. I'll save the 10,000 word blathers for my next table tennis book.

My next table tennis book

Speaking of that, I put "Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide" on hold a few weeks ago. I was just too busy on other things. I've already written a first draft (21 chapters, 86,000 words, about 370 pages double spaced in Courier New), and had it critiqued by a number of people. (Thank you again Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, Richard McAfee John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton!) It's still on hold, but I think I might finally get back to it next week, where I expect to both add more material and do some rewriting. It should come out later this year, though it might take longer if I decide to submit to publishers instead of self-publishing. (One publisher has already expressed interest.) 

Ariel Hsing blogs for ESPN

The 2010 and 2011 U.S. Women's Singles Champion blogs about her play at the recent Olympic and World Team Trials.

LA Dodgers partake in Ping-Pong to unwind

Ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw (2011 Cy Young winner) dominates. Here's the article.

More on Korean table tennis movie "As One"

Yesterday I gave the link to the Korean trailer for "As One." It's a movie about how North and South Korea came together to play as one team at the 1991 Worlds, winning the Women's Team event over China. (They defeated Deng Yaping and Gao Jun. The latter would later emigrate to the U.S. and win nine U.S. Women's Singles titles while representing the U.S. at the worlds, Olympics, and other major tournaments a number of times.) The movie will feature actors playing North Korean star Li Bun Hui  (sometimes spelled Lee Boon Hee) and South Korean star Hyun Jung Hwa, rivals until they were suddenly on the same team. (One confusion that took some research to work out - the movie was originally titled "Korea," and is still listed that way in many places, but has been renamed "As One.") I now have more links, all in English.

Cary Cup Highlights Video

Here are two highlights videos from the recent Cary Cup Championships.

Crazy table tennis

Here's another highlights video set to music (3:44).

Eight-year-old does beerless beer pong

Here's 59 seconds of beginning beer pong by an eight-year-old. But it's pretty impressive, even if he probably had to do each shot many times before getting it in.

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February 3, 2012

Breaking 2000

I just finished reading the excellent book Breaking 2000, by Alex Polyakov. The book is a first-hand step-by-step look at the strategic development of a player from near beginner to an advanced level. I don't think I've seen it covered like this anywhere else. Instructional books generally do a good job in teaching how to do each technique; this book shows the actual events taking place as the techniques were learned, how they were learned, and most important, why. (And on a related note, Alex's coach, Gerald Reid, who is mentioned throughout the book, came to several of our training camps back in the 1990s!)

Improvement in table tennis is rarely a steady upward progression; as you learn new things, your game often temporarily "regresses" as you learn the new technique, and so rapidly-improving players often go up a bunch, then down a little, then up, then down. If you chart their improvement, it's more of an upward staircase. And that proves to be the case with Alex - see his rating chart. (I created the graphic from the USATT ratings page. If you have a rating, just put in your name, and then click on "Chart Ratings" on the right.)

Here are some interesting quotes from the book. There are many more that are specific to the techniques he is working on, but these are some of the more general ones that caught my eye. I especially love the "I did not know what I did not know" statement - this is the bane of so many players, who often do not know that they do not know what they do not know.

  • "I know exactly how I was losing my matches during the tournament. I simply did not know what I did not know. My game consisted of simply reacting to the ball and hitting it if the opportunity came up. I had no strategy, no clear and concise thinking; all I had was simple brute force."
  • "Coaching has been the major factor in my success and is the biggest reason why I have been able to achieve my goals."
  • "Gerald proposed to start by shaping my game in such a way that would allow me to develop certain undeniable strengths which would never fail me. He called it a 'base.' Having this base would mean that these basic skills would in time become a power that would tilt the pendulum during my matches against 95% of opponents of my level. This so-called base was meant to establish a set of technically correct strokes, which I could execute flawlessly and with consistency."

Table Tennis Tactics: A Thinker's Guide

Just when I thought the book was nearing completion, it got less competed. After going over the critiques and comments from six pre-readers (my thanks again to Scott Gordon, Chris Grace, USATT Coaching Chair Richard McAfee, John Olsen, Dennis Taylor, and Kevin Walton), plus my own growing notes since writing the first draft, I keep finding new sections that need to be written or old ones to be rewritten. I'd really hoped to have it pretty much finalized before I leave to coach at the U.S. Olympic Trials next Wednesday. There's little chance of that now. (I'll be spending much of my time between now and then watching videos of opposing players to prepare for the Trials, plus a busy coaching schedule since I'm also subbing for Coach Jeffrey Zheng, who's in China for a few weeks.) On the other hand, in my completely unbiased opinion, the book keeps getting better and better!

Serving low

Here's a video from PingSkills (1:05) that explains how to keep the tomahawk serve low, but the explanation is applicable for all serves. (Basically, to serve low, you need to contact the ball low.) Serving low is one of those keys to serving that players often do not appreciate because you can get away with slightly high serves at the intermediate level. As you advance, stronger players either jump all over these serves, or (more likely) simply have no trouble making effective returns. The server never understands that if they learned to serve very low to the net, the opponent would have to lift up on the ball, making it harder to attack or control the return.

Table tennis jewelry

Here's a place that sells some very nice table tennis jewelry. Yes, you too can show up at the club bedecked with table tennis ornamentation! Check out all four pages. (There should be a way to view all on one page, but I don't see a way.)

Let's pay our respects to the dying

Let's all take a moment and pay our respects to some of those who may soon no longer be with us. May they rest in peace. (Am I missing any?) There are still many practitioners of these "dying arts," but they are getting older and fewer.

  • Forehand flat hit against backspin
  • Forehand chop
  • Conventional penhold backhand
  • Pips-out sponge
  • Antispin (except perhaps the new "frictionless" varieties)
  • Seemiller grip

Jamie at One

Here's future world champion Jamie, age one, demonstrating his futuristic forehand as he does multiball training. Afterwards he'll do some counterlooping, some footwork drills, half an hour of serve practice, and then pushups, sit-ups, and a five-mile run. (See the seven pages of comments on this video.)

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