Versatility

May 27, 2011

Eastern Open

I'm off to the Eastern Open in New Jersey this afternoon, where I'll be coaching some of the junior players from Maryland. We've got a great crew going, including many of the top seeds in most of the junior events. In the listed ratings, not necessarily the ratings they'll use for seeding, they are follows: Under 22 Men: #2 and #3 seeds; Under 18 Boys: #1 and #3; Under 16 Boys: #1 and #2; Under 13 Boys: #2 and #3; Under 22 Women: #1 and #4 seeds; Under 18 Girls: #1 seed; Under 13 Girls: #1 seed. We also have the #1 and #4 seed in Open Singles, and #3, #4, and #7 seed in Women's Singles.

If you are one of the 247 players competing in the Easterns, have you practiced your serves today? Why not? Unless you are a non-Maryland junior, in which case you should take the day off, eat a few bowls of ice cream, and stay up late. See you at the tournament!!!

Point of the Day

Dimitrij Ovtcharov vs. Seiya Kishikawa at the 2011 World Championships (1:07), care of ITTF. 

Versatility

I mentioned yesterday how important versatility is when playing weaker players. It allows you to play into the weaker player's weaknesses - and by definition, if he's a weaker player, he has weaknesses, at least relative to you. Taken to an extreme, a player can learn to play all styles, and adjust to anyone. But that's probably a bit much; it's better to develop and try to perfect your own style of play, with enough versatility to adjust to varying opponents.

If you are a looper, learn to loop at all speeds to all parts of the table. If you are a blocker, learn to block at all speeds to all parts of the table. And so on. Ideally, even if you are a looper, you should be able to block when needed against a player who isn't consistent, and where all you need to do is block a few balls to win. And so on for other styles. But generally try to dominate with your style, with just minor adjustments, and make the opponent adjust to you.

I'm going to relate two interesting experiences from a number of years ago. As a coach, I've learned to play essentially all styles, and I sometimes use them all in tournaments. At the U.S. Open Teams in Detroit back in the 1990s (before it moved to Baltimore and became the North American Teams), I was in the back of an elevator when two teams we'd played came into the elevator. I was playing on a somewhat weaker team as a player/coach, and had swept both teams, winning all six matches. They didn't notice me in the back - if you remember the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit, you'll remember how big the elevators were, and with all the players there, the elevators were often jammed. They were talking about playing me. Roughly speaking, this is how the conversation went.

Player 1: "I lost to Larry Hodges. He was smashing everything."

Player 2: "I lost to Larry, but he was looping everything soft!"

Player 3: "Huh? I lost to Larry, but he's just a blocker!"

Player 4: "What are you guys talking about? He's a chopper!"

Player 5: "I lost to him, but all he did was fish and lob!"

Player 6: "Against me, he serve and ripped everything, and he looped in all my serves!"

I had a hard time not cracking up. The truth was I really had changed styles every match.

To balance things off, I'll relate an eerily similar experience, except this was quite different. Again, it was in the elevators at the Teams in Detroit, this time back in the 1980s when I was having arm problems. Here's the short version: I'd lost all my matches against two teams, all by upset. I'm not going to break it down player by player, but roughly it was like this: "I beat Larry Hodges!" "So did I!" "Me too!" "I also beat him!" "Me two!" "Me three!" (The latter should have been "Me six"?)

To add insult to injury, all these losses blew my rating, and I lost my table tennis sponsorship. So I switched to a new sponsor - and promptly had another poor tournament, losing even more rating points. I told the sponsor they should advertise me by saying, "Larry Hodges lost fewer rating points with us than with any other sponsor."  

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