USA Table Tennis

History of USA Table Tennis Volume 12

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

            1983: Coaching Advances and Advice. 

            One big change on the U.S. scene, as we’ve seen, involves Bob Tretheway replacing Larry Thoman as the USATT Coaching Chair. In SPIN, Oct., 1983, 28, and Dec., 1983, 13, Bob fills us in on what he’s accomplished. He began by devising a “Blueprint for a National Coaching Program”—the result of “six months of asking questions of players, coaches, and administrators within the USTTA, as well as a thorough investigation into the programs of sports organizations at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.” This “Blueprint” was then reviewed, very favorably, “by the EC, and also by more than 30 active players and coaches, receiving the endorsement of the vast majority.”       

            As his “Blueprint” goals, Bob lists: “(1) Lay the foundation for developing a corps of coaches. (2) Develop a program of introductory table tennis and intermediate instruction for American youth. (3) Assist in providing opportunities for the advanced training and instruction of elite players. (4) Enhance the USTTA’s utilization of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. (5) Administer a National Coaching Program.”

            Question is: How fulfill these “Blueprint” Goals? To that end, Bob suggests the following  implementation: “(1) Through surveys (for example, via USTTA clubs), determine who has been and is currently active in coaching. (2) Evaluate, revise as needed, and reestablish the certification program for coaches. Emphasize current activity, and pay particular attention to the suggestions of coaches participating in the Oct. 10-16, 1983 “First Training Camp for Coaches.” [More on that Camp shortly.] (3) Develop and distribute a ‘Coaching Manual’ for coaches (envision a loose-leaf binder to which periodic articles can be added). (4) Establish a library of coaching and training materials, including video tapes, motion analysis films, and printed material to be available to certified coaches. (5) Develop visual and audio materials (slides and scripts) for introducing table tennis to schools and youth organizations. (6) Develop resources for camps and seminars, including expert presentations of subjects related to coaching. (7) Develop and test-market a youth awards program, including patches and certificates.”

            Before continuing on with Tretheway’s “Blueprint” as two months later it had been developed in the Dec. SPIN, I want to have Bob comment on that Oct. Coaches Camp at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). There were 28 participants and their typical day’s itinerary was as follows: “7:30 breakfast; 8:00-9:00 films of national/international matches; 9:00-12:00 lectures; 12:00-2:00 lunch and break; 2:00-5:00 training with well-known Chinese Coach Li Henan Ai; 6:00-7:00 supper; 7:00-9:30 more lectures” [what Tretheway called “tools with which to work”].

            With so much time given to lectures, you probably want to know the speakers and their subjects—here they are: Bob Paul—How the Olympic Committee Works; Braun Mayall—Welcome to the OTC ; Beverley Kindar—Kids and Drugs; Pat Birch—TV Publicity; Madeline Faber—Radio Publicity; Lloyd Malone—Child Abuse; Ray Cowen—Adolescent Chemical Dependency; Bill Davis—USTTA Explorer’s Connection; Tom Wintrich—Newspaper Publicity; Dan Roden—Dynamics of Failure and Positive Imaging; Jim Vining—Massage Therapy; Nancy Harris—Treatment of Sports Injury; Russ Okada—Weight Training and Table Tennis; John Buck—Fund Raising; Bill Haid—USTTA Operations and Procedures; Bob Tretheway—National Coaching Program; and Dave Murphy—Fund Raising.”

            “Coach Henan Li Ai, who was responsible for the technique training, had written a detailed outline of what she expected to cover during the week and this was distributed to the coaches. Her first session was a two-hour lecture on how to approach and contact the ball. She then took the coaches to the gym and made certain each understood the principles explained. Her second session had to do with footwork. Training at the tables varied each day.”

On the final day, following a tournament and pizza party, “Tretheway presented each of the coaches with a certificate recognizing their participation in this training program conducted at the Olympic Training Center. He then made a special presentation to Bob Fox, Camp Coordinator, and to Henan for her exceptional contribution. The standing ovation she received was a spontaneous and genuine display of warmth toward Coach Li.”

Tretheway says he wants the coaches to be trained as “more than instructors of technique. Successful coaches are also fund-raisers, sports-injury trainers, personal counselors, promoters, and frequently politicians.”

“A major by-product of the Camp was a 250-page resource manual covering such topics as motivation, sports medicine, nutrition, drugs, publicity, bio-mechanics, and conditioning. Putting the manual together was a team project in which Tretheway was assisted by his wife Teresa, USTTA intern Joan Ziska, and USTTA Secretary Emily Hix. During the camp, the coaches received an additional hundred pages of material from the speakers and a National Coaching Program packet of material from Tretheway. Some of this material is meant to help people in the community relate to a coach with training at the Olympic Center.

“Over the next several months, Tretheway will be editing and transcribing the Camp’s lecture tapes for general distribution to interested people.”

Bob summed up his feelings about the Camp as follows: “It has identified a group of people interested in coaching table tennis. It gave us an opportunity to share ideas and enough material to fill another resource manual. The enthusiasm of the group was exciting. It was an upbeat week and I’d like to think that the coaches went home with new knowledge and a renewed spirit to make things happen.”

Bob later came up with a “Coaching Committee Update” that he planned to present to the E.C. at their Dec. Meeting in Vegas. He was able to report that “the Committee arranged for and funded an English translation of the German Association’s ‘Level 1’ manual for coaches.” Also, the Coaching Library has recently added “(1) subscriptions to two foreign publications printed in English; (2) twelve hours of videotaped World Championship competition; (3) ten hours of videotaped lectures relative to coaching; (4) a book by the German t.t. writer Martin Sklorz; and (5) over 500 pages of specialized articles.”

All that Bob had “Blueprint”-planned and begun making a reality was coming to pass, and with additional features. “The first issue of a monthly newsletter was put in the mail on Dec. 1.” The fund-raising Bob’s undertaken has resulted in “$800 being pledged so far by individual donors; and two corporate entities have expressed an interest in supporting a long-term training program at the OTC, and another has indicated an interest in supporting the distribution of training materials in junior highs and high schools throughout the U.S.”  Next year, six OTC Training Camps—in Mar., Apr., June, July, Aug., and Oct.—have been planned. 

Tom Wintrich, who was one of the participating coaches at that OTC Training Camp, contributes a Technique article to SPIN (Sept., ’83, 5). He uses SPIN staff photographer Marty Petterchak’s shot of “Hanna Butler to demonstrate perfect form in hitting a forehand during a doubles match. He asks, Can you see the body weight transfer? It’s superb, and instantly shows the technique of hitting INTO an approaching ball. Look at her leading right leg and her raised left foot. Look and learn. She’s hitting a ball FORWARD by committing her body weight in that direction. Her exceptional follow through and right-arm extension BEHIND her torso increase the power of the shot. You can bet the bank that she contacted the ball immediately before or exactly at the top of its bounce.

“Notice her left forearm and elbow. Both parts of the same limb are in FRONT of her body where they should be. Also take note of the racket-blade angle and the slight ‘break’ in her wrist. The racket is just beyond the ‘closed’ position which is a by-product of her wrist movement. That means she ‘snapped’ her wrist upon contact and the blade is actually showing her wrist follow through which is part of her overall stroke follow through.

“Just as you watch carefully this photo of Hanna’s technique, so you need to do the same with other players you see photos of in SPIN. In addition, you should make a point of observing live play, because as Perry Schwartzberg would say, ‘You must watch the good players in order to improve.’ Focus on just one competitor and attempt to see his/her technique, even if, by not watching the bouncing ball, you miss a great shot by the other player.

“Take another look at Hanna Butler. Can you stand in front of a mirror and imitate her stroke? Better yet, can you incorporate a similar stroke into your own game? If not, you now have a specific challenge in technique to resolve.” 

Tom had mentioned Perry Schwartzberg. He, too, (SPIN, Nov., 1983, 17) advocates that you watch and learn. “Notice,” he says, “that a good player never seems rushed. No matter how fast the balls come to him, he’s prepared—is fast of hand, foot, and mind. Learn to concentrate on your control of the ball. Hit it to the wide angles, corners, very short on the table, very deep on the table, or directly at your opponent’s BH/FH crossover spot. Placing the ball where your opponent doesn’t want you to will give you more time and thus your shots more meaning.

“Also, maintain steady breathing. Air in humans is like gasoline in cars. You need it for energy and without it you must stop. Keep calm and quiet. Most players who take wild shots during rallies, and scream after such points, are apt to run out of gas, usually because they’ve held their breath. Whatever you do, don’t hold your breath. Don’t try to rush things in order to put more pressure on your opponent. Rushing is what you’d be doing, not your opponent. Use your court-time wisely, make it work for you.” 

Coach Larry Hodges has an “Improving at Table Tennis” article (SPIN, Nov., 1983, 17). You want to improve? he asks. Well, then, “you’ll need good coaching, hard practice, experienced physical conditioning, and a good mental attitude”: 

“COACHING: Coaching should be your first priority. You can either get personal lessons or go to a clinic. For most people, though, a clinic is probably best. At clinics you will get to hit with many different players and you will be practicing the right way all day long. This is definitely advantageous in creating good practice habits.

PRACTICE: The secret to good practice is drilling. You will have to find a practice partner who is compatible and also wants to improve. Repetition is the key if you are a beginner. You hit forehand to forehand and backhand to backhand, always concentrating on hitting the ball deep on the table and wide to the forehand or backhand. Also, do extensive footwork drills. For example, hit ALL forehands while your partner blocks the ball to different sections of the table. Consistency is more important than speed so make sure you both do the drill at a rate you each can perform effectively. Remember, move to the ball—do not reach for it. When you’re alone, shadow practicing in front of a mirror can be just as beneficial.

As you improve, you should do more advanced drills which any good coach can show you. Always practice with something specific in mind. Especially watch the good players and try to copy what they do. And don’t forget to practice serving and receive of service, as this is one of the most important skills to develop.

EXPERIENCE: It takes time to gain experience but many people play for years and never really get it. Why not? First, they may not play in every tournament possible. Also, they may limit themselves to local competition and not play in other regions where they can encounter different opponents under different conditions. Secondly, they don’t try new things in matches, learning what works and what doesn’t work, even if this means losing a match. And, thirdly, they don’t really analyze what their opponents are doing; consequently they aren’t learning from someone else’s ability. In short, these players are not acquiring ‘tournament toughness’ which translates into experience.

PHYSICAL CONDITIONING: Many players don’t like the idea of training off the table but it is a necessity if you are really serious about the game. Almost every top player is in excellent physical shape because of the obvious benefits. If you jump rope or do wind sprints, you will become quicker on your feet. If you train with weights you will become stronger overall and be able to incorporate more power into your game. And if you increase your respiratory capacity, you will be able to stay stronger late in the tournament.

MENTAL ATTITUDE: To lose a game, you must lose 21 points first. Losing two or three points, then, may not seem like much but they can make all the difference, especially if you are evenly matched against your opponent. To overcome this, you must learn to fight for every point, which takes considerable concentration.

To be a good player, you must learn to think on and off the table. At the table, you must learn to play intelligently, developing good shot selection. Off the table, you must be able to analyze your game objectively and then decide what changes would be appropriate to your style.

To improve, you must be willing to sacrifice for your future development. For example, if you cannot attack well under pressure, the only way to do so is to attack under pressure, even if you know you will lose. Forget the loss, it’s not important in the long run if you succeed in accomplishing your goal.

Good luck!” 

Mitch Seidenfeld, destined in 1990 to begin a nine-year reign as World Dwarf, er, as he prefers, “Little Person” Champion, and, later, a U.S. Hall of Famer, provides us (Timmy’s, Nov.-Dec., 1983, 6) with an article called “Creativity; the Key to Success.” Here’s what he says:

 “…It wasn’t until seeing the first two issues of Timmy’s new tabloid that I was able to fully understand the important variable necessary for success and enjoyment in table tennis. Creativity is the key and anyone thinking differently is probably yelling about junk rubber, arguing about illegal serves, crying about losing, or whining about a lowly rating. It is my hope that the creative spirit with which Tim has chosen to meet his challenge will become the predominant attitude among all table tennis players.

In my opinion, it has been creative minds that have given us this perplexing challenge we call table tennis, and, in turn, it is a creative mind that is necessary to conquer it. In no other sport are the participants required to contend with as difficult a combination as that of spin, speed and placement. Because of this combination table tennis is given an infinite number of strategies, strokes, styles, and skills, many of which have yet to be discovered.

In this sport we can hold the paddle any way we want. Some people have been successful in using just one side of their paddle—a much better idea than it might seem considering the rising cost of rubber. Some of the really creative players have developed a way to continually flip their paddle while playing. I always used to consider this quite dangerous but I must admit that this skill would be extremely useful on hot, humid days.

Living in the U.S., many of us have been fortunate to witness the two successful new styles of Danny Seemiller and Eric Boggan. Seemiller has created a shot that seemingly conquers all, and Boggan has developed so many shots that it is virtually impossible to figure them all out. There is also Brian Masters, the current Pan Am gold medal winner. Brian looks as if he has discovered the most effective way to keep a player guessing; just make up your shots as you go along. This, along with his excellent paddle-flipping skills, are two obvious reasons for his success in humid Venezuela.

Concerning junk rubber: has there ever been a time when you beat someone so bad that you wished there was something that could be done to even the match a little? Not while playing table tennis, because we already have something. At a little people’s height of 4’2” there have been many times during pick-up basketball games when I did some wishing for some bamboo stilts or a phantom shot-blocker to help me guard a six-footer with a good jump shot. But I’m a realist. I know that players lacking creativity are lobbying for the resurgence of hardbat, and so I try to use my wits to play this current game. [Indeed he does—Mitch, as multi-time Minnesota State Champion, will come to have a 2333 rating.]

As table tennis has currently developed, we can serve the ball anywhere on the table, have it look like what it is, or something totally different. If the server becomes too inventive, the service returner has the option of returning all the server’s spin back to him—thus causing the server to remember if his serve was what it looked like, or if it was something totally different. The server must also keep in mind that the returner also had the option of making his return look like what it is or something totally different. Talk about creative challenges, this is the stuff I live for. So try something new. If it works, keep using it; if not, try something else—because creativity is the key to success, or, at the very least, fun.” 

Larry Hodges (Timmy’s, Nov.-Dec., 1983, 28) explains sadly how this creativity Mitch speaks of has literally caused another’s demise. Here in “An Obituary,” Larry relates how “Yesterday, my Backhand died”: 

“He was a quiet and unselfish backhand. In recent years forced to play in the shadow of his partner Forehand, he never complained. While Forehand scored most of the points and got all the praise, Backhand would get blamed for any strong shot that happened to get by. Yet Backhand always took this criticism quietly and continued to do his job. And Forehand appreciated this—when he had an off day he would often look on gratefully, for Backhand often saved the match with his simple but consistent shots.

For years, Forehand had tried to teach Backhand how to loop, how to smash, how to do the flashy shots—but Backhand just never could get into that. He was happy as he was. He preferred his simple job of pushing and blocking to the more difficult duties. Unambitious, he was content with his lowly niche in life.

Yesterday, for the first time, Backhand and Forehand played an opponent using long pips. Although inconsistent at first, Forehand soon adjusted and became comfortable. Not so Backhand. For years he had cultivated his simple but necessary job of pushing and blocking, taking pride in doing his job well. Now, however, blocks that had landed 10,000 times before went into the net; pushes that he had never even thought about popped up, to be quickly killed.

‘What’s wrong?’ Forehand asked. But Backhand could only shrug. For too many years he had played one way without change. To change now would be unthinkable, impossible. As Forehand tried unsuccessfully to cover for his failing partner, Backhand, pounded over and over again, could only grimace.

Backhand would never change. As Forehand got better, Backhand would become more and more their weak spot. But how could Forehand ask for a new partner? Impossible—not after all their years of practice together, all the tournaments and traveling they’d done together. Not

after the hard times when they’d risen at four a.m. to drive to tournaments 300 miles away, staying at fly-infested hotels and skipping meals to afford entry fees. Not when after a particularly poor tournament it was only Backhand’s quiet encouragement that kept Forehand going. And through the good times too—when money wasn’t so scarce, and wins weren’t easy but were at least there to be had. No, Forehand would never leave him. But still it rankled—Backhand would always hold them back.

What Forehand hadn’t realized, though, was that Backhand’s pride, his conscience, could not allow their deterioration to continue. One day, while he was just barely going through the motions with his friend Forehand, Backhand couldn’t stand it any longer. Quietly, apparently while coming back into the ready position, he just went over the edge—vanished off the table

Yes, Backhand’s gone now—but I’ll never forget him.” 

Obviously you can’t play like Backhand, have a negative, unchanging attitude when all about you is changing, and be a winner. Let Carl Danner (Timmy’s, Nov.-Dec., 1983, 18) show you what you have to keep in mind if you want to “Beat Good Players”: 

  “…Most players never seriously aspire to beat good players….And yet many players will sooner or later find themselves close to beating a much better player. If you haven’t prepared for that close match your chances of winning are very slight.

…A good player will try to take control in crucial situations. A defender’s shots will become crisper and steadier; an attacker will attack….The problem for you is that a good player can win a surprising number of points in a row when things go well….Your lead can disappear quickly in a flurry of forehands. How can anticipating your opponent’s end-game strength help you?

Normally, a strong turnaround by the better player usually gives him a psychological edge, especially against an opponent who has been waiting to lose (“Oh, boy, here it comes now. Oh, well, I expected it all along”). However, the first thing to remember in fighting back is to anticipate your opponent’s strong play and so undercut his edge. That is, if you expect your opponent to play well at the end, you will not be surprised and disheartened when he does….

Best, too, to change your tactics slightly when your opponent starts his late charge. This is the second point to remember. You must change your game if your opponent gets hot. Emotionally this is hard to do. After all, coaches in all sports advise, ‘Never change a winning game.’ …However, many good players will suddenly attack the basis of your winning game. If counter-driving to his backhand has won you many points, you may suddenly look at a smash if you go there at 19-all. What the good player needs to turn his game around is a dependable pattern from you. Therefore, as he starts to play better, gropes to get into a groove, do little things differently. Push short instead of deep. Serve a fast spinny ball right at his forehand. Roll your backhand to a new place. Counter-drive randomly with no particular pattern. Do not panic and start swinging wildly—you must earn your points.

So what do you do at 19-all in the decider? The first thing is to make damn sure that it’s your serve. At the start of any tournament match it is terribly important to give the serve away if you can. He who serves second also serves last in odd games. The next thing is to have a plan. Why? Because indecision is your greatest enemy in a close match. Remember that confidence in a clear course of action is what propels the good player’s inevitable comeback. Through practice, you must learn to feel and convey that same confidence. Make sure you’ve perfected a strong serve that will lead into your 19-all attack. It pays to have something special saved up for this occasion. You are going to depend on attacking shots and strategies. This shows the good player that you will neither give him gifts by swinging wildly, desperately, nor roll over dead allowing him to fear nothing from your passive play and so set up his big shots when he feels comfortable doing so. Get him to feel psychological pressure.

Combine practice and planning. Take your practice partner and play 20 end-games, some lop-sided, some not…. Realize that it isn’t inevitable the good player will beat you in a close ending, and that it IS inevitable that a certain number of good players will lose in upsets. Since that is the case, don’t be timid or afraid. Instead, score those inevitable upsets yourself....Be a winner.