USATT Super Camp - Day 1

By Videos/Images by Matt Hetherington & Story by Larry Hodges | July 11, 2016, 1:16 p.m. (ET)

USATT Super Camp - Day One - by Larry Hodges

The camp started yesterday (Monday), with 27 players at the Lily Yip TTC in New Jersey, July 11-24. I volunteered to be the resident manager and one of the coaches. USATT High Performance Director Cory Eider is in overall charge. For the first week, the other coaches are Richard McAfee, Han Xiao, Wang Qing Liang, and Samson Dubina. For the second week it will be Sean O’Neill, Dan Seemiller, and Lily Yip. Matt Hetherington is also here doing video. (When you see some of the younger ones, remember - that little kid you see is probably over 2000. And note the nice camp shirts - everyone got six of them, three blue, three orange.)

Most of us arrived on Sunday. I flew home from the Nationals in Las Vegas on a red-eye flight Saturday night, arriving in Maryland at 7AM. After spending much of the day taking care of miscellaneous business and repacking, I drove the four hours to New Jersey, arriving around 7PM. Most of the kids were already there. They are divided into three groups: the seven girls are at Lily Yip’s house (with daughter Judy Hugh also chaperoning), with an eighth living separately; the older seven boys are at Adam Hugh’s house; and the other twelve are at a separate house, where I’m the house manager.

The players range in age from 9 to 18, and from about 1800 level to 2550, including four players over 2500 (three Alguettis and Allen Wang); two others over 2400 (Michael Tran and Amy Wang); and three others over 2300 (Klaus Wood, Tina Lin, and Rahul Acharya). There are three 12-year-olds approaching 2300 - Kai Zarehbin (2261), Mathew Lu (2241) and Sid Naresh (2191). The youngest are the two 9-year olds, Nandan Naresh (1830) and Daniel Tran (1801). They come from eight states - NJ, NY, MD, MN, OH, IL, CO, and CA.

There are three sessions per day. From 9:30-11:00AM is physical training, along with possible technical/tactical discussions later on. Samson Dubina is in charge of the physical training, with Richard, Cory, and I assisting. Here was yesterday morning’s physical training:

  1. Jog to track (1/2 mile)
  2. Stretching
  3. Three laps (3/4 of a mile) - I explained the importance of “stomach breathing,” i.e. breath deep into the bottom of the lungs rather than “chest breathing,” where you only use the top of the lungs. Tomorrow I may introduce 2-2 and 3-2 breathing, where you inhale for two or three steps, and exhale for two.
  4. Side-to-side shuffling. The kids shuffled side to side on the track for 40 seconds, three times - with the addition that they had to jump when Samson blew a whistle.
  5. Ladders and hurdles. This involved a series of exercises where they quick-stepped on exercise ladders on the ground, followed by going over the short hurdles. One of the exercises was called the “Hickey Shuffle”! The video is above of the kids on the ladder.
  6. Cones. I was in charge of this one. We put four cones on the ground, creating a square about 8-9 feet on a side, with a kid in each square. The cones were black, white, yellow, and orange. My job was to yell out a color, and the kids had to quickly sidestep to it, and return to the center, staying low, and with the feet always moving. I’d then yell out another color, and they’d repeat - and I’d try to time it so they’d barely have time to get to the center before I’d call the next color. They did this seven times, 30-seconds each, with 30 seconds rest in between.
  7. Sprints. They did a series of them. First were regular sprints; then came sprints where they started by sitting on the ground, looking the other way, and had to jump to their feet and run. Then they had to lie on the ground and jump up to run.
It was pretty strenuous - we already had one player throw up. But as we explained to the players, this is what players overseas do, and to compete, so do we. They were all up for it; I heard literally no complaints. This is a very hard-working, ambitious group.

We all snacked, and then we had the 12-2 session. I was a practice partner the first 45 minutes, but then one of the resident 2550 players came in and took my place. Some of the drills were regular ones many of us do; others were not. One drill had a player serving backspin, looping the push return slow and spinny, looping the next ball medium, and then loop killing the next one.

At the end they played a game where whoever served would serve three times. If the server won all three, he won a point. If he won two of three, he won no points, but got to serve three again. If he lost two of the points, then the receiver became the server, serving three at a time. (In the current version, the receiver can’t score, but I suggested that if the receiver wins all three points, he gets a point, just as the server does.) The games were to five, but it was a slow, laborious process to get that many.

Since it was July 11 - i.e. 7-11, i.e. “Seven-Eleven Day,” where 7-11s give away free Slurpees, seven of the older kids decided to walk the mile to the closest 7-11. After they left, Mr. Naresh and I drove nine of the younger ones there. We of course beat the older ones, waving to them as we passed. But after bringing the younger ones home, we went back and gave the older ones rides back.

The final session was 5-8PM, more table play. Wang Qing Liang and I were a practice partners the first two hours for the players in the lower half of the camp (roughly 1800 to 2150), with Samson Dubina running the session. The focus was five-ball attack. Here are three drills we did, with each player doing them each for ten minutes:

  1. Server serves backspin, partner pushes to backhand, server loops forehand from backhand side, partner blocks back to backhand, server forehand attacks anywhere. We gave a short lecture about ball placement - wide corners and middle (elbow) - and about being aware of opponent’s positioning so you can best choose your placement.
  2. Same drill, except now it was backhand loop followed by backhand attack.
  3. Same drill, except partner pushes the ball anywhere on backhand side - either wide or to the middle - and server attacks forehand or backhand.
For the last hour the players were put into two- or three-person teams and had a team competition. It went late and didn’t finish until close to 8:30PM. After the matches we got together for stretching - but first Samson had a simple question: On a scale of 0 to 10, how much did they apply what they learned that day into their matches? The players seemed pretty honest, with answers ranging from 3 to 8. The practice tournament also gave the coaches a chance to watch the players in action. (I have a “secret” topic I’m watching the players for; I’ll bring it up later, after I’ve seen enough match play from all or most of the players, and then I’ll mention it in my blog.)

Then we had dinner at the club - very tasty chicken and potato stew, dumplings, salad, fruit, and other items. Lily Yip did most of the cooking! She also served lunch - spaghetti and hamburgers, plus a number of side dishes. Then I called half the kids together and announced we had one more training session - they groaned - that we’d decided they needed to be better at “blowing” the ball away. And so we had a ten-minute voluntary session where I taught them how to balance the ball in the air by blowing it.

Then it was back to the house for the thirteen of us staying there, a five-minute walk from the club. Then sleep and repeat!