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USATT Super Camp - Day 3

By Videos/Images by Matt Hetherington & Story by Larry Hodges | July 13, 2016, 1:16 p.m. (ET)

USATT Super Camp - Day Three - by Larry Hodges

I started off the morning telling horror stories over breakfast: the player who, after a loss, utterly destroyed a bathroom (something like $5000 in damages); in another match, the same player broke his racket after losing a few points, tried playing with the broken paddle for a while and lost more points, borrowed a friend’s paddle near the end (it was legal back then), but ended up losing an 800-point upset - and broke the friend’s racket; the player who ate half a notebook of paper after a loss; and yes, me, who once bought ten cheap sandpaper paddles and broke them all, one by one, during a tournament. (It was a long time ago, and I was only 17!)

As usual, we started off with physical training - but this was a short session. After jogging to the track (1/2 mile), and some stretching, we gathered the players together. I gave a few tips on distance running - proper breathing (through mouth, deep into belly), proper form (upper body relaxed, especially jaw and shoulders, leaning slightly forward, elbows at 90 degrees and pumping straight forward, light steps, and not overstepping by trying to step forward of body), and pace (steady for most of run, faster at the end). Then they jogged one lap for practice. 

After some calisthenics and a short rest, it was the main event - a timed one mile, four laps around the track. I’m not going to give out the times - some of the kids would be rather unhappy if I did - but they ranged from about 5:45 to over eight minutes. A number of our top juniors were a little over six minutes. Conclusion: most were in pretty good shape, but for athletes trying to be the best in a sport like table tennis, not that good. Cory Eider and I agreed that by age 14 or 15, our best juniors should be breaking 5:30 - otherwise, how can they train as long and hard as their overseas rivals? (For perspective, when I was a miler in high school - 40 years ago - my best was 4:53.)  Coach Samson Dubina ran the mile and came in first, with Andrew Song and Michael Tran giving him a good run for it at the end. 

Then it was back to the club for a 45-minute lecture/slide show/video on Body Movement by Richard McAfee. Here are some of the main topics from my notes.

  1. The Base. Wide stance, knees bent, low center of gravity. Stability vs. ability to move - need to find a balance.
  2. Core Strength. This is the area between arms and legs. Without a strong core, it’s impossible to play high-level table tennis. It’s one of the focuses of the physical training.
  3. The Strength Addition. This is about how movement should start and the sequence of muscles, from big and slow to small and fast: Legs and knees, hips, trunk, shoulders, elbow, wrist.
  4. The Supports. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest length.” So if one muscle is underdeveloped, everything falls down to that level. Some ideas here;
  • Transmission of forces: “The faster the athlete has to go, the more his stance is bent.”
  • Proprioceptivity - yes, that’s a word! It means “the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.” One device that helps in this type of training is a BOSU training device, which we have here. During break, it’s in constant use.
  • Release. This involves lightening of the supports. If your weight is on a foot, you can’t move it, so you have to get the weight off the foot first.
  • Landing. How you land when moving.
  1. Basic Position. The receive position is generally lower than the playing position.
  2. Body Adjustments. These are often less conventional adjustments, often to cover the middle. Lots of examples were shown with video, such as 1993 world champion Jean-Philippe Gatien, who popularized “draw” footwork, where one covers more of the table with the forehand by essentially leaning away from the ball and powering it more with the upper body (though done properly, you also use lower body).
  3. Lateral footwork, pivot footwork, depth footwork. Moving in different directions!
  4. Games - footwork adjustment. “Players with good footwork in drill can be bad in games. They need game-type drills (random) and off-table training.”
  5. Watching the feet. Overseas, especially in China, coaches are notorious for looking down much of the time, the idea being that 90% of problems involve the feet and lower body. 

Afterwards we spent some time watching an ITTF training video created by Tibhar. We will likely watch more of it later. I’m especially interested in the one on multiball drills, which we’ll likely view later. 

Then came the 12-2 table session. Once again I was with the lower group. Since we had an odd number, I was once again a practice partner for much of the session. Samson Dubina and Richard McAfee ran the session for this group. Here are three of the drills we did.

  1. Two Loops, Two Blocks. Either player serves topspin, other player loops two balls in a row to the other player’s block; then the looper blocks back, and the other player loops two in a row, and then they switch again, and so on. I did this drill for a time with Jayden Zhou, 11, rated 2060, and we really went at it! Many great rallies.
  2. Short Push, Receiver Attacks. Server serves short backspin, they push short twice each, then receiver attacks, and play out point.
  3. Close and Far Counterlooping. One player serves backspin and loops off the push return. Then the two counterloop, with the server looping from close to the table, the receiver looping from off the table. (One of the players had to leave, so I didn’t do this drill - but I worked with several of the players on it, demonstrating how to loop quick off the bounce with a hooking sidespin at a wide angle.) 

Then it was lunch time - spaghetti; rice, sausage & egg dish; and a few side items. And then, while everyone was eating, they brought in one more dish. I yelled out, “We have orange chicken!” - and there was a stampede as most of the camp came running. It was a huge pot, but they cleaned it out in minutes like a pack of piranhas. Note to self: never get between a group of hungry athletes and orange chicken. 

Up until now I’d worked almost exclusively with the lower group (younger and lower rated) because with them, I can be a pretty good practice partner and work one-on-one, plus for this group we had more lectures and demos, which I sometimes gave. But for this night session (5-8PM) I was able to join the higher group. I coached some as well as taking notes. Han Xiao mostly ran the session, with Wang Qing Liang, Alex Ruichao, and Jin Yuxiang as practice partners. (Samson and Richard ran the lower group, with Cory acting as a practice partner and one-on-one coach.) Here are two of the drills they did:

  1. Server serves backspin, receiver pushes back long to backhand, server loop (forehand or backhand), receiver blocks to backhand only while server loops consistently anywhere with forehand or backhand. After about five shots, the server tries to end the point.
  2. Server served long or medium-long, receiver attached anywhere, and rally continued with receiver attacking and server blocking. After about five shots, the server could counter-attack, and they’d play out the point. 

Then they did about an hour of multiball, with the players in groups of three, with one player feeding multiball to another, and the third doing ball pickup. It was interesting to see how some of the players were highly proficient at feeding multiball, while others were not. Players in the group were the three Alguettis (Sharon, 14, 2558, Adar, 16, 2535, Gal, 14, 2500); Michael Tran (13, 2451); Klaus Wood (14, 2354), Rahul Acharya (17, 2320), Kai Zarehbin (12, 2261), Sid Naresh (12, 21910, and Roger Liu (15, 2163). Did I mention these players were good?!!! I especially enjoyed watching Michael Tran and Sharon Alguetti go at it in drills - super speed vs. super control. Now, if we could just combine these two, maybe we’d have something like this. 

Then it was dinner time! Sesame chicken, curry chicken, soup, dumplings, broccoli, fried rice, and fruit. (I was in a spaghetti mood.) Then it was back to the house to rest up for the next day. 

Allen Wang (18, 2546) and Amy Wang (13, 2416) arrived last night and will be with us the rest of the camp (July 11-24). Arriving Thursday are Tina Lin (17, 2354) and Matthew Lu (12, 2241). The 27 players in the camp range from age 9 to 18, and about 1800 to 2550, with a whole pack of kids in the 10-12 range rated between 1900 and 2100.