USATT Super Camp - Day 5

By Videos/Images by Matt Hetherington & Story by Larry Hodges | July 15, 2016, 1:16 p.m. (ET)

USATT Super Camp - Day Five - by Larry Hodges

Today was rather a fun day. First, because the kids are all playing in a tournament tomorrow, they only had one three-hour session instead of the usual 6.5 hours in three sessions. They also got to sleep late, since the session didn’t begin until 11AM. There were some very happy kids, especially since I relaxed curfew, allowing them to have some late-night powwows. But we’re back on curfew on Friday.

We started the three-hour session with a 35-minute lecture and demo by Han Xiao on serving and then receiving, with Wang Qing “Leon” Liang assisting. (This was for the entire camp, both upper and lower groups.) Here are some of the major points he went over:
  1. When serving you use body, arm, and wrist, in that order. There is also a weight transfer, at least for forehand pendulum serves.
  2. The importance of a proper serving grip.
  3. The service swing starts by building up momentum with the bigger muscles, accelerating just before contact.
  4. Controlling the first bounce (on your side of the table) is key. It allows depth control of short and long serves.
  5. The various ways to create deception - semi-circular motions, spin/no-spin by varying the contact point or the grazing/non-grazing contact, and fast, varying follow-throughs to mislead the receiver.
Here are some of the major points on receive he went over:
  1. Know the target areas of the far side of the table, and make sure to serve into them.
  2. Develop a receive that fits your game.
  3. Develop the three main receives against short serves: a flip, followed by continuous attack; a short push, where you usually look to attack the next ball; and the long push, if you have a strong block or counterloop.
  4. Against deep serves, you attack - the main question is forehand or backhand, how hard, and placement.
Here’s where I’m disgusted with myself. I had three items I wanted to elaborate on, but when Han finished, I hesitated - and they went out to the tables before I spoke up. Perhaps next week . . . I was going to go over 1) Trick Serves and Third-Ball Serves (and why you need both, but should favor third-ball serves); 2) Some examples of semi-circular and other “trick” serves; and 3) Serving Low (in particular, how to make the ball bounce low on the far side, #4 in the link - the “Waldner” part).

Next up was physical training, led by Samson Dubina. The following is from the lesson plan he created in advance, which I believe we roughly followed.

5 min Dynamic Stretching
5 min jog
15 min core strength, flexibility, speed
  • 30 seconds hands and feet extension
  • 30 seconds leg flutters
  • 30 sec Russian twists
  • 30 sec forward plank
  • 30 sec R plank
  • 30 sec L plank
  • 30 sec back plank
  • Rest about 10 seconds between each exercise
  • Do 2 rounds
5 min break
15 min core strength, flexibility, speed
  • Same routine as seen above
5 min static stretching

We finished with table drills. My group focused on a number of drills that started with serves - we wanted to isolate match-type rallies, since they have a tournament the next day. Here are some - in the first three, we played actual games, but with the score starting at 8-all.

  • Short serve, short push return, Play Out Point (POP)
  • Short serve, short push or flip return, POP
  • Serve anything to backhand, POP
  • Best of five match, with every game starting at deuce!
We finished with a discussion of service tactics for the following day’s tournament. And then we were through for the day - or were we?

Nope - we all wanted a Strike!!! As in - we took the kids bowling! The entire camp and coaches went, over 30 of us. We bowled for two hours, and the kids had a great time, and are now relaxed and ready for the tournament. For the record, Matt Hetherington was the best among the adults (with a 173 game); Michael Tran was the best of the players - and he’s only 13; and Matthew Luo (12) was the best of the non-teenagers. As to me, after shooting in the triple digits (110!), I’ve made the tough, life-changing decision to give up my professional table tennis career and become a professional bowler. (For the record, the last time I went bowling was when my grandparents used to take me bowling when I was a kid - during the Nixon Administration.) I had no legal strikes, but I had a pair of “Larry strikes” - a gutter ball followed by a strike (i.e. a spare, alas).

Dinner was served back at the club, once again cooked by Lily and volunteers. It was great - a huge pot of orange chicken (gone in seconds - the kids really are piranhas) and two other types of chicken dishes; that great fried rice with onions, eggs, and some sort of spices; spaghetti; and various vegetables and fruit. I had all three chicken dishes, fried rice, and a bowl of watermelon and strawberries. And on the way home, I had a Mountain Dew. What a great day!

We’re back at the house now, with the kids split between video games on various devices, and Pokémon Go, which is all the kids (and some of the coaches) seem to talk about - it’s an obsession that’s swept the camp, leading to constant, “Larry, can we go outside? We need to catch a [unintelligible name of some Pokémon creature].” If they spent as much time on their table tennis as they did on this, they’d - oh wait, they do!!! That’s why they’re here. Meanwhile, I’ve already made the rounds, making sure they all know tomorrow’s tournament schedule, what time each has to ready to play, tonight’s curfew, etc. Fortunately, the playing site is only a five-minute walk away. The players will go over in groups, with each group walking to the club 70 minutes before their first match so they have an hour to warm up and prepare. (I have a list and I’m checking it twice over and over and over.)

Today also marks a transition. Samson Dubina, Han Xiao, and Wang Qing Liang are all leaving tonight or tomorrow, with Richard McAfee staying until Monday night. Coming in this Sunday will be three new coaches for the rest of the camp - Dan Seemiller and Sean O’Neill, and Lily Yip - who is already here, of course, since this is the Lily Yip TTC! Cory Eider will stay to the end of the camp (July 24), while I have to leave two days early.