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USATT Super Camp - Day 6

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

USATT Super Camp - Day Six by Larry Hodges

I thought I’d start this with something we can all use - the “Think Circle.” On Thursday I wrote about Coach Samson Dubina’s lecture and game drills on tactics. He emailed me the following as an elaboration, which he spoke about in the lecture. 

The Think Circle
Between pitches in baseball, the batter steps out of the batter’s box to re-focus. The same thing is true in table tennis; the pros often call this the “Think Circle.”
Between points, step back about 4-6 feet away from the table and draw an imaginary circle around yourself and collect your thoughts in your think circle.  Every pro athlete has a different method of processing the points, relaxing, and gearing up for the next point, but I’m going to give you the method that I personally use.
  1. Ask yourself the question, “What just happened?”
  2. While the point is fresh in your mind, you should replay the details of each hit.  If you can’t remember how you messed up, you will likely make the same mistake again.  If you can’t remember how you scored, then you won’t likely be able to capitalize on your opponent’s weak points.
  3. Remind yourself of your primary tactics.
  4. From the first few points of the match, you should be forming some specific tactics based on your strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses.  Point by point, you should be willing to adjust your primary tactics, especially if you are losing.
  5. Breathe deeply.
  6. Deep breathing has a calming effect allowing you to forget about that missed smash, calm your anger, and come back focused for the next point. 
  7. Ask yourself the question, “What’s next?”
If you are serving, first determine exactly what you plan to serve and what the possible returns will be.  If you are receiving, then ask yourself how you plan to deal with fast serve, how you plan to deal with short backspin serves, how you plan to deal with no-spin serves.  Remember, you must stay fairly neutral when receiving and be ready for anything, while at the same time having general tactics against various serves.
This method that I briefly explained is the method that I use to analyze the point, remind myself of the plan, calm myself down, and get to the specifics.  I would encourage you to develop your own method and be consistent at using it during drills, club play, leagues, and tournaments.  As with any skill, it takes time to develop, but it is definitely worth the effort!

So (and this is Larry asking) . . . do you do anything like this? 

Today was tournament day, with nearly all the kids competing in the New Jersey Chinese Festival Olympic Cup, held at the Lily Yip TTC - the same place we’ve been training at. The tournament was primarily run by Barry Dattel, with assistance from Lily Yip and Judy Hugh. Camp players won all the junior events: Michael Tran won Under 18 Boys; Klaus Wood won Under 15 Boys over Michael Tran; Jaden Zhou won Under 12 Boys over Aziz Zarehbin; Amy Wang won Under 18 Girls, and also won Under 15 Girls over Lisa Lin. Meanwhile, Avery Chan (12) made the final of Under 2000. (Here are complete results.) 

Richard McAfee, Wang Qing Liang, Cory Eider, and I spent the day watching and coaching the players. (I ended up taking more notes than coaching matches - many of the matches I watched were between players in the camp, and so we couldn’t coach those.) Here are a few observations, with names not mentioned. 
  • One player almost lost to a lower player because over and over his first attack would be to the opponent’s middle forehand or backhand, giving the player an easy counter-attack. The opening shot should almost always go to the opponent’s middle (elbow) or wide angles. On the other hand, the player showed great variety and tactical skills with his serves.
  • Another player went flat-flip crazy, smacking shots all over the place (rarely on the table), and almost lost the match because of it. Near the end he got a bit more consistent, flipping with topspin, especially backhand banana flips, and it was the primary reason he pulled out the match. Topspin gives control in two ways. First, of course, the topspin pulls it down. Second, when you flip flat, it’s very hard to make last second adjustments. With a topspin flip, where you stroke at least slightly up, you can more easily adjust how much you swing upwards, giving you control over the flip. 
  • In this match, the lower-rated player showed great variety and tactics with his serves, while the other mostly used the same simple serve over and over - and the result was almost an upset. Then, near the end, the higher-rated player pulled out some serves and won a close one. But if he’d used his better serves earlier, it wouldn’t have been so close. 
  • One player showed great anticipation and so was usually in position, but when players were deceptive with last-second changes of direction, especially to the wide forehand, he had trouble - his footwork wasn’t quite strong enough, and his forehand stroke a bit too long. He needs to work on both. But he had nice serves and variation, and a nice attack from both sides, though the backhand attack almost always was crosscourt. 
  • One player has a very nice forehand tomahawk serve - but imagine how good he’d be if he added a reverse forehand tomahawk serve! The serve gave opponents trouble, but they got used to it. 
  • One player showed great attacking skills, especially on his serve, and rallied very well. But he kept pushing serves back long, rarely attacking them or pushing them short. He even pushed long serves back, which is usually a no-no at higher levels. The passive pushing cost him. In a later match, he got more aggressive and pulled off a nice win. 
  • One player had only one good serve, and used it way too much. The only other serve used was what looked like the beginnings of a reverse pendulum serve, but it needed work - it had little spin. This cost the player as the receiver kept getting the initiative. Also, the player looked tentative looping against backspin, despite making these shots with ease in practice. Conclusion - table tennis is a very mental game. You have to be able to do in matches what you do in practice, and just let the shot go rather than try to guide it. 
  • In general, too many players relied on forehand pendulum serves without reverse pendulum or some other effective backup serve variation; players played way too much crosscourt, not enough down the line; and opening attacks were too often crosscourt to the opponent’s middle forehand or backhand, rather than at elbow or to wide angles. There were exceptions to all of these, of course. 
After the tournament was done, I called a meeting to go over tomorrow’s schedule and events. We’re going to Lancaster, PA, a 2.5 hour drive - about 30 of us in all. It’s for a media training program - I’ll write about this tomorrow. Sean O’Neill is joining us in the morning, and will be driving a 15-passenger van; Cory Eider has an eight-passenger van; plus we have two cars going. 

Then twelve of us walked five minutes to the ice cream shop! Some didn’t have money, so I treated six kids, while getting two scoops of Rocky Road for myself. I paid for it with another of my “trillion dollar bills,” but when they couldn’t make change, I grudgingly paid for it with smaller bills. (But I tipped the girl at the cash register the entire trillion.) I did this twice - at the ice cream shop and at a convenience store. Video coming tomorrow!