Discovering a Super Toolkit at USATT's Super Camp

By Rahul Acharya | July 26, 2016, 6:21 p.m. (ET)
Rahul & Cory

Rahul Acharya with USATT High Performance Director Cory Eider

Discovering a Super Toolkit at USATT's Super Camp

Wow! What a privilege it has been to train with with our nation’s finest players and coaches. Even though camp ended two days ago, I’m still shaking with the excitement that I felt during, perhaps, the best two weeks of training over my three and a half years of table tennis.

The camp brought 27 mini-cadets, cadets, and juniors from all over the country, including California, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, New York, and of course, New Jersey, to the Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in Dunellen, NJ. Together, we trained under the watchful eyes of a team of experts: Richard McAfee, Danny Seemiller, Larry Hodges, Lily Yip, Sean O’Neill, Samson Dubina, Han Xiao, Qing Liang (Leon) Wang, and Cory Eider.

Each day was packed with 7 hours of training. The day kicked off with a physical fitness session at a local park from 9:30 - 11:30 a.m., followed by two table sessions from 12 - 2 p.m. and 5 - 8 p.m. Yes, there was no time to collapse from exhaustion :) The physical fitness session usually included a mix of running laps, short sprints, side-to-side shuffling, jumps, and every possible motion that the human body is capable of. The importance of core strength and stability was emphasized by throwing in a mix of planks (forward, right, left, back, hand/leg extensions), the infamous Russian twists, BOSU ball workouts, push-ups, crunches, etc. every single day. We also used a wide variety of other “torture” devices such as a resistance trainers around the waist, resistance trainers around the ankles, stretchy bands, medicine balls, agility ladders, hurdles, cones, etc. I don’t think there was a muscle in my body that wasn’t challenged on a daily basis.

The table sessions included multi-ball, serve practice, and drills focused on serve receive, ball placement, third-ball attack, forehand and backhand looping, counter looping, power, blocking, and footwork, all under close supervision of coaches who gave us fine tuning tips along the way. Key reminders included stay on toes, recover from a shot and be ready for the next one, generate power using torso rotation, and stay balanced. We also played singles, team, and doubles matches, and discussed mental aspects of the games such as what to do between points in a match. During one of my matches, Cory, who was monitoring my heart rate, stopped the match because my heart rate was grazing 200. He told me that with such a high heart rate, I would not have any body control, and that I had to try to calm down. From this experience, I can see that the between-the-points strategy as described by Coach Dubina is definitely something that I need and plan to incorporate into my game. In the meantime, I got to try out some old and some newly learned skills over the weekend at LYTTC’s July Open. As far as table tennis goes, one of the biggest takeaways for me was Coach Seemiller’s emphasis on technique. He reiterated throughout the camp that no player should ever stop working on improving technique regardless of level. Couple that advice with Coach McAfee’s comment that quality doesn’t matter if the ball is not placed well, and I’m sure that we will all have more winning shots. Equally noteworthy was the unanimous suggestion from the coaches for young players to not worry about ratings and play as many tournaments as are possible.

When we weren’t at the table doing drills or multi-ball or playing matches, we listened to presentations and participated in discussions related to technique, fitness, and tactics. While I was already in the habit of writing notes/reminders to myself, many players were not. So it was great that the coaches stressed the importance of self-reflection through writing. This habit will surely serve players well in the long-term. We also collectively watched the 2016 Men’s Singles Championship final between Yijun Feng and Kanak Jha while Coach O’Neill helped us take a peek into the tactics that each player used. The camp also taught us valuable media skills. Most players spend their time training; however, no player is complete unless he/she has the social skills required to talk to the press in this media age. Personally, I have a lot of experience asking questions of players since I am table tennis interview blogger. But, it always helps knowing how be on the other side of the microphone. Sure enough, campers were taught how to do that during a field trip to Triode Media Group in Lancaster, PA. While we were there, Coach O’Neill taught us how to seek out sponsors. After all, table tennis can become quite expensive when you add up training, equipment, clothing, tournament fees, and travel expenses.

At the end of the two weeks, I can confidently say that each one of us is now equipped with a set of tools to take our games to the next level, both in the short-term and the long-term. I can’t speak for others, but I can say that I feel different in just two short weeks. Let’s start with fitness. While I considered myself reasonably fit to begin with, I lost 6 lbs in 2 weeks and reduced my mile time to 6:08 from 6:17. The 9 second decrease doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, I had to really push myself to shave those seconds off. I also noticeably improved my core strength and stability and agility. My heart rate monitor (given to all campers) attested to improvements in stamina and endurance. Aside from physical improvements, I definitely feel that my on-the-table skills such as serve, serve receive, loop, block, etc. also improved. Lastly, I noticed a shift in my identity. On Day 1, I was so and so from such and such club. But with each passing day, myself and the other players transformed into one team, Team USA. In my opinion, this team spirit is essential for taking U.S. players to the next level. Not only do players need to focus on improving their own games, but they also need to help others grow. This will be a win-win for everyone in the long-term.

So what’s next for me? Where do I go from here? While I have already received a lot of verbal feedback during the past two weeks, I’m anxiously awaiting a detailed written evaluation from all the coaches. I can’t wait to get to work! I am confident that with the super tool kit that each one of us was provided with at camp, there is no other direction to go than forward! I most certainly hope this was the first of many more Super Camps to come.

I am so thankful for this opportunity. Thanks to USATT High Performance Director Cory Eider for putting the first Super Camp together. Thanks to Lily Yip Table Tennis Center for hosting us and providing us with food and drinks. Thanks to Coaches Richard McAfee, Danny Seemiller, Larry Hodges, Sean O’Neill, Lily Yip, Han Xiao, Qing Liang (Leon) Wang, and Samson Dubina for giving up their valuable time to guide us. Thanks to all the other players and training partners for their camaraderie and encouragement. Thanks to USATT Social and Digital Media Coordinator Matt Hetherington for streaming our videos for friends and family to watch and for capturing memorable camp moments. And last but not the least, thanks to Adam Hugh for hosting me in his house as well as sharpening my poker, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and of course, table tennis skills.