ITTF Cadet Camp at MDTTCGaithersburg, MD • Sept. 2-5, 2016
By Larry Hodges
The ITTF, in conjunction with USA Table Tennis and the Canadian TTA, ran a four-day ITTF Cadet Camp at the Maryland Table Tennis Center over Labor Day Weekend, Fri-Mon. Fifteen players took part in the camp, including five USA national team members: Crystal Wang (Junior and Cadet Girls); Derek Nie and Klaus Wood (Cadet Boys); and Lisa Lin and Faith Hu (Mini-Cadet Girls). Also taking part were Ivy Liao and Isabelle Xiong, members of the Canadian Women’s, Junior, and Cadet Girls’ Teams. The camp had nine sessions, 22 hours total.
Wang Qing Liang (“Leon”), recently named a USA National Cadet Coach, was the head coach, and planned out and ran much of the camp. Other coaches were Cory Eider (USATT High Performance Director), Liu Yongjiang (Canadian National Cadet Coach), and myself (a USATT certified National Coach and former USA Junior Team Coach). Wen Hsu was the Camp Coordinator. Practice partners were Nathan & John Hsu, Heather Wang, You Lyu, and Yan Zhang. (Practice partner and coach is almost interchangeable as the practice partners were also coaching and often feeding multiball.)
If I listed every drill done during the camp, this would be a long blog. Let’s just say the focus was on footwork, serve & attack, and serve & receive. At the start of the camp, the drills were a bit more generic as they did drills where they had to cover a lot of ground very fast (i.e. footwork). More and more the drills became more game like, often starting with a serve and loop. There was a lot of service practice, generally followed by receive practice, with lots of flipping and short receive. One of my favorite drills is when the coaches fed multiball half-long backspin, and the players had to judge whether the ball was long enough to loop, or had to push or flip. As a feeder, I had fun trying to mess them up by feeding balls right in between! (It also inspired this morning’s Tip of the Week, Looping Slightly Long Balls.)
Physical training was a major component of the camp. Most sessions started with jogging and various side-stepping routines. Twice they did ladder drills, where they work on speed and foot coordination. Twice they did “plank” training. They also did the “hill runs” – there’s a steep hill just outside the club, and we made use of it. The kids had to run up the hills, jog back, and repeat about ten times. Then they repeated this running backwards. And finally they did it on their hands and feet – no knees or other part of the body touching the ground – and had to go up the hills this way backwards, feet first. It was torture great fun!!!
Several times in the camp they played matches, including a practice tournament, a team competition, and doubles. After each, the players were required to write out why they won or lost. You don’t learn from these things if you can’t do that. At the end of the camp Cory emphasized to the players how important tournament competition is – many of them are only playing 6-8 tournaments per year when they should be playing more like 20. The best juniors generally play lots and lots of tournaments, and it is this constant feedback – plus the incentive to train for these tournaments – that leads to much improvement. I pointed out that I’d heard coaches argue that one tournament is worth one or two weeks of training. I also pointed out that lots of tournaments is the cure for those who are afraid of losing rating – you both get used to playing lots of rated matches and so lose the fear of it, plus you know you have another tournament coming up in a week or so anyway, so your current rating is mostly meaningless.
Here is the lighter side of the camp:
- Amy Wang (USA Junior and Cadet Girls’ Team) was supposed to participate, but had to go to a separate ITTF event. But when we arrived, some of us thought she was there – and throughout the camp people kept thinking they saw her because Canadian Isabelle Xiong looks almost exactly like her! (They even play similarly.) I’m looking forward to seeing them side by side. If I hadn’t been told Amy wasn’t coming, I would have gone over to Isabelle and said, “Hi Amy!”
- I bought four mini-paddles at the USA Nationals, but they had cheap sponge on them, and weren’t fun to play with for many. So I put Tenergy on both sides on two of them – and the kids went crazy with them! They took turns throughout the camp during breaks, and put on quite a counterlooping and lobbing show with them.
- During break, Klaus Wood practiced various around-the-net sliding shots – and here’s the video montage (30 sec) of these shots in slow motion – they are pretty spectacular!
I’d like to thank all those who made the camp possible – ITTF, USATT, CTTA, MDTTC, Cory Eider, head coach Qingliang Wang, the players and coaches, and MDTTC’s tireless worker Wen Hsu. Without them these poor kids would have spent another Labor Day Weekend watching TV while their overseas counterparts were sweating and improving.