Regional Hopes Camp and Trials at MDTTC
April 27-29, 2018
By Larry Hodges
The camp had 37 players, ages 7 to 14, including many of the best 12 and under players in the northeast and other regions - including the California invasion that snagged both golds. Most were here for the Regional Hopes Trials on Sunday, April 29, which was for players born in 2006 or 2007. The camp was run by USATT National Team Coaches Pieke Franssen (head coach), and Wang Qingliang, assisted by coaches Michael Lauro, Jeffrey Zeng Xun, Lidney Castro, Rajul Urvashi, John Hsu, and myself. Players from ten states took part - MD, VA, PA, OH, NY, NJ, MA, NC, MN, CA. Here's the group picture!
A huge thanks goes to the ITTF and USATT, to USATT High Performance Director Jörg Bitzigeio, and to Coach Pieke for organizing and running these regional camps and trials all over the country. (This was the sixth and final one in the U.S. this year.) Thanks also goes to the local organizers and coaches, as well as to the players, and their parents and coaches. Without all of them supporting the Hopes program, it wouldn't happen. (Wen Hsu, Wang Qingliang, and I were the local organizing staff for this one.) Thanks also to Referee Paul Kovac and Umpire/Coach Michael Lauro. Thanks also to all the local kids who kept joining me at the control desk - by the end of the tournament they were printing match sheets and keying in the results! (I may be out of a job soon.)
The Hopes Trials started at on Sunday, April 29. Unlike most tournaments, there was no geographical separation - the draws were done strictly by ratings and the snake system. Winners of the trials will join other qualifiers to represent Team USA in the ITTF North American Hopes Tournament in Canada in May - here's the USATT Hopes info page with more info. (On a side note, this was the 200th USATT sanctioned tournament I've run (!) - and only the second that wasn't a two-day tournament. Yep, 398 days of running tournaments.)
Results are below. Congrats to the boys' and girls' medalists! On the boys' side, it was Raghav Thiruvallur (ICC) over Jackson Beaver (MDTTC), with Darius Fahima (LYTTC) and Connor Lee (LYTTC) getting bronze. On the girls' side it was Purvi Soni (ICC) over Mariolaine Encabo (LYTTC), with Ivy Liu (LYTTC) and Nicole Deng (NOVATTC/MDTTC). Here are pictures of the medalists:
· Girls' Medalists, L-R: MDTTC Hopes Organizer Wen Hsu, Nicole Deng (bronze), Ivy Liu (bronze), Purvi Soni (gold), Mariolaine Encabo (silver), and Coach Pieke Franssen.
· Boys' Medalists, L-R: Coach Wang Qingliang, Darius Fahima (bronze), Connor Lee (bronze), Raghav Thiruvallur (gold), Jackson Beaver (silver), and Coach Pieke Franssen.
Congrats also goes to the rating champions. In Under 2300 it was Ronald Chen over Stanley Hsu; in Under 1900 it was Varun Mangeshkar over Lance Wei; and in Under 1500 it was Feng Xue over Saraansh Wadkar.
But before the Hopes Tournament there was the two-day Hopes Camp! The schedule for that was , (with a pizza party in between), and , . Pieke's flight was delayed, and so he arrived almost an hour late - but no problem, he'd already sent his schedule ahead to the coaches, and so Coach Wang ran the first hour. We had 17 tables, with several tables often used for multiball. Several times I had 3-4 players and would do multiball with two at a time, running them through numerous high-speed footwork drills, with the other 1-2 players picking up balls. Other times I was a roving coach, where I'd regularly remind players to move their feet, to place their shots wider and deeper, to stay closer to the table, and much else.
The drills were creatively varied. Twice Pieke called the players together to go over eight drills at a time, written in large letters on a huge sheet of paper on the wall. He'd go over each drill and have players demonstrate it. Then he had all the players turn their backs to the wall and randomly call them by name and challenge them to describe, say, "drill #5." The kids quickly became very good at remembering them. Then they'd go out on the table and do the eight drills.
Drills ranged from numerous stroking and footwork drills, to serve and receive drills, and combinations of the two. The stroking and footwork drills ranged from simple consistent drives, where players had to do a certain number in a row (often 35 to 50), to more patterned sequences that had the players moving and attacking from all parts of the table - both the corners and the middle. (The drills were sometimes adjusted for some players, such as the three choppers in the camp.)
The serve and receive drills often had the players playing off a specific shot or variety of shots over and over. For example, one player might serve short anywhere over and over and the other player had to attack it, sometimes to a specific spot. Or they'd have the option of attacking it or pushing short or long. Or the server had to serve deep anywhere, and the receiver had to attack it. Sometimes the server or receiver had to do a specific type of serve or receive, but about every fifth time were allowed to do something different so the opponent had to be prepared to react and adjust.
Regarding deep pushes, Pieke told them he wanted them to try to push to the last five inches of the table. I've always told players in practice to focus on pushing to the last six inches of the table. So I had a standing joke with a number of locals that we'd compromise, and they aimed for the last 5.5 inches of the table! You don't really need all your long pushes in a match to go to the last five or six inches, which is somewhat risky - but if you practice that, challenging yourself to go as deep as possible even if it means missing (remember, this is practice), you really get a feel for depth and learn to consistently push deep in games.
Pieke also stressed the importance of making the correct decision more important right now than actually making the shot or winning the point. He used the example of deep serves, where he said a player who attacked a serve in practice but missed is doing much better than a player who didn't try to attack the deep serve. If you miss, you can always adjust and get better, but if you don't even try to attack it, then you can't get better. He made clear that choppers were a bit different, but otherwise if you wanted to be a top player, you have to attack the deep serve.
Many of the sessions involved up-down tables (winners move up, losers down), where players would play various games - sometimes to 11, one time best of five with all games starting at deuce, another time handicap singles where they spotted points based on their ratings. There were many improvised rules, such as the player had to serve short, or long, or the receiver had to return the ball in a certain way or to a certain location, so the players would get practice for all of these situations.
There was also a lot of physical training. There were relay races where players had to side-step; in another, the players were paired up and one player would sidestep side to side randomly while the other player had to stay with him; there was fast-stepping (from a ready position, feet move up and down as fast as possible); frog jumps; and of course jogging and various side-stepping to warm up. During one exercise Jackson Beaver said, "I'm tired!" Pieke responded, "If you say you are tired, that tires you out. Never say that!" Partly into the next exercise Jackson yelled, "I'm energized!" And yes, the players were more energized after that. Energy is more a state of mind than of fitness.
Like most successful coaches, Pieke was great with the kids, often joking around with them while making it clear when they could joke around, and when it was time to train hard. It's a fine balance all coaches have to find. Many are too serious all the time, and it can wear down a player. If you keep it fun while still demanding they fight and do their best, and that they demand excellence from themselves, then they will progress far. He and Wang were a great team, often taking turns calling the kids together and explaining the next drill, with Mike Lauro also doing some lectures and demos. I was more in the background, just feeding multiball or walking around coaching. It was a great three days, both for the kids and for the rest of us.
Here are the main results, with complete results at Omnipong.
Hopes Boys - Final: Raghav Thiruvallur d. Jackson Beaver, 10,7,10; SF: Thiruvallur d. Darius Fahima; Beaver d. Connor Lee, -9,4,-3,7,11.
Hopes Girls - Final: Purvi Soni d. Mariolaine Encabo, 7,7,7; SF: Soni d. Ivy Liu, 7,7,-10,7; Encabo d. Nicole Deng, -10,6,13,-10,7.
Under 2300 - Final: Ronald Chen d. Stanley Hsu, 5,9,-12,4; SF: R.Chen d. William Huang, 7,-9,9,-5,9; Hsu d. Spencer Chen, 9,8,-10,10.
Under 1900 - Final: Varun Mangeshkar d. Lance Wei, 4,10,6; SF: Mangeshkar d. Mu Du, 8,-7,4,4; Wei d. Andy Wu, -13,9,-7,6,9.
Under 1500 - Final: Feng Xue d. Saraansh Wadkar, 8,9,ret.; SF: Xue d. Kay O'Hara, -7,11,7,9; Wadkar d. Danny Wan, -5,9,7,9.