DRILLS TO CONTROL OVER-AGGRESSION
This new column for our Coaching Forum will consist of questions that have been asked of the staff at Newgy or our replies to questions posed on the table tennis newsgroup, rec.sport.table-tennis. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. All questions cannot be answered, but every month we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.
Gary Livingston wrote:
I have two students who are making great promise, but they both often try to play too aggressively (they probably get it from me...I have that problem too).
Are there some drills that you use that are "standard" for working on shot selection and showing them that they do not need to hit the ball all that hard...that they just need to keep control of the point?
If you have a Newgy Robot, hook up a Pong-Master game to it and have your students compete against each other to see who can get the best scores. You can make it fairly easy or hard enough that even world-class players cannot beat it. To be a good Pong-Master player, you must have good concentration, consistent technique, and absolute control over your strokes. It's also a really fun game to play.
I have run Pong-Master contests at US Opens where we had many top US and a few world-class players enter the contest. Inevitably, the player with the most consistent strokes and possessing a calm demeanor and great concentration would win. Also the game promotes a relaxed, flowing stroke and the ability to relax under pressure. It becomes pretty obvious after a few games, that any excess tension in one's stroke or any nervousness in one's mind will affect the accuracy of your strokes.
The skills that your students will learn from becoming good Pong-Master players are many of the same skills that they will need to acquire to become better tournament players.
The other thing I have noticed from our demonstrations over the years is that without the Pong-Master game, many players only seem to want to try to hit the ball as hard as they can when it's their turn to try out the robot. This, of course, resulted in balls flying all over the place, much to the chagrin of our fellow exhibitors. However, as soon as we started using the Pong-Master game, we would quickly explain the basics of the game, and when the player started returning the ball, they would automatically begin using a controlled stroke in an effort to hit the target and score points. "Wild" shots were enormously reduced.
Another coach I know would place packs of gum or other such enticements on the robot's side of the table and have his students aim for the prize. If they hit it with the ball, then they got to keep the prize.
Either way, the students should have something exciting to focus their attention on and be immediately rewarded for controlled play. Also demonstrate a relaxed, controlled stroke to them to show how much more accurate you can be using such a stroke and constantly remind them to relax and let their strokes "flow.
- Jena Newgarden