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The Making of a Top Junior Table Tennis Player 0

When I coached table tennis in a school program, I was coaching up to 90 kids per day.  Over the last 20 years, I have seen thousands of kids play (or attempt to play) table tennis.  Sarah Jalli is one of my top juniors and recently went up 1000 USATT rating points in 10 months and is now ranked #4 in the U.S. for her age.  With the right environment and a great work ethic, Sarah definitely has Olympic potential.

So why is it that some kids rise to the top and others stay at the lower playing level?

Desire

The first aspect of table tennis success is desire.  Personally, I will not coach a student who is forced to play by his/her parent.  It would be a waste of my time and a waste of the parent’s money.  Players who have a desire to work hard and a desire to succeed can become table tennis champions.

Attitude

The second aspect of success is attitude.  No matter what happened at school, no matter what happened anywhere else, the player must enter the training hall with the proper attitude.  It is difficult to learn with a cocky attitude.  It is difficult to learn with a sleepy attitude.  It is difficult to learn with an I-don’t-care attitude.  It is difficult to learn with a distracted attitude.

Talent

The third aspect of success is talent.  Talent is the ability to learn something quickly or develop new skills quickly.  As a table tennis coach, I’m always looking for kids who have good coordination, kids who are athletic, kids who learn quickly, and are naturally gifted.  However, even if the talent isn’t there, I’m still willing to help.  The student just needs to keep in mind that some table tennis skills may take longer to develop.

Environment

The fourth aspect of success is having the ideal training environment.  The environment consists of having a knowledgeable table tennis coach, a variety of practice partners for drills and games, other kids with the same goals, and regular table tennis tournaments (12-30 per year).  This is the reason that I’m planning to expand the Samson Dubina Table Tennis Academy – so that we can have more professional coaches on staff, weekly leagues throughout the year, and monthly 4-star tournaments.  Including practice, lessons, matches, and tournaments, young players should be playing at least 10-15 hours per week by age 9-12.  By age 13, the player will need to practice at least 12-20 hours per week.

Support

The fifth aspect of success is the support from the parents – both verbally and financially.  For the player to succeed, the parents should be onboard with encouraging words, with going to tournaments, and with talking about table tennis throughout the week.  The parents also need to financially back the child.  With most elite coaches charging $60-$90/hour for lessons, it is sometimes tough for them to pay for 5-10 hours of private lessons per week.  However, the investment in the early years is important.  For the first several years, the foundation is being grounded.  How strong should the foundation be?  It depends how high you want the tower of success to be!  After several years, the focus shifts to tournament performance.  Without the right financial support, it is extremely difficult for the player to rise to the top.

Persistence

The final aspect of success is persistence.  Some years, the player may gain 1000 points; some years, the player may gain 100 points; some years, the player may go down 100 points.  For sure the journey to success isn’t easy.  There will be many setbacks, disappointments, and failures.  According to the Olympic Committee, table tennis is ranked as one of the most difficult sports in the world to learn.  The journey is tough.  However, persistence pays off long term.

Follow Sarah’s example.  Her life is a good reflection of all six of these areas.  This is the reason that I expect success.

Sarah, I look forward to helping you on your table tennis journey.

Bust That Table Tennis Slump 0

At some point in your table tennis playing career, you have probably encountered a bad slump.  As with any other kind of slump in life, it could last a week, month or maybe even as long as a year.

Here are some tips to help you get out of your table tennis slump:

#1 Rest Your Mind

After a tough table tennis tournament or a sloppy practice session, sometimes it is good to rest your mind.  Take off one or two days of training and do another activity, preferably an outdoor activity.  Gazing at the stars, going to the mountains and fishing by a water fall are a few of the many things that help me relax the most.

#2 Re-evaluate Your Life

After a couple days of rest, try to re-evaluate your life goals.  Personally, my life goal is to praise God with everything – work, school, family, table tennis and life.  You have probably heard the expression, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  So, re-evaluate your life goals and know where you want to go.

#3 Re-evaluate Table Tennis

Next, re-evaluate your table tennis goals.  Set a realistic long term goal then make small challenges to yourself of what you need to accomplish to reach the end goal.  Continue to remind yourself that the road might be bumpy, but with the right coaching, the right training, and persistence,  you can reach your goal in table tennis.

#4 Timing is Everything

About 90% of the time, table tennis players go into slumps because of timing issues.  In order to correct a timing problem, focus on keeping your racket in front of you longer.  When a backspin ball approaches, move your feet quickly into position, but don’t take your racket back until the ball has crossed the net by at least 12”.  Take your backswing just before the ball touches your side of the table.  When a topspin ball approaches, move your feet quickly into position, but don’t take your racket back until the ball has nearly reached the net.  As the ball approaches, take your backswing back based on the incoming ball.  For fast topspin, take a shorter swing.  For slow topspin, take a longer swing.  Most slump players try to take the same exact backswing for a topspin ball regardless of the speed, high, spin, trajectory, or contact point.  Learning how to adjust your swing will greatly increase your timing when playing table tennis.

#5 Consistency

Consistency is the main determining element to winning and losing table tennis matches.  It doesn’t matter if you are a marathon runner or a powerlifter, if you cannot consistently return serves, loop the ball on the table, block loops and other skills, then you will not win.  Consistency is the key.

If you are in a slump, consider how you can make your shots more consistent.  You might need to:

  • Read the spin better when returning serves
  • Impart better spin on the ball when looping
  • Target placement on your push rather than power
  • Focus on relaxing your grip when blocking
  • Adjust with your feet better when smashing
  • And Take your time between points

If your consistency improves, winning will easily follow.

#6 Advice

Be willing to admit to a friend, family member, coach or teammate that you are in a slump.  Ask him to watch one of your club matches and give some advice based on what he sees.  Sometimes it helps just having someone there to watch and encourage you during your table tennis matches.

#7 Coaching

Table tennis coaching is an absolute necessity in order to improve your game.  Before receiving professional training, I was at the bottom of the barrel at my table tennis club, with nearly all losses, week after week.  After two years of coaching, my USATT rating improved 1000 points because the coach was able to take me where I couldn’t take myself.  I wasn’t able to learn all the necessary elements to improving on my own.

#8 Your Arsenal

While you are resting, re-evaluating everything, learning to be more consistent and asking advice from others, you might want to also consider adding a new tool to your toolbox.  The main part of winning is being consistent.  The other part of winning is finding ways to make your opponent less consistent.  By adding a new weapon to your arsenal, you could possibly win an extra 2-3 points each table tennis game.  Consider learning a new serve, a blocking variation, a sidespin push or a deceptive loop.

If you are patient yet persistent, learning a new skill can be one of the best ways to get you out of that slump and back in the game.