Neutral Racket Position in Table Tennis

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One of the most fundamental aspects of your table tennis game is a neutral racket position. Until the ball is approaching, you should not take a backswing.

Based on your hit, your opponent’s positioning, your opponent’s racket angle, and your opponent’s timing, you can adjust with your feet, but don't take your hand back until you visually see the incoming ball or even until the ball crosses the net.  How will this benefit you?  There are 5 primary ways and many secondary ways it will benefit you.

Five Primary Benefits

  1. You will have a smoother transition between backhand and forehand.
  2. You will have balance to be able to move to the ball.
  3. You will be able to adjust your shot selection based on the incoming ball (choosing the push or flip or loop or block or smash or whatever).
  4. You will be able to adjust the length of your swing based on the speed of the incoming ball.
  5. You will be able to adjust the height of your racket based on the height of the incoming ball.

Check out the below video of Sarah Jalli (#1 US Ranked Mini-Cadet Table Tennis Player) demonstrating a neutral ready position while moving her feet in position and smoothly transitioning from forehand to backhand and backhand to forehand.

Check out the video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EO-aATtHzDQ

If you want to follow Sarah’s path in table tennis it starts by being able to stay in a neutral position, watching your opponent’s racket, watching the incoming ball, and adjusting to the incoming ball! 

Samson Dubina

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Winning Table Tennis

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A missing key in table tennis is a proper understanding of between-game analysis and between-point analysis.  In this article, I’m going to mention the three keys – understanding the problem, finding a solution, and encouraging yourself with the benefit of implementing the solution.
 
#1 The Problem
You are trailing 3-9 in the first game, is there a problem?  For sure there is a problem, and likely multiple problems.  What are they?  More specifically, what is the main problem?  It is your opponent’s powerful forehand smash?  Is it your inconsistency on forehand loop against deep push?  Is it that the opponent is able to return more balls in the rally than you can return?   Is it that he is playing a sharp angle shot wide to your forehand?  What is the problem?  Please don’t tell me that you are off your game.  Please don’t tell me that you are losing.  Please don’t tell me that you didn’t warm up.  Tell me how you lost 9 points.
 
#2 The Solution
There are often times multiple solutions to fixing a problem.  Try to identify which solution is the best one to fix the immediate situation.  One example might be that you are having trouble backhand flipping the heavy backspin serve.  What is the solution?  You could push or wait longer or change your racket angle or contact more on the side of the ball or use your forehand to receive or possibly even see if it is long enough to loop.  Try to come up with the best solution to the problem at hand.
 
#3 The Benefit
Often times when you are losing, you need to encourage yourself!  It is natural to throw up your hands and say, “I can’t play this game!”  You need to give yourself constructive encouragement knowing that there is a solution, there is light at the end of the dark tunnel, you can come back and win this game, you do have a game-plan.  Encourage yourself by seeing the benefit of implementing your solution properly.
 
In closing, I need to mention the flip-side of the situation.   Over-thinking can also be harmful.  Table tennis is meant to be played in the automatic mental state where you just let it flow out during the point, allowing your body to perform as you have trained it to perform.  So, in many situation (especially when winning), just play! Don’t over-analyze the situation!  Just play!  Let your body do what it has been trained to do!  Enjoy yourself!  And Let it go!

Samson Dubina

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2019 Robo-Pong St. Joseph Valley Open Table Tennis Tournament

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Sign up now for the 55th Robo-Pong St. Joseph Valley Open Table Tennis Tournament on March 16 & 17, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana.

This USATT sanctioned, 3-star event will be held at the Student Activities Center at Indiana University of South Bend. The venue features wood floors, excellent lighting, 35 ft. ceilings, free parking and more. Prize money and trophies awarded to the champions!

This tournament benefits the South Bend Junior Program, and the South Bend Table Tennis Center relies on this event to keep their progress going.

Newgy Robo-Pong is proud to be the title sponsor of this great event!

For more info and to register: visit www.omnipong.com or click here for the mail-in registration form.

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To Serve or Receive? That is the Question.

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In a table tennis game, if you win the toss, which do you choose: to serve or receive?

This article starts off seemingly insignificant but concludes with the main point. You need to read the full article to understand my thought process...

If you are like most table tennis players, you play better when you are winning. Most players want to be winning because they have more confidence in their shots, stay level-headed, and aren’t as easily upset with an unlucky break or bad call from the umpire. If your serve is good, you should choose to serve because statistically speaking, you have a better chance to gain a 2-0 or 4-2 or 6-4 lead in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th games. With confidence in the first game, you have a better chance to win the first game. Winning the first game, gives you a better chance to continue the table tennis match with confidence.

If you have a good serve return, such as the ability to push with spin variation or flip with excellent placement or loop long serves really well, then you should choose to receive serve first. Many of the world’s best table tennis players have been dedicating much more time to serve receive than serve, in recent years. When I was a kid, many top players practiced their serves so much and some a lesser time practicing receiving. Now that the serves have less spin with the 40+ poly ball, much more time has been dedicated to perfecting the receive and slightly less time on serving.

So, which are you? Are you the player who should serve or receive first?

I know that many of you are thinking, “It doesn’t really matter if I get a lead. What matters is the end of the game! Can I handle pressure at 8-8 or 9-9 and win? That’s what matters!” With this mindset, you have a faulty understanding that the point at 9-9 counts as more than 0-0. Really, all the points count equally! Playing carelessly in the beginning then putting tons of pressure at yourself at the end will lead to sloppy play in the beginning and nervous play at the end. You should mentally approach each point the same BUT make tactical adjustments point by point as the match progresses.

Key Point:

Do your absolute best to win every point from the very start! Take measured risks to break out with a 5-1 or 6-0 lead in the first game! You should choose to serve first if you have a strong serve or choose to receive first if you have a strong receive! Every decision you make is important! To warm up or not warm up, to eat breakfast or not eat breakfast, to get 5 hours of sleep or 9 hours of sleep, to choose to serve or receive. Every excellent decision brings you closer to victory!

Samson Dubina

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Ohio Winter Mega Table Tennis Training Camp

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The Ohio Winter Mega Table Tennis Training Camp presented by the Samson Dubina Table Tennis Academy will be held December 26-28, 2018 in Akron, Ohio.

All ages and levels of table tennis players welcome to participate in these three days of intense action! Training will be structured based on your individual needs of the game. In addition to the 5 hours/day on the table, there will be optional free lectures giving more details on designated topics.  During the lecture, there will also be Q&A sessions with Coach Samson Dubina and the other table tennis experts.

For more information and to register, click here.

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Ten Tactical Timeout Tips in Table Tennis

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Many international table tennis matches have been won or lost based on WHEN the timeout was called and WHAT was said during the timeout.  In this short article, I’m going to give some brief tips about timeouts.

#1 Call It Early

Most table tennis players play better when they are leading in games and leading in points – head up, loud choooing, high confidence.  If your player is a good front runner, I would recommend calling timeout in the 2nd or 3rd table tennis game.  In the first game, the players and coaches are getting a feel for the match.  The 2nd game is often huge.  Up 1-0 in game is leading 7-1, you player loses a bit of momentum and now lead 7-6.  Maybe it is time for a slight tactical adjustment to gain the 2-0 lead.  Of course there are exceptions, but generally calling timeout in the 2nd or 3rd game is best to gain the 2-0 or 2-1 lead or avoid the 0-2 or 1-2 deficit. 

#2 Downcast Player

Regardless of the score, if you feel that your player is downcast and frustrated, be willing to call timeout.  Your player lost the first table tennis game and starts off 0-1, 0-2, 0-3 down in the second.  His head is down, frustrated, kicking the barriers, and it looks like he is hungover, laid off work, or attending a funeral, call timeout.

#3 Momentum from the Opponent

Regardless of the score, if you feel that the opponent is gaining momentum, call timeout.  Two equal table tennis players should have a 50/50 chance of winning each point.  However, momentum swings are so critical, that it sometimes feels that the opponent has an 80/20 chance to win the point – in this situation, call timeout.

#4 What to Say

Most of what you say should be in reference to the opponent.  Most trained table tennis players are very aware of their own shots, placement, serves, mistakes, etc...  Typically, most players are less aware of their opponent.  If you give them reminders about the opponent’s weaker points, this is usually the most helpful during a timeout.

#5 Repeat It

This might sound funny but many players who listen to the table tennis coach, don’t actually hear the advice.  Just after giving advice, ask the player, “So, what is the plan?”  If the player gives you blank stare, you need to repeat it again.  If the player is about to verbalize the plan back to you, then you know they “got it”.

#6 When to Say it?

When you or your player calls timeout, you know that you have the full 60 seconds, so take your time.  When the opponent or opponent’s coach calls timeout, you don’t know how long you have.  They can call time-in anytime.  In this situation, you must say the most significant advice within the first 5-10 seconds.  If you wait, you might lose your opportunity.

#7 Who Will Call It?

Both the table tennis players and the coaches are allowed to call timeout.  However, if the coach calls timeout, the player is allowed to shrug it off and not take it.  Some players like to call timeout themselves.  Others prefer if the coach calls timeout.  You need to decide ahead of time who will call it or if either of you will call it.  I have seen many table tennis matches where the coach called timeout, the player called it off.  However, the player was so distracted and the coach was so flustered, that it changed the dimensions of the match and the player played worse and worse.  This can be avoided by proper planning ahead of time.

#8 New Coach

There are situations where the player and coach don’t know each other well.  In these situations, it is important that there be some pre-match communication.  The player needs to explain what kinds of general reminders he needs.  During the table tennis match, the coach can also ask more questions and be less demanding.

#9 Team Events

In a table tennis team event, the coach plus the entire team can give advice.  For the player, this seems overwhelming at times.  In this situation, I would recommend that only 1 person talk at a time.  Remember, this is a time to encourage your player, not roast your player.

#10 Wasted Timeout

With the new coaching rule, the coach can signal or call-out to the player anytime between points.  If the coach is merely going to give general advice, like keep-moving or think-about-your-placement or spin-the-ball, then it is better to just shout out the advice.  During timeouts and between games, you can give more detailed tactics so that the opponent doesn’t hear it.  If you are going to give general encouragement, just shout it out and don’t waist your one and only timeout.

Samson Dubina

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Reverse Preparation in Table Tennis

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Many table tennis athletes begin the season with refining their basic technique and working on developing a solid base for footwork and consistency with many systematic drills.  As they get closer to their peak table tennis tournament, they then begin a more tactical approach.  When they know which exact opponents they will compete against, then they begin specific tactical preparation for that exact opponent. 

This is good, but I’m going to propose a slightly different approach for you.

Consider starting the season by watching your target opponents and begin specific tactical preparation against them specifically.  As you learn the details of their table tennis game, figure out which parts of your game need developed and work the whole season to develop those necessary tools.

Why am I proposing this?

Because many table tennis players spend hours the night before an important tournament (like Olympic trials or Pan Am Games or World Championship) studying their opponents only to realize that their skillset hasn’t be properly training to beat that specific opponent.  With only 24 hours before the table tennis match, they are limited in how much they can adjust their preparation.  If the specific preparation had begun 6 months earlier, it would have been easier to develop specific serves, specific receives, and specific patterns to give the rival trouble.

For sure, the basic technique, consistency, footwork, etc. needs to be solid.  But in addition to those things, if you begin mentally preparing for specific opponents during the season, you can train with more focus and more determination and more specific for specific opponents.

So what if you possibly have 100 different table tennis opponents?  What should you do?

Just pick 5! Pick five of them and target developing the needed table tennis skills to beat those five players that are at your level or a level better than you.  Having rivals (in your mind) is one of the best ways to up the intensity in your table tennis training this year!

Samson Dubina

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Details of Flipping Serves in Table Tennis

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Flipping is one of the primary ways to return short serves when playing table tennis.  In this article, I’m going to outline the various aspects of developing a professional flip and give some details about each aspect.

Reading the Spin

There are 4 primary ways to read the spin:

#1 Watch the racket movement at contact

#2 Listen to the sound at contact

#3 Read the bounce

#4 Watch for the label

Learning to watch the racket at contact is crucial.  However, seeing exactly what spin is on the ball isn’t easy, so you must confirm the spin by watching the bounce.  When flipping, I would recommend letting the ball rise to the top or even drop slightly. (there are some exceptions to this) Typically, if you contact the ball on the rise, it won’t give you enough time to read the spin.  Listening to the sound can sometimes be helpful especially when dealing with heavy spin or no spin; however, many players tap their foot to cover the sound.  Seeing the label is a sure giveaway for no-spin serves.  Not seeing the label means nothing.  Sometimes on no-spin serves, you still can’t see the label.  So, don’t see the label, means nothing.  See the label means light or no-spin.

Reading the Depth

Within serving short there are various depths – normal short serves, very, very short floaters, and faster half-long serves, and everything in between.  If your body is too close to the bounce, you will force the ball into the net.  If your body is too far from the bounce, you will be reaching for the ball and lose quality.  It is important to read the depth, move into position quickly, pause, then flip at the appropriate timing.

Reading the Height

Most serves are intended to be low.  However, some table tennis pros do have very jumpy short topspin serves.  Regardless if they try to serve low or slightly higher, you must be proficient at adjusting to the height.  Usually higher serves are easier to apply more speed, while lower serve you should focus more on placement.

Getting in Position

It is vitally important to get in position as fast as possible.  The faster you get in position, the more relaxed and tactical you can play the flip.  If you are rushed, you typically can’t place the flip good enough, and your recovery on the next will be delayed.

Adjusting to the Subtleties

No matter how good you are at reading the spin, speed, height, depth, you need to look to adjust to the subtleties.  As you are about to flip the ball, can you make necessary adjustments?  These subtleties can be within the flip or even a change of stroke like choosing to push or loop instead of flip.

Flipping with Backhand

In recent years the backhand flip has become a dominant part of the table tennis game because of the amount of spin that can be produced using the wrist, the forearm, and even the core.  Not only can you produce more spin but you can also produce more variations of sidespin and topspin.  Also, it is somewhat easier to backhand flip half-long balls, meaning there is a blurring of the lines between short and half-long when backhand flipping.

Flipping with Forehand

Even though the forehand flip has less spin, it is still an effective weapon when used with speed, timing, and placement variations – sometimes a fast flip to the middle, sometimes a slow flip to the wide backhand, sometimes an earlier timing flip, sometimes later. 

Adjusting for the Follow-up

The follow-up ball after the flip is just as critical as the flip itself.  It is tough to hit an all-out winner on the flip.  The flip should put you in an offensive position to win the point.  If your flip is allowing your opponent to crush you on the next ball – then evaluated the quality and placement of your flip and evaluated if a push would be tactically better.  Always, always, always, think in terms of shot sequences!  What shots sequenced together will give me the best chance of winning the table tennis rally?!

Samson Dubina

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Different Types of Table Tennis Coaches

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Most table tennis players believe that there are two types of table tennis coaches – type A and type B.  It is true, that 99% of the coaches that I personally have met fall roughly into one of these categories. Today, I’m going to present type C. 

Type A

This table tennis coach does a good job feeding his students with plenty of information.  In private lessons and group lessons, this coach is very excited and eager to quickly offer information and feedback to his players, point by point.  The benefit is that the player gets plenty of quick feedback.  The downside is that the player isn’t taught to think for himself because he is always being spoon fed all the info session after session.

Type B

This table tennis coach knows the value of learning through successes and failures.  Instead of talking a lot during the lesson, he just gives the player the appropriate drills and he has the player work through problems on his own.  The benefit is that the player knows he needs to think on his own and often does think on his own.  The downside is that the player isn’t getting the benefit of the coach’s expertise; the coach’s job is to take the player where he can’t take himself.  Without the detailed insight from the coach, the player might take two years to develop a table tennis skill that should take six months.

Most table tennis coaches will say that they are a nice blend of A and B.  But I would like for you to consider C, which I personally think is the best type of table tennis coach.

Type C

This table tennis coach typically coaches in question form.  Instead of feeding answers to his player, he asks him questions throughout the group lesson or private lesson.  This allows the coach to know what the player is thinking.  This also forces the player to think about what is going and problem-solve, just like in a table tennis match.  This also changes the mindset from that master/slave mindset to more of a team mindset, where the coach and player are discussing it together, working toward the same goal.  So how does it play out? 

Scenario #1

The player is warming up his forehand loop and the coach asks the player what he is focusing on.  The player responds by saying that he is targeting looping deeper.  The coach asks if he has reached his goal in looping deeper.  The player says no.  The coach asks what the player can do differently.  After briefly considering, the player thinks of the solution and the coach agrees.  What happened here?  The coach had no idea what the player was thinking.  By asking the question, the coach realized that the player really did have a goal but wasn’t reaching the goal.  Instead of offering quick advice, the coach had the player discover the solution.  This coaching is much better because typically knowledge that is self-learned sticks longer.

Scenario #2

The player is playing some points during a group table tennis training session and has backhand flipped the same backspin serve into the net 6 times.  After the 6th mistake, the coach asks the player if he realized how he was repeatedly missing the same serve in the same manner.  The player said that he realized it, but still felt that flipping that serve was the best option.  The coach asked why.  The player mentions that against his particular opponent, flipping was a much better option than pushing.  The coach asks the player how he is going to adjust so that he doesn’t make the same mistake again.  The player said that he was going to get there faster with his feet for his backhand flip, wait slightly longer, relax his grip, and focus on generating more spin with location instead of just hitting flat.  The coach accepts it as a reasonable solution and continues watching as the player goes about his task of problem-solving throughout the drill.

There are literally hundreds of scenarios that I can give, but I hope that you understand this distinction.  The Type C Table Tennis Coach is able to understand the thinking of the player, is able to give some guidance, and also is able to allow the player to work through the problem on his own while directing the player’s thinking with insightful questions.

Samson Dubina

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Six Types of Footwork Drills in Table Tennis

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During the Ohio Table Tennis Mega Camps, we worked on many different drills and during the lectures, we discussed various reasons for using various drills.  To re-cap, here are 6 common types of footwork drills in table tennis:

Systematic Footwork Drills

A basic systematic drill has a pattern or system to it making it easier because you know where every ping pong ball is supposed to go.  Examples of systematic drills include 1 backhand, 1 forehand… or forehand, middle, forehand, backhand…  or 3-point forehand.  Even for professional table tennis players, these drills are always good to implement in the beginning of the training session to allow you to develop a comfort level and warm-up your stroke and footwork.  Advanced versions of systematic drills involve the blocking player giving some blocking variations – a little faster, a little slower, a little topspin, etc…  Other advanced versions of systematic drills involve the attacking player giving some variations, by playing closer to the ping pong table or further from the table or changing the action on the ball – peeling some balls and gumming other balls.  As the table tennis players become more consistent, they typically add more of these subtle variations.

Semi-Systematic Footwork Drills

These drills involve a partial pattern but also involve a random element.  Two of the most common semi-systematic drills are 1 or 2 backhands, 1 or 2 forehands… and also the drill 1 to the middle, then 1 to either corner.  These drills force the attacking player to be more alert in watching the blocker’s table tennis racket and making game-like decisions by reading the ball properly.

Random Footwork Drills

These drills are completely random full table or random in a specified zone.  Many table tennis players have trouble at their middle transition point, so they might do random in the backhand 2/3 side of the table.  These drills are more game-like and involve many adjustments with the feet, torso and hand.  One of the most critical elements to perfecting random is to have your table tennis racket in front fairly far from your body.  With the racket in-front, it becomes much easier to adjust with a short quick swing when surprised, but also takes a longer more powerful swing when prepared.

Multi-Location Footwork Drills

With these drills, the attacking player is hitting to various locations.  One classic one that I do with my advanced table tennis players is full table random and they attack 3 balls to my wide backhand and one ball to my wide forehand.  They continue in this pattern, 3 to my backhand and 1 to my wide forehand.  I block with my backhand and counterloop with the forehand.  They loop the entire drill.  So what is the benefit?  The huge benefit is that the ball is continuously approaching them FROM various angles TO various angles.  It is like the enemy is approaching from all directions instead of just approaching from 1 direction.  Another common multi-location drill is 1 backhand crosscourt then 1 forehand crosscourt – the blocker blocks down the line.  Another example of multi-location is backhand cross backhand down the line, forehand cross forehand down the line.

Open Ended Footwork Drills

These are the best footwork drills in table tennis!  They can begin with systematic, semi-systematic, random, or multi-location and end in free point at a designated time.  For example, the blocker gives 2 balls to the backhand and 2 balls to the forehand, then the 12th ball is free.  When the 12th ball is free often both players are more focused because they are trying to reach a common goal.  Once the 12th ball comes, the offensive player is trying to continue attacking but becomes more tactical in his placement.  The blocker also becomes more tactical changing locations to trying to find a way to safely counterattack.

Offense/Defense Footwork Drills

These drills actively involve both table tennis players attacking and defending during the same exact point.  One example of this would be 1 player loops 2 forehands while the other one blocks, then the blocker loops 2 forehands while the looper blocks, and it continues trading off.  Another example would be 3-point forehand, the first player loops 3 forehands then after the 3rd forehand reverses roles with the blocker alternating back and forth.  In the future, I hope to develop many more of these drills because it has a real-feel.  In table tennis matches, both players are combining offense and defense and the attack sometimes switches back and forth 2 or 3 times during the course of an intense point.  Developing the ability to transition for offense to defense is a huge missing link for many American table tennis players.

Samson Dubina

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