Investigating, Implementing, Performing - Developing a Table Tennis Tournament Goal

Newgy Robo-Pong

One year at the U.S. National Table Tennis Team Trials, I was leading 3-2 against Mark Hazinski* and leading 9-3 in the 6th game.  After a series of aggressive mistakes by me, he closed the gap 9-8.  I simply pushed and blocked the next 2 points to end the match 11-8 in the 6th.  Walking off the court, my coach said, “I would rather have you lose the match than to win it like that.”  I replied, “The goal was to win.”

There are different types of tournaments that I would like to address in this article.

Investigating

Most table tennis players want to improve and break the 1200 rating barrier or 1800 barrier or 2000 barrier, or whatever.  When I ask them what necessary areas of their game they hope to improve, they are often speechless.  If you don’t know what to improve, then play a table tennis tournament to investigate what you need to work on this year.  Record your matches and watch them within 1-2 days of playing.  You should be able to come up with a list of 5-6 things that you need to perfect during the next 12 months.  Investigating tournaments are critically important for long-term planning.

Implementing

When you are developing new table tennis skills, it is often good to avoid match play and tournaments initially.  After several weeks of training, you need to learn to implement your new skills into club matches, league matches, and tournaments.  The tournaments where you implement new things are usually “bad tournaments” because you need to force yourself to do the right thing, which means sacrificing some matches and often sacrificing lots of rating points. 

Performing

When looking for good results, you need to perform according to what will win.  In the above situation that I mentioned (in the beginning of this article), I hit a rut.  My attack wasn’t working.  I needed that win in order to possibly make the National Team.  I did what was necessary and used pushing and blocking to win the 6th game.  Had my goal been to implement my flip or backhand loop or counterloop, then I played wrong at 9-8.  But my goal for that table tennis tournament was performing and taking the title, so I did what was necessary.

You and your table tennis coach MUST talk about the goal for each tournament. 

What is your goal? 

Many players say they are going to implement new things then are furiously mad when they go down 100 points; instead they need to judge their performance by their ability to implement, not their ability to win.  Others say they want to implement something new but then go back to their old ways.  Others want to perform and have good results, but feel guilty for pushing and blocking.  Regardless of your playing style, age, or level, you MUST have a goal for the tournament.  About 3-4 weeks before the competition, have a discussion with your coach regarding the goal, train according to it, and perform according to it!

*By the way, credit to Mark Hazinski, he has beat me over 50 times in table tennis tournaments.  This article was not meant to be derogatory to him.  I just used a personal example to illustrate my main point.

Samson Dubina

Read more →

Devastate the “Smart/Dumb Guy” in Table Tennis

Newgy Robo-Pong

Some table tennis players know how to anticipate and adjust quite well during a table tennis match, usually these players are viewed as being “SMART”; while others don’t anticipate and don’t adjust well.  On the surface, this article might seem like common sense, but there is much more depth here.  Let’s dig in…

Here is the dictionary definition of anticipation:

The action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction.

“Smart” Guy

An anticipating table tennis player might serve short topspin, get his racket up a bit, expecting to loop the fast flip coming.  This same player might push deep to the backhand, move in, and prepare for a fast block against the predictable loop.  This same player might play to your wide forehand and adjust his ready position to cover his wide forehand angle. You see, these players anticipate the most likely return and prepare properly by playing the odds.  Against this player, you might need to take some risk.  You might need to push his topspin serve, you might need to loop to different locations than normal, and you might need to vary the spin, speed, height, and depth more.  This same opponent might adjust well to your serve.  You serve heavy backspin and he pushes into the top of the net.  After the point, he steps back and ponders for a moment and preparing to adjust for the next serve.  In this case, you might want to change your serve because he has mentally made the adjustment.

“Dumb” Guy

A table tennis player who doesn’t anticipate well might stand in exactly the same position for every shot.  He plays to your wide forehand then makes a beeline back to the middle of the table; he serves long and has no idea that you might possible loop; he tries to mentally stay completely neutral for every shot.  In this situation, play your best shot – if he serves an angle, then play the angle sharper back.  If he pops up a high ball, then just smash your best smash crosscourt.  There is no sense in trying to be tricky if your normal plays are working.  Also, if he doesn’t adjust well to your serves, then be willing to repeat them.  If your deep serve to his backhand is working and he continually power blocks it into the table, keep repeating it.  If he is that dumb that he doesn’t make a single attempt to adjust, continue to use your main tactic again and again.  About 1-2 years ago, Han Xiao wrote an article about Not Changing For the Sake of Changing.   I totally agree with Han.  If something is working and your opponent isn’t adjusting, then continue winning points with what is working.  There is no reason to continue experimenting with something that might, possibly, maybe, could work.

I’m going to conclude with a few summary thoughts…

Your Approach

So how can you identify your table tennis opponent as an anticipator or a non-anticipator?  Does it have to do with age, hair style, glasses, rating, equipment, or personality?  No, no, no!  You don’t need to identify them at the start of the table tennis match.  Just play your best and think about it carefully as the match progresses.

Your Game

At the start of the table tennis match, the main thing is to play your best game.  Use your good serves and your strong loops, continue to move and play your best.

Analysis

If you are winning, then don’t worry about labeling him.  If you begin to lose, then ask yourself some questions.  When I hit a normal loop to an obvious location, is he waiting there ready to return it?  When I hit a tricky loop to an awkward location, is he surprised?  When I win a point with my serve and serve it again, does he miss it the second time in the same manner?  As you begin asking yourself questions, then you will know on whether to play normal consistent shots or if you need to be “tricky”.

Your Comfort Level

If you can’t win with your normal game and you must play “trickier” than normal, you must remember your comfort level and try to stay within your range of consistency.  I have seen many table tennis players who tried to do so many weird things each hit, that they just beat themselves. 

Training

After the table tennis tournament, when you get back to the training hall, ask yourself the questions as to which quick tricky strokes you should be developing.  Even during a normal drill in practice (like two backhands and two forehands) you should try to add some variations – faster and slower, higher and lower, deeper and shorter, more spin and less spin, right lateral sidespin and left lateral sidespin.  During the practice sessions, you should develop some tricky variations.  That way, you can feel confident to give variations in your table tennis games at the right time.

Score

This article might be very confusing for some table tennis players.  If you have no idea if you are playing an anticipator or not, then just do this one thing for me…  If you are winning, stick with your main tactics.  If you are losing, then look to make necessary adjustments.  That’s it!

Samson Dubina

Read more →

Table Tennis Tip ― Devastate the “Top Dog”

Jena Newgarden

Everyone wants to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament – that is everyone’s aspiration when entering a table tennis tournament.  In this article, I’m going to outline some of the major tactics that can turn your dream into a reality.

Forget About It

Forget about winning, just play your best.  You have about 4-7 seconds between points during the table tennis match.  Instead of spending those 4-7 seconds on calculating your new rating with the big rating adjustment you will get, focus your attention on your performance.  Are you moving well?  Are you spinning the ball? Are you adjusting?  Are you making good decisions?

Expect a Fight

You need to expect this table tennis match to be a huge battle.  Hoping that your opponent will be injured or hoping that his racket fails the thickness test won’t put you in the best mindset for an upset.  Of course, things do happen – elite table tennis players get cramps, get injured, get into arguments and have equipment problems – these external factors could seriously help you with a win – but you shouldn’t be hoping for these traumatic events to happen to your opponent.

Take Some Risk

If you play normal and your high-level opponent plays normal, then you will likely lose.  Especially in the beginning of the table tennis match, you must take measured risks to put pressure on your opponent and steal the first table tennis game.

Don’t Be Risky

Ok, I thought that I was supposed to be risky?  I’m going to re-emphasize the point I just said……       …..MEASURED RISK!  MEASURED RISK!  About 90% of elite table tennis players don’t need to perform against the low guy because the low guy goes for too much risk.  Please don’t try to smash every serve, please don’t try to smash every loop.  Don’t be TOO risky!

Continue to Adjust

For sure, the elite table tennis player is smart.  If he starts losing, you might make some adjustments.  As the table tennis match progresses, continue to think of tactics between points and make the necessary adjustments.  Just because a particular tactic won the first table tennis game 11-2, doesn’t mean that it will continue to work.

Remember It

After the upset, you can go back to the table tennis club the following week.  Instead of just remembering the look on your opponent’s face, you should remember the tactics that you used, remember the mindset that you had, remember the aggressiveness or consistency that you played.  My game is structured around my upsets.  When I had my biggest upsets, I was able to mentally list the factors that contributed to the upset and continue to restructure my game around those aspects.  You can do it too – just remember, write it down and train accordingly!

Read more →

Table Tennis Tip – Devastate the Offensive Chopper

Jena Newgarden

There are many different types of choppers in table tennis; however, I’m going to lump all the choppers together into two categories ― offensive choppers and defensive choppers.  Today, I’ll be talking about the offensive chopper ― he likes to move back from the ping pong table, chopping with pips on his backhand, while fishing and counter looping with his forehand.  Even though he is away from the table, he is looking for the opportunity to move in and smash with his backhand or loop with his forehand.  He wins about half of his points with consistency and half with his power shots.  If you are having a difficult time picturing this style, I recommend that you watch some YouTube videos of Hou Yingchao or Chen Weixing.  Watch how they win points with offense and defense and watch how they are looking for every opportunity to step in and rip a winner.

Tactics:

Rubber – Before starting the table tennis match, make sure that you inspect your opponent’s rubber – especially the backhand side to see if he is using short pips or long pips and to see if it has sponge and to see if it has friction or not.  Also, during the course of the match, watch your opponent carefully to see which side of the table tennis racket he is using.  Choppers are very good at twiddling so that they can use inverted or pips on the backhand.

Consistency – At the start of the table tennis match, try to evaluate your own consistency as well as your opponent’s consistency.  If you are more consistent, then focus on playing steady and allow the chopper to panic while going for wild shots.  If your opponent is more consistent, then you will need to find ways to finish the point early or give enough variations to lower his consistency.

Opportunity – Choppers prefer to push, chop, and loop deep.  It is vitally important that you be able to move in-and-out against a chopper.  If he mistakenly chops a ball short, you should see the opportunity and move in for a stronger loop.  If he fishes or counter loops, you will likely need to move back slightly to continue looping, if he chops again, you will need to move forehand to continue looping.  This is one of the main differences of playing a chopper vs playing an offensive looper.  Typically when playing topspin, you prefer to stay about the same distance from the table.  When playing a chopper, you often need to move in-and-out, out-and-in, in-and-out, out-and-in based on which shot he plays and the depth, height, and spin quality of the shot.

Transition Point – When attacking, the main location to loop the ball is spinny to the middle transition point.  Sometime it will take about 8-10 loops to win a point spinning over and over again to the backhand.  Sometimes you may not want to risk going to the wide forehand because you are afraid of the counter loop, so often the middle will be your preferred location.  When you loop spinny and deep to the middle and your opponent decides to backhand chop, he will then be slightly out-of-position for the next ball.  The next ball you should loop slightly further to the forehand (about 3-4” further to the forehand) or possibly target the wide angle backhand.  Regardless of what you choose next, you are forcing him to move into an awkward position in the middle.  When you loop spinning and deep to the middle and your opponent decides to forehand counter loop, this will again be an awkward ball for him because he is contacting the spinniest back location on the ball.  Most counter looping choppers prefer to reach to the forehand and contact the side of the ball for a lateral sidespin counter loop; this makes is much easier to counter loop because they will only be feeling about 50% of the spin when contacting the side of the ball.  For this reason, most of your loops should be spinny to the transition point.

Short Forehand – It is difficult and sometimes unnecessary to continually loop over and over again.  Sometime you need to push short to bring the chopper in.  If you push short and low to the forehand, the chopper will have an awkward time smashing the low ball.  Once you bring him forward, then try to attack the middle or wide backhand.

Deep Backhand – If you loop deep and he chops deep, it will be difficult for you to push short.  If you choose to push and can’t go short, then usually pushing deep to the backhand is preferred.  Even if the chopper knows how to backhand loop, it is very difficult to move in from 12’ back and backhand loop.  The only time that I would recommend pushing deep to the forehand is when the chopper is looking to pivot from the backhand side and play a strong forehand loop from the backhand.

Plan B – Typically, the offensive chopper can adjust his style playing more aggressively with his forehand counter loop, more passively with fishing and chopping, or even go to blocking from near the table.  As the table tennis match progresses, you also need to be willing to evaluate and re-evaluate the situation.  Just because you won the first game 11-1, doesn’t necessarily mean that that particular tactic will work the entire match.  Take your time between points, re-evaluate, and play smart to beat the offensive chopper.

 

Read more →