Tweaking the Tekkers

I am in the "tweaking stage" of my technique. This is vital to progress and to the medium term goals of dominating the local leagues. I had a huge jump in progress with Ben this week. The irony is that we didn't change much and actually went back a stage in regards to drills. I knew this was the right thing to do as children who become professionals will be able to do literally hundreds of basic shots before they advance on to the more technical side of things. The drills were largely forehand to forehand drills or backhand to backhand. No shot transition at all, no pushing, no real movement until the end where we did loops and drives both on the forehand side. It was brilliant. We got to finally look at what I was doing right and wrong on my backhand and forehand. My backhand, previously so, so wrong, is now right. Well, it is right when I am not having to move too much or adjust more than a foot or two! The forehand was as crisp as I have ever struck it. Largely due to an adjustment on the wrist that changed it into a more pronated position this meant I struck the ball better. Likewise, my body position was more on my toes and I finally understood why the leg movement is so vital i.e. the shot doesn't change very much in regards to the arms and hands. The shot, if it is a loop goes from low to high. The shot on a drive is from back to forward. Therefore, the legs must be constantly working to give the shot both the speed and spin it requires to beat the net and the opponent.

The day after I got my first chance to put this work I had done with Ben into practice. I played a long time with one guy. He was inexperienced and a lower level at table tennis than me. I didn't have anyone else around to play so I made sure I practiced what Ben had taught me. Overall it was great. I didn't just beat this guy using experience or knowledge I beat him with power and precision. My second opponent was a good lady. She is division two and pretty decent. We started on backhand and forehands. I was once again impressive and relaxed. I showed my renewed confidence and quality in my strokes. I think I left her pretty impressed overall. In game was a different story. I struggled, a lot. She observed that I wasn't standing on my toes and I wasn't moving. She destroyed me but taught me a valuable lesson. I felt that if I learnt this lesson I would dominate the next games I played.

Sadly, that was not the case. Technique in table tennis is so hard to maintain in game. I have to say I was pretty excited to play today. I thought "I'm finally ready". I thought I had learnt the shots I needed to and I was ready to dominate a few people. I didn't. I missed the ball. I missed serves and I shanked the balls off the edge of the bat. I was a bit shell-shocked if I am honest. I tried really hard perhaps a little too hard. It was all a bit tense and my timing was off. I can't blame anyone but myself but I have to say I was disappointed. I really wanted to show off my progress.

It took another 24 hours before I caught finally, finally say I was a better player than the week before. The big thing I noticed was the forehand. I had finally got spin on every shot. I was taking the ball crisply and cleanly. It meant that the people who I was playing, who were almost all much better than me were much closer. It wasn't always perfect, simple things felt hard and I got caught out a lot but I took points I wouldn't have previously and kept games tighter than I would of ever done previously. I also won points. I didn't just let the other person make mistakes I actually outplayed them. Honestly, I am not consistent enough. I don't deserve to beat good players yet. I have foundations but no experience, no tactical skill and I lack knowledge of key shots.

Ben uncovered that weakness in our most recent session together. As my topspin game has got better and better in both the backhand and forehand I have not suddenly become a pro. The first big issue is my transitional game and movement. The "figure of 8" as Ben calls it. It is basically how you move and switch between forehand and backhand shots. This has to be smooth and combine with three other things. First, the crab like side step and low body position. Second, the appraisal of the opponent to decide on what movement you should make. Finally, there is a drop and return to a neutral position after every single shot made. It is so damn hard! Me and Ben do a drill called a switching drill. I call it "the world's hardest drill" and Ben calls it "the drill all Chinese children do before sessions". So after two days of struggling to do it and briefly considering changing the aspiration of the blog to "my 8 year journey to becoming a Chinese 5 year old", I finally mastered it. Actually, that is a massive lie I am not much closer than I was before I started. It is really, really hard. If anyone wants to know what it actually is, have a look at the guys from Pingskills making it look super easy.



Sadly, the sessions have also uncovered another embarrassing floor in my game: pushing. I mean seriously, who is bad at pushing? I didn't realise I couldn't do it. Though, I have never even thought about it before. I have always just done it. Someone told me how to do it once and I just did it that way ever since. However, Ben said he was "surprised at how bad it was". He said Sam and him could have pushing matches where neither him or Sam would miss. I missed once every 5 pushes, on average. Basically I suck and I didn't even know it. I have been out on the table today trying to practice pushing on my own but if I push into half a table the spin that comes back is topspin. In a pushing rally backspin comes back with backspin. So lets see if I can enlist the help of random table tennis strangers to help me become a push master.

The end of this post, apart from being a progress update, is a chance to say how big the foundations of table tennis are and how big they need to be. Me and Ben spoke about building foundations as a new player. He spoke to be about how creating a deeper foundation than people who don't learn these basics but not always, initially, building the building as high. I, think my building is a little higher than my compatriots but not as high as I would like, however, I know my foundations are getting bigger and deeper than anyone around me. If we go back to my Chinese children, who eventually turn into the Fan Zhendong's and Ma Long's of this world, analogy, my foundations are still much smaller than they need to be. Ben said he didn't learn all of these till he was 18 or 19. So although I am super far behind, I am actually a little ahead!

Comments

  1. Hats off from my side to the journey you have commited to . As the dad of a tt-obsessed Girl I can feel very well with you having witnessed seemingly worldclass practise sessions simply not translating into wins on weekends. It was heartbreaking and demotivating ,but just for me ,surprisingly.My Girl always accepts it´s a loooong Long journey and one has to take step by step always trying to do better.
    and how right she is .I recently fancied a game against her and had to accept that I cannot hold a candle against her no matter how hard I try .A year ago i could easily outfox her and score with my spinny serves but now I just look like an outdated prat.... :-).As an outside observer I witnessed quite often that good experienced Players adjust their effort and Level of playing to the Opponent. So as yyour game improves you will face stiffer Opposition from the same guys giving you the Impression you are not closing the gap at all.
    On the other side you often see good Players struggling with Opponents with "off" technique ..These are hard to read ,the ball trajectories are very far away from all what they practise day in day out ,so These awkward Players are not easy to Play if you are just relying on practised Patterns.
    Brings me to one really important Point : Practise should always be like a real match -high pressure and stress or you should find ways to be relaxed in your actual competition situations. Both approaches should work but I believe practising relaxed and Feeling the pressure only in competition is never ever going to unearth the Max ...

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    1. Hi Marcus,

      That is a really interesting perspective, I rarely get to hear from anyone who, as you say, is an outside observer. I agree with the principle of the match practice. My problem is I tend to suffer from too much match practice and not enough basic drill and technique work. That is partly because of my age and partly because of the way the clubs around me are structured. Likewise, the other thing is that every time you make a technical change you can often get worse for a time. At the level I am currently, the changes in my game can be so large and sweeping that they change almost everything.

      The most important place I feel that "match practice" is necessary is in regards to movement. My movement is pretty good in drills as I know where I am going. The randomised nature of matches creates a dimension that I really struggle with especially as I have to react and read my opponent in split seconds.

      What level is your daughter now? What has been the hardest part of the journey for her so far?

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    2. I `d think she is at a good Level in her Age class -in our Country she finished 3rd recently and beat second placed Girl of this contest in the follow up U13 contest 0:3 ...

      As for her real Level of Play she is far below her own expectations , considering the effort she is putting in. And maybe this is the hardest lesson to accept .things do not miraculously fall into place -it is always hard work to carve in good Patterns and get rid of wrongs -especially when you are immersed in competition !
      Luckily she is unwavering in her will to succeed so a setback is not demotivating it is a check of reality and Motivation to work harder and more focused on her dream to become better and better in this Sport.
      One of the hardest aspects in this Sport is to find the right Coach and the right Environment to practise -Caro certainly put in the hours but a lot of this was not very fruitful unfortunatelly .So carving in wrong Patterns under the eye of coaches and so called coaches who have no idea or thought what Caro is or might be has led into blind alleys of Performance one does not really Need- (Caro had times when she could bury each and every ball straight into the net -good Speed ,no spin ... against the best in the Country this is not a good concept). One could have waited his whole life for Caro developping a sense for spin on her own methinks ,she does not learn like that .Many coaches simply advised to give her short pimples on the Forehand ...which was not an Option in my view especially in the longterm prospect.We changed a lot in Terms of coaches and Approach and now in her third year of TT she is developping a sense for spin not just in her serves.
      so accepting your own Speed of mastering certain aspects of the game is hard -but I think this is harder for me as a parent then it is for her -she is prepared to shoulder everything to make it happen ,she may take a few extra hours or months but she is determined to get there.
      My Impression is we are all to impatient with ourselves and tend to try to take two or more steps at once -which is counterproductive .

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    3. I agree with the journey itself being hard sometimes. It feels very, very long and a long journey often brings its own pressure. The pressure being that I, personally, always worry that I should be further along than I am.

      I think you are right a coach was the biggest issue for me in my first 3 or 4 months of the journey. I didn't have anyone really and I just had to build a picture in my head of the nuggets of information that I had received from different players to get an idea of how to play the game. Having Ben has changed everything. He has basically made the journey look marginally possible.

      May I ask what country you are from? You certainly should like you guys are developing a better idea of how to develop her into a top player. Spin for me is everything. I will put spin on everything I do if I can. I will always try and add my own spin, for example I will add backspin to a push or topspin to a forehand or backhand. Understanding how to use spin has been the biggest jump I have made personally. Its great your daughter is so dedicated to her journey. I would agree that we are all impatient though! I know I can be a terror at times for wanting to jump ahead when I haven't mastered specific little things!

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  2. Fully agree there .We are from Germany and given the efforts I had to put in so far my Impression has grown that Germany might be a bit more on the recreational side of the Sport at least in our area you find lots of Clubs and coaches talking about big ambitions and competence but as the days and months pass not much structure and planning is to be seen and if you dare to ask you are rewarded with stonefaced Response .Even when asked the right questions they would still react in a childish way.
    Maybe other Kids can improve and flourish in this sort of Environment .I´m sure my daughter Needs to be guided and challenged in a way tailored to her to realise her potential.

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    1. The UK is the same if not worse, sadly. Private coaching is probably the only way forward if you really want to jump Caro to jump above her peers. I think disorganisation is a real issue in table tennis and a lack of coaches also means that the sport is way behind others when it comes to promoting development.

      There is also an issue in the UK with retention of athletes. We have tons of children 8-13 years old and tons of men 40+ but there is a huge gap where there are hardly any people playing in that 15-40 bracket. Likewise, we have a lack of girls. This is a sport where the girls can beat the boys as easily as the boys can beat the girls. In all forms except for the highest levels it can be fairly gender neutral and yet there is no promotion of that at all. It's a real disappointment in when you look at the potential of the sport compared to what it is currently achieving!

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